Disclaimer: All characters, locations and situations belong to J.R.R. Tolkien and New Line Cinema blah blah. I solemnly swear I am getting no money out of it.
Dedication: To Sphinx on her 18th birthday, with love. I know smut would have been more appropriate, but I couldn't quite manage it, so here – I went for the next best option and gave you angst. Here's to a fine writer and a lovely person!
And all thanks to the fantastic and talented Acacea and Lindorien for their machetes. You are adored.
THAT WHICH REMAINS
In the morning, Arwen's son says his first complete word. He contorts his little body in her arms, taking it upon himself to try and lean as far out over the balcony as possible. "Estel!" he cries gleefully to the tall man surrounded by courtiers on the path below. She draws him back in carefully, and nods, trying to smile at him as he informs her of her husband's name again and again. Down in the garden, Aragorn shows no sign of having heard.
Lorien is deserted, the mellyrn already beginning to shed their leaves. Over in Eryn Lasgalen, Celeborn continues to track his prey, ignoring the elf and dwarf who implant themselves in a distant corner of his vision. Nock, draw, shoot. His arrow thuds home, killing his quarry instantly. He can see that Thranduil's son appreciates the shot. He is young, that one, but he understands what many elves do not – the value of time. He realises, perhaps as a result of recent experiences, that the most precious things, no matter how simple, need years and years of effort to be perfected. Years and years and years. And not just that; Legolas has seen for himself how those years and years of work can be destroyed in the blink of an eye. That is the irony of time. That is, Celeborn thinks, the inevitable fate of a world where people lock up their souls in viable, destructible little pieces of handiwork. He did not think he would ever again feel the irony so keenly as he did all those ages ago, when Doriath was destroyed in a single afternoon.
Today, he knows he was wrong. The knife embeds itself in his soul even more deeply. Even the dwarf, Celeborn thinks, is more fortunate in her loss than he. If Celeborn had loved less, he might have dared more.
In the distance, Gimli thinks that that is the saddest elf he has ever seen.
Rose Gamgee walks around the Bag End study, an odd sense of wonder assailing her. She can hear Elanor outside, warbling fits and snatches of rhyme in her high little voice. Not nearly enough to do without the menfolk around, she thinks ruefully, rubbing at a non-existent mote on the mantel.
She sinks into a chair, breathing the scent of books and oak furniture and the new kind of silence that pervades it. She remembers Frodo's retreat into the mustiness of this room, with that peculiar quietude that she thought would never go away from around him, silence that grew and grew as Frodo seemed to shrink beneath its weight. He was always a quiet gentlehobbit, and no one ever seemed to notice the difference after he came back. But Rose noticed; and Sam has told her some things. Others she has not dared to ask. Today, for the first time, she feels no secrets in the room, no shroud-like heaviness. There is only the golden-brown sunlight, and the sound of her daughter's singing.
Magic is a mortal word for inexplicable things. Some part of him, Elladan realises, is still amazed by his father's magic. Because, unlike Galadriel, whose magic he understands, even expects, his father is – his father. He can believe many things of him – that for instance, he fought in the War of Wrath, or that he is rightfully the heir of Gil-galad himself. So he does not know why, when he has seen his father's powers first-hand – healing, growing, blessing everything he touches with good – he cannot believe that the life of this valley was bound by Elrond's will. He does not know why he cannot reconcile himself to the dimming of the light over him, and the way that the whispering of the trees has changed. He did not know just how clear and pure it all was, before it began to fade.
Now the brooks in Rivendell begin to sound like brooks everywhere else. Somewhere deep inside him, he is more bewildered and angry at the change than an elf has any right to be.
Elrohir watches his brother as he wades out of the stream, head bowed, as confused and bereft of the rest of their world. Celebrían left because she had to; Arwen because it was her choice and fate and doom to leave. Yet this pain is not like those. No, their father leaving reminds him of Estel, more than anything else. Because once again, someone they love has left to steer an alien course. Elladan and Elrohir will never be kings. Elladan and Elrohir have no idea what it is like to feel the grasping need of the sea-longing.
And once again, he notes, the twins are alone, caught on the cusp of things they have never quite understood.
"Atar," Arwen corrects her son once more, as Aragorn walks into their chambers in the evening. "Estel," Eldarion insists. Aragorn tries to smile, and almost succeeds.
Arwen shakes her dark head, and repeats the simple syllables over and over again. A-tar. A-tar. Her eyes meet Aragorn's over their son's head, and the moment stretches on.
"Es-tel," Eldarion repeats one last time into the silence, and bursts into tears.
In Eryn Lasgalen, Gimli knocks on Celeborn's door – not without trepidation, for the man who could win the hand and heart of the Lady of Lórien, elf or no, must be formidable indeed – and is answered by the lord himself, tall and shining and more beautiful in Gimli's eyes than ever before. Aragorn once told him that it was their fate. That as the elves' griefs grew great, so too did their beauty.
Gimli does not know as much as he would like to of elven hearts, and Celeborn's face is impassive as always. But Gimli knows what love is. And so he blunders on with his prepared words, cursing himself with each one for his decision, his resolve weakening with every pause, every fumble for words. Finally, he gives up, and holds out what he has really come to give.
The silence in which Celeborn takes the crystal case seems awful to the dwarf's ears; only his pride in his handiwork and his status as a hero of the worst war of the Third Age keep him from turning his back on the elf and walking out as fast as his legs will take him. Time seems hung, caught in the gleaming silver-gold of Galadriel's hair in Celeborn's hands.
At last, the elf-lord blinks, and looking down, he kneels to Gimli's height. His smile as he takes Gimli's hand is genuine; only the effort, in the light of the crystal, seems great to Gimli.
"Keep it, Gimli," he says, and his voice is husky with the trial of unshed tears. "I do not need it."
Far away, in a land where no big folk may ever go again, Sam sits down to dinner with his daughter on his knee, hurt and thankful by equal parts, and Rosie knows that for him, at least, the silences will never be completely gone. But for now he is back, and they are a family, and that is what Frodo wanted for Sam; and Rosie will see to it that Sam gets it.
Further away, in Rivendell, Elrond's sons cling to each other in the darkness, reduced, for these few hours, to trembling confusion, weeping like children.
And farthest of all, in the White Tower of Gondor, a man and a woman who will never be children again watch over their sleeping son, faces turned, firm and desperate, to the future.
So pass the Ringbearers from Middle-earth.