Waking slowly, Legolas dared not move for a long moment. He felt disoriented, as though he had been dreaming for a long time heavy, scattered dreams filled with pain that made no sense, dreams where Elrond's touches had become bites, where the dripping sound of water turned into his father's mocking laughter, where cruelty had been tangled with kindness, darkness demolished light, and Elrond was lost to Legolas forever.
Thranduil and and the rats were real. What of Elrond, of my my time with him in Imladris?" His stiff, still-sensitive fingers brushed the palm of his hand and he breathed a sigh of relief to feel the seared, scarred skin there. It was real. He was real. But the darkness was real as well, as were the dungeon, the rats, the despair. Legolas was not so foolish as to believe the bad things had all ended.
His fingers felt tender, as did his toes beneath the covers. The calluses on the tips of his fingers were gone; new skin was there, entirely worthless to an archer. He would have to regrow the calluses, and fletching and releasing arrows in any great number would be difficult for some time. If I am actually ever given the opportunity to fletch another arrow, he thought with some bitterness, much less protect anyone I love from harm again. Has Thranduil thought up some other diabolical plan to finally bring me out of the darkness? Where am I now?
Rolling over slowly, he pushed aside the shadows of dreams for the moment and slitted open his eyes. There in the nearest corner sat his own familiar bow and his ornate-peacock quiver. No matter he had lost them in Mirkwood's great forest, they were with him again, anyway. Is this Mandos' halls then? Opening his eyes a little wider, he saw the handles of his knives glittering in the sunlight streaming through the door. They sat safely in their sheathes attached to the quiver, old friends who appeared ready for service at his command.
Where AM I? Something gnawed at the edge of his mind, for he knew this room, had awakened here before. Its door stood ajar, as if someone had been checking on him frequently, someone occupying a much larger chamber beyond this one's narrow confines. A chamber connecting to this one as Legolas himself had felt connected in friendship and growing love with its owner before leaving for Dol Guldur half of a lifetime before.
Legolas could feel a cool breeze wafting from the open door leading onto the terrace beyond that room. Birds sang spring songs filled with the promise of nests and new life, offering fragile, unbelieveable testimony that he'd been given a second chance in this, his own life. Not daring believe it, Legolas narrowed his eyes and lifted his chin. If this was illusion and Thranduil or Mandos waited out there on that terrace, Legolas would confront them head on. One thing is certain: Elrond will not be there. Elrond is safe in the real Imladris, where Mandos and my father will not go.
Pushing back the covers, Legolas slipped out of the bed. His legs felt as wobbly as a newborn colt's, as if he'd not used them for a great long time and had no been meant by some to ever use them again. Sunlight streamed in from the chamber beyond, and Legolas sniffed the air. The scent of roses subtle and seductive wafted on the breeze.
A tall wardrobe dominated the wall beside his bow. Tottering over to it, Legolas found new clothing waiting for him, just as it had in the other Imladris. Needing new clothing in Imladris seems a recurring feature of this nightmare.
But was it a nightmare? The clothes smelled like Elrond, and Legolas couldn't recall ever dreaming of a scent before. He wasn't usually weak in dreams either, didn't find himself panting in fatigue as he moved from wardrobe to bed. No, this dream was far too real.
Pulling on a pair of new leggings and a tunic, Legolas found a set of new boots waiting in the bottom of the wardrobe. I would not think to dream of new boots, he realized, his heart beating faster and faster to think perhaps he wasn't in Mandos' halls. Not daring to believe, nor even to hope, he yanked on the new boots and hurried as fast as his newly healedbody would take him through the door leading into Elrond's chamber.
He nearly wept at the sight of the well-worn chair, the table piled high with books and what-nots. The chamber was empty but just over there was a robe thrown haphazardly over another chair. Grabbing it up, Legolas buried his nose in it. Yes that was Elrond. And Elrond was not in the Halls of Waiting. Elrond was in Imladris. I think that I might be as well. Tears escaped his eyes then; he wiped them away on the robe. Yes, the chamber was empty, but it was exactly as he remembered it, and something told Legolas its owner would not always be away. He's just nearby and I can find him.
He smile at the clutter, the endless books and the chair were Elrond had tried to seduce him those were no dreams. The medicinals cabinet sat just over there, reeking of a strange combination of herbal oils and ointments combinations Legolas was in no hurry to get to know again anytime soon.
The seal of Elrond twinged sympathetically in the palm of his hand: Legolas scratched at it absently and remembered all too clearly the first night he had spent in this chamber. How intimidated he had been by its owner. How quickly things can change. And how glad I am that they have.
But where was Elrond?
Pulling back the terrace door, Legolas slipped out into the garden. A brilliant array of flowers greeted him, nestled among evergreen shrubs and a collection of trees who had been only spindly sticks in the dead of winter when he had seen them last. The rose bush beckoned the same that Elrond had originally introduced him to. Stepping down the steps to greet the rose bush properly, Legolas was careful not to test his ill-used muscles too quickly.
"Hello, old friend," he greeted the rose bush, now in full bloom. The rose that had bloomed in winter was a naked, shriveled bud now. As Elrond had predicted, it had known only frost and freezing for its efforts. Reaching out, Legolas broke off the bud, to offer renewal to the stem behind it. I think you are very much like this rose - so willing to throw away your eternity in a loveless bond. You were made for better things, Elrond's voice came back to him.
Legolas smiled to himself. He was right, I was made for him. What was hidden from me then is so clear to me now.
"The world turned from winter into spring while you slept," a low, familiar voice spoke from behind him.
Whirling, Legolas all but toppled over. Catching his balance, he grinned. "Mithrandir, it's good to see you."
Strong, spindly arms enfolded the elf: the scent of pipeweed all but choked him. "It is good to see you as well, youngling. Good to see you on your feet again and looking as if you might live after all. I'm not certain though that you should be out of bed. How do you feel?"
"Disoriented," came the honest answer. "As if I was a long time away and would rather not recall where I've been."
"An apt description. Have you seen Elrond?"
The elf shook his head. "He is not within."
Mithrandir frowned. "That's odd, as he's not left your side for the past week. Still, Glorfindel has been speaking of spring foalings and grumbling about the stable help's singular lack of talent. Your Elrond may be off to the stables to sooth Glorfindel's ruffled plumage."
"He came for me," Legolas said quietly, feeling the wonder of it for the first time. "He who should never must never leave Imladris. He came for me, and I can scarcely believe that I am here."
"Elrond loves you very much. But then again, I suppose you know that."
"As I love him."
No hesitation, no tension to that admission. Mithrandir looked up sharply at the elf only to find the blue eyes meeting his were extraordinarily clear.
Late one night, in a moment of shared confidences and swearings to secrecy, Glorfindel had relayed to Mithrandir the exact details of Elrond's bonding with Legolas. Mithrandir had the feeling that the Elf walking beside him was very much unaware of what had transpired.
"They love each other," Glorfindel had said. "I predict that their bond will grow stronger than any friendship or intimacy might allow."
"That is your prediction is it?" Mithrandir sighed and blew smoke out from his nostrils. "I fear that Elrond may ultimately succeed where Thranduil has always failed."
"Where is that?"
"Legolas may well shatter, break and fade while beating himself against the bars of this commitment made against his consent." Grey eyes held Glorfindel's blue.
"You love him," Mithrandir murmured, dragging himself back to the present. "That is well, youngling." He was careful not to ask what sort of love it was that Legolas felt. The wrong sort of love will break both their hearts.
"Is it so strange that I should love him?" Legolas' voice shook the wizard free of his ponderings. "He saved my life and much waits to be said between us. I must find him."
With that, Legolas strode out across the garden, heading for the stables
in search of the Elf-lord who had saved his life. He saved your life, but
at what cost? the wizard wondered. Certainly, you feel gratitude for what
Elrond has done, but you cannot know yet that he has imprisoned you both in
a passionless bond. I dread to discover the cost of that.
Five Days Later
Drumming his fingers on the arms of Elrond's chair, Legolas sprang from its confines to pace once, twice, three times around the private chambers that supposedly belonged to the Elf-lord.
Legolas was having serious doubts that Elrond still claimed these chambers, regardless his possessions were still strewn about. He knew that Elrond had not set foot across the threshold since Legolas had awoken, five days before. He is avoiding me. But why? What have I done? How have I hurt him? And how can I make it right if he won't even look at me, much less talk to me?
Over the past few hours, Legolas had walked what seemed miles of Imladris, only to beg a horse from Glorfindel: "A gentle mount, nothing too spirited to land me on my head as you seem to think that Thranduil's treatment of me has somehow interferred with my ability to stay ahorse."
His demands had been delivered in a tone so sarcastic, so drippingly dry, that Glorfindel had claimed to be, "Surprised the frost of your breath hasn't shriveled up and shattered on the stable floor while we've stood here arguing."
"I am not arguing with you. And contrary to all appearances, I am not angry with you," Legolas had offered. "I am frustrated with the Lord of Imladris. Either give me the mare and let me continue my search, or tell me where Elrond is."
He'd gotten the mare. She had allowed him access to parts of Imladris he hadn't seen, and enabled him to make a discovery almost more astonishing than the fact that Elrond had come to rescue him from Thranduil's clutches.
Riding deep into a valley behind Elrond's main house, Legolas urged his mare over one more hill. Clearing the crest of it, he stopped dead to see an Elven enclave nestled below: one whose layout and construction mirrored one he knew all too well. Riding hard down the hill, he had confronted the first elves he saw, who had shouted their joy at the sight of him, surrounded his horse and pulled him into their midst. Despite his best intentions to leave before the moon rose and perhaps to find Elrond presiding over the evening meal in the Great Hall, the elves of Mirkwood had kept Legolas busy with apologies, food, conversation and song deep into the night.
His friends and some he had thought became his enemies mainly those who had captured and dragged him before his father had left Mirkwood because of him. Because of him and his father's cruelty against him.
"We've renounced our loyalty to Thranduil," an erstwhile captor and childhood friend had said through gritted teeth. "We've broken all bonds, have sworn to protect and serve you and Lord Elrond. Forever."
"We won't be going back," another had said, pulling him into a fierce hug. "Forgive me, my prince. Forgive us all, we beg you."
"Bring up the subject again when I can wield a sword and properly pull a bow. It's then you'll have the fight I wanted to give you, first in Thranduil's chambers and again on the edge of the forest of Mirkwood."
Five pair of Elven eyes had widened at Legolas' tones. One or two Elves visibly blanched at the thought of confronting a very angry Legolas who appeared set on stalking and fighting them in Imladris' woods sometime in the future. His skills, they knew, were far and away better than their own.
"After the fight," Legolas had concluded, "I'll consider forgiving you."
"It's more than we hoped for," one of the Elves ventured humbly, "and much more than we deserve.
Secretly, Legolas was astonished to learn that fully two-thirds of Thranduil's army and their families lay in this valley, taking up their lives again as calmly and happily as you please, just over the hill from the Elf-lord whom Thranduil had done his best to make them hate.
"The King of Mirkwood lost more than his youngest son when he condemned you to death among the rats," one of his father's personal guard told Legolas as he was accompanied him back to the main house where he would resume his search for its elusive lord. "Thrandil lost us when he lost himself. We won't ever go back."
Legolas had found his people another miracle wrought by Elrond's coming after him but he couldn't find Elrond. The Elf-lord was always somewhere else, it seemed: out in the stables, riding fences in case they needed mending, tending an injured horse in the north field, looking over new homesteads for the people of Mirkwood, in meetings, negotiating yearling sales, inspecting new foals it was always something. And it was nothing that Legolas should not have been sharing with him.
Legolas would have searched harder and faster, but much to his frustration, whether on horseback or on foot, he still tired easily. His body demanded more rest and far more sleep than ever it had, so that more than once Legolas found himself nodding off in Elrond's empty chamber, only to awake tucked in his own bed like an exhausted young elfling. More than once, Legolas awoke in the night to the quiet murmur of Elrond and Glorfindel's voices in the next room, but try as he might, Legolas could not seem to rouse himself enough to go to them. To join them. To see and speak with Elrond.
And so it was that, five days after awaking and finding himself safe in Imladris, Legolas sat on Elrond's terrace with a baby bow borrowed from Imladris' archery master. He twanged endless arrows from it and into a baby target set up in the garden, determined to build up the calluses on his right hand so that he might restore his real archery prowess.
He stayed there all day, and still Elrond did not appear.
Four more days of plinking arrows, and Legolas' calluses were thickening nicely. He then quite deliberately began fletching arrows in the Elf-lord's chamber.
He stacked the books on the floor, shoved the parchments into the desk and closed it over them. Bundling up Elrond's robe, Legolas tossed it onto the bed and gathered his own fletching supplies. Leaving endless feathers and string, rough shafts and sharp arrowheads scattered about, Legolas thought that if he could take over the chamber and irritate Elrond enough, the Elf-lord would seek out Legolas and tell him to stop it. That, at least, would begin a conversation between them. But Legolas still fell asleep deep in the night. Morning merely saw his messy bits and pieces scooped aside into neat little piles on the floor or the table and left for him to finish.
Finish them he did: his new arrows were gathered and tied into neat little bundles and left in the middle of the chamber floor for Elrond to trip over whenever he deigned to enter the room. The next morning they were stacked neatly beside Legolas' own wardrobe.
Legolas was at a loss to explain how the Elf-lord or his servant had made several trips inside his bedchamber without Legolas stirring in his sleep. I am still that fatigued? he thought, more than a little disgusted with his weak body.
His calluses and his arrows were complete. So was his frustration.
Sometimes he dreamed that Elrond came to him in the night, stood beside his bed and smoothed his hair only to go away again. Some great sadness always invaded the dream a sadness that Legolas began sensing was more than a dream during the day. He wanted to wake, to sit up, to reach out to the Elf-lord, to ask what misery he carried, but Legolas' eyelids were far too heavy. His body was too infuriatingly frail; try as he might, he could not override his fatigue.
Why won't he come to me, and why is he so sad? Legolas wondered. What have I done to disappoint him or hurt him so badly that he cannot bear the sight of me?
When I am stronger, I will find him. I must.
Legolas was tempted to invade the Great Hall, to try seeking out the Lord of Imladris there, but Erestor had informed him that Elrond came late to the Great Hall, and Legolas was lothe to reveal to all the host of Imladris that its lord could not bear the sight of him. Elrond had declared their betrothal before everyone: Legolas could not reveal their shame before those same Elves. He had to find another way.
And so, Legolas schooled himself to patience more patience than he could ever feel his maddening, recalcitrant, slow-healing body deserved.
Days before, he deliberately left off searching for Elrond. Days before, he began forcing himself to rest when his body asked for it, worked with his weapons only when he felt up to it, and listened to other physical demands that irritated him, but that he knew he could no longer afford to ignore. He set a schedule of healing and had stuck to it. Despite all desires to the contrary, Legolas did not overextend himself, he ate whatever Erestor brought obviously at Elrond's orders, for his frequent meals came in the form of terribly healthy selections in far larger quantities than Legolas would ever have selected on his own, and Erestor had to know it.
Legolas' determination finally paid off, in the form of his body finally regained the form and the strength he had enjoyed when he had returned from Dol Guldur with Glorfindel. Legolas; archery skills were dead on once again, his knifework almost restored. He felt better and moved as he once had. He also didn't have to sleep but once every three days if need be. Which definitely leaves more time for me to look for HIM.
Came the night a moonstruck night when Legolas knew without doubt that Elrond would be in the stables. He knew, because a smiling Glorfindel had told him so when Legolas had dared lurk near the entrance to the Great Hall, wanting to see within but not be seen.
"His absence is getting ridiculous, is it not?" Glorfindel had offered conversationally to the Elf lurking about in the cloak.
"Past ridiculous," the cloak had responded.
"He'll spend tomorrow with Assassin, riding the fenceline, and he'll end it with him as well," Glorfindel offered. "He'll feed and water and groom that stallion when the sun goes down, and that's where you'll find him tomorrow night if you've a mind to do so, my friend."
If he had a mind to do so a mind to trap Elrond in that stall, where he would be unable to escape the small space if an Elf were to block the door. The Elf-lord could vault over the wall, but someone of Elrond's stature would certainly bang his head on the ceiling beam and look ever so silly crashing down into the manure. As looking silly was something Elrond was not in the habit of doing, Legolas thought he might actually obtain a conversation with his quarry that night.
He WILL talk to me then, Legolas thought. He WILL tell me why he has been avoiding me. No matter what I have done to him, I have had enough of this.
Vaulting lightly down from the garden wall surrouonding Elrond's terrace, Legolas headed down the gravel path and nearly ran into Erestor coming up the same path. The majordomo stepped back a pace, only to gasp in wonder and lean forward once more. Here, then, was the Elf to whom his master was bonded a slender, almost wraithlike creature with alabaster skin glowing in the moonlight, and feline grace and beauty. Legolas' long hair danced in the breeze, while shadows threw his cheekbones into high relief, rendering him sculpted in the night like brittle porcelain. This was what Thranduil had tried to destroy: this was what Elrond had brought back from the edge of death. And this is what Erestor wanted, no matter it belonged to another.
He grows more beautiful every week, and I want him, Erestor thought. His mistake was to breathe the thought aloud.
That blonde head came up, the glittering eyes narrowed. Legolas growled. I don't want you. He took a step forward.
Erestor leaped back and found himself standing off of the path with no memory of having made the conscious choice to stand there. The majordomo stared after the slender figure striding away from him in the moonlight. Legolas didn't spare a look back.
The way to survive the hurt of his heart, the pain and the guilt at having bonded with Legolas against his will, Elrond had discovered, was to stay with Assassin as much as possible. The still-powerful stallion did not care that his supposedly wise owner had forever betrayed the one he swore to protect above all others. Assassin eagerly accepted the treats and the oats that Elrond brought; the stallion munched contentedly on the hay Elrond delivered; he drank his fill of the water Elrond provided. Assassin's needs were simple, he did not call an Elf-lord to account for his deception. It was easier to manage a stable, Elrond discovered, than to seek love where there would only be guilt and condemnation.
The days passed and he accomplished much, but Elrond knew all too well that it was a false peace he had forged within himself. Glorfindel retreated nights to his chamber inside Imladris, while Elrond insisted that he preferred watching over the foals. It had been a reasonable enough thing to want during foaling season; he'd managed to see every foal on the ground and had lost no one through his diligence. But the need to sleep in the stable was weeks gone. Still he remained with the horses: his bed within Imladris remained empty, though he often returned to his chambers deep in the night at Glorfindel's insistence to discuss any number of things and to check on Legolas who for some reason had not abandoned Elrond's rooms to seek a place with the Mirkwood Elves.
"He's not going to join them, you fool," Glorfindel had scolded. "Legolas is waiting for you."
Why he was waiting, Elrond dared not contemplate.
Assassin waited for him as well, showing far more patience after the fire had damaged his lungs than the stallion had before. Horse and Elf-lord shared quiet, private time each night, when Elrond brushed down Assassin and combed out his mane. It was then that Elrond fell back into sharing confidences with his equine companion as he used to as a child in Gil-Galad's house, as he had later as a terrifed young warrior in Gil-Galad's army.
Tonight, all of the confidences had been told. Instead, Elrond busied his fingers by braiding a bit of mane: the Seal of Elrond might have been retired, but his singular braiding techniques still told all who might care to look that this particular stallion was his.
"Almost done," he murmured, patting the stallion's neck. Assassin's hay was long gone: the horse merely stood now, dozing under Elrond's kind hands, at peace with his master close by.
That peace ended abruptly and without warning when someone bounded into the stable only to leap over the stall wall, as easily as if it were not there at all. Whirling in the small space, Assassin lashed out with his hind feet, seeking to protect Elrond from the intruder and nail whoever it was against the stall wall.
Whirling with the stallion, the intruder murmured something Elrond could not hear. Placing a hand on the stallion's nose, he let Assassin catch his scent. Snorting, the stallion shifted his weight back and pawed at the dirt. In the end, however, it was all for show. Quieting, Assassin stretched his neck toward the intruder, who scratched above his nostrils and murmured softly.
"Be at peace it's just me."
The dust settled, the moon came out from behind the clouds, and there was no mistaking the glittering blue eyes, the silver-streaked mane of the Elf staring up at him from across Assassin's withers. Winding his fingers in the stallion's mane, Legolas began parting a windmat.
Elrond's shaking fingers sought the half-finished braid. Concentrating on it, he tried hard to figure out a way to gracefully or not so gracefully exit the stall. Problem was, the door was on the other side of horse and intruder: to leave, Elrond would not only have to clamber over Assassin, he would have to run over Legolas. It made little sense to trample and reinjure one you'd fought so hard to heal over the last two months.
The braid was finished; a windmat was conquered. Legolas reached for another, so did Elrond. Assassin began dozing again. Elrond's hands still shook. Other hands warm hands -- found his. Fingers folded over fingers, squeezing mane and reassurance between them.
"Be at peace," came the whispered admonishment, so softly that Elrond wasn't certain he had heard the words spoken aloud. Gathering as much courage as it had taken for him to face the Dark Lord on the slopes of Mount Doom, Elrond drew breath to speak.
"How are you feeling?"
A smile in the dark; a shadowed dimple for his trouble. "Much better. Almost myself, thanks to you."
He could think of nothing to say to that. Staring at Assassin's neck, Elrond stilled his fingers, wondered at Legolas' light tough as he picked a windmat over Elrond's hands.
"I miss you," the younger Elf murmured.
"I am right here."
"In body perhaps, and not willingly." Abandoning the wind-mat, Legolas curled his fingers around Elrond's. "Please be with me in this moment, speak to me. Tell me what I have done that you wish to avoid me so completely, and how may I make it right?"
Elrond's head came up at that. "You cannot think" he began, grey eyes searching Legolas'. "You've done nothing. I want only peace for you."
Legolas cocked his head. "Why would I not be at peace?"
"You haven't been well for some days."
"I am well now."
"Yes, I see that."
Legolas' smile faded in the next moment, his eyes widening and darkening in the same instance. Elrond felt his shoke, his withdrawal a moment before Legolas pulled his fingers away from Elrond.
"Oh, Elbereth," Legolas breathed, stepping back. "I can see it feel it. You you've bonded."
"I " The Elf's breathing grew more rapid. Backing against the stall wall, he splayed his fingers on the smooth wood behind him and stared at Elrond. Swallowing hard, Legolas tried once more. "I am happy that you have found someone to love. And I congratulate you on rendering ineffectual Thranduil's plans for the two of us. Well done, my lord."
"Please accept my apologies for not respecting your distance, I did not understand. Of course I will find somewhere else to live now that you have"
"Legolas" Elrond interrupted once more. "All is not as it might appear to be, but we cannot discuss it here." Please understand, others may be listening. Coming around Assassin, Elrond saw that the silvered eyes meeting his were filled with a sadness that only confused the Elf-lord. Laying a hand on Legolas' shoulder, he found that the Elf was trembling.
"I should not have sought you tonight."
"Yes, you should have. More than that, I should have come to you long before this. Will you return with me to my chambers and let me explain?"
A single nod. Silently, with his head bowed, Legolas followed Elrond from the stable.
How could I have been so stupid, Legolas wondered, heartsick and staring at the ground as he followed Elrond toward the main house, and why did no one tell me he has bonded with another?
The wondrous hope held in the moonlit night had faded completely. Tears welled up in Legolas' eyes, he brushed them away and forced them back with vicious effort. My father will not hurt him now, and I am free of the ill-conceived agreement to bond. I should be eager to celebrate his happiness and my freedom, Legolas thought. Why, then, do I feel only shock and betrayal?
Idly, Legolas realized they had moved into Elrond's private gardens. Falling back on the widening path, Elrond walked beside Legolas in silence for some distance. Glancing sideways at his companion, Legolas realized that some time in the past, no doubt while avoiding the prince from Mirkwood, Elrond had discarded his robes. He walked now in a tunic, leggings and boots resembling Legolas' own except for their darker color. He must have been spending a great deal of time with the horses, Legolas realized.
"I would speak with you alone," said Elrond, his voice low and quiet. "I would have no possible witness to my confession my shame."
Legolas' reply was equally as quiet. "I do not understand, my lord. Did you not journey to Mirkwood and free me?"
"I told you I was not worth the risk. Yet I cannot deny my gratitude that you came."
"I told you I would come. You are free of your father, he will never trouble you again."
Legolas nodded. "You are free of him, my lord, but I am not. I think returning to Mirkwood would be a great mistake on my part. I shall have to consider where to go."
Halting on the path, Elrond turned to stare down at his companion. "You would leave me leave Imladris so soon?"
Legolas stared at the gravel. "Forgive me, Lord Elrond, but I must be honest. I cannot remain here, cannot bear to watch " Swallowing heard, the younger Elf struggled to continue. "Your companion will not wish to have me about."
"My what?" Elrond rocked back. "What companion?"
"Celebrian is dead," Elrond said with some confusion. "You know that."
"Your new wife then."
"I have no wife."
Raising his head, Legolas looked hard at the elf-lord. "Am I to understand then that you have taken another male to be with you? Glorfindel perhaps?"
"Glorfindel?" Elrond shook his head in seeming bewilderment. "I don't know why"
Balling his fingers into fists, Legolas stepped forward, almost onto Elrond's toes. The smell of horse and leather and something indefinably Elrond filled his senses, making the rage billowing over him no less powerful for all that his heart sang to be close to the Elf lord once more. Clutching Elrond's arm so hard it would probably bruise, the younger Elf demanded, "Tell me what I did to become so abhorrant that you chose to mate with another?"
"I have not mated with another."
"You would add lies now to the distance between us?" Legolas asked, incredulous.
"I have deceived you only once," Elrond rejoined, his voice choked, "and that deception I shall pay for all my days, no matter it was meant to save your life."
"I would rather have died beneath my father's keep that have you abandon me now."
"I have not abandoned you."
"You heal me, only to mate with another and desert me?"
"I have not mated with another!" Elrond all but shouted the words. "Why would you assume this?"
"I am not blind, and you have bonded," Legolas snarled. "You have avoided me for weeks under the pretense, no doubt, of letting me heal. Your household watched while I searched for you, did not see fit to inform me that your bonding had taken place When, Elrond? Did you wait until I was scarce outside your gates before taking your mate? Or did you wait until after you had risked your life nay, the wellbeing of this very valley to bring me home from Imladris? Did your joining happen while I lay unconscious and abed?"
"It happened on the road to Imladris," Elrond said miserably.
"Then you did bond with Glorfindel."
"I did not. I bonded with you."
"I should have known it would be Glorfindel, no other choice would have silenced Thranduil so effectivelyWHAT?" Legolas stilled, his slender body tense, his blue eyes widening.
Two large hands came to rest on his shoulders. Elrond bowed his head and murmured, "My shame and my deceit, Legolas, is that I bonded with you on the road from Mirkwood. You were dying and unconscious, perhaps at the very gates of Mandos. Joining with you, I called you back. Selfishly, perhaps, but there you are."
"You took me."
Elrond's hands slid away from Legolas' shoulders. "Perhaps, one day, I shall see forgiveness in your eyes for this most grievous of deceptions, Legolas. But I am not sorry you are free of your father."
"We're bonded," Legolas whispered. "There is no one else."
"In time, I know that you will wish another. How can you not?" Elrond sounded miserable. "You will take a lover, someone who will not deceive you. In the meantime, your life is your own. Under my protection, you may leave Imladris and travel as you will, freely and without threat."
Turning away, Elrond made his way quickly down the path. Legolas trotted behind him, followed the tall Elf-lord up the terrace steps and into his chambers.
"You wish me to leave Imadris?"
"Never. But I know you will go." Settling slowly into his chair, Elrond picked up an arrowhead from the pile on his table. "How could you not go, for you are right: I have lied to you. Deceived you perhaps entrapped you as completely as your father wished." He turned the arrowhead in the candlelight. "You will never know how much I have enjoyed having you here having your things scattered about."
Slowly, carefully, Legolas came to sit in the chair opposite Elrond, to lean forward and listen intently as he continued.
"I used to watch from a distance, out there in the garden, while you made your arrows. Your bright head would bowcso intently over each shaft while you cut the feathers, tied on these heads. I would venture in after you had gone to sleep, knowing how deeply you slept in your fatigue. I would carry you to your bed and watch over you through the night. I have asked Elbereth to grant you happiness apart from me"
"Why apart from you, my Elrond?" A pale, slender hand reached out to stroke the Elf-lord's hand.
"You will not wish to stay with me. Not after this." Elrond set the arrowhead back in its pile. Sad grey eyes met Legolas' blue. Elrond's fingers curled around Legolas'. "I saved your life by stealing your eternity.'
"You have stolen nothing." Legolas smoothed Elrond's thumb with his own. Smiling faintly, he murmured, "Do you know this is where I sat that first night in your chamber? The first night I felt your touch?"
"I tried seducing you that night." Elrond looked away, his shame all too evident.
"Not seriously." Sliding out of the chair, Legolas knelt beside Elrond. Enfolding Elrond's hands in both of his, Legolas began stroking the soft skin on the inside of Elrond's wrist, let his fingers play with the Elf-lord's. "You must know that I've spent weeks searching for you."
"I do not know why."
"There are things I would tell you. Things I learned in the darkness."
"The darkness that is Dul Goldur?" Elrond whispered.
Legolas shook his head, continued stroking Elrond's hand. "Glorfindel and Mithrandir carry the message learned in that darkness. No the time I spent beneath Thranduil's keep was not ill-spent, and there are things I need to say. Things I now believe you need to hear."
"I came for you as quickly as I could."
"You should not have come at all." Lifting Elronds hand to his lips, Legolas unlaced his own hands long enough to kiss the Elf-lord's palm. Elrond's head came around, he stared down at Legolas, who offered a warm, shy smile. "You should not have com, but I am glad you did. I had much time to think in the darkness--too much time and too little to eat, I suppose. I came to cherish the memory of being here, in Imladris."
Elrond looked away again. "It is a peaceful place. I am glad you had those memories."
A slender hand captured Elrond's chin, pulled his face around gently. "I would ask that try you set aside the guilt you feel, as well as your assumptions regarding what I feel. Can you do that for me while we talk?"
Tired grey eyes filled with unshed tears. Slowly, imperceptively, Elrond nodded.
"I took out my memories of being with you, of being loved by you for I realized that your patience and your deep caring, as well as your letting me go, were all because you loved me. I took them out and I looked at them, lived them again one by one, over and over again. I missed you, my Elrond, and felt a deep sorrow that I would die with the rats and you would never know that I loved you as well. I came to realize that your vision of my imprisonment had not been of Dul Goldur, but of Mirkwood's prison, and I knew that I was doomed because I had not trusted your love nor listened to your fears."
"The days passed and the darkness never eased, so I did not know their number. No one came but the rats. They overwhelmed my small space, and I could not sleep. There was nothing to eat. I went a little mad, and it occurred to me that my time with you had been nothing but a dream." Turning his left hand, Legolas traced the seal of the House of Elrond. "And yet, I had this it was the only thing I had left, for I could no longer trust my memories. And thisyour sealit comforted me, for it meant my memories were real. Once, I had belonged to you. I wished then that we had bonded, for I wanted to belong to you forever."
"Surely that was the madness talking?" Elrond dared to whisper.
Legolas shook his head. "I am not mad now. I still feel the same way, and if you would but open your heart and your mind to our bond, you would sense that."
"I cannot. Surely you would stay with me only out of fear of your father--"
"I would stay because I love you. But I have more to tell you, and you promised to try setting aside your assumptions where my feelings for you are concerned."
"I did," Elrond rasped.
Bracing his arm on Elrond's thighs, Legolas turned his hand so that the seal of the House of Elrond was visible. Tracing the deep, white scar with one finger, Legolas said, "Do you remember the early days between us, Elrond? Remember when you coaxed me into letting you tend this wound? Do you remember what you said?"
"I remember tending the burn. I cannot remember ."
"You doubted you could force me into letting you take care of me. Do you still believe that?"
Elrond smiled faintly. "I doubt anyone could force you into anything, my prince."
"Then consider: how could you force me to bond with you? I was willing, else I would have died before you took me."
Elrond made a dismissive gesture. "You were unconscious. Unaware of my touching you."
"No. I remember."
"What do you remember?"
"A mist-covered moon, our resting on thick moss before sliding into a pool of dark water, and your lips on mine. Your body cradled my own and your chest was agaisnt my back, your breath was in my hair. Your warm hands tended me, you washed my hair and became upset when you poured water into my eyes. You held me safe and told me that all would be well. You wept as you thrust slowly into me, the water and something else easing your passage so that you did not hurt me. You kissed my ear and told me you loved me, and in my mind I welcomed your touch and answered you. I was happy, drifting against your soul, and wanted nothing more than to curl against your heart and let you take all of the pain away. You remember as well, don't you?"
"Yes," Elrond breathed, staring down at Legolas. "But how is this possible? You lay so still in my arms that night, and for hours afterward."
"I thought it was all a dream, that I was still imprisoned and having a very nice dream, but yes, I was aware and I wished my dream were real. You know that I did not fight you, Elrond, not in body, mind or spirit. I turned away from the peace of Mandos' hall and returned to be with you. Only you. Had I been more conscious, I would have made you aware how very welcome was your touch."
"How do you know it was me?"
"How do I know that Glorfindel interrupted and irritated you immensely that night?" Legolas laughed lightly at Elrond's startled look. "My dream was real. Yours was the voice in my ears, yours the arms holding me. Did I not press close to your heart as you filled me with your soul? I did not fight, nor did I flee to Mandos' halls. I was warm and safe and complete, and I wanted to stay with you. I no longer wished the rats to win or for death to take me. I wanted my dream to go on and on, why else would I be so angry tonight at the thought that you had bonded with Glorfindel?"
Elrond stared down at Legolas in amazement. "Glorfindel is a dear friend and I love him, but not once have I ever considered bonding to him."
"Not even to save me from Thranduil?"
"Not even then."
"That is well."
Was I so immersed in worry and dread that I missed your responses that night?" Elrond breathed.
Threading his fingers through Elrond's hair, Legolas reached up to kiss him gently. "Perhaps words of remembrance are not enough, my lord?" Laughing lightly, Legolas carded his fingers through the Elf-lord's dark mane. "Shall we repeat the experience? If so, I assure you that my contribution shall be more obvious this time."
"Are you laughing at me?" Elrond demanded.
"I am, because your guilt and your worry for nothing. I wanted nothing more than to belong to you. You cannot know how delightful it is to wake up and discover that it is so." Cradling Elrond's face in his hands, Legolas murmured, "Let us be happy that we are joined, Elrond."
"But you do not you cannot want me," Elrond protested.
"Back to that, are we?"
"What do you mean?"
Rocking back on his heels, Legolas scowled up at his mate. "This is precisely where we were the night you first invited me to join you here, in your chambers. Of coruse I want you."
"No, you don't."
"Why, if I do not want you, would I invite you to repeat our joining?"
"To reassure me." Those grey eyes held obstinence immovable. "I told you weeks ago that it is unacceptable that you would merely endure my touch."
"Endure you?" Cursing in Sindarin, Legolas threw himself into the chair opposite Elrond. "You are a most stubborn Elf-lord."
"I am," Elrond growled agreement. Sitting straighter in his chair, he confronted a slouching, frustrated Legolas. "You have said yourself that we have come full circle to where we began. Shall we see precisely how prepared you are this night for my desire?"
Leaning forward, Elrond lifted the hem of Legolas tunic. Holding Legolas' rebellious gaze, he untied the drawstring leggings and slid his hand inside. Legolas gasped but did not flinch as Elrond ran his hand across the Elf's bare stomach.
"Your muscling is once again tight and hard," Elrond observed. "You've regained what was lost in Thranduil's dungeon."
"I am glad you approve. I would also appreciate it," said Legolas, through gritted teeth, "if you'd not mention the King of Mirkwood while you are touching me. His name destroys the mood as it were, my Elrond."
"Of course. What was I thinking?" He all but smirked at Legolas and was rewarded with another Sindarin oath.
Sliding a hand up Legolas' thigh, Elrond felt hard muscle contract. "You are magnificent. Are you preparing to kick me as would Assassin?"
"Only if you stop." The blue eyes were blazing, the challenge offered by Elrond answered and flung back at the Elf-lord with that one sentence. Long fingers dug into the arms of the chair. A square jaw lifted, those elegant nostrils flared.
Proud stallion indeed, thought Elrond. Was the magnificent, shining warrior prince slouching before him truly the same Elf whom Elrond had rescued emaciated and delirious, already across the threshold of death's dooronly a few weeks before in Mirkwood?
Whatever happens between us, Elrond told himself with no small satisfaction, he will live. He may kick me in the teeth and stride from this chamber in outrage, but he will still be among the living. Is that not what I asked? Is it not all that I would ever dare ask of him, that he breathe and be in this world so that I might keep him safe even from me?
Perhaps it was all he had asked while carrying Legolas into the pool of water those few weeks ago, but the Elf-lord's hands were committed to asking other questions now: one of his hands was still caressing Legolas' warm, tight stomach while the other pursued a more dangerous path between the Elf's legs.
Legolas did not close his eyes when, for only the second time in their association, Elrond slid his hand inward, toward that most intimate, warm, and guarded of spaces. Moaning softly, Legolas dropped back his head, arched slightly, and spread his legs. "Please, Elrond touch me."
"I would hope she's not listening, but granting us some privacy tonight." His blue eyes had darkened, he arched again as his desire burgeoned, pressed against Elrond's fingers. A narrowing of the eyes, a soft growl. "Elrond ."
Elrond cradled his mate's need. "You . You're ."
"I want this and all else that lies between us," Legolas hissed. Sliding forward in the chair, he rested a finger against Elrond's lips. "The time of arguing the finer points of this bonding have ended, my Lord Elrond. You are taking me to bed, or I am taking you to bed. There, we shall re-establish our bond. All of your questions will be answered. All of your doubts will dissolve like Imladris mist. You will love me, I will love you, and that will be all that matters." His nose nuzzled Elrond's. "Agreed?"
"Agreed," Elrond breathed.
Strong, slender hands captured Elrond's. "'Then come and let us love each other."
As if in dream, Elrond followed Legolas to their bed. Extinguishing all of the candles but one, Legolas tossed aside boots, tunics and leggings until both he and Elrond were naked in the half-light. Kneeling on the bed, Legolas coaxed his mate beside him.
"I do love you," the younger Elf breathed against Elrond's ear before running his tongue along its shell.
"As I love you, my prince."
"Then trust me, Elrond, please, to know what I want. I already know what you want."
Shivering against teeth and tongue and hands that were so much younger than his own, but seemed somehow to know so much about touching him, Elrond surrendered and allowed Legolas to guide him down onto the sheets. Legolas lay over him then, stretched out across the barrel chest, fitting his long legs over Elrond's and his need alongside Elrond's own and resting, contented to be there.
"Touch me. Please just touch me," Legolas breathed once more, this time against Elrond's mouth while his own hands explored his mate with a joy and an eagerness the Elf-lord had never dreamed anyone could feel for him.
Elrond reached for the liquid light that was Legolas' hair and allowed himself the sheer, sensuous joy of carding his fingers through it again and again. Even as he did so, Legolas' lips were everywhere on his mouth, tracing a path up his nose an between his eyes, kissing his eyelids so that Elrond had to close his eyes against the light that was Legolas and the love that he not deny was now feel flooding their bond.
Softly, Legolas began to sing. The words and the melody wove itself around Elrond, so that he found himself lost in both.
"ALL the words that I utter,
And all the words that I write,
Must spread out their wings untiring,
And never rest in their flight,
Till they come where your sad, sad heart is,
And sing to you in the night,
Beyond where the waters are moving,
Storm-darken'd or starry bright."
W.B. Yeats, "Where My Books Go"
There was healing in the sound, more healing in the emotions pouring off of the Elf he held. Tears squeezed out the corners of Elrond's eyes, and Legolas wiped them away gently only to follow with kisses. "I would have the love we share hold no sadness for you."
"It doesn't." Elrond shook his head. "Your touch, your being has seen to that, my prince " Long, shaking fingers reached to undo the braids at Legolas' temple. "Legolas, you are so very beautiful to me."
"As are you to me."
That this spirit of light made flesh would deign to belong to him, Elrond could scarcely believe. But the outpouring of love and sheer delight he was feeling through their bond made it impossible for the Elf-lord to deny: somehow, at sometime, Legolas had indeed chosen to love him. The bond he had shared with Celebrian had never held such tenderness, nor such strength and contained power. I suppose that is the difference between bonding with Celeborn's daughter and a fierce warrior of Mirkwood.
"Elbereth bless the day you were sent to me."
"May she also bless the day you carried me from the darkness."
Lips and hands touched, grew more urgent until remembered pain receded and rapture discovered replaced it. The kisses and the explorations, the whispers and the touching continued long after the single candle burning in the chamber guttered and went out. The darkness held no fear for Legolas now, cradled as he and Elrond were in the first night leading into forever.
Ensconsed with Elrond's in his library the next afternoon while discussing the mayhaps and might-nots surrounding Dol Guldur, Mithrandir amused himself by lighting his pipe and creating creatures and things out of the ensuing smoke.
"You realize all of this is pure conjecture," Elrond reminded the wizard.
"I do. But it's always wise to consider from all angles a question so ponderous as this one."
"I question whether any of us are wise enough to see all of the possibilities inherent in the Dark Lord's possible return."
Elrond's attention was abruptly diverted by Legolas' striding in at near dusk. Perching on a corner of the desk, Legolas nodded in Mithrandir's general direction before leaning forward to accept the kiss Elrond offered. The conversation continued, but the wizard had the distinct impression the Elf-lord wasn't really paying attention to anything being said.
"Well, I think it's time I resumed my travels," Mithrandir offered. "I'm going to Lothlorien next. Legolas, would you like to come with me?"
"Hmm? What?" The bright blue eyes raised to meet his, but seemed as distracted as Elrond. "The twins are growing restless, you might ask them to accompany you."
"The twins?" The wizard scoffed. "I can't expect any sort of decent conversation from them. No, it's you I'd like to travel with me. What do you say?"
"I say no." Legolas offered a smile to soften the refusal as Glorfindel wandered into the library from realms unknown. "How are the horses?"
"Fine. What did I miss?" The legendary warrior threw himself into a nearby chair and beamed at his companions.
"You've missed Legolas refusing to accompany me to Lothlorian. What is this?" Mithrandir rounded on the Elf in question. "You're letting four walls and a stuffy routine contain you? Legolas, if you stay here in Imladris, you'll become as boring and mouldy as the tomes Elrond guards." Gesturing with his pipe, the wizard indicated the vast library surrounding them.
Legolas nodded. "Boring sounds good."
"Give it up, Mithrandir," said Glorfindel. "They're so besotted with celebrating their bonding, I can't coax either of them out to the stable any more."
"We've been distracted by other things," said Legolas. "It's not forever."
"Distracted? Is that what they're calling lying a-bed until mid-day, these days? Who'd have thought. Not to mention the gossip resulting from the activities everyone thinks the two of you are--"
"I'll visit your stable tomorrow," Legolas offered.
Glorfindel shrugged. "Predictable."
"Well, then ." Mithrandir said slowly, looking from Elf-lord to Elf prince. "I suppose that miracles do happen if you've managed to tame this one's wanderlust."
"I think you'll find that Legolas lusts after other somethingor someoneelse these days." Glorfindel smirked.
"Stop that," Elrond ordered.
"It's all right. I dont mind. He can say what he wants, he's just a bit upset I won't babysit him this spring."
"Babysit?" Mithrandir sputtered. "I'm quite capable of traveling by myself. I only fancied a bit of company"
"Talk to the twins and stop whingeing," Elrond ordered. "And both of youbehave."
Coming up beside Legolas, Mithrandir hugged him hard. "In all seriousness, Legolas, I am happy you have found a home at the end of a long journey I was certain would end in misery. For once, I am all too happy to have been wrong."
"Thank you, Mith."
"Be well, both of you."
"Come along, Master Wizard." Glorfindel rose from his chair. "Let's stop tormenting these two for a bit and see what's for supper."
"That sounds delightful." Winking at Legolas, the wizard followed Glorfindel from the library.
"Are you certain you don't want to go with Mithrandir to Lothlorien?"
"You know I am." Leaning down, Legolas invited another kiss.
Passing Glorfindel, Mithrandir was startled when the elf-lord paused on the threshold to look back.
"Now there's a sight I never thought to see."
Glancing over his shoulder, Mithrandir saw nothing amiss. Turning, he observed Legolas still sitting on the corner of Elrond's desk, while Elrond searched through a stack of papers for something that seemed to be elluding him. The soft murmur of voices reached the two, but no words could be made out.
"What did you never think to see?"
Staring down at the papers, Legolas snagged one and offered it to Elrond, who smiled and took it.
Glorfindel gestured. "Those two. One at home, claimed, and contented to be so. The other at peace, loved, and contented to be so."
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