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In the Third Year

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In the Third Year

Winter
In the 3rd Year of the Fourth Age

The light from the campfire cast hard shadows across Elladan’s sleeping face, and he seemed cold and still despite the warmth of the dancing flames. He was lying close to where Thranduil sat in silence, poking at the fire intermittently. Close, yet distant in every way that mattered.

It hadn’t always been so.

For years—millennia—Thranduil had looked forward to any diplomatic occasions which required Lord Elrond to send his sons to Mirkwood as emissaries. Elrohir was polite and lordly and deferred to Thranduil while a guest in his halls, but he had inherited too much of Celeborn’s mistrust of Oropher’s son, and thus the formality between them could never be breached. But Elladan was different.

Elladan’s bright conversation and warm presence had filled Thranduil’s halls, and over the millennia, a friendship had blossomed between him and the king, as close as any friendship could be. But now, as he looked over again at the sleeping form of the Half-elf, Thranduil could only mourn the absence of that closeness and regret the chasm that had grown between them.

“Elrohir…?” Thranduil watched Elladan whisper the name of his brother in his sleep, his eyes moving rapidly behind their lids as he dreamed. “Did you see…no…that’s…that’s not…”

“Elladan,” Thranduil said, laying a hand against his shoulder. “Awake.”

“Nana…where…where…?”

“Elladan,” Thranduil said again, more forcefully this time. “You dream.”

He awoke with a start and stared up at Thranduil in confusion. “Elrohir?”

“Your brother awaits our arrival in Imladris.”

Thranduil watched as memory and reality coalesced upon Elladan’s face, the dream fading from his mind. He sighed and sat up, wincing slightly as he did. “I’m sorry to have disturbed you, my lord.”

My lord. There had been a time Elladan would not have hesitated to call him Thranduil, but that time seemed to be behind them now.

“I was not asleep,” Thranduil replied, turning back to the fire. “Merely lost in thought.”

Share those thoughts with me, the Elladan of the past would have said. The Elladan of the present said nothing. He simply shrugged and, in doing so, winced again.

“How fares you shoulder?”

“It fares…” Elladan said, staring up at the shimmering night sky.

“I could look at it, if you wish…”

Elladan moved away quickly, as though afraid Thranduil were about to reach out and touch him.

“No need, my lord. I’ve seen to it already.”

Thranduil stared at him a moment, studying his stubborn profile against the darkness, then looked away in silence.

***

Five weeks earlier…

“Lord Elladan!”

“King Thranduil!” Elladan responded in equal joy, embracing his friend warmly as they met halfway up the stairs of the dais. The throne room was decorated for winter with bright red and white holly berries and evergreen branches, and the smells of a midwinter feast being prepared were wafting up through halls and passageways from the kitchens beyond.

“Where is your brother?” Thranduil asked, making to peer behind Elladan as though to find his twin brother hiding there. “You didn’t lose him along the way, did you?”

“No,” Elladan said, sighing in feigned despair. “I’ve tried so many times to lose him, but it’s quite impossible.”

Thranduil laughed, ushering Elladan the rest of the way up the stairs to the dais, so that they might sit and talk.

“No,” Elladan continued. “I’ve simply left him to mind Imladris while we discuss our business. I did think to send him in my stead, but I would hate to rob myself the joy of your company. Besides,” he added, a wicked grin on his wind-raw face, “Elrohir hates spiders.”

“Well,” Thranduil said, motioning for Elladan to sit beside him on the dais, “you’ll find no spiders here in Eryn Lasgalen. Not since the fall of the Dark One in Mordor have we been troubled by those creatures.”

Something in Elladan’s geniality faltered for a moment, a shadow of a worry crossing his fair face. But in the next instant, it was gone.

“You look half-frozen,” Thranduil said, clapping his hands twice in the air, loudly. “Was the journey a hard one?”

“There were a few storms in the mountains,” Elladan said evasively, unbuttoning his cloak, though he left it on. “But nothing too dire. Nothing worth the telling of the tale.” He finished speaking with a stifled yawn.

“You look exhausted, Half-elf.”

“Oh, how kind of you,” Elladan said, rolling his eyes. “I was so hoping to make a good impression on my first diplomatic envoy as Lord of Imladris. My father would be so proud.”

“He would be,” Thranduil said. “But then, he always was.” Suddenly, Thranduil clapped again, frowning. “Where is that damned Galion?”

“Here, my lord!” Galion said, entering the room with two glasses of ruby red wine balanced upon a platter, their position made all the more precarious by the fact that Galion seemed to have recently helped himself to several glasses of wine himself.

“There you are, my Lord Elro…dan,” Galion said, squinting at Elladan uncertainly as he handed him his glass. “Happy Midwinter!”

“Thank you, Galion,” Elladan replied cheerfully, giving Thranduil a knowing smile.

“Yes, yes, off you go,” Thranduil said, shooing Galion away as he accepted his own glass.

And so it was that Thranduil and Elladan settled into the familiar paths of their well-traveled conversation, with plenty of gentle teasing and good-natured jesting, and it was nearly morning before they had worn themselves out at last with talking. Galion had returned now and then to refill their glasses (and his own) with wine, but was now sound asleep at the far end of the dais. Elladan looked about to join him as his eyes kept sliding shut of their own accord.

And so Thranduil led him at last to the chambers set aside for his visit, his belongings already brought there and laid out for him. And just before he entered in, Elladan turned and gave Thranduil a warm, tired smile. “Good night,” he said.

“Good night, Elladan,” Thranduil replied. “Sleep well.”

Neither of them moved.

They stared at one another in wondering silence: Elladan leaning against the doorframe, Thranduil tall and still upon the threshold. Then, as if in a trance, Elladan reached a hand upwards and touched Thranduil’s face, his thumb light against the edge of the king’s mouth. If he wanted to, Thranduil knew he could kiss him. He could reach for him and pull him close and kiss him right there in that doorway. But just as suddenly the moment was lost, and Elladan let his hand fall back to his side. “Good night,” he said again and disappeared into the room.

“Good night,” Thranduil said to the empty hallway, his heart hammering like the halls of Aulë.

***

Present

The horses of the Eldar seldom let their riders fall from their backs, yet even still Thranduil could not help but keep a close watch on Elladan as they rode through the old lands of Eregion together. The Half-elf was not well, no matter what protests to the contrary he might give, and as the day wore on, he only seemed to get worse.

It had been a mistake to ride west across the Misty Mountains. It had been a mistake to ride alone without guards or scouts. It had been a mistake to discount the warnings Elladan had given him about the dangers upon the road.

It had been a mistake to think themselves safe in this new age.

And the fault was his own, as difficult as it was for him to admit it, proud king that he was. His carelessness had led them to this folly, had led them both straight into a den of Orcs, and though they had escaped with their lives, the injury to Elladan’s shoulder was growing more serious by the hour.

As night began to fall again, Thranduil halted the horses, dismounted, then went to help Elladan down from his own horse. The Half-elf was hunched over, his head resting against the horse’s mane, cradling his right arm in his left. His eyes were closed.

“Elladan,” Thranduil said, “come down now. We must make camp before it grows too dark.”

Elladan blinked and sat up straighter upon the horse. “No, we should continue.”

“You’re in no shape to ride all night, my friend. You must rest.”

“I’ll rest…in Imladris,” Elladan said, the same stubborn look he’d had the night before coloring his expression, but it was not enough to mask the pain in his eyes. He tried to move his horse forward, but the stallion beneath him refused to budge.

“Rest for the sake of your horse if not for yourself then,” Thranduil said, sounding more annoyed than he intended. But the shortness of his words seemed to have done the trick, for Elladan reluctantly acquiesced, though he refused to allow himself to be helped down from the horse. He made to jump down on his own, but he seemed to have suddenly lost all of his natural grace, for his feet hit the ground too hard, and his shoulder was jolted roughly as a result. He cried out in pain, clutching at his arm as he knelt upon the snowy ground.

Thranduil hesitated for a moment, afraid to be rejected yet again, and then pushed away whatever tension lay between them and reached down to help him. Elladan’s shoulder was radiating heat, even from beneath the layers of cloth that hid it from the air. “The wound is infected,” Thranduil said. “Let me see to it.”

Elladan shook his head, trying desperately to even out his breathing. “It can wait…until Imladris…”

“It cannot,” Thranduil said forcefully. “If you let it fester, you could lose your whole arm, not to mention your life!”

“I know how this works!” Elladan replied hotly, trying to pull away from the king. “My father taught me everything he knew about medicines and—” He managed to yank himself free of Thranduil and stood, but as soon as he did so all the color drained away from his cheeks and his eyes rolled upwards as his body collapsed back downwards into the snow.

“Elladan!”

Thranduil caught him before he could injure himself further and laid him gently upon the ground. “Elladan,” he said again, slapping the Half-elf’s face to try and rouse him, but he had gone utterly senseless to everything around him. “Don’t you dare leave me here alone, Elladan,” Thranduil said in his most commanding tone. “Don’t you dare leave me.”

***

Four weeks earlier…

“I don’t think you’re taking this seriously enough, Thranduil,” Elladan said, trying to sound annoyed, but unable to hide the fact that he was more fond than exasperated.

“Well,” said Thranduil with a smirk. “I think you’ve invented this entire situation just to have an excuse to visit with me.”

“Oh, you would think that,” Elladan said, rolling his eyes and trying to hide a lopsided smile behind a heavy golden goblet.

“And I can’t blame you really,” Thranduil said, sipping from his own goblet as he and Elladan sat amidst the misting fountains and waterfalls deep with the caves of the Elven King’s Halls. They had come to this spot late that morning for a picnic of sorts, and now with evening approaching, they were both perhaps a bit too tipsy, having drunk more than half a dozen bottles wine and mead and some other delightful liquor that Thranduil couldn’t remember the name for. “Why wouldn’t you want to visit?” The king continued, gesturing about himself at the grandeur of the place and accidentally sloshing wine upon his hand. “Look at what I have to offer you! Where else could you find such hospitality?”

“And such wine,” Elladan said. “I have to admit to something: I haven’t been sober since I arrived. You keep giving me drinks to…to drink and Elrohir isn’t here to keep my wits about me.”

“I know,” Thranduil said. “That’s my secret for dealing with foreign emissaries. Keep them intoxicated on your food and wine, and they’ll give you whatever you ask.”

“I’ll be sure to pass the secret along to my sister the Lady Arwen,” said Elladan, finishing the drink within his goblet and setting it down beside him. “She’s still rather new to the whole ‘diplomatic dignitary’ thing.”

“Your father should have sent her on more missions abroad then, as he did for you and your brother.”

“I think my father would have rather cut off his arm, to be quite honest.”

Thranduil laughed at that, and Elladan joined him, their merriment ringing off the cave walls where it was swallowed up by the roaring of the waterfalls.

Eventually, their laughter died down to a companionable silence and Elladan sighed contently. “I was saying something,” he said after a moment.

“Yes,” Thranduil said, “something about your sister…?”

“No, before that.” Elladan said, frowning. “Ai, all the wine is…up in my head.”

“There’s more, don’t worry,” Thranduil said, refilling Elladan’s goblet with a honey-colored drink from a large pitcher.

“Oh, I wasn’t worried,” Elladan said.

“So,” Thranduil said, letting his own wine-sodden mind meander slowly back towards the conversation. “You were saying something.”

“Yes.”

“And I wasn’t listening.”

“Of course you weren’t,” Elladan said, breaking off into peals of laughter. And then they were both laughing again.

“No, no,” Elladan said, wiping tears of mirth from his eyes. “No, I have to tell you about the Orcs and you have to—Thranduil!—you have to listen. Listen!” Elladan reached out and took the king’s face in both of his hands. “Stop laughing and look at me. This is—haha—this is so very, very serious.”

“All right, all right,” Thranduil said, relishing the feel of Elladan’s hands upon his face. “What is serious?”

“The thing that I have to tell you.”

“Which is…?”

“It’s—” Elladan made to pull his hands away from Thranduil’s face, but the king held them in place.

“No, no, I need your hands to…to concentrate on your words.”

Elladan snorted with laughter, but managed to get himself under control before he could fall into another drunken laughing fit.

“All right. There are Orcs. They are alive. They are Orcs from the North. North Orcs.”

“No, not North Orcs!”

“Shhhh—haha—shhhh stop. Stop. Making me laugh. Orcs! They are coming down into the Misty Mountains. It’s bad for the people there. And for me.”

“Have you seen these North Orcs?”

“Nooooo,” Elladan said, carefully. “But I know people who did. Aragorn wants to stop this now before the problem grows…”

Thranduil shut his eyes as Elladan spoke, the sound of his voice, the feel of his hands, his very presence, driving him mad with a sudden desire. He’d loved Elladan for many long, silent years, years of longing and yearning and closeness. And now he wondered why he’d ever kept this love silent, why he’d wasted so much time when he could be loving him, holding him, kissing him…

“Ai, wake up!” Elladan said.

“I am awake,” Thranduil said, opening his eyes.

“Then what did I say?”

“North Orcs, mountains, Aragorn said something important, and so on. Is that right?”

Elladan frowned. “I think so? I honestly can’t remember, haha. Ahh, we should finish this discussion when we can both think straight again.”

“Come on then,” Thranduil said, climbing to his feet somewhat less gracefully than he usually would have and held out a hand for Elladan. He pulled him up off the ground and up into his arms, and kissed him.

It was that simple. He just reached down and pulled him up into a kiss.

And Elladan tasted like honeyed mead and nutmeg and cinnamon, and his lips and tongue were wine-stained and so good, so much better than he could have ever imagined.

Elladan pulled away, his eyes wild and unfocused, his breath hitching in his mouth. He swayed and blinked at Thranduil in dumbfounded silence.

“Elladan…” he began, trying to think of some explanation, some reason for his behavior.

“Again,” Elladan said.

“What?”

“Do that again.”

***

Present

Elladan was shaking uncontrollably beneath the blankets, his eyes opened but unfocused, darting about in wild, random patterns, seeing things that Thranduil apparently could not.

“Where’s Elrohir?” he asked for what must have been the nine hundredth time.

“He’s in Imladris,” Thranduil said, packing snow within a bit of cloth and pressing it to Elladan’s burning forehead. “He’s safe.”

“Why did you leave him there?” Elladan asked, tears brimming in his eyes. “I can’t leave him…”

“Shhh, he’s safe, you’re safe.”

Elladan shut his eyes, shuddering against either the pain or the chills, and it seemed for a moment he had passed once more into unconsciousness, but then his eyes snapped open again and he jolted upright. “Where is he!?”

“Elladan, all is well. Rest.” Thranduil eased him back down onto the bedroll.

“Is Ada here?”

“No, I’m sorry.”

A bit of lucidity seemed to cross his face. “He’s with my mother in Valinor. I have to go to them.”

Something dark and cold crept into Thranduil’s heart. “No, you’re going to stay with me. And you’re going to rest.”

“Thranduil,” Elladan said. Despite everything else, it felt good to hear his name on Elladan’s lips again.

“Yes, my friend.”

“We were both at fault. I…I’m not angry with you. We were both at fault.”

Thranduil tried unsuccessfully to fight back the anger that rose within him at these words. “We did nothing wrong! My love for you is no crime.”

“You have a wife.”

The ancient pain from that loss welled up within him in an instant. “I had a wife. She is gone from these lands. But I have found love again in you.”

“It is forbidden,” Elladan said, shaking his head weakly. “We can’t…”

“Forbidden by whom? The Valar? Your grandmother may have known them, walked with them, followed their laws, broken their laws, but I know them not. I am a child of the Twilight, of Doriath. I have known no other lands than these, and in these lands I shall remain. And I make my own laws in my own kingdom, and I say I love you, without fear and without shame.”

Elladan was crying now and trying to hide it. He turned his head away from Thranduil and let his tears fall silent down his fever-hot cheeks.

“I’m sorry,” Thranduil said after a long moment, calmer now and regretting his previous outburst. “Elladan, my dear one, my love, I’m sorry.”

Elladan said nothing, but pulled the blankets closer around himself and wept in silence.

***

Three weeks earlier…

Something had changed since they had kissed by the fountains. Something had broken.

The heat of that moment in the caves had turned to a frost, cold enough to rival the snows outside. Elladan avoided Thranduil as best he could, and when he couldn’t, he pretended nothing had happened. He kept his friendship with the king at a distance, falling into more formal diplomatic routines rather than the close relationship they had fostered over the many centuries they’d known one another.

And then one morning, not long after that day by the fountains, Elladan announced he was returning to Imladris.

“You were to stay until the spring,” Thranduil said, his face a mask of calm even as his heart was screaming: If you let him leave now, you will never see him again!

“A change of plans,” Elladan said. “You have not elected to take my warnings about a gathering of Orcs in the Misty Mountains seriously, my lord, so I must find others who will.”

“You speak of danger in those mountains, yet you would leave the safety of my kingdom to cross those same mountains alone?”

“I came here from across those very mountains alone, my lord, and was not assailed.”

“Then perhaps I am right not to heed your warnings, for there seems to be little truth to them.”

“Then as we have nothing more to discuss, am I to assume I’m free to go?”

Thranduil was silent for a very long moment. Then at last he spoke. “You are free to go under one condition.”

“Which is?”

“I accompany you to Imladris, and we continue our discussions there.”

“That is not necessary, as there is nothing more for us to discuss.”

“Oh, I think that you’ll find that there is.”

Elladan gritted his teeth together in frustration. Ai, even in anger he was beautiful.

“You would do well to accept my offer if you wish that relations between our two realms remain…amiable.”

Elladan nodded curtly and turned away from him without being dismissed. “We leave on the hour. Be ready.”

***

Present

The next morning, Thranduil rode with Elladan in front of him upon one horse, the other horse following along behind, laden with their packs and supplies. With any luck they would reach the borders of Imladris by nightfall, or perhaps meet with a patrol from that realm even sooner.

Elladan spent the day in a haze of delirium, drifting in and out of consciousness, but never lucid enough to understand where he was or what was happening. He kept asking about his family, where they were, if they were safe. At one point, he seemed to mistake Thranduil for the Vala Oromë and asked if he was taking him on horseback to Valinor. It would have been amusing were Elladan not so desperately ill. Thranduil made a silent promise to tease him about it later when he was well again.

“The World is dark now,” Elladan said as evening once again began to creep along the edges of the horizon. “I can’t see the stars.”

“It’s overcast tonight,” Thranduil said, helping Elladan down from the horse as they stopped to make camp. “It may snow.”

“It will be beautiful if it does,” Elladan said as Thranduil laid him down gently against a large, fallen log and began to make camp. “Nana will love it.”

“I’m sure she will.”

“I’m too tired to tell her about it now…tell her for me…”

After that, he fell into a restless sleep and Thranduil was left to his lonely task of keeping his beloved alive.

Later that night, Thranduil kept catching himself drifting off, and each time chastised himself for it. The final time it happened, in the still hours before dawn, he awoke with a start to the sound of Elladan crying out in fear.

“Elladan? What is it? I’m here, what’s wrong?”

Elladan cried out again and tried to escape from the tightly wrapped blankets he was bound up in. “I killed them!”

“Who? No, Elladan, you haven’t killed any—”

“I tried to stop, but they kept coming and coming, and I can’t find them, I can’t find anyone!”

“Shh, I’m here, I’m here with you.”

“I killed them,” he sobbed, and Thranduil gathered him into his arms, blankets and all, and held him tightly. “I killed them, I killed them!”

“No, no, you didn’t. You’re dreaming, you’re only dreaming.”

“Nana!” he cried. He was looking up at Thranduil without any recognition as to who he was, and he was burning. “She was…blood, blood all over, and Ada was…Ada was gone…Where are they? They left me behind! Where is Elrohir?”

“Elbereth,” Thranduil prayed, holding Elladan as tightly as he could as the Half-elf sobbed, “please have mercy on my beloved Elladan, please send him your aid, please…”

And then it seemed, beyond the sound of Elladan’s sobbing, beyond the wind, beyond the trees, that a song was being sung by a far off voice, and then another voice, and another. And the song was familiar. A song to Elbereth, sung by many voices, growing nearer and nearer as the minutes passed.

And then they appeared, clad in blue and silver and grey, Elves and Men alike: a patrol sent out from Imladris. And at the front of this group was a very familiar Half-elf whose grey eyes glittered like the shine of a sharpened blade.

Elrohir son of Elrond stepped forward into the light of the campfire and Thranduil knew at that moment that Elladan was saved.

***

One week earlier…

“Are you never to speak to me again, then?”

“I have spoken to you many times.”

Thranduil sighed and stood from the small campfire. “I would like to know what offense I have committed that I should receive such cold treatment from you.” He didn’t wait for a reply from Elladan, not that one was forthcoming anyway, and strode away towards the edge of the wide cliff upon which they camped. The mountains were beautiful, the snow glowing slightly in the moonlit mists, but Thranduil could not find it within himself to enjoy the majesty of that place. After a while, he sensed Elladan come up behind him silently, and the king turned slightly to acknowledge him.

“I’m leaving Middle-earth,” the Half-elf said. “My brother and I, that is. We will linger long enough to see our sister’s dreams come to fruition, see her family and her happiness, but then we must either leave for Valinor, or stay here and be counted among Men.” There was silence as Thranduil felt these words settle in his mind. Then, Elladan continued: “I made my mother and father a promise that I would be with them in the Undying Lands. And yet I know that you shall not leave Middle-earth so long as your realm endures. So you see, it’s…easier this way. It’s easier to just…let go.”

Thranduil shook his head, though he kept his eyes trained on the mountainous landscape spread out before them. “There is nothing easy about the distance you have created between us.”

“I—”

But Elladan never finished whatever it was he meant to say, for suddenly an arrow whistled through the night air, narrowly missing them. Thranduil heard it hit a rock somewhere just beyond where they stood, and before he could even think, his sword was in his hand and his eyes were searching for enemies.

“Get down!” Elladan cried, pushing Thranduil to the ground as another arrow soared towards them. This one had not hit a rock, however. It had hit Elladan in the shoulder. Thranduil met his eyes, saw the pain and desperation in them, and then turned towards the enemies slowly beginning to circle around them.

Thranduil left none of them alive.

***

Present

“How is he?”

“Exhausted,” Elrohir said, coming out of the room and quietly shutting the door behind him. “It will be a while before he wakes, but he’ll be all right.”

“Thank the Valar.”

Elrohir nodded, then peered at Thranduil, his face inscrutable. “He asked for you.”

“Did he?” Thranduil asked, trying to keep his voice light and curious.

“Yes,” Elrohir said slowly, still staring intently at the king. “He wanted me to tell you he was sorry.”

“For what?”

“That’s what I would like to know.”

Thranduil frowned. “I think perhaps he wasn’t in his right mind when he told you this. The fever led your brother to think many strange things.”

“Yes,” Elrohir said after a moment, though he didn’t look entirely convinced. Thranduil wondered if perhaps he knew something more than what he was saying.

“May I see him?”

Elrohir raised an eyebrow. “He’s sleeping, my lord. There’s not much you could learn from a visit with him at the moment. Perhaps if you come back tomorrow—”

“I mean only to sit by his side, not to interrogate him,” Thranduil said impatiently. “Let me watch him while you rest. You’ve fatigued yourself in healing him.”

Elrohir just gazed at him with that imperceptible stare of his. Then at last he nodded. “Very well, my lord. But if there is any change, good or bad, you will let me know immediately.”

“Of course, of course,” Thranduil said, waving a hand to dismiss him, as if he were still in his own kingdom. “Go on and rest yourself, Half-elf.”

Elrohir turned to look once more at the door, as though he could somehow see beyond it, and then nodded at Thranduil and began to walk down the hall.

“It was lucky,” Thranduil called after him suddenly. Elrohir stopped and looked back at him, one eyebrow raised in question: a perfect imitation of his father. “It was lucky you found us when you did. I’m not certain Elladan would have lasted another night.”

“It was not luck,” Elrohir said, but didn’t offer any other explanation as he turned and walked down the hall and out of sight.

The room was small and warm; it was not Elladan’s own chamber, but rather one used in Imladris’ house of healing for those who needed quiet and rest, removed from the bustling of the busy main house. Thranduil found Elladan fast asleep upon a bed, curled on his side beneath a pile of blankets. He looked smaller than he actually was, lost amid the heavy quilts and woolen sheets. He looked like a child, young and fragile and precious beyond words.

Thranduil sat by his bed all through the long night until dawn grew bright upon the eastern horizon. Elladan had barely moved all night, and so still and silent was he—save for the slow, steady rise and fall of his chest as he breathed—that Thranduil knew Elrohir must have done something to ensure his brother slept dreamless throughout the night.

At last, not long after the sun had risen over the hills and into the valley, Elladan finally awoke, slow and muddled from his long sleep. He stared up at Thranduil, blinking in confusion, and then turned his head to look about himself.

“When did we arrive?” Elladan asked, his voice rough.

“Yesterday afternoon,” Thranduil replied.

“I don’t remember,” Elladan said, squeezing his eyes shut as though that would help him retrieve his lost memories.

“No, I doubt you would. You were unconscious.”

Elladan was quiet for a long moment, and Thranduil thought for a moment perhaps he’d fallen back asleep, but then he opened his eyes and looked again at the king. To Thranduil’s surprise, Elladan’s eyes were full of tears, brimming with grief and pain. “I wouldn’t have thought that you would be here by my side, after all I’ve done.”

“You’ve done nothing,” Thranduil said, brushing away a tear that had escaped done Elladan’s cheek. “Of course I am here.”

Elladan shook his head, loosing more tears as he did so. “No,” he said, his voice tight. “I hurt you.”

“I understand why you did,” Thranduil said. “You were trying to spare me the pain that your inevitable departure from these lands will cause me. I understand.”

“No,” he said, looking away towards the western-facing windows of the room. “I did it to spare myself pain. It was selfish and foolish and cruel to you. But I didn’t know what else to do.” He looked back up at Thranduil, his eyes filling with fresh tears. “I love you,” he said, so softly Thranduil almost thought he’d simply imagined he’d heard it. “I love you but I can never have you. It’s not possible.”

“Anything is possible, Elladan,” Thranduil said, his heart filling with a renewed sense of hope even as his beloved despaired. “Anything is possible where there is love, and I have loved you for so many countless years.”

“Even if you were not married, my fate would still divide us. But you are married, and I must cross the Sea. If I stay here, stay with you, I will die.”

“Then I will follow you across the Sea. Let me be with you in Valinor, if we cannot be here.”

Elladan stared at him in amazement. Even his tears seemed to freeze in wonderment upon his cheeks. “You would…you would leave your home, your people…for me?”

“Yes.”

“But,” Elladan said, blinking in shock. “But your wife awaits you in Valinor. You can’t just…” he trailed off, looking lost.

“My wife resides in the Halls of Mandos still,” Thranduil replied softly, letting the old familiar ache of that loss settle like a mantle upon his shoulders. It was strange, he thought, how comfortably he wore that ancient grief now. How accustomed to it he had become. “And she will not leave that place. She had chosen not to return to life.”

“How…how do you know that?”

“I know it,” Thranduil said. “Just as your brother knew where to find you in the wilderness, that you were in need of him. I know it.”

Elladan stared at him, realization creeping into his sad, grey eyes. “So…she has released you from your bonds?”

“No,” Thranduil said. “She will always be a part of me, as I am to her, and that bond will always remain. But she has released me from my troth.”

A hint of a smile, the first one he had seen on Elladan’s face in weeks, began to tug at the corners of Elladan’s mouth. “You are free to remarry.”

“Yes.”

“You will leave Middle-earth?”

Thranduil smiled. “Yes.”

“I would kiss you,” Elladan said, his joy as sudden and intense as his sorrow had been, “but I have not the strength to pull you towards me.”

“Then allow me,” Thranduil said, and very gently he cupped Elladan’s cheek with one hand, and with the other lifted his head up off the pillows. When their lips met, Thranduil intended to go slowly, lest he reinjure Elladan, but the Half-elf beneath him opened his mouth and practically demanded more. He reached up and wound his hands in Thranduil’s tunic, bringing them closer together. How far they would have gotten would forever be a mystery, for just as Thranduil was beginning to run his hands down Elladan’s neck and chest, the door to the chamber opened and Elrohir strode in.

Thranduil pulled away, though he wasn’t quite fast enough. Elrohir, however, didn’t seemed at all phased by their behavior. He simply walked over to the bed, leveling a stern look in Thranduil’s direction.

“I would prefer it,” he said, folding his arms across his chest in another very good imitation of his father, “if you would not risk further injury to my convalescing brother.”

“Oh, you always have to ruin my fun, don’t you?” Elladan said, settling himself back down upon the pillows, wincing slightly as he did.

Elrohir turned to his brother, and his stern expression turned soft and fond all at once. “Only when it’s for your own good.” He pressed a kiss to his brother’s forehead and smiled at him. “Next time, you’ll take a guard with you, just as I recommended you should have done in the first place. If Nana and Ada were here, they’d be very cross with you.” Then he turned again to Thranduil, and the stern demeanor returned. “My brother will be quite weak for a few days yet, and so I regret to say that he will not be able to…engage socially with you until he is recovered.”

“Elrohir, don’t—”

“No, no, your brother is right,” Thranduil said. “You should rest. There will be plenty of opportunities to engage socially when you are feeling better.”

Elladan sighed and allowed Elrohir to fuss over him like a mother hen. But as Thranduil left the room, he turned to catch Elladan’s eye once more and saw the promise written there upon his face. And that promise filled Thranduil with hope and joy and light, such as he had not felt in a very long time.

He loved and was loved in return, and no matter where his path would leave him in this new age, he now knew that he would not walk alone. For Elladan would be with him.