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Silmarillion Prompts

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1. Summary of Prompts - self-explanatory
2. Mellow - Celegorm/Lúthien; sappy romance
3. Eternal - Celegorm/Lúthien; Celegorm contemplates mortality
4. Subtle - Glorfindel/Erestor; Bilbo makes some observations
5. Cheat - Amrod/Thranduil; the unexpected consequences of the Second Kinslaying
6. Transparent - Caranthir/Haleth; he couldn't hide it if he tried
7. Believable - Eöl/Aredhel; some things seem too good to be true
8. Repeat - Maedhros comforts the fosterlings
9. Addicted - Caranthir/Haleth; humans do not live very long
10. Write - Aegnor/Andreth; everyone needs a catharsis
11. Soulful - Fingon/OFC; in which Fingon is tupped
12. Broken - Maedhros/OFC; there are few things Maedhros wants more than children
13. Stop Time - Elrond/Celebrían; if only it could last forever
14. Alcohol - Fingon/OFC; the catalyst to a sobering discussion
15. Pauses - Maglor/Canonical Wife; six glimpses into the life of the second-born
16. Affront - And everyone thought Fingon was so noble rescuing his cousin like that
17. Run - Amras desires only freedom from the past
18. Experience - Sometimes you should listen to the creepy prophet on the beach
19. Fatality - Because the creepy prophet was right
20. Helping Hand - Finrod/Amarië; thus began a beautiful courtship
21. Breeze - Turgon/Elenwë; why Turgon really built that stupid tower
22. Get Up - Maedhros needs a little extra push to get going after Angband
23. Villain - Maglor has completely lost faith in their cause
24. Worst Day - The event that lifts the veil from over Maglor's eyes for good
25. Bewitching - Amras/Daeron; Amras has a new obsession
26. Jubilant - Finrod/Amarië; reunion in Aman
27. Languid - Amras/Daeron; general cuddling ensues
28. Obsessive - Maedhros finally begins to understand his father
29. Recoil - Finrod/Amarië; Aman is not as he remembered
30. Vehement - Fëanor's now-permanent descriptor
31. Collide - Celegorm/Lúthien; she's the tree that totaled his life
32. On My Mind - Fëanor/Nerdanel; relationship issues
33. Mirror - Maedhros' reflection has changed
34. Kneel - A glimpse into the mind of Morgoth's Lieutenant
35. Locked - Curufin/Canonical Wife; some things are better left locked away
36. Punch - Curufin/Canonical Wife; Curufin returns
37. Tight - Turgon/Elenwë; post-Elenwë's death
38. Urban - Maeglin/Idril; it was because she was kind to him
39. Health - All Orodreth wanted was to protect his people
40. Older - Aegnor/Andreth; he has been in love with a mortal for sixty years
41. Vital - Fëanor/Nerdanel; she both hated and loved her arrogant prince
42. Dawn - The first sunrise from Fingon's eyes
43. Lust - Sauron/Celebrimbor; world domination isn't the only thing he desires
44. Memorial - The true meaning of the Noldolantë according to its composer
45. Pretend - If you pretend hard enough, can you make it reality? Argon wonders
46. Zeal - Celeborn/Galadriel; their courtship lasted a night
47. Disaster - Sauron/Celebrimbor; Celebrimbor discovers his lover's betrayal
48. Blush - Maglor/Canonical Wife; fluffy romance
49. Nimble - Sauron observes Fingolfin challenging Morgoth
50. Remain - Celebrimbor repudiated the deeds of his father and remained in Nargothrond
51. Snore - Curufin/Canonical Wife; they parted willingly, but still the longing remains
52. Done - Maglor has finished the Noldolantë at last
53. Justice - Mandos and Manwë discuss the Noldorin exiles
54. Weapon - Maedhros/OFC; the "peace" of Aman is pushing him to the brink of desperation
55. Tide - Celegorm is crazy, but his insanity has a certain sort of logic to it
56. Accent - In which Finrod and his companions are captured by Sauron
57. Indirect - Daeron/Lúthien; his love is true, even though it is unrequited
58. Haze - Turgon witnesses the death of his older brother
59. Puzzle - Fëanor/Nerdanel; he doesn't think he will ever make heads or tails of her
60. Try Again - Maedhros is no longer living for himself
61. Reap - Marching on Menegroth will be Celegorm's salvation, or so he believed
62. Settle - Amras/Daeron; the youngest son of Fëanor banishes his demons
63. Treat - Fingon/OFC; Sáriel has a surprise in store for her clueless husband
64. Notice - Glorfindel/Erestor; a first meeting under the stars
65. Least - Caranthir doubts himself and his worth in his father's eyes
66. Exception - Finwë/Míriel/Indis; that they made him choose was the exception to justice
67. Rule - Celegorm lives by several simple but undeniable truths
68. Correct - Maglor thought he knew the difference between right and wrong
69. Harm - Silently, Daeron watches over a mysterious pair of twin elflings wandering the wild
70. Strive - Maedhros will not surrender to failure, not even if it kills him
71. Temperamental - Curufin/Canonical Wife; she knew what she was getting into when she married him
72. Divided - Amrod/Thranduil; Thranduil on the return of Amrod to Middle-earth
73. Victory - Amrod/Thranduil; The inner battle is decided
74. Delivery - Amrod/Thranduil; Of the birth of Legolas Greenleaf
75. Ballad - Caranthir/Haleth; Mandos admires the brilliance of Eru's music
76. All I Ask - Beren/Lúthien; In which Mandos did not just bow down to her every whim
77. Fire - Glorfindel begins to suspect the nature of Thranduil's secret relationship
78. Lies - Sauron/Celebrimbor; In which Celebrimbor lies to himself
79. Stormy - Fingon/OFC; The Avari have an old saying about babies born on stormy nights...
80. Terrible - Fingon has never desired to sit on his father's throne
81. Decay - Maglor/Canonical Wife; the cycles of civilization from an outside perspective
82. Dramatic - Maedhros/OFC; he has changed much since she last saw his face
83. Panic - Maglor was not the only one who adopted the fosterlings
84. With You - Aegnor/Andreth; she has been reading his letters all this time
85. Killing - The act has always made Orodreth sick to his stomach
86. Jump - The birth and death of Maedhros Fëanorion
87. Waste - Fëanor has finally cracked and Fingolfin is the unfortunate victim
88. Passion - Maeglin/Idril; Maeglin is captured and tortured for information
89. Flying - The reason why Celebrimbor has no second name
90. Drought - Celebrimbor must face the past to live in the present
91. Sword - Ecthelion encounters Thorin, the dwarf in possession of his former blade
92. Skill - Celegorm/Lúthien; Celegorm has many hidden qualities
93. Dust - Celegorm/Lúthien; Finrod holds no ill-will or grudge towards his cousin
94. Enchant - Elu Thingol/Melian; the darker side of an unforgettable romance
95. Shadows - Amrod/Thranduil; of the fate of Legolas Greenleaf
96. Powerless - Gwindor watches the death of Gelmir
97. Cookies - The twins are not the first to take advantage of hidden talents
98. Euphoria - Caranthir/Haleth; two people enjoy the simple beauty of shared company
99. Loveless - Maeglin is certain that love will never touch him again
100. Edge - Caranthir/Haleth; Haleth's reincarnation collides with Caranthir's life
101. Catatonic - Oropher cares for Thranduil in the aftermath of the Second Kinslaying
102. Defiant - a certain elven prince survived Dagor Bragollach and was captured by the enemy
103. Powder - Angrod becomes a kinslayer, and he does not feel regret
104. Grateful - Beleg/Orodreth; the elven equivalent of morphine gets Beleg in trouble
105. Decent - Beleg/Orodreth; Orodreth is getting tired being called a woman
106. Union - Beleg/Orodreth; they are sundering, but they will never truly be apart
107. Cleansed - Elladan/Fem Maeglin; Lómiel just wants to help
108. Go - Amrod/Thranduil; Amrod knew it wasn't going to last forever
109. Shame - Valthoron is aware of the fact that many of the Sindar don't like him
110. Objective - Finrod/Amarië; Elenwë serves as the family's self-appointed matchmaker
111. Strength - After the Second Kinslaying, Thranduil is understandably depressed
112. Life - Elladan/Fem Maeglin; Mandos was right again
113. Contempt - In the wake of Ulfang's death, Uldor plots
114. Wrong - Eöl/Aredhel; she was searching for adventure and may have found too much
115. Sweeten - Eöl/Aredhel; even her prickly husband has soft spots
116. Hands - Eöl/Aredhel; the reason he gets off with a punch on the nose in Believable
117. Strangle - Uldor's alternate motivations revealed
118. Lullaby - Maglor offers his brother simple comfort
119. Untouchable - Imrazôr/Mithrellas; he likened her to a star
120. Whispered - Secrets and rumors abound in Nargothrond
121. Prayers - Mandos knows the consequences of words spoken without forethought
122. Obvious - Celegorm/Lúthien; Celegorm and Caranthir are more alike than they thought
123. Rhythm - Aredhel got her feminist tendencies from her aunt
124. Afterlife - Caranthir/Haleth; the road to reincarnation
125. Hidden - Finrod/Curufin; Orodreth digs deeper than he should
126. Parade - Angrod's stay in Angband
127. Touch - Eöl/Aredhel; he really didn't mean to fall in love with her
128. Free - Finally, Morgoth has fallen and is dragged away in chains
129. Enjoy - The truth behind Fingon's drunken revelry
130. Shining - Elrond watches the star Gil-Estel
131. Overflow - Amrod/Thranduil; in the end everything was too much
132. Lively - Círdan on the evils of his three hyperactive young wards
133. Remorseful - Of the death of Amras Fëanorion
134. Dismiss - Amroth/Nimrodel; the first meeting of the prince and the wood-elf lady
135. Heavy - Amrod knows who killed his brother
136. Forward - Caranthir/Haleth; the Halls of the Waiting offer no forgetfulness
137. Prowl - Morgoth finds a diamond in the rough
138. Cut - The truth of Curufin's motivations
139. Compromise - Amroth/Nimrodel; she doesn't want to give
140. Impulse - Of stubbornness, rashness and blindness
141. Hush - Aegnor/Andreth; Dagor Bragollach was not unexpected at all
142. Morals - One Maglorion learns the truth of his family's morality
143. Engage - Of Fëanor's first apprenticeship
144. Voice - Tar-Míriel loathes everything about Sauron
145. Awkward - Maedhros begs forgiveness and abdicates the throne
146. Lower - There are even other sides to the other sides of stories
147. Plead - Some of the Valar listen to the prayers of the Children
148. Caring - Amrod on the discovery of his oldest son
149. Believe - Sauron never gets tired of manipulating gullible humans
150. Found - Glorfindel/Erestor; a reunion in Imladris
151. Shield - Celegorm/Lúthien; she finds him in the Halls... changed
152. Open - Celegorm/Lúthien; they are both hiding things from themselves
153. Tactile - How Amras received his infamous mother-name
154. Journey - Amroth/Nimrodel; she has finally found her way to Edhellond
155. Scowl - Elrohir resents his older brother almost as much as he resents himself
156. Hero - Ilession comparing himself to his missing father
157. Emulate - Gil-Galad on Maedhros Fëanorion
158. Disconsolate - Maedhros/OFC; an arranged marriage
159. Flowers - Angrod/Eldalótë; Angrod refuses to roll over and die
160. Collateral - Amrod/Thranduil; the inevitable meeting between father and son
161. Adapt - Maedhros/OFC; why Broken is such a big deal
162. Evidence - Orodreth is still trying... and failing... to figure Curufin out
163. I'm Here - Maedhros/OFC; Istelindë isn't planning on letting him get away
164. Funeral - Maedhros hosts Fingon's sort-of almost funeral
165. Puppy Love - Angrod/Eldalótë; he falls in love for the first and last time
166. Gloves - Ilession tries to understand his father
167. Nullibiety - Even Sauron is afraid of something... or, rather, nothing
168. Muse - The one that birthed all the trials and tribulations of the First Age
169. Magic - The beginning of the end of Númenor and its king
170. Clean - Maedhros believes he is anything but
171. Secret - Curufin/Canonical Wife; she never tells him about their second son
172. Superstition - Fëanor does not believe in such womanish nonsense
173. Fantasy - Curufin/Canonical Wife; sundering takes its toll
174. Test - Írimë/OMC; the princess has taken her recklessness one step too far
175. Tease - Finrod/Curufin; Curufin reflects on his childhood friend and older brother
176. Storm - Caranthir is ready to face his end
177. Strawberries - Celegorn/Lúthien; cute fluff, flirting and kissing
178. Reverie - Of Amrod and the aftermath of the Second Kinslaying
179. Beach - Curufin/Canonical Wife; their untraditional courting
180. Lost - Of Eluréd and Elurín, who do not want to be found
181. Cry - Of the Battle of Dagorlad and the death of Oropher
182. Aloof - The strangely ironic and depressing reunion of two family members
183. Blood - Fëanor's Oath is catalyzed by a promise over Finwë's corpse
184. Painted - In which Fëanor has completely gone 'round the bend
185. Prodigal - Caranthir/Haleth; she is not at all impressed by this Noldorin prince
186. Search - Maedhros is unsuccessful in more than one endeavor
187. Reprise - Curufin/Canonical Wife; in which they visit the beach again
188. Ocean - Círdan on his favorite body of water
189. Clarity - Of the reverie and craziness of Amrod
190. Reunion - Finwë/Míriel; they didn't manage to avoid each other in the Halls
191. Sunder - Celeborn/Galadriel; at the end, he chose to stay behind
192. Crash - Amrod's reverie is completely shattered
193. Dim - Finwë/Míriel; of the birth and death that started all the madness
194. Futile - Fëanor/Nerdanel; Fëanor begins his downward spiral into insanity
195. Erratic - Maeglin/Idril; his childish infatuation takes a turn for the worse
196. Loved - Angrod/Eldalótë; he moves a little too quickly
197. Soft - Maedhros/OFC; the wedding night does not go as planned
198. Hold - Finwë/Indis; Finwë makes his potentially damning decision
199. Shackles - The last two brothers have no choice but to continue
200. Pierce - Finrod/Curufin; Finrod offers his cousin dangerous comfort
201. Precious - Finwë/Indis; Finwë's tiny family continues to grow
202. Odds and Ends - Angrod/Eldalótë; little things constantly remind her
203. Tea - The Fëanorion women are there for one another
204. Twisted - Finrod/Curufin; what lies between them is not quite love
205. Echo - In the darkness of Tol-in-Gaurhoth...
206. Soothe - Maedhros/OFC; Istelindë gets to know her husband
207. Fight - Morgoth/Angrod; the game gets dangerous
208. Naked - Of Maedhros' stint in Angband
209. Push - Elladan/Fem Maeglin; the future is looking a little brighter
210. Alive - Thranduil can still hear and still feel
211. New - From the ashes comes a strange sort of rebirth
212. Born - Valthoron discovers the truth of his creation in the cruelest way
213. Murmur - Of the birth of Fingolfin
214. Devious - The feud has now spiraled out of control
215. Isolation - Imrazôr/Mithrellas; the reality of their situation hits her hard
216. Starve - OMC/Tauriel; some of you, I'm certain, can guess just from looking
217. Breakable - Sauron/Celebrimbor; one just can't always get whatever they want
218. Winter - Elrohir/Mithrellas; you have no idea how long I've waited for this collision
219. Ignore - Fingolfin/Anairë; this is why you don't speak in fits of rage
220. Color - Elrohir/Mithrellas; warmth to take away the gray
221. Grace - Sauron/Celebrimbor; but sometimes fate throws you a second curse
222. Belong - OMC/Tauriel; a little love for Valthoron, as promised
223. Choke - Elladan/Fem Maeglin; she is the catalyst that drove them apart
224. Reach - Amras/Daeron; sometimes you have to reach for what you want
225. Difficult - Angrod/Eldalótë; things did not go back to the way they were
226. Heat - Sauron/Celebrimbor; it's not love so much as obsession
227. Veneer - Sauron waxes poetic on the virtues of an elven slave
228. Fall - Did he become evil, or was he just screwed up in the beginning?
229. Nightmare - Sauron/Celebrimbor; all a matter of perspective
230. Contagious - Turgon/Elenwë; Turgon recalls their first meeting
231. Good Riddance - Finrod is dead and Orodreth becomes king
232. Goodbyes - Elrond/Celebrían; the end and the beginning... or something
233. Scarred - Eöl/Aredhel; there's always a reason
234. Last Dance - Maglor/Canonical Wife; the night before the Noldor depart
235. Burn - Fëanor/Nerdanel; and the many nights after
236. Steady - OMC/Tauriel; he could kick himself for being so oblivious
237. Monster - The Halls of the Waiting are for healing... supposedly
238. Rain - Haldir/Legolas; Helms Deep sits heavily upon the mind
239. Jaded - Istelindë on the dark side of her only remaining nephew
240. Intent - Fëanor cares in his own strange and creepy way
241. Smile - Brothers bonding and brothers parting
242. Grave - Even the most righteous of people have shameful secrets
243. Machine - Spilled coffee and a wet elf in a white shirt, need more be said?
244. Destination - Haldir/Legolas; there may yet be something worth looking forward to
245. Nowhere - Sauron/Celebrimbor; the end of the War of the Ring
246. Garden - Angrod/Eldalótë; they're in this together, for better or for worse
247. I Know - Eöl/Aredhel; he hasn't managed to hide his deepest secrets from her
248. Resplendent - Finwë/Míriel; love at first sight, need I say more?
249. Dream - Sauron/Celebrimbor; he always knew the worst was yet to come
250. Destiny - Míriel knew more about the fate of the world than anyone guessed
251. Spring - Elrohir/Mithrellas; the long road to a little recovery
252. Sigh - Celegorm/Lúthien; the pros and cons of loving Celegorm
253. Fingertips - Valthoron meets the newest member of his small, beloved family
254. Waiting - Maglor/Canonical Wife; Maglor never dies, and so never returns home
255. Second Chance - Caranthir/Haleth; if he would only see the opportunity
256. Revenge - Maeglin/Idril; obsession can be a dangerous tool in the wrong hands
257. Cerveth - Amroth/Nimrodel; of a happy ending
258. Desire - Morgoth/several; the desire that started everything
259. Phoenix - Amras/Daeron; it's the usual cliche, let's be honest here
260. Celebration - Sauron/Celebrimbor; it is, to the son of Curufin, anything but
261. Stars - Imin/Iminyë; the first elves upon the shores of Helcar
262. Morgue - Aegnor/Andreth; he wasn't dead, but he sorely wished he could be
263. Space - Fëanor/Nerdanel; pride, fear and the silent fall to ruin
264. Whitewash - Írimë/OMC; she wished fervently that her life had not become a lie
265. Alone - Eöl/OFC; living in the wake of destruction
266. Coma - Drowning in guilt, Maglor waits for his brother to awaken
267. Letters - Aegnor/Andreth; like most elves, he remains trapped in the past
268. Orchid - Fëanor/Nerdanel; of flirting and sincerity
269. Music - Maglor discovers his great gift (with a little help)
270. Silence - In the wake of the Second Kinslaying he finds Caranthir
271. Cards - Caranthir/Haleth; he never was very talented at speaking aloud
272. Emblem - Facets of the infamous House of Fëanor
273. Drift - Maglor/Canonical Wife; she waits, and on the other side of the sea he drifts
274. Monopoly - Sauron/Celebrimbor; the Dark Lord does not like to share
275. Reality - Of the ponders of the Lord of Arda
276. Serenity - Of two brothers finding peace in the wake of the War of the Ring
277. Perfection - Morgoth/Varda; even before the fall he was a creep
278. Bones - Angrod/Eldalótë; perhaps she would have preferred the uncertainty
279. Sacrifice - Finrod dies mostly to keep his promise, not to express his pity
280. Ink - There is value to be found in preserving the truth of a mortal cage
281. Empty - Haldir/Legolas; he needs more than sunshine and flowers to heal
282. Ring - Sauron/Celebrimbor; it's not the ring you're thinking of
283. Drive - Fëanor has some disturbing similarities to certain fallen ainur
284. Missing - Little Fëanor knows that his family is broken
285. Full Moon - Tilion/Arien; a little tale of tragic love and separation
286. New Direction - The twins change Maedhros more than he would like to admit
287. Consubstantial - Once, they were brothers; once, they were the same
288. Ameliorate - Maedhros/OFC; slow-burn romance at its finest
289. Locket - Curufin/Canonical Wife; of remembering and forgetting
290. Wings - The night before leaving for battle Fingon has no regrets
291. Mistakes - Írimë/OMC; of Lalwen and her two children
292. Heartfelt - Angrod/Eldalótë; the young prince saying his quiet goodbye
293. Fading Away - Elrond/Celebrían; sometimes there is no healing to be found
294. Spirit - Haldir/Legolas; the meeting of two would-be lovers
295. Disappointment - Morgoth is looking to replace a certain someone
296. Choose - Fingon/OFC; cultural differences make life difficult
297. Immortal - Aegnor/Andreth; "Aaron" spills the beans to Sarah. Finally.
298. Open Your Eyes - Legolas finally realizes that Tauriel will never love him back
299. Electrify - Fingon/OFC; in which Sáriel falls in lust with an exotic stranger
300. Starlight - Elrohir/Mithrellas; two stars hanging in the heavens
301. Úrui - Amroth/Nimrodel; two soon to become three
302. Honor - Finrod/Curufin; his mind will not be swayed; promises must be kept
303. Bite - The trials of a King leading his shattered people
304. Commit - In that hour Finarfin forsook the march, and turned back
305. Fake - Of older brothers and family problems
306. Tender - There is still some of the old Maedhros left underneath the warrior
307. Trouble - Írimë/OMC; Lalwen maybe didn't think this one all the way through
308. Final - Celegorm/Lúthien; Maedhros finds Celegorm dying beside Dior's corpse
309. Decadent - Valthoron watches as Greenwood and her King decay into Mirkwood
310. Awareness - Elrond/Celebrían; it was only love at first sight for one of them
311. Turn Away - Celegorm/Lúthien; Celegorm is removed of his obliviousness
312. Kisses - Elrond/Celebrían; throughout the life of the daughter of Galadriel
313. Hand of Fate - Amrod/Thranduil; of naivety and disillusionment
314. Breathing - Maglor/Canonical Wife; reunited after a long sundering
315. Happiness - Celegorm/Lúthien; wisdom in retrospect
316. Beauty - Celegorm/Lúthien; Curufin dislikes the Princess of Doriath
317. Sleep - Thingol/Melian; of the strangeness and pleasantness of sleep
318. Irresistible - Mairon on his own fall from grace
319. Imagination - What really brought about the creation of evil?
320. Easy - Finrod's POV on his own inner battles between forgiveness and wrath
321. Give - Glorfindel/Erestor; Glorfindel sort of slays a Balrog
322. Thankful - Angrod/Eldalótë; Angrod on destruction and recovery
323. Kindness - Celegorm/Lúthien; Lúthien on the secret truth of Dior's parentage
324. Inside - Mother and daughter struggling over self-identity and expectations
325. Outside - Gwindor on his escape from Angband and return to Nargothrond
326. Stumble - Elrohir/Mithrellas; Elrohir finally realizes what a dick he's been
327. Friendship - How did Ecthelion end up becoming a Lord of Gondolin?
328. Love - Of the motivations of Fëanor and the sons of his House
329. Closing In - Sauron/Celebrimbor; Celebrimbor can feel his doom approaching
330. Light - Varda learning the true depth of the role of her Song in the Ainulindalë
331. Darkness - It is not only Light which brings great joy in the face of evil
332. Involved - Of the perspective and motivations of Ulmo and his meddling
333. Hope - The sons of Fëanor see the Silmaril rise into the heavens for the first time
334. Faith - Aegnor/Andreth; Eru kicking Aegnor's broody pessimism in the arse
335. Focus - Aegnor/Andreth; Sarah knows something weird is going on with these two
336. Angry - Manwë is not the perfect, saintly, patient angel he is so often portrayed as
337. Work - Aegnor/Andreth; there is much work to be done in preparation for the first date
338. Music - The power that created the universe and defines all things therein
339. Sweet - Fëanor/Nerdanel; that moment when she really for sure fell in love with him
340. Mystery - Maedhros/OFC; young Maedhros trying to figure out his wife and failing
341. Envelope - Gil-galad receives a message from Celebrimbor and suspects the worst
342. Calling - Haldir/Legolas; of the sea-longing of Legolas Greenleaf
343. Dare - Elladan/Fem Maeglin; moving on from the past and living can be difficult
344. Forgiveness - Turgon is figuring out how this weird forgiveness thing works
345. Book - Thorin/Bilbo; Bilbo Baggins on the difficulties of writing books
346. Remember - Exploration of Thranduil's motivations during The Hobbit
347. Dance - The first time that Nessa dances upon the grass of Almaren
348. Fighting - Tulkas/Nessa; Tulkas ponders the legacy of his Song
349. Yes - Finwë/Indis; the marriage proposal that brings about all the strife of the First Age
350. Path - The eldest son of Maglor makes a difficult choice
351. Horizon - Tilion/Arien; he is ever longing to remain bathed in her light
352. Flat - The death and birth of Fingolfin in Beleriand
353. Mountain - Pretending to be the High King has unexpected repercussions
354. River - The perspective of an elf on the passage of time
355. Sublime - Sauron/Celebrimbor; Celebrimbor sees Annatar for the first time
356. Heart - Sauron/Celebrimbor; Annatar sort of falls in love with Celebrimbor
357. Soul - Ponderings about things which exist beyond the realm of time and space
358. Tear - Glorfindel/Erestor; in the wake of the Fall of Gondolin, things aren't going well
359. Spiral - Thorin/Bilbo; Bilbo must decide what to do with the Arkenstone
360. Up - Argon still trying to figure out how this High King thing works
361. Lugubrious - Eönwë is well aware that Sauron's remorse is utter bullshit
362. Be - On the nature and creation of the Dwarves
363. Learn - Turgon/Elenwë; Helcaraxë is a cruel and unforgiving place
364. Balance - All things in the world have their darker side
365. Grow - Thorin/Bilbo; Thorin lives and the acorn's fate is changed
366. Sleepless - Maglor hates himself for abandoning Maedhros to his fate in Angband
367. Water - Two different maiar contemplate water and its relationship with Númenor
368. Adamant - Celeborn/Galadriel; five defining moments of Galadriel
369. Move - Thingol/Melian; Melian decides that she wants to have a baby
370. Today - Aegnor/Andreth; he knows he shouldn't allow himself to fall in love
371. Awaken - Aegnor/Andreth; all dreams must come to an end, even good ones
372. Angel - A case of mistaken identity on the part of little Elrond
373. Laughter - Five perspectives on the darker side of laughter
374. Listening - Some brother-bonding between Maedhros and Maglor
375. Seek - Young Celegorm runs away from home and runs into a certain vala
376. Peace - Sauron/Celebrimbor; Celebrimbor can't adjust after the war ends
377. Relax - Fëanor/Nerdanel; young parents trying to figure out parenthood
378. Gossamer - You don't have to be "important" to be important in the end
379. Wisdom - Aegnor/Andreth; an old woman contemplating her life choices
380. Difference - Thingol/Melian; each finds the other to be quite strange at first
381. Begin - Two cousins decide to head off on a journey
382. Time - One elf gets a glimpse of how the Race of Men perceive time
383. Brave - Bilbo encounters a strange elf on his last night in Rivendell
384. Breathe - Thranduil and the Greenwood are closely entwined
385. Childhood - Elrond on growing up with Maedhros and Maglor for parents
386. Discovery - Thingol on secrets and the breaking of trust
387. Mind - Melkor figures out how to turn elves into the first orcs
388. Energy - Sauron/Celebrimbor; of the conception and creation of Narya
389. Haunted - Sauron/Celebrimbor; Sauron is having issues forgetting his dead lover
390. Distortion - Tar-Míriel hates Sauron more than anyone or anything
391. Rich - Beorn on the cons of Dwarves and the pros of Hobbits
392. Harmony - Yavanna on the beauty and complexity of life
393. Relief - Glorfindel/Erestor; Erestor lingers on the edge of death by fading
394. Stand - Sauron/Unnamed Nazgûl; Sauron has ever been talented at seducing fools
395. Recovery - Ecthelion is having trouble with water after the fountain incident
396. Power - Sauron comes up with the idea of making the Rings of Power
397. Delicious - Sauron gets a taste of the fruits of his labors
398. Fresh - Morgoth/Angrod; finally, Sauron manages to crack Angrod's iron will
399. Complete - Glorfindel/Erestor; two lovers are reunited
400. Juxtaposition - Maeglin compares his dead father and his bitter uncle
401. Nowhere - Sauron/Unnamed Nazgûl; our Nazgûl friend realizes his folly too late
402. Hug - Elros takes it upon himself to make sure Maedhros is not sad
403. Legend - A severe case of mistaken identity leads to unforeseen consequences
404. Ecstasy - On the creation of the Silmarils
405. Skip - Fëanor/Nerdanel; they just couldn't wait for the wedding night
406. Simple - Celegorm needs to return from the Woods of Oromë
407. Intricate - Glorfindel/Erestor; Glorfindel thinks about his lover
408. Saccharine - Elladan/Fem Maeglin; Elrohir decides to leave Imladris
409. Vibrancy - Maedhros contemplates his little brother, Celegorm
410. Marvel - Tuor/Idril; she thinks she might be able to love him
411. Proud - Finwë, from beyond the grave, witnesses Fëanor's madness take hold
412. Coruscate - Varda and Melkor both see the Silmarils for the first time
413. Enormous - Ilession is just trying to get his cousin to have some fun
414. Independent - Celegorm returns from his sabbatical in the Woods of Oromë
415. Bloom - Celegorm/Lúthien; reconnecting in the Halls of the Waiting
416. Unique - The reason why Curufin primarily uses his father-name
417. Tranquility - Sauron has always disliked Eönwë
418. Leadership - In Fingolfin's last moments, he has a choice to make
419. Metamorphosis - Maeglin is reborn as a female and taken into Turgon's care
420. Innocence - Mairon gives in to his inner darkness
421. Avarice - Thorin/Bilbo; Thorin's madness from two perspectives
422. Project - One should not blame a child for his father's sins
423. Ebullience - Oromë/Vána; the Huntsman of the Valar falls in love
424. Miracle - Celegorm/Lúthien; in a roundabout way, Curufin gives his blessing
425. Game - Sauron/Celebrimbor; words are exchanged before the interrogation
426. Connected - Celeborn/Galadriel; Nenya makes its way to its bearer
427. Taciturn - Amras will likely never fully recover from Losgar
428. Determination - Tuor/Idril; there is much more to the princess than he first realized
429. Regrets - Finwë/Míriel; Míriel cannot help but wonder what might have been
430. Help - Tilion/Arien; did he ever really have a choice but to follow her into the sky?
431. Freedom - Sauron/Celebrimbor; sometimes we are our own worst enemy
432. Dazzle - Of the birth of Finduilas, daughter of Orodreth

Chapter Text

If Curufin could see him now, Celegorm just knew his brother would scoff and call him soft.

Celegorm much preferred the term "mellowed with age".

After all, three thousand years in the Halls of the Waiting had a certain way of setting one's priorities straight, and let it not be said that Celegorm did not know what came first in life. Good food. Good company. The comforts of home and hearth. The Silmarilli did not even make the top ten.

And his most pressing concern, as always, was the health and happiness of his wife.

All he desired was to see her glorious face lit in a smile, especially a smile directed at him. He would do anything she wanted, if only she would grace him with her approval and affection. No longer did he scowl at everyone he met or spit out rude comments whenever it struck his fancy; he had no desire to see a frown mar her perfect, beautiful red lips, so full and lush and...

"Celegorm." The soft call interrupted his thoughts, and the elf shivered from head to toe at the sound, so quiet and ringing in his ears as silvered bells. Even when she merely spoke, it sounded as though she were out-singing the birds. "Would you fetch me another bucket of water from the well?"

Immediately, he was on his feet, boots soundless on the wooden porch. He made no reply, but didn't doubt she could see his tall frame moving outside through the kitchen window. A few minutes later, he returned with the bucket in hand, ever the doting husband, to find her willowy frame in the doorway, her pale blue dress tugged by the wind, pulled taut to her lithe body and highlighting all of the curves and grooves that Celegorm so adored. And she was smiling. His whole body buzzed with warmth.

She kissed him on the cheek as she took the bucket from his hands, and even when she pulled away he could still feel the imprint of her lips upon his flesh. "Thank you, meleth-nín."

Feeling for all the world like an untested elfling, he looked down at his boots, too shy to meet her eyes. His reaction only made her giggle, and the very sound left him feeling as though he could leap from the ground and fly.

(Never mind that he had tried that once as a child and it had not turned out so well for his arm.)

If only Curufin could see him now...

But somehow, Celegorm found himself not caring about his brother's reaction. Let Curufin laugh all he bloody wanted. Celegorm needed only his Nightingale to be happy and nothing else.

Standing on her tiptoes, his sweet Lúthien pressed a soft, chaste kiss to his lips, more of the brush of skin and the sharing of breath than an embrace of tongue or teeth. Nevertheless, Celegorm felt a flush deepening in his cheeks as his silver eyes finally dared to meet her pale blue gaze. "Come inside and sit with me," she urged, tugging on his wrist lightly with her free hand.

He followed like a lovesick puppy.

And that was how he found himself sitting on the floor at her feet for the rest of the fine evening, his shoulder draped with her latest knitting project as he whittled away with a small knife and a piece of wood procured from the massive oak overhanging their tiny house in the mountain foothills. Never mind that she was a Sindarin princess and he was a Noldorin prince. Never mind that he was acting like a lovesick fool, panting at her feet like a dog. Never mind that no son of Fëanor with even a sliver of pride would ever allow himself to be tamed like a domesticated housepet.

Never had he been so content with his lot in life. Even if he had become soft and gooey like the inside of a pastry. If it made his Nightingale happy, he would gladly be a weak-willed fool.

Her fingers brushed the top of his head, combing through his silver hair, and Celegorm leaned into the touch, nearly purring with pleasure, like spoiled, overgrown cat.

Mellowed indeed.

Chapter Text

Sometimes, Celegorm wondered if mortals think about how fleeting their lives are.

To him, three hundred years isn't much more than the blink of an eye. One hundred years is even shorter, and fifty years is hardly worth mentioning. Thinking of the interesting guests in his front yard, the immortal pauses only to blink and focus on their movements as they rough-house and talk and laugh around their fire.

Thorin is one-hundred and ninety-five and already going gray. Their burglar—their odd little creature that calls itself a hobbit—is fifty-one. They might die tomorrow or the day after, or forty years from now, but all the elf can think about is the fact that they won't be around much longer.

They are more fleeting than a shooting star. In an instant, they will all vanish into dust and memory as if they never existed. In that way, at least, he can see how loving a mortal is so painful, why Aegnor rarely smiles, why Caranthir pines away.

The touch of a hand against his arm brought him away from his morose thoughts, a thousand miles into the sky and six thousand years into the past, back to the present where the fire flickers in the darkness and sends washes of warm air over his face. "What has you frowning, meleth-nín?" Just beyond his shoulder, his wife is standing half-shaded by the eaves of the cabin, but her eyes are brighter than Arien.

His gaze slid over to Fíli and Kíli, Thorin's lively nephews. He and Lúthien had known the brothers since they were very small—Celegorm had been the one to swaddle the younger for the first time. But that seemed a blink of an eye ago. Seventy-seven years. The family of dwarrows—minus their mother—had stayed until spring and then moved on to their home. Celegorm had not seen them since. But they had failed to vanish from the deep recesses of his mind as many passing mortal faces before them.

The boys were almost grown, though Kíli's beard was still on the sparse end of the spectrum. They were pestering the burglar, teasing the little creature with grins splitting across their young faces.

"Even if they survive this insane quest, they will not live but for maybe two hundred more years," he murmured, feeling an unknown, discomfiting emotion burning in his chest. "Dwarrows only live about a quarter of a millennium."

His mate hummed softly in the back of her throat, and the pure sound shivered through him, soothing away the strange pinching feeling that had taken up residence inside his ribcage. "They have gotten much bigger, and in so little time," she commented. "Soon I suppose they'll be grown up. Eventually, Fíli will become King."

Celegorm didn't point out how unlikely it was that this quest would succeed. His wife's adventures had proven that probabiliy did not reign supreme in the universe. "Is this what it was like... being with him... Beren?"

They did not often discuss the man, as he had once been a rather sore subject festering between the two. Celegorm had once hated his adversary passionately, but his hatred had long since mellowed to plain dislike, especially since his Nightingale was beside him and Beren's soul was beyond the edges of the world. Still, he found himself secure enough to be curious. How could Lúthien love Beren and throw away her forever for his dubious love? How could Aegnor devote himself to Andreth knowing they could never marry in her lifetime? How could Caranthir fall for Haleth, knowing that she was already more than halfway to her death?

"It was a little painful," she admitted, her lips forming a sad little smile. "I knew it would not last, and I wanted to be with him. You... You were an unexpected hitch in my plans to join him beyond the edge of the world. Still, it was better to have him for the short time we both walked the earth than to never have known him at all."

Her smile brightened. "Besides, I would not say he is gone. Certainly, he no longer lives on this plain of existence, but I remember him. And I will be here forever. How many mortals can pass beyond the realm of the living knowing they will never be forgotten? He will be remembered forever. In a way, he is just as eternal as any of our folk now."

He will be remembered forever.

She stroked a hand over his scalp, running her fingers through his hair, tugging it loose of its braid so a few of the silvery strands spilled over his back and shoulders. Gently, her fingers combed through the tresses. "You will not forget them, will you?"

Thorin, who he'd built a grudging friendship and camaraderie with. Fíli and Kíli, who he considered to be more his children than Dior ever had been.

"Nay," he admitted. "I do not think I could even if I tried."

"Well there, then," she cooed, pulling his head back so she could press a soft kiss against his brow. "They are lucky dwarrows indeed. No matter how their quest ends, they will never be forgotten in the dusty archive of time. You will remember them forever."

There were many things that Celegorm knew he would remember forever. The face of the first elf he slew in Alqualondë. His father's body burning itself into ash. The first time he joined bodies and souls with his Nightingale. The first time he looked his son in the eyes. Some of them he preferred not to remember at all, but this newest memory he thought he could live with.

Looking out at the dwarrows obnoxiously shouting and laughing around the fire as they shared their dinner, his eyes focused on Thorin seated beside the burglar, seated perhaps too close, and on the two brothers laughing and pestering the company with their childish antics. He could see every shadow and wrinkle in their faces, and found them just as beloved as any flawless, smooth face of the Eldar carved from moonlit marble. These were his dwarrows.

And they were as eternal as any ageless elven legend. Celegorm would make it so.

Chapter Text

To an outsider, Erestor and Glorfindel seemed to have nothing to do with each other. They were as different as day and night. Scholar versus warrior. Solemn versus lighthearted. Darkness versus light.

To the unobservant, they did not even seem to know each other.

Bilbo was anything but unobservant.

Though they did not speak to one another, he saw their eyes settle on one another when they thought no one was looking, just a hint of something hiding beneath the layers of mysterious elven strangeness, a something that Bilbo knew all too well. It was, after all, rather universal.

He saw how they sometimes exchanged silent words with but a glance. Rarely, he would see their sleeves brush when they passed one another in the halls, though neither lithe body so much as twitched in acknowledgement.

Twice, he had seen one touch the other's hand.

---

The first time had been in the library. No doubt, Glorfindel had believed the dark-robed advisor to be alone in the deepest, dustiest corner of the vast collection, pouring over his tomes with a small frown and a furrow between his dark brows. The seneschal had approached slowly, and Erestor's half-hooded dark eyes watched him as he moved.

"So rarely do I see one such as yourself take interest in the written word." The words were seemingly cold from Erestor's lips, sarcasm and insult venomously twining together in that velvet tone. If Erestor had been inclined to sing rather than snark, Bilbo thought he might have the loveliest voice in all of Middle-earth.

"Were I so inclined to enjoy the written word, I would come more often." Glorfindel stepped closer, and the movement brought to Bilbo's mind the very first ickling that these two were perhaps friends rather than enemies. "Perhaps it is not the tomes that attract me."

"Perhaps..." They stared at one another for a few moments, and, as the hobbit watched, Glorfindel leaned forward on the table, his golden hair spinning over one shoulder and spilling across the page that had previously occupied Erestor's attention.

"In any case, you spend far too much time working. It is no wonder your mood is so sour." And there it was, the brush of fingers from Erestor's slender wrist, up over the back of his hand to stroke against his knuckles. "Elrond has you working too hard. Perhaps you should take the afternoon off, Master Erestor, and—"

And then Lindir peered around the doorframe, far enough away to have not overheard the conversation. Immediately, Glorfindel straightened, though he was very smooth about it, as if the movement were a natural and fluid reaction.

"Master Erestor, Elrond has requested your presence," Lindir informed them.

The dark elf had sighed. "Very well." But as his robes swished through the doorway, Bilbo could swear that he glanced back at the seneschal.

---

The second time had cemented Bilbo's conclusion.

It had been months since Frodo and the Fellowship had departed. Bilbo felt wearier by the day, but at the same time happier, more relaxed, less stretched. He had been out in one of the gardens—completely coincidentally the same garden that Master Erestor had chosen for his afternoon break, apparently. The advisor was sitting alone on a bench in the shade, a book perched in his lap, but it did not look quite so foreboding as his tomes did normally. His lips were not frowning and his brows were not furrowed.

"Enjoying the sunlight, are we?" a familiar voice asked, breaking the quiet that had settled over the advisor. "Rarely do I see you out of doors, my friend."

"If a warrior can enjoy the written word, why can a scholar not relish the warmth of Anor against his face?" Erestor returned, looking up at Glorfindel, who was clad in robes today rather than a tunic and leggings, deep burgundy over white.

"You speak the truth, of course." Glorfindel smiled, and for once Erestor did not look so dour. "Walk with me?"

"I suppose I can stomach your company for a short while," the advisor replied, gracefully rising to his feet. They did not touch at first, but stood side by side and began walking in that strange way that elves moved, measured and slow, as if they had all the time in the world to reach their destination.

They said nothing to one another, though they did exchange one of those strange glances that spoke of more words than had ever been imparted between them aloud. Just before they left the sight of the old hobbit half-hidden behind a nearby hedge, their hands brushed ever so softly, fingers twining together for a single moment between them, just the tips. But it was enough. Bilbo could see Erestor's lips twitch upwards at the corners, and Glorfindel looked as though he had been given the greatest gift in the world.

Just for a moment.

And then they were gone again. But Bilbo was more certain than ever.

---

Many a month later, he finally got his undeniable proof.

The elves were leaving. Lady Arwen and Lord Elrond had departed for Minas Tirith. Bilbo was feeling his age. His joints ached fiercely, and sometimes he didn't remember things quite as well as he would like to. Sometimes, he could not remember faces. He did not like being unable to recall Frodo's dark curls and bright smile. He did not like forgetting beloved blue eyes and that elusive quirk of the lips—between thick whiskers—that he had always loved so much and remembered so dearly.

Nevertheless, the dark days were coming to a close. Rivendell was emptying, but he knew of at least one who would stay. It was a well known fact that Master Erestor would never sail. Why was never spoken of, though everyone knew it had to do with blood and ancient oaths that were best left forgotten.

It was the first—and last—time he had seen them embrace.

In the dark, he had spotted them, alone beside an open window looking out into the West. Their hands were but inches from one another where they rested on the railing.

"Will you be leaving?"

To an outsider, Erestor's voice was as cold and emotionless as ever, but Bilbo knew the advisor well enough to hear the soft tremor of his words.

Glorfindel looked towards the darker elf, blue eyes almost blazing in the darkness of the night. "Why would I leave, Master Erestor?"

"There is nothing for you here," the darker elf pointed out softly.

"To the contrary," the golden-haired warrior replied. "I do think there are quite a lot of tomes left to enjoy... among other things."

Something about Erestor's eyes took all the lightheartedness out of the banter. "There is nothing here anymore. If you do not go now, you will never be able to return home again. Do you not long again to see the golden fields and eternal beauty of your home?"

"Sometimes," Glorfindel admitted. "But if I had wanted those things, I would never have chosen to return here." The warrior moved, and Bilbo's eyes widened as strong hands grasped Erestor's forearms, turning the slighter elf to face his taller counterpart. "I came back across the Sea for something much more important than golden fields and eternal summer."

Erestor said nothing more, but he did not move away when Glorfindel's large hands, callused with thousands of years of wielding blade and bow, rose to embrace his cheeks. The taller warrior leaned downwards and pressed forward until their brows touched, until their noses gently brushed and they breathed the same soft, white puffs of air as fall died into winter.

Bilbo's breath caught with awe and longing. His mind touched upon the story of Thingol and Melian, how they stood still for decades, just looking into each other's eyes, never moving or speaking. There was something of that magic between the two beings before him as their eyes connected, deep black against shining blue. Erestor's arms rose, twining around Glorfindel's until they, too, rested about the warrior's cheeks, just touching softly.

"I will stay. This is where I belong."

The hobbit took one more glance at them, almost entranced with their beauty, but forced himself to look away, and to not imagine that his hands touched strong cheeks and surprisingly soft whiskers, that his pert little nose nuzzled against a familiar, much larger one, that his brow did not rest on another as dark braids spilled around them and curtained them from the world.

---

After that, Bilbo saw them only once more, as he departed two days after. They stood side by side and did not touch. Erestor's voice was only a shade warmer than usual as he kissed the old hobbit's brow affectionately and bid him farewell. "I will miss you, but you head for home, little kindred soul."

Glorfindel followed after, still smiling, blue eyes dancing. "Aye, stay out of trouble, dear friend. But I would suggest that you don't give up on adventures just yet."

"Certainly not," Bilbo agreed, even though he wheezed slightly with the effort of hefting his cane enough to move him into the elf's warm embrace. "The pair of you watch out for one another."

They exchanged one of those glances again, soft and subtle, but Glorfindel nodded in response. "Someone has to make sure this dour fellow does not bury himself alive in paperwork and heavy books."

For once, Erestor did not snark back. Bilbo just smiled up at them and bid them farewell. The world was waiting on him again.

Then, just as he passed out of sight, safely inside his wagon with Frodo at his side, the old hobbit could have sworn he saw the golden-haired warrior kiss his scholar on the knuckles, their hands embraced tightly as they fell to rest between the two figures of sharp contrast. Maybe it was just his old eyes—they didn't work as well as they used to, after all. He glanced again. Or perhaps not.

He just hoped they held on nice and tight. One happy ending was enough to lift the heart of a sentimental old hobbit.

Chapter Text

Sometimes, Amrod felt as though he had been cheated out of his life.

Young, innocent, too naïve to realize the mess he was running headlong into—the heartbreak waiting for him just on the other side of the hot blood of adventure—he had taken the plunge after his father and brothers, not caring that he was being used, nothing more than a pawn in his father's desperate plot for wrathful vengeance. He had foolishly lifted his blade and raised his voice with the rest.

And look where that had gotten him.

Blood of the innocent staining his hands. A dead younger brother. A dead father. Four dead elder brothers. Countless lost cousins. Countless tears and endless shame, madness and darkness. Eventually, it had earned him his own death. "Tears unnumbered ye shall shed,"* Námo had declared, and he had not been lying.

But in the end, not even these unfortunate tragedies truly left him feeling desolate. They were not the reason for his unnumbered tears.

It was the fact that he had found his other half when his sword was poised to slit the young sinda open from throat to groin. Terrified blue eyes had peeked up at him from beneath dark, tear-stained lashes as he paused mid-stroke, his body frozen, mad with lust for blood and grief and greed, but somehow still sentient enough to see the jewel before him.

Not sentient enough to leave the young elf untainted.

But he had not killed the pretty young sinda. He had tried, promised himself he would come back to finish the job, but he had returned to find the elf gone, fled or slaughtered. He had never found the body, though he had searched the scarlet-painted halls of Menegroth for many hours. There had been no closure, and forbidden hope still burned and stung somewhere inside his soul, even in the very aftermath of the ravaging of Doriath and its people.

What really made him feel as though his life had been unfairly snatched from him, his place in the Ainulindalë warped and stained with darkness, was the fact that he now knew his other half, lived so near, watched day by day, but could never touch, never speak. Thranduil did not want him. Even after he returned from the Halls, sailed back over the wide ocean more than three thousand years later, the very sight of his tall figure and fiery hair made the sinda blanch and flinch and shrink away.

There was no second chance for him. Not in Valinor, and not here.

He had to watch from a distance. He watched the eldest prince with the golden-red hair and the too-sharp features, knowing not even a name. Somewhere inside him, he wished he had been able to see the flame-haired child running barefoot through the woods, had been able a sweet young voice calling for his atto as soft arms were flung around his neck. But those days were long gone, and the prince was a stranger with an agonizingly familiar face and blazing green eyes. Amrod only watched from the shadows, never closer, and never in the light.

He watched Thranduil become a King, watched the shy beauty drain out of his other half, tainted with war and death. He watched Thranduil stop smiling, watched as he grew weary and tired as the world began to once again plunge into darkness. He watched and longed and wished and waited for something that he knew would never come.

And then, many years later, Thranduil had come to him but once, desperate and half out of his mind, but not out of love. Amrod accepted him and loved him in a strange, possessive sort of way, but they did not know each other, and when they parted there were no words of love, no undying devotion or sweet embraces. Amrod had watched his other go, and he could not remember anything ever hurting so much as seeing his lover disappear into the trees, never to return.

Still, he didn't go after Thranduil. Part of him longed. Part of him resented. Still another part understood why Maglor tortured himself by singing the Noldolantë to the raging sea, why Maedhros refused to curl up and die after Angband, why Celegorm drew the face of every elf he'd ever slain and wrote in gruesome detail his own crimes so he could never forget.

He didn't deserve the peace. He didn't deserve his other's love. And that hurt more than anything.

But still, the traitorous hope would not go away.

Amrod watched from amongst the trees. There was a second child, one who grew to be just like Thranduil in face and form, with long, dark lashes and big blue eyes, hair winter-pale without even a hint of flame. Even without a name, with nothing but a face, Amrod loved the child who had the same innocence Thranduil had in the days of Doriath. The same smile. The same sparkling eyes.

Every day—every hour—every moment he wished so desperately that he could have something of them, his family, his future that had been taken away from him with a mere handful of prophetic words and his own utter stupidity and sickening greed.

He would have given anything to be free of his curse, just this once.

Anything to make those words go away.

Yet he never forgot them. No one who heard them and ignored them ever did.

"The Oath shall drive them, and yet betray them, and ever snatch away the very treasures that they have sworn to pursue. To evil end shall all things turn that they begin well; and by treason of kin unto kin, and the fear of treason, shall this come to pass. The Dispossessed shall they be for ever..."**

Just once, he wished to cheat his fate, to escape the Oath that lay heavy on his soul, the words that could never be taken back.

But no second chances waited for him here. He had been a fool to even hope there might be. And a fool he would remain to the End of Days, if only he could continue to watch and wait with Thranduil's image in his eyes and name upon his lips, wishing for the love he had no right to touch even in dreams.

Chapter Text

"He is completely smitten."

From their vantage point, Maitimo and Makalaurë could both see their brother sitting before the fire, staring into the dancing flames with bright, distant eyes, seeing something beyond the vibrant golden glow, far off in the distance.

To be honest, he had been this way for days, ever since returning from rescuing the small settlement of men on the outskirts of his territory. Carnistir had never been exceptional at hiding his feelings; they were written plain as day on his face, in his flushed cheeks and the reddened tips of his ears and the shy little grin he wore when he sighed heavily into the distance only he could see.

It was worrying.

"I know," Makalaurë whispered, not daring to look into Maitimo's eyes, knowing he would see the disapproval that he wished his brother would hide better.

After a few minutes of silent observation, he glanced towards the redhead. "He cannot control who he falls in love with, as you well know. It is just how the world works."

"He came back from rescuing a hoard of men," Maitimo grumbled. "I doubt it was an elf-maiden that he lost his heart to. This mess will lead nowhere but to a bitter, tear-filled ending; you cannot deny that much."

No, he could not. It would not end well. Love between one of the Eldar and one of the Atani never ended well, though it did not oft happen, thankfully.

"Have you spoken to him about it?" Makalaurë whispered.

"No."

"You ought to." Twiddling his fingers, he wished for his harp desperately. Feeling the sweet strings beneath his fingers would have soothed the anxiety swiftly building in his throat. "What if the atan was his—?"

A sharp look interrupted him. "Do not even think it!"

The anger was misplaced, but Makalaurë understood. His brother would much rather be angry than be caught in a web of despair; such was the way of many of his people. Makalaurë was not prone to raging, though. He had his mother's temperament, and after the initial burst of fury he fell into sadness all too quickly. Maitimo had their father's stubbornness through and through.

"It is something that needs to be addressed," he pressed forth. "Talk to him, Nelyo."

"I will have no more of this foolishness!" Maitimo stood and swept away, scowling darkly, reminding Makalaurë all too sharply of their father.

For several more minutes, he sat and watched Carnistir pining. It was all too clear, the love that filled his little brother's heart and soul. Transparent as his face. And then he stood, making his way over to seat himself beside the fourth brother. Carnistir did not even look up at him.

"Moryo?" he asked softly.

Green eyes glanced up from a surprised face. "Káno, I didn't see you!"

The older of the two smiled gently. Carnistir seemed happier, lighter than usual. Rather than scowling, he had a tiny smile perched at the corners of his lips. "You have been distracted," he said softly. "Will you tell me whom has your attention captured so?"

The flush on his brother's cheeks darkened to the red he was named for. "I-I don't know what you are speaking of!" he replied far too quickly, looking away shyly. He was a horrible liar.

"Tell me."

The younger wrung his hands and looked down at his feet. "She is amazing," he finally said. "A true warrior willing to defend her people to her last breath. I do not think I have ever seen anyone so beautiful in my life!" He sounded almost breathless as he spoke of her. "Is this how you felt when you met Vardamírë for the first time? Like you cannot bear to look away for even a second?"

Sadly, Makalaurë smiled. "Quite the same," he agreed. "She is the One, then?"

Eagerly, his brother nodded, looking so pleased, so hopeful. It almost broke Makalaurë's heart, because he knew Maitimo was right. Loving a mortal could end in nothing but sadness.

"I wish you luck," he murmured.

Carnistir, his bashful, awkward brother, grinned shyly and went red again. "Thank you."

---

It could not have been prevented. That was what Makalaurë told himself when he found Carnistir looking as though the world balanced on his shoulders. Head bowed, he sat again before the fire, and he was not smiling.

When Makalaurë sat, Carnistir looked up with sad eyes. "She does not want me, Káno."

"I am sorry." He wished he could do something to make it better, but broken hearts could not be mended with words. All he could do was allow Carnistir to lean on his shoulder and silently weep. When he looked up, his eyes met those of his older brother, who stood in the doorway looking pained.

He shook his head, and Maitimo departed without speaking a word.

---

They had all become accustomed to Carnistir's moods. Eventually, he did return to some semblance of himself, but he was obviously changed. It couldn't be denied that he was still hopelessly in love, still pining away for a mortal who stepped closer and closer to death's door every year. How old was she now? How many years did she have left? It had been near forty years since Carnistir had wept on his shoulder, heartbroken. The Atani did not live very long, usually not even a century...

Their younger brother was madder by the day, and more black-hearted. He had never been sympathetic and always had been quick to anger without knowledge of the subtlety of words.

Now, he would raise his voice over the smallest things. He was increasingly violent and took delight in hunting down the orcs that haunted his plains. Whenever Makalaurë visited, he always felt that sickening quiver in his belly at the blood-thirst of his younger brother, at the joy he seemed to take in wrathful vengeance and destruction.

But still, Carnistir could not hide the distant looks of longing. In the moments when he was calmest, he was also sad, and Makalaurë thought perhaps there was more of Nerdanel in the fourth brother than any of them had guessed.

When the day came, he knew as soon as he looked into those eyes, glistening green and broken shards.

There were no words. Carnistir came to him, forty-two years after he had disastrously fallen for a human woman who did not return his love, and he wept like a child, loud and wet without shame.

Makalaurë knew that she had passed beyond the edges of the world, and the last little bit of hope that lingered within his brother was dead. When he looked into the red-rimmed green eyes, staring blankly up at him, it was plain as day. Transparent.

The Carnistir he knew was gone, and he didn't think his brother would ever recover, could ever be put back together.

And all Makalaurë could do was watch and helplessly despair.

Chapter Text

Life, it seemed, was too good to be true.

Breathing deeply of the fresh air, Eöl looked out over the calm waters of the sea glistening in the afternoon sunlight. Just visible in the distance, covered in a hazy layer of cloud, were the peaks of Ered Luin, which he sharply recalled from younger years.

It was too peaceful, too bright. The ship's rocking was gentle, as if Ulmo had seen fit to grant the returning exiles and dark elves a small token of sympathy for their journey.

For his part, Eöl was nearly breathless with anticipation and nerves. It was not every day that one met his wife again after more than three thousand years apart. The wife that he had killed, at that, no matter that it was not she he had aimed for. Somehow, he could not imagine his fiery wife sweetly forgiving him for attempting to kill their son.

Such thoughts were running rampant through his mind as their ship, white rather than gray, docked at the Havens. A slightly familiar, bearded elf waited for them as they left the safety of the vessel, and it took Eöl a moment to remember Círdan of the Falathrim, who he had known once in their very early youth as Nowë of the Nelyar.

They exchanged polite nods when they stood before one another. "It has been long, old friend."

"It has," Círdan agreed in his gruff voice and manner. Neither of them had ever been men of many words. "Welcome home."

Eöl swallowed almost audibly. It was good to be back.

"There is someone waiting for you," the shipwright added just as Eöl made to turn his back. "She was quite anxious, but I told her it was best to give you a few moments of fresh air."

It probably had been a wise idea. Now that Eöl was reminded that his sweet Aredhel was waiting, it felt as though all the air in the world was too stale to fill his lungs. The sea-salt burned at his tongue sharply when he licked his lips. "I had best not keep her waiting, then."

Círdan nodded in agreement and moved on to the next newcomer, disappearing into the small sea of elves, leaving Eöl to find his own way.

Not that he had to search much. From just within the arched doorway of a nearby building, a tall woman draped in white peered around one of the gray marble columns, her pale blue eyes incisive as the sharpest steel blade. The dark elf gulped and steeled his shoulders, moving towards her, fully expecting a curt greeting, harsh words and to be sent from her sight until the end of the world. He was a hedonistic creature by nature, but he would not begrudge her that.

Indeed, she did not smile at him, and his heart sank a little, but he did not stop walking until they were side by side, only a few feet between them. His mouth opened, floundered and closed. What was one meant to say in such a situation?

It was she who spoke first. "You... you rank, bull-headed son-of-an-orc!" she cried loudly as she struck out with a fist, punching him full-on dead-center of the face with a wicked right-hook. Must have learned that from Turgon, bloody bastard. I will have to thank him when next we meet.

Blood dripped from beneath his fingers as he pinched at his already-crooked nose. Well, he didn't think it was broken this time at least. "You are angry," he observed quietly, trying to maintain some dignity even though half the elves on the dock were watching with wide, concerned eyes. "I do not blame you. Truly. If you wish me to be gone from your sight, I will go."

She stared at him for a long moment, looking as breathless as he felt, her white cheeks flushed with color. "You great bloody fool," she whispered.

And then she kissed him.

Eöl didn't hear anything else after that. All he could do was wonder whether or not he was still on that ship sleeping. If this was a dream, he never wanted to wake up again.

---

A year later found him settled in a colony of smiths on the fringes of the Hithaeglir in what had once been Eregion. This suited Eöl perfectly well. There was a small house built into a sheer rock-face, with a porch and a vegetable garden and a forge carved out of the stone in the back. It wasn't luxurious, but it was enough.

It was home.

Especially when he sat on the steps and looked towards the West where Anor set on the world. Contented, he looked towards his wife, curled up beside him, her eyes half-closed and her belly swelled with child.

He bit his lip against a sigh. "I think I am still dreaming," he admitted aloud.

Her fingers twined with his, squeezing gently. "This is real," she assured him as she laid their entangled hands over their unborn child. "I do not think I have ever felt so free."

Their eyes met, and she gave him an earnest smile, one that seemed to turn this impossible dream into a believable reality. She loved him, wanted him. They were starting their little family anew. He could be contented forever with nothing more than his forge in the mountains and his sweet Íreth Aredhel at his side.

Eöl smiled at her and thanked Ilúvatar profusely in his head. It wasn't every day that an old bastard like him was given such a rich gift. He wasn't about to waste his second chance.

Chapter Text

Many a night Maitimo spent staring at his ceiling. It was rare that he got much sleep these days.

The redheaded elf rolled onto his side, allowing waves of silken hair to fall over his face, hiding his eyes. Outside, rain was pelting down against the windows like a thousand tiny fists pounding against the glass, every now and then punctuated with a deep, rolling roar of thunder that shook the earth. Even had it been quiet, he doubted tonight would have been one for sleeping.

Most of the day had been spent chasing after Makalaurë's fosterlings. Elros and Elrond were not troublemakers, but at their age (barely more than toddlers) they seemed to get into absolutely everything.

Because he was the expert, as the eldest of seven, Makalaurë had demanded Maitimo's assistance.

It wasn't that he had anything in particular against the little ones. Some might have called him petty, said that he was bitter over losing the Silmaril once again, and to a Sindarin woman, but Maitimo couldn't have cared less. He was almost relieved. If the glowing jewel was at the bottom of the sea, at least there would be no more trails of carnage and bloodshed in its wake. There it could rest for a thousand ages and never see sunlight, and he would not have to follow.

In any case, the pain of looking after two lively little ones—twins at that—had more to do with his brothers than anything else. To think, the very day that Pityo had passed—

But he didn't really want to think on it. He did not want to contemplate a pair of dead twins frolicking in the evergreen fields of Valinor, untouched by darkness and hatred. The two little ones with the dark hair and the gray eyes looked nothing alike to his brothers, yet the similarities were undeniable and heart-wrenching.

As much as he wished to deny it, part of him sincerely hated the fosterlings. Ever since they had come into his life, his nightmares had grown worse. Before, they had just been about Findekáno's beloved, broken face and disappointed eyes. Now there was fire and dark, twisting branches reaching out to claw and tear at his flesh as he searched in the fading light, covered in blood and gore. It always ended with two sets of familiar, terrified gray eyes and screaming echoing in his ears.

Groaning, he twisted in his sheets again, uncomfortable and so tired but unable to rest. Outside, the storm merely appeared to grow more violent.

"L-Lord Maedhros?"

The voice was so soft, he almost didn't hear it, but Maitimo could not deny its existence, especially when it was followed by the rumble of thunder and a high-pitched squeal of fright. The very sound jolted through his body, awakening instincts long buried and at the same leaving him feeling raw.

Looking over the edge of the bed, he spotted the fosterlings. They clung tightly together, their bodies shivering in their white night-shifts, hand-stitched plush toys clamped tightly within their small, breakable little arms. But the eyes struck him the most; Maitimo could have sworn that, as lightning lit the room again, they flashed green.

"What do you need, little ones?" he asked, not even pretending to have been asleep.

One of them stepped forward, and Maitimo guessed it was the older. Elros was more outspoken than his brother, much the same as Pityo had been. "Can... Can we sleep with you?"

He almost asked why they weren't bothering his brother—they weren't his fosterlings, after all—but then remembered that Makalaurë was out for the night. How inconvenient... He resisted the urge to scoff and glare at the intruders to his bedchambers, though it was hard to find resentment for small, quivering creatures sniveling so pathetically at a bit of thunder.

Sighing, knowing very well that they would not sleep a wink if he did not allow them under his sheets (he had learned something from having so many brothers, at least)—not to mention there would likely be tears and a scolding from Makalaurë later—he held up the corner of the sheet in a clear invitation.

The little ones needed no prompting to hoist themselves onto his mattress and squirm underneath the blankets. It was strange, indeed, feeling the two small bodies curling up against his stomach, little bony elbows poking into his gut. It brought to mind a time when he had greatly desired nothing more than this, to have little ones to watch over and protect, but it was a dream that had long ago been sacrificed on the altar of his Oath, and Maitimo tried to ignore the ache that rose behind his ribs at the knowledge that there would never be a child in his future, even if he had had a future left that wasn't tainted with sin and darkness.

"Go to sleep," he grumbled hypocritically when they continued squirming.

"Sorry," one of them whispered, large eyes peeking up at him. Another deep rumble of thunder brought forth a whimper from the pair, and Maitimo could see that familiar over-bright gleam in their eyes. Wonderful... simply wonderful, he thought sarcastically. The last thing he wanted to deal with was a pair of crying elflings.

Stroking his useless stump over the two shivering bodies, he crooned. "Hush, it's just thunder. There is no reason to be frightened."

"Sounds scary," one of them replied, huddling closer against him. "Monster coming to get us."

Sharply, he recalled a similar scene in his mind. "It is going to come and eat us, Nelyo," a tiny redhead murmured, tugging at his hair.

"There is no monster." Well, that was a lie, but they didn't need to know that if anyone around here was a monster, it was the elf they were cuddled up in bed with.

There was soft grumbling, but the gentle caressing seemed to calm the little ones a bit, as it had two other such twins a very long time ago. Finally, they settled, one head resting against his pinned left arm, the other tucked somehow up against his belly, nuzzling. "Warm," one of them murmured softly, even as their gray eyes drooped closed as human eyes were prone to do. There was a yawn, and murmuring, and then silence.

Unable to sleep, he watched them, feeling more drained than he had in days yet desperate to remain awake. He did not want any more dreams about dead elflings or disappointed eyes. He just wanted empty, restful darkness, to forget for just a few hours. Instead, he focused on their restful, innocent faces and recalled others from millennia past. It had been so long. To think that the same innocent faces of two different elflings relaxed in peaceful slumber had grown up into a pair of murderers, separated from one another by fate, broken and crushed and thrown aside like trash...

Shutting his eyes tightly, Maitimo tried not to remember, but images came unbidden anyway. They always did.

May these little ones have a better future. Maybe he begrudged them the gift that they possessed that had been taken from his own brothers, but there had been too much blood and sorrow for him to wish more upon anyone else, especially two helpless children. May they never know the pain of loss and separation of brothers. May they never know what it feels like to lose everything you care about and have nothing left but empty oaths and promises.

He wondered if Ilúvatar was listening to him, if the One even cared about the wishes and prayers of a Kinslayer. Had he, just by touching these two lives, damned them?

As he laid in silence, he prayed not. But in his heart, he knew that history was destined to repeat itself. The world was too dark and filled with hate. Eventually, even these pure little lights would be stained with its filth.

His mind would know no rest. Not that night, nor any night after.

Chapter Text

It was hard to breathe when he couldn't see her.

That was all that truly crossed Carnistir's mind as he tucked himself up behind a thick tree trunk, hidden within the forest's shadows. From there, he could see the small settlement of men spread out below, just a few houses that looked as though they would blow over in a strong wind. It was not the sort of place one would expect an elven prince to spend his time watching.

But he couldn't not watch. It had nothing to do with the dreary state of the settlement. He couldn't have cared less about the living conditions of the men and women scurrying about their little lives beneath his eyes, reaching the spring of their youth so quickly, passing through summer and fading into their winter in what once had felt like the blink of an eye to the elf. One hundred years at most. And then they were gone, as if they had never existed, returned to the dust from whence they had come.

Now, time seemed to move even faster. It felt as though every time he looked away from her, new wrinkles appeared around her beloved eyes, new streaks of white appearing in her hair.

His Haleth was growing old.

It did not change much. She had already been going gray when he had first met her, when he had fallen hopelessly in love with her and her strong personality and her impressive skills as a warrior. It was her strength which drew him forth, and her attitude which held him captive.

Not once had she ever given him respect. She would not bow and scrape and beg before him for meager scraps like a beast. She was independent, and she put forth every ounce of energy she possessed to take care of her people. Even now, when her body was beginning to become frail, she still went out and worked with the men in the fields, still went on hunting trips, still did all the things her younger self had done. Age had not removed an ounce of her spirit.

Nevertheless, Carnistir felt the time of her death approaching so acutely it was painful.

He shouldn't have been here. It was just feeding the flames of his need to be around her, his One. His obsession. His addiction. Just the sight of her was like a drug, pulling him in, holding him hostage. Every time he came here, every hour spent watching the sway of her hips as she walked, watching her interact with the nameless, faceless men of the village, watching as she went about her daily routine, left him more attached. Every time he pulled away to leave, to go back to his halls and his lands, Carnistir found it harder to make himself pull away.

Just one more moment. One more second. That was all he could say to himself. Desperately, he would clutch at the bark of the tree, clawing away the outer layers, anchoring his body in place.

Now, he could barely spend a fortnight without sight of her. In his chest, anxiety and panic ate away at him. She was passing seventy, well past the age where the bodies of men began to break down and die. Any day, something could happen. He could come back and find her vanished, as though she had never existed, her body laid to rest in the earth, her soul beyond the edges of the world.

The gnawing worry curled in his belly even as he watched her now. She was dressed in ragged trousers as she hauled buckets of water to the house. Most men would have said she was past her greatest beauty—indeed most would not have considered her beautiful at all, even in her prime—but Carnistir had never seen a creature so wondrous in all his life. What he wouldn't have done just to hold her in his arms for an hour and have her hold him back with equal desire—

But she did not want him, and he swore he would leave her be. Carnistir would not break his word to his One, not even if the oath kept him alone and in darkness, spiraling into madness.

He did not know what he would do when she was gone. Maybe he would go completely mad. Maybe he would fade away. Or maybe he would spend the rest of eternity alone, balancing on the edge of sanity.

All he knew was that he could not imagine life without her.

And that was dangerous.

Chapter Text

To my beloved Andreth,

For me there is no rest in the Undying Lands. Rebirth seems empty and barren, the golden fields materialistic and the evergreen trees stagnant. I fear you may have ruined my appreciation of everlasting beauty for all of eternity.

Your face still haunts my dreams, and though others find me foolish, I cannot find it within my heart to let you go nor move on into my peaceful rest. It would feel like betrayal to your spirit and your memory.

I once swore that no elven bride would I take for your sake, and I keep to my oath.

I just pray that, when the time comes at the end of all things, you wait on the other side for my arrival. No other can complete me nor satisfy my cravings. You are the One and only, the always and forever.

My love for you is eternal,
Aikanáro

---

Findaráto worried over many things. It was in his nature to care too much, to absorb all the hurts of those around him and attempt to mend them. The suffering of his brothers and sisters was no different.

Of course, as the oldest he felt it partially his responsibility to watch over them, and that perhaps if he had been wiser during his time in Beleriand things could have been changed—mended. Bonds repaired and strengthened from kin to kin. Forgiveness could have been granted. They could have patched together their broken people, their broken family.

But nothing had come of it. Now it was too late. Exile had changed all of them too much, embittered their spirits, broken and remade them into unrecognizable pieces that no longer fit together.

None as much as Aikanáro, though.

Day by day, his youngest brother seemed only to grow worse. Vacant eyes once like fire now stared dully out the window, full of no more than ashes and fragmented memories. Sometimes there would be days without movement, without speech or acknowledgement or food. Sometimes, Findaráto feared that even in the beautiful lands of Valinor his young brother would foster no will to live and would fade away, back into the comforting darkness of the Halls of the Waiting.

Aikanáro lingered, and he did not know whether or not to be grateful.

The little consolation he could find was the small journal half-hidden beneath his brother's mattress. Findaráto never touched it, but it gave him solace. Aikanáro was not an empty husk drained of life and fire, not yet. The spirit for which he was named had not yet abandoned its host.

It was but a little comfort. Nevertheless, any catharsis was welcome.

---

To my dearest beloved,

Days linger on like ages. I have tried and failed to find my peace here.

I know Findaráto has yet said nothing of it to Atar, but he plans to leave the shores of Valinor, to go back to Beleriand or whatever is left of it, to remake our home there. It seems I am not the only heart fostering discontent on the blessed shores. I will not be the only one who can find no rest or healing here.

I plan to leave with my brother, and whoever may choose to join our mad quest. I do not think I can bear the sight of unchanging green fields even one more year, one more day or hour or moment.

Though I know Beleriand will offer no such peace to my mind or heart, at least it may offer some comfort. My home is lost, but perhaps with my hands buried in the earth that we once shared, I will feel at rest for a time.

You have my love always,
Aikanáro

---

At first, Findaráto had been hesitant to let Aikanáro out of his sight. The youngest brother barely seemed able to function on his own.

But when he first saw his brother kneeling against the earth, silent with eyes closed—brow smooth of deep furrows, finally at peace—he gave up trying to control the wild spirit. He did not do more than call to his younger sibling, announcing dinner was prepared, and retreat back into their abode.

When Aikanáro did not come, he was not surprised.

When—two days later—his brother disappeared altogether, he was still not surprised.

He fretted and worried and waited anxiously, but Findaráto knew that controlling the Fell Fire in his brother's blood would do nothing but destroy all that remained of the fragile, longing spirit. Best that he let Aikanáro come and go of his own free will.

At least the book disappeared as well. At that, Findaráto felt a touch of relief.

---

To my beloved Andreth,

I am here once again. The earth has changed much since I last set foot upon it. Our Beleriand is no more, but I mourn it not. The change is almost reassuring. The rest of the world moves on, even as the Undying Lands linger eternally, frozen and removed from all time.

Though I do not claim to be content, wandering the wilds of the land helps. Being free helps. Even the changing seasons eases my longing ever so slightly.

None of them will ever compare, though. I long for your arms about me as acutely as ever. I will never be content until we are as one, forever. If that means I must wait for all of time to pass me by, then I shall.

I found a lake yester-eve and settled there for the night. I still see your face in her clear waters—though she is not Aeluin—and I look up and you are vanished again. But part of me believes you are still here. It would be just like you to watch over me. Of the two of us, you were always the more level-headed, O wise-woman of the Bëorians.

Even after all this time, I have not forgotten you. I do not think I could if I tried.

You have my love, always,
Aikanáro

Chapter Text

It was a whisper at first, barely audible on the wind, brushing past his ears like a phantom. Findekáno paused, reigning in his horse, and his cousin beside him halted, eyes narrowed and hand twitching towards his sword.

"Relax," he soothed. "I just thought I heard..."

It came again, and this time there was no denying it. Russandol heard it as well, his head turning towards the origin of the voice.

"Singing," he murmured.

Findekáno frowned. Singing, here? They were in the middle of nowhere! As far as the prince knew, no one lived in this part of the forest. Occasionally, the Noldorin princes would come here to hunt, but never had any of his cousins mentioned seeing or hearing anyone within these woods. But then, he and Russandol had traveled farther south than usual...

"Let us go and see who hides from us," Findekáno burst out, grinning. His enthusiasm was not returned, but he did not expect it to be. It was his job to be cheerful enough for the both of them, after all. Russandol was such a pessimist!

"Findekáno..." his cousin groaned in agitation.

"Come on," he urged, wheeling his horse around and turning her in the direction of the voices. "We can make friends."

"You are insane," Russandol grumbled, but he followed nevertheless, a helpless smile blooming on his thin lips. Triumphantly, Findekáno grinned and nudged his mare forth between the thick trunks of the trees and into the darkness of the forest without hesitation. Rather than being frightened, his racing blood thrilled him.

They ventured deeper, until the night sky was completely obscured by the towering canopies above, and all they had to ground themselves to reality was the music, the voices twisting through the trees, chanting in heavy rhythm. Findekáno felt his body begin to sway with the beat of drums.

"Findekáno...?" Russandol sounded hesitant, but Findekáno was enthralled. There was just something otherworldly about the calling voices. And calling, they were. Drawing him forth from the darkness and leading him along. None of his cousin's nervousness could halt the thrumming resonance within his body. Something about this just felt right, as if something beyond his senses was urging him forward into the unknown.

And then there was light. Golden and soft at first, and then brilliant in reds and oranges and golds. Thick, sweet smoke filled his lungs, leaving him dizzy. Ahead of them, in a clearing striped by the shadows of trees, Findekáno could make out figures swaying, silhouetted in the embrace of the roaring fire at their backs.

The pair paused, each looking on, one with amazement and one with trepidation. Findekáno nearly threw himself off his horse in his eagerness to get closer.

Russandol scrambled after him. "Findekáno, what if they see you?"

Personally, he was too enchanted to care. Pure feeling washed through him from head to toe, shuddering its way up his spine and wrecking any rational thought he had once possessed. It was like being drunk on the finest of wines! Giddiness bubbled up in his stomach, fluttering against his ribs wildly.

Without thinking, he stepped to the edge of the clearing and looked out at the elves. Immediately, he knew these were no Noldor or Sindar. They were something else, something mysterious and not of the West. Dark elves.

Spinning and twirling, they seemed to move as one being before his eyes at first. And then he began to differentiate between them, male and female, pale-haired and dark. Each moved like a divine creature; never had Findekáno seen such dancing. The soft waltzes of his own people were positively tame and dull in comparison!

But one in particular caught his eye. Slender but fuller and more curvaceous than any Noldorin woman and with hair like silk and flame, redder than even Russandol's, full of wild curls. She turned, her eyes wide and dark, her mouth open as if in exultation or perhaps ecstasy. Heat flashed across Findekáno's body, blood flooding beneath his cheeks, reddening his normally pale features and creeping down his neck.

Swallowing thickly, he attempted to look away from her sultry movements, how her feet pranced so delicately through the grass about the flames, how her hips swayed and her arms twined and curled over her head with the music, bringing the sound to life, embodying its spirit in her very movement, her very being. He was helplessly ensnared at the sight.

And she was watching him. And he could not have moved, not even if his life depended on it.

At least not until her arms opened and beckoned, her breast heaving and her eyes falling half-hooded in the heavy air and sweet golden light. At that moment, she looked to be Arien herself!

He did not think before stepping into the circle of her arms, finding himself lost in fire and darkness and passion, with her soulful eyes burning through him. Russandol's startled shout fell on deaf ears; Findekáno was beyond words.

---

When he awoke, there was a thin trail of smoke rising from where the fire had once burned so brightly. Dawn was creeping into the sky, covering the stars in pale light. Groaning, Findekáno sat up from where he was lying in dirt and grass. Running a hand through his tangled hair, he pulled free at least a half-dozen leaves.

"Finally awake," a familiar voice commented nearby. His dear cousin. Russandol did not look amused.

"What happened?" he groaned. He remembered... he remembered fire... and a woman... with the softest hair and the deepest eyes...

"Your maiden tupped you," Russandol told him bluntly. "They left early this morn."

Disappointment filled Findekáno for only a few moments before he perked up. "Do you happen to recall which direction they were headed, cousin?"

His sharp Russandol caught on to his plan immediately. "No. Absolutely not. Findekáno..."

Smiling broadly, Findekáno stood and stretched, listening to his joints popping and moaning in satisfaction. "We should get going if we are to catch up to them before nightfall."

Russandol just rolled his eyes. "Sometimes I wonder why I even put up with you. You are more annoying than a persistent elfling."

At that, Findekáno smirked cheekily, as he had in their younger years. His inner child was bursting with energy. "Your life would be dreadfully boring without me."

After all, someone had to have enough adventurous soul to fill up both their hearts.

Chapter Text

The cries did not wake him. Rather, it was the shifting of the mattress which brought Maitimo into consciousness, his eyes fluttering as the world came into focus, only for his gaze to catch on his wife's slender figure crossing the room, clad in only her nightgown.

His ears caught up with him. There was crying in the other room, the baby no doubt.

But not theirs.

Sighing, Maitimo pushed himself out of bed, shivering as cool night air washed over his bared skin and slipped beneath the loose covering of his night-shirt. On soundless feet, he made to follow his mate to the chambers which he had given to the nephews of their guest. The door, as expected, was half-open, and the crying wafted from within.

"Hush little one, do not cry." Softly, her voice washed over him, low but smooth, settling. Maitimo leaned against the doorframe and peered inside.

His Istelindë was pacing on the wooden floor, her unbraided white hair catching in the moonlight drifting through the open balcony doors. In her arms a small bundle rested, the child from which the pitiful little whimpers were originating, small hands reaching out and gripping against her nightgown, such tiny fingers curling into strong little fists as the dwarrowling sniffled.

"Now, now," she soothed, stroking the little one's pudgy cheeks, "We must be quiet and go to sleep. We would not want to wake your uncle at this time of night; he needs his rest." She moved towards the balcony, her body becoming obscured by the diaphanous curtains as she looked out over the sea glistening beneath the stars. Turning, her face was lit in sharp relief by Isil, the delicate lines of her cheeks and brow coming into focus.

Even from across the room, though, Maitimo could see the content look on her unlined features. And he could see the glittering sadness hiding just beyond her pale blue eyes, an ever-present ghost that haunted Maitimo to the depths of his soul.

He found himself frozen in the doorway, heart beating heavily in his throat. With a baby in her arms, she looked so perfect despite her sadness. It was as if she were made for the image, and it burned itself sharply into his brain—the curve of her body as she rocked the child, the cant of her chin as she smiled gently down at the babe's face, even the way she walked and the way her voice lilted as she cooed soft nothings into the silence of the night, giggling softly at the child's answering indecipherable noises.

Swallowing thickly, he backed away from the door and pressed his forehead to the cool stone of the hallway, unable to watch anymore lest the scalding bile rising at the back of his throat overflow. The scene was so domestic and peaceful, and it was something he neither deserved nor could ever possess. But he desired it fiercely. Maitimo shut his eyes tightly as his fingers curled into a white-knuckled fist against the wall.

They desired children. Always, even before exile, before any of Fëanáro's madness and schemes, before the Darkening, they had decided on a large family. Being the oldest of seven brothers should have deterred Maitimo from such a thing, but he knew he was made for it. He had rocked his brothers to sleep, let them crawl into his bed, sang them lullabies and read them stories out of necessity, because their father wasn't there to fulfill his role. And he had found peace in the doing, despite the resentment that he carried for his sire in his heart.

But this was different. The powerful desire for his own children—children of his flesh and blood, shared between himself and his wife in the most powerful, sacred way imaginable—had never abated, not even after he knew it was no longer possible.

Elves mated once—took one spouse in all their immortal lives. Istelindë had chosen him, and he had chosen her. Even after he had returned, his body and spirit broken by his Oath, she had never given up on him, had refused to toss him aside as she should have. It was probably that which had saved him from losing himself on the golden shores.

But there was too much damage, and his body and spirit were not the only things broken in their first few months together after his rebirth.

They couldn't have children. Or rather, he couldn't have children. The Halls of the Waiting may have healed their spirits, but it had not mended his ruined body. If it was only a hand, Maitimo would have hardly cared; he had learned to live with only one so long ago. But anyone who believed that Morgoth had let him off so lightly was a fool.

The Dark Lord could look into minds. He could see the deepest, darkest secrets hidden inside. And once he knew your greatest desire, it was only his pleasure to take it away from you.

Maitimo hadn't a hope of hiding his most powerful dreams and wishes from the fallen Ainu. If there was one thing Morgoth knew, it was where to strike and how to strike in order to destroy, to obliterate and decimate completely. To shatter.

Why Istelindë had stayed with him afterwards was a mystery considering his betrayal not only of her love, but also of her people and her home. Why she had returned to Middle-earth with him vexed him even more so, when she could have petitioned the Valar to be free of him, when she could have gone on to create the large family she desired in a land of eternal protection and peace.

On the other side of the wall, her crooning gave way to a soft lullaby, a lullaby he had heard thousands of times over. She sang it to him often enough, when he couldn't sleep. Now she sang it softly to the babe in her arms, her rolling voice of a deeper timbre than other pure, high elven pitches, as if the sound had been born directly from the sea which her people loved so dearly. Even now, though, it carried her inner hopelessness, locked away in the corners of her mind, allowing it to wash over Maitimo in powerful waves, filling him with equal despair and nauseating guilt.

Selfishly, he wished that the babe she held in her arms was theirs, an elfling with silver hair and large blue eyes just like hers.

But it was not to be.

Turning away, Maitimo headed back to his bed, curled up beneath the covers and buried his face into his pillow, listening to her distant voice until it, too, died away into the night. Unbidden tears pooled and spilled shamefully. Even after the madness of the Oath was over, he had yet to finish shedding the promised tears, unnumbered. Perhaps he would be shedding them for the rest of eternity. Perhaps that was his punishment.

It was a long time later when she returned to their bed, her face tired and her sadness suffocating. When she lay down, he pulled her back against his chest and wrapped his arms about her tightly, holding on for dear life, kissing the nape of her neck with a whispered apology.

He didn't dare ask forgiveness, though she would have readily given it. She would forgive him for all the wicked deeds that stained his soul.

But in the end, he would never forgive himself for breaking their dreams.

Chapter Text

Until now, Elrond had not believed perfection existed.

So much of his life had been surrounded and filled with darkness and pain that it was hard to believe a world could exist without it. From his earliest memories up until the Battle of the Last Alliance, every corner of life he turned seemed to lead to more suffering and death, more lost hope and more fallen friends. His parents... his brother... his king and people...

Even after the battles were finished, he had fallen into a state of despair, wandering aimlessly. He threw himself into creating his haven, and the hours were slaved away with building, preparations and paperwork. They had won, but he had lost.

And then Celebrían had come into his life like a star fallen straight from the blankets of heaven, nestling herself comfortably into his heart against his will and refusing to leave.

Restful peace had fallen over Middle-earth. The darkness of Mordor had been vanquished, albeit at a heavy cost, and the earth was healing. As for him, his small family had grown from one to two to four in what seemed like the blink of an eye. First his wife and her warm smile, then their sons, twin troublemakers who had him wrapped around their little fingers like twine.

For once, he felt no bitterness over his past, no resentment over Elros' choice to join the Followers, no despair over the death of Gil-Galad. He had his family, and he could want for nothing else. There was nothing else he desired.

Sunlight fell down upon their clearing beside the river. Having dispensed of his heavy robes, Elrond had only a tunic and leggings on, his boots lying off in the grass, and his wife was curled against his side in a loose white summer gown. Her small hand was lying atop his on their blanket spread over the ground, and her head was resting on his shoulder.

Around them, the forest was alive, green and plentiful, the trees whispering of sweet rain water in their roots and the delights of Arien's rays upon their leaves. The river was babbling softly in the background, glimmering and dancing in the sun.

But that was not what held Elrond's attention captive and left him with a helpless smile on his lips.

The little ones had taken captive his poor seneschal and dragged him into the river, where the three of them were splashing and dunking one another. Or rather, the twins were attempting to dunk Glorfindel. The warrior had a significant advantage.

Laughing heartily, the scarred warrior chased the squealing elflings through the cool water, catching one squirming child beneath each of his arms, somehow infinitely gentle despite the power of his form. Spinning the pair around, Glorfindel tossed them back into the river, grinning broadly at how they screamed in delight and begged for a repeat when they resurfaced.

Elrond did not even want to blink. The fingers he had twined with his wife's gave a soft squeeze, reassuring his mind that this was tangible and real.

She shifted, her blue eyes rising to stare straight into his from her radiant face. Her free hand rose and cupped his cheek, stroking along the curve of the bone. "You look content, husband," she observed quietly.

"I am," he assured her.

She merely hummed in response, her fingers absently tracing nonsense patterns on his cheek and over his nose. "We should come here more often if it helps you relax so."

His eyes slipped back towards the children, who were now climbing all over their babysitter, yanking on his mussed golden braids. "It is not so much the place, I think," he admitted. And it was true. There was just something in the air and the water and the earth that soothed him, a lightness that he could never recall feeling before in all his three thousand some years of existence. But it is much more than that, he thought as he beheld his children. "The world feels at peace."

Her hand had moved, and she was playing with the dark locks of his hair drizzled over one shoulder. "The perfect time to raise a family," she commented coyly, her smile changing into something that had Elrond's world suddenly focusing sharply in on her. "If our two little troublemakers have not yet exhausted you, perhaps we could do with one or two more..."

Does she mean...? Gulping, he leaned closer to her, wondering how he had been blessed with such a lovely creature as his own. "Perhaps," he agreed, and the word came out as a breath upon her pale rose lips. He could see her silver eyelashes in stark detail, hiding the sultry, deepening blue of her eyes as their air mingled and her wandering hand found its home at the nape of his neck, reeling him in closer...

"Ada! Ada, come play with us!"

The squealing pulled them out of their daze, and Elrond pecked a chaste kiss on his wife's lips. "Later," he murmured as he pulled away, instead looking out over their little patch of paradise.

The world took on a vibrant hue as his eyes opened. Air filled his lungs, sweet and pure, and all the sounds rang in his ears, the whispers of the trees and birds, the squeals of happy elflings, the rumbling of the river. He felt it rise from his toes upwards in a wave. The warmth of sunlight hit his upturned face, and Elrond found that he could have stood there forever with his wife giggling in the afternoon sun, watching his elflings splashing irreverently in the river as overwhelming peace suffused his very being.

If he could have halted the flow of time... if this moment could just stretch on forever...

"Ada, hurry up! You have to help us dunk Glorfindel!" One of the twins chorused to the warrior's loud protests.

"I know, I know! I am coming!" His feet carried him to the water, and he went in fully clothed to the laughter of his wife, immediately grabbing his seneschal and dunking him completely under the river's writhing surface. Glorfindel came up sputtering and glaring half-heartedly.

If this moment could stretch on forever, he would be content for eternity.

Chapter Text

Always Findekáno had been a happy drunk ever since he had been old enough to partake in wine at royal gatherings and parties. Intoxication had never turned him into a maudlin creature bemoaning his woes to the world. No, it made him into a giggling, smiling flirt who spent the evening complimenting ladies and singing dirty tunes.

This was different, though.

Never had he made such a hard decision—such a terrifying decision—as he had made this day.

The king closed his eyes and forced down another goblet of the finest wine, waiting for the familiar rush, the dizzy haze to settle over his mind and sweep away the last few hours. He just wanted to forget, just for a while, for a night, and not remember...

Not remember the frightened, betrayed silver eyes or the feeling of small fingers holding onto his braided tresses for dear life. Not remember the whimpering and crying and pleading. Not remember the chill that had run down his spine so tellingly when he spoke, "I will return for you, yonya," and both of them knew it was a lie.

Slowly, Findekáno lowered his forehead to the smooth, cold tabletop, not caring that his goblet had toppled over in his haste to put it down, nor that the rich red wine was spreading across the hard surface, dripping onto the white carpet and leaving splotches that looked too much like blood. His head was pounding, but the familiar lightness was not settling into his bones. His fingers tightly gripped the edge of the table until his knuckles went white.

Some sound made it past his lips, strangled, and the king refused to analyze it, afraid of what he would find. Ai Eru! Just to forget!

"Fingon? Fingon, where are you?"

Her voice was close, and he did not even attempt to move as her soft footsteps brushed the carpet just outside the door. His wife knocked softly. "Fingon, are you in there?"

At the sound of her words, he shuddered and felt tears pool in his eyes. When he had told her of his decision, she had wept for three nights. It didn't matter that Ereinion would be safe at the Havens. It didn't matter that they were so close to the front of war and he wanted their son as far away as possible. To her, he had been taking her pride and joy away, her only child, her beloved son.

Did she hate him? She ought to, really.

It just felt like too much. Too much pain and worry swirling around inside him until he felt sick with it. The day of battle approached all too rapidly. If they failed, his people would be slaughtered and only Thingol would stand between Morgoth and all of Beleriand. What would happen to Sáriel? What would happen to Ereinion? Or his cousins? Was he going to have to watch the rest of them die? Would he have to watch Maitimo die?

So caught up was he that he neither heard the door opening, nor the approach of small, slipper-clad feet on the carpet. It was not until his wife sat down beside him and ran a gentle hand through his unbound hair that he sat up, startled, hiccupping out another sob.

Her eyes were a gentle, deep violet, and not angry or filled with hate. "Oh, dear one," she crooned, pulling his head down to rest against her shoulder. "You should have said something, Fingon."

And just like that, he was spilling everything. Every doubt, every fear, every ounce of resentment and bitterness that welled in the pits of his soul, all of it came spilling out between wretched sobs, muffled by the velvet of her gown. And his wife's cool hands felt so wonderful on the back of his neck and combing through his hair, soothing and comforting.

She let him speak, and he revealed all.

---

It could have been minutes or hours later when the tears had drained away, and he lay against her limply, her red curls shielding them from the outside world. Deeply, he breathed in her scent of wildflowers and the deep forest. "Did I make the right choice?" he asked softly. "Do you hate me, Sáriel?"

Her hands curled into small fists in his hair, but did not pull or twist. "You made the right choice," she told him, her voice strained. "Ereinion will be safe in the Havens."

And then she let out a sigh, her grip loosening. "I could not hate you even if I tried," she added. "I resent that you made the decision without telling me, without consulting me, but I would eventually have agreed."

Findekáno let out a breath he hadn't realized he was holding and allowed himself to snuggle further into her embrace. He felt raw and a little ill, but the comfort she offered was more than enough to soothe his body and spirit. "I am glad," he whispered, closing his eyes and nuzzling against her neck. "I fear I will not see him again, but knowing that he will be safe gives me comfort."

"Fingon?"

"It is a feeling in my bones. I feel like something terrible is going to happen." The king wrapped his arms tightly around his wife, pressing her against him, tangible to his touch. "I saw the look in his eyes when we parted. Ereinion can feel it, too."

Sáriel embraced him in return, resting her cheek on his hair. "All will be well," she whispered. "Have faith, dear one."

Had he been sober, Findekáno might have attempted a smile and agreed, might have complimented her and lured her into their bed for a night of passion, but he was a wreck. "The Valar have abandoned us," he whispered instead, breath hitching in his chest. "Tears unnumbered ye shall shed..."*

"All will be well..." she crooned, stroking his back and shoulders, rocking his body like a child's in the circle of her arms. "Everything will be well..."

But it wouldn't. He knew it in his blood and bones. He knew it in his heart and soul. He knew it as he knew Arien would light the sky each day and sink into the West each night.

Chapter Text

The first time he heard her sing, his feet had frozen midstride, suspended upon the air. Three elves ran into him from behind before Makalaurë had the sense to step to the side of the street, his silver eyes searching.

And then he saw her.

Like a divine creature come to life, she stood in the doorway of one of the shops, sweeping away as she sang. Around her, elves paused and listened for a few seconds before moving on. Who could fail to stop and listen to that sweet voice trilling above the daily clamor of carts and boots upon the cobbled streets? If Makalaurë could ever imagine what the voice of a vala might sound like, he imagined it would sound like hers. Divine. Indescribable. Entrancing.

She was on the opposite side of the street, but when she looked up she somehow caught his eye, as if she'd known he was watching her. Beautiful blue eyes behind a veil of silver hair widened as the pair beheld each other, and her soft melody ceased.

Makalaurë did not dare blink.

Her face burst into the most glorious vibrant red tint, a dusting that spread over her cheeks and nose and left him floundering for thought. And then she slowly smiled—one of those shy little smiles that made his heart beat faster beneath his ribs—and she began to sing again, her words lost in the movement and clutter of the busy streets of Tirion.

But not the haunting pitch. She turned away, and Makalaurë did also, his feet carrying him away down the street, away from the rising tones that filled his very fëa with delight and gave him pleasant tingles down his spine all the way to his fingertips and toes.

His only. His fated. His One.

The next day, he was back again.

---

And then his world turned upside-down.

There was darkness and fire. The world looked an alien place to his eyes. Faces were stark and shadowed, eyes glowing like embers, filled with a strange sort of lust that chilled him to the bone. And above him, his father stood, his voice echoing through their ears with power that reverberated through every cell, which held the attention in a helpless cage of fascination, drawing in, imprisoning within bars of charisma and passion.

Makalaurë would never—could never—forget the words spoken, for they defined his life evermore.

"Be he foe or friend, be he foul or clean
Brood of Morgoth or bright Vala,
Elda or Maia or Aftercomer,
Neither law, nor love, nor league of swords,
Dread nor danger, not Doom itself
Shall defend him from Fëanáro, and Fëanáro's kin,
Whoso hideth or hoardeth, or in hand taketh,
Finding keepeth or afar casteth
A Silmaril. This swear we all...
Death we will deal him ere Day's ending,
Woe unto world's end! Our word hear thou,
Eru Allfather! To the everlasting
Darkness doom us if our deed faileth...
On the holy mountain hear in witness
and our vow remember,
Manwë and Varda!"*

And above his head, Fëanáro lifted his sword, and it flashed red as blood in the firelight. One by one, so, too, did Makalaurë's brothers lift their blades, gleaming with vile promise, and in his kin he first beheld the lust for blood that would consume his life.

He was last to lift his sword. Upon its hilt, his hand faltered. Blue eyes and silver hair filled his gaze and a voice fit only for the ears of Ilúvatar sang sweetly through his mind. Two elflings—dark-haired and barely grown—whispered against his shoulders, their eyes adoring.

But in the end, his father's gaze upon him hardened his heart, and Makalaurë held his sword aloft, jaw set firmly, and swore his Oath.

Later, he would come to wish that he had heeded the warning of his heart, but by then it was far too late. For all of them.

---

Surprisingly, he did not hesitate to take his first life. Or the second. Or the third.

It was afterwards, after the screams and the fire in the streets and the limp, mutilated bodies that Makalaurë paused. It was when he beheld his reflection, hands poised above the untouched waters upon which their new ships rested, that he found himself unable to move.

The prince did not recognize his face. It was as if someone else stared back at him with tangled black hair and maddened silver eyes, as if it were someone else streaked in crimson and wearing torn clothing, someone else with a blood-crusted sword at their waist and scarlet-painted hands reflected in the water. Was that... really him?

Long since had the bloodlust faded, but until now Makalaurë had driven reality from his mind. He had killed them. They would never rise again. They would not return home to their husbands or wives or children. They were in the Halls now.

He had put them there. He had slain them. It was their blood upon his hands and in his hair and brushed across his cheeks and soaked into his tunic.

For a long time, he looked, until voices called his name and any chance of thoroughly cleaning away the proof of his shame and sin was passed. And he couldn't help but wonder if he even deserved to be clean after this. Did he have the right to wash away the blood?

Even if he did, would it really be gone?

---

Beleriand was a harsh land. All too soon, Makalaurë found himself fighting, the blood of the enemy flowing black, and later the blood of his kin flowing red. The world passed before his eyes like a nightmare, and time continued flowing.

For a long time, he did not hesitate. He could not afford to.

---

But when he did, it was not after battle, but during. It was at the sobbing and soft pleas of two helpless children huddled pathetically together in the corner of their closet, unprotected, their terrified eyes round and bright as they beheld his gore-riddled figure.

It was not the first time he had seen children awaiting their bloody fate at the hands of his men—his own hands—but something about the picture shook him. Perhaps his own brothers had been weighing heavily upon his heart, or perhaps he was just sick of war, sick of killing. Perhaps he just wanted to rest, wanted to save something rather than destroy it, nurture and protect rather than slaughter.

Perhaps he wanted to go against their Curse.

For even as his sword rose to strike them down as one, aimed for their throats—and a swift ending it would be—his arm seemed to freeze, refused to carry through the swing.

They were looking into his eyes, begging and frightened. And Makalaurë could not kill them.

His arm lowered, and with a frustrated growl he sheathed the naked blade and dragged a hand through his blood-streaked dark hair. Below him, the little ones were shivering, their tiny hands entangled tightly as they watched him the same way one watched a wild animal that might attack at any moment. When he turned towards them, his eyes blazing, reflected in theirs, they shrunk away as if he'd raised a hand to strike them.

Now, how was he going to explain this to Maitimo?

---

Sick. He was so, so sick of everything. Of the Oath. Of killing. Of watching his brothers and family and friends die. Why could it not end?

Why did they have to go through with this?

The dark whispers plagued him incessantly. But in the end, he could not convince Maitimo to abandon their foul Oath.

In the tent of Eonwë, they found the Silmarilli, glorious beyond belief. Some part of Makalaurë, a deep and frightening part he knew was blood-inherited from his fey-eyed father, stirred and relished in the achieving of their goal and the possession of these jewels. His hands reached out to embrace the perfect facets without thought.

Only when he felt the heat upon his hands did he pause.

If they took them, what then? They would be hunted. Where would they go? They had no home now. They could not return to Valinor. They could not return to their camp. There was no one in Beleriand who would welcome the Curse upon their doorstep.

They were stealing from the Herald of Manwë.

But all the logical reasoning, all the thoughts that stood between him and final damnation, all of them seemed to dissolve beneath the light of the Silmarilli, as if those treacherous thoughts were the early morning haze that evaporated beneath the first rays of Arien.

His fingers touched the surface, and they burned.

He did not hesitate at all when he threw the Silmaril into the ocean, into the arms of Ulmo beyond his reach or the reach of any other. Only afterwards did he regret.

---

For how long he was alone upon those shores, he did not know. What did years mean to an immortal being, alone and cursed? Days and nights dragged on like millennia, yet when next he checked more than three thousand years had come and gone.

Rumors reached even his ears as he listened to the gulls and the ripples of the ocean and the wind whipping his hair.

Whispers of white ships sailing East. Not West.

For three millennia, he had faithfully guarded the shores, his eyes squinting, waiting, watching for a glimmer in the dark depths with disgusting lust. For three millennia, his voice had hoarsely recited his sins to the rhythm and displeasure of the sea and the ravaging storms. For three millennia, he had been consumed by guilt and regret and self-hatred until it seemed that nothing of hope or joy could survive in his world. Nothing less than he deserved.

But now the call... the hope in his chest... the possibility... was so tempting.

He wanted to go. He had to know if she sailed to the East, or if she had forsaken him. Even if it ended in the agony of separation, he had to know!

When he finally began to turn from the sea—from his vigil—for the final time, there was a pause, a moment that seemed frozen in time. He took in the clear day, the gentle waves on the beach below the cliff, the scent of salt and mist filling his nose and clean, pure air filling his lungs and the dark depths below that embraced the Silmaril which he both loathed and lusted after.

He hesitated, because he deserved nothing less than to suffer eternally. What right had he to cease his vigil?

In the end, though, the call was too strong. Besides, what did one more black mark upon his filthy, stained fëa really matter?

He was a Kinslayer. One more sin would hardly lengthen his personal list of atrocities.

And he did not regret this decision.

Chapter Text

Sometimes, Findekáno swore that his brother lived to make his life difficult.

Bad enough that their people were homeless and living in tents. Bad enough that their uncle and king was dead. Bad enough that the heir apparent was kidnapped and being held for ransom!

And if all that wasn't enough, Turukáno still had to go and put his foot in his mouth!

Frustrated, Findekáno resisted the urge to destroy something, to rip the tent apart with his bare hands, or maybe go out and hack a few trees down with his sword. Anything to rid himself of the fury that bubbled and boiled over in his veins.

On the one hand, he could understand his brother actions. Turukáno was merely hiding his devastation beneath a facade of malice and scorn, but it nevertheless irked Findekáno that his brother's chosen victim was not even here to defend himself. It was one thing to curse the name of Fëanáro. It was quite another to bring insult to Maitimo.

---

"Why have you not gone after him?" Findekáno choked out. "He may still... still be alive..." And still be suffering...

Makalaurë stood before them, looking older in his eyes than any elf Findekáno had ever met. The silver gaze pierced him down to the bone, further even, with sorrow and steely resolve. Never had his cousin looked less like himself, less like the gentle soul that loved singing sonnets in the gardens, sweet and innocent and pure as his deep, carrying voice.

"It had been decided many a year ago that Nelyafinwë was a lost cause," Makalaurë told him. "We could not give in to the Dark Lord's demands, nor had we the manpower to mount a rescue attempt. Besides, in all likelihood he is long dead and Morgoth dangles nothing but empty promises before our eyes, hoping to lure us into a trap."

The words were cold and even, so unlike his cousin.

"But surely--"

"We will do nothing," Makalaurë interrupted. "That is final."

It was then that Turukáno spoke, and his words made Findekáno's teeth draw blood from his lips in an effort not to scream at his brother. "The only decision you have made that I agree with. We need not waste our remaining warriors rescuing a traitor."

There was a heartbeat of silence. Two. And then Turukáno found himself thrown halfway across the room, the side of his face already blooming a muscle-deep red.

"How dare you, scum?" Carnistir, like a dark avenger, towered over them, glorious in his fury. Eyes like emerald stars blazed with a light so akin to his father's that Findekáno shivered in a mixture of terror and awe. The fourth brother, once bashful if a bit blunt, now stepped forward like a predator approaching its prey, his hands twitching into taut fists, lust for blood in his eyes. "You may speak however you will about our father, but you will never utter my brother's name again!"

Please, Turukáno, be silent. Please, be silent...

But it was not to be.

"And why should I withhold my judgment from Nelyafinwë? He claims friendship with my family, yet he left us all to suffer and die crossing over Helcaraxë! He claimed his just desserts!"

"You filthy rat!" It took Makalaurë and Nolofinwë to hold back Carnistir from throttling the foolhardy elf. Findekáno just lowered his head in shame. No matter how much he resented the fact that Maitimo had not miraculously convinced Fëanáro to return with the ships, he knew he could not truly blame his cousin, whose first thoughts had been for him upon reaching the far shores if Makalaurë was to be believed. But his brother...

Turukáno had reason to be bitter, to hate.

In the end, Carnistir had to be forcibly removed from the room. When Turukáno rose, breathless but smug, half his face was beginning to darken into mottled purple.

"I will not take back my words," his brother proclaimed, voice steady, eyes bleeding with the purest scorn Findekáno had ever seen. "I hope he suffered!"

And then he stormed away in a huff, leaving the room quiet. Makalaurë's head was bowed, his eyes closed tightly and his fingers clutching at the edge of the table. The inner conflict seemed to twist and writhe within him for a few moments, struggling to break free and release the monster that Findekáno knew waited and watched just beneath the beautiful exterior. But it receded slowly, blanketed once again in despair.

"Let us continue," his cousin finally said, voice again even and cold.

---

Fëanárions never forgive, and they never forget.

Findekáno had to work hard to keep his younger brother out of harm's way for the next fortnight until all the violent tempers had cooled and returned to distant, icy facades.

But that was not the worst of it. Though he resented his uncle, Findekáno loved his cousins dearly, and Maitimo most of all. Shocked and horrified, he had confronted Turukáno afterwards, cornered his black-eyed brother in their shared tent.

"Did you mean it?"

At that, Turukáno took him in with an assessing eye, and he didn't look sorry in the least. Rather, his brother smiled. "Forgive me. I did not mean to affront our cousin's delicate sensibilities." The sadistic amusement stung like needles against Findekáno's heart. This journey had changed them all, and none of them for the better, it seemed.

"Turno," he choked out. "What you said... about Maitimo."

His brother paused. "I know you are fond of him, Káno, but he abandoned you. He deserved his fate, whether you wish to admit it or not!"

"Your hatred clouds your judgment," Findekáno insisted. "He would never have willingly left us to die. Could you really expect him to fight back against Uncle? Could you expect him to win against his own King? What would you have had him do, brother? The impossible?"

"I would have had him act out of loyalty rather than cowardice," his brother spat. "For that is all he was. A liar and a coward. May he rot in the deepest pits of Angband!"

It took all Findekáno's strength not to hurt his brother, all his strength to stay the hand that wanted so badly to paint black and blue across the pale, untouched cheek left unmarked by Carnistir's fury. And Turukáno knew it, could see it in his eyes, the animalistic urge to lash out, to harm, to soothe his own pain. And from it, his brother took pleasure.

"You see, Findekáno, now they know what it is like. They know the loss they have heaped upon us. They know our despair. This is justice. Accept it."

So angry he was, Findekáno could not bear even to speak.

But it seemed his little brother didn't care a whit. Instead, he looked towards the eldest and smirked, a look that felt slimy to Findekáno's gaze, as if some pale shade had replaced the pure soul of the brother he had known his whole life and was directing Turukáno's body like a puppet.

"You are affronted as well," Turukáno observed blandly. "You need not forgive me. I do not feel sorry in the least."

---

It was not the desire to unite their houses which drove him from his tent in the dark, only a bow on his back and a sword at his hip. It was not his friendship with Maitimo either.

It was his fury.

It was the lack of justice.

It was the need to prove to Turukáno that he was wrong, that this was not justice, that this was not fate, that there was still something good left in the world, and that his best friend was not a backstabbing liar and a coward.

Selfish though it was, Findekáno departed.

---

And selfishly, he smirked at his brother when he returned with Maitimo mostly intact. When Turukáno glared darkly at him, bade him silently with only a hard glance to abandon his post at his cousin's sickbed, Findekáno could only silently jeer in reply.

Turukáno would have been quite affronted himself had he ever realized that he was the catalyst that had returned Maitimo to their arms.

Fëanárioni were not the only ones who never forgave and never forgot.

Chapter Text

When he finally saw the land, Amras felt a lump forming in the back of his throat. It choked out any words he might have spoken had another been at his side, but it did not halt the deep breath that filled his lungs to bursting, filled him to the brim with everything he had been missing so terribly for so long.

Home. This was home.

Stretching out before him forever and ever, rolling green plains dotted with boulders and sparse trees as far as his eyes could see. The smell of the earth and the grass filled his senses, overflowing and mixing with the heat of Arien's rays upon his flesh and the sweet, pure wind whipping against his face and tangling his hair.

Amras, dressed in naught but simple clothing and a cloak, with only a bow and a satchel to his name, had never been happier.

Breathless, his green eyes soaked in the unfamiliar landscape ravenously. It wasn't Beleriand, but it felt right where the evergreen plains of Valinor had felt so wrong.

Long years in winding halls blanketed in writhing tapestries left him feeling closed in, trapped and locked into the past, into the tragedy that haunted his family's footsteps, a ghost of their selfish greed and arrogance. Escaping the Halls of the Waiting had not changed that.

Everything about Valinor felt wrong. Too cold, too detached, too perfect. Sharp glances followed him wherever he went, scornful and judging. The city was too large and too busy. The buildings were too white and the mountains too tall, their peaks never changing, caging in the time-frozen Undying Lands from the real world. The grass never yellowed and winter never came. The golden fields never withered and were never reborn as the spring arrived and thawed away the ice and snow. It was too tame, and the memories too bitter. And no one could forget, for the people of Valinor lived in the past. They had no future.

There, Amras could never be content.

But this was different.

The Fëanorion threw away all the bitterness that twisted his heart and soured his tongue, threw away the resentment and the fear, the broken hopes and dreams. If he was running away from his problems, from the past, from his family or from all of them at once, who was there to know—to care—but he himself?

With a whoop of delight, he threw out his arms and let the wind embrace his body, nearly lifting him off his feet. And then he ran.

Ran across the empty space, his feet stumbling over unfamiliar rocks as he laughed, carrying him on eagle's wings through the air at the height of their leap so he felt as though he might never touch solid earth again. Faster and faster, until everything about him seemed but a blur, a mixture of pure sensation and ecstasy, empty of all thought and regret, but filled with so much promise that it nearly burst inside him.

Heart pounding in his ears. Feet barely touching the earth as he fled across the land, silent in movement and breath, but screaming out in spirit.

If he never stopped moving, Amras thought he would be content. If his feet carried him wherever he might go for the rest of his endless, long years, then he would find no bitterness in the traversing. If he never looked upon another face, never heard another word, never laid eyes upon another droplet of civilization, he thought he could pretend that the past was but a shadowy haze of a dream.

Darting past the trees, leaves caught and tangled in his crimson curls. Dirt and dust settled into his clothing and boots. Had anyone seen him as he twisted and turned, pirouetting through the sky like a wild creature, they would have thought him quite insane. Maybe he was. Maybe he was completely out of his right mind. Maybe he wanted to be that way. Maybe that was the key to his freedom.

Connected to the land, his feet carried him forth, completely leaving the earth again.

And he forgot.

Chapter Text

"Believe me, Master Dwarf, the shores are better left undisturbed, un-experienced. None who venture there return unchanged."

No further explanation had been given as to why the shores of Himring aught to go untouched and not traversed. Curiosity and no small amount of suspicion, however, had led the dwarrow to go exactly where he had been instructed to avoid.

At first, he did not understand the words Lord Maedhros had spoken, for the shores seemed peaceful. The moon was at his full height, silver against the gentle waves foaming up upon the beach. Except for the breath and movement of the sea, there was not a sound to disturb the silence heavy in the air, augmented by the gleaming stars watching the world from above.

And then he heard it.

Deep and rolling across the land, across his flesh, was a voice. Were he to name it, Thorin would not call it an elven trill, but neither of any timbre he could recognize. It was smoother than a dwarven voice, rich and honeyed, but certainly not the voice of a man either. If he had to put a name to it, Thorin might have claimed it was the voice of Mahal shaking the earth to its foundations, vibrating down to its core, powerful enough to move mountains and spill oceans.

Certainly, as it rushed through and around him, embracing him in its soft syllables, it shook Thorin to his foundations. More ancient than all the land and the sky, so soft and yet carrying for what could have been miles in all direction, flowing over the land like the wind. How such a sound could belong to a mortal creature, the dwarrow could not imagine. He was not much of a man for beauty of the voice, but none could deny this voice its dues.

Helplessly, the dwarrow felt his eyes fluttering shut, and he did not see the dark-haired figure slowly walking up the beach, midnight locks whipping away from his face as his bare feet left faint prints to be smeared by the gentle waves.

No, Thorin saw nothing of it. Melody consumed him, enveloped him in a reality tangible enough to breathe into his lungs and fill his spirit. Yet even as he did, the sorrow, the sheer regret of the lamentation rising over the world engulfed him, poured the woes of the voice into him and filled him up to overflowing, until he wanted to throw himself down and cover his ears, to weep, to make it cease but never let it end.

Upon the back of his eyelids, the colors began to morph and merge like a living thing, a vision writhing its way into his mind. A vision of terrified faces and contorted bodies and bloody hands. A vision of the downfall of arrogance and greed, a familiar glowing jewel that seared into flesh down to the bone. A vision of vanishing beloved faces and nothing left but dark emptiness. And if those faces were young and familiar, dark and golden together, he did not allow himself to further recognize them lest he lose himself in their empty, dead eyes.

Despair fell over the dwarrow, pulling him down into earth and shadows and chaining him there, apart from the world. Thorin could not remember his own name in that moment, or that the peaceful shore was just before his eyes should he choose to open them.

The melody wove into reality and burned it, twisting it into blood and death and pain beyond imagining. Loneliness beyond imagining.

Just when he thought it would shatter him completely, the sound ceased. Silence laid heavy over his body and soul, broken again only by the breath and movement of the sea upon the shore. Gasping, he came heavily from the trance, eyes snapping open and staring into the purest mithril.

"You should not have come here, Master Dwarf," the strange elf said to him in that voice. Just hearing it speak the Common Tongue made him shudder in remembrance and shameful terror. The flash of blood-streaked walls and empty, dark chambers in his mind's eye left him colder than the wind off the water ever could.

"Who... what... are you?" Thorin rasped, rooted to the spot, unable to move but too prideful to stand in horrified awe at the creature before him.

Dark hair tangled by the wind whipped around the tall figure whose face and form brought to mind the sharp angles of Lord Maedhros' dour face. Only the eyes were not cold and stern. They were open and filled, gleaming as if in tears, but no tears fell. Those eyes on him cut deeper than bone and laid him bare.

The strange elf inclined his head, staring down at the dwarrow. "What did you see, Master Dwarf?"

He wanted to tell the other that it was none of his damn business, but the words would not come. Instead... "Emptiness. Loneliness."

Humming, the stranger nodded and looked out over the sea. "You should take care not to let history repeat itself, Master Dwarf. The shadow of silent halls and empty gold lies upon your fëa. And a glowing stone." Thorin looked up sharply but said nothing. "Surely there are things you value more than lifeless trinkets."

Rage burst in his chest. How dare that elf? "You know nothing of it!" he snarled. This elf would dare defile the memory of his home and mock the glory of the treasures of the House of Durin! "Nothing of it!"

Not intimidated in the least by his raging, the elf smiled the saddest smile Thorin had ever seen. "Oh, but I do, Master Dwarf," the voice said, and within it reverberated that otherworldliness, like something kindled of divine Flame. "When the choice is upon you, will you let your greed overshadow the true gifts The Maker has given unto you? Or will you embrace that which truly matters?"

Sputtering, Thorin absolutely refused to let himself be swayed. What on earth did the elf expect him to value above his home and the safety of his people? Above the Arkenstone? "Truly matters? Of course my home matters!"

"Your home," the elf murmured thoughtfully. "What would you give to have it back, Master Dwarf?"

"Anything," he growled. "I would give anything to have back what is rightfully mine, to return my people to their rightful home and glory!"

Something in those eyes was both pitying and mocking, and it infuriated the dwarrow. "Dangerous words, you speak, Master Dwarf." The elf shook his head and turned away. "I hope the cold light of the Heart of the Mountain and the golden glow of lifeless treasure please your soul. But you should know that they do nothing to quell loneliness or emptiness."

How the elf knew so much, how he seemed to see right through Thorin, it was disturbing. He was all too grateful to be out of the sight of those deep eyes, endless stars that glowed in the night. "You know nothing of it," he repeated hoarsely.

"Maybe not," the stranger whispered as he walked away, seemingly uninterested in carrying on their argument. "I do wonder, though," he said, pausing for just a moment, "if you know the meaning of the word anything."

"Of course I do," Thorin snarled. "There is nothing I possess that I value enough that I would not sacrifice it for my home and my people, my birthright!"

"So be it, then." The smile was back, sad and cold and somehow darker, as if something of devious fate lurked beneath the pale exterior. "I do believe your determination will win you your mountain back one day, Master Dwarf. Maybe then you will understand that such oaths should not be spoken lightly in the heat of passion."

And then he was gone like the wind, vanished into the darkness. Thorin could hear nothing but the sea and was in the company only of the blanket of the sky and her twinkling stars.

It was true. He would have given absolutely anything to have Erebor once more, and maybe not for such fantastical and admirable reasons as he would have others know. But nevertheless, he could not let it go. Erebor was as much a part of him as his arms and legs, and to be away from it was like cutting a chunk of his body away, leaving something vital missing.

Still as he stood rooted to the spot, a touch of premonition and the memory of haunting words rung in his mind, echoing into the darkness and emptiness that he feared with all his soul, the secret part of him that fed upon his obsession to madness, the part of him that was every bit as sick as Thrór had been. It welled before him like a great chasm, an abyss hungry and ready to devour him whole, take away everything that made up who he was and leave a greedy, diseased shell behind.

How naught but that voice could bring him to this...

Yes, the shores were meant to remain un-experienced for a reason. He did not think he could ever calm the vibrations that voice had left through his very being, nor could he wash away the feeling of dread that welled in his chest.

Touching something from beyond the edges of the world was an experience that left one raw and exposed. It was painful and dangerous. It changed you.

It haunted your dreams. And your nightmares.

Chapter Text

Later, Thorin would discover that it was only through the skills of his elven allies that he had even survived what was now called the Battle of Five Armies. His people called it a miracle, but Thorin thought it anything but.

If anything, it was divine punishment. And looking into the eyes of his saviors, he could see that they knew this all too well, that there was a greater motive behind their healing.

It was in their ancient, unforgiving eyes and their cold, stern voices. It was in their sorrow and their wary faces. Thorin had never understood any of them before, but he thought that now he knew why they were so somber, as if part of them had died and left their empty bodies behind.

That was certainly how he felt.

Losing Fíli and Kíli was like no other pain Thorin had ever felt. He now only had the upper half of his right leg, but the pain of such an injury paled in comparison to the ache that burrowed its way into his chest and refused to leave. Whatever it was, it squeezed around his lungs until it was hard to breathe and choked out any joy he might have felt at the reclamation of his home, the prosperity of his people and all the riches of Erebor, which now felt like an empty shadow of what he recalled in the golden glory of his youth.

Was this really what he had fought for?

Empty halls covered in dust. Mountains of gold that stared back at him with a dull glimmer. A bright white stone shining like a star, but so cold and distant, its beauty tarnished. There was the Company, of course, but none of them could replace the mischief or the laughter, could give back what his arms seemed to physically ache to hold. And none of them could look him in the eye. His shame was complete.

Now, sitting stiffly in his study with nothing but a stack of requests and piles of paperwork waiting for his signature, Thorin felt completely hollow. Had this really been what he desired?

The dwarrow sighed heavily and lowered his face into his hands, stubbornly ignoring the sting at the corners of his eyes. If he had looked in the mirror, he knew that he would see nothing even remotely resembling his proud self—the proud and stubborn Thorin Oakenshield who had set out upon this journey less than a year past—but would have only a phantom, pale-faced and strained, thinner and haggard, staring back like a faded relic.

If he was honest with himself, this life was killing him slowly. All the people tiptoeing around him as though he might at any moment break and go berserk like a rabid animal. The whispers behind his back, barely within earshot, and the cold glances.

But worse still were the elves. Where once Celegorm had favored him with cool fondness, there was now only blame and fury lingering beneath his icy facade. Eöl did not even pretend to hide his anger and disgust, and were it not for the fact that Thorin had been severely injured and on death's door after the Battle, he imagined the dark-haired smith would have beaten him within an inch of his life and then some. Even Lord Maedhros was hard to look in the eyes; he knew that he had thrown away something the elf lord would have given anything to possess—perhaps in a more honest sense than Thorin cared to imagine.

And then there was the memory of Himring. Seventy-seven years, he had ignored it, but now he could not wash away the experience of walking on the shores, of hearing the mysterious being singing, lamenting to the sea.

Could not erase the memory of his nephew's still, dead faces. Could not erase the glowing, despairing eyes of the stranger.

"What did you see, Master Dwarf?"

"Emptiness. Loneliness."

Why had he not listened? Why had he not understood?

"I would give anything to have back what is rightfully mine..."

"I hope the cold light of the Heart of the Mountain and the golden glow of lifeless treasure please your soul."

"You know nothing of it!"

"I do wonder, though, if you know the meaning of anything."

"There is nothing I possess that I value enough that I would not sacrifice it for my home and my people, my birthright!"

"I do believe your determination will win you your mountain back one day, Master Dwarf. Maybe then you will understand that such oaths should not be spoken lightly in the heat of passion."

He understood. Oh, how he understood!

The price that fate had asked in exchange for his home had not been a price he was willing to pay. But he had paid nonetheless for his foolish pride, for the gold sickness, for losing sight of what truly mattered, the treasure he had already possessed.

His sweet boys, little Fíli who had aged before his time but remained happy and joyous in the care of his baby brother, and Kíli who had never even known his parents, who looked to Thorin as the only father he could remember having. The pair of them had been full to the brim with life, so excited for this journey, aching to see the halls with which their uncle spoke so fondly, to finally be home and not living off meager work in the towns of men, not saving every bit of coin in order to feed themselves in the winter. More so, they had believed in him, followed him to the very end despite his unforgivable mistakes, and thrown themselves between him and death in a show of love more powerful than Thorin could bear to think upon.

And now he was alone. And he just wanted it to end. To end...

He should not even have been here, should have passed with his nephews and joined them in the Halls of the Waiting. At this moment, Thorin did not know if he could stand another second of his existence, for he dared not call it life. His life had ended on the bloody battlefield that had won him back the ancient halls and countless riches his heart no longer desired.

And if he was sobbing, no one was there to see his despair.

No one was there to stop his hand as it touched the elven blade that had served him so faithfully.

No one was there to stay his hand when he held it to his throat. And even when he came to his senses and dropped it to the floor with a resounding ring, echoing through the room like broken glass, no one came running.

No one was there when he steeled his heart and bit his lip 'til it bled, rubbed salt in his hidden wound and pulled his paperwork close. If there was one thing Thorin knew more acutely than ever, it was that he hadn't the right to run away from the punishment for his greed and pride and blindness to what was truly important.

And no one was there to witness the final breaking of his spirit or the empty shell left behind, atoning for his sins.

No one was there to witness the Battle claim its final fatality.

He was alone.

And he knew he deserved his fate.

Chapter Text

Rolling her eyes, Amarië sighed and wondered how long she would be stuck here. She should have known it would be a bad idea to walk on her own, never mind that she had traversed the path leading up to her cousin's humble abode several times before without mishap.

The elven maiden looked down at her ankle in disgruntlement. The slender joint was just peeking out from beneath the edge of her skirt, and it was already swelling and turning a rather interesting shade of purple. Hopefully she had only twisted it and not done anything worse, or she would be confined to bed for weeks.

Settled in the knowledge that she would be going nowhere until someone walked down the path and found her, Amarië surveyed the wild growth of flowers in the sunshine that dappled the clearing. Above her, the trees were whispering and waving gently with the breeze, their vibrant leaves veined in the bright light. She tried to relax—maybe if she concentrated on nature long enough, it would not seem like forever before someone found her.

It wasn't working.

She worried her lip and glanced down the path towards the house. It wasn't visible from where she sat; in fact she would probably need to walk another mile or so to reach it. In the other direction lay only the road upon whence she'd been walking for the last two hours and which led back towards Tirion.

When her mother heard about this, she'd never be allowed to visit anyone without an escort again! What would people say? Amarië of the Vanyar, too young and clumsy to even visit relatives without getting herself injured! Oh, just thinking about it made her cheeks tinged a pale rose with embarrassment. She just hoped that whoever found her would be kind enough to keep their mouth shut about the whole event and let her pretend it had never occurred.

"Might I ask why you are sitting on the side of the road in the middle of nowhere, my Lady?"

Startled out of her thoughts, Amarië looked up and up into quite possibly the most handsome face she'd ever had the good fortune to look upon. And immediately her flush darkened. What a sight she must look!

"I... Oh... I... uh... um... I was just admiring the... uh..."

His eyes were looking straight into hers, brilliant and deep royal blue. They captured and held her attention so easily, for they were filled with intelligence and kindness and appeared very gentle. Added to the good-natured smile and the comely features, he made quite a breathtaking picture. And oh! his hair, golden and falling around his shoulder in thick waves... so dreamy...

"Are you quite all right, my Lady?" he inquired, tugging on his sleeve and looking a touch concerned. It was then, of course, that Amarië realized she'd ceased to speak and had been blatantly staring into his eyes for quite some time without even realizing it.

Mortified, she looked down at her hands curled in her lap and made a valiant effort to ignore the grass-stain that marred her skirt five inches to the left of where her fingers clutched the soft, white fabric. "I, well, that is to say..."

"Is there some way in which I can assist you? Directions, perhaps? Unless you are also on your way to visit Prince Turukáno and Lady Elenwë, in which case I could escort you the rest of the way..." he offered softly. "I mean, if it would please you, of course."

Well, someone had found her, and she didn't want to wait for the next elf to pass this way, because it would likely be this same man on his way back to Tirion, and she really wanted to visit her cousin and see the baby. Besides, if she didn't ask for his assistance, then she might be here until after the mingling of the lights, maybe even longer, and it would be many times more embarrassing were he to come across her in the exact same spot again and think her a simpleton...

"Well, yes, I am, visiting the Lady Elenwë that is," she said quickly, trying not to let her blush worsen. The heat was rising up in her cheeks without her permission anyway. "I seem to have... injured myself..."

"Injured?" he asked, worry plain in his eyes.

"My ankle... I tripped and twisted my ankle, that is all, but I fear I cannot walk..." Oh, she didn't think she could bear to look him in the eyes. What a fool he must think her for coming out here all alone!

The sound of his soft chuckle made her flush deepen and tears prick at her eyes. He was laughing at her! But then his lips softened with a gentle smile to match his gorgeous eyes, and she forgot. "Well, I would not be much of a gentleman if I left you out here injured and alone, would I?" he said, and offered his outstretched hand as his smile broadened. "Let me help you up."

Tentatively, she grasped the offered hand, so much larger than hers. It was very warm, and felt very nice wrapped around her fingers, very strong. Easily, he aided her to her feet, and without even warning her, his arms slipped beneath her shoulders and knees.

Squealing with surprise, she found herself pressed up against his broad chest, flexing arms supporting her weight as he began walking towards the house. Without thinking, Amarië wrapped her arms around his neck and tried not to think about how soft his hair felt on her knuckles.

"Tell me, my Lady, what brings you out to see Lord Turukáno and Lady Elenwë? Are you and Lady Elenwë friends?"

Oh, he was talking to her. Hoping her voice didn't sound too strained or weak, she managed to stutter out that Elenwë was her cousin and that she was visiting to see the baby, little Itarillë.

"What a coincidence, that is my errand as well," he told her, and he was smiling down at her again and Amarië was beginning to feel a bit warm and dizzy... "Lord Turukáno is my cousin, you see. We are friends, and he invited me out here to show off his daughter. I find myself a bit jealous, actually. I love children, but haven't any of my own."

Not a father... Oh, is he married? How improper it would be to be carried by a married man like this... And what a shame it would be! Amarië could not help but bury her face against his shoulder at the last thought. She shouldn't even think such a forward thing about a complete stranger, never mind that he was clearly of noble lineage being related to Lord Turukáno and any woman in her right mind would be thinking the very same thing.

"Are you staying long?" she asked, biting her lip before adding, "Surely your family would miss you."

"I live by myself, so no one in my humble abode will be missing me, and I'm sure my brothers would love to be rid of me for a few days in any case," he replied. "And you, my Lady?"

"I... I still live with my parents..." she whispered. "I promised I would be careful, and my mother let me visit on my own. I think I'll be scolded if she finds out about this."

The stranger smirked and winked. "Worry not, my Lady. I shall tell no one. It will be our little secret, yes?"

"Y-yes..." When he did that it made him so playfully roguish-looking. And he wasn't married if he lived alone. Maybe... Oh, but she shouldn't linger on such things! "Yes, my Lord... uh... You haven't told me your name..."

"Forgive me. I am Findaráto Arafinwion, my Lady. Tell me who I have had the pleasure of acquainting this fine afternoon?"

"Amarië," she told him, though now that she knew his name she also knew how he was related to her cousin's husband. The heir of the King's third son. Not in the line of succession, certainly, but hardly a poor match. And he was so very kind to her as well. She did not think her father would deny him permission to court her should he request it. But surely it was too soon to be thinking such things...

"May the stars shine upon our meeting, Lady Amarië," he said, inclining his head.

It was then that the house came into view, and Amarië actually felt a little disappointed at the sight, for that meant that Findaráto would be able to put her down and she actually found his embrace to be rather comfortable.

But then she saw Elenwë standing on the doorstep, watching them with slightly widened eyes, and oh! how embarrassing to be caught in the arms of a nearly complete stranger!

Their eyes met, and her cousin gave her a look, one that Amarië knew all too well. An idea had gotten into her sweet cousin's head, and while Elenwë was gentle and caring, Amarië knew she could also be a stubborn woman. And she always got her way.

"I see both of our guests have arrived. I hope I do not have to introduce you," Elenwë said as she greeted them at the bottom of the steps.

"Lord Findaráto was kind enough to lend me a helping hand. I am afraid I may be confined to a chair for the rest of the evening. My ankle is in quite a state," Amarië explained, her voice a bit rushed. "It was very kind of him."

"And no trouble at all," her new acquaintance (and the handsomest elf she'd ever met) replied, and she thought his cheeks might be a little flushed as he set her down and held a hand to her back to make sure she didn't lose her balance and fall. He didn't release her immediately, but bowed and brushed a kiss against her knuckles, sending warm breath over her pale skin (and a small, pleasant shudder down her back). "I am more than happy to assist such a lovely Lady whenever she might call upon my aid."

Before she could stop herself, Amarië let out a giggle behind her hand, wondering if she must look like a maiden just past her majority meeting a handsome man for the first time with the way she blushed and twittered. "Why thank you, kind Sir."

"Well, why don't you come inside and see Itarillë, cousin," Elenwë said suddenly, wrapping an arm around Amarië's waist and carefully guiding her up the steps, away from the golden-haired prince. Sly blue eyes glanced back over their shoulders, and Amarië knew for sure now that her cousin was definitely up to something, especially when she added, "Are you going to join us, Findaráto?" and smiled in Amarië's direction with a subtle wink.

If that something involved matchmaking... well, Amarië was hardly one to complain.

Chapter Text

Anyone who thought that King Turukáno built a giant tower stretching into the open sky in order to be alone was an imbecile

To the contrary, it was quite the opposite which drove him to demand the giant stone tower to be erected at the center of his hidden kingdom. It was not to escape his subjects or his daughter or anyone else, and it was certainly not to be alone with his thoughts.

At the very idea, Turukáno scoffed and opened his eyes. His hands rested upon the railing of his balcony overlooking the city, and the King still felt slightly awed at the sight even after so many years of seeing it every morning and every evening. In the light of the fading vessel of Vása, his city burned a brilliant bone white, the streets lined in reflected gold, the water dancing so many yards below him in the fountain, liquid fire and sunlight. And the people moved amongst their brethren, their voices just barely echoing up to reach his ears as they carried on with their daily lives, safe and protected from the darkness abroad.

But even this visage of peace was not what drew him to such lofty heights in the air.

It was the breeze.

So close to the sky, he felt as if another world eclipsed the hell that governed his reality. With the land stretched out before him and the tower at his back, he could almost imagine that there was a thin veil between him and all below him, a barrier between earthly and divine. He could look up into the blue hues of the sky and imagine that nothing existed beyond the color and the drifting clouds.

He could feel the cool touch against his cheek and imagine, just for a moment, that it was not the wind that caressed his flesh, but a familiar hand, pale and soft, stroking up over his cheekbone and through his hair.

By Ilúvatar, he missed her like he would miss his own arm! Seeing their daughter grown into a blossoming woman with suitors striving for her hand did nothing to quell his loneliness and longing, for Itarillë was her mother's daughter in face and form, if not temperament. She was so very beautiful, and he wished so badly that her mother was there to see her, to guide her. The Valar only knew Turukáno hadn't a clue where to start!

Sighing deeply at the touch on his face, Turukáno opened his eyes. "Our daughter is grown," he began, wondering for what felt like the millionth time if his words would reach his wife's ears so far away, riding upon the blessed winds of Manwë. "I fear she is in love."

He shook his head, glancing down at the lively city below. "Silly, I know, but I worry for her. Even though she has yet said nothing of it, I know she will have none of the elven lords vying for her affections. She has eyes for only one man—an atan! And I—fool that I am—haven't the heart to forbid her.

"I would that you were here. You always know what to say, would have the right advice for both of us, I am certain." Again, the cool touch across his face, and Turukáno gulped, feeling hope swell in his chest. "They call me the wise, but my wisdom never even held a candle to yours."

He paused to enjoy the connection—the gentleness and beauty that he recalled vividly in his memories—for a long moment before continuing. "I expect a wedding upon the horizon, and soon. Atani do not live for very long, and we are in a time of peace for the moment. Mayhap, within the next year or so, we may have a grandchild. Already... so soon... I'm sure you would love them, and you would probably be fond of Tuor as well. The boy is honorable, and a worthy match. Our daughter will be happy..." His voice died away, choked. If he ignored the sounds below and the feel of stone beneath his fingers, he could almost imagine that she was standing right there next to him, her gentle hand on his forearm, her head against his shoulder.

Biting his lip, Turukáno looked up at the sky again. If he dared a glance towards her, he knew she would disappear like a phantom, a dream in the fading light of day. "If you can hear me... I just want you to know that I miss you. And love you. Terribly and dearly. My heart still and always will belong to you, my Elenwë."

As if in reply, the caress returned, sweeping down the side of his face, playfully across his nose and washing over his brows, soothing away the furrow between them. Maybe he imagined the brush against his lips, a silent little "I love you, too", invisible and intangible, yet more real than anything in the world.

Turning away, Turukáno approached the steps, slipping past the thin curtains, only for the breeze to tug gently at his sleeve just once more. A small smile worked its way onto his lips.

"I shall return in the morning," he whispered, pausing for one more backward glance at the wide open sky fading into gold and scarlet, the first stars just barely peeking out from the shadows of the falling night.

And then he descended back to earth.

Chapter Text

It was obvious that Russandol did not appreciate being rescued.

His cousin sat in bed, let the healers swarm and look over the gruesome scars carving up his pale flesh, let them poke and prod at his wrist for hours on end. His eyes were listless and dulled, his shorn hair ragged and unkempt. If someone entered the room, he did not even turn and acknowledge their presence.

It had been three months.

Russandol just stared at the wall day after day after day, as if none of reality were truly real, as if he were looking at something just beyond the boundaries of the earth and the sky, somewhere far away.

It was like he was dying, slowly fading away into a shadow of an elf. Like he wanted to fade away.

"Please, cousin... Please..."

He shuddered at the very memory.

For Findekáno, it was like finding some else's soul in his best friend's body. Where had his cousin gone, the lively, arrogant prince with the roguish smile, head held high and jaw set firm?

Much as he hated to say it, seeing his cousin this way was pathetic. Swaddled in sheets, unmoving and unseeing, ignoring them all, and getting paler and thinner by the day. Annoyed and worried, Findekáno bit his lip til it bled and stared through the doorway at the pair within. Russandol was on the bed, and Kanafinwë was going about plumping up his pillows, straightening the sheets and fiddling with the curtains, all the while talking to his unresponsive brother as though Russandol might actually turn his head and talk back.

Did Russandol not see how much he was hurting his brothers? Did he not see how much they all loved and missed him? Did he not see that they believed in him, that he could recover from his incarceration and torture, could once again arise and become an elf worthy of high regard?

Day by day, Findekáno's faith dwindled. And he absolutely could not allow it to continue!

Something needed to be done.

---

Three days later, he entered his cousin's bedchambers. As expected, Russandol did not even turn and look at him, but kept his gaze firmly attached to the white-washed wall opposite his bed. He wondered not for the hundredth time if his cousin could even see or hear him.

"Russandol."

No response. He hadn't really expected one.

"Since your cousin is not worthy of even a simple greeting, I shall continue on without," Findekáno growled, setting himself down in the chair at Russandol's bedside, the chair usually occupied by Kanafinwë. "I must say, cousin, you disappoint me greatly. Even in my wildest dreams I never imagined you could be brought so low, or that you so easily gave up and abandoned your oaths and promises. Abandoned your family."

Still nothing. Snorting, he continued. "Do you even care? Truly? Do you not see Kanafinwë here every morning like clockwork? He has been keeping this kingdom in straights since you were taken. But you only ever see him smile. You are not there when he stays up 'til the wee hours of the morning, 'til he drives himself into a pit of despair and weeps in the dark. Do you not realize what you do to him?

"And your brothers have been unbearable. They rant and rave and throw enough violent fits that I am certain all the glassware in the realm needs replacing twice over, but they really are just worried about you, and about Káno. They all miss you terribly. You must know that they look to you as father and caretaker as well as brother, that they want nothing more than to see you better.

"You must know that they love you." Silence. Then...

"Love me?"

Startled, Findekáno looked up to find Russandol staring straight at him, gray eyes dark with unnamable, unbearable pain. "Love me? There is nothing left of me, Findekáno."

"Nothing left?" he repeated in disbelief, staring at his older cousin. "Nothing left, you say, as if losing one hand is equivalent to losing one's heart and soul! What nonsense!"

"I cannot do much of anything," Russandol whispered. "I cannot use a bow or sword. I cannot write messages. I cannot even lace up my own boots or dress myself, Findekáno. You should have killed me when you had the chan—"

"Say not such drivel!" Findekáno shouted, standing so abruptly that his chair flew back into the wall with a loud bang. "You think we do not value you beyond your ability to fight and lace your boots? Do you truly think so lowly of us? Of me? Of them? Do you really think that one missing limb and a few scars are enough to make us abandon and despise you?"

Those eyes met his, dead and strained, tired. "Just let me be, Findekáno."

But he couldn't.

"No."

"Findekáno, leave."

"No!"

"Káno--!"

"I said 'no'!" Rage boiled in his belly and he could taste its metallic flavor in the back of his throat. "This is pathetic, Russandol! The cousin I knew would never throw his life away so callously without even thinking about how his loss would affect the rest of us, his beloved family. Moreover, he would want to live! He would want to make a difference!"

"Maybe I am not as you remember me." He began to turn away, eyes shadowed by uneven locks of red hair. "Listen to me, Findekáno. The Russandol you love is long dead."

Infuriated, beyond reasoning, Findekáno grasped his cousin by the front of his tunic and pulled, pulled until they were face-to-face, until that beloved visage was nose-to-nose with his, until he could see every fleck of black on silver in those widened, shocked eyes. "No, you listen," he snarled. "So you were captured. So you were tortured. So you have only one hand and your body is covered in scars. So what? Is that all it takes to defeat Nelyafinwë Maitimo of the House of Fëanáro?

"You were captured and brought low. I cannot even begin to imagine what you have gone through, but if you fade away now it will all have been for nothing! I did not pull you off the side of that cliff with the blessing of Manwë in my ears for you to lie listlessly and die while those around you suffer! Think of your brothers! Think of me!

"Think of your people and get up off your scarred, prideful, princely arse and do something! Become the greatest prince our line has ever seen! Become so fearsome in battle that our enemies flee before you with their tails between their legs!"

Findekáno was left panting, his chest heaving and tears of passion pricking at the corners of his eyes. All the while, Russandol just stared back at him with the oddest look on his face, something that bordered on hope but was too wary to allow even that small patch of wildflowers to bloom in the darkness and ash left from a ravaged soul.

"I don't know if I can do that, Findekáno," his cousin said oh, so softly.

Without thinking, Findekáno grasped his cousin's only hand in both of his own and squeezed hard, feeling the flesh beneath his own, feeling the hard bones and sinews. "I believe in you," he replied, looking straight into his cousin's eyes. "You can do this."

Nothing more was said, but he thought he saw a small smile, the first smile he had seen on his cousin's face since their days in the Undying Lands on the other side of the sea so many years ago. His first glimpse of the Russandol he remembered.

And it was so beautiful.

---

The next day, when he came to visit, Kanafinwë was there. He only moved close enough to see that the younger brother was holding the older in a gentle embrace, but a powerful one. Russandol's arm stretched upwards, returning it tenderly, stroking the younger's trembling shoulders and back.

And if he saw a glistening trail on both their faces, well, Findekáno was hardly going to say anything.

---

Three days after, Russandol was out of bed.

---

Within the week he once more held a sword.

---

Within the year, Findekáno wondered if he would ever encounter a fiercer opponent or ally upon the field of battle. The glow was back in Russandol's eyes with thrice the brilliance and determination. No longer did he shy from touches. No longer did he hide his handless wrist beneath the shroud of his cloak. No longer was his face lowered in shame. No longer was there a shadow of the man Findekáno once knew and loved, but instead the same spirit, changed and tempered like steel in the forge, and all the stronger for it.

Hair like fire and eyes like stars, head held high and his jaw set firm, Russandol was everything any warrior could ever hope to be. Or any prince.

Coming to stand beside his cousin, Findekáno reached out to clasp a powerful shoulder and squeeze. "Russandol," he greeted softly.

"Findekáno," his cousin returned, voice low but strong.

Those eyes met his, gleaming sharply in the fading light despite the darkness lurking just beneath the surface, the loss of innocence. Still, the face and form were no longer strained and pale, no longer fading away into nothingness. A small smile quirked at the corners of those lips, familiar and breathtaking.

Nelyafinwë had thrown off his chains and ascended from the pits of hell.

And Findekáno believed.

Chapter Text

As he looked out into the dark, moonless night from within cold stone walls, Makalaurë wondered when he had lost faith in their cause, lost faith in their justice. He wondered if his faith had ever really existed at all, or if it had all been a lie that kept him going day after day, kept him from completely losing his sanity. Until now.

For he knew that he had lost his faith. Every night weighed heavier and heavier on his mind, a stain that wouldn't go away, could not be washed from his soul. Just thinking about it left his belly roiling in disgust and hatred, not of those who stood in his way, but of himself.

Were they not supposed to be fighting for what was right? Were they not supposed to protect and support their kin against the darkness, not add to their suffering?

Did they not even have a choice?

Of course, in the end, it was never about what was right—had never been about what was right. It had been about pride and revenge, and nothing else. They were damned for empty vengeance and greed. As he leaned against the wall, head pressed to unforgiving stone, Makalaurë knew this to be so with every fiber of his being, every ounce of his soul.

Tomorrow they would march on Menegroth.

It made him sick.

There would be more blood of the innocent staining his hands, more upon the hands of his brothers, upon the hands of his child. So young, and yet Eressetoron remained faithful in their cause, believed in his father and uncles with a naivety that made Makalaurë's heart swell and pound heavily in his throat with guilt. The boy had been too young to take part in the slaying at Alqualondë, too young to even remember much but screaming and fire and chaos.

His other child... He could hardly bear to think on it. Like Telperinquar, his firstborn would not share in the shame of their family, would not hold kin with traitors and murderers.

"You make me sick. I can hardly bear to look upon you and call you 'Atar'!"

As much as it pained him, it also relieved him in a strange sort of way, brought him peace of mind. Far away, safely tucked in the Havens, his son would sleep peacefully this night, would not revel in the death of kin and the spilling of their precious blood.

"You cannot sleep."

Interrupted, Makalaurë spun around in surprise, only to come face-to-face with his older brother. Maitimo looked even worse than he felt, eyes darkened with bruised fatigue, mouth set in a pale line across his stone-cold features. Neither of them had been sleeping well for a very long time, but whereas Makalaurë was wracked with guilt, Maitimo was plagued by nightmares. The younger brother well remembered the screams that graced these halls. No one spoke of it.

"Do we really have to do this, Nelyo?" he asked after a few moments of staring and silence. "This is madness! It was never meant to be this way!"

No sympathy stared back at him, and he had expected none. As the years faded, and most especially after Findekáno died, Maitimo had changed. The righteous spirit had drained away, as if a little more of it leaked out with every tear their people shed. Tears Unnumbered. What was left comprised only suffering and revenge, the relentless need to fulfill their Oath. The insanity that plagued their line.

"We swore, Káno. We swore to Ilúvatar with Manwë and Varda as our witnesses that we would have what is rightfully ours, and that none would stand in our way. None."

It was empty. Makalaurë knew well that, when all was said and done, they would have perhaps three glorious shining jewels. And then what? No one would own kin with them. The Silmarilli would bring back neither the lives they took nor their family lost. They were just pretty rocks. Trinkets.

"Please, Nelyo, there has to be another way," he pleaded softly, desperately. "Is there not something else we can do? Some other path we can take?"

"There is not." Maitimo turned away and looked out into the night beyond the window. "We have requested that they return what is ours, and they have refused. I warned them what would happen if they resisted us, brother, promised them blood if they withheld our birthright. I do not renege on my promises."

Darkened silver, sharper than steel, stabbed deep into Makalaurë's soul. "And neither should you," Maitimo added in a rumbling voice, edged in poison, lip curling upwards in disdain. "Remember that well, Kanafinwë."

Fear burst through him all at once, fear for his life and the lives of his family, fear for his brother's sanity. At the moment, Maitimo looked as though he would slit all of their throats if it meant reclaiming what was lost and taking revenge upon the "enemy". Blood running cold with horror, Makalaurë struggled to keep his knees firmly beneath him, but his legs felt like jelly. He leaned against the wall again, trying not to show weakness, not to tremble.

"Nelyo...?"

The shadow passed, but the memory of it lingered. The leering snarl that twisted those beloved features for a heartbeat vanished back into nihilism. "Get some sleep, brother. We have a long day ahead of us."

And then he was alone again. With a choked sound that Makalaurë absolutely refused to admit was a sob, he slid down the wall into a pathetic puddle of quivering muscle and drained spirit.

What they were doing was as far from right as wrong could be. They were neither righteous nor honorable. They were traitors and murderers, Kinslayers. The day after next, the red sun would rise over Doriath for the entire world to see, and countless would lie dead and rotting in hallowed, beautiful halls, murdered over sins they had no part in.

Would his brothers be among them? His son?

Blankly, he stared at the opposite wall of the dark room until dawn began to peek just over the horizon, damning light, revealing to all the world the taint of his house, once and for all.

And Makalaurë could only wonder who the true villain in this tale was. Because every day the line between good and evil grew fuzzier, the reality grayer and more cracked.

"I am so sorry," he whispered, wondering to whom he was speaking—himself or his son or his brothers or his kin or all the men and women and children who would lose their lives before the setting of the sun this day? Perhaps he spoke to all of them at once.

For there was no justice to be had here. Only blood and shadow. Only darkness and sin.

Chapter Text

There were many days that Makalaurë could have considered his worst.

The day he swore the Oath. The first day (and night) away from his wife, sleeping in the cold, his arms empty. The day he had first spilled innocent blood upon the docks of Alqualondë and betrayed kin.

The day his father perished and Maitimo was abducted. The day he was named High King in their stead. The day he forsook his older brother.

Even the day of the Battle of Unnumbered Tears, and the following night that dawned red with carnage as far as the eye could see. The night that dawned to the death of their High King.

But none of those came even close to what he felt now, the utter desolation that overtook him as he stood stock-still in the room, alone with only the flickering fire and cold, empty stone. Long since had angry footsteps faded into the distance, but they still seemed to ring in his ears with dire finality.

Family was supposed to come first, and there was little Makalaurë valued above his family. His brothers. His children. His two beautiful sons.

"This plan... it is insane! How could you agree to this? How could you?"

"We have no choice!"

"There is always a choice!"

Shouting and fiery tempers had clashed. Broken glass littered the floor around his boots, but Makalaurë barely saw any of it. His eyes stayed glued helplessly to the doorway. Hoping. Praying for his little one to come running back as he always had before.

"Not this time. We swore. We swore before the Valar!"

"It's wrong! Why would you...? How could you even think...?"

"Please, understand."

Bereft, Makalaurë sat down, ignoring the sharp prickle of shards cutting into his flesh. Harsh light, vicious crimson, streaked across the stone, fading, falling slowly downwards into darkness. He had not the energy to stand, to chase. His throat felt swollen, his heart settled at his toes, a sharp sting behind his eyes.

"But I can't. I can't understand."

"Please, yonya--"

"It makes me sick."

"Manafinwë, you knew it would come to this. You knew what the Oath entailed. Just listen to m--"

"You make me sick. I can hardly bear to look upon you and call you 'Atar'!"

Sharp pain, like fire building upwards in his chest, scalding bile at the back of his throat, its bitter taste on his palate. Makalaurë lowered his head, frantically trying to hold back the hot tears burning their way down his cheeks, dripping onto the stone beneath.

"Manafinwë--"

"Not this time. Not again. The first time... it was an accident. This... this is murder, and I will have no part in this travesty. This sin."

"You will not walk away from me."

Not like Telperinquar had Curufinwë. That's all he could think, of the heartbroken silver eyes turning into something dark and dangerous, into toothy grins and simmering malice hiding beneath an incisive, treacherous tongue. But even beneath all that, something so utterly broken and shattered it could never be pieced back together, something he had never wanted to understand.

But now it was all too clear.

"You cannot keep me here."

"Stop this ridiculousness, child. Are you not part of our House? The House of Fëanáro, the House of your blood-kin?"

"If being part of this family means spilling innocent blood, I would rather die."

Shock and horror. Disbelief.

"I renounce my name and my kin. I will hold no kin with murderers or traitors. With Kinslayers. Call me no longer Manafinwë nor Fëanorion. I will be Ilession."

"Don't you walk away from me, child!"

"I am no child."

Hissed, spat and filled with venom. Eyes so blue filled with such hatred and fear, and directed at him. Makalaurë thought it might kill him, so powerful was the pain. No battle-wound had ever felt like this, so raw and open, rubbed down with salt and filled with poison, slowly blackening his veins and deadening his nerves, cutting off the lifeblood.

"Don't you dare turn your back on me!"

His hand on the other's wrist, fingers bruising as they dragged and clawed. He could recall the jarring pain in his skull, the snap of his nose breaking under the strain of knuckles, the drip of hot blood down his lips.

"Curse you and your bloody House! Do not dare touch me, murderer."

"Manafinwë!"

"Shut up!"

And shattered glass, just missing his head, tinkling to the floor, wine splattered and streaming down the wall, staining dark red on stone. Like the halls of Menegroth would be stained by their sin.

And then there had been footsteps, echoing down the halls. And then silence. Nothing.

Separation could not compare. The shock and horror of ever-stained hands could not shake his soul with such force. Could not shift the foundations of his existence. Could not lift the veil of deceit. Could not drag away the curtain of lies and let in the light that revealed the ugliness beneath. Not like this travesty.

Manafinwë hated him. Cursed his name. Cursed their family and kin.

Should they ever meet again, Makalaurë did not doubt that his child would not hesitate to take a blade to his throat. Not that he wouldn't deserve it. He would deserve it a hundred—a thousand times over again, and thrice that many more. Nothing could pay back the blood that would flow like water, the lives that would end without mercy or regard.

But there was no choice. Not a one. Not anymore.

He stared at the wall, until red faded to the floor, until blackness crawled down like sickness, consuming the light and hope.

Until the worst day faded into the darkest night.

Chapter Text

It was the most beautiful sound he had ever heard.

That was saying much, as Amras's elder brother was the most renowned bard amongst his people, known far and wide, with a voice that would make a vala green with envy. A voice that invoked the glory of the world, that seemed to bend reality, twist it into waking dreams.

But even that deep, rolling baritone paled in comparison. The voice that now rang in Amras's head had no equal. The tenor was soft, drifting, floating over the land and through the trees, writhing gently through the tangles of the grass, washing across his face as though it were a hand, fingers cold and touch softer than butterfly wings. Ensnared, the redheaded elf could not force himself to turn away, could do nothing but seek out its source, his heart pounding furiously in the back of his throat.

How he navigated the trees, the ancient elf would never quite recall. There was darkness and the soft glow of moonbeams through the wild undergrowth of the deep canopies of Greenwood. But none of that even caught his notice. The silver morphed, wrenching him away from the known world, blending with the shadows into something new, something unfamiliar. His eyes focused slowly.

There were only stars and the quiet of endless water, surface unbroken and unchanged, untouched, reflecting the dome of the heavens unto the world. It was like stepping into another reality altogether, and leaving behind the wildness and wonder of the open land and the connection with the deep, moving earth.

Detached, Amras felt his world bending, coiling towards some inevitable end as he traversed the shores, soundless. Not a ripple broke the water's surface.

And then light. Soft at first, but growing. He finally recognized its source, half-hidden beneath a veil of inky hair. Skin, pale as newly fallen snow, holding that soul-deep sheen of a powerful spirit, one of the very first to walk the face of the marred earth.

Dark eyes beheld him, captured him and pulled him closer.

The song rose, and Amras thought his toes might no longer be brushing the earth at all, that he might be swimming through the thick air as though it had become liquid water. Even the movements of the wind seemed to slow, seemed to inhale and exhale with the ebb and swell of the music.

Cherry red lips parted, and Amras knew it was from this bewitching creature that this dream-universe had come. Or was it a dream? Was this reality? Was the other side the dream? Everything felt so real, so true and pure, so powerful that the temptation to forget everything became unbearably tempting. Not to just forget the past and revel in the being, but to forget the very existence of the world, to go beyond its edges to somewhere not of the earth.

He sat himself in the grass close to the figure, eyes riveted upon that glorious face, upon those lips as they moved and glistened, upon a gaze so old and sad yet so full of life, so full of secrets. Beautiful.

But soon enough his eyes began to droop helplessly. With a sigh, he felt himself curl into the soft blades of grass, felt his hair drape across his body in a blanket of silk. For a moment, he thought he felt a caress against his temple and cheek, through the silken locks over his shoulders and back. Delighted, he shuddered and purred at the sensation.

Reality had ceased to exist before. It could cease to exist again, as long as he could stay here forever, filled with a feeling so sweet and light that it was painful, swelling in the back of his throat, tingling through his limbs.

"Sleep, little one..."

How could he not obey that voice? That voice...

---

Amras jerked upright abruptly, letting out a yelp. He came up from the earth's embrace, hair tangled in the bushes and full of twigs and leaves, breeches stained with dust and dark soil. His fingers dug deep into the ground, feeling the coolness of rocks and dirt between his fingers, falling over his callused hands and back to its resting place.

"What happened?" he groaned aloud to himself through the pounding in his skull.

Raising one hand to his temple, the elf shook his head in an attempt to clear his mind. Everything was very fuzzy. Looking around, he found that he recognized the clearing but could not recall how he had come to be there.

Except a faint vision, just a flash, of glistening water as far as the eye could see and a dark-haired beauty that outshone the most graceful, bejeweled women of his grandfather's court. And a voice... a voice like nothing he had ever heard before...

Was any of that real, or was it all a dream? Could he dream something like that? Surely that voice could not be dreamt, could not be imagined, could only be experienced.

"What happened to me?"

The forest, of course, held no answers. The trees were probably laughing at him.

Had it all been a trick? Perhaps he had been enchanted somehow? He knew there were such sorcerers wandering the earth, and many of the maiar had such powers. But why would they bother with him, a wild, mindless creature submerged in the living world and nothing but, who could barely remember his own name on the best of days.

Unbidden, the face of his enchanter arose in his mind's eye. Glorious to behold, breathtaking and divine. Maybe it had been a maia?

Did it matter?

Why was he suddenly caring? Why was he suddenly remembering? Why was the earth suddenly barren of comfort?

Why could he think of nothing but the voice and its owner?

Of their midnight hair that he wanted so badly to stroke, to braid and twine with the finery of his House. Of their dark eyes, so blue and stretching on farther than the night sky, speckled through with their own glowing stars. Of their skin that he suddenly wanted to touch, just to see if it was as soft and flawless as it appeared. If it was as sweet as he imagined it tasted.

Hunger burned through him, a hunger he had not felt since the days of the darkness before the sun and the moon. A growing thirst that churned in the pit of his belly. Lust. That's what it was. Lust.

Lust and hunger.

The center of his universe was woven anew around a phantom image beyond his eyes, a dream covered in a veil of mist rising from the lake of stars.

Amras was thoroughly and completely captured, cradled in the delicate fingers of a dark-haired beauty who hid not more than a few yards away amongst the trees, watching his work with regretful eyes, longing but fearful eyes. A resigned smile came upon cherry red lips.

But a smile of a very different kind twisted across the lips of the awakened Son of Fëanor. There was nothing more dangerous than a creature of his father's single-minded determination and his mother's redheaded temperament. There was thirst that could not be quenched by anything but complete satiation, by accomplishment and victory.

By claiming. By owning. By satisfying the secret desires hiding in the very darkest corners of his mind. It was the danger of his House, of their madness.

And there was something he desired. Someone.

For a long moment, the world stood still around them. And then Amras breathed deeply of the darkness and opened his fey eyes, unleashing his own Spirit of Fire upon the earth.

Let the hunt begin.

Chapter Text

Ah, sunlight...

Warm to his flesh, heating him down to the bone and leaving him feeling comfortable and relaxed as he walked slowly out of the towering Halls of the Waiting and their darkness and coldness. Findaráto closed his eyes and breathed in the sweet, fresh air, the scent of earth and wildflowers filling his senses, burning through his nose after so long without smell.

Alive. After so long in halls of gray, he felt so alive.

The elf raised his head, eager to feel the wind lift and tangle his hair, delighted at the cool touch. Breathing out a deep sigh, he opened his eyes to a familiar house on a familiar hill surrounded for miles around with green, lush forest.

Familiarity. Home.

Filling him up to the brim with sudden warmth and wonder. Eyes wide, he found himself drifting towards it, walking up the steps that looked exactly the same as when he had last tread them into a house that had remained untouched by the long years. The same doormat with an infuriating stain on one corner and a frayed edge on the left side. The same entrance hall, still smelling of cherry trees and vanilla.

His cloak came to rest on a familiar hook and his boots joined a pair of open-toed sandals beside the door. Awed and bursting with anticipation but at the same time a rising nervousness, he moved through the familiar abode, remembering slowly that turning right from the hall and entering the third door down led to kitchen and the fourth door on the right led to the spacious sitting room with wide open windows looking out towards the mountains. Every door he opened, he found them all exactly as he could remember leaving them, with little personal touches of extra something.

But still there was a missing piece of perfection.

Finding the dining room, Findaráto smiled gently at the flower arrangement sitting at the center of the small oaken table, pink speckled day lilies pouring out over the sides, twined with purples and soft whites. He brushed his fingers against their petals and marveled at the softness against his rough flesh; flowers had been rare on the other side of the sea. She loved flowers.

Pushing past, he found himself stepping outside onto the patio, looking around curiously, startled. For the inside of the house had remained almost unchanged, but the garden could not have been more different from the simple little herb patch he recalled.

Trellised vines and sweeping beds of flowers spread out in all directions, a maze of color and scent and grace. Something in the back of his throat swelled and made it hard to breathe, welling and rising and ringing inside his chest.

A few more steps, silent upon the greenest grass he could ever recall, and then the soft sound of humming reached his ears, sweet high tones jingling like soft bells in the wind. When she came into his sight, his breath was lost. Just as he remembered her, with long golden hair that outshone any metal or field of wheat, creamy pale skin that looked softer than rose petals, her familiar form wrapped in simple white linen gown with bare feet peeking out, she stood before him gently hydrating a patch of brilliant lilies. With the melody, her body swayed and danced gently, toes curling and pressing into the grass.

"Amarië," he whispered, that sparkling feeling covering him from head to toe, embracing his soul in its exultant glory.

At his voice, the watering can slipped from her soft fingers, falling to the grass and spilling water over her bare feet, soaking into the bottom of her gown. But she did not seem to notice. Her eyes were riveted upon him, stunned blue depths opened wide, encased by thick blond lashes. Rosy lips parted, but no words came forth as they stared at each other, awe-stricken.

Finally, he raised his arms and offered a tiny, weary smile. But a true one. "I'm home."

In the garden, her jubilant cry echoed and resonated with the warmth of the earth and the touch of Arien's rays. Findaráto found himself toppled into the grass with an armful of wife, laughing as teasing little kisses pressed down over his cheeks and nose. A chaste brush of lips brought a beaming smile to his face as he stared up at the most beautiful creature he had ever been privileged to meet. The woman he loved more than anything in the world. His One.

"Oh, Findaráto," she sighed, laying herself against his chest, her golden head tucked beneath his chin as they lay amongst the flowers. "I missed you so very much."

"I missed you, too. More than you will ever know, lótenya." His eyes drifted shut, and the molten, bubbling feeling building within him overflowed. Pure joy. Pure peace. Pure contentment. Stroking his fingers through her hair, he found himself choking back tears. But good tears. Happy tears.

"Home," he whispered, his voice hoarse. "Finally, I am home."

Chapter Text

All the wealth in the whole of the realm of Eä could not have convinced Daeron to move at this moment.

Stretched out in the grass, his body pressed up against that of another. Shared warmth shuddered through him, heating his chilled bones and chilled heart. Silently, the bard pushed himself onto his elbows and stroked his fingers through strands of fiery red hair, softer than the finest of silks. Softer than her hair, from what he could remember.

Pressing it against his cheek, Daeron sighed. The hot scent of his mate mixed with musky smoke filled his nostrils and left an awakening, churning heat in his gut, but he found himself too tired, too relaxed, to pay it much mind.

Instead, his gaze was drawn to his lover's face, relaxed in sleep. When awake, the redhead looked like a fierce, wild creature. Scars laced up over the corner of his jaw and across his right cheek as an intricate network, slicing at the bridge of his nose. And then the sharp brows to match his sharp jaw and green eyes that could pierce down to the soul defined his lover. But while asleep he looked so peaceful. Not a child's face, but a child's innocence and softness. Lips were slightly parted, swollen from kisses, and dark eyelashes fluttered on damask cheeks. No creases bent his brow. Even the burns could not detract from the sweet beauty in the pale gray light of dawn.

Daeron's inquisitive fingers followed his line of sight, brushing over temples and tracing the line of eyebrow from front to tail, loving the way it relaxed beneath his caress, any tension in the flesh falling lax and smooth. He repeated the touch on the other side, and then his fingers trailed down the straight line of the other's nose.

Green eyes fluttered open lazily as he brushed over the raised ridge of scars, half-hooded with fatigue but still burning brighter than any fire, brighter than the stars. "Hm..."

"Good morning," Daeron whispered softly, not ceasing his exploration over sculpted cheeks and ragged burns down to the parted lips. They were soft against his fingertips. Unexpected. A lovely contrast to rugged, twisted flesh and defined bone.

Haziness rested in a veil over those eyes as they looked up at him. It was as if dreams still clouded his lover's vision. "Good morning to you as well, linya..." His burning hot fingers trailed aimlessly over Daeron's side, tracing nonsense patterns into his skin until the elf wondered if he had markings to match the melted stretch of scar tissue that marred his lover's right side and back. It certainly felt as though the touch might have burned away his flesh.

The other made to rise from the cool grass, but the bard pushed a hand against his chest, guiding him back down to the earth with a gentle smile. "Do not rise," he whispered, indulging in tracing the dips and valleys between taut, powerful muscles. "Let us rest a while longer."

There was a sigh of assent, and the redhead closed his eyes again, stretched out on the ground like a great cat beneath his owner's petting and coddling. Fondly, Daeron looked upon him. Yes, definitely like a great cat. Lazy and hedonistic, but ever so dangerous, darkness and a predatory nature lurking just beneath the surface, settled into lithe musculature and ligature, into the narrowed edges and icy calculation of fey eyes.

He did not worry about it now, though. Instead, he leaned over to steal a hot, languid kiss from slack lips, dipping his tongue into the slick warmth and spice beneath. The passion was for now little more than a soft flame, and he was happy enough to pull away when air became sparse. Instead, he laid his head against his lover's bare shoulder, eyes fluttering closed against the steady pulse beating just underneath pale skin, just barely visible blue beneath the deceptively fragile membrane.

There was satisfaction and contentment in the closeness and oneness, a hot golden warmth cradling him, hiding him away from the dewy grass and cool morning mist.

No, Eru himself could not have moved Daeron from this spot. Not now.

Chapter Text

When Fëanáro had been amongst the living, Maitimo had never understood his father.

Always, he had been preoccupied, something always on his mind that drew him away from reality. Always another project, more jewels to be made and gold to be shaped, more inventions to be created. More hours to be spent hidden away in the dark of the forge with only fire and dark thoughts for company. Rare was the time that Fëanáro focused on his family. Rarer still was the absence of fey light in those eyes.

And then Morgoth had happened, and Fëanáro went off the deep end.

Nothing seemed to reach his father but thirst for revenge and the relentless need to reclaim his treasures. Maitimo had realized then that his father had gone completely mad, that his entire world revolved around three glowing gemstones and eradicating anyone who dared to stand between him and his goals. Not his people or his brother or his nephews or even his sons could purge away the hunger that seemed to gnaw right through the essence of everything that the great prince had once been. When Telvo had perished, their father had not even blinked. As if the death of his son didn't matter. Nothing mattered but getting back the Silmarilli. Nothing.

Maitimo had not understood. Never understood.

Until now.

No one noticed it. Not Makalaurë. Not Findekáno. Not even himself at first. But Angband had changed him.

Lying in his own filth, tortured until his mind could think only of pain and hunger and thirst and cold, Maitimo knew he had gone just as mad as Fëanáro had ever been, alone in the darkness in the deepest dungeons of hell on earth. The urge to rip apart those who tormented him with his bare hands became an obsession. Rage burned and twisted in his gut, until all he could think to distract himself from horror was that he wanted them to suffer as he suffered. Oh, how he desired to see their blood painting the walls, their innards shredded at his feet, their bones ripped through flesh in a tangled array of gore. How he desired to have the foul taste of black blood on his tongue, slick between his fingers and matted in his hair.

And Aiya! how he wanted to take what most the Dark Lord coveted and rip it forcefully away as had been done to him. How he wanted to leave the towering shadow bereft, knowing that he had been defeated, that he had been humiliated by a lowly elf! How intoxicating the very thought was! And then the bastard could rot in his shame, and Maitimo thought his lust would be satisfied, the vicious animal resting in his spirit sated by rivers of blood and the light of his revenge.

Eventually, he had given up even that hope, but being rescued and roused from his morose hibernation had brought back that fury tenfold. With a sword in his lone hand and no chains holding him to an icy, filthy dungeon wall, he could begin anew. He could create himself over again, create himself in an image that would give his enemies nightmares.

He could make them suffer. He could make them run from him in terror, make them fear him to the very core of their rotten beings. His spirit sang at the very notion!

The quick recovery gave his people hope, brought smiles to his brothers' faces. But none of them realized that something much worse than a broken spirit was writhing just below the surface, begging and pleading to be let loose upon their nemesis—be it Morgoth and his forces or the innocent people of Doriath or Eru Ilúvatar himself! Obsessive thirst for revenge bubbled like lava through his veins until sometimes it felt almost physically painful. Until the phantom burning of his right hand wracked him with agony, nonexistent fingers twisted unnaturally into claws. Until he wanted to scream and tear his hair from his scalp or smash something against the wall into a million tiny pieces that would lie scattered across the floor.

Until he wanted to kill someone and scatter their body as he scattered those shards, bathe in their thick, warm blood until it soaked permanently into his flesh like ink unto pale sheets.

No one noticed the shadow growing day by day, hidden beneath blazing fire and a shield of vicious calculation. When he looked at himself in the mirror, his eyes looked more and more like his with each year that passed.

Losing Findekáno had been the last straw. Just like with his father. And Maitimo could only wonder how long the same violent thirst had been burning beneath Fëanáro's skin before the prince had snapped.

When the time came to march upon Doriath, Maitimo did not hesitate. He smiled and bared his teeth in hunger, in overpowering lust. And he rent apart the people without mercy and coated his flesh in their blood, splattered their bodies across the floors and walls with glee. In his mind's eye, he could almost taste victory, the burn of terror in his nose and the sound of screams ringing in his ears. So close, yet so far beyond his reach...

And then it was over.

When he was presented the bodies of three of his brothers, brothers he had cared for since they were little elflings, he had not even blinked.

The thirst had not been sated.

And he understood.

Chapter Text

Home is where the heart is, or so they said.

It was a particularly sore subject for Findaráto. An uncertain subject.

Once upon a time, when he was far away on the other side of Belegaer, all he had wanted was to return home, to embrace his wife, to see his parents, to not have to worry and worry and worry all day and night. There would be no Dark Lord, no armies bearing down upon his helpless people, no glowing stones and ruined friendships. He would not be King. He would not be responsible for his people's suffering. More than that, he had longed for the golden fields and green stretches of evergreen spring going on and on as far as his eyes could see. The familiar warmth on his skin and the earthy scent in the back of his throat.

He had longed for something that had been tarnished, and he had returned to a shadow of what he remembered.

At first, nothing had seemed amiss. Hidden away with Amarië in their humble abode in the forest, all had seemed blissful and perfect. There was love, restful quiet and no shadow of evil slinking downwards to give him chills in the night. But venturing beyond their little slice of paradise, the wild colorful world had dulled into something gray.

People smiled less than he remembered. Whenever he saw them, they looked distant, as if they were not even present in spirit, but lost in deep nostalgia, in some memory of long ago. And when they looked at him, their eyes did not show recognition. More oft than not, fear stared back at him. The twisted scars across his face, the fire in his eyes, his reputation as being one of them—the exiles—made the nameless elves shift back from him on the streets, giving him a wide berth, like he was some feral animal that might snap at their hands if they reached out too close.

But none of those things would have driven him from his home. Let the people think what they would; they had always done so and it had never bothered him a whit before!

No, it wasn't the people. It was his family.

It was his father, who could not seem to meet his eyes.

"Findaráto," he would say, and reach out to lay a hand upon his son's shoulder as they walked together. But his lips were stretched into an unnatural grin, something so fake it looked wrong, waxy and stretched. When Arafinwë turned towards his heir, his hazy blue eyes seemed to look right over Findaráto's shoulder, towards something in the distant past, right through his son.

"Atar?"

And then, when his attention was forcibly drawn, when he looked—really looked—there was such a fierce dose of revulsion in that gaze that it made the younger elf shudder down to his bones. To have such a look directed at him from such a beloved face...

The hand fluttered and faltered midair. Slowly, it would plummet downwards, shrinking away as if to touch a body so marred was to touch something unclean. Never had Findaráto felt more ruined.

It was his mother. When she had first seen him, she had not even recalled his face.

Eagerly, he had been waiting at his father's side, valiantly ignoring the distance—both physical and emotional—filled with thick tension between them, a wide valley opening into an abyss just inches from their boots, waiting to crumble.

She had arrived, standing in the doorway with her familiar silvery hair and blue eyes, unchanged by time. Just as Findaráto remembered her.

He had looked straight into her eyes and smiled. And she had recoiled as if he had slapped her, pure disgust showing on her face for a moment before it was covered in a sheet of tenuous ice and a hesitant smile. "Introduce me to your acquaintance, husband."

How he kept smiling, Findaráto could not recall. His throat had filled with bitter ash and his eyes had stung, but somehow he continued to grin. Somehow he managed not to fall apart.

"Amillë," he greeted softly, longing hopelessly for the embrace that he had missed and craved many a night in the dark depths of Nargothrond, and in the dungeons of Sauron. Oh, how he had missed having her warmth surrounding him! Perhaps it was childish, but somehow he had always imagined it to be her who protected him in the dark, who would light his way through turmoil and despair.

But at his voice, she flinched violently, disbelief in every line of her body, as if she could not believe the horribly scarred creature before her was her precious child. "Ingoldo?" she whispered.

No embrace came that day. And Findaráto felt bereft. Tainted.

He could not stand it! They could not even bear to look upon him.

No matter how Amarië tried to reassure him, tried to console him, the growing empty void in his chest would not be filled—could not be filled. Findaráto could not even stand beside them in a room, for they would naturally situate themselves as far from him as possible, as if he were a frightening stranger and not their firstborn son.

Gradually, the fantasy of the Undying Lands that had nurtured and shielded his hope from destruction for so long had crumbled, until reality set in and crushed every last shard beneath its heels into dust. And a new longing set in.

Home had shifted.

"I want to go," he told his wife. It had been centuries, centuries of this distance, and it hurt too much. He did not know how much more he could stand before it left something irreparably broken inside him. "Amarië, I want to go back over the sea."

Her eyes were resigned, but not surprised. When she embraced him, there was no hesitation, and she did not shrink away from touching the raised scars across his cheeks or flinch at their undoubtedly hideous sight. Against his lips, hers were softer than butterfly wings, no more than the faintest brush of skin against skin, yet more intimate and powerful than any kiss he could remember her gifting him.

"Okay," she whispered, laying her head against his shoulder. "We will go."

As long as he had her with him, he knew he could throw away the wrecked dream of better days gone and past. As long as she never recoiled from his ruined flesh or his tainted soul, he thought he could continue on stumbling through the darkened world.

Her acceptance would give him the strength to face reality. To move on. To live.

Chapter Text

From his form, one could scarcely remove their helpless gaze.

From his words, one hadn't the faintest hope of freeing their attention.

From his eyes, one could not glance away, imprisoned with starlight.

Certainly, Nolofinwë had always been peripherally aware of his brother's brilliance, but standing beneath the full force of it, even when directed towards another, directed upon the quivering people around them, was like standing beneath the Flame Imperishable itself!

In the newfound darkness, his face lit with flickering gold and red flame, and he seemed ten times as bright and fierce, thrice as terrible and beautiful. No star above would dare outshine the eyes of the Spirit of Fire. And no decree of the Valar had even a hope of delving so deeply into the hearts of the people as the words of their revenge-crazed prince, whose hands were stained with the spilled blood of his father and whose voice trembled with the throws of venomous passion.

"Why, Oh people of the Noldor, should we longer serve the jealous Valar, who cannot keep us nor even their own realm secure from their Enemy?" the prince shouted over the heads of the silent, white faces, his hands rising with force such that Nolofinwë almost expected to see the mountains shrink back from his gesture; fingers clawed at empty air, clenching tightly to a white-knuckled fist as though they reached for the throat of the Enemy himself. "And though he be now their foe, are not they and he of one kin? Vengeance calls me hence, but even were it otherwise, I would not dwell longer in the same land with the kin of my father's slayer and of the thief of my treasure!"

Breathless, he stood before them, dark hair half-hiding his face as he panted and glistened with sweat. Beneath his assessing, calculating gaze, the people seemed to both shrink away and rise up at once, frightened of his power but all the same filled to the brim with his charisma. When his lips parted again, even Nolofinwë stood riveted, longing fiercely for the next syllable to be imparted upon his ears.

"Yet I am not the only valiant in this valiant people. And have ye not all lost your King?" Those eyes settled opon him and Arafinwë beside him. Have ye not also lost your atar, my brothers? And both of them shuddered; Nolofinwë's throat burned and tightened around his breath. His heart seemed to squeeze in upon itself beneath the cage of his ribs.

Part of him knew what was coming, knew this bitterness had been growing to a head for a very long time, that his brother carried within him some insane notion of rebellion against the Valar, but he had not believed...

And yet the thought faltered beneath the weight of his brother's following words. Words of vengeance and longing for bloodshed, hidden beneath clever taunts disguised as sympathy. Manipulation in its purest form. Have ye not also lost your atar? Helplessly, the thought carried and carried until it was all that Nolofinwë could think and hear. Leave Valinor. Avenge your father, your beloved King. Come away! Let cowards keep this city!

How could one resist? How could he pull away from that ensnaring grasp?

"Fair shall be the end," Fëanáro said, his voice hardly more than a whisper, though Nolofinwë could swear it carried all the way to the peaks of the mountains and across the endless expanse of the sea, "Though long and hard shall be the road. Say farewell to bondage! But say farewell also to ease! Say farewell to the weak! Say farewell to your treasures!" With each word his voice rose, until it was towering over them like a wave, bearing down upon them from a height greater even than Taniquetil, mighty and sure. Surrounding them, filling them with boundless strength instead of fear, with reckless determination instead of nervousness.

Another breath, and all breathed with him, their prince, their King. "More still shall we make. Journey light: but bring with you your swords! For we will go further than Oromë, endure longer than Tulkas: we will never turn back from pursuit. After Morgoth to the ends of the Earth! War shall he have and hatred undying!"

Too much. Too bright. Too vehement. It was like looking upon a vala without raiment, burning their eyes, scorching their souls. Many fell to their knees, but Nolofinwë stood stock-still, taken and captured, chained as surely as though manacles encased his limbs and throat.

"But when we have conquered and regained the Silmarilli, then we and we alone shall be the lords of the unsullied Light, and master of the bliss and beauty of Arda! No other race shall oust us!"

And just like that, the spell was broken. Nolofinwë went cold, even as fervent voices rose up around him in a deafening roar, eyes lit with untamable fire, stoked to life by the silver tongue of their King, calling upon them for aid and for glory. For freedom. For rebellion. A shiver of foreboding shot down the younger elf's spine, so strong it made his knees weak.

Fëanáro turned to him again, close enough to touch, yet none would dare at this moment. Before him, the King looked like a feral creature, his eyes beyond insanity, gleaming with hunger—and for what Nolofinwë could only guess. Revenge? Or was it those stones, glowing so brightly, addling the brains of all who looked, driving them to greed and lust stronger than the bonds of kin unto kin?

They stared at one another, and then the Spirit of Fire lifted his sword—the very sword that he had once held to his brother's throat—and raised it overhead so it shone red, as if it were already stained in the blood of their foes and of their fallen comrades.

A vala in the flesh, a creature of another world. Self-confidence oozed from every pore, thick and sweet as honey, temptation more than any mortal could possibly resist. Calling with a voice so silent yet more magnetic than any word of the lips and tongue could possibly become.

And yet Nolofinwë feared. When those lips parted again, and spoke, the world unraveled around him.

They wove into an Oath more terrible than any spoken. But it was not the oath, nor the determined faces of his nephews as they joined their father in lifting their crimson blades in the light of only torches and the cold, silent stars, that left the younger brother helpless, left his own body burning with the same hot flow of vengeful blood, the same searing passion, the same violent vehemence that consumed all his brethren and people around him like wildfire unto dry wood.

It was naught but four words, spoken to him from the lips of an angel of fire and ash.

"What sayest thou, brother?"

What could he say to that voice, but "Yes"?

Chapter Text

Some things were just meant to be.

Like the stars were meant to be.

Like the sun and the moon were meant to be.

Like the joining of two halves of one soul were meant to be.

But Tyelkormo had never really believed in the last one. He had seen enough drama over love, over soul-mates, to know that the world did not work in such a perfect manner, that the Black Enemy's theme had done more damage than anyone could have predicted. Nothing was perfect. Nothing.

Of course, he had not been around when the King had taken his Vanyarin wife—his second mate—but Tyelkormo was more than aware of the affect it had had on his own father and on the people. He knew that it had broken the rules laid down by the Valar themselves, the rules that said a man only take one mate in his lifetime and vice versa. The rules that said there was a Fated for everyone, only One, the one you were destined to be with.

But Finwë had broken those sacred rules without hesitation or regret. Tyelkormo had always secretly, bitterly, wondered if things could have been different had the King been less selfish, had he refrained, or if reality would have degenerated even without the dark cloud of hatred hovering over all of their Houses for as long as Tyelkormo could remember.

And then there had been his own parents. Fëanáro and Nerdanel.

Nerdanel had been Fëanáro's One, yet he had brushed her off at every turn, disregarded her advice, turned away from her pleas and ignored her warnings. He cared more about his crafts and projects and glowing jewels than he ever had about his wife and children, or so it seemed to Tyelkormo, who knew the love of a mother and older brother, but never that of a father. There had been loyalty to family, and obligation to obey, but never familial love and devotion.

One thing was certain. Fate could make you the other half of someone's soul, but she could not make you come together into perfect harmony. And she could not make you yearn. She could not make you want and desire. She could not control you.

Or so he had thought.

Until he had seen her.

Seen her dancing in the twilight, her voice raised in vivid song, her hair braided with pearls and her blue and gold dress falling over every curve and lithe muscle so perfectly. His first glimpse of the lady Lúthien had stolen his breath and captured his stone-cold heart. His One. Enchanting. Glorious. Breathtaking.

And she loved another. Not even another elf. An atan. A man.

But never mind that she loved another. Never mind that he was a murderer and a traitor. Never mind that their people despised each other. None of that even mattered to him when his gaze rested upon her sitting in the shade, embroidery in her lap, or watched her walking with her ladies-in-waiting through the woods, laughing and twittering.

In the twilight, he watched her.

He should have felt shame for spying on her, but he could not look away. Never again would he ridicule Carnistir for having been so obsessed with his mortal woman, for Tyelkormo knew that to look away was like stabbing himself in the chest and cleaving a ragged hole out of his heart, bending his ribs and twisting until they cracked. Every time he had to leave her, had to pretend for his brother that nothing was happening, had to return to Nargothrond beneath the watchful eyes of his cousins and move on with his life, he thought he died a little more in secret.

Or maybe he just went a little crazier. Maybe his mind cracked a little more with each loss of her light. Maybe his eyes became a touch brighter and wilder. Who could say?

All he knew was that his Nightingale had slammed into his life and demolished his reality, had crashed headlong into his world, and everything he lusted for and cared about had exploded like the death of a star, blinding him to all else but her and her face and her lips and her eyes. Gravity abandoned him to the wrath of her magnetic pull, and the flame of passion that burned for her scorched his soul.

When he was away from her, he couldn't breathe. Every day was torment, stretching on forever. But being close to her was worse still, because he could not touch her, could not even speak to her. He was a Kinslayer, and Thingol had banned them from the realm, threatened to have them slaughtered should they dare defile his lands with their filthy breath and tainted touch. Even being here now, watching her, was putting his life on the line. If Thingol should catch Tyelkormo spying on his only child, his beloved daughter, coveting and lusting for her...

But he couldn't stop.

She was his One. His Fated. They were meant to be. Like the stars. Like the sun and the moon.

Fate, though, worked in ways no Eruhína could understand, nor even the Ainur. And Tyelkormo knew all too well that few happy endings waited at the conclusion of the harsh road of reality. Rare, it was, that the ending was truly fair at the finish of the long journey through insanity and hatred and revenge. And he knew...

He knew that he would never hold her. Never kiss her. Never touch her.

Lady Lúthien had indeed collided with his being, buried herself like a poisoned shard in the fleshy wound of his soul, filling his veins with traitorous, toxic hope. Day by day she was killing him.

Gladly would he die a slow, painful death for her. She was as much a part of him as his heart and lungs, a necessary organ that he could not live without. For her, he knew he would sacrifice anything, would follow her anywhere.

To the heavens. Or into death. Anything for her. His One.

His Nightingale.

Chapter Text

For as long as Fëanáro could remember, he had always been thinking.

And not just about one thing, but dozens of things all at once. As a child, his thirst for knowledge and his endless curiosity could not be sated by any amount of books or educated tutors; his attention could not be held by simple rhyming songs or games like other children. His father had learned this very quickly. The prince devoured everything offered and more. Until there was no more to devour, and then he created more so that it could be destroyed all over again and remade.

They called him a genius. A prodigy. A natural craftsman.

But, call him what they may, Fëanáro felt like none of these things. In all honesty, he didn't often feel much, except that same need, that ambition for more and more and more. More projects to complete. More books to read. All his energy was devoted towards fulfilling the fascination that burned and seared in his blood, singing in his ears without pause, driving him forward.

Keeping him occupied in mind and body. Always.

Always.

Even in the dark. Even with his wife's warm body curled up against his chest. Even when they made love, always in the back of his mind a litany of mathematics, equations, ideas, visions...

And other things. Things he would rather not be thinking about.

You know what he is up to. He wants to convince the King to—

—and the integral of one over the square root of fourteen plus—

—extract of adamant did not work, not compatible with the—

—maybe a different pattern next time? Maybe silver with red would—

Nerdanel was fussing about something earlier. Had better clarify what it was she needed before she decides to—

—rid of you so that he can replace—

"Fëanáro, I need to talk to you. Please, just for a moment." Nerdanel was looking at him, her green eyes bright in the darkness of the room. Though she was beautiful, all cream, plush flesh and fiery spirit, tonight she seemed more transparent than ever, as though there were no substance to her being at all. He looked into her stern gaze and drowned, his mind wandering even as her lips parted to begin speaking again.

Did Nelyafinwë need something? He knocked on the door at three forty-three and—

—plot was probably thought up by that golden-haired wretch of a Vanyarin—

—be mad at me again. Why can she not just leave me be?

—and then the angle must be one-hundred and fifty three point six degrees—

—how to get the Light of the Trees without being sniffed out by the Valar—

"—that they just need to spend a little more time with their father. There is not much a woman has to offer to her sons once they grow out of the nursery and wish to take up their father's craftsmanship." She blinked, and the spell that held him immobile was broken. "Fëanáro, are you even listening to me? Please, this is important!" Her lips formed a pout that never failed to heat a part of him that had nothing to do with rational thought.

"Hush, nárinya," he purred, leaning forward with a smirk that he knew turned his wife's knees to jelly. A flush rose on her cheeks at the sight of his sultry expression, and triumph bubbled in his belly along with the rising tide of arousal that accompanied the sudden thoughts of—

—her body entwined with his, her soft thighs embracing, her heels digging into—

—must ban Nelyafinwë from fraternizing with those sons of a Telerin whore. They shall give him the wrong sort of ideas about—

—subtract twelve thousand six hundred and thirteen from thirty three thousand four hundred and—

—and her hair would be like silk against his naked skin. Oh, her lips on his body—

—green and blue would do well enough, but if he really wanted to make an impression, perhaps plated gold with some—

"Fëanáro," she groaned, and her hands rose to his shoulders, shoving half-heartedly. "Husband, please, we really need to... need to talk about this..."

He blocked her words with a deep kiss, sinking into her sweetness.

—and seeing that expression on his father's face when he looked at her smug visage, how it made him feel ill!

—if one of the boys would just properly take after him. Nelyafinwë was hardly suited and Kanafinwë no more promising—

—and need to calculate the exact angles to get a finished product with one hundred and forty four perfectly symmetrical facets—

"Fëanáro, stop..."

Why was she speaking again? She should be moaning—

"Stop!" Nerdanel forcibly pulled away, and for once Fëanáro felt his thought process roughly derail. "What is wrong with you?"

Frowning, Fëanáro stared into her eyes, wondering if he'd done something terribly wrong besides attempting to seduce his wife out of lecturing him on the importance of family and coddling his grown sons, who, he might add, were all quite capable of taking care of themselves. "What do you mean, what is wrong with me? Nothing is wrong."

"Then why won't you speak with me?" Just like that, her voice cracked, and she sat up in bed. Any attention he would have given to her body—clad in only a thin shift that hid none of the secret, intimate curves of her familiar shape—was diverted to her face. She was near to tears, and that never boded well for him.

"Don't cry, nárinya," he crooned, sitting up to pull her into his arms, even as—

Perhaps if he kissed her and ran his hand down her back just so, the way she liked—

—so had Nelyafinwë needed something important? Was that why—?

—and then there were two hundred and thirty invitations to be handwritten, and he would not give leave to any servant to mangle them by—

—maybe if he changed the angle to eighty seven point four—

—and then he would have to track down that two-faced son of a Vanyarin prostitute and—

Sharply, his wife tugged on a lock of his hair. "You aren't listening. You aren't even looking at me, Fëanáro. Please, what's wrong?"

"Nothing is wrong."

"You lie. To me. Your wife? Your One?"

"I am not lying to y--"

"Do you think me stupid, Fëanáro?" she burst out.

"No, of course not! I--" he began, but she cut him off sharply, her temper flaring.

"Well, clearly your wife doesn't rank high enough on your list of 'objects of import' to even warrant a conversation in your own bed in the middle of the night, but never mind that, as long as you can seduce her into being silent—"

"It's not like that!" Fëanáro burst out, but his voice lacked conviction. Because it was like that. He had been ignoring her. Again.

"Then what is it, husband? Tell me so I can understand!"

Silence fell between them, and her fingers curled tightly in his nightshirt, clutching the soft fabric until he thought it might rip. In the back of his mind, the voices continued going about their own business, but he almost didn't hear them. For once, she had him firmly anchored in the moment, trapped and cornered like an animal with nowhere to run or hide. And then she was pulling away.

His hand caught at her arm, but gently. He didn't want her to think he was angry. "Please forgive me, I just..."

"You what?" she snapped. But for all her anger, tears were finally escaping, wetting her cheeks, and seeing her upset was making him ache and causing his guts to twist unpleasantly into nausea.

"I just... I have a lot on my mind," he whispered. "Forgive me. I don't mean to... There is just so much that needs to be done, and with my latest project... and Nolofinwë has been meeting privately with the King again, and..."

Just like that, she sighed deeply and looked away from his eyes where they burned brighter than the stars, half-hidden and glowing beneath his bangs. "I understand you are worried," she said softly, "but I wish you would realize that I am worried, too. I have a lot on my mind as well. Including you and the boys. Our family. I worry about all of you. Things aren't as they should be, Fëanáro. Something is wrong."

Swallowing almost audibly, he dared take her hand in his and press a dashing kiss against her knuckles. Traitorously, his mind wondered if he could use a bit more traditional seduction technique to draw her away from this melancholic, guilt-inducing mood that she had worked herself into. Perhaps...

But he knew that would just bring about trouble in the morning. She would be angry, and then she would not speak to him all day, and she would deny him the warmth of their shared bedchambers tomorrow evening. It simply wasn't worth the trouble, especially since neither of them were likely to actually enjoy a physical joining at the moment, what with her in tears and him scrambling to fix whatever it was that he had done wrong.

"Forgive me," he said again. "I do not mean to worry you."

The look she gave him was somewhere between sorrowful, hopeful and resigned, as if she dearly wished he was being truthful, that he really was sorry, but knew with all her soul that he would not change his ways. In the morning, he would still venture out to his forge, perhaps head into the city, stop by the palace to see his father and visit a half-dozen clients, then return home to work out in the forge again. He would not go into the house until dusk, perhaps later, and he would not spend time with their children. Most likely, he would not even eat dinner at the same table.

Finally... "We can talk in the morning." Nerdanel lay her head down on her downy pillow and turned away from him, so that the fiery rivers of her curls streamed over his abandoned hands and brushed against his face. It was all he could do to move up behind her, slotting their bodies together the way they had been created to fit, every groove and curve aligning.

But somehow the rest of them didn't seem to mesh. For all that their bodies seemed in harmony, she was right. Something was missing. There was discord between their minds and souls.

And he had no idea how to fix it.

"Sleep well," he whispered against her ear.

Knowing that he wouldn't sleep at all. The voices rose in amplitude, clamoring for his attention again already now that his mate's upset had been diverted and her anger mollified.

As long as he could remember, thoughts had consumed his life.

And, come the dawn, nothing will have changed. Nothing.

Chapter Text

The reflection that stared back at him had changed.

For hundreds of years, it had always been the same face and form—unchanged and un-weathered by time. Not a single flaw visible. Just flowing red hair and his mother's eyes, fiery but at the same time gentle, caring and longing. The eldest son of the Spirit of Fire, who wanted nothing more than a brood of a half-dozen or so elflings and a quiet life as a scholar within the safety of the walls of Tirion, looked back with a small flicker of a smile, shy but bright.

No more. The familiar expression of faint wistfulness and joy, the sharp features with only laugh lines to their name and the bright silver eyes of that man called Nelyafinwë Maitimo morphed by the day. And what they turned into...

The first thing he had noticed after three decades without his reflection were the scars. Raking down his shoulders and around his ribs in jagged, blackened lines, burns melted into his flesh, claws that had scraped down to the bone, marring the perfect symmetry he had once been named for. Every new valley and trench carved into that creamy skin was something unfamiliar and poisonous, something frightening. Something that made his throat tight and his blood chill.

At first, it had felt like a representation of all that Morgoth had taken from him, body and soul. Ripped his spirit to shreds. Violated and ravaged his soul. Taken every last drop of hope until even rage and lust for blood dwindled and left him empty.

Just like his body, his spirit would never recover. No matter how much he pretended to be whole and hale for his brothers, for Findekáno, nothing would make him the man he had been before the chains and the racks and the endless hours of starvation and frigid cold to bare skin. Too much blood and death. Too much torture and fear. He was like the vast earth, torn and marred, his symmetry broken by the Black Enemy's theme. Nothing of the naive, innocent young prince he had been in the Years of the Trees remained.

Gradually, any last tiny shard of Nelyafinwë Maitimo disappeared.

The smiles were long gone. The image that stared back at him each morning from the looking glass never had curved lips. Instead, they were pale and bloodless, lines wrinkling at the corners, tense and fierce. Maitimo hated looking at the stark expression, devoid of something important, something he could no longer seem to recall.

In its place, his eyes blazed, but held no joy. At first there had just been sorrow, that broken shell that his cousin had cut free from the cliffs of Thangorodrim, a flame that had been doused and strangled of oxygen until it was naught but a faint wisp of smoke and a single glowing ember in the night. Despair had blanketed his being, but slowly it had lifted.

It had lifted and released the violent rage—the madness—boiling beneath.

Rage he was all too familiar with. The need to tear flesh from bone and rend bodies into pieces. It was something he had first tasted in the darkness of Valinor upon the docks of Alqualondë as he thrust his spear through helpless victims, watching them tumble into the water below and stain it with crimson. Watching the life flowing through their veins dripping down his blade, pooling around his boots, soaking into the leather until the sickly warmth touched his toes.

In captivity, the need to taste the blood of his enemies had only grown. Grown into a monster that he kept locked away in the farthest, darkest corner of his mind where he prayed it might never again see the light of dawn.

And now it was unleashed.

Unleashed in wild eyes, eyes that reminded him so much of Fëanáro's terrible light that the mere sight of them had twisted his innards into knots. Fey and filled with divine heat. Suddenly the face that stared back at him resembled his less and less, resembled his father's more and more each day, until he thought he could see a shadow of fire and ash hanging over his shoulder, overlapping with his body, filling up the emptiness that had been left inside him, hollowed through suffering and festering infection of the soul.

Haunting. Pulling him deeper into the bleak, swirling depths below, crawling up his body, longing to overtake him. To drown him.

And then appeared the grins. Like an animal, fangs bared and ready to rip off strips of raw flesh and devour, to drink blood like the finest of wines and savor the copper and salt on its tongue. At first they were only shadows, half-hidden from his sight, mirages that he thought he dreamt over his waking gaze.

Once Findekáno had been killed, they became all too real. Tangible.

It was just too much. Too much pain. Aching in his bones, deeper still than that, until he could not sleep without nightmares plaguing him. Until he could not rise from bed without longing for the death that would bring him either eternal damnation or peace. Until he longed to fall to his knees before the Valar, prostrate himself humbly and kiss their sandals as he begged and pleaded to just make it end!

Part of him could not take any more. The part that shriveled and died, withering beneath a slow-acting poison, a sickness that no medicine could hope to ease or heal. Some days, he could not remember why he bothered to wait, why he didn't just ride out and slaughter them all!

One day, he woke up and looked in the mirror. What stared back at him looked more like a monster than a man. Blankly, he stared at that stranger with ragged hair like fire and eyes bruised and ringed with darkness. The majority of his mind dismissed the image, turning away from the blatant, frightening truth glaring holes into his back.

The small part that was left, the part that could still be called humane, could not help but wonder if the reflection in that glass was his soul.

If, finally, he was beyond redemption.

Chapter Text

"Mairon, come here. I wish to speak with you."

It was always the same. That rumbling voice, deep enough to rattle the foundations of the mountains and the earth, seemed to vibrate through every inch of his being, shaking him to his core. Like a good dog, Sauron came to heel, staring up into spine-chilling crimson eyes. No pupils or sclera were to be seen, and if he had not been so used to the sight, even he might have found them to be disturbing, especially set in that wrinkled, black-skinned face.

Truly, Melkor was something to behold, something stomach-churning and repulsive. A wry smile bent Sauron's lips even as he fell to his knees at the foot of the great dark throne, beneath the glowing lights of the remaining two Silmarilli, poisonous and searing hot. When the other had gone missing (and oh! how angry his master had been!) Sauron had laughed so hard he could not breathe, rolling on the ground until tears pooled in his eyes. The look on Melkor's face had made his blood sing.

You see, he hated his master.

He hated everything about that creature and this place. He hated being Morgoth's lieutenant, his messenger boy, ever at his beck and call, existing merely to perform the duties that his master found too detestable to dirty his hands with. "Mairon, do this" and "Mairon, do that" day-in and day-out. And Eru—Oh wait, that is not right—Melkor forbid that he dare to complete something to anything less than his master's absolute satisfaction.

He was the best for a reason.

They called him Sauron and Gorthaur the Cruel, because he knew how to take a victim, how to hold them on the edge of death for days, always conscious and breathing. He knew how to strike to make them suffer, what arteries could be cut, what skin could be peeled from the muscle and what muscle from the bone without killing the screaming, writhing subject at his disposal. He knew how to make his prey speak their deepest, darkest, blackest secrets, how to make them plead and beg for their torment to end, to die and be free of their suffering at his hands.

All of that prowess had come from somewhere. Rare was it that he tried something on a victim that had never been tried on his own body. Personal experience trumped any instructional text, after all. Melkor was not a forgiving god and master, so the lieutenant had plenty of first-hand experience to work with.

And Sauron... At the very notion of prostrating himself at the feet of another, of kissing boots slicked with slime and muck, of sweet-talking and ass-kissing and begging for mercy, his entire spirit recoiled in disgust. It was out of sheer necessity that he knelt before this filth and proclaimed undying loyalty to the end of eternity. Both of them knew he was lying, but, for now, Melkor knew he held the lesser ainu's leash tightly.

Sharp black nails more suited for a beast's paws trailed down his cheek, slicing the flesh open to the bone, down around his lips and sliding under his chin as if to mime scratching beneath a pet's muzzle. Part of Sauron, a part he was not afraid to deny at all, wished longingly to exchange their places; he would love to see if Melkor could take a dose of his own medicine, lower himself to the cold, hard floor at another's feet and allow his ugly face to be ripped apart. Hatred coiled taut in the maia's gut, waiting to spring.

"My lieutenant," the Black Enemy growled, his voice low and rough, almost shattering the foundations of the iron fortress at their roots, "I have a new project for you."

Oh lord, here we go again... Sauron would have rolled his eyes, except that would only invite Melkor to gauge them out, and it took several days to grow back eyeballs and recover his sight. Not to mention is was uncomfortable and made him vulnerable to be sightless. Expressing his annoyance at being treated like a tool to be used at his master's discretion was not worth being caught blind and unawares by Gothmog and his pathetic, sniveling underlings later. The Balrogath were none too fond of him, and neither had he much fondness for them.

"I am ever at your service, my master," he crooned instead, leaning into the stinging nails carving open his face as though they were the gentlest, sweetest of lover's caresses.

Melkor pulled away, but his red eyes were looking straight into Sauron's ever-smirking visage. The maia's pride would not allow himself to let go of the passively defiant expression; a wince or a cower would leave him more raw and sore than any amount of Melkor's "loving" handling.

Luckily, his master did not seem in the mood to punish him over such a minor transgression today. Whatever this assignment was, it must be important to garner personal attention from the boss himself.

"We have a guest that I want you to speak with."

Torture. He could already taste the blood streaming from his fingertips to pool in the cups of his palms and dribble in rivulets down his wrists. How he would love to lap up the sweet liquid with his tongue, taste its coppery thickness upon his palate, languish in it to his own pleasure. Definitely, this lieutenant was in the mood to take out his frustrations on some poor prisoner of war.

"And who might this guest be?" Sauron purred in reply.

"Maeglin Eölion of the House of the Mole, Lord of Gondolin."

That brought pause to the lieutenant. Someone so important? From Gondolin...

From Gondolin...

Just like that, the maia's grin widened. My, my, someone is becoming ambitious. Melkor was going after the Hidden City, a target that had long been beyond their reach. But with all of Beleriand overrun at the Noldorin scum running southward with their tails between their legs, one small elven city, no matter how secret, could not withstand the entirety of the armies of the Black Enemy.

Yet some part of him wished that Melkor would fail. That part of him wanted to see the form above him on the ground in the dirt and in chains, dragged like a dog to his fate. That part of him wanted to witness his tormentor's ultimate humiliation at the hands of some pathetic, powerless mortals. Oh! how such a sight would kindle the fire within him, stoking and building it to a fiery blaze of passion and ecstasy. But not yet. Not yet. "It will be done, my master."

Not yet, but one day. One day, the monster above him would be overthrown, would be brought low, would fail utterly. And then there would be nothing—no one—to stand between Sauron and his ambitions. No one would be able to stop him from starting where his foolish, blind master had left off. And if there was anything Sauron knew, it was how to learn from mistakes, be they his own or those of another.

One day, the world would be crawling forth to lick his boots, begging him for mercy, sniveling and prostrating themselves on the filthy floor just for a scrap of his favor.

The very idea left him almost dizzy with pleasure, and in a mood light enough to enjoy having a little bit of fun. Hopefully this gondolindh would be difficult to break, or he might end up disappointed. The thought of a challenge made his eyes flutter in bliss.

"I want him to remain alive."

Sauron sent a curious look upwards, but nodded. That was his specialty after all. "Let me take leave of you presence now, my master, so that I may carry out your directives immediately."

It was insubordination at its finest, but for once Melkor let it slide, merely laughing and tearing back more of the flesh on his lieutenant's face, along with some of his scalp and rich, dark hair. "Get thee gone," he ordered. "I do not want to see this face or these lips until they can speak to me the location of the Hidden City."

"Of course." Sauron rose and bowed deeply. For now, he would play the humble dog faithfully following his master's every command. Being the tormentor would tide over his lust for power over body and spirit, just enough to keep his wilder tendencies in line.

But someday Melkor would be gone, and Sauron would rise in his place, the feared Dark Lord, the wiser and craftier of the pair, and all the forces of darkness and light would kneel at his feet. Glee at the very thought bubbled in his belly as he left the room to search out his unfortunate prey.

He looked forward to that day with eagerness and a dark, thin smile.

Chapter Text

It caught his eye again as he traversed one of the long, empty hallways of his mother's large, open house in the dead of night. There was nothing particularly special about it—this door—except that despite growing up in this house with only his mother for company, he could not have said for the life of him what was on the other side of that wood.

For as long as Teldanno could remember, that door remained locked. Even had he wanted to open it, he knew that the only key lay around his mother's neck, against her breast, safe and secure.

"What's inside?" he had asked eagerly as a child, almost bouncing in excitement and eagerness as young, curious souls were oft to do. "Emya, won't you unlock it?"

Her huge green eyes had looked down at him, glistening and lined with sorrow. At the time he had not recognized what it was that made her smile wither and die upon her beautiful face, that made her so clearly, blatantly unhappy that he also wilted. It had not been his intention at all to upset his mother; she was all he had, and he loved her greatly.

With soothing, familiar arms and comforting warmth, she had embraced him tightly. "Not today, hínya. Some mysteries are just not made to be unraveled. Maybe when you are older."

Only, she never had told him, shown him.

On the very cusp of adulthood, in that annoying and mischievous phase between bratty adolescent and hot-tempered man, he didn't like having secrets kept from him. There were enough laying around in broad daylight already. Secrets that they tiptoed around as though they might jump up and bite. Like his father.

His father who he had never met. His father who everyone seemed to despise, sometimes even his mother. His father, whose very name his mother had banned from being spoken in his presence.

Curufinwë Atarinkë.

No matter how she shielded him, she could not stop Teldanno from discovering the truth of his grandfather and father, from discovering why other parents took one look at him and shooed their little ones in the opposite direction, as though he were diseased. He had grown up a lonely child because of it—shunned—and somewhere in the back of his mind he bitterly laid the blame on his father's shoulders for abandoning him and his mother to go off murdering innocent kinsmen and fighting in a bloody war across the sea.

Could the door be hiding something of his father's? Or was it something completely different? Even now, the curiosity, the need to know, burned in his heart, melting into his flesh and bones until he couldn't hold still for it. He had to know!

And he had a plan. A plan that involved taking the key from around his mother's neck as she slept and unlocking that frustrating door so the mystery of what lay behind it could be purged from his system, so he could concentrate on his studies at the university and lay his nonexistent father to rest and forget all about being related to the cursed House of Fëanáro. His mother would never even realize what he had done.

His footsteps were quick and silent as he approached her bedchamber, only Tilion present to witness his sneaking as he slipped into the room and went to the bed. His mother was on her side, her eyes staring off into space, distant and glazed over, and she didn't so much as twitch when he came into what should have been her field of vision. No, she was definitely asleep.

Getting the chain from about her neck without pulling at her delicate skin was a little more difficult, but after five minutes of gentle tugging, he lifted his hand and came away with the ornate gray key swinging before his nose. Quickly, he retreated.

And, of course, he didn't notice her blink, didn't notice her breath hitch softly as he closed the door behind him, its click echoing in the night's stillness.

Too focused on his destination, he left in a rush and found the door, near breathless with anticipation of what might be on the other side. When he inserted the key, it rattled in the lock to the rhythm of his trembling fingers.

The door opened, creaking softly, into a yawning maw of darkness.

Gulping, Teldanno stepped over the threshold. The moonlight was blocked by heavy, dark curtains, and when he pulled them back in a rush of cold, stale air and dust, the light poured into the pit of darkness, mottling the walls and the floor with silver, uncovering the treasures that had been locked tightly within, hidden from sight.

There were pictures.

The largest was a portrait of his mother and a face he did not recognize, but a face that looked enough like his own that he knew it was his father staring back at him with a devilish smirk and stark silver eyes, eyes that seemed to draw him forward and drown him in their intensity. And it was only a picture! To think what truly meeting the man's eyes would have been like...

Moving past, he found more paintings, more of his mother's smile which looked alien to the young elf. In these pictures, she looked so happy, a kind of happy that her young son knew with jealousy and hate in his breast that he didn't have the power to return to her. His father had stolen away the bright young woman in these pictures, had ripped her apart and left her alone in a gray, empty house with a son to raise on her own.

Another large portrait revealed itself soon after, and Teldanno paused, staring at his parents, and at the bundle in his mother's arms. Immediately, he thought was that that bundle must be him, their infant son, but he then paused, blinking. His legs wobbled and turned to jelly, and he had to lower himself onto the floor, stirring the thick layer of dust on the wood, lest he topple over in shock.

A sibling. That had to be a brother or sister. He had been born after his father had left.

I have a brother or sister. The thought was like a bolt of lightning to the brain. It had never even occurred to him that he might...

And just like that, his hatred for his father doubled.

Was it not enough that he took away his wife's happiness and love and smile? Was it not enough that he had abandoned his son to be fatherless and shunned all of his childhood? What more could he have taken? Teldanno had once asked himself.

Here was his answer. He looked around, and more pictures appeared, of a young elf with his mother's eyes and father's bearing, pictures of this stranger growing from infanthood to adulthood, until he found with his eyes an image of that same green-eyed stranger standing side-by-side with his father, the top of his head several inches higher than that of his sire. His brother had been taller than his father.

Fiercely, a sob of anger and overwhelming something caught in his throat and choked him. He didn't know what to think about this, what to feel. Even looking at them, smiling and happy, father and son, made his belly feel as though someone were stabbing and twisting into his gut with a sword. If his eyes were stinging, he would never admit it.

"You should not be here, yonya."

He shot up so fast he almost lost his balance. There, in the doorway, was his mother. She was still in her nightgown, her hair undone, a candle held in one graceful hand so that its soft glow penetrated the icy stillness of this formerly undisturbed crypt.

"Amillë," he choked out in a rush, his tongue tangling over the words he wanted to say. "I... Please forgive me, I was foolish. I..."

"There is no need to apologize," she crooned, running her hand over his cheek, her touch soft as butterfly wings. He was taller than her, he realized with a start, as he looked down into her gaze. "I thought this would happen someday. You are more like your father than I would like to believe sometimes. You have his curiosity and his stubbornness."

The last thing he wanted was to be compared to him, but Teldanno bit down his harsh reply. Now was not the time; he didn't want to upset her further, didn't want to make the tears pooling at the corners of her beloved eyes fall. "It was not my place."

"No, I should have told you sooner." She moved past him, standing in front of the family portrait, her eyes on, not her husband, but her son. "Forgive me for keeping them from you."

His breath caught. "Amillë?"

"Your brother, Telperinquar," she whispered, her lips trembling, her hands shaking badly. "Your father loved him more than anything. He took to raising a child like a fish takes to water, wanted to be the best father in all of Valinor." Just then, her voice caught, hitching in the back of her throat, and her shoulders started to shake. Quickly, Teldanno took the candle from her hands and set it aside, instead grasping at her icy fingers, entwining them with his.

"You don't have to—"

"He couldn't bear to be parted from his son," she continued in a shaky voice, as though her younger child had not spoken at all. "When they marched for the sea, he took his son with. Even when I pleaded that he allow Telperinquar to stay, he insisted that a son's place was at his father's side and would not hear of my arguments."

When she looked at him, Teldanno shuddered at the broken glass of her spirit shimmering beyond the glossy veil of despair in her eyes. "I lied to him about you. I knew that if I told him the truth, that I was expecting again, he would want to bring us with. And one day, he would take you away, too. That one day, he would take you away to war or trailing after those cursed gemstones; that one day, you would not come home to me. And I couldn't bear to lose you, too."

Her arms came around him, but when they sank to the floor it was Teldanno who held and supported his mother, not her embrace which comforted and soothed the turmoil riled and searing in his heart.

"Forgive me," she sobbed softly against his shoulder.

"There is nothing to forgive," he crooned, closing his eyes and rocking her against him, her head tucked beneath his chin as she cried, as if he were the father comforting his daughter. Regret overwhelmed his curiosity, regret that he had even unlocked this place to begin with. Clearly that key had kept more than just his older brother secreted away inside.

How long they stayed there, on the floor, he wouldn't rightly remember later. Eventually, when his mother had stopped crying, he had taken her back to her bedchambers and left her to sleep. Then he went to find that room again, to take one last look at the dusty frames that held the past at bay behind layers of misty glass, and then to pull the heavy wood shut tight, so that the air hissed around the corners, spitting particles of dust into the air to dance like snowflakes in the moonlight.

He locked the door nice and tight. Then he returned the key carefully about his mother's neck without waking her.

After that, the last bit of mischievous child in him seemed to crumble away into nothingness, burned to ash by the fiery hatred wrought through discovery. Many a night afterwards, he had dearly wished that he had never touched that key, that he could still pretend his mother was all right, that she was not weighed down by the loss of her son, by the callous abandonment of her husband, her One.

Some secrets, he realized, were better left locked away. Safe and secure in blissful ignorance.

Chapter Text

It started with an unexpected knock at the door.

A knock in the hour just after the setting of the sun, when the great purple shadow of the Pelóri stretched over the darkening lands of Valinor, when the stars were revealed from their veil of sunlight, and Teldanno was happily settled before the roaring fire with a heavy tome in his lap. Beside him, in a plush armchair, his mother was tucked between thick cushions with her knitting needles, humming softly to herself. It was just like every other evening, quiet and peaceful, spent in companionable silence.

Except that sound, banging, echoing through their house. His mother's needles paused, her green eyes flickering upwards. The golden firelight flashed across her pale face, highlighting the worry lines that Teldanno despised, etched around her eyes and the corners of her mouth, between her slender eyebrows.

It came again, heavy enough to rattle the doorframe. Sighing, Teldanno set aside his book and stood. "Stay here. I shall see what business our visitor has with us at this time of night."

With a gentle smile, she went back to her knitting.

Slipping out of the room, the younger elf made his way down the empty hallway towards the front door. Through the frosted glass ornately set in heavy oaken wood, he could see the silhouette of a figure, tall, probably male. With pursed lips, Teldanno paused on the other side to unlock the door, taking care as he swung it open just enough that he could see outside around the edge. Being raised a lonely child had not resulted in a particularly sociable adult, and he wanted to get rid of this interloper as quickly as possible.

As it would turn out, there were two interlopers on the front porch. Two dreadfully, terribly familiar interlopers. And he would not be getting rid of them anytime soon.

The one in front, his curled hand still raised as if to pound upon the door a third time, was a few inches shorter than Teldanno. A face that haunted his nightmares burned into his irises; there was no mistaking that posture, those eyes, the sheer intensity of presence that surrounded and engulfed him as he stood within touching distance of the stranger.

Curufinwë Atarinkë was standing in the doorway, as tangible as the cold wood beneath Teldanno's white-knuckled fingers, hard and stubborn. His father was standing in the doorway. After six thousand years of abandonment.

For a long moment, the pair blinked at each other. The empty pit that settled in the younger's gut suddenly heated, was filled with scalding water, scalding rage that quickly rose to boiling point and spilled over the edges. And anything that got within the blast radius of that explosion was just asking to get burned.

"Who are y—?"

There was pain shooting through his coiled fist, stinging. But satisfaction unfurled in his belly as well. The sound of flesh upon flesh was loud in the growing darkness. Gasping slightly, he watched the figure topple backwards into the second, sending both of them sprawling out in the dirt at the foot of the short row of steps leading up to the porch.

That felt good. That was all he could think as he stared down at them, at the man who was wide-eyed and sitting up from his undignified position on the ground. Baring his teeth like an animal, the grandson of hot-blooded Fëanáro snarled down at him, wishing he would stand up and approach again just so the young elf had the pleasure of knocking him back onto his derriere a second time. Once had not been enough to quell his growing, blistering fury, not by a long shot.

Sputtering, Curufinwë glared up at him. "Who the name of the Valar are you? What are you doing in my wife's house?" Fury—a familiar reflection that struck Teldanno straight in the gut—flashed across that face, along with a dash of betrayal and fear.

"What right have you to come here, filth?" he spat out, wishing he could do more. Wishing he could spit flames at that two-faced traitorous bastard. "Get thee gone, scum!"

"I am not going anywhere!" Curufinwë was back on his feet and nose-to-nose with Teldanno, somehow coming across as a thousand feet tall despite actually being the shorter of the pair. A hand grasped at the front of the younger's tunic, nearly lifting him from his feet (against the laws of physics) as he was dragged forward and downward. He had barely a moment to wince before a fist came crashing forward, planting itself firmly in his eye socket.

Tomorrow his face was not going to be pretty. And by the Valar it hurt!

"Both of you calm down!" Hands were grasping again, pulling the pair apart. It was the second stranger, the stranger with his mother's green eyes, half-a-head taller than the first. "Let us speak like civilized creatures and not roll around on the ground like ruffians!"

"Does it not bother you to return home to find another man living in your mother's house?" Curufinwë shouted, and Teldanno felt his heart swell in his throat at the confirmation of the second stranger's identity. His older brother was taller than him, too.

"Please, just let him speak, Atar!"

"We already know what he has to say!"

"He would like to know what you are doing here in the middle of the night!" Teldanno snapped. "You can't just... just come prancing back here like nothing happened! You left! You left!"

"Why you—"

They made a grab for one another again, slipping between the middle party's fingers, and that was when a slight figure appeared in the doorway, her gray and white gown swirling around her ankles, her eyes wide with startled fear as she beheld the two males preparing to make a second attempt each at knocking the other's teeth loose from his skull.

"Lindalórë!"

"Amillë!"

They both straightened, looking up at her with stark, white faces and shaking hands. Between them, the green-eyed stranger stood, staring at Teldanno as though he were some sort of mutated six-legged forest creature instead of a perfectly respectable elven scholar.

"Amillë?" he whispered, tilting his head to one side, clearly confused. "I don't understand."

Sneering, Teldanno took several steps back from the pair, back towards his mother. She was trembling now, her shoulders shaking slightly, a hand raised to cover her lips. How dare they upset her so? Ai Ilúvatar, he wanted them gone from his sight! How dare they come barging in like they belonged here after what they did to his mother? To him?

But his mother's hand on his shoulder stayed any further action. "No, Teldanno."

"But—"

"No," she whispered, shaking her head. He met her eyes, and then drew back.

Curufinwë moved forward, and it took all the young elf's control and concentration to keep from launching himself at the other man again. The urge to harm someone had never been this powerful before, this overwhelming. He blamed his father's blood.

"Lindalórë, what is going on here?" his father—his father, how he hated admitting it, even in his mind—rasped out. "Who is... who is this?"

On his shoulder her hand tightened, squeezing soothingly. She knew him too well, knew that the tension in his body, ready to rock forward at the slightest hint of threat and pummel his opponent, was coiled so taut it would take but a tiny nudge to set him off. With disgust roiling in his belly, Teldanno wondered if she had had practice with his sire. Nevertheless, she still held his gaze, and the sparkle in her eyes, formerly unknown to her son, was all the convincing he needed to reign in his wild fury. It spoke of pained joy, of bitterly disappointing eagerness, of love.

"Curufinwë, forgive me," she said, and the betrayal flared again in his father's eyes before his mother continued. "This is your youngest son, Teldanno, born in the year 1496 in the reckoning of the Valar." The year you left. The words sat heavy in the air.

With satisfaction, the young elf watched the betrayal melt away into something intensely painful to look upon, but no less than his sire deserved. Those lips parted. "You never told me."

"No," she agreed, remorseless, guiltless. "Come inside. We shall talk, husband."

The interlopers moved past, and Teldanno resisted the urge to hiss curses in his sire's face, instead focusing on bringing the heavy door shut and locking it with a satisfying click. Not that it mattered. Curufinwë probably would not have even noticed a dragon flying through the sky at the moment, with how distraught he appeared. Still, Teldanno could not help but feel that even once the shock wore off, the suffering that this knowledge would bring his father would not be enough to satiate his thirst for revenge.

No amount of remorse would fill all his mother's memories of long days and loneliness. No amount of apologizing would return Teldanno his childhood, free from the shadow of his family line.

But he would not stand between his mother and father. Curufinwë was still her One, murderer and traitor or no, and the young elf had grown enough to know that it was not his place to step between two adults. Never mind that it had been his shoulder upon which she had cried all these years. Never mind that she lost a little more of her sparkle every day, fading away into bleakness.

But now, just looking at how she moved, at how her hand automatically reached for his hand, how her lips quirked without a veil of sadness, the second son knew that she still loved the father, still wanted him. If Curufinwë could bring back even a shimmer of the woman Teldanno could remember seeing behind that locked door, he thought he could at least tolerate the man for his mother's sake.

Nevertheless, he would still have to paint his father's face black-and-blue. Curufinwë Atarinkë still owed his youngest son at least a broken nose and two black eyes.

Three, his mind insisted as his face throbbed. Definitely three.

Chapter Text

She is gone.

For the longest time, he could not bear to even move. The bite of ice and snow on his numb fingers disappeared. The entire universe had stilled, and nothing remained except the darkness opening up before him, the jagged walls dropping down into frigid water and an icy grave below. The cold burning his face vanished; the screaming of the wind in his ears was silenced. Nothing could reach him except the crimson stains in the ice below, the clouds of red spreading out through the water, slowly fading away into nothingness.

There would be no body and no burial. She was just... gone.

As if she had never existed.

At first he did not register the hand gripping his shoulder, pulling him away from the chilling sight, nor the familiar embrace that wrapped around his shoulders, safe and warm. The white landscape disappeared from his vision, blocked out by a soft shoulder padded with thick furs. A steady heartbeat and deep, soothing breaths drowning out the ringing that had overtaken all his other senses.

"Hush," that voice rasped against his cheek. "Hush, yonya, hush..." Fingers carded through his hair, stroking over his scalp in a slow rhythm, a rhythm ingrained into his very being. Atar. As he became more aware, he could hear an awful keening noise in the distance, resonating with his soul, realized that it was not someone mourning far away at all. It was coming from him. Thick and heavy in his throat, burning and aching, sobs rocking his entire being as his fingers made to clutch at the presence cradling him in strong arms.

A chin settled atop his head. "Hush, hínya, hush..." His atar was with him, holding him as he had when Turukáno was a young child, crooning, singing softly into the endless stretches of icy wasteland until the younger elf could almost forget all about the hellish land that they were traversing, and about the abyss that had swallowed up his One and carried her away.

Caged tightly in visceral comfort, he fell into the warm darkness, a lullaby as old as the earth hovering just beyond the edge of consciousness, welcoming him into the world of the starry sky and the still, cool water in the warm night.

Welcoming him into her arms.

---

Losing loved ones was not easy. It hurt worse than any wound or cutting word he could remember. Turukáno had never known such heartbreak before. Bereft, he felt a hole where his beloved was supposed to be, her warmth soothing him, balancing the hereditary fury and pride that burned hot beneath his skin. Without her cool presence, soft as a breeze brushing over the vastness of his soul, something essential was missing.

He now knew how the families of those elves who had died at the hands of his kin must feel, what the wives and children must have felt when their fathers and sons and brothers had never returned home from the bloody shadow that had fallen over all of Valinor in the Black Enemy's wake.

It was as if his entire world had been ripped apart.

"Atar?"

The voice was soft, barely more than a breath. He turned away from the horizon line at which he stared in the distance, nothing but white ground and black sky as far as the eye could see, and instead faced the young woman, barely grown into adulthood, still so naive with such large eyes.

Sad eyes. A lump formed in his throat. He had lost his wife, but his daughter—their daughter—had lost her mother as well. Her blue eyes—her mother's eyes—were ringed in red, tears frozen and clinging to dark golden lashes like tiny crystals, glistening little lights in the blackness. The pain that lined her features seemed to take away the last vestiges of innocence from her glowing face.

What he wouldn't give to make that hurt go away! Was it not his job to protect her from the pain and hurts of the world?

Had he not failed her? Failed as a father and a protector?

His arms opened without thought, and she came to him, pressing up against his chest, resting on his shoulder, her limbs wrapping around him as if he were the foundation that would hold her feet to the earth. As he laid his hands on her back, traced the heaving line of her spine and took a deep, soothing breath against her golden curls, some of the emptiness filled also with a small amount of hope and happiness, of comfort. His child. His sweet daughter. Yenya.

Without realizing it, he squeezed her into a tight, warm embrace and ignored the wet warmth on his own cheeks and the budding despair in his heart. She was safe, his Itarillë, and if he could make her even a bit happier then that was enough for him. Her light would not be lost in this darkness.

And as long as he held tightly onto that light, that hope, he could continue on.

Survive. Breathe. Live.

For her. For them both. Elenwë and Itarillë.

"Hush, hínya, hush..."

Chapter Text

The last few days had been trying.

Perhaps trying was putting it lightly. Lómion was exhausted. He had barely gotten a moment's rest since his mother had passed, since he had watched his uncle's men shove his father off the city wall into the abyss below. The crack of bone against rock still rang in his ears and haunted him when he dared close his eyes.

And beyond that, he felt crowded and uncomfortable, claustrophobic. There were so many people. Guards. Cooks. Servants. The young elf (who had only ever known his parents' humble cottage hidden in the enchanted wood) had quickly retreated to his fortified chambers, hardly daring to venture beyond his own door unless he absolutely required food or water.

And that was how he found himself sitting on a balcony connected to his rooms, overlooking the flurries of life below, sightlessly watching all those tiny ant-like specks running back and forth. Logically, he knew they were people, but there were so many of them! He had never seen so many people in one place!

"You should not sit here by yourself."

Startled, he turned to face the owner of the soft voice.

And promptly lost his breath.

She was glorious. His eyes took in her slender form, the golden crown of her curls and the soft, rosy hue of her cheeks. The urge—the foreign and uncomfortable urge—to slide his fingers thought the river of molten sunlight on her shoulder, to brush his knuckles on creamy skin, made his hands curl into fists, feeling too slick and heavy to move. Sucking in a soft breath, he met her eyes and felt lost immediately in blue. Embarrassment quickly followed, and he shied away.

To think, she was seeing him like this, an unkempt hellion with his hair is disarray and dark circles lining his eyes from lack of sleep. He must look quite the horrid sight to such a lovely woman.

Immediately, he stood and bowed. "Forgive me, my lady, I—"

"There is no need to apologize," she assured him, and Lómion was startled to feel her hand touch his arm, just a gentle brush, but one that made his entire body tense and left a searing brand where her fingers had been. "The last few days cannot have been easy for you."

He could not look her in the eyes again. Suddenly, his boots were very interesting. No one had ever told him how difficult it was to speak to a woman who was not his mother. Certainly, his father had never seen fit to mention such a thing—not that Lómion would ever have considered asking for advice from the old—

The thought cut off abruptly, jagged edges cutting at him as he pulled away. His father was dead. Dead. Sure, they had not gotten along, but...

"Yes, I suppose you are right," he whispered.

"I think you need a distraction," she suddenly said, and he chanced a glance just high enough to see that she was smiling. "How about I show you around the city?"

Down there? With all those people?

Lómion did not want to tell this divine vision that he was terrified of going down there, which was probably why he'd been hiding up in the upper levels of the palace is the first place. Until his mother had brought him here, he had never even been outside Nan Elmoth, let alone met anyone. Down below them, hundreds of those little ants moved about the white streets. So many people!

"I do not know if that..."

"It will be fun!" she insisted, and her hand wrapped warmly around his. Lómion's breath ceased for a moment, and then his heart was suddenly beating a tattoo against his ribcage, as if it were trying to break its way out of the prison of his chest. Was this a normal reaction to being in the presence of a beautiful woman? But his mother was beautiful, and she didn't make him feel anything like this at all!

Before he could sort out his tangled thoughts, she was pulling him away from the balcony, away from the sanctuary of his dark, cold rooms, and down towards the urban sprawl below. With people, people, people...

"Aiya! Wait a moment! I—"

"You should not stay in your room and brood," the gorgeous creature scolded teasingly, giggling softly, and the sound sent tingled of warmth over his entire body, as if it showered the heat of Arien down upon him like rain upon the earth. "I'll take you to the marketplace! Have you ever been to one before? The one here is huge! Of course, we get trade from the other elven settlements..."

Her voice filled his ears, and though he stopped hearing coherent words, he basked in the sound. Before he knew it, she had him out on cobblestone streets, and other elves were brushing close enough to touch him, barely an arm's reach away. Lómion was ashamed to say he might as well have clung to the woman's skirts like a child to his mother, but she didn't seem upset with him. In fact, when he realized she was more amused than anything else, he blushed so hard that it reached the tips of his ears.

"I've never been... I mean, that is to say... I..." Would it sound ridiculous if he told her he'd never met anyone before? Would she think him a dullard?

"So you haven't been to a market before?" Her smile widened, and his embarrassment began seeping away, replaced with her brightness. "You seem rather... shy... but really, there's no reason to worry. I think it's quite fun."

Fun? He glanced around at all of the moving bodies so close together. "I am simply not used to so many people or so much noise."

"You shall get used to it quickly. Trust me." She winked and giggled again, and he suddenly forgot all the reasons why wandering around the city, brushing shoulders with all these strangers, was a very bad idea. Without permission, his arm looped with hers, and his feet carried him forth wherever she went, weaving in and out of unfamiliar faces but hardly having the sense to feel nervous at their proximity.

Instead, he watched her. Watched how her hair swirled when she turned towards him, how her neck stretched into an elegant arch that looked so delicate and strangely appealing. Is her skin soft? he wondered again. What did it smell like? Sweet? Like blossoming flowers in the forest's small sunlit clearings, pure and gentle?

After a while, he stopped noticing the other people, only remembering what she spoke, only seeing what she pressed into his hands. Only hearing her breathy laughter ringing, ringing, ringing...

By the time the sun set upon the city and they were headed back, he vaguely realized that it had happened, or rather, that nothing terrible had happened. Blinking, he glanced around, and then his eyes came back to her. Painted with the vibrant, fiery oranges, the rosy pinks and deep golds of Anor, she was even more magical to gaze upon. Ever had he dared imagine what the Princess Lúthien—the most beautiful woman ever to grace this earth—looked like, but none of his imaginings could compare to this beauty before him.

This woman and her cheeky little smirk and her playful little giggle. This woman with her soft, gentle hands and endless patience. "That was not so terrible, now, was it? Are you feeling better?"

Helplessly, he nodded, unable to look away or think of the proper words to express what he felt at that moment.

"Excellent!" She seemed so very pleased with him. "I hope you learn to love living here."

Lómion flushed. He thought he just might get used to all the people and the dizzying labyrinth of pathways and streets, the urban center that overwhelmed his poor reclusive senses. Grudgingly, he had to admit that his first adventure into the city had been relatively painless.

"Maybe," he admitted.

Her face lit up again, outshining the sun with ease, and his heart fluttered.

Maybe he could come to love living here, amongst these strangers. Beside her.

Maybe.

Chapter Text

Elves did not get sick. They did not die.

It was a very basic fact of life. At most, in the years of everlasting light and peace, one needed to know how to care for bumps, scrapes and the occasional broken bone or burn. There was no bloody, painful ravaging of bodies, impaled upon blades, rent and torn apart through violence and hatred. There had never been a need for healing. For healers.

Until Alqualondë, Artaresto had never seen anyone die of wounds before.

Not like this. Not in the cold blood.

But what he did remember more vividly than anything was standing on the docks overlooking the blood-stained harbor and feeling... helpless. Bodies were strewn about, and he tried hard not to focus his eyes, not to allow himself to make out entrails peeking out of slit stomachs or brain matter dashed against stone. To pretend that all these elves were just sleeping.

The willful delusion was not to be. He remembered hearing a breathy, gurgling voice, remembered kneeling next to a man, barely breathing, with a spear embedded in his stomach.

---

Reaching out, his hands hovered over the shaft where it split open flesh and poured blood onto the earth below. Despair burst in his chest as he leaned over the stranger, touching a blanched face with shaking fingertips, his gaze meeting half-hooded, pain-hazed eyes. Red slowly dripped from the corner of softly moving lips.

"I cannot..." He shook his head and felt his eyes sting. He couldn't understand what the other elf was trying to say as those lips moved, more splatters of dark spreading down onto unblemished white.

He could do nothing more than sit there, than stare into vibrant, terrified eyes and watch their brilliance fading into death. Such wounds could not be treated with mere bandages. Artaresto's hovering hands settled, instead grasping the fingers of the poor dying creature before him, not knowing what else to do but wait for the inevitable.

Gently, weakly, the other elf squeezed back. A tiny smile twitched on those lips.

The breathing ceased.

And Artaresto could do nothing. Nothing at all. The hands gripping his went limp and slipped down to rest on the ground, still and free, empty of life.

---

The young elf had had many a nightmare about that death, and many more deaths after. The feeling of helplessness—of uselessness and barrenness—never dissipated. He wanted so badly to help, to do something as he watched those around him dying, falling to the ice or the cold or the spears of the enemy. He wanted to help his people, protect them, guard their health and well-being, keep them whole.

But he could not. Each time another perished before his eyes, he would think back and remember the elf on the dock, and his heart burned.

Menegroth was a welcome respite.

There was peace within the Girdle of Melian. Certainly, they had warriors, but they had safety as well. There was not a new report of the death toll each evening, nor were there tents littered with warriors, struck down by weapons or by festering wounds, and no one to attend to them, no one to help them. It was quiet, the trees cradling their small world, housing them inside, blocking out the darkness and the light, leaving them in an eternal dreamland.

And then one day there were shouted words. A warrior was carried into the city, his entire left side bloody, a ragged wound stretching from shoulder to hip, part of it down to the bone, showcasing ribs lined with the marks of a vicious blade. It made Artaresto's stomach turn.

He didn't want to watch again. He could not.

The young noldo turned away, and he didn't look back.

---

"The warrior from yesterday, I mean... How... How is he?" Artaresto's throat constricted. He must have looked pale, drawn and sleepless, for Celeborn sent him a confused and slightly concerned glance. A hand settled on his shoulder.

"Beleg?" the prince said. "He is doing well for having taken such a nasty wound."

Well? Surprise must have shown on his face, for Celeborn continued. "Are you quite well, friend? You look like a ghost."

Indeed, his face was probably the color of spilt milk. All the blood had drained from his cheeks. "I just... Well, it did look quite serious when he arrived." Artaresto bit his lower lip and looked anywhere but at the prince. "I have seen warriors die from lesser wounds."

"Our healers are quite skilled in such matters," his companion soothed. "Beleg will be well within a few weeks, and probably out on patrol again shortly after."

Artaresto was hardly soothed in the least. This was the first time he had heard mention of healers. Healers? They had healers? Something visceral shuddered through his body, a strange sort of delight, of eagerness that bordered on pain. His eyes widened as he beheld the prince. "Healers?"

"Indeed." Celeborn laughed softly. "Do your people not have healers as well, Orodreth?"

"No. There was never any need."

Shock. And then... "What do you do when your warriors come back injured from battle?" he burst out, indeed sounding as though Artaresto had said something horribly scandalous. "I know that your people fight often with the Black Enemy. Surely you must..."

"There was never any need," Artaresto repeated. "We do our best, but none of us has ever had to treat such severe injuries before. Until leaving Valinor, the worst wound I had ever seen was a broken arm. My cousin had fallen out of a tree."

They lingered in silence for a long moment. "Perhaps," Artaresto continued, licking his suddenly dry lips, "Perhaps you would show me to... to wherever your healers are?"

"The Healing House," the other said automatically. "Of course, I will show you."

---

The fascination was immediate.

His first steps into the quiet sanctuary were like steps into another world. A world that he came to love all too quickly. So much so that it consumed him.

He loved learning about medicinal remedies to sooth the pain of those around him. He loved learning to ease suffering, to fix, to heal... to save. He loved standing at the bedside of his patient and watching his hands work as if from a great distance, watching the days pass, watching those under his care become hale and whole again. When his patients departed, he loved seeing them on their own two feet, cheeks flushed with healthy color.

And he loved feeling that helplessness that had haunted him ever since Alqualondë slowly drain away, the empty chasm behind filled instead with satisfaction, with affection, with delight.

Equally, the loss of a patient was terrible, like the loss of a good friend. But it was not a loss through helplessness, through inability to act. Even then, he could rest quietly knowing that he had done all that he could to ease suffering, to send his dear patients into Mandos' arms as gently as he could bear, knowing they would at least be somewhere without war and death and blood.

Artaresto did not think he could stop even if he tried.

He was saving them, protecting them. His family. His people.

This was where he belonged. Not on the battlefield with a sword in hand. Not in a war council with maps and strategies and thoughts of death in his mind. He belonged in the Healing House, smelling of sweet herbs and the airy open windows letting in fresh air with thoughts only of helping his fellow kinsmen, of patching up their hurts and weariness.

Artaresto did not doubt this for even a moment.

He was a healer.

Chapter Text

It felt like the blink of an eye.

They had parted, their hands lingering just beyond the reach of the other, only thick empty space holding them apart. And how he had desired to kiss her, to take her up in his arms and twirl her around, to plead for her to stay with him forever. How he wished he could erase the sad little frown from her brow, the heartbroken lilt of her lips!

But it was not to be.

Logically, he had known this when he had first fallen for her in the reflection of the moon-glistening lake in the mountains. Even by elven standards she was enchanting, this daughter of the House of Bëor, but it was not her soft heart-shaped face and classical beauty which drew him, entrapped him helplessly in her innocent web of glory.

It was her eyes. Deep, dark eyes. Eyes filled with kindness, pure and good, untouched. This woman had seen the horrors of the world, of war and hatred, but she still had hope, still cared for those around her. She still had that special light, a brush stroke of the Flame Imperishable striped across her soul.

Like a divine creature from above, she fell into his world and took over at the foundations. Every soft touch to his face and hair, every tender, affectionate little smile on her soft lips of rose petals, every laugh rising like breathy bells, sweet and uplifting in the distance, they cemented his conclusion—that this woman was his One and only, the One he was meant to spend his eternity with, joined in bliss.

Except she was mortal.

Except he was not.

Except there was a war growing in the distance, hanging over their heads like a thunder storm waiting to break into screaming silence over the land.

He had turned away from her, away from her light, the light that fuelled his every breath and step. Aikanáro did not dare glance back, not for a moment, because he knew that he would not be able to take the next step with her eyes piercing through him, begging him, pleading with him to change his mind, to renounce his words, to take her as his bride, to allow them happiness in the darkness that fell upon the land like great stormy waves upon the broken shoreline. No power on earth could make him deny her a second time.

No, he dared not look back.

---

To Aikanáro, three decades was not much. His beautiful mortal woman would be over fifty, but fifty was little more than an infant to his people.

At fifty, a mortal's life was more than half over.

He had not meant for to see her again. The temptation to take her up in his arms, he knew, would be overwhelming in its intensity, damn the consequences. Though he loved her more than his own life or the lives of his kin, Aikanáro could not afford to let personal affairs seep into his life as a warrior. It was his job to fight for his people and nothing else.

But there she had been.

Her face was lined, no longer smooth and creamy. Crow's feet perched at the corners of her eyes, laugh lines drawn at the edges of her lips, still as soft as rose petals and just as lush and pink. Her hair, once the deepest of browns, long and thick, was now lined in gray, branching out from the roots to leave silver frosting her mane.

She was older, and she was beautiful. So beautiful she took his breath away.

The elf lord bit his lip and watched her walk, watched her talking to his elder brother, watched as they conversed with vibrant hand gestures and resounding voices, a wise woman and a wise elven prince as equals, as friends. From the shadows, he hid and observed, silent and still.

How he longed to go forth, to greet her, to kiss her until she could think of nothing but him.

How he missed her.

Before the temptation could consume him, Aikanáro fled. Andreth had not even seen him standing in the distance, half-hidden in the shade of failing day. And perhaps that was for the best.

---

When she finally did see him again, it had been another three decades. She was over eighty. Eighty!

To an elf, eighty was barely out of childhood. To a mortal, eighty was the evening of life, the first frost of autumn before winter's chill.

The laugh lines had deepened. Her body was frail and slightly hunched but still slender. When he looked upon her hands, they were strange, foreign things, veined and wrinkled. The mane of dark locks he had once wished to write poetry upon for hours was now white and softer than snow, laying about her shoulders in flurries.

And she was still beautiful. The most beautiful thing he had ever seen.

"Nauren," she greeted him in the softest of voices, changed but still as strong as it had been in her days of youth. Stronger, even, but wiser as well. "I have missed you greatly."

He gripped her hands, almost afraid to touch them for how delicate they appeared. But then they squeezed back against his hold, a firm grip of muscle and tendon, and he lifted her knuckles to his lips—damn propriety!—and pressed kisses against the craggy joints. Raggedly, he breathed of her scent and felt his world tilt.

Her power over his emotions had not dulled in the slightest. He loved her so much it hurt to breathe apart from her, away from her side. Now that he was with her, touching her...

"I missed you as well, meleth-nín," he whispered, eyes closing tightly.

A long moment passed, and they slid open, glancing upwards, and met her gaze. It had not changed. Deep darkness, sweet and rich like the earth, filled with honey and kindness and unnamable beauty. Though her body had grown older, her spirit was still young and sweet.

She was his One, and that would never change. His love for her had only grown stronger and richer with the years, like an ageless wine.

He did not thing he could turn from her a second time.

Not this time.

Not ever again.

Never again.

"I missed you, Andreth."

Chapter Text

Prince Fëanáro was a pompous bastard.

He was also completely, utterly vital to her survival.

And she hated it.

Now, Nerdanel had never been a woman who required a male presence to carry on with her day-to-day activities. She was a craftswoman, an artist of the highest order, and she did not need a lover to order her around, to tell her what she could and could not do because she was a woman. She did not need a husband to protect her or watch out for her or advocate on her behalf because she was a woman.

She did not need a man.

But it seemed that her heart was not interested in listening to sense or logic or reason.

Every time he walked into the room, her eyes would land on his lithe form, following him as he moved about with such arrogant confidence, but with such poised and deadly grace. Every time he sent her that smirk—the smirk that made her redheaded temper rise to fever pitch and red blotches decorate her lily white skin—her traitorous heart would dare to skip a beat in admiration. Every time he touched her arm or brushed against her back with intent, her breath would catch, and it would seem as though her veins filled with air rather than blood, lifting her right off the ground in delight.

She hated him. Hated him so much. Some days she wanted so badly to smack that smug look right off his (horribly, terribly attractive) face.

But she could not stop looking at him.

The days when he did not come to the forge to work with her father, she found herself anxiously anticipating the next day—and the next and the next—until he finally appeared again, the same as he had always been. Those days, she would glare holes in his (muscular, amazingly sculpted and shockingly bare) back until she thought he might actually burst into flames from the sheer spite she radiated.

And it seemed to do naught but amuse him. And that infuriated her even more.

"Has something attracted your attention, my lady?" he would ask, his voice smooth and honeyed, but taunting all the same, egging her on until her hands curled into tight, white-knuckled fists.

"Nothing at all," she would reply. Lying. Blatantly. To his face. And to herself.

(Because she always noticed how perfect his backside looked whenever he bent over wearing only leather pants. Nerdanel was beginning to think he did it on purpose.)

A knowing look would appear in his fiery eyes, and for a moment she would be star struck by the sheer beauty of the stallion before her, prancing and parading with white-hot pride and a temper that could rival her own red-headed vivaciousness. Then she would realize how she must look, freckled and red and breathless, and she would huff and turn back to her sculpting and not dare turn around and look at him again until he walked out the door in the evening. Whether out of embarrassment or something else, she did not know.

But, eventually, she (secretly) began to look forward to his visits to the forge.

(Though she would never admit it aloud.)

And, eventually, she felt bereft on the days when he was away. She would enter her father's forge, and her heart would sink down into her belly when no tall, dark-haired prince stood straight and picturesque at her father's side, his rippling shoulders flexing as he hefted and wielded a hammer as though he were born to it.

Eventually, she even began to miss the touches, the brushes on her arms and back, the teasing little smirks that he sent her way. On those days, when she pined, every face her fingers sculpted seemed to form itself into his face, until all she could think of was Fëanáro staring back at her, his lips curled up at the corners, catlike with satisfaction, his jaw square and set, held high like the prince he obviously knew he was.

By Ilúvatar, she despised him.

But she could not live without him. That much she knew.

The realization was not as shocking as she had imagined it would be. She hated him, yes. But she loved him passionately. Without him there, her days felt empty and listless. When his heat settled at her back, she felt so safe, so comfortable, as if she could lean back against his strength but all the same not be a weak-willed woman, not be powerless, not be yielding.

And she found that she liked it. Nerdanel did not even bother to hide it from herself, not anymore. It was irrevocable, and something needed to be done.

The next time he appeared before her, that the stupid smirk taunted her and those eyes bored into her, burning her skin, she knew that moment of action, that moment that would decide her fate, had arrived. It was then or never, her heart said, though her mind screamed for propriety, for reservation, for forethought. Visceral feelings boiled under her flesh as she stared into the endless depths of his eyes, falling deep into pools of molten silver until warmth swallowed her body whole, devoured her completely. How red her face must have been!

"Has something attracted your attention, my lady?" he asked again.

This time, she looked at him. Really looked. Looked at his face, which had haunted her dreams and waking moments. Looked at the set of his jaw. Looked at his hands clutching tightly at the thick fabric of his apron. Had that gentle desperation always been present?

"Yes." No hesitation. No forethought. Truth.

And she kissed him.

How delightful it had been! The heat and the spice on her tongue, the surprising softness of his parted lips, the tilt of their bodies as they pressed together. She almost hadn't wanted to pull away for love of the sensation.

But the look on his face when she did had been truly divine.

Chapter Text

Always, Findekáno had been an optimistic person. He had always believed the best in people, always steadfastly held faith that circumstances would always take a turn for the better if you waited long enough and worked hard enough. It was how he dealt with life; it was his most basic natural state of being.

But so long in darkness took a toll even upon his vibrant soul.

Endless days of nothing but blackness and cold, white snow and broken, craggy ice—deadly frozen water beneath—as far as the eye could see would wear down any man's heart. Everywhere he turned, there was naught but suffering and death, mothers who had lost husbands and sons, fathers who had lost wives and daughters, children who huddled alone because their parents had slipped through the cracks and fallen into the black abyss below, never to be seen again.

More so than that were the bodies, the fallen forms lying on the ground, slowly buried until nothing remained but a small lump on the ground, almost indecipherable from the bleak landscape. They would never be unearthed, neither be buried nor cremated. Frozen forever in the wasteland that would be their graveyard.

Yet Findekáno tried to persist, tried to remain hopeful that something better awaited them on the other side of this hell. He knew not how many days—how many years—of starless skies had passed over their heads, but he hoped and prayed that friendship and a luscious world lay waiting on the other side, just as Fëanáro had promised them all. On the other side, Maitimo awaited. Adventures and valiant battles to be fought awaited!

He could not give up hope.

---

One day, so long after they had taken their first shaky steps upon the ice, he finally saw it, that which he had yearned for so passionately since hearing his uncle's all-encompassing words.

The other side.

Mountains rising jagged and dark overhead and against the sky. And the sky was clear, clear and blue. And lightening. The stars lingered, but with each long, passing moment they seemed to fade more and more, and light seemed to overcome the darkness that had for so long defined Findekáno's world.

But the Two Trees were destroyed. Their light was destroyed.

How could there be light now?

Moving faster, heart bursting with sheer anticipation, Findekáno found himself nearly running forth, not heeding the cries of his kinsman as he crossed from snow-slicked ground to sturdy rock for the first time in so, so long. Steady beneath his feet, firm at the foundations. He climbed upwards frantically, for the light was breaking through the blue, turning golden along the horizon.

And then he turned and saw it.

Against the raging cold waters and the mountain peaks, a vast kaleidoscope of colors burst over the sky, like spilled watercolors mixing together in the wind. Orange and pink streaked over the drifting clouds, and a vessel of gold and fire rose up from the waves to send light across the desolate land and open sea, reflecting so brightly that it almost hurt Findekáno's eyes. And it was beautiful. So beautiful.

Gasping and grinning, he turned to find his brother at his shoulder. Turukáno met his eyes, wonder reflected in the silver depths usually so full of sorrow. Neither of them had ever seen the likes of this creation, for even Laurelin did not have this affect when she waxed upon the vast green hillsides of Valinor. Stunned, they watched as the sphere tracked higher into the sky, rising over them and branching out pure warmth into their chilled skin, filling them with heat and thawing the desperation and hopelessness that had frozen into their traitorous hearts on the vast plains of Helcaraxë.

Filling them with a new excitement, with a new hope for something better waiting for them just in the distance. Their hell had ended.

"We have arrived," Findekáno whispered reverently, his eyes unable to move from the sight of dawning, the dawning of their new life. "Turno, we are here!"

His brother's smile was softer, but it was genuine, and Findekáno's throat closed tightly. He longed to embrace the other, but held himself back as his younger brother nodded and let out a long, wearied sigh. "We have," he agreed. "We are here."

Slowly, the wash of colors faded into brilliant blue stretching across the dome of the sky, broken by only white clouds and the warmed wind against their face. As they watched, breathless, the younger elf pressed against his older brother's shoulder, and they stood side by side, sharing the newfound warmth and hope kindled in their spirits.

From here they would go forth, and to what end Findekáno could not say.

But he was ready. Life awaited below in the world of light.

Chapter Text

For as long as he could truly remember—as long as he had walked upon the earth in the raiment of a man—Sauron had had one ultimate desire, one need that consumed his entire existence and demanded his complete and utter attention at all times. It was all-encompassing, had driven him to such desperate lengths that he had knelt at the feet of his most hated enemy and master, demeaning himself and uttering oaths of false loyalty if only to stay in favor with the power that could have crushed him without a second thought. If only to further himself, to gain, piece by piece.

But in the back of his mind, he had always desired more, so much more, than that ugly existence. He had never been satisfied as Morgoth's lieutenant, his revered, reviled tormentor, the best of the best and greatest of the greatest. It had never been enough to be feared by all upon the earth, by the Elves and the Men and the Orcs and even his own fellow servants of darkness. Always, he had hungered for more.

More power. More, more, more until he could languish in the golden, honeyed feeling of being obeyed and worshipped, until it surrounded him and cradled him and bent to his will.

Oh, how he had hated his master, Melkor.

But Melkor was no more upon this earth. And Sauron was free.

Free to pursue his greatest desire, his unquenchable lust for power, the longing to have the world driven to its knees by his armies, ravaged by his forces, begging and pleading for his nonexistent mercy and licking the toes of his boots. What a delicious image it would be, to have all the free peoples of Middle-earth prostrated before him, utterly in his hands, chained more efficiently and effectively than any metal of the earth could hope to bind, for they would wear chains of devotion, obedience and terror.

The very idea gave him a noxious high, a feeling that made him glow with pleasure. All he had to do was think of that, the goal waiting at the end of his long, arduous task, and his golden face would become more radiant than the stars.

No one would ever look at him and think him a monster, though that was what he was.

And then something had gone terribly wrong.

Something had changed. Sauron now had a new desire—an unwanted desire—one that nearly trumped the urge to burn and consume and remake and own everything and everyone utterly.

It was but an elf. One elf.

But what an elf he was.

Tall with a face that would make the Valar weep, with eyes sharper than any spear and brighter than any divine light. The sheer fire that burned within this elf's spirit tingled against Sauron's flesh and soul, as if it radiated sheer strength of will and turbulent, vehement determination. Radiated all he wanted to subdue to his will. This elf was the embodiment of everything Sauron desired and wished to control, wished to contain, wished to chain and lock up and hide deep beneath the earth so it would never see anything but him again. Never see Anor. Never see Ithil. Never see the starry dome overhead.

He lusted. Oh, how he lusted! Oh, how he desired! Oh, how he longed to possess!

Celebrimbor was his.

From his raven hair to the rippling muscles of his smith's arms and back to the delicious curve of his rear end to the tips of his elegant fingers and toes. Every sultry inch belonged to Sauron, and he would allow no other to touch what was his.

Some days, he wondered which lust triumphed in his mind. If he forgot, even for an hour, about his plans and schemes, about the purpose of the bejeweled rings forged in the fires of Eregion, then he would never admit it to himself. Nothing could be more important than succeeding where his revolting former master had failed, than obtaining all that he had ever panted after for as long as his spirit could recall existing in Eä.

Yet, even as he thought such things, things that had once given him unspeakable pleasure, the imagine of naked, glistening flesh and the sound of hushed, breathy cries would ring in his ears, and Sauron wondered bleakly how this elf had gotten under his skin, would wonder why the image was never complete unless that raven beauty was in his sight.

More than anything, he despised Celebrimbor for being everything he wanted. He both hated and loved his dark noldo, reveled in their time together, in the fucking and the writhing and the joining, but at the same wanted to slit open the long white throat so oft bared to him in trust just to remove this obstacle, this test that the Father himself must have put down on his long, winding road to block his stubbornness and obstinacy, his will to dominate and his lust for greater things than even Melkor could claim to his accursed name.

Scowling at such thoughts, he found that he held a deformed, twisted bit of metal beneath his hammer. For once, he had lost his focus. Thinking about him.

In disgust, Sauron tossed the metal into the fire, listening to the sharp clang of gold against rough stone. The misshapen ring landed amongst the flames, lit up with orange and red and ash, reflecting back all the hatred Sauron felt at the moment, and all the passion.

Perhaps it was time to put the final pieces of his plan into motion?

"What has you so frustrated, Lord Annatar?"

That voice. Sauron resisted the urge to shudder and glare as he faced the elf that haunted his dreams and all his waking moments without thought or effort. Celebrimbor was truly a sight to behold; any man or woman would be lucky to have such a bedmate. And in the firelight, with no shirt to cover his sculpted body, with sweat streaming over a heaving chest and lithe muscle, he was the epitome of tantalizing.

The lust panged.

"Nothing of great importance," he lied as easily as he breathed. "What brings you here?"

Eyes met his, and the look in them was all too familiar. Even though he was a maia, even though he should have perfect control of his being, the heat still bubbled in the pit of his belly like lava at such a half-hooded look of pure longing and promise. What temptation had the Father heaped upon him? Had he been one to lament, Sauron would have been weeping for the shame of his weakness at only a heated glance!

"I was looking for you."

But how could he resist such a blatant offer? Even now, he felt himself drawn away from the forge and the fire and the twisted gold in the flames, the promise of his dominion over all beings lingering lost in the darkness of the horizon, just beyond sight. His throat was dry and tight as a gentle, cool touch burned at his forearm.

Sauron allowed himself to pull that body closer. "So I see," he replied, his voice low and hoarse, reverberating with the power of his fury and need. The body against his shivered delightfully.

So easily, that face and that form consumed his thoughts.

And Sauron could not help but wonder if this divine creature truly was a test lain out by the Father himself to put a stop to all his plans and schemes, to halt the corrupted, fallen angel in his tracks, to cage him with bars more solid and terrifying than any iron or mithril.

Because if he had to choose between the lust for power and the lust for this fiery spirit, he could not say with any certainty what he would choose.

And that instability wracked him with his first taste of fear.

Chapter Text

He named it the Fall of the Noldor.

Chronicles of sins, of the murder of innocents and the ravaging of purity and goodness, of curses wrought through oaths and the tragedy of sullied hands, that was what it comprised, all that it encompassed. None could hear it without sinking into tragic sorrow; none could bear the tone of despair and self-loathing without the weight of all their evil deeds crushing down upon them until they sank to the earth on their knees and wept. This Makalaurë knew.

This he had intended.

As a shrine, a gift and a curse all wrapped in the same divine package, a melody and a harmony woven into perfect dissonance until all the world trembled at its foundations. None who heard it could ever forget.

And they shouldn't. How dare they push those memories away? How dare they look past the evil things that had come of their own two hands?

In a way, it was a punishment. For himself. For his people.

Makalaurë never wanted to forget.

But more so, it was a never-ending memorial, built upon blood and screams and unnumbered tears. No matter how many years passed, the construction never ended, was never finished. Makalaurë would sing until his voice was raw and hoarse, until his fingers bled upon his lyre, but it was never long enough to recall every pale face frozen in shock and terror, never long enough to recount the wildness of their killers' eyes, the madness of their souls.

Never long enough to revisit all the tragedy.

And even as he moved, a new chapter was being written. Even as his blade swung in an arc of deadly sunlight and cleaved through muscle to bone, it continued on from his lips, new words ringing in his ears, demanding his attention, locking his pitiful reality into place in his mind, branding it to the backs of his eyelids so not even the darkness they offered would be a safe-haven from sin.

"Makalaurë, the house!" It was his brother's voice. From the corners of his eyes, he saw the scarlet of a tattered cape mix with the vibrant fire of untamed curls.

His feet carried him, and all before him fell at his hand and the steel of his sword regardless of their innocence, regardless of their age or sex, regardless of whether their faces were contorted in fury and betrayal or in horror and terror at the sight of him, the demonic harbinger of nightmares come to life. Crimson soaked into his boots, splattered on his face, stained his clothing, dripped down the silver inscriptions of his sword, turning the words red to reflect the carnage.

Those words—other words—were upon his lips, a melody singing in the core of his being, lamenting bitterly as he gutted another elf, a woman, unarmed, begging and pleading for his mercy. Her face stared up at him, empty, and he was across the threshold of the house.

When would it end? When would it end?

The inside was clean and quiet, lifeless. Elwing had fled, and he was not surprised. Nevertheless, he stepped farther into the domain, searching for survivors. If there was one thing he had learned, it was to never give the enemy the chance to live and thrive, to stab you in the back.

It made him sick.

Empty rooms were opened. They were lived-in, well-worn and loved. Tapestries, hand-woven, hung upon the walls. Paintings adorned the hallways, images of the calm open sea and the peaceful sunset. Portraits of a woman and her husband and her two young children with rosy cheeks and shy smiles.

His eyes settled upon them, the pair of identical young faces, and the melody struck a sharp note, stabbing inwards and leaving him breathless.

When would it be enough?

There were whimpers in the last room, and he knew what was coming. His stomach rolled over with nausea at the knowledge of what sin would sully the sanctity of this nursery. Two more faces, eternally youthful and round-cheeked, streaked with tears and filled with fear, would be added to the Fall, to the tragedy, remembered for their sacrifices to lust for revenge and the ravages of insanity. But these thoughts did naught to quiet the weeping in his soul as the door creaked open and parted the shadows.

They hid in the closet, curled close together, shivering as the light spilled down on their huddled forms and the hinges squealed in protest of movement.

Tiny, helpless, innocent, sweet, a young melody like the spring and a harmony of the deep earth. Silenced. Makalaurë felt his eyes burn as his blade rose, aiming for the back of an exposed neck. It would be clean. Almost painless. Fast.

Would it ever be enough?

But he could not do it.

They were weeping and hiccupping and staring up at his silhouette with terror-stricken countenances. And he was so tired—so, so tired—of slaying and murdering. His arm strained from the weight of steel and then fell, the sword slipping from limp fingers and clattering to the floor. His fist clenched and relaxed. Freedom from that weight was like freedom from heavy chains, chains of the cursed fate of his people. He felt his knees crumble with relief beneath him.

"Do not cry," he crooned before he could stop himself. "Do not cry. I will not harm you. You are safe. Safe. I promise."

He knelt before them—what a sight he must have looked, smeared in the life blood of their kin and other unpleasant, unknown carnage!—and such relief was in their faces as they embraced him and curled against his shoulders that Makalaurë did not care for the consequences of his actions. Beneath his breath, he hummed a lullaby of his childhood, a new soft strain to weave into the Fall, a new layer of their never-ending tragedy.

No more blood today. Not by his hands. The noldo bowed his head and wept.

Because when would it be enough? When would enough blood be spilled, enough bones be broken, enough souls be sacrificed to finish the towering memorial, the reminder of their Fall, so that none could ever forget the pain wrought by arrogance and vengeance?

He embraced the children tightly.

Would it never end?

Chapter Text

No one could ever know their little secret.

Arakáno kept it locked tightly away in his heart and pushed away the agony that seemed to radiate through his chest with its every pulse, pushed away the shame that trembled precariously at the corners of his mind, driving him mad.

Pushed away the guilt that burned against his soul like acid. Was it not his fault? Had is impetuousness not been the catalyst to tragedy?

Because Nolofinwë was dead. He was gone. And Arakáno could blame no one but himself, nothing but his reckless foolishness.

He had cradled the body against his chest, begged and pleaded and sobbed, listened to the frightening gurgle of blood filling the lungs, watched as crimson streamed from the corners of his father's silently moving lips. Shaking fingers brushed against his face, leaving behind great smears of red and black, but they could not hide the tears streaking their way down his cheeks at whispered words and crushing, overwhelming sorrow. The death rattle of those last few struggling breaths still echoed in his ears, haunting him in every waking moment and in every dream.

His brother had taken one look at them on the ground—the younger brother's shaking form and their father's limp, cooling body—and his face had hardened, his eyes the only indicator of his horror and despair. The next words had struck Arakáno's soul like lashes of a whip. "No one can know."

It was more important to have a leader than a prince. Arakáno was not needed.

But Nolofinwë was.

Covered in gore and stricken with grief, the youngest child of Nolofinwë had not resisted, had gone thoughtlessly along with the plot, had taken up his father's sword and circlet, had banished the young, fiery spirit from his body and replaced it with the shoddy ghost of someone greater.

The first time he was called "father" nearly stopped his heart.

The first time he was called "your majesty" left him raw and aching and full of shame.

He was not some great king or great leader or wise father. For Ilúvatar's sake, he had gotten his father killed in a foolish dash across enemy lines without covering his back! It was his inexperience and rashness that had created this mess in the first place! How could Findekáno expect him to play at being King? For that was what he did. He played.

Pretended.

Lied.

Danced around a secret so great that no one aside from his siblings could ever discover it. Every time he saw his cousins, he wanted so badly to scream it aloud in absolution, to throw off his veil and proclaim the truth—that he was not Nolofinwë and never would be! Call me by my true name, I beg ye! See me!

But he learned. He dared not do anything less.

"You will make me proud, hínya," his father had spoken to him, the last words to ever leave his lips as he died within the circle of Arakáno's arms, as he had pressed his sword towards his youngest child. How could Nolofinwë utter such words after what the youngest child of his loins had done, after the shame his son had heaped upon his family?

However, the words had served their purpose. He dared not fail his father a second time.

Oh, he learned! But it seemed to never get easier. The guilt seemed never to ease. No redemption was to be found in filling shoes too big, shoes that belonged to someone else. Like a thief, he languished in a life meant for someone more noble and righteous. Like a pauper, he answered to respectful bows and reverent words meant for the eyes and ears of someone older, someone who commanded that respect as easily as he breathed, someone who had died for all the right reasons and all the wrong choices.

Eventually, the definite lines parting that someone from true identity altogether disappeared.

Eventually, Findekáno called him "Atar" and Arakáno kissed his "son's" forehead in parting, whispering a blessing over gold-woven braids, and Findekáno would smile in return at his sweet words like a flower blooming from the ashes of golden years.

Eventually, Turukáno came to him to reveal all his woes—to scream and rage and curse and then curl up into a ball in his lap and weep—as if he were the man who had held the boy in childhood after nightmares in the darkness, comforting strength and confidence.

Eventually, he wondered who it was that had truly vanished and who it was that remained behind. When he looked in the mirror, it was not his self that he saw staring back, but a reflection of advice just beyond reach and soft reassurances that didn't quite reach his ears.

Eventually, he no longer wished for those things. Eventually, the words came naturally to his lips.

And that was the day Arakáno ceased to exist, and Nolofinwë took his place.

They never spoke of the secret. There had never been need, for it became less a secret each day, less a lie and a falsehood. He kissed his sons' foreheads and did not think of them as brothers. He kissed his daughter's cheeks and wondered when she had grown into a beautiful young maiden.

And he no longer pretended.

Chapter Text

Every time he turned around, she was there.

Silver and golden, more brilliant than Ithil and Anor combined, more heavenly than all the stars blanketing the sky, more mysterious than any shadow, more intense than the heated eyes of the King himself. She was always there, with her frozen gaze and smile-less face, angelic and breathtakingly empty.

Peering around corners in the dark. Watching him in the gardens from beyond the arms of trees. Standing on the balconies overlooking the forest, a star watching over the earth.

And always—always—her eyes were settled upon his form, trailing after him as he took his evening stroll amongst the shadows of the towering oaks, watching him as he walked down the hallways, eyeing him as he carefully cut his venison into precise little squares and thoroughly chewed every single bite. Never once did he ever see her look away.

As if every movement of his body somehow offended her perfect, glittering world. As if his very existence somehow interfered with her reality, somehow turned her universe on its side and left it intolerable to her delicate sensibilities.

On and on for days, she glared, colder than the frigid wasteland of Helcaraxë. It sent shivers down his spine, a feeling of ice stabbing between his rigid shoulders, burning on his flesh beneath the layers of his robes.

Quite frankly, it was frightening. Terrifying. She was terrifying. And she hated him.

Truly hated him.

---

This evening, however, was a rare evening in which he did not look over his shoulder to see the golden-haired angel staring at him from the shadows. Across the table, her brother was sipping leisurely from a goblet and looking as though he wanted nothing more than to lock himself in his bedchambers and sleep for a decade or five. Celeborn knew exactly how the other man felt.

"You look tired."

The silver prince looked up over the table at his Noldorin companion. "Excuse me?"

Finrod sent him a sharp look and pursed his lips tautly. "You look like you have spent a week with the forces of Angband on your heels, Celeborn, my friend."

He felt that way as well. Tired, his limbs aching fiercely with imaginary strain, fatigue sinking its teeth into his alcohol-drenched mind. Looking up at his companion, Celeborn frowned, his brows furrowing in worry. Without thought, he uttered the first coherent message that reached his mouth. "I think your sister hates me."

Golden eyebrows rose imperiously, incredulously. "What gave you that impression, friend?"

Was it not obvious? "Every time I see her, she glares, as though... I think... Well, I believe I may have done something to offend her."

They stared at each other for a long while, Finrod's blue eyes narrowing with calculation, washing over his face in burning waves, almost as intimidating as his younger sister's. The prince fought back the urge to flush an unflattering red color and look away from that piercing, knowing gaze.

"I think she likes you."

What?

Startled, he stared at the older elf. "Her eyes stab spears through me whenever she sees me, as though I have committed the greatest of faux pas! As though I were a bug crawling on the ground before her unsullied white slippers!"

"Worry not. Her zeal is part of her natural charm," Finrod informed him. And then the golden noldo smiled. "She most assuredly is fond of you."

How did he reach such a conclusion? That is illogical! Celeborn shook his head and downed the rest of his wine in one gulp, feeling his head spin slightly. Then he turned.

And there she was, draped in white and staring at him from the doorway, a goblet cradled between her slender white palms. As soon as he looked, she stepped forward, and he could not help but watch the swaying movement of curvaceous hips beneath lace and silk as the foreign, glowing beauty crossed the room in long strides. Elegant. Entrancing.

Her long, graceful movements slowed, and she halted beside Celeborn, her gaze firmly fixed upon his face. The prince felt himself begin to shrink back in his seat, and it was only sheer force of will and a healthy dose of pride that kept his back from bowing beneath the weight of her intensity. Again, he wondered if Finrod was merely delusional about the true nature of his younger sister, because Celeborn could have sworn it was hatred that gleamed like stars in those frozen blue eyes.

"Would you like more wine, my lord?" she asked, and her voice shuddered through him like a wave of golden heat and frigid water dripping down his spine.

"O-of course," he stammered in reply, and found himself ashamed to lose control in such a manner before a woman of such high breeding, whether she was the most glorious and terrifying creature he had ever seen or no.

But then she held out her goblet to his lips. Was it poisoned? Would she attempt to kill him with her own brother as witness?

"Will you not drink, my lord?" Her voice captured and held him suspended in light. "Celeborn?"

Had his name always sounded so wonderful, so exquisitely perfect? Helplessly, his eyes found her pale rose lips, focusing on their movements, on the soft flesh, the fuller upper lip, the gentle, warm glisten as they parted to breathe, to speak.

Without thought, he drank, his eyes never leaving her. The wine could have been vinegar for all he was aware of its rich taste. He was drunk of something else.

And then she was gone.

What happened?

He looked to Finrod, only to find the golodh smirking at him slightly, cradling his goblet just as before, amusement evident in every line of his body. "You see, friend? She likes you."

---

She still followed him. Now that he watched, he could tell it was not mere coincidence which entwined their paths so often and so tightly. It was with purpose that she stepped outside when he passed—to "breathe fresh air", she claimed—or stood and decided to wonder in the woods during his evening walks—"to connect with nature", she explained.

Celeborn was beginning to wonder if she was waiting for the opportune moment to stab him in the back and drag his corpse off into the darkness to feast upon his flesh and blood.

Do not be ridiculous, he would tell himself. But then he would see her in all her glory, eyes half-hooded and ringed in golden lashes, following him steadily without blinking, a statue, unreadable, unmovable, a mountain built of soft rosy skin and an unbreakable spirit.

"I did not expect to find you here, my lord."

Shocked, he almost toppled from where he sat on a bench in the gardens. The smell of night and spring was in the air, and he could not believe that he had allowed the peacefulness and the sweet scent of blossoms to carry him so far from reality that he did not see the approach of the star that was this infuriating, frightening, amazing woman.

"I did not expect to see you here, either, my lady" was all he could think to say.

Without further comment, she bent and sat beside him, just beyond touching, but so close that he could feel the heat of her body. Strange. He had always imagined that she would radiate cool poise and nonchalance, but it seemed that she took more after Anor than Ithil. The golden crown upon her head was radiant, almost creating sunlight of its own accord and casting it warmly down upon his skin. If only her eyes would light up to match perhaps he would not feel like a rabbit beneath the fierce gaze of a hungry falcon.

They watched each other silently, Celeborn itching to stand and flee but knowing that his pride as a prince and a man would never allow him to retreat from a woman, even one such as she. Instead, he tried to focus anywhere but her eyes and breasts, somewhere in between, like on her creamy, swanlike throat or plump lips or the golden curls spilling down her shoulders to her shapely hips and—

Not a direction he wanted to go.

"Marry me, Lord Celeborn."

Of course, my— What?

He must have said it aloud, must have been gaping in a most obscene manner like an open-mouthed fish on dry land, but she said nothing of his expression, merely stared deeply into his eyes, as if she could connect their souls through sheer force of will. "I want you to marry me, Lord Celeborn."

No, he apparently had not dreamed those words. They were real. Terribly real.

"We do not even know each other, my lady."

She frowned softly and gave him a piercing and annoyed look, as if to silently reprimand him for being so concerned with inconsequential details. As if men and women who barely knew each other's names married all the time. "Perhaps you are right. Come and take dinner with me in my rooms, and we shall discuss our marriage afterwards."

Come and take dinner with me in my rooms... Had he just been propositioned by a Noldorin princess? By this haughty woman? Dazed, Celeborn could do naught but stare.

For the first time she touched him, her white hand a searing presence on his elbow, guiding him upwards and almost lifting him aloft as if on wings. Without effort, she steered him forth like a mariner steers his ship, and Celeborn was helpless to fight the tides of her zeal. He was cornered and struck silent with shock.

When he recovered, they were already being served roast and rich red wine within the fine comforts of her guest quarters, her large and soft bed curtained with velvet but a few feet away, rumpled from where she had slept the night before. And she seemed not the least embarrassed to have a man witness the insides of the chambers where she had probably only that morning walked in nothing but a thin shift to bathe, her naked body nearly uncovered. The very thought left Celeborn stuttering and flushing like a stripling instead of a seasoned prince.

She gave him more wine, and he drank eagerly beneath her heavy gaze.

By the end of dinner, he thought he might have kissed her and spoken every thought he had ever had of her lips and hair. Might have called her his Galadriel and whispered drunkenly that she was the most divine creature he had ever laid eyes upon. But he was not entirely certain of the last part, or what may or may not have come after.

By the end of the night they were engaged.

In the morning, they woke up together, and she was wearing only a shift. Her body was pressed against his in the most ludicrously, unseemly, wonderful manner.

And for the life of him, the Prince of Doriath could not remember what had happened to him.

Only that, the very same morning, Finrod Felagund had laughed at his shocked questions and confounded expression. "I told you, Prince Celeborn, my sister is very fond of you. Once she sets her mind to something, it cannot be changed. Not by her father, nor her brothers, nor her king, nor even the Valar themselves. It is part of her womanly charm."

Womanly charm indeed. Celeborn could only nod and agree.

Chapter Text

Around them, the darkness curled and twisted, blackening the world to Celebrimbor's eyes with the rising of the new moon. It was nights like this that he had once despised, that would remind him of the curse that lay heavily on his shoulders, that kept him apart from all others. Isolated.

Alone.

But he was not alone.

Safely, he was wrapped in powerful arms, cradled, comforted, warm. A familiar chin, square and sharp, rested atop his head. Every time he blinked, his eyelashes brushed the delicate skin of his lover's throat, blue veins visibly throbbing so close that he could count the pulses. About him, the thick musk of sex twined with the other man's natural lavender scent, perfuming their room so intimately it made him shiver.

Annatar. His beloved. His One. The only one he would ever love with all his soul.

He had become used to this comfort wrapped around his body, holding back the chill of shards of memories that he never wanted to piece back together. He had become used to the presence at his side, driving back the knives that waited in the dark, the nightmares that haunted these chambers, waiting to ensnare and devour him. Protecting him.

But tonight he had no rest, felt no comfort. No protection was to be found in this embrace.

Celebrimbor held still, hardly daring to breathe where he lay entwined with Annatar, golden hair blanketing their glistening bodies. He hardly dared to think lest he wake the other, lest he be discovered.

His world had collapsed, and he could be certain of nothing. Not his lover. Not himself. Not his own mind. The tower of his trust had broken at the foundations, crumbled and toppled and buried him beneath thousands of tons of stones carved from secrets and cemented in place with the glue of sweet memories.

Sweet memories of lying together, sharing heat, their laughter lighting the shadows crawling over the land until they were banished from his sight. Memories of strong hands guiding his arms, of gentle touches that barely brushed skin yet burned hotter than white flame. Memories of lying beneath the wide open sky, blanketed by only darkness and cushioned by only the thick grass and earth, where nothing existed in the world but them, two becoming one.

Memories of being together in the most intimate way two beings could be. So close Celebrimbor could not be certain where one ended and the other began.

It only happened once in all an elf's life, and he had chosen Annatar.

What a fool he had been.

"You should not trust so easily that which appears divine," Galadriel had warned.

"I would not keep his company in my kingdom even were it to kill me," Gil-Galad had informed.

"Watch him closely. Keep your council quiet to your breast," Círdan had advised.

Blinded, infatuated, fascinated, he had ignored them all. For they had never met Annatar, never spoken to him, never basked in his golden warmth and his sweet, deep amber eyes. They could not possibly understand how he felt! They could not possibly condemn this stranger on a mere whim of their ancient hearts! For what did they know?

More than he had. They had trusted their intuition and had not been blinded with powerful, false light and slippery, seductive words.

Even now, even with the afterglow hazed around him, Celebrimbor shivered, listening to the steady, deep breaths of the man wrapped around him. Those hands that touched with such tenderness and control could wield a whip or a knife with equal proficiency, could make a poor soul scream and wail with but a slash, could draw forth the blackest secrets from a heart in but an hour. Stained in blood and horror, they now felt spidery and unclean where they rested on his back, no longer reassuring, but traitorously threatening.

Everything he thought he had known now felt wrong. Sullied and violated. This was the maia—the man—with whom he shared even the sanctuary of his mind and body. Pain rippled through him at the thought, almost physical in the destruction it wrought, in the sting of tears it brought to the eyes that had not cried since the long lost days of terror and fire wrought by Fëanor.

Without Annatar, how could he be whole? Without the golden presence, the sweet lavender and amber gaze, the comforting strokes on his shoulder and the sultry voice in his ear, the nights without loneliness and despair, the days full of laughter and company, how could he possibly survive?

Without his other half, who was he supposed to be?

In the wake of devastation, what was left? Not his freedom. Not his dignity or pride. Not his innocence. Not even blessed ignorance. There was nothing left to him but knowledge of betrayal, for even the fury that burned in his heart of hearts was tempered and smothered by the powerful devotion he felt towards his other half.

Reality had been uprooted, revealed for what it was—nothing but a naive daydream. The truth slashed across his spirit like a rusted blade and left him broken on the ground. Uncertainty. Terror. Confusion. Betrayal so powerful that he wanted to scream and cry, to break something, to wrap his fingers around Annatar's throat and strangle him so that voice and those hands could never do harm to anyone ever again, so the maia could never fully carry out his ultimate betrayal of Celebrimbor's unwavering trust.

Frightened to death, the Lord of Eregion closed his eyes and prayed. He would need all his strength to balance on the edge of the disaster that had uprooted his soul. The war was only just beginning, and if he did not do something he would lose before it even began. Now the betrayed would become the betrayer and the cursed would become the savior.

And then, when all was said and done, when the last vestiges of his scarred and shattered soul had been crushed to dust by hatred in beloved eyes and agony from familiar fingers, he could close his eyes and welcome the peace that lay only beyond the cage of the body.

Maybe there, he would recover. Would rebuild himself from the ground up, would reclaim some of who he had once been before Annatar had welded himself into all that Celebrimbor was and would ever be.

But he would never be the same.

The damage had been done. Irrevocably and irreversibly.

Chapter Text

He was the most striking man she had ever seen.

As she stared out her window onto the busy streets below, Vardamírë heaved a wistful sigh, twirling her long, pale hair absently about her slender fingers. Two stories below, she could see him, that stranger. He walked the same route every single day without fail, and he always passed in front of her father's shop on the opposite side of the street.

From his form, she could not remove her eyes.

Everything about him left her breathless, though she knew not even his name, had not even heard his voice. Tall, graceful, and utterly handsome, he could hardly fail to capture the attention of any woman with two eyes and a healthy dose of longing in her breast.

Dutifully, she gazed. He paused occasionally at a cart here and there, perused the market at a leisurely pace. Sometimes he would smile, and her breath would catch. For all his natural beauty, Vardamírë found that she admired his crooked little grin the most. It was vibrant and genuine, not the mockery of politeness that she sometimes witnessed on the obsequious merchants and traders. And when he laughed—by the Valar!—her heart fluttered like a hummingbird, ready to carry her off into the sky through sheer will!

At the thought, she closed her eyes for but a moment, some strange foreboding coming over her. It was a magical thing, the voices rising from the din below, but overshadowed by the sweet breeze that flowed around her, tangling in her hair and caressing her eyelashes. She imagined that one of those voices ringing in her ears was his voice.

When she opened her eyes, it was to molten silver.

Below her, his face half-lit with the early morning light of Laurelin, he watched her curiously, his head canted ever so slightly to the left, lips just barely parted.

He could see her!

Oh Valar!

Gasping, she felt heat rise unbidden to her cheeks, blood rushing beneath her skin. What must he think of her, some baker's daughter spying on him from her window when she should be doing her chores?

Quickly, she fled from view—embarrassment swirling in her belly—and resumed her morning ritual. Best not to keep her parents waiting.

But even as she turned away, she wished she could stay just a little longer and watch him. Now, at least, she knew his eyes more clearly and intimately than the back of her own hand. Silver, hotter than molten rock, brighter than Telperion, shockingly brilliant in his intensity. No precious jewel could compare.

Then she scoffed and tied up her pale hair. What did a baker's daughter know of such things?

It was, after all, but a daydream.

---

It was many a day afterwards that Vardamírë found herself sweeping the shop near to the end of the day, just as she did every afternoon. But she felt weightless today, a sweet bubble of happiness pooling inside her at some unknown thought just beyond the edges of her mind. It was the strangest feeling, but it was welcome.

As she always did, she stepped out into the doorway overlooking the street, singing softly under her breath. Around her, the elves shuffled to and fro, their bright eyes resting on her and then dismissing, moving away.

But then her movements paused, a foreign sensation coming over her, pricking at the nape of her neck, tapping gently to claim her attention. It felt as though someone was guiding her with invisible hands when she turned, her bright blue eyes entangling with familiar stars.

Across the way, he stood. From here she could see him so clearly, could see the dark lashes, long and rich, that lined the pale eyes, could see the waves of black, silken hair that pooled on his shoulders and curled over the curve of his back, could see the startled stillness of his figure, frozen in motion between the revolutions of the world. Unblinking. Silent. Captured.

For a long moment, they stared at one another, and the heat crept once more upon her cheeks. The urge to flee itched in her feet, almost lifting her legs as though she were a puppet upon a puppeteer's strings of fear and uncertainty. How easy it would be to retreat back into the shop, into her comfortable little life and pretend she had not seen him, to hide up in her room and daydream about his sharp features and kind smile, about what his voice might sound like against her ears, brushing over her soul, and not risk the disdain that could blossom in his bright eyes.

But she would lose her chance.

Shyly, she smiled into his stunned visage and continued her melody, soft against the cacophony of reality, a stillness that surrounded and cradled her in the midst of movement and the flow of time. Slowly, she turned from him and continued sweeping, though all her body longed to look back, to watch, to gaze, to wish, to hope...

When she glanced back, he was gone.

---

"You have a beautiful voice, my lady."

Startled, she nearly dropped the tray of pastries settled atop her gentle fingers. Vardamírë turned and met eyes that haunted her dreams and lingered in her fantasies, eyes that burned straight down through her skin and blood to something deeper. By the Valar!—that smile that she so adored, that stoked her hidden longing, was tilting at the corners of his lips, just beyond her sight.

"H-how may I help you, my lord?" she asked, attempting (perhaps foolishly) to curtsey while holding those fresh pastries. It was probably not a wise idea, but— And then she overbalanced, one sandaled foot caught in the hem of her gown, and—

"Here, let me—"

A hand at her waist, just above the curvaceous swell of her hip, hot through the layers of linen that cradled her body but steadying and powerful all the same. The other hand snatched away the tray, moving it to the table and settling it safely upon the flat wooden surface. For a moment, Vardamírë stared at the white swirls of steam that rose from golden-brown bread and wondered why the hand touching her had yet to move. And why that did not bother her more.

"I... My lord, I... Forgive me for..."

His eyes went back to her face, and familiar heat settled high in her cheeks. How unattractive that must be, to show her infatuation so blatantly. Why, he must think her a simpleton or worse!

But his eyes were not repulsed. His lip did not curl with disdain. His smile did not for a moment waver on his incredible face as he guided her up from the half-curtsey she had tried to fold herself into. "There is no need to apologize."

And her blush only darkened further. Mortification burst to life in her belly, stabbing like cold little knives on her insides. She turned away, hands rising to cover her cheeks, as if the coolness of her smooth flesh would soothe away the unflattering color that suffused her skin. "I must look a sight," she muttered, more to herself than to her companion, to whom her back was now turned. Oh, how she wished the ground would open its gaping maw and swallow her whole!

Gentle hands held her back from fleeing, though. One caught at her wrist, pulling her hand away from her blotchy face, turning her around so that his eyes shone once more upon her. "You look glorious, my lady."

It was the kind of thing those oily flirts in the market oft said to the flighty young women who gathered there for empty flattery. But when she looked up at his face, the sincerity of the words struck her more harshly than could a physical blow, rooting deep in her belly and blooming into a golden glow that shuddered through her entire tingling spirit.

His eyes were shyly downcast, an equally red, blotchy flush marring the pale perfection of his handsome features. It crawled up his neck and over his cheeks and set up camp on the bridge of his nose, redder and sharper than a vibrant rose, and more vivacious.

Forget striking beauty. Forget perfection of face and form. Forget molten silver eyes and wordless, nameless infatuation with a phantom daydream.

This blush was the most adorable, sweet, amazing thing she had ever seen.

And just like that, she knew what all those strange feelings had been telling her, that gentle breeze on her cheeks and the intuitive, visceral burning in her heart. She looked at him and saw.

"So do you," she whispered in return.

And it was the absolute truth.

Chapter Text

The battle before him would be sung unto legend until the End of Days.

Eagerly, Sauron narrowed his eyes upon the challenger, the brilliant white star cloaked in the night sky and studded in silver. A sword, glistening as a shard of ice caught in the sunlight, temporarily blinding all who dared gaze upon it, was lifted aloft towards the blackened sky. Like lightning, he flew across the land towards the fortress of darkness, and Sauron could imagine the desperation flowing through those veins like fire. It made him salivate with anticipation!

The High King of the Noldor threw himself down upon the ground, springing forth and landing upon his feet as a deadly feline would its prey. In the air around him, molten intensity felt tangible, so thick that the air seemed un-breathable. In that, the Lieutenant languished.

Eyes darkened into pits of agony and despair gazed upon the three towering peaks of the Thangorodrim, like unto the peaks upon which the Silmarilli crowned Melkor's brow, and though those eyes wept, the voice that issued forth did neither falter nor waver in its deeply hewn pitch. It rolled and washed over flesh, resonating with bone, and none could fail to hear its power.

"Come, open wide,
dark king, your ghastly brazen doors!
Come forth, whom earth and heaven abhors!
Come forth, O monstrous craven lord,
and fight with thine own hand and sword,
thou wielder of hosts of banded thralls,
thou tyrant leaguered with strong walls,
thou foe of Gods and elvish race!
I wait thee here. Come! Show thy face!"*

It sent shudders through the Lieutenant of Angband, for he knew his master better than any other. He knew what lingered in the darkest corners of the heart of the Black Enemy, knew his every strength and every weakness. Glee burst in the cage of his chest, its fists rattling the bars of his ribs until it seemed his entire being vibrated.

Melkor—the all-powerful, the unstoppable, the greatest in all things—quailed in fear.

For all that his master was, Sauron knew one thing. His master lacked all that this creature before him possessed. Lacked the skill of foot and agility of sword. Lacked the steadfastness of heart and the ironclad center of determination. Lacked the creativity of strategy and the icy burn of spirit.

Lacked the bravery to banish the cowardice.

The cowardice that urged the Black Enemy to deny the challenge, and all the same left him backed into the corner of acceptance. For there was no way Melkor could deny this King his challenge and insult—the Lord of Slaves indeed!—without appearing foolish and frightened, without showing his shameful weakness before all those who cared to watch with their own two eyes and freedom of thoughts.

He would look weak before Mairon, who did not feel fear in his breast, did not tremble at the sight of the Valar or this mighty King—not even the Black Enemy himself!—and did not doubt the strength of his own bravery and zeal to succeed.

In a way, Sauron almost commiserated with this elven creature of defiance. For this briefest of moments, they were one and the same, nimble in mind and body and spirit. For this briefest of moments, Sauron wished that this elven king would rise victorious from the ashes that settled over his kingdom, the ashes of his people as they were consumed by the vicious flames of defeat and wretched hopelessness. For this briefest of moments, the Lieutenant of Angband felt camaraderie.

And then Morgoth came forth, clad in black armor, wielding the Hammer of the Underworld, towering as a mountain before the star of Fingolfin son of Finwë. He accepted the challenge, voice rumbling to the foundations of the world.

The elf did not flinch. He did not quiver in terror. He did not even blink.

And he fought as one possessed by the strength of Tulkas.

As he watched, Sauron breathed a deep lungful of the smoky air, the scent of charred bones and melted flesh filling his head until the Lieutenant was drunk with lust for death, his vision burning with the dance of the killer and the survivor. Before his eyes, Fingolfin wove between the great swings of Grond without hesitation, too swift to be struck, akin to the painted light gifted upon the earth before thunder shook the ground, and thrice as terrible.

When the first blow struck Melkor, the very universe trembled with his mighty roar of rage. Sauron quivered in bliss. How he loved that pain! How he delighted in the lightning feet of his master's beautiful adversary!

Thrice more, Fingolfin son of Finwë struck the Lord of Angband before Melkor so much as dented his crystalline shield or scarred his glittering mail. But for all that he wished, Sauron knew that this elf—this kin of spirit—would fail in his quest, would topple before the unbending might of the greatest in all things. What a shame it would be, but so lovely all the same!

Twice more, the Black Enemy was wounded, but those small victories would not turn the tide, would not win the war. As his mortal body—forever young but marred all the same—weakened, Fingolfin crouched upon the earth and mis-stepped, tumbled unto the caldera left in the wake of Grond's terrible weight, as fallen and as broken as his weeping people.

Melkor's voice rose in a cry of victory to the skies, a cry of defiance to their Father, who watched them even now and shook his head in dismay, Sauron imagined. Yet in his breast, the Lieutenant felt a strange hope kindled.

For as the fallen hill of Melkor's left foot was hewn by the blade of ice in the hand of the Noldorin King, he knew this victory was as false as Melkor's lordship of the skies and the sea and the land. Not a one of those mighty realms was solely in his possession, he who lacked sorely and surely as Arien rose from the East—the lack of whit, the failure of dexterity, the mockery of originality, the inadequacy of determination and a will to dominate, they crippled his master as cruelly and tangibly as the sharpened point of the elf's mighty sword.

The snap of Fingolfin's neck and the scream of his spirit as it departed to the Halls rang in Sauron's ears, and the Lieutenant smiled.

For all his kinship with the puny little creature rolled up in a deathtrap of mortal flesh and broken spirit, Sauron had learned a great lesson from this battle. The Lieutenant of Angband watched as Melkor retreated back into the deepest, darkest pit of filth that could be found.

Were he to succeed, he would need to surpass the agility of body and mind that this unimaginable young soul had possessed.

Brute strength was not the path to ruler-ship of the world. His glowing eyes burned between his master's broad, slumped shoulders with wicked delight at the knowledge, knowledge shared and denied, feared and secreted away for later use.

He would have to be quick and light—brilliant. He would have to fall from the sky between blinks of mortal eyes, settle himself deep in the earth and shake it with the voltage of his adamantine will before any living creature could wince away from his touch. They would never see him coming.

He would be nimble. He would be victorious.

He would be all that his master was not.

The mountain of defeat that was Morgoth disappeared into the depths of hell. As soon as his haunting shadow had retreated, Sauron leapt for the skies and cried in the purest of ecstasy. Energy flamed across his flesh.

The world would kneel at his feet. And it would weep. And he would smile.

Chapter Text

Shame burned like a brand under his flesh, too hot to bear, nearly bringing a stuttering cry from his trembling lips.

Telperinquar could not allow himself to think of the horrors that his dear kinsman—one of the bravest and most beloved friends he had ever claimed—had faced in the deep, hopeless darkness of Tol-in-Gaurhoth, could not allow himself to think of the fates of the elves who had gone forth faithfully beneath the banner of their honorable king.

For he could imagine all too well from the words of Beren what exactly had become of those they had sent forth from the gates of Nargothrond with naught but the clothes on their backs and steadfast loyalty in their hearts. In his head, their names resonated, bounding from hidden corner to hidden corner and filling him with a terrible echo. The images that formed in those secret nooks broke convulsive shudders over his flesh, quaking through his muscles.

Dead. They were all dead.

And he knew who was to blame.

Knew it as surely as he knew his name and his father's name and his grandfather's name. Knew it like he knew the art of metallurgy with his arms and the intricacy of craftsmanship with his eyes. In his mind again, he could see his father's dark, sneering smile reflected upon the wavering mirror of his memories, blazing eyes gleeful as Felagund threw down his circlet and declared his people forsaken.

It was not out of fear or impotence that the Fëanárioni abandoned their most kind-hearted and generous cousin to the certain torment and nasty end awaiting him at the hands of Morgoth's Lieutenant. It was out of treachery that they withheld their sword arms and locked themselves away in their chambers "in grief" at his wretched fate.

It was disgusting. Revolting. Just being near them made him feel unclean.

"We will be leaving immediately." The familiar voice that Telperinquar had once held more beloved than any other now sounded foreign, gravelly and raw, like some sinful and evil spirit had possessed that familiar form, twisting it into a malformed mockery. "Pack your things, yonya. We depart before Arien's rays darken."

That voice he had once held more beloved than any other now filled him with smoldering rage, something that lingered just on the edge of desperate hatred and teetered towards revulsion. When he looked, his father was throwing together a pack—more than they had allowed Felagund and his companions, the young prince noted—and beyond him Turkafinwë was leaning against the doorway, arms crossed lazily and without concern, a light in his eyes that made his nephew want to back away. It was the light of a wild animal beyond logic and reason, teeth bared and prepared to remove fingers of the unwary.

But even that could not deter him now. Bile crept up the back of his throat at the thought of owning kinship with these men, though he loved them with all his being despite the plainly evil shadow lurking beyond the edges of wild silver eyes and upon sinful and broken souls.

How far did they expect his unconditional love and familial loyalty to extend? To greed and treachery? To hatred over bitter words? To glee at the unfortunate fate of his kin?

To betrayal of subject unto king and cousin unto cousin? Of elf unto elf?

As much as he loved his father and uncle—and let it be known that Telperinquar loved his family; let none think it otherwise!—he could not step over such a deadly line, the line between salvation and damnation, the line that would seal his fate as a cursed son of the House of Fëanáro until tumult and madness carried him unto his deathbed with a knife in his back and blood of the innocent staining his hands. He could not join them in fleeing these halls on the tail of misfortune and bitterness.

He would remain and repudiate.

He would not hold kinship with monsters, even if one had brought life unto his body and spirit. Even the loyalty of a son to his father would not bind him in chains of molten steel, burning him and caging him and breaking him. Telperinquar would not allow it.

As a son of the House of Fëanáro, no force on earth could stop him once his mind had been decided. Not even the force of his father's own sheer stubborn will.

"I shall not."

Curufinwë froze mid-motion, his forearm half-buried in his pack. The elder elf did not turn around to face him, but Telperinquar could see the beginning of shivers of fury run through the taut lines of that body, like the tension of a coil about to snap and whip a weal of fire across his flesh. "You will come with me, yonya." The words were harder than steel and diamond, unbendable and unbreakable.

But if he yielded now, he would never be free. He had to tell himself that. He had to.

"I shall not go anywhere with traitors."

Eyes like shards of glass sheered into his skin, leaving behind painful, invisible gashes bleeding determination. In those moments when he first beheld his father's face, Telperinquar thought he witnessed the second coming of Fëanáro, so powerful was the fire that glowed like a star beneath the veil of his father's body. Rage fuelled the flames of spirit until Curufinwë seemed a hundred feet tall, looming over his offspring, who had in truth grown four inches above the sire's lofty height. The urge to shrink away like a castigated child itched in every muscle Telperinquar possessed, but he steeled himself, locked his trembling knees and clenched his sharp, cleft jaw. And he looked into those rattlesnake eyes with disdain near dripping from his incisive gaze.

"What did you say to me?"

"I said I shall not go anywhere with traitors," Telperinquar repeated fiercely. "Nor will I own kinship with them. Go forth and be gone! Do not darken the doorstep of this kingdom with your filth any longer than necessary!"

For a second the light that blazed from his father's eyes was nearly too bright to look upon without burning up into ashes. Terrible and filled with darkness so powerful its stench permeated the room, Curufinwë came upon him like a phantom in the night. The younger elf could not anticipate the blow, only notice the throbbing deep in the flesh of his cheek and jaw mixing with strong pleasure boiling in his blood. A fist curled in his tunic and pulled him forward until hot breath washed over his ear. "Say that again to my face, boy!"

He did not need to speak. An eye for an eye. A fist for a fist. A bruise for a bruise. His father stumbled away with an equally aching jaw, and Telperinquar came away with smarting knuckles and a smirk on his thin, bloodless lips.

"Leave it, brother. We have not the time for spineless whelps." Where Curufinwë had been filled to the brim with white-hot anger, Turkafinwë bubbled over with sick amusement at the entire situation, unbothered that his kin looked ready to filet each other open to the bone. And though his words twisted the visceral pride in Telperinquar's gut until it was knotted tightly and almost physically painful, the young elf would not allow those words to spur him into foolishness. What was pride worth when it came at the price of his dignity and self-respect?

Calmly, he hefted his father's pack and grasped the front of his father's tunic, tossing both into his uncle's waiting arms. "Get thee gone!" he snarled. Equally infuriated and with a last hiss of loathing words, Curufinwë picked his ruffled self up from where he was cradled against his brother's broad chest and stalked away looking ready to do someone severe injury.

Turkafinwë just laughed and laughed. When he reached to ruffle his nephew's hair and press jolly kisses to his cheeks, Telperinquar did not dare resist, did not even dare breathe. Curufinwë, he could handle. But his uncle was too unpredictable, too mad with greed and envy, too stained with the cursed oath to allow for relaxation in his presence. At any moment, that amusement could change to ice cold hatred.

And the young elf knew his uncle would not hesitate for a moment to slay him should the fancy come upon him in a sudden rush of passion. In that way, Turkafinwë was less man and more animal, a hedonistic creature of instinct and desire. Rabid.

"Behave yourself, dear nephew," the silver-haired noldo purred, running his spidery fingers over Telperinquar's sharp, purpling cheekbone once more. And then he was gone.

And the young elf was alone.

Gulping, he slammed shut his door and pressed his back tight to the heavy wood, feeling suddenly weak from head to toe, as though he were made of water. All of his actions suddenly fell down upon his shoulders at once in a landslide of unwilling guilt, unwanted pride and no small amount of pure disbelief.

For he had defied his father, whose will and fire were second only to that of the Spirit of Fire himself. The crushing burden dragged him down to his haunches, spine creaking against the door, the back of his head thumping loudly on the hard surface. "Aiya! Ilúvatar," he breathed.

But the shame that had been churning in his belly was gone. Those monsters—murderers in all but name, traitors in all but word—were no kin of his! Not anymore.

And he was no longer a son of the House of Fëanáro, though that blood flowed still hot through his veins. It had been harnessed and tamed, locked away and disowned.

Telperinquar hoped the breaking of familial bonds would be enough. Enough to allow him to keep his home here in Nargothrond. Enough to allow him to retrain the trust of his friends and comrades and kin. Enough to keep the curse of his vehement blood at bay.

He would remain.

Remain the last of his House with nobility in his breast and honesty in his voice. No Oath would govern his will or take his life.

To hell with the curse. No doomed words would decide his fate. At this thought, breathlessly, Telperinquar laughed.

The golden glow of blossoming satisfaction was magnificent.

Chapter Text

The most difficult part of sleeping in the same bed as her husband had at first been his obnoxiously, abrasively loud snoring.

She imagined it was much akin to hearing a fierce mountain cat snarling down upon its unfortunate prey. Those first few nights in her marriage bed, Lindalórë had found herself unable to sleep for the steady, powerful vibrations rumbling through her husband's chest and shaking her down to her bones. No amount of comfortable down pillows (over her ears or otherwise) could quiet his deafening racket enough for her to find rest.

Yet after a week, she found it endearing.

After a month, she could not sleep without the cacophony of sound buzzing in her ears.

And now that he was gone, she could not sleep at all.

Bad enough that she was approaching her ninth month of carrying a child alone without useful hands to reach up to the top shelves of the kitchen cupboards for midnight snacks, without a soothing, deep voice murmuring words of love against her belly, without clever hands to massage the vicious ache from her back and feet each evening.

But now she could not find rest in her own bed.

It was a large bed, spacious and soft, the mattress full of the fluffiest down that gold could purchase. "Nothing but the best for my darling," Curufinwë had purred in her ear, his voice full of husky delight and heartbreaking affection. He made sure the sheets were the gentlest, smoothest of silks and cottons so her soft skin could not be bothered. He made certain the curtains were let down at just the correct angle each night so that, come the waxing, the fiery glow of Laurelin would not wake her at an unholy hour in the morning.

So many things she had relied upon him for once, and until he had vanished she had not even realized what an essential part of her life he had become, like a necessary limb that, in its absence, left her crippled and unable to function as an individual.

Without him here, her bed was not welcoming. The silk sheets were cold and barren, as uninviting as the hardwood floor. They smelled like soap and sunshine instead of masculine spice and smoke from the forge. Many a night she found herself shivering, arms wrapped about her waist as it grew rounder with child, and desperately she wished for the comfort of his rippling arms and deep snores against her smarting back.

It was too silent. So silent it seemed as though she were the only soul left in the world.

Alone. Bereft. Cold.

All too often, in the darkness, Lindalórë clutched at her nightgown and wept bitter tears at her fate. And then, spent from weeping and choked with despair, she desperately wished that the deep, rumbling purrs would rock her into pleasant dreams.

But if wishes were horses...

And every time, she awoke to an empty bed and terrible peace.

---

Many a year later and a great many leagues across the sea, another lay awake.

His nest was neither soft nor silken. It was a mere bedroll laid upon the rocky forest floor. There was no pillow to be found that might cradle his head and naught but the distant, dwindling fire to warm his chilled body. Though he had slept upon the hard ground—rocks digging pits into his back—many a time before, he found no rest this night. And it was not because of the unfortunate ubiquity of sharp stones.

Across the fire, his brother was sleeping soundly. At his side, his son had settled down for the night and had fallen into Lórien's embrace almost as soon as his head had hit the padding of his fur jacket. Somewhere between them, the lady Lúthien was probably having sweet dreams of prancing in the woods hand-in-hand with her handsome mortal lover, rosy-cheeked and laughing and too in love to see the lurking monster staring her straight in the face.

Tyelkormo was in love with her.

He had been for a long time, ever since his first glimpse of the Princess of Doriath, though he knew not that Curufinwë was aware of the obsession. Seeing that look on Tyelkormo's normally sneering, poisonous features was worrying. The sickness of infatuation, of helpless, guileless affection, was slowly drowning his brother. Soon enough, Tyelkormo would think of nothing but her—if that was not the case already. Of her hair. Of her lips. Of her eyes. Of her voice whispering his name in the darkness, a small ray of hope leading his way out of madness. Hopelessly ensnared by a venomous daydream, by false redemption.

It was painful to watch. Seeing his brother's enamoured features was like being stabbed, like having that serrated knife twisted and turned until he just wanted to roll over and beg for death if only for the agony to cease tormenting him.

Because he knew how Tyelkormo felt. He knew. He understood. And he knew how this situation would end, knew that someone would be harmed.

He wouldn't wish this hurt on anyone, because he could swear it slowly killed him a little more each day. Each moment. With each breath, the air worked to suffocate him with invisible ropes of longing.

He missed Lindalórë.

He missed her like he would miss his right hand. He missed her like he would miss his eyesight. Without her, he didn't feel like himself, did not feel strong or powerful or complete. Something terribly important and vital to his existence was missing, had been ripped away and had left behind a ragged, bleeding, gaping wound that festered and refused to heal.

Just beside him, Telperinquar rolled over and heaved a loud breath before letting out a snore that would deafen an orc. "He gets that from his Atar," his wife had told him when he had first noticed, her lips smiling fondly as she stroked his hair. "Your snoring could wake Ilúvatar himself!"

Was she relieved that his snoring no longer graced their shared bedchambers?

Did she miss him at all or was she furious and cursing his name? Did she think about him still—every day and every night—as he did her? Or had she found someone else, someone who could give her everything he could not offer in exile and shame?

His hand slipped into his tunic, grasping at heated, delicate metal, the finest piece that he had ever crafted with his own two hands and vermilion heart. Fingers traced intricate patterns of the locket, so familiar he could have drawn them exactly a hundred times over in his sleep. Underneath the metal warmed by his flesh and fire, her image was lying in wait, her green eyes wide in innocent beauty and wonder, captured forever as she had been before tragedy had torn them asunder.

By the Valar, he missed her!

"Forgive me," he whispered into the black night. No one was awake to hear him.

No one was awake to witness the tears that followed. He gifted them unto the earth in silent entreaty, a plea and a wish wrapped into a package of unending sorrow. For just a moment of smelling her sweet scent of lily of the valley and clean silken sheets. For just a moment of her soft warmth cradled safely in his arms. For just a moment of her endless, loving gaze.

But no unnumbered amount of tears would ever be enough to change the past.

Chapter Text

The last sliver of star-shine disappeared beneath the treacherous waves and into the ocean's cold, black embrace, lost for all of time.

Gone. Forever until the End of Days. Forever until the world cracked and split and fell to dust and ashes beneath his feet.

And the chill of stark night and the air of the wild sea washed over his splayed hands, soothing away the blistering, unbearable heat of purity and light rotting away sin and darkness. But the marks did not fade, the inflamed crimson lines etched into his palms, shaped into the echo of glistening facets. For none could touch their brilliance with hands unclean.

Strange silence and stillness held him in their embrace, tight and sound, whispering with Ulmo's song raging at the corners of his broken mind.

It is over. Done. Finished.

Alone, he stood on the shores that would mark the end of his journey—the journey of the House of Fëanáro and all who claimed its kinship. His eldest brother was broken beyond reconstruction, driven mad with terror and desperation. His sons were long fled from shame and horror at his actions. His younger siblings were all ashes upon the wind, their names whispered like filthy, black secrets on starless nights. The bloodshed cursed to sully their House and lead them to their deadly, fitting ends was fulfilled, for there were no more finely-hewn swords to cleave kin by the hands of kin, or hearts forged of steal to spill blood over greed and vengeance.

Makalaurë alone was left.

The lone elf knelt in the sand, his breath caught in gasping sobs of fresh, clean air—the air burning with the poisonous fumes of freedom. Below, the edges of the ocean's fury collided with the cracks of the dry earth, their screams and wails the final melody and harmony, etched forever in his ears as the face of the Silmaril was tellingly upon his hands and the light of the Two Trees accusingly upon his tainted soul.

Trembling digits touched his sharp, glistening cheeks, palms rising to block all sight from his eyes. What he should do now, he could not say. Makalaurë had never known such crushing despair as that which swallowed him whole, the intense and complete horror of knowing that all his kin had fallen and failed utterly in their quest, had been lost to their own madness and the brutality of their own foolish actions. Blood slickened the floor beneath their boots until it rose to their ankles—to their calves—until they were wading in it with no way out, with nowhere to turn. Until it was up to their chins. Until it was over their heads.

The list of names and faces grew longer and longer. That he could remember them all was a miracle, a punishment harsher than whips of fire pronged in steel thorns. Three days, it would take to recite them all, and at the end his lips would crack and his throat would ache, but neither would pain him so much as his bruised heart, decorated with lacerations of self-loathing and scarred with weariness of death, pumping thickly in the back of his throat. That list seemed content to never end, because no amount of death would ever be enough to satisfy the shrine built to arrogance and foolishness.

Until finally he added his brother's name. Maitimo. Lost to himself, killed by flame and molten earth. He had thrown himself over the edge with a smile of wicked delight and eyes as fey and bright with madness as Fëanáro's had ever been.

But at the same time, there was relief. Horrible relief, so powerful and terrible that shame beat down upon his shoulders at the feeling, heavier than all the mountains in the world. Who should feel such a thing when their last of kin had just committed suicide, when their sons would not look them in the face because of their evil deeds? Who would dare to feel such a thing, with hands that had slain innocents pleading for mercy, with a soul that could turn the other way at the sight of rampant killing and hatred?

It was there all the same, coiled in Makalaurë's breast, a snake hissing in his ears with the final strains of the finale of their epic tragedy. Rising like a tide inside him, it shook his limbs until they fell limply to the ground, shook his heart until all he could do was scream and cry and wish that the torment would cease and never end.

Over, over, over! It was over. Done!

No more death would spread like ink across his marred, abused soul. No more teary, pleading eyes could haunt him in his waking nightmares. No more bone-deep sorrow would douse the white-hot fire of his spirit.

Because they had failed, and he was free. Free to waste away singing upon the shores of Middle-earth for the rest of eternity in the hopes that someone would hear and understand. In the hopes that the same horrible acts would never be repeated, that someone would learn. Forever, the ceaseless noise of crashing waves, of water breaking against rock and foam spitting against cold air would host his prelude to doom, his chorus of the fallen, his epilogue in which the wanderer ceaselessly burned out the candle of his spirit day by day singing and singing of the cruelty of vengeance, of the emptiness of victory and the grace of defeat.

Until the end of the world and after. Makalaurë looked down into the dark abyss that had swallowed the last hope of redemption for his family, for his father and brothers, for himself, and laughed bitterly through his last tears.

His theme was complete. As Nienna had sung a lament for the darkening of the world in the ancient days before the mountains had been carved and the sky and sea parted, so too would Makalaurë sing his lament to the darkening of his kin when at last he joined the choir of the heavens at the feet of Ilúvatar and was judged before His gaze.

He would sing of the graceless fall of his cursed kin, for their tale was finally fully upon his tongue and ringing through his restless mind, ready to burst forth like a tide held beyond a cracking dam. Ready to stand as a memorial to remind them all of what every soul was capable of becoming.

It was done.

Noldolantë.

Chapter Text

"Something must be done."

Eyes precisely the hue of the open sky stared down at him. They darkened with each passing moment as Arien's rays began to hide beyond the Door of Night, as if a mirror reflected the heavenly dome through the man before him, the living incarnation of the sky and the air. Those jewels were set in a face curved with warm laugh-lines and sun-kissed damask cheeks.

But Manwë was not smiling today.

"What dost thou mean, mine brother?"

Of course, he could never understand. None of their brethren, for all the power, could understand. It was not their burden to see the way Námo saw. The world turned and revolved, the seasons changing, and with every decision made, every word whispered, the images that consumed his waking moments and dominated his dreams few and far between morphed and twisted into new patterns, new realities waiting just beyond the corner of time. A pat on the back here. A kiss on the cheek there. A single secret word overheard behind closed doors. And suddenly everything was different.

"Thou knowest that I cannot speak aloud of such things." Let it never be said that the Valar did not learn from their mistakes.

And what a mistake it had been, to speak aloud the Curse of the Noldor. What a fool he had been! And still, the Eruhíni were paying the price for his stupidity and pride. For once a Doom is spoken, it cannot be rescinded.

And they paid. And they paid. They were still paying, paying in blood and spirit and kindred. Paying in the innocence of their children. Paying in the happiness of their abandoned family. Paying with their own lives and hopes and dreams.

Paying unnumbered tears. The payment would never end.

"You see that boy? That one there?"

"He looks like him—like crazy old Fëanáro—"

"Sweetling, you mustn't play with him."

"What a strange child."

"What if he turns out as they did? A monster."

A little boy with green eyes who knew naught more than his father's name, shunned for something that had happened before he was born. Too late to save. Too late to stop. That boy was a grown man with a bitter, festering hatred for his father and father's kin. A lonely child who had grown up too quickly, who had become the adult in his home before he was even old enough to marry, who spent his days worrying that his mother would never smile again, who desperately wished he could be enough to bring her happiness and contentment.

"It is not right. Thou dost know of what I speak."

Whispers, whispers, behind every curtain and in every dark corner...

She held his only hand tightly and wished to be anywhere but in the court.

Anywhere but within earshot of those nasty jabs, spears that wounded more terribly than steel. Deeper than any blade could reach.

"Did you hear?"

"They will never have children."

"What woman would procreate with that vicious creature?"

"Serves them right. Kinslayers."

A woman who had never left the sanctuary of Valinor, but who could no longer enter a shop on the streets without patrons hissing threats and vicious remarks at her turned back, well aware that she could hear them as clearly as though they had been spoken to her face. More than anything, she had desired children, a house full of little ones, more than her husband had brothers! But though she took comfort in his return, in the safety of his arms and his overwhelming presence, there would be no children, and the dark whispers would not cease.

"Say it plainly, brother."

Dark eyes. Judging eyes. They watched with calculation, with ice cold shields distorting the horror deeply hidden beyond. Lying to his face. Pretending to care.

Were they not supposed to be his parents? Yet, they had not even recognized his face.

They could not even look at his face.

And the comments they made. Should settle down. Should have stayed. Should have sired an heir. Should have watched over his siblings. Should have this and should have that and...

And every night he regretted ever leaving the apathetic safety of the Halls, because this hell was no longer a sanctuary, no longer the bright light at the end of a road of suffering and honor.

It was a nightmare.

How anyone could fault he who had ever served others before himself? There was no better man than this one, no spirit that burned so brightly with happiness, so gloriously with compassion, no soul so willing to put himself in danger for the betterment of his people, to uphold his dignity and honor, to save another life, even one he barely knew. And yet the weak fools' eyes could see naught but the twisted maze of scars made home upon a once beautiful face to match the golden treasure hidden underneath.

So blind they were. So provincial and prejudiced. So vindictive and bitter.

"Thou wishest that I speak plainly? Thou wilt not like what I have to say."

Worse still, he could see what lay in wait, crouching like a great cat, stalking its prey through the twilight until the darkness of spirit set in, until all the lights were turned out, until there was nowhere to run and nowhere to hide and no way to see from which direction the attack was initiated. Even his own kin did not understand.

They did not see a husband slipping poison into his wife's wine at their evening meal.

He just wanted her to be happy. He wanted her to forget.

He wanted her to move on, to be apart from him, though it would kill him to let her go.

Because she deserved so much better than a man marked by death and torture and murder.

She deserved a life without whispers. She deserved a husband who could give her the family she had always dreamed of.

She deserved to be happy.

And when her body was cold, he wept both in despair and horrible joy. Because it was finally over, and if he slit his throat on the morn and laid with her one final time in the rising light of Anar, no one would be there to miss him in the afternoon.

Wrong, wrong, wrong...

And that a thousand voices whispered in his head of desire. Of "Would that I could end those murderers as they ended my people" and "Look at that face; it should not be allowed to grace public viewing! How disgusting!" and "Pining for a mortal? What an imbecile! What an utter fool!" and "If I just slip a knife into my bodice at the party, I can bury it in his gut just as he did to my older brother" and—

"I have always believed in fostering the innocence of our people—the ignorance. But it has gone too far. They have tasted vengeance, and though they deal it out not with sword or spear, they wield it to destructive power all the same."

"And what wouldst thou have me do? The exiles have done wrong. Is the reaction of the people—wronged and slaughtered—not justified?"

Námo felt dirty for even considering it, and that his king would think such action justice rankled him fiercely, made his hands twitch with the urge to do harm to his own kith and kin, to shake that regal bearing until it crumbled beneath shattered naivety, until those everlasting blue eyes saw reason.

No, it seemed none of them could understand the difference, could see that this cycle of hatred and revenge would never end. It would keep going and going until, finally, it crested in a climactic tragedy, a culmination of all the terror and the bitterness of their sundered children tucked snugly under a rug of deceit and placation. Until the emotional ammunition was set alight and exploded, sending scalding flame licking across their faces. Teaching them a lesson that ought already to have been learned.

"There is nothing justified about it. Justice implies correctness, and all I see waiting at the end of our current path is self-destruction."

Because he could see the mobs, see the images in their mind, the feigned justice, the diaphanous veil disguising wrath and vengeance as something purer and saner.

No sanity awaited there.

He could see them turning on their own kin as the Noldor had long ago, in blood and fire and fury.

He could see the dead lying in the streets with lifeless, glazed eyes.

He could see the Kinslayers weeping as their victims had once wept. And he could see the madness returning to their star-like glances, leeching away their terror and replacing it with a familiar lust for blood, a lust to reclaim, to retake, to ravage, to avenge.

He could see history repeating itself. Again and again and again...

"Trust me," he ordered. "Trust in my Sight. Has it ever been wrong before?"

It never had.

"Justice will prevail, but not here. And not by the hands of the people. They are not impartial. They do not see in terms of equality. They see only what they wish to see."

His king gazed upon him with incisive directness. "This is a foolhardy decision. Art thou certain?"

"I am. Let them find redemption across the sea. Let them be sundered from this land should they choose. Let them break the endless circle of vengeance before it has a chance to sprout and branch and feed its poisonous fruit to our people."

There was a slow, diffident nod, uncharacteristic of their self-assured king. "I will permit this. They will be under thy jurisdiction." He paused, lips pursing tightly, brows furrowing in concern for the Children. "Watch over them, mine brother."

"I shall."

Because in the end, he could see them.

Could see redemption lurking for those brave enough to reach for it.

Could see repentance in the fey eyes and fiery hearts.

Could see better days watering the seeds of contentment and compassion, birthing light more powerful than any Silmaril could hope to shine.

There was hope yet in better tomorrows.

Justice and righteousness must prevail. He did not tell his brother that the fate of their greatest passion and creation depended upon it.

Because once spoken, Dooms could not be rescinded.

The future was yet uncertain. They could not afford a second mistake.

Chapter Text

In the many centuries since his capture and torture in Angband, Nelyafinwë Fëanárion had amassed a terrifying and impressive reputation as a warrior of renown and skill, but also as a merchant of bloodthirsty murder and a thirst to avenge his fallen brethren.

It was not an altogether false reputation.

Few could match blades with him—one-handed though he might be—and come out unscathed. Fewer still could claim greater ferocity in battle, hotter fire in spirit and blacker hatred in heart than had possessed the redheaded Fëanárion on the battlefield. Enemies fled before his advance with wild eyes and clumsy feet, fled before the fey light in his eyes, knowing that their doom awaited them should they come within the circle of his extended sword.

Many years, he had scrambled and crawled and slaved away, nearly killing himself in his quest to reach that unreachable end, to reclaim all that had been stripped from him during his imprisonment.

But now, across the sea, all of his hard work—all of the sweat and blood and tears spilled over irreversible fate and treacherous, burning agony—they were all useless and impotent. Aman was a land of peace and prosperity, where there were no enemies to be slain, no use for steel sharp enough to carve bone, no need to strike fear into the hearts of those standing across the muddy field of battle, because no such fields existed.

Peace. If this was peace, Maitimo hated it more than he ever had the hardships of Beleriand. More than he had hated the dreaded dungeons and torture chambers of Angband. More than he hated kneeling at the Black Enemy's feet and licking his filthy toes like a sniveling thrall.

For all the lack of wars and violence, he felt no safer. Swords here were not forged of ash and fire and iron. Spears were not carved and polished and balanced of heavy wood and metal. Shields were not studded in mithril and gems until they glistened with heraldry and vast shows strength.

They were forged of words. Words mixed with veiled bellicosity, bitterness and the tang of blood. Words set aflame with searing oil and rubbed over bare, tender skin. Words sharper and bolder than any blade Maitimo had ever seen and more painful and exhausting than any torture inflicted upon his flesh during his exile. Words that could pass unseen through skin and blood and bone yet leave horrific, fatal scars underneath.

They were the weapon of choice, the danger that lurked in every corner and every room.

And he did not know how to combat them. For all his glory in battle and strength in arms, his tongue knew not how to parry a blow aimed straight for the soul, a cold wind sent to snuff out the fire of the spirit.

Were it just at his back that they whispered and snarled, he would not have cared. Maitimo had been named traitorous, murderous scum for many long centuries and his hide had quickly grown thick and callused. Because were they not true words? Were they not repeated in his own mind in the restless, sleepless hours between twilight and dawn?

But they talked at his wife's back as well.

She, who was his entire world. His starlight and moonlight. The only reason he had scrounged up the courage to plead his case as Námo's feet, to seek the refuge of Valinor outside the cold, lifeless Halls of the Waiting. Many a long year, he had wanted nothing more than to be in her arms, to have a little candle in the darkness to guide him away from the madness that swallowed up his world and melted it down into something unrecognizable and horrifying.

She, who had remained loyal in her love for him despite the terrible things he had done. She, who had waited for him knowing he might never return. She, who still stood at his side even though he could give her nothing but a traitor's name and an empty, silent house.

"Look at her, so proud of having that murderer on her arm..."

"She is probably after the throne, or the money. It is not as if he can offer much else."

"I heard that she is barren, but he stays at her side out of pity."

"Maybe they were cursed by the Valar to be childless."

"It would serve her right, staying faithful to a monster like that."

"How she can live with herself after sharing a bed with him is a mystery to me."

"How dare she show her face here? Wife of a Kinslayer."

She had done nothing to deserve it. Maitimo wanted to scream it at the round faces of those disgustingly ostentatious, egocentric courtiers, to grab those flowery, frilly women by their silken bodices and shake them until the petty little glass ornaments and jewels fell from their powdered hair. How dare they speak of her as such? What did they know of his beautiful Istelindë? How could they ignore her amazing strength and admirable honor, taint it with venomous rumors and lies filled with arsenic?

Though she never told him, Maitimo was not an idiot. Istelindë did not have the smile she once had. She was not the same woman he had left behind on the shores of Valinor all those many years ago. While he was on the battlefield, clawing and gasping and fighting for every last square inch of gore and death and mud between him and his enemy, she had been fighting her own war here, alone without any aid, without any allies, without anyone to even bandage her wounds.

Now, she was every bit as scarred and broken as he was. And it was his fault.

His fault for leaving her. His fault for coming back. His fault for keeping her tied to his sullied name and marred soul when she deserved so much better than anything he could ever hope to offer.

His fault, because even now he could not protect her. No amount of incisive glares could silence all the insidious voices slipping through cracks and beneath doors. No amount of heated words and threats of physical violence could shield her from intangible jabs and blows.

The surreptitious, cruel warriors of Valinor and their razor-sharp tongues dipped in poison were slowly turning his veins black.

And even as he lay in the darkness of night with Istelindë tucked safe and warm against his side, he knew desperation was bearing down on him with the force of a mountain's crushing weight. He knew that the darkest part of him—the part that would always be driven mad with grief and lust for vengeance—was steadily regaining consciousness, that the fey light was slowly returning to his eyes with each rising of Arien from the East.

With fear, he refused to contemplate what he might do if driven to that diabolical edge of sanity. He refused to contemplate what he might do to her if the war of invisible weapons pushed him too far.

Because he knew she would be better off without him. Would be better off forgetting him.

And it was a dangerous thought that would not secede from the shadows of his most secret, visceral mind. The images of a pinch of white powder dissolved into wine haunted him.

Istelindë would be better off if she never even knew he existed.

And that was not a gift beyond the reach of the blackest part of his tainted soul.

Chapter Text

Overwhelming.

None of them understood.

Not Findaráto, who was constantly trying to help in whatever way he deemed to be useful, who believed too much in the honor of people. The golden elf was good-natured and prone to incessant prattling, and Tyelkormo found himself avoiding the King of Nargothrond, if only to harness in the nearly unbearable urge to smash that pretty, clueless face against a stone wall.

Because how dare he dredge up memories of Valinor? Could he not just go away and not leave temptation pounding at Tyelkormo's temples?

Not Nelyo, who was more of a father than an older brother and worried like he had a right to concern himself with his brother's health. A hypocrite if one there ever was, but with a soft heart and good intentions. "Are you well, little brother?" or "You look peaky, should you not eat more?" or "Talk to me, Turko. I only want to help.” Except the words never soothed, never comforted.

Because talking didn't help at all.

Talking didn't take away the voices that lurked and crawled and crept along the edges of his mind, the black little conscience that had taken up residence, guarding the door behind which a floodgate of pure and unrestrained emotion pounded and rattled the hinges, seeping through the insubstantial cracks.

He feared that door more than anything.

Curvo did not understand either. Easily angered and full of sorrow and longing hidden away behind caustic remarks and bitter snarls. He only cried in the dark when he thought no one was awake to hear. "Why must you continue on like this Turko?" he would ask. "Why can you not control yourself?"

But he was controlling himself, just as Curvo was controlling himself—maintaining the temperamental pride of the House of Fëanáro. He was living and breathing his catharsis. Or perhaps it was not a haven of peace and relaxation at all, but mere escapism. In any case, Tyelkormo could not bring himself to care whether what he did was right or wrong, just that it plugged up those cracks with little white handkerchiefs. He plastered a smile on his face and drifted upon the false euphoria with mastery, purring sultry words and hissing insidious little lies into eager ears.

And when it became too much, when the hidden emotions bottled up to bursting were suddenly bearing down upon him, the fury would rise to counter, to burn away the hopelessness and despair loitering on the dark roads traversing his thoughts.

Because he missed green fields and golden light and lying on the soft grass without a care in the world.

The resentment was locked away. And the longing. They were not necessary.

Because he wished he had never spoken those words of hasty, naive loyalty, had never lifted his sword in defense of the father who had never been his father.

The regret was soul-wrenching and dangerous. What good would it do him to feel sorry for what had transpired in the past? History was already written.

Because when his father's body burned to ashes he felt unbearable relief.

And guilt then rose up over his head, burying him alive, cutting off his oxygen. It wanted to suffocate him, punish him for his ingratitude.

Because when he saw her light in the darkness, he wanted nothing more than to weep on her shoulder, to tell her everything. To know her, she with whom he belonged as two pieces of one whole. Except she loved another.

Jealousy, others would say. But that jade emotion could be flashed openly amongst his kin without shame. It was the heartbreak dragging its claws across the fragile little bit of himself that he had left which Tyelkormo could not bear to reveal before untrustworthy eyes.

Despair. Sorrow. A wall of indigo and deep blue swirling down into an abyss before him. One step in the wrong direction and he would plummet, would be swallowed alive, would crack and break like a glass ornament dropped on the marble floor. Every bit of Tyelkormo would be lost if that door's hinges gave way, if the boiling pit of hatred and madness and bloodlust on this side stopped pushing and pushing and pushing back.

Was it any surprise that, instead of weeping in the darkness like Curvo and contemplating falling on his sword, he went out of the civilized halls of his cousin and sought someone else to suffer in his place? Was it any surprise that he thirsted to slay any creature of darkness that might dare encroach upon his territory? And in their abeyance, was it any surprise that the convenient living targets surrounding him suddenly captured and held all his malicious attention, be it soft, sly words or a bladed silver tongue ready to filet open any unwary trespasser?

Was it any surprise that he preferred the capricious tides of madness to wasting away?

No, none of them understood, and they likely never would. They would never listen to him should he choose to speak of his madness as Nelyo wished, but brush away his unconventional logic. They would never comprehend the joy that he felt while slickening his sword with blood and guts, not when they were as noble and righteous as Findaráto. They would never see why all these thoughts and feelings needed to be locked up tight, especially not someone like Curvo, who spent all day and all night wasting away with longing and regret.

But he pushed this out of his thoughts. There was, after all, no use in lingering with his frustration and loneliness, either.

They were useless emotions. Empty. Feeding the oscillating waves of imprisoned sorrow, terrifying joy and fulfilling rage.

And Tyelkormo enjoyed every minute

Chapter Text

The shadowed tower of Tol-in-Gaurhoth loomed over their heads as a specter of ill will. Even gazing upon what had once been his very own creation—a symbol of protection—now sent chills down Findaráto's spine. Pungently, the smell of rot and death swept down the side of the isle and over their tiny company.

"Something is not right."

The company halted, and Findaráto gazed upon the terrible sight again, though he longed to look away. And in the corners of his mind, he heard the very thing which he had been dreading. Like slimy fingers running over his bare flesh, tainted power teased and prodded at the gates that enclosed the fortress of his thoughts, seeking the smallest vulnerability to breach.

"Do not think yourself invincible, trespasser."

They had been discovered.

The swell of evil melody came down upon them from the tower, slamming into them with the force of a hurricane, and all the malice to be gathered from within those high walls of hopelessness and death, the breeding ground for filth, bit at their heels, threatened to tear them limb from limb. A song of power from the lips of one of the maiar, dark though he might be, was a treacherous weapon.

For the sharpest chords were struck fierce, resonating through Findaráto's mind as twisted images.

Images of his companions slaughtered, lying at his feet. And whose hand wielded the dreaded blade but his own trembling fist, white-knuckled and strained taut about the hilt of his sword? Terrible glazed eyes watched him from uncovered, frozen faces, their last sight one of betrayal as he tore them asunder.

"Why have you done this to us?" they asked silently from dull bodies, shells empty of a spirit's fire. "Why have you turned against us when we have sworn loyalty unto only you?"

And their blood drenched his body like a hot cloak, soaked through his threadbare travelling garb, covering his golden hair until it ran like silken fire, splattering vibrant patterns across his pale skin. The thick copper taste settled in the back of his throat and bubbled until he thirsted for its tang as a maddened beast.

Long-fingered hands wrapped around his wrists, drawing him back against a solid body, turning him towards an unseen face. "Is this what you look like, my beloved little trespasser? Look into my eyes."

To look would mean death. To look was to be uncovered before those eyes forged of the earth's molten core and a potent firestorm of hatred. To look was to be burned to a cinder, all chance of escape lost as his mind fell into the abyss presented before him, surrendered and prostrated.

And his companions needed him. His Oath demanded fulfillment. At his side, Beren shivered and looked lost in the darkness, so full of young life and love, about to be dragged into the pits of hell itself, about to be stripped of all that which Findaráto swore he would do anything to protect. Though he knew not this boy, he knew the child's valiant heart.

And of that he sang.

And of other things, each sweet note singing above the tide of harmony a sharpened spear driving back the oncoming siege of a white fortress standing strong against the waves of clinging gloom. Of gates swinging shut, locked tight to hold the enemy at bay, and of his companions safely tucked within, sitting by the hearth's dancing fire, warm with health and camaraderie and hope.

Their lips were sewn shut with invisible threads and their eyes glowed with lively spirit. He was welcomed amongst them, clean and pure of sin, his hands bare and limp at his sides.

And in the deepest corner of his fortress, of the Minas Tirith that he remembered, he tucked away their names, written with intangible ink and hot blood, so that they would never see the light of fire-eyes, so that only sunlight might breach their treasury and reveal the identities of those within.

When those eyes finally looked into his, they saw naught but a monstrous, twisted face staring back, fanged teeth bared against the onslaught of hatred and fury swift to follow.

The notes rang bitter. They cut across Findaráto's soul like a Balrog's lash, but he did not dare back down. The air about them was thick, tension building to breaking. Hoarse though his voice might be, Findaráto could do naught but let the clear melody blaze forth in a crescendo of sunlight cutting through gloom, blinding his foe to their passage.

Because they were fleeing. The ground was uneven, traps laid in waiting, metal jaws itching to sink their razor-sharp teeth into an unwary leg, to drag some poor soul down onto the smoldering earth and leave them whimpering and writhing in agony and fright.

But their feet were as a bird's, never brushing the forest floor. Ahead of them, there was light. The birds were singing in the trees as their naked, wooden limbs suddenly unfurled into evergreen life, soft melodies filling the air, cloying blossoms sweetening the earth and chasing away the heady odor of rotting flesh and spilled blood.

The cry of the sea, an old friend whom he trusted, lifted its voice to his cause. The crashing of waves echoed in their ears as golden light fell down upon them. Mist hazed the land as they left the tangle of forest, and salt burned in their noses. Beneath their feet, smooth beaches stretched endlessly, safe havens against any shadow, pearly in the waxing day.

Home. Alqualondë laid her gentle gaze upon a son of her heart and embraced the companions tight to her white breast.

But the melody floundered, for the gleaming eyes of his enemy canted and that smirk filled with triumph. Findaráto's throat burned.

Because when he looked down, there was blood in the sand. The iridescent glimmer mixed with rubies, hot to the touch.

"Foolish, to bring us here, child."

Accent—striking fear into the centermost point of the elf's body, slipping through corporeal flesh and bone to vulnerability beneath when he looked upon familiar docks and their familiar white ships, elegant necks curving gracefully into the black sky. Hands left prints of crimson in carefully carved feathers. At his feet, the pearls turned to empty eyes, the rubies to droplets of innocent blood. Carnage beyond imagining, yet all too real. Memories, not nightmares.

"Look what your kin have wrought."

Accent—colder than Findaráto had ever imagined in its fey, glittering pitch, the sound of cracking ice beneath tenuous, unsteady feet. Bitter wind snapped and snarled on his bare flesh, dragged back his silken hair until it was full of knots and struck his neck as the tails of a whip, leaving reddened wheals. But that was not worse than the bone-deep chill. Not worse than the orphans hiding beneath empty cloaks alone in the snow. Not worse than his best friend, his dear cousin, sitting on bended knees before the abyss, staring down at where the world had disappeared into cracks of white, not even a sound to mark its dismantling.

"Look what they have done to you, through hatred and betrayal and fire."

Accent—so hot that he thought it would melt his soul and turn his body to ash. The white ships were burning, and above them the Spirit of Fire was grinning in satisfaction, white teeth bared as an animal's snarl, six sons at his heels with their blazing eyes and haunting visages smirking with glee. His ears rang with screams and howls, rattling his fragile spirit within the cage of its raiment until his knees trembled.

The earth beneath him shook with the cry of thousands of lost souls, their stark eyes boring into his body and their dirt-encrusted hands dragging at his ankles, pulling him down, down, down...

Climax. And then silence. His knees crumpled and hit dark marble, hands scrambling for purchase on the smooth floor.

Cold fingers tucked under his chin, lifting until he met the molten eyes and the beautiful face marred with a smile that would send all the armies of Angband fleeing to hide beyond their master's mountainous form. Instinctual fear churned in his belly even at the gentle touch on his cheek, the soft caresses through his hair.

"I have found you, my lovely little trespasser," Sauron spoke. Findaráto was naked beneath that gaze, disguise undone, and his companions beyond were bound in chain and shuddering from cold on the floor.

"Now," he said, with a voice that could seduce the most straight-laced maiden and melt even the coldest of hearts, "Tell me your name, child."

It was the final chord, ever so soft and yet so coercive and incisive in its subtle power, the last jab of the sword in the gut of his surrendered, bloodied body on the muddy battleground. Yet, in his breast, the fire was not yet extinguished. In his mind, his Oath still coiled like a serpent waiting to leap forth and sink poisoned fangs into his honor.

He squared his jaw and stared into those eyes without flinching. "No."

And when they were cast into darkness, he could not help but feel that it was not Sauron who had struck the final, most powerful chord, a last ringing accent to corrode the chains of despair latching their naked bodies to the filthy dungeon walls.

Because his companions remained as silent as that endless darkness and spoke naught unto death. Loyalty was still in their hearts.

Chapter Text

She charmed him.

It was in her sweet smile, full of brilliant innocence—ignorance of the darker reality of the world, of its insidious, whispering evils encroaching upon their once peaceful land. It was in her huge blue eyes, filled with wonder at every softly plucked note and every hushed breath of a whisper, ebullient in their telling, in their weaving. It was in the exuberance with which she tackled every aspect of her life, never hesitating to reach for the skies, never held back by the constraints of station and propriety that should have governed her body.

It was her beauty in the moonlight when her feet gracefully loped over the dew-laden earth, twining into something otherworldly—phantasmagoria, an ephemeral dream in the haze of shadow—that drew forth his breath from his lungs in song so powerful it left him shaken to the core at its ceasing, his body ringing with the purity of its tone, the trembling of its emotion.

Daeron could not deny it, not to himself, not any longer. He was in love with Lúthien Melianiel, his glorious princess, the woman who gave the spark of molten life unto his ancient, frigid heart without even realizing.

But she did not love him back.

Unrequited love, he had learned, was a torture more painful than any wound of the flesh. Because no matter how he longed to embrace her tightly against his chest, to breathe deeply of her scent—the mysterious tang of rain in the darkness of the forest—to run his fingers through the thick curtain of raven hair that wrapped its silken feathers around her supple body, he knew it was not his place. It was never to be. No amount of longing could change the fact that, in her innocent eyes—lights shining through the gloom of his ever darkening world—he could claim only the title of friend. Never of lover.

And so he loved her in the only way he could. From a distance.

When she held his hand, he smiled without bitterness and tried to hide the sadness that sparked to life in his glistening eyes, because she was giving him affection and he would take whatever she offered. When she wrapped her slender limbs around him, laughing joyously after running through the forest like a wild creature, winged and untamed, he would pat her on the back and resist the temptation of softly panting lips and rosy cheeks.

It was only indirectly that he could love her. Out of fear. Out of self-preservation.

It was in the songs that he sang to her swaying and twirling. All of the adoration, all of the entrapped longing and desire to please, all of the sultry burn in the back of his throat, flowed into the melodies to which she graced her sole presence and focus, her ghostly dancing form. And guiltily, eagerly, he imagined that, as he spoke aloud of adventurous heroes and love stories with requited endings, in his mind he was really telling her everything, all that was boarded up in the dusty, vacant rooms of his soul.

Sometimes, he imagined she might hear, might understand. But he knew better than to dream. With the traitorous hope in his breast, a kiss upon his flustered cheek rather than his parched lips would surely set fire to his inner sanctuary, would surely destroy the part of him that remained untainted by bitterness and unwilling jealousy.

Instead, he gave her trinkets made from his own hand and delighted in the gentle smiles she would return him, gifts in their own right that left his heart pounding sharply against his ribs. He composed her songs of love which he never presented to her in their true form, but in hidden lyrics, in a veiled message beneath feigned joy. He wrote poetry describing every part of her that he loved so dearly from her trilling voice to her friendly eyes to her smiling lips, and he burned them each night and imagined that their ashes would settle upon her still, sleeping form and her dreams might be haunted with his amorous voice and his beloved gaze.

He told her "You look lovely this eve, riel-nín", and she would giggle and twitter as a young maiden. But her answer would always be "And so, too, do you, mellon-nín".

And it was enough. It was enough to have her undivided attention for an hour each evening. It was enough to be allowed to watch her as she made merry amongst the towering enchanted trees and spirited herself away into a wonderland where no evil could touch the star of her spirit. It was enough that she shared even that small, secret part of herself with him, even if she considered him but a friend, a steadfast companion rather than a lover.

Because he loved her, he would be whatever she wanted. Even if it meant that he could not love her openly as a man loves a woman. Even if it meant hiding in the shadows and wishing and praying and hoping ceaselessly, uselessly, hopelessly. Eternally suffering.

Even if it meant never kissing her fair lips or hearing her voice whisper "meleth-nín" in his ear, it was enough to brush his fingers against her vibrant soul for even a miniscule moment in time.

Because his unrequited love for her was true. And he desired only her happiness.

And that was enough.

Chapter Text

There were no words. His mouth was dry, lips parched, tongue swollen.

It was as though he suddenly walked waist-deep in the languid heat of a dream—the atmosphere tangibly thick—his feet caught in invisible snares. The corners of his world burned black with the smoke of charred bodies and the sudden stillness of falling darkness; the figures moving in the dance of life and death around him were blurred beyond vision, the clash of shield and blade and spear naught but a muted echo through the heavy pounding of his heart in his ears.

All his eyes could see was the mire of crimson spreading across deep blue, soaking into the glistening stars and sullying their purity. Marked with the draining lifeblood of his brother's limp body, tangled and fallen, twisted unnaturally.

"Findekáno..."

Dark hair spilled around that beloved face. Empty, dull eyes stared out at the fading light of the sky, the fading hope of their people.

And before he could stop himself, he looked upwards from the slack features, to where the helm was cloven and gore peeked out along with a tide of red. Blood. So much blood. It did not seem to stop, though its owner could not possibly have had more to give. As a small ocean, it spread and mixed with muck and dust, spreading and spreading until Turukáno imagined that it would flood past his boots, rise up to his ankles, hot and fresh and bitter with iron.

Even to save his own life, he could not have moved at that moment, frozen in time. No breath would be sucked through his lips to fill his lungs with the smell of sweat and the putrid odor of eviscerated enemies and friends alike. No thoughts would come upon his mind to steer him away from his horrified fascination with the image branded into his silvery orbs.

A hand on his arm, pulling, but not hard enough to cease his forward momentum, the urgent need to be at his brother's side. Because Findekáno couldn't be dead!

"Findekáno!" The name burst forth as a cry, broken and shocked. "Káno!"

"My King, please, listen to me!"

He twisted until his wrist ached, until he was sure the iron grip on his arm would leave behind a marring of purple and black beneath his tunic. But the manacle of fingers would not cease its imprisoning; the voice in his ear would not halt its hissing.

"Stop this! Please, Turukáno, listen to me!"

The next image he saw was of blue eyes in a familiar, stern face. Ecthelion, his most steadfastly loyal captain, stood before him, took him by the shoulders and shook him until his bones rattled and ached. "We need to retreat."

No words. He nodded, but could summon no further will to move. The image of blood, the feeling of it sticky against his ankles, sliding thickly between his toes, would not cease.

The red haze had settled on his mind.

---

Even many days later, he could do naught but sit in shocked silence. The black had retreated from the edges of his vision, and instead his eyes misted with the stained stars, ruined by the stomping of the enemies' heels and the bashing of their heavy maces, by the endless sea of death, blocking out all sound and sight from his frantically racing mind.

Because Findekáno was dead.

Findekáno was dead.

But that was wrong. His brother could not be dead. Yet each stuttered breath only confirmed the nightmare that was his miniscule reality. Every "my King" spoken from unfamiliar lips was as a spear would be to his heart, piercing his brittle shield of ice. Cracking. Shattering.

The days passed without notice. He could not remember what had happened after the battle, only that he was once again in the Hidden City, in his tower, in his hard-earned safe haven protected from the evil sight of Morgoth Bauglir. But even then, all he could do was sit on his balcony and stare, unstirred by the breeze caressing his cheek with soothingly familiar fingertips, unmoved by the heavy rain that battered down upon the earth and soaked him to the bone, leaving chills in its wake and warning in his heart.

All he could see were those eyes losing their light. All he could feel was the overwhelming despair, the crushing defeat of their armies and their strength and their pride. The spirit of their people had been ravaged beyond recovery.

All he could think of was his brother's last smile of greeting, the hand clapping on his shoulder, the joy at reunion after so long apart. That was gone, an ephemeral moment carried on the wind as a dandelion seed, lost in the archives of time as though it had never existed. Findekáno was dead. Dead. Gone. Defiled and destroyed and desecrated in the copper of his own blood and the mire of his spilled brains and the tangle of his fractured bones.

The image of twisted limbs in golden armor would not depart. The glimpse of vibrant red rent with shards of white and the mess of intestines spilled upon the earth would not leave his dreams.

There was so much blood. So much it would never go away.

And alone, in his tower, Turukáno sat. The High King of the Noldor.

Hollow words for a hollow title. For the spirit of their people was fading into oblivion.

And he could only sit and watch.

---

Sometimes he wondered if they realized—valiant Ecthelion and loyal Laurefindil and sweet Itarillë and his dark nephew Lómion. He wondered if they noticed how he would stare off into the distance beyond the constraints of this mortal realm whenever duty was not calling him to block all else from his cluttered, broken thoughts.

He wondered if they could see past the feigned smile and the stern voice of their cold-hearted monarch, hiding behind his own spread wings of false glory.

He wondered...

Because at night, he could not close his eyes for the fear of seeing the empty gaze of the lost hope of their cursed people staring accusingly up at him from his brother's slack face.

Because the few hours he allowed himself the catharsis of sleep, it was inevitably blanketed in an ocean of jeering and the screams of the dying, heralding the arrival of that familiar wave of hot, wet, thick liquid swirling around his feet and upwards, until it swallowed him entirely, until he was drowning in spilled loyalty and broken dreams.

Because the words "my King" still made bile rise in the back of his throat. Still made his hands fist, white-knuckled and trembling. Still made him want to scream and rage and weep.

Perhaps it was his personal punishment, his portion of the unnumbered tears, his purgatory.

Because even now, with the Nirnaeth Arnoediad many years behind him, the red veil of his brother's blood never lifted. Arien had never risen on the endless night that had blotted out all of Varda's stars and the vessel of Tilion's might.

A crimson haze shadowed his dreams. It embodied his nightmares. It ruled his world. It was so deeply entrenched into his being that it would never go away.

It would be the harbinger of his people's demise. And his own downfall.

And Turukáno did not even care. He was blinded to all but empty blue eyes, the translucent memories of sunlight on a cloven helm and red stars in a sea of death.

Chapter Text

Never before had Fëanáro encountered a puzzle or a riddle which he could not solve or piece together, which he could not unravel and dismantle and reassemble again forward and backward and with his eyes tightly shut. Not mathematics, nor literature, nor politics, nor the dimwitted societal circles of his father's court could hold his attention for long.

It was one of the reasons he had turned away from the demesne of duty to the art of craftsmanship. The burning need for a new challenge, for new discovery and new creation settled itself in his gut as a ravenous hunger, as a parched thirst that could not be sated by any amount of heady, rich wine or fresh, cold spring water. It consumed his restless spirit, embraced his rabid creativity to its breast and allowed him to be free.

And then he met her. Immediately, she had kindled a lust in his heart (and his loins) which he had never experienced before.

Her and her hair softer than any expensive fabric he had ever run over his fingers, the color of flame snapping through a thick curtain of darkness. Her and her skin so fair, so white, yet dotted with what he could only name abominably precious freckles from cheek to cheek. Oh, how he desired to sit and hold the perfection of her heart-shaped face between his callused palms, feel the softness of red-flushed cheeks on his rough skin. He would draw her close, close enough to count the speckles bridged over her nose—close enough to name every hew of her blazing green eyes.

But there was a problem, one that he had not anticipated.

Nerdanel Mahtaniel despised Curufinwë Fëanáro with all her white-hot, divine spirit.

And for the life of him, he could not understand what he had done to make her so upset with him. He could not division what it was that she wanted from him, what words might mollify her unexpected rage, what it was that he was doing incorrectly in her eyes. Never before had a woman befuddled him so—the ladies at court were all too easy to woo and soothe with hushed words of flattery and gentle kisses to the knuckles.

When he had used that trick on Nerdanel, she had given him a black eye that lasted an entire week.

If only he knew what made her tick, how her gears functioned so that he might predict what would bring her the greatest pleasure, what might make her smile broadly at him, all sweetness and glory and affection. But she was not like a clock, with parts that all fit together in a perfectly logical assimilation. Nor was she like mathematics, where numbers always added or subtracted or somehow interacted to provide a concrete answer. A right and predictable answer.

There was nothing predictable about her. One moment, she would be playing an innocuous young maiden sculpting in the afternoon light of Laurelin, and the next she would be hissing like an angry she-cat, baring her perfectly aligned white teeth in what Fëanáro supposed was meant to be a threatening gesture.

Honestly, he found the display to be rather cute. Telling her that had earned him several broken toes and the insult "sleazy, misbegotten, bull-headed son-of-a-goat-farmer" thrown in his face. Who knew that copperware could be so blasted heavy? Or that being insulted could sound so Valar-be-damned arousing?

Similarly, any form of gift-giving had been swiftly rejected—"What should I even do with a necklace this extravagant? I am the daughter of a craftsman, not a frilly, empty-headed peahen of court!" Flowers, too, had been thrown to the wayside; she had not stopped giving him strange looks for several weeks after that incident, and it was not until later that he realized red tulips had a rather strong connotation, and by no means was he prepared to throw himself off a cliff to prove his undying love. Even Fëanáro would admit that he rather deserved being kicked for such a presumptuous gesture, especially to a woman he was not even officially courting.

The prince had been sure to read up carefully on the delicate language of bouquets, despite the odd looks he had received from some of his father's prestigious librarians, who could not understand for what underhanded purpose a wily creature like Fëanáro could possibly want to know about the meaning of flowers.

The next time, he sent graceful orchids in a shade of vivid purple which he imagined would complement her hair rather attractively. He did not understand what she found so offensive about being labeled a "rare beauty"—as she certainly was rare and beautiful both at the same time—because, the next day, she had turned redder than a ripe tomato and tried to hit him with the nearest fire poker. The woman should have been flattered!

All in all, Nerdanel did not make a lick of sense to the genius of Fëanáro's mind. It was like trying to predict the shapes of tomorrow's clouds! Why she could not follow the same established laws of nature as every other feminine creature between Tirion and the edge of the world, he did not know. All he knew was that it left him absolutely frustrated beyond belief.

She was the one puzzle he could not seem to put together in his head, the riddle he could not answer without tangling his tongue and botching his honeyed words.

It certainly did not help that she was constantly present in and around the forge, her shapely behind framed by the elegant gowns she favored. Did she have any idea what such a sight did to him? The sheer amount of "bathroom breaks" Fëanáro had taken outside in the trees left the prince blushing in mortification even when there was no one around to put two and two together to get four.

Well, two could play at that game.

He deliberately forswore his shirt in the forge, his naked upper body blanketed only with thick leather and the glisten of hot sweat over rippling muscle. With (an embarrassing amount) of forethought, he would every so often lean down and let his trousers pull taut around his perfectly shaped (as many women had whispered just within earshot) buttocks when he caught her head turned in his direction from the corners of his eyes.

And whenever he walked by her, he always smirked and pressed a hand to the wall by her shoulder, leaning closer than propriety would dictate. "Has something attracted your attention, my lady?"

Her answer was always "No".

Teasing her only seemed to make her fiercer, seemed to stir up her irate nature and to stoke her temper until it was almost tangible in the air. But then her face flushed that (delicious) shade of cherry red, spreading across her cheeks and to the tips of her finely shaped ears and down her elegant, swanlike throat. And—By the Valar!—when she huffed up at him and yanked at her braided tresses, he could not help but feel as though his legs melted beneath him.

Eventually, the mystery that was Nerdanel Mahtaniel consumed his world.

Thoughts of new designs slowed. Inspiration seemed only to come from the thousands of shades he could see in her emerald eyes and the gentle waves of her thick curls and her slender back. He found himself seeing her everywhere, her form ubiquitous, appearing in the essence of graceful movement, the cant of her shapely hips in every angle, the curve of her delightfully round cheekbone in every shadow.

It took a humiliating amount time for the genius to realize that he was in love with her.

And she still hated him.

But he only ever teased her, only ever smirked and snarked and purred. Vulnerability never sat well with Fëanáro, and the desperation that was eating away at the cavity of his chest was most definitely vulnerable—the soft underbelly of his unbreakable armor of arrogance and urbanity.

He started taking longer breaks from the forge. Though her mystery continued to vex him, it was painful to stand before her malice, to watch her lips purse in a stern frown whenever he smiled. Her displeasure was unbearable, and her rejection stung fiercely, worse than any concoction his healer had ever rubbed into his scrapes or bruises. And then it twisted and jerked and it took all Fëanáro's tremendous willpower not to flinch.

Eventually, he decided to altogether forgo her company. It was for the best that he did not continue to tantalize himself by putting himself so near the one thing he so desired but could neither understand nor possess. It was for the best if he drove her visage from his mind and returned his concentration to his art and his passion towards creation.

So for one last time he stood before her, plastering a feigned smirk on his lips, giving a sultry, half-hooded look from beneath his thick, dark eyelashes. "Has something attracted your attention, my lady?" And his hands clenched in the leather of his apron, because he knew what was coming and it was going to feel like a blow to the gut, was going to rend him clean off his feet and steal the breath right out of his lungs.

How he longed to cover his ears. How he longed to be able to block out the "No" that he could almost taste bitterly on the tip of his—

"Yes."

Wait? What did she—?

He blinked dumbly.

And then she kissed him. Staggered, he breathed in the heady cinnamon burn and the scent of sculpting clay that had molded itself to her being. Tasted her unique sweetness on his tongue, so different from the bitterness of unrequited affection. It was purely her, and it was marvelous.

And when they parted she looked so very pleased with herself.

Fëanáro could not help but wonder what exactly he had done to deserve this and how exactly he could seek to bring about a repeat performance from this woman of whom he could make neither heads nor tails. She had him bamboozled for life.

In the end, he settled with the knowledge that Nerdanel was a puzzle he would never solve. And he could live with that one simple truth, seasoned with a dash of vexation and a pinch of vulnerability.

Chapter Text

If there was one thing that the younger Maitimo had inherited from his sire, it was sheer stubbornness. No son of Fëanáro could bear to back down from a challenge, could stand the humiliation and shame that accompanied failure. It was a trait that had burned hot and fierce in Maitimo's father, and in his own breast, and again in most of his brother's temperamental spirits. It was a trait that had once filled the prince from the top of his head to the tips of his toes like a bubbling, golden wine that went straight to the head—a rush of arrogance, confidence and sheer pigheadedness.

It was a roaring fire that blazed in the night and warmed those at its borders, a fire that had long-fuelled his every endeavor and fulfilled his every wish.

It was nothing more than charred wood blanketed in chilly rain, smoking futilely in the night, when he was taken from the cliffs of Thangorodrim. The fire that Maitimo had inherited from his father had all but burned out, only tiny, bright little embers keeping him from fading completely into oblivion.

Embers like Findekáno and Kanafinwë. They were at his side from his lowest, darkest hours of screaming for death in the throes of fever and infection until the dawn finally broke over the rotting blackness that had consumed his reality.

But even a few white-hot sparks were not enough to relight an inferno.

Helplessly, Maitimo stared down at his own boots and wondered why Findekáno had not just allowed him to die in peace. It would have been more merciful and less obligating.

In his left hand—his only hand, he reminded himself snidely—he awkwardly clutched at the hilt of an unfamiliarly familiar broadsword, heavy and lumbering in the care of his weak arm. Even lifting the damn thing felt as though it would pop his shoulder joint completely free of its socket, and he knew better than anyone how painful that would be. He had only hung from his dislocated right shoulder for two decades or so—the bitter sarcasm of this thought curled upwards in his gut nauseatingly.

Still, he continued, stepping forward and swinging the sword in a long, wide arch despite the trembling ache settling bone-deep into his limbs. The blade screamed through the cold air, flashing blindingly bright in the afternoon sunlight, but it did not even come close to striking the perfectly still target not five feet in front of the prince's face.

What a joke.

He had been at this all day. Practicing. Building up his meager strength. But after months (let alone today's few measly hours), nothing seemed to have changed. The old grace that blossomed with his promising skills as a budding warrior did not return to his ruined and scar-mapped body. His footwork was off-beat and his swings over-extended, dangerously open to counterattack should he actually face an enemy made of flesh and blood eager to rend his meat from his bones, unlike the crudely made straw creatures his brother and cousin had fashioned for him. The painted orc-face—one of Findekáno's masterpieces, if he wasn't mistaken—stared back at him mockingly.

What a joke indeed.

"Findekáno, this is useless. Look at me. Look at me!"

"I am looking at you, Russandol. You're alive, and it is only useless if you make it so."

Something vicious in his gut, at the very center of his baser instincts, tangled and twisted itself into a ball of resentment. Sneering, he swung the blade around again, pleased to see that its edge—sharp enough to cut flesh as butter as bone as wood—struck true and detached the head of the hideous straw-monster from its malformed lower half.

Carrying through the swing, Maitimo allowed himself to spin with the momentum of his strike, almost feeling the flowing ease that he had once experienced with a blade as an extension of his natural arm.

And then the heel of his right boot landed on the loosened laces of his left, and the redheaded prince found himself short a sword and in new possession of a face-full of gritty dirt and sharp rocks. Panting, he pressed his bleeding cheek down to the earth, and then released a world-weary sigh, feeling all the fight drain right out of his sprawled limbs as humiliation beat his fanatic stubbornness into a swift and futile retreat.

"This is beyond useless," he muttered, unwilling to summon the energy to even lift his head. "Why do I even bother?"

Because it certainly wasn't for himself. He'd given up living for living's sake a very long time ago, deep in the filthy, depraved pits of torture and unspeakable evil that made up the core of the dread fortress of Angband. The unspeakable things he'd seen—the agonizing torments he had experienced—while under the gracious hospitality of the Black Enemy had drained all will to survive out of the once lively and confident creature he had been as a youth in his grandfather's court, before the Darkening and before the Oath and before the Curse. If Findekáno had not managed to light that tiny, miraculous spark of treacherous hope all those months ago, Maitimo was certain he would still be in that bed in the healing halls, wasting away into a shadow of his former glory.

Even so, that miracle wasn't enough. Day-by-day, the little energy created by the tiny combustion reaction in his heart was sucked up, used to hold back his descent into madness, used to maintain strict control of his tremulous emotions wavering and scratching and clawing just underneath the surface. The dearest, blackest wish of his heart still lingered toxically in the back of his mind, polluting his thoughts. How he longed for this nightmare to end, longed to wake up and find himself home, far away from these accursed shores.

But this was his reality.

And Maitimo felt a failure. Like a broken toy. He could not even tie his own boots or swing his own sword, let alone help his cousins and brothers.

He could not make up for all the hurt his mistakes had caused—not Alqualondë or Losgar or what had come after—and that perhaps wounded him more deeply than any shot of mortification and despair ever could. Not only had he failed them once, but he was going to fail them again, after Findekáno had saved him, after Kanafinwë sat as his bedside and wept and fretted and prayed for his recovery, after his brothers had stuck by his leadership and followed him even now possibly to their gruesome and untimely deaths.

Maitimo was going to fail them all.

Thinking of the disappointment that would darken Findekáno's hearty blue eyes made his heart throb and drop to the pit of his belly. Thinking of Kanafinwë and the stricken look that would overcome his beautiful face was like being stabbed with a jagged, poisoned blade.

He did not want to fail them. He did not want to see the disappointment or helplessness on their beloved faces, not again.

"So get up off your scarred, prideful, princely arse and do something!" Findekáno's voice shouted from somewhere in the shadowy forest of his consciousness, darting between the blockage of tangled, dizzying thoughts and regrets. "And you say relearning swordplay is useless! At least it is better than sitting in the dirt, waiting to die alone like a homeless brigand."

How like his dear cousin, his beloved best friend. The sardonic humor and the cackling laughter that followed brought to mind a broadly grinning face and rosy, drunken cheeks. He had never imagined that the voice of his conscience would be composed of his cousin's inebriated rambling.

But still, could he really do this? Did he have even the tiniest hope of succeeding?

"There is always hope," Findekáno and his wretchedly optimistic personality provided. "You are just too blind to see it."

Glimmering silver eyes darted to the sword lying two feet away. His left hand crawled over the grass, fingers trailing just shy of touching the hilt, the burn of ice cold metal corporeal even from a few inches' distance. Yet there was a diffident pause. Could he force himself to take up that sword? Could he really become what Findekáno envisioned, a proud and powerful prince leading his people out of the thunder and downpour that had been his father's charming dictatorship?

He could not even swing a sword straight.

"And how do you know what you can and cannot do unless you try?" He could imagine his cousin with arms crossed, an irate frown on pouting lips as he gave his "Russandol" a castigating look.

Maitimo sighed deeply, fingers clenching into tight fists. His missing hand throbbed, screaming at him to flex his wrist—that wrist which was no longer attached to his body—and spread apart the five graceful digits to ease their tension, never mind that no amount of concentration could bring to life the nerves of his long-gone fingertips.

I have tried. Another deep breath. And out. There was stinging behind his eyes. I have tried so hard and failed at every turn. Failed as a king and as a son and as a brother. Failed as a friend.

"Then try again until you get it right."

Get up and try again.

And suddenly that tiny, miraculous flame was not so tiny anymore. It seared white-hot through his bones, flowing through his veins with the flammable brilliance of a wildfire, leaving his body fidgeting and shaking with the sudden need to move. His fist unfurled, and his remaining fingertips landed softly on cold metal, inscribed with words of honor and valor and decorated with breathtaking craftsmanship. This sword had been his father's; his own had been long lost in battle.

"Be a better brother. A better prince. A better friend. You can do this, Russandol."

Hissing, he heaved his upper body off the ground, grasping at the weapon and dragging it from its resting place, gleaming in the afternoon rays of Arien. He needed to try again, and if not for his own wellbeing than for his Findekáno's happiness and his Kanafinwë's relief and the protection of the younger brothers he had taken under his wing and raised as if they were his own brood of unruly brats. They needed him to try again. And again and again.

As many times as it took to succeed.

He would do that for them. From now until all hope had failed his heart and all love left his brittle world. He had to, or risk losing all that was important to his broken soul.

Stumbling onto his shaking knees like a newborn colt, Maitimo managed to get his feet beneath his body's weight, supporting as his spine uncurled in his attempt to return to his lofty upright position. Elevated and glowing with newfound energy, he took a broad step forward—

And promptly fell on his face a second time. Now he could honestly say he knew intimately the taste of dirt.

It was then that he looked down past his splayed body at his boots and frowned in utter exasperation at the sight of the frayed leather—

And the undone laces.

At least his hope was rekindled and his fire burned anew.

Now, if only he could figure out how one went about tying boot-laces one-handed...

Chapter Text

The loss of Lúthien's affections to a barely matured whelp of an atan had always been a very sore spot for Tyelkormo. But even so, his family could not understand the true depth of his hatred, because he had never spoken truthfully of her—his One. Not even to Curvo.

His brothers were aware of his jealousy over the woman and of his blistering hatred towards Beren Erchamion; it was not as if the silver-haired prince had tried to hide the bitter, resentful feelings from his own kin. In his darkest hours, he would spit and rave and pace like a caged animal, ranting to Curvo's blank face and empty eyes until he ran out of complaints to petition and words to shout and glasses to smash against the stone walls.

They had thought it obsessive and disturbing, but they knew that Tyelkormo was more than slightly senile, and none of them questioned his behavior. Or perhaps none of them dared. Tyelkormo could not blame them for that, unsure himself whether any defense of Beren within his earshot would have triggered a homicidal reaction.

But it had only gotten worse from there.

When he heard news of the child of Beren and Lúthien, bile made its presence known in the back of his taut throat, the acidic bite slinking upwards and settling on his palate. The sudden and nearly uncontrollable urge to murder someone had nearly brought his fingers around his brother's throat. It had been so temptingly unprotected and vulnerable and Valar! but his heart would not hurt nearly so much if he could just asphyxiate someone with his bare hands—preferably the man who had gone and mated and procreated with the other half of his soul—and maybe that searing-hot agony that was building layer-by-layer in his deepest hidden core would go away and leave him be.

He had not been prepared for the betrayal he felt. For that was how it felt in the back of his mind, as though she who he knew he was meant to be with had rejected every part of him as unworthy, unsuitable, had thrown his offering—his offering of everything he was and had been and ever would be forevermore—back in his face with a sneer and lain with filth to spite him and his possessiveness.

Because she knew. They had only made love once, but she had known, understood why he was driven to the point of madness. And she had abandoned him anyway.

No wound had ever been so painful, not by sword or spear or word. It was not a scar that Tyelkormo had ever recovered from, a metaphorical limp dragging him down ever after, always reminding him that she despised him and left him behind like trash.

Nothing else had ever awoken such a violent urge for revenge in his breast as the knowledge of the existence of Dior Eluchíl, the physical manifestation of the action that had rent and torn down all of the tapestries of hope and love he had left hanging in the cold, empty chambers of his heart. No longer did Lúthien's slight exist only in the shadows creeping through his mind; now it had become corporeal in the form of a child.

The very thought made him shudder in fury of the likes he had never experienced, more acute than any pleasure and more agonizing than any torture, filled to the brim with the overwhelming need to be sated, lest he lose himself completely in its gaping maw, devoured whole, mind and body.

The day that the missive arrived from Nelyo was a day that Tyelkormo would never forget.

For savage joy had flooded his chest when they were ordered to "march upon Menegroth should Dior Aranel refuse their demands", because finally—finally after so very long—he would reap his revenge through terror and blood and death. He would destroy the evidence of Lúthien's betrayal of his love—unrequited and unfulfilled and broken—and maybe then the trembling somewhere in the vicinity of his heart would go away and not make the back of his eyes sting and his temples throb and ache from holding onto the veil his composure by the skin of his teeth.

Maybe the harvesting of crimson tribute and dying screams and seeing the glazed look in that child's eyes as he lay in a pool of his own lifeblood would be enough to sate the monster clawing and snarling in the back of his mind.

For Nelyafinwë, this venture was about reclamation of what was rightfully theirs through birthright and through oath.

For Tyelkormo, the ruin of Doriath and the death of Dior Eluchíl would be salvation.

---

And then everything had gone terribly wrong.

His first sight of Dior—and Oh! the volcanic tide of hatred bursting to life and forcing tremors through every limb left him breathless with anticipation of the sound of sword slicing through flesh and carving bone—had been of the silver-haired child of the House of Elu Thingol slicing open his brother's throat.

Curvo had fallen, blade clattering lifelessly to the marble floor as dark hair haloed and mixed like ink with steadily flowing rich blood, pouring from the opened jugular. Even the best healer could not have saved his brother from such a wound, for he bled out so quickly that it seemed every ounce he was pumping frantically through the rivers of his veins was emptied in a precious few moments, leaving him pale and cold on the ground.

After that, the copper tang had flooded had mixed with rising acid in Tyelkormo's throat, morphing into a concoction of pure battle-lust. With an enraged scream, he launched himself at the king, wild-eyed with the burning spirit of his sire, fey with hunger for death and the secret terror lodged in his chest like an infection that just would not go away.

A smile cracked his lips, bared his teeth like an animal preparing to rip into an opponent. Wide eyes—eyes so blue that he could have drowned in them—stared back. The king had her eyes.

Without thought, without even looking further at the child—he did not want to see Beren's face staring back until it was gray with death and cold as ice beneath his vengeful wrath—Tyelkormo leapt into battle, crying out to the hidden sky in wordless ecstasy. His veins pulsed with life, his mind filled only with the next gleam, the next screech of metal against metal, the next burst of sparks stinging the fingers wrapped taut around the hilt of his sword.

His whole world was that next movement. The curve of his enemy's arms and the angle of his sword. The balance of booted feet across from his, leaning ever so slightly to the right, swinging forward and teetering towards falling. The over-wide arch of a blade speeding towards his side, leaving wide open the vast expanse of vulnerable belly and chest.

There was no hesitation.

All the way through, to the hilt, the sharpened edge bit through skin and organs and ripped open the fabric at his enemy's back, gleaming red before Tyelkormo's lusty eyes. Satisfaction.

And then pain. Slicing and twisting pain and the feel of hot stickiness soaking into his clothing. Tyelkormo looked down at the sword lodged through his chest and felt the blood rising as he tried to breathe and rattled sickeningly. A cough, and crimson splattered across the face so near to his, watching him with no small amount of hatred and fear.

Blue eyes. Lúthien's eyes.

But it was not Beren's visage those jewels of the sky were set upon.

Tyelkormo's own sharp jaw-line clenched as the child's teeth grated in agony. Thin, bloodless lips and a long, straight nose. High, aristocratic cheekbones and a cleft chin. Brows that curved downwards into a permanent scowl, all wreathed in silver veins of loose hair.

This was a child of the House of Fëanáro, every line and curve and angle of him. Nerdanel's elegant nose. Fëanáro's terrifying gravitas. Lúthien's pure beauty and sky-blue eyes. Tyelkormo's spitefully curled sneer.

And he could not understand. No thoughts would come as he choked in his own blood and felt the world tilt onto its side, going gray at the edges. Little droplets, like rubies, fell from the king's parted lips, flowing downwards on the pale, flawless skin. Those eyes, shocked and horrified, blinked once up at him, and then the hand holding the sword buried in Tyelkormo's torso fell away, the limp body sliding off the Fëanárion's blade and thudding to the floor. Only it was not the blood of Beren Erchamion which joined and mixed with the blood of Curufinwë Fëanáro slithering over white marble and carved stone.

No power on earth could have kept Tyelkormo's knees from turning to water. He landed on the ground hard and cried out in anguish. When the tears burning behind his tightly shut eyelids surged forth, he did not stop them. The when? and how? and why did I not know? that flitted briefly through his mind were all pushed aside beneath a tidal wave of emotion.

Maybe his House was cursed after all. That was all he could think as he was pulled under by the darkness, barely aware of the screams in the distance or the hot wetness that blanketed his flesh and stained his hands red.

Because he had gained no revenge this day. Or salvation.

Because he remembered the little ones with big terrified eyes and silver hair—by the Valar, his hair, not Thingol's, but Míriel's legacy, his mind cried hysterically—and again Dior's face flashed before his eyes and how could this possibly be true? Why was Ilúvatar so cruel that he could not even die with the satisfaction of knowing his broken heart had been avenged?

But as the world around him was slowly swallowed, he thought maybe he did deserve it. For all the dark deeds and sins committed at his hands, freely and willingly with pleasure. You reap what you sow—was that not what his mother had taught him as a child? And as the dam of his tightly chained sorrow and longing and regret and guilt crackled and crumbled and spewed forth, he knew that he believed her words, that he deserved this fate.

How ironic, that the suffering of others has only compounded upon my own despair... A watery laugh brought pangs of agony from his chest. And then sobs, thick and wracking, shook his shoulders.

She was right. He had only reaped his own suffering, doubled it thrice over.

And it was this thought that echoed through his mind as reality overlapped with fantasy and diverged from the tangible. He would die here, beside his only child in the depths of his blackest sin, alone with no one to cry to, no one to plead with, no one who understood.

The light wavered and faded as his trembling hand reached for anyone—anyone who would listen—

And found only empty air.

Chapter Text

For so long, the essence of life was the next day, the next moment, the next breath. Time was a figment of the imagination, transient, beyond all comprehension when the next step defined the truth, when no friendly spirits waited in the distance to hear footsteps and receive kisses, when no bed waited with all the soft comforts and warmth of home.

For so very long, that was Umbarto's reality.

Every day was a new adventure, filled to the brim with the wide open sky, the thrill of the chase and the hunt, the satisfaction of surviving the wilderness to another night, and a new bed of dewy grass beneath the dome of the heavens when Arien's rays crept into the shadows of Arda.

His encounters with other sentient beings were few and far between. A brief trip through a village here or there, never staying, never buying, just walking past as a ghost. The occasional glance exchanged with a traveling ranger or elf on the road, but nothing substantial, and never words to contaminate his silent forgetfulness. Umbarto was the ultimate drifter, fleeing civilization, fleeing recognition, fleeing memories—anything that could possibly remind him of what had come before the freedom of throwing away identity and responsibility and all remembrance.

And then there was his dark-haired sinda, sensual and mysterious, his sometimes almost-mate. The afternoons without words to break the comfortable rest, sitting in the shade exchanging caresses and kisses in the lazy heat of summer or huddling together in the shelter of hidden glens in the winter, the white clouds of their breath mingling as their bodies tangled together for warmth, those moments remained as nets to ensnare his attention and hold him captive as one under a spell.

They never spoke. Umbarto relished lying beneath curious fingers, feeling them trace over his scarred cheek and down the straight length of his nose, brushing softly against his chapped lips and teasing the cleft of his chin.

Eventually, he did not wander as far abroad. Always, his thoughts wandered back to the dark-haired beauty living amongst the towering canopies of the trees, giggling from the shadows of their thick arms, black eyes filled with fondness and wonder, a soft voice humming wordless lullabies with the chirping of the birds, tangling with the silver light of the moon and dragging Umbarto down into sleep within the ring of a familiar embrace, the beat of another heart in his ears.

Eventually, he barely dared venture a few leagues. A magnetic pull, more powerful than the raging, foaming waters of the ocean and more consuming than ravenous licks of flame, kept him near, kept him longing, kept him wanting.

He no longer thirsted for freedom, but for something at once more primal and intimate. Stable.

And when a soft voice—a lyrical tenor that danced over his skin with a living touch—whispered "Stay" in his ear, he could not help but obey.

---

They created their dwelling on the edge of a lake that had never been marked upon any map—far away from any known region—and which had never been touched by the hands of a stranger. Pure waters sparkled transparently, so clean that Umbarto could pick out the drifting of silt on the bed beneath the waves and refracted sunbeams. Quiet and peaceful. Perfect.

But more than that perfection, he loved the company. Loved walking up behind that slender form of his mate and putting his hands on rounded hips, pulling the smaller elf against his chest and nuzzling his lover's pale throat, taking in the unnamable scent that perfumed soft, dark hair. Loved receiving crooned words in return as long, dexterous fingers combing through the wilderness of his fiery mane, untangling leaves and twigs and tracing the sensitive shells of his pointed ears.

Loved waking to dark eyes staring into his own blazing emeralds and soft kisses pressing against his skin like the strokes of a butterfly's wings. Loved the bewitching voice that broke the barriers of his dreams and drove away the nightmares of screams and blood and fire that burned in the night.

There was no more drifting. Umbarto had never realized how tired he was of moving day-by-day, how lonely he felt without a single soul in the world waiting for him to return home each night, or how much he longed to feel safe and not worry and protect and fight and flee without thought.

The gentle touch of musician's hands manipulated him as they would a lyre or fiddle, coaxing free the tension and leaving his spirit singing with bliss. The words on the wind—inaudible and lost before they could pop the delicate bubble of their hidden little world—were a constant murmur in his ears, settling the roiling feelings that threatened to rise up and destroy him.

All that fear of the past and guilt for the death and hatred of fey eyes tied into tangled knots were pulled apart and straightened and tucked away, the volatile strands woven into little braids of acceptance, fit for the light of day.

Until he wasn't afraid to call himself "Umbarto" and remember the fire eating his blackened flesh and the waves sucking away his frantic breaths.

Until he didn't want to curl up and die at the memory of empty eyes from slack, terrified faces and crimson flashes off the sharpened blade of his sword.

Until his vehement, wild spirit—a reflection of all that he despised and resented—was tamed beneath the soft strokes and reassurances of his other half.

Settling his restless soul on that distant shore, with the sand between his toes and his One's melody echoing in his ears, Umbarto finally felt his roots sink into the ground, his home slowly bricking together from his new, tenuous foundation and up into the sky. Here, there were no insidious whispers or searing caresses or screaming matches in the next room, no turning over and reaching for someone no longer at his side or wishing for a kindred spirit to understand and soothe unconditionally.

There was a soft touch at his elbow, and he turned to endless eyes, darker than night's blanket but still glowing like stars reflected off motionless water, on and on forever. "Melethron," he was named, and fingers reached up to stroke down his marred temple and cheek. Wherever they touched, his skin tingled pleasantly.

"Meldanya," he returned huskily, and scarred fingers touched flawless white expanses and softer-than-silk lips.

There would be no more running. He was home.

Chapter Text

Being king was synonymous with being busy.

It was something Findekáno had never actually contemplated until he was thrust into the intimidating shoes that didn't quite fit correctly. His "father's" shoes. The shoes of a great and wise king.

Why had Turukáno not been firstborn, he could not help but wonder? His straight-laced, stern younger brother would have locked into the position like a jigsaw piece into its matching partner, latched close with outlines that perfectly filled each unique dip and curve of the job. Findekáno, though...

The day someone called Findekáno the Valiant "wise" was the day Helcaraxë experienced a full afternoon of sunshine and heady summer temperatures. Before his coronation (rushed and downplayed though it was), he had been well-known for his cheery, easy-going demeanor, geniality and his annoying tendency to drink too much wine at parties and flirt with any beautiful women caught within a twenty foot radius. Let it never be said he was born for the demesne of responsibility and gravitas; even thinking about the sheer amount of paperwork and requests and audiences he went through each day made Findekáno want to collapse in a heap of heavy velvets, furs and jewels with utter exhaustion before he even started.

And thus, he quickly discovered that he did not have time for parties or for excessive drinking. By the Valar, he barely had time to sleep, let alone enjoy himself! "No, my lord, you mustn't do this or that" and "But my lord, there are still thirty persons awaiting an audience in the main chambers" and "My lord, it simply is not proper for you to walk about without your circlet and your robes" every single day, over and over until he wanted to dash his head against a stone wall!

When he met Arakáno in the Halls of the Waiting, he was going to hug his little brother nice and tight and beg forgiveness for shoving his unwitting younger sibling into this dreadfully tight, constrictive slot of "King". No one should have to go through this torture! And to think there were men out there who desired this fate!

Findekáno shuddered at the very idea.

---

It was very, very early in the morning, and as every other morning, he was staring at the ceiling of his bedchambers. The very first rays of Arien were peeking through the diaphanous curtains, tinting the sky pale red on the horizon and reflecting their crimson shadows above his head; that, of course, meant it was time to rise and scrounge some breakfast from the kitchens. His first audience would start within a half-hour of the rising of the sun.

Pushing back the covers, the king was halfway out of bed before a soft hand caught at his forearm. Turning, he saw his wife's vibrant eyes peeking out from beneath long, pale red lashes. Even half-asleep with her curly hair sticking out in complete disarray, she was the most breathtaking creature he had ever had the humble honor of gazing upon, and charmer that he was, Findekáno could not help but lift her hand from his arm and press a gentle kiss to her knuckles like a gentleman born and bred. "Return to your dreams, hervess-nín. Anor has not even risen from slumber yet."

"Stay here, hervenn-nín," she murmured sleepily, rising in all her naked glory to press a chaste kiss against his lips. Her scent swirled around him, all cloying sweetness and mouthwatering spice hidden underneath, and it left Findekáno momentarily dazed. "Come back to bed."

"I have a meeting in a half-hour that I must—"

She laughed softly, and Findekáno found himself with an armful of luscious, soft curves and a wild red mane of curled silk. "I forced your butler to clear your schedule today, Aran-nín," she teased in that come-hither voice that never failed to get his blood stirring. "I thought you could use a day of rest with your lovely, lonely wife—no pesky diplomats and sniveling aristocrats to interrupt our privacy. Your wife wants her husband all to herself this day."

"Have I been neglecting you, hervess-nín?" he asked huskily, nuzzling at the top of her head and brushing his lips against her temple. "I had best remedy this situation, hadn't I, my Sáriel?"

"Charmer," she accused as her soft hands found their way onto his shoulders and washed over the hills and valleys of his broad chest and belly, nails gently running over the tender skin until the king broke out in delighted gooseflesh. "You treat me so well, Fingon."

"And here, I thought I was the one being treated," Findekáno teased back even as he fell back to the thick, warm comfort of his occupied bed, the soft, smooth covers of his wife's body and oceans of fiery red hair spilling around them as a curtain to hide away their secret reality from the world. For a long while after that, Findekáno forgot everything but scalding heat and exhaustive, satisfying pleasure found in her arms, forgot all about responsibility and duty and being the bloody High King of the Noldor. And it was lovely.

---

The whole day was, indeed, wonderful. Late breakfast alone in their private chambers, still abed. Lounging on the balcony dais in the afternoon sunshine, sleeping and cuddling beneath Arien's warm caresses. Making love on almost every available surface without worrying about locked doors and missed meetings.

By the evening (after a dinner that left him feeling quite full and glowing with gratification), Findekáno was more than pleased to settle himself down on a chair before the fire, his lovely Sáriel perched on his lap, her arms around his neck and her breath washing over his throat. Without thought, his hand rose to caress the graceful curve of her spine, fingers tangling in her long hair, bathing in the sheer brilliance of her presence against and all around his spirit. Kingship-be-damned, he could have sat here forever and never wanted for a thing. No wonder Thingol and Melian had stood still gazing into the other's starlit eyes for so long; he would have wanted this stillness of silent companionship and trust to last for eternity as well.

He felt her nails tracing over the nape of his neck, the ridges of her knuckles rubbing at the edge of his jaw and up his sharp cheekbone. "Have you had a relaxing day, hervenn-nín?"

"Indeed, I have." Findekáno pressed her closer against him, until he could feel every inch of her curvaceous form entwined with his in an intimate embrace. "Your little surprise is quite appreciated, hervess-nín. I do not think I remember the last time I was allowed breakfast abed, never mind had time to nap the day away in my lovely mate's arms."

"Too long," she said, looking up at him, and Findekáno did not have the words to describe how absolutely glorious he found her in the firelight, her cheeks softly flushed and her lips swollen from his eager kisses.

"Much too long," he agreed. "What say you to an early night?" And, of course, a good many hours of lovemaking before finally falling asleep wrapped around one another? But that last part was implied.

Nevertheless, she smiled knowingly, that kittenish little grin that had his heart leaping up in his throat and his loins clenching with desire. "Thou ravenous seducer," she named him, giggling and straddling his hips. It took all his willpower not to groan at the press of soft yet strong inner thighs against his flanks, so familiar and welcoming a cradle. "I have one last surprise to treat you to before that, though, hervenn-nín."

"Is that so?" he asked, curious at the sudden change in her features. The sultry look softened into something that sent little tendrils of warmth spiraling down into his belly, filling him with golden sparks of affection and closeness. "And what is this surprise, hervess-nín?"

"I went to visit the healers yesterday." Confused, Findekáno looked up into her face, wondering what in all of Arda that was supposed to mean. "It was the reason I cleared your schedule, actually."

"Oh?" Let it never be said that Findekáno was the brightest candle in the chandelier.

"Hm, yes..." Sáriel leaned forward as if to share a most important secret, and her lips stroked over the shell of his ear and down, her breath hot and intimate on his bare skin. "We are going to be parents, Fingon, hervenn-nín."

We are going to... to what?

It took an embarrassingly long moment for the words to register in his mind, or for him to respond with a suitably coherent answer through the sudden haze of shock that fell down over his rational thoughts. Wide-eyed, he pulled away to look down at his wife's face, his broad hands falling to cup her round hips as he stared into her deep eyes. "We are...? You are...?"

"I am." Her soft hand captured his, laying it spread over her still-flat belly. Somehow, knowing what lay beneath his trembling fingers, this single touch felt more intimate and sacred than any fondle or caress they had shared within the sandwiched privacy of their silken sheets. "Surprise," she whispered.

It was by far the best surprise he had ever been treated to. Breathless and wordless as he was, Findekáno could only stare in star-struck wonder and gape at the news of such a miraculous little gift, bringing a thick, hopeful blanket of light down over his life even in such dark times, even with responsibility for his entire people riding on his shoulders.

Never before had he experienced such pure happiness.

"A perfect surprise for a perfect day," he finally gasped out, hoarse and biting back the traitorous tears that pooled in the corners of his eyes. The kiss that followed was perhaps more wondrous than any other he had ever experienced. "I am truly blessed, my Sáriel."

Because basking there with his wife and child in his arms—in the warmth and togetherness of being in the embrace of the person closest to his heart and soul—Findekáno felt true bliss.

Chapter Text

It was, at first, a movement from the corner of his eyes, so swift and inconspicuous that he almost dismissed it as an illusion in the darkness.

But there, as tangible as stone and fleeting as a breeze, an unfamiliar shadow traversed near to the walls of the city, wandering as if homeless, ceaselessly like a trapped creature searching hopelessly for something unattainable. Yet even so, the fluid strides held his attention in their diffident length and soundless footfalls. From a distance, Glorfindel could not have said whether it was a man or woman he watched, for they were cloaked and hooded, but the body was slender and innately graceful. It was captivating.

Secretly, he watched. Shamelessly, but with no small amount of curiosity, he observed. This was a stranger, but when he had mentioned the foreign presence to his king, Turgon had inclined his regal head and told him that it was naught for him to be losing rest over.

Still, night after night, he watched, through the waning of summer into autumn.

Yearning to understand built inexorably in his chest. Helplessly, he drew closer.

Close enough to notice the narrow hips of a man swaying beneath the darkness of the thick, flowing fabric. Close enough to see long, slender fingers—hands any musician would kill for—and how they curled around the hem of the clothing and tugged nervously.

Close enough to discover the scent of rain clinging to the very air surrounding the mysterious elf, entwining with the natural, unnamable tang of the creature veiled beneath. Just one full breath of that air, perfumed by the stranger's swift, silent passage, was enough to set Glorfindel's head spinning, because he had never smelled anything so intoxicating in all his years in Aman or in Beleriand.

And then, one night, his desire to be closer still overcame him, and he came close enough to catch a glimpse of the face beneath the gloom of that ever-present shroud.

And by the Valar, it took away the very breath feeding oxygen into his muscles, for suddenly he felt weak enough to bow down beneath a gentle wind's caress.

Dark hair, gently rolling over one shoulder, straight and thick and glistening faintly in the moonlight, framed glowing white skin so wonderfully, the rich dichotomy so utterly exotic and ethereal that it was hard to look away. For certainly, such a beautiful face as this—all elegant lines, barely softened edges and slender accents—could only belong to a divine creature, a child of Ilúvatar's thoughts, beyond the realm and limitations of mortal beings.

Glorfindel had never seen the glory of Lúthien, Princess of Doriath, but he had heard others wax poetic over her splendor—the most beautiful woman ever born—and wondered if she could compare to this man. He could not imagine any being to be fairer than this one before him.

And then he glanced into those eyes, and the Lord of the House of the Golden Flower knew that his heart was lost for eternity.

On and on forever, they went, pulling him into their shadows of despair and deep pools of loneliness, reflecting starlight back from the heavens. They were dark as a moonless night, and yet Glorfindel could not remember the Light of the Two Trees being so overwhelmingly brilliant, so enchanting. No fruits of golden honey or blossoms yielding silver dew could compare to the intrinsic aliveness of those orbs in the depths of their turmoil.

And they looked back at him with no small amount of wonder and fear. Their owner, realizing he had been caught in the sights of another, turned to flee.

"Wait!"

Before he thought better of it, Glorfindel gripped the sleeve of a gray tunic in his fingers, staring down at the soft material etched in silver. When he looked back up, the full weight of that gaze crushed down upon him, burying him beneath a mountain of pure feeling, feeling that he could not have explained had he millions of descriptors at the tip of his charmer's tongue.

For a timeless instant, they stood, and then he dared breathe. "Please, I did not mean to startle you, friend," he rasped out. "I just noticed you wandering alone and came to enquire if there was any way I could be of service."

"Lord Glorfindel..." Aiya, Eru! But that voice! It was like something from a long-lost dream! Hearing it speak his name was like being punched in the jaw, but instead of debilitating pain it offered only the heady feel of hot velvet over flesh, a tone so pure and smooth it left him shuddering.

"Please, there is no need for formality between us."

Lips that begged to be kissed pursed softly, their pink flush deepening. "Glorfindel," he began again, the Lord of the Golden Flower felt his knees turn to water beneath him despite the harshness of the tone. "I am not lost. Merely, I find it relaxing to walk at night. It is... difficult to sleep."

There were many reasons for being unable to sleep, and having experienced a fair number of them himself, Glorfindel knew all too well what might be plaguing his companion. Indeed, the sorrow of those eyes spoke more silent words than thousands of runes inked upon parchment could have possibly hoped to explain.

"Then let me keep you company." His grip on the sleeve relaxed, and instead he guided one hand—callused, a warrior's hand with the marks of a harp in the fingertips—to his arm, tucking it into the crook of his elbow. "Perhaps you will find my companionship soothing."

"Perhaps... if you keep silent." Hesitant though those words were, and with an icy bite at the fringe of their perfectly pronounced syllables, Glorfindel could detect a hint of playfulness underneath, as well as a lilt of wistfulness hiding beneath layers of thick-skinned sarcasm. Instead of being offended, he merely smiled brightly and let his feet carry him away, the dark beauty gliding at his side.

"At least tell me your name," he teased.

The lips parted, white teeth briefly peeking from behind the plush flesh. "Erestor," his shadow whispered. "I am called Erestor Ilession."

At such a name, Glorfindel felt a chill in his spine and pangs of sympathy in his heart. No elf was born with such a name, but why someone would discard such a vibrant spirit was beyond his comprehension; Erestor Ilession—if that truly was his name—was more glorious than Varda's stars or Yavanna's Trees, more wonderful than any creation of Manwë or Aulë or Ulmo. Only the hand of Ilúvatar could have created such perfection!

"Well met, Erestor," he replied reverently. "May the stars shine upon our meeting."

It would have taken a very foolish man indeed to fail to notice that perfection. And Glorfindel was no fool; even with just a glancing touch, he could feel it. For all his darkness, Erestor had the Fire Imperishable in his spirit.

And the stars shone upon the pair walking side-by-side in the embrace of shadows.

Chapter Text

It was hard to be overshadowed.

This was a lesson that Carnistir had learned young and learned hard. With three older brothers and three younger brothers, he was sandwiched in the middle of a huge family of prodigies, his poor status trumped by the attention-hogging youngest children always demanding their mother's comfort and love and the oldest and most prized sons coveted by their father.

Quickly, he discovered that his talent did not lie in the darkness and heat of the forge for which Fëanáro seemed to be born and created. With large, clumsy hands that trembled fitfully, he made a poor craftsman and smith. It was embarrassing to even be seen by his siblings, but when his father watched, Carnistir just wanted to curl up in a tight ball—microscopic and unassuming—and allow the earth to swallow him whole so that none could ever look upon his shame. For those eyes, so bright and full of icy calculation and endless ideas, gained such a disappointed luster with his every failure that the fourth child could not bear it.

Seeing Curufinwë, the fifth son, surpass him without even trying—full of the blood of his namesake through and through—was like having his insides twisted into agonizing knots. With their father's face and form and smile, Curufinwë seemed to fit within a forge like fingers within a glove, with frightening ease and comfort. When he was old enough to escape lessons with his younger brother, Carnistir avoided the forge at all costs and steadfastly closed his ears to any and all comments that left his father's incisive lips in regards to his lack of dexterity in hands and creativity of mind.

Speaking was not Carnistir's area of skill either. He was not like Nelyafinwë, aesthetic to a fault and a charmer to the bone, who—while not the most talented craftsman—could put to shame even the most brilliant of the king's scholars in battles of negotiation, social pleasantries and rhetoric. Words flowed from those lips like honey, sweet and deceiving, and just as easily like molten glass, burning fiercely and wickedly before the opponent even had a chance to retreat and live to fight another day.

Carnistir could barely utter a single sentence without stuttering and flushing dark to match his horrible mother-name.

He did not even want to compare himself to Kanafinwë, who had inherited all their mother's gentle wisdom and hidden temper mixed to perfection with their father's terrifying intellect, rolled up into a beautiful face that had maidens swooning and a glorious voice that would make a vala weep for envy. Carnistir could swear that the second oldest composed breathtaking arias in his sleep and wove intricate tapestries of sound and color without second thought, capturing his audience in a net of pure emotion and wonder, the images captivating before their eyes.

And he was smart. Smart enough to hold banter with Nelyafinwë's silver tongue. Smart enough to play chess with their father and win. Smart enough to be the perfect child in every way that mattered, even if his delicate, soft hands were not made to beat upon metal with a hammer or pour molten gold into opulent creations of splendor.

And then there was Turkafinwë. Wild, independent and free of all obligations, even their sire could not hope to tie down the creature beneath the pale exterior. If Kanafinwë had their father's intelligence, Turkafinwë had the fire in his spirit, untamable and unbreakable, unyielding to any reason or will but his own, stubborn to a fault. Once Turkafinwë set his mind to something, he did not cease until it was done, and no one dared get in his way.

There was no work in the forge for the third brother. Always, he was off in the wilderness, hunting or riding, smeared with dirt, clothes worn and torn, silver locks braided back simply without the lavish decoration of a prince. Even when Fëanáro himself ordered Turkafinwë to "Stay", the third eldest would hold his arrogant head high and lock his jaw, smirking back into enraged eyes, and reply "No" without a droplet of hesitation. And under the volcanic pressure of that heart-stopping gaze, the silver-haired prince would not even twitch.

Carnistir could not even look his father in the eyes without wincing. Secretly, he envied the third brother's unshakeable confidence.

Even the Ambarussa, young and troublesome though they were, had a spark that Carnistir lacked. They had the natural ingenuity of their sire, and they used it to terrifying effect in their mischief and schemes. Planning and execution were flawlessly carried out, and the middle brother had been on the receiving end of the result often enough to know the devastating consequences of underestimating the redheaded duo.

In every aspect, Carnistir was the one lacking, the child who had none of his father's brilliance, the disappointing son of Fëanáro, not even worth mentioning. Not even worth noticing.

And they never did. Not a single one of them. Not his father consumed in business of the forge or his mother working in her studio. Not Nelyo, absorbed with political intrigue at court, or Káno, endlessly creating and learning and devouring knowledge, or Turko, who was never even home to see any of them to begin with.

Carnistir could not help but feel that he must be cursed. Because to be the least of seven sons was a shame that ate away at his happiness and spirit and liveliness until he felt like naught but a shadow hiding beneath the great and towering figures of his family. Forgotten somewhere along the way, the wilting plant choked off from the light of the sun by the thick canopies of the trees above.

And no one seemed to care.

---

"You frown too much, little brother."

It was Nelyo, the smooth voice and breathtaking height. His flame-headed eldest brother moved into his line of vision, dropping to sit with loose elegance on the bench at Carnistir's side, looking every inch the perfect heir and third in line to the throne even with his hair undone and his tunic hanging open in the front like a commoner on the streets.

"Why should one smile when they've naught to smile about?"

He looked up into Nelyo's silver eyes and almost shuddered. That calculation, so like their father's, was lurking just behind a shield of geniality, picking apart Carnistir's exterior and searching for the motives beneath as though he were some enemy on the battlefield of court rather than the simple, broody younger brother.

"Now, why would you say something like that?" Nelyo grinned, and the strange specter beneath his handsome face vanished like the morning mist. "Come now, give us a smile."

Carnistir rolled his eyes and wished that simple sentence didn't send a pang of pure pain roiling through his chest. "Just leave me alone, Nelyo."

An arm looped around his shoulders, and the younger brother had to stifle the urge to shrug it off rudely. Instead, he ground his teeth and stared resolutely ahead as he was pulled into a half-embrace against his brother's side. Nelyo was warm and solid beneath his silken clothing, supportive; what Carnistir wouldn't have given for his father to be this stable, to be a foundation upon which he could lean! But Nelyo was not his father, and Fëanáro was more like a snake awaiting the moment to strike than a warm burrow in which to take sanctuary.

"Tell me what has you so upset, Moryo."

"Just drop it," he snarled, wriggling free of the hold around his neck and rising to his feet. "I do not wish to talk about it."

A hand gripped his wrist, and just like that, the fourth child of Fëanáro snapped, his fist swinging around and aiming straight for those terrifying, threatening silver eyes set in that horridly perfect face. It would have been stained black-and-blue had Nelyo not dodged at the last moment.

"Moryo! What on earth has gotten into you!" He almost sounded scandalized, and Carnistir wondered if it was a facade; he'd seen the twins and Turko do worse.

"Just leave me alone!"

"Not until you tell me what is wrong."

Traitorously, tears pricked sharp at the corners of Carnistir's eyes. Oh! how he would love to tell Nelyo everything, to spill out all of the doubts and fears and loathing and seek comfort in the strength of his eldest brother's arms, but fear sat heavy in his belly. Nelyo could lie as easily as he could draw breath, and he could twist words into misshapen, convoluted meanings without even trying. A manipulator. A dangerous keeper of weaknesses and secrets of the soul.

And Carnistir wondered when he had lost his naive faith in the man who had once tucked him in at night in their father's absence. Somewhere along the way, between the end of parental embraces and the cold distance of speech, they had lost something important, the bridge of closeness collapsing in disrepair.

"It's stupid," he muttered before his tongue could curb itself. "Just leave me be. I will figure it out myself, Nelyo. No need to waste your time."

The hand on his wrist would not release, instead pulling him back towards the bench, back towards the threat of discovery and the hopeful light of revelation. "I am not wasting my time, Moryo. Come and sit with me."

I am not wasting my time. But he was, was he not?

"But I..."

"Please, Moryo, sit with me." He was pulled down, and the arm draped itself over his shoulder once more, too familiar and too comforting and too stable, too like a cherished memory. "Tell me."

And just like that, everything tumbled out in a cascade of fragile words and tears.

Everything. About not being good enough. About Fëanáro and his disappointed eyes and his cold voice. About how he was jealous of Turko and intimidated by Káno and overshadowed by Curvo. About how he couldn't speak without stuttering, couldn't talk to a lady without freezing like an imbecile. About how his hands shook terribly and he couldn't make them stop.

About how it was too much to bear. He just wasn't made perfect. Not like Fëanáro and Nelyo and Káno and Turko and Curvo and the twins. He was just him, Moryo the shadow, useless and lacking in talent. The least of seven. The least of his father.

And that voice crooned in his ear, all soft touches and lullabies in the dark. It should have been degrading, to be soothed like a child, but some secret part of Carnistir knew it was exactly what he wanted, what he needed, and what his father could never give him.

And when all tears were spent and exhaustion had him leaning on a warm shoulder, a steady heartbeat beneath his ear, there was only soft, cool touches combing through his hair and the sound of Nelyo's breathing against his ear. For the longest time, they just sat, and Carnistir felt the fight and the tension draining out of his body, fleeing in the wake of the hole drilled in the self-imposed cage of doubt.

"You should have said something sooner, Moryo, hánya." Large hands moved to cup his face, tilting the reddened visage upwards. What a sight he must have looked, red-rimmed, puffy eyes and glowing, leaking nose revealed to the daylight, but the gravitas of his brother's expression did not waver. "I would not have you think as such."

"But it is true, is it not?" Carnistir said bitterly, clutching his hands tightly, nails biting at his palms. "I could not compare to any one of you. Atar looks and sees nothing but a failure."

"Well, Atar is neither perfect nor infallible," Nelyo replied with a surprisingly dark scowl and hot burst of frustration. "Do not let him convince you otherwise. He is quick to judge and slow to change his mind, unwilling to use his skills of perception to find anything unexpected or undesired beneath the exterior. He sees what he wants to see, and not the reality."

What is that even supposed to mean? Carnistir bit his lip and glanced away, unsure how to respond.

Nelyo just sighed. "Listen to me, Moryo. None of us is perfect. Not me, and not Káno or Turko or Curvo or Pityo or Telvo. We all lack something somewhere. We are all the least in something. Try not to think so poorly of yourself. You will find your place in time."

"It sounds so easy when you say it, Nelyo," the fourth brother hiccupped, scrubbing at the salty stains on his cheeks. "Too easy."

"I have faith that you can figure it out." His brother's grin was cheeky. "Believe me when I tell you, Moryo, that you have Atar's vehement passion, and without that—Spirit of Fire or no—he would never have gotten to where he is today. Try to remember that, hánya, the next time he decides to sneer down his nose and make himself into a nuisance."

His fists tightened until his knuckles blanched white and his nails drew faint crescents of blood, but Carnistir nodded still, unsure what to think or what to feel. He was caught somewhere between relief and elation and confusion. "I will try."

"That is all I can ask." Gently, Nelyo kissed his temple and rose from the bench, stroking a long-fingered hand once more through his red-faced brother's dark curtain of hair—their father's proud mane framing their mother's ruddy cheeks. But before he left, the older brother turned the full-force of his charm upon his younger sibling and smiled that crooked, infectious grin. "Now, give us a smile."

And how was Carnistir to resist? Waterworks, freckles and all.

Chapter Text

Finwë was the exception to the law.

Married twice for love against the edict of the Valar when a soul was only ever supposed to join wholly and completely with One. It was the way of the world, the Powers rationalized to the Eldar. Each elf was born for one other and only one other—the other half of their soul, the other piece of their broken, frayed edges that fit perfectly with all their dips and cracks and faults. That was how the song had intended to shape the world before the beginning of time.

But Arda was marred, and none knew that better than Finwë Noldóran.

Who could understand if they had never experienced the situation in which the King had found himself entrapped? Even before the birth of his firstborn, there had been a dark gap, something important and essential missing in the intricate framework of the bridge connecting their souls. Míriel had been his One—they had felt it the very first time they had gazed into the other's starry eyes—but the completeness promised had never followed on the train of their joining. Their pieces did not match as they were supposed to, but left small cracks and flaws behind where they should have melded into one being in mind and soul. They had loved passionately, but unspoken between them there always rested a strange tension, a sense of wrongness, of coldness.

When his beautiful queen had faded, his love had not been enough to anchor her to the world of the living, had not been enough to restore her vibrancy and zeal.

And then he had been alone, with not only that emptiness sitting somewhere in the back of his mind, unfulfilled, but a gaping pit of sorrow and longing where Míriel's fire had once filled his spirit with zest for life and burning love, where her unspoken words had once touched the walls of his mind as gentle fingers stroking across his thoughts.

Finwë had a son, but he had not a soul-mate, had not a wife, had not the large family that had always lingered in his hopes and daydreams. Everything was lacking, somehow not right. No amount of adoration from his firstborn could sate the ravenous desire that burst to life in the most secret part of his being, the part of him that resented that his spirit had not been enough to rejuvenate his beloved wife, had not been enough to nurture the brilliant child within her, within the circle of their joining. Part of him resented that she had passed on and left him alone to raise a son without a mother to soothe that wild, restless spirit and croon lullabies into wanting ears.

Part of him resented that Eä was not as it should be. For no matter what the Valar claimed, there was no symmetry to be found here, not in the land or the seas or the skies—or the hearts. He resented their callous dismissal of the very idea that they might be wrong. That the world wasn't fair and equal.

It was many years later, after Curufinwë was grown, that Finwë met Indis of the House of Ingwë.

Immediately, she knew he was her One.

And that was when everything went terribly wrong.

It was greed and selfishness that led him to go against the edict of the Valar, many said, their voices as bitter and as resentful as the blackest part of the King's heart had always been. He wanted another woman to replace the first, they said, wanted her so that he could have the children he longed for so terribly. Some wondered if he even loved her.

But they did not understand.

They did not understand that when he was with her that empty part of him which had always been bereft and jagged was suddenly filled and soothed and warmed. It was as if all that had once been missing from his existence was packed into the young maiden with her sweet cornflower blue eyes and her endless golden locks and her smile brighter than all the light of the Trees. They could not understand, for Finwë had never heard of another soul born with two mates—three parts that wove and entwined to create something perfect and beautiful that transcended the evil that lay waiting in every heart, preying off pain and suffering.

The emptiness of the loss of Míriel did not dissipate, but was it truly so selfish for Finwë to be drawn to his One and she to him? And how could he deny her, when without him she would live out the rest of her long years alone and childless, always knowing the man she was fated to be with but not able to touch him because of the Valar's laws? No, he could not do that to her, not when he knew what that rejection felt like, how it painfully sliced through all happiness and color in life until everything seemed a shade of gray and sadness. Was it truly, then, selfish of him to fight for their togetherness against the Powers?

Except, they made him choose.

And how was it justice, that one part of three—incomplete as a pair, a contradiction to the perfection of the false reality of the delusional idealists—was made to choose only one of the two thirds that would complete him in mind and spirit? That he was made to condemn the other to death until he himself passed into the Halls of the Waiting?

That he was made to condemn them to never be whole.

Choosing the promise of a family and many golden years of children and grandchildren laughing in his halls and sitting on his knees over the woman who had abandoned him to raise his firstborn alone in a cold, dark existence had been both an easy and difficult choice. There would be no going back after all was said and done, but even should he deny Indis her love, Míriel could not come back, could not fill the void she had left in his life, in their son's life.

Was it any wonder, then, that he married his fair, golden vanya? That he chose bliss rather than an eternity of regret and wistful nostalgia to keep him company in silent, lonely halls?

"Selfish", his jealous firstborn called him. "Foolish", some whispered behind his back. Still some others laid upon his shoulders all the woes that had befallen his people, all of his son's unspeakable deeds of evil, and all of the sins of his grandchildren, and all of the horror and destruction that followed in the wake of his death.

Perhaps it had been a heavy price to pay for selfishness, and perhaps it was selfish to place the happiness of his soul-mate over the laws of the Powers. But in the end, could they truly put blame upon his actions? It was not he who had driven a wedge between the House of Curufinwë and the House of Nolofinwë. It was not he who had asked his son to seek revenge for his willing sacrifice. His being excepted of the law of mates may have catalyzed Curufinwë's resentment, but that was all. And for all his supposed selfishness, still he suffered.

He was the exception to the convention, to the rules, but also the exception to the justice. The exception to the harmony in the theme which had woven time into the vision of Eä. Perhaps, one day, the Valar would understand. Perhaps, one day, his sons would understand.

But that day had not yet come, and Finwë carried on with all the scars and chips and flaws lining his soul. There was naught else to be done but wait and pray and hope for better days.

Chapter Text

More than anything. Tyelkormo hated being told what to do and what not to do. He hated being reprimanded for being "unacceptable".

The silver-haired prince could not stand the halls of his father and grandfather, pompously flamboyant and frivolous, filled to the brim with vicious whispers and shadowy rumors and fake men and women with false, mocking smiles. He hated the silent cues that seemed to slip past lips without ever having been spoken, and the eyes waiting for him to trip, to make a mistake, like vultures circling a wounded animal, waiting for it to keel over and die so they could viciously tear into ripe flesh and sate their thirst for blood and meat.

There was nothing in the world of politics, civilization and societal interaction except rules. Rules which were made to be obeyed on pain of shattered reputation.

Manners—how to speak and how to walk and how to eat salad and how to flirt and this and that. There was an unspoken code of right and wrong, but it was all backwards and upside-down and corrupted. It was not a world that the third son relished.

All of it he found to be pointless and stifling. How anyone could live under such oppression and receive any modicum of satisfaction from their boring little lives—living in fear of self-discovery day-in and day-out for years and years piled into a mountain of denial and prejudice—Tyelkormo just did not understand.

He did not understand what titillated Nelyafinwë about spending hours and hours speaking riddles coated in acid and layered in needles at helpless courtiers, outmaneuvering them in the delicate art of undertones. He did not understand how Kanafinwë could spend all his days cooped up like a pretty little pet, always listening to conceited words without glancing away and following orders without hesitation and behaving precisely as demanded at their father's every arrogant whim. He did not understand why Morifinwë was afraid to speak his mind plainly to their sire's face, why his younger brother seemed to take every harsh word like a stab to the chest rather than a simple castigation, and why he never retaliated against the cruel blows to his pride. And he most certainly did not understand how Curufinwë could spend all morning and all afternoon and all evening locked up with their sire in the forge and not go mad from the sheer amount of bullying for which their father was infamous. "Do this, Curufinwë" and "Do that Curufinwë" and "Listen to every word I speak as though your life depends on it, Curufinwë", as if the man's word were the laws of Eru set in stone and mithril.

Disgusting and pathetic, that was what it was. Masochistic.

It seemed that Tyelkormo was not made to be sociable, not made to fit into the boundaries of "civilized people" as his parents desired. He was not made to obey his father's every wish, but felt the undeniable urge to lift his head and sneer right back as an equal—rude and ungrateful and spiteful—whenever Fëanáro dared to order him to heel. Because how dare he presume to treat his own child as an ill-mannered dog?

No, Tyelkormo was not made for rules.

He was a creature of the endless rippling fields of grass and the deep, cool shadows of trees and the thrill of the wind streaking through his hair and the open sky gaping wide open over his head. Roofs felt oppressive and walls were like prisons, a cage created for the sole purpose of crippling his spirit.

The only time the third son of Fëanáro felt at peace with himself was lying beneath the blanket of the stars set in their molds of the heavens. His toes longed to feel the dew-covered blades of grass tickle between their tender joints and his nails ached to be caked and coated in rich earth. It felt like coming home to hold a bow in his hands—the curve of smooth wood and down of fletching fitting into his grip like an extension of his natural limbs—and focus only on his next breath and next movement. To forget everything, including rules and manners and propriety and all those unnecessary complications that did nothing but drive the fire of all freedom and happiness into the ground and smother it under layers of choking dirt until its oxygen ran dry and it sizzled into death-throes.

In his world, there was no need for shoes. There was no need for fancy ornaments of silver and gold and bronze draped around neck and brow. There was no need for extravagant outfits to veil the ugly reality of each flawed spirit. All anyone needed was food and water and the clothes on their backs and dreams filling their heads, un-stifled and un-strangled, free to breathe Manwë's sweet breath and be nurtured in Yavanna's motherly embrace.

That was the code by which the wild-hearted third son shaped his life. There were no edicts about the patched holes in his frayed leggings or the mud-smears on his boots or the twigs tangled in the haphazard braids of his hair.

There was the land and the sky and the only obstacles were the limitations of the body and the perception of the mind. With sheer determination that put his sire to shame, Tyelkormo never let any hindrance stop his forward momentum, never let any boundaries hold him back from achieving whatever he set out to achieve to the fullest potential.

For the third son, there was but one rule. Dream and fulfill and never let anyone stand in your way.

Because life was not worth living under the thumb of adversity and pressure of disapproval. Because joy could not be attained through putting on a prosthetic face and dancing upon puppet-strings to the whims of a master. Because no one could ever be happy being anyone but who they were, and no amount of pretty baubles and empty flattery would ever change that single, simple truth.

And let it never be said that Turkafinwë Tyelkormo did not know the spirit that blazed with divine life beneath his own skin. And no father's heavy words could bend his unshakable will.

Chapter Text

All his life, Makalaurë had been trained to conform to what was "right".

That meant to respect and obey his father and mother without question as a son was made to. It meant to bend over backwards and morph himself into the perfect genius child of whom his father could covet and be proud. It meant following all of the unspoken social and moral rules and values that lingered like phantoms beneath the outward pleasantry of the deceptively peaceful world of Valinor.

Makalaurë knew the rules.

Always be impeccably groomed—unwrinkled robes decorated with the appropriate level of finery and jewels, hair braided about an elegant but understated circlet (for the third in line to the throne), dirt and grass left outside and not smeared on the polished floor or staining expensive fabric. It simply would not do to be seen as a messy ruffian with no foundation.

Always be well-behaved—neither shout nor act upon any impulse of passion, never show weakness before the eyes of a stranger, always play the game of complimentary insults hissed beneath flowery praises. Welcome ladies with a kiss on the hand even if their voice grated upon your nerves like steel against stone, sparking deeply hidden revulsion in the back of your throat. Smile and pretend that nothing was wrong.

Always follow the unspoken rules—about whose company he could keep and when, about how he could speak to a scholar and how he could speak to a cousin and how he could speak to a woman, about which fork was always used to eat the first course of a meal and which came last. Never flout tradition before eagerly watching eyes waiting for a chink in the metaphorical royal armor of which to take advantage to wound or poison.

And Makalaurë obeyed these rules to a fault where Nelyafinwë broke their father's trust and Turkafinwë tossed propriety and duty to the wind and Morifinwë fumbled over the simplest dance of social interaction.

He also knew honor. Knew that to give his word was to swear on his life to see it through. He knew duty. Knew that as an heir to the throne he must keep a facade and must present a solid foundation and towering fortress to ward off attack. He knew work. Knew that if he were to ever hold his head up high before his peers and his subjects, he would have to demonstrate his prodigal skills, prove himself beyond doubt or question.

And he knew right from wrong like he knew black from white. Opposites set in stone, easily unfurled and divined by logical reasoning and a closed heart. Follow the laws. Follow his father's rules. Follow his moral code.

Except the world was no longer black and white.

When his father's eyes bored into him with the searing touch of a furnace and the expectation of a prideful gaze upon his perfect child, Makalaurë wanted more than anything to say "no" as Turkafinwë could deny, to rebuke his family for their hasty Oath, for being fools—wanted to back and away and stay behind and hold his wife and sons in his embrace, safe from harm and sundering and the encroaching darkness of the Black Enemy leaking out over the world, leaving it unclean.

But was it not right for a son to follow his father and avenge his grandfather—reclaim what was rightfully theirs to own and to covet? Surely, Fëanáro was correct in his wisdom and knowledge? And how could Makalaurë say no, when it was the wrong decision?

And so he had held his sword aloft in the firelight until it shone in the dark like blood, and foreboding had come upon his heart, sickened with anxiety and unrest.

Unrest that came to fulfillment upon the docks of Alqualondë. For it was there that his father had smiled such a vicious, heartless smile that it made Makalaurë shiver to gaze upon it, and he ordered them to take the ships by force "and damn the cowardly sea-elves who would abandon their allies in times of great need". Thus it was that they stole the beautifully made and luxuriously tended boats, the precious work molded of worshipful hands and reverent hearts. And there it was that they shed first blood of those who dared to stand in their way, who dared to throw their lives between the invaders and their home.

Makalaurë did not tell anyone that he had been sick over the side of the peer afterwards. Weaknesses as such were not allowed, especially not with the uncertainty of Arafinwë's hosts like a bitter tang of fear in the nose and the treacherous whispers of Nolofinwë's people a dark shroud reaching out its shadowy fingers to strangle them in the night.

But in his head, already the song of lament had begun, and if he prayed to anyone in his shame, it was to the Lady Nienna for strength and mercy. For certainly, he had done as he was supposed to do, and the tears of regret and the guilt he carried in his heart like slow-acting poison were his punishment, would purify the blackness from his veins and carry him forth in righteousness in this strange world of contradictions and lies and daggers waiting in the dark for a moment of inattention to strike.

No reassurance had ever come.

Suddenly, his reality was full of grays. Suddenly, there was no correct answer, because killing was wrong, but following his Oath and his father's words was right. And when they were ordered to rise in the night and take the ships to the other side of Belegaer, Makalaurë had never suspected that it was treachery they performed without second thought.

He had never expected for Nelyafinwë to ask eagerly "And whom shall the ships bear hither first? Findekáno the valiant?" and for his father to wickedly reply "None and none!"* with cruel laughter in his throat and suffocating words of hatred upon his tongue.

Doubt was stoked his Makalaurë's breast, thick with tension and confusion and fear. To where had the man to whom he had always obeyed loyally and loved faithfully gone? Who was this stranger before him, he who would throw away the lives of his own people and kindred as if they meant nothing more than the spilled blood of the Teleri who reneged their bonds of friendship, who would break all rules of responsibility and righteousness? Was it not Fëanáro's duty to protect those sworn to his service with his life and his sacred blood in return as their king and servant?

As the second son stood on the cliffs overlooking the burning of the ships—the works of the hearts of the people of Alqualondë whose lives had been taken in cold-blooded murder through evil, filthy deeds—Makalaurë felt a chill take up residence in his chest.

Because gazing upon his father's fey, bright eyes and broad, sadistic smile, he knew not anymore what to think or how to act. He knew not what decision was right and which led to folly. He knew not what could be done or said to rectify the horrible betrayal of kin unto kin or how to quell the roiling turmoil that churned vengefully in his belly.

He knew not what path was the correct to follow, and which would lead to wretched sin. All he knew were blood-slickened hands and broken bonds of trust.

Chapter Text

The pair was attempting to hide from him.

And failing. Daeron could sense them from miles away without even trying. At a scant distance of ten yards, they hadn't a hope of remaining undetected by the experienced elf, so loud were their tiny footsteps upon the dry leaves and wet earth, but the musician did not have the heart to confront them and scare them out of their wits. He never even glanced over his shoulder.

Instead, he allowed them to follow him through the forest, pretending at obliviousness as he hunted for his dinner, as Anor began to sink below the horizon and plunge the hostile, merciless world into blackness, as he lit his fire to roast his fat rabbit dinner and warm his chilled hands when the temperatures of the forest plummeted with the loss of golden light. At all times, they were nearby, their huge blue eyes watching him as twinkling stars from the darkness of the world, waiting for him to drop off into the arms of the Lord of Dreams and the Lady of Rest so that the little ones might remain undetected scavengers.

When he bedded down for the night, Daeron did not rest and did not dream, but when two tiny shadows stole into his camp, filching the (purposefully) abandoned remains of his dinner and huddling near the lit fire, he did not rise to speak to them, or even move. Instead, he breathed slowly and deeply as one asleep, silently observing.

Two elflings, alone in the wilderness with naught but tattered remains of tunics and torn leggings, their feet bare and badly in need of washing and tending. Their hair was long and matted and so filthy that Daeron could not pick out its natural color except that it was originally lighter than the muddy brown hue it currently sported. The pair squeezed themselves together, touching constantly, and shared the extra strips of roasted rabbit flank between them, nibbling, their eyes occasionally darting back to the fully-grown elf "sleeping" some distance away.

Other than being skinny, they did not appear to be injured in any way. No infected gashes or wounds, no broken bones or bruises. They were just terrified. So terrified that even a stutter in the measured tempo of Daeron's breathing made them jump and flee back to the safety of the shadows.

That they could not even trust a grown elf—And what elf would do harm to a young child of their own kin? He could not help but wonder in horrified fascination, ill to the depths of his heart—spoke volumes about what had happened to separate them from their parents and leave them homeless wild creatures traversing the forest, hiding before what they perceived as threatening eyes, surviving in the only way such young children knew how without guidance.

Every night, Daeron left out a portion of his meal and thanked the Lady of Mercy that they did not realize they had been caught and he was merely humoring their thievery. Much safer, the little ones were, under Daeron's silent and watchful care than sneaking about trying to take food and warmth from the camps of wandering vagrants and bandits.

When the news came of the destruction of Menegroth by the hands of the Sons of Fëanor, Daeron knew what had happened to the children, and his belly had filled with ice.

Many ways there were to harm that did not involve fists or blades. Well he could imagine an elven lord from across the sea towering over the unprotected little ones, snarling curses in their young ears, threatening to have them ripped apart or tortured or worse, riling them into such a state of fear that they lost all sense of safety and memories of caring hands and soothing voices and adults who sang them to sleep in the night and did not yell or drag or hiss insidiously in the dark—until they no longer remembered adults who were not monsters. And any elf who could heartlessly slaughter innocent men and women simply because their king refused to sully his pride by forfeiting a ridiculous glowing rock was a worthy of the title "monster".

The children were afraid of monsters. And to them, all adults were monsters. The only people they could rely on in the world were each the other, and no one else.

It was heartbreaking, Daeron found himself thinking as he again watched them and wished with all his spirit that he could wrap them in his arms and keep them safe, that he could clean their smudged little faces and wipe away their tears and somehow mend the cracks and lacerations littering their minds and souls.

Harm had been done to them indeed, but it was not the kind so easily fixed with a gentle kiss and crooned reassurances. These wounds went deeper than any other, unhealed by time and medicine, left to fester and drag the unsuspecting, naive spirits down with their weight of fear and broken trust.

And when the little ones finally stopped coming in the night, Daeron wept and wondered if there was anything more he could have done to help them or heal them. He wondered if any words would ever be as a balm upon their fractured young souls, if they would ever fully leave the shadows of the past and rejoin their kin.

Or, perhaps, they would spend eternity alone in their togetherness, lost in the black cloud of sin descended upon the world. Perhaps there were no words which could heal the harm that had been grievously inflicted.

And that was perhaps the saddest thought of all.

Chapter Text

Being the oldest—the heir not only to a family but also to a kingdom—was far from easy. It was a coveted position for which was yearned by younger siblings with a thirst that could not be quenched.

Maitimo would have traded it to them without a second thought.

Second in line to the throne be damned. His father's precious, most valued son—Maitimo laughed at the thought and threw it to the wind to be lost. He didn't need either of those things, those empty titles full of empty promises.

All those words meant was work. Back-breaking, insanity-inducing work that was never finished and never ceased, sharp eyes watching the back of his neck day-in and day-out waiting patiently for one little crack to slip through with acidic words that burned his heart, one little weakness to exploit in the name of hardening his fortitude, strengthening his body and sharpening his mind as one beat and shaped and remade a blade through flame and hammer in the dark forge until it gleamed like Telperion, until its edge and angle were deadly.

It meant pushing himself to the brink and beyond. It meant sleepless nights of studying and reading and gathering every scrap of useful knowledge available as ammunition against the rising tide of contention waiting at the breakfast table the next morning.

He put in every ounce of effort that could be spared, and Maitimo was the top of his class at the academy, crushing his classmates beneath the weight of his intelligence. In many cases, he outwitted his teachers and peers alike, battled with spears of knowledge and proverbs against his grandfather's most brilliant scholars and philosophers and defeated them all. A genius, they claimed, just like his father. Bright beyond his few years, an endless well stretching on into empty darkness, thirsting for more knowledge and teachings to fill it until it reached the golden light of Laurelin, insatiable and without rest.

Yet whenever tongues wagged of his prowess, Fëanáro's lips would merely purse tightly, eyes narrowing, and he would say nothing. No praise. No compliment. His eyes would rest upon his son, blank of all thought and emotion, and then he would turn away as if those impressive attributes meant nothing, not even worth acknowledging. It was castigation more potent than any yelled insults or hissed threats could ever hope to match.

No amount of hours spent slaving in the forge could produce a creation of glory that would please his father's eye. No amount of pouring over tomes and memorizing texts would impress his sire's racing mind. No amount of political weight or social reputation gathered through Maitimo's accomplishments or endeavors, his own clawing and snarking and mingling, could satisfy Fëanáro's impossible expectations for his oldest son and heir, the representative of the Crown Prince's legacy, the royal flesh and blood and bone to the core of his being.

No amount of striving would ever make Maitimo good enough or strong enough or smart enough or inventive enough to fill his role as his father's shadow.

He was not Fëanáro's copy. And he never would be.

He was Nerdanel's thoughtful wisdom and her gentle features and her smooth tongue and her soothing voice and her endless patience. He was not his father's untouchable, insatiable fire or his naturally curious mind or his born-and-bred talent in leathers before a roaring forge fire with molten metal shaped at his every whim and pleasure.

If he was not his father, there was no amount of accomplishments that could pile up to eclipse the mountain of Fëanáro's pride and arrogance looming overhead.

And if Maitimo was bitter, who could possibly blame him? Why could Kanafinwë not have been firstborn, the son who took to all challenges like a fish took to water, never needing to stay up into the early hours of the morning to absorb all the teachings he could get his fingers upon, never needing to practice long and hard for hours and hours stacked upon each other to reach unattainable perfection?

Maitimo would have thrown it all away to be last. Sometimes, as he lay sleepless in his bed, staring at the ceiling, he would wish to wake up in the morning as the second-born, and with those thoughts he would fall asleep dreaming of his father's gaze resting incisively on someone else and his father's voice chastising someone else and his father's impossible expectations crushing someone else's spirit beneath their terrifying weight. For just an hour—just a moment—he longed to have the freedom his siblings wished to cast aside as worthless trash, for he knew its priceless treasure.

But in the morning, he was always the firstborn. And always, he would close his eyes and take a deep breath and push himself up out of bed, knowing what awaited him at the bottom of the stairs. It was selfish to wish his role upon one of his ignorant, blessed younger brothers.

Fate had given him this cursed hand, and by the Valar he was going to make the best of it! He would continue to sweat through long hours in the forge, continue to study himself into the ground to learn more, continue to stand as a shield between the disappointing reality and his younger siblings who looked to him as an example. Maitimo would not yield to his father's mocking stare and sneering smirk. One day, he would prove himself to be worthy of his place at his father's shoulder, of his duty as second in line to the throne, and no one was going to stop him.

Not even his father.

For all Maitimo's imagined faults, even Fëanáro could not deny his eldest son's sheer determination to succeed, to strive towards that perfection, tantalizingly dangled just beyond his fingertips. He was helpless to stop himself, to give up, to surrender. It was not in the first son's nature to allow himself the luxury of laying down arms and taking up the white flag.

And that was perhaps the greatest curse of sharing Fëanáro's hot blood. Never give up. Never give in. Never stop reaching. Not even if it killed you.

Chapter Text

One minute, Atarinkë could be a mild-mannered charmer with a smile that could swoon a maiden from across the room, and the next he could be a raging thunderstorm of fury and flying, stone fists.

It was, most rightfully assumed, the result of his parentage.

The Crown Prince had never been considered particularly docile—most would have considered Fëanáro the exact opposite: frightfully impulsive, a bundle of dangerous curiosity and insatiable wonder and white-hot fury all tangled up like an unrolled ball of yarn strewn at random about the floor and combed back together haphazardly. Similar to his renowned progeny, one moment he could be delivering a sultry grin unto his wife's darkening eyes, and the next he could be yelling and cussing up a storm at something as simple as a splinter or broken glass or a stubbed toe.

And it was not as if Nerdanel the Wise was any less at fault for the wild, sour flavor hidden in the sweet nectar of the fruit of their sacred union. Kind-hearted and patient though she might be, every woman had a line that could not be crossed, and the unfortunate reality of having a man as recklessly passionate as Fëanáro for a husband was plainly that boundaries were crossed without thought to the consequences.

Anyone who knew the woman well knew that she could be more terrifying than her husband when angered or scorned—when pushed past that invisible line of the tolerance of masculine stupidity—with a voice that shook the Pelóri to their foundations and had Fëanáro frantically scrambling for forgiveness, lest he spend several hours beneath the heavy, bloodthirsty lash of her barbed tongue (and several nights locked out of their shared bedchambers to huddle by the warmth of the fire in the sitting room like a pet). It seemed that Nerdanel's hair—the wreaths of fiery curls that Fëanáro found so delightfully entrancing—really did symbolize her inner wildcat.

The result:

Curufinwë Atarinkë. From the top of his head to the tip of his toes to his narrowed eyes to his seductive voice to his gorgeous face—and his crazy emoting, impossible to forecast, a flashes of lightening from blue, clear skies. Even his name played upon the reflective pattern plain for anyone with two eyes and a brain to see.

All the father's talent in the forge, the hot fury coupled along with thousands of hours pounding a hammer to metal in the depths of the dark and fire, was refracted unto the son. The ability to concentrate until the world was drowned out completely. The natural elegance of the tongue notable in any prince. The instinctive charmer hidden underneath distinctively sharp, powerful features.

It only took one experience with his unpredictable blood to understand.

And Lindalórë could well remember.

It was all because some ridiculous courtier across the room had insulted the Crown Prince and his wife in the presence of his fifth son. In retrospect, it was foolish to believe that there would be no retaliation—physical or otherwise—when the older brothers were as accomplished politicians as the younger brother was a craftsman. She didn't suppose the man had expected the garnered result of his loose tongue.

Like a gentleman, Atarinkë had his arm entwined with hers, a glass of wine offered at her flushed lips as she giggled in embarrassment at the delightfully forward gesture. Even now, she could picture his charming grin, stretched wide over straight, white teeth as he stared down at her with undisguised fondness. And then a voice across the room—and why the words she could recall, but did not even want to repeat in her mind! Suffice to say, it had been reprehensible!

The grin froze and morphed before her very eyes, lip curling upwards until those straight white teeth were no longer bared in a wide smile, but rather a deadly snarl.

And Atarinkë had exploded.

She could not even remember seeing him cross the room. Suddenly he was there, his hand knocking the wine from his adversary's smarting fingers, the tinkling of glass following as the delicate crystalline glassware shattered on hardwood floors. There was a shout and the sound of a fist against flesh and bone—a dull thud beneath the smack of skin on skin—and the fool who had opened his mouth so unwisely was suddenly on the floor, nose leaking thin trails of red between his clutching hands and his pathetic groans.

Though she would later claim that it was horrible behavior—what kind of wife would encourage such impulsive violence?—standing red-faced and panting over the downed courtier, Atarinkë had looked like an ainu in the flesh, glowing with his fury, absolutely beautiful beyond worldly description.

And then, as though nothing had happened, the light drained from his body and he stepped over the sod rolling on the floor in agony as if the imbecile had not even been present. Slightly bruised knuckles picked up his wife's hand, and his lips brushed in a butterfly kiss over her skin. "Forgive the interruption, my lady. Where were we?" His bangs and fallen over his eyes, ruffled, and she couldn't help but recall how wonderfully bright and fey those orbs were.

Even now, it still made her heart flutter like an untried maiden.

And in her son, she could see so much of the father and grandfather and grandmother. In those eyes and that face—unforgettable, strong gravitas—she could see Fëanáro staring out at her, his vehemence writhing just beneath the surface, waiting for the wrong words, the wrong action, waiting to burst forth in a towering spire of ash and vicious, toxic words. In the smile, she could see Atarinkë, could see the impulsiveness in its transition from a silvered moon-crescent of affection to a biting frown of revulsion and disgust with only a whispered word or an unwise movement. In the static quiet, she could sense Nerdanel's hidden temper lurking in the shadows, veiled with layer upon layer of patience, but every once in a while a strong breeze would blow back the diaphanous sheets of fabric to reveal the monster growling underneath.

And, as clear as daylight, she saw it when Atarinkë and Telperinquar appeared on their doorstep without a word in advance after walking out on their family—on her and her unborn, unknown son. The shouting had drawn her from her solitary knitting endeavor, and her first sight of her wayward husband after almost six thousand years was with a purpling bruise blooming upon his jaw, spreading into an eye-socket until it was ringed in black, and streams of crimson escaping from beneath the hand plastered over a slightly crooked nose.

And Teldanno with bruised knuckles, chest heaving in fury as he blocked the doorway, was staring down his sire as though Atarinkë were the Black Enemy himself. Looking exactly like his father in a snit with exactly his grandfather's wild expression and exactly his grandmother's wicked tongue slithering from between his vicious lips in black clouds of deadly rhetoric.

It was—dare she even think it—endearing. It was just so utterly Fëanorean.

With a sigh, she had invited her husband and elder son back inside their abode and wondered how many more broken noses, bruised cheeks and deafening swearing matches would fill her once quiet household as a result of that temperamental streak a hundred leagues wide.

Yet, she knew there was naught to be done about it now. Lindalórë had married into a line of flash-flooding torrential downpours and sudden freak thunderstorms breaking out over the calm plains. And she did not think she could have loved her family more for it. They were her boys. Even their ridiculous tempers shadowed under deceptive, crooked grins.

Chapter Text

On the outside, Thranduil was always composed. Never a rebellious hair out of place, never a wrinkle in his impeccable robes. And always, he knew where he was going, moved through time with direction born of brutal experience, with a future in his mind's eye and the interests of his people in his heart. On the outside, he was the perfect monarch, a united front of steel, forbidding and glorious, learned in the art of being something untouchable, unquestionable.

It was a deception, nothing more and nothing less.

For who but Ilúvatar Almighty had never questioned his or her own motivations, had never second-guessed their own decisions? Who—of all the Children of Eru—had never doubted their flimsy courage, had never faltered in their confidence, had never loathed some deep, dark secret part of themselves that was both innate and at the same time foreign?

Being king did not make Thranduil an exception to this rule. That fact did not quell the hesitation and shame and fear that burned with acidic sharpness in his breast. It did not quiet his mind or give him assurance, and no matter how calm and collected his surface might appear, it was naught but a layer of ice—thin and delicate—frosted across the roiling turmoil of a river beneath, surging wildly, ever-changing and uncontrollable, the dichotomy of inner mind and outer body.

Because Thranduil, a young king with a grieving people, did not know what to do.

Newly-returned from war with a scant third of his original forces—and sans his father, the king—Thranduil had struggled up the impossibly high mountain of responsibility, learning all too quickly that every corner turned led to more slithering voices wanting to use his favor for personal gain, led to more whispered rumors and sharp glances questioning his authority, led to more plots slinking in and out of the shadows, waiting until his back was turned to strike. In the first year alone there had been three assassination attempts by political dissidents revolting against their king's Sindarin blood. And he could not blame them for resentment of his bloodline; his father had led many of their people to horrible, pointless death over useless pride.

He learned to be nonchalant, unmovable, unyielding—a powerful king presiding over his people, not be questioned or crossed. And he learned quickly.

Yet never had Thranduil felt more alone, more withdrawn, more terrified and confused and worried and longing miserably for something he could never have but wanted vehemently. To just have a place where he could be something other than the son of the king whose foolishness had ravaged their people, to have a nook in which he could hide from the world, safe and warm, wrapped up in strong arms, hidden away from all of this disappointing disillusionment, and to not have to pretend, not be forced to present himself as an unbreakable wall of royalty and certainty.

And then he had appeared upon Thranduil's balcony in the night.

Like a demonic phantom from beyond the veil of memories and nightmares, tall and predatory with glistening emeralds for eyes and writhing flames for hair and a face that would strike Morgoth himself into silence with a sharp glance. No matter how many times Thranduil had attempted to forget, the essence of that visage had never left him alone, burned as it was on the back of his eyelids in the silence of night, waiting for him to fall through Lórien's embrace into a dark web of terrors long past.

For who could ever forget their One?

Certainly not Thranduil, who wanted to spit filthy curses at the man's heels, wanted to tie him to a stake and burn him and make him suffer as he had made the young, frightened boy in Menegroth suffer. Overpowering hatred and fury of the likes the elf had never felt—not even for the treacherous dwarrows—consumed the king's spirit.

He wanted Amrod Fëanorion dead at his feet. Never mind that the kinslayer was long perished. Or so he had believed.

Yet, inexplicably, Thranduil was torn in two. Because this man was his One. No matter their terrible, bloody past. No matter the cruelties that the madness of the House of Fëanor had inflicted upon the naive child that had once been Thranduil of Doriath, ignorant of the harshness of the world but no longer. No matter that even after all these long years the terror and shame of the day of shattered innocence still whipped over his soul like barbed lashes of rusted steel.

Part of him would always desire this creature. Desire his beautiful body and his blazing-hot spirit and the strength of his arms and the lust in his eyes and the softness of his russet curls. Oh! the tantalizing image of throwing all thought to the wind, of forgetting everything past and tumbling into the offered embrace and hiding away in a small, surreal bubble of ecstasy where nothing in the world was tragic or marred or darkened with sin. But that was all just a dream, ephemeral and visceral, but not tangible—not possible.

"How are you here?" Thranduil first asked in shock and no small amount of fear.

"Does it matter?" the Son of Fëanor replied, lips quirking, eyes narrowing—corporeal, touchable flesh and bone coiled into an inviting form. It was like being near to a calculating hunter circling his helpless prey, and Thranduil knew who played the hawk and who played the bunny in this charade. "Where else would I go?"

Though he might have looked unruffled on the outside, Thranduil was nothing short of panicked on the inside, pulled roughly between screaming for his guards and leaping towards the trespasser with his sword drawn to gut the murderer right then and alternately throwing himself around that strong body and begging to be carried away into the dark. The ultimate temptation was before him, and yet he could not banish the remnants of pain that stirred in the back of his mind, of being held fast and ravished and left to die. This creature masquerading as a civilized being could not be trusted, no matter how much Thranduil's body and spirit screamed for unity and joining and protection just beyond reach.

As much as he longed—lusted, imagined, pined—after this man, the hatred still rose to the fore of his mind, like a molten wave of unforgiving silver forming the gate behind which the tide of his shameful wants was locked and chained.

"Get out," he hissed between his teeth, hands curled taut at his sides. "Get out!"

"But you do not want me gone," Amrod purred knowingly, undaunted at the anger as one was undaunted by a snarling kitten. "Admit it aloud. You hardly wish for me to leave you here. Alone."

The tear in his psyche stretched and twisted, but Thranduil would not falter in adversity. "Leave, or I will call my guard, and the world will be short one more cold-blooded kinslayer—and better off for the loss!"

But Amrod did not retreat. Indeed, he stalked forward, the invading army nudging and prodding at the defenses of the fortress, beginning to lay siege to its towering walls and barricaded gates. Thranduil should have screamed, should have bolted from the room, should have done something but stand still and silent—yet he only stepped back from the advance, and did not raise the alarm, for his vocal chords were frozen.

His mind was divided, and the war inside his head was raging as fiercely as the one beyond the layers of the icy nonchalance of a tested ruler.

He wanted Amrod Fëanorion dead, wanted that (hideously attractive) visage on display on a silver platter sans a body, green eyes replaced with emeralds, mayhap mounted on a wall for all to see. For him to see and know that that demon in his dreams was vanquished.

Yet an intrinsic, insistent part of him wanted Amrod Fëanorion alive, wanted the hot breath on his cheeks and neck and bare flesh, wanted hands to touch him and drive away all fear and hopelessness and political intrigue, wanted forgetfulness.

And once a decision was made, there would be no going back.

In the purest form of seduction, his One leaned towards him, mouth brushing his cheek, breath washing over the tender shell of his ear, eyes so close that the king could have named every vibrant hue of vivid green in their depths. "Tell me you wish for me to leave, and I will go." A hand rested upon his hip, slid down over his natural curve, teased at a faintly trembling thigh. "Tell me truthfully that you do not desire me, and I shall never approach you again, my sinda."

In the end, there was no victory or defeat, only a resigned sort of surrender on both sides, a desperate ploy to win the outer battle. "Please," he whispered, "Please leave me alone..."

Because he could not bear to kill this fiery spirit. Nor could he live with himself if he gave in to his blackest desires and forgave and forgot. If his revenge was satisfied, his fury would die as well and drag him into gray limbo, but if his needs were quenched, he would be ashamed to hold his head high before his people, the willing lover of the man who had destroyed his innocence and his homeland, a traitor to his very heritage and soul.

"Leave..."

The heat withdrew, and Thranduil could breathe deeply again without being filled with the scent of blood, coating the back of his throat in a thick layer nauseating copper taint. No longer was he touched. No longer was he on the brink, but three cautious steps back, merely peering over the edge uncertainly.

Immediately, he missed the closeness. The rightness. The Oneness. And the loathing scraped his insides like knives.

"Very well..." Amrod bowed, curtains of hair streaked in gold and amber falling over his shoulders. "I will leave you to your cold life and empty bed, your majesty. Should you ever have need of my company, you know which direction to seek. One as tainted as I cannot live outside the shadows."

And he was gone in the night.

Leaving behind only chaos. The inner conflict had not been decided.

Thranduil still felt rage churning in his gut, mixing with scorned pride and faded terror. But on the opposite side of the coin, he still burned with lust, still looked at the spot where Amrod had stood and fantasized about white bliss evaporating away all problems, creating a safe-haven of tingling, golden warmth to cocoon him from the miserable truth.

A battle was won, but the inner war still raged.

And he could not honestly say which side of his spirit would be victorious.

Chapter Text

"You have distracted as of late, adar."

Of course, who would not be, with a battle of two powerful emotions dancing furiously through their mind, twisting and twining and shedding blood on both sides? Was it, then, any wonder that Thranduil could not focus on the incessant ramblings of his advisors as they squabbled over the prestige of his favor?

And all the while he could feel those eyes on the back of his neck, searing an invisible brand into his soul, waiting patiently for his inner thunder-battle of hatred and longing to break and calm into decisiveness. His One knew him all too well, knew that his plea of that night two weeks ago was nothing but a flimsy front constructed to repel unexpected attack, but under concentrated force it would buckle and topple, leaving him undefended.

His One knew that Thranduil had committed to no rejection.

Absently, he nodded to his child and tried not to catch the gleam of familiar russet hair from the corner of his eyes, so frightening like to his. "Forgive me, ion-nín. As of late, there has been much to contemplate."

"Is there something troubling you?"

If only the child knew!

If only he could understand the swirling, raging sea of molten despair and wistfulness held at bay with a trembling gate of hatred and terror. The lust for revenge was not only heavy in the veins of the Golodhrim; Thranduil was no more immune to its ravages than those who had once torn down his world and splattered it with the spilled blood and rent dreams of his kin. So badly, he wanted to make that man pay for what he had done! It was like a disease, burning through his veins in toxic black and sickly green, spreading out from his tainted core.

And at the same, there was the deep-seated longing.

"It is not something I would burden your mind with," Thranduil whispered.

He would not wish to speak of the kinslayer—his One, to whom he felt a pull so powerful he staggered beneath its force. It was the purest form of temptation, a test sent from the heavens to break down even the most steadfast, determined of spirits. To go away, to leave all of this behind, to forget everything and have the safety of his One's embrace hidden away in some dappled clearing, the only two souls in the world, so closely entwined as to be less two separate parts and more one harmonious whole.

When it came time, Thranduil wondered whether he could fight this ultimate temptation, could resist, could condemn himself to being half for as long as he lived. As much as the image of the Son of Fëanor dismantled and desecrated before his feet was satisfying, part of him went cold at the vision, weeping silently in the corner of lost hopes and wishes.

Could he kill Amrod? Doubt pulsed at his center.

"I want to help," Valthoron replied, his fingers twining with his father's and squeezing.

But there is nothing you can do to save me from this decision, the choosing of fate. Some wars must be fought and decided alone.

And this was one such war.

"I appreciate your concern, ion-nín, but there is nothing to be done." Thranduil pulled away from any comfort he might be offered, and instead made to leave, to be alone in the dreadful silence of his chambers, knowing that eyes were peering in through the diaphanous shield of balcony curtains, patiently awaiting... "Tell Galion that I am not to be disturbed. If someone should need something, they may speak to you."

"Me? But..."

"Consider it practice." Reassurance, his guilty conscience corrected. "I will see you in the morn."

He pressed a kiss to his son's forehead, avoided touching the silken curls of that vibrant fire and gold, and fled as quickly as his formal robes would allow. No more questioning, not when he was ready to burst open and scream in frustration, to weep at the skies and ask why, why was this happening to him? What had he ever done to deserve this destiny?

Behind him, he locked the door to his bedchambers and blew out the candles. Darkness fell over him, and the only sound he heard was the wind rustling the wings of trees just beyond the balcony.

And then the shaking started, convulsing outwards until his knees gave and Thranduil sat on the floor in an undignified heap of silk and bone, the veil of deception masking his true visage crushed with no eyes to keep its foundations firm.

Could I kill him? Could I order his death? Over and over, he asked, and each time his answer was weaker, all resolution diminished. Could I truly do it, knowing that he would be gone forever, that all hope would be lost...?

What it really came down to—in the end—was the value of empty revenge and broken love and sweet, unwanted lust. The balance was tipping before his very eyes, the arguments once again dashing each other violently against the rocks of logic in his brain.

In the end, was the bleak, momentary satisfaction of vengeance and the destruction of the source of terror and shattered innocence of ages past worth losing the only promise of a future, worth knowingly walking into the unknown of forever alone with no choice to turn back time, no chance to undo past decisions, no hope of the catharsis that dangled at his very fingertips at this very moment?

It was there before him, the temptation of the silence of the mind, of not being Thranduil Oropherion, King of Great Greenwood, but a nameless, faceless other half of another nameless, faceless soul with whom he was perfectly matched. It was overwhelming. Intoxicating.

Even if it was the wrong choice, the alternative was unbearable.

And it was then that Thranduil felt his throat close, holding back a sob through sheer force of will. If he were to answer truthfully, he knew he could not kill Amrod Fëanorion any more than he could change the weather's rapid, chaotic movements across the surface of Arda, nor could he turn a blind eye and pretend nothing had changed, that his world still revolved on the same axis as it had just days before. He could not deny that his One was part of him, no matter how much he despised that heartless, immoral, depraved piece that still somehow laced together with his offered half so perfectly.

It was that thought which trampled the outer defenses of his rational, ice-cold, detached logic, the part of him that rejected emotional interference as a burden to be ignored and shoved aside. It was that thought which brought down the golden sheen of glory upon the heart's deepest hidden desires, breaking through the gate of hatred, throwing its heavy doors to the side to release the flood.

It was that thought which had him leaping from his balcony into the trees with no word to anyone of where he was going or why, no thought of consequences. Impulsive heat raged through his veins at the sudden need to see his One. To touch him and make certain he was real.

And to accept the escape he offered. To use him, out of shattered love and bleak hope and utter madness derived from hours upon hours of denying the essence of his deepest being.

To forget their past and their pain and their names and their blood.

When he came unto the clearing, he knew that Amrod was waiting for him, could feel the presence within the darkness radiating heat like a furnace from the sheer intensity of the legacy of that spirit. Dappled silver was cast down over his head, and it was the small droplets of Ithil breaking through the canopies above which gave him a soft glimpse of the tall silhouette that put both fear and desire rushing through his veins.

"Your decision is made, then?"

Suddenly, his mouth felt so dry, so parched and locked closed, his lips sewn shut. Thranduil could only manage a nod.

Green eyes narrowed down at him, waiting, watching... "Tell me."

Barely daring to breathe, the king reached up to the crown of crimson flowers atop his pale mane, grasping the beautiful object honed and perfected by hundreds of hours of skilled craftsmanship and hundreds of years of responsibility and hidden connotations of politics and schemes of dissidents, and he threw it all down into the grass, as shed blood against the gentle, waving blades.

And Amrod knew. A smirk that rent Thranduil with shudders of anticipation curled the corners of thin lips, morphed that unforgettable face into something hungry and entrancing. "Come with me." A hand was offered into the empty air between them.

All he could do was stare for long moments, frozen with the last remembrance of pain. Unconsciously, his breath held fast, and inside his mind the need screamed and jeered and urged him to destroy the last vestiges of doubt lingering in the lowest safe-havens of the fortress of hatred and pride and fear.

One step forward, one doubt vanquished. The grass was tender on the soles of his feet, cool with dew, tickling gently.

Another, bringing him close enough to reach out and touch. The hot scent burst over him, of death and yet something inexplicably alive. He could hear Amrod breathing. He could feel the heat of flesh beneath the tips of his trembling fingers as his hand raised to fall into the inviting cusp of that scarred, callused palm.

Contact. Inside, the part of him that still hoped and dreamed rejoiced in victory.

A kiss to his knuckles, and then his wrist, and then his cheeks. He could count the shades of those eyes again, and see every emotion swirling freely in their depths, uncovered, vulnerable.

They shared breath between them.

And Thranduil forgot.

Chapter Text

The Greenleaf was positively angelic, a blessing unto the people of Great Greenwood, and a blessing unto Thranduil's unraveling existence, a true child of Ilúvatar's grace.

For every time he looked into those green eyes—heartbreaking and filled with the essence of life—it stole away all the breath in his lungs, caressed all riotous thoughts into soothing silence. They were the sire's eyes, yet from his beloved child's face they did not send pangs of agony through his chest, did not make him wince and look away from fear. Did not make him recall his last moments in the dappled clearing of the forest before turning his back on his heart. No, malice could not breed in the air around the child, could not taint the heart in his presence.

Thranduil was enchanted. All he wanted to do whenever he could spare a moment was to sit and to watch his infant son coo adorably and sleep peacefully and giggle with thoughtless wonder, to stroke his fingers over cheeks that would put all silks to shame at their softness, to run his fingers through the downy strands of pale hair just to feel how real the tiny miracle in his arms truly was, how tangible and undeniable.

It was glorious. If Valthoron had been born into Thranduil's darkest days of uncertainty and destruction of youth, Legolas had been delivered into the brightest days of rebuilding and recovery.

Or perhaps it was not that he was born into that brilliance, so much as that he had brought it with him into this world with those shining eyes and that breathtaking innocence. A package of rebirth and hopes and dreams that had once been thrown to the wayside, crushed under a wicked tale of war and death and tragedy, picked up and suddenly dropped into the arms of the failing young king scrambling to pull together his shattered people.

The colors had come back to the world. The piercing hatred had dulled to a low simmer. The horrible longing that had both driven him into familiar arms and scared him away now relaxed, the stretching tension pulling him constantly towards the source of all fear and all relief now drifting away on a gentle breeze.

That such beauty could be created of a union of suffering and catharsis was reassuring. That color could burst forth from a world of gray left him clawing for new hope. That a leaf of the purest green could unfurl in this hostile environment was truly a gift.

And it was not only the king to which this child gave new life, but the whole of their people. The first child born after the return of the scant forces from Mordor, beaten and broken with an inexperienced leader at their head and the weight of failure upon their shoulders. So many friends had been lost, so many husbands and brothers and sons perished, their bodies lying unclaimed in the vast plains to rot under blazing sun with the filth of orcs, black and red blood mingling into barren earth.

To see such life flourishing in their care after their world had been ravaged and torn apart before their eyes—it was like seeing the first flower blooming gloriously in adversity after a bitter, frigid winter abused all soft petals into back husks. The Greenleaf was a more precious delivery—for his family and for his subjects—than any amount of wealth or power Thranduil could possibly have wished for, a vibrant child born of healing and accepted fears and that tiny catalyst of hope for better days peeking over the horizon in the wake of retreating shadows. He seemed to fill every minute with wonder that had long since faded away in the wake of disillusionment and despair.

Yet even as Thranduil looked down upon the child, he felt some part of his most hidden soul ache for the little one.

New life was springing forth, rebounding after a time of great sorrow, and yet he sensed the veil of foreshadowing lingering over all of their heads. It was, perhaps, the primal intuition which allowed Golodhrim women to give their offspring such prophetic names. Though Thranduil could put no right name to it, that touch of something surreal and beyond the cliffs of the world was present, writhing under his skin and filling the air—he could feel it.

Could feel that it was not only rebirth which had brought this tiny package of joy into a world suffering from lack. This was a container of fate, written like an epic tale in the tears of the stars and the singing of the seas and the asymmetry of the earth. The fabric of the future was being woven by the current moment, and this child was to play an instrumental role. Thranduil's very soul strained with the underlying truth—the truth which broke his heart into frantic racing and left him frantically stroking every inch of tender, rosy flesh and soft locks he could reach.

In his mind's eye, he could almost see it, a young elf dressed all in green, a great warrior at home only with a bow in his hands and the wind carrying him forth as one of restless spirit. He could hear the sound of the ocean resonating like a death march and armies screaming for blood with the fires of the earth's wounds spilling behind them, soot and ash and flaming rock blackening the sky.

The foreboding chilled him to the bone.

Perhaps, he thought, it had all been planned from the very birth of the universe long before Thranduil had taken his first shaky steps across cool grass of Doriath or Amrod had been created as the blessed sixth child of his royal house to complement the cursed seventh. Perhaps it had been Eru's voice which whispered away all the king's doubts and fears, allowed him blissful forgetfulness in familiar arms to create this puzzle piece before him. Perhaps it had always been part of the great music sung from the lips of the Ainur long before corporeality existed, and it was this life before Thranduil's ecstatic gaze that spurred Him into binding the king together with the temperamental blood of the House of Fëanor—with all its stubborn determination and burning passion.

Perhaps it was meant to be.

And, perhaps, the Greenleaf was not only the delivery of hope, but of destiny.

Chapter Text

When he first spotted her spirit, glowing brilliantly as a diamond amongst black coal, Námo did a very understandable double-take and wondered if he was imagining things after so many years of weaving in and out of past, present and future. Perhaps he was going a bit senile?

Yet, in all his countless millennia, he never forgot a soul. And this was undeniably her:

A young woman studying obsessively to become an officer of the law, an honorable job for a character of stalwart and unquestionable loyalty and sense of duty. Not to mention an unquenchable thirst for adventure and undeniably overzealous stubbornness. This woman was not a lady to listen to the prejudiced ranting of a male-dominated society about her place in the world and the weakness of the female psyche, but rather stepped forth and defied all of them with her strength of character and sheer determination, as assured and exemplary as any man. Námo did not doubt that she could become anything she wished if her heart was set upon her goal, and that convinced him more than anything.

Without a doubt, it was her—it was Haleth of the Haladin. Her theme. Her music. Her role in the Ainulindalë, it seemed, was far from complete. He could hear her in his vast expanses of memories, one little trill in the grand scheme of all things, but an important detail that rung out over the trumpeting thunder of Melkor's ruckus.

But there was that slight problem—that it couldn't have been Haleth, who had died in the First Age a very, very long time ago. Not unless there was a greater force at work behind his back to bring all the cacophony into a final harmonious chord...

The Doomsman rolled his eyes and wondered if any of his brothers and sisters realized that their Father was a complete romantic sop. As if the Beren and Lúthien stunt hadn't been proof enough (they all insisted it was Námo's dominion over the dead that brought the mortal back unto the corporeal plane of Eä, conveniently forgetting that his demesne overshadowed dead elves, not men), now there appeared a mortal woman's soul reborn into a new mortal body, conveniently positioned on a crash-course with the life of her soul-mate, a very, very old elf languishing his time away being a cranky old recluse locked up in a dingy little apartment.

He could see many ways in which this situation could unfurl, a veritable swarm of threads splitting and intertwining and zigzagging off into the distance, each its own variation on a theme, telling its own little rhyming tale of comedy or tragedy. Slowly, cautiously, he picked his way through the channels of time, watching Lady Haleth—now Haley MacDonald—graduating from her university, watching her work her first assignment on the job, watching her become the woman he always knew she was, be it thousands of years in the past or a handful of blinks in the future.

And he watched her life intersect with his over and over.

And oh! was that not interesting? The vala felt an amused smile slinking over his face, brightening his typically dour demeanor. What a future!

"What doth have thee so pleased, husband mine?"

Ah, Vairë. As usual, she could read his nearly stoic facial features as though he had written down his every emotion upon parchment for her perusal, so in tune they were after so many years as spouses. Fondly, he inclined his head and let the smirk upon his lips be; there was no reason to hide good tidings.

"I am merely sharing a private joke with our Father. He has an interesting sense of humor."

She gave him a nonplussed look, but didn't question him further, very used to the odd moments of amusement that sometimes trailed after a particularly deep glance into the blossoming reality. "For whom am I going to be weaving my next creation?" Oh yes, she knew him well.

"Caranthir Fëanorion," he replied smoothly.

This was going to be interesting indeed. Their Father had something incredibly complex planned out in his great epic theme, and Námo wondered how the lyrics would write themselves in the end. Truly, he was looking forward to the completion of this stanza of their cosmic ballad.

But first, he had some errands to run. Someone as stubborn and sensitive as the ancient Fëanorion would needs some prodding in the correct direction, or he might land sharp at his cue.

---

"I do not need a job."

They were in a cozy little café, and Námo could not deny that he was enjoying himself immensely, perhaps a touch sadistically. Caranthir was every bit as snarly and snappy as he recalled from the days of rebirth. Just like a crotchety old man, he was set in his ways, and he did not appreciate being ordered to change his reclusive tendencies into a more social pattern.

"As amusing as it is to observe your reputation as an enigmatic hermit, I do believe it would be beneficial for you to expand your horizons. Meet new people."

Caranthir was not buying his not-so-subtle manipulation. Indeed, the elf seemed less convinced by the moment. One did not live over the span of more than seven ages of the world without learning to recognize when they were being used and baited. Never mind that it was ultimately for the elf's benefit that Námo was poking his head into business that was not strictly supposed to be his.

"I have never needed to 'meet new people' before. I have lived a quite satisfactory existence without the nuisance of mortals flitting in and out of my thoughts like fleeting rain-showers. In fact, it seems to me that such interaction would be more detrimental than beneficial."

It was experience talking. One need only know that his mortal lover had lived only a scant handful of years after their meeting and parting to realize that Caranthir was avoiding the pain of permanent attachment and inevitable separation. Who, after all, would wish for a repeat of such a traumatic experience?

Yet the music dictated otherwise. And, secretly, Námo had to admit to being just as much a sentimental old fool as their Father. He wanted a happy ending, or at the very least a bittersweet parting.

And the possibilities...

But those could wait for further analysis. The first task was to intersect two lives properly. And Caranthir was proving to be a resilient creature of bad habit.

"It will be worth your while," the vala finally argued. "I can say no more than that without venturing into dangerous territory, not to mention upsetting my rather uptight siblings. Besides, it would not be an adventure if I just told you what would happen. Can you not trust me when I tell you that you will not regret this decision?"

After all, Námo was never wrong. Once spoken from his lips, it was the law of the world. It was written.

That square jaw tightened, teeth grinding softly, but Caranthir did nothing more than sip his lukewarm tea and sigh in defeat. "Fine, I will go along with your ridiculous scheme. Damn you!"

Námo grinned in victory. And he couldn't help but wonder if everything was following script, played out like an opera for their Father beyond the edges of the world, that never-ending ballad that somehow always managed to twist and mold their little mishaps and tragedies into something sweet and beautiful at the end.

"Here is the place of employment I had in mind..." The vala shoved the paper across the table into reluctant hands.

Caranthir took one look and threw it down as if burned his fingers. "This is..."

And the vala was gone, a mirage in the late afternoon sun, leaving the elf with his cold tea and crinkled newspaper. Caranthir sighed a second time in the purest frustration, once again looking (with noticeable disgust) down at the circled icon—DSW. A store that sold designer shoes and handbags. It almost brought bile up the back of his throat.

"Not funny..." the elf finished.

And Námo, watching silently from above, just laughed.

Chapter Text

Before him she knelt, and Námo stared down at her teary eyes with a firm frown marring his lips, pulling them into harsh lines. Never before had Lúthien felt so utterly desperate and vulnerable, her heart pounding sharply in the back of her throat. Even standing before the throne of Morgoth himself had not been so terrifying, because her beloved Beren had been at her back, ready to leap in and protect her at the cost of his life.

Here, she was alone. She was alone and being judged. In his eyes, she could see warring thoughts, swirling like deep burgundy with black. No softness stared back at her, not a hint of sympathy glistening in those dark depths, not even after singing her heart and soul out at his feet. All of her feelings, laid bare to his speculative, calculating mind. Her unbearably sweet love and passion for the human who had captured her in his net of unique charm, with his scruffy whiskers and his boyish grin and his laughing eyes... Oh, but she would die for him again and again were it enough to bring him back and give him the fate they deserved, together eternally at one another's side...

"Please," she gasped, nearly throwing herself down upon the floor. "Please, all I ask is to stay by his side until the life leaves his eyes, until he is old and gray and has lived a fulfilling existence... Please, I promised... I love him..."

"But that is not all you ask, is it, Lady Lúthien, Daughter of Melian, servant of Estë." That voice, deep enough that it resonated through her very bones as though they had been struck, was neither angry nor mocking, merely stating fact. "Nothing there is in your heart that you can hide from me, child."

Then, certainly, he must see and understand that she needed Beren at her side...?

"You cannot hide your love for this mortal man to whom you are barely acquainted," the vala told her. "I do not doubt the depth of your feelings, but your righteousness and naivety, your strangely puerile cruelty, you cannot hide those black little secrets from me in the corners of your mind, blocked even from your sight..."

She started, thinking she may have misheard. Cruelty? But she had only ever done what needed to be done so that she could be by the side of the man she loved! Was that not righteous and admirable to sacrifice so much, to be so brave, for the sake of her undying feelings?

"You can lie to yourself all you wish, but I see all that you have done in your life. I see also that your world is narrow, provincial. What does not please your eye, you have chosen not to see. What does not soothe your mind, you have chosen to forget. What does not fit the fabricated truth in your heart, you have chosen to ignore."

Those eyes were watching her, gauging her reaction, observing her quick, hiccupping breaths and shaking hands. And she knew that they could see straight through her. All the beauty in the world could not faze this creature.

"I love him, and I would do anything so that we might be together," she whispered. "Is that so terribly wrong, my lord?"

His lips pursed. "Wrong? No, perhaps not. Not in the essence of the ideal."

"Then why... why are you scolding me? What have I done?" She gulped, and wished that the tears leaking from her eyes would quit coming, would stop making her voice so rough and broken, would stop making her face blotchy and red. "After everything I have sung unto your spirit, do you still doubt my love, think me a liar?"

"No, I do not." The Doomsman shook his head and turned away.

For the longest moment, Lúthien felt her breath hitch in her chest, a band of metal pressing down upon her ribs so that her lungs could not take in air to feed her body's hunger. Helpless, powerless, she sat at the feel of her judge and jury, quivering and weeping, a princess brought low. This was not her father—not the king who would do anything to make his princess happy—and not her friends—the servants who loved their darling Tinúviel and would do anything to make her smile in their direction for even a moment. This was not Beren, who could not deny her anything in the world if she batted her eyelashes and offered him a gentle kiss on the cheek.

Finally, after what felt an eternity, his body moved once more, black velvet robes ruffling over the floor, the only sound to mark his presence as a corporeal being. "Very well, I shall give you what you ask, with the Father's blessing. Beren Erchamion shall once again walk the earth, and you shall walk by his side, Princess of Doriath..."

And her heart soared...

"All I ask in return for this boon is for you, Melianiel, to think of all those who have given their lives and happiness so that you might have it in their stead."

What?

She looked up at him again, and in his eyes she saw, and it rent her heart with a chilled blade, jagged from neglect and wear. In his eyes she beheld the truth that always she had blocked from her heart, even when it was right before her gaze, the unsettling and frightening and heartbreaking reality that tarnished her innocence, that dulled the brilliance of her assured future at the side of her beloved Beren.

For she could see them again in her mind's eye.

The golden king limp and lifeless upon the earth, his blood soaking into the filthy ground. His mouth and nails were splattered with crimson stains, and his side was ripped asunder, entrails oozing forth. And yet his last smile was for the terrified boy trembling in the darkness...

The silver healer sitting upon his bed, head cradled in his trembling hands. There were tidings of his fallen kin, and on his bedside table lay the circlet that belonged only on his brother's head. The responsibility lay heavy on his shoulders, and the loss of his great joy heavy upon his heart...

The wild-eyed hunter who had taken her to his fire and warmed her hands in his rough palms, who had comforted her when she believed her beloved dead. Who had surged over her prone body but still littered her with kisses and sweet words of devotion, so gentle with his glass treasure...

The hot-tempered brother who laid his burning forehead against the rough stone of the wall and tried to quell his shaking and ignore the throbbing of his cheek where knuckles had bruised to the bone. Tried to ignore the swell of despair because his only son had cursed his name...

The worried father upon his throne, staring off into the distance, because his daughter was never coming home and his wife could hardly bear to look into his face. He had only been trying to keep her safe from the terrors and evil of the world, only wished to bar her from harsh reality...

And the heartbroken friend packing his bags and hitching them over his shoulder, looking out to the mountains hazed in blue. She hated him, but in the end, though he was jealous, he loved her with all his soul. All he wanted was to make sure that no harm befell her, and he had completed his mission.

And the world revolved on...

Lúthien blinked her eyes open and felt her spirit screaming in denial. Because she hadn't meant for these things to happen! All she wanted was to be with her love! It wasn't her fault!

But was it not?

"These souls there are, and many more still, who have lost what you treasure most because of your unthinking actions," Námo told her. "Reflect and repent. Spend every day honoring their sacrifices. And when the time comes for Beren Erchamion to return to the arms of the Father, fade away and deliver yourself unto my halls. By then, I pray some compassion and selflessness may have entered your heart."

He began to move away, and the young maiden, remembering herself, could do naught but rise shakily to her feet and follow after him as a puppy, one last question upon her lips. "But to be by his side for all eternity I would need to be made mortal..."

Námo paused, and her blood froze in her veins, so frightening his visage was when he once again beheld her. As a dark mountain, he towered over her, his shadow stretching on for miles and engulfing her into a frigid embrace. For all her mind screamed to flee, she could no more lift her feet to take flight than she could command Varda's stars to shift their patterns or Laurelin's fruit to deviate from its trajectory across the sky.

"You will remain amongst the Firstborn. The gift of the Followers is not mine to give." The shadows retreated, and Lúthien's trembling legs turned to water beneath her quivering form. Still, he stood over her, as a statue in the twilight, unforgiving and un-accusing, but all the same measuring her worthiness. "Even had I the power to give a gift so precious unto your soul, I would not. Such treasures are meant for the stalwart and faithful, the implacable of valor and honor. You are not one such being."

And that, perhaps, was a worse chastisement than any before had been. When he turned away, Lúthien did not argue, and in her mind's eye she thought of them where she had never thought before of any but herself and her lover.

And she was ashamed.

Even for the boon she had been given, her heart wept. She did not deserve such a fate, such a brilliant future of love and devotion to one man who was blind to all her faults, who would cherish her above all else to the end of his days.

When the grayness embraced her, she did not fight. And when she opened her eyes, it was to the green, vibrant glory of a hidden paradise, and to the exclamations of her lover as he rose from the dead at her side, eyes wide with childish wonder, beholding her
with fascination and utter adoration. They kissed deeply, and he hugged her close as if she were the most precious thing in the universe.

But deep in her mind she thought of them. And when she returned that embrace, it was with twice the strength she once would have mustered, and twice the emotion bubbling in her throat she once would have touched.

She would not waste or sully this gift with ingratitude or frivolousness. Every day and night she would treasure. And in the end, she prayed they could forgive her heartlessness.

Chapter Text

The first time Glorfindel of Imladris laid eyes on the Prince of Mirkwood, he thought he was having delusions—perhaps he had had a draught to many of rich Dorwinion last evening? Because he had to be imagining things! It was simply not possible! Were it not for the pale blond hair and the short stature and the face staring back at him with the Elvenking's lovely features, he could have sworn that it was actually Maedhros Fëanorion before him, jaw set and body ramrod straight with blazing heat in his eyes, readying himself to take on all the armies of Morgoth singlehandedly.

Except that was ridiculous. This young elf—hardly more than a child, really—was nothing like the great and feared warrior prince of the First Age. He was skinny and waif-like and short and used a bow for Eru's sake!

No, at first Glorfindel dismissed such thoughts. They were positively absurd. Following this assessment, he went down to the kitchens to track down a herbal cure for hangovers and wondered if perhaps he should just go back abed until noon, no matter that his lover would chide him for it later and demand an explanation for his odd behavior.

He quickly discovered that it was not a fluke. His instincts screamed.

When next he saw the child, again, the same feeling buzzed in the back of his mind, an annoying little insect that would just not go away. Glorfindel stood and observed carefully from the corner of his eye as the young prince walked past him down the hallway, eyes never shifting from their straightforward position, itching to reach his destination, body moving with swift, predatory grace and not a lick of awkward hesitation. Like a hunter with a set mind and a heart of stubborn determination.

And it suddenly reminded him of Celegorm Fëanorion on the prowl.

That was when he knew something strange was afoot. No gangly young Sindarin prince should remind him of the legendary, bloodthirsty warriors of old, not at a mere glance.

But the more he watched, the more confusing and astounding he found the prince.

It was in the way he walked, in the measured movements of his arms, in the set of his sharp jaw and the angle of his cheekbones. It was in the searing glow of mossy green eyes. Legolas would turn to address someone beside him with a certain tilt of his head and a certain pursing of his lips and suddenly recalled to mind an image of Maglor Fëanorion delicately acknowledging a dignitary to his right with exactly that same silly inclination of the head, teetering on the edge between respect and insult. With amusement, Glorfindel noted the natural angle of Legolas' head was further towards "insult" whenever the addressee happened to be a rude dwarf or uncouth human.

More striking, still, was when the prince smiled, how his dark brows would furrow ever so slightly, how his lips would curl up just extactly crooked, ever so slightly sardonic. And then he would laugh smoothly, low in the back of his throat, almost purring. It reminded him of Erestor, and Glorfindel felt as though he had been banged over the head with a hammer by Aulë's immeasurable strength. It reminded him of Erestor Maglorion.

Never did he personally speak to the sinda, but kept his distance during the days leading up to the Council. It was not until the Council itself that he finally saw it, the undeniable proof that this child could not possibly be the mere son of Thranduil of Doriath, a stubborn but cold-hearted creature who had none of the intrinsic, unmistakable passion that marked, like a blazing torch in the blackness of the moonless night, the presence of temperamental blood and vehement spirit.

Legolas had the fire. During the Council, he leapt to his feet as though struck by a whip, beautiful face marred by an all-too-familiar scowl, and Glorfindel's mind whispered of Caranthir Fëanorion traitorously. "This is Aragorn, son of Arathorn. You owe him your allegiance," Legolas growled, wild eyes burning at the sting of insult towards a man he considered to be a worthy friend and companion. Such an expression sent shudders running from the base of Glorfindel's spine, up his back and down again, icy understanding settling in the bottom of his stomach and radiating sharply outwards through his knotted innards.

Thranduil was keeping a secret.

And when Legolas leapt forth and threw himself into the heart of the quest—"You have my bow!"—Glorfindel's throat tightened, bewildered at the dread tugging at his heartstrings. It was an oath, an oath to give away his young life to the Ringbearer to use as the naive little hobbit saw fit. And those eyes were brighter than stars in the day's twilight, that lithe body near humming in anticipation and power.

The Spirit of Fire was molded into this young soul as surely as it was entwined with all the descendants of that cursed House.

And all things started well by the Dispossessed were doomed to end in failure.

Glorfindel could not strike the memory of heat radiating outwards from the young soul, even long after the Fellowship of the Ring had departed. He could not help but wonder... and suspect...

Chapter Text

Pain like he had never experienced before now surged venomously through Celebrimbor's body, seemingly consuming him from the inside out, little poisonous fangs biting through his flesh and organs, chewing through them until they were dust and ash between blood and bones. If one had asked, he would not have been able to say how long he had hung here from his chains, only that his wrists were bleeding down his taut arms, streams of crimson decorated his wrenched shoulder and mingling with the blood smeared over his back and chest.

He saved his strength for other things. These meager torturers, these amateurs, they could not hope to draw so much as a scream from his tongue, and Celebrimbor did naught but grind his teeth and think about something—anything—but the pain. Anything...

Pain, pain, pain...

Like the green fields of Beleriand before...

And the golden lands of his home where his mother waited...

And the comforting embrace of thick arms about—

No, best not to go there.

"I see you have made no progress with our prisoner. Get out of my sight."

He was back.

From head-to-toe, Celebrimbor shuddered in revulsion, his skin crawling, feeling tainted at even the memory of touch. He knew that voice better than he knew his own, and it struck bells of fury and terror in his head until all sound seemed drowned by the furious raging of his blood. This traitorous liar would hear neither plea nor truth from his lips, not in a hundred millennia!

"My, my, do you not look beautiful, my sweet love..."

"Do not... Do not call me that!" At least his voice still held some bite, never mind that it was a touch hoarse from bearing down on shrieks of agony. "You've no right!"

"No right?" The voice was against his ear, slithering over his skin as a cold caress. Claws delicately traced the skin of his back, scraping painfully over rising, open welts seeping blood. "Were we not lovers, Telperinquar?"

Were they lovers?

Celebrimbor could remember many a night in Annatar's bed, huddled close with contentment. He could remember many nights when he would sit up and spend hours combing his fingers through the waves of golden hair, entranced, sometimes daring to trance a gentle finger down one perfectly sculpted cheek in awe. Sometimes, he even dared to whisper the forbidden words softly into the darkness, thinking that his lover was asleep, because Annatar would never say them back...

I cannot love this monster! This is not the man that I...

"We are n-not," he snarled, hating that his voice wavered even in the slightest on the last damning word. "I never loved you. Not as Annatar, and not now!"

"Now who is the liar, my sweet love?"

Do not call me that! Hearing the name once whispered in intimate comfort and affection spoken in that voice whipped across his skin harder than any barbed, braided leather, leaving deeper welts on his soul than his flesh could ever experience. It hurt so much...

"I do not lie," he hissed, and there was a traitorous sting of tears at the corners of his eyes. "You are nothing to me but a means to an end! You offered me what I wanted and I took it, just as you did to me! I used you, and you used me in return. Do not be a fool, claiming that lust and love are the same. Surely such a creature as the Morgoth's Lieutenant would be aware of the difference."

Claws dug into his hips, and the touch struck electrical terror up his spine, every tiny hair at his nape standing up in alarm. "You can speak as many lies as you wish, but I will always know the truth, my sweet love, who loves me in return, even now..."

I cannot love this monster. I cannot!

"It was never about the rings. That was just an extra benefit, one of which you took advantage, is that not so? Nevertheless..."

It had to be about the rings, not him... Never him...

"You love me."

"No!" Celebrimbor yanked at the chains binding his arms, ignoring the pangs of agony screaming from his wrists and shoulder. "I could never love you. And in the end, I hope you get everything you deserve for your evil deeds! I hope Eru himself strikes you low, makes you suffer!"

Lips touched his nape, and Celebrimbor withheld a sob, because only his Annatar touched him so. He could not allow the deception to overcome his determination. Just a little while longer, resisting, lying, and then Mandos would call for his weary soul...

"Is that what you hope for?" Sauron laughed at the vision of mercy, hot and deep breath against his skin. "Do not lie."

"I do not lie." Panting, he wretched his head forward. "I do not lie. You will hear nothing more from my lips, traitor. Murderous filth. I hate you!"

Sauron only laughed a second time, and Celebrimbor felt the fingernails dig into his flesh, felt them carving open the meat of his muscle down to the bone, the movements somehow graceful. He could well picture in his head the image of those marks in red ink across pale flesh, the curving lines of Annatar's true name forever branded into his body as the imprint of ash and fire was branded upon his soul.

"You can lie aloud and lie to yourself. But you cannot lie to me."

Sauron.

"You are mine, forever. Mine."

And it hurt so much because... No, he could not even think it... "I hate you..."

And he did not speak again. For all the pain and humiliation that followed, only his screams replied to the tormentor's brusque questioning and merciless actions. Celebrimbor felt tears overflow in mourning, but covered them in all the hate he could muster. And deep down, he lied to himself, because if he dared speak the truth, even in those dark depths of his mind, Annatar would hear...

And Annatar would not hear the painful truth from his words. Not now. Not ever.

Chapter Text

Perhaps it was superstitious to listen to old sayings and tales passed through generations. They were nothing more than chronicles of a people forever overshadowed by the darkness of the North, a people hardened and sharpened as steel by the misfortunes of the world—hardly the truth.

But Sáriel felt unsettled nevertheless.

Outside, the rain pounded against the glass of the windows, miniscule fists banging, grasping the panes and shaking, rattling them until it seemed they might crack under the pressure. The wind bore down upon the land, snagging and tearing at the trees until they bent and bowed beneath the greater force, surrendering to nature's adamantine strength. Even though it was midday, the outside was dark with the thick, swirling soup of clouds overhead, decorated only with the vivid flashes of the heaven's fire streaking in white and violet downwards.

And thunder shook the earth. It shook her certainty.

It was just a stupid old saying, that children born unto a stormy night would lead a stormy life full of turmoil and conflict. She had never seen proof in the flesh, and no one had ever told tales of its prowess. Yet somewhere in her chest, a feeling was growing greater and greater by the hour as her body prepared to bring her child into the unrest of the war-torn outside world. That feeling settled itself down, dug its burrow into the hillside of her heart and refused to be moved from its cozy nest of riotous emotion and worry.

Perhaps she was being ridiculous about the entire thing. It was just the hormones and the anxiety of being so close to the birth. That was it. That had to be it. There was nothing at all to be worried about except the wellbeing of herself and the baby.

Besides, the rain would pass before it was time.

Sáriel settled in and waited.

---

The rain did not abate, nor did the thunder. Rather, it seemed intent upon tearing open the earth's fabric and cracking the foundations of the mountains and seas. As the afternoon spent itself into evening, the storm only seemed to gain momentum, the winds becoming stronger until the windows creaked in warning and the whistling grew shrill and loud.

Fingon returned from his duties looking tired and just as out-of-sorts as Sáriel had been feeling since arising from bed that morning. But he still had a fond smile for the sight of his wife and unborn child, still had his arms spread wide in an invitation that Sáriel eagerly accepted, slipping herself into the safety of the circle of his warm embrace.

"Good evening, hervess-nín," he murmured into her hair as his arms pulled her taut to the broad expanse of his chest. Beneath her ear, his drumbeat of his heart was echoing strong and steady. "Are you feeling well? Is there anything I can get you? Something to eat?"

"No, nothing..." She settled against his comforting warmth and sighed. "I feel strange."

His grip tightened ever so slightly. "Strange?" There was a lilt of concern in his normally vibrant voice.

"Yes. There is a foreboding feeling in the air today. It has been tugging at the back of my mind for attention all afternoon." Why would it not leave her be? "Your heir will be born before sunrise."

"What a day to be born," he replied, laughing shallowly, but with genuine delight. "The storm has not shown any signs of letting up. It might very well continue on into the morning."

That is what I was afraid of.

"Let us hope for a few rays of Ithil to grace the child's birth." She pulled away and kissed Fingon's cheek softly. "Best that you fetch the healers to our chambers, hervenn-nín. It will not be long now, I suspect."

---

When Ereinion Son of Fingon came squalling into the world, it was a world of the tumultuous roaring of the storm overhead and the screams of a million rain droplets on thick glass and stone which he first beheld. It was almost hard to hear the child's loud cries over the noise, but they were there, and Sáriel's heart was in her throat, because that was her son she could hear. He was real and he was well. Thank Eru!

It was Fingon who brought the child to her waiting, empty arms, his face split wide with a grin that was both tired but at the same time radiant as the stars. What a proud father her silly husband was!

"Our son," he introduced as he sat himself beside her upon the bed, his voice barely audible. The bundle of white cloth was passed along, soft whines rising from within the thick, squirming cocoon.

The first sight of her child's face was white on shadow—lightning flashed sharply from beyond the thin curtains and momentarily blinded her with its brightness. The thunder followed afterwards, deep rumbling, announcing to the entirety of the world the new presence of this child of noble and wild blood. Her son.

And the feeling was overwhelming. Ridiculous or not, it sat heavy in her breast as she looked down into the milky blue eyes of the babe. They would probably fade to gray quickly. Gray to match the color of the heavens above, dark and deep, not the pale, bleached silver of the stars. She could well imagine him in her mind's eye.

Her fingertips traced over a cheek and were grasped by a chubby little fist, brought to a toothless mouth, and Sáriel nearly wept—for joy or sorrow she could not tell.

"Hello, Ereinion," she whispered, leaning down to kiss the child's brow. "Welcome."

Welcome to a world of beauty and discord, my storm-child. A world of battles laying siege to the vast plains and towering mountains and free, fiery people as this storm lays siege to our fortress in the finite dark of night. This is your home.

And some part of her knew that this child would never see true peace, that he would grow up in the midst of war and take his father's place as a prideful king, ready and willing to lead his people into victorious battle with all the passionate fire of his untamed ancestors. It was not the life she would have chosen for her son, but no one could fight destiny as it was written by Eru Almighty. The music would carry her son on his chosen path to his final destination as was woven in the timeless, resonating chords of forever beyond the edge of all things.

Perhaps it was superstitious, but Sáriel believed.

Chapter Text

It was the morning of his coronation, and Findekáno was plotting an escape of legendary proportions. Surely this travesty could not be allowed to take place! He would rather have eaten rotten orc-flesh than dress in these overly heavy, jewel-encrusted, dusty old robes and be set to melt upon the throne like a candle left too close to the fireplace.

If he were honest, Findekáno was simply not ready. He would never be ready, not to become king, not to sit on that throne and throw away his wildness and brilliant spirit on the altar of duty. The young prince could not fathom how fate had allowed this event to come to pass when already he had escaped its poisonous claws once and spared his people the ravages of his clumsy reign.

It was a simple fact: no one in their right mind would put Findekáno Nolofinwion on the throne.

There were many qualities about the eldest child of Nolofinwë which could be defined as "admirable", of course. He was well-respected and well-liked amongst even the most cautious and thorny of elves and men for a reason.

First and foremost, he was known for his loyalty and daring. Findekáno the Valiant, who never went back on a promise once it left his lips, who would never turn his back on a friend no matter the strength of their betrayal or severity of their broken bonds. Any vow spoken by the prince was a vow held unto death's door or fulfillment.

Was it not he, the eldest son, who had traversed the wild, unknown lands of Beleriand, who had approached the Thangorodrim and sung proudly of his ancient home in defiance beneath those dark shadows? Was it not he who had risked capture and death (or worse) to bring his best friend, his dearest cousin, away from dreadful suffering, to mend their families' broken alliance and the shattered friendships left in the dust of Fëanáro's madness? No man or elf could deny his courage, tested and steeled in adversity.

And he would do it again. He would have given his life for any of his family, even those who would leave him to die in the dark and cold.

His bright disposition, too, could not be faulted. Ever since he had been young, had grown free of the gangly awkwardness of youth, Findekáno had blossomed into a man of steadfast enthusiasm and a willing heart full to the brim with adventure. Rare was the moment in which the prince was not broadly smiling and cheerfully talking. Rarer still was the moment that he faltered in hesitation or discouragement, for his spirit could not bear such negativity, could not thrive under such weight.

And all of that was leaving out mention of the fondness for alcohol—

No one wanted to say aloud that their beloved prince was, on more than one occasion, a complete lush. One could hardly fault a man for enjoying a heady wine after a long day practicing in the hot sun (or the company of many lovely women with whom he could flirt and coax into removing their icy masks of propriety under the influence of his innate charm and a few glasses of spiked eggnog). The prince had never hidden his earthly desire for good food, good wine and good (feminine) company. And no matter how much he drank or how much he flirted, somehow the young prince still managed to flawlessly navigate the treacherous world of a royal socialite.

Friendly, honorable, handsome and a charmer—but still, Findekáno lacked one intrinsically necessary quality in any ruler.

He was not responsible.

Odd, one would think, considering his many other qualities (if he did say so himself), but quickly his friends and family learned that Findekáno could not be trusted with any sort of schedule or plan. He could not keep his desk organized or his wardrobe free of dirty undergarments. He could not even plan a simple gathering for afternoon tea, let alone run an entire nation of war-torn, weary people looking up at their king for guidance and example.

It was not a position he had ever prepared for or even contemplated, in all honesty. Of course, he had been trained as a young prince should, learning all the proper criteria to mold himself into the perfect heir, but he simply was not suited for a life behind a desk with men and women bowing and scraping for even a second of his scattered attention. Paperwork, meetings, councils and sessions of court for endless hours from the moment Arien rose from slumber until the moment she slipped beneath the covers of the Door of Night—it sounded like a form of monotonous, bone-wearying torture meant to wear down his wild, untamed young spirit into a dull, boring, heartless wretch of a creature.

If one had asked the man himself, he would have told them that he would make a horrible king.

And the last thing his people needed right now was a confused, disorganized greenhorn on the throne. As if the war looming dark on the horizon were not enough, adding an inexperienced and unprepared king into the mixture could spell utter disaster. It was a risk his people could not afford.

But it was a risk they had to take.

As awful as that truth was, Findekáno knew no other would step into his "father's" shoes and take his place as High King of the Noldor. He could not ask such a thing of Turukáno, who had his own safe-haven—his own people—depending on his pillar of strength for balance and foundation, for protection. Nor could he give it unto Artaresto's gentle heart; the healer who ruled Nargothrond was already grief-stricken at the recent demise of all of his brothers and dragged down into despair by the responsibilities of his older brother's vacant crown.

Things were as they were meant to be. Findekáno set aside his wild plots for escape (most involving daring leaps from the balcony upon velvet rope in which he would bravely latch and scale the side of his own fortress to escape his accursed fate) and reluctantly accepted his role. Suddenly, he felt all too tired, all too stretched.

There was a faint scratch, and the door slid open. "Are you prepared, my king?"

The title rested over him as a shroud, blocking off his lifeline of sunlight and stifling the golden bubbles of warmth that usually permeated his soul. Findekáno felt cold and heavy as he stood, his formal clothing rustling around him as an ocean, pulling down his shoulders and dragging back against his movements as if they personified the weight he would carry until the End of Days, or until he fell in battle. The weight of a king's responsibility in the hands of an unfit prince.

"As ready as I shall ever be." And if his smile was wane and pale, it was left to silence. His butler bowed and held the door open for his passage.

Findekáno crossed over the threshold and into the realm of kingship.

And a terrible curse it was. Of that, he had no doubt.

Chapter Text

Time brings all things to an end.

It was a strange concept for any elf born of the golden shores across the Great Sea. Under the grace of the Valar, sweet Valinor never declined, her golden fields never frosting and blackening in death, her flowers eternally blooming as watercolors dotted across a painting of green, captured forever in perfect stillness and harmony within a gilded frame. And, as the land never changed, the people never changed. They never aged and never died, never grew beyond what they were in their prime and never changed their ways, so set in tradition were they after thousands of years of routine.

This was not so across the Great Sea.

At his lofty age, Makalaurë had never been more aware of the reality of his world, the creation marred in the Song yet so perfectly harmonized in dissonance—his world, the cycle of decay.

It was a world where the people did not remain golden, frozen in time like watery after-images burned into the eyes. Their skin grew weak and wrinkled, their hands veined and knobby, their hair wispy and white, and then their bodies fell into disrepair, slowly breaking down until they could carry on their catalyzing and functioning no longer—a broken-down machine rusty from misuse—and the Gift of Ilúvatar was upon them at last.

They reflected the world they lived upon. So fleeting this bizarre place. Mountains once tall were brought low, carved and rent by the forces of nature beyond the description of awed tongues. Rivers were turned, their paths that had run straight and true for a thousand years suddenly shifted and diminished inch by inch by inch. Empires, once strong, fell into despair and ruin, their society unraveling at the seams until finally its frayed edges and rotting stitching could no longer hold inside the turmoil and discord bubbling beneath.

Everything would fall apart. As the flowers wilted into dust, so too did the gemstones of human history. Their golden age past, they withered in the hot sun under the heavy hand of long, unforgiving years until they were naught more than the whisper of a thought from whence they had been birthed. All that was left to mark their passing were relics of a bygone age, meaningless gestures that fascinated the modern man, but mysteries of fleeting interest once their secrets had been unveiled. One day, these vast empires of a mere millennia or two past would be little more than legend, would be lost in the vaults of time—as the great kingdoms of elven brethren and the vast empires of the southern men, as the lonely island of Númenor beyond the waves and the great dwarven strongholds hidden beneath invisible gates of stone.

Now, so many years after he had first touched the ever-changing shores—Makalaurë had lost his count somewhere in the Dark Ages—the world was reaching its pinnacle and again preparing for its descent. All around him, every day, millions of people swarmed as drones over the surface of their vulnerable, naked earth. Magic was all but forgotten and skepticism reigned supreme over the sheep of the newest generation of mankind, greater and more terrible than the last.

Already, he could see their unraveling, could smell the rot rising from within, the sickness eating away at the innards of the monstrous creature called modern civilization. The infighting and conflicts, the blatant murder and surreptitious scheming, it surrounded and engulfed the once-prince of a long-past land of nobility, honor and fading chivalry. He was a warrior—a murderer and a traitor and a sinner—but even he could not fathom what awaited just around the corner of the future...

"What has you so far away, laurenya?"

Vardamírë was behind him, and on her hip balanced a tray of pastries giving off the most delicious odor, wafting under his nose in a sultry dance, beckoning almost as seductively as his wife's hips. The moving world came back, and once more Makalaurë could feel its revolutions about the sun, could feel the movement of time flowing around his form, ghosting by as a cold wind that did not dare touch his blazing soul.

"Time," he replied, and looked down to his hands where they had paused in their working of bread. The flour spread up to his sleeves and the soft, cool dough oozed between his fingers. Once upon a time, he would have been horrified at the mess, but found it now very soothing and calming. "How long, do you suppose, the next generation will remember the ones who came before them?"

An odd question to an outsider, but his wife understood. She set her tray down and began to slip the pastries under the display window to tempt unwary customers into buying more than their stomachs could handle. "Perhaps a millennium or two. They will leave behind quite the scars, this youngest generation."

That they would.

Well he could picture the bare steel skeletons of past great cities rising into a hazy skyline of soot. Well he could imagine the desolate wasteland left behind as their lovely earth, the living sculptures of their Lady Yavanna and the treasures of Lord Aulë's deep caverns and the clean, fresh winds of Lord Manwë's wide open skies were stripped bare, taken and taken and taken and burned away into ashes until there was nothing left. Until there was no path left but decomposition into utter ruin.

Well he could imagine walking that earth and hearing long distant whispers of men who could flatten cities with a single blow, of monsters who could haunt a man's footsteps across the world, who could tail him into his very dreams.

But they would be only whispers, already mere rumors crumbling into tales told to frighten children into good behavior and early bedtimes.

And when all was said and done, he and his wife and his sons would be there, probably still baking pastries in some quaint little hand-built cabin hidden away from the world, watching as even the wake of destruction was scraped from the face of Arda, until even pollution and sickness and iron and steel melted back to the minute particles from whence they had been birthed, just as many an empire before them had done.

"The scars will heal," he said as he worked the dough between ancient, scarred warrior's hands, content and patient. "They always do. It was in the Song."

For time brought all things to an end, good or bad. And the cycle of decay, Makalaurë decided, had its own strange sort of charm.

Chapter Text

At first, she barely recognized him.

He was still taller than any man she had ever met, back erect and head held high with pride, towering over the crowds even as they parted about him, as though some evil stench or disfiguring disease physically riddled his form and was likely to infect anyone he brushed. He was still crowned in luxurious russet locks, long and curling in thick, silken waves around broad shoulders and over the rippling muscles of his bared arms. To her he came upon the street in a blue tunic, unadorned as a common merchant with nothing to his name but the clothes upon his back and the boots upon his feet.

Still, he was the most beautiful man she had ever laid eye upon.

But he was at the same time all too different.

She first noticed it when he reached her side and knelt in the middle of the street with his head bowed, first noticed when his hand rose to grasp hers, only the left, bare of the wedding band that had once adorned his fourth finger. His lips brushed her knuckles in the gesture of a dashing prince, but she could see that he was weeping openly, narrow cheekbones glistening in the fading evening daylight as he laid his forehead to her cool skin.

"My sweet Istelindë," he rasped, and his voice was low and unfamiliar, gravelly where it had once been dark chocolate and velvet. It was now strained, heavy with an unnamed weight.

His right arm rose, and she nearly recoiled at the disturbingly handless stump revealed to her gaze, the knob of his wrist jutting awkwardly from scarred, twisted flesh, permanently aching pink with raised marks and painted with blanched, jagged edges writhing over fair skin.

But the physical mutilation was nothing in comparison to her first true glimpse of his face, her first true glimpse of the dramatic change wrought through misadventure and suffering.

For that face that had so long had haunted her dreams and waking hours was nearly unrecognizable. Once, she had known it as she knew the back of her own hands, every curve and dip and angle of his regal cheekbones and straight nose and cleft chin burned into her mind as a vivid, eternal image. In their younger years beneath the golden and silver lights, he had been the most handsome and glorious of men—Maitimo, his mother named him, and he was perfect in handsome features and graceful form. His face had been narrow, but full with healthy flushed skin and dimples at the corners of his grinning lips.

He was not smiling now. Instead of dimples, there were deep lines etched into skin once smooth and flawless, circling the corners of the downturned bow of mouth and digging deep trenches beneath his steel-gray eyes. Between slender brows, a deep furrow reflected countless years of anger and an equal burden of sorrow.

Once brilliant eyes were faded and dark like ash, the silver stars she had once been so fond of gazing upon now shielded with a fog of destruction, smoke rising from the corpse of the man she had once loved so dearly, charred and melted away beneath the vicious heat of sin and betrayal. That man had been ravaged by unspoken horrors which she for all her worldliness could not even begin to imagine or understand. Hollow and filled with ghosts, those darkened orbs were ringed in bruised circles from nights filled to the brim with guilty thoughts and echoing screams.

But even so, a small flicker of the fire she so loved remained, licking at the back walls of grief like a glimpse of redemption. Somehow, the spirit beneath the battlefield of scars still smoldered, fighting against the treacherous downpour to awaken, to burst back into life.

"My handsome Maitimo," she responded softly, her voice low, her hand rising from his grasp to cup a gaunt cheek and stroke over sickly gray flesh. "I missed you so, my husband."

At her gently spoken words, helplessly, his lips twitched into a crooked grin, a pale shadow of the roguish expression that had first seduced her in the blissful years of maidenhood and naivety. But for all the washed-out glory, his sight still caught her breath in her throat, still stirred her heart into a beating frenzy, still left her breathless at the sight of the wonder in his eyes, the familiar hiding beneath this war-torn stranger with her husband's height and red curls.

For all the dramatic change, he was still her Maitimo, her mate. Her One. And no amount of sorrow could destroy the soft fire seared down to his core. No amount of suffering could unmake the other half of her soul or rend their bond apart at the seams. Each tenuous thread held strong and true. Though she could see the doubt in those eyes—the fear in that heart—it was unfounded.

She welcomed him into her embrace and laid his head upon her breast. And she forgave.

Chapter Text

"Please... please protect them, Nelyo..."

The voice was almost too soft to hear, and then the ringing in his ears overshadowed even the screams of the dying and the fleeing. The grayness encroaching upon the corners of his vision dulled the image of fading eyes and a slack face from view. The hand upon his arm fell, and it did not move again.

He needed to get out.

"Nelyafinwë, what is going o—?"

"My Lord, we were following ord—"

"Where are they?"

"The forest. But my Lord, Turkafinwë—"

Fire licking at the sky, and its heat scorched Maitimo's flesh, slinking over his armor and skin in glowing wisps, tugging at the ends of his hair, mocking in the darkness. All he could see was the flame and the smoke drawing a thick curtain over his vision, the roaring of this uncontrollable beast consuming the twisted branches in every direction covering his cries.

But not the screams.

Loud and long and full of agony, screams that brought to mind a blurry image of red and gold across writhing water and the dancing figure cloaked in russet and living fire falling, falling, falling and screaming, screaming, screaming and...

And helplessly, he could do naught but stumble forward until his toes hit something hard upon the ground, spilling him forward. Both hands flew upwards to brace his body for the blow, but the right turned to smoke at the brush of the earth, and Maitimo toppled into decayed leaves and dirt, the taste filling his mouth as his face was crushed beneath his momentum.

Still, around him there was nothing but enclosing darkness. His hand reached forward and touched charred bone, a leg, moved upwards to crisply blackened meat, to a body small enough to be a ch—

Empty eyes and faces filled with terror and pain. But the hair haloing their young, burned faces was not silver as the Man of the Stars, Thingol. It was dark as night, dark as the sire of their royal bloodline, spilled over the ground like blood.

"Oh Valar... Oh Valar forgive me..." His stomach revolted sharply, retching naught but bile forth, the burn lingering, caught in the back of his throat as his heart beat and beat and beat its way out of his chest, something terrifying rising and rising and rising until he could not hold it inside his earthly body any longer, could not halt the horrified cry.

"Elros—

"Elrond!" He shot upwards from bed, and nothing greeted him but the empty darkness. Before he thought, before he realized this was awake and not dreams, his feet were upon the cold, hardwood floors and pounding almost as fast and as loud as his heart twisting and banging upon the bars of his ribs to escape.

He needed to see them. He needed to see them alive. He needed to see them breathing.

Because Valar, what if it wasn't a dream?

What if they weren't safe?

What if they were dea—?

His hand wrenched open the door at the end of the hall, nearly taking it off its hinges, and the heavy wood slammed to stone with a loud crack that could have woken the dead from their sleep. At first, his elven eyes beheld nothing, and then focused sharply upon made beds with white, crisp sheets, cold from disuse, perfectly creased and devoid of any sign of life.

Empty.

Empty, empty, empty— Where are they? Where did they go?

The next door was opened, and the next and the next and the next.

Empty, empty, empty—

"Nelyafinwë, what in the name of Arda are you doing?"

"Where are they?" His fingers grasped a thin wrist, squeezed until the palm opened wide to the sky, fingers shaking from the strain of his grip. "Where are they?"

"They aren't here! Nelyafinwë, do you not remember?" The body he dragged beside him struggled, another hand catching at his arm and clawing desperately. "Nelyafinwë— Maitimo, please, calm down! Remember yourself!"

"Where are they?"

And he shook the soul he gripped. Were it not for the hand that tangled in his hair, that slammed his temple against stone and held, he feared he might have ripped the limb clean off. As it was, his dizzy vision could see it hanging limp, the shoulder at a strangely depressed angle. But he couldn't remember why it was important. They were important, and they weren't here and he couldn't breathe and—

"Calm down..." They were on the hard ground, and his face was scratched up by rough stone, but it cleared away some of the haze. "It will be okay, Maitimo. Just calm down. Breathe for me. Nice and slow—breathe for me, brother."

One breath. And then another and another. His heart still throbbed at the back of his throat as though it might jump out if his lips dared part, but his entire body felt suddenly weak—watery and jittery, trembling on the edge of falling apart completely. The fingers of his left hand, honed by centuries of hard work and endless hours of training, released their iron grip from about the victim, and he could see that dark bruises were blooming already around the angular bulge of a slightly misshapen wrist, swelling and limp from abuse.

"Laurë?"

"That's right..." The hand was in his hair, stroking. "No need to panic... everything is all right... I promise, everything is all right, Maitimo..."

Panic? But he was only... He was only...

"Where...? Where are...?"

"At the Isle of Balar with their cousin Ereinion, remember? We sent them away to stay safe. Far away from here, away from this war, remember, brother?" The voice was low, melodic, sweet, soothing, melting around him into a warm blanket thicker than wool and softer than silk. "They are well and safe. Safe and alive."

It came back slowly, the memory of parting with them, of kissing their foreheads and pretending that he was not weeping when they disappeared from sight, because he was Maedhros Fëanorion and he was not supposed to be able to shed tears.

What a bucket of horse shit. Even now, he was sobbing in thick, hiccupping waves as he pressed his forehead to his brother's shoulder, nuzzling into the safety of that pale throat like a child cuddling up to his mother after a night terror. The scent of newly fallen rain and roses wafted about him, and it was a welcome perfume, speaking of his brother's gentle nature and disposition, of the musician and artist hiding beneath a feigned mask of politician, prince and warrior.

And that gentle spirit was still stroking him, fingers gliding through his knotted mane and down his shaking back, tracing the bumps of his spine where they hunched outwards. "It will be all right..."

But it wouldn't. Even as he closed his eyes and rested fully upon his younger sibling, Maitimo knew nothing would ever be okay. He wasn't supposed to be attached. He wasn't supposed to feed the fuel of hope to dreams left in shambles. He wasn't supposed to care or feel guilty or long or worry.

Heartless, pitiless, murderous kinslayer that he was, he was not supposed to possess a heart. He was not supposed to fear for the lives of his victims.

But he did. And their empty beds filled him with hopelessness.

They were never his children to begin with. Yet the thought of them dying hundreds of leagues away beneath the cruel sword of his enemy left him cold and shivering in horror, his heart still racing with the aftershocks of nightmares and sharp, acidic anxiety.

They were his. His.

And they were gone.

Chapter Text

To my beloved Aegnor,

I wish you would not have mourned so desperately.

For lost ill-gotten love. For lost vague hopes and unrealistic dreams. We always knew how our collision was going to end—how the sparks would burst into the sky and light a fleeting flame of passion before plummeting back to the dark earth as a dying puff of smoke. We always knew that fate had not been kind to us.

We always knew it was going to end. In all truth, it had never begun at all.

I was mortal and you were elven-kin. We were at war, hardly the time to marry and host a family, to create life in the midst of the dangerous threat looming intently upon the horizon. It was not meant to be, our love. It was then, my darling, that you should have forgotten all about me, about my dark hair glistening in the silvered moonlight, about my fair face reflected upon crystalline water, about my name whispered upon sweet lips, and about the touch of our hands against one another in the silence of solitary togetherness.

You should have forgotten about the mortal woman and moved on with your immortal life.

But you never did, is that not so?

How would I know, you ask, dead as I have been for so very, very long? Maybe I am not as dead as you think I am. After all, how much do you understand of the world, of the reality beyond the edges of tangible and corporeal, about the inner workings of Eru Ilúvatar, our Almighty Father? Even the Valar know not what waits in His final plan, nor do they know what is possible and what is not for the hands that created the universe. Even the Valar know not the fate of Men once they leave the circle of Eä.

How do I know? I know because I have been watching. I never left, you must realize.

If you had moved on, if you had married some lovely, lively, beautiful elven maiden upon the golden shores of Aman and doled out a litter of elflings bigger than that of Fëanor himself, I would not have cared, would not have let bitterness taint the joy in my soul. I would have been happy—grateful that you were granted the chance at happiness I myself was denied. I would not have begrudged you delight of holding your firstborn or the warm comforts of a family at your hearth. But even as I think this now, I understand why you never did marry a simple, elegant elven wife and grow a broad family tree from your seed.

For the same reason, I imagine, that I never married a mortal man, that I threw away my youth and my beauty and my potential for motherhood. I wanted no other but you.

And you wanted no other but me.

In the Halls of the Waiting, you languished in a state of emptiness, sundered from all but your dark thoughts of what could have been and never would be, and the images of my face, fleeting and aging through the years until I was wrinkled and hunched and white-haired—an old woman long past her prime. You longed and wished and prayed and denied and screamed and begged to die a mortal death so that you might be at my side and not go on living forever to the End of Days alone.

But you do not understand. I never left. Not even for a moment.

Eventually you left the Halls. Eventually you left Valinor altogether, left behind the dark looks and the changeless glory because you could not bear to think of something eternal, of perfection without your One. I know you better than you think, my darling. I read your letters. I watched you wake to nightmares. And oh! but I wish I could have stroked your golden hair and told you that it's all right, my darling because I'm here and you are not alone. How I longed to give you the comfort you so desperately needed and denied yourself out of needless guilt and remorse. How I wished I could show you that all was well, that I could reveal myself to your gaze and see the despair turn to bliss.

Even now, upon the distant shores of Middle-earth, the vast green plains dotted with villages of men, all knowledge of elves nearly lost as your people flee to the West, you wait for something, for a sign, for some redemption or rejection. You wander and search tirelessly. At every lake beneath Elbereth's dome studded in adamant, you stood still and gazed into the endless depths of clear water and wondered if you would see my youthful visage staring back, or perhaps even my faded form of old age with only the same eyes as unchanged as my spirit.

Be patient, my Aegnor. I was born to balance that restless fire within you, so breathe my name and hold still for but a moment. Be patient and watch the mist reflected off the water in which you so desperately search, swirling up into the net of the stars. Watch intently and do not dare blink or look away for even a second. And maybe...

Maybe you will see. Maybe the eyes that haunt your dreams will peer back and the hands that run phantom caresses over your cheeks will reach forth once more to embrace you tightly.

Because I am here. Forever and always, I will stay by your side, with you until the world unravels and the stars crumble to dust and all that is real is dissolved into darkness, until the Firstborn join us in the Timeless Halls beyond the edge of Eä.

Perhaps, someday, we may yet be reunited. The mysteries of Eru Almighty are many, and His mercy is immeasurable. We may yet see one another again before the shattering of the Door of the Night and the destruction of Anar and Ithil in our vast skies. We are, after all, one spirit and one soul. One being. Fated.

And I am always with you.

Forever may you have my undying devotion,
Your Saelind

Chapter Text

Never would Artaresto forget his first sight of violent, cold-blooded murder.

People died from accidents. Occasionally a craftsman would severely burn himself or cut off a body part and bleed out. Every now and again a building would catch alight and leave someone charred to death or suffocated from the smoke. Accidents happened, even in the golden realm of Valinor.

But this was no accident.

The sightless eyes gazing up at the sky void of the merciful stars, the bodies strewn about like discarded children's dolls, their limbs cut from the strings of the puppet-master in their vacant minds. They were just shells, shells dipped in crimson with their entrails squeezed out onto the cobblestone and their brains leaking out from between white shards of skull, with gaping wounds bisecting them from throat to groin or spearing them straight through from back to front.

He was sick—violently, horribly sick, purging his trembling body of any food that it might dare to still be digesting until only slimy yellow bile came up to splatter into the water below. For the longest time, he did not dare move for fear of fainting dead away. His head spun and spun and spun in the dark.

Artaresto was a peaceful creature. Perhaps he could be nonchalant, even cold at times, but not detached from the world in truth. He was not heartless, and so many innocent lives lost, the terror and agony they must have experienced as they died from their vicious wounds, helplessly bleeding out over their homeland in a vain attempt to protect their homes and families, missing limbs or with organs spilling between their slick fingers... He could not even imagine... could not comprehend...

It was then that Artaresto knew that he hated the act of killing, and he despised those who would spill blood rather than seek peace through negotiation. For these lives had been wasted. And no one could ever make right the sins that had been doled out in the blackest nights of Valinor.

---

He was given a sword the very next day.

The young prince hardly dared touch the instrument of death, though his older brother was insistent. "For protection," Findaráto had assured him. "I would never ask you to harm anyone."

But could such a weapon be used for any other purpose but harming another life? Artaresto reached to his hip and touched the hilt, smoothing his fingers over cold metal shaped and designed to fit easily into the palm for easy, quick access. The chill traveled up his arm and down his spine in a bone-deep shudder, and he pulled his fingers away as if burned.

"Something bothers you, cousin."

It was Arakáno, the youngest of his uncle's children—a wild-spirited boy if he'd ever met one, perhaps more so even than Aikanáro, who was named for his inner wildfire. Silver eyes blazed with shocking excitement and anticipation, as though they were setting out on some fairytale adventure rather than into exile for the foreseeable future. "I see not how it is any concern of yours," Artaresto replied acidly, suddenly annoyed.

"I meant no offense," Arakáno was quick to reassure him. "I only wanted to help. It never does well to let such depressing fancies fester and set in for a long draught of rain."

Odd. Artaresto wondered if his upset was truly that transparent. "I am not comfortable with a blade," he admitted softly, not wishing to attract too much attention with such an admission, especially considering the general blood-crazed consensus of Fëanáro's people where they lingered at the edges of Nolofinwë's loyal company, licking their chops as if waiting for the next taste of spilled blood to pour down their throats in the sacrilegious succor of burning thirst.

"Not comfortable?" The very idea seemed alien to the younger elf. "Do you not want to become a warrior, crush the Black Enemy and take revenge for our grandfather, cousin?" As if there was no question, no other possible path or option.

No, I do not. He is dead; he does not desire revenge. Were he alive, he would not desire revenge. But he did not dare say such things aloud, not with Prince Fëanáro as he was, half-mad from grief, fey beyond comparison. Even looking into his half-uncle's eyes would surely bring Artaresto into a nauseating swoon, for the power in their depths would crush his mild, cool spirit all too easily and unintentionally—or with all the intent and the calculated trajectory of an invisible blade.

"I want to be a healer," he whispered instead. "I want to save lives, not destroy them."

"A healer...?" Arakáno looked as though such a profession had never occurred to him. "Is that not woman's work, tending to gardens of herbs and wrapping the wounds of their battle-torn spouses? People will think you odd."

The words struck some primal, boiling part of Artaresto that rarely surfaced, the red-hot rage that heated only under the pressure of great friction and conflict, becoming a brand to the flesh of the soul. How such ignorance and disregard for the lives of others infuriated and disgusted him to the core! "If killing is the only profession suitable to a man," Artaresto hissed, "I would prefer to be labeled a woman. At least then I could respect myself."

He stomped off into the dark to be alone and wished he could rip the sword from his hip and toss it into the writhing ocean waves, watch it glitter in the lamplight until the blade disappeared altogether, lost for all of time, rending him unarmed and untainted. But Findaráto's voice echoed in his head again, full of certainty and at the same time reluctance. "For protection."

The cold hand gripping the hilt pulled away. Artaresto left the blade at his hip and did not look at it again. Instead, he pretended it was not there, and eventually he forgot.

---

One did not live in Beleriand without being blooded.

In fact, Artaresto did not even enter the lands south of Angband without being blooded. Their feet had barely touched stone rather than ice and snow before the enemy was upon them. Never had Artaresto seen anything quite so monstrous as the servants of Morgoth with their blackened skin and their hunched, emaciated bodies and their twisted, misshapen faces.

The monsters did not hesitate to tear flesh from bone. They would do it with their bare, rotting teeth if they were disarmed.

And Artaresto had had no choice but to kill or die. It was he and his brothers of flesh and spirit that stood between children and these merciless, soulless creatures, and if he had to make the choice to fight or surrender a second time, he would do the same over and over and over again.

But the stench of intestines spilling out of a slit belly and all over his boots still made him retch. Stubbornly, Artaresto swallowed whatever came up and tried not to think about it. There would be time to be ill later, when lives were not at stake. Now his blade—blackened with first blood—slashed and parried and slashed some more, controlled only by adrenaline-flushed instinct as it detached heads from shoulders and slit open torsos and rent bone and muscle from any limb that got in its path.

In the end, the flow had slowed and stopped, no more enemies coming forth from the shadows, and Artaresto had trembled so violently his sword slipped from his grasp and clattered against the stone beneath his boots. No longer would his legs hold him upright, for they had disintegrated and bubbled into streams of water dissolving his flesh and bone. And if he sat in blood and who knew what other putrid substance, Artaresto could not be bothered to distinguish it from the flow of stomach acid and meager rations that came vehemently upwards and out of his mouth in throbbing, painful waves.

For how long he sat still afterwards, Artaresto could not say. All he could remember was the horror. He had taken a life—monsters though those slain might be—and they were dead. He had killed. His hands were soaked in blood.

"Nephew?" A hand rested upon his shoulder. "Artaresto, look at me."

Nolofinwë, looking exhausted and grieved and war-torn. He was smeared with blood, some of his clothes hanging at odd angles where they had been slit to reveal the mail beneath. The older elf knelt before him, grasping his hands tightly and halting their visible shaking, rubbing them between rough palms until they were warmed enough to thaw and tingle beneath the dirt-encrusted nails.

"You did well," the other elf reassured him, perhaps thinking it might soothe the broken soul fluttering like tattered butterfly wings in his chest. Only it was not a reassurance, but a curse instead.

Who wanted to be accomplished at killing?

"Thank you," he whispered. And he did not mean it. Tears pricked at his eyes.

Nolofinwë pressed a chaste kiss to his forehead and embraced him into strong arms. Artaresto, exhausted and helpless to the comfort, bedded down in the offered chest and wept. Perhaps it had not been a reassurance after all, because his uncle held him tight well into the darkening of the first long, hellish night.

---

Many centuries later, it came to pass that Artaresto was given the crown of his brother's kingdom.

He had become a healer in the early years of the days of unrest spent mingling amongst the war-ravaged Sindar and Nandor. They called him a gentle creature of the gardens (a woman some whispered contemptuously, but Artaresto would only secretly smile at the words), and he spent his days in the healing houses devoted to stitching back together lacerated and bruised bodies, to mending up the wounds of hopeless cases and putting back the jagged shards of shattered lives as best he could manage with the glue of affection, comfort and the best care he could offer. And the healer loved what he did, loved the role he played in the Song.

Until the day he had to trade it for the cursed position of King, the day his beloved older brother failed to return from the blinding darkness of Tol-in-Gaurhoth. Had Turkafinwë not been so utterly mad with jealousy and wickedness, Artaresto might have thrown the circlet of his stately position bodily at his cousin's thick head and told him to keep the damn thing or else bash it to slivers upon the rocks of the great caves carved by its true bearer.

They were at war, and he was no fool. He knew what kings did. They organized armies and kept their city running smoothly, and they protected their people by any means necessary. By killing their enemies.

By killing.

As a king, he was expected to hold war councils, to discuss the best way to trap and viciously filet hundreds upon hundreds upon thousands of the enemy soldiers, to discuss the best way in which to dispose of their rank, filthy bodies, to discuss the best course of action pertaining to the future problems and allies or opponents rising on the political scene—in some cases to order assassination in the subterfuge of moonless nights.

Artaresto was not built for such terrible forethought, was not a strategist or a general or a commander. He was not made for killing.

Now it was not just killing for battle, for momentary protection. Now it was planned killing, each movement marked out on a map like a bizarre game of ruthless chess. But the pieces were men and orcs, and any decision made from his lips could send anyone—under his command or his enemy's—to their untimely deaths whilst he sat safe in his halls upon his gaudy throne sipping from warm, thick wine and listening to his councilors and advisors whine and bicker and whisper in his ears with those oily, self-serving voices, and one hot-blooded soul crying for open war.

But he would still not touch the sword that swung at his hip, demanded through ancient ceremony. It had lain in his palm only once, and he vowed it would see blood only in exceptional circumstances. For he despised the act of killing more bitterly now than ever before.

---

They called him a lame warrior, whispered that it was no ailment of the body that hindered him from practice, that kept him from striking back in an attack and shielding himself from any glancing blow. Artaresto knew that many of his warriors thought lowly of him, thought he was weak and helpless, that there was something mad growing in his mind, the result of too many toxic herbs and hours in white-washed rooms.

They did not understand that his strength was the ability to resist, to hold back the visceral urge that screamed to rend and tear and destroy, the primal fear that rattled the cage in the back of his mind demanding that he fight back. Those men whose lives were devoted to the art of killing did not understand that no healer would willingly act violently upon another living creature without paramount reason, not even ones as evil as Morgoth's servants. Blood was blood and violence was violence. Artaresto avoided physically slaying at all costs, for the sight of spilled guts and the smell of rotting flesh and iron blood on the battlefield (on his hands and his clothes and his sword) still made him ill for days after each skirmish.

When the time finally came and their game had reached its end, when they were beyond hope as their enemy closed in around them, Artaresto closed his eyes and prayed that Finduilas would be safe, that his people would flee his city while the last of their soldiers held the overwhelming tide of ravenous, repulsive servants of the Darkness at bay. He prayed and held perfectly still, allowing his guard to leap before him to defend him from certain death at the cost of their own lives.

And when the guards fell, he raised his blade and fought. He fought until his body could fight no more, until he was blooded for his final time, alone and cornered, wounded and disarmed. And then he closed his eyes and did not raise his hands in defense. He did not peek through his thick, pale eyelashes to see the rusted sword swinging towards his throat. Barely did he feel the pain as the sensation of his body disappeared and there were only thoughts free of earthly chains.

Relief slammed down as a curtain shrouding the blindness of pain. For there would be no more killing, no more red and black painting his hands made for the sole purpose of healing and saving.

He would rather be known as a cowardly puppet king than as a cold-blooded murderer

Chapter Text

All things that ended started somewhere, somehow.

---

It started with a jump into the fire.

Though, in retrospect, Maitimo would hardly name it a "jump". More of a startled hop, in all truth, it was that brought him to his full height at his father's right shoulder, jitters of nervous anticipation running up and down his spine, butterflies beating their wings across his insides. "Who would join me in avenging their king?" his father had asked, and who was Maitimo to say "no"?

Physically, he had hardly moved, but the redheaded prince knew with great certainty that this was a pivotal point in his existence, the moment when everything began to go terribly wrong, when reality and right and wrong and sin and holiness were all mixed together like the ingredients of a primordial confusion until they were indistinguishable sludge, dissolved and reacted and conjugated into the unrecognizable.

That day, he had looked into his father's eyes and seen a chasm of fire, the edge crumbling beneath his feet.

It had swallowed him, stretching on for miles and miles into the depths of starlit eyes, waiting and watching and gaping hungrily for his untried, untainted soul.

Then, he had not understood what it was that stared back at him from his sire's eyes, branding him with their lust for revenge, with their insatiable need to reclaim and destroy. He had not seen the madness and unnamable grief for what it truly was then, nor had he realized to what end he pledged his immortal being when he spoke the word "yes" and held his sword aloft as a torch, glowing in the overwhelming darkness of the unlit world, the herald of sin.

When he leapt, he leapt to his death. Of this, Maitimo was certain. For that young, impressionable man he had once been—intrigued by politics, silver-tongued, but in many ways still very naive and foolish—that man was gone. He was charred and blackened, his bones crushed to dust and scattered upon a foul wind into the pits of filth in the deepest corners of Angband. The same fire that seared his father's soul now scorched away anything that remained of the person he had once been, and a new creature was born in the place of the old, the roots of insanity already threaded into his foundations, seeping in at the unplugged corners of his mind.

When he had been faced with the order to kill, Maitimo had not hesitated. Indeed, that new, strange part of his self—that justified part that languished in the thought of righteousness—had taken pleasure in spilling the blood of those who dared keep the Darkness from punishment at the hands of those so terribly wronged.

It had been blood spilled in the name of their king, Finwë, fallen upon the steps of his son's home. It had been blood spilled in the name of taking back what had been stolen from their father's keep. It had been blood spilled in the name of destroying the Black Enemy, whom the Valar had failed to control and failed to redeem.

He pushed all thought of guilt from his head—a foolish notion that had no place in his visceral world. Even then, he had been naive, had bricked away any conscience that might have writhed its way to the surface of his thoughts when his newborn darkness had needed it most.

Reborn and blooded, he departed the golden shores of Valinor to face his horrific fate. He had not realized that he had jumped to metaphorical destruction. He had not realized what was sacrificed until it was far, far too late to turn back. For the walls were too high and too sheer, slimy and blackened with soot, burning to the touch, and he could not climb them. He could not escape; only could he fall deeper and deeper until he reached the bottom.

---

As it began, it ended with a jump into the fire.

But this was a true leap.

And this time the chasm of fire was glaring back at him, an infected wound in the rocky muscle of the world, bellowing scorched air into his face, licking at the toes of his boots eagerly, as if it were a sentient beast desiring to taste his roasted flesh, to devour him whole in all his entirety. And who was Maedhros to deny it its dinner?

Perhaps it was the madness, growing and growing and growing like a poisonous tree with wilted, rotting leaves branching out through his consciousness. But the failure to carry out his oath, the rejection, it perhaps was the final ingredient, the toxic remedy that was now putting this vile thing in his mind into death throes.

All he knew was the searing facets imprinted forever into his fleshy palm and the pain, pain, pain worse than any torture Morgoth had inflicted upon his earthly body. All he could remember was the gaping maw and his all-encompassing desire to escape, to scramble and crawl and claw his way out until his nails were torn and blackened and his hand riddled with dirt-encrusted lacerations. He would do anything—anything to make it end, this plummet.

If his innocence and purity could be charred to ash, then so too could the corrupt, bloodthirsty monster that had taken his place.

It was the end, the bottom, and Maedhros did not hesitate to step over this edge. The agony was beyond imagining, but he reveled in every second, screaming and weeping in bliss, because if Eru had any mercy in His heart for the lost and forsaken souls, He would melt away the memories and the torments and the insanity. Maedhros would hit the bottom of the abyss, and he would shatter into a thousand pieces and be lost forever.

If his first jump had been a death of the soul, perhaps jump would be a new birth.

It should have horrified him to see the flesh and bone of his hand simply scald away at the touch of molten rock, to see the Silmaril glow like a fallen star and then disappear into the bosom of the world, perhaps never to be seen or held by mortal hands again.

But it brought relief and comfort. His hair turned to flames and his vision turned to black and everything was burned away by the fire. Perhaps even the inky grime of his spirit would be taken away and turned to ash.

And when the last droplets of consciousness fell away, he prayed only never to wake again.

But the prayers of kinslayers are so seldom answered.

Chapter Text

The insidious whispers were running rampant. Fëanáro would have to have been a stupid, thick-headed imbecile not to notice.

And if there was anything Fëanáro was not, it was stupid.

The eyes followed his form, little twinkling stars in the darkness beyond the mountains and bordered by the sea, left barren with the loss of the golden and silver lights of the Two Trees. Fear reflected back at him, fear of what lay out there in the wondrous unknown, a world that none of these Valinor-born creatures of peace and prosperity cold possibly grasp with their feeble minds. All around him, the scent of uncertainty buzzed with a sharp tang through the tense air.

But the unknown was not the only thing they feared. He knew with the certainty of all his knowledge and creativity and ingenuity that they feared him. Feared his anger and passion. And they should.

Part of him both reveled and resented that fear, the fear that could only lead down a darker path and kindle anger and hatred in unwary hearts. Oh, he had seen it before again and again, for men hated most what they found terrifying and glorious, wanted to destroy anything that might threaten their pitiful existence. But it put a rigid and unpleasant obstacle in his path, one that Fëanáro would have preferred to avoid.

These people—the people of his brother who followed on the reluctant train of a vow spoken in haste and unthinking passion—they feared that of which he was capable and willing to do to win this dangerous game. They, who had come upon his followers ruthlessly pillaging Alqualondë for daring to stand between the prince and his ultimate goal, knew that he would not hesitate should they put themselves between him and his goal as had their Telerin predecessors, that they too might join the already-weighty list of sacrifices made in the name of avenging their dead king and his firstborn son's honor.

Well he remembered the look upon his half-brother's face as he beheld Fëanáro at the docks, streaked in blood with a newly christened sword in his palm and eyes all aflame with the glory and battle-lust heavy in his breast. Nolofinwë, too, felt his certainty wavering at the sight of carnage and destruction in the name of justice—it had been as a sour odor upon the air.

Fool that he was—fools that they all were—they did not realize that already they maneuvered themselves into the position of the sacrificial lamb on the chessboard of fate.

It was a shame, a true waste, that his half-brother had not even a sliver of the righteous fury that consumed Fëanáro just thinking of what the Black Enemy had done to their family, to their ruler, to their people. It sizzled and writhed in the back of his throat like a scream waiting to break free in the heat of battle, to ring out over the fortress of the enemy and let them hear the resonating tones of his cruel wrath and let them tremble knowing he approached to tear them asunder!

How he thirsted for blood!

But Nolofinwë was not the same. Even now, as Fëanáro approached his brother's erect form, the younger elf seemed to shrink away from him like a child waiting to be struck, eyes narrowing as though the light of the eldest son's eyes were too bright to gaze upon with mere mortal vision.

"We will continue up the coast. The breadth of the ocean will thin the farther north we travel," Fëanáro informed the silent, stony-faced younger prince in his mellifluous, velvet voice of persuasion. "It is then that we shall cross bearing as many as can be carried, and then return for those left behind. But for now, let us take rest. Your company grows weary, brother."

"You are right," Nolofinwë murmured, eyes downcast and mouth set in a thin line. Displeasure was all too evident in the crease of his brow and the clench of his jaw. "At the wax— On the morn we shall continue to travel north. May you be blessed with a good rest, brother." And he dared to grasp Fëanáro's forearm and squeeze in feigned affection, a stilted and wooden gesture with the stiffness of taut muscles behind its force.

Fear, fear, fear, boiling over into resentment...

But Fëanáro did not overly concern himself with the false oath of his half-brother, nor with the shadowed gazes that followed his retreating form as he sidled through the heart of his brother's camp as though he owned its loyalty unquestionably. Murmurs were inaudible to his ears, though his name was hissed as a demon's in the night behind slender hands.

The twinkling stars watched his back as he returned to the darkness of his own resting camp.

For he had said to his people and his sons, "Sleep early and sleep well, for in the early hours we wake and make for the opposite shore. I will inform my half-brother and his company."

He did not tell them that he was not informing his half-brother of the plan, only initiating the sequence that would lead to their perfectly executed escape in the embrace of the newly created blackness of the world. And Fëanáro smiled to himself, warm contentment bubbling in his belly now after accomplishing one more great step forward. This would be the last he saw of his faltering kinsman and those useless, cowardly souls following behind as mindless sheep.

Sacrifices needed to be made. And nothing—not even kinship through blood and mourning—would spare those who would hinder his path towards resolution and satisfaction of the horrible churning pain that lurched through his spirit, screaming for the soothing feel of hot blood over flesh and the fading light of fallen enemies' empty eyes. He would rend them apart!

It was shame, a true waste, that Nolofinwë stood in his way.

For his brother would wake to betrayal, and Fëanáro knew that by leaving behind these treacherous, fearful souls on this far shore, unable to travel forward into the icy wasteland and unable to go back to the safety of golden sands, he was sentencing them to death. Or worse.

And Fëanáro did not feel guilty, for they had brought upon their selves this sad fate.

Chapter Text

Whenever he had the coherency to think, Maeglin wondered if his uncle realized that he had been taken from the edges of their encircling mountains, that he was a prisoner of their greatest foe. He thought of distant silver eyes staring out of an empty, stern face and wondered if his kinsman even cared what had befallen him, or if perhaps Turgon was relieved that the face and form of his sister's murderer had mysteriously vanished in the darkness, lost forevermore.

But that was only when he had a train of thought to wonder.

Mostly there was just pain and terror stretching on and on, or some mixture of the two churning together until he was lightheaded and quivering in thoughtless limbo, waiting for the next wave of agony to overtake his mortal body and send his mind into a paroxysm of despair.

And there was the sinful voice, creeping over the edges of his mind and sinking deep to stir at his consciousness and pull him up through the heavy ocean of insanity.

"Tell me, where lies the first gate to the Hidden City. Tell me, and I shall release thee..."

Sometimes he understood. Sometimes he knew that what he was being asked was dangerous and secret, that to speak with an honest answer upon his tongue was to be named a traitor to his blood and kin. He knew it was wrong and only screamed and wept, but dared not speak a single word for the temptation hovering just out of reach.

"I know what thou dost most desire in the world, the golden hair and gentle smile that never belonged to thee, but that thou dost covet..."

Ah, but one would have to be a blind fool not to see, he thought. It was the sweet kindness and the gentle touches upon his shoulders, comforting in his time of darkest thought and greatest need, that had drawn him magnetically towards her, hopelessly and helplessly attracted to purity of body and spirit. Everything about her made him sigh in ardent affection, lovesick beyond reason, beyond logic, beyond the laws of his high-elven kin. Her skin so smooth and hair so brilliant in the fading rays of Arien, her large eyes framed in long lashes, filled with compassion and bright hope... She was everything he was not, and everything he wished to capture in the palm of his hand and hold for eternity in the cage of his fingers.

But she was not for him. Jealousy curdled in his stomach, revolting sharply with the pain and the blood expelled from inner bruising. Those words were true, for he desired Idril more than any earthly trinket or passing pleasure. He wanted her to be by his side always, so that he never be alone and always be bathed in her glorious light, her unending love. Yet she loved another...

And oh! how he despised Tuor the Blessed, son of Huor, how he longed to spill that mortal's blood for daring to touch his cousin, his love!

No right did he have to be so possessive, but still he longed and lusted...

"I can give thee anything thou dost wish. I can give thee thy uncle's kingdom. I can give thee thy enemy's wife. I can give thee thy cousin and make her forget about the mortal man..."

The image sprang forth like a blooming flower in the dusk, vibrant against the gloom of a rotting world rendered barren from death and horror and betrayal—an image of his head crowned in garnets and his form robed in white with the slender, golden-haired woman haunting his dreams at his side, smiling tenderly as she dipped her hand into the crook of his arm. From around them emerged the smoky figures, children with the almond eyes of Maeglin and the golden mane of Idril...

He would be king with his queen at his side, and Idril would love him back. All he wanted was for her to love him back...

"Tell me. Tell and I shall give what thou desirest most..."

Thick and sweet like honey, the voice dripped over his skin in a warm blanket against pain and against fear. All he needed to do was tell, give away the location of the first gate, admit that there was no other way out of the city, and that vision could become reality.

But he thought again of his uncle, of that unwavering face and unyielding heart like stone. To speak was to become a traitor. To speak was to cast his honor down unto the rocks as had his father's body been cast from the walls of the city. To speak was to lose everything he had gained since escaping the wretched existence in Nan Elmoth, locked away alone in the dark...

The burning hurt was now fading, lessening with each passing moment. His tormentor had ceased with devices of pain, of stretching tendons to snapping and bending bones to breaking. Maeglin hung limp and recognized only the damp scent of deep earth and rock, the smell of being away from fresh air and open sky.

He dared not open his eyes.

Fingers stroked over his aching jaw—broken and swelling badly. But the touch was soft, almost intimate as a lover's caress, not painful but a mockery of comfort. "Tell me what I wish to know, dear child of mine, and I will make them love thee as thou hast always prayed..."

Eru give him strength...

Digits tangled in his hair, matted with filth and blood, pulling until his chin bent helplessly upwards. Maeglin's lashes fluttered, and between the veils of thick blackness he saw burning twin fires.

"Look at me... Tell me, and that life is thine..."

So passionately he desired it, with a longing so deep that his soul ached for it, and yet some part of him still resisted, still screamed that this was wrong and he needed to keep his silence, that he could not betray his people as they had been betrayed so oft already by those who should have been allies at their backs.

"Please," he rasped, "Please cease..."

The stroking stilled, fingers frozen where they were buried deep in his mane. Nails scraped over his scalp as slowly the hand clenched into a fist, knotted at the roots, threatening, looming...

"Cease," he continued. "For you shall receive no information from these lips, wretch! Return to lick the sullied feet of your thrice-cursed master, slave!" Finally, he looked, and beheld a face of breathtaking beauty contorted into tangles of fury, and he spat at those eyes filled with ash and flame. The satisfaction of seeing disgust and revulsion on his enemy's face was worth losing the handful of hair that was viciously ripped from his skull and the nauseating shot of pain vibrating through his face when a clawed hand raked over his visage, breaking his nose and tearing flesh asunder.

"Fool," the voice snarled in his ear. "Before the end, thou shalt regret that thou didst throw away my offer so frivolously!"

The hands moved, sliced open flesh to the bone, bruised deep into muscle, but Maeglin did not tell, did not speak. All the passion in the world—be it his undying devotion to a woman who would never return his love or the soul-deep suffering wracking his young, untried body—could not make him tell as long as he still had faith.

Eru give him strength... Maeglin prayed for a quick death as his body was ravaged again, his mind blanketed with nothing but agony and shattered shards of molten glass. He prayed and waited...

And waited...

And waited for mercy that would never come.

And doubted...

Chapter Text

With joy, Curufinwë lifted his young son into his arms and spun the child until sweet bells of laughter rang through the clearing, mixing with soft golden light and gentle warmth. Tiny arms gripped tightly around his neck, and little one squealed at the playful twirling and dipping, feet not even touching the ground. The fifth son of Fëanáro did not think he had ever felt more content than when he hefted the child upwards to press a sloppy kiss to one chubby, grinning cheek, and when he felt an equally messy kiss on his cheekbone in return.

Then his son called him atto and asked to play. And Curufinwë obliged. He would have it no other way, in truth.

Most might find the urge to spend an afternoon so frivolously rather surprising, considering who his sire was and how his sire had raised his hefty brood of seven. Bitterly, he thought of the estate far removed from Tirion, the place of his father's exile and the place he had spent most of his young life hating.

Formenos was little more than a prison cell.

Curufinwë did not think his brothers could understand this analogy from his supposedly blessed lips, and he had never attempted to explain to any one of them, for he did not think they would listen.

Far be he from an idiot. He knew that Morifinwë was jealous of usurped attention and fatherly pride. He knew that Turkafinwë resented what he perceived as weak-willed acquiescence. He knew that Nelyafinwë would have given almost anything to have his intrinsic skill with the forge and the fire. But none of them, not a one, knew what it truly was that they coveted in their younger brother.

They did not hear the words.

"Curufinwë, just exactly as his father, with the same temperament and the same skill, the same mind and body, a son to be proud of..."

"Atarinkë you shall be called, my son, for I perceive your sire in your spirit..."

It was a curse. Nothing more and nothing less. The curse of clipped wings and stifled individuality. What his brothers had, their innate uniqueness, their personal visage and their subtle fingerprints of talent and interests, those were what Curufinwë desired most.

It was half the reason he almost never came home, half the reason he built with his own two hands a house for he and his beloved to reside within as they started their new family, far away from the place of his father's exile, far away from any forge billowing smoke and any eager, prideful star-eyes in the darkness. In the open air, with none but his wife and child at his side, with no princely duties or heavy expectations, he was not the second coming of Fëanáro, some washed-out doppelganger of an impossibly distant peak of power and skill.

Away from his father's heavy gaze, Curufinwë could pretend that he did not possess a name at all, could be called only husband and father while flying on the intoxicating heights of freedom, of being himself and no one else besides.

The other reason he never went "home" was, of course, his son, and the fear of what awaited any heir of Fëanáro's perfect child in the complex social and political atmosphere that surrounded the Crown Prince wherever he went, even into the distant countryside. The last thing that Curufinwë desired was to see his son taken away day after day into the stifling hot darkness of the forge to be taught the skill of metallurgy and craftsmanship by the master of masters amongst the Eruhíni, to be shaped and wrought as skillfully and wickedly as any dagger or sword into yet another perfect but somehow incomplete, lacking copy of the original.

And it was this reason he gave no father-name to his son, whose mother provided him with a mother-name prophetic enough to make Curufinwë wince. It was not, he admitted, quite as terrible as being named "Little Father", but alluded to the skills of the House of Fëanáro nonetheless. Telperinquar.

That was enough of a name for the boy, who already received compliments that teetered dangerously on the edge of being insults in the mind of the father.

"He is glorious. Were it not for the eyes, I would say he looks just like you—just like his father and just like his grandfather. What a visage he will have!"

"Tell me, then, cousin, what have you named your son? Curufinwë? Surely it would be a good omen, the passing of talent from father to son."

"I suppose he will be a master of the forge. One would expect nothing else!"

He wanted to strangle them all. For it was exactly these sorts of assumptions, these conceited, thoughtless comments, that had stolen away any identity Curufinwë may ever have possessed in his own right, left him with nothing but his father's overwhelming, suffocating shadow.

And when he set his son down in the grass and tickled the boy until there were squeals of joy and they rolled through weeds like rambunctious puppies until they were both covered in green stains and smeared with dirt, he did not perceive even a droplet of his fey and terrible sire in the child. He perceived only something individual and unique, something that could not be copied and that should not be changed or molded, something attributed only to the life created by the sacred joining between he and his wife. This was no doppelganger.

He wanted Telperinquar to have a chance to grow and learn unhindered. He would not be the father he always despised and clip his son's spiritual wings.

Let the others think what they might of the sanctity of bloodlines and the silhouettes of kings. Let them dream of another set of skillful hands to build them unimaginable treasures and provide them with ingenious contraptions and designs. Let them wait and be disappointed when no third coming of Fëanáro, no third Curufinwë, emerged from the nest as a shadow of his predecessors.

Let his child shine as his own star, flying on the winds of freedom, choosing his own course. The father could think of nothing more beautiful.

Chapter Text

"You cannot run away from your fears forever. The past will never leave you behind unless you leave it behind first." That was the advice his father had given him upon catching him leaving for the mountains in the dead of night like a thief.

Truer words, Celebrimbor could not recall.

If only reality were so simple.

Up in the mountains, higher than any rational person would consider living, striving for survival on the deadly edges of cliffs daily and sleeping beneath the gentle snowfall and listening to the thunder in the gorges below, Celebrimbor was more alone than a single flower blooming in a frozen wasteland. No one ventured this high into the Hithaeglir, not even in their diminished glory after thousands of years of wearing, their peaks no longer jagged wolf-teeth piercing the sky.

But despite the danger and the loneliness, Celebrimbor found it easier to live here, so utterly alone, than to face the past that he wished would disappear.

Every year, his father and mother would send a missive, a disguised plea for him to come down from the heavenly heights and stay with them and their kin, to head for what was left of Lindon on the edges of the sea, to see his younger brother who had married in the years since his disappearance, to meet the newest member of their family of exiles. And every year Celebrimbor would shred the fine parchment between his fingers and scatter it onto the high winds, watching the confetti drift as snowflakes into the distance with the heavy buffer of the wind. And he would never even blink.

He did not dare say yes.

Perhaps it was cowardly, but he did not feel as though he had much of a choice in the matter. A drought had come over his spirit, burning away the dangerous emotions that he feared to drown beneath. It was only this barricade that kept the unnumbered tears at bay. No brand of anger to scorch his bones. No rays of hope to torture his soul. No tide of sorrow to bring down the rainy season upon his head and sweep him away.

For if he began to cry, the elf feared he would never be able to cease.

He had seen it all before. He had seen how his father wept for loss of his mother. He had seen how Maedhros wept for the loss of Fingon. He had seen how Maglor wept for the desertion of his beloved sons. He had seen how Orodreth wept for dreams crushed beneath the weight of responsibility. He had seen how Aegnor wept for desperate longing. He had seen how Celegorm wept for unrequited love. He had seen how Caranthir wept for cruel fate. He had seen how Finrod wept for the future he desired but knew he would never possess. Every one of his kin wept for something, cursed as they were by the thoughtless words of a vala. Unnumbered tears of a Cursed people, on and on forever.

But it was none of those things that Celebrimbor son of Curufin would weep for. It was the desolation of devotion, the ultimate betrayal, and the hatred in fire-bright eyes...

No, better that he spend year after year holding himself tightly in check, feeling nothing but the cold bite of wind on his rosy cheeks and the cold touch of snow upon his lashes. If the rains began, he feared he might die and fade away.

And yet...

And yet as a new year came upon him, the snows began to melt farther and farther up the mountainside as they alway did with the coming of warmth, he felt the smell of a storm upon the air. As though the Lord Ulmo had heard the sorrow of his song in the lost haze of fallen snow melting and spilling down from the passes in gushes of pure water, the thunder and downpour of new spring broke upon his camp and soaked the elf down to his bones.

How much longer could his eyes remain dry? He steadfastly ignored the cold streams of water over his cheeks and pretended he did not taste salt as he licked his lips.

How could he ever face the past that lay in his wake and not fall apart at the seams? When the rain finally lashed down upon the land and extricated its payment from his fragile soul, would he be able to rise from the newfound world, sated of thirst, as one whole and sound?

Celebrimbor did not know how much longer he could wait in solitude for the answer.

Above his head, the Manwë's broad demesne wept crystalline droplets upon his world. Perhaps... perhaps he could bear to think of the all-encompassing heat of his terrifying memories with the refreshing water slipping over his slickened skin as a comforting touch, soothing away raw wounds left to fester, stoking forgiveness withered and parched without watering of the spirit.

Perhaps he did not have to forget. And perhaps it really was that simple.

And the heavenly tears did not stop until the green of healing peeked through the cracked, dry ground. It was that summer, Celebrimbor would fondly recall, that he first met his nephew.

Chapter Text

It had been a very, very long time, but Ecthelion was an elf and elves rarely forget. No matter that at least six thousand years had passed him by in waiting and rebirth, he still remembered as though it were yester-eve, for how could a man forget the way in which he died?

Seeing the familiar curves and angles of that ever-sharp blade changed nothing. But they brought back memories with painful sharpness.

Still, his hand curled perfectly into position, knowing instinctively how the hilt would fit rightly into his palm, each curve settling deep into a callus built and honed for its use and balance. It was the sword that he learned the art of death with, the partner that had accompanied him into every skirmish and terrifying battlefield, that had never failed to strike down a foe until the day he perished.

Orcrist had returned from the dead, just as had her lord and companion. And she was in the hands of a dwarf, blazing in the sun as though she had been newly-made just yesterday, looking as perfect as when she had first lain in Ecthelion's inexperienced hands, his fingers and palms soft from a life of nobility and luxury then trained into a steely grip and rough hide.

It was exactly this way in which she gleamed before unholy flame in their final hours. As she sliced through the air to cut down his foes, she threw off black blood as though too pure for it to latch upon and stain, untouchable in righteousness.

For some strange yet undeniable reason, Ecthelion felt something vaguely resembling comfort bloom in his chest. Surely this discovery was a good omen? Orcrist might not be his blade any longer, but she had slain two Balrogs as an extension of her lord's feeble arms, had brought countless lesser foes to their knees, and had been with him unto the very end, until he had dropped her from his nerveless fingers and heard her metallic clatter on the cobbles, his injured arms too weak to hold her weight.

Would she again see such glory? The elf hoped so, for he did not think he could bear to see her shamed. He would see her in honorable hands, or no hands at all.

And it was this urge that led him to corner the dwarf, the King Under the Mountain who did not possess a mountain, as twilight fell upon the city of Imladris.

---

There was an elf. Annoyance twisted at Thorin's gut. Could the pointy-eared nuisances not be gone and leave him be for even an hour? He was sick of their height (for he hated craning his neck to see their alien faces) and sick of their voices (sweeter and softer than any woman's) and sick of their patronizing disposition (because, Mahal curse them! he was not a child!). The temptation to throw something was powerful, causing his fingers to twitch, but Thorin held off the urge and turned to glare, to wait for the venomous conceit.

Yet this elf, dressed in embroidered silver and deep blue, did not immediately order him to go somewhere or do something as one would a clueless child. Nor did he gaze down his nose at the smaller man with distant, distrusting or repulsed eyes as did many of the others, as though the dwarf's lack of height and pension for facial hair were not only highly disorienting and aesthetically displeasing, but also contagious.

"Greetings, Master Dwarf," he said instead, dipping into a bow that was deep enough for respect but shallow enough to make it clear that they were of equal status, not a King and a servant.

And Thorin was often a rude man to those who deserved his ire, but he had been raised to return respect with respect as a civil man, and thus returned the bow at the same angle with a gentle incline of his head. "At your service, Master Elf."

"Forgive me for intruding upon your solitude," the elf said then, his voice shockingly deep for one of his kin, more as a dwarf's timber than that of a sprite of the woods. "I could not help but take note of the blade you carry."

Thorin reached to touch the hilt, feeling cold metal beneath his thick fingers. "It is of elven make from the city of Gondolin, or so your Lord Elrond has informed me," he replied, wondering of what interest it was to this creature. "I found it in a troll hoard on the Great East Road."

The elf's lips pursed in what might have been displeasure, but probably it was displeasure at the thought of cave trolls possessing such fine craftsmanship, a sentiment with which Thorin could at the very least sympathize. "Would that she had spent time in better hands," the ethereal creature finally murmured. "I knew her lord, fought as a member of his household. Orcrist, she is named, the sword of Ecthelion, Lord of the House of the Fountain."

Most of that meant nothing to Thorin, except that this man to whom this sword belonged was important and well-respected. And that suited him fine. A noble sword in the hands of a king seemed poetic justice, even if the blade was forged by elven smiths rather than dwarven. "Pray forgive me, but I have never heard of such an elf."

"One cannot expect your elven lore to be up to scratch," his newfound companion returned, sounding ever so slightly amused and not the least bit insulted by the faint snub. "It was a very long time ago. I had thought this blade lost when her lord fell in the destruction of Gondolin. With this sword, he slayed two Balrogs and fell downing a third."

Demons of the underworld. Thorin knew enough about Balrogs to know that they were creatures not to be trifled with, for Durin's Bane was one of those fiery creatures of evil servitude. And to kill three of them as a man clothed in mortal flesh!

His fingers tightened about the grip of his new weapon. Worthy, it most certainly was, to have tasted such rich and glorious history.

"I am certain that to see it in righteous hands, fighting the darkness once more, would have made Lord Ecthelion a proud man indeed."

Thorin looked up then into blue eyes, incisive eyes that pierced right down to his core. Use her well and honor her lord's memory, they ordered, and for once Thorin did not feel slighted at the demands. Would he not have done the same, were their places switched? It was not about bad blood between races, but about honoring the dead who gave their lives for all the right reasons, and dwarrows honored the fallen as fiercely as their elven foes.

"I will see to it that she draws the blood of many more servants of the darkness before the end of her years," he promised. "She has served me well thus, and a king needs a reliable blade."

A smirk formed on those lips. "Indeed, he does," the other agreed. "I will leave you to your silence now, Master Dwarf, with my curiosity fulfilled. Have a pleasant evening and try to hold some patience for our kin. Our people share unyielding stubbornness."

There was another bow, one which was returned, and the stranger vanished.

And Thorin... Well, he could not say he liked elves, but every now and again he encountered one which he could stand. Just barely.

---

Later Ecthelion found himself standing upon a balcony overlooking the company of dwarves in their smallclothes, roasting meat over a fire and generally making merry in the safety of the Last Homely House. Though he was not partial to the stunted race, he found their cheer to be catching, and his smile blossomed once more.

A glisten below caught his eye. The halfling and his knife. And did that not look familiar?

"Has your curiosity been sated, then, cousin mine?"

Ecthelion, still smiling, turned to his king and cousin, laughing deeply. "Indeed it has, Turgon. And yours, my cousin?"

The former King of Gondolin shook his head wryly. "I have little need to wheedle and pester a maia about the importance of swords. There is little doubt that Olórin will bear Glamdring with pride and dignity as befitting her stature. But still, I wonder..."

"Yes? What is it cousin?" Ecthelion was looking down again at the halfling, mind distant.

"I wonder if there were any other treasures to be found amongst that troll hoard." Turgon's eyes, too, fell down upon the company of dwarves, upon the hobbit twisting and turning his elven knife in inspection, running soft hands over elegant curves.

Eyes silvered with Noldorin blood darkened as a storm over the sea, and Ecthelion knew he was not the only one remembering those dark days of betrayal and terror.

And then wondered suddenly as well if a black sword rested amongst the stinking filth and scattered treasures accumulated in some dank, musty hole in the ground somewhere between here and the rolling hills of the Shire. And wondered if it would ever find its way back into innocent hands to carry out its malignant curse.

But maybe some things were better left unknown.

Chapter Text

It was the middle of the night, and the baby was crying. So very long it had been since her own son was this young, but Lúthien still remembered the sleepless nights well, and her relief when Dior had been able to sleep from dusk until dawn with no interruptions. Sighing, she rolled over upon the mattress and made to rise with her hair in disarray, only pausing when she realized that the opposite side of the bed she shared with her husband was conspicuously empty, the imprint still warm. Which meant Celegorm had awakened to the wails and was likely in a terrible mood, fumbling around trying to quiet the child.

She pulled on her night robe and went to save the baby from the stone-carved scowls and snarled words for which her mate's kin were renowned. As predicted, the temporary nursery's door was wide open, and she could see a tall silhouette within. She stepped closer, preparing to interrupt an ill-tempered glaring session, and promptly froze in place, shocked in stillness.

For the very moment she saw little Kíli in her husband's powerful arms, Lúthien knew Celegorm was a natural parent.

It was in the cant of his body, the way he pressed the child softly to his own warmth and was painfully, breathtakingly gentle in a way few could imagine a man of his past and stature. Almost immediately, the tiny dwarrowling stopped his loud wailing and sniffled quietly, huge brown eyes staring up and up into Celegorm's pale features and bright gaze.

Long, slender fingers—fingers she knew were honed for wielding sword and bow, for killing in the cold blood—traced over chubby, soft flesh, stroking a button nose and over surprisingly dark brows.

Strong little fingers captured the traversing digit, bringing it to a toothless mouth, and it was all Lúthien could do to silence her coo of delight when her husband did not so much as flinch away from the drool and sticky touch. That tall body, lithe and muscled, was rocking on its heels instinctually, and gradually even the whimpers and whining ceased as the dwarrowling closed his eyes and suckled contently away.

The very sight made her heart ache, for what she wouldn't have given to go back and see her own son in such arms, happy and at peace with his sire. It was not that she did not love Beren, of course, but Beren had been built for adventure and dashing romance, not for parenthood, and had stood awkwardly on by as his wife bustled about cleaning and feeding and bathing their infant son.

And Dior, of course, had never really been Beren's to begin with.

Biting her lip, she wondered if, perhaps, she had robbed Celegorm of something even more important and essential to his wellbeing than her love and devotion. Because at this moment, he did not look like he could have harmed a fly, let alone slain thousands without hesitation or remorse.

He looked like a father. And it made her faint heart stutter.

---

Kíli was crying.

Groaning, Thorin rolled out of his makeshift bed in the living room before the hearth, leaving little Fíli alone, snoring softly. As much as he wished he could leave the child-rearing duties to Lady Lúthien, he knew that it truly was not her responsibility to be up in the middle of the night attending his infant nephew. And (he added to himself) he did not want to be more in-debt to her and her burly husband than he already was.

The crying died down before he even reached the doorway.

For a moment, Thorin contemplated going back to bed. Clearly Lúthien had beat him to the nursery. But perhaps he should offer to rock the child into dreams so she could return to sleep? As much as babies still confounded him, it was his duty...

That decided, he padded with bare feet into the hallway. Only flickering shadows from the fire in the other room illuminated his way, but he could see in the dark well enough to make out the womanly shape poised in the doorway to the nursery, and that it was infant-less. Blinking, he finally made out her face, staring into the room with eyes that were distant and glazed, an elven look if he ever saw one. Always, they seemed to be looking into the far recesses of the past, never towards a better future.

"My Lady—"

She held up a hand to halt his words, and then beckoned him forth. Thorin yielded without a fight and found himself standing beside the fair elf, eyes adjusting to the sterling moonlight spilled across the nursery floor, broken with the blackened shadow of a faintly moving figure.

But if Lúthien was out here, then—

Then it had to be Celegorm in there with the baby!

It was at that point when Thorin would have flown into a panic worrying that the sharp-tongued bastard had put a pillow over his nephew's face to snuff out the crying nuisance had Lúthien not laid a gentle hand upon his shoulder and squeezed. "Look," she murmured, sounding like a girl speaking of her very first love, unabashedly enamored and completely starry-eyed with that breathless quality to her lyrical voice. "Look at them."

And he did look, at least enough to see that the elf he knew as being an ill-tempered, hot-blooded, murderous fiend was rocking his nephew to sleep like a seasoned parent. For once, sharp brows were not furrowed into a permanently furious expression, usually pursed lips left relaxed to bloom into a soft little smirk, eyes no longer frosted over with frigid calculation and contempt.

It was just an elf and a baby. Everything was perfectly quiet and so still that he could hear their breathing, could make out the swish of Celegorm's long braid as he rocked and the flutter of miniscule fingers holding the mighty elf's hand in place as a bottle or toy to be gnawed. Soft hums rose, easing around them as a warm blanket on a cold night, sinking down to the bone.

Well he could remember the first few times he had taken care of Fíli when the boy had been that tiny and helpless, but he never had the aptitude for it. Always, his hands felt too broad and awkward, too heavy, as though they might accidently bruise or shatter tiny, brittle bones. But in this image before him, there was not an ounce of awkwardness, not a trace of the ruthlessness so intrinsically present in the elf that he had come to know over the past month living deep in the mountains.

"I did not know he had such skill with the little ones," Thorin murmured, barely audible, more to himself than to his equally silent companion.

Lúthien let out a breathy sigh. "Indeed, I doubt even he realizes. He has not spent overmuch time with young children, not even in the days before leaving the golden shores."

Thorin never would have guessed, not whilst watching the scene before his eyes. "He will make an excellent father, if this is just instinct." In the dwarrow's experience, it took many months to ingrain parental instinct into one's bones. Until his nephews' father had died, Thorin had never bothered to do so, and afterwards he realized how utterly stressful it was, how foreign to his ancient and stubborn blood. No, the king without a mountain was not created for fathering little ones.

But this creature surely was.

At his words, he felt Lúthien draw a sharp breath. "He would have, indeed," she whispered. "But perhaps..."

Melancholy surrounded her, this beautiful elven creature with the stars in her eyes, who even Thorin could not help but fall in love with just a little. She just looked so heartbroken, so saddened, that he wondered if perhaps he had said something he should not have, but somehow she was still smiling tenderly through the sheen of tears glistening her endless blue gaze.

"Let us leave them be," she finally said, pulling him away from the doorway. "Your nephew is in good hands."

Longing could not be written more prominently upon her features.

Nor could nostalgia and regret.

And as she kissed his brow and walked away to her own bedchambers, Thorin found himself wondering exactly what it was that he had missed in their exchange. Surely such a skill in her mate would be highly prized, more so than skill in the forge or whittling wood or hunting with a longbow?

Confound the elves! They never made sense!

And with that in mind, Thorin headed back to his blissfully warm and comfortable bed, reassured that he would not be awakened again this night.

---

And Lúthien, for her part, returned to the comforts of her bed and fell into Lórien's gardens, dreaming of silver-haired babes and hushed lullabies with the breeze of spring and flowers on the air. Sweeter than sugar and warm like Arien's rays, the idea inexorably settled into her subconscious, the vision of her dearest husband rocking and soothing their infant son.

It was not an idea that would be fading as the morning mist. Implacable as an old oaken tree, it laid its roots deep into her spirit and began to grow and branch towards the sky.

Celegorm would never know how that one little glimpse changed everything.

Chapter Text

It was a moment Tyelkormo had been dreading with all his being for more than a millennium, a moment that had kept him locked away in the Halls of the Waiting out of stomach-churning nerves.

He absolutely did not want to face Artafindë again.

One could hardly hold his reservations against him. After all, was it not he who had betrayed his cousin and sent the noble, honorable king to his death as little more than a beggar with ten loyal servants to his name?

To claim the throne. To remove a troublesome pest. To sate his thirst for death in times of relative peace. Tyelkormo had heard all of these theories before, but none of them were even close.

All of it was for the sake of the woman beside him.

Tyelkormo felt Lúthien's fingers squeeze his arm, trying to soothe and comfort his vividly restless spirit, but he did not think anything could comfort him at the moment, not with the purest form of shame washing over his skin as acid, clawing its way beneath flesh down to bone in waves of agony that could not be treated. If he could, he would have bid the ground open and swallow him into its gaping jaws so that he might never be forced to thrust his presence upon his family—upon his cousin, who deserved much better than he had been dealt from the traitorous hands of close kin.

Because their long-lasting friendship had not been shredded and thrown to the wind over a circlet or a kingdom. It had never been about the crown. It had been about jealousy and obsession. And Artafindë, kind and generous Artafindë who had once been one of his few true friends on the golden shores, had merely been in the way, an obstacle to be removed.

Removed without hesitation and without remorse.

"What should I even say?" he wondered aloud. "What can I say?" Nothing seemed appropriate but to fall to his knees and beg for forgiveness, and even his infamous pride could not have halted him but for the fact that he deserved no quarter of hatred and would therefore ask for none.

"Tell the truth," his lover's dulcet tones chimed in his ears. "None of us are fully to blame, and none of us are completely blameless. You may have acted through love and jealousy and desperation, but it was not you who swore an oath to Beren's progenitors. It was not you who threw Finrod into the dungeons and devoured his friends. It was not you who killed him in the cold blood."

"That does not change my betrayal of kin unto kin. It does not change the fact that the filth of sin has defiled anything pure we once might have had."

Cool fingers touched his cheek, turning his face. Tyelkormo was nearly too ashamed to meet his lover's eyes, for it was she who should hate him the most, perhaps even more so than Artafindë. "Do you truly believe that?" she asked. "Between us, the taint of dark past was swept away, allowing new, hopeful light to burst forth. Cannot the same be between yourself and your cousin?"

"It should not be that way," Tyelkormo rasped. "He should not forgive me for spitting upon hospitality and sympathy offered in old friendship and kinship."

She pulled his forehead down to touch hers softly. "Sometimes it is not about what should or should not be, but about the heart's desire. Give Finrod a chance. Give yourself a chance."

"I will try..."

They parted back into two separate creatures, but his lover's warmth at his side was a reassuring pinprick of light in the overhanging darkness and doom washing up upon the shores of his mind. It was then that they entered the halls of his forefathers, and Tyelkormo stood in a vast room with Artafindë as kin through blood for the first time since that fateful day of needless betrayal and broken bonds in Nargothrond so many years ago.

Helplessly, his eyes trailed to golden hair, locking with orbs as bright and endless as the sky.

Artafindë.

The face was not as familiar. Scars raked over what had once been unspeakably handsome features, leaving them trenched and jagged, distorted into a visage no maiden would find appealing. But one only needed to glance at the soul beneath to know that Artafindë was a selfless and righteous man worthy of devotion and loyalty. And anyone who could not look beneath the skin-deep marks of his devotion to oaths and his indescribable bravery was not worthy to lick his boots.

He was the polar opposite of Tyelkormo, who felt the weight of his sins and the stinking odor of spilled blood hovering around his body even now. That anyone could bear to be close baffled him. That Lúthien could bear to touch him, to make love to him, to kiss him, left him stunned.

Between the two of them, Artafindë was undoubtedly the better man, and Tyelkormo would not grovel for forgiveness from a pure soul, did not even want to taint his cousin's ears with apologies.

But it was not he who approached the other first.

Shocked, he watched his dearest cousin slip away from the golden-haired woman on his arm and cross the room in long, confident strides like the king he had been born to become. Each second, he drew closer, and Tyelkormo's throat grew tighter with a strange sort of fear. Why he was afraid, he could not have said, but the symptoms were unmistakable—the heavy pulsing of his heart in the back of his throat, the sweat on the nape of his neck and the nervous nibbling of his lower lip.

Until they were standing face-to-face but three feet apart, and it was all he could do to stay on his feet and not crumple to the floor spewing empty words and promises that could never be kept.

Silence surrounded them. The room went quiet as all eyes beheld the estranged cousins.

No words were forthcoming, but Tyelkormo's lips parted anyway. "Cousin... I—"

The rest of the air was squeezed out of him by a shockingly powerful embrace.

"Thank Eru!" Artafindë gasped. "You have finally returned!"

What in the name of Ilúvatar…?

Confusion no doubt was plain upon his face, but Artafindë merely laughed and grasped him by the head, turning him this way and that to receive delighted kisses upon each cheek and one upon his brow. "Cousin, so greatly I have missed you, I cannot even describe!"

I do not understand.

"Artafindë, of what do you speak?" he whispered, eyes wide. Because surely Artafindë could not have missed him. Because Artafindë should not have missed him, should have been grateful that his tainted, treacherous spirit was locked safely away in the Halls of the Waiting so that it could not spread and infect the holiness of the untouched lands of Valinor.

"Am I not allowed to miss my own kinsman now?" the golden-haired man burst out, grasping his forearms and shaking lightly. "I have been waiting long to see your eyes returned to brightness."

"I merely thought... Did not think you would care to see the man who sent you to your death."

The room was still holding its breath. It was not as if they did not know the tale of Artafindë's bravery in the black pits of Tol-in-Gaurhoth, or who it was that had driven him out of Nargothrond with a tiny slew of loyal subjects to protect him. The actions of his cousin had been honorable from start to finish, if not admirable, whilst Tyelkormo's were heaped in the darkness that suffused all of his line.

Yet he could detect no trickery or malice in the wide-open eyes. "I am no fool, cousin mine," Artafindë professed, his gaze flickering over to Lúthien's unearthly beauty. "Indeed, I have known you since I was but a boy. Did you truly think you could hide your motivations from my eyes?"

Tyelkormo's heart swelled. Had he been completely obvious about his affections? But no, none of his family had been aware that he had done anything more than lust after Lúthien's glorious face. None of them had known what she was to him, or that he had been watching her for decades heaped upon decades in cemented longing, praying for a way to claim her despite all the odds stacked against their future.

And when that opportunity had arrived... Well, all things begun by his House well would end in tragedy, or so it was spoken. And that prophecy rang with truth.

"I had thought it rather... well hidden."

"Indeed." Artafindë smile was blinding. "It was my time to depart, and I was ready to return home to by beloved's arms. Perhaps you were not the only selfish man squabbling over Nargothrond's entirely unwanted throne."

"And you would forget everything I did, just like that?" It was too good to be true. Too good to be real.

A hand gripped his shoulder tightly. "If there was anything to forgive, I would forgive in a heartbeat, but I cannot say that had our places been switched I would have acted differently." That scarred face sobered. "That I can say that I would not have acted from the same desperation would be a lie—for my Amarië I believe I could have done anything, good or evil—so can I blame you for doing so, my dearest old friend?"

"You should," Tyelkormo replied softly, though he wondered if he would have blamed Artafindë had their roles been reversed. It was a dangerous contemplation.

All he received in reply to this statement was a long, piercing look. "Sometimes, it is not about what we should do, but what we want to do, and I do not want this dust and ash between us to settle forever. Let us sweep away this past that covers the polished facets of friendship. Let us start anew."

Could it really be so simple?

"I cannot forgive myself so easily," Tyelkormo insisted, voice cracking ever so slightly. "It will always be there between us. The past is not as dust that can be swept aside on a mere whim."

"Oh, but it is," Artafindë assured him. "And I told you, there is nothing to forgive, my cousin, my dear friend."

Another hug wrapped Tyelkormo in the familiar and yet unfamiliar warmth of his cousin's blinding light, a light that was not hungry and devastating flame of the Spirit of Fire, but the gentle caress of Laurelin's gleam upon shivering flesh. The resistance drained away, and though he did not return the embrace, Tyelkormo felt a little lighter for it.

It was a start. All around him, light burst through his earthly body—the light of his cousin's understanding and his lover's beaming smile—to brush away the filth thoroughly encrusted upon what had once been Tyelkormo of Tirion in younger days. As the dust was swept away, the sweet dream of endless green fields and the sweet air of mountains reappeared in the back of his mind, a resurrected ghost of a wish long since abandoned to ruin, a painting uncovered from millennia of neglect. A little droplet of hope.

Chapter Text

When first she heard the footsteps crunch upon untouched grass, she hid from sight amongst the shadows, fearing some creature of darkness was coming upon her from behind.

But there came amongst the trees a stranger of the likes she had never known, and he was certainly no twisted servant of Melkor. He was no ainu either, that she immediately could sense, as he was bound in the fleshy cage of a body, but he was no less beautiful for his unknowing captivity. In fact, his sight and stance stole her breath away from her lips—this work of the Father could not be described in mere words, for she had never seen such glory! No creation, not the towering trees of the Lady Yavanna rustling overhead or the sweet voices of the Nightingales born from Lord Irmo's gardens, could compare with the grace of his measured movements or the brilliance of his broad smile or the wondrous fascination in his young eyes.

Tall and crowned in silver light as a star living and breathing, he passed through the woods like a lantern lighting his own way, humming softly beneath his breath in a baritone that vibrated through her body and did strange things to her mind. Heat sparked beneath her skin.

It was like an enchantment, watching him, hearing him, though she knew he had no knowledge of such magic and could not have cast a spell over her, ignorant as he was of Words of Power and the language of the Ainur, even had he so desired. He did not even know she was there, hiding herself from his passage through her domain in the twilight.

But she saw him. She saw him.

If anyone later asked, Melyanna would have said it was then that she discovered the darkness of the world—not within the shadows and gloom creeping down from the North—but within her own heart.

Selfishness was the word created to describe it, and greed soon thereafter. But when she saw him, so overcome was she with her need to possess him, to have those glowing eyes looking only upon her with such delight and admiration forever and longer until the world rusted and crumbled, that she parted her lips and whispered in the tongue of her brethren, whispered for the trees to encircle his passage and lead him astray into her arms and for the Nightingales to lift their voices in song so that they could be heard for miles around and fill his ears with her music.

So enchanted was she with his beauty and spirit that she brought him deeper beneath the boughs of trees until the labyrinth was so great he would never find his way out of the forest, nor would his kin find their way in to save him.

To save him from her.

And then she felt her chest swell and sang all the air from her lungs.

About her, the world took on a sheen of magic, writhing as a tangible creature, swimming through the air thick as water, twining with the trees and shaking the leaves into hushed harmony.

And he heard her, his footsteps pausing midstride in the grass. His head turned towards her voice, away from the camp of the Tatyar, away from the camp of the Nelyar, pulling him aside as though he were attached to her will by an unbreakable thread, drawn taut so that he might not stray to either side. And if he would later say his feet carried him without his knowledge, Melyanna would pretend not to hear.

She would pretend that, when he entered the clearing and first beheld her with his eyes wide and his handsome face morphed into shock, it was not silently spoken Words of Power which made his eyes catch upon her face, unable to move, unable to blink. She pretended that it was purely love at first sight—as he would later claim it to be—which held him immobile for decades stacked upon decades as the trees grew taller and wilder, that kept him gazing only at her beauty and no one and nothing else, just as her yearning heart desired.

She would pretend that it had not filled her with bliss, with a strangely shadowed sort of ecstasy, and with the tinny taste of that power to which all dark maiar were drawn, the power that sucked them in and rotted away their holiness until they were naught but demons, enslaved to their own greedy whims.

Melyanna was not as those demons, but neither was she pure and free of sin. For it had not been solely riveted desire and longing and love which had cemented Elwë silently before her in the dusk, but also enchantment of the most real and devious nature.

Guilt, she should have felt. Remorse, she should have quivered with. Redemption, she should have sought in her prayers to the Father. But she could not regret and could not be sorry for what she had done in deceit.

Because even now, thousands of years later, she still gazed upon his face with awe and marveled at his glory. Selfishly, but with satisfaction. She was his wife, his love and joy and ecstasy.

And he could not escape the trap in which she had captured his beauty.

Chapter Text

The darkness that had hovered over their blessed wood for so long was fading away, flushed aside under a roiling mass of foaming brilliance. Green things were growing again, the toxic undercurrent that poisoned the land drawn from the earth's veins as if the Valar themselves sucked it from the gaping wound rent by dark magic and evil. As the days waxed and waned, Thranduil's heart lightened, a massive weight lifted from his trembling shoulders with the new health and branching life.

For the Elvenking was as one being with his realm, and when the Greenwood was sickened so too was his heart, shadowed in dread, eating away at the corners of his mind where he could not find it, could not drive it away, his clawed fingers passing through something intangible and lurking as a noxious smoke. But with the defeat and destruction of the Dark Lord, he felt the entire earth blooming in relief, singing in ecstasy, the sunlight finally piercing through the thickly layered leaves overhead and heating the world beneath.

Flowers unfurled their greedy petals in the Greenwood, vibrant crimsons and violets. How long it had been since Thranduil had brushed his fingers over the sweet flesh and smelled the honeyed nectar of a wild bloom!

No more shadows. No more despair. His people rejoiced with their king and their land. For the first time in a great long while, Thranduil took to his rich drink with a grin and enjoyed the merrymaking of his folk.

And that night, when he met the flame-haired stranger in the wood, there was forgiveness glowing in his face. Joyfully, he cupped familiar cheekbones and drank of his lover's taste. Perhaps it was foolish, a fancy brought through intoxication and overwhelming passion, but he cared not that night, or any night afterwards.

"It has finally passed. There is peace," he whispered with his forehead pressed to the other's brow, staring into eyes flecked a thousand shades of storm and viridian.

The other sighed, their breath mingling. "Let us pray it stays as such for a good many centuries." They had both been veiled in the shadows of war and evil, and both were tired of running away and of fighting tooth and nail to survive.

Now, they could finally rest. Thranduil's heart beat fast and strong with life, with anticipation of what the next day might bring. With renewed hope.

For nothing seemed wrong in the world.

---

It was months later that his youngest child returned home.

But it was not the boy he had sent away on a simple mission to interrogate Elrond Peredhel for information on the gathering darkness who was now standing upon his doorstep. No, this was an aged creature. Shocked, his stomach sinking to the vicinity of his toes, Thranduil beheld tiny wrinkles at the corners of his child's eyes. The smile that had once been as a breath of fresh air filling the lungs with delight and wonder in times of need was now thin and wane, stretched and utterly broken.

Even war did not often do such things to the soul. Certainly the death of a comrade would bring needles of sorrow to the heart, but nothing like this merciless despair that seemed to wrack the stranger in his son's boots. From his memories came unbidden days of senseless wandering and the memory of pain and fear. He could see the reflection of himself in this child of not even an age of the world, and it tore apart anything that Thranduil recognized.

Shadows had filled his son's eyes where once there had been only light.

Around them, the world began to recover, began to breathe again, but his son's soul faltered, its fire sputtering desperately without air, a flickering candle holding the tide of the night of the heart at bay. And Thranduil did not know what to do, what he could say to ease such suffering. Helplessness chilled him to the bone.

He did not know what to do when his youngest child came to him and wept. Did not know what to do when Legolas told him through soft, heaving cries that he would be leaving, that he would not be coming back, that he couldn't bear to stay beneath the thick canopies of the trees of his childhood home, connected as one with the land. No longer did the voices of Yavanna's beloved creations bring him the same awe and joy they once had. No longer did they soothe. Only torment did they bring.

For Ulmo had called him, and Legolas could hear nothing but the sea's raging chaos and the cry of gulls upon a distant wind.

Day after day, skin grew paler, taking on that gray tint that spoke only of lingering death, a wilting flower growing black around the edges, crumpling into disrepair. And, though he long denied it, Thranduil knew he could do naught but let his little one go, watch a gray ship ferry him away to some distant place of everlasting beauty.

And they would never meet again, for Thranduil's heart did not yearn after the Undying Lands. He was a sinda, born and raised amongst the wild growth and freedom of Beleriand, and he longed not for white-washed architecture and tamed fields of flowers and waving barley.

It was for the best that Legolas packed and bade the Greenwood farewell in the dead of the night, disappearing as a ghost whilst Thranduil was tucked sleeplessly away, tossing and turning in harried thought. If the king had had to stand in ceremony and bid goodbye (Goodbye forever until the End of All Things) to the prince, he thought he might have collapsed into a pile of silken robes, finery and broken fears, weeping piteously before his people.

But it was not the people who beheld his tears that day, nor did they soothe the newfound darkness that filtered out the rising glory of the light.

It was strong arms that held him so safely and gently, and hot kisses that brushed his cheeks and temple. It was the breathy whispers washing over his skin, drying his tears, and the hushed lullaby that stroked through the ragged discord of his song, harmonizing and softening with sweet overtones. It was the brush of red curls, tickling against his nose, and the scent of warm comfort suffusing freckled skin.

"He has gone," Thranduil had gasped between wracking shudders, clutching for dear life to that strength. "He has gone."

"I know."

It was a presence so powerful and so brilliant which held these final shadows at bay. And it was the rumble of a steady heartbeat that rocked him into exhausted sleep.

It was the touch of callused fingers that awakened him to a new day.

Chapter Text

At first, he did not even recognize the ragged elven thrall.

Tall and thin to the bone, in nothing but a dirty loincloth, the poor creature looked more like an emaciated, aged human than an elf. Shoulders hunched inwards, muscles quivering in terror, and eye sockets empty with blood smeared down gaunt cheeks, those were the first things Gwindor noted. But the telltale shape of pointed ears confirmed the elven nature of this tortured soul. In his heart, rage was kindled on behalf of his kin; to see anyone brought so low unjustly made his stomach clench and his blood boil with need to rend and tear!

Where he stood out-looking from the fortress, Gwindor leaned over the edge, his palms scraping painfully upon stone as he clutched the topmost ledge of the outer wall.

They dragged the thrall by his shackles—his wrists were weeping scarlet at the sharpened cuffs and his throat was bruised from maltreatment—and threw him forward like a child's doll. The stranger tumbled down as a limp thing, crying at the impact with jagged rock that sliced open elbows and knees without mercy.

A hand curled sharply in a mane that might once have been pale and glossy, beautiful and full with health, but was now shorn, thin and dirty, the wispy white of an old man's hair. Backwards it pulled the thrall's head, wrenching a half-formed scream from the blinded, terrified captive, bearing that visage to the pale-faced elves gazing out over the wall in horrified shock—Gwindor amongst them, shaking and feeling ill to his core.

"Take a good look," the filthy creature of darkness snarled up at them, face twisted into a parody of a grin, contorted as though it had been melted by blazing heat and left as a deformed wax visage. It roughly shook its clenched fist, rattling the confused thrall, who whimpered pathetically in pain and fear. "Take a look at your kinsman, elves of Nargothrond!"

Nargothrond? But I do not recognize...

Gwindor's throat swelled shut, his eyes widening until whites blazed about hazel irises. He looked. He looked.

And saw.

Saw familiar grins as phantom shadows in the falling light of day. Felt powerful hands clutch at his forearms in greeting. Remembered cheerful kisses pressed to his cheeks and a broad hand ruffling his hair from above. Recalled the comforting scent of home, warm, freshly baked bread and the metallic tang of weaponry.

In that face, he beheld a mask, overlapping the monstrous, gaunt, tormented creature kneeling and shaking before their inspection with familiarity so incisive it seemed as shards of glass stabbing unto Gwindor's throbbing heart.

"Gelmir..." His voice cracked sharply.

Sightless though he was, the thrall jerked as though he had heard the call upon the wind, as though he had been struck by a barbed whip of lightning.

His brother. Oh Valar, his beloved brother, his beloved dead older brother... Dead, he was supposed to be dead! His suffering was supposed to be over!

And panic. Writhing downwards into his limbs, whipping his heartbeat into a frenzied gallop. But his legs were inlaid to the stone. For the life of him—for the life of his brother, Eru forgive him!—he could not move. Could not breathe. Could not think.

Impotent with horror, he could only watch.

"We have many more such at home," the orc told them, and the others laughed amongst themselves, their gestures too obscene for Gwindor to dare comprehend. "But you must make haste if you would find them," the enemy continued, "For we shall deal with them all when we return even so..."*

A blade was unsheathed. Gwindor shook at the ringing vibrations cutting the air. Gelmir below him keened low in his throat, struggling weakly, knowing intuitively the fate that was crouching in the darkness, ready to leap upon his helpless form.

Equally powerless the brothers stood. But rather than cleaving off the thrall's head, the servant of Morgoth did much worse. Grasping the manacles arms, it pulled them taut and outstretched before the elf, pressed with breaking force to stone, and raised its blade overhead. With a sickening crunch, it came down and buried into rock, serrated edges fileting clean through muscle and bone, removing both arms above the elbow in one fell stroke.

He imagined Gelmir screamed, but Gwindor could hear naught above the ringing in his ears as he watched blood spurt forth in a tide, its copper scent so strong that it hit him as a cliff's face. His knees weakened beneath him.

And then it moved to a leg, forcing the bony limb out at an angle bent wrong and had it pinned in place so that it might be plucked as the leg of a bug. Bile hit the back of Gwindor's throat as the shrill shrieking in the air; others beside him covered their ears or wept bitterly, knowing they could only sit and watch and wait for their king's word...

But then it mercilessly hewed off the last limb above the knee, and the thrall squirmed and thrashed as a beast wracked with torment, pleading in garbled tongue as his lifeblood leaked out and out and out as a river down between sharp stones, as he was unable to move, to flee, to fight, to do anything but lie before his tormentor and wait for the end to come. The orc pressed a foot onto the elf's bowed back and shoved him down into stone so he writhed as a speared fish on land for the amusement and jeering of the enemy's troops.

With a grin that belonged on the wicked visage of Morgoth himself, the orc finally dealt the last blow, cleaving head from shoulders. Gray encroached upon Gwindor's vision; his head went light and fuzzy, his world spinning.

His brother was supposed to be...

Many more at home...

Dead, dead, dead, dead...

Blood leaking over stone, dripping, its thick scent swallowing him in a blanket of death...

And Gwindor felt rage swirl into the jittery lightness of his suddenly freed arms and legs. Hot and uncontrollable fury and terror flooding through him for every ounce of crimson spilled before his eyes. Acid burning his lungs out of oxygen, needles stabbing poison into his heart, claws twisting his ribs and ripping his organs. He knew he screamed, knew obscenities burst from his lips, felt hands holding him back as he raged and raged and wept and wept...

He had stood by and watched his brother die. Never had he felt so helpless, so useless and wretched and traitorous...

We shall deal with them when we return even so...

More comrades captured? More elven thralls enslaved and tortured and blinded? More frightened souls lying beneath their tormentors to be raped and pillaged and murdered for sport?

Gwindor had been powerless, but he would be powerless no more!

"Wait, my lord! The King said—"

"Fuck the King and his orders!" the impassioned Lord of Nargothrond cried, throwing aside all who dared step in his way. "All of like mind, make ready. I will not see those demons live to breathe another sunrise!"

He would ride out. And he would make them sorry. He would make them pay.

He would give them a taste of their own medicine. And when he watched them writhe on the ground, pinned beneath his spear, watched them slowly succumb to the leaking acid of their stomach or the sluggish bleeding of their intestines into the black earth, he would laugh as one possessed and revel in bringing his enemy low. Perhaps he would even gauge out their eyes and watch the black blood smear down their cheeks.

Perhaps then the guilt rising as a tight knot in the back of his throat would unravel. Perhaps, then, he would not hate himself for standing aside and doing nothing.

Chapter Text

There was a soft knock at the door. It interrupted the steady train of thought—thoroughly entrenched in the subtle intricacies of political science and its many applications—and pulled the oldest Fëanárion back to the reality of his bedchambers, back to the golden light peeking through the half-pulled curtains guarding his windows and the echo of the foreign sound off his walls. Had he imagined that? But then it came again, still gentle, almost hesitant.

At first, Maitimo suspected it was his mother for the lightness of it—his father would simply barge right in without bothering to knock, and his brothers would at least attempt to rattle the poor slab of wood off its hinges before admitting defeat and slinking away to brood at being ignored.

But whereas Nerdanel would never open it unannounced, unlocked or no, he heard the handle turn and the wood give a faint creak as his door cracked open.

Two sets of large, mischievous green eyes peered through the slit between wood and frame. Maitimo just sighed. "Come in." He knew better than to send them away; he would not be rid of this pair of troublemakers so easily. If they did not have his dutiful attention now, they would find some way to capture it later, some way that would probably involve a very large, sticky mess that needed scrubbing. "What is it that you need, little ones?"

They pushed the door open farther and shuffled inside. Tunics, stained with dirt and frayed at the edges, adorned their tiny bodies, and their wildly curly hair was full of dreadful knots and twigs. Maitimo winced at the thought of untangling that mess later this evening. Certainly it would not be his father or mother tending and braiding those locks before bedtime. Though the image of watching the unshakable genius Fëanáro struggle with childhood braids and tangles was secretly enough to put a half-hidden smirk on Maitimo's face.

Most likely, the twins were searching for a playmate. Often enough, they were shoved aside by their older siblings. Kanafinwë would occasionally make time for them, but was more interested in teaching them music than playing in the grass and dirt. Turkafinwë would roll his eyes and tell them to get lost. Morifinwë and Curufinwë were not even worth taking the time to question, for they had no interest in being associated with the "babies" of the family and would kindly send the twins off alone to get into trouble unsupervised.

Which, of course, left only Maitimo to assuage the twins' hunger for older company.

He fully expected a soft entreaty of "Will you play with us, Nelyo," from the lips that parted beneath his narrowed, expectant gaze.

Instead, he received "Will you help us bake cookies."

For a moment, he didn't quite comprehend the words. "Cookies?" he repeated skeptically. "Have... have you asked Amillë?"

"Emya is busy."

"She said to ask Káno."

"But Káno was busy."

"He said to ask you."

A pause.

"I do not know how to bake cookies." Which may or may not have been a blatant lie. It was not like their father ever had time, and Nerdanel could not cook anything even remotely resembling edible. It was only by the good graces of a hired cook that they didn't all starve in this massive house. But she was not in charge of concocting sugary treats for greedy elflings; that job had definitely fallen into someone else's hands.

But Maitimo liked to pretend otherwise. It was embarrassing to admit (even to himself) that he was more skilled at baking all manner of pastries and sweet delights than he was at shaping metal in the forge or carving facets into timeless jewels.

Whether or not they believed him, both of the twins' little mouths formed adorable pouts, lower lips wobbling tremulously as they gazed up at him with star struck eyes. "Please...?"

And here I wanted to get studying done this evening...

So much for that plan.

"All right." Because how could he say "no" to that?

---

And thus he found himself wearing an apron with his hair tied back in a bun, little wisps slipping free of their bonds to get in his eyes as he worked dough between his fingers. The squish of the soft mass between his digits was cool and soothing in a strangely cathartic way, like relaxing, reverse-massaging all the tension from his body that had been building up over the course of a very long and irritable week.

The twins stood on stools to reach the counter and dutifully obeyed his every command for once. When he told them to knead, they kneaded, and when he told them to flatten, they flattened. When he told them to stop throwing flour at each other (because they were making an awful mess of themselves and the floor), they giggled and wiped their messy hands on their leggings.

Of course, the chocolate shards that he had laid out—"They are for the cookies! Do not touch them!"—were persuasive incentive for good behavior. Otherwise, Maitimo fully expected he would have received a face-full of the clingy white powder for daring to interrupt their play.

"Here..." He directed small hands carefully with a circular cookie cutter. "Press all the way through the dough, and lay the cookies on the pan."

How the majority of them somehow managed to come out only vaguely resembling circles was a mystery he did not exert much effort to solve, but he thought eager mouths and sticky fingers might have something to do with it. For once, the fastidious older brother allowed it to slide. And he pretended not to see when the two little redheads fished the last of the chocolate chips from their bowl and devoured them whilst his back was turned.

As he placed the pan in the oven and closed the door, the oldest brother felt a strange sort of calm settle over his spirit. For the first time all week, Maitimo did not feel like his brain was going to fry under the pressure of his studies and melt out of his ears. And he did not feel like his mind was going to crack like a broken mirror from the strain of his father's disdainful eyes and hurtful comments.

Everything in the world felt calm and simple with his two little brothers pressing up against his sides, eagerly peering in at the cookies which would not show signs of actually baking and turning a delectable golden-brown for some time yet. Nevertheless, he found himself running his dirty hands through their hair, ruffling the curls.

The sweet innocence of children was enchanting. Perhaps someday...

"I see you have been busy."

It was Kanafinwë. The musician and scholar was leaning against the doorframe, immaculate as ever. Maitimo guessed that he had been watching as the oldest brother carefully set their handmade treasure within the oven to bake, judging by the amusement glittering in silvered eyes.

"Yes, well..."

"Káno, Káno, Káno!" Pityo cried in excitement. "Did you see? Did you? We are making cookies!"

As though it were the most amazing thing in the world. Maitimo's heart clenched just a little bit. The childish appreciation for something so simple was refreshing. More so than that, he enjoyed seeing the little ones smiling without that lurking aspect of attention-seeking trouble just beyond the edges of their sharp little grins.

"That I can see." The second-eldest joined them at the table, carefully avoiding sullying his hands or sleeves with the leftover flour smeared over the surface. "Are you having fun?"

Both little ones nodded eagerly. "Nelyo showed us how!"

"So I see..." Kanafinwë sent him a sly look indeed. "It has been a long while indeed since he has taken up the art of baking cookies."

A flush rose unbidden to Maitimo's cheeks. "I seem to recall someone appreciating my proficiency in that particular art as a sniveling elfling," he muttered in reply. "Dear me, his name seems to have escaped me, but I thought it might have started with—"

"Are those cookies I smell?"

Surprised, he turned to find Turkafinwë in the doorway now, carrying the scent of earth and fresh air and sweat. To the eldest brother's annoyance, the third brother made himself at home, tossing down his longbow upon the table—"Weapons do not belong on the surface off which we eat, Turko"—and threw himself down in a chair beside the room's other occupants. Maitimo's chastisement was dutifully ignored.

And then the twins, utterly pleased with themselves and their latest adventure, proceeded to repeat tales of their older brother's prowess in the kitchen to the new, willing, smirking audience. Luckily, Turko was no less guilty of both enjoying and taking advantage of that prowess, and so kept his teasing to knowing looks rather than his usual silver-tonged taunts.

Soon enough, the smell of baking cookies had wafted its way down the hallways and attracted the attention of yet another occupant of the house. Loitering outside the doorway was Morifinwë, his face shyly peering around the corner into the room

Resigned, Maitimo sighed. "Are you going to join us, Moryo?"

The fourth brother flushed vermilion, looking down at his feet as he shuffled into the room, but there was a smile upon his normally frowning visage that drove away innate darkness. And for once, he and Turko did not immediately break into a one-sided staring contest in which the oldest of the pair silently, invisibly beat his younger sibling's self-esteem into the ground.

Perhaps the sweetened atmosphere was good for something.

Especially when their last volatile member joined them in the small room.

Fresh from lessons at the forge, no doubt about it. If the smell of smoke and the glisten of a thick layer of sweat weren't telling enough, the red rims about large, glazed eyes spoke the rest. All of the older brothers knew how trying such lessons could be with a perfectionist father like theirs, too concerned with his own projects and his own abilities to realize that all others did not have the same untapped, natural potential.

Curufinwë came the closest undoubtedly, but was far from the mark of perfection, young as he currently was. How their father could expect so much of someone so young and untried frustrated Maitimo to no end! He hated seeing the discouraged expressions and hearing the litany of doubts that would follow each lecture. Because no matter how he reassured, his words did not carry the same weight as did those of their esteemed sire.

Just as the eldest was removing the steaming, molten-hot cookies from the oven, the last brother appeared in the doorway looking worse for wear and an inch away from crying his eyes out.

It was all he could do to set the tray down and offer his arms. And if the child—"I am not a child anymore, Nelyo, do not treat me like one!"—came willingly into his embrace and hid his face against his older brother's shoulder, no one spoke a word against it nor mocked him for needing comfort. If anything, the glances around the table were knowing and understanding. They had all been in that position before, many, many times.

Maitimo brushed away the few stray tears that had leaked free from the cracked poise of the trembling facade, leaving behind streaks of flour upon rosy cheeks instead. "Come and sit, Curvo," he said softly, pressing a kiss to his brother's forehead.

And they were all together in a single room without arguing, without fighting, without taunting and without belittling for the very first time since well before the last two brothers had joined their merry band of troubled siblings.

"You have flour on your face," Telvo pointed out blatantly as the last brother sat. The elfling scrambled up to perch himself upon his brother's lap, his tiny hand reaching upwards, but as it tried to wipe away the smudges, it only succeeded in adding more pale decoration to contrast the blotches formed from weeping.

And Curvo, rather than pushing away the touches petulantly, instead reached out to the flour adorning the table and whitened his hand with its softness, pressing the newly-sullied limb against the little one's cheek. Not that the child needed to be any messier. Now not only was there dirt to be cleaned from ragged clothing and twigs to be untangled from wild hair, but flour to be scrubbed from ruddy flesh. It would take hours to get the twins in bed and asleep this night.

Yet Maitimo could not find it within himself to be anything short of amused, even when the little one responded by throwing a fistful of powdery white in his brother's shocked face. Which Curvo returned tenfold, splattering not only the twins, but also Turko and Moryo as well.

Thus began the battle.

By the time the cookies were cooled, they were all thoroughly splotched and laughing, and Maitimo wondered when the last time was that his heart felt so light. It was a glowing feeling, bursting to life in his belly and radiating outwards to his fingers and toes, bringing a natural, broad grin unto his lips as he observed his messy siblings playing around like little elflings. By Eru, the affection he felt for them, regardless of their attitudes and intrinsic differences, arose in a heated wave to envelope him in an intangible, untouchable embrace.

They were still laughing as they dug in to the newly-baked treat courtesy of Nelyafinwë Maitimo, second in line to the throne of the Noldor.

So caught up were they in their newfound delight and camaraderie that it was only the oldest brother who witnessed the passage of their sire, star-eyes glinting from the darkness of the hallway, watching them with the strangest foreign look burning into silver depths. Yet for once Maitimo did not feel his smile fade at the sight, did not allow the intense presence to douse the glow of pleasure suffusing his skin and soul.

He met those eyes unyieldingly, equally adamantine. Let it not be said that the first son possessed none of his father's stubbornness and will to follow his own path.

They shared a gaze, for long moments unbroken, stronger than steel and hotter than embers. But it was the father, not the son, who glanced away first.

And Fëanáro passed them by without a word. Silent.

Brooding or scornful he might be, thinking of the waste of his firstborn son's talent, but Maitimo did not care, not at this moment. He commandeered the twins, settling them down in his lap as they joyously sang the praises of their scrumptious creations, and then the eldest redhead snatched a cookie for himself and bit into the gloriously melted chocolate, feeling the treat melt upon his tongue as butter and sugar.

Never had victory tasted so sweet.

Chapter Text

She was laughing and romping through the snow like an eager child, a broad grin splitting her face, freckles dancing over her cheeks. From beneath her knitted blue hat, blond waves spilled over her shoulders, tangled from the wind whipping through their veil, sending it flying in abstract curls about her heart-shaped face.

And Caranthir, he could hardly breathe. Her every free movement, her airborne lopes and her hands thrown to the sky in matching knit gloves, her hair waving as if through water and her bright hazel eyes flashing with glee, it was all entrancing, all-encompassing. Had he half the mind to, he could have sat and watched her joyous supplication to the falling frozen crystals forever and a day and been content for the rest of eternity. That she was made so happy by something so simple made his heart clench taut in his chest.

Looking back at him, she beckoned him forth with wild hand gesticulations. Even at this distance, he could see the flutter of her eyelashes, dotted with diamond droplets of melted snow, and the shapes formed by her lips, the words being created by her far-away, echoing voice that could not be received over the pound of his frantic heartbeat.

"Come on! What are you waiting for?"

An odd question. He was many thousands of years old, but Caranthir had never once played in the snow. Valinor rarely saw the white, powdery fluff, so his childhood had been mostly devoid of its splendor, and he had not been privy to the journey across Helcaraxë so did not know the bite of cold wind or the sting of vicious frozen pellets upon his cheeks. Only in Beleriand had he seen this strange phenomenon, and later in Middle-earth, but by then any youthful wonder at the sight had drained from his cursed blood and tainted spirit, deemed unimportant and childish in the face of darkening reality and danger lurking on the horizon.

How different things had come to be.

When he didn't respond—and the look on his face probably explained his utter consternation at the very suggestion—Haley pranced back the way she had come, carefully tip-toeing in her own calf-deep footprints to reach his side.

Her gloved hand curled around his wrist, so very warm and soft on cool skin, yanking him forward into the field of white. "Hurry up!"

Hesitantly at first, he followed her into the wintery wonderland, captivated by her rosy cheeks and the sway of her hips as she ran ahead of him, just beyond reach of his fingertips. And, as though pulled by invisible threads, he trailed after her wherever she went, tracing her footprints with his larger, booted feet.

It was a foreign, strange feeling, this playing, like letting go of all the shadows that hung in a heavy shroud over his heart, letting go of all expectations and formalities and responsibilities. For once, Caranthir felt the air come freely to his lungs.

And she was laughing, snow struck up by her heels as she raced across white, falling fluff dotting her clothing and dripping down her warm skin. The sound of her euphoria hit him as a ray of sunlight to bare flesh, melting through rigid muscle to frigid bone beneath, soothing away tension and worry. Chasing away darkness.

Valar, but he loved her!

And he could not help but join her in laughter, could not help but join in her wild, joyous dance through frozen white, more two harmonious creatures celebrating the simple beauty of the world than two humans contemplating the complex reality of its mysteries. And perhaps it was not only the simple beauty of the world he admired as his Haley ran squealing out feigned protests and he gave gentle, relaxed chase.

And as he wrapped his arms about her waist and lifted her off her feet, spinning her through the air to the lilt of her cries and laughter and the touch of her hands against his arms. Glorious. Absolutely glorious.

They tumbled downwards onto the soft bed laid out by the grace of winter's bosom, their bodies turned towards one another, their faces so close that the white clouds of their panting breaths mingled between them. He pressed his cheek to the cold blankets and observed the ring of mossy green about her pupil, branching out into rich mahogany and the velvet of dark chocolate. Observed the flush of her face against cold and exertion flooding across confetti-dotted cheeks. Observed every crease around her smiling lips and at the corners of her glowing eyes.

Let the mortals think what they might, but even without a perfectly-shaped slender nose and elegantly rounded face and properly graceful chin, Haley was the most beautiful creature in the world. Beauty of the flesh was hardly the net that held the ancient elf as a willing captive.

Caranthir was gasping softly from running, but felt no fatigue in his limbs. Instead, his entire body felt as though it boiled over in lightness, in the weightlessness of their small little world. And if his vision went blurry, he never admitted to himself that the sting creeping up behind his eyes was entirely to blame.

None of the past mattered here. Just her and the snow landing softly upon their faces. Just her and the touch of their brows. Just her as their arms tangled, his knuckles stroking her cheek, her mitted-fingertips tracing his jaw.

They needed nothing more than this moment.

Chapter Text

How long he had stared at these gray walls, Maeglin could not have said.

Often enough, he did not even truly see them, for their blank canvases served more as a catalyst for torturous images reflected from beneath his eyelids than they did as the planar bars of an empty, cold cell. All day and all night, as Arien drifted past the tiny window in the corner and Tilion replaced her golden hue with silvered glory, Maeglin just stared.

It was not the chill or the emptiness of the Halls of the Waiting that drove souls into depressed darkness. It was the walls, he decided, and the memories they projected.

For he looked upon them and saw, saw all of the terrible things he wished he could forget, and forgot all of the wondrous moments he would have cherished forever. It was not his mother's sweet embrace or her whispered lullabies that came to him as he lay in a stupor, entrapped in the shadow of souls.

It was Idril's horrified face as he held a sword to her child's throat.

It was the wary glisten in his uncle's eyes beholding the father's face in the son.

It was the last glimpse of black hatred as Eöl was thrown over the wall and the sound of bones cracking and innards splattering as the body hit the sharp rocks below.

He felt so very, very cold.

"They have never loved thee, and they will never love thee, but I... I can give thee what it is that thou dost most desire..."

Golden silk running through his fingers. Little children with her lovely visage and his dark coloring, or sharp-angled lads with those maddening curls.

"Just tell me where to find the Hidden City, and I will make thee a King. And I will make her thy Queen, the lady who thou dost love who loves another..."

Like poison infecting the bloodstream, that honeyed voice slunk—hot and thick—through Maeglin's consciousness, temptation at its most terrifying, pulling him towards the choice that his mind screamed was wrong but his heart yearned to be right.

"I will not betray my uncle—my King!"

"Thy uncle, who cannot even look thee in thy eyes. Thy uncle, who never loved thee, never cared about thee, not even when thou wert at your lowest, in thy darkest hours, orphaned and alone in the world. Thy uncle, who sees only the treachery of thy father in thy wild blood and sharp gaze..."

"You only prove the necessity of loyalty and fealty."

"What good is loyalty that is unappreciated? What good is fealty to one who spits upon it with scorn? Turgon of Gondolin will never love thee as a man loves his son, and Idril Celebrindal will never love thee as a woman loves a man."

It hurt to hear it then, and it hurt to hear it now, repeated in his dreams in mellifluous tones. Hurt like being stabbed with a red-hot blade. Though he had no body which could feel, Maeglin still raised a hand to his chest, clutching as though at a mortal wound over his ghost of a throbbing heartbeat. He was bleeding, bleeding out all his spirit, all of that intrinsic matter that made up himself, leaving a shell behind. Lifeless. Loveless. Devoid of wants and needs and desires.

Devoid of pain.

"But I can change that... All thou dost need to do is tell me, dear-heart... Tell me what I need to know..."

And he had spoken. Cried and screamed and wept and cursed all who had ever looked upon him foully. Cursed his father's derision and dismissal. Cursed his uncle's flash-judgment and unfair assumptions. Cursed his cousin's sunny smile and kind heart and cold rejection.

And now it was too late. Now he was naught but a traitor. A traitor through love. A traitor through lack of love. But a traitor nonetheless, named and remembered not for his great works or talents at a young age, but for betraying his people to the enemy, for spilling his heart to the only person seemingly willing to listen like a naive child, speaking the truth to make the horrible torture whipping gashes across his mind cease!

Maeglin the Traitor. He ought to have been Maeglin the Loveless.

"Dost thou truly believe as such, child?"

It was a voice he had heard only once before, a voice that had condemned him eternally to a small cell with blank walls that painted murals of his past. Doom. Judgment. Justice.

Perhaps this was justice, punishment for his weakness...

"No... Think that not, little one. Never that."

Maeglin shivered, wrapping his arms about his intangible being to ward off cold that could not be halted by blanket or fire or fury. It was soul-deep, filling and freezing and shattering.

He had just... just wanted...

Just wanted her to love him. Just wanted his uncle's acceptance. Just wanted his father's approval. Just wanted to be worthy of his mother's sacrifice and not some useless whelp of a clueless boy hopelessly floundering about as a blade of grass lost in the wind.

Why could they not love him? Had he done something so wrong?

"Of course not..." Phantom fingers brushed through his hair. "Believe that not. Thou wert young and frightened and untried. Thou hast been punished, but thou art not condemned."

"I betrayed my family. I should be condemned." A sob, broken and wretched.

"Hush..." At first he thought he was imagining the powerful arms about his shoulders, the broad chest upon which his temple rested and the black robes which absorbed his copious tears.

"I should. I should. Who would ever love someone like me? A weak-minded, weak-willed fool of a child who threw away everything he held dear for a lie? The way she looked upon my face makes my skin crawl! She hates me!"

It felt like a long many minutes—though maybe moments, maybe hours had passed—that he ranted and cried like the child he was to the harmony of hushes and crooned murmurs. But afterwards, after all tears were taken and all tension released, Maeglin fell spent against the stronger frame, fell limp, finally hollow, finally bled fully of all lifeblood, an empty husk left behind to rot away in the darkness. He did not think he could have moved had Eru himself ordered him to his feet. And he was so ready—so ready—to lie down and let the shadows take him, to drift away into oblivion.

"Oh, little one..." A hand cupped the back of his head, and Maeglin did not have the energy or thought to be indignant at being treated as a baby. To this ancient creature, he was a child, an infantile mortal, fragile and immature.

"Didst thou know every soul is born with another half?"

Of course, he had heard of mates of the soul. His mother claimed that his father was her other half, but Maeglin had never believed it to be thus. Perhaps it was wishful thinking, a delusion that kept her happy under the thumb of a tyrant. But at the same time, he had seen it before, seen smitten men and women so utterly in love, so utterly in synchronization, so completely one with each other that they could be nothing but the other's missing half.

"I pity my One," he whispered. "To be stuck with me..."

"Thou shouldst not," Námo whispered. "Thou shouldst have faith, have hope. Someone out there in the cosmos is waiting for thee."

"For me...?" It was a nice thought. The thought of golden hair or dark locks, of kind eyes and a gentle touch, of smiles and kisses and holding hands. Of not being ashamed. Of not being hated. Of not being the son of a lunatic, but just being himself, just being Lómion.

"That could never happen," Maeglin finally whispered. "Not to me. Not now."

A hand stroked down his back, tracing the curve of his hunched spine. "Thou shouldst not give in to darkness. These empty halls were not made to house any spirit for eternity. Beyond these boundaries, there is sunlight and open air and warmth. Beyond these four walls the world awaits thy return to the realm of the living."

"For what purpose? To be spat upon as a traitor?" the child of the twilight hissed, eyes once again stinging. "I will never be accepted, never be loved. The Loveless. The traitorous ghost."

"Thou wilt be loved!" Hands cupped his cheeks, thumbs brushing new-fallen tears. "Thou shalt understand one day. Thy future lies not here. Thy hope fades beneath the eaves of my House. Thy hope and faith and future is out there, waiting for thee."

He looked up into blackened eyes, swirling as the darkest of wines mixed with the glisten of ancient stars upon dark skies. "I never lie. I cannot lie. Love waits not here for thee, but out there. In life.

"And life is worth living. And one day, thou shalt know happiness," the vala spoke, voice as powerful and supportive as steel beams. At the steadfast certainty, Maeglin could not bear to look away, to miss a word.

"But thou needest to give life another chance. Thou needest to put aside those dark memories and insecurities and fears and trust in thyself."

How could he trust in himself when he had betrayed everything he ever loved? How could he face reality with this black mark upon his breast?

"Have a little faith."

He looked and looked into those eyes, and for a moment, he saw.

Saw smiling faces and stormy eyes with the glimmer of sun off dark water. Saw himself and another, hands entwined tightly. Saw himself smiling and saw children running through the grass with bare feet and innocent, beautiful laughter.

Saw another, another who sang to his soul like a resonating bell, striking his core with ferocity enough to knock him from his very feet.

"They are waiting for thee."

And it was a familiar dream of happiness and sunlight and love, a dream that vibrated through Maeglin sharply, painfully, as a broken trinket that could not be pieced together or repainted with a new scenic view. To grasp at these ashes was to invite pain, invite suffering...

But to leave them to fly away on a strong wind was to lose them forever.

Faith to collect the dancing shards. Hope to plant them anew and water them. Time to allow them to blossom into a dream more beautiful than any that had come before it, no longer a fantasy of realities that could never become corporeal, but a vision of what could be if only he dared to rekindle his fire and reach...

And Maeglin reached...

And came back to himself. Back to the cold and the gray and the swirling, dark eyes.

"Thou shalt not remain loveless."

And Maeglin believed. It was worth the pain, this love, this dream. And he burned and stretched and reached. And lived and breathed. And sought.

And found.

Chapter Text

At first it was but a whisper. Just beyond the edge of thought.

She saw his face and it scratched at the back of her mind, a little itch that befuddled her logical perception of the world.

Haley could not deny that he was gorgeous—even beautiful. And probably as gay as they come. After all, what straight man had such long, lovely, silky hair and such a comely, androgynous face and spent his time willingly working at a designer shoe palace?

But he was staring at her—staring straight through her as if her body had suddenly gone transparent and he was seeing someone familiar on the other side—and it was making her uncomfortable.

"Excuse me? Are you alright?"

He blinked his long, dark lashes at her as one dumbfounded, and part of her almost found it cute. Almost, but not quite. Especially since he was supposed to be ringing up her purchase (sneakers) and not looking at her as though she were small, green and had beamed down from the sky into his backyard.

And then he turned so red it would have made a tomato jealous.

And the itch became a poke. Haley's brow furrowed with the beginning of a headache. Something about this guy was just off-putting and at the same time familiar. It was like she could swear she had seen him somewhere before but couldn't quite place his face. How that happened, she couldn't say, because Haley didn't think she'd forget a face as distinctive as his, with those arrogant angles and that blotchy flush and smattering of freckles over his nose...

Stop. Just stop. Gay. Homosexual. Off-limits.

Except he was still staring at her.

"I am... fine. You merely startled me." And Lord, what a voice! Deep and rolling through her despite its softness of amplitude and timbre. It should be illegal to have a voice like that, like molten chocolate on bare skin, Haley decided with much annoyance, even though that poking at the back of her mind only seemed to intensify with every syllable. Like it was trying to tell her something important.

But no, she wasn't into that superstitious stuff.

Instead of lingering on his voice, she looked up at his eyes, only to find that they were well below her face. Maybe not so gay after all.

Irately, he slammed her shoebox down on the counter. "Yeah, well, could you ring these up please? I'm kind of in a hurry..." In a hurry to get out of here, and God help me if I catch you staring at my ass as I walk away, pervert!

"Forgive me..."

"Yeah, yeah, just ring up the stupid shoes already." At least his eyes were on her face now. And her eyes were on his hands. Long, elegant hands with graceful, flowing movements even as they twisted and turned the box like a delicate treasure, taking their slow and annoying time...

Those hands did not look suited to running a cash register. Those movements, so dizzyingly slow, made her think of a dancer, moving as if through water. Part of her (that she would never admit existed) wondered if they touched with such grace and gentleness. Immediately, she banished that obnoxiously unwanted thought about a man whose name she didn't even know.

And still that presence (that she refused to admit was sixth sense because she did not subscribe to such ridiculousness) was still prodding fitfully, almost screaming that she did know...

And then finally he was done. "Receipt?"

"Give it here!" She needed to get out of here and clear away whatever cobwebs were lingering in the dusty corners of her mind, giving her these fuzzy, disturbing thoughts. With one last look at his face—and what a face it was!—she turned tail and fled from the store into the autumn chill of the parking lot.

And wondered. Why was he so familiar? She was certain she had never met him before.

But one thing was for sure. That feeling on the edge of her mind, wriggling in through the cracks in memory, the déjà vu that would not cease, was telling her to turn around and go right back inside. Curiosity and unhealthy interest bloomed somewhere in those shadows, much to her personal shame and embarrassment. Haley was not a woman who would allow herself to become flustered and infatuated over one man—who was probably homosexual anyway, she added spitefully.

Yet even as she crossed the parking lot to her car, firmly ignoring the impulses raging just beneath the surface, she could not remove the stray thought of returning. Just for a second look. Just to satisfy her curiosity. Just once.

And somewhere beyond that edge of time and space and mind and body, there was a catlike smirk of satisfaction across an unknown, indescribable face of eternal, undying light and glory. For the Great Music echoing in Timeless Halls was playing out just as its maker had intended, harmonizing and resonating and crescendoing into the Void. And the ship of reality was navigating true to her compass and the keen hands of her faithful mariner, directing the opera of fate below to breathtaking perfection.

Everything was going exactly according to plan.

Chapter Text

It had been three months since the end of their world.

Three very long months for the survivors of the second sacking of Doriath.

And for one Oropher of Doriath, these last three months had dragged on for an eternity, a never-ending torment whipping across his already-shattered psyche. Each moment seemed to stretch and stretch into the distance, never changing, never offering catharsis. Never yielding results. It was maddening—the helplessness, the waiting, the watching for some sign that everything would be okay when he knew that it never could be again. Not now. Not anymore.

He would sit at the bedside of his only child and stroke pale hair, combing out knots that worked themselves somehow into the soft locks. He would stroke dark brows and smooth tension from the crease between. He would hold cold, lifeless hands in his own broad, callused palms and plead with the Valar, bargaining anything and everything he had if they would just give back his son.

Of course, there was never any answer.

And when the reality became too heavy to shoulder, he would speak and pretend that the spirit housed in the body before him could hear his words, would tell the young elf about their new home far from the lingering shadows of the caves of Menegroth, about the fresh, clean air and the talkative trees and the broad open sky overhead, about how beautiful and warm Anor's rays were as they shone down upon bare skin and the soft coolness of Ithil lighting their way through their darkest hours.

Thranduil never responded.

He breathed, but never spoke. He blinked, but never saw.

And Oropher did not know what else to do. His frustration and despair and hopelessness mounted day-by-day until it consumed any happiness their escape and survival could possibly have provided. Because there was nothing he could do. Because no one could change the past.

He could not take away the haunting, bone-chilling memories. He could not take away the screams echoing through their sacred, beloved halls. He could not take away the sight of blood splattered over rich carving and bodies leaking crimson into the creases of marble floors. He could not take away the pure cruelty inflicted upon his people by the heartless sons of fire and death.

He could not take away the memory of finding Thranduil staring vacantly into the distance. The young elf was tied down to a bed frame, trembling and bleeding and naked, and part of him was screaming and clawing and sobbing in horror at the knowledge of what he would see if he dared blink his eyes but dearly wished to deny. The frozen moments of denial lingered, warring with the pure instinct urging his body to flee as far and fast as his feet could carry him.

Dead. His son was ravaged and dead.

Except the child was still breathing. The shallow rise and fall of bruised ribs was telling, but why was there no struggle? Why was he not rising, fighting or fleeing...?

And he knew... knew with terrible certainty that made him dizzy and sick to the core.

Getting closer only made him wish that all of this was a nightmare, that any moment he would awake to dark, silent night to weep hysterically into his pillow with terror and relief that it was just a nightmare. But when he reached out and touched the nauseating vision, it did not disappear. Neither did it stir.

"Thranduil!" He slit open the ropes, removed bruised and bloody wrists from captivity. "Thranduil, ion-nín!"

Nothing. Not a twitch. Not a blink. Not a sound.

And he was crying and the world was blurry and if they didn't move now they were both going to join their slaughtered kin in the mass grave of their home. But no amount of shouting or shaking would rouse the empty shell before him, devoid of spirit and light, limp and shaking. And where he found the strength to carry the other's broken form upon quivering arms, Oropher could not say, but somehow his limbs wrapped their way beneath wrenched shoulders and bruised thighs and ignored the slickness of red and white against his bare fingers.

That he managed to carry the catatonic body from the wreckage of their once great, revered kingdom without being captured and murdered was a miracle.

But Thranduil never woke.

And Oropher knew... knew it was those Golodhrim Kinslayers that had done this, that they raped and pillaged and murdered without thought, that they must have enjoyed destroying all the lives cast aside and sundered from bodies left to rot in what had once been their beloved sanctuary, must have enjoyed unraveling innocence and staining it with filth and sin as their helpless prey thrashed and begged and screamed. It made him shake and tremble with rage, made him want to find whoever had dared lay hand on his son and torture them until they begged on the ground like a dog for mercy. And he would die himself before allowing them the precious gift of death's loving embrace.

And he would enjoy it. He would enjoy making that golodh scum scream and writhe like his child must have beneath the bloodthirsty, vicious warrior's superior strength. He would enjoy making the wicked rapist suffer a fate ten times worse than that which he doled out so carelessly.

But no amount of anger or vengeful thought would make Thranduil speak or drink or eat. No amount of fantasies of making the Golodhrim pay for the harm they had done, the souls they had ravaged or the families they had destroyed would be enough to bring back the sweet-hearted, bright-eyed youth swept away beneath a torrential downpour of marred darkness. No amount of wishful thinking could make the father deny the fact that ribs and hips were sticking out from malnourishment, but that the slender middle was swelling with something else entirely.

Inevitably, every rage ended in sobs and tears and sleepless nights at the bedside of an elf who would probably never wake from his stupor again.

Because Thranduil was fading away from the horror of memories that could not be erased, and there was absolutely nothing Oropher could do to make it stop, to make it better, to help or save or soothe away the invisible wounds.

Just sit and wait and pray.

Until the day those eyes opened and saw. Until the day slender, cold hands twitched and reached out for touch, for reassurance. Until the day he heard a beloved voice whisper "Ada" and bring light back to his world.

Just sit and wait and pray. And try to have hope.

Chapter Text

The breaking of the siege had been a success.

Sauron did not know whether or not he should be pleased by this. After all, any step forward for his master was always a step backwards for him, but it did allow him to avoid punishment for failure, which was always very painful and usually temporarily debilitating. Sauron might be a torturer, but he was not particularly masochistic and thus avoided being on the receiving end of his own trade as often as possible.

However, that was about the only positive outcome of this venture.

The golden dragon had returned to the fortress of Angband, and he had not returned alone, but with hundreds of broken-hearted, traumatized thralls, all having the life and fight sucked out of their shocked bodies and minds. Pathetic, but potentially useful as workers in mines.

Now Glaurung stood before the throne to present the trophies of victory to their master, and Sauron wanted nothing more than to rend and destroy the creature before him. As it stood beneath the glimmer of the Silmarilli, the scales were lit with fire and the dragon seemed more a creature made of gold and gem than of flesh and steel. And those eyes, so prideful and confident and greedy, Sauron wanted to gauge them out so that this runt would know his place and return back to the pit of filth from whence he was born.

No one dared encroach upon the position of the Lieutenant of Angband, not even Gothmog. And this newly-born worm thought he could just waltz in with a few elves as a gift and be promoted right to the top of the hierarchy? One victorious battle was hardly—

"Well done," Melkor rumbled to his pet, and Sauron bit back the scald of fury rising as a tidal wave in the back of his throat. Right now, he certainly felt that he could belch fire with as much deadly accuracy as this experimental breeding project turned weapon. Given half the chance, he could destroy this pathetic excuse for a servant without even trying, without even moving. It would only take a few hissed Words...

"Master," the creature purred, smoke billowing from flared nostrils and where a forked tongue slithered between arm-length fangs, "I have brought before you the enemy commander."

Like Nelyafinwë Fëanárion all over again, but this elf came forward in naught but tattered leggings, struggling wildly and hissing curses as violently as any foul-mouthed orc. Chained though their guest was, the foot soldiers who led him skittishly pulled out of reach at his lunges and snarls, and Sauron nearly laughed aloud, because he saw bared teeth blackened with fresh blood and knew someone had gotten too close to the rabid dog and been bitten.

Pretty and golden despite the singed ends of long hair and the marks of a whip over naked flesh, this elf certainly made a more interesting sight than those slumped, broken creatures Glaurung had paraded around earlier. There was still fight in this spirit, still hot fire in a cage of iron.

The newest thrall of Angband was forced down onto the ground, kneeling in filth at the feet of their master under the glowing lamps of the Silmarilli, chains pulled so taut they bruised and drew blood but managed to keep the captive immobile at Melkor's massive boots, panting in great gulps of air, nostrils flaring, fists clenching and opening and clenching as if imagining a larynx being crushed to pulp in their grasp.

And Melkor, fool that he was, twined a hand in the wild creature's mane and pulled back until the neck of the elf strained into a lovely, exposed arch, revealing a face that was Noldorin in every line and angle, eyes that darkened to a storm over the sea and bubbled in rage.

The Lord of Angband gripped tightly that jaw, forcibly parting lips. "Tell me your name, slave."

And the elf—Sauron could scarcely believe it afterwards, but would cherish that moment for many centuries to come—spat in his master's face.

There was no movement and no sound as blood and spittle dribbled down a dark cheek. Even the servants of darkness, even Sauron, scarcely dared breathe at the look that came over Melkor's terrible face, at the narrowing of glowing, demonic eyes. That he didn't squeeze the elf's head until it popped like a soap bubble and splattered brains across the floor was a miracle!

And not a hint of fear could be seen in that defiant, infuriated visage, clutched between the filthy claws of Morgoth's rough fingers, already bruised at the manhandling.

Shockingly, the thrall was not slaughtered on the spot either, and Sauron knew Melkor was having one of his more sadistic moments, moments of frighteningly cold logic. His master did not merely want to kill this elf. He wanted to make this challenger sorry he hadn't just bowed down and obediently licked his new master's boots like a good slave.

Torture. The head torturer himself licked his blackened lips greedily when Melkor's scarlet gaze connected with his own eyes of fire and lust.

"I want him broken, but do not harm his body. I would not have him perish."

Oh, it was serious. The only elf Melkor had ever wanted to keep permanently was Fëanáro, who had commanded all the power of a vala from the puny cage of a mortal body, who was beautiful beyond description and whose downfall would have tasted as the richest of wines. Even the beauty of Nelyafinwë did not tempt the Lord of Angband to either covet or lust, but this strange defiance apparently captured his master's attention like nothing else. Had he a sympathetic bone in his body, the lieutenant would have felt pity for the elven slave.

Well, far be it for him to disobey such orders. Sauron knelt eagerly at his master's feet and smiled broadly with anticipation. He had just the thing in mind to test the limits of their newest toy.

Hopefully the thrall would not break too quickly. It had been a very long time since they had had such an interesting guest in their halls.

"It shall be done, master."

Chapter Text

Another day in the darkness came with more screams and more snapped bones. Another victim.

By no means was Angaráto an imbecile. He knew with each heavy beat of his heart and thick breath filling his lungs with tainted air that it was because of his stubborn defiance that these poor souls were suffering. But he also knew with the same unshakable, undeniable certainty that this brief suffering of the body and mind was nothing compared to the fate awaiting them outside these horrible dungeons.

Better five measly days in the hands of the Lieutenant than decades gracing the mines or torture-chambers, collared and chained and mutilated for sport.

Maybe that was why he never spoke. It was horrible and sick and he should despise himself for even thinking it, but Angaráto felt justified, felt like he was doing his princely duty, like he was protecting these dulled, doused spirits during their short passion and journey to the safety of sweet rest beyond the cages of their earthly forms. It was arrogant and conceited, but it was all he had, all that stood between his mind and the shattering, jagged rocks of guilt below.

When his new cellmate joined him, bleeding and sobbing and pleading for him to keep his silence, to not give in to the darkness or the enemy's demands, to ignore the elf's torment, Angaráto met the eyes of the tormentor in the shadows and pursed his lips into a bloodless line of fury and hatred.

But he did not open his mouth or speak his name. He would not roll over and play dead like a pet.

And the Lieutenant of Angband, with eyes that glowed like embers in the darkness of hell, would incline his head, golden curls spilling over broad shoulders in a glistening wave of molten light, and smirk in satisfaction, in a mockery of the strength of the elves locked away from the sun and fresh air like filthy vermin. And so badly Angaráto wanted to stand, to rattle the bars of his prison until they crumbled, to reach out and crush the windpipe of that infuriating, disgusting creature in his trembling fist.

It was a test. Every day. Every hour. Every moment. With each new prisoner, gray-faced with the shroud of death, slicked with blood between trembling thighs, life leaking from wounds carved into their bodies and spirits, he was being tested. But he could not break. He could not lose.

To that flame-eyed, beautiful monster, this was a game. And the victims were naught but pawns martyred to draw out the king on the chessboard, to corner the silent thrall into checkmate.

Five days with his newest cellmate. He had not learned the elf's name, just that he was a captive taken from the forces of Nargothrond and that he had seven more comrades besides himself who still lived. Every moment he could spare, Angaráto sat beside the exhausted prisoner, stroked his fingers through dirty, tangled locks and massaged joints bruised from chain and stretched to unnatural angles, soothing what little pain he could. And he would ask about the other's home, about the hallowed halls of his brother's jeweled masterpiece, about his companion's favorite place to nap in the sunshine and about the renowned glory of his home and the voices and scents of his family... anything to keep the mind away from what awaited the next night in this prison...

And then the prisoner was taken. The cell was opened and the torturer himself took the terrified, crying captive away, and Angaráto remained silent as he watched them go. But never too far. Not so far that he could not hear the screams. Not so far that he could not make out the begging for mercy or the pleas for death.

The prisoner was returned in the morning with the ashy first light of dawn peeking shyly from above, barely slipping through the haze of smoke settled over the land. Blue eyes once so vibrant were faded to white, hair once thick and blond now gone gray and limp, limbs once powerful with muscle and sinew now thin and trembling. A will once strong with loyalty fading until finally, finally the prisoner begged him...

And Angaráto would look up and see those expectant eyes and ask for warm wine. The Lieutenant never denied that request.

Nor did he look away. Not when Angaráto embraced and soothed the distraught, broken cellmate. Not when he stroked that ravished, beaten body until it was relaxed and leaning upon his chest. Not when he sprinkled white powder into the heady wine and held it to his friend's lips and promised everything would be well by nightfall if only he would close his eyes and sleep.

When the Lieutenant returned at dusk, there was naught but an empty shell to retrieve.

And the bastard just tsked and had the corpse removed, given off to the foul beasts of the abyss that gnawed off raw, rotting flesh to the bone, befouling the body that had once housed something pure and beautiful turned to ash.

The thrall and the torturer would look into one another's eyes, and Angaráto would feel such hate as he had never experienced before, such blinding rage that he almost stood once again upon shaking legs and reached for that swanlike throat from between cold iron bars so that he might snap it in two, so that he might crush it until there was a sickening crack and the angle of death. So that he might make that mocking stare cease and those blackened lips part in a scream of agony.

As though he knew what the elf was thinking, the monster in the disguise of glory would smile gleefully in the fading light. "Do not ever break, thrall," he would hiss between the bars in a lover's husky whisper, a sound that twisted Angaráto's guts into knots of revulsion and sent shudders down his spine. Because they both knew that that glimmer in eyes forged of the earth's bubbling blood had only one name and only one fixation.

But never did the Lieutenant reach out and touch and take.

The next morning there would be a new cellmate. Angaráto would wonder how many days would pass before he would send this soul, frightened and fluttering like hummingbird's wings against the strength of his determination, on to the mercy of the Halls of the Waiting. He hoped it would not be long, because this one looked young.

And had anyone ever asked, he would have told them that he was not sorry and did not feel guilty for what he was doing in the pits of filth in Angband. Kinslayer he now might be named and forever more, but Angaráto did not regret his actions.

He only regretted that his opponent in this game of iron wills was not ready to cease their play anytime in the near future. And he wondered how many more pawns would be sacrificed in the vain attempt to crush his righteous spirit.

And still, those eyes looked on, and those lips smiled. The enemy bathed in rich enjoyment of sin and hatred.

Chapter Text

Whatever painkillers those crazy healers had given him on really had Beleg walking on air. Or something like that. Everything was a bit fuzzy and confusing. And his tongue was very loose.

To be honest, he was having a terrible bit of trouble remembering exactly what had happened to get him locked into this horrendous white-walled prison yet again. All he knew was that his side really smarted and that he was absolutely bored out of his mind with nothing but lazy sunshine and a bare ceiling to keep him company. Just staring all day. And more staring. And more staring.

But today had been different. His intimate silent acquaintance with afternoon sunlight had been interrupted most gratuitiously by the sound of the door opening. The creak of wood caught his stray attention, and Beleg had scowled fitfully at the newcomer. He did not want to be babied by any more healers today. Was it not bad enough that he couldn't even get up to pee by himself?

Except the silver vision that stepped through the doorway was no healer that he had ever seen.

In fact, Beleg hadn't recognized the stranger in the least. But he hadn't needed to. Because he could have sworn, woozy and drugged though he might have been, that a vala in the flesh had just entered his lonesome abode, dressed in gentle grays with waves of silver hair spilling around a face that would have made Eru himself weep with envy.

Eyes blinked at him from beneath thick, dark lashes, and Beleg's mind could focus only on their color, the deep swirling gray and aqua of writhing ocean waters. Dancing entrancingly before him in a dizzying, ethereal phantom of a daydream. Drowning him down in their gently rocking depths.

And, of course, he had been drugged.

In retrospect, that was probably why the entire meeting went so poorly.

The angel sat at his bedside, and Beleg grinned broadly at a surprised, somewhat put-out face. "What brings you to see poor, unfortunate me, gorgeous?"

Valar, he had sounded like an oily flirt...

But then a flush had filled those sculpted cheeks, and damask lips pursed into a thin line. "I saw your return late yesterday evening, wounded with one foot in the grave. Prince Celeborn assured me of your continued health, Beleg Cúthalion, but I was determined to see for myself that you were in one piece. I see that my concern was quite unwarranted."

"Don't be that way..." He had tried to sit up then, and nearly taken a tumble right out of his bed and into the stranger's lap. Which he wouldn't have minded at the time. Not in the least. "But if you want to kiss it better, I won't object..." He offered his most charming, crooked smirk. But it may have come out a bit mangled judging by the expression that followed.

A twitch of a slender brow was in his peripheral. He felt hands push down on his shoulders, forcing his head back down onto the mountain of marshmallows—pillows—clouds—

"I think not. If you are healed enough to act like a scandalous rogue, you hardly need more attention. Good evening to you, Cúthalion."

The silver vision had risen to leave, and it was sheer luck and thousands of years of innate dexterity that allowed him to capture a wispy sleeve despite his world turning upside down at the fast movement. But he managed to keep his new companion temporarily imprisoned at his bedside. "Don't leave yet..." he purred, pulling weakly at the garment, prideful that such wondrous eyes rested upon his face for even a moment. "I am grateful for you attentions, my dove."

Those eyes narrowed, and a firm tug freed the flighty dream from his grasp. But despite the irate frown and lowered brows, a flush built its way upwards, layers of silken rose petals upon skin, only further complimenting the creature who would from that moment forward haunt Beleg's sleep as a teasing, seductive ghost of a memory. "Such insinuations are uncouth and uncalled for, Cúthalion. I am not and never will be your dove. You should be grateful that I do not wring your neck for such presumptuous slandering."

At the time, he remembered thinking that he wouldn't have minded if those hands wrapped around his neck. Or if those lips wrapped around his cock.

And when he told his lovely vision so, the fury swirling in the violent depths of ocean eyes overflowed as the wrath of Ulmo brought upon the unsuspecting warrior's head. Shortly thereafter, there was a shock of pain on his skull and the world seeped down into black.

No, that first meeting had not gone well in the least.

But looking back on it, he was grateful for the concern over his health, considering he had no close relations to worry about his continued survival. And brothers of blood and bow could only take their worry so far to the edge of hypocrisy when they put their lives on the line each day. It was novel, having such a beautiful stranger thinking of his well-being without even ever having met him in the flesh. It was stirring. And terribly attractive.

And he had gone and ruined it right from the beginning. Thrice-cursed painkillers.

But Beleg Cúthalion had never been a man to surrender to failure without a battle of wills. His courtship of the silver stranger would be no different. And the kiss of soft lips and the scent of ocean upon his tongue awaited him at the end of his quest.

The drugged marchwarden licked his lips and sighed up at the white ceiling. Perhaps this stay in the infirmary would not be quite as painful as those before. For the phantom of flushed cheeks and scandalized overtones haunted his waking moments and filled him with anticipation. And when he slept in the sunshine, molten mithril and cool water surrounded him in his dreams.

Chapter Text

Artaresto was avoiding Beleg Cúthalion.

And Beleg Cúthalion was doing anything and everything possible to make that task impossible.

It was, quite honestly, driving the poor, aspiring healer up the white-washed walls. Artaresto had believed that snubbing the drugged, lecherous warrior would be enough—How much clearer could he be about his intention to ignore the other's attentions?—but it was clear that Cúthalion, as many warriors before him, was less brain and logic and sound reasoning and more stubbornness and unappreciated determination.

Because Artaresto was not playing hard-to-get. He simply did not want the warrior's simpering apologies or declarations of intent or flamboyant grandiosity.

He did not appreciate the elaborate bouquets of flowers that were delivered before his quarters each evening like clockwork, and grit his teeth as he read the scribbled apologies and poetry penned into the tiny cards attached with curled silk ribbons.

He did not appreciate the bowing and the knuckle-kissing and the courtly gestures either. A gentleman Cúthalion might act now, but Artaresto could not forget the completely horrified shame and humiliation at being told blatantly to his face that the archer wouldn't have minded having him do... do that to... to...

Even thinking about it made Artaresto flush and slump his shoulders in mortification!

And he most certainly did not appreciate how the phantom marchwarden would dutifully appear at the entrance to the House of Healing each evening with the idiotic intention of escorting Artaresto back to his own quarters, as though he were a petty, helpless maiden who needed to be led around on a leash lest she faint at the sight of a paper cut or get lost on a route she walked every damn day.

No, Artaresto merely wanted to be left alone.

And each day he would throw out the blossoms cut with lustful intentions in mind and burn the cards in the fireplace for kindling. Each day he would pull his hand from the warrior's grasp before lips that spoke such filth could sully his skin. Each day he would gracefully turn up his nose and tell the warrior—in a polite and completely coherent manner no less!—to get lost because he did not need an escort and was not a woman!

But the worst part was that the bull-headed warrior did not get the message.

Artaresto scoffed and swept through the hallowed halls of Menegroth on his daily route to the infirmary, gliding past the sindar who watched his passage with curious and mocking eyes. Let them think what they would; the Noldorin prince did not care about the pitiful lack of intelligence that permeated such a blooded and violent people. Let them call him a woman behind his back and snicker at their snide jokes and perverted fantasies. And let Cúthalion go and rot in a hole in the ground along with the entire lot of them! Warriors! They knew nothing but the taste of blood and death and steel and their own provincial perception of the world!

They could never understand.

And certainly he would never understand.

"It really makes you wonder, does it not? What do you believe that ice-cold bitch has done to capture the attentions of Beleg Cúthalion? Makes you wonder if there might actually be a wanton maiden with an eager sheath hiding under all those robes, kissing all those wounds better..."

They knew he could hear the crude slight from a meager distance, knew that he could see the perverse gesture of hips accompanying the insinuations from the corner of his eye, and when his spine stiffened and his cheeks flooded hot with a wave of infuriated humiliation, he could hear their soft laughter. When he refused to fight back and turned away instead, he could feel the heat of their searing eyes on his back. But truly, let them think what they would. He would not lower himself to—

Crack!

There was a shout and the sound of bone rattling on marble. Artaresto spun about, coming face-to-face with Beleg Cúthalion himself towering over the quivering sentry who had been laughing and mocking mere moments ago. That infamous black bow spanned across broad shoulders and hazel eyes narrowed beneath an expression of repulsed fury. Like an ainu in the flesh, pure intensity thickened the air and brought unnamable tension to the limbs.

"Ungrateful child," the warrior hissed between his teeth, and Artaresto actually felt a sliver of terror set itself into his throbbing heart at the rough, raw tone. The victim on the ground, clutching his rapidly reddening cheek, was shaking from head-to-toe at the sight of the older, experienced veteran of battle and close brushes with the Halls. "How dare you shame us by uttering such filth in these sacred halls!"

"It... Captain, it was merely a jest..."

"A jest? You would jest about the healers who have devoted their lives to the art of saving lives? Saving your lives? Without them, where do you think you would be? I can tell you right now that without those womanly healers and their wanton attentions, many of you would not even be alive!" With each syllable, that deep voice rose in volume, until it was echoing so loudly that even those warriors halfway down the hall stopped where they stood and shrunk back like castigated children.

"Please," the sentry whispered, "I did not mean it maliciously. I—"

"You would lie to your captain as well?" Cúthalion's lip curled up in disgust, and Artaresto held his breath, feeling suddenly light-headed, rocking on his heels.

The sentry said no more.

And for his part, the captain turned away as though he could no longer bear the sight before his eyes. "I am ashamed that men under my command would act so disrespectfully toward those who devote their lives to protecting the protectors of our realm. Apologize. Immediately. Or you will not like the result."

Apologize? To... to me?

Artaresto blinked, shocked, when the younger warrior scrambled upwards and bowed deeply, flushed with eyes averted. "I... I am sorry, Master Healer. F-forgive my callous words. I had no right to slander you in such an unforgivable manner."

And though he knew it was out of fear and not true remorse that the warrior was bowing and scraping for forgiveness, Artaresto inclined his head in acceptance anyway, if only to get the stranger out of his personal space. Already, he was late to his lessons and there were patients to be cared for and—

And Cúthalion was staring straight through him as the sentry scurried off like a stricken dog with its tail between its legs.

And Artaresto felt his cheeks heating in something other than mortification as he turned away and walked in long, quick strides (he refused to call it fleeing) down the hall, head half-ducked to avoid any wandering eyes. The entire way, until he turned the corner and the familiar doors to the sanctuary of the House of Healing were in blessed sight, he felt those distant hazel eyes boring into the nape of his neck.

Cool, fresh air and the scent of herbal remedies greeted him beyond heavy oak. Artaresto swayed and pressed himself against the cool wood, thinking about...

About him...

That maybe... just maybe... Beleg Cúthalion might be a decent man. For a warrior.

Sometimes. Maybe.

(Though he would not give any further than that. He did not like Cúthalion. Absolutely not.)

And if the healer did not object to linking his arm with that of the warrior to silently traverse the halls that evening in companionable relaxation, Cúthalion never said a word about the abrupt change of opinion. He did not have to. He smiled and stared at the healer's faintly rosy cheeks and shyly downturned eyes the entire way, departing with a soft word and a bow but thankfully a lack of knuckle-kissing.

And if Artaresto kept the card he found in the bouquet of flowers abandoned upon his doorstep as dusk faded into night, no one ever need know that it made his heart flutter traitorously.

Apologies, my dove.

Because he did not like Beleg Cúthalion. Not even a little. Not at all.

Chapter Text

Sundering was always difficult.

Many times in the past, Artaresto had been privy to its monstrously devastating effects. He had seen it in Findaráto when the eldest son of Arafinwë spoke of his beloved across the sea, the longing so potent it ached and burned as a physical wound in Orodreth's chest. He had seen it in Turukáno after his wife fell prey to the vicious tides and jagged ice of Helcaraxë, had seen how it scarred so deep that the wounds could never be healed no matter how much Orodreth tried to soothe and croon away the pain. He had even seen it in his cousin Kanafinwë, whose eyes were distant and sad when they were not veiled in protective ice, because his wife was far across those waves, and he would probably never hold her hand or kiss her cheek again with the Oath hanging over his head.

But he had never experienced anything like it himself. Sundering of fathers and sons was nothing like sundering of two parts of one whole.

And he understood that now.

Because the desperate and disappointed gleam of hazel eyes as they looked at him from beneath a mane of dripping blond hair struck him more fiercely than any physical blow or mocking taunt ever could. Beleg stood with him in the rain, and Artaresto did not care that he was soaked to the bone and shivering, did not care about anything but the tremble of his other's hands as they reached out towards him in denial.

"I am leaving on the morrow," he whispered, voice oddly choked. The hands froze mere inches from flesh, but did not dare touch. "I... I am sorry..."

There was a deep, shuddering breath, and Beleg's chest heaved, muscle rippling beneath the clinging fabric stuck to flesh. "You've naught to be sorry for," he finally replied, voice raw and low, barely audible beneath the sound of droplets in the trees. "But you know I cannot go with you."

And Artaresto's heart stuttered, because he did know. Beleg Cúthalion was a warrior of Doriath, pledged to the service of their king, and he could not forsake his duties for the favors of a Noldorin healer. Artaresto had known all along that they would never be able to stay together, live together as lovers in peace.

But still he could not resist falling for this pig-headed warrior's charm.

"You can," he whispered, and the healer took the hand hovering over his cheek, nuzzled into the rough palm and breathed deeply of freshly-fallen rain and something intrinsically his One.

The other hand cupped his nape tenderly, squeezing with hesitation. "Do you even know what you're saying, my dove?"

"Of course I do." Where he found the strength and the daring to press a kiss against parted, shocked lips, the inexperienced healer did not know, but he stood upon tip-toes and discovered that Beleg's lips were quite soft and pliant.

At least, until they kissed back, easily parting his own, consuming the soft moan that rose in reply. And Artaresto, for his part, found himself reaching upwards to grasp at powerful shoulders, lost beneath a tide of heady taste and searing touch and vibrant sensation, eyelashes fluttering closed to the patter of raindrops on heated cheeks.

They did not remain standing for long, and it was cold and wet on the ground, but he barely noticed for the sudden fire moving as a wild creature beneath blood-flushed skin. Nothing but Beleg could capture his attention. Nothing but shockingly gentle caresses stroking downwards and soothing warmth burning into his muscles and the frightening, joyous thought of sacred joining that had his fingers scrambling across hard shoulders and flanks. That had his thighs embracing tight around the other and his head falling back in supplication, crying words of longing and devotion. That had his toes curling into the grass when they came together and the oneness burned up his spine as a bright light behind his eyes.

Until there was nothing left but him and his other half in the whole world. Two as one.

---

There was sunshine when Artaresto awoke. The darkness of night had passed, and the storm that had christened their hasty joining was gone as a phantom, leaving behind the dew dripping down from the cups of leaves and the songs of birds in the fresh air.

They were entwined, pressed together, skin to skin, and the healer sighed in wistful satisfaction. If he could have stayed here forever, he would have been happy to be naught but a Sindarin healer with no noble heritage and no royal duties, but he was a Noldorin prince, and as Beleg could not throw aside his oaths and responsibilities, neither could Artaresto. Not even if it was his dearest wish. And thus he squirmed out of powerful arms, untangling their limbs and the sodden blankets of pale hair until their bodies were two again, until he knew where his skin ended and his lover's began.

But that did not stop him from pressing a faint kiss to his warrior's brow and lips, smiling affectionately at how Beleg leaned into the touches and mumbled low in the midst of his rest, arms reaching for the other half of their union.

The healer did not dare join his other half again, but slipped into his wet robes, stained with grass and dirt, and left his lover beneath the shade of the trees. No goodbye would be necessary, and he would not offer one.

Because they were not truly sundering. Even at this moment, Artaresto felt the heated glow within him, the warmth and comfort of Beleg's presence stretching and purring just beneath the membrane of his skin. He was not alone.

They were as one. A union of two souls and two spirits. And Artaresto was never going to be alone again. Beleg Cúthalion would always be there with him, and he with Beleg. Even if they never laid eyes upon the other again. Even if they never shared in the intimacy of closeness or the warmth of a physical embrace.

Artaresto did not look back.

And when Beleg awoke alone and naked in the late morning, he needed only close his eyes to feel the touch of cool lips on his skin and hear a hushed voice murmuring words of doting love in his ear. Nearly purring in contentment, he rolled onto his belly and dozed into the afternoon with his silvered dream at his side.

Chapter Text

Her first encounter with Elladan was tense and full of white-hot rage.

It wasn't shocking. Everyone in the valley knew of the tragedy that had befallen the House of Elrond. And everyone also knew of the dangerous and unstable reaction of Elrond's twin sons to their mother's capture, torture and departure to Aman. Like a shroud of death and mourning, the sorrow of their Lord and the hatred of his sons laid heavily over their blessed valley as a long storm lingering at the base of the mountains that refused to dissipate and let the land recover in light.

It rained. And rained.

To Lómiel, this was nothing out of the ordinary. Her past had been full of these long years, years spent wishing her mother had never thrown herself in harm's way for the sake of a useless, ungrateful child, wishing that her father's love for his family would have stayed his prideful, tragic actions, wishing that the only family she had left did not look upon her as a curse and a burden of remembrance with their dark, leery eyes and pitying glances.

Such had been the existence of Maeglin of Gondolin.

And though that was another lifetime ago—another lifetime of chilled, unrequited love and passion turned to hatred and bitter longing—her actions still laid heavily upon her heart and always would, an equally dark and mournful storm of self-hatred and guilt that would never break apart to reveal sunshine overhead.

Happiness was not a gift she would ever wish for or ask for, not now and not ever. She dared not think herself worthy of such mercy. But there were others who deserved it, and that it was brutally ripped away rankled her as nothing before. She, as many other occupants of the valley, wished she could do something to help their beloved Lord and his sons recover from tragedy and heartbreak.

Until that fateful day she would never have dared attempt to console either of the sons of Elrond. She understood that words from a stranger would not be enough to chase away guilt and sorrow.

But when faced with a weeping Elladan alone in the gardens, what was she to do?

"Are... Are you all right, my Lord?"

Her movements prior to voicing concern were soft and hesitant, barely brushing the lush carpet of grass beneath bare feet. Hearing someone so near without warning startled the young lord so badly that Lómiel found herself with a knife's wicked edge pressed to her windpipe and a vice-like grip about her middle, pinning her arms against her sides.

A hot cheek was pressed against hers, but it was slick with moisture. The scent of salt burned into her nose.

"P-please, I... I meant no harm..." she whispered. "L-lord Elladan?"

Whatever had come over him was gone in an instant, and he threw her ungracefully upon the ground with a scoff of disgust. When she looked up, Lómiel faced eyes glistening with untamed fury, with hatred pointing outwards as a threatening blade to cleave her in two if she dared step any closer. "Foolish girl," the heir snarled, lip curling up in disdain. "You should know better than to infringe upon the privacy of others, lest you get hurt. Now leave."

"B-but, my Lord..."

"I said leave!"

She left, almost running in her haste to escape the intense wave of murderous intent in the air. But not before she glimpsed his tense jaw and red-rimmed eyes. Not before she glimpsed the familiar pain that resonated with her suffering.

The seed had been planted and the rain continued to fall to earth.

She could hardly resist returning.

---

It was a long while before she dared "infringe upon his privacy" again, but Lómiel knew the confrontation was inevitable. She may have changed much after the Halls, but she was still herself, still naturally curious with the Noldorin stubbornness of her mother and the sheer pig-headedness of her father.

And thus she came to stumble upon the same clearing in the garden, upon the same sight of Elrond's eldest son sitting alone in the grass, staring into the distance with a scowl and watery eyes squinted against the barrage of tears beating down the gates of pride and feigned strength. No matter that he was angry and full of black hatred; Elladan was still a boy who missed his mother, who blamed himself for failing to protect her from the evil in the world.

And Lómiel could understand that better than her companion would probably ever know.

This time she didn't try to be quiet.

Elladan turned to look at her, and his eyes were piercing, sharp and accusing blades clashing violently against the shield of Lómiel's resolve. Squaring her shoulders, she walked right past the young Lord of the Valley and settled herself upon a stone bench.

"I told you to leave me alone," he growled.

"Feel free to continue sulking," she replied tartly. "I am merely admiring the roses, Lord Elladan."

"Sulking," he whispered, and she could see the fury bubbling under the surface, rising and boiling and burning. "You think I am sulking."

Lómiel had not anticipated him standing and crossing the space between them, heavy with overflowing tension, had not expected to be grabbed by the arms and shaken like a doll, had not expected the pain of deep muscle bruising as her bones creaked beneath his grasp. Had not expected to see his face inches away from her, contorted in a way she had seen only once before, only when her father had hurled a poisoned spear at her heart in an act of spontaneous and thoughtless violence.

And he shook her until her teeth rattled.

"Sulking!" Hot breath washed over her face with his shout. "A little girl like you would never understand! Maybe if I tortured your naneth to death, made her scream and cry and beg for mercy that would never come, maybe then you would understand my sulking!"

It was hard not to cry; the tears were beaded on her lashes as diamonds. But Lómiel breathed shakily and looked up at those eyes full of darkness.

"I live with my uncle," she whispered. "My nana has been gone for a very long time."

Shocked realization set in, the eyes so close widening until the whites showed. And she was released so suddenly that she nearly toppled backwards off the bench to the ground below at the sudden loss of his painful support. By the time she looked up with words upon her lips, Elladan was already gone, and she was alone.

---

He approached her first. Three days later.

"I... I am sorry... for what I did to you in the gardens... It was inappropriate behavior unbefitting an elf, let alone the Lord of the Valley, and I am ashamed of my actions."

Lómiel turned towards the heir and found Elladan's eyes downcast, head bowed slightly. If there was shame in his eyes, she could not see it through the thick, dark lashes hiding swirling silver and shadows. But his voice was low and less acidic than usual, and she was inclined to believe his words and forgive his transgressions.

Of course, he didn't know that she still had bruises on her arms, and she didn't intend to tell him. The purple splotches were not visible through her sleeves, and it was not like she hadn't suffered worse. A few measly aches and some shaking could hardly compare to the time she had spent in the loving care of the Lieutenant of Angband as Maeglin. The words and assumptions about her worldliness and understanding had caused far deeper wounds. But maybe she deserved the derision.

"It is quite all right. There is nothing to be sorry for," she murmured, clutching her hands in her skirts. "You were upset, and I should have let you be, Lord Elladan."

"It absolutely is not all right," her companion growled. "You did nothing to... I should not have..."

"I was trying to help," she told him. "I pushed too far. I deserved your anger when I belittled your sorrow."

"It's not an excuse."

"Be that as it may, I shall not be encroaching upon your time alone again." And she meant it this time. It had been selfish and rude to put her curiosity above his comfort and security. Sweeping into a curtsey, she looked up at him again. "Have a good afternoon, Lord Elladan."

And she turned to leave.

"Wait..."

And paused.

"If... If you want... you are free to come back whenever you like. I would not want to disturb your admiration of the roses. And maybe... maybe I would not mind company every now and again..."

It was shy and strange coming from the normally self-assured and troubled half-elf. When she looked over her shoulder, his downcast eyes were most certainly averted from her face, and she could see that his hands were clutched tightly around the sleeves of his robes, crinkling the heavy fabric. His knuckles bled white as bone.

"I would like that," she murmured. And his hands unfurled as blossoms.

"I look forward to seeing you again." Elladan fidgeted and bowed stiffly. "A good afternoon to you as well, my Lady." And then he swept past her in a great rush, and Lómiel had the sneaking suspicion that he was embarrassed for desiring her companionship during such an intimate ritual of mourning. But she never said anything.

---

It seemed that the seed of curiosity had grown into a sprout and managed to survive the first treacherous onslaught of the elements. Lómiel found herself joining Lord Elladan in silence in their garden clearing at least once a week. They didn't speak often; sometimes he did not even look up from the scenes that played before his eyes as invisible reminders of his crimes. But she was there.

And, finally, he broached the subject that both of them had skirted around for a very long time. He, out of fury and denial. She, out of self-hatred and guilt realized and tended to perfection.

"I am sorry... about your naneth."

Surprised, Lómiel looked up at him, and he was staring straight into her eyes with his glazed orbs, always on the edge of tears but never brave enough to give in to their catharsis. She wished he wouldn't consider it a weakness to cry. But she never said, because it would have been hypocritical when she subscribed to exactly the same form of self-punishment.

"It was a very long time ago," she told him. As if that dulled the sorrow.

And he didn't believe her for a moment. It had been over a century since his mother's departure and he had not healed in the least. He understood that such wounds could linger and fester. "But you are still sad."

"It was my fault she died." And it had been. Many atrocities had been laid at her—at Maeglin's—feet in those dark days, and all of the blame and wary glances had been deserved in the end. "She took a poisoned spear to save me. She should have let me die."

"Say not such things!" Elladan, for once, looked neither furious nor despairing as he stood and crossed the space between them on winged feet. Instead, he was utterly scandalized. "That... It... Not... It is not your fault!"

"Is it not?" If Aredhel had lived and Maeglin had died, perhaps the future would have been different. Perhaps so many noble warriors and innocent citizens would not have died beneath fire and betrayal at the whims of Maeglin's madness and jealousy. "She died in my place."

And it was her fault. The writhing sea of guilt would never evaporate from her soul. Nothing could change the fact that she had destroyed her family.

"It is not your fault," he repeated fiercely, shaking his head as he knelt at her feet. His hands were warm when they grasped hers, but she would not allow that little bit of comfort—that horribly tempting lie—to assuage the pain of purgatory. "Never think that."

But maybe... maybe she could assuage his pain. Just a little.

"You should not blame yourself for your naneth's fading either, Elladan."

The soothing caress of his thumbs on the back of her hands ceased, frozen. When their eyes met, his were dark and clouded, both filled with rotting anger and with hatred, such cold hatred that she shivered before him at its icy touch, remembering other eyes filled with the same ash and flame.

"That is different," he whispered.

And she dared to squeeze his hands in her own. "No. It is not."

"It is," he hissed, and for a moment his grip was crushing. "I failed her. If we had been faster, if we hadn't fooled around like ridiculous elflings and had taken our mission seriously, we would have been there sooner. We could have saved her from... from..."

"You couldn't have known what—"

"That doesn't excuse us!" Her bones felt as though they would crack, and it took all her concentration to avoid wincing in agony. But then she remembered the feeling of having her fingernails removed one-by-one and decided a couple of broken fingers would hardly do her harm if it helped Elladan calm himself amidst the overflowing tide of rage burning through his veins. "We failed as sons and as protectors!"

"You did not fail Lady Celebrían." She pulled her hands from his grasp, and though they were already blotchy with the beginning of bruises, she cupped his cheeks and ran her thumbs beneath eyes pooled with hot tears of shame, the tears of a little boy whose world had been rent and torn to shreds. "She would have forgiven you in a heartbeat."

"No, no, it was our fault, and—"

"You did not do those horrible things to her." Lómiel forced him to look at her, forced him to see the present and not the visions that haunted his every waking moment, a torment all too familiar and poisonous. "You did not hurt her. You saved her and brought her home. There was nothing you could have done to prevent what happened; she made the decision to travel with only a handful of guards on her own, and there was no way you could have changed her mind or her fate. You do not control the world, Elladan."

He was shaking his head, but the tears were overflowing. And Lómiel felt relief with the next deep breath of rose-sc