A/N: Hello! I know it's been years since last I strayed on here, but I thought perhaps, one last time, I'd post the ending I'd long written in my head, before I grow up and leave this world behind. I can only apologise, dear readers, that it has been so long, and the many years I had planned will never be known in full. Perhaps a fraction, I can portray here.
Warnings: Character death, suicide.
Sunset came to Minas Tirith, bathing the white stone of the citadel in amber light. Across the reddened plains, sparkling Osgiliath stood proud and tall. Far beyond, Ithilien bloomed, ablaze with colour and life. Yet it was the hour of sunset, nonetheless; the World a shadow of what it had been in the clear light of dawn and the saturated brilliance of the morning. Dusk was fast approaching, and with it, the World would sleep, silent. Stupor rendered the morning a legend, the dawn a myth. The splendour of waking would be forgotten, in Man's monstrous trudge through the world. Only remnants kept dark at bay, but one of them was flickering, soon to be swallowed.
"What are you doing out here? You'll catch a chill."
Aragorn glanced up from his wicker seat to see the face of his scorning husband, and raised an eyebrow. "Is that your primary concern at this point? Truly, Legolas?"
Legolas' expression flickered, with amusement. "After all these years of your recklessness, any concern for you is somewhat engrained." Kneeling to the King's level, Legolas traced light touch over deep wrinkles, engraved on paper-thin skin. He could trace his husband's veins across too many inches of his body. Age had been kind, Aragorn had lived more than his share of men's lifetimes, but finally, the end approached.
"There is sadness in your eyes," Aragorn observed, raising a somewhat gnarled hand to his husband's flawless forehead. "Do not spend our last evening in sorrow, not when we have so much to celebrate."
"It is hard." Wry thoughts filled Legolas' mind, and revealed themselves upon his fair face. Beneath Aragorn's touch the muscles moved. The strength of Men has long been underestimated. One would think I ought to have learned. I will do my utmost for you, melda nin."
"For our family," Aragorn quietly corrected him. "Come."
An arm was proferred, and Aragorn raised himself on it. Six score years of Kingship and battles meant he was somewhat more bowed than in his youth.
"They are waiting." Aragorn turned his back on the last rays of sunshine.
Time brought age. Time brought birth. Time brought death. It took away some they loved the most, but it also created so many more. Aragorn reclined in his heavily-padded chair and watched the bustle of his ever expanding family from upon the raised dias, behind a long table littered with half-drunk goblets and empty plates. The servants would come for them soon.
There was Legolas, his Legolas, with a baby in his arms. He'd always looked good with a baby in his arms. Little Aradil was sleeping peacefully, charmed by a lullaby known for many years by every member of their lengthy clan. The child was beautiful, though just a few months old and only recently introduced to the city. Young Aradil, swaddled in furs and velvet was unassuming. He was not aware that he was third in line to the throne of the Western Realm. Aragorn would not see him introduced to the rest of the wide expanse of his twin realms.
The young boy's mother, Llannie, hovered over Legolas' shoulder, protective still. It stirred vivid memories of their first days with Rilluin, how Legolas had seemed the most vigilant guard, and how, eventually, Aragorn understood, in a moment of crystal clarity.
With the name still came a dull surge of... ache. That child should be among the gathered, a grown man, proud, tall and splendid. He should be cooing over his grandchild as Legolas was, proud hand squeezing Aradui's shoulder, congratulating his son. Aragorn had been blessed with glimpses of the man he knew Rilluin have become, not least on the day he sent him to hunt a pack of orcs East whilst he himself rode South, with a sortie to back up some of his other men. When Aragorn had returned to Minas Tirith, it was to find the city shrouded in grief, and his eldest son wasting with an incurable fever, poison bubbling in his veins.
"Grada! Grada!" One of Aragorn's lisping great-grandchildren skipped forwards, to launch herself onto the King's lap.
"Hello little one," Aragorn said with a quiet smile. "What have you got there?"
"Carrot!" The little girl brandished her prize, and almost knocked her great-grandfather in the face.
With a dodge that his back regretted, Aragorn chuckled. "Can I have some?"
As he played with the youngster, teasing, a crowd of children approached, herded by a frazzled woman.
"Come now, Berillia, leave your Grada be," she ordered, beckoning.
"She's causing no harm," Aragorn said, but the girl hopped down. Aragorn could not restrain an amused smile at the motley crew before him, children from a dozen bloodlines, and every one of them filled with good health, cheeks of a rosy hue, broad grins, laughter brightened eyes. Adopting Cariad had led to a surge of children orphaned by war being taken in by houses throughout the city. In the royal household, one adoption had led directly to three more – by Cariad and his husband Dyril – which led to half a dozen more by those children. And so the family expanded.
The swell of the family was more rapid in some quarters than others. A quick search of the hall revealed Liantasse, clad in an understated purple and silver mantle. She was beautiful, she always had been. People claimed she resembled him the most, with her thick dark curls and darker complexion, but he saw Legolas' grace, Legolas' purity and the unheeded way of movement. But she was not as fey as he: she had Aragorn's far more grounded nature, that made her so much more human, and so beloved of the people. Though she had lived more than a century, the long life of the elves found her ageless, young for years beyond Aragorn could ever hope for, for himself Yet no man – nor woman for that matter – had ever been enough for her. She was alone, but she was peerless.
Erelia however... Now she was peerless, perhaps, but not alone. Adored. By the people, by her husband - son of Dol Amroth's fairest Prince - by all who met her. Not a little vain at times, yet perhaps it was not surprisng with all the praise she received. Her children were as beautiful as her, and eyes followed them as they moved through the rooms. The realm looked on them with awe, as shadows from the days long past.
His family, spread out before him, feasting, dancing and laughing, in the halls he had reclaimed for them. The most foresighted in the Kingdom would not have been believed had they dared to predict this family would look like this. But it was most beautiful. He wished the morn would not being them sadness.
Lifting her skirts as she stepped over a brawling pair of toddlers, Liana moved over to her Atar. Spotting her approach, Legolas handed his youngest descendent back to his mother, with a soft kiss upon the boy's new skin.
You are hiding secrets, Atar," Liana murmured, as Llannie moved away. "Why are our Uncles not here? Why not Grandfather?"
"You always asked a lot of questions, even when you were young," Legolas observed, gazing across the hall. He caught Aragorn's eye, and the elderly king started out of a doze at the scrutiny. A sleepy smile lit his face.
Liana watched the interchange and her irritation dissolved into affection, though the voice she used was still a mutter. "And you never have been inclined to give straight answers, even when surrounded by humans for so long."
Accepting a glass from a passing waiter, Legolas took a draught before answering. "Your Uncles and my father had other appointments this evening. They will be here tomorrow. You will not want for their company."
"They never normally miss occasions such as this."
When her father turned to her, Liana saw a great weariness hidden in his eyes. She regretted pushing the subject, and opened her mouth to retract the question and apologise, but it was Legolas who offered his instead. "I am sorry. I am so sorry, my daughter, my girl. Please forgive me, when the dawn rises."
"Atar, I do not understand you," Liana replied, fear drawing her voice into quiet.
"I know." Legolas attempted a small smile. "You can also never understand how completely I love you, my daughter. But for your father, I have never known love more total than when I first held each of you five in my arms."
He opened his arms now, and without a word, Liana went to them, sinking into his warmth and tight hold. "I am filled with fear when you speak like this Atar, and the dawn is shielded from my vision. I can not see what tomorrow will bring."
Legolas drew away to wipe Liana's unruly curls from her forehead. "That is for the best, my girl. Enjoy tonight, enjoy each night, and smile for your fathers."
"You still speak in riddles."
"You will understand," he caressed his daughter's fair features. "I have great faith in you. You are stronger than you think."
Before Liana could formulate a response, Erelia skipped over. "Atar, Atar, dance with me."
Erelia's innocence shattered the dour mood of the pair's talk, and Legolas' countenance lightened. As he turned, he gamely replied, "Must I?"
"If you do not dance with me, I will summon my daughters, and you can not deny them."
Knowing it to be true, Legolas stepped away from his eldest daughter, with a bow, and kiss upon her knuckles.
Legolas danced for hours with the adults and older children – as the night wore on, the younger children were brought to him yawning, ready for kisses and to be spirited to bed. As the moon rose, one of Losca's – Erelia's eldest daughters – compositions was taken up by the violinists. All others stepped back to watch her, as she commanded the dance floor. It was then that Jeniere crept forth to tug on Legolas' arm.
"Grada has fallen asleep. He's all twitchy."
A glance at the raised dias revealed Aragorn alone and wilting, stooped in sleep. Around him, family chatted, unconcerned, but it suddenly resonated with Legolas how old his husband was. He had withered when he had not been watching, wasting away unseen though Legolas had never removed his eyes. The city was too much for him to hold on shoulders that would barely take his bow, let alone his sword. It was Aradui's turn now. The standard would be lifted at his side. If they waited much longer, it would be the worse for them all.
As he buried himself in his own thoughts, his strides took him to his husband's side. Kneeling, he took Aragorn's hand between two of his own. "Melda nin, you dream, and your family watches."
Age-veiled eyes met his. "I had the dream again."
It had been long years since he had been visited by that nightmare, though it had evolved through the decades. The same fear that gripped Aragorn at the start no longer wracked him – familiarity breeds acceptance. In that vein, Legolas replied, "You do not appear shaken."
"No," Slowly, and in an undertone, Aragorn replied, "I understand it now. I think perhaps that I have for many a year. No further bodies will be added to that room in my mind." Fevered Rilluin, aged Cariad, withered Dyril, Calam, Hallas – Cariad and Dyril's children – little Anna, no bigger than a forearm. "I will only see the death of one more that I love. No more."
When Legolas' head bowed, it found Aragorn's knee. One moment of weakness. It would be cruel to ask Aragorn to carry on in dotage and pain. But the world was cruel, that this man could not live an eternity with him under the leaves of strong trees. Had Aragorn been born to another mother, another father – they could have dwelt in timeless lands for many an age. Yet Aragorn could have been made from lesser parents. To have lived this long was unexpected, but... Legolas' breath caught in his throat, and he struggled – to ask for one more day. One more hour. This could not end. Just a little more time. Just until he was ready, to say goodbye.
'When will you be more ready than this day, meleth nin?' The soft brush of mind from without made Legolas rise.
"Our family watches."
"And they wait in innocence. Allow them a few more hours of ignorance," Aragorn replied.
Legolas' keen eyes scanned the audience. As he inhaled, he breathed in the sounds, laughter, crunching, gossip, kisses, news that would brighten hearts if whispered louder, and news that would do the opposite. A tangled web of sound and life. As he prepared himself, he caught Liana's gaze.
"Our eldest daughter's heart will not allow her to exist in ignorance until the sun rises," Legolas murmured.
"Neither does our heir's good sense. That is why he does not meet your eyes, nor venture near to greet you."
"He is scared," Legolas observed.
"So was I." Aragorn reached forward to grasp Legolas' elbow and haul ancient bones vertical. "Now I am only weary."
Legolas' heart no longer quailed at the thought of the deed that must be done. He had the power to bring that weariness to an end, and balm his own. The one he could scarcely admit to himself. "Then let us rest."
And so, they bade farewell to those that had gathered for them, forgiving in their hearts those who had not the strength to know that "goodnight" meant "goodbye" and remain silent. Legolas keenly missed his father among the gathered, and Aragorn those who had been his greatest counsellors, Glorfindel and Erestor. Yet it was a hard thing to do, and he bore them no grudge. It would not be fair to impose such a heavy burden upon them, not after all they had done for the Royal couple.
Heads were kissed, hearts stirred with words they did not know were final, and hands and bodies squeezed close and warm.
When the King came to bid Aradui farewell, Aragorn gripped his grandson close. As they were close, Aragorn whispered, "You remind me of your father, in every way. Anyone blessed enough to have stood in Rilluin's presence would know you as his son. There is no higher praise I can give you than that. Soon you will make as great a King as he would have, had the fates allowed."
"I will do my best, for our Kingdom," Aradui replied, and those who saw him watched him shake off the sorrow that had been a shroud about him for days. In that moment, all that beheld him saw a young King, as if the light that shone upon him had changed, and a new hue lit him.
Aragorn stepped away, but there were tears upon his cheeks. Erelia, next in the line, reached up with small fingers to wipe the liquid away. "Do not weep Ada. Soon you will be glad, and tired no longer. The grey shade about you will depart."
"You have long held wisdom within you, overlooked as your fairness steals breaths and hearts, my daughter," Aragorn sighed. "You hide it beneath beauty – yet it is more beautiful than all the silks and silvers in the land could frame."
"I am your daughter. You would not expect otherwise." Erelia lifted her chin proudly as she spoke.
"What does Grada cry, Granmama?" asked Elias, Losca's second son.
Erelia crouched to explain, "Because Grada loves you so much. He is going to miss you greatly."
"But he will see us at breakfast, won't you Grada?" Elias looked up at Aragorn, Legolas' shocking blue-grey eyes gazing out from beneath a four-year old's fringe.
"Yes my dear boy, he will see us at breakfast." But Erelia choked back a sob of her own as she buried herself in the boy's small form, unable to hide from the truth she knew too well forever.
Aragorn wrenched himself away to bid farewell to his other daughter, last and most patient, but she shook her head at him, and knelt to comfort her sister, her skirts bunching around her. As she crouched, Aragorn found himself unable to pull away. His daughters were in pain, and it was his fault. He had caused this. He would cause so much more.
"My girls," he sighed, reaching down to place a hand on his eldest daughter's shoulder. At first the skin beneath velvet was tight and then it relaxed, as Liana gave a long exhale. She grasped the hand on her shoulder, though she did not look up at the man who had birthed her.
"Go, Ada. The care of this family is mine now."
And so Aragorn walked away, to where his husband waited for him. His family had outgrown him. They did not need him any more: they might want him there – they might even feel as if they needed him - but they were strong enough to bear yet another burden. They would cope.
Aragorn lay himself down on the sheets, as Legolas fussed around the room. The human gazed up at the braiding on the bed curtains and allowed his fingers to trace the delicate embroidery on the fabric beneath him. Such luxuriousness. Such detail and beauty. Someone had spent hours on this piece of fabric. It seemed a shame to soil it with what they would do tonight. But no one would lie upon the King's sheet in any case, not after his death. They were rich enough for traditions to waste cloth, it seemed. Legolas had fought much of the waste in the Royal accounts, finding the holes that the gold trickled through - but he could not plug them all.
"Come lie with me," Aragorn requested as his husband fiddled.
"I am just checking – and you will be glad that I did." Legolas turned from the piles he had been leafing through. On the table lay gifts and letters for the ones they loved, things of enough significance to the family to pass on. Some, such as Aragorn's pendant and Legolas' great bow from Lorien, had been passed on at appropriate moments in life, and use had been seen in them. "You still wear your rings."
Legolas took a seat at the edge of Aragorn's bed, and ran his fingers along the human's hand. "What would you have done with these?" He caressed the wedding ring he had given his husband under mallorn trees, so many long years before.
"Though I relinquish my kingdom and my kingship, I do not case to be your husband. The ring of Barahir, however, belongs to our grandson." Legolas nodded, and removed the ring that had lain about his neck for decades. "Add it to Aradui's pile. As if he does not have enough, with all the lands before him."
"He will manage admirably. Or Liana will through him," Legolas joked, as he placed the ring among the largest and grandest pile of heirlooms. Yet however many jewels each descendent received, it was the letters Legolas was sure that they would treasure the most. Words for them and them alone, words of love and stories of old humour. Things to savour in memory rather than keep. More precious, more important to keep from dust – and perhaps more important to pass on to the generations that would not remember their faces.
Eventually satisfied, Legolas turned away from the stable and towards his husband.
When he sat close, Aragorn folded Legolas' flawless hands between his own wrinkled ones. "You know that I do not demand you do this. I do not desire you to end your life before it is your time."
"It is my time," Legolas replied.
"No, Legolas, it is my time. This date was set by me," Aragorn glanced at the bedspread, away from his elven partner. His eyes hurt to look upon. "The Sea may bring you the contentment you crave, for that purpose, I have had a ship built, to bear you away should you desire it, in the place of this unseemly end."
Smiling, Legolas ran a thumb across the hand that held his. "You speak as if this is an announcement, that this ought to be new to me. You can not hide what is in your heart from one you are so bonded to. And I have sent word to have that ship, fair as it may be, sent to Umbar to reinforce your fleet, or to my father should he wish to travel to the West."
"I wished for you to have the option -"
"And I have long known what was before me. I will not find peace at sea – to travel alone, or even with my father – to find what at weary day's end? Separated from all I love, I will find no peace in a place meant for wholesomeness. As for remaining – you hold my heart. My children will not watch me struggle to breathe, before eventually sinking into darkness," Legolas shook his head. "No, Aragorn. Whatever lives beyond my best hope of being with you once more, I will travel by your side, as I was meant to. I may have doubted, but to do so is natural. To not do so is foolhardy. I hold no such doubts now."
"I do not ask it of you," Aragorn said.
"No, I ask it of myself." Legolas did not realise that there were tears in his eyes, until the first hot droplets escaped. "I will not leave you again. I am done."
They sat for a long moment in silence, until one of the candles in the room sputtered and went out. Then it was if they breathed once more, and they moved. They had had long years together, and they had been happy. Now their tasks were done, and they were weary.
Two mouthfuls, unsurprisingly bitter, was all it took for Legolas to begin his end. He grimaced as he felt the burning liquid moving through him – but he had not expected the end to be painless, nor to be palatable. The shivers began as his body rejected such a foul substance – struggled to accept his mind's intention. Nerves sparked within him, protesting in the only way they knew, as they were devoured by poison. Bitter cold swept over him, replacing the burning heat with the other extreme, as he began his descent. Sudden fear at what lay beyond took hold of him, though it was not the only reason his body shook, unbidden. It took only moments for his sight to begin to dim, and he reached blindly towards Aragorn. The one sense that had always been a marvel – and he would never see his husband in this world again.
"Hold me," he asked, his voice cracking, and at once, Aragorn lay around him, close as he could be. He had changed so much from the lithe youth Legolas had first met. He had grown, hardened, then blossomed, then slowly hardened once more, curling into something courser to touch. But always, he was warm. It was that warmth Legolas felt that nipped at the heels of death, lessening the chill.
"I love you," Aragorn whispered, to a face that was becoming like statue, but Legolas was beyond response. Pain clutched at Aragorn's chest, as Legolas choked hard, breath thrumming, and he closed his eyes against tears. He would find Legolas again, beyond the doom and the dark, but that knowledge did not lessen the pain at knowing that his husband was gone, and that he was alone.
When Legolas' breath finally failed, Aragorn's walls crumbled around him. He was done. He had seen his lover die as he had long known he would. Now it was his turn. The world was already dark.
But one last duty he owed, he turned Legolas onto his back, and folded his arms neatly upon his breast. Unbidden, his hands found Legolas' creamy hair, and stroked through the strands, so that it fanned upon the elf's shoulders. It was how Legolas would be found by his family in the morning, the hand of his human lover laced through his, as Aragorn too, slept the eternal sleep. Their time was done, but those of their blood would prosper and spread throughout lands yet unfound. There was such hope for those that came after them. Their children. Their family. Their legacy.