4. Chapter 4
For a long moment their eyes met, the Half-Elf's grey eyes meeting emotionlessly the changeable sea-green ones of the Man. Now that the time came, Elrond felt curiously calm - uninvolved, almost - as if he had passed beyond the furious ravages of emotion into the precarious stilness at the eye of the storm.
"Yes," he said, and as he spoke the Elven self-possession cloaked him like a second skin. "There *is* much that we must discuss, Isildur."
Isildur stared at him for a moment in silence, and gave a heavy sigh. "About the Ring, I suppose?"
A rough bark of laughter that grated on Elrond's ears. "Need we begin all that again? Surely we have already said everything that could conceivably be said on the subject in a thousand years."
"We have said much, Isildur. But we have resolved nothing."
"Oh? So what *does* it take to resolve this?" The words were brash, the eyes behind them cold, with a flinty light in their depths. "Must I capitulate and destroy it before you will be satisfied?"
*This* was not Isildur, Elrond reminded himself. Isildur was being used by the ring. He didn't know what he was doing. He would never say such things normally.
"You know it must be destroyed. We agreed it years ago. *You* agreed to it."
"Oh yes! I agreed to it - but he's dead now. What evil can it have now he's gone?"
"Evil is still evil whether Sauron lives or no." Elrond could feel his palms growing damp and sticky with sweat, but the tension did not betray itself in the harshness of his voice. "That ring is still a thing of evil. It must still be destroyed before Sauron's power can truly be broken."
"You cannot be certain of that."
"I *am* certain. I can feel its power, Isildur," Elrond said heavily. I can see what it is doing to you, he thought. "And its malevolence."
"Malevolence? I feel none of it!"
"You are blind to it, Isildur. You are trifling with things you do not understand. You know what this ring is. You know what it has done, and what it can do. You know what must be done to destroy it."
"I know nothing except what you would tell me. And how do I know that you do not have your own reasons for speaking thus? You Elves always have your own agenda."
"Indeed." Ice-cold politeness. "So the ignorant say. I had not thought to number the heir of Elendil among them."
"Elrond! Elrond, damn you, must you play the Elf-Lord at me? I *know* you only do it to hide yourself. Would you sacrifice all our love over so small a thing?" Isildur made as if to step towards Elrond, but halted, seemingly unsure. "Why can you not speak frankly to me about this?"
"What would you have me tell you?" His voice came out thin and brittle, as if some small, delicate thing inside him was in danger of shattering.
"Nothing! I would just have you speak openly with me - that is all."
"I have tried!" Elrond could feel himself losing patience. "But you will not hear me."
"No. You have tried to brow-beat, plead and intimidate. Círdan at least was reasonable."
"You heeded his words no more than you did mine."
"Heeded his words? What happened to the famed Elven reluctance to give advice?"
For the first time, Elrond found himself at a loss for words. He stood in silence a long moment, watching Isildur with unblinking eyes, in the vain hope that his gaze and his silence alone could bridge the chasm his words could not. "It is changing you, Isildur," he said at length, slowly. "The Ring is changing you - and I fear for what you might become if you hold it too long."
For a long moment it seemed as though the words had been heard. Isildur took a single, hesitant step towards him, closing completely the distance between them, his face drawn with worry and concern. "Elrond," he said softly. "I truly do not know..." He reached up as if to touch Elrond's face, but Elrond caught his hand before he could do so. There were some things he could not endure now. As it was, Isildurs fingers seemed to burn against his palm. Isildur looked across at him sharply, and the moment was lost.
"Of course it changes you - you know that." Isildur's eyes became suddenly subtle and crafty. "After all, you bear a ring of power yourself."
Elrond lifted his head sharply, the action almost a flinch. "What makes you think that?"
Isildur laughed harshly. "Could you but see yourself through my eyes! It hangs around you like a veil of light ... blue and gold, like a summer's sky." He turned grave again. "Why did you never tell me of it?"
"It was not mine to tell. Some things are very deep."
"Yes. I used to think our love was one of them."
Elrond said nothing, merely willed his facade of dignity to stand firm.
"Elrond... Elrond, look at me, damn you! That ring changes you - I can see you drawing on it now." He strode forward and gripped Elrond hard on the shoulder. "I've known you almost thirty years - and in all that time I have *never* known you as you truly are - never known you as you are without it.
"Isildur-" They were standing perilously close now. The grip on his shoulder did not relent.
"Would you discard *yours* if I asked you?"
Somehow his self-possession stood firm. He met the eyes level with his, searching in them for something he recognised - something of Isildur. "It is not mine to destroy. I hold it in trust only. I do not own it." He met Isildur's eyes with a clear gaze that revealed nothing. "More than that I cannot tell you."
His shoulder was released, roughly, and he had to take an involuntary step backwards to keep his balance. "Keep your secrets, then! Why should you let the foolish mortal into your confidence?"
"No! Isildur, I would hide nothing from you - save those things which are not mine to tell."
Isildur stared at him, his eyes narrowed and suspicious. "It seems sometimes as though we come from two different worlds. There is so much that it is not my place to know."
For some reason the petulancy of the comment strengthened Elrond's hold on his composure. "I am sorry for that," he said smoothly. "For I have always shared with you what I could." He grew grave, forced himself to return to the subject in hand. "The ring you have taken - it is not like the rings of the Elves. It is a very dangerous thing."
"it is a thing of great power. Would you have me throw it away - now, when we need such power to rebuild our lands?"
"It is a thing of great evil. Already it has its hold over you." His eyes searched Isildur's face for a moment, and he sighed. "I fear for you, my friend. I can see its effects on you."
"You lie! You would take it for yourself."
It hurt, to hear those words. For an instant, Elrond was all but overwhelmed, and his makeshift defences crumbled and crumpled into nothing. He stood in dumb immobility for several heartbeats, unable to speak, to think, to act.
"Do you truly believe that of me?" he asked, very quietly.
His words were met by sudden, profound silence - an echoing emptiness belied by the dead acoustics of the tent's hithlain walls.
"No..." Isildur seemed to return suddenly to himself again, and he looked somehow shrunken. "No .... no, of course I do not." He wiped a hand across his forehead, as if to wipe something away. When he spoke again, his voice was unsteady. "Your pardon, Elrond. I do not know what came over me."
Elrond said nothing, but met the sea-green eyes gravely.
"You really think that was the Ring's influence?"
"I do. Did you ever speak so before?"
"No .... no, I suppose I did not. I - I am sorry." He drew in a long, shuddering breath, and his eyes when he looked at Elrond were full of pain and horror. "Elrond? What have I been doing?" He walked unsteadily over, to lean on the strong central pillar of the tent, staring at its canvas floor as if trying to gain answers from its close-woven surface.
Isildur had never been the kind of man to apologise.
"You were not yourself, Isildur."
"I have been acting like a lunatic, these few hours past. What you must have thought of me..."
"It was just the Ring, Isildur," Elrond said gently, feeling an obscure urge to comfort the Man. "It was not you. Do not take the blame upon yourself."
"Mine were the actions. Mine was the mind behind those actions."
"Not so." Best not to mention the Ring by name. Not with its influence so strongly felt, so newly set aside. "Yours was the hand, but not yours the mind. Do not claim those actions for yourself. Rather put them behind you and let us remedy the evil."
"Elrond ... I am afraid. I - I know not what to say. What power is it that can change even the heart of a strong man?"
"It was Sauron's doing," Elrond said harshly. "He would mock us even after his own destruction. He would destroy the things we hold most dear, in petty revenge for his own doom."
"Yes ... yes, I suppose you are right. We must be rid of it - father always said that. He made us swear, as you did." his voice shook as he spoke of his father, and Elrond saw his shoulders tense. He came forward, uncertainly, to rest a hand on the Man's shoulder. "Elrond ... I could not bear to lose you too. I would not lose you for anything in Middle-Earth or outside it."
And then Isildur reached forward with gentle reverence, took his face in his hands, and kissed him.
He should have held back, he should have stayed in control, he should at least have maintained a distance between them - but it was too late. He had already seized Isildur in a desperate embrace, pulling the whole length of their bodies together tightly, as if his grip alone could stop Isildur slipping away from him.
He looked unblinking into the eyes before him, exactly level with his, and felt the blue-green eyes gazing back at him, filling his vision and his thought until he was aware of little else, the hypersensitive Elven senses filled only with the awareness of Isildur. It was all but overwhelming: the feel of the rough, gentle hands against the skin of his face, the heat of the body that he was still holding tightly to his own, the sharp taste of the human mouth ... and the smell, the strong tang of sweat and smoke and leather that was so familiar ... so much a part of Isildur.
He was aware that he seemed to be shaking uncontrollably.
He felt Isildur break the kiss, the blue-green-grey eyes receding a little.
"Elrond?" He saw the lips move, but the voice seemed to come from a great distance away. "Are you all right?"
He loosed his hold on Isildur with an effort of will, and stepped away from him unsteadily, feeling immediately bereft.
"We should not be doing this," he said, and the words came out thick and uneven, with no conviction behind them. He could feel already his body betraying him, and he did not dare look Isildur in the face. "We have much to do and this will not help us."
He should not have spoken. Isildur came close again, examining Elrond's face with concerned, uncertain eyes. Even Isildur's hand supporting his elbow was too much contact. <<Do not come so close!>> He needed to say the words, but they could not be forced past his lips, nor could he hold back the other hand when Isildur reached out a moment later to caress his face.
"I do not want to lose you," he heard the Man say again, his strong voice rough and unsteady. "Not ever. Not over this or over any other thing." He sighed, and then shook his head. "And I do not want you to lose me, either. I *love* you, Elrond - I love you as I never loved before."
<<Ai - Elbere-!>>
He could not tell which of them had moved, but he was suddenly embracing Isildur as though his life depended on it, touching him, kissing him, as all the time the pressure in his loins became more intense, answered as it was by Isildur's own body.
It was a kiss that burned like fire and froze like ice, tasting of mead and salt and ashes, held until all their breath was spent. He felt Isildur's hands suddenly against the bare skin of his waist, (and when had the Man managed to unfasten his armour?) and he jolted in shock at their touch before pressing close to him once again, reaching with quick fingers for the lacings of Isildur's shirt.
<<We should not be doing this,>> a small part of him still told him; but it no longer seemed to have any power over his thoughts or actions. The rest thought only of Isildur, Isildur whom he loved, Isildur who, he feared, would so soon be lost to him, repeating his name like a prayer in tones unheard in the haste to discard the dirty, sweaty, *imprisoning* garments that had come with him from the battlefield.
And then - somehow - they were on the rough floor of the tent, freed of clothes and words and all other encumbrances, and Isildur was atop him, and he was blind, and deaf and oblivious to everything save Isildur ... the warm weight on his back, the gusts of breath on his neck and the wordless murmuring in his ear, the heavy hands, so gentle and tender on his flesh, the smell of sweat and smoke and leather, faint but so very overwhelming -
And then the pain-spiked raptures of his taking, ebbing and waning like revolving moons, now light, now dark, bringing welling tides of pressure in their wake, waxing and waning but ever increasing in power and intensity, fiercer and brighter than he had ever known or dreamt it as he let himself be taken, as he *gave* himself to Isildur and to the joy and anguish of their joining, and then-
And then the tide broke over them, and the world erupted in a blaze of agony and ecstasy - brightness and colour and sound and motion ... and there were no more divisions between them, none at all, and they were one.
* * *
<<Well! That was *most*...>>
Words seldom failed Isildur at any time, but they seemed most infuriatingly elusive now. He was lying, drained, on the floor of the tent, the world around them dimmed by the smoke of the brazier. Elrond lay against him, his body limp and pliant, and his eyes seemed empty and stunned, drifting somewhere in the wildernesses of oblivion, his dark hair disordered and tangled about his face.
Isildur reached over and brushed the strands away gingerly, studying carefully the angles and planes of the almost-Elven face with a mixture of tenderness and regret.
He did not look quite Elven, as he did not look quite human, the features of his face a little coarser and blunter than most Elven faces, the body a little more muscular than the Elf, less hair-covered than the human. Neither the one thing nor the other, but somehow transcending both.
Isildur was used to that: he had long grown used to the distinctions between the races, and their different appearances. But now, looking on Elrond's exhausted face, with its sheen of sweat and disorderly hair, and the eyes that were beginning to slip closed, he realised he had never seen the Peredhel look so terribly, terribly human.
He could feel his eyes stinging and shook his head with a rueful half-smile.
<<And so it ends,>> he thought sadly. <<I doubt that he will ever touch me again, or I him. A great pity, for I *did* love him greatly.>>
He reached across for his cloak, and cast it carefully over Elrond's sleeping body, letting the folds settle gently over him. It must have been a deep sleep indeed: he did not even stir as the soft fabric covered him.
Isildur watched him for a moment, leaning motionless over him as the pale eyelids slowly slid shut. Then, gently and slowly, second by second, Isildur eased himself away from Elrond's quiet body, and sat up, reaching for his clothes with clumsy, drugged hands. He reached first for the Ring, reassuring himself that it had not somehow been lost, and then for the rest of his clothes, dressing slowly and quietly in spite of the haste that snapped at the heels of his mind.
He stood up slowly, staring down at the sleeping figure at his feet.
<<I am sorry, Elrond,>> he thought to the figure on the bed. <<I knew you'd never understand.>>
Then he turned his back on his lover, and stepped out from the tent, out into the subdued, smog-filled murk of Mordor.
This is a work of fan fiction, written because the author has an abiding love for the works of J R R Tolkien. The characters, settings, places, and languages used in this work are the property of the Tolkien Estate, Tolkien Enterprises, and possibly New Line Cinema, except for certain original characters who belong to the author of the said work. The author will not receive any money or other remuneration for presenting the work on this archive site. The work is the intellectual property of the author, is available solely for the enjoyment of Henneth Annûn Story Archive readers, and may not be copied or redistributed by any means without the explicit written consent of the author.