I've been meaning to write this for almost a year now. No time like the present. :D
A warm day wrapped in white and celebration.
All that had once snared Middle-Earth into shadow had been cleansed, and so the coronation of the returning king had offered a feast for all.
It was a dream, must have been–
the way the long, brown curls of her twining Elven hair had synced to the silken contours of her hip as if they'd been exclusively conjured to belong there; the way her blinding, white smile had so easily kindled the King of Gondor into his bliss.
Yes, truly a dream, because Legolas had seen Aragorn smile only once before, and even that smile hadn't been borne for him, but for Arwen.
A void began to take root, a crippling sadness that sunk Legolas' smile by the inch– though the Elven prince would never speak a word of it even after Aragorn had stood before him, placing his powerful palm against the lithe twine of his shoulder.
"Mellon nin," he'd said, "I am glad to have crossed paths. I will never forget you."
And though his throat felt to have corked itself shut, Legolas had nodded with a sort of smile before saying that he, too, would never forget. Aragorn took his hand away, leaving Legolas' shoulder to grow cold in the warm wind of that evening before walking off, Arwen in hand.
Legolas looked to her before stepping back, to the white silk of her dress and to the selflessness of her colored eyes, and decided that this was how it was to be, how it was to stay, how it would inevitably end, and that he would never speak of what he'd felt, or might have felt– now or then.. for all days that would remain.
He couldn't stay a moment longer.
And so he rode on horseback towards the dark bowers of the wood, into the thick borders of Mirkwood–
At first, Legolas would see Aragorn at least thrice a season, if not four.
They would speak of past travels, smile in soundless reminiscence, or simply nod in acceptance before they once again parted ways, all usually in the breadth of a few, precious seconds.
Each visit would only ever be a symbol of fealty, of friendship, and so Legolas would hold the last foolish ounce of his hope somewhere far away from him, forcing himself to quietly accept the situation for what it was.
And what it was, was not what Legolas would dream of every night with wide open eyes.
But as the long months fell through the healing trees of the wood, seldom became the day in which Legolas would see Aragorn anymore. He'd seen him only once (if for a short moment) on a Summer's dawn, until, finally, in the cold fall of Autumn, the King of Gondor had entirely ceased his visits for good.
If sheer devastation could have driven an Elf mad, Legolas would have ebbed.
For days he attempted to lose himself within the cedars, silently wishing he hadn't known each and every crook of the wood like the very arc of his bow.
He climbed onto the high tops, treading further and further away from the Elvenking's fortress with each day that passed, for each and every morning Legolas would religiously travel to the very border of the wood to wait and to look far into the horizon for any trace of Aragorn's impending visit with a burning, desperate look in his Elven, lovelorn eyes.
And he would watch and wait until night placated onto the verdant meadows of the distance, until his father sent his worry by courier and demanded his son's immediate return; but even then, Legolas would leave the danger of the border only, and if, Tauriel herself was sent to fetch him.
She would say nothing for several weeks, but when Legolas' eyes began to bleach, and his skin became much too pale, she'd no other choice but to shatter the unspoken silence between them. She stopped them both at the gates and approached him, finally speaking her worry into his ear.
"You must speak to your father," she said. "Please."
But Legolas said nothing in response and instead attempted to walk past her, eyes down to the low ground and with his hair no longer so much as his father's. Once so beautifully flaxen, now fading into white. Tauriel's brow furrowed, and she reached to pull him right back where he was by the arm.
"You are not yourself," she pressed. "You are ill, Legolas. You must speak to the King."
"Ill? And what would my father have me do? What would he do?" he hissed.
Tauriel's mouth opened, but she could find nothing to say. She pressed her lips together and looked away. Though her and the Prince had grown into what they were together for many years, she quickly acknowledged that she had more than forgotten her place.
"I'm sorry," Legolas said after a moment. "You're right, Tauriel. I am not myself."
He turned to leave, leaving an air of pining behind that Tauriel could no longer bring herself to ignore. She took a breath and dared herself to speak.
"It is your friend, isn't it?" she said softly. Legolas froze gelid in his tracks. "He no longer comes, but I still see the mourn in your eyes. It is because his heart belongs to the daughter of Celebrian, and not to you." She paused, wary of what she knew. "Legolas, you are fading."
She waited, but Legolas remained silent and instead mounted his steed and disappeared into the dark shadow of the wood.
Two nights later, Legolas sent word by messenger to the white walls of Minas Tirith, but received no form of response.
The void in him grew by the day.
Indeed Legolas could feel himself begin to fade as Tauriel had once said, as it was in the nature of an Elf to do so when in the throes of so much lament.
He thought of Aragorn during every wakeful second, and could feel nothing but the powerful feel of his hand upon him. Legolas stood for hours on the edge of the border, no longer waiting and no longer watching like before, but simply breathing and simply dreaming of what he would never come to have.
Tauriel appeared on the fourth hour of that morning, tall and lovely on the highest tree that overlooked Legolas' solitary figure. Weeks before, she would know without doubt that he would immediately notice her, but on this day, nearly two years after the Fellowship's journey had come to an end, the Prince had entirely failed to do so.
Her chest sunk deep at the sight of him; once so lovely and full of spirit, now a shell of all he'd once been.
"The King calls for you," she said at last. "On urgent matter."
Legolas stood perfectly still if not for the sallow flit of his hair. If it wasn't for Tauriel's know-better, she'd deem him the intricate carve of a statue. Still, Legolas said nothing.
"You've told him, haven't you."
"I've told the King nothing," said Tauriel. "A lone messenger sent far into the vast miles of the White City arriving nearly at the eve of dusk– surely you wouldn't think it suspicious, as well? A messenger answers to his king, no matter the threat or promise placed upon him from elsewhere."
"And if I stay," Legolas told the wind.
Tauriel's brow furrowed, and her hands tightened into fists.
"Then I would take you to him myself! I will not watch you die over the ilk of a mortal Man–"
At this, Legolas turned sharply, and with the agile sleight of his legs upon the branches of the tree of which she stood in, he appeared before the young Elven Guard with his piercing breath upon her cheek.
"You know nothing of which you speak."
Tauriel held her tongue and nodded, looking towards her feet.
She hadn't even felt the fleet of his leave.
At nightfall, Legolas had faced his father's qualm.
The length of endless years would not wane the fierce protection that Thranduil had always had upon his only son.
They stood in his chambers, a single brow risen high on the Elvenking's face.
"You sent word to Gondor–" Thranduil started, circling the room, "without having told me. I would have sent several in your stead."
He paused, looking directly at his son for the first time in a long while from 'neath the thick curtain of his lashes, noting the pallid complexion Legolas bore– the unnatural strangeness glassed into his eyes.
Thranduil's lips pressed together tightly, a light of ire in his gaze, for in that moment he knew almost instantly what it was that had been troubling his only heir– why it was that Legolas had secretly sent word to a city of Men.
"By the old Earth of which we stand, my own son grieving for the fell touch of a– of a.." Thranduil paused, unable to conjure what was hellishly bitter on the tip of his tongue. Legolas stood lifeless, as if he were never even there at all. "Of a Man."
The smite of sadness laced itself into his father's disgust like a dying serpent.
Legolas would have otherwise flinched if it were not for his current state. He stared downcast at nothing, a shallow form of breathing upon his chest. Thranduil trembled where he stood, his nostrils flared and with his eyes wet at the rims.
"By the bark of Onodrim, speak!"
Legolas–his features once to that of a sprite, now hollow and lost– looked then to his father, and spoke very quietly:
"If it is destined to befall me in this manner, Adar, then it is in this way that I must die as all things do."
But before the great Elvenking of Mirkwood could differ for a moment longer, Legolas stormed out the door.
There is a message awaiting Legolas the next day.
Writ on vellum and hardly sealed, it was Aragorn's handwriting in black ink.
It spoke of an impending visit within the remaining breadth of that week, and then of nothing else but the rushed twine of Aragorn's name. The words were long and messy. But words were words, and Legolas could not bring his gaze away from them.
"It was brought on horseback by a group of Men," said Tauriel. "Clad in the armor of the White City."
Legolas' skin seemed to have heightened in its color the more he read through the vellum. His fingers traced the ink softly as if he were afraid to lose them. Tauriel could do nothing but bring upon the effort of a smile. This was the most color she'd seen on the Prince's face since the King of Arnor had ceased his visits.
"I've said nothing to your father," she added softly, stepping away. "I leave it to your discretion."
Legolas looked up to the wistful eyes of his friend, and coiled the ends of his lips very faintly.
"Thank you," he said before bringing Tauriel into his embrace. "Thank you."
Not two days later, Aragorn had arrived at midnight.
When the hushed message came that King Elessar waited at the gates, Legolas had been the first to greet him.
His heart pulsed 'neath his chest like the fleet of songbirds in Spring rain, and Legolas swore he would have fallen to his knees if it were not for the shock in his bones that sustained him.
Truly, it was Aragorn nearly as he was when Legolas had first met him, if not the silver crown and plated armor that adorned him. His hair lied brown and curled, reeking of kingly valor and of strength and courage, and of everything that Legolas had ever mourned for. He took a step closer, a growing smile on his thin lips.
"It's been so long–-"
But then Legolas stopped frigid in his steps, as had his smile.
For when Aragorn had dismounted and approached into the blue light of the forest, Legolas had seen the broken expression etched into Aragorn's face. Once gallant and filled with hope as it had been when their quest had completed, Aragorn now looked tired and worn, as if age hadn't waited.
Legolas knew of the short years a mortal was given, knew of how quickly the gray in one's hair would appear, but Aragorn was far from his end, leaving Legolas lost in his reason. His brow knit upward, and his mouth fell open to ask many questions, but Aragorn became the first to speak.
"Arwen," he began, tears already falling from his eyes, "she's gone. I could think of only you to come to."
Legolas stood frozen with words and guilt and devastation caked into his throat as he felt Aragorn suddenly collapse to his knees, embracing and clutching on to his legs in a trembling sob of utter agony.
Legolas takes them both to the fountains, and there he comforts Aragorn with his hand upon the wetted planar of his cheek.
Legolas' heart aches to the unison of Aragorn's loss, but it tears even faster and more painfully to the increasing guilt of his longing.
It becomes harder to breathe, harder to hide; Legolas could physically begin to feel himself fading from the inside.
"I am here for you," he whispers into Aragorn's ear. "I am always here."
Aragorn nods, and after an extensive moment of silence he looks into Legolas' eyes for the first time that night. The rush of the fountains around them fills the sound of shock bedded in Aragorn's expression when he finally notices all that Legolas attempted to mask from within the darker shadows of where they stood.
His lips part and his brow softens, and he cannot believe the dreary difference he sees in his Elf friend's complexion from last they had met.
"Legolas," he manages in a whisper, reaching out. "What-–"
"Think nothing of it," Legolas quickly says, reassuring. "I've gone on hunts in your absence, that's all."
Aragorn looks as if he wants to press further, as if he does not fully believe when the change in his friend is too great, but Legolas turns away from him and places his fingers into the current of one of the running fountains.
"Her spirit lies now in peace, far beyond the seas of Valinor," he says, "and she thinks of you, in love and in hope. I know this."
A quietness befalls them that Aragorn cannot bring himself to break, and with a glint sadness in his eyes that he knows will outlast him, he approached Legolas from behind and placed his hand upon the lithe twine of his shoulder. They stayed in that way for several moments until Aragorn had found concord in his thoughts from within the lulling brace of the great forest.
"Let me stay," he said, allowing his hand to finally fall from Legolas' shoulder. "Just for some days. I cannot go back like this. I need you."
Legolas cannot say no, could never say no, and he turns to look into the silver eyes of the Man he desired more strongly than the ilk of both air and water. To have heard Aragorn's need of him that day was to have heard myth from somewhere wherein a lost dream.
"This forest welcomes you," Legolas says, bringing his palm to hover upon Aragorn's cheek; aching to touch, yearning its warmth– but knowing very well what he cannot have,
"Stay as long as you need."