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Things exist long after they're killed

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They left him alone for a while, tied to a chair. Celebrimbor didn't realize they'd stopped, at first; the torment was no longer sudden, but it hurt no less: the mangled flesh of his back, the burns, the poison coursing through his circulatory system. The pain in his ribs (broken or bruised, he couldn't tell) was hardly pain at all, but he had taken a blow to them in the fighting some days past, and breathing had become… well, it was less troublesome than not breathing. Worst of all were the glimpses of bone in his left arm: it had been a demonstration. Annatar had done it himself. He had dissected the flesh and carefully pinned back the skin and muscle, taking care to cauterize the small blood vessels, explaining everything as he went as if giving a lecture in anatomy. He had made him watch, telling Celebrimbor he'd pin up his eyelids too if he didn't. (“Look, Tyelperinquar,” he had said, “it's educational. You are made of flesh, and flesh gives in, flesh yields, flesh surrenders. Your body knows what to do; let your mind follow its lead. This will all stop as soon as you surrender.”)

But slowly Celebrimbor came back to himself. The pain hadn't gone away, not as such, but he was able to push it back from himself, enough that he could think. With a little more time, perhaps he could even think clearly.

He kept his eyes closed, out of exhaustion, but he did cast his mind out, just a little. Two other beings weren't far – guards he supposed. They were Men; Annatar had kept Orcs away from him, perhaps from fear they'd go to far and damage him too much too soon. Of Annatar himself, there was no sign. No, not Annatar; he's Sauron. The thought didn't help. It made no difference. It wasn't true: Sauron was Annatar.

Perhaps it did help. He knew Sauron, and… Celebrimbor knew his own goal.

(He was sick with fear.)

But he could rest, at the least – apparently destroying his city took attention, and he could still hear the distant rumbling of buildings collapsing under the faults the Mírdain had set in them. They had sold the city dearly, making Annatar's army pay in blood for every block, and he hoped the traps laid were killing yet more, the fewer for his kin to fight.

Better still, the guards eventually gave him water, one holding a glass up to his lips and supporting his head, the other with sword held at attention – as if he were capable of doing anything, he though hysterically, and tried to keep himself from laughing. Fear radiated from them; they sprang away as soon as he was done drinking: they were terrified of him, or perhaps of Annatar's interest in him, and at that he could not longer hold back laughter. He regretted it as soon as he felt it in his ribs, and sank back into something that might have been shock.

The reprieve didn't last forever. He felt Annatar before he saw him, a blinding presence, light and power and fierce attention.

“Hello again, Tyelperinquar,” said Annatar. “I hope you're feeling more reasonable now that you've had a chance to think. Will you tell me where my Rings are now?”

Celebrimbor wasn't feeling what Annatar would deem reasonable, but he was feeling quite rational, and he knew what he needed to do: delay Annatar, keep his attention on him and not his friends. Celebrimbor had deliberately absented himself from some councils, avoided listening to certain conversations, but while he didn't know the particulars, he did know that Celeborn was outside the city awaiting reinforcements, that Celebrían and Durin were mustering the troops of Khazad-dûm and Galadriel and Amdír those of Lórinand. They needed time, and he thought he could give them that: he needed to buy them all time.

(And then he needed to die. Annatar was still looking at him: Necromancer, Sorcerer, his friend had been named. There were worse fates than death.)

Celebrimbor drew a deep breath, let it slowly out. “I wish I could, Annatar.” His voice wanted to break; he let it.

Annatar sighed, looking benevolently disappointed. “I thought you might say that,” he said. “You're far too stubborn for your own good, dearest. A familial fault; I won't blame you. But shhh, you look wretched.”

Whose fault is that? thought Celebrimbor, bitter.

But Annatar moved over and laid a blanket over Celebrimbor's shoulders, very gently, and took his hair down from the knot it had been tied up in, tsking at its state but combing his fingers through it. The pain felt very far away now; Annatar must be dampening it somehow.

“I can give you mercy; I want to give you mercy,” Annatar said softly in his ear. “See? You just need to let me.”

He would, Celebrimbor knew. Annatar would heal him and hold him, would be so happy to have him back. Celebrimbor wanted that too, wished he didn't. But what Annatar asked of him, Celebrimbor could not give. Would not give.

He let his head fall back into Annatar's hands, and let his mind quiet, his body relax. Annatar was massaging his scalp, playing with his hair: it felt pleasant, and so did the soft blanket over his chilled skin. If he wanted to comfort him, Celebrimbor wouldn't protest; let him think that just a little more comfort was needed, a little more pain, a little more time. And… it did feel nice. Maybe moments like these would make what was to come easier to endure.

They stayed like that for a long moment, till there was the faint noise of another explosion. Annatar sniffed.

“Some of your traps were inventive indeed,” he said, rubbing the tension out of Celebrimbor's shoulders. “The gas in particular – liver of sulfur, muriatic acid, and some chlorine? I confess, I didn't expect to lose quite so many troops here.”

Good, Celebrimbor thought, I hope more die still. Aloud, he said, “Something like that. It's an aerosol, actually; the dispersion was as much an issue as the manufacture.”

“Oh? I don't suppose you'd tell me the exact reaction? I'll not turn it against your kinsmen – I have other foul airs at my disposal. I'm curious is all.”

Celebrimbor rolled his eyes. Annatar couldn't see it, but he laughed. “Be that way. You can tell me later if you'd prefer. The Mírdain prepared the city well for invasion; I am impressed.”

“Don't tell me you thought we'd be less creative.”

Annatar's fingers tightened, then relaxed. “What I thought,” he said, “was that you would yield me my Rings.”

Celebrimbor sighed. “No, you didn't, not really.”

“Say instead I had hoped.” He walked around to face him, and lowered himself to his knees.

Celebrimbor's ankles and knees were tied to the chair. His legs weren't splayed that much, but there was room enough for Annatar to sink down and press his cheek against Celebrimbor's thigh. Annatar looked up and they caught each other's gaze. His eyes seemed pained; he looked away first.

“Tyelpe, I didn't like hurting you. I don't want to hurt you. Let me stop.” He gave a little laugh, sad and with no humor. “Come back to me,” he said into Celebrimbor's thigh. The last was said very quietly; Celebrimbor could barely hear it and wasn't sure he was meant to.

Then stop. I'm not making you, Celebrimbor didn't say.

Instead he tried to steady his breath – it was still so ragged, why couldn't he calm it, it hurt – and said softly, “Oh, Annatar. How did we come to this?” It was a genuine question: for all that Celebrimbor had chosen to stay, knowing full well what would be done to him, he still couldn't quite comprehend what was happening.

“How did we come to this?” Annatar snapped. “This is all your doing. I will make this world great, Tyelperinquar, but you are withholding from me that which I need. You betrayed me; you continue to betray me.”

“I …” Celebrimbor looked away deliberately, and listened to Annatar's sigh.

“Tell me what you want out of this,” Annatar said, calmer, “what you need: I'll give it to you. But think on the dream we shared once, of a blessed Arda. Don't you remember? I need my Rings to make that dream reality. They have power; I can use them to make the world better, to bring it to perfect order. You know that: why else did you make them?”

No. You need my Rings to enslave this world.

He took a breath. “Annatar, I do remember that dream of ours. But this isn't it; this isn't right. Tell me why I should give you the Three. Sacking this city, slaughtering all in your path – is that a demonstration of good intent? Are you Morgoth, come again, to destroy Eriador as Beleriand was?”

“Morgoth?” said Annatar, sitting back and staring up. “Ah, so it is the great fault of your people that restrains you, that refusal to forgive and let things pass, that Eldarin pride. I suspected so.”

Is that what you think, Annatar? How wrong you are. But he could work with it.

“I would myself say that these bonds are restraining me,” Celebrimbor muttered, trying to move his wrists; the rope around them kept them in place. “We called your master that, you know: Bauglir, constrainer.”

Annatar rolled his eyes. “I am no Morgoth. I gave myself over to him for the power he could bear on the world, but he proved himself without vision. But I have a vision: the world is unwell, it is chaotic; I will bring it order and peace.”

“Order?” Celebrimbor snapped, suddenly furious. “Are you insane? You've brought entropy. Peace? You've brought armies. You're ruining this world.” He winced after he said it; he had not meant to speak so, not yet.

“Really, Tyelperinquar, is that what you think? Don't you know what I can do for this Arda of ours?

“Actually,” he added, “I'm not sure you do. More to the point, I'm not sure you know what I can do to you.” He raked his nails across one of the burns on Celebrimbor's ankle.

Celebrimbor bit his lip trying not to cry out; Annatar patted his leg soothingly.

“You can scream if you want; it's all right,” he said. “You're wrong and it hurts me, but you'll agree with me again. All is well now, or will be soon.” His face went amused at Celebrimbor's incredulous look. “Oh hush. You're distraught – I understand; I apologize even, though we both know full well that the fault is not mine – but you're here with me, in my possession once again, and it is such a small thing I require. Well, three small things. The Nine I have and the Seven as well I will take, but the Three – how I long to see your great work, how beautiful and mighty you must have made them!”

Celebrimbor closed his eyes; of a sudden he was so weary. The Three were beautiful; he had loved them; he had given them up. And if he himself were in Annatar's possession... well, Annatar could do what he wished with him. He did not matter, not as the Rings did, and he would die before seeing them on the hand of Sauron.

(I will die, he thought. It scared him.)

He opened his eyes. Annatar was looking at him expectantly.

“You do realize,” he said waspishly, “that torturing me is hardly going to get me to agree with you.”

Annatar sighed, exasperated. “Of course it will: it's your body's nature. Do you think I'd do this otherwise? Everyone gives in under torment.”

“No,” Celebrimbor said quietly. “Some people die first.”

Annatar cocked his head; that curiosity on his face, so familiar, made Celebrimbor's heart ache. “Who are you thinking of?” he asked. “Felagund perhaps? I can be so much crueler than I was to him, sweetness. And besides, I didn't seek him out. He came to me; blame your people's fondness for Oaths.”

Celebrimbor froze, fury overwhelming that old grief and guilt. Gorthaur, Lord of Werewolves, and everything he had ever heard of Finrod's suffering came back to his thoughts – but now was not the time for it. Better to keep Annatar talking. (Better than the alternative.)

“As I recall,” he said, forcing his voice to calmness, “you never learned the location of Nargothrond from Finrod.”

“As I recall, I didn't need to. Nargothrond revealed itself.”

Celebrimbor blinked. It was... not untrue, but: “Should I be insulted? I'm hardly Túrin, of all people.”

“Hardly,” Annatar agreed. “You are no fool, not like Túrin was, not like Felagund or your estranged uncle. You're far too clever to walk into a trap thinking you can win. No, you knew I'd win, and since you stayed to fight me you must want me to. All this defiance is just to satisfy that pride of yours. Tyelpe, you've fought – and valiantly! Does that not console you? You can stop now. I can keep hurting you if you wish, but you'll surrender eventually. Yield me my work now and I won't have to cause you any more pain.”

“It's not pride but principle. Annatar, you are dear to me but the world is dear too. You will ruin it if you continue; if I give you the Three you will ruin my work. I love them too; I won't give them up, whatever you do.”

Annatar sat back. “Ruin? I'm more insulted than you were by Túrin. The power to change the world, to keep it from changing – it's what we worked for together. Do all those years we spent here in this city mean nothing to you, do you have so little faith in me?”

At that he couldn't tamp down the rage that welled up. “Faith? In you? The work of your art and mind went into this city too, and you destroyed it. I hope you-”

He stopped. His rage was now indistinguishable from grief, for what was and what could have been. “What happened to you, Annatar? Were you always...”

“Always what?” He looked angrier now too. “I'm not doing anything we didn't discuss a hundred times before-”

“Always so abhorrent,” Celebrimbor spat. Annatar glared back but continued.

“You speak of my art, of the work of my mind? That work is the Rings, Tyelperinquar. You stole from me to make them; and then you stole the Rings themselves. How could you- Wait, was it Galadriel who set you against me, who told you to hide them away? Did you give them to her?” Annatar snarled. “The Rings are mine, as you are, not hers.”

Celebrimbor forced himself not to tense up; there was cold fear in his stomach. He had to keep Annatar focused on him, not Galadriel, as best he could.But he needed to answer, and he made his voice steady and soft.

“Oh, Annatar. Do you really think I care for Galadriel more than I care for you?” Annatar was frowning, disbelief on his face, so Celebrimbor continued, “I don't, though I understand why you think otherwise. Of course I took counsel with her: as a kinswoman and military ally. But I didn't do as she said. She told me to flee, you know.”

Celebrimbor laughed a little, let his head tip back, stared at the ceiling. “I confess, I do see the wisdom in her advice. It's not pleasant, being tortured by your dear friend. But I… I stayed for you, though I'm starting to wish I hadn't.”

The last clause was a gamble: Annatar would probably think he spoke out of pain and fear of pain, but it would go badly if instead he thought Celebrimbor meant that Galadriel was right.

And indeed, Annatar must have, for he stood up then and slapped him for it. His mouth filled with blood – his teeth had cut at the inside of his cheek – but it wasn't truly painful: it was the sudden shock of the blow that made him gasp.

Annatar took Celebrimbor's chin in his hand, forced his head up. He gazed at him for a while, thoughtful. “But you did stay,” he murmured to himself, and leaned in to kiss him.

No, please, Celebrimbor thought, with despair and a clenching heart. Why now, and not before? He tried to turn his head away, tried to keep his lips closed, but when Annatar's fingers pressed into his flesh, burning, he could not help but cry out in pain (oh, but it hurt) and when Annatar slid his tongue into his mouth Celebrimbor kissed back.

It went on for a long while: Annatar's hands were in his hair and on his face and he moaned into his mouth: it was sweet, despite everything, yet every touch was a loss, every gasp a defeat. He felt Annatar smile; when he pulled away Celebrimbor couldn't help but stare at his lips, wet with blood. His blood, and when Annatar licked his lips, Celebrimbor traced the path of his tongue, hating himself for wishing it had not ended, for wishing that it were him licking the blood away. He closed his eyes; he felt like crying. He felt a wetness on his face and realized with a start that he was crying. It's too late; why did he wait till now?

Annatar brushed the tears from Celebrimbor's face; the pain in his cheek faded away: a curious sensation, the skin unbruising, unburning.

When he opened his eyes again, Annatar was looking at him, face soft, eyes warm, blood still on his lips. “Tyelpe, my own, I forgive you your counsels with that vexatious cousin of yours – you payed for it just now, hmm? I even forgive you for what you're putting us both through. Oh, you stayed for me! A part of you must know that I am right, that our dream is worth pursuing.”

Celebrimbor sighed and closed his eyes once more, leaned his head into Annatar's hand. He was so very tired.

“You've fought, you've failed. Don't go spilling more blood in a fight you know you can't win. There's no shame in surrender. Tell me where my Rings are, brightness. It will all be well then, I promise.”

“I can't.” His voice sounded so thin to his ears.

Annatar pressed his fingers into the exposed muscles in his arm; the hand was molten hot. It was as much the charcoal smell of burning flesh as the pain that made Celebrimbor let out a sob.

Won't is not can't, Tyelperinquar, and both are unacceptable.”

He had to t-... he had to keep them talking.

“I want to tell you, Annatar,” he lied through his tears. “But I- I- Please, it hurts.” His voice choked off; his throat was too tight to say more. How can you do this to me? It still did not seem quite real.

Annatar pushed his fingers deeper into the arm, nails digging into the bone; Celebrimbor sobbed louder.

“You will. This is for the best; you'll come to understand,” he said calmly, and drew back his hand; waited till Celebrimbor's breath steadied somewhat.

“But I see you're still determined to be recalcitrant. If you will not tell me yet, then tell me why, and none of that foolish 'you're Sauron' or 'you'll ruin the world'.”

Celebrimbor was shaking too much to answer, with grief and confusion and so much fear.

With a hiss, Annatar slapped him again, harder this time. Blackness seeped into the edges of his vision. He couldn't straighten his head; he couldn't manage to make his eyes focus; he was so dizzy...

Annatar's presence changed then, and he snapped something to the guards in that piercing, painful language of his. Celebrimbor thought, dully, that he should listen to it, try to puzzle the meaning together; he should make some comment to Annatar about how it grated at his ears, how if this were the best language he could make – Annatar always liked their debates; it would keep his attention, remind him of better times, but there was blood pounding in his ears: it roared, and he couldn't think.

He came back to himself in the time it took for the guard to leave, return, and hand something to Annatar, who was by then stroking his hair in a way he undoubtedly thought was comforting. It was a bottle of brandy, the one that had been left sitting on Celebrimbor's desk.

Annatar took it and frowned; it was mostly empty.

“Liquid courage, Tyelpe? Did you drink all of this the night before the battle?”

“Two nights before, actually,” Celebrimbor said, more out of habit than anything, and out of the same habit smiled at Annatar's fond laugh.

“You drink too much,” said Annatar, “but I can indulge you. There wasn't any miruvor, so this will have to do. It should help, and you always liked brandy.”

He poured it into a nearby beaker, and with a thoughtful hum, stirred the liquor around with a finger before reaching out to touch Celebrimbor's lips. Celebrimbor licked his lips and Annatar's finger both, and when Annatar pushed the tip into his mouth, he allowed himself suck on it, tonguing at it even after the taste of the brandy was gone. Annatar's gaze was pleased and affectionate, and he touched Celebrimbor's face, very gently, before holding up the beaker to his lips for him to drink. He swirled it around in his mouth, letting himself enjoy it, then let himself enjoy the pleasant burn in his throat as he swallowed. It did help: he felt better after one sip, and better still after three.

Perhaps it was the brandy that gave him that stupid, foolish hope that maybe this could still be set right, perhaps it was the kiss. Perhaps he wouldn't have to...

“Annatar,” he said, “don't do this. Please. It's wrong. If you ever...” He stopped. He knew what was going to happen. It was hopeless.

Annatar stared at him and opened his mouth to speak, closed it again. There was some unreadable expression in his eyes.

But then he glanced at his Ring, foul and beautiful, and he smiled, and pulled up a chair, and pulled out a knife, and in the bright steel shone the light of the One Ring. He laid the tip very gently against Celebrimbor's lips.

Celebrimbor was trembling; he couldn't stop trembling. So be it – he had known what would happen when he decided to stay; he still had a purpose. Time, he reminded himself, Galadriel, Celeborn, Durin: my friends need more time. Annatar is lost, but they need not be. I can keep him occupied. I can suffer this, for them.

“My Tyelperinquar,” Annatar said softly, “I know this is hard for you, for us both, but you needn't fear. I shall welcome you back and set you at my side, the very instant you give me my Rings. I will help you: I will expend any effort for you, do whatever it takes for you, spend whatever time I need for you.”

Terror welled up inside Celebrimbor. Good, he thought, good. Oh beloved, take all the time in the world.