This was a fic challenge/request.
Title: His Return
Pairing: ‘Estel’ Aragorn/Elladan
Rating: pg13 (light slash)
Summary: A hero has a hero of his own.
Disclaimer: Tolkien is the true genius. I just showed up to play.
The challenge: #1: Keeping in mind that Aragorn was born in 2931 (Third Age) vs. Elladan who was born in 241 (Third Age)... scenario: Aragorn has a crush on his foster brother, Elladan!
Note: The year is 2947, Third Age. Aragorn is a mere sixteen. This goes out to a certain lady-elf. Snuggle up with some hot chocolate and enjoy, Sun-star. Didn't quite reach drabble criteria, but I put my heart into it. Remind me to tell you what little
"blunder" I made, after you read, wouldn't want to ruin the effect right now. Take care. *hugs*
Estel’s hands shook as he tied the knot, cursing himself for being so slow. He was not careless by nature, but the time he’d wasted on polishing his leather wrapping to perfection, added an element of uncertainty to the success of his plans. And that was careless. He couldn’t allow himself to get caught, not when everything seemed to be going as well as it was.
He tried not to let outside details distract him, but it was as if he had other senses to witness what was going on around him. Or maybe he just longed to be at the celebrations, and done with his whole confounded plan. After all, it had been two years, since last he relaxed in the company of his foster-brothers. Their return from errantry may be cause for the likes of a seasonal feast to their Elven-kindred, but to Estel, it was more momentous than even that. He glimpsed out of the window of his hiding place, a small storage room seldom visited by anyone.
He saw that a vaporous, blue glow saturated the evening air, creating a deep veil about Imladris’ serene stone terraces. Lanterns heralded the night with darting wisps of lights, and celebration caught on the wind. He could taste it. He had only to allow the aroma of roasting pheasant to heady his senses, or to sample the twinge of fermented fruit that laced the atmosphere, from unstopped bottles, long coveting flavors of sweet gratification. It was not an ordinary night at the Last Homely House.
Estel, however, did not regret his decision to forego the festivities. Deciding he could do no more for his parcel, he tucked it under his arm and crept from the room, out into the open dusk.
He tried to attract very little attention. At sixteen, growth had sped up his angular frame, but left his mind baffled to coordinate long arms and legs without feeling self-conscious. Humbled upon meeting the eyes of those elves who nodded courtly to him, he kept his head down until he found himself standing in an alcove directly across from the door to Elladan’s chambers. He waited. After what seemed like a very long time, he watched the elf he expected to see, exit from the room, pause rather oddly, then disappear down the walkway. Estel hurried forward.
As he’d done twice now, on the two previous nights, he climbed the lattice structure on the south wall. It lay adjacent to Elladan’s door. Determined to get inside his foster-brother’s room, he would not risk his gifts being discovered by any other.
The structure was not meant to hold his weight, so he took advantage of footholds in the rock wall that supported it, and did his best not to damage the honey-suckle trained to grow there. He knew that Elladan loved honey-suckle, and his foster-brother knew how to gather its nectar in drinkable quantities; a Noldor trick passed down from their Grandmother Galadriel.
At the top of the lattice structure, he grabbed hold of one of the many spikes carved to appear as winding vines, and hoisted himself onto the balcony outside of Elladan’s room. Only thick curtains separated him from the most intimate of his brother’s dwellings now. He parted them, and stepped inside.
There, he met with darkness, and the smell of rosewood. A single lantern glowed from the recesses of the large room, allowing faint visibility for his human eyes to see around him. Elladan’s room was beautiful.
The landing where he stood, spanned several feet in front of him, and was laid with shimmering blue tiles. Banisters of polished oak wound around the platform. Steps descended into the bedroom. These gave way to woven carpet, of the same depthful blue hue. A desk, backed with a façade of carved, eagle wings fastened to the north wall. The lure of a gaping and empty fireplace sparked disquiet in his heart. This sat across from a wide bed, so carefully strewn with dark, sheer curtains as to appear suspended from the ceiling by long, graceful columns of the material. The woolen coverlet upon it lay smooth and undisturbed.
Estel resisted the urge to drag his rough hand across its surface. He had not come to transgress, to that degree. But he had to wonder what a fire, and Elladan’s permission to be here, would be like after so long an absence.
The persistence of his purpose jolted him back to reality. His business here would be brief.
He made his way to the door and carefully slid the parcel in front of it. He stared at it, bracing himself to part with yet another fruit of long effort and anxious intent. But stepping away, his back met with a solid, unyielding bulk.
Of two minds, he wanted to bolt. But he was far too conscientious of the scars that would blight his manhood if he chose to do that. Still, the wall of bodily warmth behind him was as the threat of an arrow at his back. Its silence all but skewered Estel’s reasoning. A silent elf, was usually an angry one. It was hard to tell.
“My young brother, what cause have you to steal into my chambers when you think I am away?”
There was an edge in Elladan’s voice, though his tone was low and steady. Estel tried to turn, to face him. Elladan caught his upper arm, suspending the confrontation. Estel had no choice but to direct his words to the door in front of him. “I saw...”
“What did you see, young Willow?”
“I saw you leave, for the feast.”
“Your eyes deceived you. You saw my brother, who waited here with me, until we were certain you would see him go.”
“I meant no harm. I wanted...”
“You wanted to leave yet another gift inside my door, without respecting my right to know its bearer. What notion of cowardice have you taken to in my absence, Estel?”
Him, a coward? Estel’s anger would not let him defend himself. And Elladan wasn’t giving him a chance.
“Does this covetous scheme of yours exemplify my young brother’s education? I shall have to speak to father of his lax attention to your upbringing, I believe. No Imladrian behaves so scandalously.”
That was not true, Estel wanted to counter. Imladris was a place filled with torrid intentions, veiled by grace. It wasn’t his fault if he wasn’t very good at masking his mind . The very walls whispered ardent stories, if one stood still long enough to listen. His brother’s anger felt like bullying. Surely, anonymous gifting did not justify the force with which Elladan held him.
But Estel did not wish to seem insolent. He’d learned, and accepted, years ago that his foster-brother was to be shown as much respect as he would show to Elrond, or something close to it. There had been times when the rules were relaxed, and his brothers played and wrestled with him the way cubs pawed at one another. But there were times when the hierarchy was to be respected.
For Estel, this was one of them. “Please, say nothing to father. I’ve wronged no one, in leaving my gifts.”
He felt his arm released.
“You show great contempt for your Adar’s house, young warrior. If you have a gift for me, I would have you meet my eyes, and place it into my hands. Nothing less.”
Estel knew a challenge when he heard one. But doing what was requested, was not an easy thing. He bent to retrieve the parcel, and slowly turned, bringing his eyes up to those of Elladan’s, being almost as tall as the elf, a far cry from two years ago.
What the lantern revealed of his foster-brother’s unsmiling face, was enough to snuff out all hope of redemption for his intrusion. The absence had done nothing to weather Elladan’s strong, Noldor features. Yet for all the serene angles that greeted Estel, something hard peered back at him from behind an opaque, shielding gray stare.
Estel extended the parcel, finding no words to offer with them, and no point in trying. Clearly, he’d over-stepped his bounds with his foster-brother this time. He wished he’d listened to Gilraen’s warning. His mother’s words echoed through the past two years, her tone bitter:
‘I see the way you look at him Estel. It is only natural, for you live among myths which walk and eat and sleep beside you, and you are so young, my son. You’ve come to love both of your foster-brothers so strongly, yet you have favor for the one. I see it. Elrond sees it. I say to you, be done with it now. Do not put your trust into such things.”
Elladan took the parcel, but made no effort to open it. “Estel. Among your kindred, there is a saying, ‘Be a man.’ It is to inspire Men to rise to the height of their lordship, their integrity. I ask no less of you, for you seem eager to maturity, initiating this stealthy courtship upon my return. Yet you are reluctant to face the result of your actions, and I am reminded that you are still a boy, though your physical stature has changed greatly since last I saw you.”
Estel thought hard. After a moment of jaw-clinching focus, he realized that Elladan was asking him to explain his gift. Elves had a way with indirect language, when prompting another.
He found his voice, and drew himself up. “I only wanted to give you a welcome befitting your absence, my brother. One present did not seem enough.”
“So you made many while I was away, is that it?”
“I made a few. I-I couldn’t decide. Some weren’t very good...”
“I trust you have delivered the pick of your skill?”
“The arrows are of prime reed? You’ve learned to straighten them over hot coals, have you?”
“They were fletched with pine pitch. Who taught you that?”
“I remembered, it is the way you prefer your arrows. Adar showed me.”
“And the bow last night? For what cause did you use unseasoned wood?”
“I’m afraid I kept ruining the saplings I gathered to make the bow. Elrond suggested that even the green wood of an ash, if cured in the old ways, could be crafted into a fine weapon. It did not shape very easily, nor carve as precisely as I’d hoped, but if you have to put it to test, you will find it both strong and flexible. It was my hope to make it an ornament of display for you.”
Elladan folded his arms. “Ornaments are of no use when I’m slaying orcs, young willow. Why did you not bestow these gifts in person, when I arrived several days ago?”
“You were overrun by your fellows, and could not spare a moment for me, or my gifts. I thought to wait till all greetings were fulfilled, but could not.”
“Overrun? I sat down to feast across from you that evening. I questioned father as to your behavior, for you would not even look at me. How say you, that I had no time for you? Have you become so gluttonous in your need for attention that what I offer isn’t enough?”
It seemed to Estel that something more stern than any expression he’d ever seen on Elrond, regarded him in that moment. He detected sharp offense coming from his foster-brother, whose silence reared up and held fast.
Estel burned, ashamed, as he remembered how he could not stand to have Elladan’s full attention thrust upon him that first night of his return. Making the gifts had helped, and kept him focussed. But his human nature kept him ashamed, and even now he would’ve risked further disapproval from his brother, allowing his eyes to drop, if Elladan had not demanded that he hold his own.
Finally, Elladan’s eyes fell to the parcel, and he made no fuss of loosening the ties. The hide fell away. There inside, lay the last six weeks of Estel’s efforts at smith-craft. A short knife. He’d spent hours, side by side of Imladris’s smith-masters, apprenticed to devising this final gift. None of the other objects, no matter how successfully wrought, embodied the lasting solidity of what he’d felt for Elladan. Made of wood and stone, they did not exemplify the enduring worth and quality befitting his brother. So he continued making gifts, and coming up with ideas that were worthy of Elladan’s return.
Maybe the arrows had been childish. And maybe the bow had been clumsy. But the knife, surely the knife was worthy. Its handle was of a mold of Estel’s own design. The master smithy, a gracious elf, taught him to pour, and hammer the metal. Elrond had helped him draw out the Quenya letters for ‘Elf-Man' in a way that fit the contour of the blade most gracefully. Together, they had studied drawings of Elven designs archived in the library.
Estel had practiced etching the letters into hardened clay, then stone, then bits of steel, before biting into the blade he’d made with the Master smithy. He’d wanted to perform every stage of creating it himself, which is what took him so long. Of course, the lettering had not shone clear and true, as if the elves had done it. His lines, while painstakingly delicate here, and emboldened with an artistic flourish there, were still a little shaky. Still, the weapon spoke of its own worth. The weight of it in his hands, had sounded his accomplishment. It was not a gift to be lost among the hordes of those who loved their princes. He would not risk its dismissal in all the excitement upon the twins’ arrival.
Now, Elladan studied the knife. He did not speak, did not touch it.
Estel ached for their confrontation to end. He ached to be alone with his failure. When he could stand it no more, the request rasped from his drying throat, “May I go?”
Elladan’s mouth pinched at the corner, the first sign of any real emotion. But his face remained dark with annoyance. “Why are you so eager to run, young willow? You would set down your gifts, and slink away unnoticed, and not allow me the chance to make even. To match you? You are too old to remain ignorant in matters of giving, though far too young for me to tutor.”
Estel wasn’t sure he understood. He watched as Elladan placed the knife on a small table concealed by the shadows, and turned back to him. Estel offered, “You don’t have to keep it, if you don’t like it.”
If Elladan gave the knife back to him, he was sure he would kill himself with it.
“Shall I tell you that I like it? Is that what you need to hear? Or will you be warrior enough to let me show you? You can hide behind your gifts, only so long, like a child. But I expected, when I returned home, that I would find something more.”
“What do you ask of me?”
“Stand your ground, as a man, and accept what gratitude I have to give, though it may seem harsh. It does not consist of polite words, but it is what I have prepared for you.”
“I don’t und- ”
“I ask only that you do not run. This time.”
Elladan took him by each arm. Estel braced himself for some new ritual that required his utmost stamina. Something painful, no doubt. What Elven-rite had he chanced into? Should he be delighted to have found favor, or terrified?
Even when Elladan drew far too close for comfort, Estel forced himself to hold the elf’s stare, unblinking. He ignored his own panic. A hot flush of sweat dampened him under his arms and down his chest. Elladan was close enough now that Estel could smell the scent of the open forest upon him; air and earth mingled with scented oil, like that of almonds, only heavier. Estel inhaled, and his head filled with an image of bright blue sky.
When Elladan was so close that his breath wafted into Estel’s nostrils, Estel could taste it. An inch more, and he stopped breathing altogether. Elladan leaned into him. Estel started, to feel the pressure of the elf’s lips. At first no more than a nudge, a brush even. Then more decided, maintaining contact that grew insistent and moist. Calmly, Estel opened his mouth, and accepted.
When it was over, Estel wasn’t sure that it was over. Long after Elladan had pulled away, Estel felt as if he were still kissing him. How long he stood in front of the door, with his mind vaguely registering Elladan stepping away, he didn’t know. By the time he returned to feel the solidness of the room around him, a fire had been drawn in the hearth, and Elladan was turning to him, poking at the new embers glowing there.
“Estel. You must return to your own quarters now. I have shown you what I think of your gifts, and your attention to my absence these past two summers.”
Estel could not move his feet. His foster-brother seemed to take this as a rebuff to his dismissal. His tone was now gentle. “You are meant for great things, Estel. I would not have you go forth into manhood without knowing the worth of your actions. It is not lawful for me to show you anymore than that, my young willow.”
Though his feet drug along the floor as if laden with river stones, Estel managed to back into the door. He was unable to take his eyes off of the elf in front of the fire. A sad elf, it seemed to him, whose profile shone before the firelight, and whose eyes glistened. Those eyes released him, and returned to their rapport with the burning logs.
Outside, in the blue of night, Estel brought his hand up to his mouth. He still felt the pressure on his lips. His feet, he later surmised, remembered the way to his quarters, for his mind did not.