Disclaimer: I do not own anything that belongs to Tolkien…that is redundant, huh?

Beta: MistyC

Written for the Middle Earth Express Prompt #43: Cloud

The End

By Nieriel Raina

The time had come at last…it was the end. Around him, many gathered, some weeping, some with fearful expressions on their faces…or like himself, uncertainty, but accepting what was to come. He like many others, gathered his family to him and held them close…waiting.

Then it was time. All eyes were fixed on the heavens above them as they stood: fearful, eager or simply numb to what was happening. After all, they had never faced the end before and none knew what to expect. But one could hope…and he did.

His arms tightened around his loved ones when he felt them tremble with fear, yet he did not shake; his eyes stayed steadfast on the eastern horizon. Waiting…for what he was unsure, but he held to hope, and a smile flitted across his fair face.

From the east a mist arose, slowly moving towards them. As it covered the sea in the distance, one by one the stars went out. Behind them the sun sank into the horizon: deep red…old and tired. It would never rise again. As the light dwindled from the last lingering rays, the mist reached them and descended on the land like a cloud, enveloping everything and everyone.

Then there was silence, and all became pitch black. The strange mist covered them still, for he could feel it surrounding him. Surprisingly, he was not yet afraid, for he could still feel his loved ones in his arms and in his heart, he still held on to hope. He felt his family stop trembling as a peace beyond any he had ever known descended upon them.

Ever so faintly, his eyes detected a light shining through the mist. It began to brighten, piercing through the fog which had shrouded them. Straining his eyes, he peered at the light, trying to ascertain its source. Blinking tears from his eyes as the brightness grew in intensity, he finally could see a form…the figure of what appeared to be a man.

In a split second, the world was changed. No longer did the light hurt his eyes, nor was there any uncertainty in him. He forgot all else as his eyes beheld the One. In awe, he knelt and bowed his head, unaware that everyone around him followed suit.

Then a voice rang: fair and pure and true. "Welcome home, my children. Come, join the others…they wait for you."

Reverently, he lifted his head and gazed upwards at the One speaking to them. Then Ilúvatar laughed, and the sound of it, tinkling as if of bells of every size and harmony, split the cloud and it lifted its veil. Around them, everything had changed. The place they had called home was no more, but it did not matter, for before them lay their true home.

The One motioned for them, and as a group, they stood and followed, wonder and joy in their eyes and hearts. The One led them towards a city, shining in the light which seemed to flow from Ilúvatar, illuminating everything…and there were no shadows. He felt his family moving beside him as he walked down brilliant streets filled with diverse peoples…

Suddenly, the sound of a voice stopped him in his tracks, and he turned towards it, his heart thundering in his chest. His eyes scanned the crowds, searching for the owner of the voice, but another hailed from a different direction and he spun again. His eyes took in every face, looking for those who had spoken. They had not called his name, but he had recognized those voices…he knew them well, and now he began to tremble.

Then he heard it.

"Legolas?"

The baritone voice was hesitant, but he knew it…his heart would never forget. Yet, he found himself frozen, unable to turn to the speaker, for coming towards him was the stout owner of the other voice. His eyes met those of the one walking towards him and he felt his heart soar. Could it be? After all this time?

"Gimli?" Tears began to run down his cheeks, shimmering like diamonds in the ethereal light of Ilúvatar.

"Aye, lad, it is I," the dwarf grinned, his eyes twinkling. "Turn around, laddie."

Legolas took a deep breath, and forced himself to rotate. There before him was a man, but not as he had seen him last. He was again young and full of life and miraculously clean, the elf noticed in an instant. Then the elf laughed, the musical sound shattering the last vestiges of pain and unhappiness in his heart.

"Estel!"

Both moved as one and found themselves wrapped in each other's embrace as they found the thing they had wished, prayed and hoped had, at last, come true. The dwarf's arms encircled them as well and the three stood laughing, crying and just being together once more.

After a time, none could say how long as time no longer seemed to matter, they broke apart to look carefully at each other. Their eyes shone, and it seemed no words were needed.

Finally, the dwarf broke the silence. "Come lad, bring your family. We will show you your new home."

Smiling as he had not done in thousands of years, the elf reached for his loved ones. With hands encased and hearts full beyond measure, they set out on a new adventure…together. And it was only just the beginning…

The Beginning…and The End

A/N - Reviews feed the muse…If you enjoyed reading this, then please take the time to let me know! It's the only payment I get! (yes…shameless begging)

NiRi