The story: This is the ninth and final part in the Mithrin series, following 'The Brightest Stars'. It's another long one-shot set in Rivendell around seventy years before the War. This is the conclusion, wherein some questions are answered, and other are, as in life itself, handed over to be dealt by with future.

It is necessary to have read the other parts in this series to properly understand this one.

Timeline: This takes place in the Third Age (III) 2951. Aragorn has turned 20 and come of age and Elrond has revealed his ancestry to him. Also, Arwen has returned from her long stay in Lothlórien.

Disclaimer: Master Tolkien owns them all.

Warning: This is an Aragorn/Legolas pairing, which means SLASH.

A/N: So we have now finally come to the last installment. I wish to thank all of you for sharing this journey with me. To those of you who have taken the time to review, I am so very grateful. This would not have been done without you.

Loving You

The hidden valley of Imladris

Tuilë, III 2951

Slowly spring finally came. It crept across the land, warming the air and chasing withered grass away with fresh breezes and sparkling laughter. Swelling buds adorned the trees and the first flowers coloured the fields and groves. For a time, short but blessedly beautiful, I truly believed that the outside world was merely a dream, and that fates and destinies were but an illusion. It was not until your brothers' return from the northern lands, three weeks after my own arrival in Imladris, that reality was once more an issue to be considered.

They brought news of a darkening of the world so complete that any whisper of it caused dread to flow through our hearts. Yet Imladris lay in peace and it seemed impossible that any shadows could reach us here.

Despite your brothers' stories, I slept easier as my own darkness gradually subsided. I know not why, but I like to think it was because of your presence. After our first joining, I believe that we were somehow satisfied. Strange as it might seem – for I have heard many tales that claim otherwise – it was enough for me to have you wrap your arms around me at night and hold me. Or I would be the one to hold you, and neither of us ever expressed a desire to repeat the actions of that night when the chill of winter still lingered in the Valley. Only soft kisses would be exchanged, in the safe haven of one of our bedrooms.

And so we watched spring arrive, staying close together in silent understanding, as Anor rose higher and higher each day.

o.O.o

"Estel! Catch!"

The sudden call tears me from my reverie and I throw open my eyes just in time to see you shoot up from the blanket we are sharing, your hair mussed and tousled.

A loaf of bread comes sailing through the air and you reach for it, but miss, and it tumbles down in the small space between us.

With a flush staining your cheeks, you push the hair out of your face and desperately try to hide a grimace. Several feet away, drenched in sunlight, Elladan shakes his head in mock disapproval.

"Little brother... How will you ever manage to scout with the Rangers if you cannot connect your hands to your will?" He eases back down on his own blanket and gives a long sigh.

You pick up the bread and break off a small piece which you drop into a basket beside you. With a glare at Elladan, you toss the rest to Arwen who catches it deftly, to the disapproval of both Elladan and Elrohir.

"Hey, give us that!" Elrohir lunges for the bread without success. High-pitched complaints about extreme hunger accompany Arwen's laughter as you sink down again beside me.

Muttering something I cannot decipher, you nestle a bit closer, lying on your side, and I catch your hand in mine. Your fingers quickly wrap around my own and you guide my hand nearer your chest, shielding this arrangement from curious eyes.

We are still a respectable amount of inches apart but I turn my head to face you before I close my eyes again. The singing of birds drifts through the trees and blends delicately with the chatter of the nearby stream. As I begin to drift off, your hold on my hand is the only thing that grounds me.

"Legolas?"

"Mmm..."

"Will you come to see me when I am in the North?" Your voice is low, but it is not a whisper.

I smile into the sunlight. "Did I not say so yesterday?" I open my eyes and to my surprise there is a small grin on your lips.

"And the day before."

"And this morning," I conclude. "Do you not believe me?"

"I do." You are once more serious. "But I like to hear you say it. I think..." You bite you lower lip and your gaze drops to the ground. "I think I would survive it better if I knew for sure that I would see you... once in a while..."

There is a tug at my heart and I must fight for a moment or two before I find my voice. "You will be a great Ranger," I say and my thumb rubs the skin of your hand reassuringly, willing not only your, but also my own worries far away. "I must return to Mirkwood for a time, but I will come in autumn."

At the mentioning of my home, you tense momentarily and I sense the question that I know you want to ask me, but you dread the answer too much and so you bite it back also this time. If I knew this answer you seek, my love, then I would not torment you so, but I say nothing either.

"I will think about you a lot," you mumble, more or less into the blanket.

Around us the argument has died down and the mood has changed. I lift my head to see your brothers contentedly reclining on the grass, sharing the remains of the bread, but Arwen is sitting up, her long hair falling behind her back and her soft gaze settled on us.

My initial response is to pull away a little from you, but her thoughtful expression holds me immobile and when she smiles and then picks up the book that lay forgotten in her lap with a clear intention to avert her gaze, I turn back to you.

You.

My Estel.

Anor has already given your skin a darker shade and when you look up, your eyes sparkle. In their grey depths there is concern and fear, but I see also longing and newly-awakened pride. The first time pride flashed in your eyes I was stunned beyond reason and I knew then that, no matter what darkness you would encounter, you would fight back.

And I will always fight for you.

"Legolas?"

I glance back at Arwen but she is reading and has turned her back to us. All too conscious of our surroundings, I draw a breath I pray will strengthen me and lie down again. Your surprise is the last thing I see before I close my eyes and gently cover your mouth with my own.

If my kiss is hesitant, you are even more so. You lie absolutely still beside me and if you breathe I cannot sense it. Still I keep my lips glued to yours in hopes that you and I – and the world – may adapt and accept, approve and allow. I will trust this love for you, if you will only trust yourself.

Your lips are warm and on them lingers a faint taste of the honey glazed fruit we shared earlier. I increase the pressure a little and inhale deeply. I have discovered, but not told anyone, a new scent that is more intoxicating than anything else: the scent of sunshine on human skin. I have smelt it before: yesterday afternoon, when we briefly embraced behind a tall birch-tree in the gardens. It did not come flooding towards me, as do the scent of flowers or food, but stayed close to your skin, added to you as an extra layer, almost like a new part of you. Now I smell it again and I refuse to break the kiss.

I detect your uncertainty and for a second or two I believe you will squirm and pull away from me as a tiny shiver ripples through you. But in the next moment, you relax and give my hand a small, nearly undetectable, squeeze. It is only then that I grow brave enough to part my lips just a little and rejoice when you do the same.

"Manwë!"

"Spare us!"

Your brothers' cries cut through the sunlight and I tear myself away from you as colour mercilessly rises in my cheeks. This time you do squirm beside me, but as a remaining statement, you do not let go of my hand.

Elladan is shaking his head violently at us with an expression of perfect disgust and Elrohir is shielding his eyes with a hand.

"I think I may never see again!" he mourns bitterly and offers us a long groan drenched in despair.

My cheeks are burning as I try to sit up more properly but you are pulling me down again as if you knew a way to disappear into the earth. You are blushing just as fiercely and embarrassment is flowing from you in at a wild pace, and you lick your lips as if to erase the traces of the kiss. I give you a desperate glance and you let me have my way and sit up.

"Oh, be quiet!" Arwen's words momentarily quench your brothers' loud complaints. "It can hardly come as a surprise to you."

"Perhaps I did not want to be confronted with it!" Elrohir retorts and lowering his hand, sends us a glare.

"Really Arwen," says Elladan, "Estel is tiny!"

Elrohir nods vigorously. "If you were like that old oak over there," he points to some tree behind me, "Estel would only be the newborn bud on a year-old branch."

"I am grown," you mutter from beside me. "I am a Man."

"What does it matter?" counters Elrohir. "You are still centuries younger than us – and Legolas."

"He is grown by human standards!" Arwen cries out in a way that sends us all back in time to when we were but elflings, fighting and arguing over what we then thought to be the most important matters in Eä.

"He is still..."

"I do not care," I hear myself saying and all is suddenly very quiet.

With all eyes on me, I fight to keep my voice steady and display any kind of honour I hope I have left. "I do not care," I repeat. "I love him."

I love you.

Elrohir runs a hand across his jaw. "We all love him..." he begins slowly.

"We all love you, Estel," Elladan agrees, turning to you. "But... You were always so... little." He smoothly flips back his dark hair, seemingly rearranging it after the argument. "And we have known Legolas for years."

You scramble to sit up and for the first time you let our still entwined hands be seen. You say nothing, though. Perhaps you are waiting for the apology that is maybe hinted at and do not want to jinx it.

"And things cannot change?" Arwen has put down her book and is examining Elladan and Elrohir with a questioning look on her face.

"Of course they can change!" Elrohir exclaims. "But if Legolas was to fall for anyone here, we were certain it would be you, little sister."

"Not some mud covered human," mutters Elladan in a low voice.

Now it is Arwen's turn to blush but she does it gracefully and with her chin held high. Briefly, I am enchanted by this idea that now, after all these years, has finally been worded. It is no secret to me that I once was convinced that Arwen must be Elbereth herself in earthly disguise, though a long time ago it seems to me now.

She turns her gaze to me and I see kindness and love in it. Slowly she smiles and I can read her no longer.

"We walk different paths in life," she says quietly as a gentle wind sifts through the trees and stirs the grass.

I bow my head and allow a hint of sorrow to tint the song you have awakened within me.

We remain silent as the sunlight continuously streams down from the sky. Long minutes pass and I need them to come to terms with what maybe has been said – and that which has not. Our younger days suddenly appear so close by, so near, and I know I cannot treasure them now without thinking of today.

I sit like this, deep in thought, when you shift and tentatively explore the air around us. I see you raising your hand that is holding mine and gently you offer my own hand back to me by leaving it alone in my lap. You withdraw slowly as if mesmerised by the image you have created.

I lift my eyes to your face and I see all of this is affecting you too. You have considered yourself lesser than Elves for such a long time that you have come to trust in your own illusion, in your own nightmares. If I were to find happiness with another Elf, would you step aside? Would it be to you more seemly, more appropriate?

I reach out for your hand that has abandoned mine and I bring it to my lips and kiss it.

"Gerich veleth nín"

And I see you turning you face away to hide it as light explodes in your eyes and a smile tugs at your lips. Your whisper is so soft I nearly miss it.

"As you have mine."

o.O.o

The evening sky carries a deep blue shade and is randomly dotted by small silver stars. Or perhaps it is I who am too overwhelmed by the last days' events that I have not the concentration to map out the constellations. The winds have settled down for the night and have left the Valley in an even more peaceful state; the small rivers are still singing, but quieter now as if they too are preparing to sleep. Moonlight illuminates the deep green ivy leaves that wind around the doorway in which I stand.

A sigh from a curtain being pushed aside behind me rushes through the air and is then replaced by a greeting.

"Legolas."

I turn to Lord Elrond and watch him as he crosses the floor to stand beside me. His long robe is of a light colour that immediately catches the brightness of the Moon. We stand in silence for a while, looking at the sky. When Elrond finally speaks, his voice is low.

"His road will be long and dark."

I nod, once. "I know."

"Darker than you can imagine."

"I could never leave him."

I turn to your father and his eyes are on me. He, if anyone, knows the nature of grief and death and yet I imagine that I perceive joy somewhere within him.

"One day, when he has faced all his fears, and some he knew he had not, he will be a very different man," Elrond says as he holds my gaze firmly.

"I tried to tell you once before..." He pauses but I find I cannot turn away from him, nor speak myself. "I knew you had formed a friendship but Estel knew naught of his heritage." His shoulders drop a little. "My love was not obvious to him."

For a while, silence envelops us once more but Elrond speaks again before it has settled too heavily.

"I will tell you the truth, Legolas," he says, making sure my attention is focused on him. "I am not convinced that you sharing more than friendship is ideal. Yet..." and now the ghost of a smile washes over his face, "it makes me happy."

"It makes me happy too," I say but unable to smile myself. "I am just scared... For him, and for... us."

Elrond's gaze grows calmer and kinder. He lays a hand on my shoulder and pulls me into a long embrace. "Fear will be the downfall of this world as we know it if we do not challenge it," he says softly, and somehow his words are soothing. "I named the child 'Estel' for I saw in him light and hope."

He gently lets go of me but his hand stays on my shoulder. "I give him to you now."

Tears are rising in his eyes and they glimmer in the moonlight. "Take care of my son, Legolas, for I love him very dearly."

Not trusting my voice I nod and as I am wholly released I bow before him. A new, equally faint, smile brushes Elrond's lips when I turn to leave. I feel lost in the moment, unsure of what to say and do, but his last words to me that night lighten my heart.

"I have told him so."

o.O.o

Your arms are securely wrapped around my waist and the wood-fire is dancing before us both. The remnants of our supper are left on a tray by the door as we meant to return it to the kitchens but have not gotten that far yet.

"You cannot be cold," you say with your chin resting on my shoulder.

I smile. "Perhaps not." I pull your arms even closer around me. "Are you complaining?"

You chuckle and I wonder if I have ever heard anything like it. "No."

I try to drop my head on your shoulder behind me but you stop me mid-movement but nudging my head back up again. Placing a few kisses in my hair you speak with new confidence. "My position is excellent should I wish to tickle you."

"Or do other things," I say before I realise the implication of my words.

You grow very still for a moment or two and I turn in your embrace, aware of this new level we have now reached.

You meet my gaze and your wavering courage floats around us. "Should you wish to?" you finally ask in a quiet voice.

Do I?

I remember the insecurities from last time, the pain and trepidation. I remember how lust took hold of you and shook you, and I remember my own unresponsive body, which only after a while, answered to your touch. It makes me want to cringe before you and I am ready to claim I never want to do anything like that ever again.

Then I remember your beauty and your anxiety, and how exposed you felt before me.

And how we said we would proceed slowly and find out together.

I swallow and try to word my uncertainty. "What if I do not react to your touches?" I ask at last in a voice that does not sound like mine at all.

You seem to ponder this but you do not look entirely beaten just yet. Instead, I am surprised when I see a curious gleam sneak into your eyes.

"Do you react to this?" you ask and then, without warning, you kiss me.

The tip of your tongue brushes over my lower lip and a tingle of excitement speeds through me. You repeat the action and then withdraw, pressing you lips against mine. The sudden change works like a nudge to my senses and they definitely tumble over when you increase the pressure and for a third time probes my lips with your tongue. I automatically open up and you immediately slip inside, bravely sliding your tongue against my own.

I lose my connection with the room and the fire and anything else but you as you kiss me boldly. I can only accept your ministrations and dazed, I find that my hands are moving up and down your back, occasionally tugging at your tunic.

Without knowing how it happens, my own tongue slips into your mouth and draws a small moan from you. I press my body against yours and your scent comes rushing over me.

You hold me so very close, even when we end the kiss, and I can barely see your swollen lips. But if it is your pounding heart I feel against your chest, I am content.

Indeed, I shall always praise the Gods for your heartbeat.

"Yes," I smile as my hands stroke your wavy hair.

You tilt your head backwards and open your mouth to ask, but I give you another kiss instead. When also this one is ended, I am still smiling.

"I reacted to that."

A bright grin captures your features and you begin undoing my braids. "Good," you say. "Then we know as much."

As you work, my hands travel all over your chest and waist. I know that the thin fabric that hides your skin from my fingers is only a barrier for as long as I choose to consider it one. Carefully I lift the hem of your tunic and with one hand I dive underneath it, meeting warm skin. You briefly stop moving and then resume your work, leaning in to place a kiss on my cheek.

This second time your skin is more familiar to me and I am less fearful of it. I trace the line of hair that disappears into your leggings and you give a long, contented hum before you let go of my hair and kiss me again.

I drink in your taste, your scent and the tiny moans you make when you move against me. They spark an answering desire in me and I feel heat washing through me to land low in my belly. Your hands have fallen to my hips and you hold me in a ginger grip. The tip of my tongue brushes your upper lip and your hips suddenly push forward.

I can clearly feel your arousal and though your quick responses to our kisses still frighten me, I know better now how to handle it. I let you push against me, wondering where this will take me, and if I will ever be as enflamed by lust as you.

You take me completely by surprise when inquisitive fingers dip beneath my waistband and search for the cleft between my buttocks. When you find it – stretching the leggings to their maximum – and trail a finger down as far as you can reach, a violent shudder takes hold of me. This sensation your action provokes in me presses the air out of my lungs and I am sure I sway noticeably in your embrace.

I am barely aware of your hoarse whisper in my ear. "Lie down with me."

I follow you.

I follow you to the bed and I follow your movements, mimicking them and leaving my own clothes in a pile upon the floor. I follow you with my gaze as you pull away the covers and together we sink down onto your bed. Numbly, I reach out for you and I am only content when I am holding you again, bringing you close and feeling your heated skin against my own.

My senses reach no further than to the edges of your bed, and soon they turn inwards, as your hands move across my body. You concentrate fully on me, ignoring your own desires and you leave kisses all over my chest.

"Tell me if I do something wrong," you beg as your hand sweeps downwards, nearing my private parts.

I force myself to open my eyes and I see you lying beside me, looking up at me, trusting me to guide you. I mean to assure you that you are doing so very well, but you speak again before I have a chance.

"Tell me always, Legolas."

The knowledge that this is important to you reaches me even in this state and I nod against the pillows. "Always."

You watch me intently for another moment, as if making sure and then you smile. "Close your eyes."

I do – and I fall.

But not into nothingness and not into darkness.

Your hand ghosts over my hips and belly, tracing patterns on my skin and gradually moves closer and closer to my groin. It leaves behind a sizzling trail of heat that seeps into my body and steadily flows into my core. At the first twitch and swelling of my length you must rejoice for your fingers pick up speed and you place a kiss in the corner of my mouth.

Do not think I am not rejoicing also, meleth, but I have not the strength of mind to order my body to reciprocate.

You caress my skin for a little longer, but ultimately you are drawn to your goal. When your hand for the first time covers my slowly-awakening member, a tremor runs through me and I exhale deeply.

"Legolas?" The unasked question hangs between us.

I drop my head to the side and my chin gently bumps into your forehead. I leave a kiss there and wish I could comfort you better. "Please."

Your hand begins to move. It slides along my length, up and down a couple of times, before you circle the base and give a slightly more forceful stroke. I arch upwards, needing to catch my breath, and feel myself swelling further. Still unsure, your fingers tumble over themselves but you fight to keep a steady rhythm though I feel you tremble yourself.

The next time you reach the base of my member, you take the time to brush your fingers against the twin globes resting beneath it. I was not prepared for this and the shiver that races across my skin causes a dull pounding to commence deep within me. I automatically shift closer to you and when you repeat the action, I push into your hand for the first time.

"Estel..." Your name flows from my lips and lingers in the air. Tensing, I know I need you to do it again, to urge that pounding to grow. "Again..."

So a second time you let your fingers caress me and then you dive deeper, exploring all the intimate and sensitive spots between my legs. Blood is rushing forth in my veins, searching for a way to manifest its energy. I push against you once more, and my own moan rings in my ears as you brush over my orifice. The welcome pounding in my body extends outwards and heat is spreading through me before it spins around and rushes straight to my groin.

Suddenly your hand is encircling my length again and you are spreading some wetness over it. I can feel your thumb running over the tip of my member and dizzy as I am, I cannot truly believe that what I am hearing are my own sounds of pleasure. With my mind swirling I think I would rather take them back but then your hips flex and your arousal lies pressed against my side. There is some wetness on my thigh also and my hand blindly seeks out your shoulder or upper arm, or whatever it can find. You desperately push against me and I urge you to move as your hand loses all rhythm and strokes me erratically. I am so close to calling this pain and not pleasure but then all desperation is gone and brutally replaced by an explosion of release. White-hot, sparkling release that erases all throbbing and aching need. My body is willingly accepting your thrusts against it, and as I empty myself all over your hand and tears fill my eyes, we cling to each other.

You reach completion not long after me. Your groan turns into a sob and you shake violently, burying your face in my hair. I try to wrap my arms around you but one of my arms is trapped between us and I can only provide a part of the comfort I would wish to give you. Nevertheless, I hold you as we finally let go.

o.O.o

Little by little the world settles down around us. The fire is crackling lazily and the night is silent. Your skin cools quickly and I alone cannot keep you warm no matter how much I would wish for that talent.

"Estel?" I run my fingers down your upper arm and then I gently push aside some of your hair from your face. "Meleth?"

You seem reluctant to move but eventually you raise your head and blink in the soft, flickering light of the flames. I see many emotions rush across your face before your cheeks colour visibly. "Did I do alright?"

I smile at your mussed-up appearance but much more at what you accomplished. "Yes," I say and I get the impression that your room curiously soaks up my answer at once. "Did you not notice?"

You drop your gaze and smile self-consciously. "We have my brothers to thank for it..."

"Your brothers?" I try to catch your eye but you seem intent on studying my shoulder.

"They came to see me earlier," you say, clearly uncomfortable. "They said they saw you with Elrond and so they came to speak with me..."

I give up any attempts to make you look at me and instead I reach for the covers and with some force manage to pull them over us. You gratefully mould against me but still you refuse to meet my puzzled gaze.

"They gave me some... advice," you finally admit. "As a token of peace I think. They said that if I were intent on doing this, they owed it to you to make it good."

I am first stunned, I confess, but while your blush deepens I cannot help the smile that overpowers me. I will say nothing that you might not want to hear, though, and instead I press a kiss into your hair. "I am very grateful you listened to them," I whisper, needing to focus only on the two of us.

And how I need you! How much I need to feel your presence, your skin against my own, and the touch of your lips against mine.

I wish to see you always, hear your voice, hold you close, know you and love you.

The Valar have blessed me with you and I am eternally grateful.

"I will come and see you in the North," I say now as the heat leaves your cheeks and you dare to look into my eyes.

"You will go to Mirkwood first..."

I will. I will see my home and my father, and I will leave you behind.

"What happens then?" Your question comes from your lips in the form of a breath, barely audible.

I lie quiet for some time, feeling the pull of the tides and knowing it will not be easy. You know this too and I cannot pretend otherwise. But I know also that there must be love and beauty in Arda too.

Journeying home is but a part of it all. Much needs to be told, but not all of it and not all at once.

And seemingly for no reason at all, I smile.

"Then, my love, we shall conquer the world."

It takes a while but when you grin, I know I am right.

The End

Translations:

Gerich veleth nín – you have my love

meleth – love

Manwë – is the greatest of the Valar and the King of Arda.

Elbereth – Varda,The Queen of the Stars and spouse of Manwë the King of Arda, great among the Queens of the Valar. The Eldar called her Elbereth as she set the stars in the sky. (Êl – star; in this series also the name of Legolas' horse.)

Anor – the Sun

Ithil – the Moon

Eä – the Universe

Arda – the World