A/N: I was never good with travel times, but a chart told me that the distance Rivendell-Mirkwood can be managed in 20 days when on horseback. Assuming that Elrond and his sons are hurrying but still hindered by the weather (snow and storms, rain and mud), they could nevertheless make the journey in ca. 20 days I think.
Chapter 13: The end…or just the beginning?
„Estel? Please, open the door." Silien's concerned voice drifted through the wood of the door, but Aragorn did not move from his slouched position on the bed. It was late evening of the day after he had witnesses Legolas and Merenor kissing, and Aragorn had yet to unbolt the door. A few of the healers, some guards and even Legolas had knocked, but Aragorn wanted to see no one. Sometime during the night, he had gotten up from the ground and made it over to his bed, where he had flopped down and not moved since.
He hurt….Valar, did he hurt. There seemed to be a giant hole in his chest, right where his heart used to be, and the edges were burning with a red hot fire. It consumed his body and left nothing behind but smoldering ashes. Whenever he thought that he could cry no more, that his tears must finally dry up, the scene he had witnessed flashed before his eyes, and it all started over again. How could Legolas do that to him? And then say that it had not meant a thing to him? Maybe Legolas felt the same way about Aragorn, that their relationship had not meant a thing, either. Maybe it had all been a game for him, some play to pass the time. A few times, Aragorn even thought that maybe Lithdal had been right in claiming that Legolas had never loved him, and that he elf would stop wanting to be with him after what Lithdal had done…or had planned to do…
During the following day, the tears had stopped falling, but while the tears had helped him to feel better, Aragorn now felt drained and tired. But he could not sleep, for the hole in his chest hurt him beyond measure, and every time he closed his eyes, he either saw Lithdal, or Legolas and Merenor. Every minute turned into a nightmare, and he could not escape. All his hard work over the last weeks had been for naught. He had lost Legolas, and the feeling of loneliness and despair settled heavy in his chest.
He was hurt, physically and mentally, stranded in a strange realm, and unable to journey home. He felt so helpless. His best friend, the person he had loved with his body and soul, had betrayed him. What had he done to deserve this? Where had he gone wrong that the Valar hated him so much?
Sometime during the night, when he was too exhausted to cry but too hurt to sleep, Aragorn felt a change in him. After what Lithdal had done to him, something had broken inside of him, and so far he had harbored the hope that it could be fixed. Now he knew, that it was damaged beyond repair. He was damaged beyond repair. If loving someone hurt so much, if it brought so much pain and heartache with it, then maybe he must stop loving. Maybe he should just close his heart to the emotion of love, so that he would not be hurt again. And while his mind practically shouted at him that this was not the right path, Aragorn knew that the decision was already made, had been made the second he had lain eyes on Legolas and Merenor kissing.
"Estel? Can you hear me?" There was another knock at the door, and Aragorn drew the blanket over his head. Why would they not just leave him alone?
Another loud knock, "Estel, if you do not open the door right now, I'm going to break it down!" Hugging his pillow closer to his chest, Aragorn did not move. "Alright then, I will count to ten, and when the door is not open, I will force it open." Silien called, his voice sounding serious. "One, two…."
A small grimace appeared on Aragorn's slightly stubbly face. He really did not want to talk to anyone right now, but Silien seemed to be serious in his threat. Maybe it was easier to just open the door instead of having it broken open by force. "Five, six…" Aragorn let out a long sigh, but then he turned slowly over and stood up. The room spun around him for a moment, but then it was stationary and he slowly wobbled to the door. "Nine, ten!" Reaching out, Aragorn slowly withdrew the metal bolt, but he did not open the door. Slowly, he shuffled back to the bed and lay down, his back to the door.
He heard the door being opened and then closed, and a moment later the mattress of the bed dipped low, telling him that Silien had sat down next to him. "Estel?"
He was really not in the mood to talk, and neither did he have the energy to do so. All he wanted was to be left alone. Silien sighed, but was not discouraged by his lack of speech. "Alright, you don't want to talk. Then please Estel, listen to what I have to say." He paused for a moment, evidently to wait for a reaction from Aragorn, but when none was forthcoming, he continued, "I heard what happened, Legolas told me." Aragorn's shoulders stiffened, but he said nothing. "He deeply regrets what happened, and he is very sorry. He would like to speak with you and apologize."
Pain flooded Aragorn's body and his stomach felt as if someone had punched him. The fire reawakened in the hole in his chest, and it burned horribly. Breathing became difficult as the pain consumed him. His voice was barely a whisper when he spoke, "I don't want to see him."
Silien nodded, "I thought as much, Estel, and you have every right to be upset and hurt. I cannot imagine how you must feel now. What Legolas did was…it was not fair to you." He paused again, searching for words. "But Estel, I am worried about you, as are Legolas and the King. You are not healed yet, and I'm sure this has not helped your healing. You have not eaten since yesterday, nor have you had your herbal teas."
Aragorn said nothing, and so Silien continued, "Estel please, don't let this darken your heart. I know you must think that the whole of Arda has conspired against you, but you still have friends here, people who care about you and worry. And I know that especially Legolas is going out of his mind with worry and guilt. I am not saying that you have to speak with him today, or even tomorrow. But please Estel, don't let this harden your heart." When Aragorn did not answer, Silien sighed and got up. He softly closed the door behind him when he left, leaving Aragorn alone in his dark room, to ponder his words.
Another day passed, and Aragorn's health began to deteriorate. He would not eat, although he drank the teas that were brought to his room. While he had only used the sleeping potions at night, he began to take small doses of the herb during the day too, for it dulled his pain. The healers were worried, but they did not dare intervene, for the King told them to let Aragorn be, at least for the moment.
Aragorn spoke with no one, not even with Silien, who kept him company for a few hours each day. Silien took care of the fire in the hearth, made sure that there was always food available should Aragorn want to eat, he provided silent comfort and just took care of things. Although he never said it out loud, Aragorn was grateful for the elf's presence. It made him feel a little less lonesome. Three days after the incident, Aragorn felt so weak that he felt unable to leave the bed. He yet had to eat, and the lack of food and decent sleep robbed his body of the so hard won strength. Pale and thin, Aragorn looked almost as bad as on the day he had woken after the attack.
Deeply worried, Silien consulted with the King, who in turn consulted with the healers, but short of force feeding Aragorn, there was nothing they could do. Had Silien not known better, he would have said that Aragorn was fading from grief. And then something happened that changed the situation. Aragorn received a letter from his family, telling him that the first snow had melted and that they were on their way to Mirkwood to bring him home. The next morning, Silien found that half of the plate of fresh meat and bread had been eaten, as had the soup. As it appeared, Aragorn had begun to eat again. Encouraged, Silien brought him breakfast that morning, and smiled when the young man nodded his head in thanks. It was the first real sign that there was still life in Aragorn, and Silien's heart soared in relief.
Had Silien known that Aragorn had only begun to eat again, because he knew he would need his strength for his journey home, he would probably have not been so glad. The prospect of his family coming to bring him home, that he would soon leave Mirkwood behind, was the only thing on Aragorn's mind. He wanted to leave Mirkwood as soon as possible, for the realm had brought him nothing but heartache and pain. The sooner he could sit on his horse and ride home, the better. He had no desire to stay here.
While Aragorn stayed in his room at all times, Legolas was wandering the hallways and corridors of his home at night. Aragorn had refused to speak with him, and Legolas hated himself for what he had done. He had not spoken with Merenor either and he had no wish to. It had been a mistake, he knew that, and he wished he could turn back time and make that it had never happened. But alas, that was a wish that would never come true. The hurt in Aragorn's eyes, the disbelief…Legolas slept and ate little, which worried his father. While Aragorn, as a human, could not fade from grief, Legolas could, and the King worried that indeed that would happen. Already, Legolas's long blond hair had lost its radiance and his skin was pale. He was like a ghost, prowling the halls of his forefathers in misery at the dark of night.
Three weeks later…
Winter was finally over and the first shoots broke through the muddy ground. Fresh greens appeared everywhere and the temperatures rose above the freezing point. The snow slowly melted and the birds returned to their beloved trees. In the Palace, things had not changed much. While Aragorn regained some of his physical strength, he would not see Legolas, nor talk much. Silien was the only one whom he allowed to spent time with him, but the sparkle had left Aragorn's eyes, his body was thin, his skin pale and he showed dark circles under his eyes. Sometimes, Aragorn could place a hand across his chest, as if the was hurting, but he never said a thing. It was as if he had lost some inner power that usually helped him to go on.
Legolas did not fare better. Under strict order from his father, the healers oversaw his breakfast, lunch and dinner, making sure that he ate and drank enough. Due to his lethargic state, he was excused from his duties. When he did not try to talk Silien to convince Aragorn to see him, he was standing on one of the balconies, staring out over the land, his eyes far away. Aragorn's birthday on the first of March came and went unnoticed and uncelebrated by all.
Sitting in an overstuffed chair in front of the fireplace, Aragorn stared into the flames with empty eyes. All his days followed the same routine and he had long since capitulated to change that. His heartache at seeing Legolas so intimate with another had grown into a dull ache in his chest, the edges of the hole still smoldering, but the flames were tamed. He felt cold and lifeless. He had pushed his emotions so deep down that he could barely feel anything at all, but his emotions swirled underneath like a frothing river, ready to burst free. But while he felt lethargic and empty most of the time, there were days on which he felt so angry. Then he would like nothing more than to shout and rant, to throw things against the wall just to see them shatter, and more than once he had to stop himself from slamming his fist against the stonewalls. It scared him, and he feared what he would do should someone be on the receiving end of one of his angry spells.
Thinking of nothing in particular and just wishing that it was evening already so that he could drink his sleeping potion and forget his troubles, Aragorn was rudely startled from his gloom. Loud voices came from the corridor and seeped through the wood of his door. Lifting his head marginally, Aragorn listened but could not understand the words that were spoken. There were other sounds, too, of running feet and shutting doors. Having not the energy to get up and open the door to find out what was going on, Aragorn turned his head back to the flames.
A moment later, the door to his room was thrown open and light from the corridor shone into it. Gazing back at the door in surprise, Aragorn could see that a tall form stood in the doorway, but with the light in the background and the shadows that the fire created, he could not make out who it was. That was, until the figure spoke, "Estel!"
"Ada…" Aragorn more whispered than said. He was halfway up from the chair when he was already engulfed in the loving embrace of his foster father. Placing his head on his father's shoulder, Aragorn breathed in deeply. Familiar scents assaulted his senses, and he sighed deeply. Leaning more heavily against his father's chest, he wrapped his arms around him, murmuring, "I missed you, ada."
"Oh my Estel, I missed you too. But now we are here, and all will be well again." Elrond stroked his son's hair while he held him, for once grateful that his young son could not see his face. How thin his body had become, and how pale and sickly he looked! Where had his Estel gone? His sparkling, inquisitive eyes and his ready smile? Elrond had excepted that his son would not be healed completely by now, but he was totally shocked to see him thusly.
Aragorn heard that the door was being closed, and he lifted his head from his father's shoulder. Behind his father stood his brothers, wearing muddy and dirty riding gear. When they saw that he was looking at them, they smiled at him, and in that moment, the emotions that Aragorn had suppressed for weeks broke free. Tears welled up in his eyes and fell freely down his cheeks. He reached out his arm to his brothers, and a moment later all four hugged each other, with Aragorn in their middle. He cried silently, barely making a sound, but his chest heaved and his shoulders trembled.
"Shh, Estel, shh. We are here now, and we won't leave again." Elrond soothed his son, clinging to him as much as Aragorn clung to him.
It took some time before Aragorn calmed down, but then father and sons sat around the fire. A servant brought tea and some food, and Elrond, Elladan and Elrohir shed their filthy riding clothing and changed into something clean. Not once they left Aragorn's room, for they felt that Aragorn needed their presence.
They had ridden long and hard to reach Mirkwood as soon as possible, and although they were tired, they wished to be with their hurting brother and son. They had barely spoken to the King upon arriving, rushing down the corridors in the direction the servants and guards had pointed them. They knew that they would have to speak to King Thranduil rather sooner than later, but first they wanted to make sure that Aragorn was safe.
While the twins sat on the ground, Elrond had pushed one of the chairs close to Aragorn, and his hand rested on his forearm. The fire crackled in the hearth, casting orange shadows over the walls. They sat in comfortable silence, until Aragorn's soft voice broke it, "I'm glad you are here, but you should not have troubled yourself with coming all the way to Mirkwood just because of me."
"It was no trouble, Estel, and even if it was, we would do it again." Elladan said gently, placing his hand on Aragorn's knee. "You are our brother and we love you. You needed us and so we came."
"No, Estel, there are no 'buts'. We would travel the whole of Arda just to see you, you know that." Elrohir chimed in, gazing up at his human brother with bright eyes. A little bit overwhelmed, Aragorn nodded in gratitude and wiped away another tear.
Wrapping an arm around his son's shoulders, Elrond leaned close to him, "We all love you, Estel, we would do all in our power to see that you are safe and whole."
And for the first time in days, a tiny smile graced Aragorn's lips.
Elladan closed the door softly behind him, exhaling slowly when he heard the lock click into the frame. He turned big eyes on his twin, "He is so changed, Elrohir. I can barely believe that this is my little brother in there."
Elrohir nodded and shook his head at the same time, "There is so much darkness in his eyes. As if he is caught in the dark." The younger twin gazed at the closed door for a moment, behind which their father was keeping watch over a slumbering Aragorn. "I worry for him, Elladan. I fear we have come too late."
Elladan gripped his brother's arm, "Don't say that. There is still hope." Elrohir sighed, but nodded, "You are right, Elladan, of course." He took a deep breath, "I wonder where Legolas is. They were inseparable in Rivendell, and from the tone of his letter, he worries about Estel, too."
"Then let us find out where he is." Elladan said, and with his brother at his side, he made his way down the corridor towards Legolas's room. The twins had been to Mirkwood before, and knew the Palace almost as well as their own home. Upon reaching the Prince's room, they saw that it was empty; Legolas was not there. While still pondering where to look for the errant Prince, Silien passed by the room, carrying a tray of tea and some cakes. When he saw the twins, he stopped.
"Mae govannen, my Lords." He bowed his head slightly. "My name is Silien, and I consider myself a friend of your brother."
Elladan and Elrohir greeted Silien politely, before Elladan asked curiously, "A friend of Estel, you say?" Silien nodded, "I am on my way to him right now, to bring him some tea and something to eat."
"Our father is with him and he sleeps." Elrohir explained, which caused Silien to nod his head in understanding. "But maybe you can help us, Silien. We are looking for Legolas. Have you seen him?"
For a moment, a strange emotion flickered through Silien's eyes, but it was too fast gone for the twins to recognize. "I'm not sure where Legolas is at the moment. He has been excused from his duties at court." He paused and gazed back at the way he had come, "But if I had to guess, I would say that he sought solitude on one of the balconies looking out to the West." Upon the twins' blank expressions, he explained, "Legolas watches not the rise of the sun these days, but only as it sinks into the gloom of Mirkwood." With those words, Silien turned and vanished down a staircase, leaving two confused elves behind.
In the end, the twins found Legolas on one of the highest balconies of the Palace, and he was indeed watching the sunset. The sun sank as a red glowing ball behind the high trees of Mirkwood, and its last fiery rays pierced the trees like spears. Staring at the scene, stiff and unmoving, Legolas did not acknowledge the presence of the twins. A gust of wind blew his hair around his face, and only when the last ray of sunlight had vanished and the forest around them was bathed in shadow and darkness, did he turn around to the sons of Elrond.
"You have come." He said, his face emotionless.
Had it not been for the gloom of early night, Elladan would have sworn that Legolas looked like a ghost. His skin was pale, his cheeks hollowed out and there were dark shadows under his eyes. And he looked thin, maybe even thinner than their human brother. Swallowing hard, Elladan took a step closer to his old friend, "Of course we came, after what has happened."
Legolas looked at him sadly, and his eyes burned with guilt and self-loathing, "And so far you only know half of the tale." Legolas told them what had transpired between him and Merenor, and how Aragorn had found out and what had happened afterwards. When he ended, Legolas turned his gaze back towards the shadows of Mirkwood and his voice was soft, "I won't ask you to forgive me what I have done, for I can find no forgiveness in my own heart. I hurt Estel beyond words, and I will always hate me for it. But please, help Estel. I fear for him, and I cannot help him. He won't let me, and he is right not to do so. But I would see him happy again." A tear rolled down Legolas's cheek and splashed onto the banister of the balcony.
Elladan and Elrohir exchanged a long look, communicating without words. Legolas's tale had shocked them, but they finally understood the state their little brother was in. And it also explained why Legolas looked as if he had already died. The elf was fading. The twins were angry at Legolas because of what he had done, because he had hurt their brother, but an elf feels compassion more strongly than hate and anger, for that is how Illuvatar has created them.
"Legolas…" Elrohir came up behind the elf and placed his hands on his shoulders, "it is not we that must forgive you, but Estel. This is between you and him and we will not interfere." Elladan joined his brother and sidled up beside Legolas, "We can see that you are hurting Legolas." Elladan tucked a strand of dull blond hair behind Legolas's ear, "You are fading, my friend."
Legolas shook his head, "I'm not fading, Elladan. I would not seek the way of the coward to escape my responsibility concerning your brother's condition. I am merely tired."
"No, my friend, you are fading. I have been trained as a healer, and I have seen elves fade away from grief." Elladan placed his hand on Legolas's, "Your skin is cold, and your light is almost gone."
Pulling his hand away, Legolas stepped back and freed himself from the twins' touches, "You should not concern yourselves with me. You came here to care for Estel, and that is where you should be. I can take care of myself." And with those words he left the balcony.
Exchanging a long look with his twin, Elladan voiced his thoughts, "We came here to help Estel, but now we have not only to safe him, but Legolas as well. Things are much darker in Mirkwood than I had feared."
"In Mirkwood," Elrohir replied, "and in the hearts of those we hold dear."
In silence the brothers watched the dark forest around him, their own hearts troubled. It was Elrohir, always the more sensitive of the twins, who spoke next. His voice was soft, but confused, "I don't understand, Elladan. What could have caused Legolas to turn to another? He adores our brother, he would lay his own life down to safe his."
Elladan frowned and shook his head, "I don't know either. But I can guess." His dark eyes turned even darker, "Estel is changed, muindor. And much so. We don't know what happened between him and Legolas. But from what I can tell now, our little brother has never before guarded his heart so fiercely. Whatever drove Legolas to do as he did, I fear that Estel had his part to play in this as well." Elladan turned and looked at his brother, "But I think it is not our part to investigate, for this is between them, and them alone."
Elrohir nodded his head, but sighed frustrated, "Legolas is like a brother to me. I hate to see him thus. And Estel…I fear for him."
Sensing his brother's pain, Elladan placed a hand on his shoulder, "Time will tell, muindor. Have faith. Their hearts may be blinded now and hurting, but in the end, I am sure, they will remember their love for each other."
Elrohir sighed once more, but did not reply.
The next day, Elrond and the twins spoke with the King about the things that had happened during the winter. They were shocked and outraged when they learned what had truly transpired between Lithdal, Legolas and Estel, for a letter could not convey emotions as well as a conversation. When they heard that Lithdal had even asked to be set free, the twins' faces darkened dangerously. There was only so much they could take, and Lithdal had definitely overstepped the line.
The King spoke of his concerns about his son, and the twins shared his worries. Legolas was not looking healthy, and although the healers made him eat, he seemed to take no energy from the food. Even if he was not fading already and the twins had been mistaken, they all feared that it was only a matter of time. Elrond promised Thranduil to look at his son and to determine his condition, and he would do all in his power to safe him.
That morning, Elrond and the twins helped Estel to move to another room. Thranduil had placed them all in the royal guest chambers and after much coaxing and warm smiles, the twins had finally convinced their foster brother to move back there too, if not into the same room. That room, Thranduil had made clear, would not be used again.
The days passed rather quickly, as the travelers unpacked and reacquainted themselves with the Palace. Elrond would not leave Aragorn's side for long periods of time, and the young man was just glad to be with his family again, although he spoke little. When dinnertime arrived, servants brought food and wine, and when it was time to go to bed, the twins said their goodnights and went to their respective bedrooms, but Elrond lingered. He was worried at the amount of sleeping potion Aragorn drank each night, and he only went to sleep when he had made sure that his young son slept peacefully, his chest rising and falling in a steady rhythm.
Each night Elrond vowed that he would speak with Aragorn about the sleeping potion, but so far he had not had the courage. Aragorn had not spoken with them about what had happened, but Elrond knew enough. If taking a sleeping potion was the only way for his son to sleep at all, to escape the horror he had gone through, then Elrond did not want to take this comfort away from his son. But as a healer he knew that Aragorn could not continue to take it for much longer. His body grew accustomed to it, and it would be difficult to stop taking it. But aside from that, Elrond knew that they could not make the journey back to Rivendell with Aragorn taking the sleeping potion. It was too dangerous. If they were attacked at night, Aragorn would need to be fully awake; the lingering effects of the sleeping potion could prevent that.
When the second week of their stay began, Elrond went looking for Legolas, while Elladan and Elrohir stayed with Aragorn. It was obvious that the young man enjoyed the company of his brothers, although he still spoke little and barely smiled. Elrond hoped that the twins, with their roguish streak but gentle manner, would be able to coax Aragorn to tell about what happened, so that he could begin to heal. Meanwhile, Elrond wanted to talk to Legolas. His sons had verified the King's fears and they had also told him about what Legolas had done. While one part of Elrond wanted to rip Legolas apart because he had hurt Aragorn, a much bigger part, his healer part, wanted to make sure that the young elf was well.
Reaching the door to Legolas's room, Elrond knocked softly. A moment later, the door was opened. "Lord Elrond!" Legolas looked up at him with wide eyes, a hint of fear glimmering in their depths. "I assumed that you would come. Come in." Legolas stepped back and held the door open. As soon as Elrond had entered, he closed it softly, gesturing to one of the chairs. "Please, sit down."
Elrond did as he was asked, but not before he let his eyes sweep the room. Legolas had always been a neat and tidy person, someone who's possessions were orderly staked on cupboards and chests. But now…the room was a mess. Glasses and half empty plates stood on trays around the room, clothing and shoes littered the floor and the furniture. It was as if the room had not been cleaned in weeks. Stashing this thought away in the back of his head, Elrond gazed at the young Prince. Legolas had taken a seat across from him and was eying him warily.
'He fears what I have come to say.' Elrond mused, saddened by the fear he saw in the younger elf's eyes. Legolas was like a son to him. 'And my sons have been right.' Elrond took in the pallor of Legolas's skin, the dull hair, the dark circles under his eyes, and the almost absent inner light of his fea. 'Almost absent…' Elrond thought, and hope surged through him. Legolas stood near on the boarder to fading, but he had not crossed yet, something was holding him back.
"Legolas, how are feeling?" Elrond asked gently, and was surprised when Legolas's face registered shock mixed with disbelief.
"H..How I am feeling?" Legolas stammered back, frowning.
"Aye, Legolas. How are you doing?"
Legolas gazed at Elrond for a moment, not sure what to say. It had been weeks since anyone had asked how he felt…and truly meant it. "I feel…" He wanted to say fine, but when he saw that Elrond's eyebrow rose almost imperceptibly, he decided that he would be honest with Elrond. "I feel horrible, my Lord." He let his head fall and looked at his hands. "I am so sorry."
"Because you kissed another?" Elrond asked calmly.
Legolas's head snapped up and his eyes bore into Elrond's. "You know?" He almost whispered, the fear darkening his eyes. Elrond nodded, "Aye, I know. Elladan and Elrohir told me."
Nodding his head dejectedly, Legolas gazed back at his hands, "You must hate me, Lord Elrond. What I did is unforgivable. I hurt Estel. But I am so sorry."
"I don't hate you, Legolas. My hate is reserved for the evil creatures of Sauron, but not for you." Legolas bit his lip, but then nodded. The fear vanished from his eyes.
"Why did you do it?" Elrond leaned forwards, "When you left Imladris last year, you were in love with Estel. You would have died for him. Elves do not give their hearts lightly, and neither do they withdraw it without repercussions. What has changed your heart, Legolas?"
There was a pause, and then Legolas lifted his head in despair, "I know not. My heart has not changed. I still love Estel. I just….I cannot explain it, my Lord. In that moment, it felt as if it wasn't me. But it was!" Legolas bit his lip, "I regret what I did and I haven't seen Merenor since that night. I wish I could turn back time, but I cannot."
It gladdened Elrond's heart to hear those words. Legolas still loved his son, and from what he had seen in the younger elf's eyes, he meant what he said. "You know not the reason?" Elrond said gently, almost prodding, "Did Estel hurt you in any way?"
"No!" Legolas explained, aghast at the very thought. But then he remembered the apathy of his friend, the conversations that were more monologues, the cold looks, the shunned heart. Legolas turned his head, for he did not want Elrond to see his expression. He did not want Elrond to think that he blamed Estel for what he had done, for he did not.
To his surprise, Elrond placed a warm hand on his knee in a fatherly gesture, as if he had guessed his thoughts nevertheless, "What are you planning on doing now, Legolas?"
Another pause. Legolas wringed his hands and gazed at the fireplace, before his eyes found Elrond's, "I know not."
"How about you begin with forgiving yourself?" Elrond grabbed one of Legolas's hands in his own, "I know that it is hard, but as you said, you cannot go back and change what you did. You have to live with the consequences. And sitting in this room all day and brooding will not help you. Leave this room, Legolas, go and meet some friends, go see your father."
"You ask me to go on with my life, when I see none for myself. How can I just go on as if nothing has happened? I hurt the only person I ever really loved. What I did brought shame upon me."
Elrond tightened his hold on Legolas's hand, "I don't ask you to live your life as if nothing has happened. I am asking you to live with your mistakes. That, Legolas, will be your punishment. And Estel will have to live with his mistakes."
Shocked blue eyes met Elrond's, but then the young elf nodded. "You are right."
When Elrond left Legolas's quarters, he felt gladdened and sad at the same time. In his opinion, Legolas had made the first step away from the darkness. He was sure that the young elf would not fade, and that gladdened his heart. But he was sad that he had told Legolas that living with his deeds would be his punishment. He knew not exactly where that thought had come from, but he knew that it was true. Oh, he wished it was different and that Legolas would find it in his heart to forgive himself, and he also hoped that Aragorn would one day forgive him, but he did not think that it would happen soon. Both of them were young and made mistakes, and loving another was a big commitment both of them had yet to learn. Still, Elrond was certain that Legolas would be able to stay in Arda.
Elrond finally spoke with Aragorn about the sleeping potion, and together they slowly diminished the dose of it. A few more weeks passed and Aragorn managed to sleep without the sleeping potion, but it was always a restless sleep, full of nightmares. With the help of his brothers, the young man worked through them, and when the first really warm spring day arrived, Elrond decided that it was time for them to return to Imladris. The preparation took another few days, but then all was ready. The King asked them all to dine with him the evening before they departed, and although the food was good and Elrond and Thranduil did their best to carry on a light conversation, the meal was a strained affair. Sitting between his brothers, Aragorn could not help but glance at Legolas's out of the corner of his eyes.
The young elf sat beside his father at the head of the table, pushing his food around his plate, barely eating. Aragorn had been shocked when he had seen Legolas enter the dining room. He had not seen him since the day he had caught him with Merenor, and the sight of Legolas's pale, skinny and dejected form had surprised him. His first reaction had been to run over to the elf and hug him and take away his pain, but then his mind had cruelly shown him the memory of Legolas and Merenor kissing, and he had stayed in his seat, the hole in his chest ignited with liquid fire. The pain stole his breath away, causing his father to look at him in alarm until he could breathe again.
But still, Legolas worried Aragorn, although he did not really now why. When the evening advanced, Aragorn caught himself staring at the elf, and he quickly turned his eyes away, feeling the pain in his chest all too clearly. But still, something stirred in his heart, worry and care and something else, and he wished he could go back to his room to sort out his feelings. Legolas did not once look at him, his eyes downcast.
Later that night, when Aragorn, his brothers and father returned to their quarters, Aragorn suddenly regretted that he had not spoken with Legolas during the last weeks. Legolas had looked….dejected, hopeless, even. But why? Aragorn could not understand why Legolas was so unhappy, for had he not found another one whom he loved? Confused, Aragorn lay in bed, staring at the ceiling.
Very early the next morning, before the cooks were up and the servants awake, Aragorn slipped out of his room. There was something he needed to do before he could leave Mirkwood. And it was not only talking to Legolas, although that was something he needed to do, too. But right now, Aragorn was slowly making his way down the empty corridors towards the basement of the Palace. He had been here before, once, when Legolas had shown him his home. They had not lingered, for Aragorn found it too dark and too hopeless a place to be.
Turning another corner, Aragorn walked down a long corridor that was lit with numerous torches and lamps. At the end, a huge double door waited for him, flanked by two armed guards. The door led to the dungeons. The guards eyed him warily but they let him pass without so much as a word.
The stairs led him down another level and the air became colder and frowsty. Spider webs clung to the corners and it was darker here. Aragorn felt his heart rate increase and his steps faltered. He had no trouble to distinguish in which cell Lithdal was being held, for a single guard stood in front of the door. He eyed Aragorn, then nodded his head politely. Aragorn took a deep breath and walked up to the guard. His eyes locked on the door behind which was Lithdal, and before he knew it, the guard silently walked back to the staircase that led upstairs, giving him his privacy. The key to the door, though, he took with him.
Alone, standing in the stale corridor and shivering in the cold, Aragorn wondered if this had been a good idea. Coming down here all alone, without telling his family where he had gone, what was he thinking?! 'Maybe that you need to put an end to this affair.' A soft voice inside his head said. 'You need to speak with him to overcome your fear. You need to get back that piece of your soul that Lithdal has taken.' Taking one last, deep breath to calm his nerves, Aragorn reached out and slowly pulled the metal screen away. The room behind the screen was pitch black. Aragorn leaned forwards to see better, but it was no use; the room had no light source and was as dark as Mirkwood at night. Or was there…Aragorn frowned. There was something lighter in the sea of black, something shining in a slight blue or gold…
"Mae govannen, Estel. I knew you would come."
Startled, Aragorn took a step back from the door, his heart racing. 'Fool', he admonished himself. Of course Lithdal would be able to see his face, after all, the corridor was lit by a few torches. Taking a deep breath and trying to school his features, Aragorn got back to the door. There came a soft rustling from inside, as if Lithdal had climbed to his feet and a moment later Lithdal's voice came again, "It is lovely to see you again, Estel. I have dreamed of you, you know."
A lump formed in Aragorn's throat, but he did not back away. He had come here with a purpose, and he would not leave ere he had said what he wanted to say. But before he could say a word, Lithdal reached the door. He locked his gaze on Aragorn's face, letting it travel from his forehead to his eyes, his cheeks, his lips, "Oh, how I missed you, Estel. Ah…" He reached out and tried to touch Aragorn's face through the metal bars, but Aragorn jumped back. "No!"
"Ah, still so skittish." Lithdal laughed, "I thought we had overcome your fear of me, my love. You were not so shy last time."
Something snapped in Aragorn. All the weeks of bottling up his emotions, of suppressing his anger…it all broke free. Stepping back towards the door, Aragorn banged his fist against the door, making it rattle in its hinges. Lithdal took a step back, momentarily startled. Aragorn's voice shook in anger, "Last time you deceived me. You nearly killed me!" Right now, his anger overrode his fear, and Aragorn did nothing to push his anger down.
"Only to make you see reason, Estel."
"I saw reason the first time you attacked me. You are sick. You are crazy and you are a murderer." Aragorn felt his anger boil, "And you will pay for what you have done."
Lithdal came back to the door, his face bathed in the light of the torches. A smile tugged on his lips, "Aye, I will be punished. I will be exiled, I know." He let his eyes travel towards Aragorn's lips, then up to his eyes, "So we can be together forever. Free from the prying eyes of the elves. Only you and me."
Aragorn's stomach churned at the lust he saw in Lithdal's eyes. Sweat broke out on his body and his fear rose. But he pushed it down resolutely. He had come to tell Lithdal something, and he would do so.
"They will not exile you." He said, his voice shaking slightly, watching Lithdal's reaction. The elf seemed surprised, "No?"
"No." Aragorn swallowed. This was it. A small smiled pulled at his lips, and he did not even try to stop it, "I spoke with the King and the counsel. They decided that exiling you from the elvish realms would not help you overcome your problem. They have decided that you will be escorted to the shores, from where you will sail to Valinor."
Shock registered on Lithdal's face, quickly followed by denial. "You lie, they would not do that."
Aragorn nodded his head, "They would and they will."
Shaking his head, Lithdal gripped the metal bars, "When?"
Shrugging his shoulders, Aragorn tilted his head to the side, "I don't know. Soon. After I have left Mirkwood, I guess."
"You leave?" Lithdal's eyes went wide.
"Of course I leave. What did you think? That I'd stay here just to watch your trial?" Aragorn shook his head, "There are more important things waiting for me elsewhere."
Lithdal seemed to be shocked at his words, just as Aragorn had hoped he would be. Lithdal thought that he was the most important thing for Aragorn, the center of his world, and to just been told that he was dismissed that easily truly surprised him. Lithdal had obviously hoped to see Aragorn at the trial. That he would not be given that chance hurt him. But Aragorn was not yet finished.
"And you know what, Lithdal?" He stepped even closer to the door, "I asked them to not exile you, but send you away."
"What?" Lithdal's grip on the metal bars tightened.
"They think that you are ill, that you can heal in the Undying Lands, but I know better." A wicked smile played on his lips and suddenly, Aragorn felt calm, "You are not ill and Valinor cannot heal you. Once you set foot on the white shores, you will not be able to get back to Arda. And for the rest of your days you will live in the knowledge that you will never see me again, never talk to me again and never, never get the chance to touch me again. For you know, Lithdal, the gift of the Valar will ensure that I will never set foot in Valinor, not even after my death."
Shock, pain and disbelief flooded Lithdal's eyes and his face became pale. The whole amount of his punishment suddenly became clear to him. His grip on the bars turned his knuckles white, "But…"
"No but, the decision has already been made." Aragorn smiled at Lithdal sweetly, but his eyes were cold, "I wish you a happy eternity, Lithdal." And with that said, he turned around and walked down the corridor. Not even the huge double doors could shut out Lithdal's wretched screaming, his curses and sobbing pleas. But Aragorn did not turn around, and when he climbed the stairs to the royal wing, he knew that this visit had done him good. He felt better than he had in days. His anger seemed to have dissipated, as if he had spent it all during his conversation with Lithdal.
Taking a few deep breaths, Aragorn felt some of the tension in his body loosen and he relaxed somewhat. That was, until he walked past Legolas's door.
Some of the tension returned and he stopped in his tracks. He wanted to speak to Legolas, yes. He had thought that he would speak with him over breakfast, or right before they departed. But maybe right now was as good a time as any. Before he could change his mind, Aragorn knocked on the door. There came a grunt, a shuffling sound, and then the door opened and revealed a slightly bedraggled looking Legolas. It was obvious that the elf had still been asleep. When Legolas saw Aragorn, he straightened, "Estel!"
"May I come in?" Aragorn asked, suddenly not so sure if Legolas wanted to see him at all. Maybe Legolas was not alone…
"Of course, come in." Legolas stepped away hastily and Aragorn entered the otherwise empty room. The room looked the same since the last time Aragorn had been here, and at the same time completely different. It was obvious that Legolas had been rather preoccupied with other things the last few weeks. The door closed with a soft click, and Aragorn turned around to face Legolas. Now that he was here, he did not really know what to say. He held his breath in anticipation of the pain that he knew would assault him, and when it came, hot and angry, he took a deep breath to master it. The pain receded, but did not vanish altogether.
Seeing Legolas now, being in the same room with him, it brought back all the happy memories he had, the laughter and fun, the smiles, gestures and gentle touches. Suddenly, Aragorn knew what the stirring inside his heart had been. Love. He still loved Legolas. So much so that it hurt him. But there was so much he had to deal with, so much to work out and to overcome…
"Estel? Are you alright?" Legolas's worried voice reached his ears and Aragorn realized that he had stared at the elf without saying anything.
"Yes, yes, I'm fine." Aragorn hastened to say, and because he was already talking, he mused that he could just say what he wanted to say before he lost his nerve, "Legolas, I wanted to talk to you before we leave today. There are some things I want to tell you."
Legolas nodded, but he did not say anything. Licking his lips, Aragorn took a deep breath, "I heard that you were starting to fade, Legolas. I was worried. But Ada told me that you are doing fine now, and I'm glad for you. There are so many things you wanted to see and do and experience. I would hate for you to never get that opportunity." Aragorn gave a timid smile, before he continued, "And also…I would hate for you to go before…before we have had a chance to…to work things out and to…maybe to….I mean I regret so much and….I…." Aragorn did not know what to say and he broke off. He did not even know if Legolas still wanted to work things out, still wanted him after all that Aragorn had done to him. And then there was Merenor to consider…Looking to the floor, Aragorn began to wonder whether this had been a bad idea after all.
"Really?" Legolas's voice was barely above a whisper. "You would want to…give me another chance?" Disbelief and hope swung in the elf's voice, causing Aragorn to glance at him. Legolas's eyes were huge and he was staring at him as if he had seen a ghost. Aragorn nodded, "I did not realize it, but I missed you and I…it is not completely your fault, I mean, I did things that were flatly unforgivable. I mean, I ignored you, I pushed you away, I gave you the feeling that I did not love you anymore, I…" Aragorn shook his head, noticing that he was rambling. "I am sorry, Legolas."
"No, I am sorry, Estel. What I did is unforgivable."
Aragorn sighed, "So, to make a long story short, we both did things that we regret, and we both…love each other still?" He timidly looked at Legolas.
"Yes, I still love you Estel. Today more than ever." Legolas took a step towards Aragorn, eyes brimming with tears.
"I love you too." Aragorn whispered, his own tears falling. A moment later, they held each other close, crying silently. "I was such a fool, Estel." Legolas said. "I am so sorry."
"I am sorry too. I was just so…confused after all that had happened. It was not my intention to push you away." Aragorn pulled away from Legolas and looked him in the eye. "Will you forgive me?"
"Of course, Estel. It was not your fault. Something horrible happened to you, and you dealt with it the only way you knew how to." Legolas said, wanting to ask if he was forgiven too, but too afraid to do so.
Accepting Legolas's words, Aragorn took another deep breath. There was one more thing he needed to speak about, "Legolas, you and Merenor…" Before he could finish, Legolas interrupted him, "I have not seen him since. There is nothing between us. Please Estel, you have to believe that!" Legolas's eyes were pleading.
"I do believe you, Legolas. I really do. But…although I still love you, I just cannot forget it, just yet." Aragorn sighed, "I feel confused and hurt and…I don't know. But I know that I love you, Legolas, and that I want to give us another chance."
Legolas's face fell slightly, but he nodded his head in understanding. "I understand."
Stepping closer, Aragorn rested his head on Legolas's shoulder, "I wish we had this conversation weeks ago. I'm leaving today."
Hugging Aragorn close and taking a deep breath, inhaling the young man's scent, Legolas echoed his words, "I wish you would stay but I know that you need to be home and with your family to heal."
"We can write." Aragorn suggested, earning him a nod from Legolas. "Yes, Estel, we can write." But they both knew that it was not the same. Suddenly, Legolas pulled away, his face registering worry, "What about the trial? Without your testimony, he will probably be set free…"
"No, he will not." Aragorn's eyes turned a shade darker, "I spoke with you father and the council yesterday. I wrote down an account of what happened, and signed it. Your father signed as witness that it was me who wrote the account, of my own free will, and the council accepted it. There will be no official public trial, but only a trial for Lithdal to have his say. They are going to send him to the Undying Lands." There was guilt in Aragorn's eyes, for sending Lithdal to Valinor meant that one day, he and Legolas would meet again.
But Legolas nodded his head and said with finality, "So it is over then."
"Aye, I guess it is." Aragorn said, looking up towards Legolas's blue eyes, "Maybe the end of this can be our new beginning."
Smiling, tears rolling down his cheeks, Legolas nodded his head. "Yes, I dearly hope so."
The journey to Imladris was uneventful, a storm that made them camp at the foot of the Misty Mountains the worst that happened. Once he was home, Aragorn recovered quickly. With the familiar surroundings, away from the darkness of Mirkwood and the ever present memories of what had happened, he regained his strength and energy in but a few weeks. The hole in his chest became smaller with every day that passed and the pain vanished. But it was still there and would alight anew whenever Aragorn thought of Legolas and Merenor. Of course, the events had not left him unaffected, and his easy smile and happy laughter had yet to return.
As he had suggested, he wrote to Legolas regularly, and when summer came, he was sure, deep down in his heart, that Legolas and he could make a new start. At the end of summer, a group of rangers came to the valley, and when they left again, Aragorn went with them. They would circle the valley and return before winter set in. In Aragorn's opinion, this was just what he needed. To be away from home, on his self, independent and free, with people who had no idea what had happened to him. He wrote to Legolas where he was going and that he would not be able to write for a couple of weeks, and he hoped that Legolas would understand.
When the first icy fingers of winter reached the lands, Aragorn returned to the valley. The patrol with the rangers had done him good. His skin had lost its pallor and taken on a golden hue due to the hot summer sun and the warm autumn. And, much to his family's happiness, his eyes were shining again. It was not until late in the evening on the day that he returned from his trip with the rangers, that Elrond told him that he needed to speak with him under four eyes. Curious, Aragorn followed his father into his study.
"Estel, I am glad that you are back, ion nin." Elrond smiled at his son, but there was worry in his eyes. "But I wish that you had returned a week later."
"Later? Why? Ada, what is it?" Aragorn did not miss the sad and at the same time worried undertone in his father's voice.
Elrond sighed, "A party from Mirkwood will arrive tomorrow. They have sent a runner ahead, so that we can make sure that all the preparations are finished."
Now Aragorn was truly confused. Why was a party from Mirkwood coming? And what preparations was his father talking about? Frowning, Aragorn gazed at his father, but then it hit him. Eyes widening, he asked softly, "They bring Lithdal to the havens, aren't they? They stop here on their way West."
Elrond nodded, "Aye. Thranduil send a letter two weeks ago so that we could prepare."
Aragorn nodded and sighed. He had not had any nightmares for at least a month, and he thought that he had overcome his fear of Lithdal, but that did not mean that he was keen on seeing the elf. He had just begun to heal properly; there was no need to jeopardize everything he had achieved so far. And on the other hand, he admitted grimly, he did not want to give Lithdal the satisfaction of seeing him again, if only for a moment. Lifting his head and gazing at his father, he resolutely stated, "I will be leaving tomorrow morning, at dawn."
And that he did. But he did not go far. Aragorn stayed close to the valley, but far enough so that he would not cross the path of the party that would bring Lithdal to the Last Homely House. But when the day passed, Aragorn could not help the feeling that he needed to see Lithdal, if only one last time. He needed to make sure that the elf was not affecting him any longer. He needed to proof to himself, that he was stronger now than he had been only half a year ago. When the sun rose the next day, Aragorn made his way to the crossing at the Bruinen, knowing that the party would have to cross the river before it went further West.
Positioning himself behind some thick trees, wrapping himself in his dark cloak and concealing himself as best he could, Aragorn crouched down, and waited. It was already late morning when the sound of hooves reached his ears. A moment later, a large group of riders came into view. Four impressive Mirkwood warriors rode at the front, carrying tall spears and shiny swords. They were followed by four Rivendell guards, wearing black and silver. Behind them, flanked on either side by Rivendell and Mirkwood warriors, was Lithdal. Behind the elf rode another ten warriors from both elven realms.
When Aragorn saw Lithdal, his body tensed and his breath caught in his throat. The elf looked older, if that was possible. His shoulders were slumped and he seemed smaller somehow. But his eyes, Aragorn noticed, where as sharp as ever. Lithdal watched his surroundings carefully, as if he was expecting an attack…or as if he was trying to escape.
The group came closer, nearing the river. The first riders splashed into the water without hesitation. Lithdal's horse neared Aragorn's position, and the young man held his breath. His eyes never left Lithdal, and when the horse passed by his hiding place, Aragorn could see that the elf's hands were bound. So much for trying to escape. The horse passed him by and then reached the river. When the last rider had ridden past, Aragorn released the breath he had been holding. Gazing at the riders' retreating backs, he sighed in relief. Seeing Lithdal had affected him, sure, but not the way it had months ago. As it seemed, he was truly over what had happened to him.
Aragorn shot one last look at the riders. He could just make out Lithdal's retreating back. In that moment, the elf turned in his saddle and looked back over his shoulder. Aragorn froze, his eyes locking on Lithdal's. He felt caught, trapped, but a second later the riders vanished into the woods and Lithdal disappeared from view. Swallowing, Aragorn sighed and consciously relaxed his body. It was over. Lithdal was gone, and he had won over his fears. It was time to go home again. Getting to his feet, Aragorn turned and made his way back towards his family. Seeing the riders had done him good, but he was somewhat disappointed, too. Legolas, had not been with the riders from Mirkwood.
It was late afternoon when Aragorn walked across the bridge towards the courtyard of the Last Homely House. The sun was already shining red from above the tops of the trees, and the shadows had lengthened. Glad to be home before dark, Aragorn slowly made his way up the stairs. He never saw the lithe figure that stood in the shadows, watching him. Aragorn just reached for the door when a soft voice broke the silence, "Hello, Estel."
Aragorn froze, his hand hovering above the handle of the door. Turning around slowly, he squinted into the darkness. The figure came closer, and stepped into the light. "Legolas." A surprised smile tugged at Aragorn's lips. "You've come."
Legolas nodded, "I hoped that you would be here." Standing in the light of the sinking sun, Aragorn could see that Legolas was looking better than the last time he had seen him. His hair shone in the sun, and he seemed to have gained some weight.
"I am glad you are here, Legolas." And Aragorn meant his words. He made a step towards Legolas, and a moment later, they embraced each other tightly. "I missed you."
"I missed you too, Estel." Legolas whispered into his ear. Exhaling, Aragorn rested his head against Legolas's strong shoulder. The elf placed his chin against Aragorn's hair, pressing a gentle kiss onto the dark locks. And in that moment, Aragorn knew that he never wanted to leave Legolas again. No matter what had happened between them, he loved Legolas, and he wanted for things to be as they once were. Suddenly he realized that the time apart had not healed him, but blunted the edges of pain. Now, seeing Legolas again, the hole in his chest filled with love and care, and he was complete once more. Finally, the pain was gone.
Breaking free form Legolas's arms, Aragorn gazed up into the oh so familiar face. Before he knew what he was doing, he brushed his lips and against Legolas's. It was their first kiss in many months, and it was tender, and shy and sweet.
"Why don't you come inside, Legolas? We could talk or just…enjoy some music in the Hall of Fire." Aragorn suggested, his eyes shining.
"I would love to talk." Legolas said, a warm smile lifting up the corners of his mouth. His eyes sparkled with suppressed joy, and his whole body seemed to relax.
Turning towards the door of the Last Homely House, Aragorn took hold of Legolas's hand, entwining their fingers and squeezing them gently. A huge wave of relief swept through Legolas. Smiling, Legolas followed his friend and lover into the house.
Well, yes this is the end. I hope you all liked the story! I was wondering whether you would like for me to write a sequel (yes, another one, haha). I have an idea for a new story, which would continue where this one ends. Are you interested? Please, I would love to know if you are willing to read another one of my little adventures. Reviews please!! (yes, I am not below begging shamelessly) :)
Furthermore I want to thank everyone who followed this story and especially the ones who took the time to review. My special thanks goes to Aralas, Esteltheone, Thorongirl, babygreeneyes, trustingfrndshp, estrid 2006, Sir Edwin, Gord and V and tmelange for the constant support and the sometime too hilarious reviews. Thanks guys!!