What Still Endures
The first time they touched as lovers, they were exhausted, wounded, bruised. Maedhros was still weak from his torments, and the stump where his hand had been had not entirely stopped bleeding. Fingon was himself scarcely stronger, after his long tortured journey in the lands ruled by Morgoth. Still, they needed to touch. So they lay down together and embraced, weakly, as they could, until they fell asleep entwined. In the morning Fingon gently disentangled himself from his sleeping lover, and went to give the news that Maedhros had returned.
Brief, fragile embraces, and yet they had been enough. Fingon knew that among his people the heart and body were only given to one lover through the whole lifetime of Arda. And so he was given, and so it would be.
Time passed, many days before the constant stream of healers and angry brothers allowed them another moment alone. When Fingon finally did go alone to his lover, he brought with him a new-forged sword, inlaid with reddish gold to match the silver-blue of his own blade. His movements were light by the time he reached Maedhros's rooms, his feet almost dancing. When he burst through the doorway he saw Maedhros standing, returned to the appearance of strength, and almost shouted for joy. He took the sword he carried and threw it in a fluid, practiced motion.
It should have been easy for Maedhros to catch. It was a familiar move from their sword-dance in Valinor, in which Maedhros had used both hands with equal fluency. Instead, Maedhros stood to one side, and let it clatter to the ground. His eyes, which had brightened briefly, once again were cold. "What do you want me to do with that?" he asked.
"What do you think?"
Maedhros looked down at his right arm, and at the bandage where his hand used to be. "I thought I could be the greatest warrior of the Eldar" Maedhros said. "And my only victory was against my own people. Morgoth destroys all, all that we ourselves have not already destroyed. There is nothing left. Why didn't you kill me?"
"Because then you'd be dead." This was ridiculous. Did Maedhros truly not want to live?
"There is nothing I can do." Maedhros lifted his stump again.
"Your left hand seemed perfectly...able last time we were alone together." Maedhros reddened slightly at that, which made Fingon smile. But as soon as he saw the smile, Maedhros's face hardened again.
"I have nothing to give you," he said. "Nothing."
Fingon wondered if there was any comfort he could give in the face of such despair. He thought about it, and then decided that he was not going to try. "If you can't then you can't," he said. "And if you can, come to me. You know, of course," why was this so hard to say? "You know what you are to me." He waited for a response, knowing that he should not, until Maedhros made the slightest nod.
Time passed, and Maedhros did not come to him. Much else happened, some of it secret, until the day when Maedhros stood before Fingolfin in the great hall, and then knelt, and forced his resentful brothers to kneel alongside him. Maedhros took the crown of the High King from his head - for he had insisted that it be returned to him - and placed it at Fingolfin's feet.
An act of courage, or generosity, or despair? Fingon could not say. Maedhros had never wanted to be king, never wanted to rule, always either following his father or rebelling against him. Fingon himself had been otherwise, dreaming of the vastness of Beleriand and the great kingdoms he would found there. But now, the great decisions of the realm were being made between his father and Maedhros, without his knowledge or consent. It seemed wrong, after his great heroic deed in the face of Morgoth, and after his leadership on the Ice. But it also seemed right. He had done something, before the Ice, something that he knew made him unworthy of rule. Something to do with darkness, and swords, and blood. No one should kneel to him.
Maedhros and his house gave many gifts to the house of Fingolfin, providing them with clothing, horses, whatever material goods they could share. Sometimes the simple gift of a new cloak was all it took to bring life back to someone who had been slowly fading since the Helcaraxe. And so many were fading, or had gone.
Many of the Noldor had lost partners, parents, children and yet still every moment were deciding to live rather than join their loved ones in Mandos. Others had left lovers and wives in Valinor, when they chose the path of exile. The Curse blocked their return, and none would follow across the sea. They would never again know love's embraces, not unless Arda be healed or the Curse fail, because such was the way of the Noldor. Fingon knew that his fate was no worse than theirs, if perhaps no better. And there was no point in regrets. He could no more chose a different lover than he could have a different father, or his father could have a different firstborn son. So he worked all day distributing the new goods, seeing Maedhros only from afar, and at night he left his door unlocked, still hoping Maedhros would come.
It was not until the weak light of the moon had faded and again returned that Fingon heard the doorknob turn and opened his eyes to see Maedhros in the doorway. He sat up to look at him. Maedhros was dressed in leather and silk, with his silver-grey shirt falling open to expose his chest. He wore the simple circlet of a prince on his long unbound hair. His eyes were dark, dark as they had been since Thangorodrim, and another might have looked away, but there was something else in the darkness, something that made Fingon smile.
Then he noticed that Maedhros carried his sword, unsheathed, shining red in the moonlight. "So you can wield that," Fingon said.
"Try me," Maedhros said, his eyes for a moment flashing with the same red light that glanced off his sword.
"Oh, I intend to." Fingon moved closer, pulled almost without will. The room seemed filled with a sudden heat. One step forward, and then another, until they were almost together. But at the moment that they were close enough to touch, Maedhros blocked him, raising his sword slightly.
"Get your sword," he said.
"Alright," Fingon said, embarrassed. "If that's what it takes." He crossed the room, locked the door, and took his sword from the wall. The moment it was in his hand, Maedhros attacked.
It was not the sword-dance. With his right hand gone, Maedhros had no balance, and no defense. It was all attack, all a forward motion, fought with brute strength instead of skill, and with no beauty at all. Fingon tried to draw him into their simplest practiced motions, but each attempt at grace was met only with anger. He found himself moving backwards under Maedhros's blows.
"You are humoring me!" Maedhros shouted.
"What do you expect?" Fingon tried to push back, trying to find the right level of force to challenge Maedhros but not overcome him.
He failed. Maedhros's next blow knocked the sword from his hand. With the force of his body, he pinned him against a wall.
"You should have killed me," Maedhros said, his eyes blazing, his body pressed hard against Fingon's. Fingon had a sudden vision of Maedhros's spirit in the halls of Mandos, finally at peace. Would that have been so bad? He wrapped his arms around him, frightened by the thought, and pulled him even closer. Fingon could feel the beat of his pulse in his chest, in his thighs, and the warmth of his hand next to the cold of his sword at his side. It was too hard to concentrate on anything else. Their loins pushed together, each hardness awakening he other.
"Yes," Fingon whispered. Maedhros smiled a half smile, and Fingon realized belatedly what he had just answered. But there was no point in further speech. Instead he leaned forward to close the short distance between Maedhros's parted lips and his own.
Maedhros kissed like he fought, angrily, without mercy, in a fierce battle of lips and tongues. Fingon responded with equal ferocity, pausing only to pry Maedhros's fingers loose from his sword and let it fall to the floor. Only the thin cloth of their leggings separated them, and it was too much. Fingon unlaced them, and then shuddered at the touch of his lover's nakedness against his own. They thrust together, again and again, sweat-covered, breathing hard, wanting to be as close as their bodies would allow. A shock of aching joy, pleasure as intense as pain. A sudden light in the voidlike darkness of Maedhros's eyes. And then it was over, and Maedhros turned his face away, and pressed his cheek to Fingon's shoulder.
Fingon bent his head to kiss Maedhros's hair. It was fascinating, how one Elf's hair could be so many different colours. Some strands were shades of brownish red, like the different shades of fading leaves. Others were yellowed, almost golden. Together they looked like the last rays of the new sun as it set in the west. Or like the flame from a burning city.
"I want to take you to the lake near your father's house," Maedhros whispered, "where we used to play as children, and lay you down under the apple tree you taught me to climb. I would love you there, I would caress you with skilled hands," his voice trembled slightly, "hands that have never done evil. I want to give you my whole heart, and whole body, knowing that it will be only yours, knowing that I will never have to go to a place where you can not follow."
Fingon tried to remember the apple tree, but could not, nor the lake, nor anything of Valinor. There was something else in the way, that he would have to remember first. Something he had done. Something wrong.
Maedhros backed away, and knelt on the floor, trying to pick up his sword. He kept dropping it, as if his fingers were too clumsy to hold it. Finally, he left it, and looked up, "I am going to keep my vow," he said. "I am going to Himring to hold the border against Morgoth, and one day regain the Silmarils. I will kill anyone who tries to stop me. If I die before my vow is fulfilled I will fall to the Everlasting Darkness."
Maedhros huddled on the floor, his knees bent. It reminded Fingon of something, something he could not place. Then he remembered. An Elf with silver hair had once knelt before him like this, begging him to spare his life. Around him, a great shout of lamentation was heard in the ruins of Alqualonde.
"What is left to us of what we were," Maedhros asked, "of what we thought we would be? What remains of the kingdoms we wanted to found, of the adventures we thought we would have, of all the good we believed we would do in our fight against Morgoth in Beleriand? What remains?"
"Nothing," Fingon said. "Nothing at all." Then he knelt next to Maedhros and embraced him. They kissed, not with passion but giving and seeking comfort that both knew they did not deserve.
And so they held each other, until the light came of the day Maedhros would go. At dawn the light of the sun found them, the faded rays of the burnt fruit that is all that still endures of the light of Laurelin in the fallen lands.
Many thanks to Cirdan and Shauna for betareading, and to Ithilwen, Tyellas and Finch for helpful comments. As usual, credit goes to Finch for inspiration. As always, I bow to the Great Professor Tolkien and beg forgiveness for any misuse I have made of his characters.