When Findekáno awakened several hours later, Maitimo lay curled up in sleep almost like a cat. Findekáno felt better, despite the fact that they still needed to smooth things over with Findaráto. And he had not an inkling of what problems they might need to face once he discovered what Maitimo's brothers might have stirred up since his last visit. He had experienced lesser spells of despondency with Maitimo, similar to the one they had interrupted that day. While such relapses tended to occur when he and Maitimo had been too long apart, they also often followed a clash among the brothers.
After wrestling free from the tangle of bedclothes, Findekáno heaved himself to his feet. He threw another log onto the fire and lit a lamp. In the late afternoon and early evening, the wind picked up near the lake. It rattled the precious glass windowpanes, incongruous in that rustic house. The smell of new wood, pinesap, and the cold sharp air seemed strange when he recalled the constant warmth of Tirion and the pleasant feeling of cool marble against bare feet in his childhood home. So far north, it had already grown nearly dark, although it was only late afternoon.
The dark haze issuing from Angamando, hanging high above the mountain peaks surrounding Dor-Lómin, caused particularly spectacular sunrises and sunsets, filled with vibrant hues of orange, crimson, and lurid pinks. Curufinwë had developed an elaborate theory that the height of the particles determined the intensity of the displays: foul substances in the lower airs muted the colors whereas those that spread farther and lingered higher brightened them. But Findekáno hated listening to him pompously expound upon his opinions about it. Though Maitimo was unlikely to enjoy being reminded of Angamando unnecessarily, Curvo probably repeated his speculations as often as he did because he knew Maitimo understood the principles behind them better than he himself and he wanted an affirmation of his hypothesis. Maitimo, however, continued to resist being drawn into that particular discussion. Yet, instead of dropping it, as any person with even a modicum of sensitivity might have done, Curvo raised it again and again.
This was merely one example of several of the strains upon Maitimo. Each of his brothers, save Macalaurë, sought constant reassurance from him. It was as though they had transferred their hero worship and need for attention from Fëanáro onto their oldest brother.
Findekáno snorted aloud to himself at the thought that this jockeying for notice and approval would be far more tolerable if it were accompanied by a scrap of deference to Maitimo's authority. Instead, Maitimo's brothers continually insisted upon arguing and debating every miniscule point of policy or practicality with him and among themselves. But the origin of that attitude also went back to Fëanáro. Those habits had been inculcated into them as soon as they learned to speak. Maitimo, unlike his father, did not quash them when they had reached the point of becoming clearly counterproductive.
Findekáno's presence often deflected or defused some of the worst. He had as strong a theoretical background for most of such discussions as any of them, thanks to Maitimo's tutelage in his youth. Findekáno, however, refrained instinctively from idle yammering about something he had not fully considered and, when he did have an opinion, preferred to state it clearly once and let it stand on its own merits. If he was proven wrong, he quickly acceded. He also knew how to draw Maitimo aside and leave his brothers to bicker among themselves.
Maitimo began to stir; when he sat up his cheeks were flushed and his hair tousled again, but it looked bright and clean. "Are you laughing to yourself? It got really cold in here again. Come back to bed."
"No. Just thinking about your brothers." They both sighed and grinned at the thought of Findekáno chewing on that dry old bone to no satisfaction yet again. "I'll come back to bed if you promise we'll go down to the main hall for dinner in a while."
Maitimo's lower lip stuck out in a pout at Findekáno's suggestion. "You sound like Macalaurë. I already decided that I would. I need to put in an appearance. Won't do to have rumors going around that I am debilitated or mad. And now I am hungry for real food. Get over here, Káno. I called you across the lake for something more than a just a bath and a lecture."
Crawling up under the blankets, Findekáno scooted up against Maitimo and wrapped his arms around him. Maitimo felt marvelous, warm and familiar under his touch. "Remember the first time we made love?" Findekáno asked, feeling sentimental and wanting assurance himself.
Maitimo reached out to him with his mind, conveying a hazy, rather endearingly romanticized vision of the two of them wound naked in one another's arms under the willow tree in the yard of Fëanáro's house.
"Not that," Findekáno said. "I meant the day before, when you kissed me in that wooded park near the Great Hall." He forced a stronger memory of his own heated reaction to those first tender kisses, quickly turning insistent, and of his delighted surprise at Maitimo ripping his trousers open.
"Hmm. Perhaps I was more aggressive with you than I ought to have been." Maitimo chuckled. "In my defense, you were a bit overwhelming. I don't know how anyone could have resisted you."
Findekáno snorted. "Are you serious? I was gagging for you. You gave me exactly what I wanted." He stiffened in response to the memory of Maitimo's hand closing around him for the first time. "And what a wonderfully lewd mouth you had. I did have a moment of jealousy wondering how you had learned to do all that."
"Ah, my misspent youth. Turns out that all my philandering was only practice until I could use it on you. Maids had been intriguing but disappointing; you were another dimension altogether. Hard body. No shame. You tasted and smelled far better to me than any of those young ladies."
"Certainly was different for me. You were the only one I ever wanted." Findekáno kissed him, holding on tightly when Maitimo tried to pull away.
"That's such a load of horse manure, Káno. Have you forgotten Findaráto already?"
"Hardly. But we were talking about numbers of your early conquests weren't we?"
"Were you? You do tend to come back to that don't you?" As Maitimo spoke, Findekáno jerked his head back to get a better view of him. He had expected to hear a smile in Maitimo's voice but there had been none. He saw only a serious face with eyes dangerously narrowed. "Possibly someday you'll believe me when I say that no one before you meant anything. But I am tired of belaboring that now." Maitimo sighed deeply and settled back against the pillows to pull Findekáno closer to him again. "There is something we should talk about. It has to do with how much I still depend upon you and how badly I have done at trying to manage without you."
"I have had some thoughts about what we might be doing wrong," Findekáno responded. "I think we tried to do too much too soon. I knew you didn't want to be coddled, so I took you at your word when you said you were fine. I should have been more insistent that we needed more time to sort things out. I know you are right, instead of nattering about me lying with Findaráto, or how many lady friends you had in Tirion and Formenos, we should be talking about what happened to you. You have not talked about it to me. Or to anyone else as far as I know."
Maitimo gave a self-disparaging shake of the head. "I talked a little to the healer, Pilimor, although he did most of the talking. Told me about others and how it had affected them. He said . . . he said a lot of things, including that some people never get better, but that he believed I would. That I was lucky to have you. He said you are strong. That you don't love me out of neediness. So I could lean on you: let you help me. That you could endure it. I told him about the trouble we had between us before we left Aman, how we had been estranged. He commented that you didn't seem the type to be easily dissuaded once you knew what you wanted. He made me laugh several times speaking of you. I told him that you were like a mother bear defending a cub. That made him laugh. He also laughed when I told him that you were too good for me, saying if that was the case then I was even more fortunate that he had thought I was. I told him how you cursed at me when I was ashamed of how I looked. He said I probably had needed that."
"Why didn't you tell me any of this before?" Findekáno felt chagrined to realize that he had undeniably not admitted, even to himself, that there were a whole series of things they should have been discussing.
"I'm telling you now. Pilimor said that there were people who have been hounded to despair by their own families and former friends, being afraid of them, shunning them. Apparently, there have been rumors of people being corrupted or recruited as agents of Morgoth."
"Have there been so many who have escaped captivity?"
"No. But there have been a few and more who have been waylaid, held, and tortured by his minions who were able to slip away. He said the only cases he ever encountered of people taking their own lives were those who might have recovered if they had been dealt with differently or had anything like the support you have given me. And I also talked to Tadiel a bit. They each offered to speak to you or Macalaurë or both of you if I wanted. But I already felt I had been so much of a nuisance for you already, not to mention Findaráto or Uncle Nolofinwë."
Findekáno frowned. "Even Tadiel? You even spoke with her about these things and not me?"
"Pilimor suggested she had learned things from the Maia Melian about helping others uncover buried emotions and memories in order to heal. Tadiel is not as inexperienced as she might seem to you."
"So, I was onto something when I called her your Sindarin girl?"
"Well, yes and no, she has been a friend to me and quite fond of you as well. I've missed her and Pilimor here."
"I'll send for them in the morning," Findekáno said, a shade more vociferously than he had intended.
Maitimo smiled and ran his fingers across Findekáno's lips. "Calm down. You're here now and I need to talk to you. They gave me what they could and I haven't even taken their advice yet."
"To talk to you about it."
"I'm sorry. I guess I haven't been much help. I just didn't want to push you to tell me things you wanted to forget or before you were ready to talk about them. I really didn't mean for you feel like you couldn't or you shouldn't."
"Tell me you are joking." Maitimo cocked his eyebrows in mock surprise. "First you saved my life, then you made me want to live, and so far you have helped me hang onto my sanity. Káno, can you truly be so dim about what you have done for me?"
"You'd have done the same for me."
"I hope, but my behavior in Formenos wasn't exactly what one could call patient and understanding."
"You are exaggerating your role in that whole mess. I mistrusted you as much as you were dismissive of my concerns. You made it clear enough then that you still loved me and I didn't fight to stay with you."
"Fine. I'll accept that. Neither of us was perfect." Maitimo shrugged and his eyes widened in earnestness. "What do I do now?"
"You talk to me. Tell me what happened: what it was really like, tell me how you were hurt."
"I wish I could have a drink for this." Shaking his head, Maitimo gave a characteristic self-deprecatory snort. "Never mind." His mouth curved into a roguish grin. "Best to try without it, I guess. I'll start with a small story. I already know I don't want to dredge this stuff up every day-it won't be like one of those serial bedtime stories that Uncle Arafinwë used to tell us when we slept over at his house."
"Tell me anything." Findekáno settled down in front of Maitimo tailor-style on the bed, and reached out and put his hand on his knee to encourage him. "Stop if it becomes too much and we'll try again another day. I am not going anywhere."
Maitimo cleared his throat and began speaking softly, his voice fluid and beautiful, as though he were recounting a children's tale.
"After one of the last times he confronted me directly, they dragged me away and tossed me into a dark wet place. I remember landing on my arse, trying to stand, and slipping in something wet and slimy-vomit or excrement? I didn't want to know.
"The cave-like place where they left me stank so badly that it made my eyes sting. For a moment, the stench distracted me from my own rank body odor and from the lash marks on my back. I remember being in near total darkness and that my eyes had to adjust. I spotted a faint torch, farther down a long passage. I realized then that I was not locked in an actual cell, but simply had been thrown like bag of refuse to the side of rough-hewn tunnel. Locks and bolts were unnecessary in Angamando. At first I just slumped down onto the floor where I stood, not even able to seek a cleaner spot. I took care not to rest my shredded back against anything. The odor truly did overwhelm the pain. Then a movement caught my eye. I thought it might be a rat or something worse.
"Someone asked, 'Who are you? Where do you come from?' I didn't completely understand his language, but his meaning was clear both by the context and its similarities to our own. The voice was unmistakably elven. I can still recall the quality, sweet and melodic, a lot like that of Macalaurë but higher, lighter. I squinted in the direction of the sound and I could see two figures. They huddled close together, two heads with light hair hanging past their shoulders.
"'I came here from Valinor in Aman. Across the sea.' I tried to pronounce every syllable. I thought my voice sounded harsh, as though it were too deep, too loud, compared to his. What I know now were two battered, frail Sindar were looking up at me, wide-eyed with a combination of fear and awe.
"Finally, I could see clearly enough to discern the forms and features of the two elves. I felt curious and also oddly relieved, despite the terror, the pain throbbing in my wrists where they had been shackled and rubbed raw, and my shoulder, which I worried had been dislocated. The same shoulder. I remembered almost laughing at my overwhelming need to communicate with these two ill-fated Moriquendi.
"I pointed to my chest and deliberately lowered my voice. I said, 'Nelyafinwë.' There were these two sets of big, light eyes wide-open, looking at me with a complete lack of comprehension. I tried again by saying, 'Nelyo.' I thought that might be simpler. Still nothing seemed to register. I thumped on my chest and repeated, 'Nelyo.'
"Finally, the stronger one smiled and turned to his companion. He said, 'Nelyo,' and pointed at me.
"It wasn't more than a few days before we could understand one another relatively well. Years of studying languages gave me an advantage. The tongue of the Sindar seemed similar to ours, especially if I compared it to Valarin. Remember how grating and dissonant it sounds?"
Findekáno nodded. "I remember how much you griped about it and how your father called you ungrateful that he would take the time to work with you. Then he expected you to convince me that I would want to learn it." They both chuckled softly and then Maitimo, began to speak again, as though someone were timing him and he had to press forward.
"From the very beginning, I thought it would be foolish to befriend anyone in that dark place. I had already seen children tortured to death before their parents, a woman dismembered limb-by-limb and disemboweled in the presence of her young lover. That was one of the tortures he favored: forcing one watch what was being done to others, that and the waiting. I was certain that friends would be just another weakness to exploit. And yet I couldn't resist speaking with them. I wanted to learn who they were, whence and how they came to be there.
"They left us alone in our filthy den for a few weeks. The youngest elf regained some strength in spite of the lack of fresh air or sufficient nourishment. They gave us food irregularly: a few times even twice in one day, and occasionally skipping a day, if one could even use the word 'food' to describe the swill they gave us.
"The older Sinda had made what we believed was a hazardous trek down to the torch, at the turn in the hallway, to capture a flame. Eventually we discovered they had little to no interest in what we did with ourselves. We used bits of rubbish and other debris that we gathered nearby to keep a small fire burning. As the days passed, we had to wander farther and farther along the passageway to find something for fuel. Thank Eru, Orcs are untidy. Although it grew scarcer, there was usually some sort of refuse or another that could be burned.
"The smoke stung our eyes, but it was far preferable to the dampness. We did manage to keep drier than before. Disposal of waste was a problem we never completely solved, but we kept our own soil some distance from the tiny circle of domesticity that we had carved out in our little corner of that putrid dungeon.
"After a while the weaker Sinda could walk again. They told me they were cousins. They had come with Elu Thingol's troops when they met Morgoth's forces at Amon Ereb. Must have been quite some time before we arrived here. The younger lad had been injured and his cousin had fallen back to help him. Both had been captured, when the Orcs overcame the stragglers, and brought to Angamando. Ai, Káno, they were gentle, refined, intelligent creatures. The older of them was a bard, had studied with Thingol's chief minstrel. I don't know how I could have survived without them. It was terrible after I lost them."
Maitimo stopped abruptly and shook his head, as though trying to remove the scene from his mind. Findekáno could tell that he was finished for the day. Maitimo's eyes glittered in the lamplight and he sniffed once. It was obvious, however, to Findekáno, from both experience and intuition, that no tears would follow. Findekáno recalled that he had only seen Maitimo shed a tear once in sorrow as a youth at a grossly unfair accusation of disloyalty from Fëanáro. He had witnessed him fall into huge wracking sobs another time, not in sadness but in complete rage and frustration, during one of their last terrible rows in Formenos. He knew nothing like that would happen now. He could feel Maitimo's resolution. Findekáno leaned forward and enfolded him in his arms, stroking his hair, while planting soft kisses on his cheeks and forehead. "How did you lose them?"
"They were killed, of course. He had the tongue of the singer cut out before beheading him. Made me watch, of course. The other he simply turned over to his orcs and let them do with him whatever they wanted. I hope he didn't live long."
"I wish there was something I could do to make it better. To help you forget," Findekáno said. He pulled Maitimo into his arms.
"But, actually, I ought not forget. I owe it to them to remember."
"Of course, you are right. I seem to find myself in the position of wishing I could just wave my hand and take all the pain away."
Maitimo opened his mouth impulsively, his expression desolate, but closed it quickly without saying anything. Then the pale despair faded from his face, replaced by an amused grin. "I'm so sorry, Káno, that you can't make everything better, rewrite the past, or take my sins onto yourself, much as you might want that. And I intend to learn to appreciate you the way you are and stop trying to protect or change you."
Maitimo buried his face in Findekáno's hair. Maitimo's feathery breath caressed Findekáno's neck, while his body aligning against him felt warm, nearly hot. Strangely enough, holding onto to Maitimo like that made Findekáno feel safer than he had in years.
Maitimo was quiet for a long time. "I love you," he said at last. Then he reached between their bodies to touch Findekáno, encircling his sex with a hand, at first tender and then relentless, hard squeezes alternated with gentle stroking. "There is one thing."
Findekáno drew back to see a shy smile overtake Maitimo's face. Something warned him that Maitimo intended to ask something he had not dared request before. "Tell me. Anything at all," Findekáno answered, whispering, barely able to breathe the words.
"I want to make love to you, want you to take me apart, and put me back together again, all bright and shiny new." Maitimo's eyes held Findekáno's with an adoring look, enhanced by absolute trust, which sent a pang of desire shooting up Findekáno's spine.
"You don't ask for much do you?" For one brief moment, Findekáno feared he would not be able to give Maitimo what he believed he needed to be whole again.
"Nothing you are unwilling to give, love. If for any reason it doesn't work, I promise not to hold it against you. We will muddle along the best we can."
"You tell me how it you want it. I will do whatever you want. You do know, however, that my greatest strength lies in opening myself up to you."
"Yes," Maitimo said, with a lightness in his voice that in no way seemed feigned. "I have thought about this and dreamed of it earlier while we rested. I agree I must talk more about these horrors, speaking of things aloud is different than sharing thoughts. It still will be difficult for me at times. But for now, I need to make love to you. But differently than we have been doing. No filtering of emotions. No more caution or second-guessing. I am willing to try if you are. We both know you are the valiant one. I'm depending upon you to help us get this right."
"Ai, Maitimo, you are wrong. I have never been braver than you. I have simply have had fewer constraints, lesser responsibility to hold me back. Go ahead. Take me. I won't withhold anything."
Maitimo's eyes crinkled with affection. "You have to promise to be patient too."
"Now you are frightening me." Findekáno chuckled. "You know patience doesn't come easily to me."
"Trust me. I will make it worth your effort." Maitimo bent down, and pushing the gaping robe aside, encompassed the head of Findekáno's hardened length with his lips. He swirled his tongue around it, sucked it into his mouth again, and then released it abruptly. He laughed softly and blew on it. Falling back onto the bed and spreading his legs wide, Findekáno groaned.
"That's perfect," Maitimo said. "Just lie back like that and enjoy what I am doing, open your mind to me so we can each feel everything the other is feeling. Oh, yes. Like that. Perfect." Maitimo kissed him repeatedly, smiling against his mouth, letting image after image wash over him. Findekáno was aware of how much Maitimo desired him and how astonishing every touch, every kiss felt.
When Maitimo finally entered him, Findekáno was astounded. Their minds were both wide open. Findekáno was aware of pockets of obscurity and shadows within Maitimo. Yet there was nothing sinister about them. It was like watching a mixture of light and dark clouds drift across the summer sky in Formenos, as though the contrast made the blue bluer and the light more precious than they ever could have been in the unvarying perfection of Tirion. For the first time since they had come back together, Findekáno felt he wasn't reaching for or pulling at Maitimo for something he could almost but not quite attain.
Maitimo was unexpectedly the noisier and more vocal one and Findekáno became lost in exaltation at the sounds. He felt like a rudderless vessel inexorably tossed on a sea churned up by a perfect storm of passion with Maitimo as his only anchor. The experience was intensely erotic and yet seemed to Findekáno to have a larger involvement of the fëa. He remembered speaking just a short while earlier of their first time, which now seemed oddly prescient of him. It reminded him of that first time except that there was no longer any innocence here but acceptance, and somehow that felt right and better to him.
After relentlessly thrusting into him for what seemed an interminable period of time, but not nearly long enough, Maitimo at last gasped, "Let go now, Káno. I can't hold on any longer." Findekáno exploded at his words. Maitimo followed, collapsing hard upon him.
"Thank you," Maitimo whispered, his contented voice reaching a well of tenderness deep within Findekáno. "That was amazing."
"Thank you? After what you just did to me, you say 'thank you'? You were incredible."
"Káno." The word was a caress. "You are impressionable."
He grabbed Maitimo's face between both hands and pushed his head up so he could look into his cloudy grey eyes. Findekáno was trying not to laugh, but he couldn't hold it back. "I don't want to argue. But I would like to repeat that experience sometime. If you won't admit you did it, then how can you do it again?"
"Fine. I promise you that we can do it again." Maitimo's smirk oozed with self-satisfaction. "But I couldn't have done it without you."
"Bloody tosser," Findekáno said, throwing his arms around him and squeezing him until he yelped. They rested for a while, Findekáno smiling until his face hurt. He wiggled his jaw to try to relax it and Maitimo shifted, pushing himself up onto his elbows.
"I think we ought to get cleaned up, dress, and go downstairs. It must be almost time for dinner." Maitimo got up and strode over to the wardrobe. Findekáno followed him. Passing the mirror hanging next to it, he caught a glimpse of himself, stopped, and looked.
"Can I go downstairs now? Looking like this? I look . . . I look . . ." His cheeks were still red and his lips kiss-swollen. He literally glowed with satiation.
Maitimo's gave him a fey glance. "You look wonderful, like what Tyelkormo calls 'all bleary-eyed and well-fucked.' I don't mind that. After all this time, I'm still not beyond feeling smug when people can look at you and know that you chose me."
"And you call me the exhibitionist," Findekáno grumbled.