Words and music. Two things that were so far removed that it took Maedhros a while to even realize they were there. His mind still did not understand them, but his heart did, at least in part. It recognized them as something to break through the endless cycle of painful heartbeats, and left him no say in the matter. He suddenly found that it had the music, and the words, as if it remembered them from a time long ago, though that seemed impossible. They came automatically, forcing themselves out of him with such strength that he couldn't hold them back. He sang the words, sang the music, without having any recollection of how to sing, or how to speak.
He fell silent with exhaustion, and found that not only his song, but also the other had stopped. There was no despair. He accepted it, as he had accepted everything for so long, until a voice cried out to him.
He stood there, a spectre from a different life, a tiny figure cut out from paper and stuck into the wrong picture, at the foot of the precipice far down below. He was an intruder, a disturbance of the perpetual state of pain. He was there. Weeping. Existing. The sight of him brought more fleeting but powerful images flickering across Maedhros' consciousness, of Fingon standing beneath Mindon Eldaliéva, motionless, the day they had parted. Maedhros saw them but didn't understand them, could not remember why they had parted, why he had been so angry or Fingon so sad.
The idea of rescue did not enter his mind. It was a concept he had lost long ago. Any thought of beginning was too staggering to take hold, chaotic, unsettling, uprooting. For Maedhros, the appearance of his cousin meant only one thing, a thing simple enough for him to grasp.
End of pain, end of despair, end of heart beating.
"Shoot me," he whispered.
Maybe he hadn't whispered. Maybe he'd screamed. It didn't matter; Fingon would hear. That was why he was here. He was here to make an end.
Maedhros closed his eyes, awaiting the arrow.
It did not come. For a while, he didn't dare to open his eyes again. Already, the image of Fingon standing down there was fading in his mind; it was inconceivable that he should still be there when Maedhros opened his eyes, simply because he had never been there before. He wanted to hold off that realisation for as long as he could.
Then there was a wind that forced his eyes open, a great golden wind like the voice of Manwë, a blur of golden feathers, and then Fingon's voice, close to his ear, speaking words. Fingon's hands and arms. It was too much. Too much that was unfamiliar. He could feel Fingon there, could hear him, but he did not understand the words. With his left arm, Maedhros clung to his cousin, though he did not have the strength to support his own weight, little though it was, brittle as a bird. The pain shifted, as suddenly his body was supported, the weight no longer on his right arm. There was no relief, however, just a different kind of pain that was even worse than the old one for its novelty.
More words. Fingon's face swam before his, talking. Maedhros could only shake his head, over and over. He couldn't understand why this took so long, why there must be so many things, the golden swirls, the hands that touched him, all the tugging, all those words. Too many words. They seemed to want an answer.
"Kill me," he begged. No other words would come to mind.
Fingon's eyes, sorrowful. The flash of a knife, blinding pain.
Wind and cold, roaring in his ears, Fingon's voice and hands; more pain, so much more pain. For a while, the world consisted of these things. Maedhros found himself trying to sink back into that old well-ordered state, but everything was too complicated now to be put into any order. It distressed him, not just the blinding pain that seared through his arm and his entire body, but the realization that he was alive though he need not have been, all those words and touches, the biting cold. He begged for death again, but all he got was more words.
Then the rushing wind stopped. More hands touching him, more voices, some shouting. A blur of voices and touches, unfamiliar things all. Even the pain was unfamiliar. Something soft under him, hands holding him down, more pain. The rim of a cup against his mouth, water he did not know how to swallow. He tried to push them away but he didn't have the strength.
He just wanted it all to end, wished they would stop talking to him, stop touching him, stop hurting him, stop making him drink, stop making him be.
It didn't stop. And finally, Maedhros just let it happen. He tolerated the cups, the words, the pain, even the touches. He felt vaguely like an animal that is well trained enough to do what it is told, following leads and simple commands without question.
And very slowly, meaning began to attach itself to these things, and he began to understand again what they were, began to differentiate, understand reasons, and recognise correlations.
Water. Tiny drops of it at first. Once they had gone past the raw, scraping sensation in his throat, they actually felt pleasant, cooling, soothing, something he hadn't even known he had missed. Then more than drops, half a cupful of it. The first few times, he couldn't keep it down, coughed it up again, gasping for breath, weak as a kitten. On the fourth or fifth time, it stayed down. On the twentieth, there was something else in that cup, with a sweet fragrance that brought relief from pain.
Words. Most of them still came too fast, and in too great numbers, for him to make sense of them. Some of them he understood immediately. Russandol. It meant him, he remembered that. It meant closeness and love. Others took longer to grasp, as their meaning was so vast, so alien. Safe. For those he wasn't able to follow, he found that after a while he took a simple, naïve delight in them, like a colourful woven blanket wrapping him that had no particular pattern but was familiar and comforting.
After a while, he found that he could make sense of the words if he concentrated hard. But it tired him, and most of the time, he was content to just let them wash over him, creating a backdrop that differentiated his being from what he had known for so long.
The pain was still there, and less uniform than it had been. It abated after the cups, became a dull pounding in his right arm, and it was worse when they touched him. But even then, he realised after a while that they were treating his injuries. At times, changing the bandages on his arm and cleaning his wounds made him reel from the pain, but Fingon was there, holding him, sometimes even abstaining from talking, as though he had noticed it irritated Maedhros.
The first moment of absolute clarity that Maedhros remembered was lying in bed, under soft covers, padded in the soft, floating sensation of being halfway between sleeping and waking. He just lay there with his eyes closed, and breathed. Breathing, at last, was easy. There was pain, but it seemed remote, wrapped in something soft just like him, but slightly further away. He recognised the sensation as the one following the draught they gave him. He could tell it was dark in the room, but it was a soothing darkness. And it was clean. The air, too, was clean, crisp and dark, fragrant with the scent of grass and trees and elderflower. With it came images and memories, for the first time clearly etched and vivid, of leaves and laughter. He nurtured them in his mind, held on to them, even managing to separate the simple images from the complicated. Grass, leaves, elderflower were simple. Some of the snatches of conversation that crept into his memory were not, but he wrapped them securely into the simple ones, like bread to keep fresh for later use.
Then, another time, also at night, he opened his eyes. He didn't move; motion still meant pain, and there was more of it this time than the last. Perhaps they had just cleaned his wounds again. They seemed to clean them a lot, as if there was something in him that kept them filthy. There was a window to his right, in his field of vision, and through it, he saw the night sky, branches of a tree with stars scattered into them.
He finally began to unravel some of the words, even the ones not addressed to him, spoken by others who thought he didn't hear. Even this he understood. It was actually easier to make sense of the things that were not spoken to him, as it left him more at leisure, less involved.
"You should just let him go."
It was daylight beyond his eyelids, but he kept them closed. Making sense of what he was seeing and what he was hearing at the same time still wore him out.
The voice that had spoken was further away than the hand now lightly touching his, his left; and Maedhros realised there had to be two people present, feeling a slight sense of achievement at the thought.
The same voice spoke again, without getting an answer from the other. "It's been three months. Whatever Morgoth did to him, it broke him. The healers say that the stump is not healing. He will not recover. You have to accept it."
"He has been making progress." Fingon's voice was soft, calm. "It's small, but it's there. He is still strong. I didn't bring him here to let him die."
A pause, then, "Why did you bring him here?"
An even longer pause. "You're not just talking about his hand."
"No, atar, I'm not."
It was a lot to make sense of. Maedhros approached it little by little, unwrapping small portions of the conversation at a time. Some of it was more challenging; he left that for later. Stump. Healing. But there was one sentence in between that resonated with him, so strongly that it rekindled something half-forgotten. Anger. Determination.
Whatever Morgoth did to him, it broke him.
This single sentence suddenly filled him with a burning desire to prove he was alive, and unbroken.