Warning/apology for dubiously platonic hand-kissing :]

"And out of the bronze of the image of The Sorrow that endureth for Eveŕ he fashioned an image of The Pleasure that abideth for a Moment."

-Oscar Wilde, 'The Artist'

"Watch," murmurs Celebrimbor as the starlight falls jagged on his hair. The Gate-stream gabbles in the valley, and Annatar stands at the cliffs under Zirak, eyes fixed on the Fëanorian's silver, silver hands.

"What am I watching for?" says Annatar. And why, he nearly adds, are we whispering? Whispers are for reverence, fear, or secrets-of the three, the Fëanorian has only the latter.

Not counting the dwarves beneath the mountains, the two are alone for miles, at Celebrimbor's invitation. The Elf doesn't know that puts him in enemy territory, which is an alternate term for everywhere within arm's reach of Annatar. He ought to stay well back. The unspoken warning flits across the Maia's consciousness.

"You're watching for ithildin," answers Celebrimbor; his eyes don't leave the stone.

"Ithildin?" queries Annatar with interest. He takes a step inward, toward the Elf and the ashen cliffside. Their shoulders nearly brush.

"Hey," chides Celebrimbor teasingly. "Hey." He cracks his knuckles like a showman. "Keep back while I work my spell." Annatar acquiesces.

"Of course," he says, matching the Elf's wryness. "I'll just… stand here and look at the stars then."

"It'll do you good," replies Celebrimbor, almost wistfully. Annatar can hear the sadness in his smile.

The Fëanorian's been saying things like this since he found out. ("Where do you come from, Annatar?") Since the Maia whispered Morgoth in his ear, and laced it with "I'm sorry." ("I'm sorry, Tyelpë, so very very sorry.") As Annatar predicted, Celebrimbor doesn't seem to mind. Perhaps the Elf has lost so much to the Darkness that he relishes any possibility of return from it.

Right now he presses his face to the rock and breathes, "Awake, O sleeper." Nothing happens.

"Tyelpë, I don't -"

"Don't trust me?" Celebrimbor turns his head and quirks an eyebrow, eyes sparkling. "Here. Try me now." He takes Annatar's right hand - for a second. (For a second the Maia's brain swims with burning touches in the dark. Gledes, lips, Silmarils, and feverish palms.) He flinches -pronouncedly - and Celebrimbor drops his hand.

"Don't trust me?" the Elf repeats drily, no sparkle this time.

"Yes, I - no, I -" Annatar inhales sharply, clenches and unclenches his fingers. You are in control, runs across his brain like a mantra. You are the one who can't be trusted. "I'm sorry, I just - it's been a while, that's all."

"My apologies," says the Fëanorian hastily. "You know I'd never mean to- "

"No, no, I know. It's fine," stammers Annatar, managing a simper. Celebrimbor regards him hesitantly. "It's fine. ahead." His fingers stay loose this time, and Celebrimbor reaches out.

"Are you sure?" Annatar nods (swallows invisibly), and the Fëanorian's hand closes around his once more. Annatar inhales and exhales rhythmically. He's in enemy territory, he reminds himself. You are in control.

Celebrimbor's touch is warm and steady, and his skin is parchment-rough. He guides the Maia's hand to the cliffside and runs the slender fingers over the stone. "Your hands are freezing," he remarks.

Annatar has no reply, nor chance to conjure one, for at that moment an argent thread of starshine appears between his fingers, jolting his nerves. Celebrimbor drops his hand, but he keeps his fingers on the rock, watching the light spread out from them like a capillaric disease. As the designs become clearer, he takes a step back.

The starlight shows out an archway, whose pillars are the Trees; Tilion's beams accentuate the curling crescent moons of their branches. A ghostly pen etches tengwar, rune by rune, across the top. (Despite the Valinórean device, the words are Sindarin.) Unseen, icy chisels reveal Durin's stars and crown. Initials appear in the corners, at the bottom: C, N, D. Last erupts an eight-rayed star, brilliant, adamant, glittering assertively from the heart of the doorway.

Annatar allows himself to gasp. It's beautiful. So immutable he could scream, so delicate he could break, so finely crafted he could kiss the artist. Or murder him.

"Celebrimbor o Eregion teithant i thiw hîn," he reads, and smiles. "I'm thoroughly impressed."

"I thought you'd say as much," answers Celebrimbor, blasé. Annatar, however, catches flattered delight in his eyes. You fool, he thinks, don't you know I'm a viper? "I believe we could emulate this style for the engravings on the Rings, but with a more finessed ithildin, perhaps that mirrors only certain stars at certain times, or appears during certain phases of the moon."

"Oh yes," says Annatar, but he's still drinking in the door. It's dazzling, intricate, practical, and almost - logical.

"It would be simple and elegant," Celebrimbor goes on. "The material would blend directly into the silver or mithril bands, invisible in darkness or daylight, perhaps only illumined after a certain phrase, like my Awake, O sleeper…"

That sigil. It's incomprehensible. There is no sense to its presence on the gate; that is, no sense to its appearance on a symbol of friendship, reconciliation, and peace. It means bloodshed, destruction, and chaos. And why would he put that, of all the devices of the bygone Age, here? To destroy someone you must understand him. Right now, Annatar doesn't understand.

"The most difficult step, in my mind, would be the actual pouring of the metal into the engravings. The sheer minuteness of the lettering will pose a challenge in ensuring it's completely filled, but with proper magnifying equipment, I'm sure the obstacle could be easily overcome." He abruptly runs out of words and takes a deep breath. He looks at his feet, then up at Annatar, then back at his feet. "After we...write the engravings."

"Of course," agrees the Maia.

"Of course," echoes Celebrimbor, smiling faintly. The starlight is in his hair, begging, Annatar thinks, to be combed out and made into diamond bracelets that would char your arms. You could keep combing, he imagines, after the starlight is all gone. The two stand silent. Annatar's eyes don't leave the sigil.

"Tyelpë," he begins, and extends a finger to trace the device's lines, "what is this?"

Celebrimbor laughs. "'What is this?' You're a loremaster, An. You know it's the star of the House of Fëanáro. It's my heritage." Annatar's fingertips caress the rays, long nails faintly scratching the stone. "What of it?"

"But it's no longer your heritage. Did you not disown your father at Nargothrond?" Annatar stops tracing and places his hand on the stone, covering the star. The rays spread a gossamer web between his fingers. "The whole world ties this device to greed and war and lust and damnation, but you made a different choice. That's not your story. Why bind yourself to it?"

"It's my grandfather's symbol," Celebrimbor replies, the same way he'd say it looks like rain out, "and it fits the Mírdain. It means creation and beauty."

"It means death."

Celebrimbor says nothing at first, but smiles gently and shakes his head, displacing the light in his hair. Annatar could comb and comb forever, even after he got the stars out. One of two things would happen: the hair would be more beautiful than ever, or the Elf would be bald. It would be a shame, the Maia thinks, if he lost both his beauty and the stars.

Annatar's hand slips from the sigil as Celebrimbor's rises. The Elf takes a step toward him, and his fingers hover beside Annatar's temple. His fingers are quivering, just a little. "Is this all right?" he whispers.

Annatar shuts his eyes briefly, but nods, tensing every muscle in his body like pulling a marionette, but within a moment he involuntarily relaxes. Celebrimbor tucks a strand of hair behind the Maia's ear.

"Where do you come from, Annatar?" says the Fëanorian. He ghosts his fingers down the Maia's cheek and jaw. Annatar swallows.

"We agreed not to talk about…" He trails off. Names have power. Celebrimbor needn't hear Morgoth's from him more than once.

"The Darkness," Celebrimbor euphemizes, hand slipping to Annatar's neck to trace the scars, jagged, discolored dimples left by fangs and by sable fingers. "Our agreement exists because you made a different choice. Because that isn't your story anymore."

"You don't know my story." It emerges as a hiss, too quick, nearly venomous. Celebrimbor's fingers stay resting on his neck; the Elf smiles.

"i know it better than you think."

You don't know, he wants to scream. There's only one story. There's only one Song. I'm the harmony in D minor , and I won't be transposed. He wants to scream, and so he says nothing.

Celebrimbor goes on softly, gingerly. "My grandfather's star once stood for something pure and beautiful and noble. It's fallen into darkness, it's been stained by damnation and blood, but if - if I can reclaim it, if I can bind it once more to the wonder and the magic of our craft, and to symbols of unity and forgiveness - " His eyes dart briefly from Annatar's face to the ithildin glimmering beside them. "- I've undone a portion, no matter how small, of the damage the Dark Lord wrought.

"Once I thought I could escape. I thought if I ran hard enough and far enough and fast enough, I'd break, and be broken enough that the leeches meant to heal me would suck Fëanáro out of my blood. But I was wrong. That isn't my place in the story." He lifts his hand and strokes Annatar's cheek. The sensation sends a chill through the Maia's skin. "I believe in redemption," Celebrimbor breathes. His fingers stop. "Don't you?"

Almost involuntarily, Annatar raises his hand to cover Celebrimbor's, wrapping icy fingers around the Fëanorian's skin like talons or ribbon. He wishes he knew which. Oh, you fool, you fool, you fool. He wants to whisper it, to shout it, to etch it into the mountainside.

Almost involuntarily, he takes Celebrimbor's hand and presses his lips to it, to the signet ring, the knuckles, the fingertips, the palm. He hopes the Elf thinks it's stars, not tears, that are glistening in his eyes. He stops himself abruptly, squeezes the hand and looks up.

"I'm sorry," he says. "I… I just- I'm sorry."

"Don't be," answers Celebrimbor, and Annatar can feel the Elf's pulse racing through his wrist.

You fool. Stay well away. I'm a black and dissonant symphony spiraling toward its decrescendo. I'm the harmony in D minor that not even you and your starlight can transpose. Constellations glint crooked in Celebrimbor's hair. He could comb that hair forever, but he'll settle for tearing it out.


Thanks for reading! Reviews are tremendously appreciated :)