9. One Step Back
"There Maedhros in time was healed; for the fire of life was hot within him, and his strength was of the ancient world, such as those possessed who were nurtured in Valinor. His body recovered from his torment and became hale, but the shadow of his pain was in his heart . . ." The Silmarillion, "Of the Return of the Noldor"
It was finally true winter on the lake. Findekáno had dismantled his tent after a run-off from the thaw of the first snow had swamped the ground and reluctantly moved back into the building that housed his father, brother, and sister. Two days had passed since he had hoped to leave to visit with his cousins on the north shore. Because Findekáno intended to stay for a week or more this time, organizational minutiae that had been troubling his father had delayed his trip. Better to finish everything before he left than to have to return earlier than he intended.
That morning Findekáno awakened to discover that his vague uneasiness of the past few days had blossomed in the night into poisonous black weeds of panic. He jumped up from the bed to bring in the tray of tea and bread that had been left outside his door. After quickly washing and dressing, he drank a cup of tea -- not sitting, too agitated to relax, but leaning against the table. He startled when someone knocked on the door, slopping hot tea onto his hand and across his wrist.
"Are you in there, Káno?" Findaráto called out.
"The door's open. Come in."
Findaráto looked rushed. He drew several deep breaths as though he had been running. "Ill tidings?" Findaráto asked, as soon as his eyes met those of Findekáno.
"Yes and no. I have heard nothing untoward. Nothing at all, in fact. But I feel certain something is terribly wrong. It's Maitimo. I'm leaving for the north shore as soon as I drink this tea."
Findekáno lowered his cup and met Findaráto's light blue eyes grown wide in attention and without an ounce of skepticism at his less-than-orthodox explanation for his anxiety. "Will you come with me?"
"Are you sure that's a good idea? If he isn't feeling well . . ." Findaráto crossed his arms over his chest, releasing a sigh. "Perhaps he would be more comfortable if I were not to arrive with you."
"Who else would I ask to come along? My brother, do you think?" Findekáno didn't hold back a short acidic laugh. "Well, perhaps you might want to stay in the background for a bit until I find out what is happening."
"Of course, if you think you need me, I'll come. And we need waste no time in leaving. But first let me make myself a cup of tea while you sit down and tell me what you know and what you think we should expect."
Findekáno released his stiffly held shoulders. "I know something is wrong, but I cannot communicate with him. I've tried. I get no images, no emotions. Although I do feel I've reached him." He heaved a huge sigh. "I sense that he is in trouble. I wish I had learned to speak with him better at a distance. He hasn't opened his mind easily to me since . . . I get nothing, while my presentiment of menace grows. You know I am not a brooder don't you?"
Findaráto laughed quietly. "You? A brooder? The last characteristic I would attribute to you. But I thought Russandol appeared to be progressing well before he left. And you have seen him often since then, have you not?"
Findekáno stared into the dregs in his teacup and gave a slightly self-conscious shrug. He did not usually discuss Maitimo's healing process with anyone, not even Findaráto.
"Even better recently. He has struggled to move beyond it all. I felt a renewed sense of purpose in him. At first, our intimate encounters were wonderful, yet still there were times when I thought perhaps he needed them more for the comfort than . . . but then later that changed also. He become much more engaged, enthusiastic beyond . . ." Findekáno glanced up to note that Findaráto's face had flushed bright red. "I am being crude and tactless again, aren't I? I'm sorry."
"No. Don't be. Sorry, I mean. Go on." Findaráto raised his own teacup to his lips, holding it before his face as though to use it as a shield. Then he lowered it again and shook his head. "I'm not delicate."
Still a little embarrassed at how far he had gone in revealing his most personal observations about Maitimo, Findekáno admitted to himself, that even if he had imposed upon Findaráto and crossed boundaries of privacy, he felt calmer. He knew that anything he confided would be not only be protected but, further, taken as a sign of trust and affection.
"Thank you. No, you are not fragile. So, that was the good part I began to tell you about." They both laughed and were at ease again. "There were other things that worried me. The nightmares, of course, although they seemed to diminish in intensity and frequency. His darkness of spirit also appeared to lift somewhat only to settle in again, but I had hoped even that had begun to show signs of waning overall."
Findekáno saw a flicker of emotion he could not read in his Findaráto's face, sympathy and something more. Almost as though Findaráto already knew what he would say. "He is very strong, Ingo. He has that Fëanárian determination."
"Ai, you always make too much of that. They are just elves like you and me." Findaráto shifted in his chair, poured himself another half-cup of tea and gestured toward Findekáno with the pot. Findekáno shook his head.
"What is it that you fear now as opposed to any other time?" Findaráto asked.
"That he is in pain. That he is in danger. That he needs me."
Findaráto put down his teacup purposefully. "Let's go then. I think a boat would be better than going by horseback, much quicker. We can talk more while we row. Can you loan me a cloak or coat? I ran over here without one."
"I'm sorry. I didn't even think to ask. Why did you run over here?"
Findaráto grinned. "Because I had a strange sense of foreboding and was concerned for you." Findekáno rustled in his wardrobe and came up with dark-blue cloak. Findaráto stretched out his hand and took the garment, looking at it uncertainly. "Family trait, you know, intuition."
"It's not one of your usual bright colors, but I think it will do. Make you look less like a spoiled princeling and more like a warrior."
"Go ahead. Tease me about my choice of attire if it relieves your anxiety. I won't even say a word about your manly, martial pretensions or argue who is more spoiled."
"I'm impervious to your teasing but you are blushing like a maid. Put it on." Findekáno eased the cloak around Findaráto's shoulder, fastening the top clasp. "There, see. You look wonderful." Findaráto obligingly turned in front of the mirror on the wall, yet his brow knitted in skepticism.
Findekáno met his eyes in the mirror. "Now you remind me of Laurefindil."
"Oh, I'm sure I do. It's so big and heavy that it makes my shoulders look broader."
"Thank you for agreeing to come with me, Ingo," Findekáno said, pulled him into a quick rough hug.
At the edge of the lake a small complement of vessels remained overturned on the narrow beach. The majority had been stored for the winter. That morning, however, there was no ice on the lake and the day promised to be bright.
"I have used this one before," Findaráto said. "It handles well with two people rowing; we can make better time than if we use one of the smaller ones."
"You're the one with Telerin blood," Findekáno said. "I have to trust your judgment."
"You do know how to row, I presume?" Findaráto arched an elegant eyebrow in a gesture of fond amusement.
Findekáno laughed. "I'm sure I'll not measure up to your lofty standards but I've handled a boat like that one." He looked down at the gentle lapping of the water against the shore. "I think you can trust me not to drown us both."
Halfway across the lake, Findekáno began to perspire, despite the rising wind of the sunny winter day picking up the chill of the nearly freezing water. Findaráto, although slenderer and lighter, moved as though he were completely unaffected by the effort.
"I've changed my mind. You are right. He is tougher than the two of us put together," Findaráto offered.
Findekáno sniffed, offended at the thought of sweating while his face felt frozen, and his nose threatened to run. "Do you really think he is?"
"I know he is," Findaráto said. Findekáno could discern, even watching Findaráto's back, that his cousin had lifted his chin in the habitual gesture of confirmation of absolute assurance that he used when he believed he was right.
Findekáno was willing to concede that sometimes people observing from a safer distance were better able to assess such things than those who are too painfully close. "But he doesn't think so."
"That's because he was led to believe that he almost but never quite measured up since the day that he was born."
"Fëanáro loved his sons and they received far more individual attention and affection than I ever did." Findekáno laughed at himself, aware that Findaráto had heard this complaint from him a thousand times already. Findaráto always told him that he was strangely blind to how transparently his own father adored him. But Findaráto, of course, based his opinion largely on Turukáno's version, which was colored by his envy of his older brother as the purportedly favored firstborn.
"You would know more about the Fëanárian side of it than I do. And I must admit I saw the worship in Fëanáro's eyes when he looked at each of his sons, and, above all, Russandol," Findaráto said. "Yet it always seemed to me that he held them to impossible standards. Unlike Atar, who probably erred in the other direction. He worried more about some vague concept of happiness for all of us than our accomplishments. Certainly Artanis and I would have profited from a bit of prodding and the imposition of some discipline."
Findekáno could not help but envy the ease with which Findaráto maintained his consistent rhythm with his oars. At that exact moment, as though he had jinxed himself, Findekáno dipped a bit too deeply, causing an awkward splash, and swore under his breath. "Oh, you more or less turned out all right. But Artanis could have used a swat on the arse now and then."
"Well, I will not deny that she can be annoying but she does row better than you do. We can go more slowly if you like."
"Thank you. But, no. I'm still worried. I want to get there as soon as I can."
"Of course. He is waiting for you." Findaráto shrugged his shoulders.
"What do you mean? Waiting for me?"
"You say that you are uncertain but it seemed obvious to me when you described your feelings to me that he has reached you. The message was clear. I think when the current crisis is over the two of you need to have a little talk about being more honest and direct."
Findekáno bridled at the implied criticism. "We simply have never perfected communicating at a distance."
"But you can touch one another -- mind-to-mind, I mean."
"Of course. We only used it . . . " He hated how Findaráto had the effect on him of making him feel somehow feckless and irresponsible. "Well, we rarely used it, except in certain situations."
Findaráto snorted. "Sexual enhancement, heh? That figures, knowing the two of you."
"Fuck you, Ingo!"
"Don't be so defensive. You would think you invented using your gift for less than noble purposes. How do you think I guessed?"
They both laughed.
A little more than an hour later, they finally arrived on the north side of the lake. As soon as they left the water and dragged the boat up onto the narrow ribbon of rocky beach, Findekáno's nose felt warmer. Still, the nagging fear in his gut felt like a little animal chewing on the inside of his stomach.
He and Findaráto approached the largest house in the Fëanárian settlement. The north shore had a similar look to the older enclave on the other side, although there were far fewer buildings and more of them unfinished. Despite the light covering of snow on the ground, the air was filled with the distinctive smell of newly hewn wood. Findekáno saw that Macalaurë had spotted them and was walking quickly to meet them. Macalaurë embraced first one and then the other of his cousins.
"Thank Eru that you two are here now," said Macalaurë. "Nelyo is not at all well."
The confirmation of his foreboding gave Findekáno no satisfaction. Looking at Macalaurë's sad eyes and the grim set of his jaw unreasonably annoyed Findekáno beyond any capacity to hide it. "You might have sent for me sooner."
"I sent Tyelkormo and Carnistir over early this morning. I guess they missed you."
"You shouldn't have waited so long."
Findaráto took hold of Findekáno's arm. "Káno," he said, his voice soft yet warning in tone.
"I'm sorry, Macalaurë. I cannot blame you. I should blame myself. I ought have come two days ago, but Atar was keeping me occupied and I didn't strongly enough trust my own intuition that something had gone wrong. Where is he now?"
"He's in his room. I sat with him for a while yesterday afternoon. We talked. He would only eat a bite or two; he was drinking even then and he wouldn't bathe. But he did appear better than he had the day before. Then, by yesterday evening, he had bolted the door again and refused to let me in."
"Fine. I'll talk to him now." Findekáno walked to the fireplace and looked at the implements leaning against the stonework, picking up a long iron poker and studying it for a moment. Macalaurë's eyebrows shot up in alarm. "I'll knock first," Findekáno said.
The three men went to the door of Maitimo's room and Findekáno knocked firmly, taking care not pound. Maitimo immediately called out: "Macalaurë, go away."
"It's me. Let me in, Maitimo," Findekáno shouted. They waited in silence for a moment.
Findekáno took the poker and attempted to wedge it into the side of the door, next to the latch. He was unable to get a firm hold with it, and the poker slipped to the side, causing him to stagger backwards, falling into Findaráto. "Manwe's shriveled bollocks! Stand out of the way, Ingo!" Findekáno shouted.
Findaráto incrementally moved back. "I am only trying to help you."
"Shh," Macalaurë hissed. "I think I heard Nelyo moving around in there. Maybe he is coming to open the door." The three men stood quietly for a moment, listening and hearing nothing. Findekáno attacked the door again, with even less thought and greater force. A large chunk of wood splintered, revealing a metal bolt still securely in place.
"Give me some room here," Findekáno said. He drew back, ready to have another go at the door, when he saw someone approach out of the corner of his eye.
"Káno, wait." Curufinwë stood directly in his way, determined to keep Findekáno from his task. Findekáno thought with exasperation of how Curufinwë always seemed to think he knew exactly what to do and how it ought to be done.
"What is it now, Curvo?" Findekáno snapped.
"The door to the bathroom is open and it has another door that connects to Nelyo's room. Did you try it?"
Findaráto was the first to move and check the door from the bathroom into Maitimo's room. It was unlocked. After standing for a moment with a perplexed look on his face, his mouth open slightly, Findekáno had managed to graciously thank Curufinwë, who muttered that he was glad to have been of assistance even as he was turning to leave. The other three men trooped into the bedroom.
The stale air was smoky despite the fact that the residue of a fire in the grate barely smoldered. The fire apparently had been dying for some time since the remains of it had done nothing to mitigate the chill of the room.
Findaráto had to made an effort to adjust his eyes to the dim lighting. The shutters at the window were closed, permitting only a few thin strips of light to enter around the edges and between the slats. The only other light came from a candle that had burned down to a nub.
Maitimo sat in a straight-backed armless chair with his head down, shoulders slumped forward, and arms dangling. His hair stood up all around his head in a great unruly mass of curls and snarls. His face, hidden partly in shadow, revealed itself to be haggard and pale as he raised his head when Findekáno bounded across the room to fall to his knees in front of him, stroking the tangle of livid red hair back from his forehead. "It's me, love. I'm here now."
Findekáno leaned forward, pressing his weight upon Maitimo's knees. Maitimo bent to kiss him lightly, almost reverently, on the mouth, reaching his hand out to caress Findekáno's cheek. "I knew you would come. But I grew so tired of waiting."
Findaráto immediately recognized the familiar reek of the infamous, insufficiently aged grain alcohol that Tyelkormo brewed. For a moment he was stunned by the thought that the normally fastidious Maitimo had actually been drinking that swill, an indicator of how bad things really were with him.
Maitimo's face, ashen pale with purplish circles under dull eyes, looked haunted, as though masking a poorly suppressed horror. He appeared more fragile than he had those first days after Findekáno had carried him back from Thangorodrim. Although Maitimo was clad only in a nightshirt, his lower right arm was sheathed in a vambrace-like contrivance of tooled leather that Findaráto had not seen before. It extended to include a glove with a padded unnatural look. Maitimo used both arms to hold back Findekáno who attempted to pull him into an embrace. "I must stink. I haven't bathed in days."
"Hmm," Findekáno said, sniffing, with a crooked grin, "You smell like you to me, love. A little riper than usual perhaps." He kissed Maitimo and then chuckled. "But you taste like a dog that has drowned in your brother's distillery."
"I'm probably quite drunk." Maitimo's bereft look faded as his eyes lit up and he managed a shy grin. Findekáno straddled his legs and sat right on his lap, which made Findaráto wonder if he wasn't too heavy for Maitimo in his undermined condition. But Macalaurë merely snorted at the sight, while Maitimo appeared entranced.
"What is this?" Findekáno asked, fumbling at the fasteners on the false hand. "When did you last take this off? You know it irritates your arm if you leave it on too long. I bet you will have some blisters." He succeeded in undoing and dropping the apparatus to the floor, lifting Maitimo's arm, and kissing the underside of it. He whispered something into Maitimo's ear.
Findekáno's words were unintelligible, but Findaráto did hear the response. "Yes, Káno. Please," Maitimo rasped, in a breathless gasp.
Findaráto found it impossible to look away from Maitimo's face, with its expression finally yielding and suffused with passion, tilted up to Findekáno. Despite the exposed reddened stump, his rumpled, soiled shirt and his wild, disheveled hair, Findaráto had never found his beautiful cousin more alluring. The sense of being an uninvited voyeur made him feel guilty and uneasy, not to mention warm in a particularly unsettling way.
"Macalaurë," Findaráto said, grabbing his cousin's arm hard enough to bruise, desperate for him to intervene, to sever the mood that gripped him which he could not break on his own.
"Sorry, Ingo. Those two . . . " Macalaurë shook his head and sighed, trying to sound annoyed. But a tenderness around his mouth betrayed his sympathy for his brother and half-cousin, before he raised his voice to call out, "Findekáno."
Findekáno swiftly glanced toward the door, looking dazed, momentarily surprised, as though he had forgotten he had left them standing there. He turned back to Maitimo and lifted his face by the chin. "Dear heart, Ingo and Macalaurë are here as well. We were all so worried . . ."
Maitimo's eyes immediately came into focus as he turned toward his brother. "I'll be all right now, Macalaurë. Could you find someone to bring me water for a bath, please?"
Macalaurë laughed quietly with transparent relief. "I'm so happy to see you are willing to clean yourself up that I'd bathe you myself. But I suppose you'd prefer Findekáno. Shall I ask for some tea and something to eat as well?"
"Yes, please. I'm sorry if I've caused you grief these past few days and . . . "
"Shhh! No need to speak of it now." Macalaurë turned to leave and apparently noticing that Findaráto did not follow him turned and took his arm. "Ingo, come with me and I'll show you a room you can use. I hope you intend to stay at least two or three days?"
Findaráto heard the words, but he did not really attend to them. He yanked his arm free of Macalaurë and stalked over to the fireplace to check the damper. Not surprisingly it appeared to have been jerked open into a cockeyed position, as though by an exceedingly careless person, or a drunk. He struggled to right it, covering his hands in soot. Pleased with his success he threw three logs onto the grate and kicked at them, scattering some ashes. The wood was quite dry and ragged. The immediate crackling of small flames along its splintery edges caused him to smile. The room would be far less depressing when it warmed up a bit.
"Ingo," Macalaurë insisted.
Findaráto had already reached the window and flung open the shutters. Bright sunlight reflecting off snow filled the chamber with light. "I just want to set things right here a bit first." He wished that Macalaurë would just leave them.
"Come along. There is no need." Macalaurë's voice had sharpened into impatience. "I'll send someone up to do that while they are in the bath." Findaráto realized that Macalaurë was onto him, that he would be forced to leave and return alone later.
"Well, then," Findaráto answered with a nervous shrug. He saw that everyone's eyes were fixed upon him: Macalaurë's chin jutting up in irritation, Findekáno looking puzzled, and Maitimo offering him a strange enticing smile.
Sounding nearly like himself, Maitimo said, "Come back when Macalaurë has found you a room and settled you in, then we can talk if you'd like."
Findaráto felt himself being hurriedly shuffled out of the room, Macalaurë's hand firmly planted in the middle of his back.
"Manwe's swollen ego," Macalaurë swore under his breath, before whirling to face Findaráto. "What was that all about? Have you been up to something with the two of them?"
I wish. And perhaps it is not as impossible as I once thought. "Of course not." Findaráto continued to agonize over thoughts of Maitimo, compelling in his flawed but still exquisite beauty, while his memories of Findekáno, first generous with wild passion and then surprisingly sweet when coming undone, crowded in upon those.
Macalaurë's voice, unusually clipped and brusque, interrupted his reverie. "I'd advise you to stay away from them tonight. Come and have a drink with me. After you settle in a bit and freshen up. Nelyo has put me off of getting anything useful done. When he is well there is none better. When he is not he is appalling."
Macalaurë strode down the hallway with an uncharacteristic air of brisk efficiency, looking back over his shoulder as though to ensure that Findaráto followed him.
"Don't concern yourself. I'll just drop by to speak with them again briefly. Maitimo asked me to come back." Findaráto strained to keep his stubborn determination and his motives to himself but he felt a heat in his cheeks that must be visible.
Macalaurë words crackled with impatience, indicating that he was clearly aware of Findaráto's intent. "Surely you noted Nelyo is not himself today. I warn you, Ingo, you would do no service to them or yourself to return to them. They are like a perfect circle, complete unto themselves. One who tries to step within that is certain to be hurt."
After the door had closed, Findekáno could hear the voices of Macalaurë and Findaráto fading as they made their way down the corridor. Exasperated, he looked from the door back to Maitimo, who, if perhaps still drunk, nonetheless exuded a teasing awareness.
"You're crushing me. My legs are going numb. Can we move?" Maitimo's eyes were wide with feigned innocence. "Oh. You want to ask what that was all about?"
"And you are going to tell me." Findekáno struggled to his feet and, taking Maitimo's hand, pulled him over to the settee between the window and the bed. He pushed Maitimo down and crawled up on top of him. Spreading Maitimo's legs and resting in between them, he burrowed his nose into his hair, kissing his neck behind the ear. "Your hair smells smoky and you're gritty with dried sweat."
Maitimo wrinkled his nose in self-revulsion and shifted a little under him. "Perhaps the bed would be more comfortable?"
"Not until after you have bathed and eaten something. Don't change the subject. I did notice how Ingo was looking at you and how he didn't want to leave with Macalaurë."
"Ingo wants to help, but he is picking up strong signals that disturb him." Maitimo drawled, the languorous quality of his voice showing that he was enjoying Findekáno's ingenuous impatience. "I think he had just a taste of how I felt when I discovered that the two of you had been together. I know that's unkind. But the sight of his discomfort cheered me up a bit. Maybe I teased him a little just now."
Findekáno frowned, while Maitimo smiled. "Humpf. I completely missed all of that. I couldn't see most of what was happening and I was only thinking about you."
"Then his reaction to me made Macalaurë uncomfortable," Maitimo said.
"Ai. I missed that too, but I can imagine that it did. Ingo told me that he thinks we use sex to mask our problems."
"We?" Maitimo's face glowed with affection. "I wouldn't change anything about you. But I suppose I should listen to his opinions, since I seem to have mucked up trying to get a grip on myself without any advice."
"I suppose I should tell you something. Perhaps I did provoke Ingo. Maybe flirting with him just a little before we left the other side of the lake. I was so upset and then relieved that he agreed to come with me. You know how I am. I didn't mean anything by it."
Maitimo tugged on a loose braid and pushed the heavy cloak that Findekáno still wore off his shoulders. "Or maybe it might have been mildly titillating when you plopped down on my lap and started rubbing yourself against me until I couldn't breathe?"
"I didn't do that. Did I?"
"Oh, you most certainly did." Maitimo gave him another peck of a kiss before his expression clouded. "Káno, forgive me. I am not being perfectly honest. I tried to reach you and I couldn't . . ."
Findekáno interrupted him. "But you did. I sensed something terribly off and knew it had to be you."
"I did more. I thought I had failed at contacting you, so I tired to reach Ingo. I remembered he had the gift of his family for such communication. So, I used every method that I had ever heard of to touch his mind. I tried to imagine him as he appears to me. The images were rather lurid in my saturated state: the contours of his face, that appealing grace of movement, the sensuality of his mouth, his generous, open spirit, maybe even his unmitigated nerve at making love to you. I needed to see him, and especially you, of course." Maitimo blushed deeply enough to obscure the faint sprinkling of freckles on his cheekbones.
"I see," Findekáno said, trying to hide the irrational resentment he felt burning in his chest. "So what you offered him to get his attention was the mental equivalent of a big wet kiss and sticking your tongue down his throat."
Maitimo grabbed him hard around the head, holding his face against his chest, while chortling at his discomfort. "If you insist on putting it so vulgarly."
Findekáno's nose was pressed against Maitimo's nightshirt. "Gah. Reeking, filthy creature, let go. You're asphyxiating me." Findekáno wrestled the tail of the garment from under Maitimo's hips, pulled it up over his head, and threw it onto the floor before settling down upon him again. "Feeling a lot better now, aren't you?"
"You are like magic."
"I'm serious," Findekáno whispered. "Bath first. But I just want to hold you for a moment."
While Maitimo bathed, someone had come in and straightened and aired out the room. A tray of bread, cheese, meat, and fruit had been left for them, along with a pitcher of water, a bottle of good wine, and a steaming pot of tea. Because the room had grown chilly again while the windows had been open, they settled themselves on a rug with pillows and bolsters in front of the fireplace. They had both changed into warm flannel morning robes and Findekáno was in the process of plying Maitimo with food, especially non-alcoholic liquids.
At last, Findaráto rapped softly on the door, asking if he could come in. As Findekáno walked to open the door, he thought guiltily of how anticipating his cousin's arrival had been like waiting for a punishment as a naughty child, knowing it was inevitable, not wanting it to happen, but unable to completely relax until it had.
Findekáno had half expected Findaráto to appear shy or uncomfortable, but he was wrong. Findaráto greeted them both with the affability of a cherished guest assured of his welcome. It made Findekáno want to slap the smile off his nobly handsome face, but regretted the feeling as unworthy in light of his opinion that he himself had contributed largely to the entire annoying muddle.
They all three settled back down onto the rug. Findekáno continued placing meat or cheese on small chunks of bread and offering them to Maitimo. Findaráto followed his example, taking it one step further and holding them up to Maitimo's lips, which drove Findekáno into a silent seething rage. Trying to make meaningful eye contact with Maitimo in hopes of getting a clue as to how they should handle the whole situation proved impossible. It had been hours since Maitimo had anything alcoholic to drink: he had eaten, and, although he had not yet slept, Findekáno observed that he ought to appear far less intoxicated than he did.
Finally, Findekáno decided that he would try to ignore Findaráto and do whatever he would be doing if he were not there. He went to Maitimo's chest of drawers and fumbled around until he found a brush. He squatted behind Maitimo and began to carefully undo the tangles from the thick mane of still-damp hair.
Findaráto asked, "Would you like me to do that? The texture of his hair is more like mine than your silky straight hair. I could probably finish it more quickly and less painfully."
"I know exactly what I am doing. I think you must know that I have done this hundreds of times in the last few months," Findekáno snapped, appalled at the sound of his blatant peevishness. He pulled too strongly on Maitimo's hair eliciting an "ouch" in response.
"What is wrong, Káno?" Findaráto asked, looking for all the world as though he were completely innocent.
Findekáno immediately lost his battle to respond less waspishly. "Did it ever occur to you that I might like doing this?"
"Oh, yes. Of course, it occurred to me since you manage to make it look like foreplay," Findaráto said tossing his infuriatingly radiant golden hair and lifting his chin in his typical manner that was at once irritating and beguiling to Findekáno. Then more softly, "Ai, Káno, you could make this easy if you wanted. I know you would like to do this and I think Maitimo would as well."
Findekáno let his mouth drop open in a theatrical gesture of shocked outrage. "Easy for you maybe. You sit there and pretend to be so noble. You just lectured me about how I use the physical side of my relationship with Maitimo . . . "
"Oh, shut up. You pretend to be so generous and spontaneous when you are really just a selfish teasing little prick."
Maitimo, with an insouciantly tipsy manner, shrugged off Findekáno's hands, which were by then tightly clamped upon his shoulders. "Are you forgetting that I am drunk and more than a little crazy? Should I just go lie down on the bed and let the two of you argue? Then am I supposed to be happy to fuck the daylights out of whoever can convince me he wants it the most? Or welcome both of you if that's what you decide?"
For one shocked moment, Findekáno could not believe what Maitimo had just said. "That is not fair." He heard his voice change from a plaintive bleat to a croak. "I love you, need you, and want you all of the time. But he is bloody desperate. Eru only knows when was the last time . . . anyway, don't be so cocky, you'd probably just pass out."
"Oh, shit," Findaráto said. His entitled prince's air had completely bled out of him, replaced by a flush of embarrassment. "I am so sorry. I don't know what is wrong with me."
"Then, if I am permitted to venture an opinion, I do have a response to your tempting offer, Ingo." Maitimo picked up a goblet of wine and sloppily raised it to his lips, only to have it quickly snatched away by Findekáno and replaced by his own heavily watered drink.
"Here is the situation, Ingo. I'm impaired. Káno is jealous and angry. You are desperate and sorry. Even if the entire idea didn't border on the preposterous, the timing and circumstances couldn't be worse. You deserve much more and better than we can ever offer. Maybe you can find yourself a nice Sindarin girl?" With a disarming, drink-sodden smile, Maitimo captured Findaráto's gaping look. "I do regret I couldn't have got at least one kiss from you out of this. Findekáno repeatedly has told me that your kisses are exceptionally skillful."
Findekáno stood up, shaking his head, truly relieved. "Sorry, Ingo, but can you help me get him to the bed before he passes out on the floor? And, please, if you would be so kind, do not try to kiss him or I will punch you."
Stumbling and staggering, they managed to pull Maitimo to the bed and drop him gratefully onto it. Findekáno put his arm around Findaráto's shoulders and guided him gently but purposefully toward the door.
"Thank you, Ingo. I do appreciate you coming with me. I am deeply sorry for all this. I'm sure he will be fine now and if I don't speak to you later tonight, we can talk tomorrow."
"Don't be try to be self-effacing. I am the one who should be sorry. I wouldn't blame you if you . . ."
"Not another word. Maitimo has always told me that I have no sense of privacy or decorum. I probably brought this on all of us by not minding my comportment. You simply had the bad luck to be drawn into it." Findekáno gave him a deliberately loose hug and then pressed his forehead against Findaráto's, opening his mind to him, in the hope he could convey his compassion and affection. He was grateful to find that Findaráto's sensitivity allowed him to understand him.
Somber and serious, Findaráto said, "I did not mean what I said before. You are generous."
Findekáno good-naturedly cuffed him on the shoulder and pushed him out the door. Closing the door, Findekáno turned to look in the direction of the bed. He saw Maitimo sitting upright on the bed, his eyes alert and bright with humor. "Well, I'll be a bleeding, filthy orc. You are not half as inebriated as you tried to appear."
"Oh, Káno, you know me so well." A transcendental grin lit that so beloved face.
"Ever the diplomat, aren't you?" He sat on the bed and pulled Maitimo into a hard embrace.
"I try. Ingo is nothing if not vain, good-hearted as he may be, and I have to admit that I was flattered. Hard to say no, wasn't it? What a romp that could have been."
Findekáno enjoyed a silent, bittersweet laugh. A romp was never what Maitimo wanted, although with care he often could be convinced to realize that making love could be something other than a totally earnest and serious enterprise. "I'll try to make it up to you later, if you don't push your luck."
"You always do. Make up for everything, I mean."
"You bloody fool. Seriously, was that whole scene with Ingo my fault again?"
"Ah, my love, not your fault at all. Least of all Ingo's. If it was anyone's fault it was mine. But I am going to let it go. I have more than enough remorse in my life already. These things happen and Ingo is too sure of himself to question his motives. I think he learned something, which could be a good thing."
"Should I talk to Ingo tomorrow?" Findekáno asked begrudgingly. "You shouldn't have to, you were supposedly drunk."
"I think I should drink some more water now and then we should take a nap. If he wants to discuss it, then we can claim a large part of the blame."
"Still resentful about what he and I did, aren't you?" Findekáno's tone coupled a wordless expression of remorse with a plea for forgiveness.
"I forgave you almost as soon as you admitted it. It is far easier to harbor a residual grudge against him though. I love you, Káno. Will you please come lie down now?"
Findekáno crawled up beside him. "Lift up your arse and get under the blankets. It will get cold again when the fire dies down." Maitimo grunted, scooted up a bit and let him pull the sheets, covers and furs piled on the bed out from under him. He hooked Findekáno around the neck and the waist, pulling him against him.
"Sleepy now," Maitimo said.
"Just rest. We've plenty of time. I'm not going back for a while. Maybe even a month or as long as I need to stay." Maitimo moved as though he intended to say something. Findekáno placed two fingers against his lips and then pushed his head back down against his neck. "Sleep now. When you wake up, we'll go down and eat dinner, make love, and figure everything out."
He could feel Maitimo's lips curve into a smile against his throat. "In exactly that order?"
"I don't know, Maitimo. Just go to sleep."
This is a work of fan fiction, written because the author has an abiding love for the works of J R R Tolkien. The characters, settings, places, and languages used in this work are the property of the Tolkien Estate, Tolkien Enterprises, and possibly New Line Cinema, except for certain original characters who belong to the author of the said work. The author will not receive any money or other remuneration for presenting the work on this archive site. The work is the intellectual property of the author, is available solely for the enjoyment of Henneth Annûn Story Archive readers, and may not be copied or redistributed by any means without the explicit written consent of the author.