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Promise of Fire

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He sleeps on his side, the wounds on his back still too raw to allow direct contact with the bed for long. I cradle him from behind, barely touching, not causing discomfort. He breathes through his mouth and relaxes into my arms. He is grateful; he thinks I am kind.

In his sleep he is as he ever was: wound up, strong and restless. Beautiful, too. The shadows in the room cocoon him in darkness, hiding angry scars and reddened skin. The moonlight, gentler than the harsh light of day, paints his shoulders with subtle tones, tempers disfigurement. After nightfall, our hearts beat in unison and my breath on his neck makes his hair quiver like a bright red flame. Pretence does not jar so much in the dark, in silence.

When he wakes it is another matter. He shifts, and I move away -- tender Fingon, considerate Fingon -- my actions taunting me in their mockery, though he does not notice. He is still exhausted, hurt resonating in his very bones, dulling perception. My voice is steady, my behaviour not out of character. I am careful not to give myself away, and he does not think to look for deceit where there once was none.

"Shh..." I say. "Easy, now."

"Nothing is easy now." His voice creaks with disuse.

It is not a great joke, but a joke nonetheless. I had half expected his mind to be affected by his ordeal; it is not. He is simply less watchful, and I suspect that half of his thoughts still sleep, too disturbing to relive. For now, he is content to recapture the old pleasures and comforts that were once his due. A clean bed. A good meal. The touch of a lover.

I do not begrudge him. When he shifts onto his back, carefully, I help him with the pillows. When his legs stretch out under the blankets, I caress his thighs. He sighs and closes his eyes, and I know what it is he wants; we have partnered each other in this dance often enough in the past. Slowly, I move the blankets away and kiss my way down his stomach, concave from his long fast and covered in welts. The stench of filth, of evil, still lingers, despite the many baths he has taken. It will linger for some time, I suspect. "Until he is well," I think, then immediately correct myself: "Until he is better." The blunt truth of the matter surfaces one more time.

His cock is half-hard, and I give a prayer of thanks that this part of him, at least, is unblemished. His musk is strong, and his hair coarse and red, bristling like a tenacious plant against his pallid skin. I close my eyes, and conjure up desire. It comes, slow and unwilling. Every night it is more difficult, but I can manage it, just. I open my mouth and take him in; I give what I can. Only I know how little that is.

"Slowly," he says, and I heed his wish.

His need is not acute -- not as it was between us when first we touched in Valinor. He is simply glad to be alive; this near-skeleton once more learning to feel life beneath his skin. I suck gently, my head cradled in his navel. His thighs spread further, his hips lift; he sighs. I know how to bring him pleasure.

He used to like stroking my hair with his right hand when I did this, but he cannot do that now. "Findekáno," he says instead, as if assuring himself that I am not a dream. I look up, my mouth full, and see him gazing down at me. He smiles, lips parting, the gaps where his teeth once were staring at me in their ugliness. I want to cry, to run, to hit the wall with my fist. Instead, I release him and whisper, "I am here." I do not say, "Maitimo."

He lays his head down again and thrusts his hips upwards. I accommodate him easily; this was a game we often played, and I am skilled at it. My hands hold his thighs, careful not to squeeze too hard, for Maedhros, the fearsome warrior, is still fragile. His skin is cold, not hot as it was when we first made love, back when the world was still whole. The bandages covering his lesions prevent me from getting a good grip.

At last, he tenses and invokes my name like a blessing, and I swallow, bitterness coating my mouth and passing down my throat. "Will you warm me?" he asks, and I move to lie beside him. I brush the hair from his face, bring the blanket up to his chin and stroke his cheek. He stirs for a while, then stills; he sleeps. It is easy for him to fall into oblivion. This is something I envy him, though I know I should not envy him anything.

----

"Do you think we are wrong in what we do?" he asked me once, lying in my arms after a hunt, our weapons discarded, the woods whispering around us. We were barely of age then, and so drunk on the wonder of each other that we cared not who saw.

"Going out to hunt game and spearing naught but each other? I'm sure your brothers would consider it a frightful waste of the hunting season."

My joke earned me an elbow to the stomach then, and I doubled over, half laughing, half in pain.

"You know very well what I was asking," he said.

I did know. I had thought of it often enough, when alone, with the memory of his hands imprinted on my skin. What we did was against our people's laws and mocked our families' expectations of us. And yet, how could we abandon what we had discovered together when the marvel of it made even the air around us seem sanctified? His hand in mine felt like a natural extension of my flesh; his thighs around my waist rooted me to the warm, living earth; our hair, mingling on the grass, was like the fire in his father's forge: dark and light, full of dazzling possibility. How could this be wrong?

"Some would say we are," I answered at last. "But I do not believe it."

"Nor I."

He raised himself on an elbow, his hair falling across his mouth. The beauty of the very sky above me dimmed beside the splendour of that flame of copper against his bottom lip.

"Promise me it will always be like this," he said then.

"Like what?"

"Like finding something I didn't even know was lost, when I'm with you. The heat of our bodies turning our blood to fire."

I laughed, half-afraid of his reverent tone, though I shared the sentiment. "You are no poet, Maitimo."

He pinned me under his weight and would not be dissuaded. "Promise me."

I promised. "It will always be like fire," I said, my mood turning solemn. I do not make promises lightly; I meant every word.

"So we will always--"

"Maitimo!" I tackled him in turn, flipping us over until he lay panting under me. My hands crept down the length of his thighs. "You know I am no oath breaker."

He nodded his assent, tugging at my hair to pull me down for a kiss. Heat rose between us, fuelled by our touch, cradled by the living earth beneath our backs. No promise had ever seemed easier to keep.

----

The night's cover is almost gone now. The room's contours gradually sharpen, emerging from the dark like islands from a sea of nothing. I get up quietly and walk over to the window, intent on watching the sun come up behind the hills. Dawn illuminates the land for miles around. There is not much to see: stunted trees and broken rocks, the path weaving jaggedly as if through a great slagheap. Before the sun's first rays have even broken through the early-morning mist, I turn away.

Maedhros is still sleeping, mouth slightly open, the growing light in the chamber making his injuries quite plain. He was once beautiful, but you would not call him that now. He is like a great tree felled by lightning: still magnificent despite its split trunk and charred branches, but no longer touching the sky.

Soon the sun will shine in his eyes and he will wake, asking for water. I will bring the flask up to his lips and help him sit up, mindful of his sore back. I am a man of honour; I know where my loyalties lie, and I do not forsake promises made long ago. But, when he complains of the chill of the morning, I will not pull back the covers to lie next to him and warm his body with mine. "My hands are cold," I will explain instead, walking over to stoke the embers in the fireplace.

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Author's notes:

1) Maitimo – Maedhros's mother-name, meaning "Well-shaped One," given to him because he was "of beautiful bodily form"

2) Findekáno – Fingon's name in Quenya

3) Comments are always cherished, as is constructive criticism.

4) I would like to thank my beta, Tehta, who has taught me to actually enjoy the rewriting process and who keeps my muses on their toes, and Nol, whose call for birthday fics sparked the inspiration for this vignette.