"So it's true that Elves don't feel the cold?" Ivy asked breathlessly, shedding her borrowed coat, frozen mittens and many scarves onto the kitchen table while Legolas joined the others in stamping his feet and shaking off the snow.

"It is true to a degree," said Erestor, clearly unhappy with the indoor snowfall and the ones who had brought it, "else my kitchen would be buried in winterwear, wouldn't it?"

Bundling up the offensive clothing, he shoved through the swinging door, presumably to return everything to Haldir's mud room.

"Seems to me that some Elves like warm coats in this weather, else they wouldn't own them," Ivy grumbled.

"When Erestor gets back, will he order us to clean up the puddles we're making on his nice, clean tile?"

"He might ask it," Elrond acknowledged.

"But not of Elrond or me." Glorfindel gloated.

Legolas scuffed a booted toe through the melt-water. "It is my floor, is it not? There's not that much water, and it will dry soon enough."

"I dare you to point that out when Erestor returns." Sliding an arm across Legolas' shoulders, Glorfindel hugged him tightly. "You've been living just beneath the Arctic Circle, so this must be naught but a balmy spring day to you."

"It's a bit too breezy at the moment for my liking. And for the record, I wore a bear in Alaska." Wet streaks of melting snow trickled down Legolas' forehead. Shaking his head, he pelted his father with water droplets.

"Ai! Stop that, you wildling!" Leaping back, Glorfindel swiped his face with a sleeve. "You've been in the woods too long. All your manners have gone."

"Sorry. Hermit habits, I suppose." Catching up his hair, Legolas squeezed the long strands tight between his fingers to strip more water down its length. "But your own snow is dripping away, so I can hardly see how my wetness makes any difference."

"It's the principle of the thing. This is my snow. You should keep yours to yourself. Slinging it around like that, it's like dealing with a wet dog." Any sting the words might have carried was dissolved by Glorfindel's grinning as he delivered them.

A barely damp Elrond stepped away as Ivy made to follow Legolas' lead with her own wet hair, and Ivy eyed the Elf-lord.

"How did you manage to stay dry?"

"The raw silk of my robes repels the snow and wicks away the water."

"Disgusting, isn't it?" said Glorfindel.

"But your hair isn't made of silk, and it looks dry. A bit waved on the ends, but dry." Reaching up, Ivy dared to run her fingers through Elrond's black hair where it fanned across his shoulder. Once she had started, she seemed reluctant to stop. "Oh, your hair's wet on top, but entirely dry underneath. That is too neat."

"That is what comes of having a Maia in one's family tree."

Elrond glanced at Glorfindel. "What has that to do with anything?"

"Surely you remember 'The Lay of Leithian' with its wonderfully clear description of your ancestor? 'There Melian came, the Lady grey,'" quoted Glorfindel, "'and dark and long her tresses lay, beneath her silver girdle seat and down unto her silver feet.'

"I remember," said the Elf-lord, sounding well and truly irritated. Shivering slightly as Ivy continued playing in his hair, Elrond reached up and took her hand gently in his. "I do not have hair down to my feet, and I do not understand what you are trying to impart."

"I've met your great-great-great-grandmother Melian the Maia," the golden Elf pointed out, "so I happen to know you have tresses just like hers - long, thick and black - with graceful little curls on the ends. My point is that Ivy is right - the hair on top wicks away the wet while the hair beneath stays dry, just like Melian's. Or a horse's. Take your pick, it's a never mind to me."

Tucking his hands into his long sleeves, Elrond gritted his teeth and gave a long-suffering sigh. "Glorfindel, I believe you and I should locate Haldir and ascertain if anything has happened in our short absence. Legolas, would you mind--"

"Seeing Ivy safely upstairs? I would be honored."

Without a further word to any of them, Elrond turned on his heel and left the kitchen.

"Forgive me for asking," said Legolas to Glorfindel, "but are you disinclined to follow in Elrond's wake like an obedient gosling when he makes exits like that?"

"Not at all. I'm pleased that I managed to irritate him so much that he felt the need to leave the room in a marked manner." Squeezing Legolas' shoulder, Glorfindel headed for the door.

The swinging kitchen door hadn't stopped swinging behind the two Elven lords before Ivy perched on the edge of the kitchen table and gave an insolent smile. "You'd be honored to escort me upstairs? Do I detect some sarcasm in Adar's request, not to mention in your reply?

Legolas looked at her blankly. "Why wouldn't Elrond ask me to see you safe?"

"After the territorial display you two put on out in the barn?"

"I don't know what you're talking about." Legolas tried his best to look oblivious. "Perhaps you would like to warm yourself before the fire in the dining hall before we go upstairs?"

Legolas was saved from any further mistruths by Erestor's return. Planting himself before the only exit into the house proper, the Elf raked Legolas with an assessing gaze before offering a fierce scowl.

"How are you doing, youngling?"

"She's the youngling." Legolas pointed at Ivy.

Erestor's pointed gaze only grew more intense.

I see that nothing has changed with the passage of a half century, Legolas thought. Better to answer than to argue the point. Any point.

"I am much better now that the vote is concluded, thank you for asking." Legolas tried to avoid looking like the nervous Elfling he'd just been reduced to.

"And how did you enjoy the bread?" Erestor pursued.


The tall, austere Elf crossed his arms. "Let me guess, Little Leaf. You fed two choice slices of my fresh-baked bread to a horse - my stone-ground wheat bread covered with the best honey, no less, which was brought specifically for your pleasure all the way from my Warra beehives. I do think of you, you know."

It was not a question, but a statement that Legolas knew was founded on Erestor's having known Legolas since the moment he had been a half-starved wildling brought from Mirkwood.

Legolas fought to avoid fidgeting beneath that all-seeing gaze. The urge to scuff the toes of his boot against the flagstone floor was almost irresistible. So was the urge to bolt out the back door. I absolutely refuse to regress to the fearful child I was. Not now, and not in front of Ivy. I have faced orcs and a cave troll, Saruman and a balrog, the paths of the dead and an ocean of uruk-hai. And Eowyn when she insisted I stay for supper.

"Erestor, this is no way for us to greet each other after fifty years." Legolas spread his hands in entreaty. "I have missed you, not just your cooking."

"Be that as it may, Little Leaf, you will--"

"Legolas didn't waste the bread. Really, he didn't." Ivy jumped in to save him. Again.

Legolas felt irritation flare. She cannot make a habit of this. I am supposed to be protecting her.

"It's not his fault," Ivy babbled on, her blue eyes all wide-eyed innocence. "I held the plate too close to one of the stalls, and a filly stole the bread."

She twitched a little, but remained silent under the severe, unsympathetic gaze that had made every Elfling - even bold Elrohir - shiver in his finely made leather boots back in Imladris before blurting out a confession that yes, he had been scavenging the kitchen stores between meals.

Ivy, it seems, is made of sterner stuff than the average Elfling, thought Legolas. So far, anyway. Come to it, didn't young Aragorn manage to raid the stores and evade Erestor's suspicions once or twice? ONLY once or twice? I am not worth your incurring Erestor's wrath, so do be careful, Ivy.

Gliding away from the door, Erestor loomed over Ivy to deeply intone, "Really?"

Folding her hands primly before her, the girl tilted back her head, the better to continue matching the assessing gaze of the second most intimidating Elf in all of Imladris. Legolas found himself holding his breath in dread or anticipation - he wasn't quite certain which - as to how this confrontation might play out.

"Really," Ivy repeated with conviction. "It was that pretty little chestnut about halfway down the aisle. I never saw her coming."

Ivy didn't so much as blink, and Legolas prayed she didn't twitch again, either.

"I am sorry to have been so careless." She was all sincerity. "Is there any bread left?"

Erestor gave the girl a long, baleful glance that was worthy of Sir Philip Sydney's legendary catoblepas before hmphing and finally turning away. "There's more bread under that cloth and honey in the ceramic pot on the stove, but yourself will have to serve himself. I've the dining hall to clean and supper to prepare for you lot."

And then he was gone.

"Yes, my lord inquisitor," Ivy whispered at the kitchen door that swung in Erestor's wake before she swung her attention to Legolas. "That was scary."

Laughing softly, Legolas made his way to the bread and honey.

"Erestor can be." Taking knife in hand, he cut two thick slices of bread. "Hold these."

"I thought you said you weren't hungry."

"Erestor will check the width of his loaf after we've gone upstairs." Drizzling honey over the slice Ivy held, Legolas was careful not to drip any on the stove or the oven. "Rest assured that if I fail to eat the slices he thinks appropriate, Erestor will have no qualms about delivering them to me in the middle of our meeting."

"You're joking."

"Alas, no. He would also stand silently by until I ate what had been brought. Wouldn't that look lovely on our official tapes of the meeting? 'And here's footage of Lee Greenwood the Third and his nanny on Lee's first day with us.'" Legolas took the other slice of bread. "I dare not try to stomach both of these. I'll have this one. You take that one."

"Um, okay."

Checking the teapot on the stove, Legolas set it back with a clank.

"Cold." He wrinkled his nose. "Thank you for your help with Erestor, but I'd advise against repeating it. You were playing a most dangerous game."

"Game? What game?"

"Misleading him regarding the bread. He despises being deceived."

"I didn't mislead or deceive him," Ivy insisted. "The mare did take the bread - or tried to - and it was my fault." She shrugged, then looked up at him, her expression at its most innocent. "It's the simple truth, right? Besides, nobody could have eaten that cold, hard mess once it got to the barn. Erestor doesn't have to know you wouldn't have eaten it anyway."

She licked at the honey sliding down the side of her wrist. "I wouldn't dare lie to Erestor. Elrond may have eyebrows of doom, but Erestor...his eyes burn, and it feels like they'd suck the truth right out of you. You know, I may have to paint a fire-breathing dragon with Erestor-eyes if only to get that glower of his out of my brain."

Legolas offered a grim smile. "I know from long association how those eyes can haunt the guilty."

"Wow, this is good! But we need liquids," Ivy informed him around a mouthful of bread. Opening the refrigerator, she took a can of soda. "Have you always been such a reluctant eater?"

"Only when under undue stress." He eyed the can of Diet Coke in Ivy's hand. "Why do you and Elladan drink that?"

"Because it's good." Taking a sip, she gestured with the can. "You don't know what Diet Coke is?"

"I know it is made by the same people who make Coca-Cola, which my Inuit neighbors sometimes brought home from the Meyers Chuck General Store. I tried it once but found it too sweet. I prefer Scotland's own Irn-Bru."

"The honey lover says Coke is too sweet? Interesting. But I agree with you, for what it's worth. I don't like regular Coke either. But this..." She held up the can as if to toast its very existence. "This, I swear, is the elixir of life. Especially when you're trying to write a term paper at two in the morning or cram for finals."

"The elixir of life?" Legolas frowned. "Isn't that a bit redundant if one is an Elf? Admittedly, until I revealed your Immortal heritage, you did not know you would neither die nor grow old--"

Ivy giggled. "I'm sorry, I was speaking figuratively. As far as I know, the Mortals are still looking for the fountain of youth. Diet Coke is just a another version of Coca-Cola with fake sugar. It's a lot less sweet, and it packs a real kick."


"It burns." She grinned at his continuing confusion. "The first sip is cold and good, and it burns going down. I don't know why I like that, but it's great. Afterward, you feel it hit your bloodstream."

"So it is similar to our uisge-beatha?" He continued off of Ivy's blank nod. "Uisge-beatha is Scots Gaelic for the water of life - whisky. Your Diet Coke is alcoholic?"

"Nooooo. Remember dinner in New York? You've seen what happens when I drink anything with alcohol in it. Besides, as disapproving as Adar is when I try drinking Diet Coke at breakfast, I don't think he'd let me have it at all if it were alcoholic." Ivy hesitated. "Look, liking it isn't something I can explain, so why don't you simply try some?"

She handed over the can, and Legolas gingerly took it as the fragile aluminum bent under his grasp.

"Oh, come on," she teased when he hesitated. "You know it can't be nearly as bad as whatever Gimli used to drink, and you survived that."

"How do you know what Gimli drank?"

"You're stalling. Drink up or give it back."

Shrugging, he did as she suggested. Taking a long pull, Legolas closed his eyes and swallowed hard as he felt the burn going all the way down into his empty stomach. That, I presume, is the kick?

He presumed wrong. Five seconds later, he was slammed with an awareness like no other Legolas had ever felt before. Uncurling from his belly, it streaked like lightning up to his brain. He felt blessed - no, he felt exhilarated - with an instantaneous, searing energy that extended to every limb and made his fingers tingle. As did the tips of his ears. And then, Legolas suddenly found he had the clear, crisp vision he'd hitherto experienced only before and during battle.

Hoping to repeat the searing sensation, he took another, much longer pull.

"Hey, Mikey? I think he likes it," Ivy murmured.

"I do like it. Even though I have no idea who Mikey is." He offered Ivy the can. "You asked me to return this?"

"After you've already drained half of it? No, you keep that one. I'll get another from the trolley upstairs." She gave him a shy look. "You do like it, then? Honestly?"

"It's lovely."

And it was, this almost manic feeling that he had more than enough focus and energy to do anything, take on anything, anyone might throw at him. Juliens of the world, beware!

Legolas' heart was pounding happily in his chest, and all of the clouds had dissolved from his mind. Everything was perfectly clear and ultimately simple. With only two sips of Diet Coke, Legolas' world had finally righted itself and he felt much closer to the strong, confident Elf he had been before meeting Isabel Hamilton. And it was all thanks to the little silver and red can in his hand. Why didn't anyone tell me how wonderful Diet Coke is ?

With alacrity, he finished his bread and the can of Coke. And then, boldly sliding a hand about Ivy's waist as she stood watching him with what seemed great amusement, Legolas gestured toward the door.

"Shall we?"

"I think we should," she agreed. "We've seen what happens when you're late."




Ushering Ivy through the kitchen door, Legolas wondered how he had failed to notice until now just how nice the new Queen's Daughter smelled. She was also a lovely little thing, especially when she smiled at him. There have been so few smiles for me for so long. The one from the very odd shopkeep in Meyers Chuck does not count.

Moving down the hall, Legolas reflected on how good it had felt to hold Ivy so close and for such a long time in the stable. It wasn't only because he hadn't held an elleth in over fifty years, or because he knew she had actually been warmed by his efforts, but also because Ivy herself seemed to be warming to Legolas in ways Isabel never had.

She obviously trusts me and seems comfortable with me, he reflected. She even seems to enjoy talking with me - a situation in my life that seems almost as rare as the smiles have been.

Might she accept my friendship as Isabel never could? he wondered. She has already been instrumental in saving my people, my home, and Greenwood itself. I have not yet told her how grateful I am for that, and I must.

Yes, the Diet Coke made everything plain. It was good to be able to think clearly again, for Legolas felt as if he had been too long in the fog of weariness, both of body and soul.

He all but tucked Ivy beneath his shoulder while his fingers rested at the small of her back, the better to guide her down the hallway, and he found himself disinclined to hurry her along. Instead, Leglolas allowed himself to savor the simple, intimate way her long, soft auburn hair stroked the back of his hand.

Lovely child of Aragorn, if you still enjoy my company by the end of this chaotic week, I think we may be friends.

Right there and right then, Legolas decided it might be acceptable were he to companion Ivy over the next few days. In the time we have left to share before she leaves for Warra, might she come to welcome me in her life not only as a protector, but as a friend?

Her grandmother did not, Legolas' conscience and a craw full of bad memories intruded. Ultimately, Isabel would not, remember?

Legolas pushed away those thoughts, wanting instead to focus on the new possibilities contained in the newest Queen's Daughter.

Isabel Hamilton is dead by her own actions, if not by her own choosing, he thought. Ivy radiates life. I have gained nothing by hiding in the past and replaying dark memories. There is life now, in this bright young Queen's Daughter at my side. Is it not best to focus on the hope and new future she offers?

The bad memories laughed at Legolas, while Isabel's disparaging voice and scornful features floated forward in his mind. She continued prickling him regardless his newest and most fragile of hopes that were buoyed by whatever mystical formula the makers of Coca-Cola had bundled into their wondrously restorative drink.

It is one thing for Queen's Daughter to let you keep her warm in a freezing stable, said the wreck of his memories. Even Isabel accepted your saving her life once or twice.

Legolas snarled at the memory. She accepted my help with ill grace.

She did, agreed his wrecked memory. Which is why you'll admit now that it was one thing for the former Queen's Daughter to grudgingly accept the help you promised to offer her line, and quite another for you to imagine this new Queen's Daughter might welcome whatever pathetic overtures of friendship you might think of offering. You should dare hope for nothing behind duty. Not now, not ever.

And why not?

You have a history of being too intense, his memories pointed out. Isabel clearly told you so. Repeatedly, did she not?

I am well aware of my shortcomings in that department. If Ivy rejects my overtures, I will take the hint, as they say, and continue protecting her. Even from myself. It has just been so long that anyone seemed to like me as she does. I must try--

A hand snaked out from the ballroom's darkened doorway as Legolas and Ivy passed by. Strange fingers closed on the Elf's arm, trying to snatch him off balance and into the room.

Halting, he struck away the hand and whirled on the threat to place himself immediately between it and Ivy. Lungeing forward, Legolas grabbed someone by the shoulders and hauled them out into the corridor.

"Sweet Elbereth," hissed the fragile blonde Elf between his hands. She winced as Legolas squeezed her arms a bit too tightly. "Oh, ouch. That's going to leave a mark."

He released her instantly.

"Tamurile." Stepping back beside Ivy, Legolas offered a slight bow by way of apology. "My pardon. I hope I didn't hurt you."

"Of course you didn't." Her smile was as bright as Legolas remembered it, even if she was still rubbing her arms.

"I was anticipating...dreading...someone else," Legolas explained, feeling somewhat foolish. "The meeting is about to begin. Why aren't you upstairs?"

"Because there are things - major things - we need to say to you," Tamurile snuck a look up the corridor. "Only to you, okay? Come on, we don't want company."

Tugging at his sleeve again, she backed into the ballroom and gestured for Legolas to follow.

"We? In the dark?" Wary, he followed the elleth into the shadows beyond the door. Ivy hovered on the threshold behind him, not allowing so much as her feet to touch the shadows.

"Maybe they want to tell you about the falling cherubs," she muttered, "though I think I'd rather do that from outside of the room."

"We're leaving that to Haldir," said Tamurile.

Her hands were on him again, stroking his arm and even his chest. Sensing that the Elf was seeking her own personal solace rather than trying to irritate him with her uninvited touch, Legolas tolerated the contact.

But it's not nearly as welcome as having Ivy's hand on my arm, he noted.

"This is lovely cashmere, Legolas, where did you get it?"

"Cashmere?" He glanced questioningly at Ivy.

"I think it's one of the sweaters we picked up for you at ?"

"Well, it's exquisite."

Half concerned and half amused, Legolas followed Tamurile further into the shadows. There was no guile about her, and she was just as Legolas remembered her - the same delicate, adorably frantic Elf he'd watched come of age in New York City during the insane twenties. Tamurile had enjoyed an exuberant, impulsive life as a Flapper, and from Glorfindel's imitation of her, Legolas knew she was still probably still enjoying a life of fun and spontaneity in Los Angeles.

Some Elven friends called her Tam, Mortals knew her as Kiki, and Legolas thought the ridiculous nicknames suited her like no other. He knew that she and Isabel had been fast friends, at least until Isabel had forgotten how to 'have a good giggle', as Tam had put it.

That would be until Isabel went off the emotional deep end. Does Kiki still blame me for the changes in Isabel? he wondered fleetingly.

He knew there was a time in New York City when Tam had been more than willing to throw Legolas beneath a streetcar for the way Isabel claimed he was treating her. Long months after his arrival in Meyers Chuck, Haldir had forwarded a letter from Tam that began, 'I could have told you she was bonkers if you'd asked.'

Shaking away the memories, Legolas focused his attention on the elleth before him. "Whom is the 'we' who simply have to talk to me?"

Tam gestured behind her, and three figures stepped out of the shadows reluctantly.

Sindohte, Alasse and Verce, Legolas noted. I should have known it would be all of those whom Julien caught in his trap. These four didn't say a word during the morning session, but they would now end whatever vow of silence they shared? They don't look any more pleased to be here than they did around the conference table this morning. He braced himself for whatever they might choose to hurl at him.

"I am willing to listen, but we have very little time before the meeting begins," he cautioned.

"Please, Legolas?" Hugging herself, Tam looked as if she might cry and took a deep breath before meeting his gaze again. "Please, it will only take just a second. We have to say this now. Not afters, okay?"

"Very well," he relented. "But briefly, as we are already in danger of being late."

Sindohte stepped forward. To Legolas, she looked exactly as she always had, with the tall, thin body of the prima ballerina she had been for decades. Her black hair was pulled back severely from her perfect, cold features, and the haughty Elf went first to Ivy, who still seemed unwilling to actually step into the ballroom.

"I am grateful to you, new Queen's Daughter, for having the courage to stand up to Julien and prevent him from taking possession of all we have worked so long to build."

"No problem." Smiling tightly, Ivy kept sneaking glances upward.

Does she fear bats? Legolas wondered.

Sindohte turned to Legolas. "I am sure Lords Elrond and Glorfindel relayed the events that led up to our voting against you. I cannot speak for the others, but it is my hope that one day you may find it in your heart to forgive me for my betrayal."

Legolas wanted to ease the elleth's emotional pain, but past emotional wounds and the anger still burning from the morning's events prevented him from offering forgiveness in that moment. Instead, he laid his hand over his heart and silently offered a formal nod of thanks. It seemed to satisfy Sindohte, who stepped back into the shadows to allow quiet, unassuming Alasse to sidle up before Legolas.

Bravely trying to meet his gaze and failing, Alasse wept quietly. Pale, fragile and sensitive in the extreme, Legolas knew her as the most vulnerable of the four ellith serving on Greenwood's board. Her tears seemed to put out some of the fire raging in his heart, and compassion rose to take its place.

Taking her gently by the shoulders, Legolas murmured, "Alasse...were you the first to reveal things beneath the Elven lords' insistent questioning?"

Sobbing harder, she slid her arms around him and clung.

"Goheno anim," she managed. Forgive me.

Legolas couldn't help but remember how willing she was to accompany him when Lee Greenwood the Second had to position himself in American society and tour the east coast in the Forties. Quietly regal and ethereal, as Marina Palermo she had been the perfect public companion. Calm and elegant, she had deferred to him in all things, the ultimate gentle lady of society.

"We've made terrible mistakes and turned ourselves into wretched thieves." She spoke the Sindarin into his sweater, so quietly that even Legolas had to strain to hear the words through her tears. "I'm afraid you'll never forgive us. Never trust us again."

"Nothing's as bad as all that," he told her in the same language. "Haldir and the others have worked hard this day to make everything new again."

She looked up at him with tears streaking her cheeks. "Do you really mean that?"

"Did you want to vote for me earlier today?" he asked softly. Sobs stole Alasse's voice, but she nodded vigorously. "Then the rest is merely bookkeeping," said Legolas, "and of no importance."

His reassurance did nothing to lessen the storm inside her. Tamurile, who had been circling both of them to blatantly listen in, slipped closer to hug Alasse.

"Give over a moment, Legolas?"

Sighing, Alasse draped herself over the latest port in her storm. "He doesn't hate us after all. And it's such a relief to have everything finally out in the open."

"So you're, like, crying because you're relieved? Oh, that makes total sense." Tam gave her friend a little shake. "Cry on me. Cashmere isn't made for it."

Glancing sidelong at Ivy, Legolas met her rueful gaze and matched her thin smile as if to say, Yes, we are trapped here as long as the floor show lasts. What else can I do?

Alasse sobbed even harder. "We hurt Legolas, and so very nearly hurt all of Greenwood. I never expected to be in the middle of this sort of intrigue, and I hate it, Tam. Absolutely hate it. It all sounded so simple when we started out...."

Sidling away to join Ivy at the door, Legolas murmured to her beneath Tam's ongoing proclamations of reassurance.

"Gentle Alasse has spent a great many decades preserving her archive of Mortal folklore. She directs a small museum in Manhattan for just that purpose, and has tolerated Julien's sneers as to its value for years."

"Why does he sneer at her?" Ivy whispered back.

"Because Alasse believes Mortal folklore and archetypes have value and deserve to be preserved. She's always gotten on with everyone, Mortals as well as Elves. Until this debacle, I've never seen her as anything but calm and serene."

Tamurile stroked her friend's hair. "Julien messed with all our heads, but he hit Alasse the hardest. I think she may have had the most to lose in our investments gone so foul. She also thinks it's all her fault, which it's not."

Coming back into the light, Sindohte crossed her arms and looked down her very long nose at Alasse's emotional display. "Do pull yourself together, child. Elrond is waiting, and we've the afternoon to get through. Julien has behaved like nothing lately but a bad Mortal. What joy it would bring him to see you like this - all splotchy and bloodshot."

That only had the effect of making Alasse cry even harder.

"Don't be mean, Sindohte." Tam hugged her friend. "Alasse wanted to call Elrond months ago - didn't you, pet - after our movie went lead. But the rest of us ixnayed it. Julien offered to be our angel puppy, but now he's morphed himself into a total bitca."

A fourth Elf stepped out of the shadows to stand beside Ivy, who was still hovering on the threshold and taking it all in silently.

"This is a terrible introduction to us, isn't it?" said Verce.

"No! Not at all," Ivy stammered.

"Nonsense. We know we've made total fools of ourselves. All of us deeply regret trusting the little monster, but it won't ever happen again, will it?"

A chorus of heated, determined no's answered that question. Even Alasse voiced a hiccupping no through gritted teeth and a lifted, if trembling, upper lip. She then took the tissues Sindohte produced, seemingly out of thin air, to wipe her eyes and blow her nose.

Tamurile snatched two of the tissues to blot at the wet spot Alasse had left on Legolas' shoulder. Startled, he stepped back, only to offer a wary smile when she apologetically offered the tissue. Taking it, he took over the job himself.

Ivy was still sending nervous glances toward the ceiling, and Legolas looked up himself, but the darkness was too deep to reveal anything.

There's no telling what things beyond tissues Ivy thinks they have back there in the shadows, he thought. Come to that, she might be right.

"No one could have foreseen what would happen," said the prima ballerina, offering more tissues to the ring of Elves, regardless no one else needed them. "As Elrond pointed out, we've all learned something."

"What might that be?" Legolas couldn't resist asking.

"Our first lesson is to not get swept along and lose all common sense," proclaimed Verce. "We were quite helpless to deal with Julien ourselves and it shows how desperate we were to even try. Now, it is time to apologize to you and then, I think, it is time to recommit ourselves to Greenwood and move forward."

Turning to Ivy, Verce laid a hand on her arm. "Thanks to your vote, we all have a new beginning."

"But I'm not the only one who voted against Julien," Ivy protested.

"You cast the deciding vote, mellon nín. That is what matters." Verce insisted. "You stared Julien down and did what we all wished we were strong enough to do ourselves. Yes, Ivy. You gave all of us a new beginning."

"Best we not muck it up, either." Tamurile gave Allasse a squeeze.

The tearful elleth squeaked her agreement before giving a final sniffle.

"Best not ask me to invest in future schemes, either," said Verce.

Murmurs of absolute accord met that order, even by Sindohte, whose dream had started the entire thing.

"For the record," Verce continued, "we are all in agreement that you, Legolas, are perfectly suited to run Greenwood, now and forever. There was never any question of that in our minds at any time."

"I don't know about forever, but I thank you for your confidence in my efforts this moment."

"We're ever so grateful that you've retained control of Greenwood," said Tamurile. "So grateful we're not all looking forward to slaving away for Julien's sybaritic pleasure."

Turning to Ivy, she continued, "You do know that Julien Lovell's nineteenth-century hobby was courting and seducing the daughters of the gentry, don't you? He absolutely ruined them."

"Ruined them?" Ivy echoed, clearly at a loss as to what this meant.

"Absolutely. He made any number of them believe he wanted to marry them. Then he took their virginity, gleefully revealed it to their fathers, and laughed when each man - quite predictably and according to the tradition of the time - threw his teenaged daughter out onto the street."

Sindohte nodded agreement. "In polite Victorian society's eyes, the girls were fit for nothing but Whitechapel prostitutes after Julien was done with them."

"And he was proud of it!" Tamurile spat. "Do you know what he said? 'They shouldn't have given the cream to me if they thought I wanted all the milk.' Wendy told us he finished up with, 'They're only Mortal, after all.'"

Leaving her threshold of safety, Ivy moved closer to Legolas. So much closer, he could feel her trembling beside him.

"Legolas?..." she breathed, her attention hard on Tamurile and waiting for whatever other demonic details might be revealed in this clandestine meeting of minds.

Capturing her fingers, Legolas held on tightly. "It's all right. We won't let Julien near you."

"No, we won't," said Tamurile, adamant. "Not so much as a half-pinch near you."

What does that mean? Legolas wondered as Ivy pressed even closer. Once again, he slid his arm around her waist. This time, he did dare tuck her in tight beneath his shoulder.

"We wanted to thank you - both of you - for helping us all escape Julien's clutches, and we wanted to say it before the meeting started again," Tamurile concluded.

"You are most welcome," said Legolas. "It was a simple matter to resolve once you included us in the intrigue. I also find it rather satisfying to thwart Julien in yet another episode of nastiness. And now, I think we had all best get upstairs for the second portion of our meeting."

"Yes, we'd better," said Verce, "else you know Elrond will come looking for us."

Much relieved, three of the ellith tumbled from the room. Darting down the corridor, they all but raced one another for the stairs leading to the floor above. Verce remained behind with Ivy and Legolas to approach at a more dignified pace.

"You have been most courageous and done very well so far," Verce said to Ivy as they climbed. "Elrond can't stop mentioning to me how proud he is of you."

"I only did what my instincts said to do," Ivy protested. "That's what everyone kept telling me to do."

"Many other Queen's Daughters have not had those instincts." Verce favored Ivy with a cool stare at the top of the stairs before sweeping into the library ahead of Ivy and Legolas.

Pausing at the snack trolley, Legolas rejected a container of Irn-Bru in favor of a second can of Diet Coke.

Looking somewhat stunned, Ivy whispered at his elbow. "You know, when Elrond introduced me to Verce this morning, I didn't think she liked me."

Still holding her fingers captive, Legolas pulled her gently against him, the better to converse without being overheard. "You didn't think I liked you when we met, either."

"No, I knew you didn't like me." Her smile was tremulous. "Didn't like having me on the plane, anyway. And I knew you didn't like my family."

"I do now."

She blinked at him. "You...what?"

"I like you. Very much. And there are times when you remind me very much of Aragorn." Legolas indicated the snack trolley as Ivy gawked openly at him. "There are more Diet Coke. Cokes. Which is correct?"

Plucking one from the arrangement, he offered it to Ivy. "Would you like one for yourself this time?"

"Nooooo." She was still staring at him and looked every bit as stunned as she would have, had Legolas hit her over the head with the butt of one of his long, white knives. "That is, not right now."

"That is well." Legolas nodded. "We shall save it for later and share it between us."

Laughing softly, Ivy wrapped her free hand around Legolas' arm and hugged it to her. "Your mood seems to have improved."

"Does it?"

"Yeah. A lot." She was standing so close, he could see the simple joy reflected in her eyes.

Blue eyes, he thought, so full of promise and innocence. As were Aragorn's until the blessed Evenstar, tattered dreams and the two kingdoms turned their expression to tired sadness.

No matter what happens, Ivy MacLeod, I shall work all of my days to keep that sadness from your gaze, he promised silently.

Aloud, he remarked. "It's amazing what mucking up Julien's plans, getting back my own company, receiving four very sincere apologies, and realizing what a joy the newest Queen's Daughter is - not to mention her sharing her Diet Coke with me - has done to improve my mood."

Tightening his hold on Ivy's hand, Legolas led her into the library.



"You're late!" snapped Julien, sitting slouched in his chair at the end of the table. Ivy noted the weasel had changed clothes and brushed the foliage out of his hair. He pointed dramatically at them, sighting a poisonous glare down his forefinger. "Elden, you will be sending these two out the window as you did me, won't you?"

"They're not late, it's only just gone two," said Haldir, seated in Legolas' old chair beside Glorfindel. A subdued, still red-eyed Alasse was seated next to him. "You see the mantel clock just over there, where the long finger is pointing at twelve while the little finger is--"

"If you want the finger--"

"Thank you, gentlemen," Elrond interrupted, not bothering to look up as he shuffled his papers. "Julien, you made a habit of making us wait and were warned against tardiness prior to your expulsion. Ivy and Lee have not and will not. In point of fact and as Halden pointed out, they are not late."

Sighing dramatically, Julien flung himself back in his chair, making it creak in protest. Legolas offered him a neutral nod as he settled Ivy into her seat beside Elrond. Sliding into Elladan's vacated chair beside her, he busied himself with cracking open his newest can of Diet Coke.

So he's next to me while Julien's a world away at the end of the table? Ivy noted. Good plan, I like that. Wish the table were longer, though.

She shivered as Julien aimed a nasty look in her direction, but as it glided on to include Elrond, Glorfindel and Haldir, Ivy assumed it wasn't anything too personal. Not wanting to risk Julien realizing she was tracking his gaze, Ivy settled her attention on the golden Elf of Gondolin who was seated opposite her. Arching an eyebrow, Glorfindel gestured subtly at Legolas' Diet Coke.

Holding up two fingers, Ivy mouthed, "It's his second one."

Glorfindel widened his eyes only to roll them and shake his head in obvious disapproval.

He's likely thinking what I'm thinking,Ivy realized, that Legolas hasn't really slept or eaten in the past few days, so the caffeine spike will make him act like a wind-up toy on speed. If nothing else, it should be fun to watch.As long as I manage to stay out of his frenzied path.

"It's time we began," said Elrond. "Let the record show that Daniel Meyler will not be joining us this afternoon, as he had to return early to Wales. I have been authorized to vote on behalf of him and his brother, David Meyler. Lee, would you like to say a few words regarding the direction Greenwood will take in the next few months?"

"Of course. I plan to famliarize myself with the new technology Julien mentioned earlier today and ascertain if any of it poses an actual threat to us. I will also evaluate our financial situation and--"

"No, that's immaterial at this point. Not to mention premature."

All heads swiveled to focus on Julien. And so, the tantrum begins. Ivy sighed inwardly.

"It is neither, Julien," Elrond informed him icily.

"I demand a revote."

Slowly, regally, Legolas turned to face the upstart at the end of the table. "You what?"

"You heard me," said Julien. "It's clear that Halden miscounted, and I want us all to vote again."

"Here now," said Haldir. "I know how to count to thirteen!"

"It's clear to me that you don't. I was willing to assume it was an honest mistake, this miscount, but perhaps you deliberately altered the recording of the vote? Get your good friend - not to mention your landlord - back in power?"

"Why you little--"

"Peace, Halden." Legolas raised his hand as Alasse cringed against Verce at the Elves' rising anger.

The marchwarden turned his outraged expression on Legolas. "Peace? I don't want peace with him. I want the little bugger to do what anyone else would do - swallow his tiresome hubris and accept defeat...with ill grace, since I know very well he's incapable of doing so with good grace."

"I will not accept defeat because I did not lose!" Julien snarled. "Your reaction only proves to everyone that you quite deliberately miscounted my votes."

"I most certainly did not!"

Why doesn't Elrond put a stop to this? Ivy wondered as Verce took Alasse's hand and began whispering reassurances. Alasse's going to shatter if this keeps up much longer. Squirming in her chair, Ivy looked at the Elf-lord and gave the quietest of whimpers.

Never shifting his focus from the combatants, Elrond murmured ever so softly, "Wait, daughter."

"It's a small enough thing Julien is asking," Legolas said smoothly. "Why not vote again?"

Ivy whipped her head around to stare at the Mirkwood Elf, who was settling back comfortably in his chair with a blatant insouciance that rivaled Julien's. Gone was the gloomy, half-beaten creature of the morning. In its place was a confident, smirking warrior who seemed to anticipate whatever was to come. He also finished draining his second can of Diet Coke while Ivy watched.

Is he mad as well as pumped up on caffeine? Ivy thought. What else could explain his wanting to watch while everyone votes against him all over again?I don't want to see this, but I can't very well cover my eyes.

"Thank you so much, Lee." Julien offered a death's-head grin that was all gritted teeth and narrowed eyes. "It's good to know that you, at least, know the meaning of fair play. Let's vote now."

"Oh, yes, Elrond, let's. We do so love voting, don't we?" Tamurile smiled happily at Julien and nodded encouragement at the others seated at her end of the table.

Alasse and Verce immediately sat up straighter, and it seemed to Ivy that the entire table stopped breathing. She knew she did. Elrond actually looked startled, though it was very fleeting.

"Very well, we shall have a revote," said the Elf-lord. "I trust a show of hands will suffice this time? There is no need to take time going one by one. All those in favor of Julien Lovell becoming chief executive officer of Greenwood Limited, please raise you hands."

Two hands went up. That's...only Julien and Wendy?

"I count two votes in favor of Julien." Elrond sounded bored. "All those in favor of Lee Greenwood the Third being retained as chief executive officer of Greenwood Limited, please raise your hands now."

A plethora of hands reached for the sky, while Tamurile leaned against the table and stretched her lily-white fingers as high as they would go.

"I vote for Lee!" Wiggling her fingers back and forth, Tamurile began swaying as though she were in a football stadium and nearly collided with Sindohte, who leaned away from Tam's enthusiasm while keeping her own hand aloft. The smile Tamurile favored Julien with expanded into a canary-eating grin.

"I count nine in favor of Lee," Elrond stated, "and my proxy votes for David and Daniel are also in favor of Lee. Therefore, let the record show that the second vote was carried two to eleven in favor of our retaining Lee Greenwood the Third as CEO of Greenwood Limited."

Ivy cheered inside as the former Lord of Imladris' gray eyes regarded Julien coldly.

"The second vote you requested is now concluded, and I trust you are satisfied with the results. You had more than ample time to count the votes yourself."

Ignoring Elrond, a bewildered Julien addressed the table at large. "This isn't right, it's not the way it was supposed to happen. Why are all of you voting against me? I thought we were friends."

"Oh, no, we're not friends." Leaning over the table until her chin very nearly touched the surface, Tamurile fogged the wood with her breath and giggled. "You're wicked, tricksey and false, Julien. You don't have any friends."

As if on cue, the four deceived ellith chorused in unison a la Gollum, "Nobody likes you."

Ivy bit her lip to keep from laughing, but Glorfindel roared in delight. And..yes, Ivy was sure Elrond was trying with little success to hide a smile.

Julien pouted and looked pained. "I don't understand."

"What's to understand?" Tamurile pushed on. "You're a mean little boy, and you're a loser. That's L-O-S-E-R--" Putting thumb and forefinger to her forehead, she sang, "Na na-na naaaaa--"

"You must do it right-handed, remember, dear? Else the L is backward." Verce demonstrated.

"Oh, you're so right. Sorry." Switching hands, Tamurile grinned and began again. "Na na-na naaaa...."

Once more, the four ellith joined in to sing, "Hey, hey, hey, good-bye!"

Julien rose unsteadily to his feet. Gripping the table's edge, he looked from Elf to Elf as the color rose in his face.

Wow, thought Ivy. I've never seen an Elf go purple before. Is he going to explode?

"How the bloody hell could all of you change your votes?" His pupils dilated, his voice lowered to a chilling growl. "Have you forgotten how much you owe me? Have you forgotten what nasty things I rescued you from? Things could still go very wrong without my support," he added in a blatant threat.

"We owe you nothing." Verce's stately tone dripped ice. "You've been paid in full, including interest."

"That's a wretched claim. It's impossible!" The sneer was back in place.

"It is not impossible," said Sindohte. "Halden wrote the check at luncheon, and Wendy signed receipts for all of us."

"Wendy did what?" shrieked Julien. He whipped his head to the left and stared in disbelief at his sister.

Wendy winced. "I've asked you not to shriek like that, it hurts my ears."

"I'll bloody hurt your ears if I want to! Why in the name of Elbereth did you take a check from Halden, of all people?"

"Because the money was owed you," Wendy said reasonably, "and you've always got me taking payments for you. You were off trying to make yourself look presentable after playing in the snow - and after ruining yet another Armani suit, I might point out. I had to take care of the business for you."

"Not for these four, and certainly not from Greenwood on their behalf!" He flapped ineffectively in the direction of the ellith. "You insolent idiot, you've gone and ruined everything!"

"I've ruined everything? How have I ruined anything? You've never - not once in a hundred fifty years - told me not to accept a cash payment. If you'd let me in on your silly schemes, maybe I'd have known--"

"Didn't you listen to a word I said coming up here in the car?"

"No." Folding her arms, Wendy sniffed and looked away. "I didn't listen because you're such a bore, and you keep talking about the same things, over and over. How you want to rule the world, and how clever you are, and what wonders you're going to do when you get your hands on Greenwood. One can only listen to you for so long, Julien."

Reaching down, Julien wrenched his sister's arm so hard, she spun around on the hard wood chair. "Look at me when I'm speaking to you. There is more to life than a bloody shoe collection and you, sister, are even more stupid than I thought. Everything, absolutely everything, depended on those loans."

Taking a deep breath, he waved a hand of dismissal in Wendy's direction while she gaped at him and cradled her injured arm. "Never mind. I can fix this. We'll just tear up the check."

"There are receipts, Julien! Elden asked for them, you see. Four of them, made out to Kiki and Marina and--"

"Receipts!" Throwing himself back in his chair, Julien stared up at the ceiling. "Oh, bloody bleeding hell!"

Looking as if she had entirely lost the former genial attitude she'd had toward her brother, Wendy fixed Julien with a look that would have done well on a cobra. "Kiki's right, you're absolutely horrid. You've bruised my arm and stretched my favorite sweater until it's ruined, and you've no reason to yell at me like this - most certainly not in front of my friends - and I have had enough of you."

Leaving her chair, Wendy stalked behind Verce and Alasse. Where is she going? Ivy wondered as Wendy passed Haldir and Glorfindel to approach Elrond at the far end of the table. Sliding a hand up the Elf-lord's arm, Wendy stared up at him beseechingly.

"Elden, I want to change my vote. I'm voting in favor of that clever, well-mannered, gentlemanly Lee Greenwood the Third and against this nasty little upstart, Julien Lovell."

Elrond regarded her solemnly. "The vote has been officially tallied, but I suppose we could make an exception this once and change your vote of record."

"Thank you." Continuing past Elrond, Wendy continued around the table to settle herself gracefully in the empty chair beside Legolas, which Ivy assumed usually held Elrohir, and pointedly turned away from the fuming Julien.

Tamurile leaned past Sindohte to grin at Wendy. "Way to go. And hey, Julien? I think your idea is way cool."

"What idea?" he snapped.

"To tear up that little checkie. Go ahead," she goaded. "It'd be really awesome if you turned out to be so generous. Do it now, okay? I want to watch."

"Very well. Give me your receipts," Julien demanded, holding out his hand.

Tamurile laughed. "Are you nuts? No way am I giving you my receipt, and neither are the other girls. Right, girls? In fact, I'm giving mine to Elr--to Elden for safekeeping."

All four Ellith produced hand-written receipts which were slid, in unison, up the table away from Julien. Wendy helped send them on their way to Elrond, who calmly slipped them off of the table and into an invisible pocket.

I'd like to watch Julien try to get those away from him, thought Ivy.

"Now, Julien," Tamurile pressed. "About that shredding party?"

"Shut up." Leaning forward, Julien pointed and sighted down his finger at Ivy, who jumped to suddenly be the focus of those cold, heartless eyes. "You know, it just occurred to me that this is all your fault. You're right, Ivy MacLeod, you're nothing like your mother."

"Julien," said Elrond, sounding twice as dangerous as he had in the hallway the night before. "That's enough."

"You're a hateful cow," Julien steamrollered on. "If it weren't for your stupidity and pigheadedness and refusal to vote for me, I'd have won hours ago, and Greenwood would be entering a new era. Instead, we're stuck with that--" Julien shifted slightly to point at Legolas. "An incompetent reject from old Mirkwood who knows more about picking up sticks and making precious wee arrows for obsolete weapons than he does about successfully running an international holding company."

"Wait just a minute." Ivy tried to jump in. "Leg...Lee doesn't deserve--"

"I am not finished, don't you dare interrupt me again!" Julien sprang to his feet. "Queen's Daughter, they call you? That's a joke. I didn't want to believe it, but Marian was right - all you know is how to waste time. You're nothing but an insane, obsessive little art-hag who understands nothing beyond your pretty papers and childish watercolors! You're worthless, Ivy. Utterly worthless as well as naïve and too stupid to accept guidance from your betters."

Ivy wanted nothing more than to answer Julien in kind, but a sob caught in her throat as she heard echoes of her mother's voice in the cruel Elf's words. Oh, Ivy, you're entirely obsessive about your pretty little painted horses, aren't you? How hopeless. It's absolutely insane how you're studying only art and wasting all that lovely money the government's given you.

Mom complained to Julien about me and my art? Determined not to give the mean Elf the satisfaction of seeing her cry over her mother's betrayal, Ivy balled her fingers into fists. Getting to her feet, she was vaguely conscious of Legolas matching her move for move. The energy coiled in the lithe body beside hers promised violence to come, and even as part of Ivy looked forward to seeing it, she knew she wanted first shot at the sociopathic Elf at the end of the table.

Julien may be able to upset and frighten me, but I refuse to sit here and cry like some helpless little girl. Raising her chin, Ivy reached for the leashed fury spiking beneath the hurt. Digging her nails into her palms almost hard enough to draw blood, she willed the pain to dissolve the lump in her throat and give her back her voice. A heavy hand slid across her shoulders, and Ivy suspected it belonged to Elrond as his robes brushed against her side, but she deliberately focused on the hateful, leering Elf at the end of the table.

"Kiki's right, Morno." Her voice was scratchy and came out far tighter than she would have liked, but at least she could be heard, and no tears were threatening to fall. "You're a mean bastard, and you're way out of line."

Elrond withdraw his touch at her first words, and Ivy's knees shook as she realized the Elf-lord was leaving her to defend herself. She would have liked nothing better than to turn and throw herself into the Elf-lord's protective embrace while Legolas dealt with the Elf from hell, but something more than blind instinct was shouting as it never had before that she shouldn't back down against the aberration that was Julien. She couldn't allow anyone else - not even Legolas - fight this particular battle for her.

It's not just that I'll likely lose the respect of every Elf here if I crumple like a wet noodle, she thought, her head throbbing as adrenaline flooded her veins. It's that if I don't defend myself, I think I'll lose all respect for myself. And not only that...I really, really want to hurt Julien for bringing my mother into this. I have so had enough of him.

"We're not here to discuss my pretty papers or my watercolors and the subjects thereof," she continued. "But for the record, little man, I work in acrylics and oils."

She paused to savor the naked disbelief Julien was displaying that she would dare contradict him.

"Perhaps you need reminded that this is a board meeting." Her voice gained strength and speed as she let a bit of the rage out. "In any case, stop trying to use me as a scapegoat. Greenwood's board has voted twice on your proposal, and it's been defeated twice. I suggest you shut up, suck it up, and let us get on with the meeting."

"I'm sorry, Ivy, but I don't take orders from hopeless little girls who are barely out of their dirty nappies." Julien's sweet smile would have looked warm on a shark. "You need to run along and play. Elsewhere."

By the time Ivy registered the insult and recognized the low growl at her side, Legolas was gone.

"You pig." Shoving back her chair, Ivy meant to follow the warrior-Elf moving toward Julien, only to have Elrond's arm snake around her waist to pull her back against him.

"You need to stay here, daughter." Elrond's voice rumbled against her.

Helpless against the Elf-lord's muscles, she could only clutch at his hands and watch helplessly as Legolas threw aside the chair Julien was trying to use as a last-minute shield. Grabbing the younger Elf around the throat, Legolas lifted him off of the floor. Sputtering half-strangled protests and clawing helplessly at Legolas' fingers, Julien was turning an interesting shade of red.

"Sweet heaven, he's going to kill him," a horrified Ivy whispered.

"Legolas is not going to kill him."

Ivy felt rather than heard the reassurance over the screeching racket Julien was making as Legolas carted him toward the window behind Haldir's desk.

Fascinated, Ivy settled against Elrond and watched as Julien once more was tipped backward out the window. His fingertips squeaked as they slipped off the window frame on the way by.

"You will not speak to Queen's Daughter that way," Legolas growled.

Despite his clawing at anything else within reach, Julian was shoved gracelessly out into the empty air. A muffled thump followed shortly, and Legolas whirled as Julien set up a piteous wailing below.

The warrior-Elf breathed hard as he stood, tense and battle ready. His nostrils flared as he confronted the silent table full of Elves. "Would anyone else care to comment? I'll gladly accommodate the next volunteer."

No one dared move, and even dignified Verce's eyes were wide with alarm. Ever so slowly, Glorfindel turned to regard Ivy and Elrond who stood as motionless and silent as the rest of them.

So this is the true meaning of dead silence? Ivy thought. Why is Glorfindel looking at me? Doesn't he know how to handle a pissed-off protector-Elf who also just happens to be his son? Come to that, everybody here has known Legolas for years, so why involve me at all? Maybe they don't want to say anything for fear they'll be next? Maybe the newbie is expected to throw herself in front of the bus?

"It's okay," Ivy murmured, meeting those fierce blue eyes and wondering if she would be the next one punted out the window for daring to speak to the untamed one. Summoning a thin smile, she continued, "Really, it's okay, Lee. I've been called worse."

If I could only touch him, I might be able to get through to him, she thought. But Elrond didn't release his hold one little bit as Legolas didn't back down.

He's still looking for something else to fight, Ivy realized. It's all that caffeine, I'll bet. And Glorfindel's still staring at me.

"Let go a minute," she told Elrond. When he didn't respond, she followed up with, "Trust me, I know what I'm doing." I hope I know what I'm doing.

The moment he relaxed his grip, she lunged for the table to grab the Elf-lord's pen and one of the abandoned binders housing Julien's proposal. Scribbling quickly, she held up what she'd written and gazed hopefully at Legolas.

"Oi?" Glorfindel said quietly. "What's oi?"

Ivy looked at what she'd scribbled.

"Oops." She spun the pad around. "Sorry, I was holding it upside-down. It's not an oi, it's a ten." She looked around the table, only to meet uniformly confused looks. "You know, a perfect ten? Olympic scoring and all that? I'm giving that launch ten points out of ten."

Help me out here! She looked hopefully at Glorfindel, who broke out laughing.

"No, that wasn't a ten," he contradicted. "I've seen better. I've done better, just last year. It was perhaps a nine-point-five, but I think Lee's initial grip on Julien was a bit sloppy. Good distance out, though."

Tamurile giggled, and with that the tension in the room dissolved. Elrond returned to his place, Legolas paced around him to take his seat once more at Ivy's side, and the smile he bestowed on her even seemed to reach his blue eyes.

"Thank you," came the Elvish. Taking a deep breath, Legolas shivered like a great cat and seemed to settle.

"You're welcome," Ivy returned in English, not daring to risk her inferior Sindarin. "You really did rate a ten."

When everyone was once more giving Elrond their full attention and the Elf-lord had returned to the meeting's agenda, Legolas' fingers captured Ivy's beneath the table. Her heart leaped when he seemed contented to continue bracing her hand on his thigh as Elrond held forth.

'You really did rate a ten...' Legolas tucked her words away in his heart and spent the rest of the meeting surreptitiously watching the new Queen's Daughter.

I saw Aragorn in her eyes again this afternoon, he noted. Her chin is his as well, I think...lifted in courage as he did before confronting the Mouth of Sauron. Terrified, but setting aside his fear to stand against an intimidating, manipulative enemy. Like Aragorn, Ivy seems to have humility enough to yield before Elrond. And before me.

Can she possibly be so different from Isabel, who wanted to be every Elf's equal, if not their superior? Does she know that despite Julien's empty insults, she definitely belongs among us? Might she actually be at peace in this castle full of Elves, and with me, as Isabel never was?

Legolas didn't know, but he had the curiosity and patience to hold Ivy's hand and to let the days pass until he discovered the answers.


Continued here

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