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There were three types of pubs in Angband: first class, second class, and third class. However, though the quality of the pubs ran in the predictable order of first class serving the best to third class serving the worst, most of the residents of Angband preferred (for themselves) the second and third class pubs. This was for the very simple reason that there was only one first class pub in Angband and it was the pub of choice of Morgoth, the Dark Lord of the times and arguably the most sadistic and nasty individual on Middle-earth, and from the perspective of the other residents of Angband, the individual in front of which one should never get sloshed.

But this said, Morgoth was not one who liked to drink alone. At the end of a day, he wanted to have an ear to rant into about the downfalls of his last twenty-four hours - preferably an ear that was attached to an attentive... and for that matter live individual, and if he was not satisfied with an ear, then he would be in an even worse mood the following day and this boded badly for those immediately below him in rank.

Sauron was one of these individuals. Indeed, he was the Dark Lord's lieutenant - his right-hand-man - and so by extension he had a vested interest in keeping out of Morgoth's little black book. His rank afforded him a lot of significant privileges - so many in fact, that, in spite of his rank also condemning him to having to indulge Morgoth with his ear each night he was in the kingdom, he thought that all in all everything weighed up more to his advantage than disadvantage at the end of the day.

Today, had not one been of those days. Today, he was definitely willing to bet that being lieutenant to the Dark Lord was more hard work than it was worth. As he staggered, in wolf-form, through the fetid black masses of orcs that crowded around the third-class pubs in the pits of Angband towards a second-class pub, some of the orcs nearest paused to watch him limp along, dripping blood over the comatose bodies of orcs who had already drunk themselves into a stupor, uncertain if it was even Sauron or their next meal - last they had heard, the lieutenant was abroad and haunting the forests of Taur-nu-Fuin. A few drunk and over-bold orcs and a few snaps from the wolf's canines quickly answered that inquiry, though, and the more sober orcs watched mutedly as the wolf, growling warningly deep in its throat, heaved its bulk through the creaky doors of the second-class pub and disappeared into the flickering shadows.

The shadows were flickering, not because there was a fire inside the pub... well, there was in a sense - this particular pub was frequented by balrogs. As Sauron ventured in, swaying slightly with exhaustion and a number of other emotions that burned at his spirit, those who were nearest to the door slowly turned their heads to look at him curiously and then, as some of them recognised him... with more than a little respect. And fear.

"You want me to look at those cuts of yours, Sir?" One of the balrogs who had been sitting at the bar now came forward to offer him a respectful, albeit clawed and... well, burning, hand. Sauron shook him off with a growl. Then, with a painful shudder and horrible wheezing breath, the Maia shape-shifted back into the humanoid form that was more commonly associated with his name in these parts.

"Drink, then?" the balrog offered. Sauron looked at him beadily and then, with a snort and curt nod, silently accepted the offer and followed the balrog over to the bar to make his order. The other occupants at the bar shifted their seats a bit further away, though they continued to gaze at him curiously.

"You look terrible," the balrog proclaimed, after Sauron had taken a few sips of his blood-laced drink. "Like orc-shit."

Sauron lowered the skull that contained his drink and turned his head slowly to stare long and hard at him. The balrog faltered slightly. "Well, it was just an expression, Sir. Did not mean to insult your appearance. In fact, you are far from ugly. Quite the opposite," he added, in a softer, rather subdued voice that hinted at something that really was not very balrog-like and big and scary at all, but rather playful and naughty and... well, almost amorous.

Sauron stared at him for a few more moments and then looked back at his drink. "It has been an awful day," he said softly, tiredly.

"Awful as in... a little worse than normal, Sir? Or really awful awful? And that said, you do not usually hang out here - have not seen you in Angband for the past fifty years, come to think of it. Something wrong that you wanna share, Sir?" the balrog pressed.

Sauron turned his head and resumed staring at him until the balrog faltered again.

"Well, Sir," the balrog clarified, looking very humbled, "only wanted to make you comfortable, Sir. Pubs are for drinking; not meaning to soften you up and take advantage of you or anything, Sir. Would not dare, if you know what I mean." He shifted uncomfortably in his seat. The pub was painfully quiet.

Slowly, Sauron looked him up and down. Then he looked back at his drink and took another long swallow. "An awful day," he repeated softly.

"You looked mighty beat-up. What happened? Have a fight out there?"

Sauron gave no response so the balrog pressed on. "Reluctant to say? Shape-shifting trick? Fell down a cliff?" He drifted off-topic. "I'm enlisted to go to Gondolin next month; hope I do not fall down a cliff - always had a touch of vertigo - and if I do, I'll damn well drag a silly elven twink down with me." He laughed loudly, bracingly; it was a nice sound for a balrog.

Sauron rolled a bleeding shoulder and the balrog, guessing that to be interest in his rambling, added, "Going there with Captain Gothmog. Eru, I have always wanted to fight with him."

"Have fun," Sauron said humourlessly.

"Will do, Sir! Thank you, Sir!" the balrog piped up cheerfully. Then his smile settled back to one of concern and curiousity. "Anyway, back to your injuries. How about you tell me about them, Sir?"

Sauron opened up a little; perhaps the drink was easing his tongue. "I have not been in Morgoth's good books lately," he admitted. "I failed to report back immediately after the Silmaril incident; did not dare at the time."

"Oh." In the pub, some of the other patrons exchanged knowing, but sympathetic looks. Sauron took another gulp of his drink. The balrog, seeing that Sauron's skull was almost empty, silently gestured to the bar attendant to refill it.

"So did you see him today, then?" the balrog asked. Sauron nodded mutely and rolled his sore shoulder again. The balrog exhaled hard between his fangs - it came out as a low hiss. "Ah, well, that explains why you look messed up, then."

"It is not that," Sauron said, raising a hand to push back some of his long black locks that had fallen over his shoulder when he had moved it; the balrog followed the motion distractedly, "he asked me to help him come up with some new creature designs; bloody painful awful... shitty work." He reached for the refilled drink and took a large gulp from it. "Hate that work."

"Never been acquainted with it, myself," the balrog said. "Cannot shape-shift, you see, so cannot really understand your meaning, see?"

Sauron straightened in his chair and turned towards him. "Well, it is like this," he said, apparently decided to go on his rant and face the consequences, if there were any, "he wants me to bloody make him a killing machine that is not based on anything known on Middle-earth. I say to him, 'Well, how about this!' and I come up with something invisible, something so deadly and small and numerous that it can slip into any creature and kill it through infecting it. I call it a plague. And he says, 'not plausible and not scary enough'. So I make him a transparent - almost invisible - creature that can morph into any shape, go anywhere, get through all sorts of barriers. 'Can barely see it - not scary at all', he says to me. So I make him a creature that can fly and swim and walk, a spy that can go anywhere regardless of its prey. 'Looks harmless - not scary', he says. So I ask him to make up his own design and he asks me to put my head on my foot, stick my fingers on my nose, grow acne and hair, breathe something awful, and look and smell like something that would make any person faint on sight and block such a sight from their memory!"

"So what was the problem?" the balrog asked. "That sounds great!"

"Well, of course the problem was that not only was I so lopsided that I could no longer move, but everyone else in the hall save Morgoth had fainted with disgust and on waking, never remembered what I looked like! That is not scary at all - not if they cannot remember it and I cannot move to do anything harmful!" Sauron, seeing that the balrog was not really understanding his point, exhaled heavily, shook his head and turned back to his skull to drain it again. The balrog gestured for it to be refilled again.

"Well," the balrog ventured after a long pause, "I am not sure what you mean, but I do see that he roughed you up pretty bad. Hope he did not do anything worse, though."

"What?"

The balrog nodded pointedly at Sauron's privates and the lieutenant raised a cold eyebrow. The balrog faltered. "Well," he said, "well, that is good."

The Maia's eyebrow rose higher and the balrog, after looking around warily, leaned closer to him and said, "If you have to go back to him tonight, though, eat first. Best dental floss this side of Arda. Reason I only say this side of Arda, though, is because the Dwarves are something to reckon with, or so I have heard."

Sauron's lips curved into a small, restrained, but definitely humoured smile. "I see."

"Good cheese, too," the balrog added, and leaned back. There was an awkward pause. Sauron shifted slightly in his seat.

Presently, the balrog cleared his throat and said, "Well, do you want something to eat? Or something else to drink? My treat, Sir."

Sauron's smile had not faded. The Maia looked back at his refilled drink and then back at the balrog. "Yes," he said. Then he added, without really thinking, a word he very rarely used because he rarely had a use for it, but which always felt nice on his tongue when he did use it. "Thanks."

The balrog smiled slightly to himself. Perhaps he had a chance with the handsome lieutenant after all. "Pleasure, Sir. And then, maybe you might be interested in coming back to my place? I am happy to have a look at those wounds for you, Sir. Cauterise a few of the worst ones for you, if you like? Mind you, I do not live alone - looking after unlucky Glaurung's little one, Smaug, the poor baby. But he is too young to understand; only understands jewels, that one. Got him a bed of the stuff."

Sauron looked him in the eyes. Then he glanced the balrog up and down a last time before nodding slightly, less curtly and more gently than before. "Yes," he said, his smile broadening - softening. "I would like that."
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