With some trepidation (which he ardently denied he felt), Námo knocked confidently on the door. Almost before he had finished, the door burst open and the Vala's arms were suddenly full of energetic half-elf. He was instantly drawn into an enthusiastic kiss.
"I missed you," Elladan said simply once they had drawn apart. Námo smiled and rested his forehead against his beloved's.
"As have I you," he replied. Elladan responded with a beautiful smile. Námo was heartened to see the open clearness of his eyes, shining now with his love. Ever since their bonding Elladan had seemed more at peace, more balanced.
"Are you coming in, or standing out there all night?" someone yelled from inside. Elladan's smile turned fond even as he rolled his eyes. Grabbing Námo's arm, he gently pulled him into the inviting warmth of the Hunter's home.
"Can you be any more annoying?" Elladan asked of his twin. Námo was amused to note that the twins wore matching outfits, which would ensure that anyone who did not know them would never know to whom they were speaking. The Vala wondered if this was some sort of test. If it were, it was hardly a challenge. The bond flowing between them was like a glowing sign. Even if Námo had not memorized every inch of his beloved's skin, he knew who shared his soul.
Somehow though, Námo got the feeling this was only the first of his tests. The night was suddenly looking very long.
"Of course," Elrohir answered with a flourish. "Did you want me to actually apply myself to the task?"
"I thought you were supposed to behave tonight," Elladan countered. There was no real heat in their argument, just good-natured teasing. Námo watched it with some curiosity. He knew how close Elrohir and Elladan were to each other, but he had never seen them together before beyond their rescue, and that really didn't count. If he were to have a happy relationship with his soulmate, he would have to understand the integral connection holding the twins together.
"Who promised that?" the younger twin asked innocently.
"Alright, settle down you two," Elrond said, suddenly appearing from the back, holding a large steaming platter. Oromë quickly appeared from the hidden alcove to relieve him of the burden. Námo took a moment to notice Erestor also poke his head out from the dining alcove, but he saw no sign of either Celebrían or Glorfindel. He assumed they must still be in the kitchen.
His assumption proved correct when Glorfindel appeared at the backdoor holding it open as the slender she-elf followed him into the room, holding a large bowl of salad. Her gaze went immediately to him, pinning him to the spot. If he had thought Elrond's gaze unsettling, it was nothing compared to hers.
Erestor appeared at Celebrían's side, taking the bowl from her hands. With exaggerated care, the stately she-elf smoothed down her dress before slowly approaching the Doomsman.
"Well, are you going to introduce us?" she asked her son, but her eyes never left Námo's face. He knew that his face betrayed nothing of the sudden nervousness he felt, but he still felt emotionally naked before her.
"Er," and Námo was gratified to hear the uncertainty in his beloved's voice. "This is Námo, mother. Námo this is my mother, Lady Celebrían." Elladan gestured vaguely between them, his anxiety clear to his beloved.
"It's a pleasure to finally meet you. We've heard practically nothing about you," Celebrían said, her voice completely bland despite her words. Námo took her hand, kissing the back of it even as he sent soothing energy through the physical contact.
"Elladan has had very little time in which to know anything of me," the Vala said calmly, his voice soothing and hypnotic. "It is for that reason that I have taken so much of his time of late, and I would beg pardon for that."
The slim she-elf before him pursed her lips, seeming immune to his subtle arts. But then, she was doubtless used to them from Oromë and even Elrond. Celebrían opened her mouth to reply, but thankfully Elrond approached at the moment and forestalled her response.
"Now, my dear, you promised to go easy on Mandos tonight," the half-elf said, putting his arm companionably around her shoulders. Námo noted the slight stiffening of her body before she forcibly relaxed again, even leaned against her taller husband. The Vala glanced at Elrond to see a wicked gleam in his eyes bespeaking of great amusement, and a smirk on his handsome face showing that he knew exactly how uncomfortable the Doomsman really was.
"Well, you're just in time for dinner," Erestor said, finally approaching the group by the door. There was a note of disapproval in his voice, a clear indication that Námo had waited too long outside, and really should have left time for socializing before dinner. But the Vala couldn't make himself feel regretful. The night looked long enough as it was.
"Then let's get to it," Oromë said cheerfully, gesturing everyone to the long table. It was a fine piece of art, the gracefully sculpted feet peeking out from under a lacy tablecloth. It bespoke of the Hunter's skill, the intricate knots cut around the trees natural lines. The alcove hugged around the long table, cozy but still spacious enough to maneuver around without bumping elbows.
Elrond took a seat at one end, appropriately the lord of the house. Celebrían sat opposite him, her twins flanking either side. Oromë and Elladan subtly directed Námo to his seat, situating him between them on the side nearest the wall. Claustrophobia instantly closed in as he found no readily available means of escape. The Hunter's warm hand on his arm sent calming energy, allowing his natural tranquility to resettle in his soul. He looked up to see Erestor across from him, a delicate frown scrutinizing him. Compared to the lord and lady of this house, Námo barely registered his disapproval.
"You will forgive us," Elrond said, drawing the Doomsman's attention to him. "But we don't stand on ceremony here."
So saying the half-elf reached for the nearest dish, helping himself and then passing it to his husband. Each dish was similarly handled where Elrond started it and passed it along so that Glorfindel was the last to be served.
Listening to the quiet, Námo suddenly realized what Elrond had meant: no one had said grace. Of course, it only made sense. In almost all elvish households elves began their meal with praise and thanks to the Valar for their work in preserving the world, in ensuring there was light to grow the food now nourishing them.
It might seem more fitting to praise Eru's name instead, since it was His Creation and His Thought, but elves eschewed calling upon Him so frivolously and so often. His praise was reserved only for the most sacred moments, the simple act of breaking bread each day deemed too trivial.
Námo knew that Oromë didn't agree that the Valar deserved any praise. Considering the ruin their brother had wrecked on the land long before the elves had woken, the Valar hardly felt their reactionary actions should be held in such high regard. In this, Oromë was united in thought with his siblings.
But it was such a trivial thing, and too deeply entrenched, too widespread for the Valar, nonconfrontational on the largest of issues, to make any kind of fuss. It was only fitting that such things were bypassed in the Hunter's own home. He would feel uncomfortable to constantly be praised by his husband and stepsons, his family and equals.
As the plates made their way around the table Námo took what Oromë did, not knowing how much or little was appropriate for such a gathering. He knew his brother was aware of his uncertainty, and he hoped he wasn't denying the Hunter a favorite food for his behalf. Everything Oromë chose looked rather bland, which was at odds with the brightly colorful Hunter.
"It is alright," Oromë said mentally, his aura a calm bulwark against Námo's nerves. "This dinner is for you; it was made with you in mind. Not even Celebrían would tease you so. She would take it as a personal affront if she could not choose your meal correctly. Relax, you will like everything here." Oromë's reassurance was somewhat lacking, making Námo fear his future mother-in-law's irritation should he react badly to anything on his plate. She seemed irritated enough as it was.
Erestor broke the comfortable silence when the last dish was passed. "So, my Lord Mandos, tell us a little bit about yourself." Námo stiffened slightly, putting his fork down so that there were no distractions. Beside him, Elladan choked on his wine.
"What do you wish to know?" Námo asked blandly.
"Well, what are you're interests, your hobbies? How do you spend your free time? Do you play sports? Or an instrument of some kind? What do you think of-"
"Erestor," Elrond warned gently. The advisor blinked, but looked expectantly at the Doomsman. Námo found himself the sudden focus of the entire table. He kept his focus on Erestor, ignoring the others as best he could.
"I do not have any such hobbies-"
"You do realize," Celebrían cut in smoothly, "Elladan has many such interests."
"I do, my lady," Námo replied solemnly. "He has been introducing them to me."
"But you have never participated in any such things before now," she said sharply.
"There has never been time-" Námo began, a growing unease forming in his stomach. Beside him, he felt Elladan stiffen.
"You will forgive me, Lord Mandos, but I find it hard to believe that you and my son can have a long lasting relationship when you share so few interests, and when your time is 'not your own'."
"I will make time for Elladan-,"
"Which is easy enough to say now, but what of a hundred years from now? A thousand? Will you still make time for your husband then?" the she-elf asked, eyeing him coolly.
"I would like to think so," Námo responded truthfully.
"But the dead still need the same amount of care as before. Will not the work backlog? Won't it be tempting to ignore my son for a day to . . . 'catch up'. How easy does a day turn into a week, a month . . . a year?"
Námo did not respond right away, trying to discern Celebrían's intent from her spirit. He found it strangely illusive at the moment, his newfound bond with Elladan clouding his senses. ". . . it would indeed be easy to fall into such a trap," he finally said. "But I assure you my time will not be so limited anymore. Vairë has expressed an interest in aiding my work. Split between the two of us, I will have time for my husband."
"Speaking of Vairë," Celebrían said, shifting gears in an instant. "She was your wife for how long again?"
"We joined before the world was made, but-"
"And yet you cast her aside without a second thought."
"It was not without a second thought," Námo replied sternly, some trace of his fiancé's frustration seeping into his being. "Vairë herself foresaw this. She is happy for me."
"How fortunate for you to have such an understanding wife," Celebrían said, smiling sweetly. It was a Cheshire's grin. "Tell me, will Elladan have to be as understanding when the next sweet young thing comes along to tempt you?"
The room filled with cold silence. Námo felt as though he had been slapped. It took several minutes while he worked to calm the unaccustomed anger within before he could speak.
"I will not abandon Elladan. There will never be another," he said firmly.
"Forgive me, but I'm less than reassured. I'm sure that Vairë counted on forever too," Celebrían said casually, picking up her wine glass and gently swirling the contents around.
"Vairë and I were never truly bonded. It was not right that we continued as we did," Námo said reasonably.
"If it were so wrong, then why did you?" the she-elf asked curiously, but there was a dangerous glint in her eyes.
"Neither of us recognized our bonding was not true-,"
"But now you are so sure? Why should I believe you've any better grasp of the situation now?"
Námo's first impulse was a nasty one. He almost pointed out that Celebrían had never known such love, that her marriage to Elrond was as much a fraud as his own. She could have no idea what real love was.
"Námo," Oromë said quietly, his aura a deep pool of warning and sympathy. The Doomsman blinked, horrified by what he was tempted to do. Stepping back mentally, some of his objectivity returned and, though he was still unsure of Celebrían's intent, he knew that she did not deserve such cutting remarks. After all that she had endured, the fate she was condemned to, it was unfair to rub salt in her wounds.
Taking a deep breath, Námo carefully considered his response. "I know that we are bound now because half of me now resides within Elladan, I can feel it there. And I house half of him. His thoughts share space in my mind with an intimacy no one else has ever had. To abandon your son now would be to abandon myself. I will not do that," he said firmly.
Celebrían regarded him coolly, clearly unimpressed with his heartfelt commitment. Námo braced himself for her next cutting remark when suddenly she nodded once, giving him a faint smile.
"Would you pass the salt, Glorfindel?" she asked, turning her attention to the golden haired elf seated at Elrond's elbow. Her words caused everyone else to return their attention to their food as though the argument had never happened.
Námo shared a glance with his future husband, who was clearly as baffled as he was. The Doomsman turned his attention to his brother, beseeching him for an explanation.
"You've passed the test," Oromë said cheerfully, helping himself to a hardy portion of something green and yellow.
"Mmm, yes. Well done," the Hunter said, seemingly more interested in his food than Námo.
"What test?" Námo demanded, but ensured his expression was carefully neutral as he tasted elven cuisine for the first time.
Oromë canted an eyebrow at his question, turning slightly to give him a disbelieving look. "The test to see if you are a worthy son-in-law of course."
Námo blinked. "You mean that--that this emasculating argument had a purpose beyond the obvious?" he asked, bewildered.
"Of course," Oromë answered in an annoyingly calm voice. Námo mentally scowled at his brother, but carefully made himself think before saying anything further.
"So . . . I passed?"
"Well," the Hunter said, glancing at him out of the side of his eye. "I should think the conclusion is that you'll do."
"I'll do? I'll do what?"
A sparkle of laughter lit between their connection, reflected in a wicked twinkle in Oromë's cat-eyes.
"If Celebrían has no other choice, she can tolerate you as a son-in-law," he thought.
"She can tolerate me?"
"Námo," Oromë said seriously, though there was another trace of laughter swimming through his spirit. "No one, be it Vala, Elf, or Man, will ever be good enough for her little boy. Celebrían only wants to make sure that Elladan has everything she can give him, and she will protect him from any hurt she can because she loves him. She knows her son well enough to see that he has been hurt recently, and she is intelligent enough to know that you are the cause, but Celebrían is also wise enough not to jump to conclusions about the hows and whys of the situation. But you did hurt Elladan; she knows that irrefutably. She's just making sure you're aware that you can't get away with that again, that she's paying attention and won't sit idly by if her son's hurting."
"But I said I would not hurt him," Námo said, letting the words sink into him.
"You can say whatever you want; it isn't going to do you any good. You have to prove it. And you've gone a long way towards doing just that."
"So. . ." Námo thought slowly, carefully thinking through the problem. "I should just continue to act normally and that will eventually prove that I am sincere?" Oromë answered with a mental affirmative. "Then there will not be a need for a repeat of this conversation or its like?"
The Hunter turned his full attention to his brother, a decidedly wicked gleam in his eye. "I wouldn't go that far. You did hurt her baby after all. You can't get away that easily."
Námo blinked in surprise and some trepidation, glancing at the she-elf out of the corner of his eye. She gave him a cool look before returning to her conversation with Erestor. "Wonderful," the Vala thought dryly, but couldn't help feel a warm tingle of relief. He was glad Elladan had such a strong system of support and love, or people who felt his well being was as important to them as it was to Námo, and would help the Vala look after his lover.
He glanced at his fiancé, realizing he was still fidgeting nervously beside him. Giving a gentle push on their connection, he captured Elladan's attention. The half-elf looked up at him uncertainly, clearly troubled by the conversation, doubtless hating the thought that two people he loved so deeply should have such deep antagonism for each other.
Námo gave him a slight smile followed closely by a reassuring pulse of love through their connection. Visibly Elladan relaxed, managing an easy smile for him before turning to his plate with enthusiasm.
The Vala of the Dead turned his attention back to the slim she-elf at the head of the table. When he managed to catch her eye again, he gave her a nod of understanding and respect. Celebrían regarded him coolly but returned the gesture.
Each had made their positions clear, and would watch the other warily until they were sure each was satisfied.
Unnoticed, Elrond and Oromë shared an amused look.
Golden metal winked in the sunshine as Elrond moved slowly down the forest path flanked on either side by Oromë and Nahar. His necklace hung out in the open, a counterpart to his now open relationship with his husband. He had never lied about whom he belonged to, but circumstances had always dictated a certain discretion that was thankfully no longer necessary.
"You really must tell them to stop that," Elrond said quietly as they passed a group of elves who bowed low before them. Oromë glanced at his husband, an amused twinkle in his eyes.
"It would not offend you so but for the certainty that they do so only for you," the Vala said as they passed the two great oaks that stood as the unspoken boundary between Oromë's home with his husband and the rest of his realm. The quiet forest noises instantly dropped away as if a door had been shut behind them, leaving only the rustle of leaves in the trees above them.
"I don't suppose telling them again would do any good?" Elrond asked despondently
"Hey," Oromë said, sliding an arm around his beloved's slim waist. "They are only showing you what you deserve."
"What I deserve? It has nothing to do with me. They are only doing what is expected of them, and it is only expected of them because of something my father did, not me."
"Beloved," Oromë said sternly, stopping them in the middle of the path. Gently he turned his husband so that they were facing each other. His long fingers caressed Elrond's chin before lifting it so that the half-elf could not look away. "Not here, Elrond, never here. You know that. No matter what my people are instructed to do, if you could not earn that respect on your own merit, there would be no sincerity behind it, and you know there is. You are much revered and much loved."
Elrond looked at his husband for a long moment before letting out a gusty sigh. "You are right, of course," he said, looking away. A light blush crept over his fair skin for being petulant. "It's just . . . sometimes I feel so isolated. Even when I resided with Ereinion, I was never treated so formally. I don't feel as though I can get close to anyone that I don't already know."
Oromë sighed, feeling his beloved's melancholy through their link. "You know that's not true either. You are far more personable than any other elven leader that these people have ever met. They're just adjusting to that, but already the elves here feel more comfortable with you than anyone else of rank. They don't treat your sons with any kind of propriety. You just need to give them time."
Elrond was quiet for a long moment, resting his head against the Vala's broad chest. "I suppose that's just it," he said quietly, his words muffled by Oromë's tunic. After a gentle mental prod, the half-elf raised his head to look his husband in the eye. "I'm afraid that Elladan's marriage to Mandos will distance him from his kin. Mandos's own reticence and natural aloofness does not inspire familiarity, a familiarity that Elladan thrives on. He had never understood decorum nor has his twin. They weren't made for that kind of life."
Oromë frowned, tucking his husband under his arm as they continued down the path. He could feel that his mere presence had already soothed his husband, as it always did, but that did not seem sufficient. Elrond settled comfortably into the half-embrace, feeling better just having articulated his worry. There was a distant thrum emanating from his husband, which usually heralded heavy thought. The half-elf remained quiet, letting his husband contemplate in peace.
They were practically at their doorstep when Oromë finally stopped them. Gently he turned his husband to face him again. "I will not lie and say that everything will be fine now. Just with everything else, a balance must be forged between them on how sociable they will be in public. Elladan cannot change Námo's basic nature, but likewise neither can Námo change Elladan. Nor would they wish to. It is unlikely that Námo will venture into public with Elladan for a long time, certainly not before he's fairly comfortable with their new bond. He was never one for gatherings anyway, so that will not be so unusual. Elladan will continue to go out with Elrohir to meet their friends. Really, they could not have picked two more perfect mates if they had tried. Both Erestor and Námo are anti-social workaholics, and the twins will still have need of each other to fill the time, which is a perfect balance since their souls are not complete without the other. You needn't worry, beloved. Elrohir and Elladan share more now than they did before, and Elladan's marriage will help bridge the gap that has grown since Elrohir's own union."
Elrond was silent for a long while. When seen from that light, he could see that there was a definite benefit from Elladan's bond to Námo. The twins had been growing apart, but it was not because Elrohir's time was taken up with Erestor. Elrohir spent as much time with Oromë's hunters as he did with his husband and family. Nor was it that Elrohir and Elladan had different circles of friends, for their interests were too similar not to gravitate to the similar companions of warriors and hunters. But Elladan rarely spent time with them when Elrohir was there, and if his twin was, he usually kept his focus on others. Elrond was reasonably certain it wasn't a deliberate move on Elladan's part, but rather a measure of self-preservation to spare him the constant reminder of his own unrequited love against the backdrop of Elrohir's blinding happiness. Hopefully, now the twins could reconnect. Elrond hoped so, knowing how desperately he missed his own twin.
"You are right," Elrond said slowly, his words weighted and well thought, ". . . about the twins. I can see how this would mend their bond, but you have not answered my concern. Regardless of whether Námo is physically there or not, elves will soon learn of Elladan's marriage and will treat him accordingly."
"Well, they may certainly try, but I don't think you're giving your son enough credit. Elladan will refuse to be treated as anything other than just another elf. If you recall, the elves of my realm tried to give the twins the same degree of respect they reserve for you, and your sons would not hear of it."
"I thought that was only because my sons act so foolishly, and the elves here just could not picture them as lords," Elrond said, raising his eyes heavenward. Doubtless he was remembering the struggle he and Erestor had had when the twins were young to get them to behave appropriately whenever dignitaries visited. Oromë smiled.
"I am sure that had something to do with it, but by that same token, the elves here are not going to be able to imagine my brother as married. Imagining Námo with someone as carefree as Elladan will be impossible for many. I think it will do my brother's image some good. Few elves have actually met him, and now they will see him as Elladan sees him, for they will hear more about Námo's personal life than they have ever had cause to before this. And elves are insatiably curious. Elladan's marriage will only draw them closer to him in the hopes of learning something about the very private Vala."
"That sounds like freak-show fascination," Elrond responded in alarm.
"I think Elladan can handle it. Do not forget that he now has Námo's reserve of patience to draw from, as well as his natural tact. Elladan will not tell them anything his husband does not wish known, but your son's natural fiery natural will ensure that my brother is respected as is his due. Elladan will not accept gossip about his husband, but he will improve his public image. I look forward to the coming years," the Hunter said truthfully, opening up his mind so that Elrond could see what he foresaw.
"Well, alright," Elrond said at length. "But I will have no patience for any elf who hurts either Elladan or Mandos with callous words."
"Nor should you," Oromë agreed readily, turning to walk the rest of the way to their home. "And neither will I," he said with deadly quiet. Elrond gave him a surprised look, rarely seeing the warrior that always simmered beneath the surface of the Hunter's good humor.
Before he could question it, though, he was spotted by Erestor and quickly called away to his garden. Oromë watched him go, glad that the dark advisor could distract his lord from his worries.
Elrond's concern gave his husband pause, and the Hunter could see there was indeed cause for concern, though not in his borders. The elves who lived in his realm were used to him, and were far more relaxed than any society of elves in Valinor. One subtle hint from Oromë that they had crossed a line in their questioning would quiet them instantly. They were good people.
But across Valinor? That was another matter entirely. Some elves would be welcoming, he was sure, many would not care, but some would be completely cruel about the matter. A few names popped into the Hunter's mind, and he vowed to watch them for any hint of malicious intent, sure that just one had the power to start a damning rumor that could ruin the fragile bond between Námo and Elladan. Oromë knew his brother well enough to know the thoughts of others mattered more to him than he let on.
The Hunter would die before he let the thoughtlessness of elf or ainu destroy those he loved. Fortunately, he was not nearly so powerless as his kin seemed to think. He might not defend his realm the way other Valar did but that did not mean he did not protect it. And he had allies in strange places.
No, no one would ever
hurt either Elladan or Námo. Oromë
would be on guard against it.