Disclaimer: Standard disclaimer applies – not mine, no money, just for fun. First LOTR fic and I'm far from an expert on the subject matter – I'm also in desperate need of a beta so if anyone would like to volunteer, I would be forever in your debt!
Summary: Trouble comes to Minas Tirith after the ROTK. Someone is attacking the Elves in the city and Aragorn enlists the aid of old friends only to discover that no one is above suspicion.
Death Would be a Gift
Arwen couldn't remember the last time she had seen her husband smile or had smiled herself for that matter. Really smiled, that is, not the forced look she showed to the endless row upon row of people that she saw daily, people desperate to voice their wants and needs, their tales of pain and suffering, their hopes and dreams. There was so little she could do except listen. And smile. But Legolas and Gimli had arrived just this day and it hadn't taken long before her husband was smiling and was in fact now laughing heartily at something Legolas had said. It was a wonderful, welcome sight indeed.
The absolute silence from the creature sitting to her right side however, cut into the laughter as cleanly as a sharp knife and she was drawn once again to observe the dwarf sitting quiet and dejected beside her. Gimli had been this way since arriving, even though copious amounts of ale had been made available for his consumption and the pipes had long ago been lit with the finest Longbottom leaf to be found, a gift from the hobbits the last time they had paid a visit.
The reason for this strange behavior had thus far remained a mystery. No amount of questioning or taunting from any of them had brought him around either; he sat, his head downcast, lips pursed into a tight, disapproving line. Legolas had merely shrugged at her questioning look as if to say that he had no idea what bothered their friend, even though the two had spent the better part of these last two years touring Middle Earth together.
The roar of Aragorn's laughter pulled her thoughts from the lone unhappy individual in the room as she examined the noisy pair across the table from her. Aragorn's broad smile chased shadows from his eyes but could not hide the strain that permanently lined his face. He appeared to have aged a decade since becoming king. Those lines reminded her chillingly of his mortality and she shivered at the thought. So little time they would have together And it wasn't just rebuilding the country that was dragging on him, she felt sure. Something else was bothering him, something that he refused to share with her no matter how or how often she asked. Something that caused his brow to crease and his eyes to narrow with the weight of his worry. Something that had led him to send her brothers away two months before on some hastily fabricated trade mission to Umbar even though he relied on their friendship and guidance almost exclusively now that Faramir was away, busy rebuilding Ithilien.
Completely unaware of her worried appraisal, Aragorn dodged a playful punch from the Elf, giving her ample reason to believe that the roar had come somehow at the latter's expense. She noted with long held affection that her dear friend was the absolute antithesis of her husband; poised and shining, his hair as golden as the rays of the sun, his face as smooth as the day he had been born except for the crinkles that formed in the corners of his eyes when he laughed which he was doing now with abandon.
She turned her attention once more to Gimli, sweeping the dwarf with a critical eye, not even attempting to hide her interest or her concern. Gimli did not notice. He stared at his still full plate, (that alone enough to raise her alarm), never once lifting his head to acknowledge her open appraisal or the lively discussion at the opposite end of the table She had just opened her mouth to try once more to see if she could get some sort of response out of the gloomy figure beside her, only to be interrupted when Legolas abruptly rose and excused himself for the evening, clasping Aragorn's hand and bestowing a brotherly kiss upon her cheek before going. He merely nodded in Gimli's direction and both Aragorn and Arwen followed his departure with worried eyes that turned immediately to the saddened and downcast dwarf still sitting silently at the table, his own eyes glued to his plate.
"Did you two have a fight?" Aragorn asked, as soon as the door closed behind Legolas, voicing the question that Arwen had been asking herself all evening. Gimli hunched his shoulders and sighed heavily, but said not a word. Aragorn glanced at her, his worry increasing she could tell by the deep furrowing of his brow, before trying again. "Come Gimli, you must tell us what is on between you. We would want to help. Again the sigh. This time Aragorn faced her fully and shrugged while holding up both hands as if to say, what do I do now? She had no idea. Before she could think of something to try herself, the dwarf at last broke his silence.
"He's been ill," he said, his voice heavy with emotion. As if with great effort, he raised his head and returned their stares, anguished eyes flitting between husband and wife. "He does his best to hide it and he is very successful at it. But I've been with him all of this time now and I can see it quite clearly. He hates that I know. He is ashamed of his weakness." Gimli stopped as suddenly as he had started, dropping his head back to gaze miserably at his plate once more. "I'm worried for him. I don't know what to do!" and at that, he began to cry, fat tears spilling onto his untouched dinner.
Arwen choked back her own tears as she watched Gimli's silent distress. She wanted to run to him, to hug him to her but was held frozen by a sense of foreboding that welled up inside her at the sight; for although dwarves were an emotional lot, Gimli would not give into his own unless there was a very good reason for it. Aragorn showed none of her hesitation. He left his chair at once and knelt beside the dwarf enfolding both of his friend's hands in his own.
"Tell me about it, Gimli," he said in a whisper, as if the words themselves might make whatever ailed Legolas even worse by the saying.
Gimli snuffled and tore a hand away to drag across his wet weathered cheeks before answering in a quavering voice, "I think it is the sea longing. But I don't know for certain. These Elves are such silly, mysterious creatures." He had obviously forgotten that she was part Elven. Or not. Gimli had always been one to speak his mind.
Aragorn paled at Gimli's words and Arwen was reminded that her husband felt himself at fault for this malady that afflicted their friend even though it wasn't anything to do with him. Yes, he had known what would happen if Legolas should hear the cry of a gull, he had been there when Gandalf had delivered Galadriel's message. And it was also true that he had done little to dissuade his friend from going with him, even though their journey would carry them both to the sea. He had acted, or not acted as the case may be, for personal reasons; he had desperately needed Legolas' sturdy presence at his side to ensure the success of his mission.
But the end result had not been his fault. It had been Legolas and Legolas alone who had decided to accompany Aragorn. He too knew well the danger and the price he would pay. It was not Aragorn's fault, Arwen knew that and Legolas knew that. If only she could get her husband to see the truth of it! Yet, all he knew was that by doing nothing, he had condemned Legolas to an eternity of suffering. There was no way to extract this poison, to turn back time and reset things to they way they were before. Arwen stood and made her way to their sides.
"Many Elves live with this affliction gentlemen," she said forcing strength and confidence into her measured words. "We mustn't look upon this as something that cannot be dealt with. Our first trial will be to get that stubborn fool to admit that he has a problem. Gimli?" Both dwarf and man raised anxious yet hope filled faces, focusing on the certainty in her voice. "He has at least admitted this…problem of his to you?"
Gimli nodded. "Once," he said. "He admitted it directly after we were at Edoras for the burial of Theoden King. He couldn't wait to leave there, a great surprise to me for our next stop was to be Helm's deep and the glittering caves. I could not imagine what was in his mind - an Elf would rather visit a cave than enjoy the pleasures of a fine city and good food and song and dance? I argued, I made light of his request, not realizing his desperation. And in that desperation, he broke down and told me. He hoped that by traveling and adventuring he might be able to hold the longing at bay. He was actually looking forward to the caves, believing that inside them, buried deep in the mountain, in the total absence of light and sound he would find some measure of relief from the relentless call of the sea.
"Do you remember, Aragorn? I put it to you that I was anxious to be on our way? Do you remember that I told you I couldn't wait to show Legolas the caves and I rushed us from Edoras?" Aragorn nodded and Arwen too remembered. It had not seemed at all strange, as Gimli had not ceased speaking of the beauty of the caves of Helms Deep since having laid eyes on them during the battle so hard fought there. "It seemed to work," Gimli continued. "He seemed better. And after, as we continued on to Fangorn Forest and from there, any place that happened to be in our path, he seemed even better still."
Gimli paused and turned earnest eyes to Aragorn. "I know we should have returned here to help you these last months," he said, his voice pleading, "I knew how difficult you would have it putting things back together again here. Please forgive me but I thought it was the best thing to do given his…situation." Before Aragorn could offer a response however Gimli was off again, as if a dam had broken and all of his earlier silence filled with hurried, panic-filled words; he needed hope and help more than forgiveness right now.
"Most of the time, he seemed fine and you wouldn't have known anything at all was amiss. Yet whenever I so much as mentioned returning here and taking a rest he would, I don't know… Gimli shrugged his shoulders. "His eyes would darken, as if…as if he were afraid? No, no," he shook his head, "It wasn't fear. I don't know what it was that bothered him exactly, but I could not abide that look and so would stop pushing him where he so obviously did not wish to go. And so we stayed away and left you to your own."
"Until finally, I begged him, because I needed to see you, to see both of you, to have a chance to rest myself. But, as we finally turned to come in this direction, at long last, I realized that it had been an act that he has been putting on for my benefit all of these long months, an act he can no longer keep up and he is beginning to show his true condition. Days go by and he does not even speak to me, as if he is some place else in his mind, only his body before me on that horse. He is pale and sluggish and is becoming more so every day to the point where I don't think he can even take care of himself any longer." Aragorn arched a brow and Gimli hurried to answer the unspoken disbelief in the man's eyes.
"Just last week, we were attacked by a small band of rogue Orcs and he stood still while they did what they could to cleave his head from his shoulders. They would have killed him too if I hadn't been there to protect him. He did nothing but stand there Aragorn, he did not even raise a hand to his own protection, as if he were in a trance or asleep on his feet.
"And…there is more…"
With a gulp, he continued, more slowly this time, feeling each word carefully before speaking it, letting them know that they were difficult words to say. Arwen felt that sense of foreboding again and held her breath. "Perhaps a month ago, he was standing on the edge of a cliff, gazing out across the valley below. Without a word, He stepped forward, as if he could walk on air and went right over the edge. Luckily, there were bushes and rocks that broke his fall. Even his Elven healing abilities have been affected though, he is still limping today." This time, Gimli shuddered, as if reliving the memory.
"Stepped?" Aragorn asked.
"Legolas says he slipped."
Aragorn abruptly dropped the hand he still clutched and instead grabbed the dwarf's arm tightly giving it a little shake as he demanded, "But you said stepped?"
"Because that is what he did, I don't care what he says. I was there. I saw what happened."
"Gimli, you can't believe Legolas would do such a thing on purpose!"
"I know what I saw." Gimli hunched himself over the table again, looking suddenly old and Arwen thought, for the first time since she had met him, small.
"I haven't known him a very long time, Aragorn. Not long like you. But in that time, I have come to know something of how he thinks I believe, how he thinks and feels. And I have come to worry for how he will handle the day when we will all leave him. I have wondered if he ever regrets becoming involved with mortals. I know he cares for us all so deeply and he has condemned himself to a time of great sorrow when he is once again alone. I worry that he dwells on this, that these dark thoughts weigh on him, weigh on his mind. I know they weigh on mine…
Gimli's head snapped up and he stared at the closed door that Legolas had just passed through, his eyes blazing. "I never thought it would go the other way, Aragorn. I never thought for once that we would have to learn to live without him. I cannot learn such a thing. I will not! It is not how things are supposed to be."
"There, there, Gimli," Aragorn answered, his own eyes following Gimli's to the door. "None of us will allow such a thing to happen. We will find a way, some way to ease his suffering and if all else fails, we will help him on his journey to the Undying Lands. We will allow no other fate to befall him."
Arwen began to rub her arms, feeling a sudden chill in the air even though there were no windows open to provide a breeze and moments ago she had been perfectly comfortable. This was worse than she had expected, worse than anything she had encountered from other Elves that suffered from this affliction. Yes, their suffering would eventually drive them to leave Middle Earth but to end their own lives? She had heard tales that it had happened before but they were only tales, weren't they? It could only happen to an Elf so tied to Middle Earth that the thought of leaving was harder to bear than the sea longing...
Her previous bravado vanished and she shuddered; for there was no Elf in all of Middle Earth, in all of her long memory of Elves in Middle Earth as tied to this world and its people as Legolas Greenleaf. Perhaps Gimli was right to fear.
And yet, even in the midst of her very real concern, she found herself moved to look not at Gimli, not at the door that the other two steadfastly contemplated. Instead she watched the man that she loved more than life itself, noting once more the lines that etched his face, the slight graying at his temples and thought on Gimli's words. Grief drove Legolas to this, she felt sure, grief and longing, both powerful and destructive emotions. She would know them herself all too soon. How would she survive?
Perhaps she would do the same thing that Legolas' was attempting to do. She was nowhere near as disbelieving or appalled as either of the mortal beings in the room. She understood completely the fear of an eternity without the people that she loved and cared for.
The chill she had been fighting sent a shiver through her body that Aragorn caught out of the corner of his eye. He rose and left Gimli's side at once after giving the dwarf's arm a final comforting squeeze and found his way to hers, wrapping strong arms about her and pulling her close, almost as if he could read her mind.
"Perhaps our fathers were right," Gimli was saying, "Perhaps mortals and immortals should keep their distance…"
"No," Aragorn whispered in her ear, "I cannot believe that is true, for I would be nothing without you." She hugged him closer to her, knowing that she felt the same way. But Gimli's words fed the cold that lingered in the dark places that cradled her fears. She understood how Legolas felt, she understood better than anyone else in Middle Earth. Without Aragorn she would be wholly and utterly alone. Death would be a gift, when that time came. Life without him would not be worth living.