Their little settlement had almost grown into a proper village over the last three decades. It lay in a glen nestled among the wooded foothills of the Andram highlands of eastern Beleriand. Word of mouth and accidental sightings had drawn others to join them. Maedhros had been treated many times to Maglor's witticisms concerning how they were not simply two generals without an army between them, but village elders saddled with the responsibility of too many children and not enough livestock or arable land. The implication which Maedhros read in those remarks was that he needed to pull himself together to lead in circumstances where the immediate necessity was not to build any grand alliances against Morgoth, much less fight to take possession of a Silmaril.
Maglor believed that Maedhros' most important tasks included focusing on waste disposal and drainage, not to mention food supplies and housing. Maedhros could do that, perhaps not with enthusiasm, but with efficiency. His early education in Tirion was nothing if not extensive and eclectic enough to have included a working knowledge of such questions.
Unlike Maglor, he did not accept their current life as even a peaceful interlude, but simply an interruption of hostilities in the midst of a drawn out defeat. Far better than Maedhros at living in the moment, Maglor made their situation feel like peace for their supporters. Certainly their small community had witnessed a number of weddings and births. Meanwhile, the two children whom Maedhros and Maglor had brought with them on their flight from the destruction they had wreaked in Arvernien had grown into exceptional young men.
In fact, Eärendil's twin sons had organized this year's celebration of the Gates of Summer. True, it amounted to little more than a communal supper held out of doors in a small clearing amidst the trees, a few minutes' walk from the center of their cluster of rustic cottages. But the boys' preparations revealed creativity and hard work.
They had arranged for colored lanterns to be strung throughout the surrounding trees. Platters heaped with flatbread and roast boar, wheels of cheese, and bowls of peaches and blackberries covered long banquet tables. Huge bunches of wild flowers decorated each table, along with vases of Maedhros' roses. Ample seating had been provided as well as a space for dancing. The addition of a greater variety and quantity of drink than usual and a small ensemble of string instruments, drums and flutes gave the gathering a truly festive air.
Maedhros, drink in hand, lounged with Maglor at a recently deserted table observing the dancers and listening to a nearby circle of young people chatting. Maglor's foster sons looked like two princes among a crowd of clamoring commoners. It was not as if there were no other youths as handsome. But there was something compelling about the way they held their shoulders, the manner in which Elros imperiously tilted his head while he listened, and the impression of effortless self-assurance communicated by Elrond's cheeky grin.
"It was Tarnin Austa when Gondolin fell," Elros pronounced in a clear youthful tone, somewhat solemn for his years. "The Gondolindrim celebrated it as a contemplative night spent in silence broken only with the coming of the dawn."
"According to Maglor, probably reflective of Turgon's stuffy part-Vanyarin pretensions," Elrond added, his voice low and level, while his careless shrug screamed of his own refusal to bestow unearned reverence upon anyone, not even the heroic dead of Ondolindë. "Although, our father survived the fall of Gondolin, we never benefited from any of his memories of the city. He had other priorities. Here we celebrate Tarnin Austa not by meditating, but with feasting, music and dance."
Elros cocked his head and pursed his lips together at his brother in a show of exaggerated tolerance before responding. "At dawn, Maglor or Maedhros or both will say a few words in remembrance of those who died in Gondolin and all who have lost their lives standing up to Morgoth."
Leaning closer to Maedhros in order to speak softly, Maglor remarked in a proprietary tone, "Despite their likeness, they are as different as night and day."
"You are right to be proud of how you have raised them," Maedhros said, understanding the implication behind his brother's remark. "You have given each the unique encouragement he needed."
"Thank you." Maglor smiled sweetly. "I had a good mentor in how to nurture little boys."
"You mean Atar?" he asked, his voice cracking with unexpected sentiment.
"No, lackwit. I meant you!" He slapped Maedhros on the back of the head.
Elrond could not have heard Maglor and Maedhros speaking. But, with his usual hyperawareness, he spun his head in their direction. Catching Maedhros' eye, he wrinkled his nose at him in a show of droll affection. With obvious calculation, Elrond lifted his fall of fine nearly black hair to expose the right side of his neck.
Before he quickly snapped it shut again, Maedhros' mouth had fallen open at the sight of a mottled purplish-red love bite on Elrond's neck. In a stunning show of impudence, Elrond winked at him.
"Did you see that?" Maedhros grumbled into his chest, hoping he was not flushing.
"I did," Maglor answered.
"I half-hoped that I had imagined it. Where do you think he got that big ugly mark on his throat?"
"I thought you might have given it to him?" Maglor raised his eyebrows and grinned.
"Are you serious?" Maedhros, horrified, looked at Maglor for a long, stretched moment hoping to discover that his brother was teasing him. "I would never touch him without speaking to you first."
That remark provoked a chortle from Maglor. "Well, I'll admit I didn't think it was probable. It would be more like you to torture me and yourself at considerable length before doing such a thing. But he does follow you everywhere and talks about you ceaselessly; so, it wasn't entirely out of the question that he had already cornered you."
"Really? I hadn't noticed that he followed me around. I thought I was the one all too mindful of him. He does seem to try to provoke me whenever he catches me looking in his direction. Does he flirt with everyone like that?"
"Not at all. It's all for you," Maglor said.
"That's interesting," Maedhros said, feeling relieved to a degree he could not have imagined just a short while earlier. "Tell me, you know him far better than I do. How do you think he got that love bite?"
"Honestly? I haven't the slightest idea. It's obvious that he wants you to wonder. Probably hoped it would make you jealous or at the very least curious. He is infatuated with you and very, very young. I think even you can remember what that was like. He is desperate for that sort of attention and good-looking and charismatic enough to discover that a number of people are willing to indulge him."
"I would imagine so," Maedhros snorted. "He looks amazing in the deep blue, doesn't he? Wasn't that tunic one of yours?"
"It looks much better on him. It never flattered me, so it survived without much wear and tear. I had the sleeves re-lined in red and lengthened. His arms are longer than mine. But his height is in his legs. With the cuff at the wrist, it fits him quite well."
Maedhros huffed. The blue with the dark wine-red trim did look better with Elrond's high color than it had ever looked against Maglor's face, pale from too many sorrows and not enough sun.
"I realize what you are doing, you know. You are trying to distract me now. I'm not your tailor, Macalaurë." No tailor, but Maedhros had noticed that Elrond or someone else had picked off the white eight-rayed star of Fëanáro from the right breast and replaced it with a red six-pointed star of Eärendil. To his credit, Maglor never allowed them to forget who they were. "You are the closest thing he has to a father."
"You are his foster father as well." Maglor folded his arms across his chest in a gesture that clearly indicated that he did not want to have this discussion but, if Maedhros insisted, he could and would hold up his end.
"No. I am not anything like a father to him and never have been. You are the one who wanted to keep the boys with us. I never did. I thought they needed a woman to look after them, a motherly sort of figure, and an ordinary family with other young people around them."
Maglor gave a cynical snort. "And we might have found this ordinary family among your last and staunchest supporters? Under the circumstances, I found the best available woman to help me with them. Lohtë was a marvelous nurse and foster mother. Loved them as if they were her own."
"You're right. We could have done far worse," Maedhros grumbled. Just then Lohtë danced by clinging to the arm of a husky silver-haired Sindarin lad, wearing a smile of such delight in herself and her handsome partner that one would never have guessed the losses she had suffered. Not to mention that she had only recently let go of her unrequited pining for Maglor. Yet, her unending optimism, no less than her fierce fondness for the two boys—according to her, no children anywhere had ever been cleverer or more good-looking than Elros and Elrond—went a long way toward replacing the mother they barely remembered.
"I am grateful to both you and her, Macalaurë, that the boys turned out so well. I could not have endured the loss of any more little princes after I had failed to rescue their uncles."
"Speaking of the noble blood of princes, I would give more credit to their lineage than my nurturing or even that of the incomparable Lohtë. They carry traits from our grandfather Finwë and the toughness of the stubborn race of the Edain, as well as gifts from the Ainur through that crazy witch Lúthien."
"Language! Please!" Maedhros laughed. "Stop trying to sidetrack me. Let me tell you what is really on my mind."
"I know exactly what's on your mind. Although I am not sure if 'mind' is the proper choice of words." Maglor looked across the clearing to pointedly glare at Elrond, who ignored his foster father, and continued to speak with emphatic gesticulation to an appreciative crowd of youths clustered around him.
"Of course, he is distracting me. But I have been thinking," Maedhros said.
He frowned when Maglor shook his headful of braids, heavy with tiny beads, at him, with more than a hint of frustration.
"Please let me finish," Maedhros objected. "As I see it, I am neither Elrond's father or teacher and never have been. He never needed my tutoring either. I am sure that you realized that. And yet you allowed me to believe that I ought to help him with his studies. He intended from the beginning of those meetings to seduce me. And I am weary of saying 'no.'
"I know I have you, and other good friends and companionship. And Findekáno and I spent as much time apart as we ever spent together. But still I knew he was always there. Now, I feel so achingly alone, just wanting to touch or be touched in that way. I know it's incredibly stupid and inappropriate that Elrond brings that to the surface in me. I'm sorry . . . "
"If you think I'll make it easy for you and object," Maglor said, "you are mistaken. I refuse to try to stop you from doing as you choose. Elrond and Elros are young men fully grown and their familial relationship to you is far more distant than Fingon's was. I wish you well, Nelyo. If you had wanted to bed Dior himself, I wouldn't have objected if I thought it might give you peace and mean you would drink a little less. And, in any case, if Elrond wants you, which I agree with you in believing that he does, then you will have very little choice in the end."
"I have your blessing then, Adar Maglor?" Maedhros threw an arm around his brother's shoulders.
"You've never needed it. But like I said, you've always had it and my love as well. You deserve to be happy; you've paid for your sins ten times over. It will probably do you a world of good. And the oath of the stones is likely to sleep long enough for you to be that eager young man's first love."
"He is beautiful, isn't he!" It was a statement not a question. Maedhros watched transfixed as Elrond laughed, throwing back his head, exposing his long white neck, prominent Adam's apple, and the infuriating love bite.
"I don't need to hear any more details, please," Maglor said, scrunching up his nose. "He does feel like a son to me. Or the closest I ever had to one. Even more so than his brother."
Elrond grabbed a pretty raven-haired maid by the hand and dragged her giggling into a circle dance that had just begun. He danced well, with energy, grace, and a sure and true singing voice that could be heard above the others, although accompanied by a lot of laughter. His partner could not take her eyes off him even when the switches or turns of the dance steps pulled them apart. When the circle dissolved into a more sedate promenade of couples, Elrond amiably led the maiden away from the dancing area to the drink table, where he secured a goblet of punch for her and bowed graciously before taking his leave. 'Heartbreaker,' Maedhros thought. Perhaps he would be saving the tender feelings of several maidens by taking up with Elrond himself.
Elrond approached Maglor and Maedhros. Up close it was evident that Elrond was not as in control of his faculties as he had appeared from across the clearing.
"Come and sing," he insisted, trying push Maglor in the direction of the players. Maglor refused to be budged. He then took Maedhros' hand. "Please. You come with me." Large puppy dog eyes widening to the point that Maedhros shook his head laughing. "Partner me in the sword dance. Look! People are forming a queue for it now."
"Surely you are not serious. You could hurt someone in a sword dance in your lamentable condition," Maedhros answered.
Elrond stuck out an alluring lower lip at him. "We're using sticks! Too much drinking tonight for swords."
"Perhaps you didn't notice I have but one arm." Maedhros grinned, lifting up the elbow of his right arm that ended in a silver prosthesis of a hand.
"Ha! I haven't fallen for that one in several years. Fine! If you are going to be stubborn, I'll only use one hand."
Maedhros pushed himself up from the bench and leaned menacingly into Elrond's space.
"You'll regret it, Elrond," said Maglor.
"My lord," Elrond said with an exaggerated bow to Maedhros. "You would tell me if I am placing you in an uncomfortable position, wouldn't you?"
Maedhros laughed despite himself. "This won't take long," he said to Maglor.
"Mind that you don't hurt him."
Maedhros and Elrond, wooden swords in hand, faced one another. The drums beat out a primal tattoo that harkened back to the starlit forests of their forefathers. Elrond responded to Maedhros' execution of the formal prescribed bow, with a much deeper than necessary obeisance.
Despite the flourishes, Elrond's first two counters were well-placed and forceful. Only the whack of wood against wood replacing the ring of metal detracted from the beauty of the dance. However, when Maedhros made his first truly aggressive lunge at Elrond, the lad immediately lost his balance and landed hard on his bum. It seemed unlikely to Maedhros that Elrond, doubtless aware that he was tipsy, had ever believed he had any chance of besting him. But his expression of open-mouthed surprise indicated he had thought to last a while longer at least.
Elrond sat for moment in the dirt before jumping to his feet. He offered the hilt of his sword to Maedhros in a gesture of surrender, laughing as hard as the rest of the crowd.
He shouted, his tone triumphant, "I concede!"
Maedhros felt the burn of his cheeks flushing, the bane of a red-head. "Accepted," he growled, ignoring the extended weapon.
He flopped down on the bench next to Maglor again, leaning back against the table and stretching his legs in front of him. Elrond had annoyed him not so much by being so obviously drunk, fighting badly, or refusing to take his defeat seriously, although all of that was bad form, but by reawakening parts of him he thought he had cauterized and rendered insensible. The impossibly beautiful and vexatious Elrond had wandered back over to stand on the other side of Maglor. Sensing Maedhros' struggle, he pouted, staring and refusing to look away. Elros came up and whispered something into Elrond's ear, who wrenched his arm away from his brother.
The players had assembled to begin anew. Their master called out, "Lord Maglor, I can no longer deny the clamoring for at least a simple song from you. Will you so honor us, sire?"
Although he had refused Elrond earlier, he stood up smiling gently, with only the softest sigh of reluctance. Walking toward the musicians, he asked, "Does anyone have a preference? Sweet or savory?"
Elrond called out from behind him, his voice high-pitched in its petulance. "Sing Sweet Lindir!"
Elros groaned and pretended to gag while Maedhros shifted in his seat, swearing under his breath and shaking his head.
Unaware of any tension, the Music Master nodded encouragingly at Maglor. "Always a popular choice," he pronounced with exaggerated solemnity. The strings and pipes began the introductory strains of the sentimental Sindarin ballad of unrequited young love. Clearly not in the mood, Maglor shrugged and began an octave high, parodying a wailing lovesick maiden.
Oh adar, oh adar, go dig my grave;
Make it both long and narrow.
Sweet Lindir died of love for me
And I will die of sorrow.
"Boo!" Elrond shouted, over the beginnings of a ruffle of appreciative laughter. "You're ruining it on purpose."
Maedhros snapped. He leapt to his feet and slowly and deliberately swiveled to face Elrond, who froze, eyes large. Maedhros grabbed him by the wrist.
Maglor hid his irritation by chuckling. He extended his arm to a musician who handed him his vihuela. "Better still, how about this one?" he asked, launching into the rollicking first verse of a favorite drinking song:
We thought the fun was over and done,
When the lady raised her glass . . .
Meanwhile, Maedhros had wound an arm around Elrond's waist and propelled him away from the crowd.
"I think you are ready to leave. I'll walk you home," he said, his inflection low and deceptively gentle even in his own ears. "Look sharp now. Let's move." Elrond obeyed without a peep.
Maedhros had resisted taking Elrond's hand since the last time he had done so a few years earlier. It had reminded him--the texture of the boy's soft palm, silky smooth skin--of the hands of a string of younger brothers. Even when Elrond was not yet of age, he did not want to be reminded of little brothers when he touched him. Yes. There had been something about Elrond even then. But Maedhros found, as he tightened his hand around Elrond's wrist, that it held its own dangers to his self-control with the pulse hectic beneath his fingers like the heart beating in the chest of a frightened rabbit.
"Back to the house. Keeping marching," Maedhros barked. Elrond giggled dragging heavy feet through clumps of fallen leaves, stumbling over a tiny twig.
"Ow!" Elrond said, letting his head tilt to one side when Maedhros looked at him. His lips formed a relaxed seductive smile. "Are you taking me to bed, Professor?"
Bed had not actually entered Maedhros' head. A lot of images had flitted across his consciousness, like smashing his mouth against Elrond's, wiping the smirk off his pretty face in that way, or pressing the lad's lips against his own teeth so hard that they both would taste the blood. Those had been more the sort of visions that passed through his mind.
"How in the names of all the Valar and their mincing minions did you get so drunk so early in the evening?" he asked.
"Ai," Elrond said with mock sorrow. "The right question is not how, but why? I can tell you why. To build up the courage to make a real pass at you. This pussy-footing around is moving far too slowly. I don't think I can stand it anymore."
Maedhros let go of his wrist. Elrond swayed and almost fell before Maedhros took him by shoulders and slammed him up against the trunk of a broad old maple. "Listen carefully, Elrond. Try to remember this when you have sobered up. If or when I take you into my bed, it will not be after a clumsy, inebriated so-called pass you make at me in the midst of a public gathering."
Elrond looked up at him puzzled before trying to cover his mouth with his hand. "Oh, fuck! I'm going to be sick."
"Not on me, you're not!" He swung Elrond around and grasped him around the middle while holding his hair safely away from his face.
Four hours later, Elrond squirmed in his bed and winced. "Where am I?"
"In your own chaste, narrow bed." Maedhros put aside the book he had been reading. He could not resist giving Elrond a fond smile. Ah, youth, he thought, to retain such winsome beauty after puking and passing out drunk.
"I really messed that up, I guess," Elrond said, breathy but with none of his earlier flirtatious swagger.
"Not entirely. I'm still here, aren't I? I cared enough to stay and watch you sleep, to make sure that you didn't choke to death on your own vomit."
"I'm mortified," Elrond groaned. "This is so awful!"
While Elrond had slept, Maedhros had decided that they could both do far worse at the moment. He could cherish the gift of Elrond, be kind and solicitous of him, and Elrond wouldn't lose anything by loving him under those circumstances. He had loved repeatedly before Findekáno, and none of those experiences had taken anything from him, but rather had given him more to offer his best and truest love.
"Don't waste your time being mortified," he said. "I'm actually quite flattered. Please give me a while to get used to the idea of you and make certain that you know what it is that you really want. You can wait just a little longer, can't you?"
"I'd wait forever for you." Maedhros could not hold back a chuckle at that statement.
"Lovely sentiment, were it true. In the meantime, there is still the lucky sod who made that big territorial mark on your throat."
"Oh, him. That was nothing."
"Maybe nothing to you . . ."
"He's betrothed already. An arranged marriage." Maedhros shuddered at that. He loathed those, particularly when a young man did not show much interest in women. Elrond prattled on not noticing his reaction. "He was just playing around with me. A couple of kisses." He moved long graceful fingers to his neck, apparently seeking the bite mark that he could not see. "And I let him do that--the sucking on my neck thing--for a moment only. That was all we did." A softer version of Elrond's characteristic smirk returned. "I'm saving myself for you."
"Holy Eru! I'm not at all sure I am ready for you! And you should also know that I'm not entirely free myself. I ought to explain that I . . . ."
Elrond interrupted, "I do want to hear your version of the famous story sometime. But, surely you know that there are even ballads written about your love for Fingon. I don't expect . . . I do understand . . . oh, Nelyo! I just need for you to be kind to me for as little or as long as it pleases you."
"We'll see." He stroked the fine hair off Elrond's forehead and tucked an errant strand of it behind his ear, happy he had used soap when he had rinsed the lad off earlier. If he had not, he wouldn't smell nearly as good. "No doubt that I'll not be able to resist you. But you should want more and better for yourself than me, Elrond. Sleep now."
The day after the Gates of Summer gathering in the glen, most drifted slowly back into their regular routines. Maedhros felt better than he would have had he not left the festivities so early to look after Elrond. Quiet after a brief apology in the morning, Elrond had joined Elros and a small work crew carrying tables and benches back to the village storage shed and restoring the glen to its previous condition.
Midmorning, Elrond poked his head into Maedhros' room where he sat working on his collection of maps of Beleriand. Inexplicably, Maedhros had found himself correcting the placement of little inlets and small rocky beaches on a map of Lake Mithrim. It was unlikely to be of any use in the predictable future, except to stir up thoughts of happier days and Fingon.
"Want to go over some of the verses that Maglor has been collecting?" Elrond asked. "The historical details are important, and you can tell me how the use of the different poetic forms enriches our experience of them." He winked at Maedhros.
"That's the speech I am supposed to give you." In the last few months during which they had played teacher and student, they had learned their lines well, both understanding there was little more Maedhros had to teach Elrond.
"Do you want to start over? Did I mess that up as well?"
"You didn't mess up anything, dear boy. Although we can hope you learned something about the limits of your capacity for alcohol. Let me put my maps away."
A short while later, Maedhros lay back on the grass, with his arms under his head. He watched the fleecy cumulus clouds drift slowly but inexorably to the west as he listened to Elrond intone verses from the Lay of Beren and Lúthien:
Behold! the hope of Elvenland
the fire of Fëanor, Light of Morn
before the sun and moon were born,
thus out of bondage came at last,
from iron to mortal hand it passed.
Elrond had started reading in a voice that parodied the rhetorical flourishes of a comic opera poet, but had quickly and unconsciously hit a rhythm that illustrated his natural ability to capture and hold an audience. In a different Age, in a faraway world, he might even have been an actor. Losing himself in the story and in the cadence of the words, Elrond no longer manifested any of the traits of the rebellious and irritating boy who drove Maglor to distraction. Brash, beautiful and maddening were words that Maedhros thought he would use to describe him.
"You have a lovely voice, but that's enough for now. I like Maglor's version of the story better."
Elrond laughed. "Did you ever see them?"
"Beren and Lúthien?" Maedhros asked, surprised.
"No! The Silmarilli."
"Of course I did. Although, not often." One could never forget them, pulsing light, with a hint of sentience radiating from them. Maedhros never coveted them. If anything they repulsed him. He could not imagine it pleasing Dior to wear one. Dior Eluchil was no Fëanáro, but he might have been as eccentric in his own way as his mother Lúthien. Turning his thought back to his companion, he asked, "You saw the one also, right?"
"Not that I remember."
"Really? If I had children and also had a Silmaril, I certainly would have shown it to them. Everyone should have the opportunity to see one at least once. But then you were very young. Atar wanted us to experience them at close hand, although he did not permit anyone to handle them. Not often at least—Haru, Amil and Aulë excepted."
"We heard about it, knew she had it," Elrond said, tucking a lock of hair behind his ear and biting his lower lip in an enticing smile. "Well, I knew anyway. It might surprise you to know that at that age I was a nosey, precocious child. Elros claims not to remember anything about the Silmaril. Maybe I did see it and forgot?"
"No. You would never forget, unless you were a completely unconscious infant. Even as a toddler, you would remember. And, that day? The day your mother disappeared? Do you remember that?"
"I remember not knowing where she was, what she was doing. I was horribly frightened that she was not there with us. Elros was crying for her. I heard a lot of yelling outside, the clash of swords, wood splintering, our nursemaid shrieking like a rabid sea gull."
Maedhros was not sure why he had raised the question. Reaching out he had taken Elrond's hand, who had squeezed it as he talked. He knew he could never allow himself to touch Elrond intimately without first speaking of that day at the Havens, as though he needed to remind Elrond who he was, give him an opportunity to ask him questions or accuse him.
Numbly waiting, Maedhros finally volunteered, "Sea gulls don't get rabies. Mammals only."
"What about bats?"
"Bats are mammals," Maedhros declared.
"Oh," answered Elrond, abashed.
They did not speak of the Havens of Sirion for a long while after that.
That night Maedhros thought about how happy he was that they had added onto the cottage and given both Maglor and himself their own rooms. The boys still shared a room. It occurred to him that perhaps they had neglected the youths' need for privacy far too long. He would see about the plausibility of extending their room to the side facing the forest, then splitting it down the middle with a wall and adding another door.
Resolving that problem in his mind, he somehow felt less guilty to reach inside of his night clothes and take himself in hand. It did not take him long to reach the point of climaxing with the vision of Elrond in his head, smirking and laughing, tossing his fine, night-dark hair and looking at Maedhros as though he could read his every thought. His clear grey eyes were light enough to be startling, reminding Maedhros of the unnerving stare of the forest wolves of Aman.
It was the mental image of those lupine eyes that had caused Maedhros to reach his release with an undignified grunt. He rolled over and wadded his pillow up under his head. He chuckled at himself, thinking for a moment of Tylekormo's habitual taunt in their youth, 'Do you touch yourself in your bed at night thinking of her?' Later, of course, the pronoun had shifted to 'him' for Findekáno and Nelyo. Findekáno had laughed and rolled his eyes shamelessly when confronted thusly. What would he think of him fantasizing about the great grandson of Lúthien of Doriath? Oddly enough the thought did not make him feel more guilty, but less so. Findekáno forgave more readily and tolerated more than anyone Maedhros had ever known.
That summer faded into a series of memories of long golden afternoons, of Elrond's face silhouetted against a clichéd azure sky. Falling in love filled one's head with such hackneyed imagery, but still just as sweet as the first time and with that same illusion of it all being novel and not comparable to anyone else's experience.
Elrond no longer felt compelled to be always underfoot after it had become clear to him that he had at last gained Maedhros' undivided attention. They had not yet been physically intimate; knowing it was inevitable they both tolerated the exquisite anticipation.
Late one morning, Maedhros popped his head around the kitchen door looking for Elrond. He watched him stretch to reach for a bowl overhead, his shirt pulled up to expose a tantalizing sliver of the smooth white skin of his taut waist. Allowing his eyes to drift upwards Maedhros was shocked to discover loosely curling hair that barely covered his neck.
"What did you do to your hair?"
"I chopped it off," Elrond said, confrontational. "Do you like it?"
Unable to hold back a deep sigh, Maedhros answered, "It's fine, I guess. I loved it before."
"Why the fuck didn't you ever say so?" His baleful glare made Maedhros smile.
"Good question. I probably thought you'd have chopped it off sooner?"
"Liar. Maybe if I had your hair, I'd let it grow. I hate my hair." Elrond snarled. Maedhros groaned at Elrond's manner and the absurdity of his statement.
"Fingon cut my hair once. After Thangorodrim. He had to. It was ruined. I liked it short, but he loved mine long as well. So, for him, I let grow out again straight away."
"I love it when you let me braid yours." The lines of tension in Elrond's face softened into wistfulness.
"I very much liked braiding yours as well, whelp."
"Touch it now," Elrond ordered, moving closer to him, his face flushing in embarrassment or uncertainty, while he raised his jaw challengingly.
Maedhros moaned with the painful swiftness of the onset of his arousal.
Elrond whispered, "Can we go into the bedroom now?"
"If you wish." He took Elrond's hand and led him into his room just across the hall, latching the door behind him.
All of this time of waiting and it would end like this. Not under a canopy of stars at midnight but midmorning of an ordinary day, in the kitchen! Maedhros had known for a while he would take the initiative sometime soon, but he hadn't expected it would be that morning and that Elrond would set the time. He pulled Elrond against his chest, tangling his hand in the feathery soft locks and yanked. He kissed Elrond fiercely until he opened his lips under his. The kiss was every bit as lovely as he had imagined it would be.
Not surprisingly Elrond knew how to kiss. In a momentary flash of jealousy, Maedhros wondered not for the first time whom Elrond had been kissing before letting go of the thought. It was better that he did not know.
The exceptionality of first kisses crossed his mind, how one wanted them to go on and on and never stop, how there was no immediate impulse to move on to the next step, but simply to kiss and kiss and kiss some more.
They did not fully consummate the act that morning, but had brought one another off with fervent caresses, while rutting against each other in a tangle of limbs and blankets on Maedhros' sunlit bed. But later that night Elrond came to Maedhros' room. Standing in doorway, in the half-light of the moon and a single candle, clad only in his nightshirt with the fringe on his forehead still damp from a bath, he looked so young and exposed that Maedhros almost changed his mind. But a sudden upward jerk of Elrond's chin and the steadiness of his gaze reminded Maedhros that he had not initiated any of this and that Elrond deserved to choose what would happen next as much as he did.
"So come in and latch the door behind you." Maedhros said, thinking his voice sounded hoarse. He cleared his throat and reached out his hand to Elrond. "You are fortunate that I really love to do this," he said, laughing softly, thinking he then sounded pompous, but blundered ahead anyway. "I do not mind telling you I am very good at it." Elrond rewarded his words with one of his delectable whimpers. "I am obsessive about first times, a bit of a perfectionist actually." He pulled Elrond down to sit next him on the edge of the bed.
"Oh?" asked Elrond, the look behind his eyes--by that point blown wide with arousal--part eager, part anxious, and completely curious. His body radiated moist heat from his bath and he smelled of their best soap. "Who was your very first?"
Elrond laughed before softly smiling. "Obviously," he said in a tone intended to sound sarcastic but utterly lacking any bite. Maedhros felt like a cat teasing a very lovely mouse, who had suddenly turned the tables on him.
"Fine. He was not the first, but he was the first man, I meant. There were a string of lovely maids before him. I was more scared of getting it wrong with him than he was of it being painful, but my motivation was high. I didn't make a lot of mistakes and I have never repeated any of those either. Ready?"
"Think so. You tell me. Am I?"
"Yeah. I think so too. And so beautiful spread out naked on my bed like this." Elrond did look incredible, his hair a tousled mess and lips parted as though begging to be kissed.
He took Elrond's cock in his hand. Gripping it loosely, he waited for Elrond to move first, causing the silky-smooth skin to slide over his hard shaft. His prick was lovely to touch and lovelier to see, darker in color than his own, a little shorter and ever so slightly thicker, but substantial in his hand in a most satisfying way. He would like to feel it inside of him sooner rather than later, but not this time.
This time everything would be for Elrond. He wanted to teach Elrond what it was that he asked for, to watch him feel the smart and burn of it that exploded into a pleasure that could be compared to nothing else. Not everyone liked to be the one penetrated, but he thought Elrond would and would appreciate it for the unique experience it was. On the next upward stroke he pulled back the foreskin, rubbing the wet glistening head with his thumb and Elrond muffled a soft cry, raising his hips up.
"Yes, just like that," Elrond gasped.
"Do you want to know how it will feel to have me inside of you? We don't have to do that now or ever if you don't want to try." He teased Elrond rubbing the puckered entrance to his body with an oil-coated finger.
"Yes! Please. Yes. Oh, I definitely want to try that. I've been asking everyone that I thought might know how it is going to feel."
"Of course, you have." Maedhros chuckled. Only Findekáno could make him laugh while making love and not spoil the moment. And now Elrond. This is going to be really magnificent, he thought. He'd had faith it would be, but at last he knew for certain.
Fall came with earlier nights. More time to spend in bed. Maglor said nothing and Elros made a concerted effort not to reveal any interest in the not-so-subtle changes in how Elrond and Maedhros related to one another.
"How long have you wanted to be with me like this?" Elrond asked one night, his voice one of wonder, as though he had just that instant discovered some marvelous secret.
"Probably forever," said Maedhros, only half teasing him. "Certainly, before you were born. Oh. Did I ever mention that I quite irrationally believe in fate?"
"No, you did not. I don't," Elrond said with that certainty that only youth can apply to unknowable circumstances. "Are you saying that your doom included the assurance that I would sleep with you?"
"Absolutely," Maedhros said. "And that I will have to give you up long before I am ready to do so."
"Better something than nothing," Elrond said, with a weary sigh, incongruous with the self-satisfied smirk on his face.
The last summer they were to spend together promised to be their best. Maedhros felt healthier than he had in years and rarely had more than a glass of wine in the evening. Elros treated them more naturally and occasionally made a teasing remark, which was the way he let them know that he held no grudge against them for what they had found together.
Their very last evening together—they had not known it would be their last—had burned itself into Maedhros' mind.
The room was quiet and warm with the door shut tight, but the humidity was low and the temperature still dropping. It would be a good night for sleeping, if he could get Elrond to settle down. He had appeared nervous to Maedhros all week. There were times when Elrond fancied that he sensed things before they happened--a Maiarin witchy fascination with things paranormal. One really could not fault him for it; he came by it naturally enough.
Maedhros could hear Maglor playing, writing actually, strumming the same minor chord over and over followed by three or four notes—five finally. He could hear a murmur of voices from Elros' room, and his soft laugh now and again.
"You'll have to try to be quiet. There are still a few people awake tonight," Maedhros said.
"I need to be quiet! As though you never make a sound." They laughed together and kissed. Then Elrond remained stubbornly silent while doing everything he could to squeeze every possible sound out of Maedhros.
Later Elrond squirmed out from beneath him and Maedhros flopped onto his back. Leaning over him, Elrond asked, "Do I ever remind you of him?"
The audacity of the lad was breathtaking. Maedhros could only grin as he gazed up at the ceiling warm and damp, momentarily unable to move. Elrond kissed the corner of his mouth and nuzzled at his jaw.
Maedhros managed to roll onto his side so he could look into Elrond's eyes. "Findekáno had brilliant blue eyes, darkest blue I have ever seen. Yours are eerily light. I like your eyes, but they are truly strange."
He thought Elrond's eyes were almost as instrumental in moving him to desire him as his perfect unscarred skin and his broad shoulders, long legs and lean muscle, so masculine and yet still with the androgyny of youth. Elrond's freshness was a quality he shared with the young Findekáno whom Maedhros had first made love to back in Tirion. Maedhros speculated that was a small part of the unhealthy side of his obsessive attraction to Elrond. But none of that mattered for either of them. Although they didn't belong together in any conceivable way that could ever make any sense, they needed one another and it would be stupider yet to deny themselves on principle alone. If he had learned anything from his life it was that there were no blacks and whites, everything and everyone was made up of shadows and light. 'Arda marred' the philosophers liked to call it.
He allowed himself to be devoured by Elrond's pale eyes. They held a challenge and plea as well as desire. Maedhros had to admit he still found Elrond as irresistible as he had the first time he acknowledged his craving for him. Elrond's eyes did not reflect the bright glitter of the Light of the Trees—nothing of what the Sindar called lachenn. But they glowed in a different, warmer way, which Maedhros had always liked about the eyes of the Sindar, and with something extra and unique to both Elros and Elrond, probably some inner fire of the Ainur. It would be interesting to know how any of those things worked from a physiological perspective.
"My Káno did have the same color of hair as yours, black from almost any angle, except that direct sunlight brought out its reddish, golden, and brown tones. But his hair was heavy, coarser than yours." He could not resist reaching to grasp a slippery soft handful of Elrond's hair and tug hard on it, ". . . while yours is fly-away soft. Quite beautiful in its own way, and you have a lot of it."
"Ow!" said Elrond, mischievously exaggerating his discomfort. Neither had a taste for rough play in bed, with the exception that Elrond did like it when Maedhros pulled on his hair until it smarted. "So, I don't remind you of him at all?"
"Oh, but you do. Every second of every day, Elrond." His voice broke off into a rough sob. "Every bleeding second," he rasped.
Immediately responsive, Elrond wrapped his arms around Maedhros and pulled him onto his chest. "Good! I'm glad of that. It gives me a bit of a hook into you, doesn't it? I warn you that I will use it."
"It's your brass balls I suspect that makes me think of him." Maedhros smiled. "Up for another yet?"
"Always, Nelyafinwë, always for you!" He gave him such a dazzling smile, so intense and full of love that it unloosed Maedhros' usual caution of speech.
"And I am always ready for you as well. I do love you, dear heart. You must know that. But I still miss him and that hurts—it hurts the more because I refuse to allow you to fill that space in my heart. Unlikely as it is, I still hope to see him again. I may not deserve it, but he does. But still you mean so much to me. This entire thing with you is no more ridiculous, than so many parts of my life. Perhaps what I do with you is not as unconscionable as it sometimes seems to me. Maybe it is or even worse. You are generous to indulge me."
They'd had that particular discussion in somewhat less explicit terms innumerable times before and it always annoyed Elrond. He'd also remind Elrond that he was the villain who caused his mother to jump into the ocean clutching a Silmaril. And Elrond would say, 'You mean the lady who valued a gemstone more than her children? Or are you partial to the story that she left us in the clutches of two individuals she thought were murderers because she believed it was a moral imperative to keep the thing out of your hands at any cost?'
Elrond continued to glower at him, asserting, "Everyone envies me you. You are astonishing, more beautiful with the passage of every day, and a legend."
"Oh, please! Consider your sources," Maedhros said, with a sweeping gesture of his arm indicating the entirety of the settlement surrounding them. "These are the last diehard fanatical stragglers of what were once tens of thousands of loyal supporters. Even you, or especially you, must realize I'm no trophy, Elrond."
"Maybe, maybe not," Elrond chuckled. "But you are spectacular in bed."
Maedhros smiled despite himself. Elrond had absolutely no basis for comparison. But still, spectacular might be an accurate description for the two of them together. They were far better than good in that way.
"You could have anyone you want," Maedhros said. "And you deserve so much more. You will find that person. Whoever wins the place as the 'great love' of your life will be fortunate indeed. But for the moment, what we have feels good and right to me. Eru forgive me if I am wrong to do it. I'd probably talk more to Maglor if he would let me, but he has decided he does not want to hear anything about us since the first time I mentioned it to him."
He lay on his stomach, unable to see Elrond's face. The strong hand caressing his back never stopped its even strokes.
"You've never said so much about us or so clearly before," Elrond said. "It's still not enough, but I'm not going to argue. I do want to say just one thing, that we could love one another. I cannot believe you don't see how lucky I am to have you. We could make a life for ourselves. You could start over. I don't resent your past or the grief that you will never get over. But if the Quendi are a wounded, fatalistic lot, then you are one of the worst. No wonder I am always whinging at you." Elrond laughed in good-natured self-disparagement.
"All that whinging. You are definitely the grim, pessimistic one!" Maedhros loved him for his capacity of not taking himself too seriously. Elrond was nothing if not incorrigibly optimistic; in that way he reminded Maedhros of Fingon also. He kissed Elrond, drawing out the kiss with tongue and opened lips. He knew one sure way to stop Elrond from talking, temporarily at least.
Elrond finally managed to say, "You could do so much worse than me!" before snorting in an offended tone.
It was hard to believe that Elrond felt he needed to affirm his importance to Maedhros. The remark and the funny grunting sound caused Maedhros to shake with silent laughter.
"You are the one who will want and need more someday," Maedhros said turning serious.
"I won't leave you. You'll leave me. Everybody always leaves me."
Maedhros restrained himself from smiling at the melodrama of youth, the ability to switch from ecstasy to misery and back again within the course of an evening or even less. Flipping onto his back he pulled Elrond into his arms again. "We cannot know what will happen next. We're here now together. That is all that need matter for us at this precise moment in time."
Chapter End Notes:
The "Sweet Lindir" song borrows lyrics intact from "Barbara Allan" a traditional English ballad. The drinking song borrows only part of a line from an Irish drinking song for which I could not find the lyrics to see if it had a name.