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Forever - Give or Take

Title: Forever - Give or Take
Pairing: Gil-galad/Celebrimbor
Rating: Teen and Up
Genre: Humor, light angst
Summary: Gil-galad and Celebrimbor have a great life together in Aman, until a certain person from the past shows up.

Written for Alex_Cat for the 2015 Ardor in August fic swap.

Thanks to Oshun and Randy for the beta.


Gil-galad nervously fingered the ring that hung from a chain he wore beneath his tunic as he waited in the bleak, mist filled valley outside the Halls of Mandos. The ring was a gift from his current inamorato, Celebrimbor, but he couldn’t bring himself to put it on. He was not a jewelry buff in general, nor of rings in particular considering their cost, but Celebrimbor insisted he take it, and he didn’t have the heart to refuse.

Gil-galad loved Celebrimbor for his strength, intelligence, generosity, sense of honor, and idealism, but the poor man had come out of Mandos a bit daft, not that he could be blamed for that. His heart was in the right place. Celebrimbor was as obsessed as ever with gem smithery and was always giving away expensive baubles, though his precision had deserted him. Shortly after leaving the halls, he gave Galadriel a necklace that caused golden flowers to spring up in her wake as she strolled by, a la Vána, but they turned out to be goldenrod and she was severely allergic. He gave Maglor a stickpin that was meant to echo his lovely melodies but instead sang profanity-laced drinking songs in an annoying falsetto whenever he struck up his harp. He gave a ring to Manwë that was supposed to create a delicate perfume all about him but only produced farting sounds when the Vala walked around in human form.

So Gil-galad was afraid to don the ring his lover had made for him, wearing it on a chain around his neck instead. Celebrimbor seemed unfazed by his decision but said he was going to make Gil-Galad a cloak brooch to go with it for his begetting day. “Then you can wear them as a set!” he said with a slightly mad gleam in his eye. Gil-Galad shuddered at the memory.

He gasped as the mist around him swirled and coalesced into a tall, trim figure with raven black hair crowned by a silver circlet and grey eyes filled with wisdom.

“Welcome back, Elrond,” he said.

~~~***~~~


Later, in a tavern on the bay, the two were catching up over a round of drinks.

“I feel I must apologize for the last time we met,” Gil-galad was saying. “I should have realized you’d be in for a shock with both Celebrían and me there to greet you.”

“It’s my own fault for getting so flustered,” Elrond said. “I should have anticipated a situation like that but it truly never occurred to me that you might be waiting for my return to Valinor. There were a lot of years in between. When I saw the both of you standing there. . . Well, I never told Celebrían you see, and I didn’t know if she knew, and I didn’t know which of you to go to first. . .” Elrond trailed off.

“So in your haste down the gangplank you failed to notice Bilbo bending over to pick up the book he’d dropped and you tripped over him. I can only conclude this is why Hobbits aren’t invited to Aman more often. It was a bit of bad luck that you landed on your neck and broke it. Of course sliding off into the shallows didn’t help.”

“Oh, I was dead before I hit the water,” Elrond said, sighing at the memory. “I felt so foolish when I opened my eyes and Námo was standing there, laughing his ass off.”

“Yes, Námo has a great sense of humor, at all the wrong times,” Gil-galad said with a grimace. “I did expect you to be out sooner though.”

“So did I. There was that matter of not catching on that the Necomancer of Dol Guldur was Sauron, however, and my downer of a speech to Arwen about her lingering under the fading trees when her husband died, that counted against me, and that time I put salt instead of sugar in Gandalf’s tea as a joke at one of the White Council meetings. You’d be surprised the excuses Námo uses to keep one in there.”

“No, not really,” Gil-galad said.

“Ah yes, you spent your time in there too. I forgot that.”

“I did indeed, and I had my own shock when I got out. Both Orodreth and Fingon were waiting for me.”

Elrond choked on his ale. “Oh dear, how did that work out?”

“The custody hearing is the twenty-first,” Gil-galad answered, finishing his tankard in one gulp.

Elrond raised his hand and the waiter brought another round. “Looks like we both made a mess of our grand reunions,” he said. “I’m glad you came to pick me up from Mandos but I rather expected Celebrían, truth be told. Where is she these days?”

“I’m afraid she took a bit of a turn after your. . . accident,” Gil-galad said sadly. “She had waited for you and her children so faithfully for so many years, you see. When you disembarked with no children in tow, and then promptly died, it was too much for her. She swore off men and moved in with Aredhel. Since then, Eöl has complained incessantly about javelins in his thatched roof and toilet paper in his trees but no one pays him any mind.

“Ouch!” Elrond said. “It sounds like she’s happy at last, though, so I’m glad for her.” He paused for a sip of ale, eyeing Gil-galad speculatively. “I guess all that’s left to talk about is us. I take it from the ring peeking out of the neck of your tunic there that you haven’t exactly been pining.”

Gil-galad flushed a little and fingered the ring again. “Yes, well, I do have someone. I probably should have led with that but I wasn’t sure how to broach the subject. Celebrimbor and I. . .”

“Celebrimbor?” Elrond cut in. “You have got to be kidding me. After all the trouble he caused, refusing to take our advice, fashioning all those rings?”

“He is very repentant for that,” Gil-galad said defensively. “You never had the chance to know him well. Besides, I see you’re still sporting Vilya.”

Elrond reddened deeply. “It, uh, it was in my personal effects when I went into Mandos. I guess Námo put it on the new body.” He shrugged.

“Uh huh,” Gil-galad said, unconvinced. “It is an elegant accent piece, brings out the hint of blue in your eyes, but that’s not the only reason you kept it, is it?”

Elrond averted his gaze, twisting the ring around his finger self-consciously. “I found that after Sauron was defeated it retained some of its power. I took it off for two weeks and noticed I was starting to get crebain feet around my eyes so I put it back on. It’s better than any moisturizer I ever concocted for retaining that fair-as-summer youthfulness.”

Gil-galad laughed and patted Elrond’s hand. “Oh, my dear, you were always just a little vain, but I love that about you.” He leaned over and gave Elrond a peck on the lips.

They sat and looked at each other for a long moment over their drinks, both wishing things were different. “Well,” Elrond cleared his throat, “I guess I need to find a place to stay until I can get a house of my own. Námo said Círdan is taking in boarders.”

“No need for that. Your sons are here. They finally took the straight road, or rather that is to say they sailed. I’m sure they would be happy to put you up, at least temporarily.”

Elrond sighed, “So, no grandchildren in the offing then. I suspected as much. With the constant traffic between Rivendell and Mirkwood before and after the Ring War we didn’t even need couriers. Between Legolas and my twins we had the finest postal system in Arda. At any rate, I couldn’t do that to them. They have their own lives to live now.”

“Would you like to stay with us? I’m sure Celebrimbor would be thrilled to have you and so would I. We could put you up as long as you like and help you find suitable accommodations.”

“Thank you, but I don’t think that’s a good idea. I will stay here in the tavern tonight, and in the morning I plan to sail to Tol Eressëa and look for a house by the sea. I have always found the sound of the waves soothing, and I still have some reflecting to do.”

Gil-galad’s face fell. “But I was rather hoping you would stay in Tirion. Being out in the world again can be a big adjustment and, well, I’ve missed you.”

“I have missed you too,” Elrond said, “but do you really think it’s a good idea for us to be in proximity? I believe it’s best if I move on, just as you have.”

Gil-galad was disappointed and a bit stung by Elrond’s remarks, but he could understand. He was a different person when he left Mandos, not so impulsive, more introspective. He was sure Elrond must have changed as well. He also realized it had to be painful for Elrond right now, to discover both his wife and former lover had established new lives and were content without him. The problem was, Gil-galad was not content.

“Very well, I understand,” he said. “But if you should ever change your mind you’ll find me on Lindon Lane, in the Hollins.”

“Thank you for being such a good friend,” Elrond said. He stood and they embraced, then Gil-galad went out into the late afternoon street. The air was mild, the sun shining warmly, but to him the blessed realm seemed suddenly cold and cheerless.

He returned home to find Celebrimbor waiting for him, practically hovering by the door.

How did it go?” Celebrimbor asked. “Was Elrond glad to see you?” He took Gil-galad’s cloak and hung it in the hall closet.

“Fine. Yes, he was glad,” Gil-galad answered distractedly. “Frankly, I’m a little worried about him being alone his first night. He assured me he would be fine, yet I wonder.”

“If he said he’d be fine I’m sure he will be.” Celebrimbor sat Gil-galad on the couch and began giving him a neck rub, massaging the tension away with his strong fingers. Gil-galad sighed and relaxed, reaching back to pat Celebrimbor’s hand.

“Thanks, that feels wonderful.”

Celebrimbor’s pinky caught in the chain on his neck and he paused, running his fingers over the links thoughtfully. “You still haven’t put it on.” It was a simple statement, without displeasure or reproach, but Gil-galad was irritated just the same.

“You know I don’t like jewelry, rings especially,” he said, fingering the ring again. He sighed, laying his head back on the couch, looking up at Celebrimbor who was regarding him with concern, making him realize he had spoken more sharply than intended. He took Celebrimbor’s hand in his, the one not holding the ring. “I’m sorry, love. It has nothing to do with you. The ring is beautiful and I would wear it, I would, but I fear I might mar or lose it.”

“Nonsense,” Celebrimbor said brightly, “there’s no way to harm that ring. It won’t scratch or tarnish, and if you misplace it, it will find you. See how you’re drawn to it? You’re holding it even now.”

Gil-galad looked down at his hand which had the ring in sort of death grip. He let it go as though it had burned him. “You didn’t. . . there’s no, um, magic in this ring is there?” he asked shakily.

“Nothing bad, I assure you. It won’t do anything to you, but it might do something for you.” The mad gleam was back but so was a plaintive look that made Gil-galad want to comfort him.

Still vulnerable from his meeting with Elrond, and in the face of his lover’s enthusiasm, not to mention the damned ring practically forcing him to touch it, Gil-galad relented at last. He removed it from the chain, his heart fluttering with trepidation, closed his eyes and put it on.

A warm, comforting feeling enveloped him and. . . nothing else. His hair didn’t catch fire, he didn’t grow twenty-feet tall or start talking like a pirate, none of the things he had feared happened. He even came to realize the comforting warmth wasn’t from the ring, it was from Celebrimbor who had draped his arms around his neck and rested his chin on his shoulder. The best part, however, was that he no longer felt the nervous energy that had caused him to touch the ring nearly every minute over the past couple of years since Celebrimbor had gifted it to him. It was as if something inside had been satisfied for the first time in centuries.

“That wasn’t so bad, was it?” Celebrimbor cooed in his ear. He gave Gil-galad a kiss on the cheek and went in to fix dinner.

Gil-galad felt positively cheerful that evening. He and Celebrimbor laughed so much and drank so much wine that they were almost giddy by the time they went to bed. They spooned, and before long Gil-galad felt his partner’s steady, even breathing on his neck. It always amazed him, after all Cel had been through, how he seemed not to have a care in the world. He was unflappable. Why, he hadn’t even been jealous over his meeting Elrond. He smiled to himself and fell asleep, lovingly stroking the muscular arm that encircled his waist.

The next day was as beautiful as a day on Tirion could get. Birds were chirping in the garden, the sun was shining through just a hint of fluffy white clouds, but Gil-galad woke with a slight headache from the wine and a melancholy ache in his chest at the thought of Elrond sailing for Tol Eressëa. The bed was empty too. Celebrimbor had left early to go to the forges. He spent most of his days there, or at the library studying various subjects that caught his fancy.

Gil-galad yawned and got out of bed. He wandered into the kitchen to find a note on the table: If you’re going to the market today please get some rutabaga, rhubarb, and raspberries. Celebrimbor liked to eat foods that started with the same letter. This month it was R. Last month it had been C. Gil-galad still winced to remember the month he’d fixed nothing but zucchini. Fortunately, he was moderately fond of rutabaga and adored raspberries so he decided to make a trip to the market before he started his day.

He was wandering the stalls, perusing the fresh produce, when he spied a particularly nice looking basket of raspberries. Just as he reached for it, someone else picked it up. He was just about to reprimand the berry thief when he looked up to see it was . . .

“Elrond!” He burst into a bright smile. “What are you doing here? I thought you were sailing today.”

Elrond was grinning broadly too. “So did I, but the ship broke a rudder. It won’t be fixed until tomorrow so I decided to make use of the inn for another day.”

“I’m sorry for your misfortune but I can’t say I’m unhappy to see you’re still here. Will you let me show you around the city?”

“I have to admit Tirion is much larger than I expected. I fear I got lost on my way to the market. If you wouldn’t mind escorting me around for a bit I would like that very much.”

“Oh, It’s my pleasure,” Gil-galad said. He paid for the raspberries and they left the market.

They went to a nearby park and talked for hours as they strolled around the gardens. Elrond was happily in his element among the astounding varieties of plants, which led to a discussion of medicinal herbs. He told Gil-galad of some of the herbal treatments used by the Dúnedain to increase virility, which sometimes resulted in erections lasting more than four hours and requiring the intervention of a healer. Elrond even confided a few of the Rivendell Elves had tried them as well, and that he had treated Erestor’s priapism on more than one occasion when Glorfindel was back from patrol duty.

They had lunch at a bistro near the art museum then walked around the museum’s sculpture gardens. Elrond was so impressed with Nerdandel’s work that Gil-galad bought him a small reproduction of Eärendil sailing Vingilot at the gift shop.

“This will look great on my mantel. If I ever get a mantel,” Elrond joked. He glanced at the setting sun. “Oh, dear, it’s getting late and I must get back to the inn. I have to get up early tomorrow to catch the first ship out.”

“So you still think that is for the best?” Gil-galad asked.

Elrond smiled warmly, the late afternoon sun highlighting his flushed cheeks. “I do. But it isn’t like this is the end for us. Once I get settled and see how things go I’ll come back to visit often and we can see each other as much as we like. Of course you’re always welcome to come see me as well. You and Celebrimbor.”

Gil-galad cringed inside at the mention of his partner’s name. He hadn’t given his love a thought all day. “Yes, of course we shall,” he said with a false cheer he hoped Elrond did not detect. He was holding Elrond’s hand and gave it a little squeeze. It was hard to let go.

“I really should be getting back,” Elrond said at last. He looked around. “I think I may need some help finding my way.”

“As it happens, we’re not far from your rooms.” Gil-galad forced his fingers to open and Elrond let go at the same moment.

They parted on the high street a block from the inn, standing for a moment in awkward silence before Elrond spoke.

“It’s been a lovely day, Gil. Thanks for everything. I feel at home here already.”

“I hope you’ll feel as at home in Tol Eressëa,” Gil-galad said.

Elrond dropped his gaze. “Yes, well. I’m sure I shall.” He cleared his throat. “I see you’re wearing your ring now,” he said, a little too casually.

Gil-galad blushed deeply. He cursed to himself, wishing he could rip the offending thing off and throw it down a storm drain. “I kind of got talked into putting it on last night. Celebrimbor was a bit jealous of us meeting yesterday I think.”

It was a lie, but also perhaps not. Gil-galad hadn’t considered it before but maybe that was why Celebrimbor had pushed him to wear the ring. He usually wasn’t the type to be jealous, or manipulative, but then he’d never had a reason before, had he?

Elrond raised an eyebrow. “Is that so? Well, I would not want to be the cause of any tension between you two. You really should be getting home anyway. Your poor raspberries.”

Gil-galad looked at the bag that was all but dripping with berry juice, and he had none of the other items he had gone to market to get. He gave Elrond a wan smile. “Oh, no! I suppose I should be going after all. It’s been so nice seeing you again.”

“Yes, for me too. Good night.”

He watched Elrond until he turned the corner and was out of sight, a tumult of emotions raging within.

Feeling exceedingly guilty, and chastising himself for doing so, Gil-galad headed for home. It’s not like he was doing anything wrong, talking to Elrond, wanting him to be close by. It’s not like anything would ever happen. He was not the faithless kind.

As he walked, his thoughts turned to Celebrimbor and became blacker. There was no reason for his partner to be jealous, but how else to explain his insistence that he put on the blasted ring? Celebrimbor had made it for him two years ago for their anniversary and never said a peep when Gil-galad put it on the chain and wore it around his neck. Now that Elrond was back he was forcing it upon him, pretending to be all sweet and caring while scheming behind his back. Why, he never even would have spent the day with Elrond if Celebrimbor hadn’t made him go to the market. This whole business was really his fault!

He thought about how pleasant the day had been, showing Elrond around, talking like they had never been apart. It brought back a lot of fond memories of their time in Middle-earth and the dreams he’d had of the life they would share after Sauron’s defeat. But he had not lived to see those days, and now Elrond was leaving and there was no telling when they would get together again. That should certainly make Celebrimbor happy, he thought darkly.

By the time he got home he was in such a foul mood he was practically spoiling for a fight. He entered to a heavenly smell coming from the kitchen. Celebrimbor poked his head around the corner when he heard the door.

“Welcome home, love. I was wondering where you were. I’m roasting a rack of ribs and making a nice radicchio salad.” He spied the messy bag in Gil-galad’s hand. “Did you go to the market today?”

Gil-galad fought the urge to hide the bag behind his back like a naughty child. “I did,” he said staunchly. “As it happened, I met Elrond there and we spent the day together, so forgive me if I didn’t finish your ridiculous shopping list!” He pushed past Celebrimbor and threw the raspberries on the table where they landed with a splat. The bag broke open and the fruit and juice flew everywhere, making Gil-galad even angrier.

“Three Hells of Thangorodrim!” he cried, grabbing a rag and spreading berry juice around ineffectually.

“What’s wrong with you?” Celebrimbor asked affably, paying no mind to his rant. “Here, let me clean up.”

He reached for the rag and Gil-galad pushed him away roughly. Celebrimbor grabbed his wrist in an iron grip, Gil-galad often forgot how strong he was, but his manner was mild and he let go immediately. “Do you want me to help, or do you want to wear yourself out, and stain our walls with raspberry juice, by having a useless fit?” he said calmly.

Gil-galad’s anger dissipated like smoke on a gentle breeze, leaving him feeling wretched. He calmly picked up the bag with what was left of the fruit and threw it away while Celebrimbor mopped up the juice from the table, floor, and walls. “I’m so sorry, Cel,” he said. “I felt bad about goofing off with Elrond all day and not getting anything done, not even the shopping. I didn’t mean to take it out on you.”

“If you spent all day with Elrond you probably didn’t make it to the council meeting then,” Celebrimbor said. There was no accusation in his voice but he might as well have slapped Gil-galad, who felt like he was hanging on by a thread.

“Námo’s black heart!” he cried, distraught. He slumped in a chair and put his head in his hands.

“You obviously feel bad about all this,” Celebrimbor said, “but there’s no need. You work hard, you too often put your duties ahead of your own desires. Don’t you think you deserve a day off from time to time?” He put an encouraging hand on his shoulder.

Gil-galad looked up at Celebrimbor brokenly. “Why are you always so good to me?”

“One of us has to be,” Celebrimbor said with an affectionate smile.

Gil-galad suddenly remembered why he loved him so much. He stood and gathered Celebrimbor in his arms, kissing him with gratitude. Celebrimbor caught him in his bear-like embrace and Gil-galad could feel his love’s strength flow through him. This is where he belonged, his mind told him, not with Elrond but right here, in this man’s arms.

His heart, however, was silent.

The next morning Celebrimbor was there when he awoke. He was in the kitchen making himself a reuben sandwich for lunch when Gil-galad walked in.

“Good morning,” Celebrimbor said cheerfully. “I’m afraid I don’t have time for breakfast but there’s raisin bread and rice if you’d like to fix yourself something.”

“Thanks, but I think I’ll just grab a cup of coffee. I need to go to the council chambers and catch up on what I missed yesterday.”

“All right. Say, I have a couple of books that need to go back to the library. It’s on your way. Could you drop them off either going or coming?”

“Sure, I’ll be happy to,” Gil-galad said. All his worries of the night before were gone. He smiled to see Celebrimbor bustling around happily. “Do you have a new project at the forge?” he asked. Celebrimbor was always especially chipper when he started something new.

“No, not today, but soon.” He had a cagey look that made Gil-galad curious.

“Would you like to share?” Gil-galad asked.

“All will be revealed in time,” he said, obviously enjoying his mystery.

Gil-galad chuckled. “All right, have your secrets. I’d rather see the finished project anyway. I don’t really understand the process.”

“Which is why I won’t bore you with it,” Celebrimbor said. He came over and gave Gil-galad a light kiss on the lips. “Bye. Don’t forget the books, they’re on the hall table.” And with that he was gone.

Gil-galad had his coffee on the patio. He watched two squirrels chase each other around a tree, and a thrush pecking around the bird feeder.

The bird glanced up at him, cocked its head and said, “Knock-knock.”

“Who’s there?” Gil-galad said.

“Thrush.”

“Thrush who?”

“Thrushow must go on,” the bird said and laughed and laughed.

“Celebrimbor taught you that, didn’t he?” Gil-galad said, shaking his head.

“Yes. I don’t know what it means but it never fails to get a laugh from the flock,” the bird said. “Thanks for the seed. Now if you’ll excuse me I have to send a tweet.” It flew away and Gil-galad heard a collection of trilling giggles from the surrounding trees.

After his coffee, Gil-galad gathered up the books and headed for the council chambers. He decided that returning them on the way home would put him close to the market and give him a chance to make it up to Celebrimbor for yesterday. As it turned out he hadn’t missed anything important the day before. The council was still embroiled in the same debates as the previous month and no new business was forthcoming except a proposal to upgrade the road between Tirion and Formenos. Relieved, he stayed and chatted with a couple of the scribes, catching up on the latest gossip, before heading for the library.

As he ascended the steps of the massive structure he saw a familiar figure coming down them.

“Elrond!” he said, happily surprised once more. “I thought you were sailing early.”

“So did I, but there were reports of a storm brewing in Tol Eressëa and no one was sailing, not even the fishermen. The reports say there is to be rain in Tirion this afternoon from that same storm.”

He no sooner said these words than a mighty thunderclap sounded and a sheet of rain came pouring down. Both of them ran up the steps and into the library but they were soaking wet by the time they made it in the door. Gil-galad had the presence of mind to put the books beneath his tunic so they didn’t get drenched. He left them at the desk and he and Elrond went into the map room, which was blessedly deserted. They sat in a couple of leather chairs at a table by the window, grinning at each other like two schoolboys planning a prank.

“You are having some marvelously bad luck getting out of Tirion,” Gil-galad said. He could not keep the elation from his voice.

“It would seem so,” Elrond replied. “If I didn’t know better I’d say someone was conspiring to keep me here. Not that my stay has been unpleasant thus far.”

Gil-galad chuckled. “Well, I don’t know anyone who controls the weather, except the Valar, and I don’t think they are that interested where any of us live. But it is good to see you. It’s always good to see you.”

“I’ve enjoyed seeing you too, but I can’t help but think Celebrimbor is less happy. What did he say when you came home last night?”

Gil-galad hung his head. “I was so certain he was jealous of the time we’ve been spending together that I sort of picked a fight with him, to my utter shame.”

“Oh, Gil, that’s not like you,” Elrond said, patting his hand. “Why would you do something like that?”

“Because I’m an ass who doesn’t recognize a good thing when he has it,” Gil-galad said unhappily.

“That’s not you either,” Elrond said. His grey eyes held a wisdom and understanding that Gil-galad had relied on in his most uncertain hours. “What’s the real reason?”

Gil-galad sighed. Elrond could always see through him. He looked out the window for a moment, fiddling with the ring on his finger. Finally, he squared his shoulders and looked Elrond in the eye. With all he had seen and lived and been through, he could not believe this was the hardest thing he’d ever done. If only desire was as easy to slay as an orc.

“Because I still have feelings for you, Elrond. I still love you.”

Elrond was not shocked by the declaration, instead offering him a sympathetic look. He knew how difficult the admission was. Gil-galad was the bravest man he had ever known. The image of his death at the hands of Sauron still haunted his dreams. A piece of Elrond had died that day as well on the slopes of Orodruin, a piece he had never been able to retrieve. If he was half as brave himself he would suggest, right now, that he and Gil-galad run away together, but he had a strength of spirit that had seen him through some very dark days. He called upon it now.

“I love you too, Gil,” Elrond said at last. “Truly, never have I loved another as I do you, not even. . .” He paused, a small, self-conscious smile upon his lips. The smile then faded and the Elven-lord appeared. “But this is why I need to be far away, the temptation is too great for both of us. I knew that from the day I came back.”

“I love Celebrimbor, you must know this, but it’s not the same,” Gil-galad said. “I tried to make myself believe that you and I could maintain a friendship without complications, but every time you’re near I don’t want to be anywhere else except with you. I think it’s best if we make a clean break, as you say.”

“I agree,” Elrond said. The two sounded as deliberately dispassionate as if they were about to sign a trade contract. “I will leave Tirion tomorrow, even if I have to swim to Tol Eressëa.”

Gil-galad managed a smile at that. A long moment ensued and then Gil-galad said, “In our time, in that place, you were the best of us, Elrond. Perhaps the best that has ever been. Even with all that has happened since, the one thing I would never change would be us.”

“Nor I,” Elrond said. He lifted his hand as though he would touch Gil-galad but then dropped it back to his side. “Good bye.” He stood and left with dignity.

Gil-galad looked out the window. It was still pouring outside, the wind howling like a hurricane. He hoped Elrond had plenty of dry clothes at the inn.

It was nearly an hour before the storm let up. Gil-galad wandered the map room until he found a map of Lindon on the wall. He stared at it, letting his memories of those days flow through him. He could not change the past but there was no need. The life he had with Celebrimbor was better than anything he could have imagined during days of endless war and uneasy peace in Middle-earth. He was glad of his decision, he told himself. He and Elrond had done the right thing for everyone.

On his way home, Gil-galad went by the market and got everything on Celebrimbor’s shopping list, plus a big red rose. When he got home Celebrimbor wasn’t there so he fixed a nice rump roast with a rhubarb raspberry pudding. He set the table with a fine linen tablecloth and their best plates then put the rose in a vase in the center of the table. He lit a couple of candles to complete the romantic atmosphere and sat down to do some reading while the pudding finished cooling.

Celebrimbor arrived not long after, giving a suspicious glance to the fancy trappings. “If the table was set for more I would think we were having company, but this looks like a romantic feast for two. What’s the occasion?”

“Does there have to be an occasion for me to spoil my lover?” Gil-galad said, rising to greet him with a kiss.

“Um, no, I guess not. Didn’t you see Elrond again today?” he asked with some confusion.

Gil-galad felt his ire rise again but tamped it down. He stepped away from Celebrimbor, taking his hand to lead him to the table. “As a matter of fact, I did,” he said, just a little defensively. Then it struck him. “Wait a minute, how did you know Elrond was still in town?”

Celebrimbor gave him the shifty eye. “Someone told me they saw you two at the library, that’s all.”

“Have you been following me?” Gil-galad asked. He felt himself growing angrier.

“No, of course not,” Celebrimbor said indignantly. “As I said, I heard it from someone.”

“Impossible! It was raining buckets when we were at the library today,” Gil-galad growled.

“It just started when you both went in,” Celebrimbor said, “or so a little bird told me.”

Gil-galad suddenly realized. “You mean that damned thrush? Did you put him up to it by any chance?”

Celebrimbor flinched. “I might have mentioned to him to let me know if he saw you around today, but I didn’t specifically ask him. . .”

“Why would you do something like that? I knew you were jealous of me meeting with Elrond but this is beyond the pale!”

“I’m not jealous of you and Elrond,” Celebrimbor said. “In fact I. . .” He sighed. “Gil, I think we need to talk.”

They sat down and Celebrimbor poured out his heart. He admitted to crafting Gil-galad’s ring when Gil-galad first had the dream about Elrond’s release from Mandos two years prior.

“I made if for our anniversary to cover its true purpose,” Celebrimbor said. “You see, I was certain you still had feelings for Elrond, but I had to be sure. With Celebrían out of the picture, I thought you two might want to be together.”

“So what is this ring supposed to do?” Gil-galad asked. His countenance as stormy as the skies had been that afternoon.

“Nothing bad, as I told you. Just identify your true love and keep that person in your life no matter what.”

“Keep that person in my. . . So Elrond couldn’t have left no matter what he did.”

“Possibly not. I mean, the ring could as easily have chosen me, if I was your true love.”

“But Elrond kept popping up, unable to sail,” Gil-galad looked at the ring thoughtfully.

“Yes, well, I wasn’t sure until today when you met Elrond at the library. I’m sorry about the bird, but truly I only asked him to tell me if he saw you and Elrond together, nothing more. When he told me he had, I knew the ring must be working. Then I came home to find a romantic dinner waiting and now it’s confusing. I know Elrond is the love of your life, Gil,” he concluded. “You know it too, and so does Elrond. You can’t deny it.”

Gil-galad took his hand and looked into his eyes lovingly. “Elrond may be the love of my life, and this ring might keep him in Tirion, but we talked everything out at the library. I don’t deny it, I do love Elrond, very much, but I chose you today, Cel. Elrond and I both think it’s best if he sails as planned. I will not give you up to chase a long ago dream.” He took off the ring and handed it to Celebrimbor, a sharp pain of loss lancing through his chest. “I would rather stay with you, so I won’t be needing this anymore. You can destroy it.”

Celebrimbor looked stricken. He took the ring and put it back on Gil-galad’s finger. “Well, this is awkward.” He drew himself up and said, “Gil, I’m breaking up with you.” He didn’t even have the decency to look contrite.

Gil-galad looked down at his ring-clad finger, his head spinning. Who ever heard of breaking up with someone by putting a ring on them? Celebrimbor was insane - or he was. He wasn’t sure anymore.

“You’re what?!” he thundered at last. “Are you out of your mind? I decide to stay with you and give Elrond the brush off and you’re breaking up with me? No, out of the question. I forbid it!” He knew he’d completely lost control of the situation but he didn’t care. All his bravery and nobility deserted him and he crossed his arms over his chest like a petulant child, all but daring Celebrimbor to disagree.

“So are you and Círdan going to have a duel then?” Celebrimbor asked, batting his eyelashes coquettishly.

Gil-galad deflated. He knew when to throw in the towel. “So you and Círdan are together? How long has this been going on?” He was no longer angry, just horribly disappointed in Celebrimbor. Here he thought he knew him so well.

“You know me better than that,” Celebrimbor said as though reading his mind. He gave a little huff. “As if I would ever cheat on you.”

“Well something must be going on. How long have you two been seeing each other?”

“That’s the thing, we haven’t, but we both want to,” Celebrimbor said, rambling on quickly. “I know this seems sudden but it’s been brewing for some time. You see, a couple of years ago, Círdan came in and asked me to repair the setting on Narya. We got to talking, about how Elrond would be released from Mandos soon and how much he had meant to you, probably still did. That’s when I realized how much you and Elrond were meant to be together.”

“You realized this when? About the same time you realized you had the hots for Círdan?” Gil-galad said sarcastically.

“No, silly,” Celebrimbor said, not at all daunted by his tone. “I’ve had a crush on Círdan for, well, forever! I admitted it to him then and he told me he had always felt the same about me, but the circumstances weren’t right, and he was a little afraid of Curufin, so he had never said anything. He said it was a shame I was attached because if I wasn’t he’d make a play for me.”

“And you told him. . .?”

“I told him okay.”

“Okay what?”

“I told him ‘Okay, when Elrond is released I’ll break up with Gil-galad and then we can be together’.”

“Just like that?”

“Just like that,” Celebrimbor said cheerfully. Then he did look contrite, and painfully hopeful.

“Well feed me to a warg and call me kibble,” Gil-galad said. “Why didn’t you say anything until now?”

“I had to make sure Elrond was your one true love, that’s why I made the ring.”

“You were going to make me a brooch to match, what was that all about?” Gil-galad asked.

“That was a back-up in case you never put on the ring,” Celebrimbor admitted. “I thought it was never going to happen! But now there’s no need for the brooch.”

“So that’s why you practically forced the ring on me the other night,” Gil-galad said. “You know, you could have taken the easy way and just told me all this before.”

“Not really. I know you, Gil, you’re too noble to let your feelings for him stand in the way of your feelings for me. You proved that today. I knew you would think I was being the noble one if Elrond showed up and I just bowed out. Besides, I had to make sure Elrond felt the same. I wouldn’t want you to be alone.”

Gil-galad was struck by a sudden uncomfortable revelation. He had pitied Celebrimbor to some extent for his eccentricities, thinking his love would be devastated without him, not wanting to add to his already considerable burdens from the past. But Celebrimbor was fine, he would always be fine. It was he who was carrying around feelings he hadn’t dealt with. Gil-galad realized all of a sudden that Celebrimbor was the gallant, well-adjusted one of the two of them. He gave a hysterical little laugh and Celebrimbor laughed also in delight.

“I’m so glad you’re not mad at me, Gil,” he said gratefully.

Gil-galad went around the table and pulled him to his feet, kissing him with a heat he had not managed in a long time. “I could never be mad at you,” he said. “I love you.”

Celebrimbor smiled broadly. “I love you too!” He paused for a moment, his brow furrowed. “But you love Elrond more, right?”

“Yes,” Gil-galad said with a laugh, “I love Elrond more.”

“Then yay!” Celebrimbor shouted. He lifted Gil-galad off the floor and spun him around happily in his big, strong arms.

It was late, but Gil-galad didn’t want to waste another minute. He raced to the inn to tell Elrond the good news. He only hoped Elrond hadn’t taken a lover to soothe his heartbreak on the way back to his rooms. The irony might just be the end of him.

When he got to the inn it was full of patrons singing and shouting for wine and ale. He took the steps to Elrond’s room two at a time and pounded heavily on his door. The few seconds it took for him to answer were the longest in Gil-galad’s life, but at last the door opened. Elrond started in surprise to see him standing there sporting the biggest smile he had ever seen.

“Gil-galad! What are you doing here?” he gasped.

Without a word, he seized Elrond in a joyful embrace and let his impassioned lips reply.

The stones in their rings winked at each other with a conspiratorial gleam, eager to unleash the surprise Celebrimbor had concocted for their masters’ consummation.

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