The dying screams betrayed their origins. Fingon sank his blade into the gut of another Orc, and its enraged shriek blended in terrible harmony with the cry of a wounded Elf at his left shoulder - one of Maedhros's men, he realised. He kicked the Orc from his sword and lopped off its head. Black blood spurted from the gaping arteries. He wiped the thick, warm liquid from his eyes, then raised his head and caught sight of his cousin galloping across the field on Lossë, his great white stallion. The dawn light flashed through Maedhros's coppery hair. Fingon's soul soared as his cousin rode down a gaggle of Orcs, trampling them beneath Lossë's hooves as though they were no more than maggots.
As Maedhros circled back he brandished his sword aloft, and his face seemed fey and cruel in the blood-red dawn. Grief threaded through Fingon's pride. Since Thangorodrim his kinsman had grown fierce and terrible, the gentle Maitimo of old lost beneath this hard, distant stranger - and then more of the creatures were upon him, and there was no more time to stare.
He killed them quickly, taking no delight in the gurgles and groans as their lives slid away. He found one dragging itself across the field with its arms; only bleeding stumps were left of its legs. Horrified, he gazed for a frozen moment on the trail of black ichor it left in its wake as it clawed away from the fight, then he remembered himself and stabbed it in the neck. His ears rang and his limbs ached. The air smelled of sulphur, and there was a vile taste in his mouth like rancid meat - Orc blood. Vomit rose in his throat. He took a breath and steadied himself as the bones in his legs seemed to vanish.
"Ware, my lord!"
He heard the blade sing through the air behind him and dropped into a crouch. Pivoting and swinging his own blade as he straightened, he severed his assailant's arm at a stroke. He turned again and raised his sword, and then something blunt slammed into his right side. Pain exploded across his chest. His armour crashed and jarred as he landed on the sodden ground; his teeth clicked together, and bursts of white light flared in his vision. He spluttered, blinking stupidly, his lungs refusing to draw in breath. As his sight cleared he made out the form of an Orc above him, its mouth pulled into sharp-toothed grin. The morning sky shone behind it, outlining the creature's squat form in a scarlet glow. In its left hand it clutched a crudely-forged hammer, and with its right it raised a jagged blade. A cool breeze blew from the North, its tang of snow and ice sweetening the bitter fumes that belched from Angband. Fingon tried to breathe it in, to get up, fight back, but his sword had fallen from his grip and his chest felt clamped by iron bands.
A, Elbereth, he thought, gasping uselessly, please, not like this.
He would not close his eyes when death came. He would not show his fear to this mockery of an Elf. Coughing, he raised his head, stoking all his years of anger and resentment and letting their flames blaze out through his countenance.
The creature's eyes bulged, and the dagger fell from its hand. For one bizarre instant Fingon thought that his fury had frightened it into submission - then a spike of white steel sprouted from the Orc's chest. It hung skewered for a few heartbeats, and then with a choking snarl it went limp.
Behind it, panting, his eyes burning with fury, was Maedhros.
He shook the corpse from his greatsword and offered Fingon his right arm - the one that ended in that terrible stump. Fingon felt a stab of guilt at the sight of it, but he could not think on that now. He grasped his cousin's arm and pulled himself up.
"Are you hurt?" Maedhros's gaze searched him urgently for injury.
Fingon shook his head, not trusting his voice yet. He released his grip on Maedhros and bent to pick up his sword, stifling a moan at the pain searing up his side.
"Yes, you are. Stop being so damn proud and get off the field." Concern, exasperation and amusement struggled for mastery in his cousin's voice - and there was a startling gentleness there too, a note of warmth that Fingon had thought silenced forever by his Oath and torment. Forgetting his discomfort for a moment, he looked at Maedhros in astonishment. His kinsman's grey eyes shone with a light Fingon did not recall seeing there since Valinor. Was he imagining things? Perhaps he was only seeing what he wished to see, after fifty years of distance and cool courtesy.
Maedhros smiled, the proud lines of his face softening. "It is all but over. Look - the day is ours."
He was right. There were isolated skirmishes here and there, but the forces of the Noldor still stood, and the ground was soaked with the blood of the Orcs. The cacophony of battle had receded to patches of thin metallic clattering and stray cries.
"A strange feeling, is it not?" said Maedhros softly, staring ahead. The sun had lightened from red to orange, and the mist on the horizon had cleared. In the distance the sharp peaks of Thangorodrim cut across the morning sky like a wound.
Heart hammering in his throat, Fingon touched Maedhros lightly on the shoulder. "Maitimo..."
His cousin turned back to him, still smiling - but it was as though a shutter had closed behind his eyes. "Come. I will not be easy until someone has looked you over."
A makeshift camp had sprung up behind the battle lines. The Noldor had travelled light in pursuit of the Orcs; the wounded lay on bedrolls, with a half-hearted nod to privacy given by crude screens made from blankets and stout branches. A harried Healer inspected Fingon, applied a soothing salve to his side, and pronounced him bruised and winded but in no danger. Evidently satisfied, Maedhros planted a brief kiss on his brow and went to see to his own men.
Their losses were few, and as the last stragglers returned from the battle, euphoria spread through the camp. Despite the early hour, fires were built and wineskins were opened. Songs ranging from the fair and noble to the outrageously bawdy echoed across the plains. The Noldor had destroyed the remnants of their enemy's army within sight of the gates of Angband itself, and the victory tasted sweeter than anything they had experienced since their flight from Aman.
Fingon did not see his cousin again until the evening. Wandering through the camp, he caught sight of Maedhros sitting cross-legged on the opposite side of one of the crackling bonfires, sharing a bottle of something with Maglor - and laughing. Fingon watched in fascination as the lines and scars on Maedhros's face receded with mirth. The firelight caressed his red hair, and Fingon's throat closed.
You never looked more beautiful, Maitimo.
He guarded the thought carefully, knowing that both of his cousins had the power to catch the tenor, if not the exact content, of another's mind.
Even so, Maedhros glanced up as though he had heard him. He murmured something to Maglor, then got to his feet and tilted his head towards the copse of trees at the edge of the camp.
Fingon waited a few moments before following.
“Findekáno.” As Fingon joined him under the trees, Maedhros reached out with his left hand and gripped his cousin's arm.
A thrill of delight ran through Fingon at the use of his old name. "Maitimo," he responded, warmly returning the grasp. Even away from the fires, with only the cool moon to light it, Maedhros's hair seemed to glow.
Hesitantly, as though expecting to be refused, Maedhros drew him into a gentle embrace. Surprised, Fingon leaned into the contact, resting his chin on the familiar shoulder. He closed his eyes and savoured the feeling of warmth that bloomed inside him as his cousin's hair tickled his cheek. "How do you feel?" murmured Maedhros.
"I'm well enough." It was true, although his side ached and his chest felt sore if he breathed too deeply. Even so he inhaled his cousin's scent of pinewood and citrus that he remembered so well from their youth in Aman. Like a precious jewel, he locked away the memory to sustain him through the next long stretch of time that he and Maedhros would be apart. "It was nothing. You worry too much."
Maedhros laughed softly. The warmth of his breath kissed Fingon's skin.
"And you?" Suddenly ashamed that he had not asked, Fingon pulled back from Maedhros's arms. "You were not hurt, were you? What happened to Lossë?"
"Nothing - I leapt from his back when I saw you fall; it was quicker to reach you on foot." Maedhro's lips curved in a fond smile. "Lossë followed his stomach back to the camp."
Fingon nodded, studying his cousin carefully. It was not his imagination; something had shifted in his countenance and bearing. The pale moonlight and the meshed shadows of the trees hid the worst marks of his torment at Morgoth's hands, but it was more than that. The cold, fierce flame that had lit his features since his capture and rescue seemed softened and warmed. Fingon was used to seeing him tensed like a great eagle ready to unfurl its wings and attack, but tonight Maedhros was somehow stiller, more settled in himself. He thought back to the light burning in his kinsman on the battlefield - not the blazing fury as he cut down the Orc, but the joy as he surveyed the scene as the fighting drew to a close.
"What is it, Káno?" Concern flickered in Maedhros's grey eyes, and Fingon felt an ache in his chest that had nothing to do with the Orc's hammer blow.
"You are different tonight. You are more at peace than I have seen you since...since Aman."
Maedhros raised his left eyebrow, stretching the silvery scar that ran from his temple down to his cheek. "I see. You think I am at peace."
A sheet of glass slid suddenly between them again. Maedhros did not move, but all softness retreated from his face. Fingon cursed himself. "Forgive me. It was a poor choice of words...reconciled? I cannot explain it." He attempted a wry smile. "I am not Maglor."
The corner of Maedhros's mouth quirked, but he turned away and leaned against one of the trees, gazing out over the camp to the peaks in the distance, now blanketed in silvery clouds. His left hand drifted to his stump. "You were afraid when you saw me look upon Thangorodrim today."
"Yes." Fingon swallowed. "I thought you would lose yourself in remembering. I did not want the darkness to claim you again."
This time the laugh was a sharp bark. "Again? Dearest cousin, it never left." He ran his hand through his copper tresses, and they curled wildly about his shoulders. "I set foot on the pathway to madness the day we all swore that Oath, and have not left it since." The words were like a flash of chilled steel in the stillness of the night. "My father led us to this land to seek vengeance and freedom, but I am not free. I think you know that, Fingon." Again his fingers brushed his stump, then his arms fell to his sides. His silhouette was dark and proud against the deep blues and silvers of the night sky. "That was why I pretended not to hear your whispered words in the camp at Mithrim."
For the second time that day Fingon's legs felt suddenly hollow. His breath came in quick gasps, the night air rushing against his throat. A sickening coldness surged in his stomach and shot through his chest and shoulders down his arms, and he seemed to drift outside his body as he remembered.
Maitimo? Sweet Maitimo, can you hear me?"
His cousin's bandaged chest rose and fell in the slow, deep rhythm of sleep. Findekáno bit his lip, longing to cradle his kinsman in his arms and stroke the shorn red locks. As much as he tried not to stare, his eyes were drawn like magnets to the sad stump at the end of Maitimo's right arm. Blood and straw-coloured discharge flecked the lint binding it...
"You were awake?" Somehow Fingon kept his voice even.
Maedhros did not answer.
"Perhaps it's for the best. I wouldn't dare to say this if I truly thought you were listening." Findekáno gave a breathy laugh and linked his fingers through Maitimo's limp ones. The muscles in his calves trembled, and he sat down gingerly on the edge of the bed. He lifted the thin hand to his lips and kissed it softly, chastely - the most he would permit himself. "I love you." Even with Maitimo lying unconscious, and the terror and hardship they had endured, fierce joy rushed through him at the admission. His nerves thrilled and swooped as they had when Thorondor bore him up the mountain towards his kinsman. "Not as my cousin, or my brother in heart, but as the other half of my soul." He pressed Maitimo's hand to his cheek, and stinging tears rose at the coldness of it, the bones jutting through the skin. "Ai, dear one, I am no poet, I know that my words are nothing..."
Fingon exhaled slowly. All these years, through the feasts and the battles and the council meetings, Maedhros had known.
"Maitimo - beloved - wake up. Please."
But his cousin's eyes remained closed. Foolish, really, Findekáno thought, to imagine that his confession might make the difference...
"Forgive me." Maedhros turned back to him, a crease between his eyebrows. Suddenly he looked young and vulnerable. "It was wrong to deceive you at all, but to keep up the pretence for so long..."
"No matter," Fingon interrupted, heat flooding his cheeks. "I assume you wished to spare me embarrassment, for which I should thank you." There was no other explanation. The flush of blood spread from his cheeks to his ears, and his insides shrivelled like dried fruit. He had not felt shame like this since he was a child trying to justify some misdemeanour to his parents. Long before the Flight, since his earliest youth, he had dreamed and hoped and at times even believed that Maitimo felt as he did, in spite of the laws of Valinor and the bond of kinship between them. Yet for fifty years he had known Fingon's heart, and remained silent. Worse than that, he had drawn away, keeping company instead with his brothers and meeting with Fingon only for ceremonial and military occasions. "Think nothing of it, I beg you, cousin - I was exhausted, and frightened that after everything I might still lose you. I should not have spoken."
"Káno..." One of the fires in the camp flared into a ragged-edged tower, and the Noldor cried out in elation as showers of sparks shot into the night. The golden light limned Maedhros's silhouette. Fingon thought of his cousins taking their Oath by the glow of the torches in Tirion. They had seemed to him spirits of flame - fey creatures of another world. "Do you recall what I said to you when I gave your father the crown?"
Fingon did. He remembered the two of them sitting by the lake. Moonlight had shivered on the water, and their frozen breath curled into the smoky air.
"...we will not succeed, Káno. I swore an Oath that I cannot fulfil, and I will be damned for it." With his remaining hand, Maitimo flung a pebble across the water and watched the ripples drift back to shore. "Would you have me drag all the Noldor down into the Hells with me?"
"That Doom was pronounced on all who left Valinor -"
"But on the House of Fëanáro above all. I cannot lead our people while I carry that cursed Oath inside me, whispering, scratching like an animal to get out. The same is true of my brothers, as dearly as I love them. Eru help me, I am afraid of what we may do..."
"I believe it no more now than I did then." Fingon crossed the gap between them and gripped his shoulder, burying his shame under his cousin's need for comfort. "All will be well, Maitimo. Have faith. Eru did not make us only to condemn us into the Dark."
Maedhros laughed. "You sound like Findaráto."
"Good. Perhaps that means you will listen to me."
Maedhros lifted his hand to cover Fingon's. Gently he stroked his fingers across the knucklebones, tracing each bump and groove. "I pretended not to hear you for the same reason that I refused the Kingship."
Warmth blossomed from the place Maedhros's fingers touched. "I do not understand."
"I think you do. You guessed a long time ago, although I did my best to hide it." Almost shyly, Maedhros slid his right arm around Fingon's waist. Fingon's lower back prickled with pleasure at the contact, and in spite of himself he pressed himself against his cousin. "Your words were the very opposite of nothing, dear Findekáno. I believe they saved my life - but if I did not know from the moment those fire-demons slew my father that we would never recover the Silmarils, I learned it when Morgoth hung me from that black mountain." He rested his brow on Fingon's own. "How could I chain you to my Oath by telling you that I returned what was in your heart?"
Hope rose in Fingon's chest, so solid it seemed to crowd out his lungs and heart and threatened to burst free. "Is this true?"
"Can you doubt it?"
"When you have barely spoken fifty words to me in as many years? Yes."
Hurt flickered on Maedhros's face for a moment, then it was gone and he shrugged in resignation. "Here, then." There was a touch on Fingon's mind like the brush of an eagle's feather. "Feel it, if you will not take my word."
Fingon closed his eyes again and opened himself to the contact. His cousin's soul sang like the wind on a mountain - fierce, beautiful and cold. Threaded through it was a keening cry of grief for those who had fallen, but there was warmth too, like sunlight on snow. It was this warmth that called to Fingon, and his own song of mirth and rushing water twined with it, rising to meet it in joy and disbelief.
But as he slipped deeper into the swirls and currents of Maedhros's music, he found a place that shrank from his touch, the way a dead leaf shrivels into dust. He gasped and pulled away from the connection. "Maitimo..."
His cousin's smile was humourless. "There, you see. Love and despair in equal measure. I could not offer you one without the risk of drowning you in the other."
Fingon cupped Maedhros's cheek and ran his thumb over the well-known scars, then slid his fingers upwards into the copper hair. "And yet you have told me now." Again that soaring, golden feeling in his chest. "Why, dear one? What has changed?"
Maedhros hesitated. The sound of flutes and laughter drifted up from the camp. "When I saw you fall today, I was certain - just for a moment - that I would not reach you in time, and you would be lost to me. I could not bear for you to die thinking that you were no more to me than my kinsman and my friend, not when..." He paused, and turned his head towards the shadowy outline of Thangorodrim.
"When what?" Fingon prompted gently.
A whisper of wind stirred Maedhros's hair. "Today we were victorious. More than that, we destroyed the enemy - and within sight of Bauglir's very gates!" Fingon heard his cousin's breath catch unevenly. "When we stood together at the end, side by side, and looked out over that field, I felt...or at least, I dared to believe I did...Káno, I felt hope." He turned his face back to Fingon, eyes lit again with that gentle warmth, though doubt still flickered behind it. "Even the sight of Thangorodrim could not put out its flame. Oh, I know that we did not face all of Morgoth's forces today, I know that he has much still to throw at us, but if we could obliterate that horde with so few losses, who can tell what else we may do? Ai, cousin, beloved, tell me I am not mad! Tell me you feel it too."
"I have always felt it." Fingon swallowed the tears that threatened to rise at his cousin's confession. He must be strong for Maedhros now. "We will win, Maitimo, one day. We will live in peace again, and we will have all the time in the world. I am certain."
Again the feather's brush on his consciousness, asking for entry. Fingon let his own mind reach out to meet it, like two old friends grasping hands.
Show me. Maedhros's voice sounded inside him as clearly as though he had spoken.
Nervous, Fingon felt his way along their mental bond. He had never been skilled in this art, unlike some of his cousins. Still, he sought inside for his faith, his own carefully nourished estel, and pushed it towards Maedhros's presence in his mind. He closed his eyes and sank into its warmth, its brightness like the sun on the sea, the smoothness and steadiness of it like a great rock on a grassy plain. Here, he said, willing Maedhros to feel it too - and knew he had succeeded when his kinsman gasped in surprise and joy.
"But the Oath..." Maedhros whispered, still not quite daring to give in.
"The Silmarils are yours by right." Fingon stepped back and gripped Maedhros's forearms. He stared into the grey eyes and straightened from a friend and lover into a warrior addressing his captain. "I will help you take them back if I have to give my own life in doing so."
"Ai, Eru, Fingon, do not say such things!" Wild fear flared in Maedhros's eyes, and he crushed Fingon against him. Fingon bit back a hiss of pain. "No more Oaths, dear heart. For tonight, can this not be enough?"
"Hush, Maitimo." Gently he loosened the grip around his aching waist and chest. "And yes, it can." I think now it always will be.
Maedhros sighed, and his breathing slowed. He brushed his lips against Fingon's temple.
"One thing I ask, though," said Fingon. "No Oaths - only a simple promise. If you are losing faith again, will you tell me?"
And what will you do, beloved? Maedhros's voice in his mind was like a spring breeze, warm and playful. He looked down at Fingon through thick, dark lashes.
In response Fingon cradled Maedhros's face. With a loving finger he stroked each line and scar. He closed his eyes and tilted his mouth upwards, grazing Maedhros's jaw with his lips. He felt rather than heard the moan rise in his cousin's throat. Teasing, mischievous, he touched the skin lightly with his tongue, delighting in the taste of salt and sweat that still clung after the battle, then his mouth traced a course down Maedhros's neck to his collarbone. He felt Maedhros's fingers curl into his hair and then brush downwards along his spine. Warmth pooled in his groin. He gasped as Maedhros untucked his shirt and gently ran his cool hand across Fingon's stomach, then up over his chest, eventually coming to rest as one finger playfully circled his left nipple.
"Maitimo..." The heat inside him spiked in a delightful surge, and he felt himself swell.
Maedhros laughed and pressed his mouth against Fingon's.
He had imagined this moment so many times that reality and dreams seemed to blur. The kiss was tender and soft - a question, not a demand. Fingon answered with gentle pressure and slid his fingers over Maedhros's shoulders, traced the curves of the strong arms, shivering with delight as the muscles tensed at his touch through the gauzy shirt. He had always wondered if this first kiss would be as the songs said, with clouds under their feet and soaring music in their ears, but the ground was cold and damp beneath his boots, and the only music was the giddy victory songs of the Noldor - but this was better, he thought as Maedhros nipped at his lower lip. Even here, under the stars in a strange part of Beleriand, this felt like coming home.
Much later they returned to the camp. Few paid them any heed; the fires had burned low, and most of the Noldor were deep in their cups. They passed Maglor, softly strumming on his harp, and as he raised his head to greet them a knowing smile crept across his face. Fingon smiled back. In his mind he heard a fragment of song like fire and adamant.
I am happy for you. Take care of him.
He sent a caress of love and gratitude along the bond before it wavered and dissolved.
That night they camped together, bedrolls cast side by side in the scrubby grass. Hidden by their blankets, they slept curled against one another, Fingon cradling Maedhros's maimed right arm against his chest.
Once during the night he woke, imagining that some dark creature had called his name, but when he raised his head the camp was quiet and still except for the patrolling guards.
Chapter end notes:
For the record...I am firmly in the camp that Maedhros/Fingon are practically canon, so I couldn't have asked for a better MSV prompt!
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