A couple of weeks later Legolas was once again in the antechamber of his quarters, this time alone save for the slumbering infant twins and content to use his few moments to himself to stare out of the window at the sky. The sun was just starting to go down – earlier than it had been the past few months, a sure sign that summer was failing fast and autumn was upon them – and he was able to make out what the night would look like. The colors of the sunset would give way to bright, twinkling stars that would dance against a backdrop of velvety black. The graying sun would go down and in its place in the sky would sit an almost-full moon shining brilliantly and giving the earth and the buildings beneath it the illusion of a silvery daylight. Legolas sighed contentedly. As much as he loved the day he loved the night more; in it alone he could see what other races called 'magic' and this particular evening would be a perfect example of it.
It was fitting to have such a glorious night sky to occur that evening, for Legolas had come to believe that things happening on that date had an abundance of magic in them naturally. It was thirteen years ago to the day that Legolas had given birth to his miracle child, Eldarion. On that one day the baby who had endured his ada's ignorant carelessness, natural growing pains of his parents' marriage, and two deliberate attacks on his existence had not only been born but also born healthy; Legolas had almost bled to death in the process but recovered wonderfully; and Aragorn and Thranduil had finally managed to find common ground in their strained relationship to build a true bond between them. In light of all of that the elf couldn't be blamed for seeing the magic of the world around him just a little bit more clearly on that night.
It also helped that he didn't have to be in the great feasting hall of the citadel right then, seeing to it that everything was in order before practically all of Gondor as well as quite a few notable guests arrived there to celebrate Eldarion's birthday. He'd had quite enough of that sort of frenzy in the past two weeks. 'It was bound to happen, though,' he thought with some mirth. 'Aragorn and I vowed – vowed – not to let things get so out-of-hand that last minute preparation would be critical. As soon as we did that we all but doomed ourselves to that exact scenario.'
Legolas was exhausted just thinking about it. It had seemed they would actually have things under control when they managed to get all of the birthday announcements and invitations sent a bit early, and even more promising when the hobbits had shown up well in advance. Then of course came the stalking, the bizarre and disturbing gifts, Eldarion's attack, the kidnapping, Lord Eärnil's murder, losing Aredhel, search, reunion, two funerals, a trial, and finally an execution. All of these, besides being hideously painful experiences, had served to delay the normal aspects of their lives, such as tending to the garden, riding the horses…planning the crown prince's birthday celebration.
Eldarion had known this and, tired and a bit shaken after Tanondor's sentence was carried out, brought up the notion of canceling the celebration altogether. It seemed wrong, he had claimed, to celebrate anything after so many horrible things had happened. Thankfully the assurances of his fathers and the pleas of little Laurelin, who had not forgotten her brother's promises to her, had soothed him enough to agree that calling off something happy would not erase the evils that had befallen them in the recent past. If anything, they all (and the boy himself most of all) needed to celebrate Eldarion's birthday and regain some sense of normalcy.
Now the big night had finally arrived and Legolas could scarcely wait for the party. 'This is going to be a night of new beginnings for all of us,' he thought resolutely as he stepped away from the window and walked back over to his daughters' bassinettes. 'It's a chance to let go of the past and embrace the possibilities of the future. Won't that be wonderful, Meren, Gilraen? To actually be able to put one foot in front of the other and move forward instead of running in place, as we have been for too long?'
Everything was ready, at least on his end: he was all dressed and ready to go, and the twins were changed, fed, burped, changed again, and finally asleep and prepared to be put in the care of a nanny for the evening. Now if only that nanny would arrive he could get down to the feasting hall. The elf readjusted Meren's blankets in a nervous, fidgety manner. As much as he really didn't want to endure the additional stress of the last-minute preparations he knew he needed to be there to find out what disasters were brewing. The responsibility of the last-minute preparations right then lay in the joint hands of Aragorn, Elladan, and Elrohir, so the possibilities for catastrophes were endless.
Legolas almost jumped out of his skin when a soft, tentative knock came to the door. "Finally," be breathed in relief to his sleeping daughters, all while wondering why the woman was knocking at all. The nannies, not wanting to disturb the babies in case they were slumbering, usually slowly opened the doors until someone inside noticed and quietly bid them enter.
Not wanting to call out a greeting for fear it would rouse Meren and Gilraen the elf prince noiselessly crossed the floor and carefully opened the door. "Good evening," he said, peering out. "They're all" –
But there was no Mannish nanny out there. Legolas was taken aback and slightly unnerved until someone cleared her throat, signaling to him that he was looking in the wrong place. "Estella?" asked Legolas as he turned his gaze downward.
Indeed it was Estella Brandybuck who was standing in the corridor, anxiously biting her lower lip and offering him an awkward smile. "Good evening, Legolas," she greeted him. The elf could tell by her tone how nervous she was, which was ridiculous – they hadn't been able to spend any quality time together upon returning to Minas Tirith after the kidnapping but she should have been over her shyness by now. "I'm sorry to be bothering you right now. Can I come in?"
"Of course – you're always welcome here," Legolas assured her, stepping aside so she had enough room to come through the doorway, restraining his naturally sarcastic nature by not pointing out that she clearly could come in since she didn't seem able to handle it yet. She raised an eyebrow at him as she walked by and the prince had to laugh – it appeared she had a sense of humor after all. "All right – almost always. There are times when not even my children will be admitted in here."
"As it should be," asserted Estella supportively. While she couldn't truly understand the difficulties of maintaining a romantic relationship with a spouse after having children she better than anyone else in the citadel know how hard it was to regain that emotional intimacy after losing a child and what struggles a couple faced in trying to resume the physical aspects of their relationship. She's recognized in Legolas and Aragorn during the time since that awful Man's hearing all of the signs that they were taking their first steps on that sometimes painful journey and she was determined to give them all the support they could ask of her.
A part of that now was to act as if the idea of the couple making love again was the most natural thing in the world instead of cause for reflection and solemn congratulations and encouragements. "I do hope I'm not intruding now," she continued with a little teasing in her tone.
"Oh no," laughed Legolas. "Aragorn's downstairs, most likely causing as many crises as he is fixing them."
"Really?" asked Estella in surprise. "He always seems to be so responsible."
"He's with his brothers," explained Legolas wryly. "Imagine how Merry, Pippin, and Sam act together, throw in how my father and Gimli interact, and then mix it all up with the unruliest class of children you can think of and you'll have how my husband, Elrohir, and Elladan act when they're together."
She nodded understandingly as her face blanched slightly. "Right," he nodded, sounding a little harried. "I'm going to get down there to put out any fires as soon as this evening's nanny arrives. What brings you by?"
"Well, actually, I'm here for the babies," replied Estella hesitantly but hopefully as her eyes strayed momentarily to the side-by-side bassinettes.
"The babies?" repeated Legolas, his brow wrinkling in confusion. Then a surprised and distressed expression spread over his face. "Ai, you're not planning on staying here and skipping the celebration altogether, are you?"
Quickly he gave her a cursory once-over and let out a relieved sigh. "No," he went on before she could talk. "Your garments are much too nice to be wearing them only for an evening of attending babies. But if you're here to help me get them ready, you've wasted a trip. They are already prepared for the evening. I can't wait until they're old enough to attend these sorts of functions, however…"
"I wouldn't miss Eldarion's party for anything and I didn't come to lend you a helping hand," declared Estella with all sincerely as she nervously played with her fingers. "It's just – well, we had, um, a bargain between us, if you will. You fulfilled your part of it almost right away but we never did get around to my part, and I was thinking maybe now…. But I do understand if you don't want to…and it's no trouble if you've forgotten about it…"
Legolas nodded as realization dawned on him. "Ah," he said knowingly. "You're here to fulfill your promise to hold my daughters."
"I understand if it's a bad time," said Estella quickly. "There are so many other things happening tonight and all. You can forget I was even here" –
"Now wait! A bargain is a bargain, my friend," Legolas told her dryly, smiling kindly so that she could see he knew she wasn't trying to get out of her obligations for dishonest reasons. "And your end of ours has been neglected for far too long already. Besides, it feels right that it should happen tonight – the world seems to be renewing itself and giving us all a chance to start fresh once more."
"I hope so," replied Estella evasively.
Shutting the door, Legolas looked into her eyes. "I know so," he asserted. He waved one hand, gesturing for her to follow him. "Come, come, Estella! Have a seat in one of the rocking chairs and I'll get an infant for you to hold. You don't mind that they're sleeping, do you? It's a different experience, holding a sleeping baby and a waking one, but it's not a smart thing to do to wake one up…"
"No – oh no, I wouldn't ask that of you," she promised as she trembled slightly. The hobbit lass was a bundle of nerves as it was without having the baby actually looking up at her, perhaps even crying and fussing. While she needed to get used to that eventually it was probably better to ease into the world of holding infants again instead of diving into it headfirst. "It's probably better if they're sleeping anyway."
Gulping audibly she climbed into the nearest chair, quietly thanking Legolas as he held it still for her. Estella settled back, getting a feel for the rocking of the oversized (for her) seat and shifting around again and again until she was satisfied with her position. Finally, she carefully adjusted her arms and let out a deep breath. "All right," she declared shakily, looking over at the elf. "I'm ready; or at least I'm ready as I'll ever be."
"That's good to hear, because so is Meren," smiled Legolas encouragingly as he lifted the sleeping baby girl out of her bassinette. The baby yawned cutely but, thanks to the soft elvish words her ada mumbled into her ear, didn't open her eyes.
Very, very carefully – as if he were approaching a spooked animal – he settled his daughter into the hobbit lass' arms, his hands lingering for a few seconds on those stiff appendages until they'd relaxed enough that he could be certain that Estella could handle holding her. "Well, there she is and there you are," he observed, sitting back on the floor close by, just in case. "How are you feeling?"
Estella had involuntarily squeezed her eyes shut when she saw Legolas picking up the infant, too anxious about what was about to happen to bear actually watching it happen. Much like Meren, her eyes had not opened since; not even when her breath caught as she felt the added weight in her arms. There was a baby in her arms – the feelings of elation, guilt, regret, hope, mourning, and pride combined until it was impossible to sort out just one of them. She could get used get used to this.
Then the supportive hands on her arms had withdrawn and left her and the baby on their own. That meant that the time had finally come for her to take that last step. Slowly and clumsily she made herself crack open her eyes and look down. The sight of the baby, comfortable and safe enough to be sleeping peacefully in her arms, was almost too overwhelming. She had always known it would be an emotional experience to hold a baby again but she never dreamed how cleansing it would be too.
Her face crumpled and she wept, hot tears falling down her cheeks and onto Meren's head. For several moments all speech failed her. "Estella?" urged Legolas in a consciously soothing tone, not sure of what to make of her silence and tears. Was it too much for her? Were those happy tears or sad ones? "What is it? You can tell me how you feel."
"She's absolutely perfect," Estella finally sobbed. She shook her head before bending down and kissing the baby's cheek. "Look at her! She's got all of her little fingers and all of her little toes, and look how small her little fingernail and toenails are. They're too precious."
If he hadn't already known it Legolas would have been able to tell right then that Estella was not a parent yet. Yes, those tiny fingernails were adorable, but it was hard for him to call them precious ever since Eldarion first accidentally scratched him with his little fingernails when he was but an infant. Who knew anything so small could be so sharp? "They hardly seem real, don't they?" he asked diplomatically.
"And what a sweet, sweet face she has," Estella continued to gush emotionally. "She looks like a baby doll. And her hair! You know, she looks bald until you get a really close glimpse of her. I used to think that your babies had no hair on them at all but now I see the pale blonde fuzz up there. She has your hair, I believe."
"Then she'll look bald for quite some time," noted Legolas. "According to Ada I certainly did; Laurelin suffered a similar misconception."
"But it wouldn't matter if she were bald or had a head of flowing hair! She's amazing, Legolas, absolutely amazing," Estella gave a tearful laugh and dared to move her fingers enough to stroke Meren's small hand. "I mean, look at her!"
"I see her," said Legolas indulgently, for he wasn't one to disagree with such an astute observation. "I thank Elbereth every day that she and Gilraen are as wonderful as they are."
She nodded at him gratefully before turning her attention back to the baby. "I'm so sorry I wanted this long to make good on my part of the bargain," whispered Estella tearfully and reverently, gasping softly when Meren reflectively gripped her finger in a surprisingly tight hold. "Oh, hello little one! You're the sweetest thing in all the lands, aren't you?"
"Of course!" answered Legolas jovially for his daughter, who was months away from any type of speaking much less speaking up on her own behalf. "All babies are the sweetest things in all the lands to those who love them and those who simply appreciate babies." He glanced down in Meren's innocent face and felt a twinge of regret that one day her innocence would forever be compromised by the realities of the world. "There are times I wish she could stay like this until the ending of the world."
The hobbit lass finally tore her eyes away from the baby again and looked back at him. "So that you'll always have a baby around?" she wondered, not understanding the wistful reasoning behind his wish. Perhaps she would have if something else wasn't so predominant in her mind. "Have you decided them…this is none of my business, really…"
"Go on," permitted Legolas kindly.
"What you just said," stammered Estella in an unreadable tone. "I was just wondering if it meant that you and Aragorn have decided not to have any more children."
This was an issue that Legolas, for all his carefulness and cunning, hadn't really thought of and now that it had been sprung upon him most innocently he couldn't begin to imagine how he address it. Stalling for time his eyes drifted of their own accord to the portrait of Aredhel that Elanor drew, which was now framed and hanging on the walls alongside the paintings of Eldarion and Laurelin. Would it even be physically possible for him to have another baby? Yes…yes he at least knew that; he could feel that the potential to bear life was still in his body. But would he want to have another baby or would it feel too much like he was trying to replace his lost daughter? No, there was certainly room in his heart for Aredhel and more children and he knew that nothing would ever replace her. The real question was if he could face the possibility of losing another child like he lost her; for there always was a possibility that a pregnant person would miscarry and now that he'd felt that pain firsthand it scared him badly. He couldn't imagine living through what he'd just lived through again.
"I don't know," he answered truthfully. "I've had five children. That is a fine and respectable number, and I don't feel like I'm missing out by not having another one. But…but I don't think I would be unhappy if I was blessed with more. It would just be – difficult and nerve-wracking."
"Oh, I understand," proclaimed Estella emphatically, looking down with a blush. "Boy do I understand."
There was something in her tone that made Legolas study her more closely. Slowly he let the rest of the world fall away as he listened and reached out in his mind. There was…the presence of…so quiet but yet there…. His eyes widened and lit up when he finally put his finger on it. "Why Estella," he breathed, excited for her but also feeling a bit jealous and more than a little melancholy. "You're pregnant!"
"I just found out a couple of days ago," confided Estella. "I told Merry, of course, and he's been even more good to me ever since; but no one else besides you and him knows. I couldn't bring myself to tell Rosie, Diamond, Pippin, and Sam – I know they'd be happy for me and everything, but they'd also start bringing up what happened before and I'm…"
"Estella?" asked Legolas with concern as her eyes squeezed shut again. The hobbit's face was crumpling and he could tell she was trying not to lose control of her emotions. He forced himself to focus solely on her and firmly banished the bittersweet images of Aredhel growing up with this Baby Brandybuck from his mind. His friend needed him to be in the here and now, not off daydreaming about what would never be.
"I'm scared," she admitted quietly. Her eyes fluttered open when she felt Legolas come up to her once more and comfortingly grip her arms. If there was anyone in that citadel who could understand how she felt it would be him; it was nice (in a horrible way) to finally have someone around who could truly know what she'd gone through. "I want this baby to be born and healthy so terribly and I need that so badly I'm scared. What if I lose this one like I lost the last one? What if I'm not meant to be a mother and it's the Valar, or whoever the Men around here are always talking about, that took my first one away before he or she was born?"
Legolas shook his head and looked at her intensely. "That's not it," he stated firmly. "It is stress, illness, accidents, or simply plain bad luck that makes someone lose a baby, not Elbereth, any other Valar, or Eru. You're pregnant now, my friend, and that means that motherhood is not being denied to you."
She turned her imploring eyes on him. "I've heard – I've heard that some elves have the gift of foresight," she said hopefully. "Aragorn says that you're one of them. Can you look into the future or whatever and tell me if everything's going to be all right?"
"No," said Legolas simply, for that was the only answer he had. "The foresight Aragorn says I have comes across as feelings and instincts I get. I was never taught how to harness it for any real use. Besides, even those who have learned to use their foresight effectively rarely know what the future may hold. It's best not to ask for images of the future and plan your life around them, Estella, for all too often they are only fragments and misleading at that. In the end all we can – and should – do is what is our best, have faith that things will work out, be grateful when they do, and figure out how to live through it when they don't."
Eldarion's birthday celebration was just getting into full swing and it was already a smashing success. Many factors contributed to this. First of all the boy was turning thirteen, a special age for Gondorians and cause for a little added cheer. There was also the fact that Legolas had managed to arrive in the feasting hall just in time to swiftly handle the big mess Aragorn and his brothers had created with the refreshments, an incident that would be known among the extended royal family as the Great Fruit Drink Disaster. Finally, news had traveled quickly throughout Middle-earth about the recent trials of the Gondorian royal family and how the crown prince had proved his bravery and worth. In response to that leaders from all over the lands, for selfless and more calculating reasons, had spared no expense in honoring the boy. They had poured into the city, sending representatives or coming themselves, or at least sent extravagantly ornate presents (Aragorn noted with more than a little wistfulness that a great majority of the gifts were weapons and wares for a young Man rather than toys for a little boy). Inside the great feasting all people of all ages were milling about, conversing, laughing, eating, and generally enjoying themselves.
As for the crown prince himself Eldarion had done his duty by mingling with a majority of his guests early on and saw no reason to be guilty or ashamed for finally settling in to spend some time with his sister and slew of 'cousins'. There they sat, chattering away in too many different conversations to keep track of, until the musicians had completed setting up in their designated corner. When all was ready, the conductor glanced at the king, who nodded.
"Attention! Attention, please!" Aragorn announced. The room quieted as all eyes turned to their monarch. "It is time for the first dance. As is tradition, the floor will only belong to the guest of honor and his chosen partner during the first song. Eldarion, are you ready?"
"I am," said Eldarion, rising to his feet. Normally everyone would be wondering who the guest of honor was going to choose but with the prince it was no big secret. When he was much younger he would just reluctantly grab the hand of the nearest family member just to get the embarrassing situation over with; but as he got older he'd been selecting a put-upon Findowyn for years. They saw no reason why this would change now.
There were surprised murmurs abound, then, when he took his little sister's hand and led her to the dance floor. "The first dance, Laurelin, just like I promised," he smiled at her as she carefully stepped up onto his feet.
She didn't have time to answer before the music started and he began to guide them around the dance floor but her response was plain for everyone to see. Their fathers especially would never forget the expression of sheer joy on Laurelin's face as she smiled up with so much admiration at her big brother. That moment more than anything else confirmed and solidified in Legolas and Aragorn's minds the depth of the new bond between their two eldest children.
The song ended and everyone applauded soundly for the prince and princess. They'd expected that things would go back to normal after that but the boy continued to surprise them. Eldarion kept his current dance partner for the next song and the song after that, until their parents finally broke in. Very smoothly Aragorn scooped Laurelin into his arms and Legolas took her place with a clearly embarrassed Eldarion. It was nice for the elf – in a malicious sort of way, of course – to know that no matter how brave and valiant his Little Acorn got he still had the power to mortify the boy.
"What?" he asked innocently when the boy cleared his throat for the countless time. "Are you too old and stalwart to dance with your ada?"
"Well, no," admitted Eldarion. "But couldn't you at least let me lead? It is my birthday after all."
"You act as if you did all the work it took to birth you," teased Legolas, laughing easily when his son's face flushed. "Oh relax, Eldarion! It's not a bad thing to follow every once and awhile. At the very least it will keep your head from swelling up too much."
The boy endured (and secretly enjoyed) his ada's attention and teasing until the string melody finished and then tried to snatch Laurelin back. His fathers were too quick for him, however: Legolas managed to deftly pluck his daughter from Aragorn's arms while gently propelling Eldarion toward the Man before Eldarion even realized what was happening. "Papa," he complained when he found himself being led around the dance floor once again.
"What?" asked Aragorn, sounding so much like Legolas that Eldarion wondered how much his parents had planned this in advance. "Are you too grown-up to give me just one little dance? Well, that's too bad, for I am your king and I can command you to do as say."
"I don't mean it like that," protested Eldarion in exasperation. "It's just that I made a promise to Laurelin that we would dance together a lot tonight."
"And it's very sweet and admirable that you're so devoted to keeping your word to her," replied Aragorn lightly. He faked a few silly steps that made his son's cheeks burn even more while briefly drawing the curiosity of those around them. "But there are other people around here who want both of your company. Surely your sister hasn't claimed all of the dances. Do you not wish to dance with someone, ah, closer to your age?"
Eldarion snuck a peek over his papa's shoulder at Findowyn. The pretty girl was speaking to her parents while – could she be watching him out of the corner of her eye? "I shouldn't bother her," he said with forced casualness, not bothering to clarify who 'her' was. "She's probably relieved I haven't pestered her for a dance yet. I was so annoying for so long and now it's just embarrassing to remember that. No wonder she thinks I'm too young for her."
"My son," said Aragorn warmly, wisely, and patiently. "I was ten-years-old when I met your ada; he was nearly three millennia old. I spent the summer he visited following him everywhere. My brothers called that pestering but he saw it differently."
"It's not the same," said Eldarion morosely. "You two are…and Findowyn and I…"
"Eldarion, we did not become a couple right then and there," Aragorn clarified. "That time was about building a bond that we could build our future on, but that future was long off. He left and then it was another eleven years before we saw each other again. We became a couple then, but it was another sixty-six years before we could spend any real time together and get married. Love isn't a race, Eldarion. Things aren't better if you achieve them faster and the first one to get married doesn't win. Love like that takes understanding, commitment, and a willingness to work things out when all seems lost. And that's worth taking the time to build and wait for."
Aragorn did another impromptu move, turning them until they switched positions and Eldarion could no longer see Findowyn. "But at least Ada liked you," stressed the boy miserably. "She finds me so obnoxious."
"Don't be so sure," replied Aragorn with a secretive smile before raising his head and grinning broadly at a point beyond Eldarion. "Good evening, Findowyn."
"Good evening," the girl responded as Eldarion spun around and tried not to gape. "I'm sorry to intrude but I'd like to talk to Eldarion for a minute when he has the time."
"He has the time right now," said Aragorn jovially, firmly pushing his son to her. "And you can even dance with him. Have fun, children."
Eldarion was more than nervous as he put one hand on her waist and took hers in the other and led the steward's daughter around the dance floor in a graceful if stiff manner. Something like her actually asking him to dance was so unprecedented he could barely clear his mind of questions enough to dance, let alone to talk. "Uh, you're a good dancer," he finally offered lamely.
"I expected you to come ask me to dance awhile ago," she told him. "That's what you usually do at these parties."
"I didn't want to disturb you," explained Eldarion a little self-consciously. "I know you find me quite tiresome at times."
"Yes – when you're popping out of bushes to attack your sister and acting like an immature jerk," she replied almost defensively. "But…but when you're acting like you have been lately you become tolerable. You've changed so much, Eldarion; there's a very decent chance you're going to turn out to be a rather good man. You're already…all right…for a child."
That was the nicest unsolicited thing she'd ever said to him. "Thank you," beamed the boy.
Eldarion continued to dance throughout the night, occasionally taking on new partners but mainly sticking with Laurelin and Findowyn. The bond he'd forged with his sister would remain strong for the rest of their days, through growing up, marriages, children, their parents leaving the world, and beyond. As for his other partner, it would take another five years before Eldarion would come of age and begin courting Findowyn in earnest. Another four years would pass while he fulfilled his mandatory duty to Gondor's army before they would get married in the same courtyard that his parents' wedding took place in. But that was all right because his papa was right – a love like that was always worth the weight.
Legolas rejoined Aragorn after sending Laurelin on her way over to where the hobbit children and Theomir had put together an odd sort of makeshift game. Glancing knowing at his son and Findowyn as they moved around the dance floor he smirked at his husband. "Playing matchmaker, I see," the elf observed.
"Once upon a time a wise and nosy wizard named Mithrandir gave a devastated little boy the encouragement to hold onto his wildest dreams of love," said Aragorn with a nostalgic sigh. "I'm just carrying on that tradition. And tonight's the night for wildest dreams – have you heard the news about Estella and Merry?"
"Yes, and I think it's wonderful," grinned Legolas, gazing over to where the rest of his family was gathered. Merry had his arm around his wife, looking quite thrilled as Sam, Rosie, Pippin, and Diamond chattered excitedly. Thranduil, Gimli, Faramir, and especially Eowyn were congratulating them and Elladan and Elrohir appeared to be desperately trying to get a word in edgewise. "The twins seem to be worked up about something more than just happiness and congratulations. Are they dispensing advice?"
"They're discussing some options with her and Merry," replied Aragorn. "She told them about what happened…before and they're more determined to help her in any way they can. She and Merry will have to decide whether it would be prudent for her to travel all the way back to the Shire and when she should leave if she does that; if it's best she stay in the city until the baby is born; or if she could go halfway and have the baby in Rivendell. She's – anxious, but I think having two highly qualified healers at her disposal is doing wonders to calm her."
"Good," said Legolas sincerely.
He was about to say something more when the unofficial family gathering beyond them broke up and everyone milled over to the dance floor except for Thranduil and Gimli, who made their way over to the royal couple. "This is a wonderful night," declared Thranduil brightly, embracing his son and son-in-law briefly. "I can feel our lives renewing. Do you not agree, Gimli?"
"Yes, renewing," chimed in Gimli a little too heartily. "Definitely renewing."
Legolas frowned. "Have you two been drinking to excess?"
"Never!" denied Thranduil with a mischievous grin. "Dear Meriadoc and Estella are expecting a baby and Elladan and Elrohir have been giving them a lot to think about, but now it is time for some fun. Gimli and I just realized that we have not set tongues wagging with the 'are-they-or-are-they-not' gossip that these Men find so entertaining. We intend to remedy that right now. To the dance floor, master dwarf!"
Aragorn watched in amazement as they waltzed off. "That is either the most discreet affair ever or else the most unholy alliance in history," he commented. "Any thoughts on which one it is?"
"None," sighed Legolas dramatically. "I'm far too distracted by the fact that my father and Gimli are dancing; as are my son and Findowyn, Sam and Rosie, Merry and Estella, Pippin and Diamond, and Faramir and Eowyn. Why, even Elladan and Elrohir have found two unfortunate ladies to dance with! Yet I am not. I need to find a handsome, wonderful, and brave Man that I love who can help me fix that." He eyed Aragorn with exaggerated appraisal. "Say, you'll do. Would you like to dance?"
"Always," said Aragorn, lovingly taking his hand. As they joined the other dancers and swayed a little too close to be considered formal a happy peace came over them. They didn't know what joys and trials the future would hold for them but Legolas and Aragorn were strong individually and stronger still together. As long as they loved and held true to each other they knew they'd already passed half of any test that lay ahead for them.
A/N: This is it – thank you so much to everyone who read and reviewed. I can't say I'm entirely happy with how this story came along; if I could do it all over again I would have waited longer before writing and posting so that all the ideas I had would have had time to grow and congeal. But I think it's a nice way to conclude the story arc of the "What…" series. While I might write some one-shots in that universe in the future I don't think there will be another long story like this in there again. Once again, thank you for reading and reviewing – I really appreciate it.