The panic sets in as the flames start to rise. Something is off, something is wrong, and for a long minute he does not realise what. And then he does realise, and he runs faster than he thought possible, and there is his father standing cold and fey with a torch in his hands and all the words he can muster are “Where is -” before it hits him, and his scream turns the hot anger of his brothers to unforgiving, freezing ice inside them as his legs give way and no-one is there to catch him.
He does not sleep for a month, and not even Maitimo can coax a single word from him. Nobody else tries.
When their father falls, wrapped in flames and turned to ash by his own spirit, his tears are not all genuine. But the bitter smile which no-one notices most certainly is, and he thinks that the irony of it could almost be called justice.
That night he sleeps better than he has in weeks.
The first time he thinks to try it is at their encampment on the shores of Mithrim. Maitimo is gone, and everyone else is too scared to even talk to him most days. He deals with his nightmares alone, and he tells himself over and over that surely there must be some way to make things go blank, to forget this horror for even the smallest of moments. And then he remembers what he used to do sometimes, and how powerful the ending always was – powerful enough to wipe all thought clean out of his mind.
He takes himself in hand, and hopes that it can be the same.
The pleasure is there, there is no doubt that his body feels this just as it should, and as he arches on the bed he feels hot energy coursing through him at the sensation of his own hand tight on his cock. But it will not push him to the edge – there is no sense of building pressure or impending climax – and when he closes his eyes all he sees are flames. He gasps, and tears of frustration sting his eyes – and then through the blur he sees his scarf laid over the back of a chair, and an idea twists its way into his mind.
The roar in his ears, the impending crash of unconsciousness and that one dark speck drawing him down and almost, almost, making him feel alive – he can sense it, this is how he could become whole again – are enough. Electric vitality sears through him, for a moment every colour is brighter, everything he can still see is more vivid – and white light blanks out his vision as he comes, the only concept left to his stunned mind that energising pull with which the little piece of darkness teases him.
Seconds pass, and then within his recovering mind fear raises its head. He fumbles at his neck with sticky, uncoordinated hands, breathing hard and deep once he can again, and he realises he is shaking and unable to name the emotion behind it. Hot tears drip down his cheeks as he uses the scarf to clean himself up, and before he realises it he is sobbing, curled in a sticky ball on his bed and feeling the empty ache within him all the more keenly after the precious moments of its absence.
He asks himself later, was it worth it?
He decides it was, and before long he does it again.
Maitimo’s return is a welcome distraction for him. His eldest brother is all but broken, and though as the weeks pass his body improves still his mind is tormented by what he has endured. And so Amras returns the care that Nelyo gave him on the long road behind them; he talks, and he makes Maitimo talk also, and he stays with him at night and brings him back from the brink of despair and agony that his dreams pull him down towards. And if sometimes in the dim light of their lamps and the confusion of the night he tries to forget which red-haired brother he holds in his arms, he says nothing of it. And in return Maitimo says nothing of the tears which he sometimes sees glistening on Amras’ cheeks as he holds him a little too tightly even after the nightmare has passed.
He does not have as much time for himself now; the six of them are busy with preparations and negotiations and the move to Himring and the Gap, and he decides to contribute to their new maps rather than try to hold down any land of his own. So he rides out for months at a time, and in the green lands of trees and rivers he finds a kind of temporary peace, all alone with no-one to remind him of the pain in his past.
It is when he visits Maedhros upon Himring that things take a turn for the worse. After so long away from his brothers he sees Amrod in the slightest little thing – Caranthir’s laugh when Curufin’s plan to prank Celegorm is discovered, the song Maglor sings after dinner which they always used to sing together – and when the name “Ambarussa” falls from someone’s lips the pain becomes unbearable. Guilty silence falls upon the hall as he leaves without looking back, shaking as he runs to the stables and rides out from the fortress – he doesn’t know where, doesn’t know what he will do but he cannot be in there any more, he cannot endure seeing them happy and laughing when half of his soul was destroyed with those ships –
He almost welcomes the small Orc-pack when he sees it, and throws himself into the fight with such reckless, vicious abandon that tales of the youngest Fëanorian whisper through Morgoth’s forces for weeks.
Maedhros meets him at the gates when he returns, and says nothing.
Their stay at Himring lasts for two months. After that night his brothers are more careful, and he sees in their eyes that they are almost afraid to speak around him. He hates it, of course, but at the same time part of him is grateful that they no longer try to include him in whatever enjoyment they might be having. Only Nelyo does not give up, as he expected, and they spend many nights sitting in silence as each struggles to find the right words for his pain. But soon Amras wants nothing more than just to forget for a few beautiful moments, and on that night he goes to his own chamber and locks the door.
Forgetfulness is a sweet reward, and the dizzying whiteout takes longer than usual to clear as he waits for the usual stubborn survival instinct to kick in and prompt him to untie the belt. Only this time it does not, and as a wave of crashing unconsciousness that has nothing to do with impending orgasm rears above him he thinks only that perhaps this time it will truly be over.
Curufin’s instincts, however, have other ideas. He wakes in a cold sweat and dashes without knowing why to Maitimo’s door and in without knocking. Nelyo exclaims in confusion, but one look at Curvo’s eyes and he knows that something is very wrong. He draws the one conclusion that escaped the frantic figure at the foot of his bed, and takes the corridors at a run towards his youngest brother’s bedchamber.
The lack of response at his desperate knock only confirms his suspicions. Luckily the lock is no match for a well-aimed kick, and he slams the door in Curvo’s face as he comes running up behind - he does not want his little brother to see this.
Amras lies naked on the bed, one arm thrown out to the side while his other hand loosely covers the sticky, half-dried mess on his stomach. Tiny red spots stand out on his face above the dark band of the belt around his throat, and he does not seem to be breathing at all. Maitimo’s hand shakes as he struggles to undo the belt, muttering curses under his breath as he tries to hold it steady with the stump of his right wrist – and at last it slips free, and the breathless, empty silence of the second before he presses his mouth to Amras’ and forces him to breathe again is the worst sound he thinks he could ever hear.
The next desperate moments are utterly black. He refuses to believe this can happen, refuses to let go or give up – this cannot be, it will not be – and then at last, at last, Amras breathes and coughs and lives. And he’s trying to keep it together, trying to check for any more signs of damage, but his eyes are blurred with tears and all he can do is hold his brother close for a long moment and choke back the sobs that threaten to escape.
At last with a shaky breath he regains control of himself and looks at his brother. Amras’ eyes are half-closed still but clearly aware, and the dark bruise that circles his neck is the only visible sign of the damage he has caused. Quickly then Maitimo stands up before more tears can come, and his hand is still shaking as he gathers the belt along with anything else he can find (a scarf, the ties for the curtains, anything at all that he can see) into a bundle and walks back to the door. He glances back at Amras before he opens it, and the pure resentment he sees glittering in his brother’s eyes feels like a punch to the gut.
Outside, Curufin’s eyes are wide and scared as he sees what Maedhros is carrying and realises the implications. He does not ask, and he does not get an answer as he takes the bundle and leaves as quickly as he can tactfully get away with.
Amras knows that it wouldn’t be as difficult as Maitimo thinks to find another way, but it hurts to breathe and he’s tired and he just can’t find the energy to even contemplate trying again.
The next morning, no-one comments on the high collar he wears or the hoarseness of his voice, and only Curufin can meet Maitimo’s eyes for more than a few seconds.
By the time they stand outside the Havens of Sirion, Maedhros has decided that it’s no longer worth the fight. Amras is not wearing most of his armour, and the light in his eyes is something that can no more be reasoned with than their Oath can be broken. He is the first to draw his sword, and the one to lead them in and begin the third great atrocity of their lives.
Afterwards, Maedhros blames himself.
And in Valinor, Mandos himself has never seen a soul so relieved to come at last to his Halls.