Flame to Smoke by Celandine Brandybuck
Summary: What happens when an eternal bond goes awry? Melpomaen finds himself in Imladris without Haldir; angst and lots of it. Adult themes and sexual references but nothing graphic.
Categories: FPS, FPS > Figwit/Haldir, FPS > Haldir/Figwit Characters: Figwit (Melpomaen), Haldir of Lothlórien
Type: None
Warning: Angst, AU
Challenges: None
Series: None
Chapters: 1 Completed: Yes Word count: 7925 Read: 1181 Published: December 20, 2011 Updated: December 20, 2011
Story Notes:
_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. I use them to indicate a male Elf or a female Elf when I feel that the English terms might be misleading. I also attribute certain properties to _lembas_ that are not attested to by Tolkien; for that and other reasons this story should be considered AU. It is in essence bookverse, however, not filmverse; thus Haldir does not fight at Helm's Deep, and Melpomaen (though of course borrowed from the film of FotR originally) neither appears at the Council of Elrond nor escorts Arwen to the Havens. There are cameos by several other familiar figures, however. I hope that the present story stands on its own despite its strong connections to tales earlier told.

The last line is a paraphrase of Ruth 1:16-17, and Melpomaen did say it to Haldir quite early on in their partnership, as related in _Passages_. A _yén_ is 144 years of the sun. _Meldanya_ is the Quenya word meaning "my beloved," which I choose to use in preference to Sindarin as an adopted endearment, probably brought in by Galadriel and Celeborn when they came to Lothlórien. Bilbo, incidentally, insisted that he ought to have a few moments, since most of the story takes place in his adopted home of Rivendell, though I tried to tell him he was a distraction from the main story. You know how stubborn Hobbits can be, as bad as Dwarves in their way. And, oh yes. The title is a quote from Shakespeare.

1. Chapter 1 by Celandine Brandybuck

Chapter 1 by Celandine Brandybuck
"Will you not return with us?"

Melpomaen shook his head and pressed two letters into the other Elf's hand. Each was sealed with green wax in the likeness of a leaf. "No, Lothil. Not now. Lord Elrond's sons were kind to offer to see me trained to ride as they do, when they saw my interest in it – I could not refuse such an opportunity. Captain Lrindol will understand. This letter is for him," he indicated one, "explaining that I will return in a year, or two or three at most, with greater skills than I now have, and able to share those skills with our defenders. The other letter is to my scouting partner Haldir, to say much the same." From my hand to Lothil's, and from his to Haldir's. He had written the words knowing that they would be scant compensation for his own absence.

"I will see them delivered," promised Lothil, and the group of Lothlrien Elves picked up the last of their traveling gear and departed from Imladris, southeastward into the thin rays of the rising autumn sun.

Melpomaen stood and watched after them. He had never felt so alone; in a way he had never been so alone. True, there were hundreds of other Elves – and some Men as well – nearby in Elrond's household, but none of his own people. Still it had been wholly his own choice to stay, and he ought not to regret it. Briefly he considered changing his mind and returning to Lrien immediately – he could collect his things and catch up with the others within the day. A company of a dozen could not travel as swiftly as one alone. No, I will stay here, as I gave my word to do.

The reason he had given to Lothil, and in the letters, was true enough. He had happened to see Elladan and Elrohir exercising their horses one morning and been struck by their grace and ability. Horses were not much used by the Lrien guards, but new skills were never unwelcome. Elrond's sons were pleased by his interest and more than happy to offer him temporary residence in Imladris if he wished it, in order to be trained.

A chance to learn something of horsemanship was not the only reason Melpomaen had decided to stay, however. For years now he had sometimes chafed at the restrictions under which he lived as a border guard of the Golden Wood. He had no present intention of leaving his post and taking up some other craft at this time, but the motive for his remaining was also the cause for his unhappiness.

Haldir. Melpomaen's lips curved unconsciously as he pictured his partner. He had been assigned to Haldir for training when he first joined Lrindol's company, and they had worked together ever since. They had one of the best-performing partnerships among any of the patrols, and it was a partnership far deeper than others were aware. Only a few years after they had met, Haldir and Melpomaen had been sent by Lord Celeborn on an urgent errand to the King of Dale. In the course of their journey it had become clear to both of them that their affection for each other went beyond simple friendship, and they had become lovers, bonded as long as their lives endured. Those few months had been the most precious of Melpomaen's life.

When they returned to Lrien, though, they had had to relinquish the joys of physical love. A bond like theirs was seen by their people as a sign of the taint of Morgoth, and were it to become known, they might well be shunned, or even exiled. Moreover, conditions in the company were such as prevented any possibility of desire, whether wanted or unwanted. The lembas that they ate on patrol fed nerve and sinew, sustaining the bodies of the rangers at peak capability, but there was a small – to most, unnoticeable – price. Lembas also disengaged the physical responses to emotion. Few rangers ever realized this, since their loved ones lived in Caras Galadhon and they had no stimulus to desire in any case, but Haldir had learned of it and warned Melpomaen when they first became lovers.

It might be thought preferable, Melpomaen reflected, to be freed of longings that could not have been satisfied. But recently he had taken to remembering that all-too-brief time of passion many years past and wishing that it could somehow be repeated. Haldir was reluctant to give up his position in the company and return to the city, where his unwed and unbetrothed state was likely to be a cause for friction with his family. Nor did he have any desire to leave the woods he loved. Without Haldir, Melpomaen would never choose to leave the forest patrols either – being reluctantly celibate in Haldir's company seemed better to him than being parted.

So why now have I chosen to remain in Imladris, further from my beloved than I have ever before been?

He thought about it. The border guard had been his first occupation when he had come of age, one he had now followed for more than six decades. He had never regretted that decision – but perhaps now his thoughts were beginning to turn to another path? While there were some, like Haldir, who might be content to pursue the same craft for centuries, many Elves changed from one to another whenever they felt they had sufficient mastery of a given skill and wished to learn something new.

Perhaps that is it. But Melpomaen knew in his heart that was not the entire truth. If he was honest with himself, there were other reasons.

"Melpomaen? It is you? What in Arda brings you here, my friend?"

The voice had reached him from across the Hall of Fire at Imladris one evening shortly after his arrival, instantly recognized.

"Welcome, Legolas," he had smiled and embraced the other Elf. "I traveled with the company that came from Lothlrien."

"Still hiring out as a guard and messenger, are you?" Melpomaen had had no chance to correct the misimpression – he and Haldir had been obliged for political reasons to conceal their origins when they had met Legolas in Mirkwood – before Legolas went on, "Is Haldir here, too?"

"No." Melpomaen had kept the smile on his face, though it was difficult. "No, he remained east of the mountains."

Legolas's face had fallen. "Too bad. I should have liked to see him again. I am surprised that he did not accompany you." His voice had lifted on the last words, questioning.

"He... had other commitments that prevented it." Melpomaen's mouth had twisted slightly as he spoke. Legolas had been aware of the bond between Haldir and Melpomaen for almost as long as he had known them. Others might have suspected it, but only Legolas had certain knowledge, of all persons in Middle-earth. He would understand the tension and difficulties of the situation.

"I'm sorry," Legolas had said, laying his hand on Melpomaen's arm. "I have thought of you both often, and wished to hear how you were. I've always regretted that you never chose to return to Mirkwood, but I suppose that the wandering life held more appeal for you, in the end. I used to want that myself, and be unhappy that I had to stay in my father's realm. Would you believe this is my first visit to Imladris?" He had spread his arms wide. "Had I known what it would be like, I would have traveled here long since, whatever my father said. Still, at least I am here now, and under his orders to consult with Lord Elrond and Mithrandir as to what may best be done to counter the growing threat of the Enemy. His underlings have reoccupied Dol Guldur, in the south of the forest."

"I know," Melpomaen had said. "Orcs have been seen in the area. I have heard that there is to be a great council held, with representatives of all the free peoples. Rumor here says that something of great importance has been discovered."

Legolas had nodded. "Something, yes. And there are other events as well. Do you recall, when you and Haldir first came to Mirkwood, that creature that was slipping into the houses of Men and killing their babes?"

Melpomaen had not forgotten; he and Haldir had brought one of the victims to Thranduil's caverns with them.

"He slipped from our grasp, then," Legolas had continued, "but years later was at last caught by a Man and brought to us. We held him for some time, at Mithrandir's request. That is why I am here, in large part; it is something I am obliged to confess to the wizard, that he has escaped again." Suddenly Legolas had flushed and looked down. "Don't repeat that, please, Melpomaen – not until I have told Mithrandir himself."

"Of course not," Melpomaen had assured him. "You know I would say nothing to your discredit."

Legolas had smiled with relief, and their talk had turned to reminiscence and other matters.

Remembering that conversation, Melpomaen shook his head. He had said nothing to anyone, of course, for reasons that went beyond simple friendship. The ties between himself, Haldir, and Legolas had always been complex. Had Haldir and I not arrived at Mirkwood with our bond already established... Melpomaen's eyes fell shut, not against the bright sun so much as in denial of the emotions he had felt at that time, and that still lingered even now.

Melpomaen had not doubted the mutual love and commitment that he and Haldir had for each other. He had not realized that two binn could form the kind of bond that usually existed between a benn and a bess, until Haldir had shown him. His initial response had been borne of impulse, but was true and deep for all of that. And yet – in a way, he had had no choice, no chance to consider. When they were offered the opportunity to stay in Mirkwood, where they could have continued as lovers in the physical sense, Haldir had refused and persuaded Melpomaen that it would be best to return home to Lrien.

In all these years, I never have understood that, not entirely. Why did Haldir so resist the idea? We had to leave, to complete our mission, but we could have returned later. He shied away from answering that, even in thought, just now.

His wanderings about the buildings and grounds of Imladris had brought him to the edge of the fields. Ahead were pastured the horses that he would soon be learning to ride under the tutelage of Elrond's sons and others – not that he had never ridden, but he realized ruefully that his ability was scarcely more than that of a child on a hobbyhorse, compared with that of Elladan, Elrohir, or many other Elves and Men here in Imladris. A simple rail fence kept the horses from straying, and he stood against it, watching them.

"I heard you were staying." Legolas's voice from behind caused Melpomaen to jerk upright, startled. "Why?"

Melpomaen gave him the same explanation he had written to Lrindol and to Haldir. The words felt limp and false on his tongue as he spoke, although there was no lie in them. Is omission a lie?

The sun caught Legolas's hair, crowning him with light. Absently Melpomaen noticed that he still carried a pair of knives at his waist. He had once defeated Haldir with those knives, in a midwinter festival competition... Melpomaen's face warmed, remembering what else had taken place that day. Desire, and two pairs of eyes, watching.

Legolas said nothing when Melpomaen finished speaking, only nodding, as if he had heard more than was said. He took Melpomaen's hand and they leaned together, watching the wind ruffle the grass and the horses in the field, until the sun was high overhead.

Melpomaen did not see Legolas again for some weeks. Nearly every Elf or Man possessing any skill with arms or horses was out scouting the lands around, but Melpomaen was busy with other matters. He learned much about the care of horses – how to groom them, what diet they required, what illnesses or injuries they might sustain, and how to heal those. He learned how to trim hooves, and how to shoe a horse, though few of the Elves' mounts were shod. He learned of the different types of harness, halters and bridles, saddles and stirrups, though again such gear was rarely used among the Elves.

"But you may sometime ride with Men, who always seem to need these devices, so it is best that you know them," he was told.

When winter closed in, and the scouts returned one by one, Melpomaen began to learn horsemanship and the skills of riding. He spent evenings in the Hall of Fire, hearing tales and songs of all kinds, and sometimes venturing to add his own. Though he had left his pipes at home in Lothlrien, there were instruments in plenty for the use of any who wished. Legolas had returned, but his friend seemed much engaged in discussions with Elrond, Mithrandir, and others. One evening Melpomaen was sitting in a corner of the hall, playing softly to himself, when he was interrupted.

"Good sir Elf, I am much intrigued by your tune; I have never heard it before, and after sixteen years in the house of Elrond, I thought I had a passing familiarity with most Elvish songs. Would you object to playing it again for me?"

Melpomaen looked up, then looked down again, for the person before him was only half as tall as an Elf, or even a Man.

"Bilbo Baggins the Hobbit at your service," said the white-haired figure in the bright green waistcoat embroidered with golden dragons, bowing.

Startled, it took Melpomaen a moment to gather his wits and reply. He rose and bowed courteously back. "Melpomaen of Lrien, at yours and your family's," he said. "If you wish me to play again, I would be happy to." Which was polite, but untrue, for he had been playing a tune that he had composed in Mirkwood, for Haldir, and did not much like to play it for others.

The Hobbit pulled a stool close and sat down to listen, his face bright with anticipation. Melpomaen duly began again. When he had finished, Bilbo smiled broadly.

"I enjoyed that," he said. "No, I certainly have not heard it before."

"It is my own composition," said Melpomaen, with a certain amount of pride. "Many years ago now."

"Ah, no wonder then. I'm a bit of an artist myself," the Hobbit confided, "though my dabblings lie more along the lines of poetry than music." He launched out into a lengthy discussion of various poetic forms and how they differed between the Elvish tongue and Westron, Melpomaen contributing mostly by listening and interjecting the occasional "Is that so?" when Bilbo seemed to want a response. But Melpomaen found himself touched more than amused by the earnestness of the figure before him, and bade Bilbo a good night with a good will.

Strange, that it should be the melody I wrote for Haldir that should have drawn attention to me. He wished briefly that his partner were there to share this moment with, then pushed the thought away. He chose not to come. He said once he would not willingly part from me, but he decided to stay in Lrien and let me come to Imladris alone.

Thinking of that, he went to the room he had been given when he arrived. Beautiful and comfortable though it was, hung with rich fabrics, it seemed cold and empty to him. The touch of the sheets and blankets was not the touch he sought. But I have not had that touch for long and long. And if I cannot have it, I do not want any.

Melpomaen remembered sitting cross-legged around the fire, at the company's camp in Lrien. Haldir's knee brushing against his, until he moved away. His partner's surprised and hurt expression, so that he deliberately moved back, though it seemed to burn him through the heavy cloth.

That was the first hint to him that all was not right. Melpomaen had found himself evading the simplest touch from Haldir. The same from any other Elf did not bother him; he could clasp arms with captain Lrindol, or give a tug to Rmil's tunic so that it sat straight under the straps of his quiver, and it was just a touch, meaningless. He knew that the same was true when Haldir's hand met his in lifting a log that had fallen and was blocking a path. Haldir had no thought of causing him distress. It was not as if Haldir's skin felt in any way different from that of any other, except that somehow it did. Melpomaen thought that if he were blindfolded he would know it, and shrink from it.

Even now, at the memory, he winced. It seemed that he would do anything to get away, and stay away, from Haldir now – and yet he had been hurt when Haldir had refused to make the journey to Imladris with the others. You don't know what you want, Melpomaen. Witless fool.

Shortly before mid-winter, he had washed off the sweat and dirt of the day in one of the bathing rooms and was soaking out the stiffness of muscles unaccustomed to such exercise in the hot pool one night when he was joined by two others: Legolas, and the Man Aragorn, whom Melpomaen had heard was Elrond's own foster-son.

"Good evening," Melpomaen acknowledged as they entered the warm room.

"Ah, Melpomaen – I'm glad to see you here. You've met Aragorn, of course," said Legolas.

"Once or twice, in the Hall of Fire of an evening," said Melpomaen, nodding respectfully at the dark-haired Man.

"Greetings," said Aragorn in a slow quiet voice. "I have been much preoccupied of late, and urgent matters have not afforded much opportunity to make your acquaintance."

"We thought we would enjoy a hot soak tonight. Our Fellowship departs tomorrow evening on our quest, as you know, and who can say when we might again have such a chance?" Legolas slipped into the steaming water and leaned back, his face a study in contentment as he relaxed. Aragorn followed.

Melpomaen refrained from staring with an effort. He had never seen a Man unclothed before. I had not realized how hairy they were, like beasts almost. Then he blushed for the discourtesy of his thoughts. They are no more so than Dwarves, after all, he recalled from a brief time when he and Haldir had traveled with a party of that race, but I never saw any of the Dwarves bathing.

Despite Aragorn's implication that he would like to become better acquainted with Melpomaen, the Man showed no inclination to converse, merely sitting up to his chin in the hot water with his eyes closed, his head resting against the carved marble side of the bath. When they had soaked in silence for quite some time, Melpomaen ventured to speak.

"You travel to Eregion first, and then what route does your fellowship take?"

"Dunland, then Mithrandir has spoken of the Gap of Rohan," said Legolas, glancing at Aragorn who nodded without opening his eyes. "The western route may be somewhat safer than crossing the Misty Mountains and traveling south along the Anduin. My only regret is that we will have no opportunity to see the Golden Wood of Lothlrien, the beauty of which is said to be unsurpassed on this side of the Sea. But this is no pleasure-journey, so I should not regret that. You have seen Lrien, Melpomaen, have you not, if you traveled here with the Elves from that land?"

"I have seen it," said Aragorn unexpectedly. He opened his eyes and gave a crooked smile to the two Elves. "It is a fair land indeed, though perhaps for me the lady Arwen's presence made it fairer still."

Melpomaen was astonished. He recalled visits by Elrond's daughter and sons to their mother's parents, Celeborn and Galadriel, but surely he would have known of a Man coming as guest to Lrien? Perhaps not. News always reaches the patrols late, if at all.

"But unless all goes awry, no, we shall not see it on this quest of ours," Aragorn continued. "When all is over, Legolas, and if all is well, I hope you may find the chance."

"Ah, well," said Legolas lightly. "I have waited this long, and hope is a blessing as well as a burden." He stretched out and slid under the water, pushing his wet hair back as he emerged again to rest against the side.

Aragorn said, "Do not think me rude, but on this our last evening I must make some farewells. Melpomaen, I hope we shall someday meet again. Legolas, I shall see you in the dawn." He rose and stepped from the water, wrapping a towel around himself as he went out into the other room where his clothes waited.

Legolas quirked a smile. "Men. I would not expect one to be so diligent, when we will not leave until dusk. But he was raised here in Imladris, and Elrond has taught him well. I hope the other Man and the Hobbits are as well-trained, but I doubt it. As for the Dwarf..." his voice trailed off.

"Do not discount the Dwarf," said Melpomaen. "I have known Dwarves in my journeys. They are a practical race, at least, if uncouth and prejudiced in our eyes. Treat him politely and you will have no trouble, even if you do not wish for friendship. He doubtless thinks the same of you." He smiled to take any sting from his words.

"You sound as sensible as Haldir used to," complained Legolas good-naturedly. "You must be trying to compensate for his absence."

"I suppose so," Melpomaen said. His voice broke on the words. You great fool, Maen. You chose to remain, rather than return to be with Haldir again, and you know why. He closed his eyes for a moment and willed away the threatening tears. When he opened them, Legolas had moved next to him and was regarding him sympathetically.

"What is it, Melpomaen? Can I be of any help?"

"I doubt it, but I thank you for your concern. I am a fool, that is all, and I shall just have to muddle through my own troubles."

Legolas frowned. "You're as far from a fool as anyone I know. Well, almost anyone. Why do you say that?"

"You know how matters are between myself and Haldir, Legolas; that we are bonded."

"Yes, of course." Legolas flushed, but did not look away. He too remembered certain evenings in Mirkwood, years ago.

"What you do not know is that the circumstances of our life since we left your forest have been such that we had to relinquish physical desire in order to remain together." Melpomaen did not, even now, tell Legolas that he himself was from Lothlrien. I suppose because Haldir was the one to say we should conceal our home, even though the need for secrecy is long past. "I cannot explain this fully to you; the reason is not in my keeping. But it is so, and unavoidable. And I..." he broke off, unable to put what he felt into words he was willing to say.

"I think I understand," said Legolas, his voice sounding far away, but he put a hand over Melpomaen's and tightened it. So like, and yet so unlike. "Don't blame him. Don't blame yourself, either."

"Oh, it's not a question of blame," said Melpomaen hastily.

"No? Resentment, then, or bitterness, or whatever it is. Life is too long for that." Legolas seemed to come back from wherever his thoughts had taken him, then, and looked Melpomaen in the eye. "Even now I would take your place in a moment, you know. Do not undervalue what you have."

"I do not. It is because I hold him so dear that I find it so painful to be unable to show it in all the ways I would wish. And so I took the opportunity to come here, though Haldir could not make this journey with me."

"Or perhaps because he could not?" asked Legolas.

Melpomaen had to admit that was so.

"Yes, I do understand you." The other Elf whistled absently through his teeth. "I wish you had talked to me of this before. The night grows old and I cannot stay. Though advice, so they say, is as useful as a knife made of gold, I will give you some. Remember why you love him. Reckon up all your hours together – happy ones, yes, but the unhappy ones as well – and balance those against being alone." He gave Melpomaen's hand a last squeeze and made as if to stand.

"Wait. I will take your advice, Legolas, but one thing I ask in return."


"Tell no one of this. Not that you would, I know, but if by some strange chance you were to meet Haldir, tell him nothing. Do not even say that we spoke together here in Imladris," requested Melpomaen.

"I will not," Legolas promised. "Though I greatly doubt that in all the lands of Middle-earth I shall chance to meet Haldir on this journey, should I do so, I will say nothing of what you have told me tonight. And now I must go." He slipped out of the water, and out of the room.

Melpomaen sighed. He had never meant to say anything, but at least he could trust in Legolas's silence, just as Legolas had trusted him to be silent about Legolas's own failure as a guard. For a long time Melpomaen stayed in the warm water, trying to let the heat ease the tension in his body, but nothing could ease his mind that night.

For the next two months Melpomaen made an effort to turn his daytime thoughts to other matters. He learned with joy from Elladan and Elrohir, when they were present, and from others of Elrond's household when they were not. Even by Men was he taught the ways of horses. These men, he found, were of the same race as Aragorn, though lesser in might, and their abilities rivaled those of the Elves. At night he pondered the advice Legolas had given him. Would I rather not have known this love? No. But can I endure it? And if I cannot abide being with Haldir, can I bear to be infinitely apart from him?

He cast back in his mind to when he had first met Haldir, years before he had realized that his fighting-partner was in love with him. They had worked together as a team with an ease that he had thought natural, until he realized how unusual it was, as if their thoughts were one. Which if they were in some ways, they were certainly not in others. Not that they had always agreed, but somehow when scouting, or hunting, or fighting each had always known what the other was doing and adapted his own actions to those of his partner. That ability they had never lost.

When they made that journey to Dale and back through Mirkwood, it had seemed that their unity would only be enhanced by their love and the new bond between them. Melpomaen had delighted in Haldir's touch then. When, that winter in Thranduil's caverns, they sat in the guards' mess together at meals among all the other guardsmen and he felt Haldir's thigh warm against his own, only the need for discretion had kept him from hauling Haldir off to their room immediately. He had known that such a feeling could not last forever, whatever their circumstances; he had seen the subsidence of passion into gentler if no less fervent, perhaps even deeper, emotion in other couples, his siblings and their spouses included. But to find a spouse's touch actually distasteful – that was not natural. Blaming himself, he tried to hide it from Haldir, but in the end he had fled, unable to cope.

Can it be that our bond is not genuine? He turned that possibility over in his mind. No. Legolas spoke of bonds between binn, and I believe that he knew the truth there, even if he was mistaken on some matters. He had known of other such pairings. Moreover Haldir and he had in a way tested that bond, one evening with Legolas. Now Melpomaen thought to test it again. He had not eaten lembas in many months now and his body would react to his emotions as it should.

Lying there under the bedclothes, he touched himself and felt his blood quicken in response. He tried to imagine that it was another's hand on his skin, not his own. Thinking of different Elves he had seen in Imladris – both binn and biss – caused his excitement to diminish. Even thinking of Legolas, towards whom he had always felt more than ordinary friendship, had the same result. When it was Haldir's touch he envisaged, though, his passion surged. At the same time he felt a sense of loss and dread, which only intensified as he continued. Shuddering, Melpomaen stopped. His brow was damp with sweat and he turned his face into the pillow.

I cannot... how did I come to this? When did it begin? Not until long after we had returned to Lothlrien. Surely it cannot be only that. It had not been even half a yn, less than seven decades as Men reckoned time, since their bond had been formed. In those first years they had sometimes found occasion to travel outside the Golden Wood, though, while of late such opportunities had been wanting. So why did Haldir not wish to travel this time? Why did he insist on returning to begin with? thought Melpomaen in frustration.

Time and absence had made him willing to admit an answer, in part; much as Haldir loved Melpomaen – and Melpomaen acknowledged that love was profound – his ties to Lrien were also deep and strong. His brothers and parents were there, of course, but he also seemed to have a kind of attachment to the wood itself that could not be satisfied in any other place. It was a half-understood realization of this that had led Melpomaen to agree to return in the first place. He could live elsewhere. Haldir could not. That is his weakness. Is it mine that I cannot live without his touch, and if I cannot have it all as I will, that my love will turn to this sickness, this putridity, instead? I will not have it so. I will not let our bond be sullied – too many would say its very existence was evidence of a corruption in our natures, when I know that our love was and should be as true and fine as any. If I can overcome this, I will have shown at least to myself the validity of our bond. And what else have I, to turn to?

So he set himself to change. While exercising the horses, or currying them afterward, or learning the tricks of harness-mending, or any of the other tasks that occupied him daily, he thought of Haldir and what he would make of all this. Laugh and tell me I reeked of horses, no doubt. But he would appreciate that I wanted to learn something new. Rubbing oil into leather to preserve it, he deliberately called to mind times when his own body had been similarly anointed by Haldir, and the touch had brought only pleasure. It was long before the habits of years could be worn down, but Melpomaen persevered. He was glad that he had no close friends here to observe him; though he continued to frequent the Hall of Fire and on occasion spoke again with the elderly Hobbit – though the winter seemed to have made Bilbo prone to dozing off, even in mid-conversation – he knew that if Legolas were present, he could not hide the efforts he was making and how they weighed upon him. And I do not know if I can succeed. Though I no longer recoil from the memory of Haldir's touch, how do I know what will happen whenever I see him again?

One day as winter waned towards spring, but before it had yet lost its grip, he was in the stables preparing a mash for a gravid mare. Elladan's head appeared around the edge of the stable door. "Melpomaen, good, I thought I would find you here," Elladan said. "I came to bid you farewell – my brother and I ride with the Dnedain tomorrow to the south, to seek our foster-brother who my father says needs our aid."

"In such haste?" asked Melpomaen. "Do you wish more to accompany you on this journey? For I am willing, if you need me."

Elladan shook his head. "I thank you, but nay. This charge is laid upon the Dnedain, though Elrohir and I have our father's leave to go to war as well. If you wish for battle, you may have only to wait, for if matters go ill in the southland then all free folk everywhere will be hard-pressed."

"I see," said Melpomaen, though his pride was a little hurt that he was not wanted. You cannot have everything, Maen, he told himself. But you already knew that. To Elladan he said, "It was courteous of you to tell me that you will be departing; I thank you."

"I wished to say also, that since there is no guessing when or if we might return, if you prefer to leave now and go back to your own people, you should feel free to do so. One sword may do much, in the right place," said Elladan.

Melpomaen raised an eyebrow in question. "Do you think I ought to go?"

"I do not advise. But I think that there is danger to Lothlrien, and I would not see its beauty marred more than need be," said Elladan. "I have heard that great forces mass at Dol Guldur, and if they have not yet attacked, I have no doubt that they will do so soon."

Suddenly Melpomaen recalled that the other Elf had spent much time in the Golden Wood, as Celebran's son, and would feel almost as strongly about that land as he himself. "Doubtless you are right," he said thoughtfully. "I wonder if it would be safer to go alone, trusting to secrecy and a bit of luck to get through, or try to find a companion or two for the journey?"

Elladan laid a hand on his shoulder. "If you wish to do this, you could ride with us as far as the Redhorn Pass, and then turn eastward across the mountains. If the weather is fine, on horse it might be but a week's hard travel."

Home. Melpomaen had not anticipated returning so soon. He had wanted to remain apart from Haldir for at least a year, but if he would be of use to his people. .. he made up his mind. "I will ride with you thus far. Let it not be said that I did not wish to defend my people, when their danger is greater than that to anyone here in Imladris."

"We will be off at dawn."

"I will be ready," Melpomaen promised.

The company of thirty-three – thirty Rangers, the two sons of Elrond, and Melpomaen – made haste southward through Eregion, riding from dawn to dusk and even beyond. Speed, rather than secrecy, was necessary, and Melpomaen found their pace grueling. If he had ever thought that riding would be less tiring than walking on his own two feet, he was swiftly disillusioned, though he decided that the rapid journey was worth it. Before they reached the Sirannon he bade the others farewell and turned his mount's head to the east, pressing on as fast as he dared. He did not neglect his own safety – if he came to grief, this journey would have been to no purpose – but he gave himself no ease. It took him two days to cross the pass of Caradhras, where there had evidently been avalanches over the winter, but with patience and care he brought himself and the horse through without incident.

When at last the northern border of Lothlrien was in sight, he was dismayed. The trees were scorched and withered as with fire, their golden leaves gone, their silver trunks blackened. Melpomaen walked his horse slowly forward into the woods. I have come back none too soon, I think.

He had gone only a short distance when a figure stepped out in front of him, arrow nocked and pointing at his heart.

Melpomaen reined in and swung off to the ground. "It is I, Melpomaen of Lrien," he said, spreading his arms wide.

Slowly the other Elf lowered his weapon. "Melpomaen? Is it really you?"

Now Melpomaen recognized him as a member of one of the companies that defended the borders, though not the one to which he and Haldir belonged. "Yes, Talagand, I have come home. What has happened here?"

"Orcs," spat Talagand. "And worse things, from the bowels of Dol Guldur. Not a fortnight ago. We beat them off, but our scouts say they are massing to attack again, soon. You are lucky that I didn't shoot you, but Orcs do not ride horses, so I risked waiting. We have had great losses, Melpomaen. Your company in particular – Captain Lrindol was badly wounded, and almost a score more; seven died."

"Who died?" Melpomaen had to force the words out.

Talagand named the dead. Haldir was not among them.

Relief flooded Melpomaen. Not Haldir. Not my beloved. In all his thinking about Haldir, and himself, and their bond, he had never considered seriously what it might mean to lose his partner to an Orc-scimitar. "And your company? How did they fare?"

"Less ill than yours, but four of ours were killed, and eleven wounded. Everyone in Lothlrien, men and women both, who has any experience in battle is being called upon to prepare for the next attack. Every company is being reinforced," Talagand said. "You'll want to return to your own, I'm sure."

"Yes. Where is their patrol now?" Melpomaen looked at his horse. "Although I must take care of him first. Does Caras Galadhon stand?"

"Oh, yes," Talagand assured him. "The attackers never got near the city. The eastward path to it is clear, so far as I know, and that would be swiftest."

"Thank you." Melpomaen remounted. "Good luck to you."

"To you, too," called Talagand as Melpomaen rode off.

It took another half-day to reach Caras Galadhon, and then Melpomaen had to make arrangements for his horse. Although the Elves of Lrien rarely used horses, there were a few stables for the benefit of the occasional traders. As soon as he had seen to its care he sought out information on where he could find his company. They had been assigned to the eastern border, he learned. Nearest to Dol Guldur. No wonder that we had such casualties. Before leaving the city, however, he decided he should see his siblings. His parents had gone to the West many years before, at about the time he had first gone into the border guard. His brother and sister were much older than he, and he had never been close to them, but now he felt obliged to make a fraternal visit. Who knows what will happen? They deserve a greeting, at least, before I seek out my company – and Haldir.

By good fortune Melpomaen's brother Baran was at his talan, though it was midday, and welcomed him warmly. "I had heard that you had gone to Imladris," he said.

"I did," said Melpomaen, "and have only just returned. I expect to be going back to Lrindol's company – whoever is leading it now – tomorrow, but I wanted to see you and Istil before that."

"I will take you to see her," Baran said. "She will be pleased, I know; we were both concerned about you, little brother."

Melpomaen was touched by the affection that they both displayed towards him that afternoon, asking how he had found Imladris, telling him of the doings of their spouses and children. He rather dreaded that they might ask him when he might find a spouse of his own, but that did not happen. When all thoughts were turned to war on the borders of the Golden Wood, and the chance of death seemed near, there was no time for less urgent matters.

He slept at Istil's talan that night, but in the morning insisted on departing as soon as he could. "Talagand told me that another attack is expected soon," he said, "and I want to be where I can fight."

He walked through the forest with a light heart. War was coming, but he cared little for that. He would be able to fight at Haldir's side. While there is breath in my body, I will defend him, and he me, and both of us fight for our people and these woods.

A familiar voice hailed him.

"Orophin," he greeted Haldir's brother. "How fares it?"

"Badly. But I'm sure you knew that," said Orophin. He had a smile on his face, though, and was clearly pleased to see Melpomaen back again. "You've heard about Lrindol, I suppose, from someone?"

"Yes, Talagand told me. What happened?"

"Three Orcs at once, and Dornir, who was closest, fighting off two himself and unable to aid Lrindol. His sword-arm was broken, but it was the wound in his gut that was worst." Orophin shuddered. "Lady Galadriel's maidens are tending him, and they say he'll live, but it will be a long time in healing."

"So who is leading the company now?" asked Melpomaen.

"Dornir. And Haldir is second in command, though he would have liked to refuse, I know. He's lost heart. Maybe having you back will help; you two were always the best partnership around. Come on, I will take you to the camp. Dornir will be glad to add another name to the roster."

He had not been expected, so Melpomaen was assigned to help with camp chores for the remainder of the afternoon. No cooking was needed when lembas and water were the mainstays of the company diet, but there were latrine trenches to dig and yesterday's to fill, and other equally necessary if less unpleasant tasks such as collecting firewood.

It was not until night had fallen that Melpomaen saw Haldir, who had been making the rounds of the patrolling pairs all day. His lover was standing near one of the small fires, warming his hands and listening to one of the scouts' reports. Haldir's hair gleamed golden as always in the firelight, but his face was drawn and wan. As soon as Haldir was alone for a moment, Melpomaen went to him.

"Dr," he said.

Haldir turned. "Maen." His hand reached out to grip Melpomaen's shoulder, and he let out a long, shuddering breath. "Orophin told me you had returned."

"I am not going to leave you again," Melpomaen said. "If that is all right." He realized, with half-astonished joy, that Haldir's touch did not sear through him as it had once done; instead it was warm and comforting.

"More than all right," said Haldir. "I've already asked Dornir to put me back on patrol, with you as my partner, and he agreed. He knows I'll be of more use there; I never wanted this post, Rmil will be better at it."

Melpomaen could feel the smile spread over his face. This is where I belong. It does not matter what we do, as long as we are together. He remembered the first time they had acknowledged their love for each other, on the journey back from Dale, how they had kissed and touched in desire. He knew that Haldir would have no such desire now, and accepted that. Soon he would feel the same, but this time he would not resent it. He had realized that his happiness rested in loving Haldir and being loved by him, whether that love could be expressed openly or no. Everything else had burned away in the moments when he waited for Talagand to tell him if Haldir lived or died.

Haldir smiled back at him, squeezing his hand briefly. "It's good to have you home." He glanced around; no one was listening, but he lowered his voice nonetheless. "Meldanya. Beloved. I tried to tell myself that I was glad you were at Imladris, and I hoped safer than here, but I missed you. While you were away, Legolas came through Lrien, with an odd assortment of companions; they left a month ago. He said that he had seen you in Imladris, but not to speak to. You must have been very busy, learning about horses?"

"I was," said Melpomaen. "But Legolas told you less than the truth; I asked him not to say that he had spoken to me, should he chance to meet you again on his journey."

"Why did you do such a thing?"

"Because I did not know, then, if I could ever bear to return," said Melpomaen. "I left here because I felt – confused hardly says it. Angry. Resentful. Desperate. Confounded as to where I stood with you, with myself. And the one person I could talk to about my troubles, who would understand, was the one person I did not dare tell them to – you. So I left. When I had the opportunity to stay in Imladris, I jumped at it, because I could not face returning to that despair."

"Despair?" said Haldir. "Maen, you should have said something."

Melpomaen shook his head. "Do you not see, I could not, then? I," he drew in a deep breath, and at last admitted it, "I hated you, Haldir. I blamed you for my own turmoil. I think just then I might have looked away if you were attacked."

Haldir looked horror-struck. "But you would not now?"

"No, certainly not. But I had to think about what I had done, in loving you, and accept that I was responsible for my own feelings, with all their consequences." Melpomaen smiled wryly. "Legolas reminded me of that, indirectly, and I had decided that I would return someday when I had the opportunity to do so at once. So I took that as fate and came. When I thought that you might have been killed in that battle... I finally knew for certain. If you die, I will die; but that holds true for you as well, does it not?"

"It does, Maen. It always has," said Haldir quietly.

"I know that now. It just took me a long time to understand it," said Melpomaen. "I said so once before, meldanya, but this time I realize what I am saying. Where you go, I will follow, and where you die, I will die too, and meet you again in Aman."
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