Disclaimer: I own NOTHING of middle-earth. All characters and places are the sole property of J. R. R. Tolkein, save for the characters of Trelan and Reniean, which belong to Cassia and Sio (I obtained permssion to use them when I submitted this snippet to the Mellon Chronicles website).

Departures, Part One

Twilight bathed Imladris in hues of blue and violet. December snow clung to the crevices among the stone stairways and weathered statues as still gold and red leaves fluttered and fell. The elves were in their autum, preparing to leave middle-earth for the gray havens. But on this evening, an unlikely aliance of men, elves, dwarves, wizards and hobbits made other preparations. Upon the dawn, the Nine Walkers would depart Imladris for Mordor and the mountain of doom. It was December twenty-fourth, and their lives were about to change forever.

Legolas of Mirkwood, son of King Thranduil, stood beneath this last twilight in Rivendell with his friends Trelan and Raniean beneath a pair of statues at the foot of a stone staircase. Trelan's soft features were sullen, and his posture revealed his disagrement with his Prince's decision to aid in the One Ring's destruction. He leaned back against the statue to Legolas' right, his arms crossed over his chest. He was dressed in a soft tunic of gold and brown, with leggings of soft brown velvet. His feet were bare, having just followed Legolas from the Hall of Fire. The December chill did not touch Trelan. It did not touch any of the elven kin.

"...other elves that could be going." Trelan's soft voice in the gray tongue carried in the night air. "Glorfindel is more than qualified to accompany them."

Legolas nodded. He was dressed in a silver-blue tunic, one loaned to him by Elrohir, one of Elrond's twin sons. They were of similar build and height. Legolas' golden hair gleamed beneath the half-light, as did Raniean's and Trelan's. "We have gone over this for a month, Trelan. Yes, Glorfindel is more than qualified to go in my stead. I did not make this decision lightly. I promised Estel that I would follow him - a promise made the night before the council meeting. I am happy to do this, Trelan." He crossed his arms over his chest as the corners of his mouth turned up. "If Elrond had not had faith in me as a contributing member to this quest, and had thought Glorfindel a better choice, I would not be going."

Raniean, the taller of the two friends, gave a soft laugh. Dressed in a dark blue, velvet tunic and black leggings, the Mirkwood elf opened his arms in a gesture of appeasement. "Oh not very likely," he nodded his head toward his friend and prince. "Where Estel goes, you seem to follow. You would go whether you were wanted or not."

Trelan straightened up and put his hands to his sides. "Raniean's right. When you and Estel are together..." he did not finish, his meaning well understood between the three of them. Legolas and Estel's adventures together had usually ended in pain and torment - much to Lord Elrond's and King Thranduil's dismay. Legolas shot Raniean a hard look, but continued with his entrities.

"Please, both of you. If there is one thing we all have to worry about, tis not my safety, but the destruction of the ring." Legolas thought again of the deep, graveling voice in his mind that came from the ring as he had gazed at it while at Elrond's concil. The pain that accompanied Mithrandir's recital of the Black Speech still echoed behind his eyes and he shuddered inwardly. The physical power of the ring had been exhibited when Gimli, Son of Gloin, had attempted to bash the simple gold band. The axe had disentegrated.

A dwarf's axe...utterly destroyed.

Ah, but leave it to a dwarf to act so brashly.

Raniean nodded. "You are right. The Ring's destruction is where our prayers to the Valar should be." He turned and reached a hand out to Legolas' shoulder with a firm grip. "I will tell your father, but I will not leave tonight as you have asked. Trelan and I will remain here until the dawn. I will see you off safely, my Prince."

Legolas shook his head. "You both are the most frustrating of elves."

A smile finally broke Trelan's scowl. "Isn't that a dead argument as well?"

~*~

Legolas, after leaving Trelan and Raniean for the night, wandered back into the Hall of Fire. He was looking for Estel, but was told his friend was with Elladan and Elrohir, Elrond's twin sons. Legolas laughed at this - he could only imagine the sage advice those two were filling Estel's head with. He knew his closest friend was now years beyond holding to any tricks the twins attempted - but still it brought back old memories.

Looking for the trio, the elf Prince stepped back out into the night and slowly descended the stone stairs to where he, Reniean and Trelan had spoken. As he passed beneath the statues and starry wreath, a soft sigh break the night. He paused and looked around him for the source. A figure stepped out from an archway before him and his heart caught for a second.

"Undomiel," Legolas gave a slight bow, "you startled me."

Elrond's daughter gave him a half smile with her full, pouty lips. Her expression was somber, and she kept her hands clasped before her. Her gown of shiny gold and burgundy weave glimmered beneath the lamps addorning the stairs. Someone must have come and set their flames when Legolas stepped inside. "Mae govannen, Legolas."

He raised his eyebrows in concern. "Was it your sigh that I heard? It was quite a heavy exclamation."

She focused her soft blue gaze on him and nodded. "I didn't mean to disturb you. I have been looking for Estel."

"I have heard he is with your brothers," Legolas smiled. "I was looking for him myself. I feel he might be in need of rescuing."

"Indeed, he might. I need to talk to him -" Arwen paused. Then, with a determined look, she said, "Legolas, he is pulling away from me."

"Estel?" The elven Prince took a step closer to Arwen. "Perhaps he is only thinking of tomorrow and what lies beyond. As long as I have known him, Strider has often kept his emotions to himself when he believed there was danger. He does this even more so since our travels together. Perhaps he is concentrating on what dangers lay ahead for all of us at dawn."

She shook her head slowly. "I wish I could believe that," she smiled at him, but the smile did not touch her eyes. "I feel something has changed between us. It frightens me."

"Frighten? You?" Legolas stepped forward and took her hands in his. Her slender fingers were cold and he clasped them tighter. He held her gaze in his. "Arwen Undomiel - I have never known you to be frightened of anything. Put the fear away - I can assure you that Estel loves you and that he desires you."

The wind rustled the trees around them and more autum leaves fell. A chill played along Legolas' spine and he shivered. As did Arwen. He did not believe it was the cold, but the approaching doom that hung above middle-earth if their quest failed. His race was so sensitive to the earth - here in Imladris, where spiders did not web the wood and darkness from the Necromancer had not tainted the very air, he could feel the world holding its breath. Her eyes grew wider and she stepped toward Legolas.

"I could not live in this world without him. Yet..." she lowered her gaze. "I fear he will not want me to stay."

"What has he spoken to leave you with such a fear?"

She looked looked into Legolas' eyes and he was struck as always at their deep blue color. "That is where my fear comes from - he has said nothing to me in two days."

Legolas pursed his lips in thought. If indeed Aragorn had chosen not to remain with Arwen once the ring is destroyed, there was nothing Legolas could do save berate him endlessly. Only Estel's heart could change his mind. Through their long years together as friends and traveling companions, Legolas knew that sometimes Strider protected those he loved by pushing them away, always thinking of their own health and happiness before his own. The elf prince had been the subject of that devotion many times in the years since their first meeting.

Legolas took Arwen by the shoulders. "Arwen, no matter what he says, he feels only love. Whatever he does, don't back down. Don't add burden to his shoulders - for tomorrow will be heavy enough. But in the end, know that Estel loves you. He loves you with every fiber inside of him. Be firm. Be strong. Be Undomiel."

She searched his face with her gaze. "Oh Legolas...if I could be as confident as you. If I could go with you and protect him..."

"Remain here, Arwen," he shook his head. "I will watch over him. I give you this promise. But you must promise to watch over yourself. Estel is full of thoughts, many of which will be fear of his own future. He has not given form to your fears."

"Promise me again, Legolas, that you will watch over him. You will protect him."

Legolas took both her hands in his and looked directly into her eyes. "I promise you, Undomiel. I will protect him with my life."

With a soft touch of her hand on his cheek, Arwen turned and moved into the darkening night.

Legolas felt dizzy for an instant, the place on his cheek where Arwen touched him tingled. He moved back to one of the statues and put a bracing hand against the ice-cold stone. Whatever power he had just issued in that oath, the Valar had seen fit to embody it. And Arwen would accept nothing less.

~*~

The night wore much later before Legolas found his old friend. The Ranger was seated in the room where Narsil, the broken sword of his forefathers, rested. Just beyond the statue was the platform where two months before, Elrond had held his council and the Nine had been chosen. Behind Legolas, on the wall, was the painting depicting the cutting of the one ring from Sauron's hand.

"Estel?"

"Legolas," Aragorn's voice was gruff, firm, no-nonsense. It appeared the Ranger had not heard his friend's approach.

"I believed you were with Elrohir and Elladan?" He gave a half smile. "I wondered if you were in need of salvation."

"They have retired to bed." Estel stood. "Are you packed and ready? I would advise getting some sleep. It will be the last you orI will enjoy in a soft bed."

Legolas strolled toward Estel, the night's chill rustling the leaves that blew into the open room. "And this has never happened to us before? Sleeping on rock and stone? Cowering in stables of hay or beneath trees or perhaps in them?"

Estel's stern look melted and he smiled. Though Legolas noted it was a sad one. "True, mellon nin. You and I are accustomed to so many hardships. But the hobbits..." he shook his head and glanced behind him to the building over the river where they slept. "Times will be hard. The weather cruel. And the Nazgul will be at our heels."

"And Saruman." Legolas stood before the statue that bore the broken sword. He looked up into the serene face of the cold stone. "We can't forget he who once guided The White Council."

Estel nodded. "Elrond seemed very shaken by Gandalf's news of his betrayal." The Ranger moved away from Legolas, his arms crossed over his chest. He moved to the farthest edge of the room and looked out over the moonlit night.

Neither spoke for an instant. Legolas was compelled to address Arwen's concerns with his old friend. Yet, he hesitated, sensing a distance between he and Estel. This was a seperation he had not noticed before. Indeed - Estel seemed different. Aloof. More the Ranger now than ever before.

Dunadan.

Estel turned his back to Legolas and gripped the stone railing. The night was dark and obscured much of the gardens below. "You have something you need to ask me?"

"I -" the prince gave a sigh. "It is Undomiel. She is worried you are pulling away from her."

"Mine and Arwen's relationship is none of your concern, Legolas Greenleaf. Please do not tread where you do not understand."

If Legolas were anyone else - perhaps another man or even a hobbit - he might have taken offense to Aragorn's strong words and much stronger tone. But the elf had known this Ranger far too long. He heard worry and self doubt in the human's voice. "I understand that you love each other."

Estel lowered his head. His shoulders sagged. "You are the only one, Legolas. But what I do, I do now for the future of middle-earth. My decisions - those I choose - are just those." He turned to face the elf. "They are mine. And whatever Arwen and I - whatever the future holds for me - I tread that path. Alone."

There was nothing Legolas could say. No clever words came to him. He could see the grief in his friend's eyes, see the sadness in his face. The decision was there. And he would not allow any intervention - not even from old friends. Legolas nodded. "I see."

Estel turned away, again looking out over the dark night.

Estel shiver slightly.

Legolas broke the silence. "Let us go inside, so that you can warm yourself by the fire." He moved from the sword to stand directly behind Estel.

"No," the Ranger shook his head. "There is no warmth for me - nor will there be for many nights. I know what must be done, and I understand the sacrificies we will all have to make." He turned his head to his right, but did not face Legolas. "Mellon - I need peace for a while." He looked up into the sky.

Legolas looked up as well and saw Eárendïl shining brightly. "Peace could be achieved easier if one is warm and comfortable."

To the elf's surprise, the Ranger laughed softly. He then turned and faced Legolas. His arms unfolded and he clasped one to each of Legolas' shoulders. "You have always been a brighter spot in this world." His smile faded, a little. "I have made peace with my Father - and with the object of his concern. I must now make peace with myself, before I set upon this quest. I need time to think - time that is not full of questions that I am not prepared to answer."

Estel removed his hands and stepped back. Legolas felt as if his friend had taken a much larger step away, more than just the physical one.

"Go and rest. I will see you in the dawn." The tone was dismissive. The prince did not feel slighted, having known Estel for so very long. Soon he would come into his birthright, and the worries of the world weigh heavier on him than they did at this very moment. The best Legolas could do was support the future King as best he could.

With a sigh, Legolas turned to leave.

"I am glad you will be with me, mellon nin." Estel's voice was low, quiet, and only heard by Legolas' ears.

The Prince did not turn, but smiled and continued inside the house of Elrond.

~*~

Legolas' rooms at Imladris were beautiful, and luxurious, decorated in the colors of autumn, so very different from his home in Mirkwood. Legolas allowed himself a deep sleep, after having searched the grounds for Arwen and not finding her. He knew sleep would benefit them all - Legolas would need to be alert to all dangers from now until the Ring was destroyed. Whatever path that may lead him on.

Awake well before the fellowship's departure, Legolas dressed in the clothes he'd arrived in, on that day two months passed. A simple layering of blue, brown and green. The sun had not yet crested the tops of the mountains surrounding Imladris. He checked his quiver for the seventh time and double-checked his arrows and their fletchings. He was as ready as he would ever be to begin the long road.

Someone knocked on his door and before he could cross the room, Arwen stepped inside. She wore a gown of shimmering blue and silver, her hair pulled back above her brow and held there by a silver crown. Her eyes were red and the corners of her mouth pulled down in sorrow. He stopped in the center of his room before the crackling fire. He knew then what Estel had done.

Arwen came to him quickly as he opened his arms wide and held her. Her shoulders shook with sobs. He too felt her rolling emotions but held himself firm. Kissing the top of her head, the prince said, "He did not mean it."

"Yes, he did," her voice was muffled as she spoke into his thick tunic. "I saw it in his eyes."

Legolas pulled her to a small couch beside the fire. Arwen sat beside him and laid her head against his shoulder. "No, Aragorn did not mean what it was he said."

" 'Edra le men, men na guil edwen... haer o auth a nir a naeth.' Those were his words." She sniffed. "He said it was a dream, he and I. Nothing more."

Legolas closed his eyes. Even in the common tongue, the words were sad yet poignant. ~You have a chance for another life ...away from war... grief... despair ~ for this was what his friend had spoken in the grey tongue. He remembered Estel's words from their earlier conversation - that he had made peace with his Father.

Elrond.

Legolas was well aware of the Elven Lord's disapproval of Arwen's choice of remaining in middle-earth. To do so meant choosing a mortal life, forfeiting the undying lands and the chance to see her mother again.

"Arwen, I do not believe this is what he feels."

She sniffed. "He tried to give the evenstar back."

Legolas raised an eyebrow. "And?"

"I told him to keep it."

"Then you did well," he gently moved her away from his shoulder. She sat up and faced him. "You did as I suggested. I have no doubt that his words to you were those spoken because someone else worries over your future."

Arwen frowned, then her dark, delicate eyebrows arched up. "My father?"

With a sigh Legolas nodded. "Elrond has only a father's love for you. He wants you with him, safe, and alive. If you remain here," the elven prince stopped, the unspoken meaning clear to both of them.

"It is my choice to make." Her voice was low, her eyes red-rimmed with tears.

"Arwen, Estel loves you. He has loved you from the moment he saw you. Believe me in this if you believe nothing else in your life. I have heard of you and your beauty for years," a grin broke his face and Arwen gave a shy smile. "Yes, I have. I have heard of his love until I am sick of it. For him to tell you such a thing - it is because he is worried. This fellowship is setting out to the very fires of Mount Doom itself, Arwen. There is no guarantee any of us will return. He does not want you to wait for him, if he does not survive. He cannot lead this quest if part of him remains here."

Her smile remained, and she wiped at her eyes with the back of her left hand. "You would think I were a babe in my mother's arms the way I cry." Arwen blinked several times. "I understand what you tell me, Legolas. I do. I agreed to do as he asked, but I will not travel with the ships to Valinor. Not even if my Father begs it of me."

"Arwen..." Legolas could not keep the warning from his voice.

"No, hear me out. I will stay here, and I will watch him from afar. This I can do. But I will need another promise from you, Prince of Mirkwood."

"I already pledged to keep him safe, my Lady." Legolas remembered the tingle in his cheek and the slight dizziness he'd experienced earlier. "You do not need another."

"And the Valar will hold you to this," she gave him a softer smile. "But there is another danger - though I belive him strong enough to overcome it. He is descedant of Isuldir, Legolas. He is a man. You must promise me, that if the Ring takes him -"

Legolas put up a hand, unwilling to believe such a thing. There is no possible way the ring's evil could touch Aragorn, son of Arathorn. He would not accept it.

"Legolas," Arwen took his hand in hers. Her voice lowered incredibly so, and he saw the depths of her age in her eyes. "There is always the possibility. If it happens, don't let it take him. Promise me the Dark Lord will not destroy the one man who can rise against him. I do not ask this of you lightly, nor do I ask it of myself - for I am not a babe, not truly in this world. I understand the importance of what he must do. He is not like those before him. He is strong. But..." she let her words trail away, but the elven prince understood where her thoughts traveled.

Without hesitation, Legolas rose. He placed his hand over his heart, then opened it outward. "I promise you this, Undomiel. I will stay loyal to him, and I will not let the ring take him. Whatever gifts the Valar have given me, I will pledge them to keeping him out of the hands of darkness." Again came the dizziness and Arwen stood and placed both hands on his shoulders. He smiled at her as he placed his on her shoulders to steady himself. "I must watch my oaths, dear Lady. I'm afraid there will be nothing left of me if I continue in this manner."

Arwen smiled at him. She put a hand to each side of his head and pulled his face to hers. She kissed him on the forehead. "You are indeed a prince, Legolas Greenleaf. The Valar favor you." She released him and moved to his bed. There she gathered up his quiver and turned to him."If I cannot help my heart's desire, then let me aid my elven kin." She buckled the quiver in place, then sheathed his two white handled elven blades. With practiced ease Legolas fastened his bow to the quiver behind him. Arwen moved to stand by the fireplace, her gaze fastened on the prince as he strode toward her. "It is a great honor to represent our people, Legolas Greenleaf. You look formidable."

"And you look terrible." He took in her full appearance now that he was ready to proceed with the dawn departing. "You have not slept."

"I will sleep when you depart." She looked back into the fire. "But for now, please, let me remain here. I fear I am not done weeping."

Legolas gave Arwen a final embrace. "May the Valar protect you," she said in the grey tongue.

"And you as well, Undomiel." He moved away from her, gave a small bow, then strode out of the room and into the hall.

~*~

Legolas was stopped by Elladan and Elrohir before he walked past the front doors.

"Legolas!" Elrohir called.

The prince turned as the two dark-haired sons of Elrond hurried toward him. They were dressed as opposites, in formal wear of blue and dark purple. Their hair, usually combed up into braids, lay softly along their broad shoulders.

Elladan said, his voice low. "I fear what Estel has done is wrong."

Legolas frowned, but a smile traced his lips. "Is it the entire house's business what happens between your sister and Estel?"

"It is when they both suffer," Elrohir said. "I do not like this. He is making a mistake."

"Then you know what it is he said to her," Legolas looked from one to the other. "May I ask how? Because I am almost positive Arwen did not confide in you."

The Twins looked at each other. Elladan was the first to face Legolas. His grey eyes were dark and full of storms. "We listened - just now. Elrohir heard her weeping during the night, and we followed her to your room." The elder elf gave a slight bow toward Legolas. "What you told her - it is such a great responsibility for one so young."

"Who are you calling young?" Legolas raised a dark eyebrow at the twin.

Elrohir put up his right hand. "You know what we mean. Let us carry some of the burden. Know that when we are needed, you have but to call, and the sons of Elrond will be at your side. Though he would not hear it from us, make sure Estel knows this."

He looked from one twin to the other. "I will accept that. But one condition."

"Anything," the twins said in unison.

Legolas crossed his arms over his chest. The quiver and bow shifted against his back. "Estel will survive and he will return for the Undomiel - of this I hold fast to believing. But, she has to stand steadfast to the decision he has forced upon her. For now at least. Estel must believe that she is safe - gone on to the grey havens. If he fears she is in danger, he will not be able to act upon his destiny. I hope that she understands this as well."

The twins nodded.

"She will need your support," Legolas looked to each of them in turn. "Both of you. Don't let her fall into despair. That is my only worry."

"We will not travel to the gray havens until the ring is destroyed, even if beyond that," Elladan said. "We make a promise to you, and to Arwen," he put his right hand on Legolas' left shoulder.

"We will not let despair take her." Elrohir placed his left hand on Legolas' right shoulder. The prince of Mirkwood placed his hands on their outstretched arms. "Hope is what we have. Hope is what will lead us to protect middle-earth. And, in essence, hope leads us," he referred to the elven name Elrond had given Aragorn. Estel. "If we fail in our mission, Sauron will cover the lands in darkness. There will be no more Imladris, no more Lorien, no Mirkwood," he took a deep breath. "No more Undomiel."

Elladan removed his hand from the prince, placed it over his heart and held it out in a traditional elven fairwell. "Deriband, Legolas Thrandulion."

Legolas returned the gesture. But Elrohir broke with tradition as he stepped forward and took Legolas into a warm embrace. "Keep our little brother safe, Greenleaf," he whispered in the prince's ear.

Legolas chuckled to himself. With all the promises of keeping Estel safe, when would he have time to keep Frodo from harm? With a final nod to each of them, the Prince of Mirkwood moved past them to the doors of Elrond's home and the courtyard beyond.

~*~

"Legolas."

The prince turned to his right before descending the stairs down to the front gates of Imladris. Who could be calling to him now? Estel stood several feet away. He was dressed in a simple dark shirt and dark trousers. He did not wear his coat, nor his bedroll and short-bow. His sword hung at his side. "Estel."

"You are rested?"

Legolas eyed his friend warily. "Yes - very much. Have you and Gandalf discussed our path to Mordor?"

Estel nodded. "At great length, I'm afraid. I have just left him."

"Then you are ready?"

"I am..." he paused. "I have a few things I need to attend to." He glanced behind him to a shaded path that led to the woods.

To Gilrean's memorial.

The prince nodded. "Then I will leave you to your thoughts." As he turned to go, Estel called his name again.

Legolas looked back at him, turning at the waist, his dark eyebrows arched in question.

Aragorn's expression was passive, unreadable. "What I did..." he shook his head. "I did because I love her. Don't think ill of me."

"It is not to me you owe an explanation, Strider." Legolas purposefully used the nickname he'd given to Estel upon their first meeting. He was not Estel now, but the ranger, the Dunadan that would lead them all to the Mountain of Doom. For now, on their journey, the time of formality and duty had begun. "You are right in believing she came to me. She did. I comforted her as best I could." Legolas fixed his brow in a straight line, knowing it gave him a stern countenance. "You have much changed since I last saw you, Strider. You have become much the hardened Ranger. In your face I see lines, weighed down with pain and responsibility. You rarely smile, old friend. You will not allow yourself happiness, not even its promise. But in your eyes I still see the human I befriended - the human your father named --hope- - the human that will lead this quest - the human that will one day take his rightful place." He gave a slight smile. "You do what you feel is right. And I will do what I feel is right. And though our paths in this manner be different, our ultimate end is the same."

"What does that mean?"

But Legolas was done talking. He knew his words to Estel were vague - but the elf understood them. Aragorn believed he must distance himself from Arwen for her protection and his own. Legolas would keep himself near, to protect the both of them.

He turned and moved quickly down the stairs to where Boromir and two of the hobbits waited in the courtyard.

~*~

Eight of the Nine stood near the gates. Arwen stood flanked by Trelan and Raniean. They were packed and ready to depart once the Nine had left.Arwen's expression was firm, yet Legolas could see the sadness and hurt in her blue eyes.

As Elrond and Estel approached from the direction of Gilraen's memorial, Legolas stepped forward to Arwen. She smiled at him, her left hand at her breast. Legolas placed his right hand at his. In unison they held their opposing hands out, then touched one another's cheeks in a parting farewell.

"Namarie," she said softly. "May the peace of the Valar protect you."

"And you, Undomiel," Legolas turned and kissed her hand as it remained on his cheek. "I will watch him, Arwen. I have promised."

"I know, dear prince. I know."

He bowed to her and lowered his hand. She lowered hers, and then her gaze was drawn away from Legolas to something behind him. He turned and saw Aragorn had joined the others, though the ranger's gaze was focused on the fair maiden beside Legolas. Legolas took his place to the right of Boromir as Elrond stepped up and bade the Fellowship farewell.