One. They came to his door battered shadows of themselves. Celegorm looked half-dead on his feet and Curufin's shield arm was bound to his body, a shiny red burn spread across his arm. It was Curufin who asked formally, voice roughened by smoke.

Anrod and Aegnor were dead. Bad news flew on swift wings. He took them in.

"We couldn't hold it," Celegorm said, devouring the food he was offered like a starving wolf. "The March was overrun. Have you had word from Nelyo?"

Finrod watched Curufin, picking at his food, his expression shadowed. "No," said Finrod, "No word. Not from the north."

"We were fools," said Curufin, suddenly. "Not to see this coming."

Two. "I am sorry for your loss," said Curufin, leaning against the wall outside of his quarters. Finrod was briefly surprised to see him alone, and briefly displeased to find his cousin here in what he thought of as his sanctuary.

"Thank you," he said, stiffly. Aegnor had actively hated Curufin if he'd hated anyone, and made no secret of it. Angrod had spent as little time with him as he could. Curufin's sincerity, he suspected, was limited.

"The Valar's wrath touches us all," Curufin said, and from another's mouth it might have been pious nothing, or perhaps a tragic statement of fact. On Curufin's tongue it was neither, made Finrod want to bristle for reasons he could not have said.

"I trust," Finrod said, deliberately level, "That they will be granted mercy in time."

Three. Every morning, without fail, Curufin and Celegorm sparred against each other. They always used live steel, and it quickly became somewhat of a spectacle. Finrod went once.

Celegorm fought like it was a game. With never failing ferocity and a broad grin on his face. He was skilled, without question. Quick, strong. A formidable warrior. (Finrod did not wonder if he was assessing a potential enemy; would not let himself think that way.)

It was Curufin, however, that his gaze was drawn to. Curufin who was sharp focus and seemed to move like death itself was in his veins, so watching Finrod held his breath and was afraid. Curufin's expression never changed when he fought. Calm, intent, and with just the slightest curve around the corners of his lips, as if at some private joke.

Watching them, Finrod felt his stomach swoop.

Curufin won. As he stepped back, sheathing his sword, Finrod could have sworn his gaze flicked to the side and met his, and Finrod felt their eyes connect like an electric jolt to his spine.

He left quickly, and didn't go back.

Four. Seeing his two cousins side by side, Finrod became more and more aware of their differences.

If Celegorm was all open doors and sunlight, then Curufin was shuttered windows after dusk. Cold steel wrapped in velvet, his father's voice given flesh and bone. Like the Spirit of Fire born again, some said, but Finrod knew that wasn't true.

He had never looked at Fëanor and felt that curious blend of curiosity and dread turning circles in his gut. Never tried to guess what thoughts had spun behind a different pair of slate-gray eyes. Like the fascination of deep water before learning how to swim.

Curufin spoke seldom, but when he did, his voice carried and silenced all others, made a shiver crawl down Finrod's spine.

That was power.

He caught Curufin watching him, sometimes, sideways and askance, like he was trying to work out some puzzle, and wondered what answers he expected to find.

Five. They went hunting orc. They had been encroaching ever closer, more and more bold. It was a slaughter, the rage of their virtual confinement stringing tempers high.

Curufin took an arrow to the shoulder, and, curiously enough, asked Finrod to see to it. "I am not a healer," he protested, and Curufin smiled that crooked smile of his.

"It's you or Tyelko, and his hands always shake, the dolt."

He was quiet while Finrod cut the fletching away . "Your people speak highly of you," he said, suddenly. "Almost without fail. Truly you inspire a…passionate loyalty."

Finrod shrugged one shoulder. Curufin's right hand was clenched white-knuckled on itself, but that was the only sign of any pain, his voice perfectly calm. "I am fortunate. They are good elves."

"You make them better," Curufin said. It might have been praise, except that he sounded more thoughtful, considering, than admiring. "An…inspiration, I suppose. Their shining idol. They speak of you almost with awe."

Finrod felt a curious twinge of discomfort, or unease. He found a laugh. "I am nothing so perfect," he said.

Curufin's answering laugh was quiet, hardly more than a breath. "Aren't you?" he said, head tilted slightly to the side. "It is half perception that makes a thing, is it not?"

When he drove the arrow forward through Curufin's shoulder in one mighty shove, Curufin's left hand grabbed Finrod's leg and dug in. His eyes widened with a half-swallowed gasp, expression almost vulnerable and for one curious moment Finrod felt a coiling heat low in his belly,a dark and ugly kind of hunger.

Six. He found Curufin in his quarters, sipping a glass of deep red wine and looking over his shelves. "You didn't bring these across the ice, I daresay," he said, without turning. "Although I suppose…" He seemed faintly amused. Finrod tensed.

"I did not," he said, not quite curtly. "Artanis sends them to me."

"Ah," Curufin said, and stepped back from the shelves, something in his voice that made Finrod faintly uneasy. "Artanis." He turned, then, and his eyes were the cool grey that made Finrod inexplicably uneasy. Curufin's gaze lingered in his for a long moment, then slid away, past him, to the hallway.

"I did not expect to find you in my rooms," Finrod said, quietly. Curufin's smile was just the slightest tilt of his lips.

"I am always," he said, "striving to do the unexpected." His hand brushed against Finrod's arm as he stepped out. It might have been an accident. Of course.

Seven. He sent a letter to Galadriel. Debated over content for days, and finally left it at two words, trusting her to know the rest: Curufinwë's here.

Her letter came back soon after, equally brief. Be careful.

She was too late. He'd passed careful the moment he'd let them in. The moment he'd let Curufin's sliver-smile catch his eye. Curufin was dangerous. Finrod knew this. Could feel it like the heat of a flame that would burn into a bonfire if he glanced away. Perhaps even if he didn't.

Curufin's breath smelled faintly like wine. Warm on the skin of his neck, like the brush of his thumb alnog Finrod's jawline. "I could stop," he murmured. "Do you want me to?"

Yes, he should have said. Stop. This is dangerous, we cannot-

"No," he said.

Eight. Winter came hard. Wolves moved through the snow, hungry and aggressive.

"What was it like," Curufin asked, sprawled before the fireplace.

"What was what like?" Finrod asked, looking up from the supply accounts he was going over. Curufin's eyes were closed, his limbs loose, languid.

"The ice," he said, as though it were obvious. "The Helcaraxë. I wondered."

Finrod set down his pen. Thought of Turgon's face, blank and empty as they left Elenwë's cooling body behind. Of the cracking of the ice that kept sleep at bay, or else the silence of the snow that muffled all voices. The cold that never left. "Did you," he asked, flatly.

"Mm," Curufin said, voice lazy. "Yes."

Finrod could hear the tremble in his voice, just restrained anger. "Did it never occur to you to regret?"

"What use is there in regret?" Curufin asked, and his eyes opened, head falling slightly to the side to look at Finrod with a tiny, idle smile. "What's done is done, and cannot be undone. I could not send the ships back, once burnt." The calm implacability of the way Curufin said it left Finrod cold.

Finrod pushed back from his desk and stood. "Get out," he said. Curufin sat up, looking faintly surprised. "I will not speak to you of this."

Curufin unfolded to his feet, and cocked his head to the side. "You're angry," he murmured. "What would you have me do?"

Finrod didn't know. Didn't know if what he wanted was asking too much, was asking a chance in nature, a change to the very thing that made Curufin what he was. (The very thing that kept him from looking away.)

At the moment, he didn't care. "Get out," he said again. Curufin eyed him a moment longer, and then bowed, perfectly formal, faintly mocking, hand over his heart.

"As you will, my lord."

He told himself this was all he could expect. That it would be better to end whatever this was now, before it tangled further. But in his anger, pacing, his thoughts still turned in one direction.

Nine. Curufin's hands had a smith's calluses. It was the strangest thing, to feel how they caught on smooth skin, or on scars as Curufin passed his hands over Finrod's bare chest. As though he were a piece of metal or gemstone to be coaxed into revealing its secrets.

Finrod wondered what he found.

"You fascinate me," Curufin said, suddenly. Finrod blinked at what might have been an echo of his own thoughts.

"Beg pardon?"

"You fascinate me," Curufin repeated. "You are…a rare thing." His fingers paused, and tapped just above Finrod's navel. "For all I watch you, I am unable to guess your mind."

"I am no great mystery," said Finrod. Curufin shook his head.

"Ah," he said, "But perhaps that, there, is your mystery." He smiled, eyes almost glittering, and lowered his head to drag his teeth along the curve of Finrod's shoulder. "Still waters, they say."

Ran deep, Finrod thought, and untroubled.

He did not feel untroubled. If he was still water, then there was a turbulence in his depths. A whirlpool spiraling toward the surface.

Ten. "What was her name?" Curufin asked, one evening, his head tipped back, throat bare and gleaming pale in the candlelight, tunic unlaced to show just a hint of his collarbones. Finrod frowned.


Curufin's hand gesture was idle, careless. "Your woman. Vanyar, wasn't she? You seemed unutterably fond of her."

Oh. Finrod felt a sick coil of shame. "Amarië," he said, almost dully, and realized that he had hardly even thought of her in months. "She was…I suppose it's for the best. That she did not come."

Curufin's smile was sharp-edged and sardonic. "Was it hard," he asked, "For you to leave her?"

"Was it for you to leave your wife?" Finrod asked, sharply. Curufin hmmed, quietly.

"I suppose," he said, after a moment. "But it wasn't much of a choice, was it? I knew where my first loyalty was. I always have." Curufin shifted, rolled to his side and reached out to rest callused fingers against Finrod's neck. "What do you think your sweet Vanyar wife would think," he asked, almost purred, "If she could see you now? Her golden mate, tarnished."

She wouldn't understand, Finrod thought, and could almost taste the bitterness in it. There's so much that she wouldn't understand. Could never understand.

"Stop," he said shortly. Curufin hummed that quiet, almost amused noise again, and Finrod twisted, caught a handful of Curufin's hair and dragged him into a kiss. He bit down on his cousin's lower lip until he tasted copper and the hand at his neck curled, twisted into his clothing like it was seeking an anchor.

Eleven. Nargothrond had never felt too small before. It was beginning to now. A sense of foreboding growing in his mind, closing him in, trapping him in an ever shrinking circle. Galadriel's letters were worried and full of vague warnings. I fear for you, she said.

Finrod almost thought he should have been fearing more for himself. And did not.

Should stop this foolish staring contest with one whose malice he knew so well. He couldn't do that either. Was hardly even certain that he wanted to.

"I feel we are racing toward the end of things," Finrod said, softly. Curufin's fingers dug into his scalp and tugged lightly at his hair. His other hand rested on his shoulder, the tips of his fingers sliding to fit just below his collarbone.

"Perhaps," he murmured. "But then. Weren't we always?"

Twelve. He felt it like the toll of a bell in his bones. In the footsteps of a man like the image of his father, and the cool metal of a ring between his fingers, come back home to him to remind him of a promise.

"You heard," he said, quietly, chin in hands, staring at nothing in particular, and caught the motion of Curufin's nod by the door. "You know what he asked of me."

"I do," Curufin said. His voice was quiet.

He'd seen the bright burning of the ships on the horizon, the blazing sign of their betrayal. He didn't know why he thought of it now. (Did know.) "What are you going to do?" he asked, quietly, and wanted to believe the answer would be other than it was.

But he'd known. He'd always known.

"The same as you," Curufin said, and crossed the room, bending smoothly to press his lips to Finrod's temple, a brief brush of warmth so far from comfort. His eyes were cool, and calm. Untroubled like deep, dark water swallowing the ripples from a stone.

"What I must," he said, and went out.