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Dec 02, 2022 12:08 AM
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"It's - usually not worth trying to think around Maitimo like that, yeah. I think visiting is a good idea."

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"Thank you for your advice here. As always. I can't imagine what a mess we'd be in right now if we didn't have that." 

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"Of course."

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Then Telumë, after some further discussion with the Valdemaran and Karsite governments in exile about where exactly they're going to keep the Silmarils and how to secure them and whether it's permitted for Fëanáro to come experiment with them and also whether that's a good idea, will Gate back to the north.

"We're keeping him here," he tells Melody. 

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"You realize this sounds like a very doomy plan from the outside, right?" 

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"Yes. I know. Trust me. And - it might in fact end up being too damaging for me to justify. I think it depends heavily on how he responds to this. If you think he is - using himself as a weapon to hurt me - then I will take your word on it and we will kill him and get him back after the war." 

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"All right. What precautions?" 

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Maitimo wakes up. There are a lot more things going on with his head but he doesn't think he's missing time. Certainly not very much of it. 

 

Telumë's there. 

 

He sits up. "Hey."

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"Hey." Telumë is smiling. It's a complicated smile, there's grief and weariness and frustration in it, but genuine happiness to see him as well. "I have considered and obtained advice on this, and made the decision to keep you here in the north." 

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Happyrelievedwant -

"Thank you. What do you need from me right now?"

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"Nothing? I will tell you what the current precautions are, though I am not promising there are no hidden ones. Your osanwë and ability to swear any additional oaths are blocked. You are not going to remember this conversation in particular, although if you wish to immediately sleep after it, you can have your memory back and not lose very much time. There are a few compulsions in place against running away or hurting people, which should be upstream enough to also forbid planning toward those actions. Your thoughts will be read regularly, and certainly all of the time when we are together."

He thinks a silent apology to Melody for this particular duty, though she seems bizarrely unbothered by it now that they've talked it through in a lot of depth and she's made her points about why this is doomy and he's explained his side and they've decided. She's so unflappable.

"We will remove the spatial block if you spend time outside," he adds, "which would be in the presence of at least a dozen trained combat mages. It will be approximately up to you how often you wish to do this rather than stay here, although I may end up imposing more limitations there later. If I notice a vulnerability in our precautions, I will add additional ones." He pauses, looking Maitimo in the eye. "If the way I notice it is when you slip something past it, though, then - I have already committed to half a dozen people that this would indicate I was wrong about our ability to keep you here safely, and - we would take the safest option and kill you." The 'and retrieve him after the war' can go unstated, especially since it's not yet guaranteed they're going to win. "This seems important for you to know, since it may affect your incentives here." 

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"I - figured, yeah. I didn't even expect to have this. I don't want to die and I don't - I think I see how to be here, and be okay, and not try to hurt you, and that's what I'm planning to do.

If you wanted to do the thoughts without roping in a third party you could just make me send them to you. I don't think I have any ulterior motives for that suggestion it just seems hard on your people to make them watch."

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"I have definitely been considering it. I - think I am less objective about you, and perhaps more easily manipulated by you than others are, but - I do want to know what you are thinking, actually." He's silent for a moment. "Hmm. Osanwë is too general-purpose for me to feel comfortable leaving it unblocked more of the time, since compulsions on how to use it may be loophole-able, but... Melody?" he adds out loud. 

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She's waiting in the room outside, but she comes in. "Yes?" 

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"I want you to have Nayoki come here, and place a compulsion that Maitimo has to make all of his thoughts public to me, and one against doing anything else with it. Then I want you to unblock his osanwë, for the next hour, unless one or both of us ask you to block it again sooner. You ought still watch his thoughts at all, I think, but you need not do it as closely." 

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If Melody is as dubious about this plan as he expects she is, she isn't showing it. "All right, sure, just a minute." 

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Nayoki must have half-expected she would be requested, because she's there, in fact, in less than sixty seconds. "All right. I think..." She concentrates silently for a bit. "That ought to do it." 

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"Unblocking now - sorry, it's probably pretty frustrating to be compelled to do something you can't do yet..." 

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"I am not doing them myself for a few reasons," Telumë says levelly, "one of which is that I have not prioritized becoming as good at them as I was before." There've been kind of a lot of higher priorities. 

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And then he can read Maitimo's thoughts. 

 

Maitimo is scared. He's gotten a little better at being scared in an intellectual way that doesn't bleed too much into his emotional state, and he's working aggressively to keep his heart rate low and his breathing slow and to cancel all his body's requests for adrenaline, so only a little bit of it is leaking into the marriage bond, but he's scared. He feels like the thing he's doing should be acceptable to Telumë but he's worried about it coming out in the wrong order, or something, or being costlier than it feels like it ought to be, or - actually, he doesn't think any of those things are particularly likely, it's probably simpler than that, he's scared because there are powerful people with a lot of reasons to kill him here to change his head around, and the thing he's picked to coping with this is so specific to Telumë that it's a bit fragile about other people being here - 

- it really shouldn't be, though. They work for Telumë, at least in this; they are tools he is using to get what he wants, because he doesn't trust himself (Maitimo does not believe him that the only thing going on here is that Telumë hasn't been practicing compulsions.) That's fine; it is better for Telumë to have more tools, because he wants Telumë to get what he wants. 

- it is occurring to him that this is probably a confusing place to start reading his thoughts, if you were reading less carefully or not at all when he first woke up here to be asked whether he wanted to stay - but Telumë can ask questions if he wants to, can't he. That thought is a very reassuring one.

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Telumë looks him in the eye, quietly, levelly. (He's shielded firmly against osanwë, all of the people present are). "What is the thing you picked to cope with this? Melody was reading you then, but - said that whatever you were feeling seemed very complicated to explain." 

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"Yeah. I'll try -"

So Maitimo is made up of other people, they've talked about it, joked about it - Jisa's shown him his garden - and that doesn't just mean that Maitimo has lots of pieces of other people woven into how he does everything that he does, it also means that his whole sense of who he is is distributed across other people, his family, his friends, Findekáno, all of the Noldor. It doesn't really feel like there could possibly be an answer to who he is separate from who they trusted him to be, who they loved him for being. And now, of course, in order to try to win the war, he had needed to burn all of that trust, all of that love, all of the good things that any of those people thought of when they thought of him, in the hopes that the explosion would be big enough to engulf their war effort.

He did not expect to survive it, obviously, not just because he was incidentally making it strategically necessary to kill him but also because if he left any of the things they loved him for on the table then the explosion wouldn't be as big and if he used everything they loved him for then they would have no reason to want him alive. And there's some lack of nuance there, in how he's glossing this now, because they're mostly good people and if it was safe to keep him alive they'd do that even hating him, but under these conditions they were keeping him alive because they loved him and he had cashed out all that love for optimism and used that optimism to create enough space to betray them and - he didn't hate it, he wasn't miserable, as Telumë must have known, it'd been an exhilarating thrill, but it had been the concerted and deliberate destruction of not just every person he knew and their trust in him and love for him but also of his self-concept, located as it was in their love and their trust. 

He pulled all his levers and he spent all his currency and he didn't want to die but he was trying not to think about it because that's what happens, right, when you take all the reasons anyone might have to not want to kill you and throw them into the bonfire you are using to burn down their continent...

And then he was back here. And Telumë - Telumë's love is in an important sense harder to betray, because when Maitimo is very clever Telumë enjoys it, because Telumë wasn't lying to himself in the first place about how Maitimo had changed, because Maitimo still has, somehow, many of the traits Telumë loved him for - and suddenly it felt possible to survive and that was, suddenly, terrifying, because he'd given all of that up, he'd managed to not even let it hurt very much, but it's not safe to be dangerous and he's no longer - anything else. 

Now that he's spelling it all out it sounds like it should've been upsetting? But it wasn't, he'd felt - very calm. Weirdly safe, actually. He'd known that it had to still be up for debate whether they would let him live but - well, he might as well live in the world where they decided to, right, and in that world it felt very simple. Telumë still loved him. Telumë knew how to keep him. He couldn't be dangerous, he couldn't be difficult, but he could be, if he was willing to be Telumë's. Willing to be whatever shape Telumë wanted to make him, willing to cooperate with whatever Telumë wanted to do with him, willing to trust that the person he was in Telumë's head was in fact a perfectly good person to be, a person he'd be happy as - and that Telumë was a good person to belong to utterly, but he was very sure of that -

He is alive because Telumë loves him and his purpose for right now is to be something Telumë can take good care of. The world can be that narrow, and he can live in it. 

And - important pieces, important clarifications without which this would be some kind of horrifying lobotomy instead of a comfortable place to rest - this is a hard task he has set himself, being something that Telumë can take good care of, because he is a Quendi and they're obnoxiously difficult to imprison and he's evil and last time - okay, last time he was maybe trying to make them sort of break him but also it felt like it'd just been the default, that they would sort of break him, because the set of conditions that make him safe are difficult conditions to live under. He can fill his life here with music and company and books and Telumë-he-never-remembers but it will be a challenge not that much less complex than the challenge of destroying everything in reach. It's good for him, to have a complicated task. If this were easy it would be demoralizing; if Telumë had the resources to leave him in a beautiful endless garden full of people he couldn't hurt, and drop in once a week for sex, that would hurt. But this is hard, and Maitimo sees how to do it anyway, and he's happy about that. 

- and being something Telumë can take good care of involves being most of himself. Telumë loves all of him, Telumë doesn't want him to be smaller in any dimensions that aren't necessary to contain him. He has to be clever, he has to be good at people, he has to be careful at thinking about what he's doing and what he needs, he is allowed to still be good at reading people, to still be good at thinking about them - being Telumë's would hurt him a lot if Telumë didn't love all he is, but he does, so it's safe -

- and the way he's thinking about it is obviously sort of unhealthy, the part where he's thinking about himself as a burnt husk with no traits except for the fact Telumë loves him, the part where he's reminding himself to eat and drink and bathe and exercise by telling himself that this is Telumë's, and he ought to take good care of it - if Telumë were himself thinking in those terms it'd be kind of scary - but it isn't hurting him, it really isn't, he's poked it and he's just - fine. He threw everything else away and now he belongs to Telumë, because Telumë still wanted him, and this is not too small a space to exist in because Telumë loves so much of him, and Telumë's love is expansive enough to live under. 

 

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Telumë looks his husband in the eye. Melody and Nayoki have left; Melody's still going to be watching a bit, from a distance. 

This is - all right, from the outside it's obviously kind of insane, to try to have a relationship under that set of conditions. Maitimo's right, though. There's a kernel left of something precious that Maitimo couldn't burn, because - all right, it might be possible in theory to make Telumë feel betrayed in that way, but it'd be pretty damned hard, he doesn't think about the world in those terms. Nothing that Maitimo did in Arda even surprised him, really. He can love all the pieces of Maitimo except for the oath that they're pulled together under, he can - separate that, in his mind - it's kind of crazymaking and he knows that, but also there's still something, here, something good and right and beautiful. That Sauron chose not to destroy, presumably because he thought leaving it would result in more suffering, but it feels at least worth trying to defy that. Trying to constrain Maitimo enough that the oath can't be acted on, and then he can just be the other parts of himself, all of which are parts that Telumë loves. 

Telumë will need to be very clever and careful and paranoid, to keep Maitimo in a cage that can hold him without breaking him, and he does need other people's help to stay grounded, to remember to check whether it still looks worth it, but–

–but if they can do that, balance on that tightrope until the war is won - if they can win without throwing Maitimo onto the fire along with everything else they're going to end up sacrificing - then that's better. Telumë is going to run this line of reasoning by Vanyel, later, he's not stupid, but he thinks it holds together.

(He is pretty concerned about the future problem of helping Maitimo put himself back together when he so firmly believes that he's burned himself down along with all of his bridges, but - that can be a problem for their future selves, he decides.) 

"Possibly we are the only people in existence who could even try to have a relationship under such conditions," he says dryly, "and it is going to be a very weird relationship, but - I love you, I want you, and I am willing to try to make this work." 

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He really wants to flirt, in response to that, but he hates it when he flirts with Telumë and then he turns out to have compulsioned himself not to do anything, it makes his body language all misleading and Maitimo ends up doubting himself and feeling far more let down than is reasonable to feel, so he's just planning to not. Telumë can initiate when he wants him, or at least clarify that it's allowed. 

"I love you," he says, and looks down at the ground, and if the empathy-bond is sending flirtatious emotions well that's not his fault.

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Telumë hasn't done that, actually. It no longer seems like there's much point, here, if he's going to - what, bribe Maitimo to keep existing here and not setting things on fire, hoping that this will make it a little easier to fix him when all of this is over, and the bribe he has to offer is himself - well, it's a much less appealing bribe if he can't touch his husband.

"I love you too," he says, and gets up from his chair, moving to sit on the bed. "...I am not compulsioned against any kind of physical intimacy," he clarifies. (He did ask Nayoki to compulsion him against talking on certain subjects, mostly as a reminder to himself that however much it feels like he can trust Maitimo now, he really can't.) "I am going to let you decide that, though, since you had so many Sauron-related flinches about various things the last time."

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