Legolas closed his eyes, shutting out the scene before him. It was a beautiful day, and the sun shone down on the green of the valley below him with dazzling intensity, glinting silver on the water of the large pool that collected there before meandering lazily down to the river. His bare feet would have been going numb in the cool water flowing over them, but he was standing on a rock in the water, which allowed the tops to remain dry and help make up for the difference in temperature. The sun warmed them with the lazy heat of early summer, warmed his feet and sunk into his hair, making it hang with moist warmth against his neck whenever the wind didn't pull it away.
Something landed on his chest, making him open his eyes and look down. He picked the large insect up by the wings with the gentle but firm hold gained through all the years he'd had handling the things, studying the body, the thin spindly legs flailing uncertainly, looking for something to rest on once more.
It was harmless.
He shifted his hold so it could stand on his hand, and absently watched it climb his wrist, his arm, moving onto his shoulder before a gust of wind blew it back into his hair. The small creature opened the large, leaf-like wings and flew away with the odd, dry crackling of its kind while in flight after disentangling itself.
He took a deep breath, and closed his eyes once more. He was standing in the water of what inches away became a waterfall for a reason, and it wasn't to dry off from the swimming he'd done a bit earlier. His hair was dry, his skin already dried entirely—even his pants were nearly dry, he'd been standing there in the sun for so long.
Behind him, over the sounds of the wind and the water, he could hear Ferien and Waristan chatting, could hear one or another splashing about in the deeper pools of water back there.
They had come swimming with him, they had come knowing he didn't really need or want to go swimming, and now they were back there, waiting and pretending that they weren't waiting and that they weren't curious as to the thoughts making him stand like a living bit of stone on the edge of this precipice.
He had felt this need for contemplation growing for a few weeks, now, ever since he'd narrowly escaped being eaten by spiders while pinned beneath a boulder that had looked, when he went back, much smaller than most boulders.
He was finally healed from that episode.
Healed physically, at least.
With his physical wounds old mental and emotional ones had been reopened, and they had been treated at long last. The one who was his mate was back where she belonged, and they both finally knew it, and were beginning to heal each other.
There was one thing left, though, one thing he'd been avoiding, one thing he hadn't wanted to think about.
He wasn't able to ignore it any longer.
It was his fault.
He thought back to the day he'd learned she had conceived her mate a child the night of their binding, and he remembered anew the punching ache in the core of his being when he had known what she was going to tell him—that she had lost the child before it could be born.
He had thought it was because of her pain, that he ached. He ached because he loved her, and that past event still pained her. He ached because she had lost a child she would have loved. He ached because the conception of a child ruined any chance he might have had with her, if her mate was no longer living.
He had ached for those reasons, but that initial wrench hadn't been because of them, though they were enough.
For that instant, he had somehow known and accepted—it was their child she was talking about. His, and hers. His child which had been lost…
It was his fault.
A soft sigh announced the presence of another, and he knew who it was simply by not having noticed her approach earlier. "It wasn't your fault." She spoke so quietly that had his ears not been tuned to her voice above all other sounds in the world, he would not have heard her over the wind, the water around and below them.
"What wasn't, love?" he asked, his own voice nearly stolen by the wind.
She moved a step closer, the cool water flowing a little differently around his heels until she settled at his side, gazing out at the valley below. "The orc attack could not have been predicted."
He snorted, even as he mentally smiled. She knew him very well, indeed. "I'm sure I could argue, if you could stand giving me more details."
She shook her head—he caught a faint, dark movement from the corner of his eye as the movement changed the direction of her hair in the wind. "Even if I had known, Legolas… even if I had known an hour earlier than I did, it wouldn't have made a difference. Ultimately, the child would have been lost."
Her voice was calm to any who wasn't so well-trained in listening to the nuances of it. He could hear the slight tremor. He considered her statement for a time. "You would not have endangered life to save your pride."
"I didn't want the child," her denial was swift and harsh.
He flinched. "You did."
She looked to the south, and slowly sighed. "I did," she agreed. "There were moments, those first days, when I thought death might be preferable to the agony I was living with. But then something… I can't explain why, but I suddenly focused inward, and felt it. And everything changed. My first thought was to turn about, to come back, to go to you, or Elleri, or perhaps Ada—"
Legolas smiled swiftly. She'd finally broken the long habit of calling his father 'uncle' in favor of calling him Ada.
"—but then I remembered why I wasn't with you to begin with, and…"
"Decided to stay away."
"I decided to think," she countered quietly. "To consider everything. I would change the world if I went back to the halls, and it would have been horrible, heart-wrenching and agonizing for a time undetermined. If I stayed away, I could build a new life, for myself and our child, and I could devote my life to the one I carried."
"You were hardly—"
She broke into his protest with a harsh laugh. "Oh, I know. I was on the way back when I was trapped, Legolas. I hated you desperately just then, but I could not keep you from our child, nor our child from the world. I would have loved him or her, would have done everything I could, but I was little more than a child myself. I was learning how to survive—and there were many days, even weeks, when I didn't eat those first years. It would have been no life for a child, especially one I loved as much as I already did the one I hadn't expected to carry."
He closed his eyes as she quieted, the faint ache in his heart growing. It was his fault. If only…
"It wasn't your fault."
"As you said," he agreed quietly.
She sighed, knowing he wasn't truly agreeing with her statement. "You didn't know I was with child. You didn't know I was attacked. You didn't even know where I went. How could it have been your fault?"
He considered passing it off, giving her a half-truth and persuading her to let it go. He could manage that, he was sure… but too many years lay between them without adding lies and half-truths to the gap. "If I hadn't been drunk, you wouldn't have run."
She snorted, and tossed her head enough to make the wind pull her hair away from her face, rather than into it. "True," she agreed after a moment. "If you weren't drunk, you wouldn't have bedded me. If you weren't drunk, you wouldn't have spoken another's name…" She trailed off as he turned his head slightly towards the north, slightly away from her. "And if you weren't drunk, the binding probably wouldn't have occurred. If you weren't drunk, I would never have conceived in the first place."
"Mightn't that have been better?"
He heard her breath rush in, and felt a terrible ache rush through his body from his now understood innate knowing of hers. "Better?" she rasped.
He groaned softly, turning to face her. "The conception, not the binding," he clarified, hearing some desperation in his own voice and not caring.
She studied his eyes for a long moment, and then the ache eased, lingering, but gently. She exhaled cautiously, closing her eyes. "I've not really considered that," she murmured at last, dark grey eyes returning to look at the land. "There was no reason to," she added quietly.
"Didn't you ever hate me for that?"
She shook her head. "No," she whispered. "For that, I hated you less… I almost loved you for it, truth be all told."
He blinked. "What?"
She chuckled. "I saw our child as a gift, Legolas. A gift to ease the pain, to bring light to future days… and as proof you were not unaffected by the experience, yourself."
One corner of his mouth lifted slightly. "I certainly was not."
"I know… less affected than I…" she trailed off, and he knew that his ability to forget still wounded her.
"Yes," he agreed, so softly even the wind probably didn't hear. "And even barring the unpredictability of orcs—and they're stupid enough to often be predictable—and absolving me of guilt for being too intoxicated to know myself, then I am still at fault. We did not search for you as we could have."
She actually chuckled at that. "Of course not," she chided. "I was of age, the sole survivor of my house, and bound only by ties of friendship and familiarity. It was unusual and unexpected, my leaving, but it was not cause for alarm. I left sign enough that I was leaving willingly."
"I should have found you."
"Why would you have done so? I was nothing but a familiar face to you, then."
"Elleri loved you."
"Yes—and you did best by us both when you comforted him, rather than wasting time searching for me."
"It might not have been wasted, had I gone."
"The best hunters of the wood—who do not number you among them—were sent to find me. What makes you think you could have bested them?"
"I am bound to you. It was fresh, hurting then."
"You didn't understand it. You couldn't use it to find me in Imladris—how would you have done so with even less experience?"
He looked sharply away, and sighed, rubbing his forehead. The thought echoed in his mind again. It was his fault.
She sighed irritably. "If it was anyone's fault, it was mine."
"How?" he asked, frowning. "You would not have endangered your life willingly or even knowingly. A slight suspicion and you would have taken greater care, knowing the gift you carried."
"True. But if I hadn't taken the cowardly way out, if I hadn't run—"
"That took strength, not cowardice."
"I ran. What is strong in that?"
"You ran without being able to hunt, to gather food from the land, without even being much of a seamstress. You had no skills that could help you survive, and you knew that even as you left."
"My Father taught me," she protested defensively.
He smiled, a tender smile that made her soften, when she glanced swiftly at him to see it. "Not enough. You learned, you improved, and you thrived. In time. As in time you returned. It would have been cowardly had you fled west." He caught her eyes. "You never considered that." It was not a question—this he knew as well as he knew when his words hurt her. It came with their deepened bond.
"I couldn't leave you," she protested softly. She smiled ruefully at her own words. "I could roam Middle-Earth, but I couldn't leave its shores. That would have been too final."
She rolled her eyes. "Legolas," she protested. "You're assigning nobility where there was none. My pride and dignity were wounded—"
"Along with your heart."
She didn't try to continue, simply fell silent.
"Love, I wouldn't have stayed, in your position," he reminded her. His heart still hurt when he thought about what she'd gone through, because he had imbibed far too much that fateful eve. It was his fault.
"It wasn't your fault!" she exclaimed, running an agitated hand through her hair.
"You need to stop reading my mind," he mused.
"I don't need to be able to read your mind. I can see it, feel it—you blame yourself."
"Yes," he agreed quietly. Speaking that one word aloud felt like an acknowledgement of guilt, and his head bowed with the weight of it.
She noisily blew out a breath. "What would you rather have happened? That you never drank too much, never ran into me outside the wing, never kissed me, never tugged me into your arms, chamber and bed? That you never lost control of yourself, body and soul? That our souls never met and bound? That our loss of control never resulted in a child? What would you have had happen?"
There wasn't really anything he could say to that—he couldn't regret being so drunk he didn't realize who he was bedding, because their souls had met and bonded, and with everything else a hundred times over and again, that one fact was worth all the pain and confusion. To say he wished they hadn't conceived was a dangerous statement. He couldn't dig into his heart in that fashion any more than she would. The fact was, they had.
So instead of dissecting his emotions, he settled for another track. "We were meant."
"Our binding was too strong for a coincidence of drink and inexperience."
"Legolas," she sighed. "Were we meant, or were the two that we were meant? Can you imagine yourself standing here, bound to the elf I would have been had I remained in Mirkwood?"
He followed a hawk with his eyes, and soon exhaled, shaking his head. "No."
"I don't know her well enough to say I couldn't imagine her standing here," she mused, sounding absent.
"What could have happened doesn't really matter, does it? It's more what did happen."
"Yes," she agreed, and he felt her eyes upon him. "You were drunk, I ran away, and our child was lost because of an orc attack. Mourn the child—I still do. But do not blame yourself."
"Love," he sighed, bringing a hand to his brow again, feeling helpless to argue though he was far from convinced.
"We will know our child one day, whether at the end of the world or when we conceive once more, Valar willing. Grieve for the time lost. But it wasn't your fault any more than it was mine."
He closed his eyes for a long moment, and then slowly nodded. "I… will try."
"Good," she declared, before reaching up, gently touching his cheek. "What do you imagine?"
He looked at her, and the ache rose up again. "A daughter, with pale hair, sapphire eyes that have the slight tilt of yours, a stubborn and defiant jaw, and a love for the wood."
She nodded. "With your ears, something of the Queen in the shape of her cheeks and jaw, for all the attitude it gains from me," she added with a rueful smile.
He closed his eyes, and drew her close, his lips beside her ear. "Did you name her?"
"I daren't," she returned quietly.
"We shall," she agreed, twining the fingers of her left hand to those of his right. She turned, her eyes searching out the shore.
He tugged her fingers lightly, pausing her.
She looked back questioningly.
"Would you tell me…"
"Why pick the traveling name you did?" he asked at length.
She sighed, and looked again at the vast emptiness beyond their wary watchful waterfall. "I picked it after I lost her, after I was healed physically but knew that there were deeper wounds that might never be healed. I picked it… because I felt as if something inside of me had been summarily snuffed out, like a candle in a gale. I felt like there was nothing much left. Empty, desolate…"
He closed his eyes tightly, and anything he might have said choked in his throat. Instead, he pulled her against him, wrapping her with arms that tried to make up for all the pain of the past, knowing they couldn't. He kissed her, trying to convey without words he was incapable of speaking that she was no longer alone, and as long as he existed, she never would be.
She sunk into his embrace, his kiss, and he felt the surrender of a part of her she'd kept slightly apart from him.
The last barrier, the vision of the child they could have had, had been surmounted. They were no longer straddling it, balanced precariously between a seamless binding and one in which they were very close, but the closeness was ever like a maze, dead-ending in crucial moments on important paths.
Ignoring the whistles from the few group-members who had accompanied him out here, he brought her hand to his lips, and led her away from the edge of the cliff.