Of Snowballs and Changes

Rated: K

Disclaimer: They are not mine.

Summary: Fourth Age. Legolas feels that his mortal friends have changed too much, and he is the only one who had stayed the same. But there is something he fails to realize.

Note: This story was written for Teitho Challenge "As Time Goes By". I have participated in Teitho for thirteen months in a row and this is my first First Place. Thanks to everyone who voted! (hugs)

Snowflakes. Falling on his hair, on his clothes, and covering the earth with a warm, white blanket. It was so flawless, so soft, it invited you to lie down and sink into the endless whiteness.

Slender fingers grabbed a handful of snow and swiftly turned it into a perfectly-shaped sphere. The snowball flew through the air and crashed at the trunk of a distant tree. A merry sparkle appeared in the bright blue eyes. His aim had been true.

The first snow had fallen later than usual, but just on time for the Yule celebrations. It was very early morning and almost everyone in Minas Tirith was asleep, unaware of the pure whiteness that would greet them when they woke up.

He sat cross-legged in the snow, letting the cool wind play with his hair, and sighed contently. He could not wait to see his friends' faces when they woke up and saw the snow. The Dwarf would most probably grumble about the 'blasted snow' and the 'crazy elf' who liked it. He smiled. He had missed seeing Gimli, but now both of them had traveled to Minas Tirith to join the Yule celebrations. Yes, most definitely his little friend would complain about the snow and the cold. But Estel…

Estel would be so happy.

Legolas looked through the window, letting the beauty of Imladris fill him and soothe his soul. He took a deep breath of the fresh winter air, and returned to the book he was reading. He was always able to find something interesting in Lord Elrond's library.

Suddenly the serenity was disturbed by a loud and urgent pounding on his door. Legolas jumped to his feet in alarm and rushed to open. He had no idea what could be causing this urgency, but it worried him. What could have happened to make someone knock that loudly?

"Le'las!" A four-year-old boy cried excitedly as the door opened, and the prince recognized Lord Elrond's foster son. "It is snowing, Le'las! Come, we will play!" The child grabbed his tunic and tried to pull him out of the room. Legolas, however, did not move.

"Estel, cannot you just sit down and enjoy the beauty of this place?" He asked amused.

The boy looked at him surprised. "No," he answered sincerely.

Legolas sighed. He knew that it must be hard for Estel to grow up in a place with no children to play with, but he was in no mood for playing in the snow. "I am reading a book, Estel," he said. "Can you not play with your brothers?"

"Dan and Wo went hunting," he said sadly. "And nana is making tea. And ada said he had wowk."

The elf sighed once again, feeling at a loss. All he wanted was to relax in his chair and enjoy the serenity of this place. Not long ago he had returned from a rather adventurous hunting trip with the twins, which had not left him uninjured, and he had to admit that he was feeling unusually exhausted. "You could play with Glorfindel," he suggested.

Estel snorted in disgust. "Glowfindel is evil. He makes me study. You are not evil like him, Le'las, so you must play with me."

"I am in no mood for playing in the snow, little one," the elf admitted sincerely.

"You are bowing!" Estel said angrily, and Legolas spent a few seconds wondering to whom he was bowing, until he realized that the child had meant to say 'boring'. "This is because you are so old! I hope I won't be so bowing when I am old!"

Elegant eyebrows were raised in surprise. "So you think that I am old, little one?"

"Yes, you are old," Estel said angrily and crossed his arms across his chest. "You are old and bowing!"

Legolas knelt before him and their eyes met. "Then I shall prove to you, young one, that I am neither old, nor 'bowing'!" He stated solemnly and rushed laughing down the corridor.

Estel giggled happily and ran after him. Those silly elves were so easy to manipulate!

Legolas suddenly stopped and swiftly made a perfect snowball. The projectile flew towards the little child at astonishing speed, but little Estel quickly ducked and miraculously avoided it. The elf wasted no time regretting his miss. He swiftly bent down and grabbed some snow to make another ball.

And then something soft and wet hit his neck. The snow started melting almost instantly and the water flowed down under his tunic, making him shudder in discomfort.

The child giggled triumphantly. "This was a dirty throw, little one," the glaring elf grunted.

"It was good," Estel replied victoriously. "I bet you can never hit me like that."

"Oh, is that so?" Legolas whispered, his voice low and threatening. Then his lips curled into a broad grin and he threw another snowball.

A few minutes later he was laughing happily. His need to rest was forgotten, and his energy quickly returned.

A snowball hit his leg, and he smiled at the thirteen-year-old boy.

"This is amazing!" Eldarion whispered. "We have never had so much snow!" His admiration was forgotten, however, as the boy was forced to duck to avoid a snowball.

His father's true son, Legolas though with a smile.

"I see nothing amazing about that," a grumpy voice said, and the two princes grinned at Gimli. The snow was so deep that it reached the dwarf's shoulders. "It is cold, you walk slowly, it shines in your eyes, it-" The explanation of winter's disadvantages was cut short, as two snowballs simultaneously found the bearded face. The phrase that left the dwarf's lips made Eldarion chuckle.

"Nana won't be pleased to learn that I know these words," he said with a smile.

Legolas was about to reply, but his gaze suddenly drifted towards the door, which opened with a crack. King Elessar walked swiftly, his face turned forward. His eyes never drifted towards the shining snow, and he gave no indication that he had noticed the white blanket.

The elf frowned slightly, called his friend and walked to his side. But Aragorn just waived his hand impatiently, without tearing his gaze from the invisible spot ahead of him. "Not now, Legolas, I have a meeting to attend, and I will be late," he murmured, gazing worriedly at the sun that had risen high above the horizon.

The elf nodded in understanding. "I wish you a short and productive meeting then," he said and suddenly smiled. "And don't forget that we are going hunting after it is over."

The hunting trip was something they had all looked forward to. Since Legolas' and Gimli's arrival the three friends had looked carefully at the king's busy schedule and found a day when he had a free afternoon. And it was today, after his meeting. For days Aragorn had waited impatiently this day to come.

And this is why Legolas was quite confused when his friend looked down and shifted guiltily. "Legolas, mellon nin, I am sorry," the king murmured, nervously playing with his tunic.

The elf frowned, greatly surprised and slightly worried. A slender hand lifted Aragorn's face and forced the stormy eyes to meet clear blue. "Sorry about what?"

"I… I know that you were looking forward to the hunt. But I don't think I will be coming." The elf gaped in shock, and he looked down guiltily once again. "Last night I stayed up very late to review the proposal we will be discussing this morning. I can barely stay awake. I doubt that I will have any desire to go hunting after the meeting is over."

Legolas said nothing. Images flashed through his mind, and he did not try to chase them away. Images of young Strider, riding next to him and laughing after many sleepless nights that had not left a trace of exhaustion on the youthful face. But the clear laughter faded away. This Strider was gone. Gone like the withered leaves that now lay under the white snow.

Aragorn hesitated briefly, hoping that his friend would say something. "I am sorry," he whispered once again. "but you can still go with Gimli." Again no reply followed and he walked forward, towards his meeting.

Legolas stared briefly at the retreating back and sighed. I thought you did not want to be 'bowing' when you grew old, he thought bitterly, but did not voice his thoughts. Aragorn had most probably forgotten this conversation; he had been four then. "Well, then I suppose it will be just the two of us, my friend," he whispered. No answer came, and when he looked up, he could see the dwarf looking at an apparently very interesting footprint in the snow.

"Hmm, well, laddie, I am afraid I will not go hunting. It is so cold, and I prefer to stay inside."

Legolas stared forward, but saw nothing. Only a year ago Gimli would never refuse a hunt with him. He could clearly remember last Yule, when the three hunters rode through the forest as the snow crunched under the hoofs.

His friends were changing. They were changing so fast.

And they had changed so much.

Time goes by and things change. Blossoms turn into leaves, green and fresh. The green leaves wither and turn yellow, and finally fall, never to rise again. The sun rises and sets. Hair grows and turns white. Snow falls and melts, turning into water that rushes towards the Sea.

They have changed. They are so different, so blasted different from what I remember. They have changed so much.

But I am still the same.

Legolas gazed at a window and shuddered in horror as he saw his reflection. The pale skin was smooth and flawless, and the golden hair was long and shining. An angry snowball crashed at the window, but it could not erase this unwanted, youthful perfection.

He was the same. The same as when he first met Gimli, the same as when he first met Estel, the same as what he had been centuries before his friends were born.

And yet, he was different.

Time goes by and things change. And yet some things stay the same. Hair grows and never turns white. The green leaf grows, but never withers, and never falls. Never turns yellow.

And yet, I am yellow inside. I am different. I am old and 'bowing'. All energy, all desire to live and feel, has been squeezed out of me.

He sighed and rubbed his temple. He still could not comprehend it. How was it possible that Aragorn had refused to go hunting? Estel, who loved hunting so much.

"Legolas!" The youthful voice was filled with enthusiasm. "Everyone in the house is busy. Can we go hunting? Please, my friend, ada doesn't need to know!" The pleading look in the huge sky-grey eyes left no room for argument.

The elf smiled in defeat at the thirteen-year-old boy. "As you wish, my friend. But do not tell Lord Elrond."

A happy cry rewarded his acquiescence, and the boy ran towards the stables.

"Legolas!" The youthful voice was filled with enthusiasm. "Everyone in the house is busy. Can we go hunting? Please, my friend, ada doesn't need to know!" The pleading look in the huge sky-grey eyes left no room for argument.

The elf froze and blinked as if he was waking from a dream. But it was no dream. He had heard this voice for real. And the grey eyes were real, as real as the white snow under his feet.

"Estel?" He whispered, afraid that he might chase the vision away.

"No, Legolas, we shouldn't tell ada," Eldarion explained. "He doesn't let me go hunting."

Legolas sighed sadly. Of course it was not Estel. It was his son.

And in ninety years, Eldarion would be too tired to go hunting. And his son would want to go then. And then his son, and his son, and his son…

"I am sorry, Eldarion, I do not feel like hunting," he murmured and looked away, afraid to see the boy's disappointed eyes. His limbs moved automatically and reached for the lowest branches of a nearby tree. Before he knew it, he had reached one of the higher branches and relaxed his back against the trunk.

Only you are still true to me, mellon. A slender hand caressed the tree. Only you are the same as I have always known you.

Sad eyes rose towards the sun. She had also stayed the same throughout the years. He let the rays warm his skin and smiled slightly.

Times goes by and things change. But some stay the same. Green leaves whither and fall, but the tree stays proud and strong. The ground freezes and blossoms, but the rocks always stay, solid and unyielding. The river freezes and melts, but it always resumes its wild run towards the salty kiss of the Sea.

But mortals change. They grow old and weak.

And then something soft and wet hit his neck. The snowball started melting almost instantly and the water flowed down under his tunic, making him shudder in discomfort.

A perfect throw.

"I told you, Eldarion, I am in no mood for this," he said slightly irritated, but a second snowball hit him instantaneously at the same spot. His irritation growing, he turned around to glare at the young prince.

To his shock and surprise, he saw the King of Gondor and Arnor leaning on a tree, playing casually with the snowball in his hand. "I have always thought that you are old and 'bowing' Legolas," Aragorn said with a smile. "Now, don't tell me that you don't want to go hunting."

"I… I thought you were tired," the elf mumbled, still slightly shocked.

He remembers. He was four, but he still remembers.

"I am," the man admitted. In contrast to his words, however, he grabbed a branch and climbed next to his friend with surprising ease. "But I think that nothing could be a better rest than a good hunt. So, are you coming, or are you in your 'bowing' mood once again?"

The elf grinned. "I will show you who is 'old and bowing', human!"

"Now, that is unheard of!" An unhappy voice grunted from below. "An Elf and a Man go hunting in the snow, and a Dwarf stays at home! I will never hear the end of it!"

"Does that mean that you are coming as well, Master Dwarf?" Legolas asked with a grin.

"Of course I am coming, Master Elf!" Gimli announced proudly. "Someone needs to take care of you two after all!"

"May I come with you?" A youthful voice asked, and the king chuckled.

"Of course, Eldarion, but do not tell your mother. She will kill me," he said.

The boy cried happily and rushed towards the stables.

Legolas jumped gracefully from the tree and looked up, ready to help his friend. His heart was lighter than it had been for a long while.

Time goes by, but some things never change. Mortals grow old, but their hopes and desires stay the same. They always want to be happy; they always want to be close to their friends, to share moments of joy and sorrow, to share smiles and tears.

His eyes met the familiar silver-grey ones. True, his friend's face might have changed, but those eyes were still the same.

These were the eyes of a four-year-old child, hoping to play in the snow. These were the eyes of a thirteen-year-old boy, begging him to go hunting.

These were the eyes that looked at him last Yule, and would look at him on the next one. And on the one after that.

Times goes by and mortals grow old. But their souls never change. And their hearts always remain young.

-:- THE END -:-