A long time ago, he and she had run together and hunted together and laughed together. A long time ago they had been free and she had been wild as the wind, or wilder, always faster than him and delighting in making him chase until he could run no more. A long time ago, he had loved her, and thought of wedding no one else; a long time ago, outside of his brothers, he had trusted no one else more. A long time ago, he'd known that one day they would find themselves together.
But that was a long time ago.
"What did you say?"
There was a queer, blank feeling in the pit of his stomach, and he couldn't shake it, feeling himself come to his feet without being aware of choosing to do so. "What did you say?"
The Elf speaking might have flinched. Celegorm would never know. "Your pardon," he said, in a clear voice nonetheless, "With the death of Aredhel…"
He heard no more. He didn't want to hear more. Through the buzzing in his ears, Celegorm turned and fled, as gracefully as he could manage.
As always, it was his younger brother who found him later, somewhere quiet, near a window, one hand tangled into the fur of an enormous wolfhound leaning against his side, and staring at nothing.
He said nothing. His brother – Caranthir, this time – sat down next to him, though away from the dog. "Did you want to know-"
"I don't want to know what happened." His voice was quiet, low, and devoid of any emotion, as clean as though it had been scrubbed by a wire brush. "It is unnecessary."
"Brother, I know you were close…"
Celegorm's shoulders twitched, ever so minutely. "I don't need to know how she died." There, a touch of feeling, but it was gone when he added, "Kurvo put you up to this."
"No. I put me up to this."
There was a brief silence, in which Celegorm stared blankly at nothing and Caranthir stared worriedly at his elder brother. At last, the former spoke, an odd note in his voice. "I always thought we were going to be mated, you know," he said, in a strange tone, "Somewhere. Even after…I thought we'd talk and she'd forgive me and it'd be right again. Somehow I thought…" He shook his head. "Stupid, isn't it."
"Not so stupid, as stupids go."
There was another small silence. Celegorm shoved to his feet. "This is useless." He shook his head sharply. "Never mind it. It hardly matters anymore, does it? All that is past. It's the oath we made that we live by now, isn't it? That's all that counts."
Caranthir blinked, surprised, and nodded slightly. "I…suppose. Maybe."
Celegorm reached out and gripped his brother's shoulder, and smiled, though it was oddly ghostly, as though it were a smile through several years or a few layers of glass. "Thank you, Moryo. I'll be all right now. It was just a shock, that's all. I should be getting back, get Kurvo moving. We're leaving tomorrow, after all."
He gave Caranthir's shoulder a squeeze and turned and strode away without another word. His little brother stared at his back and was worried that he could read nothing in the set of his brother's shoulders.
When he and Curufin rode the next morning, Celegorm was smiling, in a slightly strange way, and Caranthir felt a chill of foreboding that this would be the last time he would see his brother, forever.
He said nothing, though, and let them go with nothing but a farewell.
It wasn't the last time.
But when Celegorm came again, he was changed, and markedly, from how Caranthir remembered him. He and Curufin rode in on one horse, the latter's face twisted with fury, the former cold and calm and expressionless.
He was thinner than he had been, almost as though he were fading, somehow, and there was something dead in his eyes that hadn't been there before. Caranthir opened his mouth to mention it and closed it again, suddenly knowing that he would get no response. Celegorm didn't ruffle his hair like he usually did, and there were no dogs, no Dog, beside him.
"Where's Huan," he asked, before he could think better of it. There was a sudden, blank silence before his elder brother's too light voice said, "Gone," and he vanished as well.
Curufin seemed much the same as ever, tongue sharp and biting, arrogant as ever. But he shrugged off Caranthir's worries. "The past few months have been hell, Moryo, hell. You'd look a bit worn too, damn the idiots." But of course, those past few months were worrying, too. The brother he'd known had been many things, but never a traitor, not so directly. It didn't fit. Or at least, it hadn't.
He took to watching Celegorm, when he could keep an eye on him, and found – nothing. His brother still hunted, still ate and talked and laughed and rested the same as ever. Surely it was only his imagination that thought his heart wasn't in it, that he went through everything with a sort of vague, dull, disinterest. That it was just him who thought when Celegorm smiled there was something ghostly about it, as though it were through several years, or several layers of glass; the memory of a smile rather than a smile itself.
And, as usual, Celegorm seemed utterly oblivious to anything but what was interesting him directly at the moment. Today it was hounds, again. He knelt in the kennels, attempting to coax one of the pups to him.
"Tyelko, would you listen to me?"
"I am listening," said his elder brother, absently.
"I'm trying to talk to you about the past fifty years."
"You know everything there is to tell already." There – was that a hint of flatness to his voice? Bitterness? Uncertainty? Caranthir snorted at himself for reading too much into a few words as his brother clicked his tongue again. "Come on, come here, little one…"
"I don't think they're listening," Caranthir said, with a bit of frustration. Celegorm stiffened at once and wheeled on his brother, familiar rage flashing in his eyes.
"I know that! Do you think I'm blind as well as stupid, Moryo? I can see they're not listening," and with a jerk, he stood and strode out of the kennels in a flash. The next morning, Celegorm seemed to have forgotten the incident entirely, and smiled at Caranthir, grasped his arm amiably, before he and Curufin set off hunting.
However, it was not so very long after that that both of them departed, and privately, Caranthir suspected in part that he had driven them away.
He spent the rest of the day in a temper, hoping that Curufin would for once use his head wisely and keep an eye on their elder brother.
Again, the vague fear that perhaps this would be the last time, that his brother would vanish into the wilds never to return.
He didn't return, but Caranthir did go to him.
Dior held a Silmaril, and would not give it back. Maglor argued for more diplomacy. It was Celegorm who stood, true to his name, and drew his sword.
"No," he said, voice fierce, almost shaking with anger, "no, we will give them no more diplomacy. We will give them this," And he laid the sword down across the papers, standing to stare them all in the eyes. "To deny us is to accept the consequences, which this little King knew. He is no Thingol; when has he ever stood to help us against the Enemy? And now he outright defies us. My brothers! Are we to simply accept this? Swallow meekly this insolence, this overweeningpride? I say no," and Caranthir felt his blood stir and run hot even as he thought of words so long ago; it's the oath we made we live by now. That's all that counts.
He felt a chill down his spine. But they rode to Doriath. Celegorm did not speak to him the whole way. Did not speak to anyone, except when he was spoken to, twice, to give simple orders. Caranthir looked at his face, once, and could find nothing there; no rage, no fear, no pensive thoughtfulness. Nothing.
His elder brother was thinner even than before, the effect only exacerbated by his height. Celegorm's eyes were almost dull, grim, lightless.
Late one night, he walked the camp because he could not sleep, and heard voices he knew. He stopped, listened; waited.
"We're losing him." Maglor's voice, low and slightly concerned.
"I know, you don't think I haven't noticed? Have you suggestions, then? Because just pointing it out-" Maedhros, a little testily.
"We've been for a while. I don't know, I just think – this is stupid. Could we-"
"Keep him back from the fighting? Impossible."
"You don't really think he'll…"
"No. I just think accidents happen, that's all. Especially when you're not being careful." A pause, and a sigh. "Eru, Cáno, what else are we supposed to do? I don't know that he even knows what he's doing."
"Does it matter if he knows or not? What's done is still done."
"I don't know. Just…I don't know."
"Why are we even here?" Maglor's voice, after a brief pause, bitter and resentful. "You know as well as I-"
"No," said Maedhros, more harshly than Caranthir had ever heard him, "No, you know as well as I why we are here. I will not be forsworn."
Caranthir left then, or fled, perhaps, nervous of what he heard, and paced, anxiously, late into the night. Perhaps it was his imagination, but the next morning when Celegorm appeared, he seemed better than he had been in a long time, his smile a little brighter as he ruffled his little brother's hair.
"Good fighting, Moryo," he said, and seemed to misunderstand the look on his face, and laughed. "We'll get it back. How can we not? Who could stand against us?"
Caranthir didn't answer, and hoped it was only the conversation he'd overheard that made him think he could hear his elder brother saying goodbye in every word he spoke that morning, and he spoke to everyone as he hadn't for the whole long ride.
Maedhros and Maglor, Caranthir observed, sat a little apart and did not speak to one another.
Caranthir fell asleep late that night, and when he woke in the morning, Celegorm and his company had already gone to move into place. For the first time, he felt the eagerness to fight stirring in his belly, and for the first time, thinking of his brother, he did not feel a twinge of foreboding.
Today would go well, he knew it.
Caranthir could have sworn that he saw Celegorm once, and he nearly cried out, but his brother was fighting another Elf furiously and a distraction could have cost him his life. He didn't make a sound. And didn't make a sound when the Elf's sword went through his brother's gut and Celegorm went to his knees, and didn't make a sound when his brother settle meekly without protest to the ground.
Even though he could have sworn he'd seen his brother throw his arms out as though welcoming the blade. Even though he could have sworn for the moment he thought he saw Celegorm's face, that he was smiling, and there weren't any years or glass in front of it.
He didn't make a sound because there was no sound he could have made.
Once, they had been young and in love and sure of themselves, once they had been full of hope and dreams and futures. Once, they had both been in love with life and full of it, running to bring down a deer, running just to run. Once, there had been sweetness and fresh fruit and secret meetings. Once, they'd promised to marry each other and no one else.
But that was a very long time ago.