A birthday gift for my dear friend, the amazing AzureSkye23, to whom I will be forever grateful for my tenacious Sauron muse. Happy Birthday, Skye!
Tyelperinquar hefted the Ring in his palm and looked across the table at its maker.
"What," he said evenly, "are we going to do about this?"
Sauron's features were impassive, but he shifted slightly in his chair, golden links of the chain around his arms jangling with a sharp sort of melody. Between the power radiating from the chain and the Maia's own intrinsic aura, a faint sheen hung in the air around him.
The Ring was cold, almost frigid to the touch. Celebrimbor imagined that when he pulled it off his palm, it would leave a little circle of frostbite behind, with the symmetry of a crown. He looked into it, through it, and saw wheels, fields of gears covering the face of Arda, reducing every quiver of Vairë's webs to a mathematical probability. It was beautiful.
"I don't know," answered Sauron at last, eyes on the floor. "Aren't you going to keep it?"
"Should I?" Tyelperinquar's voice sounded naive in his own ears, innocent and curious. There was a time when he wouldn't have cared that Annatar could hear it, but now it made him feel vulnerable. Sauron, however, didn't press that particular advantage.
"Depends on your level of interest in conquering the known universe," the Maia said drily, without looking up.
"So that's the ultimate objective." Celebrimbor popped his lips. It wasn't a question.
"One ring to bring them all-" said Sauron, sing-song.
"Going back to your roots, after all."
"-and in the Darkness bind them."
Tyelperinquar sighed. "I know I don't have to tell you I'm-"
"Disappointed?" Sauron cut him off. "But clearly not surprised." He lifted his bound arms with a sound like an arpeggio. "You knew exactly what I was, and you still took me in, still listened to me, still cared for me. And all along, you knew. Why not just pull out the chain from Day One and save yourself the heartbreak?"
"I hoped-" began the Fëanorian and stopped short, swallowing. He paused and said again simply, "I hoped. Stupid of me."
"Maybe a little," replied the Maia with a sad smile, dissonant with his radiance.
Celebrimbor shook his head and glanced down at the Ring. He plucked It from his right palm with his left thumb and forefinger, holding It up between them.
"The Mírdain have sent messages to Gil-galad and Galadriel that Morgoth's Lieutenant has been captured, halted right in the middle of a plot to enslave Endor," he said. "They're not going to be merciful. I'm lord of the realm you've infiltrated, your captor, your-" He paused long enough for a hundred should-have-beens to flash across his consciousness, a hundred dances on porcelain, a hundred kites in a storm. "-colleague," he lied at last. "They're going to ask me what to do with you. They're going to ask me about this, and how we can use it to… to destroy you."
"I suppose that's fair," said Sauron, almost placidly. The golden aura about him didn't falter. Tyelperinquar, however, could hear the controlled tremor beneath the words. He wanted to drop the damn Ring and fold the Maia's hands in his.
"Yes," he said quickly, "it's probably fair, maybe it isn't. I don't know. It doesn't matter. All I know is…" He couldn't finish. "I'm just trying- -" Tyelperinquar didn't consider it an interruption when Sauron spoke up; the sentence hadn't been going anywhere.
"So take It," said the Maia. "Eru knows I won't think less of you."
"Take It?" replied Tyelperinquar incredulously. He curled his fingers back around it, the metal shooting ice through his nerves. "How do you know I want it?"
"It's a beautiful ring." Sauron smiled. "And I know you. You'll capture the whole world like Light in a Silmaril. You'll measure all the dimensions, round off all the sharp edges. You'll preserve it in a perfect pose, first like a sculpture, then like a taxidermy."
"No," said Tyelperinquar sharply. "No, I don't want to freeze the world. I just want to write the equation for where it goes."
"It'll look pretty frozen when your variables start cycling back through."
Tyelperinquar wanted to roll his eyes; Sauron kept wearing that same sad smile.
"Perhaps," said the Fëanorian, "but that isn't important. It's not what I'm trying to-"
"It's fine." Sauron tried for a dispassionate shrug. He failed. "Why do you feel like you have to ask my permission? You won. Checkmate. Take the spoils."
The gears churned in Tyelperinquar's kingdom. He ran his fingers across them, and they glittered. He planted gems in their perfect steel nexi. They ground in unison, and the ringing went up from all of Arda like a battle cry. (Dispossessed no longer.) He worked, a master craftsman with boundless resources, a master artist with Eä for a canvas. He ruled, a dark lord on a silver throne, a taxidermied shadow at his feet.
His grip tightened around the Ring, but he looked up at the shadow itself, the Maia sitting across from him, cast in gold and brimming with life. Take It, and that life was gone. Fossilized. Domesticated.
Sauron's hands clenched and unclenched on the table.
"Tyelpë," he said, almost desperately now, "please just take it. I don't see why-"
Tyelperinquar shook his head. "Annatar! Listen to me." He didn't want a world of automata. He didn't want a husk of this Maia. "I'm not trying to take your Ring. I'm trying to save you."
"Haven't you been trying that for four hundred years?" the Maia shot back. "Look where it's gotten you."
"Where it's gotten me? You're the one they're about to try to execute."
"You're the one who's trying to prevent it." Sauron tilted his head to one side.
"Yes!" said Celebrimbor, standing and dropping the Ring. It fell on the table with a hollow thud. "Yes, I am! And I'm apparently the only one in this room interested in doing so." He had circled behind his chair, and his hands now gripped the back of it. "Tell me what I can do. Just tell me."
"I did," replied Sauron. "Take It. If you don't, they will. I'm not sure I could endure that."
"Oh, so you'll endure it so much better if I'm the one to defeat you with your own power?"
Sauron shrugged. "You've all but promised to be lenient…"
Tyelperinquar frowned. "Am I misunderstanding? If I take this, I take a part of you, correct?"
"Yes," answered the Maia dispassionately.
Tyelperinquar watched his fingers; the skin looked grey for the tightness of the chain. He could picture those same hands in a flurry of excited motion, scribbling blueprints across a page with a charcoal pencil. He could remember them steady, measured, molten silver streaming from a sieve between them.
"I don't want to do that," he said. "I don't want to break you."
"You're just going to let them do it, then?" Sauron looked at him as his father had in Nargothrond, after Finrod died, amid the smoking rubble of all his plans. ("Pack up, Tyelpë.") It was a look that assumed love and submission were complementary goods. It was the look of a man who knew he had lost everything, and knew that included you.
"Do I have another choice?" Tyelperinquar let go of the chair and ran a hand through his hair. "What are my other options? Destroy it and kill you outright? Give it back to you?" His hand froze mid-motion. A glacier materialized in the pit of his stomach. And he swallowed, then continued slowly, "Is that what this is all about?"
Sauron smiled. "Maybe."
"You're disgusting." Celebrimbor mirthlessly curled his lips, shaking his head.
He wasn't. The Darkness had a large mouth, and it could talk out of every side.
"If I give this back to you," he said, "you can only use it for one thing. I can't let you do that." To the world. To yourself. To me.
"You could always come back. Refine your impurities. Pour yourself back into the mold. Decide to hammer out the blemishes." Tyelpe knew it was useless, but he couldn't help trying. This Maia wasn't fool's gold. (He would know.)
"Come back? You mean take a grey ship into the West and there be sentenced to the Void? Surely the last splinter of the House of Fëanáro doesn't think the Powers would be merciful." Sauron laughed. "I've got enough darkness of my own, thank you."
"My grandfather, my father, my uncles, they made their choices," Celebrimbor insisted. "Even now, if you could just make a different one, perhaps-"
"Perhaps the Valar would just do it by destroying the Ring, rather than condemning me directly?" Sauron gave a sardonic snort.
"When they get here," sighed the Fëanorian, "- Galadriel and Gil-galad and the rest - they might force you onto the ship anyway. You could at least buy some favor if you surrendered willingly."
"No," answered Sauron simply, "they're going to try to execute me."
Tyelperinquar bit his lip. He couldn't argue that in good faith. "Well, I honestly think so too," he said, "but there's always-"
"I had Finrod killed," Sauron said with finality. "They're going to try to execute me."
The words hung between them for a moment, and Tyelperinquar couldn't meet the Maia's darting eyes. The fear in them belay the answer he sought.
But, "Is it going to work?" he asked anyway. Sauron didn't hesitate to answer.
"It's worked on Balrogs, and they didn't have half their power bound by this-" He shook the chain. "-and the other half concentrated in that." He inclined his head toward the Ring.
"You're not one of those demons." Somehow it emerged like a dare. Sauron didn't take it, merely shook his head.
"You keep trying to believe that."
"You're counting on my believing that." He bent toward the table and wrapped a hand over the Ring. (He could hear gears grinding again, see equations staining the sky.) He shook his head. "If you're no brood of Morgoth, I'll just hand this right back to you, won't I?"
"Or at least take It yourself and join me in the Dark." Sauron looked up at the Noldo and tilted his head to one side like a beckon.
For a moment Tyelperinquar wanted to rip off the golden chain and unmake it, use the metal for twin scepters and twin crowns (and gears). But just one throne. He swallowed. There could only ever be one throne.
"It would shatter you," he said.
"Thanks to you, I'm about to be shattered anyway."
Tyelperinquar wanted to hit him, even as tears stung his eyes unbidden.
"Not if you repent."
Sauron looked down at his lap and laced his fingers, chain jingling with the movement. He smiled softly and whispered, "I think I'll just wait for you to yield instead."
The Noldo stood up straighter and rounded the table to lean on Sauron's armrest. In the motion was the hammer in his grandfather's hand, the torchlight on the walls of Tirion, his father's silhouette shrinking into the North to the sound of hoofbeats. Tyelperinquar bent and kissed the Maia's hair. The last splinter of the House of Fëanáro was made of adamant.
"I don't yield," said Tyelperinquar, and left the room.