I won't pull the trigger
Just to see you die
No remedy to make me come alive
- Hammerfall "Any Means Necessary"
The first thing he registers is the absence of pain. Caranthir draws in a deep breath, out of habit, but his chest isn't hurting anymore. Since the darkness around him is thick and unpenetrable, he presses a hand against his torso to make sure. His fingers came away clean, when he finally pulls them away. No blood. Neither his nor that of others. Since his ribs are fine, no longer piercing his lung and his shattered knee is whole again Caranthir can alone draw only one conclusion.
"So I'm dead, hn," he muses and looks down.
His eyes are slowly adjusting, revealing that he's still dressed in fur and armor, just like he was as he rode into Doriath, seeking death and vengeance, not necessarily his own. Caranthir wasn't that mad and suicidal as some of his other siblings, but he isn't that hung up about his demise either.
"Tough luck," Caranthir says to himself and shrugs and checks his surroundings.
He can't see very far, it's a bit like he's standing in the light of a single lamp that attempts to illuminate an entire forest filled with dying people. Shapes flicker around him, taking only a distinctive form when they hit the ground and the spirit leaves the dying body. Around him Caranthir sees fallen snow drenched in blood, broken trees and Elves impaled on swords and twigs.
Perhaps the sight should make him feel remorse, but he only shrugs again. Caranthir bends down to pick up his battle axe. It's a large, vicious thing and served him well so far. Aside from the little glitch where he ended up dying, but that's hardly the fault of the weapon.
His fingers wrap themselves around the handle as someone says, "Are you sure you're going to need this?"
Caranthir raises his head and looks directly into Finrod's eyes. They are bright blue, like the sky. Like they had been in life. His gaze takes in the sight of his cousin. Everything about Finrod screams life. His cousin is dressed in a fine tunic, color has returned into his face and his spirit radiates light in a manner Caranthir has trouble remembering ever seeing before. Finrod looks like a prince once again, as if he just stepped out of the palace in Tirion to greet the waxing of the trees.
"My fight isn't over yet," Caranthir gives his belated response, sounding not very surprised to see his cousin so shortly after his death.
"Please put your weapon down," Finrod pleads, worry carrying his voice. "Please put it away and follow me, Carnistir. We don't have much time."
"I don't see why I should." Caranthir says and straps the axe on his back like he usually does. The weight is familiar and comforting, far more than the sight of Finrod is. Unlike his cousin, his weapon has stayed with him for centuries. "Where I'm headed, I'm going to need it."
"But you don't have to," Finrod yells and grabs Caranthir's sleeve. "Come with me and start over. You can have a better life than this. There's no need for you to keep suffering like this."
A long winding path appears behind Finrod, disappearing into the trees but Caranthir can see the end. All he would have to do is hold on to the glowing thread and follow his cousin. He can imagine where to, it's not that difficult to guess.
"Funny," Caranthir snorts and pries Finrod's fingers off his wrist. "How come you're suddenly concerned about what pain I might feel? Did you have some Valar induced relevation when you died? Or what did they do that you turned from a bastard back into a person with emotions again?"
Finrod has the decency to flinch back and though Caranthir truly believes that his cousin and former lover might genuinely care about his wellbeing, it's far too late to change the course history has taken.
"Carnistir, please." Finrod holds back a desperate cry and refrains from touching his cousin again. "I know, you're angry at me and we've had issues in the past, but can we please discuss this once you've come inside? I fear for your soul."
While he was speaking, Caranthir had held back and remained quiet, studied Finrod and realized that he looked like the beautiful prince of his uncle's family he (had) once fallen in love with. Before his death Caranthir had pretended it never happened. The sweet hours they had spend together were easily forgotten among fighting Morgoth, keeping Orcs out of his lands and surviving harsh winters. But the last sentence makes him laugh and the sound of it harsh and hollow evidence of the years they spend apart.
"Oh Findaráto," Caranthir says and raises his gloved hand to brush over his cousin's cheek. The way Finrod is dressed it seems that the doesn't feel the cold, so the Fëanorian assumes that the enviroment doesn't actually look like ransacked Doriath to him. "You're trying too hard."
Finrod puts his own hand over Caranthir's, whispering, "Don't go."
For a moment he considers the offer. Following Finrod into Námo's halls wouldn't be too difficult, the path is easy to find despite all the warnings the Doomsman issued upon their Exile. What waits him is easy to guess. Punishment, though a lighter sentence if he repents, follows the rules laid out to him and claim that the Oath drove him mad. The Valar would be strict, but gentle, convinced that the House of Fëanor may be redeemed since they fell under Morgoth'’ Shadow a long time ago and a son cannot be blamed for being loyal to his father.
"I loved you once," Caranthir confesses and draws Finrod into an embrace. The hug feels familiar, the body of his fair-haired cousin pressed against his own and the temptation definitely exists, to go with Finrod in order to have this again.
Who knows, maybe they would release him, grant him a body one day, if he behaves well enough, forswears never to harm another Elf again and they he would be given to Finrod as a reward. He would live in Valinor, see his mother again and be content.
Yet in the end it's just a fantasy. A golden, perfect dream that died a long time ago.
Anger flashes through his eyes and suddenly Caranthir pushes Finrod away from him.
Confusion shows in his cousin's face, who already believed he won the argument.
"I loved you once," Caranthir repeats, this time with heat and fury in his voice. "But I'm no longer the blushing boy with his awkward social behavior and his too long limbs. I've changed since then, Findaráto. A lot. Unlike you I've spend the majority of my life fighting and killing. Each day I struggled to survive and protect my people, while you held feasts in your grand and glorious city. You died a poetic death and they'll sing about your sacrifice for centuries to come."
Disbelief shines in Finrod's beautiful eyes. For him it's incomprehensible what Caranthir is saying. Probably he barely recognizes the person in front of him, who was once his lover. Which is not a surprise, since they have seen each other only a handful of times since they came to Beleriand.
They have lived different lives. Before his death, Caranthir might have felt hate towards Finrod for abandoning him. For not being there, when Aegnor and Angrod died. For putting his brothers into an impossible position, when Beren came to Nargothrond.
Had Caranthir met Finrod in a dream or even flesh yesterday, he would've ripped him apart. Torn into him with hate and cutting remarks to protect himself from the pain he nursed over the years. Perhaps he'd have beaten him black and blue with his fists or pushed him against a wall to fuck him senseless. Now he can barely muster up the strength to glare at Finrod, let alone imagine becoming intimate with him once again.
Just as he turns around to leave, his cousin calls out to him again, "You deserve better. You're throwing your life away."
Caranthir glances over his shoulder. Finrod seems irritated, angry even. A beautiful sight - yet it doesn't wake passionate emotions inside him like it used to. He can't pinpoint the moment when Finrod's opinion stopped mattering to him, but looking back it becomes clear that neither of them loved the other enough to invest time and energy for regular visits.
After Finrod handed Minas Tirith over to Orodreth, Nargothrond was just too far away and Caranthir couldn't afford leaving his people alone for so long, just for some sweet time in Finrod's bed. In the end his fear that something would happen to Maglor in his absence outweighed the prospect of having Finrod in his arms again.
"You are a damned fool, Fëanorian." Finrod's yell echoes through Doriath, but it's drowned out by the noise of metal meeting steel.
And Caranthir's own laughter.
"Congratulations for finally speaking the truth for once," he calls back and walks deeper into the darkness. Away from Finrod and the golden memories of his youth and towards the Spirits gathering in the distance.
They're dressed in armor, wear scars and polished blades. Some are still bleeding, a few struggle with their new existence in death, but all are excited to see him. They wave, cry out in joy and call his name. A part of him is glad to see so many friends and missed faces. Another part mourns the fact they're dead as well. Yet, when he spots Celegorm reuniting with Huan and Curufin embracing his wife, both of them looking better than a few hours ago, Caranthir guessed he isn't the only one who left behind some weight when he left behind his mortal shell.
A last glance up the hill he just wandered down reveals that Finrod is still standing there, lost and alone. Realizing that he came too late. His appearance is straight out of a picture, maybe directly painted from the many in Caranthir's memories, but it's not enough.
Finrod is not enough to make him go back.
A small, tiny part of him, though, wants to apologize.
"I'm a soldier, Ingoldo," is all that Caranthir can offer as explanation, since Finrod still seems to be waiting for something. "I was born to live and die in this war."
And despite his cold corpse on the forest floor, Caranthir knows it isn't over yet. Out of the corner of his eyes he sees Finrod dissolve into golden dust, vanishing with a breeze of the wind, but he barely pays attention to it. All his anger, his pain and his loneliness vanishes the moment a figure steps into the clearing.
Voices fall silent as their fallen King, bright and brilliant as ever, steps out of the void. The darkness parts for him, moves away like a curtain or a faithful servant.
Caranthir holds his breath as his father walks up to him. When he stops right in front of him, Caranthir notices that he's taller. He's taller than his father. A strangled noise leaves his mouth, a mix of a cry and the attempt to laugh, because... he had forgotten that particular fact. After Maitimo, Caranthir is one of the tallest in their family, he's the most broad shouldered as well.
Next to his armor and the furs he still wears Fëanor almost looks skinny.
"Ada," Caranthir breathes, tears freely running down his cheeks. "Ada, you're here."
"My son, it's good to see you." Fëanor says, smiles and Finrod is left forgotten.
I am not judgemental
A sinner nor a saint
Cause either you're my best friend or you ain't
- Hammerfall "Any Means Necessary"