Heart of the Dream

by Ithilien




Chapter Eight: The Spurned Demon

He did not recall the dream at first. His thoughts did not light on it as his immediate pre-occupation was with the camp and getting the others ready that they might journey on for another day. He realized though that he felt refreshed and sure. It seemed the heavy sleep of the night before had done him some good.

A gruff voice came, deep, and rumbling, and teasing. It was Gimli, jocular and jabbing, his amusement easy to discern behind his heavy beard. After so long on their travels together, Aragorn had learned the dwarf's habits and knew when his burly companion was having the better side of a jest and he watched as the dwarf followed after Legolas, the remnants of laughter playing on his voice. The elf jibed back lightly, but in truth, he did not appear to be enjoying the banter. A deep crease worked over his brow and he did not reply greatly or elaborate on the dwarf's comment though that had become typical of their way. Still, he smiled an affable response, and Aragorn could see the affection was real, even if it was not overt in the way it was presented this day. It was an oddity all in itself the way the pair had formed a friendship. It certainly was not expected. Yet there they were, exchanging words in the manner of close familiarity.

The two of them were carrying the waterskins back to the camp. So it seemed they had performed the task of replenishing everyone's supply, and they were delivering each flask back to their various owners. They split when they reached the group, and the duty was carried out separately from there.

Aragorn's eye was then drawn away, his concern directed to Frodo, as it had been these many days. The small Hobbit was growing increasingly more agitated as the journey continued, and he had grown sullen and melancholy in the time since leaving Lothlorien. Would that he could, Aragorn would free his small companion of his burden, but he knew what would come should he do so. Despite how tiring the load was becoming for poor Frodo, the Hobbit was by far the one best suited to carry it. As was obvious in the nightmare delivered by these days, little Frodo was so much less susceptible to the torment that bauble was capable of wielding, and for the first time in his life, Aragorn could understand what had caused Isildur's failure. Few men could resist the Ring should It be given to them. For that matter, recalling how he had conversed with Galadriel, few elves could resist either.

His eyes strayed, watching again as Gimli walked among the Hobbits. The dwarf stood a good head above them, and Aragorn smiled as he considered that Gimli must feel tall in their company. He laughed along as Pippin and Merry, for a time too many now to count, switched watersacks, then switched them again and again, uncertain even between them as to whose was whose. And then his eyes sought out Boromir, certain then that the man would be laughing as well, for Aragorn knew that the Steward's son was quite fond of those small beings. However, as he glanced about, he came to see that Boromir was not among them. Wariness prodded him then and he briefly worried for the man's absence. It was not typical for the son of Denethor to wander alone.

But that worry was interrupted. A slender hand reached out to give Aragorn one of the waterskins, and Aragorn naturally put his hands out to retrieve it. His fingers slid over the cool, damp flask, coming into contact with the elf's as the container was passed. Like a flash on the glass of a mirror, Aragorn remembered the last time such a thing had happened. The memory of that chill excitement, the tingle of an unknown, made his heart skip a beat. He gazed up to the elf's face. And that was when he remembered his dream.

It was there, something in the back of his mind, and he could sense it. He had forgotten, and now he recalled.

Foggy bits of memory came to him, the sensation of touch and that smooth elven hand running over his flesh being keenest among them. So very real had it seemed. And yet, he knew it to be a dream also. It was distant and ethereal, so very different from that other nightmare -- the one that had plagued him through much of their journey. This dream was different. It was controlled; it was his. He knew he had brought about its outcome. It did not frighten him.

Vague traces of outlined forms were there, like what one sees when peering through a cloud. As the haze of it began to fade, he started to recall it more clearly, or as clearly one can recall a dream. By that it was slippery, and there were parts that were comprised of nonsense. Still, there were other parts that were vivid and exceptionally real. The memory of the elf's hands running over his skin was one he could remember well.

Strangely though, even as he thought back on it, in the dream he had thought all reality there to be false. It was odd to him now, in recollection, that he had agreed it all was as a dream within the dream. But he had had little choice to that idea, for it was as if a song had been sung into his head telling him exactly that. Sleep . . . sleep, the hypnotic voice had said. It is all but a dream.

The recollection furthered itself then as he recalled the feelings he had lived. Sluggishly in the dream he realized he had not been able to move. He had been immobile, propped up like a doll, an object to be made into what any other might choose. He recalled he had surrendered himself to the visions put before him.

What he saw in the dream was Legolas. Legolas, beautiful and compassionate. Serene and calm. Soothing and beguiling.

He remembered breathing a sigh of relief then, for somehow he had thought the dream was to be ugly. Immobilized as he was, he could never find it completely intolerable if it were Legolas who was manipulating him. In the time of his shame, Aragorn had had much opportunity to wonder at and learn from his mistake. In the dream, the visage of the elf caressed him, touched him. Legolas smoothed fingers over his flesh, and to the man it was nothing of a nightmare. It was bliss.

And then Aragorn noticed how alive his sense of touch was, as if heightened. His body had tingled, the touch of the other had been exciting and tantalizing. In fact all his facets had seemed improved. He could hear the sound of breath as it hummed, drawn, shaky stirrings into the lithe breast of the elf who had been above him. He could see pinpoints of light flickering in the irises of the deep sky-colored eyes that had gazed upon him. Even scent he could make out; that perfume of pine and lavender that seemed to be the musk of the prince had been clearly wrought by his nose. Vaguely he had thought it strange that he could discern so much, but then again, his thoughts had been hazy, and his focus had drifted in and out. Sleepiness and awareness had warred against each other.

He recalled his eyes had gazed upon that heavenly body. Legolas was ethereal in his dream, skin clear and glowing, golden hair lifting and flowing on a light breeze. A glimmering smile crossed over those exquisite lips as they parted and the elf bent down, warmth meeting warmth, a tongue caressing a tongue. He could taste the sweet nectar of the elf's mouth to his, and he had sighed a shuddering breath, lost in the pleasure of that kiss.

And he had found no shame in that. Even now recalling it, he did not spurn the thought of that passion. It was no longer in him to turn it away. He could see the allure and he had not denied it this time.

In fact, oh that it could go on! Even now, Aragorn felt stirred by the longing his heart had pressed in that exquisite exchange. It was sexual and it was freely given. He knew he had not held back his body then, because it had felt so good. It had seemed so real, an expression of love. And then he recalled that he had drifted off, lost on a pillow of weightless ecstasy, riding over waves of nothingness and enjoying greatly the joys of his body's awakening even as his mind had held no sway. He had been buoyed, feeling nothing but the touch . . . the touch . . . the touch of hands running over his body. . . . Over his mind.

He stared at the elf's hand now, wet from the droplets of cool water. He had the feeling that somehow he had come the full circle to where he had begun. The recollection was alive and he looked back into those eyes.

But here too he remembered the hideous side of it. In the vision there had been a creature -- or no, that had been . . . Legolas. Somehow, Legolas had been transformed, though all else remained the same. All seemed to point to the ethereal realm of sleep as their proof. The fade in and fade out of any semblance of cohesive pattern, and Arwen--yes, Arwen -- she had been there as well. It was only a dream. There was no chance it could be anything else, and as a healer, he decided, it was his conscience attempting to make sense of his actions. He was trying to find reason to put his guilt away.

In the dream he had wished for more of the elf's touches. He had arched his back, his body acting of its own accord, stretching and urging, enjoying the sensations, showing without his mind's prodding the longing that he had felt. He had wanted -- no, had needed -- fulfillment. His body had hungered for it. He mused on that now, knowing only a short time before he had feared his own rape. But the haze of dream blew that fear aside. The touches had plied his desires and he knew he had whimpered with aching need. He had been afire. And he had given over to that.

"What is it that you want?" Legolas' voice had purred, and it had been as music in his ear. "Do you want me, Aragorn?"

Aragorn remembered gazing again upon the beauty before him, and he had gasped then with pleasure, his breath reaping a panted response that he had been unable to contain. That he could be one with Legolas, it was all he desired. No other thought could have come to him. Nothing else but the roaring joy of an affirmative reply could he have imagined.

But he could not say it. He could not, he knew, for deep down, even at the level of a dream, he had known that to say his heart desired their physical union it would have been the means for the Ring to leech into his soul. He read this as another test. The words said aloud would only weaken him. They would divide him. They would force him to make the choice between what was right and what the fabric of a lie could snare.

Even in fantasy, he could not say as much, though he recalled moaning out his woe for he had felt compelled to tell that he did want his body to join with Legolas'.

"You should say it," the elf's voice had taunted him. "Tell me that you want me. To do so will only grant you perfect pleasure."

Such an offer! He could feel his body craving it, the press of their flesh. And yet. . . "I cannot . . . " Aragorn had heard himself say. He remembered being surprised by the sound of his voice. At the same time, in his conscious recollections, he was pleased he had fought off the impulse to speak outright his desire, for he knew he had found it so hard to deny his want. And his body had said something else entirely.

"Tell me that you want me," the elf's voice had lingered in his ear, melting into his thoughts as if it was his own mind that had spoken the words. "Tell me that you want me . . . tell me that you want me . . . tell me . . ."

Lazily he had drifted away then, his hips bucking into the constraining body above his, matching the rhythm of the words. Listlessly he had thought as to why he must speak at all. His body, so far as he was concerned, had told all of what he might want.

But suddenly his seducer had pulled away, a curse of ugliness striking Aragorn like a slap on the face. A guttural voice then said, "You should not defy me, man!" and Aragorn remembered he could no longer make out the shining beauty before him. Instead, as is in nightmares, the other was morphed into a creature of hideous features. Before him was a monster.

It was appalling, for he could not contain the extreme of his senses. Behind the closed eyes of his dream, he could imagine it was Legolas that was caressing him so. But when he had looked upon the visage, a twisted face, dark with resentment and bilious hate had met his gaze. Here the voice was grating and raspy.

"You would choose her! You would take her as yours without thinking of how you might wring the heart of your victim!" the creature had snarled.

In the dream, Aragorn had not known how to respond, for his mind had been muddy as he mutely lay before this. His body had been writhing under the ministrations being delivered unto him, hands roaming still over his chest, across his belly, coiling about turgid flesh. He had wanted completion. That was all he had known. He had wanted to be devoured and brought to the brink of his satisfaction by the love in his dream. By his love for Legolas. It would have been as it should have been. But now . . . ?

"Can you not know how you pierce the very soul of another? Can you not see how you defile him with your rejection?" the beast had raged. Gruesome was its countenance, lips drawn back revealing jagged teeth. The eyes were no longer pools of crystal color but rather pits of endless blackness. But they were blind to him. They only looked at him, not through him. They threw cursing daggers upon him, but nothing of the hurt struck true.

"I could take It," the demon had said. "I could take It and I could force you! You would have no choice but to obey me then! I would wear the Ring and I would rule you. I would rule!"

Something of these words struck a chord in Aragorn. How much of this was as his own crime had been? Yet here it was presented as chaotic and unreal, the world floating upside-down. His limbs had been lopsided and askew. The creature's face had been both Legolas' and that of something else. And he now thought, Had this been a test of my will? Even then he had seen it. He remembered thinking this, and he had risen to the challenge.

"Arwen . . . " Aragorn had said, the word coasting on the whisper of a breeze.

It had been a call to her, and an explanation to the other as well. He had wished to tell how his love was great, how that had helped him survive, how he had persevered and gone on, despite his hurts. He also wished to say he was capable of more, that his heart was infinite in its capacity. His soul could love all. He could have both Arwen and Legolas in his heart and that it was within his capacity to feel for more than one at a time. But that was too great a thing to convey in a dream and the notion was lost to the creature.

The monster had then roared as if it had been stabbed. It had pulled away, leaving him there, shrieking out a lament that echoed over the land and mountains. Mighty had been that cry, and in that moment, Aragorn had thought surely the monster had been slain. That had been when Legolas had returned. The creature was then gone. There was only the elf before him, crumpling helplessly to the ground, hair obscuring his face like a drawn hood.

Aragorn recalled his mind drifting again, and he knew he had felt Arwen's hands brushing his face. Her voice had been heard in his ear, and she was saying to him, over and over again, "I believe in you. I believe in you . . . "

From beyond, Aragorn recalled the sobbing cries of Legolas in the distance. So sad had been the elf's lament; so heartbreaking had been Legolas' tears. He had longed to reach out and console then, and vaguely he remembered his hand reaching up to brush a tear away from Legolas' smooth cheek. But that memory melted into the words, "None of this is real . . . All is of reverie . . ." And he had faded away again, and all his wants and desires had been carried away on the breath of the wind, his longings tucked into the folds of a lost dream.

That was . . . until this moment, when he remembered it all.

The elf turned away, his face flushing under the man's scrutiny. Aragorn blinked. Time had done that magical thing it does when one is caught in the scrutiny of an elf's eyes. He tried not to let it surprise him that he had not noticed the halted passage when he had looked into Legolas' face just a moment before. The memory had been full, yet had only lasted for an instant. But, as he knew, there was much power in elven eyes, and he accepted the ebb and flow of time shifting that came with that power. Then he watched as Legolas dipped his head as if humbled and slipped away from him.

He wondered that the elf should seem to be embarrassed by his gaze for the scrutiny had been his and it had passed in just a quick moment. But he did not dwell there, knowing well that elves were strange folk and to second-guess them was often a mistake.

And yet, strangely, Aragorn's guilt was not a burden to him now. Despite the reality of having to live again and again with the memory of the crime he had committed, Aragorn had come to see something he had not realized before. He recognized that his choices were greater than what he had allowed himself to believe, and that in accepting his criminal offense, a part of him came to understand that he truly could feel abiding emotions for Legolas. Had he admitted from the start what his heart now knew, none of this might have passed. He had been a fool, and he could have laughed were it not so hateful a thing to consider. The Ring would have had no reason to strike a blow if no shame lived. But he had kept his feelings inside, buried, cloaked, because he knew not how to love beyond his moral convictions of this world. The Ring had turned those feelings of deep, abiding friendship into a most taboo thing. The Ring had sullied his real feelings of love and had made them perverted and filthy.

There had been a crime, and it had been a terrible one. He had taken the elf's body without consent. That was criminal among all races, and it was most terrible among the Eldar because of the threat it posed to their souls. And yet Legolas had not perished. The elf had managed to live, despite the violation. But how was that so? Had it remained to the elf just a dream?

He tried to piece together the puzzle. Sexual urges to the Firstborn were a thing of the mind. They were not necessarily just an act of the body. As Aragorn nurtured that thought, he came to see the nobility in the elven means of sharing their hearts. Elves could love without bowing to vulgarity. To them, sexual pleasure was a gift, and they found giving their heart to be more than just the giving of bodily desires. To give their bodies was to give over to love entirely. It meant there was a partnership of souls.

Aragorn could imagine quite clearly how poetic and graceful such love might be. Had it been different, he could have seen Legolas as his partner, in mind, even while his outward passions were pledged to Arwen. It could have been so. A brotherhood at heart -- no, more than that. They could have been bound in mind just as greatly as he was to Arwen. How sad he felt to think he had taken that thing so private and so exquisite and allowed it to be tainted by the sexual desires the Ring had weeded from him. It was because the Ring had found in him something of admiration for Legolas' beauty. How small a thing it was, but that had been the chink in his metal. The Ring had found his one humiliation.

He silently cursed It, realizing all It had tried to do. It had tried to rule him through anger, self-doubt, and envy, but those he had fought off. Those he had known.

But then the Ring had taken his more precious feelings and twisted them into lust and the desire for control. How pitiful it was that Aragorn had denied the truth until it had been honed it into something ugly, bringing forward this realization in its marred state. There was the crime! There was his guilt!

Would that he could go back, he would. He saw it now. He would have wanted Legolas' love. He would have taken it and held it dear. He would have returned it with the gift of his own feelings and they could have become one in spirit, if not body. They would have been as one, joined. There would have never been the misunderstanding between them. But now that was spoilt.

Or was it?

He saw Legolas go, and he allowed it, watching as the elf resumed his light jesting with the dwarf and noticing as the Hobbits chuckled at the shared antics of the strange pair. It seemed everyone was pleased to see the friendship blossoming between dwarf and elf, and they celebrated by encouraging it and feeding it reasons more for their laughter. Aragorn was glad that Legolas had this new friendship. He could see how it helped him manage the hurts of a soul that had been torn.

Aragorn's eyes turned then to the hillsides and scanned the deep forests around the riverbanks. He wondered at Boromir's disappearance and tried to discern if he should feel wariness for this strange behavior. But he shook his concern away, deciding the man was likely only taking a few moments for private contemplations. These times were difficult, and he could empathize well the need for introspection. And true to that thought, a minute or two later, the man of Gondor reappeared amongst them, his face sober and thoughtful, but a companion just the same.

Aragorn decided not to dwell on his worries any further though his mind returned to the dream. He pondered its significance. Had it been different . . . if only it could be different. But such thoughts would not plague him any more. His conscience was set free. He let his anxiety go, knowing he had only one real task to do. Nothing else mattered but to help Frodo on this Quest. He gave himself over to that and put his own wants aside. Nothing else mattered.


####


Whispered color danced on the faceted surface of the water, and the slips of hue caught Aragorn's eye. Fronds of green, or so it appeared, melted into the deep pool of the sad lake. His eyes glistened and lost focus as tears filled them, and he could no longer see as shimmers of light reflected on the liquid surface. His oar stroked the surface, breaking the clean plane, and any solids of hue he could have made out were lost in the eddying current along with the bubbles and his tears. He could not see for the tears.

Boromir was dead, and the horror of that attack still rode through his mind. It had been a surprise, the orc horde sweeping in, and none of them had expected it. They had suffered for it. Boromir was dead; their companions, Merry and Pippin, were taken; and Frodo and Sam were gone. Their mission was without. All that was left of their weary band were Gimli, Legolas and himself. Boromir was dead!

He watched as the craft carrying the warrior's body rocked, drifting closer and closer to the plummeting drop of the falls. In a moment, their friend would be gone, and misery filled Aragorn's soul and his chest constricted with this pain. It was over, this Quest, and he knew not how to proceed. He was needed, this he knew, and he felt he must find a way that he might be of aid, yet he did not know where to look. His eyes were blind for the tears.

The lament had been sung. His voice, and the elf's, had echoed through these cliffs, their tandem song meshing in the ride of back and forth notes, making their mantra a chorus of sorrow. Aragorn could have sobbed for the depth of his feelings when the music had found voice. The song was a hard note put on the completion of this act. The various miseries to his soul merged together and the lump of a choked cry filled his throat.

Again, from the corner of his eye he saw it, a grass-colored fragment floating on the water's surface. Distracted, he gazed more deeply that he might see it, but it was not wholly discernable. Small particles were they, leafy bits floating there. He watched as they careened away, following the path of the warrior's boat. But then he traced it back, looking to the source. The trail started at the stern end of the small craft he shared with the elf and dwarf.

Curiosity got the better of him, and he watched thereinstead of toward the view past the falls. . He saw Legolas' hand dip into the water, carefully skimming the surface, caressing it. And then he saw more of the leafy fragments glide away, and he tried to discern what they were. He was not near enough to see them well for they drifted away from the arcing course of their boat, but they were a jewel-green in hue, that he could tell. The shape of leaves was difficult to make out, as if they had been held in a hand and crushed to something beyond recognition. Still, when they met the water, they uncoiled, blossoming out into the memory of what they had once been.

If he concentrated he could just make out their forms, and then he felt his brow crease with confusion. His eyes widened in shock. What he saw was impossible. The shape looked like . . . That plant did not grow here!

But then he followed the trail in the water again, and he sought out its source. He looked into Legolas' eyes and he saw . . .

Memory touched the periphery of his senses, and all of it rushed upon him, welling up like a loosed assault. The criminal act was laid at his feet, a body, cold, blue and dead. His heart beat rapidly as he saw the elf's eyes stab him with accusation. You did this! You did this!

But then they softened, and he realized it was his own heart screaming this blame. The blue of Legolas' eyes gave way from the color of thunderous grey to the pale hue of transparent waves. He saw their focus turning to something inward, and it was like a door was opening. Aragorn could see now inside to that place, to the room of the elf's heart, just over the threshold of his stern front, and he realized there was peace within. He saw that the turmoil of cursing vexation was kept to the outside, blowing like a coarse wind. But there was calm within, and that was where the elf lived. He could see all of what was kept there as he had never been allowed to see before. Those eyes were open to him, and he could penetrate to the soul hidden beneath.

Tears filled Legolas' eyes, and sorrow, so very deep, so very great, filled what lay beyond that outward glance. Death, assault, heartbreak and betrayal were all mixed together. Sorrow and guilt were combined there too. But beyond these, there was also love.

Love. The eyes sought him out but they did not pierce him. They looked at him but not through him. And there was the answer to all his earlier queries. Love is what the elf held in that most secretive of places. Love was the thing that had kept Legolas alive.

Suddenly Aragorn knew why the elf had not faded after the violence of Aragorn's attack. He could see to the heart of the matter, to the core of the dream and he realized the whole truth. Legolas had understood what the man could not. The Ring had gone astray in willing them to Its call. So depraved was It that It did not know love could be more than base sexual lusts. Legolas knew this for his love was greater than that. He could give of his body because he had the walls of love to protect his heart. The Ring could not have corrupted him because it did not realize how strong that foundation was.

Legolas had known what was happening and he had submitted to it. He had surrendered his body to the darkness. But he had given only that. The truth of his heart had been kept separate and in the peace of this hold.

Aragorn felt a horrible lump rise in his throat choking him with his despair. The force of his perception was overwhelming. It had not been a dream for the elf. Legolas had known, somehow, and had realized what was happening, just as Aragorn had in his own dream.

Still, the elf had wanted. He had writhed in pleasure at the merest of touches. Aragorn had been witness to that too. Then again, Aragorn considered, the Ring had been toying with the elf as much as It had him. This had not just been a test of one. Legolas had been driven as well.

No simple task had it been to keep It away. Thinking on the drug and its effect, there was little else Legolas could have done. But in mind he had never surrendered. Lust had never bound them as the rutting soul of a hideous creature. They had never joined together in simultaneous yearnings or lust. In denying admittance to his heart, Legolas had defeated the monster that had tried to gain them.

Aragorn felt his head spin with the reality of these truths. Legolas had pulled himself apart and given what he could that they both might live. He let the monster take his body, but that was all. But even that had not been done through the lusty desires the drug so enhanced, or because of a head wound, or even because the Ring had told him to do so. He had given himself over in body to Aragorn because he had loved Aragorn. Even in the face of the violence of that act, he had surrendered because he loved. Seeing now within, Aragorn knew Legolas held him not to blame for that horrendous crime.

But Legolas had fought in a way, even if it had not been through his body. He had not said the words the monster had demanded, and Aragorn realized the reason for this too. It was a many-faced thing, like the creature in his own dream. Elves had control over their urges. They did not just give in to their desires without forethought and consideration. And likely that had been the reason Legolas had protested. "'Tis wrong," he had said. "It should not be as such." The elf knew the make of his soul, and he knew he was being manipulated as much as Aragorn was. He had fought, trying to make sense of it, knowing Aragorn's heart belonged to Arwen. And so he had refused to give wholly in words, even though he gave wholly in body.

This Aragorn saw, and here too, he saw they were the same. He wondered again if the most recent dream had been real. Had the reverse been put upon him? So much within it seemed real, while so much was just as a dream. And even if not real, he knew himself enough to find his strength in the dream's outcome. Just as Legolas had refused to say he had wanted for Aragorn, in his dream Aragorn had not made claim to Legolas. He had denied the words, yearning to say them, but refraining only because . . . because to do so would have been to allow Legolas to become the monster of that crime. Aragorn had relinquished what he desired for the sake of his friend. Because he too loved.

But what had come next? The Ring had tried to manipulate and separate them, to get them to take It. And It had succeeded in a way, for a while. Guilt had become a monster all its own. He supposed the small blame had opened the door to the final attempt on them, as seen in this last dream. But the Ring had also failed. Neither had fallen to It. Not truly. They had fought. They had remained true for each other.

What had come instead was Boromir's death, and that was a heavy weight to bear. Here was the evidence of what the Ring's distraction might do. Here was another reminder of how easily the Ring could find weakness in one's soul.

Had he noticed, Aragorn wondered if he could have stopped Boromir? He knew of his own corruption and doubted he might have helped his companion. When he had been held in the Ring's charms, nothing of his own willpower could be overridden. It was only his own heart that had saved him.

A soft breeze touched him and he felt suddenly free. A weight, like a crushing stone, had been lifted from him, and he felt now he was availed the comfort to walk free. He had so much to say, so much to tell. He needed to make Legolas understand the complexity of his heart.

Those eyes beseeched him, looking for comfort and forgiveness and Aragorn vowed those pleas would not be denied. He clearly saw that Legolas had absolved him of his crime. And in return, he looked with compassion at his friend, truly feeling again that they could be healed and they could live, dearly and with hope. Legolas' eyes filled with tears as his own came to match. He knew the same thoughts were being passed and he held Legolas' gaze to affirm them. He sent his love and he could feel it returned. He opened his soul to the elf, and he smiled letting their love mingle in the same free air. I know you, he thought, knowing that Legolas could see it in his eyes. I truly know you now. And then he dipped his head in a bow, feeling deeply his respect and gratitude. He could never put all he felt into words, but he knew his eyes had shown it. Their love had at last come to blossom.

The Ring was gone from them. They were free. And like the leaves floating on the water, it was time to let what was past flow away, to let it ride over the precipice and sink into the depths of the current passing.

He put his paddle in the water and broke the surface of the mirrored plane. His desire now was only to reach the nearby shore, and he knew Legolas echoed his movements. All felt right again. They were free of coercion and blame. They could plant the seeds of a new beginning. He knew not what the future might hold, but he could see they would find their course now, together. He could believe in that. He could believe in them.


END





A/N: And so we are done. I'm rather sad to say that this story is complete, but it really wasn't meant to have a long life.

Thank you to everyone who took the time to read and review this story. You really did much to keep me going, and two words or two hundred words, each one was gratefully received.

Again, my deepest gratitude to Lamiel. She was much like a muse to me in creating this story. She prodded me in the beginning, and she encouraged me when I was at my lowest. Most importantly, she was there as a friend, and I will never be able to repay her for the strength she gave me in that. She also did a fine job she did as a beta on this fiction, and you can thank her for adding several moments of elf worship into this story. Those were hers entirely.

My thanks also goes out to Elf Lady again. She wasn't able to be about for these last couple of chapters, but she was rooting me on through the others, and I appreciate her taking time away from matters that were of greater import to deal with silly me and this little story. Hugs to you, mellon-nin.

So where do we go from here? I really wish I could say with some certainty. The muses are going out for a swim and a picnic. I'm hoping they'll be coming back. Perhaps if you encouraged them . . .?








Response to Reviewers

JastaElf - It was a personal challenge to see if I could write a story entirely from one POV. The response from my readers will tell me if I was able to convey Legolas' story too. This last chapter was really meant to give some insight as to what he went through. Of course, in reality, we can never really know what is in the soul of another. All we can do is look for clues. I'm hoping I dropped enough of them as I went along that we can see his real feelings without the necessity of coming out and saying them. Thank you for your kindness and support. Your tab is paid in full.

IMTrinity - Are you awake? This is it, and hopefully the story is clear without needing to shift the perspective. I always wanted Legolas to remain somewhat a mystery in this story and I'd rather leave people wondering about his meaning than to spell it all out. Still, I'm hoping all is neatly righted. If it still is unclear to you, email me and I'd be happy to continue this dialog. And if not, thank you for your continued support. Your reviews kept me going you know.

Theresa Green - I heard Galadriel saying almost exactly that. It just seemed right that she would urge their friendship (and further relations so to speak). Truthfully, as I told Nightwing, the Lady simultaneously scares the holy heck out of me, and amuses me no end. In many ways, she is just like any other woman I have ever met. I can see how men would fear her, but I have had a girlfriend or two who could give Galadriel a run for her money. They would probably win too if it weren't for the tricks she can do with her mirror. Oh no, another plot bunny just bit me. I've got to stop discussing Galadriel with you, Theresa.

Leralonde - I'll put out the same invitation to you as I did to IMTrinity above. If it really is not clear to you in the end as to what Legolas has been going through, email me and we will continue to discuss it. I don't want confusion, but I think by withholding Legolas' point of view I may have created some for a few. I'm sorry if the story is a little fuzzy.

symbol-symbol - I don't think you can get any more succinct than that. Thank you!

Zara - Thank you for the information. My hope is that you are still with this story, because I'd love to offer a reply. Please email me and we can 'talk'. As to your query about how I might do with subject matter beyond slash, let me just say this is my first true slash story. Up until now, my LOTR stories have been dramas, action/adventure, and humor tales. I'd invite you to look at my bio page to read some of these other stories I have written.

Lyn - 'He gasped, jutting a hand out as if a pain permeated his body.' And then Aragorn commanded of him, "Tell me you feel no pain," which Legolas, under the influence of the drug and feeling rather compliant, promptly did. He walked rather stiffly back to the camp, but Boromir didn't seem to notice that. Rather fortunate for Aragorn, I would say. As for passing the test, he did, though I wouldn't say it was with flying colors. Ultimately what he did was refuse the idea of taking the Ring, even when he knew he could potentially save his friend with It. The power of the Ring only goes so far as to effect those exposed to it. Unless he wore It, I don't think the Ring could have swayed him once he was gone from Its presence. The Ring wanted him to take It and he had not. That's where he succeeded.

Lamiel - The history of the galenolas was obviously my little contribution in this AU world. Tolkien never gave it to us, but I thought it worked well in the dark fabric of this story's weave. Too, I had often wondered what perversions Morgoth must have taken to get the elves to change. It couldn't have been easy and ultimately he needed to alter their nature. Controlling their hearts seemed a good way to cause their metamorphosis. At least that is how I saw it. Thank you for all the kind words and for cheering this story on. Your reviews beyond your beta help were a double kindness.

Narcolinde - Thank you for that. Your kind words made me smile and I'm only sorry the story has to end.

Nightwing - Yes, of course, it is love. Very good, my friend. In my mind there is no other way Legolas could have withstood the brutality put upon him unless he felt a deep abiding love for the one who did it. Had the rape been purposeful, it might have been otherwise, like being taken by a stranger. But because he knows Aragorn well enough to see he would never do such a thing in his right mind, it makes the act somewhat forgivable. Of course he was hurt, understandably, but since he was going through much of the same kind of torment Aragorn was, he actually came to see why Aragorn acted in this way. Legolas slips too, or so it seems. But in that he comes to know he can forgive. At least that's my interpretation. Thank you for all your support and wonderful reviews. They meant much to me.

Reader's Digest - Another astute reader! Thank you for all your kind words, but you should give some credit to yourself. You did a great job sorting this story out and were I grading your sleuthing skills, you'd get an A. Love was at the heart of the dream. It was just made ugly and distorted by the Ring. But the truth remained hidden by Legolas in his refusals to fully relinquish, and by Aragorn in his denials, and in the end, when the evil was past, they were able to look into each other and see they shared the same feeling. They loved. You picked up on all the clues. That pleases me no end. And better still, you looked at Frodo and why the Ring didn't effect him like the others in a way I might not have seen. Of course you are right. The sheltered life of the Shire made the desires of the Hobbit simple and pure. He could not be tainted with the desire for power. Thank you so much for following this story and for your wonderful reviews. It was a pleasure reading your take on this tale.

Tapetum Lucidum - I suppose the scene was worth a chuckle for those of us who swoon for V/O, but I'll probably wait until it comes to cable. Thank you for sharing though. And as for your review, thank you for your continued support of this story. You have brightened my day many times over. As for Legolas getting through Moria, I have to believe he was so overwhelmed with all the physical demands and enduring feats that ensued that he had no time to think about emotional traumas. Same for Aragorn. Aragorn's talk with Galadriel did a lot of good, you see. He learned Legolas would survive, that he could yet be forgiven, and that in the end he had the courage to stand against the mightiest powers, friend or foe. He was feeling considerably better after that.

Gil-neth - Wow! What a wonderful review! Thank you so much! I'm delighted your head was going with all the intricacies of this story. I feel like there needs to be discoveries made along the way if a story is going to keep a reader coming back, so though a lot was said in the beginning of this story, it was enigmatic information, a tease if you will. That it drew you tells me it was a success. Character motivation is important to me. I feel like anyone is capable of the most vile thing imaginable if put in the right circumstances. Making that seem real is the challenge, and I delight that you saw these characters and their actions as 'real'. Again, something went right. As for Gimli and Legolas, there was a brief moment where I considered dropping that little mention as to their pairing. I'm glad I went with my gut and kept it. You and many others seem to approve.

More? No more. ::sigh:: Ah well.

Namarie, my friends . . .