Author's Notes: Here's the second and final part of my story. Thank you very much for all the lovely feedback you left me for the first part, it really means a lot to me! ((huggles readers)) I hope you'll enjoy the second part, too. Reviews are always welcome and will be cherished and cuddled. ;-)
Carthage, thank you so much for your review! The second chapter will deal almost entirely with the topic only hinted at in "A Morning in Imladris". I found it very interesting, too, and really wanted to explore it a bit more in-depth. :)
Beta: the wonderful Imbecamiel ((hugs))
Disclaimer: I still don't own them. They are just borrowed and will be returned unscathed – more or less. (g)
- Worth the Pain -
Part Two: Siblings
"A brother is not always a friend,
but a friend is always a brother."
Two hours later, Legolas was still sitting on the ground watching over an unconscious Estel, who was lying in front of him. He had moved away from Estel's side to a spot next to his friend's feet the moment Elrond and his sons had arrived, to give them room to work, but had not changed his position again since. The young man was covered by several blankets now and finally resting peacefully. Legolas himself had a blanket around his shoulders, too, though he could not remember who had put it there or when, but he was feeling anything but peaceful.
His hands were still shaking, when he did not hold them folded in his lap or pressed against his thighs, and he felt as if something deep inside of him, something important, had been torn out violently and then stuffed back in again carelessly. There was a lingering, distant pain seeming to emanate from his soul rather than from his body, which had abated somewhat by now, but refused to leave completely.
The elf found himself unable to leave Estel's side, as if something in him feared the young man might suddenly stop breathing the instant he let him out of his sight again. His memories of the time since Estel had lost consciousness were strangely blurred. Fortunately, he was quite sure Elrond and the twins had not asked him any questions, having likely learned anything they needed to know from the hunter and his friends.
Merely thinking of the careless hunter made Legolas' hand itch to take hold of his own bow or one of his twin knives. He quickly suppressed the urge, reminding himself that the man was not even near this place anymore. At least he hoped so, for the man's sake. The elf had fully expected some rightful reproach from Lord Elrond and the twins, but as far as he remembered it had never come. In his opinion, they would have been more than justified to blame him for his failure to protect the youngest member of their family. He fiddled with the hem of the blanket around his shoulders, uncomfortably aware that he had done nothing to deserve being cared for like that.
Legolas could not forget the moment when Estel had been hit by the arrow, nor the young man's scream. The painful sound had pierced the elf as if it had been an arrow itself. It never should have happened. How could he have let it happen? He studied his friend's face in an effort to distance himself from the memories. Most lines of pain had vanished now, and he was glad about it. Estel could have simply been sleeping, without ever having been hurt at all.
The young man had woken only once since he had lost consciousness shortly before Elrond and his sons had arrived, when Elladan and Elrohir had performed the gruelling procedure of removing the arrow from their young brother's leg. Legolas had helped to hold his friend down until Elrond's healing touch and a cup of his potent tea had sent the writhing young man finally into a deep, painless sleep. That and the moment when Estel fell unconscious were the only clear memories the elf had of the last… hours?
He would gladly have exchanged them for unconsciousness, even if it meant having to drink a cup of Elrond's dreaded tea himself, or having to be hit by an arrow. There were very few moments in his long life when Legolas had ever felt that drained or shaken before. Estel moved restlessly under his blankets, immediately drawing the elf's attention. Legolas leaned forward slightly, adjusting the blankets and making sure that they covered his young friend completely.
He waited for a while, and then straightened again when it seemed clear that Estel was not going to wake and had drifted back into peaceful sleep once again. Legolas closed his eyes, wishing he could blot out the memories that plagued him as easily as his surroundings. He listened for a moment and suddenly noticed for the first time that there was almost complete silence all around him. The constant background noises, like voices, neighing, and even the soft crackling of a fire, had died away.
His curiosity roused, Legolas opened his eyes and forced himself to turn away from Estel and look over his shoulder. He saw Elrohir, Elrond, and Glorfindel carefully fastening a stretcher to the backs of Asfaloth and Elrond's own horse, both of which stood patient and unmoving. Tuilinn, Legolas' stallion, was standing nearby, watching the proceedings critically, as if offended that he had not been chosen for the task.
In any other situation, his horse's antics would have made Legolas smile. Now he barely registered anything but the stretcher and its significance. It seemed Elrond had decided to take Estel back to Imladris immediately, instead of waiting until morning. Legolas did not mind. Leaving this place as soon as possible was fine with him, and besides, it was getting cold. If even he felt it, how would the cold affect a wounded human?
Without conscious decision, his gaze returned to the sleeping young man in front of him. His eyes fixed on the spot where he knew the thickly bandaged leg to be, hidden under the blankets. He wondered if there was any danger that the arrow might have caused lasting damage. It had been embedded deeply in Estel's leg. Legolas had seen similar wounds before and he knew that an elf would not have suffered any lasting consequences from it. But Estel was no elf. He was human. Mortal. Legolas' heart ached.
As if mesmerized, he watched the slight rising and falling of the blanket over the young man's breast. Estel could have died today. He balled his hands into fists, but he could still feel them shaking slightly. It was as if something inside of him refused to stop quivering. Once again, he closed his eyes. A rustling sound, followed by a slight thud directly beside him made him jerk and blink at whatever was causing the disruption.
Legolas' hand was half-way up to his shoulder and the hilt of one of his twin knives when he recognized the familiar outline of the figure who had settled down beside him. His hand dropped into his lap. Elladan folded his legs comfortably beneath him, seemingly unaware that he had come close to being stabbed by one of his best friends. Legolas stared at him, wondering when the half-elf had gotten here and how long he had already been standing beside him.
"Have you been here the entire time?" he asked, not quite sure if he really wanted to know.
"More or less," Elladan answered, studying his friend thoughtfully. "Elrohir and I agreed it would be a good idea if one of us kept an eye on you."
Both the close scrutiny and the concern in the older elf's words made Legolas feel rather uncomfortable. "We are going to leave soon?" he asked, both because he wanted to know and in a feeble attempt to divert Elladan's attention from himself.
Elladan nodded. "Father believes it is no risk, or at least a lesser one than letting Estel spend the night out here on the cold, hard ground."
"I have worried about that, too," Legolas commented, wishing Elladan would stop watching him the way he did.
For several moments, there was a tense silence between them. "It was not your fault," Elladan then said, his voice both gentle and firm.
Legolas turned away from him, refusing to meet his gaze. "How serious is the wound?" he wanted to know, ignoring Elladan's words. "Will Estel be alright?"
Elladan sighed, but answered the question nonetheless, perhaps sensing the underlying fear in the younger elf's words. "Father thinks so, and I have no reason to believe otherwise," he reassured his friend. "Estel's condition is stable now. He will be confined to bed for some time and will likely need crutches for a while afterwards, but he will make a full recovery. In fact, thanks to Ada's healing abilities and his own Dunédain blood, he will heal much faster than any other human could."
"Though," he added after a moment's thought, "it likely won't seem fast enough for him." There was a hint of amusement in his voice.
Legolas simply nodded, his gaze fixed on his human friend once again. He could feel Elladan's eyes boring into him.
"Legolas, it was not your fault," Elladan repeated insistantly.
Legolas' features hardened imperceptibly. "You were not there," he countered. "You cannot know. Perhaps that is only what you want to believe."
"You forget, the hunter told us what happened," Elladan replied patiently. "It was an accident, nothing more."
There was no answer.
"Did Estel blame you?" Elladan suddenly wanted to know.
"No," Legolas finally admitted reluctantly, the eyes resting on the young human's face softening slightly. "No, he did not."
"Well, he was there, wasn't he?"
"What about the hunter?" Legolas asked evasively.
"The hunter who shot Estel," Legolas said slowly, emphasizing each word. For a moment, he met Elladan's gaze, allowing the older elf to see the cold, barely controlled anger he still felt whenever he thought of the man. The slight confusion in Elladan's face quickly changed into understanding and his own features hardened imperceptibly.
"I told him to never hunt near our home again," he replied, a hint of the same cold anger Legolas was feeling in his own mostly expressionless face. "In fact, I made it quite clear to him that I would prefer him to stay away from Imladris whether he was hunting or not. I do not think we will ever see him again."
A look of perfect understanding passed between the two of them, and then Legolas nodded. For a while, there was silence again while Elladan eyed Legolas and the archer did his best to avoid his gaze. Finally, Elladan sighed again and Legolas had to stop himself from flinching when he felt a hand gripping his shoulder. "Legolas, talk to me! Please. You need to let it go."
Legolas could not stop the slight shudder running through his body, and he knew his friend would not miss it. He bowed his head, hiding whatever emotion Elladan might have seen on his face. "You do not understand," he breathed.
"Don't I?" Elladan replied, his grip on his younger friend's shoulder tightening. "Even if I did not, you could at least try me. But the way things are, I believe it is you who does not understand." His voice was very gentle when he added, "I know you've never had a little brother before, Legolas. But I have." He gave the shoulder he was still holding a soft squeeze.
For a moment, the words confused the younger elf, but then understanding dawned. He looked at Elladan, suddenly not caring anymore what the older elf might or might not be able to read in his face and eyes. Choked by emotions, he shook his head, unable to speak.
"I understand," the half-elf assured his friend quietly. "It took some getting used to for us, too. Fortunately, or unfortunately, however you want to see it, Elrohir and I already had the opportunity to get some practice before Estel came along. Otherwise we would likely be complete emotional wrecks by now."
"In fact," he added with a hint of humour, "I already had some practice in dealing with a younger brother before you came along, though Elrohir insists he doesn't count, since he's only a few minutes younger than I am."
The words elicited a faint smile from Legolas, but it did not last longer than a fleeting moment. "Is it always that… difficult?" the younger elf asked, not even trying to mask the pain he still felt.
"Yes, always," Elladan said, and there was a hint of melancholy in his eyes. "It will not even change much once he is grown up. The fear will always be the same, but you will learn to deal with it eventually." He smiled at Legolas sympathetically. "You should have tried a little sister first. It tends to be a bit easier with them. At least they're usually not in mortal danger all of the time."
Legolas felt a strange mixture of warmth, guilt, and dread well up inside of him in response to his friend's words. "I do not know how you managed to stay sane," he stated.
"It was not always easy," Elladan admitted, "especially when you managed to get yourself captured by orcs, pincushioned with arrows, poisoned, or the one time you fell out of that tree-"
"I get the picture, Elladan!" Legolas interrupted, feeling sheepish, touched, and slightly exasperated all at once.
"… but, however difficult it was, it was more than worth it," the older elf finished, unfazed.
Legolas could feel his muscles relax slightly for the first time since the arrow had taken flight. He sighed and smiled at Elladan in a way that was both grateful and rueful. "I never said thank you," he said softly.
Elladan snorted. "You thanked us each time we managed to save your hide, and even those times we were not able to do so," he contradicted. "It was never necessary."
"What I wanted to say is… I'm sorry."
The half-elf smiled at him warmly, giving the shoulder under his fingers another squeeze. "I'm not, and I won't ever be." He eyed his younger friend for a moment, and then he added, "Did you ever blame us when we were unable to protect you, even though we tried?"
"No," Legolas said, without a moment's thought. "Never. It was never your fault."
"Would you have wanted us to blame ourselves?"
Legolas hesitated, beginning to sense a trap. "You did blame yourselves, whatever I wanted or did not want you to do," he pointed out.
"He has a point there, you know," a new voice joined in their conversation. Elrohir dropped down on Legolas' other side unceremoniously, smiling at him and ignoring his brother's scowl.
"Alright," Elladan admitted grudgingly, "we did, but that is not the point. How did it make you feel?"
Legolas sighed. "Bad," he answered, casting an almost guilty look at the sleeping human in front of them. "It made me feel bad."
"Do you really want Estel to feel like that?"
Legolas did not answer, grateful that Elladan stayed silent, too. Looking at Estel again, the wood-elf knew there could only be one possible answer to his friend's question. The last thing he wanted was to make Estel feel worse than he already did just because he himself was not able to let go of his guilt and self-blame. He studied the pale face of the unconscious human for a long moment. Estel seemed fragile to his eyes, more fragile than he had ever seen him before. Something inside of him constricted painfully.
"How can you live with it?" he suddenly asked, without looking at his friends. "How can you live with knowing… knowing that he is… mortal?"
His eyes and attention still fixed on Estel, Legolas did not notice the knowing look passing between his two friends. The twins communicated silently for a moment, their eyes showing worry, but no surprise. After an imperceptible nod from Elladan, Elrohir took a deep breath and turned to face their friend. His eyes were grave, when he gently said, "We have lived with and among mortals for a long time, and we are partly mortal ourselves. Accepting Estel's mortality is easier for us than it will ever be for you."
Legolas looked at him, surprise showing in his eyes for a moment. "I'm sorry," he said. "I tend to forget…" He trailed off.
"… that we may yet end up being mortals ourselves?" Elrohir finished the sentence for him. Legolas paled, and the half-elf immediately rued his words.
"Yes," the elf whispered.
"It is likely it will never come to that," Elrohir hastened to remind his friend, and Legolas nodded, though he seemed far from comforted.
"He could have… he could have died today!" Legolas said, his pained gaze fixing on the half-elf's face.
"I know," Elrohir answered quietly. "But then his death would not have had anything to do with his being mortal. Such a death could be the fate of any of us."
Legolas shook his head slowly. "It would not be the same," he said softly. "The Valar know I have seen death many times, but I always knew I would see those I lost again one day, because they were elves. When Estel departs this world, he may be gone forever, for all I know."
Elrohir closed his eyes for a moment, then he said, "You always knew the danger his mortality could pose to you one day, but I think you've never come so close to really feeling it. We feared that you would have to face this pain sooner or later, when we noticed years ago how strong the bond between you and Estel had become." He paused, eying the younger elf's face intently.
"Does it make you rue having befriended him?" he finally asked.
Legolas took a moment to think about the question. Something inside of him was still aching, though the conversation with Elladan had made him feel a bit better. It had helped to at least be able to understand what was wrong with him. His friends had both been right – he had never known how it would feel to lose a younger brother, and he had never truly been faced with Estel's mortality until today. Still, there was no doubt what his answer would be.
"No," he said, looking into Elrohir's eyes. "Never." His gaze wandered back to the young human who had come to mean so much to him. Suddenly, he felt a strange sense of peace wash over him. The pain was not gone, but somehow it seemed to be more bearable.
"I wish I had an answer for you," Elrohir added, misinterpreting the pensive look on Legolas' face. "I fear the only way to live with knowing that he is mortal is to remind yourself why you chose to befriend him in the first place."
"It is all the answer I need," Legolas replied simply, smiling softly at his friend. After a moment, the smile turned impish. "What about you?" he suddenly wanted to know. Both Elladan and Elrohir cast him confused glances.
"Well," the wood-elf began to explain, "as I see it you are in the same situation I am. If you choose a mortal fate and I die, you'll probably never see me again, too. So, what made you decide to befriend me?"
"I really don't know," Elladan answered with a deadpan face. "It must have been some kind of strange fit of insanity. We've rued it ever since." His words earned him a glare and a none-too-gentle shove from Legolas, but he only grinned.
"What he means to say," Elrohir translated, scowling mildly at his brother, "is that we knew it was worth the risk."
Estel shifted slightly and moaned in his sleep, effectively bringing the conversation to a halt. Elrohir leaned over him, putting a gentle hand on his younger brother's brow, and the young man stilled immediately with a sigh. Watching anxiously, Legolas breathed a relieved sigh of his own. Feeling bone-weary all of a sudden, he found himself longing to be back in Imladris again. He would have given almost anything right then to be able to fall into his cosy bed and forget all about mortality, death, and arrows for a while.
While he would not be able to truly and entirely relax until Estel was conscious again and he was able to talk to him and see with his own eyes that his friend was going to be well, he was quite sure he would be able to at least find some rest now, knowing from experience how safe and well-cared-for the young man would be when left in the hands of the twins and his foster father. Looking once again at the sleeping figure on the ground, the elf had to suppress a yawn.
He felt hands rearrange the blanket around his shoulders, and found himself looking into the face of Elrohir, who smiled at him sympathetically.
"I think it is time to go home," the older elf said.
For once, Legolas saw no reason to disagree.
Several hours later…
All was quiet in the healing rooms of the Last Homely House and only a single candle was burning on a bedside table in one of the rooms, casting it into a gentle play of light and shadows. The warm glow of the single flame illuminated the pages of the book Elrohir had been reading until the moon had risen over the dark silhouette of the Misty Mountains in the east, its silvery light distracting the half-elf from battles fought a long time ago and inviting him to simply admire the eternal beauty of the night sky for a while. He would not have been able to say how long he had been sitting there, lost in his own thoughts and the twinkling lights high above, when a slight movement at his side drew his attention.
Looking down at the bed in front of him, he noticed that the eyes of the young man, who had been lying motionless since he had taken the bedside watch from Elrond some time in the middle of the night, were blinking open. Straightening, Elrohir turned his open book around and put it down on the armrest. Leaning forward slightly, the half-elf took one of the young man's hands in his own, watching him closely. "Estel?" he asked quietly, expectantly.
Stormy-grey eyes fixed on his own, the confusion in them abating slowly. Elrohir smiled at his younger brother, squeezing his hand and smiling even more broadly when Estel's fingers curled weakly around his, returning the pressure. "Welcome back, little brother."
Instead of an answering smile, there was suddenly a frown on Estel's face. "Legolas?" he whispered. "Where is he? Is he well?"
Not having expected such an inquiry, Elrohir did not reply immediately. He had hoped that Estel had been too distracted to notice that something was not right with his friend. After all these years, he should have known better. "Legolas is unhurt," he finally answered, in an attempt to stay as close to the truth as possible without telling the whole of it. "It was not he who was hit by an arrow after all."
"Maybe not," Estel agreed, "but something was wrong with him nonetheless." The young man's voice was weak, but his grey eyes were holding Elrohir's gaze with an intensity that reminded him uncannily of the way his father used to look at Elladan and him whenever he knew his sons were up to no good.
Realizing that Estel would not give in nor go back to sleep until he had an answer, Elrohir decided that capitulation was the best choice. Turning slightly in his armchair, he nodded at the bed right behind him. "Legolas is right here," he said. "You can see for yourself."
Actually, all that could be seen on the neighbouring bed was a vaguely elf-shaped outline, since its occupant had burrowed so deeply into his blanket that he was almost completely hidden beneath it. Only some golden strands of hair and the tip of a pointed ear were peeking out at the top. It seemed to be enough for Estel. The young man relaxed visibly as soon as he caught sight of his friend and the determination in his features quickly drained away, changing into fatigue.
Elrohir shook his head. As endearing as they were, those two fools were also enough to drive any reasonable elf to the brink of insanity. Elladan had escorted Legolas to his own room as soon as they had reached Imladris, and had stayed there until he was sure that the wood-elf had fallen asleep. Only half an hour later, Legolas had shown up in the healing rooms, looking bleary-eyed but very much awake. Elrohir had not been too surprised.
Knowing from experience that it would be impossible to turn the younger elf away, or hope that he would be able to find any rest in his own rooms, Elrohir had simply led him to the bed next to Estel's instead. After the half-elf had assured his younger friend three times in his most convincing voice – the one usually reserved for negotiating with dwarves and particularly unreasonable humans, which he had discovered was also quite useful when dealing with descendents of Oropher – that Estel would be perfectly alright, Legolas had finally crawled into bed and had not even so much as stirred ever since.
Looking from the young human in front of him to the young elf behind him and back again, Elrohir sighed. The best thing about this was probably that it was quite easy to keep an eye on both of them at once now, without having to worry that one of them was moving – or trying to move – around in the corridors somewhere.
Estel's eyelids were drooping now, and Elrohir leaned forward again to pull the blanket up to the young man's chin. Estel mumbled something that sounded vaguely like "hannon le", before his eyelids drifted shut completely and he fell back into a deep, and hopefully healing, sleep. Elrohir waited for some moments, but when the young man did not stir again he rose, manoeuvring his armchair into a position where he would be able to easily watch both of his charges at once.
Settling down comfortably once again, he grabbed his book, stretched out his long legs, and prepared to wait until either Elladan came to relieve him of his watch, or one of the two sleepers decided to wake up again. Having younger siblings was definitely a lot of trouble, but never more than it was worth.
- The End -