A/N: The title for this chapter comes from the Rascal Flatt's song Bless the Broken Road. Since it fits in so well with the chapter I'm putting here all of the lyrics:
I set out on a narrow way many years ago Chorus:
Hoping I would find true love along the broken road
But I got lost a time or two
Wiped my brow and kept pushing through
I couldn't see how every sign pointed straight to you
Every long lost dream led me to where you are I think about the years I spent just passing through Chorus
Others who broke my heart they were like northern stars
Pointing me on my way into your loving arms
This much I know is true
That God blessed the broken road
That led me straight to you
I'd like to have the time I lost and give it back to you
But you just smile and take my hand
You've been there, you understand
It's all part of a grander plan that is coming true
I think about the years I spent just passing through
Now I'm just rolling home
Into my lover's arms
This much I know is true
That God blessed the broken road
That led me straight to you
That God blessed the broken road
That led me straight to you
It was a gorgeous day in Rohan. The sun was shining, the temperature was perfect, only a gentle breeze (truly a rarity in the city of Edoras), and no humidity in the air. To the elf standing on the main outside staircase to Meduseld everything about that morning couldn't be more perfect. It truly matched the mood that Legolas Thranduilion was in: cheerful, warm, and free of turmoil.
There was no external hint of hesitation – indeed because there was internal doubt to speak of – in Legolas' demeanor as he took the wooden marriage band off of his right hand. This was it; the decision he needed to make, he wanted to make, and – as he realized when he looked back on his life since the War of the Ring – truly the decision he was destined to make. And now that his mind was finally clear of the confusion of not fully understanding why he felt the way he felt he was happy about the choice he had made.
He turned the ring once with the tips of his fingers, feeling the smooth wood; then the broad grin on the elf's face somehow managed to get even wider as he handed it over to Eomer. "You put this ring on my right hand as a symbol of our engagement," he said, and extended his left hand. "And now I give it back for you to put on my left hand as a symbol of our marriage so that all may know I enter into this union of my own free will."
The corners of Eomer's mouth turned upward even more, blissful beyond measure to hear Legolas reciting this part of the marriage vows. "This ring is a symbol of our love, fidelity, and trust," the Man stated earnestly as he slipped it on his soon-to-be new husband's left ring finger. "There is none like it in all the lands. That is fitting, as there is no one likethe person it was made for anywhere else but standing right before me. If I were the most gifted poet who ever lived I still could not find the words to adequately describe how much I love you, but I plan to spend the rest of my days making sure you know just that nonetheless. You gave me love, a son, and a family when I had given up on having any one of those things. I love you, Legolas."
Eomer's hand lingered on Legolas' for a few long moments, gently caressing the skin and then tenderly lowered. The prince waited in delighted anticipation as his fiancé removed his mithril ring and handed it over to him. "You put this ring on my right hand as a symbol of our engagement," recited Eomer with a smile. "And now I give it back to you to put on my left hand as a symbol of our marriage so that all may know I enter into this union of my own free will."
It meant so much to Legolas that Eomer had been so readily and enthusiastically agreed to integrate his people's traditions, such as each person taking off their own engagement bands as a display of free will and saying the marriage vows when they exchanged rings, with the Rohirric ceremony. While he understood and accepted that he would have to go along with the traditions of the Rohirrim now that he was officially becoming the realm's prince consort Legolas was determined to hold onto as much of his elvish heritage and ways as he could so that he and Caladel would not wholly lose that part of themselves. That, and he knew it meant a lot to his father – he could feel the approval, love, and pride radiating from the elven king, standing front in center with his grandson as they watched the wedding ceremony.
Eomer reverently placed the ring on his intended's palm and presented his left hand. "This ring is a symbol of our love, fidelity, and trust," declared Legolas powerfully as he put the mithril band on the proper finger. "It was not lightly made for any person nor is it loosely given on a whim, but forged to fit your finger and your finger alone because you are the only person I choose to commit myself to. I was in dark shadows and you became the light that saw me out; I was in a lonely place and you gave me companionship; my heart was imprisoned and you released it; and when I loved you, you loved me back. Now I have you, you have me, and Caladel has the both of us; and all the lands know that we are husbands, a family, and united until the end of days. I love you, Eomer."
Caladel was waiting the ceremony intently, and not just because he was thrilled that his parents were finally getting married. His part in this was coming up soon – he knew this from all the practicing his ada and papa had gone through with him – and when Legolas released Eomer's hand he saw his signal. As quickly as he possibly could without breaking the proper decorum he knew he had to maintain until the wedding was over the boy hurried over to his ada's side and tilted his head to the correct side. Legolas leaned over to sift through Caladel's hair for the lock tied with a band, took a ceremonial knife from Elfhelm (who, as one of the king's highest ranked officials, was presiding), and cut it off. Then he did the same to his own hair and handed the knife to Eomer, who followed suit.
Legolas and Caladel held onto their locks until Eomer had his as well and then together all three handed them to Elfhelm while a servant discreetly spirited away the knife. The commander weaved them into one single braid and held it up for the entire crowd to see. "As all of you well know, this is not just the official bonding of a couple," the Man announced triumphantly, "but also the official forging of a family. The people of Edoras and Rohan have been privileged enough for over year to watch this happen and now may all of Middle-earth know that King Eomer Eadig of Rohan and Prince Legolas Thranduilion of Eryn Lasgalan are bound to each other through the oaths they've swore to each other – both before you and in private – the love in their hearts, and most importantly through their son, Lord Caladel of Rohan and Eryn Lasgalan!"
The crowd clapped indulgently as Caladel gave them an eager wave and scurried back to his grandfather's side. "And now it is with the deepest of all happiness that I declare this marriage official," said Elfhelm. "My king, my prince, you may now kiss your new husbands."
They didn't need any more prompting. Legolas and Eomer's lips joined while the whole crowd (even those who didn't feel it in their hearts) applauded. The wedding had been executed just as it had been planned since the couple became engaged. Of course, things had been looking bleak the night before when Eomer had sent Legolas to Aragorn and Legolas had wrestled with his feelings.
The Man had spent most of the evening (save the time he was putting Caladel to bed) in his bedchamber and was awake long into the night, wondering if he'd lost Legolas for good. He couldn't sleep even though he suspected it wouldn't be until morning that his fiancé would come to tell them if they would be having a wedding at all. Legolas was the type to deliberate everything in his mind carefully and, once he'd forced himself to acknowledge an internal conflict, not make any decisions until he felt he had it all sorted out.
Imagine Eomer's surprise, then, when frantic knocking came to his door in the wee hours of the night and he found Legolas on the other side when it opened it.
O – Flashback – O
Eomer quietly closed the door as Legolas strode determinedly into his bedchamber and subtly studies his fiancé's – for he would think of Legolas as that until he heard otherwise from the elf himself – body language. There was a distinct tranquility to it and, quite frankly, that made him a little alarmed. He hadn't expected Legolas to sort out his feelings for Aragorn so quickly. Eomer wasn't sure if this boded well for the future of their relationship.
"What" – began Eomer, trying to sound casual even when his voice caught. He cleared his throat and tried again. "What brings you here at this hour, Legolas?"
Legolas turned and looked at him; the peace, realization, and love in those brilliant blue orbs was almost overwhelming to behold. "Caladel and any other children I will have in the future will one day feel the pangs of first love," he said resolutely.
"Come again?" asked a perplexed Eomer, not certain what this had to do with their current dilemma. He hoped it was a good sign that Legolas felt it was proper to be discussing any future children he had with him.
"They will have first loves," reiterated Legolas serenely. "They will know the intensity, the pain, and the drama of feeling for the first time that all they need is love and everything else will work itself out. When those relationships come to low points – as all relationships must – I will be there for them. As they share their pain with me I will tell them the story of my first love and all I went through with him. Then I will promise that things will get better in time and retire to my bedchamber, where my husband and their sire will be waiting for me."
"That is a lovely image," said Eomer in a soft voice, half afraid and half hopeful about where his intended was taking his story.
"And it will come to pass one day, just as it should be," proclaimed Legolas. "Do you know who my husband will be? You, melethnin; Aragorn will be the first love in the stories I will tell to our children but you will be my husband and their sire. It's you, Eomer – I think it was always meant to be you."
"Legolas," the Man breathed, taking a few stumbling steps toward him.
The elf shook his head and waved his hand a little. He too could scarcely wait for their emotional reunion but there was still more that needed to be said before that could happen. "Please, melethnin, let me finish," he requested, pleading but excited and eager to share the night's revelations. "There was a time in my life when I thought that pain and drama were supposed to be major parts of love, and that love was all I needed. But I am not that person anymore – I've grown a lot since the end of the War and I can't, and don't want to, go back to being that naïve young elf again. I know now that no matter how much you love someone if you don't have trust accompanying that feeling you cannot have a relationship that lasts."
"So you want a love that's…easier?" questioned Eomer awkwardly. He didn't like the idea that Legolas was choosing to settle with him rather than face the pain of being with Aragorn again.
"Absolutely not!" protested Legolas, offended. "This has not been an easy decision by any stretch of the imagination. I'll always love Aragorn – that's true enough – but most of that feeling is due to nostalgia. I'm not in love with him. I'm in love with the person who showed me that love can be intense without tying me up in hurtful knots, and that pain and drama aren't essential parts of love but elements that get wearisome when you finally experience life without them. Just because Aragorn was my first love doesn't make him my only love."
A huge smile crept across the king of Rohan's face. "Are you saying what I think you're saying?" he asked with understated glee.
"Aragorn is all about grand declarations and intense encounters," said Legolas firmly. "The way he loves me is with secret pining and promises he refuses to see he can't keep. You do little and big things that show me and everyone else I care about how much you love me. You make promises you know you can keep, and I trust you with all that is important to me. I know what kind of love I want, Eomer, what kind of spouse I want, and I'm so very, very fortunate to have found all of that in the Man I'm in love with. I'm in love with you, Eomer. There is no one else for me."
"Are you sure?" whispered Eomer.
Legolas nodded, a gigantic smile splitting his face. "Will you marry me tomorrow?" he asked.
"Well, I think I can arrange that," Eomer joked through his tears of joy. "I mean, we do have a city full of people expecting to see us get married and all…"
The elf looked at him incredulously, marched over to him, and grabbed the back of his head with both hands. "You joke now?" he teased, equally tearful as he pulled them together until they were almost nose-to-nose. "You're lucky your sense of humor happens to be one of the reasons I love you so much."
Taking advantage of their close proximity Eomer wrapped his arms around his fiancé. "I'm fortunate in so many ways," he declared, the good-humor in his face fading a bit as the memory of his previous fears lingered in his mind. "I'm so glad you're here," he confessed. "It almost killed me to let you go like that. I don't think I could do that again."
"Well, it's good that you found it in yourself to do it tonight," smiled Legolas wryly, "but trust me when I say it won't be happening in the future."
The elf managed to get out one more sentence before their mouths came together in the first of many passionate kisses they would share before they bid each other goodnight: "You won't be able to get rid of me that easily again."
O – End Flashback – O
Aragorn wore a wistful expression that he managed to force into a smile as he watched his one true love marry someone else. It was a comfort and a curse to know that Legolas truly loved Eomer. The comforting part was now after years of wondering, hoping, and fearing (but not letting himself believe) the worst he would know where Legolas was and that he was truly happy. The curse, of course, came in knowing that the elf's happiness didn't include him.
Legolas had made his decision and it wasn't him. In fact he hadn't even seen Legolas since he'd stormed out of the bedchamber last night. Aragorn had waited until the start of the wedding for some word and until he saw the elf standing up there with Eomer he hadn't quite believed he'd lost him for good. The silence, he supposed, was Legolas' way of telling him that their lives were now separate, each with a different significant other. At least Aragorn knew Eomer would be good to his love and secret son (probably better than Aragorn had been) – and if he wasn't the other Man would make him answer for it.
"How are you doing?" asked Arwen in a quiet voice from her place at his side.
"I've had better days," admitted Aragorn ruefully. "But what I'm feeling now is nothing Legolas hasn't felt before. I imagine this is what he went through at our wedding, so I'd say it's fair I go through it now."
"At least no one ignorantly asked you to participate in the wedding," said Arwen. Her own guilt about the pain she'd inadvertently inflicted on Legolas would be with her for awhile.
The after-wedding celebration was not all that different from other parties that took place in Rohan and Eryn Lasgalan – it was just grander, full of more noise (if such a thing was possible), more laughter, more joy, and double the libations with Mannish ale and elvish wine being offered side-by-side. Members of all four of the free races mingled together without a care in the world. With that sort of mixed company and good cheer it reminded a lot of people of Aragorn and Arwen's wedding celebration, except without the stiff formalness that naturally came along with anything that took place in Minas Tirith.
In all that revelry it was difficult to find a place to inconspicuously brood but Aragorn lucked out, coming across a shadowy haven while everyone else was flocking to give their congratulations to the new spouses. He knew he had to put on a show of support and happiness soon enough but he needed a moment to collect himself. Maybe several moments – or an hour. Now that he thought about it, a day or two might work out better.
Arwen let him stew there for a little while before making her way over to him. "Aragorn," she urged with resigned patience. "You need to come back to the party now. At the very least the two of us have to publicly congratulate Legolas and Eomer."
"All right," agreed Aragorn dully. "We – we can't have the Rohirrim and elves of Eryn Lasgalan think we're snubbing the new royal couple."
He sounded so forlorn that some pity actually swelled in her heart for him. "You can take another minute or two if you need it," she offered. "The hobbits seem to have their attention now anyway."
She made a move to leave but then paused and slowly sat down beside him. "When we get back to Minas Tirith," she said in a low voice, "I'm…I'm moving out of our bedchamber."
"Just out of our bedchamber?" asked Aragorn in an unreadable tone. "I thought after all you've learned you'd want to get as far away from me as possible. You must think I'm a horrible Man."
"No – just a Man who thought he knew more than he did and ended up being terribly disappointed with his life," said Arwen with a sigh. "Aragorn, there's three good reasons why we should at least keep up the pretense of a happy marriage and nothing for either of us if we publicly end it. But there's also really no reason for us to share a bed now. Don't worry about it seeming strange to everyone else – if anything, more than half the court would think it's odd that we've shared one for so long after our wedding if they knew."
"Why are you telling me this now, Arwen?" he asked softly.
"I don't know," she replied truthfully. Perhaps the part of her that was still angry wished to inflict just a little more pain on him; perhaps the compassion in her soul wanted to comfort him by letting him know that at least one unpleasant aspect of his life would be over with soon. It was probably a combination of the two. "But we can talk about it later if you wish – now there's something we must see to."
He nodded and forced himself to his feet, resigned to this most painful of tasks. Walking more or less side-by-side the royal couple of Gondor weaved through the hoards of people, stopping once they were a few feet away from where Legolas, Eomer, and Caladel were chattering animatedly with Sam, Merry, and Pippin. Aragorn knew he should try to get their attention but he couldn't find it in him to so much as clear his throat. Legolas and Caladel looked so happy, so content…
It was Sam who first noticed the two of them standing there. He nudged Merry, who looked over at them two and whispered something to Pippin while the newlyweds peered over their shoulders to see what had caught their guests' attention. With knowing nods the hobbits politely excused themselves but Caladel, suspicious of the stranger his papa almost got into fisticuffs with the day before, stayed right where he was in front of his ada.
"Greetings, Aragorn, Arwen," said Eomer politely when the other couple approached. Legolas remained silent as he put his arms around his son. "Thank you for making the journey to attend our wedding on such short notice."
"We wouldn't have missed it for anything," replied Arwen truthfully enough. "I'm just happy that you've found someone to love who loves you back, Legolas."
"Thank you, Arwen," said Legolas, genuinely moved when he beheld the sincerity in her eyes. He knew what he'd put her through without meaning to was painful to say the least and to know she still wanted him to be happy said a lot about the depth of their friendship. He released Caladel just long enough to embrace her over the boy's head. "I'm so sorry," he whispered in her ear.
"So am I," she whispered back, releasing him and righting herself once more.
Aragorn cleared his suddenly dry throat. At the sound Legolas instinctively put his arms back around Caladel protectively. "I – uh," stammered the Man, not sure as to what to say. How was he supposed to say all that he needed to say in such a public setting?
For the first time since their confrontation the night before Legolas looked Aragorn straight in the eye. In there he saw what he was trying to say and how much he was sincerely trying to say it. While Aragorn certainly wasn't an innocent in this situation Legolas knew he wasn't completely blameless either; and just because he wasn't in love with the Man anymore didn't mean that he couldn't help him just a little bit. "Wish me joy, Aragorn," the elf half requested, half instructed.
Eowyn had asked him for similar sentiments in that very hall years earlier. Back then it had been easy because his feelings for her were uncomplicated – except for the guilt he had felt for not being able to return her affection, but that had been moot at that juncture – and he was nothing but thrilled to see her happy with someone else. This was decidedly more difficult, but the sentiments were no less sincere.
"I have wished you joy since the first time I saw you," he declared in a voice that almost, but didn't, crack as he remembered the teasing archery instructor who'd been so nice to him on his first day in a strange land. It seemed he would be spending the rest of his days keeping a pure smile on Legolas' face – by keeping out of his life. Oh, how could he have let himself squander that happiness? "I'm happy to know you're happy. You're a lucky Man, Eomer," he added, nodding heavily at his love's new husband.
This conversation made no sense to Caladel. Of course he'd grilled Eldarion about the stranger once he learned he was the other little boy's father; and according to his new friend this Aragorn and his ada had known each other, but he'd seen no proof of that. To see his ada acting so familiar around him and, what's more, seeing the mean Man actually acting nice to his paper was more than a little odd. "What's going on?" he asked suspiciously, deciding to get the real answer once and for all. He looked up into his ada's face. "Were you two friends or something?"
"We were," confirmed Legolas, almost hiding the sadness in his tone. "Once upon a time."
"Then how come I never heard about him before?" pressed the boy. "I heard stories about everyone else."
"Well, telling stories about everyone else I missed helped me remember the happy times," explained Legolas very, very carefully. With so much else changing in their lives Legolas and Eomer had decided not to tell Caladel the truth about Aragorn but he couldn't in good conscience leave things as they were between the little boy and his blood sire. "With Aragorn it only made me miss him more so I didn't tell any."
"Caladel," spoke up Aragorn, kneeling down to get at eye level with his secret son. The boy eyes him warily but something in his defensive demeanor was softening now that he was assured that there was at least enough good in the Man for him to have been a friend of his ada once. "I'm sorry I behaved so badly around you and your – your papa yesterday. I was very worried about your ada; I didn't know if he was all right or not and I couldn't believe one thing or the other until I saw for myself he was fine. I hope you can forgive me."
Caladel stared at him for several moments with a suddenly very mature light in his eyes. "The first night Ada and I came here," he said at length thoughtfully, "I wasn't a very good boy. I was so scared people were trying to hurt Ada and take me away from him that I kicked and punched at Papa. I guess if he can forgive me for doing that I can forgive you for wanting to do it."
Aragorn's heart tightened and he felt so happy it was painful. This boy truly had Legolas' goodness. "Thank you," he practically whispered, blinking rapidly to hold back his tears.
"I'm glad you two have found a way to get along," said Legolas. He and his husband had discussed this last night and while he was a bit apprehensive about what he was about to offer he ultimately knew it was right. "Eomer and I have been talking about what's been happening between our children in the last day. It seems a great bond has formed between Caladel, Eldarion, and Silmariën."
"They have so much in common too," added Eomer, putting his arm around his new husband. "They are the only ones in the new generation of half-elves so far and no one else will understand quite what its like to be them. It seems a shame not to let that bond grow."
"I've told Eomer and Caladel about how often I visited Rivendell as a child; or would have liked to visit if distance and the dangers of traveling hadn't been so great," chimed in Legolas, steeling himself. "Perhaps…perhaps we can work out something like that now so that our" – he gestured to himself and Eomer – "son can spend more time with your children. If that's all right with Caladel, of course."
The boy nodded enthusiastically. "That sounds fun!" he cheered.
The ground rules had been set with the stress put on two little words: ours and yours. Eomer was to be Caladel's only sire and that boundary wasn't to be crossed. It pained Aragorn but he could accept it, especially with what Legolas and Eomer were offering. He couldn't be the boy's father but at least he could still play a part in his life. "I would really like that," smiled Aragorn tearfully. "Thank you."
A little while later Caladel was deep in conversation with Alfmund (who was careful to make sure their talk didn't veer to close to his parents' personal lives) and Eomer was Eowyn's willing captive audience when Elladan, seeing that Legolas was actually alone, approached his old friend. "Legolas," he coughed out uncomfortably in a low voice. "May I…may I speak to you? In private, please?"
"Of course," agreed Legolas. He was a bit concerned about his friend's strange tone but most of what he felt was elation. Elladan had yet to warm to him since his reappearance and while Elrohir had assured him that his twin had bigger issues than what was happening between the two of them it still bothered him. At one point he and Elladan had been as close as brothers and if they could get everything out now it might help mend things. Legolas was more than willing to try.
He discreetly led Elladan out of the hall and down the corridor a bit in search of a private room. "There aren't many rooms in this part of Meduseld," he said apologetically. "Maybe if we went to the west end…"
"This seems private enough," noted Elladan, looking around the darkened and empty corridor in a twitchy manner.
"All right," agreed Legolas, for they were reasonably hidden from prying eyes. "Well then, Elladan, what do you wish to speak to me about?"
Elladan fidgeted anxiously. "There's no easy way to tell you this so I'll just start where it started for me," he decided aloud. "Legolas, when Ada took the ship to Valinor it fell to Elrohir and me to sort through what he'd left behind. Oh, he tried to get his affairs in order but he was very…distracted those last years and anyway, it's hard to go through ages of accumulated stuff; so we had to do most of it. Anyway, Elrohir and I split up the tasks to make the process go smoother and it fell to me to go through Ada's private library. While I was looking in every nook and cranny for things I might have overlooked I ended up…stumbling across a 'nook' no one else was obviously supposed to know about."
Legolas didn't say anything but looked at Elladan with encouraging eyes.
Elladan was grateful for his silence, as it was a hard enough story to tell without being interrupted. "He hid his journals there," the dark-haired elf continued. "We always knew he kept them, of course, but we never knew where and Elrohir and I just assumed he took them with him. Well, with me being me – nosy and such – I started going through them. I saw he didn't write about everything, of course – the number of journals needed for that would have filled up the entire valley – just things that troubled him more greatly than others. Things like…like how a few weeks after Arwen and Estel's wedding you sought out his help because you'd discovered you were pregnant with – with Estel's child, and what herbs you'd supposedly taken to…take care of the matter."
The blonde elf's heart twisted. He couldn't imagine what his old friend had thought about him when he found that out. "Elladan…"
"Legolas, please let me finish," requested Elladan with a hint of anguished, frustrated force. "He wrote that it was unfortunate what happened but all ended as it should have and then he never mentioned you in there again. I thought he blamed you for what happened and was at peace with his part in putting a stop to it; and for a very long time I faulted you and Estel both for putting him in such a difficult situation by betraying my sister. I didn't realize until yesterday how wrong I was about all of it."
"And how did you figure that out?" asked Legolas faintly.
"In almost all of the entries for the last years he drew these sketches in the margins," Elladan told him shakily. "They were portraits of – of children. I'd thought they were the etchings of an excited grandfather imagining what his grandchildren would look like and in a way I guess it was. More than a few of them greatly resembled Caladel. When I saw your son – my nephew – yesterday I realized that he wasn't all right with what happened, that he was haunted by it. He was – he was seeing Caladel everywhere and not realizing he wasn't a ghost or tormenting specter."
He was starting to crumble. "It's all right," Legolas told him awkwardly.
"No it isn't," burst out Elladan. "By the end Ada was so blinded with wanting his children to be happy and weighed down with guilt about what he'd done and what he'd thought he'd done to ensure that we were that he was never the same. He didn't sleep in those last years; he barely ate, and he never smiled. I think he was very sorry about what happened with you, Legolas."
"I am too," said Legolas emotionally. "I loved your father as I would a favorite uncle and it pains me how our relationship ended so coldly. For what it's worth, I can understand why he did it: I would go to great and even dishonorable lengths if it was the only way I thought Caladel could be happy. Yet in his harshness he taught me one last lesson, and that is to remember that everyone is someone's child and treat them as I hope their parents would treat mine." He looked down and wiped his eyes. "I don't know what else to say."
"I don't want to end up like Ada," confessed Elladan brokenly, dissolving into tears. "I've been becoming him: meddling because I assume I'm right, driving away the people I love for not doing what I think they should have done all the time, being so blinded by the internal struggle between self-righteousness and guilt that I can't sleep, and all the rest of it. He was alone in the end, not able to trust anyone. I don't want to be alone anymore…"
"You don't have to be," Legolas assured him compassionately, engulfing him in a friendly, comforting hug. Elladan clung to him as a lifeline and didn't let go for a very long time.
While Legolas and Elladan were in the corridor Aragorn had, after engaging in some mandatory mingling, found his way back to his shadowy and secluded corner. Arwen would not bother him again as long as he came when the official dinner began and he was confident that he'd visited enough with all the 'important' people so that they wouldn't seek him out. He'd wanted to spend his moments of privacy brooding on all he'd lost and gained that day but fate deemed he was not to be left alone. The few minutes of solitude were interrupted by Thranduil – of all people – sitting down next to him. "Hello, Estel," the elven king said in a casual and bafflingly familiar voice.
"King Thranduil," greeted Aragorn warily, not sure of what to make of his behavior. Thranduil was usually (at least with other elvish and Mannish rulers) a paragon of courtly politeness; he hadn't called him anything but 'King Elessar' since the coronation. "How can I help you?"
"Ah, help," said Thranduil, a hard edge slowly appearing in his tone. "I do need some help. I seem to find myself at an impasse, Estel. You see, decades ago I allowed a young Man to enter my realm only to watch him attach himself to my son so immediately and intimately that I barely had time to react to it. Yet I was fine with that as long as things didn't get carried away because I knew he was leaving at the end of the summer and chances were they weren't going to see each other again."
"Years passed," he continued as Aragorn shifted uncomfortably, "and now the young Man is king of the most powerful realm in Middle-earth. That's fine too, because I have no reason not to respect him and the friendship he's built with my son. He's even devastated when I tell him my son is missing. Then, Estel, I discover that this Man not only took his new, secret relationship with my son so far he managed to impregnate him, leave him, and essentially drive him away. What would you do if you were in my position, Estel?"
Aragorn felt unnervingly chill as he stared at his hands. "I don't know," he said simply.
"On the one hand," said Thranduil deliberately, "my son has requested that I make no retributions on his behalf. There is also the practical part of me that understands I don't have the number of forces needed to stand against the most powerful realm on this side of the sea. On the other hand, this is about my child and grandchildand the years they spent alone and afraid in Fangorn Forest, and the years I spent in misery not knowing where he was and if he was all right. You understand my dilemma, Estel."
"I do, and I think this Man deserves nothing less than the worst punishment," decided Aragorn slowly. "He should be forced to face the fact that his life and dreams are nothing but lies and then still have to live with them. He should have to stand there, watch, and say nothing as his firstborn son calls another Man 'Papa'. Most of all, he should have to watch your son marry someone else and then have to bid the new spouses all the best, all while knowing he will be in love with your son until the day he dies, that he could never be completely happy unless your son is at his side, and that he only has himself to blame for losing both your son and his. Is that enough to avenge for the years of loneliness and misery?"
Thranduil didn't answer at first, for his attention was on Caladel as the boy rushed into his father's arms when the elf re-entered the hall with Elladan. He could balance his temper with Legolas' need for prudence – for the time being. "Yes, I suppose all of that and a knee in the groin will have to do," he said ponderously as he stood up. "But that knee will have to come later. I can't let you be prepared for it – after all, Legolas wasn't prepared for the pain he got from you and neither was I. So until then I'll leave you; right now I have more important people to be with."
And then he left without a backward glance, putting Aragorn in his place once and for all. So he had a knee in the groin to look forward too – at least that sort of pain would fade eventually. "I deserve a knee in the groin," the Man mumbled.
"I agree wholeheartedly, especially if it's coming from the Elvenking," declared another, gruff voice. The Man looked up in surprise to see Gimli had come up to him. "I don't like him, that Elvenking – he's very fussy, overbearing, and rude; but he'd do anything to make sure his son and grandson are all right. I can respect him for that. If you ever repeat that to anyone I'll chop you up into little bits."
"My lips are sealed," said Aragorn cautiously, wondering what had compelled the dwarf to come see him. It was nice to be talking to him again at any rate and he didn't dare drive him off with a smart remark about how his description of Thranduil sounded like he was talking about himself.
"Good." Gimli plopped down next to him and took his time surveying the crowd. "You know, I expected you to be a pain in the ass today, maybe try to break up the wedding, but you didn't. It took you long enough but you finally did what was best for Legolas – and for Caladel."
"I get to spend some time with Caladel," Aragorn told him. "Legolas, Eomer, and I are going to talk about when he can visit Minas Tirith."
"I know," nodded the dwarf. "Legolas told me. Very generous of him and Eomer, if you ask me. I might go to Minas Tirith while he's visiting to see for myself that everything's fine."
Aragorn's eyes darted over to his current companion. "Gimli," he started.
"We're not all right, Aragorn," stressed Gimli firmly. "We are a long way from being all right. But…but if you keep up this behavior perhaps in time we will be."
"Everyone, everyone, may I have your attention please?"
The crowd of revelers, now seated at their respective tables eating dinner, looked up at the Man giving out the call. "Everyone," announced Gamling when they'd quieted down, "thank you for coming to the wedding of King Eomer and Prince Legolas of Rohan!"
Spontaneous applause burst out all over the hall. "Yes, yes, we all wish the all the happiness in the world," said Gamling, raising his hand to signal that they should get quiet again. "Now you may notice that every table here tonight is decorated generously with mistletoe. There is a reason for that: you see, here in Rohan our Yule celebration has a tradition involving that plant. One person gives it to another and tells them where to kiss someone; then after that person chooses and kisses someone he gives the mistletoe the person he's just kissed, and so on. I know Yule is many months away but this tradition is important today, for last Yule thanks to this tradition and a drunken fool I won't name" –
"Léod," supplied Legolas and Eomer at the same time, the former with a voice full of mischief and the latter in exasperation.
"Anyway," continued Gamling as he sent the royal couple a wry look, "thanks to both of those King Eomer and Prince Legolas got started on their road back to each other that night. To honor that, I give this mistletoe to all of you. However, instead of telling you where to kiss I'll bend the tradition somewhat and tell you who: kiss the one you love. And if you're not with the one you love," he added, winking, "love the one you're with."
All over the hall there were flurries of giggles, movements, and awkward moments. Aragorn and Arwen smiled sadly at each other as they kissed in a friendly enough, platonic, and bittersweet manner – much like their relationship would be from now on. Thranduil sought no person out but kissed the ring that hung on a mithril chain around his neck (Gimli saw this and, finding it very strange, vowed to ask Caladel about it during their upcoming time alone together). Due to their status as War heroes and the adorable nature of their stature and faces the hobbits had no shortage of Rohirric women to kiss, something that Merry and Pippin thoroughly enjoyed but Sam had to decline, claiming loyalty to his wife Rosie. Elladan and Elrohir (who was overjoyed to see his twin acting mostly normal again) merely laughed at everyone else while Faramir and Eowyn nuzzled lovingly. Silmariën happily kissed Eldarion and Caladel before either boy could protest or run away.
And at the head table Legolas and Eomer's mouths met in a sensual, lingering kiss that was full of love. "Maybe if we have a daughter one day we should name her Mistletoe," joked Eomer tenderly.
"What, and then kiss each other every time we passed her back and forth?" asked Legolas good-humoredly. "That would have a profoundly negative affect on any child's personality! There are plenty of good Rohirric and elvish names – I'm sure we'll never want for something to call any of our children. Besides, I don't need any more excuses to kiss you – you're my husband now and that's all the reason I could ever ask for."
"Sounds good to me," agreed Eomer, playfully kissing the end of his nose. "Dear Valar, I can't wait for our honeymoon."
That was only mostly true. He was certainly looking forward to the first half of it, which would consist of him and Legolas riding across the plains of Rohan, enjoying their days of travel and nights of…camping out alone together. It was during this time that Gimli would have Caladel with him at him at the Glittering Caves, and Eomer definitely didn't begrudge them their special time. Once the first half of the honeymoon was over the dwarf would ride with Caladel to a rendezvous point to meet his parents; and it thrilled the Man that the three of them would have the chance to grow some more as a family outside of court life. The location of this growth, however – Fangorn Forest – left something to be desired. Still, it was important to his husband and son that they visit the trees and Ents – especially Treebeard and Quickbeam, both of whom had wanted to see Legolas and Caladel happy and regretted not being able to come to the wedding – and Eomer was resolved to go there with an open mind.
"Who says we have to wait?" asked Legolas with a suggestive purr. "Dinner's almost over, Ada's claimed Caladel for the night, and our guests can take care of themselves. Why don't we bid our son goodnight and retire to your – our – bedchamber?"
"I don't think I've heard a more fantastic idea," grinned Eomer. "Just wait until you see how I had it all set up! You told me once that you…dreamed about our first time together; I want to make those dreams come true, Legolas."
"You have," Legolas assured him, giving him another kiss before they rose to their feet to make their exit. "You already have."
A/N: Thank you all so much for reading and reviewing this story – I didn't expect such a passionate response from so many people and I'm grateful for it!
A/N: Yes, I know Caladel and Elrohir didn't find out that Aragorn was Caladel's blood sire. Neither of them find out until later (yes, I thought up a timeline for when this happens).
A/N: I feel the need to explain the origins of this story, as it pertains to my decision about whether or not to write an alternative ending. This came from many different places: (1) an idea for a storyline I have for an original novel that's been in my head for a long time; (2) feeling sorry for the nice guy in a lot of movies who treats the heroine with nothing but love and respect and then gets dumped so she can get back together with the guy who treated her like dirt before but is really sorry for it now; (3) a note I found on some website I can't remember now about how most slash writers don't treat the women in their stories very well and a plea to work on this; and (4) the very odd (for me) idea of writing a Legolas/Aragorn story where the two don't end up together in the end.
I think I mentioned before that I didn't want to write this story at first, and the reason for that is because of number 4 above. I love stories with happy endings. When I first thought this story through it was very much a Legolas/Aragorn story with a little Legolas/Eomer on the side and still Legolas chose Eomer in the end. Seriously, one day at work the last few chapters just flooded into my mind and I almost started crying – NOT something I imagined I'd like writing. That did change over time; I didn't want it to seem like I just stuck Legolas with Eomer on a whim so I started easing them together and ended falling in love with Eomer in the process right along with Legolas.
As for the alternative ending, while I love my reviewers and like making them happy whenever I can I can't write it. The best way I can explain it is that I haven't been writing this story so much as it's been writing itself and I'm just the person taking down all the words. If I tried to write another ending it would turn out very crappy. This is how the story ends, at least for me. If any of you want to take a shot at writing an alternative ending I won't object as long as you acknowledge what story it's for, that I'm the author of the original story but didn't have anything to do with what you've written, and email me if you post it.
A/N: The promised appendices are coming soon, but most likely won't be ready for the regular update day of Thursday. It's midterm time and I really need to get back on track.
Once again, thank you and I'm sorry I couldn't write an alternative ending.