A/N: Disclaimers in first part of story. Basically, I don't own anyone but Lauren and other original characters. This is the final chapter of this story, and I thank all those readers who stayed with me for the entire story. I hope you enjoyed reading it as much as I enjoyed writing it. Hannon le, mellyn-nin!
Epilogue - Moving on
Aragorn stood in the doorway of his sleeping chamber and watched Arwen sleep. It was a sight that put a smile on his weary face. His late meetings had kept him from joining her at a decent time. But the treaty was signed, so it had been a good day, all in all. For now, the peace of his land would hold. He moved into the room as silently as he was able and changed into his sleeping clothes before slipping into the bed beside her. As he glanced over to her, he saw the sparkle of her open eyes.
"The meeting ran long. Is all well?" Arwen moved closer to her husband as he wrapped an arm around her.
"It is," Aragorn replied. "The treaty is signed and all is indeed well. Eldarion has shown a great skill for dealing with stubborn ambassadors and delegates. He is growing into a fine man, and will be a great king one day." He smoothed her dark hair back from her face.
"And the children?" Arwen asked with a smile, knowing that he never came to bed without stopping to check that their daughters were well.
"They are fine, sleeping soundly," Aragorn replied.
"As we should be," Arwen retorted with a quick smile. She kissed him gently, then laid back in the curve of his arm, resting her head on his shoulder.
Aragorn sighed as he settled into the softness of the bed. Kissing the top of Arwen's head, he laid his own back on the pillow and closed his eyes. "I do not think it will take long tonight. Go back to sleep, love."
Arwen closed her eyes, and within moments, both of them were sleeping as soundly as their children.
Aragorn looked around as he found himself in a bright, secluded glade in the woods. A sparkling pond stretched out before him, the blue waters reflecting the sunlight in all directions. There was a small waterfall at one end feeding into the pond, and a small stream at the opposite end trailing away. Across the clearing, there was a cluster of rocks at the water's edge. As he watched, a young woman climbed to the top of the rocks. She was wearing very little, only a 'swimsuit' as Lauren had called it. With a flash of astonishment, Aragorn realized that it was Lauren! He had not expected to see her again. She had disappeared from the dream world over fifteen years ago. While he had often thought of her and wondered what her life had held for her, he had never thought he would have answers to his many questions.
He watched as she walked to the edge of the rocks, raised her arms slowly up above her head, then bent her knees slightly and launched herself upward and out over the water before executing a perfect dive into the cool water. After a moment, she surfaced with a splash, brushing the wet hair out of her face with her hands while treading water. Aragorn moved back into the shadows of the trees so that he could observe her for a time without being seen. In the water, she moved with as much grace as she had ever shown. He was relieved more than he would admit to see her able to climb the rocks and dive as she had just done. But then, this was in dreams, and perhaps she was not quite so well in reality. Without revealing his presence and asking her though, he did not know how to find that out.
After a few more minutes of swimming in the crystalline depths of the pond, she began to wade to shore. Aragorn's eyes narrowed as he studied her movements. Though it was barely noticeable, he could detect a faint limp as she walked over to where she had left a towel near the water's edge. She quickly toweled off the excess water, then spread the towel back out on the ground. As she carefully sat down, Aragorn saw his first real sign that she was not truly healed yet. It did not seem to be an easy task for her to gracefully lower herself to the ground, but she did it nonetheless, and lay back on her towel, placing her sunglasses on her face and closing her eyes as she began to sun herself in the quiet glade. She began singing softly to herself as she relaxed in the sun. It was a gentle love song, and spoke of new beginnings and a reason to live.
A smile graced Aragorn's face as he listened to her singing. She sounded like she was in a very good mood, if her music was an indication. As he watched her, he remembered their first meeting. Though the location was different, this seemed very familiar. He stepped out from behind the trees and made his way silently over to her. As he approached, he studied the scars he could now see crisscrossing their way up and down the length of her legs. From the number of scars showing, he thought it was quite miraculous that she was able to walk at all, much less with barely a noticeable limp. He moved to stand between her and the sun, casting his shadow over her.
Feeling the warmth of the sun fade, Lauren peeked through half open eyes. 'Clouds shouldn't be appearing in my dream,' she thought. Her eyes popped open wide as she saw the figure standing in front of her. "Aragorn! What are you doing here? Talk about déjà vu." The last line was muttered under her breath as she started trying to scramble to her feet to greet him.
Aragorn waved for her to stay seated and lowered himself to the ground to sit beside her. She launched herself into his arms for an enthusiastic hug. He couldn't help smiling as he returned her embrace. After a long moment, Aragorn held her at arm's length. "You have not changed at all."
"You have," Lauren commented as she reached up and fingered a strand of his hair. "When did you go so gray?" She sat back and curled her legs up beneath her as she faced Aragorn. Noticing that she still had her sunglasses on, she pushed them up onto her head and studied Aragorn more closely. He did look older.
"That happens with the passage of time," Aragorn said wryly. "How did you manage to escape such a thing?" From her earlier comments, Aragorn did not think that her family still had the longevity of the descendants of Númenor. If that had been the case, it would not seem at all odd for one as young as Lauren to not seem to age over a period of fifteen years. But since he was sure that Lauren's family lived only as long as any other human of her time, he found this highly curious.
"Passage of time?" Lauren asked in some confusion. "It's only been, what, a year and a half or so since the accident? Surely you didn't age that much in that period of time."
"It has been fifteen years since I last saw you," Aragorn replied, startled at her response.
"Fifteen years? Wow." She paused in thought for a moment. "I guess there's nothing that says we had to reconnect after the same amount of time. After all, thousands of years lie between us. What's a decade compared to that? Though I have to say that I'm certainly glad we met up fifteen years after we met last time. Can you imagine what might have happened if we had met up again fifteen years before we met the first time? I think I'd have had a really hard time explaining who I was. But then, we couldn't really have done that, could we? Because then you would have recognized me when we met up the last time. Since that didn't happen, I guess we couldn't have done that. Oh, this is getting confusing." She stopped speaking and pressed her fingers to the bridge of her nose as she closed her eyes. "OK, let's avoid talking about time travel and possible paradoxes. The topic is giving me a headache."
Aragorn had to chuckle at her verbal antics. "You truly have not changed at all."
She gave him a sheepish grin. "I guess not. Sorry about that." Looking down, she realized she was still wearing a swimsuit. "I suppose you want me to change into something that covers a little more skin?" With a thought, she changed into a long skirt that reached down nearly to her ankles and a light, V-necked top.
Aragorn stared at the item of jewelry that had appeared around her neck when she changed clothes. On a silver chain hung a very familiar ring. "Is that the ring of Barahir?"
Giving him a bright smile, she reached up and fingered the ring. "Yeah, actually. It was passed down from father to eldest son in an unbroken line for thousands of years. No one in my family has any idea of how old it is, well, I told Jeff, but I'm still not sure he believes me. When I woke up in the hospital, Jeff was there and he was wearing the ring. He told me that my dad had given it to him on his wedding day and that Jeff would carry on the tradition some day. I'm only holding it for awhile. He loaned it to me as a reminder and a source of strength. When he gave it to me, he had no idea just what it would be a reminder of. This ring really has been a source of strength, because every time I look at it, I remember you, Arwen and all the others."
"Then I am very glad that he gave you the ring, for whatever length of time," Aragorn replied. "I suppose I cannot argue with tradition, as it was passed down to me from my father as well, but I would have been honored if you were given the ring to keep. I cannot think of anyone else that I would prefer to have it." Aragorn thought through the implications of her brother having the ring, glancing briefly at the twin of the ring on his finger. "So you are descended from Eldarion after all?"
"It would seem so," Lauren replied. "How is he doing? I guess if fifteen years have passed, he's grown up and isn't a child anymore."
"He is grown," Aragorn agreed, "and doing quite well. Only last night he sat in on a treaty negotiation with a contentious neighbor and proved himself to be quite the diplomat. Largely due to him, the treaty has been signed and the peace will hold."
"Wow," Lauren said, impressed. "Somehow, I just can't picture him as anything but that adorable seven year old."
"He almost did not grow up much past the boy you knew," Aragorn said soberly.
"What do you mean?" Lauren's tone of voice was worried. "What happened?"
"Eldarion has always loved climbing trees." Aragorn started the explanation. "Nearly a year after we met, he fell from a high tree and landed on his back. I watched it happen, unable to do anything to stop his fall. When I reached him, I discovered that he was not breathing, and the shock of the fall had stopped his heart." Aragorn nodded at Lauren's gasp of horror. He would never forget the panic that had clutched at his heart and mind as he made that horrible discovery. "Before I even had time to think about it, I had started the method you call CPR. After several moments, his heart began and he started breathing on his own again." Aragorn bowed his head briefly and looked back into Lauren's eyes. "I cannot thank you enough. If you had not shown me that method, I do not know if he would have survived."
Lauren's face drained of color. "Oh…my…God."
"Lauren?" Aragorn asked in concern, reaching for her arm.
"They say that God works in mysterious ways, but this was more convoluted than I would ever have thought." Her eyes were fixed on his face, and her voice soft.
"What do you mean?" Aragorn was thoroughly confused by her words.
"My coma," Lauren started, speaking urgently, "meeting you, showing you CPR, then you using it to save Eldarion, who I just happen to be descended from. Aragorn, you've just told me that my coma and meeting you enabled you to save Eldarion and preserve the entire line of his descendants. If I hadn't had that accident and had never met you, you may not have been able to save Eldarion, and who knows how many people in the intervening millennia would never have been born. I would never have been born, and just think what a temporal paradox that would have created! What this means is that I was always destined to get into that accident and to show you how to do CPR when we met." Lauren brushed a shaky hand across her face. "Wow, I think I need to sit down."
"You are sitting down," Aragorn pointed out, feeling a bit overwhelmed as well. It seemed now that their meeting had not been chance, but had been destined to happen. As he well knew, finding out your place in such a vast plan set in place long before your birth could be enough to shake the foundations of a person's belief system. "How are you feeling?"
She shook her head in bewilderment. "I don't know. Awed, confused, humbled, I can't even really put words to it."
"Is it not a relief to know that your accident had a purpose?" Aragorn asked carefully.
"Oh, I already knew that. I had accepted that quite some time ago, but I had thought the purpose was to save my brother's life, not our entire family line." She ran her hands back through her hair in that familiar gesture that Aragorn recognized as nervous habit.
"Your brother?" Aragorn questioned, sensing that there was a story here of which he was unaware.
"Jeff came home from the war-zone to be by my side while I was in the coma. While he was visiting me, his men were ambushed, and several died. If he had been with them, he would surely have been killed. You don't know the anguish I saw in his eyes when he told me his friends had died, but there was something else as well…gratitude and a small amount of awe. He knew as well as I did that if I hadn't been in that accident, he would have had no reason to come home and he would have been killed." She looked down at her hands for a moment in silence before continuing. "We had a long talk about that one day as I lay in the hospital, and I told him that if my injuries bought his life, it was a price I paid gladly. It was one of the few times I've ever seen him cry." Tears misted her own eyes, and she took a deep breath, blinking them away. "He's been calling me his good luck charm ever since, but he was totally overprotective of me while he was home. Even though he had absolutely nothing to do with the accident, I think he felt somewhat responsible, as if he had to repay some debt to me." She shook her head at the thought.
"Is it not possible that he simply loves you and realized how close he had come to losing you?" Aragorn asked, having had much experience with overprotective older brothers.
"Well, yeah, I know that was a large part of it. But after a few days of his hovering, I was nearly ready to strangle him." The wry grin on her face made Aragorn start laughing. Oh yes, he knew that feeling well.
The smile slipped from her face as a sigh escaped her. "He had to go back to Iraq not long after I woke up. I wish he could have stayed longer, but they felt he was needed there. I pray for his safety every day. I gladly paid the price to save his life once, but I don't think I could go through it twice, you know?" A rueful look came over her face as Aragorn nodded in understanding. "Though since the accident apparently served a larger purpose than saving one life, perhaps I wouldn't be expected to do anything like it again. It's kind of a relief, actually." She leaned back on her elbows, stretching her legs out before her, and looked up at Aragorn.
"What is?" Aragorn asked curiously.
"The idea that I've fulfilled my destiny already. Your father told me that he sensed I had a great destiny to fulfill. There's surely nothing greater that I can do than to ensure the survival of an untold number of people. So now that that's done, I can just go on living my life. That is a huge weight off of my shoulders. I've affected the entire history of the world without even being aware of it." She gave him a grin as she lay back on the ground and placed her hands underneath her head. "I'd say that's enough for one lifetime, don't you think?"
Aragorn made a noncommittal sound in response. He was unsure if she truly had already fulfilled her destiny, but he knew she must feel a great sense of relief from thinking there were no more expectations to live up to, and let the matter drop. Glancing down at the part of her legs that showed below the hem of her skirt, he again saw the network of scars on her legs. "How have you been doing, Lauren? You seem to be walking remarkably well."
"It didn't come easy," she said soberly, sitting up once again and tucking her crossed legs out of sight under her skirt as if hiding her scars had become an ingrained habit. "I almost lost my left leg. An infection set in, and they had a really hard time clearing it up. I've had several different surgeries to repair the damage, spent months confined either to bed or a wheelchair, and I'm still going through physical therapy. I had to relearn how to walk after my muscles atrophied from disuse. I have to admit that I've had some really bad days in the past year or so, but I'm glad to say that they're behind me. The doctors were pretty surprised at how well my recovery is going. But I have to say that I've had a lot of help in my recovery." A smile softened her face as she thought about the people in her life that had helped her more than she could have ever hoped.
Despite her matter-of-fact tone, Aragorn's breath caught as he imagined all the pain that she had gone through in those first months after her accident. What she told him was bad enough, but what she didn't say hinted at depths of pain that would have daunted the strongest of men. He was glad to hear that the worst days were behind her, but he found himself wishing anew that he could have been here to help her. The smile that crossed her face as she mentioned those who helped in her recovery made Aragorn wonder. That smile belonged on a woman in love. "Who is it that brings such a smile to your face?" Aragorn asked her.
Her eyes glanced briefly away before looking back to hold his gaze. "Some very special people. There is one in particular though." She held her left hand out toward him, and Aragorn saw a gold and diamond ring on her finger. "I'm engaged to be married," she told him with a mixture of shyness and pride.
Aragorn's eyebrows rose in amazement. This from a woman who had given up on finding love? A wide smile split his face. "I give you my congratulations, then. Who is this incredibly lucky man and is he worthy of you? This seems rather sudden to me."
"I've known him for some time, Aragorn. He is no stranger. And…oh, Legolas!" She abruptly sat up straight from her more relaxed posture.
"Legolas?" Aragorn asked in confusion. "You are engaged to Legolas?"
She had been gazing around them as if looking for someone, but Aragorn's question brought her gaze back to him very suddenly. "What? Don't be ridiculous. Of course I'm not engaged to Legolas. I'm engaged to Mark."
"Who is Mark?" Aragorn asked, feeling that the conversation had just passed him by.
"My fiancé," Lauren answered matter-of-factly.
"Lauren." Aragorn growled her name, getting frustrated that the conversation seemed to be going in circles. "If Mark is the man you will marry, why did you mention Legolas?"
"Oh, I just thought he should be here with us, that's all."
Aragorn would have sworn that the innocent look on her face was real and that she hadn't just tried to confuse him by talking around the subject.
"Should I summon him?" Aragorn asked her after taking a brief calming breath.
"No, let me," Lauren responded with a smile. "Could you help me up first?" she asked, holding her hand out in the air to be helped to her feet.
Having no idea why she wanted to be standing, and deciding not to question her about it as it would likely lead to more frustration than it was worth, Aragorn stood to his feet and leaned down to offer Lauren his hand. She grasped it firmly and pulled herself to her feet with very little help from him.
"OK, thanks," she said, moving to stand a little distance away from him. "Legolas!" she called in a loud voice. Aragorn was uncertain why she felt she had to shout, but maybe it was easier for him to call Legolas than it was for her and she wanted to make sure he would hear her. Shrugging, Aragorn leaned back against a nearby tree and waited for his friend to appear. He would enjoy spending some time with Legolas, actually, as it had been a couple of years since they had last seen each other. Legolas was busy with his duties in Ithilien and Aragorn kept very busy with his duties in Minas Tirith.
"That was highly unnecessary," a voice complained as Legolas appeared, rubbing his ears. "There was no need to shout."
"Sorry," Lauren replied. "I didn't know what I needed to do to get you here. I've never tried to summon you into my dreams before."
"No, you have only stumbled into my dreams," Legolas said with a tone of long complaint.
Lauren rolled her eyes at him. "I said I was sorry about that, didn't I? Besides, I haven't done that for months. Not since I learned how to control my dreams a little better."
Legolas inclined his head toward her in acknowledgment of that fact. "That is true. Was there a specific reason that you decided to summon me for the first time tonight?"
"I had some unexpected company," Lauren explained, tilting her chin to indicate something behind Legolas.
"Company?" Legolas asked in curiosity. He looked around until his eyes fell on Aragorn, standing near a tree just behind his current position.
Aragorn could only stare as Legolas appeared. The Legolas in front of him was a Legolas that Aragorn had never seen. At first, he appeared to be any other human. He still had long blonde hair, worn loose down his back, but he was dressed in a pair of loose fitting pants of some kind and a short sleeved shirt of a thin cotton material. He did not have his usual luminescence, and his ears were rounded, not pointed. Aragorn could not make sense of this, and as his mind caught up with the conversation, he realized that Lauren and Legolas had been in contact much more recently than had he and Lauren. He stepped away from the tree as Lauren told Legolas she had brought him here to visit with company. When Legolas' eyes found him, Aragorn froze and stood perfectly still, staring into a pair of blue eyes that registered a great deal of shock at seeing him.
It was in that moment that Aragorn realized the Legolas standing in front of him was not the Legolas currently residing in Ithilien. This was the Legolas of Lauren's time. A million thoughts raced through his head as Legolas simply stared at him. How would Legolas react to seeing a friend he had buried thousands of years ago? Would Aragorn's presence be greeted with joy or would he bring up painful memories of the past? They stood for a long moment, each watching the other intently until Legolas broke the silence.
"Aragorn?" Legolas whispered the question as if unsure whether he could believe his eyes. "Is it really you?"
"Aye, mellon-nin, it is I," Aragorn said softly, taking a step toward Legolas before stopping, unsure of his reception.
Legolas just gaped at him for several long moments. He had never expected to see Aragorn again, and to be confronted with him so suddenly like this…he wasn't even sure what he was feeling, other than shock.
Aragorn watched a myriad of emotions chase each other across Legolas' face. Astonishment and shock were followed by sorrow, an echo of a vast remembered pain, and Aragorn drew in a sharp breath as he saw the depth of that grief in Legolas' eyes. He had never wanted to cause Legolas pain, and he felt an answering pain in his own heart. But that flash of grief was followed swiftly by a wild hope and then happiness, an unbridled joy that brought an answering grin to Aragorn's face. With that smile, Legolas launched himself across the distance separating them to pull Aragorn into a tight embrace. Aragorn clung tightly to him in return, knowing how he would feel if he were given the chance to once again see a friend lost to death long ago. When Legolas finally released him, he held Aragorn at arm's length, studying his face and drinking in every detail as a man dying of thirst would drink a flagon of water.
"I am truly here," Aragorn felt as though he had to reassure Legolas that he was not simply a vision or hallucination.
"Yes, you really are," Legolas said with wonder in his voice. "But how are you here?"
Aragorn shrugged. "Ask Lauren. I simply appeared here and saw her swimming in the pond."
Legolas looked back over his shoulder as if he had forgotten that Lauren was there. He raised an eyebrow in question.
"I haven't the faintest idea," Lauren replied. "I'm not in a coma, and that was the only time we were ever able to contact each other. I wasn't trying to summon Aragorn, so I really don't know how he got here." She gave them both a wide grin. "I'm thrilled to see him, though, no matter how he came to join us, and I can tell that you are as well, Legolas." Lauren had to laugh at the look Legolas gave her. She interpreted his raised eyebrow as, 'yes, any idiot can see that'. "OK, you're right, it was a stupid comment."
Aragorn looked back and forth between them, sensing an ease that spoke of a long-time friendship. He studied Legolas for a moment before asking a question he had wanted to ask from the first moment that he saw him. "How do you come to look so human, my friend?"
"He's a chameleon," Lauren put in with an impish grin.
Legolas took pity on Aragorn's confused expression. "It is a talent I have learned in the intervening years. I am able to influence the way people see me. Lauren's world is not ready to see an elf, and to avoid trouble, I found it necessary to hide my true appearance."
Aragorn nodded in understanding of the reasons behind the disguise, but he was still not sure exactly how Legolas had made himself appear human. Legolas saw this and decided to demonstrate. Standing back from both Lauren and Aragorn, Legolas closed his eyes and concentrated on shifting the aura he projected.
Watching as a faint ripple stirred the air around Legolas, Aragorn found himself quite fascinated as he saw the human disappear and an elf take shape before him. Even studying Legolas as closely as he was, Aragorn would have had a hard time describing exactly what about Legolas had changed. Well, the ears were once again pointed, his hair pulled back in braids, and his glow had returned, but Aragorn didn't think simply the absence of those elements would have made Legolas appear quite so human. There was little change in his face, but now Aragorn saw an elven face, where earlier he had seen a human one. He was not sure quite what made the difference, but there was a definite difference. When Legolas opened his eyes, Aragorn was stunned at what he saw in those endless depths. For the first time, he truly realized that he was looking at an elf that had lived for many ages of man. The sheer presence of the elf in front of him took his breath away. There was wisdom, serenity, and peace in those eyes. The weight of the ages had changed him almost beyond recognition. Aragorn was reminded of the presence that Galadriel had always possessed. Suddenly, Aragorn did not doubt that Legolas had gained many abilities over the years, including the ability to make himself appear human. He found himself wondering if this Legolas would treat him as the Legolas he knew once had, or if this Legolas was someone entirely different.
Aragorn's trepidation disappeared as Lauren broke the moment by reaching out and gently touching one of Legolas' braids. "Oh, you're just so pretty when you drop the disguise," she cooed playfully.
Legolas swatted her hand gently away, rolling his eyes. "Cut it out, Lauren."
Lauren turned to Aragorn with an impish grin. "He's pretty impressive as a human; all my female friends have been trying to catch his eye ever since they met him, but if they saw him as he is now, they'd mob him. He wouldn't escape their clutches alive."
"Hence the need for some protective camouflage," Legolas said dryly.
Aragorn looked back and forth between them. "So you are truly in Lauren's world?"
"Yes, I have been here for over a year. I promised you that I would come to help her in her recovery and I held to that promise." Legolas gazed at him seriously, and Aragorn could see the friend he knew in those clear depths. Legolas had always taken his promises to heart, and that had evidently not changed.
"I would like to hear of your time here," Aragorn commented. "If you would be willing to share the tale."
"Of course," Legolas answered. He glanced to the side and saw Lauren shifting uncomfortably from foot to foot. She was well on her way to a full recovery, true, but standing for any length of time was still uncomfortable for her. "This is a long story, however, so we may as well make ourselves comfortable." He gestured toward the blanket that they had been sitting on previously and as a matter of habit, helped Lauren to be seated before taking his own seat near her. Legolas sighed as Aragorn seated himself. Where to begin his story? He was not exaggerating when he said it was a long story. Should he start with tales of his life in Valinor, or start with his journey here? Deciding to start with his time in Lauren's world, he picked a place and began his story.
"When I approached the Valar in Valinor and told them of my promise to you and my desire to travel to this time and place, they agreed to allow it, after much debate and with a few conditions. One of those conditions was that I not attempt to bring anyone back with me, and the other was that I return when my task was complete. They did not think it would be appropriate for me to attempt to stay for the remainder of Lauren's life as I did with you." As Aragorn's gaze sharpened, Legolas nodded. "I vowed to remain in Middle-earth as long as you lived mellon-nin. I held to that vow." He would speak no more of Aragorn's death or what he did after Aragorn's time on Middle-earth had ended, and he knew Aragorn would ask no more for fear of stirring up an old pain. "The Valar informed me when the time was right, and sent me back. I can say nothing of their methods, as I have also been sworn to keep their knowledge and methods secret from all those residing on Earth. Unfortunately, that includes Lauren, and she has not let me hear the end of it." He shot a wry grin toward the woman sitting nearby, waiting for her comments.
"Oh, I understand the need for secrecy," Lauren put in, right on cue. "But I don't think it's fair. I told you two all kinds of things about my world, after making sure that you would not repeat it or use it. I just thought that you might be able to return the favor, after swearing me to secrecy. It just doesn't seem fair that you can't tell me anything about the knowledge you have."
Legolas decided to ignore her pouting and protestations and continue with his story, going on as if he had not been interrupted. "The Valar also sought to prepare me for the world I would be entering so as not to be overwhelmed by the differences in our societies, and also to enable me to be a help to Lauren and not a burden. They trained me on the language I would be speaking and the many confusing customs I would be encountering. By the time I traveled here, I was well able to blend in."
"Is that why your manner of speaking has changed so?" Aragorn asked curiously, shifting to lean back against a tree.
"Well, the Valar were not correct on everything. The language they taught me was more than enough to get by, but there are many nuances, phrases and slang words that I have picked up in my time here. If my speech patterns seem to have changed unduly, blame Lauren and her friends." Legolas gave Lauren a sly grin that let Aragorn know he was teasing her.
"Hey!" Lauren protested, rising to the bait. "It's not like you won't go back to speaking elvish just as perfectly as you ever did when you return to Valinor. You speak English well enough to blend in with anyone you meet. Call it part of that 'protective camouflage'." She waved her hand expressively as she made her point. "But don't try to say that I've ruined your perfect diction or anything like that. I don't think a year or two in my world would be enough to overwrite thousands of years in Valinor and Middle-earth before that, so don't even try it."
Holding up a hand in a gesture of peace, Legolas nodded toward her to acknowledge that he was only teasing before continuing his tale. "I found Lauren in the hospital easily enough, though she seemed quite shocked when I entered her room." He smiled at Lauren as he remembered her staring at him with her mouth open in shock.
"Shocked doesn't exactly do it justice," Lauren inserted with a reminiscent smile. "If I hadn't been flat on my back in bed already, I would have ended up that way. I probably would have passed out when Legolas walked into my room."
// Lauren was not having a good day. She had only been awake for a week, and already the pain and the inactivity were getting to her. Though she hated her own behavior, she found herself sniping at her family and friends as they tried to help her or cajole her out of her bad mood. They finally left her alone as she started to drift off in a light doze. Her eyes were closed as she drifted in a half-awake state when she heard a familiar voice. A frown furrowed her brow as she tried to place the voice. When she recognized it as Legolas', she was convinced she was dreaming, and forced her eyes open. Glancing toward the door, she was stunned to see Legolas standing there…or at least someone who looked remarkably like Legolas, only human. This was surely a dream, or a hallucination. Was she having a reaction to some of her medication? Legolas couldn't possibly be here, and it was highly unlikely that there was a human around here who looked so much like Legolas. Lauren's eyebrows rose in surprise as her mother approached the man who now stood in the doorway.
"May I help you?" she asked.
"I was looking for Lauren Ellis," the Legolas look-alike said to her mother. "I heard she was in the hospital and came to visit."
"She's sleeping right now," her mother said, "but I'm sure she would appreciate a visit when she wakes up. Have we met before?"
"No, we have not," he answered. "I am a friend." Before he could say any more, a voice sounded from inside the room.
"I'm not asleep, Mom." Legolas and her mother both turned to look at Lauren. She was staring at Legolas with a look of utter shock on her face. She turned her eyes toward her mother. "He's a friend I haven't seen in a long time. I'd like to talk to him, if you wouldn't mind giving us some privacy?"
Lauren's mother gave her a look filled with curiosity, but apparently decided that she would not get any answers at the moment and nodded. "I'll be in the cafeteria. Just call the nurses if you need anything."
"I will," Lauren said. She knew her mother didn't know what to think about this situation, but she would have to come up with something to tell her later. Lauren kept her eyes fixed on Legolas as her mother gathered her purse and left the room. Once they were alone, she put voice to the questions swirling in her mind. "Are you who I think you are?"
Legolas gave her a serene smile. "Yes, Lauren, I am who you think."
"But how? You look so…" Lauren didn't seem to be capable of finishing the sentence.
"Human?" Legolas asked, smiling at her confusion. He crossed over to take the chair near her bedside. Her eyes followed him as he moved, though Legolas noticed that she was careful to move nothing but her head. He studied her appearance. She looked much the same as his memory of her in this place. Her legs were still held still by the metal contraption, and her arms were still covered in a series of healing scratches. The bandage from her head was gone, and Legolas could see a gash near her hairline with several stitches holding the edges together. Many of the life-sustaining machines were gone, and despite her visible injuries, she was looking much better. The pale stillness of her face was gone, replaced by a much healthier tone and much livelier expressions. Shock and confusion were the overriding expressions at the moment, however.
"Yeah," she said, still trying to reason through Legolas' appearance in her hospital room. "How are you even here? I thought you were in Valinor."
"And so I was," Legolas replied. "I swore to Aragorn that I would travel here to make sure that you were well. He was greatly concerned for you when you vanished."
Lauren closed her eyes and gave her head a small shake. "You would have had to make that promise to him thousands of years ago." She opened her eyes and looked back at him.
"Yes, I did," Legolas replied. "But it was a promise that I intended to keep. I also wished to know that you were well, and recovering from your injuries. The Valar allowed me to travel here for a short time to aid you in that. I am here to help you in any way I can, Lauren."
"Wow," Lauren said softly. "You left a paradise to help me?" Legolas merely inclined his head, and Lauren noticed once again that his long hair was held back in a ponytail, revealing the rounded ears of a human. "But how do you look so human?"
"Illusion," Legolas answered. "It would not be safe to appear as myself, so this was the solution we decided upon."
With stiffness evident in her movements, Lauren reached out her right hand and gently traced her fingers over the tip of his ear. Her eyes widened as she felt a pointed ear under her fingers that her eyes did not see. Legolas smiled at the expression on her face and reached up to take her hand in his. "Do you believe now that I am truly here?"
Lauren nodded slightly, her eyes still wide at the thought that the elf she had met in her dreams was now sitting before her in the flesh. She had never expected to actually meet him. A glance out the door reminded her that they had several people who would be expecting an introduction to Legolas, and she could not tell them the truth. "Thank you, Legolas. I appreciate this more than you can know. I would love to tell everyone I know who you really are, but we both know I can't do that. We need to come up with a story to explain who you are to my parents and friends."
Legolas nodded and leaned in closer so they could come up with a cover story for him.//
Aragorn's face was crinkled in a smile as Lauren and Legolas told him of their meeting in the hospital room. He could see Lauren's expression of shock so clearly in his mind's eye. "So what did you decide to tell your parents?" he asked Lauren.
"We decided that he would be Lucas Green, a good friend of mine from college. He was on a hiatus from his job and decided to come out to help me in my recovery. Mom wondered why I had never mentioned him before, and I told her something along the lines that I didn't tell her everything about my life. Legolas had not planned for a place to stay, so he slept on the couch at my house with my family for awhile. I think it helped assuage their fears about him when he seemed to know my pets. He knew their names, and while they had never seen him before, they just loved him at first sight because he's an elf." She shrugged and continued. "My brother had to return to Iraq shortly after Legolas' arrival, and Gail and Dad had to return to their jobs not long after that. Before they all left, they rearranged the house so that my bedroom was on the lower level so I would not have to face any stairs when I returned home. Anyway, while they were all in the house, Legolas must have charmed them all into trusting him, because they were all comfortable with the idea of leaving me in his care when they returned to their lives. Mom stuck around for a long time after the others left, but I think she missed my dad a lot. Once she was finally convinced that Legolas was capable of taking care of me and that he was trustworthy enough, she returned home to be with my father."
She hesitated a moment at this point, not sure she wanted to tell Aragorn about all the months of pain, disappointments, surgeries, and excruciating physical therapy sessions that had followed Legolas' arrival. But she couldn't just brush off his contributions during those times either. "The first few months weren't pretty. I have to say that Legolas saw me at my absolute worst. But he never faltered in his devotion to getting me through this. He consoled me when I needed comfort, pushed me when I needed encouragement, and kicked me out of my self-pity when I faltered. I honestly don't think I would have made it without him."
Legolas shook his head. "No, I merely helped you to find and channel the strength you hold inside. You are the one responsible for your own recovery." His eyes flashed as he returned the impish grin she had given them earlier. "And I was hardly the only person who stood beside you in your recovery. Are you forgetting Mark?"
Lauren flushed slightly as she looked back at the ring on her finger. "No, I'd never forget Mark. But I never would have given him the chance to help me nor opened my heart to him without your encouragement."
This was something that Aragorn really wanted to know the answer to. "Who is this Mark?" His question came out sounding rather more plaintive than he would have liked.
Taking pity on him, Lauren finally described a little more about the man she was to marry. "Well, I've actually known Mark for a long time. I was ten when I met him. He was my brother's best friend, though he wasn't too fond of me at the time. Most thirteen-year-old boys wouldn't be happy about a ten-year-old girl trying to tag along and do everything that they did. I have to admit that I probably made a bit of a pest of myself." Lauren's wry grin brought an answering smile to both Legolas' and Aragorn's faces. They could all too easily picture a ten-year-old Lauren following along and insisting on doing everything her brother did.
"That, I can believe," Aragorn said, grinning.
"Hey! I wasn't that bad," Lauren protested before continuing. "Anyway, we stayed at that location for a few years, and I was fourteen years old when we moved. Jeff and Mark stayed best friends the whole time, and I had a bit of a crush on him by that time. But I had already fallen into a pattern of trying to annoy him at every opportunity and didn't know how to change it, so I remained a pest in his eyes. He and Jeff actually kept in sporadic contact, so when he moved out here about six months before my accident, Jeff told me about it. I invited him to dinner to get caught up on old times. We got along pretty well and he joined my little group of friends, but though I could tell he was interested in becoming more, I never gave him any sign that it would be welcome. So he kept it at the level of friends and never pushed for more. He knew enough to know that I had had a bad romantic experience, though I never gave him any details."
Aragorn frowned as he remembered what she had told them. Knowing how few people had heard of her experience, he felt honored that she trusted them enough to tell Legolas and him. He reached over and placed a hand comfortingly on her shoulder as she continued her tale.
She sighed as she remembered the awful night that she was hurt. "The night of my accident, I had been traveling home after meeting him for dinner. When he first came to visit me in the hospital, I knew that he was feeling guilty that he didn't drive me home, or that I was out on the roads at all that night. I tried to convince him that it wasn't his fault and there was nothing he could have done differently, but I'm not sure he believed me." A soft smile crossed her face as she thought about him. "And since I woke up, he has come by almost every day to visit. He's been there with me through it all, not letting me push him away. I think he probably got some advice from a certain elf about how to deal with my moods, though," she added with a sidelong glance at Legolas. "Even though he didn't seem to like Legolas at first."
"Why is that?" Aragorn asked with a curious glance at Legolas.
Lauren gave a faint grin. "I think Mark was a bit jealous, honestly. Legolas came out of nowhere, nobody had ever met him, and yet it was clear that I trusted him completely. It probably didn't help that Legolas was pretty overprotective of me as well, though it was more of the parental or big brother style of overprotection. I relied really heavily on Legolas for quite some time. Mark finally relaxed though, and then he and Legolas began to gang up on me to do everything the doctors and therapists said. I didn't stand a chance against the both of them." She gave Legolas a grin to let him know that she didn't mean anything bad with her comments.
"Once he relaxed enough around me to allow discussion, he made quite a good ally," Legolas said lightly. "He is a good man."
Lauren smiled at Legolas, then went on. "Anyway, as I went through this ordeal and Mark remained by my side, I began to see that he would walk through fire to keep me safe if it were necessary. He would die before doing anything to hurt me. It finally sank in that he loved me, and that allowed me to open myself up to the possibility of love. Once I opened the door just that little crack, I fell head over heels in love. He is such a great guy, and he has the most intense blue eyes I've ever seen. I could drown in those eyes." Her voice had taken on a dreamy quality when she was speaking, but she shook her head as if to shake herself out of a trance. "It was about a month ago when he asked me to marry him. He's the one I told you about, the one who knows about hang-gliding. He took me out for my first real flight after the accident, and it was everything I had thought it would be. Flying was wonderful, and once we landed, he pulled out a ring, dropped down to one knee and asked me to marry him. My answer was a resounding yes. That was the most perfect day I've ever had. I wish you could meet him, but I've never been able to pull any other humans into my dreams but you."
That brought up a question for Aragorn. "And I would like to meet this man who has so stolen your heart. I am truly happy for you, Lauren." He looked over at Legolas, then back to Lauren. "But how did you summon Legolas to your dreams or intrude upon his?" The last part of his question came back to him as he remembered what Legolas had said as he arrived in Lauren's dream.
"I'm not entirely sure," Lauren admitted. "I think our contact somehow put us on the same wavelength or something." She paused to allow the comment that was sure to come from Legolas. He didn't disappoint her.
"Now there's a frightening thought." Legolas' voice was dry as he gave her a sidelong look.
Lauren just grinned and winked at him before continuing. "Anyway, somehow, my subconscious mind kept intruding on his subconscious mind. Legolas helped me figure out how to control my dreams to at least avoid bothering him."
"Bothering him?" Aragorn detected something in her voice, and the mischievous glint in her eye confirmed that there was more to this story.
"Well, he wasn't exactly happy the first time I found myself in his dreams," Lauren said, sliding a quick glance in Legolas' direction to see him frowning at her.
"Why was he so displeased?" Aragorn asked, knowing from Legolas' expression that this must be a good story.
"He happened to be dreaming of his wife at the time," Lauren said.
Legolas ignored Aragorn as his jaw dropped at hearing that Legolas was married. Legolas' attention was focused on Lauren. "I was remembering a special moment between my wife and I, Lauren, and I did not appreciate your intrusion."
Lauren remembered the clear moonlit night she had seen in Legolas' dreams. He and his wife had been strolling through the gardens before stopping near a low stone wall where Legolas leaned in to kiss the blonde elf maiden. Legolas later told her that what she had witnessed had been their first kiss. Lauren could understand why he wanted to keep that moment between he and his wife. "I said I was sorry for that, Legolas. I didn't intrude on purpose, you know that. If I had had any idea of how to leave, I would have done it quietly and you would never have known I was there. Unfortunately, I didn't have a clue how to do that. Do you want me to apologize again?"
Legolas shook his head. "No, I know it was not your intention to intrude."
"Good," Lauren said. "I thought it was very sweet. You two look good together. And you should relax about my witnessing it. While that was a very special moment between you, it was only a kiss."
Before they could continue their conversation, Aragorn asked the question foremost on his mind. "Wife?" he asked in amazement. "I believe you have been keeping things from me. Tell me more of this wife. Do you also have children?"
"And grandchildren and great-grandchildren," Lauren put in, having heard many of Legolas' tales of his family.
Aragorn turned to Legolas and was about to demand more information when Legolas held up a hand to stop the flow of words. "I met Arúviel in Valinor. Though there is less of a need for healers in Valinor, injuries are still possible, so Elrond still trains healers there. She was one of his students. I remained very near Elrond and his family upon my arrival in Valinor, and met her in the gardens one day. She was lovely, kneeling in the path, tending to a flower bed. I apologized for disturbing her peace, and she told me that she did not mind as she had not spoken with a single person the whole day. We wandered the gardens for a time, then. We became friends, and several years later, I asked her to join me in marriage. She agreed, and we were wed beneath the open skies in the garden where we had first met."
Legolas' gaze became rather far away as he became lost in his memories and Lauren sat up straighter and curled her legs up beneath her as she listened anew to Legolas' story.
"Our first son was named Estel, but she would not allow me to name any of our other children after our other friends from Middle-earth." Legolas looked up to see that Aragorn seemed quite touched at the thought that Legolas had named a child after him. Legolas gave him a grin. "She insists that Estel is a proper Elvish name, but Faramir or Gimli is not. You would like her, Estel. I do wish you could meet her…maybe someday you shall."
"What do you mean?" Aragorn asked. He was nearly speechless at the thought that Legolas' first son was named after him, but that last comment begged for an explanation.
"Let me just say that I have come to share Lauren's certainty that we will all be reunited some day," Legolas said mysteriously. He decided to continue his tale to distract Aragorn. "We have another son, Nimorn and two daughters, Rosuial and Lalaith."
Aragorn smiled at the thought of Legolas as a father of four. He would have loved to see him with them as small elflings. "Lauren said you have grandchildren?"
"Yes," Legolas answered. His smile grew mischievous. "Lalaith married Elrohir, and they have two children."
"Your daughter married my brother?" Aragorn asked in amazement.
Lauren started giggling. "I nearly laughed myself silly when Legolas told me that he was Elrohir's father-in-law. I mean, I know that it doesn't work the same way among an immortal race, but the very thought was just hilarious."
Aragorn was still staring at Legolas in bewilderment. He couldn't quite wrap his mind around the thought that his best friend's daughter had married one of his older brothers. "What about Elladan?" Aragorn asked carefully.
"He married a great artisan named Imlada. They have twin daughters and a son." Legolas grinned at Aragorn. "No Aragorn, he did not marry my other daughter." Legolas knew what Aragorn had been thinking when he asked the question.
It was a rather sheepish grin that Aragorn returned. He had been wondering that very thing, actually. "What else can you tell me of my family? Are they happy?"
"Very much so," Legolas said. "Life continues much as it ever has. Your brothers still manage to worry your father with their recklessness, and he has continued to improve his skills so he can patch up their injuries."
"How do they get injured?" Aragorn asked in confusion. "There are no orcs to battle in Valinor. Are there other enemies?"
"No, of course not," Legolas said. "The only times weapons are needed are for hunts and contests of skill. I was referring to their other activities."
"And what activities would those be?" Aragorn asked warily. He was not quite sure he wanted to know the answer to that.
"They've pioneered the elven experiments with flight," Lauren put in with a grin. "Apparently, my stories, combined with Legolas' stories impressed them enough that they decided they wanted to know how to go hang-gliding."
Aragorn turned his head to face her with a slight frown on his face. "I thought Legolas was not allowed to tell you anything about his life in Valinor."
"He's not allowed to tell me about all their advancements," Lauren clarified. "They don't want any humans to have knowledge of anything we have not achieved for ourselves. Legolas is perfectly free to tell me about his life, his family, and any advancements they made that we also have. There were many days that I needed a distraction from the pain, and Legolas told me many stories about his life. So I've heard all about the twin's first attempts at flight. They didn't do so well at the beginning, actually. But then, the first human attempts to fly were pretty disastrous as well." She giggled to herself. "Instead of the Wright brothers, they had the Peredhel brothers."
From Lauren's comment, he assumed the Wright brothers were the ones who had pioneered human flight. He looked back to Legolas. "And did they finally succeed?" he asked, picturing his brothers crashing one device after another. He sorely hoped they had not attempted their first flights from too high of a location. Given this information, he could see how his father might still have cause to worry over his brothers.
"Yes," Legolas responded with a smile. "After many trials and studying the failures, they were able to re-create a hang-glider that supports the weight of an elf and allows one to soar among the clouds." He had a reminiscent smile on his face that told Aragorn he had taken advantage of the twin's success and had probably flown many times over the centuries.
"And did you aid them in their endeavors?" Aragorn questioned.
"No, I had my own studies," Legolas responded lightly. "After seeing the night sky as Lauren sees it, I took an interest in astronomy. It took a great deal of study, talking with the wisest of the elves, and inspiring debate and discussion among many of the younger elves, but we were able to create a society of elves who undertook to study the skies, the stars and everything beyond them. It took a great deal of time, research, and many, many observations with several telescopes, each one more advanced than the last, before we were able to reach even the level of humans of this time. But we had the advantage of time, and the ability to continue our studies beyond the lifetime of a human, so we have made great strides in this field."
"No kidding," Lauren muttered. She turned to face Aragorn with an unhappy look on her face. "He let it slip once that he knows what dark matter really is. And he won't tell me!" The last comment was nearly a wail. But after finding out that Legolas knew the answer to one of the greatest mysteries in astronomy was enough to drive her insane with curiosity. She turned to Legolas to give it one more shot. "Come on Legolas, I have to know. I won't tell anyone else, I swear I won't, you have my word. Just please tell me that one thing before you leave. I won't ask for anything else."
Legolas stared at her for a long moment before giving a sigh. "Very well. I will tell you, if only to get you to stop asking me." He took a deep breath and then looked her in the eyes. "The matter which makes up the bulk of the universe and yet cannot be seen is in actuality…invisible dragons."
Lauren's eyes had been growing wider as she thought she was about to learn the answer to the mystery of dark matter. At his last two words, they narrowed to slits. "Brat."
Legolas burst out laughing. "I am sorry, I couldn't resist. You should have seen the look on your face."
Lauren grabbed the pillow that she had been resting on and swung it into his face. "That was just mean."
Aragorn laughed at their antics as Legolas grabbed the pillow to keep her from hitting him again. Apparently, Lauren still enjoyed a good pillow fight. Lauren rose to her knees in an attempt to gain more leverage, and winced slightly as she swung once more at Legolas' head.
"What's wrong?" Legolas had caught the faint wince, and stopped the pillow as it swung toward his face, giving Lauren an intent stare. He knew she could be just as stubborn as Aragorn at admitting when she was in pain. And considering how long she had lived with pain as a daily companion, she had lost the ability to tell when she was doing too much.
"Nothing," Lauren said innocently.
"Why do I not believe that?" Legolas asked. Lauren knew by the tone of his voice that it was a rhetorical question, so she didn't answer. "Are your legs bothering you?" Legolas asked with a raised eyebrow that reminded Aragorn strongly of Elrond. Lauren just shrugged and looked away from Legolas' intent gaze. "Uh huh," Legolas said as his guess was confirmed. "I did say that last night might not have been such a good idea, did I not?"
At that, Lauren looked up and met his gaze firmly. "But it was worth it. I knew what I might be in for, and I don't need you saying 'I told you so'."
"What did you do?" Aragorn interrupted the minor altercation between them.
"I went dancing with a bunch of friends," Lauren said, turning her attention to Aragorn. "It was the first time since the accident, and I may have overdone it a little bit. The muscles in my legs were cramping up quite a bit before the end of the evening. Oh, but it was so much fun that it was worth every little bit of pain. I didn't really do any damage or set back my recovery, I just pushed certain muscles in more of a workout than they were happy with."
"Not to say 'I told you so', but I did tell you halfway through the evening that it might be a good idea to stop. You are not nearly so healed as you seem to think." Legolas had Lauren sit back before reaching over and gently drawing one of Lauren's legs into his lap as he began massaging away the aches and muscle cramps.
Lauren winced as he hit a particularly tender spot on her calf. "You just wanted to leave early because you didn't like the music. I told you that you didn't have to come and could leave any time you wanted."
Aragorn remembered the brief glimpse he had once gotten of one of Lauren's dance clubs. He had thought he had appeared in the midst of a battle. Staring askance at Legolas, he asked, "You went willingly into one of those clubs?"
"I had earplugs in to muffle the music," Legolas shrugged. "Someone had to keep an eye on Lauren and make sure she did not overdo it."
"And you didn't trust me or Mark to know my limits?" Lauren asked incredulously.
"Obviously not," Legolas said as his fingers dug into a particularly tight muscle.
Lauren winced again. "Point made. But I had so much fun that a little pain now is a small price to pay. I still say you would have had more fun if you let me or one of the others pull you out on the dance floor."
"Not on your life!" Legolas burst out. "That was not dancing. I have no idea what to call it, but it wasn't dancing." In truth, he had had fun watching the others have fun, but there was no way he would allow himself to be pulled out onto the floor. What they called dancing he considered very immodest, and he would never be able to bring himself to emulate them. It had been a joy to see Lauren with a smile on her face the whole evening, though. That glorious sight had been very rare those first few months.
Aragorn chuckled at the thought of Legolas in the midst of that sea of bodies he had briefly glimpsed. It would have been an amusing sight, but it sounded like Legolas had at least had the sense not to venture into that mob. He couldn't help but notice that when Legolas was arguing with Lauren, his speech slipped into a pattern that matched Lauren's far more closely than what he was used to hearing from Legolas.
Legolas placed Lauren's leg back on the blanket and pulled the other one into his lap to begin the soothing massage. Aragorn watched what seemed to be a ritual between them, and he noticed that Legolas seemed very skilled at therapeutic massage. It was something Aragorn had learned from Elrond long ago in his training as a healer to help in the healing of injuries to muscles or to help strengthen weak muscles. He did not know Legolas had taken any healer training, though.
Putting the pillow behind her head, Lauren lay back on the blanket and let Legolas' hands work the pain out of her sore muscles. Giving a soft sigh, she closed her eyes to a mere slit. "You really have to teach that to Mark, Legolas. Since you learned it from Elrond, it surely doesn't fall under the heading of knowledge you're not allowed to share."
"You have studied with my father, Legolas?" Aragorn asked, curiously. He thought Legolas had spent all of his time with his studies of astronomy. But then, Legolas had had thousands of years. There was surely time to do both.
"Yes, I have studied with Elrond. I will never be the healer that he or Arúviel, my wife is, but I have learned a few things over the years." Legolas' smile softened as he mentioned his wife. "But knowing that I would be here to help Lauren, I did train with Elrond in the art of healing the types of injuries we knew Lauren had."
Aragorn noticed the smile on his face as he mentioned his wife. "I would like to hear tales of your life and your family, my friend. It does my heart good to know that you and my family are well and happy."
Legolas smiled at him before launching into a story of when his first child was very young and his first attempts to teach him to eat solid foods. He regaled them for the rest of the evening with tales of life in Valinor, mixed with the occasional tale of his experiences in Lauren's world. When Aragorn began to show signs of fading away as he awoke, Legolas' eyes widened in panic.
"No, not yet. Aragorn, I am not ready to say goodbye again so soon."
Aragorn struggled to hold onto his sleep. He had never wanted to cause Legolas pain, and the panic in his eyes was shredding Aragorn's heart. "I do not know how much longer I may remain here, Legolas. My body is trying to awake, and I do not seem to have much to say in the matter."
Legolas lowered his head and nodded slowly before raising his eyes to meet Aragorn's. The look in his eyes was once more as it had been when Legolas revealed himself to Aragorn. The panic had faded, to be replaced by that look of un-definable wisdom and a depth that seemed to go on forever. "Forgive me, mellon-nin. I had no right to ask you to stay beyond your ability. It is time for you to return to your life. I do ask that you not tell Legolas that you have met with us tonight. You did not tell me about this, so you cannot tell the Legolas of your time." A soft smile quirked his mouth at the confused look on Aragorn's face. "I am truly grateful that we were given this chance to speak. I have missed you, my friend. But I know that we will meet again some day." He leaned over and wrapped his arms around Aragorn again.
Aragorn returned the embrace with tears in his eyes at the thought that once he faded away, Legolas would have to face losing him all over again.
"Namárië, gwador-nin", Legolas whispered in his ear. (Farewell, my brother.)
"Namárië, gwador-nin," Aragorn returned in a choked voice. They pulled away and Aragorn found his gaze caught by those uncanny blue eyes. He finally forced his gaze away to face Lauren. He had a feeling this would be the last time he saw her, and he would not leave without saying goodbye. "My heart is lightened with the knowledge that you are doing so well, Lauren. I thank the Valar for this chance to see you both again. I am sure you plan to do this anyway, but I will offer this last piece of advice. Live your life to the fullest and treasure those in your life. Namárië and farewell."
Lauren nodded her head toward him regally. "Namárië, hîr Elessar." (Farewell, Lord Elessar)
Aragorn gave her a startled look. "You understand Sindarin?"
Lauren shrugged. "I've picked up a few words here and there. How could I not with an elf living in my house?" Her voice lowered and she gave him a wink. "When he gets mad at me, he starts speaking Sindarin. I had him teach me some just so I'd know if he was cussing me out or something." Her smile grew rather wry. "If you thought it was hard to win an argument with him before, you should try it after he's had a few millennia of being a parent."
Aragorn grinned at her words and expression. "Then I will leave him to you. Fare thee well, both of you." With that, he could no longer hold his grip on the dream world and faded away.
Lauren turned to face Legolas and saw a hint of tears glimmering in his eyes. "Are you all right?" she asked him in concern.
Legolas smiled at her before draping an arm companionably over her shoulders. "Yes, Lauren. I am well. I will miss him, but this parting is not forever. I still look forward to the day we will be reunited." He looked at her, then back to the pond. "And if it is not yet time for us to awaken, would you care for a swim?" His eyes glinted as he remembered his long-time taunts to Aragorn. "I do believe you could use a bath."
Her eyes glittered with a mix of humor and false outrage. "I had a shower just before I went to bed, thank you very much! Prissy elf." The last comment was delivered just as Aragorn had said it many times in the past.
"Stubborn human," Legolas retorted, feeling light-hearted as he stood to his feet and pulled Lauren to hers before they raced for the water.
They swam and played in the water until they began to fade to wakefulness. Lauren smiled as she faded. It was time to face a new day.