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This (and basically all the other chapters in the last 3 years) beta'd by the most lovely Tuxedo Elf.

Chapter 10

Elurín's mind was numb; he had stopped feeling hours ago. His world had reduced to a series of actions: retreat, find cover, emerge, advance, aim, draw and shoot, ready again, shoot again, and so on until they next had to retreat or until he had emptied another quiver.

His shoulders were cramping, his fingers were sore, he was soaking wet and his clothes and hands and face were covered with mud. The Orcs did not pour on them as a cohort; rather, they fell upon the Elves in scattered groups. Eonwë and his most trusted associates had headed north in search of Morgoth, leaving just the Elven host to manage the savage Orcs.

They did their best. Truly, more Orcs fell than Elves and Celeborn and Ingil walked among their troops, calling out support and orders even as they lent their sword-arms to the fray. They kept their people's hearts alive with hope, and so the battle went on.

Finally, both armies fell back and retreated to lick their wounds for as long as they could spare. Only then did Elurín emerge from the kind of stupor he had shifted into whilst the battle raged. He looked around him at the churned-up, stinking surroundings, wondering where his brother had gone. They had remained side-by-side for the first few hours, but then the strange, mindless trance had taken him over and he might easily have drifted away.

But arms encircled his waist and tousled dark hair tumbled over his shoulders. "Well, that was the first day," Eluréd commented quietly.

"The first day of many, I suppose," Elurín replied. "But we have gained ground, it seems. Are you well?" He turned in his brother's embrace to examine him. "Oh," he said, pressing his hand to Eluréd's neck, on which were a row of claw marks, still bleeding. "You should get that cleaned."

Eluréd swatted his brother's hand away. "It is nothing. And you are hardly unhurt, brother." He indicated a small cut above Elurín's eye and a tear near his shoulder that looked to have been caused by a poorly-wielded knife. Elurín answered with a shrug.

"I suppose we should be glad that they are only superficial." He smiled. "You should still have that cleaned." He grabbed Eluréd's wrist. "Come, I shall do it."

Eluréd groaned and followed reluctantly. Eventually, Elurín decided it was safe to release his brother's wrist and they continued to a small brook. Elurín squatted by the water's edge, soaking a scrap of cloth in the water. "I would have liked to boil the water first," he mused, mostly to himself, as he wrung out the rag. "Typically, though, it would have to rain so heavily that no wood will burn." He dabbed at the bloodied wound on Eluréd's neck. The elder twin winced at the initial cold touch but relaxed after that as Elurín carefully cleaned up the scratches. The younger twin paused, smiling. "To help things along…" He pressed his lips to his brother's neck, close to the injury.

Eluréd arched an eyebrow. "I hope I get this kind of treatment for every wound," he commented.

"Of course," Elurín replied with a short laugh.

"Well," said Eluréd, "in that case, perhaps I should ensure that I get injured more often." Elurín made a face. "Very well, then. I will take care. But I still expect to be spoiled at the end of each day." He winked.

Elurín shook his head. "You are impossible." Nonetheless, he was more than happy to oblige his brother, and proceeded to engage in much spoiling.

***

Eluréd stumbled into the tent, dripping wet and bloodstained, flopping on the blanket beside his brother. "I hate this," he mumbled, stripping off the sodden clothes.

Elurín picked up the garments and began to wring them out just outside the entrance to the tent. Eventually, he returned to the warm interior, examining his twin's body for any new wounds. "As do I, Eluréd," he answered after a while. "But at least we are making good progress. Morgoth's armies would deny it but they are being pushed back with each passing battle. We will win this." He indicated for Eluréd to roll on to his stomach and began to knead the stiff muscles. Eluréd rested his chin in his hands and closed his eyes.

"It is an ugly mess," Eluréd said after a long time spent in silent thought.

"It is," Elurín agreed quietly. His hands explored the tight muscles across his brother's shoulders and back, gently coaxing them to uncoil. "A little higher," Eluréd murmured, and Elurín worked his way upwards, feeling tension beneath his fingertips. Eluréd had a magnificent form, he decided: both of them were well used to making do without much food, so his brother was naturally lean and possessed a wiry strength. A few fading scars from previous battles marked his back and arms, but few of those injuries had been deep and Elurín imagined most of them would disappear with time. He kneaded Eluréd's shoulders until the muscles began to loosen, and then kissed the nape of his twin's neck. "It will be over in the end." He pulled clean clothes for Eluréd from the bundle in the corner. "Here, before you freeze."

Eluréd pulled on the shirt and leggings and gave his brother a brief embrace. "Thank you," he said softly. "Is there food around here?"

"Hot soup, if you'd like me to fetch some," Elurín replied. His brother's eager nod made him chuckle and he left to bring some.

Eluréd sighed and spread out his weapons in front of him, carefully and methodically cleaning them as he did at the end of every day spent fighting Orcs and the rest of Morgoth's horde. He had noticed recently that more and more Men fought among Morgoth's ranks. They seemed to largely short, squat and hairy things, screaming battle cries among showers of spittle and waving heavy battle-axes in the air with no skill or true strategy. He disliked them greatly, but it was the Orcs he hated most. He had heard too many stories of the things they did to the corpses of their enemies – and even to their living prisoners. It turned his stomach to imagine brave, proud Elves subjected to such things, and made his skin crawl uncomfortably.

Oddly, it struck him that at that moment, he really longed for a long, hot, relaxing bath, a luxury that had been unknown to him for all his adult life. Unfortunately, he was not going to get one now. Instead, he leaned back against the rolled-up bag, still half full with spare cloaks, blankets and bandages. The tent was warm - well, warmer than outside - and food was on its way.

Elurín returned with a large bowl of steaming soup, from which a glorious scent arose. He was also carrying two spoons. "You are plotting to steal my soup," Eluréd accused his brother teasingly.

"Maybe a little," Elurín admitted. He gave his brother a small kiss as he laid the bowl down; as much as Eluréd despised the confinement of the tent, it did give them the privacy to be openly affectionate with one another. Consequently, by the time the soup bowl was empty, the brothers' hands had roamed all over one another's bodies and both were breathing rather huskily.

Their lovemaking that night was simultaneously both fiery and tender: the touches and movements were caring and gentle, yet there was a frantic edge to them, a need to find escape from the outside in one another's arms. At the end, they cuddled into a blanket together and, exhausted, they slept soundly.

***

The War of Wrath was not one continuous battle, but rather a series of fits and starts. The Valar worked northwards to put Angband under siege, leaving the rest of them to deal with Morgoth's armies. It was a slow, frustrating operation; Morgoth's hosts would sometimes retreat into their haunts and guarded strongholds for weeks or even months at a time, and then, when the Elven forces started to catch their breath, they would to gather their strength and win back out. The twins, and those they fought alongside, had to claim back land using a mixture of brute force and calculated stealth.

During the periods of comparative peace, Celeborn encouraged small groups of his soldiers to scour the countryside; always the odd roaming band of Orcs or ragtag tribe of Easterlings would remain somewhere, terrorising villages or waylaying unwise travellers. The twins often volunteered to assist with these missions; it was a welcome change from the cramped, dirty and noisy environment of the army camp, where privacy was hard to come by.

Kills on such cleanup operations became quite a trophy and some of Celeborn's soldiers kept tallies of their kills to compare between them. Elurín seldom joined the antics; Eluréd never did. Nonetheless, enough information got back to them to keep them assured that their scores compared favourably with the others'. Not the highest, but enough to ensure respect from the other Elves. Elurín sometimes suspected that his brother was privately working to better his score, practising speed shooting and trying various different methods of loosing several arrows at once (of which precious few methods ever achieved any success).

That evening fell was partway through one such mission. They had found the tracks of an Orc band and were following them south. The War had done astonishing damage to the landscape; when the Valar fought, strange things tended to happen. The Valar seldom spoke to - or even appeared to - any Elves other than the Vanyar, but once on a short walk one evening, Elurín had crested a hill rise and nearly swooned upon finding himself within a few tens of yards of Eonwë himself. The Vala was speaking - in a voice Elurín could only describe as like the stars themselves - to Ingvir, and the Vanyarin prince was nodding gravely in reply. The sense of power emanating from the glorious form was unbelievable; there was no doubt in Elurín's mind that Eonwë could easily have reshaped much of the immediate surroundings within moments, if the whim had so taken him.

The change in the lie of the land made navigation more difficult. It was indeed a wonder that they had not managed to get themselves hopelessly lost on occasion. They had been expecting to hit a river at some point the previous day and had instead found a small lake. Elurín, in the mood for recreation at the time, had found the situation more amusing than worrying and had immediately begun to tear up handfuls of grass, compacting and securing it all into a ball before hurling it at his brother. Predictably, within a few minutes, some makeshift rules seemed to have come into being of their own accord, the first of which seemed to be that sitting on one's brother whilst holding the ball constituted a win for that round. Several times, the ball landed in the (cold) lake, and had to be retrieved, amid much cursing. Several times, a twin landed in the (cold) lake, and had to be retrieved, amid considerably more cursing. They kicked and threw the makeshift ball around, tackling and tripping one another, and Elurín delighted in how easily the laughter came to his brother. Eluréd's laughter had become rare in recent days; he loathed every moment of the War and said so often.

Elurín sat now with his back to a tree and Eluréd in his arms, leaning against him. Occasionally, Eluréd would turn and kiss him lightly but mostly they simply sat in silence, enjoying the tranquility of the surroundings. It was so unlike the camps - there was a restful calm here, a feeling of quiet contentment quite apart from the grim determination that hung like a grey fog over the camps. He could feel no tension in Eluréd's body now, and his lips settled into a subtle smile.

They dozed like that, one ear still tuned to the night-time noises, as had become their habit for as long as either could remember. Elurín found the steady rhythm of his brother's breathing relaxing and reassuring, and his mind drifted idly through dreams of people finding stars in cakes, and strange long-necked beasts sticking their heads through the roofs of cottages. He was roused at the same time as Eluréd by light footsteps heading their way. It took only a moment to recognise the faint sounds as indisputably Elven feet, so both twins proceeded to draw their knives but take no other action. They had a reputation for bring hard to track, but Celeborn has insisted that there be some way for his people to call to them if the need arose. Unfortunately, Celeborn had never realised that Eluréd's suggestion of having the scout imitate the cry of a vixen on heat had been made in jest rather than seriously.

The cry came, a shrill scream that was answered shortly after by the bark of a real fox. The twins' eyes met, both holding a hint of amusement, before they set off towards the source of the noise.

It would have been simple enough for them to approach the scouts as a normal Elf would: on foot, openly. But they did not…because, well, they were different and the others knew this. Thus, the scouts were less surprised than they could have been to find themselves effectively ambushed by armed Peredhil dropping from trees. Elurín put his knives away as soon as he had identified the scouts for certain. "News?" he asked.

The scouts nodded. "The Valar apparently want to mount an vast attack on Angband. All allies are being called together."

Elurín glanced back towards his brother to see a light go out in Eluréd's eyes. At the same time, he inwardly sighed. The war was eating away at his twin; the camps seemed to drown Eluréd's spirit utterly, making him subdued and sometimes almost silent. These last days in the forest had been blissful; Elurín delighted in seeing his brother's smile and hearing the soft laughter, being able to share jokes and songs and stories again.

Eluréd nodded unenthusiastically at the Elves. "Can we offer you food and fire while you are here?"

The scouts accepted gratefully and the twins quickly led them back to the rough camp and began to prepare a meal. Eluréd had once more fallen quiet and was listening to their reports with a blank, weary look. They explained all they had been told of the Valar's plans; he nodded but said nothing.

Elurín sat close to his brother, waiting for the Elves to leave. When they finally excused themselves, moving a little distance away to sleep in a close group, he pulled his brother into his arms and kissed him, even as the expected sigh was escaping Eluréd's lips. "You do not want to go back," Elurín said sadly.

Eluréd shook his head. "I will go if I must. But I am tired of fighting and hating, and fearing for you."

"I know," Elurín replied. "So am I." He held his brother tightly and felt Eluréd's arms wrap round him in return. They stayed like that for a long time before finally breaking the embrace and settling down to sleep.

***

Eluréd woke looking worse, pale and worn, and refused breakfast. Elurín worried; his brother barely reacted when the scouts returned. They asked whether the elder twin was well, leading Elurín to swallow his concerns and assure them that Eluréd was merely quiet and contemplative. He informed the scouts that they would make their own way back to Celeborn's camp, as they had some things still to attend to first.

The scouts seemed to accept this and departed after ensuring that the twins had everything they needed and knew when and where they were required. As soon as they were out of sight and earshot, Elurín turned to his brother and once more held Eluréd close. Eluréd tried to resist the embrace, staring wearily at the younger twin. "Elurín, please stop worrying. We can return to camp as requested, do our duty to Celeborn and all will be well for us."

Elurín shook his head and gave Eluréd a firm and determined look. "No," he replied. "We are not going back."

The elder twin kissed his brother's cheek. "It is hard for both of us, Elurín. But as long as we stay together we can keep on looking forward to the end of this hideous war. You will always have me."

"Eluréd," Elurín said quietly, "I do not mean that I don't think I can cope with going back; I can. You know I will not enjoy it, but I can fulfil my duty if I must, as I know you can too. What I mean is that I will not let us go back." He sighed, and the kiss he gave his brother in reply was devoted and concerned. "I saw the way your eyes went dead when you heard the scouts say we were to go back. You have not eaten at all today, and you just seem so…tired. Eluréd, I have had enough of seeing this war take my brother from me. I have had enough of the camps and fighting trying to break your spirit. I will not let you go back; I wish to spend some time loving my brother as he deserves."

Eluréd did not answer for a long time, and Elurín tried - and failed - to identify the complex mixture of emotions warring on the thin, wan face. He did not break the embrace for what felt like ages, his head leaning gently against Eluréd's. In the end, the elder twin broke the silence. "I do not want to go back."

"Then stay here," Elurín said softly. "This war has gone on for months…"

"Years," Eluréd corrected flatly. "Seven years this winter, on and off."

"…years," Elurín said with a sigh. "Celeborn can live without us until at least the next autumn."

A flicker of warmth returned to Eluréd's eyes as Elurín spoke and the kiss they shared reflected that. "We are not going back," Elurín repeated after a few more moments. "I would like to see my brother smile again."