Later, he had been promised; Later, we will deal with this. Later, we can sort out what we've done, what we want. For now, we must focus on the battle to come.
And Maedhros listened. He obeyed, organizing and rallying and preparing. There was no other choice; he lived with the storm of emotion within himself and pushed his worries to that horizon that was Later.
But now it was Later, and there was no one left with him to sort out what he wanted.
"Maedhros. I love you."
"I love you. Nothing—"
"Nothing changes that.
"...I love you. First, always, most."
"But... Before all of—this, I thought..."
"You didn't think. Was there a Before this, or did you ever stop to think? Did I ever stop to think, or did I just blindly follow you?"
"No. You aren't. And I'm not, either."
"Fingon... If I die—"
Legions marched, but they were not enough. Maedhros knew this, had known all along. The armies of Angband were greater, and their lord cared less for their lives. It was doomed from the start, this Union of his, and Maedhros led them anyway. Into battle. Into death.
It was his fault. When Azaghâl was crushed beneath the dragon, when Fingon went up in flames, it was his fault.
The dwarves sang a dirge as they carried their fallen lord away. No matter what Azaghâl had promised, there would be no Later—Maedhros would not even be present for the funeral.
Fingon was lost entirely. Maglor hummed quiet songs of mourning, but Maedhros could not bring himself to join in. Too much of music was a prayer to the valar, and now that Maedhros had been utterly defeated, broken, robbed of all comfort and love—
Morgoth played with them, like insects he had trapped in honey. There would be no gods rushing to their rescue; to them, the Children, First- and Secondborn and Adopted, were insignificant bothers. Flies to be swatted away.
Once, Maedhros had hoped. Fingon had sung bewitching melodies and soothed him to sleep, nursed his wounds, assured him there would be time for soft contentments after—After—
The Valar watched, and did nothing. Morgoth waited, preparing to strike.
Now, shattered and scattered, they were but entertainment before the tragedy's conclusion.
How cruel it was that Maedhros was the one to survive. How cruel it was that he lived to close the show and draw the curtains before his taking his last bow into fire and death.
"You're up early."
"Don't make excuses. You were leaving."
"...I can't stay. I shouldn't have—"
"I said we, lad."
"I am far, far older than you."
"Then act like it."
"You weren't alone in this. I chose it. So did you."
"It is wrong."
"Which part? You so old, I so young? You so lordly, I so—hah!"
"You are lordly."
"I know it. Is it that I am khazâd?"
"Well? You think you are the first of your kind to bed one of my people?"
"I do not know."
"Ah. The truth, at last."
"He and I, we—"
"Maedhros. Nelyofin. Mattimeo, or whatever you—"
"Don't. Not that name."
"Your scars are handsome. After last night, you should—"
"Âzyungâl. Live in the now, not in the later."
"How can I? I have seen so much—I plan for so much—"
"...you shall benefit from taking a mortal lover, âzyungâl. It will teach you the joy of the present."
After, he had been promised. After our victory, we shall all come together and talk, about what you did, about—him. But before the battle, we must prepare.
Maedhros knew he had no choice but to obey. He knew too well it would be pointless to argue; it always was, with Fingon.
Now it was After, and they were both gone.