Disclaimer: All characters and locations owned by Tolkien Inc.
A/N: More than implied slash. Happy birthday to Furius!
THE FIRE AND THE RAIN
Water and fire shall rot
The marred foundations we forgot
Of sanctuary and choir.
This is the death of water and fire.
-- from 'Little Gidding II', T.S. Eliot.
"I am not afraid to die," Fingon says. Maedhros cannot remember exactly when his voice took on this obdurate tone, dry and filled with strange, low, inflections that make his sentences seem open-ended. As though everything he says is a challenge or a joke that no one understands but himself. I am not afraid to die - my love. Maitimo. Maedhros. Lord prince. You demon. The possibilities are endless.
On the one hand, it makes sense. They are standing at the highest point in Hithlum, from where the flame-tinged darkness of the hills of Angband can be seen clearly, and Maedhros has just proposed that they attack it. Fingon's words would therefore be an assurance that he is a willing collaborator in this project; he will take part in this at his own risk, of his own free will. And no creature of Eru's creation has been made more valiant than Fingon son of Fingolfin. If a single being in the world could truthfully say that he is afraid of nothing, not even death, it would be him. Their shining prince. Keeper of the flame of the Noldor, holding up hearts and strength by the sheer force of his inspiration, and nobility, and energy.
The strange thing is that Maedhros and he are lovers. Lovers who have not seen each other in sixteen years, at that. Ideally Fingon should not be saying such things to someone who is, to all purposes, wedded to him for life and beyond. Ideally the valour ought to conceal a fear of separation so deeply embedded in him that he cannot function without it in this war-driven world. Ideally it ought to be met with an equal fear, not unmixed with adoration. Instead, Maedhros is quiet.
His forthrightness with Fingon is borne out of long habit. Maedhros is one who conceals much more than he reveals, but his blank honesty with Fingon is a remnant of their profound, hard-won traditions out of Valinor. These days, it translates into silence.
There is nothing to say. There never was anything to say. No one in Aman would have thought of death at all. Speaking hypothetically, if Fingon had said "I am not afraid to die" in Aman, Maedhros would probably have responded with "But how will I live without you?"
All that is over. They know from experience that they can live without each other. And since the possibility is imminent, any reassuring sophistry to the contrary is needless.
Every marriage that has passed from paradise into earth has suffered in some way. Estranged wives; overburdened and careless husbands. Failure to conceive in spite of longing for children. A woman Maedhros knew in Himring actually gave birth to stillborn twins. She died soon after.
From paradise to earth. For Maedhros, that journey has taken twice as long. He has been to hell too.
They could not describe the change even if they thought of doing so. It was like falling in love. It just happened. And then it felt like it had always been. If Fingon looked back, he would see a flash of blinding red anger bursting through his mind at the moment he saw the ships burn, and then a snap, an enclosure in grim silence. Then, on setting foot upon the shores of Mithrim and learning of Maedhros' defiance, he was to reach out frantically into the part of his soul where Maedhros had lingered, only to be met with something sharp and shattered and equally red.
It was too late.
Fingon's anger feels like it has been there forever. Maedhros opened his eyes in Mithrim and it was there before him. He thinks it has sustained Fingon through his adult life. Crossing the ice with fire in his belly. And then surpassing mountains and iron bands and dragons and the loss of almost every single person he loves – and Fingon loves with a wonderful, terrible completeness – yes, he has been valiant. But Maedhros wonders what part of valour is formed by the frustrated fury that is eating up this once-beautiful boy from the inside, hollowing out his body, his thinning muscles taut as harp strings under skin that is now as pale as Maedhros' own. With his dark hair and darkened eyes, he looks like something more, or less, than an elf. Now he looks like the High King of a people cursed to death.
He turns to his lover on hearing his voice anew. "I beg your pardon?"
"You heard me," Fingon says shortly.
"No." Honestly. "What did you say?"
"I said I am not going to war."
Maedhros is silent again. Then, "Oh," he says.
"Yes," Fingon continues, his voice growing sharper and more satisfied by the minute. "I think war now is unnecessary and foolish. In fact – shall I tell you what I think? I think this scheme is a grand impulse to pander to your pride and your unnatural thirst for revenge."
He continues with a careful, savage relish. "Everything has been about you. You come back from the dead and everyone thinks of you as a hero. And you believe it. Because you are a frightener of orcs. Well, that is nothing." Nothing. "All you did was live." They are slipping into old, if not oft-travelled territory. "I was the one. I travelled into hell and came back victorious. And I am King now. I forbid this war to take place."
Fingon loses his temper, but as he is royalty, this means his voice dips into an angry hiss instead of rising. "Because I have lost too much and I cannot lose more. I have been fighting your war, Maedhros, for the last sixteen years."
"But if what you say is true, then your soldiers will die all the same. In a more prolonged, protracted way," says Maedhros, making perfect sense.
"My soldiers?" Fingon laughs incredulously. "As opposed to your soldiers, who are raring to fight and win?"
"So it seems."
Fingon gives out. He turns away from Maedhros with a sharp, deliberate movement and leans into the wall next to the window, laying his forehead and the backs of his fingers against the cool stone.
Maedhros settles into the window-sill. "Stop trying to make sense of everything, Fingon," he says. "that is my job."
Fingon shakes his head against the wall. "You make no sense to me," he says, his voice muffled. "Most of the time you seem as mad as I feel."
When he says things like that, it feels as though Fingon has an inkling of what it is like to be Maedhros. For his part, Maedhros is in a strange position. His responsibilities are practically equal to that of a High King, and yet he feels dissociated from the outcome of it all. He means to win – nothing can take that away from him – but for all that, at the back of his mind, there is the tempering memory of exactly what they are up against. An army of ants trying to bring down a mountain. A walking volcano. It feels absurd. The only way to react is to do equally absurd things. Hence the war. The new war, which he realises is a slight paradox, since the old war never really ceased to be.
As happens from time to time, he suddenly remembers what it feels like to be one half of a whole.
"Yes, probably," he says. "But if it means so much to you then we can wait. Perhaps it might be an advantage to attack a little later."
Fingon starts up at his words, his face opening into a full, blazing fury. He leans forward and digs his fingertips into Maedhros' chest, pushing him backwards. Maedhros has to clutch at the sill to steady himself from falling out of the window.
"Stop it," Fingon snarls. "Stop it."
"Are you trying to kill me?" In the past, Fingon has told Maedhros that he should have killed him on the rock.
"No!" he shouts. There are probably people on the stairway outside who can hear every word. There are definitely people on the ground below who can see Maedhros half-hanging on to the window frame. "It is you who are trying to kill me."
Maedhros pushes himself back in, shaking Fingon's hands off him. His sympathy with Fingon's lack of reason does not mean he appreciates it. If Fingon wants never to go to war again – well, then they might as well abandon civilisation and become cowering, homeless Avari. War, as he has told himself a thousand times, is the point of their existence. Any other life is unthinkable, except as a dream of what things will be like after the war.
They stand apart as the setting sun casts its slanted dark gold rays through the west window. Maedhros' hair is kindled to flame in the light. Fingon stares across at him with no trace of recognition in his eyes. Maedhros remembers the time in Valinor when he caught him secreting a leaf that had fallen from Maedhros' hair in his pocket. He cannot be sure, but he thinks that was when it all started. Back in a time when no one had needed tokens to remember each other.
It is no one's fault that this is so. It is no one's fault that he does not remember this Fingon either, Maedhros thinks, and leans forward to lick a soft, wet line across the other elf's lips.
He expects nothing, and so is not surprised when Fingon sighs and captures his mouth in a hard, desperate motion. As Maedhros finds his mouth captured and clung to, so also Fingon grips his arms and steers him so that he can kiss him better. Maedhros puts his arms around him, steadying him.
They can be seen from the window, but Maedhros does not care for Hithlum's propriety, and it would seem that Fingon does not either, that or he does not realise what he is doing. They sway like drunkards, Fingon almost falling into Maedhros as he kisses him hungrily, cruelly, like he has nothing else to live for.
They sink to the floor in a tangle of limbs and tongues and braids. Maedhros slides down Fingon's body, trailing his lips along his throat, when Fingon makes a sound like he is in pain, and Maedhros is wrestled off and down to the floor. He finds himself being made love to as though it is the first time they have ever touched. He shuts his eyes and gives in to the delirious heat and ice that travel in waves from where Fingon's hands and lips meet his body in a frantic, furious attempt to please. They both enjoy this other-worship, this giving that gives back even more. Maedhros is aware of the pleasure it gives Fingon to awaken his body with his touch and heated breath and the sounds he makes as he discards Maedhros' clothing with monumental impatience.
None of these things have changed since the earliest days. Only love is no longer a singing, laughing, loving thing. Love is a matter of life and death. And life a matter of war, and death a matter of time.
The long shadows are obscured as the tower room is plunged into a moonless night. Maedhros sits against the wall with his knees drawn up. Fingon lies comfortably against them, his hair a glorious black spill over Maedhros' body. His anger seems spent. In the failed light, he looks much younger than he is with his eyes shut and breath steady, like a sleeping child. A little while ago, the only thing Maedhros could think of was Fingon's name, saying it over and over in short, uneven gasps. It still lingers in his mind. Findekáno. In spite of everything, Maedhros sometimes feels that it is the only word he remembers out of an entire language.
Fingon opens his eyes. There is nothing of the child in his gaze as he fixes it on Maedhros, only a deep, deep well of things neither of them ever think of. He reaches up to touch Maedhros' face softly.
"We did love," he says, almost musingly. "You did love me." It feels like he has broken a spell of silence. His voice is even, measured; even quietly triumphant. "And it was perfect."
Maedhros turns his head to kiss the cupped palm. Whatever they have had, there will never be anything like it again, he thinks. He leans over to kiss Fingon's forehead. "Yes," he whispers.
Credits: I owe a lot to Tehta and Lipstick, for the PoV this fic took. I knew, on reading Gathering The Pieces, and just talking to Lipstick's muse, that this was the Mae I was trying to write. Thank you. Also, thank you Celebdil, my wonderful friend and the best slash writer I have ever read, for all your help.