Disclaimer. It's mine, all mine, preciousssss... Oh no, hang on a minute, it's not. (Bursts into tears as reality hits.)
Thank you to all of you who've reviewed, followed and favourited this story. I have really enjoyed writing it, and I'm sad to come to the end of it. [Sound of author sobbing quietly in background, sniffle].
The days immediately after the birth passed in a whirl of extremes of emotion. Helena and Legolas floated around in a blissful state for a couple of days. Legolas found he couldn't bear to be parted from the babies. There was nothing he liked more than to cuddle one while Helena fed the other, breathing in the incredible milky scent of warm baby, feeling utterly euphoric. On the third day, though, Helena's milk came in, and she got the baby blues. Legolas felt helpless, unable to do anything beyond hug her and wipe away her tears in the moments when the babies slept and do his best to help her when they were awake. Fortunately the blues came and went, and Helena seemed much better the next day. Legolas found his ability to go without sleep invaluable. He could do most of the baby related chores, and feed the adults, leaving Helena as much time as possible to sleep between the twins' feeds.
There is not much more to tell. To Legolas's delight and enormous pride, the Home Secretary pulled various strings to allow him to be named as father on the twins' birth certificates. He and Helena went to the registry office, and Auriel and Cûrion's existence became a matter of official record.
To Steve's enormous relief, he was busted a couple of ranks, and no further action was taken.
About a week after the birth Helena's friends introduced the elves and Gimli to the time-honoured tradition of wetting the babies' heads. They made the happy discovery that port (when drunk from large wine glasses, rather than the tiny glasses mortals favoured) was about the same strength as Dorwinion wine, culminating in the elves getting rather merry. The end result was a joint effort in penning a drunken letter to Galadriel, purportedly from Legolas:
"Madam, you have most grievously wronged me, I who have never done you any slight to deserve the fate you have inflicted on me. For I have had to undergo the ordeal of an MPreg, alone and friendless in a strange realm. The horror of my situation has been beyond all imagining: the morning sickness, the tiredness, the swollen ankles, the acid reflux, (dare I mention such things) the haemorrhoids. The pain of childbirth, like unto nothing I have experienced before, even when wounded in battle. Not to mention the stretch marks which now mar my hitherto unblemished skin. And finally I must live evermore with the traumatic knowledge that never again will I be able to leap effortlessly onto the back of a charging mûmakil and single-handedly kill a dozen Haradrim together with the beast itself. From henceforth, if I find myself in need of undertaking such deeds, I will have to pause to consider the state of my pelvic floor. Kegels can only do so much. I am but a shadow of the proud ellon I once was."
"Are you going to send it?" Matt asked, wiping tears of laughter from his eyes after Legolas had translated the letter for him..
"Probably not, tempting though it is. But I think I might leave the Lady to explain recent events to my father; I don't relish trying to account for my doings. I'm just hoping he'll behave better than Helena's father."
"Helena's father is a complete git, though," said Jonathan.
"Yes, I have no desire to meet him again. I don't think I will ever forgive him for making Helena walk so far in the rain when pregnant. I must admit, however, that my father can be irascible, overbearing, peremptory. But there is no malice in him. At heart, he is decent and fair," Legolas had replied.
"So, have you worked out how to tell your father?" asked Matt.
"Well, I've been talking to Mary Sue, and she will get in touch with the Lady Galadriel. Galadriel can probably return me to Middle Earth in order to tell my father. I think I won't take Helena the first time I see him. If my father reacts badly, I don't want to put Helena through the pain of having to cope with it. She was so hurt by her father's nastiness. But I was quite serious in what I just said: I am going to make the Lady Galadriel come with me – she can explain why she saw fit to transport me here, with my memory impaired, so I had no idea of what was happening."
"That sounds fair enough," said Matt, then added, "And what about the long term?"
"Helena and I have been talking about that. For the time being, we think we will stay in your world. I cannot imagine Helena being happy without people to talk to about physics and maths," Legolas said with a grin. "And there is no-one in Middle Earth who can compete with her level of ability."
"There aren't many here," said Matt, with an answering smile, "And most of the ones who can have Nobel prizes."
"Though as the children get older, we may go to spend time with other elves. As Peredhil, at some point they may have to choose between a mortal life or an immortal life, and it would be good if they could experience something of the life of my people before they get old enough to be likely to fall in love..." Legolas's voice trailed off. Matt put a hand on his arm in a gesture of comfort. Lottie and Tom exchanged glances; for the first time they managed to grasp the enormity of what falling in love with a mortal meant for Legolas. Tom broke the silence.
"Actually, do you think you and Helena could come along to my lab tomorrow? There's something I need to tell you about, but I think it's better explained there, where I can show you some of the samples and talk you through some of the computer output."
Legolas and Helena sat at Tom's desk in the corner of his lab, each cradling a baby. The elflings seemed fascinated by all the bright lights on the lab equipment.
"So what did you want to tell us?" asked Helena.
"Well, quite some time ago now, in fact before the two of you got together, I took some samples from Legolas and sequenced his DNA," said Tom. "Not suprisingly, there are quite a few differences, but also considerable similarities, otherwise the two of you wouldn't have been able to have the twins. But the main difference is in the telomeres.
"Telomeres are sections of nucleotides on the ends of chromosomes. They stop the genes near the chromosome ends being degraded during cell division. Each cell division strips away part of the telomere, but they're usually repaired, at least partially, by an enzyme, telomerese reverse transcriptase. However, over a long period of continual cell division, the telomeres shorten irreparably. It's thought that this is an evolutionary trade-off – cells can't replicate perfectly indefinitely, but this has the benefit that it greatly reduces runaway cell division which would otherwise cause cancer.
"There's some evidence that longer than average telomeres in humans are associated with longer than average lifespan. Anyway, the fascinating thing about the cell cultures I took from Legolas is that his cells all seem to have very long telomeres, and they're all exactly the same length, suggesting that whatever happens during cell division in elves, there isn't the built-in self destruct mechanism that most mammalian cells have."
Helena nodded, then said, "So if I've got this right, you've worked out why Legolas is immortal."
"Yes, I think so. But here's where it gets relevant to both of you. I took some blood samples from you during pregnancy because we know that some of the foetal blood manages to cross the placenta and I wanted to see if I could detect traces of the babies' genetic material in your blood stream," Tom said.
"I remember it only too well. I felt like a blooming pin cushion by the time you'd finished with me. I swear all you medical types only have a thin veneer of science about you; really you all want to go back to blood letting and leeches," Helena replied with a chuckle.
"Leeches are damn good for preventing clotting after microsurgery, I'll have you know," Tom answered. "But seriously, the next bit is where it gets really interesting. We've known for a while that stem cells from the foetus cross the placenta and can actually affect the mother's DNA, flicking epigenetic switches on and off. Well, it appears that the twins' stem cells have had a major effect on both the length of your telomeres and on the action of the reverse transcriptase. Your telomeres now look like those of a young child, and the transcriptase seems to be doing a much better job of repairing the telomeres after cell division."
Helena's jaw dropped. She looked at Tom in stunned amazement. "Are you saying what I think you're saying?" she stammered.
"Well, you're not actually immortal. But if I'm right about this (and I will want to follow this up over several years to see how long the effects last) then you'll live for a long time, far longer than most humans. And you should stay healthy and youthful for most of that longer life."
Legolas gave a loud, joyful shout in Sindarin. Grinning from ear-to-ear he reached over and took Helena's hand. He squeezed it, then raised it to his lips and kissed her fingers. But then his face became thoughtful. "What if the effects are only temporary?"
"Well, I'm pretty sure the effect won't go away overnight, or even for several years, but if it starts to drop off again, I think I have a suggestion. You'll be glad to know that I think the solution to that might be getting her pregnant again. It's a tough job, but I'm sure you'll be up to it. Or up for it."
Helena laughed. "Well, things are on hold temporarily in that department, but I'm quite sure we'll be following doctor's orders within a few months."
"Well, wait for the lab results before going down the barefoot and pregnant route. You'll have plenty of time, so you may want to space the babies out a bit!"
The final day of our story dawned cold but sunny, a delightfully crisp winter's day. It was a very unusual gathering in the Perch, on the edge of Port Meadow. A mixed group of one dwarf, several humans, elves, peredhil (ages ranging from several thousand years down to three weeks) and Tory politicians gathered in one of the rooms overlooking the river. Even by the standards of north Oxford, it was an eclectic mix.
The gathering was glad of the roaring fire in the grate. Festivities had kicked off with Lottie presenting Legolas and Helena with a bag of presents. There were brightly coloured clothes and toys for the babies (including a multi-coloured spider which danced when you pulled its string – Haldir confessed to having suggested its purchase). For the grown-ups, there was a box of chocolates and a bottle of Laphroig. And, tastefully wrapped in a William Morris print paper, with a satin bow attached, there was a small box which turned out to contain two dozen condoms and a leaflet giving directions to family planning clinics in Oxford. Helena noted with considerable amusement that the condoms were NHS own-brand.
"Tight wad," she whispered to Lottie when she got a moment out of earshot of everyone else.
In threes and fours, the group got themselves drinks and settled down. At one side of the room, Haldir and Mary Sue sat at a table with Sally. Sally's crutches were propped in the corner, and she rested her plaster cast on a bar stool.
"I hope Elrohir behaved himself," said Haldir.
"Depends what you mean by 'behaved'. We had a lot of fun," said Sally, raising her eyebrows suggestively.
"But you don't even speak each other's languages," said Haldir, his eyes wide with surprise. "How can he have courted you?"
"Trust me, it wasn't his conversation I was interested in," said Sally, with a lascivious grin. She took a long pull on her pint. Mary Sue looked very amused by Haldir's shocked expression. Haldir took refuge in his own pint of beer, staring at the table as he took a sip.
"Of course, when it came down to it, Elladan was actually better," Sally added. Haldir made a choking sound and spluttered beer across the table. Mary Sue patted his back, laughing out loud. Sally grinned. "Yup, the quiet ones tend to be better – they try harder. The ones who think they're god's gift usually aren't all that." Haldir gaped. Sally pretended to bridle at his shocked expression. "Hey, it's not like it was both of them at once."
"Oh, that's alright then," said Haldir sarcastically. "I can rest easy knowing that all the proprieties were observed." He was rather relieved to realise that Henry Prior and Julia Marlowe had arrived at the table, ruling out any further revelations about the Elrondion twins' sexual prowess.
"May we join you?" Marlowe asked.
"Yeah, pull up a chair," said Mary Sue.
"Well, this has been an eventful few weeks," said Prior. "I'm still reeling at the fact that the Chancellor of the Exchequer was possessed by a wraith from another world."
"Though thinking about it," said Sally, her economics background surfacing, "The dead giveaway was that the Nazgul actually had a better grasp of macro-economic theory than Westbrook."
"I'm sorry to say that, given Simeon's base-line, I don't think that's any particular claim to fame," said Prior cynically.
"So what's become of him?" asked Sally.
"He's being kept in a military hospital, in a medically induced coma," said Marlowe.
Mary Sue chipped in, "We're hoping that either Galadriel or Elrond will be able to come and deal with the Nazgul at some point."
"I'm not sure there's any great urgency. After all, for the time being, his deputy seems to have been doing rather a good job. I always felt the man should have had the job in the first place, and would have done, had it not been for the old school tie," said Prior.
Haldir and Mary Sue took advantage of Jonathan and Matt's arrival to get up and go to the bar. The two men settled on the bench the elves had vacated. Jonathan put his arm round Matt's shoulders and gave him a kiss. At the next table, Mablung looked on in shocked amazement. Anborn dug him in the ribs.
"Don't stare. It's not considered anything shocking here, and they're Legolas's friends," Anborn said.
"But they're men... and they're kissing. Each other!" Mablung said.
"Top marks for observation. I can see how you came to be a Ranger. Look, is anyone expecting you to kiss another man?" asked Anborn.
"Are any men trying to kiss you?"
"Well then it's none of your damn business, is it?" Anborn's tone conveyed a certain finality. Sensing that Mablung's meaning must have been clear despite the language barrier, he gave Jonathan and Matt an apologetic smile.
Sally introduced the two men to Marlowe and Prior. Matt gave a slightly shy grin, and said, "I never thought I'd end up saying this to a couple of Government Ministers, but thank you for voting the way you did. Jonathan and I are planning on getting married next spring, and it really means an enormous amount to us that we can get married properly."
Julia Marlowe beamed. "Congratulations, and I'm very happy to think that I played a small part. Sometimes, being a politician brings moments where you feel you can really be proud of what you've achieved."
Haldir and Mary Sue got another couple of drinks. Rather than go back to the table, they stood by one of the windows, surveying the scene. Helena sat on a leather sofa, feeding Cûrion while she chatted to Lottie. The baby's tiny hand opened and closed like a little pink starfish, instinctively grabbing at his mother's breast.
Legolas stood with Auriel snuggled over his shoulder, cheek resting against the soft, sparse downy hair on her tiny head. He was jiggling her gently up and down and softly patting her back in the time-honoured tradition for shifting wind. Auriel blinked myopically, staring at the world, fascinated by the sensation soup she swam in, even if she didn't yet understand it. It appeared that Legolas was either oblivious to, or (in the manner of new parents the world over) past caring about the streak of sick down his back. He was now engaged as translator in a lively exchange of anecdotes of active service, men (both Ithilien Rangers and current and past members of the SAS), elves and the lone dwarf all competing with story after story. Mary Sue realised that Haldir's attention had shifted from the scene at large, and he was now looking at her, a contemplative expression on his face.
"Guess all that's left now is to get Galadriel to send us to Nevada," said Mary Sue. There was a long pause, eventually broken when Haldir spoke.
"Do you remember Rohan?" he asked.
"You wore pink, the Uruk Hai wore grey," quipped Mary Sue.
Haldir gave a puzzled frown. "Pink?"
"Movie reference. Don't worry about it... Hang on, no, I know Galadriel's got NetFlix, get her to show you Casablanca some time," said Mary Sue with a chuckle.
After another pause, Haldir gave the merest hint of a smile and said, "Actually I was thinking more about us getting caught in my cloak."
"Yeah, in retrospect it's pretty funny," said Mary Sue. She fell silent for a moment, as if collecting her thoughts, then continued, "You know, given that these days a girl's gotta have at least one failed marriage behind her to have any chance of coming across as a woman of the world with a mysterious past, I couldn't ask for a better ex than you. You're actually a really nice guy, when you're not being all prissy and pompous."
"Prissy, pompous, talk about a back-handed compliment," said Haldir. He looked at Mary Sue. His brows came together in a slight frown. "I'm not that prissy."
"No, I seem to remember you taking a good peek down the front of my dress back there in the Haradwaith. There's another word covers that sort of thing... also begins with a 'P'," she made a big performance of pretending to have difficulty finding the right phrase, before grinning and saying, "oh yeah, 'pervert'."
"Well, you heard what Sally said just now, it's the quiet ones..." All of a sudden Mary Sue found herself pulled close by strong arms, and kissed soundly, and, to her surprise, rather expertly. It was a while before the two of them came up for air, realising that they were now the centre of attention (and more than a few wolf-whistles).
"So, about Reno," Haldir whispered in her ear. "Do you think we could postpone that trip and give this a try?"
"I think," said Mary Sue, kissing him back, "This could be the start of a beautiful friendship."
Thank you to all of you who have reviewed, favourited, followed and read this story. I hope you enjoyed reading it as much as I've enjoyed writing it. Anyway, reviews would make my day, and if you let me know whether you'd be interested, I might write some one-shots for this AU universe as and when I get ideas. (I have an idea for a Christmas story that I might post at the appropriate time of year).
The tadpoles' names were hard to come up with. My starting point are the Realelvish website and Hisweloke's Sindarin dictionary, but obviously all mistakes are my own. According to the Realelvish website, at birth the child is given a patronymic or matronymic. Later on the elf will get a name which reflects their personality. Helena (Latin version of the Greek name Helen) means "ray of light". "Aur" is Sindarin for sunlight, and "iel" is the suffix for "daughter of". ("Galad" is closer to ray of light, but then we'd end up with a name uncomfortably close to "Galadriel"... already taken!) "Cû" means "bow" and the suffix "ion" would be "son of" - so I'm hoping this sort of approximates to "son of an archer".
Sally's shenanigans were inspired by a throwaway line in one of Lady Bluejay's fics, about Elrohir finding mortal women "rather precipitate." This phrase has been buzzing round my head ever since, and ended up here (I'm not sure what Lady Bluejay meant by it, but this is what my twisted imagination came up with). Since I wrote this, I've read another of her fics, "First Time", which is now in my list of favourites, and which I thoroughly recommend.
It may surprise some readers, but all three of the real-life counterparts of my politicians (yes, even Simeon's real-life alter-ego) voted "yes" to gay marriage. Traditionally in the UK, votes on things like abortion, gay rights etc. are so called "free votes", and MPs are not given any instructions on how to vote by their political parties. Although to some extent, political Conservatism (with a capital "C") goes with social conservatism, the links are nowhere near as strong as they are in the USA, for instance. And although I'm a pinko lefty through and through, this is my little tribute to some of the senior members of the current ConDem government for doing the right thing in this instance.
Re. the "tight wad" comment, contraception is free under the NHS. So Lottie won't have actually had to pay for her bag of condoms.
The DNA hokum is blended together from a collection of bits and pieces that are actually genuine science. The resulting mixture is of course all my very own piece of nonsense. But telomeres are petty much as I describe (and have stolen from Wikipedia; I've probably got some bits wrong, because I'm a physicist, not a geneticist). And there have been suggestions that genetic engineering could enhance longevity by artificially lengthening telomeres. Also, according to a recent news report I read, foetal DNA really does cross into the mother's bloodstream and affect her DNA. The natural world is just so amazing! (Oh, and leeches are making a comeback in modern medicine, for exactly the reason Tom says).
I'm going to take a little break from Legomance (though I do have an idea for another one which I will write at some stage) but in the mean time, I've got a couple of new fics up – 'Groundhog GDIME' (a kind of anti-Legomance) and 'Flower of Ice and Steel' (a gap filler; what happened in the houses of healing between Eowyn and Faramir). And in the longer term, I've got ideas for a Lothiriel fic (inspired by a recent visit to Tintagel) and an Elladan/Elrohir fic (inspired in part by Lady Bluejay's stories, which always make Elladan in particular incredibly sexy – it's something about the way he stretches out his long legs and holds the stem of his wineglass, and... okay, enough of that).