Title: An Unknown Place
Summary: Time was running again against them. How does one end a friendship? What are the last words to say? How can one walk away and know that this smile was the last,that look,that glimmer in his eye? How does one say goodbye? How Aragorn and Legolas part.
NOTE: hey guys. I've been gone for ages, I know. After "Last Stand" I was all at once burned out and all at once excited. I was working on four plots that plagued me (I'm about twenty-plus pages deep into each when I think of something else. I end up being not very productive at all!) when this little vignette-like thing hit too and I had to write it. so. I've been out for quite awhile because I was going crazy making sense of all the things that I wanted to do J sorry J so. After all those big plans, a simple offering, post-ROTK. A kind-of thanks to everyone who's read "Last Stand" and encouraged me so much J (a more extended thanks will likely be put up on my next, more formal and longer fic J)
But contrary to "Last Stand," this fic holds no great events, just a conversation between two friends. I don't expect it to be very popular. Just something that would not leave me until its completion. Partly inspired by Bruce Springsteen's song "Secret Garden." Have fun J Give my fic a chance, I finished this in a day so maybe I'll revise it soon. But until then, the original version of "An Unknown Place."
An Unknown Place
He indulged in a stare.
He wished he could still find it in himself to want any more than that moment, to wish that the world, that time, that life itself would still. But he was too old, too tired, and though fate has long since arrested him, he's decided to surrender at last.
Despite the realization, it was hard to deny that sight a moment of uncertain wishing; it was a beauty that defied time, seeming so still and eternal and for all intents and purposes, it might actually be fair to say so.
Thus did he simply settle for that lengthy moment, wanting nothing else but that he was here to look. Wordless, he stayed in that silent illusion of stretching time.
The elf's eyes were closed; he did not know he was being watched. He sat amidst sands that shifted with the winds, his legs folded toward his chest, engulfed by his arms. His clothes clung close to his skin and flew behind him, for he faced forward toward the seas, fronting her jealous breezes. They whipped and teased, and either claimed him as their own, or was repulsed by him, wanting him away. His hair flew behind him, wisps of gold that could have been lost in the sight of the golden skies that held his opulent sunset background.
There were several things about the Mirkwood prince that gave his face its particular light and charm, set him apart from that colder composition of the rest of his fascinating kind. He had a melodious voice that was as engaging in a clever barb as it was in a heartbroken song. He had lips that often smiled, often teased. And he had eyes that burned in defiance of their frigid blue.
This afternoon his eyes were closed, his lips mostly still save slightly parted with a breath and a sigh, sounds lost in the whipping of the ocean winds. It seemed that the things that made him the most beautiful and loveable of what he was were lost, perhaps suspended. A memory. Just how all things are meant to become.
Seeing Legolas as still as he was, it seemed that time stopped without the spectator having to wish it. But it also seemed that to cease time was to cease from living, and since living was that which made time matter in the first place, to still time and consequently cease life was an exercise in pointlessness.
The spectator tired of the pause. And so he opened his mouth to speak.
Legolas started at the teasing tsk, tsk, just before his lips spread to a helpless smile.
"You're not paying much attention," the King of Gondor told him gravely as he settled down to sit beside the elf, "I could have killed you five times over by now."
"Would you believe me if I said I knew you were standing there all along, my liege?" Legolas asked him gamely.
"No," Aragorn replied, "So I would advise you not to waste your breath."
"Are you sure you should be sitting on the ground like this?" Legolas asked him mildly, even though his eyes teased, "You might not be able to get up again, old man."
"That is foul," Aragorn grunted, "You, on the other hand, you little devil, you've not aged a day since that first time we met."
Legolas smiled wistfully.
"To my occasional regret."
"Only fools regret, my friend," Aragorn pointed out, "The cards have been dealt. The thing to do is play the game."
"You would say that," Legolas said with some disapproval.
They fell to a companionable silence, looking out over the sea. The tides were rising, and the waves that crashed upon the shore were snaking toward them.
"What were you thinking of just now?" Aragorn asked, "You seemed more… there than here."
"I'm neither here nor there," Legolas replied after a moment of thought, "Therein lies the problem. As it always did."
"Indeed," Aragorn murmured.
"You asked to see me here for a reason I think I already know," Legolas said suddenly, an edge of anger and irritation creeping into his voice. "You shall pass into eternal sleep, and you shall tell me that in front of the sea, before the very fate that calls me, to point out that it's all just as well. We can all go away to the places that lay claim to us at last."
"It was bound to happen," Aragorn said soothingly, "We all knew this. Death is part of destiny."
"And what do you seek here?" Legolas said sardonically, "My permission?"
"Your goodbye," Aragorn replied.
The elf actually hmphed. "It is not in my repertoire."
"I am coming to that conclusion," the King said wryly.
In the silence that followed, the elf's taut face softened, as did his tone. It was an anger that was cultivated by the years, this… misunderstanding of fate. Why must all things wither and fade? Or perhaps… perhaps that was the wrong question. The finiteness of things lent them an ephemeral beauty. Rather than a profound lacking, the end of things was more of a promise of better things to come. Indeed… to ask why things had to end was the wrong question. What he truly wanted to know was why he was made exempt, why he was made to watch. Why he was destined to lose. The adan, for instance, one more loss amidst a litany of losses, the proverbial final straw that breaks the bough.
"I hate being left behind," the elf grumbled, as much of an excuse/apology as he was ever going to give his old friend.
Aragorn frowned, watching the other's face. "Do you regret having known me, mellon-nin?"
"Only fools regret, my friend," Legolas told him wryly, "The cards have been dealt. The thing to do is play the game."
"Just so," Aragorn accepted dryly, touch.
"Does Arwen know?" Legolas asked.
Profound sadness streaked across the adan's face. "Doesn't she always know?"
"Just so," Legolas said quietly, after a hesitant moment. "Gimli?"
"Soon," Aragorn replied.
"He will not be pleased with you," Legolas supposed.
"To say the least," Aragorn chuckled. "Ah, well. But what can one do, really?"
"Stay a few years more," Legolas suggested impishly, knowing he was being foolish, but also unable to kill a sliver of hope.
"You would say that," Aragorn murmured.
"I stayed for you, did I not?" Legolas pointed out, "Your body calls you as mine does me. I've long been dying, I've long been lacking, I've long tired and long ached to depart. I stayed for my heart, I've stayed for yours. If my calling can suffer defiance, and those that claim me can suffer the wait, so can yours."
Aragorn met the elf's fervent gaze. A fair request, he reflected, that is unfortunately not in my hands.
"I am being silly," Legolas said suddenly, shooting down his own dark thoughts, shaking his head in irritation, "It is not the same, I know. I'm arguing with Illuvatar more than you, mellon-nin. You are just… just… incidentally here."
"Shall I leave you two to your discourse then?" the man asked the elf irreverently.
"No, crazy mister," Legolas chuckled wearily, "Stay awhile."
"Then answer my question," Aragorn dared.
"Which one?" Legolas asked, feigning innocence. The man looked at him wryly, awaiting a reply. He was not willing to indulge his companion at all.
The elf shook his head in mock dismay, stared at the other's wisdom and age-lined face. A beautiful face it was, even with all of its years. Legolas had never looked upon those lines as things that marred Aragorn. Those lines marred him more than they did the King, who carried them with aplomb, who let them speak for all his knowing and experience. Those lines to Legolas, however, were a mockery, certainly not as kind to the elf that defied them as they were to Aragorn. The lines dragged one's skin closer to the ground, as surely as the years pulled the body toward the grave, back to dust. But they were subtle in their task.
Deceptive, Legolas thought darkly.
Change was so gradual, the years seemingly so soft… one did not even see how the ages have played with one's life and with one's face, until one looked a considerable distance away.
Legolas saw Aragorn often; his aging was therefore not so drastic. But the years have never failed in their duties of claiming those that belonged more to their annals than to their present. And then suddenly one was dying, and then suddenly one was saying goodbye.
"You've never dimmed," the elf murmured reflectively, "I did not even definitively see it coming. Or perhaps I chose to be blind…"
The man's brows furrowed in thought. Admittedly some confusion. The elf tiredly rubbed at his eyes.
"I cannot see myself doing this one more time," Legolas said nervously, "One more goodbye. It breaks me, and you are not even going to be the last. I tire of this. I wish… I wish I had friends that lived forever."
"Do you regret having known me, mellon-nin?" Aragorn asked him again.
"You've inquired of that already," Legolas replied (and lied), "I've answered it. You're acting like a child." The elf looked at the sand, played with them with his fingers absently.
"I ask because…" the man hesitated, "I ask because I worry. I ask because I regret. Perhaps I've wronged you. In that you stayed. In that I've taken a place of brotherhood in your life that should not have been mine, for the life I swore was finite and yours was not. In that… Do you know, what they say? That one must not point out the emptiness of a heart they themselves cannot fill?" the man smiled apologetically, "Alas. But as we said, too, only fools regret. My death shall end all of mine, along with all of my losses. You shall have to live with yours."
Well the cards have already been dealt…
"The thing to do is play the game," Legolas said quietly, bitterly.
"Just so," Aragorn murmured.
The sun was lowering, the skies were darkening, and time was running again, and again against them. How does one end such a conversation? How does one end a friendship? What are the proper last words to say and who's to say it? How can one walk away and know this smile was the last, that sight of his back, that look, that glimmer in his eye? How does one say goodbye?
"Would you want me to say something true, or something comforting?" Legolas asked the adan, whose brows were raised in surprise.
"I cannot not give you an answer to this last thing you ever ask of me, could I?" Legolas asked him wryly, "Give me a little credit."
"Do you regret having known me, mellon-nin?" the adan asked, not so much asking the question itself but asking if that was the question to which the elf was referring.
"Would you want me to say something true or something comforting?" Legolas inquired impatiently.
"I…" Aragorn replied, slightly bewildered, "I suppose I would just…have your answer."
"Clever," Legolas murmured, his eyes narrowing in thought, "And leave it up to me, eh? You'd take a lie, you'd take a truth…"
"You're stalling," Aragorn pointed out with a twinkle in his eye.
"I've been stalling since you first asked," the elf said wryly, "You've waited this long I think you can stand to wait a bit more."
"Time, elf!" the adan barked, "I don't have much of it, if you've forgotten!"
Legolas looked at him sardonically, and decided to make him wait some more for the tasteless joke that he really should have expected, knowing his old friend's affinity for the irreverent.
"I…" the elf hesitated, "I will not want to be a fool for anyone else but you. And maybe the infernal dwarf. Does this make sense?"
"No," the other laughed.
The elf's brows scrunched in thought. "I do not mind regretting that I knew you and then lost you, if it means that I once had the inalienable pleasure of your insufferable company."
Aragorn grinned. "A mouthful. But well-put."
"Just so," Legolas said quietly, pressing his face into what has suddenly become a duty just to smile in reassurance. But the adan caught the miserable look, just as surely as he always caught the various nuances of his old friend's expressions.
"Death is just the beginning, Legolas," said the adan, "We will see each other again—"
"Someday?" Legolas scoffed, finishing the statement for him, "That single word encases all of my favorite lies. It promises nothing, it pledges nothing. It tells me nothing."
"Nevertheless, to go over the sea…" Aragorn murmured, "It will certainly lend you its own brand of comfort. Eventually."
"Perhaps," Legolas conceded, "But there is this other thing. Do you know, mellon-nin, that there are only two sorts of people in the world? And this is embodied in every single step that we make along the course of our lives. This one kind, he steps forward toward somewhere. And this other kind, he steps forward to get away. The former have places to go, the latter just have places to flee. I've always proudly thought of myself as one amongst those whose steps are deliberate, those whose end is sure. And yet now I find I wish to sail a ship not for wanting to go somewhere, but to escape these things that hurt me."
"There is nothing criminal about that," Aragorn said soothingly.
"No," Legolas admitted, "But it does not do this world any justice. I've seen its worst, though I've loved it more for its best. I do not wish to flee it. I only wish to go to where it is that I ultimately must."
"You will remember your love when you've left," Aragorn said wryly, and the elf managed a surprised laugh.
"That is not at all comforting."
They fell into a momentary silence, though it was obvious the adan had given the issue more thought, evidenced by the things he said next.
"But when you get to where you are going," said Aragorn, as if time did not pass and he was merely continuing the conversation immediately where it left off, "You will have that love and those memories, alongside an understanding that no matter the road and no matter the reason, despite the longing and the regret, you are at last where you are meant to be."
"Destiny is a curious, curious thing," Legolas murmured, "Living is to go the long way around to where you are ultimately headed. Death, that is. What a tireless game."
"I've been told," said Aragorn, "That the thing that makes each life different is what's done in between birth and death."
"What an in-between we've made," Legolas said wistfully.
"Aye," Aragorn agreed, "We've crafted a life I am very proud to have led."
"The things we've seen," Legolas breathed, and in so thinking did he find some curious spike about his eyes, this shake to his voice that spoke eloquently of the lump that made a home of his throat.
"Bah," he said with embarrassed displeasure, knowing the sights and sounds would not be missed by his companion anyway.
"I am afraid," Legolas admitted, "I grieve in some parts for this inevitable loss. It's quite helpless and pathetic, really. But most of me grieves for this… this really rather ridiculous fear," he laughed self-consciously, self-deprecating, "Life is so long… there's bound to be more things I'd have to remember. Many more things I'd see and I fear… I fear to forget, how it felt… how it feels to be here."
"If you forget me," the adan told him gently, "You'll have talk with a rather vindictive ghost."
"A barrow-wight of a ghost," Legolas laughed, once again running his hands over his face. He felt the adan's warm palm rest over his head and he felt like a child. Sighing, he let the touch fall away, and though his heart was heavy his eyes were magically alight, "Are you afraid of what's next?"
"Lately, I find I am more impatient," Aragorn confessed.
The sun was lowering, the skies were darkening, and time was running again, and again running against them. How does one end such a conversation? How does one end a friendship? What are the proper last words to say and who's to say it? How can one walk away and know this smile was the last, that sight of his back, that look, that glimmer in his eye? How does one say goodbye?
"We must take our leave of each other," Legolas said hesitantly, "Doddering old men cannot see very well in the dark."
"Oh my friend, if we are talking about you, I am very much amenable to that," said Aragorn.
Legolas smiled, rose first and offered his hand to the adan. The man took it and pulled himself up. Side by side, the spirit-brothers dusted themselves off in almost the exact same manner.
"So," Legolas breathed.
"So," Aragorn repeated wryly.
Legolas shook his head in mock dismay, and embraced his old friend tightly. The adan was always so warm and reassuring. Even in goodbye he was reassuring. The elf closed his eyes and savored in the feeling of being encased thus. Aragorn and the sea. Curious, curious. Two things that have always torn him apart, together here, together at last, pushing him toward the same end. He was not overjoyed, but he was finally finding his place.
How does one say goodbye?
Legolas released his old friend, and it took the other a beat to do the same.
"Have a safe journey," Aragorn murmured.
One does not.
July 14, 2004