The wind howled, flattening Elu's rain-slicked hair wetly against his neck and shoulders as he pushed through the tangled undergrowth. Lightning seared the sky. Terrifying in its intensity, it was yet a pale echo of the terror that pounded in his heart, surged through his veins.
Calm, he had to be calm. Somewhere in this violent storm lay the one he sought and losing his head would not avail either of them. Leaning a hand on the rough bark of a tree, panting slightly - fear shortening his breath in a way that exertion did not - he stopped.
How had his happened, he wondered, memories overcoming him. It had started so innocently, in confusion and desire...
The air was warm and hazy, filled with the soporific hum of insects, the stars above like many coloured flames, hot and bright against the mist-streaked indigo sky .
His people were tired, and the glade they walked through surpassing beautiful, so Elu called an early halt to the march, decreeing they would make camp here, though it was yet early, and they might have made many miles more.
There were no objections. Elu watched from the back of his horse as the Elves eagerly began setting up camp, excited by the brief respite. He smiled; expecting singing tonight at the campfires, as the Elves rejoiced in the Valar-given summer and the rest, however brief, from their journeying . His heart clenched a little at the ease with which they went about the task, the familiarity with which they retrieved essential items from packs and travois to create temporary camps; he wished with all the longing his heart could muster for a permanent home for them. They had been travelling so long.
The bright sound of a youth's laughter jerked him from his sadness. The air shimmered with it, and all nearby raised their heads to see what had amused their young Prince so. Elu felt himself react to the sound, even while he tried not to turn to where his kinsman was helping a family raise the shelter under which their children would sleep in case of a summer storm.
Not that there would be a storm tonight, Elu thought, looking up at a sky filled with the blazing rivers of Northern Lights, shattering in their purity.
Deliberately, he distracted himself, trying to delay looking in the direction the others were staring, knowing that the sight would make his heart ache more than all the veils of light in Arda could ever do. Around him the elves laughed softly at whatever Celeborn was doing.
Celeborn. Never would he be able to taste that name in his mouth as the sensual caress he now uttered in his mind. He closed his eyes, an image of the beauty that was the young Elf coming unbidden to taunt him with innocent allure, heartbreaking temptation. Celeborn was silver fire, his unconsious appeal edged and dangerous as a blade of obsidian. To think of him was to be cut.
Elu's horse moved beneath him. Absently, he soothed the animal, fingers stroking the smooth neck as he wished desperately for another smoothness under his hand. His fingers tangled in his mount's mane, and it was so coarse compared to the heavy silk of Celeborn's mithril fall of hair.
Elu recalled how that hair had looked in the midst of a meteor storm. They had been bathing in a nearby river several nights ago, one of the storms arcing overhead. The glory of the heavens had been lost on Elu as he watched that hair, shining dark in shadow, clinging wetly to Celeborn's slender back and shoulders, flaring into radience with each bright fire-trail across the sky. He had trembled with the need to reach out, to lift a strand of the liquid silver away from Celeborn's throat where it clung in a damp curl. He had actually raised a hand, before he realised what he was doing, only to snatch it back even as the prince had turned to him, half-smiling at something one of the others had said.
Seeing the tight expression on Elu's face, Celeborn's smile had faded. He had reached out to lay a slender hand on Elu's bare shoulder, 'My Lord? Are you well?'
Elu had closed his eyes, feeling the warm voice wash over him, chasing the chill of the water from his body. His entire world had narrowed to the small area of fire where Celeborn's hand lay innocently on his heavily muscled shoulder. The sound of his kinsman's voice was a dark heat in his mind, a brush of velvet against his thoughts.
Opening his eyes, he had found himself staring into Celeborn's concerned green gaze. And for a moment his breath had caught. For a moment, a fleeting space, there had been something in the younger Elf's expression, something other then mere concern, something that made Elu's heart pound, instantly heating his blood. The icy water lapping around their thighs had seemed warm, after, holding its own tantalising caress.
Then Celeborn's lashes had swept down and when they lifted, it was gone, and the clear gaze held only concern and faint curiosity.
'I am well.' He cleared his throat - his voice had taken on an unwelcome huskiness - 'I am merely tired. As are we all.'
Looking into Celeborn's eyes he had been relieved when they did not narrow in suspicion or disbelief. Inwardly, he berated himself for a fool. He must not know. Oh Valar! He is in my care. My nephew's son, entrusted to me to teach. Not to take advantage. So he warned himself against his forbidden longing, the hopeless desire he could not prevent. It was not possible, this attraction he felt for his young kinsman, it was wrong. And, he told himself resolutely, it would not be.
He had smiled, holding his breath as the younger elf hesitated, about to speak. But then Celeborn changed his mind, nodded his water darkened head in acceptance of Elu's words. His fingers had tightened briefly on Elu's shoulder in a gesture of acknowledgement and farewell before he had moved away. At the innocent caress Elu almost groaned, watching with a hunger he could barely conceal as Celeborn moved.
Starlight reflected from the water, and flickered in dripping silver over the warm cream of the young Elf's skin, outlining the elegant curve of his back, playing over the flex of firm buttocks as he walked away. A quiet sob of sheer desire escaped Elu and he looked aside, fighting to control the rising heat in his face and his loins. He bit his lip, hard, tasted blood where his teeth had pierced the skin. He would master this, he must.
A light touch on his knee startled him out of his reverie, and he cursed himself, yet again. Attempting not to stare at whatever it was Celeborn was doing, he had instead fallen into lustful memories. Could he not think of other things, even for a moment?
He looked down into the pale blue eyes of one of his warriors, 'Look my Lord!' the Elf exclaimed, pointing across the glade. Reluctantly Elu followed the gesture and despite his anguish, he had to stifle a surge of spontaneous laughter at what he saw.
Lit by the green and gold light of the Aurora, Celeborn lay on his back in the leaves which covered the clearing. He was barely visible under several children who had ambushed him, felling their young Lord and climbing on top of him, imprisoning him beneath their small bodies. They were squealing with delight as Celeborn growled in mock anger, picked them up and dangled them in the air. They tried to subdue him, shaking with giggles as they sat on his arms and legs, yelling in triumph.
All around, Elves had stopped to watch the game, and their mirth was a balm to Elu's heart. His guilt eased a little. They had journeyed long, into a strange future, with no surety but his word that Aman would be worth the labour. Many of them followed him not for the promise of distant Valinor, but simply for his own sake, because they trusted him, loved him. Sometimes it was hard to see them work and strive thus for him and not feel overwhelmingly responsible.
Gratitude towards Celeborn for this moment of lightness mingled with the painful desire the memory had engendered and Elu let out his breath on a slow, controlled sigh, even as he smiled in amusement at the sight. The boy was so alive, so unburdened by the cares of age or status. Irresponsible; full of joy.
Suddenly Celeborn ceased his growling, went limp. In instinctive concern Elu started to dismount, fear snaking through him, and he was not the only one. Around him, several of the others moved forward. The children stopped squealing and peered down into the face of their victim, eyes wide with concern. Then all their fears were allayed and the children shrieked in delight as their victim snapped opened his ryes and grabbed them, surging from the ground and swinging them round, throwing them up and catching them in arms made powerful by hours at practice with axe and bow.
Elu laughed along with the others, ignoring the painful tightening of his body as Celeborn's warm laugh, a deeper counterpoint to the shrieks of the children, washed over his body in warm waves of sound.
The younger Elf looked up, and, seeing him watching along with the others, carefully righted the helplessly giggling girl he was holding by one ankle, setting her on her feet. With a gentle push he sent her back to her mother, who reached out to her child, her eyes holding the Prince's with approval.
He too they loved well, Elu thought, as Celeborn bowed to the Elf woman with elegance and charm made all the more appealing for his lack of awareness of it. Happily married and devoted to her mate, the Elf woman still blushed a little despite herself under the warm green gaze. And why should she not, when this youngest scion of Elu's house was so very... He bit the thought off, furious at himself.
Then Celeborn turned that look on him, laughter like a fountain in the depths of his eyes, lips parted on a careless grin. Elu forced himself to lift a hand in acknowledgement, knowing they were in full view of many of his people, while his heart and body reeled in response.
Picking his way carefully through Elves who were now returning to the business of setting up camp, Celeborn walked towards him. Elu waited and watched him come closer, stopping occasionally to talk with a family, to exchange words with a warrior, to absently ruffle the hair of a child who clung to his leg as he talked easily with her parents.
As he listened to the words of a husband and wife who had stilled him a moment to air some small complaint, a young Elf-woman ran up to him, her hands full of summer blooms. Laughing ,she tucked one into his silver hair, standing on tip toes and placing an exuberant kiss on his cheek. Celeborn turned, startled, as the couple smirked. Then he grinned and picked the young woman up in his arms, whirling her round, both of them laughing from the sheer delight of the day. Her hair fell around his face and Elu felt his fingers tighten on the reins as Celeborn returned her kiss with interest.
It did not mean anything, Elu thought, it was simply an expression of the sudden lightness which had gripped all the company. Around the pair, folk wore expressions of amused indulgence. It meant nothing, Elu told himself again, disconcerted at the surge of ugly jealousy which rose unbidden in him, jealousy he had no right to feel.
Celeborn set the maiden on her feet and she twirled away from him. Playfully, he reached out to her. She spun round, filled his hands with the blooms she held. He lifted them to his face, breathing in their scent and then held them to his heart in a pretend gesture of undying love. Elu heard the light shimmer of her amusement as with a final smile, she danced away, and Celeborn once more resumed his path to Elu.
Moments later, he stood at Elu's knee, laughter still lurking in the depths of his holly green gaze. A smile tugged at the corners of his mouth. He buried his face in the flowers again and then reached up to secure the bloom more firmly behind his ear.
'Suilad, my Lord!' he grinned up at Elu, unrepentant, 'It would seem your decision to halt early this day has brought on high spirits!'
And, despite everything, Elu could not help but respond to the happiness lighting Celeborn's heartbreakingly beautiful face. 'Aye, so it would seem,' he said, and smiled back.
Notes: This is set during the March into the West, when the Eldar answered the summons of the Valar to go to Valinor. So far the only elves who have ever gone to Valinor are Elu, Finwe and Ingwe. There is no sun or moon. The elves are in their Stone Age in terms of technology. And the Teleri (Elu's people) have not yet even come into Beleriand. All of that stuff is still a long time in the future.