A/N: My friends, this is the last chapter. Thank you so, so much for following along. Someday I would love to write a sequel set during the War of the Ring but I don't know how much time I will have going forward. So, for now, thank you and take care.
The year 2984 of the Third Age
There was birdsong. High above my Valley arched the sky, supported as it were by tufts of clouds, lit from below by the setting sun. They burned of pink and bronze and a brilliant ruby red. The green of the leaves had deepened and darkened as the year slowly turned to late autumn and the mornings were crisp and cool. But the rivers and pools glimmered, and the rush of the waterfalls was joyful and ageless, as though they had always sung so, and the world had never been refashioned in the Elder Days.
I breathed in the scent of grass. No winds played here tonight and I was reluctant to leave for supper. So, on my balcony I lingered, thankful for the peace this hour granted me; I knew far too well that elsewhere, and for countless others, dread lurked among the shadows that deepened as night settled and dreams were twisted and unsettling. For the lands of Middle-earth were groaning under the loathsome burden of a Darkness that threatened to ensnare us all and bring us down and crush us. Yet from where I stood I saw nothing of this, if I did not endeavour to look further, beyond plain sight. But I did not wish it. Not tonight. Not when Imladris was ablaze with the sunset and the days were still warm. Therefore, I allowed my thoughts to scatter and be lost in the glory of the heavens above me and the richness of the earth beneath my feet.
It was sometime later that he found me. He came silently, with no desire to disturb me. This much I read in him for I had cast down my walls and his thought wandered easily into mine, such as it often did these days. But he could never disturb me and I smiled as I turned to him.
He was like a ray of the midday Sun where he stood in the archway. Pale blue was his raiment, the hue of the sky ere the clouds had overtaken it only an hour before. He tipped his head slightly to the side and appeared to study me, and I knew that he was unwilling to shatter this peace he had found me in.
"Messages have come from distant lands," he said finally, somewhat reluctantly. "From over the Mountains."
Leaving the threshold, he wandered out onto our balcony. From here he could see the apple trees, heavy now with fruit, and I had always wanted it to be just so. Three saplings he had once upon a time planted and though they had long ago crumbled with age and withered away, he had from them taken seedlings, and from those in turn, and every year since our first together, apples had ripened among the leaves in my private garden.
He slanted me a glance, still seemingly unwilling to speak of anything that might bring the outside world to our doorstep.
"They say that in Gondor, Denethor son of Ecthelion has succeeded his father as ruling Steward."
I pondered this. Ecthelion had been respected by his people and Mithrandir, whenever the topic came up, had spoken kindly of him and shown some reverence for the late Steward. Disguised and never revealing his true name, Aragorn had served under him for a time and had won his favour. With Ecthelion gone, the people of Gondor would have to hope that his son proved just as wise and fair.
And not only the people of Gondor, I suspected. For suddenly it felt to me as if the world was rapidly shrinking and that happenings far away had a direct impact on our lives here. And in that moment, I looked to Legolas and I perceived in him, for the first time in many long years, as if a whisper of events far beyond my control, and in his eyes I saw again snow-capped mountain peaks and a fast-flowing river.
Blinking, I knew again the stone under my feet and the blazing sky above.
"What is the matter?"
The evening was still.
I let out a breath and tried to steady myself. In my breast, the first spark of an old and unwelcome acid anxiety was gasping for fuel, but I quenched it ere it could spread to burn.
"Nothing," I said. "Only…"
I did not have a truth to share. Therefore, I shook my head – as if I had been foolish to believe that what I had seen was a glimpse of the future. And yet I could not lie to him.
"Sometimes," I began warily, "I think this will not always be your home. It is as if, when I look into your eyes, I see in them faraway lands."
He frowned at this. "But I have no wish to leave."
"I know," I said quickly. "And yet…"
But I had no words for I could not explain it. We stood looking at each other in silence until he finally drew a long breath and with a visible effort cast his worries aside. Then he closed the distance between us and wound his arms around my waist. I held him tight to me. I held him so that he could not flee, and I pressed a kiss into his golden hair that was the light of Anor herself. And he buried his face in the crook of my neck as if he had no need for air.
"I shall not go," he murmured against my skin. "I will never leave."
The force of his love was strong. It flooded me, filled me and enflamed me. I had walked among shadows but he had lit up my very soul, and his song was in my heart.
The last trilling tunes of the birds dwindled into the budding dusk. I longed to light a lamp or two and lead Legolas inside and be comforted by the familiarity of the house and the sound of his laughter. Later, we would make our way into our bedroom and there I would seek to pleasure him until he arched up to meet me and we were consumed by the most brilliant fire. Afterwards, we would lie entangled between the sheets and I would chase the tremors over his skin with my fingertips and make him laugh again.
"You are smiling."
He knew it before he had looked into my face. Now he lifted his head to confirm it.
"I love you," I said.
Then he smiled, too, and withdrew from my embrace. But he took my hand and began guiding me towards the stone steps that led into the gardens. And beyond that, presumably to supper.
"You are not the only one smiling," he said, with a grin over his shoulder at me. "For word has also reached us that my father intends to send us wine in time for the midwinter celebrations."
"Thranduil is sending us wine?" I asked, unable to mask my surprise. I was only a step or two behind him but now I came almost to a stop.
"Aye," he said, half turning to face me. There had come a gleam into his eye. "And your authority and talent for peace-making are required, my lord. For this news appears to have pleased Glorfindel beyond measure whereas Erestor has been quick to proclaim an impending fall of Imladris into debauchery and disgrace."
He grinned again. "For the wine in my father's halls is strong, as you may recall."
I shook my head and nudged him on down the steps. "Thranduil must have some reason for this."
"Perhaps," said Legolas lightly. "If so we shall learn of it eventually, I suspect."
"After we have all fallen into disgrace?"
Legolas laughed at that. We had reached the grass now and it was cool underfoot. He turned fully to me this time and something sparkled playfully in his eye as he beheld me.
"I would gladly fall with you, Elrond. Into whichever pit of scandal and shame Erestor has foreseen."
I found it suddenly a bit more trying to breathe but it was not at all an unwelcome sensation.
"Would you indeed?" I managed.
"Oh, aye," he promised, and it caused a swooping sensation through my stomach.
I lifted a hand to his cheek and ran the pad of my thumb over his lower lip. In the touch, I sensed the full force of life in him and how it called to me and rejoiced within my own being. His lips parted immediately and I nearly came undone at the alluring radiance that filled his eyes.
"Erestor never was foresighted," I warned him.
He regarded me for a moment with that shining gaze but then he stepped up even closer and brushed his mouth to mine. "I do not wish to talk about Erestor," he mumbled.
It was true that the Shadow had lowered itself over us and for some time now I had known, deep in my heart and beyond a doubt, that all too soon we would be faced with questions and choices that seemed to us entirely impossible to tackle. And, what was more, though I had done my best to deny it, I knew that in my foster-son's future lay a challenge and that it was only a matter of time until the nature of it was fully revealed. There were purposes, fates and a high doom awaiting us all. And yet, here upon the grass under a glowing sky, with the music of the falling waters twining with the green leaves, I would not think about that. Not tonight.
So it was that I caught Legolas by the waist and pulled him to me. His hair fell long and fair behind his back and I tangled my fingers in it and gave it an experimental tug to reveal his throat. There I kissed him, and his exhale drifted out among the trees and the foliage.
"I do not need wine," I murmured, and his skin drank my words and he shivered. "To know how I desire you. Or how I love you."
He flowed into me and turned his head so that he could kiss me. My hand stayed in his golden tresses and, overcome by their silken feel, I wove them between my fingers. His lips against mine were soft and warm and his depths were my home. There we stood, while the night settled smoothly with not even as much as a sigh, and the clouds broke apart to allow the first silvery stars to shine down upon us. And in that moment, there came the faintest breeze shifting through the air, finding finally its way into Imladris. Its scent was frail but sweet, shy but joyous, and full of promise.
"As I love you," he whispered into the kiss.
Legolas was all around me, in everything I knew and wanted. With him I breathed and with his soul, mine would joyfully sing until the World was ended and remade. And then, when the lights of Telperion and Laurelin were finally rekindled so that their radiance shone forth in a brilliant cascade of gold and silver, and the eternal stars wheeled glimmering about us in a Time beyond Time, I would still hearken to his song and find him; and he would know it and come to me, and love me as I did him.