In Prague, in 1940, Maglor saw Galadriel sitting in a café with her hands curled around a cup. He stopped dead and then took several rapid steps toward her just as a man sat down across from her and kissed her gently and she wasn’t Galadriel at all anymore.
“You’ve got to stop doing that,” Caranthir said as he turned away, pulling his coat more tightly around himself. “She’s gone. They all are.”
Maglor rubbed his temple to hide the murmured “Go away,” from passersby. Caranthir snickered.
“Aww, but you’d miss me,” he said, grinning wide and sharklike, and Maglor set off swiftly down the street as if he could leave his brother behind by walking quickly enough. Caranthir kept pace with him easily. “I’m serious, though,” Caranthir protested. “It’s not healthy.”
“It was an easy mistake,” he muttered, under his breath.
Caranthir shook his head. “My brother,” he said, “I hate to tell you, but you are a very sad sack.”
“Sad sack?” Maglor repeated, and Caranthir shrugged.
“Can’t I pick up slang?”
“You’re dead,” Maglor pointed out, and Caranthir spread his hands and grinned even wider.
“Funny how little that seems to stop me, isn’t it? Speaking of which, you should get out of Europe. I have a feeling it’s going to get pretty sticky here. Always had a nose for fights.”
“That’s because you usually started them,” Maglor said, a bit too loudly, and someone looked up at him in slight alarm before rushing on by. Maglor grimaced. “Now look what you made me do,” he complained.
“Ah, they’ll get over it,” Caranthir said easily, and rolled his shoulders back. “I’m thinking maybe Asia? Asian girls are pretty. Your type, too.” He winked, broadly. Maglor gritted his teeth.
“Fuck,” he said, deliberately harshly, and Caranthir said, “Yes, that’s what you do with them, generally,” and Maglor couldn’t help a bit of a smile and a laugh. Caranthir had always managed that, when he was at his best. Before everything.
“I was thinking Americas,” he said, after a moment. Caranthir shrugged.
“Fine by me. I go where you go, brother.”
“Yes,” Maglor sighed. “I know.”
On the trip overseas, Elrond and Elros almost fell overboard, and he had already pulled them back and half begun to scold them in Quenya when he realized the eyes were the wrong color and the hair was the wrong color and they weren’t even half-Eldar.
“They’re gone,” said Curufin coldly, from by his left shoulder. “You need to stop mooning about. You’re making a fool of us all.”
Maglor retreated a few steps. “Sorry,” he said, as their mother swooped in. Curufin scoffed.
“Pathetic,” he said. “I could hardly even recognize you. What a Prince of the Noldor you are. Embarrassment to our father’s name.”
“You always thought I was,” Maglor accused, and Curufin shrugged one shoulder.
“None of you were ever good enough,” he said dispassionately. “I wasn’t good enough. Isn’t that why I died?”
“You died because we made a foolish attack on Doriath while poorly informed of their strength,” Maglor said callously, and Curufin sighed.
“A miscalculation,” he allowed, “Admittedly. You never liked that idea, did you? You were always holding back. I think it was the music. Made you soft.”
“Soft!” Maglor said angrily, and some of the passengers looked up and were watching him warily. He lowered his voice. “I survived the War of Wrath. I followed the Oath into the camp of the Valar.”
“And threw it away. Yes, I know.” Curufin sighed regretfully. “I wish I’d been able to hold it.”
“Do you?” Maglor said, and turned over his hands to show the burn scars, awful and vivid and never fading. Curufin smiled almost wistfully.
“It would have been worth it.”
Maglor shook his head and looked away. Curufin was silent for a few moments, standing at the rail, the wind blowing through his sleek dark hair. “Caranthir’s right, you know,” Curufin said finally. “You need to stop.”
“I never thought I’d hear you agree with Moryo.”
“Desperate times,” Curufin opined. “At any rate. You’re quite mad. You must know that.”
“It runs in the family,” Maglor muttered darkly, and Curufin frowned at him.
“Now is not the time for flippancy.”
“Is it ever, with you?”
Curufin shook his head sharply. “I understand,” he said. “We are the last remnant of what was. You want to hold onto it as much as possible. But you can’t. You can’t hold onto our family any more than you held onto the Silmaril.”
“You’re still here,” Maglor said, and Curufin’s mouth quirked in a cool smile.
“I never liked to follow others’ rules. Not even yours.” Maglor squeezed his eyes closed and squeezed his hands around the ships railing. It felt strange on the scars of his palms. “Besides, someone’s got to keep you company. Other than that weaselly Sindarin bard, that is.”
“Daeron,” Maglor corrected, and Curufin scoffed.
“Sindar are Sindar,” he said. “What do I care for their names?”
“He isn’t dead,” Maglor pointed out. “You are.”
Curufin shrugged. “I could fix that,” he said, eyes glittering like steel, like knives, and Maglor winced and looked out at the waves.
New York City was loud and crowded and as unlike everything he knew as it could be. Maglor liked it. He could hide here, lose himself here.
Walking down the street in the middle of the day, he watched Aredhel leap into Celegorm’s arms and they kissed like the only two people in the world, his brothers’ arms wrapped around her waist swinging her around, and Maglor smiled and started across the street, but a car rushed between them and when it passed, it was two other lovers, another woman dressed in white with a dazzling smile.
“I should have liked to be with her,” Celegorm said, standing casually dressed in jeans and a t-shirt, leaning against a storefront and watching the couple. “She was a woman. I was stupid.”
“Yes,” Maglor agreed. Celegorm glanced at him, looking almost wounded.
“You didn’t have to agree with me.”
“Well, it’s true. You were stupid. You should have held her and never let go.”
Celegorm sighed. “She wouldn’t like that. Ireth never wanted to be held or caged or kept. I don’t even know if she loved me.” He looked mournful. “Everyone always loved you. Women, I mean. It was the music.”
Maglor smiled, bitterly. “For all the good it did me.”
“I missed your music,” Celegorm said. “When you weren’t around. And being dead. You should play something for me.”
“Maybe later.” Maglor moved down the street, pulling his eyes away from the lovers. They were laughing now, eyes only for each other.
“I don’t like this place,” Celegorm complained. “No hunting here. No trees.” He fell silent, and Maglor didn’t answer for a while.
When he did, it was to say, “Aren’t you going to tell me I need to stop looking for our family in everyday strangers?”
Celegorm seemed startled. “Why would I?”
“Curufin and Caranthir said I should.”
Celegorm shrugged. “If I tell you to stop, will you?”
“Probably not,” Maglor allowed, and Celegorm let out a little half smile.
“There you go, then.” He paused. “I am worried about you, though.”
“Worried about me,” Maglor said, and couldn’t quite help a short, sharp laugh. “You’re dead, brother. I am not. I don’t think you have any license to worry about me.”
Celegorm had the decency to look ever so slightly sheepish. “I’m obviously all right now,” he said. “I mean, I’m here, aren’t I? And you’re not. All right, I mean. You’re hurting.”
“My entire family is dead or gone,” Maglor said sardonically. “Do you expect me to be happy?”
“You never seemed to like us much,” Celegorm said, and then paused. “Except Maedhros, I guess. But even him…we frustrated you.”
“You’re still my brothers,” Maglor said, half closing his eyes. “And I still love you. I never wanted you to die.”
Celegorm smiled. It was a sweet expression, reminding Maglor of the younger brother he’d been before the Oath. Happy. Energetic. More like his dog than his brothers. “Thank you,” he said, sounding pleased. Maglor shook his head.
“You have low expectations,” he said. “That was always your problem. You shouldn’t have let Curufin treat you like he did.”
Celegorm looked perplexed. “Treat me like how?”
Maglor sighed, and shook his head. They were both silent for a while.
“You know,” Celegorm said, “I really wish I’d married Ireth.”
“So do I,” Maglor said.
“Too bad,” Celegorm said, sadly. Maglor just nodded.
He actually cried out for joy when he saw two red-headed men walking in tandem down the street, and cried their names. They turned, but looked at him without recognition, and a moment later he blinked and they were gone altogether.
“They didn’t even look like us,” said Pityo, sounding affronted. Telvo shook his head.
“Give him some credit,” he said. “It has been a while.”
“Too long, apparently,” Pityo scoffed, and snorted. “Look what happens when we’re not around.”
“Look what happened to you when I wasn’t around,” Telvo pointed out, and Pityo said, “True,” and leaned into his twin with an expression of immense relief. After Telvo’s death Pityo had been half of a whole. Visibly less. He didn’t look like that now.
Maglor sighed. “What do you want?”
“You sound so suspicious,” said Telvo, sounding wounded. Maglor felt his mouth quiver around the edges.
“I’ve always had reason to be.”
“We’re just here to talk,” said Pityo. “It’s getting out of hand. You know it. We know it. Even father’s noticed, and you know how he is.”
“Noticed what?” Maglor said. Pityo frowned.
“We’re dead, Kano,” he said. “You’re not. Do you not see a problem with this?”
“You’re still here,” he said. Telvo shook his head.
“No,” he said softly. “Not really.”
“Just as I’m not really alive,” Maglor insisted. Pityo punched him in the arm. It didn’t hurt, but it felt cold.
“Stop that,” he said, peevishly. Maglor shook his head and closed his eyes and sat down on an empty park bench. He thought he could see Fingon walking by in the distance, braid swinging behind his shoulders, but it wasn’t really him.
“I miss you,” Maglor said. “I miss you all. So much. Sometimes I wish…”
“Don’t be an idiot,” Telvo said derisively. “You’re better than that, and you know it.”
“You can’t live in the past forever,” Pityo added.
“Can’t I?” Maglor asked, looking up. “Have we ever done anything else?”
He saw Angrod talking animatedly on the subway, and almost called out his name before he laughed, and the sound was all wrong. He got off at the next stop and found Maedhros walking with him. “I don’t want to speak to you,” he said stiffly, and Maedhros tucked his hand(s, he had both of them now) into his gray peacoat and said, “Fine.”
They walked out of the station in silence, and Maglor ground his teeth and finally said, “Why did you have to keep going? Why did you always have to keep going?”
“I thought you said you didn’t want to talk,” Maedhros said quietly, voice as measured as always.
“I don’t,” Maglor said. “I haven’t forgiven you. None of you, but least of all you. At the very least you could have stayed alive to suffer with me.”
“I couldn’t,” Maedhros said sadly. “I’m not as strong as you are, Kano. I knew that. I couldn’t do it.”
“And you think I can?”
“You are,” Maedhros said. “Right here, right now. You are doing it. Living. Going on.” Maglor laughed again, more harshly this time, and rounded on his brother.
“Living? You call this living? I see the ghosts of my family on every street-corner. My dead brothers are offering me life advice. My only friend is a Sindar elf who is absent more often than not, and my dreams are all of death. And this, Maitimo, is your life?”
Maedhros smiled sadly. “It goes on. That’s what I learned. All the pain, all the death, and it always goes on. Children are born, they grow, they die. And you’re still here.”
“I’m too much of a coward to end it,” Maglor said, and Maedhros reached out and then let his hand fall.
“No,” he said. “You just know the beauty in life too well.”
“What beauty?” Maglor said, sadly, and Maedhros shook his head.
“Open your eyes a little wider,” he said. “Look past us. We are gone. You aren’t. You’ll have to come to terms with that eventually.”
“I don’t want to lose you,” Maglor said in a smaller voice, and Maedhros smiled. Sad and tired, but it was still a smile.
“You won’t,” he said. “We won’t let you go.”
He found a bar that would let him play and ascended the stairs. He chose his lap harp, and gazed at the strings for a long time. He didn’t know what to play. Hardly even knew what he was doing here. Lifting his head, he found bright faces looking expectantly at him.
“Play like you used to for me,” Celegorm said, sitting cross-legged on the stage.
“Pff, you don’t have any taste,” Caranthir said, “Something loud. Something bawdy.”
“Your thoughts are unwelcome, Caranthir,” Curufin drawled, and Pityo and Telvo grinned at him from the very front table.
“Open your eyes a little wider,” said Maedhros again. Instead, Maglor closed them. He laid his fingers on the strings. He could feel the night outside singing in his bones.
He played to wake the dead, or perhaps to put them to sleep.