A/N: We come now to an end. My unending gratitude goes out to those who have urged me on with this story over these many years. I would have given up long ago had you not continued to press me for more. I also must dedicate the greatest amount of thanks to Ziggy3 who has been one of my biggest advocates and inspirations. I cannot tell you how wonderful it has been to be your friend. Thank you for being there for me as you know I will always be there for you. Big hugs!

Dark Forest

By Anarithilien


Legolas smiled when the young chipmunk crossed his path. He had been on the way to the cleared meadow with the seedlings when the little animal had flitted past him. He paused, taking the moment to admire the flurry and industry of the small creature. It came to a stuttered stop, tail twitching, nose lifted to the air, startled perhaps to come across a woodelf while out on its journey.

Intrigued and amused, the elf knelt to the ground, careful to be slow in his movements so as not to startle the tiny animal. He reached into the cloth bag that was draped over his shoulder and found the smaller bag within containing the hoard of acorns he was also to deliver. With clever fingers, he drew out one and lightly rolled it toward the animal. The chipmunk cocked its tiny head, ears twitching as it sniffed the air. And then seeming to deem the appearance of this treasure harmless, it crept forward to snuffle about at the nut before taking it into its miniature clawed hands so it could begin the task of nibbling and shredding away the hard shell.

Legolas watched with a smile as the animal made quick work of digging out the meat, nibbling in tiny bites, but doing so quickly. It was less than a minute when the acorn was gone and the creature was sniffing around at the broken shells to see if anything was left.

With a soft chuckle, Legolas found another nut in his bag and lightly rolled it forward, watching as again the chipmunk made short work of it. He found a third and tossed it in the animal's direction. Legolas came to sit on his haunches then. He was in no hurry, and it seemed neither was the chipmunk. Legolas could only guess that it somehow had concluded that its encounter was valuable. Indeed, the chipmunk was benefitting from the gifts Legolas offered it.

"Be careful, little friend," Legolas warned in a soft whisper. "I will not always be here to nurture you. You must go off now and fend for yourself."

But the chipmunk merely tilted its head to the elf's voice, dipping its chin a moment later as it nibbled and devoured the third acorn.

Legolas laughed as he settled into a seat upon the ground and pulled a fourth acorn from his bag, setting it before him. The chipmunk lifted its small body, standing taller on its two hind legs so as if to judge if this was indeed another nut being presented it. Sniffing once again, it took a couple of small leap steps in the elf's direction, pausing, and then repeating these actions when nothing came to worry it. In a short minute, it had covered the distance between them and was sitting within arms reach of Legolas.

Legolas realized then that he could do this all day. He relished the leisure of it. For most of his life he had been like this chipmunk, hurrying, racing, being wary. Small moments of break were not a common thing to him. It was nice to be able to do things without haste. In this new age he was free of the pressures of impending doom if he did not race ahead to the next task and the one after that.

It was not completely true though. He had lived like this once before, when he had dwelled in Mírnen. But he knew that was not the same. This life was real, the other false. But even in a false life, there had been contentment, and now he was just glad he had the opportunity to truly enjoy it.

"I will make you a bargain," Legolas said to the chipmunk then. "I will take the rest of these acorns and plant them. And from that many more trees will grow and you and your family can enjoy the bounty that comes of them for years here ever after."

The chipmunk looked at him, not really understanding, Legolas was sure, nibbling away still at the nut he was holding. "Very well, one more," he admonished, carefully placing the fifth and final acorn on the ground before him.

The chipmunk edged forward, sniffing again, but it stopped abruptly, twisting its head over its shoulder at the distant sound of voices. Legolas heard it too, smiling in recognition of the source. The field was ahead, and the elves working it were calling out orders as their tasks began. He could hear some singing as they labored and it reached his heart, calling him to join them.

Bringing his knees to his chest so as to stand, he noticed that the chipmunk had disappeared, and with it the nut. Yet he was glad he had taken the time to befriend the small animal, even if their friendship was fleeting. This was one of many creatures that had migrated to the recently cleansed forests of Ithilien. More would come, and he welcomed them all. A harmonious life, free of the dark influences that had once reigned here, was what he envisioned. And to promote that, he would stay true to his word about the plantings. After all, that was why he was here on the path at the edge of the meadow.

He hastened forward to his task then, coming quickly to the open meadow that had been cleared of its foul debris. The land here had once been a dumping ground for orc waste, and carcasses of wagons, war machines and desolate shelters had littered the dead forest grounds when Legolas and his people had come upon it. Burning it had been the choice they had made though they carefully dug through the rubble to make sure no valiant strains of salvageable life were there before they started. The fire had been huge, and Legolas was told the smoke and reflective light in the night sky could be seen all the way to Minas Tirith.

The ash and turned over rot made for a rich soil, and with the land now cleared, the new plantings could begin. In the personal gardens of the elves, they had been fostering seedlings for fruit trees that would benefit the creatures that were beginning to come to the new wood. And the oaks Legolas hoped to grow were of his own personal request. He knew he would not see the full lives of those trees, but he hoped their presence might be a marker to the part he and his people made upon these lands. He came to deliver the carefully wrapped plants he had personally grown. Each elf of the settlement was doing the same, adding trees to designated plots so as to contribute, and in the end being witness to the progress of the new age.

But there was still much work to be done on this day in the settlement, and so he did not linger as he might normally do. Though it would have been a joyous thing for him to blend his voice into the song of the laborers, digging, lifting, clearing, he was promised elsewhere this day.

As he walked back to the settlement he thought on what had to be done yet, and of what had already been done. They would never be done cultivating the land, replenishing it from the wicked toxins of a poisonous environment, but it was better than it had been and would continue to grow that way. The trees now sprouted shafts of green foliage where before they had been bent and scarred by the black lichen that rounded their trunks. The thrum of Song was about them now, countering the dooming sound that echoed in their core before. These things were encouraging, inviting new life to blossom. Birds, deer, small animals, even grubs and ground worms began to be seen in a readier abundance, and the environment was beginning to feel whole and new and fresh. Of course when you ventured past the borders of the colony, into the lands not yet claimed by the elves, this renewal dropped off precipitously, but in time Legolas hoped he and his people would have an effect there too. For the moment he had to be satisfied with the rolling acres about them and the amazing role their presence there had.

They had worked very hard. When they had first come to Ithilien, the most immediate task had been to roust the orcs out of their hiding places. Sauron may have been gone, the taint of Him diminished, but the children of His ambitions were still about and there had been nearly two solid years of guerilla tactics put into flushing that evil out. Legolas had Gondor and the aid of Aragorn to thank for that, for though the elves were capable fighters, the numbers against his people were too large to be tenable. Now however… it had been nearly a year since they had seen even the smallest of signs of any orcs. Reading the tracks, Legolas felt certain they had fled for the east. He knew that his battles with the orcs were not done, but he could be assured that his people now were safe in the homeland he currently secured.

In their early days they had built their homes high in the trees. This was a custom Legolas had long been acquainted with, not even thinking of the security it gave against marauding enemies. But in these new days of safety and prosperity, his people, almost all of them of Silvan decent, had started to move their flets to lower ground, building so their homes seemed to hover just above the earth. They were still intertwined with the trees, but they also seemed now to find anchor in the earth, and Legolas couldn't help but be astounded at how this appeared a reflection of their attitude toward feelings of security. There had been no discussion of it, just action, as was the Silvan trait. Neither had the move been sudden. It was simply that as they proceeded and prosperity in the settlement grew, his people expanded on what they built, adding levels to their flets that emerged beneath those high towers. Progressively, year after year, the levels multiplied and were rearranged, so that now, a dozen years later, few elves abided in homes at the highest reaches of the trees. A few still had those high perches, but most used them more as a place to climb to in the summers to escape the hotter days.

Almost as if by instinct, Legolas too had followed these urges to build and rebuild his house in the lower branches of the trees, and this received the praise and enjoyment of Gimli. "You will let me know when the urge to nestle into the rock begins to claim you, won't you? I like the caverns your father built in the Greenwood. He is sensible, like a dwarf."

Legolas smiled at the thought of his father being compared to a dwarf. He was not sure he would ever feel comfortable going to that extreme – his heart was in the trees and air – but he could see how some of the elves were actually burrowing in, cultivating cellars and storage bunkers that twined with the roots of the trees. He began to reason that this was how the Greenwood caverns had come to be accepted though instinct told the people to go to the trees first for safety, not below ground. Yet Thranduil had made the caverns warm and inviting like those of Doriath, and so Legolas supposed aesthetics played a part in the people's acceptance too.

Still, the strongholds his people made were nothing like Noldor structures. He reasoned a Noldor prince would build a fortress with deep trenches and hollows in the ground. That certainly would have satisfied Gimli, but it would never do with the folk Legolas led. They were by majority a Silvan people, and they would always prefer a truth maintained in nature, be that ground or sky. Legolas was fully vested in that mindset as well.

He paused then when he came to the place where the forest path opened out to the settlement. It was alive with activity, so different from its normal restive state. At this time of day, the majority of his people would be out among the plantings and the trees, each doing their part in rebuilding the wood. It was only those who were the fabricators, the cooks, the hunters, the tanners, as well as the skilled artisans who stayed in the colony spaces. And that was so today, Legolas just having left the planters at their jobs. But the remaining folk were not at their normal activity but were instead busy hosting guests to the village. The colony was abuzz with industry.

The visitors had been with them for a fortnight, but Legolas knew their departure was nigh. It had not been a secret when they came that the Ithilien realm was but a resting spot for them as they made their way to the Sea. In preparation, Legolas saw rations of lembas being wrapped and packed away, warm cloaks being sewn, and weapons being honed. A note of sadness stirred within him then, for their departure was due to the calling of the Sea. Legolas was familiar with the notes of that Song, and it pained him to think they now must leave to survive it.

"They will part on the morrow," a rich voice said to him as he approached from an adjoining path.

"They are Sindarin," Legolas commented without looking at the speaker. "They have decided it is time that they heeded the call. I am just glad we could provide them a place to stay before their last journey."

"They came at your father's behest."

Legolas smiled in amusement. "He is as proud of what we have built here as that he has done in his own realm."

A laugh then. "Does he think they would change their minds?"

And Legolas laughed too. "Perhaps. If he cannot have them, he would prefer that I did."

"When the Sea calls, is there a choice to ignore it?"

"There is for the Sindar. Not so much for the Silvan," Legolas said, turning his eyes then to his companion. Daerion gazed deeply, grey eyes meeting blue, and Legolas knew he read his heart. Still he spoke the words. "You must promise me you will be careful as you escort them south."

The elf who had been his father's guard and now was among Legolas's host had become someone dear. It was five years since he had taken leave of Greenwood with Thranduil's blessing and come to be of aid to Legolas. They had grown close since those Mírnen days when Legolas had been a victim and Daerion had been a rescuing warrior. "I have packed thrice what I would need to safeguard me," the guard said in answer, but his eyes spoke his assurances more than the words. He smiled tenderly at Legolas, causing Legolas's heart to stutter in his chest. Yet the worry remained. Daerion was a full-blooded Silvan and this trip was a danger to him.

Legolas looked about him, knowing so many of these people that would leave were from the Greenwood. His father's realm had been one of the last strongholds to the diminishment of the Firstborn. In these waning days, Imladris was nearly deserted, and so too was Lothlorien. Elrond and Galadriel's departures had seemed to be a cue to many that it was time to surrender these lands. Their parting was an ache in his heart. But for himself, he was not ready.

He wished he could go too with Daerion to see these people off. He would if he could. Yet the Sea had too strong a pull on him, and he knew if he followed the Anduin further south his resolve would become irreconcilable. Better to stay in Ithilien where he had means to stave off the Sea's ill effect.

Yet he imagined what they would find when they reached that widening maw as the river turned into the Sea, and even with this imagining he felt the longing. Ships, dozens upon dozens of gray ships, would be anchored and made ready for them. The riggings would clang and clamor with the swell and fall of the water beneath their hulls, and the sails, tied down but ready in an instant of need, would snap in their bindings as the winds wicked around them. And the birds would glide on the wind, hovering in the current, their voices a claxon to the theme of the Song. The ships would be there, Legolas was certain, for the last lord, Cirdan, had vowed to make passage available to any and all of their kind… until the last elf parted.

His heart longed, and he felt himself sway. But as the other put a hand out to aid, he waved it away. Instead he said, "Do me a good deed and pack four times your needs so I can be assured."

Daerion smiled wryly but Legolas placed a hand on his arm, the touch one he hoped would convey the truth of his feelings. He said, "I have grown attached to your nearness. I would be crushed if anything were to change your heart."

The other started to object, but Legolas cut him off. "Yet I also want your assurance that if you should fall to the Sea that you will not refuse its pull. Go as your heart commands you. I would much rather have that than to see you fade before my eyes."

"I will do as you say, my lord," Daerion bowed with his hand to his heart, but their protocol for such acknowledgments had been long established. Daerion's bow was merely a half dip, the act an affirmation to Legolas's leadership, but also a sign that all were of his equal. And then, as if to prove that personal friendship had more sway than static obeisance, he leaned forward and, noting first that they were not watched, brushed his fingertips across Legolas's cheek. The warmth of the touch sent tingles up Legolas's spine. Whispering, Daerion said, "I would prove my returned regard for you tonight if you wish it."

Legolas smiled, feeling the joy created from Daerion's words speak through his eyes, through his heart. He need not say anything. Instead their gazes locked once more as Legolas gave a fraction of a nod in affirmation. Daerion broke the contact, drawing back as he glanced past Legolas's shoulder. Another approached. Sketching a quick bow, Daerion parted.

New footsteps then, and again Legolas knew who came to him merely from the sound of the tread. "I do not like the way that elf looks at you," he heard the rumbling voice say.

Legolas looked down at Gimli but he did not immediately reply. Instead he looked back to the village, watching the other elf as he made his way through it, his lips turning up in a brightening smile. "I do like the way he looks at me," he said. Dearion seemed to sense Legolas's eyes upon him and glanced again over his shoulder. Legolas felt the heat between them, even at this distance. The lingering sense of touch warmed him and he felt flushed in eager longing.

But Gimli's deep voice drew him back. "Hmph. You need to be careful in that," was the dwarf's response.

Legolas turned his full gaze upon the dwarf. Gimli had concern, but clearly he did not know all there was to know of Legolas's more intimate life, for he had been discreet in the month that the dwarf had been visiting. Yet he grew weary of hiding his true feelings. He was a little more resilient than the dwarf gave him credit for being, and he was tired of being thought of as weak in the heart. Legolas wondered if it would be better to brush aside his friend's concern and just maintain his pretense of distant interest for Daerion, or if he should address the truth without shame. In a burst of sudden mischief, he opted for the latter. "I did not think the acts between two elves interested you, Gimli," he replied, baiting.

"Acts…? It does not…. I'm not—" Gimli seemed to realize the elf's hint of something more than flirtation. He started to grow red-faced, but he pressed on the same. "I'm not seeking detail! I just… I just want to make sure you are ready for this. If you are starting to feel…" The dwarf said no more, letting the trailing end of his comment suffice.

Legolas laughed, "It has been a dozen years since Mírnen, Gimli." But he understood Gimli's concerns. By all practical knowledge elven hearts were indeed frail. But they were also more resilient than some might know. Even Legolas was learning far more in this than he had once known and he was coming to recognize how much his heart indeed could take. The error here was that Gimli thought Daerion was an infatuation, not yet an act consummated. Further he thought it Legolas's first since the heartbreak of Faeldaer. Neither was the case. Not that Legolas made a practice of bedding elves on a regular basis, but he had come to understand that the worries he once had of never knowing love again after the first were long quelled, and too his fears of binding his soul to another were ungrounded. He supposed that could happen, but he had not found another with which he wished to reach that deeply. And yet he had partaken the joys of the bed. Only Gimli did not know that.

Cautiously he decided not to press advantage over Gimli's naivety. He saw his friend so infrequently and he had no desire to chase him away. The visit now was the first they had had in nearly three years. He simply said in answer, "Enough time has passed for me to assure that my heart is still my own if that is what you ask." Legolas searched the settlement with a glance of his eyes. He did not see Daerion, but it didn't matter. His point was made. Yet he could not resist the chance to embarrass his friend a tiny amount more. He added, "While we have no pledge to each other's hearts, I will not deny that I am enjoying Daerion much."

"Enjoying him?" Gimli's looked squarely into Legolas's face, his response clearly coming before he could put thought to it. "You make that sound as if…"

Legolas raised a brow, his answer in that simple expression, and he laughed as Gimli turned a bright shade of red. Despite his previous efforts to be discreet, the dwarf's discomfiture was great amusement. Adding to it, he said, "It seems to me you are asking for the details. I can assure you that I have kept bed company with Daerion enough to know that I can choose the fate of my heart."

A sound emitted from the dwarf like he had swallowed his tongue. "Too much! That is too much to know," the dwarf bellowed, and Legolas laughed at his bristling. He knew then that the prudish nature of his friend had kicked in. He wondered though if Gimli would respond the same if he thought Legolas were bedding a female. He had not forgotten that the other races found same gender pairings offensive. He considered telling Gimli that his first coupling after the Faeldaer incident had been with a maiden, but he decided that the dwarf had probably had enough.

"Peace, my friend. I will say no more," Legolas said, his voice singing sooth so as to calm the riled dwarf.

There was a long pause of measured breaths and muttered words beneath the point of sound. But finally the dwarf spoke, and the subject shifted dramatically when he did. "So are we going to stand about here all day? Time is being wasted. You know he said he was leaving tomorrow too, parting when the others left. You do not want to have regrets for things left unsaid when he is gone." Legolas felt a tug of uncertainty in the dwarf's choice of words. He had sensed something was making Gimli antsy, and in these last few days his friend had seemed both eager to be in Legolas's company and simultaneously nervous whenever he was.

"There are always messengers and hawks to deliver our words. We have enjoyed a lively correspondense," Legolas said about their parting visitor, dismissing the dwarf's warnings. But he nodded his friend onward regardless. "Is he in the glade? I know he was fascinated with the progress being made there."

The dwarf set forth, but he mumbled in a low voice, "Messengers do not always reach the destinations set to them."

Legolas followed, his legs obediently carrying him, but his steps were hesitant. "What is it you are talking about, Gimli?" he asked, once again uncertain of the dwarf's meaning.

But his friend shook his head, negating the query. "It is nothing." Then eyeing him, he quickly changed the subject. "Your limp is barely noticeable now," the dwarf commented.

Legolas frowned as he kept pace, nodding, but knowing the comment a ruse. It was true that his leg was better. It still pained him, but he had made great efforts to strengthen the muscles, and the ache was merely an inconvenience. To those who did not know of his injuries, the slight hitch in his step was almost imperceptible. But this was not a thing new between the two, and Legolas felt his worry deepen.

Yet as they came to the glade the scene that greeted them set all anxious thoughts aside. Legolas did not pause his steps here. He knew where he was going and this time Gimli followed him. They marched through the thick grasses and over a rise, into a thicket blossoming with wildflowers of all colors. The sun was at mid-morning height, and the arc of light as it filtered through the trees created radiant halos of pale yellow and chartreuse. It was nearly blinding, but also quite beautiful, and despite himself, Legolas had to smile at the glory of it. Such new growth, such valiant efforts toward life… it was inspiring.

He came upon a repeat of the scene he had witnessed the day before. Encouraging words. A murmur of sound. And the Song, oh so bold, ringing loudly in his soul. He felt renewed. Everything they did was worth this.

Bending low, stooped before a small ash, he saw the crooked body of Mithtaur hovering over the young tree. With patience Legolas knew he could never muster, he watched as Mithtaur repeated the same lesson from yesterday. "Mmmmmm," the old Ent sang.

And almost imperceptibly, but there if you craned your ear to it, came the replying refrain. "Mmmmmm," sang the ash.

Legolas felt his throat knot and his eyes water with tears. Such hope there was in this demonstration even if it was not new to him.

"A proud feat, Mithtaur!" Thranduil said, and Legolas turned to his father then, knowing he had been watching. The elf, golden in the radiant light, looked proud and stern and kingly and Legolas could tell he was moved by the scene as well.

He heard a chuckle resound, hollow and rich. He turned. Mithtaur came to full height then and, looking healthy with a growth of new leaves crowning his weathered head, he acknowledged Legolas's presence with an easy smile. "There is more I would have you see today. We have been working hard and King Thranduil will attest," he said.

"They have been," Thranduil agreed, and Legolas smiled, for he knew he would miss his father when he left for home the next day.

But Thranduil had his eyes on the Ent, and Legolas turned to follow his gaze.

Having their attention, Mithtaur raised his arms then, and as if he directed a choir, he sang the note again. "Mmmmmm."

"Mmmmmm," the symphony of trees, large and small, beech, sycamore, and ash, echoed back to him. Some of their voices were bold, some soft, but all were singing.

Legolas felt the smile on his lips break into a wide grin. This was new. "Oh, Lord Mithtaur!" Legolas declared with excitement. "That sound is such music to me!"

Truly pleased, Mithtaur chuckled his warm, rolling laugh. The sound of it lingered on the air, but he waved a hand, the gesture dismissive. "There is much much much more to do. Still we make strides."

"Great strides," Thranduil amended.

"Literally," Legolas laughed, and he nodded to Mithtaur. "Have you shown him that yet? Show him. He must see," he said when the Ent shook his head in answer to the question.

Again with a smile of great pride, Mithtaur raised a hand, singing out a resounding "Hoom" as his fingers closed into a loose fist. The trees of the glade suddenly moved inward toward him, the earth trembling with their steps.

"I am not sure I like that," Gimli said, backing away and gazing about suspiciously. He looked much as he had the first time they had come to Fangorn Forest.

"They will be great protectors," Legolas assured him, sounding out the reasoning he and Mithtaur had come to together when they had agreed that last day in Fangorn that he should come to Ithilien. He spoke to Thranduil then. "They will keep the orcs and dark creatures from ever entering this realm again. I am so glad you were here to see this!"

Legolas stepped forward then and placed his hand on the bark of the young ash Mithtaur had been tending. He could feel the vibration in the wood, tremulous with energy, and he sent his own warm thoughts into the core of the tree. He had a tender place in his heart for this young one and he was looking forward to seeing the ash grow.

"I am glad as well. It is like watching a child speak his first words," Thranduil smiled, coming forward and reaching out a stroking hand as well. "I remember your first words," Thranduil added with a smile.

Legolas blinked, frowning, though at heart he was not the least bit troubled. This was something he and his father had been working on over the years, sharing not only events in their respective realms but also moments before their worlds had become tainted by the dark forces. Gimli was right in saying he should appreciate the visit from his father while he still had him. Letters were not the same as his father's presence. "What did I say?" he asked, coming back to the conversation. "I cannot recall."

The elder laughed. "You were a smart child, Legolas, but you were just a babe; I would not expect you to remember such a thing. But it amused your mother, for she loved her gardens and she thought it telling of your fortune ahead. Your first word was, 'buttercup.'"

"'Buttercup'?" Gimli barked out a laugh.

"Buttercup?" Legolas asked dubiously.

Thranduil shrugged, waving a hand about at the wildflowers and plants abounding in the glade. "Did she prophesy wrong?"

Legolas felt his brows shoot up in sudden surprise. "Buttercup! That was the name of the miller's horse. Buttercup… I had almost forgotten."

"A flower! So like you!" Gimli snorted.

"A horse! I was repeating the name of a horse!" Legolas defended. "And I suppose you recited praiseworthy poems of rock and stone in your first words?"

"Nay. My mother used to tell me my first words were the usual… Mama, Dada, that sort of thing. But she also said I had stonework in my nature and from an early age I played with my blocks as if they were wedge and hammer."

"No doubt you wielded an axe before you were out of diapering clouts too," the elf teased.

"As a matter of fact, my overhand throw showed good promise," Gimli confirmed.

Legolas raised a brow at this, uncertain if the dwarf was speaking a truth or jest. "The promise is here," Legolas said as he stroked the bark of the small tree once more, ignoring the dwarf's boastful words.

His affection was great in that moment, and if it would mean something to them, he would reach out his hand to each and every tree before him, sending such warm thoughts that they would know his gratitude to them for what they would one day provide. But they were yet not sensitive to his touch. One day though they would be. He gave his words to their teacher instead. "You bring so much to our colony, Mithtaur. This land will be whole again because of you."

"Not to mention the benefits a certain draught has on the elves who suffer the Call of the Sea," Thranduil added.

Legolas bowed his head then. He did not like to admit his dependence on Mithtaur's drink, but it was a necessity to his life, and he took his dose daily so as the stave off the Sea's ill effect. So did many of the elves in the colony, for in recent years the Call had grown stronger.

"I'm rather glad for it myself," Gimli said, having gone to the font as he had done pretty readily in the time of his visit, dipping a bowl into the drink. He nodded to Legolas as he took a long draw. "I recall the effect rather fondly."

"Be careful with that, Dwarf," Legolas chided. "You'll outgrow your surcoat next." Gimli frowned. His clothes had suffered ruin when they had been in Fangorn and it wasn't until the elves had returned him to his home in the Lonely Mountain that they had come to realize he had somehow grown in the year of their journeying. He no longer fit his old longpants, and since coming to Ithilien Legolas had noted he was tucking his trousers into his boots, seeming indeed a bit taller.

"Be careful yourself else I challenge you to a drinking contest," Gimli admonished. "Two cups and you'll be drunk, and then we'll have a real competition to see who can best who." And it was true. Legolas had no tolerance when it came to the Ent Draught. And for that he made sure he never took more than one cup per day. One cup was all he needed to keep the Sea from haunting his waking dreams. One cup was all he needed to maintain his control over his will, and his life.

"Daerion was here just minutes ago," Thranduil interjected. "He was filling another waterskin with the stuff."

"I asked him to do so," Legolas informed his father. "He will be seeing your people off on the morrow and I want him to be safeguarded. He does not feel the Sea yet, and I would prefer it remain that way."

Thranduil smiled, and Legolas suspected his father knew his feelings. In fact, the warm sensation in his heart told him that indeed Thranduil did know.

"And you, Father? Will you take a drink?" Legolas looked askance toward Thranduil, taking the bowl that Gimli offered him. Once again he saw a fleeting look of hesitation skim come over the dwarf's face. But Gimli looked away almost immediately and Legolas looked to the Greenwood king instead. Thranduil had been curious as to Mithtaur's activities though Legolas suspected his father's visit with the Ent today had something more to do with the Draught. Since becoming benefactor of Nenya, Thranduil heard the Call of the Sea endlessly. Both curse and salvation, the Ring escalated the cuivëar for Thranduil while at the same time keeping it at bay. And because of this Legolas thought he might be coming to ask Mithtaur his advice in recruiting another Ent to come help him in his own realm

But Thranduil waved the drink away, making Legolas blink in confusion. "Nay. I have allowed myself to be slave to draughts before. I will not drink again, no matter how great the benefits."

"Your resolve is strong," Legolas said, brushing off his own confusion. In the two weeks that his father had been with them he had shown no outward signs of suffering the Sea's urging. Legolas could only assume his father had a strong will and maintained his control over the Ring. If the benefits of Ent Draught were not something he sought for himself, Legolas came to assume then his father must be there to ask for the sake of his people. That was noble and fitting, he thought.

Like him, Thranduil fought to keep his people in Middle Earth. Legolas knew they shared common goals, outlined in countless notes and letters they had written. Both sought repairs to this world through a shared sense of guilt. And that kept them there, overriding any notes that the Sea would sing.

Still, with an understanding of time and the reality of the Sea's call, eventually they both would be forced to give in and surrender. And when Legolas reasoned that and all that must be done, there seemed not enough time for him to do all he needed to do. That was a concept at odds with his immortality. In Middle Earth, he was limited and he had to remind himself that at times he must meet obligations time put upon him. It was not an easy thing for an elf to grasp. His heart was in these lands, but the pressure they put on him was difficult to master. Here, once more, was evidence of his eventual failure to accomplish all that he would have liked to.

But the failure was not his alone. There was others who had done worse. The great elf leaders – Galadriel and Elrond - had surrendered, bowing to their own needs first, resisting what this world required still of them.

For his part, Legolas's own wishes were cast aside. What he did was the grander effort. And so too were Thranduil's. It was clear to him at least that Sauron had risen in the time of the elves. The destruction He had wrought came through the Rings the elven people had crafted. The ruin that came lay at their threshold, and therefore they owed something of reparations as a result. That was Legolas's goal. And through their letters Legolas knew that Thranduil shared the same passion.

Yet it frustrated Legolas to know so few others felt as they did. At the same time he could sympathize. His people were drawn by the will of the Gods. The Sea-Longing was Their means of bringing them Home. Still, he cursed the Ainar for making the siren's call louder now. He thought perhaps the Gods were jealous of Middle Earth's sway, oblivious to what it meant to the elves, and Legolas felt certain They did not know how They tore at the hearts of those They called. Time meant nothing to Them, so why could They not let Aman's Song diminish for a while, until the elves task was done?

Well, Legolas was not ready to give in to Them. Not yet. He could not fix everything, but he could start with the healing of Ithilien. As long as his people stood beside him, he could do this. And as long as Thranduil did the same in the north, they could make a part of this world good again.

"I have something I must ask you before I leave tomorrow," Thranduil said, and Legolas smiled inwardly, for here was the question he might pose to Mithtaur.

"I will not let you take him from me, Father," he teased in anticipation, his voice hushed. But then he suddenly realized Thranduil was not turned to the Ent to speak but was instead addressing him.

"Nay, Legolas, that is not it." And then he reached for Legolas's hand and opened it, laying in his palm the very Ring that had kept his heart and soul rooted in Middle Earth these last dozen years. Nenya. Thranduil then said, "For myself I have decided to embrace what has been done to me. The Gods wish the Call upon me, and I will hear Them now."

Legolas felt his brow furrow, his confusion visible he was sure. Thranduil had escorted the parting Greenwood elves to Ithilien, but Legolas had thought it might be to dissuade them, to give them new occupation in Middle Earth by showing them the renewal in his son's realm. Now a horrible fear possessed him and Gimli's worrisome expressions made awful sense. "You are parting too," he whispered.

"Yes," Thranduil nodded.

The thought had never occurred to him that Thranduil would actually part. His father had hinted as much in years past, but Legolas had never taken him seriously. He had thought the elf king would remain out of resiliency and stubbornness. He had thought Thranduil would be a part of Middle Earth for years, after even Legolas parted. "You cannot," he said, not sure of his reasoning.

"The Ring has safeguarded me," the elf king replied. "But the Sea's pull at my heart is great. I feel my heart failing me. I long to journey." And somehow too Legolas had known this. That was why Thranduil had traveled with his people. It was not to make a last plea for these folk to stay. It was because he was going as well.

"You are going home, to Greenwood, on the morrow. You had said…"

"I go to Elven Home. I join my people."

"But Greenwood…" Legolas began.

"It belongs to the Silvan folk who yet remain," Thranduil supplied. "It is with those who were always its rightful keepers. It was never mine, Legolas. I know this."

It was a cruel joke. They had worked so hard to forge a new relationship, sharing news from a distance, but keeping the bond open. Theirs was now a caring relationship - tender some might even say. But Legolas could sense it in his heart, the truth of what his father said and the ache that was there beneath it. Indeed the pull of the Sea was drawing him away.

Gimli put a hand on his arm in comfort. He said, "It is not forever, you know."

Legolas could always count on Gimli to cut to the heart of the matter. But he said in feeble excuse, "Is what we do futile then?"

"That's a silly thought," the dwarf dismissed. "Look at this place. Who could not be grateful and would not wish to carry this forward? Futility is the last thing I would think was at work here."

Legolas smiled slightly at that. And he supposed it was true. Gimli would not think less of him when Legolas conceded to the pull of the Sea. To the dwarf, Legolas's actions in Ithilien were noble and selfless. He did not see that what the elves did was requisite. Such was the short memory of mortals. They did not put blame on the Firstborn and instead they expressed gratitude. Legolas thought too this a cruel joke of the Ainar.

Yet he had to concede that he could do no more than what he did now. It would have to suffice. Mortalkind would have to carry on where he could not.

"I thought perhaps I would give Nenya to you," Thranduil said. "You are already afflicted with the Sea-Longing and It will help you in your work here."

But Legolas did not care for the Ring. "Do not go," he suddenly urged, the words spilling without forethought. "Stay here, with me. You can drink the Draught… it will help you."

"And I could keep the Ring, but I will not. No," Thranduil said, gently shaking his head. "No, it is time."

Legolas felt the tightening at his throat, the choking feeling and heavy thumping of his heart pressing at the core of him. "Please…" He raced forward then, finding himself suddenly within the embrace of his father's arms. "Stay."

He buried his head in the crook of his father's neck, trying to refrain from tears. He felt his father's hand stroking the back of his head. "My son… my son…" And Legolas realized his father cried.

Distantly he heard Gimli harrumph and clear his throat. "Greywood, will you show me some of the plantings you have done?" And then there was the low hum and rumbling agreement of the Ent, trudging footsteps moving away. Legolas was aware that the trees they had been watching were still present, but he knew they had no eyes yet and could not really spy on them. Likely they felt the sadness emanating from them, but they did not have a means to respond to that yet.

Legolas felt suddenly torn. He did not want Thranduil to go, but he also was not ready to part these lands himself. He desperately wanted to see his task through… to see the trees grow, to clear the land of evil, to make all safe for the creatures that would follow, to reclaim what had once been, to make up for the mistake his people had once made…

"It is not the end, Legolas. Do not get caught up in the moment at hand. You have work still, but mine is done."

"You promised," he began, the words sticking in his throat. But he held no true resentment. Even now he could feel the Sea's urging.

"I said I would set the path for repair, and I have. The elves I have left behind have pledged to rebuild what I cannot," Thranduil said softly, his voice warm in Legolas's ear. "My son, I am no king. I have merely offered guidance to the Silvan elves who remain. They follow the path they would choose. They know already this is right."

Of course Legolas knew this too, but the intensity of his feelings and a sense of loneliness hit him then. "What will I do without you?" he asked as he pulled away far enough that he could look Thranduil in the eye.

The corners of Thranduil's eyes creased as he smiled. "You will do as you have already… you will befriend many and show compassion where others have failed. You will better the world you touch."

But this did not help, and Legolas felt tears sting his eyes.

The elf kings eyes widened. Placing his hands on either side of Legolas's face, he looked deeply into his son's eyes. "It will go by so fast, you will see," he encouraged. "And when it is done, you will realize this moment was just a brief prick of pain." Thranduil smiled then, and he continued, his voice tender. "There is so much ahead that I'd admonish your sadness if I did not feel it myself. But you will heal. We both will. After all those years of doing without, you have it in you to steel yourself from greater things than this."

He understood his father's meaning. Legolas had turned his heart from loving his father. But now it was different. It was not so easy to stop loving anymore. His voice broke when he found a way past the lump in his throat. He confessed what was in his heart. It seemed appropriate to do so. He had nothing to lose in saying it. "I am afraid, Father. I had always thought if I failed you would still be there."

"So long as you have friends about," and Thranduil turned his head in the direction of the Dwarf and Ent, "you will not fail." He squeezed Legolas's hand then.

Looking down, Legolas realized Nenya still remained within his palm. He shook his head and pushed it back to his father.

But Thranduil's eyes grew earnest, and without saying words to match, he held up his hands as if to ward the Ring away. "Gimli will be there if you need someone to lean on. If it were mine to grant, I would tell you to bring him with you when your time comes." Then closing his hands over Legolas's, he pressed the Ring more firmly into them, gathering them together at his heart. "Perhaps indeed that will happen." Legolas was suddenly struck then by how Silvan he then seemed and he knew he would think back on this moment and wonder at its meaning. Words not said, and yet another meaning conveyed.

Legolas then could feel the warmth at his chest and sensed his father's sincerity. "Will it still be there?" Legolas asked, meaning the bond. And Thranduil nodded.

"I journey ahead, but I will be waiting for you to come some day too. This is not a sad decision, my son; it is a happy one."

And Legolas bowed his head, realizing that although his heart hurt, his father was right. He was not leaving him. Not really. This was not an end.

And then he felt it, the flame of unyielding love his father willed upon him. The touch of his hand was gone, but it was there in his heart, the bond his so long as he wanted it. Their eyes met. And like never before he opened himself up to it, and for the first time he realized the whole of his fulfillment was everything his father had ever sought for him. And by being nurtured in this, his father could be fulfilled as well, and they together could remain strong.

The golden elf, stern, tall, proud, smiled at him and Legolas recognized that he was much the same, a reflection both alike and different. He knew then that he was resilient just as his father was – had always been - and he would live through this hurt. He would live, and if he could do that he could chase away his sorrow. He had before and he would now. Despite the ache of the moment, in the larger view he really was more than an eclipsing instance of pain. He was love. And he was goodness. And with that he understood that in truth he was happy. They both were.