Elladan's predictions of the meetings came true. After the stable was cleaned to their father's satisfaction, which took several days, the twins spent many more days in their father's study with Legolas, Poldon, Tirinvo and others. Estel's extra lessons were overseen by another Elf during that time.
The month that Estel was limited to the house dragged endlessly for him. While he was not forbidden to spend time with Legolas and his brothers, he rarely got to see them; especially during the first fortnight due to their duties and meetings. Between his responsibilities and extra lessons, Estel hardly had a moment free. The teen did not try to wheedle his way out of the lessons or his punishment, but he chafed inwardly at the inability to spend time with Legolas. Even though nothing had been said, the youth knew Legolas' time in Imladris was drawing to a close.
The Elf realized Estel missed seeing him and after the meetings no longer took the best part of each day, he volunteered to assist Estel with his studying. While Legolas worked with Estel, the friendship between the two deepened even further.
During one session, Estel admitted that Gilraen had not added to Elrond's punishment, but that did not lessen the guilt he felt. For the first time, he had truly hurt and disappointed his mother. That knowledge was worse than any whipping could have been.
When Estel's month of confinement ended, the four friends celebrated by taking a picnic and spending the afternoon away from the Last Homely House – with permission. They traveled to a stream-fed pond that was perfect for swimming. The myriad of trees that sheltered Imladris retreated from the pond so it warmed in the afternoon sun. They swam and ate and at last, as the day moved towards evening, lay on the grass and talked.
The discussion jumped around from episodes in the past to future plans. The twins decided to stay in Imladris for the winter and would resume hunting orcs in the spring. Legolas finally said what the other three had been expecting for some time; he had talked to Poldon and due to the fast approaching winter, they would leave in a week. The road to Mirkwood was treacherous enough without adding the difficulty of winter travel.
"A week? I wish you could stay all winter, Legolas," Estel said breaking the silence that followed the prince's announcement.
"So do I, young one, but I told my father I would return before the seasons changed."
"I would like to see Mirkwood," Estel replied in a wistful voice.
"Why? You have already seen trees here," Elladan interjected.
"But Imladris does not have dragons," his twin countered.
"Neither does Mirkwood," Legolas muttered, "anymore."
The twins ignored the prince and continued their banter.
"Mirkwood does have caves," Elladan said.
"Do not forget the spiders," the younger brother added.
"Never. Nor the orcs," his mirror image smirked.
The twins laughed at the exasperated look Legolas gave them.
"Ignore them, Estel. Someday, you can visit. I would be proud to show you my home which is quite beautiful despite what those two say," Legolas gestured at the still smiling brothers. "I would love to introduce you to my family."
"Which means your father and brother," the teen replied dryly.
Legolas laughed softly. "Plus my brother's wife and my nephew. They all comprise my family. And I consider several of my friends family." The blond Elf grinned at Elladan and Elrohir. "For some reason, I even claim those two."
"Why? They are not related to you," Estel questioned.
"You are not related to them by blood either, Estel. But you call them 'brother.' Why cannot I?"
Estel frowned as he pondered the question as he idly shredded a blade of grass with his thumbnail. "I do not know. But I have grown up with them. You have not."
"True, but we have spent a great deal of time together and have been in situations that we had to rely on each other. While we are not connected by blood, we are connected by something stronger. Love and respect. We care about what happens to each other and watch out for each other," the Elf replied. Estel's brow furrowed as he thought about Legolas' comment.
Legolas watched Estel for a few moments until the teen's expression cleared and then continued. "Estel, it would please me greatly if I could consider you my brother as well. You have earned my respect and I greatly care about you."
Estel's gray eyes lit up as he stared at Legolas in amazement. "You want me to be your brother?"
"Can I call you my brother?"
Legolas reached out a hand to Estel who griped it firmly and nodded. "I am very pleased to have you as a member of my family, Estel."
Elrohir laughed to hide how touched he was by the exchange. The joy on Estel's face was obvious.
"How does it feel to have a Man for a brother, Legolas?" Elladan asked, also having been touched by the exchange.
"No worse than having the sons of elf-lord," he countered.
The four friends laughed in the evening light that filtered through the trees – friends and brothers.
A/N: Well, that's it for this story!
Please don't forget to review. It's the only way I know if you liked my story. Feedback is what makes this all worth while.
Thanks for reading! Lanche (& the squirrel)