Chapter 1: Prologue
Upper Washington State
Anna pulled the woolen beanie securely on over her dark hair. Despite it being spring, the temperature was still barely hitting the mid forties. She opened the back door and grabbed the two buckets that waited for her before stepping out. Licking her lips, she pursed them and let out a sharp whistle. Almost immediately, clucking came from the chicken coop and snorting from the pig pen. Anna started heading to the coop but paused for a moment. Had that been the wind? Or a trick of her imagination? She could have sworn she heard….no, that was ridiculous, there was no one else for miles. She headed for the coop once more, the flock of a dozen or so Rhode Island Red and Delaware hens emerging from roost in search of their next meal.
“Good morning, ladies,” Anna said as she let herself into their run, “Have we laid lots of lovely eggs?” The hens jostled each other as Anna filled up their feeder.
“Alright, now, play nice,” she said, “I’ll be back later to check for your eggs.” She carefully picked her way back to the gate and headed towards the pig sty.
She stopped. There it was again! She was certain she had heard it now! But still, there was no one for miles, it was probably just being carried by the wind.
“Martha, Bertha, come and get it!” she called. A few snorts and snuffles later, the two Berkshire pigs emerged from their shelter, trotting over to their trough in anticipation of their meal. Anna dumped their feed out into the trough, watching as the two sows began to eat. It came again, crystal clear this time. A child crying. Anna put down the bucket and looked around, trying to pinpoint the direction. It came again. The woods! She jogged towards the woodland that lay a short distance away. The cries came again, stronger this time.
“Hello?” she called, “Hello?! Can you hear me? I’m coming!”
She weaved through the trees, following the sound until she emerged in a clearing. Sat in the centre was a small child, no more than three or four years old with long blonde hair.
“Hey,” she said softly, “Hey there, it’s okay, I’m here.” She crouched down as the child turned. She still couldn’t tell if it were a boy or a girl. Big fat tears slid down their cheeks as they blinked at her.
“Hi,” she said, “I’m Anna. What’s your name?” The child blinked again, wiping tears away on the back of their little hand.
“Anna,” she said again, pointing to herself. A small hand pointed towards her.
The child pointed to themselves, sniffling slightly.
Chapter 2: Strange New World
Thranduil felt the fear rising in his throat.
"Legolas!" he yelled, desperately straining to hear a reply, a cry, anything that would tell him where his young son was. Close behind him, Galion and the ever-faithful Feren followed, their keen eyes scouring their surroundings for a hint of the young Prince. For two weeks, they had been scouring the forest as the young boy seemed to vanish into thin air. For two weeks, the King had not paused to take rest, let alone sleep. His wife had passed less than ten years before. Their son, Legolas, all he had left of her, was missing.
“Ernil! Ernil Legolas!” the sounds of the other Elves scattered throughout the area searching filtered through the trees.
“It is hopeless,” Thranduil murmured as he came to a stop before his two companions, “We will never find him.”
“No, my King!” Feren said, hurrying forward, “The prince will be found, I swear on my life, I will not rest until he is returned to you.”
"It has been two weeks, and we have found neither hide nor hair of him,” Thranduil said quietly, “No tracks or trails left behind. It is as if he simply….”
“Left this world, and journeyed to another,” a female voice came from his left. Thranduil turned, sword drawn at the newcomer although he soon lowered it when he recognized the Lady of Light who stood before him.
“Your Majesty,” she said, bowing her head to him. He returned the gesture, more out of respect for her age than deference.
“You know what has become of my son?” he said, “Tell me.”
“I wish to tell you my only regret is that we could not tell you of the plan before we carried it out," she said, "Time was of the essence. We have been watching what remains of the Dark Lord Sauron for quite some time, and his attention had turned to the young Prince. Rumors abound from those with Foresight that the Prince will play some great role in the wars to come, possibly even in Sauron’s Downfall. We could not hesitate, and sent him somewhere he would be safe.”
“He was safe with me,” Thranduil growled.
“He is a child, and a child needs a mother,” Galadriel said calmly, “And I found a mother who needed a child.”
"Speak, plainly! I have no time for riddles and hidden meanings!" Thranduil snapped his rage at her meddling, starting to replace his fear.
“We sent him through the Fairy Ring close to the eastern gate of Mirkwood,” Galadriel said, “The walls between this world and the next are thin there, and it was easy to slip an Elfling through.”
“You sent my son to another world without telling me?!”
“There was little time, with Sauron's attention on him, I had to act immediately."
“Two weeks! He has been missing for two weeks! And now you come and tell me of your interference, witch!”
“I wished to deliver this message in person.”
“What gives you the right to make this decision?” the Elven-King snarled.
“I am a mother, and if I were in your position, I would send my child away to safety than risk their life.” Thranduil turned from her and stomped away a short distance before turning back.
“Bring him back.”
“I cannot,” she said, “Unless he is within the Fairy Ring on the other side, I cannot bring him back through. If you wish for him to return, you must go fetch him. The Ring is complete once every seven days. If you leave now, you will arrive whilst the gateway is open.”
“Then go I shall!" Thranduil said before letting out a sharp whistle. There was a moment of silence, and his massive War Elk appeared between the trees.
“To the Fairy Ring!” he ordered.
The ride was long and hard, filled with numerous dangers that haunted what had once been the mighty Greenwood. Wargs, spiders and other fell beasts now haunted the trees. Thranduil lost two guards on the journey, but it was a small price in his eyes for the safe return of his son. Finally, they arrived, and he was most displeased to find Elrond, Lord of Rivendell and Mithrandir, the Grey Wizard already there, waiting.
“I suppose you both had a hand in this,” he snarled as they moved aside.
“Please, Your Majesty, try to understand,” the Wizard said, “We had to move quickly, there was no time...”
“I care not!” Thranduil snapped, “All I want is my son.”
"Well, the Fairy Ring is complete, so travel to him is possible," Elrond began.
"Good," Thranduil cut him off and brushed past him. The complete circle of wild mushrooms was mere feet away, and his long legs covered the distance easily.
“King Thranduil, wait!” the Half-Elven called, “Your Majesty, time there….”
But it was too late. The moment the Elven-King stepped into the Ring, he vanished.
Thranduil felt disorientated, almost as if he were drunk. He blinked several times as he looked around, trying to ground himself and make sense of his surroundings. For a brief moment, he thought he was still in Mirkwood, but then he realized, the trees were smaller, the air less dense. Bright sunlight shone through gaps in the canopy. It had worked. The Fairy Ring, whatever ancient magic it was, had brought him through to the world next to his own. Now to find his son. He heard a child’s laughter through the trees. Legolas’ laughter. He let out a relieved sigh. He had thought he would never hear his son's musical laugh ever again. It had been heard so rarely in the years since the death of the Queen. Now it was like he was hearing it for the first time all over again. His heart soared, and he followed the sound, weaving through the trees towards the edge of the forest. He emerged on a slope, leading down to a small dwelling. A farm by the looks of it. He could see a barn, a pigsty, and some chickens. The wind blew, and it carried Legolas' laughter once more, along with another, a female’s.
Galadriel's words crossed his mind as his ears strained to pinpoint, where Legolas' laughter was coming from. His eyes swept across the farm and noticed one of the rear windows was open. Inside. Legolas was inside.
Carefully, he made his way down the small embankment towards the house. He could hear low music coming from the house too. Legolas was chattering excitedly, and the female was responding. The chickens scattered as he strode across the yard towards the house. He reached out and tried the handle on the door. The door opened easily, and he stepped inside. He found himself in what he could only assume was a kitchen. A large ceramic sink was by the window, a few plates and some cutlery lay at the side on the wooden countertop. A vase of brightly colored flowers stood in the center of a small round table in the center of the room with four chairs around it. A small child's crude drawings decorated some of the surfaces. They seemed to feature a small yellow-headed figure and a larger dark-haired one. Had Legolas drawn these? Another laugh drew his attention back towards the far side of the room. He turned and headed towards the doorway. A scraping sound made him pause. His cloak had gotten caught on one of the chairs and dragged it behind him. He sighed and freed himself from the chair. The voices had stopped although the music still played. He followed the sound down a small hallway, the floorboards creaking beneath his boots. His heart pounded. After two long weeks, he was finally going to be reunited with his son. He turned through another doorway and saw him.
Legolas was unchanged, although he was dressed strangely. He stood a few feet from Thranduil, his head tilted to one side as he looked him up and down. Thranduil couldn’t help but smile at his son. He had found him, at last, he had finally found him, alive and well. There was movement behind the boy, and Thranduil looked up. A woman scooped Legolas up into her arms and held him close.
“Stay back,” the woman said, “Stay away from my son!” Thranduil’s jaw clenched. Her son?! He had never met this firieth before, she certainly wasn’t Legolas’ mother. He drew himself up to his full height, an intimidating six and a half feet in his boots and took a step forward, intent on removing Legolas from her grasp one way or another. Then he noticed, her eyes were looking around wildly; she was frightened and looking for a way to defend herself. She lowered Legolas and pushed the child behind her. No. She had little care for herself...she was defending his son.
“Legolas,” he said quietly, as gently as he could at that moment, “It is me, your Ada.” His heart broke to watch the child’s brow furrow in confusion, he didn't recognize him.
“Naneth,” Legolas whined, pulling on the short robe the woman wore, “Make him go away.””
“Get out of my house before I call the police,” the woman’s tone was threatening as one hand rested on Legolas’ head.
“Not without my ion,” Thranduil said, unmoving.
“Get out of my house!”
“Naneth!” Legolas sobbed.
“Enough of this!” Thranduil roared, far louder than he intended. He reached out and seized Legolas’ hand.
"No!" the woman screamed, but it all seemed to fade away as his son's eyes widened in recognition.
Warmth seemed to ebb and flow from where their fingers touched, and Thranduil ran his thumb over the back of Legolas' hand.
“Ada?” Legolas’ voice was barely more than a whisper.
“Ma, ion nin,” he smiled.
“Ada!” Legolas cried, throwing himself forward, releasing the woman’s robe and into Thranduil’s arms.
Anna stared at the scene before her, unable to move. Her heart was pounding, adrenaline pumping through her veins just moments before. Now she felt drained. The giant of a man who had been blocking the door only moments ago was now on his knees. Legolas was wrapped in his arms, joy on his face. Taking deep breaths, she looked at them. Her heart dropped as she noticed similarities between the two. The same silver-blond hair, the same dark brows, their eyes were the same ice-blue color. Her breath caught in her chest as the man's head tilted and she saw delicately-pointed ears...just like Legolas. She had been waiting for this moment for two years. Someone had finally come and claimed the boy, and it looked like it was his father. She closed her eyes for a moment, to compose herself, but when she opened them, both Legolas and the stranger were gone.
"Legolas?" she breathed, blinking, and looking around, "Legolas!" The back door slammed.
“No! Wait!” she cried.
“Ada, where are we going?” Legolas asked as Thranduil strode across the yard, the boy resting on his hip.
"Home," Thranduil replied simply, marveling at how the boy spoke the common tongue of Westron so fluently now.
“What about Naneth?” Legolas asked, looking behind them, “Is she coming too?”
“She is not your naneth,” Thranduil said firmly, feeling rage well up that the woman would so quickly install herself as Legolas’ mother. It felt disrespectful to his late wife.
“But is she coming?”
“Legolas!” the woman’s voice came from behind them, “Stop! Please!” Thranduil sighed and picked up his pace. He had no time for this, he needed to get home to his Kingdom.
“No! Please, don’t take him from me!” the woman sobbed as Thranduil strode up the embankment and into the trees.
She wasn’t giving up, keeping pace with him. He was almost impressed with her tenacity. She continued to call after them, following them into the woods even though Thranduil knew there was no way she had stopped to put something on her feet.
“You can’t do this!” she cried, “I have taken care of him for two years! You can’t just take him away from me!” Thranduil paused.
“Two years?” he said as he turned to face the woman, “Two years? You believe I would abandon my son to the care of a firieth for two years?!”
“Yes! Because it happened!” she retorted, “Two years, no one came looking for him. I raised him as my own.” He snorted and turned back, heading further into the woods and towards the Fairy Ring.
“Where are you even going?" the woman called, showing no signs of giving up, "There's nothing that way but mountains and wilderness. You can't take a young child out there!" Thranduil's patience finally gave way, and he pulled his sword from its sheath on his belt, pointing it towards her, the tip a mere inch from her face.
"I grow tired of your lies and attempts to discomfit myself and my son," he snarled, "I intend to take my son home and leave you to your wretched life." He whipped the sword away so that it swished through the air, leaving the woman speechless in shock and only able to watch as he stalked onwards, ignoring Legolas’ cries to go back to the woman.
He felt disorientated again. As he had brandished his sword towards the firieth's face, her eyes had widened in fear. What he saw in them had made him uncomfortable. He tightened his grip on his son. Her eyes. They were unusual, her irises were sky-blue around the edge leading into green around her pupil. He had only seen eyes like that once before in all his years: his wife. He blinked, he could see the clearing up ahead, they were close to home. They emerged into the clearing and Thranduil breathed a sigh of relief; this whole arduous episode was soon to be over. He stepped into the circle, expecting to be instantly back in his kingdom….only nothing happened. He remained where he was, staring at the same trees and even the firieth as she stumbled into the clearing. It wasn’t working.
“I...I do not understand...” he said, “Why is this not working?” Legolas finally wiggled his way free, and he dropped to the ground.
“Look, Ada,” he laughed, “Piggie!” Thranduil turned and saw a brown wild pig trotting back into the trees.
“The Fairy Ring?” the woman said, “You came here using the Fairy Ring?” Thranduil blinked at her.
“My grandmother used to tell me stories about visitors coming through the Fairy Ring," she said gently, "If the stories are true, you're stuck here for a while. Look." She nudged one of the mushrooms that made up the Ring with her foot. He looked down. There was a gap, the mushrooms destroyed, no doubt by the wild pig that had just run off. Legolas broke free of Thranduil’s grip and bounded up to the woman who lifted him into her arms.
“Then we shall have to intrude upon your hospitality for a week until the ring is regrown,” he said firmly, leaving no doubt he intended to remain close by and leave at the earliest opportunity. The woman let out a laugh.
“You’ll have longer than that so you’ll be able to work on your manners,” she said, “The Fairy Ring is only complete for one day a year. Come tomorrow, these will all start dying off. By summer it will be gone completely.” Thranduil’s heart sank. A year? How was that even possible?
“Your Majesty, time there….”
Elrond’s words echoed in his mind. Two years, the woman claimed to have been caring for Legolas for two years. If time moved differently here, as he suspected Elrond had attempted to warn him, that could explain why he had been searching for two weeks whilst this firieth claimed it to have been significantly longer. He swallowed as the realization settled in. Until the Fairy Ring regrew and was opened once more, he was trapped here. He was to be trapped here for an entire year.
Chapter 3: Manners
Thranduil reluctantly followed the woman back to the house, rage boiling in his stomach as he watched her laugh and talk to Legolas. A year! He was stuck in this world, with this impertinent firieth, for a year!
How dare she lecture him on his manners! No matter, he had a year to teach her her place. He inspected her attire and decided he would first instruct her how to dress appropriately. The thin pink silk robe she wore was utterly inappropriate to be worn in front of Legolas. No female in his Kingdom would ever stand before him, and his heir with her legs exposed as hers were.
And did she not know how to suitably address a King? She did not even have the decency to hold the door open for him as he followed her back inside. She lowered Legolas to the floor and turned to face him. The scandalously short robe gaped open. From his much greater height, he could see the soft swell of her exposed cleavage. He swallowed.
It had been a long time since he had felt the warmth of a female... but no! He would not allow himself to be distracted by her that way! What was wrong with him?! His wife would be ashamed!
Her eyes raised and locked on his, he quickly looked away, displeased to feel the warmth that crept into his face. Damn her and her inappropriate attire!
“Ada! Your face is pink!" the boy chuckled. The woman looked back up to him and then down. Realizing how her robe gaped, she quickly pulled it across her body.
"Come on, Legolas, let's get you dressed," she said, extending a hand towards the child before looking back at Thranduil, "You, wait here." Thranduil's brows raised at the order. Impertinent wench! He was King, he took orders from no one. Especially not a scantily-clad firieth!
Legolas took her hand, and she led him away. Thranduil listened as their footsteps went down the hall and up the stairs. He heard a door shut and then nothing. After a few moments, he could hear muffled voices, but he could not distinguish the words. Sighing, he shed his cloak and dropped it over the back of a chair and looked more carefully around the room.
There were dozens of sketches, obviously drawn by his son, decorating the room. He studied each one as he unfastened his sword and slung it across the chair with his cloak. Almost all of the pictures featured some representation of Legolas and the woman he now called his Naneth.
Others featured another dark-haired figure, but one, in particular, caught his attention. A picture of a crudely painted forest, the usual small depiction of Legolas but next to it was a much larger figure with yellow hair. His breath caught in his throat. Could it be? Had Legolas thought of him during the two years he was without his Ada?
He reached out, noting a thin brown line across the figures' heads. Their spring crowns. His child remembered him! He closed his eyes, willing tears not to fall. He could not show weakness, not in this strange place.
A door slammed above him.
“Legolas! Don’t slam the doors!” the woman’s voice called.
“Sorry, Naneth,” Legolas replied, “I’m going to see Ada."
"Wait for me!" He heard running footsteps. She did not trust him, nor could he blame her; he did not trust her.
They were strangers, their only connection being Legolas. He stepped away from the painting and took a deep breath. His earlier anger was dissipating. Legolas was happy and healthy, and obviously well cared for, and he should be grateful for that.
It was not in Lady Galadriel's nature to fully explain her reasoning or her actions. From what the firieth had said, she had simply found Legolas abandoned outside her home. She had taken him in out of the goodness of her heart, not under orders.
A thundering clatter came down the stairs, and seconds later, Legolas was there. Thranduil resisted the urge to roll his eyes at the strange fashion he was dressed in and the way his long, blond hair was tied back.
"Ada! You're still here!" Legolas cried, rushing forward and wrapping his arms around Thranduil's knees. "Of course, ion nin," he replied, looking up as the woman entered, "I would never leave you willingly."
He was somewhat relieved to see her more modestly dressed, or at the very least, her cleavage and legs covered, although their shape was not so well disguised. Their eyes met, and he felt disquieted.
Her eyes were so eerily like those of his late wife, it was uncanny. She blinked and looked away first, busying herself with some task. Thranduil stirred Legolas towards the picture. "Who is this?" he asked, kneeling next to his son.
"That's me and you, Ada,” Legolas said, “I dreamed of you!” Thranduil smiled as the boy beamed back at him.
“Do you remember,” he asked, “When we sat together in the forest, just us two? You made Ada a beautiful crown to wear?" "You made me one too!" Legolas exclaimed excitedly, "And then we climbed a tree, and you told me 'bout the yeti Varna!" "The Lady Varda," Thranduil corrected him gently, "And yes, ion nin, I remember.”
“The tree was very tall, far away from here,” Legolas said quietly, “Why are we here?”
There was a clatter and a muttered curse behind them. Thranduil looked over his shoulder to see the woman had knocked over a cup and was cleaning up the mess it had created. She bent over to pick the cup up off the floor, the tightness of her clothing, showing her toned thighs and curved bottom.
“Naneth, are you okay?” Legolas asked, slipping from Thranduil’s grip and rushing over.
"I'm fine, sweetie, do you want some breakfast?" she asked. Thranduil quickly averted his gaze before she saw him. "Yeah! Can we have pancakes, please?" Legolas bounced on his feet at the idea. "Course we can," she replied, "You go get some eggs?" "Yes, Naneth,” Legolas said. He hurried to the back door and grabbed a coat, slipping it on before disappearing outside. The woman immediately set about gathering ingredients for their meal, occasionally glancing over at him.
"You got a name?" she asked finally after several minutes of silence, broken only by the sound of chickens being disturbed by Legolas.
“I am Thranduil Oropherion, King of the Woodland Realm,” he replied.
“That’s a mouthful,” she muttered.
“Your Majesty will suffice," he replied haughtily.
"Yeah, I'm not going to do that...Thranduil," she said as the back door opened, and Legolas rushing came in.
"I got six, Naneth," he declared, "Look!" He reached into his pockets and produced six brown eggs, one by one, he proudly handed them over. "Well done, little man," she said, taking them and setting back to work.
The kitchen was soon filled with a sizzling sound and the smell of food. Legolas had produced a small stool and now stood at the firieth's side, watching her work, so Thranduil took the opportunity to look more thoroughly around the room.
A dresser stood close by, covered in small ornaments, many of which he suspected were older than the woman herself. A few portraits, incredibly detailed and lifelike, were also there, housed in metal frames. One showed the woman with a man, then she with Legolas, and then one of Legolas on his own, grinning inanely. A gilded silver frame contained one of an elderly couple.
"My grandparents," her voice caught him off guard, "This was their house before they passed away." He made a noise of acknowledgement and turned to face her. The woman already had her back turned and was manoeuvring around Legolas to plate up the food.
"Alright, time to eat," she said, "Legolas, go sit down." "But, I want to help!" "You need to get your…" "Ada,” Legolas supplied.
“Right, you need to show your Ada where to sit.”
“Okay, Naneth," Legolas said. He bounded over to Thranduil and took hold of his hand.
"Come on, Ada,” he said, “You can sit next to me.” The smiling elfling led him over to the table and pulled out one of the chairs before climbing onto the one next to him. Once they were seated, the woman set a plate in front of each of them before fetching her own.
"What...is this?" Thranduil asked, looking doubtfully at the soft brown discs on his plate.
"Pancakes, Ada!” Legolas said excitedly, “Naneth makes the best pancakes in the whole world!"
"Well, I don't know about that," the woman said as she sat down, "But they certainly make him happy. It's probably all the sugar. Legolas, do you want some syrup?"
"Hooray! Syrup!" Legolas clapped his hands as she lifted a small jug and poured some on to his food.
"Do you want some?" she asked Thranduil, though she kept her eyes slightly averted.
"No," Thranduil said.
"Ada! You forget your manners, you must say thank you to Naneth too!" Legolas admonished him, wagging a small finger at him.
Thranduil noticed the woman shiver slightly as he returned his gaze to her. "Thank you," he forced out, though what he had to thank her for, he did not know.
Thranduil was just about to pick up the cutlery set before him when he noticed the woman and Legolas leaning towards each other, moving the berries about on each other's food. Legolas giggled as they worked.
"Ta-da!" Legolas shouted, "Look, Ada, Naneth made me a happy face." He turned his plate towards Thranduil and showed off the berries arranged to make a crude version of a smiling face. "I'm sure Naneth will put a happy face on yours, too," he said brightly.
"It is fine, Ion nin; I do not need my food to smile for me," Thranduil said firmly.
"Okay, I do this instead,” Legolas said, leaning over and beginning to move the berries about. Thranduil sighed and watched as Legolas quickly moved the food about before sitting back and declaring it done.
Thranduil scowled to see a frowning face looking back at him. His gaze shot to the woman who was hunched over her food, her shoulders shaking slightly as she fought laughter. Turning to his son, Legolas' face was surprisingly neutral as he lifted a blueberry to his mouth and ate it without even blinking.
"Eat up, Ada,” Legolas said. The woman broke into hysterics on the other side of the table, prompting Legolas to giggle as well. She leaned back in her chair, covering her mouth as her whole body shook with laughter. Thranduil did not take his eyes from her as she recovered herself. She lifted her cup and looked away, small chuckles still escaping her.
"I suppose I have you to thank for his disrespect," he said firmly. Instantly the relaxed atmosphere vanished, and the woman's body tensed.
"I did not raise him to play with his food, and certainly not someone else's either," he continued, "I will have to correct these ill manners over the next year."
"He's just a kid," she said, lowering her cup, "He needs to have a little fun."
"He is a Prince, and my heir," Thranduil replied gravely, "He needs to learn what it is to rule and to lead." They both turned to look at Legolas, who was knelt on his chair, bouncing slightly as he ate his breakfast.
"You appear to have undone much of my work already," he growled. They ate in silence, but he knew the firieth's eyes kept falling on him.
As they finished, she opened her mouth to say something when the sound of the front door opening stopped her.
“Hello?” a voice called. Thranduil got to his feet. That was a male voice. Legolas gasped and practically leaped from his chair, scampering off towards the hallway.
"Hey, short stack!" the voice said. Thranduil marched off after Legolas to find the man from the portrait stood in the hall, Legolas in his arms.
"Whoa!" he said, looking at Thranduil, "Look, Anna, I know I said a change in appearance might make you feel better, but this is not what I had in mind."
"Oh, ha, ha, ha," the woman spoke from behind Thranduil as she began to gather up the plates.
"So where did you find Fabio?" the man laughed and brushed past Thranduil into the kitchen.
"I didn't, he found me," she replied, "Ian, meet Thranduil, Legolas' father. Thranduil, this is my brother, Ian."
Thranduil looked at the man. He was a few inches shorter than Thranduil, and not as well built. Knowing this was her brother and not some unrelated male put him oddly at ease. Ian smiled, but he faltered when the smile wasn't returned.
"You are...this woman’s brother," Thranduil said, folding his arms over his chest and drawing himself up to his full height.
“Her whole life,” Ian replied, before turning to her, "Does he not know your name?" "Oh, that's been a one-way street all morning," Anna replied.
The two began to converse quickly, the subject not being of any interest to Thranduil. Only her name. Anna. It meant 'gift' in the language of the elves.
He observed as the two delved briefly into a squabble as siblings were wont to do before Legolas began to demand attention from his 'uncle.' Ian lowered him to the floor and pulled something out of his inside jacket pocket.
"No!" Anna said, seizing it before it fell into Legolas' outstretched hands, "No candy until after dinner." She made a noise of frustration and opened a high cabinet. Stretching up, she stowed the item out of reach of his elfling.
He could not help but note the curve of her bottom and lower back as the shirt she wore rode up.
"Honestly, Ian, every time," she said, closing the doors, "Now, I need to go feed the pigs. Did you bring the stuff?"
"Yes, I brought the stuff," Ian answered, attempting to mimic her feminine voice.
Anna gestured towards Thranduil and scooped Legolas into her arms. Ian nodded. Shaking her head, she made her way towards the door. Taking a coat off the hook, she disappeared outside.
Thranduil looked towards Ian, who was looking him up and down.
"Come on, Thran, I've got some clothes for you that will help you fit in,"
Chapter 4: Judge
Thranduil cast a glance at the bundle of fabric in Ian’s hand. This is what counted as fashion in this world? If so, it left a great deal to be desired.
"I'm guessing they don't have jeans wherever you're from," Ian joked, "Just put them on. If Anna's not judged your size right, I'll have to find you something else, and I'd rather not spend all day driving back and forth to town."
Thranduil sighed and took the offered clothing. Setting them down on the table, he began removing his armor. Ian moved off a few paces and watched as Thranduil set each piece down.
"How long does it take you to put all that stuff on?" the man asked.
“Not long at all, provided I have the appropriate staff,” Thranduil answered, “No less than six well-trained ellyn to ensure it is fitted properly.”
"You have six people to help dress you?!" Ian spluttered, "Oh, buddy, you're in for some serious culture shock."
“Do you mean to tell me that you are not here to assist me?”
“Aw hell no!” Ian crowed, “I’m here to make sure you don’t get anything valuable caught in your pants zipper. Teaching Legolas how to put on our clothes was a task and a half, I'm hoping you'll be easier."
Thranduil scoffed and began to shed his tunic. Ian raised an eyebrow and looked away. "Your sister was very kind to take my son in," Thranduil said as he folded the tunic. "Yeah, well, Anna's always had a soft spot for kids," Ian muttered, "She used to be a teacher, first grade, and she was good at it."
"She is not one anymore?” Thranduil found himself asking, removing his boots. "No, she isn’t,” Ian replied, “She couldn’t, not after...look...” He turned around just as Thranduil was removing his trousers.
"Aw, geez, buddy, you could have warned me," Ian said, slapping a hand over his eyes and spinning back around. Thranduil rolled his eyes. He never understood the way Men viewed nudity.
"You both seem to have taken the news that there are other worlds rather well," Thranduil spoke as he began to examine the pile of clothing he had been given.
"I can't have a conversation with you like this," Ian said, still with his back turned, “Look, the black things on the top are boxers, they’re underwear, please put them on so I don’t have to look at...it.”
"I assure you, 'it' is no different to your own," Thranduil said, resisting the urge to laugh as he pulled on the boxers. "Yeah, well, I beg to differ," Ian said, "Besides, looking at other guy's junk is not my personal idea of a good time." "You may be at ease, 'it' is hidden from view," Thranduil said, chuckling. Ian turned back around gingerly and breathed a sigh of relief.
"Do you have no sense of modesty?" he asked, walking back over.
“Evidently not by your standards,” Thranduil replied, “I had this same issue just a millennia ago.”
“A thousand years.”
“Yeah, I got that,” Ian said, unfolding some of the clothing, “It’s just weird to hear someone talk about something that happened that long ago like it was just last week. How old are you?” Thranduil paused for a moment.
"Five thousand, four hundred and sixty-three," he answered.
“Holy fuck, I thought you were at least eight thousand," Ian deadpanned, "And Legolas? We've never managed to get a straight answer out of him."
“He is twenty,” Thranduil said, taking the clothing Ian offered.
"So, how long do your people stay kids for?" "Childhood lasts a century,” Thranduil stated as he shook out the pants, “Do the Elves of your world wear these?”
“Elves? Oh, we haven’t got Elves here,” Ian said, “And they’re called jeans.”
"No, Elves? Then you have also taken our appearance here rather well,” Thranduil mused as he bent slightly to put them on.
"Well, at first, we thought the pointed ears were just a birth defect," Ian explained. Thranduil's head shot up at the word defect.
"But then he started hearing things from really far away. He could see who was at the end of the driveway from the living room window," Ian continued. "And the first time we saw him climb a tree, we figured the little guy wasn't quite human, so we kept quiet about him and put a hat on him if we had to go anywhere. Anna had gotten attached and couldn’t bear to lose the little guy, especially when he started opening up to her.” Thranduil paused.
Legolas had not been himself after his mother passed. He had become withdrawn and solemn in his grief. Not at all like the happy, smiling elfling he had been before, or now.
Just then, Thranduil heard his son begin chattering excitedly to Anna, laughing, even singing. Like an elfling should. He sighed and turned his attention back to his clothes.
"That's a zipper, just give that tab a gentle pull, and it'll close up," Ian explained, pointing at the odd fastenings on the jeans. "Be careful if you ever go without underwear, nothing more painful than getting your personal glory caught in it."
"Thank you," Thranduil mumbled before taking the next item. It was black and stretched quite well. It was clearly a shirt, so he pulled it on. Then there was a shirt with a similar pattern to the one Anna wore but in red. Thranduil pulled it on and flicked his hair out from under it.
"There you go," Ian said, "Keep those ears covered, and you'll pass for a regular old supermodel. I'll have to come back with some boots tomorrow. I'd say you're a size twelve." Thranduil wanted to roll his eyes again at the man's sarcastic sense of humor but could not bring himself to do it. He instead offered a smirk and a chuckle.
"What is a supermodel?" he asked. Ian opened his mouth to answer but was interrupted by the door opening and Legolas bounding in.
“Wow, Ada, you look like me!” Legolas said, leaping into his arms. Thranduil happily lifted his son up.
"I suppose I do," he said, pressing a kiss to the boy's temple.
Anna walked in, pausing for a moment as she looked Thranduil up and down.
“And you say I can’t pull together an outfit,” Ian quipped as he walked towards her. Anna just looked at Thranduil for a moment before blinking and looking at her brother.
"You can't," she said, "Anyone with half a brain can pair jeans with a plaid shirt." She gestured to her own outfit and then Legolas'.
“Hey, it’s practical and comfortable,” Ian protested.
"I would disagree on the comfort," Thranduil said, shifting slightly.
"They need a little wear first, but you'll get used to them," Anna said, "Legolas, go get your art supplies, and I'll start the dishes."
"Okay, naneth,” he said, wriggling out of Thranduil’s arms, “Can Ada paint with me?”
“If he wants to, yes,” Anna said, “Uncle Ian can dry and put away.”
"But, I didn't even get breakfast!" Ian whined.
"Shut up and grab a dish towel," Anna said, turning towards the sink.
Ian made an exasperated sound as Legolas came bounding back into the room with a box in his hands. He stowed it on the table before climbing up onto the chair.
"Come on, Ada," he said, "We're going to paint!" He opened the box and began taking out various pieces, including paper, brushes, small pots splattered with different color paints. He pulled out a bottle with a garish shade of yellow paint inside it.
"Ah, ah, ah, young man, not after last time," Anna said, rushing over and taking the bottle off him, "I don't want you wearing it again." She poured some of the paint into one of the pots and did the same with red, blue, black, and white before taking out an old stained plate and setting it next to Legolas.
“Keep an eye on him, please,” she said to Thranduil, “I don’t want him getting too messy.” Thranduil cast her a disdainful look. As if he did not know to watch his own child!
"Okay, whatever," she mumbled under her breath as she turned back towards the sink, narrowly avoiding a whip of a dish towel from her brother.
“Ian, I swear to god,” she growled as he laughed. Thranduil rolled his eyes and turned to watch Legolas, who was mixing paints on the old plate to get the shade he wanted.
Seeing this sort of interaction made him glad to be an only child, just as his son was. No distractions, it was easier to maintain a focus on the work at hand.
His thoughts turned to his wife, Imloth. He had hoped for a brief time that the two of them would make another child together, but she had given so much of herself to create Legolas, it seemed unlikely, lest she suffer the same fate as Miriel of old.
She had been severely weakened by Legolas' creation and birth, and she had never recovered from it. It became painfully apparent as the years passed that in her mind, she now dwelt away over the sea, and he had reluctantly let her go. She had devastated him before she left, and now Legolas was all he had left of her.
"Ada, come sit!" Legolas said as he mixed the paints to create a brown color. Reluctantly, Thranduil lowered himself into the seat next to Legolas as Anna flicked soap suds at Ian.
“What are you painting, ion nin?” he asked.
"My family," Legolas said, "Look, there's me, and Uncle Ian, and that's you and Naneth. Look, you’re holding hands.” Thranduil noted that Anna’s shoulders went rigid for a second at Legolas’ words before she resumed her task.
"You are mistaken, ion nin," Thranduil said as gently as he could at that moment, "I have no intention of holding a firieth’s hand." His eyes flashed towards Anna, but she remained focussed on the last remaining dishes before her. His gaze narrowed.
What stories had she been filling Legolas’ head with? She seemed to know he was watching her. Her movements were stiff and precise. Ian caught his eye, a scowl on his face. He leaned in towards Anna.
"Watch him," Ian whispered, "We both know that look." Anna nodded tensely next to him. She handed him the last plate and then emptied the sink. Drying her hands, she turned around with a bright, albeit fake smile on her face.
"Well, Legolas, shall we see what you painted today?" she said lightly, walking over and studiously ignoring Thranduil, "Oh very good! We'll let it dry, and then we'll put it on the wall with the others. Go wash up, it's almost time for reading."
"Okay, naneth,” Legolas said, wriggling out of his seat. "Come on, short stack," Ian said, "Let’s try not to flood the bathroom again.”
"I didn't do it a porpoise!” Legolas protested. "On purpose, buddy, on purpose," Ian corrected him as he led the small child away.
Anna began to tidy up, taking the brushes and pots to the sink to be cleaned. Thranduil scrutinized her as she worked, her eyes kept glancing towards him before looking away quickly. There was a tension in her shoulders and the way she kept her head lowered that made him ponder how a young woman came to be living on her own so near the woods. Other than her explanation that this had been her grandparents’ home.
Thranduil continued to observe them for the rest of the day as Anna gave Legolas' his lessons. First, there was reading, writing, basic addition, and subtraction, all of which Legolas did remarkably well. And play, there was plenty of play which Thranduil had to credit Anna for.
Watching Legolas solve problems as he played was quite refreshing. The boy's mind was quick and sharp, but still, he persisted with childish behavior. He wanted Thranduil to join them on the floor as they made small structures out of brightly colored pieces that Anna referred to as 'Legos.'
He was also given an abrupt introduction to technology when a small thing on a table began making a shrieking sound. Anna had called it 'the phone' and Thranduil only tolerated it the slightest degree more than the television.
The large black box had gone from blank to a full, garish picture of figures in brightly colored outfits pretending to fight each other. Anna left the room to prepare lunch, and Legolas excitedly jumped to his feet, declaring it 'morphin' time. He watched in amusement as the elfling punched and kicked the air around him with exaggerated noises.
Lunch was slightly more tolerable than breakfast had been, and that was in large part because Legolas did not create a frowning face with the food again.
Thranduil found himself missing the cooks of his Halls suddenly, and he added cooking skills to the list of lessons he would teach Anna over the next year.
Her clothing once again proved inadequate when she had leaned over Legolas, flaunting her cleavage. A scandalous display! He was now certain she intended to worm her way into his affections via his son. He would not fall for such trickery that much was certain.
The afternoon had been passed outside, cleaning out the pigs pen, the chicken coop, and weeding the vegetable patch. Thranduil had tried to hide his disdain for seeing his son and heir pulling weeds from the ground. The work was surely beneath him.
Anna's gaze fell on him more and more, but she no longer averted her eyes. Instead, a frown settled on her passable features to which he merely folded his arms and raised an eyebrow as he continued to observe.
He experienced true horror when Anna left the room to prepare dinner. Ian told Legolas they were going to play 'video games.' The damnable television was employed again, and this time it displayed an ‘animated,' was the term Ian used, dragon! Thranduil felt his insides wither at the mere thought. A benevolent dragon! What madness existed in this world where one of the spawn of Morgoth, this “Spyro” was considered entertainment for children.
He almost sighed with blessed relief when Anna called them through for dinner. Until he saw the plates, she had set out for them. A hearty meal of chicken, potatoes, peas...and carrots. He could not abide the damned vegetable, and his cooks knew never to serve them to him.
He highly doubted Anna would remove them from his plate, so he took his seat, grimacing in annoyance when her knees bumped his. The table was entirely too small for his large frame, but she seemed to either not care or notice as she began cutting up Legolas’ food for him.
"Okay, sweetie, remember, it's hot, let it cool a little first," she said, handing the child his cutlery back. "And if you eat all your vegetables, you can have the candy, Uncle Ian brought you.”
“Yes, Naneth,” Legolas said, grinning down at his plate.
"So, Ian," Anna's eyes slid straight past Thranduil to her brother, "You're here awfully late."
"Oh, you know me, never miss a chance to taste your cooking, sis," Ian said as he speared some chicken with his fork.
“Uh-huh,” Anna did not sound convinced.
"Well, that and I managed to find myself a crazy one last night...ow!" A stomp was heard under the table, and Ian leaned away from Anna.
“I’ve warned you before,” she hissed, “Not in front of Legolas!”
"A crazy one?" Thranduil enquired, pushing the carrots away from the rest of his food with his fork.
“Always the same, find a beautiful woman in the bar, take her home, get….” Ian had a salacious grin on his face for a moment before he saw Legolas watching him, “Jenga out. We played Jenga, all night, and again this morning.” Anna scowled at her brother as Legolas shrugged and went back to his food.
"Long story short, she won't leave my house," Ian quickly finished. Thranduil began to wonder if he and Legolas could survive in the woods for a year. He most certainly could, but he doubted Legolas would cope with the abrupt change.
"Perhaps you should be more discerning about whom you bring home and with whom 'Jenga'" Thranduil observed drily.
“I’ve been telling him that for years,” Anna said, “I might as well have told his front door.” Thranduil fought the urge to chuckle at the image.
"Ada, why aren’t you eating your carrots?” Legolas asked suddenly, “Naneth says we have to eat our veggies to grow up big and strong.”
“I am already big and strong,” Thranduil said, “I do not need to eat my vegetables if I do not wish to.”
"But Uncle Ian does, and Naneth,” Legolas pointed out. Thranduil sighed and stabbed one disc of the orange vegetable with his fork, held it up for Legolas to see before popping it into his mouth. It tasted vile to him, but Legolas smiled brightly and went back to his meal. Thranduil glanced up in time to see Anna mouth the words 'thank you' to him.
After dinner, Anna took Legolas upstairs to bathe and change for bed, leaving Ian to do the dishes. Thranduil remained in the kitchen and talked with Ian. He was surprised to learn that Ian lived many miles away.
"If you live so far, who defends your sister's honor?" Thranduil asked in surprise. "The who and the what now?" Ian replied, "Honour? Oh, buddy, the world's moved on since them days. Not many people place stock in things like honor.
We just want people to be good to one another, that's all. And even that some people find difficult."
“Then the sooner I get my son away from this place, the better," Thranduil said.
"Yeah, you might not want to mention that too much in front of my sister," Ian said, his voice suddenly harsh. "She was in tears when she called me today. Legolas is her whole world, and you're threatening to take that from her. See, my sister’s a nice person, and there’s not too many of those about these days, so when people upset her, I tend to get defensive.”
"You defend her honor."
“I guess I do after all,” Ian mused.
The day’s events ran through Thranduil's head that night. Legolas had been in bed for several hours though Ian had not left until just an hour before. As soon as he was gone, Anna had sloped off upstairs to sleep, telling Thranduil that the second door on the right was the guest room, and he was welcome to use it during his stay. He had nodded in acknowledgment of her words but had not spoken. He did not require rest.
Once he was certain Anna was asleep, he had silently climbed the stairs. The first door he came to was clearly Anna's room, she was sound asleep, facing the open door, cocooned in her blankets. Directly opposite her room was Legolas'. The door was ajar just enough to see Legolas' sleeping face, so Thranduil slipped inside.
He would watch over his elfling this night. The room was filled with toys and books, and more of the small portraits of Legolas with Anna on one wall. Thranduil sighed.
Legolas' nursery at home was nothing like this. He had the barest minimum of toys but hundreds of books. Thranduil could almost feel the love that Anna bore for his son in this room. Perhaps he had judged her too harshly before? It had been a confusing day.
To learn that his son had thought himself lost and forgotten for two years. To find Legolas calling a mortal woman Naneth...
Thranduil slowly retreated to a dark corner to stand watch over the sleeping boy and keep him safe. He had been stood for perhaps an hour or more when he had heard Anna stir and emerge from her blanket nest.
She had padded across the hall and slipped into the room. Thranduil noted, with distaste, that the revealing nightwear was back. Anna headed first to the window and checked that it was secure before turning her attention to Legolas.
She straightened his blankets, tucked his hair behind his ear, and leaned over to kiss his forehead.
“Sleep tight, little guy,” she whispered, “Naneth loves you."
Thranduil remained frozen in place as he watched her smiling sweetly at his son. Her devotion to his son was palpable. It wasn't just the room he could feel love for Legolas in; it was in the very beat of her heart.
He had judged her too harshly, he decided, and tomorrow, he would do better.
Chapter 5: Ada and Naneth
Thranduil kept watch over Legolas throughout the night. Anna did not come in again, but he did not hear her door close. As much as he wanted to not trust the firieth, her devotion to Legolas was almost endearing. Everything she did, she did for him.
As dawn approached, he availed himself of the bathroom that Ian had shown him the day before. He still held the television and telephone in contempt, but the plumbing was a boon. Finishing up, Thranduil could hear Anna rising and going to wake Legolas up. He opened the bathroom door in time to see Anna descending the stairs, Legolas in her arms, his head resting on her shoulder. His sleepy mumbling muffled by her hair that his small fingers played with.
He waited a moment before following them down and found them in the kitchen. Legolas sat at the table, still half-asleep, a cup of water in his hands. Anna had her back turned to him, busying herself with some task. A familiar scent wafted to him from across the kitchen. Coffee. Finally, something he recognized!
He crossed the room quickly, causing the distracted human to jump when he appeared suddenly in her peripheral vision. "I was hoping you were a bad dream," she muttered. He lowered his brows in a scowl. Impertinent firieth.
“Trust in that I have no intention of forcing myself upon your hospitality any longer than is truly necessary, nor do I wish to be in your presence." He spoke without thinking, forgetting his promise to do better already, "However, I have not had coffee in some time."
"Wait, you guys have coffee too?" Anna said, surprise on her face."Yes," Thranduil replied, his irritation at her insult already fading. "When we can get it. It can often be months between the trading caravans, but I do have a fondness for it."
"Well, you're in luck," Anna smiled, "I never let my stores deplete. There will be coffee every morning.”
“Then perhaps this year will become bearable,” Thranduil said, feeling his own smile reflect hers. He saw her take a deep breath and turn away.
“It’ll just be a minute,” she said, “Legolas, sweetie, are you okay?”
“Yes, naneth,” the boy replied, a little more awake now. Anna turned away and walked over to him. Thranduil watched as she took the now-empty cup from Legolas and stroked his hair. She spoke quietly to him, asking him what he wanted for his breakfast.
It hurt deep in his chest as he watched Anna kneel next to the chair, and Legolas lean into her. His son held one of the firieth's hands, playing with her fingers. Legolas had never been this close with his own mother, and now he seemed to be thriving in Anna's care. No, he told himself, he had done the best he could by Legolas after his mother had departed.
A child who needs a mother
Although he loathed admitting it, but he had to concede to Lady Galadriel's choice in caregiver, if not her tactics. An endless parade of nurses and teachers were all well and good, but Legolas’ needed a mother’s love. Two years with Anna had done him good.
"Can I have cereal and watch cartoons?" Legolas asked.
“Okay, but only for half an hour,” Anna replied, “Then it’s chore time.” She rose to her feet as Legolas hopped off the chair and eagerly followed her around as she prepared his food. He took the bowl she gave him and scampered off. Thranduil cringed hearing the television blast to life in the next room.
Anna offered him a cup. "Would you like anything to eat?" she asked. He shook his head and took the steaming cup from her. "I am not hungry," he said."That's fine, neither am I," she replied, picking up her own cup and heading to sit at the table.
Thranduil sighed and followed her. He had promised to do better, for Legolas’ sake, and so he would. Anna raised an eyebrow when he sat opposite her.
“I think it would be to Legolas’ benefit if we were to at least attempt some civility,” he said.
“You’re right,” she said, nodding, “Children don’t cope well when there is discord in the house.”
“Tell me something about yourself, Anna," he was careful to use her name rather than "firieth." "Well, there's not a lot to tell," she said, "I used to be a teacher, first grade, so five to six-year-olds but….life sort of drew me away from that. He watched her eyes lower at this admission but said nothing. "I needed a fresh start, and I got that chance when my grandparents passed away and left this house to Ian and I. I make enough of a living from breeding my pigs to survive.
What about you?”
He hesitated in his answering. How did one sum up many thousands of years of life into one conversation? He looked up and found her eyes fixed on him. Those strange, strange eyes. "Doriath," he said finally, "I was born in a place called Doriath, but after it fell, my father and I traveled south-east and found a new home. The Elves there chose to raise my father as their King, and when he fell in battle, I assumed the throne."
“Your father died?”"Yes, his pride led him to his downfall," Thranduil said, "Some say I share the same fault." He watched Anna bite her lower lip.
“Your mother?” she asked.
“She fell with Doriath,” Thranduil said solemnly. Anna shifted in her seat slightly, and he suspected she was gearing up for another question.
“What...what about Legolas’ mother?” she asked. His heart sank.
"I mean, Legolas recognized you as his father almost immediately, and I'm a little worried that if she turns up, he’s going to be confused...”
“You need not worry about her,” Thranduil assured her, “She is no longer with us.”
“She died?” Anna queried. Thranduil found himself hesitating again.
“No,” he admitted, “She….she left us.”
“She forsook our marriage bond and our son,” Thranduil said, a sharp edge to his voice that he did not intend.
“She left Legolas?!” Anna said, a look of horror and disbelief on her face.
“She did her duty as Queen and gave me an heir, so she asked to be allowed to follow her heart," Thranduil said, before raising his cup to drink. There followed a moment of silence while Anna processed his meaning.
"Oh, Thranduil, I….I am sorry," she said, reaching out and touching his free hand. Her fingers closed over his, and his eyes closed. How long had it been since he had felt a compassionate touch? Her skin was soft and warm against his, and he felt his fingers close over hers.
“Legolas does not know,” he said quietly, “Very few do. The rest of our world believes that she gave too much of herself to her son, and what remained was not enough to tolerate old, foul-tempered Thranduil."
"You let everyone believe she's either dead or you drove her away?" Anna asked, those blue-and-green eyes searching his face when he opened his own.
“It is better this way,” he said. He truly believed it too. It hurt less than knowing he offered her his heart and soul, and that Imloth Andaeriel had turned away from him.
A childish giggle drew their attention. Legolas stood in the doorway, a grin on his face and an empty bowl in his hands.
"You're holding hands, just like my picture!" he shouted. Immediately Anna pulled her hand away. Thranduil let her go but could not resist stretching his fingers out to feel her skin against him for as long as possible. He had gone too long without feeling the touch of another in any manner besides duty. There had been those he had taken to his bed to perform a carnal service. But, once done, they left, and he was alone again. Cold and alone. Anna rose to her feet and took her empty cup to the sink.
“Now, Legolas, don’t be silly,” she said as the child bounded over to her, “It’s not like that.”
“Why not?” Legolas asked, “I seen other naneths and adas hold hands.” Anna sighed.
“Your Ada and I don’t know each other like that,” she tried to explain."Okay, I fix that," Legolas said, seizing her hand and pulled her along with him. Anna stumbled a little; even though Legolas was but a child, he was still remarkably strong.
“Ada, this is Naneth, she is very kind, and I love her,” Legolas said, placing Anna’s hand on Thranduil’s, “Naneth, this is Ada, he is very nice, and I love him. There! Now you know each other and can be friends." Anna's face flushed pink as Legolas stood there, beaming at them, clearly proud of his handiwork. Laughing, he ran back into the living room and sat himself in front of the television. The pair quickly jerked their hands apart.
"Sorry," Anna muttered, "He sees parents on TV or at the park, and...well, I think he's a little confused about what we actually are." Thranduil nodded, trying to keep his gaze focussed on her face and not the revealing garments she wore.
"I'm...I'm going to go get dressed," she said, almost as if she knew his thoughts, "Would you mind watching him? He almost put his foot through the television last week."
"Of course," Thranduil said, chuckling and nodding his head. Anna offered a small smile and turned to leave."Anna," he spoke without thinking, and she stopped, "Thank you. It feels...good to tell someone the truth about Imloth." She nodded, offering him another smile and quickly disappearing up the steps.
Thranduil let out a long sigh. Ten years and he had never told anyone what had passed between him and Imloth. And yet, to this strange firieth he had confessed everything. She felt...safe, and he supposed that was why Legolas was flourishing in Anna's care.
Upstairs, Anna’s heart was pounding. She hadn’t meant to touch him. After all, he had turned up out of the blue and tried to take Legolas; he WOULD be taking Legolas in a years time. This man...this Elf was dangerous. He was a King and used to getting his own way. She should keep him at arm’s length but the flicker of heartbreak that had crossed his face when he spoke his wife, his ex-wife.
She hadn't been able to help herself and had wanted to comfort him. His skin had been warm, bordering on hot. The feel of his fingers closing around hers had felt so right. She shook her head and marched into her bedroom. No! She couldn't set herself up for more hurt. It was going to be torture enough when they left.
She looked over her shoulder at Legolas' bedroom. When she had found him two years before, it had felt like fate. The early days had been tough, he hadn't spoken a lot of English, turned his nose up at a lot of the food she offered. The tantrums had been of epic proportions, but then one night, he had climbed into her bed and called her Naneth before drifting off to sleep.
Since then, he had been the most affectionate, loving little boy. She had always known in some dark corner of her mind, that one day he would have to go home, back to his family. Or what was left of it. Downstairs, she heard the front door open and shut.
"Hey Fabio, got some boots for you," Ian's voice drifted upstairs. Anna sighed and quickly changed. Ian's sense of humor was going to put him on the wrong side of the Elf with the swords one day.
Chapter 6: Lace
Anna fought to not laugh at the incredulous look Thranduil cast at the red plastic laundry basket she offered him.
“I beg your pardon?” he said, his lip faintly curling in an almost snarl."No free rides here," she said lightly, "Even Legolas has chores. All you have to do is go upstairs and collect the dirty laundry. I already left it in piles by the bedroom doors. You bring it down, and I'll show you how the washer works."
Thranduil continued to stare at Anna as though waiting for her to realize the absurdity of her request. "This is unseemly," he protested, "A King does not wash the garments of a lowly firieth." Anna scowled. There was that word again. She didn't know what it meant, but by the way, disgust dripped from it every time he said it, she guessed it was meant as some kind of insult.
"You're not King here," she reminded him curtly, "And what kind of example does it set for your son if I let you just lounge around whilst he and I do all the actual work?"
“Yeah, Ada," Legolas piped up from the kitchen behind them, where he was sat pairing socks at the table, "You have to do chores."
Thranduil half-snarled again before taking the basket and stomping off towards the stairs. Anna let out the breath she hadn't realized she was holding. Something about him always put her on edge, it might have been his size or the way his eyes sometimes fixed on hers. Or maybe it was that little voice in her head continually reminding her that he was here to take Legolas away from her. A small part of her hoped to convince him to leave Legolas with her, but she knew that was a hopeless dream. He was King, Legolas, his heir, and only child.
She turned and headed back into the kitchen, where Legolas was holding up two black socks trying to work out if they were a pair or not.
“How’s it going, sweetie?” she asked. “Okay,” he said, “Naneth, why didn’t Ada live with us before? Did he not want us?"
Anna froze for a moment before sitting down opposite him and taking his small hands into her own."Of course, he wanted you," she said. She recalled the look of relief and pure joy in Thranduil's eyes when he realized that he had found his son. "He missed you so much, but….he was very, very far away. And it's taken him a long time to find you."
“What about you?” Legolas asked. Anna shook her head."We talked about this, remember, sweetie? Your Ada doesn’t know me,” she said, “I found you.”
“But….you are my naneth,” Legolas said, frowning in confusion.
“Yes, I am, because you chose me,” she smiled, “And I will always love you.”
“I love you too, naneth,” Legolas smiled back, “I don’t want any other one.” He looked back down at the socks he was pairing, missing Anna biting her lip and willing herself not to shed tears. How could that woman, this Imloth, turn her back on her own son?
The sound of heavy footsteps coming down the stairs turned her thoughts back to Thranduil. He had shouldered the burden and the pain of Imloth's rejection so Legolas wouldn't have to. He clearly loved the boy and was willing to do whatever it took to keep him safe. She rose from her seat as he reappeared in the kitchen, laundry basket in hand, and a scowl on his face. This was going to be interesting.
"Alright," she sighed, "So, first we need to sort the laundry. We have towels and bedding." She grabbed the two towels from the top of the basket and dropped them onto a growing pile on the floor, ignoring Thranduil rolling his eyes.
"Then we have darks, lights, and brights,” she said, taking items from the basket and dropping them into different ones with the corresponding word printed on them. Thranduil watched her, finding the whole process rather tedious and wondering if his household staff had to go through this. An increase in pay might be in order.
“And what about this?” he asked, reaching into the basket and lifting a scrap of lace, “I suspect it has fallen from a garment.” Anna blushed and grabbed it away from him.
"A...anything like that is classed as delicate," she said quickly, "You can just leave it in the basket, and I'll deal with it." Thranduil raised one eyebrow noting the crimson flush that spread across her cheeks.
Anna studiously ignored him and launched into an explanation on how to load the laundry into the large metal contraption she called 'the washer.' It all seemed simple enough. Put the clothes into the drum, add the soap, and turn a dial to the correct setting. Almost immediately, the washer whirred into life.
"And now what?" he asked, annoyed by the noise already.
“Well, it takes a couple hours,” she replied, “So now we can go do something else. The vegetable patch needs weeding, and the pigs need to be fed.”
She led him out of the laundry room and back into the kitchen."I finished," Legolas declared, putting down the last folded pair of socks.
“Well done, little man,” Anna said, “Go put your boots on, the eggs need collecting.”
“Okay, naneth," Legolas said, climbing off the chair and hurrying to the back door.
Anna helped him put his coat on and a woolen hat before attending to herself. She lifted a warm-looking jacket from the hook and offered it to Thranduil. "This should fit you," she said, "It's a little old, but it's been well cared for." Thranduil hesitated but caught sight of Legolas' hopeful face. He took the coat and put it on.
"C'mon, Ada,” Legolas said, “You can help me collect the eggs!” He tugged on Thranduil’s hand and led him out the open door, grabbing a little basket that sat by the step just outside.
Outside, the chickens were already roaming around, clucking and picking at the ground. Anna followed behind Legolas, who was excitedly pulling Thranduil behind him. She carried a bucket in each hand, skirting around the hens and heading for the pigpen.
A snuffling sound came from within the shelter as she approached, calling, "Martha! Bertha!" Thranduil watched as she leaned over the side and tipped first one, then the other bucket into a trough. Two enormous black-and-white pigs emerged, squealing with excitement when they realized breakfast was served. Anna looked over and caught his gaze, her cheeks flushing pink slightly.
"Legolas, stay away from Sam," she said, suddenly looking away towards the boy.
“I will, Naneth,” Legolas called as he opened up the roost to search for eggs.
“Sam?” Thranduil asked.
"The big red one," Anna explained, "She's extremely protective of her eggs." She carried the buckets to the back porch, and Thranduil turned his attention back to his son.
The boy moved quickly and methodically, collecting the eggs from various hiding places.
As he was collecting the last few, Thranduil spied a sizeable red chicken coming around the side of the coop. He opened his mouth to warn Legolas when the bird began to run full-pelt towards Legolas, screeching. Legolas' head turned, and he screamed, abandoning his basket and running. He dashed past Thranduil.
“Naneth!" he cried as he approached Anna. She turned and scooped him up, shooing the outraged bird that stalked around her, like a wolf circling its prey.
"Shoo! Be gone with you, Sam, you crotchety old broad," she said, firmly nudging the loudly, complaining bird away with her booted foot. Legolas was shaking in her arms and crying.
"There, now, it's okay," she said when the chicken stalked off to re-join the others, “She’s gone now. Stupid bird. Once she stops laying, we’re having her for dinner.”
“I don’t like Sam!” Legolas said, tears in his eyes.
“I know,” Anna reassured him, “But she does lay the tastiest eggs.” Legolas was quiet for a moment before nodding and burying his face in her shoulder once more.
Thranduil watched Anna comfort his son, talking to him gently and calming him. He had never seen Imloth show this kind of tenderness towards Legolas, even as an infant. Once Legolas had been able to stand on his own, she had ceased all physical contact with the boy save for perhaps holding his hand during public appearances.
Imloth had never held Legolas when he cried from fear or some minor accident. She left such tasks to the nursery maids, or Thranduil himself soothed the child. She had treated him as a Prince rather than her son, and Thranduil had blindly ignored it, choosing to believe that this was how a Queen should treat her son. Perhaps if he had not ignored it, if he had talked to her, his heart would never have been broken by her.
Anna, this strange firieth, treated Legolas as if he were her own child, doting on him every second of the day. She held him when he cried and displayed true joy at his accomplishments. Even now, as she walked towards the vegetable patch, she held Legolas' hand firmly in her own, talking to him, making him laugh. He could not help but wonder. Why could he not have found someone like Anna before he met Imloth?
The morning passed quickly, the chores all swiftly done with three of them working together. Anna showed Thranduil how to work the dryer and how to interpret the small symbols inside the clothes that told him which ones could go through the dryer and which could not. He soon realized he had perhaps the simplest chores save for Legolas, Anna taking on the more difficult tasks such as mucking out the pigs and general housework.
There was never a dull moment, she would continuously flit between chores and Legolas' lessons. Today he was learning to write out different letters. Anna would print each one clearly at the top of the page and instruct him to copy it whilst she took care of various tasks.
Thranduil watched over the boy when she left the room. As the afternoon wore on into evening, Legolas proudly showed him how he had written his own name all by himself. Anna's reaction had been more extreme than Thranduil's. She had exclaimed how proud she was, praising him for being so clever and declared that the page would take a special place on the fridge. Legolas had beamed when she pressed a kiss to his cheek and laughed when she had scooped him up into her arms and threw him into the air. It was good to hear the boy laugh.
Ian arrived once again in time for dinner, bearing more clothes and another pair of boots for Thranduil. Remembering his manners, Thranduil offered his gratitude.
"Think nothing of it, pal," Ian assured him. Thranduil was not entirely certain what a ‘pal’ was but allowed it as the term was congenially extended.
"Hey, Anna, what's for eating?"
"Sam!" Legolas shouted.
“Oh, I’m not eating the devil bird,” Ian said, following the sound into the kitchen, “I’ve still got a scar from where she bit me on the ass.”
“Butt, she bit me on the butt,” Ian quickly corrected himself. He tossed the pair of boots by the back door and dropped the clothes onto the table. "Thanks," Anna said as she chopped up some potatoes, "Next time we're in town, I'll actually take him shopping. I don't think farm boy chic is quite his style."
Dinner passed in the same manner as the night before, only the subject that evening was Ian’s work. Thranduil was surprised to hear he worked in law, representing wealthy clients. He told them all that evening of someone, clearly not of sound mind, who had wanted to bring a claim against a local brewery.
"The fact is, if the guy had read the label, he would have seen that the beer was brewed here rather than Hawaii," Ian said, "He got laughed out the office."
“Where did he even get the idea it was brewed in Hawaii?” Anna asked. Ian shrugged.
“Some people don’t have brains when they’re born,” Legolas said with an exaggerated sigh.
“Don’t have the brains they were born with, short stack,” Ian corrected him. Legolas shrugged and turned back to his meal.
"This is tasty, naneth,” Legolas said.
“I agree,” Thranduil added absentmindedly. Silence descended.
"Was...was that a compliment?" Anna asked a smile on her face, "Are you feeling well?"
"Take the compliment, or I shall not give you another," Thranduil said firmly, one brow raising at her joking tone."Yes...Your Majesty," Anna replied, smiling sweetly. An unsettled feeling fell on him as her eyes sparkled. They were so very like Imloth's, and yet they were not.
Dinner passed in relative peace aside from Ian trying to dispose of his vegetables onto Legolas’ plate, causing the boy to cry out in protest.
“No more peas!” Legolas squealed."Enough!" Anna cut him off, "Ian, stop winding him up, or he'll never go to sleep."
“Not my fault he’s not eating his peas,” Ian said. Legolas almost screamed as the man dumped another forkful onto his plate.
"Ian!" Thranduil snapped. Silence fell once more, and the man seemed to shrink back in his chair.
"Sorry, Legolas," he mumbled quietly as Thranduil's cold blue eyes fixed on him. Ian quickly rose from his feet and began clearing the plates.
Anna sighed and shook her head.
“Is he always like this?” Thranduil asked.
“For as long as I can remember,” she answered him, “But he’s my brother, and as annoying as he is, he looks out for me.”"Thanks, sis," Ian said, leaning in and kissing her cheek as he picked up her plate."Urgh, away with you," she laughed, swatting at him.
"C'mon Legolas, half an hour of TV before bath and bedtime. Leave the dishes, Ian, I'll do them when the little guy is in bed." Ian cheerfully dumped the plates in the sink and scooped up Legolas, heading into the living room.
Thranduil rose and pushed the chairs back under the table.
“Would...” Anna started before shaking her head and looking away.
“What is it?” he asked.
“Would you help me sort and fold the laundry?” Anna asked, “I can get it put away before Legolas’ bath time that way.”
"Of course," he said. Anna smiled at him and retrieved the basket from the laundry room. He followed her into the living room, studiously looking at the back of her head and not the way her hips moved as she walked. Something about her called out to him, and he was battling to keep it under control.
In the living room, Ian was sat on one of the chairs, Legolas on his lap, both of them staring at the television."And what pray tell are you watching?" Thranduil asked, looking at the screen, "It looks like some kind of battle on ice, only more violent."
“It’s hockey,” Anna said, setting the basket down on the floor by the fire, “And you’re not far off with the battle comparison. Ian...”
"Annie, relax, Legolas, and I already talked about this." Ian said, without looking away from the screen.
"These men are professionals, they know what they are doing, and Legolas is not to try and put a hockey stick or a puck through Bubba's teeth."
"Yeah, Bubba's teeth already fell out," Legolas said. Anna rolled her eyes and knelt on the floor beside the basket. Thranduil shook his head and sat on the couch beside her.
He found the activity oddly relaxing, taking each item, folding it, and placing it in the corresponding pile. The phone rang and Anna got up to answer it. They were almost at the bottom of the basket when Thranduil spotted the same scrap of lace from earlier.
"Ian, I was wondering what this was?" he asked, holding it up. Ian glanced over before going bright red.
“Oh, geez, dude!” the man exclaimed, “I didn’t wanna see those!”
“Oh my god, what are you doing?!” Anna cried from the living room door, “Put them down.” Thranduil couldn’t help chuckle at their embarrassment at this seemingly meaningless bit of white lace. He rose to his feet.
"Not until you tell me what it is," he said, "I am now doubly curious as to what function this serves." Anna rushed over and tried to snatch the lace from his hand, making him chuckle. It was fun to tease her, his height putting the scrap far from her reach.
"Thranduil, I'm serious, give them back!" Anna grumbled. Thranduil laughed openly as he moved out of her reach once more.
“Ada, why are you playin with naneth’s underwares?" Legolas' voice cut through him like a knife, and he froze."Her...what?" he spluttered. Anna's undergarments?! Surely not.
Anna took advantage of his distraction and stepped onto the sofa behind him. She easily reached his hand and snatched the garment away from him, though not without the edge of her breast, brushing his cheek.
"Surely not!" he exclaimed, "Surely that scrap of lace..." Anna did not wait for him to finish. Her face burned red, and she stormed from the room. Thranduil remained rooted to the spot, watching her go. What kind of world was this where something so small could be counted as an appropriate undergarment?
He heard her loudly, moving dishes around in the kitchen. Realizing she had no intention of explaining herself to him, he followed, leaving Legolas and Ian to continue watching the hockey game.
She was stood at the sink, filling it with hot water. Thranduil could see the undergarments just poking out of her rear pocket. Her whole body was tense but also shaking as she moved. It was apparent that he had overstepped the mark, he realized as he approached her. He had gone beyond merely teasing and had embarrassed her.
"I crossed a line," he said, "I did not realize that clothing in this world could be so...small." She didn't answer only shrugged.
“Perhaps...I could use some instruction on what is and is not appropriate here,” he continued, “To prevent further...”
"Thranduil, I'm really not comfortable discussing my underwear with you," she said, bowing her head slightly.
The tension was thick in the air, and he realized that he had once again misjudged her. She was not a loose woman who flaunted her skin and wore revealing clothes on purpose. Anna was quite ordinary for her world. To have her undergarments made into a game was beyond mortifying for her.
"Forgive me, my lady," he said quietly. Her shoulders sank. "It's fine, Thranduil," she sighed, "Just grab a dish towel and start drying." She peeked up at him, offering a small smile before pulling a plate from the soapy water and scrubbing it. He said nothing, but returned her smile and picked up the towel she gestured too. He waited patiently for her to pass him the plate and wondered what the next year might bring.
Chapter 7: I Got You
A certain level of peace seemed to come over the small house as the next few days passed. Thranduil found that so long as he contributed with the chores, Anna appeared to have very little interest in how else he spent his time. This granted him leave to search the nearby woods for another Fairy Ring. Sadly, however, there were none.
The large one that had been damaged by the wild pig was apparantly the only one to be found. He and Legolas were indeed stuck there for the time being.
After the first few days, Ian's visits eased off a little, Thranduil suspected they had only been so frequent to keep an eye on himself. He could understand the reasoning. He was a large, imposing male, and Ian naturally would be wary of his sudden arrival in Anna's home. His respect for the odd mortal man increased.
For the most part, Anna and Thranduil avoided spending prolonged time together. She remained focused on Legolas' schooling, maintaining the house and farm. At the same time, Thranduil avoided any more embarrassing incidents with her undergarments.
He did, however, note her aversion to loud noises. Legolas, in his childish excitement, often slammed the back door as he went outside to play. Anna would jump as the door hit the frame; on occasion, a small gasp or cry would escape her as well. Sudden harsh sounds and unexpected movements to close to her would cause her to bring her hand up reflexively as though to protect herself. Thranduil made an effort to move slowly when approaching her.
In the evening when they watched the television, she would often change the channel, seemingly at random. The change would be followed by a prolonged period of silence from her and often sitting very stiffly and staring at her feet. He could not make sense of her reactions nor piece together exactly what caused these episodes, but as they did not seem to affect Legolas, he left it alone.
He could feel an unmistakable attraction towards the woman beginning, but he could not allow himself to become involved. There was, for all Anna's tendency to be disagreeable, something about her that made him feel the need to protect her.
There had to be a distance between them. Anna seemed to feel the same way. She did not seek him out save to let him know that meals were ready, so it came as a great surprise when on the fifth day, she knocked on the door of the room she had given him.
He had just made use of the shower in the bathroom, a novel accomplishment of mortal kind that he highly approved of. He was dressing hen Anna knocked.
"Enter," he said, plucking a black t-shirt from the bed. The door opened, and Anna stepped as he was pulling the shirt over his head.
"Oh...sorry..." she muttered, "Um...I was thinking we could take a trip into town today. You need more clothes, and Legolas needs some new boots. Then maybe we could make a stop by the park, Legolas can play with some other kids then and not just the chickens."
"That sounds acceptable," Thranduil replied as he picked up his red plaid shirt, "I am...unused to wearing the same garments day after day."
"I know it hasn't been ideal," Anna admitted, "But I don't like going into town more than I have to. Thanks for being patient."
"As you so kindly pointed out, I am not King here," Thranduil retorted, "So I have lessened my expectations."
"Is that a rude way of saying 'you're welcome'?"
"Take it as you wish," he said, "It makes no difference to me." Anna's jaw clenched, and she scowled at him for a moment.
"Whatever," she spat, "Just meet me downstairs when you're ready. I'll get Legolas' coat on." She turned and left. Thranduil pursed his mouth. Finally, they were leaving this abominable dwelling, even if it was only a temporary respite. He found the house entirely too small for his liking, or rather too small for him.
He seemed to fill whichever room he occupied, certainly all the doorways. He had misjudged the height of the back door on more than one occasion and scraped his forehead on the frame. Another reason he spent time in the woods, it was easier to breathe out there.
Sitting on the bed, he pulled on the boots he had been given and laced them up. A mirror on the back of the door showed him a very un-kingly reflection. No longer dressed in fine clothes that were molded to his lithe form. The plaid shirt was inelegant and ill-fitting. He looked forward to returning it, although the jeans fit quite nicely now that he had worn them in.
He supposed he was dressed in a way to 'fit in' with this world. His clothes certainly seemed similar to those he saw on the television. If what Ian had said was true, and there were no Elves in this world...well, he had seen how humans treated those they saw as different. Perhaps the isolation here was a good thing, after all.
Heading downstairs, he found Legolas bundled up warmly by Anna, who looked up as he entered. She rose to stand from kneeling and lifted the same coat she had offered him before from the hook. Although he did not feel the cold, he trusted her instincts to keep his true nature hidden, although he did raise an eyebrow when she offered him a hat.
"For your ears," she said, "You're gonna draw a lot of attention just by...looking the way you do, the ears might set some people off." Reluctantly he took the hat. It was woolen and rather floppy, and he wasn't entirely sure how one went about wearing it.
"Here," Anna said after a moment. She took it back and rose up on her tiptoes to place it on his head, making sure it sat securely in place and covered his ears.
"There," she said as she lowered herself, "Beanie hats suit you. I'll add them to the list."
Thranduil quirked a brow, unsure how he felt about this world's fashion suiting him. Evidently satisfied with their appearances, Anna led them out a side door off the kitchen that Thranduil had not yet ventured through.
The room they stepped into was very cool, shelves along the outer edges acting as a pantry. Various tools hung on the walls, and in the center was a large metal contraption. Anna pulled on a handle on one side of the metal device, and a door opened. She lifted Legolas in before looking towards him.
"It's called a pickup truck," she said, "It's a mechanical horse and cart. You can sit on the other side." Turning back to Legolas, she lifted him onto a slightly raised seat and pulled a strap across the boy's body before climbing in herself. Thranduil moved to the other side and opened the door easily enough.
Inside was a long, upholstered seat. Thranduil barely fit inside, the top of his head brushing the roof. Anna leaned over Legolas and helped him pull another black strap across his body and securing it with a click to a small box at his side.
"What is this?" he asked, running one finger along the strap.
"Seat belt," Anna said, "If we hit anything or anything hits us, it'll keep you safe. Otherwise, you'll be sent flying through the windshield." She indicated the glass in front of them.
Thranduil did not doubt that such an incident would not prove life-threatening to himself, but for Anna and Legolas, it was a different story. He continued to inspect the strap but made no move to secure it. His attention was brought back to Anna, who spoke in a clipped tone, "It wasn't a suggestion, you have to strap in."
He was brought from his thoughts of an acerbic retort by a horrific noise. The whole truck started to shake, and he could smell something strange and noxious. Anna and Legolas seemed unaffected. Anna pressed pedals with her feet and moved a stick with her right hand. He quickly fastened the belt in place and prepared himself for whatever was to come next.
She pressed something above her head, and the wall before them began to rise, revealing daylight beyond it. Once it was completely risen, Anna pressed another pedal, and the truck moved forward. She stopped it briefly once they were outside to go and pull the wall down.
Legolas helpfully supplied to term 'garage door' for him. The boy had done that with ease over the last few days, naming things for him and explaining the use of various items around the house.
Anna got back into the truck, and it began to move again. They traveled down the long driveway and out onto a road.
"Music, Naneth," Legolas said after a few moments. Anna reached down, pressed a button, and a male voice surrounded them.
Oh Lord it’s hard to be humble
When you’re perfect in every way.
“I can't wait to look in the mirror," Legolas began singing along, "Cause I get better looking each day!" Thranduil cast a glance at Anna, who was rolling her eyes.
"To know me is to love me," Legolas continued, grinning as he sang, "I must be a he..." Anna abruptly reached over and pressed the button again.
"Hey!" Legolas cried.
"I'm having words with Ian when I next see him," Anna grumbled. Legolas looked at her in silence for a moment.
"Baby Beluga!" he cried.
"No!" Anna looked horrified, "Let's just try another station." She reached down again, and music began playing. Legolas looked disgusted but remained silent while they continued down the road.
As they traveled, Thranduil noticed more and more buildings beginning to appear. Then more vehicles like Anna's truck, others slightly different. People milled around, going about their daily business. Anna turned off the road and into a large area, filled with hundreds of other vehicles, eventually pulling into a space defined by painted white lines.
"Welcome to the mall," she said, "Legolas, you hold onto mine or your Ada’s hand whilst we’re here. You do not wander off!”
“Yes, Naneth," Legolas said as she leaned over and removed his seatbelt. Thranduil followed suit and climbed out. Legolas held his arms out to him excitedly, and Thranduil gladly lifted the boy out.
"I love the mall, Ada," Legolas chatted away, "There's toy stores and book stores, and one of them has the biggest TV ever!" Anna's door slammed, and he heard the locks click. She walked around to meet them, and Legolas wiggled his way out of Thranduil's grip.
The boy grabbed Anna's hand and just two of Thranduil's fingers, and the three of them made their way towards the large building.
"So we'll get Legolas' boots first," Anna said, "Then we'll go find you some more clothes." Thranduil nodded. He recognized that he was entirely out of his element here, and would need to follow her lead.
She led the way to the doors, Thranduil was surprised to see them opening of their own volition as they approached. He glanced at Anna, who seemed unaffected and decided not to press her on how it worked. It was becoming apparent that many things in this world would be difficult for him to understand.
Once inside, he felt a sinking feeling in his stomach. There were people everywhere, hurrying back and forth, men, women, and children. He had not seen chaos like this since the War, and in such a strange world, it was more than a little jarring.
He felt Legolas' hand slip from his only to be replaced by a slightly larger one. Looking to his side, he found Anna had switched places with Legolas.
"Hey, it's okay," she said in a reassuring voice, "It can get a little crazy here sometimes, but you'll be fine." A sense of calm washed over him, whether it was her voice or the way her thumb brushed over the back of his hand, he did not know. She smiled briefly before looking forward and leading them on through the crowds.
Anna couldn't help but notice the small smile of pride from Thranduil as the store assistants cooed over Legolas.
"Isn't he just the sweetest!" One of them said as she rang up the boots. Legolas grinned up at her. "And you're such a good boy!"
"Looks just like his Daddy too," said another, nodding towards Thranduil, who stood to one side, observing.
"There you go, sweetie," said the first, leaning down to give Legolas the bag, "Now, you be a good boy for your mommy and daddy."
"I will," Legolas said, taking Anna's hand, "Thank you!"
"You're welcome, cutie!"
They rejoined Thranduil, who scooped Legolas up into his arms and stuck close to Anna's side as they left. Outside it was even busier than it had been when they arrived, and Anna saw Thranduil tense up once more.
She didn't know what it was like in his world, but she guessed the sheer number of people was a shock to him. She reached up and put her hand on his elbow as reassurance.
"Naneth, I'm hungry," Legolas said. Glancing down at her watch, Anna checked the time.
"Well, it is coming up to lunchtime," she said, "Let's eat before it gets too busy. C'mon, this way." She led the way to the escalators and saw Thranduil's eyes widen a little as he watched the moving staircases. 'Not seen these before either have you, big guy?' she thought to herself.
Leaning closer to him, she whispered, "It's alright, I'll count you on." "Three, two, one, go." As one they stepped forward, Thranduil able to keep his balance despite carrying Legolas' weight.
"How did you give payment for the shoes?" he asked, steadfastly not looking down. "Credit card," she said, "I...I don't know how to explain it, but basically, Ian has paid for them."
"He supports you?"
"With expensive purchases like this, yes," she said, "I get alright money from the pigs, but Legolas wears through his boots pretty quickly, and it all adds up." Thranduil nodded.
She counted them off at the top as well. "I shall see about compensating you for the expense," Thranduil said as they walked towards the food court. Anna paused. "Don't worry about it, looking after him has been its own reward."
Before Thranduil could comment further, Legolas giggled and wrapped his arms around his father's neck.
"I want chicken nuggets," he said, "Please! And ice cream, and..."
"Just because we're out doesn't mean you can just eat junk food," Anna said firmly.
"But, I ate all my veggies!"
"That was last night."
"I think you should listen to Anna, ion nin,” Thranduil interjected.
“You want to be big and strong like your Ada, you need to eat healthily," Anna added.
"Okay," Legolas said. Anna cast a smile up at Thranduil. For the first time, they were on the same page with Legolas, and it felt good.
The food court was still relatively empty, they were there before the lunchtime rush. Anna found them a table close to a small play area, which Legolas happily bounded off to under Thranduil's watchful eye whilst she went to get food.
Anna wasn't sure what Thranduil would like; this was hardly the food she cooked at home, so she played it safe and got two lots of the pasta which she knew Legolas liked, and two big slices of pizza for him to try. Returning to the table, she spotted a few women she knew from one of the parks. They gave her a cheery wave before looking very curiously at Thranduil as she sat down.
"We could be in for some awkward questions," Anna said quietly while organizing napkins and plastic cutlery.
"How so?" he asked.
"See those two women a few tables behind me?"
"I know them. Legolas has played with their kids before," she explained. "Obviously, in the beginning, they asked about his father…. I said you weren't in the picture anymore."
"Ah," Thranduil replied, "So they believe you and I, as it were, are estranged?"
"Yeah," Anna said, still busying herself with the food, "So, if they start asking questions..."
"I shall defer to you," Thranduil said, "I would not want to raise suspicions as to mine and Legolas' true nature."
"Thank you," Anna said, relived.
"Legolas, come!" Thranduil turned towards where the boy was playing. Legolas scrambled over the small wall and ran to the table.
"Naneth! Naneth!" he cried, "Sophie and Tommy are here!"
"I know, I just saw their moms," Anna said, lifting him onto the chair, "You can go back and play after you've eaten."
"Okay," he said, "Oh, my favorite!" "Be careful, it's still hot," Anna warned. He beamed when he saw the pasta Anna put before him.
Legolas ate with gusto. Anna ended up splitting the extra pasta between herself and Thranduil as he took a liking to both. Once finished, she cleared their table, and Legolas bounded off to play again. Anna bought two coffees, handing one silently to Thranduil as she sat back down.
"I'm guessing he doesn't have any siblings," she said after a few moments of quiet.
"No, he does not," Thranduil answered.
"What about you?"
"No siblings either," he said, "Though I do recall once begging my mother for a brother." He looked over at her and was momentarily distracted by the site of her pursed lips gently blowing on the hot liquid.
"What of you? Besides, Ian?"
"No, just the two of us," she replied, watching as a strange look settled over his face, "I don't know if I could handle more than him...what is it?"
"Nothing," he murmured, "Your eyes…"
"It's called central heterochromia," Anna offered.
"They remind me of the mouth of the River Sirion," Thranduil said, his gaze fixed on them, "Where the river met the sea."
Anna abruptly leaned back slightly. "Forgive me, that was too familiar," he looked away. "Kinda, I've been told something like that before," she said, looking back at her coffee. "Anna!"
The pair of them looked up to find the women she had pointed out earlier standing next to the table, along with another woman.
"Mary, Mallory, Beth," Anna said in greeting. Thranduil nodded politely, then downed his coffee in a single gulp.
"Excuse me," he said, rising from his seat and striding over to where Legolas was playing. The three women watched before sitting down around the table.
"So..." said Mary, a woman about Anna's age with long dark hair, "Who's the hunk?"
"Yeah," added Mallory, who was slightly older with red hair, "He's….gorgeous."
"That's...Legolas' dad," Anna said quietly.
"I thought you two weren't involved anymore?" Mary asked.
"It...It's complicated," Anna said with a shake of her head, "Normally I wouldn't. Still, Legolas needs his dad, and, despite my initial thoughts, Thranduil's really good with him."
"Thranduil?" Beth queried, tossing her blond curls over her shoulder, "Another Welsh name?" Anna nodded. When people had questioned Legolas' name in the past, she'd blurted out that it was Welsh, and it had never been brought up since.
"Does he have the..." Mallory indicated her ears. "Yeah, seems to be a family thing," Anna breathed.
"I'm surprised you ever let him go," Beth said, watching as Thranduil lifted Legolas up and tossed him in the air. Anna's mouth went a little dry, watching his t-shirt ride up and reveal a glimpse of toned stomach. He had that perfect vee shape where his hips sloped into his jeans, and it had been plaguing her all morning.
"Oh, he's nice to look at, but so far, to me, at least, he's been an egotistical, insensitive jerk," she muttered. She hadn't forgotten having the sword to her face or his sneer or the way he called her firieth, whatever that meant.
Thranduil's head turned towards her slightly, and she fought to keep her face neutral. Damn! She'd forgotten about how good their hearing was. Beth made a non-committal noise and rose from her seat, heading over to check on her daughter.
"Is that why you two broke up?" Mary asked, "Because he was a jerk?"
"Yeah, I wasn't prepared to put up with it," Anna said, "And that's why I'm raising Legolas to be better. But it wouldn't be fair to keep him apart from his father so..."
"Well, so long as you let your brain run things and not the other place," Mallory said, "Though, I certainly wouldn't say no."
"Hmmm," Anna responded, picking up her coffee and sipping it to avoid giving an actual response.
Thranduil was crouched down, listening as Legolas introduced his friends to him. The two from earlier had been joined by another little girl with blonde curls identical to one of the women sitting with Anna. Legolas was explaining some complicated rules to a game the four of them had concocted when Thranduil became aware of someone standing close to him.
Looking up, he found the blonde woman standing next to him.
"Thranduil, is it?" she asked sweetly.
"Yes," he replied, "And you are?"
"Beth," she answered, "Pleasure to meet you."
"Likewise," he said, nodding his head. He did not like the way this Beth raked her eyes over him, as if he were some object or even a slab of meat.
"Anna's a fool for letting you slip through her fingers," Beth said after her perusal was finished.
"I beg your pardon?"
"I mean, she called you a jerk, but what man isn't?" Beth said, leaning in and placing a hand on his upper arm before giving it a light squeeze, "I can tell you're strong, you know what you want." She leaned in even closer.
"I bet you're positively dynamite in the sack," she whispered. Thranduil pulled away. Although he did not know the meaning of her words, her tone of voice had taken on a sensual edge, he was not comfortable with.
"Excuse me," he said, "Legolas, come." Legolas bounded over, and Thranduil lifted him into his arms. He cast a final look at Beth, who was still looking him up and down, hands in her back pockets, and her chest thrust out in a blatant display of sexual interest.
He turned away, walking as quickly as he could back to the table where Anna was sitting. "I would like to leave now," he said, keeping his voice flat. Anna's eyes flicked from him to Beth and back. She nodded, standing and lifting her purse and the bag containing Legolas' boots.
"Sorry to run," she said, "See you again soon." The other women bid her goodbye, and she moved to walk next to Thranduil. A quick glance told him that Beth was still watching. Anna caught his gaze and slid her arm around his waist.
"I got you," she said softly.
Chapter 8: Dreams
The rest of the day passed uneventfully. Several new pairs of jeans, t-shirts, and underwear were procured for Thranduil, though with some difficulty. Most store assistants they encountered seemed to be rendered incapable of thought or speech once they laid eyes on him.
Thranduil remained oddly quiet throughout the whole affair. Whatever had occurred between him and Beth seemed to have upset him in some way. He did not resist when Anna suggested they forgo the park. Legolas dozed off no sooner than the truck had started anyway.
"Are you okay?" she asked on their return home. Thranduil paused, lifting a still-sleeping Legolas from the truck.
"I am well," he said.
"You've been awful quiet since Beth spoke to you," Anna said, grabbing their bags from the bed of the truck, "Don't tell me, she was telling you how studly you look."
"She was….suggestive," Thranduil said after a moment.
"Yeah, that's Beth," Anna sighed, "Honestly, ever since Susie's father made tracks, she's tried latching on to any man she sees. I thought I had issues, but Beth takes the cake." Thranduil raised a brow.
"Made tracks?" he queried. "He left," Anna explained.
"Just after Susie was born, said being a parent was not for him and went chasing after some other woman." The look on Thranduil's face was one Anna could only describe as utterly horrified.
"How could someone do that?" he asked as he followed Anna into the house, still carrying Legolas in his arms, "Make a child with someone and then change their mind." He sounded utterly disgusted.
"Well...sometimes...accidents happen," Anna said carefully.
"Children are the greatest blessing amongst the Eldar," Thranduil said, raising one hand to rest on Legolas' hair, "We could never turn our back on one."
Anna chuckled, but it was without humor. "Well, I wish everyone else in this world was like you in that respect," she said gently, "There would be a lot more happiness in the world. Don't let him sleep too long, I'm going to go put these away and then it's time for his lessons."
She took the bags with her as she left the kitchen, Thranduil watched her go before looking at his son, asleep on his shoulder.
“Ion nin, it is time to wake up," he said gently. Legolas stirred, his blue eyes blinking open before he smiled. Thranduil returned it with one of his own, setting the boy down and removing his coat.
His heart hurt. Whilst what he had said to Anna was technically true, Imloth was still painful to think about. She was the only Elf Thranduil knew of that had willingly severed the bond with their child, who had abdicated all rights and responsibilities to them. Theirs was not a normal marriage as the Eldar saw it.
They did not marry for love, but rather to secure the Line of Oropher. Both of them had long passed the usual age for marriage without any sign of a fated love appearing for them, and they shared mutual interests. Oropher had been the first to suggest an alliance, and with war looming on the horizon, Thranduil had agreed.
He now suspected Imloth had not been consulted as he had. Just two days after they were wed, Thranduil rode off to war. He returned without his father, a newly crowned king. Two-thirds of his people had been slaughtered. He was welcomed by a wife who was reluctant to share a marital bed or the responsibility of ruling a kingdom.
It had not bothered Thranduil so much at first, his focus ever being his kingdom and his people. As time wore on, whispered rumors of the Queen's absence from his bed circulated. He became impatient, perhaps too impatient.
He regretted now that he had demanded she prepare herself to bear him an heir without having a reasonable discussion with her. It had been the one, and only time they had shared a bed. Imloth had retreated to her own chambers for the duration of her pregnancy.
Whilst his heart had swelled with affection and even love for her as she bore him a much desired son, her heart had retreated from him. She found the comfort she sought in an old acquaintance.
By the time Legolas was ten years old, Imloth had made her decision and informed her husband that she intended to sail for Valinor with her paramour. Thranduil could still remember it clearly.
The night was dark, cold, and wet. Rain lashed down outside the window of the rooms they had been given. Imloth had been watching the rainfall for hours in silence, and he had taken the opportunity to read in peace.
"I will not be waiting," her voice had cut through the silence abruptly. Thranduil raised his head.
"My love?" he queried, noting her wince at the endearment.
"If you and Legolas should ever follow across the sea, I will not be waiting," she said, her arms crossing in front of her.
"I do not under..."
"Thranduil….there is another," she said, looking down, "An old friend for whom... I have affection."
“Colavas," Thranduil knew of whom she spoke.
Colavas had passed through the Halls a few years before on his own pilgramidge to the Havens and the long journey across the sea.
"Yes, my King," Imloth intoned, "We spoke, and I felt a spark of love flicker between us, unlike any I have felt before. I ask that you release me from our marriage bond. I have given you your son and heir, my duty as Queen fulfilled. I ask for no say in his life. I beg for you now to let me follow my heart."
Thranduil had sat there watching her intently for some time. She did not falter under his gaze as his mind raced at what this would mean for their son. He would have no mother, but surely that was better than a mother who did not want him.
No one would be waiting for them when they sailed for the Undying Lands. Both of his parents resided in the Halls of Mandos and would remain there until the Second Music. He had no siblings, no cousins, as most of those had perished in past wars. If he released her, they would be utterly alone. No. Not alone, they would have each other, and he would cherish Legolas every single day.
“I release you...”
“Ada!” Legolas’ voice drew him back to the present.
“Forgive me, ion nin,” he said with a smile, “I was remembering.”
“Ada, want to play a game with me?” Legolas asked. Thranduil knelt before the small child and gathered him into his arms once more, kissing his cheek.
Later that evening, Thranduil paused outside Legolas' almost closed door on his way to the bathroom. Inside, he could hear Anna reading to his son. A mortal tradition, a bedtime story, and one he highly approved of.
"' But Pooh,' Piglet began, the tip of his nose growing pink with excitement," Anna read, putting on a higher voice for the character, "' On the other hand it's not easy to count things when they won't stand still.'" Thranduil let out a chuckle at the deeper voice she gave for a second.
"Ada?" Legolas spoke, and the story ceased. Thranduil looked inside the room to see Anna sat on the small bed beside Legolas.
"I did not mean to interrupt," he said.
"It's okay," Anna replied quietly.
"Ada, come join us!" Legolas said excitedly.
"Oh, I do no think there is room, ion nin,” Thranduil said.
“No, there’s plenty,” Legolas said, clambering to his feet, “You sit next to naneth, and I sit on her knee. Come on, Ada."
Thranduil hesitated and glanced at Anna. She smiled and shifted over to where Legolas had been sitting, leaving just enough room for him,….if they sat very close together. He smiled back and strode forward to take the offered place. The bed was smaller than he had realized, and to maintain his balance, he reached out an arm to take hold of the bedpost behind Anna.
"Here, Ada, you can hold Piglet," Legolas said as he seated himself on Anna's lap. He offered up a small stuffed version of an Elk.
"Piglet?" he asked, glancing at Anna.
"His favorite character," she said before resuming the story, "' But Pooh...' And if Piglet's nose was pink before, it was scarlet now."
Thranduil did not follow the story, it was rather uninteresting to him. Legolas certainly seemed to enjoy hearing about the strange collection of animals running around a wood, going on adventures together. What he did enjoy was the moment itself.
It felt right, to be sat so close to Anna, his arm almost around her as she read his son a story. The little boy had leaned back against her chest, completely relaxed and eyes drooping. He took the opportunity whilst she was distracted to truly look at her.
Her long dark hair was always tied back except for first thing in the mornings when it hung about her face, long, loose and wavy. He liked it, to tell the truth, and he always found it to her detriment to tie it back. She was all softness it seemed, and he had found himself thinking on that softness in the dead of night when both she and Legolas slumbered.
He thought about her hair, her eyes, her lips. He would have been lying if he had told himself he did not find her attractive, but he could not afford to get attached. Not when he and Legolas would be leaving in a year, back through the Fairy Ring to their own world. But oh how he wanted to know what she felt like pressed against him.
His eyes flicked downwards, and he caught a glimpse of her cleavage. Again, soft and full, he found himself wondering how they would feel in his hands if she liked to have them touched if she would let him.
He quickly pulled himself out of his reverie as Anna ended the story. This was not the time or place to focus on such thoughts. He rose from the bed first, and Anna stood, with an almost-asleep Legolas in her arms.
Thranduil pulled back the blankets, and she laid the boy down. She watched as he tucked Legolas in and whispered a wish for pleasant dreams in his ear before kissing his brow. As he stepped back, Anna leaned in and did the same.
"Night-night, naneth, night-night ada," the boy mumbled and was instantly asleep. Anna silently walked around the bed while Thranduil held the door open for her. As she passed him, he noticed her arms crossed over her front, almost protectively. He followed her out, leaving the door open as was her custom.
"Um...I have an early start tomorrow," she stated. Thranduil waited quietly for her to continue. "I have an appointment in town, I won't be long, and Ian will be stopping over to help out." He couldn't help but notice that Anna was avoiding looking at him and continued to hug herself.
"So, I'm going to have a shower and head to bed myself."
"Anna." She turned to face him but kept her eyes focused on a spot down the hall. "Do not feel you must continue to take on the burden of caring for the more demanding labor around the farm. I will join you in the morning."
Rather than putting her at ease, as he had intended, she seemed to become more agitated. "No, it's okay, really! It's... I have an appointment with my counselor." Anna could tell from his expression that he didn't understand. She sighed, "A counselor is like a doctor." Thranduil's expression immediately changed to one of concern. He stepped closer and surprised her by gently placing his hand on her shoulder. "You are not well?"
The warmth of his hand and his far more intimate proximity had her pulse racing. She forced herself to meet his gaze before continuing. "No, it's not like that," she started, not sure how much she should reveal. "This is the kind of doctor who helps people with... emotional illness."
Thranduil watched her face intently, not speaking, his expression unreadable. He removed his hand and stepped back, his eyes never leaving hers.
"I too feel myself in need of rest," he finally spoke. The mall had been far more draining than he had thought possible, and he wanted time to digest what Anna had just told him. "I shall see you on the morrow."
"See you in the morning," Anna said before turning away and heading into her own bedroom.
He heard another door shut after she had vanished from view and then the sound of running water. He retreated to his own room and sat down on the bed. He needed to take stock of everything. He had been here little more than a week and knew he had begun to care for her, and for her wellbeing. This firieth was getting under his skin.
Half the time, he found her annoying and disagreeable. The other half, he felt a hunger to touch, to taste, to have her cry out his name. Would it be wrong, though? To dally with the woman who had raised his son for the past two years? Nothing more than that, just some physical release and intimacy to satisfy the need he was feeling?
There would be no cause for feelings to be involved, they both knew what the future held, there was an end date to his residency in her home after all. He heard the water stop and the gentle sound of Anna's footsteps as she moved around. Would she be open and willing to such a notion?
He listened carefully as she moved around her room, readying herself for bed, trying not to think about those indecent and yet arousing garments she called her nightwear. Soon quiet descended, and he knew her to be asleep; even the gentle rasp of pages in a book being turned had ceased.
Thranduil eased himself into the center of the bed, laying down. It had been a long day, and he had not slept deeply since his arrival. His eyes closed and he took a deep breath, feeling himself begin to drift.
His dreams brought him outside of the house. He could hear movement on the far side and followed it to a barn he had seen on the property but hadn't yet been within. The door was open, and he stepped inside. There he saw Anna, pulling a large hay bale across the barn and starting to break it down. He smirked to see she wore that scandalously low-cut top and the figure-hugging jeans he had come to appreciate.
She didn't seem to notice him, but no matter, this was just a dream, somewhere he could act upon fantasies and urges he would never entertain in his waking life. Like her. He could indulge in her, do things to her, and with her, that would be poor choices outside of a dream.
As he approached, she stood up. She seemed to stand taller than she usually did, with a burst of confidence he had only seen on occasion. Her head tilted, seeming to hear his footsteps, and she turned around to face him.
"Anna," he said gently, his voice dropping to a low, seductive purr. A half-smile graced her lips, those beautiful pink lips, so soft and full. He stepped in closer, one arm sliding around her waist. This was the beautiful thing about dreams, no consequences.
Her soft, full breasts pressed against his chest as he moved closer, tilting his head slightly. She looked up at him, those startling blue-and-green eyes sparkling up at him, her pupils blown wide. He leaned in and kissed her, moaning in satisfaction when she returned it immediately.
"Anna," he murmured before diving in for another kiss. It was divine. Her lips were soft and perfect against his. There was no reluctance. In fact, there seemed to be a hunger within her as there was in him. He nipped at her lower lip and felt them part for him.
Immediately he crushed her against him, eager to feel every inch of her. His hands skated down her back to her hips, pulling them flush against his. "Do you feel me?" he whispered, "Do you feel how I ache for you?" Blood was rushing from his head to his groin, his length growing impossibly hard within the constrictive jeans.
Anna merely whimpered in response and kissed him once more, hands tugging on his shirt as she pulled him down. They landed in a writhing pile upon the hay, her legs parting to welcome him in. His mind swam with the thought to take her, to pleasure her and himself. Her hips rocked up against him, and he almost lost all semblance of control.
Gathering her up in his arms, he rolled onto his back, her atop of him and her lips gladly welcoming his tongue. Her hands slipped to the buttons of his shirt and began to undo them. His own hands roamed over thigh and hip, slowly snaking upwards. He sat up and lowered his head to brush his lips across the tops of her breasts. She inhaled sharply, one hand coming up to clutch the back of his head.
"Thranduil," she sighed as he kissed her skin, parting his lips and swirling his tongue over her flesh. He moaned his satisfaction at her taste, he could practically smell her arousal and hear the ever-increasing thump of her heartbeat. It was all a dream, alas, but what a dream it would be!
His hands skimmed upwards to gently cup her breasts through her shirt and lift them. A gentle squeeze had her crying out, tilting herself backward to offer him better access.
"Anna," he groaned, "I want you…I want you stripped bare and in my bed. I want to show you all the stars in the sky." She trembled slightly and whispered something he couldn't hear over the rush of blood in his ears. He pulled back, intending to kiss her lips once more when he heard her speak again.
“This is all a dream….you’re not really here….you can’t hurt me like he did...”
Thranduil blinked dumbfounded for a moment.
"This is all a dream," she whispered, her eyes still held tightly shut. "You're not real. You can't hurt me."
His ardour receded like the morning tide. Why would she say such things unless….this was not his dream, he realized. He had never seen the inside of this barn nor inquired as to what it contained. The detail...he was in Anna's dream.
He should stop, he surmised, pull away, and try to wake himself. To walk in someone else's dream without their consent was unforgivable.
"You can't hurt me," Anna whispered, still in his arms, her head now lowered to his shoulder, "None of it can hurt me here."
"Anna?" he said softly, "Who can't hurt you? What do you fear?"
"No..." she shook her head, "No...not again." A sharp inhale told Thranduil there was a strange scent in the air, almost like the smell that came from the pickup truck.
Then he heard it. A child crying, a little boy. Only it wasn’t Legolas. Another child.
“Mommy!" the frightened voice called, "Mommy, wake up! Wake up, Mommy! Mommy!" Sobbing came, both the child and Anna wrapped in his arms. One hand squeezed her flesh, hoping to draw her attention from the heart-rending screams coming from the unseen source. She raised her head, eyes raw and crying.
"Mommy!" the child's cries came again. Anna looked away to one side before looking back at his.
"You shouldn't be here," she whispered.
Thranduil jerked awake on the bed and sat bolt upright. His ears strained to hear over his pounding heartbeat. Nothing came from Legolas' room, but he could hear faint sounds of distress coming from Anna.
He leapt to his feet and bolted out the door and towards her room. She lay in the bed, still asleep, but her head tossing back and forth.
"Anna," he said softly, but she did not wake. A half-sob came from her and tore at his heart. Carefully he edged forward and sat on the bed beside her. He leaned over her and placed a hand on her cheek.
Something tormented her in her dreams, and she had thrown him out to hide it. He pressed a gentle kiss to her brow, as he had done to Legolas earlier.
"It is just a dream," he whispered, "I am here with you. It cannot hurt you." He looked over his shoulder and across the hallway. Legolas was asleep, dead to the world, and Thranduil was thankful for that.
He lowered himself to lay on his side and wrapped one arm around Anna's twitching frame.
"It is just a dream," he repeated, "I am here. It cannot hurt you." The twitching began to slow, and over the next hour, it finally stopped until all that remained of the nightmare was the voice of the unseen child screaming in Thranduil's mind.
“Mommy, wake up!”
Chapter 9: Healing
When Anna woke the next morning, she felt almost as tired as she had the night before. Then again, she expected nothing less this time of year, especially today. Restful sleep had eluded her, but last night, it had been for a different reason.
After switching off her alarm, she lay in bed, staring at the ceiling. Anna re-played the vivid dream over and over in her mind. It had all felt so real! The feel of his arms wrapping around her, his mouth on hers, even the slide of his tongue against hers had felt so real.
She shook her head and sat up. A sex dream? About Thranduil? Really?! Was she so desperate that she was willing to overlook the generally shitty and dismissive attitude he'd her shown so far?
Admittedly, the guy looked like a freaking supermodel, with the build to back up his height. He looked solid. And he had certainly felt solid in her dream. Her face flushed at the memory of just how solid he had felt...
Whatever it was, it had been out of the ordinary, to say the least. Then the familiar nightmare had started. She could hear the screaming, smell the fumes, but then something new had happened. She wasn't alone. Throughout it all, she could hear Thranduil, talking to her. There had been a comforting presence like he was there with her. This time, she hadn’t faced the nightmare all alone.
Anna rubbed her face with her hands and climbed out of bed. She had a lot to do before she left, and daydreaming about Mr. High-And-Mighty wasn't going to get it done. Legolas needed washing, dressing, and feeding. She needed coffee at the very least. She wanted to get the pig and chicken feed ready before she left. She decided to double-check the stock levels of the detergent and fabric softener in case they needed more.
Looking out her bedroom door, she froze. Legolas’ bed was empty. No...he wouldn’t have….Thranduil wouldn’t have just taken the boy, surely?! She turned and raced down the stairs, heading into the kitchen where she stopped dead. They were both there. Thranduil and Legolas, both up and dressed, and eating at the kitchen table, conversing in their own language.
“Naneth!” Legolas said brightly when he saw her, “Come on, Ada made breakfast." Anna just blinked for a moment as Thranduil rose to his feet. "You...you made breakfast?" she looked from the prepared meal to Thranduil and back. He merely nodded and walked over to the counter. Moments later, a hot cup of coffee was in her hands, and she was guided to sit at the table.
Once sat down, a bowl of fruit was placed in front of her. She didn't know what to say, she certainly hadn't expected this. She sipped the coffee. Thranduil had clearly been paying more attention than she gave him credit for. It was perfect. "Eat," he told her. "Yeah," she mumbled, putting her coffee down and picking up a fork, "You didn't have to do this."
"It was no bother," he took his own seat opposite her and returned to his own coffee.
His gaze was fixed on her, just like it had been in her dream, and it felt like those blue eyes could pierce her very soul. Her eyes dropped to the fruit before her. "Thank you," she said, remembering her manners, "I honestly did not expect this."
"Truth be told, I still can not fathom how your oven works so, this was the best I could do," Thranduil admitted with a small smile. Lifting his cup, he continued, "The coffee maker, however, was simple enough."
"You can cook?" Anna asked, surprised. "Enough to survive," he replied.
"I thought you would have always had servants for that sort of thing," Anna said, now curious. "I was not born an heir to a throne," Thranduil stated, his gaze dropping to the table, "After Doriath fell, we were refugees for quite some time. It was expected for all to contribute. You should try my roast boar off the spit." He smiled at Anna over the rim of his cup.
Anna tried to picture him out in the wilderness, cooking an entire beast over a fire, and flushed pink at the thought. Thranduil smirked and drained the last of his coffee before rising from the table.
“Legolas dishes in the sink when you are done.”
"Yes, Ada," Legolas chirped and leaned over to pluck a blueberry from Anna's bowl. "Hey, thief!" Anna laughed, "You'll turn into a blueberry one day." Legolas grinned at her. "You have to go to the doctor today?" he asked. "Yes, sweetie," she replied, "So I need to get eating, or Martha and Bertha will be going hungry."
"Ada already made their breakfast," Legolas said, "And the chickens." Anna turned and looked over her shoulder. Sure enough, two pails were sat by the back door, ready to go. "Oh," she said, looking back towards Thranduil, who was now filling the sink with hot water. She frowned.
This sudden transformation was….well...sudden! Sure yesterday, he'd been very cooperative as they had traversed the mall, and he'd looked deeply concerned when she had told him of her appointment. Was that what had caused this?
Despite his aloofness, the first sign that she struggled and he stopped being haughty? Did this elf, for lack of a better word, actually have some humanity about him? "Naneth!" Legolas brought her attention back to him, "Is Uncle Ian coming today?" "Err, yeah, sweetie, he is," she recognized the sudden gleam in the boy's eyes. "He's going to make sure you do your chores and your writing." Legolas groaned and dropped his head to the table dramatically.
"Legolas," Thranduil warned, and instantly Legolas was sat properly on his chair, head upright. "Let her enjoy her breakfast in peace ion nin," Thranduil continued, "Go put your boots on, and we shall collect this morning's eggs."
"Okay, can we take your sword in case Sam is mean?"
"Of course," Thranduil promised. Anna's head shot up, and she saw him grin and shake his head. He was joking, she breathed a sigh of relief. Whatever had caused this change, she was glad of it.
Anna had decided to kill Ian. She watched as the clock ticked on. He should have been there ten minutes ago and still no sign on him. Huffing, she grabbed the phone and tapped in his number. As she stood there, tapping her foot in annoyance, she spotted Thranduil standing in the kitchen doorway, leaning against the frame.
God, he filled it and seemed to dominate all the space around him. She tried not to think about him above her, his hard body pressed against her as they rolled in the hay within her dream.
"Annie, I'm sorry," Ian's voice brought her from her thoughts. "You will be sorry when I get my hands on you," she snapped, "I have to leave now, and you're not here!"
"Sorry, I got caught up in something," Ian muttered, on the other end. "Playing Jenga again?" Anna quipped, "What am I supposed to do?"
"Is Fabio just for ornamentation?" Ian said, "Leave short stack with his dad, he'll be fine for half an hour."
"Ian..." "Anna, go to your appointment," Ian said firmly, "Legolas will be fine with Thranduil. Please, you need to go."
"Fine, but if anything happens..."
"I know, I know," Ian said, "Look, I'm getting in my car, see you when you get back." The line hummed, signaling Ian's hasty departure. Anna sighed and put the phone down, looking back towards Thranduil.
"I can assure you, Legolas will be safe in my care," he was watching her intently. "He is my son, after all." Anna groaned and closed her eyes. Of course, he had heard every word. Elves. "Anna," his voice was gentle, "Please. If you need to see this counselor, go." She looked at him again, genuine concern was etched across his face. "Okay," she said quietly, "I'll be back in a couple of hours. Thank you again for this morning, Thranduil. It means a lot to me." He nodded in acknowledgment and held her coat for her.
Ian arrived twenty minutes after Anna left. Although the man smiled warmly at Legolas, who was obviously excited to see his 'uncle,' Thranduil could sense a deep sadness behind the facade. He observed the man carefully. Clearly, whatever emotional sickness afflicted Anna, it too affected her brother by proxy.
Ian was not his usual boisterous self, he did not encourage any mischief from Legolas, although he did keep the chores entertaining to a degree. It was when he left Legolas to practice his writing and walked away with his shoulders slumped that Thranduil decided to investigate more. Something that could cause such a lively man to become so despondent was definitely worthy of his attention.
He found Ian in the kitchen, slumped in a chair, one of the photographs from the dresser in his hand. The other hand covered his eyes. "Ian," Thranduil spoke softly. The man jumped slightly, uncovering his eyes. Thranduil was surprised to see tears there. "Are you well?" he asked.
"Yeah, yeah, I'm fine," Ian answered quickly, setting the picture down and running his sleeve across his face. The photo was not one Thranduil had really noticed before. It showed a small boy, around the equivalent age of Legolas, four or five years old. Dark hair and eyes gazed back at him. There was something familiar about his features.
"Who is this?" he asked. "Benji," Ian replied, "Anna's son."
A son? She had a son? He had seen no trace and heard no mention of a child. "Where is he?" Thranduil asked. "Gone," Ian said, "There….there was an accident, five years ago today. He died.”
If Anna’s sobs last night had torn at his heart, Ian’s words broke it.
A mother who needed a child.
Galadriel's words took on new meaning now. Anna and Legolas had needed each other. Legolas had needed a mother to love and care for him. Anna needed a child to anchor her after the loss of her own. Now he knew the origin of the voice from the dream last night. Anna's son, screaming for her to wake up.
Thranduil sank into the chair beside Ian, unable to comprehend the thought of losing a child so young. It had almost broken him when Legolas had gone missing. Little wonder Anna now needed counseling. "I am so sorry," was all he could think to say.
"Anna went to a really dark place after it happened, you know?" Ian said quietly, "She just wasn't the same. Every time I came up here, I...I was scared she was going to have hurt herself. And then Legolas turned up, and I had my sister back again. The day she found him, she'd written a note."
Thranduil looked up, eyes fixed on Ian, who was still gazing at the picture of his late nephew. "A suicide note," Ian clarified, "She didn't want to live without Benji. But then Legolas came into her life and...well, he gave her something to focus on. He didn't make the pain go away, but he made it bearable. So every day, I thank whatever it was that sent him to her. Because I still have my sister, if nothing else."
"Galadriel," Thranduil said after a moment, "Her name is Galadriel.”
“So, Anna, how are you feeling?"
Anna lifted her head, and looked at the counselor, sat opposite her. Maria was a middle-aged woman, about ten years older than herself. She wore her usual pink skirt and a crisp white blouse. She supposed the same outfit was intended to provide routine and comfort for her patients.
It bugged Anna.
"Same as last time," Anna replied, "Like a chunk of me is missing, and a huge weight sits on my shoulders."
"Have you tried the exercise I suggested at your last session?"
"Yeah," Anna nodded, "I've been writing letters to Benji, telling him about what I've been up to. But there's only so many times I can write about the pigs."
"The point of this exercise was to help alleviate your grief and guilt over how he died," Maria emphasized, "Not to be a laborious task. If you have nothing to say, don’t write.”
“It’s not that I don’t have anything to say, it’s just...I can’t put it into words,” Anna muttered, “I mean, how do I even begin to unpack everything...”
“That is why we have these sessions,” Maria reminded her, “To unpack as you say.
There's something different about you, Anna, something's happened recently." Anna hesitated. It had been the same two years before when Legolas had appeared. Maria always knew. "Yeah, someone new has come into my life," she admitted. "A romantic someone?"
"Dear, god, I hope not," Anna laughed, "I don't need that in my life. Plus, he's a total ass at times. But this morning….forget it."
"No, it's clearly on your mind, so let's talk about it," Maria insisted, "Is this some relation of your cousin?" Anna took a moment. As far as Maria knew, Legolas was her cousin's son, who was currently living with Ian. "Yeah, it's his father," she said, "They're not together anymore, but he's come to visit and reconnect with his son."
"That's good! You'll be able to see a healthy relationship develop, I hope," Maria affirmed.
"Anna, I can see that you're attracted to this man. What was it that he did this morning?"
"He made breakfast," Anna said, "Coffee and everything. It's like something switched in him, and now I have this little voice urging me to act on this attraction."
"And that frightens you?"
"It would mean letting someone in. Someone who could hurt me."
"I have to ask Anna, have you been in contact with Andrew at all?"
"Not since Benji died, and I don't want to."
"I understand your reluctance," Maria said calmly, "But he lost his son too. Do you think that guilt towards Andrew could be holding you back from pursuing a meaningful relationship?"
"No. There is nothing there," Anna said firmly, "I don't want him to know where I am."
"Anna, I am going to tell you the same thing I told you last time," Maria sighed, "You will never begin to heal if you don't put the ghosts of your past to rest." Anna frowned and looked down at her feet. That was not what she wanted to hear.
It was almost lunchtime when Anna returned. Thranduil could tell she was angry before she even set foot in the house. It was in the way she slammed the truck door shut, the way she shouldered the door from the garage to the kitchen open and then kicked it shut, all very audible from the living room.
"Uh-oh," Ian muttered, "It did not go well."
"I thought the point of her visit was to help heal her," Thranduil asked. "Yeah, well, Anna and the doc sometimes have a difference of opinion on whether something is working or not," Ian said.
"Hey, Annie!" Anna was in the doorway, a scowl on her face. "Did you remember to hose out the feed buckets?" she asked. "Yes," Ian replied calmly. "Put fresh hay in the sty?" "Yes."
"Did the laundry get done?" "Tall stack did it."
"Refresh the chicken's water?"
She vanished into the kitchen, and Ian turned to Thranduil. "She's gonna fixate on the chores for a little while," he said, "Might want to send Legolas upstairs to put all his toys away whilst I go have a showdown with the devil bird.” Thranduil nodded as Ian rose to his feet. Moving over to Legolas, he whispered in his ear to go tidy his room before he walked to the kitchen to look for Anna.
He found her sat at the kitchen table, her head in her hands. She was crying silently, and he could see tears rolling down her cheeks. He sat in the chair beside her, and she immediately began to wipe the tears away. "Ian told me that you lost your own son," he said carefully, "I cannot begin to imagine how you must feel." Anna sat still but lowered her arms onto the table.
"He was so much like Legolas," she whispered, "Sometimes, it's like I have him back again." Thranduil reached out and placed one of his hands over hers, just as she had for him when he had spoken of Imloth.
“Legolas was fortunate to have found you, and I am glad he has provided some comfort for you,” he said quietly, “If you ever wish to speak of Benji, you have my ear.”
“Thank you,” she replied, her fingers closing around his for a moment.
“Naneth!" Legolas called as he bounded in, "I put all my toys away." Anna withdrew her hand from Thranduil's and lifted the boy up onto her knee. "You did? Good boy!" she said brightly. "Love you, Naneth,” Legolas said, wrapping his arms around her neck. Anna closed her eyes and her arms around Legolas, rocking slightly with him.
“I love you too,” she whispered.
Thranduil could only watch in silence, his heart breaking.
Chapter 10: Almost
Thranduil found Anna a few days later, sat at the kitchen table. The whole surface was covered in papers, some clearly handwritten, others, he understood, had come from the computer. Anna had explained that these were receipts, the everyday expenses for feeding the chickens, the pigs, and generally running her small farm.
It was still early in the morning, and Legolas had not yet risen, but Anna looked to have been up for hours. Her brow was furrowed as she examined one particular paper. "Is this anything I can assist with?" he asked.
Anna glanced up at him before sighing. She set the paper down and shook her head. "No, I can barely get my head around it," she demurred, "I hate tax season, and I always leave it til the last minute."
"Ah, taxes," Thranduil said, "Will someone be calling later to collect?" Anna looked up, confusion on her face for a moment before she realised what he meant.
"No, no, we don't have them collected in person anymore," she said, "I pay with a check."
"The little paper with numbers on it?" he asked. He had seen her the day before sorting her bills for the month, and she explained how they worked.
"Exactly," she confirmed.
"Perhaps I could make you some more coffee?" he suggested rising from the table. Realising that although he was considered highly intelligent even amongst his own people, this may indeed be another thing that was beyond his understanding in this world.
"That would be wonderful, thank you." Anna sighed loudly and picked up another piece of paper. Frowning at it, she asked, "And if you could figure out a way to put it directly in my bloodstream without me having to waste time drinking it, that would be great too."
She held out one arm towards him. He chuckled. After two days of looking morose, she was finally beginning to cheer again, and it was becoming clear, she shared her brother's sense of humour at times. He busied himself with the coffee maker, pausing briefly when he heard Legolas stir upstairs.
"What is it?" Anna asked without looking up from her papers.
"Legolas is waking up," Thranduil said.
"He'll be wanting his breakfast when he comes down then," she said, "I need to make some headway on this mess." She ran her hand through her hair, which Thranduil noted was not yet tied back.
"Could Ian not help?"
"He already helps by checking it and filing it," Anna said, "He's coming this afternoon to get it, so if he sees this mess, he's gonna get all smug and start lecturing me."
"And that is not acceptable?"
"No, it's my job to lecture him," Anna replied, "Ah-ha! Got you, my little tax-deductible friend." She smiled and grabbed the pen by her side. She was furiously scribbling notes down so Thranduil returned to making the coffee.
A few moments later, he passed her a cup of hot coffee, which she took with a muttered thanks as he sat in his usual chair. She had progressed through some papers which were now sat on a box on the chair beside her. A thud came from upstairs, and both of them glanced up, listening to the small child clearly moving around.
"What is he doing up there?" Anna said as she lifted the cup to her mouth.
"It sounds as if he is opening his dresser," Thranduil observed.
"He's dressing himself?" Anna managed to choke out around the coffee she had just inhaled. "Whatever you do when he comes down, do not laugh at him!"
"What are you suggesting?"
"Your son can't co-ordinate his clothes to save his life," Anna said, setting her cup down in a now-clear spot on the table.
"Last time he dressed himself, he came down wearing a purple sweater and bright orange shorts." Thranduil choked on his own coffee at the mental image and bit back a laugh.
"Heavens," he whispered, "I hope he does better when he gets older."
"Yeah, I can't imagine it would be good to have rumours that the Elf Prince is color-blind based on his fashion choices," Anna chuckled.
"Well, he has at least fifty years before he would be left to select his own garments," Thranduil clarified, "Time enough to develop a sense of style."
"Fifty years?" Anna said, "How old would he be then?"
"Seventy," Thranduil confirmed, "The equivalent of…. I would say fifteen years old for your kind."
"A teenager," Anna said quietly, setting down her pen, "And I would be…..eighty-four, my grandmother's age when she passed." Silence fell over them as Anna processed her realisation.
"Anna? Are you well?" Thranduil asked after a moment.
"Yeah, it...it's just never really hit me before that by the time he's an adult...I'll be long gone," she said, "Even without the time passing differently." She fell silent again. Thranduil felt guilt settle in his stomach. He had not intended to upset her, he already detested the fact he had to take Legolas away from her.
Ian's words came back to him. How Anna had been close to ending her own life in grief when she had found Legolas and how his son's presence had brought Anna back to her brother. Would she cope if her anchor was ripped away again?
He had to know she would survive losing Legolas. He had time, almost a year, in fact, to try and heal the wounds on her heart and soul. If she were an Elf, he would know-how. The healing of a loved one's fea was a skill passed down from generation to generation.
His mother had taught him when he had still been very young before her death during the Fall of Doriath. His father, too, had given him some instruction. But to heal a mortal, a firieth, he had no idea where to start, nothing at his disposal to assess the damage done.
He made to touch her hand, a gesture of comfort when she abruptly moved and grabbed her coffee. He quickly dropped his hand back to the table. They sat in silence, Anna still scratching numbers out on her paperwork and him listening to Legolas' movements.
"Come on, Piglet," he heard Legolas say, "It's time for breakfast." There was a faint creak of springs in the mattress as Legolas leaned on the edge of it to reach his toy. A laugh soon followed, and then the sound of the boy running. Anna looked up.
"Legolas!" she called, "Don't run in just your so…." Too late did Thranduil realise what was about to happen.
He heard Legolas' scream and several thuds. He and Anna were instantly on their feet, running from the kitchen to the hallway. Legolas lay at the bottom of the stairs, staring up at the ceiling. Time seemed to slow as he didn't move or make a sound for a moment. Then came the ear-splitting screaming.
Thranduil brushed past Anna and scooped Legolas up from the floor, into his arms. Legolas clutched the back of his head, wailing at the top of his voice. "Go sit down with him," Anna said, "I'll get a cold compress." Thranduil headed into the living room and sat on the couch holding his son against his chest.
"Hush now, ion nin," he murmured gently, kissing the crown of his son's head, "I know it hurts." The great Elven King sat gently rocking his boy cradled against him as if he were an infant. Legolas continued to cry, one hand clutching his head, the other holding his stuffed animal in a death grip. Anna appeared a few moments later, with something in her hand.
"There, there now, sweetie," she cooed soothingly, "I'm just going to take a look." She stood off at an angle, allowing the daylight from the window to hit the back of Legolas' head as she parted his hair to check him for an injury.
"Oh, that's a nasty bump," she murmured softly, "Okay, sweetie, this is going to be cold, but it will help make you feel better." She pressed the item in her hand to his head. Legolas jumped slightly but soon settled in Thranduil's arms once more. His crying was already beginning to ease off.
"Is that better?" Anna asked gently after a few minutes.
“Yes,” Legolas sniffled, his tears starting to dry up, “Magic kisses?”
“You’re right! What was I thinking?” Anna said, “One magic naneth kiss coming up.” She removed the compress, leaning in and kissing the bump on the back of Legolas’ head. She put the compress back immediately.
“Better?” she asked.
“Yeah,” Legolas sniffed, his eyes red raw from crying.
She looked at Thranduil.
"Can you hold this here?" she asked, "I'm going to get a washcloth for his face." He nodded and slid his hand over hers to hold the compress in place. She was slow to withdraw her hand from under his.
"Good boy," she whispered to Legolas before kissing his cheek and leaving.
"Are naneth’s kisses really magic, ion nin?" Thranduil said gently. "Yes, they make everything better," Legolas stated with a serious look and another sniffle. "And what about Ada kisses?"
"Yes." Thranduil smiled and kissed the top of his son's head. "There," he said, "Two lots of magic healing kisses for a very special ellon."
"I not supposed to run in my socks." Legolas looked guilty and dropped his head, "They slippy."
"That is right," Thranduil spoke gently, "And I suppose your naneth has told you this many times." He glanced up to see Anna in the doorway. A smile graced her face, the kind she usually reserved solely for Legolas. But this time, she was smiling at him.
It took a moment, but he realised what had been the cause. He had referred to her as naneth in front of his son, he had called her Legolas' mother. It clearly meant everything to her.
By the evening, Legolas' fall was all but forgotten. Ian had made a big fuss over it, clearly worried about his nephew, but Anna soon calmed him, assuring him that Legolas had shown no symptoms of any further damage. The boy had then dragged his uncle off to play video games whilst Anna frantically completed her tax papers.
Ian had given her a look when she handed them over that told Thranduil that he knew the ink was not yet dry, but the man said nothing. He did not stay for dinner, as he usually did, leaving them to their own devices for the evening.
There had been a definite shift in the atmosphere between them, Anna noted, and it started the moment she had walked in and heard Thranduil refer to her as naneth. The fact that he had accepted that Legolas thought of her as his mother meant so much, she couldn't express it in words.
She had resisted the urge to run up to him, hug him, and thank him for that acknowledgment. Everything was much calmer and less strained now than it was before. She tried to avoid thinking about what lay ahead, though. She wasn't ready to think about Thranduil taking Legolas home and her being long gone by the time he grew to adulthood.
After dinner, Legolas insisted they watch TV together, and Anna found she was happy to sit next to Thranduil, Legolas in her lap, enjoying a cuddle. Thranduil, did not seem to mind her close proximity either.
The weather had turned and dropped a few degrees, so even once a fire was started, there was a definite chill in the air. Anna grabbed a blanket from the back of the couch and pulled it across them. Legolas snuggled further into her arms whilst Thranduil stretched his long arm along the back of the couch behind them.
It was…. cozy. Legolas was engrossed in the nature documentary Anna had put on and wasn't paying a blind bit of attention to the conversation she was having with Thranduil.
"He really does remind me of Benji like this," Anna said, "He loved animals." Although her smile was sad, it felt good to talk about Benji and not just his death.
"There are many creatures in our woods," Thranduil spoke reverently, "An understanding of animals and nature are important for any Elf to know, to help keep the balance."
"Like not over hunting?" Anna asked.
"Precisely," Thranduil answered, "We are a sizeable population, if we were to overhunt a herd, it would never recover. They would die out, and we would have the beginnings of a famine. Equally, we cannot cultivate too much of our land for growing our food."
"Or else the herd loses its food supply, and again, dies out," Anna added.
"Correct," Thranduil smiled.
"It's the same here," Anna said brightly, "I could make the farm bigger, take down some of the trees, expand. But if I do, the wild creatures in the woods lose their homes, their food supply, and it upsets the balance."
"And jeopardizes the future of your people," he added. "True, my people could all feast every day for a decade or so, but what then? There would be none left for future Elflings." He glanced down at Legolas, who was reclined against Anna's chest, his eyes drooping shut.
"What was he like?" Anna asked, drawing his gaze back to her, "As a baby." Thranduil watched her for a moment.
"He was the sweetest little creature I had ever met," he said gently, "He adored being held, most especially by me. His wet nurse said he was a joy to care for."
"Wet nurse? So...she didn't even..."
"No, after the first few days, she declared she did not have the patience for feeding him multiple times a day and employed a wet nurse instead." Thranduil's expression shifted to one of stillness, "nor did she have patience for his crying. She never seemed to understand him." He reached out his hand and touched Legolas' own. The almost-sleeping boy closed his hand around two of Thranduil's fingers.
"But you did?" Anna asked.
"Yes, I knew when he was tired, when he was hungry," Thranduil stated, his eyes still fixed on his sleepy son, "It all came so naturally to me." He smiled and stroked the small hand clutching his own.
"It took me a little while with Benji," Anna said, "But once I understood his different cries, everything just sort of clicked. He was my everything."
"As Legolas is mine," Thranduil said quietly, "Ada was even his first word."
"Benji's was mama," Anna smiled sadly, "I just remember waking up one morning and hearing him shout 'mama, mama, mama' from his crib. And when I walked in, he just beamed at me and said it again. And then didn't stop for about two years." She chuckled, "He was eleven months old at the time."
"Legolas was three."
"Months," Thranduil said, enjoying a mixture of bemusement and horror on Anna's face, "Elven children develop mentally much faster than humans. Often they are walking and talking within the first year."
"And yet, they take a century to become adults?"
"Ours are a long-lived race, our minds grow far apace of our bodies," Thranduil replied.
"And all I wanted was for Benji to stay my baby for even longer than he was," Anna mused. Her arms tightened around Legolas, who was now fully asleep.
"You are a wonderful mother, Anna," Thranduil said softly, "I see it every day with Legolas." Anna closed her eyes, a single tear falling down her cheek.
"After Imloth departed, he became withdrawn, restless and quiet, a shell of his former self." he admitted sadly. "He even began to fall behind his peers in terms of his intellect. But you, you brought him back. I have the son I once knew again, and I thank you for that. He never would have fallen asleep on someone as he has with you.”
Anna looked down. Legolas was snoring lightly, cradled in her arms, a look of contentment on his face. She smiled, and it took Thranduil's breath away to see it. A look of pure love. Gently he slid his fingers free of Legolas' grip and reached out, wiping away the tear that clung to Anna's skin.
She looked up at him and smiled warmly. Her cheeks flushed pink, and he couldn't help but be reminded of the dream he had stumbled in to. The feel of her body pressed against his, the softness of her lips. His fingers caught a loose strand of hair, he was pleased to see she hadn't tied it back all day. He gently brushed it back behind her ear. His fingers brushed down her neck and over her pulse point. Her heart was pounding, he could feel it.
What would he give for one more taste of her lips, to see if their dream had been accurate? He leaned in a little and was pleased to see her mimic his movements. He could see her eyes darkening, her warm breath ghosting across his skin. Yes, yes, just one kiss, to see if that spark had been real.
"Ada, I got to go pee," Legolas mumbled in a sleepy voice, causing them to practically jump apart. Anna's cheeks darkened, now almost red as Legolas scrambled out of her arms. Thranduil cleared his throat. "I will go with him, ensure he does not flood anything," he muttered. Anna just nodded, staring at her hands as he threw the blanket off himself. It was too late now, the moment was gone.