* * *
Hell is empty, and all the devils are here.
This is not quite true. Or as Maedhros would say, my metaphor's distant enough that it wouldn't be able to find its own ass with a telescope.
My cousin has a great way with words.
The world has changed in ways that leave even the Powers bewildered. They no longer talk to us, nor walk among us. When the cat is away, the mice will play. It helps that we've got what amounts to our own airline now.
After the three-hundredth twist on bribery, blackmail or outright begging, Earendil threw a fit and set up a price table. In American dollars, which he uses to keep Elwing in Manolo Blahnik heels and Luis Vuitton bags.
And so Tirion is empty. All the souls are here.
* * *
I'm sitting up against the headboard, trying to read. I was the one who got to the room's air conditioning last, so the temperature is high enough that, next to me, Maedhros is sleeping on top of the covers.
He rolls over, his hand falling over my thigh. I can no longer keep the politics and family feuds in the book straight. Which is a pity: I may have found the one fictional clan that's more dysfunctional than our own. I must remember to recommend the book to my uncle.
Maedhros' fingernails are the colour of old gold, gild rubbed off by hundreds of years of swordwork and love. If I had not seen him hunched over with three different bottles of nail polish earlier, I would not believe it was not true metal.
His forearm is now across my legs. He is tactile, like all of his branch of the family. You might not expect it, but they are: from Ambarussa's habit of curling up to anyone who can serve as a head-rest (and I can assure you, even one Fëanorian redhead leaning on you is damn heavy) to Caranthir's way of pinning you against a wall when he wants to drive his point home. I remember that when I see Fëanor all but wrapped around Nerdanel in press photos from art exhibitions.
She had her latest show in London, and afterwards we danced on Tower Bridge at three in the morning.
I put the book down and stare out the window. The lights are bright, too bright for it to be night, but everything is too bright those days. Give me a village somewhere, with sputtering street lamps and the light spilling out the door of the only pub. Tokyo is a world away, and far too close.
Arms wrap around my waist, and he pushes his face into my hair. "Admiring the view?"
I shrug. "With you, even Tokyo is tolerable."
I feel him smile. "Get dressed. We'll see the sights."
* * *
I think I should really learn the language, but I'm still hoping that Maedhros will cease his love affair with this strange land. My refusal to attempt these strange sounds and melodies is a passive hint to him: why don't we go somewhere nicer? Ireland, Brittany, Wales. Somewhere where I can read people's faces as easily as their minds.
Right now, I'd settle for Los Angeles.
Maedhros moves with a purpose: right, left, through a shopping arcade and out through street stalls, in a maze more complicated than Formenos' cellars. I put my hand in his as he leads the way. We're tall, strange beings from the West to those peoples eyes; they will not see me stranger for this little display of affection, and it eases my heart.
Suddenly my cousin stops, making me stumble into him. He drags me to his side, until he can touch his lips to my ear. It's not necessary: we're standing in a pocket of quiet on the noisy street.
His breath mists in the cold air. Around us, the people move in jackets and scarves and hats, but he's wearing a windbreaker open over a t-shirt. Even in Himring, his skin was never cold.
"Let's eat," he says.
I follow his suit and pull myself closer as I answer. "I thought we were going to see the sights?"
Takeout ends up being little slivers of chicken on sticks, with a sweet sauce that drips down my fingers. It reminds me of the experiments of Falathrim cooks, and I make a note to ask Cirdan if he's tried sushi yet.
* * *
I sit on a werewolf and watch Maedhros pursue round, bright things. The arcade is monothematic: the broken Werewolf Island pinball I'm sitting on is the only one that's not a strange vertical offspring of a pinball game and a slot machine.
There's a little arch to Maedhros' lower lip as his fingers wrap around the handle. A clang of metal on metal, and a small ball shoots upwards, bouncing from the pins. Left, right, up, down and bouncing again. His eyes follow it, and his head tilts as the ball hits the target. The slots spin, reflected in his eyes. The clattering wheels come up with three random pictures, a combination whose meaning I can't decipher, and the arch of his lip deepens.
His concentration on the machine, and mine on him, are so complete that neither of us notices the newcomer until he leans on the same pinball table I'm sitting on.
He's one of us, that much is clear at once. He's looking at Maedhros, and I can't see his face, so I amuse myself by guessing.
Blond hair in a loose ponytail, which is a puzzle in itself. His body is too slightly built to be Noldorin, and none of the Vanyar would be caught dead in a Tokyo pachinko parlour. They keep to the best hotels, franchise establishments that look the same in Paris and Bangkok, and their idea of slumming is a walk on Picadilly Circus. Nandor, then, and the impression is strengthened by the worn jeans and t-shirt. "Save the rainforest" - he could just as well be sporting a "Greenwood lives on" badge.
And he's looking at Maedhros with vigilance, but also self-assurance. One king looking at another. Seeing as the last I heard, Oropher had dragged Gil-Galad on a trek through the Himalayas...
"Well-met, Lord Thranduil."
He nods at me. His eyes are Moriquendi-bleak, but a smile still does wonders for them. I have heard enough from Elrond to know how rare an occurrence it is.
"And to you, Lord Fingon," he answers me in the Sindarin tongue.
I switch to English; there are too many people here. "I didn't think I'd see you in Tokyo."
"They've got great ideas about trash disposal, but also trouble with environmental activists. A company arranged tours to convince people."
I nod. Thranduil's a big fish in one of the eco-NGOs. Something like Greenpeace, but with a lower profile. And much more effective.
"Are you going to call in the ents down on them?" Maedhros' eyes never move from the pachinko machine, sending ball after ball into the air.
"Not yet." And Thranduil grins.
Now that my attention is not so narrowly focused, I see the woman approach us. She's Japanese, late teens or early twenties. Hair bleached silver, skin tanned almost black, silver lips and eyelids.
"Randy, who're your friends?" She slurs her words a little, as if she's had too much to drink. She pronounces Thranduil's human alias as Ran-dee, the second syllable stretched out and lilting. She hands him a can of Kirin Fire; she sips from another.
"I'm Val." I point at Maedhros, who's still busy with his machine "That's Michael."
"I'm Michiru Satoo, nice to meet you! Are you-"
But whatever she means to say is lost in the clatter of balls falling out of the machine, so many that some spill on the floor. Maedhros throws his head back and laughs triumphantly. Michiru claps her hands and yells something in Japanese. She hugs him as he gets up; he picks her up, puts her back down and bows to kiss her hand.
She's flushed, and her crimped hair is mussed. "You have to come to party with us!" she announces.
Maedhros slips a hand over my shoulder as we leave the parlour.
* * *
The shadows swim in front of my eyes.
A hand closes around my wrist.
"Daijoubu ka?" A girl's voice, high and melodic. Then in English, "Are you all right?"
Her fingers are warm, and it scares me. Human skin normally feels cold to us.
"Just jetlag," I mutter. "We flew in yesterday..."
Another hand on the back of my neck, and she's tugging me somewhere. I follow; it's simpler than deciding for myself.
I was never very good at choosing my own course of action.
A door, a corridor and bright lights that hurt my sight. I cannot close my eyes, because the girl is holding them open.
"It's good, even pupils, react to light," she announces. "Come."
The kitchen looks like an Angmarian nightmare, black stone and polished steel. The girl props me on a stool, then turns to the refrigerator.
There's a small television set in front of me, turned on. Asian peasants in a wooden room, strange rhythmic sounds. After a moment, I realize it's a song, of no harmony or meaning I can identify.
A glass of water in my hand, and a hand on my shoulder. She smiles at the screen; in the dim light she is all chiseled features and feathered black hair, Robin Goodfellow from one of the legends that twist the truth out of any recognition.
"What's this movie?" I ask.
She glances at a newspaper on top of the television. "Ame Agaru," she says. "After the Rain. Last Kurosawa samurai script."
I don't realize I've drained the glass until she takes it from me and refills it.
"You come here alone?"
I shake my head to clear it. "With Michael O'Fale - tall Irish guy, long red hair. You can't miss him."
Her hand moves to the back of my head. "I get him. You bend your head down, this will make you feel better."
Her high heels echo on the tiled floor, sharp counterpoint to the screeching song from the television. I wait.
* * *
Tokyo spreads under our feet. I realize I don't recall who had the idea to come to the upper viewing platform, who talked the guards into letting us up even though midnight has been and gone.
The orange light makes us look alien. Like strange spirits from another era, travelers far from home in both time and space.
"It's the winter light," Maedhros says. "In the summer, the Tower is lit with white light. Winter light is warmer."
I don't feel the warmth. The light fits the heavy clouds over the city. They shine with the reflected orange glow.
My eyes are turned, but I hear my cousin shift. The metal hoops in his right ear clink against each other.
"Why are you here? You don't like the country. You don't know the language. You find the people confusing. You're cold." The Quenya words seem foreign suddenly, and I realize he uses Japanese intonation, monotonous and soft.
I have only one answer. "I have no place to go."
His hair looks like fire. I would not mind if it burned me, but it's just warm when I bury my face in it. He holds me tightly.
Above us, the first snowflakes spiral down. Crystal perfection.
Let it snow.
Oh the weather outside is frightful
But the fire is so delightful
And since we've no place to go
Let it snow, let it snow, let it snow
- lyrics by Sammy Cahn