Findekano shifted in the chair, rolling his stiff shoulders as he opened his eyes. Someone, likely one of the healers' assistants, had draped a blanket over him while he slept.
His eyes darted to the still form laying on the bed near him. Maitimo slept; his pale, gaunt figure covered by the blankets, his face starkly outlined by his now close-cropped hair.
It was an unnatural sleep, Findekano thought, but Vorindo had shaken his head when he had first questioned it. "Who knows when he last had the ability to sleep, Findekano? Really sleep—without having to be vigilant? We can't know."
But he did not share Vorindo's conviction. Findekano was the only one who had spoken to Maitimo, when he was still chained to the mountain. Maitimo had seemed to recognize him but then it had descended into chaotic agony when the manacle could not be shattered or dislodged from the rock. Findekano's desperation had resulted in the butchery of Maitimo's right hand. It turned Findekano's stomach to think of it.
Somewhere between the actual release and the resulting copious blood loss, Maitimo had lost consciousness. But Findekano did not think he slumbered on because he felt safe. Anything but. It was almost as if Maitimo existed in a state of stasis—a protective inertness that prevented him from having to interact with his environment.
It brought to mind Maitimo's grandmother—Miriel. She too had gone into a type of stasis, if the stories Findekano had heard were accurate, alive but withdrawn from the world into a self-induced oblivion. But that story had ended with her in Namo's Halls. Vorindo, of all people, should remember that; he had made the long journey from Cuivienen with Finwë and Miriel, had been one of the royal house's healers for many long years. It chilled Findekano's heart to think of Maitimo sharing her fate.
But what kind of fate was the one Findekano had condemned him to? He had deliberated on that, these lonely nights sitting vigil at Maitimo's side. Had he done the right thing? Maitimo had begged for death and Findekano, his heart shattering even as he strung his great bow, had been prepared to do his bidding. It had devastated him to even consider complying with Maitimo's wishes but how could he leave him to eternal torment? He simply could not. Findekano had reluctantly strung the bow and positioned the arrow. Then, in desperation, he had sent a prayer to Manwë-to make his shot fly true, to still his shaking hands, so as to spare Maitimo any further agony in his final moments.
But Manwë had sent Thorondor and in that moment Findekano had seen another path. It had been selfish perhaps, to want Maitimo to live and be at his side again. Even more selfish to sacrifice Maitimo's hand—to render his sword arm forever useless and bring him back even more broken than he found him. But at the time it had seemed the only way.
It would be impossible for Maitimo to ever forgive him when he woke, Findekano thought. If he ever woke from this unnatural stillness that enveloped him.
It certainly wasn't a medicinal draught either, that kept Maitimo this way. Findekano shuddered at that particular memory.
Maitimo had been unconscious when they had arrived and had remained so to this moment. But on the third day after his rescue Maitimo's skin had become heated and a flush had come across his pallid features.
"Fever," Vorindo had said. The wound from Findekano's mountaintop carnage did not appear to have festered but Vorindo had cleaned it out again himself, just in case, carefully re-suturing it when he was satisfied it was adequately cleansed.
Findekano had remained at Maitimo's side, holding his left hand and keeping his gaze as far from the maimed right wrist as possible.
Vorindo had mixed a potion of yarrow and other herbs to bring the fever down, sitting the still unconscious Maitimo up to rest in Findekano's arms.
Findekano had seen Vorindo do this countless times on the Helcaraxë crossing—to Elves who had fallen into the frigid water or those who had succumbed to insensibility due to the bitter cold and malnutrition. The healer would use their few precious resources to build a small fire- melting a portion of ice into water, then adding a pinch of his dwindling medicinal herbs to create a warm broth.
Vorindo would get them to swallow the mixture with a judicious throat massage. Time and time again Findekano had been shocked to see the reflexive swallowing of the heated fluid that the healer induced in those Elves who were otherwise unresponsive to the outside world. Vorindo's methods had saved many lives on the Grinding Ice.
Maitimo had not responded in the same fashion. Findekano had placed himself behind him, cradling Maitimo's limp form against his chest; images of times long gone when he had held this same body in his arms filled his mind. He had been distracted by those thoughts so Maitimo's sudden thrashing at Vorindo's touch had caught him by surprise.
It had caught them all by surprise. An errant elbow had struck Findekano's jaw, momentarily stunning him. A low, feral growl escaped Maitimo's lips and he had bared his teeth at the healer, who stepped back in alarm.
Findekano had floundered, trying to capture Maitimo's flailing limbs, the strength of the invalid shocking him. It was as he had reached across, in a vain attempt to grab Maitimo's left arm, that he had caught a glimpse of the other's face.
Maitimo's eyes had been wide open, the silver blazing forth with an intensity Findekano could not recall ever seeing in those eyes before. His efforts to recapture Maitimo's arms were thwarted again, only halted when the right stump made contact with the headboard and Maitimo had given a brief exclamation of pain that was instantly cut off.
It had broken Findekano's heart to see. Maitimo's face had paled as he clamped his mouth shut, biting his lower lip until it bled but allowing no other sound to escape him. He had continued to silently struggle to free himself from the restraining arms of Findekano and the other healers who had moved to help.
Vorindo had taken that moment to step closer, laying one hand swiftly on Maitimo's forehead while the other had gripped tightly just above his collarbone.
Maitimo's eyes rolled back and he had slumped in Findekano's arms, limp again.
"What did you do to him?" Findekano had demanded, his arms circling protectively around Maitimo's fevered form. "What did you do, Vorindo?"
Vorindo had shaken his head, his hand still on Maitimo's forehead. "A trick I learned long ago, to temporarily still a patient," he said. "We had need of such skills before we came to Aman's blessed shores." The healer sighed. "It has been long since I have cared for one so unwell," Vorindo admitted, frowning down at his charge. "I did not think what forcing him to drink the potion might make him recall—what foul things they did to him in Angband that would make him react so. It is my fault. I did not think it through." He had shaken his head again, his voice going softer. "I did not think."
Findekano had looked down at the limp form he held. He had not thought of what Vorindo's maneuver might do to Maitimo either, after his torment. He had not considered that Maitimo might view even this healing gesture as an assault. Who knew what he had been subject to, in his years of captivity? He recoiled at the thought. Findekano could only see the scars on the surface—and there were many—but he was certain there were hidden wounds within.
Vorindo had looked around the room. "Riel!" he had called out to his assistant. "Gather buckets and bring snow here to me. As many buckets as you can." He had turned to another healer who stood nearby. "Turn down the braziers—we need it cooler in here if we are to bring his fever down this way."
"What are you doing?" Findekano had asked, resting against the headboard, Maitimo's head pillowed on his chest.
"I must cool him somehow. I dare not move him, to put him in a cooling bath, unconscious as he is. We will have to make do with wrapping him in chilled sheets."
It had been a long, cold night—as close to the nightmare of the Helcaraxë as Findekano had experienced since they had arrived in Beleriand.
He shivered at the memory of that night, almost a week ago now, and pulled the blanket tighter around himself, leaning his head back against the chair. He could see the light of day peeking through the lacings of the tent flaps.
He had rarely left Maitimo's side since they had returned. Vorindo had let him stay at will, the assistants bringing him water to bathe in and fresh clothes. Findekano had left the tent only briefly, to periodically stretch his legs and pace the perimeter around it.
He even took his meals at Maitimo's bedside, declining his father's entreaties to join the family in their quarters. Irisse had finally had enough of his refusals and now joined him for his evening meals.
It was hard for her to be at ease, with Maitimo's unmoving form at their side. Her gaze would dart to him, unable to keep the shock of his appearance out of her expression at first.
It still startled Findekano himself at times, although he did not tell her that.
Still, unlike his brother, she came—to keep him company, to see that he was fed, to report back to their father.
Nolofinwë had come too. He had seated himself next to Findekano, his gaze never leaving the motionless form of his once-favorite nephew.
Findekano had not forgotten how close his father and Maitimo had been—years of working side by side in Grandfather's palace had forged a deep bond between them. So similar in their love of reading, debate, philosophical discussion.
Findekano had yearned for Maitimo during the latter's years of exile in Formenos—missing his best friend, confidant, the one he loved above all others—despite their growing differences at that time.
But in his own way his father had missed Maitimo too. Nelyo, as Nolofinwë called his beloved nephew, had always been a steady presence at his uncle's side. Whether they were discussing policy, politics, debating rhetoric, or bemoaning the councilors who slowed their progress—Nolofinwë and Nelyo worked well together, respected each other and legitimately enjoyed each other's company.
Findekano could tell it hurt his father to see his nephew in this condition. Nolofinwë had still not recovered from the shock of finding his own brother long dead, when they had arrived in Beleriand. Findekano didn't think his father would ever completely come to terms with that loss.
"We must send word to his brothers," Nolofinwë had said to Findekano, that first day after the rescue, his eyes turning from Maitimo to meet his son's. "Makalaurë should know that his brother still lives."
Findekano had shaken his head. "He is not well enough to be moved. You know they will come and take him."
"Fin. Makalaurë is the King. He needs to know this."
"Regent. His own words. Makalaurë called himself the Regent of the High King," Findekano had stubbornly stated.
"King, Regent. It matters not. The High King of the Noldor lies in this bed before you and his people should know he is returned to them. I must tell Makalaurë his brother lives," Nolofinwë had said. He had placed a hand on his son's shoulder. "I will tell him what has transpired and how his brother comes to be free from torment."
Nolofinwë had sent his messengers to Makalaurë. Findekano did not know what his father had communicated but Makalaurë had come, with an escort that astoundingly did not include any of his other brothers.
He had been brought to the tent by Vorindo, Makalaurë's face pale and haggard. He had stood at the foot of Maitimo's bed, staring unblinkingly at his unconscious older brother. Findekano had stood up from his seat at his entrance. "Makalaurë. Welcome, cousin. I will leave you-I am sure you want some time alone with him," Findekano had said.
Makalaurë had turned haunted grey eyes on him. "You need not go on my account. You did what none of us could do, Findekano. You brought him back."
Findekano had been at a loss for words. Yes, he had brought Maitimo back from Thangorodrim but in what condition? At what cost to Maitimo himself? He could not bring himself to speak of it.
"I will give you a moment," Findekano had said, attempting to excuse himself again. He knew how close the brothers had always been and he had anticipated Makalaurë had things to say to Maitimo, whether his brother could hear him or not.
Findekano had done so himself, speaking to Maitimo in the hours he sat vigil by his side. There was so much to say, now that he was with Maitimo again. Conversations that had swirled in his head in the time since they had parted, on the shores of Aman. He was sure Makalaurë had much of his own to say to his brother.
"I will be just outside." Findekano had nodded at Vorindo and had then moved toward the exit.
Makalaurë's hand on his arm had stopped him. "Thank you, Finno. I cannot thank you enough for bringing him back to me, to us." He had been surprised at how his cousin's usually steady voice trembled. Findekano had then been unexpectedly enveloped in a firm embrace. His arms tentatively went around Makalaurë in return and then tightened at his cousin's whispered words. "You have saved not only him, but all of us with this valiant act, Finno."
Findekano had held him for a moment and then stepped back. "Take your time. I will be outside." Makalaurë had nodded and Findekano had left, to pace around the camp as he waited for his cousin to emerge.
He had steeled himself for the inevitable words, for the order to prepare Maitimo for the journey to the other side of the lake. But those words never came.
Makalaurë had found him and together they had returned to the tent where Maitimo lay. "I spoke with Vorindo," Makalaurë had said. "My brother is in good hands here. I will not risk his welfare by moving him now."
Findekáno had looked at him askance. "I assumed you would want to take him with you."
Makalaurë had sighed and run a hand through his hair. "I do. And I don't." He had continued speaking at Findekano's puzzled look. "He is well cared for here. I do not know what moving him will accomplish, in his condition—perhaps more harm than good. Vorindo is a skilled healer, more skilled than those we have with us, I must confess." He frowned at Findekano. "I say this to you in confidence and because you know us so well." He paused, looking in the direction of the Fëanorian camp across the lake. "He will have a better chance of recovering here. I know this. I beg leave to visit, at will, if I can. And perhaps my other brothers, in due time. But I think it will be all too much for him, with us, when he wakes." His grey eyes had returned to meet Findekano's. "We are a challenging family as you so well know. I do not want him to spend his energy on healing our rifts and mediating our quarrels when he should be focusing on healing himself."
Findekano's heart had leapt at Makalaurë's words but he kept his voice steady and courteous as he replied. "If you believe that is the best option for him, then of course, we will be most honored to continue to care for him here."
Makalaurë had been true to his word. He had visited Maitimo twice more since, both times with a small escort but no siblings at his side. He had confessed to Findekano that his younger brothers seethed at being left behind but thus far had been grudgingly kept at bay only by the fact that he had commanded it as their current sovereign lord, not as their brother.
Findekano's own brother would not come. Turukano still seethed at Fëanaro and his sons, Elenwë's loss still burning his heart; he laid the blame squarely at his deceased uncle's feet. In Turko's estimation his cousins were just as much to blame as their father. He would not enter the tent where Maitimo lay.
Findekano could not entirely blame him. Every life lost on that perilous crossing was one life too many; Elenwë's loss had shaken them all but his brother's world had been completely shattered by it. Itarille was a constant reminder of her lost mother. Turko could not countenance facing one of the supposed perpetrators of Elenwë's end, even if Maitimo had not been directly at fault. There was no forgiveness or sympathy in Turko—not now, perhaps not ever.
Findekano ran his hands through the tangled mess of his hair, yawning as his stomach rumbled. He stood up, folding the blanket to neatly lay it on the low table nearby, and then he stretched his back to work out the kinks another night in the chair had given him. Vorindo had offered him a pallet but Findekano had refused. He wanted to be where he could see Maitimo's face, not on the floor out of reach.
He stretched once more for good measure and then turned in the direction of the exit, determined to stretch his legs and enjoy the cold sunshine for a bit.
Findekano glanced once more at Maitimo before embarking on his brief break and froze in shock at the sight of those silver eyes, open and regarding him thoughtfully.
He was on his knees at bedside before he even consciously thought of moving. "You're awake!" Findekano said to him, "You're finally awake."
Maitimo's expression remained thoughtful, a small crease appearing on his forehead as he met Findekano's eyes. "Am I?" he asked. He seemed to be quite serious about the question.
"You have slept for more than a week, since we left Thangorodrim," Findekano explained. He desperately wanted to clasp Maitimo's hand in his own but he was wary of doing so. Maitimo's boundaries were likely far different than they had been before his captivity and torture. He would be content to follow Maitimo's lead in this.
"Thangorodrim," Maitimo repeated. He shrugged his right shoulder experimentally, wincing at the motion. "I have often dreamed that I have left that cursed place behind but that hope shatters every time I wake." He shook his head. "This is worse than most. It seems almost real this time." Maitimo shut his eyes. "You'll be gone when I open my eyes. I'm sure of it." His voice dropped to a whisper. "I dare not sleep again. It was a gift to see you again, Finno, if only in my mind."
Findekano laced his fingers tightly together, to keep from involuntarily reaching for the other's. "You are awake and you are here, with me. You are not a prisoner anymore, Maitimo."
Silver eyes opened and blazed at him. "Do not call me that, even in my dreams it is not who I am anymore, Finno. Maitimo was a boy in Aman." He closed his eyes again. "I do not think there is any of him left in me."
Findekano's heart clenched at Maitimo's words. Even now, Maitimo thought this was all his fevered imagination. He shuddered to think what trials and torture his beloved had been through, to think that even his rescue was a twisted illusion.
Maitimo kept his eyes closed. He would not talk to this apparition anymore. It served no purpose. There had been implausible scenarios, there had been realistic images, there had been dreams-but-not-dreams that had been every bit as believable as this seemed to be—Morgoth's lieutenant seemed to find great amusement in illusions.
The visions that he had been subject to-more often than not a twisted mixture of manipulations of his surroundings and mind-altering substances forced through his unwilling lips-had often seemed real at the onset but usually revealed some minor flaw that catapulted his consciousness into a swift rebuttal. It was likely his continued unwavering resistance to succumbing to those manufactured hallucinations that had resulted in his current predicament-chained to the very mountain of Thangorodrim itself.
That was one of the reasons this vision was so very terrifying, following so swiftly on that last disturbing dream he had experienced; he had not been subjected to any such torture since he had been hung upon the mount. He took it as an ominous sign that the visions had started again.
But none of the illusions from before had been quite like this, his mind whispered to him. Both his recent hallucinations had featured Findekano, which was most unusual in itself. But this was also a Findekano who was changed—not as Maitimo recalled him at all. Findekano's voice had never been so distraught, his body and face so much thinner than Maitimo remembered, his eyes had never appeared as haunted and pained as they were in this hallucination. Not even during the worst of their heated arguments, before he left for exile in Formenos. Why would they tempt him with such obvious falseness? Surely they would not expect him to fall for this.
But that was exactly what was making him truly apprehensive and close to panic about this illusion. This instance followed none of the usual scripts, none of the usual patterns.
Which meant . . . No, he couldn't let his mind follow that path. That was the road to insanity that he had been resisting all this time. He scrunched his eyes shut and bit at his lip, the momentary pain clearing his mind.
This was just a more skilled version than he'd been subjected to before, he assured himself. He could make it through. He'd done it before.
It dawned on him then, what was making him so uneasy-this time there was just so much that seemed unreal, not just a single flaw. Findekano didn't look like this in his dreams. This version was still handsome, but something was changed in him-a too-pale face and an unfamiliar aching distress in his eyes. But it was more than just that.
The few hallucinations he had experienced that had included Findekano had taken place in Aman. Not here. Findekano wasn't here, never had been here. He had been left behind, stranded by Maitimo's father. They had never twisted the visions in quite such a glaringly improbable way before. How could Findekano know of his torment on Thangorodrim? This was too far-fetched, even for one of Mairon's manufactured hallucinations.
The only images of Beleriand they had ever tortured him with had been the ones of his father, his followers, of his brothers. Or of Maitimo's own rash actions.
He remembered the other dream now, the last one he recalled having. It had been disturbing for similar reasons. Findekano had figured in that one as well, his beautiful voice implausibly ringing out across the choked plain before Thangorodrim. He had found himself answering that song, so starved for that beloved voice and the memories it brought.
He had begged Findekano for death in that vision but then the dream had exploded into pain and blood—usually something they saved for his awakening.
But it had not stopped there, as he had expected, as usually happened with these visions. It had continued on, image upon image. Why would Morgoth taunt him with a glimpse of Manwë's eagles? The Valar had long ago forsaken the House of Fëanor. It had made no sense to him and he had discarded it at the time for the illusion that it so clearly was.
Findekano stared at Maitimo, noting how the other still kept his eyes tightly clenched shut. How could he convince him this was reality and not one of the cursed tortures he had obviously been subject to?
He could still feel his tenuous bond with Maitimo, thin and flickering as it was. Findekano had gently reached out to Maitimo as he slept, Vorindo's words echoing in his memory. The healer had been convinced Maitimo's fëa was strengthened by their connection but Findekano had hesitated to deepen their bond, without Maitimo's consent. But how else to convince Maitimo this was reality and not another of his fever dreams? He would have to use the bond- it was the manifestation of their truest selves, their deepest feelings, their unbreakable link.
Findekano closed his eyes in turn, reaching deep within himself to find that flickering spark that linked them. He poured his love, his affection, the feelings he had once held so strongly for the one who was before him. The feelings he had walled away with each step he took on the Ice. The feelings he had not dared to fully free, while Maitimo had slumbered.
He ripped those walls away now, wanting Maitimo to feel his love, feel his fëa calling out to him, rekindle the bond that still held them together.
Maitimo gasped as the sensation flooded through him, as Findekano strengthened the fragile link. His eyes opened in shock but then he again clenched them shut, throwing back his head as if in pain.
They had never been so cruel before, Maitimo thought; never tormented him with Findekano, at least not like this. With images of him dead on the beach of Alqualondë, with visions of him seething hatred and shouting curses at him as the ships burned—oh yes, they had tortured him with those visions before.
But this? This outpouring of love? Never this. Tears streaked down his face but he was as determined as ever not to cry out or speak, even as the panic threatened to overcome him. How had they found his bond? How had they been able to distort it, to deceive him in this way? It felt like Findekano and that was what hurt the most.
Ignore it. Ignore the pain, the need to reach out to meet this love. Stifle the sensation, wall off the bond—that's what he needed to do. They would tire of this mind game eventually and move on to something more physical. He just had to wait it out.
"Maitimo," Findekano's voice, filled with heartbreak and love, washed over him. Maitimo clenched his jaw and covered his ears with his hands.
The sudden searing pain in his right wrist made him exhale and open his eyes. He pulled his right hand from near his ear and stared down at it. Maitimo's eyes fell on the bloodstained bandages covering the stump where his right hand used to be and all his rationalizations left him.
"Maitimo, my Maitimo, I am so sorry. I didn't know what to do—I couldn't get the manacle off your wrist, I couldn't dig it out of the wall, I didn't know what to do to free you." Findekano's face swam into view, the distress clearly showing in his features. "I did this to you and I know. . . I know you can never forgive me for it." He covered his face with his hands. "I did not know what else to do to free you," he repeated.
He could hear Findekano's voice, could hear the words he was saying. He reached out a finger to touch the bandages covering his wrist. The rough surface met his touch and an electrical shock traveled up his arm as he prodded the bandages.
Damn it. Why did this have to feel so real? He turned his eyes to the hallucination of Findekano who was staring at him, his blue eyes pained. This was the glaring flaw, Maitimo decided. He had noticed it before but it crystalized into conviction now; this was not Findekano. His Findekano was not so pale, not so worn-down, never had such dark circles under his eyes, as this imperfect copy did. His Findekano would know there was nothing for Maitimo to forgive. If anything, Maitimo should be the one begging for forgiveness—for the arguments, for Alqualondë, for the betrayal of leaving him behind after they finally had a brief moment to be close again. For letting the ships burn and losing him forever.
"Enough," Maitimo said, his voice louder now. He fixed his stare on Findekano, eyes cold and distant, and then looked around the room, his eyes darting to the entrance and corners, as if searching for something. "I have had quite enough of this," he continued, ignoring Findekano now, as if speaking to someone unseen. "Do your worst, loathsome servant of my eternal Enemy. It is nothing I have not endured before but for the love of Eru stop this travesty. You have failed to make it convincing and I am ready for an end to it."
Findekano audibly gasped in understanding and shock, as the enormity of what Maitimo's words signified became clear to him. Maitimo didn't simply think this was a dream. He had been subject to induced dreams and hallucinations like this before. His heart sank. How was he ever going to convince him this was real?
Keep talking, Findekano thought. He will know me, at some point he must realize it is really me, he told himself.
He clenched his fists at his sides and moved to sit on the side of the bed, facing Maitimo.
Maitimo gave him a frustrated look. "I told you. I've had enough of this vision. You are a poor copy of Findekano. He never looked thus. You do not do him justice." Findekano could have laughed at those words had they been said under different circumstances. Maitimo had never looked so unlike himself either. What a pair they were. But there were no other circumstances—this is who they were now. Changed but still themselves deep inside, where it mattered. If only he could get Maitimo to see that.
Maitimo just glared at Findekano and tried to sit up further in the bed, his eyes continuing to dart around the room, more frantically now. "Mairon! I've had enough of this particular game of yours. Leave me to hang on the cliff in peace. Or bring me back down to the fighting pits, I care not, just stop this farce."
Findekano continued to stare at him, pouring as much love and devotion as he could into their bond. There would be no way that the powers of Morgoth could counterfeit that. Maitimo would have to realize, at some point, that Findekano was real.
Maitimo gasped again, laying his good hand against his chest. He closed his eyes and breathed in and out, frowning. "What sorcery is this?" he muttered. "I cannot be feeling this. Not anymore." How was Mairon manipulating his bond, his most buried secret?
"I should have known," Findekano interjected. "I should have known the bond did not diminish because you had shut it down—it would have disappeared completely if you had renounced it. It wouldn't have stayed, dim but still there. I should have realized it meant something had happened to you, that there was a reason you were shielding it." Maitimo opened his eyes to look at him again. This Findekano's face looked grim. "I blamed your father for it, not Morgoth, more fool that I am. Morgoth is the root of our strife, no other."
Findekano ran a hand through his hair, disheveling it further. Maitimo wondered at himself for noticing that detail. "I deluded myself," Findekano continued, his blue eyes troubled. "I told myself you had willfully distanced yourself and I shut it away myself." He hesitated, glancing down at his hands, fisted in his lap. "I was so angry at you, Maitimo." He met Maitimo's gaze and Maitimo somehow couldn't make himself answer him, couldn't even beg him to stop using that name. "But I still felt things—sometimes, even as I tried to dampen it down. Heat. Fear. Loss. In my dreams I saw such strange visions, Maitimo. Places I'd never seen before but now that I am here—I recognize them." Findekano's voice faltered. "I've told no one this."
Maitimo's fingers clenched into a fist, his ragged nails biting into the flesh of his left palm, the pain again helping him focus. He'd had dreams too, ones that he doubted came from the Evil One, as they served no purpose that he could identify. Dreams of cold, bitter cold, a cold that somehow soothed him in his sleep—body burned and beaten as it was. Visions of never ending ice, creaks and groans surrounding him, the surface under his feet shifting as he stepped. What had they meant? He had always attributed them to his imagination—seeking solace and escape from the daily torture and brutal images that were forced on him by his captors. But what if they were not just his imaginings? He shuddered.
"Do not speak of such things," Maitimo hissed, his voice dropping to a frantic whisper. "He will discover it if you do, even now he listens in on these fabricated visions of mine. You must not reveal more." Maitimo's sunken eyes were huge in his too pale, gaunt face. "I could not bear it. I have buried it deep, to keep something of my own." His voice sank to an almost inaudible murmur as he looked down. "Something dear to me alone."
A warm hand reached for his and then drew back. He looked up to meet brilliant blue eyes, so familiar but close, too close. "My Maitimo, I've missed you so," Findekano whispered.
Maitimo pulled away from him and grabbed hold of the stump, squeezing hard. The pain made him want to scream but as usual he stifled the impulse and closed his eyes yet again, hoping that this time when he opened them he would be where he belonged, hanging from the cliff wall, the familiar pain in his shoulder and chafing of his wrist his only companions once again. This vision was too much, too much. He could not take any more of it.
Too often, in the early days, he had allowed himself the solace of what he thought at the time were simple dreams—of his mother running her fingers through his hair as he pillowed his head in her lap, of Makalaurë braiding his hair for a festival, of his father resting his forehead against his own-only to wake up to amusement in Mairon's golden eyes as the Maia's hands stroked his hair, pressed his face to his own. It had made him retch at the time, to think it had been Mairon's hands, Mairon's lap, Mairon's touch—all an illusion, to lull him in to a false complacency.
He had allowed himself to become truly complacent, dangling from the charred peaks of Thangorodrim. He had allowed himself to hope that the mind games were over, that he would end his days on that peak-starvation and exposure giving him the release he had so longed for. He had been wrong.
A gentle touch brushed over his hand and Maitimo shuddered. They had done this to him before; the gentle sensation before the keenness of the blade or the lash of the whip. Or worse.
But no blade sliced his skin, no whip cracked. He felt a tentative touch on the back of his left hand again as that beloved voice continued to speak. "My Maitimo, what have they done to you? It is me, I promise it is me. I know I have changed so much, from the journey over the ice—it is hard to recognize me, I am sure. But look inside—I feel you again, as I once did. Can you not feel me too?" Findekano's voice was gentle.
He opened his eyes and glared at the apparition. Fine. If Mairon wasn't going to end this then he would do it himself. Somehow the Maia had unearthed his secret link with Findekano, had manipulated it to somehow feel so real. It was likely the Maia himself, masquerading as Findekano, speaking those words to him. He had done it before—as Nerdanel, as Makalaurë, as Fëanaro himself in the visions.
So. He would make it stop. He knew it irritated the Maia when Maitimo saw through his elaborate illusions. It was surprising he had not halted this vision already, since Maitimo had made it quite clear he had seen through the artifice once again. But no matter. He would have to take matters into his own hands and bring this to a halt.
Maitimo leaned forward and grabbed the apparition by the shirt, pulling him roughly towards him. His lips met Findekano's fiercely, the anger he felt transforming the kiss into an aggressive gesture. That would show Mairon he knew just how false this was.
But the lips under his were soft and pliant in response and oh so familiar. He shoved Findekano away from him forcefully. He glared around the confines of the room again, then fixed his furious gaze on Findekano. "I told you to end it," he said.
Fingers gently brushed against his. Sapphire eyes met silver as he looked, really looked at Findekano. There was weariness in his face, a thinness and pallor that had never been there before but his eyes. . . there was as much love shining there as the last time he had seen him, on the shores of Aman, what seemed a lifetime ago.
"Even now, can you not feel me, Maitimo?" Findekano whispered, sending his love and longing across their renewed bond.
Maitimo felt the emotion pulse through him. It couldn't be. It couldn't be real. But it felt more real than anything he had felt in all the years of his captivity. This touch was so familiar. This fëa was as well-known to him as his very own. He had tried to push it away, ignore it, deny it, but it kept reaching out to him in such a recognizable way. He had not dared to hope. Hope was the way to his demise, he had kept repeating that to himself, all this time. He was beyond hope.
But even though he told himself that, he could feel his heart speed up at the touch to his soul, a touch so brilliant and so loving that he could not bring himself to deny it any more. "Is it really you?" he whispered. "Can it really be you?" Maitimo repeated.
"It is me, love," Findekano said, his eyes brimming with unshed tears as he gently took Maitimo's good left hand and placed it flat on his chest. "There is my heart and here is my soul, reaching out to yours. Can you not feel it?"
He could feel it. He had been trying to refute it all this time, unwilling to bear the disappointment, the pain and loss that would inevitably come when this vision faded.
But this vision wasn't fading. It was only becoming clearer, more real. He could feel Findekano's heartbeat, strong and steady under his hand, as he had felt it countless times when he had pillowed his head on that beloved chest. The warmth spread through him and he tentatively reached out for the bond he had buried, hidden, submerged so deep he had thought it lost to him. It blazed forth to an answering touch so familiar, so beloved that Maitimo could not stop the tears that ran down his own cheeks.
"It is you. It was you all along, my Finno. I doubted you but I should not have, valiant heart. If anyone was going to bring me back to myself it would be you."
Findekano's hand was warm on his own. Maitimo moved his fingers up to lightly trace the contours of that beloved face, stroking a stray tear away with his thumb. "You came for me, I know not how, but oh Finno, you have no idea how much I longed to be found, even if I could not admit it to myself."
My thanks to tthe marvelous Cheekybeak for her beta work on this chapter! I had originally written this story as a one shot but I recently had a prompt for some angsty, canon timeframe Maedhros and Fingon. This time in their lives immediately came to mind.
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