He first found Maglor by the sea.
By that time he had crossed the continent several times, going nowhere at all, avoiding anyone he saw, but it had been long years, and Doriath had fallen, and surely none remembered his name anymore. So he went to the sea, just to look, and thought of the land they said was hidden far out across the water, and wondered if he would ever long for it. At the moment, it felt as though he longed for nothing.
Everything he knew was gone.
But the shores were not empty this day, and he could see the elf crouched black against the light of the setting sun at the very edges of the water, still as death itself, and realized that he had forgotten how lonely he had been, all this time.
The elf did not look up, did not move. Daeron took a few steps toward him, hesitating, realizing that he had almost forgotten how to use his voice. "I," he began, but then the stranger's head turned and looked at him, and his eyes were red-rimmed and full of death. "Come no closer," he said in a voice that was raw and tattered, and Daeron froze, and was afraid. "Stay away from me."
He would have left then, had it been any other day. He should have left then. But what did he fear? He needed to live, but there was no weapon with this elf, and his hands were clenched in the wet sand, the water washing over his feet and hands. And those eyes – those eyes.
"No," he said, quietly, voice still rough from disuse. He sang, but singing was not the same as talking, and talking to himself held no appeal. The wave splashed over them both, this time, soaking them to the skin, and Daeron reached out, slowly, and took the elf's arm, and said, softly, "Come with me?"
Why he ever offered, Daeron never knew. But he was always surprised that the stranger shuddered, whole body moving with something like agony, and made a soft sound, and obeyed, rising. He was Noldor, by his height and face, but at the moment that didn't matter. They were grieving, and that conferred its own sort of special kinship.
Daeron brought him back to where he had left his own gear and harp, just over the hill, and saw his – not friend, charge, perhaps – lay eyes longingly on the instrument, but tear them away, as if even to look cost him too much. Daeron nodded at the bedroll, still uncertain, but – "Sleep," he suggested, gently, and without a word the stranger curled up on the ground, not on the bedding, and closed his maddened eyes.
He had not known, then, who he had taken in. Of course he had not. There had been word, of course, and the world had shaken itself apart so profoundly that no one could have missed the full of what had happened, but how was he to know that Maglor, second son of Fëanor, had fallen into his hands? He only slept, for a long time, while Daeron kept watch, and those were the only times he would see Maglor sleep soundly for a very long time afterward.
Even when he woke, he did not speak for a long time, and it was once, waking up after a rare few moments of napping, that Daeron found the stranger looking at his hands, examining his palms as if they would tell him some great secret.
"What is it," Daeron asked, not really expecting an answer, and the elf lowered his hands and held them out, palm up, and Daeron sucked his breath in through his teeth. Red, angry, blistering burns covered the skin. They must have been agonizing. Looking at the stranger's face, he could only see that lurking madness barely at bay, and the overwhelming sadness. No pain. Perhaps there was no room for it.
"They need to be tended," he said, shocked, surprised that he cared. How long had it been since he'd cared about anyone?
"No," said the elf, the first words he'd spoken since Daeron had found him there on the beach. "No, they need to scar. Some things don't heal. Some things never heal." He pulled his hands to his chest and began to rock back and forth and keen, quietly, as though his heart was cracking apart.
Daeron did not understand and did not reach out, leaving the strange, mad elf to his grieving. To mourn was something that could only be done alone, or so he thought then, and to ask would have been heartless, without feeling.
They did not move away from the sea. Daeron waited, and after that night there was never one where he was not awakened, or kept awake, by the cries of his companion, building into screams that tore like claws at the heart Daeron had forgotten he had as the stranger pressed his face into the ground and dug his burnt hands into the earth. One of those dreams gave him his answer to the question he had never wanted to ask but perhaps known the answer to all the same.
He wept, hands clenching in the dirt, and whispered a name with all the agony in the world, "Maitimo," And Daeron knew.
When Maglor woke, Daeron watched him with new wariness, suddenly uncertain. He could not connect this to the prince he had glimpsed so very long ago, proud and tall and close with his other brothers, regal and confident. He thought of the eyes he had seen that first moment of contact, and wondered if he had guessed and simply not wanted to know.
Maglor curled up, drawing his long legs away from the small fire, and looked away. "You know," he said, and Daeron could see his hands curled into themselves and tried not to think about how it would hurt.
"I know," he agreed, and Maglor nodded. There was a silence. Slowly, as Daeron watched, he began to uncurl, awkwardly, and moved to push himself to his feet.
"Thank you," he said, awkwardly. "For your generosity." Daeron looked at him, and could see nothing, for a moment, but the crushing guilt and sorrow in eyes that in this light seemed nearly black.
"You know me?" He blurted out. Maglor looked almost confused.
"Does it matter who you are?"
Daeron almost felt a pang that he had not been recognized. No one knew his name. Perhaps, though, that was not such an ill thing. "I'm Daeron. Of Doriath." He saw Maglor flinch, his eyes closing slowly.
"Why," he asked, after a moment, still not fully standing, and Daeron took a moment to understand. Finally, he shook his head.
"I don't know. If nothing else, maybe you can understand what I feel where no one else can."
"Even when I am the cause of it?" Maglor's eyes were fixed, for once, as they rarely were. Daeron wondered, finding it difficult to sustain that gaze, what it would be like to watch your family die around you, and at the last to watch your brother fling himself into fire and be unable to stop it.
"Are you angry," Daeron asked, suddenly, "With them?" Trusting that Maglor would know who he spoke of, and not quite knowing why he asked. Was he himself angry with Lúthien for her choice? Perhaps. Yes.
Maglor hesitated, his expression spasming, a moment. He sat down, slowly, and looked at his hands, again. "I tried to catch him," he said, in a voice suddenly hoarse. "Tried to hold him back. The skin came away from my hands and it wasn't hard enough, I wasn't strong enough." Daeron wanted to apologize, but the words stuck in his throat. He looked down himself. "Forgive me," said Maglor, after a moment, and turned away, but even trying not to listen he could hear the soft muffled weeping.
Daeron hung back, but it was too much, and he crawled across the line dividing them and laid a hand on his shoulder, the second time they had touched, and wondered how his eyes could be so dry.
The next morning, Daeron made Maglor allow him to wrap his hands, at least, and neither of them spoke much. There were no more words to say. "When you heal," Daeron said, though, just once, "You'll need a harp. I want to hear you play."
Maglor shook his head. "I broke mine," he whispered. "I shattered the wood and cast it into the sea, with my sword and – everything. I cannot allow myself music."
"No," Daeron said, carefully, "It's the only thing you can allow yourself."
They moved away from the sea. Daeron felt no tug toward it, and the world was just barely beginning to reassemble. The storms were unpredictable to say the least, and Maglor's eyes looked out over the waters too often for Daeron's comfort.
They spoke to no one, avoiding the few pockets of people or elves they found, which suited both of them. Speech was infrequent, except in the dark, when Maglor stayed awake rather than to dream and Daeron stayed awake to keep him company. Then, eyes hidden after the fire had burned out, they told stories of 'I remember.'
"I remember," Daeron said. "I remember halls of marble and dancing in the woods. I remember first knowing the taste of bitterness." And Maglor would reply with a memory of his own, of Valinor, of his brothers, of something, and they would go back and forth until it hurt too much to say.
The nightmares got no better. They seemed to get worse. There was one night where Maglor thrashed and screamed in his sleep, howling louder than ever, and Daeron held him for the first time, wrapping his arms around his chest and holding him as tightly as he could manage as his companion fought him and fought him and finally turned and cried into his shoulder. Maglor's arms went around his shoulders and clung to him, and they stayed like that for a long time, rocking back and forth and holding each other.
They needed it, both of them.
Daeron woke to find Maglor awake, some nights, just watching him sleep. "What are you afraid of," Maglor asked suddenly, one of those nights, and Daeron was taken off guard.
"I'm afraid of forgetting," he said, finally. "As long as I remember those who died, a piece of them will still be alive." Maglor nodded, slowly, and Daeron did not ask him to answer the same question. If he wanted to talk, he would talk.
"They weren't bad people," said Maglor, finally, sounding almost sick. "They weren't. I knew them all and I know that. Not that it matters anymore. It won't save them now."
Daeron stayed silent, keeping his own anger to himself, but Maglor was not done.
"But they are dead," he said, nearly moaned. "They are dead, and everything is over. I wish they would leave me alone."
Daeron tensed. "What do they say?" He made his voice quiet, because if it were any louder it would vibrate with anger, and he allowed himself no anger, not now. What right did he have to be angry, a traitor in his own way? And in this broken thing, there was nothing he could be angry at.
Maglor looked at his bandaged hands, and said quietly, without looking up, "They tell me to die. They tell me that I need to be with them again." His eyes were dark and blank and might have gone on into infinity for all that Daeron could see in them, looking down at the dying embers of their fire. "I have followed long enough."
The following morning, he was gone. The bandages, unwrapped and stained with fluid of blisters and blood, were stranded on the ground. Everything else remained untouched.
Daeron did not grieve for him, because Maglor was not his to grieve for. He buried the bandages and moved on.
They met again, in the South, during the years of the Third Age. Maglor looked no older, and his eyes were just as dark and full of crushing guilt as they had been, but he was alive, and his palms were now scarred instead of burned. Daeron did not ask to see them, and Maglor made no effort to hide them.
"What do you think," Daeron asked, in the quiet tavern they had found, sipping water in a corner, "Of this war?"
Maglor did not look up. "The ring was made by my nephew. My only nephew. I heard he is dead now."
Daeron had heard the same, but said nothing. It was none of his business, and he knew too much of it to tell. "You could help," he said, softly. "You know more than many there. It has been a long time. For most, memories are legend, and any ally is welcome."
"I will never take up a sword again," said Maglor, very softly, "Nor any other weapon. No. This world is not mine to defend." He dropped his eyes. "And Artanis would know me still. And others."
"The remnants are fading," Daeron said, "Passing over the sea. Those who stay die. Will you go?"
"There is no place for me there," said Maglor, quietly, setting his glass down. "And you?"
"Not yet," said Daeron, knowing that he would never cross the sea. Not so long as there was still land to stand on here. Not so long as Maglor stayed. They remained in silence, understanding why they did not speak.
"Do you still think of your siblings," Daeron asked, because he needed something to say, and Maglor looked at him, his eyes too sad to weep. All of his tears had dried up long ago.
"Do you still think of your love?"
"Every day," Daeron said, softly, and Maglor nodded.
Maglor had his harp, and Daeron played his flute. They found a quiet place and played long into the night, exhausting their lungs, minds, and bodies until they could collapse together, and for the second time Daeron held Maglor close and pushed the hair back from his forehead and sang him into restless sleep, wishing he could let his own tears fall.
They stayed together for some time, then, but the earth shook, there was word from the north that the war was over, and when Daeron went to find Maglor to tell him, he was gone again. Daeron went north and crept into the passing procession of the last Elves in Middle-Earth, and watched them crown a man king. No one looked at him, hardly seeming to realize what he was.
They would leave, and he would stay. He had forsworn his home. He regretted it not at all. The world would turn, and take him with it, and he would remember, until he was the only one who knew what any of this meant.
The lights were too bright. They blinded him, glaring, flashing, beacons that turned the sky from inky black to purple-gray. He closed his eyes and let the curtain fall. "Well. Here we are again." Daeron's voice was heavy with the kind of weariness that no mortal will ever know, when time is a weighty and bitter burden, and living each day is a task and not a privilege.
When there was no reply, Daeron turned, looking at the other in the small hotel room. There were sirens in the distance, wailing on and on and on. Maglor stared into the distance, looking at nothing.
"Here we are again." His hands were folded in his lap, and he looked up slowly, gray eyes shot through with blood again, red rimmed with sleepless nights, grim with pain more profound than depression. "Daeron…we are the only ones who remember," he said.
"I know," Daeron said. His chest ached, heart squeezing like a cold hand closed around it.
"We are the only ones…who know that we ever existed." Maglor's face sank into his hands. "The only ones who remember what this was. Are we no more than memories ourselves?"
Daeron swallowed, and moved to sit down on the bed next to Maglor, but he was not done. "What if we forget," he said, sounding almost urgent. "What if we forget what we are. Will it be as if we never…existed?"
Daeron blinked, confused. "—Maglor, what are you saying?"
"I dream," he said, and his voice was full of tears. "I dream I am standing on one of the tall buildings, and the wind lifts me up and holds me, and my hands are burning, and all I have to do is step forward and it will all be done with. No more. No more. No more."
Daeron closed his eyes, and wanted to reach out but did not dare. "I can't," Maglor said. "It wouldn't be enough. It would never be enough."
"Mell nín, my dear," Daeron's voice broke, pulling Maglor into an embrace. "I am sorry. I am so sorry." He could do this much, and no more. The lights through the window were blinding, the sounds of the city roared in his ears, and he longed for the silence, longed for the peace, longed for the sea.
"We are the only ones left," Maglor whispered, and Daeron nodded.