Ever since we decided to go through with it, true to his word, he has never shown a moment of doubt we will succeed. One could almost say that he sparkles with certainty; listening to him, you would say he had never even heard the word defeat. It is not that he is lying to us or even to himself, I think. He has merely decided that in order to us to give us the best chance of victory it is necessary for him to believe that we will win—and so he does.
Am I in such a different case? But there is still that difference between us: that he is the one of us who has been inside Angband, not I. There is something about the body that refuses to credit its own destruction and, despite all I have seen, it is still intact within me. I know we are taking a desperate gamble and the cards have been stacked against us and yet... And yet.
Still, now both his steely resolve and my stubborn hope are wearing a bit thin, for this is the last time we are alone together, the last time, that is, if... The courier has left, and Russandol‘s attitude remains exactly as it was, half turned towards me, but that confident sparkle, suddenly, is extinguished. I take a step closer. His face has become so very still. Like a mask of flawed porcelain—it looks almost serene. Once, that might have fooled me. I touch his cheek with the tip of my finger, and his expression does not change.
Intolerable. I reach out and drag him into my arms, half expecting some kind of protest, for this is not according to plan and we have taken none of our usual precautions against interruption. But he comes to me silently and does not resist as I press my lips against his neck and start pulling urgently at his clothes—some confused, absurd idea in my head of burying myself in him, leaving a mark that neither Melkor nor Namo will be able to erase.
A knot at the shoulder of his tunic will not yield. I pluck at it again, and to my chagrin, I realize that this was a very simple knot, designed to come undone at the pull of the fingers of a single hand, but that by starting at the wrong end I have snarled it up so much that it will need time and patience to unpick it even with two.
‘Oh, for the love of...!’
For an idiotic moment, I consider just ripping the fastenings apart... Then I feel a tiny tremor underneath my fingers. A small puff of moist air tickles my ear, accompanied by a soft, suppressed sound. And suddenly, all that urgency flows out of me and I am content just to stand, holding him against me, warm, breathing, alive—for I have managed to do by accident what I could not have achieved if I had tried: at this hour, I made him laugh.