Title: Comforts of Home
Summary: After a prolonged captivity, Legolas finds that adjusting to life at home is not as easy as he thought it would be.
Disclaimer: I do not own any recognizable features of from the Lord of the Rings, they all belong to Tolkien.
Author's Note: Hey everyone! This has been bouncing around in my head for a while now so I thought that I'd write it down and see what everyone thought; I hope you like it! Thanks for taking the time to read and if I'd love to hear what you think about it in a review! Enjoy…
Thranduil watched his son carefully. The healers had deemed him healthy over a week ago, but Thranduil was still skeptical of their proclamation. Perhaps he was indeed well enough to be up and out of bed as they said, but he was most certainly not healed. His son had changed since his father had last seen him. The years since then had been trying for all of Mirkwood, but mostly for Legolas. It was never easy to be a captive of orcs…
Legolas had led a long patrol down into the heart of the darkness that tainted their forest. He and the warriors with him were expected to be gone for about two years, and with as far south as they had traveled, there was very little communication between the patrol and Mirkwood. Still, once every two to three months the patrol would try to send a report back to the palace. There were periods of silence from both sides, but when no word had been received from Legolas in over six months, Thranduil was worried; he could not help but to think that the worst had happened. He sent out another patrol to find out what had happened, and hoped that they would return with good news.
But that was not to be. The patrol had found the remains of most of the elves that had been with Legolas, but not all of them. Several bodies had been missing, the prince's included. They had managed to pick up the path of the orcs that had attacked them, and were relatively certain that the prince and others whose bodies had not been found had been taken to Dol Guldur.
Thranduil was distraught. Several of his advisors told him that any attempt at a rescue would be futile, they did not have the strength necessary to successfully assault Dol Guldur, but Thranduil did not listen, he could not. He had to believe that his son was still alive or else fall into despair himself.
It had taken all of Thranduil's reserve not to pull as many troops as he could find from their stations and march them to Dol Guldur. Every minute of every day he was consumed by the knowledge of what was undoubtedly happening to his son. He knew that his advisers were right about one thing, however: Dol Guldur was too strong and Mirkwood did not have the strength necessary to succeed in an all-out attack. It was instead a small group of elves, Thranduil included, that infiltrated the fortress with stealth while a larger patrol tried to distract the orcs that were so numerous in the area. Thranduil knew that they would only have one chance to save Legolas; assuming that he was even still alive, he would certainly be killed if they failed.
It had been a frantic search in the dungeons, they had known that they did not have much time and they still needed to get out safely. By some miracle, it had worked, they had found Legolas, and he was still alive, but certainly not well. When they had finally found the right cell, the sight of his son, unconscious and in chains, was seared into Thranduil's mind forever. The entire expedition was a blur for Thranduil after that. His entire world had condensed to getting his son out of that place alive.
Though they searched longer than was wise, they could not find the other missing elves.
The journey back to Mirkwood was difficult. Legolas was unconscious for most of the trip, and the few times that he had pulled himself to semi-consciousness when the healers were trying to treat his wounds, he was so disoriented and confused that he could not even tell that they were helping him, and not hurting him further. He had fought back, several times to the point that other elves had to restrain him to keep him from hurting himself. It had broken Thranduil's heart, Legolas was so far gone that he did not even recognize his own father's voice.
They somehow managed to keep the prince alive until they got back to the palace, where Mirkwood's best healers could take over. They worked long and hard, and managed to save his life.
Thranduil had never been more relieved in his life than when Legolas finally opened his eyes and focused on his father.
"Ada," he said softly, his voice rough from dehydration.
Thranduil smiled at his son, confident in that moment that everything would be alright.
All things considered, Legolas did not spend all that much time in the healing wing. Now, it was back to life as usual, but it was quickly becoming obvious that that was far easier said than done. He had not been gone all that long as elves measured time; the patrol had lasted about two years and his captivity just over five months. He had been gone far longer than that multiple times before, but this time was different. The patrol itself had been more difficult than usual; the southern reaches of the forest were unforgiving in terms of terrain and enemies. It was ever a darker and more dangerous place that even the animals avoided, but Thranduil's folk still sought to defend it and restore it to its former beauty and glory.
During the patrol, Legolas had grown accustomed to sleeping on the ground or in a tree, assuming that he even slept at all, many nights he was awake guarding their camp or strategizing for the upcoming weeks. Meals were sparse and consisted of whatever nuts, berries, and game they could find; their supply of lembas had run out in the first year of the patrol. Life had been difficult, but certainly tolerable, and he had been with some of his best friends.
The orcs had tracked them. They knew that they were being followed, but they had underestimated the number of orcs that tailed them, and that was ultimately their downfall. The orcs attacked in the middle of the night and they had quickly been overwhelmed by the superior numbers; those who had not been killed outright had been taken back to Dol Guldur, and Legolas had lost track of his companions. From that point on, Legolas' life had been a living hell. He had resigned himself to years in captivity and held little hope for his survival; after all, no one was looking for him or his patrol. It could have been several months before anyone even realized that something may have happened. Even when they did figure out what had happened, Legolas knew that there was a chance that they would not even try to rescue him. As a captain of the Mirkwood army, he knew how well defended Dol Guldur was, he was well aware that at least some of his father's advisors would advise against any sort of a rescue.
Given the way everything had worked out, he knew that he was lucky on many accounts. It was lucky that he had survived the attack and his captivity, that his father had acted on his suspicions that something was amiss as soon as he did, that they had found and successfully rescued him, and the list went on; he knew all of that, but it was hard somehow it failed to comfort him now.
The entire time he had been in that cell—hungry, cold, hurting, and alone—he had thought of home for comfort and sometimes just to stay sane. The images of his mother and father forced him to keep fighting, to keep surviving. He did not allow himself to forget what would happen to them if he gave up. Thoughts of home had given him a reason to exist in his unpredictable and terrible world; they had been a light in his darkness.
While images of home had sustained him while a captive, images of his captivity continued to haunt him while home. Surrounded by the people who loved him the most and the people he loved the most, his world was still as dark as ever. He felt like a stranger in his own home. He wandered the halls that he had grown up in as though for the first time. The most familiar place in all of Middle Earth for him now felt foreign.
It hit him for the first time at dinner on his first night out of the healing wing. He sat down and was struck by how soft and comfortable his chair was, it had always been that was, but it had taken two years on patrol and several months of rock and stone for him to notice. Then they had put a plate of food in front of him as had happened countless times before without his even having thought about it. For a moment he could only stare stupidly at his plate, assaulted by the delicious scents and sight of their dinner; he did not know what to eat first or if he was even hungry.
"Legolas," his father said, wrenching him from his reverie, "is something amiss?"
"No, Ada," Legolas replied quickly, picking up his fork and starting to eat, "everything just looks so good." He did not bother to add 'compared to what I have been eating for the last two and some years.'
His father looked at him suspiciously, but said nothing, even as he noticed that Legolas barely ate anything.
Late that same night it had hit him again as he took a bath. Vanity was of little importance on patrol and captivity had accustomed him to the feel and smell of constant sweat, blood, and grime. The idea of having a warm bath and clean clothes available to him at his leisure was almost incomprehensible, like everything else in his life seemed to be at the time.
Nothing and everything had changed. Or rather, nothing had changed, but his perception of everything had altered so drastically that he felt like he had to learn how to be himself again. He had kept telling himself to just give it time; everything would get better with time.
But it had been two weeks, and he still felt as out of place and disconnected as he had on that first night.
During the day, it was easy enough not to think about it. Surrounded by familiar faces and responsibilities he could slip into old patterns and routines without having to think about anything. Many times he had returned home from long patrols, tired and battle weary, and found comfort in the routine of normal life, but this time was like no other before it. He fulfilled his duties with his usual attention to detail, but his heart was not in it; he went through the motions without his ordinary care.
His definition of normalcy had evolved so much in his time away. Normal had become sleeping on a damp and hard rock floor instead of a soft and warm bed; pain and hunger were constant, unavoidable companions; verbal and physical abuse had been a daily occurrence, the terms 'prince' and 'elf' had become insults—he still had to hide a flinch every time another referred to him by his title. He had expected coming home to be easy, and he found that it was anything but. He had not anticipated the problems and challenges of adjusting to home life.
He had been lying in bed for hours now without sleeping at all. When he had been in the healing wing, the healers had given him pain killing herbs that had helped him to sleep. While normally he avoided any concoction that a healer tried give him; after nearly two weeks without sleep, he was getting desperate. He would lie in his bed, but sleep would not come. It was frustrating and angering, which did not help at all. Then, if he even began to fall asleep, he was back there. Whenever he got even close to sleeping, he saw the faces of the orcs leering at him, heard their taunts, and at times even felt the sting of their whips. He knew that it wasn't real, but it was enough to keep him from sleeping. But he was so tired…
It made him not want to sleep anymore; he could not go back there, even if it was only in his mind. He sat up and rested his throbbing head in his hands trying to will his headache away. He looked out his window; the moon was bright tonight. He needed to get up and move, he was far too restless to even try to stay in bed any longer. His body craved sleep, but his mind feared it. After sitting on his bed for several minutes, his mind was made up. He stood up, grabbed his bow and quiver, leapt nimbly from his window to the trees and climbed down. Making his way to the archery range, he took in the familiarity of the forest at night. The sounds and smells were soothing and the gentle breeze and cool air were refreshing.
In a few minutes, he stood at the archery range, gazing at the targets. He let his mind wander, and he could not help but to flash back on the past several months: the tiny, dank cell; the days without food; the jeers of his captors; the sting of the whip; the pain of perpetual hunger. He drew his bow and let the arrow fly; it hit the target dead center. His body was tense; he was almost trembling as the memories assailed him. He fired arrow after arrow, as though the target was his enemy, faster than a human eye could comprehend. He remembered each one of the orcs that had hurt him, the way he constantly felt dizzy from blood loss, the way he had longed for the sight of the sun, stars, and trees… He was so lost in the rhythm and his thoughts that he was unaware of the presence behind him. When he reached back for another arrow and someone else caught his hand instead, he whirled around while simultaneously drawing one of his long knives. He knocked the other to the ground and had his knife at their throat in an instant. Sweating, panting, and trembling, Legolas found himself gazing into the worried eyes of his father.
"Legolas," Thranduil said gently, "it is me. Relax, I am not your enemy."
Still shaking, Legolas lowered his knife and sat on the ground beside Thranduil.
For a moment Thranduil said nothing, allowing an uneasy silence to fall between them. Legolas sat with his head down. He had dropped his knife but was clenching his bow in his hands, uncertain of what his father would say and think now.
"Legolas," Thranduil said quietly, "we need to talk."
Legolas bit his lip and did not reply. He was well aware of what his father wanted to talk about, and he also knew that talking about it meant reliving it and that was the last thing that he wanted to do. He could not do that, not yet, "I can't Ada, please, it is too soon."
Thranduil looked at him, concern evident in his eyes, "I do not think that it can wait. You are free of that place and yet it still holds you captive. I know that you have not been sleeping or even eating properly since you have returned. I am worried about you."
Legolas shook his head, "Don't be, it will just take time. I'm—"
"Fine?" Thranduil finished for him offering him a small, half-hearted smile, "No, Legolas, you are not fine. You are anything but fine. What happened to you was terrible, but you survived it, but you have not overcome it yet. If you talk about it, perhaps you can move on."
"You don't understand!" Legolas shot back, becoming angry, "I am trying to move on; everyday I tell myself that I am home and safe but whenever I close my eyes I am back there! I am leagues away from that place and yet it is with me always. Adar, they…" he could not even continue. Memories assaulted him and he was no longer standing in a glade in Mirkwood with his father but instead alone in a cold and dark cell in bowls of Dol Guldur. The memories were so strong that he could barely breathe; he closed his eyes and tried to leave them behind, but it was as though the damn had been broken and he could not stop the tidal wave of memories. He fell to his knees, completely overwhelmed by the intangible onslaught. He was a warrior, he was supposed to be strong and valiant, and that had never been a problem before, but he did not even have an enemy to fight now, there was no distraction to be had from the perpetual pain.
Thranduil was at his son's side in an instant. Without hesitation he pulled Legolas into his arms, "You are free of that place Legolas; you survived and you are stronger because of it, someday you will know this."
Legolas held onto his father tightly, as he had not done since he was but an elfling. Thranduil's heart clenched as he felt the tremors that ran through his son's still too thin form. He pulled away slightly, "Look at me, Legolas. You will make it through this, I know it, and the sooner you believe this the sooner it will happen. Now talk to me, tell me what is going on."
Legolas sat back and sighed, slowly gaining control of himself, "Nothing, I just could not sleep."
Thranduil shook his head, "Legolas, I have been watching you more closely than you could possible know since the healers released you. I've seen the haunted look in your eyes when you think no one is looking, I have seen the way you react when another calls you 'prince,' please do not shut me out. I want so badly to help you, but I can do nothing if you will not even talk to me."
Legolas closed his eyes, he did not want to talk about it, and he did not want to relive it; he was internally torn between avoiding the memories and acquiescing his father.
Thranduil could only wait; he knew that if he pushed his son, Legolas would only pull away. So instead of saying anything, he allowed Legolas time to collect his thoughts, and only hoped that he would share them.
"I was scared, at first," Legolas said finally, love of his father defeating out his fear, "but then I didn't even care. I had no idea how long I had been there, and I could only assume that I would never leave that place. I started hoping that they would lose control and kill me one of the times they were beating me. I never really gave up, but I certainly stopped trying, stopped hoping," he glanced at his father for a moment before dropping his gaze, "I did not think that you would come."
"Legolas, I will never abandon you, never."
"I know that. I have no doubt of it now, but then… I was so alone, Ada, I could not give up because I kept thinking of you and mother, but after awhile I was not even certain that you would come. I had no idea how long I was there. I could not see the sun or the moon, it was always dark. It was always cold. I survived what happened, I know that, I beat that, but coming back… I never imagined that it would be this hard. It is all of the little things, the simple comforts of life that I used to take for granted and that I cannot even comprehend anymore."
"My son, I am sure that this is not what you want to hear, but it really will just take time. But I can promise you this, you will no longer have to face this alone."
Legolas nodded, "I know, but I just want things to go back to the way they were before. I should not feel like a stranger in my own home."
"You certainly should not. Legolas, your mother and I love you more than I can tell you, and you will never be a stranger here; this is your home. I am sorry, though, I should have known how difficult this would be for you. When we found you…well, I have never seen an elf so close to death live. When you woke up and actually knew who I was for the first time, this ordeal was over for me. But for you, it had just entered a new stage. I have been a captive before, Legolas, but never for so long as this. I do not know what I can say that will make this better for you, but I will always be here for you; I will always be ready and willing to listen. Do not shut me or your mother and friends out Legolas, we all are worried for you."
"Thank you, ada," Legolas said quietly. Nothing had really changed during their conversation, but he did feel better. He felt less alone, and he was grateful to his father for reaching out to him.
"Come, let's go home before the guards find out that we're missing," he said with a smile, offering his son a hand up.
They walked back to the palace in silence. Falling into old habits, Legolas jumped into the tree that grew outside his window and climbed back up. Thranduil looked up at him dubiously for a moment, then just shook his head and followed, "There is a door, you know."
"Sorry," Legolas said sheepishly, "old habits…they're comforting right now." He hesitated before his bed, still uncertain about sleeping; he knew that nightmares did not leave simply because one talked about them.
Thranduil saw Legolas' apprehension, "Sleep, I will watch over you tonight."
Something about his father's presence calmed him, and he fell into a deep and long sleep like he had not had for years.
Six months later…
Legolas checked his bag one last time, making sure that he had everything that he needed. He was going out on patrol again for the first time since his captivity. This one was much shorter; he only planned on being gone for about eight weeks. He had spent the last months training and rebuilding his strength, and he felt ready. He felt as though this was the last step in getting back to normal. Patrol was the only part of his life that he had yet to resume.
He was about to leave when his father walked into his room, "You weren't planning on leaving without saying goodbye, were you?"
Legolas smiled, "I thought that you had council meetings all day today."
"I do, but this is more important," Thranduil said, pulling his son into a hug, "Be careful, Legolas."
"I will; I will return before you know it."
Thranduil sighed, "No you won't, until you return my perceptions of time will likely be undeniably mortal in nature, but you are ready and I cannot keep you safely in these walls forever, as much as I may want to."
Legolas looked at his father seriously, "I will be careful, and I will see you soon."
"I know, I know. Safe journey, my son," Thranduil said as Legolas left.
Thranduil watched the warriors go from his son's bedroom window. He was proud of the confidence with which Legolas led his men. He was naturally worried for him, more this time than usual. It felt as it had the first time he had watched his son ride out on a patrol. Legolas would do his job admirably, Thranduil had no doubt, and Thranduil would wait for him and be there for him when he got home.
Legolas paused when he reached the gates.
"Is everything well, Legolas?" his lieutenant asked him.
Legolas looked at him and smiled, "Everything is just fine."
And it was. He nudged his horse on again and left the palace behind him. With those few steps, he felt like he had finally regained control of his life, and that things were finally back to normal.
Well, that's all for now… I'd love to get your reaction to the story and any constructive criticism that you might have. Thanks for reading!