If a six-weeks-late birthday fic can be considered a birthday fic, this is one for AzureSkye23. Either way, it's dedicated to her. :)

I find him in Lórien, eyes on the grass, legs crossed beneath him in a bony knot. He sits on the ground immobile as a cactus (thorns and all), and it frightens me. Even after three Ages of misery and power and darkness and scarred skin, the garden should have some effect on him. That's what you come to Lórien to do. You heal.

But the dark rings around his eyes, the gauntness of his new and flawless fána, his stagnant stillness - scratch out a different story.

"Well, Mairon," I half-tease, waving a hand toward the elms above us, the irises beside him, and the weeds between us, "I expect a full report on all their names and traits after so many weeks of observation." He flinches, and I'm glad to see his reflexes haven't dulled.

"Yavanna. Oh. Um, I-" It takes him too long to collect his thoughts, but he does. "I'm afraid I still know more about briars."

"Even after weeks of staring?"

"The briars were all I ever saw in Middle-earth-" His voice bears a twinge of something forlorn, something wistful, something caustic. He doesn't have to tell me he hasn't noticed a thing about botany in Lórien. "-they and a few stubborn vines."

There are vines here in Irmo's garden, nestling limply around the roots of the elms, draping over their branches like a tattered mantle or a permanent embrace. I doubt he's noticed them.

"They certainly aren't like this in the Hither Lands, are they?" I murmur rhetorically, taking a deep green leaf between my fingers and caressing the veins. "Aren't gentle anymore, aren't subdued. When Morgoth forced his power into the Earth-"

"It wounded you, didn't it?" He doesn't meet my eyes, and I'm falling again, and the corn rots in its husks, which grow brittle while the stalks collapse. And I lie again beneath them, staring up toward the sky between the chinks in the slender, yellowing stems. (One blow of many.)

"Yes." I swallow and sink to the ground, folding my legs beside me to sit facing him. "But the vines - "

"I'm sorry." His hair falls in front of his features like the curtain of a willow's branches.

"You know all is forgiven now," I admonish. He twists a single clover until it tears.

"I did just the same," he continues, unflagging. "Mordor was no paradise before I reached it, but I rendered it desolate between the darkness and the smoke and the ash landing on the ground. All that waste in the soil from all those forges and machines. It... I might as well have force-fed you poison; I clogged your pores with soot."

I let the words hang between us, shut my eyes briefly. He was always a vine, forcing himself onto the rest of creation, strangling it until it gasps for air and withers at last. But now the tendrils that throttled my beautiful, innocent olvar clutch innocuously at the grass between us as lily-white fingers. The skin stretches between them petal-frail. I force the corners of my lips upward.

"I've suffered worse," I assure him, leaning forward. "I've suffered just what you have." I hear his lips snap a disagreeing snap; his voice emerges shadowed, slow, and condescending.

"Anyone who believes that has never heard my story." One of the lily-hands reaches up to the ash-white neck, which would have once borne all the ash bark's peeling scars. (Now, though, the resemblance is only in color.)

"I've heard how you lived to regret pouring most of you into a little metal circle, how alive it ended up." I exhale. "Have you visited Ezellohar yet?" Please understand.

"No," he murmurs, "I wasn't sure I would be..." He trails off and sucks his lower lip.

"Permitted?" I prompt. He nods. "Of course you are now. I wish you would go sometime; it would do you good to see what we have in common."

"The carcasses in our wake?" He smiles a feeble, diluted smile. "Yavanna, you can't count things you didn't kill. You're the epitome of life, but I... There's a reason I'm not in your service."

But I'd have welcomed him once, if he were softer, if he were patient, if the spare fern breaking out of the ground and his control wouldn't have withered his sanity, if he would have been content to let roots gnarl and grow ugly.

"You mean to say that's what drew you to Aulë," I clarify. "The lack of life?"

"Yes," he answers slowly, "even his Children proved automata." Yet this Maia imputed his own existence into metal.

"My spouse, he works with his hands, he molds treasures and trinkets and crockery and flatware. He loves his work, but it's dead under his fingers. Small wonder you didn't last long with him. Your Rings... You make things that live. Not like his Naugrim that lived but lacked - things that are perfectly whole, perfectly soulless, perfectly part of you-"

"Like the Two Trees." His tone is cordial but flat. "But your essence wasn't bound up with them; it didn't shatter you when they were killed. It hurt you, but it didn't destroy you. Not like-" He stops abruptly, strokes his new right ring finger, wraps a weed around its base. "The me in It wasn't life."

He says that, but his fëa pulsates golden, and his eyes shine, beautiful things taking in beauty. His fingers haven't stopped moving since our conversation began, jittering with activity, radiating life.

"But Mairon," I whisper, and raise a hand to tilt his chin gently toward me, "greed can't have been the only thing that made that Ring appear so beautiful." He shakes his head, and my hand drops.

"Anything fair about it was a cracked veneer. Something terrible always leaked out."

"That doesn't change the fact that it was something alive." I pause, purse my lips. I should have known he wouldn't easily take an I know how it feels. "That's why your soul was caught up in it, why the difference between it and the Trees is merely that I am a Vala."

"If the pain is the pain of losing part of yourself, then it should never go away." He gives me a wilted simper. "Thank you for telling me." Oh, Mairon, you despairing little bulb. You dig yourself away from the sunlight.

"No, Mairon." I permit myself a moment's laugh and a mild smile. "No, no, no. I wanted to tell you you'll heal."


"That's the paradox of it." My power flows warm in the fingers of my fana, like spare veins that run with chlorophyll. I will strawberries out of the ground, ripe on the vine. The green shoot breaches the soil; the fruit hurries into crimson fullness. I pluck two and hold them out to him in the palm of my hand. "It shouldn't mend us to pour more of ourselves out."

"But it has you?" He takes the berries, bites daintily into the smaller one, then quickly swallows the rest of it. I nod. I listen to the squish as he bites the other fruit. He chews thoughtfully, and we sit in silence until he's through.

"Yavanna-" His lips curve slowly upward. "Yavanna, when I compose my report on the plants, may I draw pictures?"

"I'll expect them to move," I prompt.

"They'll dance."