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The subsequent days were long and pleasant. Eluréd slowly seemed to grow more content as the reality that they were not returning to the war sank in. Elurín spoiled him somewhat, taking on the greater burden of the hunting and other chores. The younger twin put all his effort, in fact, into making his brother happy, ensuring that there was always ample food and shelter for both of them.
“Stay a while?” Eluréd asked one morning as Elurín was readying himself for the day’s hunting trip.
“Are you sure? “” Elurín asked. “I thought some fresh game tonight might be nice.”
“It can wait, surely.”
Elurín smiled and nodded slightly, sitting back down on the irregular floor of their somewhat ramshackle attempt at a flet. Eluréd shifted so that he could lay his head in his brother’s lap and looked up at Elurín. “I am so lucky to have you,” he told Elurín softly as a slim, strong finger began to twirl one of his braids. “But I should be the one looking after you, not the other way around.”
“Silly,” Elurín replied teasingly. “You have been doing that our entire lives. I am taking a turn for a change. Stop complaining and enjoy it?”
The tiniest of smiles curved Eluréd’s lips. “I am far luckier than I deserve to have you,” he concluded. “You were right - I did need this.”
“You did,” Elurín agreed, kissing two fingers and placing them on his brother’s lips. “Enjoy yourself.”
Eluréd kissed the two fingers. “Celeborn will forgive us, I suppose.”
“If he even considers not doing so, I will punch him,” Elurín promised. “Brother, stop worrying.” His voice indicated that he would tolerate no argument. “In fact, sit up and kiss me.”
The elder twin’s smile was warm and genuine this time and his lips pressed gently against his brother’s. Elurín kept the kiss light and playful, allowing his fingers to dance over his brother’s body. When Eluréd began to respond with some more hesitant touches of his own, the elder twin found his hands teasingly pushed away. “Let me,” he was ordered by Elurín. “I am treating you.”
Elurín loosened his brother’s clothes, leaving no patch of newly exposed skin neglected. His tongue lapped at all the places that he had learned to be most sensitive on Eluréd’s body, circling a nipple, teasing his navel, running slowly over the hollows of his hips. Eluréd was lost in pleasure by the time his brother’s mouth engulfed him.
The younger twin worked to bring his brother as much delight as possible, prolonging each new sensation. In their decades together, he had discovered every sensitivity, every trick that would draw soft, ecstatic moans from Eluréd. Eluréd was soon almost delirious with the sensations, finding his release shortly after in his brother’s throat. Once more their lips joined and Elurín held his brother, laughing lovingly at the elder twin’s heavy breathing.
Eluréd met his eyes, face still flushed from his brother’s tender lovemaking. “Let me come hunting with you today? If you can stand my company, that is.”
“Always,” Elurín assured him. “But do not forget to pull your leggings back up before that.”
Eluréd rolled his eyes and was surprised to hear himself answering back cockily. “You mean you would not like watch me running through the forest naked from the waist down? And there I was thinking you loved me…”
Elurín smiled and placed a kiss right over his brother’s navel. “I do love you. Never doubt that. But today is a cold day, and I doubt you would appreciate the chill draught.” To demonstrate, he blew over the exposed skin and chuckled at Eluréd’s sudden shiver.
Eluréd pulled his brother on top of him and nuzzled lazily against Elurín’s neck. “Thank you.”
Their hunting trip was successful and the twins returned with a brace of game birds, Eluréd’s mood positively cheerful by his standards. Elurín was in exceptionally high spirits and quite happily volunteered to take over the plucking and gutting. Eluréd joined him at a cluster of rocks a short distance from the felt, getting in the way somewhat as he was sitting with his arms around his brother’s waist, but welcomed by Elurín nonetheless. They talked for a while, Elurín managing to coax rich laughter from his brother with jokes and playful teasing. But Eluréd’s expression turned cold again when his eyes suddenly settled on the leaf litter at the base of a nearby tree.
“Eluréd? What is wrong?”
The elder twin stood and approached the tree warily, kneeling by it to examine the ground more closely. “This footprint,” he replied. “It is not yours, and it is certainly not mine. Someone else has passed through here…”
Elurín put aside the partridge he was cleaning and came over to look, squatting beside his brother and raising an eyebrow. “Elf,” he concluded, receiving a nod of agreement from Eluréd.
“What business does another Elf have here in a time of war, I wonder,” Eluréd mused aloud, though he had a feeling he already knew.
“Celeborn, why did you come?” Elurín asked, emerging from the thick vegetation right by the Elf Lord, who seemed to be looking around for…traces of them, Elurín supposed.
Celeborn’s defensive reaction was that of a hardened warrior and his utter absence of fright proved that he was well used to people trying to catch him off guard. “Elurín?” he said in mild surprise. He smiled wryly at the younger Elf. “At least that proves I still know how to track.” Elurín allowed himself to be embraced and kissed on the forehead in a paternal fashion. “Is everything well? Where is your brother?”
“He is at our talan,” Elurín replied, “or close to it, anyway. I told him I would take care of fetching water today and he said he might spend some time at archery practice instead.” He gave Celeborn a quiet look. “Yes, you can still track, but we have known you were in this area for three days now.”
Celeborn raised an eyebrow and Elurín could not tell whether he was amused or disappointed. “But you are both well?” he asked the younger twin insistently.
“Yes, all is well at the moment,” said Elurín. “Why *did* you come here?” he asked again.
“The scouts had said that you would rejoin us…but you never arrived. I grew concerned and wanted to make sure nothing was wrong.”
“Eluréd is not going back. I won’t let him. The war…Celeborn, it was killing him.”
Celeborn’s expression grew troubled. “Elurín, it is hard for us all…”
Elurín’s answer was a firm shake of his head. “No, it was more than that. He *hated* the camps - some days he would barely speak to me, and I would have to coax him to eat. Whenever we were staying in the camps he woke with nightmares almost every night. I can’t sit passively and let that happen to my brother.”
He watched Celeborn consider this, frowning, and eventually swallow, apparently having reached a decision. “Would I be able to accompany you back to your flet and talk with you and your brother?”
“I need to fetch the water, of course,” Elurín told him. “I left the skins on the undergrowth over there - can you wait while I bring them?” He dashed off, returning with two full pails, and several water skins on a rope slung across his shoulder. The twins had started travelling longer distances for water after discovering that the closest stream was fed from a brook that ran out of a nearby village. They had immediately taken to collecting their water from further upstream, not trusting the Men to keep the water clean.
He rejoined Celeborn and led the way back to their flet, asking the Elf Lord to pause a short distance away as he went to greet his brother. Eluréd seemed cheerful and Elurín noticed with pleasure that his brother these days was no longer so worrying lean. “I found the Elf,” he told Eluréd.
“Oh? Was it who we thought?”
“It was,” Elurín replied, beckoning towards where Celeborn stood, just out of sight.
Eluréd nodded, suspicion and tension creeping into his expression. “What does he want?”
“He was concerned,” said Elurín. “He came to check on us.”
Celeborn bowed slightly as he drew near, offering to help with lifting the water up to the wooden platform overhead. Eluréd stood back as the other two climbed up, only following some moments later. He chose the corner closest to the irregular hole that served as an entranceway, taking his bow and falling into the old routine of examining every inch of it for damage or dirt.
Elurín watched his brother worriedly, seeing that Celeborn was staring at Eluréd too. He managed to catch the Elf Lord’s gaze and shook his head with a determined expression. Celeborn sighed and nodded acceptance.
“Eluréd?” the elder Elf said. “Eluréd, I have not come to persuade you to return. I came to see if you and your brother were well.”
“We are well,” Eluréd confirmed, placing his bow to one side and looking at Celeborn steadily. “Life is not always easy, but it is what we are used to.” He added some of the water to a pot at one side of the talan.
The twins had long since mastered the ability to set a safe fire in the talan itself, but it was cleaner and less risky to make one outside when the weather was amenable. Elurín followed his brother and watched Eluréd begin to reheat what remained of yesterday’s stew, adding more meat - presumably something Eluréd had caught while his brother was away. As Eluréd seemed to need some time alone and naturally knew what he was doing, Elurín returned to Celeborn. “Do you understand now?”
Celeborn’s reply was a nod. “He seems…”
“To die a little at the very thought of going back?” Elurín supplied. “Yes. He grew so thin and…grey, almost, while we were fighting. I want my brother to be happy. After everything he has done for me, he has earned that much, at least.”
Eluréd returned after a few minutes with hot stew and offered some to Celeborn before serving himself and his brother. “Any news from the war?” he asked without enthusiasm.
Celeborn shrugged. “More of the same. We advance a little, we retreat a little, and gradually we win back more land. The Valar have gone…somewhere…in pursuit of Morgoth, but he manages to evade them each time they try to take him down. There has been a lot of disruption along the western coast; the sea level rises and some parts are submerged.”
Eluréd listened to the report as he stirred his bowl of stew, not really eating it. “So no great losses to our side recently?”
Another shrug from Celeborn. “No more than in the years before, no.”
Eluréd seemed satisfied with this reply and eventually began to eat his food properly. After finishing his own meal, Elurín came and sat beside him, leaning his head against Eluréd’s shoulder.
“Are you staying the night?” Elurín asked, somewhat rhetorically as the evening was rapidly growing cold, not the best of conditions for travelling.
“If you would not mind… It is warmer here,” Celeborn added with a wry smile.
“Make yourself comfortable,” Elurín told him. “It is the least we can do. I regret that we can only offer such basic shelter.”
Celeborn smiled and shook his head. “It keeps out the weather and the forest animals; it is perfect, thank you.”
Elurín found himself wrapped, as always, in Eluréd’s protective embrace as they slept. Eluréd’s presence provided warmth and security and they both slept deeply for the first part of the night. Later, though, Eluréd’s distressed murmurs woke both Celeborn and the younger twin. Turning in the embrace, Elurín held his brother close until the nightmares passed, watching the disturbed expression slowly fade from his brother’s face and kissing his hair affectionately.
When the elder twin slept peacefully once more, Elurín felt himself being pulled almost by instinct into Eluréd’s arms again. Celeborn came over and knelt by them, whispering, “Does this happen every night?”
“Not every night,” Elurín said. “Usually only when he is upset or injured. They always pass quickly if I am here.”
“He worries me,” Celeborn confessed. “Is he…happy?”
“Yes and no,” said Elurín quietly. “When it just the two of us, free in the forest with only the challenges of each day's survival ahead, then I would say he seems happy - at least in his own way.” He paused to phrase his thoughts more clearly. “Sometimes he just seems...haunted. You can see it in his eyes, even sometimes when the rest of our life is going smoothly. But those periods are always transient; all I can do is stay close and wait for them to pass.”
“It does not sound easy,” Celeborn remarked.
“It can be hard, but harder always for him, I suppose. Yet he still goes on, still stays with me. I admire his dedication more than he knows.”
“How he manages to continue in spite of the grief and sorrow he seems to carry…” Celeborn wondered aloud.
Elurín stroked his brother’s tangled hair, gently, lovingly. “What would you say is the greatest act of true love?”
Celeborn barely hesitated. “To die for the one you love.”
“No,” Elurín said, shaking his head. “That is the simple answer. Giving up is so very simple. The greatest act of true love is not to die. It is to live for the one you love. In spite of the sorrow, in spite of the despair. I never doubt he loves me, because he has not left me, no matter how hopeless things have seemed to him. He is…everything to me.”
Celeborn fell quiet then, kissing both twins on the forehead and returning to his blanket. He took his leave the following morning, thanking them for their hospitality and leaving his goodwill with them.