There are the memories, always. On nights when he lies curled by the fire, they come back in force. Curled up next to the skin of a chest of a young boy, head bent and serious little focused frown – his first memory. The sun was warm, the air smelled clean but the boy smelled like dirt and sweat. He wagged his tail a little, and the boy's startled laughter was loud and sudden in the quiet of the trees.
He remembered nights when he'd been frightened to be alone in the dark, and crept to find his boy and curled up beside him, and his boy would lift him in his hands and curl up around him, even though it seemed to frustrate his father to find one of his sons curled up with a dog as though he were trying to be one himself. Sometimes those were the nights that his boy spent awake, quietly frightened, and then he wished he were bigger so that he could return the favor and at least keep him warm.
Long afternoons, he remembered, spent hunting any game they could find, no matter how large or small, running together, always atuned to the other's movements. Sometimes he would take the kill and sometimes his master, not such a boy then, would bring it down before he could. It was a sort of competition, except when hunting lions. Them, they always took together.
Then there were the days where they could catch nothing, when they were too slow and their game too clever, and on those days when he would sense his master's frustration he would bound over and plant his paws on his shoulders and wash his face, and that never failed to bring that laugh that was still much the same, sudden and surprised, even with the useless shove and the half-hearted "get off, Huan," that he offered for form.
He never meant it.
There were the days when neither of them wanted to run, and they would simply sprawl in the grass soaking up sun, taking up space in companionable silence until he felt that his boy wasn't paying enough attention and would get up and move to lie down on his chest. Now the height of the dining table his boy's family used, the boy who was not really a boy anymore but almost grown would grunt and moan, but he would also scratch his ears and never told him to get off. Or almost never. The sun was warm, the days were long, and there was never an unscratched itch behind his ears.
There were memories of the anger after the world shook and he sensed the darkness fall, smelled it like foul meat in the air, a sick animal, but more wrong. His boy was angry, then, and his whole family. They never had time alone, then, but he was worried and stayed close by his boy's side, who took to just resting his hand on the great hound's back as if he were taking comfort from it.
They were leaving the sunlit lands, he gathered, going somewhere else. He didn't think it was a good idea, privately, and snorted on his boy's face to tell him so, but that got him nowhere, and he couldn't let the boy just wander off on his own. It wouldn't be right. Someone would have to look out for him.
He remembered a long travel across the water when his boy hardly spoke to him and when he did it was with agitation and anxious wariness, as though he expected – something. They reached land, again, though, to everyone's relief.
Sleeping, then, he woke when his boy came to sit beside him, threw one arm around his shoulders, smelling of smoke and fire. "We're not going back," he said, frowning just a little. "We're not ever going back."
Huan didn't know exactly what he meant, and couldn't quite tell what he was feeling, but felt it was necessary and licked his boy's face, just to be sure. The boy didn't laugh, though, just shoved his nose away. "Not now, Huan."
He remembered new hunting, and hunting of evil things, that he brought down with genuine anger because they were bad and smelled wrong. And his boy, at his side, voice loud and brazen as his own, and if it was a different kind of hunting it was still hunting. It was right.
His boy got quieter, though, and laughed less and less. Though Huan could no longer sleep curled up in his arms, he slept at the foot of his bed with his head on his paws and worried.
He remembered a beautiful lady, and his master acting strange, keeping her caged. She wept, though, and Huan felt for her, and freed her, and followed her until she found what she was looking for. He liked killing the wolves. This, he sensed, was what he was born to do.
Always, though, there was the nagging sense of something left behind, that he was in the wrong place, and he wanted his master back. As soon as he could, he returned.
It appeared that in his absence his boy had gotten into some trouble. He was angrier than before, never out of a bad temper, and he and the younger brother Huan disliked spoke often. For all their talking, though, they were still chased out of their den, stranded outside. Of course, Huan followed his master.
They seemed to ride for a long time, going nowhere in particular. It was an eerily quiet time. They did not hunt. They barely paused for rest. Huan was grateful for his extraordinary endurance, or else he would not have been able to keep the pace.
Finally they stopped, and rested, and slept. Lying by the fire, in the dark, Huan had woken midway through the night and realized that his boy was staring into the fire, shoulders shaking minutely though he didn't make a sound. With a soft whine, he crawled around the fire and nudged his boy, licked his face once to no response. Finally, as he'd never been able to do as a pup, he curled up around his boy and set his head on his paws, at least to keep him warm. Perhaps he was scared of the dark. Huan let his tail thump once, letting him know there was nothing to fear, and waited until his boy fell back and slumped half curled against his side, fingers tangled in his fur, before allowing himself to fall asleep.
It was the last night he spent in company with his boy. He'd never seen him again.
He knew it was the right choice; knew, looking at his boy and finding himself baring his teeth because he did not recognize the Elf there, not as anyone he knew, not as anyone he loved, as something ugly and bent into something emphatically bad. And when the thing called him, he knew not to answer, knew not to follow, and turned his back forever.
He followed the lady, after that. Tolerated the man, mostly, for her sake. He loved the lady, though he never though of her as his, not his master, or mistress, or his girl. She was sweet, though, and good to him, and when the time came for him to die and he knew it, he took it with peace. And he went as he'd wanted to – with his teeth in the throat of the wolf he'd been born to kill.
Oromë took him back. The sunlit lands, he found himself again, young and strong as ever, none of the aches of the years in his long legs. And he remembered first asking, before thinking, when he opened his eyes again-
Oromë understood, of course, and shook his head, slightly, and Huan felt his heart sink, just a little. Because he knew, he understood that his boy had died somewhere, and he hadn't stopped it. He thought he began to understand.
The thing ate him.
No, said Oromë, understanding, the thing was him. He was not worthy of you, my friend. I am sorry.
Huan snorted, once. No, it was not. I know my boy. That was not him. Something black and red and hungry ate him. He hung his head. And I did not stop it.
But if his boy was dead, he would come back here, right? He lay down to wait, and waited, and waited, and waited, until he really began to understand, and knew that no, it hadn't been his boy, but it had been his master. And that they were sundered, now.
He grieved, then, for a very long time. Mourned the loss of a boy he still thought, somewhere, he should have protected. Somehow. Even if only from himself. Eventually, he healed. Eventually, he came to know.
He didn't grieve for the boy he'd lost.
One day, he asked Oromë the question he'd wanted to ask for a long time. What happened to him?
He died. Huan had known it, but it made his ears flick, anyway.
Did he suffer?
Oromë shrugged his great shoulders and rubbed Huan's ears, just where the boy had used to. It soothed an itch he hadn't known he'd had. I do not know. It is not given to me to know all things that pass. Do you regret?
No, said Huan, and it was not a lie. Nor do I grieve. Not anymore. That wasn't a lie either.
He kept to himself. There were others he knew, sometimes, who came or who he saw in the trees, but young as his body felt he was old enough to want his solitude, and spent much of his time in Oromë's halls, sleeping, resting, dreaming.
The fire was his favorite, though. When he could stretch out on the huge rug and lie in front of the bright flames, letting them warm his belly, he could sigh with content, close his eyes, and remember.
Remember his boy. Always his boy, even if he'd gone so very badly. For most of it, he could simply remember.
It was only when he thought of the last night he'd had curled around his boy, shaking with tears or fright or anger – he never knew which – that he felt – something. A pang. A pain. A tug, like he was forgetting something, something important that he had to do now.
But he didn't grieve. Not for his boy.
He never grieved. And he never regretted.