The day Maedhros leaves the halls of Mandos, Fingon is waiting for him.
He had not imagined anyone would be. Perhaps his mother? But not Fingon, not after so long. Not after the long years after Fingon died, and what Maedhros did in them.
He tells himself that Fingon is only a vision, the familiar shape of his shoulders and the tilt of his head outlined in the dark only a trick of the shadows, of a mind half-sick with wanting, half-sick with self-hatred. No one knows how to punish Maedhros better than himself. He tells himself this until he's close enough to see the whip scars marking Fingon’s face like lashes of acid, silver now against Fingon's golden skin, and not unbeautiful, if one is looking at them as an abstract sort of art, and not as the vile reminder of what had happened to the person one had loved, to the body one had loved.
He had not been allowed to see Fingon's body, after the Tears. He had not known that the flails had caught his face.
He says nothing. Neither does Fingon.
Fingon doesn't come towards him, so Maedhros keeps walking, and Fingon’s expression never changes: it stays beautiful, cold, closed.
Soon Maedhros is only steps away, close enough to count his eyelashes.
He has never forgotten any detail of Fingon; he had kept him just behind his eyelids in the years between the Tears and Doriath, had worn the beloved shape of his face soft and hazy with conjuration until it was as numinous as that of an Ainu. After Doriath it had seemed wrong to think of Fingon looking at him with such open joy, and Maedhros had tried to thrust it aside as something as lost to him forever as the Tree-light. It had been forced back upon him by his own treacherous mind, again and again; and each time Fingon's expression had seemed changed from how Maedhros remembered it, dissolving into such wavering horror that Maedhros could almost believe that it had been a mercy that Fingon had not lived to see who he would become.
And now Fingon stands before him, and Maedhros realises that he had not remembered him properly after all. He had stripped him of dimension; he had forgotten the solidness, the reality of the living Fingon, the fine texture of his skin and the shock of his bright eyes against his dark lashes; the cut of his nostrils and the pugilistic angle of his jaw.
“I don’t know what to say to you,” Fingon says.
He had clearly meant to wait for Maedhros to speak first, but, Fingon-like, had not been able to outwait him, however furious he was – No. Maedhros had known, once, what to do with Fingon when he was furious. This is something far older, far colder.
“I didn’t expect you to speak to me ever again.”
“Well, I didn’t mean to,” Fingon says.
They are not the words of star-crossed lovers reunited at long last.
The last time they had met, it had been a few nights before what would come to be called the Battle of Unnumbered Tears, before they rode away to their separate armies with plans to bring them together like a hammer crashing to the anvil.
Maedhros had not been able to weep after the Tears, despite the name. There had been terrible pain in his face, pressing behind his nose and eyes like unkind fingers, and his throat had been scraped raw, but he had not cried.
He had wept, instead, that last night with Fingon before they split their forces, before their time had run out. He had wept with joy and hidden his face in Fingon’s chest because he could not bear to be looked at stripped so raw, even by him, and Fingon – Fingon had held his face in his hands like he was holding treasure, and laughed with the same great release that fuelled his own weeping.
They had had such a short stretch of time to be together, in the end. One night, a candle’s span, from the last meeting with their lieutenants to the hour after the dawn that Fingon had had to ride away. In that time, they allowed nothing to stop them: not this time. Not family, not fighting, not the taboos laid down by the shining Valar who had turned their faces from them; not the fear of eternity, of making a mistake that could not be undone.
It had been like opening the door of a room on fire to the air: the flare of all their long-stored, long-banked wanting had rushed out with an intensity so great it seemed to singe skin and eyelashes, to make every feeling part of Maedhros’s body light up and sparkle.
The military bedroll in Fingon’s tent had not made for much of a marital bed, but they had rolled across it over and over. Maedhros had bitten at Fingon’s mouth, and been bitten in turn; mouthed his throat, and his shoulders, and his stomach; kissed his ear, his cheekbone, nose, chin. He had wanted to spend eternity with his head between Fingon’s legs, tasting him, his cheek against the silk of Fingon’s inner thigh, or nuzzling the cut of muscle at his hip, at the line where his thigh meets his hip, the warm thin stretch of skin over his stomach muscles just above the hair at his groin. Then he had wanted to spend eternity fucking him, fucking him, as Fingon’s strong heels pressed into his back, as Fingon laughed under him and rolled them over so he could sit on top, his hips moving in waves like the sea; and Maedhros had changed his mind again during the next bout and decided to spend his eternity with Fingon inside him instead, loving him from the inside out, their minds clutching at each other like their hands were.
There was no time left for regret. If they lost, still they would have had this, and if they won –
It had seemed impossible then that either of them could ever regret each other, but Fingon is standing in front of him now, and they have nothing to say to each other.
Fingon had kissed him for the first time in Aman, in the years before the lies of Morgoth had torn their family apart. Maedhros had told himself it was a shock to him, that he had not known Fingon meant to do it, or even wished to. Surely he had meant to send Fingon home with some gentle words that would soothe any humiliation, to treat it lightly and kindly –
“Was that all right?” Fingon had asked, and his hand had still been on Maedhros’s knee, his head tipped in question.
“Fingon,” Maedhros had said, still meaning to tell him some calm, cousinly thing but it had come out so breathless that Fingon had smiled and kissed him again.
However good his intentions were, there had been many more such kisses in the last years in Tirion before the Exile. Stolen kisses, guilty ones, joyful ones, hot kisses that cut themselves off at the knees before they could go too far, in dark corners and on grassy swards in the depths of Oromë’s forests, in Fingon’s bedroom in his father’s house, in Maedhros’s rooms at the Palace.
That first secret joy had left them after the Noldor began to divide their hearts against each other. They were fiercer, desperate, denying, and their embraces were, too. That was before the lies of Morgoth came between them, too: but even then they had fought their wars with mouth and teeth and tongue as well as words, had kissed each other like punishment, like argument, like an ending.
Then: Exile. Formenos. No contact at all, cold silence; then hot battle, and blood on Maedhros’s sword and his hands and in his mouth where he had bitten his tongue.
And somehow, somehow, Fingon at his side again, like he’d earned him instead of cutting himself off from him forever; if not with the exile, or swearing his father’s Oath, surely after what he had done that day by the sea. Whatever bond had tied him to bright Fingon had been cut by his sword forever. Yet Fingon come after him into the darkness, drawing his own sword, and ruined himself for Maedhros.
When they kissed after the battle, it had tasted like iron and salt, blood and sea.
Maedhros had watched his father burn the boats that they had killed for, knowing there could be no return now. There could be no undoing the choices they had made or the wrongs they had done: but surely they had all known that already? The boats hadn’t needed to burn to teach them that.
They had been so beautiful, even in the clumsy hands of those who had never sailed before. Their bleached-white boards had been polished as smooth as satin, but even when wet had prevented feet from slipping; the smooth hulls had cut through the waves like butter, and even Ulmo’s furious grief making the sea heave like a sobbing child had not been enough to overturn them, to alter the arc of their journey, to overcome the long and careful craft of the makers who had died for them.
The clouds above them were scorched red from the great pyre, with a light that seemed to paint itself across this strange sky as a herald of their blood-stained hands. His father had been laughing, but his face had seemed unfamiliar in the red light. Everything had seemed very strange, a slow and lurching jumble of images, too close and very far away at once. He would only remember that night in jagged moments: His father, laughing. The red sky. The long sulking simmer of damp wood, and then the moment the curious tendrils of fire took a strong grip on the Swan-boats of the Foam-riders, and the flare of heat that had followed. His eyelashes had frizzled.
Why had he been standing so close to the boats? He hadn’t wanted to burn them. His throat had been sore. From the smoke? His eyes had been streaming.
One of his brothers had tried to hold him back. His father had been still half a stranger to him in the blood-light, but he had stopped laughing. He had been shouting at Maedhros, who had been shouting back. That was why his throat hurt.
He was crying.
He will not cry.
On Thangorodrim his body had been one dull ache. It had been easier to think of it that way. If you started counting you might never stop; if you thought about all the different and separate and several agonies they overwhelmed you.
Thirst; was that the worst one? It was the one hardest to ignore, somehow, but also the only one ever sated, on those rare days when the black sky rained. Then hunger, clawing in his belly. The hot gaze of the red and brilliant thing in the sky, fiercer through the smog than the gentle Treelight had ever been; it had to be some strange torment of Morgoth, a perversion of lost beauty into slow-baking torture that made him long for darkness – him! – during its dominion, then long for its light in the blackness that followed.
No, the worst one had to be the edge of the manacle, which some half-trained smith had not filed smooth; or perhaps that had been the point. The spreading pain of his wristbones coming unmoored from the bones of his hand, slowly, slowly, painful tiny eyelash-width by eyelash-width, a lash a day. The slow agony of his elbow as it, too, so slowly, stretched, as bone came free from joint and cartilage died. His shoulder; the pain there seemed to be mostly strained and furious muscle, because the thick join of it was holding for now, but that would be next. His neck. His back, scraped and flayed from long excoriation against the cliff-face; his feet, which were worse –
No, the most terrible part of it all was the little ledge in the rock, a finger-width, on which his toes could almost find purchase; on which he could almost brace himself, almost settle some of his weight upon, off the agony of the manacle. It was almost a kindness, but instead it was something so finely balanced in its torture that it was a perfect cruelty, one that spread his pain from above his head to his lowest point. There was only so long you could stand with your feet arched en pointe before the spasms took them, toes and arches and calves; before you fell, and the jerk of your body succumbing to gravity was stopped by the sickening catch of your wrist against the manacle, the long long ache jerked anew into freshly sharp, hideous pain.
He had never thought to see Fingon again.
He had never thought to see Fingon again, and somehow – despite the fire that had burned everything dead between them, and the ice that only later would he understand had frozen Fingon against him for a time, almost forever – somehow Fingon had still been impossibly there, below him, singing.
The knife against his wrist had been the purest, sharpest agony of all, sawing through in the way he had once watched Fingon joint a hare, separating the rubble of bony pebbles at the base of his hand from the long wrist-bones they barely managed to grasp, through the long-tormented skin and sinew.
It wasn’t the arrow in his throat he had prayed for, but it was Fingon’s touch on him once more, and Fingon’s tears tasted like the rain to him.
He had been sure he would never see Fingon again. First he had not believed that the Valar would ever be so kind, and then he had not thought he deserved to, and then when he had known that, grimly – at last he had been glad.
Now Maedhros knows the Valar are as cruel as their dark brother, as gifted at holding out the thin hope of relief only to reward him with worse pain, pain undreamed of. Fingon is looking at him, his eyes grey ice in his golden face; his beloved face where the fiery flails had landed so violently that the marks remain even now, even through death and rebirth, on the perfect new flesh.
“Is that all you have to say for yourself?”
“What could I say?” Maedhros says. “What could I ever say, to explain it? To defend it?”
His throat hurts. His eyes are prickling, like grief is gathering itself behind them, like clouds swelling grey and black with rain.
He hasn’t cried since the last time he saw Fingon alive, this close, the last time. He hadn’t cried when the great mound of bodies had been heaped up towards the sky and he known that the body he had loved was somewhere in its midst, still bearing the marks of his mouth.
He hadn’t cried at Doriath, when he buried three of his brothers without grace or ceremony, or when he had gone calling through the trees for Dior’s small sons; he hadn’t cried at Sirion. He hadn’t been able to even when he had looked out wildly into the torch-stained darkness around Eönwë's tent and recognised too many faces in the crowd: the Maia-lord in his winged helm, yes, and young Gil-galad with his judging eyes. Men and women who had once followed him but had turned from his service after the Havens. His uncle Finarfin’s gentle face both a memory of yesterday and a study in horror. Elros and Elrond, the children, the children, looking at him, looking at him like they were seeing him for the first time, with such shock.
He hadn’t even cried when he had taken the Silmaril in his hand and felt no release at the end of his long, horrible road, only more flames.
“I don’t know,” Fingon says. “The things you’ve done – You won’t even try?”
“No,” Maedhros says, and he is, somehow, weeping. “I can’t. I won't defend it. Not even for you.”
Fingon’s cold face cracks like ice being tested.
“Oh,” he says, and screws his eyes shut. “How can you still do this to me? I didn’t think there was anything you could say that I would want to hear; I didn’t think there was anything you could say to make this better.
“I was going to hit you, you know. I was going to shout at you, all the things I’ve longed to say for so long; I was just going to look at you, and watch you squirm, and walk away forever. Only how can I, when you’d welcome that? How can I hurt you more than you’ve hurt yourself? How can I ever hurt you enough?
“How can I hate you,” Fingon says, and there are tears in his eyes too when he opens them, running silver over the silver scars, and his hands open and close on themselves, fists and then claws and then fists again. “How can I, when you hate yourself so? I hate everything you’ve done; but how can I hate you?”
No, this is the shallow ridge of stone, the almost-promise of relief: a suggestion that Fingon might love him yet despite himself, despite everything, which can only herald a more brutal fall.
“You shouldn’t have come,” Maedhros says, which is what he said that day long ago, when the Eagle came; and Fingon laughs, just as despairingly.
“When has that ever stopped me?”
“You should stop! Stop – everything. Stop this. Go away and be happy.”
Fingon laughs horribly at that too. “Do you think I have been? Oh, I want to hit you,” he says, and puts a hand over his face. “I hate you, and I don’t know if I can live another day without you; how dare you tangle me up like this, when I meant everything to be clear and cold and over forever? I was dead, and then I was alive again and I only wished I was dead, because you were worse than dead; but somehow – How can I still love you?”
“Fingon,” Maedhros says, and he means to say something that will cut this bond forever, the bond which is coming alive between them again with the painful, tingling return of sparkling in his fingertips, like nerves after long numbness; but whatever he means to say will never be said, because Fingon laughs again like a sob and reaches out for him, and when he kisses him they both taste like the newborn sea.