Author's Note: Last chapter! I hope you like the ending! Drop me a line and let me know!

Chapter 18

With the speed only elves were blessed with, Elrond ducked just in time to prevent his own beheading. Swiftly he spun around, slicing his sword toward the chest of one of his attackers, scoring a deep wound upon the man. The elf's honed instincts clamored again, somehow sensing that the second man that was engaging him in battle intended to thrust his sword into his back. Diving to the right to impact harshly with the ground, Elrond watched the scene unfold before him without satisfaction.

Unable to compensate for the elf's absence and halt his forward lunge, the attacker mistakenly impaled his own ally. Shock and horror crossed the man's face as he saw the eyes of his dying friend. "No," he choked out but the other man was already falling to the ground, dead. His eyes filled with fury and despair swung to the elf now climbing to his feet.

Raising his sword, Elrond prepared to deflect the man's enraged attack. Words would not settle this conflict, not now. In truth the two men had scarcely acknowledged that Elrond had uttered any words when they had first stopped his dash toward a clearing. He tried to make them understand that the fire would consume them all if they did not let him pass but neither man gave his warning consideration. So it was, with an undignified grumble of "I have no time for this," Elrond had raised his sword and beckoned the men forward with his hand, a gesture he had seen his sons make to one another during their sparring. No mocking taunt was in his version of the gesture only the desperate need for the matter to be settled with all speed. The elven lord did not wish to take any more lives, he had taken too many in his younger days. Maybe that was one of the reasons he found such comfort in the healing arts, as if he was slowly working to absolve the blood of battle upon his hands. But now those long buried warrior instincts were needed, not only to save his life but to save the lives of the ones he loved.

As the two men charged for him with a cry, Elrond swung his sword to the left, his blade slamming into one sword and then the other, intensely parrying both men's attack with one stroke. This only seemed to infuriate the men for they lunged forward but found the elf had spun out of their path.

From his new position beside the man on the right, Elrond sent his blade arching toward the man's neck.

Stumbling backward, the man felt agony course down his right side as the elf's blade managed to slice his arm from shoulder to elbow. Thanking his good fortune for being left handed, the man blocked the elf's second overhead blow.

While the elf was distracted, the second man seized his opportunity to slip behind Elrond. Thinking to end the elf's life with one final stroke, he was bitterly disappointed as his blade did not meet with flesh but air. Unbelievably, the elf had sensed his own peril and ducked! Still stunned, the man saw the elf turn around and arc his blade toward him. Pain erupted from the man's chest, leaving him numbly standing there in shock. For the first time, the man saw into the elf's eyes. To his surprise he did not see hatred or even satisfaction but sorrow and regret. A moment later a sword skewered him but the eyes before him had changed...they no longer belonged to the elf.

So it was that Elrond now faced a man who had just killed his own friend. Through unwanted experience, Elrond knew this encounter would not end until one of them succumbed to death. Letting his eyes flicker to the forest around him, Elrond's heart clenched at the sight of the forest ablaze. Was Aragorn well? Had he defeated Barion? Was he still safe from the flames? And what of Elladan and Elrohir? Where were they? And Legolas, he too was also somewhere in this burning forest, most likely close by Estel, was he still unharmed? 'Concentrate! You must finish this battle and summon up the strength to use Vilya or all in this forest will be consumed! You wanted to fight Estel's battle now you seem unable to even win a battle of your own!' he taunted himself, a tight grimace overcoming his features.

He did not wait for the man's attack but instead made his own bold move. Time for benevolence was over. Stalking forward without fear, his sword clashed against the man's blade, sending the man stumbling back a step. Before his adversary could regain his balance, Elrond, with one twist of his wrist, drew his sword brutally across the man's stomach. He did not spare the time to watch his opponent fall. Utilizing all of his elven speed, Elrond ran forward, seeking the clearing with renewed urgency. A different battle now waged, a battle against the fire, against nature itself. With dread, Elrond remembered a bitter lesson: nature was without mercy.

Choking on the smoke that permeated the air, Aragorn knew only Elrohir's strength kept him on his feet. Backwards they moved until they stood in the middle of the fire that ringed them. Elladan's back rested against Elrohir's just as Legolas's rested against Aragorn's, facing this enemy as they had all others, together, protecting each other with their lives. With dread, Aragorn knew even together, they were no match for this foe. There was no escape. No tunnel could whisk them away, nor could any tree offer them safety. Suddenly it felt like he was back in that tomb again, trapped in the void, choked by fear, helpless against the fate of death.

"This is my fault," he professed, his voice raw from both emotion and the abusive smoke he was inhaling, "none of you would be here if it were not for me."

"This is Barion's fault alone, Estel!" Elladan denied fervently, fearing to take his eyes from the flames that consumed the trees that surrounding them. "Do not let the man torture you even after death."

"His or ours," Aragorn said, choking as he leaned more heavily against Elrohir.

Tightening his grip on his brother's waist, Elrohir pulled Aragorn up against his chest so the man would not slump to the ground. "Ada will save us," he insisted, trying to be the optimist.

Legolas retorted softly, "I do not doubt your father's abilities. It is his timing I question. Unless I am very wrong, that tree there," and he pointed to a tree to his right, "is about ready to fall...right on us."

All three of his companions looked to the tree the Mirkwood elf had indicated. "Sweet Eru," Elrohir breathed, his fake optimism decimated in the light of their newest threat.

"Not another tree," Aragorn moaned, frustrated that he escaped one peril only to have it threaten him yet again.

"We have no way to flee it's path," Elladan quietly despaired.

"I should have died in that tomb...then you would have all remained safe," Aragorn growled in self hatred.

"No!" Legolas protested, abandoning his position to stand before his friend, blue eyes meeting grey, the fire and smoke forgotten. "Death I can accept. The loss of you, of your friendship, that is a fate I can not bear, for it is worse than death."

"He speaks the truth," Elladan agreed as he came around to face his youngest brother, feeling the heat generated from the fire upon his back. "You told me that I saved your life when I stopped you from leaving home. Well, you saved my life when you crawled out of that tomb."

Confusion darkened Aragorn's eyes.

With a smile, Elladan reached out and put his hand against his brother's cheek for a moment. "How long do you think I would have lasted after learning of your death? You are my brother, Estel. My heart would have been broken knowing I would not see you ever again."

"As would mine," Elrohir added, earning him Aragorn's gaze. "It is better that we should go together."

"Together," Aragorn softly agreed, his eyes meeting each of his brothers' gazes and ending with Legolas.

"Together," Legolas firmly echoed, putting his hand upon Aragorn's shoulder.

Putting his one hand upon Elrohir's shoulder and another upon Legolas', Elladan linked the foursome into a circle. Silence fell upon them, their eyes conveying their love.

Legolas heard the crack of the tree behind him. Tightening his grip upon Aragorn's shoulder, his eyes met his best friend's. "We will meet again, Estel. Somehow, someway, we will meet again. All of us."

"I believe you," Aragorn replied, knowing, against all odds that his friend spoke the truth.

The tree protested again, causing them all to strengthen their stances, to face death proudly and together.

Without warning, water poured from the sky, drenching them as if they stood under one of Rivendell's waterfalls. "Ada did it!" Aragorn cried out, sputtering on water now instead of smoke.

A whoop of joy erupted from Elladan as he gave a squeeze to the shoulders under his grasp. "He has impeccable timing!"

Elrohir, drenched, his hair streaming over his face and his eyes barely able to stay open against the onslaught of rain, began to laugh. Once again they had been snatched from the very claws of death!

Legolas turned to Aragorn and saw the man shaking his head with a smirk. "That was too close...even for us."

"Entirely too close," Aragorn agreed whole heartedly, a full fledged smile emerging on his face and a mischievous spark returning to his eyes.

Elrond fell to his knees as the rain poured from the air. He had done it! Looking down, he saw the ring's sapphire gem still glowed, visible to all. Then, before his eyes, the gem's glow dulled and slowly the entire ring vanished from sight though he knew it still resided on his finger. He had never used the ring outside of the haven of Rivendell. It had taken all his inner strength to weld it's power to his will but at long last he had proved to be it's master. Never had he been more grateful for the gift of Gil-galad.

Drenched as thoroughly as he would be from falling into one of Rivendell's lakes, Elrond looked around in satisfaction. The flames were no match for the onslaught of water. Soon the fires would cease to exist. A fear sprang into Elrond's heart, overshadowing his relief. What if he had acted too late?! Or what if Barion had defeated his already seriously wounded son?! Surging to his feet, his fear giving him energy, Elrond ran back toward the spot he had last seen his son...and the man he hated most in the world.

Dodging smoldering fires and blinking against the smoke and the rain, Elrond made his way through the forest, his heart pounding in his chest as he saw the true devastation the fire had welded. 'No one could have survived in the heart of this!' his treacherous logic spurned him. 'No mortal. No elf. No one!' His legs ate up more of the forest floor, needing yet dreading to know his son's fate...all of his sons' fates, including his unofficially adopted son, Legolas.

He stumbled to a stop as he saw the ones he sought, huddled together in the middle of a newly formed clearing, charred remains of downed trees and piles of ash that had once been thick underbrush all around them. Elrond nearly collapsed in relief but then he caught movement to his right and screamed, "Watch out!" fearing that his warning came to late.

The call of warning sent all four companions running. In their relief, they had forgotten one thing: the tree about ready to topple. Instinctively, Legolas wrapped his arm around Aragorn's waist and began to run supporting his friend's every step. The twins broke off in the same direction. To Elrond's horror both groups ran "toward" the falling tree!

Legolas pushed himself to run faster as the tree began to fall directly overhead. He felt Aragorn struggle to move faster as well even as he knew Elladan and Elrohir were a few strides ahead of them. 'We will make it!' Legolas screamed internally, his stubborn will rearing it's useful head. With a last burst of speed, Legolas pushed himself and his friend forward a few more feet. Then both elf and ranger dove to the left as the tree impacted with the forest floor, sending charred limbs into the air and pine needles and ash falling to the ground.

An instant before, Elladan and Elrohir had dove to the right and covered their heads as the tree crashed around them. Splintered shards pelted them harmlessly amid the rain but to their utter disbelief, they were unscathed.

Elrond dropped to his knees beside his elven sons, touching their heads in reassurance as they began to sit up. They had run toward the base of the tree, dove to the side and thereby escaped the tree's branches and trunk. There truly was method to their seeming madness! Sitting up at the same time, the twins smiled joyously at their father and wrapped him into their embrace. "I thought I had lost you," Elrond murmured against his sons' hair as the rain ceased as quickly as it had begun, leaving the forest devoid of fire and sound.

"Estel?! Legolas?!" Elladan questioned, fear in his voice he did not try to disguise as he pulled back to meet his father's eyes, eyes still clouded with fear.

Elrond had seen the foursome make their dash forward...and he had also noted that Estel and Legolas had been a few steps behind his elven sons when the tree impacted. He feared those steps had made the difference between survival and death for his youngest son. Releasing Elladan and Elrohir, Elrond stood and walked toward the other side of the downed tree trunk, hearing his elven sons' footsteps close behind. Elrond faltered when he saw that his son and Legolas had not been fast enough to clear the tree's lower limbs.

"No!" Elrohir cried out as he jumped over the tree trunk and began to ruthlessly pull away the broken and charred limbs that trapped his brother and friend. He did not have to look up to know the hands that soon aided him in his task were his brother's. In moments the prone bodies were free from the tree's grasp.

A moan escaped from Legolas as he felt relieved of some pressure and forced his eyes open. Ash was the first sight to greet his eyes and he nearly laughed. Ash, tombs, forest fires and falling trees..if he never heard those words again he would be only too happy. "Easy, Legolas," a voice soothed as a gentle reassuring hand rested lightly on his shoulder, but it was not the voice he had thought to hear.

"Elladan?" he murmured in confusion, forcing his aching head to turn toward the voice. Elladan's worried face came into his view. Insightfully, he knew the other's worry was too great to be focused on him, for in truth, he felt sore but he knew he was not injured greatly. Suddenly, fear for Aragorn spiked into his heart. Quicker than all those watching him believed possible, Legolas pushed into a sitting position and turned to his side, searching for Aragorn. Pain and fear froze his heart. Aragorn lay on his stomach beside him, coated in ash, and unmoving.

Elrohir's hand hovered above Aragorn, trembling. He could not force himself to touch his brother, to know that no life still sparked in the man. Even Elrond's courage deserted him for he sat upon the tree trunk drawing in harsh breaths.

With tender urgency, Legolas maneuvered Aragorn unto his back. The prince did not seek for the man's pulse for he would not give one thought to the idea that his friend was lost to him. No, that was not a possibility. Instead his hands gently wiped the ash from the man's pale face, "We said we would go together, mellon nin," he softly said as if the man had misunderstood their earlier pact. "Together, Estel. Elladan, Elrohir and I have not gone so neither can you. Today is not the day you meet your father, Aragorn. Not today," the elf's voice turning more insistent as his hands cupped his friend's face. "Do you hear me, Estel. Not today. Now open your eyes."

Aragorn's eyes fluttered and a collective sigh of relief echoed around him. Finally forcing his eyes to remain open, he met his best friend's joyous eyes. Moistening his lips, he tried to speak but it came out too soft even for the elves to hear. Instantly Legolas leaned over his friend, his ears close to Aragorn's mouth. His best friend spoke but two words, "Yes, bossy."

Laughter rumbled from Legolas as he pulled back, his eyes gleaming with happiness. The man was too stubborn to let a little thing like nearly getting crushed "once again" by a tree defeat him. "You know the old saying," and a smirk turned up the elf's lips as he held back a laugh, "Sticks and stones may break my..."

Groans erupted from the three sons of Elrond and Aragorn's once limp hand shot out to roughly cover his friend's mouth. "Do not say it," he managed to croak, without malice but with mirth as his hand once again dropped to the forest floor. The prince pulled away from him to allow a new face to come into Aragorn's view. Exhaling in relief, Aragorn softly breathed, "Ada." Then concern flashed in his eyes, "Are you well?"

"Am I well?" Elrond asked in disbelief, his hand going to his son's face. "It is you who is unwell. In truth, you have been unwell since this whole nightmare began..."

"Later.." Aragorn interrupted his father's lecture, his eyes dull with pain and worry.

Instantly Elrond knew his son did not worry for himself, for he rarely did. No, his son worried for his rangers, for his men and their families. "Can you sit up?" Elrond gently asked, his probing look attempting to detect any deception from his son.

"With some help, I can," Aragorn replied his eyes never leaving his father's face. Instantly he felt his father's hands slide behind his neck and back. Slowly he was eased to a sitting position. Drawing in a shaky breath as pain and dizziness assaulted him, Aragorn was glad that his father's arm was wrapped around his back, steadying him.

Pulling his mortal son against his chest, Elrond held the man in his tender grasp, relishing in the love and happiness that washed over him with his son's nearness.

"I have to know that my men are well," Aragorn announced, his voice still cracking with the abuse it and it's owner had taken. Pulling back slightly, he met his father's eyes. "I have to know the true cost Barion has exacted from me."

"Let us get you to your feet then," Elrond softly responded, gently pulling his son from the ground as three mother hen elves looked on in worry, each wanting to protest the action but none daring to oppose Elrond..or Aragorn. For a moment Aragorn swayed. Unbeknownst to him, three elves behind him started forward intending to come to his aid but it was his father's supportive arm around his waist that kept him from inspecting the ash upon the ground all over again.

Looking to his son's pinched face and closed eyes, Elrond wanted to force the man to rest but when Aragorn opened his eyes, Elrond, seeing the determination in their depths, left his protests unuttered. "We will go slowly," he gently notifed Aragorn, his tone firmly promising that opposition would be put down quickly.

Aragorn offered no protests as he and his father began to walk through the charred forest to his camp. Soon Legolas was at his side and Elladan and Elrohir drew along side their father. Dread filled Aragorn as he saw the forest. All this for revenge...his thoughts turning to Barion and the man's last words. He shivered in his elven father's grasp.

Feeling the trembling in his son, Elrond instantly clutched Aragorn tighter and bent forward to look into his son's face. "Do you need to rest?"

Aragorn gave a shake of his head but still verbalized his denial, "No. I can make it back to camp."

Wanting to protest his son's claim, Elrond forced himself to simply nod and continue forward. Later, he swore, later all would be solved and soothed. First Aragorn had a duty to uphold, a duty to his men. Elrond would not stand in his path. Instead he was overwhelmed with joy that Aragorn was accepting his aid. Truly their rift was mended. Unexpectedly, Elrond's conscience pricked him. He had vowed that truth alone would be between him and his son but one secret remained hidden in his heart. A secret he could no longer keep from his son not unless he wanted to risk losing Estel all over again. But Elrond could not dampen down the fear that rose in him when he thought of Aragorn's possible reaction to this last secret. Would this secret's telling do what Barion had not been able to? Would it take his son from him forever?

Nearing the perimeter of the rangers' camp, Aragorn tried to gauge his strength to walk unaided. He did not want his men to see him supported by his father. A question flared to life in his heart, 'Why not? Is it so horrible to need aid? Or to accept it?' Another part of him countered, 'I will appear weak before my men.' But the reply was quick and brutal. 'They have seen you injured and ill and weak and you did not lose their respect. What truly do you fear? Betrayal? From the rangers? From your loved ones? It is that fear that Barion exploited. Have you not learned the lesson you should have?'

Elrond's voice cut into his thoughts, "Do you wish to walk unaided into the camp?"

Aragorn's eyes flew to his father's. How did he do that!? How did he always manage to read his mind so easily?! To Aragorn's surprise, he did not wish to be released from his father's hold, nor did he wish to hide his vulnerabilities from his men any longer. Sooner or later he had to learn to trust the people in his life enough to show them his weaknesses. His thoughts flew to Arathorn's trust in Barion, a betrayed trust. 'So you will hide away your true self from those who love so you can be assured none will betray you? You gladly risk your life for the cause of good. Can you not surely see the reward in risking your heart for the joy of love?'

Not receiving an answer from his son, Elrond's worry grew. Pulling his son to a halt, he turned concerned eyes onto Aragorn. "Estel? Are you well?"

Surfacing from the mire of his thoughts, Aragorn met his face's inspecting gaze, "Am I well?!" he countered, raising an eyebrow in disbelief, knowing the three younger elves were right behind him, pointed ears catching every word he uttered. "Are you attempting to trap me in a lie, ada?" he teased, a smirk coming unto his lips. "I feel wretched and no, I do not wish to make my way back into camp unaided. Somehow I think crawling back into camp would appear less awe-inspiring than simply allowing you to help me stay upright."

Surprise glittered in Elrond's eyes but soon was overshadowed by his relief and pleasure at his son's acceptance of his aid. "Then let us make our entrance and determine how your men have faired."

Nodding in agreement, father and son began their slow trek again, three elves hovering behind them. They came to a halt at the appearance of a group of rangers led by a grim faced Halbarad.

"Halbarad, what's happening? Where are you going?" Aragorn demanded, his eyes eagerly taking in the presence of his second in command as well as every ranger in the group, relieved at their apparent survival.

Halbarad's eyes had sparked to life at the first sight of Aragorn and his grimness abated. "Out to look for you?!" he countered with joy, clamping a hand upon Aragorn's shoulder. "I thought we had lost you for sure this time."

'Me too!' silently came from the four elves in Aragorn's party.

Aragorn simply nodded his head, "My luck has not run out yet, Halbarad."

"See that it does not," Halbarad sternly replied, squeezing Aragorn's shoulder one last time before dropping his hand. Without prompting, Halbarad handed his chieftain his water pouch.

Gratefully Aragorn drank deeply before he asked in a voice considerably less raw, "How many did we lose today?"

Halbarad smiled, "None. A few minor injures but, for the most part, we came out of this battle unscathed." His eyes darkened seriously the next instant. "I shutter to think what our survival odds would have been without the miracle of that heavy rainstorm."

"Yes, that miracle saved all of our lives," Aragorn replied straight faced before he shot his father a quick conspiring wink which was unseen by the rangers.

Elrond barely concealed his smile at his son's antics. This was the boy he had come to love, the man he had come to respect. His son was slowly shaking off the barriers he had erected since Barion had stepped into his world and turned it upside down. Worry wiped Elrond's smile from his face. He had one more secret to confess to Aragorn. Only then would he be assured that his son's love would not be stolen from him.

"Should we pursue Barion and his men?" Halbarad inquired, ready to do his chieftain's bidding regardless of his own fatigue.

"Barion is dead. Let his followers go and I pray they do not take up the cause again," Aragorn answered, weariness in his tone. "Tend to the injured and refortify the camp the best you can."

Aragorn's words echoed through Elrond's head. 'Barion is dead. Barion is dead.' Relief flooded through him. The man that held the power to bring Sauron down upon his son's head was dead. Aragorn was safe again...and avenged.

With a curt nod, Halbarad assigned the rangers who traveled with him tasks and suddenly the rangers disappeared as quickly as they had appeared.

Elrond felt the relief in his son's body language as the dread of further loss was lifted from Aragorn's shoulders. The rangers were well. Now Elrond needed to make his son focus on something he always ignored or denied: his own needs. "In my absence you seem to have acquired a new wound to your leg?" he said causally though Aragorn knew it was a pointed question.

"Barion," he supplied, eyes forward upon the camp that was only a few steps away.

"And you let a tree land on you," Elrond continued the tally, earning him Aragorn's surprised and protesting look.

"Two trees actually," Elladan helpfully supplied, pleased at the raised eyebrow of reprimand this earned his youngest brother.

"Let?!" Aragorn sputtered. "I "let" two trees land on me?! I didn't "let" them land on me, they just did!" he said in mocking outrage at the accusation, hearing the chuckles of his brothers and friend behind him.

"What was that you were saying about luck? You seem to have all bad luck," Elrond teased. "If I had your luck I would not step outside the Halls of Rivendell."

"I thought that was the exact reason why "you" never step outside the halls, ada?" Aragorn shot back with a twinkle in his eyes.

"Watch it, young one. I can still devise worthy punishments for your unruly tongue," Elrond warned jovially.

"Please tell me what methods actually work, Lord Elrond," Legolas interjected.

"Legolas, beware or I will tell your father about some of our adventures...in detail," Aragorn called over his shoulder before he found himself ushered into his tent by his father.

The three younger elves halted at the tent flap, uncertain if they were welcome into Aragorn's tent.

Aragorn, realizing that all of his companions had not followed him into his tent, gave his father an exasperated look of disbelief before he said loudly, "Are you three standing guard at my tent or would you like to come in?"

The three elves looked at one another then laughed at their own hesitancy before quickly entering the tent. They watched as Elrond pulled the soaked ranger cloak from Aragorn. Immediately Elladan came to his brother's side, fearful that the man would not remain standing long by the slight swaying he was doing. Divested of his coat, Aragorn found Elladan's strong hands guide him to sit down upon his bed. He had every intention of lying down without even being ordered to do so but Elladan's grip prevented his motion.

"Trust me when I tell you that you want to remove your boots "before" getting into "your" bed," Elladan said, his meaning and brotherly threat very clear.

Immediately Aragorn protested, "It was ada who put me in your bed with my boots on! The blame lies with him!"

"So quickly you sacrifice me!" Elrond quirked, kneeling at his son's feet to remove the man's very muddy boots.

"Elladan will not level his retribution against you like he would me," Aragorn justified.

Elladan raised an eyebrow, "Will I not?" shooting his father a threatening gaze.

"No, you will not," Elrond ordered in a tone that his son knew to it was best to take seriously.

"Right...I will not ..I would not," Elladan stammered, backing down quickly.

Finished with his task and washing his hands in the clean bowl of water he had left on the floor of his son's tent earlier, Elrond turned his attention to the wound on his son's leg. Widening the tear in the fabric made by Barion's sword, Elrond's skilled fingers inspected the wound. Standing at his son's side, he carefully pulled Aragorn's shirt over his son's head. Seeing his son's wet, blackened bandages, he almost sighed. "Needless to say we have to clean your wounds, change your bandages and stitch your leg." Slipping to the other side of the cot, Elrond grimaced at the sight of his son's bruised back. Tentatively he touched the black and blue skin, eliciting a wince from Aragorn.

"Elladan, remove the bandages," he quietly ordered and his eldest child immediately began to unwind the soaked cloth, careful to not cause his brother additional pain. Once the bandage was removed, Elrond ran his hands carefully over his son's ribs to determine if any were cracked or broken. He raised his eyes and three set of elven eyes waited for his report, "Bruised but no bones are cracked or broken."

Relief filled the room.

"See, I am fine," Aragorn boasted though he was feeling the relief as much as anyone. He hated to think how badly they would all mother him if he accumulated yet another injury.

"Except for those torn stitches," Elrohir countered, his eyes on Aragorn's chest.

"No!" Aragorn moaned in frustration as his eyes flew to inspect his own wounds...wounds that sported not a single torn stitch. Slowly raising his eyes to meet his brother's smirking look, he promised, "You will pay for that, Elrohir," his eyes gleaming with mischief.

"I do not doubt that, brother," Elrohir laughed, glad to have one of his brother's pranks looming in his future.

"Instead of taunting me you should put your talents to good use and tend to Legolas' burns," Aragorn countered with a smug smile, pleased with the protesting looks on the prince's face as well as his brother's.

Elrond turned a questioned expression onto Elrohir and Legolas, not reading denial in either of their faces he had no choice but to agree with his youngest son. "Your brother's right. Legolas' injuries should be seen to."

For a moment Aragorn expected Elrohir or Legolas to resort to sticking their tongues out at him. Instead he received a look of promised retribution from Legolas and a defeated look from Elrohir before the twosome left the tent.

Elladan chuckled, "Young ones," shaking his head but his mirth faded as his father and brother's disbelieving stares fell upon him.

"I can care for your brother. Go aid the ranger's healer, Elladan," Elrond ordered, watching as his eldest son, sighing, reluctantly departed from the tent.

Silence fell as Elrond wound a bandage around his son's chest but it was a quiet that enveloped them in peace. Kneeling before his son, Elrond cleaned the wound on his son's leg, comforted to see it was not a deep wound. With skill, he quickly stitched up the wound and looked up to see his son's eyes beginning to flutter closed.

In spite of the biting pain of the needle working the stitches in his leg, Aragorn felt exhaustion pulling him into oblivion. He almost dropped off when he felt the comforting pressure of hands on his shoulders. Gently he was eased down to lie on his stomach on the cot, his head tenderly settled so his face was toward his father, his now bootless feet positioned on the cot. Wanting to offer a thank you, his words came out only as a soft moan as he fell asleep.

Tenderly, Elrond brushed the wet locks of hair from his son's brow before he began to gently rub a healing salve onto his son's bruised back.

Aragorn woke to find sunlight slipping through the gap in his tent's flap. Putting his hands underneath his chest, he pushed himself up, groaning as his aches and pains assaulted his senses. Managing the feat of sitting, Aragorn rubbed the sleep from his eyes, trying to breath normally through his pain. Unconsciously his arm braced his chest. He was surprised to find himself unguarded but seeing the other cot in the room, he knew someone had made it their personal goal to watch over him the previous night. It took no stretch of the imagination to know it was his father.

As if his thought had conjured him up, Elrond entered the tent carrying two plates, smiling at the sight of his awakened son. "How do you feel, Estel?" he questioned, his sharp healer eyes inspecting his patient critically as he sat on the cot beside his son.

"Like I fought two trolls, twelve orcs and tried to break a warg," Aragorn groused with half a smile to belie the truth of his words.

"Knowing you as I do, you probably "know" exactly what it is like to fight two trolls, twelve orcs and to try to break a warg," a reprimand lurking in his light words.

A spark of shame crossed Aragorn's features and Elrond sighed. For once he wished he had "underestimated" his son's dangers. Handing his son a plate of food, Elrond watched as Aragorn eagerly ate the eggs and bread.

Feeling like some tension had snuck back between he and his father, Aragorn stopped eating, gave his father an assessing look before promptly sitting his plate down on the other side of the cot. "Something troubles you. What is it?" he quietly prodded, feeling like the parent instead of the child when his question earned him a startled look and fleeing eye contact from his father.

"Nothing. All is well," Elrond denied, not ready to hazard his son's love so soon since he had regained it.

Aragorn put a hand upon his father's arm, causing his father's eyes to fly to his. "I do not want anything to stand between us, not again."

"I do not want that either," Elrond softly replied, his voice choked with emotion. Moving to the opposite cot, he forced himself to meet his son's grey eyes. It was time to reveal the secret he had kept from his son. "There is something else I have not told you."

Aragorn drew in a breath, not sure he was ready for any more truths. "Ada.." he began, hesitantly.

Putting his hand on his son's cheek, Elrond softly stated, "You need to know this. I will not keep it from you any longer."

Nodding his head, Aragorn fortified himself for another life changing event.

Seeing his son's acknowledgment, Elrond let his hand slide from Aragorn's cheek. "When you came into my life and your true destiny was determined, I sought out Galadriel's guidance for your rearing. I did not want to fail you." Aragorn's brow furrowed with objection at his father's doubts but he remained silent.

Elrond's gaze dropped to his hands before, with strength of will, he forced himself to face his son again. "We agreed that at the age of thirteen you would go to Lothlorien to be tutored by Galadriel and Celeborn until you came of age to learn of your heritage."

Shock showed in Aragorn's eyes for he had never even visited Lothlorien until he had made the journey alone when he was first set out to join the rangers.

Elrond's eyes pleaded with Aragorn to understand his next words, "But when you turned thirteen ...I could not bear to let you go. Galadriel pleaded with me to change my mind, to put aside my selfishness and think of Middle Earth's fate if you should prove to be ill prepared to handle your destiny." Elrond's next words were thick with emotions, "None of her words swayed me, not even the possible fate of Middle Earth mattered to me. I would not let anyone or anything take my youngest son from me."

Aragorn could hardly take it all in. It changed so many things! Suddenly some of the events of his childhood made more sense! Now he understood Galadriel's pointed questions on his education and his happiness whenever she visited Rivendell. "Why did you not tell me this before?" his voice soft as his eyes met his father's.

"I know...I should have. It should have been your decision to tutor with Galadriel. Now you may be ill prepared for what lies ahead. I was selfish to think only of myself...and that selfishness may cost you your life!" Elrond choked out, finally unable to withstand his son's piercing eyes he began to stand.

Aragorn's hand shot out and latched onto Elrond's arm, halting the elf's escape. "You misunderstand," he softly began, looking into this father's pained eyes, "I meant, why did you not tell me this when I questioned your love...when I threw those letters in your face."

Elrond stammered in surprise, "I..I thought you would see it as just another betrayal. Another manipulation to control you."

A full fledged smile broke out onto Aragorn's face. "You have given me the one assurance I thought I could never have."

"What assurance?" Elrond questioned, sinking back onto his cot, uncertain what his son meant.

"That you love me for me, not for my destiny...in spite of my destiny," Aragorn answered, his joy visible in his whole demeanor.

"I do, we all do!" Elrond quickly replied. "No matter what path you walk you are my son whom I love."

Aragorn's smile widened and Elrond's lips soon mirrored his son's. "I can not believe you had the audacity to refuse Galadriel," Aragorn teased.

"Neither could she," Elrond quirked back, sending both he and Aragorn into a fit of laughter. Suddenly it felt like nothing could tear them apart now..or ever.

Aragorn breathed in the forest air, glad to have escaped from his tent if only for a short while until his absence was noted. He sensed rather than heard someone approaching from behind. "I should have hidden better," he said aloud to his companion.

"I can find you no matter where you hide," Legolas sallied as he came to stand before his friend. "You know you are not supposed to be out of bed," a light reprimand in his tone.

"It is not a bed, it is a cot and the cot is killing my back," Aragorn grumbled.

Concern colored the elf's eyes, "We thought it best that you did not travel the distance to Mirkwood or Rivendell but we could seek out the nearest town and ..."

Aragorn put a hand on his friend's shoulder, "Do not worry, mellon nin. I am fine." At Legolas' look of protest, Aragorn added, "I know, the cot is fine, it is my back that is not."

Legolas smirked at his Aragorn's admission, watching his friend stare into the damaged forest.

"Thank you, Legolas," Aragorn solemnly said, turning his look upon his best friend. "I would not have survived this without you."

Humbled at his friend's words, Legolas objected, "Aragorn, you had Barion defeated. If his man had not interfered..." but he halted as Aragorn shook his head.

"You did more than save my life. You saw me though my pain and fear and anger. You were there for me when I would not let my family be. Even when I forsook your friendship, you still remained loyally at my side."

"You are my best friend, Estel. I just followed my heart," Legolas honestly replied.

Aragorn smiled, "I know and I can never repay you for your friendship."

"Stop, smoke is tearing up my eyes," Legolas joked giving his friend a playful shove on the shoulder. "Come, let us return to camp before your brothers or father come upon us and accuse me of being your accomplice."

Without further prompting, Aragorn turned around and with his best friend at his side, walked back to camp.

For the first time in two days, Aragorn had received "permission" to leave his tent and he was enjoying the chance to sit beside the campfire, alone. Most of the rangers were clearing the forest as best they could, checking the stability of the standing trees and burying the bodies of Barion's men.

Not for the first time, Aragorn's thoughts returned to Barion. The man had been a liar but he could not shake the idea that maybe his last words were not. 'Have I forgotten my father...my real father? I did not even know about his relationship with Barion...about his life. I never bothered to find out the type of man my father was and I had plenty of sources. Did I fear what would be revealed? That Arathorn would fail in my opinion just like Isildur? And yet I cling to Elrond...as I have from the start. How readily I accepted him into my heart as my father. Was that in spite of him being an elf or because he was an elf? Maybe it is not Elrond's faith in men that needs adjusted ...maybe it is my own.' He almost jumped when Elrond claimed a seat at his side.

Again, Elrond saw into his son's troubled heart. "You have not forgotten your father. Arathorn knows that truth."

"How can he know it when I do not?" Aragorn quietly implored, unable to meet Elrond's eyes.

Elrond spoke with quiet conviction, "I know you were very young when you lost your father and your memories of him are not defined but you have honored him always."

In surprise, Aragorn looked to Elrond, "How?"

Elrond smiled, "Look around you, Strider. You are following in your father's footsteps and they suit you. You have earned the respect of these men...just like your father did in his own time. And your heart is much like Arathorn's, always fearing danger for others, risking everything to protect all those around him. Estel, memories are just one tie to those we love. Honoring them with our life choices is another. Arathorn is proud of you...just like I am. He would not begrudge you happiness...or family for it was his heart's desire that you should have both. That was the reason he asked me to take you in, to protect you because he never wanted you to be without love. Maybe that is why I refused his request," Elrond broke off, looking into the flames of the campfire.

Aragorn's face reflected his shock as he mutely studied the elf's face.

Elrond's voice was quiet as he revealed the secrets of his heart. "Some can love in degrees. I can not. I love with my whole heart and soul." Tearing his gaze from the fire, Elrond again met Aragorn's eyes. "That is how I loved my parents and my brother and my wife and yet my love could not protect them...or save them." Swallowing hard, Elrond looked again to the fire, trying to force his emotions back into the compartment he could control. "After Celebrian departed...I ...I felt as if I could not bear one more ounce of pain. That if I did, my very soul would shatter into a thousand shards. So I determined to never offer my love to anyone else, especially not to any mortal for I knew only too well that their fate was sealed."

Suddenly his eyes settled on Aragorn, love in their depths. "My pain ...my fear had blinded me to the greatest truth of this world. Life is meaningless without love, regardless of all its risks and heartbreaks. You filled a void in my heart, Aragorn. I would not be whole if I had not been blessed with the honor of loving you as my son. For in the end I met Arathorn's request...you have never been without love for you easily stole my heart as well as Elladan and Elrohir's." Elrond watched his son smirk at his words. "And your father loves you Aragorn. Forever. Death or Barion's lies can not change that. He watches you even now and I know a smile is upon his face." Peace came over Aragorn's features and Elrond felt a similar peace wash over his soul.

With a smile curving up his lips, Elrond reminisced, "When your father was a youth, he loved telling stories of all his adventures. But he had one rule: He never told a story that did not have a happy ending because they were the only tales that he wished to pass along to the next generation. He wanted hope to be his legacy to the world."

Aragorn drew in a startled breath. "That is the reason you named me Estel?"

Elrond nodded, watching as emotions flickered over his son's features. "You are his legacy, Aragorn. Not to save middle earth but to offer hope to all you can, to be the man your father would have wanted you to be. To be the man that you are."

A tear tracked down Aragorn's cheek. "I wish I had known him."

"He was so similar to you that sometimes I think your brothers almost call you his name," Elrond confessed softly.

"Do you see any of him in me?" Aragorn asked.

"Yes, very much so," then a mischievous light came into the elf's eyes, "except he followed my advice about tending to his injuries."

"I think you are stretching the truth for your own purposes," Aragorn accused with mirth in his tone.

An over exaggerated affronted look came onto Elrond's face but before he could verbally protest, Aragorn bumped his shoulder with his own.

"I bet my father listened to you "less" than I do," Aragorn challenged with a smirk.

"No one listens less than you do!" Elrond snorted, giving his son a sharp look of reprimand.

"I agree" Elladan interjected as he claimed a seat at the campsite.

"Me too," Elrohir concurred, taking a seat beside his elven brother.

Aragorn opened his mouth to object but another voice entered the fray, "Do not feel too badly. He "never" listens to my wisdom," Legolas complained, giving his friend a wink as he sank down beside him.

"Wisdom?! From an elf?!" Aragorn countered sarcastically earning him a threatening glare from his best friend and his brothers.

"Tread carefully, human," Legolas warned his humor barely masked.

"Is that a threat?" Aragorn demanded with bravado, fighting hard not to let the smile. "It is you who should be wary. I am not friendless here! I have but to call out and my men will come to my aid."

"Mere rangers against four mighty elves?! Those odds are not in your favor Dunedan," Elladan exclaimed.

"We have faced deadlier foes than elves," Aragorn returned boldly.

"Like the Nazguls," Elrond joined in the conversation, his eyes boring into his son's.

Aragorn's eyes swung to his father in shock, a question in his eyes.

"Such news travels even to Rivendell," Elrond clarified.

Feeling more like Elrond's reckless son than the chieftain of the rangers, Aragorn defensively replied, "It was not like I sought them out!"

Incredulously, Legolas exclaimed, "You fought the nazguls? Alone?!"

"I was not alone ...well, I was at the start but then Halbarad joined in the fray and some others came along...."

"But you were not injured." Elrohir interrupted, his eyes intently focused on his brother in concern.

"If I was, I would not be sitting here talking to you, Elrohir. I would probably be a faceless creature in a black hooded cape riding a horse from .." Aragorn sarcastically retorted but his brother cut him off

"Do not make light of it!" Elrohir exclaimed, Aragorn's description of his possible fate only increasing his tension.

Seeing his brother's true fear, Aragorn felt ashamed. "I am sorry, Elrohir." Receiving a nod of forgiveness from his brother, Aragorn looked to his father. "I prefer talking only of stories with happy endings as well."

"And did that one not end happily?" Elrond asked quietly, dreading the answer.

Truthfully, Aragorn replied, "Yes..though it was very questionable at times."

Silence fell upon the group until Legolas lightened the mood with a jest "Sounds like all of your adventures, reckless human."

"My adventures?!" Aragorn shot back, raising an eyebrow at his friend. "Nay it sounds like all of "our" adventures, elf, "our" adventures. That is because you take everything to extremes and thrive on living on the edge."

"ME! You are the one who can never simply walk away from a dangerous situation. No, you must investigate every strange occurrence or else you blatantly chase after trouble," Legolas shot back his eyes attempting to stare down his friend's. At the twins' laughter of ridicule, Aragorn and Legolas's stare down dissolved as both their eyes lanced into Elladan and Elrohir.

Aragorn challenged with disbelief, "As if you two could tell an adventure of "yours" that ended happily."

"This one," Elrohir quickly answered smugly.

"No. One where no one in your party gets injured," Aragorn clarified as if to a dim witted child.

"So now we are being penalized for your bad luck with trees," Elrohir shot back with an arched brow.

"Are you admitting defeat?" Aragorn taunted lowly, his eyes narrowed in challenge.

"Nope. I can tell you thousands of happy ending adventures," Elladan bragged.

"That means absolutely no injuries..for anyone in your party," Aragorn clarified.

Elrohir looked to his brother a moment and then broke into a tale. He had not gotten two sentences into the description before Aragorn calmly interjected, "Wound on your back from an orc."

Confusion crossed Elrohir's face and he looked to his brother to confirm. Elladan sighed, "He's right but I know we have many "happy ending tales" unlike you two" he challenged nodding toward Aragorn and Legolas. "In fact we came home unscathed the time we..." and he launched into another tale but Aragorn was already shaking his head in denial.

The forest was quiet this night as Aragorn made his way to a clearing, the full moon illuminated his path. Coming to a stop, he stared up at the night sky and took in a steadying breath. Somehow, through all the recent days of pain, despair and danger, he had gained the peace he had always sought.

His voice was full of reverence as he looked to the sky, his thoughts upon his mortal father. "I love you father and I will strive to be your legacy ..to be your hope." Turning to walk back to camp, Aragorn stopped and offered an assurance to his father. "Do not worry ...I have never been without love."

Smiling, Aragorn made his way toward the camp, marveling at the beauty of the night and the gift of unforeseen blessings. Nearing the camp, he saw Legolas standing on the outskirts as if awaiting his return.

Before Aragorn could speak, Legolas implored, "Stop this challenge with your brothers."

Aragorn snorted with disbelief, "No?! Tell me they are not still at that?!"

Matching his friend's pace, Legolas shot back, "Yes, they are. Just concede to them so it can be over."

With an incredulous look upon his face, Aragorn stammered, "Concede? To them? Absolutely not."

Legolas sighed but remained at Aragorn's side as they came upon the campsite occupied by the ranger's family. Suppressing a moan, he heard Elladan and Elrohir wrapping up yet another one of their "happy ending" stories.

"We returned the boy to his father and we arrived home, unscathed...both of us," Elrohir triumphantly finished eyeing Aragorn and Legolas as they reclaimed their seats.

Nonchalantly Aragorn threw out, "No, I do not think so. Elladan broke the bone in his toe."

"I tripped," Elladan countered too quickly for him to even attempt to claim he had forgotten that part of the story.

"Yes, you tripped," Aragorn conceded, smiling wickedly, " and broke your toe."

Elladan protested, "Bruised. I bruised my toe."

Sighing, Aragorn turned to his father who wore an amused expression "Ada?"

"Broke it in three places," Elrond supplied his eyes dancing with amusement.

"Ada!? Whose side are you on?" Elladan exclaimed.

Wearing his most innocent look, Elrond replied, "I thought I was the judge."

"Now it is our turn," Aragorn began, breaking into his story about the time he and Legolas had the task of delivering one of Elrond's letters to a nearby town. "And "we" arrived home, safe and sound," he concluded, not noticing the sheepish expression that covered Legolas' face.

Elladan, staring hard at Legolas, accused, "I thought you were opposed to lying?" causing Legolas's face to color in shame. Turning to Aragorn with almost a sympathetic look, Elladan said, "Nice story but you forgot the true ending...probably because you were delirious with "fever" from the "cold" you acquired while you were having your little "happy ending" adventure."

In truth, Aragorn had forgotten that detail but he quickly defended, "A cold does not count as an injury."

It was Elrohir who opposed his statement. "We are talking about happy endings and you were definitely not happy being sick."

Unwilling to admit defeat, Aragorn contended, "But my becoming ill was not due to our adventure. I thought you knew by now that "humans" tend to get sick sometimes for no reason."

Legolas mumbled under his breath, "Or because they fell into a frozen river during our return trip."

Turning to Legolas with an exaggerated look of hurt and betrayal, Aragorn chastised his best friend, "We are 'supposed' to be on the same side here, "mellon nin"! Why are you helping them?!"

Halbarad, having stood in the forest listening to the competition, now quietly approached the campfire. Crouching down beside Elrond, his eyes upon the arguing foursome, he inquired, amusement in his tone, "Are you sure you should be sitting so close to those four? They seem to be quite hazardous to everyone's health."

Elrond smiled at the ranger's words and spared the man a glance, "Oh, have no doubts. They are extremely hazardous to anyone within a hundred leagues... but I can not imagine how boring life would be without them."

Halbarad nodded in understanding a smile upon his face.

Turning his focus back to the bickering youths, Elrond could not hold back his laughter at the latest story that was unfolding. 'No, I would not forfeit my time with any of them ..not for all the world,' Elrond acknowledged, thanking the Valar for second chances and happy endings.

THE END

So there's my sappy "happy ending." Hope you liked it!?

Thanks so much for everyone who took the time to read this story!! It truly was a pleasure spending time with you! This story would never have been completed without the support of all my reviewers nor would it have been so easy to write without all the input I received! I'll miss talking to you all!!! Guess that means YOU have to post stories so I drop you reviews!

Replies to Reviews:

Marbienl: How do I say thank you to the one who gave me the courage to post this story?!?!? It may have seemed a simply thing to you to drop me that request but it really touched my heart...and apparently my muse too! Thanks for "wanting" another story from me and encouraging me the whole way through...even though this story turned into a monster of 18 chapters!!! I would LOVE to give you whatever aid you want on that story so send it to me when ever you get a chance! Now back to your review. I could not resist putting in that line for Halbarad. I wanted his life to be something he "willingly" offered up to his chieftain so his death seems not so great a tragedy in ROTK. So glad you liked my sappy reconciliation between Aragorn and his brothers! And of course I couldn't resist replacing the angst with humor. It's a riot to have these characters bantering back and forth! Yes, Aragorn is a born leader...well, I'll follow him! Thanks to your reminder, I remembered to have Aragorn reveal Barion's nasty little potion! Yes, Barion was nasty to the last but I agree, I don't think Arathorn would believe anything he said! Hope you didn't mind that it was Elrond who comforted Aragorn on that nasty threat by Barion. Again, thanks for kicking my muse into gear! It's been a real pleasure getting to know you and I hope we can collaborate on that other story! Best Wishes!

Koriaena: Glad you liked the action and the battles! They truly are a challenge to write so I really appreciate that you found them enjoyable. As you could tell, poor Elrond had a few men to dispatch before he could use Vilya. Nothing is ever simple! Thank you for all your wonderful reviews and the great support you've given to me! Best Wishes!

MoonFire1: I loved hearing that you enjoyed the banter in the last chapter! As you could tell in this last chapter, it's one of my favorite things to write! I laughed when I read your thoughts on Barion's destination...I think you are right! He's gonna have a "Real" hard time talking to Arathorn if that's the case! Glad you appreciated Barion's "verbal spear into Aragorn's heart". I just thought someone like Barion would want to go out thinking he was still victorious. Yes, just another day in the woods for "that" foursome...which is a really good reason to NEVER travel with them. I will truly miss "talking" to you! It's been so great hearing your thoughts and getting to know you! Best Wishes!

Luinthien: Thank you so much for liking the last chapter so much!! I am sick enough to really enjoy the fact that you I had you crying with Elrohir's plea to Aragorn. I live for that type of reaction! I'm relieved you liked the duel! It's hard to gauge if I've made it believable and yet made the bad guy suffer enough..which I think is an important element to any conclusion to a revenge tale! You gotta love Legolas...and his perfect timing! Though Elrond deserved to take on Barion...Aragorn deserved that pleasure more. I have enjoyed all your reviews! Best Wishes!

Nefhiriel: So glad you liked the verse! I thought it seemed appropriate for the situation. I was so floored by your compliment, "Your story just gets better and better" Thank you!!!! As you can see I could have divided this last chapter up but when I started writing it I had no idea that I was going to be so long winded in this last chapter!!! So pleased you enjoyed all the "tons of angst" in my story and that it wasn't overpowering. Sequel?!? Now that is an interesting idea...hmmm....I'll think on it! Thanks so much for your wonderful compliments during this story. Best Wishes!

Lenneth: It's awesome that you liked my battle scene!!! And for your reading pleasure, you did read more Aragorn angst and I even threw some into this chapter for a good measure. I LOVE my trophy and I'm honored to be mentioned with Cassia and Sio, whose work I totally love and admire! Was that some incentive you threw into that review...another Aragorn Legolas Angsty fanfiction...well you know by now they are my favorite things to write... Me, kill Aragorn?!!? Nope not me...my thoughts are he's still living large in Middle earth or the undying lands...I mean leave HIM out of the undying lands...after all he's done?!? Thank you for all your reviews! Best Wishes!

Tychen: Thank you so much for saying the story keeps getting better!?!?! I hope that the ending was enjoyable and I didn't disappoint you. As always, I really am looking forward to hearing what you think! As for Halbarad's death, well I want to give tragic and loss purpose so I couldn't resist having him verbalize that oath that I feel he carried in his heart. Glad you liked it. And yes, you are right, Aragorn defeated Barion "morally and physically" Thank goodness he didn't lower himself to Barion's methods! I too love Legolas, Elladan, Elrohir and Elrond and their loyalty to each other and Aragorn. Whether Barion had a change of heart in his last moments..only the Valar know! Now that you've read the ending you know that the "grace of the Valar" did guide them all to safety! You know I'm a sap for a happy ending! Thank you so much for being such a wonderful supporter not only of this story but of my other tales! It was so fantastic getting to spend another eighteen chapters hearing your thoughts! Best Wishes!

Aebbook: I was hoping you'd stop by the story because I tried to email you but it wouldn't go through! Maybe you'll have a chance to drop me an email at I'm really happy that you enjoyed this story so much! As for another story, well I'll see if any of my other story ideas are decent enough to post. That's so awesome that you'll be posting a story! I'll be on the lookout! It's been really great getting all your reviews and getting to know you! Best Wishes!

Lirenel: No, our intrepid foursome is not in a good situation at that cliffie! However, now that the stories over you know that Elrond did save them, though not before they got a little singed! Thanks for your reviews! Best Wishes!

Beling: OK, now your review almost made me cry!!! I couldn't be happier with the knowledge that you believe I'm using my "gift" to share my faith!! I am the one honored by your insight, by your support of me and the direction I took the story. Without your positive feedback I would have cowered in the back, shoving my faith under a pillow but you instead allowed me the freedom to lay my values on the table. Thank you! As for chapter 17, I LOVE that you were so engrossed that you couldn't believe the chapter had ended!! And as I wrote the chapter, I was feeling the pressure to satisfy all my readers and yet remain true to my own direction for the story. That's the blessing/curse of doing a WIP. But I know this story would never have been as good as it is if I had not taken some wonderful guidance by reviews like yours! Best Wishes!

Grumpy: I was pleased that you thought the last chapter was excellent and you liked the fight scenes and Barion's death!! I was sweating all that out hoping to not disappoint everyone! And I couldn't help but exploit poor Aragorn's shaken faith in his "relationship" with Arathorn now could I? Yes, I tried to make sure everyone had a part to play in the action that was worthy of them. Ah..so I got you to pull out a hankie for the twins and Estel make up scenes. Cool!!! As you saw they DID make it out of the forest without being crispy critters...singed critters, smashed critters ..but not crispy. It has been a real pleasure reading every review you sent to me not only for this story but for Mire as well. Thanks for taking a risk and tagging along on another one of my angsty Aragorn tales! Best Wishes!

Joslin: Yes, all the relationships are patched up and stronger than before! Thank you so much for thinking my fight scene was "awesome"! The forest fire idea just came to me when I had a problem starting the battle...and it seems to have worked out pretty cool. I too am sad about wrapping up the story and yet I feel a sense of accomplishment. Thank you so much for all your wonderful reviews! Best Wishes!

Lindahoyland: Yes, Barion has finally gotten what he's deserved from the start! Glad you enjoyed the fight! I wanted it to be intense and yet have surprises and solidly prove that Aragorn is the better swordsman (and man). Thanks for all your wonderful compliments on this story! Best Wishes!

Elven Kitten: You are so right about that weird look a cat can give you! Well, have I earned my own Aragorn treat?!? Thanks for always dropping me a review and keeping Aragorn safe and sound and well loved...he needed it. Best Wishes!

Sielge: Whew! So pleased you liked the chapter!!! It seemed like a lot to accomplish and midway through I though I should have broken it into multiple chapters (just like this last one) but I was determined to get to a certain point in the tale. (The ranger isn't the only stubborn one around here) Yes, only Elrond could rescue them from that fiery death and he did ..just in the nick of time too!! I will truly miss getting your reviews and hearing your thoughts! Best Wishes!

Dark Borg Drone: This is so awesome to hear that you are a Christian too!! Thanks for dropping me the review!! Best Wishes!

T.A. Hagen: I'm touched that you were so anxious to read this last chapter! That's quite a compliment! Speaking of compliments..Thank you for your wonderful compliments on the battle, the dialogue!! As for the mistakes...you are so right!! Sorry!!! No matter how many times I go over something or my beta or my spellcheck looks over my work, I always manage to mess up the grammar!!! Agghhh! I am a terrible proof reader of my own work! Glad you wanted humor because I couldn't resist throwing some into this final chapter! What's a happy ending without some good old bantering, insults and storytelling? I'm so glad you broke your vow of silence and started sending me reviews! They really meant a lot to me! Best Wishes!

Claudette: I'm cheering that Barion's dead too! I know the burning arrows was a cheat trick but it certainly helped me get out of the bind of knowing how to get the battle started and then it lead to danger and angst and well...it turned into quite a cool thing. Just as you requested, this chapter had more ranger angst (and here I worried you were sick of angst?) and some nice physical vulnerability. Glad you liked the reconciliation and humor between the brothers and Legolas! Thanks for not criticizing me for omitting the sleeping arrangements but I did make mention of Elladan's displeasure at his muddy bed. As for me writing another story...well I've some half completed stories. I'll look them over to see if any of them are worthy of posting! So glad you tuned into this story and I was really touched that you took the time to review all the chapters as you caught up!! It was great getting to know you! Best Wishes!

Et-spiritus-Sancti:I loved how you said you kept inching toward your screen while reading the chapter!! Thank you so much for saying that the conflicts I've created are "well thought out and make sense and have heart-wrenching emotion"!!! I strive really hard to make things seem plausible and still reveal the thoughts going through the character's heads. So glad you like "bossy" Legolas! You are "addicted to my battle sequences"?!?! Awesome!!! I never thought I "could" even write a battle scene! Relieved that you liked the duel! Yes, Barion was bitterly cruel to the end. "Miss queen of cliffhangers" I loved that! Your words of encouragement to me about publishing some of my work really touched my heart! Thank you!!! I have really enjoyed all your thoughts and encouragements throughout this story!! Best Wishes!

Lady Elwen: Thanks for your email and I'll respond to it here! Glad you loved chapter 17! Yes, the Arathorn issue was still a cliffie element but hopefully I resolved it satisfactorily here in this last chapter. I guess I like all my characters to bring some lightness to the story so I put Halbarad maybe a little more carefree than you anticipated. Hope that was OK. Sorry, I just couldn't figure out how Aragorn would rescue Elrond...maybe in another story. Glad you like the reconciliation with the twins and Legolas' timely intervention! And you are right the word should be "opaque" (since I am a dreadful speller spellcheck only helps me so far!) I don't know exactly how to use Vilya but I thought air...rain...clouds. Probably totally AU but it was the solution I came up with. Yes, you should post something here on ffnet! It's awesome especially because you get to meet so many wonderful people..like you! Thanks for your emails and the information you provided to me! Best Wishes!

Viggomaniac: Real life is such a harsh task master! Glad you still got a chance to read the chapter and even drop me a review! It's wonderful to hear that you like the pace of the story, that it takes time to solve problems...as it does in life. I was pleased that you enjoyed Halbarad's pledge, the twins angst and Legolas' timely rescue of Aragorn. They were all fun to write but I'm never sure if I'm boring the audience so thanks for reassuring me on that topic! I played around with Barion coming back to the right side but I thought he had gone too far. Murder is a hard thing to repent from. Elrond gets to have it easy in so many stories I just thought he should get a dose of what his son's regularly go through. I was very touched that you "savor every word" on my story!!!! Let me tell you I do the same with all your wonderful reviews! Now I think I WILL cry...though you said no pressure..I'll work on putting together some of my started stories and see if they are worthy for posting. Thank you so much for all your support and your input through out this story! Best Wishes!

Tailspin: Glad you enjoyed the relationship between Aragorn and Halbarad! I just wanted him to have a great friend among the rangers...he seems to bring the best out of people! And yes, finally Aragorn took that long awaited step back into the loving bonds of his family and friends! Sorry about the tomb creeping you out...NOT! Any reaction is a compliment in my eyes. Thank you for telling me that you loved the fight scene and Legolas's inner turmoil. I think you're right about the verse! It does seem to sum everything up that's been happening. And you wanted a teeny bit more relationship angst before the end...hope I satisfied that need. I really appreciated all your thoughts and encouragements throughout this story!! Best Wishes!

Elvingirl3737: What an awesome review you gave me...well worth the wait, my friend! So glad you enjoyed the fight and the "sweet" reconciliation between the twins and Aragorn. The fact that you read it more than once...I'm really touched by that! And I'm so glad you stepped from the lurker ranks and told me what you thought of the story! I have really enjoyed getting to know you..and thanks so much for liking the fact I reply to the reviewers! I just felt that each of you give me your time and well wishes that I too wanted to pay you back somehow and replying seemed the only thing I was capable of offering. Well it's been a joy getting all your reviews for this story! Best Wishes!

THANK YOU EVERYONE ! IT'S BEEN AN AWESOME EXPERIENCE!

Cheryl W.