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When the Race of Men Failed

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It had taken Elrond many, many years to grow accustomed to the choice his brother had made. He was sure now that they had both underestimated how great a change it would be. Elrond lost count of the times when he would turn to say something to Elros and find he wasn’t there. As much as that emptiness hurt, what hurt most was the change to their bond.

Since the day Elros chose a mortal life, Elrond had to bear a dull, consistent ache at his core. It wasn’t as if he and Elros weren’t connected at all; they were still brothers, twin brothers, and that didn’t change. But Elrond wasn’t sure what to blame it on—human physiology, confusion of their shared fae, meddling of higher powers—but he found it so much harder to feel Elros now.

Sometimes if he put enough effort into day to day activities, the ache would float to the back of his thoughts. There was much else he had to think about until the next time he turned and found no one in the room with him. Then it would seize his throat, clutching at it and squeezing all of his words out of him. However, if there was a strong emotion, deep joy or loss or fear or fury, he would receive some of it in an unexpected tremor in his hands or an impulsive smile. He held tight to those moments and tried to offer his presence in return, in comfort.

Moreover, it wasn’t as if they couldn’t write to each other. In fact they kept in steady contact, writing letters so many pages long they weighed down the birds carrying them. Many nights Elrond was told he’d been found fast asleep over what others laughingly called his ‘brother scrolls’. Elrond accepted their laughter because he knew he couldn’t expect them to understand. He and Elros wrote so much and so often because the line of communication they’d grown with was so much harder to reach.

The last scroll Elros had written had born grim news: a plague was traveling through Númenor. Elrond could imagine he felt Elros’ bravado through the words.

My people are strong, though, brother; I cannot deign to think a simple sickness would bring such proud men down.

Since then it had been some calm (and by calm, empty) months since Elrond last felt or heard from him. He was careful to keep those thoughts fleeting; he’d always had a secret worry that the emotions Elros sent him were in reply to feelings Elrond himself hadn’t kept in check. He didn’t like in the least the thought that he was what might make Elros afraid, but then his brother had always been a protector.

“Tis a good thing I’ve got you on a fae leash, honeg, or I’m sure you would wander off,” Elros had once remarked in their youth, one hand over Elrond’s chest, which housed said ‘leash’. That had of course started one of their famous arguments, Elrond batting Elros’ hand away and reminding that he was only considered a honeg by seventeen minutes.

That conversation, followed by many instances of Elros intervening to protect him, was what had confused Elrond so greatly about his choice to be mortal. He had told Elros such, when they were first to be parted.

“I hope this won’t change the world between us, ’Rond,” Elros had burst out, knowing full well that the magic was already working at doing so.

Elrond hadn’t quite managed to look at him as he murmured, “I respect your choice, ’Ros, though I can’t say I begin to understand it.”

The reason behind Elros’ parting from him was one of the only mysteries Elrond had yet to solve.

Presently Elrond was poring over several manuscripts, sorting them chronologically. He murmured a song in Elvish, one of courage in battle, as he did so; unlike many others, he found this job rather mindlessly easy and his attention wandered.

Ben auth uin ind, im thel caro nín taermar—”

An abrupt clenching of his heart froze his tongue and his fingers, letting the scroll he was holding slip through them and flutter onto the table. Elrond drew in a breath that was unnaturally shaky against the sensation of cold quivering in his stomach, stirring the fae ache like a keen wind. Fear, the first he’d heard in months. Whatever had been brought upon the King of the Númenóreans, it had reduced him to this.

Elrond exhaled, very slowly, and then took another breath, holding it and waiting tensely. Elros would soon dispatch of the threat, whatever it was, and relax. Elrond had to be patient for this; there was one instance when he had spent the entire day pacing to the tune of his galloping heartbeat, fueled by Elros feeding adrenaline into him. Fear that great didn’t happen often, so surely this wasn’t to be like that.

When the sensation didn’t dissipate, Elrond exhaled, inhaled and caught it again, trying to coax his brother into calming down.

Be reasonable…

To Elrond’s frustration (and the addition of his own fear), Elros’ panic only climbed, clawing its way up from the pit of Elrond’s stomach to scrabble at his half of their spirit. Elrond decided he ought to find a chair where he could wait this out; he pivoted to seek one out and then felt something akin to the ground dropping out from under him.

When he took his next breath, he found himself sprawled awkwardly on his side, right arm trapped underneath him. His dark hair was swept over his face, catching on his lashes and clinging to his cheeks. None of this mattered; it was all outspoken by a burning pain, so distinct he couldn’t even scream.

This was the process of his soul being torn. A rising shriek was blocking out all other sound, pressing blackness further into his head and tunneling his vision. There was no comfort, no light he could flee to—if he had believed it hard to sense his brother before, he found nothing there now.

Nothing…A yawning cavern was dragging at his spirit, disjointed thoughts floating up to the surface. Alone…gone…fallen…He sobbed breathlessly, closing his eyes against the darkness already swarming them.

When he opened them again, Elrond felt nothing. Yes, he was aware of the sweat slicking his forehead and palms, he was aware of all the blood leaving his right arm where he was still putting weight on it, and he was aware of the tears spilling down his face. But he felt cold, frozen Nothingness.

He had feared this day since he’d first discovered the notion of death—even more so when Elros had made his choice to be mortal.

“You cannot be,” he gasped thickly, all grace leaving for weakness as he flailed to get up and go somewhere. Where, he didn’t know, but he was determined to get there. Elrond would find some way to prove Elros was alive. He was in better condition than other Elven twins might be if their bonds were cut. Again, human physiology, the work of higher forces, he didn’t know and didn’t care to thank them. None of it was necessary because Elros was alive.

He used the nearby tabletop to pull himself upright, felling many of the manuscripts, but as soon as he straightened his legs, a wave of dizziness folded them back underneath him and collapsed him a second time.

Vaguely he was aware that he’d smacked his head. The blood smeared on the edge of the table wasn’t important. Elrond seized the nearest leg of the table, willing strength to his hands and spirit. His hands cooperated, tightening their grip on the burnished wood, but his heart only responded with a sensation of bitter numbness, spreading through his core and somehow cleansing whatever the inner wound was. Relief from the fierce agony was enough for him to err towards easing himself back onto the floor.

Ho gwanna…

Elrond knew he should feel terror or anguish at the whispered truth. Elros had just passed from this world. He had just lost his only family, his other half, what made him whole. Yet he could still feel only blackness because of it; that was what terrified him as he curled further into himself, finally giving in to it. Distantly he hoped someone would find him soon, so he wouldn't have to be any more alone when he woke up.