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The heart, it hides unimaginable things

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Maglor started up in the middle of the night and went to check on Maedhros. At some point, he reflected, as he gradually became more awake, padding silently through the dark, he might need to train himself out of that habit, but not yet. They had had an unbroken series of nights when his brother greeted the sound of his opening the door with a tolerant smile--yes, I’m here, yes, it’s fine—and after that quiet moment of mutual reassurance Maglor had been able to go straight back to bed again. But it could not be relied upon.

This was to be no such night. He eased the door open and saw at once that Maedhros was not in his bed—nor immediately visible elsewhere in the room, standing or sitting. He let go of the door and rushed inside, only to come to a halt as he spotted Maedhros face-down on the floor. Not asleep or unconscious—his brother’s back and shoulders were far too tense. Was he awake, but in too much pain to get up?

‘Nelyo, what is wrong?’

No answer. Regardless, he knew better than just to reach out and seize a shoulder or an arm without warning. He had learned that lesson the hard way, and the hard way had not been the flailing arm that knocked him against the wall, but the look on Maedhros’s face.

‘Nelyo?’

This time he spotted a reaction, a tiny movement of the neck.

He crouched down by his brother’s head and lowered his face, trying to see. His brother’s forehead was flat against the floorboards.

‘Nelyo?’ He was almost speaking right into his ear.

‘There’s nothing under my feet,’ Maedhros said, finally, without moving his head. It came out between gritted teeth, as if squeezed out under enormous pressure.

‘Under your feet?’

Maglor noticed what he had overlooked so far, the fingers of Maedhros’s left hand frantically digging into the cracks in the wooden floor, stretched out above his head. He recalled something Fingon had said and, suddenly, the room swung ninety degrees before his eyes, as he glimpsed his brother trying to steady himself against an uneven but almost perpendicular rockface. He swallowed.

He called himself to order. Understanding was necessary and useful, allowing himself to feel would only get in the way just now.

What to do? The obvious thing, first.

He got up and went and knelt down again at the other end.

‘Nelyo, I’m going to put my hands under your feet and support you.’

He pushed the palms of his hands gently, but firmly into the arches of his brother’s feet, as his finger curled around his heels.

‘Can you feel it?’

There was no immediate answer, but gradually he saw the horrible tension in his brother’s body giving way as his legs and back began to relax. He kept his pressure on the soles of Maedhros’s feet steady and waited.

‘Kano,’ said Maedhros, eventually. His voice was much clearer now.

‘Yes, Nelyo?’

‘Tell me.’

‘You’re lying horizontally on the floor, Nelyo. The floor is solid. You can push yourself up, if you want. Will you let me help you?’

‘I can do it myself.’

Maedhros slowly, achingly, came to his hands and knees. He swayed a bit.

‘You can help me now,’ he said.

Maglor quickly helped his brother back into bed. Physically, he seemed to have hurt little more than his fingers, this time, clutching at the floor. There was also a small new bruise on his right knee.  Perhaps he had fallen, to begin with, and that had set things off? Maedhros’s eyes were open, staring past him, his mouth set.

There’s no shame to this, Maglor wanted to insist. No shame at all and you’re already so much better, so much better most of the time.

But it would only make things worse to say that right now; his brother was raw and hurting and closed off. He would wait until daylight, slip it in as a reminder that needed repeating, at breakfast perhaps, out of earshot of anyone else, of course.  Maedhros would accept it from him, in the morning, or at least fully believe he meant it. They would be able to talk. Probably, Maedhros would attempt to console him for what he had witnessed; he thought that way.

Maglor sat with his brother for a while, then, seeing he was completely exhausted but seemed calm now, drifting with his eyes almost closed, came away. Outside, it was still black night, hours before dawn. Not so much time had passed.

When he reached his own bed, Maglor sat down. A wave of dizziness hit him and a chasm seemed to open up under his feet. He sat hunched, clinging to the bed frame, breathing slowly and deliberately, and it passed. He curled up under the blanket and, trying not to think—trying not to think because thinking too much would make him less use to Nelyo tomorrow—hummed himself to sleep.

Surely, the next night would be a good one again.