Tears…they fell silently, staining his cheeks as he bowed his head over the lifeless form of his son. Thranduil's body shook with a grief that he had never before known, a grief that was greater, much greater than that which he had felt even at the death of his wife. He could feel his heart breaking; and as it shattered like glass into pieces, he knew. He knew that this was the end. Without Ithilwen, he was a shadow of his former self. Without Legolas, he was nothing.
He wanted, with every fibre of his being to scream in rage and pain; to curse the Valar for taking his child; to viciously destroy everything surrounding him in the very same way that he himself was being destroyed; to find release from his pain in the sensation of his fists connecting with wood that splintered, glass that broke, material that tore under his touch made violent by grief. But he could not. He could not let go of his fallen son's hand. Small fingers lay against his own, and he found that even though he wanted to pull away to vent his anger, he was unable to.
On the other side of the bed, Círhael had turned away. Whilst saying his goodbyes, tears had stung at his eyes. But now…now there were none. With Legolas' last breath they had vanished to be replaced with a blazing storm of hate and fury. First his sister, now his nephew. The urge to leave the palace for the forest so that he could hunt down and slaughter the creatures who had done this to his family was so overwhelming that it hurt.
"They will pay," he whispered. "All of them…I will make them pay for this."
Suddenly, he spun and swept his hands across the top of a healing table that stood nearby. Phials and jars of medicine and herbs crashed to the ground, and he was dimly aware of fragmented glass embedding itself in his skin. The destruction not enough to take away his pain, the usually calm and sedate Elf-lord threw the table, and it splintered into pieces against the opposite wall.
The door flew open, and Elrond rushed into the room. His face paled as he looked towards the bed, but it was not his time to grieve for the fallen Prince – his friends needed him. He felt vaguely surprised to see that Thranduil was sitting quietly, relatively calm as he stroked Legolas' hair; and that it was instead Círhael who had no hold over his emotions. This, after all that he had been put through in the last few weeks, was clearly too much for him.
Elrond went forwards to his friend, and gently but firmly held him still. "You must stop this," he said softly. "You hurt, but this is not the way."
"He's gone," Círhael breathed. "Legolas is…"
"I know. And he would not want this," Elrond answered quietly. "It would upset him to see you like this. Come over here, sit down."
The fair haired Elf pulled away, and moved back to the wall. He slid down it until he was sitting on the floor, and shook his head slowly. "Gone…he has been taken back. Dead…"
Biting on his lower lip, Elrond glanced over at Thranduil. The Elven-king had not moved or spoken; so with a sigh, he knelt next to Círhael, and rested a hand on his arm. "You are not alone in this," he said softly. "Not alone at all."
"Do you think that that takes away the pain?"
"No, I know that it does not. But…"
As the two elder Elves spoke, Thranduil raised his head. He was only dimly aware of what was happening in the room, at that moment unable to summon the strength within him to care. Exhaling shakily he lifted a hand and passed it over his eyes, brushing away only a few of his tears. As he lowered it once more, one of the silvery drops fell, and landed noiselessly on Legolas' fatal wound. The King stared for a moment, but realisation was swift to hit: that was what he had seen in the forest. What did it mean? Elrond would know. But as he tried to turn, he felt himself being pulled back by some force that he was not in control of. He tried to resist. He tried to fight. But everything went black.
Thranduil blinked. He was no longer in the dimly lit healing rooms of the palace. He was…he did not know where. But he was kneeling as he had been back in Mirkwood, in the middle of a large white hall, a hall so bright that as he looked around, even his Elven eyes had to be shaded. Valar, it was like staring into the sun. But where was he? And how…? He blinked again, wondering vaguely if his grief was doing this to him, making him see, making him imagine the strange place.
The King snapped his head up, stunned. He could feel the heavy pounding of his heart, and he swallowed nervously. He knew that voice: Ithilwen. But it could not be. She, like their son, was dead. He looked back down at the shining floor, and another tear – just one, this time – fell silently down his left cheek. He did not bother to brush it away. He closed his eyes, and exhaled slowly.
"What cruel trick is this?" he murmured.
"This is no trick, Thranduil. You do not imagine this."
As he shook his head, he felt a hand on his shoulder. The touch was gentle, loving, and like the voice, he would know it anywhere: Ithilwen. He looked up tentatively, and turned. The words that he had been about to utter fell dead on his lips, and instead he drew in a sharp breath. His wife stood before him, bathed in a brilliant white light that moved fluidly with her as she knelt in front of him.
"How can this be?" Thranduil breathed. He reached out, and let his fingers rest in the air beside the Queen's face, half afraid to touch the alabaster skin. "This cannot be you. It cannot…"
"You imagine nothing," Ithilwen repeated softly, guiding the other Elf's hand forwards to rest against her cheek. "I am here, meleth-nin. I am here with you."
Both were still for a moment as they stared into each other's eyes. But then in unison, as though it had been planned, they moved forwards and fell into a tight embrace that spoke only too clearly of their devotion, their love that they had lost. Thranduil buried his face against Ithilwen's shoulder, too shocked to speak. He could feel her fingers running through his hair, could feel her warm breath against his cheek…and he knew – she already knew of their son. Closing his eyes, he whispered into the material of her dress: "Legolas could not be saved."
Ithilwen shook her head, leaning back slightly from the embrace. "No. There is a way to save his life, to restore it. He could never be saved by medicine, but by something much greater."
"He has already gone," Thranduil said softly. "It is too late."
"For as long as he is loved, it is never too late," Ithilwen answered.
The Elven-king looked down at the ground, and shook his head slowly. "I do not understand. What do you speak of? And how are you here? Where are we?"
"You are in Mandos. Or rather, your soul is. Your body remains in Mirkwood." Ithilwen smiled gently as the confusion on her husband's face deepened. "Fear not, you still live. But you were summoned here by Námo, and I was sent to you as his messenger. He is the Doomsman of the Valar. Think of that, and maybe you will understand."
"He has the power to pronounce judgement…he decides our fates," Thranduil said slowly. "He can take and give life, so he…but he took Legolas. I do not understand."
"He can restore our son's life," Ithilwen said in a low voice. "But he will not do it freely. He wants something in return."
Thranduil leaned back, and arched an eyebrow. "Something in return? And what can I possibly give…to…" He trailed into silence, and as realisation fell, nodded slowly. "I see. In the forest, I had a vision. I heard something, a voice. It made no sense then, but now…"
"You know what has been asked of you," Ithilwen finished quietly. She leaned forwards and gently kissed her husband, before rising to her feet. A smile tugged at her lips. "Whatever your choice, I love you."
"Wait!" Thranduil said, a hint of desperation creeping into his voice. "To save him, Námo wants me to die. It would be an exchange of our lives, I understand that, although I still do not understand why. I am not afraid of death, and I want to save him, I want to more than anything. But how can it be worth it now? His life would be restored, but that is all he would gain. Our son would be orphaned. I do not want that for him."
"Only you can decide," Ithilwen murmured.
"And if I go, Mirkwood will be without a King. The heir to the throne would be but a child, and unable to take up rule for years," Thranduil continued helplessly. "And Círhael…he would be named King until Legolas came of age, maybe even past that time. He would take that position, but he would not want it. How can we know that he would be able to maintain it? Ithilwen, I cannot let my father's kingdom fall. I cannot."
"And I cannot make the choice for you," the Queen answered softly.
"Valar help me," Thranduil whispered. "Help me to do this, give me the strength that I lack. I have to seal my son's fate, but…is this the right choice? Send me a sign, something to tell me…please…"
There was silence. The Elven-king's eyes wandered around the large hall as though searching for what he had asked, searching for help. But there was only Ithilwen, and she shook her head slowly as he tried to speak once more. Drawing in a shaky breath, he looked down at the floor. Whatever he chose to do would be wrong. As Elrond had advised him only the previous day, he had to choose the lesser of two evils.
"If only I could turn back time to then," he murmured. "I would change everything."
"Will you die for him?"
Námo…his voice thundered in the great hall, ten times magnified as it bounced heavily off the shining white walls. This was what Thranduil had heard in his vision; this was it. When he gave his answer, it would be final. There would be no going back. Closing his eyes, he rose to his feet and stood still, listening as the last echoes of the voice faded away. Silence fell. He looked up. His gaze met Ithilwen's. He shook his head, just once.
"Thranduil, can you hear me? Open your eyes, mellon-nin. Come back…"
The Elven-king jerked his head up, and his breath came in a sudden sharp gasp as his eyes flew open. He was back in Mirkwood. Círhael's strong arm was wrapped around his shoulders, and Elrond's face hovered anxiously before his own. Disregarding them, he glanced up at the bed, wondering if, hoping that something had changed. No. Legolas was still…dead. He looked back down at the ground, and shook his head slowly. Of course nothing had changed.
"What happened to you?" Círhael whispered.
"What do you mean?" Thranduil asked dully.
"You collapsed. I thought that grief was taking you from us, and…" The Elf-lord swallowed nervously as he caught the pain in his brother-in-law's eyes. "But you returned. You are well."
"I think it was just a faint," Elrond said softly.
"It was no faint." Thranduil drew his knees up to his chest and tangled his hands in his own hair. As he pulled at it, he whispered: "Im naer, ion-nin. Im naer…"
"You have nothing to be sorry for," Círhael murmured. "None of us could have saved him."
"I could. But I did nothing."
Elrond's brow furrowed as he heard the words. Something was wrong. He knew full well that what had happened to his friend was more than a faint. But he remained silent, watching as Círhael pulled Thranduil close. Recovered from his previous burst of anger, he was whispering words of comfort, and softly stroking the golden hair. The Rivendell Lord smiled sadly at the display. Unconsciously, Círhael was treating the younger Elf in the very same way that he once had Legolas. He had substituted his hurting brother-in-law for his fallen nephew.
'May the Valar help you both,' Elrond thought, 'for there is no-one else who can.'
Soft hands were tenderly stroking his hair, and he was dimly aware of a gentle voice murmuring endearments. He wanted to open his eyes, to look up and see whose arms he was held in, but he was afraid. He knew that voice, he had spent all of his life listening to it. But how could it be possible? She had gone away, and he had been told that he wouldn't see her for a very long time. Unless he was dreaming. If so, it was a very real dream.
"Open your eyes, pen-neth. Look at me."
Legolas forced one eye open, but snapped it shut again almost immediately. That had hurt. He was unsure of where he might be, but wherever it was, it was bright. He heard the one holding him let out a soft trill of laughter, and his lips formed a slight pout. It was not funny. Forewarned this time, he raised a hand to the level of his eyes so that they were shaded, and tried again. It took a few seconds for them to adjust, but when they did, he drew in a sudden sharp breath.
Ithilwen gasped as the child launched himself into her arms. Pulling him close, she smiled into his hair, and murmured: "Ai Legolas, my son. I have missed this. I have missed you."
"So have I," the Prince whispered. "I have missed you so much. I have wanted to see you ever since you went away, and I wasn't even able to say goodbye to you properly. But now you're here. You're back, Nana!"
"I wish that I was, but…" Ithilwen turned her son's face up so that their eyes met, and she smiled briefly. "There is not much time. What do you remember?"
Legolas' eyes narrowed slightly in confusion, but then he nodded slowly. "Orcs. They hurt me. Ada came and rescued me. But I was bleeding a lot. And then…a bedtime story. I fell asleep in the middle of it. I fell…no, I didn't. I didn't fall asleep, did I, Nana? I came to the same place that you did. I di-
"Do not say it," Ithilwen cut in gently, pressing a finger against the Elfling's lips. "Yes, you came to me. We are in the Halls of Mandos."
"Dead Elves come here," Legolas said, his voice trembling slightly. "Nana, now that I…I'm sorry, but now that I'm here, I don't want to be. I don't want to be…dead. I want to be alive."
"I am very glad to hear that, because Námo does not want you here," the Queen said with a smile. "His Halls are not yet ready for you, tithen-las. Would you be disappointed if I told you that he wants you to go home?"
"Will you come with me?" Legolas asked quietly.
Ithilwen shook her head once. "I cannot. Please, do not look sad. I may not have been with you in body, but I was always with you in soul. You must remember that."
"I want to be with you because you're my Nana and I love you, but…" The Prince looked down, and sighed deeply. "When you went away, Ada was very upset. I think that if I left him also, he would be upset again. I don't want that, because I love him too. Do you mind that I want to go home?"
"No, I am happy," Ithilwen answered. "I have not been given very much time, so I must be swift. When you return home, your father will be very confused, so you have to help him. Tell him this: It matters not that his answer was 'no'. Námo was testing his love, and he was astounded by the greatness of it. He is rewarding that love with your life."
"I don't understand," Legolas said quietly.
"But your father will, and maybe he will explain it to you one day," Ithilwen replied. "Now, when you fell asleep you were badly wounded. I want you to drink this. It will heal you here."
Legolas took the vial that his mother held out, and sniffed the liquid in it cautiously. A smile turned his lips upwards. "It smells like…strawberries. I like strawberries."
"Drink it," Ithilwen pressed. She breathed a sigh of relief as the Prince obeyed. "Good boy. When you go home, you will have no physical wounds that need to be treated. You are well once more. And that means that my job is done."
"You are going," Legolas whispered.
"No, you are. Do not forget what you must tell your father," the Queen replied. With a smile, she pulled her son close again and held him tightly, breathing in his childish scent. She murmured against his hair: "Moreover, do not forget that I always love you, and am always with you."
Legolas kissed his mother on the cheek, his arms unconsciously tightening around her neck as he felt himself about to leave. "And I love you, Nana."
Thranduil could feel a strong arm wrapped firmly around his shoulders, could hear soft words being murmured beside his ear, could feel a hand running gently through his hair. He had not been treated this way since the eve of his father's death, when he had been a young Prince shut away in a tent on the battle plain with the screams of dying warriors ringing in his ears, and only his friend and idol to give him strength. He had found little comfort in Círhael then, and he found none now. How could he, when his only child was…he did not even wish to think the word. Squeezing his already closed eyes shut even tighter to rid them of burning tears, he raised a hand to the bed, and found Legolas' once more.
All was still and silent for a moment, but then as he felt it, a slight flex of small fingers, he drew in a sharp breath and pulled away from Círhael to stare at the form of his son. The elder Elf turned also, and his pale eyes widened in both fear and shock, for what he looked upon was a spectacle that seemed otherworldly. Legolas' small body was bathed in a wash of white light; and starting from the top of his head and gradually moving all the way to the tips of his toes, a golden aurora was shining brilliantly. It could only be one thing: the restoration of his fëa. But how…
Círhael whirled to look at Elrond, his face pale. "Are you…?"
The Half-elven shook his head slowly, not once taking his eyes off the shining form of the Prince. "No, not I. Look…"
The white light had faded to a gentle glow that surrounded Legolas – it was his natural Elven light. His previously pale cheeks became rosy once more, and the colour started to return to the rest of his white skin. There was silence. Círhael and Elrond stared, waiting with bated breath as they dared to hope that the Elfling was being returned to them; Thranduil still knelt at the side of the bed, praying desperately. And then it happened, slowly: Legolas' eyes opened.
"Valar, tell me I am not dreaming," the King whispered.
The child lay still for a moment, but then he smiled, and pushed himself into a sitting position. "I have come back," he said softly. "You're not dreaming, Ada. They sent me home."
Thranduil reached out a trembling hand, and touched his son's cheek – it was indeed no dream. "But how did…? I thought that…I said…"
"You are very confused. Nana said that you would be. But please," Legolas sighed, "can you ask me questions later? I've just been brought back to life, and I was hoping that you would take me in your arms and hold me tightly instead of this, but-
As he grabbed the Elfling and pulled him close, Thranduil laughed for the first time in days. The musical sound had not been heard for so long, and Legolas smiled against his father's chest as it rang beautifully in his ears. He was back, he was home with the people that he loved. Speaking of which, he looked up at Elrond and Círhael, and laughed himself to see that they were still staring in wonder.
"You came back," Thranduil breathed. "Ai Legolas, promise me that you will never put us through this again. We thought that we had lost you, we thought that you were…"
"I know, and I never meant to scare you," the Elfling replied. "It was wrong of me to run away in the first place, and if I could change what I did, I would. I'm sorry."
"It matters not now," Thranduil said quietly. "You have been returned to me, and you are safe."
At the back of the room, Círhael shook himself out of his daze, and took a few steps forwards. "How can this be?" he whispered. "Valar, what has happened to bring you back? Why…?"
Legolas' eyes narrowed in confusion as the Elf-lord turned away. "Uncle? Aren't you pleased that I am alive?"
"Pleased?" Círhael looked down at the ground, and shook his head slowly. "Of course I am. But I cannot understand this. You died. And now here you are, right before my eyes. We were put through hell, and if my grief is playing tricks with my mind…it would be no surprise. How can I be sure that you are real, and not an image conjured by my confused mind?"
"Ada, tell him," Legolas said in a panicky whisper. "Tell him that this is really happening, and that he's not imaging it."
"Círhael, he speaks the truth. Believe what you see," Thranduil said gently. He paused, and lowered his son to the floor – though, it did not go un-noticed that he appeared reluctant to relinquish his hold on him. "And if you cannot do that, then believe what you feel."
Legolas walked forwards so that he was standing in front of his uncle, but he said nothing. The Elf-lord stared at the opposite wall for a moment, before slowly lowering his gaze. His shining blue eyes met hopeful silver ones. Still, silence reigned. With bated breath, Círhael knelt. He held out a hand that shook with fear and doubt and hope, and he hesitated for a moment, before letting his fingers move across the Elfling's soft – but very real – face.
"Valar," he breathed. "It is you."
"It is," Legolas whispered back.
Letting out the breath that he had been holding, Círhael enveloped the boy in a warm embrace, closing his eyes as the tears, which had turned swiftly from tears of pain to tears of joy, threatened to spill. He buried his face against his nephew's shoulder, inhaling the childish scent that he had believed only a few minutes back, that he would never smell again. Small hands tangled in the material of his robes, and as Legolas tightened his hold, he did also.
"Remind me later on to lecture you about the dangers of running into the forest on your own," he murmured.
"I think he has more than learned his lesson," Thranduil said dryly.
"I have," Legolas replied. "I really have, but you can lecture me as many times as you want to – all of you can. I won't mind. I'm just glad to be home."
"And lucky," Círhael said. He pulled away slightly from the embrace, but did not let his nephew go. "We are all going to want an explanation at some point. You know that."
"Yes, but…" The Prince looked quickly at his father as he remembered. "Ada, Nana said that you would-
"You did see your mother?" Círhael breathed.
"You will be told everything soon enough," Thranduil said. "Legolas…"
"Nana said that you would be confused, and that I must help you by giving you a message." The Elfling's lips formed a slight pout as he fought to remember what he had been told. "She said… 'It doesn't matter that you said no, because Námo was astounded by the love that he saw in your heart. He wanted to reward that love with my life'. I don't understand that, but Nana said that you would. Do you, Ada?"
Thranduil was silent for a moment, but then he nodded once, and smiled. "I understand."
"Will you tell me what it means?"
"Perhaps another day," the King said quietly.
Elrond spoke up as the Prince opened his mouth to press the subject. "Legolas, I almost forgot. Elladan and Elrohir…they do not yet know. Wait here, I will call them in."
As the Elf-lord went over to the door, Círhael looked down at his nephew, and smiled gently. "Are you well? Your wounds do not trouble you?"
"Valar, those had slipped my mind," Thranduil said. He lifted the child, and carried him back to the bed. "Lie down. You may have your life back, but are still hurt. Elrond will have to check you over when he comes back in."
The Prince blinked in surprise as two dark blurs landed on the bed before him. But a smile appeared on his face as they both pulled him into an embrace. "Elladan, Elrohir…"
"If you were not injured, so help me, I would tickle you until you begged for mercy," Elladan growled.
"Lucky you're hurt, in a way," Elrohir smiled.
"Elrond, would you mind looking over him?" Círhael asked. "Merely to make sure that all of this excitement and moving around has not done further damage to his wounds."
Legolas opened his mouth to protest, but closed it again when the healer came forwards and gently removed the loose tunic that he wore. Not that anyone was listening to him anyway, but they would probably not believe him even if they were. He remained silent. At least it would be funny to see the expressions on their faces when his bandages were removed to reveal only healthy skin.
"I will have to let the kitchen staff that there is cause for celebration," Círhael said. "I think that this most definitely calls for a feast."
"You only want an excuse to watch your brother-in-law give out his best Dorwinion," Elrond murmured, as he gently unwrapped the bandages around Legolas' small torso. "You know how much he hates surrendering it, and it gives you great pleasure to watch the pain on his face as he…"
Thranduil shot Círhael a dirty look as he snickered agreement to Elrond's accusation. "What is it?"
"Nothing," the elder Elf breathed. "Nothing…"
"Adar, are you…?" Elladan's eyes widened as he looked over his father's shoulder. "Adar, there is nothing there! How did that happen?"
"What do you mean?" Círhael asked tersely. "How did what happen?"
Sitting on the bed, Legolas smiled as everyone crowded around to stare at his now flawless skin. "I tried to tell you, but no-one was-
"You are healed," Thranduil said quietly. "You are healed in entirety."
"Listening to me," Legolas finished.
The Elven-king let his fingers trail over his son's left shoulder, the previously injured one. His blue eyes narrowed in confusion. "And you feel nothing? Nothing at all? The poison must have been…taken from your body…somehow."
"There is no medical reason for this," Elrond said slowly. "I believe that this has a great deal to do with the events that took place during your time away from this world, does it not, Legolas?"
"Yes," the Prince nodded. "It does."
Círhael sat back in a chair, and fixed his nephew with a piercing gaze. "Explanation. Now."
Later that night – or rather, early that morning – Legolas was taken from the healing rooms and moved back into his own sleeping chambers. Before that, however, Círhael and the twins had been eager to hear a detailed explanation of that night's otherworldly events; so he had found himself being kept awake for another hour whilst Thranduil had told his part of the story, and then he himself had told his. The young Prince could read from his father's rather sketchy account that not all was being told. But he had not pressed the subject. He knew that it was not the time, and that he would be told when it was.
Now, as he lay nestled in the Elven-king's strong arms in his own room, he smiled. "Ada…"
"I'm sorry for falling asleep in the middle of your story. It wasn't that dull," the Elfling replied.
Thranduil smiled, but his eyes in the light of the candles were sad. "Do not jest about what happened. Things could have turned out very differently. You must understand that we have been lucky. Not everyone who suffers this is given a second chance."
"I know that," Legolas answered. "I wasn't joking to make fun at what happened. I was joking so that I could…see you smile. And you did."
"You wanted to see me smile," Thranduil repeated.
"Yes, because you haven't done that many times since Nana died," the Prince said. "I missed it, that's all. Ada, can I…can I ask you a question?"
Legolas sat up, and looked at his father through anxious eyes. "Are things going to go back to the way they were before? Between you and me…"
"What do you mean by that?"
"Are you going to be the Ada who reads to me, and plays with me, and helps me with my archery, and kisses me goodnight when I go to bed?" Legolas answered softly. "Or tomorrow, will you go back to being the Ada who doesn't see me, and shuts himself away, and doesn't talk to anyone? Because I don't want the second Ada. I want the first one."
"No, I have to say this," the child cut in. "I should've said it when you came into me after I cut myself. Maybe if I had, things would've been different and I wouldn't have ended up running away. I want to have the first Ada, and if I don't, I won't stay here. I will go to Rivendell with Lord Elrond and the twins."
"Is that a threat?" Thranduil asked softly.
Legolas was still for a moment, but then he shook his head. "No, it's a promise. I mean this, Ada, I really do. I wouldn't be able to bear it if you went away from me again, so I would have to go away from you to stop myself from being hurt."
Thranduil put his hands on the boy's shoulders, and gripped tightly. "You are going nowhere," he said in a low voice. "You will have no need to, because I swear to you that I will fail you no more. I promise you."
"You promise me?" Legolas repeated softly. "Promise me as a King, Ada. That is the most important thing you can make a promise as, because Kings never break their word."
"I will not do that." Thranduil was silent for a moment, and he smiled vaguely as the Elfling's eyes flickered with doubt and fear. "No, I will not swear to you as a King. I will swear to you as a father. That is the most important thing to me, and at this moment, that is all I am."
Legolas moved back into the elder Elf's arms with a smile, and nodded happily. "Yes, I think I like that better." He paused, and closed his eyes for a second. "Ada, I'm tired. I think that its time for me to go to bed now."
Thranduil's eyes widened, and he stared down at his son in horror. "What?"
"I'm tired," Legolas repeated. "I want to go to sleep now."
The King shook his head, a bitter smile on his lips as he shifted positions so that the Elfling would be more comfortable. 'He is never going to be able to say that again without it invoking great fear into me,' he thought.
"You should sleep also," Legolas murmured against his father's chest. "You are probably very tired too. But Ada, will you stay with me tonight? I don't think that I want to be alone."
"As if I would leave you," Thranduil answered softly. "Sleep, ion-nin. I will be here, should you wake."
No sooner had the little Prince's eyes drifted out of focus than the door opened noiselessly. Círhael stepped into the room, a smile gracing his features as he looked upon the scene before him. Thranduil looked up and silently pressed a finger to his lips, and the elder Elf nodded. There was no need to speak, anyway. He was perfectly content to merely stand and watch as his young nephew slept in the arms of his brother-in-law. It was a picture had been sorely missed.
Círhael took a few steps forward to the bed, his eyes not leaving Legolas' face. "How is he?" he whispered.
"Fine. He got to sleep almost immediately," Thranduil answered quietly, "as I expected. I think that he will sleep long into the morning."
"That would not surprise me. And you? Are you not going to try and find sleep also? You have been through much, you should rest," Círhael said seriously. "It would do you good."
"Maybe it would, but I promised Legolas that I would watch over him," Thranduil replied.
"I will watch over you both."
The Elven-king smiled, and reached up with his spare hand to grasp his brother-in-law's arm, as warriors often did to each other after battle. "I am not a child, Círhael. But I thank you for the offer. You are welcome to stay. I wanted to speak with you anyway."
"Oh?" Círhael pulled a chair up to the bed and sat down, moving his eyes onto Legolas' face to make sure that he did not stir. "What of?"
"I owe you some answers, especially after all that you did to help," Thranduil said. "Things have been made clear to me only in the last ten minutes, whilst sitting here and listening to my son's voice. I now understand things which had bewildered me since the day of Ithilwen's death. It makes sense."
Thranduil paused, and brushed some hair out of his sleeping child's eyes. "You asked me why, and I could not tell you. But I know the answers now. When I looked into Legolas' eyes, I saw duty – my duty as a father. I did not think that I could fulfil that role; I wondered how I could protect my young son when I had failed to protect my wife. I distanced myself from him so that the job would fall to another – you, Círhael. It was a selfish act, but an unconscious one. As the distance grew, Legolas tried to close the gap. That angered me. He was asking me to do, to be what I felt that I could. So I channelled that anger…"
"Towards him," Círhael said quietly.
"Yes. He was the only one who was asking the impossible; and every time he tried to engage me in conversation, every time he tried to have me treat him as I should have done, my anger grew and grew – all he was doing was reminding me that I had failed," Thranduil continued, his voice low, "because I simply could not do it. It mattered not that there was distance between us, for he continued to press, to try and cover it. That is why I locked myself away."
"You knew he could not get to you there," Círhael sighed.
"I hid myself from my own child." Thranduil smiled, but it was without humour, and his blue eyes were cold. "I was alone, but I was safe from him. Despite that, though, I hated it. I may have escaped Legolas, but I had not escaped my own mind. It told me everything that had driven me to solitude in the first place."
Círhael made a sympathetic noise as his brother-in-law fell silent. "Go on."
"You and Elrond came to me the day before yesterday, and I am thankful for that. I am thankful for the way that you pushed me and irritated me and tried to force me into giving you answers. If you had not, I would not have left, and I would not have heard Legolas' cries," Thranduil continued. "But I did. And I went to him."
"Why? What changed?" Círhael asked.
"I saw the blood, and it reminded me of Ithilwen. It was too late for her, but not for my son. I knew that I had to try and amend things before it was too late," Thranduil answered. "Seeing him injured…it brought me back to reality."
"It made you realise what you could lose," Círhael said quietly. He paused, and shot his brother-in-law a sideways glance. "Thranduil, there is something that you must know, now that everything is coming into the open. Legolas' hand injury, it-
"Was not accidental." The Elven-king's face remained impassive as he unconsciously pulled his son closer, but his eyes flashed angrily. "Yes, I know. I realised a few hours back."
Thranduil gently disentangled his fingers from the sleeping Elfling's, and gestured for Círhael to come closer. "Look. There is still a faint mark on his hand. Why? Ithilwen gave him a healing drink in Mandos, and it healed every bit of him – his shoulder, his chest, his face. But this wound is still visible."
Círhael looked at the small red cut on his nephew's hand. It was nearly healed, but his Elven eyes could still see it. "You are right," he said slowly. "But how did this tell you…"
"I wondered why the drink had healed everything but this. And then I realised," Thranduil answered bitterly. "This wound had to be self-inflicted. Námo could amend everything that was a result of Legolas' foray into the forest, but not what he had done intentionally to himself."
"How does this knowledge make you feel?" Círhael asked tentatively.
"When I found out the truth, it hurt. But in hindsight, Legolas doing that to himself was, in a way, a good thing," Thranduil sighed. "If he had not, I do not think we would be sat here now."
The King looked down, and smiled as his son struggled to re-focus his eyes. "You are awake already."
"Who are you talking to?" Legolas pushed himself into a sitting position, and as he rubbed at his eyes, caught sight of Círhael. "Oh, hello. What are you doing here? It's not morning already?"
"No, you have been asleep only for a short time," the Elf-lord answered. "Forgive us, I fear that our voices woke you."
"Sleep again," Thranduil said quietly.
Legolas leaned across his father, and held out both arms to his uncle. A sleepy smile appeared as Círhael embraced him, and kissed him on the cheek. That was all he had wanted. Content, he withdrew, and settled in Thranduil's hold once more, resting his head on the King's chest. An arm slipped around his body once more, and he snuggled into the warm hold. As sleep began to take him, he was dimly aware of a soft hand stroking his hair.
Círhael locked his green eyes onto his brother-in-law's blue; and the two smiled at each other. The storm had passed. Darkness had reigned over their lives for too long, and the veil had finally been pushed back to reveal light. It was over. Círhael could feel it in his heart, could sense it in the air. But more than anything, he could see it in the love that emanated from the two Elves in front of him. That love had won the battle. It was over.
Thank you to every one for reading and reviewing, it means so much to me! Some of you asked questions in your reviews, and because I can't answer them here, I'll e-mail you.
I have about six new storylines in my mind, and am currently putting two of them into writing. If you want to know what they're about, say so in your review, and I'll let you know. I can't promise when I'll start posting, but it'll probably be after summer, because that will give me time to write a lot.
Anyway, thanks again for reading!