How could I have been so stupid, Legolas wondered, heartsick and staring at the ground as he followed Elrond toward the main house, and why did no one tell me he has bonded with another?
The wondrous hope held in the moonlit night had faded completely. Tears welled up in Legolas' eyes, he brushed them away and forced them back with vicious effort. My father will not hurt him now, and I am free of the ill-conceived agreement to bond. I should be eager to celebrate his happiness and my freedom, Legolas thought. Why, then, do I feel only shock and betrayal?
Idly, Legolas realized they had moved into Elrond's private gardens. Falling back on the widening path, Elrond walked beside Legolas in silence for some distance. Glancing sideways at his companion, Legolas realized that some time in the past, no doubt while avoiding the prince from Mirkwood, Elrond had discarded his robes. He walked now in a tunic, leggings and boots resembling Legolas' own except for their darker color. He must have been spending a great deal of time with the horses, Legolas realized.
"I would speak with you alone," said Elrond, his voice low and quiet. "I would have no possible witness to my confession… my shame."
Legolas' reply was equally as quiet. "I do not understand, my lord. Did you not journey to Mirkwood and free me?"
"I told you I was not worth the risk. Yet I cannot deny my gratitude that you came."
"I told you I would come. You are free of your father, he will never trouble you again."
Legolas nodded. "You are free of him, my lord, but I am not. I think returning to Mirkwood would be a great mistake on my part. I shall have to consider where to go."
Halting on the path, Elrond turned to stare down at his companion. "You would leave me… leave Imladris so soon?"
Legolas stared at the gravel. "Forgive me, Lord Elrond, but I must be honest. I cannot remain here, cannot bear to watch…" Swallowing heard, the younger Elf struggled to continue. "Your companion will not wish to have me about."
"My… what?" Elrond rocked back. "What companion?"
"Celebrian is dead," Elrond said with some confusion. "You know that."
"Your new wife then."
"I have no wife."
Raising his head, Legolas looked hard at the elf-lord. "Am I to understand then that you have taken another male to be with you? Glorfindel perhaps?"
"Glorfindel?" Elrond shook his head in seeming bewilderment. "I don't know why—"
Balling his fingers into fists, Legolas stepped forward, almost onto Elrond's toes. The smell of horse and leather and something indefinably Elrond filled his senses, making the rage billowing over him no less powerful for all that his heart sang to be close to the Elf lord once more. Clutching Elrond's arm so hard it would probably bruise, the younger Elf demanded, "Tell me what I did to become so abhorrant that you chose to mate with another?"
"I have not mated with another."
"You would add lies now to the distance between us?" Legolas asked, incredulous.
"I have deceived you only once," Elrond rejoined, his voice choked, "and that deception I shall pay for all my days, no matter it was meant to save your life."
"I would rather have died beneath my father's keep that have you abandon me now."
"I have not abandoned you."
"You heal me, only to mate with another and desert me?"
"I have not mated with another!" Elrond all but shouted the words. "Why would you assume this?"
"I am not blind, and you have bonded," Legolas snarled. "You have avoided me for weeks under the pretense, no doubt, of letting me heal. Your household watched while I searched for you, did not see fit to inform me that your bonding had taken place…When, Elrond? Did you wait until I was scarce outside your gates before taking your mate? Or did you wait until after you had risked your life – nay, the wellbeing of this very valley – to bring me home from Imladris? Did your joining happen while I lay unconscious and abed?"
"It happened on the road to Imladris," Elrond said miserably.
"Then you did bond with Glorfindel."
"I did not. I bonded with you."
"I should have known it would be Glorfindel, no other choice would have silenced Thranduil so effectively—WHAT?" Legolas stilled, his slender body tense, his blue eyes widening.
Two large hands came to rest on his shoulders. Elrond bowed his head and murmured, "My shame and my deceit, Legolas, is that I bonded with you on the road from Mirkwood. You were dying and unconscious, perhaps at the very gates of Mandos. Joining with you, I called you back. Selfishly, perhaps, but there you are."
"You… took me."
Elrond's hands slid away from Legolas' shoulders. "Perhaps, one day, I shall see forgiveness in your eyes for this most grievous of deceptions, Legolas. But I am not sorry you are free of your father."
"We're bonded," Legolas whispered. "There is no one else."
"In time, I know that you will wish another. How can you not?" Elrond sounded miserable. "You will take a lover, someone who will not deceive you. In the meantime, your life is your own. Under my protection, you may leave Imladris and travel as you will, freely and without threat."
Turning away, Elrond made his way quickly down the path. Legolas trotted behind him, followed the tall Elf-lord up the terrace steps and into his chambers.
"You wish me to leave Imadris?"
"Never. But I know you will go." Settling slowly into his chair, Elrond picked up an arrowhead from the pile on his table. "How could you not go, for you are right: I have lied to you. Deceived you… perhaps entrapped you as completely as your father wished." He turned the arrowhead in the candlelight. "You will never know how much I have enjoyed having you here… having your things scattered about."
Slowly, carefully, Legolas came to sit in the chair opposite Elrond, to lean forward and listen intently as he continued.
"I used to watch from a distance, out there in the garden, while you made your arrows. Your bright head would bowcso intently over each shaft while you cut the feathers, tied on these heads. I would venture in after you had gone to sleep, knowing how deeply you slept in your fatigue. I would carry you to your bed and watch over you through the night. I have asked Elbereth to grant you happiness apart from me—"
"Why apart from you, my Elrond?" A pale, slender hand reached out to stroke the Elf-lord's hand.
"You will not wish to stay with me. Not after this." Elrond set the arrowhead back in its pile. Sad grey eyes met Legolas' blue. Elrond's fingers curled around Legolas'. "I saved your life by stealing your eternity.'
"You have stolen nothing." Legolas smoothed Elrond's thumb with his own. Smiling faintly, he murmured, "Do you know this is where I sat that first night in your chamber? The first night I felt your touch?"
"I tried seducing you that night." Elrond looked away, his shame all too evident.
"Not seriously." Sliding out of the chair, Legolas knelt beside Elrond. Enfolding Elrond's hands in both of his, Legolas began stroking the soft skin on the inside of Elrond's wrist, let his fingers play with the Elf-lord's. "You must know that I've spent weeks searching for you."
"I do not know why."
"There are things I would tell you. Things I learned in the darkness."
"The darkness that is Dul Goldur?" Elrond whispered.
Legolas shook his head, continued stroking Elrond's hand. "Glorfindel and Mithrandir carry the message learned in that darkness. No… the time I spent beneath Thranduil's keep was not ill-spent, and there are things I need to say. Things I now believe you need to hear."
"I came for you as quickly as I could."
"You should not have come at all." Lifting Elronds hand to his lips, Legolas unlaced his own hands long enough to kiss the Elf-lord's palm. Elrond's head came around, he stared down at Legolas, who offered a warm, shy smile. "You should not have com, but I am glad you did. I had much time to think in the darkness--too much time and too little to eat, I suppose. I came to cherish the memory of being here, in Imladris."
Elrond looked away again. "It is a peaceful place. I am glad you had those memories."
A slender hand captured Elrond's chin, pulled his face around gently. "I would ask that try you set aside the guilt you feel, as well as your assumptions regarding what I feel. Can you do that for me while we talk?"
Tired grey eyes filled with unshed tears. Slowly, imperceptively, Elrond nodded.
"I took out my memories of being with you, of being loved by you… for I realized that your patience and your deep caring, as well as your letting me go, were all because you loved me. I took them out and I looked at them, lived them again one by one, over and over again. I missed you, my Elrond, and felt a deep sorrow that I would die with the rats and you would never know that I loved you as well. I came to realize that your vision of my imprisonment had not been of Dul Goldur, but of Mirkwood's prison, and I knew that I was doomed because I had not trusted your love nor listened to your fears."
"The days passed and the darkness never eased, so I did not know their number. No one came but the rats. They overwhelmed my small space, and I could not sleep. There was nothing to eat. I went a little mad, and it occurred to me that my time with you had been nothing but a dream." Turning his left hand, Legolas traced the seal of the House of Elrond. "And yet, I had this… it was the only thing I had left, for I could no longer trust my memories. And this—your seal—it comforted me, for it meant my memories were real. Once, I had belonged to you. I wished then that we had bonded, for I wanted to belong to you forever."
"Surely that was the madness talking?" Elrond dared to whisper.
Legolas shook his head. "I am not mad now. I still feel the same way, and if you would but open your heart and your mind to our bond, you would sense that."
"I… cannot. Surely you would stay with me only out of fear of your father--"
"I would stay because I love you. But I have more to tell you, and you promised to try setting aside your assumptions where my feelings for you are concerned."
"I did," Elrond rasped.
Bracing his arm on Elrond's thighs, Legolas turned his hand so that the seal of the House of Elrond was visible. Tracing the deep, white scar with one finger, Legolas said, "Do you remember the early days between us, Elrond? Remember when you coaxed me into letting you tend this wound? Do you remember what you said?"
"I remember tending the burn. I cannot remember…."
"You doubted you could force me into letting you take care of me. Do you still believe that?"
Elrond smiled faintly. "I doubt anyone could force you into anything, my prince."
"Then consider: how could you force me to bond with you? I was willing, else I would have died before you took me."
Elrond made a dismissive gesture. "You were unconscious. Unaware of my touching you."
"No. I remember."
"What do you remember?"
"A mist-covered moon, our resting on thick moss before sliding into a pool of dark water, and your lips on mine. Your body cradled my own and your chest was agaisnt my back, your breath was in my hair. Your warm hands tended me, you washed my hair and became upset when you poured water into my eyes. You held me safe and told me that all would be well. You wept as you thrust slowly into me, the water and something else easing your passage so that you did not hurt me. You kissed my ear and told me you loved me, and in my mind I welcomed your touch and answered you. I was happy, drifting against your soul, and wanted nothing more than to curl against your heart and let you take all of the pain away. You remember as well, don't you?"
"Yes," Elrond breathed, staring down at Legolas. "But how is this possible? You lay so still in my arms that night, and for hours afterward."
"I thought it was all a dream, that I was still imprisoned and having a very nice dream, but yes, I was aware and I wished my dream were real. You know that I did not fight you, Elrond, not in body, mind or spirit. I turned away from the peace of Mandos' hall and returned to be with you. Only you. Had I been more conscious, I would have made you aware how very welcome was your touch."
"How do you know it was me?"
"How do I know that Glorfindel interrupted and irritated you immensely that night?" Legolas laughed lightly at Elrond's startled look. "My dream was real. Yours was the voice in my ears, yours the arms holding me. Did I not press close to your heart as you filled me with your soul? I did not fight, nor did I flee to Mandos' halls. I was warm and safe and complete, and I wanted to stay with you. I no longer wished the rats to win or for death to take me. I wanted my dream to go on and on, why else would I be so angry tonight at the thought that you had bonded with Glorfindel?"
Elrond stared down at Legolas in amazement. "Glorfindel is a dear friend and I love him, but not once have I ever considered bonding to him."
"Not even to save me from Thranduil?"
"Not even then."
"That is well."
Was I so immersed in worry and dread that I missed your responses that night?" Elrond breathed.
Threading his fingers through Elrond's hair, Legolas reached up to kiss him gently. "Perhaps words of remembrance are not enough, my lord?" Laughing lightly, Legolas carded his fingers through the Elf-lord's dark mane. "Shall we repeat the experience? If so, I assure you that my contribution shall be more obvious this time."
"Are you laughing at me?" Elrond demanded.
"I am, because your guilt and your worry for nothing. I wanted nothing more than to belong to you. You cannot know how delightful it is to wake up and discover that it is so." Cradling Elrond's face in his hands, Legolas murmured, "Let us be happy that we are joined, Elrond."
"But you do not… you cannot… want me," Elrond protested.
"Back to that, are we?"
"What do you mean?"
Rocking back on his heels, Legolas scowled up at his mate. "This is precisely where we were the night you first invited me to join you here, in your chambers. Of coruse I want you."
"No, you don't."
"Why, if I do not want you, would I invite you to repeat our joining?"
"To reassure me." Those grey eyes held obstinence immovable. "I told you weeks ago that it is unacceptable that you would merely endure my touch."
"Endure you?" Cursing in Sindarin, Legolas threw himself into the chair opposite Elrond. "You are a most stubborn Elf-lord."
"I am," Elrond growled agreement. Sitting straighter in his chair, he confronted a slouching, frustrated Legolas. "You have said yourself that we have come full circle to where we began. Shall we see precisely how prepared you are this night for my desire?"
Leaning forward, Elrond lifted the hem of Legolas tunic. Holding Legolas' rebellious gaze, he untied the drawstring leggings and slid his hand inside. Legolas gasped but did not flinch as Elrond ran his hand across the Elf's bare stomach.
"Your muscling is once again tight and hard," Elrond observed. "You've regained what was lost in Thranduil's dungeon."
"I am glad you approve. I would also appreciate it," said Legolas, through gritted teeth, "if you'd not mention the King of Mirkwood while you are touching me. His name…destroys the mood as it were, my Elrond."
"Of course. What was I thinking?" He all but smirked at Legolas and was rewarded with another Sindarin oath.
Sliding a hand up Legolas' thigh, Elrond felt hard muscle contract. "You are magnificent. Are you preparing to kick me as would Assassin?"
"Only if you stop." The blue eyes were blazing, the challenge offered by Elrond answered and flung back at the Elf-lord with that one sentence. Long fingers dug into the arms of the chair. A square jaw lifted, those elegant nostrils flared.
Proud stallion indeed, thought Elrond. Was the magnificent, shining warrior prince slouching before him truly the same Elf whom Elrond had rescued – emaciated and delirious, already across the threshold of death's door—only a few weeks before in Mirkwood?
Whatever happens between us, Elrond told himself with no small satisfaction, he will live. He may kick me in the teeth and stride from this chamber in outrage, but he will still be among the living. Is that not what I asked? Is it not all that I would ever dare ask of him, that he breathe and be in this world so that I might keep him safe – even from me?
Perhaps it was all he had asked while carrying Legolas into the pool of water those few weeks ago, but the Elf-lord's hands were committed to asking other questions now: one of his hands was still caressing Legolas' warm, tight stomach while the other pursued a more dangerous path between the Elf's legs.
Legolas did not close his eyes when, for only the second time in their association, Elrond slid his hand inward, toward that most intimate, warm, and guarded of spaces. Moaning softly, Legolas dropped back his head, arched slightly, and spread his legs. "Please, Elrond…touch me."
"I would hope she's not listening, but granting us some privacy tonight." His blue eyes had darkened, he arched again as his desire burgeoned, pressed against Elrond's fingers. A narrowing of the eyes, a soft growl. "Elrond…."
Elrond cradled his mate's need. "You…. You're…."
"I want this and all else that lies between us," Legolas hissed. Sliding forward in the chair, he rested a finger against Elrond's lips. "The time of arguing the finer points of this bonding have ended, my Lord Elrond. You are taking me to bed, or I am taking you to bed. There, we shall re-establish our bond. All of your questions will be answered. All of your doubts will dissolve like Imladris mist. You will love me, I will love you, and that will be all that matters." His nose nuzzled Elrond's. "Agreed?"
"Agreed," Elrond breathed.
Strong, slender hands captured Elrond's. "'Then come and let us love each other."
As if in dream, Elrond followed Legolas to their bed. Extinguishing all of the candles but one, Legolas tossed aside boots, tunics and leggings until both he and Elrond were naked in the half-light. Kneeling on the bed, Legolas coaxed his mate beside him.
"I do love you," the younger Elf breathed against Elrond's ear before running his tongue along its shell.
"As I love you, my prince."
"Then trust me, Elrond, please, to know what I want. I already know what you want."
Shivering against teeth and tongue and hands that were so much younger than his own, but seemed somehow to know so much about touching him, Elrond surrendered and allowed Legolas to guide him down onto the sheets. Legolas lay over him then, stretched out across the barrel chest, fitting his long legs over Elrond's and his need alongside Elrond's own and resting, contented to be there.
"Touch me. Please… just touch me," Legolas breathed once more, this time against Elrond's mouth while his own hands explored his mate with a joy and an eagerness the Elf-lord had never dreamed anyone could feel for him.
Elrond reached for the liquid light that was Legolas' hair and allowed himself the sheer, sensuous joy of carding his fingers through it again and again. Even as he did so, Legolas' lips were everywhere – on his mouth, tracing a path up his nose an between his eyes, kissing his eyelids so that Elrond had to close his eyes against the light that was Legolas and the love that he not deny was now feel flooding their bond.
Softly, Legolas began to sing. The words and the melody wove itself around Elrond, so that he found himself lost in both.
"ALL the words that I utter,
And all the words that I write,
Must spread out their wings untiring,
And never rest in their flight,
Till they come where your sad, sad heart is,
And sing to you in the night,
Beyond where the waters are moving,
Storm-darken'd or starry bright."
W.B. Yeats, "Where My Books Go"
There was healing in the sound, more healing in the emotions pouring off of the Elf he held. Tears squeezed out the corners of Elrond's eyes, and Legolas wiped them away gently only to follow with kisses. "I would have the love we share hold no sadness for you."
"It doesn't." Elrond shook his head. "Your touch, your… being… has seen to that, my prince…" Long, shaking fingers reached to undo the braids at Legolas' temple. "Legolas, you are so very beautiful to me."
"As are you to me."
That this spirit of light made flesh would deign to belong to him, Elrond could scarcely believe. But the outpouring of love and sheer delight he was feeling through their bond made it impossible for the Elf-lord to deny: somehow, at sometime, Legolas had indeed chosen to love him. The bond he had shared with Celebrian had never held such tenderness, nor such strength and contained power. I suppose that is the difference between bonding with Celeborn's daughter and a fierce warrior of Mirkwood.
"Elbereth bless the day you were sent to me."
"May she also bless the day you carried me from the darkness."
Lips and hands touched, grew more urgent until remembered pain receded and rapture discovered replaced it. The kisses and the explorations, the whispers and the touching continued long after the single candle burning in the chamber guttered and went out. The darkness held no fear for Legolas now, cradled as he and Elrond were in the first night leading into forever.
Ensconsed with Elrond's in his library the next afternoon while discussing the mayhaps and might-nots surrounding Dol Guldur, Mithrandir amused himself by lighting his pipe and creating creatures and things out of the ensuing smoke.
"You realize all of this is pure conjecture," Elrond reminded the wizard.
"I do. But it's always wise to consider from all angles a question so ponderous as this one."
"I question whether any of us are wise enough to see all of the possibilities inherent in the Dark Lord's possible return."
Elrond's attention was abruptly diverted by Legolas' striding in at near dusk. Perching on a corner of the desk, Legolas nodded in Mithrandir's general direction before leaning forward to accept the kiss Elrond offered. The conversation continued, but the wizard had the distinct impression the Elf-lord wasn't really paying attention to anything being said.
"Well, I think it's time I resumed my travels," Mithrandir offered. "I'm going to Lothlorien next. Legolas, would you like to come with me?"
"Hmm? What?" The bright blue eyes raised to meet his, but seemed as distracted as Elrond. "The twins are growing restless, you might ask them to accompany you."
"The twins?" The wizard scoffed. "I can't expect any sort of decent conversation from them. No, it's you I'd like to travel with me. What do you say?"
"I say no." Legolas offered a smile to soften the refusal as Glorfindel wandered into the library from realms unknown. "How are the horses?"
"Fine. What did I miss?" The legendary warrior threw himself into a nearby chair and beamed at his companions.
"You've missed Legolas refusing to accompany me to Lothlorian. What is this?" Mithrandir rounded on the Elf in question. "You're letting four walls and a stuffy routine contain you? Legolas, if you stay here in Imladris, you'll become as boring and mouldy as the tomes Elrond guards." Gesturing with his pipe, the wizard indicated the vast library surrounding them.
Legolas nodded. "Boring sounds good."
"Give it up, Mithrandir," said Glorfindel. "They're so besotted with celebrating their bonding, I can't coax either of them out to the stable any more."
"We've been distracted by other things," said Legolas. "It's not forever."
"Distracted? Is that what they're calling lying a-bed until mid-day, these days? Who'd have thought. Not to mention the gossip resulting from the activities everyone thinks the two of you are--"
"I'll visit your stable tomorrow," Legolas offered.
Glorfindel shrugged. "Predictable."
"Well, then…." Mithrandir said slowly, looking from Elf-lord to Elf prince. "I suppose that miracles do happen if you've managed to tame this one's wanderlust."
"I think you'll find that Legolas lusts after other something—or someone—else these days." Glorfindel smirked.
"Stop that," Elrond ordered.
"It's all right. I don't mind. He can say what he wants, he's just a bit upset I won't babysit him this spring."
"Babysit?" Mithrandir sputtered. "I'm quite capable of traveling by myself. I only fancied a bit of company—"
"Talk to the twins and stop whingeing," Elrond ordered. "And both of you—behave."
Coming up beside Legolas, Mithrandir hugged him hard. "In all seriousness, Legolas, I am happy you have found a home at the end of a long journey I was certain would end in misery. For once, I am all too happy to have been wrong."
"Thank you, Mith."
"Be well, both of you."
"Come along, Master Wizard." Glorfindel rose from his chair. "Let's stop tormenting these two for a bit and see what's for supper."
"That sounds delightful." Winking at Legolas, the wizard followed Glorfindel from the library.
"Are you certain you don't want to go with Mithrandir to Lothlorien?"
"You know I am." Leaning down, Legolas invited another kiss.
Passing Glorfindel, Mithrandir was startled when the elf-lord paused on the threshold to look back.
"Now there's a sight I never thought to see."
Glancing over his shoulder, Mithrandir saw nothing amiss. Turning, he observed Legolas still sitting on the corner of Elrond's desk, while Elrond searched through a stack of papers for something that seemed to be elluding him. The soft murmur of voices reached the two, but no words could be made out.
"What did you never think to see?"
Staring down at the papers, Legolas snagged one and offered it to Elrond, who smiled and took it.
Glorfindel gestured. "Those two. One at home, claimed, and contented to be so. The other at peace, loved, and contented to be so."