The night played tricks with his mind. The moonlight was far away and hidden from his view. For so long the king's hope had been hidden away, trapped far beyond the stars. His choice had been difficult but necessary. He wouldn't let the elf fade away just to keep him near. It would break his heart to watch the starlight fade from the prince.
But now…he should have expected this. The elf hadn't come back. Not because his love waned, of that the king was sure. But because he'd lost himself in the trees. They sang to him and made him forget everything else. The trees gave him strength and kept him from fading, but they stole the prince away…and left the king to sadness.
"You're hurting," Aragorn whispered softly, finding Legolas in the exact spot he knew he'd be. The trees of his garden were neither tall nor dense, but they were trees nonetheless, and he knew this was the only place the elf could find comfort as of late.
"I'm fine…" came Legolas' soft reply. His eyes stared forward, past the trees, looking for the stars. Aragorn sighed and sat down on the cool grass next to the elf. They were both silent for a while, sitting side by side in the nighttime garden, both saddened by the future and by the separation they now assumed to be inevitable. For months Aragorn had watched, helpless, as Legolas had grown sadder and more withdrawn. Their love for one another, as always, flourished, but the folly of their choices had finally begun to show itself.
Legolas was fading. Everyday, every night, the starlight that shimmered within him grew a little bit dimmer, taking with it his joy and his strength. The love they shared was no longer enough.
Tenderly, Aragorn drew the elf against him, pressing his lips to his silken hair. Legolas returned the embrace, burying his face in the man's chest and closing his eyes. How much longer could he make this last? Every part of him yearned for what Aragorn could never give him. Gondor, for all its beauty couldn't give him peace. He needed the trees and the air of his home. He needed Mirkwood. Yet the thought of leaving Aragorn behind broke his heart. He loved the man more than any he had ever loved in all his long years and he feared that he would suffer terribly if they were parted. But everyday the call to return to the peaceful trees of his home grew stronger, and so his soul was torn in two.
"You know I…I won't stop loving you if you leave," Aragorn whispered, his fingers caressing the braids of Legolas' silky blonde hair. He felt the elf stiffen in surprise, but he held him fast, not wanting him to see the sorrow in his eyes. Legolas felt his heart ache painfully in his chest. He knew Aragorn had sensed his melancholy as of late, but he hadn't known the king had been aware of his desire for Mirkwood. "I'd rather have you far away and whole than stay here and slowly fade before my eyes," he murmured, shutting his eyes and simply reveling in the feel of the elf in his arms.
"I still wouldn't be whole…I'd be without you," Legolas whispered in reply, pressing himself closer to Aragorn and tightening his arms around him.
"But I know how much you need the forests of your home. They give you strength and peace," Aragorn protested. The last thing he wanted was to lose his elven lover, but Legolas' happiness and health were far more important to him.
"I need you too," Legolas replied, his fingers slowly creeping up Aragorn's sides to his shoulders and neck. He didn't want to talk about this anymore. He knew they'd have to eventually, but he wanted to treasure these moments alone, now, while he still could.
Sighing, Aragorn took one of Legolas' wandering hands in his own and kissed his fingertips. "You could fade away…die even, if you don't find peace and--"
Pressing his fingers to the man's lips, Legolas sat up and silenced him. Smiling softly, he shook his head and ran his other hand through dark, soft locks. "I could also die of grief if I was separated from you. I gave you my heart; I'll never get it back." He said it simply, as a statement of truth, but it brought a rush of emotion to the king's heart and tears to his eyes. He knew what fate eventually lay before Legolas because of his love for a mortal man; it never failed to sadden him.
Wanting to stop Aragorn before the emotion became any stronger, Legolas moved closer, climbing into his lap and wrapping his arms and legs around him. "I love you," he murmured softly before pressing his lips to the man's. Aragorn sighed softly and slipped his arms around the elf's waist, drawing him closer. Their kisses were soft and slow, both of them reveling in the feel and taste of the other and the way they felt together.
Why wasn't this enough? Legolas wondered poignantly. Aragorn filled his heart, mind and soul…so why did he still long for Mirkwood? The longing was never as strong when he was with his lover…in his arms, talking with him, laughing with him, arguing with him…any time his attention was all for Aragorn, his heart was happy and his soul at peace. But Aragorn was king of Gondor and Arnor and could hardly spend his every waking moment with his elven lover. And Legolas didn't even want him to. He normally enjoyed solitude and time to himself. At first the nearby woods in Ithilien had provided him with hours, even days, alone with all that gave him peace. Sometimes, Aragorn would search him out, laughing as he held him close and telling him that he worried that one day he'd lose him in the forests. But Legolas always returned to Minas Tirith and to his lover's waiting arms.
But lately, he never left the city and he rarely strayed from the king's gardens, feeling calm only beneath the few trees there. The last time he'd been outside the city's stone walls, almost two months ago, he hadn't wanted to come back. Restless once more, he had left Minas Tirith at night, drawn, as always, by the stars. Feeling even more tense and anxious than usual, he had lost himself in the woods for days. When his heart had finally missed Aragorn more than he could stand, he had begun his journey back to the city. But this time, he had found himself loathing the idea of returning. The stone walls that loomed ahead made him shudder and he found himself wanting nothing more than to turn away and never look back. Finally, after another day among the trees, within view of the white city, he'd forced himself to pass through the gates and return to his lover. It was only when Aragorn had greeted him with such a fierce and almost frightened embrace had he realized how long he'd been away. Almost three weeks, alone and unhappy…and still he had dreaded coming back.
He had cried at Aragorn's first touch, confused and miserable. The king was used to tears when they were reunited after a time apart, but he sensed that, this time, there was more to the elf's sobs. But Legolas hadn't told him the reason for his tears, nor why he'd been away so long. He had only clung to the man, wanting to get lost in his arms and forget his confusion. His kisses had been desperate, his touches pleading. He'd cried again as they'd made love, his heart breaking with every soft touch, every warm kiss, every whispered word of love and passion.
And now, wrapped comfortably in Aragorn's arms as they sat beneath the trees of the nighttime garden, the elf began to feel those same feelings of poignant heartache. It was, by now, an unrelenting need to be away from the suffocating stone and the constant throngs of people. And he realized now that the solitude and peace he had been able to briefly find in the Ithilien would no longer help. He needed the dense beauty of Mirkwood. He needed his home.
"Aragorn…there's something I need to tell you," he murmured softly. Aragorn stayed silent, watching his lover's eyes flicker with uncertainty and pain. Unconsciously, his arms tightened around the elf, wanting to keep him close, knowing that very soon a time would come in which they'd be nowhere near one another. "Do you remember the last time I left the city?" He asked softly, nervously. This conversation, despite his earlier protests, was unfortunately necessary…and the sooner it happened, the better.
"The time you didn't come back for almost three weeks?" He asked in reply. Legolas nodded, looking guilty suddenly. Aragorn frowned and tugged gently on the elf's braids when he looked away. There had always been something about that night that had bothered him…something he'd never been able to figure out. Legolas' tears at their reunion had been so sorrowful and full of anguish, and his embrace had been so frantic and needy. He had always suspected it was from more than just missing him.
"I almost didn't come back," Legolas whispered, his blue eyes wide with hurt as he looked at his lover once again. The king felt his heart ache painfully in his chest, and he couldn't stop his eyes from reflecting that pain. Legolas saw his reaction plainly and he leaned forward to kiss him, trying to convey his sadness and his sorrow. The last thing he ever wanted was to cause Aragorn pain. That, however, was turning out to be impossible.
"Why?" Aragorn whispered against the elf's lips.
"Oh love…not to hurt you," he replied softly, running his hands through the man's hair. "I wanted to come back to you," he continued. "But the thought of actually returning to the city…I…Aragorn, I wanted to run away," he confessed. "I almost turned my back and left. It was…painful to come back. But I love you too much, and I couldn't just abandon you, I…"
Aragorn pulled the elf closer and kissed him again, sighing softly at the feel of the soft mouth beneath his. The truth was he had known from the beginning that Legolas' living in Minas Tirith would become a problem. He knew his beloved elf very well and therefore knew that the walls and close confines of the city would suffocate and smother him. And that was what had been happening, what he had glimpsed in Legolas' dimming eyes. The elf was fading.
"You want to go to Mirkwood," he murmured as their kiss broke.
Legolas nodded. "Yes," he replied simply. "I don't want to leave you, but…I have to go. For no more than a few months…" he said, leaning forward into Aragorn's arms and resting his head on his chest.
"When do you plan on leaving?" The king asked, his voice thick with emotion. He swallowed hard over the lump that had formed in his throat, trying not to cry.
"I don't know," he elf replied, squeezing his eyes shut and pressing closer to his lover. "Soon," he whispered, his tears finally falling. Aragorn held him tighter and buried his face in his soft, blonde hair. They sat there together for a long time holding each other close, the future looming before them.
"He'll come back someday." The soft voice of his queen startled Aragorn out of his thoughts. Smiling weakly, he motioned her closer, leaning against her when she sat down next to him.
"When Arwen? When will he come back?" He asked softly, pain filling his words. Frowning, she ran her fingers through his hair and then took his hand in her own. She let his question hang in the air, knowing that he didn't expect her to answer. She hated seeing him hurting like this. It had been close to three years since Legolas' departure and she was the only one who had been witness to the king's pain.
Long before Aragorn had worked up the courage to tell her, she had known about his and Legolas' relationship. It came as no shock to her and she didn't begrudge him it either…because she had long since fallen out of love with him. Their love had been infatuation and had burned brightly but had not lasted. It had faded into something much warmer and long lasting, and now they were friends first, even if, to the world, they were husband and wife. She had stayed with him because she wanted to stay in Middle-earth rather than retire to Valinor, and because she wanted children. Aragorn, too, needed her to produce children, and heirs to his throne. But he also needed a close friend, and no one, save Legolas, knew him as well as his queen. After their marriage, she became Legolas and Aragorn's ally, caring deeply for both of them. Since Legolas' departure, she had bore Aragorn a son, whom for a while had held the king's heartache at bay.
"He's lost himself in the forest and forgotten me…I knew this could happen," he murmured, gazing up at the stars again.
"He hasn't forgotten you," Arwen protested, wishing she could do something more to ease his pain. "He loves you…but the woods enchant him and he's probably lost track of how long he's been away. Being that he's an elf, the passing of time isn't as urgent to him…"
He smiled softly at her and kissed her forehead. "Thank you for trying Arwen, but you've spoken the same words to me before, and I know they're probably true. But what if he comes back to himself too late? I…I miss him. So much that it's breaking me…"
"Oh Estel," she whispered, pulling the king into her arms and holding him close. For months now she had watched him begin to fall apart. During the day he went about his work as usual, though he seemed much more weary than normal. The only real joy he still had in life came from being with his son. But every night he would visit these gardens and sit for hours beneath the trees and stars. His heart was breaking and Arwen was afraid of what might happen if Legolas did not soon return.
"Arwen?" He murmured softly, sounding less like the King of Gondor and more like a lost child. "What if he's not in Mirkwood?" He asked, a slight tremble to his voice.
"What do you mean? Where else would he be?" She replied, still holding him close.
"He…he could have gone to Valinor," he said in a very soft voice, slipping out of her arms and letting his eyes drift westward.
"He wouldn't have left without telling you…without seeing you first," Arwen protested. She could tell from the look in his eyes that this wasn't the first time he'd had these thoughts. She was sure that, in his heart, Aragorn knew that Legolas would not abandon him so lightly, but in his mind…doubt and uncertainty seemed to have a hold of him.
"What if he never made it to Mirkwood? What if he was hurt or captured or… There are still roaming bands of orcs that we haven't completely defeated… I should have sent someone with him or after him when he didn't return…he could be…"
"Shh…Aragorn, stop it," she said, quickly grasping his hand in her own and meeting his troubled eyes. His frantic ramblings sent a new sliver of worry through her heart. She didn't believe for a second that Legolas had gone to Valinor and forsaken Aragorn and his home. But his other worries were somewhat valid. The elf, though quite capable of defending himself, could have been overtaken by orcs…he could have been hurt, captured…she refused to believe him dead. And now…Aragorn was blaming himself.
He stood up again and walked away from his queen, looking out into the night. When he sat here, alone, beneath these trees, he could still feel Legolas in his arms. He could taste his lips; feel his soft skin and hair, the press of his lithe body against his own. One glance at the stars and he could see the elf's face, his glowing, often hidden smile and his shimmering eyes. If he tried hard enough he could even hear his voice, whispered words of love, laughter…
What if it was his fault the elf had not returned? What if he'd been captured or hurt? Legolas had told him he'd be gone for no more than five months. Why hadn't he sent someone out to search for him when he hadn't returned? Why hadn't he gone himself? His beautiful elf prince, his love…he could be dead now and he hadn't lifted a finger to protect him. What if he never saw that face again or heard that voice…?
The guilt seeped a little deeper into his heart everyday. It was eating away at him, making him weak, giving him nightmares and slowly killing off the beauty he used to see in everything around him. Legolas had taken his soul with him when he had left. And yet his heart remained and continued to beat with the hope that his elf would return.
"You're being too hard on yourself," Arwen whispered, sensing the path his thoughts were following. She stood up and reached out to him, putting her hands on his shoulders. "Why don't you send people out to look for him?" She asked softly.
He shook his head and moved away from her grip. "Leaving Gondor to search for the king's elven lover…that's hardly an assignment anyone will be clamoring to take," he said bitterly. "At first I didn't send anyone after him because I didn't want him thinking I didn't trust him. Then, as the months passed, I was involved with you and the baby. And then…" he paused for a moment, looking terribly sad.
"What is it Estel?" She asked, wondering what other hell he'd been tormenting himself with.
"I was angry with him," he whispered, squeezing his eyes shut. "Angry because he hadn't come back when he said he would. It was too soon to be worried…I was just upset with him. I felt like he'd abandoned me. And now…what if I never see him again?"
Her heart breaking, Arwen hugged him close and ran her hand through his hair, whispering elvish words of comfort. "You will," she murmured, promising both Aragorn and herself that she'd make that happen.
After insisting Aragorn come inside and sleep, rather than continue to sit alone with his sadness in the garden, Arwen made the decision to amend her husband's heartbreak. Although it was late, she sent her most trusted servant to send word to her brothers that she needed them. Ever since their father had sailed for Valinor, Elladan and Elrohir had abandoned Rivendell in favor of the woods of Ithilien in order to be closer to their sister. After checking once more on her son and discreetly on her husband, she went to sleep confident with her plan.
Her brothers' arrival the next day went unnoticed, as she had hoped, by Aragorn. He was too involved with the current affairs of his kingdom to notice the arrival of his friends. Arwen quickly explained what had been going on and what she feared might happen. Her wish was that Elladan and Elrohir travel to Mirkwood find Legolas and accompany him back to Minas Tirith.
Both because they could rarely refuse their sister and because they cared for Aragorn, the twins quickly consented to Arwen's request. "And you must hurry," she pleaded after they agreed, looking concerned once more. "I'm worried about what might happen if they're not reunited soon."
They set off soon after, promising Arwen they'd try to find the elf and bring him back as soon as they could. They left without Aragorn even knowing they were there, and when Arwen saw him later at dinner, she didn't mention their visit. She didn't want him to know that she'd sent her brothers looking for Legolas. If they didn't find him…she didn't want to raise Aragorn's hopes only to have them crushed. But she just hoped they found the wayward elf…and found him soon.
Regret was a bitter emotion. Especially when it burned through him day after day, unrelenting and loud. The peace he'd sought once again eluded him.
As he walked beneath the trees of his home, stopping occasionally to gaze up at the starlight, his mind was taken back to other nights spent beneath the trees and stars. But not the trees of Mirkwood…and he hadn't been alone then. Legolas wished he could remember how long he'd been away and if it was too late to return. Sleeping in Mirkwood's deep forests was nothing compared to sleeping in Aragorn's arms. Why hadn't he gone back?
At first Mirkwood had been exactly what he had wanted and needed. It gave him solitude and quiet peace. After visiting his father, he had wandered for days among the trees, losing himself and drinking up their strength. He'd stayed longer than intended, and by the time he'd drawn himself out of his enchantment with the forest, almost a year had passed. But he felt renewed, happy, strong and more peaceful than he had in ages. It had been worth it, but by that time, all of his thoughts were for Aragorn. After bidding his father farewell, he had quickly begun his journey back to Gondor…but he had never made it.
He still wasn't sure exactly what had made him stop there that evening. Despite the love that filled his heart for one man, he found men as a whole to be rather overbearing and exasperating. And so when he traveled alone, he preferred the nighttime company of trees and starlight rather than a crowded inn.
It was near nightfall and having ridden especially far that day, he was more tired than usual, but his heart was light because he was only about a two-day journey from Minas Tirith now. After securing a room, he settled himself in a corner of the common room and watched the scenes that played out before him while sipping on a glass of wine. His thoughts drifted here and there, and mostly he was amused with himself for his behavior. He knew Aragorn would never believe that he'd spent the evening in a tavern among so many humans.
Almost on cue, as his thoughts drifted to his lover, the voice of a nearby man spoke his name. Outwardly he kept the same façade, but his ears instantly listened closely to the men's conversation, which had drifted now to Aragorn and his kingship. To Legolas' pride, the words were all kind and praising, but just as he had decided to get up and retire to his room the surprise came.
One of the men was boasting that he had recently been to Minas Tirith and had caught a glimpse of the king. None of his companions seemed to believe him, but when they asked him why he had been there he replied simply. He had gone for the celebration of the birth of the king's son.
Legolas froze, his blue eyes staring ahead at nothing, his breath caught in his throat. The noise around him seemed to stop; the people seemed to disappear. He was alone. Cold and alone. As soon as he managed to recover from his shock, he left the common room and quickly made his way to his own. Once there, he fell back against the door and sank to the ground, pulling his knees up to his chest and staring straight ahead.
It shouldn't be a shock. Long ago, he and Aragorn had discussed what lay ahead of them. He had known since the beginning that Aragorn and Arwen would have children. Logically, Gondor needed an heir, but also, as a human, Aragorn simply wanted children. Legolas had never proposed to begrudge him of that, nor had he ever felt any jealousy of Arwen. The decision for Aragorn and Arwen to marry after the revealing of his and Aragorn's relationship had been made by all three of them. It was logical, practical and would save them all a lot of trouble.
But now…he was jealous. Not of Arwen herself, but of what she had been able to do for Aragorn that he never could. He would give his heart, his freedom, his soul, even his very life for Aragorn…but he could never give him a child. It made his heart ache.
He was torn apart. He wanted to be there, to share in Aragorn and Arwen's happiness. The elf knew how happy the child would make his lover, and he loved nothing more than to see him happy. And Arwen…in the beginning he had been somewhat intimidated by her, by hers and Aragorn's past and by her beauty. But over time, she had befriended him and they had been quite close ever since. He imagined Arwen to be truly radiant with her child…and still his heart ached.
He felt left out, insecure…lost. The decision to have a child was something major. The last time something important had been decided about the three of them and their future, he had been included. When they had all agreed that it was best if Aragorn and Arwen still marry even though his heart belonged to Legolas. Now…he felt abandoned. His mind quickly began torturing him with images of Aragorn and Arwen together…kissing, touching, making love. It drew a tortured sob from his lips and he hugged his legs closer to his chest, laying his head upon his knees. He had always known it would have to happen…but he hadn't expected to be left out. His heart wanted Aragorn rushing back to him, reassuring the elf with words of love and soft touches that his heart belonged to him.
But he hadn't been there, and they hadn't waited for him.
The next morning, his heart heavy with pain, he rode for a ways, stopped in a nearby meadow and sat staring down the road for a very long time. Too much pain, too much insecurity…his heart wouldn't let him return. What if he got there and was no longer wanted? With tears in his eyes he again mounted his horse, glanced once more down the road that would lead him to Aragorn and then fled the other way. Back to Mirkwood, back to the trees, back to his solitude.
With the passing of every month, he fell more and more in love with the forest and pushed all other thoughts out of his mind. Dreams sometime came as painful reminders of what he had abandoned, but he never let those unconscious thoughts stray too far into his everyday ones.
But now, the trees no longer provided peace and every fiber of his being longed for the love he had forsaken. "I'm sorry," he whispered to the cold nighttime air. He stared up at the stars, feeling somehow closer to Aragorn. Was the man gazing up at the same night sky? Was he thinking of him? Did he still love him…?
A familiar voice he couldn't quite place startled him out of his thoughts and he quickly looked down from the tree he sat in, looking to match a face to the voice.
"Legolas, come down." Another voice he knew. When the two elves stepped further into the pale moonlight he recognized them instantly and his heart fluttered with worry.
"Elladan…Elrohir…what are you doing here?" He asked, his voice soft.
"Would you please come down?" Elladan asked, peering up at the pale-haired elf.
"Has something happened?" Legolas asked, his eyes bright, his voice fearful. He stared down at them expectantly, his heart suddenly too nervous to even listen to Elladan's request.
"Legolas, come down now!" Elrohir yelled impatiently. A few more moments passed with the two brothers staring up at the younger elf before Legolas finally responded. Within seconds he had bounded down out of the tree and stood before them.
"Wood elves…" Elrohir muttered, rolling his eyes and smirking at the blonde elf. Legolas finally let himself relax a bit and smiled at his comment. "It's good to see you Legolas," Elrohir said, smiling. The blonde had never been particularly close with either of the brothers, but he had spent a bit more time with Elrohir. They had met and talked occasionally…sometimes when Legolas was spending time in Ithilien or when the twins came to Minas Tirith to visit Arwen.
"Is something wrong?" Legolas repeated. Neither of them looked particularly anxious or distressed but like him, they were good at hiding their emotions. "There has to be a good reason for the two of you to come all the way to Mirkwood looking for me…" he said, his eyes shifting back and forth between the two of them. He wanted to ask them if something had happened to Aragorn or Arwen…the more he thought about that chance the more nervous he became. His patience was quickly slipping.
"Nothing tragic has happened if that's what you're asking," Elladan answered him. "We came looking for you at Arwen's request."
"Why?" He asked softly, a flicker of pain in his eyes.
"Do you realize you've been gone for almost three years?" Elrohir asked, wondering, not for the first time, what had kept Legolas away for so long. There had to be more to it than simply losing himself in the forest.
The blonde's eyes widened slightly in surprise, another jab of regret hitting him hard. Three years? He had known it had been a while, but…could he really have been gone that long? It just didn't seem possible. He shook his head and replied softly that he hadn't realized just how much time had gone by. "Why did Arwen send you to find me?" He asked again, feeling more and more foolish by the minute. Why hadn't he returned to Gondor? His old reasons of jealousy and feeling left out seemed ridiculous to him now…even childish.
"Because she's worried," Elladan replied. "Aragorn misses you. He needs you, he's…falling apart without you," he said in a soft voice, stepping forward and looking closely into the blonde's eyes.
Elrohir too stepped forward with his brother and reached out to lay his hand on Legolas' shoulder. "You've broken his heart," he murmured, watching sadly as the blue eyes before him filled with tears. "Legolas…why didn't you come back?"
Legolas broke down, his tears spilling over, his face contorting with pain. "Because they…had a baby," he cried, his heart aching in his chest. He had broken Aragorn's heart. Aragorn was falling apart without him. The twin's words echoed over and over in his head. "I was jealous…I felt left out. I didn't know if…if he still wanted me," he sobbed. He felt terrible. The reality of what he'd done was bitter. He had been the one to doubt their love, not Aragorn. He hadn't trusted him enough.
"I was upset. I didn't think things through and then…I came back here and…I made myself forget everything," he said in between shuddering breaths. He was still crying and Elrohir was quite sure he'd never seen anyone look so sad.
Stepping closer, he squeezed the blonde's shoulder and smiled softly into his eyes. "He misses you terribly," he said softly. "Come back with us now." Legolas took a deep breath and looked at both of them. They'd take him back to Gondor; they'd make sure he didn't stop along the way or turn back. They'd take him back to Aragorn…back home. His heart leapt at the thought, though the guilt he still felt for his decisions was overwhelming.
Wiping the tears off his cheeks, Legolas took another deep breath and nodded. "Yes," he answered, his voice shaky. "I'll come back now." He attempted a smile but it faltered quickly, his heart still full of sadness and regret. "Let me say farewell to my father and then…I'll meet you back here at dawn," he said softly. The brothers agreed, although Legolas could tell they were wary to let him go off on his own. They didn't completely trust him to return, and Legolas certainly didn't blame them. But his mind, and more importantly, his heart were now set on returning to Aragorn.
Resolved in his choice, yet still bearing his heartache and guilt, he met the twins again in the morning and they set out away from Mirkwood. Upon leaving the forest Legolas felt free again. Mirkwood had always been his refuge…until he'd let himself get lost in it and leave everything else behind. He knew there'd be times in the future when he'd miss the peaceful green woods, but missing Mirkwood could never be as painful as missing Aragorn.
Two nights into their journey they stopped on the edge of a small wood and let their horses rest. Halfway into the night the sound of approaching horses roused the three elves from their rest. Before they could even say anything, one of the two riders leapt down from their horse and removed their hooded cape.
"Arwen?" Elrohir gasped in surprise.
"What are you doing here?" Elladan asked. He quickly sensed that something bad had happened. The look in her eyes betrayed the calmness she seemed to be trying to hold onto. She glanced briefly into the eyes of both of her brothers before looking past them. Her eyes filled with tears at the sight of her friend and she quickly thanked the Valar that her brothers had found him.
"Legolas…I've missed you," she murmured, her tears now glistening in the moonlight as they slipped off her cheeks. The blonde, near tears himself, stepped forward and reached out to embrace her. Arwen hugged him back, smoothing her fingers over the soft, pale hair of the wayward elf.
"I've missed you too," he whispered, wondering how he could have ever been jealous of her. "What are you doing here?" He asked, echoing her brother's words. They pulled apart and looked into each other's eyes. She looked back and forth between Legolas and her brothers, who had now moved to stand next to him.
"You had to have left soon after we did to get this far so quickly," Elladan said, watching her closely.
She nodded. "Three days after you left," she confirmed, her eyes now fixed only on Legolas. "I sent them out to find you," she said softly. "He's miserable without you," she went on, her voice trembling slightly. She could see plainly that Legolas was suffering already, but there was nothing she could do to prevent the sting she knew her words would cause. "And recently he's been worried…petrified in fact that something happened to you. He…" she paused for a moment, taking a deep breath and forcing herself to remain calm. "He's been afraid that you might have been injured or captured by orcs or…dead," she continued, watching as pain and guilt flickered in Legolas' eyes. But he didn't say a word, waiting for what he now assumed was bad news. Something had to have happened to make her ride out looking for him.
"That's why…" she paused again, squeezing her eyes shut and reaching out to grasp Legolas' hand in her own. "Orcs were reported near the river the day Elladan and Elrohir left for Mirkwood. Aragorn left with Faramir and several soldiers…there was a small battle and he was…shot with an arrow. It was poisoned…"
Legolas went completely pale, his eyes widening in shock and pain. He would have fallen to the ground had Elladan not reached out to steady his swaying form. Trying to deny her words, he shook his head, squeezing the queen's hand tightly. Already, he assumed the worst. "My fault," he whispered, his body trembling.
"No," Arwen replied quickly, releasing his hand and cupping his face in her palms. "They brought him back and I helped heal the wound. There's no poison left and his fever broke," she said softly, trying to reassure him.
"So he's fine then?" Elrohir asked.
Still looking only at Legolas, Arwen shook her head. "He won't wake up," she said. "Everything seems fine. There's absolutely no reason for him not to be healing…but he's not. He's not getting any worse, but he's not getting better either. That's why I came looking for you…" she said, her face filled with concern. "Legolas, his heart is broken. He needs you," she whispered.
Legolas wanted to cry but the tears wouldn't fall; he didn't let him. He didn't deserve the luxury of tears. "Can we leave now?" He asked, his voice barely audible, his eyes downcast. The only thought in his mind now was to be with Aragorn, to help Aragorn. Wisely, he pushed all of his feelings of guilt, fear and sadness to the back of his heart, needing, for now, to concentrate only on the man he loved.
"I'll leave now with Legolas," Elladan said to Arwen. "You should rest a bit before returning, and Elrohir can stay with you," he added, surprised when she nodded and didn't immediately argue. Normally she always challenged her brothers' over-protectiveness, but tonight she cared only for the situation at hand.
"Watch over him," Arwen whispered as she quickly embraced her brother, referring to Legolas. As much as she was worried about Aragorn, she was just as worried for the elf.
"I'm sorry…" Legolas whispered when Arwen turned to face him once more.
She smiled softly and shook her head. "There will be time for your explanations and apologies later," she murmured, reaching out to clasp his hand again. "Be strong for him now. I know how much you love him…that's what he needs now."
Legolas nodded and squeezed her hand, silently thanking her. Arwen watched, her heart suddenly lighter than it had been in days, as Legolas rode away with Elladan. She still wasn't sure what the elf's exact reasons were for having stayed away so long, but she didn't doubt his love for Aragorn. And she knew that with the elf's presence and his love, her husband would quickly awake from his slumber of heartache.