Disclaimer: This story is set in Tolkien's magical world, which is not mine and never will be. It is written purely for fun and no money is made from it.

Summary: Of family, friendship and promises of love made long ago - the final thoughts of Aragorn as he prepares to give back the gift.

A/N: This story came to me as I was writing another - for those of you reading From a Ranger to a King, I have not abandoned it. Originally I intended this for the ending of that story, as its rather inevitable conclusion, but I've decided to post it as a stand-alone piece. It's not so much a story anyway, as my thoughts on his thoughts, if you know what I mean. I've attempted to stay as true to the glimpses given in the Tale of Aragorn and Arwen as is reasonable, but like all writings of this sort, being fiction within fiction, neither staying too close nor straying too far from the original is always desirable. I've also taken the view, by no means universal I realise, that Elladan and Elrohir made the same choice as Arwen in the end. I just couldn't see them leaving, at least not while Aragorn and Arwen were still alive. Anyway, I hope you enjoy it, if that's the right word.

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It was a day of farewells and many last words had been spoken. To his son and heir, Eldarion, to his daughters, so precious to his heart, and Aragorn had felt their grief pierce his weary heart. But they were young, and strong, and their lives were just beginning. They had each other, they had their people, and it was time he let them go to take their places in the dawning of this new age. One day they too would face this moment and they would choose as he had done, for they were his children and they were not afraid. But for their mother he had no words of comfort to offer, for Arwen's time was also running swiftly to its end.

Aragorn gazed upon his wife through eyes that no longer picked out the subtleties of shade and form, for even the blood of Numenor could not protect him from these small failings of old age. Arwen was beautiful still, as ageless and vibrant as the day they met, and though her vision too was blurred the tears were drying now. Pleas she had made, that he not leave before his time, for her heart was bound to his and his death would be its breaking, but she spoke no more against his choice. She understood that he could no longer live like this, that his heart was still that of a younger man, a ranger and a warrior, and it could not be contained within this frail body.

'They are coming, Estel. Will you not wait for them?' Arwen asked, a quaver in her voice she could not hide. Her tears began to fall again, though she had accepted his decision, for acceptance did not diminish her grief, a grief that went deeper than words and stood outside the healing of time. 'I would have them with me.'

He drew her to him, trailing a finger from her brow to her chin and drying her tears. 'I cannot, Arwen,' he replied softly as he saw her lip tremble, feeling a surge of regret that it was not within his power to grant this last request. He could not wait for the twins who were brothers to them both. 'Not if I wish for the time of my end to remain mine to command.' He could already sense the rapid failing of his strength and knew that had he not chosen this moment to give back the gift, it would be taken from him before many more days passed. And such an end as that he had no wish to suffer. He had been a ranger, then a king, and he could not endure the thought that at the end an enemy would get the better of him, and steal his life before he willed to release it.

That was his choice, and it had been the choice of others. His brothers had remained in Middle Earth after the passing of the last ship from the Havens, as he had known they would, but their sacrifice had not disturbed the peace in his heart, as once he'd feared. He grieved that he would never see their bright faces again, nor listen to the music of their voices, but he was glad they were not here. Mortal they may be now but they had still the forgetfulness of elves for the passage of time and they had not been seen in Gondor for many years, and so had not witnessed the falling of their human brother before the relentless advancing of age. This was one fight he was destined to lose, even as they were, and he had no wish for them to see him as he was now. He could not look into their eyes and see their pain as they beheld the old man he had become, or bear their tears through the course of his dying. That they were flying to Minas Tirith with all the speed they could muster he did not doubt, but they would come too late for him. Arwen's bond with her brothers had always been strong and they would sense her distress, just as they would feel his sprit pass from the mortal plane, but not all the power in their grasp could forestall the inevitability of time. Too late for him, but not too late, he hoped, to bring what comfort they could to Arwen.

And they were not the only ones missing at the end. Born of the blood of Numenor, and graced with the lifespan three times the length of other men, Aragorn had watched many of his friends die. Of the Fellowship in Middle Earth now only Legolas and Gimli remained, and all the other companions of that time had also passed away. He grieved for them all, but a mortal among mortals he had treasured each of their lives in the knowledge that one day they would leave. Death was not alien to him in the way it was to his elven kindred, and he had seen a little more of their gaiety stripped from them each time a friend was lost, and the reality of their choice was brought that much closer. Elladan and Elrohir would weep for him, but he was comforted by the thought that they would be together for the rest of their days, for those two would follow each other as surely as Arwen would follow him.

Yet for all that were gone, some still remained, though they too were missing. Legolas also had been absent in these final years, though Ithilien was no great distance to separate them, and while he understood the Elf's reasons for his infrequent visits, Aragorn could not help his regret. He had not thought that Legolas would be so affected by his decline into old age and realised he had underestimated the depth of feeling in the often flippant, light-hearted prince. And if his friend was so affected, how much worse must it have been for the twins, and suddenly their absence did not seem so much forgetfulness anymore, as deliberate and desperate avoidance. In the changing face of their much loved and cherished youngest brother, adopted into their family despite the knowledge he would eventually leave them, they saw not only the shadow of his death, but Arwen's and theirs also. And the painful loss of a father far across the sea who might even now be waiting for the ship that would never come, bearing the last of his children to their final home in the Undying Lands. But none were immortal anymore, and the spectre of death that was both the doom and the gift of men hung over all the children of Elrond, and with their passing would come the true ending of an age, for their like would never be seen in Middle Earth again.

A great beauty was about to fade from the world; he knew it deep in his bones. His death would be the beginning, and the ending he did not wish to think of. Aragon turned rheumy eyes to stare out of the window, his failing vision straining in the direction of the sea. He wondered whether Elrond would feel the passing of his life, unable to hold back the tears that pooled in his eyes. Would the Elf he had called father all his life mourn the death of his human son, and mourn it all the more in the knowledge that his daughter would soon follow her husband on his final journey? And where that journey might take them was a secret kept even from the wise, but Aragorn hoped that it wasn't truly the end, and that another family waited for him beyond the veil of mortal death, and another father just barely remembered would be there to greet his son.

Aragorn tore his eyes from the window and turned his gaze once more upon his grieving wife, who wept softly against his shoulder. Though he had always known it would come, he could not bear to think of Arwen's fate. Was it truly too late for her? Could she not even now renounce the decision she had made and sail with her brothers in their grief and find comfort and healing in the arms of their family beyond the sea. Was there still a straight path for the children of Elrond that they could follow if they wished? Legolas yet remained and he had not made their choice. Very soon now he would be leaving Middle Earth, and if there was a way for his friend, might there not be one for his kin also? And much as his heart protested such a separation he suddenly wished that it were so.

'Arwen, beloved,' he called to her, teasing his fingers through her hair. 'Will you not repent your decision now the end is upon me? There are others who love you and miss you. Will you not go to them?'

His queen looked up, her eyes rimmed with silver tears and full of sadness. 'No, Estel, I will not repent. And even if I could, I would not. This life I chose long ago, when first we met, though I did not know it then. It is too late to go back on the choice I made, to live and die by your side, and I will not leave you. Do not ask it of me.'

He opened his mouth to speak but she pressed a finger to his lips, silencing his objections. 'Do you remember what you told me long ago, my love?' she asked him. 'That our love was both triumphant and a tragedy, and that it must be both lest it's wonder be diminished? Well triumphant it has been, all these long years, but it has not yet come to tragedy, and it will not, unless you force me from your side at the last. I will not be parted from you Estel, even by death.'

She smiled at him then, brave and resolute, and he loved her all the more for the steely courage contained within such fragile beauty. Arwen had made her choice in full acceptance of this moment, and she would not turn from him, she would not leave him, and where once the thoughts of this day had filled him with guilt and despair, she had shown him the truth; that their love surpassed the boundaries of this life and the foundations they had built would not die with them, but would live on in this world and guide their spirits to each other in the next. At the end he was not despairing but triumphing, not guilty but grateful, and this was her true gift to the man and the nation to whom she had been queen. So many he loved were gone or absent but she was all he needed, all he had ever needed, and as they stood together on the threshold of death all eternity stretched out before them. And a promise made long ago was about to be fulfilled.

The End

Self- indulgent ramblings? You tell me.