The door slammed open. The crack of it hitting the stone was like the dooming snap of tightening in the sky, a second before the world dissolves in a torrential gale.
Yet Finrod could barely make his body stir.
“Lord Finrod there-“
“My lord your cousin-“
“The Feanorions are threat-“
Several stifled cries of horror. And one laugh. That laugh was raw at the edges in a way suggesting of a voice nearly lost from yelling, yet Finrod heard triumph; surprised triumph.
Finrod’s eyes snapped open yet movement was beyond him. He was sore all over as though he had wrestled a whole morning and ridden all afternoon before sparring with swords in the evening. Sore like he had carved a whole new wing just by himself. The ache was bone deep and no part of him had escaped it.
His vision blurred with exhaustion and the ceiling in his vision swayed as though he were on a ship. All of his inclinations were to roll towards the source of warmth at his right side and fall back into the pitch black slumber he had been pulled from.
There was a taste in his mouth he could not quite place. He licked his teeth and grimaced at the fuzzy feeling.
What day was it? What time was it? The light was so bright that it must be well past the morning gloaming he arose in. He found he did not care. He knew he should be worried. Very concerned at why men had come bursting into his private chambers like this instead of waiting for his manservant to wake him up.
The last time had been the loss of Tol Sirion.
“So… we search three days, in every wing and every mile of this underground folly when all we should have done was return to the heart of Nargothrond. I will admit shock. I did not expect to find them together.” the raw voice was calm and firm, and despite its hoarse tone he recognised it as Curufin’s. Horror that Curufin was in his bedchamber gave him the strength to snap his head towards the source of the voices.
Curufin’s face was a pale oval, long, dark, straight hair hanging down to frame it like a mourning shroud in tatters. His eyes gleamed like polished agate and his gaze bore down at Finrod who became aware of the warm air of the room surrounding his naked body but no blanket.
“You assured me,” this room was a mess. There was a bloody handprint ruining the careful meadow landscape upon the wall plaster. Chairs and the small curio table lay on their sides, pillows and precious artefacts scattered beyond where Finrod could see, “the master of the house was likely joined with other search parties, but instead he was committing the crime we prayed had not occurred.
Curufin stood amongst a handful of Finrod’s lords, some of his closest such as Edrahil and Orodreth and some less his friends, but still wise advisors, such as Lord Osbon who had been his father’s chaperone. All were of —oldor blood for no full blooded Vanyar could leave and no Teleri would leave, but many had mingled blood like his own and they were arrayed around Curufin’s storm dark form like shining beacons crowned with precious metals and rare woods.
All were pale and silent, and upon their faces was an array of emotions; horror, outrage, sorrow, and embarrassment amongst them. Orodreth in particular looked green and was wringing his hands so hard the skin was turning crimson.
Whatever emotions they were feeling, whatever the reason, they should not have been in Finrod’s room. The surge of territorial aggression took him by surprise and he struggled to hold back the reptilian urge to attack.
“Crime?” he asked and his voice tumbled out of him like gravel, scraping the tender flesh of his inner mouth. Everything felt flayed to the nerves. His jaw was aching particularly and there was a long forgotten feeling towards the back of his tongue of tenderness where glands, long supressed by infusions of blue-alfirin since his youth, lay.
“What has you in such high spirits this morning my dear cousin?” His hand groped for a blanket, for a sheet, any cover, as smoothly as he could make the seeking gesture.
“It is a little too late for modesty,” Curufin ignored the polite order for explanation.
“Curufinwë you are hardly being the best of house-guests to interrupt my sleep with accusations of misbehaviour.”
Curufin’s eyes were afire with emotions that had Finrod on his guard, hackles up, spine bristling. The smile that bloomed wicked and knowing over Curufin’s red mouth came in time with Finrod’s hand brushing warm skin over well-tempered muscle which was not his own.
The world chilled save for that warm flesh, rising and falling in the steady pattern of deep sleep. There was a scent in the air he noticed now only because when he ceased to breathe he ceased to take it in. Any Eldar knew this life rich blow to the chest. His blood roared, greedy and hot, and even with the invasive presence of Curufin and his men in the room his flesh was stirring and he sat up with each muscle in his back screaming.
There was an omega sleeping at his back. An omega who had, for some reason, not had laurinquë holding their heat in check.
“Speak not of guest behaviour to me when you have broken the most sacred rules of a host and taken by deception and force an omega who trusted your word to protect and respect his time with all due privacies.”
It was possible.
Eru it was possible.
His great glass houses fostered the growth of blue-alfirin used in the infusions to tame rut, and the laurinquë which grew bountifully there and banished heat was freely available in its tinctured form to all within his House. However, there was such a fine balance with the alfrin and the laurinquë; imperfect leashes that they were. Scent the spice that heralded a heat and the alfrin was naught but an unpleasant herbal tea. Scent the violent tang of rut and the laurinquë had simply ruined good alcohol.
It was why he crafted the well ventilated isolation chambers for those who might not find the herbs so effective, and the nuptial chambers that had their own air source from the rest of the fortress. Everyone lived aware of the delicate balance, that the Eldar had managed to find through nature’s bounty, was easily upset. Everyone did as they must, tip toed the delicate social steps perfected in Aman, and kept a close awareness of their companions to make sure they did not stumble either.
The accusation now had his lords in angry defence of him, turning on Curufin as one. But Curufin stood still and unfazed though as an alpha it was a clear challenge to Curufin’s weak authority over the room.
Finrod opened his mouth because he wanted to deny and refute the accusations most likely true. Even if it made him a liar.
He could not even turn his head to look. Unexpected cowardice had him focused upon his lords and cousin though every inch of his skin was acutely aware of the warmth at his back now. At the soft breathing smothered by the squalling of the men at the end of his bed.
Curufin was still speaking, forcing his voice past that of the lords though it made his voice ever hoarser “- have despoiled him. No promises of marriage and no bans have been read! He is a thief! A defiler! Less than a common wretch. He has acted like one of the slovenly untamed beasts we are descended from!
Though his world was shattering and these accusations and blows against his honour acute barbs into his flesh Finrod found space to find Curufin was laying the melodrama on thickly. This was not a polished spiel but something was lacking to its authenticity. Finrod’s suspicions flared but he licked his lips and the taste of blood shorted out the coursing of his thoughts and returned them to the body beside his.
“You are mistaken-” he lied. And the body behind his sighed in dreams, able to sleep through this noise due to some sort of luck or perhaps a will to reject the waking world.
He did not remember taking an omega to his bed. It should have comforted him but instead unnerved him because time and memory were not in harmony within him. His memories did not slide seamlessly one into the other but shuddered to a definite halt before picking up with the slamming of the door.
There was no reason for him to take an omega to bed. He had left his love and dreams of marriage and mating across the sea, for Amairë could not leave but he could not stay. His teeth had never marked the swan elegance of her neck through their long engagement, thus he had not hold over her. Could not order her to follow. Though she had offered him her neck in the gloom of smoking torches she had shook with fear and despair and he had not taken that final step, so there was no permanent binding between them. He had left her knowing another alpha may attempt to steal her. But she had made promises to wait. Wait until he returned for her and they would bind themselves the way they were meant to be.
He had not, since his youth had ended and his only adult rut had been a terrifyingly humiliating loss of control, fallen afoul of the bestial appetites that had allowed their ancestors to survive Cuiviénen. Blue-alfrin suppressed the rut. Supressed most of the violent tendencies that had been necessities of an unkind world but in Aman were no longer required.
Rut and heat were an embarrassing but unavoidable unpleasantry one had to endure in order to produce a family. A week of not partaking of alfrin in isolation with your partner so you did not embarrass yourself, and everyone else and you could return to life and forget you had disgraced and debased yourself so thoroughly.
He did not remember…
He did not remember… it hadn’t been too musky near the door way but now the scent coated his throat and made Finrod’s head spin, cock pressing to the seam of his breeches with painful pulses as his spines swelled and his knot craved warm flesh to anchor in.
Why wasn’t the privacy gate to this wing in the family quarters closed? Who was in heat? It could not be Finduilas, she took her tincture with breakfast each morning and without fail. Aegnor was gone. Lost forever to them. Alatariel lived within Doriath.
There were no other omega in his family, even the recently immigrated members.
His stomach twisted with great nausea but he could not turn to look. He did not want to see.
To see was to acknowledge what must have happened.
It was not Celebrimbor was it?
At a weak guess he could only think of Celebrimbor who might be an omega for Celebrimbor had the typical body he associated with omega of the male persuasion; tall and capable from his smith work but with piquant delicacy.
What stood in the way of this was that Celebrimbor was Lusta; Empty; Null. Like two of his paternal uncles he did not have a gender. His scent was faintly sweet but empty of triggers for reaction. He instilled no angry territorial reactions from alphas, and no fear or arousal responses from betas or omegas. He sought no mate for himself as nulls were born naturally celibate and chaste.
Finrod could not even comprehend Celebrimbor being bedded at all.
Finrod’s hand, withdrawing from the flesh to fall by his side, had landed on a rope. The unexpected texture made him frown. He cast a careful look, hair shielding him from the view behind his shoulder, and saw his hand was clenched around a ghost-weed pale braid of hair. It lay across the dark blue sheets and originated from the peaceful sleeper.
The jarring, unexpected colour was a reprimand for his stupidity.
Enough. He must look to the source of the warmth by his side and the scent making his throat tighten and pulse surge each breath he took in.
It was worse than he thought. He had not given himself time, had not drawn his gaze up but instead turned his head sharply to confront the face. Parts of the braid had been torn free from confinement, especially near the nape, and strands of loose hair were plastered to the still, golden face half pressed like a child escaping a nightmare, into the pillow.
Why was Celegorm in his bed?
Celegorm should not be in his bed, taking up a generous portion of the mattress with his tall, strong boned body. The light that was piercing the room in intolerably bright bars highlighted a forest of dark bruises running up one of his sides.
It was as impossible as Celebrimbor being in his best.
As Maedhros being in his bed. (And this thought made him shiver with dark quiet knowing that Fingon would carve his gut open and watch him die from the exposure if such a thing occurred.)
“Why is my cousin,” he heard himself ask, each word dropping like a weight in a still pond for no one was speaking, “naked and in my bed?”
Why was he in Finrod’s bed, smelling thickly of him and of an omega’s sated heat?
Celegorm’s scent should have been barely there and inoffensive. Faintly sweet but lacking stimulus.
Celegorm was null.
Had always been null.
Was proud, as one could be, of being a null.
He had even performed the duties of a null for Finrod in fact, when the nulls Finrod preferred were not available.
“It is,” Curufin said with his tone dropping to the saccharine slowness that mothers used for particularly obtuse children, “exactly what you would think my Lord Cousin. My brother went into his heat. You took advantage of him.”
“That is slander Lord Curufin!” Edrahil snapped, and stepped between Curufin and the bed. His back provided a good cover for Finrod to finally grab the corner of a sheet and pull it over his lap, finding no sign of a night shirt of bed robe anywhere in the knotted bed clothes.
“Your words are as foul as your mind. This is clearly not what it appears. Our Lord has been nothing but kind and generous to you and yours. He has not let past grievances colour his conduct; conduct which has ever been ever solicitous and kind to the weaker genders. There is an explanation here beyond what your salacious thoughts and you will hold your tongue until we know it!”
Edrahil too, Finrod felt embarrassment heat his ears, was laying on the melodrama thickly though there as proud pleasure to be found in such a stalwart defence. If only he could be assured that Edrahil was not impinging his own honour.
The evidence was not compelling.
“What,” Celegorm then asked behind Finrod, voice husky and molten with familiar temper, “is all of this?”
A finger poked him sharp between the ridges of his spine.
He turned his head again and Celegorm’s dark gaze matched his and he swore the colour paled by two shades in shock. His cousin had not recognised him, he realised, and watched Celegorm’s darting expressions as he took in the room, as much as he could see. The moment Finrod saw Celegorm realise he was not in the bedroom he recalled falling asleep in was a devastation through him because that depth of horror and fear… yes that was fear he saw, should never have been allowed in Nargothrond’s safe embrace.
“Where is – what this- why are you- you…” each sentence fragmented with a dry rough cough, then Celegorm seemed to run out of energy and words and so gestured violently at him for a moment before tiring even for that, arm flopping down onto the mattress and head following though there was no dilution to the confused rage in his eyes.
At least Celegorm had something as reassuringly solid as rage to fall back on.
Finrod was simply confused, though irritation was starting to give him a something to hold onto.
“Your brother is claiming I took advantage of you in your heat,” Celegorm looked to be falling asleep but snapped straight back awake with a snort of laughter that turned into a groan of pain.
“Don’t be asinine, I am a null. Everyone knows I am a null,” for some reason Celegorm sounded even angrier when he said this.
“Brother even you know that a null might display a gender later in life than usual,” Curufin said and his tone was no longer sharp or mocking or saccharine but almost tender; almost sympathetic. “You shunned the healers when you began to show your symptoms and only locked yourself away once you had nested.”
Celegorm was silent, blinking his only movements for such a long time that Finrod’s lungs burned and he realised he was holding his breath.
“Curufin,” violent and dark things slipped between each syllable “you are being a fool.”
Curufin sighed but it was laced heavily with indulgent affection. There was no pretence to it. It was completely genuine. Finrod had never heard the like of it leave Curufin before and it increased the feeling of his having lost a good grip on reality.
“Perhaps,” said one of Finrod’s lords, a null named Aewu, whose aunt had been his mother’s handmaiden, “we might discuss this with Lord Finrod and Lord Celegorm more alert and less addled. Whatever has happened here, they are both ill-suited right now for this discussion. They have not been seen for three days. We can at least assume they have not eaten in those three days. Perhaps not slept.”
“I agree,” Celegorm rose to sit, “get the fuck out.”
Edhrahil made a noise of pure rage, “you are in Lord Finrod’s bedchamber-“
“I see that,” Celegorm sneered back, pushing fly away hair back off his neck and his face with irritated flicks of his fingers. One such hit something and with a hiss of pain he pressed his palm to the side of his neck. Finrod had not seen what it was. Celegorm’s hair had begun to unravel when he had sat up, pulled free of the mangled braid where it stuck to unwashed skin.
“I also see something that resembles my nightshirt behind you and while I do not care if you see me, I am disinterested in your squeals of outrage if I was to just go on my way.”
Curufin, who appeared to have been born without self-preservation or the ability to obey a simple order darted forward and grabbed Celegorm’s wrist. Finrod surged across the bed to drag the other alpha’s hold away with a pulse of rage so quick it was like ignition of the dark powder the khazad used for their greater mining.
It achieved nothing good though. Only what Curufin had been trying to do anyway which was pull Celegorm’s hand away from his neck and the deep bite on the side of it, some of the scabbing rubbed away and so allowing a few thin, fresh lines of escaping blood.
The flesh was around it was puffy and irritated, bruising a spectacular violet.
“You have even punctured the gland,” Curufin’s voice was flat but his eyes, hidden from the other lords in the room by how his head was lowered to look at the wound, creased in malicious delight. His finger rose and touched the deepest part of the bite where Finrod, despairing, saw he must have dragged his jaw down to widen the wound. And more than despair that black sudden rage that Curufin was touching the bite at all.
Celegorm jolted and his confused distress at the powerful reaction only increased the despair setting up a house within Finrod’s chest.
“You have punctured the gland and bound yourself for life. There is no escaping what you have done dear cousin Finrod.”