A/N: Holy bleeping mackerel, how long has it been? I want to send my thanks to everyone who is reading this, because it means you haven't given up on me. I admit that the more time that goes by, the harder it gets to write this, because I feel so disjointed from the beginning of the story. I don't think this story is living up to its full potential, but I want to finish it anyway, because I think it does have potential, and I hope to come back and rewrite it once I've finished it.
Thanks to Andy for proofing it, and giving me honest and helpful thoughts on the dialogue and everything else.
As always, reviews and CONSTRUCTIVE criticism are appreciated. Flames ARE NOT.
Whee! Here goes! We're creeping towards endgame. Enjoy, you guys.
Falling Into Grace
"Could we bend the laws of nature? Could a lion love a lamb?
Who could see beyond this surface? Who will love me as I am?"
-From "Side Show"
Aéllanwen's cry brought Legolas and D rushing out of the solar almost before she had fallen silent. As soon as they emerged, she turned watery blue eyes to her father and ran to him, clutching at the front of his tunic in something like desperation.
"Ada!" she cried. "I cannot feel my mother! She is gone…she is gone! Ada, something terrible has happened to her!"
Perhaps another elf would have asked how she knew this with such certainty when she and her mother had been separated by several walls, but Legolas knew better than to question the connection they shared. He took his daughter's hand in his, and they were off in a moment, with her brother and D on their heels.
They reached the royal bedchambers in record time. Legolas froze as he entered. Behind him, D took stock of the room. The chair at the dressing table was on its side, a hairbrush on the floor. One of the curtains was torn, as if it had been grasped as a last attempt to prevent abduction, but overall there was little sign of a struggle. Aéllanwen's hands flew to her face, and she burst into tears where she stood. Next to him, D heard Gryphondal utter what could only have been a curse in his native language.
But Legolas, with a frightening calm, was walking towards where the brush lay carelessly thrown to the ground. Slowly, he bent to pick it up, straightened, ran his fingers over where a few strands of dark hair still clung to the bristles. He inhaled sharply, and then his breath escaped him in a shuddering breath before his legs seemed to collapse beneath him and he knelt on the smooth stone floor, one word escaping him:
They had been arguing for hours. Aéllanwen sat off to the side in her father's solar as he and D discussed the best course of action to return her mother safely. Legolas had been prepared to send an army of elves after her the instant he had discovered her missing. D had pointed out coldly that they would die without ever seeing their enemy. D had suggested he go alone, as he was capable of making himself unknown to the vampire. Gryphondal, always a little too hotheaded, had pointed out that this would leave his sister unprotected, which was unacceptable, as she was the true target. Aéllanwen had not been unaware of the tinge of guilt D had felt at that reminder.
But it was nothing to the guilt she herself bore.
For her sake, not one, but two elves had now fallen, her own mother included. Was her life worth two others? She did not think so, and yet they were sacrificing all to protect her. D had been crippled, unable to do as he wished, because he was forced to stay by her side. He had had the title of Hunter torn from him, had been made a simple body guard, a servant even. It left a taste in her mouth like ash, like bile. She hated that she had done this. She hated that Dynariel had been hurt, that she would never recover. She hated that her mother would now be the one to suffer. And not just her mother, her father as well, for she did not know if he could survive the loss of his soul in this manner.
Enough. Enough, she was not worth this.
"Stop it." Even she was surprised at the cold tone in her voice. All three turned to look at her.
"I am weary of this," she continued. "It is wrong that others should be sacrificed for me. This vampire has held us in his grasp too long, and I will not have it any longer. I will go with D, and I will confront him myself."
Legolas look at her incredulously. "What foolishness is this? You would bring yourself right to the creature? And if he gains your power, more will die!"
"I will be with D! He will protect me as best he can, and he will defeat this vampire before he can take me! If I stay here, he will simply come while D is away and all will be lost no matter! This cannot go on forever, Atar. You know this. We must at least save Ataramin. I will go with D, Atar. I must do this my own way. It must be finished."
He looked at her for a long moment, then finally, with a great sigh that seemed to deflate him somewhat, he nodded. "I dispise this. But you are grown, and I cannot tell you how you will live your life. Nor can I deny your wish to end this. I know how it has been a torment for you, to live in this purgatory for so long. Go then."
Her relief swept through her in a wave. She felt almost weak with it. She could not smile in this situation, but her feelings must have been obvious on her face, because when she met D's eyes, his reaction to her was obvious with or without her empathy.
"I imagine I like this as little as your father, if not even less," he said. "But I will not deny you either. Aéllanwen, I do not expect that…" He did not finish the thought, trying a different tack instead. "Please tell me that you comprehend what you are putting at stake. What this may mean for both of us."
I do not expect that we will survive.
D looked at her for a long moment. "Nor I," he said at last, and for a moment she saw what was almost a smile on his lips.
They left just at dawn, in order to have the most time before they had to concern themselves with attack from the vampire. They had been up all night preparing; they had not slept at all, but D rarely slept anyway, and Aéllanwen had her determination to keep her going.
Once they were separated from her father, D had taken Aéllanwen aside. "I want you to understand something," he had said, sternly, but not quite harshly. "I am not used to working with anyone. I will do my best to protect you, but you will have to keep up, and you may have to keep watch over yourself."
"You are…important to me, Aéllanwen. But I cannot fail in this."
She smiled sadly at this, and when she lay her hand on his cheek, he only flinched a little. "I understand, melamin. I am…terrible to put you in this position. And I know this. Yet I cannot seem to stop myself from being so selfish." She laughed. "I'd like to say I'm doing this for others. For my people. For my mother and father and brother. But truly? I am doing it for myself. Because I cannot stand to live like this any longer."
He blinked, and she was aware of some frustration in him. "I am not certain my influence on you is altogether good."
This time she laughed more naturally, despite the fear beneath the surface. "In that case," she leaned forward, and she knew that were he any other man, he would have reacted to her closeness. The feelings coming off of him were what she had learned to recognize as his version of nervousness. "If that is how you feel, then perhaps my influence on you had been altogether very good." She had kissed him, then, lightly on the mouth. In the back of her mind, she was surprised at her own actions, but aware that it was the acceptance of the danger that made her bold. What surprised her truly, though, was his reaction, which was most unlike him.
When she would have pulled away, suddenly his arms were around her, one hand at the back of her head, the other around her waist, holding her tightly to the coldness of his armour. A part of her wished that could feel the shape of his body, but most of her was entirely distracted by the kiss. It was most unlike the previous kiss they had shared. There was something of desperation here. His lips parted over hers, and she followed suit without even thinking. When he deepened the kiss, it was as if a madness had come over her. Her arms were around his neck, and the smell of him was in her senses, and she pressed herself as close to him as possible, trying to find the bits of cool skin that were not covered by his gear. She was burning, on fire, and the feeling of desperation in him seemed to pour into her, like water, but perhaps more like oil, for it only encouraged the flame.
She had found herself suddenly held away from him. His eyes were a strange colour, one she had not seen before. They were still mostly grey, but there was a tint in them like red, and his canines looked longer, all of the sudden. And he actually looked ruffled, perhaps for the first time since she'd known him. She felt completely dazed herself, and somewhat disappointed, though truly she knew he was correct in stopping them.
"I am sorry," he finally spoke, once all hints of red had bled from his irises, and his teeth had returned to their original length. "I should not have done that."
She shook her head ruefully. "It's all right. I did not exhibit what could be called self control."
He seemed to sigh. "I meant what I said, Aéllanwen. You are…the most important thing to me now. I will do everything in my power to protect you. If this can end well, I will see it done."
And so here they were. Aéllanwen had traded the, quiet, white mare she usually rode for a swift black gelding. It was more a gesture of comfort than anything else. Aéllanwen knew full well that Rayven could smell her before he would ever see her anyway, and that even the swiftest horse had no chance against the speed of a vampire.
Comfort. The stars knew they had little enough of it to go around. D must have known this, for he said nothing about the futility of it all. Then again, perhaps it was simply that he was D, and tended to say nothing about anything.
They left her kingdom behind very quickly. Soon Aéllanwen could no longer see the gates at the front of the village. She looked back one last time, then no more.
"What are you thinking?"
She looked at D in mild shock, but he had his eyes forward, on the path ahead. She looked ahead as well, smiling. "I am thinking that this should feel much more epic than it does. I am certain that after this, my life will never be the same. And yet, I cannot seem to feel this is different than any journey I may take. Perhaps I am simply resigned."
D was silent for so long she was certain that he would not reply, which was neither shocking nor upsetting to her; however, she was therefore surprised when he did reply, and with words of comfort no less. "I do not think that it's resignation that causes you to feel as you do, but rather that gentle peace which you have always had about you. Because you have always done as you should, you do not fear what will come. I have not always done right, and I have feared. But when I am with you, I do not fear. It is what drew me to you."
"Aidan," she said softly, feeling wonderfully touched by his candor.
He looked at her from the corner of his eye, giving her that tiny, sad smile of his. "Of course, it is also what drew the vampire to you, so perhaps you should not be grateful for it. He sees it as a great power in you."
Aéllanwen returned the smile sadly. "It is not so great a power. It took me a long time to learn to live with the feelings of others." She looked ahead again. "When I was young, they ran rampant in me. I was almost wild, for a time. Most unbecoming of my species, and especially one of the royal family. I suppose that I had to come to terms with the feelings of others, and as a result, my own feelings. Despite our outward appearance, we elves feel just as strongly as any human, and perhaps moreso. I simply felt it double. Without my mother to help me..." She stopped suddenly, remembering what had sent them along this desperate past. She sent what felt like her millionth prayer to the heavens that her mother would be all right when they found her. "This Rayven will be rather disappointed to discover that my abilities are not so wonderful after all," she added finally, much subdued.
D was resolute. "He will not live to find out."
That evening, as dark began to fall, they searched for a place to sleep. D felt that he could better protect her if they were in one place, rather than moving.
"If he comes looking for us, then a fight will be inevitable. However, if I am still, I will be better able to sense him early. And I do not want to be the one to invite a confrontation in the dark. If I come upon him, I would prefer it to be daylight."
Aéllanwen was certainly not going to argue with him, and was grateful for the chance to rest as they settled at the base of a massive tree. They did not light a fire. Although it would have made little difference to Rayven, there were still several other unsavory creatures that called Mirkwood home, and Aéllanwen felt it would be best to avoid their notice, especially so far from the elven settlement.
Aéllanwen made her dinner out of crusty bread and some fruit. She offered some to D, but he refused. Having seen to her horse, she prepared to bed down for the evening. D was to stay awake and keep watch. Aéllanwen soon found that sleep was elusive. Even with her cloak, she was cold without a fire, and despite her exhaustion, she was too on edge to truly relax. She had slept outside of her bed many times in her life, but couldn't get comfortable on the ground.
After what seemed like hours of lying awake, she surprised and momentarily terrified to feel herself suddenly lifted from the ground. Her terror abated instantly, however, when she looked up to meet the grey eyes of her hunter-turned-guard. Silently, he settled his back against the tree with her in his lap. She blinked up at him in shock. "Aidan, what are you-?"
"You must rest," he answered succinctly.
"Yes, but…you must keep watch. I will be fine. Please, do not-"
"I can keep watch as well here as anywhere else. Take what time you have, Aéllanwen."
"Take-" She gasped as she took his meaning, the fight going out of her almost instantly. "Aidan," she said softly.
"Mmm," she agreed softly, already feeling somewhat soothed by his nearness. Despite the constant coolness of his skin, he held a comforting warmth, and his hair where it brushed her face was silky. Pressing her face against the space on his neck where pale flesh was exposed, she was surrounded by the scent of him. Her exhaustion was suddenly even more acute. As she began to slip into unconsciousness, she felt him press his nose into her hair, inhaling deeply. He lifted his head again, staring out into the trees, but his arms tightened around her.
They traveled for another half a day before D slowed his horse, holding up his hand for her to do the same. He dismounted, moving to the base of a tree that she would never have looked at twice, and moved aside some of the underbrush. There was an entrance of some sort.
"Is that a cave?" Aéllanwen asked in astonishment, coming to look over his shoulder.
"Yes," he answered. "There is probably a larger entrance somewhere nearby that the vampire uses more regularly. This is just a small chimney entrance, but he is nearby, and this will perhaps give us some element of surprise." He looked up at the sky. The sun was shining weakly through the thick canopy.
"Do we have enough time?" she asked.
"We have little choice," D replied. "We should have some hours of daylight yet, although I do not know if it will be enough. However, it seems we have little choice at this point. If we wait here, Rayven will surely detect out presence once night falls, and come looking for us." He drew his blade very slowly. "I do not like meeting him on his turf, but I suppose I knew that we would anyway. Still, I'd rather try and take him while he is asleep."
Aéllanwen nodded. "Very well, then. Please, lead the way."
"Draw your bow. It will not kill him, but it may distract him long enough…"
Without waiting for a reply, he dropped down into the cavern. Taking a deep breath, she followed.