Forgiveness is the final form of love. -Reinhold Niebuhr
"It cannot continue," Elros whispered. It was so vague that his words were carried out to sea. Elrond lay on his back and soaked up the last rays of the sun, smiling contentedly. Elros propped himself up on an elbow and looked at his twin, so alike yet so different. "It cannot continue," Elros said again, and this time Elrond heard him. He opened his right eye and looked up at Elros.
"This, us." Elrond shook his head and his raven black hair obscured his face for a moment. "Just, all of this, brother."
Elrond gave him an amused smile. "Come now, brother." He lovingly tucked some hair behind Elros' ear. "Where did this foul mood come from?"
Elros sighed and turned his side to Elrond. He wrapped his arms around his bare legs, and the wind picked up on the robe that was crumpled underneath him, causing the fabric to furl and wave in the gusts of air.
Elrond sat up too, wrapping an arm around Elros shoulders, kissing the pale shoulder before he leaned his head on it, staring out over the sea with his brother. "When will you stop hating yourself for loving me?" he asked softly.
"Likely never," Elros whispered back.
Elrond turned Elros' head with his hand, forcing his brother to look at him. "You are my brother, my most beloved, my heart," Elrond said softly. "You are my life."
Elros closed his eyes and just listened to the wind, and the sound of his brother breathing, until it became the one and same. "I love you more than anything in this world," Elros said, "But –"
"The war is over," Elrond said as he kissed Elros' cheek. "We are still here, we have grieved, but now is the time to live, brother. This was what we fought for."
"What you fought for," Elros said as he slowly opened his eyes, staring straight into Elrond's stormy grey eyes. "I fought for purpose, and freedom."
"So did I," Elrond said. "You know this."
"I do," Elros mumbled as he pulled away from Elrond's hands. "We should get back to the city. It's cold out here." He pulled his robe up over his exposed shoulders.
"You're right," Elrond said, his voice carrying the worry of his heart. "Food would be welcome as well."
Elros finally smiled. "Indeed." He tied his robe around his slim frame, and for a while just stood and stared out over the ocean, the fabric of his robe and his hair at war with the wind.
Elrond's heart ached at the lonely sight, and he walked over to wrap his arms around his brother's waist, resting his chin on Elros' shoulder as they both stared out over the raging ocean. "Imagine that we too will see the magical gardens and cities which father described so vividly," He whispered.
Long moments of silence passed, and the sun's dying rays finally passed beyond the horizon. "He was not our father," Elros said, his tone hard and unforgiving.
"Brother?" Elrond turned Elros in his arms till they were once more face to face. "Surely you –"
"No, brother, he was not our father," Elros repeated.
Elrond sighed but let go of his brother. "He raised us, he loved us, I'm sure of it."
Elros was quiet and after a while he finally nodded. "But he was not our father."
"Let us not speak of them now." Elrond said with a little smile, testing waters. "The time of grief is over, and I will see a smile on your lips, not a frown. Please, brother."
Sighing, Elros smiled a vague little smile at his brother. "I'm cold."
"Come, then." Elrond took his brother's hand.
"No." Elros pulled his hand back.
Elrond was confused. "But why?" he asked.
"There is a storm coming," Elros said, turning to watch the black surface of the ocean once more.
Elrond looked at the horizon, and saw black clouds gathering. "All the more reason for us to get home."
Elros shook his head, his hair now flowing wildly around him, like mad tentacles in the dark. "You go on; I will come later."
"What nonsense is this?" Elrond asked. He was getting really uneasy because Elros had been acting strange for a long time now. He had thought it to be some sort of guilt for living when so many were dead, that his brother had somehow begun to blame himself for being able to wake every morning, and having someone who loved him unconditionally. He had felt Elros pull away, he had gotten listless and silent, his smiles were rare and his caresses even more so.
"Brother, please," Elros said without turning around. Elrond just stood there staring at his back, watching him as the wind picked up and shook his entire frame.
"You are scaring me," Elrond finally said. The words felt alien and mostly like a prayer. Elrond had not been scared since he was small. Not until now. He used to be able to tell Elros' mood by his face, or his tone of voice, but now it was like a closed book.
"I am sorry," Elros said. His shoulders slumped as his resolve crumbled. "This is a journey on which you cannot follow." Finally, he turned to look at Elrond, beautiful, sad Elrond. "For days I have tried to find a way to tell you, and I have found none." He looked away from his brother's large frightened eyes. "I am being called elsewhere, and you must stay here."
"No," Elrond said, "I will follow on which ever journey you undergo. We promised each other never to part, remember that?"
Elros looked up into the sky. The storm clouds chased over the heavens at an alarming rate. "Looks like rain," he said.
"Elros!" Elrond took a step toward his brother. "Answer me! Do you remember?"
"I do," Elros finally said with a nod. "We were but children, Elrond. Frightened children in a strange land."
Elrond's eyes darkened until they matched the storm clouds above.
"This was what I feared," Elros said. "But it matters not, I came here to this cliff with you today to –" The sky split as a lightning bolt struck the surface of the ocean, and drowned out what else Elros said.
In his heart of hearts Elrond knew what Elros said without hearing the words. It felt like a stab to the heart, and he welcomed the rain to cover up the tears he knew he would shed. "But I love you," Elrond said when all other words failed him.
"I know," Elros said, and then took a deep breath. "I have chosen."
Elrond looked absolutely crestfallen. It was one thing to suspect it, another to actually hear it. As if the spoken word made it more true, more real. "You promised me," was all he could say.
"I know," Elros repeated. "And I lied."
"But why?" Elrond took a step closer to his brother. Another lightning bolt split the sky and the rain started to fall in earnest, soaking them both to the skin.
"Because I knew you would follow, and I knew it was not in your heart," Elros said as he finally looked up to gain eye contact with Elrond again. "You dream of Maedhros' tales of the beautiful gardens, and Maglor's songs of the magnificent cities of Aman… I do not."
Elrond grabbed Elros, his skin slippery from the heavy rain. "No! No, no," Elrond ranted, "I care not for gardens or white towers, I care for you!"
"And I care for you," Elros whispered, reaching up with a pale hand to caress his distraught brother, brushing wet hair from his cheek and forehead.
Elrond let out a heartbreaking sob. "It is not a gift, it is a curse!"
"No, brother," Elros said with a smile. "We are finally free."
Elrond felt dizzy, wishing with all his might that something inside him would change, that he would feel human like his twin. But no matter how he willed it, there was no shift, no change. He wasn't sure what he had expected, but he had expected to feel differently.
"You go back and serve Erenion. He needs you," Elros whispered as he leaned in to kiss each of Elrond's closed eyelids.
"I need you," Elrond whispered. "Don't leave me."
"I must," Elros said. "This is goodbye."
Elrond opened his eyes and looked at his twin. He looked soaked and gaunt in the darkness. A lightning bolt lit up the skies, but Elrond didn't as much as blink. "I will never come to your bed again, if that is what you will. I will do anything, if only you will change your mind and stay," he said, watching as his brother cringed at his plea.
"Oh brother," Elros caressed Elrond's cheek, and smiled sadly. "I never resented you for it, I hated me for wanting it." He twirled some of Elrond's raven black hair between his fingers. "I only hope that one day you will understand and forgive me."
"How?" Elrond wailed, "How?!"
"You will find a way, brother," Elros said. "You always do."
"We do! We find a way," Elrond cried, looking every bit the frightened child that Maglor had taken pity upon many decades ago.
Elros dropped his head. "Not this time," he muttered.
Elrond wrapped his arms around his brother and held him close, finally giving in to the tears.
When they finally found Elrond, he was sitting in the storm at the same bluff where he and Elros had spoken. "Elrond! Thank Eru!" Erenion laughed, relieved. "Why are you out in the storm?" he asked. He stopped and looked around. "I can't see Elros. Split up, men! You two go that way – "
"No need," Elrond finally spoke. "He is gone."
"What do you mean, gone?" Erenion asked as he pulled Elrond to his feet.
"He left, and you will not find him." Elrond looked up at Erenion, and his eyes which were normally a warm shade of brown, were the color of the bottomless sea, and the life seemed drained from his skin. "He abandoned me," he whispered in a fragile tone.
Erenion shot one of his men a worried glance. Elrond looked like an elf who held on to his sanity by a paper thin thread. "Come now, let us take you home and you can tell me about it once you are warm and rested."
Elrond was so tired, and just glad that someone else was making a decision for him, so he nodded and let Erenion guide him through the storm. He did not look over his shoulder; he did not cry.
Elrond had driven his horse to the point of collapsing, embarking on a mad ride across the lands to reach Armenelos. Word had reached him that his twin was at death's threshold, and haste was of the utmost importance. War had to wait, everything had to wait and not even Erenion the high king had tried to stop him from leaving. Over the years Elros had sent him letters, but Elrond had never answered the correspondence, it just hurt too much. Still he had read every letter, and he had meant to burn them but had never gotten around to it. The letters had stopped when Elros had fathered his first son. There had been an invitation to a feast which Elrond had chosen to ignore, and after that he had never heard from his twin again.
As he reached the city he made for the king's castle, feeling everyone's eyes upon him as he rode through the streets. And sure enough as he reached the castle there was a young man bearing a striking resemblance to Elros in his youth, waiting for him. Elrond got off his horse and greeted the young man. "You must be our uncle," the young man said. "My name is Atanalcar, the youngest son of the king."
Elrond smiled. "You look just like him," he said.
"Let me take you to him, my lord," Atanalcar said as he started to walk up the stairs to the giant wooden doors to the castle. "Forgive me, uncle, but we did not know of your existence until a short time ago. Father never spoke of you until now. Though I fail to understand why."
Elrond smiled sadly as he hastened after the young heir. "We did not part on the best of terms," he said, "but I am grateful that you sent word now."
Atanalcar stopped in front of a door, and waved a young lady over. "This is my sister, Tindómiel."
Elrond bowed gracefully for the young lady. "My lady," he said.
"Uncle," she replied, staring at him with large wondering eyes. "Hard to believe you are his twin."
"Sister!" Atanalcar hissed.
"No harm," Elrond said. "I will tell you all the stories you wish later, but first I must see your father."
"Of course," Tindómiel said, and left just as silently as she had entered.
Atanalcar pushed the door open and gestured for the doctors and nurses to vacate the room. "I will be outside, Uncle," he said.
"Thank you," Elrond said, standing in the stale darkness till the door closed. The room smelled of death and man, a smell he recalled from his youth in battle. "Elros?" he whispered as he walked closer to the motionless person in the bed. "Brother?" He gingerly sat down on the bed and stared down at the old man in it. It was a far cry from the brother he remembered, so young - pale and smooth like ivory. His hair the color of the deepest night and eyes like the roaring sea. This man was a husk of the elf he recalled. With a slightly shaking hand he gathered the old crooked hand in his. "Brother, are you awake? For I find myself in your bed once more." He smiled as the old man smiled.
"Brother," Elros croaked. "Why are you here?"
"Your children sent for me," Elrond said. "They are – You are a lucky man, brother."
Elros opened his eyes, tired and slightly milky with old age. "Look at you," he said. "The elven high king's herald."
Elrond tried his hardest not to cry, so he just nodded.
"And here I am, abandoning you once more," Elros whispered.
"I forgive you," Elrond said softly.
Elros smiled. "Good."
Elrond squeezed Elros' hand gently. "I would have followed you."
"I know you would," Elros said softly. "That is why I did not tell you of my choice, until I was sure you had made yours." When Elrond was silent, Elros sighed. "Will you stay for the burial?"
"Oh brother, do not say that," Elrond said, trying his hardest to will it all away, just like he had when they had spoken last. Back on the bluff he had felt like his happiness and life had been taken from out under him, and now he felt like his very core, his past, was fading before his eyes.
"Surely my children told you why they summoned you," Elros said, closing his eyes again, growing tired from talking so much.
"They did," Elrond admitted. "I will light the pyre myself if you so wish it."
Elros did not answer, he just smiled, content.
"Please don't leave me," Elrond whispered.
"I must," Elros answered. "This journey is one I must make alone."
Elrond wiped his eyes angrily with the back of his hand.
"Come lay down next to me one last time, brother," Elros whispered so softly that Elrond had to strain his ears to hear it.
Elrond lay down in the wide bed, his forehead resting against his twin's temple, and his right hand over his heart. "I know it is not so, but it feels like we are being punished. Maybe it is the remnants of the old Fëanorian curse that somehow followed. I swear by the Valar I will never have children for the fear that they might one day go through the same as we have," he whispered.
"Don't let the fear of loss control your life, brother," Elros breathed. "let go."
Elrond chuckled a little. "I stopped trying to cage you many, many decades ago."
"Good," Elros sighed.
"Forgive me for never answering your letters, I read them all and I wished you well, but the hurt and anger was –"
"I forgive you," Elros whispered, placing a dry hand on top of Elrond's. "Let us not be hurt and angry anymore."
"I cannot do right by you, but I can aid your children," Elrond said. "And I promise I will do everything I can for as long as I remain."
"Thank you," Elros exhaled with great effort.
They lay like this in the bed in silence for a long while, until Elrond could no longer feel or hear a breath taken. He slowly got out of the bed and walked to the windows, opening them wide. He turned to look at his brother in bed, his jaw slack but with a peace and calm over him that Elrond wished he felt himself. He had loved Elros more than he had ever loved himself, and he had spoken the truth when he had said he would have followed, for he would, even if his heart longed to see the white shores of Aman. Elros had been so much stronger than he had given him credit for, and he could not even begin to imagine the turmoil he must have been through once his choice was apparent. His love for his brother had been so fierce and burning white hot, that when it was taken away he had felt lifeless, loveless. Over the years he had found other things to occupy him while the love for his twin healed. With Elros gone, maybe he could let go of the last shred of pain. Maybe Elros had been right, maybe they were both finally free.