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to whom in vassalage

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The figure in the tent had his back to him, black-haired and strong-shouldered, and from those shoulders fell a glorious welter of raw red silk. The red and the black together in the warm lamp-light were enough to crack open the doors of time itself, and Maedhros caught his breath—

“Maedhros!” Fingon said, turning, and the illusion was broken. 

His father was not here, and could never have been here, and this was Fingon.

It was an unfair buffeting, Maedhros thought. You had braced yourself for the quintain, for the shock of your sword making contact and the brunt of it going up your arm—and then the sandbag came about unlooked-for and thumped you between the shoulderblades and knocked you off your horse.

He’d finally felt ready to see Fingon again, after thirteen years of the Sun, and now Fingon was there before him, and it turned out that Maedhros was not at all ready, and had perhaps never been ready, and he’d already lost his shield in the unexpected assault and had been left unarmed for the true trial.

Fingon hadn’t changed. His skin had regained the clear golden colour it had lost on the ice. His eyes were as grey as ever. The arched dark brows were the same, and the square jaw, and the capable hands, both spread in welcome. It was only the colour of the robe that made him seem half a stranger.

“Maedhros?” Fingon asked, with less open joy, and more question, and Maedhros blinked. 

“That is an uncommon colour on you,” he said, as brightly as he could, and took one of Fingon’s outstretched hands in his rather than walk into them.

Fingon’s other hand, starkly superfluous, dropped away. “But not, I hope, an uncomely one?”

“No, indeed.”

His cousin was scanning his face with much the same intensity as Maedhros had his, but whatever he was looking for was doubtlessly different. “I wasn’t entirely sure you were coming, after the chorus of regrets which preceded you.”

“Someone had to hold down the fort.”

“Yes; and what luck it was that somehow your most quarrelsome brothers felt called to do it, and it was somehow you and Maglor alone who might come! Your own fiefs, of course, being so gently situated that they might be left with far greater ease than Thargelion or Himlad?”

“Are you sorry for it?” 

“That wasn’t meant as a complaint: rather a compliment on your statesmanship. Aren’t you going to compliment mine?”

Maedhros raised his eyebrows, and Fingon laughed.

“The robe! It’s in your colours, or did you miss that?”

“I was forbearing to ask,” Maedhros said, “and I believe I have complimented you already! Is the red meant to be a political manoeuvre?”

“It’s a compliment to you, so already, you see, the scales have been balanced, and I am owed an additional accolade.”

“I could commend you on your fishing skills.”

“I’ve missed you,” Fingon said, laughing again, and his grip tightened.

“I don’t know whether to express my amazement that you are attempting politics, or that you’ve chosen to do so through fashion, or whether I should ask what your dress is meant to accomplish,” Maedhros said lightly, and moved back a half-step, shifting his weight onto his back foot. “Feanorian colours aren’t exactly high diplomacy.”

“‘And what does your father say?’” Fingon said, letting him go. There was a slight line between his brows.

And what does your father say.”

“He says that we are gathering to effect the unity of the Noldor, and so my garb is fitting. I’ve had something made up for you, too, as it happens—”

“Fingon, no,” Maedhros said.

The refrain was so familiar on his lips that for a moment he felt as though he had, in fact, stepped into the past: the warmer and gentler past, the days spent in endless soft light in a crystal city on a hill, shaded only by tall trees. A past with none of Beleriand’s fire and blood, its pain and loss, without the savage beauty of a red moon framed by the Pass of Aglon and snow-capped mountains; the deep, wound-like gorge of the Gelion. 

“If you tell me you brought anything better for a full ceremony of state than your riding leathers, I won’t insist.”

Maedhros gestured vaguely at what he was wearing, and Fingon said,

“Maedhros, that isn’t even grey, it’s dun. Is it dyed at all?”

“I also brought my armor—”

“Armor, at a feast of peace! And is it gilt-washed fishscale, fine steel plate bossed with electrum?”

“You know very well I left all that tinsel behind in Angband.”

A shadow crossed Fingon’s bright face. Maedhros regretted it, but he was glad that it had made him flinch away; he couldn’t think with Fingon so near to him, and he had to.

"I didn’t mean—I thought perhaps Curufin had turned you out in all the glitter of a Fëanorian prince again. Or if you were still clunking around as bare of decoration as a pot, you had at least brought proper raiment for a feast of friendship—”

“No, you didn’t,” Maedhros said, and forced a laugh. “Not if you really went to the trouble of having something made up for me.”

“It’s really just as well that you left all your more quarrelsome brothers at their posts,” Fingon said, and pulled him deeper into the tent, where robes that were, indeed, worthy of a Noldor prince were hanging. 

The cloak was a deep, dark, blue, the colour of the night sky, and spangled with embroidered, six-pointed silver stars. The overtunic was blue, too, but brighter, lighter; again, there was silver at the throat and at the sleeves, and a single, eight-pointed star centered over the breast.

“I’ve always thought you’d look rather well in blue; it’s a better match for your colouring than red’s ever been.”

“Fingon—”

“You’re welcome,” Fingon said cheerfully. “We can swap if you really insist—mine will come up short on you, and yours will drag on the ground on me, but if you insist—”

“Are you intending to start a war?”

“To end one, surely.”

“Do you think donning Fëanorian colours is likely to help with that? If I go out there in your blues tonight, Turgon will have a perfect right to hit me, and there’ll be a line of Helcaraxë survivors forming behind him to take a turn.”

“I don’t mean to set you up as a target! My thought was rather to wrap you in my mantle—literally, as well as figuratively—”

He was going to be stubborn about it. That was all right: Maedhros had learned to out-stubborn anything in a harder place than this. “And at what point during the festivities did you mean to announce our betrothal?”

Fingon sputtered.

“It was a kind thought,” Maedhros went on, unkindly, “but you can’t deny it’ll look very pointed. I’ll wear my homespun and leathers; you tie the blue at the waist and draw some of the extra length up into your belt. Be sensible.”

“Have I ever been?”

“You could start!”

“I rather hope I’m never sensible when it comes to you,” Fingon said. He smiled. “Well, if you won’t; but I insist you wear something a bit brighter! You can’t show up in simple wool and hide, and not a jewel.”

He shrugged out of the red robe, and it fell to his feet in a pool of crimson. Underneath, he was wearing a yellow-gold tunic embroidered with red, star-shaped flowers, like a field of asters: or possibly bursts of flame. They were not quite Feanorian wheels.  There was a larger one blooming over his heart.

Fingon had always worn his heart where everyone could see it, like he was going into battle with his belly exposed, nothing between his soft innards and a sword but the permeable envelope of his skin. 

Maedhros wanted to shake him. He wanted to encase him in steel and gold, to stand in front of him and guard him with sword and shield, turning the blows that Fingon must know he would draw. And impossible Fingon was trying to do the same for him, to strip the cloak from his own shoulders and put it around Maedhros, ignoring how naked and vulnerable it would leave him. That was metaphor: and it wasn’t. 

Under the gold, Fingon was red from the soles of his feet to his hips, his scarlet leggings making him look like he’d waded across a river of blood to stand where he was. 

Those you should certainly remove,” he said, and then he turned his back before his cousin could mistake his meaning.

Behind him, Fingon laughed. “Are you so nice in your manners now? Is that what your time in the East has wrought? It’s the cold, isn’t it—one gets so used to never going naked, and never seeing anyone else naked, that it becomes rather horrible to look at anyone wearing anything less than three cloaks and two layers of fur—not to speak of the woollen underwear—”

“Let it go unspoken!”

“Gladly,” said Fingon. “All right, I’m decent.”

The leggings were gone, but there was nowhere safe to look, nowhere Maedhros could lay his eyes and not feel drawn forward despite himself; neither at Fingon’s bare legs or his open face, or at the gold and red declaration of the tunic between them, where the bleeding hearts wept into yellow light. 

He hadn’t meant to, but he had come closer to his maddening cousin again, like a moth to flame. The distance left between them was not only that of time, and of space.

They had not been together in thirteen years. Not since Maedhros had turned the head of his horse East, and set off for what would become Himring, and refused to look back. 

“I've missed you,” Fingon said. The bright ebullience of his first greeting had faded. All that was left was painful sincerity, a weapon against which Maedhros was equally vulnerable.

“Fingon,” Maedhros said. It was as helpless a reminder to himself as it had been each time before. He put his hand on Fingon’s arm, digging into his flesh a little with his fingertips, like he was trying to hook himself into him like a burr, or else prove him solid. Fingon turned his face up to him, a question: half a kiss, waiting to be sealed.

That kiss, when it came, was not the heedless, breathless thing it might have been if it had been the first thing Maedhros had done when he had entered the tent and let the heavy hangings fall closed behind him, rushing forward; nor the bright thing it might have been if he had simply leaned in later, over their clasped hands, and sought his cousin’s mouth in greeting.

This was far more deliberate. They had both had time since he rode East to think better of their delirious reunion in the time after Angband, of the bond that had thickened around them like resin as Maedhros healed and as Fingon helped him.

He had; and he had thought Fingon might have thought better of it as well.

They kissed like a question and its answer together. I am yours, Maedhros thought, despairing: and you are, and always shall be, answered Fingon, and his hand came up to cup the side of Maedhros’s face, his fingers sinking into his hair and his thumb gently tracing the line of his cheekbone.

I love you too much not to want better for you than I, Maedhros thought; was met with a stubborn yet I am yours, and I will have no other but you.

When it ended, Maedhros put his hand over Fingon’s, holding it to his cheek, and closed his eyes. His empty arm he set around his cousin’s waist, drawing him closer into the shelter of his body. There was no longer any space between them, no time. Only the present, a moment caught in amber.

Finally, perhaps an hour later, Fingon shivered; stirred. “It’s not as cold here as in Dor-lómin, but I could use the woollen underwear.”

“I thought we weren't going to mention it,” Maedhros said, but he caught the edge of his own cloak and brought it up around Fingon’s waist like a blanket to cover him while he remained within the circle of his arms. It was the undistinguished brown-grey of the hardy sheep grazing in Thargelion, stained and dusty from travel. 

“You’ll have to let me know if it was truly the clothing you objected to, or only myself,” Fingon said, digging his chin into Maedhros’s breastbone in punctuation. Maedhros was still wearing his boiled-leather jerkin, so the gesture had little impact.

“I meant it! The red gave you a horrible look of my father for a moment.”

“If you’d told me that, I would have stripped naked at once.”

“Precisely.”

“You are not complaining now!”

“No,” Maedhros said.

Fingon pulled back from their embrace. He ran his thumb along Maedhros’s brow, where the copper circlet lost in Angband had once rested. “You’ll let me lend you a jewel or two?”

“Better not.”

“No one has asked you to don sackcloth and ashes—”

“I ask myself,” Maedhros said.

Fingon sighed; but then he traced too the curve of one ear, where the scars still showed. “All right. What about the tunic?”

“The blue, or the gold?”

“Either!”

“The blue. I shouldn’t - but if I don’t, I wouldn’t put it past you to walk out into the night with flowers in your hair and a silver Fëanorian star on your breast, bold-faced as a Vala. I’ll wear it with the red robe, or my own cloak, and it may clash, but it won’t look as ill as if I was wearing two short garments together.”

“So the blue cloak and my own tunic for me?”

“No red,” Maedhros said. “Please.”

“Very well,” Fingon said, and kissed him in pledge.

Their bubble of quiet was over; outside Fingon’s tent the noise was rising, as other factions of the Noldor arrived at the Ivrin, and pitched their own camps, and met with friends and allies not seen in days, or even years, and greeted them heartily.

He should be among his men, making sure they didn’t make trouble, or fall into it; he should be keeping an eye on Maglor, who had ridden in with a too-bright glint in his eye. He wanted to stay in the tent, holding Fingon to his heart; but he ought to peel himself out of his sackcloth and don Fingon’s blue next to his skin, make ready to move among others again.

“Oh, no,” said Fingon, when Maedhros, stripping out of the dun, reached for the starry tunic; “do you think you might stand here unclad, and I unclad, and then merely dress yourself once more, when I might have you on the floor instead?”

“Or I might have you,” Maedhros suggested, lest Fingon have everything too much his own way; and Fingon, laughing, let him like it was what he had intended all along—on the floor, a welter of priceless cloth serving them as a blood-red and glorious bed.

“It’s only fair,” he said, a little later, as they lay in the ruins of the red silk robe; still laughing. “I was determined to get you in my colours in one way or another; you ought to have me in yours.”

Fingon,” Maedhros said, helplessly; laughed.