PLEASE READ THE WARNINGS BEFORE GOING ON—ESPECIALLY #2!
Disclaimer: I own nothing in this marvelous universe; it all belongs to J.R.R. Tolkien.
WARNING #1: Sweet as candy, I think, folks, although there is angst in here, as well. In any case, I thought I'd leave another tissue warning here.
WARNING #2: Once again, this should not be taken as slash if you do not wish it to be. There is much talk of love here, and there is another kiss on the lips between two males, although it is not explicit. Whichever type of love you'd like to interpret this as is up to you.
A/N: Well, this is it. The final chapter. I've thoroughly enjoyed writing this story, and I hope you enjoyed it just as much!
Reviewers: All 71 of you, many thanks!
Individual Non-Slash and Slash Endings: I had actually considered doing this, but going back through my story, I realized that to do two endings would take away the entire meaning of this story. One of the major points of this story is that Legolas and Estel are so close that you are never quite sure whether they are a couple or not, and I am determined to leave that decision up to you—so please enjoy!
.:A Man Called Hope:.
By Sentimental Star
(Sunset That Same Day, S.R. 1541—Courtyard of the Peredhil Home on Tol Eressëa)
"Tell me why we are doing this again?" a disgruntled Estel called up the trunk of a tall oak tree, larger and far more ancient than the tree that grew in the forest of Imladris. He lightly leapt back several feet and danced out of the way as a thin, woven rope tumbled out of the tree, catching it just before the section with the lamps could crack against the ground.
"Because Sam and Frodo wanted to," came the matter-of-fact, muffled reply from further up in the tree where the Silvan Elf was stringing rows of lanterns. The prince swung himself down onto a lower branch. "Hand up the next set."
The young Dúnadan did so, holding onto the final set that was to follow.
They had been at this most of the afternoon, and not far away, Estel could see Sam ordering two very amused sets of twins hither and thither, while Lady Celebrían sat back and watched, laughing quietly to herself. As far as he knew, his Elven mother was under explicit directions from the stout little Hobbit to relax and let him run everything for the celebration the two Hobbits insisted on having. How Sam managed to employ, not only the Silvan twins, his twin brothers, and Aries, but also his Elven father and Thranduil, in this little operation was quite beyond him. Still…for all he protested this, he would not deny how wonderful 'twas to have the chance to do this, to be a part of it, and to know what he otherwise would not have been able to…
/Elven mother…/ he mused thoughtfully to himself, a slight smile touching his lips as he watched her turn to greet Frodo, who came out with the first two dishes. /That's…a nice thought, actually. Mother…/
A slim hand suddenly waved in front of his eyes. "Anyone in there?" Legolas's voice teased warmly.
Estel snapped around to face dancing midnight blue eyes exactly level with his own, nearly managing to tangle himself in the strand of lanterns.
He raised an eyebrow. "Mellon-nin, surely that is not the wisest position to be in."
Legolas, hanging upside down from the lower, wider branch of the oak tree by his knees, merely raised his own eyebrow in response—an astonishing feat in itself—and crossed his arms over his chest. A hidden smile lurked at the corners of his mouth, and his long, golden hair, unknotted and re-braided, dangled several feet off the ground. "Is it not? Strange…I am quite comfortable here."
Estel chuckled, switching over to Sindarin, 'Methinks that is because you are quite the odd Elf.'
The prince finally laughed, and swatted playfully at his best friend, somehow still managing to keep his balance.
The young Man ducked, grinning, as the Wood-Elf swung himself upright onto the branch and reached out for the final string of lanterns. Still grinning, Estel handed them to him, moving to lean on the branch as he watched Legolas climb nimbly back up into the higher reaches of the tree.
Watching his dearest companion work deftly to complete their task, the once-Ranger felt his face soften and his shoulders ease. They had been nearly inseparable since they had reunited early this morning, and Aries, after the cousins exchanged their own exuberant greetings, had complained good-naturedly that the two of them were attached at the head.
When asked why at the head, the older Silvan Elf had smirked and affectionately retorted that the two had so much idiocy and obstinacy between them, where else could it be?
Coming forward to hug his son, Thranduil had suggested their feet because where one went, the other soon followed, and that included into more trouble than any sane being should be able to handle.
'There! And you were complaining!' Legolas declared at last, effortlessly navigating his way down the oak.
'Nay, not complaining,' Estel protested mildly, stepping back and smiling slightly as the prince lowered himself onto the branch the Dúnadan had just abandoned. 'I merely wanted to know why Gimli could not do it, instead.'
The Wood-Elf arched an eyebrow, grinning. 'Have you ever seen Gimli climb a tree?'
'Willingly?' the Human asked with a grin of his own. 'No.' He came forward to once more lean his folded arms on the branch where Legolas sat idly dangling his legs and turned his smile to the archer. 'Still, I should have liked to have the extra pair of hands, at first. Do you know how difficult it is to hold all of those lanterns?'
Legolas laughed brightly. 'Aye, you would have made a wonderful Yule tree.'
Estel pouted at him. The prince just continued to grin. Soon enough, however, the Firstborn turned serious and his smile softened as he cast a glance over to where Gimli could be seen waiting patiently by Lady Celebrían, eyes fixed on the entryway to the courtyard. 'Ada tells me the Lady Galadriel is expected soon, Estel,' Legolas advised him at last, voice quiet and eyes gleaming warmly as he watched the Dwarf. 'We have had our reunion, let him have his.'
No response, save a hand sliding gently along his jaw, which tenderly redirected his gaze to Estel's once more youthful face. The Dúnadan's eyes were liquid silver, warm and open in the rosy light of sunset. As the young Man began to lightly draw his fingers through the Elf's golden tresses, Legolas smiled and gratefully shut his midnight eyes, clasping Estel's hand between his own two, and leant his cheek into his beloved friend's palm.
The Man pressed close, nuzzling his nose against Legolas's own.
The Wood-Elf laughed quietly, gladly absorbing this affectionate touch. 'Mmm,' he murmured and gave a pleased grin, 'you have not done this in years, quel mellon-nin. What is the occasion?'
Releasing a soft breath that stirred the Firstborn's hair, Estel's hands slipped down to his companion's waist. He sounded no warning before fluidly lifting the slight archer down and off the branch, throwing into the motion a small spin.
Allowed only a moment's startled gasp, Legolas gently grabbed the back of Estel's neck, trying to keep himself steady. The Man did not seem to mind, and set him carefully back on his feet.
Legolas gave the once-Ranger a shy glance. 'Estel?' he whispered, realizing the Dúnadan seemed oddly close to tears.
The Human suddenly crushed the Elf into a tight embrace. 'I love you,' he choked, tenderly squeezing his dearest friend. 'I know I did not say it nearly often enough, but I love you.' He took in a shaky breath, pressing the Silvan Elf closer. 'When I arrived…after I saw my family…all I could think of…was you.' Legolas shut his eyes, forcing a few tears to slip down his cheeks, and buried his face against Estel's chest, smiling against the cloth. 'Even when my brothers told me your Adar and cousins had arrived, I had only one thought…and that was that maybe, by some extraordinary grace of the Valar, you had made it to Tol Eressëa and sought out your kin.' The Man paused here, moving one hand to rub at silver eyes as his own tears started to fall. The other arm remained firmly around Legolas's waist 'And you weren't...I had guessed it—rather expected it, actually—but still…some part of me, some inane, wishful part of me hoped…When you weren't there…I was so frightened, Legolas. Happy to see your family, but frightened…Fright turned to guilt, and guilt to anger. Not at you, not at your family, but at myself. Because you weren't there, and the reason you weren't there, was because of that promise, that terrible, wonderful promise…' Estel pulled back slightly, gently pushing Legolas's hair off his forehead and tenderly kissed it, causing the Elf to give a teary grin. 'On Arda, in spite of how much I worried about being a burden and a danger to you, to my family and yours…I never understood just what you gave me…' His voice cracked. 'Never appreciated fully how much you sacrificed…Aries told me about the argument you had with him, when he first met Halbarad, what he told you…what you said in return…and I…I…Legolas, I…' He gave an errant sob, once again holding his best friend close.
'Estel.' Legolas worked his way out of the Man's arms and reaching up, took the crying Dúnadan's face gently into his hands with a smile up into the silver eyes. 'Do not weep. Never once have I regretted my choice. Never once did it occur to me to seek the Grey Havens, not even after I heard the gull's cry. Please understand, Estel…in you I found a reason to fight again, to face the darkness of Mirkwood. Just the knowledge that there was some light left in what had become a very dark world for me, that there was someone—my Adar and cousins aside—to return to…that made all the difference, Estel. All the difference in the world.' He cracked another smile, a tear squeezing out of the corner of his eye, and his hand brushed back the Human's dark hair. 'Everything I did, every decision I made, always in the back of my mind I thought of you, and what I fought for. You were never a burden, Estel, and whatever danger you found, I followed you gladly. I cared not that I might die, only that you might live.' He looked away, midnight eyes darkening, but did not withdraw his hand from Estel's face. 'When you were dying, I was in agony. But what hurt, more than anything, was when you forbade me to follow you.' He turned back, countenance pained and tight. 'Never could I deny you anything, Estel. But the day you passed from Arda, I wanted to follow you…and I couldn't, because you forbade me. And I could not go against your charge.' His hand slipped from Estel's now thoroughly damp cheek.
But it was caught, and a warm kiss pressed to his palm. Estel, his own silver eyes tear-bright, glanced back up at the prince and, shaking his head, replied with naked honesty, 'I cannot say I regret laying such a charge on you, Legolas, but I do regret the pain it has caused you.'
The Wood-Elf smiled faintly. 'I think, Estel nin, we caused each other pain. I know you were not happy with the promise I gave you in Imladris when you turned twenty, and 'twas your right to release me from it. I am only grateful you allowed me the chance to keep it while you lived.'
The young Man gave a half-smile in return and, clasping Legolas's hands with both of his own against his chest, leaned down to lightly press a chaste kiss to his beloved friend's lips. Tipping his head back, the Silvan Elf gratefully accepted it. When Estel pulled back, his silver eyes radiated unabashed warmth. 'I love you,' he breathed, 'more than I have ever loved anyone in my entire life.'
Behind the two friends, unobtrusive and unnoticed, Aries watched the scene unfold with tears in his eyes and a smile on his face.
He understood, better than anyone, the power of the emotions roiling just beneath the surface of his little cousin's and Estel's interaction. He had thought—privately—that 'twould be unbearable to see the two of them together, but years of living on Tol Eressëa had eased the ache of losing Halbarad and Arathorn both. Oddly, watching Estel and Legolas made his eventual reunion with his own dear friends seem that much more plausible. There was now the hope of "someday," and he knew he could patiently bear the wait.
Clearing his throat, the older Silvan Elf stepped up to his two companions and gently squeezed Estel's shoulder, casting his smile at the younger archer who had once again rested his head on the Dúnadan's chest. When Edan and Quendi snapped around to face him, Aries chuckled softly, 'I apologize, but your Ammë is quite insistent you and Legolas come eat, Estel.'
Estel glanced over to where Lady Celebrían now stood near the food-laden table at the archway, hands on her hips and watching her Human son and his Elven best friend with a smile on her own lips. Aries's uncle and Lord Elrond stood with her, both with identical looks of amusement adorning their faces.
A slow blush crept over Estel's and Legolas's cheeks both. 'How long have they been standing there?' the young Man hissed. He turned to Aries. 'For that matter, how long have you been standing there?'
Aries graced his cousin and his friend with a tender smirk. 'Long enough. Come, supper is ready, and you do know how insulted Sam will be if you do not come eat, do you not?'
Simultaneous winces told Aries that Legolas and Estel were indeed aware of that little matter. Laughing, the eldest prince wound his arms around the Elf and the Man beside him, and led them in the direction of their families. Shaking his head and continuing to laugh, he remarked warmly, 'You two are absolutely something else, you know? Keep this up, and you might have Uncle and Lord Elrond wondering whether they ought to start preparing for a marriage.'
While Legolas blushed several shades darker, Estel merely raised his eyebrow at Aries and shrugged his shoulders, a smile twitching at his lips, 'I would not mind,' he replied honestly.
At this, of course, the young Crown Prince turned scarlet. 'Estel, I do not think--' Legolas began to protest weakly.
'What?' the once-Ranger asked with a grin and a wink. 'I can think of no one better.'
'Estel,' Legolas continued to protest, cheeks quite pink, 'I'm not--'
The young Dúnadan ducked out from underneath Aries's arm and came around to Legolas's free side, catching up the prince's hand. Serious now, he gazed straight into the Silvan Elf's midnight eyes, 'Legolas, I'm teasing. I do not need to marry you to keep you at my side. Why do you think I never really showed any interest in a constant companion on Arda? All I could ask for in a companion was everything you were already. It has been this way for many years, dearest. I think Aries says it best—we're kindred spirits. Compared to that…what need is there for marriage?'
Legolas finally smiled, and gave the Human's hand a hard squeeze. He turned to Aries, then, and his older cousin was quite astonished to see…fear. Fear lurked in the depths of his eyes. 'Do you hate me, Aries?' the younger Elf asked in a small voice.
Aries stared, trying to comprehend this sudden twist. 'Hate you, little 'Las? Whatever for?' Looking up, he noticed even Estel seemed apprehensive, apparently having followed his best friend's thoughts.
Legolas bowed his head, glancing down at his and the Dúnadan's entwined fingers. 'That I may be with Estel, and yet you cannot be with Halbarad or Arathorn?'
Understanding dawned in Aries's green eyes and, stopping their forward gait, he turned and gently tilted his little cousin's chin up. 'Aiya, Legolas! You and Estel have the worst sort of guilt complexes!' he exclaimed softly, an affectionate (and very amused) grin on his lips. He laughed quietly. 'Of course I do not hate you! Aye, I miss Halbarad still; I miss him everyday—more, even, than Arathorn. I do not think I shall ever stop missing him…but I do know I will see him—and Arathorn—again when the final age ends. I am patient. I can wait. Understand, little cousin, that you have bound yourself far more tightly to Estel, than ever I did to even Halbarad. I do not begrudge you this, because you made a sacrifice I never could.'
Tears sparkled in Legolas's eyes. 'Why?' he whispered.
Aries shrugged lightly. 'Cowardice, maybe.' He favored Legolas with a gentle smile. 'You have an extraordinary heart, little cousin. You are not like other Elves—and that is a blessing. And Estel knows quite well how precious a gift your friendship is.' He turned his smile to said Man, who had to glance away and to the side, but kept his hold on the younger Wood-Elf's hand. Aries smiled, and started to move off. 'Do not be too long, now. I think you will find Lady Celebrían can be as scary as Sam if she believes you are not eating properly.'
That at last garnered a laugh—albeit rather thick—from the two other beings with him. Estel finally turned back and squarely met the older Silvan Elf's gaze, 'Hannon-lle, Aries. For everything.'
Aries tossed a wink over his shoulder, continuing on his way to the rest of the group. 'Certainly.'
When he was gone, Estel and Legolas were left to themselves, and the young Man grinned. 'Well, shall we?'
Legolas laughed. 'But of course!'
They followed on Aries's heels…but not before Estel pressed a kiss to the back of the prince's hand.
Had anyone glanced at the deserted courtyard, they would have seen a shimmering, translucent image. A moment later, they would have dismissed it as a trick of the twilight:
A golden-haired Elf shut his eyes and tilted his head back, shutting his eyes and deeply inhaling the fresh, clean air of the hidden Elven haven, allowing the morning sunlight to wash over and warm his face. Quiet surrounded him in this garden, many of Imladris's inhabitants having not yet risen to greet the day.
A sudden racket from the birds, squirrels, and trees, though, interrupted his badly needed solitude. Unlike another might have, however, he spun to face the disturbance crashing noisily through the bushes, arms outstretched and laughing with his whole heart.
'Lirimaer, Lirimaer!' came the overjoyed cry from a young voice as a dark blur whirled out of the foliage and practically attacked the Firstborn. 'You came back!'
Gently grabbing the child around his waist and lofting him high up into the air, the Elf threw back his head and laughed with hearty delight. Swinging the small mortal into his arms, the immortal firmly pressed a warm kiss to his cheek. 'Of course! You will never be able to keep me away!'
I Veth (The End)!
A/N: At long last, it is finished! Thank you to everyone who has been such wonderful reviewers, and thank you to Avadhani who has been my muse for this story—please, everyone, R&R, and I will see you soon!
Estel (Hope; one of Aragorn's many names, given to him by Lord Elrond)
Mellon-nin (My friend)
Quel mellon-nin (My dear friend)
Estel nin (My Estel)
Ammë (Quenya; Mother)
Hannon-lle (Thank you)
Lirimaer (lovely one; in this fic, "lovely singer" and "Angel")
--(Please note that I've used a mixture of online Elvish dictionaries, Tolkien, and my own experience to create these words and phrases, as well as those within the story—SS)