Child's Play Part 3 Fellowship of the Ring

*****

Legolas rode into Rivendell with his guards close behind. He dismounted and looked around, as always, impressed by the beauty of the city. There was something odd though, something unsettling. "Deluiel, do you feel something out of place?"

"No."

"I do," Sadorlien stated. "It feels like the shadow of the woods is here."

"I think both of you are over-reacting. It was just too quiet of a trip. Legolas, I think you'd best find Lord Elrond and tell him before anything else can go wrong."

"I am not looking forward to this conversation."

"I'll take your horses," Sadorlien offered. Deluiel glared at him and handed over the reins. Legolas sighed and did the same.

"Time to face the music I suppose. It would be too much to ask that Gandalf and Aragorn weren't here, wouldn't it?"

"Yes."

"Blast." Legolas made his way to Elrond's study. He knocked on the door.

"Yes?"

"It's Legolas, sir."

"Come in." Elrond looked up with a smile. It faded slowly as he took in the serious expression. "Should I call Gandalf?"

"I wish you wouldn't, but better to tell it all at once. If Aragorn is here, he should be called too."

"He is. He arrived a day ago with the hobbits. But then, you don't know about that yet. Have a seat. Both of you," he said pointedly to Deluiel.

"No, Lord Elrond. I will stand."

"You don't trust my household?"

"No, sir. I don't. Things have been rather odd lately. I'm not taking chances." Elrond summoned a page and set him off to get Gandalf and Aragorn.

Legolas didn't sit down, but rather paced in front of the bookshelf looking for something to attract his attention for a moment.

"And how is Thrandiul, Legolas?"

"He is himself."

"And that means?"

"We grate against one another." Elrond inclined his head sadly.

"Yes, Lord Elrond?" Strider asked as he came in the door. His eyes widened in surprise. "Legolas," he greeted. "Deluiel. This is not going to make me any lighter of spirit is it?"

"I should think not."

"Move along, Strider," Gandalf chided. "Legolas. Deluiel. Elrond. What has happened?"

"The creature Gollum has escaped," Legolas said, not making eye contact with anyone in the room. He stared at the spines of the books.

"How?" Gandalf demanded.

"He was taken out for fresh air. He climbed to the top of his favorite tree and refused to come down. Ravenclaw set guard on him. Then, the forest was overrun by orcs. It was the most brutal attack they have staged in many years. Ravenclaw is missing. She is either dead or wishes to be. In the confusion of the attack, Gollum escaped. We don't know if it was prearranged or if the creature had the good sense to take advantage of the situation." Aragorn didn't like the icy tone.

"Thranduil allowed a prisoner out of the dungeon?" Gandalf said in surprise.

"My lord has not been his usual charming self lately," Legolas said sharply. "But I too disagree with his actions in this matter."

Elrond looked closely at the prince. "Because of the loss of life or something more personal."

"Something a bit more personal than I am willing to discuss in this company."

"This is hard news. Mirkwood was entrusted with. . ."

"Spare me the lecture, Mithrandir," Legolas interrupted. "There is nothing for you to say that we have not already accused ourselves of." Gandalf nodded. "I would like to know, however, why the creature was entrusted to us."

Gandalf looked at Aragorn. The ranger sighed. "Thranduil doesn't approve of my talking to Legolas when I'm there on other business. Since I'm just a ranger and a pet human to boot."

"He just thinks you stole Arwen from me," Legolas contradicted. "I was in the lower borders when Aragorn finally arrived at the palace. I got the message too late to catch up with him. And my lord did not see fit to explain why Gollum was to be kept, only that he didn't want the message to be given to Lord Elrond by anyone he might feel the necessity to strike down." He turned to face his audience finally. Gandalf shook his head.

"I don't blame Thranduil for sending someone with a less sharp tongue than his usual messengers. Gollum was a ring-bearer." Legolas' eyes snapped up. "For nearly five hundred years he held the one ring in his grasp. In the Misty Mountains."

The brown eyes narrowed. They were changing swiftly to blue as Legolas' intensity increased. "And where did the ring reside before that?"

"In the silt of a riverbed."

"A river. It was in a river. A river that I should know very well, right?"

"Yes."

"As in that. . . that thing has been at the edges of Mirkwood for centuries?"

"Millenia to be more precise," Gandalf said sadly.

"And that is why the Necromancer was in the woods. He was searching for it."

"Yes."

"And my lord knew this? Or suspected?"

"He did not know. We did not know." Legolas closed his eyes.

"And some sixty turnings ago it left our forest."

Gandalf's brows rose. "And how did you guess that, Greenleaf?"

"You don't understand what damage that abomination of workmanship did," Deluiel said. Her anger was pure. "It poisoned that forest. The shadows were drawn to it and it made the Greenwood dark. Mirkwood does not have the protection that resides in Lorien or in Rivendell. Perhaps that is why the effects were felt so strongly." She sighed. She looked at Legolas. "It would appear I owe you an apology, Legolas."

Legolas stared at her in shock. "Did you just admit to being wrong about something?"

"The ring is here. The shadow of the wood is here."

"You had best tell Sadorlien he was right."

"I'm not leaving."

"You need some rest. You've not slept for the entire trip."

"Neither have you."

"Yes, but I'm younger." She shook her head. "My lord, is there anything else I can tell you?" Legolas asked.

"Nothing that can't wait until later. Frodo is still recovering."

"Frodo?"

"The hobbit that now carries the ring."

"Hobbit?" Legolas looked at Aragorn.

"I'll explain," the ranger said. "If you'll excuse us?"

Elrond nodded and they left. Aragorn's hand settled on the elf's arm for a quick squeeze. "Before I explain, did I?"

"Did you what?"

"Steal Arwen?"

Legolas looked at him in surprise. "No. I love her as a sister. And even if you did capture her attention from me, then it would mean that my feelings weren't returned. It would be far worse to have maintained a fiction of love." Legolas smiled gently. "She is so besotted by you, my handsome child." He straightened Aragorn's tunic and brushed a strand of hair back from Aragorn's cheek. He winked. They started walking again. "Now, talk. What is a hobbit?"

"A halfling." Legolas stopped dead.

"A halfling?"

"Yes."

"As in mythological being?"

"Not so mythological. They're quite nice actually. You'll like them."

"I'm sure." Legolas ignored the statement. "And how did they get the ring? And how many of them are there?"

"Well, Bilbo picked it up about sixty years ago." Legolas put a hand up.

"Don't tell me. He's the burglar who managed to get into the dragon's lair?"

"Yes."

"Oh, this is getting better and better. And they like dwarves."

"Legolas," Strider sighed, "have you ever even met a dwarf?"

"I'm not allowed to go to the mountains." Legolas shot a poisonous look towards Deluiel. "And Thranduil didn't let me see his prisoners. Well, considering the fact that they escaped before he could should be counted in his favor, I suppose."

"Then reserve you judgement until you do meet one." Aragorn settled his hand on Legolas' arm, gently guiding him in the direction of Arwen's rooms. "Bilbo kept the ring for sixty years, then passed it on to Frodo. Frodo was attacked by the Nazgul as we attempted to get him here. He was wounded. Arwen brought him all the way. Gandalf and Elrond are seeing to his healing."

"Fine. I suppose I'll be off in the morning then."

"Oh, no, no you won't."

"What do you mean?"

"Simply put, I'm not letting you leave."

"Oh, and how do you plan on stopping me, human?"

"By calling on my older brothers."

"That's cruelty."

"Ah, the twins speak so highly of you Legolas."

"Ai! Deluiel, save me."

"No, my little leaf. I think this is probably for the best. Just think before you take any rash action."

*****

"Council meeting? You want me at a council meeting? Are you insane, my lord?" Legolas questioned Elrond.

"No. I know for a fact that your father trained you for something like this. Besides, you trained the majority of the counselors from Rivendell that will be there. I expect that you will be able to control them if I cannot."

Legolas raised a brow. "You lose control of your own counselors?"

"Two of them are my sons."

"Ah, that explains everything. Can I hurt them if I need to?"

"No."

"Darn."

Elrond chuckled. "I won't even make you dress up."

"Thank goodness. I didn't bring anything formal enough for a meeting."

"I've asked Deluiel to be there as well. She has a good head on her shoulders."

"True. But a very sharp tongue."

"I'm not foolish enough to anger her. Perhaps Bilbo will let you read his tale of his adventures."

"A history I haven't read?" Legolas perked up.

"Yes."

"Wonderful. And where is this Bilbo?"

"I'll introduce you."

*****

Legolas glanced around the circle of people. He avoided staring at the dwarves as he wanted. Aragorn gave him an exasperated glare for a moment. Elrond glanced at both of them with a stern "obey or die" glare. He had perfected it on his children many years before. He welcomed the council and told them of the true purpose of their gathering. Frodo brought forth the ring and set it down with a snick on the raised stone in the center of the circle. Legolas fought the automatic clenching of his fists. He didn't notice that he was frowning at the small gold more than he was listening to the meeting. All he could sense was raging darkness and flames and he didn't like either one. He was brought back to reality by the destruction of the dwarf's axe. Then, the human wanted to use the damned thing. "It must be destroyed," Legolas asserted.

Boromir continued his rant. Legolas was willing to let him run out of steam, but he insulted Aragorn and Legolas couldn't let it pass. "He is no mere ranger. He is Aragorn son of Arathorn, and heir to the throne of Gondor. You owe him your allegience." Legolas glared firmly at Boromir, eyes shining. He was in the right of the argument.

"Sit down, Legolas," Aragorn said calmly in Elvish and Legolas looked at him in frustration. Couldn't the man see that he was going to be king whether he wanted it or not? Boromir sulked back to his chair and Legolas reiterated that the ring needed to be destroyed and the dwarf snapped. Legolas looked down at him with mild disgust. He automatically spread his arms to keep the other elves out of what he saw as a personal problem. He'd been introduced as being from Mirkwood. Not as the heir by his own request, but none the less, there was bad blood between the elves and the dwarves. This dwarf's family in particular. Then, the whole room had erupted. Legolas was almost surprised to see Deluiel launch into a diatribe. She looked to be arguing with another elf though so he ignored it and looked to Aragorn. The elves that had been flanking him were smart enough to not cross the line he'd created. Then, Gandalf started in on the dwarves.

A quiet voice stopped them all dead. "I will take it. I will take the ring to Mordor, though I do not know the way."

Gandalf joined the halfling. Then, Aragorn swore his feality. "You have my sword. If by my life or death I can protect you, I will do so."

"And you have my bow," Legolas stated. Deluiel's eyes grew stormy behind Aragorn's head, but Legolas' eyes weren't focused on her.

"And my axe," Gimli stated. Things moved quickly then. Boromir had stated that he would see it done. Then, Frodo's friends joined them. Legolas exchanged one last glance with Aragorn before Elrond announced that they were nine. It was fitting. Nine companions against nine Nazgul. Legolas made sure he had a reason to stay with Gandalf for a few minutes to let Deluiel calm down before he told her to take a message to his father. Oh, he wasn't looking forward to that conversation at all.

*****

The first hint of trouble disturbed Elrond and Gandalf where they were sitting and plotting in the corner of the great hall. There was a final feast to prepare the companions. Of course, Elrond had realized that Legolas was missing. He'd thought the younger man was finishing the book that Bilbo had lent him. He winced when the voice carried to his ears. "What were you thinking?"

He dropped his head. "Deluiel. I should have foreseen this."

*****

"I was thinking to do what needs to be done," Legolas snarled right back at his guard.

"You can't just drop everything and go following after a halfling into Mordor!"

"I can and I will."

"You get more like your father everyday," Deluiel said. Legolas winced at the barb, but didn't let it derail him.

"If that means I am stubborn enough to do what I think is right, then thank you for the compliment. I will go on this journey. And you will go home to take command of the guard as Ravenclaw would want."

"I will not walk away from you. You will not go alone."

"I will not be alone. I am not a child any longer Deluiel."

"You are still my responsibility."

"Our responsibility," Sadorlien stated. "I am not going to let you leave me behind."

"And I am not going to put you into danger. I need you to talk Thranduil down. And you are one of the few people that can charm Cariel."

"We are coming with you."

"You are going back to Mirkwood. With the ring on the move the danger at home will increase. The Shadow will use everything at its disposal to destroy anything that is good."

"I will not let you do this."

"You cannot stop me, Deluiel. I do not want to order you to do this. I want you to listen to me and follow my judgement for once."

"My prince," Sadorlien broke in, "don't ask either of us to leave you in the care of that group. We don't know their abilities. And the halflings need more protection than they can provide."

"Then I will throw Pippen at the orcs and kill them while he distracts them. I am going. You are not."

"My lord," Deluiel stated. "I say this with the utmost respect, you are a fool."

"Thank you for your assessment, Lady Guard. Just take the letter to Thranduil. Take over the army and protect Mirkwood."

"You are the heir to Mirkwood's throne."

"Deluiel, I do not want that throne or any other and you know that very well. All I want is to live peacefully and travel."

"You are still the heir and there are responsibilities you hold towards your people," Sadorlien stated. "You cannot walk away from a crown, it will find you no matter where you go."

"Sadorlien, shut up."

"No, my prince."

"State your case quickly."

"You cannot leave Lady Cariel and Gailduil alone in Mirkwood. You cannot turn your back on your people because you are their heart. I will not see you destroy yourself over a foolish quest that needs only the slightest shove to collapse."

"And I would not see Strider and Frodo alone with the rest of them. But I will also not see you, as part of my people, dragged into something like this. Hunting orcs is one thing. Going up against Sauron is quite another."

"And you think you are prepared?"

"No, but I think I will learn what I need to along the way. That part of the argument is closed. Everyone in this room knows that I will leave with the Fellowship."

"I will follow you."

"You will go to Mirkwood. Thranduil and Cariel need you both more than I will."

"Is this because of that promise you gave to Arwen?" Sadorlien asked sharply. "If you're doing this out of some half-baked idea of honor, I'll make sure you are in no condition to go."

"You might try."

"You won't hurt me. It's not in you to hurt another elf. Taunt though you may."

"What promise?" Deluiel asked.

"To look after Strider," Sadorlien replied. "And if that's what this is, you need to rethink things, my lord."

Legolas' eyes flashed and Sadorlien knew he'd stepped over the line. He stepped back a pace. Legolas' voice was icy cold. "Get out." Sadorlien knew better than to disobey. He dashed out the door with the idea of finding Arwen. He thought that she might be able to diffuse things.

He skidded around a corner and nearly into her and Aragorn who had heard the raised voices and were coming to investigate. He panted out an explanation and the lovers took off at a dead run.

"Captain Deluiel, you will do as you are ordered."

"I have often sworn my loyalty to you, youngling, but I will not follow an order that is contradictory to my purpose."

"And I thought that was to make sure I survived long enough to become an adult. You have done that."

She slapped him hard across the cheek.

"You have never taken such a tone with me and I will not tolerate it."

"And I will not be treated as a child who needs a nursemaid."

Aragorn stopped at the open door and froze there. Elves didn't care much for privacy. They barely understood the word, but the light was almost too bright for him to see past. It resolved itself into the familiar figures of Legolas and Deluiel after a moment. Arwen was speechless.

"I gave my word to your mother that I would protect you until I should follow her to the Halls of Mandros in the attempt. It is to that promise I hold true. I will not let you go without me."

"And my life is Mirkwood's," Legolas said in a tone completely opposite of her raging voice. "If Mirkwood should fall to the Shadow I will die. Go home and protect Mirkwood, Captain. That is what your duty to me and to Aewlos entails."

"I will not leave you," Deluiel said softly. They were no more than half a foot apart. "I will not leave you."

"You will. Staying will only get me killed by making me sloppy. Why should I bother to guard when I know there will be someone always there? I need to be sharp, Deluiel. I cannot do that if I am constantly caged, even by caring. Let me fly, Deluiel." She wrapped her arms around him, sorrow banking the fire of her anger. His arms surrounded her.

"You frustrate me as your mother always did. She always ran ahead into danger. My heart always clenched with the thought of losing her. I could not bear to lose you as well."

"Did you ever clip her wings?"

"No. Fine. You will leave with the Fellowship in the morning." Legolas shut his eyes to trap the tears that threatened and held her tighter. "I am entrusting him to you, Aragorn, son of Arathorn. If he dies, I'll find you."

Aragorn nodded dumbly. Deluiel kissed Legolas' cheek gently and left the room. "Legolas?"

"Strider."

"Are you going to be okay?"

"I will be fine."

Arwen nudged her lover forward. Men, she thought in frustration. He didn't take the subtle hint, she place her hand on his shoulders from the back and pushed him forward bodily. He looked back at her in surprise. She looked firmly between the two of them and shut the door. She hurried after Deluiel and found her packing.

"Shall I send the horses back to Mirkwood?"

"Yes, that would be best."

"Are all men quite so dense?"

"Only when they're being prideful. But I've always had a sneaking suspicion that Legolas knows exactly when he leaves openings."

*****

Aragorn didn't say anything more, just placed a hand on his friend's shoulder. Legolas put his hand over the comforting touch. They stood that way for a long moment. "I just wish. . ."

"I know."

*****

"Sadorlien, it's okay. He's not that upset."

"Easy for you to say, my lady," Sadorlien said as he accepted the steaming cup from Arwen.

"I heard you take my name in vain."

"Iím sorry for that."

"I know. Perhaps you should tell Legolas that you understand why he's made this decision."

"But I don't understand it."

Arwen blinked. "He's got to be on his own to learn how to be himself."

"We've never been apart, Arwen. I was there the day they carried his mother in and I sat with him when he was in fever. I train with him. I ride with him. I eat with him. I hunt with him. Arwen, he is my duty, my responsibility, he is what I was born to protect. I don't understand why he's pushing me away."

"Maybe you need to learn who you are too," Arwen said softly.

*****

The Fellowship started off in the light of the setting sun. They'd decided to keep moving through the night if they could manage it. Aragorn led Bill as they followed Gandalf's lead. Aragorn found his attention captured more by Legolas than anything else. The elf was more quiet than usual, more reserved. There was a sadness in his posture that Aragorn didn't want to speculate upon. He didn't think anyone else in the company would notice it. The elf stayed near him some of the time, and moved up and back the line depending on the pace they were keeping. His eyes scanned the way carefully. Finally, the ranger figured out what was bothering him, there wasn't any humming. Legolas had an unconscious tendency to hum under his breath when he was walking, even when he was hunting. It was missing. When they stopped for a snack, he approached the elf warily. "Legolas?" he asked softly, settling next to him on the ground.

"Yes?"

"Why aren't you humming?"

"You noticed?" Legolas' eyes were deep brown and sad. "Does it bother you?"

"It surprised me. I've never known you to be without a song."

"There's no one to hear it. We hummed to keep in contact." Aragorn's eyes cleared as illumination hit.

"Your guards."

"Almost partners. Deluiel never lets me forget that there's a difference."

"Is that why you're so tense today?"

Legolas nodded. "I'm straining to hear her. Or Sadorlien. I scared him last night. I didn't mean to."

"I know that. And you told him?"

"Of course. Not like I could escape that little discussion." Legolas leaned back, stretching. "Arwen decided I needed to mend what got broken and threatened to call her brothers if I didn't do what she said."

"That's her favorite threat. She never acts on it."

Legolas looked at his friend. "So they've never dragged you to the river and thrown you in? Dragged you up a tree? Set siege against your bedroom? Tried to fill your quiver with twigs? Put extra weight on your bow, just to see if you could handle it? Lucky bastard."

Aragorn shook his head. "I grew up with them. And. . . you haven't been to Rivendell since I was very young."

"No, child."

"Would you stop calling me that? I'm older than most humans."

"But you are more than most humans."

"And you can stop the smug smiling too."

"No way. There is one thing I can hold over your head."

"It won't happen the way you think."

"Oh, I don't know about that. I think you'll get pushed into a situation where if you don't accept you will die." Legolas went very still and he held up a hand. "And the dwarf is getting restless. He thinks we're plotting against him."

"We are aren't we?"

"Just get him to pledge allegiance, Estel, and you'll be fine. So will I," he added. "I just need a couple of days to adjust to having nothing but heartbeats to listen for."

"Be careful or you'll set the hobbits to singing. It can get rather rowdy when they do."

*****

Legolas found himself lingering closer to Aragorn than to the hobbits and the dwarf. He knew it was foolish, but he didn't think he would ever get along with that creature. Gimli seemed dead set against liking the elf. And Legolas didnít know how to overcome it. He let himself rest as they walked. He wandered the halls of light in his mind.

Aragorn smiled as he heard Legolas start to hum under his breath. It was much better for him to sing than to fight against it. It was soft enough that it wouldn't draw attention of any of the beasts they would be facing. Orcs and the Nazgul were more likely to be following the ring than to be listening to something so subtle that it could be the wind.

Boromir found himself relaxing slightly and couldn't figure out why. Nothing obvious had changed. He looked around at the company, but still could not find the cause. He saw that the hobbits were joking about something or other. Pippen was whining about food. "And I thought Strider was hard," he sighed. "But Gandalf, he's the worst."

The wizard just looked over his shoulder sternly. Something caught Legolas' attention and he stepped away from the main group for a moment. He moved so quickly and silently that Boromir thought it was a trick of his eyes. But Legolas was tucking something into the pack on Bill's back. Aragorn hadn't even bothered to stop moving. Then, the elf was walking next to them again, occasionally darting forward to talk to Gandalf. Still, there was a feeling of peace that hadn't been there before.

*****

"Legolas, you have to rest some time," Aragorn said firmly. "Arwen would have my head if I let something happen to you. She's very fond of you."

"I know she's fond of me." Legolas undid on of his braids and carefully redid it. "She'd torture me if anything happened to you, though. You're her Chosen, child."

"You only call me child when you talk about Arwen?"

Legolas sighed. "She's made the hardest decision any elf ever makes. She's given up more than you'll understand."

"Legolas," Aragorn put his hand on the elf's arm. "Does this hurt you? Does the two of us being engaged hurt you?"

"Why would it?"

"She was your friend long before I ever came on the scene. We rode together for more than a year before you found out that the two of us were in love, or that she and I even knew one another."

The elf looked at the human with a furrowed brow. "Aragorn, are you feeling guilty again? How many times have I told you that I don't expect you to share your secrets with me?"

"Stubborn elf-spawn," Strider snapped. "I do feel guilty that I never bothered to find out if you two knew each other. Hell, I never even asked her if she had someone waiting on her."

"I've never waited on her affections." Legolas rolled his eyes. "I know Elrond and Thranduil have both had the thought flit across their minds, but the Evenstar and I have always known that we were best suited to being siblings."

"Why?"

"Why what?"

"Weren't you ever attracted to her?"

"She's pretty, I suppose, if you go in for that type. I don't know what you mean though."

"Sexually?" Aragorn asked bluntly.

"No." Legolas sighed. "Listen, Strider, I don't have a Chosen. I'm not attracted to your girlfriend. I'm just a little off center. I'll be fine in a few days. Stop trying to take on things that aren't your fault."

"I just wanted to know. Relax."

"I was before you started with this foolish questioning."

"My apologies, Master Elf," Strider teased.

"Human brat," the elf responded cheerfully. They snickered.

"Sleep, Legolas."

"I will." Strider didn't leave. The silence lengthened. "I'll sleep. I just can't rest when you're staring at me."

"I'm not staring. I'm watching with concern because my friend has been awake for days now."

"Aragorn."

"You didn't sleep after your fight with Deluiel. You haven't slept on the trip yet."

"I don't have to sleep."

"But perhaps it would do you good to try."

"What are you going to do?" Legolas' eyes narrowed. Strider smirked at him. He patted his thigh. "Oh, no. I'm not giving you access to my braids in this mood."

"Trust me, Greenleaf."

"Always, Strider." The elf-prince settled his head on Strider's thigh and drifted away. His breathing slowed to next to nothing and his eyes glazed. The hobbits looked at them curiously. Sam's eyes were wide with concern.

"Strider? Is he okay?"

Strider blinked. "You've never seen an elf sleep before? No, of course not. He's fine, Samwise."

"But, he's so still."

Gimli snorted. "Elves are like that. Irritating. Can't be sure they're even breathing."

"Blasted Dwarf," Legolas muttered and turned over so that he wouldn't have to be aware of anything at all. His mind detached from the world until the only thing he was aware of was a subliminal thump of Aragorn's blood beneath his ear and the faint pressure of a hand on the side of his neck. He didn't hear the discussion of Elven culture that followed. When Aragorn called his name gently, he woke with elf-light in his eyes.

*****

Sadorlien moved restlessly through the courtyard where Arwen was working on a tapestry she wouldn't let him see. It wasn't as if he didn't know what was going on, but she said it was something for Aragorn and would say nothing more. He wasn't used to this sort of inactivity. Legolas didn't always indulge in hunting, but if he was reading, he was more likely to read aloud than not. And he the rushing water of Rivendell's waterfalls made him think of the basement hideout he'd guarded for so many years. The clacking of the shuttle on the loom made him even more homesick. He didn't even have Deluiel to complain to. He finally settled on a ledge that over-looked her workspace and made a game of spotting all the elves he could.

*****

Time passed quickly and the company fell into a routine. There was little laughter and less talk. It was moments like this that they lived for though. They were on the rocks, able to have a hot meal for once. Merry and Pippen were practicing swordwork with Boromir. Strider was coaching them. Gandalf was relaxing. Sam was making lunch and Frodo was watching his friends with a smile of fond amusement on his face. Legolas was on edge. He moved restlessly over the rocks looking for the thing that was not right.

Deluiel's song changed in the background. She was restless too. It was strange being out of sight of her. The tenuous connection of the song comforted him at the same time that it scared him. He didn't know exactly where she was. There were few trees in the area. It was mostly flat land. It was strange being able to see miles ahead and behind. Gimli was grumbling about not being respected or listened to or something. Legolas ignored it. The very idea of going under the mountain through Moria made his stomach clench. Cariel had told him many stories of the Balrog. He had no wish to face it.

Legolas bounded across the rocks again. Gandalf watched him with mild amusement, as one would watch a cat chasing a sunbeam. Something was nagging at the edges of Legolas' mind. He could almost hear it clearly. He paused and stared at a puff of smoke. The threat was soon identified as birds and the company scattered to hide under the rocks. Something twisted harshly in Legolas' heart and it took him most of the walk the base of the mountain to figure it out. Birds were supposed to be friends, not enemies.

The snow was coming down more and more heavily. The elf could walk atop the snow and the cold didn't bother him, but his companions weren't as lucky and there was nothing he could do to help them. He couldn't carry one of the halflings. He wasn't leading the way. He just walked along side Aragorn and kept watch. He darted forward to stop Gandalf from being killed by one particularly nasty falling rock and he could feel the mountain growl at him. He shivered. The mountain didn't want them there. It hated the humans so much that it was ripe for Sauron's plans. It didn't care that he and Deluiel were there. They were elves and more of nature than the rest of them.

There was a voice in the winds and Legolas darted forward to hear it better. It was a cruel voice and it fed the mountain's anger, but he couldn't understand the language. "There's a fell voice on the wind."

Gandalf started spell-casting and lost track of the real world. The mountain shifted, preparing to throw down snow, ice and rocks. Legolas grabbed the wizard and pulled him back from the edge of the pass. They were buried in snow. The elf shook it off and looked around doing a quick head count. Slowly they popped up from the snow and the argument began again. Through the mines of Moria, or through the Gap of Rohan. Legolas wished with all his might for Rohan. He might not like Boromir, but going near Isengard wasn't nearly as bad as walking through a demon and orc infested mine.

"We will go through the mines," Frodo said after pause for thought. Legolas looked sadly at the hobbit. He was so young to have such old shadows hanging on him. He wanted to grab the ring and fling it as far away as he could, but he knew it would do him no good. The ring had to be destroyed and Sauron could not be allowed to have it. He would not see anyone else destroyed by "such a little thing" as Boromir had termed it. Shaking off the snow he went to scout ahead. "I'm seeking the sun," he teased gently as he passed the humans with their hobbit loads. "And the mountain pass is cold and hard, the mountain stones rock free, but if the mountain's anger holds, then we shall gladly leave," he sang softly to the old stones. He felt the slight response in the lessening of the falling snow. He found the end of the snow and for the first time in months caught sight of Deluiel. She looked up at him with a crooked grin and went back to cleaning her knife. There was a wolf on the ground in front of her. It had to have attacked and therefore, must have been under the orc's control, poor beast. He waved to her and reported back to his companions. "It's not much farther now. Just six more feet and the hobbits will be able to stand without drowning again."

"Thank Goodness," Merry piped up. "I'm tired of being carried. Even though it is warmer. And I don't have to walk. Then again, forget I said anything at all."

That gave the group a good laugh. They set camp at the base of the mountain. Deluiel was once again invisible and Legolas cursed himself for thinking like a child. She was his security. His freedom was an illusion. He stopped himself. Why on earth was he thinking like that? Deluiel had not once interfered in the company. He wasn't sure anyone else even realized she was there. She wasn't caging him in. She was doing what he'd wanted and letting him just be. His anger was starting to grow. He realized he was sitting next to Frodo. Blast it all. He should have thought more clearly. He didn't know how to get up without making it look as if he was running. There was no good reason for him to stand. He went still and let himself rest deeply. Perhaps the peace of sleep would make it easier to throw off the effects of the ring. Oh, Father, I am sorry. If I had known before this, perhaps we wouldn't have drifted so far apart. A gentle hand stroking his hair woke him. He looked up into Frodo's sad eyes and understood the message there. He laid his head down in the hobbit's lap and drifted away. He thought for a moment he could hear his mother's voice.

*****

The rocks crumbled down and closed off the entrance to the mine. Deluiel thought her heart had stopped. Bill the pony stood next to her and she stroked his mane as she tried to calm herself. The noise still echoed in her ears and she couldn't hear Legolas at all. What was she going to do? She couldn't dig them out without help and she couldn't leave without knowing if they were going to live or die. But she couldn't go near that thing. It was hurt and that would make it more dangerous. She hung her head for a moment, then mounted Bill and rode towards Rivendell as fast as the pony would take her.

*****

Legolas stopped with a hand on Aragorn's shoulder. He was prepared to pull the human out of the way should the rocks start shifting. He couldn't hear anything over the echoing rumble of the rocks. He felt Aragorn's heart throbbing under his fingertips and removed his hand after a gentle squeeze. He held his bow close to his chest. He wanted to call out to Deluiel, but if her ears were ringing anything like his were, she wouldn't be able to hear him. He was vaguely aware that Gandalf was speaking, but he couldn't make out the words. The air felt stale and dead. He could feel the overwhelming wrongness of this place. The sadness, the pain, the grief, all of the torture that had destroyed these people, Gimli's family. He felt Aragorn brush his back briefly as they set off. He knew with a glance that the man wanted him in front where he would be able to spot any attack. His ears cleared for a moment just as Gandalf informed them that they would be there for four days. Four days to make it across this hole. Legolas' shoulders slumped. He felt cut off in a way he never had in his father's palace. He looked at the workmanship and had to admire it.

He looked at Gimli, who was a little more strong here, a little more sure. He walked through the tunnels with ease. Legolas sighed. Gandalf glanced briefly at him, but didn't ask what was wrong. The elf-prince kept a sharp eye out for any movement. They finally settled down for a few minutes of rest. Boromir was watching Legolas with a little frown. The elf continued to pace, not making a sound. Aragorn watched with a more knowledgeable eye. "What is wrong with him?" Boromir asked finally.

"He's underground."

"So are the rest of us. I thought that elves were a part of nature. Is this then not a part of nature?"

"It's not like that exactly. Legolas has been trapped below ground before. Granted it was much lighter than this, and without the orcs, but the feeling must have been similar. He will get used to it in a few hours more." Gandalf watched the elf with more concern than curiosity.

"Legolas," he said softly. "Come here."

There was no response. Gandalf straightened in surprise. His movement caught the elf's eye and he turned to watch the wizard. The wizard gestured him over. Legolas settled on his knees next to Gandalf. "Legolas," he said, just as softly as before. "Can you hear me?" He snapped his fingers by one pointed ear and got no response. He did it a second time and got a wince. "Can you hear me now?"

"Yes."

"You should have told me you were having trouble."

"It comes and goes. I figured that it would have to work itself out." Legolas shrugged. "It will be fine. The rocks merely left me with a bit of ringing in my ears."

"It worries you though. Take some rest, Legolas."

"I will not rest easily until I see the sun and stars again."

"Legolas," Gandalf said, then sighed. "Very well." Legolas took up his pacing once again. Aragorn looked at him with more than mild concern.

"I have to talk to him."

Boromir nodded. "I'm going to get some rest while I can."

"Sleep safely." Legolas adjusted his speed so that Aragorn could walk with him. The human put a hand in the small of the elf's back. The heat radiated into the tense muscles there. "Legolas, my friend. Tell me what has you so tight." The elf sighed.

"There are many things. That *thing* first off and foremost. Then, the fact that Deluiel will no longer be following. I won't even know that she's safely away from the Watcher in the Lake, until this is all done. And my lady Cariel."

"Lady Cariel?"

"Yes. She lived above these hills until the dwarves woke something horrid."

"Tell me."

"I cannot. Suffice it to say, I have had nightmares from the stories she tells. And while I know it was some exaggeration to make a better story, there must have been a grain of truth in it. Then, there is the fact that this place is infested with goblins. The walls smell of them. I can feel them. My arm aches."

"Were you injured when the rocks fell?"

Legolas gave him a small smile. "No, orc wounds never heal. At least so I am told. The scars fade on the surface, but not beneath. It is because they were once elves."

"When were you wounded? And why did you never tell me? I know such wounds have driven elves from Middle-Earth."

"When. . . when my mother died, I was injured. I spent five days in a fever sleep. The scar has faded almost completely. But it tends to ache when orcs are within range."

"And what is the range?" Strider's mind worked furiously.

"It is something like two to three miles. And it does not give directions. And there are times when it aches, and I never see an orc. Here it may well be the smell that is setting it off. You should fill your quiver the next time we come across a grouping. What better than to use their own arrows against them?" Strider's hand moved up to rest on the back of Legolas' neck, under his hair. He rubbed absently at the tension there, the silk of the elven hair falling over his knuckles.

"A good idea. Will you be able to shoot straight?"

"Strider, I've had this injury since before you were born. It hasn't affected my ability a bit." Legolas tightened his grip on his bow, hugging it to his body. "I'm fine, Strider. Get some rest. I won't be sleeping here."

"Legolas, Gandalf will keep watch. Come sit by me, keep watch over my dreams." Legolas stayed still for a long moment.

"Like before?"

"Like before."

"Okay."

*****

"He's lost. He's lost and we're stuck in a mine and you want me to sit down and relax?" Legolas hissed into Aragorn's ear.

"Yes, I do."

"I'll just pace."

"Your quiver's slipped down," Gimli said with a long suffering sigh. "Again."

"Thank you, Master Dwarf. I'm sure I never would have noticed."

"Don't sneer. It's unbecoming."

"Oh, shove it, Strider." Legolas pulled on the strap to tighten the quiver. Gimli shook his head.

"Let me help."

Legolas closed his eyes and drew on the diplomacy he knew was ingrained. "Thank you." The dwarf tightened the back strap.

"Is that comfortable?"

"Yes."

"Good. Now, stop pacing before you drive us all mad. Have something to eat and sit down."

"No, thank you kindly." Legolas leaned against the damp wall, trying to remember why he'd joined up with this madness in the first place. It was becoming increasingly difficult. The humans were talking. Merry and Pippen were snacking. Sam was catching a quick nap and Frodo was talking to the wizard. Legolas saw the creature following them. It was Gollum from what Gandalf had told him when he'd been spotted three days back. He couldn't help but wonder if it was worth Ravenclaw's life to keep that thing in the woods. Maybe they should have just let it go.

"Ah, this is the way," Gandalf announced.

I could have told him that hours ago, Legolas thought to himself. But no one asks the elf anything. And no one listens to him when they do.

*****

"Legolas, get them up." Legolas complied half-heartedly. He knew they had to get to Lorien, but there was a reluctance to leave that he could not explain. And the hobbits' grief was so sharp that he could feel it. But beyond that, he could hear something faint and scraping behind them. Orcs couldn't attack in the day was an old myth. They preferred not to and would burn if they did, but that didn't mean that the dark lord couldn't manipulate things so that they could attack them where they rested for the moment. Aragorn strode over quickly and got Sam on his feet, then collected Frodo. It was painful to watch, painful to sense, so Legolas shut it off. He had to be cold for awhile. Better to be numb than to die from the backlash of pain and anger. Aragorn was intent on forgetting too, that was obvious. The pace he set was too much for the little ones, and no one else was quick enough to catch up with him. Legolas was shaken by the realization that this was the role he was primed to play, go between for a king and his people. He shoved that down under a layer of ice as well. Lorien was beautiful.

He had never seen trees such as these. They didn't thrive in Mirkwood. Only the darker, hardier trees did. He also knew that they would not be welcomed in a state of war. His bow was out and aimed without his conscious thought, before Haldir confronted them. Legolas would kill to protect any of the Fellowship. He would even kill his own kind. As his father had told him long before, evil is not visible to the eye.

He should have known that Aragorn was welcomed in Lorien. Galadriel was Arwen's grandmother. And she obviously approved of Aragorn. Her eyes were soft, but distant when she looked to him. She was more focussed on those in the party she knew she could unsettle. He and Aragorn just weren't a good audience. She bade them rest and food was set for them. He paused when Celeborn's hand settled on his shoulder. "Legolas, I would speak with you."

"Yes, my lord?" he responded. He followed Celeborn to his chambers. Celeborn looked him over carefully. "My lord?" Legolas asked hesitantly when the older elf didn't speak.

"I wasn't expecting you to look as much like your mother as you do. Is it true that your father has remarried?"

"Yes, my lord."

"And do you mind his new wife?"

"Lady Cariel has been a good friend to me."

"How did you manage to come without a guard?" Celeborn was amused. He sat down and gestured for the prince to do the same.

"Deluiel was separated from us when the gates of Moria crashed down. I assume she is on her way to Rivendell as we speak. And from there back to Mirkwood."

Celeborn nodded. He didn't like the fact that the young man before him was a glacier. He knew from Arwen's stories that the elf-prince could laugh and smile and otherwise react normally. "What troubles you, young one?"

"Nothing you can heal, my lord." Legolas' back stiffened. "Although," he said with a sly glint in his eye, "if you do not mind, I think Master Gimli would like to see more of your wife."

Celeborn laughed. "Very well. I will let her know."

"Thank you, sir. Better a love-lorn dwarf than a mourning one."

"Tell me of yourself, Legolas."

"There is little to tell and the Evenstar tells my story better than I ever could."

"She is very fond of you."

"I have been told this before."

"We were at one time hoping, ah well, that doesn't matter."

Legolas glared. "Not you too."

"What do you mean?"

"Tell me that you weren't thinking that Arwen and I would make a good match. We're not compatible. She's happy to stay at home for long stretches of time, while I hate it."

"You don't leave Mirkwood."

"Not by choice. And if I have to have the settle down with a nice wife and make an heir speech I think I shall have to be ill."

"I would never tell you something like that. That's a father's prerogative."

"Well, then you may as well give me your version. I've heard it once from Elrond. And since I rarely have a father," Legolas shrugged. "I'm sorry," he said suddenly. "I didn't mean to take my feelings out on you. I've merely been frustrated."

"So you don't have a Chosen?" Celeborn's eyes were full of sympathy. "I didn't realize that you and your father weren't getting on."

"I don't have a father. For many centuries I did not have a mother either. I was born full-grown from my lord Thranduil's thoughts. Did he not tell you so?"

"Arwen told me that you never speak of your mother, but I thought that the grief was merely too strong."

Legolas looked up to the golden canopy of trees. "My lord, there are things that I cannot explain to you. Things that I barely understand, but I am beginning to grasp. My lord's thoughts have been touched and twisted by a piece of pretty metal. I cannot blame him for his actions, but I cannot forget what has gone before. It was only sixty years ago that I hear my mother's name from his throat once more. It was only due to Cariel's intervention that I have not gone mad. My brother, Gailduil, is a much better heir for Mirkwood."

"Oddly enough, I think I've heard 'I don't want to be king' from someone else Arwen is fond of." Legolas blinked. He opened his mouth to speak, then closed it.

"There are at least three of us who donít want to be leaders then. And Mithrandir has chosen a wonderful time to get himself killed." Legolas scowled.

"Yes, his timing is perfect," Galadriel stated. She placed a gentle hand on Legolas' shoulder to keep him from rising. "You know who you will follow when the Fellowship cracks apart."

"There would be no choice, my lady. The hobbit is strong enough to do what must be done, so long as his Chosen stays with him."

"I believe so as well. Your faith in him is admirable. Only the other hobbits feel as you do, that Frodo was the right one for this job."

"I do not think that is the truth. The others fear themselves, not Frodo."

"Then they are fools."

"We are all fools, but some quests cannot be forgotten. And some losses must be survived privately. If you will excuse me, I would be with the others for at least this night."

"Of course." Galadriel kissed his cheek gently. "Go to them."

*****

"A lament for Gandalf," Legolas stated, tipping his head up to listen more clearly.

"What are they saying?"

"I haven't the heart to tell you. The grief is yet to near for me." Legolas couldn't handle the grief the hobbits were putting off. He was not going to double it. He wandered into the forest. He settled at the base of a tree and drew his knees up to his chest. He lowered his face and let himself feel. He felt a hand on his shoulder. It was warm and firm. He looked up.

"Legolas?" Aragorn questioned. The elf looked at him and a final tear escaped his control. Aragorn brushed it away. "I'm here, if you need me. You know that?"

"I know. But the others need you more than I do at this moment."

"They are asleep, my friend."

"Time goes so quickly."

"The road was hard and my pace was harsh for them. If you hadn't called me back, I might have left them." Aragorn sighed. "I don't know why." He sat next to his friend and put an arm around the more slender shoulders. It was odd not to feel the quiver there.

"You were running from demons to safety. None of us had been to Lorien before. We didn't know its beauty or else we might have run faster ourselves."

Aragorn sighed. "And what pains you tonight, friend?"

Legolas shook his head. "It is a personal pain, Aragorn. There is nothing to be done about it, except to bear it." Aragorn tightened his grip and pulled Legolas closer to him.

"I'm not tired. I'd like to sit with you, if you'll have me."

"Of course, Aragorn."

The morning's light found Aragorn asleep, his head in Legolas' lap. The elf-prince himself was asleep. One hand rested on the human's forehead. The other on his back. Galadriel watched them for a long moment. She nodded. She would approach Aragorn first. Legolas came back to himself as he heard the hobbits talking about finally getting a full breakfast. He woke Aragorn gently. "I think you should find a real bed for tomorrow. You're going to be stiff if you keep sleeping on pillows that aren't pillows."

"I haven't slept that well in several weeks, as you should know. I came to comfort you, you know."

Legolas smiled. "I told you last night that you couldn't take away my pain, Aragorn." He shook his head. "I'm going to walk the dwarf's legs off today. He was so taken with Galadriel. I think I might see if we can find her, so that he can indulge himself in admiring her."

"And I thought elves were kind."

"You were sadly misinformed. But there is no harm in indulging Gimli. He has had a lot of grief in a short period of time. He will need the relief that Lorien will provide him."

"Your legs are asleep. You don't fool me." Legolas rolled his eyes.

"Child." He got to his feet smoothly and offered Aragorn a hand up. "I think you should get back to the others if you want to get something to eat. The hobbits have already started on the breakfast Galadriel has provided."

The Fellowship was unsurprised to see Aragorn and Legolas return together from somewhere in the woods. They were both familiar with elven ways and had probably gone to do some incomprehensible communing with nature. Or they were snogging as Merry had suggested. The hobbits looked closely to see if there was any evidence of anything interesting. Legolas looked as perfectly kempt as ever and Aragorn was dressed as he had been the night before. There was no evidence of anything. That was too bad.

"Good morning, Master Dwarf. Are you ready for that tour?" Legolas asked.

"No, you blasted elf. I've not finished breakfast and my beard is still a mess."

The Fellowship snickered at their bickering, glad of the distraction.

*****

Aragorn looked at Galadriel with faint trepidation. She was up to something. She settled her hand on his arm and they walked through the forest. "My dear Aragorn, you know that I have always enjoyed the attention you have given my granddaughter. I, unlike some of the others, have never seen a problem with the two of you being wed. But I know that you are not in love with Arwen."

"Begging your pardon, Lady, but I think I know what I feel and I love Arwen. I have from the moment I set eyes upon her."

Galadriel shook her head and smiled the most smugly serene smile she could. "Aragorn, you love her, but you are not in love with her. You love her like a sister."

"No, Lady Galadriel, I most certainly do not love her like a sister. If I were attracted to my sister in that way, I would have been run out of my home."

"Yet, she is, in one sense your sister."

Aragorn rolled his eyes. "Are you suddenly objecting to our marriage?"

"I merely want to point out that you may wish to consider it a political marriage. Elves have never held to the boundaries of humans, and we don't expect you to do so."

"Would you please take pity on me and tell me what exactly you are implying?"

"Just that the two of you will be married in human terms, but you don't have to live by those restrictions."

"Galadriel, I have never been attracted to someone other than Arwen. I love her. And if she does not love me, or loves another as well as me, I will not stand in her way. She is an elf and I know that she believes in the physical expression of love, with or without formal sanction." Aragorn sighed. "Is this the Arwen and Legolas discussion? If it is, both of them have informed me that the rumor was just a rumor and nothing more. And furthermore, Elrond already gave me that speech."

Galadriel was intrigued. "There were rumors about Arwen and Legolas that I haven't heard?"

"Only that they were thought to be heading towards marriage."

"Oh, is that all. That was wishful thinking on the part of Elrond and Thranduil. They are a good match for hunting, but not for loving. Besides, any fool could see that Legolas is in love with you."

Aragorn stopped short. "What are you talking about?"

"Why else would he follow you?" She looked surprised. "And you love him. I didn't think you were that blind." She kissed him gently on the cheek and left him to wander back to his companions.

*****

Legolas looked up. "Oh no." He caught hold of Gimli's arm in a vice-grip. "Come on, Gimli," he said with forced cheerfulness, "let's go watch the ladies in waiting at the bathing pool." The dwarf looked up in confusion and saw pleading brown eyes. He gave in and followed the elf to the pool.

"Who are we running from?" he asked softly.

"Celeborn. He's got that look on his face."

"What look?"

"I'm going to give you a talking to, young one."

Gimli nodded sagely. He knew exactly what that meant when one of his elders wore it. He assumed it was no different for an elf. On top of that, the elf had managed to find something entertaining to watch. Gimli restrained himself from imagining that one of the women in the pool was Galadriel. He couldn't believe that he was so infatuated with her. Then again, dwarves were quick to fall in love and tended to stay that way for the rest of their lives. He wondered if elves were the same. Since the elf now owed him, it was the perfect time to ask. "Legolas?"

"Yes?"

"Do elves fall in love?"

Legolas considered for a long moment. "Elves love freely. But there are rare instances when one falls in love and Choses another forever. Those loves never fade. But elves do not feel restrained by our loves either. We live so long that it is madness to believe that we would only ever meet one that we loved. Arwen, for instance, has Chosen Aragorn to be hers forever more. She is willing to die to be with him. Were he an elf, they would have been married already. As it is, Aragorn can't do without the legal aspect of things. He needs to wed her in public, although their hearts are already bound." Legolas shrugged. "Is it the same for dwarves?"

"We fall in love quickly, but only once for the rest of our lives. Once that happens, no other can satisfy us. Have you ever been in love, Legolas?"

"No, Master Gimli, never." Legolas shrugged. "I do not miss it. Have you found your love? What does it feel like?"

"Yes, I think I have. I cannot explain it to you, friend. But I hope that some day it will bless your heart as well."

Legolas gave him a sad smile. "I do not believe that I am destined for love. It is not in my nature."

Gimli didnít respond. Legolas sat back and they watched the young elves playing in the water for a few moments. "Legolas," Celeborn called. "Come, walk with me. I need to talk to you."

"In a moment, sir. Master Gimli and I still have some things to discuss."

"Don't try it, Legolas. I've been using that particular lie since before you were born. Excuse us, Master Dwarf."

"Of course."

"Demon bait."

"Topside fool," Gimli shot back.

Celeborn slipped his arm around the younger elf's shoulders. "Now, about you and Aragorn."

"What about us, my lord?" Legolas was confused. "I have promised to follow him and Frodo. I promised Arwen I would look after her Chosen. What else is there?"

"You are in love with him, boy."

"I beg to differ. I am not in love with Aragorn. I don't fall in love. I care for him. He is a friend. But I am no more in love with him than I am with my brother." He rolled his eyes. "If this is an odd lead into the Arwen discussion again, I think I might scream."

"No, this isn't about Arwen. This is about you." Celeborn frowned at the prince. "You are in love with Aragorn. It's as clear as water."

"I think, my lord, that you are mistaking things of friendship for something more."

"And I think you are being willfully blind to your own state of being."

Legolas stiffened at the sharp tone. Celeborn realized that he was missing something vital. "Legolas, have you never been in love before?"

"No, my lord. And I am not in love now. If you will excuse me, I wish to refill my quiver before it is time for us to leave."

"No, Legolas, I will not give you leave to run away from this discussion."

"Why not?"

"Because I will not see you hurting for no good reason. There is no reason why you and Aragorn shouldn't enjoy the time you have. He could die tomorrow, or he could live for a century. Why squander your time with him?"

"It is not my time. He is to wed Arwen. He is in love with Arwen. Arwen has Chosen him."

Celeborn frowned again. "I am not talking about Arwen. Will you quit bringing her up?"

"She is rather integral to the conversation, my lord. She is to wed the man you seem to think I should be involved with. I am not in love with Aragorn. I am not going to fall in love with Aragorn. Excuse me." Legolas turned out of the grip and stalked off into the woods.

"That went well," Celeborn said to the air.

*****

"Aragorn," Legolas said shaking his head. "Good Gods what is next?" He climbed up the tree without really thinking about it. He settled in the branches facing Northeast, towards Mirkwood, and braided his hair absently. He sat there until the sun set in the West. He looked at the little bird that came to rest on the branch near him. "Hello, Little One. How are you today?" He smiled as the little sparrow chirped happily at him. It picked at a strand of his hair. "Why is the world so complex, Little One? This should have been so simple. Go on the quest. Kill some orcs. Get rid of that *thing* and spend some time with a couple of old friends. I shouldn't be getting snappish and fighting with elven lords and ladies.

"I shouldn't be so scared that my heart feels as if it's going to beat out of my chest. I shouldn't be missing home with such intensity. I shouldn't want to be back under my lord's yoke. But I am so tired. There is this pain in the back of my head that grows every day. And there is a threat thatís strangling my heart. And I don't understand what Celborn wants of me. And I don't understand how we're to face what is coming. I see so much tragedy in one small band, Little One. I can't find a way to make it equal out. And I am getting so tense that I just want a battle to wash away the apathy with the sheer joy of the fight. There is rage in my heart, Little One. I am so scared of it. I am so scared that I will turn it on my friends. I don't know what to do. I want to run, but I want to stay. I want to be home, safe and sound and doing exactly what I'm told, but I want to be here as well.

"I want to stop time and turn it back and take away the tears of the hobbits and the doubts of the humans and make them see that life doesn't have to be this hard. I donít want to think of what could have become of Deluiel or what might have happened to Ravenclaw. And the whispers in the winds are so painful." The little bird hopped onto his knee and he looked into its eye for a long moment. It sang for him, then waited patiently for him to do the same. "You want a song from me, Little One?" It chirped once. "Very well." He thought for a long moment, then his voice lifted to join the gentle breeze of the Lorien air.

"God
Oh God
May the light
Illuminate the night
The way your spirit illuminates my soul
Ada, can you hear me?
Ada, can you see me?
Ada, can you find me in the night?
Ada, are you near me?
Ada, can you hear me?
Ada, can you help me not be frightened?
Looking at the skies, I seem to see a million eyes
Which ones are yours?
Where are you now that yesterday has waved goodbye
And closed its doors?
The night is so much darker
The wind is so much colder
The world I see is so much bigger now that I'm alone.
Ada, please forgive me
Try to understand me
Ada, don't you know I had no choice?
Can you hear me praying?
Anything I'm saying
Even though the night is filled with voices?
I remember ev'rything you taught me
Ev'ry book I've ever read
Can all the words in all the books
Help me to face what lies ahead?
The trees are so much taller
And I feel so much smaller
The moon is twice as lonely and the stars are half as bright
Ada, how I love you
Ada, how I need you
Ada, how I miss you kissing me goodnight
God
Oh God
May the light
Illuminate the night
The way your spirit illuminates my soul."

*****

Aragorn's ears picked up Legolas' voice on the night wind. Sam looked up. "Is that Legolas?"

"Yes."

"What's he saying?"

"I don't think I can tell you, Sam."

The hobbit looked at Aragorn carefully. He hadn't trusted Strider in the beginning, but the man was growing on him. Whatever he was hearing was painful. "My old gaffer always said that a sorrow shared is a sorrow halved."

"A wise hobbit, your gaffer. But this is something that I cannot share with you. Thank you for the offer."

"Is this about Mr. Legolas loving you?" Strider's jaw dropped.

"And how did you come to that conclusion, Samwise?"

"It's obvious to anyone willing to look. He worries over you something awful." Sam looked ruefully at Frodo. "Not that I don't understand it, sir. Brooders take a rare kind of patience to care for."

"Are you saying that I brood?"

"That you do, sir," Sam said, emboldened by being in Lorien. "I think you worry a lot. Even more now that Gandalf went and left you in charge. I think you need to let him help you some, sir. That I do."

"Samwise, will you promise me something?"

"If I can, sir."

"Whatever happens, don't leave Frodo alone?"

"I won't, sir. I won't leave Mr. Frodo for no reason."

"Thank you, Sam. You've eased my heart some."

"Then, that's a good night's work. Go talk to him, Strider."

"Yes, sir, Master Gamgee." Strider stood and headed for the tree he'd decided Legolas must have been singing from. "Legolas?" he called up.

"Aragorn?" It was almost too soft to hear.

"Yes." Legolas landed lightly next to the ranger. Aragorn carefully wiped away the tears with the bottom of his sleeve. "Sit with me?"

"Of course." They settled under the tree. Legolas let himself lean on his friend's strength.

"Will you tell me what pains you so much? A wise hobbit told me firmly that sharing sorrow halves it."

"That would be Samwise, then. He has told me the same thing. I fear that it is not true. I have shared my sorrows before and it seems to do nothing but magnify them."

"Tell me what bothers you most tonight."

"Celeborn has decided that I'm the perfect match for you."

"Odd, Galadriel and I had that conversation."

"I'm not in love with you, you know. This is as bad as Arwen attempting to set me up with Sadorlien. Then, she tried to set me up with Elrohir. And there as that, that, bitch, that Ravenclaw found for me. I understand that she's pretty, but she's petty."

"But that isn't what is bothering you." Aragorn knew full well that Legolas was used to rumors circulating about him. He'd heard odd rumors for years. He'd heard the one that said Arwen and Legolas had been having an affair for millennia. Then, there was the one that said he was sleeping with some pretty little maid from Rivendell. Not to mention the one that contended that Thranduil was going to use him to cement a relationship with Lorien. None of them meant anything to Legolas.

"I am missing my forest. I never thought I would say that, Aragorn. I never thought I would miss my lord's meddling enough to seek it out."

"You've never been far away enough to miss him."

"True." Legolas let his head drop onto Aragorn's shoulder. "What are we going to do about the dreadful duo?"

"Toss the dwarf at them?"

Legolas managed to keep a straight face for approximately five seconds, then he started to laugh. Aragorn joined him until they were gasping for breath. "Did you see his face when I caught his beard?" Legolas whispered, in case their mirth had roused their companions.

"Yes. And you enjoyed that far too much."

"It was his fault for trying to tie my hair into my quiver."

"That was accidental."

"I had to grab his beard to save his life."

"I won't tell anyone."

"Good because I still can't believe that I saved his life. He's a dwarf."

"And you like him."

"A bit."

"Admit it."

"Yes, I like the little critter."

"Why don't you stay with the company at night?" Aragorn asked, suddenly serious.

"There is something I can't explain about how the ring calls to me. It's like I'm always aware of it on the edge of my mind. And I get so angry at times that I need to get away from it."

"I haven't seen anything unusual."

"Because the ring was living in Mirkwood when we met."

Aragorn blinked. "It was?"

"Yes, in the Misty Mountains. It had lived in Mirkwood's main river source for much longer than that."

Aragorn frowned and absently pulled his companion closer. "The ring was in Mirkwood. You didn't know that until the council did you?"

"No. Mithrandir never told me why he was interested in Dol Guldur."

"Gandalf never tells anyone why he does what he does."

"I suppose. That's why I came. I had to make sure that thrice damned bit of gold-work gets destroyed."

"And if we don't go all the way to the mountain with Frodo?" Legolas considered.

"Will he have Sam with him?"

"Yes."

"That's good enough for me. Samwise Gamgee hates it for what it's done to Frodo."

"So do I."

"I know."

"I fear for this company."

"You always have. It has been getting worse as we go on though. The loss of Gandalf has thrown you for a loop, but you'll come back to your true self soon enough. I read the old hobbit's tale of his adventures in Mirkwood."

"Did you?" Aragorn was happy for the change in topic.

"Yes. It seems Mithrandir disappeared on them right at the edge of Mirkwood and they had to find their way through alone. And kill the dragon alone. He showed up at the end to make sure everything worked out though."

Or so he'd thought. "Is this your round-about way of telling me that you don't think he's dead?"

Legolas blinked innocently at the human. "No, that was a way of saying, let go and the gods will guide you in the right way. If you stop fighting them everything will work out."

"Stop that."

"What?"

"Acting your age."

"And what is my age?"

"How should I know? Arwen won't tell me."

"Then neither shall I. You'll have to ask Elrond when he comes to your coronation." Legolas moved out of strike range before Aragorn got over the shock.

"First off, no coronation."

"Right." Legolas listened with mock-attentiveness.

"Secondly, what makes you think Elrond knows?"

"He was supposedly informed of my birth. I think. No, Thranduil was already feuding with him then. He'd already packed up his wife and his followers and moved to the Greenwood. Hm. Perhaps you should ask Celeborn, as he seems to know everything, including what I should be doing with whom."

"Noted. Thirdly, why on earth have you and Arwen decided to team up against me?"

"I've known her longer. And it wouldn't be any fun to pick on you alone. And I wouldn't want you to forget what her pricking can be like."

"I prefer yours."

"I'm nicer."

"You're sharper."

"I've more practice." Legolas grinned. "That's better. I prefer to see you smiling."

"Samwise said that brooders take a special sort of patience."

"I've heard Sadorlien say the same thing." Legolas shrugged. "Personally, I think they're just trying to justify the fact that they have an overactive sense of duty towards someone else."

"So you don't think Sam is in love with Frodo?"

"I think he loves him, but not romantically."

Aragorn blinked. "Then you're the only person I know who thinks that way."

"Maybe that's because I don't think with my dick."

"Maybe you should try once and awhile."

Legolas snorted. "Go to bed, Strider, you're starting to talk like a common human."

"I am a common human."

"You are more than that and we both know it."

"And we will not get into that discussion, Legolas." Legolas surrendered.

Aragorn collapsed onto his bed of moss and blankets and was asleep moments later. Legolas looked down at him and shook his head. Damn the man for his stubbornness.

*****

Gimli watched the elf talking with his own kind with a world-weary bemusement. The elf had been making sure he got to see every part of the forest and several opportunities to see the Lady Galadriel without the formal boundaries he knew would normally be there. It was strange to realize that Legolas, who couldn't comprehend Sam's love for Frodo, was more than willing to indulge a dwarf's love for an elf. Gimli smiled to himself. It was well-enough that he got the opportunity to see the lady here, for soon they would leave and he would be left with memories. And no memory would ever be as sweet as the smile on her face or the sunlight on her hair. She was perfect in a way he could never explain. She shimmered like diamonds or quartz and was as cool and distant as sapphires set in mithril.

The dwarf sighed. It was only in the past few days that he had learned anything much about the elf, and most of that from overheard conversations with Aragorn in Moria. He had missed the fact that they had been shadowed from Rivendell. He hadn't known that the elf was afraid of being underground until Aragorn had forced Legolas to sit down and keep watch that way. He hadn't realized that the elf was never still unless he was asleep or hunting. He also hadn't realized that the elf was so attached to the company. He thought all elves were distant and cold. He hadn't realized that they felt emotions at all. And he hadn't really thought about the fact that Legolas hadn't admitted that he was in love with the human. He had thought it was because of Aragorn's engagement. Then, he'd seen how the elves of Lorien treated marriage as just a facet of love. They spent the night with their own mates more often than not, but there was no reason why they should not spend it with someone else. And privacy did not exist to them. Nor did shame it appeared.

Gimli blushed as red as his beard when Galadriel stripped off her dress and slid into the water. She waved cheerfully at the dwarf, who raised a hand in greeting. Well, it was clear that he was in for the long haul now. There was no way that he'd be able to head back to camp in the condition he was in now. Celeborn was talking to Legolas again and the younger elf did not look pleased with the way the discussion was headed.

*****

"Stop scowling and listen to me, Legolas."

"Stop trying to see things that aren't there."

"You are in love."

"I think I would notice, sir."

"I think you would not."

"And why is that, sir?"

"Since you never have before."

"I am not interested in light affairs. I will not betray Arwen in that manner either."

"It is not a betrayal."

"Isn't it? I promised to watch over Aragorn. That is what I am doing."

"Yes, you are. And you are overlooking him as well."

"I am very aware of where he is at all times. That is what one does when one is protecting someone," Legolas snapped.

"And when you close your eyes, who do you see?"

"I see many things when I dream, my lord," Legolas said softly. "Mostly, I dream of home and of the war that has already started there."

Celeborn straightened. "War? What do you mean?"

"I mean to say, sir, that the orcs are getting stronger and stronger and they do not try to hide their presence any longer. And I know the guards have been weakened by recent losses. And I fear for the safety of my home. Is that not allowed?"

"Don't get angry at me, Legolas."

"Then whom should I be angry with?" Celeborn rested a gentle hand on the taut shoulder. "Myself for not going home when my guard counseled that I should? For not following the order my lord gave to me when there was talk of sending someone to Rivendell?"

"What did you do, Legolas?" Celeborn asked suddenly. "What guilt preys upon you?"

"I requested that my lord send my bodyguards, since they are the best in the company, to accompany his messenger."

"And?" Celborn held his breath. He noted that his wife had gone still as well.

"I neglected to tell him that I was accompanying my guards as the messenger."

"Oh, Legolas. What are we to do with you, little one?"

"Not tell my lord Thranduil what I've gotten up to before I do?"

"Granted. Oh, Legolas, you've made things very difficult on yourself, you know."

"No harder than they need to be. No harder than my lord wished them before his sudden recovery of his senses a few decades back."

"I admit that I was surprised to see you outside of his holdings. I had thought that he had given his leave as a gesture of goodwill towards Elrond."

"No, my lord, I did not ask for his permission. It would not have been granted and I would be sitting currently on the roof of the palace brooding as deeply as Aragorn does now in the woods."

"Has anyone ever told you that you are far too formal?"

"No, my lord."

"When was the last time you call Thranduil anything other than 'my lord'?"

Legolas considered. "When I called him a self-centered bastard who had no idea what I thought and therefore he should not try. That was approximately three seconds before I was restricted to the palace for half a century. That was nearly five hundred turns ago."

Celeborn closed his eyes and let his chin drop to his chest. "Oh, Legolas, there is so much that you need to tell me about Mirkwood that I don't think there will be time enough left in the universe for it."

"Not if the ring is not destroyed. I will tell you all, should we survive this quest."

"Chin up. Don't be gloom and doom like your mother."

"I am a pragmatist, my lord. The queen was as well. We see that in some situations, death is a possibility. I will not turn from the path merely because of that. There is no fear of death in me. The dead cannot hurt us. It is the tortured living that are dangerous."

"Such as the other human?'

"Yes, such as the Steward."

"You really are too much like Aewlos. You know that, correct?"

"So I have been told several times."

"Go find Aragorn, then, and keep him from brooding. It will do you good."

Legolas stared at Celeborn. "Keep Aragorn from brooding? I'm not a miracle worker you know."

Celeborn shrugged. "It's your duty to try. Watching over him includes his mental health." He shooed the younger elf away.

*****

The next day, they set out again, paddling down the river of Anduin. Gimli was mooning over Galadriel. Legolas told him gently, "Your memories won't fade, Gimli. They will stay as bright and clear as they are today."

"Perhaps it is that way for elves, but not for dwarves."

"It will be. Your memories of Lorien will not fade." Gimli didn't hear the reality in the words, only the comfort of a friend. Legolas shook his head fondly. He didn't ask for much from the gods. But when he did ask, his requests were normally answered. He knew that this one would be granted as well. They always were when he asked for something for someone else.

The river was swift, but something was following them on the edge of Legolas' perception. He heard something strange in the bird's songs. He knew there was something very wrong in the air. Something nasty and dark. At first he ascribed it to the effects of the ring. But he knew that to be a lie as soon as he let his mind contemplate it. He moved automatically to keep pace with the other boats. They pulled up for a short break. Legolas let his mind rest completely in the streams of the world. He woke to a gentle hand on his shoulder. "It's time to go, Legolas."

The elf nodded. It was past time to move. He got into the boat and pushed off without more than a nodded greeting to the others. His attention pricked at something he couldn't see clearly. Three days later, they arrived at the edge of Mordor, near the gap of Rohan. Boromir would be leaving them to head to Minas Tirith then. Merry and Pippen would be sad to see him go. Legolas wasn't sure what he thought of the human leaving them. He was glad because that meant he would stop feeling the urge to knock the man's teeth in if he didn't stop mooning over Aragorn and lusting after the ring. The man had no idea what that little band of gold could do to a normally kind person. Legolas wasn't even sure that Boromir had the clarity of vision to see that it was only pride that said he could control the thing.

On the other hand, the breaking up of the group would make the danger that much greater. He didn't want to think of any of the Fellowship going on alone. He had promised Arwen that he would look after her Chosen many years before. But his heart told him that he had to look after Boromir, if only for the hobbits' sake. He had no question that Merry and Pippen could be convinced to go with the man. It might take some work, but it was possible. Then, Legolas could convince Gimli that it was his duty to help Boromir look after the little ones. Then, he and Aragorn could go with Frodo and Sam and destroy the damned ring once and for all. It was a sound plan.

They pulled up to the shore before the waterfall. "We'll camp and head out after dark," Aragorn told the group.

"We shouldn't linger," Legolas said, softly as he scanned the trees. "There is a shadow and a threat that has been growing in my mind. I can feel it."

Aragorn touched his arm, just as Pippen asked where Frodo had gone. Boromir had followed the hobbit. There were no words that had to be said. Aragorn patted Legolas' shoulder and went after the other two. Legolas tried in vain to keep the hobbits from running off after their friend. He and Gimli exchanged a glance. "They are young," Gimli said shortly.

"So are you," Legolas replied. "I don't see you running off without a partner."

"They aren't warriors, despite their bravery."

"True." Legolas straightened. "Orcs." He took off at a jog, Gimli on his heels. The fight was fast and furious. The orcs fell swiftly beneath his bow. Suddenly, his ears picked up the sound of Boromir's horn. After all the grief Elrond had given him in Rivendell, the man wouldn't use it unless it were an emergency. Aragorn nearly ran over the elf in his haste to find the Steward of Gondor.

*****

Legolas came to a full stop. Aragorn was comforting the dying Boromir. Go swiftly, little one, he whispered to the spirit that was released with Aragorn's final kiss. He was aware of Gimli behind him, but all of his being was focused on Aragorn. Strider's tears stained his face. The human wiped them away almost angrily. Legolas nodded in approval. They needed to send Boromir on and follow Merry and Pippen and Sam and Frodo. Legolas could scent them on the air. He could hear Frodo and Sam arguing on the banks of the river. There was no time left.

He strode forward and pulled the arrows from Boromir's chest. He dropped them into Aragorn's almost empty quiver. He lifted the human and Aragorn led them back to the shore. He set the body down and brushed the leaves from his beard and hair. Gimli moved to empty one of the boats. Aragorn removed the gauntlets that Boromir always wore. Legolas set Boromir in the now empty boat. He took the strip of fabric from Aragorn's fingers. He washed the wound with cool water and bound it carefully with the addition of some of the salve Strider carried. Then, Aragorn arranged the body and shoved the boat into the water. They each said their goodbyes silently.

"We have to hurry," Legolas said for the dwarf's benefit. "Sam and Frodo have reached the Eastern Shore." He turned. "You don't mean to follow them?"

"Sam and Frodo's fate is no longer in our hands."

"Then the Fellowship has failed," Gimli said sadly.

"Not so long as we hold true to each other," Aragorn said seriously. "We will not abandon Merry and Pippen to torment and death. Leave everything that you can. We travel light."

That being said he turned and set his knife in his sheath. Then, he took off into the forest. Legolas let Gimli go in front of him so that he could take the rear guard. He would let the tracker lead them for the moment.

Child's Play Part 4

LotR Bedroom

The Bedrooms

The Library