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11:59PM

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“Can we please get a bag of chips?”

Maedhros looks up from his laptop to the eight-year-old red heads who peer at him from their seats at the dining room table, their eyes wide, mouths pouting. “No,” he says firmly, and he looks back to the blank document open in front of him. It doesn’t need to be an A paper, he reminds himself; you just need to pass.

“Oh, come on, Nelyo,” Amras groans. Amrod looks dejectedly at his math workbook. Maedhros feels a little bad, but he knows if he lets them eat now, they won’t have snacks for tomorrow’s lunch, because Nerdanel still hasn’t shown up, and Maedhros doesn’t have time to drive to the grocery store tonight. He glances at the clock on his computer screen. 5:38.

“No,” Maedhros reasserts. “The water will be done boiling soon, and then we can have a real dinner.”

The rebuttals come immediately: “Pasta’s not real dinner.” “We had pasta yesterday.”

Maedhros resists the urge to raise his voice at them. His first ever college paper is due at 11:59PM, and it’s now 5:39, and his father isn’t coming home til Eru knows when, and his mother left the house on Sunday after an epic screaming match between her and Father, and she slammed the door behind her, and it’s now Wednesday, and she hasn’t even returned his calls, and they’re running out of groceries, and the kids are hungry, and Maedhros just wants to punch a wall and scream.

The Ambarussa are looking at him with matching pouts. Maedhros takes a deep breath and reminds himself that they’re eight, and they don’t know when their mom is coming home.

“How about, if you all finish your homework before dinner is ready, I let you have a brownie from the café?” he offers as a compromise. He’ll have to remember to ask Father for the credit card tonight.

Their eyes widen. Maedhros rarely allows them sweets. “Okay!”

The room is silent once more, and Maedhros feels his shoulders slump in relief even though the clock now reads 5:41. He starts typing out the first few lines of his introduction, reminding himself that he is a good writer, and he can do this in the few hours he has left. He gives the Ambarussa a small smile, as they work diligently on their math homework, thankful for small mercies. He’s almost finished with the introduction – and it only took him ten minutes, too – when Caranthir walks into the dining room.

Out of habit, Maedhros immediately asks, “Did you remember to take your medication?”

Caranthir glares at him, his dark, thick eyebrows all the more pronounced. “Fuck off. I’m not ten anymore.”

“Caranthir, you know he only asks because he cares,” Maglor replies, walking into the kitchen. He grabs a bag of potato chips, and Maedhros braces himself.

“No fair!”

“How come he gets chips and we don’t?”

To his credit, Maglor immediately looks apologetic.

“I have to leave soon,” Maglor tries, but the Ambarussa are not satisfied. “Sorry, Nelyo, I’ll wash up when I get back. I know you have a paper you have to finish.” Maglor stresses the last part of the sentence, which Maedhros appreciates but knows is futile.

“Nelyo, come on, Kano got chips,” Amrod persists.

“Yeah, but he has to go to his band practice.”

“I thought your band practice wasn’t until past six,” Celegorm butts in, as he sits himself on the counter, legs swinging, and Maedhros resists the urge to tell him to get off.

“Yeah, but I’m going to have to take the bus, because…” Maglor trails off. All of the brothers immediately get quiet. No one wants to say why. Their mother hasn’t been home in days. Their father keeps coming home late. Caranthir punches the wall, making all of them jump, but he storms off before anyone can say anything.

Celegorm sighs. “Well, I’m going to go play some football with Aredhel.”

“You haven’t eaten yet,” Maedhros protests.

Celegorm grins. “Aredhel brought food to detention, and Mr. Orome is pretty chill about letting us eat. He knows we’ll never be reformed.”

The Ambarussa look at Celegorm in awe. Maedhros wants to face palm or laugh, he isn’t sure which would be most appropriate, so he settles for shaking his head at Celegorm in resignation before replying, “Okay, don’t come home too late. It’s your turn to pack the lunches tonight.”

“Yeah, yeah,” Celegorm makes a shooing motion and jumps off the counter and takes the back door out, but Maedhros knows Celegorm will be home on time and will make the lunches. In his earlier teenage years, Celegorm had become outright defiant toward every member of the family, even Feanor, but more recently, he seemed to understand the issues at play, seemed to feel sympathy for Maedhros and more often than not, though he never volunteered for tasks, he would do as Maedhros asked of him. Maedhros wasn’t sure what caused the change of heart, but he was grateful for it as the arguments between his mother and father spiraled more and more out of control, and Maedhros was more often than not forced to look after the little ones.

Maedhros looked at the clock. 5:46. The water must almost be boiling by now. The Ambarussa have gotten back to work. Maedhros starts his second paragraph.

 

 

By the time the water’s boiled, Maedhros has finished the second paragraph of his paper, and he owes the Ambarussa brownies. He should have known that they were close to being finished and were just being annoying for the sake of getting something out of it. Still, he’s glad their homework is at least completed, and quite frankly needs them to be distracted, so he gives them permission to go to the living room and play their video games.

He glances at the clock, after he’s dumped the noodles into the boiling water. 5:53. Technically, he has six hours left, but he’s tired, and he really wants to be done by eight at the latest so that he can put the Ambarussa to bed and then go to sleep himself. He walks over to the fridge opens it. It’s almost empty. He needs to go buy groceries. He needs his dad’s credit card first. He scowls, looking back at the clock. 5:54.

He closes the fridge, resigned. Maedhros is not a great cook but most nights that he is tasked with cooking he tries to make an effort by adding in some vegetables or meat or anything to make the meal a little heartier, but today, there’s just not enough time.

A ping from his cell phone distracts him, and he fishes out the device from his pocket. A wide smile crosses his face. Fingon: “Hey! I know you have a paper due tonight so I won’t bother you, but I did wanna say good luck! You got this!”

He stares at his phone screen, grinning, and starts typing a reply he immediately erases. The desperation nags at him again. He wants to talk to Fingon, but there’s just no time. He needs to finish this paper. He needs to get dinner done.

“Thanks,” he types, instead, and contemplates including a heart emoji, but is that too much? Surely Fingon won’t think it weird. He decides against it, sends his thanks, and just as he is about to put his phone back into his pocket, wonders if there’s something behind the way Fingon phrased his message “so I won’t bother you.” He unlocks his phone again. “You’re never a bother,” he sends.

His phone pings a second later. A heart emoji.

“Is dinner ready yet?”

Maedhros jumps, whipping his head to the source of the noise. Curufin leans against the kitchen doorframe. Maedhros shakes his head, sliding his phone back into his pocket. Curufin walks over and looks into the pot. He crinkles his nose. “Pasta again?”

Having reached the limits of his patience, Maedhros snaps, “Well, if you’d like something different you can cook for yourself.” Curufin raises an eyebrow, and Maedhros feels guilt spreading. He tries to avoid raising his voice as much as possible – there is enough shouting in the household – but sometimes he loses his patience. “Sorry, Curufin.”

Curufin shrugs, turns, and walks out of the kitchen. Maedhros sighs. Curufin’s shrug is not at all a jab at him, Maedhros knows that, but it doesn’t change the fact that Maedhros wishes it hadn’t been Curufin that walked in. He wishes Maglor were home. He wishes Fingon were with him.

He wishes their mother would come back.

He wishes their father would stop leaving him to parent.

He crosses his arms and holds himself tightly, then forces himself to let go, take a deep breath, and go back to the essay. He’s got at least six paragraphs more to go.

 

 

At 8:03, after the little ones are fed, Maglor has washed the dishes as promised and Celegorm has returned from football, Maedhros is now working on the conclusion of his draft. He hopes he’ll have enough energy to go back and edit, but otherwise, his paper is a solid B-. Not ideal for his first college writing assignment but enough that he can scrape an A if he does better on the rest of the assignments. His head aches.

He hears the front door opening but doesn’t move. He just wants to finish.

His father talks to the Ambarussa for a couple minutes, but then the sounds of the video game come back on, and Maedhros knows his father is headed for him. His stomach growls, and Maedhros realizes he forgot to eat.

His father appears in the doorway, and Maedhros hopes his stomach will stay silent.

“Hi,” he says, respectfully closing his laptop.

“Hello, Nelyo. School work?” Feanor asks.

“Yes.”

Feanor nods. “The little ones finished their school work?”

“Yes.”

“Did they eat?”

“Yes. I made them dinner.”

Feanor looks around. “The kitchen is spotless.”

Maedhros smiles a little. “Makalaure cleaned up after we ate.”

Feanor nods. He comes a little closer to Maedhros and places his hand on Maedhros’ shoulder. Maedhros has long been taller than his father, but Feanor has a way of making Maedhros feel little again. “I’m glad I can always count on you to keep everything going while I’m away.” Maedhros resists the urge to lean into his father’s touch, knowing his father thinks him too old for such physical comforts, but his heart sings at the praise, at the confidence his father has in him. Feanor drops the hand. “Don’t be afraid to stay up late,” Feanor says, gesturing at the computer, “better to have one night of little sleep than have a poor grade for the rest of the term.”

“Yes, Atya,” Maedhros replies solemnly. His father leaves the kitchen, and Maedhros looks at his half-finished conclusion. His stomach growls again. Maedhros ignores it. With new resolve, he scrolls to the top of his essay and starts rereading.

His father expects nothing but excellence from him, and Maedhros will deliver.

Chapter Text

8:16AM

              Maedhros lies as still as he can and keeps his eyes closed.

              “It’s probably his birthday,” Amras whispers.

              “No way, stupid. Maedhros isn’t that dumb,” Amrod counters.

              Maedhros tries hard not to frown and ruin the peaceful sleeping expression, but, lacking the context of this conversation, he finds himself bemused as to its subject. The twins habitually come into Maedhros’ and Maglor’s bedroom to beg for breakfast or simply to be nuisances; however, their entrances are typically more dramatic and include some form of jumping onto their elder brothers to wake them – not standing about, whispering to each other.

              “What about dad’s birthday?” Amras suggests.

              “What is it with you and birthdays?”

              “Oh, maybe it’s the day he met Fingon.” Amras’ tone is suggestive, and Maedhros frowns.

              His eyes fly open. “What are you doing?” he demands, sitting up to look at the twins.

              Amras’ and Amrod’s eyes fly wider, and Maedhros’ phone clatters to the floor. “Nothing!” the twins chorus. Amras recovers first, bounding into Maedhros’ bed and shaking him. “We came because we want breakfast! It’s already 6:30, and we’re hungry.”

              Maedhros gasps, earlier quandary forgotten, and throws his covers off. “Makalaurë! Wake up!” Maedhros jumps out of the bed and makes for the door, but the second eldest Fëanorion groans and turns his head away from the noise. Maedhros rolls his eyes. Maglor hates mornings. “Wake him up,” he orders the twins, rubbing at his eyes. Amras and Amrod grin gleefully, and Maedhros smiles as he walks down to the bathroom, hearing Maglor’s yelp and the thunk of Maglor’s body hitting the floor. The twins can occasionally be a pain in the ass, but they certainly have their uses.

 

 

              By the time Maedhros gets to the kitchen, dressed for the day, it’s 6:45, and Amrod and Amras are staring at the near empty fridge. “Nelyo, there’s no milk left for cereal,” Amras whines. “Moryo finished it and told us to go starve,” Amrod adds. From the dining room table, Carnistir shrugs and drinks the last dregs of milk from his bowl, licking his lips when he finishes, watching them intently.

              “Blame Nelyo. He hasn’t bought food yet,” Carnistir retorts. Carnistir looks at his eldest brother with something of a smirk on his face. His dark, thick eyebrows rise fractionally.

              Not in a mood for arguments, Maedhros turns away silently and offers the twins scrambled eggs on the last two bits of bread in the fridge. He really does need to go buy food – except, he forgot once more to ask his father for the credit card last night. He sighs, resigned to his own incompetence but moves to make the scrambled eggs the twins agreed to, when Maglor walks into the kitchen, grumpy faced. “Is there coffee?” Maglor asks flatly.

              “Not yet,” Maedhros replies as cheerfully as he can. The twins will just have to be late to school. He can drop them off after he’s dropped off Maglor, Celegorm, and Carnistir. He glances back at Carnistir, as he sets the eggs and bread on the counter. Perhaps Carnistir has more money left in his account and would let Maedhros borrow his card, of all of them, he’s the most careful with his money.  

“Moryo, would you like coffee as well?” Maedhros asks, politely as he can.

              “I’m gonna go change,” Maglor grumbles to no one in particular.

              Carnistir frowns at Maedhros. “Yes.” His eyes narrow. “And, yes, you can have the card. Don’t lose the receipt. I’ll have father pay me back later. If you’re going to spend all your money on Fingon, grow some balls and ask him out on a real date.” He walks out of the kitchen without so much as a glance towards Maedhros. Despite himself, Maedhros cracks the eggs too hard against the stove and shifts his body to block the view his burning face.

              He doesn’t see Celegorm walk in. “You still haven’t asked Findekáno out on a date?” Maedhros doesn’t need to look to know Celegorm is grinning. “Also, when you go to the store, can you pick up more protein powder? I’m almost out.”

              “Oh! And remember you owe us the brownies from the café because we finished our homework,” Amras adds. Maedhros, blush faded, looks at them, still in their pajamas, hair askew, and Amras still has some dried drool on the side of his mouth; Celegorm is shirtless and shoeless. Mustering the most commanding pursed lips look he can as on five hours of sleep and lacking his morning shower, Maedhros replies, “If you’d like breakfast, kindly take your butts back to your room, get dressed, get your backpacks ready, and be ready to eat breakfast in the car in the next ten minutes. We’re leaving at 7:15.” The twins nod and leave but Celegorm lingers with a shrug.

              “I got everything I need.” He pulls a pencil out of his pocket.

              Maedhros gives him an exasperated look.

              “Not everyone cares about grades like you do, Nelyo.” Celegorm reaches into the cabinets and pulls out the coffee bag and a filter, prepping the morning’s coffee. Maedhros feels a rush of both affection and concern. Celegorm has always been the odd one out in their family. Even Carnistir with his strong temper has always returned with nothing less than an A- and songs of praise from all of his teachers; Celegorm has never achieved more than a B- (in anything other than an elective, and an odd science class in which he liked the professor) and has come home more than once with a letter informing Fëanor and Nerdanel of a next-day detention for horseplay or too many demerits. At first, their father ranted and punished Celegorm, but Celegorm remained steadfast. He promised their father he would graduate high school, swearing to no more than that. The vow only furthered Fëanor’s fury, but Celegorm could not be convinced of another path. Maedhros knew this first-hand: he had spent years encouraging him, until one day Celegorm snapped at him that he knew he was intelligent; in fact, he was intelligent enough to know that there were better uses of his time to be ordered about all day and be forced to listen, write essays he’d never think about again, read books he found boring, and do math beyond the basics required for adulthood. After that, Maedhros let him be.

              “Don’t forget my protein powder,” Celegorm grins once more before hitting the on switch of the coffee maker and leaving the kitchen. Maedhros can hear the rustling upstairs, but otherwise, the kitchen is quiet as he takes out Tupperware and pushes the eggs into three different containers. It’s not much. They were down to half a carton of eggs, but with the bread and a couple apples tossed in, it’ll do. Maedhros rubs at his eyes. It’s 6:50 now. He’ll drop off Carnistir first, then Maglor and Celegorm, and then the twins. Their school will care less if they’re late, but Maglor and Celegorm really shouldn’t be tardy to their classes.

              He grabs a few to-go cups from the cabinets, and runs through a mental checklist of everything he needs to get done today: drop everyone off, go get groceries, ask Carnistir for the card again, give Atar the receipt, class at 10:00AM, try calling—he tenses. He’s not even sure he wants to try calling again. She hasn’t picked up the last ten times, and even if she did pick up this time, what would he say? Maedhros’ fist clenches.

              “Nelyo?”

              His fist unfurls, and he gives Maglor a smile. “Hey, Kano. Ready to go?”

              Maglor nods, but his blue eyes search Maedhros’ face. “She’ll come back, Nelyo. She always does.” There’s so much certainty in Maglor’s voice that Maedhros can believe him. He gently touches Maglor’s arm, a silent thanks. Maglor gives him a smile. “Thanks for getting the coffee. Want some, too? I hope you didn’t stay up too late writing that paper.”

              “Just til midnight,” Maedhros replies lightly. He decided not to mention that he wasn’t able to fall asleep at all until after one, his thoughts firing away ceaselessly until exhaustion overtook him.

              Maglor pours the coffee. “I promise I’ll get my license over the break, then I can help more; I’ll make the time. This isn’t fair to you.” Maedhros is already shaking his head.

              “Stop. You know you can’t promise that with your commitments. You have to go to practices, and in college, there are going to be so many musical groups for you to explore—”

              “Nelyo. Why won’t you let me help you? You don’t have to do everything by yourself.” Maglor’s fingers are tight around his coffee cup. Maedhros prepares a retort, but Maglor cuts him off, “Don’t you think you deserve to be happy, too, Nelyo?”

              “I am happy,” Maedhros protests.

              “We’re ready!” the Ambarussa bound into the kitchen. “Ooh! Breakfast!” Amrod snatches their Tupperware containers, gleefully passing Amras his and beginning to shove food in his throat. Maedhros sighs. There’s no point in asking them to get a fork; they’ll finish breakfast in less than three minutes. Maglor hands him his cup of coffee. “Nobody likes a martyr.”

              Maedhros ignores him, even as the Ambarussa exchange questioning looks. “What’s a martyr?” Amras asks.

              “Your brother,” Maglor replies shortly. Maedhros’ eyes flash at his brother.

“I need to grab the keys. Can you get them to wash up?” Maedhros asks. Maglor nods, gives him a look that tells Maedhros the conversation is far from over, and Maedhros runs up the stairs.

              “Tyelko, Moryo, it’s time to go! Moryo, don’t forget I need your card. Did you take your medication?” He runs into his and Maglor’s room without thinking and grabs the keys and his wallet from the nightstand. He’s about to exit the room when he sees his phone on the floor. Shaking his head as he remembers the events from earlier this morning and grabs it. One new email, one new text message.

              “Where the fuck are you, Nelyo? I’m trying to give you this card!” comes Moryo’s irritated call. Maedhros stuffs his phone into his pocket and rushes out, almost running into Celegorm.

              “Protein powder,” Celegorm repeats.

              “Yes, yes,” Maedhros replies impatiently. “Can you please go to the car?”

              Moryo pokes his head up at them from the base of the stairs. “You’re going to make us late,” he accuses, holding out his debit card. Maedhros and Celegorm rush downstairs. He swipes the card from Moryo, then stops in his tracks when he sees Curufin standing in front of the kitchen fridge.  

              “You didn’t remember to ask dad for the card,” Curufin says flatly, closing the fridge door without so much as a good morning – but that’s normal for him.

              Maedhros holds up Moryo’s debit card. “I’m going to get groceries after I drop off everyone else. You okay?”

              Curufin’s expression is pinched as he replies, “Obviously. Enjoy your chauffeuring.” Maedhros calls his goodbye as he heads out the door.

 

 

              There’s little traffic despite their late start, and soon, Maedhros bids goodbye to Maglor and Celegorm with the Ambarussa reminding Celegorm that three detentions in a row is not a good look. Celegorm shows them the middle finger, undaunted by Maglor and Maedhros’ glares, and tells them, with a grin, “Have great fucking day, rugrats.” Maglor yanks him along, closing the car door harder than necessary. The Ambarussa grin at their brothers’ retreating figures, and Maedhros is about to say something, when Amrod says, “Fingon wants to see you tonight.”

              Maedhros’ hands hesitate at the wheel. He turns. “How do you know that?”

              “When are you going to tell him that you like him?” Amras chirps.

              “We all know you like him,” Amrod says. Sometimes, Maedhros wonders if they practice these conversations in their rooms. It’s uncanny how one speaks perfectly after the other, never interrupting each other.

              Maedhros gets the car out of park. “You haven’t answered my question,” he replies, glancing at them through the rearview mirror and starting towards their school. The twins glance at each other. “When we came into your room, his text came through.” Maedhros hums in response.

              “So, when are you going to tell him?”

              “Tell him what?”

              “That you like him,” groans Amrod.

              “It’s super obvious.”

              “Yeah, you literally don’t spend time with anyone else.”

              “I spend time with you all,” Maedhros counters, though he knows these are empty words.

              “Because you’re our brother,” Amras replies.

              “So, you don’t deny that you like him,” Amrod smirks. Maedhros opens his mouth and then closes it. There’s really no point in denying it, or even trying to change the subject; the twins are tenacious and probably right. He does like Fingon. He likes spending time with him. He enjoys their back and forths via text. He finds himself staring at Fingon’s hair, his lips, his eyes, his strong arms more frequently than he’d like to admit. Fingon is funny and charming and brave in a way that Maedhros could only ever hope to be; he’s not afraid to take up space, to speak up for himself – but he’s not selfish either.

              He strikes the sort of balance Maedhros wishes he could achieve.

But does Maedhros love him? He’s not sure. He’s even less certain that Fingon is interested in him in that way. And he’s even less certain that he wants to break the tense peace between their families and the close friendship he’s built with Fingon by making mention of his potential feelings.

“It’s complicated,” he finally says. In a rare moment of social awareness, the twins stay quiet, recognizing Maedhros’ honesty.

              But, of course, the silence does not last. “Nelyo, if you like Fingon, but he’s not a boy, does that mean you’re not gay?” Amrod’s question sounds surprisingly genuine; Maedhros has no idea how to respond. He has never even considered that. “Is that why it’s complicated?” Amras jumps in.

              “Wait, can you like him if he's not a boy?” Amrod asks, frowning in confusion.

              “You could be pansexual!” Amras suggests.

              “How do you even know what that means?” Maedhros exclaims.

              “Fin told us!”

              “Fin is pansexual,” Amrod adds. "So he definitely can like you."

              “We like him,” Amras follows up.

              “You leave us alone more when he’s around,” Amrod gloats. Maedhros resists the urge to roll his eyes, but his heart feels lighter at Amras’ words. He knows Maglor and Fingon get along, if last summer’s late night karaoke is anything to go by; Curufin and Carnisitir’s opinions matter less to him; Celegorm seems ambivalent about Fingon, which, for Celegorm, who is typically vocal about his feelings, is probably a good sign. Maedhros had been unaware the Ambarussa liked Fingon, even if their reasons were less about Fingon and more about being less closely watched by their oldest brother.  

But it doesn’t change the fact that Fingolfin would likely disapprove of any relationship between them, and Fëanor would never forgive him. He respects Fingolfin, and he would never want to cause tension between Fingon and his father.

He absolutely cannot imagine disappointing his.  

              His shoulders droop slightly even as Maglor’s words come back to him: don’t you think you deserve to be happy, too? Nobody likes a martyr.

              His hands grip the steering wheel more tightly. But who’s fault is that martyrdom, really? Since when has Maedhros been able to choose what he can and cannot do—without the repercussion? He would still be sleeping right now, if he had a choice. He would finish the assigned reading for class, if he had a choice. He would tell Fingon how he feels, if he had a choice. No, the fact of the matter is, Maedhros never has a choice. He does things because he has to, and that, unfortunately, includes keeping his feelings to himself. His suffering isn’t some ailment Maedhros has fantasized; it’s his reality.

              A giggle makes him look back in the rearview mirror.

              “Are you talking to yourself again?” Amras asks, as Amrod falls into a fit of giggles. “You keep making faces.” Maedhros pulls up in front of the school. 8:02. Not bad.

              “I’m a much better conversationalist than either you,” Maedhros retorts and unlocks the car doors. The twins stare at him with matching expressions of mock outrage, but at the shooing motion from Maedhros, they grab their backpacks.

              “Tell Fingon you like him!” Amrod says in lieu of a goodbye before shutting the door. Maedhros watches them until they enter the school building then yawns. He’s tired, but the thought of Fingon’s text cheers him. After unlocking his phone and swiping away the email notification, he finds himself once more smiling uncontrollably at the simple text in front of him.  

              “Hey, wanna hang out tonight?” “I’ll make not pasta for dinner :P”

              His heart sings with joy, even as his spirit is dampened by his earlier thoughts. Even if he never able to love Fingon as he wants, he has no reason not to spend as much time with him as he can. “Yes, definitely. Can you come over? I’m still on parenting duty,” he types. He closes the messages, a wide smile still on his face.

              Until he checks the new email.

 

              It was so simple. The notification was there, and he just clicked without thinking, and he was about to delete because it said no subject but then he saw the sender.  He knew the address.  

 

              His eyes scan the sender’s address once more.

He doesn’t know how to feel.

              He clicks it open. Simple.

              Heartbreaking.

 

              My dearest Maitimo,

                   I love you so much, but I have to do this. I know you of all your brothers will understand.

                   The relationship between your father and I has hit a breaking point. He frightens me, Maitimo. I know he would never hurt you all—he loves you, — but he is not the man I married. I can’t do this anymore, and I can’t do it to you all anymore. I will not make you all chose between me and your father. Please understand that that is why I am doing it this way. I will not be coming home. I have disconnected my phone number and will be deleting this email account, and I will be filing for divorce and plan to estrange myself completely.

This does not mean I love any of you any less. But I believe it is better for me to leave than to stay. What am I doing for you all, getting into nightly screaming matches with him? Leaving all the time? I’m sorry I dragged this out for so long, but I did it because I wanted it to work out, because I love you all so much more than you could ever know.

I hope someday you will forgive me. I promise that once I am settled in, if you want it, I will give you my new address, if you want to see me. I will always want to see you.

I love you forever.

Your Amil

 

Maedhros reads it again. And again. And again. The first time, he’s just confused; the second, a rage fills him; by the third read, his vision blurs. After the fourth, he puts his phone back into his pocket and wipes the tears out of his eyes. He focuses on the noise of the engine, looks about at the school, taking in all the details, swimming in them so that he doesn’t have to swim in his own thoughts. He needs to clean the cupholders. The whole car needs to be vacuumed, really. The R in the school’s name is slightly faded.

A movement in the corner of his eyes draws his attention. The clock. It’s 8:16. He blinks. “Go get groceries,” he whispers to himself. “Don’t forget Celegorm’s protein powder and the Ambarussa’s brownies, give Atar the receipt, class at 10:00AM…”

              He puts the car in drive.

 

 

 

Chapter Text

But after groceries have been bought, receipts and brownies collected, class attended, there is little to distract Maedhros when he arrives at the now empty house. He doesn’t bother turning on the lights, just wanders up the dark stairs and into his and Maglor’s room where the bed tempts him. But Maedhros knows from experience he won’t be able to fall asleep. Instead, he grabs Maglor’s thick headphones, blasts music as loud as he can stand it to avoid his thoughts and settles for cleaning the house. He focuses on the lyrics, as he organizes, sweeps, dusts, mops, wipes, scrubs, and finally, the clock hits 2:30PM, and he yanks off the headphones, carelessly throwing them onto the couch.

              The thoughts come flooding back. He can’t tell them. Not yet. Not until he himself can speak the words aloud without this awful feeling he can’t quite find the word to describe clawing at him. He knows his fate—but Maedhros will put it off for as long as he can.

              His stomach growls. He forgot to eat again. He yanks open the fridge and grabs a yogurt drink, chugging it at the open fridge door. He needs to get better at remembering to eat. The yogurt feels heavy in his stomach, but he ignores the uncomfortable sensation, wiping his mouth with the back of his hand and chucking away the empty bottle, and hurrying outside.

              The silent house frightens him. 

              As soon as the car turns on, he blasts music once more, only lowering the volume when he arrives at Carnistir’s school. Picking up Carnistir first comes with the added benefit of not needing to talk; Carnistir grunts his hello and pulls out his cell phone, ignoring Maedhros for the rest of the ride. When they arrive at the Ambarussa’s school, the twins clamber into the back seats, delighted to inform him that today they made slime in class. Carnistir rolls his eyes and looks out the window. From a glance at the rearview mirror, he sees Amrod’s grin and Amras’ bright eyes, and their preparation of some prank involving the slime—and Maedhros’ despair, frozen solid by his self-imposed busyness, begins to melt and crack the sharp rock of his resilience.

              He forces himself to keep his eyes on the road. How could he look them in the face and tell them their mother was never coming home? Carnistir would scream. He would scream obscenities directed at her; he would fault her for everything; he would throw things across the room until his anger melted into tears. Amrod wouldn’t cry. Amrod rarely cries, but he sit, uncharacteristically silent and still, just like Amras. They would hold each other, Amras with silent tears trekking down his cheeks, Amrod, with confusion written all over his little face, and eventually they would demand to know why.

              And Maedhros would have no good answer.

              The moment he parks the car, he yanks the keys out, hands them to Carnistir, and tells them to go inside. The Ambarussa flinch. He tries to soften his tone, “I just need to make a phone call, okay? I’ll be in in a second,” he assures them. Carnistir frowns at him, but tells the little ones to come along, and Maedhros sighs and whips out his cell phone. 3:29PM.

              You made it until now, Maedhros tries to console himself. But it’s not enough. They need him, but he can’t do this. He can’t be around them and pretend like everything is alright. But he also can’t bring himself to tell them the truth.

              He dials Maglor, willing his younger brother to pick up, pick up, pick up.

              “Hello?” Maedhros can hear the band practice in the background. He feels guilty about pulling his younger brother out his band rehearsal, but Maglor himself told him that he wanted to help. Here was his chance.  

              “Kano,” his voice sounds small, unlike him.

              “Nelyo? What’s up?” His brother sounds confused. He doesn’t know. Should Maedhros tell him? No. He can’t. If he breaks now, Kano will not be able to watch the little ones either.

              “I…Can you come home? As soon as possible. I just, I need you to watch the little ones. I need to do something.”

              “Um, sure. I’ll leave right now. I can be there in like fifteen minutes?” Maglor offers.

              “That’s great. Thanks, Kano,” he says. The strain on his heart hasn’t lifted.

              “Nelyo…” Maglor hesitates. “Is everything okay?”

              Maedhros forces himself to sound a little brighter. He will tell Maglor. He will. But he can’t right now, not over the phone, not like this. “Yeah, everything’s fine. Just come home, okay?”

              “Okay. See you in a bit!” The line clicks, and Maedhros almost resents the normalcy of his brother’s tone. He trusts Maedhros so entirely that despite all the evidence, he believes Maedhros’ lie that everything is fine.

              His phone buzzes. 3:32PM. A message from Fingon.

              He stuffs his phone back into his pocket. He can’t deal with this right now. He knows what Fingon would do in this situation. Fingon wouldn’t contemplate his own feelings, letting his misery swallow him. He’d sit them on the couch, be brave, and just tell them; and he wouldn’t be ashamed if he fell apart in the process. He would be honest, no matter the cost. He’d hold Carnistir until he stopped shaking; he’d talk through everything with the Ambarussa, tell them again and again how much they’re loved. Fingon wouldn’t break down into tears and admit that he had no idea what this meant for their family.

              The way Maedhros knows he will. The way Maedhros is ashamed to.

Maedhros slams the car door harder than necessary, instantly regretting it, and then shakes his head at himself as he bounds to the front door, not really sure what he is running from. His fingers twirl in his hair, and he pulls out his phone again when he collapses onto the couch. 3:33PM. Fourteen minutes.

              “Nelyo?” He looks up from the floor. Carnistir. “I wanted my card back.” Carnistir extends an awkward hand, but Maedhros only sees his acne-scarred face. He’s so young, Maedhros thinks. He’s so young. Who’s going to have the Talk with him now? Who’s going to accompany him to his check-ups at the doctor’s? Who’s gonna be the one who knocks on his door when he shuts himself up in his room and gets him to laugh?

              It will have to be Maedhros.

              Carnistir raises an eyebrow. “Any day now,” he says bitingly.

              “Sorry,” Maedhros replies, hastily taking out his wallet and standing to hand him the card, willing his thoughts to go away, go away, go away. “How was your day?” he asks, more out of habit than interest.

              Moryo shrugs, taking the card and putting it into his own wallet. Then he hesitates. “Thanks for buying food,” he mutters, looking down at the ground, only glancing at Maedhros briefly. He really is so young. Maedhros can’t help but ruffle his hair. He hasn’t in months; Moryo always steps away from him when he sees Maedhros’ hand coming for his hair, but this time Moryo lets him though he grimaces slightly. “I’m not a little kid,” he mutters. Maedhros snorts, and Carnistir looks up, indignant. “I’m not! I’m in middle school now!” But that just makes Maedhros laugh harder until even Carnistir blushes slightly, recognizing the childish nature of his own words. Then he ducks his head, his eyes peering uncertainly at Maedhros. “Nelyo,” he asks softly, “Do you think amil will come home soon?”

              Maedhros plasters a soothing expression on his face. “I’m not sure, Moryo,” he manages. “But when she does, we should be sure to let her know that you and your stinginess afforded us the week’s groceries,” he teases, trying to steer the conversation away from their mother.

              “I’m not stingy; I’m smart with my money,” Moryo retorts.

              Maedhros hums. “Maybe you’ll be the accountant for the company, then,” he suggests, but Carnistir scoffs at his suggestion.

              “Absolutely not. The real money is in investment banking. Real estate is looking pretty good these days, too. Father gave me seed money that’s taken off quite well. Honestly, the grocery shopping won’t make a dent,” he brags.

Maedhros can’t help but smile at Carnistir’s obvious pride. “Is this what you and your friends talk about at school?” he prods.

              Carnistir frowns. “No. None of them understand, but that’s fine.”

              “So, what do you talk about?”

              “You’re so nosy,” Carnistir groans, turns, and walks away. Somehow, the comment doesn’t hurt as much as it usually does. Maedhros watches his brother walk away, and his fingers twist once more into his hair. His phone buzzes again. He takes a deep breath and heads upstairs before the Ambarussa find him down here. 3:37PM. Ten minutes.

              His room is quiet without Maglor, though he can hear the Ambarussa chattering across the hall. The floor is strewn with Maglor’s clothes, random candy wrappers, and papers from school, though Maglor’s own half-finished compositions lie perfectly organized atop his desk. Maedhros tiptoes around his brother’s mess, and his eyes fall on the little pouch on his own desk. He grabs it, taking out the necklace again, letting the small golden chain cascade down his fingers.

              Maedhros sighs. He doesn’t even know why he got it – since when has he been brave enough to face his own fears? What made him think he would ever have the courage to go up to Fingon and hand him such a gift?

He hadn’t planned on getting Fingon anything. His father had requested his accompaniment to an antiques store over the previous weekend, a distraction for the little ones, that they frequented to pick up something for a reassembling competition. Their father liked to challenge them by buying old machines and hosting competitions to see which brother could dis- and reassemble machines fastest. Most of them had outgrow the love of the challenge, but Amrod and Amras were young enough to still be interested in proving themselves to their father in such a manner.

Maedhros had gone begrudgingly, but the moment he entered the store, the green pendant caught his eye. The Ambarussa had provided a long enough distraction for him to quickly get to the counter, ask for it, and pocket it before his father became too interested in why his eldest was examining the jewelry rather than the machinery.

Maedhros fingers the green stone now. The green stone matches his eyes exactly while the gold chain matches the ribbons Fingon now wears religiously in his hair. It’s poetic and loving in a way Maedhros wishes he had the courage to openly be.

              He slides the necklace back into the pouch and pockets it, not certain that he’ll ever have the courage to hand it to his cousin but the weight of it somehow makes him feel better. His phone buzzes again, and this time he pulls it out.

Fingon: “I’m stopping by the grocery store, want anything?” “I may or may not have gotten over excited and gotten four cheeses. Your brothers like mac and cheese, right?” “Heading over to you now – hope you didn’t change your mind, I’m looking forward to hanging out!”

              Maedhros can’t help but smile stupidly at the screen and reread the messages. Even on his worst day, Fingon just… Maedhros feels his heart swell with emotion. Then he realizes he hasn’t texted Fingon back at all. “Yes, they definitely do,” he texts back, “and ofc I’m excited.” His hand clasps around the pouch in his pocket. He wasn’t entirely truthful to the Ambarussa earlier. Yes, it’s complicated; family is complicated.

But Fingon isn’t complicated, and neither are his feelings for Fingon.

              He loves him, without question.

             

 

 

              Maglor and Fingon arrive at the same time, and Maedhros, oddly enough, feels empowered by Kano’s half-bit-back smile when he asks Fingon if he wouldn’t mind going on a walk with him. Fingon assents easily—it’s too early for dinner anyway—and Maglor tells them to take all the time they need. But if Fingon finds something odd about the situation, he says nothing. In fact, as they close the door behind them and start walking towards the forest park that meets the Feanorion’s backyard, Maedhros notes that Fingon seems worried, chewing at his lip, as he always does when he’s concerned about something.

              “Is everything okay?” Maedhros asks. The early October leaves strewn about cover the paths, but Maedhros has spent so much time here that he could practically navigate it in pitch darkness. His mother used to come out here for walks herself when she felt overwhelmed or just needed a bit of silence. When he was little, Nerdanel would take him with her, and soon their younger brothers joined them. Celegorm loved the forest best of all. He would scramble onto the largest rocks, skip through the streams, and hide behind fallen logs.

              He hears their laughter in his memory. His mother’s smile.

              He turns his head to look at Fingon, who shook his head in response to Maedhros’ question but walks silently, loyally by his side. The Fëanorions’ house gets smaller and smaller as they descend down into the valley. Unlike the silence of home that terrifies him, the quiet of the forest calms him. Leaves rustle but not a single creature darts across their path. The forest is empty save them. As the path steepens, Maedhros hides as a smile as he watches Fingon march without fear, not even grabbing onto a tree branch to steady himself, even when the ground beneath him shifts slightly, and he slides forward— Maedhros’ breath catches. Fingon lets himself slide down a little, still refusing to grab onto a single branch to steady himself, and shoots Maedhros a grin before continuing down the rocky path. Maedhros’ heartache dulls: the picture in his mind of his mother’s smile tucks into some back file of his mind, while this brand-new photograph of Fingon’s shit-eating grin lets the forest feel loving again.

              Fingon reaches the stream first and takes a seat the big boulder, watching Maedhros cautiously grab at branches as he carefully walks down the tiny rocky steps. Maedhros expects to be teased for his lagging, but instead, Fingon says, “Can I ask for some advice?”

              “Of course.” He leans against the tree next to the rock.

              “I spoke to Irissë today, and she told me some things, and… I don’t know what to do,” Fingon brought his knees to his chest, looking up at Maedhros with a soft scowl.  

              But Maedhros, for his part, feels honored; Fingon rarely ever asks for advice—from anyone. “What happened?” he asks, trying not to sound too eager.

              “You remember Eöl, from last year?” Fingon asks.

              “Sindar kid? Platinum blond? Kind of creepy?”

              Fingon nods and puts his knees down, leaning forward slightly to rest his weight on his palms. “Irissë, she was being a dumb teenager, and she and her friends made a fake dating profile. Except, it turned real, and she and Eöl started messaging, and they went out on a date—”

              “Isn’t she, like, fifteen?” Maedhros interrupts, surprised.  “I thought she’s the same age as Celegorm.”

              Fingon grimaces. “That’s only part of the problem.”

              “He’s twenty and hitting on a fifteen-year-old, and that’s only part of the problem?”  

              “Unfortunately. He’s stalking her,” Fingon admits. “She didn’t use that word, but she said that he’s been following her around in his car when she leaves school. But,” and Fingon makes a noise of irritation, “she doesn’t want me to tell Atya.”

              Maedhros frowns and takes a seat beside Fingon on the rock, who lowers his legs onto the ground, their knees touching. Maedhros keeps his eyes to ground, trying to think of what to say. He does not know Aredhel too well, but he knows that she is close with Celegorm, and even Curufin, who rarely takes a liking to people, likes her. If Aredhel is in danger, or has been hurt, there is no conceivable way that the Fëanorions will not be involved.

Maedhros finally looks at Fingon. “Has he hurt her?” Maedhros asks, voice low.

              Fingon sighs. “She said no. But she also said that when they went out on the date, he told her that the least she could do,” Fingon scrunches his nose in disgust, “was kiss him to pay back for dinner.” Maedhros scoffs. That was certainly deplorable. “I’m worried that he’ll try something, but Irissë is convinced that if he does try something again, she’ll stand up to him, and she doesn’t want me to tell Atya, or let me walk her home from school and practice – but what if something happens to her? I want to help her, but she doesn’t want my help; she never has. She thinks—” Fingon cuts himself off, and Maedhros is surprised to see, rather than frustration, shame written all over Fingon’s expression.

              Maedhros scoots closer, their thighs now touching, and takes Fingon’s hand with a gentle squeeze. Fingon nestles his head on Maedhros’ shoulder for a moment, then holds Maedhros’ gaze for a moment, looking at him with sad, gold-flecked brown eyes.

              There are flecks of gold in Fingon’s eyes. How did he never notice that before?

              “I’m not like you, Russa,” Fingon says dejectedly, looking away from him. “I’m not a great older sibling who everyone comes to for help. I can’t even remember the last time Turgon told me about his day—or that I asked. Not after I messed up last time…I don’t want to mess up again. I want to tell Atya. He should know. And she shouldn’t be walking around alone until Eöl stops being a creep. But she told me she doesn’t want my help, but I want to help her—I just don’t know how.”

              Maedhros cups Fingon’s chin, gently lifting his head to look back at him, before caressing his cheek, ignoring the small shudder that goes through him at the touch. “But your heart is in the right place,” Maedhros says, and to his surprise, when he lets his hand fall, Fingon catches it, holding it gently. He interlaces his fingers with Fingon, whose eyes widen slightly, and finally lets go of the truth: “My mother left. She’s never coming back.” Fingon’s breath catches, his eyes widening further in shock.

              “Russa,” he breathes.

              “She sent me an email this morning. She said she’s going to file for divorce from Father. She said she’s never coming back but if I want her address once she settles in, she’ll pass it along.” Maedhros feels his eyes burning with tears, yet he rubs circles into Fingon’s hand, comforting him. “And I don’t know how I’m going to tell my brothers—or my father. I don’t want to hurt them, but it’s going to hurt no matter what I do. But,” and Maedhros laughs bitterly, “in hearing you talk about Irissë… Fingon, you—you are wonderful. I know you don’t always believe it, but you are. You’re amazing. You messed up a long time ago, but it’s because you are reckless in who you love: you love even people who don’t deserve it; you don’t even know how to hate people. You’re the bravest person I’ve ever met, and you care so deeply, it—” Maedhros swallows at the slight flush on Fingon’s features. And I love you because of it, he wants to say, but that’s too forward, so instead he says, “I… You’ll make the right decision. You always do.”

              Fingon holds his gaze. No one could say such words of admiration. No one could sit so close to someone they love, hands intertwined, bodies side by side, and mean nothing more than friendship. In so many words, Maedhros realizes, as he tries to steady his pounding heart with a deep breath, he told Fingon the truth: Maedhros loves him.  

              Slowly, silently, Fingon twists his torso to face Maedhros completely, his face an inch away from Maedhros’. Fingon does not let go of Maedhros’ hand, yet Maedhros can’t help but look down at the dirt and await Fingon’s judgement.  

              The silence in the forest lingers, lengthens between them, the shadows of twilight drawing nearer, and Maedhros finally finds the courage to look at his love in the eye. Fingon bites his lip, eyes flickering to Maedhros’ lips, a sort of intensity to them Maedhros has never seen before. A moment of hesitation, and then Maedhros watches as Fingon brings his other hand up to tuck Maedhros’ hair behind his ear. There’s a question in Fingon’s face, and Fingon opens his mouth slightly, prompting Maedhros gives a small nod, so certain and yet so uncertain as to what he’s agreeing.

              Fingon leans in even closer, his hand on Maedhros’ shoulder, pausing for just a moment.

              Then Fingon’s lips press against his, and Maedhros feels his entire body relax, melting into the soft kiss, returning the slight pressure.

              When he opens his eyes, Fingon’s nose still bumps against his, lips millimeters apart, the gold flecks in his shining eyes still visible.

“Did I make the right decision this time?” Fingon looks at him through lowered lashes.

“Yes,” Maedhros breathes, and he laughs suddenly with relief. He did not ruin the best thing in his life; his rock, his anchor, his love is still with him, lips millimeters away, and Maedhros has never felt so utterly relieved. He pulls back a little to smile widely at Fingon who wears a softer smile on his face, and without hesitation, Maedhros who leans forward to press their lips together, and he feels Fingon’s smile against his own, feels Fingon’s strong arms wrap around his neck, his body twisting to meet Fingon’s, his arms bringing Fingon’s body even closer, the smell of Fingon’s shampoo, the feel of Fingon’s lips on his, I love you, I love you, I love you thrumming between them,

And he has no idea what time it is, but for the first time in a long time, time doesn’t matter anymore.