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He walked through the forest as only an Elf can: soft and silent as the down of a baby bird, discarded and fallen to earth as its true feathers grow. In a general way only did he know where he was going, but he presumed he would be intercepted before he reached his destination. He had been assigned to join one of the patrols that guarded the borders of Lothlórien against Orcs and other foul creatures, but since the patrols were constantly on the move, they had few permanent camps. Woods-wise though he was, he had not the experience yet of the long-time scout and fully expected that one from his new company would be alert to his presence before he was aware of theirs.

Indeed his assumption was not mistaken, for as the sun began to lower in the west, sending light dancing through the golden leaves of the mellyrn, a voice spoke at his ear.

"You are Melpomaen, are you not?"

He stopped moving and replied to his unseen questioner, "I am. And since you know my name, I must have reached Lórindol's company."

The other stepped from behind a thicket of holly. "Near enough; this is the outskirts of our patrol region." He turned his head slightly and gave a call that mimicked a whippoorwill. "There, I have sent out the alert that you are arrived. Follow me and I will lead you to tonight's camp."

Melpomaen fell in willingly enough. He was happy to observe the tricks and techniques the other used to make himself more than silent, to seemingly become one with the forest. After a moment, though, he said, "I am unused to being in company with any whose name I do not know. May I ask yours?"

The other Elf turned around to answer. "I am Haldir. I apologize for my lack of manners, but my mind was on other things. We have had ill-luck these last several months; it seems that every attack has been in the territory we protect, and several of our best warriors have been gravely injured and had to return to Caras Galadhon, fit only for lesser services. Hence your presence here, though welcome, certainly, also reminds me of those who have been lost."

"I see," said Melpomaen thoughtfully, and they walked in silence the rest of the way, arriving at the camp well into the night.

There Haldir told Melpomaen to wait below as he climbed to the talan where Lórindol rested. Shortly the captain himself descended, with Haldir following him.

"So you are our newest recruit, Melpomaen. What skills have you?"

He answered honestly, "I can shoot four arrows in a minute, and at least three of them will hit their mark. My skill with a sword is not great, but I am good with a knife. I can move quietly and track well, and easily travel a day and a night without rest."

"Not bad for one so young, but we will have more from you than that," said Lórindol. "In this company we work most of the time in pairs. I will partner you with Haldir, at least for the time being. He will train you further in archery and other weapons, and you will go with him on patrol. But it is late now, and you have been traveling for several days. Haldir, take him to your talan; we can issue his gear in the morning, and you can test his abilities then as well."

Haldir nodded and beckoned for Melpomaen to follow him. "I have spare blankets," he said, "but I imagine you brought your own with you for the journey."

"Of course," Melpomaen replied. "I hope that I do not intrude upon you."

"No, I have always shared a talan with another. My former partner was one of those who was recently wounded and had to leave. But he had not been here long; before that I shared with one who was made a captain and transferred to another company," said Haldir.

They climbed the mallorn that held Haldir's talan and quickly rolled up in their blankets, to rest their thoughts in dreams.

Next morning, as Lórindol had indicated, Haldir put Melpomaen through a series of tests designed to challenge all his skills of scouting and fighting. At the end he said, "You have been well-trained, Melpomaen. You need practice, but then we all must practice. I think you will prove a good addition to the company."

His chest still heaving from his exertions, Melpomaen merely nodded, pleased that he had been judged fit enough for his new station.

For the next months he acted as Haldir's shadow, following the older Elf and learning from him as they took their turns on patrol. The year was turning to winter and it seemed the Orcs did not care for the cold, for they had no skirmishes. He helped to collect the lembas that the company ate from the supply dump along the Silverlode and commented, "Never till I came here did I eat the waybread."

Haldir gave him a look that he could not interpret. "No, it is rare and precious, and now reserved to sustain we who must be away from the rest of our people in order to defend them. Eaten alone, it will bring you greater strength and will than ordinary foods... and it has other properties, as well," he finished under his breath.

Melpomaen wondered a little at Haldir's comment, but inquired no further just then.

Slowly the weeks and months passed. Melpomaen's skills improved steadily, until he was nearly the equal of his golden-haired partner. Haldir complained laughingly about that one day, saying, "Had I dark hair like yours, it would be easier for me to melt into the shadows! Perhaps I should dye it?"

Melpomaen joked in reply, "Nay, for you can lay along a branch of the mallorn and look to blend in with its leaves for half the year."

"True enough. One always wishes for what one does not have, I suppose!" said Haldir. "But come now, it is our turn today to take the northernmost patrol."

So it went on, as the seasons passed from spring to summer, autumn to winter, and then round again. As the two patrolled together, fought together, camped together, they began to act as if a single thought ruled them both. If one was in dire straits against some Orc, the other would immediately be at his side in defense. If one was injured, the other would be there to bind the wound almost as soon as it was inflicted. They were the best partnership in Lórindol's company; even the captain recognized it and held them up as an example to be followed.

After five years, Melpomaen scarcely thought of what his life had been like back in Caras Galadhon, until one day in Cerveth Haldir asked him, "Do you not miss your family? I have never heard you speak of them." (1)

"No." Melpomaen looked down. "My parents departed for the West twenty years ago. My father had also been in one of the patrolling companies, and was badly hurt. He decided that he must leave Middle-earth, and my mother chose to join him."

"And have you no other kin or loved ones to think of?" came the gentle question.

Melpomaen let out his breath in a sigh. "Distant kin only. As for the other... well. I had hoped to wed Caranfíniel, but she refused me."

"I see," said Haldir quietly. "I have sorrow for your pain."

"Perhaps it was for the best. I have no lingering ties, now, to distract me from my duties here. Caranfíniel has a reputation for foresight, so she may have seen some reason why we should not wed. It could even have been the fact that I would join you here; she might not have wished to be separated from a new husband," said Melpomaen.

Wishing to speak no further of his own troubles, he added, "And you? What of your family?"

"I am hardly separated from them, as you know! Not from my brothers at least. We take it in turns to visit our parents on leave, so one of us has always seen them lately. I think Lórindol had doubts of the wisdom of enrolling three brothers into the same company, but it has proved to be a good decision. Since Rúmil and Orophin are twins, they chose to partner together once they had enough seniority to make the choice."

Melpomaen nodded. He had known this, but had wanted to turn the conversation away from a topic that he found uncomfortable. Haldir seemed to sense his reluctance, for he shifted to an altogether new subject.

"I think we two are to be sent out on an unusual mission," he said. "Lórindol spoke with me this morning. He received word from the Lord Celeborn that a message needs to be taken to Bard, king of Dale to the northeast, past Mirkwood on the River Celduin. Lórindol asked if I would be willing to make the journey, since I am one of the few in our company who can speak in the Westron tongue. I told him I would speak with you about it. I knew not how you might feel about leaving Lórien."

"I had never thought to do so," confessed Melpomaen. "But we are partners, and if Lórindol wishes you to carry out this task, I will accompany you. You will have to speak for us both, though; I know no Mannish languages."

"As to that, I will teach you a little along the way," said Haldir. "It will be good for me to do so, to refresh my own memory. And if some mishap should befall me, it would be well for you to be able to speak the Common tongue enough to carry out this task, even if you are not fluent in it."

That evening Haldir informed Lórindol that he and Melpomaen would be prepared to undertake the mission, once Celeborn had sent the message to be conveyed to King Bard. A week later, the two set out.

"What is our road?" asked Melpomaen. "I know little of the lands through which we will travel."

"We dare not travel east to begin; that would take us far too close to Dol Guldur. No, we must leave the forests and journey north along the western bank of Anduin until we reach the Men-i-Naugrim, the old Dwarf-road leading east through Mirkwood. From there we may travel along Celduin to the Long Lake, and thence to Dale, which lies before the mountain of Erebor."

Melpomaen listened in wonder. "How long is the journey, then?"

"I am not absolutely certain, but at least two hundred leagues, perhaps more. A month's travel each way, and that with the luck to be pursued by no enemies and turned off-course," answered Haldir. "We have lembas enough for all of the outward journey, I think, but we will have to purchase supplies of food for our return, and likely hunt as well."

"That will be a change," said Melpomaen. "I hardly recall the taste of other food besides the waybread, these days."

"Nor I. I look forward to it," said Haldir. He glanced at Melpomaen. "If traveling across the open plain disturbs you, we can plan to move at night, while we are near to Dol Guldur. It might be safer in any event; the Orcs prefer darkness and if we are both awake our chance to detect and avoid them is greater."

"Whichever you feel is the better course," said Melpomaen. "We are partners, but you have the greater experience in these matters."

"Then we shall travel by night, I think, at least while we follow Anduin. In Mirkwood we must move by day, for even then the light is dim. At night, I have been told, one can scarcely see at all, the shadows are so thick. Let us move on, then."

They spoke little as they walked, staying alert for any sight or sound of an enemy. At times they passed scattered houses and villages of Men, and Haldir noted that on their return journey they might be able to purchase supplies from such folk, if needed. Each dawn saw them halt to make a cold camp, alternating watches through the day.

At length they reached the edge of Mirkwood. Though that night had many hours left, Haldir decided it would be best to halt and rest, and wait for morning to tread the dim road through the forest.

Melpomaen, as was his habit, took the first watch. The moon was nearly at the full, and he had little fear that they would be attacked. To pass the time, he began to practice a series of exercises designed to increase strength and flexibility in sword-play, for the sword was his weakest weapon. As he moved through the sequence, Haldir spoke from his bedroll.

"Your form improves, Melpomaen. Almost I could think you were dancing, not fighting."

Melpomaen stopped, a little embarrassed. "I did not know you were still awake. I did not mean to disturb you."

"I am unused to resting at night, now. And you could not - disturb - me. Not at this time," said Haldir, an unfamiliar note in his voice. "Continue your practice, by all means. In fact, since I seem to be unable to sleep, perhaps I should join you in it."

"By all means. There are several moves that I cannot complete without a partner," returned Melpomaen.

Haldir arose and stood facing him. They moved in tandem, silently flowing from one posture to the next, like mirrored images. Slowly the pace increased, the focus became more intense. Melpomaen could feel Haldir's gaze on him, challenging him to ever greater achievements. At last he had to stop.

"You may be unable to sleep, Haldir, but after that I am more than ready! Will you take the watch?"

Haldir glanced upward, gauging the time from the position of the stars. "Yes, I will watch until dawn. Then we must enter the forest."

As Melpomaen drifted off, he saw Haldir pacing around their camp. Clearly something was bothering his partner, something he was reluctant to share.

Perhaps he is simply worried about the next leg of our journey, Melpomaen thought. It is unlike Haldir to be secretive, but if his mood does not lighten soon I will have to ask what his trouble is.

The next day, though, Haldir seemed to have returned to his usual good humor. The woods of Mirkwood were dark and very different from those of Lórien, but to be amid trees again was a pleasure to both of them.

"There are giant spiders living in Mirkwood, so I have heard," said Haldir. "But I was told that they do not usually venture out of the thickest patches of trees. So we should be careful to camp close to the road while we are here."

Melpomaen heartily agreed with that sentiment. "Do they fear fire?" he asked.

"I would think so. It might be a good idea to have a small fire each night for the watch, as well; as long as we are careful and do not go too far in collecting the wood for it," Haldir said.

That became their pattern as they traveled through the forest: up at dawn, a wafer of lembas, and then walking along a road that seemed unchanging, through the dark unrustling leaves of the trees. As the always-dim green light faded, they stopped to collect fallen branches for their fire and make camp. Another meal of lembas, and then watches through the night.

"I am glad that I am not one of Thranduil's folk," remarked Melpomaen after a week of this. "Though I imagine that his halls are fair to look upon, still I would find this realm dreary to live in."

"There is nothing to compare with the beauty of Lothlórien, that is true," agreed Haldir. "And Thranduil and his people have as many enemies to fend off as do we; they have not Orcs, usually, but spiders instead. Yet I can imagine that if the shadow in the south of the forest were somehow lifted for ever, beauty might return here. I would like to visit sometime; not on this journey, for our return must be swift, but I have distant kin among Thranduil's folk, and he is said to set a splendid table for guests."

"No lembas, then?" teased Melpomaen.

"Assuredly no lembas at his feasts! I do not think that they use it at all; the Lady Galadriel brought the knowledge of its making to Lórien."

"Speaking of which, it is getting on for dark. We should stop and make camp, have our meal," said Melpomaen. And they turned to their nightly chores.

At length they reached the eastern borders of the forest, and emerged again into the clear sunlight. Celduin sparkled in the distance, their guide north towards Dale.

"Before we reach the Long Lake from which Celduin springs, we shall be able to see Erebor as our guide. And I believe that there is a well-traveled road from the lake to Dale, and commerce between the peoples who live there," commented Haldir.

"Is there no road along the river?" Melpomaen asked.

"Only a little-used path," Haldir said. "The river is the usual road, but we will travel by foot as we have been doing. I have some coin to purchase supplies for our return, but not enough to buy us passage on the river as well."

Melpomaen shrugged. He was happy enough to walk and see the land they passed through more closely.



Footnote:
(1) Cerveth is the Sindarin name for the month of Cermië, or July.

Chapter Text

Nearly a week later, they finally approached their goal. Haldir's words to the guard of King Bard's palace brought them inside immediately. There they were shown to a chamber to rest and wait until the king was able to see them; he was hunting, the man said, but was expected to return soon.

Melpomaen wandered about the room, investigating the furnishings. It was long since he had been in such luxurious surroundings.

"I will speak with the king alone," said Haldir abruptly. "I have only to pass on the message from Lord Celeborn, and answer any questions the king might have for me. Your knowledge of Westron is not yet great enough for you to need to be there, and I do not think there is any reason to fear treachery."

"As you wish," said Melpomaen. "Perhaps I will see what their gardens are like. After the wilds, it would be good to see tended beds."

"A good thought. I doubt the king will have an answer to give me today, so I do not expect our interview to last long. It may be a week before he makes a reply," Haldir said. "So I will come or send to find you, before evening."

King Bard was much as Haldir had expected; a strong man, yet thoughtful. He greeted Haldir civilly and assured him that he and his traveling companion were welcome for as long as they wished to stay. When he had broken the seal and read Celeborn's message, he sighed.

"Do you know the contents of this letter?" Bard inquired.

"I do not, sir, I am only the message-bearer; but I was told to answer freely any questions you might have," replied Haldir.

"At the moment, none. I will have to consider your king's words carefully before I reply, but I am likely to call on you for information. So if you would remain in the palace or on the grounds for a few days, I would be appreciative. And please, both of you join me for dinner. I have never traveled so far south, myself, and would enjoy hearing of your journey," said Bard.

Haldir bowed in acquiescence. "We would be honored, sir."

"Until this evening, then; and do not hesitate to call for anything you may require, after your travels," Bard dismissed him.

The meal that evening was a great change from those that Haldir and Melpomaen had shared for so many days on the road. The red wine of Dorwinion flowed freely at the king's table, which was laden also with venison, fish brought from the lake, and many dishes that neither Elf had seen before. Unaccustomed as they were to such plenty, they nevertheless did full justice to their host's generosity.

Next morning, Melpomaen regretted his lack of restraint. His head throbbed as if Orc-drums were beating inside it, and he shuddered at the very thought of breakfast. Instead he made his way outside to the grassy courtyard he had found the previous afternoon, and there Haldir discovered him lying on a bench, one arm flung over his eyes.

"Too much feasting for you, too?" he said sympathetically, sitting down beside Melpomaen.

"You could say that," came the muffled reply.

"Well, perhaps bound to happen. We'll both know to be more cautious from now on with the wine! Here, rest your head," Haldir moved Melpomaen's head off the hard bench and began to rub his temples gently.

"Ah, that helps," Melpomaen relaxed at his friend's touch. They sat quietly for a time, glad simply not to be traveling for a few days, and to be able to let down their guard against potential threats.

At last Melpomaen stood up and stretched languorously. "You have done wonders for me, Haldir. I feel as if I might live again now. I have never been in a town of Men before; have you? Shall we explore it?"

"I would enjoy that. I must leave word though of what we are doing, since the king asked me to remain available for consultation. I doubt he would object to our looking around his city, but still he should know where to find me," said Haldir.

After speaking with one of the servants of their plans, the two Elves wandered through the city. It was vastly different from the towns of Lórien, which were built into the mallorn trees. Here the dwellings were made of unlovely stone, crowded together and stained with the smoke of hearthfires.

"How can they bear it?" whispered Melpomaen to Haldir, as they stood in the marketplace amid the bustle of daily business.

"Most of them - all of them perhaps - know nothing else. Men are not attuned to Arda the way that we are. They live so briefly, they simply have not the time to learn what we understand," said Haldir. "But we should not pity them. Look at their faces; though times are troubled, still the people here seem content, and happy with their lot."

Melpomaen took Haldir's hand and pressed it. "You are always so wise, my friend. I would not have thought to look from their perspective."

Haldir returned the clasp for a moment, then released it. "Not always so wise, Melpomaen. I simply have had more experience of the world than you have, as yet. Someday you will no doubt outstrip me."

They had been speaking in Sindarin, both for privacy and because Melpomaen's command of Westron was not yet firm. Now Haldir shifted to the Common Tongue.

"Come, let us try one of the local shops. You said that you needed to make a new clasp for your hair; why not buy one here, instead, as a memento?"

"Yes, a good idea," said Melpomaen. They walked along the edge of the street, looking at the displays of goods that spilled out from each open shop.

"Here is one," called Haldir, who had moved more quickly. Melpomaen hurried to see what his companion had found. The clasp was not of wood, as was usual among the companies that patrolled Lórien. Instead it was of silver, smooth and plain except for a narrow band of leaves along the edge.

"This will last longer than a wooden clasp, I think," said Haldir, "and so will remind you longer of this journey."

"You are right," agreed Melpomaen. "But I fear the cost will be too great."

"I will do the bargaining," said Haldir, and beckoned to the silversmith.

Melpomaen listened carefully as the two bargained, but their speech was too fast for him to follow easily. At last they shook hands, and Haldir passed over the coins, receiving a carefully wrapped package in return.

"I do not think he expected me to drive such a hard bargain!" the Elf said cheerfully as they departed. "Do not worry about repaying me now. I know you brought little coin with you, we can settle up when we return home."

Melpomaen shook his head. "You're too kind, Haldir, but I do not like to leave debts unpaid. Please tell me what I owe you."

Haldir resisted, but finally gave in. "It was five silver pennies. I bargained him down from eight."

Melpomaen raised an eyebrow at the extravagance he had just been lured into. He handed Haldir the proper sum. "Remind me never to let you bargain for me again, my friend! Had I but known, I might have stopped you."

"Do you wish to return it?" Haldir stopped in the middle of the street. "I can do that, if you truly did not wish to spend so much. I apologize for my hasty behavior, if I forced something upon you that is not to your liking."

"No, it's all right. I had not anticipated spending such a sum, but the clasp is beautiful and I will be pleased to wear it for many years, I am sure," said Melpomaen.

"As long as you're sure," said Haldir doubtfully. "Very well, then. I have seen enough of the city for today, have not you? I would be glad now of a warming cup back in our room."

"Perhaps one warming cup," Melpomaen said. "I do not wish to feel tomorrow as I felt when I awoke this morning!"

The next week passed quietly. King Bard called Haldir to him several times to answer questions about Lórien's forces and her borders. At last the king reached a decision, and wrote to Celeborn to accept his offers of alliance.

"Though I do not know how much use it will be," he said ruefully as he handed Haldir the letter. "Our two realms lie far enough distant, and the Enemy is so widespread, that it seems unlikely that either of us will be able to readily aid the other. Dale has traditionally allied with the Elves of Mirkwood, and the Dwarves in Erebor, but Lórien is far afield."

"Distant, but not powerless," said Haldir. "And he would be a fool who does not secure allies when he can, even if they seem of unlikely help."

"You are correct, which is why I reply as I do. I assume you will leave tomorrow?"

"Yes, we are needed back in our company, and summer draws to an end. Better to make the journey in fair weather, if we can," Haldir responded.

"Then I wish you all speed, and safety in your travels. Should your king wish to send another message to me, I would be more than happy to see you again," and Bard bowed in courtesy.

Haldir bowed deeply in response, and left to find Melpomaen and tell him that they would be departing the next morning.

As usual, the younger Elf was in the gardens, enjoying the sunshine and quiet. Few of the king's household seemed to spend time here, and he could imagine himself back in a glade in Lórien.

"Thinking of home?" asked Haldir.

Melpomaen looked over. "Of course."

"Well," Haldir said, "you should be pleased, then, to know that we will leave tomorrow. King Bard has decided to accept Lord Celeborn's offer, and I have his sealed agreement ready to deliver."

"That is good to hear. Both the agreement, and that we can leave. I begin to grow restless in this stone city, do you not?" said Melpomaen.

"Impatient, yes. So - we should see to our packing, that we may depart at sunrise."

Their packs were larger for the return journey than the outward one. Bard had given several small gifts to be taken to Celeborn, but most of the increase was due to the food they carried. Their lembas had lasted for the whole of the distance to Dale, but was now exhausted. More ordinary foods were far bulkier than the waybread, and even now they knew that they would certainly have to hunt in order to extend their supplies.

On this last evening, the king again ensured that the meal was a feast, but neither Elf indulged as freely as on the first night. They took leave of Bard with many assurances of respect and friendship between the men of Dale and the Elves of Lórien, and retired for one last night of rest before their journey home.

Up at dawn, Melpomaen was almost dancing with anticipation to be on the road again. He had not realized how uncomfortable he was in the city, amid the crowds, until he knew he would be leaving them behind.

"Slow down, Melpomaen," Haldir called. "If you walk so quickly, you will exhaust yourself before nightfall. A day or two more or less will make no difference in our absence from the company."

Melpomaen slackened his pace at the mild reproof. "I'm sorry," he apologized. "I am just enjoying the freedom to move as I wish again. In Dale it seemed that I could hardly take two steps without bumping into someone."

Haldir laughed. "I know how you feel. The first time I was in a city of Men, I had exactly the same reaction."

"But I will walk with you, my friend." Melpomaen took Haldir's hand.

"I would enjoy that, Melpomaen," Haldir told him. If Melpomaen noticed that his partner seemed a little short of breath, he put it down to the lack of exercise in Dale.

They traveled quickly that day, however, fresh from the previous week's inaction. As night drew near, they stopped to make camp.

"One thing about Men's travel rations, they're more trouble than lembas," muttered Melpomaen, who had volunteered to cook the first evening. Among their supplies were dried meats and vegetables; the Elf was attempting to concoct a soup for their meal, with little experience to guide him.

"Just let it simmer for awhile," advised Haldir.

Melpomaen pushed a stray wisp of hair off his face. "I know, I know. I am just so restless for some reason, I cannot sit still." He stood and paced around the perimeter of their camp. "I feel as if there is something happening inside me that I don't understand, and I cannot contain it. It's like - stepping out of shelter when you thought the sky cloudy, and unexpectedly seeing the stars. Surprised and overjoyed at their beauty."

He dropped to the ground beside Haldir and lay with his head propped on his hands, gazing at the fire. "It is more than just pleasure at leaving the city and returning to the free fields and forests. It is as if my blood is learning again how to flow through my body. Do you feel nothing of the sort?"

"I do... but I know what it is I feel, as I think you do not."

"What is it, then?" Melpomaen asked. "You are always so good at explaining things, tell me this."

Haldir was silent for a moment. He leaned over and touched Melpomaen lightly on the shoulder, saying, "Are you certain you wish to know?"

Melpomaen felt the touch like fire running through his veins. And suddenly he remembered the last time he had spoken with Caranfíniel, whom he had once hoped to wed.

I will not join with you, Melpomaen, she had said. There is that in you which cannot turn to me, and I will not be bound to a divided soul. At the time he had thought she referred to his commitment to join Lórindol's company. But now, in Haldir's company, he recognized a different interpretation.

But perhaps I am mistaken, he thought, and said aloud, "I do wish it."

Again, silence from his partner. Then he felt the other's hand move slowly from his shoulder to trail down his side, until it rested above his hip. Haldir repeated, "Are you certain?"

Melpomaen rolled a quarter-turn, so that he faced Haldir directly, but without losing that tentative contact. "I am," he said.

Haldir exhaled a deep breath, then lowered himself onto his elbow, so that he looked Melpomaen in the eye. Melpomaen had never before looked into another's soul as he did then; he saw that Haldir had loved him for years, that the partnership between the two of them meant everything to the other. And he recognized that he returned the feeling. Why did I never see this before, he had just time to wonder, before Haldir kissed him.

Chapter Text

Their mouths clung together at first as if to let go would destroy them both. Melpomaen had kissed Caranfíniel, once, before she rejected him, but that experience had been utterly unlike this. He could feel Haldir trembling even as he did himself, shaken by the unexpected delight he found in his partner's arms.

Tenderly, Haldir flicked his tongue along Melpomaen's lips, which opened in response. Their breaths mingled, heated. Melpomaen's eyes were closed as he concentrated wholly on the new sensations he felt, as if fire and ice ran together in his blood. He raised a hand blindly to Haldir's face, and stroked a finger down his jaw.

Haldir ended the kiss and drew back a fraction, so that he could see Melpomaen's face. The other's eyes opened, pupils dilated until the iris was barely visible.

"So now you know," Haldir said simply. "This is what we might always feel, this taste for the physical, if it were not for..."

"The lembas," Melpomaen suddenly realized. "It sustains the body and the will, at the expense of the emotions."

"Not emotions," Haldir disagreed. "But the ability to transform pure emotion into something acted upon. I have loved you since soon after you became my partner, but without this - need - to express it." He drew a finger along Melpomaen's neck. His voice roughened as he said, "And it is a need, is it not?"

"Yes," breathed Melpomaen. He in turn traced the outline of Haldir’s ears, jawline, neck,  tearing off the clasp that bound the golden hair and running his hands through it. He pulled Haldir to himself again, kissing him deeply, their tongues thrusting against each other. He felt Haldir's hands running along his torso, tracing the muscles of his chest and then curving behind his back to clasp him closer still.

Suddenly Melpomaen thought of something. "My soup!" He began to struggle out of Haldir's embrace.

Haldir laughed. "You put so much water in the pot, it could boil for three hours and not go dry. But take it off, if you will feel better about it."

Melpomaen pulled the pot to the side of the fire. He glanced over at Haldir and decided that since they had paused for the moment, he would build up the fire to last the rest of the night.

Bringing an armful of wood, he saw that Haldir too had moved. He had spread their blankets together and was beginning to remove his clothes.

"Wait," he called, and hastily dealt with the fire.

Haldir smiled and waited. He had hoped to encourage Melpomaen to return to his arms more quickly, and the strategy had worked.

The younger Elf stood in front of his partner, carefully removing Haldir's tunic, and was unlacing his leggings when he paused.

"Sit for a moment, Haldir," he asked. "I will not be able to do more without taking off your shoes."

"I wondered when you would think of that," Haldir remarked. "You had better take yours off as well, now, to save trouble." He removed his own. "Would you prefer me to stand again, or shall I stay here?"

"Stand, please," said Melpomaen. He knelt before Haldir and finished his task, pulling the garments down as Haldir stood on first one foot, then the other to allow them to be drawn off completely.

Then he paused to look at his partner, now completely unclad. He had seen Haldir naked before, of course; they had shared a talan for years, and bodily modesty was something few Elves had ever concerned themselves with. But this time was special; it was the first time that he had looked on Haldir in recognized desire.

Haldir was aware of Melpomaen's feelings, and to lighten the mood he struck an exaggeratedly athletic pose. "How is this, love?" he asked, and Melpomaen laughed.

"However you stand is fine with me. But I think I prefer you at my level..." and he hooked an arm around Haldir's legs, pulling him down to the blankets.

"I prefer that too," Haldir whispered, and kissed him again.

Slowly at first, the unfamiliar sensations of desire built up within him, and Melpomaen moaned against Haldir's mouth.

"Shh, shh, it's all right," Haldir soothed.

"I don't - I've never - I'm not sure what to do," Melpomaen confessed.

Haldir gauged his partner's probable reaction to the truth, then spoke it boldly. "I have never made love to another, either. But I think we can figure out what can be done, hm?" He had in fact a very clear idea of what might be done, based on certain inadvertent observations he had made in his youth. But if it made Melpomaen feel less uncertain to think that Haldir was equally inexperienced, then the whole of his knowledge need not be shared just now.

Melpomaen nodded. "Yes, of course you're right." He grinned a little weakly. "I suppose the first thing is probably to remove my clothes as well?"

"That seems like a good idea. But stay, lie there. I will be back in a moment," and Haldir moved to rummage through his pack.

He came back with a small flask. Melpomaen looked at him inquiringly and Haldir shrugged, "Scented oil. I bought it in Dale and thought to give it to my mother, but this seems a better use."

Haldir set the flask aside for the moment, then leaned over Melpomaen. He moved his hands over the other's torso and legs, with each pass loosening the clothing a fraction more.

The teasing caresses set Melpomaen aflame once again, until he could wait no longer and began to remove his clothes himself. Haldir's hand stopped him.

"No, no, I will do it," and now Haldir swiftly pulled the garments from around Melpomaen's body, until he lay there wrapped only in the night air. For Haldir, this was not the first time he had seen Melpomaen unclothed, with the knowledge that he loved the other, but it was the first time he was able to react to the sight.

"Oh, my love," he whispered, and buried his face in Melpomaen's neck, kissing and then sucking there until the blood rose to the surface.

"My love," whispered Melpomaen in reply, brushing away the mingled gold and dark hair to press small kisses on Haldir's face. He took his partner in his arms and rolled them over so that Haldir was underneath him. Imagining what he would like himself, Melpomaen began to trace circles across his partner's chest and belly with his lips and tongue. By the time he reached the base of the stomach, Haldir's eyes were closed and his breath came in quick pants.

Melpomaen rubbed his cheek along the length of Haldir's warm hardness, then retraced the path with his tongue, swirling it around the tip and finally sucking in the whole. He breathed in the musky evidence of the other's desire, and that knowledge increased his own to the point where he feared he could not wait any longer.

Haldir's hands were entangled in Melpomaen's dark hair as his partner traced deliciously down his body. When a wet mouth engulfed his member, he let out a strangled moan, straining for control. He gently pulled to bring Melpomaen back up.

"What do you wish to do, love?" he said. "I am close to the breaking point." His hand strayed down Melpomaen's body. "And so are you, I think. Shall we finish this quickly and relax a bit before, perhaps, going on? For I doubt that I can restrain myself much longer now."

Melpomaen said raggedly, "Yes..." He bent his head to Haldir's shoulder. Their hands reached, each for the other, stroking first gently, then more rapidly, as once again their mouths found each other in a passionate kiss.

"Ah..." Haldir hissed, tensed, and exploded into orgasm, followed only seconds later by Melpomaen. They lay cradled together, their seed mingling on their skins, their breathing gradually slowing back to normal.

Melpomaen turned his head towards his partner, his lover. "I had never imagined such pleasure, had you?"

Haldir laughed a little at the ingenuous question. "Imagined, perhaps. Experienced, no." He rolled over and reached for the waterskin. "Too bad we have none of the king's wine here, but would you like some water?"

They drank, and then used a dampened cloth to clean each other off. The flickering light of the fire sent rosy streaks across their skin, and Melpomaen said, "That is what it felt like, as if there were a fire within me. Had I realized what I was missing all those years..."

"I know," agreed Haldir, "but there is doubtless good reason for the use of the waybread. While few would choose lovers from among other men, even with no women present, I suppose that the effects of lembas help to keep those who are wedded - or who wait to wed - less discontent. Desire, fulfilled or not, can only be a distraction in our lives as rangers on the borders of the Golden Wood. So it would be unwise, and dangerous to the company as a whole, if we were to let this new understanding between us cause any difference in how we carry out our duties."

Melpomaen bowed his head. "I know, and yet I will find it hard to put this aside and return to the commonplaces of company life."

"We will have no choice," the words carried overtones of sorrowing resignation. "But we can still love each other, even if we cannot express it physically."

"Can we?" asked Melpomaen. He sat up, clasping his knees and looking thoughtfully at the fire. "As you say, it will make things - difficult. Would it not be wiser to try to put this love aside? All custom and law is against it, as well."

"Put it aside?" Haldir's voice broke. "Could you really do that, now?"

Melpomaen looked over and saw the tears running down Haldir's face. His heart gave a queer thump inside his chest as he realized that he could never bear to hurt his partner, his lover. Even if that meant living in restraint and in the subtle deception of their other friends.

"No, I couldn't," he reached over to touch Haldir's cheek. "Forgive me for the thought, my love. You may have been aware of your feelings for long, but remember that this understanding is new to me."

Haldir reached up to take Melpomaen's hand, then drew him into a close embrace. "I know, Melpomaen. It is just... I was so filled with joy to have finally been able to tell you, show you how I felt, and the thought that you might turn away..."

Melpomaen kissed him, to stop the words: a tender kiss, of love rather than passion.

"We will work out, together, what is best to be done," he promised. "We have the whole of the journey back to decide."

"We have," Haldir agreed. "Melpomaen..."

"What is it?"

"I have thought, this last week, about what we might do together... before our return, that is. This time will be short, and may never be repeated. I would like to make the most of it, if you are willing."

"Of course I am. What had you in mind?" said Melpomaen.

Haldir smiled. "I thought I would begin with this," he held up the flask of oil. "If you will lie down, on your stomach?"

Melpomaen stretched out on the blankets. "Like this?"

Haldir parted his legs gently and knelt between them.

"Yes."

He poured a bit of the oil onto his hands, rubbing them to warm it, then began to stroke Melpomaen's back, kneading the muscles in long, loving motions.

"Oh, that feels wonderful," murmured the younger Elf. A realization struck him. "Tell me, Haldir, had you this in mind when you were rubbing my head to ease the ache, last week?"

"Yes, I did, but the effects of the lembas had not yet fully worn off. And I would not have wanted to share my feelings with you in a town of Men, in any case," said Haldir.

After a few minutes he shifted to a lighter touch, dancing his fingers down Melpomaen's spine, along the smooth pale skin.

"That tickles - but it still feels good," said Melpomaen.

"Ah, well, tickling was not the effect I intended," said Haldir. He moved towards Melpomaen's feet and, pouring more oil, began to massage his legs, first the right and then the left, moving upward from ankle to thigh. As he finished with the left side, he allowed his fingers to stray between his lover's legs, brushing the back of his testicles. Melpomaen quivered, and reflexively parted his legs slightly wider.

Haldir lowered his head to kiss the spot gently, then took the whole of the sac into his mouth, laving it with his tongue.

Melpomaen could feel himself hardening with excitement, but waited to see what Haldir would do next. He was surprised when he was released, and then felt oil being poured, drop by drop, between his buttocks.

Haldir smoothed the oil into the puckered opening, making sure that his fingers were coated as well. Very slowly he began to ease one finger past the tightness of Melpomaen's orifice.

"Don't worry," he whispered. "I would never hurt you."

"I know," Melpomaen said, and tried to relax into the unaccustomed sensation.

Gradually, Haldir inserted a second finger, and moved them slightly within the heated passage. He could feel a slight protrusion through the wall and stroked it. Melpomaen let out a gasp of unexpected pleasure. Haldir mistook the sound for pain and immediately withdrew.

"No," said Melpomaen. "Go on, please."

Haldir returned to his explorations with one hand, using the other to raise himself so that he could kiss the back of Melpomaen's neck. His lover turned his head to look at him, and their lips joined, wordlessly. Melpomaen could feel Haldir's hot body against him, his erection throbbing.

Then Haldir pulled his fingers out. Melpomaen made a sound of protest, but Haldir shook his head and rolled the other over onto his back. He slid between Melpomaen's legs again and began to tease him with his tongue, flicking it against the tense flesh, nibbling at the sensitive veins. At last, when Melpomaen thought he would be unable to bear it any longer, Haldir finally took him fully inside his mouth and began to move up and down his length, suckling firmly on the head, then encompassing the whole.

Melpomaen abandoned himself to the feelings that Haldir's touch brought him. If before he had felt fire in his body, now it was as if he had become a volcano; his very limbs seemed molten with desire. He was nearly to the point of orgasm when Haldir stopped, and he emitted a strangled cry of frustration.

"Sh, love, sh," said Haldir into his ear. "I want this to last long for you."

"Then you must let me caress you as well," Melpomaen said.

Haldir hesitated, then nodded acquiescence, shifting to lie by his lover's side. Melpomaen half-sat up, gazing at his body in the firelight, admiring the play of muscles on his chest and the taut hardness below. He slowly drew his hands across Haldir's torso, brushing the nipples with his fingertips, then suckled them with lips and tongue and teeth.

Next Melpomaen reached for the oil flask and anointed his hands. Returning his lips to Haldir's neck and ears, nibbling and breathing on the sensitive nerve endings, he stroked Haldir's firm member, reaching below to caress there as well. He felt for the tight opening, and as Haldir had done for him, slowly worked first one, then more fingers inside.

"Does it feel good?" he murmured.

Haldir made a sound like a soft growl, his eyes dilated with desire as he looked at Melpomaen's face.

"Oh yes, I see it does," said Melpomaen. "I wonder..." he removed his hand and placed the tip of his erection against the opening, "can I follow where my fingers go?" He eased the head through past the tight ring of muscle, and gradually slid inside. Haldir shifted his position, raising his knees to aid Melpomaen's entrance, his own organ erect and throbbing against his stomach.

"So you anticipated me," Haldir said breathlessly. He could add no more as Melpomaen began to move, slowly pushing into the clasping tunnel, with each stroke bringing them both closer to ecstasy. Melpomaen balanced on one hand, using the other to rub against Haldir's erection, until at last neither could hold back any longer.

"I love you," Melpomaen's voice sang out as he thrust more and more rapidly.

"And I you," Haldir cried as he felt Melpomaen shudder within him. His lover continued to stroke him and within moments he reached his own climax, convulsing with pleasure as Melpomaen grasped his willing flesh.

They lay quietly then, in each other's arms. They knew that although their time as lovers could not last long, their partnership would endure.

Chapter Text

Haldir was the first to awake, as the sun peeped over the eastern horizon. The air hung heavy in the fields by the river, moisture-laden if not quite thick enough to be called fog or mist. The dawn light turned all to silver for a few moments, and Haldir enjoyed the beauty of the scene, a pleasure made greater by his memory of the night before. After five years of loving Melpomaen silently and hopelessly, not daring to speak lest the other reject him, he wanted to shout his exultation to the world. A distant part of him knew that the present joy would necessarily end, but he thrust the thought away and focused on the moment.

The pot of soup that Melpomaen had prepared the evening before still sat near the last embers. They had fallen asleep, entwined, after their second lovemaking, and never eaten. Haldir carefully rebuilt the fire and set their breakfast to heating. He glanced at his partner - his lover, now, he thought tenderly - and decided to go to the river to wash before waking him. He felt a little sore from the unaccustomed exertions of the previous night, and hoped that it would make no difference in how far they would be able to walk that day.

Now, at the end of summer, the water level was low, and Haldir made sure to choose a spot where the grass grew close to the edge of the water, so that he would not immediately become dirty when he came out again. He laid a cloth on the bank to dry himself with later, and slipped into the water.

When he returned to the spot after a stimulating swim up the river, then a leisurely drift back down, nothing was there. Haldir guessed the reason but decided to pretend not to notice, simply sluicing the water from his torso and legs with his hands, and began to walk back to the camp. As he passed a clump of alder the cloth was suddenly tossed over his head and shoulders.

"Would you like me to dry you off?" came Melpomaen's voice, and Haldir was turned around to face him as the cloth fell.

Melpomaen caught it before it reached the ground and held it up invitingly, a teasing grin on his face.

Haldir smiled in return. "Why not? Or would you rather have a swim yourself, first? The water is most refreshing."

"If you'd be willing to go back again, certainly. I made sure that the fire was in no danger of spreading before I left," said Melpomaen.

Unlike Haldir he had put on his leggings before venturing down to the river. Haldir claimed the opportunity to undress his lover. Slowly he peeled the brown cloth away from the smooth white skin, caressing Melpomaen's buttocks and legs as he went.

Clothing removed, Melpomaen took Haldir in his arms and kissed him. "Mm, when I woke up I was unsure where you might have gone. But after a few minutes I guessed you must have come here. Are you not glad I followed?" he whispered.

"Oh, yes," said Haldir, sliding his hands down Melpomaen's back. "But I thought you wanted to swim?"

Melpomaen rolled his eyes. "Are we in a hurry today?"

"No. That's why I suggested the swim." Haldir cocked an eyebrow in return. "The water is cool, and you seem to be getting a little warm already."

"As if you are not," said Melpomaen, stepping back and looking pointedly at Haldir's growing erection. He waded into the river. "Come on in, then, and swim with me."

They swam for some time, racing each other upstream - Melpomaen won - and then floating back toward where they had entered. The sun was well up by now, and the rippling surface gleamed in the light, reflecting luminously from Haldir's skin and hair as he stood in the waist-deep water.

"Now, what were you saying about getting warm?" he asked as Melpomaen drifted past him.

The younger Elf aimed a splash of water at him, then dove beneath the surface to grab his feet and tip Haldir into the water. They wrestled amiably, each delighting in the way the other moved, the water letting them slide smoothly between and around each other's limbs. Each time they rose above the surface they kissed, tongues and lips lingering lovingly together. Haldir could feel the blood racing through his veins. Cool though the water was, his skin grew flushed with warmth and he hardened with desire.

Melpomaen, too, was becoming excited by the gentle caresses. He tugged Haldir to his feet and pressed the length of his body against him, feeling the answering hardness against his own. He turned his head and rested it on Haldir's shoulder, relaxing for a moment into the simple pleasure of contact.

"It feels so good, just to hold you like this," he said softly.

"A good thing, since that is probably all we will be able to share after we return to Lórien," responded Haldir. "Shall we make the most of our present opportunities, love? I don't think this stony riverbed is the ideal place, though."

He drew Melpomaen to the shore.

"Here, though..." Haldir spread out the cloth he had brought to dry himself on a relatively smooth patch of grass. "Stand here."

He knelt before Melpomaen and began to kiss and caress each leg, beginning at the toes and working upward. Carefully avoiding the other's eager member, he shifted to the arms, then the back, then the chest, lavishing caresses on the damp skin.

"Haldir..." growled Melpomaen, running his fingers through the golden hair.

Finally Haldir trailed his kisses back down the torso. He breathed warmly onto Melpomaen's groin, then carefully used teeth and tongue to nibble and lick until the other could scarcely remain standing, such was his pleasure.

By now Melpomaen's eyes were closed, all his attention focused on the sensations that Haldir's loving mouth was producing. The sun burned redly through his eyelids, a fire that seemed only a pale echo of that in his own body. He cried out and clutched at Haldir's shoulders with both hands.

"Oh, my love!"

Haldir closed his lips firmly around the base of Melpomaen's erection, running his tongue up and down the length as he felt him shudder and reach his orgasm, spilling his seed into the warm and waiting mouth of his lover.

When Haldir released him, Melpomaen sank onto the fabric and reached for the other, kissing his eyes and face and mouth in a frenzy.

"Only you," he murmured. "Only you, Haldir, I could never feel this way with anyone else. I love you, I love you."

"And I love you," said Haldir joyously.

"Let me take you inside me, love, as I did to you last night. I want you to be that close to me," Melpomaen said.

"Not without the oil, Maen. I wouldn't want to hurt you," responded Haldir.

"Then let us go back to where we camped, first. If you don't mind the interruption?"

"If that is what you want to do, I can wait a few moments."

Melpomaen found his leggings and gathered them up, hanging them with Haldir's drying-cloth over one arm. His other arm slid around Haldir's waist as they walked back to the camp.

The flask of oil remained where Melpomaen had set it the previous evening. He picked it up and offered it to Haldir.

"Pour a little on my hands," Haldir said, and when that was done he used one hand to spread the oil over his own erection, while with the other he stroked between Melpomaen's buttocks, massaging it into the tight orifice there.

He kissed Melpomaen again, exploring his mouth with his own tongue, and then drawing the other's tongue into his mouth he suckled it.

Melpomaen reached down to stroke Haldir, but his hand was gently nudged away.

"If you do that I won't be able to hold back," Haldir warned.

"All right, then," said Melpomaen, dropping down onto the blankets. "Come inside me, now. I want you to feel how I felt."

"I have an idea," Haldir said. "If you come to your hands and knees, I'll kneel behind you. I think I'll have more control that way."

Agreeably Melpomaen did as Haldir had suggested. He felt Haldir's hand spread him wide, a well-oiled finger testing to make sure that there would be no resistance to entry. Melpomaen gasped as he felt once again the unexpected pleasure, and though he had so recently reached his own orgasm, his desire for Haldir swelled again.

"Please, now," he gasped.

Haldir withdrew his fingers and placed the tip of his organ against the opening, pushing slowly yet insistently inside. Melpomaen tensed briefly, then relaxed, allowing his lover to penetrate him fully.

"Is that what you wanted?" Haldir whispered behind his ear. He slipped a hand around Melpomaen's hips and stroked the waiting hardness there.

"Oh, yes," said Melpomaen, distracted by the doubled sensation.

"It is what I wanted, too," said Haldir, moving in and out, at first cautiously and then with greater force. "I have wanted this for a long time." When his climax approached he paused, not wanting to finish so quickly.

"I love you, Melpomaen," he said, holding himself still with an effort, although his hand continued its regular motion. "I think I fell in love with you the first moment I saw you walking through the mellyrn, all their silver trunks and golden leaves just a backdrop to show off your dark grace."

"I remember you hardly spoke when we met. I had to ask you to tell me your name," Melpomaen recalled. He could feel Haldir's member throbbing within him, pulsing in time with the rhythmic caresses his lover's hand was giving his own.

"You did? Bad manners I must have had. I was so distracted by you that I cannot remember what I said," said Haldir, leaning over to kiss the back of Melpomaen's neck, brushing aside the long dark hair. The hardened nubs of his nipples rubbed gently against the soft skin of Melpomaen's back, and he trembled and groaned softly at the sensation. "Just as I am distracted now," he whispered into his lover's ear.

Melpomaen turned his head, saying, "I wish I could say the same, that I loved you right away. But I have to admit I had no thought of such a thing. I did certainly like and admire you from the beginning, and held you as a good partner and friend."

Haldir sighed. "I would not have expected anything more. Beyond any effect of the lembas, it is hardly acceptable to fall in love with another man. I began to suspect that I was unusual long ago, when I reached the age of a hundred and fifty and had never seen a woman for whom I felt the least desire. I found myself watching other men, instead, and admiring their charms more than those of the women. But it took a long to accept that this was the way I am. I cannot tell you how it was, when you arrived to join Lórindol's company and then were assigned as my partner." He began to move the fingers of his free hand in slow circles down Melpomaen's back, reaching around to stroke the other's chest.

"Try to tell me," urged Melpomaen. He sensed that Haldir needed the emotional release as much as a physical one at that moment, but the feelings evoked by the touch of his lover's hands on nipple and cock were too strong for him to hold back completely. He began to move under Haldir, hoping to bring the other Elf back to delight in the present through the pleasure of the body.

"It was torment - of an exquisite kind. I could talk to you, watch you, touch you - oh, I had no actual desire, the waybread prevented that, but I had the longing for it. And you accepted anything I said and did in full friendship, but with no hint of anything beyond. So I had great pleasure in your company, but also great frustration because of the unlikeliness that our partnership would ever be more than that."

Haldir paused, and pressed against Melpomaen's shoulder to hold him still. "Wait, let me finish speaking. I had decided that I would be alone and unjoined all my life, and was trying to reconcile myself to that. Then the opportunity for this journey came along, and I thought that at least it might give me a chance to say something to you, in private, so that if you despised me for my feelings I might persuade you to say nothing. I did not really expect you to return them."

Thinking of the long years of solitude, of near-despair, of the sudden arrival of Melpomaen and the conflicting reactions he provoked, and of his own vulnerability to his partner when he had finally admitted his love and desire, was suddenly almost more than Haldir could bear. He drew in a long, shuddering breath, and Melpomaen felt wetness as his lover's cheek pressed against his back.

"But I did. I do love you, Haldir," said Melpomaen softly, rocking back and forth. He shifted his weight to balance on one hand and used the other to reach through his legs and press Haldir more deeply inside him, gently touching the sac and feeling the precious contents within.

"I believe you; I just don't quite understand why," breathed Haldir. He began to thrust again into Melpomaen's body, relieving the tension of his feelings with his motion.

"Why? Why does any person love another? You fulfill me, that is why," said Melpomaen, groaning at the renewed pleasure. "Together we are more than separately. Is that not reason enough? Please don't worry about reasons. Let us just be happy that we have found each other."

"You are right," Haldir said. "And I am, I assure you."

He let go and placed both his hands on Melpomaen's waist, then withdrew almost entirely, making tiny thrusts, teasing, until neither of them could bear it any longer. Finally he allowed himself inside again completely and once more grasped his partner's organ, rubbing the oil-slicked skin, passing the pad of his thumb across the head.

"Are you ready?" Haldir gasped, his passion reaching a peak that was almost painful.

"Oh yes - now - please," said Melpomaen, almost whimpering as Haldir thrust once more, deeply, and released into his body. A last stroke and his own flood gushed forth again. His knees gave way and he collapsed onto the blanket, Haldir on top of him, still within him, as if their bodies had become one.

They rested quietly for a few minutes, savoring their union. Then Haldir reluctantly withdrew and reached for the cloth to clean up.

"I suppose we had better eat and move on," he said.

Melpomaen rolled over and stretched. "Can't put it off forever," he agreed. "Shall we have that soup I made, finally?"

"As long as it hasn't simmered away to nothing," Haldir replied, pulling on his clothes.

Once dressed, Melpomaen found a pair of bowls in his pack and carefully divided the soup between them.

"It's hot," he warned Haldir, handing him a bowl and spoon.

Haldir blew on the surface, then dipped out a spoonful. "But good. I thought you said you had little experience cooking?"

Melpomaen shrugged. "I haven't much. But I know that the longer a soup sits, the better it usually is; so maybe we should always make it the night before, and wait for breakfast to eat it!"

A laugh was his answer. "What then would we eat for supper, though?"

"True, that's a problem," Melpomaen acknowledged.

They finished the meal quickly and broke camp. Since they were to travel along the river for a few days yet, water should present no difficulty, but Haldir refilled their waterbags nonetheless when he went to rinse out the bowls and pot at the river.

"Ready, then? Let's go," he said, returning.

Chapter Text

Over the next days the two Elves retraced the route they had taken just a little while before – but the differences between the two journeys were great indeed. On the way to the north they had not consciously hurried, but had made rapid progress nonetheless. Now, heading home to bring welcome news of the accepted alliance between Dale and Lórien, they lingered, often not breaking camp until mid-morning, and usually halting well before the sun set in all her ruddy splendor.

The cause for the change was, of course, their newly physical relationship, which only the absence of lembas had permitted. Melpomaen mused on what Haldir had told him about the waybread. It did not deaden one's feelings, by any means, but rather placed a kind of buffer between the mind and the body, so that certain types of emotions that would normally evoke a bodily response did not.

"How did you learn of what the lembas does, if I may ask?" Melpomaen asked as they made their way through a natural meadow, now golden with the end of summer. "It is certainly not common knowledge, and the effect is limited – I would certainly never have divined the secret by simply observing its influence on myself. Even if I noticed a decrease in desire, I would assume that was simply due to the length of time I had spent apart from a beloved, and my body's natural reaction to such a separation."

Haldir took his hand and matched his step to Melpomaen's. "I really cannot claim that I discovered the quality on my own. Do you know how lembas is made?"

"No," said Melpomaen slowly. "I have heard that it is prepared by the Lady Galadriel and her maidens, but that is all."

"I do not know the details of its creation, but my cousin Andúniel is one of the Lady's attendants. One midwinter when I happened to be on leave and visiting my parents in Caras Galadhon for the festival, she and I spent an afternoon together, talking, and she told me that the Lady had warned them not to eat the lembas they helped prepare. In part because it is not easy to make, and since it keeps long and a small amount will sustain many, it is reserved for those who help protect the land. But also in part because many of the women are young, and newly wedded or seeking to wed, and eating waybread regularly would interfere with their natural desires and the begetting of children."

Here Haldir paused, both in speech and motion, and drew his lover to him for a kiss, as if to reassure himself that no longer was he influenced by the lembas he had eaten for so many years. Then he resumed his pace and his tale.

"Andúniel did not know if it would have the same effect on men as on women, but after I had learned this much from her I began to pay attention to its impact on me. Slowly I perceived that I was troubled less by the realization that I am drawn to men rather than women when I was out in the forest, and one would think, surrounded by those I might come to love. But no, it was on leave, and when I ate ordinary food, that I was likely to feel a hint of desire. So I came to understand what lembas does, though I do not know how. The how does not really matter. But I have long been bitter that such a thing has been forced upon me unknowingly – oh, I probably, almost undoubtedly, would have consented and accepted the consequences had I been told what they were – but I was not, and that I resent."

"Yes," Melpomaen frowned. "It seems unjust to me as well now that I think on it. Clearly the effect lasts only as long as one actually eats lembas regularly, and causes no permanent change, but are the rangers of the Golden Wood to be thus treated, as if we were children being given medicine disguised as a sweet? If this is the fabled wisdom of the Lord Celeborn and Lady Galadriel, I do not think much of it. Is there nothing we can do?"

Haldir shrugged. "What would you do, tell all our other comrades that they are being restrained without their knowledge? Some would not believe you. Many might not care. And it would bring great tension and distress to all, perhaps to the point where it harmed our ability to protect the people of the country. I do not think we can change this, sadly. But I am relieved to be able to speak freely of it to you, at least."

Now it was Melpomaen who drew to a halt. He looked seriously into Haldir's eyes. "You know you can tell me of anything, anything you wish."

"I know," Haldir touched his fingers to Melpomaen's lips. "I know."

Melpomaen kissed the slender fingertips, raising his own hand to grasp and hold the other's. His tongue darted out to meet the pad of one finger, then he drew it in, mouthing it with wet and gentle suction.

Haldir's eyes flickered closed for an instant as the loving touch caused his chest to tighten and brought a surge of heat to his body, but he opened them again and shook his head firmly.

"Not now, love, it is hardly past midday and we have been walking slowly anyhow. We really should. . ."

"We really should pause now," Melpomaen asserted. "We could travel till sunset, then, instead of stopping earlier."

He looked around for shelter from the sun. Perhaps half a mile ahead was a band of trees and brush, marking where a stream fed into the River Celduin. He pointed.

"There, I think, would be a good resting place, in the shade."

"All right," Haldir gave in. "You tempt me too easily, you know."

"And why not? Since this journey is the only chance I will have to do so." Melpomaen gave Haldir a smile that mingled delight and mischief. "Wait here for a few moments while I go ahead."

Wondering what his lover could be planning, Haldir nodded and watched him stride off fluidly across the grass.

When he reached the edge of the trees, Melpomaen found that the underbrush grew thickly under most of them, but there were one or two large oaks not far from the stream whose shade was deep enough to prevent much else from thriving underneath. He quickly cleared his chosen spot of stray twigs and stones and spread out the blankets he carried, then checked to make sure that the way to the water was equally clear. Despite his words to Haldir, Melpomaen hoped that he would be able to distract his lover sufficiently that they would travel no further that day. He knew in his heart that they could not do otherwise than return to Lórien, but a little delay did not seem dishonorable.

Melpomaen was waiting when the other Elf came walking through the trees. He led Haldir over to the place he had made ready, and set his shoulder pack aside, but had them both remain standing for the moment.

"Now, where was I?" he murmured. "Ah yes."

He lifted Haldir's right hand to his lips, and again sucked in the tip of one finger, tugging at it and letting his tongue gradually trace the whole length. Carefully he repeated the process on each finger, cradling the other's hand to his face as he worked.

As Melpomaen's dark head bent over him, Haldir looked up into the wavering green light that fell through the leaves. He stood with his legs braced apart, and every tug that he felt on his fingers brought an answering jolt down into his groin. He could feel himself hardening, pushing against the tight fabric of his leggings, and as Melpomaen blew across his wet fingers it sent new shivers of pleasure down his spine.

When his right hand had been lavished with kisses and released for the left to be taken up in turn, Haldir began to reach to undo the laces that constricted him, but Melpomaen caught his hand, saying only, "Wait."

Not until he had loved each finger did Melpomaen begin slowly to remove Haldir's clothes, but he had ideas for more than a quick lovemaking. The closeness of the little stream had suggested another possibility. He shrugged off his own clothes and beckoned Haldir to follow him, catching up the piece of soap that he had laid to one side of his pack.

Haldir's eyes widened, but he took the few steps to the stream behind Melpomaen. The watercourse was swift and deep, but here a bend had produced a shallower, calmer pool, perfect for bathing.

Melpomaen stepped in. The width of the stream here had allowed the sun to warm the water to nearly tepid in the shoals. The pebbly bottom was a little uncomfortable to walk on, but several larger, flatter rocks would serve for sitting or kneeling, as needed. He took Haldir's hand and guided him to one of these. The sun on the older Elf's hair turned the strands to living gold, and Melpomaen caught his breath to see the beauty of his lover's figure. He put aside his own feelings, though, to continue what he had begun.

With Haldir seated comfortably, the shallow water reaching only just above his waist, Melpomaen began to rub the soap across Haldir's body, leaving streaks of foam on arms, back, and chest. Then he cupped his hands to rinse the lather off, bit by bit, caressing the skin soothingly as he went.

The urgency of Haldir's desire had been reduced somewhat by the cool pressure of the stone beneath him, and he relaxed into Melpomaen's ministrations. Each touch was a reassurance to him that whatever others might think, theirs was a true bonding.

He stood at Melpomaen's request so that his legs, too, could be carefully washed. Melpomaen ran his hands down the taut muscles of thigh and calf, and poured water in a tiny cascade down each leg, again and again until every trace of soap was gone. Although he did not want to arouse Haldir too greatly just yet, he gently washed his buttocks and groin as well, trying to keep his touch as impersonal as he could, but at last he gave in to his own impulse and slipped a finger down the inviting crack.

Haldir made a guttural sound and shifted to open wider, but Melpomaen rapidly withdrew.

"Not yet," he said softly.

After bathing Haldir completely, he led him back to the blankets and told him to rest there for a few minutes. Then Melpomaen returned to the stream and washed himself quickly, squatting on the stony bed and splashing water over his body to rinse off.

On his return he found Haldir sprawled carelessly across the blanket, legs akimbo and one arm thrown over his eyes, though the light through the leaves was hardly bright. He rolled over as Melpomaen came up, and rose to his knees.

"How long were you planning to tease me, then?"

"As long as it takes," said Melpomaen blithely. He made a fist and tapped Haldir lightly on the shoulder. "So if you would lie down again. . ."

Haldir exhaled sharply, glared for an instant, and then propped himself on his elbow.

"No, on your stomach, please, Dír."

He shifted to lie prone, head turned to the left. Melpomaen's last touch in the stream had brought all his desire and need raging back, and he could feel the hot blood pumping through his trapped organ. A rustling noise told him that he had guessed correctly that his lover was retrieving the flask of oil. But he had not anticipated what happened next. A band of cloth – a spare shirt, folded, he guessed – fell across his eyes. Melpomaen lifted his head and passed the cloth completely around it, tying it so that he could not see.

"What are you doing?" He began to struggle to sit up.

Melpomaen's breath tickled his ear. "I noticed, over the past week of making love with you, that every sensation seemed greater when my eyes were closed. So I thought this might be worth trying; you will not be able to open them at will to distract yourself."

Haldir admitted that was possible, but found being blindfolded a bit unnerving.

"Just relax, love. Lie down and relax," Melpomaen advised.

He did so, trying to slow the pounding of his heart. He sensed Melpomaen moving above him, until the other's knees were placed outside his hips and he could feel the weight of his lover's body resting on his thighs and buttocks.

Melpomaen poured a little oil into his palms and rubbed them together to warm the viscous fluid. He anointed Haldir's back all over, and then began to massage, digging his fingers in firmly but not roughly as the muscles released their tension, a process that took some little time. Then he shifted to passing his palms down the back and sides, making long, smooth strokes from the nape of the neck to the base of the spine. By now Haldir had realized that there was nothing he could do to dissuade Melpomaen from following whatever plan he had thought of for this day, and so he surrendered completely to the soothing touch.

Feeling the shift in breathing that indicated this, Melpomaen wriggled a little farther down toward Haldir's feet, parting them so that he could kneel between the legs, and shifted his attention to Haldir's lower back and buttocks, still careful to keep his movements relaxing, rather than stimulating. Haldir drifted on the very edge of sleep, still somewhat aroused, but no longer caring about it. The delightful feelings that Melpomaen was evoking were enough.

When Haldir seemed completely relaxed, Melpomaen rested briefly, still moving his hands in lazy circles across the pale skin. Then he leaned forward, parted Haldir's legs a bit further, and breathed moistly onto his sac. He drew his tongue upwards, using his hands to separate the buttocks, and began to dart it just into the orifice there.

Haldir reacted immediately, his desire leaping back into flames, and he became so hard that he ached with it. But he knew that the only course he could follow this day was to let his lover lead, so he restrained himself from turning to grasp Melpomaen in his arms and simply waited to see what would happen next.

Melpomaen kneaded Haldir's thigh with one hand as he continued to kiss him, while with the other hand he spread some of the oil onto his own pulsing member. The massage had done its work and Haldir was still relaxed despite his arousal. Melpomaen raised his body up and slipped unhurriedly inside the tight passage, eliciting a deep groan from his lover as the movement stimulated the sensitive node within. His hand reached around and underneath, grasping the swollen cock. He did not stroke it, merely held it to prevent Haldir from rubbing against the blankets, for he was still determined to draw out their loveplay as long as possible.

He moved in and out, never completely withdrawing, enjoying both the hot friction and the knowledge of Haldir's pleasure. As he sheathed himself completely, he let his torso rest on Haldir's back and used his teeth and lips to tug on an earlobe, breathing warmly onto it, speaking no word.

Haldir was finding that being unable to see did indeed increase the sensuousness of every kiss, every touch. Each thrust that Melpomaen made was a step up a spiraling stair of bliss. Even his lover's refusal to allow him to reach a climax no longer troubled him; he felt surrounded by Melpomaen's devotion and knew that he would not be denied forever.

Gradually Melpomaen increased the tempo of his movements, allowing himself to surrender to the desire he felt. He gave one final push and shuddered in release, the flood of his passion spilling deep within Haldir's body.

Haldir involuntarily cried high in his throat as Melpomaen withdrew and left him alone for a moment. Then he felt himself being turned over and urged to sit up. As he did so a slick hand stroked him, coating him with oil. He braced his hands behind him as Melpomaen knelt with his back to his lover's chest and slowly lowered himself onto Haldir's waiting organ.

He could wait no longer. He embraced Melpomaen tightly and pulled him down, pushing frenziedly into him. He rolled them both over until they lay on their sides, cradled together, Haldir's fingers on Melpomaen's hard chest brushing the firm nubs, his arms clasping tightly, his rigid member buried deep.

"Yes, take me," he heard Melpomaen say. "I am yours."

"Ah, and all I am and have is yours," cried Haldir. He kissed the back of his partner's neck where it met the shoulder, and as he climaxed, bit into the flesh.

Joined, they rested, the breeze cooling the sweat from their bodies.

"Was that not worth stopping for?" murmured Melpomaen tiredly.

"Can you ask?" said Haldir. He tightened his arms around his lover and kissed the damp skin. "I don't know how I will be able to go back to simply being partners in the company, after this. It will be a wrench to give up such joys."

"Must we?" Melpomaen said.

Chapter Text

"Must we give this up?" Melpomaen repeated.

His words hung in the air between them. Haldir had meant his statement rhetorically, but the reply he received suggested that his lover might have other ideas.

"I do not see how we can do otherwise," he pointed out. "Once we return to Lothlórien, we will both rejoin Lórindol's company. And all the rangers eat lembas on patrol; it has many virtues to sustain body and will, and it keeps long and requires no fire to prepare. Even in camp we eat it much of the time, for convenience."

"But there is no law that says we must eat the waybread," insisted Melpomaen. "It is, as you say, a matter of convenience. Could we not choose to eat other foods instead? To take something besides lembas with us on sentry duty, for instance?"

Haldir sighed, withdrawing from his partner and rolling over onto his back. He looked up into the green leaves fluttering above them in the breeze, the oak so unlike a mallorn of his home, yet beautiful in its own rugged way.

Picking up a cloth and dampening it to clean himself with, he said, "It would be noticed. You have helped bring in supplies for the camp; some is ordinary food, to be sure. But not much. And when we are issued rations for our turn on patrol Thalion does not ask what we wish to eat, but simply hands us as many packets of waybread as experience has taught him a pair of rangers will need for that length of time. If we asked for something else, it would seem strange."

"So what if it seems strange?" said Melpomaen, running his hand along Haldir's chest. "Why should we care? Everyone knows that we work better together than any other pair in the company - who will question us, if we want to eat something different for a change?" He took the cloth from Haldir.

"It matters not who. If anyone does begin to wonder, and speculate, there could be - difficulties. Few may know all the properties of lembas, but the captain well might. And if he or any other does, and our choosing not to eat it is remarked upon..." Haldir shivered. "There could only be one interpretation, that we avoid it so that we may enjoy physical desire. With no women about, the conclusion would inevitably be reached that we are lovers."

"What of that? I am not ashamed to love you."

"To love, no, there is no shame in loving - as a friend. But think, Maen. Did you know, back in Caras Galadhon, of any bonded couples in which both were men, or both women? Our people will not accept such a thing. Friendship, aye, but nothing beyond," finished Haldir.

He sat up, hugging his knees to his chest, his head bowed.

Melpomaen had not consciously considered their situation in such terms before. He cast his mind back to his youth, and could think of no examples to contradict Haldir. Indeed, when he sifted through his memories carefully, he recalled a few sniggering comments made about Elves who had remained unwedded long past the usual time. Rangers were generally exempt from such remarks, since it was recognized that their devotion to their duty precluded an easy marriage; those who joined the rangers before they had wed were not encouraged to do so until they chose to leave their company. But Haldir was undoubtedly correct in saying that the people of Lórien would see their relationship as wrong, as a violation of the natural order of things.

As the full realization of their uneasy situation struck him, Melpomaen paled and turned away from his lover.

"I never thought - I never understood," he muttered.

Haldir reached to pull him close, embracing him and laying his cheek against the other's smooth skin.

"I know. And it is too late to change matters, now; once bonded, we cannot choose otherwise. And I would not do so if I could, meldanya. (1) You are the other half of myself."

Melpomaen's muscles were clenched against Haldir's touch. "How do we know that this is a true bond? I do not say this to hurt you, for you know I love you. But we are told that if one spouse is slain untimely, and the spirit travels to the halls of Mandos, that the other spouse is forbidden to marry again. Would this be true for us? And if not, can we say that we are indeed joined in this way?"

"I cannot say," Haldir replied, troubled. "I have never heard the question discussed, not even in philosophical debate. All I know is that the night that we first came together, I felt our spirits mingle in wonder and delight, as I have heard it said that the spirits of husband and wife do when they are wed and first experience the body's full pleasures. And were we to be parted, I would not ever wish to seek for another," Haldir said, gently smoothing Melpomaen's hair.

The dark Elf suddenly turned and clung to his partner. With his voice muffled against Haldir's neck, he said, "No, I felt the same. And whether the bond between two men is indistinguishable from that between a man and a woman matters little, for where you go, I will follow, and where you die, I will die too, and meet you again in Aman." (2)

Haldir pressed his lips to Melpomaen's, then drew a little away, saying, "But you see that we cannot avoid the loss of this part of our love, however much we might desire otherwise."

Melpomaen shook his head stubbornly. "I am not willing to accept that, though I see that my idea would not work. Would Eru have created us in such a way as to enable us to feel such joy with one another, if it were truly prohibited, or impossible to have? I cannot reconcile myself to such an end."

He lifted his hand to Haldir's face and tucked the loose strands of golden hair behind his ear, trailing his thumb down the white skin of his neck. Haldir caught his hand and kissed the palm fervently.

"I do not want to, either," he admitted. "But I can think of no solution. We have perhaps a month yet to travel, so maybe in that time together we can devise some course of action that will work."

He glanced at the sun, adding, "Nor do I think we will be traveling any further today; the shadows grow long."

An impish smile lit Melpomaen's face. "I am glad you say so. If we are unable to think of a way to allow ourselves passion once we return, I would as soon prolong this journey."

He turned to rummage through his pack. "Wait. Let me find... ah, here it is." He held up a wooden comb triumphantly, then became a little shy. "Will you permit me?"

Haldir nodded. Melpomaen knelt behind him and began to draw the comb through the heavy mass, teasing out each tangle as he found it. Haldir's hair seemed to him to hold the very light of the sun within each strand, a beacon that guided and directed his love to its object. It twined about his fingers like a living thing as he slowly smoothed each lock, and then made a plait above each ear to hold the rest back.

As Melpomaen worked, Haldir closed his eyes to enjoy the sensual pleasure that the unaccustomed attention brought. The glancing touches to his neck and ears especially stimulated him. Though they had but lately fulfilled their desires, he found that the talk of the possible end of all their ardor had made him eager to repeat it, as if in defiance of all the future. This time, though, he would lead and his lover would follow.

Braids completed and secured by a thread wrapped tightly around the end, Melpomaen reached to replace the comb. Haldir stopped his arm and plucked the comb from his fingers, moving around to kneel behind him in turn.

Not since he was very young had anyone else combed his hair, and Melpomaen was surprised by how thrilling it felt to have Haldir's fingers running along his scalp, lifting it and loosening the dark tangled strands before drawing the comb through. He sighed and relaxed, letting Haldir do as he would.

Haldir was enjoying his task nearly as much as when he had been the recipient, drawing his fingers through the silky dark length. He bent to press a kiss to Melpomaen's left shoulder, and then delicately traced his way up along his neck and to the sensitive ear. He licked at the curled edge, then nipped the earlobe with his teeth, still playing with Melpomaen's hair with his right hand. He shifted then from kneeling to sitting flat on the blanket, legs parted to enclose his partner, pressing up against his back. He trailed his left hand along Melpomaen's leg from knee to thigh to groin, where the evidence of desire awaited him.

As he touched the hardening organ, Melpomaen gasped and thrust his hips forward slightly. Haldir increased the pressure of his touch in response, pulling Melpomaen back against his own erection, and began a gentle rocking motion forward and back.

"Don't be in a hurry," he murmured, breathing into Melpomaen's ear.

Melpomaen turned his head to join his lips to Haldir's, reaching his hands around to clasp the other's buttocks, sliding along the silken skin.

"No hurry at all," he agreed as he ended the deep kiss and gave himself up to the ecstatic sensations. Haldir's loving touch was like a fire searing along each nerve of his body, healing even as it burned. He felt enveloped, cherished, and he embraced the knowledge that without this love, he would no longer wish to live as he had done before.

After a time Haldir turned his attention to the other ear, suckling the lobe and probing the canal with his warm tongue. He wrapped his right arm around Melpomaen's chest, grazing his thumbnail across the firm muscle, then pinching the nipple.

"Take care, meldanya," Melpomaen breathed, but the leap of his cock belied his words.

"I will always take care for you," Haldir told him, continuing the motion of both hands. "Does this not feel good?"

"Almost too good," was the response, and Haldir slowed his tempo.

"I would do anything to make you happy, love," he spoke into the dark hair that flowed down before him. "Anything."

"Take me then, Dír. Make me yours." Melpomaen leaned forward, bringing Haldir with him as he came to his hands and knees.

"Not that, not yet," and Haldir slipped through his legs to rest underneath him. He took his lover's hard organ into his mouth, relaxing his throat to envelop him as fully as possible. He used his tongue to stimulate Melpomaen even further, engulfing him with his own warm moisture.

Melpomaen bit his lip and clenched his hands into the blanket to hold back from reaching his climax right then. He drew Haldir's face gently away, saying, "If you continue that, I will spend now."

Haldir paused long enough to reply, "I want you to. I want to taste you on my lips and share that with you."

That idea excited Melpomaen, and as the gentle suction resumed, he let himself thrust deeply into Haldir's mouth, crying out with each motion, until at last he emptied his seed between his lover's eager lips. The flavor of it was acrid and salt on Haldir's tongue. He moved backward slightly and drew Melpomaen's hips down until they touched his own and he was able to kiss him, sharing the tangy moisture.

When they broke from that kiss, Haldir said, "That taste reminds me of how it is between us two: desirable and yet bitter, for all that cannot be."

Melpomaen looked into his eyes. "Let us not dwell on our troubles more tonight. For now we are here, together. Come now inside me and forget the future; we know not what yet might happen." He reached for the oil he had earlier set aside.

Haldir took the flask from him and poured a bit into his hand, spreading the fluid first on himself and then anointing Melpomaen's inviting aperture. Carefully restoppering the flask, he drew Melpomaen down to him and rolled them both over until the other lay underneath, smiling up at him in anticipation. He nudged Melpomaen's legs apart and upward, exposing him fully, then sank into him, leaning over to plunder his mouth.

Together they groaned at the delicious sensation and Haldir began to work himself in and out. With each thrust he enjoyed the tightness that embraced him. He shifted angles slightly until the ragged sound from Melpomaen's throat told him that he had found the most sensitive spot, then plunged more deeply as his lover's hips rose up to meet him.

Their earlier bout of lovemaking had taken the sharp edge from his need, and Haldir was able to restrain his passion from reaching its peak until the stimulation inside and out brought Melpomaen to a final erection as well.

"Ah, by the stars, Dír," he gasped. "You see what your love does to me?"

Haldir smiled to know the ecstasy he had caused. "And only you," he said throatily. "Now?"

"Yes, now!"

"Oh, Maen," he cried, and with a last shuddering thrust they climaxed as one.

"We will always be together, somehow," Haldir promised as they lay entangled in each other's arms, delightfully weary. "I vow that to you."

Melpomaen kissed him on the shoulder. "I believe you, meldanya. Somehow." But he did not yet speak all he thought: that if it would be impossible to indulge in such expressions of their love while rangers in Lórien, then they must take a different path.



Footnotes:
(1) "My beloved."  This word is in fact Quenya, and the Elves of Lórien speak Sindarin, of course, but I speculate that the term might have been adopted, rather like "petit chou" being used in English.
(2) Yes, this is a paraphrase of Ruth 1:16-17. If that bothers you, I am surprised that you are reading this fic.

Chapter Text

After a few moments Melpomaen stirred and sat up, then rose fluidly and reached down to pull Haldir to his feet as well.

"Come, we should wash and then set up camp properly. I think it is your turn to prepare supper, is it not?"

Grumbling slightly, Haldir admitted the fact. He had proved less apt at cooking than Melpomaen, but was unwilling to shirk his share of the duty. They had established a routine that said that the one who cooked did not have to gather wood for that night's fire, nor carry water as needed.

"Will you take the first watch as usual, Maen?" he asked.

The younger Elf nodded. "Of course."

They had failed to set a watch their first night out from Dale, but prudence dictated that they should not share a bedroll on subsequent evenings, lest some beast or Orc attack while neither was awake. Haldir had pointed out that once back in Lothlórien, they might be able to indulge in that much, at least while in the camp. They had always shared a talan and on chill nights sharing body warmth would be unremarkable even if they had an unexpected visitor.

Walking the few yards to the stream, they took turns gently sluicing each other, rinsing off the evidence of their loving exertions with the sun-warmed water in the shallows.

Haldir shook his golden hair back from his face. "If you'll bring me some wood, I'll begin getting the meal."

Melpomaen kissed him on the cheek, saying, "Certainly. I'm rather hungry, myself, though we didn't walk so very far today."

That elicited a snort from Haldir. "And whose fault is that, both the short journey and the cause of your hunger? Oh, go on and fetch the wood."

He marched back to the blankets and began by laying them out afresh, then dug a shallow pit for the fire. Rummaging through their packs, he pulled out a selection of dried vegetables and meats with which to make a soup, and a cake or two of cram to supplement it. Some slices of dried apple and pear he put to soak for the morning meal.

By the time Melpomaen returned with a second armful of wood, Haldir had coaxed the flames to flaring life and had set the stew pot on one side to simmer. He looked up at his partner.

"What think you we should do while we wait for our meal to cook?"

"Arms practice, I think. Would you rather do some unarmed combat, or swordplay, or would you shoot at targets? For any of them we will have to go back into the meadow, out from under these trees. Is the fire all right to leave?" said Melpomaen.

Haldir gauged the pile of burning wood. "Let me add a few more good-sized sticks and wait until they catch. Then we can go. I think I would like to do some unarmed practice; having stopped early today I feel fresh enough for something strenuous."

A short while later they stood facing each other amid the knee-high tawny grasses. Haldir led off with a series of kicks and lunges that, had they not been performed for practice only, would likely have left Melpomaen crippled. But this exercise was not intended to do any real harm, and with Haldir holding back the full force of his movements, Melpomaen was able to counter them with some ease. He lacked the skill of long years of practice that his partner possessed, but enjoyed the challenge of learning this art. Lórindol had often stressed to his men the importance of being able to fight unarmed, should ill-chance befall any of them.

Distracted by the thought of the captain and their inevitable return to the rangers' company, he failed to block a blow aimed at his face. Only Haldir's quick realization that Melpomaen had lost concentration saved the latter from being severely bruised or worse. As it was the sound of the contact startled a nearby squirrel, which leaped for the closest tree and began a chittering scolding from the safety of a low branch.

"Are you all right?" asked Haldir with concern.

"I am fine, Dír. I'm sorry, I wasn't paying proper attention. Shall we continue? Truly, I am not injured, just well woken up again," Melpomaen said in embarrassment at his lapse.

"Very well, then. When you're ready," said Haldir, crouching slightly with his weight on the balls of his feet, alert to whatever move his partner might try next.

They sparred inconclusively for some little time, their motions growing smoother and more rapid as each relaxed into the rhythm of the exercise. Melpomaen at last attempted an especially challenging lunge maneuver, only to find that he had been anticipated. He ended up flat on his back with Haldir kneeling above him, laughing softly at the surprise on his face.

"Enough, now," Haldir said, rising. "I would like to finish with some poses to practice balance. Do you wish to join me?"

"I'll just watch you for now. I prefer to do some of that while I'm taking my turn at watch; it helps me stay more alert and focused," said Melpomaen, tilting his head lazily to avoid the low rays of the sun through the grass. He admired Haldir's well-knit form as the other moved with elegant grace from one position to the next, some of them extremely difficult to maintain. Yet Haldir made it all seem easy - if one failed to notice the tension of the muscles under his smooth skin.

"I am ready for that soup you concocted, if you think it has cooked long enough," announced Melpomaen as Haldir subsided into stillness, standing erect with his face towards the west, catching the red gleam of the sinking sun.

"What? Oh, yes, certainly," said Haldir, drawing his attention back from his inward focus. He held his hand out to the reclining Melpomaen. "Get up then, Maen. I think we will need more wood tonight too; you had better collect some before it is too dark to see."

Melpomaen jokingly put out his tongue at his partner, then said, "All right. You finish getting dinner and I'll be there soon."

He struck off to make a wide circle through the wooded strip to the stream, then back in the other direction, getting a sense of the land as he picked up convenient fallen branches. There seemed to be nothing out of the ordinary in this place; they were still a few days from Mirkwood, where they would have to take greater care each evening and even while they walked in the daytime.

When he returned to the camp, twilight had settled over the trees. Haldir was seated cross-legged near the fire, rebraiding his hair which had loosened during their practice. He looked up as Melpomaen stepped into the light.

"Thank you for bringing the wood," he said.

He reached over to ladle soup into their bowls, and handed Melpomaen one along with a piece of cram.

Melpomaen sat down next to his lover. They leaned together companionably as they ate, enjoying the feel of the breeze as the air slowly cooled from the warmth of the day.

Setting aside his empty bowl, Melpomaen closed his eyes and stretched, thrusting his hands behind him. The temptation was too much for Haldir, who gently poked him in the belly.

He doubled over involuntarily and came up spluttering in mock indignation. He reached over to reciprocate, but Haldir was too quick and rolled away, then came back while Melpomaen was still off-balance and hugged him tightly.

"Couldn't resist, meldanya," he whispered in Melpomaen's ear. "I'll make it up to you, though. I'll braid your hair before I take my rest, shall I? I never finished the task earlier."

"How could I decline such an offer? Especially from you. Your tight - braids - are the admiration of the whole company," Melpomaen teased, his gaze lingering rather lower than Haldir's head.

Haldir pushed him playfully and brought out the wooden comb he had been using. Carefully he disentangled each dark lock, using his fingers as well as the comb to smooth and separate the fine strands. When all was done, Melpomaen's hair was like a sheet of black silk flowing over his shoulders and down his back. Haldir trembled slightly as he gathered it in his hands and began to divide it neatly for plaiting. Rather than the usual braid at each temple, he decided to make a single tight queue at the nape of the neck.

He was tempted to kiss the pale skin there, but restrained himself, and instead said aloud, "Tell me if I pull too hard."

"Not at all," murmured Melpomaen, who had closed his eyes. "It feels wonderful."

"Good," said Haldir, and used a leather thong to bind the braid. He shifted to Melpomaen's left side, and when the younger Elf turned his head to look, his eyes opening, he kissed him firmly but briefly on the mouth.

"All right, then?" he said, and smiled.

Melpomaen grinned in return. "Yes."

He stood up and added, "Varda's stars shine brightly tonight, I think. Take your rest and I will keep watch."

Haldir shook his head. "Let us tidy up the camp first; if we do not wash up the bowls now, at least let me get them out of the way."

"I'll do that," said Melpomaen. He reached down and traced a caressing finger along Haldir's jawline. "You prepared the meal; I will take care of the rest of it."

"If you wish," Haldir acquiesced, and lay down, pulling the blanket over himself and curling up so that he could watch Melpomaen's slender form silhouetted against the flickering light of the flames as his partner gathered up the remnants of the meal. Gradually his eyes fluttered closed as he allowed his mind to drift off into pleasant dreams.

Melpomaen finished putting their things in order and straightened up, his hand going automatically to make sure that his swordbelt was in place and his sword was loose in its sheath. He hesitated over whether to carry his bow with him; in the woods, in the dark, he would likely not need it. But he intended to go back to the meadow for a time. He shrugged and brought the weapon.

This early in the night, with the fire still burning, it was safe to leave Haldir and walk further out. Melpomaen passed quietly among the trees and out to where he could see the great canopy of stars overhead.

Leaning his weapons against a handy ash, he began moving through a series of poses similar to those that Haldir had performed that afternoon. He did not attempt the most difficult ones; he preferred to hold each position for the longest time possible, finding challenge enough in pushing his limits in that fashion. Moreover he could then spare more attention to the sounds and scents of the night around him, both for its beauty and to stay aware of any potential dangers.

When he felt he had practiced enough, Melpomaen retrieved his weapons and began a wide circuit around the camp, pausing frequently to let all of his senses absorb his surroundings. Nothing untoward seemed likely to occur this night. He returned to the fire, which by now had dwindled to glowing embers, and added several branches, blowing on the coals until flame licked along the fresh wood.

He sat then with his back against the great oak that overspread the place, watchful, yet with enough ease that he could turn his mind to more than just their safety.

This journey had produced more than enough surprises to amply occupy his thoughts. Melpomaen mused for awhile on the strangeness of the city of Men, but that was as nothing compared with the surprise of Haldir's passion, and his realization that he felt the same way.

The separation between emotion and its expression that the lembas created, he realized, might have profound and yet differing effects on them both. Haldir had recognized his own feelings for Melpomaen immediately, but had felt no physical desire, and so had been able to keep from sharing them and possibly frightening his partner for some years. Melpomaen, however, had come to understand that he loved Haldir at the same time as he had awoken to the hungers of the body, and he found it difficult to disentangle the two feelings.

Even now, as he looked over at his lover's sleeping form, he felt a stirring in his own body at the memory of their passion. He pushed his hand against himself, as if to repress the response, but the warmth of his palm through the material only stimulated him further. Sighing, he gave in to his impulse and began to slowly draw his fingertips along the hardening bulge at his groin, imagining that it was Haldir there, stroking him.

As his organ swelled under his touch, the tight cloth that bound it became almost painfully constricting. He paused to consider. He had to remain ready to cope with any possible threat. In the end he unlaced his leggings and removed them entirely, rather than risk having them tangled around his ankles at an awkward moment.

Freed, he returned to kneeling, his buttocks resting on his ankles, his still-clothed back leaning against the rough bark of the trunk. His right hand grazed his bared hip and glided down across the base of the belly to wrap around his pulsing member. He pulled at it gently, thumb sliding across the loose skin that covered the head, and quivered as cool air touched the newly exposed flesh. Gradually he set up a rhythmical motion, rocking back and forth as his hand slid up and down his shaft.

He pushed his thoughts out toward Haldir, wishing that the other were there, sharing this pleasure with him. Imagining that he was kissed by his sleeping lover, Melpomaen's lips parted, and he breathed more quickly as he neared climax. His hips thrust upward as the hot fluid jetted from him, spilling over his hand. He relaxed then into the embrace of the tree for a moment. It had not been so gratifying an experience as making love with his partner, but it relieved the tension of thinking how soon the chance for such passion would end.

Melpomaen picked up his leggings and went to the stream to rinse away the stickiness of his release before donning them again. When he returned again to the circle of the firelight, Haldir's blankets were empty.

Worried, he looked around. He barely heard the footstep before strong arms seized him from behind.

"I saw you," breathed Haldir in his ear. Knowing fingers undid the fastenings of his clothing and tossed it aside. "You would not believe how that made me feel, Maen, to watch you."

"I wanted you there with me, but did not want to wake you," responded Melpomaen as Haldir laid him down.

Haldir's eyes were dark with desire. "No? We have so little time, meldanya. So little time to be together. Do not hold back from me now."

He had removed his own clothing before Melpomaen had returned from the stream, and now stretched himself alongside the younger Elf, bare skin against skin for the full length of their bodies, his stiff erection pressing insistently between Melpomaen's thighs.

"I would not, never," promised Melpomaen, legs parting to let Haldir nestle closer into his body, feeling the heat move from his lover to warm his own blood again.

"Good," growled Haldir, pinning his arms to the ground and seizing his mouth with his own. A moist tongue thrust past Melpomaen's lips, seeking to taste the honey of the recesses there.

Melpomaen yielded willingly to this new side of his lover. Demanding caresses tantalized him with the promise that the strength and force of Haldir's need for him would never cease.

Haldir's craving for Melpomaen was so urgent he could scarcely hold back long enough to press oil into the waiting tightness below to smooth his way. A cry tore from his lips as he entered and was eagerly embraced. He slid in as far as he could, luxuriating in the feel of the snug sheath that enveloped his hard cock, withdrawing partway only to push even more insistently into Melpomaen's body, caressing the sensitive spot within with his own member.

He shouted hoarsely as Melpomaen clamped down on him, pulling his sweat-slicked torso down to press against his chest as well.

"Ah, Dír, yes, come into me, love, take me, now, yes," the frenzied stream of sounds that Melpomaen made encouraged Haldir to thrust again and again, harder, until he could bear no more and with a loud groan exploded into orgasm, his final push sealing them together.

Haldir blinked away the tears that had risen unbidden to his eyes from the intensity of his emotion.

"I would not have you seek any other pleasure while I am here, Maen, nor feel that my love cannot satisfy you," he whispered.

Melpomaen wrapped his arms around Haldir and cradled him. "Think not that you do not satisfy me, meldanya. In bringing my own release I sought only to let you rest, that is all. I would not have you believe otherwise."

Haldir nodded. "I believe you." He smiled against Melpomaen's chest. "Now that I understand your purpose, may I say that watching you greatly pleasured me? Perhaps I should do the same for you, sometime."

A low chuckle was his response. Melpomaen smoothed the golden hair back from Haldir's face. "Have you rested enough, then? Do you wish to take over the watch, or not yet?"

"Finish your turn; just do not tempt me again tonight to leave the paths of dreams!" said Haldir.

"I will not tempt you with that, love," Melpomaen said. "But there will be many occasions for temptation on this journey, I think." Indeed, one possibility had been steadily growing in his mind over the past day or so. But he was not yet ready to speak of it to Haldir. He would wait.

Chapter Text

Melpomaen gently reawakened Haldir once the middle of the night had arrived.

"There has been nothing amiss, so far as I have seen or heard," he said. "But the night grows surprisingly chill for the season. I found I had to put on my cloak."

Haldir embraced his friend. "Too bad we cannot both sleep at once, and share our warmth! But I have left the blankets warmed for you."

The younger Elf nodded, removing his shoes and slipping into the place Haldir had just left. "A benefit of taking the first watch, that. I trust yours will be as uneventful as mine."

"Uneventful, yes," said Haldir, raising his eyebrows, "If you discount our little interlude."

Melpomaen blushed, glad that the dim light would not reveal his embarrassment. "Well, there is that. You know what I meant."

"I know." Haldir smiled to himself in the dark. "Rest well, Maen. Until the dawn."

As Melpomaen nestled down into the blankets and drifted into the world of dreams, Haldir began to walk around the camp, letting himself gradually awaken to full alertness before he moved out of the circle of the firelight. He would not go far - with just the two of them it would be unwise - but he wanted to get a sense for this little wood at night, so different from distant Lothlórien.

The wood, which was hardly more than a large copse, was mostly of ash and alder, with an occasional oak such as the large one under which Melpomaen had chosen to situate their camp. Hazel and blackthorn scrub seemed to comprise most of the undergrowth, though here and there, where a tree had died or fallen, grass and other tender plants flourished in the sunlight.

Haldir deftly avoided walking into a prickly tangle of blackthorn as he wandered. He bent to finger one of the sloes, but the frosts of autumn were still to come and the fruit was not yet ripe. He missed the great silver trunks and golden leaves of the great mellyrn of his home, familiar and yet always beautiful, and the tiny yellow elanor that starred the grasses there.

Sighing, he returned to the fire and settled down to keep watch, wrapping himself well in his cloak, for Melpomaen had said no more than the truth when reporting that the air had become cool. He yearned to return home, and yet wished to prolong this journey as much as possible. Duty and honor drew him on; love held him back. The warring obligations seemed irreconcilable to him. He frowned and rubbed at his temples, wishing that there were some solution that could relieve him from necessity - but there was none he could see.

The rest of the night passed without incident. At dawn Haldir nudged Melpomaen awake, and they broke fast with cram and the fruit that Haldir had prepared the evening before.

Covering over the fire pit carefully with dirt and making certain that all their belongings were safely stowed in their packs, less than an hour after the sun rose they were once again headed south. The little wood in which they had stopped was an outlier of the great forest of Mirkwood; soon they would reach the Men-i-Naugrim, the old forest road of the Dwarves, and leave the River Celduin behind to travel west on that dim path.

Haldir tugged at Melpomaen's arm to draw him to a halt. "Look." He pointed. Ahead a flock of six swans rose from the river, their wings cutting gracefully through the sky, and turned to wing their way south.

The two Elves watched as the great white birds disappeared into the cloudy morning.

"I wonder," said Haldir thoughtfully. "If they nested here, and were not simply stopping on their journey to warmer lands... Wait here a moment." He darted off among the reeds clumped along the shore. Melpomaen heard him give a cry of triumph.

"Come, Maen! We are in luck, for this was indeed their summer home. There is a treasure of feathers here."

The dark Elf turned and picked his way through to the swampy river's edge. Haldir was riffling his hands through the downy quills that lined the great mounded nest, pulling out those that were most perfect. Melpomaen smiled at his friend's excitement.

"What use are they, though, to us?" he asked, stepping to Haldir's side.

"Why, none at present, I suppose. But they would make excellent gifts for my mother and cousins - the women like to use such things to adorn their festival garb. And they make a pretty writing-pen, though a crow feather better holds the ink, I understand. Feathers are light to carry; I would take the best of them with us. It will not take long to choose some," said Haldir.

"If you wish," agreed Melpomaen. "They certainly will not add to our burden, which gets lighter daily in any case. Think you that we will be able to travel through the forest with the supplies we now have?"

Haldir looked up, his hands slowing from their careful sorting through the downy pile.

"No," he answered consideringly, "I think we shall have to hunt ere we reach the western border. There is game, we know that, but we will want to be wary in hunting and stay near to the road."

Melpomaen nodded. "Agreed. Have you found enough to your liking?" he added, gesturing at the little heap of feathers Haldir had set to one side.

"Nearly. One or two more," and Haldir delved into the last unexplored quarter of the nest, pulling out a final beautiful plume and holding it up.

"In fact, I may keep one for myself," he said, a slight smile on his face. "But that will do. Just let me tuck them all away here in my pack."

"Do. My feet are getting damp!" complained Melpomaen good-naturedly. "Why could you not have chosen to hunt feathers in a tree, rather than along the river?"

Haldir dug an elbow into his ribs. "Why, because I wanted to hear you grumble at me, of course. All right. Back to the trail with us."

They marched steadily on for the rest of the morning. The clouds grew thicker, and a light rain began to patter down as they paused at midday for a bite of cram.

"If we make good time this afternoon, we should reach the edge of Mirkwood today, I think," remarked Melpomaen. "I'll be glad to be back under the trees, especially if this rain does not stop."

"So will I," said Haldir. "I enjoy walking in the rain, usually, but it is unquestionably less pleasant to set up camp in the open than in the woods, when it is raining."

They walked on. By good fortune, about mid-afternoon the rain began to slacken and the clouds to roll away. Glimpsing the sun, Melpomaen smiled and said happily, "Even if we do not reach the Dwarf-road by this evening, it seems we will have a chance to dry out overnight."

Haldir merely nodded. He had grown more and more silent throughout the day, responding to Melpomaen's sallies only perfunctorily. Now the younger Elf asked bluntly, "What is bothering you, meldanya? Is it the weather? Or did you not rest well enough last night?"

"Neither. The rain seems to have ended, and I am no mortal Man who must have eight hours of sound sleep or wake unrefreshed. No, Maen. I worry what will become of us, of you and me. This is no easy problem to solve with a moment's thought; you know that as well as I," he said.

Melpomaen sighed. "I know. I had never given such a possibility even the slightest thought, before, so I never considered how it might be. Why must it be thought such a bad thing, that two binn should love each other, even though the usual course is for a benn and a bess to love and wed?" (1)

"I was taught that it is because our first fathers, awakening beside the starlit waters of Cuiviénen, had each beside him the bess with whom he was to join, and that this meant that for each benn born after, there was one bess meant to be his mate; anything else was thus unnatural and due to the corruptions of Morgoth," said Haldir. "When I was a youth, I worried greatly about it, for I did not meet any bess whom I could love, and I was ashamed that there must be some contamination inborn that prevented this in me. And more so when I realized that I had greater feelings towards other binn than to biss. I never truly fell in love with any, till I first saw you, meldanya, but I knew where my emotions were likely to tend."

"How, then, were you able to overcome that shame? For surely you did, and before we ever met, or your own sense of dishonor would have kept you from ever speaking? How did you know that there could be true love between binn, given the jokes and the sniggering comments we all heard as children? For me, perhaps, it was easier, since I believed until you showed me otherwise that I did love a bess, Caranfíniel who rejected me," said Melpomaen.

Haldir flushed. "It is something that I would rather not talk about as we walk," he said. "Wait until we stop for the night, and then I will tell you. I see the eaves of the wood draw near; another hour or two of walking and we will reach them, and set up our camp, and then I will speak further of this."

Melpomaen could hardly dispute his lover's decision on the matter, though his curiosity was great. But he was glad that Haldir did not refuse to speak altogether.

It was nearly dusk when they finally stopped. Tonight was Melpomaen's turn to prepare the meal, and he set to it willingly to hasten Haldir's recital, while the older Elf gathered a substantial stack of wood to last them through the night.

"We'll probably want to do as we did on the outward journey, and travel by day through the forest as we have been doing since Dale," Haldir said. "But it might be a good idea to hunt tomorrow, and not enter the wood until the next day, when we should be better supplied."

"Yes, certainly," said Melpomaen impatiently. "Our meal for tonight is cooking but will take some time yet to be ready. Please, Dír. Tell me how you came to decide that you were no thrall to Morgoth by your very nature."

Haldir sat down on the edge of the blankets. Looking down, he began to toy with the point of his knife-blade, drawing it along the tips of his fingers, as he spoke.

"I was wandering about, not far from Cerin Amroth in fact, simply enjoying the wood and some time alone. I had but recently joined the rangers, and this was, I think, my second time of leave from my company. I did not know the land thereabout well, but had found a pleasant little stream and a tiny waterfall that tumbled over a rocky shelf to join it, perhaps twice my height, and was exploring along it. I had just realized that I could go no further without climbing up the rock, and was turning back when I saw that someone else had come to this solitary spot. Two others, in fact. I would have simply greeted them and gone my way, but by the time I saw them they had already begun to disrobe, and I saw that it was two binn who were there. I could not get past them without being noticed and causing everyone great distress, so I decided I would have to wait for them to leave."

He took a breath and continued. "I did not want to see what they were doing; something shameful, I was certain. But - and I cannot entirely regret it, though it was dishonorable of me - curiosity finally overcame me, and I looked."

"One of them I recognized, a slight acquaintance, someone who dwelt near my parents in Caras Galadhon; he had no spouse. The other I did not know. The details of what they were doing are unimportant, and I have tried to forget most of them, to belatedly grant the couple their privacy, but one thing was clear to me, simply from how they behaved toward each other. This was no simple rutting like animals, as I had always thought such a thing must be. No, they clearly felt the same bond, the same kind of union, that I had only ever seen before in wedded couples. They were tender, they were joyful in their mutual love. This could be nothing to do with the evil of Morgoth and the marring of Arda; such exaltation of the spirit could only come from Eru Ilúvatar himself. Eventually they ended their tryst, and then departed. I do not believe either ever realized I was there; certainly they gave no sign of thinking themselves observed."

Melpomaen stirred, and laid a hand on Haldir's knee.

Haldir went on, "But having seen them, I realized that what I had been taught, I could no longer believe. I cannot quite make myself feel that it is entirely good, that I should love another benn; for one thing, such a couple as we cannot have children, we cannot contribute to the continuation of our people in that way. But far better this than to be solitary for all our lives, I think. So eventually and after much thought I accepted that if this is to be my fate, I should embrace it and live as fully as I can within it."

At last he looked up at his lover, his voice thick. "And so I shall. But we cannot change how all our people think, and that is what will hurt us."

Tears were running down Melpomaen's cheeks, and he reached to embrace Haldir, who leaned into him.

"It will never be easy, will it? But I am glad, so very glad, that you told me that," Melpomaen. He felt Haldir's chest heave, and the other Elf began to weep as well. Melpomaen tightened his hold with one arm, rubbing the other hand in easy circles on Haldir's back, murmuring all the words of comfort he could remember.

At last his tears slowed, and stopped, and Haldir looked up.

"I'm sorry. I never spoke of this before, of course; I did not realize how greatly it affected me." He drew his hand across his face, wiping away the wetness there.

Melpomaen used one finger under Haldir's chin to draw his face close, and kissed him in benediction. "You need not apologize, meldanya. For anything."

Haldir managed a crooked smile. "And now I am starving. Do you think the soup is done?"

Melpomaen chuckled at the practical question. "Probably, yes. If you are all right now? The soup can wait, otherwise."

"No, I really am hungry." Haldir drew himself up to sit cross-legged again. "We shall have to continue with this talk at some time, but not just now. I cannot speak any more about it now."

"No, I see that," Melpomaen said soothingly, handing Haldir his share of the meal. "Here, you will feel better after you have eaten something, I'm sure."

Haldir dipped his cram in the broth and nibbled on it. "I do not know how you do it, Maen. We have the same ingredients to work with, and yet it always tastes better when you cook than when I do."

Melpomaen smiled, glad to see that Haldir seemed to be recovering his equilibrium. "Natural talent, I suppose," he jested.

That brought a wry laugh from Haldir. "That must be it. An Elf of many talents, you are."

"Indeed I am, as you know. But talents, like swords, grow rusty if they are not honed regularly. After the meal I think we should exercise our talents together?"

Haldir raised an eyebrow. "If you mean what I presume you mean, then yes. But I would like to try my abilities first... I had something in mind, this morning, before less pleasant thoughts crowded it out."

"I shall be at your command." Melpomaen flourished his hand and pretended to bow low, something impossible to do properly while seated.

His hand was taken by Haldir, who pressed it to his lips and said, "Ah, Maen. If I had not already loved you, I would now. Just to be near you cheers me."

Melpomaen used a finger to trace the outline of Haldir's mouth. "I am glad of that, Dír."

The finger was drawn inside and Melpomaen felt a pulse of heat in his groin as Haldir circled it with his tongue, then relinquished it to the cool evening air.

"Finish your supper, first," chided Haldir, and bent to his own bowl. He had not exaggerated his hunger; not the day's long walk, but the strain of his confession had drained his energy.

"With a promise such as you make me, I might well emulate a greedy child and gobble down my food. But I will not. There would be no purpose in finishing before you, after all," said Melpomaen, who nonetheless ate with a certain alacrity, and had polished his bowl to shining before the other was through.

Standing up, he began to clear away the meal preparations, holding up his hand to stifle Haldir's protests.

"I know, you are going to say that since I cooked, you should do the rest. And so you should, usually. Not tonight. I want to do this for you, love; there is so little else I will be able to do," he finished with a touch of bitterness in his voice, a note that Haldir comprehended fully.

By the time Haldir had finished eating, Melpomaen had put away all traces of the meal except for the bowl and spoon his partner had used.

"Now, then," he said, taking those and setting them aside, "what do you will of me?"

"Only that you follow where I lead; and tell me if my path is not one you wish to take. But to begin with, stand here beside me," said Haldir.

They kissed lingeringly, hands threaded through each other's hair, tongues exploring and wordlessly sharing their love. Haldir moved one hand down Melpomaen's back to draw the other closer to him, feeling the play of muscles under the skin as he shifted his weight, one foot between Haldir's legs, their hips interlocking. Now Melpomaen reached to hold Haldir around the waist, leaning back slightly as he tilted his head to let Haldir move from lips to cheek to neck, lapping there at the sensitive skin in the hollow of his throat.

"Hmm," he sighed, closing his eyes to the sight of the red firelight to focus on the waves beating through his body. Now Haldir had relinquished his hold and was moving around, lifting up Melpomaen's dark hair to tease the back of his neck with light kisses, running one finger around his ear and down his throat.

"Stay as you are," came the whispered command, and Melpomaen waited patiently to see what Haldir would think to do next. The answer came with the touch of cloth on his face.

"When you did this to me, it made the moment more memorable," Haldir said, knotting the fabric firmly behind Melpomaen's head. "Now I will show you what it is like; to be cut off from one sense only heightens the others."

Melpomaen swayed a little, standing blindfolded and alone. He heard cloth rustling and supposed that Haldir was removing his own clothes. Then Haldir's hands were upon him again, slowly unfastening ties and pulling out laces, lifting one foot and then the other to remove his shoes, and again as his leggings were tugged down. Melpomaen shivered as the cooling night air struck his bare skin.

"Cold?"

"A little," admitted Melpomaen.

"Then come here nearer the fire," and Haldir led him by the hand, urging him to the blankets laid close to the blaze. Gentle pressure on his shoulders brought him to kneel, then to lie prone, head turned toward the light he could not see. His arms rested by his sides, legs extended and slightly parted.

Haldir knelt away from the fire. He had removed only his tunic and shoes, as yet. The sight of his lover stretched out waiting for him made him catch his breath, and he reached for self-control. A smile quirked his mouth as he drew out one of the feathers he had so carefully collected that morning, and began to brush it lightly across Melpomaen's body: along his legs, arms, back, neck, even between his thighs.

Melpomaen quivered under the teasing touch, his skin rising up in gooseflesh at the unpredictable movements. After a few moments he could bear it no longer and laughed out loud.

"I am sorry, Haldir," he gasped. "That tickles!"

"Well, since I was bringing up such gloomy ideas earlier, I hoped to make you laugh with this," Haldir told him. "But I hope it feels good as well?"

"Yes," Melpomaen assured him. "Just... strange."

"That is all right, then." He continued, stroking the swan feather along the other Elf's spine, down the inviting crack, then back up to the shoulders. After a time he laid the feather aside carefully and began to use his own fingers instead, at first with a light touch, but gradually more firmly.

Melpomaen could hardly tell when the change occurred; though it was true, as Haldir had said, that the lack of sight made every other sense more alert. He could smell the still-damp leaves and grasses around, the smoke of the fire, a lingering wisp from their meal, the scent of their two bodies. The taste of Haldir's mouth still persisted. The crackle of the burning logs, the rustle of the trees, and his partner's breathing filled his ears; he could even hear the subtle squeak of his own joints whenever he moved slightly. But most of all it was the touches on his bared skin that occupied his attention. As Haldir began to knead his muscles with fingertip and knuckle, he gave himself up completely to the sensual pleasure of it.

For his part, Haldir enjoyed the idea that Melpomaen was entirely focused on him; having experienced the blindfold himself once, he knew what it would be like for the other.

He began to speak softly as he continued to stroke and massage his lover, from ankle to neck.

"You said earlier that you were glad I had spoken of how I found out that two binn might love truly. But you must know I was afraid to explain, because the way I did so was not with honor. And it was an overwhelming experience; everything that I had once believed of myself was suddenly turned upside down, and I no longer felt that anything in this world was secure and safe."

"I know," murmured Melpomaen. "I understood that."

"And so many years later, when I had despaired that I would never find anyone, neither benn nor bess, whom I could love, to meet you... and to believe that you might never return my feelings. It has been like swimming across an unknown lake, never knowing where there might be a rock unseen below the glittering surface."

"Mmm," was the reply.

"It is strange to me that you can accept this with relative ease, you know, Maen. We must talk of that sometime."

"If you will. But not tonight, meldanya."

"No," agreed Haldir, and fell back into silence, one hand running lightly along Melpomaen's back, caressing rather than teasing now. With his other hand he loosened his last garments. He crouched awkwardly to slip them off without losing touch and disturbing his partner. Then, languorously, he stretched his own body over Melpomaen's, pressing chest to back and kissing the side of his face below the sight-concealing cloth.

Melpomaen turned his head a bit further, to let Haldir's lips capture his own. They tasted sweet and wild, and he sighed in contentment.

Now Haldir moved onto the blanket and rolled Melpomaen onto his side, slipping his hand along the line of the dark-haired Elf's ribs and reaching down to the eager member below. Melpomaen groaned as Haldir grasped him, sliding down to the base and hooking two fingers around the tender pouch that hung there. Haldir kissed him gently, using his tongue to coax open Melpomaen's lips, sucking the other's tongue into his own mouth and tugging on it even as he stroked his hardened cock. He could feel the tension gathering, matched in his own body, and abruptly pulled back and sat up, only to lie down again facing the other way, so that he could take Melpomaen into his mouth.

He licked first at the head emerging shyly from its hood, then opened further to engulf him completely, letting his throat relax as much as he could.

Melpomaen flung one arm over Haldir's hip to draw him closer; the musky scent of Haldir's desire tempted him, and suddenly the older Elf was aware that Melpomaen was reciprocating, kiss for kiss, caress for caress. Each swirl of the tongue he gave brought a mirrored answer, and thrilled him in delight. They lay, so, for long moments, carefully holding back from reaching the pinnacle of their delight, prolonging the exquisite joy. Then Haldir released Melpomaen, waited until the other did the same, and sat up, tugging at Melpomaen's shoulders until he did so as well.

Haldir set Melpomaen's feet so they encircled his back, and moved close until they were pressed together from rib to groin, their lengths pulsating against one another, still moist from the wet kisses. Embracing his lover, his own legs enwrapped Melpomaen's buttocks and clamped them to him, rocking them together like babes in the womb. He reached up to tug the blindfold from Melpomaen's face, wanting him now to see his face.

"Please," whispered Melpomaen hoarsely. "Please, meldanya."

"What?" was the soft reply.

"Please, now," and with that encouragement, Haldir rubbed his own hardness against Melpomaen's straining organ, slipping one hand between their bellies to stroke them to a joined climax. They kissed, gazing at one another, their spirits mingling even as their seed.

"Your eyes - they will kill me, their beauty is too great to sustain," murmured Haldir against Melpomaen's mouth, enraptured by the glory he saw. (2)

Melpomaen drew in a shuddering breath, and laid his cheek against Haldir's shoulder, too spent to respond.



Footnotes:
(1) Benn (pl. binn) and bess (pl. biss) are the Sindarin words that mean "man" and "woman" respectively, in the general sense, not referring specifically to mortal Men. Note: the more commonly seen terms nér/neri and nís / nissi are Quenya, not Sindarin; these two Elves from Lothlórien would not have used them. I can justify an endearment in Quenya, but not an ordinary word! It took me half an hour to track this down, using HoMe vols. 5 and 10, and the online site Ardalambion. Who says smut can't be pedantic in its own way?
(2) Paraphrase of two lines from the poem "Merciles Beaute" by Geoffrey Chaucer: "Your yen two wol slee me sodenly; / I may the beautee of hem not sustene."

Chapter Text

Melpomaen wakened of his own accord, nearly an hour before dawn would stain the eastern sky. He did not look forward with relish to the return trip through Mirkwood - unlike Lothlórien where sunlight slipped through the green and gold canopy in many places, in Mirkwood the brightest of days seemed gloomy with shadows. Even worse than the lack of sunshine was the inability to see the moon or the gleaming stars of the Kindler. He wondered how the Elves of Thranduil's kingdom in the north of the forest could bear that lack.

Once his eyes had adjusted to the dim light of the dying fire, he rolled over quietly and lay with one arm cradling his head, watching Haldir from under lowered lids. The older Elf was seated against a tree, his head up in an attitude of attention, but now and then he shook it as if in disagreement with some interior voice. Melpomaen wondered if his lover was still worried by his confession of the previous evening.

"Heavy thoughts, Dír?" he said softly.

Haldir turned quickly toward him, his pensive expression disappearing as a smile lit his face.

"Yes, I suppose so," he admitted. "More of what we discussed last night, I fear. But now that you are awake I will put them away for this time."

He stood, stretching, and moved to sit down next to Melpomaen. "Did you rest well?" he asked, stroking Melpomaen's dark hair. "I hope you did not wake early from any ill dream."

"No," said Melpomaen, "I dreamt of you, in fact, a most pleasant dream indeed." He reached out to brush his fingers along Haldir's leg, letting them linger suggestively on his thigh.

Haldir raised an eyebrow. "Well, we did intend to stay here a day and see if we could find any game to hunt, before we set off on the trek through the forest; so there is no real need to rush off this morning, is there?" He stretched out beside Melpomaen.

"None at all," agreed the younger Elf. "But I am a bit thirsty; could you pass me your water bottle?" He drank deeply, rinsing the staleness of sleep from his mouth, and restoppered the flask before setting it to one side. "That is better," he said, and gave Haldir a tender, lingering kiss.

Haldir closed his eyes, feeling Melpomaen's tongue explore his mouth and flicking his own tongue in appreciative response. This was a far better way to spend the last hour of the night than brooding over an apparently insoluble problem. He sighed deep in his throat, flickers of heat darting along all his limbs and reconverging into the warmth growing in his groin. He shifted to take his lover into his arms.

Melpomaen shook his head firmly. "You led the way last night, meldanya. Now it is my turn." Swiftly he removed Haldir's shoes and clothing, until he lay with his bared flesh gleaming faintly in the last glow of the fire, his proud organ already nearly erect against his stomach. Haldir shivered as the chill predawn air struck him, and Melpomaen covered him lightly with the blanket as he himself stood.

"Since you enjoyed watching me once before, when I was unaware, let us see if you like it as well this time," he said, slowly beginning to remove his own garments.

Haldir's eyes were fixed on him as he teasingly drew off his clothes, lingering on each item and removing it partway, then restoring it so that he seemed almost to be putting as many things back on as he took off. Naked at last, Melpomaen drew his hands across his chest, each thumb rubbing across a nipple until it hardened. Then he stroked down his sides and across his belly, near to but not quite touching his own hard member.

He believed that Haldir was enjoying the sight, but asked anyway. "Do you like this, Dír? Does it excite you? It does me. I think of how your hands would feel on me, doing this," and he took his organ into his hand, rubbing up and down the length of the shaft.

Haldir's lips were parted and his breath came in rapid pants. "It excites me, oh yes Maen, very much indeed." He pushed back the blanket to show his own hand busy about his pulsing member.

"No, wait. Do not touch yourself," requested Melpomaen. "Eyes only, for now. Let me do the touching."

The golden-haired Elf groaned, but removed his hand. Melpomaen knelt, resting his weight on his heels, just out of Haldir's reach. He continued to fondle himself, carefully keeping his strokes gentle so he would not become too stimulated, too soon, but permitting himself to make small sounds of pleasure.

When he saw Haldir's hand moving back towards his aching erection, Melpomaen stopped. "I told you, no touching yourself yet."

Haldir growled deep in his throat and said, "I cannot restrain myself, watching you. You would have to bind my hands to prevent me."

"If that is what it takes," said Melpomaen. He picked up his discarded tunic. Haldir's eyes widened, but he allowed his hands to be tied together behind his back without demur, first sitting upright and cross-legged.

Melpomaen returned to his position in front of Haldir, moving closer until their knees barely grazed one another. He leaned forward to kiss his partner, and found it ardently returned. Since Haldir was unable to reach out and embrace Melpomaen, he focused all the intensity of his passion through his mouth. When they finally broke from the kiss, both Elves felt overwhelmed by the sensation.

Haldir leaned back, bracing himself carefully against his bound hands, and shifted his weight, hoping to entice Melpomaen to kiss or touch him further. He was partially rewarded when a finger was run lightly up the inside of first his left thigh, then his right, teasingly stopping just short of his groin. Once again Haldir gave a muted growl.

"Does that not feel good?" asked Melpomaen in mock innocence.

"You know it does," was the reply. "So good it is a torment to me. Please, Maen, do not keep me waiting much longer. I can scarcely bear it."

Melpomaen nodded. He was finding it difficult to maintain control, himself. "One moment more, Dír. I have made a small error in my preparations, here." He slipped over to their packs to find the flask of scented oil. Returning, he poured a little on his hand, first spreading it on his own member, then on Haldir's. Moving behind his partner, he unbound his arms and urged him to his hands and knees. Haldir eagerly obliged and Melpomaen inserted first one finger, then another into him, feeling for that spot which he knew would bring the greatest pleasure. When he heard a stifled moan, he moved his fingertip more rapidly. Haldir cried out. Melpomaen withdrew his hand, and kneeling up placed the tip of his erection against the tight opening, reaching around to grasp Haldir's slick shaft.

"Oh, now, yes," Haldir's voice broke as Melpomaen drove slowly into him. "Maen, I cannot wait any longer," and he convulsed, spilling his hot fluid over the hand clasping him.

Melpomaen was nearly to climax as well. He clasped Haldir's hips and thrust hard, burying himself deep within. Haldir contracted around him and the pressure tipped him over the edge. Crying out Haldir's name, he gave in to the delight and released into the hot recesses of his lover's body.

At that moment the first light of dawn turned the damp air around them to glittering pearl. The beauty of the breaking day seemed to each of them to reflect and expand the joy they found together: repeated often, yet always new.

Haldir lay on his side, his lover pressed close behind him. He drew Melpomaen's arm around his body and brought his hand to his lips.

"Maen," he murmured.

"Yes, Dír?"

"That was - a surprise to me, how you acted. I enjoyed it, do not think otherwise, but I am not certain I would wish to be bound again. There need be no coercion between us."

Melpomaen raised himself up on one elbow so he could see Haldir's face more clearly. "You know I would never do something you objected to, Haldir," he said seriously. "If that bothered you, I wish you had spoken. I meant only to be playful, to heighten your pleasure."

"I know, meldanya, I know. And that is why I said nothing at the time; for it was indeed pleasurable, and more than that. But in a way uncomfortable as well, which is why I now say that I do not think I wish to repeat it." He quirked an eyebrow at Melpomaen. "Although should you wish to try it yourself, sometime, I might be willing."

The younger Elf chuckled. "Perhaps. We shall see. I am glad you are not upset."

"Oh, no. Here, put your arms around me. Let us lie together for a little while as the sun rises, and watch the air come alive with light, even here under the trees," said Haldir.

And so they did, the fever of their bodies cooling, their two chests rising and falling as one as their breathing slowed and deepened. Eventually Melpomaen shifted, drawing his arm back.

"I'm sorry, Dír, but my arm is getting numb," he said, sitting up and rubbing it with his other hand.

"We should begin the day, anyhow, I suppose," Haldir agreed, sitting up likewise. He reached for the flask of water that Melpomaen had earlier set aside, and dampening a cloth, began to clean off first himself and then his partner, before they dressed again.

"Oh, Nienna's tears!" swore Melpomaen.

"What is it?"

"I forgot to prepare anything to break our fast with," apologized Melpomaen shamefacedly. "There is only cram, unless you want to test your jaw with some very firm dried fruits."

"Cram will have to do," said Haldir. "We were going to look for game today anyhow, so why do you not put some fruit to soak, and we can have a more interesting noon meal than we do when we travel through the day. Now, I think the thing to decide is what sort of game to pursue, and how we want to hunt it."

"I rather thought a deer. There would be enough and more than enough meat to take us through the forest, I would think," Melpomaen said.

"That is certainly true. Indeed we would have trouble using it all before it went bad; and we really don't have the time to stop and preserve it. I had thought perhaps rabbit. I believe I saw a substantial warren in the last meadow we passed through yesterday," Haldir responded.

"I'm surprised you noticed it. You were a bit distracted, after all," said Melpomaen. He regretted the comment as soon as he spoke, for a shadow crossed Haldir's face at the reminder, and hastily added, "Shall we look at the warren and discuss it? How had you planned to hunt them?"

"Snares, probably. Unless you brought a sling with you? I did not," said Haldir.

"Nor I. Let us go look, then," said Melpomaen, finishing his cram and standing up.

They retraced their steps of the previous day back to the edge of the forest. Haldir pointed obliquely. "There, up away from the water side," he said.

Melpomaen glanced over and nudged him with an elbow. "Race you halfway," he said, "as far as that lone tree there."

"All right," said Haldir. "Ready - set - run!"

The two were closely matched, but gradually Melpomaen pulled a few paces ahead. Just as he was closing in on the tree serving as their mark, Haldir saw him stumble and go down. A moment later Haldir was kneeling at his friend's side.

"Are you hurt?" he asked, worry painting his features.

The expression on Melpomaen's face was a peculiar mixture of annoyance and pain. "Yes, I am," he said through clenched teeth. "My right ankle, and my left arm. I think the arm may be broken."

Haldir carefully felt it with his fingertips. "I fear you are correct," he said soberly. "Try not to move it for the moment, while I look at your ankle. Can you turn your foot at all?"

Luckily the injury to Melpomaen's ankle proved to be only a sprain. Haldir bit his lip and frowned.

"I am loath to tear up my tunic to bind it, but I do not see anything else that will serve. No, wait, I will have to cut yours off anyhow - must not pull it over your poor arm - so that will do. Just a moment."

Quickly he slit the fabric and eased it away from the swelling flesh. With part he bound up Melpomaen's ankle; then he used a sturdy fallen branch to fashion a temporary splint for his arm, held in place with the remaining strips of cloth.

"That is the best I can do, here," he said. "Can you put weight on your foot now?"

Melpomaen got awkwardly to his feet, using Haldir's arm to pull himself up. "As long as we walk slowly, and I can lean on you, I can make it back to our camp," he said. His face was pallid from the shock of the accident, and sweat beaded his brow as each step shot pain through his ankle.

"It will be all right," said Haldir gently. "Here, take my left arm."

They slowly returned to the camp, and Melpomaen sank gratefully onto the blankets.

"We do not really have much for healing here," said Haldir, rummaging through his pack. He looked over at his partner with concern. "I'm sorry to have to make you wait longer, but you must. I will be back as soon as I can."

"Where are you going?" asked Melpomaen.

"To gather some herbs that will help you. I will just build up the fire again first, and set some water to heat. Here, take this." He passed the water bottle over. "Try not to move too much till I return."

Melpomaen waited as patiently as he could. He had had far worse injuries before, of course, but his pain this time was greater from the knowledge that it was his own ill-judgment that had caused it. Going to find a rabbit warren, why had he not kept a more careful eye out for an unexpected hole? Before he had finished castigating himself, however, Haldir returned.

"See, here," he showed the fruits of his efforts to Melpomaen. "Boneset root and hound's-tongue - I can make a poultice from those to set your arm, and use their leaves to soothe your ankle as well. And I will brew some tea from the willow-bark and nettle, to ease the pain and help keep your blood flowing through the injured limbs."

Haldir busied himself with preparing the remedies as Melpomaen watched him intently.

"Where did you learn all of this? I am familiar with willow-bark for aches, of course, but the others..."

The golden-haired Elf shrugged. "Here and there. From my mother, mostly, I suppose. She is very fond of her garden, and taught me much of the properties of the plants she grows there and of wild herbs also. Useful to know, now, though at home it is knowledge rarely needed. Stand up a moment, Maen, and let me take off your leggings first before I start slopping this poultice around." Those removed, he carefully unwound the bindings from Melpomaen's arm and applied the thick paste he had prepared. "Hold still, now, and let that harden, while I treat your ankle. Then you can have a cup of nice bitter tea."

"Faugh," said Melpomaen, making a face. "Bitter is right."

"Well, if you are going to damage yourself like that..."

Melpomaen looked over quickly and saw Haldir smiling at him.

"You know I am only jesting," said Haldir, and kissed his brow. "How does that feel?"

"Much better," said Melpomaen gratefully. "But I do not think I am going to be able to travel for several days."

"No, that would be unwise, at least until your ankle is better," said Haldir, "though I do not think we want to wait for your arm to heal; the season moves on, and we must too. We will simply have to be especially careful and make certain we avoid any dangerous animals or Orcs, rather than risk fighting them."

Melpomaen nodded, and blinked back tears.

"Is the pain still so great?" asked Haldir with concern.

"I feel such a fool," confessed Melpomaen. "Slowing us down like this, and injuring myself during a silly pointless race rather than from some reasonable cause like a fight."

"Now, don't blame yourself, meldanya," soothed Haldir, moving around behind him and kneading the tight muscles of his bowed neck. "Accidents can always happen. We will cope. But perhaps, instead of rabbits, I will look for a deer. If we must stay here for a few days, there will be time to preserve the meat, at least well enough to see us through Mirkwood. So you see, the time will not be wasted entirely. And we can talk, and be well-rested before we continue our journey home."

Melpomaen inclined his head in acceptance, and let the tension of self-blame flow from him under Haldir's strong hands.

Chapter Text

Melpomaen was not going to be patient about his temporary disabilities, that was clear. Haldir had already had to remind him twice not to try to use his left hand unless it was absolutely necessary. And he only agreed to let the younger Elf take his usual turn at watch with the strict injunction that if anything untoward should occur, he would wake Haldir rather than trying to deal with it himself. To which condition Melpomaen reluctantly assented, since otherwise he would feel he was of no use at all.

After treating Melpomaen's injuries, Haldir had tracked and successfully shot a deer, carrying it back to their camp on his shoulders with no small effort.

"The great Oromë returns," teased Melpomaen, trying to hide his resentment that he had been unable to help.

Haldir shook his head, laughing. "Hardly. I had great luck in drawing to within a few yards of the herd without being scented or heard by them. At that range, a child could have made the shot." Briskly he began to skin the animal. "I will set aside a haunch to roast for our supper, and slice the rest of the meat to dry near the fire's smoke," he remarked. "I just hope we have brought enough cord between us to hold it all."

Melpomaen unfastened his pack with some difficulty, using only his right hand, and pulled out the thin hithlain rope coiled at the bottom. Estimating its length, he said, "I should think there will be plenty. I'm only sorry that all of the effort has to be yours!"

"So, you can keep me company while I work, then," said Haldir amiably. "For all the time we have spent together, there is much we do not know of each other. Why, I know nothing of your family, except that your parents have taken the Straight Road and sailed to the West, have they not?"

"They have," said Melpomaen. "They departed over the Sea a few years before I joined Lórindol's company, when it was clear that my father's spirit would never fully recover from his injuries. He was healed in body, but the shock and dread preyed on his mind, and when he made the decision to leave and seek healing in the Blessed Lands, my mother chose to go with him."

"And you were their only child?" asked Haldir, pausing from his rapid but precise slicing to look over at his friend. "You told me once that you had only distant kin."

"Not the only child, but the youngest by many years, so ‘distant' is an accurate enough description," Melpomaen said. "My sister and brother were grown and gone before I was born. I never really understood why my parents waited so long to have me," he mused.

Haldir shrugged. "If your father was in one of the ranging companies, he might have had to wait for some time before he could take enough leave to spend your early years with you and your mother," he pointed out. "That is undoubtedly one of the reasons that marriage during service is discouraged for members of the companies; they prefer to have new recruits either unmarried, or long married. Your father would have to have been absent for some time before he would be able to sire a child, too – it is not only Lórindol's company that takes lembas as their daily ration, they all do. Desire returns sooner than fertility, or so my cousin Andúniel told me."

"True enough. Of course I had no idea of any such thing as a lad, I just wished that I had a sibling nearer to my own age," said Melpomaen, watching the flashing knife blade with admiration for Haldir's skill.

"So you do not really know them, then, I imagine," remarked Haldir. "That is unfortunate. I don't know what I would have done without the companionship of Rúmil and Orophin."

"Are they. . . like you and me?" asked Melpomaen diffidently.

"Oh, no," said Haldir, with the faintest trace of – bitterness? regret? Melpomaen could not decide which, in his voice. "No, they both have spouses back in Caras Galadhon, though they have chosen to wait to have children until they take up a different craft and return to the city. Many times they have commiserated with me that I have not that to look forward to, when I someday choose to leave this service."

He smiled conspiratorially at Melpomaen. "Now who should envy whom, do you think?"

Melpomaen grinned back. "So you have never spoken to them about finding no bess whom you could love?"

"Not in so many words, no," said Haldir. "As I said before, when I realized that about myself, I believed for many years that I was simply marred, twisted, by my very nature – not something one wants to admit to a beloved brother, or two of them." Laying the knife aside, he began stringing the carefully-prepared slices on the cord.

"I suppose not," Melpomaen agreed.

"It is queer to me that you seem to have had no difficulty with the idea; or very little, anyway," Haldir said.

Melpomaen leaned back against the oak's rough trunk and gazed up through its leaves. He had wondered that himself. "Perhaps," he ventured, "it is because I never even thought of loving another benn before you. I believed in all honesty that what I felt towards Caranfíniel was indeed the love proper for a wedded couple, and I grieved when she refused me. And then I joined the rangers and simply gave the matter no thought; I think I was relieved not to have the question thrust upon me."

"But what do you think now?" persisted Haldir.

"I think. . . I don't know what I think," said Melpomaen. "Do I feel that loving you makes me somehow less worthy than I would be if you were a bess, or I were? No. I am the same person that I was four weeks ago, or four years, or forty years. If I had any virtues then, I still have them now. Do I have any regrets? Of course, it would be easier for both of us, were we not both binn. Although two biss would have the same problems, I imagine. Does this happen among biss as well, do you know?" he added.

Haldir answered, "I would presume it does; why would it not?"

"Regardless," resumed Melpomaen, "no, it doesn't really bother me the same way it did you, when you first realized. Perhaps there is also some connection with physical desire as well as emotional preference? I mean, when I was younger and used to daydream, imagining being with someone, I always imagined a bess – indeed, I thought of Caranfíniel only. So when I reached my pleasure, I felt no guilt about it, for I hoped to wed her. How was it for you?"

Haldir was knotting the second cord around a tree, preparatory to stringing it to form a kind of rope framework from which to hang the cord with the meat threaded on it.

"I tried to imagine biss," he said soberly. "But no matter whom I chose, the images did nothing for me. When I was very young and did not know myself fully, I would not have thought of imagining binn; and later, all my ideas were such that imagining a benn would have brought revulsion, not pleasure. It was not until I saw that couple I spoke of," he flushed, "that I realized it might be possible to have a true and tender bond between binn. But there was never any particular benn that I loved, either, only the knowledge that there could be, and so I found trying to imagine a lover – unsatisfactory. In a way I was relieved, just as you were, when I joined the rangers and found that my body's desires ebbed, though I believed at first it was only the hardship and distractions of company life that caused that."

Melpomaen nodded. "So really, you never felt a desire that satisfied, through all your life."

"No." Haldir looked him in the eye. "Not until now. That is why you are so precious to me, meldanya. But do not think it is physical desire alone that you satisfy in me; that is no small thing, and I rejoice in it, but our friendship even before this journey was a balm to my heart."

"And mine, though I read less into it, at the time, than did you. Now I can hardly remember that I did not," said Melpomaen.

"There," said Haldir, stepping back from the result of his labors. He had managed to string up all the meat in an intricate and web-like spiral above the fire. "Now we want it to be somewhat smokier than usual, to preserve the meat. Let me go wash my hands and bring back some green branches to add to the flames, and then. . ."

"And then?" asked Melpomaen.

Haldir flashed him a quick glance. "And then. . . we shall see," he said softly. "In the meantime, how do you feel? Do you need another cup of the willow tea?"

Melpomaen accepted gratefully and sipped the bitter brew while Haldir bustled around, taking away the bones and offal wrapped in the animal's skin, to dispose of them far from camp where the inevitable insects and predators could feast without disturbance. Lost in thought, he jumped when Haldir returned and sat beside him.

"Now, Maen," Haldir said. "If your injuries hurt too much for you to enjoy this, tell me so and I will take no offense." He gently urged his partner to lie down, propping his head and chest up with crumpled clothing, and himself lay down to Melpomaen's right side, his legs angled away so that he would not jostle the sprained ankle accidentally. He pushed aside the blanket that had wrapped Melpomaen most of the day, since he had had to be undressed to have the poultices applied.

"Just relax," he murmured. He stroked the very tips of his fingers across Melpomaen's chest and belly, pressing just hard enough so that the sensation would soothe rather than tickle. Back and forth, back and forth, gradually descending from collarbone to navel, then beginning again. As he worked, Haldir began to hum in the back of his throat, a tune that Melpomaen did not recognize but found comforting.

After a time, Haldir sat up and shifted his attention to Melpomaen's legs, repeating the same pattern of gently rubbing from side to side on each thigh, from groin to knee, and then repeating. When he first moved from torso to leg, Melpomaen tensed slightly, and Haldir saw his organ twitch and throb. He ignored it, though, for the time being, and soon Melpomaen had drifted back into the relaxed state that Haldir wanted him to reach.

He continued this gentle massage for over an hour, changing back and forth between chest and legs several times. Melpomaen was lost in a warm haze, no longer distinguishing between his own skin and Haldir's fingers, experiencing it all as a great undifferentiated cloud of golden sensation. His arm and ankle, held still by the hardened boneset poultice, gave only the occasional throbbing ache to remind him of his injuries. Haldir looked at Melpomaen's peaceful face and decided to try something more.

Carefully, almost timidly, he bent his head and began brushing his lips across his lover's pale skin, in just the same pattern. A sigh escaped Melpomaen's throat at the feel of warm breath on his chest, subtly different and wholly welcome. Haldir began to pause occasionally, darting out his tongue to taste the salt of Melpomaen's flesh, but only briefly, tantalizingly. He licked at the hard nub of a nipple for a second, then returned to the rhythmical stroking.

Melpomaen hummed with pleasure and wriggled slightly downwards, careful not to put any pressure on ankle or arm. He lifted his right hand and stroked Haldir's hair, wanting to make some small reciprocation, but Haldir stopped and took his hand, putting it back on the ground. Clearly, the golden-haired Elf wished him to be passive through this encounter; and Melpomaen had to admit that it was probably a wise decision, as his left arm throbbed briefly.

Just as Melpomaen had decided that Haldir was going to limit him to these relaxing caresses this day, he felt a warm tongue glide from navel down to groin, and along his length. Heat pulsed through his veins, the warmth of relaxation shifting in an instant to the fire of passion. Haldir's mouth enclosed him, moist pressure surrounding him as he hardened.

Haldir braced himself with one hand and used the other to slide around the base of Melpomaen's organ and over the loose pouch below, feeling the tender treasure within. As his fingers explored each inch of skin, he continued to use lips and tongue to urge on Melpomaen's growing excitement. Haldir slipped his forefinger into his own mouth to moisten it, then probed below and eased it into the tight opening, pressing in until his fingertip nudged the sensitive bump he could feel through the thin membrane.

Above, Melpomaen gasped. All his attention was focused on the delicious feel of Haldir's mouth and hands, which provoked such a strong reaction he was unsure how long he would be able to enjoy it before he had to let go. "Oh, Dír," he breathed, once again reaching with his good hand to tangle his fingers in the long strands of hair.

Haldir was determinedly ignoring the reactions of his own body in his desire to bring his lover to the peaks of ecstasy, but Melpomaen's touch on the sensitive skin of his neck and ears was almost his undoing. He had to pause for a moment and concentrate to repress himself. As he resumed, Melpomaen clasped him more tightly, his hips beginning to thrust almost without volition to push himself further into Haldir's mouth. Each movement back pressed him onto the stroking finger inside, until the doubled pleasure was too great to be borne and he gave himself up to it, his seed spurting between Haldir's eager lips as he cried out.

Slowly Haldir withdrew, suckling him for a last instant, and removing his hand with equal care. Melpomaen opened his eyes to find his lover's face before him.

Haldir bestowed a tender kiss on his mouth. "Meldanya," he whispered, and knelt up.

Melpomaen's gaze fell to the telltale bulge of arousal behind the material stretched tightly across Haldir's groin. He reached to touch it, saying, "Please, Dír – I cannot let you do all for me, while I do nothing."

Though Haldir had intended to refuse, the feel of Melpomaen's warm hand through his leggings convinced him otherwise. Quickly he lowered them, and when Melpomaen reached out again, he took his lover's hand with his own two, and together they stroked Haldir's straining shaft until he spilled hotly into their joined palms.

Drained now of all desire, Haldir held Melpomaen in his arms and they lay together, watching the light of the day fade into dusk.

"I hate to be demanding and disturb you," murmured Melpomaen after a time, "but do you suppose you could make me another cup of that vile tea?"

Haldir was up immediately, all apologies, which Melpomaen brushed aside.

"You made me nearly forget my pain for hours," he said. "There is no cause for you to apologize to me! I should be the one doing so, since it was my ill-judgement that brought you extra labors today."

"But you didn't injure yourself on purpose," Haldir pointed out, setting the pot of water to heat and spitting the leg of venison to roast as well.

"Of course not, but it is still my doing. And I'm not altogether sorry about anything that delays our return," admitted Melpomaen. "In fact," he took a deep breath and said at last what he had been thinking for days, "I am not entirely certain that I want to return at all."

Haldir straightened from adding another branch to the fire and stared at Melpomaen, his eyes wide with shock.

Chapter Text

The fire crackled and spat behind Haldir as he stood, gaze fixed on his lover.

"You... do not want to return?" he repeated.

"No," Melpomaen said, "I do not. What purpose is there in it? Shall we return to a life where passion is denied us, and that without our consent? You have persuaded me that there is no way in which we can remain in Lórindol's company and yet avoid eating lembas. Yet what else can either of us do? Perhaps you could find work tending or preparing herbs, you have knowledge of that, but all my skills are to do with tracking or hunting or fighting; there is naught for me in Caras Galadhon. And no one to bring me there, either, with my parents departed and my other kin distant. You are the only one to whom I am bound, and moreover why should I want to go where I cannot delight openly in that bond? In the city we would be obliged to conceal what we are, and could not love openly. I have no desire to set myself against all of our people and demand acceptance, I only wish to be left alone."

He paused and looked up at Haldir. "To be with you alone; that is all I desire, meldanya."

Haldir stepped across the grass and sank down cross-legged onto the blanket, facing Melpomaen.

"But this is dreaming," he said quietly. "You know we must return."

"Why?" argued Melpomaen stubbornly. "Why must we?" He reached out to take the cup from Haldir's hand, and sipped at it, wincing.

A short laugh was his response. "If for no other reason, because your injury today shows the dangers of traveling, two alone. But more important, why are we here, now, at all? What brought us to the borders of Mirkwood? We did not make this journey for our health." He crooked an eyebrow at Melpomaen and waited.

"To bear a message from the Lord and Lady to the king of Dale," muttered Melpomaen at last, grudgingly.

"Precisely. And though we need not make all haste to return with the reply, it would be worse than dishonorable to simply abandon it. I - we - would be betraying the trust that was laid upon us, to carry out this mission. Do you not agree, Maen?" Haldir asked.

Melpomaen sighed. "Of course, you are right, and we must return at least for that. But what then? I still see little to content me if we return to the rangers."

Haldir said, "I do not know what would be best for us to do, but I am reluctant to simply run off into the wild. Understand me, this is no lack of desire to be with you!"

"I know," interrupted Melpomaen, leaning forward to take Haldir's hand, "I have no doubt of your love, you have shown it to me so clearly. But why then do you not think my idea good?"

"There are several points that cause me concern," said Haldir, pressing Melpomaen's hand in return, to soften his criticism. "Unlike you, I do have family to whom I am close: parents and brothers, both. I could not simply abandon them without a word, and yet any explanation might only raise more difficulties. Also, despite your kind faith in my herbcraft, I really have little skill when set against those who have studied and trained to it; indeed I doubt that I have any skills at all that might find me work I would love in Caras Galadhon as much as I enjoy being a ranger under Lórindol. It is unlikely that we will cease to be partners there upon our return. We have always worked together so well that I cannot imagine any reason why we would be separated. I doubt that in the city we would be able to be together in that way. But most of all, I truly do not see how we could survive alone for long. All sorts of things we need that we take for granted: clothes and shoes, for one; weapons of course; even help in healing serious injuries; and none of these would we have."

"Unless we went to Thranduil's kingdom, or Imladris, or one of the towns of Men such as Dale, even," pointed out Melpomaen.

"Yes, but if we went to any of those places just for such supplies or help, with what could we pay? Silver and gold do not grow like flowers in the meadows, more's the pity, and if we lived anywhere for long, to work and earn coin, then we would have the same difficulties as in Caras Galadhon, without the benefit of being among our own people," said Haldir.

Melpomaen's eyes were bright. "So what is your solution, then, Dír?"

A shake of the head was his answer. "I told you, I have none. I have thought about this as we have traveled, but no answer has yet come to me."

He let go of Melpomaen's hand and moved to the fire to turn the spitted meat, now beginning to sizzle as the flames licked it. Looking over at his partner, he asked, "Are you comfortable enough, meldanya? Would you like more tea, or perhaps just water?"

"Water, please," said Melpomaen, holding out his empty cup. "You'll have to help me soon, I am afraid, after all the tea I have drunk. I am sorry to be a nuisance, but I do not think I can walk on this ankle without your support."

"It is no trouble," Haldir said, pouring the water. "Just let me know when you must go."

"Well, if you do not mind, now perhaps, before we are ready to eat."

When they returned, Haldir eased Melpomaen back onto the blankets, and laid a hand to his face. "I think you have a touch of fever," he said with concern. "I suppose it is to be expected, but I do not think you should take your turn at watch, tonight. It would be better for you to rest and let your body heal."

Melpomaen grumbled at that, but agreed, since he did indeed feel that he might not be able to stay awake as he should, and could do little if any prowling animal should come near. He leaned against the oak and watched Haldir making the final preparations for their meal. The savory smells made his mouth water in anticipation. Haldir sliced his serving into small morsels, so that he would not be troubled trying to cut his meat one-handed.

"It is nice to have something besides soup," commented the older Elf after his first mouthful of venison. "Although you make a tasty one."

Melpomaen nodded, busily chewing.

"Since it is evident that we will be here for several days, perhaps a week, until your ankle is healed enough to walk comfortably, perhaps I will take the time to try to catch a fish or two, for variety, and to save our supplies," Haldir added.

Swallowing, Melpomaen said, "I would certainly not object to that. Shall we make a bargain, that whatever you may catch, I will cook? I ought to be able to do something, even without the use of one arm. Though you'll have to clean the fish, I suspect."

"A good idea. I do not want to go far from you, for long, but we are still close to the river, and there are I think several small streams running into it nearby. We really haven't foraged as we should on this journey; there are berries ripe, and other plants good for eating as well as for medicine that I have seen as we walked."

Melpomaen grinned. "If one of us had to foolishly injure himself, it seems a good thing that it was I, since I would be rather hopeless at finding much to eat among the local flora! I might catch a fish, or a rabbit, but if I went picking mushrooms, say, I am sure I would poison us both."

"Mushrooms..." said Haldir thoughtfully. "I had not thought of those. My knowledge of them is quite limited, but if I see any I know are safe and good to eat, I can collect them too." He coughed as a gust of smoke drifted into his face. "The wind has shifted east," he observed, "so perhaps we had better alter things or you will be smoked along with the meat as you rest, Maen!"

"So, you do not want to see me as leathery and brown as those slices of meat you so carefully prepared? I am astonished at your prejudice, Dír," and Melpomaen used his big toe to prod Haldir's leg, the only part he could reach from where he sat.

Haldir responded to the teasing in kind. "Why, I had not thought of that. It might be an interesting test, to see which parched first, you or the venison!" He felt the sole of Melpomaen's foot. "I think perhaps you have the head start."

"Hah. You should talk. Who was complaining last year about the cold winds chapping his face?"

"That was I, I confess, but you groused more about that very same wind tangling your hair," returned Haldir.

Melpomaen rolled his eyes and took the last bite of his venison, setting the dish aside. "That was delicious, Dír," he said more seriously. "I cannot recall the last time I enjoyed a meal so well - no, not even in Dale with the king's fine wines to enhance the dishes."

"It would not have anything to do with the fact that you did not have to assist at all, would it?" Haldir jested.

"No," snapped Melpomaen. Haldir looked over, surprised at the distressed note in his partner's voice.

"What is it, Maen?" he asked softly.

"Please do not joke about that. I feel badly enough about this silly accident of mine, I don't need you to emphasize it more," said Melpomaen, his face flushed.

"I apologize if you thought I meant my words unkindly; they were not intended so," Haldir said. He reached to take Melpomaen's plate. "Now that it is full dark, it might do you good to rest while I keep watch. Do you need another cup of willow-bark first?"

Melpomaen nodded silently, biting his lip. When Haldir had finished clearing up from the meal and brought over the cup of tea, he tugged at his lover's hand. "Please, meldanya, sit by me here for a few moments while I drink. I am sorry that I jumped to conclusions and became annoyed with you; I know you do not speak to hurt."

"Just a moment, let me move the blankets for you first."

When that was accomplished, Haldir sat down to Melpomaen's right and slipped his left hand around his waist, drawing the dark head down to his own shoulder. "It is all right," he soothed, using his other hand to stroke back stray strands of hair from the damp forehead. "I know that your arm and ankle must be causing you pain, and that would make anyone distraught. I wish that I had some of the syrup of poppy that our healers bring in from the south; it is most effective against pain. As it is, of the plants nearby willow is the best that I know of, though it is not as strong as I would like for your ease."

"It is not the pain," came the response muffled against his shoulder. "At least, mostly not that. I think it is the uncertainty. For so many years, I have known exactly what I planned to do with my life; even when Caranfíniel refused me, still all else remained, and I joined the rangers as I had always intended, and life there was all I ever expected it would be. More, even, for having you as partner and friend was a greater joy than I could have hoped. Now nearly all those foundations are exposed as fragile, unstable, and you are the only certainty in my existence." Melpomaen pulled back to sit up, and drank off his tea in one long swallow, grimacing equally at the taste and at the discomfort that required him to drink.

"So forgive me, Dír, for my temper," he added, fixing Haldir with a clear gaze. "You are no more responsible for the problems we face than I, and it is unfair of me to snap at you."

"I wish I had answers," Haldir replied. "I don't long to return to the life we shared before, either. It had many rewards, but intensity only in moments of danger and fear, never in moments of love. Although," he paused thoughtfully, "I did love you deeply all those months and years, though without speaking of it. Even after so short a time as lovers, it is hard to compare my emotions then and now, to say whether I love you more now. I think not; I think my love is different, perhaps, but not greater."

He took a great breath, and sighed. "Maen, if we can think of no alternative, would you not be willing to return, and fight once again in Lórindol's company, with me beside you there? It would be difficult, but we know that eating lembas again would at least curb our physical desires, and since - let us admit it - there are reasons why passion would cause problems in the circumstances, perhaps that is not such a bad thing? We might resent the lack of choice forced upon us, but it yet might not be an unmitigated evil."

Melpomaen had listened closely to Haldir's words. Now he considered them, absently turning the empty cup around and around between his fingers.

"I suppose I would return, if that were the only way I could be with you. I told you before that where you went, I would follow; and though I spoke it not as an oath, still I hold myself bound by those words, for I meant them truly and not as a promise to be cast aside if the way became rough," he said. "But let us not cease to try to find a happier solution."

"Of course not, but it eases my mind to know that you are willing to stay with me and return home, even if all may not be as we might wish there, rather than risk ourselves in the wild." Haldir took the cup from Melpomaen and rose, stretching. "But for now, love, try and sleep, and I will keep watch till dawn."

Melpomaen tugged the blanket around himself and carefully moved so that he could rest without putting any pressure on his injured limbs. "Goodnight, meldanya," he murmured, his eyes closed.

"Rest well," said Haldir. He watched Melpomaen slip quickly into the world of dreams, and his heart ached at the thought of being separated from the other by some mischance. By the red light of the fire, he moved quietly around their camp, rearranging the carefully strung cord so that the hanging meat would smoke and dry evenly. He added a few more branches to the fire, then sat cross-legged before it, gazing into the flames, his senses alert for any hint of an unwanted intruder, but his mind occupied with the dilemma of the situation that faced them.

Haldir did not believe that they could live alone, outside any society of Elves and Men, certainly not for unnumbered years. Melpomaen's injuries were to his mind the strongest proof of that. If they had, then, to live among others, was not Lothlórien the best of their choices? It was home, and he at least had kin he loved there, though Melpomaen might not. The inhabitants of Thranduil's kingdom in Mirkwood would, he presumed, have the same attitudes as those of Lórien, and might be less tolerant of strangers.

So might it be better to take their chances in a town of Men? They had been well-received in Dale, though of course as messengers from a respected if distant king rather than for their own sake. Haldir did not know, however, whether a pairing of two binn would be any better accepted among Men than it was among Elves, and was wary of exposing himself and his lover to possible ostracization or worse, particularly since they might also have cultural misunderstandings to worry about.

And yet - no more than Melpomaen did he wish to relinquish passion for tame companionship. They had had but a short time together, and though they might steal a few days here and there at some future date, it did not seem enough. He sighed, frustrated in mind and body, and rose from the ground to pace away the hours of night.

Chapter Text

The next few days were strained. Melpomaen's ankle quickly healed sufficiently for him to walk without undue discomfort, but Haldir was reluctant to risk renewing the injury by having them travel for long hours each day, and Mirkwood was no place in which to linger. Waiting on the edge of the forest seemed a more prudent plan, but the delay made them both edgy. After that first evening, Melpomaen insisted that he take his turn at watch, but healing reduced his energy and made him irritable, despite his protests that all was well. Haldir renewed the boneset poultice on his arm twice, once when the initial swelling had subsided, and again when Melpomaen somehow managed to pour a bowl of fish stew on himself.

As they marked time, waiting for Melpomaen to heal enough to resume their journey, they carefully avoided discussing what they would do upon their return home. Neither had thought of anything that would allow them to live together openly and yet permit them passion. Rather than argue about impossibilities, they tacitly agreed to refrain from speaking of it for a time. Haldir thought of little else, though, worrying at the problem like a sore tooth; whereas for his part Melpomaen tried not to think of it at all, and hoped for some inspiration.

On the fifth day their fragile peace ended. Haldir had gone down to the stream that morning and returned with more fish for Melpomaen to prepare. As they sat after their noon meal, conversing companionably and trying to outdo each other in how many childhood stories they could recall, Melpomaen suddenly straightened.

"Ssh!" he hissed, interrupting his partner's tale of How the Oyster Learned to Grow Pearls. (1) "Listen!"

Haldir tilted his head to one side, concentrating. "Yes," he agreed quietly. "There's something out there, close by. Too loud for a deer; possibly a bear. Or if we are unlucky, Orcs."

He stood and reached for his bow, stringing it in one smooth motion. "I will have to go out to find it, whatever it may be. But I'm not sure whether it would be better for you to come with me or to stay here."

"I'll come with you," said Melpomaen firmly. "I can wield a blade one-handed, but if I were to be attacked by a whole patrol of Orcs with you gone, I fear I might be overwhelmed, and I could not even climb a tree to improve my position."

"All right," agreed Haldir.

They moved softly through the trees, keeping as much as possible to the stands of evergreens where fallen needles carpeted the ground. Haldir led the way. Melpomaen fixed his eyes on the golden head before him, and hoped that their visitor would prove to be simply some forest creature, rather than an Orc-troop unusually far from Dol Guldur.

Behind a thicket of bramble laden with dark ripe fruit, Haldir stopped and gestured for Melpomaen to move beside him.

"Do you see?" he breathed into his friend's ear, inclining his head.

Melpomaen tilted his own head to look in the direction indicated, and exhaled noiselessly in relief. It was only a bear moving slowly through the trees; something to be wary of, indeed, but probably needing only to be avoided. A bear had nothing like the potential danger in a band of Orcs, who would require being killed one and all, lest one escaping should return with more of its kind to overwhelm them. And unlike Orcs, the bear would most likely avoid their fire rather than investigate it.

To Haldir he nodded, then pointed back towards their camp with his good hand, raising his eyebrows in question.

Haldir looked undecided for a moment, then shrugged and nodded in reply. He led the way back as carefully as they had come, and when they were far enough from the creature, he spoke.

"By the Horn of Oromë, that was a stroke of luck for us. Did you see, he was angling towards the north, away from our camp. Probably he knows a good place to cross the stream, and maybe catch himself a meal of fish along the way."

"Yes," agreed Melpomaen. "We do seem to have had good luck on this journey - for the most part," he added, glancing ruefully at his left arm. "I hope that our passage back through Mirkwood is as uneventful as the outward trip. I suppose two travelers alone have a better chance to avoid unwanted notice, at least."

"Certainly we do. The road we follow was once used by many, Men and Elves and Dwarves even, carrying goods of all sorts from one side of the forest to the other. But the evil creatures that lurk in Dol Guldur, Orcs and other foul wights, soon learned to watch the road and harry those who traveled it. Now any who wish to cross the forest mostly prefer the road far to the north near Thranduil's kingdom. I chose not to follow that route since it took us somewhat out of our way; but now I wonder if that was a wise decision," said Haldir.

"Are you suggesting that we return to the north and take this other path instead?" asked Melpomaen, lengthening his stride slightly as he saw their camp ahead.

Haldir shook his head. "No; we have been delayed enough already. To retrace our course now would undoubtedly add at least a month's travel, and I am less familiar with that way. When I looked at Lórindol's maps to refresh my memory of these regions, I concentrated on the southern parts of the forest."

"But if it would be safer," Melpomaen persisted, "should we not at least consider it? Would it not be better to arrive late with welcome news, than never to arrive at all?"

Stepping across to the fire, Haldir smiled at his partner. "And you have no other reasons to wish to lengthen our journey? No, no," he held up his hand, "I feel the same. I would prefer to spend a greater time alone with you as well. But summer is over, and that must be considered. I wouldn't wish to be caught in the winter snows to the north! Moreover our food supplies are limited; though we can supplement them through hunting as we have done, that is likely to slow us somewhat too. Speaking of which," he fingered one of the strips of meat still hanging above the fire, "these are well-dried, and should be taken down and packed for travel. Come, Maen, tell me a story while I do so."

"All right." Melpomaen moved to sit near the fire where Haldir could hear him easily, yet where he would be out of the other Elf's way as he worked. "What kind of a story do you want?"

"Oh, something cheerful. I know, tell me of some amusing incident from your childhood or youth," Haldir said.

"A story of my childhood?" Melpomaen thought for a few moments. "Very well, I have one for you.

"When I was, oh, perhaps twenty years old, so still hardly more than a babe, my parents took me to a large party. (2) I do not remember the occasion, although I think it may have been some family celebration, since both my siblings were there with their spouses. In any case I remember long tables laden with food, and a great noise with all the grown-ups happily singing and talking. When we sat to eat, I was next to my elder brother.

"Baran was known for his great appetite, especially for sweets. At the end of the meal the hostess asked him how large a serving of berry tart he would like, and he said only half-jokingly that he could probably manage a third of a tart, all by himself. She was sitting at the head of the table, so she cut a tremendous slice to pass down to him.

"Now, berry tart happened to be my very favorite sweet, and when the plate reached me, I simply kept it and began eating. After I had taken a few bites, everyone around realized what I was doing, and began saying, 'Ah, Melpomaen, a little fellow like you cannot possibly eat that great helping!' But I did. Baran had to content himself with a smaller portion, which was all that was left. For years after, my ability to tuck away the sweets was a staple joke whenever my brother visited our parents." Melpomaen ended the story and grinned at his friend, who was laughing aloud.

"That was a good tale," said Haldir, setting the last of the dried meat on a clean cloth and carefully binding it into a tight parcel. "Greedy little Maen!" He crawled over to poke Melpomaen playfully in the belly. "It is a good thing you no longer eat so much, or instead of a lean and hardened ranger, you would be as plump as a quail in autumn!"

Melpomaen put his arm around Haldir's neck. "Greedy, was I? Not so greedy then as now." He drew the other to him for a long kiss. "My arm may not yet be healed," he murmured as they broke apart, "but it pains me far less than it did - and all else is well, now. We need no longer refrain from love, if we but take a little care."

Haldir drew a finger lightly along the line of Melpomaen's jaw, then up to his lips, which parted to allow the tip of it entrance into the moist warmth within. Melpomaen licked gently at the pad, then sucked hard, his questioning eyes looking into his partner's.

"If you are certain, meldanya, then how can I refuse?" Haldir said, feeling a pull at his groin in answer to the pull on his fingertip. He withdrew his hand and leaned forward for another kiss. For the past several days he had avoided even such simple caresses, not wanting to arouse unfulfillable longings in either of them. Now, though, he was once again free to taste the sweetness of Melpomaen's mouth, the salt of his skin, the bitterness of his seed; and he could scarcely contain his hunger.

"But I do need you to help me get this tunic off," Melpomaen reminded him, after a long interval of kisses strong and deep as Ulmo's waters and caresses to face and neck like the breath of Manwë in tender springtime.

"Of course. Just turn a little so that I can reach," said Haldir, deftly sliding off the linen garment. He caught his breath. Though Melpomaen's body was long familiar to him, from the beginning of their partnership in the company, still the sight teased him with beauty. Even the binding around one arm seemed only to set off the perfection of lithe frame and hard muscle. He knelt up to remove his own clothes, letting Melpomaen manage his other garments for himself, then lay down and urged his lover to lie beside him, face to face, breast to breast, thigh to thigh.

"If I jar your arm, do not fail to tell me," Haldir admonished, running his hand along Melpomaen's left flank, down to his hipbone and around to the firm buttock behind.

Melpomaen hummed in his throat in reply, his eyes closing as the familiar and recently denied touch evoked shivers of longing through his body. He opened them again when Haldir kissed the tip of his nose.

"I mean it, Maen," Haldir continued. "I will not permit you to reinjure yourself by accident, and I don't want you to feel any pain - to think I had caused you hurt would lessen any pleasure for me."

"As my captain commands," said Melpomaen impudently. "I will be good, I promise."

Haldir rolled his eyes, but pulled his lover closer until skin touched skin for the length of their bodies. The warmth of Melpomaen's body was answered by his own heat, blood pumping through all his limbs, yet centered where he could feel a hardness that matched his own. He reached down to stroke them both together.

"Dír," whispered Melpomaen.

"What is it?" said Haldir, cupping his hand around the soft pouch below.

"I love you. I can hardly say how much; it is like a flood all though me, washing me clean of all other desires. I never want to be without you, do you understand?" Melpomaen trembled at Haldir's exploring touch.

Haldir kissed his eyes. "I do, believe me, I do. I promise that I will never willingly be separated from you, Maen."

"I will not leave you, either. Ah," he sighed. "Wait, Dír, hold a moment." He fought to restrain his arousal, lest he spill too quickly before Haldir was ready. "I would have you inside me, as close as if we were babes in the womb together."

"But your arm?"

"If you lie to my other side, all will be well."

The older Elf studied Melpomaen's face for a moment, then nodded. "I will get the oil, then." He sat up, tucking his hair behind his ear, and rising went to search for the flask in his pack. Returning, he said, "Less than half the bottle remains; we shall have to be careful with it, or find something else that may serve."

"Perhaps the grease of a deer or a rabbit would do; they are well-fattened, this time of year." Melpomaen shrugged the problem aside. Once Haldir had worked out the tight stopper, he reached for the flask. "Here, let me."

Haldir poured a bit of the oil into Melpomaen's palms, and a few drops into his own, then reclosed the bottle and set it by. He knelt to let Melpomaen rub the thick liquid onto his hard member, pulsing with desire. Their lips joined again, wordlessly reaffirming their love. Melpomaen drew away a little and lay down again, and Haldir moved to lie behind him.

He used one well-oiled finger first, nudging his way past the tight ring of flesh at the opening, gently entering and stretching the passage inside. He pressed lightly on the sensitive node he could feel through the thin wall, and as Melpomaen gasped at the sensation, slid in a second, then a third finger. His other hand reached around to stroke Melpomaen's chest, brushing against each nipple in turn, until his lover began to press his hips backward, crying out, "Meldanya, please, take me now!"

At that he carefully withdrew his hand, and shifted to nestle the head of his organ in the cleft, pushing slowly inside. They groaned together, Haldir feeling himself engulfed as Melpomaen clamped down around him. He pulled back, then thrust in again, and again, not daring to be as forceful as he had sometimes been in the past, but knowing that Melpomaen would not want him to be too gentle. He teased Melpomaen's rigid hardness with fingers and palm, feeling the few drops of moisture that said that his lover would soon reach his climax.

"Are you ready?" Haldir said through clenched teeth. "Are you with me, Maen?"

Melpomaen shuddered next to him as Haldir's cock filled him to the core. "Yes, now, now," and as Haldir gave a final thrust, he released his own passion in a great spurt, calling out in the ecstasy of his delight.

Haldir leaned his head forward onto Melpomaen's damp shoulder, panting.

"Thank you," said Melpomaen softly.

"For what?"

"For not holding back, fearing to hurt me. For taking me as an equal partner. Not only in our lovemaking just now, but always. You could have assumed that I would reject your love, and so never offered it; but you gave me the choice for myself, and I wanted to tell you that I find that respect a very precious gift," Melpomaen said.

"I, I do not know what to say, Maen," said Haldir, blinking moisture from his eyes. "You are right, I might have held back, in fear. Our friendship was a joy to me and I hesitated to risk it."

"That I can understand, certainly; but I am glad you did not." Melpomaen stretched languidly, and turned over to face his friend.

"Haldir, love," he said gravely, "I want to ask you something."

"What is it?" Haldir was taken aback by the intensity of Melpomaen's tone.

"I want us to reconsider taking the northern route home. We'll have to leave here in a day or two, one way or another, for really I think I am fit to travel again. And I assume you have thought of no solution for our future that will let us both stay together and continue to be lovers, for I certainly have not. I will accept that, as I have said, if I must; but I would very much like to delay it as long as we justifiably can. To take the northern route would not be unreasonable, since it is safer. Will you agree to this, for me?" Melpomaen waited, worrying, until Haldir should answer.

Haldir paused. The arguments he had set out before against changing their path home were still valid, he thought. But it was not yet so late in the year as to make the decision impossible in practical terms. The Lord and Lady were patient and could wait for their answer a little longer, and it would bring Melpomaen great happiness - and himself as well, he admitted.

"Very well," he said at last. "Let us, then, travel north once more." He laughed a little. "And if we should be overtaken by winter, let us at least hope that we find a place to spend it in comfort!"



Footnotes:
(1) Unless I am gravely mistaken in my recollection, Rudyard Kipling did not tell this particular story in the Just So Stories, but it is the sort he might have told; and that was certainly the inspiration for its title.
(2) Elves mature more slowly than Men. According to Tolkien, "Children of Men might reach their full height while Eldar of the same age were still in body like to mortals of no more than seven years" (Morgoth's Ring, HoMe vol. 10, p. 210). Thus Melpomaen at age twenty would be the equivalent of a six- or seven-year-old among Men. He is exaggerating slightly when he says he was hardly more than a babe.

Chapter Text

Melpomaen's spirits were high as they prepared to break camp. His left arm ached little, though he knew it was as yet far from healed; his ankle felt fine, if a bit stiff from inactivity. Most of his delight, though, came not from the freedom from physical discomfort, but from the knowledge that their decision to retrace their steps northward and take a longer and safer route home would also increase the time he and Haldir could spend together.

He looked over at his friend, who was frowning as he considered how best to distribute their loads. The dried venison was a welcome addition to their supplies, but added considerably to the bulk and weight of their packs.

"Can you carry any more, Maen?" Haldir asked him.

"Yes, if you let me put my pack on first and then lash the rest on for me. Otherwise I think I'd have trouble with my arm," Melpomaen said.

Haldir nodded and waited patiently for Melpomaen to finish getting his things ready. The injury would slow the younger Elf down for several more weeks, at least, though he was now able to use his hand somewhat. When Melpomaen had finished securing his pack and slipped it over his shoulders, Haldir added a large cloth-wrapped parcel of dried meat, binding it carefully so that the weight of it would fall evenly.

"There. I think that's everything." Haldir looked around. "I am almost sorry to leave here; after a week, this clearing began to seem rather homelike."

"Mm. Although I would far rather sleep in a talan than on the ground! Since we spotted that bear, I've been thinking how lucky we have been so far on our journey, to have encountered neither wild beasts nor Orcs," said Melpomaen.

"It has been a good journey in many ways," said Haldir, grinning at his partner.

Melpomaen smiled back. "So it has." He inhaled deeply, enjoying the crispness of the early morning air, softened by just a touch of moisture from the river nearby. "Shall we go, then?"

They passed eastward, to the meadow where Melpomaen had fallen, then turned north to retrace the path they had taken but a little while before. Summer hurried to its end, now; here and there leaves that had been green flashed bronze and golden in the light of dawn.

"Autumn is my favorite season," remarked Haldir. "Especially at home, when the mellyrn leaves turn to gold. I will miss seeing them this year."

"Oh, but you will see them, Dír; you just won't see them change. We would have to be delayed until spring for you to miss that.  Unless our fortunes take some serious turn for the worse, I think it unlikely."

"I suppose so. I shall take comfort in seeing alien trees instead – less beautiful than a mallorn, perhaps, but striking in their own way." Haldir pointed. "There, you see that maple with the leaves on one branch turning crimson? Less restful to the eye, but a glorious color nonetheless."

Melpomaen shivered, mumuring, "It looks like blood..."

"No, do not be silly, Maen," said Haldir, but he looked at his friend with concern, wondering what could have provoked such a remark.

Trying to laugh, Melpomaen wondered himself why he had spoken so. He was not prone to such flights of imagination. "I am sorry. You are right, that was a silly thing for me to say. I do not know what I was thinking."

Haldir glanced at him sharply, then shrugged. "Let's see how quickly we can travel today; although the autumn colors are lovely, they ought to remind us that time is passing and we need to hasten our steps."

He set a brisk pace, fast enough that they both saved their breath for walking, not talking, until the sun rose to noon. They stopped then for a quick meal. Saving the dried meat for another time, they ate the last of a fish that Melpomaen had cooked the evening before.

"You have a sure hand with the cooking," said Haldir. "Even if you have only one to do it with at present!"

Melpomaen mimed a bow, accepting the compliment. "Anything to keep you from doing it," he joked. Haldir could prepare an edible meal, but they both acknowledged that Melpomaen's skill was far greater.

Haldir pretended indignation, saying, "Well, if that is how you feel about it, perhaps you should do all the cooking, from now on! I will do the cleanup afterward."

"If you like," Melpomaen shrugged. "I'd not mind that, actually. I quite enjoy cooking, but not dealing with the dirty pans and plates. And I cannot help hunt for much at the moment, so that will have to be your task. It would seem a fair enough division of effort."

"If you think that is fair, I would be happy to relinquish all the culinary duties to you. I prefer tasty food, and seem not to be able to prepare it as I would like. Strange, really; you would think that knowing a bit about herbs and so on would be a help. Evidently not."

"Done, then," Melpomaen said, stretching. "Ready to go? If we can walk a touch more slowly this afternoon, my ankle will thank you."

"Is it troubling you?" asked Haldir as they began to move once again. "You should have said something earlier."

"No, it doesn't ache, not yet, but it feels not quite right, if you know what I mean. A slower pace would be welcome."

"We may be trying to make good time, but if you injure your ankle again, that would mean a far greater delay for us than a more leisurely pace. And we could talk more easily as we travel, too," Haldir said.

Nevertheless they spoke little for much of the afternoon, simply enjoying the beauty of the day. Clouds were gathering in the west; they could see the edge of the storm peeping over the tops of the forest to their left, but as yet the sun was above the billowing masses, and the air was calm and pleasant.

"We must be sure to prepare in case the rain reaches us overnight," said Haldir eventually.

"Yes," agreed Melpomaen. "I think we had better stop soon, while enough light remains to set up camp."

Haldir nodded. "We did get an early start this morning, and we have made good time." He looked around and pointed. "There is where we stopped on our way south. And we can probably travel another hour, yet, before the sun is low. Thus far we have done well, with this change of route. I hope that every day goes as smoothly."

They continued as the sun began to disappear behind the clouds. Finally Melpomaen looked up, saying, "Now, Dír, or we risk being unable to see; unless you wish to cope with dark and rain at once?"

Haldir rolled his eyes. "All right, all right. We will stop now."

Long practice had their campsite laid out quickly, and a fire crackling under the trees. Haldir brought water and wood as Melpomaen prepared the meal.

"I think the secret is really in letting it all simmer together for a time," he said. "Especially with these dried meats; rushing it just doesn't work well." He turned to look at Haldir. "Which would give us time..." he let his voice trail off, tilting his head inquiringly.

He had been anticipated: Haldir was behind him, hands busy unfastening the laces that held Melpomaen's clothing on, and carefully slipping the tunic over the healing arm.

"Yes, it will give us time," he breathed into Melpomaen's ear. "So come with me." Haldir had already undressed, having slipped out of his own garments after bringing the final armful of wood, while Melpomaen was adding some final touches to his stew. He led the younger Elf over to the blankets and lay down, pulling the other to lie beside him.

He cupped Melpomaen's chin in his hand and drew their faces together for a lingering kiss. When he paused for a moment, Melpomaen made a soft noise of protest. Haldir pressed his fingers to his lover's lips.

"What do you want, meldanya? Tonight, I am yours to command," he said.

Melpomaen's eyes widened. Most of their lovemaking had been done as equals, although with his injuries, the last several times Haldir had taken control. Now he was relinquishing that, allowing Melpomaen to choose what form their pleasure would take.

"I want... I don't know if I can do what I want, just now," he said.

"Try telling me and we will see," urged Haldir.

"No, not today," Melpomaen shook his head. "Some other time, when my arm has healed more. I would like to see you arouse yourself, as you once watched me; and then I would," he paused, "I would like to find my own pleasure in your mouth. If that would be all right with you, Dír."

"Of course. As I said, I am at your will, this night."

He sat up and knelt before Melpomaen, his feet tucked under him, knees spread apart. He began by caressing the skin of his thighs, pressing his palms in a firm stroke down from hip to knee, trailing his fingers lingeringly. The touch itself felt good, but seeing his lover watch his movements made him far more excited. Determined to make his display as sensuous as he could for Melpomaen's benefit, he carefully kept his hands far from his groin for the moment, instead shifting to run his fingers up his ribs, circling the nipples and then pinching them.

Melpomaen's eyes followed every movement of Haldir's hands, his own fingers twitching as he imagined giving the same caresses. His organ pulsed in sympathy with the quivering flesh before him. Haldir began to speak, murmuring how he felt, his eyes half-closed as he concentrated on the sensations.


"Knowing you are watching makes me feel as if you were the one touching me, Maen. It is odd; I can do whatever will feel best at the moment, and yet feel that it is you, not I, who knows best what I want. Ah," he gasped, as he finally allowed himself to stroke his eager member. "That is... almost as good as being with you, inside you, because you are here with me, I can feel your eyes like a touch on my skin, burning in desire, as I burn for you." He used both hands, now, one stroking rhythmically, the other reaching behind him, a finger teasing the tight opening to relax.

"Now, I can imagine the impossible, to have you inside me and me inside you at once," he panted, looking into Melpomaen's eyes as he slid one finger home, leaning back to press as deeply as he could. His excitement was almost too great to sustain, but he paused. "Maen, I would never do this with another. I could never think of it. This is my gift to you," and his hips bucked as he released a hot stream into the air.

Melpomaen leaned over to kiss him, murmuring, "I know, meldanya, and a beautiful gift it is; one I will return to you someday, should you wish it."

Haldir took possession of Melpomaen's mouth, tongue thrusting deeply as the last quivers of his orgasm shook him. His hands threaded through the loose hair, finding the sensitive spots on neck and ears as he pressed himself against his lover.

"I know you will," he whispered, withdrawing a few inches. "But in the meantime, you had a second request of me."

He pushed Melpomaen gently backward to the blankets and placed himself between the opened legs. Tenderly he ran his tongue around the warm pouch, mouthing the fragile contents, before easing upwards to the swollen shaft. He could smell the scent of Melpomaen's arousal; watching Haldir bring himself to climax had nearly caused Melpomaen to do the same, untouched. Haldir sucked in the tip, rubbing it with his tongue, his hands busy below. Then he ran the point of his tongue along the vein throbbing the length of the shaft, moving up and down until Melpomaen was tossing restlessly at the teasing sensation.

"Do you want this, too?" Haldir asked, pulling his mouth away and rubbing with his finger until Melpomaen could be in no doubt of what he was asking.

"Yes, yes," Melpomaen said. "Just don't stop!"

He tensed at the exquisite sensation as simultaneously Haldir's finger nudged his most sensitive spot within, and his shaft was completely engulfed with the warm wetness of Haldir's mouth. He clutched at the blanket, crying out, "Oh, Dír, oh."

Haldir kept his throat relaxed as Melpomaen thrust into his mouth. One push, two, three, and the bitter seed spilled out. He swallowed convulsively, careful of his teeth, and bestowed one last lingering kiss on the soft skin. Moving up to lie next to his lover, Haldir asked, "Is there aught else you would have of me, tonight?"

Melpomaen opened his eyes languidly. "What else could I possibly ask for, at this time?"

Haldir smiled. "I couldn't think of much, just at the moment - but a promise is a promise, so if you could, I would do it." He wriggled into a more comfortable position, adding, "I think in the morning I'll want to bathe, after all this pleasant exertion."

"Hm, yes, that sounds like a good idea. It is a little dark to do so now." Melpomaen sat up. "But I imagine that my stew is probably ready, if you are hungry?"

"Naturally." Haldir sniffed. "It smells delicious, in fact. Let me just wash my hands and face, and dress again; the evening grows a bit chilly and I do not want to prance about with no clothes on, enjoyable though you might find it to watch!"

Laughing, Melpomaen said, "Well, I would enjoy it, as I suppose you would like to see me the same way, but I'd be cold undressed too. Pass me my leggings, if you will?"

Once clad again they sat down to eat supper. Melpomaen pulled a face, and Haldir asked, "What is it? The stew is as good as always."

"It isn't the stew, I was just thinking about us. Whenever I think of our future I become discouraged, especially after we make love; it is just so difficult to think of giving that up. I love to make love with you, Haldir, because I love you and it is such a beautiful way to show that. I suppose I am just resentful that because we happen to both be binn, our feelings for each other are going to be considered wrong by all our friends and family," he sighed.

"I have the same feelings," admitted Haldir. "To me it seems quite unfair too. We are told that our fëar do not die, whatever may happen to our bodies; and that after a time in Mandos, they may be rehoused. (1) Could not a fëa that had once been in a male body return to that of a female? And if so, what possible difference can it make, whether both members of a couple are male, or both female, or one of each? It is the bond between their fëar that is important, not the gender of their bodies. I have heard the Lady Galadriel say that the Valar themselves are neither male nor female, though they take on such forms. (2) I have known biss who were as strong and hardy as any benn; what qualities in their nature are so different that their fëar must needs be embodied as female?"

Melpomaen shook his head. "You know more than I of these matters, Dír. We should talk more of them, over these next weeks. Perhaps we can find some argument to convince at least your family to accept us? I know your attachment to your brothers is deep, and I would not like to think of you having to lie to them for the rest of your life - our lives," he amended.

Haldir sighed, and said, "I don't know. I would like to tell Rúmil and Orophin; but I would rather lose my closeness with them than lose you." He spooned up his last bite and yawned. "Do you want to take the first watch as usual? I think I will just stack up the bowls for now and clean them on my shift."

"Whatever you like," said Melpomaen. "Yes, I will take the first watch."

"Good. Wake me if there is need."

He rolled himself up in his blanket and was quickly treading the path of dreams, knowing that Melpomaen was watching to keep them both from harm.



Footnotes:
(1) Fëar: spirits, souls. The word is Quenya and may have been adopted in Lothlórien due to Galadriel's influence. She undoubtedly met the lord of Mandos in her youth in Valinor, and would have known much about his halls.

(2) The Silmarillion, p. 21. "But when they desire to clothe themselves the Valar take upon them forms some as of male and some as of female; for that difference of temper they had even from their beginning, and it is but bodied forth in the choice of each, not made by the choice, even as with us male and female may be shown by the raiment but is not made thereby."

Chapter Text

The water was nearly boiling. Haldir hastily put the herbs he had gathered into their mugs - wintergreen for his partner, mint for himself - and let the brews steep for a few minutes. Dawn was breaking, although the clouds made it difficult to tell, and if they were to bathe this morning before resuming their journey, it was time to wake Melpomaen.

He carried the hot tea over and nudged at his lover's shoulder, half-hidden under blanket and tangled dark hair.

"Maen, love, time to wake. I have some wintergreen tea for you."

A grumbled response, and Melpomaen sat up, yawning. He accepted the mug, curving his hands around the warmth, and sipped at the steaming liquid.

"Awfully dark yet, isn't it?" he said, peering at the gloomy sky.

"At least it didn't start raining overnight, though it looks threatening enough for later today. I wanted to bathe before we left, and I thought you did, too," said Haldir.

"I suppose so. There are things I would rather do, of course," said Melpomaen, looking at Haldir over the rim of the cup as he drank.

"We might manage to find time for some of those things," Haldir smiled, setting his own mug down and stretching. "Before we bathe, or after?"

"Both?" suggested Melpomaen mischievously, then rolled his eyes in response to his partner's shaken head. "I know, I know, you need not remind me we should travel as far as we can today, and the rain that seems like to fall at any moment will doubtless delay us. After bathing, then. Do you have the soap, or is it in my pack?"

"I think you have it," said Haldir, "and I've just realized that we have only one cloth to use to dry off with. I used the other to wrap up that parcel of venison. So we shall have to share. Ready?"

Melpomaen swallowed the last of his tea and found the soap. "Ready."

The air was chilly enough that the two Elves shivered as they stripped down by the water's edge.

"I can't swim with this arm," said Melpomaen regretfully. "In fact, should I even get it wet? What will that do to the poultice?"

"I was thinking about that. Let it get wet and I'll take it off this morning. A couple of wooden splints and a sling ought to do the trick now, just to keep the bone immobilized. It is probably a good idea to let the skin breathe. But if you'd like, I will wash you off?"

"How can I refuse such an offer?" the younger Elf replied, wading in until the water lapped above his knees.

Haldir gently lathered all the exposed skin, then urged Melpomaen to duck and rinse himself off. "Wet your hair, too, if you'd like that washed as well."

"All right, but be quick; I'm getting quite cold here."

As Melpomaen let himself sink backward into the water, Haldir rapidly washed his own body and splashed off the soapsuds. "Here, kneel, Maen," he said, and began to rub soap into the dark hair.

"Will you comb it out for me, too?" asked Melpomaen as Haldir finished and poured handfuls of water over his head to rinse.

"Of course. All right, go dry off and let me wash my own hair now. But don't get the cloth completely soaked - remember, we have to share it!"

When Haldir emerged, sluicing the water from his limbs with vigorous strokes, Melpomaen was waiting to wrap the damp cloth around his body in a tight embrace.

"You looked as I'd imagine Ossë does, or even Ulmo, rising out of the sea," Melpomaen whispered in Haldir's ear. "Do you suppose the Valar and Maiar love as we do?"

"Not as you and I, as far as I have ever heard tell, but they do take spouses among their own kind, you know that. Not Ulmo, but is not Ossë espoused to the Lady of the Seas, Uinen whose hair trails through all the waters of the world, even this stream?" said Haldir.

"True, yes. Though Ossë cannot bring her greater pleasure than you bring me. Come, let's go back to the fire."

Haldir scooped up their discarded garments and allowed Melpomaen to tug him onward, but when they reached their blankets he said, "Let me deal with your arm first - now that the poultice is softened from the water, I should remove it and rebind the bone, lest any harm come to you."

"If you must," said Melpomaen, and waited impatiently as Haldir ministered to him.

"Now, Dír," he said. "can we wrap the blanket around us both? Will you be able to comb my hair, so?"

"I believe I can," said Haldir. He took the wooden comb from his partner and sat close behind him. "I'll try not to pull too hard, but it is rather tangled. Tell me if I hurt you too much." Bit by bit he worked the comb through the damp strands until Melpomaen's hair hung smooth and heavy down his back. "Do you want it braided?"

"Just above the ears, so it stays out of my face; that will be fine," said Melpomaen. "Then it will be your turn."

They reversed positions and Melpomaen began to smooth the golden locks.

"Your hair is likely the only sunshine I will see all day," he remarked, drawing his fingers through the gleaming mass. "Lucky for me that I travel with you!" He slipped his right hand underneath and caressed the nape of Haldir's neck.

"Mm," sighed Haldir, arching under the touch. "That's a very sweet thing to say, Maen."

Melpomaen nestled closer and put his arm around Haldir's waist to draw them together. "I just thought you'd like to hear one of the lesser reasons I love you, Dír," he breathed into the other's ear, and lapped with his tongue at the lobe, nipping the tender skin.

Haldir shivered, with heat now instead of the chill of the air. He could feel the slow throb of Melpomaen's desire pressing against him, answered by a matching pulse in his own groin.

"And what of the greater reasons?" he replied.

Melpomaen only laughed softly in response, letting his bound left arm rest where his fingers could brush Haldir's thigh, his right hand busily stroking Haldir's chest and pinching at the tight nipples.

"What would you have us do?" he asked. "You let me choose last evening."

"Let us lie down, facing," said Haldir. As they looked into the dark pools of each other's eyes, he touched his lips lightly to Melpomaen's, and spoke.

"I have said this before, meldanya, but I tell you again. You are my love and my joy in living. Whatever may happen to us, know that. Our fëar are bound together until the end of Arda - and afterward, only Ilúvatar himself knows what may happen. Never doubt that I love you, Maen, whether I can show it through desire like this," and he reached down to stroke Melpomaen's rigid organ next to his own, "or whether we can only show it in words and care, not through passion."

"I doubt you not," said Melpomaen softly, shifting to free his right hand from under his body so that he could reach out in turn. "You have shown me naught but kindness and care since we first met; and love. How could I but believe you? Surely you do not doubt me? I will follow you, as I have said, wherever our paths may lead, all the days of my life." He kissed Haldir hard, tongue probing past parted lips to meet tongue, breaths mingling, panting together as they thrust against one another, hands wrapped around firm flesh until they could hardly tell where one ended and the other began.

Haldir felt desire as deep as Ulmo's waters move through him, flooding all the veins of his body and pooling at his groin until his whole being seemed focused on the exquisite pleasure that his lover's touch brought. Such joy could not come from the Master of Lies; it must be the work of the Creator, he thought, shuddering in release.

As Haldir's seed spurted through Melpomaen's fingers, the younger Elf brought his own hand back to wrap around Haldir's as it stroked him.

"No, wait, Dír... can I come inside you?"

A nod from the golden head. Haldir rolled over, then raised himself onto hands and knees. "You ought not to have to put any weight on your arm, this way," he explained.

Melpomaen spread the sticky dampness along his aching length and knelt behind Haldir. "Tell me if this is all right, or if I must get the oil for you," he said urgently, and pressed the tip of his cock against the tight hole.

Haldir gasped, consciously trying to relax. "Careful," he groaned as he felt Melpomaen begin to slide inside.

The dark Elf paused, restraining himself until Haldir was ready. When the tightness eased, he gradually entered, luxuriating in the feel, the heat of his desire matched by the heat of Haldir's body. When he was fully sheathed, he leaned forward to kiss Haldir's shoulder.

"All right?"

"Yes... but can you touch me, too, without losing your balance?"

Melpomaen shifted slightly and took Haldir's member in his hand. As he carefully moved in and out, brushing the sweet spot inside, he could feel Haldir's desire hardening once again.

"Yes, Dír?"

"Oh, by the stars, yes, Maen!"

They moved together, then, as if one, until at last Melpomaen reached his climax and spent hotly deep within his lover. A few more firm strokes and Haldir joined him, collapsing forward onto the blanket.

"After that I scarcely feel like walking," he murmured after a few moments. "But we really must."

"I know," agreed Melpomaen. "How about another cup of tea and a piece of cram, first?"

"That will help," said Haldir, untangling himself and using the damp cloth to wipe them both clean.

A quick bite and they packed up, ready for another day's travel.

"If we are heading for the northerly route, how near will we come to Thranduil's kingdom?" asked Melpomaen as they walked. "Did you not tell me once that you have kin there? Have you ever been there yourself?"

"Some distant kin - my five-times-great grandfather lived in the northern woods when Oropher ruled there. I have not been to those lands myself, though I think my father may have been once, or perhaps his father. I will try to remember the names of some of those relations; I never thought I might need that knowledge on this journey, or I would have asked my family before we left," said Haldir.

"Do you wish to visit them, then? I thought we would merely pass along the northern path, and not stop."

"I would not intend a long stay, but we might be wise to at least pay our respects to King Thranduil. I'm sure that he would be aware of our passage in any case - no doubt he has scouts and defenders out along the borders of his lands, just as we do in Lothlórien. We ought also to be able to replenish our supplies there, more easily than by trading with Men," mused Haldir.

"Whatever you think is best," said Melpomaen, "since you are Lord Celeborn's messenger and I am only along for the pleasure of the journey!"

Haldir laughed. "A mixed pleasure it has been for you, too. Most folk would not consider a broken arm to be much of a delight."

"Ah, well, other things have made up for it," grinned Melpomaen. "As you well know."

With such banter that day and the next two passed quickly, despite an intermittent rain that made walking less enjoyable than usual. Haldir reckoned that they were within a day's travel of the Forest River where it emerged from the shadows of Mirkwood.

"If I remember the maps correctly, the caverns where King Thranduil and his court dwell are but a short way inside the eastern border of the forest, on the north side of the river," he told Melpomaen.

"Are the people hospitable to strangers?" asked Melpomaen, a touch nervously. Entering Dale had worried him less. He and Haldir had traveled there in the role of emissaries, messengers with their own king's authority behind them. Here they were simply travelers. Moreover, Dale was but a town of Men, and Melpomaen cared little what Men thought.

"I don't know for certain," confessed Haldir. "I cannot imagine that they would be hostile to other Elves, though a Dwarf or a Man might find a chillier reception. Although..." he wrinkled his brow, "it might be prudent of us not to say that we come from the Golden Wood. The king, perhaps, we should tell, but I have gathered the impression that there is not overmuch love lost between him and Celeborn. So his people may not even know of the folk of Lórien, and we should not interfere with our lord's policies of secrecy. We can simply put it about that we are from lands to the south, traveling on a private errand. That is close enough to the truth to serve."

"As you like, so long as we both tell the same story," said Melpomaen. "One more day, then, and we might be able to sleep in beds rather than on the ground!"

"Let's not be too hasty," cautioned Haldir. "I think it is one more day, but I have traveled this road no more often than you! As for beds, we shall see. I do not have any idea how we might be housed as guests."

"We could be lucky and be asked to share a room," said Melpomaen, his eyes gleaming as he stirred the pot with their evening meal.

"I do not know if that would be good luck or no; it could be dangerously tempting," Haldir said, taking the spoon from Melpomaen's hand to taste the stew.

"Dangerous?"

"I doubt that Thranduil's people would view us - two binn together - any differently from the way our own folk would. That is, most likely shocked, offended, even revolted at the very notion. So while we will accept whatever lodging we might be offered, we will need to be discreet. I could almost wish we had some lembas left, to mute desire. The idea of a hot bath, a soft bed, and you, Maen, is really very appealing."

"No hot bath and no soft bed here, I'm afraid," said Melpomaen. "In fact no bath at all since we left Celduin behind yesterday morn. But you do have me, if you wish for me..." he let his voice trail off.

Haldir smiled, saying, "And what better way to spend a damp and chilly evening? I presume you want your stew to cook a while longer?"

"Indeed." Melpomaen carefully moved the pot to one side of the fire, where it would simmer undisturbed.

Their lovemaking was as satisfying as always. Afterward, they rested, entangled in each other's arms, as their breathing slowed and flushed skins returned to normal. Melpomaen stroked Haldir's bare chest.

"It would be a shame, though," he said drowsily.

"What would be a shame?" Haldir propped himself up on one elbow to look inquiringly at his lover.

"To be sleeping alone in a bed when I would rather be with you. No, no, I will be good. Don't worry. I won't even look at you more than I can help; I am too likely to gaze admiringly and at some length," Melpomaen said.

"I hope you need not go that far," said Haldir. "It would seem quite as odd to anyone who paid attention, if we seemed to greatly dislike each other, though traveling together."

Melpomaen sighed. "This is too much to worry about. I almost do not wish to go."

"We need not, if you really don't want to," said Haldir.

"No, it will be fine, I'm sure," said Melpomaen. "It will be a change from the daily stew, at least. Speaking of which, are you ready for some?"

"Why not?" Haldir pulled his clothing back on. "Then I'll rest while you watch, and you can wake me mid-night as usual."

When Melpomaen did wake him, though, it was only a couple of hours into the first watch.

"I'm sorry to disturb you early, Dír, but there is something strange out there," he whispered.

"What? Not another bear? We are still only on the outskirts of the forest, so surely not spiders either?"

"No, undoubtedly not a spider. Look at the third limb of the beech tree over there," said Melpomaen.

Haldir looked carefully in the dim red light of the fire. There did seem to be something on the branch. As he gazed, he saw two pale lights appear, and as quickly vanish again. Eyes, but of no creature that he had ever seen. Far too large for a squirrel, too small for a bear, and utterly wrong for a great cat.

"Pass me my bow and quiver, Maen," he asked quietly, and stringing the bow, he fitted an arrow loosely to it and waited.

"Shoot," said Melpomaen urgently.

"No, not until it does something threatening. I do not recognize it and would not harm the innocent. Besides, I think it has perceived this as a threat already. See, it is leaving, whatever it is."

Indeed, a faint scrabbling noise suggested that the creature was climbing down out of the tree on the far side of the trunk, presumably to retreat out of range of any possible arrows.

"Probably too small to be a serious threat, but if it returns, wake me again," said Haldir. He returned to his blankets and to sleep, as Melpomaen paced the clearing, all senses alert for any return of the unknown beast.

Chapter Text

Once dawn had broken and there was light enough, Haldir examined the base of the beech to see if he could identify the tracks of the creature that had disturbed Melpomaen's watch the evening before. It had left little trace, but he found one patch where the rain of the previous days had made the ground muddy enough to capture several prints. He called his partner over.

"Look, there and there," he pointed.

"It looks to me like the footprints of an Elf or a Man," said Melpomaen.

"But that cannot be right, either. The creature was nowhere near as tall as a Man, much less an Elf, as far as I could see in the dark, and the prints are too shallow. Odd."

"Did you want to track it? It's had hours to get away – but I suppose it could have a den nearby."

Haldir considered, then said, "No, I think not. If we see it again, perhaps, but it seemed too small to be any real danger, and moreover we are near the king's dwelling by now – better to go directly there. Perhaps they will be able to tell us something of it."

To that Melpomaen agreed. They breakfasted quickly on cram and tea and moved northward, alert for any sign of the mysterious creature.

The sun, invisible behind thick cloud, was nearly overhead when Melpomaen stopped and tugged at his partner's arm.

"Listen," he hissed, inclining his head to the west.

The thin thread of a cry of grief drifted through the trees.

"Come," said Haldir, and they passed quickly among the rough trunks and underbrush, seeking the source of the sound.

In a clearing by a small stream they found a rough wooden cottage, clearly built by Man, not Elf. Its door stood ajar, and the anguished weeping of a woman issued from within.

The two Elves looked at each other. "Should we?" wondered Melpomaen.

"We might be able to offer some help. Let us at least see what distresses her so," said Haldir. He moved to the dwelling and tapped gently on the door before pushing it open.

Over Haldir's shoulder Melpomaen could see a woman huddled on the floor, her light-brown hair hanging in a tangle, her face tear-streaked. She clutched a small blanket, evidently the cover from the cradle that lay overturned on the floor, but no infant was there. A fresh cry escaped her at the Elves' entrance, and she scrabbled back away from the door.

Haldir stopped and held his open hands up to show that he meant no harm. He spoke in Westron. "What has happened here, lady?"

The kindly spoken words seemed to penetrate the fog of the woman's distress. She looked at him and answered at first haltingly, then in a spate of words that Melpomaen had difficulty following. When she finished, Haldir turned to his partner and explained.

"She says that her man is a woodsman; they have lived here for several years, and she bore a son early last spring. Her husband left a few days ago with several others to take a load of timbers down the river to Laketown. She and the boy remained; he was far too young to travel. Last night as she slept, someone or something entered the cabin and took her son from his cradle, leaving only the bloody blankets behind. She is sure that he is dead."

Haldir's fair face was grim. He stepped back outside and went to look at the ground below the single loosely-shuttered window. Melpomaen gestured silently. There at the base of the wall was a print of the same unshod foot that had puzzled them that morning.

"Too bad you held back your arrow last night," he said.

"So it seem. But we could not have known."

Returning to the woman still huddled inside, Haldir asked, "Can we help you somehow? Have you any kinsfolk nearby we could take you to?"

She shook her head.

Melpomaen whispered in Sindarin, "Do you think King Thranduil would offer refuge?"

"I have no idea, unless her husband is in his service." Kneeling down, he shifted back to the Common Tongue. "Do you look to the Elf-king as lord?"

The woman nodded hesitantly.

"Then we shall take you there to be cared for, until your husband's return."

The idea of leaving roused her to protest. "No. He would not know where to find me."

"Can he read the Tengwar?"

"Yes," she said, a brief flash of pride in her eyes at her husband's ability.

"I will write where you have gone," Haldir assured her. "With a piece of charcoal, here on the table where he cannot help but see it. You cannot stay here alone, perhaps for weeks, after this." He moved to a chest that stood against the wall by the bed and opened it. "Gather what clothes and other things you will need," he urged.

Vida – for so she named herself – walked slowly but steadily, shaking off the Elves' attempts to help her, insisting that she carry her own bundle. She was able to show them a place where they could all ford the Forest River. Though swift and deep for much of its course, a little way above its mouth a natural ridge of rock had caused the waters to spread wide and relatively shallow. Rafts had no trouble except in the driest summers, but deep-drafted boats had to be portaged.

Once across, a well-traveled path led to the dwelling of Mirkwood's king. They had gone only a short distance along it in the dimming light of a grey evening when a voice hailed them.

"Stop there, strangers. What seek you?"

Four Elves clad in green and brown stepped from the woods onto the path, two before and two behind the travelers.

"My companion and I hail from the lands south of this great forest," answered Haldir. "We travel on a private errand, and wished to pay our respects to King Thranduil as we passed near his realm. The woman here, Vida, lives south of your river. Her husband acknowledges your king as his lord. She has had a tragedy, her infant was lost this very morning, and with her man absent on business, she seeks refuge."

The leader of the patrol looked hard at Vida. "What is your husband's name?"

"Baldor," she said. "He is a kinsman of Beorn, to the west."

The Elf's face relaxed. "Baldor's name is known to me. You may claim refuge with us until his return." He turned again to Haldir and Melpomaen. "If you come from the south, my king will wish to greet you and hear whatever news you may bring. Do you require a healer?" His eyes flicked to Melpomaen's splinted arm, then away.

"It is probably not necessary, but my skills are limited, so it would be welcome," Haldir spoke before Melpomaen could reply.

"Come then, all of you, and I will take you to the king."

The great caverns of King Thranduil were bustling as they entered through the gates. Most of the inhabitants were Elves, but a few were Men who had taken service with the Elf-king. After paying her respects, Vida was led away among them.

Haldir and Melpomaen then stood before the king and bowed. The golden-haired Elf spoke for them both.

"Greetings to you, King Thranduil. I am Haldir, and my partner's name is Melpomaen. We hail from the lands south of Mirkwood, and have been traveling now for many weeks to pursue an errand in Dale. We had intended to return by the old Dwarf-road, but when Melpomaen was injured, we deemed it safer to take the northern route and avoid the regions near Dol Guldur. We ask your permission to rest here a few days before continuing our journey; in return we can offer news from Dale and the south, or would also be happy to perform any reasonable services for you in compensation."

Thranduil's brows had drawn together when Haldir skirted the question of their home, but now he smiled. "If you stay for a day or two, we shall have you all winter. The signs all point to early snows and a harsh season this year; I would be surprised if there is not snow within a week. Unless you are willing to risk being trapped out in the open wilds, I suggest you bide here for the winter. What skills can you offer in return?"

"We both have experience as scouts, and are trained with sword, knife, and bow, and to fight unarmed. I have some knowledge of herblore, and Melpomaen is a good camp cook. We have worked as partners for half-a-dozen years or so, now," said Haldir.

Bright eyes glanced keenly at Melpomaen. "How came you by your injury? Did you encounter some wild beast in the southern woods, and come off worst?"

A flush stained Melpomaen's cheeks. "No, sir. A clumsy fall, I'm afraid."

"I see." Thranduil arched an eyebrow. "Well, if you learn more caution by it, that will be to the good." He looked back at Haldir. "Very well. You, Haldir, can join the patrol roster tomorrow, and Melpomaen once he is able. You are both welcome to stay through the winter. I will have one of my sons assign you quarters and explain how matters are conducted here."

He beckoned, and as a younger Elf came up the steps of the dais, added, "Legolas is my youngest son. His three brothers all captain patrol bands as well; they are abroad just now, and it is Legolas whose company has the home guard duty at this time. He will want to hear whatever you can tell of this creature that has been attacking the families of my sworn woodsmen. And I will hear your news later, perhaps tomorrow; I will send for you when I have the time to spare."

Thranduil introduced the two travelers and explained their situation briefly to his son, dismissing them to return to his other duties. Legolas grinned cheerfully.

"With us for the winter, are you? I look forward to it. Perhaps you will have new skills to share with us, and we may teach you something as well." He led them out of the main hall and along a broad corridor with many rooms and other tunnels branching out from it.

"The king said you have been partners for some years, yes? We don't generally work in pairs, here, more often in fours or larger groups, especially on patrol. The spiders are dangerous for one or two to try to handle, you never know how many you'll run into. But space is at a premium just now in the caverns; it's always more crowded in winter when some of our outlying folk move in and the weather is too cold to sleep out." He considered the matter. "You're not quite regular guardsmen, of course, so I suppose if you're not in the barracks it will do no harm to morale, though it might make it harder for you to get to know your comrades."

Snapping his fingers, Legolas said, "I have it. If you don't mind sharing a bed – it is a large bed," he interrupted himself. "There is a guest room very near the guards' quarters, which is almost never used because of its inconvenient location. It was turned into a guest room originally because there is a little chamber off it that has a natural warm spring, making a perfect bathing pool, but as I say it's too far out of the way for most people. It would be perfect for you two, though, who are guests as well as guards-to-be. Does that sound as if would suit?"

Careful not to catch Melpomaen's eye, Haldir answered gravely that it sounded more than adequate to their needs.

"Good, good. I'll take you there and you can leave your things, then we'll get over to draw you some gear. You both have weapons already, I know, but since you'll be in my company and we're on guard duty this season," Legolas pulled a face, "we have to have you dress the formal part. I imagine you won't mind having an extra change or two of clothing, anyhow, if you've been traveling for many weeks. And here we are." He pushed a door open and flourished a bow. "Entirely at your disposal. Wait, take a candle in. There should be a lamp somewhere. I'll be back in half an hour to show you where to get your dinners, and we'll see to your clothes after that."

Melpomaen shut the door as Haldir found the lamp on the table and lit it, blowing out the candle and setting it aside to return to the sconce in the corridor later. The younger Elf sat on the edge of the bed and jounced it experimentally.

"Seems comfortable enough. I suppose the linen for it is in one of those chests." He cocked his head at Haldir. "What was it you said the other day about a hot bath, a soft bed, and me?"

Haldir laughed. "Mother always told me to be careful what I wished for, because I might get it. Not now, Maen, you know that as well as I do," he chided, as Melpomaen sprawled across the bed and patted the space beside him invitingly. "I must say that we have had a far warmer welcome than I had looked for. Let's not risk offending the prince right away by not being ready when he comes back."

"All right, Dír," grumbled Melpomaen, rising. "We should probably wash up, though, and I'll need your help with that a bit."

They quickly undressed and entered the bathing chamber. It was cunningly designed: the warm water trickled in continuously at one end, filling a natural depression in the rock that was about two feet deep and six feet across in each direction. An outlet at the bottom of the far end let the water escape at the same rate, but could be opened wider to drain the pool of dirtied water after bathing or closed to refill it again.

Standing knee-deep or more, they embraced. Haldir could feel his lover hard against him, and wished that Legolas had said an hour rather than half-an-hour, which time was already half-gone. Kissing Melpomaen on the cheek, he said, "Don't tempt me now, meldanya. We'll have plenty of time later."

Melpomaen put on a mischievous expression. "I will, at least until my arm is fully healed, but will you? Guard duties might keep you awfully busy. . . and Prince Legolas is quite handsome."

"As if that would make any difference." Haldir chuckled and reached for the soap. "You know I have only eyes for you."

"I know – that's why I made the joke, silly." He turned to let his lover wash his back.

Once clean, they dried off hastily and put their traveling clothes back on with some reluctance.

"Remind me to ask later what arrangements are available for laundry," muttered Haldir to Melpomaen as a knock sounded on the door and an immaculate Legolas stepped in.

"Ready? Then come with me."

Blowing out the lamp and taking the candle, Melpomaen followed the other two into the corridor.

Chapter Text

They had been nearly a fortnight in the woodland realm, and Melpomaen was growing restless at his forced inactivity. Though his arm was nearly healed it was not yet strong enough to allow him to join Haldir among Legolas's company. He had explored the many passages that made up Thranduil's great hold, and ventured outside when the weather was fair enough. The king had been wise in his weather-telling. The fourth day after the partners' arrival a great storm had set in, blanketing all the woods in white. Though much had now disappeared – it was far too early in the season for it to endure, even so far north – drifts still lay in the shadowed hollows of the land.

Melpomaen was glad that they had shelter from the storm, and a safe place to pass the winter, but he rather wished that he and Haldir were still traveling. He had hoped, when they were assigned their quarters, that the privacy would allow more time for love, but that hope had been disappointed in part. It was evidently traditional for the guard company's members to spend most of their free hours together, eating, singing, talking, dicing. Haldir felt that they should join in, for courtesy's sake, and Melpomaen did not disagree, although it meant that he saw little of his lover except during the hours of rest. He hoped that tonight he might persuade Haldir to leave the hall early, and seek their room.

But there was still another tedious day to endure before that. He had refurbished their gear as well as he could, sharpening sword and knife, replacing spent arrows, waxing leather as needed. Fine mending was not one of his skills, but Haldir had agreed to do that in his spare time – if he ever had any, thought Melpomaen a bit sourly – and really there was little else to do. So he wandered down the corridor towards the king's great hall, deciding that at the least he could observe the activity of the court, a bustle unlike anything he imagined would be tolerated by Lord Celeborn or Lady Galadriel back in Lothlórien.

He found a conveniently-placed bench and watched as Thranduil dealt quickly with two boundary disputes, an accusation of theft, and a request by a company of Dwarves for safe-conduct along the Forest Road. A soft cough alerted him that someone was nearby.

"Melpomaen?"

It was the woman that they had brought with them on the day they arrived – Vida, yes, that was her name. He smiled at her.

"Good morning, Vida."

Her face remained serious. "I wanted to thank you again, and your friend, for bringing me here. I can't imagine what I would have done out there all alone. Baldor ought to be back any day now that the snow is melted, and I know he will want to give you his thanks, too. I haven't seen you about the halls – I have been staying mostly down in the kitchens, lending a hand to keep busy, so I haven't looked that hard, I suppose. But where do you sleep? I heard that you both were joining the guards for the winter and would be in barracks – is that not true?"

The quick speech was difficult for Melpomaen to follow, but he understood the gist of it. "Speak slower, please, Vida. I do not know much Westron."

"Oh!" She caught her breath and repeated herself. "I thank you, Melpomaen. My husband Baldor will thank you. I have been here, in the kitchens, and heard that you and Haldir were in the guards here now. In the barracks?"

Melpomaen patted the bench beside him and urged her to sit. "Yes, Haldir is a guard. I, not yet." He held out his arm in explanation. "My arm was broken, so I wait. We are not in barracks, but in a guest room. You?"

"Oh, I am staying with a kinswoman. I had not known that her husband decided to move to these parts, and take service with the Elf-king. They have two rooms, and I sleep in with their daughter, until Baldor arrives. I do not know what we will do then," she replied.

"I wish you happiness someday, and another son."

"Do you have any children of your own?" Vida asked. "I know little of the Elves and their ways, though I live now in an Elvish realm. I would like to learn more."

"We do not all live the same," Melpomaen said, "and I do not know the customs here. I am sorry. I have no children, no spouse. I work with Haldir; we have been guards together some years. When he came north, I came with him, for more safety."

"Do your people not marry, then, if they take on such tasks? I know that the king's youngest son who commands the guard is not wed, either. It seems strange to me, for most Men wish to marry as soon as they may."

He shrugged. "Depends. We do not die as Men do, so can perhaps wait longer. My father was a border guard after marriage and children. But he worked many years first. Haldir's brothers both have spouses, but not many women wish to marry forest rangers. There is always the chance of ill-luck, and death. Also it is usual for Elves for both mother and father to be home with little children."

As soon as he said the last, he regretted it, for Vida's face paled and she looked away.

"I am sorry," Melpomaen said after a moment, taking her hand. "I did not mean to remind you of your sadness."

She shook her head, ignoring the tears on her cheeks. "It is not your fault, and I cannot expect never to hear anything that might touch my sorrow." She tried a smile, saying, "But I should return now; my kinswoman will expect me for the noon meal."

"I hope to see you again," said Melpomaen, and watched her retreating form. He ought to go down to the guards' mess for the same purpose, but he lingered in the great hall instead, watching the bustle around the king.

Thranduil, free for a moment, caught his eye and beckoned him over. "I hear that you and your friend have settled in well. Do you find our halls to your liking?"

It was a relief to be able to speak in familiar Sindarin again. Melpomaen assured him that such was the case, and added that he only wished that he were able to take a turn at guard, for he found the wait while his arm healed tedious.

"And so you come here to pass the time, am I right? Well, I shall have some free moments tomorrow, and I would appreciate it if you would come to speak with me then. I had intended to talk with you or Haldir earlier, but always something intervened. In early afternoon, I think, and not here. In my chambers – they are the fourth door to the left, down that corridor," he indicated which with a wave. "I will expect you then."

Although slightly wary of what this summons might portend, Melpomaen assented with all the enthusiasm he could muster. Thranduil then excused him to go to his meal, which he did with all speed.

Sliding in next to Haldir in the company mess, he refrained from mentioning his appointment in such a public space, but murmured that they needed to talk that evening. Haldir nodded, but his eyes were questioning.

"Later," said Melpomaen, passing the bread.

As the meal drew to a close, Legolas stood to announce the next week's assignments. Haldir drew night duty. Melpomaen, of course, was not assigned to any post, but he resolved to speak with the captain immediately and ask if there were not some task or chore he might do to contribute to his keep, even with a healing arm.

Legolas looked him over. "Are you any good with figures? Our usual records clerk took leave last summer – family matters – and although I've been making a stab at it, I really haven't the time to keep it all up."

Melpomaen admitted to some knowledge of the art of mathematics, but did not conceal that he had no practical experience in such things.

This feeble protest was brushed aside. "No matter, you'll soon learn to manage. You have plenty of time on your hands to work on it. Come, I'll show you where the books are kept."

It proved to be a dark cubbyhole off the armory. Legolas bent his fair head over the desk, saying, "This pile here, these are ours. If you can get them straightened out, it would be a great service – more of a service than your fighting arm, indeed!"

Lighting a pair of stubby candles, he indicated a chair behind the desk. "Sit, sit. Be comfortable as you work. Let me know this evening or tomorrow how you're getting on, and we'll go from there."

As Legolas left, Melpomaen turned to the disorderly stack of ledgers and loose sheets. He decided that he had better look over the books first to determine the system that the former clerk had been using, before he began to make any new additions.

Evening came and he was still struggling to put the past half-year's records and receipts into some kind of order, when sounds out in the armory indicated the departure of the evening guard and the return of the day's patrol. He stretched, knuckling the small of his back, and wandered out.

Haldir was already at a table with the three Elves he had been on patrol with, but when Melpomaen arrived he made room next to himself on the long bench.

"I told them already that I wouldn't be joining them in the common room tonight," he said in low tones.

"Good. I need to consult with you before tomorrow."

Melpomaen ate quickly and left, pausing only to advise the captain quietly that for some part of the next day he was called to an audience with the king, and so would have to stop working on the records for a time.

Legolas shrugged. "They've waited this long, they can wait another few hours. You don't want to irritate my father, certainly. What does he wish to discuss with you?"

"I don't know. Perhaps just to ask about our journey and what passes in the lands outside the wood?"

"Perhaps. I would like to talk about such things with you or Haldir myself, sometime." The blue eyes gleamed. "Have you ever been to Imladris? I hear great tales of that hold."

"No, never," said Melpomaen regretfully. "Perhaps someday."

"Ah well. You can tell me of the lands you do know." Legolas smiled and let Melpomaen take his leave.

Waiting for Haldir to arrive, Melpomaen found himself tidying up their room. Working with the unfamiliar and rather disorderly records seemed to have inspired him to take control of some other part of his life. When the golden-haired Elf stepped through the doorway and turned to make sure that the latch was set, Melpomaen was kneeling beside the bed, refolding tunics to lay in the chest.

With a few quick strides Haldir was beside him. "A fair sight indeed you are, Maen." He sighed and knelt to embrace his lover. "I am truly sorry that I have been so preoccupied; there are just enough differences between here and home that I've been on edge, trying to make sure that I did nothing that might inadvertently offend or cause distress."

Melpomaen held him tightly and laid their cheeks together. "I know. But I didn't ask you to leave early to talk about that. King Thranduil asked me to attend him tomorrow, and I am sure he will wish to hear about where we come from, where we have been, what we have seen. We ought to have known this would happen. I'm worried – I expected that you would be there too, you're a much better politician than I, and I'm not sure what I will be able to say."

Haldir looked bemused. "Why, the truth of course."

"But how much of the truth? Should I tell the king that we are from Lórien and on an errand for Celeborn, to seal an alliance with Dale? I thought you did not want our origins widely known. Is it safe to tell Thranduil, even?"

"Tell him no lies, but as little of the truth as possible. You will probably have to say that we're from the Golden Wood – avoid it if you can, but don't worry if you can't. I would say, though, to try not to explain the reason for our journey. That is a matter for our own king, and Dale's king, not for the king of Mirkwood."

"I'll do my best." Melpomaen took a deep breath. "But in the meantime, since you're here, and we're alone. . . you did lock the door?"

"Yes." Haldir reached up to trace the line of Melpomaen's jaw. "We haven't had a whole evening and night to ourselves since we arrived, one way and another. Let us not let it slip past." He sat back on his heels and rose, holding a hand out to his lover. "Especially with that bathing room so convenient."

"Mm. That was a piece of luck, wasn't it? Or. . . was it luck?"

"What do you mean?"

"It does seem surprising that two strangers should be given a room such as this, don't you think?"

Haldir shook his head. "Why would it be? Legolas told us on the day we arrived that this room was rarely used, despite the bathing room, because it was so far from the main hall and close to the guards' barracks."

"I suppose. I just wonder if it was intended as bribery of some kind, that's all."

"How could it be? King Thranduil did not choose the room; he only told his son to assign us suitable quarters. There was no time for them to have arranged anything." Haldir was slowly removing Melpomaen's clothing, piece by piece, beside the warm water. He pressed a kiss on his lover's shoulder where the collarbone joined it. "If you're thinking of your appointment with the king tomorrow, I really don't believe there is anything to be concerned about."

Melpomaen sighed as he felt Haldir's lips travel up his throat and around to the lobe of his ear. He reached out to hold Haldir firmly against him. "Of course you're right."

"I know." Haldir pushed away a little, and began to pull off his own tunic, wrinkling his nose. "Did my other uniform come back from being laundered?"

"I think so."

"Good, then I can let this one go. Erentar put me on the long patrol today, not gate duty, and I got rather warm – it was a fine sunny day, no wind." He tossed the offending garments into a corner and slipped into the water, smiling at Melpomaen. "Come on in, the water's fine."

The dark Elf climbed in. He leaned over to kiss Haldir quickly, then said, "Would you mind giving me a bit of massage? Working over that desk all afternoon has cramped my back – I'm not used to sitting still that way."

"If you like. Turn around, then."

Melpomaen sat tailor-fashion in front of Haldir, the water lapping near his shoulder blades.

"Not as easy with the water so high, but. . . the warmth ought to relax your muscles," said Haldir, digging his thumbs into the muscles along Melpomaen's spine. "Yes, like that. Close your eyes and relax, meldanya."

Melpomaen did as Haldir bid him, letting the dark behind his eyelids sparkle with every firm touch that seemed to chase the tightness away. Gradually his thoughts calmed and he rested, content in mind and body.

Haldir could tell by his lover's breathing that he was on the edge of dreams, and though loath in a way to disturb him, he did not want to lose this chance for an evening alone together. His kneading motions slowed and stopped, and he waited patiently for Melpomaen's awareness to return to him. When he felt the younger Elf shift position, he was ready.

"Here, Maen." He took up the soap and began to wash Melpomaen's back and arms, urging him to turn so that he could reach every part of his body. When he had finished, Melpomaen did likewise, admiring as always his lover's muscled frame.

"Would you like me to wash your hair?"

"Please," and Haldir leaned back to wet it thoroughly.

Both clean, they moved of one accord to dry off and return to the main room. Haldir sat on the floor next to the bed as Melpomaen combed his hair, smoothing each golden strand until the whole shone as if the sun had entered deep underground.

The soft glancing touches on his throat and neck and ears roused Haldir's desire, and when Melpomaen would have begun to braid his hair, he pushed the deft hands away and pulled himself onto the bed, drawing the other down with him until they lay curled together, Haldir behind Melpomaen and tracing lazy circles across his chest.

"This is my joy," he whispered. "The greater for knowing that its time will end."

Melpomaen closed his ears to the second part, only reaching around behind to hug Haldir more closely to him.

Haldir took the flask of sweet oil from the night-table and poured a bit into the palm of his hand, coating his fingers, then nudged one fingertip just barely inside Melpomaen's tight entrance. His other arm snaked between ribs and clean linen to grasp waiting hardness. At that touch Melpomaen sighed and pushed back, opening gladly to Haldir's finger.

Heat surged through Haldir's limbs, pooling at his groin, as he pulled out and then filled his lover again, this time with his own rigid shaft. The sensation as Melpomaen clamped down, then relaxed, almost undid him, but he held back, penetrating and withdrawing in long strokes matched by the movements of his hands.

The bed frame creaked softly to the rhythm of their love, luckily not loudly enough to be heard by any chance passer-by in the corridor.

Haldir blew aside the dark hair before him and kissed Melpomaen's neck with biting kisses, desperate in his growing need. He thrust deeper, faster, feeling his lover yield to him.

"Ah. . . Maen," he gasped, and his seed flooded into the warm dark recesses. Melpomaen was still hard in his hands as he withdrew.

"I want to have you, too, Dír," came the muted voice. Melpomaen turned to face Haldir. "I want to see you."

Haldir reached for the oil again, handing it over, and rolled onto his back in the center of the bed, legs parted and raised, as Melpomaen ran a slick finger along the crease between thigh and groin and to the puckered hole, then with one swift yet gentle thrust, plunged his cock deep within.

He would have thought himself spent, but the nudges against his most sensitive spot as Melpomaen moved caused him to harden again. He looked up at his lover's intent face and smiled. Melpomaen's loose hair hung down on either side, creating a space where nothing could be seen except each other.

"You are the brightest star in my heaven," he said.

"You are my Silmaril," Melpomaen replied. That struck Haldir as an ill-omen, but he concealed his misgivings and surrendered to the feelings surging once again. (1) He used one hand to cup Melpomaen's buttocks and the other to tease himself against Melpomaen's stomach. His very bones felt turned to liquid by the intensity of loving desire he saw in Melpomaen's eyes, desire that he knew was reflected in his own.

A few last strokes and Melpomaen reached his climax, followed a moment later by Haldir's second. They lay, breathing ragged, entwined.

"If we could have this every night. . ."

Haldir twisted uncomfortably. "You know there are good reasons not."

"I know." A sigh, then, "But if we could manage it on the journey, surely we can do so here?"

"We do at least get to sleep together," Haldir pointed out. "Can't do that while traveling, not when there are strange creatures about,"

"True enough – I suppose I'm just greedy to wish for both."

"I wish for both too, I just don't think it would be wise."

Melpomaen now was the one to move in rejection. "I'm tired of having to be wise, meldanya. I cannot tell you how tired of that I am." He sat up. "I want to be foolish in love, just for a little while. Is that such an impossible thing?"

Haldir's heart turned over at the sadness on Melpomaen's face, but he could not change the ways of the world. "For us, I think it is," he whispered, swallowing hard. He too sat up and took Melpomaen in his arms, holding him tightly.

As they embraced, a soft knock sounded on the door.

"Haldir?"

It was the voice of Legolas.

"May I come in?"



Footnote:
(1) The Silmarils, made in Valinor by Fëanor, were jewels that held the light of the Two Trees of Yavanna, and it was foretold that the fate of Arda – earth, air, and water – lay locked within them. Morgoth, the Great Enemy, stole the Silmarils, with the result that many of the Noldor returned to Middle-earth and fought great wars to repossess the jewels. The full story is of course told in The Silmarillion, and was undoubtedly well-known in Lórien due to the presence there of Galadriel, a close kinswoman of Fëanor and one of the Exiles. Haldir would have thought Melpomaen's mention an ill-omen because the theft of the Silmarils had provoked not simply war but also the Kinslaying, when the departing Noldor fought the Teleri at Alqualondë and seized their ships.

Chapter Text

The two Elves looked at each other, aghast. After an instant Haldir swallowed and said, "Just a moment, sir." He climbed out of the bed and held out a hand to Melpomaen, whispering to him to go into the bathing room and toss out a towel, then close that door. Quickly he pulled the bed to rights, and wrapping the towel around his hips, opened the door to the corridor.

Legolas entered, raising an eyebrow as he saw Haldir's state of undress. His glance flickered to the closed door of the bathing room, but his face remained grave.

"I am sorry to disturb your evening, but I wanted to ask your advice."

"Mine? Whatever could you need my advice about?"

"You were recently in Dale, were you not?"

"I was," acknowledged Haldir. "What of it?"

The other Elf paced around the room. "You know, then, that Dale is only recently rebuilt under King Bard, after the slaying of the dragon Smaug. You may not have heard all the details of the battle against the Goblins and Wargs that followed, in which my father and our people fought alongside the Dwarves and Men. Suffice it to say that many fell in that fight, and although we were cheered by the crushing of the evil creatures and the death of the dragon, still my father holds the Dwarves in some measure to blame for our losses. He makes no overt sign, save for one; though Elf or Man may beg shelter from him and he will give it freely, if a Dwarf should do the same, he levies a heavy toll in silver and gold. I would like to persuade him otherwise, lest he get a reputation throughout Erebor for greediness, but I have spent little time beyond our borders and my opinion will carry little weight."

"What would you have from me, then?"

"Tell me, Haldir, do you think that my father does well in this matter?" Legolas's fair face was troubled. "How think you I might convince him to change his custom in this?"

Haldir gestured to a chair and urged Legolas to sit. Going over to the chest and pulling out a tunic, he said, "I agree that for a king to appear miserly rather than generous is a blow to his reputation. But I cannot see that my persuasion would make a difference. Or are you asking me to give you ideas with which you might argue?" With his back to the other, he slipped into fresh garments.

Legolas nodded.

"You might. . ." Haldir was interrupted as the door to the bathing room opened and Melpomaen stepped out, fully dressed but with damp hair.

"Haldir, where did –" Melpomaen cut off. "Good evening, Legolas, sir."

"Good evening, Melpomaen. Your friend and I were just talking about the problem of Dwarves."

"What problem?"

"Ah, only that my father treats Dwarves quite differently from Elves or even Men, and I am not sure that this is a good idea. I was asking Haldir what he thought."

"I believe that the best thing to do would be to bring it up in the context of finance generally," said Haldir. "King Thranduil is not charging the Dwarves for hospitality to raise money, is he? It is solely because he does not quite trust them, and still holds them to blame for your recent losses. But that makes little sense; surely it was not Dwarves who killed your people? Perhaps if you suggested that he ask all guests to pay – and when he objected, inquire why it should be necessary to charge Dwarves, in that case?"

"Perhaps," said Legolas doubtfully.

"I will be speaking with the king tomorrow," Melpomaen pointed out. "If you wish, and if the conversation falls that way, I could mention that the Men of Dale treat all alike. Was there not a Dwarf in King Bard's court, a messenger from Dáin, when we were there?"

"You were staying in the king's household?" Legolas inquired. "What errand had you in the city that brought you there?"

Haldir shot a repressing glance at Melpomaen, who flushed slightly. "I had a message to deliver to someone in the king's household, and we were offered hospitality," Haldir said, not wishing to make either the identity of that someone, or the significance of that message, known before its reply had reached the Lord of the Golden Wood, whose concern it was.

"Well, that would be an argument which might do some good; my father would not wish to fail in open-handedness next to the king of Dale." Legolas paused. "It is not that he is really greedy, you know, nor even that he hates Dwarves – mistrusts them, perhaps, but that is no more than is to be expected in these perilous days. I think it is only that he does not quite realize what he is doing, and how it might seem to others."

"Of course," assented Haldir, and Melpomaen murmured agreement.

Legolas stood and smiled. "Thank you for your counsel, friends. I do apologize for having intruded like this."

With his hand on the knob, he spoke, seemingly to the wooden doorframe. "I would suggest that you make sure to cap that flask of oil, though." And with that he left.

Haldir sat heavily on the bed.

"He knows," said Melpomaen.

"It seems likely so."

"But he did not act unkindly. Do you think, perhaps, Thranduil's folk do not see a pairing of two binn in the same light as they do in Lórien?"

"I don't know," said Haldir. "It's not exactly something that the guards converse about on duty, after all! Certainly I haven't brought up the subject."

"Maybe you should. . . or I should. Somehow. If we are to be here for months yet, it would reassure me to know how they feel here."

"Perhaps," but Haldir's eyes were worried. "I don't think that Legolas will say anything, at least not intentionally."

Melpomaen stretched. "No, he won't, I feel sure." He crawled across the bed and knelt behind his lover, wrapping his arms around Haldir's chest. "I think I'm glad he knows," he whispered in Haldir's ear.

"Why in Arda do you say that?"

"Because I've seen him look at you. Oh, nothing too overt, but he pays just a little more attention to you than to any of the other men in the company, and I don't think it is just because you are a stranger. He doesn't look at me in the same way. No, Dír, I think it's that lovely golden hair of yours," he ran his fingers through the gleaming mass, "or maybe your handsome face," drawing a finger along the line of Haldir's jaw and down his neck, "or just the way you move, with that wild-animal, danger-leashed tension." He ran his hands across Haldir's chest and down to the firm thighs.

Haldir chuckled. "I think you are mistaken, Maen. I certainly have never noticed any such thing."

"You're too modest. I'm sure I've seen some appreciative looks that went a bit further than simply admiring your skill with a sword."

Abruptly pulling away, Melpomaen sprawled on the bed, gazing up at the ceiling.

"What is it?"

"Just wondering. . . if they do not mind, here, such a bonding as ours, would you not consider staying?"

"We cannot stay forever," Haldir reminded him. "As soon as the spring comes, I at least must return to Lórien with the message from King Bard."

"Not stay, then, but we could come back, afterward?"

"But we don't even know if we would be accepted, Maen."

"But if we were."

"I don't know." Haldir shook his head. "I would have to think about it. You know that I love you, you know that I want to be with you for the rest of our days – but I miss our home, I miss the Golden Wood, and my brothers and family. It would be hard to leave them forever, too."

"I see," said Melpomaen, his voice husky. He flung one arm over his eyes.

Haldir stretched out beside Melpomaen and pressed against him.

"I am not saying no," he whispered. "I don't want to say no. But I have to tell you the truth, meldanya. Even if it seems that others – not just Legolas, but all of Mirkwood – would accept the notion of a pair of bonded binn, I find this land strange. My forefathers may have lived here, but they are long gone, and I am a child of Lórien. I could live here for a time, and with you I could be content, but I would still miss my homeland. Would you not also someday yearn to see a mallorn once more?"

Melpomaen was tense beside him. "I hold trees less dear than I hold you, Dír." He took a deep breath and sighed. "But you are right that we can make no decisions yet in any case. We will see what gossip and common wisdom have to say about such matters." He uncovered his face and pulled a wry grin. "Though I don't think questioning King Thranduil tomorrow would be the best idea!"

Haldir lifted a hand to brush his lover's dark hair away from his thin face. "Probably not. But I will see what I can find out, too."

Taking Haldir's hand, Melpomaen said, "Yes. If you happen to see Legolas alone. . ."

"I will discreetly inquire if he has anything he needs to tell me about local custom, perhaps. Or something of the sort."

"All right." Melpomaen moved their joined hands down to brush suggestively across his groin. "I must say, seeing Legolas look at you made you look even better to me as well."

Haldir laughed again. "I still think you were seeing things that weren't there, but I'm flattered." He swung a leg across Melpomaen's hips and half-knelt, hands on either side of the other's head. "Since we're unlikely to be interrupted again. . ."

He leaned down and kissed his lover unhurriedly, tracing the outline of Melpomaen's lips with his own tongue, then gently parting them to dart within and probe the moist recesses of his mouth.

"This is for you, Maen," he said, pulling back. "What would you have me do?"

Melpomaen's eyes opened. "Let's go back into the bathing room." As they rose, he reached for the oil flask and capped it.

Undressing for the second time that evening, they slipped into the water and sat facing each other, their legs entwined, embracing. The water lapped gently around their chests and shoulders as they kissed, hard mouths softening in the caress of tongues and lips. Haldir took the initiative, teasingly nibbling, then unexpectedly thrusting his tongue into Melpomaen's mouth to capture his breath.

The press of Haldir's leg between his thighs, against the base of his groin, the feel of Haldir's strong arms around him, the taste of Haldir's mouth in his own – Melpomaen's excitement rose with each moment.

Haldir could feel Melpomaen hard against his own hardness, but repeated, "What do you want me to do, Maen?"

"Just hold me like this for now; I like the way you feel against me. But I like you inside me too."

"Ah, then." Haldir ran his left hand down Melpomaen's back, cupping his buttocks, then slipped a single finger inside, feeling for the spot that he knew would give his lover the greatest pleasure. He caressed the place even as he used his other arm to draw Melpomaen's body more tightly against him.

Melpomaen groaned, burying his face in Haldir's shoulder.

"Yes? Is that what you want?"

Melpomaen managed a nod, too intent on the sensations to speak.

Haldir turned his head slightly and bit Melpomaen's neck. "Anything you want, Maen," he promised. "But you have to tell me."

Another nod, then Melpomaen said, "Touch us both."

As Haldir continued to move his finger inside Melpomaen, he leaned a bit away and slid his other hand between their bodies, pressing their two members together and rubbing with a firm stroke. The warm water felt different from the oil they generally used for their lovemaking, and he enjoyed the unusual sensation. Melpomaen was thrusting slightly against him, urging him on.

Knowing that he was giving such pleasure to his lover increased his own passion, and Haldir had to work hard to hold back until Melpomaen was ready. He could feel the blood pounding between them, beating in syncopated delight as they moved together.

"Oh, Dír, now," came the throaty whisper, and Haldir flickered his finger, feeling Melpomaen tense and still, then quiver as he pumped his release into the water. Seconds later Haldir reached his own peak, and let his hand float away to curve around Melpomaen's back, carefully pulling the other finger out past the tight barrier.

They leaned together, tiredly happy, held up by each other and by the water itself. At last Haldir said, "Comfortable though this is, meldanya, I don't think we'd better sleep here, or we risk drowning by accident."

Melpomaen agreed sleepily, and they climbed out, taking turns drying each other off before collecting their clothes and emerging into the outer room. Melpomaen turned down the bed and slid between the cool linen sheets, waiting for Haldir to blow out the lamp.

"What's this?" Haldir bent down and picked up a piece of parchment next to the door. He read it, biting his lip.

"What's what?" asked Melpomaen, who had already closed his eyes.

"Nothing, we can talk about it in the morning," said Haldir. Dousing the light, he stretched out next to Melpomaen, but lay wakeful, wondering how to respond to a note that read, "See me before you go on duty tomorrow. L."

Chapter Text

Melpomaen yawned and stretched luxuriously, enjoying the fact that he could sleep comfortably in a bed with Haldir, neither of them having to keep awake for safety's sake. Haldir was still asleep, curled up facing away. Melpomaen snaked one arm around his lover's waist and snuggled close.

"Dír," he murmured. "Time to wake, meldanya."

Haldir grumbled in his throat and curled up even tighter.

"You have to wake up, love," persisted Melpomaen. "Don't you have guard duty this morning? Your turn on night watch doesn't start till tomorrow. And I need to work on the company records before keeping my appointment with King Thranduil. Besides, I'm hungry, and they'll stop serving breakfast in the guards' mess soon. Come on, Dír."

At last Haldir uncurled and sat up crossly. "All right, I'm awake." He went to the clothes-press, shivering a little on the stone floor, and pulled out clothes for each of them, tossing Melpomaen's to him. "Here."

He saw the scrap of parchment on the table and hastily thrust it into a pocket. He would go to see Legolas after breakfast.

The two Elves were relieved to see that they were not the last to arrive for the morning meal; they each collected a bowl of porridge and a handful of raisins to sweeten it, and found two places together at a long table. Morning was usually a quiet time, even among the guards, and they said little as they ate. Melpomaen finished first and went off to delve once again among the ledgers and scrolls in the dusty room adjoining the armory. Haldir ate more slowly, unsure of why his captain wished to see him, his mind worrying over possibilities like a wolf gnawing over old bones. He could not postpone the meeting forever, though, and eventually he tapped at the appropriate door.

"Come inside," he heard Legolas say.

Haldir advanced a few feet into the room and stopped.

"Shut the door and come sit down," Legolas told him. He was seated in a comfortable-looking chair carved from dark wood, in front of a fire crackling redly behind a polished copper grate. Behind him stood a heavy table, piled high with scrolls. He gestured for Haldir to sit in a similar chair on the opposite side of the fireplace, the mantel of which held several glass sculptures, each in a different jewel-toned color. A worn carpet patterned in leaves softened the floor between the seats.

Sitting stiffly on the edge of the chair indicated, Haldir looked at Legolas and waited.

Now that Haldir was there, Legolas seemed at a loss for words. He stepped over to the table and picked up a roll of parchment, fidgeting with it for a moment, then replaced it deliberately on the pile. Still with his back to Haldir, at last he spoke.

"Am I correct in what I believe about you and your friend Melpomaen?"

"That depends on what you believe," said Haldir carefully. "Tell me what it is, and I will tell you if you are correct."

Legolas whirled around, his eyes intent on the other's, his expression set. "I believe that you and he are lovers, and that wherever you come from, that is why you left, since you have said nothing of the matter. Did you think to hide here in Mirkwood?"

Haldir shut his eyes against the scorn he thought he detected in his captain's face. "No. I mean, yes, we love each other, but we did not come here because of that. As I told your father when we first arrived, after Melpomaen was injured on our journey, we decided that the north road through the forest would be safer than the old Dwarf-road in the south, and we did not realize how advanced the season was. We did not seek to take advantage of King Thranduil's hospitality. If our presence is unacceptable, though, we will depart." Swallowing, he opened his eyes again to see Legolas's face only inches from his own.

The other held his gaze for a long moment, then walked away. Haldir was surprised when he heard the latch on the door being thrown shut, and yet more surprised when Legolas came to stand behind his chair and rested his hands on Haldir's shoulders. Haldir could feel Legolas's hands tremble slightly as they moved inward to press against his neck.

"Sir," he said, apprehensive. "What are you doing?"

A finger traced across his throat, then abruptly Legolas pulled away and went back to sit again facing Haldir.

"You love each other, you said. I ask again, are you lovers? No, you need not answer. I have no doubt but that it is so. What I mean to ask is rather, are you bonded?"

Haldir looked at Legolas curiously. "How could I be Maen's lover without a bond between us?"

Legolas sighed. "Think on it, Haldir. When is the bond created between benn and bess? When they are fully joined for the first time in the act of love. Till then, whatever promises have been given, whatever touches exchanged, the bond is incomplete and may be severed with no lasting repercussions. It is likewise with two binn, as you should know. So I ask again, are the two of you bonded?"

"Why does it matter to you whether we are or not?" demanded Haldir in a heated tone. "I have admitted that we love each other, and that should be enough justification for you to have us leave, if you wish. The rest is none of your concern."

Legolas's face reddened. "It matters not for that reason. I will not share your secret further, if you would have it kept, nor is it cause for you to leave."

"Then why, by all the stars, did you bring me here to ask me such questions?"

With a look of shame, Legolas said, "Because. . . because I hoped you were not. Because I think we are much alike, you and I."

Suddenly Haldir comprehended, and his anger left him. He knew all too well how Legolas must feel at this moment, forced by desperation to say such a thing to a near-stranger.

"Why do you think so?"

"I have never yet seen a bess for whom I felt any affection like what I have felt towards my male companions. I like talking with biss, I enjoy their company, I even appreciate their beauty, but only in a detached way – my breath never catches, my heart never beats more quickly, my desires never stir. But as I began to know you, Haldir. . ." his voice trailed off in misery, then he burst out again, "And all the worse that you are under my command. I know it is wrong of me to feel this way, but I do not seem to be able to do otherwise. Yet I like and respect Melpomaen also. What am I to do, Haldir?"

The Lórien Elf heard him out. "I cannot tell you with whom your destiny lies, Legolas, not even if it will indeed be with a benn rather than a bess. Perhaps Ilúvatar has a strange fate in store for you."

"Whatever it is, it cannot lie with me," he continued with a hint of regret in his voice, "for as you believed, Melpomaen and I do share the bond of lovers. I am sorry that I must disappoint you, and I hope you will not hold it against me, or him? If you want to talk about such matters, I at least would be happy to do so – I lived near to despair for many years, myself, for among my kin and people those suspected of such feelings are despised, even outcast. You were not entirely wrong in thinking that this contributed to our willingness to wander, though it was by no means the sole reason. But I, at least, was happy to be away for a little while from those who would think ill of me for who I love. Do folk not think similarly here?"

Legolas replied, "Not entirely. It is not highly thought of, that two binn or two biss should form a bond, but it is acknowledged as something that may happen. Those who bond in that way are if anything pitied, since they will never have children. So some conceal their feelings, rather than experience such condescension. It is often known, but ignored in courtesy." He smiled a little, ruefully. "The causes for such a bond are on occasion debated among us, as a rhetorical point – how else, think you, I came to know so well how two binn may be bonded? Some who debate undoubtedly follow such a path themselves, but I might not know for certain in every instance. I would not dare to assume that one with no acknowledged mate had found another like himself, though that could well be the case."

"I see. Your people clearly have ideas that differ from those I am accustomed to. I am curious as to how they were developed, and justified."

"Some evening this winter, I am sure it will be discussed among the guard, as it is a perennial topic," Legolas promised. "But Haldir, I would take it as a favor if you would say nothing of this conversation, treat me no differently, as I will treat you just as any other guardsman and friend. I should not have made my feelings known to you, in the circumstances; they verge on the dishonorable and put you in an awkward position."

Haldir frowned. "Melpomaen may ask something; he was near asleep when I saw your message, but he may recall and inquire about what you wanted. I will not lie to him, but I am sure he would not share your secret further."

"If you trust him – well, I trust you," said Legolas. "I'm afraid I've made you late for your turn at duty. I need to check on Melpomaen, too, and make certain he has everything he needs for his work."

He rose and held out his hands to Haldir. "Thank you."

They left Legolas's room together, Haldir departing to take up his watch, Legolas to find Melpomaen.

The latter had spent his morning still sorting through the jumble of sheets and ledgers, trying to put them in some kind of order. He looked up in relief as Legolas appeared in the doorway.

"Sir, I'm glad you're here. I wanted to get these organized by time to begin with, but a number of the loose leaves have no indication of any date. Can you help me with that, or send for someone who might know?"

"I can try – it is more likely that I would know what orders were made when than any other. In fact, it is probably my haste and lack of attention that has caused your difficulties." He removed a stack of books from the second chair in the room and sat down.

The two of them worked through the pile of undated items for an hour or more, Legolas skimming through and giving his best guess at the date for each, Melpomaen noting it down in any convenient empty margin and filing each leaf in order with the rest. When they reached the bottom of the stack, Melpomaen thanked the captain.

"I believe I can get this into shape pretty well now, thank you." He paused, and cleared his throat.

"Yes?" Legolas was rising to go.

"Well, sir, I'm not sure if I ought to say it, but about last night. . ."

Legolas sat back down and braced himself.

"You were asking about how to get King Thranduil to treat the Dwarves more equitably," said Melpomaen.

Legolas leaned back in relief. "Yes?"

"As you know, I am to speak with him today, at his request, and I just wanted to say again that if you wished I could try to turn the conversation to such matters," Melpomaen volunteered.

"That is a kind offer, but you need not do so. Besides, my father rarely lets another control his conversations – it is more likely that he will get you to speak on topics of his choosing, instead. I do thank you for the thought, though."

"As you wish," shrugged Melpomaen.

Legolas hesitated a moment, then said, "I'm going to rearrange some duty schedules, Melpomaen. You won't be on regular duty for some weeks more, of course, and working with the ledgers is something that can be done at whatever time of day or night you may prefer. But I would enjoy getting to know you and Haldir a little better before you leave. He was due to take a turn on the night watch, but I think I will shift him back so that he and I are off-duty at the same time."

Melpomaen shot a glance at him, wondering. Aloud he said, "I'm sure that Haldir would willingly take on whatever duties he is assigned, as I would."

"Oh, I have no doubt of that," said Legolas hastily. "I only want to make sure that I don't choose an inconvenient moment to try to talk again, as I think I did last night, when I apparently interrupted your bathing."

"Bathing. Yes," Melpomaen frowned, then said bluntly, "Sir, I'm not always good at reading between the lines. Are you trying to ask me something, or tell me something? Because I don't know if I understand what you are getting at."

Legolas laughed softly. "I suppose I ought to have expected directness from you. And after I asked. . ." he broke off. "Very well, let us be more open with each other. Melpomaen, I believe there was more than just bathing going on in your room last night."

Melpomaen straightened, saying with pride, "And if so?"

"Nothing, if so. If you wish to remain, shall we say, discreet, even if it is not entirely in your nature to do so, then you may rely on me to remain silent as well." He closed his mouth abruptly, before adding anything else.

Inhaling deeply, Melpomaen replied, "Do you mean to say that you are not troubled that Haldir and I. . ."

Legolas cut him off. "I cannot say that I am untroubled by it, but I would not see you, hm, gain a reputation you might not wish. What harms no one is between you and your conscience, as far as I am concerned. That is all I wish to say on the matter for the time being."

"Very well." Melpomaen stood. "I should probably go and make myself ready for my audience with the king, if you will excuse me."

"Indeed, go – you would not wish to be late." Legolas waved Melpomaen out the door, pausing thoughtfully for a few moments before he himself left, wondering what he might have set in motion by this morning's conversations.

Chapter Text

King Thranduil had given the early afternoon as the time at which Melpomaen should come to speak with him, but had not specified an hour. Deciding that it would be better to be early than late, Melpomaen ate a light noon meal and walked briskly to the great central hall. He counted four doors on the left of the corridor that the king had indicated, and rapped.

And waited. And rapped again. And waited.

Turning to retrace his steps to the main court, unsure how long he should wait, Melpomaen was relieved to see the king coming along the hallway toward him.

"King Thranduil. I fear I was early."

"No matter, we had set no time. I wished to finish today's business first, and it took rather longer than I expected." He opened the door and went into the chamber, leaving his guest to follow hesitantly.

The room was appointed as befitted the king of the woodland realm of Mirkwood. A thick carpet woven in a design of vines in scarlet and green softened the stone floor, and though a number of chairs were set to permit conversation, there was no question which was the king's: it stood nearest the hearth, brave with gold leaf on its intricate carvings, its seat softened with velvet cushions embroidered to match the carpet. Thranduil seated himself there and indicated that Melpomaen should sit opposite.

A pale Elf came out of the next room. Thranduil asked Melpomaen, "Have you eaten? I have not, yet, and if you wish you may join me."

Melpomaen assured him that he had, indeed, eaten.

"In that case, Guilin, bring a glass of wine for my guest, but my usual luncheon."

Guilin nodded and left the room silently.

Thranduil said, "My son tells me that you have offered to take up the duties of the company clerk for the time being, is that so?"

"Yes, I did; I have not much practice in such matters, but I am doing my best. At the moment I am trying to put everything in order, and am nearly through with that. Then I can bring all the accounts up to date. I understand that the fellow who usually does this had to take a leave of absence for family reasons, but is expected to return in the spring. In any case I am happy to help where I can, until my arm is fully recovered and I can shift to guard duty, or whatever Captain Legolas chooses to have me do." Melpomaen realized that he was speaking rather much and too quickly, and fell silent.

"Indeed." Thranduil leaned back comfortably and rested his elbows on the wide arms of the chair, steepling his fingers together. He looked for a long time at Melpomaen, saying nothing. Just as the dark-haired Elf was about to speak again out of sheer nervousness – though not knowing what he would say – the door opened and Guilin returned with Thranduil's meal. He also had a decanter and two glasses on the tray, and poured for both king and guest before setting the decanter on a small table at the king's side.

"Thank you, Guilin, that will be all for now."

Bowing, Guilin withdrew.

Thranduil raised his glass to Melpomaen, and sipped. Hastily the other did likewise, and found that the wine was excellent, but potent. He decided that he had better take care of how much he drank in the king's company.

"So, then, Melpomaen, tell me of yourself and your friend while I eat. As I remember, you said you came from the south and had an errand in Dale."

"We did, my lord. Quite far to the south. I had never had the pleasure of seeing your forest before this journey, nor had I been in any town of Men such as Dale before."

"But you had seen Men, surely?" Thranduil lifted a spoonful of stewed fruit to his lips.

Melpomaen was not certain how to answer this. He had not, in fact, ever seen a Man while in Lothlórien, but he knew that saying so would be tantamount to admitting that he came from the Golden Wood, and he remembered that Haldir would prefer to reveal as little of themselves and their errand as was compatible with courtesy. Carefully, he said, "Yes, I had seen Men before we reached Dale." He did not mention that the Men he had seen were distant figures in their fields, or – for the last part of their journey – a few fellow-travelers on the road.

"And Dwarves?"

"I had never met a Dwarf before coming north, no. I do not believe they travel often in the southern parts of the land."

"They do seem to prefer the northern regions, and the mountains," agreed Thranduil. He spread soft cheese on his bread and bit into it. When he had finished chewing, he added, "I did not think that many Elves lived to the south, either, except in the lands ruled by Celeborn and Galadriel." He looked closely at Melpomaen, who kept his face calm.

"Some Elves wander yet. Not all of the Silvan kindred wish to huddle together and be ruled always by a lord, wise and good though he may be."

"So you and your friend Haldir are two such, then?"

Melpomaen merely nodded.

Thranduil said nothing more until he had finished his meal and set the tray aside. Taking up his glass, he turned it idly in his fingers.

"You would be wise to be honest with me, Melpomaen."

"I have told you nothing but the truth," came the protest.

"That may be so, but you are not telling me all the truth."

"It is not all mine to tell," Melpomaen said with dignity. "You are my host, but not my king, and I may not tell you what is not your right to know."

The king half-smiled at that. "Can you tell me what errand brought you to Dale?"

"It was not my errand, nor even Haldir's – he undertook to deliver a message for someone else, who could not make the journey himself."

"So you made a long journey yourself, for no purpose but to keep your friend company? Very noble of you. Or will you be rewarded as well when you return?"

Melpomaen could not quite control the expression on his face at that.

Thranduil noticed the flicker of dismay in Melpomaen's eyes, and swiftly said, "So you will not receive any repayment for your labor? Or is it that you will not return to your employer?"

"We will return; Haldir bears a reply and it must be delivered." Melpomaen swallowed. "I expect no compensation for myself. I made the journey so that he would not have to travel alone and unaided."

"And as it turned out you were more hindrance than help, becoming injured," mused Thranduil aloud. Melpomaen quivered at the accusation. "Though from my perspective that is a positive good, since it brought you both here to us for the winter, and I hear good reports of Haldir, and expect I will of you now that you are able to take up some duties."

"Yes, my lord," murmured Melpomaen.

Thranduil fixed his eye upon Melpomaen and said, "I suppose I had better let you get back to those duties, had I not? But we will speak again. I would like to hear more of your journey. I have been to Erebor not long ago, but further than that I have not been in an Age – responsibility holds me here." He looked suddenly tired.

Melpomaen rose and bowed, saying, "Naturally I will be happy to speak with you whenever you wish, my lord."

"Go, then, and if you see Guilin in the hallways, send him to me."

As Melpomaen closed the door behind him, he shivered at the memory of the king's eyes boring into him. He hoped he had not given away more than he ought; he would have to tell Haldir all he remembered of the conversation. It did comfort him to think that he had evaded any definite statement of their origins, at least.

Guilin was waiting on a bench just inside the great hall where the corridor joined it. On hearing the message from Thranduil, he hurried off.

Melpomaen wondered if the pale Elf could in fact speak; he had said no word in Melpomaen's presence at all. Shrugging, he headed back for the records chamber. Although the day was wearing on, he could work for a while longer before the evening meal.

Delving through the ledgers was tedious, but by the end of the afternoon he had grasped the system that the clerk was using and begun to transfer the information from all the loose sheets that had accumulated under Legolas's indifferent supervision into the books. Pushing his chair back, he stretched and rose, following the savory smells down the hallway to dinner.

Haldir arrived late, by which time all of the seats near Melpomaen had been taken. He repressed a scowl and sat down at the end of the table. A moment later his captain sat beside him.

"Have you seen the revised duty roster yet?" asked Legolas casually.

"No, I just returned."

"You might want to look at it. You had been due to shift to the night watch tomorrow, but that's been changed. You'll be on my. . . the day shift for the next month."

Haldir glanced over, but Legolas's face remained smooth and unrevealing. "Yes, captain," he said noncommitally.

"Do you play cards? I've seen you dicing."

"Sometimes. Melpomaen enjoys cards more than I do. I prefer chess."

Legolas's eyes lit up. "Do you? So do I. Excellent. How about a game this evening?"

"Certainly."

The guards' common room was, as usual after supper, on the noisy side, but Legolas settled himself and Haldir at a small table in the corner with the chessboard. Melpomaen drifted over, rolled his eyes, and went away again, though first he whispered to Haldir that he did not expect to stay long in company that night. He joined a group playing dice, which he would be able to leave at any time he might wish.

Haldir was surprised by Legolas's strategy and technique. He would have expected the other to think carefully about his moves, but instead the captain played a more daring game. It did not occur to Haldir that Legolas might be nervous.

Risk, this time, did not pay off – Haldir won the game, and Legolas apologized for his poor showing.

"I hope for a rematch soon, to show you what I can do when I'm in better form. Perhaps tomorrow, or the next night?"

"Tomorrow I've agreed with Erentar to do a bit of a swordplay demonstration, but the following night, if you will. Tonight I think I had better turn in; if I'm not to be going onto the night watch, I'll need to be on time for the morning shift."

Leaving the room, Haldir caught Melpomaen's eye, and his lover nodded almost imperceptibly. Legolas caught the exchange and sighed to himself, but joined a group sitting near the fires and soon was caught up in an involved conversation about the best way to hunt goblins as opposed to giant spiders.

Melpomaen caught up with Haldir just as the latter was about to enter their room. He held back from taking Haldir in his arms until they were inside, a candle lighted, and the door closed.

They kissed, leaning against the door, until both were breathless. Melpomaen's hands were busy at Haldir's waist, loosening the ties that held his leggings. He pulled his lover over to the bed and stripped off Haldir's clothes. As he began to remove his own, Haldir slipped under the quilt that covered the bed and watched, trailing his fingers down his belly to stroke himself lightly.

"I was going to ask you how your interview with King Thranduil went, Maen, but perhaps I'd better wait till later, hm?"

Melpomaen was disentangling a knotted lace and had to sit on the edge of the bed. "That might be a good idea. But he wasn't the only one I spoke with today; Legolas came to see me this morning also. He definitely knows about you and me, Dír."

"I know. And he's going to leave me on the day patrol for the time being." Haldir said nothing more till Melpomaen had crawled under the quilt with him. "That was the message I had last night, that he wished to see me."

"To tell you that he was shifting your duty schedule? I'm surprised that he bothered to see you in person, instead of just leaving a message to see the new list posted."

"No, actually he didn't mention any change in schedule to me then."

"So why did he want to speak with you?" said Melpomaen in some confusion.

"He told me also that he knew how it is with you and me, but that he would not say anything to anyone else if I wished that," Haldir said, and hoped that would be enough.

"Why would he need to tell both of us separately? Was that all he said? Erentar mentioned at dinner that you were late this morning; you must have had a longer conversation than that."

Haldir bit at the inside of his cheek. By just saying that Legolas has spoken, he had set himself up to have to explain everything. "No, that wasn't all he said." He tried to laugh. "You were right, Maen."

"About what?"

"About Legolas. About him looking at me, and about why."

Melpomaen sat up, dark hair spilling over his shoulders, and looked down at Haldir lying there with his head turned a little away, one arm flung up to cover his eyes.

"He spoke of that?" asked Melpomaen in disbelief. "I believed it was so, but I would never have expected him to say anything."

Haldir nodded. "I think he couldn't help it. He seemed miserable, Maen, and I felt badly for him. . . but there is little I can do, except talk to him, if he wants to, and I think he does. It sounds as if the customs here differ from ours in Lórien, but there are still some problems when two binn are open about loving each other – they may not be despised and ostracized, but they are still objects of pity, not quite accepted in society. Legolas reminded me a bit of myself, before I met you, meldanya."

Melpomaen lay down again and drew Haldir close. "I understand, Dír. I know you wouldn't want to hurt anyone, and I know you didn't invite his attention. I can certainly understand why Legolas would be attracted to you – I'm just glad that we found each other first!"

Relief washed through Haldir at his lover's acceptance of the situation. He kissed Melpomaen deeply again, his tongue probing into Melpomaen's mouth, trying to convey his profound emotions through the physical contact.

Accepting that Haldir needed to take the lead now, though he had had other plans, Melpomaen relaxed back onto the pillows, enjoying the taste of his lover's mouth, running his hands along Haldir's sides and down to his hips, pulling the other even closer. He could feel Haldir becoming hard against his thigh as their kisses continued, and slipped one hand between them to run his finger lightly over the soft skin of the head.

Haldir shivered at that touch, and pressed more insistently against Melpomaen, moving over until he lay with his legs between Melpomaen's and their two members pulsed warmly side by side.

Melpomaen pushed Haldir's shoulders away a little, and whispered, "You had me say what I wanted yesterday. What do you want tonight?"

"I want you, Maen," Haldir ground out. He reached for the oil flask, and as Melpomaen started to raise and spread his legs more widely, he shook his head and said, "No, not that way. On your knees."

That caused Melpomaen some surprise, but he turned over and knelt, bracing his hands before him. He swayed as the mattress shifted under them, and said, "I think we will have to move to the floor, if this is how you want it. . ."

Impatiently Haldir tossed the quilt down to soften the stone, and when Melpomaen again knelt before him he poured some of the sweet oil into his palms, reaching around to tease Melpomaen's jutting hardness with one hand as he spread him open behind. His own erection felt hard enough to batter down a wall, and he groaned as he slowly entered.

Melpomaen had his head down, breathing heavily. Haldir was now stroking along his inner thighs with one hand, while the other slid up and down his member, fingers and palm working together to stimulate every inch.

The feel of Melpomaen under him was almost enough to make Haldir spill immediately, but he held back, wanting this to last longer. He withdrew almost completely, then made short quick thrusts, moving just in and out of the tight ring of muscle, until he could stand it no more and sank in fully once again. Melpomaen gasped at that, and Haldir could feel his lover's passage contract around him.

"Shh," he soothed, pulling away, and continuing to stroke Melpomaen with both hands.

"No, harder," and Melpomaen bucked his hips back to meet Haldir's next push.

Abandoning restraint, they set up a rapid rhythm, almost slamming into each other as they gave way to the urgency of their desire. As he neared his climax, Haldir let go of Melpomaen's cock and instead seized his hips, pressing in until he could go no further. He hung there an instant on the brink. At last he released, spilling himself in three shuddering pulses, and fell forward onto Melpomaen's back.

Melpomaen let himself sink to the quilt and roll onto his side, carrying Haldir with him. He reached for Haldir's hand and brought it back down to his own groin. Together they brought Melpomaen to his own orgasm, Haldir catching the seed and bringing it up to his mouth.

"Mmm. . . tastes like you, meldanya, tastes like love, bitter, but you can't get enough of it."

Melpomaen rolled his eyes at the whimsy. "Even with the quilt, this floor is even harder and colder than the ground outside was when we were traveling, Dír, don't you think we should move back up to the bed to sleep?"

"Sissy," said Haldir with affection, but moved just as quickly as Melpomaen back onto the mattress, blowing out the candle along the way. He wrapped his arms around Melpomaen and said, "I love you, Maen."

"I love you, too, Haldir. . . and I must say that I'm pleased to have my taste in partners approved by the son of the king!" Melpomaen smiled in the dark and rested his head on Haldir's chest as they fell asleep.

Chapter Text

Over the next few days and weeks they fell into a routine – now that it was clear that as long as they were discreet, no questions would be asked, Haldir was willing to stay away from the guards' common room altogether every third night or so. Other evenings, however, the two Lothlórien Elves continued to mingle with their comrades, singing songs, telling tales, playing games.

Legolas observed them from a distance, but said nothing beyond daily commonplaces and necessary orders for some time.

A fortnight of hard work saw the company records completely organized and brought up to date. Melpomaen reported as much, adding that he thought his arm was now healed enough to take on other duties.

"I'm not sure I'm quite up to drawing a bow yet, but I can at least wield knife or sword, and certainly stand watches," he said.

"Very well, but I must tell you that at present where we are short-handed is on the night watch. Sheer carelessness in one of the out-patrols, half-a-dozen badly wounded, so they called for replacements and that was how it worked out. If you want to take on active service you and Haldir will have to be on different shifts, at least for a while. At the next moon that could change, and I would certainly try to make sure you had the same schedule, but for now it is unavoidable. Since you've done well in alternate duty, I will let you choose. Do you still want to leave the records?" asked Legolas.

Melpomaen hesitated, and Legolas added, "Or I could put you on half-duty – it would still be at night, three days, but then the next three you could continue keeping our books. (1) Although such a schedule might be awkward for you."

"If that can be arranged, I will take it. I can probably maintain the records that way, well enough until your clerk returns, and I would greatly prefer to return to duties where I feel my abilities are greater, even recovering from injury," Melpomaen decided.

"I will speak to Lasmir, then, and tell him to expect you to report for the night watch beginning tomorrow."

When Melpomaen told Haldir of the change that evening in their room, his lover was unenthusiastic, but resigned.

"You say that this will probably be only for two or three weeks, and that the captain will try to get us onto the same shift again then? I'm sorry we have to wait for that, but I know you've been impatient to get out of that musty little chamber, so I can see why you took the chance even if it's not an ideal arrangement for us." Haldir leaned over and tucked a stray wisp of hair behind Melpomaen's ear.

Melpomaen caught Haldir's hand, bringing it to his lips and kissing the fingertips one by one.

"I don't start until tomorrow night," he said. "Let me show you how much I will miss seeing you every night, even just from across the common room for most of the evening. Wait here for a few minutes, I will be back."

He slipped out. Haldir moved about the chamber, straightening the covers on the bed, piling together clothes that needed washing, putting away small items scattered around. He came across the silver hair-clasp that he had bought for Melpomaen in Dale, and smiled, thinking how well it looked against his partner's dark hair, like the moon peeping through the leaves of the forest at night.

When Melpomaen returned, he brought with him a pitcher of spiced wine and two cups. "I wheedled this from the kitchen," he said triumphantly, "to celebrate going onto regular duty, if only part time. Now. . . let's go in there, shall we?" He nodded toward the bathing room.

In the warm water, relaxing and enjoying the wine, the two Elves sat close together, Melpomaen idly tracing designs over Haldir's chest.

"Haldir." He rubbed the pad of his thumb across one nipple.

"Yes, Maen? Mm, that feels good."

"I wonder if Legolas deliberately assigned me to the night watch."

Haldir considered it. "You said he asked if you would be willing to take it, or if you'd prefer to wait. That doesn't sound too deliberate to me."

"Maybe. What will you do with yourself when I'm not here in the evenings?"

"Probably spend more time with the rest of the company, I imagine, although it will not be so pleasant as this," he inhaled sharply as Melpomaen dropped his hand to brush across Haldir's groin.

"You would not seek out Legolas?" queried Melpomaen, now running his hand over Haldir's hip and thigh.

"I would not, no, though I suppose he might wish to spend more time with me. In which case I would do so; he is our captain now, and I can hardly refuse. Besides, he knows how matters stand between us. I cannot imagine he would have in mind anything but conversation, and I could not begrudge him that. I would enjoy it, in fact. Set your mind at ease, Maen; there is none other for me but you." Haldir leaned over and kissed Melpomaen's cheek, then his earlobe, breathing warmly into his ear until Melpomaen complained of being tickled.

"Fair enough," the dark-haired Elf allowed. "I did not mean to imply that I distrusted you, or our bond, meldanya. A little more wine?" He took up the pitcher from the ledge and smiled suggestively.

"Half a cup," said Haldir. He sipped at it, thinking over Melpomaen's comments and his own replies. It was true that he trusted Legolas's honor, although he did wonder at the convenience of the arrangement. He decided to ignore the issue for tonight and wait to see what might happen tomorrow.

Setting his cup aside, he stretched, and offered, "Shall I wash your hair?"

"I would enjoy that very much. Then I will return the favor, Dír."

The soap he used was a dull green. Haldir thought it smelt of pine, but Melpomaen said the scent was more like rosemary. Whichever it was, it lathered up well without being too harsh. Haldir used his fingers to smooth the foam through Melpomaen's hair and then supported his neck and shoulders as he slid down to rinse, shadow-dark strands floating in the water.

Reversing their positions, Melpomaen gently washed Haldir's hair. When the soap was all rinsed away, he raised his knees to hold his partner between them, supported, as he began to knead Haldir's temples and neck. Golden hair twined about Melpomaen's wrists as he massaged the taut muscles of Haldir's shoulders.

Haldir let his eyes close and submitted to Melpomaen's ministrations. There could be nothing so good as this, being held close in love by his friend, his partner, his lover. He sighed with pleasure.

As he felt Haldir relax, Melpomaen pressed more firmly, digging into the muscles and making them yield up all their tension. He knew with his common sense that the other would not, could not, ever betray their love, but the feeling that Haldir was now surrendered utterly unto him calmed the anxiety that lurked in one corner of his mind. He would love Haldir so well this night that Legolas could not even tempt him to regrets.

The tips of his fingers had begun to shrivel when Melpomaen decided that the massage had gone on long enough. He nudged Haldir. "Come, meldanya, time to get out of the water."

Haldir pulled his thoughts back from their drifting, startled. He stepped out and stood, tranquil, letting Melpomaen dry him off and then following his lover back into the other room.

Melpomaen held Haldir in his arms and pulled them both down onto the bed, rolling over until he lay stretched out above Haldir, gazing into darkly dilated eyes. He kissed one eyelid, then the other, then – with a mischievous look – the tip of Haldir's nose, before moving to a leisurely exploration of his mouth. They were both too relaxed from the heat of the bath to yet be fully aroused, but Melpomaen planned to change that as soon as might be. He slid further down and began to kiss and lick at Haldir's chest, dipping into the space between arm and torso and inhaling the scent that was Haldir's own, distinctive even overlaid with the herbal fragrance of the soap. He bit lightly at one nipple, eliciting a gasp, and felt Haldir's member twitch against the thigh he had nestled between his lover's legs. He pinched the other nipple between his fingers and was rewarded with another twitch. In response Melpomaen shifted his leg slightly from side to side as he ran his tongue along Haldir's collarbone to the hollow of his throat.

Though almost reluctant to lose the sense of relaxed contentment that Melpomaen's massage had given him in the bath, Haldir could not help responding to this new stimulation. When Melpomaen drew his tongue first around one nipple, then the other, then sank down to his navel, Haldir sighed and wriggled with pleasure deeper into the mattress. Soft kisses trailed all the way down his belly, until at last the warm wetness of Melpomaen's mouth had taken in the head of his now fully erect organ. He could feel Melpomaen's tongue exploring every inch, teasing at the slit, tracing the pulsing veins along his whole length, and finally lapping at the tender balls in their pouch below. The heat from the bath still saturated him, and his limbs remained flaccid and immobile even as the tension in his groin rose.

Once again Melpomaen traced up Haldir's length before taking him in completely. His own member, untouched, had risen throbbing against his belly, and he rubbed gently against the fabric of the quilt beneath even as he concentrated on provoking every delightful sensation he could from Haldir.

With Melpomaen's mouth enclosing him, Haldir began to rock his hips, thrusting past lips and teeth to the back of Melpomaen's throat. When Melpomaen pulled back a little to breathe, Haldir whimpered, unashamed of his need for his lover. In a distant part of his mind he wondered how he could ever bear to give up such joys.

Melpomaen returned to his suction, rubbing the base of Haldir's organ with forefinger and thumb as his other three fingers stroked the taut sac. He could tell that Haldir was nearly at the breaking point, and when the pumping of Haldir's hips ceased, he was ready for the bitter mouthful that followed. This was not the only release he hoped to help his lover reach this night, however, and he moved back up to kiss again Haldir's chest and throat and lips, reaching for the oil beside the bed.

Allowing himself to be rolled to his stomach, Haldir was surprised when Melpomaen began by resuming the massage of the bath, but now working most intensely on the lower back, using a bit of oil to smooth his touch.

Then Melpomaen began to lick and nibble at Haldir's hipbones. He traced the line between Haldir's buttocks, first with his finger, then with his tongue, repeating his motions until Haldir was spread wide beneath him. He lapped at the loose flesh, prodding gently at the round stones inside. Again he traced upward and licked at the puckered hole, pointing his tongue to tease it open. A startled sound came from the other end of the bed, and Melpomaen smiled inwardly at having tried this. He would have expected to feel a certain repugnance, but oddly, he did not. He knew he could not reach Haldir's most sensitive spot this way, though, and so withdrew his tongue only to replace it with an oiled finger, and as the sphincter relaxed, a second and third. Rotating his hand, he nudged against the protrusion he could feel through the wall of the passage and felt Haldir quiver in reaction. He continued his slow stimulation until he could stand to wait no longer and had to let himself enter. He pulled his fingers out and quickly poured a little oil on himself.

Haldir had known what would happen, but when Melpomaen's warm cock replaced his fingers, he groaned into the pillow. It was inexpressibly fine to be joined in this way – he felt that their bodies became one just as their fëar had – and when Melpomaen reached under him to see if he was excited again, Haldir had a wood-hard erection to show.

Melpomaen had paused inside, barely moving, when Haldir tightened around him. That did it – Melpomaen began to thrust, pumping his hand on Haldir's organ with the same rhythm. The hot pressure as he slid slickly in and out urged him on. He climaxed hard, shooting his seed deep, still moving his hand, and a moment later Haldir spurted through his fingers. A few minutes of rest, and Melpomaen slowly withdrew. He reached over the side of the bed for the towel he had dropped there earlier, and wiped them both off.

"Lucky thing I can sleep late tomorrow," he whispered in Haldir's ear as they lay embraced, their breathing quieting. "Too bad you cannot!"

Haldir contented himself with kissing Melpomaen's cheek before dropping off to sleep.

The next morning he disentangled himself with care, not to wake his partner, and after a quick bath went off to his duties. When he saw Melpomaen stride up at dusk with the rest of the night watch, his heart turned over, his lover looked so serious and competent in his uniform, but he could do nothing more than flash a smile as the guard was changed.

As he had half-expected, Legolas did seek him out in the common room that evening, where he sat among a group of Elves telling stories. Haldir was careful to tell none that might mark him as coming from Lothlórien, which limited him mostly to old legends and family tales. After an hour or two, the group broke up, some joining in the singing, two deciding to have a game of stones. (2) Legolas and Haldir remained alone together in the circle of chairs.

"Would you be interested in continuing our conversation of the other day?" asked Legolas in a careless tone, as if the subject in question had been what types of wood were best to use for different purposes in arrow-making. He was turned a little away from Haldir, and the lamplight cast shadows across his face.

Although the request came as no real surprise, Haldir was tired and had hoped to retire early this evening. But he heard a quaver in Legolas's voice that suggested his captain needed – needed what? What Legolas thought he needed from Haldir was nothing the latter could give. Still he hated to see the other in distress, and so he said, "If you like. Here?"

"Not here, no," Legolas flushed. "Although as I said the topic might be discussed here, it could only be in generalities, and tonight I am more interested in actualities. Why don't you get yourself something to drink and then come to my room; you know where it is."

Haldir nodded and rose to fetch himself a glass of fresh cider. He wanted all his wits about him. He paused to watch the stones-players for a few moments before yawning and casually leaving the room.

Legolas opened the door almost before he knocked. "Come in."

The fire on the hearth was blazing and the room almost too warm for Haldir's taste, especially since he was already weary. He sat in the same chair across from Legolas as he had before, and again as before, waited for the other to speak.

"Tell me what it is like," blurted Legolas at last.

"What what is like?" Haldir knew he was being deliberately obtuse, but he was uncomfortable with this situation. He sipped at his glass.

"What it is like to love another binn, of course. How is it different from loving a biss?"

Haldir shrugged. "I don't know that I can answer that; I have never been in love with a biss. Melpomaen was once though, or at least he thought he was. He might be able to tell you what difference he has found, if any. On an emotional level, at least – I do not think he ever had anything but a fairly chaste kiss or two with her."

Legolas exhaled deeply, staring between his knees at the floor. "Did he? I would not have guessed. The way he looks at you, when he thinks none other can see. . . I have never seen anyone with more love in his face. How long have you two – no, I am sorry, that really is none of my concern."

"How long have we been lovers?" asked Haldir. "Not long at all, only a few months."

Legolas muttered something that Haldir could not catch.

"What?"

"Nothing – oh, well, why should I lie? I was only saying that such seemed to be my luck, to have found someone that I might love, just a little too late. But I suppose it is not worth regretting. Forgive me, I seem to be terribly rude tonight, and if I offend you with my questions please say so. It is only that I have not had anyone to speak freely to about my feelings; I suppose I feel that you are safe, because you have had similar ones, and because you will not be here in Mirkwood for long. I may be your captain for a little while, but I will never be your lord. Do you mind, Haldir?"

"You may ask or say what you like, but I cannot guarantee that I will always be willing to answer."

"I thank you for that," said Legolas seriously. "Well. . . I suppose what I am most curious about is how you came to know what you are, and how long it was from that time until you found your bond-partner?"

Chuckling, Haldir said, "Questions I suppose I should be unsurprised at. I will do my best." His face became serious. "I think in a way I knew from a very young age, but it was not something I could easily accept. Among my people, for one benn to love another is forbidden, except of course in friendship. I was taught – oh, not overtly, but through stories and songs and all that was said and left unsaid – that because when our ancestors awoke at Cuiviénen, each benn was paired with a bess, that was the way of nature, the will of Ilúvatar, the only proper course of life. I could not reconcile that philosophy with my own feelings, though; and so for long I tried to deny them. I was ashamed, do you understand? I don't think I can convey to you how dirty, how wicked I felt I must be, just to feel as I did."

"Shamed? That I think I can see, but why wicked?"

"Because if Ilúvatar does not approve of two binn together, then such feelings must come from the dark, from Morgoth's taint upon the very substance of Arda itself. At least, that was how I felt when I was young, and for long thereafter." He flushed. "Eventually I realized that it might not have to be so. Please don't ask me to explain why I changed my mind; it is a story I am not comfortable telling you."

"No, no, I won't press you," Legolas assured him. "So you knew from youth that you were drawn to binn, even if you weren't happy about it? How did you know – did you dream of them, or seek out their company more than that of biss, or what told you?"

Haldir considered. "I do not know how I knew, really. I knew a number of biss, of course, as playmates and friends, but there was never any hint of a spark between us. Granted there was no spark with any benn at that time either! Dreams, perhaps, finally convinced me, though I felt more shame in them than pleasure. There was no one person for whom I had any especial desire, though, not until I saw Melpomaen."

"How long was it that you waited for him?"

"A long time, Legolas. A very long time. I thought for more years than I want to remember that I would never find a partner, or form a bond, and I had accepted that. When I first saw him, though. . ." Haldir shook his head. "It was a complete surprise. We worked together, you see, but I never thought that it would be possible that he would think of me in the same way, as a bond-mate as well as a partner."

Legolas saw the glow in Haldir's eyes, and a fist tightened in his belly. "But eventually he did."

"Yes. . ." Haldir looked up, one golden head facing the other across the hearth. "And so it may be for you, too, one day. Do not think it is impossible."

"It is not that I think it impossible, but I am tired of waiting. If your people's customs are at all like those here, most find their future partner in the second century of life, if not the first. Not always, but it is uncommon to reach a half-millennium unbonded – and I am rather older than that."

"I, too. I do understand, Legolas. I wish – I cannot say that I wish myself unbonded to Melpomaen, for that is not true – I love him more than I can say – but I wish that you may find a similar fate. I sometimes think it is all chance, and then again I think that perhaps there is a destiny that shapes our ends, rough-hew them as we will. (3)"

"If so, I wish that I knew what that end would be." Legolas sighed.

"Only Ilúvatar himself knows, maybe – that was a subject of endless speculation, always, whether he knows the precise future for each living being, or only the generalities of what may or will be. Although I have known some who can see it, a little."

"Should you have a prophetic dream for me, don't fail to tell it, then!"

"Oh, my dreams are unlikely to help you, but Maen has had a foretelling dream at least once, I think." Haldir frowned. "It is hard to tell sometimes what is true foresight, and what mere coincidence."

"My foresight tonight is telling me that if I do not let you leave soon, you will not rise in time for your watch tomorrow, Haldir, so best you go. I thank you, very much, for this talk; I hope that we may do it again soon, tomorrow or the next night? And perhaps with Melpomaen as well if you think he would also not mind."

Haldir rose to go, and paused with his hand on the knob of the door. "I enjoyed it also. I will ask Maen if he would like to spend an evening with you, when he is not on the night watch. Rest you well."

"A good night to you, Haldir." Legolas watched the door close behind his new friend – yes, a friend, he decided. He shifted uncomfortably in his chair and tried not to think any further that night.



Footnotes:
(1) The Elves in the Third Age of Middle-earth used a week (enquië) of six days for ritual purposes.

(2) Stones: I postulate a game rather like the Chinese "Go" or any of several similar games, in which players take turns setting stones on a crosshatched board and score points by capturing those of their opponent.

(3) A slight misquotation from William Shakespeare's Hamlet, in which Hamlet says, "There's a divinity that shapes our ends, rough-hew them how we will."

Chapter Text

With Melpomaen on night duty, over the next two days Haldir found that he had scant time to even give his lover a kiss in passing in their room, much less suggest to him that they spend an evening together with Legolas.

He missed sitting with Melpomaen at dinner – though they had no chance then for private conversation, it was comforting to not be solely among strangers. Legolas was not so much a stranger any more, of course, but he was wary of seeming to be too close to the captain. When the latter caught his eye across the table the evening after their first conversation, raised his eyebrows, and nodded toward his quarters, Haldir glanced around the room and gave a tiny shake of his head. Legolas closed his eyes for an instant and then opened them, exhaling with a nod of resigned understanding.

Melpomaen, meanwhile, rather enjoyed the change; he had done his best with the company records, but never felt quite comfortable with them, and was happy to relinquish even a hint of command to Lasmir. Since his injured arm was still stiff and needed careful exercise before he could draw bow, he had been placed as a door guard for the time being, and whiled away the hours with the three others stationed there by telling stories. Following Haldir's suggestion, he kept to ancient legends that would not give away his origin in the Golden Wood.

Nevertheless it was a relief to him after three nights to know that he would again be able to see Haldir and spend time together with his partner. He slept through the morning, but worked on the accounts during the afternoon hours until it was time for the evening meal. Melpomaen went back to their room first, intending to wash the dust and ink off his hands before going to the mess.

When he entered, though, Haldir was waiting for him, and swept the dark-haired Elf into a tight embrace before he could say a word.

"I missed you so, meldanya," Haldir said, his breath warm in Melpomaen's ear.

"I, too," Melpomaen replied, drawing his hands down his lover's back to his hips, pulling them together so that thigh thrust between thigh. A grin of pure mischief crossed his face. "It was nice not to have you taking up the whole of the bed, though."

Haldir's jaw dropped for an instant, then he realized that he was being teased and responded in kind. "I? You are the one who rolls over with the blanket until there is none left for me. Perhaps we should ask Legolas to keep us on different watches, then?"

Melpomaen laughed and hugged Haldir more firmly. "I don't think so, Dír."

"That reminds me, though. I spent the first evening you were on duty with him, at his request. . ."

"I knew he would ask," interjected Melpomaen, and Haldir nodded.

"You were right. We had a pleasant conversation, you can guess what about. But he had a request. Not tonight – I hope – but perhaps tomorrow night he would like to spend with both of us, if you would be willing."

Melpomaen let a grimace flicker across his face.

"No? If you really do not wish to, we can refuse."

"Oh, I suppose I might as well. It cannot hurt. I would just prefer to spend the time with you alone, you understand."

"We cannot disappear together every night, Maen, at least not until later in the evening."

"No, and speaking of that we had better go on to supper, before we miss it. Let me wash my hands and I'll be ready. But this evening. . . how about staying for one game of cards, perhaps, or one round of songs, and then leaving?"

Haldir was easily persuaded to agree. In the common room after the meal he caught Legolas aside and told the other that they would meet with him not that night, but the next, at whatever hour he chose.

"Perhaps it would be best if I came to your quarters, if you don't mind?" said Legolas with a hint of diffidence. "I will be a good guest and bring along something to drink."

"If you wish," said Haldir, and passed on to spend half an hour with a group telling stories, before discreetly relinquishing his seat and slipping out.

Melpomaen had left a few moments earlier. He had stripped down and was in the bath when Haldir reached their room. "Come join me," he called, hearing the door to the corridor close and the latch fall into place.

Stepping into the warm water next to Melpomaen, Haldir put one arm around his lover's waist and rested his head on Melpomaen's shoulder. "I could grow to like this too much to want to leave," he said, regretting the words almost as soon as he spoke them. He did not want to spend the evening talking about their future, whatever it might hold. Hastily he added, "I told Legolas that he might come here tomorrow evening; I hope that is all right with you."

Melpomaen considered pursuing the question of leaving, but decided to leave it alone for the time being. He shrugged, the movement making Haldir's hair float outward in the rippling water. "If he wants this conversation, we might as well have it sooner than later, and I don't really care where. Need we talk about Legolas now?" He bent his head to kiss Haldir's lips, his tongue teasing them open.

Haldir yielded to Melpomaen's searching at first, then reciprocated, thrusting his own tongue to explore his lover's mouth, familiar now, but still exciting.

"It is my turn this time," he murmured as he pulled away and sat up. "I have been thinking of something for tonight."

"I am at your command," said Melpomaen, his eyes bright with anticipation.

"You have done this to me, once. I thought perhaps you might enjoy it yourself. But first, let us just wash quickly."

There was just enough room for them both to wash bodies and hair at the same time, stretched out to rinse off the herbal soap. Haldir stood, sluicing the water from his torso with his hands and wringing out the excess from his hair. He posed for an instant to let Melpomaen admire him – which the other did – then wrapped himself in a towel and picked up another to dry off his lover.

"So what are you planning to do?" Melpomaen inquired.

"Patience, meldanya. Patience. Come with me."

Haldir led Melpomaen out into the other room and seated him on the bed. "Wait." He went to the chest and brought back a pair of the scarves that they had been issued for outdoor gear.

"Ah. . ." Melpomaen felt a flush of heat through his body as he guessed what his golden-haired partner had in mind.

"First – you liked this before, I remember," said Haldir. He drew Melpomaen's hair back from his face and carefully tied one scarf around his eyes.

"Now, this I am not sure about. If it disturbs you, I will take it off again, just tell me," and he held Melpomaen's hands together, binding the wrists.

"It does not hurt," said Melpomaen, lifting and lowering his arms and flexing his hands experimentally.

"No, but I found the constraint unnerving, after a time. So do not be troubled if you wish it removed."

"I could never wish for your bond removed," whispered Melpomaen, as Haldir sank to the floor between his knees and began to run warm fingers across the skin of his chest. He raised his arms and looped them around Haldir's neck.

Kneeling, Haldir pulled Melpomaen close so that he sat on the edge of the bed, legs spread apart. He began by circling his fingers in a sweeping motion over Melpomaen's chest, teasingly coming close without quite touching his tight nipples.

Melpomaen could feel each inch of his skin heating as Haldir passed over it, the warmth spreading down to his groin in pulsing waves. Involuntarily he tried to press closer, but Haldir held him back, saying, "Remember. You said you were at my command – and my command is to have patience."

"I remember." He relaxed, trusting that Haldir would make this a memorable night.

In return Haldir edged forward so that Melpomaen's growing erection just grazed his own chest, while continuing to stroke and pet him. He tilted his head and darted out his tongue to circle first the left, then the right nipple, and was rewarded with a gasp. He smiled to himself and withdrew his mouth again. Sinking down onto his own heels, now he turned his attention to the base of Melpomaen's belly, his thighs, and the creases at the top of his legs, careful to keep the pressure light enough to stimulate but firm enough so that it would not tickle.

As Haldir shifted downward, Melpomaen moved his hands to his lover's head, hoping to encourage him to use his mouth and tongue again, but again he had to practice patience.

Haldir ceased his motions and looked up. Melpomaen's head was tilted slightly back, his throat making a beautiful line in the lamplight.

"Up," Haldir said, lifting Melpomaen's arms. He stood, shaking out his legs briefly, and then urged Melpomaen to lie back on the bed, swinging his feet up so that his lover lay at full length before him. Now he reclined on one elbow and used his free hand to run along the contours of Melpomaen's shoulder, ribs, hip, sneaking across to make glancing contact with his hard member.

Melpomaen bucked slightly at the unexpected touch, but said nothing when Haldir failed to continue there. Haldir ran his thumb along the line of Melpomaen's jaw, then inward and over his lips, which parted willingly to allow entry. Melpomaen sucked hard on the tip of Haldir's thumb, and when it was replaced by warm lips he greeted those with equal eagerness. Haldir continued the kiss even as he cradled Melpomaen's neck and chin and felt the quickening beat of the other's pulse there. He pushed his hips against Melpomaen, his own organ prodding insistently against the warm skin. Melpomaen moved his tied hands down as if to try to touch – whether himself or Haldir mattered not, as Haldir quickly moved to intercept him and instead took Melpomaen into his mouth.

After such a long wait, Melpomaen was more than ready. The warm moistness encircling him was exquisite – in his mind's eye he could see Haldir bent over him, golden hair making a tent in which all manner of delights took place. "Dír, oh yes," he cried out, and spent, unable to hold back any longer.

Holding Melpomaen's hips and swallowing, Haldir licked clean the shaft, then continued licking and kissing his way back up to Melpomaen's mouth. He used one hand to untie the bonds that held his lover's hands.

As soon as his hands were freed, Melpomaen reached for Haldir. "Come to me, meldanya, yes, now."

Haldir reached for the flask of oil at their bedside and poured a bit into Melpomaen's hand. "Prepare us, then."

Cool oil spread down his length as Melpomaen stroked him and then guided him to the place he sought. He slid in gradually, savoring the sensation, until he was fully sheathed in his lover's tight passage. He began to thrust, feeling Melpomaen rise to meet him, until in sweet release he spilled his bitter seed deep within.

Still joined, they embraced tightly, then relaxed. Haldir reached up to pull away the cloth over Melpomaen's eyes and asked, "Yes, Maen?"

"Oh yes." Melpomaen smiled and stretched languidly. "Oh yes. I could almost feel sorry for Legolas right now."

Haldir pushed Melpomaen's shoulder. "You should. You and I have each other, and what does he have? Nothing and no one."

"I know, Dír, and I do. I'm glad we are together – I love you."

"I love you, too, meldanya. That will never change." He sighed contentedly and held Melpomaen close. Pleasantly fatigued, they slept.

In the morning they each went to their separate duties. Haldir mused over what that evening's meeting with Legolas might entail, until a second reprimand for inattentiveness made him shamefacedly put the matter from his mind. Melpomaen gave it no thought; he would learn what Legolas wanted to discuss soon enough. He only hoped that it would not occupy the whole of the evening. Haldir's remarks about not wanting to give up some of the benefits of their present situation had encouraged him to hope that they might find another path for their future together.

At dinner, Haldir had some teasing to endure from the others in his squad about his apparent drowsiness earlier in the day. "Well, then," he said finally, "I had better go off and sleep longer tonight, had I not?" Piling his dishes together, he rose and bowed ironically to them before stalking out of the mess.

"What's the matter with him tonight?" asked Erentar. From the other end of the table Legolas looked up and listened.

Melpomaen shrugged noncomittally. "He gets moody sometimes, that's all. I'll talk to him." He finished his own bowl of stew, wiping the last of the juices up with the crust of his bread, and returned to their room. There he found Haldir fiddling with the wick of the already bright-burning lamp.

"What is it, Dír?" he asked in mild exasperation. "Even the others at the table noticed your mood."

"I don't know." Haldir flung himself across the bed and gazed up at the ceiling. "Worried about tonight, I suppose."

"You accepted Legolas's invitation," Melpomaen pointed out. "You could have said no. I might have declined, but you didn't want to. Or so it seemed." He sat down on the bed and smoothed the hair back from Haldir's temples. "So why the fuss now?"

Haldir moved his head back and forth under his partner's hand. "I'm just. . . I fear this will be awkward. Back when I was young, I was always a bit uncomfortable when I knew that one of the lasses was interested in me, because I could not return the feeling. It is like that with Legolas, a little, except that I know in this case it might have been possible to return it, had you and I not already. . ." He swallowed. "That is not coming out right, it sounds as if I regret my bond with you, which is not the case at all. I suppose I see too much of myself in him, myself before I met you, and I know what he must suffer – only perhaps worse, since he sees someone he thinks he could love already joined with another. I never had that."

"If he were really so likely to be made unhappy by seeing you and me together, why would he have asked that the three of us meet this evening?" asked Melpomaen logically. "I do not think you need worry that you will bring him undue pain." He leaned over and kissed Haldir's cheek.

Placing his hand behind Melpomaen's head, Haldir drew him down to kiss his lips. "I know, I am sure you are right. But you must see that it will be strange for me nevertheless."

"It will be fine, Dír. You should enjoy being the center of attention for once." Melpomaen grinned, his eyes sparkling. "Think of it this way. When a couple weds, all their friends and family are focused on them for that time. We will never have that – this is the closest you will ever come. Rather an easy way out, actually."

Haldir put out his tongue at his lover.

"You know I'm right. Come on. When is the dreaded Legolas supposed to arrive here, anyway?" Melpomaen asked.

"He didn't say, but I would imagine soon." Haldir looked around the room. "Does everything look all right to you?"

"We will need another chair, unless someone is to sit on the bed. I'll go get one from the mess-room." Melpomaen hopped up.

He was carrying the chair back to their room when Legolas walked around a corner with a pitcher and three cups.

"Melpomaen. I was just about to come visit you and Haldir."

They walked together without further speech. Melpomaen opened the door and indicated that Legolas should precede him inside. The courtesies of pouring wine for them all smoothed over any initial awkwardness.

"Your father does know his wine," remarked Melpomaen, sipping appreciatively.

"So he does," agreed Legolas. "He prefers that of Dorwinion, which makes strong vintages that travel well. At one time he used to buy wines from Gondor, but they tended to sour more quickly than he liked – though I believe the kitchens were happy enough to have the best of vinegars." He sat back and looked from one of his hosts to the other. "So. Is the present schedule working all right for you? It will only be for a few more weeks; I will try to do some adjusting as soon as Melpomaen is fit for full duties."

"I'm glad to be able to do something besides book-work," said Melpomaen. Glancing over at Haldir, he added, "Although naturally we'll be happier when we're both on the same shift all the time, whichever one is needed."

Legolas was nodding. "Yes, of course."

There was a silence. Haldir looked at the table, and Legolas gazed at Haldir. Melpomaen reached out and deliberately picked up his lover's hand. With that, both Legolas and Haldir sighed, and a certain tension departed.

"Yes." Legolas looked now at Melpomaen. "I understand."

"I was sure you would," said Melpomaen, entwining his fingers in Haldir's. "You came here to talk, I think, sir – what would you like to talk about?"

"Haldir has not told you what he and I spoke of the other evening?"

"I would not presume to repeat more than the barest gist of a private conversation," said Haldir with dignity, tightening his fingers on Melpomaen's.

"I am sorry," Legolas shook his head, "I did not mean to imply that you would be indiscreet." He turned to Melpomaen. "I was asking Haldir how it felt to love a binn rather than a biss, and he said that I should ask you, for he had not that knowledge."

Melpomaen's eyebrows lifted. "And he said I had? I suppose perhaps I do – I did once think myself in love, before I met Haldir. Caranfíniel was her name. I offered indeed to wed her, and she refused me. At the time I thought my heart was broken, of course, but looking back now I think that I was more hurt by the failure than anything else. I do not know that the emotions differed because she was a biss; I would say that what I felt for her was less than what I feel for Haldir, but not on account of her sex, only that she was not in the end the proper mate for me. Does that make sense to you?"

Legolas frowned a little. "Not entirely. If you loved her, and now love Haldir – how would you define love, then?" He looked at them both with wide eyes. "Either of you? How can you know if you love someone?"

"I would say that there are many ways to tell," said Haldir. "But there are many kinds of love, too. The love I feel for my brothers is not the same as the love I feel for friends, and different again from that which Maen and I have."

"When I was with Caranfíniel, I thought mostly of settling down, having a home together, and someday children. But I did not think in very specific terms, either. Perhaps I was more in love with the idea of being in love, than really in love with her," Melpomaen speculated. "With Haldir, the more time I spend with him, the more I want to. I would rather sit alone with him and talk than celebrate a festival with anyone else."

"Loving someone – you want their happiness more than anything. If they are threatened in any way, you want to defend them. But it isn't always that easy. There are choices that must be made, and not always choices that are simple," Haldir looked sad.

"What of," Legolas flushed, "what of physical desire?"

Haldir and Melpomaen looked at each other and smiled. Legolas almost regretted asking the question; the connection between the two was nearly palpable, and he felt a stab of envy over their bond.

"That is important," Haldir conceded.

Melpomaen was nodding. "I have to admit that it was desire that first caused me to realize that I loved Haldir, not just as a friend, but as the person I wished to join with. He knew far sooner than I."

"Well, I'd had a lot longer to think about it." Haldir smiled slightly. "I told you, Legolas, that I did not have prophetic dreams, but Melpomaen had had them? That's not entirely the case, but the only dreams of the future I have had were of Melpomaen himself."

"What?" Melpomaen looked at his lover, surprised. "You've never told me that, Dír."

"I dreamt of you before you were ever born. At the time I hated those dreams – it was in part to escape them that I. . . took up the work in which we met," said Haldir, phrasing his words carefully so that their origins would remain concealed from Legolas. "They seemed to me shameful; I did not want ever to meet with the person with whom I did such things in my dreams. When I first met you, I was so shocked I could scarcely speak, but I knew that I had found the one I could love – if you loved me, too. Discovering that took quite some time."

Legolas was looking from Haldir to Melpomaen in amazement. "You dreamed of him before you met, even before he was born? How remarkable!"

"I know. I can hardly believe it myself, when I think about it. But it is true. And despite my shame, I used to. . . well. Touch myself, you know, thinking of him." Haldir heard the words leaving his mouth almost despite his volition. Having begun to talk of matters he had never yet spoken of before, he seemed unable to stop.

"Really?" said Melpomaen curiously.

"When I had the opportunity," said Haldir, looking meaningfully at his partner.

"Did you not worry that by doing that you were preventing any possibility of being able to find a biss to love, instead? That you might become too focused on yourself to ever find a bond with another?" asked Legolas. "That is what is said among my people."

"No, I was never told that," said Haldir, and Melpomaen also shook his head.

Legolas said, "Different places, different customs. As we here tolerate such a bond as yours when your own people apparently do not.  I wonder why such differences?"

"Who knows?" Haldir lifted the wine pitcher. "Would you like another? It was kind of you to bring this."

"I had probably better not," said Legolas with regret. "In fact, though I would like to speak further about these matters with you, I should probably leave you for now – it may not be that late, but Haldir said at dinner that he needed to sleep early tonight. So I will leave you, with thanks." He pushed back his chair and stood, and the other two did likewise, still holding hands.

Melpomaen squeezed Haldir's fingers gently, and raised an eyebrow at him. The fair head nodded in agreement.

"We would be pleased to talk with you again, whenever you wish," said Melpomaen, releasing his hold and holding out his hand to Legolas, who took it. Melpomaen stepped forward to embrace him briefly; Haldir then did likewise, even more quickly letting go and putting an arm around Melpomaen.

Legolas kept his face carefully controlled, saying only, "I would enjoy that. Until later, then," and went out, the door snicking shut behind him. When it was closed, he leaned for a moment against the wall of the corridor, swallowing hard, before returning to his own quarters.

Chapter Text

The two Lothlórien Elves sat with their chairs pulled close together, arms around each other, sipping the last of the wine Legolas had brought.

"That is an odd idea they have here," said Melpomaen. "Who could have ever thought that someone would believe that pleasuring yourself would keep you from finding a partner?"

Haldir leaned against his lover's shoulder. His hair brushed Melpomaen's neck as he shook his head. "I agree – I've never heard such a thing before." He smiled into the fabric beneath his face. "It's just as well that it clearly isn't true!"

"Mm." Melpomaen began to stroke Haldir's head. "Why did you never tell me before about your dreams?"

"Of course I couldn't have told you before we became lovers; I suppose I just haven't thought about it since. I haven't had those dreams in many years."

"What were they like?"

Haldir let his fingers trail along Melpomaen's thigh. "They were. . . erotic. Dreams of seeing you unclothed, of kissing you, of making love with you. What I think bothered me most when I first had them was not even the idea of being with another benn physically so much as loving one – it was the emotion that frightened me. Which doesn't make much sense, does it? No one ever said that I could not love my friends, whether they were biss or binn."

"Oh, it makes sense, Dír. Because without the emotion, you wouldn't have the physical experience, would you? Which is what creates the bond, and that bond is what our folk would disapprove, so that is why it would frighten you. As the eldest in your family you must have felt that you should set the example for your brothers, no? Behaving in a way that would not be acceptable to our people, without your own volition, and all that – I can see why you would have been troubled."

"Yes. Perhaps you're right," said Haldir thoughtfully. He lifted the cup to his lips and swallowed the last drops. "Shall we go to bed?"

"What, exactly, do you mean by that?" Melpomaen teased gently. "Did you want to relive your old dreams, now that I know about them?"

"Not tonight. . . you will not be back on night duty tomorrow, will you, but the next day? I just want to lie with you and hold you tonight. Talking with Legolas made me realize again how much I love you, Maen, and I was sorry that he has no one to be with as we are together."

Lying in their bed, with Haldir's warm body against him, Haldir's chest rising and falling in smooth rhythm with his own, Melpomaen thought about Thranduil's son. The captain had certainly treated them both with great courtesy, and though it was clear that he regretted their bond and had a more than friendly interest in Haldir, Melpomaen could not fault his behavior on that score. Haldir, while obviously uncomfortable with the circumstances, seemed also to be sympathetic to Legolas and even flattered, but again Melpomaen had no complaints about how his lover had acted, and no real doubts as to Haldir's affection for himself. He wondered if there was anything he might do to ease the situation in which they were all entangled, and fell asleep at last pondering it.

The next morning, Haldir stood with the other three members of his squad on guard duty at the main entrance to the caverns. It was cold, with pale sunshine sifting through the leafless trees, but the wind was slack. A short while before they were to take their bread and cheese for nooning, a Man appeared escorted by one of the other patrols, and was taken inside to speak with the king. Haldir noticed that the stranger looked haggard, even distraught, and was only partly surprised when a messenger brought word to bid him come to Thranduil's presence.

As he had speculated, the new arrival was Baldor, Vida's husband; when Haldir arrived in the great hall he saw them embraced and weeping unashamedly together as the king waited to speak with them. Melpomaen was present already as well.

"I am not sure why we are summoned," he said to Haldir in an undertone. "We have told the story to the king, as much as we know."

When the first storm of reunion in sorrow had passed, and Vida looked up, she tugged at Baldor's arm to lead him over to the two Elves who had brought her into Thranduil's halls.

"Baldor, this is Haldir, and this Melpomaen, who found me the morning that our son was lost."

Her husband bowed deeply. "I thank you for rescuing Vida – in the circumstances, she might well have perished of grief and loneliness. I owe you both a great debt."

"Do not think of it again," Haldir spoke for them in Westron. "I am only sorry that we could not have found and saved your son also."

"King Thranduil has told me a little of what happened, and of course I read the message you left. Is there anything more known of this creature, this murderer?" The woodsman's face was drawn tight with grief and anger.

"I fear not," said Haldir regretfully. "Not that I am aware of, at least. Perhaps the king has other news?"

The king's face was grave. "I sent out patrols to see what they could discover, but all that has been found is that you are not the only ones to suffer such a loss. There is some new evil abroad in my realm, something that slips past in the night, steals from nest and den and home that which is most treasured. The Elves are searching, but whatever it is, it is wary and cunning, and knows well how to hide."

Baldor looked down at his wife, then gazed back at his king. "Might I join in the hunt, my lord? I have not your men's experience, but I am not unskilled in tracking and wood-craft – and it is only meet that I should help as I can."

Thranduil nodded, even as Vida cried out and clutched at her husband's arm. "When the next patrol returns – in a week or two, I expect – if you wish to join them, you may."

"I must, Vida," Baldor said, gently taking her hands in his own. "You know I must."

She pulled away and ran out of the hall, her face tear-streaked as she passed Haldir and Melpomaen.

"She will come to accept it, my lord," Baldor said. "She knows what is right." He turned and thanked the two Elves once again for their assistance in bringing Vida under the king's protection, before leaving to find his wife and ease her pain as best he could.

"You are free to return to your posts now," Thranduil said. "Baldor would not delay his gratitude to you. I hear that you, Melpomaen, have been able to take up more regular duties, is that not so?"

"It is, sir, three days of the week, and I am glad to be in your service."

"Good, good. I have not forgotten that we are to speak again, one of these days. Perhaps some time when you are both off-duty; I should enjoy conversing with you, too, Haldir. I have not traveled beyond this forest in years, except once to fight at the Lonely Mountain. I would like to hear of the lands to the south from one who knows them well. When I have time, I will send for you, eh?"

They bowed in acquiescence, and departed, each back to his tasks, able only to steal a quick touch of hands and a smile as they left the hall.

"What was that all about?" asked Meneldil when Haldir returned to the gate.

"That was the husband of the woman that Melpomaen and I brought with us the day we arrived; the woman whose son was lost. Being away on a trading trip, he only just received the news and came to find her. The king called me to hear the Man's thanks for the little help we were able to give," Haldir shrugged.

Meneldil nodded. "I see."

Haldir added, "He – Baldor – even asked if he might join the patrols that hunt the creature responsible for his loss, and the king agreed."

"He agreed? How surprising. Usually he does not like mixed patrols. I suppose the king considers this a special circumstance. I'd rather like to be on the hunt myself – far more entertaining than guard duty." Meneldil shrugged. "Ah, well. Here," he held out a half-loaf of bread and a wedge of cheese, "I saved your meal for you."

When Haldir returned to the room to wash up quickly at the end of his shift, he was surprised that Melpomaen was not waiting there for him, since the records room had been dark and empty when Haldir had visited the armory to leave his spear. It was not yet so late that they ran any risk of missing the evening meal. But indeed, Melpomaen had gone on to the mess without him, as Haldir found when he went in and saw his lover sitting near the end of the table, next to the captain.

All the places nearby had been taken, so Haldir merely nudged Melpomaen's shoulder in greeting as he passed and moved on to seat himself with the other members of his squad. After he had eaten, deliberately not hurrying through the meal, he accompanied them to the common room and joined a group telling old legends.

It was a tale of the time under the stars, before the coming of the Sun and the Moon, that was being told tonight.

"They were persuaded," said Belegorn, a silver-haired Elf with a twinkling gaze and a quick hand on the bow, "that safety lay to the west, and that they should follow Araw as he would lead them. (1) But our fathers wished to be free, and so though they traveled for some way, reluctant to be parted from their friends and kin, in the end they remained here."

"And for the best," added Meneldil as he drew up a chair, "for did not some of those who left, later return after all? Our king among them?"

Haldir listened to the discussion that followed with interest. His own lord and lady, Celeborn and Galadriel, were of those kindreds that had gone into the west, and had returned to take up rulership long after. He had heard vague rumors that they had been forbidden to leave the mortal shores again, but did not know if there was any truth to those stories.

"What do you think about traveling west someday yourself? I have heard that there are havens on the western shore, where Elves yet dwell and build ships for the journey, for any who wish to make it," he asked Belegorn at a moment when the conversation fell into a lull.

"Me, travel west?" Belegorn laughed. "Why would I want to? What could I find there that is not here? Would you leave all you know for a fairy-tale land?"

Haldir hesitated, unwilling to say anything that might offend.

"I would," said a voice quietly, and Haldir recognized Legolas as the speaker. He had not seen that the captain and Melpomaen had joined the group.

"Oh, come now. Leave your home? Leave your father and family? Whatever for? We have made this land our own, we have fought for it, dwelt in it long years. And you would leave it?"

"There is more to the world than this small corner, more to life than its defense, Belegorn," Legolas rebuked him mildly. "I would not leave now, no, but someday I might. I do not know if I would travel into the uttermost west, but I would like to see the Sea, someday." He looked over at Haldir. "We have those here who have traveled well beyond our Wood, even beyond Dale and Erebor to which many of us here have gone. Is it not worthwhile, to see more of Middle-earth than this small part?"

"It is," affirmed Haldir. "I would also choose to go west, sometime, at least as far as the Sea. I have known of those who made the journey across it," he avoided looking at Melpomaen as he spoke, "and though their kin regretted their departure, still I would not despise their choice."

The debate continued around him, but he added no more to it, now free to gaze at Melpomaen unobserved. His lover sat still and silent for some little time on the other side of the loose circle of chairs, before murmuring a few words to Legolas beside him and rising to leave the room. Haldir caught Legolas's eye; the captain raised a brow. At that Haldir too slipped away and back to the room.

He found Melpomaen curled up tightly on the bed. "What is it, meldanya? You've been acting oddly all evening." Haldir sat down on the edge of the mattress and stroked Melpomaen's shoulder. "Come on, Maen, if you're going to go to sleep you should at least take your clothes off first. Or do you want to talk?"

Melpomaen uncurled under Haldir's coaxing, and allowed himself to be undressed. "I. . . No. I mean yes. I don't know. That conversation in the common room about going to the west. . . I miss my parents, Dír," he said. "I do, I do not talk about them often but I miss them. When you said that you might also choose to travel west, what did you mean?"

"Just what I said," Haldir answered, bewildered. "Sometime, I would like to go at least as far as the Great Sea. Perhaps further. But I do not have any immediate intention of doing so, and I would never go without you. You can't possibly think I would?"

"No. . ." Melpomaen bit his lip and was quiet. Haldir looked at him questioningly for a moment, but when the face under the dark hair remained still and silent, he left the matter and drew Melpomaen after him into the bathing room.

"Here, would you like to soak in the warm water for a little? You seem very upset, and it might calm you."

Passively Melpomaen let Haldir lead him into the great stone basin. As the heat penetrated both of their bodies, Haldir could feel his partner relax just slightly against him. He shifted their positions so that he was behind Melpomaen, and began to knead his shoulders and back. He was astonished at the tightness of the muscle, and wondered what Melpomaen could possibly be thinking to provoke such a reaction in his own flesh.

"Maen," he said, after about a quarter of an hour. "Can you not tell me what is wrong? It must be more than just missing your parents. At least tell me something?" A quiver of the head was his only response, and the muscles that had begun to relax under his fingers tightened again.

Haldir thought about what he had seen that evening. "Is it something to do with Legolas?" he asked. Tension in the back before him.

"It is, then. Maen, meldanya, if you do not tell me, I cannot help you."

Melpomaen turned his head slightly and Haldir was appalled to see that he was weeping. How could he not have realized?

"I think I'm no good at thinking, Dír. After we saw Baldor at noon, I went back to the records room and started thinking about his loss, and Vida's, and I wondered how my own parents could have chosen to leave their children, grown though we were. But then I thought about you, and our bond, and realized that I would do the same for you as my mother did for my father, if it came to that.

"When I was nearly finished for the day, Legolas stopped by to remind me that I was expected on watch tomorrow night. He was trying to be cheerful, but there was pain shadowed at the back of his eyes, and I felt so sorry for him that I asked if he wanted to talk for a little. He said no, not then, but would I bear him company at the meal. I tell you, Dír, it was like sitting next to misery wrapped in skin – I could almost taste it. It was nearly enough to make me wish that there were some way he could find ease from his longing – but I do not see how that can be."

Haldir put a gentle hand on Melpomaen's cheek. "It is not your responsibility to heal Legolas's pain, Maen."

"Oh, but if I were not here, were not your partner, he would not have it, surely? And he is a worthy fellow – he has never said anything amiss, I can only tell he is hurting because I know I would feel the same."

"You should not feel any guilt, though. This is simply the way things are – perhaps there is a reason why the captain has fixed on me, an unattainable object? Besides, remember that whatever Legolas may think he feels, I know that you and I were meant to be together. Else why would I have dreamed of you, so long ago?"

"I know. I know, meldanya. I had an idea, though, for something that might – perhaps – help him. I don't know. I'm sure you'll think it completely idiotic if not wholly offensive. . ."

Bewildered, Haldir asked what his lover could possibly be thinking of.

So faintly that Haldir could scarcely hear the words, Melpomaen mumbled, "I thought he might. . . be with us."

Had he not already been sitting down, Haldir would have had to do so. In complete confusion he asked, "How? Such a thing is impossible, you know that."

"Not to be part of our lovemaking, to watch. . ." Melpomaen's voice was almost inaudible.

"Whatever made you think of that?"

"Well. . . it was seeing another pair of binn that made you realize that such a partnering could be all right, was it not? So, I thought, if we – I don't know – demonstrated the joys of self-pleasure, and that it need not interfere with a bond to another?"

"Wouldn't this, this," Haldir swallowed the word "hare-brained" and simply finished, "this idea make matters worse yet? To see what he could not have?"

Melpomaen's tears had ceased and he sat still under Haldir's hands. "I suppose it might. You see, I told you I should not think. All I think of is foolish, Dír."

"Unexpected, at any rate," Haldir murmured.

"Is it such a very ridiculous idea?"

"I just doubt it would be of use to him, and might hurt him more – although he would have to be the judge of that. I should think it would embarrassing to me, at least; would you not find it so?"

"Perhaps it would be pointless. . . but," Melpomaen wrapped his arms around his torso and bowed his head, "would you consider it? Even though you say I bear no responsibility for Legolas's unhappiness, it would make me feel better to know that I tried to help him. It would not shame me, not if he were willing."

The initial surprise over, Haldir was able to think more calmly. It was a bizarre notion, truly, but seemed to be spurred by the same feeling of compassion he himself had towards the captain. He had always known that Melpomaen was impulsive, he just had not realized to quite what lengths the other might go.

"I suppose I can consider it, although I don't make any promises. You will be on duty for the next three nights, and nothing can be thought of until then in any case."

Melpomaen turned around and met Haldir's gaze. "No, of course not. And if you decide that you think it's simply too strange or shameful to even suggest to Legolas, I will not mention it again."

"Very well." Haldir stood up and reached for a towel. "Come on, Maen. Come to bed. I don't want to think about Legolas any more just now."

He found himself being rougher in his kisses and caresses than usual. Deliberately, he stopped, then began again, reminding himself that it was only an excess of sympathy that had led Melpomaen to make such a suggestion, not any lack of love for Haldir.

Melpomaen enjoyed the roughness as a contrast to the quiet of the night before. When his lover paused, and resumed his caresses with more tenderness, Melpomaen almost regretted the change. He responded to the shift in mood, though, and began to kiss Haldir back more deeply, running his hand along his lover's side and down to his waist, drawing them closer together.

"Dír," he murmured.

"Hm?"

"I love you, you know."

"I know." Haldir traced the line of Melpomaen's jaw with the pad of his thumb. "I know. I love you too, even when you come up with odd notions like this one. Because that is part of who you are." He gave Melpomaen one swift kiss on the mouth, then pressed a whole series of kisses to his neck, trailing up to breathe in his ear. Melpomaen shivered pleasantly. Haldir whispered, "You are mine, meldanya, forever, just as I am yours."

Melpomaen nodded and moved his hand from Haldir's waist, around his hip, to rest between their two groins. "I am yours," he agreed softly. "Always." He held their members together, hardness against hardness, heat against heat. The pulsing blood under their skins throbbed in syncopated rhythm as he stroked. He felt a sudden yearning, and pulled away just long enough to reverse his position on the bed, so that he could take Haldir into his mouth, tasting the hint of bitterness at the tip, inhaling the scent of sweat and desire. He ran his tongue along the firm length and dipped down to lave the loose skin below before returning to suckle once again.

For a moment Haldir lay unmoving, enjoying the feel of Melpomaen's moist lips and tongue, but the sight before him was tempting and he too took his lover into his own mouth, curling up to find a more comfortable angle so that he could fully engulf the jutting organ before him. Every touch, every caress, that Melpomaen bestowed upon him he duplicated. After a time, though, he found that his passion was rising so that he could not continue; he withdrew his mouth and began to thrust against Melpomaen's with abandon.

Though the loss of Haldir's touch left him longing, Melpomaen relaxed to the insistence of his lover's desire. His throat opened to the flood of Haldir's seed as the golden head was flung back in release. He swallowed, tongue moving to catch every drop and leave Haldir clean.

Haldir quivered at the tender touch, and pressed his lips against Melpomaen's own organ.

"Wait. . ." Melpomaen changed places once more and reached for the oil-flask. "Haldir?"

At the nod of acquiescence, he smoothed the cool oil along his length. Haldir shifted onto his belly, legs opening, and Melpomaen used one oiled finger to test his invitation. He pressed slowly inside, and felt Haldir shiver as he penetrated. Withdrawing only slightly, he repeated the gentle thrusts over and over, knowing that this would bring his partner the greatest pleasure. He could feel Haldir moving against him, tightening and relaxing in time with his thrusts. The sense of unity that resulted was such that Melpomaen hardly cared when or whether he would reach his climax; all he wanted was to be joined with Haldir. But at last he did spend, deep within Haldir's body, and half-collapsed across him, their sweat-dampened skins clinging together.

"Maen," murmured Haldir.

"Yes?"

"Just don't try to persuade me. Let me make the decision alone." Haldir was genuinely unsure about what he might choose to do, but for love of Melpomaen, he would consider sharing that love where Legolas could see – if the captain wished.



Footnote:
(1) Araw is the Sindarin name for Oromë, the Vala who discovered the Elves at Cuiviénen, and persuaded the Vanyar, Noldor, and Teleri to follow him on the Great Journey to Eldamar, Elvenhome in the West near Valinor.

Chapter Text

Haldir awakened later than was his wont, with scarcely time to break his fast before going to his duties. He particularly regretted it this morning since Melpomaen was due to take the night shift again, and they would see each other but little for the next three days. Once again he was set to guard the great front gates, and once again his morning was interrupted by a summons to the king.

"I am to take your place until King Thranduil has finished speaking to you," Belegorn told him. "Do not hasten on my account, though!"

Thanking the older Elf, Haldir made his way back down the corridors to the great hall. The king, for a rarity, was not at the center of a knot of petitioners, and beckoned him over.

"I realize you are on duty now," Thranduil half-apologized, "but I wished to speak to you sooner rather than later."

"Certainly, sir. I am at your command."

The king rose and gestured to Haldir to follow him. "Come, let us speak in my chambers, where it is more comfortable. I will have Guilin bring something to drink – would you care for wine?"

"Thank you, no. If I am to return to duty this morning, I would prefer to abstain," Haldir answered.

"Well said. Perhaps some tea, then; it is a cold day out. Here we are," and Thranduil opened the door to the room.

"Your partner Melpomaen gave me to understand that he had had few dealings with Men; is that so for you also? I hope not, for I should like your views on some matters regarding them," the king said, sitting back in his chair.

Haldir seated himself opposite, saying, "I know somewhat more of Men than Melpomaen, I believe, but what is it your majesty would wish to know? I will do my best to answer."

"You were there yesterday when that woodsman came and asked to join in the hunt for the creature that stole his son. I could not but say yes to him, yet I have rarely allowed Men to serve with my Elves. Of course you do not know this Man personally, but what do you think of the notion of the two races working together?"

"If he is able to do what is needful to work with the others in the patrol, I can see no reason why he should not do this service. He would – rightfully – pursue the creature himself, otherwise, and that could cause more difficulties." Haldir paused and pursed his lips. "Does Baldor speak our tongue? If not, I could see that as a problem. But from what I understand he is woods-wise and ought to be able to aid the rest, not slow them."

"I believe so; he may not speak well, but as I recall he spoke Sindarin when he first came to pledge his oath before taking up his holding in the woods. But have you ever worked closely with Men yourself, Haldir? Is there any other advice you can give?"

The golden head shook slowly. "I have spent some time with Men in conversation and trade, but never worked with them in such a situation. I would not assume any difference, nor any likeness either, no more than I would with any stranger. He holds you as his king; it is for you to say."

Thranduil held Haldir's gaze for a moment. "True." The silence that fell then was broken only when the king called for tea to be brought for his guest, and wine for himself.

Sipping, Thranduil turned to a different subject. "You came here most immediately from Dale – I understand you had an errand there, a message to deliver and a reply to carry back?"

"Yes, that is so."

"Might I inquire what that message concerned?"

"I fear that the details of it must remain confidential, sir. I am in a position to say neither what the message was, nor the answer."

"Of course you cannot tell me the exact contents, but I would greatly appreciate knowing in a general way what it bears on: trade, politics, or even if it is just a personal matter. We can become isolated here in Mirkwood, you understand, which most of the time is to be preferred, but recent events have brought home the fact that the external world may impinge upon us against our will. As happened at Erebor, as I am sure you are aware. So if there is some matter brewing in Dale that may have repercussions for my own realm, you will see that it is meet that I should be aware of it."

Haldir recognized the point of the king's argument, but still held himself unauthorized to share the information of the proposed alliance between Lothlórien and Dale. "I am sorry, your majesty. All I can say is that it was no personal matter, but one of greater import. There is nothing more I can tell you."

"Humph." Thranduil glared at him, then sighed. "Well, you would be no good messenger if you told tales out of turn. I suppose I will have to send to Bard himself to find out, and I cannot spare any to do so until the spring."

Haldir bowed his head and lifted his cup to his lips. The tea was an unfamiliar blend of herbs, pleasant but distinctive enough that Haldir felt he would not wish to have it daily.

"I hear good reports of you," said Thranduil, shifting abruptly. "You carry out your assigned duties well and faithfully, bear yourself courteously, and have taught a few new fighting techniques to your comrades. The only complaint I have heard is that you are not always as social with the others as is commonly expected. But that is a minor point. Tell me, would you have any interest in returning here to serve me on a permanent basis after you complete your errand this spring?"

To cover his surprise Haldir took another sip of the hot tea. "I. . . would have to consider the matter carefully. Melpomaen and I have an understanding that we will continue to work together after our present mission, you understand, but I am most flattered by the offer, sir."

Thranduil shrugged. "It applies to him too; that need not restrain you. Think on it, if you will. It is not yet even midwinter, and I would not advise you to risk leaving until spring, so you will have plenty of time to weigh the merits of the idea. If you decide to return, either or both of you, you would be welcome."

"Thank you, King Thranduil. I do appreciate it," said Haldir, and set his emptied cup aside.

He would have been happy to take his leave then, having more than enough to think about, but Thranduil held him for a few minutes more with questions about his experiences there and how they compared to his earlier life: how the officers behaved, how duties were scheduled, and similar points. When he finally was dismissed from the king's presence, he leaned for an instant against the wall of the corridor outside Thranduil's rooms before pulling himself upright and walking back towards the gates to resume that day's duty.

As he passed through the great hall, though, he heard his name called. Sighing, he turned and waited for Vida to reach him.

"Thank you," she said. "I suppose you are busy now, but can you spare just a moment of your time?"

"If it is only a moment, yes."

She tugged him over to one side of the hall. "Please, you have been so kind already, will you tell me truthfully what you think of Baldor's decision to hunt for this creature? What are his chances of success, of returning to me unharmed?"

Haldir saw the worry in her face and wished he could reassure her, but he could not. "You know your husband's skill better than I could, Vida. If he has the abilities, he will be as safe as any. He will not be going alone, after all, but with an entire patrol on the hunt. I do think that his decision to go is the proper thing to do – you would not wish him to allow your son's murder to be unavenged, would you?"

Vida looked down, tears trickling from her eyes. "No. . . but if Baldor were to be injured or killed in this pursuit, then would I have lost everything."

He patted her on the shoulder. "Try not to worry. It is most unlikely that he would be killed, and he risks injury every day, in the woods. If you can, indeed, I would say that you should rather encourage him to do as he feels best, so that his thoughts are bent on that rather than being half back here with you."

She nodded reluctantly. "I understand what you are saying. Is there any chance that you or your friend would be on this patrol? I would feel better, were there someone I knew nearby."

"I am afraid not. We are both assigned to guard duty here, at the caverns. But I am sure that those who are out seeking the creature are well-trained and skilled at their work – there is no cause for you to fear that Baldor will have any trouble. Vida, I'm sorry, but I must return to the gate now. Someone else is standing in for me, and I cannot leave him waiting."

"No, of course not. Thank you for telling me what you think, Haldir. I will see you again." She turned away and walked with slow step towards the kitchens.

Haldir shook his head and strode off toward the gates. Belegorn was in the midst of telling a story to the other three guards when Haldir arrived, and nodded while continuing his narrative.

When the story was over, Haldir thanked Belegorn for taking his place for so much of the morning.

"Do not think of it – you may do as much for me, or someone else, another time. In the winter, in any case, it is not as if this is hard duty. We have seen no strangers all morning, only a few of our own folk going in and out. Well, I'm off to count supplies in the storerooms again. I will see you all this evening in the mess."

The rest of the afternoon passed as it ever did guarding the gate, in pacing the space before the great doors and in desultory conversation with the other three. Haldir knew that he ought to think about both Melpomaen's proposition and Thranduil's offer, but he felt awkward doing so on duty, and decided that perhaps in the evening would be better.

Melpomaen was finishing his own meal when Haldir arrived in the mess for supper, and they were only able to smile their greetings before Melpomaen had to depart for his assigned patrol that night. Pushing his stew around the bowl with a thick slice of bread, Haldir tried to take part in the talk around him. Thranduil's hint had not gone unnoticed. He saw Legolas at the far end of the table raising a brow at his unwonted animation, and hoped that his captain would not wish to speak to him later; he had been intending to go to the common room for a while, and then back to his room to think.

Haldir's hopes were not fulfilled, however. Carrying his dishes away, Legolas stopped and said, "I understand the king spoke with you this morning about staying on. Please come to discuss that with me in my quarters after you have finished eating."

Haldir ate the rest of his meal in annoyed silence, but did as he was commanded and presented himself at Legolas's door shortly thereafter. The captain greeted him cheerfully.

"What was it that you wanted?" asked Haldir.

Legolas stopped and looked surprised. "Have I done aught to offend you? I thought with Melpomaen on duty you might wish for company, but not so much as the common room must afford."

"No, sir, you have not offended me," muttered Haldir, avoiding Legolas's eye. "I apologize for my churlishness."

"It is forgotten. I do want to speak about the possibility that you and Melpomaen might remain here, or rather, return after you have completed your present errand. You would be assets here, as I am sure my father told you. Have you given it any thought?"

"I have not really had time to consider it yet, and of course have not been able to speak with Maen, either. Is there any urgency in making a decision? King Thranduil seemed not to think so."

"No, no urgency, at least not until you leave in the spring. By then I would like to know if you plan to return, simply so that I can add more men to the roster as needed. If you two will be here, I would leave places for you," said Legolas.

"But if we were to return, I imagine that we would be treated just as all the ordinary guards are, is that not so? Sleep in the barracks-room with the rest, for instance, rather than in our present quarters."

"Most probably," admitted Legolas, "although that might be negotiated, were you employed in a more regular fashion. We do allow those guards who have bond-mates here to share quarters with them, when space permits. Erentar, for instance; his spouse works in the weaving-room. And this would be a permanent position; since at present from what you have said you seem to be working from commission to commission, I thought this might be preferable."

Haldir did not choose to correct the captain's misapprehension of his activities. Instead he said, "I will certainly think about it, and discuss it with Maen, too – I am sure he will be pleased at the offer."

"I am glad for that." Legolas looked around. "Here, I have been remiss. Would you care for something, perhaps a glass of wine?"

On the verge of refusing, Haldir thought better of it. A longer conversation with Legolas might help him to reach a decision about whether or not to go along with Melpomaen's outlandish notion of inviting the other Elf to watch them. "If you have it here, I would, thank you," he accepted.

Legolas's expression smoothed. "I thought you would decline," he remarked, rising and pouring two glasses. "You seemed unwilling to be here, when you arrived."

"Oh, well," said Haldir. "Now that I am here, I have no especial desire to leave."

Clear eyes held his own. "Thank you." Legolas handed Haldir a glass, then reseated himself.

"I know that you have not had time to consider, but what is your initial feeling about staying, Haldir? Are you inclined to accept, or refuse?"

"To be honest with you, my first thought is to refuse."

"Why? Have you not been happy here?"

"I have," Haldir assured him hastily. "But it is not home, you understand, at least, not yet. Which may change over the course of the winter. Maen may also feel otherwise, and this must be a mutual decision. There would be clear benefits for us in returning to Mirkwood, as you understand. As I told you once before, our people would be scandalized – at best – were our bond to be known to them. Here that seems less condemned, from what you have said, and we would not need to hide our true selves in the same fashion, nor feel that we were in some way outside the community of which we ought to be a part. That is tempting to me, I confess, and I know will be more so to Maen."

Legolas nodded, and Haldir continued, "But then, if we cannot be – physically – together here either, the appeal is less, you can see that."

"Surely," said Legolas. He leaned back and drummed his fingers on the arm of his chair. "That is something that I, and you two, would have to deal with. It will depend on how many requests for individual quarters there are, and I will not know that until the time comes. Preferential treatment for newcomers would cause problems, which would also separate you from the others with whom you would be working."

"Indeed it would, so you can understand why I hesitate, at least at first thought."

"But you will consult with Melpomaen, will you not? We – my father and I – would be more than pleased if you chose to return, and would certainly make any reasonable accommodations that we could."

"Why?"

Legolas blinked. "Why what?"

"Yes. Why are you so anxious that Maen and I should return to Mirkwood?" asked Haldir bluntly. "Neither of us is exceptionally skilled beyond your own people's abilities in tracking or fighting, nor have we any other unusual talents to offer. So why do you urge me so strongly?"

The king's son sighed. "Do you know why my father has begun to accept Men into his service and is allowing them to take up lands in his realm?"

Haldir shook his head.

"Because we diminish, our people. Oh, not a great deal, not yet, but what is coming is clear. Our fighting against the Orcs and great spiders and other evil wights has of necessity meant that some are slain, and fewer and fewer are born to replace them. I have remained unwedded, but many others who have found their partners have chosen not to sire and bear children – and so we gradually dwindle. My father foresees this, and knows that it is inevitable, but he wishes to prolong the good of his realm so long as he may. Therefore he encourages any Elves who pass through to consider staying, especially those who have no strong loyalties, such as yourself and Melpomaen. It is my duty to support him in this aim."

"I see," said Haldir slowly. "What do you think of this? I ask you not as the king's son, but as Legolas, dweller in Mirkwood."

"I do not know," confessed Legolas. "I have naught to say against Men, indeed, and they reclaim and make safe lands we might otherwise be forced to relinquish to our enemies. But I find myself uncomfortable around them at times – their lives are so brief that it is hard to understand their ways of thinking, so limited by the knowledge of their own near departure from Arda. I would rather see Mirkwood flourish under the Elves, as once was; but since I have been unable to do nothing myself towards that goal, it is hard to quarrel with my father's decision."

"You would then support my return with Maen?"

"Of course. Why would I not? You are both skilled in your duties, and I enjoy your company." Legolas looked quizzical.

"I thought – given what you have hinted – that you might be more comfortable in my absence," said Haldir. "Or Maen's."

A slight flush stained the other's cheeks. "Ah. Well. What is, must be, must it not? I have accepted that, though I may still harbor some regrets. It would be foolish of me though to let that shape all my actions, would it not?"

Haldir shrugged. "Not all would respond that way. I would not wish unwittingly to make a choice that would cause pain to another."

"No, I assure you. Indeed, sometime soon I would like to spend another evening with the two of you and learn more about the different customs you know – and tell you more of ours. Perhaps that will help persuade you to stay."

Haldir was not entirely convinced by Legolas's protestations that he would be undisturbed if Haldir and Melpomaen ultimately decided to return and dwell permanently in King Thranduil's realm, but left the matter for the time being. "I would certainly enjoy learning more of your customs and beliefs, regardless. Some that you have mentioned surprise me, and I imagine the same is true for you."

"Yes," said Legolas eagerly. "Very much so. Would, say, four days hence suit you? Melpomaen will be back in the records room then, and free in the evening, if I remember the schedule correctly."

"That would suit, I imagine," accepted Haldir. "I will check with Maen that he has made no other obligations, but if I do not tell you otherwise, expect us to be here that evening, sometime after supper." He glanced at the coals in the hearth. "It grows late, though, so I will bid you good night for now."

Legolas rose to open the door as Haldir left. "Thank you, my friend. Do not forget to tell Melpomaen of the offer from my father."

"I will not," promised Haldir, and strode away down the passage.

He was tired, after all the conversations he had had that day, and still had not had time to reflect on Melpomaen's proposal. He decided to simply go to sleep and consider it the next day, when he was scheduled to be on patrol rather than gate guard, and all would be quiet in the wood. He slept soundly, and was awakened by a kiss from Melpomaen.

"Do you have a cold?"

"No, what makes you ask that?"

"I could hear you snoring from the hallway, before I opened the door," grinned Melpomaen, pulling his tunic over his head. "They could probably hear you in Lórien."

"Sh," Haldir flapped his hand at the door. "Not even here."

Melpomaen, unrepentant, rolled his eyes and flung himself onto the bed next to Haldir. "Come on, get up. I haven't eaten yet myself; I thought we could go to the meal together."

"All right." Haldir slipped out from under the coverlet and began to dress. "I have a message for you."

"What?"

"The king called me to speak with him yesterday, and offered us both a place in his service, if we choose to return after our present errand. Legolas reiterated the offer last night. Oh, and we're to meet with him four nights from now. Not to answer about that – there is no hurry there – simply for conversation."

"Just conversation?"

"Just that. I haven't had time to think about your wild idea yet, Maen, first the king spoke with me, then Vida, then Legolas. I hardly had a moment to myself all day. But I should today, and I will consider it, I promise you, just as you had better think about this offer from Thranduil. We will have to choose together whether to take it up."

"Yes, yes. Aren't you ready yet? I'm hungry."

As he had expected, Haldir was indeed on patrol that day. He had enough experience from his many years in Lothlórien, and had learned enough about the Mirkwood forest, that he could keep most of his attention on his duty, but use one corner of his mind to think.

Walking through the woods – the three others in his patrol were just within earshot – reminded him of all the many times he had wandered among the trees of his home. Mirkwood's trees were different, but the remnants of the first snowfalls on the moist earth beneath them recalled the pale niphredil of Lórien. He was glad that there were no silver-trunked mellyrn here.

He set himself seriously to think. Melpomaen had suggested that they pleasure themselves before Legolas, then make love with the other watching, as a way to both assure Legolas that seeking one's own pleasure did not preclude any later bond – and who among the Elves of Mirkwood could have invented that idea, and why, he wondered – and to perhaps give him some ease. Could such a wild scheme be effective in helping Legolas feel less sorrowful, less desperate about his unbonded status? Haldir shook his head dubiously, even as he ducked to avoid a low-hanging bough.

Then again, it was not his to decide for Legolas. He need only decide if he himself was willing to participate in this. Melpomaen seemed very much to desire it, and Haldir wanted to please his partner if he could, but still he felt reluctant.

Now he was moving into less-familiar territory and slowed his pace, alert to hear any signal from his companions. Silence prevailed in the chill air. He skirted a tangle of bramble and paused, frowning in near-recognition. This place looked like. . . and then he knew. It resembled the place in Lórien where he had once seen two other binn. Though he had had no choice, and had learned much good from that, he still felt deep shame that he had watched them, remaining hidden. He could not possibly put himself into such a situation, and cause Legolas shame in the same way.

Haldir stopped to listen again. Still all was quiet. He resumed walking and continued to argue with himself. If he was truthful about it, it was not so much that he had seen those other Elves, as that they had not known of his presence. It smacked of underhandedness, of dishonor. Would he have felt differently had they seen him, spoken with him, perhaps even shown him willingly some of what he had watched as a voyeur?

Wrestling with these questions, he finished his morning sweep and rejoined the other three Elves for a quick bite at noon. The afternoon passed uneventfully and they returned to the caverns as twilight fell.

Melpomaen raised his eyebrows at Haldir as the latter slid into place beside him at the table. Haldir nodded, then shrugged his shoulders. Melpomaen gave a tiny sigh, then nodded acceptance. They both knew Haldir would continue to consider for the next day or two.

In the common room after supper, Haldir placed himself on the fringes of a group telling stories, listening but not talking, seated where he could steal glimpses of Legolas as the captain moved about the room. Once or twice he thought he saw a shadow cross the other's face as Legolas looked toward him. He tried to imagine what it would be like to have Legolas present as he loved Melpomaen.

Chapter Text

Melpomaen closed the door quietly behind him and set down the candle. In its dim light he could see Haldir's beloved form on their bed, one arm flung over the empty half as if he wished to embrace his absent lover. Melpomaen smiled to himself as he lifted Haldir's arm and lay underneath it, reaching out to hold him in return.

The movement disturbed Haldir and his eyes opened to see Melpomaen looking back at him.

"Good morning," murmured Melpomaen. "Did you rest well, meldanya?" He kissed Haldir's brow.

"Well enough," said Haldir, resting a hand on his partner's chest.

"Have you reached any decision?"

"Not yet. . . but at the moment I am inclined to agree. I want to be sure that I will be comfortable with it, though."

Melpomaen smiled. He felt certain that Haldir would now eventually say yes. Gently he reached out and tucked a lock of hair behind Haldir's ear, drawing his finger along the curled flesh and down the smooth skin of his jaw and neck. "I understand. Just tell me when you know. If you can do so before we talk with Legolas next, that would be best, I think, but I will leave it up to you." He leaned in for another kiss and felt Haldir's lips yield to him. "Not now, love, there isn't time. Tomorrow night, all right?"

"Mm. All right."

For the rest of that day and the next, Haldir thought hard in every spare moment. The idea of being unclothed in front of his captain did not bother him, for what purpose did clothing serve except warmth or appearance? He understood that Men thought differently about this, but the ways of Men were not as those of Elves. It was rather the nakedness of the soul that concerned him. The joy that he found with Melpomaen was a private thing; if it were shared, would it be lessened?

In the end, Haldir made his choice more from love of Melpomaen than for any other reason. If this would please his lover, he would do it. He might feel somewhat awkward, but it would not be shameful for him. And, of course, Legolas might choose to decline. Haldir only hoped that Melpomaen could think of a way to broach the question that would not embarrass Legolas too much.

When he told Melpomaen what he had decided, his lover showed little surprise, but was clearly pleased.

"I hoped you would come to agree with me that this is a trial worth making," Melpomaen said. "Now, we are to meet with Legolas tomorrow night, are we not?"

"Tomorrow, yes, in his quarters after the evening meal. Speaking of which we had best get to our meal tonight, or we will miss it. I think perhaps an hour in the common room after would be enough of an appearance, don't you? Given that you keep changing shifts every few days, it's only natural that you would want to go off to bed early."

Melpomaen smirked slightly. "That serves for my reason, but what about you?"

"Oh, no one will notice if I leave early," said Haldir.

"Except the captain."

"Except the captain," Haldir agreed. "Who will say nothing of it."

The first part of the evening passed as planned, and the two Elves returned early to their room and latched the door behind them.

"Come here," said Melpomaen, sitting cross-legged at the top of the bed. "Wait, take your tunic off first."

Obediently Haldir removed his shirt, folding it into the clothes-press, and sat in front of his partner. Melpomaen tugged loose the thong that bound his hair and unraveled the braids, then began to draw a comb through the golden tresses. When the heavy mass lay smooth and silken down Haldir's back, Melpomaen parted it and moved one half to hang down each side of Haldir's chest. He reached for the flask of oil on the table beside the bed, poured a little into his hands, and began to rub Haldir's shoulders, neck, and back with long, firm strokes.

"I was thinking," he said as he pressed his thumbs into a knot of muscle between Haldir's shoulder blades. "If we are going to make this suggestion to Legolas tomorrow night, we had better be prepared to act on it, don't you suppose?"

Haldir made a soft noise of agreement.

"He might have to think about it, of course, as you did, but it's possible that he would be immediately willing. So – perhaps we should practice what we would do?"

Haldir turned his head slightly, keeping it bent forward so that his hair would not fall down his back, and peered at Melpomaen over his shoulder. "What did you have in mind, Maen? I can tell you have some idea worked out."

"Well, yes, a little," admitted Melpomaen. He used the back of his wrist to push a stray lock of his own hair out of his face. "Since the purpose of this is to show Legolas that pleasuring oneself need not interfere with a bond, at least one of us will need to do that to begin with. If not both, then it should be you, I think, for it is you that he was – is? – attracted to. He will be able to think himself into your place more readily than if it were I."

"All right," said Haldir, "if you think that is best. I would rather it were both of us, though."

"If you want me to, I will. Actually that's probably better, since we would be able to move on into making love more easily then," Melpomaen agreed. "What I do not know is whether he will wish to join in during that. I'm sure he would hold back later, he has better manners and better sense than to interfere with a bonded couple. But in the early stages – what is your sense of what he might do?"

"If he agrees at all – and that I'm wholly uncertain about – then I suspect he would join in to see for himself the result. Besides, if he continues to harbor any feelings towards me, even knowing I cannot return them, this would be perhaps the only way he could come close to expressing them. But that is something that we can only wait to see what happens."

"True. Now, if he accepts immediately, I think that nevertheless we should return to this room, rather than stay in his – too many possibilities of interruption there."

"And if he needs to think about it, we can suggest that this would be a better place, if and when," said Haldir.

"My thoughts exactly. Now. . ."

"Now you need to figure out how to broach the question to begin with!"

"I have to do it?"

"It was your idea, Maen."

"Yes, yes, I know. I'll just try to work it into the conversation somehow. If you can help me turn it toward such matters, that would help."

"Legolas did say that he would like to learn more about the differences in custom and belief between his people and ours," said Haldir thoughtfully.

"That would do it. I doubt I will have difficulty bringing it up, then," said Melpomaen, kneading Haldir's neck muscles. "But now, Dír, I think we should really practice, don't you?"

"Practice what?"

"All of it." Melpomaen put words into action, sliding off the bed and beginning to remove his clothes. "Not that we have to do before Legolas exactly what we do now, but. . ."

"But practice makes perfect," said Haldir, rising and unlacing his leggings. "Pass me the oil, will you?"

Melpomaen found that bringing himself to hardness was more enjoyable if he watched Haldir at the same time. Seeing his partner's pleasure was half of his own. He wrapped one hand about his shaft and used the other thumb to rub across his nipples as he reclined on the bed. Slow hard strokes had him straining, his face flushed. Haldir knelt on the rug next to him. He, too, was using one hand to stroke himself, but he caught Melpomaen's eye and turned sideways to let his lover watch as he slowly sank onto two of his own oiled fingers. Melpomaen felt a surge of desire and wished that Haldir were pushing onto him instead. That could come later.

Haldir asked, "Shall we?"

Nodding, Melpomaen matched stroke for stroke, his eyes intent on Haldir's motions as his lover spent, shuddering, into his hand. As Haldir finished, Melpomaen let himself release his seed onto his own belly.

"Don't move," said Haldir, and leaned over to lick him clean, holding out his own hand to Melpomaen's mouth.

Melpomaen suckled each finger in turn, ending with the palm. He reached out to draw Haldir's face to his own and kissed him hard, thrusting his tongue into the other's mouth. Haldir climbed onto the bed in one smooth motion, laying his body alongside his lover's, pressed together as closely as if they were twins in the womb.

"And what shall we do now?" whispered Melpomaen.

"What would you?"

In answer Melpomaen slipped one leg between Haldir's and rested the other on top, tangling them together, wrapping his arms around Haldir's chest. "I would feel you as part of me, meldanya. Let our hearts beat time together." He kissed Haldir again and again, on eyelid, cheek, earlobe, jaw, lips.

"We belong to each other," Haldir breathed in his ear. "None other made this bond between us, and none may break it. We are our own."

Suddenly Melpomaen drew back and Haldir saw that his face was wet with tears. "Is that enough?"

Bewildered by his lover's abrupt change of mood, Haldir said, "Enough for what? I do not understand."

"Enough for our future. Oh, I know there is no breaking, I grasp that, and just now I feel nothing lacking between us, but what of the time to come? No one can cut us off from each other, but will we be cut off from our people, our families? We can begin no family of our own, you and I. For all our love for each other, it is ultimately a sterile love."

"Now, Maen, don't think like that. It's true that children are not possible for us, but I accepted that long ago – I am only glad that I have you, rather than the loneliness I feared was my lot. Think of it so. It is enough. It must be." Searching for something more to say, he added, "We cannot change our own natures. Would you not rather be here, with me, espoused in all but name, than alone as Legolas is alone? You see his pain so clearly and want to give him what help you can, to accept what is and must be – how is that being cut off from those around us? Our families – how can we know for certain what they will think, until and unless we tell them how it stands between us? I know that my family loves me, and I have hope that will not end."

Melpomaen sighed. "No. I just. . . there are moments when I realize what I am, and it is so different from what I had assumed all my life. It is hard to change my thinking sometimes. I had always looked forward to being a father, you see, and that is no longer possible." He shook his head. "I will grow used to it. Remember that you have understood this about yourself for more years than I have been alive!"

Haldir hugged him. "I know, meldanya, although you're right that I don't feel quite the same way you do. You are a wonder to me." He smiled wryly and said, "If I had been better behaved, that night out of Dale – I should not have let everything happen so fast, I should have talked with you about what the consequences could be. To speak truth I was not entirely certain myself, but I could have said something of the possibilities. That was ill-done on my part, Maen, and I apologize for it."

"It would not have made any difference in the end," said Melpomaen softly. "I had loved you for years too, Dír, I had just not understood that the love I bore for you was so different from the way that I loved my other friends and kin." A spark of mischief shone in his eyes as he added, "And had I delayed, and we yet came to Mirkwood, I might have lost you to the goodly Legolas, is that not so?"

Relieved that Melpomaen was finding humor again, Haldir nevertheless answered seriously, "I do not think so. Remember, it was you that I had dreamed of since my youth. Dark hair and fair are not so interchangeable!"

"I was only teasing, Dír, you know that." Melpomaen searched Haldir's face and relaxed. "I'm sorry, I've broken the mood terribly, haven't I? I'd better not do this tomorrow, or whenever Legolas is present."

"If Legolas chooses to join us," Haldir reminded him. "He might well not."

"Hm. True. But I think he will be unable to resist the temptation. In any case, since I have rather interrupted the flow tonight, do you want to continue our practicing or not?"

"I imagine I could be persuaded," said Haldir. "Do try."

"Very well. Come with me, then." Melpomaen led Haldir into the other room and had him step into the bath, telling him to sit and relax in the warm water as he washed himself first. Haldir watched appreciatively. After wringing the water from his hair, Melpomaen asked Haldir to stand again and rubbed the herbal lather all over his lover's body, finishing with his hair.

"Now, let me see. This stone tub is not entirely comfortable, but. . ." Melpomaen looked around and decided that there were enough towels to sacrifice two temporarily. One cushioned Haldir as he reclined against the side of the tub, the other, folded, protected Melpomaen's knees as he knelt with one on either side of Haldir's thighs. He bent forward and met his lover's lips, nipping playfully at them and then turning his head to rub their cheeks together.

"My mother used to do that," remarked Haldir, which provoked a laugh from Melpomaen.

"That's hardly a romantic thing to say," he chided Haldir.

"I suppose not. But true. It felt rather different when I was thirty and my mother did it, though. Do go on and never mind me."

"I always mind you. . . except when you are minding me," said Melpomaen with an arch grin.

Now Haldir laughed. "It looks as though it is my turn to mind you, Maen, is it not? All right, turn and turn about."

"Is fair play? Or in this case, foreplay?" He stroked Haldir's lips with a wet finger. "I hope so." Deliberately he brushed his cheek against Haldir's again, then suckled on his earlobe, breathing warmly on the tender skin. He sensed rather than felt his partner's pulse quicken and dropped down to bite at the hollow of his collarbone.

Haldir clasped Melpomaen around the waist to bring him closer, but Melpomaen resisted, so Haldir instead began to stroke his buttocks, working a finger along the cleft that divided them and flirting with the tight opening.

Melpomaen was moving his hands across Haldir's shoulders and chest, pinching at the nipples until Haldir's hips moved in response. Through the clear water Melpomaen could see his lover's erection mirroring his own, and now he sank back onto his heels to bring them together, hardness against hardness, rocking subtly back and forth. He wrapped his arms around Haldir's shoulders and kissed him lingeringly. The smell of him, the taste of him, familiar now but still arousing – Melpomaen moved his own knees a few inches further apart and pressed yet more firmly against Haldir.

The warmth of Melpomaen's touch and the warmth of the water mingled on Haldir's skin until he could scarcely tell where one left off and the other began. He mimicked the thrust of Melpomaen's tongue into his own mouth with the push of a finger into his lover's nether passage. With no oil to ease the way, he was careful not to be too forceful. Melpomaen tensed for a moment, then relaxed around him, and Haldir was able to enter completely, caressing the tight channel and finding the spot that would bring the greatest pleasure. As Haldir touched him, Melpomaen groaned deep in his chest and stopped his kisses for a moment before resuming them with greater urgency.

Letting go of Haldir's shoulders with one hand, Melpomaen reached down to fondle him, feeling the stones in their pouch pulled up against his body, his organ hard as wood yet with skin soft as a child's. Haldir held his breath as the knowing exploration stimulated his desire further, almost to the peak. He pulled his mouth away from Melpomaen's long enough to whisper to him to slow down, and followed his own advice by stopping the action of his hands.

They rested together for a few minutes to let their desires ebb a little, though still entwined. Melpomaen was the one to move again first, leaning back to look at Haldir with dilated eyes. "Shall we move out to the bed again, Dír?"

"If you like – it is yours to choose today."

"Ah, so cunning of you, if Legolas agrees tomorrow then it will be your turn, no? Not that it matters." Melpomaen cupped one hand around Haldir's face and kissed him. "Come on, then."

Quickly they wrung out the wet towels and took up fresh ones to dry off with, rather than soak the bed in which they would sleep later. "As we were in the bath," suggested Melpomaen, and they resumed their earlier positions, but this time Haldir oiled his fingers and Melpomaen made certain that the flask was close by for use later on.

The sensations were different, out in the cool air instead of warm water, but soon enough neither of them noticed any chill. After a little Melpomaen asked Haldir to release him, and moved backward to replace his hand's motion with that of his mouth.

Haldir leaned back against the pillows and closed his eyes, delighting in the moist suction of Melpomaen's lips and tongue. He stroked the dark hair that spread over his hips and thighs and thought vaguely that he should do more, but the feeling was too intense. It was only by force of will that he was able to prevent himself from spending straight away, and with an effort he said, "Maen. . . I'm nearly there."

Melpomaen gave one last loving sweep of his tongue over the tip of Haldir's organ, and rose up. Haldir's face and chest were flushed, his eyes half-closed, his breathing quick and shallow. Melpomaen shifted until he was kneeling between Haldir's legs, rather than outside them, and reached for the flask. At the touch of the cool oil Haldir opened his eyes. "No, wait," he said, and turned over, moving to rest on hands and widely-spread knees. Pleased, Melpomaen poured more oil into his hands, lubricating both his own member and Haldir's waiting entrance. He teased them both by pushing in only an inch or two, then withdrawing, repeating this over and over until frustrated longing made Haldir press back to sheathe him fully. The sudden engulfing warmth pushed Melpomaen into a frenzy, thrusting until he spent. As he fell forward against Haldir's back, he rolled them over onto their sides and reached across Haldir's hip to bring his lover to the same peak. Haldir ground down against Melpomaen's still-firm organ and muttered, "Harder, Maen, please," as Melpomaen grasped him, rubbing his oil-slicked hand along Haldir's taut shaft. A few more strokes and Haldir's seed spilled through Melpomaen's fingers.

"We should probably clean up," murmured Melpomaen sleepily after a time.

"I suppose," Haldir agreed. "Since we expect a guest tomorrow. I think there are clean sheets in the chest."

"Let's wait till morning for that. Just let me wipe you off. And braid your hair, or it will be impossible by tomorrow."

"Yours, too. All right."

Necessities attended to, they returned to bed.

"Meldanya," said Haldir into Melpomaen's ear.

"What is it, Dír?"

"I'm worried about tomorrow. What if Legolas says yes? What if he says no and is offended by the very idea?"

"He won't be offended," said Melpomaen confidently. "Shocked, perhaps, but I do not believe he will take offense. He is his father's son, and Thranduil is a canny one. All will be well. Don't worry."

Chapter Text

Throughout the next day, each of them looked forward to the evening with different emotions. Melpomaen hummed to himself as he made entries in the company ledgers, sure that he would think of a way to make his suggestion to Legolas when the time came. Legolas went about his usual duties, monitoring the various patrols and ordering a check on the weapons in the armory. At spare moments he wondered what Melpomaen and Haldir would have to say about the customs of their people, and indulged his curiosity about where exactly they came from – they were both close-mouthed about that. Despite his partner's assurances, Haldir worried. He believed Melpomaen was right that Legolas would not be offended by this most unusual proposal, but he respected the captain and hoped that their idea would not disturb his peace.

When Haldir and Melpomaen tapped on his door after dinner, Legolas greeted them cheerfully and offered each a cup of wine, which they accepted. All three seated themselves, and a moment of silence ensued.

Melpomaen was the first to break it. "Haldir tells me that the other evening you and he had begun to discuss some of the differences in custom between your people and ours, Legolas."

"Yes. Indeed one such tradition that will soon be upon us is the celebration of midwinter. All the patrols that are out in the forest return, so we who reside in the caverns often have to share our quarters; though those whose families dwell nearby may choose to go to them instead. The immediate watches are kept, but no patrols, so that each man serves only a half-shift and may celebrate the turn of the year with his kith and kin. It is a day of fire and feast, of drinking and dancing, of story and song. At twilight, everyone goes out to greet the stars as they appear – even if the skies are clouded or the snows are falling." Legolas's eyes were wide and clear, dark with his memories of many such midwinters. "At that moment, we are one – all the people of this land, united together in thought with one another and with the stars and their Lady also."

"Our folk, too, make reverence to the stars on that night, but we delay our feasting and song until the next day, the first of the year rather than the last," said Haldir. "It is said among us that a child who is born on mettarë, last-day, will be wise with the knowledge of the year, but a child born on first-day, on yestarë, will have the singing-voice of a nightingale to herald the beginning of a new year of the Sun."

Legolas nodded thoughtfully, saying, "We say something similar. ‘Wise the one under stars be born, but with the dawn a singer comes.'"

"I have heard tell that the first dawn was in the west, not the east," interjected Melpomaen. "Do either of you know the truth of that?"

"That is what I learned as well, but I have never met any Elf who saw it myself. Though I believe my father's father was living then, he was slain before my own birth," said Legolas.

Haldir said, "My cousin once told me that the Lady. . ." he paused and sipped at his cup, continuing, "the lady she served had seen the rising of first the Moon and then the Sun in the west before their courses were changed. So it must be true."

"Your cousin must serve a great and fortunate lady, then," said Legolas softly, "to have lived so long amid the dangers of these lands, through all the times of strife that have been since those days." He paused, but Haldir made no reply.

Melpomaen said hastily, "I recall that you said once in the common room that you would wish to travel west one day yourself, is that not so? At least to the Sea, I think you said?"

"I have thought of it, yes. I would like to cross the Misty Mountains and find Imladris, where the Lord Elrond is said to dwell. One of my brothers made that journey – many long years ago now – but the way is long, and dangerous with the Orcs that infest the passes, and my father has been unwilling to let any of us travel so far without need. But sometime, I hope. Once to Imladris, the country beyond is safer, so travelers' tales say, and one may pass through lands thinly peopled to the havens where Círdan the great wright still builds his ships. He is one who saw the first light of Moon and Sun, I'll warrant. Have you any desire to make such a journey, Melpomaen? Haldir?"

"Are you trying to recruit fellow-travelers?" asked Melpomaen lightly. "Someday, perhaps. I have kin who have gone thither, and taken ship from the haven there." A shadow crossed his face, and he added, "But for now I have no wish to see the Sea; I hear tell that once one has heard the gulls' cry, the calls of lark and robin and owl are as nothing, and one cannot trade salt air for fresh."

"But Men, traders, travel the rivers to the Sea and back all the time," said Haldir. "They do not feel any such need to remain near the waves."

"Oh, Men," Melpomaen waved his hand carelessly. "It is not at all the same thing. They cannot travel to the West, as can we if we choose to take the Straight Road. For them the seas are bent, and their only way of leaving Middle-earth is through death. For them there is no chance of return thereafter."

"There's a question for you," said Legolas. "Most among us here reck little of Men. They are weak, they die before they have seen even a hundred winters, they have not the time to learn as we have. My father treats them well and is content to have them dwell in this forest under his protection and lordship, but I know he does not consider them quite our equals. Do your folk hold likewise? What think you of Men?"

"I have not the right to judge," said Haldir. "I have not known any well enough to say. But to answer your earlier question, as I said the other evening, I would go to the Sea, and thence into the West. Someday. . ." he trailed off, his expression thoughtful.

"Even less than Haldir would I be able to judge Men as a group. I spoke with a few in Dale, and have met several here too, but my skill in Westron is slight enough that I have not been able to converse with any enough to understand their race well," Melpomaen said. "But from the little I know, I would pity them."

"Pity? Why? For their short lives?" asked Legolas.

"Exactly. I am older than any Man I have ever met, and yet I know that I am still unlearned. Why, I do not even know much Westron, only our own Elvish tongues. How can I do other than pity those who by their nature cannot live long enough to overcome their own ignorance? Whose frailty can carry them off even in the prime of their own short lives, through illness or injury?"

"I don't know," mused Haldir. "What you say is true, Maen, but I am glad that we cannot choose which we would be, Elf or Man, for at times the Gift of Men can seem sweet. Have neither of you felt at times weary of this land, this life?"

Legolas looked down at the table, silent. Melpomaen reached out to touch Haldir's arm. "Never that weary, no."

Haldir clasped his lover's hand. "I do not mean to say that I would rather have been mortal and died long since, only that I think we should not pity Men for what is natural to them. They have less time to take delight in this world, yes, but neither are they bound to its fate. Why do you think that the story of Beren and Lúthien is called the Lay of Leithian, the Release from Bondage?"

"I agree with you," said Legolas quietly. "Unlike my father, I do not think Men are of lesser kind than Elves, only different, with strengths and weaknesses other than ours."

Melpomaen looked from one fair head to the other, then shrugged. "I hold no ill-will towards Men – how could I? I know them so little. But I will venture still to feel pity for them, rather than envy in even the smallest degree." Catching Legolas's eye for permission, he lifted the flagon of wine and filled all their cups again.

"Compassion, I should rather say I feel," said Legolas. "I have seen pity and dislike it. To me compassion is felt between equals, pity is what one feels for a lesser creature. But that is merely my own sense of the words, you need not agree with me."

"Hm. Perhaps. I had not made that distinction."

Haldir smiled wryly. "If you had ever felt pitied, you might." To which remark Legolas nodded agreement.

"Why should I have felt pitied?" asked Melpomaen.

"No reason you should. I have, though, and I would imagine from his words that Haldir has too," said Legolas.

"Whatever for?"

"For lacking a spouse, children, the usual humble joys of life. It is not an unwarranted attitude. My ties to my folk are through the past, not the future," said Legolas, "yet it is not a pleasant feeling, to be set apart in that way, even if one's abilities and skills earn admiration from the same persons. I feel as if I am not really a part of my people, and that grieves me. Haldir, is it thus for you?"

"More or less." Haldir tightened his fingers around Melpomaen's hand again. "A friend of mine from my youth. . . we were close as brother and sister, once. Lalvenna wished me to be more than just a friend, and was disappointed when I chose a course that meant I would see her little, for she became a weaver while I learned to track and fight. Eventually she found that it was another whom she truly loved, and wedded him. Afterward, though I know she did not mean me to see it, she always had an expression of pity when she saw me, pity mingled with bewilderment that I could reject the joys she knew one could find with a spouse. Though she still cared for me, I am certain, she did not understand or respect the fact that my life path would not be as she thought it should have been. My brothers do not understand why I am different from them either – they are both espoused – but they do not pity me as Lalvenna does. I do not know why not, perhaps because they still look up to me as an older brother, perhaps because I am more skilled than they in our common duties. At first my solitary state was a matter of jest in the family, but later there was only silence."

"Ah. . ." whispered Legolas. "Yes, you understand."

"It is not even the pity I have seen so much as the idea that I am somehow set apart from others that I dislike. That is why I accepted this errand that we are now on, I think. If I am not to be fully a part of my own people's lives, why not be physically separate as well?" Haldir said.

Melpomaen was shaking his head. "I don't see how you can feel this way. I never saw you treated differently from anyone else, back in. . . back before we made this journey," he amended. "I have met your brothers, they are both kind and decent. And no one else ever said or implied anything about you that was not praise."

"If I may say, from my own experience, it might be more what is not said? As Haldir put it, there is silence," Legolas said.

"But how can you judge what another is thinking from his silence? That doesn't make sense to me." Melpomaen spoke bluntly. "If what you are saying, both of you, is that you feel pitied, pushed aside, even outcast in some way, because others do not talk to you on common matters of family – well, what else can you expect, if you do not have a spouse or children to be discussed? Of course it will be other topics that they will converse about with you, matters that would be presumed to have more common interest for all parties, perhaps fighting techniques or the weather that season or what have you. That is only reasonable!"

"Perhaps," admitted Haldir. "Perhaps I have misinterpreted, or overreacted to what I believe I have seen and heard." But his eyes met those of Legolas.

"Enough of this talk – you will make me gloomy," said Melpomaen. "Can we turn to some more pleasant subject? I will even make it a related one." He could feel Haldir tense beside him as he continued, "Legolas, the last time we three spent an evening together, we spoke of some differing customs and beliefs then as well, did we not? You said that among the folk of Mirkwood it is held that pleasuring oneself is ill-done, for it can prevent forming a bond with another."

"That is what I have been told, yes," said Legolas. "You and Haldir said there is no such belief among your people."

"Indeed. The practice is a matter for joy, not a cause for fear, as you believe." Melpomaen took a breath. "I. . . would have you learn the truth for yourself."

"How could that be? I do not think this is a matter susceptible to any proof," Legolas replied.

"Oh, but it is. If I, if we, were to demonstrate for you, that bringing oneself pleasure need not interfere with a bond to another?" Despite his best intentions, Melpomaen flushed slightly as he spoke.

Legolas froze, then said, almost inaudibly, "What?"

"We could demonstrate the matter for you," Melpomaen repeated.

"I. . ." Legolas shut his eyes and his mouth together. Haldir looked at Melpomaen and raised his eyebrows, and Melpomaen nudged him to speak.

Haldir said, "We could, Legolas. If you wished." Sympathy filled him as he saw a faint sheen of sweat appear on the other's brow and his throat work.

When Legolas opened his eyes again, they shone with tears, but his face bore only regretful resignation. "I do not see how this would prove the case. I know what has been, in my past and present. I indulged myself in youth, and I have reaped what I have sown, and found no mate. I am not saying that you would tell me deliberate falsehoods, but you two are already bonded; I am not."

Melpomaen was silent for a moment, considering how best to reply. From what Legolas had said on that earlier evening, he had presumed that the other Elf was inexperienced, too worried by the tales he had heard to attempt his own solace. It was true that the proposed demonstration would not disprove those tales – he and Haldir were already bonded. He reached out across the table. "But we were not always so. You say that you do not think I would lie to you, and I assure you I would not. I did indeed pleasure myself alone many times before I met Haldir, and even after, before. . . before we made our bond. And he did likewise, or so he has said. Our bond completes us, but it does not change who we are or what we may do. I am certain your people are mistaken, and that you have been denying yourself this delight needlessly. By your own folk, your misery may have gone unnoticed, but we have both seen that you are closer to despair than anyone should have to be, and it was my thought to show you that you need not feel so."

Now Haldir also clasped Legolas's hand in his own. He could feel the faintest shiver run through the other Elf's body at the touch. "This is only a suggestion, Legolas. A proposal. You need not agree."

"To what would I be agreeing?" said Legolas, his voice shaking.

"To watch us, that is all. To see how one can pleasure oneself – though I suppose you must know that, if you have done so in the past, however long ago – and yet find still greater joys in the embraces of another," said Melpomaen.

Legolas drew away. "And when would this take place?"

"Whenever you choose," Haldir said, "and only if you choose."

"Think on it," added Melpomaen. "We do not mean to disturb you with this idea, nor will I suggest it again, unless you wish it."

"I will. . . I will consider it," promised Legolas, nearly overturning his chair as he pushed it back and rose. "I will tell you what I decide."

The two lovers recognized his unspoken plea and stood to leave. His hand on the latch, Legolas looked at them as they left and with punctilious courtesy said, "I thank you for a most interesting evening, Melpomaen, Haldir." The door snicked shut behind them.

Chapter Text

"Captain Legolas?"

He looked up from his plate and saw Lasmir and Erentar standing next to him. "Yes?"

"You asked us to remind you today about the new duty schedule for the next month, sir," said Lasmir. "You wanted to meet after you had broken fast this morning."

"Of course, my apologies. For some reason my sleep did not refresh me last night, and my thoughts were elsewhere." Legolas finished chewing the heel of bread and rose to carry his plate and cup to the serving hatch, then led the way to his room, where they could sit in comfort without disturbance.

"Now," he pulled the current month's schedule toward him, "it is your turn to take the first shift, is it not, Lasmir? And Erentar will move to the second, and Gelion to the third. He's reporting to the king just now, I saw him earlier and he assured me that whatever we decided would be fine. But we don't need so many on duty at night, so we had better reassign some of your men. Any thoughts on that?"

As he talked over the redisposition of the guards, Legolas's mind was only half on his duty, the other half recalling the remarkable suggestion that the two outlander Elves had made to him the previous night. All his thoughts returned to the present moment, though, when Lasmir mentioned Melpomaen's name.

"That new fellow, Melpomaen, who has been spending half his time with me and the other half on day duty – I think he's fit to come into the guards full time, now. Didn't you say that you were going to assign him to a shift with his partner Haldir?"

"Oh, yes, thank you for bringing that to my attention." Legolas ran his quill down the lists. "Erentar, Haldir was under your command these past weeks. Do you wish to retain him for the evening watch, or should he stay on daytime duties?"

Erentar considered. "He's a good man, good with a knife as well as bow and spear. I've done some sparring with him, off-duty. Don't think he needs to be kept on the day watch, he'd not be likely to spook at shadows. I would be happy to keep him, but if you think otherwise, why, it makes no odds to me."

Legolas nodded. "Evening shift, then, and you'll get Melpomaen also. I imagine they'll work well together, since I gather they had been partners for some years before they ended up on my father's doorstep this fall. All right. What about Meneldil?"

They continued to discuss which guards to assign to what shift for some little time more, then Legolas drew a line under the final name and laid the pen down. "I'll have a fair copy of that made. We'll begin the new schedule in six days, when the moon is new."

His two under-captains left, Lasmir to catch a few hours' sleep and Erentar to check on his command that day. Legolas leaned back in his chair and let his eyes close, weary. Six days until the change. He supposed that gave him six days – no, less than that – to consider what he would do. No, that was not true. Haldir had set no time, nor had Melpomaen; in fact the latter had said that they would not press him, nor even mention the matter again until and unless he himself did.

What should he do? There was no one with whom he could consult, to advise him. He had paced his room for hours the previous night, hoping to ease the turmoil in his mind through the exhaustion of his body. It was not that he thought his new friends would prevaricate, but the fact remained that his own life had demonstrated the truth of what he had always believed – to take one's own pleasure alone meant that one would remain alone, always. And yet. . . could he not be mistaken? He had refrained for all these long years, thinking that by so doing he would be freed of his own actions, and yet it had made no difference. What had he to lose by accepting Melpomaen's suggestion?

Moreover, if he was honest with himself, he found the idea tempting. He had found himself imagining Haldir's face and body at odd intervals over the past few weeks, despite his knowledge that the golden-haired Elf was committed, body and fëa alike, to Melpomaen. Surely it would harm no one if – just once – he were to be present to witness Haldir's passion, though he could not be part of it? Yet he hesitated to accept. What if his presence in some way interfered with the others' bond? He had never heard of anyone doing such a thing before, and had no certainty about the consequences.

Such thoughts as these occupied Legolas for several days, during which he ate and slept and carried out his usual duties mechanically, at one moment almost sure he would accept, at another deciding that the hazards were too great to risk. At the last it was simple curiosity that won out. This might be the closest he would ever come to knowing what it would be like to have a partner, and he could not bear to miss that chance.

Since Melpomaen was the one who had tendered the offer to begin with, Legolas decided that he had best give him the answer, and sought him out in the dusty little room off the armory.

Melpomaen was writing diligently, pleased that he had only this afternoon and two more days at this work. He had made better progress coping with the mass of parchment leaves than he had dared hope when he began, and would leave it well-set for the next person who had to undertake this task, but looked forward to a more regular schedule – and one that had him sharing duty with Haldir, as well. He turned his head at the tap on the doorframe, and saw the captain standing there.

"Yes, did you need something from me?" Melpomaen asked.

Legolas had a little twist in his smile. "You might say that. The new shift schedule begins on the third day from now, as you know, and you will be on the watch between afternoon and mid-night."

"I know," said Melpomaen. A thought struck him, and with a suspicious note in his voice, he added, "You have not changed that, have you?"

"No, not at all. It means that neither you nor Haldir will be free in the evenings for quite some time, however. So. . . I came to ask if you two had any plans for the night after tomorrow."

Rising, Melpomaen gazed levelly at Legolas. "Nothing definite. Should I understand by this that you. . . wish to join us then?"

A hasty nod was his reply, and Legolas relaxed now that he had shared his decision and could not rescind it.

Melpomaen broke into a smile and held out his hand. "That is good to hear; Haldir will be pleased, too."

"I – yes, I hope so," said Legolas, touching Melpomaen's hand hesitantly. "Shall I come to your room that night, then?"

"Yes, that would be best, I think. Our quarters would be more private." As Legolas turned to leave, Melpomaen added, "Legolas? I think you may be surprised at what occurs. All I hope is that you see that joy is always possible."

"I hope so, too," said Legolas gravely.

Haldir was pleased when Melpomaen told him that Legolas had reached a decision, although he had not cared nearly as much as his lover what that decision would be. He said to him, "So the evening after next is to be the time? That will be well, since we will start our new schedule the next day and should probably sleep late in any case. Did you specify an hour?"

"No, I assumed that he would simply arrive as soon after the meal as he could get away." Melpomaen looked around the room. "I'll tidy up tomorrow, shall I?"

"I'll do it," said Haldir. "Or better yet, both of us will. We might as well do it now, in fact, and then give a final going-over on the evening."

"Oh, all right." Melpomaen put on a pout that elicited laughter from his partner, then began to gather and sort the clothes that seemed to pile up of their own accord in every corner – some to be laundered, some to be folded back into the chest.

Haldir, putting them away neatly, noticed the feathers he had collected on their journey. Lifting one, he asked, "Do you remember when I used this?"

Melpomaen looked twice, and smiled. "Of course."

"I think I will leave it out," said Haldir, "for possible use."

"Whatever you like," Melpomaen said. He put his arms around Haldir's waist from behind and leaned his head against Haldir's shoulder. "Dír."

"What, Maen?"

"Thank you."

"For what?"

"For agreeing to this. For taking risks for me. For – everything." Melpomaen hugged him tighter.

"You're welcome, then, Maen." Haldir touched Melpomaen's arm lightly. "I love you."

On the second evening, all was in readiness for their guest. The two Elves had eaten early and quickly and returned to their room to wait for Legolas, picking up a spare chair from the common room along the way to supplement the two they had.

"I wish he would arrive," said Haldir, pacing.

Melpomaen shrugged. "There is no rush. He probably got caught by someone at dinner and has been delayed by talk. I'm sure he will be here soon."

As if his words had conjured Legolas's presence, there was a tap at the door. Haldir paused near the other end of the room and looked at Melpomaen.

The dark-haired Elf went over to the door and opened it. Legolas entered, inclining his head slightly as he did so. Melpomaen led the way over to the round table and took a seat, followed by Legolas. Haldir seated himself to Melpomaen's right.

The silence was broken first by Melpomaen, saying, "We are glad that you chose to come here tonight, Legolas. I hope that this will be of use to you – make you understand matters in a new light?"

Haldir reached out to touch Legolas's left hand, and felt a faint tremor as he took it. He glanced over at Melpomaen and took his lover's hand as well, squeezing it gently. Melpomaen understood the unspoken request and took Legolas's right hand. They sat that way quietly for several moments. Haldir felt the wild pulse under his fingertips gradually slow.

"Come, Legolas," he said when he judged that the other was calmer. "I would prefer to begin with something relaxing – would you not?"

Legolas nodded. Melpomaen quirked one eyebrow at his lover. "Warm water?"

"Later, perhaps. I had in mind something else to begin with." Haldir rose and began to remove his clothes. Melpomaen followed suit, while Legolas was slower to respond, looking from one to the other of his hosts before he started to disrobe.

"Here," Haldir indicated the bed. "Lie here, Legolas. This is something commonly done among the Elves of. . . among our people, between friends."

Legolas stretched out on his back, looking up at them.

"No, turn over," instructed Haldir, sitting near Legolas's head. Melpomaen moved to sit by his waist and began to rub his lower back, while Haldir kneaded his shoulders.

"We do this here, too," murmured Legolas into the mattress. "I have exchanged massage with my brothers, among others." He allowed himself to go limp under their hands, enjoying the sensual feel of having each muscle attended to and loosened. The two Elves had different styles of touch, he noticed; Melpomaen was more forceful, his fingertips pressing deeply into each muscle and tendon. Haldir's touch was fluid, but he was able to smooth away the tension nevertheless. Legolas could feel the knots in his neck and shoulders dissolve as Haldir worked. Every inch of him was softened, released.

Melpomaen could sense that Legolas had relaxed under their ministrations. In a low tone he asked, "Do you feel better, now? Are you more comfortable with us?"

"I am. . . I was apprehensive about this, but now I do not feel nearly so uncomfortable. I appreciate it a great deal – do not think otherwise."

"Perhaps a bath would relax us all even further?" said Melpomaen.

"Yes," Haldir agreed, and Legolas with him. Shortly they were all climbing into the sunken rock basin. The water level rose nearly to the brim for a few minutes before the excess was able to drain away.

Though large, with three people in it the tub was crowded. Melpomaen did not have to reach far to touch Legolas's shoulder. "Would you like me to wash your hair?"

Legolas was surprised at the idea, but agreed. Melpomaen was gentler with this than he had been earlier, and Legolas luxuriated in the unaccustomed sensation. He thought to himself that he would like to do that to Haldir. He ducked his head backward to rinse out the lather completely, and when he sat up again, saw that Haldir was performing the same favor for Melpomaen – so Legolas got his wish. His hands were shaking again, just a little, as he rubbed soap through the long golden strands, but he hoped Haldir would not notice. It was not precisely desire that Legolas was experiencing, more a return of tension, and he did not want his friends to think that he could not be calm after all their efforts to soothe his worries.

When they had all washed, Melpomaen put an arm around Haldir and drew him close for a kiss, conscious of Legolas watching them. Melpomaen smiled as they broke apart. Haldir looked over to Legolas and said, "Are you prepared now, to see what it is you came to see?"

Swallowing, Legolas nodded mutely and stood when they did, drying off quickly and then moving back to the outer room.

Melpomaen and Haldir looked at each other, Haldir raising an eyebrow, and Melpomaen said, "We have talked about this, of course, a little bit. Do you have a preference for whom you see pleasure himself, Legolas? Myself, Haldir, both of us?"

Legolas had not expected any such question. He was unsure what he had expected, but certainly not this generosity, this inclusiveness. He wanted to see Haldir, but was shy of saying so. Mumbling, he answered, "I. . . care not. Whatever you would prefer."

"All right, then." Melpomaen slid onto the bed and reclined there, half-propped against the headboard. Haldir sat cross-legged near his head and gestured to Legolas to sit down also.

One of Melpomaen's hands was on his chest, thumbnail flicking against his tight nipples; the other reached down to where Legolas could see his organ hardening, darkening against his belly. He teased it, fondling the shaft with a single finger, before wrapping his hand more firmly and beginning a harder stroke. Melpomaen's eyes caught Legolas's for a moment and he smiled, then looked back at Haldir.

Legolas's right hand rested on his own thigh, near the groin, and half-unaware he began to let his fingers play up and down the skin there. He was not yet aroused, but watching Melpomaen was strangely compelling. His left hand lay free until Haldir took it, their fingers entwining, Haldir's thumb brushing over his wrist.

Melpomaen found that he was slower to become fully hard than usual. He wondered if it might be because of Legolas's presence. Being bonded to Haldir had never before kept him from stimulating himself if he wished, although he much preferred to make love with his partner. He concentrated on thinking of Haldir, but noticed that Legolas was stroking himself, and found that the idea that his actions were exciting both of the others increased his arousal.

The feather from their journey lay on the table by the bed, next to the flask of oil, and Haldir picked it up with his left hand, brushing it lightly over Melpomaen's ears and neck and chest. Melpomaen shivered a little at the touch. He began to pump his hips harder, tightening his hand around himself, and threw his head back as he spilled over his belly and chest. Opening his eyes, he smiled at his lover.

Haldir smiled in return, then looked over at Legolas, who gave them both a tentative grin back. Haldir was relieved that Melpomaen had been able to carry it off; he had worried a little that the presence of a third person might make matters difficult. They had already proven to each other that self-pleasure was possible within a bond, and now Legolas knew that as well. Leaning down, Haldir touched his tongue to the warm wetness and licked delicately before reaching for one of the discarded towels and wiping Melpomaen clean. He turned to Legolas and said, "This is as new to us as it is to you, my friend. I have never heard of a bonded couple having another present while they made love. As far as we know it will not interfere with our bond to have you here, and your presence is welcome, but if you wish to leave now you are free to do so, and that will be the end of it."

"I will stay," said Legolas, his voice quiet but determined. "I have come this far, I will see matters to the end. I will not break my word." He moved a little away, though, releasing Haldir's hand to give the others more space, lest an inadvertent touch hinder them in some manner.

Melpomaen drew Haldir down to him and they kissed, lingeringly, aware of Legolas's eyes intent upon them. Melpomaen found that knowledge no impediment, but Haldir was somewhat restrained, until his lover's kisses overcame him and the presence of a third person became unimportant in the face of desire. Legolas felt a mingling of unfamiliar emotions – sorrow he was accustomed to, but not in combination with need and loss and jealousy, all at once. The need was the greatest, though, and it kept him transfixed. Watching the other two expressing their love provoked him to imagine that he was in Melpomaen's place, being touched by Haldir as he knew he never could be, and he felt himself grow hard between his legs as he had not done in years uncounted.

Legolas could see that Melpomaen and Haldir were also now fully erect. He would have liked to be able to caress Haldir as Melpomaen was, but instead reached to touch himself, pretending that the skin he stroked was not his own, and that the hand that brought him pleasure was that of another. He slid his fingers around the soft skin of the pouch below his member. The sensation was so different, when he stroked himself for pleasure rather than to wash, that he was lost in it briefly. When Legolas looked up again, Haldir was biting at Melpomaen's nipples while Melpomaen stroked Haldir's neck and shoulders, passing his hands along the skin of Haldir's back and sides. Legolas used his free hand to pinch his own nipples, emulating them, and gasped at the sensation, heat rushing through his torso and groin.

Tugging Haldir up, Melpomaen urged him to kneel upright over his chest, and leaned forward to take Haldir's pulsing organ into his mouth, laving it with long wet strokes of his tongue. Legolas could not see, from his position near the foot of the bed. He moved up. The lamplight caught each muscle on Haldir's torso, rippling as he breathed in counterpoint to Melpomaen's suckling. Legolas had barely imagined such a thing before and watched avidly as Haldir's hands tightened on Melpomaen's shoulders, the eyes beneath the fall of golden hair shut tightly as Haldir focused on the pleasure he felt.

Gently Legolas stroked himself, watching, his own breathing quickening to match the others'. Now Melpomaen released Haldir, reaching for the oil flask and daubing some onto the proud flesh before him. He gave the flask to Haldir and turned over, on hands and knees in front of his lover.

Haldir dribbled some of the oil down into the cleft of Melpomaen's buttocks, rubbing in ever-narrowing circles until he reached the tight opening in the center. Legolas watched intensely. He had been quite sure that this was how two binn would unite, but seeing it was altogether different from knowing it intellectually. He saw Haldir insert one well-oiled finger into Melpomaen, moving it, then withdrawing and entering again with two fingers, then three. By now Legolas had edged still further up the bed and was reclining on his left elbow, his head near Melpomaen's thighs, but carefully apart so that he was in no danger of touching either Elf. When Haldir leaned to set the oil down again, Legolas intercepted him and poured a little onto his own hands. He was curious as to what Melpomaen felt when Haldir teased him open. It must be pleasurable, judging from his expression and movements, and that was something Legolas had never expected.

Tentatively Legolas parted his legs, scissors-wise, and touched himself behind. It felt odd, but not unpleasant – indeed, it felt rather good. As he saw Haldir sink his swollen member into Melpomaen, he plunged a finger into his own opening. His eyes widened. He moved that finger carefully and felt another shock of delight. Watching the others in their union, he imagined that it was Haldir inside him, rather than his own hand.

Glancing down, Haldir could see Legolas's movements. He was glad that their guest was evidently enjoying this experience. He was also relieved that Legolas seemed unwilling, perhaps even unable, to attempt to touch either of the others; the Mirkwood Elf had left a clear handspan between their bodies, though his eyes made the distance as nothing.

Legolas realized that his present position would not allow him to use both hands to touch himself. He knelt up on his heels, right fingers still busy exploring this new feeling behind, but now wrapping his left hand around his hard organ as he watched Haldir thrust into Melpomaen. Haldir reached underneath Melpomaen to tease him back to hardness as well, rather to Legolas's surprise. Legolas inhaled, the scents of sweat and musk hitting the back of his throat. It smelled – strange, not bad, but not arousing as his own scent was, a little. A distant, reasoning part of his mind told him that perhaps this reflected the exclusiveness of the bond. If he, Legolas, had a partner, surely the scent of that partner's arousal would stimulate him. As it was, the smell of desire in the others was merely neutral.

He could see little, now; Haldir was buried within Melpomaen and Melpomaen's member was hidden by Haldir's hand. His own desire was rising steadily and he removed his finger, taking hold of his painfully hard organ with both hands and now imagining that he was Haldir, thrusting into Melpomaen – or were those Haldir's hands wrapped around him? Dizzied by such thoughts, he felt the heat flood uncontrollably out of him.

Melpomaen and Haldir heard the strangled moan as Legolas spilled his seed. Melpomaen smiled to himself at the evidence that his idea had been successful and pushed back insistently against Haldir, encouraging him wordlessly. Haldir responded, letting go of Melpomaen's organ and holding his hips, thrusting harder and deeper and more wildly for several minutes, at last calling out, "Maen!" as he released deep inside.

That was exactly what Melpomaen had most hoped for, to hear his lover call his name at the moment of greatest delight, with Legolas to witness. Haldir pulled out only slowly. When he had withdrawn, he turned Melpomaen over onto his back and knelt between his legs, engulfing Melpomaen's hardness in his mouth, tongue running up and down his length. Legolas saw Melpomaen's hips buck up and Haldir's throat swallowing as the dark-haired Elf spent once again.

Haldir sat up. He reached out to touch Legolas on the shoulder in a gesture of friendship and was startled when he saw Legolas's eyes swimming with tears. Compassionate concern filled him and he asked, "What is the matter, Legolas? Are you all right?"

Legolas gave him a sad smile. "I am fine. Truly. This was an experience that I'm glad to have had – but it makes me realize all over again that I am alone, you see. I don't blame either of you, I have always been alone, but seeing the two of you together has brought it home to me once more."

"I ask your pardon," said Melpomaen. "I never intended to increase your sorrow in this way." He pushed himself up and laid a hand on Legolas's knee. "Can you forgive me, forgive us for such an idea?" Haldir nodded agreement.

"There is nothing to forgive, Melpomaen. Haldir. I do not regret that I came here tonight. It was a fine idea, I appreciate it, but this must be the end. I do not think it would be good for me to repeat it. I must ask you though – my presence did not interfere in any way?"

"No, certainly not," Melpomaen assured him.

"You did not feel any harm came to you, I did not affect your bond?"

"Nothing of the sort," said Haldir firmly. "I was glad to have you here, Legolas. When Maen first thought of this, I worried that it would be awkward, but it was far less strange than I thought it would be. It didn't seem unnatural to have you watching, and I hope that you felt it did you some good?"

"It did," Legolas said. "Of course. I won't be frightened to at least experience pleasure for myself, now; even if I never meet someone who I can love the way that you two love each other, I will know that I can find release on occasion. And that is well worth knowing."

Haldir was relieved to hear that Legolas had, on the whole, found the evening to be of some benefit. He was also glad that Melpomaen's idea had proved to be worthwhile, and that he himself had agreed to it despite his reservations.

Shyly then, Legolas asked, "Do you always – make love that way?"

"What way?"

"With Haldir. . . inside?"

"Oh, no. Sometimes he is, sometimes I am, sometimes both in turns," said Melpomaen. "We do different things according to our pleasure that night. Sometimes we merely touch each other, with hands or mouths. It doesn't really matter what or how, as long as we are together. Whatever one of us feels like on a particular day, we might do."

"Forgive me if I'm too curious, but how did you learn?"

Haldir answered Legolas, "We learned together, mostly, trying what we could imagine and seeing if it felt as we hoped. Some of it – well." He flushed. "You asked many days ago how I had come to realize that my heart would be given to a benn, not a biss, and I was not willing to speak of it very much. It is something that still shames me, though it was not altogether my doing and certainly not my intention. I inadvertently witnessed two binn together. What we three did here, tonight, is one thing, for we all knew what we were doing, but that time – they did not know of my presence. Though I saw them, and learned what might be possible, it is not something I have much wanted to recall. It is rather embarrassing even to mention it; such behavior is not right, though I was trapped by circumstances. Had I tried to leave, my presence would have been known and matters would have been still worse."

"I understand," said Legolas. "I can see why you were reluctant to invite me tonight, then."

Melpomaen squeezed Haldir's hand. "I was concerned that this idea of mine was too outlandish, myself, too far outside what is permissible. But you say that it did help you?"

"It did, as I said. Not something I think I would wish to repeat, but worth having done once," Legolas said.

"As you wish," said Melpomaen, "I would not press you further than you want to go. I will only say that I was glad you were here, and for my part, should you ever want to join us again as you did tonight, I would welcome you."

Turning away from Legolas, Haldir rolled his eyes at Melpomaen, who tilted his head and raised his brows with an innocent expression.

"I appreciate your generosity," said Legolas formally. He stood up, straight and tall, his hair flowing down past his shoulders, and bowed to them both. First making use of the towel to remove all traces of sweat and more from his body, he drew his clothes back on with precise movements, his fingers sure and unshaking now as he threaded laces and fastened ties. Looking around, he asked, "May I borrow a comb?"

"Certainly," said Haldir. "In the other room."

Legolas went into the bathing room. Haldir turned to Melpomaen and hissed, "Why did you invite him to return? After he had said twice that he felt it would be imprudent?"

"Ssh," said Melpomaen. "Later."

Legolas came out, looking just as he had when he had arrived. He knelt down by the bed where the other two still rested, and held out his hands to them. "Thank you."

"You are more than welcome," said Melpomaen. Somewhat to his own surprise, as well as the others', he leaned over and kissed Legolas on the cheek. Haldir followed suit. Flushing, Legolas rose and gazed at them wordlessly, then nodded once. He turned and left the room without looking back, the door closing behind him with a soft click.

"All right, Maen. What were you thinking?"

Melpomaen shrugged. "Having him here did not trouble me this time, nor you; it would not bother me if he were to be present again, and it seemed to do him good. He may have said that he would not wish to repeat it, but one never knows – if he changes his mind, I would want to leave that possibility open to him, without causing him to feel that he was going back on his word."

Haldir inclined his head in acceptance. "Your judgment was proven right today; I will not again question what you have to say on this matter."

"So you should not, Dír," Melpomaen grinned at him. "But it's growing late and we change to our new shift tomorrow. Perhaps we should go to sleep?"

"I suppose so." Haldir put his arms around his lover. "Meldanya. I love you."

"And I you," whispered Melpomaen, embracing him in return.

Back in his own room, Legolas curled up on his bed, pressing his arm against his eyes in a vain attempt to blot out memory.

Chapter Text

The season moved inexorably on toward true winter. Though the caverns of Thranduil were kept warmed and well-lighted, it seemed to Haldir that there was a chill sunk into the very stone which no fire could erase.

He said as much to Melpomaen, early one morning as they returned to their room to sleep.

Melpomaen yawned. "I think it's just that being assigned to the evening shift, we sleep through the warmest and brightest part of every day. Perhaps when the schedule changes again after the solstice, you'll feel differently."

Haldir shook his head. "No, it is more than that. I have been on watches before that kept me from seeing daylight, at home in Lórien, and it was not like this. And don't tell me that it was because the Golden Wood is further south," he added, seeing his lover open his mouth to speak. "Thranduil keeps his halls far warmer than the open woods!"

"I was not going to say that," said Melpomaen in a slightly injured tone. "Only to ask you, what then do you think is the cause?"

"I think. . . I think that we are," Haldir almost whispered. "That is to say, I think that what I perceive is not something truly in the realm of the senses, but rather is an echo of someone's feelings. I think it is despair that I sense, and I think I know whence it comes."

"From Legolas."

"Yes."

"But you don't know that, not for certain. Nor would he thank you for interfering, I think. Not that either of us has much opportunity for so doing – have you even seen the captain in the past few weeks? I have not, save perhaps once or twice in passing."

"Nor have I." Haldir's tone was grave, and he held Melpomaen's gaze as he slid into their bed.

Melpomaen blew out the lamp and joined him. "You think he is avoiding us?"

"I don't know. It would hardly need to be deliberate, after all. When I was on the day shift I scarcely saw anyone on the evening watch, except when they relieved us at guard, of course." He rested his head on Melpomaen's shoulder.

Stroking Haldir's hair, Melpomaen said, "Well, what do you want to do, then? Clearly this has been bothering you."

"There's nothing to be done today, but perhaps – I will retire earlier tomorrow, so that I can get up around midday and look for the captain, talk to him. He may be unwilling to say anything, but I would rather make the effort."

"Shouldn't I come, too? If he is in distress, is that not likely my fault more than yours? It was I whose idea it was to interfere, after all."

Haldir laid one hand flat on the smooth skin of Melpomaen's chest. "Not this time, Maen. Legolas might be more willing to speak to one person than two, don't you imagine?"

"I suppose so," said Melpomaen, and tilted his head to kiss Haldir. "Rest well, meldanya."

The next day Haldir was as good as his word, leaving Melpomaen in the common room not long after their watch shift ended and going to bed. He shivered despite the warm woolen blanket as he lay there alone, waiting for sleep to come. This was no physical cold, surely, to affect him so. He longed for Melpomaen to be there, to warm him not just in body but in spirit, but finally he dozed off, half-rousing when his beloved partner came in and moving until he touched warm skin. Comforted, he slept.

He woke when he had intended, at mid-morning, and quietly slipped out from underneath the covers. After several months, he knew the position of every item in the room so well that he needed no light to move about it, though once in the bathing room he closed the door and lighted the candle.

Legolas, Haldir supposed, would be in his own rooms, which doubled as the captain's office. But first, he would break his fast; though it was not a scheduled meal hour for the guards, he was sure he could wheedle something from the cooks.

Making a neat sandwich out of the dark bread and pale sharp cheese, Haldir ate quickly, washing down the last crumbs with hot mint tea. He carried his plate and mug over to the hatch and left them to be washed, then went in search of Legolas.

The knock at his door startled Legolas. He had not been expecting any interruptions this morning; he had already made a round of the guards, and with the deep snow it was unlikely that there would be any strangers who required his attention. He had planned to work on a report for the king today, and it was with more than a little impatience that he said, "Come in."

Haldir entered the room, careful to close the door behind him. He noticed Legolas's knuckles pale as he grasped the arm of his chair, but the captain spoke without a hint of disturbance in his voice. "Haldir. What brings you here? Should you not be asleep?" He gestured to a chair. "Sit down, do please."

Sitting, Haldir said, "You ask what brings me here. Do you not know?"

"No," said Legolas. His gaze was open and direct. "You are not having any difficulties with your duties, or Erentar would have reported it. I have heard of nothing amiss at all with either you or Melpomaen, rather the reverse; Erentar has spoken highly of you both."

"It is nothing to do with myself, or with Maen." Haldir thrust his right hand out into the air between them, turning it slowly from palm up to palm down and back again. "For days now, I have felt cold, even when I stood before a blazing fire. Like a winter with no hope of spring thaw, despair and desperation have come upon me at odd moments – and there is nothing in my own mind that would cause this. Once, yes, indeed for many years these feelings walked with me always, but no longer. It is not my own suffering that troubles me. I think it might be yours, Legolas."

Legolas's eyes were closed, and he swayed slightly in his chair as Haldir ended his words. Without opening his eyes, he said, "Why do you think it mine, rather than another's?"

"Who else? We – I – have disturbed you simply by being here, you cannot deny that, though there was no intent on anyone's part to have it happen. I would not be so affected by any other person here in the caverns, save for Maen; there is none other I know as well."

The sigh that Legolas gave might have traveled all the way from the soles of his feet. "I apologize, Haldir. I would not have troubled you for the world."

"You need not apologize, truly. But can we not discuss matters, perhaps ease them? ‘A trouble shared is a trouble halved,' as the proverb says."

"You know my trouble, and I do not think there is aught you can do to assuage it."

"Come, Legolas, you have lived longer in Middle-earth than I. You can master your emotions, if you will – this is but a fancy, it must and shall pass," said Haldir earnestly. "I wish to be your friend, howsoever much I can, and as your friend I tell you this. Now tell me, does the evening you spent with us disturb you so much still? If that is the case, and there is anything you can think of that Maen or I could do to help you now, be assured that we will gladly do so."

Legolas heard these words and knew they were meant in purest disinterested friendship, but his mind and heart were torn. He had been disturbed by watching Melpomaen and Haldir together, indeed, but what was more troubling to him was that he had to admit that he wanted to be with them again. He knew that this desire was unfitting – he could not interfere with a pair-bonding, and it was unwise to indulge himself in thoughts of what could not be. In the past few weeks he had, with some trepidation, brought himself pleasure on more than one occasion, but that pleasure was tinged with guilt over his imaginings of Haldir at the time.

"Legolas?" Haldir's concerned voice broke into his reverie. "Are you all right?"

To his astonishment Legolas realized that he had bowed his head down to the surface of the desk and wrapped his arms around it without realizing he was doing so. He straightened, tucking a stray lock of hair back behind his ear, and grimaced ruefully. "Apparently not."

Haldir moved from his chair, kneeling on the rug between them, and held out his hand to Legolas. "Come here."

Hesitantly Legolas obeyed him, sitting cross-legged with his back straight and tense. Haldir moved around behind him and slightly to one side. Legolas could feel the other's breath warm on his neck. Strong arms wrapped around his chest, and his heart tried to leap out of it.

"What. . . are you doing?" he managed to say.

Haldir raised one hand to stroke Legolas's temple, then twisted around to press a light kiss to the same spot. "Nothing I would not do for my own brothers, were they in such need. Don't think, Legolas. Just relax."

And – most surprisingly – Legolas found that he could. He decided later that they must have spent nearly an hour so, breathing in rhythms that never quite matched. At first his mind had roiled with fragments of thought, desire and denial, uncertainty and understanding, longing and loss and love all mingling; but after a time, when Haldir made no move either to let go or hold him more closely, Legolas was able to free himself from the tumult of his mind and accept the touch without distress.

Patiently Haldir held him, waiting. He could feel the small movements in Legolas's body as the other Elf shifted, sighed, and finally relaxed into something that seemed like acceptance. Still Haldir held him, until Legolas turned his head and smiled, a smile free from any hint of his earlier wretchedness.

"Thank you," said Legolas softly.

Haldir kissed his temple once more. "You are most welcome, my friend." He paused, looking carefully at Legolas's face. "The love you long for will come to you, someday. Never doubt that. You are too fine a person for it to be otherwise. I believe there is a reason why you have not yet met the one with whom you will bond – I do not know what that purpose might be, but I am certain there is one. We both know that matters might have been different – but again, I say there is a reason why events have fallen out as they have. In the meantime. . . I want nothing but to be your friend, in whatever way you need and is possible."

"I know. . . and I thank you for that," Legolas replied. "Just now I am not sure I know what that would be, but I appreciate your friendship – yours and Melpomaen's both."

Giving Legolas one last quick embrace, Haldir stood. "I had best go now, and let you return to your duties as I must go to mine. I will hope to see you at the mettarë celebrations in a few days?"

"Oh, of course. Everyone will be there for as many hours as they can – haven't you seen the schedule yet? I made certain that the two of you would have the noontime shift, so that you would be able to be present for most of the celebrations, especially in the evening when we greet the first stars."

"Yes, I am glad of that. I will see you then, if not before." Haldir hesitated with his hand on the latch of the door, and added, "Maen would be pleased if you wished to spend time with us again, too."

Heat flooded through Legolas's body at that, but he said only, "When our schedules permit, yes," and watched Haldir leave.

Legolas felt calmer now. Haldir's words had not quite convinced him that he would find a mate someday, but he was grateful for the approbation they showed. More importantly, he realized that he valued the foreign Elf's genuine friendship more than the impossible dream of bonding with him. With an eased heart, he turned back to his work.

Haldir paused in the corridor, considering. There were still several hours remaining before his shift would begin, and Melpomaen would be awake by now. He returned to their room.

Melpomaen had awoken earlier, reaching out sleepily to Haldir, then came abruptly fully awake as he realized that his lover was gone. It was a moment before he remembered that Haldir had gone to speak with Legolas that day. He hoped the conversation was going well, and decided that since he was awake and alone, he would tidy their quarters and bathe before Haldir returned.

As Haldir pushed open the door, he could hear splashing and snatches of song coming from the bathing room. He smiled to himself. Melpomaen was singing a tune that in Lothlórien was traditional to the winter festival.

"You're a bit off-key, meldanya," he said, leaning against the doorway into the bathing room.

Melpomaen put out his tongue. "Look who's talking. I've heard you sing, Dír. A raven has nothing on you when it comes to croaking."

"Oh, no?" Haldir was rapidly removing his clothes. "I beg to differ. I used to sing with Rúmil and Orophin and we always were praised." He stepped into the water.

"That was their talent, not yours," countered Melpomaen, pulling Haldir towards himself and kissing him deeply. Breaking free, he added, "You have other talents."

"I do, eh?" Haldir drew one finger along Melpomaen's jaw. "Such as?"

"If I told you, you would get a swelled head from all the praise. Although I fear it is too late," Melpomaen glanced down, "to prevent swelling in other areas."

"So it is."

They drew together, legs entwined, torsos pressed close, simply embracing and drawing comfort and joy from the other's presence.

"Your talk with Legolas must have gone all right," guessed Melpomaen, speaking into Haldir's shoulder. He felt Haldir shrug.

"I hope so. He has clearly been very troubled of late, but I think that may be past now."

"What did you say?"

"I didn't say much, really, except to reassure him that I am his friend. Mostly I just held him, tried to give him solace."

"And that worked, did it? I'm surprised it didn't backfire on you. If I were in love with someone unattainable, I don't think that an embrace would be comforting; rather the reverse."

"Legolas isn't in love with me," said Haldir. "He thought he was, but it isn't so. He's merely confused about his emotions because he is lonely, and something in me appealed to him. Which is why I am sure that he will someday find a partner, as I found you – he is not one to be alone forever, he enjoys the presence of others too much. I told him again that I am sure there is a reason why he has not yet bonded, even if that reason is not yet clear. I think he might have accepted that explanation this time."

Melpomaen's expression was disappointed.

"What? What's wrong, Maen? Surely you're glad that this seems to have been resolved and that Legolas will be less unhappy?"

"Yes, of course I'm glad of that," said Melpomaen, "but I had rather wished. . ."

"Wished what?"

"I did hope that he might. . . visit with us again. I enjoyed that evening a great deal, but if he has realized that he really isn't in love with you, then it seems unlikely."

"Perhaps, perhaps not," said Haldir. "I did tell him that you would like it if he would spend an evening with us, and he seemed to find the idea appealing. Who knows – perhaps having the complications of emotion lessened, it might be more attractive rather than less."

"Mm, well then. I'll tell you, though, what's attractive to me right now is you, Dír. May I invite you to join me in bed for a while?"

"You may indeed, and I shall gladly accept your invitation."

They gripped each other's hands, bracing to stand up, and stepped out of the tub. Haldir tossed a towel to his lover, taking another for himself. Bodies dried though hair still damp, they moved out to the other room.

Haldir lay down on the bed, pulling Melpomaen to him and thrusting his left leg between Melpomaen's, so that their hard members pressed into the hollows of each other's hips. He sighed and embraced Melpomaen more tightly.

"I wished that it was you I was holding, this morning with Legolas," he murmured.

Melpomaen was running his hands up and down Haldir's back, the light touch sending shivers along Haldir's spine and down into his groin. He hummed in pleasure as Melpomaen parted his buttocks to probe between them, and shifted to allow him easier access.

"I am here with you now, Dír. Do you want me. . .?" Melpomaen reached for the flask of oil as Haldir expressed his assent by turning until he was on his side, his back towards Melpomaen and his right knee pulled up to his waist. Melpomaen slicked oil on himself, then used two fingers to ensure that Haldir would be ready for him. He nudged the tip of his organ against Haldir's tight orifice, pushing only slightly, until all at once Haldir relaxed and he slid into the hot silky sheath. He moved gently in and out, changing the angle of each stroke by a fraction until a gasp from Haldir told him where it would be best for his lover.

Haldir arched his back as Melpomaen entered him, all his attention focused on his partner and the pleasure they could bring each other. When Melpomaen rubbed his most sensitive spot within, he gasped involuntarily. Further thrusts brought more sounds from his throat, urging Melpomaen on. Haldir reached to grasp Melpomaen's hand, bringing it down to soothe his swollen member. Deliberately he tightened himself around Melpomaen, eliciting a gasp in return, then let the pressure diminish again so that Melpomaen could continue moving.

Melpomaen nipped at Haldir's shoulder. He propped himself up on his free elbow and with some difficulty brushed the golden hair aside, exposing a tantalizing expanse of neck and ear, and lapped at Haldir's earlobe, exhaling warmly. Haldir squirmed under the tickling sensation, pushing his backside tighter against Melpomaen's groin. Next Melpomaen trailed kisses down Haldir's neck, causing Haldir to shiver as cool air evaporated the wetness. It sent a fire to his nether parts, though, and he tightened his grip over Melpomaen's hand, wordlessly encouraging him to stroke harder and faster there.

Although he would have liked to lengthen their lovemaking, Melpomaen realized his partner's need and responded to it, murmuring, "Now, Dír, yes, all right," as he worked his hand up and down Haldir's shaft, and Haldir shook as he spent in a long slow pulse into Melpomaen's palm and the linen sheets.

After one last caressing stroke, Melpomaen grasped Haldir's hip and thrust against him, deep and unhurried, reveling in the feeling of his lover's passage open to him. He thought back to the evening that Legolas had spent with them, watching, and imagined the captain there again. The idea increased his excitement until he could delay his pleasure no more, and he clasped Haldir to him, a muffled moan escaping his lips as he felt orgasm overcome him.

"Too bad that we have duty today," said Melpomaen eventually, after his breathing had slowed to normal. "I could happily spend the whole day here in bed with you."

"So could I," Haldir admitted, "but we cannot. There's time to take a quick dip and wash off the sweat, and get a bite from the mess hall, but then we need to report to Erentar. It will be mettarë in a few days, though, and we're down for the midday watch – so we'll have most of the holiday free. It sounds as though the celebrations here will be most enjoyable, but I should think we can find a couple of hours for ourselves."

"At least," said Melpomaen, kissing him. "We may never have a holiday together again like this, so we should celebrate it to the fullest extent, wouldn't you agree?"

Chapter Text

The day of mettarë, the midwinter festival, was now upon them. Haldir woke at dawn, though in the caverns he could not see the sun rising. He pressed his body against Melpomaen's and kissed his cheek, nuzzling his ear. "Happy mettarë, meldanya," he said softly.

Melpomaen yawned and stretched, wrapping an arm around Haldir. "Happy mettarë to you," he said. "When does our watch start today?"

"Late morning," Haldir reminded him. "We still have several hours till then."

"Do we indeed?" Melpomaen's voice was knowing. "And how shall we fill those long, dull hours?"

"I'm certain we can think of something," said Haldir, letting his fingers trail along Melpomaen's bare chest. He snuggled closer.

Melpomaen laughed.

"What is it?" asked Haldir. "What amuses you so?"

"I was just thinking how queer it is to be here, in Mirkwood, and to be with you this way. A year ago I would never have imagined it."

"Nor I," said Haldir in contented tones, "but I am very glad we are here together."

Smoothing a stray lock back from Haldir's brow, Melpomaen kissed his eyelids. "I would not trade this for anything else in the world," he murmured, and kissed him lingeringly on the lips.

Pulling back a little, Haldir said, "Not until I've rinsed my mouth."

Melpomaen shrugged and said, "As you choose." He waited as Haldir rose from the bed, lighted the candle, and went to fetch a cup of water. He admired the lines of Haldir's body, the firm muscles across his chest and ridging his abdomen, the smooth pale skin, darker on his arms where it was more exposed. As he watched Haldir walk back, he felt desire stir. He sipped from the cup Haldir offered, then setting it down, held out a hand to his lover.

Haldir understood the wordless request and slipped beneath the covers, kneeling above Melpomaen with a knee on either side of his hips, their groins just brushing. The light touch tantalized, and Melpomaen reached out to take Haldir's waist and press them more firmly together. The urgency of his passion still surprised him sometimes. He could feel Haldir hard against him as well, the quickening pulse of his desire.

"Meldanya," Melpomaen whispered. "Dír, my beloved."

Haldir looked at him, the eyes under the level golden brows dark pools in the flickering light. Melpomaen felt he could almost drown in them.

"Meldanya Maen," Haldir whispered back, and leaned down to kiss him delicately.

Melpomaen felt Haldir's tongue slide between his lips and open his mouth. He felt closer to his lover while kissing like this, he thought, than at almost any other time. Even being inside Haldir, or the reverse, did not always bring this sense of closeness, of intimacy. He responded in kind, and their tongues entwined for a long moment before Haldir broke off and looked deep into Melpomaen's eyes once again.

"I do not know what the traditions are here," Haldir said, "about giving a gift to a loved one on mettarë, but I have one for you. Would you like it now or later?"

Melpomaen considered it. "Later, I think," he said at last. "If there is some traditional time to exchange gifts here, we should participate, and if not, I have no doubt that it will keep. I have one for you as well."

Haldir nodded. "That is what I thought, but I felt that you should have the choice." He leaned down and rubbed his cheek against Melpomaen's. "Shall I give you instead a gift that I could not give in the presence of others, one that requires no unwrapping?"

Melpomaen drummed his fingers on Haldir's shoulder, pretending to think. "Oh, I don't know. It doesn't sound like much of a present."

Chuckling, Haldir said, "It's nothing you haven't had before, that is true, but it will also never wear out."

"I know it is a present that I will enjoy receiving, then."

"So I should hope," said Haldir. He dipped his head, kissing Melpomaen at the sensitive spot in the hollow between neck and shoulder. His tongue traced a warm wet pattern across Melpomaen's throat, and the dark-haired Elf shivered in anticipation as he felt Haldir's teeth scrape across his nipple and then his mouth suckling at it before moving across to the other.

He tangled his hands in Haldir's hair and used one thumb to trace the outline of Haldir's ear, while the other hand stroked the nape of his lover's neck.

After lavishing attention on Melpomaen's chest, Haldir slipped lower, seeking out the hollow of Melpomaen's navel and tasting it. Melpomaen could not restrain a gurgled laugh.

"Sorry," he said as Haldir looked up with a quizzical expression on his face. "Tickles."

Haldir grinned. "That's all right," he said, and did the same again, just to hear the laughter rumbling through Melpomaen's body. His lover's member was firm against his chest and he rocked from side to side a little to show that he was not unmindful of it, as he continued to explore the skin of Melpomaen's belly. Then he slid a hand beneath Melpomaen's buttocks and pulled them closer, breathing warmly and feeling Melpomaen's organ twitch in response, but he ignored that for the moment. Instead, going further down and taking the sac below into his mouth, gently mouthing, with his free hand he rubbed the skin between there and the puckered hole beneath.

He pulled away long enough to ask Melpomaen to pass him a pillow or two, which he put underneath his lover's hips to raise him up. Then, remembering what Melpomaen had done once before to him, he traced a line with his tongue down to the tight opening and licked at it, eliciting a startled but pleased sound from the top of the bed. Wetting one fingertip in his mouth, Haldir placed it there with the slightest of pressure, and waited until all at once Melpomaen relaxed and let him inside. With no oil yet, Haldir took great care not to push too hard or too quickly, but nudged along the passage until he could feel through the membrane the spot that would bring his lover great pleasure. He glanced up to see that Melpomaen's eyes were closed, his head thrown back, and his chest heaving quickly.

Now Haldir licked at Melpomaen's straining shaft and took its tip into his mouth, rolling his tongue over the loose soft skin and tasting the first hints of bitter seed. He moved leisurely, to prolong Melpomaen's delight, and when his lover began to pump his hips Haldir withdrew both finger and mouth and knelt up to reach for the oil flask.

"Turn over," Haldir murmured, and, his eyes still closed, Melpomaen did so.

The sight of him – hips raised, legs parted, ready and waiting – brought Haldir to an almost painful hardness. Quickly he applied the oil. With one swift and sure thrust he was within Melpomaen's tight hot tunnel, and felt rather than heard his groan of pleasure. They moved together, rocking in union, each shifting motion bringing its own moment of joy. Haldir stroked Melpomaen as they moved until he could scarcely tell where his own skin ended and his lover's began.

Melpomaen felt surrounded, embraced, wholly completed by Haldir's love, trembling in an ecstasy so profound that his orgasm, when it came, was almost unnecessary. His cry of Haldir's name was muffled against the bed.

Haldir's skin was flushed and damp as he continued to thrust, his need rising to urgent heights, until at last he quivered in release and let himself fall forward, still sheathed within his lover's body. He rolled them off the pillows and curled them up, spoon fashion, his chest against Melpomaen's back, breathing ragged.

When their heartbeats had slowed, he stroked Melpomaen's hair and whispered to him, "Was that not a good gift to celebrate the end of this season together?"

Melpomaen nodded and reached up to entwine their fingers, bringing Haldir's hand to his mouth and kissing each fingertip.

After a time they arose, washed, and dressed. Melpomaen stripped the bed of its linens while Haldir brought clean sheets from the chest, and together they remade the bed freshly for that evening.

They had only a short watch shift that day. Haldir knew they had Legolas to thank for the fact that, from early afternoon, they were free to join in the festivities in Thranduil's halls. The Great Hall, where the king held audience, had been transformed with boughs of evergreens, trailing bittersweet and branches of red-berried holly lending variety. Every lamp and candle in its sconce was lit – it seemed nearly as bright indoors as out in the pale winter sunshine.

There appeared to be no particular order to the events of the day. A space had been cleared outside for several weapons competitions, including an ongoing archery contest. Melpomaen entered that, but though his arm was healed from the injury he had sustained on their travels, he had not yet completely regained his old abilities. He took his loss with good grace, however, encouraging Haldir to try a turn. Haldir demurred, but agreed to try his skill at the knife-fighting competition. Melpomaen watched, trying not to show his admiration and pride too obviously, as Haldir won several bouts. His next competitor was none other than Captain Legolas.

The captain fought with not one, but two knives, and Melpomaen found himself both fascinated and taken aback by the ferocious grace with which he moved. He decided that if Haldir could be compared to a great mastiff, strong and fierce, Legolas would be a wild cat: lithe, sleek, and unpredictably dangerous.

Haldir pressed hard, but in the end, Legolas had the victory. They clasped hands in salute, and Legolas turned to meet the next Elf or Man willing to pit himself against the king's son as Haldir moved away toward Melpomaen, wiping his face.

"I knew the captain was skilled, but I had no idea how skilled," he said ruefully.

"You have nothing to be ashamed of," Melpomaen assured him. "I have never seen you fight better, and twice you nearly took him."

"Thank you." Haldir hugged Melpomaen, then let him loose, remembering where they were. "Shall we get something to drink?" he suggested. "After that, I feel as if I could manage two flagons without a quiver."

Back in the Great Hall they accepted mugs of hot spiced cider from a smiling girl who kissed them each on the cheek and wished them a happy mettarë. Haldir drained his at once and had her refill it, then they moved off among the crowd in the hall.

The air was sweet with the sounds of singing from one end of the room, accompanied by harp and pipe. They could tell that the tune was a traditional one for winter; it was a melody known in the Golden Wood also, but the harmonies sung here were different. Haldir and Melpomaen moved closer to listen. As they worked their way through the crowd, a voice hailed them.

"How fare you two?"

It was Vida, the woman they had brought to the king's caverns after the loss of her son, and with her her husband Baldor. They exchanged mettarë greetings all around, Melpomaen stumbling slightly over the Common Tongue.

"I had not heard that the search party had returned," said Haldir to Baldor, with a slight lift of inquiry in his voice.

The Man shook his head. "Only a few of us. We are to replenish our supplies and leave again in four days' time."

"No success?" said Melpomaen.

"I fear not." Baldor flicked his eyes at his wife. "We have been close to catching the beast several times, but always he has eluded us, and the woods are filled with dread rumors. The great spiders are danger enough, but this unknown creature. . . Still, we have hope to find him before spring. In the snow he must leave tracks."

The two Elves nodded in sympathy rather than agreement, and Haldir sought to turn the conversation to more pleasant matters.

"Are you enjoying this festival?" he inquired.

"Oh, yes," said Vida, "we have had a good time in the kitchens preparing all the special foods for the occasion – sweetmeats of more sorts than I had ever imagined, and great pies of game, and roast birds with sauces of every description. Luckily most of it could be cooked in advance, and free us to come celebrate the turn of the year. How about you two?"

"We had our duties earlier tody," Haldir said. "Perhaps we were lucky with that, being strangers. But if you don't mind – we were going to listen to the singing. We are familiar with the tune, but this harmony is new, and we should like to hear it."

"Please do, do not let us keep you," said Vida.

Baldor added, "A pleasure to see you again."

"And you too," said Haldir.

"Good luck on your hunt," Melpomaen said.

"Thank you." Baldor bowed. "A happy mettarë to you both."

When they reached the corner where the singing was taking place, Melpomaen and Haldir realized that it was a most informal arrangement. Any person who wished to sing or play simply would, and then leave when he chose. After one song was finished, another would begin. Melpomaen could not tell if the songs were being sung in a traditional order, or if it was merely a question of what melody first came to someone's mind. When another song began that seemed familiar, the two Lórien Elves joined in softly, singing the harmonies they knew when those did not conflict with the ones sung here.

Haldir had not realized before just what a fine clear tenor voice Melpomaen had. While traveling they had sung little, except for the occasional walking song, not wishing to draw unwanted attention to themselves as they passed, and even here in Mirkwood Melpomaen had rarely participated in such singing as happened of an evening in the guards' common room. Haldir muted his own voice to better hear and enjoy his partner's.

Someone else evidently appreciated Melpomaen's ability as well, for as the song ended, one of the pipers laid aside her instrument and came over, introducing herself as Dúlin, and asking Melpomaen where he had been hiding his glorious voice.

Melpomaen shrugged. "In the guards' quarters, I suppose."

Dúlin shook her head, saying, "That harmony. That was beautiful. Did you make it up yourself?"

"No. . ." Melpomaen began.

"Well, come and sing it for me again. I want to note it down."

Melpomaen looked helplessly at Haldir as Dúlin tugged at his hand.

"Go on," Haldir laughed. "I will still be here somewhere when she is through with you." He watched them vanish through one of the archways, out of the hall.

His cup was empty, and Haldir decided a bit more cider would be in order. He made his way back towards the table, going along the other side of the room this time, past the king's great chair. Thranduil saw him coming and beckoned as he passed.

"Happy mettarë," said the king gravely, "honored stranger. Or perhaps not so much of a stranger now? Honored guest, rather."

"I thank you," Haldir bowed, "and wish a happy mettarë to you and yours as well, my lord."

"I believe that my son has conveyed our invitation to you and your friend to stay, if you choose, has he not?" Thranduil asked.

"He did, thank you, my lord. We are considering whether to do so. In any case we would have to leave for a time to complete the commission that I undertook and that brought us here to begin with, but before we depart we will certainly inform you and Legolas of our decision."

The king nodded. "I understand. Enjoy yourself this evening, Haldir."

Haldir bowed once again and left. He did appreciate the king's offer and knew that there could be many advantages for them to remain in – or rather, return to – Mirkwood, but his heart yearned for the mellyrn of his homeland and for his family, and he did not think he would ever be happy were he to be parted from them forever. Much as he loved Melpomaen, and much as he enjoyed their passion as he had done that morning, he knew that over time it was more than simple lust that brought them together. A bond such as theirs was a thing of the heart and mind and fëa, not solely of the body, and while he would regret the loss of that part of their love when they returned to Lórien, and Lórindol's company, he would regret far more not returning. But this was something he had yet to discuss openly with his lover, and today was not the day he would choose to do it.

Having recharged his cup, Haldir moved on to listen to some storytelling in another part of the hall. Many of them spoke in verse, but Haldir thought that the most vivid story was one told in prose. It was recited by an Elf with white hair, which she had braided in a coronet that shone like silver in the light of the lamps. Her tale was of Oropher, Thranduil's father, and the Elves he led to Mordor as part of the Last Alliance. Haldir listened intently. He had heard stories of the battles against the Dark Lord before, many times, but this tale gave him a new perspective on the events. When she had finished, he caught her eye and bowed in silent reverence. She blushed and smiled, understanding his appreciation, and then turned to listen to the next storyteller.

After a time, Haldir became aware of someone at his elbow, and he turned to greet Legolas. They moved away from that part of the room, not wishing to disturb anyone.

"Did you conquer all later comers as readily as you defeated me?" asked Haldir, a smile dancing in his eyes.

Legolas chuckled. "Ah, most of them far more easily, I must say. You put up an excellent fight for one not used to fighting with one knife against two. I must congratulate you again on your ability." He looked around. "But where is Melpomaen?"

Haldir rolled his eyes. "A woman called Dúlin dragged him off to sing her some harmonies for a song."

"Oh, no!" The expression on Legolas's face was a study in amused dismay. "He'll be lucky if she lets him free before mid-night. She is a distant cousin of mine, and finds nothing so compelling as music, especially anything new to her. We may be obliged to go root him out of her chamber for the salutation of the stars at dusk."

"Yes," agreed Haldir, "I am sure he would not want to miss that, for it is something neither of us has ever seen."

"It is beautiful," said Legolas, his eyes distant. "Even when the skies have been cloudy for days, there always seems to be a break and a glimpse of at least one star. Since today was clear, we will delight in the whole of the heavens." He dragged himself back to practicalities. "It is a simple thing, really. Everyone will go out just as the sun sets, and wait in silence. When the last light of day is gone, there is singing in praise of the Kindler, who set the stars in place. After that, back inside for more music, feasting, dancing. . ." He looked at Haldir, his face troubled. "And gift-giving. Is that a custom among your people, whoever they are, that you give something to those closest to you, to mark the turn of the year?"

"We do have that custom, and I have something to give Maen. I am glad to know when it would be proper to give it to him."

"Perhaps we should fetch it now – and rescue him from Dúlin, as well, so that if he has a gift for you he can be prepared," Legolas said.

"A good idea. You will have to show me where Dúlin might be – I certainly have no idea, I simply told Melpomaen to meet me back here in the hall when they were finished," Haldir remarked.

"Certainly. This way." Legolas led them down several branching corridors and knocked on a door. "Dúlin? I am sorry, but you cannot monopolize our guest for the entire evening," he said, entering a room crowded with assorted instruments, musical scores in varying states of completion, and some items that Haldir could not recognize.

Melpomaen and Dúlin were sitting at a large table. "Wait a moment, I am just finishing. . . there." She set down her quill and carefully stoppered the ink bottle. "Melpomaen is going to teach me all the songs he knows," she said triumphantly to Legolas. "He knows a completely different set of verses to the ‘Doriath Carol,' can you imagine?"

"Yes, cousin, but now he must come with us. It is not long until sunset, you know – you were not going to miss the rest of the evening's events, were you? Melpomaen will still be here tomorrow, and next week, and next month, for you to learn every word and harmony he can recall."

"All right," Dúlin said regretfully. "When can you come back, Melpomaen?"

"Ah – perhaps the day after next? In the late afternoon, for an hour or two before I must stand watch. Would that suit you?"

"If it must. I will see you then, here in my rooms." She turned back to the score before her, uncapping the ink and making a few minor corrections, clearly no longer aware of anyone else's presence.

Back in the corridor, Haldir raised an eyebrow at Melpomaen. "Well?"

"She is quite – intense, in her passion for music. But a great artist. She played several of her instruments for me, including one I would like to learn myself sometime. She called it a cittern, I think that was the word. (1) It had a pleasant sound, and one could play it while also singing."

Melpomaen seemed to have caught his hostess' enthusiasm, and Haldir smiled to hear him. "I am glad you had such a pleasant time."

"But it's almost time for the salutation of the stars, is it not?" Melpomaen asked. "That is why you came to find me?"

"We have to go to our room to fetch our gifts first," Haldir told him. "Legolas says that traditionally, those are given shortly after singing to the stars, and we should have them with us."

"It is not of great importance," Legolas said, "but I thought you would want to participate with everyone else."

"Thank you," said Melpomaen. "I do indeed."

Legolas waited in the hallway as first Haldir, then Melpomaen went into their room. He could not see that Haldir was carrying anything at all, and decided that whatever his gift for Melpomaen was, it was small enough to fit in the pouch on his belt. Melpomaen, on the other hand, brought out a largish cloth-wrapped parcel, bound about with a blue cord.

"Ready?" Legolas inquired. "You'll be able to leave that in the Great Hall, Melpomaen. No one will disturb it there."



Footnote:
(1) A cittern was a medieval instrument, shaped like a lute. Its strings were made of wire and it was played with a plectrum or quill.

Chapter Text

The three Elves had just begun to walk back towards the Great Hall when Haldir realized, "Won't we want our cloaks, Maen? And you too, Legolas?"

At their assent he fetched his own and Melpomaen's, and they detoured past Legolas's room so that the captain could collect his as well. Though the day had been pleasant enough in the sun, the clear skies predicted a cold night. Standing outside in the snow waiting for the last light to fade would be a chill experience with nothing but a tunic and jerkin against the night.

The Great Hall was beginning to empty when they reached it, the crowd slowly filing out into the fast-fading light. Melpomaen set his parcel down against the wall near to the king's chair, twitching a loose fold of cloth into place, then straightened to follow the other two outside.

As with the events earlier in the day, there was no discernible order to where anyone stood while waiting for the first star to appear. Old and young, Elf and Man, benn and bess intermingled. There were even a couple of stray Dwarves, caught by a storm a few days past and not unwilling to stay through the festival, though they kept very much to themselves and stayed on the fringes of the throng. Legolas led Haldir and Melpomaen around to the southern side of the clearing outside the gates, and up a gentle rise.

"The view is usually best from here," he told them.

In the dimming light, Melpomaen took Haldir's hand. His lover returned the pressure, then nudged Legolas's elbow. When the captain half-turned to ask what he wanted, Haldir held out his hand. Legolas hesitated at first, then smiled and took it. Unseen, Melpomaen quirked an eyebrow.

But now the last purple and rose streaks were fading on the western horizon, and everyone present scanned the sky, looking for the first appearance of a star.

"There!" A child's shrill voice cut through the silence, quickly hushed by its mother.

First one, then three, then dozens and hundreds of stars became visible as true darkness fell. To his great surprise, Haldir felt tears running down his cheeks, and in the dusk he could see that Melpomaen's face was wet also. The beauty and stillness were almost unbearable, even though shared with so many others.

At last the spell was broken by the pure and piercing note of a flute, playing a melody unknown to the two Lórien Elves, who listened as Legolas and their other neighbors sang.

The woods and the river are silent,
And the waveless sea is at rest;
In their caves the winds are at truce and peace,
And in the dark night
The white moon creates lofty silence. . . (1)

The harmonies created by the singers captured the glory of the stars, the stillness of the night, the splendor of the world around. Melpomaen let go of Haldir's hand and slipped an arm around his waist instead, wanting to be closer as he drank in the sounds. They hardly noticed the biting cold as they stood transfixed.

When at last the singing ended, and the gathered crowd began to return to the light and warmth and merry-making inside, Haldir turned to Legolas next to him. "Glorious," he said, and repeated, "Glorious."

Legolas smiled, almost shyly. "But surely you celebrate mettarë at your homes, too? Is it not like this at all?"

"We have nothing like this singing," said Melpomaen honestly. "We sing, of course, but not such songs as these to the stars. More rejoicing that the sun will soon return, and the days lengthen."

"Interesting," Legolas mused. "You will have to talk with Dúlin about that – I am sure she would be fascinated." He pulled his cloak closer. "Let us go inside. I'm getting chilled out here, are you not?"

They went in. Thranduil was already seated at the high table, and Melpomaen inquired if Legolas was not meant to sit there as well, as his father's son.

"It does not matter tonight," Legolas told them. "It is not a time for much ceremony, only fellowship and good cheer. I would rather sit with you, if I may?"

"It would be an honor," said Haldir. "Besides, we would appreciate knowing just what is to happen for the rest of the night."

Legolas gestured around the hall. "As you see. Now is the time for gift-giving. I must go to my father for this, but I shall return shortly." He strode off, threading his way among the chattering knots of people towards the end of the Great Hall where Thranduil sat.

Turning to Melpomaen, Haldir said, "Now I will give you the gift that you can receive in public, shall I?" He reached into his belt-pouch, pulled out a small parcel wrapped in a bit of green silk, and handed it to his lover.

Melpomaen's usually deft fingers fumbled as he unwound the filmy cloth to reveal a silver armlet, with stars engraved on it in an arc. He touched it reverently, tracing the fine lines, and said, "It is lovely, Dír. Thank you."

"You're welcome." Haldir smiled at him.

"Let me just think where I left mine. . . oh yes. Up near the other end of the room, behind the king's seat. I will be back." Melpomaen disappeared for several minutes, then returned carrying the large package he had brought from their room, Legolas following behind him.

Haldir unknotted the blue cord from around the cloth and let it fall away. Inside was a leather pack to replace the one he had carried from Lothlórien and had borne as a ranger for several years. The front of it was embossed with trees with intertwining branches, and Haldir was certain that Melpomaen must have been responsible for the decoration himself, for each tree was a stylized mallorn. "How wonderful. What a thoughtful, beautiful gift, Maen – thank you." He touched Melpomaen's shoulder, and then took his hand.

"I like the pattern," Legolas remarked. "Did you draw it yourself?"

"Yes," Melpomaen admitted. "I'm not much of an artist, but that is my work." Uncomfortable, he looked at Haldir and raised an eyebrow.

Haldir nodded, and Melpomaen extracted a violet-wrapped package from his pocket. He gave it to Legolas.

"For you. . . it is just a token," he added hurriedly.

"Hardly," said Legolas, when he had opened it and had seen the embroidered crimson sash inside. He put it around his waist, tying it to let the silver fringe hang down. "Thank you both, very much – it's lovely. And here, for you."

Legolas had had a pair of gloves made for each of them, of butter-soft leather, supple as silk. Haldir pulled his on immediately and found that they fit as well as if his measurements had been taken. He touched Melpomaen's face. "Feel how soft."

"Oh," said Melpomaen, and a flicker crossed his face. "Very soft indeed."

Haldir suspected his lover of having ideas best not mentioned in public, and let one eyelid droop briefly in a wink before together they thanked Legolas, who waved it aside.

"Now, shall we get something to eat, before the dancing begins?" he suggested.

Balancing plates piled high with delicious-looking morsels, they found three places together at one of the tables and began to eat. The venison was so tender, marinated in wine and herbs, that Melpomaen went back for more, though he knew he might regret a too-full stomach once the dancing began.

Haldir nibbled on a slice of dried pear as the hubbub of the room died down and the musicians began to play. The first tune was in a minor key, wailing like the wind of a winter storm, evidently meant to draw attention rather than encourage dancing. But the next had a hearty sound to it, and Haldir joined the forming circle, leaving his two companions behind at the table.

The melody drew him in. He did not worry about being unfamiliar with the exact steps of the dances – the music would guide him. He was vaguely aware of Melpomaen and Legolas joining him, but for now, to dance was all that mattered, not who he danced with. The hours sped by like minutes. He saw Dúlin on the edge of the room playing first one of her strange instruments, then another, and thought that he would like to gift Melpomaen with one such, someday.

In the brief intervals between songs, he drank long draughts of cider – better than wine, for thirst-quenching – and then returned to the dancing. Finally he realized that Melpomaen was trying to speak to him.

"Haldir. Haldir."

"What?" He shook his head.

"Are you not ready to stop for tonight? There will be other chances to dance, I'm sure," said Melpomaen. "It's rather late."

Haldir looked around. Melpomaen was right. The great log in the central hearth was nearly consumed, and the crowd had thinned out. Legolas was still there, looking weary. So did Melpomaen, Haldir realized, and apologized. "I am sorry, mel- Maen," he caught himself. "If you wish to leave, I am ready to go."

Melpomaen took Haldir's hand and extended his other arm to Legolas. "Shall we?"

The Lórien Elves' room was closer, and when they reached it all three went in. Legolas had thoughtfully picked up their several gifts before they left the Great Hall. He set them on the table and hesitated, not sure whether to stay or return to his own rooms. He took a step or two towards the door, to be stopped by Melpomaen's hand on his shoulder.

"Not going already?"

Legolas shrugged. "It is late."

"But it is mettarë," said Haldir, stepping in front of him. "No one should be alone on a festival night."

"Do stay," said Melpomaen, his eyes dark and wide in the candlelight.

Glancing from one to the other, Legolas thought that he probably should not accept. Would it not raise all his unfulfillable longings again, leave him feeling more alone than ever?

"You are our friend," Haldir said, when Legolas did not answer. He moved to one side. "Neither of us would press you to do something you do not wish to do. We invite you to stay and be with us, but if you prefer to leave, you should. We would not be offended."

Legolas decided that he meant it. "No, I will stay. I want to stay," he added firmly, to dispel any suggestion that he was acceding despite his own judgment.

"Good." Melpomaen's face broke into a smile. "Come on, then."

"Where?"

"Up here," and Melpomaen suited actions to words and climbed onto the bed, patting the space beside him as he leaned against the wall. "This is much more comfortable than the chairs. Haldir, would you bring the cups and that flagon of wine?"

Haldir sat in the middle, pouring wine and handing it to each of them. Melpomaen took the flagon and set it on the table, within reach.

"To friendship," Legolas said. "May we all find it so easily." He reached to take Haldir's hand, and Melpomaen joined his to the other two. They lifted their cups to their lips, and drank.

Legolas was surprised by the fine and subtle flavor. Somehow Melpomaen had managed to get hold of a flagon of the strong red wine of Dorwinion, usually only served at the king's own table. Suitable for such an occasion as mettarë, but perhaps a little – overstimulating. He glanced over at Haldir, who had already seemed less constrained than usual by the dancing in the Great Hall. The other's eyes were half-lidded, his lips parted in a smile as he raised his cup for another draught of wine.

"Would you. . ." Legolas cleared his throat and started again. "Would you like me to rub your back, Haldir? I should think you were sore, after our contest this afternoon."

"What about me?" Melpomaen said with mock indignance. "I was competing at archery, you know – do I not deserve a little of your attention, too?"

"Ah," Legolas floundered, "if you wish, I suppose so, Melpomaen."

Haldir looked from one to the other, and Legolas felt a cold certainty that he was entirely sober, intoxicated neither by the dancing nor the wine. "Let us each choose one other, then, to give such an effort to."

"I choose Legolas," said Melpomaen, quickly enough that Haldir wondered at it.

"I choose you, Haldir," said Legolas.

"Then I will rub your back, Maen," Haldir said, "if you will take off your tunic and pass me the flask of oil?"

Melpomaen stretched an arm out lazily and picked up the flask from the side table, handing it over, before he sat up and began to remove his garments. When he was stripped to the waist, he lay down again, head turned so that he could look at Legolas to his right, and Haldir knelt over him and began to knead the muscles of his shoulders and neck. Legolas, feeling too warm, had also taken off his tunic, and reclined on his elbow facing the other two. He spoke almost at random, wanting to keep a connection with them.

"I know you must have some reason for keeping secret your home. I wish you felt you could trust me enough to say where it is, but if you cannot, you cannot. It has been an – interesting – few months with you here, to say the least. I would be very glad if you would stay longer, or else return when you can."

Haldir's face tightened, but he made no response in words. Under his hands, Melpomaen said, "So would I, Legolas, but we have not decided yet; we have not even discussed the matter in any serious way." He reached out his right hand to Legolas, and smiled. "But I think you can guess my inclination."

Legolas nodded, although his glance at Haldir showed him that the latter did not agree. The king's son foresaw a certain amount of friction between the two lovers on the matter – but it was not his business to interfere. King Thranduil had wished the offer to be made, and Legolas thought it was a good idea for several reasons. Whether they wished to accept it was wholly their choice, and he would say nothing further for now. He took Melpomaen's hand, entwining the slender fingers in his own, and fell silent, watching Haldir work.

After some little time, Haldir stopped, and bending down, whispered in Melpomaen's ear. "All right, meldanya – enough?"

"Mm. All right." Melpomaen squirmed and stretched. "I think Legolas should give you yours next."

"Do you mind?" Haldir asked Legolas.

"Certainly not," Legolas replied, and waited as Haldir took off his unnecessary clothing. He emulated the position that the other had taken, and began by running his thumbs along Haldir's spine, finding little knots in the muscles there and smoothing them away. Melpomaen watched, still relaxed and lying prone on the other side of the bed. From there he could see Haldir's face, tranquil, eyes closed, a strand of hair loose and tangled in his lashes. He could see the play of light on Legolas's torso as he moved, and admired the way that his muscles shifted under the pale skin.

Legolas felt Melpomaen watching him, and looked over, raising an eyebrow. Melpomaen gazed steadily back, and Legolas dropped his eyes, pouring a few more drops of oil onto Haldir's back and rubbing them in. The oil was fragrant with cloves, and it mingled with the scents of Haldir's and Melpomaen's flesh until Legolas felt dizzied. His hands moved more and more slowly, to the point of caressing rather than kneading, until with a sigh he ceased altogether. Haldir seemed almost asleep as Legolas moved off him to the center of the bed.

Melpomaen smiled at Legolas and gestured to him to stretch out next to Haldir. He knelt between the two and ran his hands along each Elf's back, from the nape of their necks down to where the swell of buttocks began, and up again. Then he coated his hands with the oil, shifted position, and concentrated on Legolas, using his fingertips to dig into the muscles of Legolas's shoulders and upper arms until they were loosened, before moving to do the same on his lower back, chasing the ripples of tension away. He could feel Legolas's steady breathing between his legs.

When Melpomaen touched him, Haldir had roused from his relaxed state, his eyes opening to gaze into those of Legolas facing him. He watched as Melpomaen began to knead Legolas's back, and saw the other Elf's eyes widen as Melpomaen touched tender nerves, then droop as the twinges were smoothed away. On an impulse he turned and rested his left hand on Melpomaen's ankle, while placing the tip of his right forefinger against Legolas's lips. A flash of – astonishment? distress? revelation? Haldir was not sure which – crossed Legolas's face, but his breathing did not falter, even when he moved his arm so that his fingers brushed Haldir's chest.

The silence was calm as Melpomaen finished and straightened up, pressing the heels of his hands against his own back. He could hear faint sounds from the corridor, doubtless a few merry-makers trailing back to their rooms. Looking at Legolas's and Haldir's profiles against the clean white linen, he was struck by how detached Legolas seemed to be, even in the act of giving and receiving a touch. Perhaps that was inevitable, for one without a bond-partner of his own, but Melpomaen suddenly ached for him in a way that was unfamiliar. If before he had wanted to have Legolas present for a number of reasons he did not wish to put into words, but especially to underline the distance between Haldir and the captain, now he felt an impulse to lessen that distance somehow. Yet how could that be, without causing more trouble than he might ease?

Nudging Haldir's leg so that his lover caught his eye, Melpomaen openly tugged at the laces that held his own leggings and moved to lie on the other side of Legolas. Haldir looked startled at first, then tacitly acquiescing, began to use his free hand to loosen his own remaining garments, touching Legolas's chin to attract his attention. Legolas, startled from a near-trance, watched Haldir's movements without comprehending them at first. Understanding came in a flash and he twisted to see Melpomaen's reaction. When he realized that the dark-haired Elf had originated the notion, he hesitated no longer in fumbling with the ties at his waist. Legolas had surmised that one or both of the others would make such a suggestion when he had chosen to stay, and he had to admit that his desire to be present with them once again outweighed the disquiet the notion brought him.

His conversation with Haldir some days before had assured him that in his heart he had no real wish to interfere with the bond between Haldir and Melpomaen, and he had no intention of jeopardizing that through an errant touch. Thus it surprised Legolas when Melpomaen touched him on the cheek as he lay half-turned onto his left side, facing Haldir. He looked quickly over his shoulder.

"Legolas," said Melpomaen, the flickering light of the candle making it difficult for Legolas to read his face. "In honor of the returning sun. . ." and he kissed Legolas, lightly, on the lips. Legolas froze, his body refusing to react. He almost feared to turn his head back to see how Haldir would respond, but he could not remain in this twisted position forever. When he did look again at Haldir, he was relieved by the smile on Haldir's face.

"To honor the sun," Haldir echoed, and kissed Legolas likewise. The kisses themselves did not bring any increase in Legolas's desire, he was glad to find, though the fact that the two felt close enough in friendship to invite him to stay and share this night warmed him through. He turned onto his back so that he might look easily at either of his two friends, and they see him as well.

None of them felt any great urgency as they touched themselves; this was a time to be savored, one that they all recognized might never again come, and so not to be hurried nor given less than full attention and enjoyment. Haldir and Melpomaen had each pulled a pillow under his shoulder, so that they could see each other across Legolas's body. It seemed to Melpomaen that he could almost hear his lover's thoughts of pleasure and delight, Haldir's eyes brilliant in the dim light as his hand stroked his cock.

Legolas watched as Melpomaen used one hand to pinch his nipples to hard peaks, the other rubbing the loose skin at the tip of his organ, pulling it back to reveal the reddened head. The barest hint of moisture gleamed there. Legolas wondered if it would taste as bitter as his own seed – something he realized that he would never know. Melpomaen's breathing was quickening, the blood pulsing through his body and collecting in his groin, seeing Legolas and Haldir watching his movements. He slowed and deliberately turned his attention to them, encouraging their own play in turn.

Haldir wrapped the palm of his left hand around his member, stroking not-quite-roughly up and down the length of it, remembering how it had felt to be inside of Melpomaen that morning. He caught Legolas's eyes on him, and regretted that his friend might never know that sense of union with another, the physical and mental joining together. He still believed what he had told Legolas, that there must be a reason why the king's son had never found a partner, but who could know how long that might endure? Wriggling a little closer to Legolas, he used his free hand to take Legolas by the chin and tilt his head for another soft passionless kiss. On the edge of his vision he could see Melpomaen nodding, approving, and then bending to kiss Legolas on the cheek.

Relinquishing his hold, Haldir moved back again. Legolas held his gaze, a tear trickling from one eye, but to Haldir's pleasure he was smiling.

"Thank you." His lips formed the words, though no sound emerged. It was strange to Legolas that what only a few weeks ago would have sent delirious thrills through him now brought only the quiet happiness of comfort. For an instant he regretted the change, then common sense took over. Such unreturnable emotions would have been nothing but a burden to him, over time. Better that things should be as they were. He could think of no more appropriate way to show his appreciation than to take delight in the moment, so he began to work his hand faster, letting his legs fall akimbo, his head roll to one side. It was no longer Haldir's face and body that filled his mind as he gasped, hips thrusting as he spent in a sticky arc onto his chest. That might have embarrassed him in other circumstances, but here and now he felt nothing but content, to be with Melpomaen and Haldir when he reached the peak of pleasure.

As Legolas cried out, Haldir looked over at Melpomaen and bowed his head in silent acknowledgment, his own hand again moving, stroking proud flesh. With a flash of longing he thought again of touching his lover, but this was not the time, not with Legolas present. Instead he reached for the oil, coating one finger and reseating the stopper. He slid his finger inside himself, where he wished Melpomaen could be, finding the spot that spurred his desire and caressing it. He rubbed against the linen, rough against sensitive skin, until sensation overcame him and he could hold back no longer. His body stiffened as his seed spilled into the sheets.

Melpomaen had watched avidly as his two companions came to orgasm. He scarcely needed to touch himself to remain hard, doing so. When they had each finished, he allowed himself to make a little noise, a groan, and they turned their heads to look at him. Melpomaen quivered in excitement. He smiled to know that his beloved Haldir was there, near him, with him in spirit if not quite in body; and that Legolas too was present. The lines of their bodies sang to him as he touched himself, passing his thumb over the tip of his member and then along the vein, making a show of it. He wanted, oh, how he wanted this to last for longer, but it was too much. He could feel the pounding of his heart echoed along the length of his cock, quivering, pulsing, and his seed pulsed out with it.

They lay still for a time, spent, Legolas's bent knee just grazing Melpomaen's thigh, Haldir's hand against Legolas's shoulder.

"A happy mettarë to you," Melpomaen murmured at last. Legolas and Haldir laughed, their voices blending, and Melpomaen laughed with them.

"I think now it is more like yestarë," Legolas pointed out. "It must be well after the middle of the night." He sighed. "I should go. I have duties in the morning that cannot be abrogated."

"Must you?" asked Haldir, but his tone was more resigned than questioning. He knew the truth of what Legolas said, and rose to fetch a damp cloth from the bathing room, wiping himself off and then passing it to Legolas.

"I must. But this was a far happier mettarë than I had any cause to expect, thanks to you both." Legolas pulled his clothes on and stood at the end of the bed, looking at them in silence for some moments before holding out his hands to encourage them to sit up closer. He kissed first Haldir and then Melpomaen, and then left them alone together for the rest of the night.



Footnote:
(1) This is an extract from "The Woods And the Rivers Are Silent," by Torquato Tasso, a 16th-century Italian poet; this translation is by the Mediaeval Baebes, from the liner notes of their album The Rose.

Chapter Text

The air was as cold, the snow as deep as they had been for weeks, but steadily the days were lengthening. Now that they were again assigned to a daytime watch, Haldir noticed it. He and Melpomaen had not yet discussed what they would do when spring came. They would leave, of course, and return to Lothlórien to deliver the message from King Bard of Dale to Lord Celeborn, but after that?

Haldir had hesitated to bring up the subject, for he knew what Melpomaen would prefer, and he had not wished to quarrel with his lover. He did not wish to do so now, but the conversation was not something that could be put off much longer.

Melpomaen had been thinking along similar lines. He, too, had been watching the sun steer her course further to the north day by day. Winter would last longer here in Mirkwood than it did at home, but soon enough the spring thaw would arrive, the snow and ice would melt, and they would be able to make their departure and travel southward. He knew they must leave, but he wanted to return. Melpomaen resolved to raise the question with Haldir that same evening.

After supper they spent an hour or so in the common room, during which Haldir played chess with Legolas – Legolas won, narrowly – and Melpomaen sang with Meneldil, Belegorn, and several others. Once they had returned to their room, Melpomaen spoke.

"I enjoyed this evening, didn't you, Haldir?"

"Well enough," said Haldir, whose back was turned and who was rummaging through the chest, looking for a his red tunic.

"You're not upset because you lost your game, are you?" asked Melpomaen.

"No, of course not." Haldir shrugged. "But it was just an evening, like any other."

Melpomaen stretched and looked around the room. "I have been finding our situation here very congenial. It isn't that I care nothing for the Golden Wood," he hastened to add, "but it is pleasant to sleep in a bed, with you, and to eat hot meals every day, and be able to laugh and talk and make music in the evenings, without the need for caution all the time."

"I suppose so," said Haldir.

"So I was thinking that we should talk about that," Melpomaen said, throwing himself onto the bed.

"About what?" Haldir asked, though he guessed.

"About what we will do when spring comes. Have you not enjoyed our time here? Would you not consider returning?"

Haldir frowned a little, and sighed, and sat down on the bed next to Melpomaen, taking his hand and entwining Melpomaen's fingers with his own. "It has been a good winter," he agreed, "but. . ."

"But?" queried Melpomaen.

"But Mirkwood is not my home, and I do not think it could ever be. It is not our home," he amended.

Now it was Melpomaen's turn to sigh. "It is my home as much as Lórien is. I am not as close to my brother and sister as you are to your brothers, and my parents have both departed to the West. Certainly this is more our home than the Golden Wood, where you know full well we could not be together in the same way." He brought Haldir's hand to his lips, kissing each fingertip. "Would you not miss that?"

Haldir traced the outline of Melpomaen's lips. "I would, of course, but there are other things to consider."

"Such as what?" said Melpomaen in exasperation.

"Such as responsibility, and duty, to ourselves and our people," Haldir said.

"I do not see how it could be construed irresponsible to return here," Melpomaen responded. "We will complete the task you undertook for Lord Celeborn, but why not then resign from the border guard of Lórien and come instead to defend the people of Mirkwood? If anything, the power of Lady Galadriel makes the folk there safer than aught we could do for them."

Haldir acknowledged there might be truth in that.

"So why do you not wish to return here, meldanya, when there are so many reasons to do so?" Melpomaen ticked them off on his fingers, one by one. "Here we can be together as bond-partners and not have to worry to any great extent what others will think. Moreover if we return, not only would we have to conceal our bond, we would not even be able to make love, not if we stay in the border guard. You told me of the effects of lembas, and I have seen them for myself as well. King Thranduil himself has asked us to return, a compliment not lightly to be dismissed. The company here is as agreeable as Lórindol's, back home, and our skills are valued. Indeed they are probably more needed here than there. Against all that, why would you wish to stay away?"

Again Haldir sighed. "What you say is true, Maen. And yet. . ." he gestured at the walls of the room. "I do not think that I could bear to live forever in caverns. It may suit the Dwarves well, but it is not the life for an Elf, at least, not for me. All my years I have lived in sunshine and starlight among the trees, and I miss them. I miss my family as well. I would not be happy, not seeing them again."

"You could visit," suggested Melpomaen, though even as he spoke he saw Haldir shaking his head.

"It would not be the same," Haldir replied. "I know this is hard for you to understand – you are so much younger than your brother and sister – but it is true nonetheless."

Melpomaen exhaled slowly, considering whether or not he should ask his next question. He decided that he did want to know the answer. "Am I not as important to you as your family?"

Haldir flinched. "Of course you are, meldanya. You cannot doubt that you mean more to me than anyone." His words ended on an upward note, questioning.

"Do you not want to be able to love me openly? That is what I wish for with you," said Melpomaen, a betraying quaver in his voice.

"But that cannot last forever. You know what happens with wedded couples; after a time the physical love between them becomes less important, and they share other interests and passions instead."

"Regardless of physical passion," Melpomaen said, "their love and bondedness is known and accepted by others. In Lórien ours would not be."

"If we were to leave Lórien now, though, we might not ever have a chance to return. Were we able to see the future, to say yes, in a hundred years we would go back and all would be as it is today, then perhaps I would be more willing – but I would greatly regret it, if it should happen that we could not return there. Mirkwood seems now to be hold more freedom for us, but there may be constraints here that we do not yet know or understand." Haldir's voice was somber.

"Legolas does not seem to think that, not for us, not if we're discreet," argued Melpomaen.

"But think of how unhappy Legolas has been," said Haldir. "Does that not suggest that there are pressures here that we cannot see?"

"He has been happier of late, though; if we can help make him happy, should we not stay?"

Haldir answered, "We cannot be responsible for someone else's happiness."

"Why not?" asked Melpomaen. "Do I not make you happy, and you me?"

"But we are bonded. That is a different case," said Haldir.

Melpomaen frowned. "I don't see why. Friendship is important as well."

"I do not understand why you are so concerned about Legolas," said Haldir. "To begin with you didn't seem to like him very well; you seemed worried that he was interested in me, though you knew nothing could come of it. What is the change? I saw you watching him, on mettarë night."

"What? As I came to know him, my opinion of him changed, is all. You cannot be jealous, Dír. You know you have no cause, any more than I would."

Embarrassed, Haldir said, "No. I know that, really, but it does seem strange to me."

"You do not wish to leave on account of Legolas, do you?"

"No," said Haldir. "I was not thinking of Legolas at all when I explained my reasons for leaving." He bit his lip. "I enjoy his company, and I know that you do too, but consider. He treats us with favor, as friends, in whom he can confide, but in part that is because we are not his father's subjects or a permanent addition to those under his command. Were we to become so, he could not treat us in the same way. You know that. For me, if not perhaps for you, his friendship has been one of the best things about our stay here – if I could not have that, Mirkwood would seem even more alien to me."

"That may be true," admitted Melpomaen. "You're right that he would have to change how he acted, if we were to stay. But I still think the benefits would be greater here than in Lórien. Will you not consider?"

"Of course I will," promised Haldir, "if you will as well. We could," he hesitated, "we could think of leaving the guard company, at home, and return to dwell in the city. Then at least we would be able to make love, if it's that important to you."

"Is it not to you?" Melpomaen was hurt, and it showed in his face. "Do you not feel the same desire, the same passion as I?"

"I do, but I know that even such passion will someday fade. There is more to our love than that."

"But why should we give it up before we wish to?" Melpomaen said.

"Which is why I suggested that we could return to Caras Galadhon and find something else to do with our lives besides being in the border guard," said Haldir patiently. "I have served in it for long and long. It would occasion no comment were I to decide that at last I wished to try something different."

"That is not true for me," Melpomaen pointed out. "I have only been in the guard for a few years. People might talk if I were to leave so soon, especially if I were to leave with you."

"Yes, they might," said Haldir, "but let them talk. It would only be a nine days' wonder."

"I think that you overestimate their tolerance," said Melpomaen, shaking his head. "Do you really wish to take that risk? It was you who first made me realize how little a bond such as ours would be accepted by our people, and now you say that they would ignore it?"

"I wish. . ." Haldir stopped and swallowed. "I wish we did not have to worry about it. I still wish, sometimes, that I were other than what I am."

Melpomaen put his arms around Haldir and held him tight. "I do not," he said softly.

Haldir essayed a wry smile. "Thank you, Maen." He leaned his head on Melpomaen's shoulder, his hair falling down across Melpomaen's chest.

"Would you like me to comb your hair?" said Melpomaen, wanting to leave the painful subject for a time.

"That would be nice," said Haldir.

"I think the comb is in the other room. I'll get it." When Melpomaen returned, he sat tailor-fashion behind Haldir on the bed and began loosening the braids that confined his long locks. He drew the comb through carefully, teasing out the occasional tangle, until the heavy golden mass hung smooth and shining down Haldir's back. Melpomaen slipped his hands underneath it and brushed his fingertips over the back of Haldir's neck, parting the hair and leaning over to kiss the skin thus revealed.

Haldir made a humming sound of pleasure and Melpomaen tilted his own head to lick at Haldir's earlobe, his hands sliding down Haldir's chest, sensing both breath and heartbeat quickening.

"Would you really be willing to give this up?" Melpomaen whispered.

His only answer just then was a muffled groan. Haldir twisted around in his embrace so that their lips met, kissing Melpomaen with urgent hungry kisses until the younger Elf's breath was taken away.

Their lovemaking had grown a little – not stale, but predictable, perhaps, of late, in Melpomaen's view. The first heady months of learning new things about each other had passed, and they had fallen into patterns beyond which they rarely moved. Not since the winter festival, when Legolas had visited them, had Melpomaen felt the kind of yearning he experienced now, in part due to his reaction to their discussion. The thought of not being able to take pleasure with Haldir made him value it the more at this moment.

So he responded to Haldir with as much force and passion as his lover could possibly wish – licking, sucking, biting at his lips until they were swollen and tender as a sun-ripened berry.

Haldir fumbled at the thong that bound the end of Melpomaen's braid, tugging it free and running his fingers through to unravel the twists. Melpomaen caught his breath. He loved the feel of Haldir's fingers in his hair, along his neck and scalp and ears. Haldir's eyes were half-closed, his skin flushed. Melpomaen breathed into his ear, "Dír."

"Hmm?"

"Let's go into the bathing room."

"All right," said Haldir, getting up and stretching sensuously. He followed Melpomaen into the other room, admiring the sheen of his loose dark hair, falling in ripples across his slender back, and the movement of his hips and shoulders as he walked.

Melpomaen had caught up the comb, and now he handed it to Haldir with the slightest hint of pleading in his expression as he began to take off his clothes. Haldir nodded. He laid it aside for the moment as he also stripped, then stepped into the tub after Melpomaen and began running the comb through his dampened locks.

The warmth of the water soothed, easing the tensions that were as yet unresolved between them. The feeling of urgency faded. Melpomaen leaned back against Haldir.

"I cannot comb your hair very well like this," Haldir pointed out.

"That's all right," said Melpomaen in comfortable tones. "You can finish later, perhaps. I would just as soon that you simply hold me for a little while."

Haldir put his arms around Melpomaen, clasping him from ribs to waist. He drew his knees closer together until they touched the outsides of Melpomaen's thighs. "Like this?"

"Yes, that's good," said Melpomaen, resting his head on Haldir's shoulder. Haldir could feel the pulse of blood under Melpomaen's skin where it pressed against him. It was comforting to know that whatever they finally chose to do, they would be together.

After some moments of silence, Melpomaen spoke. "What do you want, Haldir?"

Haldir had nearly dozed off in the warmth, but now he startled awake. "What do I want?" He shifted his seat slightly. "Some things that I have and others that I do not and cannot have. I have you," he tightened his arms around his lover, "and that means a great deal to me, after waiting for you for so long."

"Then what is it that you want and cannot have?" persisted Melpomaen, wondering and dreading what the answer might be. He was not prepared for the one he heard.

"Two things most especially. I would like to be free of the fear that my people, even my own kindred, will reject me for what I am," Haldir's voice broke on the words, but he steadied it and continued, "and – you will doubtless think this strange – I would have liked to have children."

Melpomaen sat very still at that. He could not think of how to respond, for although he knew that he bore no blame for how their people would think of them, nor for the fact that he could never give a child to his beloved partner, he felt obscurely responsible nonetheless. There was nothing he could say to Haldir to make the other Elf feel better, and so he remained silent. After a moment he turned a little in Haldir's embrace, kissing his cheek and then pressing his own cheek to Haldir's shoulder.

Haldir held Melpomaen close, and Melpomaen knew his lover understood what he had not the words to say. After a time Haldir said, "What about you? What do you want?"

Shrugging, Melpomaen said, "That is nothing to which I've ever given much thought. Certainly I never thought of children as something without which I would be incomplete." He chuckled a little. "I suppose when I fancied myself in love with Caranfíniel, I assumed that after we wedded, we would choose to have children in due time, but since she rejected me. . ." He shrugged again. "I wish that we could be accepted openly by our own people as well, but more for your sake than for mine, because you so wish to be there. I would as willingly stay here. I cannot think of anything else that I greatly desire, except for you, meldanya, and I have you." He tilted his head to look up at Haldir and saw that his bond-mate was smiling, though tears stood in his eyes.

"I love you, Maen," said Haldir. "I cannot find the words to tell you how much."

"And I you," said Melpomaen. He pressed himself against Haldir. "Let me show you how much."

For an instant Haldir hesitated, but then he bent a little and kissed Melpomaen, his lips and tongue giving all the answer that Melpomaen needed.

They kissed for a long time, using their hands to caress each other's torso and neck and face, eyes shut, kissing blindly as if there were nothing in the world except their two selves. Melpomaen felt as if he would do anything at all for Haldir. He drew his mouth away and began to say so, but Haldir put a finger against Melpomaen's lips, stopping him from speaking, and shook his head.

"Don't say it, Maen. There will be time enough for speech."

He made as if to resume their kissing, but Melpomaen stood up, the water sheeting from his limbs, and stepping out of the tub, held out his hand to Haldir. As Haldir emerged Melpomaen took up a towel and dried him off, carefully patting each inch of skin. When Haldir was completely dry except for his damp hair, Melpomaen quickly rubbed the last drops of water from his own body and led Haldir back to their bed.

He would have taken up the oil that stood on the table by the bed, but Haldir stopped him and pushed him down to sit on the bed, kneeling before him. Haldir took Melpomaen's half-hard organ into his mouth, and encircled the head of it with his tongue, pushing the loose skin down, using his fingers to press firmly against the base and caress the heavy pouched flesh beneath. Melpomaen groaned and leaned back, bracing himself with his hands so that his hips thrust forward. Haldir responded by taking him in more deeply, moving up and down. He allowed his teeth to just graze the skin. That was almost unbearably arousing to Melpomaen, and he had to fight hard to keep from spilling into Haldir's mouth right then.

Haldir continued his delicious sucking, though, and soon Melpomaen could not help himself. He shuddered as he emptied his seed into Haldir's mouth. Haldir lapped him clean and then raised his head. Melpomaen opened his eyes, leaned down, and kissed him, tasting himself on Haldir's lips. He put his hands on Haldir's shoulders and urged him up onto the bed, reaching again for the flask of oil and giving it to Haldir.

To Melpomaen's surprise Haldir had him hold out his hand and poured a little oil into the cupped palm, then guided it down to Haldir's groin. Melpomaen asked, "You don't want. . .?"

Haldir shook his head, saying, "I want to look at you, meldanya, Maen my own beloved." As Melpomaen began to touch him, Haldir's breath grew ragged. The slick oil seemed to both increase his desire and – in some odd fashion – let him hold back.

Melpomaen teased the crown first, slipping back the skin and brushing lightly with his thumb, then wrapped his fingers around the hard shaft and began a firm steady stroke. He kissed Haldir, then wriggled his body a little away, and whispered, "If you want to look, then watch."

Melpomaen's hand hid most of Haldir's cock, his slender fingers circling its length so that only the head was exposed, like a tight red bud of new leaves on a tree in springtime. His forearm was brown against the pale skin of Haldir's stomach. It was beautiful.

Now Melpomaen looked up at Haldir's face. Haldir's lips were parted, still swollen from the hard kisses they had exchanged earlier; his lids were half-lowered, lashes fringing them as he watched Melpomaen's motions; his cheeks were flushed. Melpomaen could feel pulsing blood beneath the soft skin he touched. He was lying half-propped on his left elbow, and was just able to reach Haldir's chest with that hand and rub a fingertip over his nipple, feeling the nub of it stiffen. Haldir inhaled sharply, and in response Melpomaen pinched the tender flesh – not enough to cause pain, just enough to heighten the sensation for Haldir. Melpomaen slid closer and flicked his tongue along Haldir's cheek. When Haldir raised his gaze, Melpomaen said, "meldanya – please – I want you inside of me."

Haldir nodded and picked up the flask of oil as Melpomaen turned over and knelt on his hands and knees. Dabbling his fingers in the oil, Haldir parted the cleft of Melpomaen's buttocks and slipped easily within.

"Now. Now, Dír," Melpomaen demanded. "Don't wait."

Grasping Melpomaen's hips, Haldir rose up onto his knees pushed inside. He slid one hand around to find that his lover was again hard, and he moved his hand in time with his thrusts.

Melpomaen's mind was wiped clean of all thought at the familiar beloved touch. He closed his eyes to concentrate on what Haldir was doing to him with fingers and hot flesh, pressing and caressing nerves and skin. Melpomaen rocked to Haldir's rhythm, Haldir's cock filling him, each movement bringing pleasure.

The tightness of Melpomaen's hot passage as he pushed in and out was overwhelming. Haldir let go and again seized Melpomaen's hips, thrusting with frantic need until he climaxed and bent forward, resting his forehead on Melpomaen's back as his breathing slowed. A tiny noise from his lover recalled him, and he withdrew, rolling onto the mattress so that he faced Melpomaen, reaching to touch him again.

Melpomaen felt as if his bones might melt. He spent a second time with a groan of release, sticky fluid spurting through Haldir's fingers, and with a sigh nestled close.

"I'm sorry."

"Sorry for what?" said Haldir.

"You wanted to look at me, then, but I wanted you so much. . ." Melpomaen's voice trailed off.

Haldir smiled. "It's all right. There will be other times. If I minded, I could have said no."

"That's so." Melpomaen sighed happily, then again, not so happily. "It doesn't really solve anything, though, does it?"

"No," said Haldir. "I'm not reluctant to return to dwell in Mirkwood because I don't love loving you; but you know that." He put an arm around Melpomaen's waist. "We will find an answer, something that we can both live with. Somehow."

Chapter Text

As the last note died on the air, Melpomaen lowered the pipes from his lips and looked over at Dúlin. She had put down the lute to which she was fitting a new tuning peg and was listening intently.

"That was very good," she said. "You have a real gift for music, you know."

"I have?" Melpomaen flushed. "Thank you for saying so, but I fear you are too kind. My talent is nothing compared to yours."

She shook her head. "Don't be so modest. What do you call that piece?"

"I haven't decided on a name," Melpomaen stretched the truth. To himself he thought of it as "Haldir's Song," because he had been thinking of his lover when he composed it, but he was not sure that he wished anyone else to know it by that name, not even Dúlin who would doubtless reck little of the matter.

"Have you written it down yet?" Dúlin asked.

"Only the first sections," confessed Melpomaen. "I'm not very good at writing your musical notations yet."

"Well, the next time you're here I can help you with that. I would like a copy of the piece anyway. Perhaps together we can work out an accompaniment sometime, maybe with tabor and gittern." Her fingers twitched as if playing.

"All right," said Melpomaen. "I had better be going not; it is growing late. I will see you in three days' time, as usual."

"Good," said Dúlin, already bending back over the neck of the lute. "I will see you then."

Melpomaen closed the door to her room behind him and leaned against it for a moment. He enjoyed the evenings he spent with Dúlin. It was pleasant to pass the time with someone whose friendship was simple and uncomplicated, based on their mutual love of music. Though the Elves with whom he guarded Thranduil's caverns had always been friendly, he never felt there was the same level of connection as he had with Dúlin, or for that matter with her cousin Legolas.

Thinking of the captain, he bit the inside of his cheek. Legolas had inquired once more that day whether he and Haldir had yet decided if they would return to Mirkwood that summer, after completing their present mission, and he had had no answer to give. The two of them would have to talk again about it. Time was running out.

He wondered, walking down the corridor, if he should speak with Dúlin about the matter, to hear a relatively disinterested opinion. He believed she liked his company, but her interest in music was overriding, and if he left Mirkwood forever she would simply shrug and accept the inevitable. No – he did not think she would have much to say, one way or the other. He was simply looking for excuses to delay his decision.

He had been later than usual with Dúlin that evening, and Haldir was already in their room when he arrived, propped up in bed and reading in the yellow lamplight. He put the book aside when Melpomaen entered.

"And how was your evening?" Haldir asked.

"Good," said Melpomaen, stretching and bending down to unfasten his shoes.

"Surely you must have played every song you know for Dúlin by now?" inquired Haldir.

"Most of them, anyway," Melpomaen responded. "I was working on a composition tonight, too; that's what took so long. It's almost finished."

"Oh? When can I hope to hear it?"

"Soon, I think," said Melpomaen.

"I look forward to that," said Haldir, and smiled. "I suspect my evening was not as interesting as yours."

"Why, what did you do?"

"Played a few games of stones against Meneldil. He wasn't a very challenging opponent."

"I'm sorry," said Melpomaen. "Was Legolas not there to play chess with?"

Haldir shook his head. "No, he had a summons from King Thranduil. Something to do with a trade agreement with the Dwarves, I think, but at any rate he wasn't there."

"Well, I will join you tomorrow," said Melpomaen, taking of the last of his clothes and folding them neatly into the clothes-press. He slipped a loose linen sleeping-shirt over his head and impatiently shook his hair out from where the neck of the garment trapped it. He went into the other room to wash his hands and face and comb out the tangles.

When he returned, he sat on the edge of the bed next to Haldir and spread one hand out over the leaves of the book, which Haldir had picked up again and was reading. Haldir looked over at him. "What is it?"

Melpomaen sensed a certain irritation in his lover at the interruption, and therefore quickly shifted what he had been going to say, to try to tease him into a jollier mood. Putting on his most charming grin, he drawled, "Read me a stooory." He fluttered his lashes outrageously. "Please?"

Haldir laughed, just as Melpomaen had hoped he would. It turned out that he was reading a narrative of the events of the war against Sauron and the Last Alliance, told, of course, from the perspective of the Elves of Mirkwood, which was rather different from that of Lórien with which Haldir and Melpomaen were more familiar. Haldir read a few pages aloud as Melpomaen listened.

When Haldir came to a lengthy description of the southern part of the forest, though, Melpomaen stopped him, saying, "We've been there, and I can't imagine the trees then and now were so profoundly different."

"Perhaps not," agreed Haldir. He closed the book, but left his finger in between the pages to mark his place. Melpomaen grimaced a little to himself at that. He squirmed closer to Haldir on the bed and insinuated his right arm behind Haldir's back, laying his cheek against Haldir's chest. With his free left hand he toyed, apparently idly, with the hem of Haldir's tunic, letting his fingers brush against Haldir's belly.

Haldir was quite sure he knew what was on Melpomaen's mind and was more than happy to acquiesce to the tacit request. He missed seeing his lover on those nights that Melpomaen spent with Dúlin, though he would never have stopped him. Even when, as often, they were in different groups in the common room, being able to look across it and see Melpomaen was better than his absence.

He shifted his posture so that Melpomaen's fingers could reach the swelling shaft of his cock through the fabric. Setting the book aside once again, Haldir stroked Melpomaen's head, lingering on the curves of his ears and the hollow of his throat, and then reaching further down to his chest. The cloth of Melpomaen's night-shirt felt smooth under Haldir's fingertips, but he knew that each fiber would produce its own sensation as it rubbed against Melpomaen's sensitive nipples. He could see Melpomaen shift his hips as his desire was roused, but he could not reach that far.

By now Melpomaen had drawn up Haldir's tunic and worked his fingers under the cloth of Haldir's leggings, into the hot damp space between his legs. He slid his hand down Haldir's rigid shaft until he could fondle the musky pouch below. He inhaled the familiar scent of Haldir's body, a whiff of sweat compounded with the herbal fragrance of soap and something that was distinctively Haldir's own smell, all overlaid with the more pungent aroma of desire. Melpomaen pulled his arm out from underneath Haldir's back and twisted around so that his head was at Haldir's waist, and his own hips hovered tantalizingly near Haldir's head.

Haldir's hands flew to push up the loose fabric of Melpomaen's garment, exposing his groin and breathing warmly on the bare skin.

Melpomaen did likewise, so that Haldir's leggings bunched around his thighs. Still half-clothed, they began to use their lips and tongues on each other, lavishing caresses on every inch of skin.

This had never been Haldir's favorite position. He found it difficult to concentrate at the same time on bringing Melpomaen pleasure and enjoying what his partner was doing to him, but it was not something they often did. He held Melpomaen's hips and moved himself a little to a more comfortable angle, so that he could take Melpomaen deeper into his throat.

He felt Melpomaen's mouth on him with heat and suction and Melpomaen's hand stroking his buttocks. Warm fingers slid between them to touch his pouch and shaft from behind. Haldir traced the crease between Melpomaen's thigh and stomach, moving back towards Melpomaen's groin so that he could moisten his fingers in his own mouth without relinquishing Melpomaen's shaft. Then he reached around and pressed his fingertip just inside the wrinkled opening. He felt the vibration of Melpomaen's muffled exclamation on his own cock and continued to tease until he was able to slip the finger in further. Without oil to smooth the way, he was careful not to move too vigorously, but nudged along the tight tunnel until he could feel the bump pressing against it from the other side, the place that he knew would bring the greatest pleasure to his lover. Caressing it, he felt Melpomaen become even fuller and more rigid in his mouth and increased the speed of his tongue, curling it around Melpomaen's shaft.

Melpomaen had stopped the movement of his own tongue and lips for the moment in order to concentrate on the feelings that Haldir's caresses evoked. As the sensations grew more intense, he let Haldir loose entirely and clenched his teeth, rocking his hips.

His lover's thrusts deep into his throat brought Haldir close to choking, but he relaxed the muscles there as best he could and was able to take it without having to pull away to breathe. Suddenly his throat was flooded as Melpomaen spent, and he had to draw back in order to swallow.

Melpomaen heaved a great sigh and rooted his face between Haldir's thighs once again, licking tenderly along the shaft and rubbing circles with his tongue around the swollen head. He circled the base with his thumb and forefinger and slid slowly up the length until his fingers met his lips, then drew quickly back down, repeating this until Haldir was gasping his name.

"Ah. . . Maen. . ."

He fastened his mouth yet more tightly around Haldir and stroked even more firmly. He felt Haldir's fingernails digging into his thighs as his lover sought something to anchor him in the throes of passion. A twitch of the flesh under his lips was all the warning he had before Haldir's seed spurted over his tongue. Melpomaen continued to lick and caress Haldir until he began to soften. Then he moved away and turned around so that their faces were close together.

They kissed, a long soft undemanding kiss, and lay back, replete. Melpomaen's hand sought Haldir's and squeezed it.

"I wanted," began Haldir, just as Melpomaen said, "We should. . ." They both stopped, and laughed. Haldir said, "You go first."


"I just did, didn't I," said Melpomaen, and grinned.

Haldir snorted. "No, go on. What were you going to say?"


"I was going to say that we should talk again about what we're going to do. Legolas inquired today about it, and I could tell him nothing. It is only right that he should know soon; spring is nearly upon us."

"A few weeks away," said Haldir, "but you're right. Actually that was what I was going to say, too; but you seemed to have had such a good evening altogether that I didn't want to end it on a sour note, with an argument."

Melpomaen took a deep breath, and said, "If it is so very important to you to stay in Lórien, then I will do so. I won't even ask that we should leave Lórindol's company, though if you prefer that, we can. All that I ask is that if ever another opportunity comes for us to make another journey like this one, that we take it."

Haldir's eyes widened with astonishment. "Do you mean that?"

Melpomaen nodded.

"It is a great gift that you offer me, meldanya," said Haldir. "I do not know what I have done to deserve it."

Many things raced through Melpomaen's mind as he looked for a way to answer. Haldir had been the one who showed him what it was to love truly. Melpomaen also knew that despite his outward confidence and undoubted skills, there was something fragile in Haldir, a yearning that might never be fulfilled. Whatever it was that Haldir sought, though, Melpomaen had realized that it could only be found in Lórien, among their own people. But he said nothing of this to Haldir, fearing that his bond-mate might think he had made the decision out of guilt or pity, when such was not the case at all. In the end, Melpomaen chose to offer to leave Mirkwood and not return because he loved Haldir, and judged that Haldir would be more unhappy staying in Thranduil's service than he himself would be in returning to Lórindol's company.

So he smiled at Haldir, and said, "It is not a question of deserving it, meldanya. Do you not think that your arguments could have persuaded me?"

Haldir kissed Melpomaen, saying, "Whatever you say, Maen. And I do thank you. I know how much you would like to return here. You are more generous than I."

Melpomaen shrugged. "If I had not managed to get myself injured at a most inconvenient time, we would never have come here at all. I am thankful to have had this winter, it would be greedy to ask for more." He thought for a moment. "But, if you are willing, there is one other condition, or rather, request, I would make."

"Name it," said Haldir.

"I would like. . ." Melpomaen hesitated. "I would like to invite Legolas to be with us once more, before we depart. If he does not wish to, then there's an end to it – but I would like to make the offer."

"If you wish," Haldir said, "I have no objections." His arms crept around Melpomaen's torso and hugged him close, feeling him warm through the wrinkled linen. "Have I told you lately how much I love you?"

Melpomaen chuckled. "Yes, but you can always tell me again, Dír." He rested his head against Haldir's chest and heard the beating of his lover's heart.

Chapter Text

"You should be the one to tell him."

Haldir looked at Melpomaen. "Why me?"

"Because you are the one who wishes to leave," said Melpomaen. "I will leave, but I do not wish to, not as you do."

"We will go together then, and I will speak," said Haldir.

That day he asked Gelion, who was the under-captain in charge of the day shift now, for permission for himself and Melpomaen to speak with Captain Legolas, which was readily granted. They were to see him in late afternoon.

A cheerful voice said, "Come in," when they knocked at the half-closed door to the captain's room. Legolas was seated at his desk, pen in hand, scribbling into a ledger. "Just a moment," he said, not looking up. "Let me just. . ." He finished his calculation and laid the pen down, lifting his gaze. "Haldir, Melpomaen. You wanted to see me?"

"Yes," said Haldir, taking a half-step forward. "Sir. Legolas." He took a breath and continued, "I'm afraid that we must respectfully and regretfully decline the offer of the king your father. We will not be returning to his halls."

"I see." Legolas's voice was distant. He leaned back in his chair and folded his hands together. "I'm sorry to hear it, and I know the king will be also. Is that all?"

Now Haldir looked at Melpomaen for support. Melpomaen said, "I hope you are not too disappointed, or displeased? It is not a decision we came to lightly."

"No," said Legolas, "I do not think that. But I confess that I regret it."

"We will not be leaving immediately, of course," said Haldir. "The season is not yet advanced enough to begin our journey. Do you here celebrate the coming of spring? I have heard nothing of it, and the day is but a week away."

Legolas shook his head. "Nothing like midwinter, no. The turn from winter to spring here is often marked by snowfall rather than thaw, and so it is not thought much worth celebrating."

"Where we have lived before spring arrives earlier. We are accustomed to marking the turn of the season, therefore. If you would like, we would be pleased to have you celebrate privately with us," said Melpomaen.

Legolas flushed. He well remembered what had happened at midwinter. It was nothing of which he was ashamed, but was it something to repeat? For he was sure that was what Melpomaen alluded to in asking him to celebrate with them. Then again, if Melpomaen and Haldir were to leave and not return, he was very likely never to have an opportunity again to be as close as one could imagine to friends.

Haldir watched the varied emotions play across Legolas's face, and made a small gesture with his hand to hush Melpomaen when his lover would have spoken. This was a decision that needed to be made without anyone's help.

At last Legolas said, "Yes. I will celebrate the coming of spring with you."

Over the next week, in their spare moments, Haldir and Melpomaen prepared for their guest. Spring might be upon them by the calendar, but here in the northern forest, there were as yet no budding leaves or first flowers to bring the spring indoors. Instead they ensured that their room was as fresh and clean as they could make it. Melpomaen wheedled some lengths of cloth in bright green and soft yellow from the quartermaster, and hung them on the walls, producing a springlike effect, even though there was still snow on the ground outside.

In Mirkwood, since the coming of spring was not celebrated as midwinter was, there were no arrangements for the guards to take shorter shifts than usual that day in order to have time for festival, and so they watched as usual at the gate that guarded the entrance to the caverns. Neither of them spoke to their companions of their plans for that evening, naturally. They merely slipped out from the mess immediately after the evening meal and went back to wait for Legolas to be able to join them.

When he arrived, he admired the way that they seemed almost to have brought the outdoors to their room through their clever arrangements, but seemed strangely ill at ease. After speaking of inconsequentialities for a few moments, Melpomaen asked Legolas what disturbed him so.

"Well," said Legolas, "I see what trouble you have been to, and I do not want you to think that I do not appreciate it, but I had wanted to ask if perhaps you would come to my rooms tonight instead."

Melpomaen turned and raised an eyebrow at Haldir, who was standing a little behind him. Haldir lifted his shoulders and smiled. "If you would prefer that, then certainly. It is not as if we would be able to celebrate in the way to which we are accustomed in any case."

Legolas rose from the chair in which he had been sitting, his face shining with pleasure. "Thank you. Just give me a few minutes and then follow me to my rooms." He hurried out.

Melpomaen shrugged and said doubtfully, "I wonder what he has in mind? Surely he did not misunderstand our invitation?"

"I don't think so." Haldir shook his head. "But perhaps this is his way of declining it, or controlling the situation, setting his own limits? I suppose we will find out soon enough."

Before they left the room, Haldir gave Melpomaen a quick embrace and whispered in his ear, "I love you."

Melpomaen kissed him in reply. Then they set off down the corridor.

Haldir tapped at Legolas's door. They heard a few muffled thumps and then Legolas's voice, also curiously choked – was he holding back laughter? – said, "Come in."

When they entered, Legolas was not the only one present. Dúlin was there, and Gelion, Erentar, and Lasmir; Meneldil, Belegorn, Guilin, and several other Elves with whom they had become acquainted over the past few months. Even King Thranduil himself had come.

"I know you aren't actually leaving for some weeks yet," Legolas half-apologized, "but since you are used to marking the coming of spring with some kind of festival, I thought that an early farewell party might serve the purpose."

Dúlin said, "And I hoped that I could persuade you, Melpomaen, to play your new piece for everyone here. I brought my pipes for you."

Melpomaen blushed. He had never had as high an opinion of his abilities as a composer as Dúlin did, but he mumbled an embarrassed affirmative and took the instrument that she was holding out to him. He needed no music – he had it by heart. When he raised the pipes to his lips, the chatter in the room stilled.

Catching Haldir's eye, he began to play. The music rose in a rippling melody that evoked wind and water, like a breeze blowing along the pebbled banks of a stream, perhaps, and then continued on, telling of mists filling hollows and eddying over fields, and among them someone striding, tall and proud and yet part of the world he moved through. When the song ended, there was silence, until gravely King Thranduil put his hands together and clapped applause.

He thanked Melpomaen and said, "I am sorry I can stay no longer, and sorrier still that my son was unable to persuade you to remain here. To lose two warriors of skill, and one such a talented musician as well, will be a loss, but I respect your wishes." He inclined his head, bidding them all a good night, and departed.

The rest stayed for some time longer. Legolas had thoughtfully provided several flagons of wine and bowls of spiced nuts and dried fruits. No one asked why Haldir and Melpomaen were refusing Thranduil's invitation, a lack which Haldir noted, though Melpomaen did not. Instead the conversation drifted from music to other arts, then split into several groups. Those with whom Haldir spoke recalled memories of past springs and talked over all the usual topics of those who have a place and a position in common, but perhaps little else.

None of the guests seemed inclined to make a night of it. Dúlin was the first to excuse herself, and the other Elves soon followed suit. When the last of them had gone, Melpomaen caught Haldir's eye and nodded toward the door. Legolas stopped them, saying, "Please. Stay."

"Are you sure?" asked Haldir gently.

"Yes," said Legolas. His hands went to his hair and began to loosen the braids that held it back from his temples. As he did so, he walked toward the door and slipped the latch into place. Turning, he faced them.

"You have shown me possibilities. I think that I should return the favor, at least in part, as much as I can."

Slowly, deliberately, he began to remove his garments. One by one they fell into a pile on the floor at his feet, and Legolas emerged from them like the land emerging from the snow and ice that clothed it in winter.

Only half-conscious of what they did, Haldir and Melpomaen had seated themselves on a bench, grasping each other's hands as they watched Legolas disrobe. He moved toward them, and taking their free hands, tugged them to stand up, leading them into the other room where his bed waited.

A pair of candles in sconces on the wall lit the room with a soft glow that flickered along the lines of muscle on Legolas's arms and legs and torso. He bade the other two to stand while he undressed them, each in turn, folding tunics and leggings and undergarments with care and placing them to one side. When they were all three bare, Legolas put his arms around the others' waists and drew them into a shared embrace, kissing first Haldir's cheek and then Melpomaen's.

To Melpomaen's surprise, Legolas was not yet noticeably aroused. His own member had been half-hard all evening, in anticipation of what he hoped would happen, and he could see that Haldir was also feeling desire. It puzzled him that Legolas was not responding, and he reached out to cup his hand around the other Elf's face.

Legolas flinched back a little at the touch, but his voice was steady as he said, "Melpomaen, why don't you lie on the bed? Make yourself at ease, and watch."

Melpomaen followed the suggestion and rested comfortably on several pillows, turned a little to one side to see what would happen. Legolas had Haldir stretch out at full length, face down, his head turned toward Melpomaen. He took up a bowl of pale-green ointment and began to massage it into Haldir's skin, beginning at the shoulders and working his way down along the spine with a brief excursion to tend to the arms. He rubbed it into Haldir's buttocks, then his thighs, down to his calves and finally his feet. At the first touch of the salve Haldir's eyes had widened, his mouth forming into an "O" of surprise.

"What is it?" mouthed Melpomaen, but Haldir only shook his head slightly and let his eyes fall closed, clearly enjoying the sensation. One hand was tucked under his hip and Melpomaen felt sure that he was holding himself.

The ointment had a strong aroma of herbs, with a slightly bitter underscent that Melpomaen could not place. As Legolas continued to knead it into Haldir's legs, working his way back up to Haldir's torso, he looked over at Melpomaen, winked, and reached out with a dab of salve on his fingertips to touch it to Melpomaen's chest, then brushed it over his own groin before continuing.

Melpomaen gasped. At first the ointment felt cold on his skin, but then it quickly changed to a heat that penetrated, soothing and stimulating at once. He hoped that he would be given the same treatment as Haldir was receiving.

When Legolas decided that Haldir's back muscles were sufficiently limp, he shifted positions to the center of the bed and asked Haldir to turn over, which he did, eyes still closed. Legolas now repeated rubbing in the salve, again moving from neck to feet and then back. He carefully avoided touching Haldir's member, but he did not interfere when Haldir grasped himself and began a gentle, almost idle stroke.

At last it was Melpomaen's turn. He was more than ready, quivering with anticipation and suppressed desire. He had watched not only Haldir touching himself but had also seen Legolas's organ gradually become erect, and knowing that they were feeling pleasure increased his own. The salve felt just as good on his back as he had expected. It did not burn, but tingled pleasantly, leaving a sensation of warmth behind even after Legolas moved onward. Legolas's touch itself was not especially arousing to Melpomaen, somewhat to his surprise. What he found more stimulating was the thought that Haldir was there, listening, seeing him under Legolas's ministrations.

Legolas duplicated the same actions he had taken with Haldir, first rubbing the ointment into every inch of Melpomaen's back and buttocks and legs, then encouraging him to turn over to repeat the process on the front of his body. Melpomaen watched Legolas's face now, as he stroked firm muscle and skin. The face of the king's son was intent with concentration, almost preoccupied, and yet calm. Melpomaen realized then that the isolation, the loneliness that Legolas experienced might be inevitable, but he put the thought aside. Tonight was not a night for such grim speculations.

After finishing with Melpomaen, Legolas moved so that he was kneeling between them on the bed. He sat back on his heels and waited. Haldir was the first to speak.

"I enjoyed that very much indeed, Legolas. What would you have us do for you in return?"

Still Legolas was quiet, but he frowned a little, a crease appearing between his eyebrows.

Melpomaen said, "Or is it that there was something else you wished to do?"

Legolas nodded. He looked from Melpomaen to Haldir, his eyes pleading, then slid his left hand along Haldir's thigh, stopping just short of the hipbone. His fingers twitched almost imperceptibly. Melpomaen realized a heartbeat sooner than Haldir just what Legolas meant to do, if he were permitted. Although he did not know whether it would work or not, Melpomaen was willing to let Legolas make the attempt. If the Mirkwood Elf felt obligated to them for whatever help they had been able to give him, it was meet that they should allow him to pay off the debt in such a way, if he chose to try.

While Haldir still paused, uncertain, Melpomaen reached down to take Legolas's other hand and guide it to his own aching member. When Haldir saw this, he shifted his hips closer to Legolas, so that Legolas's hand nudged against his cock, and the other began to touch him.

It felt nothing like either being caressed by his lover or touching himself, Haldir decided. Being stroked by Legolas did not reduce his desire, but neither did it bring him nearer to its peak. It was an odd sensation, and after a few moments he laid his fingers on Legolas's wrist, pausing his motions.

Legolas met Haldir's eyes. "Do you not like it?" he said, troubled.

Haldir shook his head, saying, "I neither like nor dislike. It feels. . ." he sought to find the right word, but the best he could say was, "It feels. . . bloodless."

Now Legolas looked at Melpomaen, who nodded reluctantly. "I fear the same is true for me. It is not your fault, certainly; I think it must have to do with our bond."

"Probably," said Legolas in dejected tones. "I wondered if that might be the case, but I wanted to try." He bent his head forward, his hair falling to hide his expression.

Melpomaen thought about it. "I wonder," he said slowly, "if all three of us touched one another at the same time, how that would be?"

"We can only try," Haldir said. "I'm willing to try."

Legolas looked up again, hope on his face.

"How best can we do this? If we all sit up?" said Melpomaen in doubtful tones.

They tried it, sitting in a tight triangle, legs tucked under and to one side, their hips meeting at the center, and found they were able to grasp one another with enough ease to make the attempt.

Legolas took a breath and once again reached out to find his fingers meeting Haldir's at Melpomaen's groin, and the reverse on the other side.

Having Haldir's touch joined with Legolas's was much more to Melpomaen's liking, and he could tell from Haldir's reaction that his partner felt the same way. He looked at Legolas, feeling the unfamiliar skin against his fingers, and deliberately drew his thumb in a circle around the head of Legolas's shaft.

Melpomaen had wondered if, since neither of them felt an increase in desire as the result of Legolas's touch, whether the same would be true for him. But it seemed that was not so. Under their combined caresses Legolas began to pant, his hips bucking as, for the first time, he felt a loving touch that was not his own. It was not long before Legolas heard himself making high-pitched sounds in the back of his throat and then with a wrenching groan released into their joined hands.

He took a moment to recover; in the meantime Haldir and Melpomaen continued to pet and fondle each other. When Legolas had recovered himself enough to join in again, he relinquished his grasp on each of them for a moment, and reaching for the bowl of salve which had been pushed aside, he spread a little on his hands. That induced new sensations – the touch of Legolas's hands alone might be a matter of some indifference, but the stimulation of the salve overcame it.

Haldir was not certain if, alone, that would have been enough, but with Melpomaen caressing his sac and the base of his member, he found himself suddenly ready to spill, and did, his cock convulsing in their embrace. Still throbbing, he shifted a bit to reach Melpomaen more easily.

Melpomaen now brought his own hands to join those of Haldir and Legolas at his groin, the slippery wetness of their seed mingling on his shaft. He took their two hands and moved them to his chest, where they could pinch his nipples to hard points, and he stroked himself faster and harder as they watched. Haldir leaned over and kissed him on the mouth, trailing his tongue along Melpomaen's cheekbone until he could whisper in his ear, "I love you, meldanya."

Melpomaen turned his head slightly to nip at Haldir's earlobe and whispered back, "And I you."

Legolas, meanwhile, ran his free hand along Haldir's side, resting it on his thigh, but continuing to play with the tender flesh of Melpomaen's chest at the same time. Melpomaen began rocking his hips backward and forward into his hands. He had a sudden longing to be inside of Haldir's heated passage. It seemed perhaps unfair to ask for that, however, since it would exclude Legolas, so Melpomaen contented himself by simply remembering the feel of Haldir under him, pliant and open. With a final few thrusts he reached his climax.

They broke a little apart, exchanging tired but contented smiles. Haldir raised Legolas's hand from his thigh and kissed the palm of it, saying, "Whatever you may have felt that you owed us is well repaid, my friend."

Chapter Text

Melpomaen woke with a start, worried that he had overslept – but surely Haldir would not let him be late for their shift? – then relaxed, remembering. Today was their last day in Thranduil's household, and they had been released from duty. All they had to do was prepare to leave.

"Yes, all," he muttered aloud. Next to him Haldir turned over, dragging the covers with him. Melpomaen considered tugging them back, but decided instead to get up. They might not have to report in to the guard, but there was more than enough to do today. Besides packing their gear and arranging for the disposal of anything they could not take, they had been asked to attend King Thranduil this morning.

Yawning, Melpomaen lit the lamp and went into the bathing room. That was a convenience he would indeed miss, not only on the journey home but also after their return. There were no hot springs nor baths out on the borders of Lórien.

By the time he emerged, face washed and hair braided for the day, Haldir had arisen and was pulling on his clothes.

"Good morning, Maen," he said in cheerful tones.

"Mm." Melpomaen went over and kissed Haldir's cheek, then rummaged for his own garments.

"Choose something good," advised Haldir. "After we eat we're supposed to go take formal leave of the king. But of course you remember that." He disappeared for a moment into the other room and came out with the comb, pulling it through his hair and grimacing when he struck a tangle.

"Let me." Melpomaen enjoyed combing Haldir's hair, which felt almost alive under his fingers. He sat cross-legged behind Haldir, who perched on the edge of the bed, and drew the comb through the golden strands. When it all lay smooth and shining, he took a lock from each temple and twisted two braids, one behind either ear, to keep Haldir's hair from falling into his face.

"Thank you," said Haldir when Melpomaen had finished. "I'd offer to return the favor, but I see you've done it for yourself." He smiled the loving smile that always made Melpomaen's heart turn over. "So shall we go and break our fast?"

They were later in the mess than usual, and the few Elves left were all finishing their meals quickly, lest they be late for their assigned duties. Erentar stopped before rushing out to say that he would see them that evening. Belegorn waved from the next table, but had no time then to speak.

Rather than in his chambers, King Thranduil spoke to them in the Great Hall, thanking them for services well-rendered over the winter past. His seat was twined with the first flowers of spring, reminding them that the season arrived later here; it would already be nearing summer to the south.

"As a token of that service, and of our esteem, we wish to present you with these rings," the king said, and Guilin stepped forward to give a ring to Haldir, and then one to Melpomaen.

Slipping the gold band onto the first finger of his right hand, Haldir noticed that the crest bore an image of a stag with three stars caught in its antlers.

"At any time that you may return to Mirkwood," said Thranduil, "if you show these rings you will be welcomed as one of our own, and given whatever assistance you may require. Though I hope you will need none," he added, a hint of humor on his lean face.

"Indeed," Haldir murmured.

Melpomaen said, "If I may inquire, lord king, we have not heard – did the searchers ever discover any trace of the creature that was stealing the babes of the woodmen last autumn?"

Thranduil shook his head. "No, I regret not. Thus far it has eluded every attempt at capture. You plan to take our northern path rather than the Old Road through the southern part of the forest, I think? Either way it would be wise to be wary – this creature has never been known to attack openly, preferring to rob nests and cradles in stealth, but with only the two of you there is doubtless some risk. But you are prudent and skilled enough to need no such advice from me. I bid you both farewell and a good journey. Know that should you ever return, you would be most welcome."

Haldir bowed, with Melpomaen a heartbeat behind him. "Thank you, King Thranduil. You have been a most gracious host."

They withdrew to the back of the hall as Thranduil turned to the next person awaiting his attention.

"We should stop in the kitchens and take leave of Vida," remarked Melpomaen in an undertone.

"Of course," Haldir agreed, his voice equally quiet. "We must go there in any case for some of our supplies. I think we should ask for as much bread as we can eat while it is still fresh. Dried meat and fruits we can take from the guards' stores."

The kitchens were well down the corridors away from the Great Hall, full of the aromas of roasting meat and stewing vegetables, with hints of the wheaten loaves that had been pulled from the wall-ovens hours before and now filled several great racks. Though the guard companies had their own separate kitchen, all bread was baked here.

Melpomaen was the first to see Vida, who was stirring a great kettle and almost hidden by the clouds of fragrant steam rising from its surface. Her face broke into a smile at the sight of them.

"A pleasure to see you, Haldir and Melpomaen," she exclaimed. Noticing their sober expressions, she continued, "Oh. Oh. You are leaving, aren't you?"

"We must, Vida. We have responsibilities elsewhere that call us away," said Haldir.

"But we wished to say to you goodbye," said Melpomaen. His command of Westron had improved over the past few months in speaking to Dwarves and Men at the cavern gates. Though he knew it was still imperfect, he was comfortable using that tongue now.

"Thank you," said Vida, and put her arms around each of them in turn. "I am glad to have a chance to bid you farewell; I am so grateful to you both. If you had not happened by that day. . ." Her voice trailed off and she shook her head. "Well, it isn't worth thinking about. And if you stay here now I will think about it, so best that you go." She hugged them once more, then turned resolutely back to her kettle, dabbing at her eyes with the edge of her apron.

"Goodbye, Vida." They spoke in unison. Melpomaen reached out as if to touch her shoulder, but Haldir held him back and jerked his chin towards the racks of bread.

With permission from the head cook, they took four loaves. Melpomaen wanted six, but Haldir reminded him that they could only carry so much. Once through Mirkwood, there would be a few villages along its western border where they might buy further supplies if they wished.

They collected the dried meats, fruits, and a few other odds and ends from the storerooms, and walked back to their own room with full arms.

"We'll never manage all this," Melpomaen said, setting his load down on the table and looking around the room in dismay. "How in Arda did we manage to accumulate so many things in just a few months?"

"The uniforms will all stay," Haldir said, putting them to one side. "We do both have rather more changes of clothing now than we arrived with, however. Most of them not very practical for travel – those we'd better leave. Someone will want them."

"I shall take at least one new tunic, though," said Melpomaen with determination. "Or perhaps two, the plainer ones. What I wore last summer can stay, it's only fit for rags."

They sorted through the chestful of garments, reducing the number to take down to a manageable amount – a spare pair of leggings and three tunics each, along with some undergarments and stockings. Melpomaen fingered the engraved leaves of the silver hair-clasp that Haldir had given him in Dale and carefully tucked it down at the bottom of his pack. He would not wear it on the journey, for fear it might be lost.

A handful of books waited in a stack on the table to be returned to the shelves in the common room; uniforms and other clothing were folded to go back into storage; and they were nearly finished, in far less time than either had expected. Haldir volunteered to carry all the things back where they belonged, while Melpomaen made a final check to ensure they had not missed anything.

He was in the bathing room, trying to recall what they had brought and what had already been there and should remain, when a tap sounded at the door.

"Come in," Melpomaen called, and emerged from the bathing room holding the wider-toothed comb, having decided that was their own and that the other had been supplied with their quarters.

Dúlin entered, carrying her pipes. "I want you to have these, Melpomaen," she said, holding them out to him.

Melpomaen raised his hands, palms out, fending them off. "I couldn't possibly," he protested. "They are yours. I couldn't take your pipes away with me."

She gave a sniff. "As if I cannot make another set whenever I wish. You play them better than I; you should have them, as a remembrance of this winter at least."

"No," Melpomaen demurred. "That isn't necessary. Truly. I appreciate the sentiment, but I cannot accept such a gift."

On those words Haldir returned. "You cannot take what gift, Maen? Ah, good afternoon, Dúlin. How are you?"

"Quite well, except that I am having little success at persuading your stubborn friend here that I genuinely wish him to have these pipes."

Haldir looked at Melpomaen and raised an eyebrow.

"They are too valuable – and we do not have room." Melpomaen gestured to their full packs sitting on the floor by the wall.

"For this, we can find room," said Haldir firmly. "I think you should accept Dúlin's offer, Maen."

Melpomaen capitulated. "All right. I can't deny you both. It isn't that I mean to be ungrateful," he said hastily to Dúlin, "but I have nothing to give you in return, as I ought."

Dúlin cocked her head at him, saying, "Do you not realize what a gift you have already given me? All the melodies that you have shared? Let there be no thought that my poor pipes can even begin to balance that out."

"Very well," laughed Melpomaen, taking the object in question from her hand. "Shall we call it even, then? I hope you do not still feel in my debt – if you were to give me your cittern, too, I would be forced to refuse regardless of either your or Haldir's insistence! I should look like one of those traveling tinkers, those wandering peddlers among Men, all hung about with the goods they sell and rattling in any breeze."

"No, this will suffice," said Dúlin gravely. "Haldir, I think that you should ask him to play for you on your journey."

"I would enjoy hearing him," Haldir said. He did not feel it necessary to explain that often it would be wiser to maintain silence, or at least quiet, of an evening, lest they attract unwanted attention in the wild. The musician meant well, and it was not surprising that she should know little of the practicalities of travel.

Dúlin remained a little while longer, chatting, then bade them both farewell and a safe journey. After she had gone, Haldir put his arms around Melpomaen's waist from behind and rested his chin on his partner's shoulder.

"You'll miss her, won't you?"

"Yes," Melpomaen said, "I will."

"I'm sorry."

Melpomaen shrugged. "That is how it is." He looked around the room. "I think we're finished here, or as near as possible for now – shall we go see about some dinner?"

The meal and the ensuing time in the common room were suffused with a kind of melancholy cheerfulness. Everyone with whom either Haldir or Melpomaen had any acquaintance came to bid them a good journey and to regret their departure. Since all were well aware of the need to travel as lightly burdened as possible, no parting-gifts were offered, with one exception. Erentar, together with Gelion and Lasmir, jointly presented them with a pair of excellent Dwarf-made knives to replace their own.

Pleading the excuse of an early departure the next day, they did not remain too long. Legolas had been at their table during the meal, and had said to Haldir that he would be certain to be present when they left the following morning, so his absence from the common room did not surprise them. As the door to their chamber closed behind him, Melpomaen saw on the table what appeared to be a letter. It proved to be three: one with Melpomaen's name on it, one with Haldir's, and the third addressed to them both and with a few words indicating that this should be opened first. The other two were sealed with the king's seal of stag and stars, but this last had instead the imprint of a leaf.

Melpomaen broke the green wax, and Haldir looked over his shoulder to read along with him.

My dear friends, it began, although I shall see you once again before you depart, I wished to put my true farewell into this message. I cannot possibly convey my gratitude for your friendship in any adequate fashion, yet I hope that you can guess its depth. While I might have wished for certain matters to have been different, I have nothing but admiration for the two of you and your bond, and for the way in which you have extended your hands to me in comfort and help, to a greater extent than I could have imagined possible. In no way do I regret anything we three have spoken of or done – I shall cherish the memories, and I hope that you will as well.

You will have seen the additional two letters with the king's seal. Though I presume that you will continue to work together, it seemed best that each of you should receive his own statement of recommendation – in the highest terms, of course. I hope that these may be of assistance to you in the future. And of course you both know well that you would be welcome to return at any time.

I regret that my present circumstances are not such that I might travel with you and see something more of Middle-earth than has yet been my fortune, but who knows what the future may hold? My heart tells me that we shall all meet again someday, though where or how I do not know.

May your journey be swift and safe, and your days and nights alike filled with joy in each other. In friendship, Legolas.

Melpomaen set the letter down next to the other two, carefully returning the parchment to its original folds, before turning and taking Haldir into a close embrace.

"He is too generous," Haldir heard Melpomaen mumble into his shoulder. Haldir did not understand what his partner meant by that, but he had no chance to inquire, for Melpomaen had lifted his head again and taken Haldir's face between his hands, kissing him insistently.

They moved together to the bed and fell upon it, entwined. Haldir ran his hands along the length of Melpomaen's back and pulled him closer, pressing his left thigh between Melpomaen's legs. He had supposed that they would make love tonight – perhaps the last time in their lives that they would do so in a proper bed, though he fervently hoped not – but had wanted to draw it out, which Melpomaen seemed unprepared to do just now. The younger Elf was rocking his hips against Haldir without even pausing to unfasten his garments.

"Sh, Maen, sh, meldanya," said Haldir, as soon as he could free his mouth. He held Melpomaen and rolled them both over, so that now Melpomaen lay on his back with Haldir above him, then pushed himself towards the foot of the bed. He pulled off Melpomaen's shoes with one hand while the other fumbled with the laces that bound Melpomaen's leggings. At last he was able to tug the garment down and reveal his lover's member briefly before he took it between his lips, judging that Melpomaen's urgency made this the best course.

Melpomaen groaned and his organ quivered in Haldir's mouth. Under Haldir's tongue the loose skin slipped back. He licked at the petal-soft head, dipping his tongue into the tiny slit and tasting a hint of bitterness there. With his thumbs he rubbed the base, his fingers curling around to press lightly against the tender stones in their warm pouch. He let his teeth just scrape the shaft, taking great care, for he did not intend any discomfort to come to his lover, and was gratified by Melpomaen's strangled moan and the sudden grip of Melpomaen's hands on his head, urging him to continue.

He sucked harder, his tongue rubbing along Melpomaen's length, feeling the blood pulsing there. When he slipped a forefinger down to press against Melpomaen's puckered opening, Melpomaen's entire body stiffened and his seed spilled out into the back of Haldir's throat. He swallowed hard to keep from choking on the bitter fluid, and with his mouth still full of its taste, he crawled up the bed to kiss Melpomaen, who responded as completely as if they had not made love for a week, his hand going to Haldir's firm member and gripping the shaft through the fabric of his leggings, his fingers tightening and releasing again rhythmically one by one.

Quickly Haldir loosened his clothing, flinging it onto the floor, and groped for the flask of oil which he had prudently omitted to pack that afternoon. He nudged it against Melpomaen's hand. When his lover took it, Haldir moved to his hands and knees.

Melpomaen spread a generous amount of oil into Haldir's crevice, massaging it into the skin, and then put some on each of their cocks. Taking Haldir's in his right hand, he pressed the tip of his own against Haldir's waiting passage. Melpomaen was not yet fully hard again, but he was firm enough to push past the tight ring of muscle and ease inside. He remained there without thrusting for a few moments, only rocking very gently deeper within as he stiffened. He continued stroking Haldir meanwhile, and the golden-haired Elf began to squeeze his buttocks in time to the motion, stimulating Melpomaen further. Melpomaen leaned over and kissed Haldir's shoulder blade, his free hand reaching around to take Haldir's left nipple between his fingers, pinching it to a point.

He now started to thrust more vigorously, withdrawing almost entirely and then pushing back inside. Haldir bucked his hips as he thrust into Melpomaen's hand in reaction, his head flung back. He called out Melpomaen's name and spent; his passage pulsed and contracted around Melpomaen's organ. Melpomaen found himself again at the brink of climax. He did not try to hold back, but shuddered as he came, relaxing forward and resting his forehead against Haldir's spine, still sheathed inside him.

They lay curled together, spoon-fashion, for some minutes before Melpomaen pulled out.

"Perhaps a bath?" suggested Haldir.

"It will doubtless be our last chance for weeks, even months," agreed Melpomaen.

"And if we wait a little while," said Haldir, "I would like to make love to you one more time in comfort. We have said we will depart early, but that does not mean we cannot stop early tomorrow evening if we want, if tonight's activities keep us awake until late." The smile he gave to Melpomaen was mischievous.

Melpomaen smiled in return, but the smile did not reach his eyes. Haldir knew why, of course, and knew that on this last night in the Wood-King's halls, Melpomaen was unlikely to be able to be cozened out of his sadness at leaving. Nevertheless Haldir resolved to do what he could.

They entered the bathing room and stepped into the warm water. Haldir wordlessly pointed to the soap on the ledge next to Melpomaen, who handed it to him. Lathering his hands, Haldir had Melpomaen kneel up so that most of his torso was above the water, and smoothed the scented foam over his skin. Without being asked, Melpomaen sat on the edge and held out first one leg and then the other so that Haldir could wash them as well. He slid underwater to rinse off and emerged, spluttering slightly and pushing his dripping hair away from his eyes. Then Haldir washed the dark strands. When every inch of Melpomaen was clean, Haldir took up the comb to ease the tangles from Melpomaen's hair. He did not hurry at his task, and Melpomaen relaxed under his hands and in the heat of the water.

When he had finished his ministrations, Haldir leaned back against the side and drew Melpomaen into his arms, so that Melpomaen's back was against his own chest, and simply held him as he had once held Legolas. Their breathing slowed and became as one. Even their heartbeats fell into the same rhythm as they sat embraced. There was no need to speak. All the words that could be said, had been, weeks before.

At long last it was Melpomaen who broke the silence, pulling his hand from the water and gazing at his fingertips. He held them up to show Haldir. "If we stay in much longer, I fear that my entire skin will shrivel and wrinkle like this."

Haldir chuckled. "I have never seen it happen, but perhaps I have never remained in the water long enough." He unwound his arms from Melpomaen's waist. "I still need to use a bit of soap on myself first, though. I would rather begin this journey washed clean."

Melpomaen nodded and moved away enough to give his partner room to wash. When he had finished, Haldir stood and held out his hands to help Melpomaen up. They stepped out together, each wrapping a towel about. Melpomaen took up a fresh cloth to and dried his lover's hair. Returning to the other room they spread fresh sheets on the bed, snapping the linen across the mattress and tucking it in.

"I'm glad that we didn't take these back yet," remarked Haldir, smoothing the top sheet; a pointless endeavor since he promptly sprawled on it and beckoned Melpomaen to come to him.

They lay facing each other, as close together as twin babes in the womb. Haldir kissed Melpomaen's lips and murmured, "What would you have me do, meldanya?"

Melpomaen remained silent for a few moments, and then said, "Nothing."

Haldir raised his brows in surprise. "Nothing? Do you wish simply to sleep, then, Maen?"

"No, that is not it." Melpomaen's hand strayed down to Haldir's groin, his thumb stroking as Haldir's organ began to twitch and grow. "I don't want you to do anything to me, Dír. I want us to do it to each other."

"What?" said Haldir.

"Just this." Melpomaen took Haldir's hands and drew them down with his own, wrapping them around so that each of them touched both his partner and himself. Melpomaen's eyes were wide and dark in the dim light. He tilted his head with an almost dreamlike slowness to kiss Haldir as their joined hands began to move.

Haldir was hard now, but after their earlier lovemaking his desire was not urgent. He decided he would let Melpomaen set the pace for the rest of the night, or at least for the time being, and Melpomaen seemed content to enjoy the warmth and friction without wanting to achieve a quick release. His lips brushed against Haldir's and his tongue traced the line between them, slippery as a fish, probing into Haldir's mouth. Haldir curled his own tongue around Melpomaen's and suckled on it. When Melpomaen withdrew Haldir followed him, slipping his tongue between Melpomaen's lips to taste him.

Melpomaen's breath was sweet, bearing a hint of musty spice from the wine they had drunk much earlier in the common room. Haldir sighed in his throat and nestled even closer, his hands still moving at Melpomaen's pace. He was determined to wait as long as his lover wished, but he could not help rocking his hips slightly in encouragement.

After a long time, Melpomaen began to increase the speed of his hands' motion. His breath came quickly through barely-parted lips. Haldir stepped up his own tempo as well. He felt heat centered at his groin but spreading out to every part of his body, running through his veins like the sap that rises in trees in springtime. Just as he wondered if he could restrain himself any longer, Melpomaen spent, his cock pulsing into their joined fingers. In relief, Haldir followed him within seconds and they clung together, gasping and kissing. Though neither was much inclined to move, Haldir rose and fetched a cloth to clean them both before again embracing Melpomaen and falling asleep in his arms.

Despite the lateness of the hour at which they slept, Melpomaen woke before dawn, as he had intended, and nudged Haldir to wake him too. They dressed and took their used linens to the company's laundry before returning to stow the last few small items in their packs.

It was early, too early for those on the daytime watch to yet be breaking their fast, but Legolas was present when they entered the mess. He said nothing, but ate bread and cheese with them and drank hot tea with a generous spoonful of honey in it.

At the front gates they bade a final farewell to the night guard. Legolas walked with them a little ways along the westward path. When its twists took them out of sight of the gates, he stopped, and held out a hand to stop them too. Turning first to Melpomaen, he put his arms around the other and kissed his cheek, whispering in Melpomaen's ear, "I forgive you." Then he embraced Haldir and kissed him likewise, but this time he whispered, "Forgive me." Releasing his grasp, Legolas bowed formally, his expression set, before walking off with long strides, neither pausing nor glancing back before he disappeared around the bend.

Haldir and Melpomaen looked at each other, each wondering if Legolas had said the same to his partner as to himself, but neither yet spoke of it. They turned their faces westward into the dark of the forest and set out.

Chapter Text

That first day out of the king's caverns, Melpomaen spoke little. Haldir, respecting his mood, tempered his own remarks, keeping them to the occasional comment on the unfolding of spring as shown among the plants and animals of the woods. They held a gentle pace and had covered perhaps four leagues along the path when Haldir suggested that they stop for the evening and make camp. He took it upon himself to gather wood for a fire. Much of what he found was damp, however, between melting snows and spring rains, and he was forced to seek out pines and break off their dead lower branches; even damp they would burn, albeit fitfully.

The evening promised to be cool, and they were both glad for the fire. Legolas had warned them to take full waterskins along, for if they stayed on the path, there was but one stream that crossed it – several days' travel hence – and its waters were not fit to drink. The Elves who dwelt in this region made use of springs and small streams, but they lay some distance from the road, not convenient for travelers.

Bread and a piece of cheese made their supper that night, with a handful of dried berries that Haldir stewed in a bit of water on the edge of the fire. He put some pieces of dried meat and vegetables into the pot when they had emptied it, and more water. The soup would simmer in the fire's embers all night, and be ready to break their fast in the morning.

Darkness had by now closed in around them. "How do you wish to divide up the watches?" Haldir asked, giving the mixture a final stir before replacing the lid on the pot.

Melpomaen considered it. "Each of us taking half the night worked well enough last summer. I would prefer the second watch, if you don't mind."

Haldir nodded. "I'm not sleepy. I will be happy to watch first." He straightened from his culinary labors and sat down by Melpomaen on his blanket. "Would you like me to rub your shoulders before you go to sleep?"

Melpomaen rotated so that his back was to Haldir and he faced out into the darkness. "I think it is too cool to take off my tunic."

"You needn't." Haldir began pressing his thumbs into the muscles of Melpomaen's back. His lover's head drooped forward, but Melpomaen made no other response, even when Haldir found tight knots in the muscles of Melpomaen's shoulders and had to apply more force than usual to ease the tension. Gradually Haldir allowed his touch to soften into a caress, slipping one hand around to reach Melpomaen's chest and then downward toward his groin.

Melpomaen caught Haldir's hand and held it. "No, Dír." His voice was low, but firm. "Not tonight." He released his grasp.

Puzzled, Haldir said, "Why not?"

"I. . ." Melpomaen shook his head, his face still turned away. "Not tonight," he repeated.

"All right," said Haldir, careful to keep any hint of hurt or dismay from his voice. "If that's what you prefer. I will wake you just past the middle of the night, then. Rest well." He stood up and walked around the fire and a few yards into the trees on the other side, to the place they had chosen for a waste trench that night. He loosened the ties of his leggings to relieve himself, and smiled wryly. He had expected to make love with Melpomaen, and his member had already hardened in anticipation. Holding it, he considered bringing himself pleasure, but the thought did not appeal. When he had finished what was necessary and refastened his clothing, he returned to the little glade to take up his watch.

Uneventful hours later, he woke Melpomaen and, rolling up in his own blanket, quickly fell asleep.

The next three days scarcely differed. The gloom under the trees told on them both, and their speed was slow. Melpomaen continued in near-silence, ignoring Haldir's attempts to cheer him and evading any embrace, until the older Elf was nearly beside himself with distress. On the fifth day he decided to bring the matter out into the open.

It was midmorning, or so Haldir guessed. The sun itself was concealed by the looming treetops. The previous night had been cold, and frost still lingered in patches. Haldir could think of no easy way to begin, and so he simply said, "Maen."

"What?" Melpomaen continued walking.

"Melpomaen. Please stop." Haldir's voice rang in the quiet of the forest.

Melpomaen stopped a few yards ahead of Haldir and turned to look at him. "Yes? What is it?"

"Why are you acting this way, meldanya? You have scarcely spoken to me since we left Thranduil's caverns. If I touch you, you freeze. What is wrong?" Haldir spoke without accusation, and his eyes pleaded with his lover to answer.

Melpomaen put his hands over his eyes, his head bowed. Haldir moved toward him "Please, Maen. I cannot bear to see you so unhappy. I need to know what is troubling you thus. We are under no compulsion to reach Lórien on any given day – let us stop now." Without waiting for Melpomaen to agree or demur, he slipped his own pack from his shoulders, and reached to tug Melpomaen's off also. He led Melpomaen southward off the path and into the trees. "I think we should look for a spring today, in any case. Our waterbags could stand to be replenished, and I want a cup of tea while we talk."

Haldir made swift work of kindling a small fire and putting some of their precious water to heat. He tossed a generous pinch of chamomile into each of their cups and let it steep for several minutes before handing Melpomaen his. "Here, meldanya. Drink. Now tell me – what is it? Are you simply unhappy to have left Thranduil's caverns? But you offered to go back to Lórien with me. I thought that the reason you wanted to stay was because when we return home, we will no longer be able to express our bond physically – at least not if we remain members of the border guard. So I expected that you would want to make love as often as we could on this journey, not begin to abstain before we had to."

"No." Melpomaen was silent again for a little while, but it was the silence of thought, of choosing how to answer, and Haldir waited for him to speak.

"I didn't want to leave, you're right," said Melpomaen at last. "But that is only part of what concerns me. I never thought of our people as being narrow-minded. It was simply never something I even considered – I always accepted what was said and done without questioning if it was right or wrong. But what you spoke of, at different times last winter, to Legolas – I began to think about how it will be to live among people who would despise me, despise us, if they knew that we love each other. I don't know how it will feel to do that, but I fear being found out. And I loathe that I feel such fear. I don't want to be afraid of people I have always admired and respected. I am not a different person from who I was a year ago; I have only realized something about myself that I had not before understood, and it is a dreadful feeling that because of that I might well be outcast. I'm afraid to go home, Haldir." He looked up into Haldir's face, his own drawn with sorrow and dread.

"Come here." Haldir held out his arms. Melpomaen crawled from where he sat and accepted Haldir's embrace.

"You can't make it better, Dír," he said in a muffled voice.

Haldir tightened his arms around Melpomaen, rocking them both slowly back and forth. "I might have been oversensitive to what our people said, you know, Maen. Don't be so certain that the worst would happen."

"But what if it does?" Melpomaen pulled back and gazed seriously at Haldir. "I keep imagining what could occur – friends turning away, not speaking, looking at me as if at an insect in their food. Even being asked by Lord Celeborn and Lady Galadriel to leave. You may have stronger connections, with your family and all, but the thought of being cut off from everyone I've ever known made me realize that I love our home too, and I would hate to be ostracized, maybe even exiled."

Nodding, Haldir said, "I know. I've thought about it too. It was one thing before I met you; to be unwed so long might be unusual, but not objectionable. Now it's different. I don't know any more than you do how our people might react, and so I would rather be discreet, if we can, rather than run that risk of rejection. No more than you do I like the idea of hiding – I just cannot think of anything else, not if we are to remain in Lórien – and I do want to go home."

Melpomaen sighed. "So do I, really, though I wanted to stay in service with Thranduil also, just to avoid this problem. Oh, meldanya, what shall we do?"

Again Haldir hugged Melpomaen, thinking the matter over as he soothed his lover with touch. "All right, Maen, how about this? We make a trial of it – for a few years, anyway. We can stay in the guard, as partners; the lembas will help to ensure that we won't miss the physical expression of our bond too much, and we will be able to be together more than in almost any other pursuit or craft I can think of. We could see how that went. Maybe, even, depending on how the others speak and act, we could be more open about our bond than I've thought we could be. But if it doesn't work out, we can choose to leave the guards and do something else; if we've tried, and failed, I would be willing to leave Lórien altogether. Perhaps return here to Mirkwood, or perhaps we could journey to Imladris, or the Havens, first; I would like to see those places someday. Of course, I hope that we won't have to leave, but I would if needs must. You are my bondmate, Maen; in the end, you are my family."

"And you are mine," was all that Melpomaen said in return. He kissed Haldir's mouth, a simple kiss at first, a guerdon for his lover's offer to give up so much he held dear. Then his hands crept around Haldir's neck, and the kiss became more complex.

When they broke apart, Haldir said breathlessly, "I think we should travel no further today."

"No." Melpomaen glanced at the fire. "Shall we build that up, or let it die down for now? And when did you want to search for water?"

"Let it die. And later." Haldir pulled him close again. "We have better things to do, just now."

"Indeed so," Melpomaen agreed, tugging Haldir's tunic loose and sliding his hands underneath it, onto the warm smooth skin of Haldir's back. "I missed this," he murmured into Haldir's ear. "I just couldn't. . ."

"It's all right, I understand," Haldir told him. "Neither of us knows what the future will bring; it's only natural to worry. Just, please, meldanya, share it with me, next time."

"I will," Melpomaen promised, the words coming out in a gasp as Haldir's hands swiftly plucked at his clothing, exposing his belly and groin. The chilly spring air made him shiver.

Haldir slid his hand along Melpomaen's thigh, and bent his head to take Melpomaen's still-soft member into his mouth. He suckled the tender flesh, which grew and stiffened with the inrush of blood. Melpomaen's hands wound into Haldir's hair, tugging him closer, but Haldir released Melpomaen instead.

"Just a moment, Maen," he said, and turned aside to pull the blanket from his pack. He hesitated, then decided not to waste time searching for the flask of oil that he knew was in there somewhere. Snapping the blanket to unfold it, he spread it on the ground. Melpomaen was behind him, his hands busy at Haldir's waist to loosen his leggings.

"With this breeze and no sunlight, I think better not to strip entirely," Melpomaen breathed in Haldir's ear as they tumbled each other down.

"You feel warm enough," Haldir teased, curling his fingers around Melpomaen's cock and fondling it. He thrust his hips forward so that their bared groins pressed together.

"Ah, well," said Melpomaen, matching him stroke for stroke, "I don't notice that you are anxious to go bare either, and you are as warm as I." He enclosed the head of Haldir's organ in his palm. "Yes, I would even say hot."

Haldir quivered. He tilted his head so that he could kiss Melpomaen again, thrusting his tongue between lips that opened willingly to him. Melpomaen's tongue flickered to meet his, darting like a fish, smooth and slippery. Haldir captured it, sucking, then released it to bite at Melpomaen's lips and throat. "I'll give you hot," he growled. He let go his grasp of Melpomaen's member and pulled the other's hand away from his own cock, pushing both their organs down to nestle between each other's legs. Then he held Melpomaen's hips and began to thrust, keeping his own thighs together to create a kind of tunnel for Melpomaen's reciprocating motion. Without oil, the friction of skin on skin rapidly brought them both to the point of release.

Melpomaen clutched at Haldir, stopping him. He was red-faced and panting, but managed to say, "Dír, would you let me finish in your mouth?"

Haldir gave him one last fierce kiss, and wriggled downwards. Within seconds Melpomaen felt the wet suction of his lover's mouth on his cock. He was so excited already that it took only a moment to reach his climax.

As Melpomaen's seed spurted over his tongue, Haldir gripped the base of his own organ to keep from spilling onto the blanket. He swallowed, licking away every trace of the fluid, noticing how the texture of Melpomaen's skin seemed to change and soften, though his member was still firm. When he lifted his head, Melpomaen was looking down at him, his face alight and his lips parted.

"Let me sit up, Dír," said Melpomaen. Haldir moved to one side, and Melpomaen sat cross-legged, his leggings tangled around his feet, thighs still bared. "Now – come, kneel." Haldir shifted back, resting his weight on his heels and bracing his hands behind him, his hips thrust forward. Melpomaen bent and gave a long loving wet swipe of his tongue along Haldir's length before enveloping him completely.

"Oh, Maen," Haldir forced the words out as desire swept through him, a storm of longing deferred. He closed his eyes to concentrate on the sensations. Melpomaen's lips slid down and up his shaft, each movement drawing Haldir a little closer to ecstasy, the touch light and teasing until Haldir could bear it no more and begged, "Please, now," and Melpomaen responded by contracting his mouth and throat, suckling hard. Orgasm shook Haldir, the outrush of his release spilling down Melpomaen's throat.

When he had swallowed and raised his head, Melpomaen was astonished to realize that his cheeks were wet with tears.

"Meldanya, what is it? What is wrong" said Haldir in concern.

"Nothing is wrong. I'm happy," Melpomaen said. He wrapped his arms around Haldir's waist and lay back, pulling Haldir on top of him. His legs were still folded and it was a bit uncomfortable, but he ignored that for the moment. "Dír, I love you."

"I love you, too, Maen." Haldir rested his head on Melpomaen's chest, in deep contentment. "We will meet the challenges we find together, will we not? And overcome them, one way or another."

"Yes," said Melpomaen. "We will."

They lay quiet for a while, until at last Melpomaen complained that his legs would fall asleep if he did not get up and move around.

"Do you want to look for water, or shall I?" asked Haldir, pulling his clothes into place and fastening them. "Or should we go together?"

"I would rather go together," said Melpomaen, "Not that I think either of us would get lost, even in these dark woods, but from what I heard of the giant spiders in guardroom gossip, I'd rather not risk meeting them alone."

"Probably wise," Haldir agreed. "We should take our packs and all along, too, I think. Then if there is a suitable place to stop near water, we won't have to come back here."

They slung their belongings on their backs and set off southward. There was no path, but the trained eye could see blazons on the trees. In their months in Mirkwood both Melpomaen and Haldir had learned some of these signs, enough to guide them now. For one who understood them, the way to the nearest spring was easily followed.

It took longer than they had expected. The spring proved to be a good three miles from the path, more than an hour's hard going through the thick trees and brush.

"I can see why Legolas warned us to carry water," commented Melpomaen. "I would not want to have to go this far out of our way each night."

"No. But since we're here, though it is only early afternoon, I think we should just stop. We can begin traveling at dawn tomorrow if we want, or not."

"It doesn't matter to me," said Melpomaen. "Do we have any bread left?"

"A loaf, I think. We should eat it tonight or tomorrow; it's getting stale. I would offer to look for some game, but I don't really like to hunt when all the animals have their young. They are always poor eating after the winter, in any case," said Haldir.

"I know – you just want to get out of cooking, don't you?" chaffed Melpomaen.

"You are much the better cook, Maen."

"Trying flattery, now? Since it's true, I'll accept it. I'll cook tonight." Melpomaen looked through their supplies. "One of us will have to hunt, though, sooner or later; we can make it through the forest, I think, but that's all."

"There are some villages of Men to the west of Mirkwood, between the forest edge and Anduin. We can make some purchases in those," Haldir said.

"Once we get there. I'd rather not run out first," said Melpomaen.

"Do you want me to hunt today, then? I will if you insist."

"Why don't you take a look and see if you find anything easily. I haven't seen any sign of spiders, so I think you would be safe while it is still day. Some fresh meat would make a nice change."

Haldir said, "All right," and picked up his bow, slinging his quiver of arrows over his shoulder. "You'll have to get the firewood, then, and make camp. I'll be back in a little while."

Melpomaen cleared the ground and laid out their things, then fetched wood. It had not rained since they had left the caverns, by good luck, and the scattered deadwood he found was drier than that Haldir had been forced to use the first night out. He hummed to himself as he worked. When he finished what was necessary, he took out the pipes that Dúlin had given him and began to play softly.

Distracted by his music, he did not notice how much time had passed until the light began to fade. Then he grew worried at Haldir's continued absence. By the time the older Elf returned, it was nearly full dark, and Melpomaen was pacing around the fire, trying to decide whether he should go in search of his lover.

"Dír!"

Haldir put down a brace of rabbits. "I'm sorry, Maen. I meant to be here sooner, but in going after the first rabbit I saw, I came to a stream. The animal leapt over it, using a stone in the middle, but the rock wasn't large enough to take me and I wasn't sure if it was the stream Legolas warned us about or not. So I wasted some time going along its banks. I apologize for worrying you – forgive me?"

"Just don't do it again, if you can help it. Not at the end of the day! I could just see myself wandering around in the dark calling for you – not a good idea," said Melpomaen. "You clean and skin those, then, and I'll find some sticks to set up a spit."

The roasted rabbit tasted delicious after four days of dried rations. Haldir sighed contentedly. "I had wanted to talk some more this evening, but getting back late may have ruined that plan."

Melpomaen shrugged. "Only if you insist on leaving at dawn. What did you want to talk about?"

"Oh, anything. After the past few days I just wanted to hear your voice," said Haldir.

"Mm." Melpomaen lay on his back, looking up in a vain attempt to see the stars through thickly overhanging branches. "I don't want to think about going home right now, or talk about it." He rolled onto his elbow, looking at Haldir. "I know. What was it that Legolas whispered to you, when he bade us farewell? Did he say ‘I forgive you'?"

"No," said Haldir, "he said ‘Forgive me.' I wasn't sure what he meant by that."

"I would imagine he was referring to his feelings for you," Melpomaen said. "At least, that is the first thing that strikes me."

"Perhaps." Haldir frowned. "I wonder."

"Well, what else?"

"It occurred to me that maybe he wanted forgiveness for something he had said to or done with you," said Haldir. "Though I could not think what that could be."

Melpomaen shook his head. "I cannot think of anything he could have meant along such lines. Nor did I understand why he felt the need to grant me his forgiveness – as far as I knew I had done nothing to offend him."

Haldir chuckled. "If you think his words to me referred to his feelings for me, perhaps those to you were along the same lines – and he was forgiving you for being my bondmate?"

"I suppose that would make sense," said Melpomaen, "but somehow I cannot believe in such a straightforward explanation."

"We may never know, unless we meet him again and can ask."

"Well, it bothers me. I want to know," complained Melpomaen.

"So, think of all the explanations that could possibly make sense, and maybe we can work through and make a good guess. But that's the most you can hope for," said Haldir.

Melpomaen snorted. "Humph. That's a great help, Dír."

"Sorry. You're the one who brought it up. Do you want to keep talking, or ponder the mystery in silence for the rest of the night?"

"I'll ponder, thank you very much. In fact I'd better take the first watch so I can do just that."

"If you must," Haldir sighed, regretting that he had suggested it. He knew his mind, too, would be occupied with the puzzle of Legolas's last words, and he would have to work hard to put them out of his head and fall asleep.

Chapter Text

Dawn was just breaking when Haldir gently shook Melpomaen's shoulder. "Wake up, Maen. I have tea ready."

Melpomaen rubbed at his eyes and heaved himself upward, pulling the loose end of the blanket across his lap. He reached for the cup that Haldir held out and sipped cautiously at the steaming liquid. "Thank you."

"You are most welcome. We can refill our water bags before we leave this place." Haldir handed Melpomaen a cold rabbit leg left from their supper. The rest he had wrapped and tucked away for that evening's meal.

Gnawing, Melpomaen mumbled through his mouthful, "Are we in a rush?" He swallowed and took another drink of tea.

"Not especially, but it will be an hour just to get back to the path, and it's a fair morning – or as fair as they ever are, under these trees," Haldir added. "Did you sleep well?"

"Well enough. I think I was lying on some tree roots, but that's difficult to avoid in the woods. Walking will work out the kinks," said Melpomaen. He finished his breakfast and Haldir took the bone from him to bury with the rest of the refuse from their night's camp, while Melpomaen stowed his blanket in his pack and put out the fire.

It was about the middle of the morning when the path took them to the stream of which they had been warned. The trees stood back a little way from either bank, and it was a pleasure to be able to see the sky again. A low wooden bridge spanned the water. It had clearly been built no more than a handful of years before, and seemed sturdy enough to take a cart, even a Dwarf-cart laden with metal goods. It certainly posed no difficulty for a pair of Elves on foot, but they were glad that Legolas had warned them not to drink from – or even touch – the enchanted waters of the stream, for otherwise they would have replenished their water-bags and perhaps even bathed in it.

Stepping back into the heavy shadows under the branches on the other side and continuing along the path was a wrench, even after as brief a glimpse of the sun as they had had. To dispel the gloom, they spoke as they walked, picking up the thread of their conversation from the night before. They kept their voices low, so as not to draw undue attention from any creatures in the wood, especially the spiders.

"Did you ever reach a satisfactory conclusion as to what Legolas might have meant by his words to you, Maen?" asked Haldir.

Melpomaen bit his lip. "Perhaps," he admitted.

Turning his head, Haldir arched an eyebrow in query and waited for his partner to continue.

"I do not think his forgiveness was for something as simple as my having met you first. I think perhaps he suspected that my motives for inviting him to be with us were not entirely unselfish." Melpomaen hesitated, and then added in even quieter tones, "And he would have been right."

"Would he?"

"Yes, I fear he would. At least at first. I. . . I wanted it to be clear to him that you were mine, and I yours, and that he could not have you. To warn him off and perhaps even to make him jealous." He shook his head. "It was an unworthy thing to have done. Dishonorable. Even though it seems to have come out all right in the end."

"But Maen, what was your intention in so doing?" Haldir asked him. "You know that, bonded to you, I could never leave you or wish to, whatever any third person might want or say or do."

"I know," said Melpomaen, his tones mingling shame and exasperation. "I know, I knew it then, but I seemed unable to stop myself. Attention from someone like Legolas – handsome, clever, a king's son – how could that not be a temptation, or so I thought. I suppose I did not trust the bond between us to be yet strong enough to hold in the face of such a lure."

"Do you now?" Haldir's voice was level and serious.

Melpomaen shrugged. "You have given me no reason to doubt it."

"You are evading an answer, Maen."

"I don't know, Dír," sighed Melpomaen. "I don't understand the nature of our bond. I've never quite grasped how a bond is created between a benn and a bess, even, still less between two binn. It was something that I always assumed would become clear when I wedded. So far as I can tell, our bond is true and complete, but I would like to be certain of it. If I am unsure, who am a part of it, someone else might easily deny its reality."

Haldir nodded. "I feel much the same as you, save that perhaps my knowledge is a little greater." He paused thoughtfully. "Legolas believes and told me that a bond between two binn is completed when one of them enters the body of the other, just as the bond between a benn and a bess is made permanent when they are first fully joined together in love."

"That is what he believes," said Melpomaen, "but is it the truth? Can we be certain his understanding is correct? Did you feel any change in yourself when I first made love to you so? I do not think that I did."

"I don't recall," said Haldir, smiling, "I was a little – preoccupied – at the time. But I think not."

"I always thought that I would feel something when I bonded with my mate. A chill, or see a flash of light. Surely it could not pass unnoticed. Perhaps, then, we are not truly bonded?"

"No. That cannot be. Think about the last time we were with Legolas – his touch brought me no excitement, but yours did. Was it not the same for you? And does that not mean that we must be bonded?" Haldir reasoned.

Melpomaen frowned. "I had the same experience," he said, "but could it not betoken simply a lack of attraction to Legolas himself, rather than necessarily being an inability to be attracted by anyone except each other?"

"Well, then," Haldir said, "how would you test it? For I think that someone unattached would find Legolas alluring. He is, as you said, both handsome and thoughtful."

"I don't know," replied Melpomaen. "Perhaps there is no certain way to tell."

They lapsed into silence for a time, continuing to walk westward along the path. Haldir was thankful for the heavy shade of the trees at this hour of the day; else they would be staring straight into the lowering sun. Now that they were quiet they could hear the sounds of the forest around them: birds chirping to one another from their nests; some creature rustling as it moved through the bushes – a rabbit perhaps, or maybe a fox; the wind stirring eddies of dead leaves. The trees had all begun to leaf out, though they would become fuller before high summer. He could see tangles of bramble here and there, wherever a few stray beams of sunlight might pierce through the leaf canopy, and absently wondered if they would reach home before the berries were ripe. Unless something unexpected happened, they should. Haldir looked forward to seeing his brothers again, though he knew it would be a struggle to conceal from them the changed nature of the partnership between Melpomaen and himself.

Melpomaen strode, deep in thought. He kicked at an acorn lying in his way, sending it skittering along the path in front of him until it bounced off a rut and was lost in the tufts of grass on the verge. "Let us stop now," he said abruptly.

Haldir looked at him in surprise and responded, "There are two or three hours of light yet."

"I know, but what is our time for, anyway? A few days more or less will make no difference. Since we were unable to reach home last autumn, due to my foolish accident, it matters little, as you have said before."

"Let us look for somewhere to make camp, then," said Haldir. "We might as well choose a good place, since we are in no hurry."

They walked on for another mile before finding a suitable location. It would be several days before they needed to find water again, so all they hoped for was a reasonable break in the trees. At last, however, they came to a little glade, right beside the road, which clearly had been often used by other travelers. There was a stone fire pit, with several fallen logs placed nearby as seats, and even some firewood piled under one of the trees. Nevertheless Haldir went to gather more while Melpomaen laid out their camp. They had plenty of time and light to collect fuel, whereas travelers some other day might be grateful to find wood ready to hand.

The clearing was near the crest of a little hill, and the trees here were sparser, a stand of beeches and a few alders instead of the ivy-draped oaks they had seen for the past day or two. The ground here was drier as well, not damp as it had been on earlier evenings. Melpomaen was glad for the rough stone hearth, which meant that he need not take such great care in clearing a space free of any grass or leaves for their fire. He laid out their blankets and then put some pieces of dried onions and tubers into the pot, to simmer with the rest of yesterday's rabbit. There were sufficient twigs and small branches scattered about to serve as kindling, so he went ahead with building and lighting the fire.

Haldir reappeared with an armful of wood and stacked it neatly near the hearth. He looked around the clearing, measuring it by eye, and asked Melpomaen, "Would you like to practice a little sword-play?"

"Yes." Melpomaen jumped up and took a stance opposite his partner. They began running through some of the standard practice sequences.

"Clearly I did not practice enough this winter," laughed Melpomaen ruefully half an hour later, when Haldir had for the third time beaten through his defenses. "Look, you haven't even broken a sweat." He plucked at his own tunic, patched with damp. "I should have taken this off before we began."

Sheathing his blade, Haldir stepped closer and smiled at him. "You could take it off now, Maen. It still lacks an hour and more until sunset; we need not concern ourselves with keeping a sharp watch at the moment. We have been over-careless in the past, but this camp is too well-used for most creatures to come near, certainly not in daylight."

"Mm. True enough," said Melpomaen. He set his weapon down and pulled the garment off, tossing his head to free his hair from where it clung damply to his neck. Looking over at Haldir, he saw that the other Elf had already stripped to the waist. Melpomaen enjoyed the sight of his lover's bared chest, and almost regretted it when Haldir moved close enough to embrace, for then he could no longer see the strong body to admire it. Then again, to touch him was a great pleasure too. Haldir had not quite sweated through his clothing, but his skin was moist with exertion. Melpomaen ran a finger along Haldir's breastbone, then licked the salty traces directly, lapping at Haldir's rosy nipples.

Haldir put his arms around Melpomaen's shoulders. "Yes, Maen, yes," he murmured into the air, as the suckling brought an answering pull from his groin. The fabric of his leggings felt rough and tight against his swelling member, and when Melpomaen raised his head, Haldir pulled his lover close, pressing against his thigh.

The wetted skin of Haldir's chest met Melpomaen's as they embraced, their mouths clinging together. Haldir guided them over to the blankets, but it was Melpomaen who first moved to take off the clothing that still hindered them. He skinned out of his own garments, leaving Haldir standing. Then he slowly removed Haldir's remaining clothes piece by piece, running his hands along the newly-bared skin, teasing Haldir with his touch. He exhaled a warm breath on Haldir's erect member and caressed his tight pouch. Haldir gasped and held onto Melpomaen's head to steady himself.

Melpomaen tasted the tip of Haldir's organ, dipping into the slit with his tongue, enjoying the salt and bitter flavors, so different from the sweetness of his lover's mouth. His lips slid across the head and partway down the shaft, again causing Haldir to catch his breath. Melpomaen held onto Haldir's hip with one hand as he sucked; with his free hand he grasped his own organ, hot and hard.

"Oh, meldanya," Haldir panted. "Stop – please."

Melpomaen paused and looked up, still with his lips pressed around Haldir.

"I want to make this last longer," explained the golden-haired Elf. "And you have me very close, Maen."

Releasing Haldir, Melpomaen sat back on his heels as his partner sank down to the blanket next to him. Haldir brushed a stray wisp of hair away from Melpomaen's cheek and took his face between his own palms, kissing him deeply before pushing him to lie down and bending to reciprocate what Melpomaen had just been doing to him.

A groan escaped Melpomaen's throat as his lover's eager tongue lapped at his pouch and then ran up along his length to circle and draw him into moist warmth. His hips jerked, just a little, when Haldir ran a finger around the base of his shaft and then down, seeking entry. "The oil, Dír – do you have it?" asked Melpomaen urgently.

The mouth that embraced him withdrew, and Haldir said, "Just a moment."

It was more than a moment, but soon Haldir had found the flask tucked into the bottom of his pouch and returned to the blankets. He poured a little into his palm, dabbling his fingers in the slippery fluid before returning his attention to Melpomaen's waiting passage. One fingertip, then another, sought and found entry. The oil that remained on his other hand Haldir used to coat his own member first, then smeared the last drops onto Melpomaen's.

"Are you ready?" Haldir asked. "Do you want me?"

"Yes, meldanya – I want you within me." Melpomaen reversed his position, kneeling with his backside in the air and his arms folded under his cheek, cushioning his head.

Haldir's throat tightened, looking at him, so open and willing. He entered Melpomaen with one long slow thrust, until he was fully engulfed in the tight slick channel. His sigh of pleasure matched Melpomaen's. "All right?" He reached around and gripped Melpomaen's cock. Melpomaen said nothing, but the wriggling of his hips told Haldir that his motions were indeed acceptable to his lover. He leaned forward and licked, then bit, Melpomaen's shoulder blade, moving sideways along it until he reached the join between arm and back. Inhaling the tang of Melpomaen's sweat, he pumped his hand faster while keeping his thrusts small.

A hand touching him, a shaft filling him, teeth nipping him – Melpomaen would have bitten his own arm to keep back his cries, had they still been in Thranduil's caverns. As it was, he startled off two squirrels and a sparrow with the noises he made. Haldir continued to thrust into him, seeking his own release and announcing it with a groan even louder than Melpomaen's. He withdrew, gritting his teeth at the harsh touch of the blanket on tender skin.

Melpomaen rolled over and gave Haldir a lazy grin. "I should lose in sword-practice more often, if this is what will happen as a result."

"Heh," Haldir snorted. "What will happen is that you'll need the practice and not have it." But he grinned back and pulled Melpomaen close. "Too bad we don't have that bathing-room handy any more. Or even a stream."

"Are you saying that I stink?" Melpomaen poked him in the ribs. "That's rather the sun calling the moon bright, that is. But we can spare enough water to sponge off, I'm sure."

"Pass me the water bag and a cloth, and I'll do it."

Refreshed by the wipe-down, Melpomaen put on his leggings and shoes again, but left off the tunic; it was still damp from his sweat, and an airing would help. He rebuilt the fire and checked the stew-pot, simmering their meal into succulence. Haldir watched, propped on one elbow.

"Dír." Melpomaen looked over at him. "Do you hear that?"

Haldir listened. "I think we are about to be joined." Quickly he pulled on his clothing.

They watched as four carts rolled into view, each drawn by a pair of ponies and with a Dwarf riding high on a pile of crates.

The Dwarf on the leading cart began to turn his ponies into the clearing, saw the Elves, and whistled shrilly. His companions quickly looked up and reined to a halt, waiting.

Haldir saw that they had their hands on their axe-handles, and bowed to the leader. "Greetings, master Dwarf," he said respectfully, using the Common Tongue. "My traveling companion and I were about to eat our supper. Would you and your companions care to join your camp with ours?"

Behind the great russet beard, the Dwarf's face was hard to read. He said, "Greetings, master Elf. We had not expected to find any other travelers here tonight. But we will share this camp with you." He nodded to the other Dwarves. Haldir and Melpomaen were relieved to see that they left their axes in the carts as they brought them one by one into the clearing, turning each around and unharnessing the ponies, which they picketed on the grass far from the fire.

It seemed they carried provisions for themselves and their beasts in one vehicle, while the others bore the goods for trade. They had come from Erebor and were planning to travel all the way to the Blue Mountains. Their leader introduced himself as Frerin, and the other three were Orin, Borin, and Khîm. The two Elves gave their names in return, and removed their blankets to one side of the fire-pit so that the Dwarves could share the warmth of it.

Frerin was garrulous for a Dwarf and conversed at some length with the Elves as his companions took care of the ponies and set up their camp. He recognized that Haldir and Melpomaen were not of the woodland folk, and asked why they were traveling through Mirkwood at such a season.

"For truly, it is rare that we encounter any others on this road," he said. "Few are willing to use it save those who dwell in these woods, for fear of the evil things that yet haunt it, despite the cleansing of the southern part of the forest some years ago."

"We would not have taken this path, but mischance befell my friend last autumn as we were traveling along the eastern borders of the woods. So we wintered in the halls of the woodland king. Then it seemed to us that it would be best to go west first, and then turn south, to return to our own lands," Haldir explained.

"I see," said Frerin thoughtfully. "My people have had few dealings with the Elves from the southlands. We trade on occasion with Thranduil's folk, though I do not think they bear us any greater love than we them. But come. It is time for our meal, and as the late-comers we will provide the meat and drink. For I think," he added, "that on foot you cannot carry such supplies as you might prefer."

Borin had tapped a cask and offered the thick red wine to the Elves, who accepted a cup apiece. Khîm served up thick slices from a ham, and cakes made from meal stirred up with water and baked on stones. Melpomaen suggested that the Dwarves share the soup he had already prepared, and they complimented his hand with the seasoning.

"It is nothing," he said, embarrassed, "merely a few herbs."

After supper, the Dwarves seemed disposed to turn in for the night. "We generally take three watches," said Frerin, "and one man sleeps the night through."

Haldir looked at Melpomaen, who nodded. "We will watch for you all," said the older Elf firmly. "No, I insist. You have shared bread and wine and meat with us; we must repay you in some manner."

"Very well," said Frerin after a pause. He spoke a few soft words in the Dwarvish tongue to the other three. It was unintelligible to the Elves, but Orin and Borin glanced at Melpomaen and Haldir, and then nodded at Frerin..

After the Dwarves had rolled up in their blankets, Haldir and Melpomaen spoke together in whispers.

"Frerin may suggest that we travel with them. I do not seriously expect him to, but it is possible – he may think that two additional fighters would be useful in a tight spot. What do you think we should do, if so?" asked Haldir.

Melpomaen considered it. "I wouldn't mind, just to the edge of Mirkwood. After that our paths will diverge in any case."

"We won't have any chance for lovemaking," Haldir pointed out.

"No, but it would be safer. And if we all travel together the watches will be easy, every other night off for each person," said Melpomaen.

"All right; if he asks, we will accept, and if not, no harm done. Did you want to watch first tonight?"

"It doesn't matter to me," said Melpomaen. "I'll go first, if you want."

Haldir nodded. "I'll just have a cup of tea, then I will join our friends in making their beautiful music."

The two Elves grinned at each other, for the racket of snoring Dwarves was unsurpassed by anything either had hitherto encountered. Melpomaen squeezed Haldir's hand. "I'll wake you at the usual time."

Haldir drank his tea – chamomile, to encourage drowsiness, though after the unaccustomed wine he scarcely needed that help – and curled up. He watched Melpomaen moving around the borders of the clearing for a little while, and then his lids drifted closed, and he slept.

Chapter Text

"Dír. Dír." The sound of Melpomaen's voice as much as the hand on his shoulder brought Haldir to wakefulness.

"All right," he said quietly, "I'm awake, Maen." He rolled out of his blankets and stretched. "Nothing has happened, I imagine?"

"Not quite nothing," said Melpomaen in equally subdued tones. "Nothing dangerous, however. I believe the Dwarves are keeping watch themselves, over us if not over our surroundings. At least three times during the first part of my watch I saw that Orin's eyes were open – too often, unless Dwarves can rest waking, as we can in extremity, and I never heard that they could – and some time ago I saw him nudge Frerin, and now I think that Frerin is awake and aware. One might think they do not trust us."

"They may not, for all their friendliness earlier. Would you be so hasty to trust strangers, and sleep untroubled?" Haldir asked.

"I suppose not, but it galls me a little. I will try not to be offended, though, for you are right." Melpomaen crawled under Haldir's deserted blanket. "May your watch go well, meldanya."

It did. Haldir noted that Frerin was indeed wakeful, and that an hour or two into his watch Borin seemed to take over from the other Dwarf, but he pretended to be oblivious to them, instead pacing the perimeter of the clearing on a regular round, and tending to the fire.

Dawn with its twitter of birdsong woke the sleepers. The Dwarves were near-silent, almost surly to Melpomaen's mind, even Frerin who had been so full of conversation the previous night. They shared porridge and hot tea, prepared by Haldir. The Dwarves busied themselves reharnessing their ponies, now speaking to each other in their own tongue. The fire had been quenched and the Elves were readying their packs to depart when Frerin spoke to them in Westron. "Master Elf."

Both Haldir and Melpomaen looked at him.

"Our paths, it would seem, lie in the same direction for a time."

"They do," said Haldir.

"On dangerous roads, greater numbers may bring greater safety to all. Would you consider traveling with us? I doubt that the pace of our ponies would outstrip your own, burdened as they are with the goods in our carts." Behind the beard that concealed most of his face Frerin looked a little ill at ease. "Or you could ride, though I do not know that you would find that comfortable."

Melpomaen shifted, as if he would speak, and Haldir stepped on his foot, saying, "I do not think your ponies need be burdened with us, but we will travel with you." Under his breath, he added in their own language to Melpomaen, "We agreed to this last night."

"I wasn't going to object," whispered Melpomaen indignantly in the same language, but subsided as Haldir continued to answer Frerin.

"I am sure that we can make suitable arrangements to ensure the well-being of all of us; with six to draw upon, only half need take a watch each night, for instance."

"Yes, of course," said Frerin in some confusion, realizing that the Dwarves' action of the previous night had been observed by the Elves. "We would consider you a part of our company, for the time."

Haldir said, "Very well then, we accept."

"May we borrow space in a cart for our packs, though?" asked Melpomaen. "It would be easier to scout without them."

"Certainly," said the Dwarf, clearly relieved to have what he saw as the leading role once again. "There is room in the stores-cart, I am sure."

Khîm climbed down from his seat and beckoned the Elves over, moving a sack of meal and a flitch of bacon aside to make room for their things. "Be welcome," he said, surprising them with a smile that shone white in his black beard.

"We won't have to worry about water," murmured Haldir to Melpomaen as they made certain their packs would be secure, and not damage anything of the Dwarves'. A row of four great casks stood at the far end of the cart, behind a second row of smaller casks like the one that had held the wine the previous night.

"Unless it is beer," Melpomaen replied.

"Surely not," said Haldir, worried. "They would not travel without water on this road."

"No, I am only teasing you. I saw Khîm fetching the water last night. Thank you, Khîm," he added in louder tones, in the Common Tongue. "All is secure here now."

The Elves stepped back to allow the Dwarves room for the ticklish business of maneuvering their vehicles back onto the rutted earth of the road.

The sturdy ponies' pace was more rapid than they would have expected, but Haldir and Melpomaen were well able to keep up with them, even ranging ahead of the file of carts to check the path. Twice they found large branches fallen partly across it, and cleared the road before the Dwarf-carts had to stop. That day passed quickly, and the next several as well. The Elves grew accustomed to the harsh accents of the Dwarf-language, with which their temporary companions conversed on the road, calling forward and back over the thud of the ponies' hooves and the creaking of the wagons. For their part, Haldir and Melpomaen elected to speak in the Silvan tongue, less well-known to outsiders than the Grey-Elven. In the evenings, however, by common consent the whole party used Westron. Conversation was awkward at first, and confined to necessities, but over several days they became somewhat friendlier.

When they arranged their watch-schedule the first evening, they agreed that the Elves should both watch on the same nights, with Frerin as the third that night. Melpomaen was careful to conceal his pleasure at that decision. He looked forward to being able to spend several nights in undisturbed rest, with Haldir next to him.

They spread their blankets together as a matter of course when it came to it, lying close together. It was tantalizing to feel Haldir's breath upon his cheek, and yet be unable to roll over and kiss the mouth of the one he loved above all things in the world. Melpomaen considered it. Then, in the guise of shifting position, he dropped his free arm behind his back and reached to touch Haldir's belly. Haldir seized his wrist, but not before Melpomaen had discovered that his partner was as frustrated as himself by their nearness, with no chance of expressing it.

"Sh. Just let me. . ." and Melpomaen wriggled his hips backward until his buttocks rested against the hard bulge at Haldir's groin. Layers of fabric and leather, as well as the presence of the Dwarves on the far side of the fire, ensured that no more could be done. "Only to feel you close," he added, squeezing Haldir's hand.

Haldir sighed, but did not move away; instead he brought their joined hands to rest on Melpomaen's waist. Thus curled together, they slept.

On the sixth day after they began traveling with the Dwarves, as the whole party sat eating a savory stew that Melpomaen and Khîm had concocted that used a combination of Elvish and Dwarf-style seasoning, Borin indicated that their choice of sleeping positions had not gone unnoticed.

"I have never had occasion to travel with Elves before," said Borin, "and I am curious. Is it common among your people to share a bedroll when traveling?"

Haldir was in the midst of taking a large bite, and choked on it. While he was recovering himself, Melpomaen said carefully, "It is not unheard of. Some do, some prefer not. It is for them to choose what they want. In cool weather, to share warmth makes sense."

"Ah. Yes, we sometimes do the same," Borin said. "Do you recall, Orin, the journey we made many years ago, with our kinsmen Bifur and Bofur, and more than a dozen others? We began so early in the season that there was still snow on the ground. Everyone shared blankets then."

"I remember it well," said Orin. "Was it not Glóin and Bofur who continued to do so even into the summer?"

Borin agreed, "Yes, it was."

"Do you always travel with kin?" inquired Haldir, now that he had stopped coughing.

"Nearly always; certainly by preference. Though we may have a broader idea of kinship than Elves do. I do not know for certain, but," Borin stopped, and shot a torrent of Khuzdul at Frerin.

Frerin said, "I think it would be said ‘third cousin' in Westron. My father's father's mother's father was your father's mother's father's father."

"Third cousin," agreed Borin. Turning back to the Elves, he continued, "Frerin and I, then, are third cousins; that is counted as close kinship among us. The descendants of an ancestor five or six generations back are expected to be known. Within those, we prefer to search for partners for trade and travel and craftwork, as needed. Is it not similar among your people? Are the two of you not related?"

"No," answered Haldir. "Closeness among our people is not determined by kinship. Not always. I have brothers to whom I am close, and we have worked together for many years, but Melpomaen and I are not kinsmen."

"Is it appropriate to ask if either of you is espoused?" asked Khîm, entering the conversation for the first time. "Like Borin, I do not know the customs of your folk well. Except for the trading-customs of the Wood Elves. Pah. The tolls the Wood-king charges for the use of this path are high."

"We could avoid them and go around his realm to the north, but that is a far longer and yet more dangerous road," said Orin. "I have traveled it, and I would not wish to do so again." He shivered.

"Let us not discuss the Elf-king here," said Frerin.

"No. We stray from my question in any event. Do you have spouses? Or should I not ask that?" repeated Khîm.

"It is not a usual question to ask, but I do not take offense," said Haldir.

"No, we are not wedded," said Melpomaen

Borin set down his empty cup and said something to Orin in the Dwarf-tongue. Orin nodded.

Melpomaen realized that his answer was not clear, and tried again. "I have no wife, nor does Haldir."

Haldir, as curious about Dwarvish custom as they seemed to be about the Elves, decided to turn the tables a bit. "What about you? May we enquire if any of you are espoused? Is such a question allowed by your customs?"

Nodding, Borin said, "Yes, although it would rarely be asked. Usually everyone would already know the answer, having heard an announcement of the betrothal. Of the four of us here, only Khîm is married."

"Married is a mild way of putting it," said Orin.

Puzzled, Melpomaen asked, "What do you mean?"

Khîm's ears were red as he answered for himself. "They are teasing me. My wife and I have six children, four sons and two daughters, when most couples have only two or perhaps three children at most."

"Congratulations to you," said Haldir. "That sounds like a fine family. Few of our people have so many children either; two or three is common with us as well."

"Thank you," said Khîm, but he continued to look uncomfortable.

Frerin, who had been silent during the later part of the conversation, now spoke. In a strained voice, he said, "I think we should prepare for our rest, now."

Melpomaen and Haldir looked at him, wondering, but the other Dwarves seemed to understand, jumping up and gathering the remains of the meal.

"I will watch first," said Frerin, still in that tight voice.

"All right," said Haldir. "Maen, do you want second watch or third?"

"Oh, I will take second," said Melpomaen. He did not much care , and knew that if he could, Haldir preferred to avoid the middle watch, which interrupted sleep so badly. "Wake me when it is time," he told Frerin, and went to where he and Haldir had spread their blankets.

The next evening, again preparing the meal with Khîm, who seemed to be the chosen cook among the Dwarves just as Melpomaen usually cooked for himself and Haldir, Melpomaen found an opportunity to inquire further about the previous night's conversation.

"I am surprised only you are wedded," he remarked. "Is that usual, for your folk?"

Khîm gave his pot a stir and pushed it well into the coals before he answered. "It is not unusual. We are all well into our middle years of life and more; I doubt that Orin or Borin will ever now wed, and certainly Frerin will not."

"Why, may I ask?"

"There are fewer Dwarf-women than men. It has always been so. Not all of the women wish to wed; and if a man loves a woman and she weds someone else, he will rarely look at another afterward. That happened to Frerin. When he was young, he fell in love with Dís, but she spurned his suit, for he had little to offer. Her sons are dead now, and her husband as well; she might have been happier with Frerin after all."

Melpomaen thought about that as they finished their cooking and called to the others to come eat. He did not want to bring Frerin painful memories, but he was curious about the Dwarvish customs.

"What you said before made me wonder. Do Dwarves wed once only?" he inquired of Borin as they finished eating.

"Yes, of course," said Borin, surprised. "Is it not the same for Elves?"

"It is indeed." Haldir was the one who answered, in his more fluent Westron. "Most of our folk wed, usually by early in their second century. Doubtless you are aware that the lives of Elves are bound to Arda, and our bodies do not age and fail as do those of other races. But if one spouse should be mortally injured, say in battle, and die, the other does not wed again. More likely the bereaved spouse would travel to the West. I have heard though that among Men matters are different, and if a spouse dies the living partner may wed again. I have even heard that sometimes a couple may part voluntarily and choose to join with others instead, though I find it hard to credit such tales."

"I have heard such too," said Orin. "Often enough that I believe there must be some truth in them, though it seems astonishing. But Men are different from both our peoples; weaker, shorter-lived."

"Though they can be gallant and brave," said Khîm. "Think of Bard, shooting the dragon. Think of the Halfling Bilbo, who came with King Thorin, and fought against the goblins at the Battle of Five Armies."

"Halfling?" queried Melpomaen. "Is that a Man?"

"They are like Men, though much smaller, less than my height and more slender," said Borin. "We pass through their lands on our way to the Blue Mountains. Farmers, mostly, but we do some small trade with them. I know of none that live to the east of the Misty Mountains, and they do not travel."

"Save Bilbo," interjected Frerin.

"Save Bilbo," agreed Borin. "But he came only once, and has returned whence he came, with dragon-gold as his reward."

The story was unfamiliar to the Elves, so Borin recounted for them how Thorin Oakenshield had hired the Halfling Bilbo Baggins as a burglar to help him spy out the lair of the dragon Smaug, to reclaim his kingship. "And though Thorin fell," he ended, "still the battle was won, and the dragon slain, and Dáin became King under the Mountain. My kindred came with Dáin from the Iron Hills at that time; not long ago, even as men reckon it."

Melpomaen yawned, and apologized.

"It is late," said Frerin. "A good tale, Borin, but overlong for a traveling evening."

"Ah, well, we are in no great rush, are we? If we do not depart with the dawn, no harm will be done," said Borin.

Nevertheless all except Orin, who had the first watch, quickly prepared to sleep. As usual Melpomaen and Haldir curled up together on the opposite side of the fire from the three sleeping Dwarves.

"Borin sounds like you," Haldir murmured.

"How do you mean?"

"Not concerned about how long his journey is. Though I doubt his reasons are the same as yours!" Haldir had his hand draped over Melpomaen's shoulder, and his fingers strayed to find a nipple through the fabric and tweak it.

"Dír!" said Melpomaen, in a strangled voice that he tried to keep quiet. "We can't. . ."

"I know," said Haldir regretfully, and moved a few inches away. "Perhaps we shouldn't have agreed to travel with the Dwarves, but overall I have found it worthwhile. Certainly less burdensome, not having to bear our packs, and not needing to be concerned for either food or drink."

"And safer, surely. And far easier watching. I know," Melpomaen said. "It was the right decision." But he sighed nonetheless.

A few minutes later, when he was on the brink of slumber, Melpomaen was pulled back to alertness by Haldir's whisper in his ear. "Meldanya."

"What is it?"

"I have an idea. I will suggest to Frerin tomorrow that we range further ahead than usual; we could slip off, and take a little time for loving. What do you think?"

The more Melpomaen thought about it, the better he liked it. They could scout as promised, if not quite so far as they might, steal some moments together, and return to the caravan. Unburdened, it should not be too difficult. "Yes," he said. "Let us do so."

Frerin was amenable to the suggestion that the Elves go further afield than was their wont, remarking that they had had no hint of danger on the journey so far, which surprised but pleased him.

"I think I know why," said Haldir. "The king had bands of scouts out all winter, searching for a creature that has been terrorizing the wood-folk. Their presence doubtless has encouraged the more dangerous animals to depart, or at least be more wary, though they failed to catch what they were after."

"That is worth knowing," Frerin said. "I could wish that the king's guards had told us this when we paid our toll at his gates. But I expect little of help from the Elf-king; he has never been a friend to Dwarves, though to give him his due he does not harass us either, only sets high tolls to travel through his lands."

Haldir thought it best to say nothing. If the Dwarves were willing to treat himself and Melpomaen as distinct from the Elves of the woodland kingdom, he would not gainsay that. Instead he took leave, saying, "We shall see you at perhaps midday, then."

Frerin nodded, and clucked to his ponies. As usual his cart was set to take the lead. Melpomaen had been helping Khîm stow the heavy cooking pot and supplies, but now trotted forward to join Haldir. "Ready?"

"Let us go," said Haldir.

They set a quick pace and were soon out of sight of the carts. Melpomaen suggested, "Shall we scout for perhaps two hours, and then. . .?"

"That sounds like a fine idea," Haldir agreed. "Do you want to check to the north or south?"

"I'll take the north side of the road," said Melpomaen, "and meet you on the road after."

"Keep heading east, but mark the trees on the north and I'll mark those on the south, so we can find each other," Haldir said.

They took off. The journey had been so uneventful that neither of them expected trouble, though they were diligent in checking the woods for a good quarter-mile on either side. This area of Mirkwood was relatively clear of undergrowth, and the spiders seemed to have abandoned it, for only shreds and tatters of their webs remained in the lower branches of the great oaks. The two Elves had little difficulty in reconnoitering the area.

In late morning, Melpomaen returned to the road. He saw Haldir's blazes on the trees beside the path, and thus knew that his partner was somewhat ahead of him. He quickened his pace. The ground here was gently rolling, and the road twisted to find the least hilly route. Around a curve Melpomaen saw Haldir just at the next bend, and called out.

Haldir turned when he heard Melpomaen's voice, and hurried back. They embraced, kissing each other hungrily, until Haldir withdrew with a chuckle.

"Shall we stand here in the road, or find somewhere else, lest the Dwarves's ponies make better time than we expect?"

Melpomaen's smile lit up his face. "Somewhere else, please."

"I just began to see signs to a spring not far off to the north; shall we go there?" Haldir took Melpomaen's hand and drew him on.

This spring was closer to the path than the one they had found before meeting the Dwarves, though a hill concealed it from easy view.

"We've nothing to lie on, I fear," said Melpomaen regretfully. "And – I did not think to bring the oil-flask, did you?"

"No." Haldir bit his lip. "It does not matter. Come here." He pulled Melpomaen to him and began by pressing kisses on each of his lover's eyelids, moving on to attend to his ears and then the pulse in his throat, the caresses bringing a quiver to Melpomaen's belly as he stood. Haldir tugged Melpomaen's tunic loose and slipped one hand underneath it, stroking warm skin over firm muscle, pinching each nipple in turn until Melpomaen gasped Haldir's name in pleading.

Loosening the lacing that held Melpomaen's leggings, Haldir looked around. He backed Melpomaen against the nearest oak and knelt before him, setting free Melpomaen's erect member and rubbing his own cheek against it for a moment before taking it into his mouth. Melpomaen threaded his fingers through Haldir's hair as his lover began by running his tongue along Melpomaen's length, circling the tip and repeating this several times before finally engulfing him. Haldir used his hands to stroke the base of Melpomaen's organ, since he knew he would have difficulty breathing if he let Melpomaen penetrate him to full length.

Melpomaen scarcely noticed; being unable to make love for nearly a week, while being tantalized by the closeness of Haldir's body every night, made him more than ready. Within a few moments he was at his peak, biting back a cry as his seed spilled into Haldir's mouth.

A last few loving strokes of tongue on tender skin, and Haldir rose, putting his hands to either side of Melpomaen's chest as he leaned against the rough bark of the tree. Melpomaen's eyes were closed as Haldir kissed his lover's lips. "Good?" he asked.

"Of course," said Melpomaen, still with eyes closed, though his arms reached to pull Haldir close. "Always." He held him tightly and sighed.

"What is it?"

"I'm sorry that I forgot to bring the oil. I would have liked to have you inside me," Melpomaen told him.

"We could try, but I think it would be painful for you," said Haldir.

"It would, I'm sure. Well, it will be only another handful of days until we are out of the wood, will it not? I can wait that long." Melpomaen nudged Haldir's hip. "You waited how many years for me?"

Haldir said, "Longer than I want to remember, Maen." He took Melpomaen's hand and guided it to his groin.

Melpomaen needed no further encouragement to loosen Haldir's clothing in return. "What would you like me to do, Dír? The same?"

"Just touch me," said Haldir, and twisted sideways so that his left shoulder was braced against the tree. "And kiss me."

Wrapping his fingers around Haldir's length, Melpomaen began to pump his fist up and down. His free left hand traced up Haldir's chest, then circled his neck and drew their faces together. He tasted a trace of himself on Haldir's lips as he thrust his tongue between them to find Haldir's tongue and suck it back into his own mouth. But Haldir seized control, kissing Melpomaen with such intensity that the younger Elf was dizzied.

"More, meldanya," muttered Haldir, breaking free of their kiss, and Melpomaen increased the speed of his stroking, tightening his grip as much as he dared. Haldir's head was tipped to one side, the beads of moisture along his brow attesting to the heat of his passion. He groaned at Melpomaen's rough handling, but it was a groan of pleasure; when Melpomaen sought to be more gentle, Haldir put his own hand over his lover's to keep him there. "Yes," he hissed, and spent, sticky fluid spurting past their fingers to patter to the damp leaf-strewn earth. He kissed Melpomaen hard once more, then leaned against the tree, drawing deep breaths.

Melpomaen wondered at the way Haldir was acting, but could not think of how he wanted to ask about it. Instead he said, matter-of-factly, "It was a good idea of yours to come be near a spring." He stepped over to it to wash off his hands and face before rearranging his clothing.

After a moment Haldir followed suit, scooping up handfuls of the clear cold water to drink, as well. He glanced over at Melpomaen. "You have bark bits caught in your hair," he said. "Do you have a comb in your belt-pouch?"

"No," said Melpomaen, after looking.

"I think I have mine," said Haldir. "Yes, here it is. We haven't much time, but we ought to tidy up."

Melpomaen spared a fleeting wishful thought for the long evenings they had had in Mirkwood, together in their chamber with the bathing room, but resolved to enjoy these few stolen moments. When they were again both ready, they headed back to the road.

"The Dwarves haven't reached this point yet," Melpomaen decided, looking at the rutted surface.

"Good. We can do a bit more scouting, then turn back," said Haldir.

Chapter Text

The two Elves rejoined the Dwarves without incident, continuing their westward path. About mid-afternoon the shadowy green light under the trees grew even dimmer as clouds in the unseen sky above piled together.

"Rain, I think," remarked Frerin to Haldir, who was walking near the lead cart.

"Doubtless," Haldir agreed, "though little is likely to get through the trees."

"Ah, but they are thinnest over the road, you know. If anything gets wet, we will."

The rain had been falling steadily for some time before it began to penetrate the thick leaf canopy; not yet enough to soak the travelers, but as they moved on enough to make the road unpleasant with developing mud. The air, which was often stuffy under the trees, smelled fresher and a breeze stirred the tattered remnants of the spider-webs. Still the travelers plodded on, the Dwarves chirruping to their ponies to encourage them through the end of the afternoon.

"There's a good campsite, if I remember rightly, not too far ahead," said Frerin. "That's what we're making for. If you'd like to go ahead to it?"

Haldir nodded, and dropped back to tell Melpomaen. They moved out at a brisker pace than the tired ponies could manage on the muddy road, feeling the drops of water on their faces.

"Too bad that it can't rain properly in here," said Melpomaen. "I'd prefer that to this; it feels as if the trees are just shaking off something unwanted from their leaves, rather than enjoying the gift of water. It's enough to make everything damp and uncomfortable, without feeling worthwhile."

"I know. But we'll be out of the woods in a few days, and then if it rains you can get as wet as you like," Haldir teased him.

They paused as thunder rumbled ahead, then jogged along down the road. At last they came to the place that Frerin had indicated, not as large a clearing as that in which they had first encountered the Dwarves, but an obvious place for travelers to stop; again a hearth had been fashioned of stones for ease in fire-making, and criss-crossing ruts indicated that many carts and wagons had been driven in and out of the area.

"I'll build a fire if you'll bring me those fallen branches," offered Melpomaen. "They might not be too damp yet to catch."

"And it will make it easier for the carts to get in." Haldir began collecting the fallen wood, stacking it as neatly as possible near the hearthstones. Melpomaen gathered some dead leaves and a few wisps of dry grass from the lee side of the nearest trees, and with that tinder, was soon able to set the piled wood alight at one end. He would push the longer branches further into the flames as their lighted ends were consumed.

They stood close together with their backs to the fire, waiting for the Dwarves to arrive. There was little else they could do until then, since their packs were stowed in the supply-cart that Khîm drove.

After a longer time than they had expected, the first of the carts came into view. Frerin whistled and beckoned, and Melpomaen went up to him.

"Would you go back and tell the others to come in one at a time? This is narrower than I remembered, and it will take some careful maneuvering to back the carts in between the trees. In fact, if you would, could you ask Orin to help me, and you wait with his cart until we've finished with mine?"

"Certainly," said Melpomaen. He had only rarely ridden a horse – they were little used in Lothlórien – but he had watched the Dwarves tend and drive the ponies for the last several days, and even lent a hand now and again, so he felt little concern when he sent Orin up to Frerin. Rather than climbing on the seat of the cart and taking up the reins, he stood at the animals' noses, talking soothingly to them in his own tongue, the tone of his voice rather than any words helping to calm them, though they shivered each time the thunder boomed overhead. The storm was growing fiercer above the trees, and Melpomaen hoped that it would pass soon.

It seemed to take a long time for Orin to return. Beyond the bulk of the cart with its piled barrels and bundles, Melpomaen could see Borin perched on the seat of his own vehicle, and still further beyond, half-hidden by the rain now dripping steadily through the leaves, Khîm. As the thunder continued, first Khîm and then Borin climbed down and stood with their ponies, comforting them as Melpomaen was Orin's. Finally Orin reappeared at Melpomaen's elbow and took hold of the reins. Melpomaen stepped aside and the creaking wooden wheels on their iron rims slowly began to turn.

When Frerin and Orin had, with effort and some help from the two Elves, managed to back Orin's cart into a suitable place, it was Borin's turn, then Khîm's. All was progressing smoothly when, just as they were loosing the last pair of animals from their harness, the whole place was lit up as bright as a cloudless noon by a bolt of lightning striking one of the great oaks on the far side of the road. The tree split, the noise swallowed up in the louder crack of the thunder, and fell heavily, its wounded bark aflame. The ponies on their pickets squealed and reared in fright, but their ropes held. The two still half-harnessed bolted, pulling free from the grasp of Borin and Khîm. The wheel of the cart struck a tree root and the whole thing tipped over as the off pony's harness parted and it broke free, plunging along the road away from the burning tree.

Khîm and Borin together leapt to the remaining animal, using their combined weight to restrain it from following its companion. Luckily the leather harness had been loose enough that the tipping cart had not pulled the pony down as well.

At the same instant Melpomaen shouted, "I will go after it," and dashed to follow the runaway, hoping it would keep to the road and not go off into the trees, where both pony and Elf would risk breaking a leg on the uneven ground.

The picketed ponies calmed slowly as Frerin and Orin moved among them. Haldir went to help Khîm and Borin right the upset cart as soon as they had freed the trembling animal from its harness and taken it to join the others. Surprisingly little damage had been done to the vehicle.

"Dwarf-built," said Borin in laconic explanation when Haldir remarked on the fact.

"But this was not," said Khîm, lifting a cask now splintered beyond repair at one end. "Wine tonight, lads," he called over to the other two Dwarves. "We can't travel with that, it would only spill."

Most of the other supplies, though fallen onto the muddy ground, were safe in their stout canvas bundles and bags, though a half-sack of beans had burst its seam and one ham had somehow come completely unwrapped and was plastered in leaf-mold. They piled everything to one side, righted the cart and checked it for soundness, then by main force pushed it into the place Frerin had designated before reloading everything but what would be required that evening.

By now the rain had nearly extinguished both the burning tree and the fire that Melpomaen had so carefully started. Khîm salvaged the latter with a judicious combination of air blown from a small bellows – "No Dwarf would travel without some basic tools," he told Haldir – and wood carefully placed. That done, he warmed some of the salvaged wine and handed it steaming around in mugs, apologizing that he had only cloves with which to flavor it.

Haldir was beginning to worry about his partner. Melpomaen had been gone in pursuit of the stray for well over an hour, and the weather made the light dim earlier than usual. The Dwarves were concerned as well.

"That pony must be leading your friend a merry chase," said Frerin. "If he does not return soon, we should perhaps go after him."

Relieved that he had not had to suggest it himself, Haldir agreed.

"We'll give him a few minutes more. Who shall go?" asked Frerin. "You, Haldir, must; you are the most experienced tracker among us. But another ought to accompany you, in case," he faltered for an instant, "in case a message needs to be sent to bring the rest of us."

"I will go," said Orin and Khîm at the same time. Then Khîm deferred. "You go, Orin. Better for me to stay here and prepare something ready for our supper."

Melpomaen did not come back, and so Haldir and Orin set out to follow him. After some discussion, they had elected not to carry torches as being more trouble than they were worth, and the light not yet nearly gone, even if dim. Unless some accident had injured either Elf or pony too badly to walk, they expected to be back well before dark. The worst of the storm had now passed over, and the rain was slackening. Haldir thought that the skies might clear quickly; by his reckoning the moon was near to the full, and some light might find its way even through the dense leaf-canopy.

They set off in the direction that Borin had seen Melpomaen run, westward, looking closely at the edges of the road to see if prints of pony or Elf diverged from the main track. The wet earth revealed nothing to their eyes as they walked along.

A mile and more down the road, Haldir brought Orin to a stop. "Listen." From ahead came a sound, unmistakable to Haldir as Melpomaen's voice, in accents that suggested he was urging the pony to move with the last of his patience. They hastened forward and found the missing pair.

"He lost his left front shoe somewhere, and favors that hoof," said Melpomaen to Orin as the Dwarf clucked to the pony and ran knowledgeable hands down each of its legs.

"We'll soon have that mended, back at camp," said Orin cheerfully. "If that's his only hurt, it's better than I'd feared." He took hold of the dangling straps at the pony's nose and tugged gently, speaking to the animal in the jarring syllables of the Dwarf-tongue, which evidently sounded soothing to it, for it perked its ears forward and followed Orin obediently.

Haldir and Melpomaen fell into step behind, Haldir taking Melpomaen's hand. "I'm glad you are all right, Maen," he said, choosing to speak in Silvan although he doubted Orin was listening. "After your accident last autumn, I was concerned. I didn't fancy having to carry you back to Thranduil's caverns and wait for you to heal again!" He pressed his lover's fingers to show that he was not altogether serious in his remarks. Melpomaen squeezed back.

"You should know better, Dír," he said. "I only ran a little distance after the wretched beast before I decided that I might only frighten it more by so doing. Indeed, each time I caught up it would run off again, but at last it let me near. How far have we to go to get back? I was watching the pony rather than the path."

"A mile, perhaps a bit further," replied Haldir.

They plodded on after Dwarf and pony. Their stolen moments together earlier that day seemed very far away to Melpomaen, whose chase after and frustration by the pony had told on him. He wanted nothing more than to curl up in Haldir's embrace in their blankets, right then, but it would be some time still before that was possible. When they reached the camp, Frerin promptly offered to take the middle watch shift, usually Melpomaen's, so that the latter could watch first and then have an uninterrupted, if short, night of sleep. Melpomaen could scarcely refuse the kind offer.

Khîm had outdone himself with the meal for the returning pony-rescuers, despite having to contend with a reluctant fire; the rain had passed but all the available wood was damp if not wet. Slices of ham sizzled at the edge of the coals, and dumplings floated on a savory soup of beans and onions. Orin, Haldir, and especially Melpomaen were pressed to take mugs of hot wine while Frerin and Borin tended to the limping animal.

"Thank you, Melpomaen," said Frerin when they returned to the fire, his thanks heartily seconded by the other three Dwarves. "Had you not gone after Ironcoat, we could have been in difficult straits indeed."

"We ought to do a bit of trading in one of the Man-villages between Mirkwood and the Misty Mountains," suggested Orin, "for a spare pony or two."

Frerin looked dubious. "They'll be Man-trained, though," he said. "You know I would have brought spare ponies with us from Erebor if any were to be had, but that plague of hoof-rot last year made them almost as scarce as true-silver."

"Better Man-bred ponies than risk having to leave a cart in the mountains," Boring supported his brother. "They can be trained to our ways."

Melpomaen listened with some interest as the Dwarves discussed the merits and shortcomings of equines and different methods of training them, though at times he had difficulty following when they drifted into technical talk, even though they stuck to the Common Tongue out of politeness. Haldir was indifferent, spooning up his soup, and complimented Khîm on its flavor when he had finished.

"Plenty of savory, and not too much salt," confided the Dwarf, pleased.

The remainder of the evening was taken up with the usual camp chores; reshoeing the pony was left until the light of the morning.

Several more days of travel passed without further incident. The Dwarves discussed their trade and business at night, and the two Elves were able to piece together a notion of Dwarf-life from what was mentioned in passing. It was a life devoted to making, creating, to a far greater extent than was common among Elves – even than the life of the legendary Fëanor of the Noldor, the kinsman of the lady Galadriel. Instead of walking freely through the forest, Dwarves were more comfortable in their caverns underground, with fires burning constantly, surrounded by metal and gemstones and contrivances.

One evening Borin discovered that Melpomaen was something of a musician, and encouraged him to play his pipes for them all after supper. Melpomaen played the melody that he had composed for Haldir over the winter, though without mentioning to the Dwarves that it was his own. Haldir recognized the tune and was touched by the unspoken expression of his partner's love. Then Borin and Orin reciprocated, singing in chorus what they said was a traditional Dwarf tune. The words celebrated the pleasures to be found amid the toil of craftsmanship, wresting metal from the rocks in which it hid and drawing it forth in gleaming rivulets, which were then shaped into forms both useful and beautiful. Listening, each of the Elves in his own way appreciated something of the life of their temporary companions. Haldir was struck most by the smelting, the transformation by fire of dull rock into bright metal, while Melpomaen's fancy was caught by the way in which the Dwarves contrived new and better tools and toys.

Even the forest of Mirkwood, great in size though it was in comparison with Lothlórien, could not go on forever. With delight that they emerged one midmorning into the grassy fields that formed its western boundary. The sky was patched with clouds, but they were high white puffs that did not forbode rain, and it was reasonable to hope that the sun might soon get the better of them altogether.

The Dwarves drew up their carts and got down, standing in a cluster. "Here we part, then," said Frerin. "I thank you for your good companionship, and wish you good fortune. Know that Frerin son of Frór is at your service!"

"And Orin son of Bór." "And Borin son of Bór." "And Khîm son of Mîm," said the others, each in their turn.

Haldir and Melpomaen bowed in response. "We are at your service as well, good Dwarves. May your journey be swift and your trade prosperous." They took their packs from the rearmost cart and shouldered them. "Farewell!"

"Farewell," called the Dwarves, climbing back onto their seats and chirruping their ponies onward. "Farewell!"

The two Elves turned south along a lesser trail as the Dwarves continued westward on the main road towards the distant heap that was the Misty Mountains. Melpomaen let out a long breath. "Well."

"Well indeed," said Haldir, smiling. "I am not sorry to have traveled with them, but I am glad to be alone with you again, meldanya."

They set a good pace, encumbered though they were with their belongings once again. "I thought to travel this path for a day or so and then turn westward again when we have a chance," said Haldir. "We will need to replenish our supplies sooner or later, though the Dwarves were more generous than I would have expected in sharing theirs. When I discussed our journey and possible routes with Lórindol last year, he told me that most of the villages of Men in these parts cluster near the Anduin."

"But you did not want to journey further with the Dwarves," said Melpomaen. "Nor did I, I confess."

"You read me plainly," said Haldir. "Can you guess more of my thought?"

"I would guess that you will suggest an early stop this afternoon, if we find a suitable place." Melpomaen held out one arm and looked at it. "Suitable meaning somewhere that we might wash our garments, and ourselves as well."

"Exactly," said Haldir, laughing.

They found such a place at about midday, but agreed that it was too early to justify stopping. Outside the forest, spring was well advanced and the day was warm. Wet clothes should easily dry overnight, and they had delayed many times already on this journey. So they went on, trusting that another stream would be found. As the afternoon passed with no further sign of running water, however, they wondered if they had erred in not taking their first opportunity. The shadows were beginning to reach long when Haldir saw the glint of a stream ahead and they hurried to the little ford that crossed it, going a short distance upstream and nearer to the forest, from which the path they followed had drawn away.

Haldir offered to wash out their things while Melpomaen set up the camp and gathered wood. After a little thought, Melpomaen decided to start the night's fire and put a stew to simmer, so that they might eat whenever they chose, early or late. That accomplished, he found Haldir at the water's edge downstream from their camp.

The older Elf was nearly finished with his task. Leggings and other garments were draped across several bushes to catch the late rays of sunshine. Melpomaen saw that Haldir had chosen to wash even what he had been wearing that day. Light rimmed his naked body as he turned to hang out a last undertunic.

"Are you willing to wash one or two more things?" asked Melpomaen.

Haldir took Melpomaen's hand and drew his lover close. "As long as one of those things is you, Maen."

"How can I refuse such an offer?" Quickly Melpomaen stripped, setting his shoes next to Haldir's, where he saw that the other had also placed a drying-cloth to use when they had bathed.

Tempted though Haldir was, he used the soap first on Melpomaen's clothes before stepping into the water and beckoning Melpomaen to follow him. "It is not warm," he warned, "but there is a pool just here that is deep enough to rinse off in."

Melpomaen shivered as the cold water touched his skin, followed by Haldir's warmer hands. Despite the chill of the water and air, warmth pooled in his belly and groin.

Haldir stroked the lather over each inch of Melpomaen's body, intent on his task and enjoying it. When he had finished, he bade Melpomaen stoop down and used his cupped hands to pour water over him, sluicing away the residues of dirt and sweat and soap together. Quickly Haldir loosed Melpomaen's hair from its braids, but let his partner duck to wet it himself before rubbing it with more soap. Melpomaen emerged, spluttering, from a final rinse and took the soap from Haldir to reciprocate in reverse order, washing Haldir's hair before his body.

Completely clean for the first time in weeks, they embraced briefly before the chill drove them out of the water to share the drying-cloth between them. The fire had burned low in its ring of stones, but the pot simmered merrily as Melpomaen added more wood before he sank with Haldir onto their spread blankets.

"I love you, Dír," said Melpomaen, running his hands along Haldir's torso and down to his hips.

"And I you." Haldir kissed Melpomaen's cheek, jaw, and chin before finally settling on Melpomaen's mouth, which he probed gently, almost hesitatingly, with his tongue. Teasing bites on Melpomaen's lips followed as Haldir's fingers made their knowing way across Melpomaen's chest, pinching his nipples to a hardness that was echoed below.

Melpomaen shifted so that his thigh pressed against Haldir's, their two members rubbing together. He clasped the flesh of Haldir's buttocks, kneading, his fingers searching out the cleft that parted them and nudging them apart. Haldir sighed against Melpomaen's mouth and murmured in encouragement, "I set the oil flask at the top of the blanket while you stoked the fire."

Stretching his arm overhead, Melpomaen found the little bottle by touch. He had to pull his other hand from under Haldir's waist in order to work the stopper free, but soon Haldir lay on his belly, legs drawn up and spread wide, while Melpomaen's fingers eased him open.

"Oh, Maen, there," gasped Haldir as he felt a touch on that most responsive spot within him. Melpomaen repeated his motions until Haldir was writhing and panting beneath him.

"Can you wait?" Melpomaen asked. "For me, Dír, can you wait? Because I want you in me as well."

Haldir drew in a breath and nodded, biting his lip to distract himself from the sensations that threatened to overwhelm him. He gripped the blanket and forced himself to stillness as Melpomaen withdrew his fingers and replaced them with the rigid heat of his organ.

Seeing Haldir's excitement mount had brought Melpomaen's own desire to its height. The slick embrace of Haldir's well-oiled passage caressed him as he slid inside. He found the position awkward, though, and asked Haldir to rise to his hands and knees that he might thrust more easily. Haldir complied and Melpomaen let himself go, gripping Haldir's hips so tightly that his fingers left reddened marks behind. "I am yours," he cried out as he spent.

Haldir ached with arousal. He trembled as he oiled first himself and then his lover, but he had waited for what seemed so long that he would not be easily satisfied. He pulled out completely at each stroke, and Melpomaen underneath him felt a double pleasure with every thrust, first when Haldir passed the ring of tight muscle at his entrance, and again as Haldir's organ rubbed the sensitive node inside. He had scarcely softened, but now he hardened again untouched.

Gradually Haldir increased the tempo of his movements, his thrusts becoming more rapid but shallower, no longer withdrawing entirely. He could feel his climax approaching and reached around Melpomaen's hips, stroking his lover's organ as he pulled their bodies tightly together. A guttural cry escaped Haldir's lips, his seed spilling deep into Melpomaen. His fingers tightened and sent Melpomaen over the edge again as well, sticky spurts pulsing into Haldir's palm.

Fatigued with pleasure they lay there, Haldir's member still within Melpomaen until, softening, it slipped out when he shifted. Twilight had fallen and the little breeze that had earlier stirred the grasses had died down.

"I could stay like this forever," said Melpomaen quietly into the stillness.

Haldir made no answer at first. Then he said, "You would get hungry, Maen. Do I smell some of your wonderful soup? Shall I bring you some?" Without waiting for a reply, he rose.

Chapter Text

They ate soup in silence, the only sound the clink of spoon against metal bowl. Haldir was sorry that he had answered what was no doubt just an expression of happiness on Melpomaen's part in such a way as to make his lover take offense, but Melpomaen had agreed to return home. If there was much that went with that which neither of them would best like, it was still courting unhappiness to dwell on it, or so Haldir saw the matter.

Melpomaen cleared up from the meal, stacking the bowls tidily together near the fire; they would eat the rest of the soup in the morning. When he had finished, with his face averted he said, "Shall I take the first watch?"

"Come here." Haldir held out his hand.

Neither of them had pulled on more than a pair of still-damp leggings before they ate, and that mostly for comfort in sitting on the uneven ground, for the evening air was still and warm. So when Melpomaen's reluctant feet took him to Haldir, it was the bare skin of his torso around which his lover's arms were wrapped. There was a comfort in it despite Haldir's words.

"Forever. Love can last forever, perhaps, but nothing else. The sun rises and sets, the seasons turn, and a tree that was once a tiny shoot pushing out of a half-buried nut grows great, but at last falls or is felled. All things change, Maen."

"The Wood does not," said Melpomaen stubbornly.

Haldir sighed and said, "The Lady wills it so. . . but even she cannot keep time at bay forever. And she knows this. Was not her own daughter lost to her? Though that may be why she wishes to keep Lórien unsullied," he mused aloud, before returning to his theme. "I know you did not mean that you truly wished to stay here forever, but even as a jest it is a poor one. A Man, perhaps, may think that something lasts forever, but his time here in Middle-earth is such a little span that he does not see past it. An Elf sees more clearly. Things will and must change."

"But they need not be forced to change," said Melpomaen, "before their time. Is it not better to enjoy the gifts of each day, and hope that they will continue until one is ready to give them up? That, I will acknowledge, must be the case."

"It is not wrong to take pleasure in each day as it passes, no," Haldir said.

"Nor do I think it wrong to take pleasure in you, Dír, and in our lovemaking, and wish it to continue," said Melpomaen. "That is what I meant."

"I see," said Haldir, striving to keep doubt from his voice.

"So shall I take the first watch?" Melpomaen asked.

"It does not matter to me tonight. Whatever you prefer."

"I will, then." Melpomaen unwrapped Haldir's arm from around his waist and rose. "You should rest now, or you will not be ready to take your turn."

Obediently Haldir lay down and drew the blanket around him. It was almost too warm now, but he would be chilled by mid-night if he slept uncovered.

"Rest well, Haldir," said Melpomaen, turning away to add wood to the fire.

In the grey light of dawn Haldir looked at Melpomaen's sleeping form. His lover's dark hair fanned out, a few strands across his face stirring with every exhalation. Melpomaen's left arm was flung out, palm upward, the limp fingers curling towards the thumb. Haldir's heart turned over at the sight of Melpomaen so vulnerable.

Leaving him there for a last few moments of slumber, Haldir went down to the stream to collect the now-dry garments and fold them for stowing in their packs. He carried the armful back, then returned for water to make hot tea. Chamomile, today, he decided, with a pinch of clover. He gauged Melpomaen's sleepy stirrings, and had a cup ready for him when he lifted his head and blinked his eyes open.

"Goo' morning," Melpomaen yawned, taking the cup. "Oh, thank you, Dír."

"Good morning, Maen," said Haldir. He sat cross-legged beside Melpomaen on the blankets and drank his own tea. "I think today, if we find any path heading westward, we should go to the river."

"You said so yesterday," Melpomaen reminded him.

"I know."

"And you have almost finished packing up," said Melpomaen, looking around. "Are you in a hurry to leave? Are you worried about supplies, and want to be sure we find a village soon? Because we are low, but there is enough for several days, and we could always do a bit of hunting."

"No, I packed because I do not want to leave in a hurry," Haldir said. He put his cup aside, reached for Melpomaen's, and set it down as well.

Melpomaen's eyes widened as he took Haldir's meaning. "Ah. Yes. Just a moment – that tea, you understand."

When Melpomaen returned from tending to necessity, Haldir was waiting for him. "I want you to know how much I love you, meldanya, and this is the most direct way I can show you so." He took Melpomaen in his arms and kissed him, running his tongue between Melpomaen's teeth and lower lip, then tugged him down to the blankets.

Haldir held Melpomaen against him, his belly to Melpomaen's back, his right arm draped around Melpomaen's waist, fingers rubbing gentle circles as he spoke. "I love you, Maen."

"I know," Melpomaen began to say, but Haldir held a finger to his lips, bidding him be still.

"Since I was younger than you are now, before you were born, I have waited – hoped – to find you someday. And then there you were, by great good fortune not only in the same guard company, but made my partner. I could scarcely have asked for more; to have you real and present with me was almost enough, more than I had believed would ever happen. When you told me that you had found no understanding with Caranfíniel, I thought that perhaps, if I was very fortunate, you might come to return my feelings," said Haldir. He was quiet for a few moments and Melpomaen again tried to speak and was silenced.

"But I did not anticipate that it would come about the way that it did," Haldir at last continued. "I waited for you for hundreds of years; I ought to have been able to be patient still, more so since I knew who it was I had awaited. I fear that I took advantage of you, Maen, that if I have not led you down paths you might not have chosen to take, that I have nevertheless hurried you along them without giving you time to consider and choose knowingly. A pebble in the right place can turn aside a river, and all our actions may have consequences we do not foresee and may not intend. Do you understand what I mean?"

Melpomaen lay still in Haldir's embrace. "I understand that you love me, and I love you, Dír," he said, "and I would not change that. If there is one perfect mate for each of us, and I am yours, then you must be mine, is that not so?"

"Yes, but would you have chosen me, if the circumstances had not forced awareness of my feelings upon you?" Haldir frowned, though without ceasing his caresses. "I cannot lose the sense that being as precipitate as we were was not the wisest thing to be; we have had an opportunity I certainly never expected, but it may not have been an unalloyed blessing. I had hoped only to have you return my feelings someday. I did not anticipate what a joy it would be to make love with you as well as loving you; and if I who have thought about such matters for so long now find myself torn between different desires and responsibilities, how much more difficult must it be for you?"

"It is not easy," Melpomaen admitted, "but I made the decision first to love you and then to follow you home, because you want me to, and I will hold to that."

"As you say," said Haldir, though he was not wholly convinced. "I am not certain how I came to say all that. I meant only to remind you how deeply I love you, that I am complete now that we are together – whether or not we can be intimate. When we traveled with the Dwarves I missed it, as you well know," he smiled against Melpomaen's neck," but I was nonetheless happy in your company."

All the time they had been speaking, Haldir had been stroking Melpomaen's chest and belly. Now he allowed his hand to drift to Melpomaen's groin. "As I am happy now, albeit in a different manner," Haldir whispered, his breath tickling Melpomaen's ear. He touched softly, insistently, and felt Melpomaen harden in response. Haldir pressed light kisses over the back of Melpomaen's neck and his shoulder, all he could reach without moving. Melpomaen's skin tasted faintly of salt and more of woodsmoke, and he arched back and twisted to let Haldir's lips reach the hollow of his throat.

Haldir sucked fiercely, marking Melpomaen's skin where the red blood had been drawn to the surface. He pushed up to lie half on top of Melpomaen, wanting to feel a connection from head to foot, and ran his toes along Melpomaen's instep.

Melpomaen let out a whuff of laughter. "That tickles!" he protested.

"Ah, well then." Haldir reversed himself so that his head was at Melpomaen's feet, and kissed the place his toe had offended. "Is that better?"

"Much better," said Melpomaen. "Feel free to continue."

Haldir kissed him there again, then the other foot, and gradually worked his way up Melpomaen's legs, kneeling over him, until he was past Melpomaen's knees. At that point he realized the position he was in, for Melpomaen had been unable to resist the temptation of proximity, and had begun to move his tongue across the loose flesh that hung so deliciously close. Melpomaen enclosed the whole of Haldir's pouch in his mouth and hummed with pleasure, sending a ripple of delight up Haldir's spine. Haldir cried out wordlessly as Melpomaen tugged his hips down and licked from there back to the tight wrinkled entrance.

He had done this once before – kissed Haldir so – and this time again he was distantly surprised that he felt no repulsion; but all he could think of was how much pleasure he was bringing to his partner. Melpomaen pointed his tongue and teased Haldir with it, pushing just beyond the opening. Haldir's legs were quivering under Melpomaen's hands, and Melpomaen realized that his lover would not be able to hold there much longer. He drew back and wriggled out from underneath Haldir, pushing him down to the blankets and crouching between his spread legs to resume.

After only a few moments, though, Haldir said, "Wait, Maen."

Melpomaen said, "Are you not enjoying that?"

"Yes, but. . . I had something else in mind, if it is all right with you." Haldir rolled over onto his back, legs apart, and reached out for Melpomaen. "Can you reach the oil-flask? I set it down on that side."

"Here it is," said Melpomaen, handing it to him.

Haldir poured a little into Melpomaen's palm. "We will need to buy more, when we replenish our supplies," he remarked.

"Yes," agreed Melpomaen with fervor. He dabbled his fingers in the thick liquid and brought them thus coated to where his tongue had been just before, ensuring that the way was open. What remained on his palm he spread along his own member.

"Now," said Haldir, and drew his knees up, holding his legs open and wide. "Come into me, and kiss me as you do."

Melpomaen found it slightly awkward, but managed, helped by Haldir tilting his hips further. He leaned forward and brought his mouth to Haldir's as he slid slowly into the slick warmth.

"That's it, yes," murmured Haldir when Melpomaen broke the kiss. "I want to see your face this time, meldanya." He watched the expression on his lover's face alter as Melpomaen moved in and out, his back arched, his hands braced on either side of Haldir's torso.

Entering Haldir's body, looking into his beloved's eyes filled with love and desire, Melpomaen felt torn between joy and grief; he had meant it when he said that he could stay like this forever. He knew it to be impossible, even knew that he would someday wish to have things change, but for now that was his true will. And so he closed his eyes and let the pleasure of the moment take him instead, each movement carrying him further along the stream of passion until like a dam it burst, and he cried out with mingled loss and delight.

As Melpomaen withdrew, Haldir let his own posture relax. He had enjoyed the novel position less than he expected, and wondered how Melpomaen had found it, who was now slumped over him, his breath still fast and hot against Haldir's chest, his softening organ damp and sticky against Haldir's hard ache. In a moment, though, Melpomaen rolled to the side, leaving his left leg draped over Haldir's, and began to fondle him with a teasing, feather-light touch.

A few minutes of this and Haldir could bear no more. "Please," he begged, and covered Melpomaen's hand with his own, urging Melpomaen to hold him more firmly, stroke him more rapidly.

Melpomaen acquiesced briefly, then pushed Haldir's hand aside and instead turned around and let his mouth embrace Haldir's member, tongue wrapping around the tip of it. Again he was deliberate, only slowly licking further down the shaft. Moving almost pore by pore, Melpomaen used lips and tongue and fingers to explore the hot skin before him, the whole traceried map from navel to thighs. He could hear Haldir's panting breath, almost hear the blood as it pulsed through Haldir's body and throbbed in the yearning organ before him.

Restlessly, Haldir's hands moved, touching both himself and Melpomaen without distinction between the two of them. He brushed over Melpomaen's hip and the swell of his buttocks and felt it as if he himself had been touched there, and he gasped at it.

Now Melpomaen at last took all he could of Haldir into his mouth, relaxing his throat to take him deeper still, and rubbed his fingers hard against the base. The unexpectedness of it lost Haldir whatever control he might have been able to muster, and he thrust twice, three times, unable to hold back, spending in a rush of bitter seed.

The sun was by now well up, and bright in their eyes as they lay. "I suppose we must go on," said Melpomaen presently. "Is there anything to eat?"

"Your soup from last night," said Haldir.

"Maybe today we can take a rabbit, or something," said Melpomaen. "Roast meat would make a nice change."

"We can certainly try," Haldir agreed.

They followed the little stream that day, as it flowed westward towards Anduin, but did not reach the river that night. In the early evening, they stopped and fashioned a few snares, when Melpomaen spotted a likely warren. They sat at some distance and waited to see if they would have any luck, and by good fortune caught a fine large buck-rabbit within a quarter of an hour.

"Shall we try for two?" asked Haldir.

Melpomaen assessed it. "No, I don't think so. You said the river should be close, and that there are villages; no need to carry more than we must."

Its meat was tender and tasty, and the night passed well.

The next morning they came across a small hamlet, no more than a dozen cottages. Inquiring about supplies from a red-bearded man, they were told that if it was supplies they wanted, they would do best to go on to Stonyford, along the path and upstream a short way, whose weekly market would be held the following day. Haldir thanked him for the advice, and they moved onward.

"I don't think we should stay in the village itself," Haldir said as they walked. "I imagine there is an inn, and they are doubtless used to both Elves and Dwarves passing through, but we do not have that much coin and it seems to me best to spend it cautiously, on necessities. We can camp perfectly well, as we are accustomed to."

"Are you certain? We could sleep in a bed." Melpomaen smiled. "Or not sleep."

"But in an inn of Men? Probably with bugs in the mattress and no more than a thin wooden wall between us and the traveler in the next chamber?" said Haldir. "I do not think I would be comfortable with that."

"Maybe not," Melpomaen said, and sighed. "It would be nice, but I suppose you are right, you usually are."

Haldir saw the wistful expression on his lover's face, and said, "If it means so much to you, Maen, we can try it; we can at least see how much they will charge, before we decide."

Dale had been a city of Men, but where Dale was fashioned in stone, Stonyford's buildings were cruck-built of timber, their frames filled with wattle and daub and their roofs mostly thatched. The inn was similar, if on a larger scale, and the whole settlement seemed to Elvish eyes ramshackle and malodorous, with middens and cess-pits out of sight but not out of smell behind the several crooked streets of houses.

The inn, its sign proclaiming it The Great Bear, stretched with its stables along the main road. "Do you suppose that Frerin and the others stayed here?" asked Melpomaen.

"Probably; that stream we followed took us northward as well as west to the river. I think we've come back to the same road that we took through Mirkwood," said Haldir. "If so I imagine they have already moved on, however." The lintel of the door was high, and he stepped through with no need to duck into a surprisingly spacious, if dark, common room.

A heavy-set Man in a spotted apron bustled up to them. "Geleb at your service, good sirs. Were you wanting a room? A meal? Stabling for your horses?" His glance sized them up, and his smile did not touch his eyes.

"Perhaps a room and a meal, but we travel afoot," Haldir said. "What is the price?"

"D'you wish two rooms, or one? For I'll warn you that I've a large party of Dwarves in from the west, and space is tight just now."

"One," said Haldir firmly. "As long as the bed will hold two comfortably, one room will suit us."

"Oh, aye, all the beds are large enough for two Elves, or three Dwarves, or more in a pinch. That would be three silver pennies and a farthing, for the two of you, since you have no horses; with your suppers and breakfast and all," said Geleb.

Melpomaen worried that Haldir would decide the price was too high, but his partner shrugged and said, "Very well."

"Hael! Show these guests to the south end room. Hael!"

A lad came up whose appearance suggested he was Geleb's son. "This way, sirs." He led them up a set of creaking stairs and along a hallway punctuated by doors to either side, opening the last door on the left and gesturing them in. "Privy's out back behind the kitchen, chamber-pot for night under the table there. Do you need water to wash in?"

"Yes, thank you," Haldir said.

"I'll bring that to you then. You can come down for your supper when you like, but if you come sooner rather than later you'll be best off," said Hael, "what with the Dwarves in today."

Melpomaen nodded understanding and shut the door behind the boy. He looked around the dim room and stepped over to open the wooden shutters that covered the window, letting in fresh air as well as the last of the sun. "It seems all right," he said, dropping his pack to the floor with a thud and sitting down experimentally on the low bed.

Haldir flipped down a corner of the covers and ran his hand over the mattress. "Hay-filled, I've no doubt, but the ticking is sturdy; we should not be uncomfortable, I hope. And I see no bugs at present anyway." He stretched out beside Melpomaen. "It creaks, though."

"Mm. True enough."

It was only a short time before Hael was back with two ewers filled with water, one hot, one cool. He reminded them again that it would be prudent to come for their meal before the Dwarves did before clattering away down the hall.

Pouring water into the basin, Haldir washed his face and hands, then found his comb and began unbraiding his hair while Melpomaen washed.

"Let me do that," said Melpomaen. He sat on the edge of the bed with Haldir on the floor in front of him, and carefully disentangled the golden strands. When he had finished combing it out, he gathered Haldir's hair into a single braid down his back and bound the end with a bit of leather thong.

"Shall I?" Haldir held up the comb inquiringly.

In answer, Melpomaen moved to seat himself on the floor next to Haldir. He luxuriated in the feeling of the comb running along his scalp from brow to neck. With his hair hanging loose and shining like a dark sheet down his back, he stopped Haldir from binding it up. "Later, Dír. Remember Hael's warning; we should go to eat."

There were half-a-dozen Men already seated midway along the long benches when they returned to the common room. The two Elves chose places at the far end, away from the fire.

"It's roast mutton tonight," said Hael, appearing at Melpomaen's elbow, "boiled turnips, bread and cheese. Cider or ale as you please, but if you want wine that will be another farthing."

"Cider for me, please," said Haldir.

"I would like ale," Melpomaen said.

The mutton was on the greasy side and the turnips overcooked and underseasoned to Melpomaen's taste, but the bread was fresh and good and the cheese sharp, both of which they appreciated for having gone without them on their journey. They were mopping up the last juices of the meat when the door opened and the room suddenly seemed filled with Dwarves, all calling for ale.

"I think they may get a bit noisy soon," murmured Haldir to Melpomaen.

"Quite possibly," Melpomaen agreed, watching one Dwarf drain his mug in a single swallow, and noticing that the number of Men already present had been augmented by another half-score, evidently local inhabitants. Geleb and Hael were whisking in and out with flagons and platters held aloft. "Perhaps we should retire?"

"I'd hoped to learn something of the local roads, but perhaps that will be more easily accomplished tomorrow," agreed Haldir. He swallowed the last of his cider and rose, slipping through the crowd back to the stairs, followed by Melpomaen.

Chapter Text

They lay together in the coarse linen sheets. For all that Geleb had claimed that the beds were large enough for two Elves, they found that their feet tended to hang off the edge.

"Perhaps this is one of the beds meant for three Dwarves?" suggested Melpomaen, and Haldir laughed.

"You could be right. It's wide enough, just not long enough."

The door was latched; they would not be disturbed. Haldir had drawn the shutters to stand just ajar while Melpomaen had lighted the candle in its squat stand from the lamp in the hallway, before fastening the door. Now they lay face to face, looking into each other's eyes by its dim and flickering light.

Melpomaen shifted, and the bed creaked. He grimaced. "That could be annoying."

"Will anyone hear?" said Haldir, and as if to reinforce his words, a gust of noisy laughter and a snatch of song drifted in through the window from below. "We are at the end of the hall, and below us is the common room. There is only one room next to us, and its occupant is probably down there, drinking and singing."

"Such disregard, Dír, from you? I'm surprised," Melpomaen said.

"There is none here to know us, or care what we do," said Haldir. He reached out and stroked Melpomaen's face, tracing with the tip of his finger from the corner of one eye down along Melpomaen's cheek and jawline, pausing at his chin before moving up to his lips. "Is there?"

Melpomaen ran his tongue along the line where Haldir's fingernail joined skin, then took the first joint of Haldir's finger into his mouth and suckled it briefly. Raising his own hand to take Haldir's, he answered, "No, there is not."

"We thought that Thranduil's caverns might be our last bed for a very long time," said Haldir, "but I am glad that it is not. You were right to suggest we should stay here, Maen." He frowned slightly, and added, "Even if we are prickled by the hay of this mattress."

"It's no worse than the ground. And certainly softer. And most of all, neither of us need keep watch," said Melpomaen.

"A good point." Haldir slipped one hand under Melpomaen's waist, and with the other drew their bodies closer. The bed creaked again, but they ignored it to kiss. It was not a kiss of passion, yet; for all that Haldir had said he found himself distracted by the noises coming through floor and walls. While in Mirkwood many others slept nearby, there they were kept apart by walls of stone, ensuring privacy. "Let me just hold you for a time," said Haldir. "I have missed this since we left the caverns."

Melpomaen curled up so that his head rested against Haldir's shoulder, but his feet no longer dangled over the foot of the bed. He could hear the beat of his lover's heart making an interesting counter-rhythm to his breath, and one part of Melpomaen's mind noted the fact and tucked it away to use some time perhaps when composing a new tune. For now, though, he let himself enjoy the close contact, which he too had felt the lack of in recent days. He hoped that when they were back in Lothlórien, this would be one kind of touch they could continue.

For Haldir, embracing Melpomaen so brought a sense of peace and contentment that he had but rarely found in his life, and he said as much.

"Why is that?" asked Melpomaen, nestling closer.

Haldir stroked Melpomaen's loose hair. "You know, Maen. I knew that I was drawn to other binn from an early age, and that always made me feel set apart."

"I know, you dreamed of me. Before I was born, even before my siblings were born. That is something I do not understand, Dír."

"Nor I." Haldir was silent a moment. "Since I did not know who it was I dreamt of, only that it was another benn, I chose to join the rangers. There, I hoped, I would be safe."

"Safe?" said Melpomaen. "Being a ranger hardly seems like a safe thing for you to have Chosen as a youth."

"Well, at that time there was little trouble on the borders, so it was much less dangerous than it has been lately. Remember this was almost eight hundred years ago."

"I often forget how much older you are than I," Melpomaen admitted.

Haldir touched Melpomaen's lips. "I know, Maen. But as I was saying, I thought I would be safe from my dreams in the woods. Once I had met the other rangers, and knew that the stranger I saw in dreams was not among them, I need not fear, and I would face no questions from my family that I showed no interest in finding a spouse. I've told you of my friend Lalvenna before, have I not?"

"I think so," said Melpomaen.

"When I desperately hoped that I was mistaken about where my desires lay, I tried touching myself and thinking of her, to condition myself to want to be with her, or with any bess. It was a disaster. My mind kept sliding away. . . to you, I know now. That was before I joined the company, of course. Once I had done so, my dreams slowly ended, and my desires no longer troubled me in the same way. I believed I was shaking off the taint that afflicted me – that was how I thought of it. It was not until my cousin Andúniel explained to me about lembas that I realized it was that, rather than myself changing, that was the cause," Haldir said. "All of my self-doubts returned, and I could speak of them to no one, ever."

Melpomaen turned and hugged Haldir close. "You must have been very lonely. I'm here now, Dír. You don't have to feel like that ever again."

Hugging him back, Haldir said, "I was lonely. It was a little better after my brothers joined the company with me, and also it became more common in our time and for some time after for folk to wait longer before they wedded, so that helped with my family too. But all I could see was year after year alone, without hope. I became good friends with several of my partners, but friendship was not what I sought, and none of them was the one I had seen in my dreams, long before. So I had a kind of satisfaction in carrying out my duties well, but never was there anyone in whom I could confide my true hopes, or dreams, or fears. I'm not sure you can understand what that was like, Maen, because as far as you have told me, you did not realize that you could love another benn as a life-partner until we had left Dale. Is that not so?"

"It is," Melpomaen said. "I had never considered it. I thought I was in love with Caranfíniel, as I have told you." He gave a quiet chuckle. "She also had a certain foresight; perhaps she saw you with me?"

"I hope not," said Haldir, troubled.

"Oh, Caranfíniel would say nothing if it were so. She very rarely spoke of what she saw; once she told me that she feared that what she said might change those visions in unexpected ways, so she preferred silence. We both Chose to study music together when we were of age to do so, you know."

"No, I didn't. I somehow thought that the company was your first craft," Haldir said. He paused, then asked, "Maen, how old are you? I never asked because it never seemed to matter."

"One hundred and fourteen at the end of Nárië, at midsummer."

Haldir sighed. "And I am eight hundred and thirty-nine, and for eight centuries I have borne my burden. It is not the age that matters, but the fact that I have been altered by the weight of my secrets and my doubts. You were able to come to me freely, but how do I come to you?"

"It does not matter," said Melpomaen firmly. "You love me and I love you. We are bonded, even if many of our kin would not recognize it. That is enough."

"I hope you're right."

"I know I am," came the confident reply. "You said yourself that you had seldom felt such contentment or joy as you do now here with me. Does that not prove it?"

"Perhaps so," said Haldir, shaking off his darker thoughts.

"Now, let me kiss you, Dír, and remind you of how to feel that joy. Mm?" Melpomaen suited words to actions, his mouth seeking Haldir's with an enthusiasm that made Haldir forget all else for a time.

Hands calloused by bowstring and knife-hilt reached out to touch tender flesh. Haldir inhaled sharply as Melpomaen's thumb swept across the head of his rigid member, nudging back the fold of skin. His own fingers tugged lightly on Melpomaen's sac, gathering it into his palm and holding it while his knuckles brushed against the base of Melpomaen's organ.

With his free hand Melpomaen stroked Haldir's chest, tracing the lines of muscle. He pinched Haldir's left nipple hard and felt Haldir's cock twitch in response. He gave the nub of it another twist and then shifted to the right nipple, repeating this until Haldir was writhing under his touch and thrusting against his hand.

"What do you want?" hissed Melpomaen into Haldir's ear.

"I want you to take me," Haldir said, in a voice so low it was almost a growl. "Take me, Maen."

Haldir waited impatiently as Melpomaen fetched the flask with the last of the sweet oil in it from his pack. When Melpomaen got back onto the bed it gave an alarmingly loud creak, but Haldir paid it no attention. He rolled over to let Melpomaen apply the oil to them both and bit back a shout as Melpomaen slid in, his warm hand once again wrapping around Haldir's member.

"Do you like that? Do you?" panted Melpomaen as he withdrew and thrust in again, over and over.

Each stroke brought a new burst of pleasure to Haldir, who could scarcely answer in consequence. He managed a gasped, "Yes," before he fell silent but for small moans, pressing back against Melpomaen, encouraging him deeper, closer.

Melpomaen could tell that Haldir wanted him to command this lovemaking, and he responded by being rougher than was their usual practice, less careful in his movements. The novelty of it stimulated him, and Haldir's cries urged him on. He bit into the sweat-sheened skin of Haldir's shoulder, tasting the salt there. Haldir grasped Melpomaen's hand and pumped against it in a frenzy, his buttocks clenching and relaxing, until with a last groan his seed spurted out, the heat of his release followed within seconds by Melpomaen's.

They lay locked together, feeling their breaths and pulses slow. Melpomaen moved to withdraw himself and felt Haldir wince.

"Did I hurt you?" said Melpomaen with concern. "I'm sorry."

"No, it's all right. Just a little bit, perhaps, but I wanted it to be like that this time," Haldir said. "Can you pass the towel?" He mopped up the stickiness from the sheets, then passed the cloth back to Melpomaen, who wiped himself and then Haldir.

"You're bleeding." Melpomaen showed Haldir the towel. "Are you certain you are all right?"

"Yes, really, I will be fine. But maybe it would be better not to travel tomorrow, after all. We can buy our supplies and stay here another night."

"If you think that's best," Melpomaen said, hiding his worry. He put his arms around Haldir. "Dratted mattress. I'm still being prickled by it."

"Mmm," was Haldir's only response, as they both drifted off to sleep.

The following day, after an adequate breakfast, they followed Geleb's directions and easily found the marketplace.

"What do we need?" Melpomaen did not so much ask Haldir as think aloud. "Oil," he smiled slightly, "some more dried foods, I think."

"Perhaps a bit of bread and cheese," Haldir suggested. "We cannot get a great deal, but there are other villages on our way southward, where we can buy more if we need."

They had been speaking in their own language as they passed the different market stalls. While they retraced their steps back to the trader who seemed to be the only man selling oils, Haldir said, "You do the bargaining with this one, Maen. Your Westron has improved a good deal since last summer."

Melpomaen protested, "But yours is still much better; I may not do nearly as well as you would for price. I'm not even certain what a reasonable figure would be."

"No more than a silver halfpenny," Haldir said.

"For how much oil, though?"

Haldir lowered his voice as they drew near the stall. "For the flask we have, refilled with sweet almond oil. If he doesn't sell that, try for olive oil; best quality for a halfpenny, ordinary no more than a silver farthing, or three coppers."

With reluctance Melpomaen stepped up to the counter, Haldir remaining a little behind him. He had to listen carefully to the man's speech, which was more rapid than that of the Men he had encountered in Thranduil's caverns. Sweet almond oil, it transpired, was indeed for sale; after some minutes of negotiation, Melpomaen was able to obtain a flask-full for five coppers, better than the price Haldir had named.

He hid his broad smile until the bargain was made and paid, and they had moved away. "I did it," he said proudly.

"You did indeed," Haldir agreed. "Would you like to do the rest of it?"

"No, thank you," said Melpomaen. "I still think you will do as well or better. If you don't mind?"

Haldir shrugged. "All right."

Since they had decided not to move on that day, they spent it leisurely. Haldir purchased the supplies they had decided were necessary, and they carried everything back to the inn where Geleb was happy to take their coin for a second night.

During the afternoon they looked around the town of Stonyford, agreeing that it seemed less pleasant than Dale had been. A few inquiries of the locals informed them that there were few settlements on the east bank of the river to the south, especially as one neared Dol Guldur, but that there were scattered villages on the western side.

"We'll cross the river here in the morning, then," Haldir said. "Best to do so where there's a ford anyhow."

He looked at Melpomaen. They were back in the common room of The Great Bear, finishing a meal that differed from that of the previous night only in that the mutton was boiled instead of roasted. Tonight, though, the number of customers was smaller; the Dwarf-caravan having moved on. "Last night in a bed."

"I know," Melpomaen said. "We should enjoy it."

Haldir shifted slightly on the bench. "Yes. . . with a little less enthusiasm." He smiled, taking the sting from his words, and added in low tones, "Not to have to keep watch separately – to be able to share a bed – that is a delight in itself. Which does not mean I do not want more, as you do. Shall we?"

"Yes." Tonight, Melpomaen resolved, he would let Haldir set the pace.

Chapter Text

The day had been warm for that season of the year, and the air in their room was stuffy when they reached it. Haldir opened the shutters, glancing at Melpomaen to see if he objected. They both knew that discretion would require the window to be shut when they made love.

Melpomaen nodded, saying, "It will take some time to cool off." Suiting actions to words, he pulled his tunic over his head and tossed it, still inside out, towards his pack.

Haldir decided to take his shirt off as well, but as usual he made certain that it was right-side out and folded neatly before setting it down. His fingers itched to do the same to his partner's shirt, but he restrained himself.

They sat propped up against the pillows on the bed and talked as they waited for the evening breeze to cool the room.

"How much longer do you think it will take us to get home?" asked Melpomaen, tracing lazy circles on Haldir's chest.

"I'm not certain," said Haldir. "It will depend on how good the paths are, and what the weather is like, but perhaps a fortnight or three weeks. We will almost certainly have to stop again for further supplies. I doubt we will be able to stay in an inn again, though. We haven't all that much coin left."

"I see," Melpomaen said, adding in tones laced with regret, "This will be the last night we can sleep together, then."

"I am afraid so." Haldir reached to take Melpomaen's hand, and bringing it to his lips, kissed each fingertip before putting it down and nestling close to his lover.

Melpomaen looked down at Haldir's golden head resting against his chest, and stroked it. "Still, this is more than I had expected when we left Thranduil's realm," he said.

For some time they remained embraced, not speaking, reaffirming their love with the gentlest of caresses. The air had cooled considerably and the stars were bright in the sky when Haldir got up to light a candle and draw the shutters closed again. He began slowly to remove his remaining garments, one by one, folding each and piling it ready for the morning. Naked, he returned to the bed and lay down next to Melpomaen, who was still half-dressed. Melpomaen turned, propping himself up with his elbow. He ran his forefinger along Haldir's side from shoulder to hip before reaching down to brush across Haldir's groin. He watched as Haldir's organ swelled beneath his strokes, blood pulsing darkly under the fair skin, and felt an answering ache in himself, his own member pushing against the confines of his leggings.

Haldir looked at Melpomaen, his eyes dark under hooded lids, and said, "We did as I chose yesterday, Maen. What would you like, tonight?"

"Although," he added, the ghost of a smile on his lips, "I would prefer to be able to walk comfortably tomorrow, and I imagine you would as well."

Melpomaen thought about it. "I would like to watch you," he said at last, a little shyly, "and to have you watch me, as we each bring ourselves to release."

Haldir wrinkled his brow. "Are you sure?"

Melpomaen nodded. "Not at the same time, though. First you, and then me."

"All right," Haldir shrugged. "If that is really what you want."

"Well," said Melpomaen, "I might wish to touch you a little bit as well, if you would not object."

"No, I don't mind," said Haldir, his voice tinged with irony. He spread himself open to Melpomaen's gaze, his head resting on the pillows, his left knee bent so that the leg was tucked up with the foot against his right calf.

Melpomaen slipped off his clothing before he laid himself belly-down on the bed next to Haldir, his cock hard and throbbing against the sheets. "Talk to me," he requested. "Tell me how you feel."

Haldir bit his lower lip, but complied as best he could. "It feels strange, to have you watching and not touching me. My own hand is less. . . satisfying, because I know each move I will make before I make it." He licked his left finger and thumb and pinched at his nipples, his hips jerking slightly as he did so.

The sight made the blood flow hotly to Melpomaen's groin, but he did nothing for the moment, merely urging Haldir to continue.

Haldir released his grip and stretched his right arm a little to fondle his sac. "They are tight," he remarked, "ready. I wish your mouth were on me, or that you were inside me, filling me in love, but. . ." he trailed off. "I would be too sore anyway." He moved his hand back up and held himself again, his fist moving up and down his straining shaft, alternately covering and revealing the head to Melpomaen's eyes. "Or else I would like to be inside you. Instead I have to imagine it, the way you open up to me, the warmth and friction of it." His hand was pumping faster now, and he scraped the nail of his left thumb across one hard nipple and down to his stomach.

"I know," whispered Melpomaen, "and I love to feel you there." He rocked his hips, pushing against the straw-filled mattress. "But I am loving to watch you now, too, as you do this for me. You look so beautiful, Dír, in your pleasure."

The flush that touched Haldir's face when Melpomaen said those words made him still more alluring in Melpomaen's view, and he reached to put his hand over Haldir's, his fingers grazing the tip of Haldir's organ. With a groan Haldir thrust against him and spilled, thick fluid jetting up to fall in spatters across his stomach and onto the sheets.

Melpomaen slid down, the friction of the fabric almost painful on his needy cock, and licked at the bitter drops until Haldir was clean.

"Now, meldanya, will you watch me?"

Opening his eyes, which he had closed to enjoy the sensation of Melpomaen's tongue to the fullest, Haldir smiled and agreed. Melpomaen sat up, cross-legged, resting against the head of the bed, both hands at his groin.

"I like it when you look at me," said Melpomaen. "I can see your eyes moving, and it is almost as if your fingers and not your gaze were moving across my skin." He shivered and took a firmer grasp.

A memory struck Haldir and he said slowly, "You liked it when Legolas was with us, watching, too, didn't you?"

Remembering those few nights, Melpomaen felt the blood rush to his cheeks, and he slowed his stroke. "Yes," he admitted. "But I would not have, if you had not been there as well. Of that I am certain."

"I believe you; I just had not realized before that you took pleasure in that." Haldir looked thoughtful. "When we are home again, I wonder. . ."

"Wonder what?" Melpomaen was still recovering from a confession he had not ever intended to make.

"If this proclivity of yours will make things easier or more difficult for us, when we can no longer make love." Haldir shrugged. "I suppose we will just have to wait and see." He rested his cheek briefly against Melpomaen's shoulder, looking down. "Oh, yes. I don't think I like this as you do, but you are a fine sight yourself."

Under Haldir's admiring regard, Melpomaen found himself quickly back to a high state of excitement. He bucked his hips up and down, ignoring the swaying of the mattress and the occasional loud creaks of the supporting ropes. He knew that after the way he had phrased his initial wish, Haldir would not touch him unless he asked. Rather than saying so in words, however, he reached for Haldir's hand and brought it to rest on his thigh.

Haldir stroked Melpomaen's leg, running his fingertips lightly along the pale skin and up to the crease where thigh met torso. Melpomaen shivered and increased the tempo of his stroke, always aware of his lover's eyes on him, watching as he moved. When Haldir leaned over and whispered, "I love you, Maen," breath warm in his ear, Melpomaen's pleasure spilled over, pumping through his fingers.

Sighing, he leaned against Haldir, feeling his blood slow from its frantic pace through his body. He turned his head to see Haldir looking back at him. "I love you too, Dír. Thank you."

"You're welcome." Haldir smiled. "Do you want the towel?"

"Yes, please," said Melpomaen, and wiped the moisture from his body, tossing the cloth towards the table. He stretched out again and pulled Haldir to him in a hug. "Good night."

Morning came all too soon, but they had eaten the porridge and bread that Geleb provided and were on their way before the sun was an hour over the horizon. The ford was busy with a caravan of traders, Dwarves traveling eastward, and so the two Elves waited until they could make safe passage across to the westward bank. The main road continued west to the Misty Mountains; it was the less-traveled southward path onto which they now turned.

The morning slipped by as they walked with a steady, ground-eating pace. If Haldir felt any discomfort from their vigorous love-making two nights before, he did not show it. They paused briefly when the sun was high for a morsel of bread and a slice of tangy pale cheese, quenching their thirst with water from the river for the air was warm this day.

Haldir said, "I'm glad that we stopped in Stonyford for two nights, even if it did take much of our coin."

"So am I," Melpomaen replied. He wanted to say something more, about wishing that they could have stayed longer, but could not find the words to convey his meaning without sounding as if he wanted not to return as agreed to Lothlórien.

"Maen," said Haldir, without looking at him.

"Yes?"

"No, never mind."

"What is it?" Melpomaen said. "Don't start to ask something and then not do it."

"I'm sorry." Haldir glanced sideways at Melpomaen. "Er. What would you most like to spend a day doing?"

"That's not what you were going to ask me before."

"No, it isn't, but it's what I am asking you now."

Melpomaen sighed. "Very well. What would I most like to spend a day doing? Are you talking within the realm of possibility, or in ideal circumstances?"

"Either one."

"I would. . ." Melpomaen began, but trailed off. "I'm not sure, really. Let me think for a few minutes." Half a mile further on, he spoke again. "At first I was going to say that I would most like a day to be spent just with you, making love."

"But you changed your mind?" Haldir pretended an exaggerated hurt.

"Not exactly," said Melpomaen. "I realized, though, that where we were would matter to me, because it would matter to you. You have made it clear to me that you think you will only be happy back at home in Lórien, at least now. Is that not right?"

"It is." Haldir looked southward, towards their home, and his expression was soft and yearning.

"So we would have to be there; but there is no way that we can be together as a bonded couple in Lórien, is there." Melpomaen stated it as a fact, not a question. "So it isn't within the realm of possibility, to spend a day doing what I wish to do, in circumstances that would please you as well. What I want would involve a change in all our family, our friends, the whole of our people perhaps."

Haldir reached for Melpomaen's hand and matched strides with him, leaning to give him a kiss on the cheek. "It would, I think, meldanya."

Melpomaen frowned. "But why must it be that way? I know, I know, that is how such bonds have always been seen by our people, as evidence of the taint of Morgoth on Arda. But why? The only difference I can see between love between two binn or two biss, on the one side, and between a benn and a bess on the other is that we as two binn cannot have children together. But not everyone chooses to wed at all, or to have children if they do!"

"I agree, you know that," said Haldir. "That is the one real difference I can see too, and it seems meaningless. When I was very young, and realized where my love would be given, I did not think deeply about it; I simply accepted that what everyone believed was true, and that to love another benn was wrong. It took many years for me to consider the matter more carefully and question why, and whether there was any real basis for that assumption.

"The Elves of Mirkwood don't believe it, not from what Legolas said, or what we saw. Which is not to say that I would agree with everything they think, either, not that the few months we spent there were enough to learn all their ideas. And as you know I did not want to remain there indefinitely, even if it were not our first duty to return with the message from King Bard to Lord Celeborn."

"But the fact that the Mirkwood Elves do seem to accept bonds between two binn, even if they are not considered preferable. . . do you not suppose that perhaps we could try to get our own people in Lórien to do so?" asked Melpomaen.

Haldir wriggled his shoulders uncomfortably. "I don't know. How would you go about it, without revealing our own bond and incurring rejection or distrust before we could accomplish anything?"

They continued to discuss the matter for the rest of that day and several following, Haldir always the more doubtful as to the possibility of fostering real change among their fellows even in the border guard, much less in the whole of Lothlórien. At last Melpomaen said in exasperation, "Do you not want to be accepted by our people, Dír? For that is what it seems like to me. Every suggestion I make, you dismiss. There will be risks, inevitably, but do you not think it is worth it? Do you wish to live so that we must always hide our true selves? I had not thought you a coward."

Stung, Haldir said, "I am no coward, Maen. I am only trying to be realistic and practical about this. What good would it do us – or anyone else like us – if we proclaim our bond openly and are exiled in consequence? Do you not think that a more subtle approach is more likely to succeed in changing minds?"

"I'm sorry. I apologize for calling you a coward, Dír. But I worry that if we try to be discreet, and keep our own bond hidden, we will simply be ignored. I do not think that we can expect safety for ourselves if we hope to transform others' ideas," said Melpomaen.

"I do not want safety," began Haldir, but the words trailed away. "Yes, I do," he admitted. "I know that our bond cannot be severed, but I do fear what could happen. You are the lodestar of my life now, and yet. . . I do not think we can be, or should be, all in all to each other. There is more to our lives than the bond between us. For me, my family is important. For you, perhaps it is your music? I saw how much you enjoyed working with Dúlin last winter. But the difference there is that I have only one family, and they are in Lórien, and there is no way around that; whereas I suppose that you might find someone with whom to play and study music almost anywhere."

"That is true," said Melpomaen. "I had not thought of it in quite that way before. It isn't that I don't respect your love for your family, but it frustrates me to feel tied to Lórien on that account, and yet see you unwilling to challenge the conventions of our people for exactly that reason. Because that is partly why you are reluctant, is it not? You do not wish to risk alienating your family, or bringing shame on them if they do support us?"

"Yes. I am afraid of what my parents and brothers might think of me," said Haldir. "So I am a coward, really."

The stars were bright in the sky above them as Haldir spoke, but his face was in shadow, turned away from the flames of the fire. "I love you, Maen, but I love them too, and I can't bear the thought of disappointing them, or being rejected by them, or letting them be scorned for my sake."

"So you would rather hide?" Melpomaen's voice wavered between contempt and chagrin.

"No, I don't want to hide, but I don't want to hurt anyone else either! This is who I am, who we are, that we love each other. We chose this, or accepted it, but have we the right to impose our troubles on others that we love?"

"But they should not be troubles," insisted Melpomaen. "That is what I am trying to get you to help with, to convince our kin that there is nothing wrong with our love and our bond, but you don't seem willing to even try to do that." He folded his arms, his eyes glinting in the flickering light.

Haldir threw up his hands. "We are not getting anywhere with this discussion tonight. Why don't we set it aside and talk again tomorrow. Will you take the first watch?"

Melpomaen agreed to that, and rose to pace the perimeter of their night's camp as Haldir rolled up in his blankets and slept. The thoughts of the younger Elf were heavy as he stood guard over his lover.

Chapter Text

For all that Haldir had suggested continuing their conversation the following morning, that was not what happened. Perhaps it was the weather. When Haldir roused Melpomaen soon after dawn with a cup of tea smelling of mint and chamomile, fog lay thickly upon the land, trailing pale wreaths and streamers around each bush, caught damply in the nets of spiderwebs. The fog reduced them to quiet and necessary murmurs as they broke camp, and though by midmorning it had diminished to a few patches in hollows of the ground here and there, the low sullen clouds that followed did no more to encourage speech.

Melpomaen kept his impatience in check throughout the day. It would do no good to urge speech upon his lover unwilling. Once they had chosen a campsite for the night, a league and a half beyond a straggling village of Men at which they had purchased two loaves of bread and a chunk of soft cheese pungent with herbs, however, he could wait no longer.

"Have you thought more of what we discussed yesterday?" Melpomaen said as he sliced thick pieces from one loaf and laid them to toast on a flat rock in the coals.

Haldir looked up from the bowstring he was inspecting, his expression closed. "I have."

"And what were your thoughts?"

"I will do nothing that, as best I can judge, might hurt my family or bring shame on them," said Haldir.

"You would rather have yourself – and me, I might add – live in hiding, in silence, in fear." Melpomaen paused, but Haldir did not respond. Deliberately Melpomaen filled two plates with their supper and took one to Haldir, sitting cross-legged opposite him. "Look at me, meldanya. Is that what you prefer?"

"No, I don't prefer that," Haldir burst out. "Do you think I want to live like. . . like a mole underground, solitary, fleeing the light, seen only as a destroyer? No. Of course not. But I can see no other way." His voice quavered with the vehemence of his feelings. "If we try to alter the assumptions and preconceptions of others, and succeed, all might be well, but if we fail, as I think likely, we will have made our lives there intolerable. We would have no choice but to go into exile, irrevocably."

"We could return to Mirkwood, to Thranduil's realm," Melpomaen reminded him. "The king himself invited us to do so. Even if our own folk cannot accept us for who and what we are, there are others who will; Legolas made that clear."

"I know, I know. But. . ."

"But they are not our people, they are not your kin," finished Melpomaen.

Haldir's mouth twisted. "You know me well, Maen."

"I wonder sometimes if I do," Melpomaen said. He spread cheese on the heel of his bread and bit into it, speaking indistinctly through the mouthful. "'Ide ooch ooze. . ." he paused and swallowed. "Why did you choose me, Dír? Given that you are so certain that a love between two binn cannot be accepted among our people – and I am not disputing that; you have had far longer than I to think about it and observe what is done and said in that regard – why would you put yourself, and me, into such uncertainty and distress?"

"That is a good question, and I do not know if I have a good answer for it." Haldir sighed, gazing steadily at Melpomaen. "I dreamt of you, as you well know. For many years even before you were born, perhaps before your parents were born, I dreamt of you, of being with you and loving you. And these were not merely dreams of a handsome dark-haired Elf who could have been anyone. It was you, Maen, with your music and your fondness for berry tart and your habit of strewing your things all around the talan when we're at home. I was certain that I knew what those dreams meant, that they foretold the one person I could love, who was my destined partner.

"But perhaps I was mistaken." Now Haldir looked down and the light from the fire caught the bones of his face, throwing them into sharp relief so that he suddenly looked like an old mortal Man, with every year of his life printed on his visage. "Or if not entirely mistaken, perhaps I should have been more patient, discussed matters with you before we acted to seal our bond, because now we have no choice in that. We may choose how we act, but we cannot now break that tie. I was not fully aware of what we did, but that is no excuse. I'm sorry, meldanya, if my haste has brought you grief. I never meant that to happen."

Melpomaen sighed in his turn. "I am sure you did not mean to, but yes, I am unhappy and angry about the situation, and just now I feel trapped. I don't want to leave you, and I'm not sorry that we are together, but. . . had I understood what our bond would entail, how it would limit our lives, I think I would have wanted to wait and consider more carefully. I do love you, you know that, and I love making love with you, yet waiting might have been the wiser course. I am going to find it difficult to give up the physical – I know that nearly all bonded couples do so sooner or later, but rarely if ever as soon as this, and only when they choose to. Even members of our own company, when they are on leave and go home to their spouses, can resume making love. Whereas we, I think you would agree, cannot. What chance is there that we would both be given leave at the same time? And while we are on the borders, between the lembas which discourages any longing for such things, and the lack of privacy, there can be nothing beyond a kiss in friendship, as anyone might do. No, trapped is the word. And that is why I want to try to change the antipathy of our people towards those such as ourselves, so that we might be together like any other bonded couple. I feel that I am giving up a great deal so that you do not have to give up as much, your family for instance."

Haldir had long since finished eating and had set his plate to one side. He reached out to touch his partner. "I truly regret being so precipitous, Maen, and I hope that you forgive me for what was done out of thoughtlessness, no more." He hesitated, then added, "I have said before that if we try what I propose, returning to the company and living chastely there, and it does not work, if we are not content with that, then we can do something else. Pursue a different vocation besides the border guard, for instance, and it need not be the same craft for both of us. This decision is not forever, meldanya."

Leaning against Haldir, Melpomaen said, "I know. But we have had so little time, really, that it is hard for me to think ahead so far."

"I suppose I have had more practice in thinking ahead, although much of my life I have tried to think only from day to day, as being less painful," said Haldir. "It has not been easy to endure without someone in whom I could confide; I think that is why I could not, did not, wait. Suddenly there was a chance to end those years of loneliness, and I took it without questioning whether it was the best thing for you, or for me."

"Don't blame yourself entirely, Dír. It's not as if I was not there, participating, even if I did not know exactly what we were getting ourselves into; you didn't either," Melpomaen said. He wriggled down until his head was resting on Haldir's lap.

"No," Haldir said, stroking Melpomaen's hair, "and since there is nothing to be done about it now. . . perhaps it is best not to waste such time as we do have together? A fortnight more at most, I would guess."

Melpomaen found tears prickling unexpectedly in his eyes. Whenever he thought he had resigned himself to what must be, something brought the loss home again. After their conversation he did not feel as inclined to make love as usual, but neither did he want to lose one of their few remaining nights. He took Haldir's wrist and kissed his palm, then cradled it against his cheek. "You're right, of course."

"Not ‘of course'," Haldir said wryly, "as we both know too well." He leaned down to kiss Melpomaen's forehead. "Maen, you are the heart of my life, and you will be so whatever happens. So let us celebrate that now, together."

"Let me just see to the fire first." Melpomaen sat up and shook himself. "It could use some building up."

"So could you," said Haldir, coming to kneel behind his lover as Melpomaen squatted to add branches to the flames. He stroked along Melpomaen's spine, using his thumbs to dig into the muscles of Melpomaen's shoulders. The fabric of the tunic hindered him, and he tugged it loose, pulling it over Melpomaen's head. Dark hair spilled free, and Haldir brushed it aside to kiss the side of Melpomaen's neck, tracing a nibbled line up to his ear.

Melpomaen turned partway around and embraced Haldir, tipping them both to the ground and giving him a single fierce kiss that left the older Elf gasping. "Why don't you get the oil while I finish the fire?"

"All right." After a moment's thought, Haldir skinned quickly out of his clothes, folded them, and was waiting, flask set conveniently nearby, when Melpomaen returned to their blankets.

"I see that you're impatient tonight," was the only comment Melpomaen made, as he pulled off his tunic and stepped out of his leggings, leaving them in a tangle of fabric.

Haldir ran his hand along Melpomaen's calf, the only thing he could reach at that moment, and agreed. "Do you remember the first night we made love?"

"How could I ever forget it?" said Melpomaen, stretching out on the ground beside Haldir, the light of the fire edging his body. "We were both impatient that night, were we not?" He sought Haldir's mouth in a kiss, softer than before, trying with lips and teeth and tongue to speak his emotions without words.

The night air was cool and damp, likely to mean dew by morning, but neither Elf noticed that now. Haldir traced patterns along Melpomaen's back with one hand, leaving a tingling warmth behind; when Melpomaen realized that his lover had spelled out "meldanya," he burst into delighted laughter and hugged him close.

"I love you, Dír," he murmured into Haldir's neck.

"And I you," Haldir replied. He tangled his fingers into Melpomaen's hair and tilted his head back to look into his lover's eyes, dark and ardent. "Let me show you." He nipped at the spot where Melpomaen's neck and shoulder met, quickly turning it into an apologetic kiss when Melpomaen yelped. Then he drew a moist trail of further kisses down to the dark rose peak of a nipple, suckling on it while his hand sought its mate and rubbed the silky-hard flesh.

Melpomaen squirmed and shifted – somehow he always managed to find the spot where a tree-root lifted the ground – and nudged his groin against Haldir's belly.

"Patience," Haldir lifted his head to say, before returning to his exploration of Melpomaen's chest, pleased at the flush his ministrations had brought to the skin. Gradually he worked his way lower, until his lips found the tip of Melpomaen's member and he tasted a hint of acrid moisture. He ran his tongue over the tiny cleft and the folds of skin that usually protected that most tender spot, while with one thumb he rubbed the base and used his fingers to stroke around Melpomaen's sac.

When Melpomaen began to thrust his hips, though, Haldir released his grasp and sat up, his face shining with moisture. "Do you want me to. . ."

Before he could finish the question, Melpomaen had reached for the flask of oil, pushing it towards him. "It would seem so," Haldir answered himself.

Haldir knelt up to work the stopper out, and Melpomaen turned over, rising to his knees and using his discarded clothing as a pillow. The air was cool against his swollen organ, now that Haldir's mouth no longer warmed it. Within moments, though, he felt Haldir's hands on him again, now slick with oil, one hand soothing against his hardness, the other easing him open to both their pleasure.

As Haldir first stretched him, then filled him, Melpomaen remembered all the times before that they had carried out this act of love: both with Haldir inside him, and the reverse. He keened as Haldir's thrusts touched that place within that was like a coal, burning in hot joy at each stroke.

For his part, Haldir tried to restrain his tempo, to hold them both at a plateau of delight without yet rising to the peaks. He paused, pulled back, letting just the head of his member rest inside Melpomaen's passage, then rocked his hips slowly, slowly, easing just a fraction further in with each movement, until again he was fully sheathed. After a dozen such, during which Haldir's hand never ceased from its measured rhythm on Melpomaen's organ, they were each slick with sweat, gritting their teeth to hold back.

"By all the stars, Dír," gasped Melpomaen, "please, now."

Haldir increased the pace of his hand, but held his hips still, pressed firmly against Melpomaen's. With his free left hand he reached to again tweak Melpomaen's nipples, and the unexpected sensation brought Melpomaen to his climax, the thick pale fluid spurting in a quivering pulse.

Now Haldir grasped Melpomaen's waist and began thrusting once more, harder and faster, into the tight slickness. A dozen strokes and he found release as well, calling out Melpomaen's name in almost a wail as his seed flooded forth.

They collapsed together in a tangled pile, Haldir's organ slipping out to nestle in the cleft of Melpomaen's buttocks, breathing ragged but in harmony.

"Haldir," said Melpomaen eventually, his voice muffled against his lover's embracing arm.

"Mm?"

"We have no more than a fortnight until we are home, is that not right?"

"I said so before," Haldir said. "Why? We cannot delay our return any longer, if that is what you are thinking."

"No, I know that. I only want to make sure that I, that we, enjoy these last few days to the fullest. Not just in making love, either, but in being alone together, without the responsibility of guard duty, or the interruptions and distractions that are bound to occur." Melpomaen rolled onto his back, looking up at the cloudy sky in which no stars were visible. "If one of us were a bess, and we had had an ordinary courtship and espousal at home, we would not have the problems that we will have soon, but neither would we have had time like we have had on this journey, even in Mirkwood. That has been a gift that I at least have not appreciated as I should, till now."

"Nor have I," said Haldir. He rested his head against Melpomaen's shoulder. "But it is not too late, and the future is always uncertain – whether ill or good, we will not know until it happens."

Chapter Text

It was only a smudge against the horizon, to begin with, but Melpomaen knew what it was he saw: the Golden Wood, Lothlórien, home. When they had left it, a year before, he had never expected to return with such torn emotions as this. He glanced at the sun, still in the eastern half of the sky, and knew that they could reach the borders by that evening if they wished. But he did not so wish. This could be the last day for a long time – who knew just how long? – that he and Haldir would be together, alone; and the last night, as well. All of this passed through his mind in the brief moments before Haldir too saw the Wood ahead of them and said, "Home at last, Maen, or nearly so."

"Home for me is where you are, meldanya, and you know my feelings," said Melpomaen quietly. "Would you mind very much if we spent one last night on the road, rather than trying to reach Lórien today?"

"No, we can do that," agreed Haldir. "But we should probably travel somewhat further today, don't you think?"

"As long as we camp outside the range of the patrols, yes. I know we have plenty of food although that last loaf of bread we bought at in that little village of Men is doubtless stale."

"If we build a fire, we can toast it, and that will help," said Haldir. "Shall we walk till mid-afternoon? I think that would bring us to within three or four leagues of the border, leaving us hardly more than a morning's walk tomorrow."

Melpomaen assented to the suggestion, walking as usual a few paces to Haldir's left and a step or two behind. He preferred to keep an eye to their rear, and let Haldir look ahead; moreover this position enabled him to watch his lover as they went, something about which he would have to be more circumspect in the near future. But for now, he enjoyed seeing the way that Haldir moved so lightly over the ground, surefooted and smooth, the loose strands of his hair lifted as the breeze passed.

When they stopped to set up their last camp, Haldir said, "I can hardly believe that we have been gone for a year. Lórindol thought it would take perhaps three months to make the journey to Dale and back again; he and lord Celeborn are, I suppose, worried that we have not yet returned."

"Their worry will be relieved soon," said Melpomaen. "It is my fault that we were delayed, and I will tell the captain that when we see him. Had I not been careless, I would not have injured my ankle, and we would not have wintered in Mirkwood but come home directly."

"Such accidents happen. I am sure that no one will blame you for it," Haldir assured him, "and while our mission was important, I do not think it was so urgent that a few months' delay will have serious consequences for the proposed alliance. As King Bard said when we were in Dale, the distance is great enough that our two lands will probably only call on each other in dire need, and for now there is no war in prospect, though none knows what the future holds. You were not yet among the guard eight years ago when the White Council forced the Necromancer out of Dol Guldur; we hoped that would reduce the evil coming from the southern part of Mirkwood, but as you and I have seen that is not entirely the case. I fear that wicked creatures will soon return and reoccupy it, and then we may indeed see trouble again near our borders." He sighed.

"I heard of the attack on Dol Guldur, of course, but I did not know any of our folk were involved," Melpomaen said.

"Only a few," said Haldir, "more to ensure that the Orcs that dwelt there did not escape to wreak destruction on the settlements of Men nearby, than for anything else. It was the Council who dealt with the Necromancer. I did not participate myself, but I heard about it from friends who did. Sometime I'll get Dornir to tell you about it."

Melpomaen had been clearing a space for their fire, and now he said, "That would be interesting to hear; something to distract from the boredom of a thousandth meal of lembas. I am going to miss eating real food, for more than one reason."

"Because you like cooking so well?" Haldir teased.

"You know I enjoy it, and you know that is not why," said Melpomaen. His throat closed at the thought of eating lembas again. It was not the taste of it – it tasted of grain and cream and something he could never identify, and even after weeks of nothing else it still was delicious – it was the idea that his body, his very self, would again be disconnected from his emotions. He would still feel love for his partner, but they would not be able to celebrate that love; they would have no desire for even a kiss, and should they do so regardless it would provoke no further reaction. Melpomaen reminded himself that it was for the best, since there would be no place or time where they could make love, in any case, but he found it difficult to accept the inevitable, even after all these months of trying to reconcile himself to it. He sighed and reached for his tinder box to light the fire, asking Haldir to pass him his pack with the cooking pot in it.

Melpomaen concocted a soup from their remaining supplies, supplemented with a few local greens, and put it on the edge of the fire to simmer. He would toast the bread when they were ready to eat, but that would still be some little time. Haldir had spread out their blankets and arranged the camp meanwhile.

"Would you play your pipes for me, Maen?" Haldir asked when his lover had finished fussing over the food. "I would enjoy hearing some of your music tonight."

"If you want," said Melpomaen, although he did not especially feel like it. He sat cross-legged with his pipes to his lips, his fingers dancing agilely across the holes as he played a cheerful tune, a song from his earliest years.

Haldir listened intently, tapping his hand against his knee. When Melpomaen began a new song, again one familiar from childhood, he rose and danced the simple steps that went with it, smiling with just a trace of embarrassment at Melpomaen as he jumped and clapped and spun.

"Go on," said Melpomaen, lowering the pipes when the tune ended, and lifted them to begin another melody. This was usually danced as a circle dance, but Haldir adapted as best he could, whirling around the firepit as Melpomaen played and watched him.

They went on for several more songs, until Haldir's face was shining with sweat from his exertions – for Melpomaen had chosen sprightly tunes each time – and he said, "Enough for now."

"One more, Dír?" Melpomaen requested.

"All right, one more," Haldir acquiesced. His eyes widened in surprise at the new melody that rippled from Melpomaen's pipes, though for this was no children's tune. Instead it was one that tradition attributed to Daeron the Minstrel himself, a sensuous love ballad, and one without a publicly-performed dance. Haldir paused for a moment, letting the music sink in, and remembering what he had once seen his cousin Andúniel dance to another such song. He began to improvise steps that seemed to fit, ending with an almost swaggering, challenging strut that took him back to where Melpomaen sat.

"Well?" said Haldir.

Melpomaen laid aside his instrument and reached for Haldir's hands, drawing him down to the blanket and kissing him fiercely, face and neck, tasting the salt on his damp skin. "That was. . . marvelous, more than I hoped for," he said at last. "I did not know you could dance so."

Haldir shrugged. "Neither did I."

They looked at each other and laughed in sudden sheer delight, embracing.

"How much longer before supper is ready?" Haldir asked.

"Well, we could eat it now, but it will be better if it simmers a while longer," Melpomaen said.

"Good, because I'm feeling a desire to bathe, after all that."

"The stream here isn't very big," Melpomaen reminded him.

"I don't want to swim, just wash," said Haldir. "Do you want to join me?"

"Let me check the fire," said Melpomaen. It was burning steadily, well-contained within its earthen banks, and so he followed Haldir the few dozen paces to the little creek.

Quickly they shed their clothes and sluiced their bare skin with handfuls of the tepid water. Melpomaen used his tunic – "it needs washing anyway," he assured Haldir – to scrub them both, since the last of their soap had been used up a few days before. Haldir loosed his hair from the clasp that bound it, and, kneeling in the shallow water, bent gracefully backward to rinse out the dust and sweat as best he could.

"A stony bottom may be hard on the feet and knees, but better that than mud when it comes to bathing," he remarked when he had stood up again, the water making his hair look nearly as dark as Melpomaen's.

"And thankfully it's warm, too," said Melpomaen, following suit. Dripping, they picked up their clothes to return to the camp.

"Perhaps too warm," said Haldir. He slapped at a stinging fly, then another. "Ah, well, the fire's smoke should help."

When they had put back on their leggings, Melpomaen offered to comb out and rebraid Haldir's hair. He fully intended to do so, and then let the caresses lead into lovemaking, but much to his dismay he found that despite his lover's closeness and his own longing, his body was not responding to his desires. He finished making the braid and let his hands fall, leaning his head forward to rest against Haldir's bare back, breathing in the scent of flesh which had never before failed to stir him.

Haldir had enjoyed the feel of Melpomaen's hands stroking his hair, teasing out the tangles. He was sufficiently relaxed that it took him a few moments to realize the change. "What is the matter, meldanya?" he asked.

In response, Melpomaen merely wrapped his arms around Haldir's waist and pressed his forehead more firmly into Haldir's back, his eyes closed.

With no answer forthcoming, Haldir twisted in Melpomaen's embrace until they were chest to chest, then took Melpomaen's chin and raised it to look into his eyes. "Don't do this, Maen," he said. "Talk to me. What is troubling you? I know you have qualms about returning home, but earlier you did not seem so distressed. What has happened?"

Melpomaen's cheeks were flushed crimson with humiliation. "I wanted. . . I cannot. . ." he stammered.

"Cannot what?" Haldir's voice was soft with concern, his eyes dark as he laid his hand against Melpomaen's cheek.

"Cannot. . . make love with you," came the strangled whisper from Melpomaen's throat. "I want to, but. . ." he bent his head again.

Haldir followed Melpomaen's gaze, and understood. "Ssh, meldanya, love, ssh," he said, and gathered Melpomaen into a close embrace once more. "It does not matter if you are not ready now, truly, even if I am," he continued, and shifted his own position as if to lend point to his words. "Later this evening, perhaps. We have more than enough time."

"For such a thing to happen now, tonight, though," said Melpomaen in tones of misery. "I am sorry, Dír; I wanted our last night alone together to be perfect."

"Perfection may be too much even to hope for, much less expect," Haldir said thoughtfully.

Melpomaen began to speak, to reject that idea, but found no words to say what he meant. Instead he said, "I suppose then that we might as well eat now. The soup is doubtless ready; if you will cut some bread, we can toast it over the fire."

After the meal, the sun had dipped below the horizon but its light had not yet failed entirely. Melpomaen lay propped on one elbow, watching the scattered clouds deepen from rose to violet as the sky darkened and the first stars began to appear. Haldir sat down behind him.

"It is beautiful, isn't it? Much as I love Lothlórien, I am sorry that we cannot see such sunsets there." He stroked Melpomaen's hair, brushing his fingertips along the edge of Melpomaen's ear and down his neck.

Melpomaen said nothing. His partner's touch seared his skin, but still he felt no answering heat of desire, much to his distress.

"Don't be concerned," Haldir's voice drifted down. "I'm not asking anything of you with this, not until you are ready."

Gentle hands loosened Melpomaen's clothing and he found himself rolled onto his belly with his head turned to the left, away from the fire.

"Close your eyes," instructed Haldir, separating Melpomaen's legs to kneel between them. He reached into his pack, in which lay the remainder of the flask of almond oil that they had purchased in Stonyford. He poured some onto Melpomaen's back and began to rub it in, using firm circular strokes, finding the tight knots in the muscles and gradually loosening them. A sudden sound from the fire as a piece of wood collapsed into coals caused Melpomaen to tense briefly, but he soon relaxed again as Haldir continued to knead his skin.

Haldir hummed in his throat as he worked, unconsciously choosing the final tune Melpomaen had played earlier. He hoped that if Melpomaen's mind were distracted from what the younger Elf clearly saw as a failure, a natural reaction to his own proximity would occur. To that end, he allowed himself to shift after a time to a more caressing motion along the edges of Melpomaen's back, over his hipbones, and across the rounded flesh of his buttocks. Haldir again reached for the oil flask, and a thin stream of oil pooled across the bottom of Melpomaen's spine before Haldir spread it down into the deep cleft, teasing lightly at puckered skin with his right hand while his left reached below to cup Melpomaen's sac and fondle the two stones within.

All the while Haldir murmured to his lover; he scarcely knew what he said himself in the string of endearments and reassurances, and Melpomaen only half-heard them, suspended just short of dreaming, but between the words and the touches he opened, body and mind, to Haldir. Now the warmth that suffused him began to increase, to find a focus. Haldir's forefinger slipped without resistance into Melpomaen's passage, and Melpomaen groaned as the internal caress seemed to set off a cascade of sparks that moved through his groin, rippling the skin of his organ as it hardened against his lover's questing palm.

Melpomaen's hips rose almost without volition as Haldir withdrew his hands. "Meldanya. . . please. . ." came brokenly from his throat.

"I'll be inside you soon," promised Haldir, nudging Melpomaen to roll onto his back. He bent his head and ran his tongue along Melpomaen's quivering length, from root to tip, the loose skin folding back as he tasted the bitter salt of the slit there. His right hand again sought out Melpomaen's nether opening and entered it as Melpomaen drew up his knees to allow Haldir access. Haldir could feel the blood that pulsed through his lover's member, heating it against his lips and tongue, the beat quickening as he touched Melpomaen inside and out.

He sensed Melpomaen's joy in these caresses, tempered with unhappiness that their physical love must end, anxiety for the future, and resentment that they must return where they could not be together; but underlying all an abiding love for and trust in Haldir. As he discerned Melpomaen's emotions, wondering that he could, Haldir's eyes filled with tears at the intensity of it. He suckled harder, his tongue moving insistently across Melpomaen's flesh until he was rewarded with a spurt of fluid against the back of his throat.

Swiftly, before Melpomaen reached a final peak, Haldir released him from his mouth. "Now, Maen, as I promised," he said thickly, and Melpomaen kicked Haldir on the thigh in his haste to turn back over onto his front, propping himself on his forearms, his legs apart and hips raised. Tonight Haldir wanted them both to attain their climax together, a physical symbol of their unity in love, and so knowing how close Melpomaen was, he thrust to reach his own release as soon has he could. He did not quite succeed. Melpomaen's seed burst wetly into his hand while the tension in Haldir's loins was still growing. A half-dozen more deep thrusts, though, brought Haldir to the same point of ecstasy, a delight tempered by the regretful knowledge that this would be the last occasion for such pleasure until some unknown future time.

They rested, listening to the small sounds of the night. At last Melpomaen offered to take the first watch, as he had done so often during the year of their travels, and Haldir slept in the knowledge that his partner stood sentry for them both.

Chapter Text

The parchment bearing the seal of King Bard of Dale was worn on the folds, but Lord Celeborn received it, and the several gifts sent, with calm dignity. He broke the seal and read the contents, nodding, before handing it to Lady Galadriel. She took it in at a glance and gave it back to her spouse.

"Captain Lórindol has explained why you were delayed on your journey," Galadriel said in her clear voice. "You have our thanks, Haldir and Melpomaen."

Haldir looked at the rulers of Lórien levelly. "It was our pleasure to make it, my lord, my lady. The passage was less dangerous than it once would have been, or may be again in the future. It was only ill-fortune that postponed our return."

At his side, Melpomaen stirred, but was silent.

Galadriel's gaze went from golden head to dark, and she said, "Good fortune, not ill, perhaps." She said no more, and both Melpomaen and Haldir wondered long what the Lady of the Wood knew of their secrets.

Chapter Text

Like all fanfiction, this story could not exist without the inspiration of the original work, J.R.R. Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings, The Hobbit, and The Silmarillion. Most of the persons, places, and some of the events referred to are the property of the Tolkien Estate. I write solely in admiration, with no intention of intellectual theft, and I profit from this in no way, shape, or form.

Passages is not really a novel, despite its length; it is more of a soap opera, having been serially written over three years. It originated as a private challenge from my friend Roheryn to write a short smutty slash, and like the original, it "grew in the telling" until it reached its present dimensions. Besides the sex, I use this story as a vehicle to look at Elvish society, and what it is like to be on the fringes of society in different ways; in a sense, no one, ever, is ordinary, but the principal characters here are clearly atypical from several perspectives, not only from the angle of their emotional/sexual preferences.

I cheerfully acknowledge this as an AU (alternate universe) story, on at least two counts: the male/male relationship, to begin with. Tolkien gave no hint of homosexual relationships among any of the peoples of Middle-earth, and given what we know of his personal beliefs and ideas, would have strongly disapproved of such. Nevertheless I have chosen to present the main characters, canon and original, as preferring members of their own sex. In part this is because I find it interesting to write the sex scenes – remember the origins of this story – but in part because it allows me to explore Elvish attitudes towards sexuality.

Elves, according to Tolkien, bond for life (and perhaps beyond). They are monogamous; there is no such thing as divorce. The one significant exception is the remarriage of Finwë, who was permitted to marry Indis because his first wife, Míriel, would never return from the Halls of Mandos – and that decision by the Valar caused no end of trouble in the long run. I do follow this idea of permanency and an indissoluble spiritual bond in the story, despite the fact that I conceive that it could occur between two of the same sex as well as the usual heterosexual bond. Tolkien's basic ideas about marriage and reproduction among Elves can be found in The History of Middle-earth volume 10, Morgoth's Ring, part three, section II, in the subsection "Laws and Customs among the Eldar."

The other significant AU element is the characteristics of lembas. I add one quality to those attributed by Tolkien – I suggest that it prevents those who eat it from physically expressing their emotion, specifically in sexual terms (although it could affect other physical expressions also). This is something that I have had reader/reviewer comments on a fair amount – some like it, some emphatically do not. I certainly do not intend it to imply that without lembas, Elves would have no sexual restraint! As said above, I follow Tolkien in assuming that Elves choose a partner once, and for life. I merely think that the waybread is used for the rangers' common food as an extra safeguard. Those out on patrol would not become uncontrollably randy without it, but it makes the separation from a spouse easier to bear in physical terms – it has no effect on the emotions themselves. Tolkien's own notes on lembas are extremely brief, but what information there is can be found in The History of Middle-earth volume 12, The Peoples of Middle-earth, part three, section XV, "Of Lembas."

With regard to the Dwarves in chapter 36 and after: I borrowed Frerin's and Khîm's names from Tolkien, but the names Orin and Borin are my own invention, modeled on extant ones. Some of the cultural points mentioned are canonical, but not all. For instance, the fact that there are twice as many Dwarf men as women is attested to, but the idea that six children would be a large number is mine. Tolkien did not say much about Dwarves; Part III of Appendix A in The Return of the King provides some information.

Several people deserve acknowledgment here for their inspiration and/or help with this story as it evolved over the course of three years' writing. Roheryn was the initial insprirer of the story and so chapter 8 is dedicated to St. Roheryn, especially the feathers, which should make wonderful decorations for her altar. My late friend Wídfara gave beta feedback on the first dozen chapters, before her death, and I dedicate chapter 13 to her. Dim Genesis and Mike made comments on early chapters, especially regarding dialogue and whether contractions should be used. Many thanks go to Anglachel, Joan, Julie, and Meg for discussion of various aspects of bonding among both Elves and Men that have helped with my understanding and portrayal of this key point, particularly to Joan for her remarks on the probable importance of the lack of children in a M/M (or F/F) pairing as a critical reason why it would be worrisome to Elvish society at large. Not all the ideas discussed are embodied in the story, but they have been most helpful.

Last but not least, Melpomaen is my own character, but in origin he derives from Figwit, created by inDUHvidual and Arwenelf at TheOneRing.net in 2002. The Figwit Lives! website at http://www.figwitlives.net/index.htm explains all; "Melpomaen" is a very rough translation of "fig" (fruit, "melpo" in Quenya) and "wit" (skilled, "maen" in Sindarin). Despite its multi-lingual origins, "Melpomaen" certainly sounds much more appropriate as an Elvish name than does "Figwit," so I opted to use it for the character's name.

The story begins in 2943 of the Third Age; the majority of it takes place in T.A. 2948-9.

Chapter Text

The three Elves had just begun to walk back towards the Great Hall when Haldir realized, "Won't we want our cloaks, Maen? And you too, Legolas?"

At their assent he fetched his own and Melpomaen's, and they detoured past Legolas's room so that the captain could collect his as well. Though the day had been pleasant enough in the sun, the clear skies predicted a cold night. Standing outside in the snow waiting for the last light to fade would be a chill experience with nothing but a tunic and jerkin against the night.

The Great Hall was beginning to empty when they reached it, the crowd slowly filing out into the fast-fading light. Melpomaen set his parcel down against the wall near to the king's chair, twitching a loose fold of cloth into place, then straightened to follow the other two outside.

As with the events earlier in the day, there was no discernible order to where anyone stood while waiting for the first star to appear. Old and young, Elf and Man, benn and bess intermingled. There were even a couple of stray Dwarves, caught by a storm a few days past and not unwilling to stay through the festival, though they kept very much to themselves and stayed on the fringes of the throng. Legolas led Haldir and Melpomaen around to the southern side of the clearing outside the gates, and up a gentle rise.

"The view is usually best from here," he told them.

In the dimming light, Melpomaen took Haldir's hand. His lover returned the pressure, then nudged Legolas's elbow. When the captain half-turned to ask what he wanted, Haldir held out his hand. Legolas hesitated at first, then smiled and took it. Unseen, Melpomaen quirked an eyebrow.

But now the last purple and rose streaks were fading on the western horizon, and everyone present scanned the sky, looking for the first appearance of a star.

"There!" A child's shrill voice cut through the silence, quickly hushed by its mother.

First one, then three, then dozens and hundreds of stars became visible as true darkness fell. To his great surprise, Haldir felt tears running down his cheeks, and in the dusk he could see that Melpomaen's face was wet also. The beauty and stillness were almost unbearable, even though shared with so many others.

At last the spell was broken by the pure and piercing note of a flute, playing a melody unknown to the two Lórien Elves, who listened as Legolas and their other neighbors sang.

The woods and the river are silent,
And the waveless sea is at rest;
In their caves the winds are at truce and peace,
And in the dark night
The white moon creates lofty silence. . . (1)

The harmonies created by the singers captured the glory of the stars, the stillness of the night, the splendor of the world around. Melpomaen let go of Haldir's hand and slipped an arm around his waist instead, wanting to be closer as he drank in the sounds. They hardly noticed the biting cold as they stood transfixed.

When at last the singing ended, and the gathered crowd began to return to the light and warmth and merry-making inside, Haldir turned to Legolas next to him. "Glorious," he said, and repeated, "Glorious."

Legolas smiled, almost shyly. "But surely you celebrate mettarë at your homes, too? Is it not like this at all?"

"We have nothing like this singing," said Melpomaen honestly. "We sing, of course, but not such songs as these to the stars. More rejoicing that the sun will soon return, and the days lengthen."

"Interesting," Legolas mused. "You will have to talk with Dúlin about that – I am sure she would be fascinated." He pulled his cloak closer. "Let us go inside. I'm getting chilled out here, are you not?"

They went in. Thranduil was already seated at the high table, and Melpomaen inquired if Legolas was not meant to sit there as well, as his father's son.

"It does not matter tonight," Legolas told them. "It is not a time for much ceremony, only fellowship and good cheer. I would rather sit with you, if I may?"

"It would be an honor," said Haldir. "Besides, we would appreciate knowing just what is to happen for the rest of the night."

Legolas gestured around the hall. "As you see. Now is the time for gift-giving. I must go to my father for this, but I shall return shortly." He strode off, threading his way among the chattering knots of people towards the end of the Great Hall where Thranduil sat.

Turning to Melpomaen, Haldir said, "Now I will give you the gift that you can receive in public, shall I?" He reached into his belt-pouch, pulled out a small parcel wrapped in a bit of green silk, and handed it to his lover.

Melpomaen's usually deft fingers fumbled as he unwound the filmy cloth to reveal a silver armlet, with stars engraved on it in an arc. He touched it reverently, tracing the fine lines, and said, "It is lovely, Dír. Thank you."

"You're welcome." Haldir smiled at him.

"Let me just think where I left mine. . . oh yes. Up near the other end of the room, behind the king's seat. I will be back." Melpomaen disappeared for several minutes, then returned carrying the large package he had brought from their room, Legolas following behind him.

Haldir unknotted the blue cord from around the cloth and let it fall away. Inside was a leather pack to replace the one he had carried from Lothlórien and had borne as a ranger for several years. The front of it was embossed with trees with intertwining branches, and Haldir was certain that Melpomaen must have been responsible for the decoration himself, for each tree was a stylized mallorn. "How wonderful. What a thoughtful, beautiful gift, Maen – thank you." He touched Melpomaen's shoulder, and then took his hand.

"I like the pattern," Legolas remarked. "Did you draw it yourself?"

"Yes," Melpomaen admitted. "I'm not much of an artist, but that is my work." Uncomfortable, he looked at Haldir and raised an eyebrow.

Haldir nodded, and Melpomaen extracted a violet-wrapped package from his pocket. He gave it to Legolas.

"For you. . . it is just a token," he added hurriedly.

"Hardly," said Legolas, when he had opened it and had seen the embroidered crimson sash inside. He put it around his waist, tying it to let the silver fringe hang down. "Thank you both, very much – it's lovely. And here, for you."

Legolas had had a pair of gloves made for each of them, of butter-soft leather, supple as silk. Haldir pulled his on immediately and found that they fit as well as if his measurements had been taken. He touched Melpomaen's face. "Feel how soft."

"Oh," said Melpomaen, and a flicker crossed his face. "Very soft indeed."

Haldir suspected his lover of having ideas best not mentioned in public, and let one eyelid droop briefly in a wink before together they thanked Legolas, who waved it aside.

"Now, shall we get something to eat, before the dancing begins?" he suggested.

Balancing plates piled high with delicious-looking morsels, they found three places together at one of the tables and began to eat. The venison was so tender, marinated in wine and herbs, that Melpomaen went back for more, though he knew he might regret a too-full stomach once the dancing began.

Haldir nibbled on a slice of dried pear as the hubbub of the room died down and the musicians began to play. The first tune was in a minor key, wailing like the wind of a winter storm, evidently meant to draw attention rather than encourage dancing. But the next had a hearty sound to it, and Haldir joined the forming circle, leaving his two companions behind at the table.

The melody drew him in. He did not worry about being unfamiliar with the exact steps of the dances – the music would guide him. He was vaguely aware of Melpomaen and Legolas joining him, but for now, to dance was all that mattered, not who he danced with. The hours sped by like minutes. He saw Dúlin on the edge of the room playing first one of her strange instruments, then another, and thought that he would like to gift Melpomaen with one such, someday.

In the brief intervals between songs, he drank long draughts of cider – better than wine, for thirst-quenching – and then returned to the dancing. Finally he realized that Melpomaen was trying to speak to him.

"Haldir. Haldir."

"What?" He shook his head.

"Are you not ready to stop for tonight? There will be other chances to dance, I'm sure," said Melpomaen. "It's rather late."

Haldir looked around. Melpomaen was right. The great log in the central hearth was nearly consumed, and the crowd had thinned out. Legolas was still there, looking weary. So did Melpomaen, Haldir realized, and apologized. "I am sorry, mel- Maen," he caught himself. "If you wish to leave, I am ready to go."

Melpomaen took Haldir's hand and extended his other arm to Legolas. "Shall we?"

The Lórien Elves' room was closer, and when they reached it all three went in. Legolas had thoughtfully picked up their several gifts before they left the Great Hall. He set them on the table and hesitated, not sure whether to stay or return to his own rooms. He took a step or two towards the door, to be stopped by Melpomaen's hand on his shoulder.

"Not going already?"

Legolas shrugged. "It is late."

"But it is mettarë," said Haldir, stepping in front of him. "No one should be alone on a festival night."

"Do stay," said Melpomaen, his eyes dark and wide in the candlelight.

Glancing from one to the other, Legolas thought that he probably should not accept. Would it not raise all his unfulfillable longings again, leave him feeling more alone than ever?

"You are our friend," Haldir said, when Legolas did not answer. He moved to one side. "Neither of us would press you to do something you do not wish to do. We invite you to stay and be with us, but if you prefer to leave, you should. We would not be offended."

Legolas decided that he meant it. "No, I will stay. I want to stay," he added firmly, to dispel any suggestion that he was acceding despite his own judgment.

"Good." Melpomaen's face broke into a smile. "Come on, then."

"Where?"

"Up here," and Melpomaen suited actions to words and climbed onto the bed, patting the space beside him as he leaned against the wall. "This is much more comfortable than the chairs. Haldir, would you bring the cups and that flagon of wine?"

Haldir sat in the middle, pouring wine and handing it to each of them. Melpomaen took the flagon and set it on the table, within reach.

"To friendship," Legolas said. "May we all find it so easily." He reached to take Haldir's hand, and Melpomaen joined his to the other two. They lifted their cups to their lips, and drank.

Legolas was surprised by the fine and subtle flavor. Somehow Melpomaen had managed to get hold of a flagon of the strong red wine of Dorwinion, usually only served at the king's own table. Suitable for such an occasion as mettarë, but perhaps a little – overstimulating. He glanced over at Haldir, who had already seemed less constrained than usual by the dancing in the Great Hall. The other's eyes were half-lidded, his lips parted in a smile as he raised his cup for another draught of wine.

"Would you. . ." Legolas cleared his throat and started again. "Would you like me to rub your back, Haldir? I should think you were sore, after our contest this afternoon."

"What about me?" Melpomaen said with mock indignance. "I was competing at archery, you know – do I not deserve a little of your attention, too?"

"Ah," Legolas floundered, "if you wish, I suppose so, Melpomaen."

Haldir looked from one to the other, and Legolas felt a cold certainty that he was entirely sober, intoxicated neither by the dancing nor the wine. "Let us each choose one other, then, to give such an effort to."

"I choose Legolas," said Melpomaen, quickly enough that Haldir wondered at it.

"I choose you, Haldir," said Legolas.

"Then I will rub your back, Maen," Haldir said, "if you will take off your tunic and pass me the flask of oil?"

Melpomaen stretched an arm out lazily and picked up the flask from the side table, handing it over, before he sat up and began to remove his garments. When he was stripped to the waist, he lay down again, head turned so that he could look at Legolas to his right, and Haldir knelt over him and began to knead the muscles of his shoulders and neck. Legolas, feeling too warm, had also taken off his tunic, and reclined on his elbow facing the other two. He spoke almost at random, wanting to keep a connection with them.

"I know you must have some reason for keeping secret your home. I wish you felt you could trust me enough to say where it is, but if you cannot, you cannot. It has been an – interesting – few months with you here, to say the least. I would be very glad if you would stay longer, or else return when you can."

Haldir's face tightened, but he made no response in words. Under his hands, Melpomaen said, "So would I, Legolas, but we have not decided yet; we have not even discussed the matter in any serious way." He reached out his right hand to Legolas, and smiled. "But I think you can guess my inclination."

Legolas nodded, although his glance at Haldir showed him that the latter did not agree. The king's son foresaw a certain amount of friction between the two lovers on the matter – but it was not his business to interfere. King Thranduil had wished the offer to be made, and Legolas thought it was a good idea for several reasons. Whether they wished to accept it was wholly their choice, and he would say nothing further for now. He took Melpomaen's hand, entwining the slender fingers in his own, and fell silent, watching Haldir work.

After some little time, Haldir stopped, and bending down, whispered in Melpomaen's ear. "All right, meldanya – enough?"

"Mm. All right." Melpomaen squirmed and stretched. "I think Legolas should give you yours next."

"Do you mind?" Haldir asked Legolas.

"Certainly not," Legolas replied, and waited as Haldir took off his unnecessary clothing. He emulated the position that the other had taken, and began by running his thumbs along Haldir's spine, finding little knots in the muscles there and smoothing them away. Melpomaen watched, still relaxed and lying prone on the other side of the bed. From there he could see Haldir's face, tranquil, eyes closed, a strand of hair loose and tangled in his lashes. He could see the play of light on Legolas's torso as he moved, and admired the way that his muscles shifted under the pale skin.

Legolas felt Melpomaen watching him, and looked over, raising an eyebrow. Melpomaen gazed steadily back, and Legolas dropped his eyes, pouring a few more drops of oil onto Haldir's back and rubbing them in. The oil was fragrant with cloves, and it mingled with the scents of Haldir's and Melpomaen's flesh until Legolas felt dizzied. His hands moved more and more slowly, to the point of caressing rather than kneading, until with a sigh he ceased altogether. Haldir seemed almost asleep as Legolas moved off him to the center of the bed.

Melpomaen smiled at Legolas and gestured to him to stretch out next to Haldir. He knelt between the two and ran his hands along each Elf's back, from the nape of their necks down to where the swell of buttocks began, and up again. Then he coated his hands with the oil, shifted position, and concentrated on Legolas, using his fingertips to dig into the muscles of Legolas's shoulders and upper arms until they were loosened, before moving to do the same on his lower back, chasing the ripples of tension away. He could feel Legolas's steady breathing between his legs.

When Melpomaen touched him, Haldir had roused from his relaxed state, his eyes opening to gaze into those of Legolas facing him. He watched as Melpomaen began to knead Legolas's back, and saw the other Elf's eyes widen as Melpomaen touched tender nerves, then droop as the twinges were smoothed away. On an impulse he turned and rested his left hand on Melpomaen's ankle, while placing the tip of his right forefinger against Legolas's lips. A flash of – astonishment? distress? revelation? Haldir was not sure which – crossed Legolas's face, but his breathing did not falter, even when he moved his arm so that his fingers brushed Haldir's chest.

The silence was calm as Melpomaen finished and straightened up, pressing the heels of his hands against his own back. He could hear faint sounds from the corridor, doubtless a few merry-makers trailing back to their rooms. Looking at Legolas's and Haldir's profiles against the clean white linen, he was struck by how detached Legolas seemed to be, even in the act of giving and receiving a touch, and Melpomaen suddenly ached for him in a way that was unfamiliar. If before he had wanted to have Legolas present for a number of reasons he did not wish to put into words, but especially to underline the distance between Haldir and the captain, now he felt an impulse to lessen that distance somehow. He rested his hand on Haldir's and let his fingertips brush against his lover's wrist. When Haldir turned his eyes toward him, Melpomaen glanced at Legolas, then Haldir, then looked down at himself, and raised his eyebrows in question.

Haldir understood what Melpomaen was asking – would he share their love with Legolas, if the captain was willing? In answer he slid his hand up Melpomaen's calf and onto Legolas's hip, letting his fingers curl around the jutting bones, feeling the smooth texture of skin. He saw Legolas's eyes widen and his lips part.

Legolas had surmised that something of this sort might happen when he had chosen to stay, and he had to admit that his desire to be present with them once again outweighed the disquiet the notion brought him. Although he was startled by the openness with which Haldir acted, he did not hesitate for more than a few instants before he licked at the finger so temptingly placed before his mouth, running his tongue along the line between nail and flesh. Melpomaen was leaning over him now, breath warm on Legolas's neck, whispering, "You need not be alone, my friend."

"No," Legolas murmured around Haldir's finger. "I do not wish to be. . ."

"You are not," Haldir promised. He nudged Melpomaen, who slid across Legolas and stretched out on the coverlet, propping himself up on his left elbow and running his other hand down Legolas's spine, around to Haldir's hand. Together they tugged Legolas onto his side, his back to Melpomaen, and Haldir wriggled closer.

"In honor of the returning sun," Melpomaen said, kissing the nape of Legolas's neck.

"To honor the sun," Haldir echoed, stroking Legolas's cheek and leaning in to kiss his lips.

It felt to Legolas as if the sun had indeed returned, so warmly did his feelings fill his heart. He could not contain them, and did not try. Instead he kissed Haldir back, telling himself that it could do no harm to him to accept this pleasure, so freely offered. He knew that ultimately he could not be with them forever, but what did that matter?

Haldir used his own lips and tongue to urge Legolas's mouth open, tasting him, teasing him. He slid his left hand around Legolas's waist, pulling them together, and then reaching further to brush against Melpomaen's groin. His lover was already hard, and Haldir took Melpomaen's hip, bringing him against Legolas.

This was something Melpomaen had hardly dared to imagine, to have the king's son warm and half-naked between himself and Haldir. He fumbled to find the laces of Legolas's leggings, loosening them. Together he and Haldir pulled Legolas's garments down, then each of them hastily followed suit, until they all lay bare together.

Legolas could feel Melpomaen's chest pressed against his back, Melpomaen's hard organ nudging at the cleft between his buttocks. He knew what Melpomaen hoped for, and resolved to accept it, though he was a little apprehensive. As if sensing his ambivalence and wishing to calm him, Haldir stroked his cheek again, running one finger along his earlobe and along the sensitive skin of his neck. With a sigh, Legolas relaxed. His friends would do nothing to hurt him. Tentatively, he reached to touch Haldir where their two bodies met in firm heat.

It felt strange to Haldir, to have Legolas rather than Melpomaen rubbing against him. Good, but strange. He allowed it for a little while, then gently moved Legolas's hand to around his waist instead, kissing him again, harder this time. When he broke from the kiss, he turned over and reached for the flask where Melpomaen had set it down, handing it across to his partner.

Melpomaen guessed at what Haldir would like. He tipped a puddle of oil into his hand, slicking some of it onto his own member, and some onto Legolas's. He used his oiled fingers to probe Haldir's tight aperture, easing him open, and then – with great care – touching Legolas in the same place. Melpomaen could feel Legolas tense next to him, unsure of how to react. Very slowly, Melpomaen slipped a single finger inside, caressing, searching for the spot that would spur the captain's desire. There.

"Oh," Legolas gasped involuntarily. "Oh, Melpomaen. What. . . what have you done?"

"Ssh," said Melpomaen in his ear. "Relax." He continued to move, now adding a second finger.

Haldir moved a few inches up toward the top of the bed. Reaching behind himself, he took hold of Legolas's cock and placed its tip against his own opening. He pushed down, letting Legolas penetrate him, wrapping the palm of his right hand against his own member and beginning to stroke not-quite roughly up and down the length of it.

The doubled sensation quite undid Legolas. He cried out, then remembering where he was, muffled his groans against Haldir's shoulder. The hand which was bringing such delight to him left, and for a moment he was bereft, until he felt a new pressure and knew that Melpomaen was about to enter him. He tensed again, but Haldir's movements distracted him and Melpomaen reached around to flick against his nipples.

On an exhaled breath, Melpomaen slid inside of Legolas and paused to let him adjust. Legolas was clenched around him, and Melpomaen moved slightly, until a change in Legolas's breathing signaled that he had found the right place to stroke against once again. Had he been inside Haldir, Melpomaen would have moved with abandon, but as it was he made only the smallest of thrusts, taking hold of Haldir's hips so that the three of them moved with a single rhythm.

It was Legolas, unaccustomed to such loveplay, who reached his peak first. He pressed deeper, faster, into Haldir, finding that each stroke brought not only direct pleasure, but an echo as Melpomaen was inevitably drawn into greater thrusts as well. Legolas bit into Haldir's neck as he spent.

As Legolas's movements ceased, Haldir increased the speed of his hand. The oil lingering on it made it feel almost as if someone else were touching him – then he realized that Legolas had begun to stroke his chest, and Melpomaen had reached across to caress him too. At the familiar, beloved touch of his partner, Haldir spilled into the sheets. He turned within Legolas's embrace to face the other two, kissing Legolas and resting his left hand on Melpomaen's hip.

Melpomaen had stopped moving when Legolas did, but now he resumed, thrusting slowly and not too deep or hard, concentrating on the heat and tightness of the beautiful body next to him to bring his desire to its height. He smiled to know that Haldir was there, on the other side of Legolas, with him in spirit if not quite in body. He wanted, oh, how he wanted this to last for longer, but it was too much. He could feel the pounding of his heart echoed along the length of his cock, quivering, pulsing, and his seed pulsed out with it.

They lay still for a time, spent, Melpomaen still inside of Legolas, Haldir embracing them both.

"A happy mettarë to you," Melpomaen murmured at last, withdrawing. Legolas and Haldir laughed, their voices blending, and Melpomaen laughed with them.

"I think now it is more like yestarë," Legolas pointed out. "It must be well after the middle of the night." He sighed. "I should go. I have duties in the morning that cannot be abrogated."

"Must you?" asked Haldir, but his tone was more resigned than questioning. He knew the truth of what Legolas said, and rose to fetch a damp cloth from the bathing room, wiping himself off and then passing it to Legolas.

"I must. But this was a far happier mettarë than I had any cause to expect, thanks to you both." Legolas pulled his clothes on and stood at the end of the bed, looking at them in silence for some moments before holding out his hands to encourage them to sit up closer. He kissed first Haldir and then Melpomaen, and then left them alone together for the rest of the night.



Footnote:
(1) This is an extract from "The Woods And the Rivers Are Silent," by Torquato Tasso, a 16th-century Italian poet; this translation is by the Mediaeval Baebes, from the liner notes of their album The Rose.