Author's Note: Many thanks to Amelia, who helped me work through most of my ideas, and without whom this chapter probably wouldn't have been written. As always, much gratitude to musicalsoul, who always knows what to say.
Super brief recap: After a wonderful banquet in honor of the arrival of Gwaethir and the Mirkwood delegation, Legolas and Meghan slip away to her room and fall asleep in each other's arms.
CHAPTER FORTY-THREE – Does Anyone Actually Read Chapter Titles Anyway?
The weight of sleep clung to Meghan's bones as she slowly drifted back to consciousness. Somehow in the night she had kicked off her blankets, probably because of the balmy midsummer air – or perhaps it was the warm heaviness of Legolas' body stretched out next to her own. She had curled into his shadow, one hand splayed across his chest, and the other hand brushed against…
A puddle of her own drool?
Her eyes snapped open precisely the same millisecond that her mouth snapped shut. She stared up at him, frozen. He was watching her with a dreamy half-smile on his face, the kind of smile that a man wears when he is so profoundly captivated by a woman that he even thinks her saliva is endearing.
Meghan was unconvinced.
"How much did you see?" she whispered suspiciously.
"You are a very deep sleeper," he replied.
She wiped her mouth with the back of her hand and lifted her head long enough the flip the pillow to its clean side. She couldn't resist that smile any longer, so she snuggled closer and hid her face against his chest. His fingers lightly found the curve of where her jaw met her throat.
"The mark on your neck has healed," he said.
Meghan reached up for confirmation. "Thank goodness," she said, peeking up to narrow her eyes at him. "It was a nightmare to keep hidden."
"I could give you another," he replied with that wicked grin she found so delicious.
"Maybe I'll give you one," she muttered, toying with the laces at his collar and wondering if she could casually get him shirtless again.
He smirked. "You could try."
"You forget that I have one distinct advantage over you," Meghan said seriously.
"I know where you're ticklish!"
Without giving him an opportunity to react, she attacked him under the ribs where he was most sensitive. He laughed and shuddered away, ineffectually trying to fend her off with his hands. Undeterred, Meghan rolled her body on top of his to straddle him, her knees on either side of his hips to better pin him down. He was laughing harder now, his breath coming in gasps, and she laughed, too.
Then she squealed and twisted away, because it turned out that he knew where she was ticklish too, and he ran his hands feather-light up the small of her back. "No, no stop!" she shrieked through laughter as she flopped back onto the bed, trying to get away. "Truce!"
They lay there for a moment in a tangle of limbs and giggles. As they fell silent, Meghan felt a swell of contented drowsiness wash over her. She was safe, and loved, and happy, and the sun coming through the window felt warm on her skin. But she wasn't ready to surrender the moment back to sleep, so she quirked a look up at Legolas.
"Why were you so late last night? Did you did run into Gwaethir?" she asked.
He stilled, radiating an alertness that made her think that he'd almost been waiting for her to ask that question. She shifted position a little bit to see his face better. Is something wrong?
"I had to track down a metalsmith," he replied.
"Oh?" she said, feeling thrown.
"A silversmith, in fact. I placed an order with him some weeks ago, but his shop was somewhat derelict due to the war, and it took him time to complete my request."
A flutter had taken up residence in Meghan's stomach. "And what did he make for you?"
"Perhaps you recall what I told you of exchanging silver rings," he said, producing two simple bands from an inner pocket of his tunic.
"I do," she whispered, then caught herself. "I mean, I remember."
His eyes were deep blue as he cradled the nape of her neck with his free hand, and there was a searching look on his face, like he wasn't sure what she would say. "Meghan… would you bind yourself to me?"
She tried not to make a silly face in her confusion. "What does that actually mean?"
"To be bound to another means…" He trailed off, looking a little lost himself. "It means – ai, that you spoke Sindarin more, for the meaning is clearer in that tongue… It is to be promised, to be betrothed."
"Oh! Yes, yes, of course!" she exclaimed, and then she laughed, because she had thought she'd been happy before but now she knew that surely this was the happiest anyone could ever be.
His face broke into a grin. "It is customary for my people to exchange many words and vows along with the rings, but I fear that you would not understand the old tongues." He took her right hand to press his lips against the inside of her wrist, then slipped one of the silver rings onto her finger. "What is the custom from whence you came?"
"Well, my people call it being engaged," she replied as she took the second ring from him and did the same on his index finger. "And it's traditional that the man got down on one knee for the proposal."
"Such strange expressions," he said. "A proposal for an engagement. I have been engaged for a dance, or for an evening of entertainment. The word is not enough – I would be bound to you, to have gwidh uin melith."
It still took time for her to mentally translate anything from Sindarin, but those words were familiar. "The bond of lovers?" she asked, a thrill of triumph sweeping over her even before he answered, because she knew it was right.
"You have learned more than I thought!" Legolas said in surprise.
Meghan shrugged, trying to act nonchalant. "I've been studying a little."
"I will not misjudge your abilities again," he said, then linked their hands together so that the rings were side by side. "And what comes after this proposal? Forgive me for not going to one knee."
"Well, what happens next…" She gave him a very serious look. "Lots and lots of kissing."
He didn't answer in words, but instead slid one arm under her head to prop himself up. The morning sunlight spilled over his shoulders as she looked up at him, and not for the last time Meghan wondered how exactly his hair always looked so perfect. But a moment later, she was hardly conscious of his hair or the sunlight at all, because his mouth claimed all her attention.
They both completely froze, lips against lips, his hand tangled in her hair and her just starting to peel off his shirt. Meghan swallowed a knot of real irritation, and considered simply ripping his shirt off and pretending she hadn't heard the knock. But he was already pulling away with a worried look.
"My brother—" he began in a voice that might have been genuinely alarmed.
Knock, knock, knock.
"It's not your brother," Meghan whispered. "He doesn't know where my room is. And listen, we're all adults. Nothing happened last night, and we're engaged now. Or… gwidh uin melith."
"Sindarin sounds beautiful in your mouth." Legolas grinned at her.
Meghan tried to remember the words for let's open the door, but she couldn't. "Come on, it's probably just one of the Hobbits, or maybe Ioreth because she misses bossing me around."
"Very well, we shall answer the door," he groaned, then swooped in for a sudden kiss. "One last kiss before our doom."
"You're such a drama queen," she laughed as she pushed him off her and stood.
"I think, perhaps, you will understand better when you are more familiar with Gwaethir's uncanny ability to tease in the most discomfiting way possible." Legolas had also risen, although he was taking pains to smooth the sheets.
Knock, knock, knock. "Meghan, are you awake?" The voice on the other side of the door was familiar, and Meghan pointed a triumphant finger at Legolas.
"See? Not your brother." She opened the door and smiled. "Good morning, Aragorn!"
"Good morning, Meghan," Aragorn replied with a slight bow of his head. His eyes looked beyond her and his brows rose the slightest bit. "Good morning, Legolas."
There was a pause.
"Good morning," Legolas finally replied, and he had a look in his eyes that Meghan could literally only interpret as that glance that guys exchange just before going up for a high five.
Meanwhile, Aragorn looked like he was struggling to suppress a smile. "Gwaethir is asking after you. It would seem that he could not find you in your room this morning and is now exploring the city in search of you."
The confidence faltered on Legolas' face. "Perhaps I should go to meet him," he said.
"Perhaps you should," Aragorn replied gravely.
"Pardon me for this indecorum, mellon nin," Legolas said just before sweeping Meghan into his arms and searing her lips with a quick but fervent kiss. "Until later, my love. I go to my ruin!" And with that, he disappeared out the window just as he had come in the night before.
"Is it me, or is he overreacting?" Meghan asked.
Aragorn looked out the window with a half smile quirked on his lips. "Indeed, I have watched Legolas face many foul things without flinching, yet he is reduced to a nervous child at the threat of mischief from his brother." He chuckled, turning back to her. "Tread watchfully in all your dealings with that family, Meghan. Perhaps your novelty will protect you for a time, but the day will come when you are drawn into the web of pranks and treason and tricks."
"Surely it's not so bad as that," she insisted.
"Do not underestimate their penchant for mischief," Aragorn said. "The Elvenking has been hard put at times to subdue the… shall we say, exuberant pranks of his children, Legolas no less than the other two. I have known them since I reached my majority and I could tell you stories that you would scarce believe."
"You don't think anything will happen here, do you?" she asked, quailing a little at this warning.
"No, you are safe within my walls. Gwaethir has already given me assurances that he will do nothing while he is on Gondorian ground, although I suspect he does so purely for the pleasure of watching Legolas jump at shadows. Look, he forgot his boots."
"Oh," Meghan said. She grabbed them from the foot of her bed and went to the window, hoping that Legolas might still be below so she could give them back. But no, he was nowhere to be seen, and she turned back to Aragorn. "He's wandering around Minas Tirith… barefoot."
"Something must have distracted him even more than his brother to cause him such an oversight," Aragorn said with a crinkle at the corners of his eyes. "May I see your hand?" Suddenly shy, Meghan offered him her right hand. He smiled fully this time, examining the silver ring on her first finger. "It would seem that I have been remiss as your guardian," he said, "for you have been betrothed under my very nose!"
"Well, you have been very busy," Meghan said, trying to act mature until her giddiness won out and she squealed. "Oh, Aragorn, I'm so excited!"
He regarded her with old, kind eyes. "As you should be, my friend. You have earned the love of a good man, and he is most deserving of you. I believe that you both will be very happy."
"Thank you, Aragorn," she said as her eyes suddenly misted up.
A concerned look crossed his face. "Why these tears? Did you not say that you are well pleased?"
"Yes, I am," she laughed around the lump in her throat. "But I'm a little sad, too. I always imagined celebrating with my mom and dad when I got engaged. Now I don't know if I'll ever see them again."
"I am sorry," he replied gently, taking her hand and looping it through his arm. "Will you walk with me?"
She nodded and sucked in a gurgling sniffle. They left her room, shutting the door behind them, and walked through the hallways until they came to the open air of the courtyard at the pinnacle of the city. The four guards of the White Tree stood silently, and Aragorn nodded to them as he and Meghan passed. Despite her previous tears, Meghan was feeling peaceful again in Aragorn's reassuring presence. They stood at the lip of the stone overhang and looked across the fields of Pelennor.
"What will you do?" he asked after a while. "You are more than welcome in my household, but I sense that you are not of a mind to always remain in Minas Tirith."
"Legolas left it up to me," Meghan replied. "He would stay here, if I asked him. Part of me wants to stay, but I know that the Hobbits will leave soon, and Gimli will go once he's done helping with the city's reconstruction. I want to know Legolas' family, so I think we'll go to Mirkwood after your coronation."
"I have heard that much is changed in that realm with the defeat of Sauron," Aragorn said. "You will find it a wonderful place, if the stories are true."
"I hope so," Meghan said. "When Legolas talks about it, he lights up. I know that he can't wait to get back and see the difference in his home. I'm a little nervous, though… I guess it's just a lot of pressure, to basically go live with his family in a whole new place, all at once."
"You will do well," Aragorn said. "You have a great capacity to be adaptable. Think on how readily you found a place here, though it may have been simple employment in the Houses of Healing. Do not worry about how Legolas' family will receive you. And perhaps it would be wise to cultivate your own independence while in King Thranduil's house."
"Aragorn," Meghan said, the tears welling up again, "I've thought this before, but I want to tell you. You're going to make the best father someday."
"I hope so," he said. She was surprised that he looked sad. "The wait may be long, indeed."
Until that moment, it hadn't even occurred to her that Aragorn might not believe his love would come to him. "She will," Meghan whispered as a fierce, protective ache throbbed in her chest. "She has to."
"I cannot delay the coronation any longer," Aragorn replied with a heavy voice. "If she comes, she must come soon."
"When is the coronation?" Meghan asked.
"Two days hence. All the delegations have arrived but one, and I do not know if that party will come at all. The summer is already waning. It is time to receive my birthright."
"You've earned it," Meghan said. "I can't think of a better person to be king of these people."
They were interrupted just then by forceful footfalls made by heavy boots, accompanied by angry huffing. Both turned to see Gimli stomping towards them, his expression dour.
"My friend," Aragorn said, all mildness. "What has caused this prospect of calamity in your countenance?"
"A blight upon Elvish princelings," Gimli growled. "Making me his errand boy, of all things! It's preposterous! A plague take him and his tomfool forgetfulness…" Here he dissolved into Khuzdul, presumably of an unsavoury nature.
"What has Legolas sent you to do?" Aragorn prompted.
"Did he have a message for me?" Meghan asked, wondering if Legolas needed back-up because Gwaethir really was flaying him alive.
"Hardly!" Gimli rumbled. "He all but begged me to come to you, Meghan, and retrieve his confounded boots!"