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Call Me Maybe

Chapter Text

"Just as my fellow classmates know all too well, the horrors of the chicken tender addiction in the cafeteria is a memory we will carry for years to come." The president of the student government couldn't suppress the grin as the crowd of graduates laughed. "It is a minuscule detail in our time here, but we can honestly say that there have been many fond memories shared in that space. That is what I want you to reflect on. Our futures are unclear and the very idea of the real world is terrifying, but you know what? You - each one of you - can do it. Whether you came just out of high school or have been in the workforce most of your life, you took the first leap into a new future when you applied to this school..."

The congregation seated under the bright sunlight shivered as a crisp breeze blew by, shifting their dark robes. The fall foliage of the environment provided a serene backdrop for the occasion. Despite the passing breeze, the weather could not have been more suitable for the college graduation ceremony.

Tucked within the crown of soon-to-be alumni sat a young woman cradling the mounted diploma within her hands. Looking down from the speaker currently on stage, she flipped open the padded case.

'Burgess College…Burgess, Virginia…This certifies that Ithilwen Haldiriel, upon recommendation of the Faculty and by the authority of the Board of Education is awarded this Bachelor in Fine Arts Diploma…Given at Burgess, Virginia, this twenty fifth day of October, 2013.'

She smiled to herself in satisfaction. Four years of hard work had led to this moment. She knew her mother and sister were sitting among the guests. If it were not for their encouragement, she might not have enrolled at all.

"Will the students please rise?" the student government president requested. A shuffle of feet and chairs shifting led him to pause briefly. "As the Student President of Burgess College, and on behalf of the faculty and staff, I am proud to announce the Burgess Class of 2013! Congratulations guys, we did it!" Applause broke out as soon as he finished, and a mass of black mortarboards took their traditional flight through the air.

"Oh my baby graduated!" Morwen cooed, pulling her daughter into a tight hug and squeezing the girl for all it was worth. "I am so proud of you!" Being held so tightly, Ithilwen could only make squeaking noises in response.

"And with honors too!" came another voice that Ithilwen recognized as her adopted sibling, Fiona. Fiona was wearing a simple dress and wedges, her strawberry blond hair pulled back with a clip. Once released from the iron clad grasp, Ithilwen looked at her mother. She was wearing an elegant dress that Ithilwen thought resembled some of the garments that she wore before the 'accident'.

"I wish your adar was here," her mother said, "He would be so proud to have seen you walk across that stage."

Ithilwen grew sad, as did the other two at the mention of the absent father, but she continued to smile at her mother. "I know," she said.

"Well, I've got the entire ceremony on video, and Mom got pictures too, so when he does show up, he can still see you walk!" Fiona assured her. Ithilwen smiled more at this, as the trio took some final pictures around the campus before making their way to their car to leave. A celebratory graduation lunch was in order, and Ithilwen's stomach refused to let itself go unacknowledged any longer.

The topic of Ithilwen's father was always a touchy subject, whether in public or private conversation between the three. In public, some assumed that he had become a "deadbeat" and walked out on the girls' mother when Ithilwen was very young. Morwen would say that he was simply "serving the country" when inquired, and would produce letters he had written her.

The truth was, Ithilwen and Morwen were not native to the state of Virginia, nor the country. It would only take one look at their pointed ears to see that neither were from this world at all. They were originally from Middle Earth, in the elven community of Lothlorien. Her father did serve their land, that part was true; as a young elleth she remembered hearing tales of his patrols along the borders. The letters her naneth would show friends were translated and forged from the originals she had on her person from when they had begun courting. Burgess was a small town that knew the ins and outs of its occupants lives almost exclusively, and it did not take its residents long to see that some of their newest residents were very different. It became a town secret through the generations, one that would be taken to the grave. But as fascinating as the idea of elves living amongst them, none dared to inquire further into the 'accident' that led them to this world in the first place.

Ithilwen had been but a small elleth, and she had very little memory of the accident, but it was fresh within her mother's memory. They were traveling through the woods on a journey to Rivendell from Lothlorien. Her mother cradled the young babe in her arm as she guided the horse along the path when she felt the crackle of energy permeate the air. The horse halted in its steps when it picked up on this disturbance, and in a flash, her mother was on the ground holding Ithilwen, their packs discarded when the horse reared back and tossed them. The horse, spooked by the change in the air, took off. Hindered by the presence of her small child and the packs, her mother searched frantically for her weapons as she felt a presence move in closer to their location. As she grabbed her sword to defend the two of them, she turned in time to witness a bright green light engulf the area…all evidence of their existence removed from the path.

When news reached Lothlorien of their disappearance, search parties were sent from both kingdoms to scour the last known locations for any signs or clues, only to return empty handed in defeat. This continued for years, but all searches were in vain. It was only the admission from the wizard Mithrandir that gave the people hope of their missing kin's survival.

Morwen had an inkling of a guess as to why they were attacked, still more than anyone involved in the search did back in Middle Earth. The woman knew that that bright green light was a sign of magic, but her knowledge of magic of that caliber lay with the only two wizards that she was familiar with. She highly doubted that Mithrandir would cast a spell to send her and Ithilwen away to another realm, so her mind set the blame to Saruman. This puzzled her, because she thought that the other white wizard was on the side of good… No matter now, though. She and Ithilwen were stuck in this realm until someone back in Middle Earth could find a spell to reach them and bring them back home.

Years, even centuries passed with no sign of returning, but she never gave up hope. She often dreamt of returning to Lothlorien with Ithilwen and resuming her life as it was meant to be. Each day she would wake up, realize that she was not there, but continue to rise each morning and go through the day as if she belonged among these people. It was all that they could do.

In Middle Earth, a smaller congregation was formed for a less happy occasion. The small golden ring, the topic of the gathering, which sat on the center pedestal, was an ominous sign of unrest within their world. A verbal battle had already taken place within the group about what was to be done with the cursed object. It had taken the Halfling to settle the argument and volunteer to return the ring to its place of forging and destroy it once and for all.

The Lord of Rivendell looked at the odd assortment of Men, Dwarf, Elf, Wizard, and Hobbits that had stepped forward to assist the Ringbearer. "Nine companions…" he murmured, then raised his voice, "…So be it. You shall be the Fellowship of the Ring."

"Great. Where are we going?"

To say that apprehension fell upon the Council at those words would be an understatement.

Chapter Text

"Merry Christmas!" The collective greeting reached the three women as they walked in from the reindeer stables. Fiona was bundled up in her thickest clothes, but Ithilwen and Morwen did not seem phased by the frigid temperatures. It was a special occasion for all, despite the obvious holiday; another successful night was had by North, and the children of the world had received their Christmas wishes.

"It is good to see you," the man in red greeted. Flanking North were two yetis and a taller elf unlike the diminutive ankle-gnawers that strung themselves up with lights.

"Thank you for having us," Morwen said, bowing her head in acknowledgment of the Holiday Figure. "It is truly an honor to be invited to the North Pole."

North shrugged it off, not expecting the formality from the oldest woman. "We are glad to have you three. It isn't every day we have elves visit that are older than Bernard here!" Said elf sputtered uncharacteristically while Ithilwen and Fiona laughed. "These are my workers, Phil and Dyll. It is secret to success; yetis are much more efficient, but elves help where they can." Realizing his blunder at the youngest elleth's odd look, North began to backtrack. "I mean no offense, of course! You are very different from my elves."

At that moment, Ithilwen saw one licking a large cookie and had to suppress a laugh. "Now," he said, "How about I give tour of workshop?"

After the tour was over, Morwen and North retired to his office to speak of their business, leaving Ithilwen, Fiona, and Bernard on their own in the workshop. Bernard led them to the kitchen for lunch, where the resident chef ushered them to a booth and took down their orders. Bernard looked over at Ithilwen, who was folding her napkin into random patterns.

"I am sorry about what North said earlier," he told Ithilwen. "North... tends to forget. He is unlike any of the Santas that I've served in the past, that's for sure."

Ithilwen shook her head. "It is not what he said, Bernard. It is the whole matter of the situation that bothers me."

"You don't like it here?" Fiona asked.

"I do, but only for a few reasons, and two of those are you guys," she said, accepting the cup of cocoa that the yeti had handed her upon his return.

"What else do you like about it?" Bernard now asked.

Ithilwen snorted. "The question should be what it is that I don't like; I find that one an easier question to answer." She took a sip from the hot drink, savoring it as it slid down her throat before she continued. "A majority of the people are quite rude, and the different societies find more cause to go to war over insignificant reasons than to come to an agreement."

"But you have to admit the technology is a perk," Fiona cut in. While her mother and sister possessed skills that far passed some human's, she still had many moments where she had to walk them through the newest devices.

"The parts that I can understand, and that's only been with your assistance Fiona. It seems that no one cares about anyone truly anymore, and would rather correspond through technology rather than face to face or a letter. The world has become materialistic, and the trend of striving to have the best overshadows the will to do good for others. Lately it seems as if I have only seen the goodness in others come about in large numbers when there is an event that has occurred at a national level."

Bernard looked to Fiona. "She's got a point," to which the strawberry blond nodded gravely.

"I know that this must sounds harsh, and I do not wish you to think ill of me. I just miss what memories I have of Middle Earth. There were not many to begin with, but in my heart it will always be my home."

Fiona patted her sibling's hand. "It's alright to let it out, you know. We will understand. If it makes you feel better Ithilwen, I only feel at home down there when I am with you and Mom. The North Pole is more of a home to me when I am not with either of you." She reached across the table to select a freshly baked cookie as she asked, "Do you think you will return to Middle Earth anytime soon? As in like, this century or something?"

Ithilwen had to laugh. "I don't know for certain. Naneth has told me that she's had dreams of home that haven't been what she was expecting."

"How do you mean? Was she having a vision of Middle Earth, or was it something like a weird dream that she had?"

"More like the former, from her description. Naneth told me once about a legend of these specially-crafted Rings of Power-"

Having some familiarity with the Elvish lore, Fiona interrupted, "Does this relate to what she saw?" The more either talked of their culture, the more confusing it became to keep everything organized.

"Yes, of course," Ithilwen said distractedly. "Naneth told me that there were these rings that were forged by the Gwaith-i-Mírdain in Eregion. Well this group of people were renowned for their craftsmanship through the lands. During the Second Age, a stranger approached and taught them more, allowing them to expand their repertoire. I was told that Gil-galad and my uncle Elrond had encouraged the Mírdain to ignore this strangers' comings, but the warnings went unheeded. Then roughly three centuries later, the first Ring of Power was made. Not long after this, these elves and the stranger made more."

"I thought...wait... What?" Fiona pulled a face.

"I'm getting to the point," Ithilwen said, rolling her eyes. "The one that I think Naneth called Celebrimbor took this knowledge and made three additional rings without the stranger's assistance: Narya, Nenya, and Vilya. But here is where the story turns - the stranger had a secret he had been keeping as well, that he was the dark lord Sauron, and he had forged a ring himself within the fires of Mount Doom."

"That makes-" Bernard said, doing the math.

"A shit ton," Fiona finished for him.

"Actually, that last ring was unknown to everyone but Sauron. It was called the One Ring, or the Ruling Ring, with which he put his own power into to control the others. But since he wasn't aware of the additional three, when he put the ring on, the three Elves that had been assigned the additions knew of what he had done and removed theirs, breaking the bond. A war was waged on Eregion, and Celebrimdor was tortured and killed. Sauron took nine of the rings and gave them to the kings of Men, who became these awful creatures called Ringwraiths because they had succumbed to the power bestowed on them. Seven went to the Dwarves, but they were resistant to the magic of his control. At the end of the Second Age, Sauron was defeated, and a man called Isildur cut the One Ring from his finger with the shards of his father's broken sword."

"Why do I get the feeling that is not the end of the story?" the arch elf asked with dread.

Ithilwen tried not to groan. "I am almost done, just hang in there. Anyway, My uncle Elrond fought in the battle against the Dark Lord, and journeyed into Mount Doom with Isildur to destroy the One Ring. However, greed fell upon the man, and he kept the ring. This would come at a heavy price, and he was shot down in the River Anduin, a betrayed man drunk with the idea of power. No one ever located the One Ring, and it was believed that the ring was lost and forgotten..."

Fiona stopped stirring her cocoa. "Mom doesn't think it is gone, does she?"

Ithilwen nodded. "Well it's not exactly something that can be crushed to dust, is it? She told me, and this was when you had to fly to Sacramento, that she believed that the Ring would return to the forefront of everyone's minds."

"What about these other rings?" Bernard asked. "Are they lost to the world as well?"

"Not that I know of. Their original owners could have passed them down to the next worthy person, but if someone were to find the One Ring and take control of it, they would have control over a large portion of Middle Earth without having to claim land through battle. These rings were given to High lords of the races who were deemed worthy of their power."

"Not good then," Fiona muttered. "What do you think will happen?"

The elleth shrugged her shoulders in defeat. "I haven't the foggiest. I fear the worst though, and that would be open war on Middle Earth. Naneth thinks that the beginnings of another war has already begun."

"What will they do?" Bernard asked, leaning forward.

"The only way to end this is for the ring to be destroyed, but it will take someone of great heart to bear the burden of that temptation and not give in on the journey to Mordor." Having been taught an abridged version of the history of middle-earth from Morwen, the odds didn't look to be in anyone's favor.

It was a solemn day for departure. The Fellowship were gathered about the gates of Rivendell, waiting for the last members to collect. Elves had come to gather around and offer their silent farewells to the travelers. The lord of Rivendell spoke calmly as he addressed the nine companions. "The Ring-bearer is setting out on the Quest of Mount Doom. On you who travel with him, no oath, nor bond is laid to go further than you will. Farewell. Hold to your purpose. May the blessings of Elves and Men and all Free Folk go with you."

The wizard shifted his weight on the wooden staff he carried. "The Fellowship awaits the Ringbearer."

The small Hobbit named Frodo Baggins looked around at the gathering of Elves and the Fellowship before turning and passing through the gates of Rivendell, knowing that there was a great possibility that he would never set his gaze upon the lands again.

"Mordor, Gandalf, is it left or right?" he whispered to the wizard. The wizard sighed and smiled slightly at the question.


Chapter Text

She knew she was dreaming. It wasn't that big of a stretch, but it had been a while since her dreams had been so dark. Not dark as in grimly disturbing, but dark as in the absence of light. Ithilwen knew that she wasn't falling through a darkened void – a dream of that magnitude had not occurred in months, and that was caused by what she assumed was eating leftovers in the midnight hours. The area around her felt dry and moist at the same time, almost as if she were underground. Her feet felt solid ground, despite it being ruggedly uneven, and she held her hands outstretched before her to feel for any protruding objects that she might walk into as she took careful steps.

The ground made light scrapes as her booted feet passed over, and had it been viewable, little to no sign of footprints would have been left behind. Hands still outstretched, she could not find any objects in her direct path, but her left foot did come into a first name basis with a rock.

"Ow!" she cried out, her outburst echoing off the walls of the area. Nursing her bruised foot blindly, Ithilwen had to assume that wherever she was had a very open area for sound to carry so well, even if it came with the surprise attack rock along the way. She had bent down to inspect her toed boot with her hands when she heard another voice echo off of the walls.

"Who goes there?" Came a distinct male voice.

Ithilwen froze. Was she trespassing? Gods, she hoped not. Slowly she rose to her full height and tried not to let her voice falter in reply. "Someone with an injured foot. I am unarmed, and did not mean to trespass into your territory. If I could see I would quickly make my leave." She didn't hear the footsteps, but from the voice of the male, it sounded as if he were merely feet from her when he spoke once more.

"Do not despair, fair maiden. I am but a traveler through these parts as well. How did you come to hurt yourself so?"

Fair maiden?! Well that was peculiar…even for a dream! She figured she'd run with it, since it was a dream and all, and see how things panned out. If it became too much she could always try and wake herself up. There should be another giant rock laying around somewhere.

"I stubbed my foot on a rock I could not see. Sir, where exactly are we? I do not recognize this place. Though my sight is of no use to me here, my other senses cannot decipher a familiar place." 'Ironic given that elven sight was supposed to be so much better than a human's,' she thought to herself.

She heard a chuckle from the male. "You do not have to use such formalities with me, fair maiden. I am not sure of this exact location myself, as my company and I are traveling through Moria presently."

Moria? Where had she heard of that before? "So this is not Moria?"

"Nay, little one. However, it does bear a similarity to the dreary caves of old."

Silence fell between the two. Ithilwen continued to reach out for any rocks that might spring up, when she felt the touch of the other person's hand grasp her own. She tensed, fearing that she had run into him, then relaxed as he said, "It is alright. I will lead you back from the direction whence I came." And to emphasize his intentions, he gently tugged on her hand to begin leading her out of the darkness. Through the walk, they remained silent, save for his warnings of any obstacles in the path that she might further injure herself on. Ithilwen was struggling to find something to say to the stranger, but nothing would come forth. She still could not see him, for that matter, which puzzled her, but amazingly, did not scare her. She could not figure out for the life of her why she felt so comfortable in this stranger's presence to speak so easily with him; in her town she had to fight bouts of shyness when meeting new people.

"Can you see it?" She heard the stranger speak suddenly.

"See what?" was her reply.

"The light, of course. We are approaching the opening of the caves!" he sounded relieved. She figured he must not have been the type of person to enjoy being underground in total darkness either. Her sore toes couldn't blame him for that.

Ithilwen strained her eyes to see a meager glimmer of light that the stranger was referring to, and felt the wave of relief pass over her as well. As the came closer, and the light glowing ever brighter, she dared the chance to look up at the stranger, in hopes that she could see his face. She wanted to at least be able to see him somewhat so that she could thank him properly.

As she looked up, she could not see much at all. Between the brightness of the light before them, and the darkness at their backs, the best that she could see was an outline of the stranger. He was tall, that much she could discern, but any distinguishable features were lost to her. The light was making it hard to see anything, really, and it made her head hurt with the intensity of it. She couldn't see that the stranger was having just as hard a time as she was, having to squint to even make out where to take the proper steps without falling.

Once they made it into the light, his grip on her hand loosened slightly, as if he wasn't quite ready to let go just yet. Squinting so much that her eyes were nearly closed, Ithilwen turned to face him. "Thank you, kind sir, for helping me out of the caves."

She felt him give her hand another squeeze. "I am happy that I could have been of service to you, little one. It is easy to become lost in the darkness when you are alone."

"Then I am glad to have heard that you do not travel alone, good sir. I hope that you and your company have a safe journey through Moria." She wanted to add more, and from the faintest break in the brightness, she could see his mouth begin to move, but she heard nothing. The feeling of falling had overcome her, and darkness swam before her eyes as she fell into a void…

Why, in her void of darkness and silence, was she hearing the sounds of a radio?

The sound of her cell phone was the culprit, she learned, picking her aching body up from off the opposite side of the bed. Flopping unceremoniously back onto it, she wiggled across the mattress and tangle of sheets to answer the obnoxious contraption.

"Wha is it?" she mumbled blearily.

"Oh that's a fine way to treat your sister, girlie!" came the chipper voice of someone who had been awake a while.

Ithilwen scrunched up her face as she rolled onto her back. "Fiona? What time is it?"

"7:30 in the morning," was the answer. "I had to run out to the store to grab some stuff for my camera, and I thought I'd bring back some breakfast. You hungry?"

"Aren't I always?" she chuckled, hearing the other woman laugh outright on the other end.

"That's good, cause I'm waiting in line right now. Go on and get up and get moving. The lines are moving pretty quick this morning, so I should be home in about ten minutes, give or take traffic." Taking that as the end of the call, and the silent tone on the other end, Ithilwen snapped the phone shut and tossed it on her bedside table, rolling back onto her pillows.

Ithilwen laid there, trying to figure out why she had rolled out of the bed, when she heard a male voice resound in her head with the words "Little one" and "Dear maiden". She shot straight up in bed upon realization of the dream, too awake to even attempt a few more minutes of sleep. She knew she would have to tell Fiona about this; she was the only one nearby that Ithilwen would know for certain whether she was crazy or not.

"I'm home!" rang out through the house. Fiona set the steaming bags of greasy breakfast onto the kitchen counter and walked to the living room to deposit her new supplies on the nearest couch. Fiona's hobby had been photography since she was a little girl, and the interest had continued on even through college, where she declared it her major. Now she did freelance work; not so much for the money, but to meet the needs of those that could not reserve time with the highly-sought companies. She worked just as hard as the big companies did to capture memories, and funneled any profits from her assignments back into the materials.

Ithilwen met the girl when they were both physically younger, with the appearance of small children. Her mother willingly took Fiona in and set for the legal work to have her listed as her own child. Fiona had made a promise to Morwen that she would look out for the older elleth until the day that they were to return to Middle Earth. It wasn't a day that Fiona particularly looked forward to, but she knew that they didn't belong on Earth. One day she would continue to age and look older than both her mother and sister, eventually leaving them behind. She didn't want them to suffer like that, as much as she'd miss them.

'Of course I have to show signs of aging first,' she thought as she stared at the office supply bags. She was 37 years old, but her looks would peg her as 24 or 25. Fiona didn't know what the hell was going on with her genetics, only having been told that there were no records on file of her biological parents. The occasional checkups didn't find any genetic misnomers or potential screw-ups, but she wasn't going to gloat. Murphy's Law and all that.

Seeing the elleth scramble down the stairs like the hounds of hell were on her heels, Fiona should have known right then that things were about to change. "Damn, girl! I just got back. Are you that hungry?"

Ithilwen looked at her evenly, not the least bit out of breath. "You could say that," she replied, turning to head towards the kitchen. "I had a dream that I need to talk to you about."

Following her, Fiona asked, "This isn't one of those dreams about running from an 8 foot tall chicken again, is it Ithilwen? Cause I'm telling you that they mean nothing, other than you might want to eat more beef or something."

"No, no it wasn't anything like that." Ithilwen insisted. "I met a guy in this dark void whose face I couldn't see."

And so, Ithilwen recounted the dream, second for second over breakfast to a silent Fiona, who sat and ate with rapt attention. Ithilwen racked her brain trying to remember what details there were, but all that she could collect to describe were the words spoken and the feelings that she experienced. "I know it's not much to go on," the elleth continued, "but it's all that I know. I feel like I'm on the edge of something important, but I don't understand what it could be."

"You said he mentioned that he was on a journey with a group of people?" A nod. "Maybe it has something to do with him?"

"So you think he's real, Fiona?"

The strawberry blonde shrugged. "It's hard to tell right now. Your dream sounds real, despite the setting. Even your foot hurts, but then again that could just be because you fell out of bed this morning." She paused to take a drink of her orange juice. "Who knows, maybe you'll see him again. I'd let it play out for a while and see what happens, if I were you."

"How do you mean?" Ithilwen furrowed her brow in confusion.

"You know that saying about concentrating on something before you sleep so that you'll dream about it?" Another nod. "Well, go with that. Think about this person and what you remember of them, and with some luck you might even see their face!"

Ithilwen laughed. "Yes, I suppose you are right. Seeing a face would be nice the next time around!" They continued to eat their breakfast and discuss other matters, but for Ithilwen, the nameless and faceless person from her dreams would not leave her be. She hoped deep in her heart that he was not in fact a figment of her imagination, so that she might one day meet him face to face. He was much kinder than many of the men she had met in this realm.

"Master Elf, are you well, sir?" The voice of the hobbit Samwise stirred Legolas from his thoughts as they walked the corridors of Moria.

The elf gave the hobbit a smile of reassurance. "Aye, I believe so. I had been reflecting upon a dream is all."

"A dream?" came a voice from behind him. Legolas didn't have to turn to recognize the voice of the ranger, Aragorn. "And what kind of a dream can keep an elf's sure sight from focus?"

"A young maiden." Was the simple answer, but to the surrounding company it was baffling. The elf in their company had never mentioned knowing a maiden through their journey thus far, only having focus on the potential dangers that lay ahead of them. The old wizard Gandalf turned his gaze back to the young elf and studied him carefully. The wizard could tell from the tense expression on Legolas' face that he was troubled by this dream.

"Perhaps, it would be wise to forget this maiden," he said blithely, to gauge the elf's reaction. As he suspected, the look of surprise in his eyes mixed with what looked like defiance was an answer enough for him. "Then again," he added, "perhaps this maiden's visits could prove useful."

"Just how is a maiden supposed to help on a quest that was founded by men?" Boromir asked with skepticism regarding the entire matter.

Ignoring him, Gandalf stopped in his steps and waited for the elf to approach. "Whichever path you choose to follow, young one, do not forget the oath that you have given to the group."

Nodding, Legolas said, "Of course." He knew that he wanted to see this maiden again, and knew full well the impossibilities of what could occur on the journey. So if seeing a young maiden in his dreams would ease the pain of the coming days, he would wholeheartedly welcome her presence.

Chapter Text

"Over the bridge! Fly!"

The cries of the wizard for the company to get across the crumbling ruins was nearly drowned by the rapid destruction caused by the monstrous being that was approaching their heels. Gandalf stopped halfway across the Bridge of Khazad-dûm and turned to face the fiery Balrog. The growls of the beast did not deter the wizard, set on drawing his attacks away from the Fellowship. From the other side of the open cavern, Frodo yelled to Gandalf to convince him to turn away from the fight, but his cries went unnoticed.

"I am the servant of the secret fire, wielder of the flame of Anor. The dark fire will not avail you!" With his staff in hand, he raised it high as a bright white light illuminated the surrounding area. The Balrog swung a flaming sword down, only to have the attack blocked by Gandalf's sword, Glamdring. The sword of fire was shattered, but this did not stop the Balrog, who produced a whip of fire as its next choice of weaponry.

"YOU…SHALL NOT…PASS!" The roar of the wizard was drowned by the clash of his staff and sword upon the bridge. There was a pause in action, as the Balrog made to move forward to attack Gandalf, but the weight of the beast was the breaking point for the stone bridge, causing it to crumble from beneath. The Balrog fell from the bridge into the seemingly never-ending chasm. Gandalf watched the demon fall to its demise as he leaned on his staff for support. Satisfied that his attack was final, he turned to join the rest of the company waiting for him.

To see the fiery whip reach up and grasp Gandalf's ankle came as a surprise. The Balrog was determined to not be the only one to die this day. Grasping onto the edge of the broken bridge, he looks to the terrified members of the group and utters, "Fly, you fools!" before losing his grip and disappearing from view.

"There's someone you need to meet."

That one sentence would start a chain reaction of events that neither sister would see coming. Fiona had said the words with such earnest that it had made Ithilwen suspicious.

"For your sake, Fiona, this had best be a joke."

They were standing in Ithilwen's bedroom. Ithilwen was standing by the bed with her arms crossed, glaring at the articles of clothing that were flying from her closet to the bed. Fiona came out holding a simple floral dress and some shoes she thought were appropriate.

"Just here me out, Ithilwen," her sister began, holding the dress up under Ithilwen's chin. "I've been told that Payne is a really nice guy-"

"You haven't even met him?! Fiona-"

"-and his friends speak nothing but good things about him. Why don't you give it a chance?" Okay, so she hadn't met him personally, but she did know a few friends of his from conventions. They had spoken well of him, even hinting that he was lonely in their last few emails to each other. Payne didn't live nearby, perse, but his town wasn't far from Burgess, and he visited his friends often enough to be a local.

Ithilwen scoffed. "Because he's a mortal? Isn't that enough of a reason to not do this?"

"Sweetie, the world is full of mortals. One of them is interested in taking you out for lunch. Just one date. Would you do it for me?" At her friend's lack of agreement, she continued. "Look, I know that you aren't always locked away in this house when we're gone, but maybe this will be an opportunity to make a new friend. He is a friend of Daryn and Rick's, you know, the Barnabus and Jack Skellington cosplayers we met back at Comicon last year?"

Sighing, the elleth replied with, "Dammit. Alright, but just one lunch date. If I don't feel comfortable seeing this person again on a date, I don't want to hear it. Understand?"

Fiona nodded enthusiastically and went back to planning her sister's outfit.

"He's here! He's here! He's here!"

Fiona nearly bounced on her toes all the way to the front door when the sound of the doorbell rang through the house. Ithilwen was much calmer coming down the stairs, albeit slowly. She really didn't want to be set up with a mortal; the idea made her feel insulted on one level and disappointed on another. Even if she did hit it off with this Payne, she knew that she would outlive him by lightyears. As she was coming down the steps, her balance shook, and she grabbed with railing with more force to steady herself.

"Ithilwen? You coming?" Fiona asked from the foot of the stairs.

"Yes, I'll be right there." She replied back.

Fiona turned and went back to the living room, and Ithilwen could hear her tell someone that she would be down shortly. Must be that Payne mortal, she thought. As she turned into the doorway, Fiona beckoned her over to the pair. All thoughts of her unstable balance left her when Fiona spoke, breaking her from her reverie.

"It's nice to meet you," she bowed her head to the mortal who sat in the armchair to her left. This man, or rather boy in her eyes, seemed nice enough. He had no outstanding features that she could see – dark hair, dark eyes, slightly tanned skin. Normal.

Payne took Ithilwen to a casual restaurant for lunch. Conversation was weak, in her opinion, because she could not tell him the full truths of her origins. When he asked about her ears, Ithilwen told him that it was a genetic anomaly.

"You never thought about getting them fixed?" Payne asked before eating a mouthful of pasta.

Ithilwen paused in stirring her chicken salad, caught off guard by the question. When Payne noticed her silence, he looked up and caught her expression. "I'm sorry, that was rude of me."

"No, it's alright…you just surprised me," Ithilwen replied. "The thought never occurred to me, to be honest. When I was in school, none of the other children teased me about them, and I always liked being different."

Payne shrugged with a laugh. "You're a better person than me," he said. "I would have had them rounded off in a heartbeat. I'd be afraid that everyone would think I was a freak!" Ithilwen smiled at his attempt at humor, but she didn't find it amusing in the least. When she turned her attention back to her food, he changed subjects again, this time asking about where she went to school.

Before Ithilwen could answer, she felt a tight pain in her chest. Forgetting that she was in public, and in the company of a stranger, she placed her hand to her chest and gasped in surprise. Payne looked up from his plate and noticed her state. "Are you alright?" he asked casually. "Was it something I said?"

Ithilwen looked up a moment later. "I'm… I'm fine," she said. She diverted his attention back to the conversation, but what transpired would not leave her thoughts alone. First she loses her footing on the steps, and now she has chest pain? This was strange indeed.

"This was fun," Payne said, walking Ithilwen to the front door. "Maybe we could meet up for lunch again sometime, or maybe a movie?"

Ithilwen tensed at his words. Payne was nice to be around throughout lunch. Despite the first-meeting awkwardness that popped up throughout lunch, Ithilwen could not find a reason not to say no to him. That bugged her, as she was adamant about not enjoying this date, when it turned out that she did find his company enjoyable. Payne picked up on her silence. "Is something wrong? Did I step out of bounds?"

The elleth shook her head. "No, you didn't do anything wrong. It's just…" she took a breath. "Listen, when I was told that I was being set up on a blind date, I didn't want to go through with it-"

"Hey that's alright!" Payne cut her off. "I wasn't thrilled with my friends for setting this up either. But then when I got here, and I met you, and through lunch I just kept thinking.. wow, I'm glad I said yes."

Ithilwen smiled slightly. "I enjoyed your company as well. I just don't want to raise your hopes for something that I am not ready for."

Payne shrugged. "No worries, Ithilwen. We don't have to do anything that would make you uncomfortable. We can just hand out like a couple of friends and see where things go from there if you want."

"That sounds acceptable," Ithilwen smiled more. Payne told her that he would talk to her later and they parted ways; Ithilwen heading inside, and Payne to his car.

Once inside the house, Ithilwen walked into the den to find Fiona playing a video game. She had a headset on and was talking a teammate through a level when Ithilwen pulled another gaming chair over to her. "So," Fiona started, lowering the microphone of her headset down slightly. "How was lunch?"

"It was…enjoyable."

"See, I told you you'd have fun," Fiona turned back to the television, before her eyes darted to Ithilwen's. "What's wrong?"

"I had a peculiar chest pain during lunch," the elleth muttered.

"Did you eat something greasy?"

"It wasn't like that. It was… sad."

"How so?" Fiona moved her character to a safe zone before telling her team that she would be back in a minute and turned to Ithilwen.

"You know the feeling of grief? It was as if someone was lost. When I was coming downstairs earlier, my footing slipped, and I nearly lost my balance."

Fiona's brow furrowed. "This is strange. You can't get sick, so it isn't that. Empathy?"

"That might be possible, but I do not understand who it is that is feeling sad."

"Could it be Mom? I know she has moments of sadness when she thinks of your dad," Fiona suggested.

Ithilwen shook her head. "No, this level of sadness is stronger. Nana has had time to cope with not being with Ada. This is new, and sudden. As if the rug was pulled from under someone's feet."

Chapter Text

"Project BJ appears to be moving along steadily," a female voice noted, pausing. "For future reference, never let Lust nickname celebrity couples again."

Delicate fingers typed across a massive keypad, lighting the keys up in shades of lavender with each touch. Books, both opened and closed, lay scattered across the rest of the desk space, often earmarked with any form of page marking that could be found in a pinch. A cup of now-cold tea sat ignored off in the corner, far away from any important paperwork.

The figure sitting hunched over the keypad arched her back to stretch, tossing white-blond hair back over her shoulders. She was youthful-appearing in size, looking even smaller compared to the massive amount of content that was piled around her workspace. The woman looked around, finally spotting the cup of tea. When she reached for a taste, she wrinkled her nose in disgust. Her choice of drink that morning had been picked because it tasted good hot, and she had forgotten all about it.

A blinking light on the wide monitor before her took her attention then. She swiveled in her chair to focus solely on the notification. "Interesting," she murmured. "Very interesting. I'll have to keep a careful eye on this one..."

The woman brought a fingertip to the monitor, touching the blinking popup to drag it to an empty folder on the desktop. Once the file was tucked away, her fingers returned to the keypad, renaming the folder "Project: Sailor Moon".

"I'm worried about her, Mom."

"I know you are, but there's nothing that we can do right now."

Fiona chewed her lip as she sat at the kitchen island with the phone. She knew from Morwen that the family line had a knack for divination of sorts, but the idea of premonition-type dreams had always weirded her out. She felt it was going against fate to have a running log of what was going to happen, but her mother had explained many times that it didn't work like a college syllabus.

"There's nothing that can be done? I mean she said she met someone in a cave so dark she couldn't see. I thought you guys were like cats and could see in pitch blackness?"

Morwen could be heard laughing over the phone. "We have very good eyesight, yes, but it was a dream. The only thing that concerns me is the person she described, or rather couldn't." Morwen was silent for a moment. "Let me think on this for a day or so and ask around. I'll be home in a few days and we can all sit down and talk about this. How does that sound?"

"That sounds good. Thanks Mom." Fiona said her farewells over the phone and ended the call. Sure, it sounded good in theory, but she felt like there was more to these weird occurrences with her sister. The younger woman may not have had a psychic bone in her body, but something in her gut instincts told her that this had to be part of something bigger.

Upstairs, Ithilwen had laid down to sleep. Or tried to, anyway; sleep wasn't coming quickly for one that didn't need it frequently. She tried to let her mind focus on her previous dream of the mysterious person. It wasn't easy with so many other things on her mind. Payne had called her earlier that day to talk, and he had stealthily snuck in a request to go out for dinner the following week. Ithilwen had agreed... after some persuasive conversation from his end of the line and Fiona pressed against her shoulder on the other.

There was also the matter of her sudden loss of balance and the pang of grief that overcame her. She and Fiona spent some time checking in with their friends and discreetly asking about their current states, but came up short of any leads. Everyone they knew was doing fine to some degree.

Ithilwen turned over in her bed and reached for her mp3 player on the bedside table. A few button clicks later, she had pulled up a relaxing playlist to help lull her to sleep.

It was hot. Nearly unbearable kind of hot. Why was it so damned hot?!

All she could see was shades of red. Then from somewhere far from her peripheral vision, a white light burst forth, and the redness shifted. But then something strange happened to the white light, and the redness faded to black.

Ithilwen felt her feet lose ground beneath her as she fell into the darkness. She tried to scream, but it was lost in the void. The heat was increasing. Whatever it was that was the source was getting closer… Her eyes picked up a glimmer of metal as it sailed towards her-

She shot up in the bed, sweating as if she had taken one of those Zumba classes with Fiona. "What the hell was that?!" she breathed. Ithilwen rubbed the heels of her palms into her eyes, catching sight of the dream sand that fell to her lap.

"Sorry Sandman, but I don't think I'll be going to sleep just yet," she spoke to the room, swinging her legs over the edge and standing.

Ithilwen made her way down to the kitchen to get some water; the dream that she had made her feel almost feverish, the heat felt so real. Gulping some of the liquid down, she leaned against the counter and watched from the window the different strands of dream sand make their way across the town. She was so caught up with the golden strands that she jumped upon hearing the tapping from the very window she was gazing through.

The little golden man made a motion of tapping his wrist as almost as if to say, "Do you know what time it is?"

Ithilwen waved him over to the kitchen door and let him in. "I know, Sandy, I know. Believe me, I was asleep. I just had a… strange dream that woke me up."

The Sandman made sand gestures overhead that looked like twisted horses. Ithilwen shook her head. "No, I doubt it was a nightmare. This doesn't seem like something Pitch would do. It was.. I don't know.. it was almost like it was a memory, a really fuzzy memory." Ithilwen then proceeded to describe what she saw, or rather felt, in the dream to Sandy, who watched the elleth's gestures with a puzzled expression. "I'm guessing it wasn't a product of your handiwork either, huh?" she asked when she finished her tale.

The golden Guardian shook his head. He looked as confused as Ithilwen felt. His posture changed suddenly, as if remembering his purpose for stopping by. Ithilwen watched as more images appeared above his head. "Okay, okay, I get it. I'll try going back to sleep!" The signs stopped and Sandy actually began to nudge her back upstairs to her bedroom. At the foot of the stairs, however, Ithilwen stopped at turned to the small man. "I will try and go back to sleep, Sandy. I can't say I'll have much luck, but I'll try."

Sandy seemed content with this answer, but he refused to move from his spot by the stairs until he was sure she went back to her room. As he floated out of the house without a sound, he reflected on what his elfin friend had told him. The Man in the Moon had not spoken to them since Jack Frost was selected to be the next Guardian, and there were no tell tale signs of a new danger. Still, Ithilwen's description was unsettling, and the small man would make it a point to confide this information with North when his work was finished in Burgess.

Ithilwen, meanwhile, had slumped back into her pillows, clearly wide awake. Her mind was tired, but it was still so active she had trouble focusing on sleep. As if she wasn't worried about previous events, this dream…thing… had to add to it. Rolling to her side, she buried her head in her pillow, lest she give into her frustration and scream. Unlike herself, Fiona required more rest, and she did not want to wake her friend. She tried to think about something else while she drifted off; oddly enough, her thoughts kept coming back to the dream cave. 'Guess it's better than that hell-pit,' she mused, giving into sleep.

This time, the air was more moist and comfortable. Ithilwen looked down to find herself wearing a sleeveless white gown and bare feet standing among green grass and scattered golden leaves. 'Well, it's definitely better than the hell-pit,' she thought looking around. She was standing in what looked like a forest, but she knew the location was no where near where she lived; the trees were much taller and larger than those of Burgess, or any of the places she had been in that realm for that matter. She began to walk around, noting that the ground was soft and pliable beneath her feet. It was strange, she felt like she had been in this place before, but she was fairly certain that she had not been in these woods in recent memory.

Movement from her left caught her attention, banishing all thoughts of familiarity to the wayside for the time being. The area felt calm, and Ithilwen saw no reason to not explore and discover the source. Her pace quickened, darting around protruding tree roots and kicking up the golden leaves that she passed. "Who are you?" she called out. "I mean no harm. Please, show yourself!"

"Young maiden?" A male voice responded, one that Ithilwen did not expect. "You are here as well?"

Ithilwen looked around trees, trying to find the voice as she answered. "You are the man from the caves, yes?"

A chuckle was her answer, followed by, "So it is true. You are the maiden who cannot find her way through the darkness."

She couldn't help but huff indignantly. "If you will remember, it was pitch dark back there!" Twisting around the trunk of another tree, she asked again, "Where are you? I cannot find you, but you sound very close by."

"I am here, young maiden," the voice said from behind Ithilwen.

Ithilwen turned at the sound of feet hitting the earthen soil behind her, realizing rather foolishly that he was tucked away in the tree she was ambling around. She had the urge to scold the man for tricking her so, but the words died on her lips as she got her first look at the man who helped her from before.

He was tall, taller than her, with long pale blond hair. His eyes were blue and his skin fair, clothed in what looked like a tunic of greens and greys. What surprised her most was.. "Your ears… are pointed," she murmured.

He nodded his head and spoke, "I am an elf, my lady."

Ithilwen almost laughed outright. "I am too!" she exclaimed, lifting her hair back to expose her ears to him as well. "May I ask your name?"

"I am Legolas, of the Woodland Realm," he answered with a bow. "What is your name, young maiden?"

Not being able to curtsy properly, Ithilwen opted for a smaller bow of her head. "I am Ithilwen, daughter of Morwen and Haldir or Lothlorien." With her head down, she missed the flash of surprise that graced Legolas' face. "I must admit, it is nice to see you again. Or rather, be in your presence again, as this is the first time that I have ever seen you," she laughed. "My previous attempt at sleep had less than desirable results."

"You did not sleep well?"

Ithilwen shook her head. "Unfortunately not. It was peculiar though, something about a heated chasm and something silver-looking…" She looked around her, again missing the surprise that flashed across the male elf's face. "I don't suppose you happen to know where we are again? I feel as if I have been here before, but I know that where I live, the trees are not this grand."

Legolas looked at her in confusion. "You say that you are from Lothlorien, yet you do not recognize the outlying forests?"

"We're near Lothlorien?!" Ithilwen asked in surprise.

The elf nodded. "My company has come to rest for the night in the outskirts of the forests. We depart for the city in the early morning hours." Ithilwen noticed how tired his voice sounded as he spoke these words to her. It was almost as if he were hiding something significant that had worn him down, but she couldn't bring herself to ask. "Do you not live in Lothlorien any longer, Lady Ithilwen?"

"No… no, I haven't for some time now," she replied softly. "My naneth and I live elsewhere. I am not sure about the status of my adar, however." Seeing his questioning look, Ithilwen opened her mouth to tell him about the strange occurrence that led her and her naneth into the strange modern realm, but no sound came out. She tried again, only to see that her vision was beginning to blur. Her last sight of Legolas was his startled face mirroring her own confusion.

Legolas was shaken awake by Aragorn. "It is time to depart, my friend," the ranger said, securing the last of his belongings together. It wasn't the ranger's intention to stop outside Lothlorien's borders, but the nonstop pace to escape Moria and the sight of incoming orcs had taken its toll on the group. Aragorn finally conceded to stopping to make camp once they had reached the outermost edges of the forest.

Groggily, Legolas sat up. "It is daybreak, then?"

"Not quite, but close," Aragorn replied. He turned back to look at the elf, and was surprised by the state of his friend. "Restless sleep?" he ventured.

"Not…exactly," Legolas replied, getting to his feet. "I saw the maiden again." Aragorn didn't have to ask to whom the elf referred. Legolas wasn't one to go chasing after ellith like some might have expected. When he mentioned a maiden in conversation, there were no guessing games. "This time I was able to see her. She is of elf-kind, a daughter of Lothlorien." He proceeded to collect what belongings he had unpacked and moved out with the group.

Aragorn, not ready to let the topic drop, ventured further to inquire into Legolas' dream. Since it wasn't a secret, he did not lower his voice much, although the elf would have preferred a little discretion. "Perhaps we shall meet her in the city, then?"

"No," the elf replied. "She is not there. I was told that where she resides currently is not within any description of Middle-earth."

Chapter Text

"You saw him?!" Fiona shrieked into the phone. "What's his name? What does he look like?"

Ithilwen had to hold the small device away from her ear as the tinny sound carried through the room. Wincing, she vaguely wondered if her sibling ever remembered that she had sensitive hearing.

She had woken with a start, unsure of what had happened that caused her to stir. As she got up and moved about the house, she noticed that she was alone once again. Fiona had left a note letting her know that she had to work. Being alone in the large house that early in the morning usually did not bother the elleth, but because of this most recent dream, her mind was buzzing. In retrospect, calling Fiona had sounded like a good idea at the time. It was still too early for the shrieking, though.

Feeling a little braver, Ithilwen placed the phone back to her ear. "He told me his name was Legolas. He's tall, taller than me…sorta broad-chested I…he's got long blond hair and.." she wracked her brain trying to remember the details, "…blue eyes. Yeah."

Fiona cooed on the other end. "He sounds cute! Can you remember his features well enough to get down on paper?"

Ithilwen frowned. "I think so…why?" Out of habit her hand had drifted for a stray pen to doodle on the scrap envelope left on the kitchen bar.

"Cause I wanna see when I get home, duh!" From Fiona's tone it sounded like the most obvious thing in the world.

"Fine, fine. I'll do my best, but don't expect miracles; the dream didn't last that long."

Evening had set in the woods of Lothlorien. The remaining members of the Fellowship were atop a large talan surrounded by the guards. The marchwarden Haldir was currently in a murmuring argument with Aragorn, the later of which was attempting to convince the elf to grant them passage into Lothlorien's inner sanctum. Everyone was scattered about the area, worn down with fatigue, grief, and now frustration.

Boromir was trying to console Frodo and assure him that Gandalf would not wish his demise to weigh upon the small Halfling's shoulders as well. "Gandalf's death was not in vain. Nor would he have you give up hope. You carry a heavy burden, Frodo. Don't carry the weight of the dead." Frodo didn't look convinced. The wizard was his support beam in this dilemma, and having seen the seasoned fighter disappear into the chasm had rattled his confidence.

Legolas was standing off to the side, looking out upon the scenery. He hadn't gotten a chance to rest his mind long enough to venture into dreams, and now what little he had learned from the maiden was added to his worries. She had called herself Ithilwen, and claimed to hail from these parts, yet she was somewhere else. He didn't recognize the name of her naneth, but he could see the faint resemblance between herself and the marchwarden interrogating Aragorn. Legolas wasn't sure what to make of that either. Did he approach Haldir and tell him he had dreamt of the marchwarden's daughter? Was this his daughter, or were the Fates playing with the strands of his dreams, twisting and distorting them into believing in something that did not exist?

Pippin and Merry were not far away, observing the elves surrounding them and feeling very far out of their comfort zone. Pippin rose suddenly from his seat and began to make his way to the elf in their company. "Where are you goin' Pip?" Merry whispered.

"I want to ask him something," he whispered back, nodding to Legolas. Merry made to object, but Pippin was already at the elf's side, tugging lightly on the sleeve of his tunic to grab his attention. "Excuse me," Pippin began, "I had a question I wanted to ask you, if I may?"

Legolas nodded. "What do you wish to know?"

"It was about earlier today. When we were packing up camp," Pippin swallowed, not sure how to ask without feeling foolish or rude. He looked up at Legolas, who looked down at him curiously as he waited patiently. "That… maiden, you said you dreamed about… the one you said was from these parts… what was her name?"

The elf was surprised by the question, as were the others in the immediate area of conversation. What Pippin carried in curiosity he lacked in tact, but Legolas found that he could not deny an answer to the hobbit's question. "She told me that her name was Ithilwen."

"Oh that's a pretty name," Pippin commented. He was about to inquire as to the meaning, if there was one, when the elf addressed as Haldir approached them, followed quickly by Aragorn. Pippin took a few steps back, more than intimidated by the marchwarden's presence.

"You speak of Ithilwen," a surprised Haldir stated to Legolas. "How do you know of my daughter?"

Between the discovery of another clue to the elf maiden's identity and the all-clear to continue forward, the non-elven members of the Fellowship noticed a change in their companion and the marchwarden. Legolas was more pensive than before, no doubt due to this new piece of information. The dream was terribly short, and she barely got the opportunity to tell him of her parent's lineage. Legolas had begun to question his sanity after a while, trying to make sense of everything. The once-composed marchwarden had approached Pippin and himself so quickly that Legolas was afraid the former would back off the edge of the talan. Haldir's demeanor had changed to that of someone who still held on to hope, and he hoped for the ellon's peace of mind that this maiden was in fact the daughter he had been searching for.

Haldir however seemed more optimistic about recent events, aside from discovering that one of the Shire folk had brought a beacon of evil with him around his neck. His footsteps were significantly lighter regardless, as if he were absolutely certain that Legolas' dream-maiden and his daughter were one in the same. The mention of the name upon the prince's lips made his heart clench, and as he initially spoke to the younger ellon, the hope he had for her being on middle-earth diminished. He would never lose hope that she and his mate were still alive, though, and learning that she had been seen in dreams could only mean good things.

As they reached a hilly outcropping, he could not hide the pride in his voice as he spoke. "Caras Galadhon. The heart of Elvendom on earth. Realm of the Lord Celeborn and of Galadriel, Lady of Light."

Later, back on the forest floor, the group of eight has begun to settle in for the evening. Soft singing wafted through the air in the trees; the elves of Lothlorien were lamenting the loss of Gandalf. Merry had asked Legolas what it was they sung, but he couldn't bear to translate. Not that he would have been much of a translator at the moment, anyway. His mind was clouded with thoughts that wouldn't leave him alone.

Neither, it would seem, would they leave Haldir's. He approached their settlement soundlessly, eyes fixated on the Mirkwood prince. "Lady Galadriel and Lord Celeborn wish for you to join them," he said. Legolas nodded wordlessly and followed, not entirely certain why he had been summoned. He thought she had read in his mind all that she wished as they stood before her and Lord Celeborn earlier. Unless...there was something else? It was no secret that he was the son of the Woodland King, and it was most certainly no secret that his father and Lord Celeborn had been less than pleasant with the other.

Legolas just hoped that this meeting wasn't an excuse for both ruling ellyn to use his person as a middle-man in their disagreements. He had enough on his mind to concentrate on.

Haldir lead him up the flight of stairs and into the council room where the Lord and Lady were waiting. Legolas bowed to each respectively.

"Thank you for coming, Prince Legolas," Lady Galadriel smiled, gliding to take a seat and motioned for everyone to follow suit. "It would seem that you have come across something important that must be discussed." At Legolas' puzzled look, she continued. "Haldir has informed me that you have dreamt of an elleth by the name of Ithilwen. Tell me, young prince, what do you know about her?"

Legolas glanced to his right to see the apprehensive stare that Haldir was giving him. Biting back the urge to sigh suddenly, he began to recount his dreams, starting back from the very first one in Moria. He spoke in vivid detail of the scenery, of Ithilwen's first appearance, and what they discussed, As he finished the telling, the marchwarden's posture had become stiffer. Legolas wasn't sure what to make of it until Galadriel addressed her commanding officer. "What do you think, Haldir?"

"It is her," he said finally. "That is most assuredly my daughter the Prince speaks of."

So he wasn't crazy. That was good news, in Legolas' opinion. "I do not understand, how is this possible? How can I dream of an elleth not in Valinor or middle-earth?"

"Some time ago, before the Battle of the Five Armies, our youngest daughter Morwen gave birth to a daughter," Celeborn explained, taking his wife's hand in comfort and looking to Haldir.

"Morwen and myself decided to name her Ithilwen, due to her delivery in the evening hours. I was on duty the day my wife chose to ride to Rivendell to visit Lord Elrond and Lady Celebrian with Ithilwen." His hands were balled into fists as the memories came flooding back as if they were repeating.

Galadriel spoke, "During the journey to Rivendell, there was an accident. We did not discover the true cause of Morwen or Ithilwen's disappearance on the journey until much appeared that Saruman was the cause. To claim my ring of power," she fingered the silver-white piece of jewelry, "he cast a spell on what he assumed was myself, sending both our daughter and granddaughter far away. Mithrandir could not detect their presence despite many attempts, and for so long I feared that we would not know of their fates."

Haldir looked to his Lord and Lady. "What must we do to return them to where they belong?" His voice spoke of determination as if he would head out at any minute once he knew where to look.

"We do not know of their location," Celeborn interjected. "To try and locate them with magic could potentially put the search party in danger at the present. Saruman is in alliance with the Enemy now, and any attempts to recreate his work could trigger disaster for all involved."

"Then we must wait," Legolas said dejected. Now that he knew she was most certainly real, he wished to see her all the more. He spared a glance at Haldir, who looked none too happy by this declaration, even though Celeborn spoke the truth.

"I learn that my wife and daughter are still alive, but I cannot retrieve them because of impending war. Tell me, what am I to do with this information, knowing that I can do nothing more than wait?"

Galadriel smiled sadly at the marchwarden. "This news bears heavy upon us all, Haldir, but do not lose hope." She turned her gaze to Legolas. "We can still communicate with her while we bide our time and formulate a plan."

Haldir looked up from his balled fists to Galadriel, then followed her gaze to Legolas. Celeborn shared the same look of wonder that he himself must have, for the Lady of the Golden Wood smiled impishly. "You are able to speak with Ithilwen through your dreams, correct Legolas?"

Not entirely sure of where she was going with this, he nodded. "It was with some concentration that I saw her this past time."

Galadriel's smile widened. "It would appear then that the Valar has blessed us with a gift. During rest, try to concentrate on making contact with Ithilwen. I feel that there is a link that has formed that could be of benefit to us in the future."

Legolas felt he wasn't alone for once, sharing in the confusion and apprehension of the Lady's words. Thranduil had always spoken of the elleth as a bewitching creature that would twist neutral sounding requests to her benefit. His mother, Miraear, had always countered these arguments and claimed that she was very kind but mischievous. Right now he was more inclined to believe his naneth's words than his adar's, knowing that he often spoke of this land with snide remarks. It still didn't explain why he felt that there was more to what she said than she let on, however.

Ithilwen spent a good portion of the afternoon and evening trying to recreate the image she saw of Legolas from her dream, but as the hours ticked by, her memory became fuzzier, making it all the more difficult to finish. She set her pencil down by the sketch pad and looked at what she did have.

"It's not much," she clicked her tongue in annoyance, "but how the hell am I supposed to get every detail after one look?! Fiona must mistake me for that Da Vinci guy.." Overall, there were some obvious sections that needed to be fixed, but she was more than content with how the eyes came out.

"Looks a bit unfinished, if you ask me," came a voice from behind. Ithilwen didn't turn around to know the owner of that voice.

"That's because it isn't finished, Pitch," she said matter-of-factly, turning to face him. "What do you want?"

The nightmare king had the gall to look surprised. "What makes you think I want anything?"

"Then what are you up to?"

"What makes you think I am up to anything, then?"

Ithilwen rubbed her hands over her face in frustration. Apparently the benefit of being able to see the various Guardians and mythical characters that children could see included the narcissistic king of nightmares. Even if he wasn't trying to plunge the world in darkness he still felt it prudent to slip a rough dream in every once in a while. Shadow to go with the light, and all that. 'I guess this is karma's way of payback,' she thought to herself, realizing that her very being wasn't supposed to exist in this world.

"Actually," he continued, ignoring her current state, "Sandman approached me with some questions. About you."

Hands still over face, she stiffened. "What kind of questions?" she asked slowly.

"Nothing awful, I assure you. Although, he has mentioned that you've been having strange dreams and wanted to make sure that I wasn' the cause of them."


"Despite my disposition, I can assure you that your dreams are not a product of my doing." Ithilwen uncovered her hands and found Pitch strolling casually around the den, inspecting the framed posters and art hung on the walls. "Sandman glossed over the subject, and it sounds to me as if you have some connection to this other elf. An invisible red thread, if you will, that connects you to this other person."

"Red thread..." Ithilwen recalled an old story about the 'invisible red thread', a belief that the connections you make in life are connected by a red thread, and while in one's life the thread may get stretched or tangled, it would never break. She took part in a Red Thread ceremony before she left college, but she had also heard similar tales that used the symbolism to represent lovers. "This isn't like that at all," she replied, shaking her head.

"How do you know?"

"I can't believe I'm going to ask this, but… what do you think I should do about these dreams? I mean, you're familiar with the Freddy Krueger movies, right?"

Pitch shrugged. "See where it leads? There hasn't been anything to threaten your life in these dreams, so there is no reason to not explore the middle plane. And Freddy was a product of legends built around the misdeeds of one man," Pitch went on to point out. "If that is who you have been seeing in your dreams, you have nothing to fear."

'Yeah, nothing to fear except for that giant rock in the cave,' Ithilwen thought wryly. She stood up from her seat and stretched the muscles in her back. "I've yet to eat supper, wanna stay and eat? Or do you have some kid you need to scare in Guadalajara?"

"I could eat," Pitch said. "And I've discovered recently that these internet 'pastas' hold inspiration in scaring the older adolescents more than monsters under the bed."

"I found the 'Ben' one to be funnier than scary. The mask was creepy, though. I still haven't watched the videos, so I could be wrong." Ithilwen led Pitch into the kitchen as she began to boil a pot of water. The talk about creepy pasta stories suddenly made her hungry for spaghetti. "Isn't it the least little bit strange that you're here talking to me, like any one of the other Guardians?"

Pitch shrugged once more. "You're the neutral party here. In case you've forgotten, I'm not in good standing with them."

"So I get to play middle-elf and keep North and the others updated on your behavior?"

"That, and you make decent company because you can see me."

"Well then I'm the luckiest elleth in Burgess, aren't I?" Ithilwen stated sarcastically.

Night had fallen when Ithilwen found herself back in the dream plane again. The landscape was slightly different; larger trees occupied the land with the faintest glow of lights that seemed to float through the air. She was back in the white gown from before, and while she was annoyed with the long length, she couldn't complain too much because she was still barefoot.

"You're back."

Ithilwen turned on the spot to see Legolas by one of the large trees. Instead of the tunic of greens and browns, he wore a silvery embroidered one with dark leggings and boots. "Yes, I am. I'm sorry about last time. I don't know what it was that woke me."

Legolas walked forward slowly. "The apology is mine, Lady Ithilwen. My company woke me suddenly so that we could continue our journey to Lothlorien."

"I assume that is where we are, or at least the general area?"

"Yes. We have settled for the night. It has been a grievous time for everyone."

Ithilwen could tell how sad he sounded, and could not help asking, "What happened to cause you and your company such grief?" She carefully hobbled over to a nearby tree root to perch on, adjusting the large mass of fabric and motioned for Legolas to join her.

Sitting, Legolas paused before answering. "One of our companions fell behind in Moria." Ithilwen didn't need for him to elaborate; the way he said it was proof enough.

"I'm sorry for your loss," Ithilwen said softly. "I wish that I could offer better words of comfort."

"Alas, I am not sure if there are words of comfort in this circumstance, but I appreciate it all the same," he told her.

"What, um… what is it that you and your company have set out to do?" She couldn't remember if she ever got to ask him before or not.

Legolas looked down at the elf maiden fumbling with her dress, trying to study her features. She had similar features to Haldir, such as the bridge of her nose, but he figured that she took after her mother more in appearance. "We have set out for Mordor. To destroy the Ring of Sauron once and for all."

Ithilwen looked up in surprise. She wasn't sure where Mordor was exactly, but she knew the history of the One Ring of Power. It had been one of the things Morwen had taught her about when she discussed historical events in Middle-earth. "Truly? How will you all manage? I thought that the ring was a beacon for trouble?"

"In a way, yes. It is a secret fellowship that was formed in Rivendell. There are nine of us; myself, two men, a dwarf, four hobbits, and a wizard, whom fell into the Bridge of Khazad-dûm. The hobbit Frodo Baggins is the ring-bearer on this journey."

"Wait, if this was a secret, then why did you tell me so easily?" Ithilwen was confused. "Aren't you afraid that I'm in ties with the enemy?"

Legolas smiled at her questions. "I highly doubt that the enemy could sway a lovely maiden such as yourself. It has come to the attention of others outside our company of your existence, and have reason to believe that you are who they have been searching for." He turned to face her a little better before he continued. "If I may ask, how did you come to live where you are currently, if you are not in Lothlorien?"

"I wish I knew exactly." Ithilwen muttered. Crossing her legs and adjusting her dress again, she explained. "From what Nana has told me, we were traveling to Rivendell to visit my aunt and uncle when some form of magic hit us. I was only about seven or eight years, but I know that we were sent to what is now a more modernized world. The things that the humans have there are much more advanced than anything I have seen before, and it seems as if they are constantly changing."

"Your naneth is still with you, then?"

Ithilwen nodded. "Yes, she's currently out of the country on work, but she will return in a few days time. Why do you ask?"

"Because your adar was worried that you would be alone," he replied. "Your adar is Haldir, the marchwarden of Lothlorien, yes?"

The elleth's face lit up suddenly. "You've met my adar? How is he?"

"Haldir is well, but he misses his family terribly. It was his guards that we encountered entering Lothlorien. When he learned that I had met with you, he was rather adamant about coming to collect you both."

"That would be wonderful!" Her face fell slightly as she studied his own. "And yet, I have a feeling that there's a 'but' coming with that sentence."

"Unfortunately, yes. Sauron's forces grow stronger each day. We are on the brink of war again, I fear. Lord Celeborn felt it wiser that you and your naneth stay where you are for the time being. If we were to come collect you now, he believes that the enemy could use the opportunity as a weak point." Legolas paused. "Of course, that is assuming that we can open a portal to your world. It will take time to research the old magic, and Lady Galadriel believes it was the work of Saruman that led you to where you are."

Saruman? Wasn't that the other wizard Morwen had mentioned, a colleague of Mithrandir's? Ithilwen tucked a strand of hair behind her pointed ear. "That makes sense," she said. It sucked, but it made sense. "We shall wait, then. So, how are my grandparents, Legolas? Are they well?"

Legolas looked a little clueless. "I don't understand?"

"My grandparents, Lord Celeborn and Lady Galadriel. My naneth's their youngest child, aside from Celebrian." Ithilwen watched Legolas' face turn from confusion to surprise in milliseconds. His face showed little emotion, but she could see the change in his eyes and had to bite the inside of her cheek. She wasn't sure why, but she found this incredibly amusing.

"Of course," Legolas muttered lamely. Of course she would be their granddaughter. They had even told him outright, but he had too much information to process to recall that fact swiftly. "They are faring well, from the few words I have shared with them." Boy was his father going to be pissed when he found this information out. He had sent a letter back to Mirkwood earlier that evening before he retired to dreams, speaking of Ithilwen by name, and it hadn't occurred to him that the two ellith's disappearances weren't secret knowledge. Thranduil had nothing but contempt for the Lady of Light by the way he spoke of her, but Legolas wasn't about to let his father's ill-will towards Ithilwen's grandmother affect the budding friendship he had going with her.

Still, the secretive smile of the Lady Galadriel was nothing but suspicious. Perhaps it was his father's old stories, or maybe it was the tall tales spoken of the elleth that evoked this feeling in the prince. She knew more than she was willing to let on, and given the fact he had quickly picked up about the family tree, Legolas knew to tread cautiously with the misplaced granddaughter of the Golden Wood...even if they were only in dreams.

Chapter Text

Almost a month had passed since Ithilwen saw Legolas for the first time in what she had come to call their "dream meetings", and in that time she had managed to complete her rendering of the elf for Fiona. She found it difficult to recall his features as the mornings rolled on, so it was with a grumbling stomach that she had to drag herself to her sketchpad to work. Not that she minded, anyway. It presented a challenge in her drawing skills that she hadn't met in some time.

Fiona was due back home two days ago from a special group cosplay shoot who had booked her services months before, but as it turned out, she opted to stay for the duration of the convention and snap candids. Just as well, it gave Ithilwen the opportunity to fine-tune her render. She had refused to let anyone see it before then.

"Knock knock, girlie! Guess who's back!" The voiced echoed from the front door.

Ithilwen turned her focus from her laptop to face the strawberry blond entering the dining room. "Welcome back. And it isn't hard to guess, seeing as you're the only one that calls me 'girlie', especially since I'm far older than you." Noticing her bags, she asked, "So what's the deal? You called me the other day to tell me that you were staying for the convention."

Fiona shrugged as she plopped the bags down on the table. Ithilwen slid her laptop over to give her more space. "It was alright, but there was some drama going on in the Artist's Alley about art theft or something and it killed the atmosphere. You wouldn't think it, but there are some geeks out there that go for blood in their fandoms."

"Nothing serious happened, I hope?"

"Nah, but a few tables did get shut down for the remainder of the day, and some guests were escorted out of the hall. So…." Her bags forgotten, Fiona appeared to be bouncing on the balls of her feet in excitement.

"So….?" Ithilwen imitated with a raised brow.

"Did you finish it?"

"Finish what?" Ithilwen feigned innocence, just to agitate her.

"The drawing, duh!" Fiona nearly whined. "I've been waiting for nearly a month for you to finish it and I wanna see it!"

Ithilwen bit her lip to avoid laughing at the image Fiona displayed as she spoke. By appearance alone one wouldn't expect her to pout like a small child. She stood and left the room without a word, returning shortly with the sketch pad in her hands. Fiona's demeanor changed when she saw the spiral-bound book and again bounced excitedly. "Since you can't seem to get it off your mind, you will be happy to know that it's finished."

"Yes! Now I finally get to see the man of your dreams!" Fiona was making grabby hands at Ithilwen.

"Elf, Fiona." A pause. "And he's not the man- er elf- of my dreams! He's merely in them! Like any other object or person!"

Fiona muttered something similar to "Sure, sure" as she popped the cover back and began to turn pages to the last used sheet. She didn't say anything when she reached the page that his portrait was on, which made Ithilwen curious. Her sister had seen her drawings before, and while she wasn't superb, she thought she did well. Ithilwen was about to ask why she wasn't speaking when Fiona did comment.

"Damn," the younger woman breathed.

"What? What's wrong with it?"

Fiona looked up from the drawing then at Ithilwen's confused expression. "Wrong? Wrong?! Hun, there is nothing wrong with this!" She turned the sketchpad to face the elleth and asked, "So this is Legolas?"

Ithilwen nodded. Fiona could only reply with "Damn" again, which puzzled her. "Why do you keep saying that then, if there's nothing wrong with it?"

"Because this elf is gorgeous!" Fiona nearly shouted. "Have you looked at this guy?! Ithilwen, this is the elf that you've been seeing and talking to in your dreams? You lucky girl." She looked back down at the drawing and briefly wondered if all male elves in middle-earth looked like this, but she couldn't get past a swarm of tall elf men with Fabio-esque hair before her mind began to cloud over.

"How does that make me lucky?" Ithilwen had to snap her fingers to get Fiona's attention, whose gaze seemed miles away.

"I know you're not frigid my dear, but you can't stand there and tell me that he's not the most beautiful man you've ever seen!"

Ithilwen shrugged. "He's handsome, but I don't get what the big fuss is that you're making it out to be."

Fiona groaned, not unlike a grizzly bear. "Legolas makes Payne look like cow crap in comparison. Oh," she paused, distracted by the mortal's mention, "It's Valentine's Day. Does he have anything special planned?"

Ithilwen, used to her friend's quick changes in topic, scratched her head distractedly. "Actually, he called about an hour ago. He wants to take me out to dinner and I think we'll go to the movies afterwards."

"That sounds nice," Fiona nodded. "You don't sound very excited about it. Something wrong? You guys haven't been having problems, have you?"

The elleth shook her head quickly. "No, it's nothing like that. Things have been going rather well. I just don't understand the appeal of this holiday."

"It's a designated day to remind single people that they're single, a corporate candy endeavor, and for guys to buy their girls tons of flowers, chocolate, and stuffed animals so large they fill up the room. And pink. Lots and lots of pink." Fiona passed her the sketchbook. "But if I were you and had the option, I'd take dinner and a movie with someone like Legolas any day of the week!"

"Oh my god Fiona, we're just friends!"

The blond slumped down into her office chair in exhaustion. "Being a cupid sucks on Valentine's Day," she mumbled.

"I thought you guys thrived on this sort of thing."

The young woman turned in her seat to see the owner of the voice, and her heart skipped a beat. The lanky, white-haired ice elf was leaning on his staff looking bored. "What are you doing here, Jack?"

Jack Frost strolled further into the room and made himself comfortable on the edge of her large desk, feet dangling over the floor. "I'm in between snow days and I thought I'd come talk. Is that such a surprise, Icarus?" His expression was feigned hurt.

"I find it easier to believe that Bunnymund doesn't want you to ruin Easter again, since it's coming up soon," she replied. "And don't call me Icarus."

"How about Icchy?"



"Not on your life, Frost."

"I prefer Jack."

"Well I prefer Esther."

Jack stuck his tongue out at her, and uncharacteristically she replied in kind. Esther rubbed her forehead and stared at the seemingly endless pile of papers on her desk. This was always a nasty time of the year for hookups, breakups, and makeups.

"I love my job," she said suddenly, "Don't get me wrong, but there's days I wish I wasn't the Guardian of Pure Love."

The young man twirled his staff in his hands as he studied her. She looked rough, and that was putting it gently. He could see just how busy she had been lately by the circles under her eyes. "What do you wish you did, then?"

Esther tossed her hands up, defeated. "A lower position, I guess? An assistant? Something where I wasn't the director of the field, I suppose. I love that I can bring people happiness, but... It's the ugly side to my work that leaves a bad taste in my mouth." She looked over at him, catching his gaze. "The pitfalls of romance," she clarified. "I've witnessed more breakups leading up to today than I have last year, and the number that occur on this day are almost as bad as what I'll deal with tomorrow. I feel for these people, you know? Those that are so caught off guard by the news hurt the most, because many of them believe that they've found their forever..."

Jack hopped down off the desk and stood before Esther's chair. "You know what you need?"

"If you ask me to build a snowman Jack I swear to god-"

"No, no! I'm talking about a break from your work!" He pulled her up from the chair with ease, surprising given his slim build. "Let's go over to Tooth's. She said she missed you at the last meeting and wanted to hang out for a bit."

"I don't know, Jack," Esther hesitated. "I mean I've got all this work I need to file-"

"And it'll be there when you get back," he added. "Only for a couple hours, that's all I'm asking. You get away from your desk for a while and breathe actual air, then you come back with a fresh start and blow through it like I know you do."

Esther's cheeks warmed. "I'm not that bad!"

"Of course you are," Jack grinned, leading her to the door. "You wouldn't be you if you weren't."

"Is something wrong?"

Ithilwen's thoughts were muddled with a number of things, with the most recent being these new dreams when she had of Legolas. They were far from unpleasant, and over the past month the two elves had grown accustomed to the arrangement, going so far as to speak of their daily activities like old friends. With her naneth and sister out and about with their business, the dreams had helped fight off her loneliness. Payne's voice cut through them though, brining her back to the present.

"I'm sorry?"

"I asked if everything was alright. You seem kind of dazed this evening." Payne looked at her with concern.

Ithilwen shook her head slightly and forced a smile to her face. "It's nothing, I'm alright. There's just been a lot on my mind recently, that's all." She didn't realize that she was actually losing focus on the dinner they were engaged in. She wanted to speak to him about what was on her mind, but felt that the topic of dreaming of another male might end badly on a couple's holiday. It had been eating at her for days now; they were open with each other – well, him more than her – but she saw no reason to not tell him. It wasn't as if she was cheating on him in her dreams. Right?

Payne seemed to take her façade as the truth. "I was worried that I had picked a bad restaurant and that you didn't like the food," he smiled, taking her hand across the table and squeezing it. "I was thinking about the movie afterwards. The Palladium has that new witch movie, Beautiful Creatures. Would you like to see that one?"

"That one sounds interesting," she agreed with a more natural smile.

He grinned more. "Great, if you'll excuse me for just a moment, I'll go reserve our tickets for Beautiful Creatures." Payne rose from his seat, then added, "Of course, none of these 'beautiful creatures' will be as beautiful as you tonight."

Ithilwen attempted to laugh at his joke as he walked away, but when he was out of her sights, she groaned at the horrible joke he had made.

It was nearly 11 that night when Ithilwen was brought home. Payne left her at the front door with a kiss and the promise of calling in a few days to get together and do something. She kicked off her heels before entering, wiggling her sore toes with each step she took. She found Fiona in the den eating a bowl of popcorn with the television playing an overly dramatic romantic comedy.

"You're home," Fiona stated, turning her attention away from the television. "Somehow I figured you would be out later."

Ithilwen plopped down casually onto the couch beside her and stretched her legs. "What makes you say that?"

"I dunno," she shrugged. "You and Payne seem to be getting pretty close. I thought that maybe… well you know…" Fiona had no problems discussing intimacy, and from her tone, she wasn't far from being blunt about her comments.

"You must be joking," Ithilwen laughed. "Surely you remember what that level of a relationship means to elves?"

Fiona didn't say anything for a while, but then the realization dawned on her. "Ohhh. Right. Sorry. Wait, isn't that going to seem odd to Payne? You haven't told him the whole truth yet, have you?"

It was Ithilwen's turn to be silent. Fiona turned to face her sister directly only to see the troubled expression across her fair features. Ithilwen didn't have to answer, she decided. It was easy to see that she hadn't; that would require a lot of trust on his part not to go blabbing it around to his friends outside of Burgess. Fiona remembered how happy Ithilwen looked when she left to go on her date with the mortal, but now she was quiet and reserved about the matter. "Ithilwen?"

The elleth shook her head distractedly. "You're right Fiona. It's going to sound strange, but I don't even feel comfortable telling him that I'm immortal yet…and I'm not sure if I will ever be." She pinched the bridge of her nose and sighed. "I don't think he's keen on the fact that my ears are pointed," she mumbled.

"Do you see this going far? And what do you mean by that?"

"Honestly? I'm not sure. I don't foresee it going well no matter what I do. If I were to tell him, he could leave. If I don't, he could leave. If I do and he doesn't, he would still die one day, assuming we stayed together… and if we were married…."

"You would likely fade." Fiona nodded, understanding completely now. "But what was that about your ears?"

"Oh, that." Ithilwen snorted. "On our first date, do you remember? He asked me why I never fixed my 'deformity'. Said he wouldn't be able to go through life looking like that."

Fiona huffed indignantly, then smirked as a thought occurred to her. "I bet Legolas likes your ears."

Ithilwen rolled her eyes. "There is nothing going on there. We barely know each other, and are just now reaching a point where we can call ourselves friends. Besides, there's Payne to consider."

"Who is either a jerk for saying what he did or is completely dense when it comes to tact."

Grimacing, Ithilwen reached over and grabbed a handful of popcorn from Fiona's bowl. "I'm going to go with dense and a problem with corny humor." Shifting gears, she continued. "I've been thinking about telling Payne about my dreams; what do you think?"

Fiona shrugged, defeated. "That I don't know. Do you think if he accepts the idea of the dreams that he might be more open to hearing about your real deal?"

"Possibly, but I was thinking of just speaking of it in general to begin with. It's not like I can hide it much longer. He caught me spacing out at dinner tonight and thought that he did something wrong." Ithilwen continued to speak of the night's events to Fiona late into the night. When she retired to her room to sleep, she found that she had a dreamless sleep, disappointingly.

In Lothlorien, the Fellowship's stay was nearing it's end. When Haldir was not out on patrol around the borders, he had been in counsel with the Lord and Lady of the Golden Woods. Each time he left feeling more frustrated. Now that he knew that his beloved and child were alive and safe, he desperately wanted to bring them back to middle-earth. For the first years after their disappearance, he had thrown himself into his duties to avoid the emotional turmoil of not knowing their whereabouts and potentially fading.

This new information made the grief return, but unlike before, he had something to look forward to. However, the halt of the Fellowship's journey had left him antsy, desperately wanting to take the ring from the hobbit and throw it into Mount Doom himself just so he could venture into the other realm and reunite with his family. On the other hand, there was a bonus to their lack of plans to Mordor, and it lie within the Prince of Mirkwood.

Legolas wasn't expecting the marchwarden to approach him one afternoon with a determined look in his eye. He had been surprised to learn that his friend had a family, but could understand the grief of the subject being brought up. He was floored when he learned that the maiden he was meeting during his sleep was the granddaughter of Celeborn and Galadriel. But since that first meeting that afternoon, Haldir had sought Legolas out to inquire about his daughter, in hopes that he could learn about her and the woman she had become.

"How is she?" Haldir started their conversation that evening after the meal. The two had separated from the group and trekked through the forest.

"She is well," Legolas began. "She spoke to me of today being a special occasion in the mortal land that she resides."


"She told me it is called 'Valentine's Day'. It is a day where traditionally couples bestow gifts to each other as signs of affection. Ithilwen told me that she does not understand the appeal of numerous pink hearts, but that the women of the land seem to expect them."

"Hearts?" Haldir was confused. What sort of culture was Morwen raising their child in that celebrated an event with hearts?

"They are not like the actual organ, I've been told." Legolas clarified. "Ithilwen does not seem like the type of elleth that expects such gratuitous gifts."

Haldir smiled. "She is a princess. She should be treated as such, and I will see to it when she returns that she is." He then frowned. "What of this mortal that is attempting to court her? Is he treating her well?"

Legolas sighed. He knew that Haldir would inquire about the mortal boy. The marchwarden had been insistent on learning of his actions around Ithilwen as well but during the first talk about Payne, Legolas could tell from Haldir's silence that he didn't approve. From the description that Ithilwen gave him, Legolas did not care much for the boy's behavior either, but he chose not to speak of the matter. Not that she would say much unless he goaded her into talking about him, even if the name left an unpleasant taste in his mouth when he spoke it. That was weird, and logically uncalled for, Legolas knew; the problem was he didn't know why he felt this way. He tried to steer his thoughts towards giving the boy the benefit of the doubt, since the two world's culture's obviously clashed. "For the most part, yes."


The prince inwardly cringed at the tone. "Ithilwen spoke to me of his mannerisms many times. She has told me that she believes he speaks before he thinks his words through-"

"What did he say to my daughter?"

Their walk had come to a stop by this point and Haldir looked downright furious. Legolas decided not to beat around the bush and cut to what he wanted to hear. "He asked Ithilwen why she never had her ears rounded off as if she were from the race of Man. I do not believe that she has told him of her true self, for fear that he will abandon her."

"It would be better for my daughter if she were to end the relationship with this… boy," Haldir spat. The thought of her defacing herself for anyone was absolutely ludicrous. That a mortal would suggest such an act clearly showed his ignorance for natural beauty. "My daughter will not do such a thing to her body to please that mortal! Morwen would see to it herself; where has she been when this boy is around our daughter?" Really, where was she?

Legolas watched the marchwarden begin to pace to calm his nerves. "Ithilwen has told me that each time this boy comes to their home to call on her, Lady Morwen is not available. It seems that he is going out of his way to avoid her."

Haldir snorted uncharacteristically. "As well as he should. He had better be praising whatever higher power he prays to that I cannot do anything until this war is over." His mate could be just as deadly with a blade as himself. Even if she was unequipped with a proper sword, he knew she could wield a kitchen knife with the same skill.

"From our discussions, I do not believe that Ithilwen will stay with the boy. She has asked me for advice on what she should do, but I cannot offer anything that would not leave her upset. I do not wish to see her hurt, but it may come to it where she has to make a decision that she cannot avoid."

The marchwarden returned to stand before the prince. Clapping him on the shoulder in a friendly gesture, he said "Let us hope that she does the right thing before it comes to that."

"I will do my best to help your daughter in any way that I can," Legolas offered. "This Payne would not know what to think if I could get to him for his disgraceful words against her."

Smiling once more, Haldir spoke. "For that, my friend, I thank you."

Chapter Text

Two days later, it was time for the remaining members of the Fellowship to continue their journey. Boromir was determined in his argument about taking the path through Minas Tirith, but Aragorn would have none of it. This led to some tenseness between the two, but no one noticed anything different, as Boromir appeared on edge throughout their entire stay in the Golden Woods.

Galadriel had bestowed each of them with gifts that she felt would benefit their individual paths while other elves corralled boats to transport them down the river. Legolas was gifted with a new quiver of arrows and a bow from Galadriel, and while he had looked at it in wonder as a child would a new toy, his fascination was cut short when she presented him with another, much smaller package. All she told him was that it was sent by his mother personally. When the receiving of items commenced, Celeborn pulled Aragorn off to the side to speak with him privately as the boats were being loaded with supplies.

Legolas, having stacked packages in the boat that Merry and Pippin were seated in, extracted a piece of lembas. "Lembas. Elvish waybread. One small bite is enough to fill the stomach of a grown man." Merry and Pippin nodded in understanding. As he turned to continue packing the boats he heard their mumbled conversation.

"How many did you eat?" Merry asked.

"Four." Pippin replied, with a strange gurgling coming from his small stomach shortly after.

Legolas had to bite his cheek to keep from laughing at the halfling's misunderstanding.

"I must speak with you before you depart," Haldir stated.

Legolas placed the last pack in the closest boat and nodded, turning to follow the marchwarden out of hearing distance. "Somehow, I knew you would."

"I must thank you, for speaking to me of Ithilwen and Morwen," Haldir began. "It has been many winters since I was last able to think comforting thoughts as to my wife and daughter's whereabouts."

"Think nothing of it, mellon nin. I am happy to be able to ease your mind on the matter, if nothing else."

"Be that as it may, I must ask a favor of you."

Legolas nodded, signaling for Haldir to continue. He wasn't sure what good he could do, as he was also bound by the restrictions of the war, as well as his commitment to assist Frodo.

Haldir paused, not sure of how to begin. "However this connection between you and my daughter appeared, please do not let it vanish. I still fear for her safety in that world, especially when it concerns that mortal boy courting her. If she can help us decipher her location through these dreams, then perhaps we could find them once this war has ceased. I do not wish them to stay there any longer than they have to; as it is I have missed my only child growing to maturity. I want her to be among her people once more. Please watch over her for me, Legolas, for I cannot, and I would not trust this task with any other."

The prince was surprised by the words. Haldir was clearly protective of his daughter, even if she was a world away, and for him to admit his trust in Legolas was almost unheard of. After all, Haldir's lord and his own adar didn't see eye to eye. "You have my word, Haldir. I will do all that I can to watch over Ithilwen and keep contact. She has steadily become a friend over the past month, and I wish nothing more than to meet her in person."

"That day will come, prince. Have faith that the hobbit can destroy the ring, and we will both go to collect them." With this discussion coming to an end, they proceeded back to the boats. "One more inquiry, if I may. Will you describe her to me once more?"

Legolas smiled. When Haldir had approached him the first time after the council with the Lord and Lady, that was the first question that he'd asked. The elf knew that the marchwarden hadn't forgotten, but he chose to humor him regardless, since it was not determined when the two would cross paths again. "She is a beautiful maiden," he began. "Her hair is long and her eyes are green. She carries herself with grace, although it is amusing to watch her meander about in the gowns that she wears in the dreams. Ithilwen is not a wisp of an elleth, either in body or in mind. I believe that you would be proud of what she has become."

The marchwarden smiled upon the recital. "It sounds as if she takes after my beloved Morwen. Thank you, my friend. I shall keep this memory of your stay with me until we meet again."

It was with a heavy heart that Haldir watched the one link he had to his mate and child drift down the river in one of the loaned boats, with of all creatures a dwarf. That was as strange as the connection Ithilwen seemingly shared with the prince, but it seemed that new ground had been broken in many areas during the Fellowship's rest in the golden woods. He would often see them venturing across the city side by side, and if he closed his eyes he could almost picture his daughter in the dwarf's place. Was that how he and Ithilwen were in the dreams? He hoped so.

A light whisper crossed the depths of his mind, and the marchwarden knew that it was his Lady and mother-in-law that was reaching out to him. 'The quest to destroy the ring should be our priority,' she told him solemnly. She normally didn't read his thoughts out of courtesy, but he must have been blaring them that day.

'I know this, my Lady,' he responded, knowing now that she was listening. 'It does not make things any easier to bear, I am afraid. My family is where I cannot reach them, and my faith is resting on a suicide mission to Mordor.' He didn't blame Frodo for this evil ring - after all he didn't create it; he just hated the thought that a small piece of jewelry was keeping him from his family.

'Frodo understands the implications of what must be done, more than anyone else,' Galadriel continued. 'I believe that he can withstand the temptation to succumb to the darkness of the ring and destroy it.'

Despite speaking to her through his thoughts, Haldir nearly came out of his skin when she placed a hand on his shoulder. He turned slightly to meet her gaze, and while she stood beside him with the ethereal grace of a ruling Lady, he also saw the hints of sadness in her eyes that was only shown to a rare few.

"I know that it is much to ask of you, Haldir," she spoke aloud, "but you must keep your faith. Times are turning darker, I fear, but even in the darkest hours of the night there remains a light of hope. Do not lose sight of that, and we will see the rays of sun return with the birth of the new day."

"You plan to open that package, Master Elf?" The mystery parcel from Mirkwood had been puzzling the dwarf since Legolas had set it in their boat, and now that they had set up camp, he felt that it was as good a time as any to see what lay inside.

"Why do you sound so curious?" Legolas asked casually. "Surely your father told you about his adventures within our halls? I wouldn't think anything from my homeland would interest you much."

"True. Me father did say you called me a goblin mutant," Gimli laughed at the tense expression on the elf's face. "But what caught my curiosity is the look you had when the Lady Galadriel handed it to you. I would think a parcel from home would ease your mind!"

Legolas looked slightly pained as he reached into his pack and extracted the brown package. "Normally yes, however it coming from my home, the contents could be anything." He decided to hell with it and began to until its wrappings. "On the other hand, Lady Galadriel said that my naneth had sent it personally, and thus it can not be that horrifying..."

Gimli, as did many of the others in their group - albeit sneakily, watched as Legolas set the wrappings aside to reveal folded parchment and a cloth drawstring bag. Wordlessly, Legolas unfolded the parchment and skimmed its contents, paling slightly as his brow furrowed in confusion. "Are you sure it's nothing terrible, laddie?" Gimli asked.

"It is a letter from home," Legolas said distractedly. "My naneth speaks of many things in it, including my adar's disproval with Lord Elrond for agreeing to my enlistment in the quest. He feels that I would be better suited in our lands, but my naneth has been convincing him otherwise." He looked up at Gimli, "My sister is the guard Captain and is more than adequate in defending our kingdom and leadership. My adar is simply set in habit." Looking back at the letter, he lifted up the drawstring bag in his hands. "She also felt it prudent that I have this in my possession," Legolas continued, "though how it will help on this quest is beyond my comprehension."

"What is it?" Aragorn asked, not even pretending to not be nosy anymore. Legolas knew they were all listening; he had heard their shift in movement when Gimli first asked about the package.

Legolas untied the bag and opened it slowly, retrieving a long mithril chain that held a ring. It was silver in make, its band composed of vines and leaves that wrapped around the emerald stone in the center. "It is a family heirloom," he explained. "One that is passed down to the elleth in our family, I think. Naneth wrote in her letters that she felt that it was time that I had possession of the ring."

"What are you to do with a female's ring?" Boromir asked incredulously. It wasn't meant to insult his mother's judgment of course, but then again this may have been another elven peculiarity he wasn't familiar with.

"According to the letter, give it to whom my heart feels deserves it." Legolas found himself shrugging. Really? Where in middle-earth was he supposed to find this person, especially when he was an aide on the quest to destroy an evil ring?!

"How you hanging in there, Mom?" Fiona asked from the kitchen. Morwen was sitting at the dining room table with Esther, another Guardian that had become a regular to drop-in at the house. They had all found out from Ithilwen that this Legolas guy was in their homeland with his traveling companions. Apparently they had been led into the city by Ithilwen's father, Haldir.

Morwen, having gotten this piece of news before her first cup of coffee, had nearly missed her chair as she sat down. She didn't faint, but she didn't scream and get excited either. In fact, she seemed rather relieved about the whole thing in Fiona's opinion. It wasn't until her mother explained that she feared he would fade out of grief that she better understood the situation. 'Somehow I doubt this dude would go that easily,' she thought to herself as she flipped the pancake on the griddle. 'If he's anything like Ithilwen it'd take much more than that to break him.' She was happy to hear that Ithilwen's father was alive and well, but a small part of her was unsettled at the same time. What would he think of her? Would he even accept her? What about when they found a way to Burgess, what then?

Little did she know, but Morwen was having similar thoughts. Ithilwen didn't have time to go into details, as she had to go to the Bennet house to watch the children, so the older woman didn't know how much Haldir knew about their current arrangements. She didn't know if he knew about Fiona, or how they had adjusted to the modern times, or even the fact that she was working. Her biggest concern was her youngest child and what possible outcomes there could be when Haldir met her. She wasn't worried about Bernard, and although she had unofficially taken him in as her son, she worried about the little mortal with the mysterious background that was cooking breakfast.

Morwen felt Ester nudge her arm to get her attention, bringing her back to Fiona's question. "I'm still processing it all," she replied.

"I imagine this is a lot to handle," Esther murmured. Two days before when Jack had taken her out for an impromptu break from work, she had been ecstatic to be in his presence for more than the span of a few words. But when she got back to her office and began to work, the feeling of sadness had washed over her like a tidal wave. It wasn't fair. The few hours they had shared together, and not one glimmer of recognition did she see in his eyes. Esther was beginning to wonder if Tooth had all of his memories, or if they had somehow been compromised when Pitch tried to take control.

Fiona set a plate down before the blonde guardian. "You look down, Es. You okay?"

"It's nothing really-"

"Nonsense," Morwen thanked Fiona for her plate. "I've seen both of my girls get that look. Something is on your mind, because you're not your cheerful self."

"Well..." Esther didn't want to name names, but both women expected her to talk. "It's like this. When I was a human, I was engaged to be married to a boy my age."

"I'd say that seems young, but I keep forgetting when you were human," Fiona stated.

"It was normal at the time," Esther conceded. "Still, we were very much in love, and while I didn't have a ring, it was inevitable. But...there was an accident, and I lost him. I passed away from heartache almost a year after. I just couldn't take it."

"But how are you handling it now?" Morwen asked, "Unless-"

"He has been reborn," Esther nodded. "But he doesn't remember me. He only knows me as I am now. I see him every so often, and to not be recognized is pure torture. I know that there is a chance that he may never remember me, but I don't know how to handle that."

Morwen took a sip of her coffee before she responded. "I don't think you give yourself enough credit there. You are very strong and capable, Esther. Things can turn around. You just have to keep faith. I know one day I will see my husband again. There's no telling when, but I have to believe that it will happen."

Esther smiled slightly. "Yeah," she murmured to herself. "Just keep my faith."

Chapter Text

A week and two dates later, Ithilwen was beginning to consider her idea of talking to Payne about the dreams more seriously. He was still spouting cornball compliments that Fiona crowed in laughter over, but he hadn't given her any reason to rethink the idea. In a way, she knew the relationship wasn't going to go anywhere, but she couldn't bring herself to come upfront about it. Maybe he wasn't clever when it came to admiration, and maybe he was tactless when it came to common sense, but Payne had treated her very well in the time that they had been together. When it would come to the point that the relationship could go no further, she just hoped that they could part ways as friends.

"Isn't it strange?" Fiona asked, looking out the front window to see the familiar car drive up. Payne was in the driver's seat, and from her angle, could only see that he was fiddling with something in the front seat.

"Is what strange?" Ithilwen had entered the dining room toting her small purse. Payne was taking her to some cafe that he thought she would like for brunch.

"Strange that your boyfriend decides to appear only after Mom left to meet with the developers." The strawberry blond turned in her seat to face her.

"What are you talking about? He called saying that he was running late because he had to stop by the gas station."

"And you believe that?"

"Why shouldn't I?" Ithilwen raised her eyebrow.

Fiona shot up from her seat and scuttled over to Ithilwen. "Please tell me that his denseness is not rubbing off on you." She leaned in, though with her elvish hearing, Ithilwen knew it was just in gesture. "The dude knew that Mom was home today. He called to let you know he was on his way, but he asked if Mom was still home first. When you told him she was, he made up that lame excuse. Payne's going out of his way to avoid meeting Mom, and she knows it. That's why she left earlier than she needed to-" A knock on the front door stopped Fiona from finishing what she wanted to say.

Ithilwen looked her sister in the eye and assured her that he was just nervous about meeting parents, and that if Haldir were there it would be the same. Giving her a hug, she went out the front door to greet the mortal with a hug and quick kiss.

Fiona watched him lead her to the car and hold the door open for her as she got in before moving to the driver's side. The car started up once more and eased out of the driveway, then sped down the street. She continued to watch even after the car was no longer within her sight. She knew that there was something strange about Payne's behavior, but she couldn't figure out if it was because of who Ithilwen's mother was or what she was. Morwen had picked up on the peculiarity as well, but chose to let the boy approach her on his own, though it was with great restraint. All Fiona knew was that she would have rather had the elf Ithilwen conversed with in her dreams over the company of Payne now. She was beginning to like him more and more. It just sucked that a war was keeping them from finding a way to her world, even if it would mean that Ithilwen and Morwen would leave. Fiona would rather they be happy than to keep them where they didn't belong.

Of all the places that Payne had chosen to take Ithilwen, he had to pick the girliest cafe in the state.

Don't misunderstand Ithilwen, she could appreciate feminine things, but there's a point where a line has been crossed, and whoever designed the establishment had a doily bomb go off. The pink accents on nearly everything wasn't doing much to help, either. She sighed, looking around the place with hidden displeasure. Payne had chosen this place because he felt that she would like it, and she didn't want to let him down this early into the day. At least he had chosen them a table outside the cafe, away from ground zero of the pink confectionary decorations.

Knowing that he was trying to please her – even if he was way off the mark – didn't help the thoughts she had about the future. The more that she lingered on the what-ifs, the harder it would be when she finally got the nerve to have the ultimate discussion. She lifted her mug and took a sip of her coffee, suddenly inspired to breach another topic, one that would give her a better idea of how he'd react later on.

"Payne, when you dream, do you ever remember what you dream about?" Better to start out slow and work up to it, she reasoned.

The mortal leaned back in his chair and looked up at the clear sky, humming in thought. "Sometimes, but when I do the details don't stay around long enough for me to make sense of it. Do you?"

Ithilwen hugged the warm mug in her hands for support. Payne couldn't see it, but her hands held the slightest tremble, either from anticipation or nervousness. "Yes," she began, "Some of my dreams as of late have been more clear, but by midday most of the details have blurred."

"What brought this on?" he asked. "You haven't been having nightmares or anything, have you?" Then he grinned. "Or is it that you can't get enough of me when you're awake, so you dream of me instead?"

If he was expecting Ithilwen to blush or stutter like one of his previous girlfriends, he was disappointed. On the contrary, she outright laughed. It wasn't mocking his words, and he found it a gentle, pretty laugh, but a part of his joking around held some seriousness to it that she missed.

"It's nothing like that!" she struggled to get her laughter under control before she continued. "Actually, I've been dreaming about a person that I've never met before."

"Really? Have you seen them around Burgess?" He wasn't expecting that answer.

"No… no, when I dream of this person, he's usually in the woods, but I haven't seen any of the locations around here. They seem more…natural than what I am accustomed to seeing. It's peaceful, compared to the city."

"Him?" Payne repeated, not catching half of the rest of her description. "You're dreaming about some guy?!"

Ithilwen blinked, surprised by his change of tone. "Like I said, I've never seen him before, so it's probably a figment of my imagination," she half-lied, half-reasoned. She knew for a fact that Legolas was real, but she couldn't very well tell Payne that now, not after his reaction minutes before. "It could just be those fantasy video games that I've been playing, pay no mind to it."

Payne sat back once more, bristling in his seat. He didn't like the idea of his girlfriend dreaming of some other guy, much less one her imagination created. She was supposed to dream about him and no one else! He had to calm himself; he brought Ithilwen out to brunch, it was supposed to be nice.

Ithilwen had reclined back into her seat and took another drink of her coffee, observing him. 'Okay,' she thought, 'that plan was shot to hell. Better change the subject...' "You know, I remember back in my humanities course there was a discussion about finding evidence of extraterrestrial life. It was almost as fascinating as the three-day debate we had in biology over the topic of intelligent design and evolution."

He relaxed more, used to hearing her discuss past school work. "And what side of the discussion did you stand on?" Payne found out quickly that Ithilwen was very opinionated, and if the topic had caught her interest, her passion really shined through.

Ithilwen smiled. "I said – and I still believe – that as a race of beings we simply don't have the technology at the present to find any evidence of extraterrestrial life on this planet or in outer space."

The mortal frowned. "So you don't believe that aliens exist?"

"That's not true. I do believe they exist, but we don't have the equipment or the power to go out far enough into the universe to document any evidence and still survive the journey. We're not even close to reaching one-tenth the speed of light, and even with a surge of advancements, there is still mortality to consider."

"What makes you think we would have to go so far out to find anything?"

Ithilwen frowned then. "The Drake equation."

"If I remember right, that tells us how many civilizations are out there in our galaxy." He remembered hearing about it when she talked science with his friends, and had even googled the equation on her phone to show him at the time. Of course to Payne, it all looked Greek.

She had to resist the urge to sigh right then. "The Drake equation is an estimate of the number of potential civilizations that could sustain life in our galaxy, and if you will remember, our galaxy is fairly large." The elleth made sure to put emphasis on the words 'estimate', 'potential', and 'could'. "As it stands, any possible evidence could be several hundred light years away. And for reference, just one light year is almost 6 trillion miles. Depending on how fast our best shuttles could go to match the speed of light, it might take anywhere between 100 years at best to 40,000!"

Payne laughed. "I'm sorry, I don't mean to laugh, but Ithilwen… you couldn't be more wrong."

"Excuse me?"

"The math is against you. Everyday man is becoming more advanced, thereby debunking your belief that we won't find aliens. The Drake equation-"

"The Drake equation is an estimate at best!" Ithilwen's voice rose an octave in anger. "It doesn't matter how many times you plug the numbers into the formula! Each variable is an estimation because there is no documented proof that the records can't change! You speak of advancement, well the earth is changing as well! What's to say that the universe isn't? Any attempts to record a life-sustaining mass cann't be done from this distance because we have to anticipate the possibility that the mass might not be there the next time we look! Besides, the Drake equation ESTIMATES POTENTIAL civilizations that we MIGHT be able to make contact with! Had we been near one of these civilizations, don't you think our satellites would have picked up on the foreign radio signals by now?!"

It was all Ithilwen could do to stay in her seat. Her knuckles were gripping the mug so hard they were turning white, and she didn't have to look around to see that their argument had attracted an audience of eavesdroppers. Not that she cared.

Payne, for his credit, had not spoken once during her rant, even to interrupt. Unlike her, he did care that he was being stared at, and from the proud smiles of the women nearby, he knew that she had won the argument. He watched her warily, her grip on the mug finally loosening and her body relax back into the seat. "Alright. Alright, you believe what you want to believe," he spoke in what he thought was a calming tone. "I still think you're wrong, but alright." Glancing about he asked, "So, uh… where would you like to go next?"

Ithilwen had drained the remaining contents of her mug in an ungraceful manner, not really caring about politeness. Right then she wished the coffee had been straight liquor. She was baffled that this mortal had the gall to still tell her that she was wrong. She had learned that the most he knew about academics were from his friend's college textbooks – he never felt the need to attend anything beyond high school. At his question, she wanted to chuck the mug at his face in frustration, but held back. That outburst had left her drained. "Actually," she began, "I'm not feeling very well today. If it's alright with you, I think I need to go home and rest it off."

Payne looked surprised. "Are you sure? It's a beautiful day out-" Seeing her shake her head, he rose from his seat. "Alright, I'll take you home," and left to go pay the bill. He missed the open look of upset that crossed her elven features.

Had he seen it, he probably would have thought it was because she didn't fee well, not because of how hurt she was that he wouldn't listen to her point of view. But then, should she have been surprised? The men in her humanities course had done everything but toss her on the grill in their responses to her views - and that week's topic was intentionally controversial. Exhaling, she resigned herself to the knowledge that the men in this world would always get the last word in, whether it was right or wrong.

Esther chewed her lip in thought as she watched the scene at the cafe play out before her on the monitor's screen. It seemed that Project Sailor Moon had hit a bump, or rather a series of potholes. The boy clearly didn't know when to shut up, and for once he had met a girl who wouldn't simply agree with him. Interesting.

She felt weird observing one of her close friends' relationships, but she most certainly wasn't going to allow one of her coworkers to oversee this case. 'Definitely not Lust,' she thought. 'Lust doesn't care for the implications of what sex means to these kinds of elves. No, it's better I saw this one crop up when I did, even if it is strange. And yet I can't help but wonder about Ithilwen's dreams of her homeland...'

When the screen blipped out to darkness, Esther continued to sit and stare as if it were still playing out before her. She tapped the pen in her hand to her chin as she pondered over what she had learned from Fiona. Ithilwen had made contact with an elf from her world in her dreams, and as long as she concentrated, she could reach out to him. Could this elf do the same? What more was there to the connection they had? Furthermore, could anything be done to build a bridge between worlds?

'On second thought, I think this Legolas fellow is a far more interesting character than the mortal.' Esther rose, collecting her notes on her friend's case as she went. She needed to speak to someone with a little more knowledge about these kinds of links. If there were something she could do to improve the situation, then she was going to try.

"You're home? I thought Payne was taking you out for the day? Did something happen? Oh wait, did he happen to catch sight of Mom, then turn tail and run like a scared squirrel?" Fiona laughed at her own joke, but when she got no response from Ithilwen she looked up. "What's wrong?"

The elleth sunk down into the seat on the couch and pulled her knees up to herself. Finally she spoke. "Nothing…no, that's a lie. Everything."

"I don't understand."

"I brought up the dreams with Legolas."

Fiona winced from the flat tone. "And I take it didn't go well?"

"Nope. He got angry because I mentioned that it was a guy; I didn't even bother to try continuing. He probably wouldn't have believed me anyway."

"What makes you say that?"

Ithilwen turned her head to look at Fiona. "Do you remember the extraterrestrial existence discussion forum?"

Fiona nodded. "Yeah, that got pretty brutal there towards the end."

"Stupid me thought that would be a good change in topic. He laughed at my explanations and told me that I was wrong; that the math was against me. I tried to explain to him why I wasn't wrong in my reasoning, and all he said was that I could believe what I wanted, even if it was wrong."

"That sonofabitch," Fiona hissed through her teeth. "What the hell does he know? From what his friends told me, he just squeaked by in order to graduate high school!"

Ithilwen waved her emerging tirade off. "Look, don't bother getting worked up over it. I'm beginning to accept the fact that he's a stump on some matters."

"But you shouldn't have to!" Fiona protested. "No one deserves that kind of treatment!" She shifted in her seat, sliding closer to her to put an arm around her shoulders in comfort. "Look, since you won't let me pound him into pulp three ways from Sunday, at least let me get this out. The more I hear about Payne, the more I regret setting you up that blind date. His friends have told me that he is impossibly set in his ways about the world, and unfortunately that means he thinks he's king and that women are supposed to fall to their knees before him. Since you don't do that, he's using his ego to bring you down, even though you're right. I haven't heard of him being physical with any of his past relationships, but I'm still worried about you."

"You know that I can defend myself," Ithilwen cut in.

"I do, and in that case I fear for him," she laughed. "But I worry about your emotions. I don't want to see this jerk break your heart, even if you don't actually love him." Fiona didn't speak for a minute. "You know what it's going to come to, don't you?"

"Yeah, I know. I'm just not ready for it to get there yet."

She was on a river embankment this time. The water was a calming distraction from the mess that the day had started out to be. At least Ithilwen was beginning to get used to the overly long gown now.

"You seem distressed," Legolas stated, coming to stand beside her. "Has your day not been well?"

Ithilwen shook her head. "It was downright awful. How did you know that I was upset?" she asked, looking up at him.

"I could feel it here," he replied, placing a hand over his heart. "When we set off in the boats once more this morning, things were fine; but as our passage approached midday I felt hurt and anger, yet I could not place the cause for such emotions. It was not until we stopped for the evening that I realized that it must have been your feelings."

"So there's a new level of empathy between our worlds?"

"It would appear so."

Ithilwen was surprised by that piece of news. She shouldn't have been, considering that she was sent to another world by magic, but she decided not to dwell on what else this new information could imply. Or rather, Legolas didn't give her the chance, as he asked her again what had upset her. Ithilwen wasn't sure she wanted to tell him, but she knew that he knew that something was wrong, and he wouldn't relent until she came forward. A small part of her was afraid that he would get mad at her if she withheld any longer, and she wasn't sure if she could deal with that.

"Payne took me out for the day, and we stopped at this shop to eat breakfast." Her voice didn't sound as enthusiastic as it should have been.

"I thought that you enjoyed your time with Payne?" Legolas asked. He masked his features so that she would not see the anxiousness he was feeling. Did this mortal do something improper? Or had Ithilwen chosen a new opinion of the boy?

Ithilwen nodded halfheartedly. "Normally, yes. But today, today… we had an argument." And she launched into the details of the heated conversation. Unlike Payne, who would content himself with checking his phone during a talk he found boring, Legolas gave her his full attention. He didn't know anything about extraterrestrial life forms or evolution, but she found herself amazed by his ability to listen. 'Maybe Fiona's right,' she thought. Ithilwen noticed that by the end of her story, his blank expression had turned into a deep frown.

"That boy was out of line to insinuate that you were wrong," Legolas stated in a near growl. "I will admit that I did not understand the things that you explained to me, but I would not be so foolish to claim that you were wrong because I did not know better."

"It's a patriarchal society, Legolas. Women are still considered second-class by some men in this world, even though they've advanced so far."

"That is no excuse. Men in middle-earth, mortal or immortal, know to respect the women in their culture and beyond as an unspoken rule. This boy had best hope that he is not within my sights when this war is over."

She fought hard to suppress the shiver at those words. Legolas meant business, and Eru help the boy if he caught him. "Don't bother getting worked up over it," Ithilwen said. "I'm not sure how much longer this relationship is going to continue."

"How do you mean?" Legolas really hoped his voice didn't come off with any hint of excitement by the statement. It would greatly please Haldir to learn that she had walked away from this mortal's attentions.

"Isn't it obvious?" Ithilwen laughed. "He's gonna die one day, and my home isn't in this world. Fiona said it best when she pointed out that I don't love him."

Legolas wasn't sure he wanted to know the answer, but he had to ask. "What do you feel for him?"

"I…I don't know." The realization surprised Ithilwen. "I like him alright, and he has made me happy but… it's not the kind of happy that I should have in a relationship. Right now, in my sleep and in these dream meetings with you, I'm happier than any of my past dates with Payne. Is that wrong of me?"

The elf was shocked to hear her admission. He enjoyed the meetings as well, because it gave him a distraction from the stress of the waking hours, even for a short time. With each day he looked forward to being able to travel with Haldir to this world to bring her and Morwen back home. After a moment he replied, "No, you are not wrong. You are aware of where you stand in the situation; had you carried stronger feelings for him it might have been different. Have you decided the course that you need to take with the boy?"

"Uh huh," she sighed. "I'm just not looking forward to it." Ithilwen knew that it would come to her ending the relationship, but with Payne's attitude earlier that day it wouldn't make it hard to call it quits. She would rather separate on some level as friends than to have a drawn out fight, but making the decision on when to bring the topic to light would be difficult.

Legolas decided not to press her on the matter, aware that she was still sorting her thoughts out. He knew Haldir would be pleased to hear the news, once he was in a position to send post to Lothlorien. Speaking of which… He felt inside the pocket of his leggings to find the small drawstring bag he had received before they departed. Was it right? He looked to Ithilwen, who was staring out at the water, not paying attention to anything around her. Stretching the opening of the bag, he decided that now was a good a time as any. "Ithilwen, I have something for you."

The elleth turned her head to look at him quizzically. "What?"

Legolas extracted a necklace from the drawstring bag, now left discarded in his lap. "Before we left Lothlorien, I was given this by Lady Galadriel. It was sent from my home, at my mother's request." He held the necklace up in the light for her to see. The chain was a simple metal that shined as brightly as the pendant that hung from it.

Ithilwen leaned closer to look at the necklace. What she thought upon first glance as a pendant was actually a ring. The band was of the same metal as the chain, and wrapped in an intricate pattern of leaves and vines sat a cut emerald. "It's beautiful, Legolas."

He smiled. "I am glad to hear that you approve, because I want you to have it."

"What?!" That part she missed. "I-I couldn't, Legolas!"

"My mother gave me specific instructions to give this to the elleth that I felt deserved it," he explained. "I can think of no other elleth in middle-earth or beyond that is more deserving. I want you to have it."

Ithilwen was stumped. Why her? Surely there were more deserving ellith that would give an arm or a leg to get such a precious gift. She didn't feel that she was worthy and tried to explain this much to Legolas, but he refused to take no for an answer, eventually witling her down into accepting the necklace. She had to suppress another shiver when he moved her hair to the side to lock the clasp because his light touch tickled the exposed skin. 'That's weird,' she thought to herself as she pushed her hair back. 'I don't remember my neck being ticklish before.' "I still don't understand why you chose to give this to me," Ithilwen said, fingering the ring lightly, "but thank you, Legolas."

Legolas smiled. "In time you will understand why you deserve such a treasure." He hoped by that time he would understand why his mother had sent it to him in the first place. Miraear's letter, while lengthy, did nothing but confuse the ellon more. Yet, as he watched Ithilwen examine the ring that hung about her neck, he knew in his heart that it was meant for her. He just wasn't sure why, exactly.

The next morning, Ithilwen managed to wake before her alarm went off. She grabbed the clock as she rolled out of the bed and swiftly shut it off before heading to the bathroom in a brisk walk. The night's dream meeting by the water did nothing to calm her protesting bladder, especially after drinking a large glass before bed.

One need satisfied, her stomach began to wake as well, telling her of its intentions to eat. Before she left the bathroom however, something shiny reflected off the mirror causing her to stop and double back.

The necklace.

'So it wasn't just a dream thing,' she thought briefly. Ithilwen fingered the jewelry as she observed her reflection, a smile beginning to form on her face. Now she had undeniable proof, squashing any paranoid doubts in her mind about the whole scenario. She still thought him nuts to give her of all people something like this, but he would not let her decline his gift. While wondering what she could give him in return, she heard the shouts of Fiona come from the foot of the stairs.

"Ithilwen! You awake yet? Breakfast is almost ready so get your immortal butt moving!"

"Coming!" Came the short reply. Ithilwen looked back at herself once more in the mirror before leaving her room with a smile on her face. The day before may have started out bad, but the night more than made up for it. Now, she knew what she had to do about Payne, and while she still wasn't sure how she would go about it, she felt more at peace with the decision.

Chapter Text

Three days after the Great E.T. Debate and Ithilwen knew that she had made the right decision to call it quits with Payne. The problem was, she couldn't find the right opportunity to break the news to him. When things would get quiet, she would steel herself and begin to start the dreaded words, then Payne would come out of nowhere with a compliment or gesture that made her feel guilty. How could she say "I think we need to break up" to the boy that had just brought her flowers with a stuffed bear as an apology?

He had apologized, she reasoned. That deserved a second chance, at the very least. Whether he meant it was a whole other matter, but she appreciated the sentiment that he had the grace to bestow her. He hadn't spoken to her since the argument outside the café, thinking it better for her to rest. Actually, Ithilwen was rather glad that he hadn't come to call on her for the brief period; she used that time to calm herself and collect her thoughts.

Fiona's opinion of the boy was beginning to change, and it was becoming increasingly hard to remain civil around him. She kept in contact with the friends of his, and it seemed the more she learned, the more she grew to dislike Payne. Payne must have picked up on this, as he treated the girl with indifference most of the time that he was at their house.

Morwen was beginning to tire of the boy's timid nature in avoiding her. There had been many a night of discussions between the three women, either in person or electronically, over the boy's behavior. Morwen and Fiona felt that Ithilwen should cut to the chase and end it before she was hurt further, and by association the elleth learned that Payne's own friends had suggested the same thing. Ithilwen assured them the best she could that she would bring the matter to the forefront when it was most appropriate.

"She's not going to tell him, is she Mom?" Fiona asked one morning over coffee.

"Like she said, it's not a matter of 'if', but 'when'." Morwen took a long pull from her mug before continuing. "I wish she'd get on with it. I can't help but associate him with a scuttling rat now as it is."

Legolas would ask her in their meetings how things were progressing, just like her naneth and sister would, and each time she would reply with 'slow'. She knew he didn't approve of the mortal's behavior and treatment of her, and each time that she couldn't say that she broke up with Payne she felt more guilt. She couldn't figure out why she felt it worse with Legolas over Fiona or her naneth, and that had added to her frustrations. There was also the necklace that hung about her neck he had given her. Legolas never said why his mother gave him such instruction, and she was beginning to think she hadn't elaborated on the matter with her own son either. Still, wearing it gave her comfort, even though it remained beneath her shirt on most days.

The morning she had received it, Fiona had fallen into a fit of squeals upon seeing it, marveling over how pretty the ring was. Her naneth was over in the next city for the day, and did not return home until later that evening. Ithilwen had an unsettling feeling as she watched a knowing smile cross her naneth's face when she observed the necklace, and Fiona's impish grin wasn't helping matters. Neither one said anything more about it, which made her more curious and increasingly paranoid.

Ithilwen had tried to give the necklace back, but Legolas had refused, telling her that if she had, he would just insist on gifting it to her again. She noticed that when she met with him in the dreams afterwards, that he would appear happier to see her wear the necklace, and so she decided to keep it.

At least she could make one person happy.

On that third day when Payne had come around to apologize, Ithilwen had decided to go to the craft store for various supplies. Payne, wanting to get back in her good graces, had readily agreed to accompany her without complaint.

It didn't last long.

Ithilwen liked to create, and the massive art supply store held everything that was a creative person could possibly dream of. She found that creating costumes and props were as fun as wearing them to the conventions they would attend. She also liked to draw when the inspiration would hit, sometimes nicking photographs of Fiona's to reference.

As her opposite, Payne liked to watch television and gawk stupidly at the scantily clad "women" at the conventions his friends took part in. Ithilwen didn't have the heart to tell him that the Sailor Mars he spoke of at Katsucon last year was actually a guy she and Fiona met at Comicon. Real nice guy, twisted sense of humor, and had flawless legs in those red pumps.

"I don't understand why you like doing this stuff," he complained, swatting at some stray flap of fabric on a standing spool.

"Because it's fun. Cosplay is like Halloween, but more frequent and you get to see everyone's costumes in better light." She had told him this before, not that he had paid attention then either. She needed a few yards of green to line the inner leather jacket for her Sweet Pea costume. It wouldn't be accurate but she wanted to add some color. "I thought you liked Halloween, Payne."

"Up until I was 10," he snorted. "I'd rather go to parties."

"Well a convention is like a big party."

"Yeah, for nerds who can't get laid."

Ithilwen rolled her eyes and moved to the assistance counter to have the length cut. "You couldn't be more wrong," she replied, finding amusement in turning his own words days prior back against him. "Conventions are gatherings for people of a similar interest to meet up and appreciate that interest together. It isn't focused on 'virgin nerds', and I can assure you that more people get laid there than you think. You'd be surprised at the hookup stories I've heard in the girl's bathroom."

"Like what? Catwoman and Batman?" he joked.

"More like Batman and Robin. Or Link and Dark Link." She amended. "You have to remember that what looks like a guy might be a girl and vice versa." Ithilwen dug in her jeans pocket to extract her shopping list. "I need to go over to get some grommets for the corset next."

"Corset, huh?" Payne's interest was peaked. "What is this, a sexy warrior costume?"

Thanking the employee and collecting her bundle of fabric, Ithilwen turned and snorted at Payne's question. "Hardly. Have you watched Suckerpunch, Payne? It's more than just women in leather with guns."

Another hour had passed in the craft store, and Payne was becoming restless and agitated. Ithilwen promised him that she had only a few more items to collect before they could leave, mentally reminding herself to never take him with her again. This seemed to abate his irritation for a while, but it didn't stop his complaining. His choice of topic remained on conventions and cosplay, but he had begun to turn to more specific things.

"So is cosplay the reason you don't have your ears fixed?" he blurted out on the art pencil aisle.

Shocked at the question, Ithilwen dropped the micron pen she was examining. "I beg your pardon?" she asked in disbelief.

"Your ears," he said. "Is this why you never had a surgeon fix them?"

She swallowed, bracing herself. "If you must know, it's a convenience to have them pointed when I portray elven characters, but the reason that I never had them 'fixed'," she emphasized with finger quotes, "is because I like them the way they are. They're a family trait, and both of my parents have pointed ears."

"So you're all a family of pointy-eared oddities?"

Frustrated at his ignorance, Ithilwen quickly shot up from her crouched position on the floor. "We are not 'oddities' Payne! Pointed ears run in my family, and this genetic trait is no different than being a carrier for green eyes or freckles! Do you have a problem with my appearance, Payne? Do you?"

"Yes, as a matter of fact I do," he shot back. "When my buddies told me about you, they said that you were hot. The picture I saw was of you in costume, so I assumed that the ears were fake. I find it hard to believe that a girl like yourself wouldn't be ashamed of them and not fix them!"

"I'm not ashamed of my ears!" Ithilwen said exasperatedly. "I happen to like my ears, as I told you the first time we went out! I'm not like most girls, as I thought by now that you would have realized, and if you have a problem with that, then you need to tell me now. Do we have a problem?"

The hard stare that she was giving him made passerby shrink back involuntarily. Ithilwen hated that they were arguing in the middle of the store, but once again he had crossed a line and she wasn't going to back down. Payne didn't say anything, merely kept eye contact with her, waiting to see if she was going to continue. Eventually, his gaze shifted away, deciding that now was not the time to set her off again. He had just gotten her back in a good mood, and his slip had sent her teetering backwards once more. Payne had to admit that he liked the passion that welled up within her when she was angry, but he knew that he wouldn't get far if he continued to piss her off.

"No," he finally spoke. "Nothing's wrong. Forget I said anything, okay? It's just been a while since I've eaten breakfast, and I guess my empty stomach is making me a little irritable." He looked back at her with a weak smile of apology. "Are we okay?"

Ithilwen was taken aback by the apology once again. "Yeah, we're fine," she answered. "Let me just grab some more HBs and we can go get lunch. I'm sorry I kept you for so long in here. I didn't realize that time had passed so quickly. We really should go get something to eat if you're turning into a grouch already." She laughed.

On the way to the checkout, Payne made a suggestion. "How about pizza? We passed a Pizza Hut just down the road from here."

"Can you wait that long to eat?"

"Yeah, I'll get a small salad or something."

Esther was sitting in her office once more, enraptured with the events that were unfolding on her large monitor screen. The video was grainy in nature, much like that of a surveillance recording in a department store. The minuscule "cherub bytes" that were used for off-site observation were not as up-to-date as the rest of the world's technology, but they were stable and served their purpose efficiently. While other cupids used their stocks for record-keeping on one project, Esther spread hers out over a number of projects, and one of them happened to be sent to observe in the largest craft store in Burgess.

She still felt awkward watching her friend's relationship play out, more so that she wasn't allowed to announce to the elleth that she was a current project. It would go against the rules of their leader, whose belief is to act within the shadows and in secret. As she watched the mortal boy ignite another firestorm in her friend's eyes, Esther was beginning to consider having a talk with the head honcho about breaking that big rule.

"Yes! Go girl! Tell him like it is!" she whooped out loud in her office. Esther was quite proud of Ithilwen for fighting back against Payne's insults, glad to see that she wasn't rolling over.

"I'm sorry I kept you for so long in here. I didn't realize that time had passed so quickly. We really should go get something to eat if you're turning into a grouch already."


Esther had been about to take a sip of her drink when she heard Ithilwen's voice concede and apologize to the boy. In her surprise she had jerked the mug, spilling a bit of the hot tea in her lap. Cursing once more, she reached for a napkin, only to knock over her mug of pens in the process. Esther cursed again. When she looked back up from her disaster zone, she saw the pair leave the craft store.

How the hell could Ithilwen let that weasel get the last word in like that? She had been a spitfire just moments ago when she was standing up for her race, and yet this happened?

"Dammit Moon-Moon," Esther groaned at the screen. "You were doing so well!"

The long sword cut through the air and the Uruk-hai's neck, the severed head sailing off some feet away from the body, which slumped to the ground. Aragorn paused, trying to catch his breath from the fight with the giant Lurtz when he saw Boromir laying near the trunk of a tree.

"No," he breathed, taking note of the pale and bloodied form gasping for air. He took off into a hobbled sprint and hit his knees beside the man.

"They took the little ones," he gasped.

Aragorn placed his hand upon the other man's shoulder. "Hold still," he instructed.

"Frodo. Where is Frodo?"

"I let Frodo go."

Boromir coughed some blood. "Then you did what I could not. I tried to take the Ring from him."

"The Ring is beyond our reach now."

"Forgive me," he coughed again. "I did not see it. I have failed you all."

Aragorn shook his head, replying, "No, Boromir. You fought bravely. You have kept your honor." He moved his hand to extract the lodged arrows from Boromir's chest, but his arm was grabbed to halt his movements.

"Leave it!" he rasped. "It is over. The world of Men will fall. And all will come to darkness, and my city to ruin." Boromir knew that his time was running out. To have Aragorn pull the arrows would do nothing more than to speed up the inevitable, and while he wasn't afraid of death, he didn't exactly want to rush to it either.

Aragorn seemed reluctant to heed his wishes, however. "I do not know what strength is in my blood, but I swear to you I will not let the White City fall, nor our people fail."

"Our people?" the other man rasped. "Our people." He tried to reach for his blade, but found that his arms could not reach it. Aragorn complied wordlessly, placing the hilt of the sword in his hand, and Boromir clutched the weapon to his chest.

In the distance, though neither man noticed at the time, Legolas and Gimli had arrived at the scene. Both had stopped short and watched sadly at what was to come.

Boromir's breaths were becoming more ragged, his vision blurring. He knew it was time, but he had to tell him; Aragorn needed to know. "I would have followed you…my brother…my captain…my king…" He had barely finished his sentence when his soul parted from his body evermore. Aragorn touched his forehead, then his lips in respect to the fallen soldier.

"Be at peace, son of Gondor," he murmured, bending to kiss Boromir on the brow. He rose shortly after, looking into the forest to find the two remaining members of the fellowship bowing in respect. Legolas, from his distance away, could see the tear crossing the ranger's cheek, but was unaware if he even noticed. "They will look for his coming from the White Tower," Aragorn said. "But he will not return."

"Oh," Ithilwen breathed, clutching her chest suddenly. They were still at Pizza Hut, waiting for the desert that they had ordered.

"What's the matter? Got indigestion?" Payne joked.

She shook her head. "No… I just… felt sad all of a sudden."

Payne looked confused. "That doesn't make any sense."

"It's nothing, don't worry about it." Ithilwen shrugged off, reaching under the collar of her shirt to grasp the necklace Legolas had given her. She had a feeling that it had something to do with Legolas, but she couldn't do anything about it now. He had said that he felt her distress days before; perhaps this went both ways?

In her thoughts, she hadn't realized that she had pulled the chain completely out from under her shirt. It was second nature to her already, to clutch the ring for comfort when she was uneasy. She knew it was strange, but the movement seemed to soothe her. Unfortunately for her, all the rubbing of the ring would not ease her mind today no matter how much she tried. Because turning back from viewing the front of the restaurant, Payne had taken notice.

"What's that?" he asked casually.

"Huh?" Ithilwen asked, surprised. "Oh, it's just a necklace. No big deal," she tried to play it off.

"Really? Looks kinda fancy to be 'just a necklace'. Did you get it recently? I haven't seen you wear it before."

The elleth chewed her lip, debating on how to answer. "Actually… it was a gift. From a… penpal overseas." There, it wasn't an outright lie, but it wasn't the exact truth. Legolas could be thought of as a penpal, right?

"Seems a little strange for a girl to send another girl jewelry. What country is she from?"

Annoyed by the interrogation, she blurted out, "If you must know, Payne, it is a he, not a she."

"Another guy?!" Payne barked. "What in the hell is going on?! First you tell me that you've dreamt about other guys, and now you've got a dude as a penpal!"

"For your information, Legolas is stationed overseas!" She retorted. "We started writing to each other back at the beginning of January! This necklace was a gift from him."

"Well I don't like the idea of my girlfriend receiving gifts from guys that she's not seeing!" Payne seethed.

Ithilwen was getting angry for the second time that day. "In Legolas' family it's normal to give jewelry as gifts to friends. He considers me a friend, and one day when he finishes his tour of duty, he's going to come to Burgess so that we can meet! Now I'd like to be able to introduce him to my reasonable boyfriend, but if he's too busy making assumptions out of nothing, then I will have to find an excuse to give him!" Truth be told, Ithilwen didn't want to introduce the two. She knew it would end in Legolas finding a place to hide the body if it came to it, because Payne would be too stupid to not back down. She also wasn't sure if it was a custom of his family, but she was fishing for ideas to make the story seem more plausible to the mortal.

Payne leaned back in his chair and stared evenly at her, weighing her words. He knew she was right, but he didn't want to admit it. Regardless, the idea that she was writing to another guy got under his skin, even though she had never shown signs of straying. With her looks, it wouldn't be hard for her to be whisked away into another's arms, and with his spurts of jealousy, it was canon fodder for her to leave. He was determined to get what he wanted, and he wanted Ithilwen.

All of Ithilwen.

"Sorry," he mumbled, as the waiter delivered their deserts. "Water under the bridge."

Ithilwen didn't say anything more on the subject out loud, but she was beginning to think that body of water was evolving from a stream to a roaring ocean during a typhoon. Even the most sturdy of bridges would wear down in time.

Boromir was laid to rest in one of the remaining boats. His sword lay along the length of his body, clasped in his hands, the shield above his head, and his cloven horn at his side. Gimli watched mournfully as the boat sailed down the river and over the falls of Rauros, disappearing from sight. Aragorn wrapped the vambraces of Boromir's about his forearms as a tribute. Legolas began to shove the last boat into the water.

"Hurry! Frodo and Sam have reached the eastern shore." Hearing no response but a sigh, he turned to the ranger and stared, suddenly understanding. "You mean not to follow them."

"Frodo's fate is no longer in our hands." Was the flat reply.

"Then it has all been in vain," Gimli frowned. "The Fellowship has failed." He and the elf had approached Aragorn, who clasped their shoulders in turn.

"Not if we hold true to each other. We will not abandon Merry and Pippin to torment and death. Not while we have strength left." He turned and retrieved a dagger from the ground. "Leave all that can be spared behind. We travel light." Turning back, he stated, "Let's hunt some Orc."

Aragorn took off into the forest, leaving the two behind, smiling at each other. "Yes! Haha!" Gimli grunted as they followed in pursuit of their leader.

In the large office sat a desk filled with old bound tomes that contained records of romances from as far back as could be remembered. Behind the desk sat a hulking being dressed in white robes, hands clasped before them on the desk's surface. Around them, stacks of records, paperwork, and miscellaneous items lay forgotten, as the being stared straight ahead. They were waiting on something.

Or someone, as the secretary poked her head in around the office door to announce that the requested had arrived. The masculine voice bid the requested to enter, but offered no further acknowledgment as the young woman entered,

"You asked to see me, sir?" Esther had intended to make an appointment for a personal meeting to discuss her latest work, but it seemed that her boss had anticipated the request. Or was it for something different entirely? She wanted to ask, but having been called in always made her lose her nerve, despite her extensive time as a Guardian.

"I did," Cupid nodded, his tone neutral and doing nothing to ease her mind. "There are some, shall we say interesting developments regarding a current project of yours that I feel need to be addressed."

Esther swallowed. "And which project is it that warrants this address?" she asked softly.

"It concerns matters of the younger Misplacement. I believe you know of whom I speak."

Chapter Text

"It concerns matters of the younger Misplacement. I believe you know of whom I speak."

Esther looked startled. "I do..."

Cupid motioned for her to take the seat in front of his desk. "Please, sit Esther." Once she had perched on the chair, he continued. "I have not called you in to admonish you for your services regarding the younger elf in Burgess. However, there have been new developments that I feel you should be aware of, as she is not only a companion to you, but your charge as well." Reaching into the desk drawer on his left, Cupid removed and set a file of papers before her. "These are copied for your records," he said. "In them contains all of the information that I am about to tell you."

"I'm afraid I don't understand," Esther said carefully. "Is this situation a matter of endangerment to my charge or her kin?"

"No, but I believe it will offer a sense of relief and comfort to them in time." Cupid leaned back in his chair and crossed his hands over his chest. "In that file before you is the information that I have been given from the Man in the Moon himself. It covers all that is known about the Misplaced Ones; their history as a race, their history of living here, and a detailed hypothesis on how they might be able to return home."

Esther had been flipping through the sheets as Cupid talked, trying to follow along, but her head snapped up the moment he finished his sentence. "Home?" she asked. "There is a way to return them to their world?"

"An educated guess, based on what got them here," Cupid clarified. "It is by no means an accurate assessment, as there is no one with the knowledge here that can harness that kind of power. Although...while we do not have a source to check the theory against, we do have someone with the capabilities to emulate something simpler."


"You, Esther."

"I beg your pardon?"

Cupid grinned. "Surely you didn't think I would allow you to handle such a personal project without good reason? My dear you are the first in a long time to harness raw magic of this nature, especially since it is not necessary for your department!"

Esther could only look on at her boss in confusion. What in the hell did he mean by that? A raw, untapped energy that could send her elven friends home? She wasn't a genie, there was no way she could do something like that! "I still don't understand where you are going with this, sir?"

"You don't?" Cupid looked slightly disappointed. "I believe that you can tip the scales in the elve's favor, Esther. The files indicated that something phenomenal had sent them to this world, and only a force as strong could bring them back. I see you as a secret piece of the puzzle, child. You have abilities to connect on spiritual levels, so I do not see why that potential can't be used to influence the other world's endeavors."

"But what would I do? I don't even know what it is that I do that you think so highly of!"

"You believe," Cupid said. "You believe that the impossible can be possible, and it manifests itself in others as a gleam of hope. You are a beacon of light that can guide the way, and I feel that if you could channel this energy, you could reach out further than this world." he nodded toward the papers in her hands. "Also in that file is a roster of individuals that are a determinable part of the Misplaced Ones' world. I want you to work on making contact with one of these figures."

"Will they listen?"

"That depends on you. You must convince them to listen, which I have no doubt you can do. If you can reach out to one, then perhaps we can find a way to right the wrong that has been unresolved for far too long."

Cupid waved a hand dismissively, effectively ending the conversation and the meeting. It was just as well. Esther's few glimpses of the file in her hands told her that she had a lot of homework to do.

"Hey there, stranger," Ithilwen joked. "I haven't seen you around in a while."

They were on an outcrop of a tall hill overlooking empty plains in the dark. She couldn't see much for anything, but figured that the view must have been beautiful during daylight. The elleth idly wondered if the real thing was as tranquil at night. She looked up at Legolas to see him laugh. "It has been an eventful few days since our last parting," he admitted.

"Something about the way you say that doesn't mean good news," she noticed. His laugh wasn't as genuine as it had been in the past. "What's happened?"

Legolas sat down at the edge of the outcropping, allowing his feet to dangle over the edge. He motioned for Ithilwen to join him before he began. "The Fellowship is no more," he started. "There was a skirmish, and as a result, two of the hobbits were captured, and the other two made for their own pursuit of Mordor. Aragorn, Gimli, and myself are currently tracking the Uruk-hai that have Merry and Pippin, and we believe that they were being taken to Isenguard."

Doing some quick math, Ithilwen was afraid to correct him, suddenly realizing what the sudden grief she felt days before meant. "Boromir fell, didn't he?"

"How did you know that?" he asked, surprised.

In response, she touched her heart. "It appears that this empathy goes both ways. I felt your sadness at his passing that day. I'm sorry to hear he's gone."

Legolas nodded. "He fought bravely until the very end to protect Merry and Pippin."

"I'm confused," she blurted out. "Have you found Merry and Pippin? You said that you thought they were being taken to Isenguard, were you able to catch up with the Uruks?"

The elf shook his head. "No, but we learned from an old friend that they had passed into the safety of Fangorn." Before she could ask, he added, "Gandalf has returned to us by blessing of the Valar." He could not hide the happiness he felt still; it had hurt considerably to see the wizard fall in Moria.

Ithilwen smiled in return. "That's wonderful! Where does your journey take you now? Will you still look for the hobbits?"

"Frodo and Sam will make their venture on their own. Merry and Pippin will be taken care of by the Ents in Fangorn until our paths cross again. I am not certain of our destination as of right now." Legolas leaned back on his hands as he studied Ithilwen in the moonlight. "It appears that I have spent much of our time speaking of my adventures. May I ask about yours these past days?" he asked with a cheeky grin.

The elleth found his grin infectious and grinned in reply. "Well, there was no struggle with Uruks, but there was a war of words between Payne and myself at the craft store after you gave me this," she motioned to the necklace.

Legolas' eyes followed her hand's motion with a smile, but frowned upon realizing what she said. "What did he say?"

Ithilwen blew a raspberry, an uncharacteristic action for an elleth, which made him smile again. "Payne doesn't share the same interests that I do, and he was the one to follow me to the craft store in the first place. I wanted to get some supplies for a new costume that I am working on, and he has the patience of a small child. He picked away at why I like to attend conventions and how silly the whole notion is. Then he assumed the costume that I am creating is meant to please men. What brought things to a head was that he told me that he had a problem with my ears! Again!"

"Start from the beginning. What are these 'conventions'?"

"A convention is a big social gathering in that world. There are a lot of different kinds of conventions, and some of the more popular kinds have visitors dress in costume for fun."

"That does not sound displeasing," Legolas mused. "What of the costume?"

"It's from this film called Suckerpunch. You remember me telling you about films?" At his nod, she continued. "The character's costume I'm making is Sweet Pea, but I'm adding some color to her costume, so it's not all black leather. It has this hooded cloak that forms into a corset in the front, and because there's not much else to it, Payne thinks that it's meant to please the male eye."

"This sounds like a costume that your adar would not approve of," Legolas grinned. Lots of leather and little else? Of course he wouldn't approve!

Ithilwen laughed. "It does, doesn't it? Anyway, it's not like it'll be done anytime soon. I have to wait on some supplies to be sent by post because the store I frequent doesn't carry them. And the leather takes more time to sew, so it might not be finished for a few months."

"Now, why does this boy have a problem with your ears?" His tone had turned serious. Legolas had wanted to ask this question first, but held back to let her vent about the other reasons to dislike the boy.

"According to him, he was shown a picture of my in costume by his friends, and in the picture my ears were showing. Payne thought that I was 'hot' and assumed that the ears were fake. He can't see why I don't want to change them because most girls he knows are horribly vain in that aspect. He sees them as a defect more than anything." Ithilwen was surprised to feel her right hand being taken by Legolas, and turned her gaze away from the horizon to meet his.

"Do not listen to what that boy tells you," he said firmly. "You are nothing short of a beautiful elleth, and if he cannot accept that you are different than most of the females he has encountered, then that is his problem. You have done nothing to warrant such treatment, and I wish that I could help you see that you need to break contact with him." Legolas squeezed her hand in comfort. He didn't want to frighten her with his tone, but he wanted her to see that he did not like the boy, nor approve of his behavior.

Ithilwen felt her cheeks get warm when he called her 'beautiful'. She wasn't used to compliments like that coming from Legolas, and when he said it, it sounded more sincere than when Payne ever had. Since it was dark out, she hoped that he couldn't see the change, because she didn't know if she could explain if he asked. Instead, she ducked her head and nodded briefly. "Thank you, Legolas. I know, I've been trying to find the right moment to tell him, but he's been so strange lately. We'll argue about something, but then he'll apologize right after, and it confuses me. I really noticed the change during the end of our lunch, after we left the craft store."

"How do you mean?" Legolas frowned.

She shrugged. "When I felt the grief you felt when Boromir passed, I reached for the necklace out of habit. I didn't even realize that it was showing until Payne asked me who it was from."

"What did you tell him?"

"Don't be mad, but… I told him that I received it from a soldier overseas on duty as a gift from a penpal. That's a person you write to that you haven't met, but I guess in our case dream about. Your name came up, and Payne got mad. He said that 'no guy should be giving his girl presents' or something to that extent. Then he got quiet after I told him that when you finish your term in service that you would be coming to Burgess to meet me. When desert was served he apologized for the second time that day."

When Ithilwen looked up at him again, she noticed that the frown had been replaced by the cheeky grin from earlier. "It appears that I unsettle this boy, then. Shame that I cannot be there when you wake; we would have to have a long talk."

"Good luck with that," she laughed. "He avoids Nana like the plague already. Besides," she gave the hand still grasping hers a squeeze once more. "I wouldn't want you to get into trouble if he went missing."

"Are you worried for me?"

"There's a lot of stuff that I want to show you when we meet in person, and I can't do that if you're locked away in prison." She mimicked his cheeky grin, making the elf laugh out loud.

"Best be waking up, Legolas!" Came the gruff reply of Gimli, followed by the swift nudge of his booted foot against the elf's own. Legolas stirred quickly enough to find the dwarf leaning against his broad axe with a grin beneath his beard. "Been dreamin' of the lass again?"

Gandalf and Aragorn turned to face them. "Is this the same maiden that was spoken of in Moria?" the wizard asked.

Aragorn nodded, "She is the granddaughter of Lord Celeborn and Lady Galadriel."

"Ah, yes I recall as much," Gandalf mused. "Her father is the marchwarden Haldir." He turned to Legolas. "Were the two of you acquainted in Lothlorien?" he asked, referring to the daughter of the marchwarden.

Legolas didn't respond at first. Gimli took the initiative and filled in the gaps for Gandalf. "The lass and her mother are not in middle-earth anymore, we've learned. Some sort of magic gone awry sent them to another world." He nudged the elf's boot again. "Laddy's been meeting her in his dreams ever since, telling her about the journey and she tells him about her life. That Haldir almost didn't want us to leave Lothlorien because of it, I could tell."

Gandalf nodded. "I can understand, Master Dwarf. Haldir has been without his family for many years."

"When the Ring is destroyed," Legolas spoke, getting to his feet after returning the kicks to Gimli's own, "I plan to find a way to the world that Ithilwen is in and bring them both back. Haldir is adamant about this plan, and I intend to follow him." He turned to begin packing his belongings and prepping the horse for their journey, missing the knowing look that Gandalf gave Aragorn.

"You won't be going alone on that trip," Gimli grunted. "I'd like to meet the lass that has caught your attention!"

"She is a friend and nothing more!" Their banter was cut short by Gandalf, who cleared his throat to bring the attention to him.

"War has come to Rohan, we must ride to Edoras with all speed."

"Edoras? Gimli spoke, "That is no short distance!" The dwarf wasn't quite used to riding astride the horse yet, but Legolas had kept it at a pace to ease his friend's peace of mind. Going at break-neck speed was not going to be pleasant for someone with a long way to fall.

Aragorn remembered the words of Eomer. "We hear of trouble in Rohan. It goes ill with the king."

"Yes, and it will not easily be cured." Gandalf whistled, and called forth Shadowfax. They finished packing their things, then mounted the horses and sped off in haste.

Esther was up late into the night reading up on the information that Cupid had presented to her about her elven friends. As she was so distracted, she had sent out her Cherub Bytes to collect information on her latests projects that she could watch later. Reaching for her empty mug, she grimaced when she discovered that it was empty.

"Looks like I'm going to have to make another pot of coffee."

She rubbed her face as she stood and walked to her kitchen. Even at home in her small apartment she was working, a habit that had become more frequent lately. She was at the point that she feared she would dream about work in her sleep.

Cupid hadn't been kidding when he said that the file was extensive, and most of it was a collective of history reports that the Man in the Moon had somehow garnered from what she learned was one of the Valar. Esther was still having trouble keeping them straight, and until she felt she could differentiate safely and seamlessly, she wouldn't attempt to contact any of them. They were highly revered, from the reports, and to mess up and misaddress one would surely be fatal to her goals.

Another instance that had caught her attention in the reports was the mention of soul mates, which she found odd, though the guardian surmised that that had more to do with Morwen than Ithilwen. After all, Morwen did have a husband back in their world, so that tidbit of information must have applied to her wellbeing. Esther found the passage interesting regardless, discovering that elves chose one mate for eternity, and only when their hearts and minds aligned would they know for certain who their significant other was. The very idea screamed of romance, and she noted with some irony how it could also be looked at as a "one true love" type deal.

In Mirkwood's throne room, there sat an elleth upon one of the intricately carved thrones reading a long piece of parchment. Her eyes danced in delight as she read the inked script on the page aloud to the brooding ellon beside her.

"...The Fellowship of the Ring has left our borders as I write to you, mellon-nin..."

The ellon beside her grunted. "A folly endeavor."

She looked up from the parchment to him. "Your son is with them, meleth."

"And when I get my hands on Elrond I will get a proper explanation for it."

"He chose to go. Legolas even wrote to us to explain so in detail."

"He should be here."

"Doing what?" Miraear looked up to the ceiling for some kind of assistance that would never come. "Tauriel is managing the forces quite well on her own, just as she had before Legolas was old enough to patrol. You are brooding enough for anyone on your throne! What does that leave our son to fill his time with?"

"He could be finding his mate and producing an heir to the kingdom-"

"An heir to precede a father that might never lead the kingdom his father oversees. Yes that makes much sense, don't you agree?"

Thranduil looked over at his mate. "You are aware that it would not be the first time I pushed you off your throne?" As much as he loved his wife he found her stubbornness to rival his own, which might have explained why he was so enraptured with her.

Miraear raised a brow as she stared back, unfazed. "And are you aware that your robes sparkle in complete darkness?"

"What does that have to do with our son finding his mate?"

"What does pushing me off my seat have to do with our son finding his mate?" she challenged.

Thranduil sighed. "Adar was right about you," he said almost dramatically.


"Yes, I recall him telling me how wrong it would be to bind myself to a Silvan elf. Something about how Silvan ellith were prone to rash actions and words-" He suddenly found himself encased in darkness when Miraear had grabbed the overly long outer robes draped over his seat and pulled them over his head. Once he managed to poke his head out and find light again, he continued. "That just proves he was right!"

Miraear, undeterred with the biting commentary of her late father-in-law, moved from her seat to perch herself across the lap of her husband. "Valar bless him, he just did not have the sense of adventure that you did when you chose me."

"I still do," he responded, wrapping an arm about her waist.

It was no secret that Oropher couldn't stand the idea of Miraear, and had been livid to learn that his only son had deemed her his mate. The late king held no ill intent towards the Silvan elves he had governed, but he held issue with Miraear's lack of status. She had been a "common noble" among the Silvans, or one that had the prestige without the family lineage that dated back eons. Yet Thranduil had been smitten with her from their first meeting, and despite the advice against the arrangement, Oropher had watched his son pledge vows to the elleth months before he marched to his inevitable death. When the son returned from war, battered and with dwindling numbers, he took the throne, and she was his queen.

Their relationship had been peculiar to some, if not by spoken word than by appearance, for Miraear looked nothing like the blonde Sindar ellon. Her hair was an auburn red and her eyes a green that rivaled the forest leaves, with a personality to compliment Thranduil's moody one. She had been his light in those dark days preceding his father's death, and no one could deny that there was much love shared between them.

"You know I sent the necklace," she said casually.

"I do."

Miraear paused. "Are you angry about that?"

"I question it, but I am not angry," Thranduil said at last. "However I trust your judgment, I only hope that Legolas does not lose the necklace."

The couple fell silent after that. Until...

"You know that necklace was not that big of a deal," she reminded him, speaking of another piece of jewelry entirely.

"That is not up for debate. I had that commissioned specifically for you. They had no right to inflate the costs."

That was one argument Miraear would never see any resolution to, even though she could have cared less about the necklace. Thranduil would never let the dwarves live it down, and she swore sometimes he was just as stubborn, if not more so.

Chapter Text

"Whatcha doing, Icchy?"

Esther's brows came together and nearly collided on impact at the sound of the horrid nickname. "Work, Frost. You know, what you're supposed to be doing over in the mountains right now, remember?"

Instead of deterring the guardian away from her workstation, he only came around her chair and made himself a seat on the edge of the desk. "That's a nasty way to talk, being a cupid and all," he grinned.

"No one ever said that romance was all sunshine and freaking rainbows," she snapped.

Jack's good mood soured at the dismissive way she told him off, and he turned from his inspection of the items on her desk to look at her. Esther...didn't look at all like she was supposed to on a normal day. On most days that he saw her, she was bright and bubbly with her stacks of notebooks and Cherub Bytes surrounding her. Today, she had dark circles under her eyes, her hair was falling out of its braids, and her posture would have made North shake his head in disproval. "You okay?"

Esther's shadowed face turned slowly and met his gaze. "Do you really want to know the answer to that?" It was almost like a challenge she put forth, for both knew she looked like complete crap.

"What I meant was, is something wrong?" When she refused to say anything, he tried again. "Work stuff got you stressed? Some personal thing? Or is it a...girl thing?"

"A...girl thing?"

Jack shrugged, feeling his ears warm. "Yeah, don't you girls have those...things every month where you feel really bad and want to eat everything in sight or something?"

"We call it a period, Jack," Esther replied, watching him fidget at the word. "And no...that's not it," she added. "It's work, if you really want to know."

"New project?"

"More like new information on a current one." Esther pulled up some files on the monitor screen as Jack turned to watch. "You know that Ithilwen Haldiriel is one of my charges right now?"

"Yeah, North mentioned something about the guy she's dating. I think that might have been the first time I ever heard him use the word 'pigheaded' on a mortal before." Jack hadn't met the boy personally, but the word around the North Pole was that Payne had stopped believing long before most kids did. Something about his upbringing had made him stop believing, and despite every Guardian's efforts, the spark never returned.

"Well, my boss gave me some new files regarding Ithilwen and her mother's history, and seeing as I'm watching over her already, it's up to me to sort through it all." She gestured to the stack of hard copies that lay on the other end of the desk. "The Man in the Moon had acquired them, I've been told, but I don't know how."

"What's in it?"

"A lot of it is historical accounts from their homeland, and to be honest I'm not even sure I'm pronouncing these names right. It details where they came from in middle-earth and who they left behind, along with a very, very, very long history of the family tree." Esther ran her fingers through her hair, and upon hitting a snag, grunted in irritation.

Jack had seen the movement, and got up from his seat. "Let me," he said, maneuvering her fingers from the tangled tresses.

"When did you start doing hair?" she asked with skepticism. She knew of course, but she couldn't very well tell him that.

"When I got my memories back, and I learned I had a sister, I saw myself braiding her hair at nights before bed so it wouldn't get tangled." Jack nodded to the books that lay forgotten, though Esther couldn't see him. "What's this about a long history?"

'So he does remember some things,' Esther thought. 'I wonder what else...' "Oh, it's pretty bloody," she said out loud. "Kinslaying isn't something that is a typical crime with these kinds of elves, so when it happened there was a reason. They're not the innocent race that a lot of people would glamorize them as." It was really hard to talk when Jack was running his fingers through her hair like that. It was soothing, and she felt the tension in her neck ease the more he de-tangled her hair.

"So why does Cupid think you are the one to take on this much work, aside from Ithilwen being one of your charges?" Jack's ministrations eventually stopped, and he resumed his place on the desk. He had managed to unknot the sections of hair and rebraid it, though he wasn't sure he had fixed the clip as it was supposed to be.

"He thinks that within this stack of stuff that there's a way to send them home."


"Yeah. Oh."

"This would be good news, right?" Jack asked. "For them, anyway?"

"But not for Fiona," Esther frowned. "She'd be left here."

"Bernard would probably move her up to the North Pole," Jack suggested. "He thinks of them as his sisters."

Esther rubbed her eyes tiredly. "I feel like it's a double-edged sword, Jack. I find a way to send them home, a family is split apart. If I don't, they're stuck here. Either way someone's going to get hurt."

"I think the first thing you need to worry about is sleep," he said, catching her try to hide her yawn. "Take a nap and get back to it when you're awake. Then just focus on your actual work. If you find a clue in all of that stuff, make a note and come back to it. Don't let your boss try and change your priorities. You're a guardian too, remember?"

She smiled then. "Thank you Jack." Esther got up from her seat and moved to stand beside him. "I don't say this to you often, but you can be very sweet when you want to." After giving him a quick peck on the cheek she said, "I'll close up my work and take that nap you suggested."

Jack, not expecting to be kissed, had begun to make a mad scramble for the door at her words. "Okay then," he said. "I'll just...leave you to it!" And he was gone seconds later.

Esther watched the boy leave, a bumbling mess of limbs no less, and outwardly chided herself. "Good going, Es," she told herself. "You go and kiss him and manage to scare him off! If that doesn't answer your question I don't know what does!"

Unfortunately, that did answer many questions that had been plaguing her mind. Jack didn't remember her at all.


Fiona swung the front door open, looking around to see what salesperson was determined enough to make the long trek down their driveway when she saw Jack Frost. "What's up?"

"What do you do when a girl kisses you?" he blurted out.

"Well, I don't swing that way, but normally you'd kiss her back." Fiona leaned on the door frame and watched him pace.

"Esther kissed me," Jack said. "On the cheek. And I don't know what I'm supposed to do about it."

"Okay you're gonna have to back it up a little further than that for any of this to make sense to me."

Jack sighed. "Esther's been stressed about work. I tell her she needs to get some rest, and she kissed my cheek!" He chose not to go into detail about said work, considering who it involved and the likelihood of the information being classified.

"That sounds like a sign of gratitude," Fiona commented. "She probably appreciated the thoughtfulness of your suggestion."

"Well what do I do? Do I do something?"

Fiona grinned at the boy. "You mean the legendary Jack Frost is taking initiative to do something?"

"Don't start," he glared at her. "I came here for advice."

"Alright alright alright." Fiona was about to continue, but she had just realized what she had said and got herself tickled. It had taken Jack to make snow fall inside the covered porch to get her attention. "Right, sorry. Matthew McConaughey joke got me distracted. Anyway, you're probably thinking too much into this kiss. This is the first time she's kissed you right?"


"Then don't get your panties in a bunch," Fiona told him. "If it happens again, and you have the guts to bring it up, ask her about it. Or give her a kiss sometime and see how she reacts!"

Jack's face became more puzzled. "But why would I kiss Esther?"

Fiona nearly face-palmed. "Maybe because you think she's pretty? That you might like her? Or maybe you think she smells like cookies and want to get close enough to sniff her without it being weird?"

"That's weird."

"You asked."

Bernard thanked the Powers that Be for his past experiences with the other Santas and arranging for these meetings of mythical and holiday-based figures. The miniature elves underfoot did nothing to help, as usual, but the Yetis were surprisingly efficient. Unlike the past Santas, however, North encouraged the elf to sit at the table with them. He wasn't a guardian by any stretch of the word, but North felt he had done as much as any one of them present.

For Jack Frost, the next Meeting of the Guardians to look forward to. He didn't enjoy the meetings anyway, but knowing that Esther would be present added a layer of awkwardness he didn't like. The meeting itself has passed without issue, but North had encouraged all who could spare the time to stay for casual conversation, which in his eyes meant eating.

Jack looked across the room at the young woman in question, talking with Tooth and Gemma, the Guardian of Fleeting Crushes. He thought it was strange for there to be so many divisions of love at first, but he supposed the head Cupid couldn't handle it all himself. Gemma was a small thing, one of the youngest-looking guardians present aside from the Puppy Love cupid. She fit the image of a grade-school girl that would crush on the members of the current pop sensation with her bouncing brown curls, blue eyes, and freckles. Despite looks, she was very intelligent and outspoken. Jack had nearly been beside himself the first time he surprised her, for she had sworn like a sailor in her lacey overdress and petticoat.

Turning away, he spied the Lust Twins cornering Bernard with a barrage of questions. Delia and Deren were strikingly beautiful and always dressed for an awards ceremony. Jack knew them as the Guardians of Lust, but he had no idea if they were really twins or just so similar in appearance that they called themselves twins. They acted enough like brother and sister either way, and he really hoped it remained that way. He never interacted much with them, but the times they had talked, he could practically see the gears at work. If one wasn't thinking of who to pair with who for a one-night stand, the other was.

There were other divisions, but few stayed after the meeting. Jack had just seen the Guardian of Puppy Love stop to hug Fleeting Crushes before leaving, and of those that stayed behind with her were Lust and...he swallowed. Pure Love.

Esther hadn't mentioned the kiss since their last encounter, and Jack wasn't sure what to think about that. He had mulled over Fiona's advice, finally concluding that he probably was thinking too much into it, if she hadn't made another move by now. She continued to treat him just as she always had, and while Jack was thankful to go back into his routine around the girl, something still bugged him.

"What's got your staff in a twist?"

"I have no idea what you're talking about, Kangaroo."

Bunnymund reared up on one foot and thumped Jack with his raised one, smiling in satisfaction when he got the desired effect of knocking him forward. "Been workin' on that one," he said smugly. "Now what's your problem? You been looking rather wilted all day."

Jack dusted off his back, wondering if there wasn't a giant Pooka footprint there now. "Do you remember when you first became a Guardian?"

"I do." Bunnymund wasn't sure what to make of the serious tone in the jokester's voice. It just didn't fit.

"Did your memories of your life before all come back at once...or did you feel like some were delayed?"

"Where are you goin' with this?"

Jack frowned. "I don't think I have all of my memories."

"Have you talked to Tooth about this?"

"What could she do, Rabbit?" Jack ran a hand through his hair. "If I knew for certain they were gone it'd be one thing, but I have no idea! All I feel is that I have these..." he pulled a face, "...blocks where there should be memories!"

"I don't know much about this kind of thing," Bunnymund told him, "but you need to talk to someone who might. If you don't feel right talkin' to Tooth first, go to the Big Guy." The pooka felt odd having a civil conversation with the boy, but since Jack hadn't tried to freeze the eggs he brought with him, he knew that this problem was upsetting him. He'd even let the rabbit-nonsense slide for now, instead of correcting him yet again.

"How'd the meeting go?" Ithilwen looked up from her laptop when she heard the familiar jingle of small bells in the den. Bernard was still wearing the baggy hat the elves had made him, which they had fitted with tiny bells in place of holly berries.

"I got cornered by the Lust Twins," he complained, dropping down onto the couch beside her.

"Ooh, threesome. Kinky." Ithilwen grinned when the hat collided with her shoulder. "And you say the comics I read are filthy."

"I don't care if you label it as a 'romantic comedy' it's still bondage," the elf looked bothered. "There was nothing kinky about being backed into a corner."

Ithilwen shrugged. "If you do it right..."

"Why do I bother talking with you?"

"Because you're my big brother and you love me," she teased. "So really, why did the Guardians of Lust corner you?"

"They..." Bernard sighed, bracing himself. "They asked me if I was interested in being...hooked up."

"Called it!"

"You didn't 'call' anything! You said it was kinky!"

"With Delia and Deren, anything is kinky!" She paused. "So what'd you tell them?"

"I said no!"

"Well that's no fun."

"I'm not looking for a hook-up!"

"And what did they say when you told them that?"

"Deren said there were...other things...he could help me get if I didn't want to meet anyone..."

Ithilwen howled with laughter then. She couldn't help herself. Bernard wasn't as outspoken on a lot of topics like she and Fiona were, so to imagine the male Lust guardian suggest anything related to 'solo play' to the uptight elf was hilarious. He looked less than enthused about her amusement at his expense and saw fit to tell her so. Or rather, he had been about to when he noticed the chain around her neck.

"When did you get a new necklace?"

"My what?" Ithilwen looked down, his question dawning on her. "Oh! You mean this!" She slipped the chain off and held it out to Bernard. "Do you remember the elf I told you about, Legolas? He gave this to me."

"It looks like a really old ring," he observed.

"Yeah, and that's what's weird about it," she replied. "Legolas told me that his mother encouraged him to give this to who he felt should have it, and he said that that was me. I don't get it. I'm not anything special!"

"Maybe you are to him."

"What does that mean?"

Bernard shrugged. "I don't know. He'd have to have some reason for giving you an old ring, so he obviously sees something in you that means something to him."

"All he told me was that he felt in his heart that I was the one."

"Then that's the reason. It may not be clear right now, but someday down the road it could all make sense."

Ithilwen looped the chain back around her neck, oddly taking comfort in the cool metal of the ring sitting against her skin. Maybe Bernard was right. Legolas wasn't even sure why he felt compelled to give the ring to her, so how could she even begin to understand? She would continue to hold the ring, in the off chance that the elf changed his mind. If he didn't, well...perhaps they would find the answers in the future.

Chapter Text

March the second.

Ithilwen had known Payne for about two months now, and they had been in a relationship for a shorter time than that. In that amount of time, her psyche had been in knots that seemed impossible to get undone. The mortal had been nice and kind at first, though a bit of an idiot for his lack of tactfully chosen opinions. Then he began to change into what appeared to be a jealous boyfriend – especially recently when he took notice of the necklace and ring that Legolas had given her. He had started speaking against everything that she took interest in, and furthermore proceeded to tell her that she was wrong on arguments where she was logically right. She didn't know what to do anymore.

Scratch that, she did.

She just didn't know how to do it, and that was driving her nuts. It seemed like with each snide remark he made he was giving her an open opportunity, but when she would brace herself to speak, he would change directions and apologize, unknowingly making her feel guilty for what she wanted to say. Ithilwen didn't want to hurt Payne, despite the treatment she had been getting, thus she decided to hold out until the day he wouldn't apologize for running his mouth.

Part of her wondered if she could wait that long.

Esther's research through the stacks of information that Cupid had given her continued to make her head spin. It had been a tumultuous ride of elven history riddled with paranoia, mistrust, rings, and bloodshed, and that was keeping it within the species! She was beginning to think that North's elves electrocuting themselves were brighter in some regards.

Aside from the stack of historical warfare, she had also been taking notes on other interesting pieces of information that had come up in her research. With Ithilwen as her charge, not only was she taking on Cupids' request while watching the rise and fall of the relationship with the mortal, Esther was also looking into the peculiar connection that she had developed with the elf back in middle-earth. Between the little information she had on elven marriages, what she found on the internet, and the bits and pieces of her talks with the elleth in questions, Esther had a few possible leads.

'An empath who is linked to another can reach out through the connection to feel the current physical and emotional stresses of the other; if strong enough, said searcher can possibly perceive what the other is doing at a given time... Should the bond of an empathic connection deepen far enough, it is possible for the empath to simply 'feel' the presence of their target without effort...'

'A soulspace requires much practice and a strong technique in metaphysical work. Someone who is adept in reaching their soulspace can likely search for another's soulspace and enter it as if it were their own. These types of connections bypass reality in that there is no physical plane, but like other links they can be strengthened to form a significant bond if desired. While a soulspace is similar to an empathic connection between individuals, it is a more personal link that can be accessed far easier, however, this can prove to have negative effects if the target does not wish to accommodate another in their soulspace...'

Perhaps the most interesting part of her notes was what had been recently added to the notebook, concerning connections breaking.

'A soulspace connection can withstand death and rebirth, however for the reborn a sense of incompleteness may likely be present. The reborn will have no knowledge of the soulspace link, yet awareness can be prompted upon meeting their soulspace sharer or another triggering event. While this type of connection, as many others, can be confused with romantic endeavors, the common misconception remains to be known as a soulmate or soulbond connection.'

'So the gist of it is that what Ithilwen may have with this Legolas guy could be an empathic connection, or maybe a soul bond?' Esther chewed her lip and leaned back in the chair. 'That still doesn't explain how they found each other in separate worlds without trying. Was it a fluke, or was it predetermined?'

Ithilwen hung up the cell phone and dropped it carelessly on the kitchen counter. She had just finished talking to Payne about meeting up with some of his friends for dinner that evening. Not having other plans, and knowing these were the cosplay friends her and Fiona knew, she agreed. Then Payne decided to switch tactics and ask her another question pertaining to their relationship.

"So you know…it's been while since we've gotten together," he had said, working his way into the main point.

"Uh huh," Ithilwen had agreed, not really in the mood to play guessing games with him.

"Well, call me old fashioned, but haven't we waited long enough?"

"Long enough for what, exactly?" She was beginning to get a headache from the high pitch of the phone to her ear.

"You know," he urged. "Us. Waiting. It's definitely been more than three dates. Surely you're ready to go further?"

Headache was on. Ithilwen did her best not to groan out loud. "Oh, that." She replied nonchalantly. "I don't know Payne. I'm not sure if I'm ready just yet-"

And apparently her answer wasn't the right one, because he cut her off in an irritated tone, telling her that he'd be by to pick her up around 6 before hanging up. Ithilwen was left staring at the small contraption in disbelief.

Rubbing her face with both hands she mumbled out loud to the open kitchen. "I can't believe that little bastard actually hung up on me." She shouldn't have been surprised by his proposition. Payne had been eluding to that question for weeks; now he was just being more blunt. Something about him asking her if she was ready to sleep with him over the phone rubbed her the wrong way, bringing her to think about Legolas. Despite her headache, she laughed at the thought. He wouldn't do that to an elleth, she was sure of it. To her, Legolas seemed to be more gentlemanly than Payne ever thought about being.

Looking at the clock, Ithilwen noticed that she had a few hours before she had to worry about getting ready. Collecting a bag of Cheetos and a drink from the fridge, she went to find her laptop. The day was nice, and she suddenly felt like soaking up the sunlight while she caught up on her reading.

For some reason, Legolas was battling a big fit of rage as they galloped to Edoras. He searched within himself, trying to find some reason for the strong emotions, but came up empty. That only left one possibility-

"Ithilwen," he stated under his breath. Gandalf and Aragorn turned to look at him.

"Is something wrong?" Gandalf asked curiously. Since he had reunited with the three, he had been caught up on the goings on between their resident elf and the granddaughter of the Lord and Lady of the Golden Wood. He still hadn't found a reason as to their connection, but it had solved the mystery that had plagued the family for centuries as to the whereabouts of their kin.

Legolas shook his head. "Possibly, but I am unsure. She is angry, and I feel that the reason is because of the mortal boy that is courting her."

"Wish I could get my hands on that boy!" Came from behind the elf. "Treatin' the lass like that!" Since Lothlorien, Gimli had steadily changed his views on elves, all in thanks to Galadriel. When the dwarf had learned of her relation to the Lady, he had become more curious about the elf Legolas spoke to in his dreams.

"Don't we all," Aragorn agreed, looking at Legolas. His friend's brows were drawn together in frustration because there was little that he could do at the present. "One thing at a time, Gimli."

"Yes," Gandalf nodded sagely. He looked out across the horizon to see their destination resting atop a hill not far away. "Edoras, and the Golden Hall of Meduseld. There dwells Théoden, King of Rohan, whose mind is over thrown. Saruman's hold over King Théoden is now very strong. Be careful what you say. Do not look for welcome here." He nudged Shadowfax forward and they sped off across the hilly plains again.

It was a half hour past when Payne had told Ithilwen that he would be by. After his tone from earlier, she was half-tempted to call the restaurant and find out if he had just gone ahead alone. If he didn't show up soon, she was going to come out of her shoes and call the whole thing off. The shoes she had picked out were alright in small amounts, but she had chosen them thinking that she wouldn't have to wait to be picked up, and were quickly beginning to tire her feet.

The sound of a distinct car horn kept her from sitting down once more. Ithilwen hobbled over to the window to find that it was Payne who had blown the horn on the car. Hobbling back to collect her purse, she slowly made her way out the door and to the car. Payne didn't get out to open the door for her, nor even turn the engine off. Idly she wondered if she could get into the car without him peeling out of the driveway.

"Hey, how come you were so late?" she asked softly, buckling the seatbelt.

"Late?" Payne scoffed. "I'm not late!"

"You told me that you would be by around six. It's a quarter to seven!"

"I'm telling you that I'm not late! Rick called and said the reservations got pushed back to 7:30. I told you this."

"Actually, you didn't Payne. I would have remembered."

Payne shook his head. "I'm pretty sure I told you. I'm surprised that you didn't hear me with those ears of yours."

Ithilwen was about to snap back about his comment but decided against it. It already appeared that everything he said tonight would be the truth, even if he was wrong. Anyway, she didn't want to start a fight with him in front of his friends. It had been a while since their last convention meetup, and she wanted the night to go smoothly.

As her unfortunate luck would have it, Payne had other ideas.

When they arrived at the restaurant, which was really a high-dollar family eatery, Payne's friends were still waiting in the room for their table to become available. Payne's insistence that she hurry was unnecessary, and already her poor toes were threatening to strangle him. Not that he would have noticed. He barely seemed to look at her at all since she got in the car.

"Payne! Ithilwen!" Rick greeted. "How have you been, Ithilwen?"

"Actually, I'm-"

"-Great. She's great." Payne interrupted. "Sorry about running late. This Keebler elf here thought I gave her the wrong time, can you believe that? With those ears she should have heard me perfectly!" He roared with laughter.

Ithilwen pressed her lips together in a thin line, determined to keep her oath for the night. Rick grinned uncomfortably at her, noticing her mood and trying to appease his friend. Some of the others in their group laughed outright, the ones that rarely knew Ithilwen at all. The remaining few chuckled, knowing that Payne was terrible with jokes and only went along to keep his mood lifted. Ithilwen was beginning to regret even leaving the house that evening.

She thought that things would have gotten better when they had been seated, but that was a fool's dream. More than once she wished that it was a nightmare created by Pitch that she could wake up from, but the pinches under the table were doing nothing more than making her arm sore. Ithilwen tried to tune out much of the conversation, but Payne seemed keen on dragging her into it, making her the center of discussion on everything from her ears to her body shape to how she dressed. Of course, listening to Payne, he was using her as an "example", but what he was really doing was comparing her – out loud, mind you – to every other female in the building.

On the drive back to her house, Ithilwen couldn't hold it in anymore.

"What was wrong with you tonight?"

"What?" he asked, not noticing her exasperated tone.

"You spent all night comparing me to every woman in the building!" she all but shouted. "Never in my life have I felt so humiliated! You talked about my hair, my clothes, my body- I'm sorry that I don't fit the mold you're looking for!"

"Well, gee, you're a smart girl Ithilwen! If you've got a problem with the stuff I said, then why don't you change it!"

Ithilwen chose not to reply to that statement as he had pulled into the driveway. Her response to him and the whole evening was to slam the passenger door shut so hard that the glass leading into the door cracked slightly.

"How goes your work, Esther?" Tooth asked cheerfully. They were both out on runs that night, and happened to pass each other somewhere over Houston.

Esther knew what 'work' she was referring to without it being spelled out. "Slow, frustrating, and baffling," she replied. "I'm stuck on the work that Cupid's asked me to look into, and that's irritating. What's worse is watching Ithilwen."

"You're the Guardian of Pure Love," Tooth nodded to other passing fairies that zoomed past, off to collect more teeth. "I'm sure you're used to the lovey-dovey stuff by now."

"It would be, if it were that." When the fairy looked at her puzzled, she explained. "The guy she's seeing isn't as nice as he's lead her to believe, and his colors are starting to show."

"Then she ought to break up with him."

Esther sniffed, catching a scent of late night fried food grease nearby. 'I need to eat,' she realized. "If only it were that easy. Ithilwen's too nice to dump him on spot like most would today."

Tooth looked conflicted then. "What if..." she was weighing her words carefully, "...what if Ithilwen the right direction? Is that something you can do?"

"You mean you want me to force her to break up with Payne? I'm not sure Tooth, that could be against our code of conduct."

"Not force, per se," she amended. "Maybe just, I don't know, influenced by his actions to call it quits?"

Esther crossed her arms as she thought about it. "Well, as a cupid I'm within rights to give boosts of courage to propose. I can't outright force anyone to break up, but maybe if I were to tinker with the atmosphere she'd be more inclined to get on with it." Cupid shouldn't call her out on that, right? It was for the benefit of both parties, since neither was deemed the other's true love. And it'd help her focus more on the work he had given her if she wasn't so distracted by the mishmash of a hookup that had been made.

"D'ye think that this boy is going to hurt the lass?"

Gimli was perched atop one of the chairs in the room that was provided to the elf. Evening had set over the plains, and they were all turning in early. The funeral of Theodred and bringing the king back to the present was tiring for everyone. The dwarf, however, could not retire for the night until he had spoken to his friend.

Legolas was sitting on the edge of the bed, pulling off his boots. "I fear that he may already be hurting her." Her enthusiasm on the subject of the mortal had waned considerably since he was first introduced, and Legolas suspected things were worse than Ithilwen had let on.

"If you could, what would you do?" Gimli could tell that this was really bothering him, and in a way, it unsettled him too. He still wasn't trustful of all elves, but to hear the way that Legolas talked of Ithilwen made him feel protective by association.

The answer Gimli received was one he expected, but he didn't expect it so quickly. "I'd kill him," Legolas responded with steel in his voice. The way he said it brought the dwarf's memories back to their first encounter with Eomer, and he knew Legolas was serious.

"You really do care for her, don't you?"

"Of course. She is my friend, just as you and Aragorn are."

Gimli shook his head, feeling the weight of his unbraided hair move about in the process. "No, I speak of something else entirely, Master Elf."

"Then explain," Legolas asked with curiosity. His request went unanswered though. Gimli had risen from the chair and moved across the room for the door.

"You'll figure it out in time, lad," he replied instead. "I just find it peculiar how a 'friend' would go to the lengths that a father would for his daughter." Then he bade the elf goodnight and departed for his own rooms, leaving Legolas to contemplate his words.

When she met up with Legolas in her dreams that night, Ithilwen decided not to give the specific details of the things that Payne had said. She knew that he knew that she wasn't saying everything, but he chose not to comment, and for that she was thankful. Ithilwen wasn't sure if she could recount everything without somehow giving herself a nightmare in her own dreams. Legolas drew her into his arms in a comforting hug in reply as he told her about his news.

Ithilwen was strangely fascinated to learn about how King Theoden had been brainwashed and wondered if this Saruman was the one that had cast the spell centuries ago. She almost wanted to ask, but for the first time all day or night she felt relaxed as she hugged her friend back. That was something else she liked about these dream meetings. Besides the friendship that she had made with Legolas, she also discovered that he gave really good hugs. She felt like she fit against him when he held her, and the warmth of his broad chest wasn't unwelcome either. He was like a large, breathing heating blanket that could shoot a bow. The hugs were few and far between, since both were still getting comfortable around the other, but each one was cherished.

It was too bad that the dream didn't last long.

Legolas had been woken by Gimli, alerting him that they were to begin preparing to travel to Helms Deep as soon as possible. He rose rather reluctantly, wishing that he could have told Ithilwen of what he was to head into that day, but the emotions that he felt radiate off of her in the dream quelled those thoughts. With everything that she had gone through, he couldn't do more than attempt to comfort her.

As he was collecting his belongings to bring to the horse in the stables, he noticed that one of his silvery tunics were missing. He knew right away that he had not unpacked much, so it should have been with his other things. Legolas was about to do a sweep of the room again when a slip of something forest green on the bed caught his eye. Walking to the bed, he reached into the folds of the covers to extract the contrasting fabric. It was soft, and bore a lace trim. Confused, he spread the fabric out across the mattress. Eyes widening upon realization of what it was he was looking at, he felt his cheeks turn pink and was almost positive his ears matched.

He wasn't sure how he would explain this to Haldir if he saw him in the near future. He wasn't even sure how it happened to come into his possession. However, he was pretty sure where his tunic disappeared to now.

"Gagh! Where are they!?" Clothes were flying around the room. Pillows smashed against the wall. Covers were strewn about the floor around the bed. All in all, the room was a disaster.

Ithilwen was already annoyed that she had been woken up from a good dream. She was even more annoyed to find that it was because of Payne calling, wanting to go out to dinner again, just the two of them this time. Even though she didn't detect his snotty attitude from last night, she had made her decision and was not going to turn back.

Back to the matter at hand, she had dug through her drawers for her emerald green bra and panty set that she would put on after she showered. She found the bra, but she couldn't find the hipster-cut lace panties. Groaning in frustration, her pajama'd bottom plopped down on the bed, accepting defeat. She'd just have to either mix it up or choose a different set instead. Before she rose to stand again, she saw something silk balled up where one of her pillows normally lay.

Ithilwen reached over and flattened the material out to discover that it was a shirt, but not one of hers. This one was larger, and clearly not from any store in this world. Lifting the fabric to her nose, she instantly knew of the woodsy scent ingrained in the threads. The question was, how did she get it? She didn't remember anything strange happening in the dream. Although now she was hoping that the tunic she held wasn't the only one he had in his possession.

Chapter Text

"What was all that yelling about?" Morwen asked as her daughter came down the stairs in a huff. She watched the young elleth slump down into one of the island barstools, clutching some large lump of fabric. "And what do you have there?"

Ithilwen looked up at her naneth, the questions not registering at first. "Oh, that. Sorry. I was looking for a pair of underwear that matched the bra I've got on, but I think I've lost them."

"Oooh, matchy matchy! Planning on showing them off or something?" Fiona joked from her spot at the oven. She had taken it upon herself to cook breakfast. Morwen laughed at the humor, but Ithilwen only rolled her eyes.

"Highly unlikely, unless either of you want to see them," she retorted. "I've made my decision about Payne. It's over. And I'm going to tell him today. I don't care how apologetic he is about last night, I've had it."

Morwen smiled. "Good for you. I've been worried about this. Are you ready?"

"Yes," the elleth answered. "I can't take anymore of his criticizing every little thing about me. I'm not even sure I'd care if we parted as friends right now. Ever since he found out about Legolas he's become such an ass. There's nothing to be paranoid about, so I don't understand why he's acting so stupid."

"Ithilwen, that's not an act. Payne is stupid. He's male. Here, eat." Fiona placed a plate of pancakes and sausage in front of the woman before returning to the stove. Ithilwen gave her thanks and began to pour some syrup over her meal.

"He is much more handsome than Payne, from the drawing that Fiona showed me." Morwen mused. "And you said that he is much kinder to you than the boy."

Ithilwen nodded, not denying anything. "I suppose, but he's just a friend."

"Your adar and I started out as 'just friends', and look at what that became." Morwen poured a glass of orange juice and slid it to her daughter. "So tell me, what's that you've got in your lap?"

"This?" Ithilwen hadn't realized that she had brought the shirt down with her in her frustrations. She wiped her hands on her napkin before raising the clothing item for both women to see. "It's a tunic, I suspect. I found it in my bed when I woke up this morning."

Morwen touched a sleeve of the tunic delicately. "It is definitely elven spun. And male; the shoulders are much broader than the female counterpart. You have no idea how you got it?" The only items they had from middle-earth up to this point had been what they left with. To find that her daughter had an ellon's tunic was very strange, and if she hadn't seen the ring Ithilwen wore around her neck, she might not have believed it to have happened.

Shaking her head, Ithilwen replied, "No, but I'm pretty sure I know who it came from." She chose to ignore Fiona's comment of "I bet you do…"

"They will break upon this fortress like water on rock. Saruman's hordes will pillage and burn. We've seen it before. Crops can be resown, homes rebuilt. Within these walls we will outlast them." Theoden was inadvertently giving the Three Walkers a tour of the fortress named Helms Deep as he spoke. While the concept of the thickened stone walls sounded reassuring, the reality of the situation was that they were backed into a corner. The fortress, having been built into the side of the mountain, was not the most logical landscape for what was to come, and Aragorn knew this.

"They do not come to destroy Rohan's crops or villages. They come to destroy its people, down to the last child."

Being told the truth out in the open didn't sit well with the king for obvious reasons. Theoden whipped around and came nose to nose with the ranger. "What would you have me do?" he asked, his voice showing how stressed he was. "Look at my men. Their courage hangs by a thread. If this is to be our end, then I would have them make such an end as to be worthy of remembrance."

"Send out riders, my lord. You must call for aid."

"And who will come? Elves? Dwarves? We are not so lucky in our friends as you. The old alliances are dead." Theoden didn't sound so optimistic, but Aragorn persisted.

"Gondor will answer."

"Gondor?! Where was Gondor when the Westfold fell?! Where was Gondor when our enemies closed in around us?! Where was Gon–?" He stepped away from Aragorn, trying not to show the defeat in his posture. From the sidelines, Gimli and Legolas watched the exchange in silence. They knew the king's limit was stretched. Considering all that the man had been through, he should have passed the point of no return long ago, but it showed how strong his character was to keep going when there appeared to be no hope. "No, my Lord Aragorn, we are alone." His voice softened considerably from moments before, trying to instill in the ranger that he had no hope of outside assistance.

He turned on his heel and walked away from the trio towards a gate. "Get the women and children into the caves," Theoden gave the orders to his right hand, Gamling.

"We need more time to lay provisions for—"

"There is no time. War is upon us." The finality of the statement seemed to jostle the unseasoned soldiers around the area as the king passed.

From his position, Aragorn watched Theoden stalk away. So much for encouraging the king to call for outside help; the king himself had no hope of a positive outcome of this fight. He turned to face his companions, who looked no more comforted by the king's composure than he did. "We need to prepare," he told them.

"Actually," Gimli interjected, "There's something else that must be done first."

"And that is?"

"The elf here needs to speak to the lass, if he can. Tell her what is going on."

"Do you think that wise?" Aragorn asked.

The dwarf shuffled in spot, shifting his weight to the opposite foot. "It'd make me feel better if she was informed. Legolas here has said that she feels his emotions at times; wouldn't it scare her if she didn't know?"

"It is likely to scare her if I do tell her." Legolas stated. "She has enough to deal with right now with that mortal."

"But you need to tell her, Legolas!" Gimli was close to arguing with him on the matter, but Aragorn knew that in the open would be an unwise battleground of words. Many of the men of Rohan were already apprehensive of the elven race from the many tales they had heard; knowing that the one in their midst was communicating with an elleth in another world entirely might have pushed them over the edge of sanity, considering.

Aragorn laid a hand on Gimli's shoulder. "Gimli is right, Legolas. It would be better for her to know than to be left wondering. Is it possible to force these dreams, or do they occur spontaneously?"

"If I can focus, I should be able to reach her," Legolas said after a moment.

"Good. Go and get some rest. Gimli or I will come and find you."


"Ithilwen? Good, just the girl I wanted to talk to!"

Seriously? Needless to say, she was still pissed from the previous night, and the early wakeup call that kept her from her dreams, so her tone wasn't of the friendliest quality. "What is it that you wanted, Payne?"

"You sound tired. Not enough sleep? Anyway, I called to tell you that I have to run an errand for my uncle in the next town today, so I won't be able to come by around 6 like I said earlier. It's going to be more like 7:30 or 8 before I get there. Is that okay with you?"

Ithilwen rubbed the back of her neck absentmindedly. "Sure, that sounds fine. And so you know, I didn't sleep well last night; didn't help that you called after I only got a few hours sleep," she added accusingly. Okay so maybe that was a lie, but dammit! Her dreams with Legolas have been better company than any of the dates in the past month with him!

Payne got off the phone shortly after, telling her once again to dress 'comfy' for the evening. Ithilwen dropped the phone on the nightstand and looked at her bed. Figuring a nap couldn't hurt, she stretched out on the soft blankets and fell into dreams.

Esther unwrapped another peppermint and popped it in her mouth. No lunch breaks for her today, as she had a mountain of work to catch up on. Cupid was relentless in asking her about her progress on the files she was to sort through, and all she had was a stack of notes she had made almost as long as her arm. She had two other projects she hadn't been keeping tabs on as well, and she had just witnessed one of the couples have the dreaded 'Where is this relationship going' conversation through the designated Cherub Byte. She had been so absorbed in what she was coming to call Project Moon Moon for its redundancy that she had nearly neglected everything else.

'Alright, one spell for motivation on its way to Rome.' Another use for the Cherub Bytes were their ability to spread her magic out. When a couple needed a boost of confidence to propose or the first admittance of love to another, these little devices were able to emit a frequency like that of a dog whistle to the designated persons. This gave Esther the time she needed if she was required elsewhere while still doing her job. Unfortunately, she wasn't certain if her Cherub Bytes were equipped to handle signals of the negative persuasion.

Her intentions were simple in theory. In order to get Ithilwen to cut ties with Payne, she would create a spell to influence his behavior, making it so awful that the woman would have no excuses to delay her decision. Esther had considered speaking to Cupid of this before she acted, but the boy's behavior on its own was enough to push forward with the plan.

'Consequences be damned,' she thought. 'It's not like I'm being punished enough seeing Jack look at me like a stranger most days. I'm not about to let my friend get hurt the same way.' Esther typed away at her keyboard, mind made up and had begun to draft the words required.

"Okay…where are we now?" Ithilwen asked, confused. The landscape had changed dramatically since the last time they met. Instead of what looked like a personal guest room, she found herself standing on a tall stone wall overlooking hilly plains and jagged rocks. She felt Legolas come to stand some feet behind her.

"We are at Helms Deep. It is a fortress the people of Rohan have sought refuge in." He moved around to face her properly. "I am glad that I was able to reach you."

Ithilwen looked up at him and smiled ruefully. "Guess it helps that I decided to take a nap before this evening."

"What is happening this evening?"

"Tonight is the night that I cut ties with Payne. For good. He's taking me out to dinner at a casual place, and it's then that I'll tell him. I'm going to make him see that any feelings that I have for him are not what they once were and my hopes for the future are that we can stay as friends."

"You sound confident." Legolas was ecstatic to hear that she had finally found the right time to do what needed to be done. If it were him, he wouldn't have cared about the boys' feelings, but he understood Ithilwen's reluctance all the same. He couldn't hide the happiness in his words, but he did resist the urge to jump like a young elfling.

"I wish," she laughed. "I fear he won't take it as well as I've hoped, but I don't want to lead him along. How come it's still daylight out here?" she asked, looking around. "Have you started sleeping during the day or something?"

"That is why I wanted to speak with you, Ithilwen. An army of ten thousand Uruk-hai are making their way to Helms Deep. The odds do not look to be in our favor in terms of reinforcements, and the women and children are being sheltered in the caves in the mountains. We are backed into a corner, more or less." He watched as the expression on Ithilwen's face changed from neutral to slightly panicked.

"Please tell me you are joking. Surely there are some reinforcements that will come to help?"

Legolas frowned. "I wish that I was. The king of Rohan, King Theoden, does not seem optimistic in assistance. Gandalf has left us to seek out the king's nephew Eomer and his riders. I am not sure if they will make it to the fortress in time."

Ithilwen wrung her hands, stressed. And she had been worried about a breakup? "We've just… we've just got to stay positive," she said. "Yeah, stay positive…" Suddenly the realization of everything hit her, and she had to resist the urge to vomit. She couldn't get sick in a dream, could she?

He noticed her distress and felt worse because of it. She was already worried about her plans, and he adds this to mull over. Legolas reached out and grasped her shoulders, pulling her into his arms for a hug. "We will prevail this night," he assured her. Somehow.

The elleth wrapped her arms about his waist in a tight grip. "I'm scared, Legolas. About everything. Please be careful tonight; you've been the best thing to happen to me all year."

Legolas laughed. "The year has just begun, Ithilwen. Do not be scared. I assure you that we will be fine, and you have been the best thing to happen to me this year as well. Our time here will be short, I am afraid. We must assist Rohan's men in preparing for battle."

Morwen had been on edge since that morning when Ithilwen presented the tunic at breakfast. She knew it had to have come from Legolas, there was just no way around it. First a ring, now his shirt, but what next?

She had called Bernard on a whim, asking if he could bring her up to the workshop. The elf had been around shortly, though he was confused by the sudden request. Morwen assured him that everything was fine, but she felt the need to speak to North. Her mind was unsettled, and he had been the closest thing to and adviser that she would have sought counsel with back home.

"I don't know what to think," she told him over steaming mugs of hot chocolate. "Ithilwen's been seeing him a lot more in her dreams, and now she's gotten physical items when she wakes."

North sat back in his chair and studied her. "You wish that there is a way to go home." It wasn't something he could fault her for; he witnessed it in his head elf often, even when said head elf wasn't aware it had been obvious.

"I don't...I can't get my hopes up over this," Morwen shook her head. "It would be too much to hope for to find a way back to middle-earth."

"You miss your husband."

Morwen looked down at her hands. "I do," she admitted. "My heart aches still, and it's been nearly two centuries. The only thing that has kept me going has been my girls. And Bernard," she added with a small smile. "He's been so good to both of them."

North nodded. "He makes a good friend. Good worker too, but family is more important." He crossed his arms over his large stomach. "I think things will work out in the end, Morwen. Don't let your fears keep you from living."

"Are you sure?" she asked tentatively. "Going back to middle-earth has seemed like a dream up to now."

"Because," he smiled at her warmly. "I am Santa Claus. I know these things."

"Hey Tooth? You in?"

"Jack? What a surprise! I wasn't expecting you to drop by!" Tooth flew down from her high shelf and hovered on the ground before him. "What can I do for you?"

Jack shrugged and looked around uneasily. "There's something that's been on my mind lately, and I was hoping I could talk to you about it."

"Of course! Whatever you have to say, I'm here to listen!"

"Alright then." Jack had begun to spin the staff in his hands out of nervousness. "When you guys collect baby teeth, has there ever been any point in time where some were forgotten?"

Tooth looked confused by his question. "Does this have to do with the teeth themselves, or the memories?"

"The memories, like you told me about," he said. "You said that the good memories were contained within the teeth. I was wondering if there were teeth that didn't have memories attached? Is that possible?"

"It's very rare," she admitted. "There have been occasions where an amnesiac child's teeth were collected, but the memories returned over time."

"So there's no way a tooth container hasn't missed any memories?"

"Jack, what aren't you telling me?" Tooth looked at him concerned. He wasn't even making eye contact now.

"I just...There's been something off lately, and I can't place it." When Jack sat on down on the forest floor, she joined him. "When I saw my memories, I thought that was it, but I don't think I've gotten all of them back. That's why I wondered if the teeth could have missed some..."

Tooth placed a hand on his shoulder in comfort, having known all about his passing before he became Jack Frost. "All of your teeth are preserved," she said carefully. "The memories should be contained within. However, given how things...happened...perhaps there is something that is preventing you from recalling all of them."

"What do you mean?"

"I would hazard a guess and say post traumatic stress," she said. "The events that brought you to us could have blocked memories of before. These things typically straighten out over time, but sometimes it takes a trigger to recall them."

"And I'm supposed to find this trigger when I don't know what I'm missing," he grimaced.

Tooth folded her hands in her lap, rubbing her fingers absently. "I know it's hard, Jack. If I knew of any way to bring your lost memories back, I would."

"It's not your fault, Tooth. These things happen."

"I feel bad though. You haven't had it easy."

Jack shrugged. "Nothing's ever easy," he replied. "But thanks for your help. I was worried I'd lost them entirely." Now that he knew the memories were simply hidden from him, Jack felt slightly better. It still did nothing to explain why he had felt so strange around Esther, nor why he felt like should have known her longer than he had.

"Send for the king. Open the gate!"

"Open up the gate!"

Nightfall had long approached the fortress, and for the rattled guards keeping a watch at the outermost edges of the keep, the sight of armored figures cloaked in hoods bearing bows in hand was the least likely thing they expected to see. The gates creaked open, allowing the newcomers passage. They marched in tandem in a rhythmic formation along the stone path. Some of the soldiers who had overheard their king's conversation with Aragorn felt a weight lift from their shoulders at the sight of the battle-ready elves.

Theoden was coming down a set of steps when he first saw the forerunner of the troops take the few steps forward to meet him. The man was dressed in silvery armor that gleamed in the moonlight, draped by a crimson cloak that offset his fair features. The elven commander bowed to the king as he came to a halt at the foot of the steps. "How is this possible?"

The commander rose and spoke eloquently. "I bring word from Elrond of Rivendell. An alliance once existed between Elves and Men. Long ago we fought and died together." He paused briefly, catching sight for the first time of Aragorn, Legolas, and Gimli since they had departed Lothlorien weeks before. Seeing the prince made the marchwarden think of the family he longed to have return. "We come to honor that allegiance."

Aragorn wasted no time in greeting the elf. "Mae govannen, Haldir," he replied, pulling him into a hug that spoke volumes of their situation. Haldir, not expecting the gesture, had to suppress a laugh at the human's manner, and briefly returned the hug. "You are most welcome."

Legolas was more discreet in his greeting, something the marchwarden was more accustomed to. During their greeting, the elven troops turn around on the spot, bringing their bows to touch the ground in a resting position. Haldir turned back to face the king of Rohan. "We are proud to fight alongside Men once more."

Chapter Text

The troops were then divided along the fortress walls. Haldir had sent some with Aragorn to position, while another section was being given direction by Gamling. Legolas and Gimli followed him a ways with the remainder.

"How is she?" Haldir asked, not being able to contain his inquiry any longer.

Legolas smiled, "She is doing well. I spoke to her earlier this day."


"When this war is over, you will not have to worry about the mortal that was courting her."

"Was?" The trio made their way up another set of steps to the higher level. It was a peculiar conversation to be having right before a battle, but Haldir found that he did not care in the slightest.

"After this night, she will no longer be affiliated with the boy," the younger elf said, almost smugly, to which the marchwarden heard the dwarf laugh. "I also spoke to her of what is to come tonight."

"Is the lass scared?" Gimli asked, not having heard what transpired.

"On all accounts, yes," Legolas answered. "I assured her that everything would be fine, and I intend to keep my word."

Haldir clapped him on the shoulder. "See to it. I expect to hear more about your meetings when this is over," he told him before making his way down the line. Legolas and Gimli moved in the opposite direction.

"You sure about that?" Gimli asked, referring to what he had previously told Haldir.

Legolas sighed. "I have to be."

"And what is my resident Moon Moon up to this evening," Esther wondered out loud in her office. A few key taps and the Cherub Byte that was tracking the elleth's outings with the mortal had been logged into, so the guardian was able to watch the events unfold in real time. Her eyes widened slightly when she took in the fancy restaurant through the small camera. "Well aren't we fancy?"

Her surprise by the setting was further exemplified when she had caught sight of Ithilwen herself. The elleth didn't look comfortable in the establishment, and it wasn't hard to see why. A few more clicks of the keyboard and the Cherub Byte rotated the camera to take in Payne's appearance.

Esther sat there at the desk, brows brought together in befuddlement as she studied the two. Something was off, but she couldn't place it immediately. There wasn't any special occasion to warrant the situation, and any romantic holiday had long since passed. Finally, her mind registered what the peculiarity was.

"Oh...shit!" she hissed.

Ithilwen shifted uncomfortably in the plush seat. Out of the corners of her eyes she would catch the occasional curious look in her direction, which normally didn't bother her, but tonight… Tonight Payne had specifically told her that he was taking her out to dinner at a casual restaurant, and that there was no need to "dress for the Oscars". Yet, when he came to get her, he was dressed more formally than she was in his dark blazer and slacks with a lilac button-down shirt. She didn't think much of it until they arrived at the restaurant, an Italian place that was much classier than she expected. Ithilwen felt more out of place than ever, wearing a pair of jeans, a long-sleeved peasant blouse and flats. Payne called it 'hippie wear', but she liked the style.

"I thought you told me not to get dressed up," she mumbled across the table.

Payne looked up from the menu. "I did, but I thought that you would've dressed up more than this," he said, motioning to her state of dress, then to other women in the area. "Look at them, Ithilwen. They aren't dressed like a bunch of hippies."

He then proceeded to point out what made them special that night compared to herself. Ithilwen had to take breaths and count to ten to calm herself. It wasn't the first time that night that he had made her feel self conscious, and she was doing what she believed to be a decent job of keeping it together until he brought up her ears again.

"Shit! Damn!" Notes, books, pens, and other items that were scattered across the desk flew into the air as the guardian scrambled to search for one particular piece of paper. "Not good! This is SO not good!"

Esther realized far too late that something had gone wrong with her plans. Perhaps it was the inexperience with this type of practice, or it could have been the lack of sleep. But no matter which way she cut this cake, the insides were undercooked and runny.

In short, something very unpleasant was about to be uncovered, and she hadn't caught it soon enough to stop it.

When she heard the raised voices coming from her computer, she cringed. "Oh fuck..."

"Excuse me?" Ithilwen's last thread of patience had just snapped, and she was ready to tell him off for good.

"You heard me." Payne said, not looking at her, but at a raven-haired woman sitting by herself at the bar. "Or is it too difficult? I thought those big ears of yours could hear everything. Maybe if you'd get the damned things fixed you could hear me when I tell you something."

"I've had just about enough of this," she hissed, rather loudly, attracting the attention of nearby customers. "I have no intentions of getting corrective surgery, Payne. Perhaps it is you that needs the surgery to repair YOUR hearing."

Payne's attention turned swiftly on her then, eyes narrowing to slits. "Then I will not be seen in public in the company of a freak like you!" he spat. "If you don't change you will remain a freak show Ithilwen! You will grow old and die alone because no one will want to be seen with you!" By now he had risen from his seat, tossing his napkin on the table. "And if by some rare chance that someone actually sleeps with you, your children will be just as freakish looking as you are!" With those harsh, parting words, Payne walked out of the restaurant and out of Ithilwen's life forever.

Esther could only watch in horror as the events played out through the camera of the Cherub Byte. It had happened, and not at all how she had hoped things would go.

"I don't...I don't fucking believe this..." she sunk back into her chair in disbelief as the mortal stormed out of the restaurant. "It wasn't supposed to go this way. Not even close..."

She knew already that she was going to catch hell for this. Cupid would most likely tell her off for not getting clearance with him first, and who knows what would happen then? She was the only one in her division, so he couldn't very well put her on probation without disrupting everything in the process. Esther swallowed the lump in her throat. Perhaps she'd be given more paperwork; that was always a possibility.

"I've gotta pull myself together," she encouraged herself. "I've got a lot of explaining to do." The worst part of the whole situation was that she had unintentionally hurt one of her friends, and she feared that forgiveness for this travesty would no come easy.

The rain was pounding down on the fortress and its inhabitants as hard as the thunder clapped in the sky. Metal clashed against metal. Arrows ripped through the air at untraceable speeds, and all around the body count for both parties continued to grow.

"Is this it? Is this all you can conjure, Saruman?" Theoden just had to utter those words. Had Ithilwen been there, she could have stopped him, having learned in the modern world to never question Murphy's Law. The term would be unfamiliar, but the theory of "anything that can go wrong, will" would be proven more than once that night.

Through the swarm of Uruk-hai came a single sprinter, sporting what appeared to be a boulder-sized bomb against his back with a lit torch, heading towards the small drain in the fortress wall. Those he passed cheered him on.

Aragorn was too far away to do any significant damage, but he shouted to Legolas, "Togo hon dad, Legolas!"

Legolas notched an arrow and shot at the Uruk, setting the arrow into his shoulder, but the beast kept running.

"Dago hon! Dago hon!"

He could hear Aragorn's shouts and prepared to fire again when he felt it. It was a strong wave of anxiety, and not his. Ithilwen. It had to be her. The pain intensified in his heart, and Legolas knew that something was wrong, but he couldn't stop to decipher the possibilities. He fired the second arrow, hitting the other shoulder. Unfortunately, the Uruk expended the last of his energy and threw himself into the drain, lighting the bomb at the same time.

The bomb went off, blowing chunks of the wall, Elves, Humans, and Uruk-hai all over the place. Aragorn was unable to escape the area before the blast, falling to the ground as well. Some Uruks were crushed by the large pieces of the wall that fell, but some continued to push through the mass of water, bodies, and rock to get past the breach. At the causeway, some Uruks were flung from their ascent up the wall, while others carried a large battering ram to bring down the gate.

Theoden's attention was turned away from the explosion to the large slams from the causeway. "Brace the gate!" he ordered.

Ithilwen was still sitting in the restaurant after Payne had made it quite clear that things were over, just when she was about to tell him the very same thing. She however, would have made it more comforting, but after considering the things he said to her, she would've been harsher if she had been given the chance. She heard the murmurs come from the nearby tables. A couple a few feet from her asked her if she was alright, having been given a front-row performance. The waiter had come shortly after Payne's departure, asking if she was ready to order, not knowing what had transpired.

She had to tell the man that she didn't have any money with her, and that she would give up the table to the next customers. The waiter seemed upset to learn of her predicament, but as she told the inquiring couple, she assured him that she would be fine. Ithilwen rose from the table with grace, even though she felt like she had no dignity left to spare, and walked away from the table as if she hadn't been publicly humiliated.

Over near the bar, Ithilwen found a quiet place to make her phone call. When Payne had left, he left her with no way home, and because he insisted that he pay, he made her leave her wallet at home; a move she was quickly regretting. She couldn't call a cab without money, much less without her ID if she needed it. Morwen wasn't at home; she'd said she was working late that night. That only left one option…

The phone rung twice before the voice answered, "Hello?"

"Fiona." Her voice had no emotion to it, and she hoped that the woman wouldn't ask questions.

Luckily for Ithilwen, she didn't. "Tell me where you are. I'll be there in ten."

When Fiona did get to the restaurant, she had stormed through the doors like a tornado looking for the boy that had been the cause of Ithilwen's emotionless call. Not finding him, she found her elven sibling sitting at the far end of the bar, tearing a napkin into pieces. Fiona slowed down in her steps, not wanting to startle her, and took the time to study the elleth. Ithilwen was poised as if she had not been dumped, but it was the dullness in her eyes that scared the woman. She was known to be bright and cheerful, not this.

Ithilwen looked up to see Fiona standing by her side. "You came," she said.

"Yeah," Fiona smiled weakly. "Come on, let's get you home." She looped her arm through Ithilwen's as she was known to do, but this time it was more as a gesture of support for the elleth to lean on as they walked out of the restaurant.

She had to talk to someone. Luckily someone had chosen that moment to drop in unannounced.

"How's it going tonight, Icchy?"

When Esther didn't respond to the despised nickname, Jack frowned. The lights and computer were on and running when he came in the office, but unlike previous times, she didn't leap out to correct him.


"I'm here," she said.

Jack followed the faint voice and walked around to face the chair. Esther was sitting tucked up into the back of it as if she were hiding from someone, but her expression was so dreary that it was frightening to behold. "What happened?" he asked, squatting down to look up into her eyes.

"I messed up, Jack," Esther mumbled. "I tried to fix things, but I made them worse. So much worse..."

When her voice cracked, he saw the beginnings of tears form. Jack had never been able to stand seeing a girl cry; he just didn't know how to handle it. She was trying not to cry, but she failed spectacularly when he held his arms out to hug her. Esther cried against his shoulder as Jack held her, alarmed and confused as to what could have brought this on. He rubbed her back softly, trying to think of something to say to assure her that whatever happened wouldn't be as bad as she thought it would.

Jack had held her for some time before the tears began to subside. From her position against his shoulder, Esther told him every detail of what had happened that night before his arrival and what had led to it. She told him of her part in the scheme of things, and her fears for what was to come from her actions.

"Can't this be seen as a good thing?" he asked, reaching behind him for a tissue from the box on the desk to offer her.

"I...I guess...b-but..." she paused to wipe her eyes and blow her nose. "...I'm gonna b-be in a lot of t-trouble..."

"You have the recordings from those Cherub Bytes, right?" On her nod, Jack continued. "Okay then, you have evidence to provide to Cupid that what you did was justifiable. He can't fault you for looking out for things like this!"

"But he c-can!" Esther protested. "If I had g-gone to him first, I could have gotten help-"

"Look," he said, rubbing her arms, "What happened is past. There's nothing anyone can do about it. We've just got to own up and move on. And Cupid knows you almost as well as you know yourself, Es. He'll understand your reasons."

"You think so?"

Jack smiled. "Yeah, I do. Now, when do you plan to go talk to him?" At her blank look he added, "I'll come with you. For support. And a witness account, if he needs one."

For the first time that night, Esther smiled. How Jack managed to find a glimmer of hope in her stress was beyond her, but she appreciated the talent all the same.

When they got home, Ithilwen sat at the island as she had done earlier that day while Fiona set about making a dinner for her sister. It wasn't four-star cuisine, just simple chicken and dumplings from a pop-top can heated on the stove, but it was a comfort food that Ithilwen enjoyed. Fiona had previously eaten, but still spooned some for herself after serving Ithilwen, and they sat at the island eating in silence.

After dinner, Fiona ushered Ithilwen into the den with a brownie sundae in her hands. Ithilwen made to protest, but didn't feel as if she had the energy to truly argue with Fiona. She already felt drained from earlier, and mentally considered the benefits the sugar rush from the sundae would provide. Her sister followed her shortly with her own bowl and sat with her on the couch, listening to the late night talk show on the flat screen.

Fiona knew not to press Ithilwen on the details of what happened. She wanted to ask, desperately wanted to ask, but knew that it would be fruitless unless the elleth willingly offered. It bothered her that Ithilwen didn't speak much, which meant that things hadn't gone according to plan, and that made her more curious.

Ithilwen must have sensed her anxiety, for she spoke up during one of the commercial breaks. "He said that he wouldn't be seen in public with me anymore," she began. "Called me a freak and said that I would die alone. Kept telling me about how the other women in the restaurant looked better than me, too." Ithilwen laughed emotionlessly. "What's wrong with me, Fiona? To have put up with that for so long?"

"Nothing," Fiona didn't hesitate to answer. "You're a good person who gave an asshole more chances than he deserved. Don't let what he said keep you from doing anything. And you're not a freak. He's the freak that can't accept uniqueness for its value. Too bad he wasn't around when I got there, or I'd-"

"Don't bother," Ithilwen cut her off. "It doesn't matter anymore. Payne's gone. In a way I got rid of him," she added, trying to find the bright side to such an awful evening.

Fiona smiled. "Legolas and your dad will be pleased." She noticed the frown deepen considerably on Ithilwen's face. "What's wrong?"

"I'm scared for him, Fiona." Ithilwen stated. Then she remembered that she hadn't told Fiona about the dream from earlier. "They're in a battle right now," she explained. "Legolas told me that their troops are considerably smaller, and they don't know if reinforcements will reach them in time."

"How many?"

"Ten thousand Uruk-hai ."

"Oh my god." Fiona reached over and grasped Ithilwen's hand, trying to reassure her when she herself was frightened at the potential outcomes. Ithilwen squeezed her friend's hand in return, trying to remain brave, but she couldn't bring herself to go to sleep until late in the morning. Fiona would stay up to fill Morwen in on what occurred after she made sure that Ithilwen was tucked into bed.

"Is there no other way for the women and children to get out of the caves? Is there no other way?" Aragorn was among the many barricading the doors to prevent the Uruk-hai from breaching their last means of defense.

Gamling replied gravely, "There is one passage. It leads into the mountains. But they will not get far the Uruk-Hai are too many."

The sound of the Uruks slamming into the gate once more echoed in the room. Aragorn pressed on, addressing the soldier, "Tell the women and children to make for the mountain pass. And barricade the entrance!"

"So much death. What can Men do against such reckless hate?" Theoden was standing stock still, his voice showing no sign of strength that it once held from earlier. Aragorn whipped around to break the king from his trance.

"Ride out with me. Ride out and meet them."

"For death and glory," Theoden replied in the same monotone.

"For Rohan," the ranger continued. "For your people."

Gimli's voice cut through the noise, catching Aragorn's attention. "The sun is rising." Aragorn looked up to see sunlight filtering in through the window, remembering the words that Gandalf had told him.

"Yes," Theoden said, regaining some of his confidence. "Yes. The horn of Helm Hammerhand shall sound in the Deep on last time."

"Yes!" Gimli agreed, relieved to see the king return to his former self. As the gate continued to splinter by the attack of the battering ram, he took to a stairway to reach the giant horn positioned at the top.

The remaining soldiers in the vicinity sat astride their steeds, weapons at the ready. "Let this be the hour when we draw swords together," Theoden lifted his voice for all to hear. "Fell deeds, awake." The gate broke open a little more. "Now for wrath, now for ruin and a red dawn." The sound of the horn echoed throughout the area as the gate finally gave way. "Forth Eorlingas!" Theoden yelled.

Those atop the horses, including Aragorn and Legolas, rode out with the king to trample and slay the Uruk-hai that were foolish enough to breach the gate. The horses forced their way down the causeway and into the battlefield, ready to lead its riders to an uncertain death if need be.

The battle was just as intense as it was from the beginning. The race of Men and Elves fought with their remaining strength just to live to see the next sunrise; the Uruk-hai only having one goal, to kill everything in their path. It was in the middle of their last stand that Aragorn happened to look up to the eastern hills to catch the glimpse of a pure white horse rise up on it's hind legs. "Gandalf," he uttered.

Gandalf was not alone, it seemed, for the nephew of Theoden appeared beside the wizard. Theoden was next to notice the addition to the battlefield. "Eomer," he spoke in disbelief. He heard the distinct cry of "To the king!" being called out over the growls of the Uruk-hai before he saw the wave of Rohirrim riders come down the landscape. The Uruks at the closest point of impact braced themselves with spears at the ready, but the sunlight that shone down as they looked upon the new arrivals obstructed their view. The horses cleared the row of spears and trampled their holders, breaking into the battlefield to finish off the ones within reach with their swords.

"Stay out of the forest! Keep away from the trees!" Eomer cried out to his men. Those left standing watched in awe and fear alike as the remaining Uruk-hai fled to the forest. Shortly after the last had disappeared, the trees began to groan and move, taking control of the situation. The battle for Helms Deep was over.

Soldiers were stacking the bodies of the Uruk-hai in a pile to be burned. The wounded and slain soldiers were carefully brought inside to be taken care of respectively. Legolas, carrying his bow and looking smug, sauntered over to stand before Gimli, who was sitting atop an Uruk's back smoking his pipe.

"Final count, forty-two." He stated proudly, admiring his bow. He failed to see the marchwarden move up to observe the scene.

Gimli looked at Legolas surprised. "Forty-two? That's not bad for a pointy-eared Elvish princeling. I myself am sitting pretty on forty-three," he crowed, feeling that he had bested the elf at their killing competition. Haldir raised his brow at the exchange, choosing not to comment on the change he was witnessing since their last extended encounter in Lothlorien.

Not to be outdone, Legolas moved at swift speed, notching an arrow and firing it at the Uruk that Gimli was sitting on, hitting the open flesh just under the dwarf's thigh. Said dwarf removed his pipe from his lips and stared hard that the elf in shock.


"He was already dead." Gimli reasoned.

"He was twitching." Legolas shot back.

"He was twitching because he's got my ax embedded in his nervous system!" Gimli roared back, and for added emphasis, jiggled the handle of his axe, causing the corpse beneath him to move involuntarily. That was enough for Haldir, who started to chuckle at the sight of the animated corpse, catching the attention of the bickering companions. "So it appears that the lass' father came out unscathed," Gimli commented, his greeting to the marchwarden.

"Not unscathed, Master Dwarf," he responded dryly. "It will not be this day that you spit upon my grave, son of Gloin," he added with a smirk, knowing that by now the dwarf had retracted his earlier insult. At Legolas' questioning look, he continued. "Minor injuries, save for this slash to my right shoulder blade. The healers have already tended to it."

"Speaking of," Gimli mentioned, with a small gesture towards the Lorien elf, "Shouldn't you be paying a visit to the lass? It might do her good to know that you lasted the night."

"Yes," Haldir replied, not noticing that three more elves were approaching from behind. "I would like to hear the pleasant news of my daughter's dismissal of the mortal's courting practices."

Legolas didn't need to be told twice. He was just as anxious to see Ithilwen again. He had to know if her efforts were fruitful, as well as find out why she had become so anxious earlier in the night. With a brief nod to his companions, he turned and disappeared to seek a short rest.

"Hang about," someone said from behind Haldir. Both he and Gimli turned to see two dark-haired elves flanking a golden blond elf, each sporting armor that was unlike that of the Lothlorien warriors. "What is this we hear about our cousin with a mortal?"

Legolas didn't find it hard to go to sleep after the hellish night he and the others underwent, but he was surprised to find himself walking along the empty battlefield in his dreams. He feared that he would be too tired to dream, though it appeared that his desire to speak to Ithilwen overturned the possibility.

He found her standing in the open area with her back turned to him. She looked so out of place in the landscape wearing the long white gown that seemed to cloak her each time they met. She never understood why that was, as she had told him on one occasion that she wore clothes of a completely different style when she slept. Legolas thought it seemed odd that she seemed statuesque, and felt it best to call out to her before he approached her.

Ithilwen didn't move, save for the slightest turn of her head when he called her name, worrying the elf even more. She didn't speak, either; unusual for her since she liked to talk about the things that occurred that day. He remembered that she was going to terminate the relationship with the mortal boy. Could she be regretting her decision? Legolas hoped not. He reached out and gently touched her bare shoulder, turning her to face him. "Ithilwen?"

When Ithilwen turned and looked up at him, Legolas was taken aback. He had never seen her look so…fragile was the only word that came to mind. Her body was tense, but it was her eyes that frightened him. "What happened?" he asked softly.

It happened in a blur. The next thing that Legolas knew, Ithilwen had thrown her arms about his middle, and her small frame was shaking uncontrollably. Instinctively he wrapped his arms around her, only just then registering that she was crying. No, this wasn't crying, this was sobbing, and it was breaking his heart to hear. Legolas tightened his grip on the elleth and brought the two of them down into a sitting position on the ground. He lifted her up to rest across his lap to keep from dirtying her gown, rubbing circles into her back and muttering anything that he could think of to calm her down.

Ithilwen had moved her arms from around his waist to his shoulders, and she clung to him for all she had. She hated that he was seeing her lose control like this, but she couldn't help it. The dam had broken and everything had bubbled up and over the surface – Payne, Haldir, Legolas, the war – it had built up and built up until her heart could not bear it any longer. She vaguely heard Legolas speak to her, but she wasn't sure of what he said, much less if he even knew. Fiona had stayed up with her that night because she was too scared to go to sleep, only being pushed to her room when it was discovered that she was dozing off during an episode of Fraiser. She was fast asleep when Morwen came home and wouldn't face the motherly wrath in her defense until morning. All night she had kept replaying the things that Payne had said over the course of their time together, coupled with the uncertainty of what Legolas must have been dealing with. She was honestly surprised that she lasted this long before breaking down.

Legolas continued to hold her against him even when her shoulders stopped shaking so fiercely, hearing her sobs turn to sniffles and the occasional hiccup. "Ithilwen," he began finally, scared of setting her tears off again, "What has happened?" He didn't have many occurrences of dealing with crying ellith apart from his sister, but he never recalled her going to pieces like Ithilwen had moments ago.

Ithilwen lifted her head to finally look at Legolas, doing her best to give a watery smile as he brushed away the remaining tears on her cheeks with his thumb. "It's over," she said shakily. "Payne and I are no longer seeing each other."

"I thought that was what you wished," he commented, confused.

She laughed halfheartedly. "Yeah, I did." She sniffled again. "I just didn't get the chance to bring it up." At his confused look, Ithilwen launched into the briefest explanation that she felt that she could give him right then. A lot of what Payne had said was omitted, because she couldn't bear to repeat it out loud. Another part of her could not bring herself to tell him everything because of its content, and after being in such a rough battle, she didn't want to add further stress.

Legolas listened carefully, noticing that she wasn't giving all of the details. He decided not to question her about it for the time being; if whatever he said had caused her that level of upset, he wanted to be in the same world as the boy when he found out. "I am truly sorry, Ithilwen. I wish that I could be there for you more than this; it hurts me to see how upset this has made you."

"It's fine," Ithilwen tried to assure him. "I'm glad that I've got you here. That's all that I can ask for right now."

"Just know that if I happen to see this boy, he will answer to me for the disrespect that he has shown you," Legolas stated with finality.

The elleth perched in his lap smiled more genuinely that time. "I still don't want you to get in trouble. He isn't worth it."

"Ithilwen, I have killed forty three Uruk-hai this night in ways you can't begin to imagine with some. Let me assure you that if I can get my hands on him, his outcome would be nothing more than an 'unfortunate accident'." Legolas grinned wickedly, making Ithilwen laugh in delight. He knew that she was still upset, but he was determined to say or do anything that would return her to the elleth that he had first met in Moria's landscape.

Chapter Text

"Yeah, it's over. No, I didn't see him. He was long gone when I got there." Fiona stretched her aching joints out across the couch. "Yeah, Mom's furious with him, and I think it might be best if you guys don't come around, just by association. For a while anyway; let this storm pass." She craned her neck around the back of the couch to gauge the time. It was far too early in the morning to be having this conversation, and while the friends of the jerk ex weren't at fault, Fiona still felt guilty for talking to them while her sister was upstairs. "You know your friend is an ass, Rick," she told him at last. From the bitter laughter on the other end, he seemed to agree.

Rick had called early the following morning to apologize, having heard and witnessed Payne's tantrum when the boy burst into his apartment. The tale he had been woven was horridly knotted, they both knew, but since Ithilwen wasn't feeling up to talking about it they wouldn't know what happened exactly.

"She's asleep now," Fiona continued. "Yeah, she fell asleep around 3 this morning. Mom came in around 4:30, and she's this close to spitting nails." A pause. "Me? I've had about two hours-" Another pause. "Well excuse me!" she hissed indignantly into the phone. "I couldn't go to sleep in good conscience while my sister was hurting!" She sighed. "You know what, Rick? I think I'm going to turn in for a nap."

Morwen had overheard everything from the kitchen as she put away the clean dishes. She came into the living room just in time to see her other daughter hang up abruptly on the caller, a sour look on her face. "Do I need to add another name to the hitlist?" It was an attempt at humor, but she wasn't certain herself if there was a joke in it. The more she thought about it, the better the idea actually sounded.

"Are all guys idiots, Mom?" Fiona asked from the couch helplessly. "Rick called to see how things were. Payne showed up at his place last night with a bogus story of how Ithilwen verbally assaulted him in the restaurant, and I can't help but wonder if he's beginning to buy into it."

"Likely the 'bros before hoes' mentality."

"Right now I'd rather have the latter. A whole box of them," Fiona replied. When she looked up at her mom and saw the raised brow, she added, "The Hostess cakes, Mom. I don't swing that way."

"Oh I know that," Morwen replied. "I just forgot about the Hostess HoHos. I could have sworn you were more of a DingDong lover, but to each their own..." She smiled for the first time that morning, having made one of her children laugh a little. "Go on upstairs and get some sleep, Fiona. There's nothing pressing that needs to be done today."

Once Fiona had disappeared upstairs, Morwen returned to the kitchen to resume her activities. She hated not being able to do more for her children when they were hurting like this. She was their mother, their protector, and she couldn't find a cure for a bruised heart and damaged emotions. It was like she had failed, even though there was nothing she could have done - legally anyway. Morwen would have loved to get her hands on the boy.

'I wish you were here, Haldir,' she thought, putting away another plate. 'I could use all the help I can get.'

Jack felt the apprehension emanating off of Esther as they walked to the head office. She was still terrified of what was to come, but he assured her that he would be there for her as long as he was allowed. Esther was calmer than she was, which would have been a good sign if it weren't for the shaking of her hands. "You need to relax," he said, reaching for the hand at his side. "You've made mistakes in the past, right?"

"Yes," she swallowed. "But nothing like what happened last night."

"Is it that big of a deal?"

"It...could be." Esther shook her head. "I'm not sure. With matters like this, we're required to follow protocols when it relates to cross-divisional work. I didn't, so I don't know what the consequences will be."

As they approached the large office doors, Jack chanced a glance at the woman beside him. "Look at it this way," he tried for a positive, "this would have eventually happened, right? I mean it wasn't like it wasn't going to be a forever kind of thing." He knocked on the door gently, opening it slightly upon the admission from within. With a hand at Esther's back, he led her before him into Cupid's office.

Unlike his imagination, the office of the head Love Guardian wasn't much different than a high-class business office. Dark cherry-stained wooden furniture was resting on an even darker brown carpet. The walls were lined with bookshelves, filled with tomes of all sizes and the occasional uncommon object. Overall, it was very classy for someone who was stereotyped to be a fat baby in a diaper and sash with wings.

Said guardian was sitting behind the large desk in the room, and Jack was certain he was almost as broad as North. However, where North was shaped around cookies and snacks, this Cupid was the opposite. 'He looks like he'd be built out of brick or something,' Jack thought. It wasn't until the first meeting of the Guardians that he had learned Cupid was not a chubby baby with blond curls but a hulk of a man with dark curls. Jack actually found him to be intimidating until they were introduced, and he learned that Cupid was just as gentle as North could be.

"This is a surprise, I must say," Cupid stated as the pair came up to his desk. "I thought that the northern states were getting another snow day, Jack."

"I made a deal to ease up on the snow for Easter," Jack replied. "Being a guardian now, I have to play nice and all that." He nudged Esther forward slightly. "Actually, we're here because Esther's got something she wants to talk to you about. I'm just here for support."

Cupid's gaze moved from Jack to Esther. "I see," he said. "Does this have anything to do with the project concerning the youngest Misplaced One?" From his tone it was apparent that he knew, or at the very least knew something was amiss.

"It is," Esther nodded, looking down. "There...have been some...complications."

"I see." Cupid then made the smallest of motions to Jack, and if he hadn't been watching Esther's boss so closely, he would have missed it. "Jack, while I appreciate your concern for your friend, I must ask that you wait outside please." His tone was gentle, but the guardian didn't have to pretend to hear the real words he was conveying - I must speak to my officer about confidential matters. Alone.

Esther knew that this would happen, though in the deepest parts of her heart she wished that it wouldn't be the case. Every muscle in her body tensed with the words, even with the reassuring squeeze of the hand that Jack had grasped before he left the office. She desperately wanted to flee the scene with him, but Cupid was already gesturing for her to come sit before his desk. What was it her late mother had told her when she faced high levels of anxiety? Oh right; breath in and out slowly and speak words of comfort to yourself. As she sat in the plush seat, she knew that there were no words she could fathom that would diffuse the rapid beat of her heart.

Cupid regarded her manner very closely as she came to sit down. What he saw in her eyes was the look of a woman being resigned to the gallows when he asked Jack Frost to wait outside. He knew of what happened, of course, but he was confused as to why one of his best workers looked so terrified. Blunders are inevitable in any form of work - he was no stranger to mistakes himself - but Esther looked genuinely frightened over her mistake. Or was it the consequences she feared? 'I don't recall her past life's story,' he realized. 'Is this a product of her past coming to haunt her?'

"You can relax, Esther," Cupid told her gently. "Your position is not in jeopardy."

"I am calm," she mumbled.

"Are you now?" he asked, brow raised. "Because from here it looks as if you have been sentenced to a hanging. There is nothing to fear, child. I know of the situation that you have come to speak to me about."

Esther's eyes widened slightly. "Then am I to be drawn and quartered?" she responded, looking further alarmed when she realized that she had spoken out loud.

Cupid fixed her with a stare. "I'm beginning to think that Skellington is a bad influence on you. No my dear, nothing so gruesome will befall you. What I want you to do is to calm yourself and start from the beginning of the story. Tell me what led you to taking the actions you did."

"A-alright," she swallowed. Cupid didn't sound angry, which was of some comfort. In fact, he seemed rather curious about the ordeal. "Well, it started with the extra work you gave me. I had been going through the material and made notes in the process, when I discovered the elves of middle-earth only have one mate for life. I mean I knew from Morwen that this as the case, but I somehow believed it to be a play on words." Esther had to stop and collect her thoughts as she began to ramble. "She's right; elves only have one partner. Their souls have a heightened awareness that goes beyond what normal humans are capable of. When they give their hearts to another, they do so entirely. The binding rituals that were referenced in the notes you gave me are literal."

"That is interesting to note for future reference," Cupid nodded. "How does this tie in with our present situation?"

"That," Esther winced, "was a terrible miscalculation on my part, sir. I had been observing how the mortal boy interacted with Ithilwen, and despite my better judgment, felt compelled to...move things along." She sighed, folding her hands in her lap to stop them from shaking. "His behavior had become rather impudent in recent weeks, and it was only after I finished going through the file on elven courtships that I knew something had to be done. So I...I wrote a influence the boy's behavior towards Ithilwen in the hopes that she might end the relationship sooner. I had no idea that the spell would do the damage it has; I only meant to ease a burden in her mind!"

Cupid nodded, motioning for her to continue.

"Maybe it was because I had pulled myself too thin with my work, or maybe I hadn't checked the incantation before I invoked it...but the matter is that what took place last night was not the way it was intended! I assure you this, sir!"

"I had a strong feeling that this was the case," Cupid said after a moment of silence. "Still, I would like to view the recordings of the designated Cherub Bytes you have targeted on this project to see the evidence for myself."

"Of course, sir. I will get them to you immediately."

"I am curious...Why did you choose not to inform Heartbreak of your chosen method to separate the mortal from Ithilwen? It is her department, after all."

Esther knew that he'd ask that. "I've asked myself the same question all night," she replied softly. "I know she could have helped diffuse the backlash better than the spell I wrote, but...I'm not sure, to be honest. There was something about the mortal that did not sit well with me in recent days, and I feared for my friend. If he had done something...let's just say that when these elves give their love with body and soul, it also makes them highly vulnerable. The courtship would end one way or another, and his actions had me fearful that she would be left broken. I think that is why I chose to bypass protocol, sir."

The head guardian could only look on as his lower-ranked employee bowed her head to avoid his gaze. He had suspected that she did it out of the goodness of her heart, and such actions usually lead to rash decision making. "Your actions were executed out of loyalty to your friend," he told Esther. "Let me ask you this; if Ithilwen had not been your charge, would you have followed through as you did?"

"Of course!" Her head snapped up as she answered without missing a beat.

"Then the matter is settled," Cupid said simply. He leaned back in his seat as Esther gaped at him. "Your decisions were a matter of the heart, and our heart leads us to do things our minds deem inappropriate sometimes. You cannot be faulted for following instinct."

"But the consequences-"

"Are already in motion," he stated. "Ithilwen has ended the courtship with the mortal. You have worked yourself into a panic over any potential punishments, of which are ill-suited to serve any meaningful purpose." Cupid matched her stare, noting that relief had already begun to take control. "I will not hand down punishment today, Esther. The workload you have presently is enough punishment, as is your guilt for disobeying the rules. I will require a copy of your notes on your charge, as well as the recordings from the Cherub Bytes, and anything of note you found in the information I gave you. You will have the day to collect these things and bring them to me before I leave this evening."

"Yes sir."

"Also, there is one more thing," Cupid looked at her pointedly. "It is your responsibility to inform Ithilwen of your actions last night. You can tell her what you feel comfortable with as far as the project reports, however, the information that I have given you is to remain confidential at this time. Understood?"

Esther nodded vigorously. "Yes sir." It had come as a relief to hear that he wasn't furious, and it lifted a major weight off her shoulders. She still had a lot to explain herself for, and as soon as she collected the required items for Cupid she would make a stop in Burgess.

"Very well, then. You may leave and tell Jack Frost that I did not tear you to shreds." He grinned. "That boy seems to think I am some kind of maniacal demon with a heart of stone."

Ithilwen was still sitting in Legolas' lap even after her tears had subsided. She rubbed her cheeks, embarrassed that she had made such a fool out of herself in front of him. "I'm sorry, Legolas," she sighed, not looking at him. "I didn't mean to do what I did earlier. I was doing so well when I was sitting up with Fiona, but then I go to sleep and seem to go to pieces all over you."

Legolas smiled, even though she wouldn't look at him. He was relieved that she had gotten the outburst out of her system, even if she felt ashamed of her actions. He still rubbed her back in comfort and kept a firm hold of her small frame; he wasn't about to let her move away until she got it out. "It is alright, Ithilwen. It is better to let these things out than to hold them in. Why did you stay awake so late?" he asked, perplexed by her words.

"Oh, that." Ithilwen wasn't sure how to describe her decision to him. She was afraid she'd sound silly, but then she realized that she had previously bawled over him, so any dignity she had left was gone. "Well, after Fiona came and got me, we came home and she fixed me some dinner. Afterwards, we stayed up watching the late night programs in the den. Fiona kept telling me that I ought to go to sleep every couple of hours, but... I couldn't. I didn't want to go to sleep and not dream. I was scared that if I did, you wouldn't be there." She took the risk and glanced at Legolas to see him staring intently at her. "I know, I know! It's stupid! But I've gotten so used to meeting up with you in these dreams that to not scares me, considering what you were going through tonight."

"You were worried about me?" Ithilwen turned back to look at the elf, noting that his surprised tone of voice did not match the smirk he was currently bearing.

She smacked his shoulder lightly. "Of course I was!" she blurted out rather loudly. "I always worry about my friends!" Ithilwen's voice returned to its normal volume as she continued. "So really, are you all okay?"

Legolas' smirk moved into a small smile, glad to see that she was beginning to return to normal. "Yes, we are all well. I will be sure to tell the others that you expressed concern over their wellbeing." He paused, debating on whether to tell her his next piece of information or not. "Ithilwen, do you recall me mentioning that the Rohirrim were outnumbered at Helms Deep?"

Ithilwen nodded. "How bad was it?"

"Not as bad as you might think. You see, at the last minute, we had some assistance…" Legolas then recounted the events of his night to her, from the moment he woke to just before he went to rest. He left out a lot of the visual descriptions, but even a watered-down version had painted a rough image in her mind. It was the things that he didn't say that were filled with exaggerated scenarios, but none of that mattered when she was told of who exactly came to provide extra defense.

"Ada was at Helms Deep?!" Ithilwen's voice squeaked. "How is he? Is he alright? Why was he there?"

Legolas delved into the reasoning that Elrond, Celeborn, and Galadriel came to in sending an army of elves to assist the men of Rohan. It took some quick history lessons to explain to the elleth why they weren't there in the first place, from which she commented that it was a stupid reason to wait so long. He was pleased to see that she had such an open mind about things, but he wasn't sure if Haldir would be thrilled to find this out. Unlike his elven friend, the daughter was more than excited to be able to meet Gimli. "He suffered a small injury on his back, but he is doing well," he supplied. Legolas didn't want to scare her by telling her that the 'small injury' from the Uruk-hai broadsword had cut the length of his ribcage. It wasn't a deep cut, thanks in part to the now useless armor, but the mangled metal had served its purpose in saving its master's life.

Ithilwen breathed a sigh of relief. "That's good. Nana will be pleased to hear this as well."

"How is she?" Legolas asked.

"She's doing well. Better since she first learned about the dreams when you went to Lothlorien. She misses Ada and home terribly, and she's recently expressed interest in meeting you."

Legolas didn't bother to ask why. He had a feeling that from Ithilwen's description of him to Morwen, she already knew that he was a prince of Mirkwood, whereas Ithilwen did not. "And Fiona?" he asked.

"Busy," the elleth laughed. "Very busy. She's been doing more local work lately, but she's going to be on the other side of the country in a few weeks for a big event." Ithilwen had once tried to explain the concept of photography to Legolas, but she wasn't sure if he understood it half as well as he told her. Realizing early on how advanced the mortal world she was in was compared to middle-earth made for some simplified explanations that turned out not to be so simple at all. After all, showing how the gadgets worked would be more fun than explaining the process.

"What about yourself?"


"Yes," Legolas pressed. "What all have you been doing during your days?" He was curious, because she never mentioned having an occupation like Fiona, even though hers wasn't a necessity. She had brought up many projects in conversation with him, and he hoped that boy had not deterred her from finishing any of them.

Ithilwen looked thoughtful, then down at herself, realizing that she was still sitting in his lap. A blush of embarrassment rose to her cheeks and she ducked her head, moving to slide out of his lap to sit beside him. Legolas moved his arms to allow her movement, knowing that she was not in any danger of a breakdown again. Once she was situated and felt that she could look up again, Ithilwen murmured an apology and answered his question. "I'm still working on my Sweet Pea costume. Gene's Uncle Jerry is making the pauldrons for me. He used to do some metalwork before he got his ranch in the shape its in, and he looks for any excuse to get his hands dirty. I've also got to put in an order for some boning for the corset-cloak before I can finish it. What I have is too weak for it to fit right." She tucked a strand of hair behind her pointed ear and looked back at him. "I guess the bright side is that I've got more time now to finish it!"

Legolas smiled at her attempt at humor, knowing full well that she was only trying to reassure him. 'You do not get over something like that when your emotions tear you up that severely. Ithilwen was prepared to end the relationship, so whatever Payne had said to her that night was bad for her to sound so broken.' "I am sorry, Ithilwen. I am relieved that you are no longer courting this boy, but I wish that it would have come to an end in a more civil manner." Legolas wanted to add that he would thoroughly enjoy stringing the mortal up by his short hairs and using him as a target, but refrained.

She shrugged, trying to show that she was accepting what had happened. "Thanks, Legolas. I wish it had too, but it's over and done with now."

"How do you feel about that?"

"Glad, in a way. Drained physically and emotionally in the other. Is it even possible to feel drained in a dream?"

He chuckled. "I feel physically exhausted. Does that tell you how rough the battle was tonight, for an elf to be tired?"

Ithilwen laughed. "It does!"

As the dream progressed, the conversations drifted to different things. Legolas told Ithilwen about the killing contest he had going with Gimli. He even stated rather smugly that he was tied with Gimli for 43 kills, even though Gimli declared that the elf's last one was already dead by his axe. Ithilwen got a good laugh at that, especially when he added that the shaking of the axe caused the Uruk's leg to twitch.

Ithilwen told him about Burgess and the Guardians of Childhood. Legolas seemed intrigued by the concept of the guardians and other spirits that worked in the realm, but one in particular person stood out in his mind. "This…Ber-nard," he sounded the name out slowly, "he is an elf as well?"

"Uh huh," she nodded. "He's the elf that assists North at his factory along with the yetis. ..What's that strange look for?"

"Nothing," Legolas said quickly. "I just assumed that you and Lady Morwen were the only elves in that realm, based on what you had told me before."

"We're the only two elves from middle-earth," she corrected him. "Bernard is a Christmas elf, a whole other type with different abilities. He's essentially a guardian, in my opinion. He's been working for the children of the world for far longer that Nana and I have been there."

The next question he asked caught her by surprise. "Has he ever courted you?"

Once she quit coughing from shock, she started to laugh, confusing him. "Bernard? No, heavens no! He's like a brother to me. Why do you ask?"

Ithilwen noticed that Legolas looked indifferent to her question and couldn't figure out why. "Merely curiosity," he replied. "Will you be able to say goodbye to them when the time comes?" He sounded concerned, because the way she spoke of these people, it wasn't hard to see that they had become an odd collective of family-friends. Leaving would mean that she would return to her true home, but she would be leaving so many behind.

"It's crossed my mind more than once, believe me," she said. "We all knew long ago that Nana's and my place was not in that world and have accepted that. It won't be easy to say goodbye, and I almost dread it, but I will be coming home at last. I know they'll be alright without Nana or I there, even if it does hurt at first." Her voice sounded strong when she spoke, but her eyes showed the tiredness of the earlier night's events coupled with the thoughts of leaving.

Legolas put an arm around her shoulders, drawing her small frame against his in a half-hug. "Will you do me a favor when you wake, Ithilwen?" She looked up at him questioningly. "Promise me that when you wake, that you will not linger in sadness over what has happened. That mortal is not worth the emotional stress that you have gone through, and to succumb would give him the satisfaction that he has hurt you. Do something for you, something you will enjoy."

Ithilwen smiled. "I can do that."

"Good. Because I will know if you don't," he emphasized with a tap to his breastbone, just above his heart.

Chapter Text

"There was no lie in Pippin's eyes. A fool, but an honest fool he remains. He told Sauron nothing of Frodo and the Ring."

A small collective had gathered in the Golden Hall in the early hours of the morning after the drama that had recently unfolded with the Halfling and the palantir. Theoden was off to one side, feet from the space that Gandalf was currently pacing. Aragorn, Legolas, and Gimli stood to the other side, joined by Haldir, Glorfindel, and the Peredhil twins. Merry and Pippin were not far away; Pippin looking more ashamed. No one looked pleased at the news regardless; the first decent night of rest since the battle of the Hornburg for many of them had been cut short.

"We've been strangely fortunate. Pippin saw in the palantír a glimpse of the enemy's plan. Sauron moves to strike the city of Minas Tirith. His defeat at Helm's Deep showed our enemy one thing. He knows the Heir of Elendil has come forth. Men are not as weak as he supposed. There is courage still, strength perhaps to challenge him. Sauron fears this." Gandalf looked towards the king. "He will not risk the peoples of Middle-earth uniting under one banner. He will raze Minas Tirith to the ground before he sees a king return to the throne of Men. If the beacons of Gondor are lit, Rohan must be ready for war."

Theoden did not seem as enthusiastic as Gandalf about the plan, and saw fit to say so. "Tell me; why should we ride to the aid of those who did not come to ours? What do we owe Gondor?"

"I will go," Aragorn stated. The others around him had made to follow in his stead until Gandalf put a stop to it.


The ranger was still persistent. "They must be warned!"

"They will be." The wizard took a step forward to lower his voice as he spoke quietly to Aragorn. "You must come to Minas Tirith by another road. Follow the river. Look to the black ships." As if he had not just dropped a mysterious clue for the ranger to figure out, he turned to face the rest in the hall. "Understand this: Things are now in motion that cannot be undone. I ride for Minas Tirith. And I won't be going alone," Gandalf finished, his gaze moving to the more naïve of the two hobbits.

The King of Rohan said nothing on the matter of the wizard's words. Instead, he scanned the room and was finally aware of the additional elves that occupied the space. He did not find their presence a bother, but not having many dealings with elves in recent times left him much to learn. His people were perplexed by the fairer creatures, and the level of openly staring would vary from person to person.

The one that traveled with Aragorn remained faithful to his comrade even in the darkest moments of that night. The other blond elf bearing the crimson cloak that had led the elven troops to the Hornburg must have been a commanding officer, he theorized. The elf spoke and carried himself as a leader in conversation and battle. The taller elf at his side with the golden hair looked both very old and very young, if it were possible. His armor was very different from the others around him; did he come from another elven realm, or was his rank that different? The other two remaining elves appeared so similar to each other that it was hard to tell them apart. Theoden could see that they were of nobility, but he could not help but notice that they also held a childish air about them as if they wished to make light of the situation to uplift the spirits of the rest of the room. Theoden found the lot of elves gathered in the room rather peculiar.

"What direction does Lord Elrond give your soldiers?" Theoden asked the marchwarden. His brain worked to recall that Aragorn had addressed him as Haldir in the rush of battle.

A commanding stare met the king's eyes. "For the time being, we are to remain in your stead. Our wounded are being escorted back to our lands. We offer our services to you and your people, your majesty."

One of the dark-haired ellyn leaned slightly towards the golden blond warrior. "I thought you were the captain?" he teased, a smile tugging at his lips when the elf spoke in a dialect of elvish that had the other ellyn chuckling.

Theoden wasn't certain, but it appeared that the golden blond elf might have been a captain of the guard, wherever he hailed from. He suspected that the two identical elves were relative, and given the tick in the taller elf's jaw, the teasing was not a new thing.

Later in the morning, after Gandalf and Pippin made their journey to Minas Tirith, Haldir had once again cornered Legolas in the Golden Hall. From the journey back to Edoras and the detour the select few had taken with the king to Isenguard, he had not had the opportunity to pin Legolas down and pump him for information. The conversation that was to occur was not one that Legolas was looking forward to, but because of his manipulative friends, he had no place to run to. So it was that Legolas found himself wedged between Elladan and Elrohir, who were clueless to the situation but volunteered just for the entertainment of watching the prince squirm.

"How is she?" Haldir began. "Did my daughter end the relationship with that mortal boy?"

"What is going on?" Elladan asked.

"Since we are playing bookends for the prince, we would like to be caught up in this tale," Elrohir added.

Haldir sighed, knowing that his nephews were right. "Since the beginning of the year, Legolas has been in contact with Ithilwen through dreams. She and your aunt have been in a modernized world far beyond our scope since their disappearance, which we believe to have been the result of a miscalculation on the late Saruman. Now tell me Legolas," he turned his attention once more to the matter at hand, "How is Ithilwen?"

"She… She is better," Legolas stated. He knew it was bound to come up but he really wished that he could avoid it. "The relationship has come to an end, just…not in the way that it was expected."

"How do you mean?" Haldir asked. Glorfindel, Gimli and Aragorn had come to join the elves at the table, eager to learn the news of the young elleth. He watched as the younger elf's face changed from apologetic to lethal, unsure of where the conversation was about to go.

"That boy," Legolas nearly hissed, catching the twins by surprise, "said something truly hurtful to Ithilwen as he blatantly told her that things had come to an end between them. She would not tell me what it was, but the way she had reacted was all that I needed to see to know that his words had hurt her. Never have I seen an elleth fall apart as Ithilwen did-"

"What happened?" the marchwarden demanded, perhaps a little louder than necessary, catching the attention of a few Rohirrim standing about the room. The idea that some mortal had hurt his daughter was inexcusable, and he was beginning to see red.

"I held her and did my best to comfort her as she let it out." Legolas responded, wisely choosing to leave out that he had gathered her in his lap. Judging by the murderous look Haldir was giving the wooden table, he knew he didn't want to be on the receiving end. "In time she calmed, and we began to talk of other things. I told her that you came into the battle, and that you received an injury but that you were doing well regardless."

"How come you didn't tell our cousin that we were there?" Elladan asked indignantly.

"I suppose the information that I followed Haldir as well is insignificant," Glorfindel feigned hurt.

"Our cousin probably does not remember you!" Elrohir retorted. "She was a mere babe when she was taken!"

"I am well aware of the facts. That does not make it any less displeasing to not be acknowledged-"

"Perhaps it was because there was not time?" Aragorn provided. The elf across the table made an uncharacteristic face in return while Glorfindel simply crossed his arms.

Haldir refrained from rolling his eyes and turned them back to Legolas. "She is doing better, then?" His voice had lost its venom once he had the opportunity to think clearly.

Legolas nodded. "She is. I told her that she should focus on herself during the day because she had been putting her work aside for the mortal's attempts at courting her. Ithilwen seemed more happy when we parted."

"Good. I thank you, Legolas. You don't know what it means to me to finally know about the goings on of my daughter. Did Ithilwen say anything about her mother?"

"She did. Lady Morwen is ecstatic to know that the connection between your daughter and myself exists. Ithilwen mentioned that she is keeping busy with her work, but that she always thinks of you. It seems that her spirits have been uplifted since she first learned about Ithilwen's ability."

Haldir smiled, hearing that news. The table fell to silence for a short time as everyone mulled over the new information. A gruff clearing of the throat brought everyone's attention to the dwarf who was sitting up straighter, stoking his beard thoughtfully.

"So which of ye lads will it be that gets their hands on this boy if ye were to see him?"

The malicious grin that made its way onto Legolas' face made the Peredhil twins almost scoot away on the wooden bench. They still had a lot of catching up to do, if that dark look was anything to go by.

"You're looking especially cheerful today," Fiona remarked, seeing her elven friend come into the dining room. Morwen was sitting at the table with Esther and Toothiana as Fiona was preparing a midday meal. After the previous night and the late turn-in, it was decided to let Ithilwen sleep in, thinking the extra hours would do her some good. "From the looks of it, that sleep paid off," she winked knowingly.

Toothiana looked up at the elleth. "Morwen told me about what happened to you last night. I am so sorry, Ithilwen. I wish I could have done something. Maybe we could get Pitch to torment him for a while."

Esther inwardly cringed at Tooth's words. She had tried to do something, and it backfired like an old car being cranked after months of disuse. She had been on her way to Burgess when she was intercepted by Toothiana, who was finishing a run. When Esther told her where she was headed, Toothiana decided to come along as well. The blond tried not to be irritated by the addition, but she had to get Ithilwen by herself to talk. She didn't want to share her blunder with the elleth in front of everyone, even though they would find out in time.

Ithilwen slid into the chair beside Toothiana, accepting the plate that Fiona placed before her with thanks. "I wouldn't bother with it, Tooth," she said. "Pitch has told me that he's been having fun with the creepy pasta stories that are going up online. It's giving him great ammunition for the teenagers."

Tooth failed to suppress a giggle, having been a former victim to one of the pasta-games. "Sandy has been working overtime, though, going behind him and cleaning up the mess. I think he's enjoying it sometimes."

"Anyway, I'm pretty sure there's someone scarier than Pitch that Payne would be afraid of," Fiona said with a secretive smile aimed at Ithilwen.

"What does she mean, Ithilwen?" Tooth looked back and forth between the two. "She's been saying things like that since I've arrived, but she won't tell me anything."

"I wanted to wait until Ithilwen woke up so that if I got any of my facts wrong, she could correct me." Fiona pointed out. She took a seat across from Ithilwen and made herself comfortable before she started her explanation to the guardian. "Our Ithilwen here has been visiting a man in her dreams these past three months."

"Really?" Toothiana looked intrigued, turning to the elleth in question.

Ithilwen didn't look up from her sandwich as she corrected Fiona. "Legolas is an elf, not a man-"

"And a handsome one at that!" her friend interrupted, producing the sketchbook that Ithilwen had used to record her first visions of him. She had bookmarked the page and passed it across the table to the fairy as she continued. "It turns out that he also knows her father, and they're on a journey to destroy a ring."

"A ring?" Toothiana asked.

Morwen spoke up, having more knowledge of the subject than the two younger women. "This ring has the power to control the entire middle-earth. It is full of malice and dark energy, and those easily led are drawn to its power. They path that they're taking is a rough one; the last I heard the fellowship was broken and one member had fallen in battle."

"Speaking of battles," Fiona brought up, "How is he? Legolas and the others?"

"Exhausted, but otherwise fine." Ithilwen answered. "The battle at Helms Deep was rough; Legolas told me that it stretched into the early morning. Gandalf arrived with the king's nephew and their riders stormed the gulley and drove them into Fangorn Forest. He said it was both frightening and fascinating to see the Ents finish the job." Morwen was describing the race of the Ents to Toothiana when Ithilwen remembered what else she needed to say. When her mother finished speaking, she said, "Ada was sent with a troop to Helms Deep by the request of Uncle Elrond."

Morwen seemed to still at these words, afraid of the news that was to follow. "Oh? Did Legolas elaborate?"

"Of course," her daughter replied. The voice was not that of grief, so it couldn't have been bad, but still… "Other than a small cut on his shoulder blade, Ada is doing just fine. He says that he misses you greatly and longs for the day that he can come here."

Morwen smiled. "Good. I haven't seen him in so long that I may tackle him to the ground!"

The other women at the table laughed at the image. Once under control again, Fiona couldn't resist the urge to pry. "How did Legolas take the news when you told him that you broke up with Payne?"

Ithilwen pulled a face of disgust. "Don't you mean the other way round? And it's hard to say. When I woke in the dream world the emotional dam broke and I went to pieces right in front of him. He did say that he wished things had gone differently."

'My thoughts exactly,' Esther thought.

"I get the feeling that this Legolas sounds like the type to make a person disappear that had wronged you," Toothiana commented.

"Exactly!" Fiona smacked the table in earnest. "I've been trying to tell this girl that he sounds uber-protective of her, but she doesn't believe me!"

"That's because we're just friends!" Ithilwen retorted. "You're making a mountain out of a mole hill!"

"Easy now girls," Morwen calmed the table. "Let's not tease Ithilwen about her friend. And Ithilwen?"


"A river in Egypt, sweety."

Ithilwen groaned, her head bumping the table in defeat. Ever since she had shown Fiona her drawing, her sister had been goading her about how handsome the ellon was. Now she kept asking why Ithilwen didn't "make a move", and since Payne was out of her life, it would only get worse. Why was it so hard to believe that an ellon and an elleth could be friends, with no attachments romantically? 'Besides,' she thought, rubbing her forehead delicately, 'it would just be weird. We're not even in the same world!'

Toothiana had gone back on her rounds along the east coast a little while later, and when Fiona and Morwen moved elsewhere in the house to attend to their agendas, Esther knew she had to move. Ithilwen was alone for once, and it was the opportunity she needed.

"Can I talk to you for a minute?" she asked. "Somewhere alone?"

Ithilwen didn't seem to notice the hesitance in her friend's voice, but she nodded and led her outside to sit on the front porch. "Something on your mind?"

"Actually, yeah. It's a big thing, and I need to get it off my chest..." Esther looked out across the yard, hoping to find some object to focus on, anything but what unknown expression would cross the elleth's face. "You know that my work leads me to taking on many projects at once, right?"

"Sure. I don't know how you keep them all straight though."

"Well, organization's key, but...sometimes there are mistakes. Typically it's nothing major, like a set of notes being filed wrong, but there are times it can be a bigger mess that can't be stopped. Like a large rock rolling down a steep hill. It doesn't happen often, but when it does it leaves an impression."

Ithilwen folded her legs up in the chair and watched the guardian's expression. Whatever happened in Esther's work must have been bad, because she looked ready to cry. "Did you get in trouble?"

Esther looked at her in surprise. "What? Oh, I got off easier than I thought I would, actually."

"Then what's the problem? You made a mistake. It was acknowledged, and now you can move past it."

"I can't move past it until I ask the person I hurt for forgiveness," Esther said, frowning. "I'm not sure if what I did can be forgiven though."

"I bet if you just tell them right out what happened, they'll understand," Ithilwen told her.

"Ithilwen," Esther pressed her lips together into a thin line. "It was you that I hurt."

The elleth looked confused, then looked all over herself to check for damages. "I'm fine," she reassured the young woman. "Really, no bruises or anything-"

"That's not what I mean," Esther cut her off. "I was the one that caused Payne to break up with you." There, she said it.

"I'm pretty sure Payne did all that himself."

Esther shook her head. "No, you misunderstand Ithilwen. Not too long ago I created a spell that would influence Payne's behavior to become so abhorrent that you would get the courage to call it quits. But I've had so much else going on that the worked too well and in all the wrong ways. That was why his behavior last night was so bad. It was my fault."

Ithilwen could only stare on at the guardian as she came clean. She knew the guardian was capable of magic, but she had been told once that it was reserved for special cases because it was unstable. She couldn't figure out why Esther would make the decision to use it, unless she was experimenting with stabilizing it? Was that it? Was she an experimental study?

Watching Ithilwen's expression go from startled to confused to concern bothered Esther greatly. She hadn't said anything, but her silent reactions were enough to tell her that her friend was pissed. "I know you're mad, and you have every right to be," she said, turning to face the elleth fully. "I am so sorry, Ithilwen. It was never my intention for what happened to happen in the first place!"

"Wait...mad? You think I'm mad?" Now Ithilwen was back to confused.

"Aren't you? I broke up your relationship-!"

"A relationship that was going to end soon enough," Ithilwen reminded her. "A relationship that had also progressed into him complaining about my appearance, my interests, and the lack of sex to be had." She ticked off each point with her fingers. "Really, it was going to end soon, Esther."

Esther could only look on in disbelief. "You're really not mad?"

"Not at you!" she laughed. "Him, yes, and for many reasons. You were only trying to help, and you did, believe me. I mean yeah the heads up would have been nice, but that's irrelevant now."

"Cupid doesn't want us to disclose our current work to those directly involved." Especially if they were friends with said works. Things would have just become awkward.

Ithilwen nodded. "I get that. So are you feeling better now that you told me?"

"Actually I feel sick over it," Esther murmured.

"Well don't be," she nudged. "What's done is done. Payne's gone. I'm not mad at you, and there's nothing to forgive. You were just doing your job, that's all."

Esther sighed. "I would have if I had gone to Heartbreak in the first place. I sort of...bypassed protocol to work this spell."

Ithilwen whistled low. "And Cupid let it slide that easily?"

"I know, I was surprised too. I think it's because you're not from this world that it was let go. Your culture's restrictions are probably what he was considering when he took the situation into account." Esther had to be careful, lest she let it slip that she had files on her home's history; something she absolutely couldn't reveal. "Even if I hadn't broken a rule, my magic in that area is still pretty weak," she admitted.

"So does that make me the pancake?"

"The what?!"

"The pancake," Ithilwen grinned at her. "You never heard the saying that the first pancake is always the goofy one? It's either not got enough batter, too much batter, it's oddly shaped, burnt, or not totally done?"

Esther was beginning to wonder about the elleth she was sitting next to. "You're serious."

"Yeah actually. So was I too gooey? I know I'm too pale to be burnt, and I jiggle already-" To prove it, Ithilwen half-jumped in her seat to prove that her curves jiggled.

"How does Morwen put up with you?" Esther muttered lowly, burying her face in her hands.

"Kinslaying's a no-no, and I have to get my jollies somehow. You know cause in this world elves are supposed to be jolly little creatures."

The guardian looked back up and over the elleth. "Don't take this the wrong way, but there ain't nothing little about you, Ithilwen."

"Hundred percent all me though," she replied. "And my goofiness did some good, it seems. You sound like you're in better spirits." Ithilwen leaned over and hugged Esther with one arm. "Really, it's okay. I've faced enough upsets in this world that I'm trying to find the humor in things. You know...look on the bright side of life..."

"Thank you, Ithilwen," Esther smiled once more, but frowned slightly moments later. "Did you just quote Monty Python?"

"If I went 'round sayin' I was Emperor, just because some moistened bint lobbed a scimitar at me, they'd put me away-"

"You're ridiculous, Ithilwen-"


"My god in heaven-"

"Every time I try to talk to someone it's 'sorry this' and 'forgive me that'and 'I'm not worthy'... "

Esther wasn't sure which was more ridiculous, the off-the-wall quotes or Ithilwen's gestures as she said them. 'Still,' she thought, watching her friend keep going, 'she took the news a lot better than I ever expected to hope.' Having been forgiven so easily by her charge had taken a considerable amount of stress off her shoulders, and Esther vowed to herself that she would make up for this blunder. There was a pile of information in her office that she hoped would be useful for that.

Chapter Text

The sun was out fully, shining across the landscape as Gandalf and Pippin rode on Shadowfax at breakneck speed over the plains.

"We've just passed into the realm of Gondor," the wizard stated for the halfling's benefit as they came atop a hill to see the bleached stones of Minas Tirith in the distance. "Minas Tirith. City of kings."

Once within the city's borders, the sounds of Shadowfax's hooves clacking against the stone echoed up the many levels they crossed. Gandalf spoke above the noise to alert the pedestrians to part ways, though it was unnecessary. It wouldn't have been difficult to discern the sound of a horse galloping up the city streets.

It was in the courtyard that Gandalf helped Pippin down from the horse. His stride was long, making it difficult for the hobbit to keep a steady pace, especially when he noticed the large white tree resting in the middle of the area. "It's the tree. Gandalf. Gandalf!" Seeing the actual marker of his visions in the palantir only made Pippin's anxiety rise.

"Yes, the White Tree of Gondor. The tree of the king." Gandalf did not turn to acknowledge said tree, having seen it many times before. "Lord Denethor, however, is not king. He is a steward only, a caretaker of the throne."

At the entrance of the hall, the wizard paused, considering who was with him and the possibilities that could occur. "Now listen carefully. Lord Denethor is Boromir's father. To give him news of his beloved son's death would be most unwise." He paused again. "And do not mention Frodo or the Ring." Another pause. "And say nothing of Aragorn either." Finally, "In fact, it's better if you don't speak at all, Peregrin Took." His tone held a hint of amusement and tiredness from the journey. It's not that he intended to insult the hobbit; Gandalf knew that he seemed to lack timing at the worst occasions and saw fit to set some ground rules before they entered.

The doors parted at last, and the two slowly stepped through. The room was very bright and open. It would have been inviting if not for the slouched posture of a man dressed in dark robes sitting atop a dark chair at the end of the hall.

Gandalf chose to speak forth before they reached the man to alert him of their presence. Best to start buttering him up before he gets to the matters at hand. "Hail Denethor, son of Ecthelion, lord and steward of Gondor. I come with tidings in this dark hour and with counsel."

When Denethor looked up, it was not the look of welcome that one would have expected. Instead, the aged and gray face of the man showed grief and confusion, with possibly a hint of bitterness. "Perhaps you come to explain this." He held up the severed horn that Boromir carried. Gandalf looked surprised, but Pippin understood. He vividly remembered watching the man from this city take repeated arrows to the chest and continue to fight to protect Merry and himself. "Perhaps you come to tell me why my son is dead."

"How you holding up, shortstack?"

Ithilwen wrinkled her nose, even though the speaker on the other end couldn't see. "I'm nearly as tall as you, Gene."

"Nearly." The voice emphasized. "So how are you?"

"I'm...okay I guess. What's there to be upset about? It was going to end sooner or later anyway."

After having talked about it - to a degree - with Legolas, and then learning of Esther's part in the whole thing, Ithilwen found that she didn't care much about the loss of a relationship. She wanted to end things, and now they were. However it seemed that everyone else was walking on eggshells around her on the topic, even her own mother! Why was it so hard to grasp that she was fine?

Ithilwen hadn't been listening too closely to Gene's ramblings about girls and their weird coping mechanisms, at least not until she heard him mention Legolas. "...What'd you just say?"

"I said that Fiona was talking to Will about that elf soldier you've been seeing," Gene told her. "Seems like you're doing just fine to me!"

"Elf sold-? He's a warrior, Gene. And he's my friend, so I don't know what you're talking about."

"Did he not give you a ring?"

"Friends can give friends gifts," she replied, not realizing that she was reaching for the chain around her neck at its mention.

"Fi told me that it looked really old," Gene continued. "like it was a family heirloom type ring."

"Legolas told me his mother told him to give it to who he felt deserved it." 'Though I still don't see how I qualify...'

"Honey, you cannot be that dumb. In fact, I know you're not. I've watched you fly though Bubblewitch levels without items. He gave you his mother's ring, Ithilwen! Friends don't do that!"

"Well apparently elves do!" she shot back. "His mother told him to take the ring - that doesn't imply that it was hers!"

"You say friends, I say friends with benefits."


"I gotta go, sweetie! Will's here. Good to hear you're doing better - talk soon!"

Ithilwen wanted to sling her phone across the room in frustration. She loved her friends, she really did, but damn if they didn't drive her crazy! Legolas was her friend. There was no way he would have given her the ring if he had an ulterior motive, would he? She looked down at the piece of jewelry and watched the light reflect off the green stone. It was pretty, and Fiona was right in that it looked old...but they were elves, so of course it would be old! What would be the point in owning a piece of jewelry if it weren't as resilient as the wearer?

She snorted lightly, tucking the chain back under her shirt collar. Just because Fiona and Gene were going shipper-bananaballs because she had an ellon for a friend did not mean that they were anything more.

"The beacons of Minas Tirith! The beacons are lit! Gondor calls for aid!" Aragorn was out of breath as he came bursting through the doors of the Golden Hall.

Theoden looked up from the map spread across the table he was leaning over at the exclamation. Everyone in the room was now focused on the response from their king. Eowyn had jogged up to Eomer's side at the sound of the noise in hopes of catching her uncle's response. He didn't respond at first, but calmly proclaimed, "And Rohan will answer!"

Shortly thereafter, Theoden came striding out of the Golden Hall in his armor, throwing orders left and right to his nearest men. "Muster the Rohirrim! Assemble the Men at Dunharrow. As many Men as can be found. You have two days. On the third, we ride for Gondor and war. Gamling!"

"My lord." Gamling was at his side nearly an instant later.

"Make haste across the Riddermark. Summon every able-bodied man to Dunharrow."

"I will."

Meanwhile, down at the base of the Golden Hall, the few ready to ride out were finishing prepping their horses. Aragorn took notice of Eowyn leading her horse out to join those prepared.

"Will you ride with us?" he asked.

"Just to the encampment." She answered calmly. "It's tradition for the Women of the Court to farewell the men."

Aragorn lifted the saddle blanket of her horse up to reveal the concealed sword. The shieldmaiden snatched it back down, hiding the sword again, giving him a slightly dirty look that said 'Don't you dare tell'.

"The men have found their captain. They will follow you into battle, even to death. You have given us hope." She turned away, leaving him to think over her words.

Back at the top of the stairs, Merry kneeled before Theoden with his sword. "Excuse me. I have a sword. Please accept it. I offer you my service, Théoden King."

Theoden smiled slightly, brining the hobbit back to his feet. "And gladly I accept it. You shall be Meriadoc, esquire of Rohan." Merry smiled with pride as he sped off down the steps to prepare to leave with the others.

Of the few actually ready to depart were the small collection of elves and one dwarf. One dwarf that was already beginning to gripe.

"Horse-master. I wish I could muster a legion of Dwarves, fully armed and filthy."

Legolas pursed his lips and refrained from making a smart comment. There would be plenty more opportunities in the future. "Your kinsmen may have no need to ride to war. I fear war already marches on their own lands." He looked to his side to see Haldir observing the Men of Rohan. "What is the real reason that Lord Elrond asked for your troops to stay?"

Haldir looked back to the prince. "These men will be outnumbered. You are aware of that, and you continue to stay."

"I made a vow back in Rivendell that I would see to it that Frodo gets the ring to Mordor-"

"You also told Ithilwen that you would be there when I go to bring them back from that world-"

"I intend to keep that promise." Legolas assured him. "You are here as well, and you know the risks," he turned the words back on the marchwarden.

Haldir nodded. "By order and by choice." At Legolas' perplexed look, he added, "By order of my lords and by my own choice to make sure that you keep your promise to my daughter."

Gimli's grumbled complaints turned to chuckles listening to the two elves converse. Legolas would have thwacked him if he wasn't behind him on the horse. The twins and Glorfindel rode over to the small collection of outsiders after directing orders to the other elven troops that had volunteered to stay behind.

"We heard something about a promise-" Elladan started.

"-and our dear cousin. Now what is this-" Elrohir continued.

"-that we have missed? Again, if we might add," they finished.

Haldir rubbed his face. "I wish that the two of you would not do that," he spoke.

The dwarf chose the moment to fill them in. "The lass has been told that after the war has passed, her father and the lad here will be finding a way to get to their world to bring them home. Haldir intends to make sure that Legolas doesn't break his promise."

There was a pause as they contemplated this information, followed by the chorus of, "We want to go with you."

"What?" Haldir asked.

"We want to go!" Elladan repeated.

"She's my daughter," the marchwarden said.

"She's our cousin," Elrohir stated.

"She's Legolas' lass!" Gimli threw in, not able to resist.

"She is not!" Legolas blurted out. Gimli laughed, because he made his friend uncomfortable. Haldir was giving him a funny look, which made the dwarf laugh more. Elladan and Elrohir were beginning to smile deviously, catching onto his words and storing this bit of information away for future use. "She is just a friend!" he reiterated. He was beginning to lose count of how many times he's had to correct that assumption.

No more words were said on the matter, though Haldir was beginning to wonder if there was merit to the dwarf's teasing as they rode out. Eomer was on his horse, shouting out to the Rohirrim as they began to move.

"Now is the hour! Riders of Rohan, oaths you have taken. Now fulfill them all! To lord and land!"


To say that Ithilwen was making progress on her Sweet Pea costume would be a lie. Well, not particularly a lie, as there has been progress, just nothing significant that day. It seemed like her emotions were on edge ever since she started working to pin the lining to the leather. She couldn't figure it out. She had woken up with no issues. Nothing was particularly wrong that could be fixed quickly, so why was she so antsy?

She rocked back on her heels to survey the damage of her fingers. The dress mannequin stood almost mocking her frustrations. If it had a head she would have done cut it off twenty pricks ago. Her fingers were getting tender, and she absently wondered if she hadn't already lost a pint of blood from all of the little holes littering her skin.

Ithilwen sucked her thumb, her newest civilian caught in the crosshairs, as she pondered about what could be wrong. The radio playing in the background switched back to the dj who talked about the weekend events. Normally she wouldn't pay much attention, but once it hit her that it was nearing the middle of the month, the gears began to turn.

"Oh f-" Then the pains hit.

Sprinting up to the bathroom, she had nearly shook the mirror over the sink with the force of her tossing the door closed. The pains didn't make it easier for her to unbutton her jeans, and if she was assuming correctly, she'd be trading them in for sweats anyway.

If anyone else had been in the house, they would have heard silence, followed by colorful string of curses. "DAMMIT ALL TO HELL!"

At Dunharrow, Legolas was walking with Gimli as they surveyed the area when he felt something strange. It was a sharp pain, like a knife ramming into his abdomen. Peculiar, since he was physically fine, but that didn't stop the next sharp pain from making him take a breath and nearly bend over where he stood.

"Ye alright, laddie?"

Legolas was about to answer when another pain hit, and all he could do was shake his head. Gimli was surprised by the elf's reaction, having seen him take bigger hits at Helms Deep. He noticed that Eowyn was feet away and made to flag her down.

Taking note of the clearly-in-pain elf at the dwarf's side, she jogged over to meet them. "What is wrong?"

"Not sure, my lady," Gimli shrugged. "Legolas was fine minutes ago, until he grabbed his stomach and bent over like that. Do you happen to know if there are any healers around?"

Eowyn shook her head. "I will see what I can do." She took Legolas by the arm and carefully led him over to a nearby tent, with Gimli right behind him. Once she had the elf sitting down on a cot, she began to run through a series of questions that might pinpoint the problem. "Where do you hurt, my lord?"

Legolas motioned to his stomach and hip area. "It feels as if I am being stabbed by an orc blade repeatedly," he breathed out. "I am fine, but if feels as if I should be bleeding profusely." His face changed from anguish to worry as he looked to Gimli. "You don't think it is Ithilwen?"

"The lass? I hope not."

Eowyn watched the exchange, realization beginning to dawn on her. "This...Ithilwen, my lord. She is the woman that you speak to in dreams?" Gimli had spoken of Ithilwen to her on their way to Helm's Deep, long before the surprise warg ambush. She was skeptical at first, but thinking over it, she knew that she did not know all there was about elves and filed it away as a mystery. Now that she saw the effects of the empathic connection, it made more sense. Upon Legolas' nod of confirmation, she continued. "My lord, I believe I know the answer to your ailment, and it indeed lies with Lady Ithilwen."

"You believe she is hurt?" He asked in a panic.

She shook her head. "I believe that she might be in pain, but pain that she has already experienced." Legolas did not catch on to her hint, so she had to try again. "Every woman goes through this pain, usually a few days each month…" When he still didn't comprehend she had one last attempt, but by this point she was looking flustered. "It means that she is not with child!"

Gimli blushed, once he realized what she meant, and it wasn't long before the elf's face turned an interesting shade of pink all the way to his ears. "You are implying that…" He couldn't even finish the sentence.

"Yes, my lord," Eowyn smiled. "I will see about finding a brew of tea for your… pains." Before she turned to go, she looked back at the prince. "My lord, I may speak out of turn when I say this, but you have been given a gift. Not many men can claim that they know the pains that a woman experiences."

After she left the tent, Legolas laid back on the cot and groaned out, "Doesn't seem like a gift to me." Outside, passerby near the tent were startled to hear the raucous laughter of Gimli echo out and across the camp, followed by the Sindarin equivalent of "Shut up, shut up, shut up!".

Haldir entered with the cup of tea made for Legolas much later. "Lady Eowyn asked me to give this to you for…pains." After handing him the cup, he added, "This connection you have with my daughter is becoming disturbing."

"You don't say," Legolas replied dryly, sipping the tea. Gimli broke out into chuckles again.

Ithilwen was standing in the bathroom, stripped down to her underwear glaring daggers at the bucket that sat in her bathtub, filled with water and her soiled garments. Now that she thought about it, she wasn't surprised that she started late; being so upset lately must have caught up to her cycle. That still didn't make it any better, she thought, wincing as the cramps got steadily worse.

"Feels like the battle for Middle Earth is going on in my damn uterus," she grumbled, making her way out of the bathroom to her closet. As it was, there wouldn't be any more work done on her costume today unless the ibuprofen she needed to take worked quickly. All she wanted at that moment was to put on some baggy sweats, a t-shirt, and gorge on a big bowl of ice cream.

The elleth grabbed the first two items she saw and moved to sit on the edge of the bed to dress. As she sat down and looked at herself, she finally noticed. "Bruises." Ithilwen looked down her legs, across her abdomen, and with some interesting twists, she saw a few on her back. "The hell?" She took the chance to poke one of the bruises on her left thigh. "Huh, doesn't hurt. How about that." So why did she have them? She obviously didn't get them, or she would have remembered hurting herself…unless…

"Legolas." That elf had told her that he was exhausted, but he didn't say anything about getting hurt! Annoyed now, she shrugged on her change of clothes and wobbled down the hallway to the stairs. "He's gonna get an earful the next time I see him-" She winced again from another wave of cramps. "-after ice cream. And ibuprofen. And a nap."

When Ithilwen realized she was in the dream world, she noticed that she was outside once more, an encampment, more or less minus the snores of the soldiers that would have been there in reality. She hiked her gown up and padded through the camp, relieved to find that she was sans-cramps here. She found him standing a ways off looking out into the distance. Ithilwen thought the moonlight reflecting off him was a nice touch, even serene, but then she remembered her discovery from earlier. "Do you mind telling me why you forgot to mention that you got hurt at Helms Deep, Legolas?"

"Hurt?" He whipped around to find her standing a few feet away. Her gown was bunched up in her hands, showing off her bare feet and calves. The scene would have been adorable if it weren't for the pouting look of anger that she sported. "I wasn't hurt-"

"Bullshit," she interrupted him, "I saw the bruises. I have the bruises!"

Legolas would have laughed hearing her swear, but her admission startled him. "Bruises?"

"Yes!" She said exasperated. "On my stomach, legs, back…probably in places that I didn't know I had!" In a few steps she found Legolas kneeling in front of her, raising the fabric of the gown a few inches to see one of the bruises just above her left knee. "Hey, what are you doing?!" she shrieked, letting the fabric fall to the ground. 'Did he seriously just try and look up my skirt?!'

"Why didn't you tell me that you were hurting?" he retorted, ignoring her question.

Ithilwen stood there dumbfounded. "What are you talking about?" she asked. "I didn't hurt myself- okay well I did prick myself with some pins working but other than that I've just got cra-" Frozen mid sentence, she knelt down to his level when she asked, "You've got my cramps, don't you?"

"That is what Lady Eowyn assumes," he replied, feeling uncomfortable about the whole conversation.

She couldn't help but laugh; the concept alone was amusing. "Poor baby," she cooed, silently forgiving him for neglecting to tell her about the bruises. The cramps were payback, it seemed. "You did know that women-"

"Of course!" Legolas said indignantly. "I just didn't know that they hurt so much. If more men knew of this, they might take women more seriously when they say that they are unwell. I must admit that being here is a relief; I do not feel them anymore."

"Enjoy it," Ithilwen said, moving to sit and stretch out her legs. "Cause mine usually last for about two days, including the day it starts. I've been taking some medicine, maybe it will help on your end."

Legolas mimicked her movements. "Anything would be a blessing. Gimli is far too amused at this news. Haldir, on the other hand, finds it disturbing." He reached down and took one of her hands in his to inspect it. "You said that you pricked your fingers earlier. Does this have to do with your costume?"

Ithilwen nodded. "I was trying to pin the lining to the leather of the cloak, but it seemed like each time I got the pin through the fabric it went through me." The elf beside her softly rubber the hand he held between his, and the action was so relaxing to her that she might have fallen asleep if she wasn't dreaming already. "So where are we now? Last time we met you guys had made it back to Edoras."

"Gondor has sent a request for aid," Legolas explained. "We are at the Dunharrow, according to King Theoden. In two days we will ride to least, they will. Aragorn, Gimli, and myself will be taking another path. I suspect your adar and cousins will be joining us, regardless of Aragorn's wishes."

"From the sounds of it, he doesn't know you two are going, does he?" Legolas laughed and shook his head. "Where are you going, if not with the Rohirrim?"

"We take the road to the Dimholt. A door lies under the mountain where we will seek our path."

"I think I know of that mountain," Ithilwen began, surprising Legolas. "Is that not where the ghosts of a king and his men lie that were betrayed?"

"Yes, how did you know that?"

She smiled. "Nana has taught me some history of Middle-earth. I'm not stupid, I just lack some of the proper texts."

"I never said you were." He protested.

Ithilwen waved him off with her free hand. Both forgot that he still held her other hand. "You didn't. Some in the past have claimed otherwise because I'm female. It's just the way it is in this world, and it's fun to surprise people that don't expect much from you. Keeps them on their toes. By the way," she changed the subject, "how are my cousins?"

"Incorrigible as always," Legolas responded quickly. "They are being brought up to speed on your life and have made it clear that they wish to travel with Haldir and myself after the war. Lord Elrond has sent them with a small number of elves to replace the injured incurred at Helms Deep." A wave of something crossed Legolas' face, making Ithilwen curious. "I fear that our time may be cut short this evening."

"So soon?" Ithilwen almost wanted to whine. "I'll be glad when this war's over and I can talk to you properly."

Legolas stood, pulling Ithilwen up to her feet with the hand he still clasped. "I will see you soon," he said, placing a light kiss on her forehead.

Ithilwen managed to get out a "Be careful!" before she awoke to feel the stabbing pains of cramps once again.

"Just where do you think you're off to?"

It should have been easy to coral his horse into sneaking away from camp undetected. Most were asleep if not on their way there. However, nothing is easy when you've traveled with elves and dwarves.

Aragorn didn't bother to turn around, only sighed. "Not this time. This time you must stay, Gimli." A grunt of disapproval met his ears, making him turn to see Legolas walking up with his horse ready to leave.

"Have you learned nothing of the stubbornness of Dwarves?" he asked smugly, knowing that they had won.

Gimli shifted in his stance. "You might as well accept it. We're going with you, laddie."

Swift movements and muffled hooves appeared shortly thereafter. As Legolas had predicted to Ithilwen earlier, Glorfindel, Elladan, Elrohir, and Haldir were packed and ready to go. "Don't go thinking that you will leave us behind, Estel," Elladan said.

"We will all reconvene at Gondor, I see no reason why we should not accompany you on this mission," Haldir told Aragorn with finality.

"And on an amusing note it will be far more entertaining to watch Haldir pick Legolas for information about his daughter," Glorfindel grinned, but the prince saw nothing funny about it. Needless to say that his...shared ailment...with Ithilwen had not been kept secret for long once the Captain of the Imladris forces caught on.

Moments later, the horses bearing the ranger, dwarf, and five elves calmly made their way through Dunharrow towards the shadowed road that lead to the mountains. Soldiers that were not yet asleep began to ask questions to each other.

"What's happening? Where is he going?" One would ask.

Another shouted out to get the ranger's attention. "I don't understand. Lord Aragorn!" he looked around at his comrades. "Why does he leave on the eve of battle?"

Gamling stepped forward. "He leaves because there is no hope."

"He leaves because he must." Theoden was quick to correct him.

"Too few have come," Gamling insisted. "We cannot defeat the armies of Mordor." His hope was all but gone. Even with the additions that had been gathered along the way, and even with the assistance of the elves, there would not be enough.

His king did not disagree to the statistics. "No, we cannot. But we will meet them in battle nonetheless," he added with determination.

Chapter Text

When dawn approached the following morning, Theoden found his niece standing alone, staring out into the distance. Her stance was still and her arms crossed, lost in thought. "I have left instruction," he announced, coming to stand beside her. "The people are to follow your rule in my stead. Take up my seat in the Golden Hall. Long may you defend Edoras if the battle goes ill."

He wasn't expecting Eowyn's response to be so…bland. "What other duty would you have me do, my lord?"

Turning and taking her hands, he tried to explain himself. "Duty? No. I would have you smile again." His spirits were lifted slightly to see a fraction of a smile cross her face, even if it might have been forced. "Not grieve for those whose time has come." he continued, cupping her face in his hands and resting her forehead to his. "You shall live to see these days renewed. No more despair," he assured her before leaving her to return to her thoughts.

Thinking back to the previous day, Eowyn recounted all of the things that she had picked up on from the now-departed travelers. Aragorn had told her that her feelings were not true. That stung, but the more she thought on it, she couldn't help but feel that he may have been right. Perhaps it was the ideals that he carried that she found attractive? She should have known that her feelings – true or not – would not be reciprocated when she saw the elf return the jewel he'd said come from a woman that would be sailing for the Undying Lands. The care that he held in that necklace said volumes.

Then there was the elf, or Lord Legolas, as she had come to address him, despite his requests otherwise. He was peculiar, she learned since the day they arrived at Edoras. His story was more peculiar when she learned of the woman that he visited in dreams, but yesterday had taken the cake in terms of peculiarity. She had heard of empathic-shared connections, but they were usually between lovers. Lord Legolas had on more than one occasion stated otherwise to the amusement of his companions. She truly did smile then; she shouldn't have laughed the day before when she left the tent, but there was something about it that was too funny.

She wondered about the young elf woman he called Ithilwen. Eowyn had never had many dealings with the fair race before, so to speak candidly with one was fascinating to her. She had told the elf that should the opportunity arise, the young woman would always have an invitation to visit Rohan.

Of course, that was if the war turned to their favor. Eowyn shuddered as a breeze passed. Best to try and stay positive, even if that meant staying put. Or did she…?

The path to the Dimholt was dark, narrow, and pointy. The horses had to take the path in single file; it had long passed the point of riding side by side.

"What kind of an army would linger in such a place? " Gimli wondered.

"One that is cursed." Legolas began to recite some of his history lessons as an elfling. "Long ago, the Men of the Mountain swore an oath to the last King of Gondor, to come to his aid, to fight. But when the time came, when Gondor's need was dire, they fled, vanishing into the darkness of the mountain. And so Isildur cursed them, never to rest until they had fulfilled their pledge." He ducked a low-hanging branch. "Who shall call them from the great twilight? The forgotten people. The heir of him to whom the oath they swore. From the north shall he come. Need shall drive him. He shall pass the door to the Paths of the Dead."

"Seems a vague description of our brother," Elrohir deadpanned from the back of the group.

Aragorn led his horse forward until they reached the end of the path. The space had widened significantly so that they gathered in a huddle and dismounted. The atmosphere was dark and grey, almost as if there were a blanket of fog across the ground.

The eerie silence made the dwarf shudder in his armor. "The very warmth of my blood seems stolen away."

Legolas observed the paintings on the rock positioned above the opening. "The way is shut," he translated. "It was made by those who are dead. And the Dead keep it. The way is shut."

"Forgive me for stating the obvious," Glorfindel interceded, "but that looks like a wide opening. Not to mention the inaccuracy of the scripture." When Haldir looked at him with a raised brow he added, "Would it not be simple to go around the dead, given that they are in fact dead?"

"If we were fools we might think as much," the marchwarden replied. "Given our histories, the implications of cursed souls guarding a passageway is one of the more normal events we have encountered to date."

"My brother has his moments, but even he would seriously consider it," Elladan stated bluntly. Grasping the reins a little tighter in their hands, they group approached the entrance. A blast of air came from the tunnel they neared, and the horses became frantic, breaking out of their rider's grips and galloping off to safety.

"Brego!" Aragorn shouted, knowing it was pointless. The horse had more sense than he did at the present to get the hell out of dodge. Regardless, he turned and looked back into the tunnel of the mountain. "I do not fear death!" he stated firmly before taking off into the darkness.

Legolas hesitated briefly before following Aragorn. He didn't want to go in there, but knew that he had no other options and wouldn't leave his friend to the task alone. That left Glorfindel, Gimli, Haldir, and the twins to watch their departure.

"Well, this is a thing unheard-of." Gimli said surprised, "An Elf will go underground where a Dwarf dare not! Oh! Oh, I'd never hear the end of it!" He stamped his feet a few times in frustration, forgetting that there were four elves beside him that hadn't moved either.

"I've already died once," Glorfindel stated to the group. "I hesitate not out of cowardice, but out of a desire to not be buried under a mountain of rock!"

"Why do you think that would happen?" Gimli adjusted his grip on his ax.

"Quite simple, Master Dwarf," Glorfindel shuddered. "I am paranoid."

Silence fell among them.

"We told Adar that we would follow Aragorn," Elrohir stated.

"Yes, yes we did," Elladan agreed.

Haldir snorted. "Legolas is younger than the both of you and he didn't hesitate as long as you are!"

"Well then why are you still standing here, Master Elf?" Gimli asked, almost mocking.

The marchwarden adjusted his robes. "To make sure that you four do not back down. Now who is going first?" More silence followed the question, and he nearly growled, "Fine. We go together. Now!" As they made their way into the darkness, he added, "Not a word of this is to be breathed to anyone or I will own the tongue of the speaker."

It was a mutual agreement since none of the five wanted to admit to nearly chickening out and attempting to go around the mountain to meet Aragorn and Legolas on the other side.

Ithilwen found herself laughing as another of North's elves fell into the egg-dying river of the Warren. Easter was quickly approaching, and Bunnymund had enlisted all willing hands to help make sure he had enough eggs to hide around the world. Fiona and Morwen had also agreed to assist the pooka and the guardians, though it seemed like some were more for talking than painting.

Jack would occasionally paint a snowflake on one. North's were nearly always decorated like Christmas presents. Toothiana's were closer to Easter colors, but one had to watch what she would write – she was bad to put things about flossing with a handful of eggs. Sandy's weren't quite with the theme, but his had a shimmer effect that Bunnymund was pleased with. Phil the Yeti would groan uncontrollably whenever Bunnymund would tell him to change the color – especially after a large pile was just painted. Fiona's collection of eggs were painted with a child-like hand for variety. Morwen's held an elegant script of Tengwar that read 'Happy Easter' – or a close translation, as she assured the pooka. It's not like any of the children would be able to decipher the language, much less realize that it was a language, so he consented.

Ithilwen didn't have a set theme for her eggs – she just painted what came to mind for that egg. Bernard was sitting nearby when he caught sight of her current design. "What's this theme? Mechanics?"

"Steampunk." She held the egg up to better show him. The egg was wearing painted goggles and a vest in an Easter palette of earth tones. "See, he's an Airship Pirate Egg." She grinned cheekily.

Bernard laughed at her. "How have you been lately? I heard from Tooth about what happened down here. I'm sorry it went down like it did."

The elleth shrugged it off. "It's alright, Bernard. Everyone's been telling me that, and I keep telling everyone that I'm getting past it. At least now I don't have to worry about it anymore. And I'm doing better, thanks for asking. It's given me more time to work on Sweet Pea, as a plus." She chose not to mention Esther's influence over the events out of respect for her friend. The guardian was still getting past the guilt she had accumulated, and Ithilwen didn't want to add more by mentioning her involvement at all.

"How's… well… how are things…?"

"In middle-earth?" she asked. He nodded. "Things are rough. Legolas told me that they are leaving the Dunharrow camp to go to the Dimholt."

Before she could explain to the confused Christmas elf, Morwen's voice carried across the Warren. "The Dimholt? Who is going and why?"

"Legolas, Aragorn, Gimli, Ada, Elladan, Elrohir, and Lord Glorfindel. Apparently Uncle Elrond gave Aragorn instruction to go seek the Dead King's Army. Is this bad?"

Morwen flashed her a smile. "Aragorn is with them, my dear. Do not concern yourself. He should be able to convince the King to assist him." She thought it odd that the Gondolin captain would be with them, but then he must have come with the warriors from Rivendell. "By the way, how are you feeling today?"

"Better than yesterday but still aching. It turns out that I'm not alone in my suffering," she added with a wink to her mother. The words took but a minute to register and the older woman had broken out into peals of laughter.

Bunnymund came hopping over to check on the progress when he saw Morwen succumb to laughter. "Eh, sheila," he asked Ithilwen, "What's got your mum in such a tizzy?"

"Just sharing war stories," Ithilwen answered with a grin. "They're all in one piece," she added. "My friends back home, and the eggs."

The pooka nodded, patting her on the shoulder with his large paw. "Good to hear. Interesting take with this little guy," he commented on the steampunk egg. "Keep it up, everybody!" he bounced off to other parts of the Warren.

When the sun had risen a little more in the morning sky, haste was afoot in the Dunharrow camp. The men were putting out fires quickly and the women of the court that had traveled along were packing away the remnants of shelter for their journey back to Edoras. Some were already on their horses, agitated to get going.

Theoden swept from his tent in a flurry of armor. "We must ride light and swift," he told Eomer. "It is a long road ahead. And man and beast must reach the end with the strength to fight." Eomer nodded and left his side to collect his horse while Theoden hoisted himself up, passing Merry with his white pony along the way. "Little Hobbits do not belong in war, Master Meriadoc."

Merry looked put out by the words. "All my friends have gone to battle. I would be ashamed to be left behind," he reasoned.

Theoden, however, was not informed as to the backstory of his kin. "It's a three-day gallop to Minas Tirith, and none of my Riders can bear you as a burden."

"I want to fight!"

"I will say no more," he said, riding off. He didn't want to do it, but he felt it in the best interests of the Halfling. How was he to know that two of his friends were on a near-certain one-way trip to Mount Doom?

Poor Merry stood there, feeling lost as he watched the Rohirrim pass him by. It took him by surprise to feel the grip of one rider pull his small frame up onto the horse in front of him.

At least, he assumed it was a him until he heard "him" speak. "Ride with me," the rider said, securing an arm around the hobbit to prevent him from falling.

"My Lady!" he said, proud to be riding with the White Lady of Rohan, disguised as a man.

They fell into step with the other soldiers, easily becoming unnoticeable in the mass. Up ahead, both could hear the shouts of Eomer and Theoden.

"Form up! Move out! Form up! Move out!" Their captain herded them like armored sheep out of the camp.

Theoden was leading them up front. "Ride! Ride now to Gondor!"

The "meeting", if one could call it that, with the King of the Dead could have gone a lot worse. Nearly being swallowed by the thousands of skulls of those unfortunate enough to not escape was not the worst way they could have perished in the situation. There were also the chunks of rocks that came down that just as easily could have crushed them like berries.

None of it mattered, though. Aragorn hit his knees as he saw the black ships of the Corsairs on the river. Faintly he registered Legolas' hand rest on his shoulder in some form of comfort. What was the point, when their last hope for assistance was all but gone? In the distance they could hear the last trickle of skulls and rock roll across the landscape, but it was not this noise that made Aragorn turn to look behind him.

The noise was a haunted one, coming from the King of the Dead and his men, damned to walk the earth until the curse was lifted. "We fight," the king said.

She could feel the cold air bite at her exposed skin, the wind slapping at her loose hair strands, stinging the nearly-frozen tears that ran down her cheeks. She could see the snow begin to fall as the sun set over the makeshift memorial to the fallen child. It collected on the hastily-made cross that was strung with the personal effects of her first love.

The news rang out about the lake swallowing the boy in its frigid grip almost instantly. Unable to believe the words of others, she had sprinted to the lakeshore to bear witness to the busted hole in the weak spots of the ice. There was no way to recover his body. No one would survive the search in the arctic cold snap, so a meager funeral had been arranged.

She spent the weeks following her loves' demise in a haze, unable to comprehend that he was gone. Somehow, the hard winter seemed even colder without his playful antics and mischievous smile...

Esther shot up in her bed, covered in sweat and tears. She sniffled, wiping furiously at her cheeks when she felt the wet trails at last. It had been a long time since she had woke up crying, and it wasn't like these dreams were rare. 'It must be the stress,' she mused, staring at the wall across from her bed. 'I've been holding everything in, and now I'm waking myself up crying. I must be going round the bend.'

The dreams themselves, as heartbreaking as they were, actually occurred on a regular basis. It was something she had gotten used to, in a morbid sort of way. They were routine, each playing out in the same pattern. Each time they felt just as real as the day that they happened. Many times she wondered if there had been anything she could have done, if given the chance, but all scenarios she considered still lead to the same fatal conclusion.

'I did have a choice,' she thought, scooting out of the bed. 'I could have changed my fate, but I was so broken.' Esther went to the bathroom to wash her face. Her reflection showed that the dark circles beneath her eyes had faded some, but she was still exhausted. 'Hell, I still am broken,' she thought bitterly.

Her future had been set out before her, even as a smaller child, and she hadn't minded until her future was taken from her. Esther had been left behind in a predicament that she could have resolved, had she been able to shake her severe depression. Alas, the fates were not meant to be kind to her, for her new "future" had been rocky from the start, falling apart beneath her feet the further she went. And now, they were still not forgiving, saddling her with ill-begotten memories while she had to watch the blissfully ignorant go about their merry way. Possibly never knowing the what-could-have-been, to add further salt to the proverbial wounds Esther carried.

Esther attempted to finger-comb her hair, only to grunt in frustration and give up. "Love sucks," she told her reflection, whose sour expression only complimented the statement.

Aragorn, Gimli, Legolas, Haldir, Glorfindel, Elladan, and Elrohir were standing side by side on the bank of the river, watching the ships steadily creep toward them. Elladan tilted his head slightly as he watched. "They're getting closer, Estel."

"You may go no further," he called out to the pirates. "You will not enter Gondor."

The Corsair men on the closest ship laughed outright at his words. The captain shouted back, "Who are you to deny us passage?"

Ignoring his question, Aragorn spoke to Legolas much quieter than earlier. "Legolas, fire a warning shot past the bosun's ear."

Legolas readied his bow as instructed, not noticing the dwarf beside him shift the walking ax in his hands.

"Mind your aim," he whispered, knocking the bottom of the bow with the ax handle when Legolas fired.

The arrow lodged itself into the chest of the short stout man next to the captain. Gimli covered his mouth with a mock gasp as Legolas stared down at him in disbelief.

"Nice shot," Elrohir snickered. Then he winced with Haldir reached behind his brother to smack him in the shoulder.

Gimli continued to play the part of the naive dwarf. "That's it. Right. We warned you. Prepare to be boarded."

The captain of the Corsairs looked nonplussed. "Boarded? By you and whose army?"

Later on Aragorn would catch onto the joke, but his intent was dead serious. "This army." Seconds after, the ghostly green wisps would swarm the ships and leave none alive.

Chapter Text

Miles away in Gondor, the steward was approaching the brink of a mental meltdown. Before him lay the body of his youngest son, whom he had wished hours before to have been set before the Uruks instead of Boromir. Not that he would admit to that at the present. Instead, he was playing the "woe is me" father figure.

"My line has ended." He spoke emotionlessly, though to those nearby it might have passed as grief.

Pippin approached the lump form of Faramir and touched his brow. His eyes widened as he said aloud, "He's alive!"

Denethor would have none of it, succumbing to his pseudo-grief. He bemoaned, "The House of Stewards has failed!"

Pippin refused to be ignored. "He needs medicine, my lord!"

Once again, the steward ignored the hobbit as he continued to stumble towards the outer walls like a grief-stricken drunkard. "My line has ended!"

"My lord!" Pippin called out again, trying to break through the emotional wall that had been put up to alert the steward of Gondor that his youngest child was still alive.

Any attempts to capture his attention was for naught. Once Denethor reached the walls he was able to see the enormous armies that stand at his gates, something in his mind finally snapped. "Rohan has deserted us," he muttered with wide eyes, scanning the area. Even from his height he could see that parts of the city were in ruin. "Theoden's betrayed me…" He whipped around suddenly and roared to the soldiers, "Abandon your posts! Flee! Flee for your lives!"

The poor soldiers looked around uncertainly, obviously freaked out by their substitute leader's meltdown on top of current events. Luckily for them, Gandalf was taking over the position. He whacked Denethor in the forehead with his staff, then a jab to the stomach, watching the steward crumple to the ground in shock.

"Prepare for battle!" Gandalf ordered.

"The scouts report Minas Tirith is surrounded," Eomer spoke to his uncle in low tones. "The lower level's in flames. Everywhere, legions of the enemy advance."

Theoden responded with, "Time is against us. Make ready!"

Down the line from the two sat Eowyn and Merry. "Take heart, Merry. It will soon be over." She tried to assure the hobbit, although she wasn't so sure about anything anymore herself. This is what she wanted, right? To be able to go off to battle with the men and fight for her country?

Merry did his best to sound brave in response. "My lady, you are fair and brave and have much to live for, and many who love you. I know it is too late to turn aside. I know there is not much point now in hoping. If I were a knight of Rohan, capable of great deeds- But I'm not. I'm a Hobbit. And I know I can't save Middle-Earth. I just want to help my friends. Frodo. Sam. Pippin. More than anything, I wish I could see them again."

Eowyn smiled at his courage. She knew he was terrified of not knowing what was to come. Hell, she was scared, and she was the one that got them into this mess!

Eomer's voice could be heard from a distance now. "Prepare to move out!"

Theoden's followed. "Make haste. We ride through the night."

Horns somewhere in the ranks were blown, and the disguised duo put their helmets back on to conceal their faces.

"To battle," Eowyn said with more determination in her voice. There would be no more time for nervous jitters. Her brother was right the night before; distractions on the battlefield could be fatal. She had to push any doubts from her mind the best she could.

"To battle," Merry repeated.

Eowyn hoped that he could do the same.

The Rohirrim reached the hills outside of Pelennor Fields at the light of the following day. When Theoden looked down at the sheer force of the enemy's size, he knew right then that the battle would not be in their favor. A glance from the corner of his eye showed that his warriors were about to realize the same.

"Courage, Merry. Courage for our friends," Eowyn breathed, pulling the hobbit close to her. She wasn't sure about him, but from the good look she got at the number of orcs, all meditation practices she had implemented on the ride over were long gone.

Back at the front of the ranks, Theoden bared his teeth in anger and turned his horse about to meet his captains and organize a strategy. "Éomer, take your éored down the left flank."

"Flank ready."

"Gamling, follow the King's banner down the center. Grimbold, take your company right after you pass the wall. Forth, and fear no darkness!" He rode his horse before the front lines, and shouted out words of encouragement to boost their morale. "Arise, Arise, Riders of Théoden!" His horse had passed by Eowyn, and on instinct she hid her face, not that he could have gotten her out safely if he had noticed.

Theoden continued his speech, "Spears shall be shaken, shields shall be splintered, a sword-day, a red day, ere the sun rises!"

The riders readied their spears, and from the distance across the plains, they could see the orcs do the same.

Eowyn leaned in close to Merry. "Whatever happens, stay with me. I'll look after you." She felt him nod, knowing that words were not plausible at the moment.

Theoden drove his horse down the lines, clanking his sword against the lowered spears as he continued to shout. "Ride now! Ride now! Ride! Ride for ruin, and the world's ending! Death!"

"Death!" The Rohirrim shouted.

Eowyn gulped, anxiety creeping up again with a force of adrenaline.

"Death!" The king shouted again.



The adrenaline was into high gear now. Both Merry and Eowyn screamed "Death!" with the Rohirrim.

"Forth Eorlingas!" Theoden roared as the horns sounded, then the pounding of hooves took off as the soldiers of Rohan charged the orcs at breakneck speed.

From a distance, the sound of an orc captain gave orders for his archers to fire. Arrows whizzed through the air, puncturing both the flesh of man and horse, bringing some riders to fall. Some were not fortunate enough to have been killed by the arrows, instead being subjected to having their body's crushed beneath their horses or the hooves of those still standing.

"Death!" Merry yelled, as more arrows fell around them like a storm cloud and the riders dropping like flies.

"Charge!" Theoden shouted. Death may have been imminent, but it wasn't going to slow them down.

There was no discernible way to tell how much time had passed since Theoden's army of men had entered the battlefield at Pelennor. The men were becoming exhausted, though it was with great endurance that they pressed on, slashing away at the orcs that were not lucky enough to make a retreat back to Mordor.

Eomer was weaving through the mess shouting directions to his men. "Drive them to the river!"

"Make safe the city!" Theoden could be heard shouting.

Then something strange happened. Like a tornado, the eye of the storm had passed over Pelennor Fields. The land was eerily calm and silent as if there hadn't just been a massive killing of orcs and men. And just as the silent eye swept by, the storm was approaching from the other side, ready for the second round. This time, however, it was a large collection of Mumakil braced for battle that shook the ground as they entered the scene, coming straight for the Rohirrim.

Theoden wanted to swear at every creator in recorded lore, but could not find the words to start. "Re-form the line! Re-form the line!" He ordered instead, bringing the riders back into position to charge the Haradrim. "Sound the charge! Take them head-on!" he said with determination.

Gamling blew his horn as Theoden shouted out "Charge!"

In the later years, it would be speculated as to whether the charge against something infinitely larger than oneself would be considered incredibly brave or incredibly foolish. Such matters were of no concern this day. This day, it was a matter of survival, and if that meant taking something like a Mumakil head on, then so be it. The Rohirrim were not cowardice enough to stand back and wait for death.

The standing riders were being tossed by some of the Mumakil tusks, while others were knocked from their horses and crushed beneath the gigantic feet. Archers riding atop the beasts used their vantage point to pick off riders from afar. Eomer steered his horse to stop before one, and with a decent grip on the spear, hurled it into the chest of the driver, killing him instantly. The driver toppled out of the harness, catching the Mumakil in its ear with the bloodied spear. A horrid noise came from the beast, and moving with the direction of pain, it swung into another sideways, bringing it down with itself.

Meanwhile, Eowyn and Merry had been dodging the steps of the crazed beasts, missing death several times.

Eowyn handed Merry the reins, who held them tightly. "Take the reins! Pull him left! Left!" She grabbed a second sword from a passing orc before they rode between a Mumak's legs, slicing the inner sides as they passed to cause it to fall.

Eomer had his bow out, firing at the Mumak nearest him. "Aim for their heads!" He called out to everyone as the Mumak rose up on its hind legs and began to stagger about.

"Bring it down! Bring it down! Bring it down!" Theoden cried.

Nearby, another fell, nearly taking Merry and Eowyn with it. The horse they were atop fell, and the two were sent flying through the air. Eowyn dove out of the path of the horse, rolling across the ground kicking up more dirt. She looked around for her partner, but could not find him. "Merry!"

In her search she saw her uncle fighting a swarm of orcs that had come to surround him. She picked up her battered sword and ran to join Theoden, bringing them down one by one. Theoden took a brief notice of the soldier that had come to his assistance, but could not recall his name in the heat of the battle. There was something oddly familiar about the stance and build of the petite warrior that cut down the enemy, almost like it were a well-rehearsed dance...

Where the now dead Mumak lay, Merry coughed and slowly rose to a sitting position. He couldn't remember being tossed so far from Eowyn or her horse, but he knew he had to find her. Suddenly, a spear from a Haradrim soldier crossed his line of vision, aiming for his vitals. Merry ducked away from the spear, bringing his small sword up across the soldier's chest, cutting deeply. Through the cloud of dust and blood that fogged the area, he could make out the shape of a deformed orc limping towards a soldier of smaller stature that he could only assume was Eowyn. Before he could call out to alert her, she had turned and dodged the orc's attack. What she did next was a low blow by fighting standards, but nothing was fair in war. She swung the sword in her hands into the bad leg of the orc, leaving him howling in pain.

Ithilwen had woken up that morning in a particularly ill mood, and she couldn't place why. She hadn't spoken to Legolas in a couple of days, the last of which she heard from him was before he went to the Dimholt. It wasn't that, because there had been previous times when they had not spoken for days because there had been no opportunity to rest. For some reason or other, she had rolled out of bed with the temper of a cornered snake, and she didn't like it.

Even her reflection in the bathroom mirror showed her displeasure in the day before it had even begun. She was irritated with her hair, and then her clothes, until finally her rapid hissy fit of getting dressed was filling the room with colorful swears. This was one of those mornings that she despised the very skin she was in, and Ithilwen wanted nothing more than to get away from it. With a muttered "fuck it" she shrugged her shoulders at her half-assed appearance and went downstairs to the kitchen.

Looking for food wasn't making her mood any better either. The pantry, cabinets, and fridge were stocked with newly bought groceries, but nothing looked appealing. In fact the very idea of exerting any effort to fix a pop tart was revolting at that moment.

"Not hungry, Ithilwen?" Morwen asked her daughter as she sat down at the dining room table with a glass of water.

"Not really," she replied dully. Morwen could see she wasn't being truthful. She was about to head out to meet with some potential clients, but set her purse down on the table. It could wait a few minutes; she would still be early.

"This is a first," the older woman commented. "In all of my years of raising you, never have I seen you turn down the offer of food. What has upset you so?"

Fiona had come to stand by Morwen, looking at her sister strangely. "She's not eating?"

"No, I'm not," Ithilwen stated hotly. "I was thinking about going on a diet." A gasp from Fiona made her ask, "What?"

"You don't diet."

"Well now I'm considering it."

"But why? You don't gain weight like a normal person!" Fiona thought about her words. "Is this because of that asshole?"

Ithilwen groaned. "No, it isn't. I've just been thinking that I can stand to lose some weight is all."

Morwen wasn't convinced. "You look fine to me," she said. "What's the real reason? Is it this society?"

Ithilwen didn't respond, instead choosing to look away ashamed. It made sense now to the other two women. By comparison, Ithilwen's form was more curvy than the average woman's that was presented in print advertising. Even being physically fit, her appearance could pass for 'thick', 'slightly chubby', or any other variation of descriptors for females that were not naturally waif-lean. None of the women in the house were of this shape, which always made for interesting outings to shop for clothes.

"Do not let the images of others make you feel down about yourself. You are a beautiful elleth. Look at me," Morwen said with a gesture. "You come by your shape honestly! I'm not discouraged by my looks, and you shouldn't be either."

"Exactly!" Fiona said. "You get your chest and hips naturally! Do you have any idea how many of those women had to get implants to get that figure? Besides," she added with a smirk, "From what I've been told, lots of guys would prefer a girl that has an appetite over one that doesn't eat at all. They'd rather be able to hug you without worrying they'd break you!" She caught Morwen's eye and winked, "Why don't you ask Legolas his thoughts the next time you talk to him?"

"A good idea," Morwen nodded, not paying attention to Ithilwen, who rolled her eyes. "I have an idea as well. This one will improve your mood; why don't you let Fiona take some pictures? You could make a day of it before she leaves for the weekend."

Fiona clapped her hands, catching onto the idea. "I love it! Ithilwen, please?" she begged. "Let me fix you up and put you through a photoshoot!"

Ithilwen looked unsure. "I don't know," she stalled. "Don't you need to get your equipment ready for the flight?"

Her sister would not be deterred. "Only the portable stuff. What I'm keeping here is already set up and ready to go. I'm only taking a few of the smaller digital cameras and stands because I'm paranoid about how they handle bags. So please, please, please?" Ithilwen finally nodded in defeat. "Thank you!" she squealed, "I've already got some ideas that you're gonna love!"

Morwen came around the table to hug Ithilwen, and then Fiona before she collected her purse and headed for the door. "Good girl, you've made Fiona very happy," she laughed. "I want to see these pictures when they're done!"

"Getting sea-sick there, laddie?" Gimli chuckled at the uneasy look on the elf's face. Legolas had become too quiet as they set sail, and he was hoping the jibe would heighten his spirits.

"No, Gimli. I…just lost in thoughts," he replied. He turned his gaze away from the water to see the twins huddled by Aragorn in discussion.

Haldir had crossed to their side to stand on the dwarf's other side. With a curt nod to the dwarf, he looked at Legolas. "Lady Galadriel's warning?" he asked.

The younger elf nodded in what looked like shame. Gimli was confused, but since it wasn't looking like his friend was going to clarify, he turned to Haldir. "What does that mean?"

The marchwarden waited to see if Legolas would explain. When it was apparent that he chose not to, he said, "The Lady had warned him that the cry of the gulls would waken the sea-longing within him if he were to continue the quest. The Prince has heard the gulls, Master Dwarf. The urge to sail to the Undying Lands is now within his mind."

Gimli looked over to his friend. "Does this mean that you will set sail after the War?"

Legolas shook his head violently. "No!" he blurted out. "I will not. I have no plans to do such a thing anytime soon. I have made too many promises to break, Gimli. There is still much that must be done before I consider that path." He smiled down at his companion. "Though I will be all the more relieved when we reach the shoreline." The furthest that he could get away from this ship, the better, he reasoned.

Chapter Text

"Rally to me! To me!"

Around him, Theoden could see the riders suddenly show a level of anxiety that made him slowly turn. What happened next could only be described in the king's mind as a "fuck me" moment. The Witch-king of Angmar was astride his fell beast and moving in fast. In the swoop down to the earth, the impact threw the king from his horse, only to be pinned by the steed.

Eowyn wasn't far off, frozen in shock and horror at the scene. She heard the Witch-king command the beast, "Feast on his flesh" and dove into action. Coming to a halt in between her uncle and the monster, she drew her sword high and held her shield ready. "I will kill you if you touch him!"

The Witch-king didn't seem affected by the "man's" words of threat. "Do not come between a Nazgûl and his prey."

The Nazgul went to strike, only to miss and leave its long expanse of neck exposed. Eowyn took the opportunity to drive her weapon through its neck in two strokes, beheading it. The head dropped like a stone to the ground, but the body continued to waver with the Witch-king still sitting on top before it finally fell down. The shieldmaiden watched in fear, knowing that she had pissed the Witch-king off with her actions, thereby drawing the attention to herself. The witch-king stood intimidatingly with what looked like a giant mace head attached to a chained staff. He moved swiftly, swinging the terrifying weapon at her. Eowyn had to react quick, ducking and side-stepping the strikes.

Then she wasn't as lucky. The Witch-king landed a hit to her shield, shattering the wood and leaving her on the ground, crying out and clutching the wounded arm. She had crawled back as far as she could go, bumping into the now-dead horse that had pinned her uncle.

At the pier, the black ships were just beginning to arrive, much to the frustration of the orcs that were assigned to wait on their arrival. "Late as usual, pirate scum! There's knife-work here that needs doing. Come on, ya sea rats! Get off your ships!" The leader bellowed. He expected to see gangly, dirty pirates amble out of the ships. He didn't expect to see a man, a dwarf, and five elves appear instead.

Gimli was muttering to Legolas as they readied their weapons. "There's plenty for the both of us. May the best Dwarf win!"

The small group began to charge the orcs, who looked prepared for the seemingly unimpressive battle. However, when the appearance of the Dead King's army filtered up from behind them, they began to back up and retreat.

In Burgess, Ithilwen woke up later than she expected. The clock read that it was after nine, which was unusual for her. The sun normally woke her up before her alarm clock did, and she realized with regret that she forgot to set it the night before. She climbed from the bed to look out the window, only to see that it was a thoroughly cloudy day. Stupid weatherman said that it was supposed to be a small chance of rain. Those gray clouds looked like the bottom could drop out at any minute.

Moving down the steps slowly, Ithilwen headed to the kitchen for breakfast. Not really in the mood for anything in particular, she considered reheating some leftovers from a previous night's dinner. Fiona had heard her open the fridge from the living room, and came running.

"Good! Finally, you're up!"

"Yeah?" Ithilwen looked up from the container of mystery food she held. "I forgot to set my alarm clock last night."

"Thought the sun would be your wake-up call?" Fiona asked. "Anyway, don't spend a lot of time on a big breakfast. We've got a lot of work to do today!"

"What? Why?" the elleth asked suspiciously.

Fiona grinned. "Pictures, baby! Pictures! Besides, it's not like you want to go out in that," gesturing towards the dreary weather outside. She moved back to the doorway. "Don't bother getting dressed; I've got a load of outfits for you to wear. Just bring you and your hairbrush to the studio after you eat!"

As Fiona practically skipped out of the kitchen, Ithilwen groaned, remembering what she agreed to. Still, it would make Fiona happy; she did like taking Ithilwen's pictures, although the girl had a tendency to go over the top with some of her ideas...

Ithilwen sniffed the container of mystery food, only to wrinkle her nose in disgust. Gone bad. Possibly a day or three older than legal. She chucked the contents in the trash bin and ran some water in the container to soak. She selected a bottle of water and a couple snack packs of peanut butter and cheese crackers. It wasn't a great breakfast, but Fiona wanted her to hurry it up.

Her sister would regret that when it came time to apply makeup and Ithilwen would have peanut butter-cracker breath. She grinned evilly.

The Witch-king had reached Eowyn by now and had lifted her off the ground by her neck. "You fool. No man can kill me! Die. Now."

Suddenly, Merry came up from behind and stabbed the Witch-king in the back of his leg. The blade dissolved into nothing from the dark power emanating from the monster, leaving Merry on the ground clutching his arm in pain. The Witch-king shrieked, falling to his knees and releasing his grasp on Eowyn.

Eowyn took this opportunity to set the record straight. Standing tall and proud, she ripped the helmet off and shook her hair loose. "I am no man!" she stated boldly, before letting out a feminine roar and jabbing the blade of her sword into the Witch-king's mask. Like Merry, the dark power brought her to her knees in agony, but her job was done.

Both watched in surprise as the Witch-king shrieked, the helmet, armor, and everything else crumpled into nothingness.

Jack wasn't sure why he felt the need to pester the blond cupid in Grecian sandals, but he couldn't help himself. Teasing Esther gave him the kind of satisfaction he got when he hit uppity businessmen with snowballs because they were no-nonsense. Esther had a similar air about her with her own work, but what set her apart was that she allowed herself to have fun.


Ever since the fallout with her spellwork, the guardian had driven herself into a frenzy with her other work. He had been both thrilled and amazed to learn that she had gotten off easy with Cupid, but her "punishment" had been more self-imposed. As soon as he had walked her back to her office, she had gotten to it, moving around in a rush and completely forgetting he was even there.

Jack, with his subconscious desire to be the center of attention, felt put out by this behavior. Esther was the kind of girl that acknowledged you in a crowded room when it seemed like everyone else ignored you. However, this change in the guardian didn't sit right with Jack, and he wasn't certain it was entirely due to her present predicament. In fact, he had begun to feel this slighted feeling for some time now, only its presence was becoming more noticeable. This feeling bugged him, because usually he could walk away from the unpleasant situation, distract himself for a while, and things would return to normal.

Having been denied once again by the little blond cupid, claiming she was up to her ears in paperwork, Jack had sought out other company in hopes of soothing his battered ego. By chance he had come across Sandman, who had been a willing listener as he scattered his dream sand over Tokyo.

"I don't get it," he sighed, watching the golden sand take the shape of an iconic kitten with a bow. "Esther's never been this closed before. I mean yeah, I've done some things to tick her off, but she's always gotten over it. Is she that mad at me?"

Sandman turned and fixed Jack with a stare that asked, "What did you do?"

"Nothing, I swear!" Jack's hands went up defensively. "I just went up to her office today to ask if she wanted to go see Tooth with me, and she said she was busy with paperwork! She's been like this ever since her flop with her magic, but I thought it would pass by now. Ithilwen told her there was no foul, so I don't know why she's like this."

"Magic training to get stronger?" Sandman signed.

"You think she's using the paperwork as an excuse?"

Sandman shrugged. Even the guardian of dreams didn't understand the complexities of the female mind.

Jack swung his staff around low, making the gold particles scatter haphazardly that passed by. "All I know is what she told me, and that wasn't much." He paused, as if considering his next words. "Does it...does it seem weird that I miss her? I mean I haven't talked to her in days, but it just feels weird to not be able to talk with her like I used to." He knew he was rambling, but he couldn't think of a better way to put what he was feeling into words.

Sandman formed more symbols above his head, including miniature forms of Jack and Esther, hearts, and question marks. Jack wrinkled his nose and shook his head quickly.

"No, it's not like that," he said. "We're only friends. At least, I think we're friends. I've called her Icchy so many times I think she wants to set me on fire."

While Jack continued to rattle on about his teasing of the other guardian, Sandman could only shake his head. Even as pseudo-immortals, they were still incredibly young. 'In fact,' he thought to himself, 'they are very similar in age...' He made a mental note to speak with North when the opportunity arose. There were a few theories he wanted to run across the other old man to see what he made of them.

Fiona's 'studio' wasn't so much an actual studio as it was a large room that was added onto the house long ago. When she had decided that photography was her passion, Morwen had surprised the girl on her eighteenth birthday with the space, complete with storage for her equipment. It didn't take her long to have the cabinets filled with replacement parts and rolls of film.

Then, when technology moved away from developed film rolls and into digital memory cards, Fiona began to collect odds and ends. She'd frequent flea markets and garage sales on the weekends, finding interesting clothes and uncommon objects for various props. Post-Halloween clearance items were another opportunity to stock up on creme makeup tubes, wigs, and things. Ithilwen first thought that she was becoming a pack-rat until she became the guinea pig of costume modeling. Then, when they began to discover how to make their own cosplay props, the collection grew for both of their benefits; Ithilwen could clear out her room of unneeded stuff, and Fiona could upcycle it for other projects.

"Could you sit a little straighter? You're an elf for Christ's sake!"

Ithilwen was sitting on a barstool off to the side of the room in a plain white tee and jeans, feet curling around the stool rung they rested on. She straightened her back as Fiona had asked, feeling her spine pop from the shift. Fiona had caught onto the cracker-breath attack the elleth had planned, handing her a container of altoids before she started doing her makeup. "Why are we doing this again?"

"To have fun, duh!" Two more quick swipes with the makeup brush, and Fiona set it down on the table beside them, choosing the hairbrush next. She moved around Ithilwen and began to brush her hair back gently. "We haven't really done much together lately-"

"That's not true. The day before yesterday we went to the art store and Radioshack."

"You know what I mean. And that was for work, anyway. I mean that I haven't gotten to take pictures of you in a while. I want more pictures before you and Mom head back to Middle-earth." She set the brush back down and pulled small pieces of hair back with bobbypins.

"You sound like we're leaving in a month!" Ithilwen noted when Fiona came around front to observe her work.

Fiona shrugged. "Well from the sounds of things that Legolas tells you, it might not be much longer. I want something to remember you two by."

"If it makes you feel better, we don't even know how long it will take them to create a portal. He says that Gandalf hasn't had the time to research the magic."

"That's a bummer," Fiona pouted. "For you, I mean. Not being able to meet Legolas right away and all that." When she was satisfied with her work, she pulled Ithilwen up and lead her to the center of the room where her camera was set up on its tripod. "Now stand here and stay natural. Keep talking, though," she told her before running behind the tripod.

Ithilwen shifted her weight to one hip and crossed her arms, tilting her head to the side as she watched her adjust the camera. "I can still see him in my dreams."

"That's not the same! Esther, tell her it's not the same!" Fiona whined. With each little shift, she would press the shutter button. "How are you supposed to hug him or anything if he's in your dreams!" She silently cursed as one of the pins turned loose, letting a piece of hair fall before the elleth's eyes.

Esther sat away from the action, watching on in amusement. The banter these sisters had its moments, that was for certain.

From her stance, Ithilwen looked nothing like the elf she was supposed to be, further accentuated by the puffed cheeks as she attempted to blow the offending strand of hair out of her face. "I can hug Legolas in the dreams," she corrected. "It's happened quite a few times already-"

"WHAT?!" echoed throughout the room, making the elleth's ears ring. "Sorry," Fiona muttered. "What do you mean? He's hugged you?!"

"Why are you making such a big deal about this?" Ithilwen shifted again as Fiona continued to snap pictures. She figured it probably wouldn't be wise to tell her that Legolas had also looked under her skirt when she had acquired his bruises from Helms Deep. Or that he had also pulled her into his lap before that.

"Yes, why is that?" Esther echoed, swapping "sides" on the argument. Fiona feigned a look of betrayal.

"Why aren't you?" Fiona countered. "All I've seen of this guy is that drawing, and he's gorgeous! He's getting handsy and you're all blasé about it!"

Ithilwen lost it then, still thinking of the previous encounters. She doubled over laughing, and the remaining pins that hadn't fallen turned loose when she bent forward, spilling the hair around her shoulders. "Handsy?" she quoted between breaths. "Handsy?! It's just a hug, nothing more!" Oh yes, she was definitely not telling of the other encounters.

Fiona hummed "Sure" as she took pictures. She hadn't meant it to be funny, but she was glad to see that her sister was cheering up. She didn't like the idea of Ithilwen feeling down about her appearance. When Esther came to visit that morning, Fiona had begged the guardian to stay for the day. Having explained the mindset Ithilwen was in, it wasn't hard to get the extra company to help boost the elleth's self-esteem. She wanted her sister to see that she was more than she thought of herself, and Fiona knew just what to do to make that happen. Ithilwen would have to be more awake and loosened up first, but she had it all planned out.

"15, 16…" Legolas was counting off as he ran across the field.

Gimli's pace was slower, but he was keeping up with the elf. "17…" Aragorn was not far away, taking down several orcs before something caught his attention. In the background he could distinctly hear the dwarf's count rising. "…29…"

From elsewhere on the field, there had apparently been another counting game going on, but it was unable to be determined if it was an expanded competition between said elf, dwarf, and his twin cousins. For all the ranger knew, Elladan and Elrohir could have been shouting numbers to throw either Legolas or Gimli off their counting.

"Merry!" Eowyn shouted, terrified out of her mind. The deformed orc that she had taken the fools-way-out-shot to had gotten back up and was limping her way. Neither one of them was capable of holding a weapon, much less something to go on the defensive with. They were sitting ducks, and the orc knew it. Her arms couldn't stand to bear her weight, so she began to crawl through the blood, dirt, and rock to put distance between them. She figured that she was a goner unless she could get to a sword; she had sworn to protect Merry, and if that meant putting herself as the orcs' target, then so be it. Eowyn made a reach for a sword about a foot from her, but the blade slipped away. She closed her eyes, waiting for the finishing blow.

It never came.

Instead, the gurgling sound of the orc choking on its own blood reached her ears. She turned to see the blade of a long sword cut through the orc, and the owner of the sword was…Aragorn! They came! She wanted to cry for joy, to know that all hope wasn't entirely gone, but she could not form words to get his attention. The swift sound of an ax cutting into the beast came from Gimli, who rather enjoyed finishing the orc off. The dwarf took off after some more potential kills, leaving Aragorn to shout for the elf.


Said elf turned at the sound of his name to see an Oliphaunt charging in his path. Eyes wide, he decided to rush to meet it, swinging onto its tusk like a monkey in a tree. Then it was from the tusk to the leg, and up the hip by the assistance of arrows that were lodged into the hide. At the top of the creature he was met by several Southron warriors that did not look pleased at the extra company. Legolas didn't waste time and began to shoot them down. "33, 34…" Satisfied that he had killed them all, he reached for the rope holding the platform onto the Oliphaunt's back and swung off. Making a quick cut in the rope, he used the platform's falling to pull himself up onto the creature's back. Once there, he hotfooted it up the spine and to the head, stringing three arrows and setting them in its skull, bringing it down. The Oliphaunt took a few more steps before it came down completely, and Legolas was able to slide down the head and trunk, landing safely on the ground before a stunned and very-miffed Gimli.

"That still only counts as one!" was Gimli's only comeback. "Come on, then! Come on!"

Aragorn looked across the battlefield, noticing that most of the enemy was either dead or on its way there. In the distance, a Mumak was overturned by a group of the Dead Army. The remaining supernatural soldiers swarmed the city, killing the remaining Mordor troops. Gimli was still fuming over Legolas' monstrous kill, while Glorfindel, the twins and Haldir were returning to join them.

Meanwhile, Eowyn was still crawling across the ground, this time to her uncle's side. Theoden could feel her presence and opened his eyes. "I know your face…Éowyn."

She smiled tearfully at the moment of déjà vu.

"My eyes darken," he told her grimly.

Eowyn stroked her uncle's brow gently. "No. No. I am going to save you." She couldn't let him go, not after the hell that she went through because of Saruman's influence. She couldn't lose the closest thing she had to a father figure now.

Theoden's voice was growing weaker with each breath. He now knew that it was she who had stepped up to help him, before the arrival of the Witch-king… "You already did. Éowyn, my body is broken. You have to let me go." He paused to take slow breaths. He hated to see her so sad, but there was nothing that could be done, and he knew this. He had accepted this. "I go to my fathers, in whose mighty company, I shall not now feel ashamed." He drew one last labored breath, "Eowyn…" The eyes of the king of Rohan closed one final time. The niece that he left behind wept bitterly over his body, feeling like a failure.

The dust had begun to settle across the battlefield, and many soldiers were moving about to see if there were any survivors. Eomer and Pippin were amongst the few. Pippin spotted a familiar cloak and reached to pick it up. "Merry-"


All heads in the surrounding area turned to see Eomer shed his helmet and sword as he broke out into a run. His cries of despair got worse as he got closer to the scene of his perished uncle and sister. "No!" he screamed and cried, not caring for anything else in the world. The scene was truly heartbreaking, for a man his size to become so unhinged.

Of the many that turned to the sounds of his screams, Aragorn noticed for the first time who it was that the captain cradled to his chest. A stabbing pain of fear crossed his mind as he rushed to his side. Looking down at the shieldmaiden's arm, he knew at once what had happened and what to do.

Hours had passed within the walls of the Houses of Healing. Those that could be saved were wedged within any free cot or bed that was available while the healers and their attendants flitted between the patients.

Far off from the rest, Aragorn had secured a more private place for tending to Eowyn's injuries. It had been a nightmare just to get the older brother to set her down, and since then had failed to leave her side. Eomer had ceased his tears, but was watching every move the ranger made with anxiety. He was terrified to see his sister on the battlefield, and the thought that he could have lost her was not something that he would forget anytime soon. Aragorn was speaking in elvish as he bathed the arm that had been struck by the Witch-king's darkness, observing the change of the dark purplish veins disappear to show her fair skin. Both men were able to breathe a sigh of relief as they noticed that she was beginning to breathe normally once more.

In time, she would be able to move about her rooms in the Houses of Healing, though she was required to stay put. After everything that she had been through, she reluctantly agreed, though she wouldn't have been surprised to find guards standing watch outside her door if she looked. Eomer had already told her that when she was well enough that the two were going to have a long discussion about the day's events, which meant that he would play the big brother card and chastise her for acting like a teenager.

To test her footing, Eowyn decided to walk to her windows to look out at the night sky. Her gaze caught the sight of a young man looking back at her some rooms away. She wasn't sure who he was, but the warm smile he presented her with showed that he wanted to be restricted about as much as she did.

It had been a couple of hours since Fiona had started her 'Project Ithilwen' photo session and Ithilwen was growing more comfortable with the pictures. She had put her trust in her sister and knew that she would deliver with quality work, even though she was against the idea at first. She had gone through a number of wardrobe changes from casual to cosplay to formal and everything in between. Fiona was nothing if not thorough in her hobby.

Esther had remained through it all, often adding in suggestions or ideas while they talked over a number of things. It had done the guardian some good to socialize with the sisters, especially since she still felt guilt over causing the elleth unneeded stress. It also gave her the opportunity to surreptitiously glean elven factoids and pieces of history to aid in her notes. Neither had any suspicion of why she asked such questions; given the enigma that these elves were, it was only natural to be curious.

Still, Ithilwen knew there were limits to questions and demands, and that line had just been crossed.

"Alright, take of your pants."

"Excuse me?!" she sputtered.

"Take 'em off. And put this on instead of that shirt. No bra either." Fiona tossed a larger shirt at the sputtering elleth.

"Yes," Esther laughed at the look of horror on Ithilwen's face. "Set the twins free!"

Ithilwen caught the shirt effortlessly, still trying to figure out Fiona's change in tactics. She unfurled the shirt, which looked oddly familiar... "Isn't this Legolas' tunic?"

"Yeah. I got it off your bed after lunch. Now take off your bra and pants and put that on."

"You want me to wear Legolas' tunic."

"Uh huh," both human and guardian nodded.

"Without my pants."

"Yup." Again, the simultaneous nod. It was kind of disturbing.

"Or my bra."

"Good gods, yes! Why are we discussing it?" Fiona looked fit to be tied with her sister's inability to grasp the obvious

"Tell me why."

"Why what?"

"Why am I supposed to wear this?" Ithilwen shook the shirt for emphasis.

"We've done cute, glamorous, casual, and scary, but we haven't gotten any sexy pictures." Fiona reasoned.

"Well I don't want to do any sexy pictures."

"Why not?" She whined.

"Why should I?"

"I can think of one reason," Fiona answered. At the elleth's inquiring look, she replied, "For Legolas." It was hell to keep a straight face when she said his name. Esther's eyebrow rose at the mention of the ellon. Had something happened when she was holed up in her office?

Ithilwen scoffed. "How many times do I have to tell you that we're just friends?"

'Guess not,' Esther thought.

"Oh come on!" Fiona had to think quick, or Ithilwen would cut out on her, and she would be damned if that happened. "Girls do pinups for their guys all the time! Okay, well it's usually if they're overseas at war, but it happens!"

"Legolas is not overseas. He's in a whole other world."

"But he is fighting in a war," Esther put in. "And both Delia and Deren have mentioned that pinups are done for more reasons than that. Some women have them taken as a confidence booster."

Silence followed, and both Esther and Fiona knew they had her. "Just do this for me, okay? Think of it like you're doing the pictures for him. Trust me, when you see them you won't regret it."

More silence. Ithilwen knew she was beat. "Fine, you win," she uttered, much to the delight of her sister and friend. 'It's not like he's going to be seeing them, anyway.'

Chapter Text

"Here you go, Ithilwen." Fiona plopped an envelope down in front of the elleth that was lounging in the gamer's chair doing an area tour of Tomb Raider: Legend. "Your pictures are done, and you don't have to say it. I know I was right. I've gotta go finish packing, so let me know what you think of them before I leave."

Ithilwen pressed pause on the controller, partly anxious about seeing the results and partly frustrated she couldn't find the piece of gold treasure in Tokyo. Before Fiona had come in she had grown bored and abused the quick-play-scene, learning all the different ways to kill Lara. She knew her friend had talent, and she trusted her judgment; she just wasn't sure she could see what her mother and sister did. Neither one of them knew exactly how much Payne's words had hurt her self-esteem, and she didn't wish to open that can of worms, now that she was past caring about the mortal. The envelope flap wasn't glued, merely tucked inside, so all she had to do was run her finger under the tab and wedge it out.

The stack of pictures slid out of the envelope into her waiting lap, and as she started going through them, she noticed that Fiona had organized them by the order in which they were taken. One of Fiona's methods of picture-taking was to abuse the hell out of the shutter, which didn't always lead to the best pictures, but she didn't toss the worst. Instead, she sorted out the blurred shots and combined them into an archive on one sheet of photo paper. Sometimes it wasn't clear what the subject was, but the blurs made for an interesting collage effect.

The elleth was pleased, which surprised herself. She had imagined herself cringing as she flipped through them, but Fiona had made her look amazing. In the pictures she looked happy and enjoying herself...even in the sexy pinup shots that she had been subjected to. Honestly! She wasn't ashamed or a prude, but she couldn't believe her friend had used Legolas as an excuse to take the pictures! They were friends! He wouldn't want to see pictures of her like that! ...Or would he? She stared at the photos in her lap. 'He is male...' She shook her head and snorted, carefully aligning the stack and setting it beside her on the discarded envelope. Ithilwen highly doubted he would.

In Minas Tirith, a small congregation was gathered in the great hall. Legolas, Eomer, Aragorn, Haldir, Glorfindel, Elladan, and Elrohir were standing around the throne and steward's seat, currently occupied by Gimli, who was smoking his pipe.

"Frodo has passed beyond my sight. The darkness is deepening."Gandalf's words did not sound reassuring to any of the warriors.

Aragorn was quick to reply. "If Sauron had the Ring, we would know it."

"It's only a matter of time." Gandalf still was pessimistic. "He has suffered a defeat, yes, but behind the walls of Mordor our enemy is regrouping."

Gimli exhaled a puff of smoke. "Let him stay there. Let him rot! Why should we care?"

Gandalf whipped around to face the dwarf, exasperated. "Because ten thousand Orcs now stand between Frodo and Mount Doom." Gimli fell silent, realizing his error. The wizard sighed. "I've sent him to his death."

"No," Aragorn said softly. "There is still hope for Frodo. He needs time and safe passage across the Plains of Gorgoroth. We can give him that."

"How?" Gimli asked.

"Draw out Sauron's armies. Empty his lands. Then we gather our full strength and march on the Black Gate." Gimli choked on his exhale, coughing.

"We cannot achieve victory through strength of arms." Eomer wasn't positive that Aragorn's idea would work. They had lucked out at Helms Deep, but many had fallen that day, and their numbers were even smaller and battle-worn now. Even with the collected additional soldiers that had survived and were fit enough from the battle at Pelennor, he had his doubts.

"Not for ourselves." Aragorn knew it was a suicide mission, at best. "But we can give Frodo his chance if we keep Sauron's Eye fixed upon us. Keep him blind to all else that moves."

"A diversion." Legolas realized quickly what Aragorn was intending.

Gimli chewed on his pipe, making the odds heard. "Certainty of death. Small chance of success. What are we waiting for?"

The twins looked to the dwarf and grinned, amused that he was attempting humor in the face of such a dire situation. Haldir frowned, thinking about what he would putting on the line to go off marching to what looked like certain death. He looked to the prince and made eye contact, silently telling him that Ithilwen would need to be informed. Haldir didn't want his daughter to know the specifics, but he couldn't bear the thought of her getting her hopes up of returning if they did not survive long enough to get there. Legolas nodded slightly in understanding. This wasn't a conversation he looked forward to.

Gandalf had pulled Aragorn aside. "Sauron will suspect a trap. He will not take the bait."

"Oh, I think he will." They still had possession of the Palantir that had tortured Pippin. He planned to make damn sure that Sauron noticed that the heir of Isildur had returned.

North sat back in his well-used chair and studied the tinker toys scattered across the desk thoughtfully. Bernard looked uneasily back and forth between his boss and the little golden man who floated just on the other side. He had been about to make his leave, but North had asked him to stay for the conversation. The elf didn't see what use he could have been, given the bizarre gestures that Sandman had been making.

"You think there is something wrong with Jack?" North asked the little man.

Sandman shook his head and began to gesture again. This time Bernard caught more symbols in the golden blur of sand, but it still made little to no sense to him.

"Does this have something to do with Jack's memories then?" Bernard asked, catching a glimpse of what he thought was a scrapbook. When North looked to him, he added, "Bunnymund told me after our last meeting that Jack wasn't acting right. Jack had confided in him that he didn't have some of his memories."

"That is most peculiar," North commented. "When a guardian is reborn, their former lives remain a part of them. But Jack... Jack's circumstances were not natural."

Bernard frowned, recalling the first time he had heard the story. He had long-since been head elf by that time in history, but he was employed under another Claus. Accidental endings with holiday figures was pretty common for him, but that didn't make it any easier to experience. Jack's demise had been that much worse because he was barely an adult. "Hold on," he said, raising a hand to get their attention, "Could it be possible that Jack's suffering post-traumatic stress?"


"Sufferers of PTSD can sometimes suffer memory loss," the elf said. "Something about the day Jack died could be keeping him from recalling certain parts of his life."

"And you believe that Jack needs to remember how he died to gain these memories back?"

Bernard shook his head. "I think that there's something about that day - a regret perhaps - that could be what's adding to the memory loss. He saved his sister from drowning in the lake, but maybe there's more that he left behind that day. They say that you regret the things you didn't do before you died than they things you did. Obviously he doesn't regret saving his sister, so there must be something else."

Sandman waved his hands about, forming a heart-shaped figure of sand.

"Love?" North asked for clarification. "Jack was in love?"

Sandman shrugged. He really didn't know. That guess was just a shot in the dark.

Bernard shrugged as well. "It could be anything," he added. "I think it's just a matter of triggering that regret to the surface for Jack to confront it."

North frowned. "Until we can figure out what Jack regrets, there is nothing we can do." It wasn't the best laid plans, but they had nothing to go on to help their friend. Jack would simply have to work this out himself.

"You're working late, hun."

"Don't call me 'hun', Deren. It's weird."

The male guardian of Lust was too busy poking around Esther's bookshelves to really take offense at her tone. "You should get out more. Come to the clubs with Delia and me."

"I have a job to do, just like you and Delia."

"Well all work and no play makes you a cranky one," Delia said none-too-gently as she entered the room. "It is well after hours, Esther! Why on earth are you still behind that desk?"

Esther sighed, saving her current work. There wasn't any point in trying to type with these two behind her; they were too persistent. "If you must know, I have an extra project that I'm working on for Cupid."

Delia looked aghast. "This isn't punishment for your magic, is it? Cause in retrospect, you did make a good decision in haste."

If the older woman didn't thrive on drama, Esther might have been more touched by her words. "Actually, it's not. It concerns our resident elves on earth and getting them home."

Both Delia and Deren looked genuinely interested then. "You've found a way?" he asked.

"Well no...but I do have some leads," Esther frowned. "I need to run some small experiments to test my theories before I can say for certain. That's what I was doing when you two came in. I was writing up my proposal for Cupid to approve. I'm not about to make the same mistake again." As she turned to make sure her computer was shutting off, she asked, "Why did you two decide to drop in on me tonight, anyway?"

"Right, that!" Delia looked at the younger guardian seriously. "We wanted to take you out for drinks if you weren't busy-"

"You know I'm always busy-"

"-which is why you need to take breaks from time to time," she finished. "What's cutting out on your research early going to hurt? You still have to wait for Cupid's approval on your proposal."

Esther had been about to refute that comment, but realized Delia was right. "Dammit," she sighed. There was no way she was getting out of this now. "Alright, just let me lock up."

The Lust guardians waited outside her office in better spirits as Esther cleaned up her workspace and turned all the lights off. As she was locking the door, Deren felt inclined to ask "So why is it that our resident elves on earth won't put out?"

"What?" Did she just hear what she thought she heard?

"They won't go the distance," the male guardian pouted. "It's making our work difficult, you know."

Esther had to refrain herself from smacking her colleague. While she had been pouring over notes for weeks, they didn't know half the facts that she did. "It's part of their culture," she said, trying to find a tasteful way of putting it. "They're like swans, Deren. They pick a mate for life."



"Well that's disappointing."

"Is it?" Esther asked him. "They love unconditionally and intensely, but these energies are focused on just their love. Infidelity is nonexistent to them, just as casual sex is."

"You've got to be joking." Delia looked scandalized.

"I'm not; it's in my notes, and Morwen even said it herself. To these elves, sex equals marriage because consummation is a bonding of their souls, not just their bodies."

"But what about Bernard?" Deren asked.

"Him I don't know about," Esther shrugged. "What I do know is that he's not a casual hook-up kind of elf. I mean that much is obvious, isn't it?"

As they walked down the hall, Esther couldn't fathom why she associated herself with these two. They took their job very seriously, for some reason they couldn't grasp that not everyone was comfortable with casual intimate relationships. 'Maybe that's why Manny chose me for this job,' she thought. 'I'm more comfortable with the thought of a committed relationship that will last a lifetime over a romp for a night.' Still, these thoughts led into what she could have had and what she ended up with that depressed her. 'Then again, this may be my opportunity to give others the fairy tale endings they deserve.'

"I'm impressed. We're inside for once!"

Legolas laughed at Ithilwen's joke. "This is the great hall of Minas Tirith. We are in Gondor presently."

Ithilwen strolled around the large room in her bare feet, trying not to let the fabric trip her. "Gondor, huh?" She looked around at the architecture. "I take it you all made it through the scenic route alright?" she asked, referring to the Path of the Dead. "I was getting worried that I hadn't heard from you like I normally do." She teased him, knowing that his path did not give him enough opportunities for a rest that he could reach out to her through their connection.

"It was a tough battle." Legolas told her of the outcome with the Dead King, acquiring the fleet of Corsair ships, and the battle at Pelennor Fields. Ithilwen listened with rapt attention as he talked, feeling the grief of hearing that so many had perished, including the king of Rohan. "The end of the war is near, Ithilwen. I do not know in which favor it will turn."

"Where will you be going next?"

"We will ride with Aragorn to the Black Gates of Mordor. The two hobbits Frodo and Sam are making their way to the inside of the mountain, but Sauron will notice the location of the ring..."

"You are going to your deaths." Ithilwen stated, knowing where this conversation was going. Her voice cracked, against her wishes. She didn't want to let him see her cry.

Legolas felt his heart ache as he looked upon Ithilwen. "Death is not certain."

"Bullshit!" she snorted. "Each battle you've gotten into has progressively gotten worse! If the hobbits are that close to destroying the ring, you know that Sauron will pull out all the stops to keep that from happening!"

He was at a loss for words with her modern phrase, but he had to agree with her. Legolas looked at the small elleth standing before him, trying to control her emotions, but he could feel them. She radiated fear. Legolas pulled her to him, and instinctively she wrapped her arms around his chest in a tight grip, burying her head in his tunic so that he would not see her tears fall.

"I'm scared for you, Legolas! For all of you! I've already lost decades without Ada – the thought of losing both of you terrifies me beyond belief!"

The ache that he was feeling got a lot worse with her words. He couldn't deny that he wasn't anxious for what was to come. "Forgive me, Ithilwen. It was not my wish to upset you." He rubbed her back as she tried to get her emotions under control.

"I would have rather you told me than not, and be left wondering," she said with more control. She had mentally kicked herself for showing her tears in front of him again. Ithilwen loosened her grip enough to look up at him. "What do you think your chances are? Honestly."

Legolas continued to rub her back absentmindedly. "I think...that as long as we can hold Sauron's attention so the ring can be destroyed, we should prevail. We are outnumbered, but if the ring is gone then the cleanup of the darkness will not be as difficult." It was the truth, even if it was worded nicer than the prospects really sounded. "I will be damned if I do not keep my promise to you," he added with more assurance, receiving a small smile in return.

As he looked at the elleth in his arms, he knew he needed to cheer her up, or at the very least distract her. The wheels started turning and he was struck with an idea, but could he do it? Was it right? "Ithilwen, I have a couple requests from you."


"For starters, do not let the war consume your thoughts. Keep yourself occupied like I know you need to. I could not bear the thought of your sitting and worrying all the time."

Ithilwen nodded. "I can do that, or at least try. You know I'm going to worry. What was your other request?"

Legolas could not hide his grin. "A kiss from a beautiful elleth before I ride to battle."

Out of all the possibilities, that was no where in Ithilwen's mental database of requests she figured that he would ask. All signs of previous distress were gone now, replaced by a faint blush and sputtering in disbelief. She tried to get out of his grasp, but the elf had no intentions of loosening his hold. She was stuck.


"A kiss," he repeated, still smiling. He had meant to keep a straight face, but her reaction had made it very difficult. "Maidens entangled with warriors would bestow a token of favor to the men riding to battle."

"But- but- I'm not entangled with you!"

"Actually, you are." His grin widened. "You are in my arms. Does that not qualify as entangled?"

Ithilwen's face became more pink. "That's besides the point!"

"You did express concern over my well-being earlier," he continued. "Do I not deserve a favor from a concerned maiden?"

She wanted to open her mouth and supply a witty comeback, but nothing came up of use. He was right. She had nearly broken down just earlier about the prospect of him going to battle. Ithilwen had watched his cheeky grin grow as she had gotten more and more flustered from the blunt request, and suddenly knew how to wipe that smile off his face.

"Alright, Legolas. I will kiss you. For luck," she added with a smirk. For a moment, Ithilwen was smug in that she had caught him off guard; payback for his request making her get flushed. But then he smiled again, and she knew that she would have to make good on her word.

Legolas leaned in as she did. Her heart was beating erratically, and she couldn't figure out why. She had kissed guys before, but somehow this was different. Oddly enough, her stomach felt as if it did a small flip, and a tingle of anticipation went up her spine. They were getting closer, and she could feel his breath-

"It's hard to stay up / It's been a long, long day / And you got the sandman at the door / But hang on, leave the TV on / And let's do it anyway / It's ok / You can always sleep through work tomorrow, OK? / Hey hey / Tomorrow's just your future yesterday..."

Ithilwen hit the floor beside her bed with a thump, wildly looking around her for the source of the noise. Her ears turned to the television in her room. It was after midnight, she concluded, noticing that the program was a late-night talk show. She had dozed off earlier than she expected to, but being home alone left little opportunity for conversation. The remote lay on her bed still, and it occurred to her that she must have rolled over on it and turned it back on. She scratched her head in irritation, trying to remember what had happened in her dream before she woke up.

'I almost kissed Legolas,' she realized, feeling her cheeks heat up. 'Holy shit.' She didn't understand why she felt so flustered by the idea, unless it was because they were friends. Ithilwen groaned, banging her head on the side of her mattress. She really hoped he'd forgive her for falling short on her promise.

In Minas Tirith, Legolas was shaken awake by the elleth's father. "It is time to wake, mellon," the marchwarden spoke. "Did you speak to Ithilwen?"

Legolas didn't feel like he could speak in confirmation, so he nodded. Father or not, being woken up at that moment had irritated the prince. He was so close! Being in his situation, he was not around any elleth, and even fewer women. His request had been in jest, to make her forget about her worries, so he was really caught off guard when she agreed to kiss him. Not that he would have argued.

"I'm sorry?" he looked up at the marchwarden, who was looking at him peculiarly.

"I asked you what my daughter said when you spoke of the impending battle?"

"Oh." For a minute there he thought Haldir was reading his thoughts. Then he realized that he probably wouldn't be breathing if he had. "She is scared," he replied. "She is worried for everyone's safety. I assured her that we would not go into the Halls of Mandos without a fight, and I suggested that she keep herself distracted so that she won't sit and worry herself into a stupor."

Haldir nodded."If she has become anything like my beloved, she would do that." He gave his thanks to the prince before heading off to finish preparations to depart.

Legolas continued to remain where he sat, his mind clouded by what had happened. 'Or rather what didn't,' he thought with some disappointment. Wait, was he disappointed? Should he have been?

"You didn't tell everything, did you?"

He looked up in alarm to see Gimli standing in the doorway, and by his side was Glorfindel. "The marchwarden does not know everything about your dalliances with his only daughter, does he?" the balrog slayer asked.

"I do not know of speak of," Legolas moved from his bed to collect his belongings. "We are friends and nothing more."

"And the lass has a sister," Gimli supplied to the other elf. "Her mother took her in. A son as well, from what I hear."

Glorfindel looked surprised. "And how did this news go over?"

"It hasn't," Legolas said. "Because there has been little time to discuss more than we have."

Gimli snorted and shifted his weight. "It's going to be a surprise when he does find out. And I look forward to seeing how many expressions an elf's face can make when he does!"

All able-bodied men were astride horses leaving the enclosure of Minas Tirith. Aragorn was leading the procession in king's armor. Around him were his closest companions: Gandalf and Pippin, Legolas and Gimli, Eomer and Merry, Glorfindel, Haldir, Elladan, and Elrohir. It was a silent ride for the Host of the West.

Legolas felt the distinct shift of fabric brush against his chest and on instinct, reached up to touch the place where it sat beneath his tunic and jerkin. He wasn't sure how he would pull it off, but he would see her in person once the war was over. Gandalf had offered little words of comfort on anything past the war's days, leaving it up in the air as to how long it would take to get to her. Legolas hated leaving Ithilwen in his dreams upset; he didn't feel right giving her news that was less than hopeful, but she could have gleaned the information from him just by his emotions. 'That could have gone much worse,' he thought. 'Telling Ithilwen was the best of a bad situation.'

The scratchy feeling of the fabric changed his thoughts to another direction. Since he had discovered the small green intimates in his bed back in Edoras, Legolas had kept them on his person. Valar save him if Haldir were to ever find out, but given the additional companions recently, he damned sure wasn't about to leave them laying around. It was a secret addition to his preparations for the battles ahead, and while they wouldn't stop a sword's edge, they were a reminder of what he was fighting for. 'Even if the lace feels bothersome,' Legolas frowned. 'Surely Ithilwen would not wear these garments if...they...were...uncomfortable... Focus you fool! Don't think about such things! Her adar is right beside you!'

Though Haldir remained silent, he couldn't for the life of him understand why the prince was making the faces he was. His expression had gone from neutral to concerned to startled and finally to what he thought was a shameful blush. He recalled briefly of an old gossip about how the elves of the Woodland realm were "less wise and more dangerous" but felt it should be amended. 'I think the gossips should change their words to more expressive and dangerous. I've never seen another elf show so many emotions in a short amount of time!'

In the Houses of Healing, Eowyn stood in front of a window, looking out at the city. She nursed her bandaged arm with disgust, frustrated that she could not join the others. Gimli had visited with the news of their plan before the departure, and she had desperately wanted to go. Despite her heroics at Pelennor, she didn't feel like she had served her purpose. Eowyn harbored some guilt in that she could not save her uncle, and once Eomer had finished chastising her for her actions, he had convinced her that nothing could have been done.

Out of the corner of her eye, she saw the Gondorian Faramir approach her side. "The city has fallen silent," she told him. "There is no warmth left in the sun. It grows so cold.."

"It's just the damp of the first spring rain. I do not believe this darkness will endure." He had sought her company when she was well enough to move about the Houses of Healing, and commended her on her valiant efforts in the previous battle. Her demeanor on their first meeting was grim, but each day she looked to be in better spirits. They were lost souls that were misunderstood and underestimated by their kin; it was only natural that they seek comfort from the other person.

Faramir took her delicate hand in his, and Eowyn smiled at him, resting her head against his shoulder.

"Where are they?" Pippin murmured from behind Gandalf. Whether he meant Sauron's forces or his kin, no one was entirely sure. They had crossed the deserted plains and finally saw the Black Gate on the horizon. The seven horses leading the armies of free men continued on toward the gate of imminent hell.

Ithilwen was attaching grommets to her corset-cloak the following day. Try as she might, the distraction was not working, even as tedious as it was. Everything felt eerily calm, and that did nothing to soothe her nerves. Just knowing that they were going to the heart of the evil scared her, and not knowing the certainty of the outcome left her shaking. Ithilwen sniffled, trying to fight back tears as she contemplated the possible scenarios. She couldn't let herself get upset; she had to think positive! Her stomach growled, and she got up from her seat on the floor to fix a quick lunch; she had been so busy she hadn't eaten since much earlier that morning. Ithilwen knew that she had to remain strong. If they were sharing bruises and cramps like handshakes now, it could have been possible that he could feel her emotions just as easily, and Ithilwen would never forgive herself if Legolas had become distracted on the battlefield because of her.

Chapter Text

The riders had reached the ominous Black Gate, and only those closest to the returning heir of Isildur followed him further. "Let the Lord of the Black Land come forth!" Aragorn called out. "Let justice be done upon him!"

There was a pause, as if the man had shouted out to no one. The pause continued, and if the circumstances were not so serious, the awkwardness might have been humorous. The Black Gate began to open at last to reveal a dark rider atop a likewise dark and armored horse, who ambled up to their party slowly.

The rider was not so much human, save for his posture and form. Everything else was downright grotesque. The face of the rider was obscured by a helmet of sorts, save for the mouth. A mouth that was blackened by dark deeds and poisoned lies cracked the edges. "My master, Sauron the Great, bids thee welcome." The Mouth of Sauron made a toothy grin, further showing that what lay behind the decaying lips was anything but pleasant.

Aragorn's only reply to the greeting was a mocking look.

"Is there any in this rout with authority to treat with me?" He was cocky, that much was evident.

"We do not come to treat with Sauron, faithless and accursed," Gandalf spoke, drawing the attention of the servant to him. "Tell your master this: The armies of Mordor must disband. He is to depart these lands, never to return."

The Mouth of Sauron sneered. "Old Greybeard. I have a token I was bidden to show thee." He pulled from his robes the mithril shirt that Bilbo had given to Frodo so long ago in Rivendell and tossed the garment to Gandalf.

"Frodo," Pippin muttered in disbelief.

"Silence," Gandalf chided to the hobbit.

Merry didn't hear him. "No!"

"Silence!" the wizard repeated more sternly. They had come this far and he would not believe that Frodo had failed, even if there was "proof" sitting in his hands.

The Mouth of Sauron sneered more. "The Halfling was dear to thee, I see. Know that he suffered greatly at the hands of his host. Who would've thought one so small could endure so much pain? And he did, Gandalf. He did." He took great pleasure in rubbing salt in the fresh wounds of the wizard.

Aragorn's horse came forward casually, and the servant's tone took to mocking surprise. "And who is this? Isildur's heir? It takes more to make a king than a broken Elvish blade."

Had he known those would have been his final words, the Mouth of Sauron might have chosen a more memorable way to go out. Aragorn had quickly unsheathed his sword and sliced the Mouth of Sauron's head off his shoulders. The horse, taking the hint, sped off for safety, not wishing to be the next victim of the angry man, leaving the decapitated body to slide from the saddle and crumple to the ground.

"I guess that concludes negotiations," Gimli stated matter of factly.

"I do not believe it. I will not." Aragorn stated, spinning around to face his companions. He was livid, and the fact that the servant had tried to get under their skin with this deception added fuel to the fire. In his moment of fury, he failed to notice that the Eye shifted its gaze to the North. Those around the Black Gate noticed the swarm of orcs that began to march in their direction. "Pull back! Pull back!" With his orders, they rode back to their forces in haste.

Fiona hummed a tune as she juggled her camera bags while opening the door. Her two days at the convention were fun, even if science fiction was not her ultimate favorite. She had agreed to meet up with two groups of cosplayers that sought her services out because she went a step further than just posing, and in one group she was commissioned once more to do wedding pictures in a few months time. Every memory card she brought with her had been filled to capacity, and she was looking forward to sitting down and going through them all.

"I'm home!" she called out from the kitchen, only to receive silence.

'That was strange', she thought. Ithilwen's car was still in the garage, and she doubted that the elleth would go out and walk to the store. Her hearing was superb, so she should have heard the greeting. Why didn't she respond?

"Ithilwen?" Fiona set the camera bags down on the table and scoured the house for her friend. Frustrated, she moved to the backyard, finally finding her friend sitting on the back porch. "What are you doing out here?" she asked the woman, puzzled that she didn't get an answer. "Ithilwen?" Fiona moved around to look at Ithilwen, and was alarmed to find how still she was. She was awake, that much was certain, but she looked so...lost. "Ithilwen? What's wrong?"


Confused, she asked. "What's gone?"

"Legolas," Ithilwen said. "He's gone. I can't sense him anymore."

Back at the front lines of defense, Aragorn paced back an forth on his horse. "Hold your ground! Hold your ground." As he looked at them, he could see fear and uncertainty on every face, even those of his closest friends. He knew that they knew that it was anyone's bet, and try as they might to remain positive, they were still battling nerves. He brought his horse's pace up a notch, moving about the front of his troops so that he could look upon their faces.

"Sons of Gondor, of Rohan, my brothers." He spoke loudly, to bring the undivided attention to his words of encouragement. "I see in your eyes the same fear that would take the heart of me. A day may come when the courage of Men fails, when we forsake our friends and break all bonds of fellowship. But it is not this day." His voice had risen slightly for emphasis. "An hour of wolves and shattered shields when the Age of Men comes crashing down. But it is not this day. This day we fight!" His voice had risen to a roar at this time, and it would be a lie to deny that a shiver of anticipation ran up the spines of the soldiers. "By all that you hold dear on this good earth, I bid you stand, Men of the West!"

The Men drew their swords, feeling a renewal of spirit at their leaders speech. They looked onto the forces of Sauron move out to surround their meager army. Towards the front of the army, Gimli shifted on his feet and sighed. "Never thought I'd die fighting side by side with an Elf." After the tales his father had told him about his misadventures with elves, he found the situation baffling in retrospect of the prejudices he had been raised to believe.

Legolas had a comeback, understanding the journey their relationship had taken in the past months. "What about side by side with a friend?"

Gimli looked up at him and said, "Aye. I could do that."

"What do you mean he's gone?" Fiona watched Ithilwen pace in front of her. She was baffled by this information. "How can he be gone?"

"I mean he's gone," Ithilwen stated again. "I can't feel him." She groaned at her friend's lack of understanding, forgetting that she didn't know all the details that had developed. "Our connection had gotten stronger, Fiona. You know how he got my cramps? Well I got the bruises he got at Helms Deep. It used to be that one of us would feel the other's emotions in times of stress, but recently it's gotten more frequent. At least until now."

Beside Fiona sat Bernard and Toothiana. When Ithilwen had remained stationary after her admission, Fiona had gotten on the phone and made some calls. Her sister was just now starting to get back some of her mannerisms, but her frantic pacing was making her dizzy. She looked to their friends. "Any ideas?"

Bernard shook his head. "I've got nothing. This whole thing is bizarre to me, and I used to deal with Santas falling off of roofs."

"Perhaps this is temporary?" Toothiana suggested, trying to alleviate the elleth's fears. "Legolas did tell you to keep yourself distracted when you last met, right? It could be that he has cut off the link so that you won't experience what he's going through in this battle."

"Tooth's got a point," Fiona agreed. The logic made sense, but to do so without warning only added to Ithilwen's worries. She just hoped he knew what he was doing, for both their sakes.

Ithilwen groaned again, coming to a stop before she wore a ditch into the ground. "I'm gonna worry anyway, and I'm fairly certain that he knows that. Not knowing what is going on makes it so much worse."

Meanwhile, the Eye of Sauron had completely focused on Aragorn. "Aragorn," the voice taunted. "Elessar."

Aragorn stood motionless and stared off at the Eye in the distance of the land. His friends around him were puzzled by his demeanor, and even more so when he took a few steps forward. They could not hear the voice calling to him, and thus did not understand why he looked so lost. Aragorn turned slowly to look at the army behind him.

"For Frodo." The words were so softly spoken that only those closest to him would have heard. Then he was off like a flash of lightning, heading straight into the army from hell.

There was a pause, followed by the war cries of Merry and Pippin, who had taken off shortly after Aragorn. It was moments later that the rest of the army had composed themselves, easily catching up to and passing the halflings in their pursuit of the orcs.

"I'm worried." Morwen looked on from her perch at the living room couch to observe her daughter in the den.

Ithilwen was surrounded by a hoard of children, namely Sophie and Jamie Bennet, along with his friends from school. They had come over to spend time with her daughters and the Guardians for the afternoon. At the moment, they were teaching Toothiana the steps to one of the dances from the new video game Fiona had picked up. It was meant as a distraction, and while the elleth could put up a good poker face in the eyes of the children, her naneth knew better. She was hurting because of this, and there wasn't anything that anyone could do.

The former Head Elf and Guardian of Fun were sitting across from the older woman, following her gaze. Jack had arrived not long ago, and had been brought up to speed on what he missed. "I don't pretend to understand any of this, but which way do you think it'll go?"

"I pray that the Valar will guide them through this battle safely," Morwen replied. "Not only is her new friend out there in the melee, but her adar is as well. They are very strong warriors, but I can't help but worry. I'm worried about her," she sighed. "Her connection is gone, and I can only hope that it is temporary. I do not wish my daughter to fade."

Before either could ask her about fading, she shrugged her shoulders and stood from her seat. "I think that tonight is a pizza night. I have some phone calls to make to parents first, though. Will you both stay? I am sure that Ithilwen would appreciate the company."

The final battle at the Black Gate was taking a toll on both sides. For every orc that was slain, it seemed as if a man was taken down as well. The incoming Nazgul did nothing to better the odds of man, swooping in to cause an extra wave of damage.

Gandalf was in the middle of a swarm when he saw a Nazgul fly in for the kill, when a moth flew past his line of perception. He strained his ears to pick up the cries of Eagles, one of which attacked the Nazgul that's path was aimed at the wizard.

Pippin shouted out with joy at the arrival. "Eagles! The Eagles are coming!" The Eagles fell into place and went after the Nazgul, removing some stress from the shoulders of the men fighting the orcs.

In another part of the battlefield, Aragorn was going toe to toe with an armored troll. Unable to dodge a swing, he was put into the ground, and felt the heavy foot of the troll against his chest. All around him his men were being decimated from the larger force, and there was nothing that he could do. Legolas was nearby, watching in fear as his friend fell, but despite his shouts and attempts to break free from the swarm around him, he could do nothing. If Aragorn were to fall in battle, all would be for naught. He looked around to find the others trapped in a similar situation.

It seemed hopeless.

They were all going to die.

Time seemed to stand still when Sauron's troops suddenly paused to look back to Mordor. Then they began to flee the field in fear, leaving the resistance to stare in shock at the scene that was unfolding.

The Tower of Barad-dur had begun to crumble and fall, and the flaming Eye of Sauron disappeared. A great explosion blew out from the dying Eye, rocking the land from there to the Black Gate. The structures and land in between crumbled, taking most of the retreating troops with it.

Amidst the silence of the resistance, Merry was the first to shout out, "Frodo! Frodo!"

Just then, the top of Mount Doom erupted in an enormous fiery explosion. For the remaining Fellowship and companions, it was a horrifying sight to behold as they realized that Frodo and Sam were still in the cavern of the mountain.

At the house, the all of the youngest children had fallen asleep on homemade pallets spread out in the den. Discarded paper plates stained with pizza sauce and leftover cheese were stacked on top of a side table. Morwen had left to make additional phonecalls to the parents to see if the children would need to return home or if they could spend the night. Ithilwen had managed to weave through the tangle of arms and legs to go out on the back porch to stargaze. Fiona, Bernard, Toothiana, Esther, and Jack moved to follow her silently. On the way, she had grabbed an unopened box of pizza to eat.

Outside, the six made themselves comfortable on the porch, popping open the pizza box and sharing the fast food. "Okay, this stuff isn't half bad when it's cold," Bernard said.

"Told you," Ithilwen said with a grin. "Ever since Domino's changed their sauce, it hasn't tasted right to me."

"How did you find out this tasted good cold?" Toothiana asked.

Fiona laughed. "She couldn't wait a minute and a half for the microwave to heat it up."

Jack laughed at the face Ithilwen shot her friend, but his smile vanished when he saw the newcomer standing in the yard. "What are you doing here?"

From beside Jack, Esther hastily took a bite of her pizza to keep her mouth busy. It wasn't that she was starving, but recent events had put her on edge and she wasn't sure she could stay quiet. The nightmares of the moment her mortal life ended had become worse, and she wasn't certain if it was a mental distortion or if they were being planted there. Something had triggered them to start up again, and she wanted answers. 'But now is not the time,' she told herself. 'Ithilwen's problems are what I should focus on. I would likely find a solution to them first, anyway.'

"Is that any way to treat a guest?" The voice replied.

Ithilwen sighed. "Jack, be nice. Pitch is as welcome here as you guys are. Come on up and get some pizza, Pitch. It's not hot, but it's still good." She held the box out for him, smiling when he obeyed her request.

The nightmare king moved off to the side of the porch away from the Guardians. They still hadn't forgiven him for what he did, and he didn't expect them to. It's not like he had the power anymore to make a repeat performance; at best he could do simple nightmares just to keep Sandman on his toes. "How are things?" he asked casually, only to receive a scoff from Jack. "What's the matter Jack? Surprised I can be civil?"

"Actually, yes."

"Please Jack, I don't need a fight right now," Ithilwen pleaded. "And I am as well as can be, considering things, Pitch." At his blank look, she continued. "The connection I have with Legolas has disappeared, and there's a huge battle either about to take place or going on and I don't know anything about anything!" Her words became rushed and she felt the onset of a panic attack forming.

"Breathe," Esther murmured, noticing how the elleth's hands shook.

Jack shifted in his seat, feeling guilty that he had nearly upset Ithilwen, knowing that she was at her breaking point right now. Toothiana, sitting opposite Esther, patted his arm reassuringly. She looked up at Pitch, trying to find a safe topic to settle on. "So, Pitch. Ithilwen's told me that you're getting amusement at the teenager's scary stories floating around."

Pitch grinned. "Yes, I've found that it's been more entertaining to spook the teenagers that sit up in the dark at night looking at these creepypastas on the computer. One of my recent endeavors has been to leave those scribbled notes of the stick man on the window of the brave soul."

Ithilwen snorted, knowing which creepypasta Pitch was referring to. Morwen came out just then to sit by her daughter. "The parents all agreed that it would be best for the children to sleep over tonight, since it's the weekend. You're laughing," she pointed out. "This is a good thing."

"Creepypastas," was all Ithilwen said, offering her mother a slice of pizza.

"Oh yes," Morwen mused, taking the proffered food. "There was one I found enjoyable. A few years ago, a mother and father decided they needed a break, so they wanted to head out for a night on the town. They called their most trusted babysitter. When the babysitter arrived, the two children were already fast asleep in bed, so the babysitter just got to sit around and make sure that everything was okay with the children. Later that night, the babysitter became bored and went to watch TV, but she couldn't watch it downstairs because the cable was not connected. Thus, she called them to ask if it would be possible to watch cable in the parent's bedroom."

Everyone around Morwen was caught up in the story, and she fought hard to fight down the grin she felt. "Of course, the parents said it was acceptable, but the babysitter had one more request...she asked if she could cover up the angel statue outside the bedroom window with a blanket or cloth, at the very least close the blinds, because it made her nervous. The phone line was silent for a moment, and the father who was talking to the babysitter at the time said '...Take the children and get out of the house...we will call the police. We do not have an angel statue.' The police fond all three of the house occupants dead within three minutes of the call. No statue was found."

The occupants of the back porch went silent after Morwen's tale, until Ithilwen shivered from head to toe and shouted "DON'T BLINK! BLINK AND YOU'RE DEAD!"

Fiona shivered as well and said, "That was not cool, Mom!"

Morwen laughed. "It never fails! That episode has been the only one to creep Ithilwen out."

Pitch looked smug. "Do you mind if I use that one?"

The older elleth nodded, looking at Ithilwen. "How do you feel now?"

"Like I might not sleep for a while!" Ithilwen half-joked. "But I do feel a little better," she added, looking around at the group. "I really appreciate all of you being here, and I apologize for my manner; I know I haven't been myself."

Jack shrugged. "You're upset. We get that. Just think positive and do like Morwen does and pray to the Valet that it will all work out."

Ithilwen laughed as her mother groaned and put her head in her hands. "It's Valar," she corrected.

The small gathering outside on the porch continued to talk long into the night, but Esther had excused herself to make a quick visit back to her office. She decided to check in on the children before she left, as a favor to Morwen. As she stepped into the den silently, she noted with satisfaction that all of the young ones were sound asleep. However, something was amiss in the room, and upon a closer look, it seemed that Cupcake was having a bad dream.

There was no dark sand swirling above her head to indicate that it was Pitch's work, so the dream-demons had to have come from within. Esther had crouched down next to the girls' pallet of blankets and observed her with concern. The normally-strong girl looked so fragile as her head jerked slightly, her mouth twisted in a small grimace. Whatever was causing her to have ill dreams was not strong enough to be considered a nightmare, but it was enough to give her a fitful sleep.

'Jack once told me that Cupcake has a reputation for being a stronghold,' the guardian reflected. 'Is the dream about her self-confidence crumbling? Does she fear rejection because of her persona?' Esther frowned when Cupcake made a small noise as she tossed about. She lightly ran her fingertips over the child's brow in a soothing gesture, not enough to wake her, but an attempt to calm her fears. "You are my only make me happy...when the skies are'll never know much I love you...please don't take my sunshine away..."

What Esther didn't know was that she had been followed. From the doorway to the den Jack watched unannounced as his friend sang the lullaby to the young girl. Esther had moved from her crouched position beside Cupcake to sitting when she began to sing, and she had been so engrossed in making sure the bad dreams were dispelled that she never noticed his arrival. Jack took it as a blessing, using this time to study the other guardian. There was something...familiar about her, but he couldn't place it. Seeing Esther tend to Cupcake as she had further set off alarms in his head that something was off. Not having his memories only made things more frustrating, because he felt like he had known her for far longer than he "knew" he did.

Esther heard a light scraping of something nearby, and looked around in bewilderment for the noise, only to discover that Jack had been present. "How long have you been there?" she whispered. Standing carefully, she maneuvered her way through the den to reach his side.

"Not long," he replied in the same tone. "I thought you had to get back to the office."

"Morwen asked me to check on the children," she replied, moving towards the front door. "I couldn't let the girl's bad dreams progress, could I?" Esther hated how her tone took on a defensive stance, as if she were daring him to make light of the situation.

"Of course not," he agreed. "But I gotta say I'm impressed. I didn't know you could sing."

They moved out onto the front porch and down the driveway. "There's a lot of things you don't know about me," she replied softly.

"Then enlighten me. I'm curious."

'You should already know most of these things.' Esther exhaled through her nose, suddenly feeling like she had to confess. It wasn't like he remembered all of his past, but she could recall hers. All too well. "When I was still human, I used to take care of the smaller children in my village," she said vaguely. "Often they would be consumed with nightmares, and I sang to them to ease their minds. I still do it when I'm out in public. If there's a crying baby that's inconsolable, I'll sing to them. Their parents can't see me, so when the baby calms itself they believe it's their logic that worked."

"You must have had a lot of practice for your own kids then," Jack said. Coming to a stop, he blurted out, "Or did you- I mean did you get a chance to- ?"

Esther's steps halted a few feet in front of him. "I had a baby once, Jack," she told him, not turning to face him. She couldn't. "A son named Joshua. I was eighteen when I gave birth, and died before his first birthday."

Jack felt his jaw go slack at this piece of news. "I'm sorry." It was all he could think of to say, aside from asking what happened, but that question was rather tactless.

"I've made peace with it, Jack." Not entirely, but she couldn't change the past. When he came to stand before her, his face looked questioning, but he wouldn't let the words leave his lips. "I died from heartbreak," she explained, watching as his expression fell further. "The one I was betrothed to was lost to me in a fatal accident, and I was given to another. My husband could not replace the one I was meant for, but I fulfilled my duties as a wife and carried on the bloodline. My heart, however, was unable to keep me going from day to day."

"You...Esther you're not the kind of girl I would take for being submissive," Jack said. This girl that Esther described sounded so different from the girl he was looking at. He found it hard to believe that they were the same! "I may be terrible about some things, but even I know that a wife has more than a 'duty' to give children!"

Esther smiled halfheartedly at him. "Times were different then, Jack. We didn't know how long we would live, and we needed able-bodies to work. I thought you would remember that much, seeing as you said you once lived in a small village as well."

Running a hand through his white hair, Jack sighed. "I don't remember everything about my past, Esther," he admitted. "There's still black spots in my mind that I can't remove, and I don't know what to do."

"They will come back eventually," she assured him, as well as herself. 'At least, I hope they will.' Esther reached over and took Jack's free hand in hers, giving it a light squeeze, relishing in the contact. "I'll be back in the morning after I've spoken to Cupid. I have some paperwork I need to give him personally." She had moved further away from him, pausing to say, "And Jack - whatever's keeping you from remembering - it can be conquered. You just need to stay positive." Then, she was gone, disappearing behind a plume of white and gold fog.

Chapter Text

The war was over.

Miraculously, Aragorn had led them all to victory, despite the number of lives it cost. Frodo and Sam made it to the chasm in Mount Doom and successfully destroyed the One Ring. The news of the victory had begun to make its way out into middle-earth as the warriors at the forefront of the action were getting some much needed rest.

Most of them, that is.

It hadn't occurred to Legolas that the link between Ithilwen and him had been missing since their last meeting, and once he tried to rest, he discovered that he had a dreamless sleep. He had tried many times to reach her, even going so far as to try meditation to reach her.

"Something bothering you, laddie?"

The prince turned to see Gimli sitting beside him at the makeshift table. They were all gathered in Frodo's room in the Houses of Healing, catching up on the various adventures since their separation at Amon Hen months before. "It is nothing, Gimli," he tried to assure the dwarf.

"Bah!" He snorted. "I've been around you too long now to know that's a lie! Now what is it? Is it the lass that's got you down?"

Everyone's head turned at the mention of Haldir's daughter, but it was the marchwarden that spoke first. "Have you talked to her?" He wasn't expecting Legolas to shake his head. "What's happened?"

Legolas looked up and realized that all eyes were on him. He sighed, not wishing to worry him, but if he didn't speak to Ithilwen soon, it was bound to come up. "I haven't spoken to Ithilwen since we left for the Black Gate," he spoke softly. "I have been having dreamless sleeps since then." He looked to Gandalf for some possible support, only to find that the wizard was stroking his beard thoughtfully. "Gandalf?"

"Do you feel any connection to Lady Ithilwen? Even right now?" Gandalf asked him.

"No, there's nothing," Legolas shook his head again. "It's as if she was never there-"

"Don't say that!" Haldir hissed. He could not believe it. He wouldn't. They had fought so hard to win the war, and he would not accept that his beloved and child could not be located. The Valar couldn't be that cruel! "Why would they share a link only for it to disappear?" He honed in on the wizard with these words, as if the old man had all the answers.

Gandalf went back to stroking his beard. "Lady Galadriel informed me of the history of the situation when I was recuperating in Lothlorien. I am deeply sorry to have learned what you have been through, Haldir." Everyone in the room thought that he was sidestepping the question until he continued. "It appears to me that the Valar have brought these two elves together. Perhaps it was foreseen that Saruman would attempt to rid Lady Galadriel of her ring and would mistakenly attack your wife and daughter instead. Perhaps they foresaw the Fellowship crossing paths with your wardens. I do not pretend to have all of the answers."

"What can you tell us?" Aragorn asked from his position by the window. He wasn't officially crowned as the king yet, but he was as good as. One could almost see the gears turning in his mind to find a solution to the problem.

"I can tell you this," Gandalf said, looking directly at Legolas. "It was fated that you and Lady Ithilwen were to meet, though the reasons are still unknown. I suggest that you collect your senses and seek her out; bridge the connection." He turned to face the rest of the party in the room. "When we departed from Isenguard, I happened to collect some books that Saruman had penned himself. It will take some time to peruse them, but I believe that the key to bringing Lady Morwen and Lady Ithilwen back to middle-earth lies within the pages."

The change of atmosphere in the room was instant. The mood had lifted considerably, eager to bring the two ellith back that they had heard so much about. Haldir's mood turned sour quickly when he realized how long the wizard had held this knowledge. "You kept this news from me for that long, Mithrandir?! Did you not think that I would like to have known this information?"

Gandalf looked calmly at the infuriated marchwarden. "It would have done no good to tell you then, Haldir. We were needed on the battlefield, and if the spell that sent them away requires a large amount of energy, I would not have been able to spare it and fight. We might have been left open to attack. Do not fear," he said, looking at Legolas with a twinkle in his eye, "You are not the only one that is anxious to meet your daughter after all this time."

Legolas was staring at his hands, missing the pointed look that Haldir gave him in relation to Gandalf's words. There was still hope. It wouldn't be easy, but he faced almost certain death in the last battle, surely reestablishing the connection with Ithilwen wouldn't be that difficult? He silently excused himself and all but made a hasty retreat out of the patient's room, ignoring the varied looks of sympathy the others sent his way. It was rather strange to see an elf display his emotions, but the one in that had been in their company for so long wasn't like most of his kind.

Pippin was lounging on the large bed with his kin, silently watching the scene unfold for once. Naturally, his ability to be curious and speak without thinking could not withhold their talents. "Do you think he likes her?"

Gimli chuckled as he shifted in his seat by Glorfindel, and Haldir shot both of them a look of annoyance. Legolas may have befriended the dwarf months ago, but it seemed that Glorfindel was also warming up to the son of Gloin. Even though his age far surpassed Haldir's, the former Gondolin captain was not always of sound mind. 'And now he has formed an alliance with the dwarf,' Haldir grimaced internally. 'This day just gets better and better...'

Ithilwen was up before anyone else the next morning, cooking breakfast. She hadn't slept much the previous night, and when she did she dreamt of nothing. Nothing. Still unable to find Legolas, she was letting her frustrations out on the bell pepper she was chopping up for omelets.

"What'd that pepper ever do to you?"

Without turning, she answered. "Nothing, Jack. Absolutely-freaking-nothing." She felt the guardian's cold aura move closer to her, but she didn't shiver in response. Jack had learned it took quite the effort to make her shiver from cold.

"I guess you didn't have any luck, judging by the minced pepper piles." He leaned against the counter and watched as she collected the mixture and added it to the glass bowl nearby. "May I make a suggestion?" The elleth shrugged to give him the go-ahead. "Why don't you give up?" Jack received a hard glare, and realizing that Ithilwen was holding a sharp knife still, he had to backpedal quick to make her understand. "Hear me out," he added with hands raised, "Look at this as one of those statistics problems you got stuck on in college. As long as you're focused on it, you'll never find the answer, and you'll get more frustrated. If you walk away from it and do something else, the answer usually comes to you, doesn't it?"

Ithilwen grumbled as she cracked eggs into the bowl. She didn't want to admit it, but Jack was right. Something had happened to cause their link to become distorted; she refused to believe that he had blatantly stopped talking to her. Especially after he had asked her to…

Shaking her head to rid herself of the thoughts, lest she blush and have to explain, Ithilwen said "I don't know if it's that easy, Jack. I've gotten so used to meeting with Legolas that it's strange to not see him."

Jack continued to watch the elleth work, thinking about everything that had happened lately. She had just gotten out of a craptacular relationship, made a good friend, and somehow lost contact with him. And then he recalled what Esther had told him the night before, about her losses in her mortal life, and it made him think about what he still could not find now. "Has Esther ever told you about her life before she was a guardian?" he blurted out.

"As a mortal?" Ithilwen asked, whisking the yolks in the bowl. "I don't know much, aside from that she was betrothed to some guy but ended up marrying another because her betrothed passed away. What she's told me has been pretty mundane stuff about her life as a colonist. Why'd you ask?"

"Just...curious," he mumbled, putting all his attention on the box of cereal on the counter. "She told me that much last night," he added. "Said she died of heartbreak not many years later."

Ithilwen nodded. "Yeah, it's a sad story."

"What she said made me think about my past. I don't remember stuff like that."

"What do you mean?"

"I mean with the memories I got back from my baby teeth," he explained. "Most of those memories are happy ones, except for the last one I saw. You know, where I drowned..."

"But you saved your sister, Jack." Ithilwen looked pointedly at him. "I would think that is a good memory. You saved her life."

"I know, I know... you think...could I have more memories than that?" He felt like a broken record that kept skipping the same verse over and over.

Ithilwen shrugged. "I wouldn't doubt it. You were what, 17 or so when you died? There's got to be tons more where those came from."

"I can't remember them though!" he groaned. "I feel like there's a chunk of me missing that everyone else has!"

The elleth paused. "Okay, well first, get a grip Jack. Second, have you thought about delving any deeper into what memories you do have? Maybe there's something you're not seeing in them at first glance that can help." Ithilwen wanted to continue, but the sounds of small feet from the den interrupted her.

Jack followed her gaze and smiled when he saw that Jamie and the other kids had woken up. Bernard, Toothiana and Fiona were not far behind them, ushering them into the seats at the dining table. Jack left his perch beside Ithilwen and moved with the other three to go about setting up the table for breakfast. Whether she had been about to give him more advice or just comments, he felt slightly better. Perhaps later in the day he would take some time to himself to look back over what he did know.

Ithilwen heated the hashbrowns on another skillet as she watched the omelet set up and sprinkled some cheese in the center before folding it over. The hum of the kids couldn't distract her from her thoughts, as much as she wished it would.

Not knowing how Legolas or her adar fared in the battle scared her. She wasn't familiar with empathic connections, but surely she would have been able to tell that something severe had happened, right? Even if Legolas had put up a wall between them? She felt it was some kind of mental thing that she should have been capable of controlling, but her emotions were so frantic that she was working herself towards a breakdown. 'I can't,' she told herself. 'I could just be overthinking things again. Legolas and Ada are fine. Everyone is fine. The war is over. We won. Surely...'

Until she heard or at the very least felt something from Legolas again, Ithilwen was pretty sure that she was going to be a nervous wreck, no matter what she did to distract herself.

Cupid looked up from his folder of reports as Esther approached his desk. "I am glad that you are here, Esther." He motioned to one of the thicker folders on the desk. "I was looking over your work reports earlier this morning, as well as your proposal."

His voice didn't say one way or the other that he approved, and it made Esther anxious. Of course, she was used to his ability to leave someone in suspense, but she really hoped that he would allow her to practice her magic more thoroughly. He had given her this project in the belief that she could find a solution to the problem; surely her past mistakes didn't hinder his trust in her for her future endeavors? Esther nodded briefly, out of habit, preparing for the worst. "Yes sir?"

"Your proposal is well written. Of course I can expect no less from you." Cupid smiled slightly then. Of many of his subordinates, she had a habit of going above-and-beyond when it came to paperwork. "I was very impressed with the amount of information you were able to glean from the notes I gave to you."

"Thank you, sir." Was he deliberately drawing his decision out to taunt her? Couldn't he just tell her no already, so she could go back to her duties?

"It is why I selected you, out of everyone on the board."

Esther looked surprised. "I'm sorry?"

"You believed it was merely because of your friendship with the Misplaced Ones? My dear, you far underestimate your abilities! No Esther, you are a very bright individual, and you have much potential that has gone untapped for many years. I saw as much when I reviewed the video files of your impromptu magic show."

The younger guardian flinched out of reflex, recalling just what event he reminded her of. "I assure you sir, that what happened that night will not happen again-"

"I know," he said, cutting her off mid sentence. "Your proposal is testament to that. You have shown great responsibility in correcting your mistakes since then, and you have impressed me with your work ethic. That is why I've decided to approve your proposal."

Esther was about to restate her promise to not muck-up once more, when his last words floored her. "What...what was that, sir?" She couldn't believe it.

"I'm giving you the go-ahead to put your proposal into action," Cupid said, smiling once more. "Consider this a promotion, if you will. Now-" he encouraged her to take a seat before she hit the floor. Once he was certain she was seated, he continued, "-Perhaps you would like to explain your proposal for me? Your notes are detailed, but I would like to hear you present it."

She cleared her throat, still in disbelief. He was actually allowing her to follow through on her plans. "Of course sir, and thank you so much for giving me this opportunity. My initial idea was to create a portal to middle-earth, and while I am not familiar with portal magic myself, I was hoping that I could get some information from North. His specialty snow globes should be a good reference for writing my own spells."

"The snow globes are interdimensional objects that connect points within this world. How do you intend to connect to an transdimensional space with that information?"

Esther sighed. "That is the tricky part, which will take some experimentation in spell-writing. I think to be successful I will have to connect to another object in the other world, something physical to ground the spell and open the portal. Perhaps something metaphysical to bring stabilize the portal once it is opened." She tucked a braided strand behind her ear. "In my research of the ethereal beings of middle-earth, the closest thing to a metaphysical force that I could find lies within one of the strongest physical beings in their history."

"Do you speak of another elf?" This was one part that was very vague in her proposal, and Cupid was incredibly curious.

She shook her head, shaking the recently tucked braid loose. "One of the Valar," she answered.

"That is quite the gamble, then. Your notes mentioned that they are highly revered and near-impossible to seek audience with. How do you intend to make contact?"

"With prayer?" she replied, half-jokingly. "My best chance is to begin a portal to seek out their world, so that I can get my intentions through to them. If I can convince one of the Valar to allow me to create a small rift in between the two worlds, and perhaps gain their assistance, I can create a stable portal."

"You believe that they will listen? What will you do if you cannot seek an audience, or if they choose not to give assistance in your endeavors?" The questions were harsh, Cupid knew this, but he had to think critically in the event that the plans fall apart.

"I have to believe that it is possible," Esther said with conviction. "I am going to try my best to make them see that my intentions are honest and respectful of their world and culture. There is war going on in middle-earth right now against dark forces and the free nations; I do not wish to start another confrontation. If they will allow my passage but not provide help, then I will have to do my best and work on other contingency plans. I have to believe that they will hear my pleas that some of their own are currently displaced and wish to set wrongs right."

Cupid smiled widely. "There, what you just said to me. If anyone were to question your honesty in this endeavor, then that argument right there should change their minds. You have the green light on this project, Esther. Do your best, and keep me informed. I would like to know how your progress is going."

Chapter Text

The beginning of April had proven to be an interesting month for the elves. Word had since spread from Gondor announcing the victory of Aragorn's men, but it was not the last battle that would take place.

What remained of the dark forces against freedom had sought out the kingdoms of Lothlorien and Mirkwood as a last-minute grab for power. The army of orcs from Dol Guldur and Mordor crossed the Anduin, only to be pressed back by the remaining Galadhrim in what was one of the largest battles of the war. With that victory in hand, the Lord and Lady of Lothlorien took up arms and moved to bring aid to Mirkwood, to finally rid the once-beautiful forest of all traces of Sauron's influence.

On the sixth day of the month, the lords from the neighboring lands met in council to discuss the future of the territories. It was...awkward, to put it bluntly. Galadriel had since left the room, not wanting to witness the events that would unfold, but in time had quietly snuck back in, unable to keep her curiosity in check.

Her beloved was sitting across from Thranduil, and not even tiptoeing in either one's minds she could tell that the battle of testosterone had not ended. "Have you come to an agreement?" she asked the room casually.

"We have," Celeborn stated calmly, not taking his eyes of the Sindar.

Thranduil nodded slightly. "Yes, Mirkwood will be split. I will take the northern half-"

"-And the south will be renamed Eastern Lorien," Celeborn finished.

Galadriel smiled. "I am glad that these dealings have been taken care of. Now why do I sense that there is tension in the room, if the worst is over?" She looked over each of the ellyn, but neither seemed willing to speak. "Surely the two of you are not still in disagreements over something that occurred centuries ago!"

"I could let it pass if your husband would just admit that he was in the wrong." Thranduil reclined in his chair. "He seems bent on bringing the past up."

Celeborn's lips pressed into a thin line. "Perhaps it is not I that is reliving past memories."

Had she been any other elleth, Galadriel might have sighed out loud in frustration. "The war of the Ring has passed. We have been victorious. Elrond and his party will arrive in a weeks time to travel with us to Minas Tirith for the crowing of King Elessar. I would hope that for the sake of our race the two of you will let the argument go."

Both ellyn looked at the Lady of Light with a more mature version of 'He started it!' but she would not give them the opportunity to speak.

"I do not care who tripped who in the race! You are both grown elves! If you want to have a drunken footrace again, then hold it when we don't have a coronation to arrive to!" With a sweep of her gown, she left the room to seek out the Queen of Mirkwood with hopes of having an adult conversation.

Back in the meeting room, Thranduil and Celeborn looked at each other like young elflings that had just been reprimanded. "You did stick your foot out," Thranduil claimed.

"I did no such thing, Oropherion! That bottle of Dorwinion you were lugging threw your balance!"

"Untrue!" Thranduil cried. "It was nearly empty!"


The journey to Minas Tirith had not settled the dispute between the two lords, leaving two exasperated mates to double back behind them and watch the bickering. The collection of elves that were making the journey to the white city were grouped together so that all of the lords and ladies traveling would be protected by the warriors. Haldir, Elladan, and Elrohir had returned to provide protection on the trip to replace some that were required to stay behind on healer's orders.

"Do you think that they will ever let it go?" Miraear asked, watching her husband's hair shake with every turn of his head. "I do find it amusing to see him wear that crown and act like an elfling with their argument, however." At the moment, Thranduil did not look like the renowned king that could intimidate so many.

One of the elleth riding beside Miraear said, "Naneth, I do not understand why Adar is so adamant about this disagreement he has with Lord Celeborn."

Galadriel looked across Miraear to see the auburn-haired elleth better. "It was a wager placed centuries ago, Lady Tauriel." She settled into the saddle more comfortably and smiled at her friend. "Perhaps you would like to entertain us with the real account?"

Miraear narrowed her eyes, "You just want me to get in trouble, Galadriel." When all that she received was a smile, she turned to her daughter. "Galadriel is correct. It was many centuries ago, before you were born, when I was but a few months along with you. You adar and Celeborn had been drinking Dorwinion, more than they should have I might add, when the wager was made to race on foot from the gates of Lorien to the gardens where Galadriel and myself were. A test of endurance, if you will." She shot a look to her friend, willing her to contribute.

"It was...interesting. We heard them before we saw them, so we were able to prepare ourselves...not that there was any need. When we saw them make the turn into the entrance of the gardens, Celeborn had swung his foot out, catching Thranduil's outstretched leg, bringing them both down."

Tauriel had to cover her mouth to keep from laughing outright. "Surely you jest, my Lady! This must have been a sight!"

Galadriel was no better at hiding her laughter. "It was. They were a tangle of limbs and robes! Neither had made it to the finishing point, so the race was never concluded. Of course, it is not the only reason for their disagreements," the Lady of Lothlorien added, gesturing to the now-powerless ring on her hand. "Your adar felt that our realms defenses were not as reliable because I held a Ring of Power, despite our guard's excessive training. It is a tale that goes back to the days of the First Age, where prejudices ran high among our kin." She paused to offer a reassuring smile. "Had I been in his place, I would feel the same way. However, Celeborn has never been as understanding in this instance."

"Celeborn is very protective of his mate," Miraear told Tauriel. "To this day your adar insists that Celeborn tried to cheat him, while Celeborn says that the bottle of Dorwinion was his undoing. Galadriel and I both think that it was the Dorwinion's fault in the first place."

From the set of horses in front of the ellith, they could hear the muffled arguing come to a stop, followed by "I heard that!". Giggles from the trio became louder at that statement.

When the laughter had subsided, Tauriel let her question out before she realized that she had spoken. "Will Legolas be at Minas Tirith with the others?"

Galadriel had silently called for Haldir's assistance, who let his horse drop back to walk beside her own. She gave him a look and a nod to the elleth on Miraear's left side, who was watching their exchange curiously.

"Lady Tauriel," Haldir began, "Legolas is indeed with the company still residing at Minas Tirith." Her look of relief was gratitude enough for answering her query. The last letter that they received from Legolas had been just before they departed for Dunharrow.

"How is our young prince doing?" Galadriel asked. "How is my granddaughter that he speaks to?"

Haldir knew that he couldn't lie to his Lady out of repsect, but also because she could easily catch him on it. "Legolas has been unable to speak with Ithilwen since the day we rode out to the Black Gate. She was doing well in their last meeting, albeit worried for everyone's safety, however he says that he cannot find her in his sleeping hours."

"This is the elleth that Legolas wrote home about, is she not?" Tauriel asked. "I hope it is not anything serious that keeps them apart. I was looking forward to meeting her." It was rare for Legolas to talk so candidly about an elleth, and his older sister grew more curious about the mystery girl with each letter.

Galadriel didn't seem upset to learn of this news. "I do not fear that anything is wrong. It has been a stressful time for all, and it is perhaps that which is keeping them apart. Things will work out for the best, of this I am sure."

Her smile was encouraging, even if the marchwarden was unsure himself. When he had departed the city with the Peredhil twins, Legolas still had not made any headway in reaching his daughter. He could only hope to return to good news.

"You need to get out of the house."

Ithilwen rolled her eyes, knowing that Gene couldn't see her actions over the phone. "And do what?"

"Will and I are going to the club tonight. Why don't you come dancing with us?"

"I don't know..." she began lamely. Fiona and Morwen were out of town on work activities, and she had opted to stay home instead of tag along. Now she was beginning to regret that idea, thinking she could distract herself in hopes of her link with Legolas rebuilding on its own.

No such luck there.

She could hear Gene let out an irritated sigh. "This is because of that elf-guy, isn't it?" When she didn't reply he kept going. "You need to get out of the house, Ithilwen. I know you're worried about your boyfriend, but sitting cooped up isn't doing anyone any favors. Get your little black dress and those new shoes you got the other day, put them on, fix your hair, do your makeup, and be ready by 7:30. We'll be over at your place before 8."

"Fine," she grumbled, not having a choice anymore. "And Legolas ain't my boyfriend!"

Think positive. That had been what Esther had told him, right?

Jack used his magic to materialize a snowball in his hand, which he pitched at a tree in frustration. He didn't see how positivity would help him, especially not after the day before when North had cornered him in the toyshop. The large man had drilled him full of questions, and it was only once he explained his reasons that Jack understood. Everyone thought he was suffering from PTSD.

He chucked another freshly-made snowball at the same tree, not even taking delight in how it scattered on impact. Aside from the humiliation of being discussed about behind his back, he was also being diagnosed by a bunch of people who were inept at psychological treatments. Not that they weren't understanding of his plight, of course, but he felt as if he were an experiment.

Perhaps the frustration of his waking life explained the bizarre dreams he had been having off and on the past week as well. Aside from the usual - reliving his death - he experienced other instances. The problem was that he could not recall any of the images when he woke, but the feelings were unmistakable.

There was happiness, the kind of happiness that was more than just what he recalled when he played games with his kid sister. It was warm and...different. A good different, he concluded, even if it was a mix of nervous happiness. He also felt mischievousness, and pride that followed that, which could only mean he had done something sneaky and gotten away with it. Then there was regret, which was perhaps the oddest feeling, and he felt it when he saw himself fall through the ice. Jack didn't like this feeling at all; he wanted to go back to the content happiness he had in the dream.

Frowning, Jack stood up from his resting place and collected his staff. Just thinking over the dream felt like the sour taste of depression and regrets came back to settle in his stomach. He needed a distraction.

The night club that Gene and Will brought Ithilwen to was a gentlemen's club, to put it nicely. The neon and strobe lights mixed with the light fog machines added extra 'oomph' that was paired with the massive speakers the DJ had blasting music. The elleth was surprised the floor itself wasn't vibrating with each beat.

It was a nice gesture, she concluded. They had invited her to a nightclub where she was least likely to get chatted up by a man, unless he was inquiring about her clothes. And given her outfit, she had gotten quite a few compliments, some coming from a few men that had legs to rival Tina Turner's. Her 'little black dress' as Gene had called it, was in fact little; it was a shy-of-mid-thigh cut with a v-neckline that crossed in the back. Her shoes were more elaborate in style to make up for the simple design of the dress: black platform pumps with small spiked studs traced the heel and upper edge, where the ankle was enclosed by imitation skeleton hands. They were odd, but Ithilwen had fallen in love with them when she saw them online a month before. To finish her look, she let her hair fall in it's natural curls with a small amount of eye makeup. The ring Legolas gave her still hung from her neck, dropping to rest just above her breasts.

"You look distressed, hun."

Ithilwen looked back to the bartender, who was giving her a concerned stare. "Oh, it's nothing," she said. "I'm just lost in thought." She moved closer to the bar and perched on one of the barstools, selecting a drink from the overhead menu.

The bartender went about mixing her order as he continued to talk. "Are you sure you're okay? It's like you've lost a friend, with that sad look in your eyes. Or did you have a recent breakup? Was he gay?"

That time Ithilwen laughed. "I wish he was!" She thanked him for the drink. "No, it wasn't recent, and he was an asshole. I've got a friend I'm worried about though."

From beside her, another feminine figure turned in their chair. It was a man, Ithilwen noted, but his exaggerated makeup told her all she needed to know without words. "Oh you poor thing. We all get one of those assholes," he gushed. "You hope the next one is a dick instead, cause then at least he's moving forward!"

"Juju you're impossible," the bartender groaned, though he was grinning.

"What? I'm just telling a sister like it is, Vick!" Juju turned around fully to face both Ithilwen and Vick. "So what is this about your friend, darling? Are they in some trouble?"

"I'm not sure," Ithilwen said. "He's...a soldier stationed overseas. I met him online earlier this year, and we've talked frequently, until a couple of weeks ago. He told me that he was being sent out for a mission, and not to worry. But I haven't heard from him since that night..."

Juju made a tutting noise, reaching over to pat Ithilwen's hand with what she noticed were elaborately decorated acrylic nails. "Those moments are the worst. I know just how you feel; my boyfriend is stationed in Afghanistan right now, and each time he says they are going out I'm even more scared for him and his group. But you know what? It's going to work out. He's scheduled to come home in two months, and I plan on greeting him in nothing but an apron and a smile when he does."

The elleth found herself smiling despite her low mood. "That sounds wonderful," she told him, unsure of what else to say.

"Maybe that's something to think about?" Vick suggested, preparing an order for another customer.

Ithilwen blushed so thoroughly at the thought that she was pretty certain that it was noticeable in the dark room. It only brought to mind the pictures Fiona and Esther had coerced her into taking, making the blush linger. While she was certain that Juju's boyfriend would appreciate the endeavor, Ithilwen wasn't so certain Legolas would express the same sentiment if she ever greeted him that way.

So lost in her thoughts of the moment, she didn't hear her friends come up to join her at the bar. "I thought you had your man, Juju. Our girl here's a traditionalist, remember?"

"You can relax Gene. She was just telling us about her soldier boy," Juju flipped his dark red hair over his shoulder. "Poor thing's down in the dumps, so I was trying to cheer her up."

"Still no word, then?" William leaned forward to look around Gene at Ithilwen. When she shook her head, he added, "I wouldn't get discouraged, Wen. You'll hear from him soon."

"That's what I said!" Juju said from Ithilwen's other side.

Vick was passing by. "Actually, he said that things would work out and that he intended to meet his boyfriend at the door in just an apron when he gets back. I suggested that Wen should do the same."

Gene looked far too excited for Ithilwen's liking then. "Oh, so that is what's going on, then?" he asked slyly. "You know that makes sense. You broke up with Payne, and all the while you've been wearing Legolas' ring!"

Ithilwen felt her cheeks heat up again. "It's nothing like that!" she stated. "We're just friends!"

"Are you sure?" Juju asked seriously, leaning forward. He happened to catch sight of the intricately-made ring when Gene had said the elf's name, for Ithilwen had instinctively reached for it. "From the looks of things, I get the feeling there's more to the story than that, morning glory."

"We're just friends." she said again.

"That's okay. That's okay," Juju assured her. He reached for his drink to take another sip, only to discover he had finished it. When Vick passed by again, he ordered a second. "Sometimes these things don't happen instantly, or even overnight. But you're mighty protective of that ring that's hanging with your girls, so there's some attachment. If you wore another man's ring while dating another man, that says a lot."

"It's a comfort thing," Ithilwen tried to explain.

"Oh honey, you don't have to tell me. I sleep in one of my boyfriend's shirts when I'm especially worried, but I always keep something of his around me. It's not that I'll forget him, but I feel like things are going to be okay."

The elleth nodded in understanding. Try as everyone might to tell her otherwise, keeping the necklace on helped her focus without panicking.

William broke the silence that had fallen by asking Ithilwen, "Have you ever thought about going out to distract yourself?"

Ithilwen gave him a funny look. "What do you call this, Will? I'm pretty sure it ain't my bathroom!" Juju laughed at least.

"I mean a trip. Morwen and Fiona are out of town, and you're home alone with nothing to occupy you."

"You know that wouldn't be a bad idea," Gene added. "Those conventions are starting to take off. I know you don't like to go by yourself, but the change of atmosphere would do you some good."

The DJ switched tracks again, and a new song started up. Juju downed the rest of his drink and turned to the trio. "A trip is nice, but Miss Wen needs a change of atmosphere right now. Come along, hun," he said, taking Ithilwen's hand and pulling her off the barstool. "You've been sitting far too much tonight. You're going dancing with Juju!"

Gene and William could only watch in amusement as the tall and broad Juju pulled Ithilwen through the growing crowd of bodies on the dance floor. William turned to his boyfriend. "Want to dance?"

"Just a second." Gene wiggled on the barstool and slipped his pumps off, setting them on the bar. "Vick, can you hold these for me?" Now barefoot, he wiggled his toes and sighed in contentment.

"Why did you choose to wear pumps tonight if you were just going to take them off?" William asked, taking Gene's hand.

"Because they make my ass look good, and I didn't want Ithilwen to feel alone tonight."

"We're in a gay night club, Gene. Ithilwen's going to feel alone no matter what you wear."

As the pair began to move onto the dance floor, both kept checking on Ithilwen through the night. They weren't concerned so much about her safety as they were her having an emotional breakdown. With Miss Juju at her side, even the occasional man that might test his luck would think twice, for Juju spent his days as a kickboxing instructor. Ithilwen was in good hands. Given the laughter that echoed from the pair, it sounded like Miss Juju was able to keep her in high spirits that night.

The margaritas Ithilwen had been drinking seemed to help too.

"Whatcha doing, Icchy?"

Esther felt the back of her desk chair get pulled back, and if she hadn't grabbed the edge of her desk for dear life, she might have flipped backwards. She spared an upwards glance at Jack, seeing him perched right on the top edge of her chair. He was perched in a squat and leaning forward, making the chair wobble and giving her a very strange view. Esther scrunched down in her chair, not wanting to get hit in the face by Jack's crotch if he lost his balance and fell forward.

"I'm trying to write a spell."

"Really? You checked with Cupid beforehand, right?"

"Of course I did!"

Jack leaped off the chair and landed beside it soundlessly. Esther glared at his unnatural good grace. If she had so much as attempted that she would have made a large 'thump' - if she didn't bust her ass first. Out of everyone Jack knew, he sought Esther out because he felt an odd sense of calm, even if she spent too much time working. His troubled thoughts from earlier remained, but as soon as he got in her office they didn't seem so terrible. Maybe it was because he liked to tease her. Teasing was a good distraction from puzzles one couldn't solve.

"That proposal I sent to Cupid was a plan to build a portal to middle-earth," she explained. "North was kind enough to give me some information on his snow globes that I could study, and I think between this and the magic I know I can do, I can open a rift to the other world."

Jack whistled lowly. "That' You're confident you can do it?"

"I've got to be. I don't know if there is magic that is capable of this in middle-earth, and if I can do it, they'll get to go home."

"They don't know, do they?"

"Nope." she shook her head. "Why say anything and raise hopes?"

"Makes sense." Jack decided that instead of sitting on the edge of her desk today, he'd sit on the arm of her chair. He couldn't help but smirk when she let out a squeak of indignation at his new sitting place.

"Why is your skinny ass on the arm of my chair?"


"I'm sorry," Esther teased, "I should have said 'no ass'."

"I have an ass!" Jack retorted. "You're just...squishy!" She gasped, taking offense to that, and he had to backpedal and quick. "I mean you're not squishy, but you've got squishy bits!"

It's very hard to keep one's composure on the outside and appear offended when on the inside all one wants to do is piss themselves laughing, and Esther was finding this out the hard way. "Just what are you referring to as...squishy?" she asked evenly.

Jack's mouth opened and closed, but he couldn't find the words to save his ass. Instead, he tried a desperate attempt to point out what he meant, but sitting so close to her, "pointing out" would have been "poking". He looked down at his hands and then tried to gesture to the places on himself that would have equated to what she possessed, but this only made him look like a teenage neanderthal in a frosted hoodie. It didn't help matters that his grunts of frustration at not being able to say the words only added to this image.

"Do I need to get you a doll to show me?" Esther asked, finally showing how funny she found the situation.

"You know I really wonder why I even bother coming here," Jack muttered, feeling his ears burn in embarrassment.

She moved some of her papers over on the desk so she could rest her feet on the edge. "Why do you come here?"

Jack shrugged. "I dunno. I guess I just...I feel really at ease when I'm with you. I'm really frustrated about this memory thing, and coming to see you makes me feel better."

Esther was touched. 'So maybe he's not completely lost?' She smiled reassuringly up at him. "You know you're welcome here any time," she told him. "If I can help you out just by sitting with you, I'll be there..."

"Thanks, Esther."

"...You and your bony ass."

"Of course, Squishy Icchy-OW! WHAT THE HELL, WOMAN?!"

"Squishy Icchy?!"

"You called me Bony Ass!"

"I said you had a bony ass!"

"Have you felt it? How do you know it's bony?!"

"Well how do you know I'm squishy!"

The office fell silent as the two teenage guardians sat there, redfaced and mortified by the sudden turn in the argument. The teasing was common between them, as was the arguing, but neither could recall there being an instance where either took it this far.

Still, Jack had a curiosity that lifted any filter on his mouth, and he couldn't let his question go unasked. "So do they at least jiggle?"

Ithilwen had been nursing a headache from hell the following morning, only made worse by trying to keep the dual voices echoing in her cell phone straight. She had been telling her naneth and her sister about the night before and the suggestions that William, Gene, and Miss Juju had given her.

"Wasn't there a Wizard World event this month in St. Louis?"

Before Ithilwen could answer, Morwen cut in. "Yep, but it's already passed. It was at the beginning of the month."

"How'd you know that, naneth?"

"Rick in accounting said he took his vacation days to take his nieces and nephews to that one. Got a pair of Hulk hands for each of them." There was a pause, then, "You should give it a go. Young people are all about road trips to find themselves. Might have some fun," she added hopefully. At her daughter's sigh, she continued. "I know it's tough not knowing anything sweetie, but don't give up hope alright?"

It was a couple hours later before Ithilwen's head felt up to navigating the internet past her tumblr dashboard. Sitting at the kitchen island with a mishmash of microwave-reheated leftovers, she did a search for conventions and events that were within her interests. She mulled over the list, writing down names, addresses, and other relevant information into a notebook that had been left on the counter. If she was going to plan a roadtrip, she needed to consider all of the specifics so she could visit her top picks and make time for other things along the way.

If she were to pack soon, she figured that she could drive down to the gulf in time for the first one and book a room on the way. Just anything to avoid the frustration of flying, she reasoned. Already Ithilwen had a decent list of potential places to visit, and excited as she was, she had to force herself to quit scrolling to keep from adding "just one more" to the list. The elleth's enthusiasm waned when she thought of Legolas and felt guilty for making plans.

Was it right to go out and have a good time when she didn't know if he was alright? Her heart assured her that it was, because she had no doubt that he was alive – she just couldn't reach him. She hadn't given up hope, but being alone with her thoughts was doing nothing to help her. Perhaps this trip would calm her mind enough to bridge the connection with Legolas again? At this point, she was near-willing to sacrifice a chicken to the Colonel if it meant that she could see her friend.

Chapter Text

Ithilwen had just turned into hallway with the latest load of clean laundry when she saw Jack. "I thought you had work to do."

"Funny, I could say the same," he shrugged.

"I am doing work. I'm taking care of the laundry before I head out." She balanced the basket on her hip and moved past the guardian and went upstairs.

Jack, not to be left out, followed her as she deposited the piles of clothes on her naneth and sister's beds before moving to her own room. In there, she tucked away some of the clothes and began to drag out more piles to drop on her bed. Following that, a couple of bags sailed through the room to land nearby.

"It looks to me like you're making a mess."

"I'm packing," came the muffled noise from Ithilwen's closet.

"Where you going?"

Ithilwen came out of her closet with another armful of clothes that she set in a separate pile on her bed before packing her first picks. "Texas," she said briefly, folding and rolling shirts as she talked. "There's a haunted house convention down near Denton." Zipping the bag up, she moved towards the other pile of clothes. "It's been brought to my attention that I've been moping, and that I need to get out of the house. So I'm going on a road trip."

"By yourself."


Jack pulled her desk chair closer with his staff before dropping into it. "You're not going to feel lonely on a single-person road trip?"

"Well what am I supposed to do, Jack? Everyone's busy with their own work!" Ithilwen shrugged, turning to her vanity cabinet. She searched the drawers until she located her makeup bag and began to fill it with the ones she felt she would most likely use. "I don't expect to have a babysitter. I am an adult after all."

"I know that," he said. "I was just thinking about well, you know, you not being able to talk to Legolas."

Ithilwen turned back to face him. "Aw, you do care," she teased, laughing when he stuck his tongue out at her. "You spending this extra time with Esther's starting to show."

"Actually, I wanted to ask you about that." He watched as she stuffed the makeup bag into the half-filled duffle bag, disappearing briefly to collect her styling devices and add them. "Is it weird that I feel like I've enjoyed this time I've spent with Esther before?"

She looked confused. "What do you mean?"

"I mean when I'm at her office, for example. It's not so much the talking as it is the feelings I have." Jack ran a hand through his hair and groaned. "It's almost like deja vu I guess."

"Well what kind of feelings do you have, exactly?" Ithilwen picked up the duffle bags and carried them downstairs. Jack followed, grabbing the laundry basket at her request.

"Peace? I feel...relaxed, is the best word I can think of. Like I can go spend time with Esther even on a bad day and still feel like everything went right."

Downstairs, Ithilwen dropped her bags by the door, taking the laundry basket from Jack and returned it to the mudroom. When she came back into the hallway, she motioned for him to follow her back down the hall and into Fiona's studio. Jack proceeded to wander around as the elleth drug out large plastic bins and searched silently through them. He still didn't see how half the things she had selected would be appropriate for a haunted house convention, but then she hadn't exactly said where else her road trip would lead.

Once she found what she was looking for, Ithilwen closed the bins and shoved them back into their resting place. "You know Jack, it sounds to me like you're comfortable around Esther."

"But I've felt this before!" he protested, following her out of the studio. "I know I've felt this before! I-I don't know where or when exactly, but I have!"

Ithilwen turned back to him suddenly, and Jack had to remember to not whack her with his staff. It wouldn't have been the first time her elven movements had caught him by surprise. "Maybe this is one of your memories you're experiencing? Is there a chance you two could have been alive in the same time?"

Jack shrugged. "I don't know. She's pretty secretive about that stuff. Cupid's got her on a special project right now, or I'd ask her."

"Paper work?"

"That's putting it delicately," he laughed. He had to be careful or he'd blow Esther's cover, and he knew she would do worse than knocking him off her office chair for asking if her breasts were real. She had fought hard to get the clearance she needed for this work, and he couldn't ruin the surprise. Jack would do some things, but even he had his limits.

Luckily Ithilwen appeared to not have noticed his watered-down answer. "If you have any kind of genealogy records on file, it's a place to start. Maybe you could find out if you have any descendants based on your sister's family line? Or check for Esther's, if you can find out her married name. There weren't many places to live then, so for all you know, the two of you could have been neighbors!"

"I'll ask North or Bernard about that," Jack told her. "So when do you start your road trip?"

"When I get the everything else done," she replied. "Check the lights, doors, all that boring stuff."

"You planning to take pictures?" he asked suddenly, nudging one of the duffel bags with his staff."

"I planned to. Why, you want something specific?"

"I was just going to suggest filming the trip, if you can pull it off. Jamie's been telling me about some of these people who record all kinds of things to put on the computer for others to watch. You wouldn't feel as alone then, and we'd get to see what you see everywhere you go."

Esther had cleared out a space in her living room, moving what furniture she owned up to the walls to expose the hardwood surface she'd need. On the coffee table sat piles of notes, several books, a box of North's snowglobes, and a box of all the tools she could possibly make use of. Out of habit, she quickly swept the area after rolling the old rug over to the couch, but really it was procrastination. What she was about to attempt all boiled down to hours of studying, planning, and worrying. Frankly, she was scared shitless.

It wasn't so much about failure that scared Esther - she had a history of mistakes, and her learning process was built on studying her failures. She wasn't scared about the thought of falling short on her plan, because only a select few knew anything about what she was trying to accomplish, and they were all Guardians. No, what scared Esther was the thought of succeeding. The very idea of making contact with another world, another race of beings outside of the scope of the normal human's comprehension was incredibly intimidating. She had seen the conspiracy theorists and their peculiar manner on the subjects of life outside of Earth, but this was bigger than a bobble-head shaped alien. If she could pull this off, she would make a connection that would transcend their current dimension.

'And no one would know,' she thought, retrieving a box of chalk and her notes. With a piece of paper in hand and a piece of chalk in the other, Esther began to replicate the vigil she had crafted onto her floor. 'In fact, it's best if no one knows. There are far too many times in history where the human race has raped once-beautiful lands of their resources for personal glory.'

Once Esther was certain she had redrawn the vigil correctly, she returned the chalk to its box and dusted off her hands. Now came the messy part, and she really hoped it would come off her floor later. A small, dark red vial was taken from the box of tools next, along with a paintbrush. She twisted the cap off the vial and took a sniff, recoiling quickly. 'I must be out of my damned mind,' she thought, referring back to her notes to trace over selected markings with the pig's blood in the vial. 'All I need is for someone to come in here right now. They'll think I've either killed Jack or that I'm about to sacrifice a live chicken!'

She wasn't even certain that pig's blood-brushed markings in the vigil would help at all, but she was willing to try, albeit muttering "Ew ew ew" with each movement. All that remained was for the candles to be placed in their designated spots, and to pluck up the courage to get the show on the road. A trip to a mortal new age shop had been fruitful several days ago, as Esther explained to the store owner that she was seeking to communicate with spiritual forces and find guidance in their power, and she had specific goals on her mind that she wished to see successful. The store owner had sold her almost every color of the rainbow, giving her a list of meanings intended with each color, and wished Esther the favor of the Goddess in her endeavors. The mortal didn't have to know that Esther's plans weren't just spiritual, but literal.

The last thing Esther set on the outermost edge of the chalk vigil was a spirit board with wooden planchet. It was ridiculous, but she figured it would be her best sign to find out if she made contact with anyone at all. She sat down on the floor just in front of the spirit board and vigil and took a breath. 'Now or never, Es.'

"With darkness comes the light,
Shadows linger in my sight,
I seek you guidance, Irmo!
Banish this creature with your sight!"

It was only the first part of the spell, but something strange happened. Esther watched with alarm as a breeze entered through the room, when all of her windows were closed tight. The movement of the air was focused on this part of the room, and one by one, each of the candles that had been placed were lit.

"What is it that concerns you?"

"We are being summoned."

A murmur of voices converged at this piece of news. Who would be daring enough to make direct contact with one of the Valar? The majority of the highest-ranked were gathered in the halls of Ilmarin, summoned by Varda's request. She, with her king, sat before the squabbling beings in silence. She had felt the magical energy reaching out to her from an unknown force, and she immediately sent missives to all who could arrive quickly.

"Silence," Manwë ordered. "What we have bearing down upon us is little more than a soul seeking guidance. If you will cease your words and listen, you will be able to feel the energies that Varda called each of you here for."

Thankfully, this had the intended effect of shutting the lot up, as each stood still and looked inside themselves for the source that their queen had discovered. Irmo looked up minutes later. "The soul that is calling is seeking an audience."

"Just how does this soul believe this is possible?" Yavanna asked.

"It is because they are not from Arda," the queen answered, not taking her eyes off of Irmo. "You will be the one best suited to respond, Dream Master."

"What does he intend to say?" Mandos rumbled from beside Oromë. "Who is this that can breach the barriers of Valinor's protection by Eru Illúvatar!"

Manwë raised a hand to silence him before he could continue his train of thought. "It is someone who is quite capable of magical spellwork, and thus we must proceed cautiously until the seeker's intentions are made clear."

Everyone turned to look for Irmo, who had since made himself a seat on the floor and retreated into himself to focus better on the calling of the magically-infused seeker. It was only a matter of waiting to see what happened next.

Esther kept going through the incantation, despite the nervous twist in her gut at the candles self-lighting. She really hoped she hadn't accidentally summoned the spirit of a serial killer; how the hell would she explain that in a report to Cupid?!

"Hail, Irmo! Please hear my cry!
My intent is pure of heart,
Allow me this honor of your grace,
Your vision, your space!"

The sun had long since set, and the only light source Esther had in the living room in that moment was the flicker of the candles spread across the vigil. She could only watch in horror as the wax had begun to make its way down to the floor, mixing with the chalk dust and pig's blood. There was nothing to do about it now; she had started the spell and she had to see it through. Besides, the scuttling sound of the wooden planchet on the spirit board easily distracted her from thoughts of cleaning the next day.

The planchet began to scrape across the board without her touch, and Esther knew she had found someone. The problem was, she didn't know who.

"W-Who are you?" she asked the space before her, staring at the board intently.

Through the glass circle Esther could make out one word: Irmo. Had it been that easy? She had found him? Doubt began to eat at her, and she had to make certain. After all, it could have been a malevolent spirit trying to troll her.

"How can I be sure that you are Irmo?" she asked, her voice holding more courage than she felt.

The planchet fell silent then, and she grew worried she had angered the spirit. A split second later, the piece levitated before her at eye level, prompting her to look through the view finder. Esther swallowed, then peeked through, almost expecting a jump scare. Instead, she saw her life as a mortal, the happier times in the village, long before she had learned of Jack's death. What appeared in the view finder next was nowhere in her memory bank, and she nearly screamed.

It was a tall man, possibly taller than North and a fraction of his build. His thin frame was draped in dark robes, a midnight blue that was decorated with silver etchings, reminding her of the night skies and its stars. His hair was a silver white, which was barely noticeable in the freshly fallen snow of the landscape. His eyes, were a shade of blue that was so light, they were almost matched his hair.

"I am Lord Irmo, Master of Visions and Dreams, Young One," he told her. Esther didn't see his mouth move at all, but she could hear him clear as a bell in her head. "What perchance, do you seek my guidance?"

"I am Esther, Guardian of Pure Love," she said. Better to get that out of the way before she started asking for help. "In my world, there is a mother and child that were sent by ill magic. I want to give them the opportunity to return to their true home."

Irmo's figure stood silent in the snowy scene, and Esther briefly wondered if he had even heard her. "Two of the Eldar were taken from Arda more than a century ago," he acknowledged. "Nienna has wept for their sudden partings from their homeland many times. However, there is little that can be done to right the wrongs of the world."

Esther felt her stomach sink. "Surely there must be something!" she pleaded. "I have studied so hard just to make contact with your people! I will do whatever it takes to bring them him!"

"Even if it would mean the eventual end of your companionship?" Irmo asked. "Could you bear the burden of parting with those you have grown close to?"

"Believe me, it has been something that I have dealt with far longer than most know. I know the consequences, and I also know it would be selfish to keep them here. Their family is not whole; it is wrong to keep them separate."

Irmo's mental projection in the illusion looked through the small glass view of the planchet. He could see that the young woman on the other side was sincere in her worlds. When he told her that this was out of their power, it was not meant to disappoint her. Assisting in the affairs of Arda was one thing, but the ability to pierce other dimensions was next to impossible for them. For Eru, it might have been likely, but there was no getting him to interfere with current events. "Your words are kind for folk that are not your own, Guardian Esther," he said. "If you truly wish to act on your words, you must understand that the Valar are incapable of this level of magic. We will aid in your endeavors, but much of the power needed will come from you. Do you feel capable of withstanding extensive spell work to begin your training?"

Esther could only stare open-mouthed at the Valar that she had been talking to. He was willing to help her! "O-Of course!" she said hastily. "I will do whatever it takes to make this work!"

"Then you are a true friend to the Eldar that reside in your world," he said. "Your devotion to your friendship is honorable, and will be duly noted."

She found herself bowing slightly in thanks to Irmo. He then proceeded to give her a brief lead in where her training would begin before the view in the planchet started to distort. "You can count on me, Lord Irmo!" were Esther's last words as the image faded, the planchet clattering to the spirit board.

With the departure of Irmo, the candles that had been lit began to go out, one by one. The planchet slid across the spirit board, pointing to 'GOODBYE', signaling the end of the session. Esther then began to close the vigil as customary, reciting the given words of thanks to all that she could remember. The room was nearly pitch dark now, and she had had no idea she had talked to Irmo for so long. Her hands shook slightly as she stood up, and in an attempt to cross the room to reach the light switch she managed to trip over the spirit board. She didn't realize she was so rattled until she could see her hands move in an agitated manner.

'But, this is a good thing,' she thought, returning to clean up her tools. 'I now know that I have a chance at getting them back to middle-earth.' Esther frowned with irritation as she looked down at her floor. The blood, wax, and chalk were all fused to the hardwood panels, and she didn't much feel like cleaning it that night. She threw a rug over it instead.

"How long do you think you'll be gone?" Morwen asked. Ithilwen had decided to call her before setting out for her trip.

"A month and a half, maybe? Two at the most, I think." She moved the bags out on the front porch as she talked with her naneth. "I'm only taking some clothes and things for the conventions. I'll worry about everything else when I get where I'm going."

"Well take the little cooler with you at least. You can get some stuff for sandwiches when you get tired of junk food."

"Alright Nana."

"And don't forget to call us when you reach your destination. You know we worry."

"I will, Nana."

"And Ithilwen?"

"Yes, Nana?"

"Please try and have fun," her naneth told her gently. "I know you're still upset, and I wish I knew of something that I could do for you. Just try not to worry about what's going on at home. I'm sure everything has been in our odds. He may even be busy; but I have no doubts that he won't find a way to you."

"Thanks, Nana," she smiled. "I'll let you get back to work, and I'll try to have some fun." When her naneth hung up, Ithilwen pocketed the phone in her jeans and made a tour of the house to make sure everything was turned off. Satisfied, she checked her room once more to make sure she had grabbed all of the bags she packed, when she noticed the shirt draped across the edge of her bed. Ithilwen stared at the silvery material and chewed her lip, sighing in resignation a moment later and collecting the garment to toss over her shoulders.

'I must be out of my mind,' she thought. 'But maybe if I keep it with me I'll hear from him? Huh,' she paused on her descent of the steps, 'it still smells like him.' When Ithilwen realized she was sniffing the ellon's tunic like a cat, she blushed brightly. 'Thank gods I'm home alone, or Fiona would never let me hear the end of it!'

After she locked the front door, Ithilwen grabbed her bags and tucked all but her smallest two in the trunk. She then went around the house to check the back door before slipping into the garage to collect the small cooler Morwen had insisted she take. This she put in the passenger seat with her two small bags. One was the obligatory purse, but the other had an assortment of things she might have need of during stops; state maps, the list of directions, sunglasses, her mp3 player, among other odds and ends. She dropped her cell phone in her purse as she spotted a small silver device peeking out of the other bag.

"I was just going to suggest filming the trip, if you can pull it off. Jamie's been telling me about some of these people who record all kinds of things to put on the computer for others to watch. You wouldn't feel as alone then, and we'd get to see what you see everywhere you go."

Again, Ithilwen chewed her lip as she debated Jack's words. She had a video channel that she rarely used anyway, and it wouldn't be hard to upload it at the hotel...but should she? Fiona would probably tell her to go for it, she knew this. Her sister had even recorded her college graduation ceremony so that one day Haldir would get to watch it.

'It's been a long time since I've done one of these,' she thought, fighting to secure the camera on her dashboard. Mashing some buttons she leaned back in her seat to get comfortable. "It's been a while," she said, snorting out loud at how pathetic she sounded. "It's been an..ah..interesting year for me, and I haven't uploaded any videos since before I graduated college. I planned out this road trip - literally two days ago - and I thought, why not record it?" She started the engine and began to back out of the driveway as she continued to talk. "A friend actually suggested I do this, so thank you Jack. Now I have no choice but to grace y'all with my face for the trip!"

Outside the Food Lion in Dinwiddie, Ithilwen tore open the bag of ice and dumped it into the cooler - after taking it out of the car first, of course. She then unbagged her food items and arranged them in the cooler. Given its size, she opted for a six-pack of bottled drinks, some small packs of lunch meats, and a bag of kiser rolls. When she discovered the rolls wouldn't fit, she left them atop the cooler with the bags of chips and fudge-striped shortbread cookies.

"I am such a pig," Ithilwen said into her camera. "But then the cooler is the smallest one we own, so not much is going to fit into it anyway, you know? I got some fancy sandwich rolls, turkey, pepperoni, some bagged lettuce, four different kinds of chips - can't resist a sale - and...cookies!" She held the package up. "Fudge stripe cookies!" she grinned. "I'm going to be rolling into Texas, and I mean literally rolling, cause my ass is already huge."

What wasn't seen in the angle of the camera were the family-size bags of chips she had mentioned being on sale. Of course, anyone that knows chips knows that half the bag is air, so really she had bought four "normal" sized bags. The engine roared to life once again, and Ithilwen found herself getting back into the swing of talking to herself while a camera recorded.

"Are you sure this is the request you have asked of us?" Manwë spoke, his voice echoing in the large room. Each of the Valar that had been summoned earlier were called forth once more to overhear the pleas of the female figure before them, who had come to seek their guidance and assistance. Even though the lone figure was of the same stature as the others, the aura of the collective seemed to dwarf the one into submission out of respect.

"Yes," the voice said weakly, then determined. "Yes, my lord. This is the request that I have come to ask of each of you." It was a fool's hope, she knew, but knew that she had to try. The volunteered seclusion had been unbearable as of late, and she hoped to remedy her actions.

The collective seemed to huddle together in hushed conversation to consider her request. Manwë looked to Irmo, who did not avert his gaze. "You know of a way," the king whispered.

"It will be a challenge, but yes, there is a way," Irmo replied. "It will fall to the Guardian to breech contact again, however. This request would be beyond my capabilities otherwise."

Estë lay a supportive hand over her husbands'. "How certain do you feel about the chance of success?"

"This is maddening!" Tulkas whispered harshly. "The decision to come to Valinor was the final decision! Why should we allow the request?"

"Because she is one of our own," Varda said in a much gentler tone. "And Irmo has already given his word to assist the Guardian of the Other World with her request; to deny one of our own would make us no better than the dark forces we fight against." She turned her attention to Irmo. "As you were saying, Lord Irmo?"

Irmo bowed his head in gratitude, only saying, "I am utmost certain that the trial will be successful, yet I cannot be certain when I will speak with the Guardian again."

Manwë nodded sagely, turning back to address the female that waited in the center of the room patiently. "We have decided that we will honor your request." The female seemed to be near tears of gratitude. "However, we cannot honor your request in the manner that you seek. Would you still be willing to accept our assistance to fulfill your desires, or shall you return to your place and wait for an undetermined amount of time?"

Still near tears, the female wasted no time in answering. "I will go with your judgment, my lord! I trust your will and have faith that things will unfold for the best!"

"Very well, my child," Manwë spoke again. "Blessed journey, and may you find what you seek."

Chapter Text

"Take exit 44A to merge onto I-35E N toward Denton... and keep left to get on … TX-183...west." Ithilwen sighed and set her directions back in her lap. "I am so glad for Mapquest."

It had taken about a day's drive, allowing for rest stops and the call to eat to get from Burgess to Texas. Ithilwen had booked her room at the hotel early enough to catch up on her rest before the convention started, not that elves required a lot of sleep, but being confined in a car for upwards of sixteen hours had a habit of making one tired, immortal or not.

"Take the Belt Line Road exit and merge into...West John Carpenter Freeway." She snorted. "I wonder if that's the same John Carptenter. Freaky coincidence if it isn't, considering."

Ithilwen had also secured her small camera to the dashboard of her car, so instead of just getting material at each of the places, she would have some "in between" pieces to edit into her videos. At the moment, most of these clips consisted of her rambling.

"So I'm going to HauntCon, in case you're wondering." She talked on as if there were someone sitting next to her. "It's more for established attractions to come show off their wares and attend workshops, but it's open to the public. It's also tricky to find, as it keeps moving around the country each year. This'll be my first time going, and I'm really excited because there are some DIY workshops and a masquerade this year, along with the nightly haunted house tours. I'm really looking forward to those, since these guys are opening early just for this occasion." Ithilwen glanced briefly at the camera and grinned maliciously. "It's too bad you're not here with me, Fiona. I know you really enjoy going to all those haunted houses in October with me!"

"Enjoy your stay at Sheraton DFW Hotel, and if you have any questions or concerns, please do not hesitate to let us know!" The bubbly receptionist handed the hotel key over the desk with a smile Ithilwen was sure was large enough to rival her hair. Worn out from the drive, she gave the woman a smile in thanks, and watched as her gaze caught some of the early arrivals for the convention. The receptionist's face turned to one of surprise and possibly fear at the sight of some of the gruesome displays being carted through the lobby.

"Not big on scary movies?" Ithilwen couldn't help but ask.

"Oh heavens no," the receptionist replied. "I'm more partial to love stories like the Notebook.

Ithilwen gave her a nod and a smile as she carted her bags to the elevator. Once inside and out of sight, she gave the old couple that followed her stead a laugh as she mock-gagged and shuddered.

"Esther?" Jack knocked on her office door again. "You in there?"

He had come to visit her again, and for once he didn't want to annoy her with the nicknames. This time it was out of genuine concern for his friend, as he hadn't heard from her in a few days. It wouldn't have bothered him normally, but this was about the time that she was going to be experimenting with her magic, and he hoped that nothing had backfired. Again.

"Esther isn't in her office today, Jack. What do you need?" The diminutive cupid appeared beside Jack, holding what looked like a stack of books far too big for him to carry. Appearances were deceiving with Guardians, however, since this one had a grip like a Marine.

"Puppy Love." Jack nodded. "I was hoping I could talk to Esther. If she's not in her office, then where is she? Cupid didn't send her out on assignment, did he? Last I heard she had an extensive project that she was working on."

Gerard shrugged, his grip on the books never faltering. "My guess would be she's at her place, where she's got more room to spread out her work? Her office isn't the most efficient for whatever "big" project she's working on, if you haven't noticed."

"Yeah, I have to wonder if those bookshelves won't buckle under all that weight," Jack mused, falling into step beside the smaller guardian as he continued down the hallway. "Need any help with those?" he asked, motioning to the books.

"If you have a minute, I could use some help getting these back on the shelf in the library. I never can find the taller ladder when I need it."

"I'm surprised you guys can't conjure wings on command."

"Clearly you've spent too much time around the mortals to come to that conclusion."

"Well can you blame me? Before I met Cupid I thought he was a Baby New Year with wings and an archery kit!"

Esther wiped her brow as she looked down at her floor. Then she crouched down and sniffed, reeling back on her heels soon after. "It still smells like pig's blood."

She had been scrubbing the floor with a bucket of Mr. Clean and a thick wooden bristle brush for the last hour, and all she managed to accomplish was to remove the traces of chalk residue and the blood from the sigil. Some of the wax came up, but there were still streaks from the drippings that refused to budge. If the floor didn't reek of blood she would just lay on her stomach and pick at it with her thumb nails until it came off.

The sudden knocking on her door caught Esther by surprise, and in attempting to stand up she nearly kicked the bucket of discolored liquid over onto her freshly-scrubbed floor. She recognized the pattern of the knock, and as she scrambled to get to the door, she couldn't help but wonder what he wanted. Not that she would turn him away; she couldn't bring herself to do it, even if he just wanted to pester her.

"Hey," Jack said after she opened her door.

"Hey," Esther responded. "What's up?"

"I was going to ask that. Gerard said you weren't in your office today, and I wanted to check in on you to see how things were going. So...what's up?"

She motioned for him to enter, hoping he wouldn't notice the bits of wax on the floor. "Well, I've tried to make contact with the Valar yesterday."

Jack held a hand up, stopping her. "Okay, I have to ask this, and don't get mad at me, but what in the hell is that smell?"

Esther winced. "That would be the pig's blood."

"Did you slaughter the pig in the living room?!"

"No!" she blushed. "I got the blood from a butcher. It's just really strong, and I can't cover the smell no matter what I do. That's why all the windows are open. I'm hoping I can waft it out, or at least get some fresh air in here."

"So about the Valar then," Jack said, getting back on topic.

"Well the pig's blood was part of the ritual, and I'm not even sure it was relevant." Esther picked up the scrub brush and dropped to her knees on the floor, attacking the wax again as she talked. "I managed to speak to Irmo through my spirit board's planchet, and he told me that there's nothing they can do to bring Ithilwen and Morwen back to middle-earth."

"They're stuck here forever then?" Jack knelt down on the ground beside her, using his thumb nails to pick at the wax Esther wasn't focusing on.

"Not necessarily," she continued, "Irmo told me that if an outside force could build a bridge between this world and middle-earth, he could help stabilize it for transportation. He'd be the grounder, so to speak. He said that he was willing to help me practice my magic to build the bridge."

"That's great!"

"Not if I can't get this crap off the floor," she groaned. "What the hell was I thinking by not putting the candles on bases?!"

"Nerves?" Jack suggested. "You tend to forget common sense things when you get anxious."

Esther rolled her eyes in his direction. "That's what I'm worried about, Jack. This is a big deal, and Irmo is putting a lot of faith in me to even offer his help. These guys aren't like North or Manny. They're bigger and highly regarded by all of the races in middle-earth."

"You can do it," he told her. "I know you can."

"How can you be so sure?" she asked softly.

"I dunno. I just do."

She stopped scrubbing and looked at him, surprised. In recent months, there had been moments that she was caught off guard by the things he said, and this time it was no exception. It was almost like they were human again, for the tone of his voice spoke volumes of memories she was haunted with. Memories that she was beginning to think that he was recovering. "Thank you Jack," she told him sincerely.

"No big deal," he muttered, finding it hard to meet her gaze at that moment. This was weird. Jack normally didn't have trouble talking to Esther, but it was times like these that when things got serious, he felt uncomfortable. It wasn't like a stomachache kind of feeling, but something else, something that made him want to blush. And Jack Frost didn't blush. He made it a point not to blush.

With the pair working on the wax residue, it wasn't long before the remains were scraped off the hardwood panels and discarded. Jack had been about to move the couch back to its original spot when Esther stopped him.

"I'm going to have to use the floor again to make the vigil," she explained. "I'm going to have to try something different so the house won't reek of pig's blood for months though."

"What was it intended to do?"

Esther shrugged. "I had read that some rituals used blood as a scrying tool to communicate with spirits, and it was worth a shot, since I don't own a scrying mirror."

"A regular mirror won't do?"

"It needs to be infused with magic, otherwise I'm just talking to myself. The planchet's viewing pane allowed me to see Irmo, but it's far too small to keep this communication up. I need something bigger to see him with if I'm going to strengthen the portal I'll be making."

"Why didn't you say so in the first place?" Jack asked. He cupped his hand and blew into it, creating a snowball roughly the size of a kickball. It looked like it held some weight and was fairly sturdy, making a noise as he set it on the floor. Jack then grabbed his staff, and with the bottom end, tapped the snowball with enough strength to smash it to dust. Instead of disintegrating, it flattened into a perfect circle. Jack tapped it again, and an intricate pattern of frosted swirls swept away excess snow to reveal a reflective surface. Once the last of the snow disappeared, Jack stooped to pick up the flat object, handing it to Esther. "There. A magically-infused scrying mirror."

Esther stood there in shock, barely registering the cool touch of the mirror being placed in her hands. "You did this for me?"

"Yeah," Jack shrugged nonchalantly. "I mean we're friends, right? I've seen you working really hard on this stuff, and if there's something I can do, I'm gonna try-"

"Jack," she looked back up at him with a smile, and to him was surprising to see unshed tears in her eyes. "I could kiss you right now. You have no idea how much this means to me." He really had no idea that she had spent much of her night and morning looking around her house to find something suitable, coming up empty. Looking online hadn't given her any success either, and the time it would have taken to ship many of them would have been too long.

"What was that?" Jack thought he had heard Esther wrong. Had she actually said that she meant to kiss him?! "Are you sleep deprived or some-"

In two steps, Esther had set the newly-made mirror on the nearby table and stood before Jack. Jack, not expecting her to move so fast, wasn't able to back up before she grasped the collar of his shirt and pressed her lips to his. The kiss didn't last long before she stepped back, blushing slightly at her forwardness.

"So um, thank you Jack," she said with a shy smile, picking the mirror up and holding it to her. "I really appreciate what you did for me."

Jack could still feel the soft touch of her lips on his, and the very thought of what she had just done left him off his guard. What happened to the Esther he knew, the one that would toss him out of her office for the bad nicknames? Why was this Esther so keen to make his stomach turn in knots with her unpredictability? And why was he letting this get the better of him?

"It''s not a problem, Esther," he mumbled, feeling a bit of a blush rise to his own cheeks. 'Can't let her see,' he thought. "I've got to...uh...go see Bernard about...something," he said, turning slightly away from her.

Esther could see that he was bothered by the kiss, but she couldn't be certain that he was embarrassed or something else. She felt guilty for the sudden move, so she didn't pay Jack's actions much mind as he stumbled around his words. "It's okay," she told him. "I've got to get back to work, too. Maybe we'll see each other later?"

"Yeah. Yeah, that'd...that'd be nice." Jack managed a smile before he tried to hurry out of her place without making it look so obvious.

"Next person," one of the attendants from the table called. Ithilwen approached the table to find a slightly round man with a laptop in front of him. "Your name, ma'am?" he asked in a thick southern accent.

"Ithilwen Haldiriel."

He typed away at the keypad to check the information, then examined her ID to double check everything before handing it back to her. "That's an interesting first name," he remarked. "Is that Irish?"

"Gaelic, I believe," she fibbed. "Something to do with the moon."

"Very cool." He reached into the container by his feet to rifle through some envelopes. Finding the correct one, he set it on the table and removed the contents. "Alright, here we go, Miss Ithilwen. This here's the HauntCon program; it'll have all the times and locations of the vendors and seminars. Here's your badge, complete with a lanyard cord. We have to tell everyone this to remind them to have it on them somewhere to get into anything these few days. I saw in your records that you've already reserved spots for some of the workshops – awesome. Just make sure to arrive early for anything you plan to do. The haunt tours leave on the dot, and I'd hate for people to miss out on anything." Replacing the contents back into the envelope, he gave it a tap and handing to Ithilwen. "Here you go! Enjoy your time here at HauntCon!"

Ithilwen thanked the man and walked back to her room, passing others who were guzzling Red Bull to stay awake for the overnight pre-haunt tour. She had the stamina to stay awake for it, but she would have rather had the sleep.


The walls of the workshop echoed with the sounds of doors being thrown open and slammed, accompanying the shouts of a loudmouth immortal teenager and the disgruntled noises of the yetis he disturbed.


The once-head elf had been in his own personal studio, building a clockwork angel with assorted copper and brass pieces. If he had it his way, the angels' arms would move into varying poses, from covering the face to an attack stance. The trick would be making the facial expressions change. He had been about to add the first screw to the wing he was attaching to the back when his studio door flew open. The sound of the doorknob whacking the wall had startled Bernard so much that he jumped, knocking the tiny screw out of its hole, resulting in the wing falling off.

"WHAT?!" Bernard shouted back. It had taken all of his willpower to not throw the screwdriver at Jack. "WHAT IS IT?!"

Jack took in the state of the elf, noting how frazzled and angry he looked, along with the scattered bits of parts all around his workspace. "Oh, you're busy," he said sheepishly, "I'll come back later-"

"My foot is about to drill a hole in your ass," Bernard seethed, waving the screwdriver at him. "Talk. Now."

"I have a problem."

"You're about to have another one if you don't get specific."

"Esther kissed me!" he blurted out.

The expression on Bernard's face right then was almost lethal. "That's it?"


"Did you kiss her back?"


"Why not?" It was hard for the elf to not roll his eyes.

"I didn't get the chance!"

Bernard was pretty sure a migraine was about to form. "Start from the beginning," he said tiredly, setting his potential weapon down.

"I went over to see her a little while ago, since she had been working on that big project for Cupid. Gerard told me that she wasn't in her office, and I was worried about her. She tells me about what she's been doing, and I make her a scrying mirror out of snow and my magic. Esther needed one for her work, and she hadn't been able to find anything big enough. Then she tells me that she could kiss me, and then she does!"

"Okay." Bernard sighed, motioning to Jack. "Show me what happened, then."

Jack walked up to Bernard. "It happened really quick," he began. "She grabbed my shirt like this-" and to demonstrate he mimicked Esther's earlier actions, which Bernard was quick to intervene.

"Contrary to the rumors, I like girls," he said quickly, "If you kiss me I will beat your ass."

"I like girls too! I wasn't going to kiss you!" Jack stepped back hastily, turning his shirt loose.

"Then why didn't you kiss Esther back then?" the elf asked, much calmer now.

"Like I said, I didn't get the chance," Jack explained. "She just stepped up, kissed me, and was gone in a flash!"

"Let me ask you this," Bernard began carefully. This was dangerous ground to encroach on. "If you had the chance to do it over, would you have kissed her back?"

The elf watched as the guardian's expression was clouded with frustration. Bernard had a feeling this was linked to Jack's other troubling issues with his memory and wondered if Esther had any inkling of what was going on. Finally, when Jack spoke, Bernard was surprised by the answer.

"I want to say yes," Jack said slowly. "Is that bad? Esther's my friend. Isn't that a bad thing?"

Bernard shrugged. "It's not a bad thing, per se, but it can be murky water to tread, depending on the friendship. Do you think you could be friends with Esther still if something were to happen between you?"

Jack threw his hands in the air helplessly. "I have no idea," he said honestly. "I can't even remember all of my past, and I'm stressing about my future!"

"Then maybe you should forget about it," Bernard said. "Just let it go out of your mind for right now. Don't think about it. Focus on your memories instead. And if Esther brings it up, talk about it like adults. If she doesn't, don't bring it up. Odds are she's as flustered as you, and she isn't sure what to make of what happened either."

"Okay," Jack sighed. "Okay. Thanks B."

"No problem," Bernard said offhandedly, turning back to his clockwork angel. "Now go away, you bother me," he added with humor in his voice, waving as Jack took his leave of the studio. He carefully set the wing in place on the back, matching the small holes up perfectly...only to not find the screw. He looked all over the table, shifting everything with one hand while the other held the parts in place, coming up empty. "Oh for gods sake," he groaned. "Five billion screws in this workshop and I manage to lose one of the tiniest damned ones ever made!"

At 6:20 Friday evening, Ithilwen was among some of the first to board the VIP buses for the night's haunt tour. On her bus, like she assumed was on the others, stood one of the convention attendants by the driver waiting for everyone to get settled.

"Good evening, haunt lovers! My name is Terry and I'll be your guide for the night." He called out when he had everyone's attention. "Before we get there, everyone greet the person you're seated with. This will be your lookout buddy through the night. Keep together…we don't want anyone…disappearing…" he spoke with a tone of apprehension, making many on the bus laugh.

Ithilwen looked to her right to come face to face with a girl about her height with bright pink hair tipped purple. "I'm Alex," she said with a small wave. "You come to HauntCon alone?"

"I'm Ithilwen, and yeah I did," the elleth replied. "My family was away on business, so I thought I'd take a trip to keep myself from being bored at home."

"That's so cool! Where are you from?"


"Damn, you're a ways away, huh?" Alex laughed. "I'm from Florida. I came out here to spend my spring break while most of my school is drinking on the beach."


"Yup, sophomore year. You?"

"I got my bachelor's last year. Haven't figured out what I'm going to do with it yet, but I have it."

"I get that." Alex said, trying to stretch her legs out as the bus began to move. "I haven't chosen a major yet; I figure it'll be something between art history and business." She was about to say more when Terry cleared his throat to draw the attention back to him.

"Before we get where we're going, I think it'd be best to give you travelers some info." He pulled a piece of paper from his pocket and unfolded it. "Our first stop is recognized by Guiness World Records for the longest haunted attraction in America, and like any good spook spot, there's a warning. Well, warnings." Looking down at the list, he started ticking off bits of the attraction's disclaimer. "You will experience intense audio, lighting, extreme low visibility, strobe lights, fog, damp or wet conditions, moving floors, special effects, sudden actions, and an overall physically demanding environment. Basically, if you suffer from asthma, heart conditions, are prone to seizures, are pregnant, suffer from any form of mental disease including claustrophobia or other medical problem, don't go in the haunted house. If you've got any physical limitations like a cast or brace, or if you're on some kind of medication, don't go in the haunted house."

"This sounds like fun," Ithilwen muttered to a grinning Alex.

"Also," Terry added, "and this is the usual disclaimer for any haunted attraction, but we're obligated to say it anyway – don't smoke, run, eat, or drink inside the attraction. Don't touch the actors or the props; both will come close but they won't touch you. There's no video or flash photography inside the attraction, sorry guys."

"That. Was. Awesome!" Alex cried out as they were leaving the exit area of the attraction.

"Did you hear some of the guys in the groups behind us?" Ithilwen cackled. "I swear they screamed higher than I did!"

Cutting Edge lived up to it's name, in the elleth's opinion. Its setup was a 100-year-old abandoned meat packing plant in what the convention's program called "a section of Fort Worth historically dubbed as 'Hell's Half Acre'". What equipment was left behind from the Old West was still in working order, only now it was a two-story terror of human processing. Bodies were hoisted up to the second level and taken through the entire meat packing process until the conveyor belts brought them back to the first level. The tour lasted about an hour, but for the two women it felt like much longer. The effects were frighteningly realistic, and the actors made sure no one left the plant without letting out one good scream.

Shortly after everyone was accounted for on the buses, the tour was off to the next stop: Hangman's House of Horrors, and of course, Terry had something witty to say about it as well.

"Did you guys know there's a legend about the Hangman?" And the hollers to continue, Terry obliged with a wicked grin. "Over two hundred years ago, there was a serial killer named Hezekia Jones, none simply as the Hangman. After sunset, he would stalk his victims by the Trinity River and hang them until dead. Many say that he took hundreds of lives. One October, a lynch mob finally made Hangman pay his due by his own rope. They watched him draw his final breath and left him to hang in the night air. But here's where it gets interesting," and he paused, much to the outcry and laughter of some of the attendees. "When the gravedigger came back the next day to bury the body, all that he found at the site was a broken rope hanging from the limb of the tree by the river."

The bus driver, well-versed in this tale, cut in despite herself. "The legend says that the Hangman won't die until all the souls of his victims are gone. Each year he takes a soul from his rope to continue existing, but once they're all used up he'll vanish. Unless of course," she added casually, "he kills again." She looked into the rear view mirror and grinned. "Last year marked the last soul in the Hangman's rope. Thousands have claimed to have seen the Hangman stalking his victims along the Trinity River." She winked to Terry, who grinned mischievously.

"Oh, I forgot about that, Becky," he nodded. "No one knows for sure just how many new souls he claimed, but there are telltale signs that you'll know he'll be on the prowl again. Jingling spurs, creaking rope, and his growling, maniacal laughter have been reported in the area. Best to keep your wits about you. You never might be next!"

A wave of shivers fell across some of the attendees in the seats, and Terry grinned triumphantly. The desired effect. The buses crawled to a stop along the gravel and dirt-made parking lot. While some started to stand, others looked around, trying to determine where they were; the ride seemed far too short.

Terry waved his hands to get everyone's attention. "Welcome to Hangman's House of Horrors! Royal Savages and Cerebral Chauffeurs are the in-house bands tonight.. There's junk food trucks abound.. Remember to stick with your lookout buddies and have fun! Go get the shit scared out of you again!"

"Okay, so it's close to midnight, and we just got back to the hotel," Ithilwen whispered to her camera as she walked back to her room. "We got to check out two haunted houses tonight, but I couldn't get any footage inside, for obvious reasons."

Maneuvering the camera slightly to get in the room, Ithilwen closed the door before going to sit on her bed. "I know I should be tired but I just had such an amazing time earlier that I can't sleep yet. I think what I'm going to do is edit the next videos before sleep. Lots of things still to do tomorrow, and I hope I can show you guys some of the other things at HauntCon. Goodnight!"

It was closer to 2:30 in the morning before Ithilwen finished the last editing of her videos. She kept getting distracted with rewatching everything and playing with music transitions. Aside from her excitement, she dreaded the thought of going to sleep without Legolas there to greet her in her dreams. It was why she drove most of the way to Texas with minimal stops, and her body was starting to tell her she needed the rest. By nearly 3:00, Ithilwen had powered down her laptop and returned all of her things to their bags.

Well, except for one thing.

"If Fiona ever hears that I've done this I'll never hear the end of it," she muttered to herself, shrugging into Legolas' silver tunic, letting it fall over her pajamas. The sleeves were too long for her, and the bottom hem nearly reached her knees. 'But it smells like him,' her brain reasoned as she crawled under the covers. 'If seeing him isn't going to happen anytime soon, smelling him will have to do.'

She was just about on the edge of sleep when her thoughts crept back in with a horrifying thought. 'Does Legolas have my underwear?'

Ithilwen wasn't going to acknowledge the following thoughts of him smelling them. They were clean, but still.

In Minas Tirith, a council was being held. Gandalf paced around the room as those in attendance got situated, which after the blunder back in Rivendell, constituted of Elves, Men, a Dwarf, and Hobbits. Some of them felt that they were not required and had made to leave, but Aragorn had requested that they sit in; everyone in the room was worthy of attendance. Unfortunately that resulted in a very crowded room, with every seat being filled, along with surfaces that were not originally meant for sitting.

"What news do you have, Mithrandir?" Elrond asked.

Gandalf moved to stand beside the Lord of Rivendell and opened a musty spellbook before him. "This is the book that Saruman acquired the spell to send Lady Morwen and Lady Ithilwen away into the other world."

"We have the means to get my wife and daughter back?" Haldir's attention was fully on the wizard now.

"Almost, marchwarden." Gandalf smiled sadly. "I can create the spell, but it will take some time. Our hope right now," and here he turned to Legolas, "is for the young prince to find his way back to her."

Legolas couldn't meet the gaze of Haldir for once. He still hadn't come any closer to reestablishing their connection since the stress of the final battle blocked it. Each time he tried and failed seemed like one more step away from where he wanted to be. Sleep was proving of no use to him, so he had resorted to more meditation during the day in hopes that he could relax enough to bridge the link.

"Has there been any progress?" Arwen asked. Like many in the room, she had to be filled in on what happened during their journey, and with the addition of her brother's creative tangents it was even more complicated.

Legolas was about to shake his head when he caught the gaze of Galadriel, who was looking intently at him. "Some," he said finally.

"Really?" Pippin spoke up. "What kind?"

"It is not much," he said hastily. "Just... I can smell something not of this world. I haven't been able to determine what it is, but I am trying." Legolas nearly jumped when he felt the heavy hand of the wizard clap down on his shoulder. He was so distracted in trying to pinpoint the scent that he hadn't realized Gandalf was beside him.

"Then that is your focus," he said simply. "If you focus on that, you should be able to reach her." Turning to the rest of the party at the table, he continued. "I will start preparing the spell tomorrow when I have all of the materials on hand. For now, we can decide just who will be going to this new world to bring back two lost ellith."

"I am going." Haldir said.

"And I as well," Legolas added not a moment later.

The murmurs around the table were rising quickly to a loud discussion as it seemed like everyone and their brother wanted to go. Eowyn had remarked about wanting to see this new land, as did Tauriel, who pouted at her brother when he gave her a pointed look. Arwen sat on the shieldmaiden's other side, nodding in agreement. Gimli said that he would like to meet the lass he had heard so much about. Pippin had said that he was up for another adventure, and Sam even mumbled that as long as it didn't involve another war he might be interested. Then Elladan and Elrohir had put in their two cents.

"She's our cousin!" Elladan reasoned, "We should be able to go with Haldir and Legolas as well!"

"I am not sure if it is wise to subject a new world to the mischievousness of you two," Elrond deadpanned. "Not everyone can leave middle-earth," he added.

"I believe I might have the solution to that," Gandalf offered, not that the twins had heard over their exclamations.

"But Legolas is going!" Elrohir brought up. "He's not even related to Ithilwen!"

His brother nudged his arm gently. "It's because he's got feelings for her, I'm sure."

Legolas had to bite back a groan that nearly became a growl. "Ithilwen is only a friend!" He ground out for the umpteenth time. If his own parent's weren't there to witness it, he might have resorted to more immature methods of ending their games. Like hanging them out the window by the waistband of their leggings.

"Feelings?" Tauriel asked the twins. "When my brother wrote home and spoke of her, he did not mention this!"

"That is because there is nothing to tell!" But she ignored him.

Miraear was now caught up in this descent into chaos, "Oh, but it would be wonderful, would it not, Galadriel!" She looked almost giddy at the piece of gossip the twins had started up, and it seemed that Lothlorien's ruling lady seemed just as amused.

"I do not believe our husbands would find it quite as endearing."

"Now I have to meet the elleth that has caught the interests of the young prince," Glorfindel said from beside Elrond. "As stubborn as he was as an elfling, this one should be fascinating. What say you, Erestor?"

The raven-haired elf gave him a stern look. "What say I about what?"

"Going to this new world."

"I do not see any reason that I should do so. Lady Ithilwen is not related to me, nor is she an elleth that I would consider courting. I shall simply remain here like any sensible person would do."

"You are a killjoy."

"And you know it."

The meeting had drawn to a close, and the occupants of the room were spreading about in a more casual manner. Legolas excused himself quietly and left to focus on his task, leaving two teasing ellyn and an elleth that had begun to scheme to the amusement of the Lady of Light.

She turned to the wizard, who was also watching the prince leave the room. "What might your solution have been, Mithrandir?"

Gandalf momentarily forgot until a mental shove from Galadriel brought him back to speed. "Oh, yes, that. It would require a fair amount of magic, and it would all depend on if the Valar were to allow it." He didn't speak further aloud, lest the plan not work, instead shifting his thoughts to the lady watching him intently. She spoke no more, but smiled in delight as she read his projected thoughts on the matter.

Thanks in part to Jack, Esther had successfully made a summoning vigil that did not involve pig's blood. She had also remembered to place small trays down to catch the dripping wax of her candles. The chalk vigil was laid down, as so the candles, the spirit board and its planchette, and other necessary tools. The scrying mirror that Jack had built her would sit across from her on the vigil, just on the other side of the spirit board.

Taking a breath, Esther recited the words she had spoken last time, waiting for Irmo to appear. In her practices before now, the planchette had risen almost immediately after the candles lit themselves, and she could see his visage through the reading pane.

But now, now Irmo was much larger, and Esther was looking at him through the scrying mirror. Jack's gift had worked!

"You appear larger in my mind's eye, Guardian Esther." Irmo's voice was calm, as always.

"Another guardian was kind enough to make me a scrying mirror," she smiled. "Now I will better be able to practice stabilizing the portal."

Irmo nodded, satisfied. "That is well my child, for you will have a challenge placed before you shortly."

"Challenge?" Esther squeaked. "You mean a test?"

"If you wish to see it as such."

"What do I need to do?" she asked nervously. "How much time do I have to prepare?"

Could a member of the Valar look guilty? Irmo's expression didn't shift significantly, but Esther had a feeling that there was a lot he wasn't telling her. A lot that had been decided before even thinking to tell her. "You will be required to use your current resources to bring forth a live body. The request has been made, and it will be of great concern to your efforts. The amount of time you have been given is, regrettably, short. However, you can send the live body to a predetermined destination. You will not see them until the transfer is complete. Do you understand?"

'Yeah,' she thought, 'are they even alive?' Esther didn't think it was a wise idea to ask. "Have you selected this predetermined location?" she asked instead.

"I have."

"And I just need to pull body...through a portal I've only tested with old cabinet pulls?"

"You will."

Esther laughed sarcastically. "Okay, no problem there," she said, "let's do this thing!" If Esther were honest with herself, the whole idea of this was terrifying. While the drawer pulls were received with success, they also weren't alive. This was a huge leap in practice, but it would determine if she could transfer living vessels between the worlds. She just hoped they made it through alive, if they were.

She really didn't expect her request to be granted by the Valar. It just goes to show that one can never anticipate the decisions of those they feel that they understand on some level.

The missive she received from Lord Irmo arrived promptly a week after her request had been answered. She had been told to travel light, as it was undeterminable how much would transfer, whatever that might have meant. With a small drawstring bag draped over her shoulder that was packed with meager rations and a change of clothes, she was escorted by personal guards of Lord Irmo to his gardens in Lorien.

Even after dark in these gardens, she marveled at how much they reminded her of other gardens she had once walked in middle-earth. She wondered if they had changed since her departure, or if they remained the same as their owners. As she came into view of the higher power, she dropped to one knee in greeting and blessing, as she had done before.

"Arise, Child," Lord Irmo stated. "Tonight is the time for your departure, as per your request. Is this still your desire?"

"Yes, my Lord," she said with a determined voice. "With all my heart."

He nodded, accepting her answer as he turned to look towards a large standing mirror that had been brought out. As she followed his gaze, he stated, "The method that will be used this night is only guaranteed to take you to what you seek. In order for you to return once more to Valinor, you must depart from the Gray Havens. You will not be able to go directly to your heart's desire immediately, however. It will be up to you to make your way once you have passed beyond this realm. Knowing this, do you still wish to depart the Undying Lands?"

She only hesitated for the slightest moment, trying to process all that he said. "If it means that my heart will ache no longer, than I will do what it takes."

Lord Irmo nodded again. "Very well." He reached out to touch the surface of the mirror, and she watched on as it appeared to glow and become a wall of liquid. "When you are ready, you will step into the mirror. The path is set, and you will arrive on the other side shortly after. You may experience disorientation momentarily, but it will pass. Do not forget all that I have told you, my Child. This is a decision that you have made of your own accord, and thus responsibility will fall to you."

She nodded in understanding, gripping the drawstring bag that hung on her shoulder. Her steps, while determined, were also shaky with anticipation for what was yet to come and the unknown possibilities that lay on the other side.

As she reached the mirror, Lord Irmo placed a hand on her shoulder. "You have experienced much in your life, my Child, and you will experience much more. Know that we have not made our decision lightly in granting you this wish. It is a rarity that such actions have been asked of us, and it is only special circumstances that have aided your request. Use this opportunity to its fullest extent, and remember that while we will be unable to intervene from the other side, we wish nothing but prosperity and happiness upon your new path."

"Thank you, my Lord Irmo," were her last words before she stepped into the mirror's frame. The feeling of walking through the mirror was akin to a light waterfall, cool and refreshing. She could not say the same for the sudden pull of her body through the vortex of light, however, but it only lasted a moment before she felt her feet hit a soft mound of grass.

'Lord Irmo was right,' she thought, feeling her head spin. She dropped to her knees in the grass, planting her hands firmly on the ground before her. 'The journey was disorienting.'

As soon as she felt well enough to look around, she was highly alarmed to discover that her surroundings were the least likely area she expected to appear in. In fact, she couldn't even pinpoint where she was! Everything around her was different, down to the trees, the flowers, and even the texture of the grass she knelt in. It was oddly manicured in an even manner, instead of being left to grow as it would. The trees, they did not acknowledge that she was present; they did not speak at all.

She stood slowly, picking up her bag and stepped around in the very short blades of grass. It was spread out an expansive area, though it would have easily fit into Lord Irmo's gardens and barely taken up any room. This was very peculiar indeed. She took notice of a path just ahead of her, and following the light of the moon's glow, she could see that it was made of stone in a long, narrow strip. At least she believed it was stone until she reached down to feel its scratchy texture.

'This is not like any stone that I have seen before,' she mused. Out of curiosity, she took off a slipper and gently stepped on the surface. 'It is not pliable, but it also is not carved stone. This makes no sense.'

After putting the slipper back on, she decided to follow this path while she took in her surroundings. Ultimately her journey had circled back to her landing place, but she had managed to take stock of what she saw. There were not nearly as many trees as she had been originally led to believe, and this stone-like material was more abundant. She saw other structures in the distance, accompanied by many signs with a written language that was impossible for her to discern.

'Neither the buildings nor the writing appear to resemble the mortal texts and lands that I have visited before.' She sunk into the black metal bench that was nearest to her starting place. 'Even the stars do not resemble the stars I gazed at in Valinor. Have I been mislead? Or is this what Lord Irmo referred to when he said that I would need to actively seek out my desire?' She frowned then in frustration, not with the Valar, but herself. 'How am I to know how to find my desire when I cannot even determine where I have been sent to! Has middle-earth changed this much since I sailed?'

Ithilwen arrived to her next location two days before it's start. In this time, she perused the local department stores for replacement travel toiletries, having been too lazy to carry her full size bottles around the Southern states. She also picked up an occasional outfit for regular wear when she discovered there was no nearby laundromat to clean her clothes. For the most part, all the cities that she had stopped in thus far had been similar, though she had found some cheesy souvenirs from each state. Apart from a few armadillo products with the Lone Star printed across their shells, she took to collecting some of the postcards the shops had on display.

The third day of her stay in Waxahachie, she had taken to checking out the downtown farmer's market. The outdoor market was alive with browsers and the occasional music selection wafting from some of the vendor's stands, giving it a very homey feel. Ithilwen was thoroughly relaxed as she stopped at many tables, often finding something of interest. The local people were incredibly kind, even though she had some difficulty with a few's thick southern accents.

With a few bags laden with various fruits and other goodies, Ithilwen was moving down through the square when she heard a voice call out in her direction, but it was not her name she heard.

"Morwen?" The voice was female, and from the tone, Ithilwen could tell that it held a heightened sense of anxiety and possibly fear. The problem was, Ithilwen couldn't understand why she got such an impression in an area that was so joyful.

She turned about to see a woman standing a few feet away, dressed in a simple gown. Her golden hair fell loose about her shoulders, stopping near her waist, where her hands were clasped in nervousness. Her face looked familiar to the elleth, and she couldn't help but ask nervously, "Aunt Celebrian?"

Chapter Text

"...Aunt Celebrian?"

"Ithilwen?" The woman looked an awful lot like her mother's sister, but surely she was still in Valinor. She had sailed when Ithilwen was still a baby, so her only recollections of her aunt were the descriptions Morwen had given her. Seeing her standing there, anxious in the sea of people, Ithilwen knew in her gut that this was kin.

"Aunt Celebrian!" The younger elleth crossed the few feet to reach the woman and embrace her in a tight hug. "I thought you were in Valinor! Naneth said that you had sailed west."

The older woman returned the hug just as tightly, and Ithilwen could hear the telltale signs of tears as she choked them back. "The Valar granted me this request."

Ithilwen let go of her aunt and looked at her quizzically. "What do you mean?"

"I could not bear being alone in Valinor any longer," she began. "I was happy for a time, but not having my family began to wear on me, and I had grown depressed. I took audience with the Valar and asked this of them, that I could reunite with my family. There was a discussion, and then they gave their blessing. Lord Irmo instructed me to walk through his mirror, and told me that I would be taken to my intended destination, but that I would need to work to find what I wanted. The next thing I was aware of was that I was not in middle-earth. I found myself in what some of the local people called a 'park'. I have been wandering around, afraid that the Valar had changed their decision until I saw you." Celebrian gave a small laugh. "Or should I say, your naneth? The ears were my first sign, and thus I assumed it was Morwen."

Ithilwen was shocked. The idea was inconceivable, but this was the work of the Valar, and from the bits of history that her naneth had taught her, she knew she shouldn't doubt their decisions. She smiled, relieved to find family, until she recalled what her aunt had said. "How long have you been here?"

"Two nights, I believe."

"You've been wandering around Texas for two nights?! Have you eaten or slept or anything?!" The blank look that Ithilwen received in reply was her answer. Grabbing her hand, she gave a tug and said "Come with me."

"Where are we going?"

"Back to my hotel room so you can get off your feet and eat something."

"What is this?"

Ithilwen stood by the Civic with the front passenger door open. She was looking on at her aunt with sympathy, who stood about four feet away from the vehicle with a look of apprehension on her face. "It's a car. My car to be specific. It's how we get around here in this world," she tried to explain. "The mortals have found these to be faster and more efficient than horses. It's alright, just think of it as a more advanced carriage."

Celebrian walked closer to the car, bending at the hip to peer inside at the array of things that were contained inside. "It does appear to have seating." she murmured.

"Uh huh. Really comfortable seating."

"...Is this safe?" she asked, pointing to the seatbelt hanging by the seat, calling it a harness.

Ithilwen gave her a reassuring smile when she said, "With me driving, you won't have anything to worry about." With her aunt scared witless just sitting down in the passenger seat, Ithilwen knew she wouldn't be going above 35 until she got used to the speed. Very carefully, she shut the door and jogged around to her side, slipping into the driver's seat without a second thought. In the amount of time that Celebrian had been in the car, she had already begun to poke around the dashboard.

"What is this?" she asked, pulling the flap down over her head that met with the edge of the windshield.

"That's a visor. It blocks some of the sunlight so you can see better."

Celebrian flipped it back up, looking down at the dashboard again. "And this?" she pointed to the button directly across from her.

"That's the glove compartment. Here," Ithilwen reached over and showed her how to open the lid. "You can put all sorts of things in here. It's like a built in storage box."

"How fascinating! What do these do?" Celebrian pointed towards the buttons and knobs on the middle panel.

Ithilwen pointed each out as she listed them off. "These are the buttons for the radio - a music box, basically. The buttons underneath them are presets with stations - er - points that other people play recorded music. The radio picks up the signals from these points. This knob is the tuner, which can scroll through all of the points available in the area, and the one next to it controls how loud the music is. These over here are for the air conditioning and heating units, so you can make the inside of the car warmer or colder."

"Mortals have control of the weather here?"

"Well, not exactly. If they did the east coast wouldn't get all the rain the west coast dearly needs," Ithilwen realized she was rambling when Celebrian looked at her strangely. "It's...artificial weather, in the car. It's a means of additional comfort to the travelers when the real weather is unpleasant to them."

"This all sounds as if wizards created it."

Ithilwen shrugged. "Well, according to the history texts you're not wrong there. A lot of people believed those that discovered these early advancements were magical, and they didn't have much trust for magic." She extracted her keys from her pocket and held them up for her aunt to see. "In order to start the car, we need the key. It goes here," she said, pointing to the opening in the steering column. "This will make a noise, so don't be alarmed when the engine starts."

It wasn't so much the engine starting as it was the vibrations that Celebrian felt in the seat that caught her off guard. "Is this normal?"

"Yeah, but if there's ever a weird knocking noise, that's not normal." Ithilwen made slow movements as she continued to talk so that Celebrian would see what she was doing. Apparently her aunt picked up on how things worked if Ithilwen showed her as she told her. "The car's started, but we won't move until I pull this stick into place," she put her hand on the gear shift. Ithilwen was never so happy to have an automatic as she was this day. "There's different commands for this," she continued, "but for now we want to put it in drive. And these pedals down here are what will make us go."

"And the strange wheel before you is to steer" Celebrian swore her mouth felt weird saying the odd term.

Ithilwen smiled broadly, and Celebrian felt some relief. "You're right! See, you've been here two days and already you're picking up on modern technology!" After checking her surroundings, Ithilwen slowly eased out of the parking space. She didn't take offense when Celebrian instinctively reached out to grab the inside door handle either. "I can go slower if you need me to," she said.

"No." Celebrian shook her head. She wasn't going to be terrified, she told herself. After all, her sister's daughter was handling this overly large contraption rather well. What was there to be afraid of? "No, it is just a surprise. That is all." She gave her niece as confident a smile as she could muster that moment. "This is rather a smooth ride, is it not?"

The drivers in the town were less than enthusiastic with Ithilwen's slow driving, and a few made it known with the blasts of horns from behind. Occasionally some would pass around them with less than a nod of thanks, while a few others felt compelled to further voice their displeasure with rude hand gestures. Ithilwen wasn't about to speed up any more than necessary until Celebrian had had more than one ride in the car, so they would just have to get over themselves. Her aunt had still inquired as to the noise from the other cars and the gestures they made at Ithilwen as they passed. Ithilwen couldn't get out of the explanations, and Celebrian felt more guilty that her niece was subjected to such treatment by strangers.

"It's fine," Ithilwen said, opening the passenger door for her aunt. "It's not like we're gonna see them again, and your peace of mind is more important than any first-world problem they have up their butts." Collecting her bags from the back seats, she led her to her hotel room.

"This is your home?" Celebrian whispered as Ithilwen stood outside her door, fumbling with the given key. It looked terribly strange to see so many strangers stay in the same house as her family. Was this similar to Rivendell?

"It's a hotel," she explained, turning the knob. Once Celebrian had entered, Ithilwen closed the door and carried the bags over to the large bed. "It's like a tavern. Lots of people that travel will rent rooms at these places, and depending on the price they are willing to pay, will get different amenities, but some hotels offer slightly different luxuries. It's all a matter of preference."

Celebrian walked around the large room after setting her drawstring bag down with Ithilwen's purchases. There was one large bed, a set of cabinets that held up a large black box, smaller bedside tables, another white box by the cabinets, and a large set of glass panes leading out to a balcony. She noticed a doorway off to the far left and followed it, discovering that it contained the basic personal washroom equipment, though she was uncertain if the white bowl with the lid opposite of the tub was what she thought it was. Tentatively, she walked over and lifted the lid, peering inside. 'Why is there water in it?' she wondered. Setting the lid back down, she looked around the bathroom more closely. There were some bottles of liquid by the sink that did not appear to align with the decor of the room, and she assumed that these belonged to her niece. She also saw a small bag, unzipped to reveal various brushes, combs, and other items Celebrian couldn't identify.

"This is a strange place indeed," she remarked, exiting the bathroom to find that Ithilwen had been busy preparing plates of food. "You have a cold bowl with a lid that has little water in it."

"Cold bowl- oh, you mean the toilet!" Ithilwen didn't know what her aunt was talking about at first. "Yeah, you do your business in there, and since there's indoor plumbing, it flushes! Neat huh?"


"That little bit of water helps make what you did go down the drain," Ithilwen made a swirling motion with her hands. "There's a little handle on the back that you push down on. It makes the toilet flush."

"Such a strange world indeed," Celebrian murmured, accepting the plate that Ithilwen had given her. On it contained some fresh cut fruits, sliced bread that was filled inside with oddly thin strips of what smelled like chicken and lettuce. Not having eaten since early two days prior, aside from a nice young couple sharing some of their food with her, Celebrian wasn't about to question how the chicken was flattened. She sat down on the edge of the bed with the plate balanced in her lap, tentatively taking a bite out of the sandwich. 'It is chicken,' she thought. 'and it is delicious!'

When she was certain that her aunt was eating, Ithilwen began to dig in her bags for her cell phone charger in between bites of her own sandwich.

"What are you searching for?" Celebrian asked between bites of the sandwich and the slices of apple.

"My phone charger," Ithilwen replied. "It's a box that plugs into the wall with a long cord. I use it to charge my phone, which is this thing," she held up the smartphone. "A phone is what mortals in this world use to communicate with. It's like sending a letter, but with your voice. Really efficient when it works."

"It does not work all the time?"

"Not always. Think of it like a magic spell that falls short."

"I see." Celebrian wasn't sure if she understood or not. The concept was strange, but if her niece used it for communicating, she would wait and see how it worked for herself. A shout from the other side of the bed caught her attention, with said niece waving the cord in triumph as she rocked back on her heels. She took the 'phone' as she called it and attached it to the cord, then attached the box to a small opening in the wall, which she soon discovered was an outlet – an important feature for any mortal establishment, apparently.

Ithilwen untangled the charger cord and laid the phone in the middle of the bed. Celebrian watched in fascination as she poked the screen of the contraption, causing the images and text to change with each press. "With some luck, I'll have us talking to a couple people you need to meet. They're in different parts of this world, so I hope they're both awake." A few more button presses and they both heard a distinctive ringing emit from the phone. Celebrian watched Ithilwen chew her lip nervously, then smile when she heard the phone change sounds, almost making her drop the apple slice she was about to bite into.

"Hello?" A groggy voice asked.

"Hello?" Another voice asked.

"Oh good, both of you are up!" Ithilwen said cheerfully.

"Ithilwen?" The first voice asked. "I was asleep. My last job went on later in the night than I thought it would.."

"Could you stay awake for a little while longer and then I'll let you get back to sleep? This is important."

"Are you alright?" the second voice asked in concern.

"I'm fine, really! I just have...a companion with me on my trip now, and I wanted you both to meet them."

There was a pause, followed by the first voice asking, "Oh my freaking god! You've got Legolas there, haven't you!?"

Celebrian watched in confusion as Ithilwen smacked her forehead and groaned. Why would the Mirkwood prince be here? For that matter, why was her niece here?

"No you chowder head!" Ithilwen made a gesture to Celebrian and said, "Say hello!" meaning for her to speak toward the phone lying on the bed between them.

"Hello," Celebrian said hesitantly, feeling awkward for speaking into a small box.

"Hi there!" The first voice said. "Are you another convention friend of Ithilwen's?" The voice seemed rather young, almost like she were her niece's age.

"I am afraid that I do not understand what you speak of, my dear. I am Ithilwen's aunt, Celebrian."

There was an extended silence on the other ends of the phone, and if it weren't for the lack of a dial tone, Ithilwen would have assumed that both Morwen and Fiona had hung up on her. Fiona, she could understand the silence from, but her naneth?

"Nana? You alright?" she asked tentatively.

"Nana?" Celebrian asked in surprise. "Morwen is here?"

"Yes," came the choked reply from the phone. "Celebrian, it is really you!" Another sniffle. "How did you come to be there with Ithilwen?"

"Long story short, the Valar granted her this wish," Ithilwen offered to answer, since Celebrian had also started to tear up again.

When she was certain that she could speak clearly again, Celebrian voiced her question. "I do not understand how the both of you are not in middle-earth. Where is Haldir? Naneth and Adar? Elrond? My children?"

Morwen's voice came through the phone to reply. "As Ithilwen said, in a long story short, it is just Ithilwen and myself in this world. Everyone else is in middle-earth. A misplaced magic spell sent us here."

Fiona finally found her voice. "Wow, so you're her aunt? That's great-" she paused for a loud yawn that snuck up on her. "-excuse me. I've only had about an hour's sleep, so is it alright if I talk to all y'all again later?"

"Of course," Morwen said. "Go on back to sleep, Fiona." The three remaining elleth heard the sound of a phone being clicked off, and Fiona had left the conversation. "What will you do now?" She directed this question at Ithilwen.

"I don't know, honestly. You guys are still out of town too."

"What do you mean? What is it that you are doing, Ithilwen?" Celebrian asked.

"A trip," her sister offered up. "She's going to different events that she has heard about and thinks will be interesting."

"It's no big deal-"

"Nonsense," Celebrian interrupted. "If this trip is important to you, do not let my arrival change your plans."

Ithilwen chewed her lip again, feeling guilty. Her aunt was sent by the Valar to a modern society where she herself had taken decades to adjust to, and she was being told to continue her trip? It just seemed wrong. Unless...

"Then you must come with me, Aunt Celebrian!" she insisted. "I can teach you about the different things this world has on the way!"

"I have been away from my kin for far too long," her aunt smiled. "I would be delighted to accompany you on your adventures."

Esther closed the sigil once again, feeling drained and more than a little sick. This practice had taken a toll on her energy, and with the events of the past few days, her stress levels were already scraping the bottom of that barrel.

Irmo had informed her that the "live body" had made its journey to her world successfully, but he wouldn't elaborate that night, nor the next two nights when she continued to ask. Esther had to explain very quickly that certain events earlier in the year had been a result of her actions, and she didn't want to repeat her mistakes by accidentally transferring an evil being into the modern age. He had set her fears to rest and assured her that the soul that sought the journey was the exact opposite of her expectations. On the other hand, he still didn't tell her who she brought over, so that didn't help.

She also hadn't seen Jack since the day he gave her the mirror and she assaulted his lips. To be fair, the action had surprised her just as much as it did him! Esther had thought she had perfected the role of the lover who would forever mourn the blissful ignorance of their significant other, but apparently she was wrong. Very, very wrong. And to make things more complicated was the fact that it was such a simple gift, a token of friendship, and she kissed him. Idly she wondered if he had saved her from a dragon that day instead if she would have slept with him; just sort of tackle him about the waist or something. The point was, Esther was mortified, and she wouldn't blame Jack in the least if he didn't show his face around again for a while.

in the meantime Esther had a lot of reports to file with Cupid on her progress. He had gotten memos with updates sent by way of her Cherub Bytes, however he still required her to follow protocol. Esther made quick work of cleaning up her living room floor, having developed a quick routine of it now, and dropped down onto her couch to write. Cupid wanted to know all of the details, from the process of opening the sigil, the communications with Irmo, the transport of The Body, closing the sigil, and any other practice runs she had implemented. Esther was nothing if not a perfectionist, but this was one of those moments where she absolutely hated being compelled to put down every detail.

'Why me? Haven't I suffered enough lately?!'

The trip to Cupid's office was supposed to be quick. Just drop off the reports and go. No need to hang around while he read them, since the memos she sent beforehand already gave him a leg up on the situation. So why, of all days, she had to run into Jack on the way back to her office?!

"Uh...hi," he said. Jack wasn't making direct eye contact with her. Instead, he was looking just over her shoulder. Had she messed up worse than she realized?

"Hello," she replied, suddenly shy.

Neither one said anything for what felt like an eternity, though only moments had passed. Jack had begun to fidget with the hooked staff, lightly scraping it across the floor to leave tiny trails of ice patterns. Esther clasped her hands together in an attempt to keep them still, for once not having anything to carry.



Both realized their blunder and laughed. "You go first," Jack said.

"Thanks," Esther muttered. "I...I wanted to thank you again for that mirror, Jack. It's really helped with my work."


"Yeah, I was able to bring over a living person with Irmo's instruction."

"That's great! Do you know who it was?"

Esther shook her head. "I wasn't told. I assume it was an elf, as Irmo resides in Valinor. No other beings are allowed to reach their shores unless the Valar deem them worthy."

Jack seemed disappointed to hear this. "That's a shame. I bet it would have made Ithilwen's day if her dad were the one to get sent through."

"Or Legolas." She motioned to him. "What were you about to say, just a minute ago?"

"Oh, that." Jack scratched his head nervously. "Listen, Es, about what happened the other day-"

"Please Jack, you don't have to say anything," Esther swallowed. She couldn't bear to hear him reject her out loud, though she wouldn't have blamed him if he did. "I know I overstepped my boundaries-"

"What? No! No, no - I was just trying to say that I didn't handle what happened with the best of grace, that's all. I was just...surprised, you know?"

Esther nodded. "I understand. I am so sorry for doing that, Jack. I've been under a lot of stress lately and my brain couldn't stop my lips-" she sighed and restarted, feeling like her words were coming out in a mess. "While I won't take back what I said, I should have been more tactful about what I did. Ever since you left I felt like I messed up our friendship, and if I could go back in time I would stop myself, cause now we're standing here talking about it and everything is awkward and-"

"Esther!" Jack stepped forward and grabbed her by the shoulders, giving her a light shake to get her attention. When she looked up at him, his expression was sympathetic to her anxiety, not the anger and disgust her mind was predicting. "Relax. It's over and done with. We're past it now. And I never said I didn't like the kiss."

"You...didn't?" Dare she to hope that her spontaneity knocked something into place?

"To be honest, I don't remember being kissed much in my mortal life, but it was really nice." Jack was back to twisting the hooked staff again. "It's not something I'd be against happening again," he winked, even though she could see the tiniest bit of pink in his cheeks.

"Are you sure? Aren't you afraid I'll give you cooties?" Esther replied back in a teasing manner. Her heart's pace had picked up considerably then.

"Nah," Jack shrugged. "I got through the past two days without anything bad happening. I think you're clean. So...are we okay?"

It had taken Esther a few minutes to register what it was he said. Okay? Was it that simple? "Yes Jack, we're okay," she smiled at him. She'd still feel guilt for a time, but that was habit now.

"Alright then." Jack swung his staff over his shoulder and made to continue down the hall. "I'll let you get back to your work. I know you're busy. Just, one more thing... Why would Irmo send someone through the portal you made to this world from Valinor? I thought that place was supposed to be a paradise for elves?"

That had never occurred to Esther. "I...I don't...know. That's what I my...notes..." Sorting through the mental files on everything she had studied in recent months, Esther's facial expressions were quite bizarre. When her thoughts led to one probable conclusion, she shouted, "THAT'S IT! JACK FROST, YOU'RE A GENIUS!" before ducking into her office.

Jack could only stand there in the hallway, dumbfounded at what just happened. "Genius? That's a first!"

Fiona was packing away her equipment when her cell phone decided to ring. The embarrassing ringtone echoed through the large room, and she nearly flipped a stack of her paperwork to find it buried underneath one of the folders, much to the amusement of the event coordinators.


"Fiona!" It was Esther. "Where are you?"

"In Kentucky. On work business," she began slowly. "Why? Is something wrong?"

She could hear the cupid sigh tiredly. "What about Morwen and Ithilwen?"

"Mom's over in Italy right now, and then she's off to London for a few weeks. Ithilwen's on a roadtrip. I think she's down in Texas still."

"Well that would explain why no one's answered the door," Esther mostly spoke to herself. "I've been knocking for the last twenty minutes!"

Fiona couldn't help but laugh. "You know we would have answered long before then if one of us was home. So what's going on, Es?"

"Um...well, it's a bit of a story..."

"I've got the time," Fiona supplied. "We don't have to be out of here for another hour, and I was just about done cleaning up." She gave a wave to one of the last volunteers as they exited the room, leaving her alone with her phonecall and belongings.


From Esther's tone, it sounded like she was fidgeting on the spot as she talked, which made Fiona curious as to what could be bothering her. The last time she was like this was when she used her magic... "By any chance did you do some hokey voodoo again?"

"H-how did you know?"

"Wait, you did?! I was just joking!"

Esther's voice rose a level then. "Well I did! And this time it worked like it was supposed to, I'll have you know!"

"I never said you did," Fiona tried to calm her friend. "So what did you do that worked?"

"It's more a matter of who," Esther said carefully. "I...I managed to bring someone back from middle-earth."

Fiona's brain seemed to freeze at those words. Someone? Esther had brought someone to their world, from middle-earth? Her heart sped up, suddenly feeling anxious. What did this mean? Could Esther find a way to send Morwen and Ithilwen back home? Did she already know of a way? Did her mom and sister know this?

"Fiona?" Esther asked worriedly. "Are you still there?"

"Y-yeah, I'm here." She swallowed nervously. "Who did you...bring back from middle-earth?" Was it Legolas? Haldir? Personally, she was hoping for Legolas, because she wasn't sure how Ithilwen's dad would react to his wife adopting another child without his knowledge. Legolas seemed more likely to accept her, according to her brain's reasoning.

"That's the thing. I don't know." Esther knew she had to speak quickly, if the sound Fiona made was any indication. "That's why I'm at your house! I was hoping y'all would have been home so I could find out where this person was! The only thing I was told was that there was no ill intentions in this person's heart, and that they had a specific desire in mind."

"That sounds a lot like Haldir or Legolas, honestly."

"It's not them," Esther said. "The person that came through my portal was sent from Valinor, so the only thing I know is that they are an elf. Since Ithilwen and Morwen are the only two elves from middle-earth, is it possible that one of them could be the target?"

Fiona scratched her head as she thought. "Mom would have said something if someone from Valinor appeared before her, but I haven't heard from Ithilwen in a couple days. Maybe you could check with her?"

"Do you know where she is exactly?" Esther crossed her fingers. If Ithilwen was still in Texas, she had a lot of ground to cover.

"What's today, the 12th?" Fiona muttered, flipping through the planner on the table before her. "Yeah, it's the 12th. She would be going to the Scarborough Renaissance Festival this weekend. It's down there in Waxahachie. Just south of Dallas, I think."

"Thank you Fiona," Esther said, relieved she had a heading now. "I'll check in with Ithilwen as soon as I can get down there."

"Not a problem, Esther. Talk to you later." With the phone call at an end, Fiona returned to packing up her equipment so she could head back to her hotel. The entire time she couldn't help but wonder who would come back from Valinor... 'Hang on...' Her thoughts began to connect all the pieces, from the late-night conversation she had the other night to what Esther had told her. 'Holy banana-balls,' she thought, stunned. 'Mom's sister was the one that came from Valinor!'

Nights in Minas Tirith were becoming bothersome for the Mirkwood prince.

Just as he had during his meditation practices, in his sleep he tried to seek out Ithilwen's presence, hoping to catch even just a glimpse of the elleth.

Progress had been made, if he could call it that. Not that he understood the things he saw. There were darkened roads with white and yellow lines of various patterns laid atop them. On these roads were the strangest things that he had ever seen. They looked almost like metal carriages, but without the aid of a horse, and they moved faster than he expected. Stationed at different points on the path were metal-appearing signs of different shapes and colors, bearing strange words and symbols that he could not identify.

The sights were just one oddity. His nose was also being subjected to new scents. One in particular had stood out to him. It had tickled his nose like a bubble bath, but the scent...apples? It was most decidedly feminine, that much he knew.

It wouldn't be until the next morning at breakfast when he realized that these strange sights and smells had some link to Ithilwen. Rising to his feet with a surprised yelp that scared half the table, he knew.

He was getting close.

Introducing the modern conveniences to her aunt had been interesting. Convincing her that the small video camera would not consume her fëa was almost hilarious. "It records your image," Ithilwen explained, pointing out its features. "It captures your movements, your voice, and any other sounds nearby, and saves it in a small piece of information that can be replayed many times."

"And this does not hurt?"

"If it did, then there are about a dozen internet bloggers that would have been destroyed by now." Ithilwen opened her laptop and loaded one of her videos to show Celebrian. "See, these were made using these two devices."

"Why do you do this, then?"

Ithilwen shrugged. "A friend suggested I film parts of my road trip so that Nana and Fiona could watch it and see the things that I have. I upload them here," she pointed to the screen, "so that they can be watched whenever and wherever they can access them. If you want, you can be in the next video to see how you like it. If you don't want to, that's okay too-"

"No, no," Celebrian insisted. "If this is something that you enjoy, I would like to try it as well. I am interested in the things you like to do, Ithilwen. I am just afraid that I might not understand them all."

"Well that can be fixed. I'll teach you about this stuff along the way, and when we get back home, you'll know all sorts of things about this world!" Ithilwen shut off the laptop and looked at her aunt. "I was planning to film a little bit today. You want to just watch me first, or would you like to jump straight into it?"

"By all means, let us start," Celebrian replied. "I am very excited to learn!"

Ithilwen couldn't help but mirror her aunt's grin. She wasn't sure if her naneth would be pleased or horrified when she got the opportunity to watch these videos, but she already knew they would get a lot more interesting.

Filming at the Scarborough Festival had been almost as entertaining as watching Celebrian interact with the characters that worked the festival, as well as the other "dressed" visitors. Ithilwen had loaned her aunt her simple medieval dress, wearing Legolas' silver tunic over a pair of dark leggings and boots. Celebrian had eyed the tunic curiously, but chose not to say anything on the matter of its appearance. There would be other times, and she had her attention grabbed by many of the other activities available at the festival anyway.

Ithilwen set down her camera beside her lunch plate as they got comfortable on the picnic table seats. As she had promised Fiona, she bought an overly large roasted turkey leg. With it, she paired a small tray of waffle fries and fried pickle slices. Not the most authentic or healthy, but it was adventurous. Her aunt had selected a bowl of red beans and rice, completed with green bell peppers and beef sausage for extra flavor.

"I think you picked a more reasonable lunch," Ithilwen joked, poking at her turkey leg with her plastic fork.

"I do not understand why your friend would ask you to eat the leg," Celebrian stated, gingerly tasting her meal. A small sigh of contentment left the older woman, and she happily tucked into her food.

Ithilwen tore a piece of meat off the bone and took a bite. "Fiona seems to think it's a staple of the renaissance fair. She'd pick the entire leg up and take a bite."

"That sounds barbaric."

"Oh don't get me wrong, I'd do it too, but I don't want to get sauce or anything on my clothes." As it were, they were sloppily rolled up, and Ithilwen had to make some fancy maneuvers to keep pieces of food from latching onto the fabric.

"I understand that there is so much that is different about this world, Ithilwen. What can you tell me that would be the easiest for me to understand foremost?"

"Well, for starters, horses are mostly kept as pets. They might still be used for labor on farms, but the mortals use cars to get around now that run on fuel. There's this thing called electricity that is used to provide light in homes and establishments, as well as assist in preparing food. It's almost like harnessing lightening in a thunderstorm, but the mortals have found ways to emulate the energy on a day to day basis. Um... There is only the race of Man here; no hobbits, dwarves, elves, or the like. You won't notice it as much here, but when we get out on the road, you'll see that there are women that wear leggings more often than gowns. Gowns and dresses are for more formal occasions, though there are casual styles available. On occasion you might even see men wearing dresses! What else... for the most part, this world is more fast-paced than middle-earth, which has its blessings and curses obviously."

"This is a most peculiar world then," Celebrian stated.

"Apart from that, it's not much different than middle-earth. In some societies, patriarchal rule is still evident, though women are making headway into being considered on equal grounds. There are still battles and wars being fought, but the weapons are more advanced than our swords and bows." Ithilwen sighed, spearing a fried pickle with her fork. "Coming to these festivals almost makes it feel like I am back home, though I do not remember much of home."

Celebrian reached across the table and patted Ithilwen's hand in comfort. "How long have you and your naneth been here?"

"About... a century and a half? I think? I grew up here, basically. When Nana and I got hit by the spell, I was still learning to talk, and the memories are so fuzzy I don't recall them that well." She put on a brave face when she added, "I know one day that we'll return home, and now you'll get to come back with us!"

"That reminds me," her aunt began,"What was your friend speaking of when she mentioned Legolas? You know Lord Thranduil's son?"

Ithilwen smiled, recalling the first memories of their dream meetings. She quickly told her aunt of how they came to meet and the various things they've learned through the connection. While she was speaking, she noticed that Celebrian's expression seemed to change from surprise, to amused, to almost knowing, and she had a feeling of deja vu when her naneth first learned about the connection. It was like they knew something that she didn't and didn't feel privy to tell her.

During her tale of the dream meetings, the topic of the One Ring came up, and Ithilwen fell into retelling what she had been told about the forming of the fellowship to the battle of Helms Deep to the battle of Pelennor Fields up to the last meeting – omitting the almost-kiss for obvious reasons. Fiona hadn't even been informed of that, and if word got back to her, no amount of teasing would be able to save her from Ithilwen's torture.

Esther stood in the farmer's market in Waxahachie, frustrated beyond words.

She had returned to work to inform Cupid that she would be out of the office for a couple of days to locate their newest arrival to the world. Then she had teleported to the small park near the farmer's market, taking shelter in one of the trees so that she wouldn't be noticed suddenly appearing out of thin air. In any circumstances that was never good, but in the southern states it was more than likely possible to get shot by doing so. 'And I would rather stay in one piece,' she had told herself, dropping down from the tree casually.

The trek to the farmer's market was a short one, and Esther knew that Ithilwen would likely frequent the stalls of the place if she happened to catch wind of its existence. It wouldn't have been hard to find her in the large crowds, had she been there. Esther went up and down each aisle over and over until she convinced herself that Ithilwen was most definitely not at the farmer's market.

It hadn't occurred to her when she was talking to Fiona to ask the girl if she knew what hotel her sister would be staying at in Waxahachie.

Chapter Text

Ithilwen had to be somewhere in the city still. Esther knew it; she just couldn't find her.

After making one more trip around every inch of the farmer's market, Esther paced up and down the sidewalk next to the open parking lot, lost in concentration. Whenever she had taken on a particularly difficult project to bring two people together, the primary focus of her work left an imprint of their aura for her to gauge. If they were happy and content, it would emit calm signals, whereas trouble brewing would change the signals to an erratic beat. This imprinting was temporary, in most cases, but Ithilwen wasn't normal by any means.

As per her nickname, "Project Moon Moon" had a habit of bad jokes that kept returning. In this instance, the aura of the elleth from middle-earth still lingered. It had it's usefulness in tracking Ithilwen down when Esther concentrated on the signal long enough, but it was pointless with the aura imprint resembled a giant ball of outdoor Christmas lights stretched out across the Lonestar State.

Esther stopped in her tracks, growling "Dammit Moon Moon" again as she pulled out her cell phone. Putting it to her ear, she heard the other end ring four times before someone picked up.


"Where the hell are you?!"

"Esther? Is something wrong?"

"Oh nothing, I've just been all over Texas looking for your butt because Fiona said you were down here for the Scarborough Faire this weekend, and I've been hunting for you for hours with no luck," the guardian said through gritted teeth. "For an elf from another world you are damned near impossible to find!"

Her nerves were further grated when Ithilwen laughed on the other end. This wasn't funny! "I'm sorry," she said through her laughter, "I'm over here at the Hampton Inn. I'll come down and wait for you outside."

"You wanna run that by us again?"

Ithilwen had been nuking some frozen dinners in the microwave when Esther said that she had been the one to bring her aunt over from Valinor. She looked on stunned, but Celebrian was the one that took this news better, having clasped the guardian's hands in a show of gratitude.

Esther glanced nervously to her friend, feeling the multitude of questions bubbling just below the surface. "For a while now I've been practicing my magic. I thought that maybe I could open a portal similar to North's snow globes, but in order to reach another world, it would require me to make contact with someone capable of helping me sustain the energy at both ends. In my searching, I made contact with Lord Irmo in Valinor. He understood my plights and agreed to assist me, working as the anchor." Here she motioned to Celebrian. "I was told days ago that a 'live vessel' would be traveling through the portal from Valinor for personal reasons. I didn't know who it was or their purpose, and I've been so tied down with my reports to Cupid that I wasn't able to locate the traveler until today."

Celebrian leaned to the side to catch Esther's downturned gaze. "I thank you again, Guardian Esther, for bringing me to my family," she said. "The journey was quick and I arrived safely. Everything worked out as it was meant to, so do not feel regret for doing your duties first."

"That's a habit she can't break, Aunt Celebrian."

"It is not a habit!" Esther retorted indignantly.

"You still feel guilt for my breakup with Payne!" Ithilwen passed a steaming plastic tray each to the guardian and her aunt. "It's alright to let it go-"

Esther waved her free hand erratically at Ithilwen. "Don't say those words!" she hissed. "That's like saying Candyman in the mirror! Jack will hear you!"

Celebrian looked back and forth between the two blond women. "What is this And who is Jack?"

"Candyman is a made-up character," Ithilwen explained, "If you stand in front of a mirror and say his name five times, he'll appear and kill you. It's kind of like the story of Bloody Mary, only you say her name three times in the mirror." She jerked a thumb in Esther's direction. "Jack is Jack Frost, the guardian of fun. He can make it snow, and Esther's also got a crush on him."

"I do not!" Esther shrieked, red faced.

"Ironic that the guardian of pure love denies that she's crushing on a colleague, isn't it?" the elleth grinned. "It's not hard to see if you're looking for it," she added.

"Yeah well as of this moment we're friends!" Esther was on the defensive. "And you can't talk because of your dream-dates with Legolas!"

"They're not dates! Or they weren't, as I haven't spoken to Legolas since March!"

The guardian looked sheepish, remembering too late that the link was broken. Ithilwen had become too interested in her microwaved cheeseburger macaroni bowl to look at either of them. Celebrian continued to glance between them curiously.

"You know," Esther swallowed, "With what I've learned to do with Irmo might work on a broader scale. Legolas might not even be aware the link was broken-"

"It's okay," Ithilwen said in between bites. "I'm pretty sure he knows. And he's in middle-earth, just like Ada. You said that Lord Irmo was able to help you get Aunt Celebrian here. Maybe when they sail West one day I'll get to see them that way."

Esther frowned, wanting desperately to tell her friend to not think so negatively. As things were at the present, while she couldn't bring them over through the link she could produce in Valinor, it didn't mean that Esther wouldn't try. Irmo wouldn't be able to help her with this task, so it would take more time and a lot of practice, but it would be worth it.

"Did that sign say 'Greenwood'?" Celebrian asked. Since her arrival, Ithilwen had been steadily teaching her aunt to read English by any means available - road signs, menus, whatever was available at that moment. The older elleth had picked up on it quicker than Ithilwen thought she would, and was now able to read almost any text aloud by sounding it out as she studied it.

"Yup, Greenwood, Louisiana." Ithilwen answered, glancing over at her aunt. "Why's that funny?"

"It is more amusing than very funny," she said, yet Celebrian couldn't help but smile. "The kingdom of Mirkwood was once known as Greenwood. But when the darkness began to seep into the forests long ago, it was dubbed its new name. Your friend Legolas calls it home, if you will recall." Her smile faltered as she paused in thought. "There are not giant spiders that reside in this Greenwood as well, are there?"

Ithilwen visibly shuddered in the driver's seat. "God I hope not. I never liked spiders; the biggest I had ever come across was called a bird-eating spider...or something. Anyway, it was damn near the size of this steering wheel!"

"The spiders of Mirkwood are much larger than that," Celebrian said. "The infants can start out the size of this car, or so I've been told by the messengers that came to Imladris."

With a glance down at the gas meter, Ithilwen shuddered again and made a mental note to stop at the next gas station they came across. There here aunt commented on how terrible the smell of the gasoline was, and she couldn't agree more. Still, when Ithilwen was asked, she demonstrated how to pump gas in the car. Celebrian just continued to wrinkle her nose and noted how travel by horses was less putrid than this amber liquid.

Inside the convenience store, the two women selected what Ithilwen called 'essential roadtrip munchies', as well as some interesting looking postcards from the Pelican state before leaving. Celebrian held her bag of snacks to her chest as she surreptitiously glanced back at the cashier that had rung up their purchases. The man was of a dark complexion, wearing a strange scarf about his head, eye makeup, and a denim skirt with boots. He had a masculine air about him, but he was not above swinging his hips when he walked. And he had called her and her niece "Honey". 'This must have been what Ithilwen told me about back at the festival the other day. I didn't expect to see a sight so soon in the journey.'

Regardless of how strange she found his appearance and mannerisms, she found him to be quite charming, if not confusing.

Bossier City was their next pit stop on the trip. Celebrian looked at the massive sign as they sat in the parking lot, confused. "We are stopping at a place with two golden arches?"

Ithilwen grinned. "Of course! This place has got some of the best fast food you can find. And their fried potatoes are unbelievably good!" She tugged on her aunt's hand and led her into the doors of McDonald's.

The trip inside McDonald's made it worth the detour for food. Standing back and looking at each of the menu items, Celebrian was silently mouthing the words to herself. Ithilwen had been about to tell the cashier that her aunt hadn't been in a fast food place for a long time when she was asked-

"Ithilwen, what's in the combo?"

It had been such an innocent question, but Celebrian could only stand by in more confusion and slight alarm as her niece had doubled over in laughter to the point of tears. It had taken her some time, but Ithilwen managed to recover herself long enough to order. Once they sat down, she made it a point to explain why that question had been so funny.

"Just know," she said, about to eat a french fry, "that you are probably the only person in this state that can genuinely ask that question, Aunt Celebrian."

Celebrian still wasn't sure about Ithilwen's sense of humor.

In their hotel room, Ithilwen had set up her camera and laptop on the desktop that had been provided in the suite she had booked. Celebrian had opted to take a bath, giving her niece the opportunity to record her message.

"Hey guys! The next video in this trip is coming along, and I should have it uploaded shortly. Right now though, I'm going to do something different. So I've been getting loads of questions lately, and with me driving so much, I don't get to answer them as I'd like. To make it up to y'all, I'm going to be holding a live stream in the near future from my hotel room! Are you excite? Okay, so the thing is that we won't be in Georgia very long, so it won't be here. However - my next stops are Myrtle Beach and Raleigh, and I'll be at those places a little longer to fit it in the schedule. That should give you guys about two weeks to decide on what you want to know, and when I get ready to leave Georgia I'll make an announcement about the date of the live stream. So keep your eyes peeled, and you can comment on any of these videos with your question, or you can hit me up on one of the sites linked in the description!"

The Georgia Renaissance festival was not unlike the one in Texas, but both Ithilwen and Celebrian enjoyed it nonetheless, and it had been fairly easy to get footage for the next video. The jousting tournament was entertaining, as usual. For Ithilwen, the "Hey Nunnie, Nunnie" show was unbelievably twisted and funny. Celebrian discovered she liked the "Tortuga Twins" show – even when one of the men on stage selected her from the audience to play the part of Maid Marian! When she returned to her seat, she was told by Ithilwen that pictures had been taken, much to her embarrassment.

That Sunday evening, after they had left with more wares than they expected to find in the shops, Celebrian was reclining on the bed in their hotel room. She had picked up the small box that Ithilwen had called a remote and was browsing the channels that the picture box provided.

Her niece was in the shower scrubbing the last remnants of glitter from a wandering jester that surprised her when she stopped on a screen that featured these cars on an enclosed road. Celebrian watched it curiously, trying to understand why they were going in a repeated loop to the left when it happened. One of the cars had been bumped by another, and the bumped car turned over in the air! She watched in horror as the car then crashed into the top of the car directly behind it, which swerved and clipped another car. "Ithilwen!" she called out, watching terrified as more of the cars swerved to avoid the scene, some not so lucky.

Ithilwen was wrapping herself in the hotel towel when she heard her aunt scream for her. She nearly skidded on the tile flooring and to the bed, still dripping wet in nothing but the scratchy towel. "What's wrong, Aunt Celebrian?" She looked from the elleth to the television, seeing just what it was that she was watching. "You're watching Nascar?"

"Is that what this is?" Celebrian nearly shrieked. "A disaster just occurred!" She meant to go on in details when the slower replay came up as the remaining unscathed cars went into a caution lap.

Ithilwen watched the replay and whistled. "Not the worst wreck I've seen in one of these races, though. Hopefully no one got hurt."

"This happens often?!"

"Oh yeah," Forgetting she was still wringing wet, Ithilwen perched on the edge of the bed. "These cars are going a lot faster than the ones we drive by. Crashes are bound to happen, especially when they are stacked three or four to a row with naught but inches between them. One little bump can send them scattered across the track, and sometimes it's not even careless driving; it can be a change in the wind that forces the car to shift. Some people make fun of the sport, but it's pretty intense."

"And mortals watch this for entertainment?"

"Yeah, not sure why all the time, to be honest. But being here in the South, it's sort of a staple sport, and some people treat the Sunday races like a religious experience."

"That is strange." After Ithilwen returned to the bathroom to finish drying off and dress, Celebrian looked down at the remote in her hands and then back at the TV. Shaking her head, she pointed the remote at its mate and continued to scroll through the channels. As open as she was to new experiences in this world, watching that sort of race was not appealing at all.

Legolas shot up from his meditation in a panic, breathing heavily. Once again, he managed to successfully make everyone near him jump in alarm. Later on he would take great pleasure out of it, since everyone from family member to friend had been hovering around him, waiting for him to come out of his trance and give them good news.

"What is it? What did you see?" Aragorn asked.

The elf took some time to collect his thoughts before answering. "There were these metal carriages. It looked like it might have been some sort of race, I can't be sure. There were so many grouped together...and then one...flipped."

"Flipped?" Glorfindel asked. "As in flipped in the air?"

Legolas nodded. "For such a large carriage, it took flight like a bird, only... it landed on a carriage behind it..."

"So much for flight," the balrog slayer remarked.

"The carriage beneath it lost control from the extra weight, and many other carriages were struggling to avoid the collision. It was madness," he finished.

Elrond, who had been reading a book before the prince's outburst, looked to the wizard across the room. "Well Mithrandir? What do you make of Legolas' newest vision?"

"Haven't the foggiest."

It had been with great restraint that Legolas failed to follow that response with "Why doesn't that surprise me?". He excused himself to retire to his rooms, where he could avoid the scrutiny of everyone wondering why it was taking himself so long to find Ithilwen. 'Am I trying too hard?' His thoughts had begun to fill his days with doubt as to whether he would find her again, even going so far as to question her existence at all. 'I know for a fact that she is very much alive,' he reassured himself, 'I have a piece of her underthings to prove that! Wait-'

Was it that easy? Why had he not thought of it sooner? Legolas broke out into a run down the hall to his rooms, thoughts spinning in a new direction filled with hope. It was the only thing he had of Ithilwen's, and having it near him could help concentrate on finding her sooner.

"How do we know that Mithrandir's idea will work?" Thranduil challenged the other elven rulers that evening. "As it stands, my son appears to be nowhere near finding this elleth than he was a week ago!"

Miraear sent an apologetic look to the lord and lady of Lothlorien. "I believe there is hope," she countered in a much calmer tone. "Legolas is nothing if not persistent in his goals. He will find your granddaughter."

Celeborn still continued to throw dark looks at Thranduil even as Miraear spoke. This had not been an easy trip to Gondor, and now that the plan had been set into motion, it seemed like he couldn't get away from the Greenwood king. Each scathing remark about a lack of evidence on further agitated him as the days passed. If the king continued to keep this pattern up, he wouldn't be held accountable for his actions.

Galadriel, for once, had remained silent on the matter. She knew any attempts to diffuse the situation between her mate and the king would be met with more resistance, and thus she sat back to let them sort it out. "I believe it is Haldir that needs the reassurances," she confided in Miraear. "While I can see within your son's eyes that there is progress, I fear that my son-in-law is beginning to lose hope."

"This entire matter does make me curious as to the connection between your granddaughter and our son," the redheaded elleth mused. "Having talked to Legolas about his letters home, it almost sounds like a fëa bond, but that would be impossible! Surely!"

"The description of these instances and the effects each has felt seem to be the best answer," Galadriel agreed, "and yet, they are within separate worlds, and could very well be impossible."

Miraear sighed. "I suppose it is up to the Valar to decide for us. Until we see them together in person we can only speculate."

Esther was dreaming again.

They were happier memories this time, back when she was a mortal in the colonies. She was the oldest of the female children that was unwed for the time, and the majority of her duties involved tending to the youngest children in the village. It was a glorified babysitting job back before it was dubbed as such, but she enjoyed it. On the other hand, some of the oldest youth in the village were still young at heart.

Jack was always up to no good, whether he was active or passive. Esther always wondered if his mind ever stopped coming up with schemes. Hot or cold, rain or shine, he was either plotting or following through on some idea. She would chastise him for slacking off; being a young man of the times called for more muscle around the village than it did a fair hand like hers. Jack would always tease her back, which led to additional entertainment for the other villagers for days. Jack may have been immature at times, but Esther was just as stubborn. Arguments and teasing between them could go on for weeks if there was enough to argue over.

And yet, perhaps the best moment of these dreams was something that she held dear to her heart. It had been winter, roughly in time for the solstice. Preparations for the festivities had been underway for much of the week, with the newest additions being sprigs of little plants hung from any open doorway. If there was an open space to hang the little plants, one of the adults would find it. Esther had learned that it was a tradition for two people to exchange a kiss if they were caught underneath the plant. Not that it mattered to her; the men of the village were either too old or too young to be concerned over. Still, the afternoon that she had found the one missing in the doorway of her kitchen, she had gone to investigate.

The snow had recently stopped, covering the tracks of those that had gone out to tend to outdoor errands earlier. Except for one pair, and given the size of the foot and the accompanying smaller hole at their side, she had a good suspicion of who had been in her house. Esther followed the tracks all the way to the barn, where the horses had been put away and sheltered from the cold that night. As she had predicted, Jack was standing in the open space of the barn.

"I saw the tracks," she said, closing the door to the cold air. "Why were you in my house? Or, perhaps I should ask why you took the plant from the kitchen?"

Jack actually looked sheepish as he leaned on the old walking stick he had found. "Was it that obvious?"

"If you return the plant before dinner, no one will be the wiser."

"I will," he insisted, "Once I get what I want from taking it."

Esther rolled her eyes. "What could I possibly offer you, Jack? You know that I have nothing of value!"

"Yes you do!" He blurted it out so fast that he began to blush and fidget once he caught himself. "I just wanted...a kiss...that's all." Now he was looking anywhere but at her. "I wanted to be the first to kiss you under the mistletoe, Esther. That was why I took it."

It had been their first kiss, but it was not their last. That afternoon had been the first clue that Esther had of the dark-haired teen even showing any interest in her other than a opponent to argue with. It was also the last thing that she recalled before she had woken from the dream.

Esther sat up slowly in the bed and wiped the tears from her cheeks. 'It's getting far too normal to wake up crying,' she thought with a laugh. The upside was that these were happy tears. Of course she still missed the Jack that she grew up with as a mortal, but he was here with her. Now knowing that he hadn't rejected her impromptu kiss at all was also a reason to rejoice. There was still hope.

"What in the world was that?!"

Jack had just woken from his own nap, coincidentally dreaming about the kiss. Unfortunately for him, he didn't know anything about the girl that he had kissed in a barn. The details were quickly fading, but he could recall that she had dark hair and eyes. She was dressed in clothes similar to what his little sister had worn, so it must have been when he was human. Jack thought he had said her name once, but he couldn't even remember the first letter of it, adding to his frustrations.

It was the first significant thing he had seen from his past life since he had gotten his baby teeth back from Pitch, and already he was forgetting again. Thinking about the baby teeth made him wonder if Toothiana could help him. Surely she had been collecting the teeth then, so was it possible that she would know who the girl was?

"You called just at the right time. I just got Jack out of here."

Bernard could hear laughter on the other end of the line. "Oh, you know he's not that bad."

"Mom, he nearly kissed me on his last visit!" More laughter. "It's not funny! You know I'm straight!"

"Then why haven't you found a girl yet?" Morwen asked in a motherly tone. She had only been teasing him, and Bernard knew this. It was just too easy to ruffle his feathers, as Ithilwen had quickly found out years ago.

"Because none have caught my interest," came the standard response, and it was truth. The elf had simply not been taken with any girl he had come across, and he found his work to be more practical than any fleeting romance. "Anyway, he was explaining to me that Esther had kissed him, and just ten minutes ago he jumped through my window to tell me that he had dreamt he had kissed another girl."

"Did he like it?"

"I don't know; he didn't say- Oh come on, Mom! Please don't start quoting Katy Perry lyrics!"

"I'm sorry I heard it on the radio earlier tonight," she said, sounding anything but apologetic. "Have you talked to your sisters any lately?"

Bernard leaned back on his bed to stretch out, kicking his boots off to land elsewhere in the room. "The last time I talked to Fi was when she was on her way to Kentucky. I haven't heard from Ithilwen since the morning after her meltdown, but then I've been busy lately," he said with some guilt. "I think I'll have some free time soon; I'll get down there to Burgess to visit her."

"You might want to rethink that," Morwen said. "Ithilwen's been on a roadtrip since April. She needed to get out and do something." The sound of paper was heard being shuffled, and then she spoke again. "Right now she's down in Georgia for a renaissance festival, and next up is one of those anime conventions in Myrtle Beach. You might want to think about catching her there, mind you, the traffic is going to be nuts this time of year."

He nodded, already thinking of a plan as they continued to talk into the night. It had been too long since he had spoken to his other sister, in his opinion, and this needed to be fixed. He had prided himself on being a good older brother figure to her and Fiona when they were younger, but it seemed that he had been slacking in his duties. Bernard knew that Ithilwen was still hurting; otherwise she wouldn't have taken off on her own.

Chapter Text

Despite the lack of physical progress with Legolas' meditation sessions and Gandalf's research into his former colleague's textbooks, things in middle-earth were improving. In Minas Tirith, the new King of Men was crowned, and shortly thereafter a wedding ceremony was in preparations for Aragorn and Arwen. At the same time, the ranger was taking his position as king seriously, overseeing and making appointments to have the city restored to its former glory. Arwen had been beside herself as the bride-to-be, becoming familiar with the attendants that would follow her requests and establishing some level of trust between herself and the humans of Gondor. They needed to be reassured that the half-elven princess would not cast a spell to turn them into trees, as one of her personal attendants had confided in her one morning.

She had nearly wet herself laughing over that one for days, the longer she thought about it.

Faramir and Eowyn were married as well. This was big news, but perhaps the biggest news of this event had been the reaction of her older brother when he was informed. "You are certain you wish to take her off my hands?" Eomer had asked in jest, flinching when his sister took a swing at his arm. "Do you see? You will have a time on your hands, my friend!"

"I am sure that I wish to marry Eowyn," Faramir said with all sincerity. "I will simply watch you as an example of what not to say to my wife!"

The three had left days after the ceremony took place to return to Rohan. The former King Theoden would require a proper burial to rest with his forefathers, and as such to inform the kingdom of the changes that were taking place. In this span of time that they were gone, Eomer had made plans to appoint a regent in his stead while he was in Gondor. Regardless of whether he ventured with the steadily growing company that would go to the other world, matters of diplomacy needed to be taken care of between Gondor and Rohan, thanks in part to the tattered relationship that Denethor had let it get to.

Through all of this, Legolas watched the events unfold with a forced smile. He was genuinely happy for the marriage of his companions, but the lack of contact with Ithilwen was only reminded by the joy shared between the happy couples. Of course his reasons for wishing to see Ithilwen were far from romantic, he often told himself. She was his companion as well, and he wished to celebrate these events with her.

Then the day came that Gandalf had news to share. He had skimmed the books he had recovered from Isenguard enough to be able to form his own portal to the other world. This was met with some excitement and gossip among the group, though the consequences of everyone leaving was a recurring point.

"Leaving the kingdoms unguarded, even in these days of peace, could still warrant a rebellion," Galadriel said to Gandalf. "It will not do to have so many travel through your portal." She wasn't saying these things to be cynical; she was being realistic, and as she said them the wizard could hear the disappointment.

"That, my Lady, is a fixable solution to our dilemma." When she looked at him quizzically, he continued. "What I have learned through my research...from the books and that there has been interesting progress taking place that we have not been privy to."

"You believe that Legolas is withholding information?"

Gandalf shook his head. "No, no I believe that Legolas is doing all he can. What I speak of is developments that those of us in middle-earth cannot witness. Things are and have been taking place in the other world that have been leading to this moment." The twinkle in his eyes was enough of a clue to assure Galadriel that her worries were for naught.

Esther's days since returning from Texas have been filled with continued practice with Irmo's instruction. Her portals were becoming larger and more stable, but she still required a grounder from the other end to allow safe passage for any living being or creature. Her latest communication with the Vala had been brief, but she had learned two things from it. One, she would soon be communicating more with a being specifically in middle-earth that possessed magical attributes. Two, in order to receive proper communication with this being, she would have to set up her work in a larger space, because from Irmo's perspective, the living room wouldn't be large enough.

In order to find a large enough space, Esther knew she would need to have an outdoor location, which meant that she would have to work among humans. Bunnymund had been a huge help with this dilemma, leading her out to an empty space just outside of the Burgess public park. It was secluded by trees to allow privacy, yet still close enough to a store if she had to collect something. He had also given her a set of egg drones to outline the perimeter of the space. These would monitor the outlying areas of her workspace and emit a silent signal to all who wandered too close, distracting them and steering them away without issue. Esther had been taught how to program them so that if she needed someone's assistance, she could allow specific people to bypass the system.

Still, Esther chose to wait until near sunset to activate her sigil the first time in the woods. Aside from paranoia, she felt she could better concentrate for the first few times if she was certain that there were no distractions nearby. There would be no contacting Irmo this time around, as he had told her previously. Since she was to "meet" this being from middle-earth, Esther was nervously waiting to see the first signs of contact after the sigil came to life. Would she see their face within the planchet as she had first seen Irmo? Would they appear in the mirror Jack made instead? Would they appear physically before her on the markings?

It was approximately two hours later after she activated the sigil that Esther saw the first sign of contact with another being from the other world, and of all things, it was an old smoking pipe.

"Are you fucking kidding me?!" she shrieked to the night sky.

The people of Minas Tirith knew that the white wizard was peculiar. The guards on duty could attest for that when they had witnessed him strike down the former steward with his staff, then take command of the forces to lead them to a shaky victory. However, it was hard to imagine that this was the same wizard who was currently pacing around the strange markings he made on the courtyard stone, muttering curses and patting his robes frequently.

The mutterings became all-out curses when Gandalf stopped, realizing that he had accidentally sent his good smoking pipe through the portal. He wasn't certain how it happened. Had he been leaning forward too far and it fell out of his pocket?

Standing around the shell of the former White Tree, a few elven rulers watched on on interest. "What do you think he has misplaced?" Miraear asked.

"I believe it is pipe," Celeborn replied.

From Miraear's side, Thranduil decided to add in "You only say that because your mate told you."

"I am perfectly capable of coming to my own conclusions, Oropherion."

Galadriel waved her hand at her husband to deter him from starting an argument. "Look at the runes Mithrandir has placed! They are glowing!" And without looking away from the spectacle, she added, "And I never said a thing, to be fair."

Bystanders mortal and immortal alike watched as the courtyard flashed brightly for seconds before dimming, and within the center of the runes lay something small that the wizard was grateful to see once more - his pipe. Yet, there was also another small item that lay next to it, and carefully, Gandalf stooped to pick up the dark object. It was an odd looking thing, black in appearance and strangely shaped. When Gandalf got a closer look at the item, he discovered that there were two long prongs that unfolded, but only so far from the ends of the round dots that were the centerpiece of the entire thing.

"What do you have there, Mithrandir?" Celeborn asked as they approached the sigil.

Gandalf held out the new object at an arms length, trying to understand its purpose. "I am not sure, my Lord Celeborn. It is a most peculiar item, is it not?"

"What do you do with it?" Elrond wondered, watching as the wizard before them attempted to peer through the large circular pieces.

"I believe it is for wearing." To test his theory, Gandalf slowly brought the item to his face, finding with some clarity that the small dip between the two circular objects rested perfectly on the bridge of his nose. With some maneuvering, he was able to slip the long prongs on the outside on either side of his face to rest on the tops of his ears. He let out a laugh and smiled in satisfaction, looking at each of the elves with the strange device on his face. "It appears to darken one's vision."

"Regardless of its use, it looks rather odd on yourself," Celeborn remarked, making the wizard chuckle.

"How is that a purposeful item then?" Thranduil asked with some skepticism as Galadriel held out her hands to try on the item. "Why would anyone wish to darken their vision?"

Galadriel wasted no time in slipping the device on over her eyes, smiling all the while. She looked around her curiously, holding out her hands to notice the difference. "Perhaps it is to benefit someone with eyesight that is not as strong as our kin," she replied. "I am able to see, and yet everything is so dark. I wonder if this is what a mortal's vision is like at nighttime."

"Perhaps you should ask your grandson-in-law, the King?" Thranduil told her. "He is after all, mortal."

Galadriel had been taking small steps around while he talked, coming to stop near the woodland king. "Perhaps you should try them and see for yourself," she challenged, adding as he reached out to take them, "And he is one of the Dunedain, if you will recall."

For the mortal guards that stood at the farthest points of the courtyard, who could not hear the conversation of the elves, could not for the life of them figure out why they were so fascinated with the small device that looked like a misshapen blindfold. These were of the most elegant races in all of middle-earth. Surely they had been witness to such items that hindered the sight of an individual, right?

Ithilwen and Celebrian had barely gotten their bags set down in their room at the Captain's Quarters hotel when Bernard appeared before them. The older elleth was taken by surprise for many reasons, the least of which was his sudden appearance from thin air. No, she had been more taken aback by learning that her sister had taken in another foster child since her time spent in this world. As she discovered, he was the oldest of the three, and had treated Ithilwen and Fiona like his sisters since before Morwen had ever declared him one of her own.

While she didn't know what Haldir would think of two additional children, Celebrian found that she was enjoying the company of the Christmas elf not long after meeting him. He was very polite with his introductions, and quick to explain his history in regards to her kin. She hoped that when Haldir would get the chance to meet these children, that he would welcome them just as openly as her sister had.

Bernard had come down to visit Ithilwen since he hadn't spoken to her in a while, and went along with them through their day before the convention. Celebrian felt a bit better to find out that he was apprehensive about being a part of her video blogs, even as they went in stores to do some basic shopping. She found the idea of the department stores interesting, and was amazed at the amount of wares that were available for purchase within its walls. Ithilwen discovered the hard way that her aunt had a penchant for clothes, and spent more time than she expected to picking out things to wear. Celebrian had settled for a few pairs of cotton pants to go with some shirts, and also walked out of the store with a basic sundress. Ithilwen almost never got her away from the shoe department, because she seemed to find one more thing to look at. They both selected some sandals, though her aunt almost wanted to buy a small infant's shoes just for their size. And they lit up with each plant on the surface.

On Friday, the ellith braved the packed dealer's room to browse before moving on to the panel room for the X Girls Lolita Fashion Cosplay. Celebrian wasn't sure about the term Lolita, but she told Ithilwen that she found the dresses the girls wore to be adorable. Ithilwen explained to her after the panel that there were many styles of Lolita, and her aunt replied that they should create an elvish style. That afternoon they went offsite to take part in the laser tag tournament at WonderWorks, for which Celebrian quickly discovered the benefit of wearing pants to a dress.

Secretly Ithilwen wondered if her uncle would murder her for corrupting his wife.

Saturday was spent hovering between various panels and the dealer's room. Celebrian watched on curiously as Ithilwen scoured the tables for things only she knew of, muttering to herself either excitedly or in frustration. She later learned that her niece was looking for collectibles for some children that she looked after from time to time. Bernard made a few more appearances during their stay for X-Con, and Ithilwen didn't hesitate in the slightest to get more footage with him included.

"Did you hear that Gandalf is nearly ready to open the portal to the other world?" Pippin asked the small circle of friends sitting out enjoying their pipes. "Is anyone else thinking of going to see what it's about?"

"You haven't had enough adventure this past year, Pip?" Merry cut his eyes at him. There wasn't one in their group that had come out of the war easy, and the thought of going out into the unknown so soon after sounded insane.

Pippin, to his credit, only smiled in response. Beside him, Gimli coughed lightly. "I'm following Legolas," he said. "The lad has said too much about this lady friend of his to not be curious about how she's lived."

"But didn't Mister Legolas say that she had told him her world had wars too?"

"Not where she lives," Gimli clarified for Sam. "He said the lass' world has seen its share of troubles, but nothing the likes of what we have. Their warfare is more advanced, or so I've been told. If you ask me, I don't know how you could get more advanced than a magic ring!"

"We've believed less has been possible," Frodo said, after remaining silent for much of the time they had been outside. "If any of us are to follow Gimli," he said to his kin, "then we should go together. Like before."

Nods around the group of hobbits agreed. "What if we get split up again?" Merry asked.

"Do ye doubt Gandalf's magic?" Gimli asked. Merry shrugged.

For a moment it was silent again, and then Frodo began to laugh. "Uncle Bilbo didn't trust his magic once upon a time."

Legolas had stolen away for some alone time that evening. Not to meditate, like others assumed he was doing, but something more…personal. He wasn't ashamed, but he needed the seclusion to do it properly, and worrying if one of his friends would happen upon him in the middle of his work might…ruin it.

So when he heard "What are ye doing there, Master Elf?" come from behind, he nearly shot up three feet from his perch on the balcony chair. Whipping around, he saw that it was Gimli, as he suspected from the rough-sounding voice.

"What are you doing here?" he asked, sidestepping the question.

"Checking on you," Gimli replied. "We hadn't seen ye since this morning and didn't want ye to miss the evening meal. So I ask again; what are you doing up here?"

Legolas sighed, hiding his evidence from view. He knew that if he didn't tell Gimli the truth, the dwarf would pester him about it until he gave in, and no less in front of everyone else. "Alright, I'll tell you," he said quietly. "You must swear to me that no one learns of what I am about to show you." He pulled from behind him what he was working on for his friend to see.

Gimli stepped closer to look at what was being offered to him, but he didn't touch it for fear of smudging the work. "You draw?" he asked in disbelief. "You elves surprise this dwarf more everyday!"

"It's nothing, really. Just a hobby to pass the time," Legolas muttered, turning the parchment back to look at it properly. The figure was female, dressed in a long gown, standing atop the very balcony that the two companions were standing on.

"Is that the lass?"

Legolas nodded slowly.

"You sure you don't want to show Haldir that?"

"No," he shook his head. "Not yet. It makes me sad to look upon it. For Haldir I imagine it would be worse."

Gimli shuffled his feet uncomfortably. He understood. "I won't tell anyone. But it's going to get out, this hidden talent of yours. Are you going to be ready to accept that?"

"When it happens, I will have to be," Legolas smiled down at his friend.

"There's...something else I wanted to see you about," Gimli began. "Have you considered telling Haldir about Ithilwen's brother and sister?"

Leoglas shook his head. "Not yet. The time hasn't felt right-"

"Well you had best tell him before we leave! I would say it to be beneficial to tell him before they're sprung upon him!"

"Are you concerned for Haldir's emotional wellbeing?" Legolas asked with a smirk.

Gimli huffed. "Nonsense. It's just...given the circumstances of how long he's been separated from his family, finding out that his wife has more children than she disappeared with would come as a shock!" When Legolas continued to grin, the dwarf became frustrated. "Let's get to the dining hall already! I'm hungry!"

"Just admit that you have begun to think kinder of Haldir and we'll go."

"Mahal's sake! I do not think any kinder of that elf!"

"You have since you found out that Ithilwen is his daughter!"

"Bah! It makes no difference!"

"Before you knew you said you would spit on his grave. I distinctly recall you taking those words back at Helms Deep!"

"I don't recall that," Gimli said stubbornly. "And while we are on the topic of Helms Deep, I remember you telling that elf that you held his daughter close in your next meeting!"

"I was offering her comfort because she was hurting!"

"Is that what you call it? Sounds to me like you were doing more than comforting if you had her in your lap-"

"Nothing happened, Gimli!"

The dwarf began to laugh as they started down the hallway. "You're looking mighty red in the face, Legolas! How are we to know what took place in your dreams with the lass, hm?"

"If I am red in the face it is because I am resisting the urge to kick you off the nearest balcony," Legolas said through gritted teeth. "Ithilwen and I are just friends, nothing more!"

Chapter Text

"...and as my reports show, the magnification of the sigil I built not only was successful in channeling the energies, but it also is capable of sending objects to the opposing end."

Esther was once again in Cupid's office, delivering an oral account of her findings, along with the stack of papers she had written up on her experiences in the park. Everything had been written in detail, down to the assistance from Bunnymund's tech and her vocal responses to the actions forthwith. Cupid was skimming the papers as she talked, seeming to follow along. He stopped suddenly, and set the papers down, focusing all of his attention on her.

"And by any chance do you have the physical item you first received?"

"No sir, I sent it back. Given the nature of the smoking pipe, I determined on the spot that it was more appropriate to return it to its owner, as it appeared the pipe was an accidental test run." Esther reached down into the bag at her feet and extracted a larger item, setting it on his desk. "After I sent my item through the portal, I received this a short time later. I can't fathom the language written within, but it looks to be a book bound by old traditional methods." She opened the text and carefully skimmed the pages with her thumb, continuing, "I don't believe it is imperative to the world's history, or else whomever sent it wouldn't have done so. The etchings on some of the pages give the impression that it is a recorded volume of tales for children perhaps."

When Esther passed the book across the desk, Cupid took it carefully and skimmed the pages for a closer look. "If I may, I would like to look this over. I'll return it to you tomorrow morning, Esther."

"Of course, sir."

"I am curious however, about what you deemed to send through the portal. You mentioned a small object of little significance to this world, but yet you failed to elaborate. I assume this was an error in haste?"

Esther laughed, embarrassed. "I'm terribly sorry about that, sir! Yes, it was in haste. Actually, I ran down to the closest Dollar Store and bought a pair of sunglasses."

Fiona had gotten home early from her trip to Kentucky that morning, and all she wanted to do was sleep. As soon as she got in the front door the first thing she did was kick her shoes off and down the hallway, mentally telling herself that she'd pick them up later. She left her bags sitting by the door when her stomach growled, begging her for some actual food before she went to sleep.

In the kitchen, she had searched the refrigerator to find...not much of anything. Then she looked through the cabinets and found a can of Spaghetti O's and meatballs tucked in the back, likely a leftover from whenever the kids had slept at the house. It wasn't up to her stomach's definition of "food", but Fiona didn't care so long as her stomach was filled with something. She popped the top on the can and dumped the contents into a bowl, covered it, and nuked it in the microwave. Once the food was hot enough, she carried it over to the dining room table and settled in to eat in peace and quiet.

Or so she thought.

"Hey sugar!"

The forkful of hot sauce, noodles, and meatball rest in Fiona's mouth when the voice spoke in a delightful tone, and it was a miracle she didn't dump the bowl, much less spit her food out. Instead, what followed was a spastic ritual dance of swallowing scorching hot food while trying not to cry buckets. The voice that she heard only laughed in response, moving out from behind her to sit down at the table.

"You," Fiona ground out when she felt she could speak again, "What are you two doing here?!"

Delia and Deren couldn't be bothered to look offended by her tone. "Now whatever do you mean, Fiona-dear?" the former asked sweetly, "We just wanted to drop in and welcome you home!"

"You two are like a couple of vampires," Fiona frowned, pausing to blow on her next forkful. "Do I have to resend your invitations?"

Deren looked to his partner-in-crime. "She's in a mood, isn't she?"

"Perhaps it is because she hasn't taken the bait?"

"What bait?!" Fiona was too sleep deprived from the drive to really think the statement through.

Delia appeared to pout. "We've set you up with sooo many suitors on your travels these past months, and you didn't take any of them! We do have a reputation to keep up, you know!"

The woman had to resist rolling her eyes. "You two are renowned for one-night stands," she responded. "I don't do single-night hookups. For that matter I don't do hook-ups at all."

"Well that's obvious!" Deren looked put out. "Are you going for the record for the oldest virgin in this country, sweetheart? Cause we can look the stats up for you if you're interested-"

"I am not interested in anything you two are throwing at me! When the time comes and the right guy comes along, I will know. No amount of prodding either of you do is going to change that!"

Deren slumped in his chair while Delia looked disappointed. "You're a spoilsport sugar," the woman said. "You're so much like Bernard I'm beginning to wonder if you aren't part-elf too!"

Fiona shrugged as she finished off the contents of her bowl. She rose, taking it to the sink to run water in it to soak. "Hell if I know. I came into this world without any clue of what I am, remember? And having an older brother and sister that have their own personal reasons to abstain just rubbed off on me too, I guess."

Ithilwen came to realize two things while she and Celebrian stayed in Raleigh for Animazement. One, it had completely slipped her mind that the convention was taking place on Memorial Day weekend that year. All this did was depress her when she counted back the amount of time that she had been disconnected from Legolas. And two, it reminded her that she had his tunic in her possession for even longer. Oddly enough, it still smelled of him, but she wasn't complaining. Between the tunic she had begun to wear more frequently and the ring that hung around her neck, it was all she had of him to bring her any small comfort during her nights of dreamless sleep.

Animazement, in a nutshell, was an experience for both Ithilwen and Celebrian. The older elleth had been briefed on what she could expect, but the sheer number of cosplayers that mingled in the area still baffled her. Some were scantily clad, others were unrecognizable their presentations were so elaborate, and still some were not of the gender they dressed. Celebrian had no misgivings about these people's desires, especially as her niece was one of the many that would pose for pictures in a costume that she knew Haldir would shriek if he saw.

Ithilwen's blond locks were tucked into a bright white wig, and the rest of her was - somehow - tucked into a tight black suit that was trimmed with fluffy white fur. Black Cat, she had been told, but she failed to see how this character resembled a cat. 'Still,' she thought, examining the elbow-length gloves she wore, 'I can't complain. Ithilwen did manage to convince me to take part after all.' It had been no small feat, but Celebrian had been coerced into the Twilight Princess Zelda costume. She opted out of the wig after watching Ithilwen struggle to get her own hair in her wig cap.

While the "video blog" continued to be taped through the convention, there was one instance that Celebrian was surprised to find that Ithilwen chose not to record. They had overheard of an actor giving autographs at one of the booths in the center that her niece "just had to get if nothing else". She couldn't understand why, and Ithilwen wasn't saying anything to suggest what made this person so important as they stood in line.

When they were the next people in line, and Celebrian could get a good look at who was signing items at the booth, did she fully understand. And it was really hard to keep a straight face as Ithilwen stood beside her grinning like a goof as he signed her carefully-selected photo. He was very charming, in the few minutes that they got to talk, and he was generous enough to take a couple of pictures with the both of them before they left.

"You could have said something before we got up there!" Celebrian hissed as they walked away. She wasn't by any means mad at her niece, but the urge to burst out laughing was hard to stamp down. Already her cheeks were hurting from the smile.

"Believe me, Aunt Celebrian, it was worth it to see your face!"

"And does your naneth see the resemblance?"

"Why do you think she likes him so much!"

"Have your meditation practices been any more fruitful?" Tauriel asked as she and Legolas walked the perimeter of the courtyard.

"Only sights and smells that are of no significance. I am beginning to believe that I am going in circles..."

The redheaded elleth frowned up at her brother. "What about an item of hers? By any chance-"

"No," came the abrupt answer, along with reddening cheeks. He quickly turned his attention to Gandalf, asking him about the progress with the portal. Tauriel was left to catch up to Legolas, confused as to why he looked so flustered over a simple question. All she had meant to ask was if he had in his possession a small trinket, such as a hair ribbon or a bracelet!

Gandalf was only able to offer a hopeful "Everything appears to be moving smoothly," to Legolas. "There has been some interaction from the other side, however it will take some more time before I will be comfortable sending anyone through." Before Legolas turned away, he had gone on to encourage the elf to find a relaxed state before any further meditation sessions.

Tauriel watched her brother walk off slowly, giving a nod of acknowledgment to Elrohir as they passed each other. "I am not certain my brother can relax, Mithrandir."

"I suspect his agitation is what is hindering his ability to find her," Gandalf replied. "The sooner he realizes this, the better." He nodded to Elrohir as the ellon approached, watching silently as he took the hand of Tauriel and kissed the knuckles. Tauriel's response had been a light blush and shy smile. "Are your parents aware of the developments between you?" he asked. It had been small gestures, but the wizard had a suspicion before then that something was taking place.

Elrohir moved to stand close enough to Tauriel that they appeared the courting pair without blatantly announcing it. "They are, and they have given their consent to our courting..."

"...but Legolas does not know," Tauriel finished.

"He will figure it out," Gandalf looked pointedly at each of them.

"Yes," Elrohir sighed, visibly dreading that moment. "Maybe he will get this predicament with Ithilwen settled and become too distracted-"

"You make that sound as if they harbor romantic feelings," Tauriel looked up at him.

"He claims they are only friends," the ellon recited with a note of humor in his voice. "Given his actions, I disagree, but I was merely speaking as friends. If we can get them both in the same room it is likely that he will forget everything else!"

Gandalf laughed lightly to himself as the pair of elves bickered about the meanings of Elrohir's statements. He turned back to his markings on the courtyard stone to resume work. If anything productive were to get done that day, it would have to be him to see that it was done.

Morwen bent to pay the cab driver before collecting her bags in the driveway. The conference she went overseas for ended earlier than she expected, and while she enjoyed seeing the sights in Italy, she still missed being home. Burgess might not have been as exquisite in terms of architecture or its history, but it had her children, even if they weren't home at the moment. She knew that she'd still find comfort in seeing a pair of Fiona's tennis shoes laying around the house or Ithilwen's pencil cases being left wherever she was working.

What she didn't expect to find was that the front door had been unlocked. 'Ithilwen would have locked everything,' she thought, slowly setting her bags to the floor. 'And Bernard is still up at North's...' Morwen was on alert now, listening in for any sounds of movement in the house as she reached for the umbrella.

It was coming from the kitchen.

'Oh, so the burglar is making a snack?' Morwen, with the umbrella held up to strike, took advantage of her elven footsteps as she crept to the kitchen. The pantry door was wide open, and it appeared the burglar was oblivious to her presence. 'Go ahead, orc's ass, make yourself at home. You won't see me strike-!'

Right as the pantry's doors closed, Morwen had raised the umbrella over her head, seconds away from letting out a war cry, only for it to come out as a startled scream. Standing by the pantry was Fiona, also screaming and raising up a package of Pepperidge Farm cookies as her defense.

"What are you doing home?!" They both shrieked.

Fiona had a death grip on the cookies as she blurted out, "I got home early from Kentucky!"

"The conference ended early too!" Morwen hastily dropped the umbrella on the bar counter. "I almost hit you, Fi! Jesus!"

"With an umbrella, Mom?"

"I thought you were a burglar!" The elleth clapped her hands over her face in embarrassment.

Holding out the package, Fiona shook it. "I had my earbuds in, or I would have told you I was here," she said. "Cookie?"

Dropping her hands, Morwen took a couple of cookies from the bag with a sigh. "I was taught to defend myself by my naneth in the event our home was breached by evil forces. And to think that I nearly shat myself because one of my children got home early is mortifying."

Fiona shrugged, turning off her music player and setting it on the bar as well. "You've got good reflexes though."

"Haldir would be horrified," her mom mumbled.

"You screamed like I was standing in the kitchen naked though."

Morwen snorted. "Oh please, Fiona. You think I don't have the same stuff you do?" Fiona was silent, which surprised her. "Please tell me you know that, right?"

"I do!" Fiona was now the one to look embarrassed. "Maybe I just thought that you guys had more than one of...some things..."

'I don't know whether to laugh or cry,' Morwen thought. "Well let's set the record straight. Everything you have is the same number that ellith do. There's nothing chaotic going on there, alright? We're just like humans-"

"Except you have better agility, strength, sight, smell...need I go on?" Fiona huffed and dug in the bag, removing the empty filler paper before diving back in for the next cookie. "Meanwhile I have no idea what I am-"

"You're my daughter," Morwen said firmly. "You are Bernard and Ithilwen's sister, and don't you dare let them hear you say that."

"But I'm 37 years old! I look like I'm about a decade younger than that! How is that human?!" It had been something that bugged Fiona ever since she had hit her teens. Seeing Ithilwen develop the graces of her race only made her reflect on the gray mystery that was hers. She knew she was humanoid; she bled red, she got sick, and her stamina wasn't nearly as advanced as an elf's even with her workouts. She just...wasn't aging physically. The doctors had run tests over the years, and the only conclusions they could draw were that she had a clean bill of health and was "just lucky".

Morwen knew the argument would go nowhere if it continued, only that it would raise Fiona's anxiety about her uncertain future, which wasn't something she wanted to think about either. She reached out and Fiona handed her some of the cookies. "So since we're home..." she looked around for a change of subject, "...what do you say we straighten up?"

"I thought we waited until the three of us were here for the monthly purge?"

"Well, Ithilwen's gone, but she did clean up before she left. I think it's more dusting than anything. I mean no one's been here in some weeks."

"Okay," Fiona relented. "But after cookies?"

"After cookies."

"Elrohir and Tauriel are becoming better acquainted," Aragorn stated. It had been a nightmare to get away for a break, but he found the peace dearly needed as he stood on the balcony with Arwen. They had a view of the courtyard, and from below could see the aforementioned elves with Gandalf.

"Yes, and while I am happy that my brother has found his fëa mate, I cannot help but wonder when Elladan will find his."

"He may not be interested in searching," Aragorn suggested with a shrug. "Perhaps he is like Legolas in that regard. Lord Thranduil had mentioned that he would go out of his way to avoid the very subject in Greenwood."

Arwen turned her gaze away from the scene below to look at her husband. "You think that Legolas does not harbor any entanglements with my little cousin."

"I never said that-"

"You implied it with that statement," she countered. "I have known Legolas far longer than you, and never have I seen him in this manner over an elleth. He may not believe there is something stronger between them, but I have my suspicions that suggest otherwise."

Aragorn couldn't help but grin. "Then you would find comfort in knowing that many of our group shares your belief, my love. Gimli has even mentioned beginning a collection of wagers on what the outcome of their meeting will entail."

Leaning her arms on the railing, Arwen asked, "What do you believe, Aragorn?"

The king paused, mimicking his wife's posture and looked out across the courtyard. Below, he could see the returning party from Rohan stop briefly to speak with Gandalf before heading into the halls. "I believe...I believe that there could be more to this connection than either Legolas or Ithilwen realize. I believe that anything is possible, be it a romance or a solid friendship. I also believe that Legolas is far too stubborn to admit he might be wrong, and if Ithilwen is anything like you, we will have two stubborn elves to contend with!"

Arwen wanted to appear offended, but she knew Aragorn had a point. He had told her to sail to Valinor, her adar told her to sail to Valinor, and she had defied them both. Really though, they should have expected it; she had been told for centuries that she took after her mother. She remembered that her aunt was also a headstrong elleth, and if her cousin had grown to resemble Morwen, it would be quite the sight to behold.

"I cannot help but wonder if Uncle Haldir has given any further thought as to this connection they share," she said.

"I would assume that would be the last thing Haldir wishes to think about."

Chapter Text

"It's only a matter of time now."

That had been what Gandalf had told Legolas, and now the elf was a mess of nervous excitement. Everyone that had mentioned wishing to follow him through the portal had retired to their quarters to pack for another trip, though there really wasn't anything to "pack". A change of clothes maybe, or perhaps a concealed weapon, but not much else. No, the reason he suspected that everyone had fled to their own rooms was him. They believed that by leaving him alone in these last moments before the journey, that he would suddenly be able to reach out to Ithilwen and know exactly where she was.

It couldn't be further from the truth. Legolas' heightened anxiety at the thought of seeing Ithilwen once more made it even harder to concentrate. All his mind wished to do was conceive numerous scenarios of how she would react once she saw him again. Would she be upset? Would she be angry with him? Could she even forgive him for shutting her out like he had? Legolas wasn't certain anymore. He kept thinking back on the day he discovered that he couldn't reach her after the war, and had regretted his decision to block her from everything that transpired, even though he couldn't recall consciously doing so. Haldir didn't fault him for his actions, surprisingly. Instead, he had simply wished for the connection to be made once more so that they could keep their promise.

The thought of promises being made reminded him that he needed to speak with the marchwarden, and that evening, Legolas sought out Haldir to follow through on his word to Gimli. It hadn't been an easy topic to bring up either. How could one go about telling their friend that their mate had adopted two additional children without their knowledge?

Haldir, to his credit, took it better than Legolas expected. "I have...other children," he kept murmuring the words to himself as he paced the room.

"Ithilwen told me that the circumstances are not as dire as they sound," Legolas explained. "They were unattached and had no kin to speak of in that world. Lady Morwen saw them as her own children for some time before she made it formal."

"I understand." Still, it was hardly heard of for an elf to take in children as his mate had, especially if they were mortal. He suspected that it wasn't an act of infidelity on her part, but it was peculiar. "What are their names?"

"I was told that the ellon is named Bernard, and that he is older that Ithilwen. Fiona, however, is younger yet still of majority for their culture."

"An ellon? And a child of Men?" The more he heard, the stranger it became.

"Bernard is not of elf-kind such as us, but he does share the same qualities. Ithilwen said he was once an overseer for a race of elves that remained childlike into their majority. She did not mention of the cause for his departure, only that it was a sad tale. Fiona, it appears does not have a specified race. She appears mortal, but from what Ithilwen has mentioned her sister does not age like a child of Men."

Haldir sighed and rubbed his face. "Never have I thought that I would receive news that my wife has taken in children, much less that they are outcasts as well." He turned to Legolas, placing a hand on his shoulder. "You should rest, my friend. If Mithrandir is correct we will have a time of it ahead of us very soon."

Legolas bade him goodnight and left, but the marchwarden knew that neither of them would rest well that night. The prince still harbored guilt over things that could not be changed, and it was likely that he wouldn't find rest until he knew for certain where Ithilwen's reaction would land. As for himself, he now had four people he had to meet; a mate he desperately wished to reacquaint himself with, a daughter he had not seen since before she could walk, another daughter with a mysterious past, and a son that was also of elf kind. Suddenly it seemed like the battles he had been a part of weeks ago were so far away in comparison, and just like their outcomes, he was uncertain of how these simple meetings would sway.

'It is truly astounding the amount of information I have learned in these past few weeks.'

Celebrian was sitting up in her hotel bed, thinking back on everything she had experienced and learned since she arrived in Texas. How such a simple request as wishing to be with kin once more could lead her on an adventure with her niece was beyond her. She had been in such a bad state when she sailed to the Undying Lands, and the serene life without the common issues to mortals was calming, but it wasn't enough anymore. In retrospect she had felt selfish for leaving her mate and her children behind, regardless of the circumstances. Now she was in an entirely different world with her sister and children, with no way of communicating to middle-earth. What if Elrond or their children were to sail before she could return? Would they think she abandoned them when they arrived on the shores? Was there any hope of their returning to their own world at all?

'And yet, I find that I do not regret this decision in the slightest. I have found a comfort here that my solitude in Valinor could not bring.'

She looked over to the other bed where Ithilwen lay, frowning. The elleth had been having fitful bouts of sleep more often. Celebrian had thought it odd that she slept with her eyes closed, until Ithilwen explained that it was more about assimilation when she was small.

"We had this thing called 'nap time' in kindergarten where we'd lay out on these little red and blue mats for a short period of time. Nana said the teachers found the way we sleep disturbing, and she worked with me to learn to sleep with my eyes closed. Now it's just habit, I guess."

It seemed that whatever was occurring, or not occurring, in her sleep state was impacting her over time. Ithilwen's mood when she became still with nothing to occupy her would quickly wither like a flower in excessive heat and no water. She would appear to be happy, sometimes going above and beyond to make up for her depressed state, but at night it was always the same. She would twitch and jerk in her sleep, clutching that tunic in her hands if it wasn't draped over her shoulders.

Celebrian sighed, kicking back the covers and reaching for Ithilwen's phone. Her niece had taught her to use it, should she wish to call her sister or Fiona, and now seemed to be a good time as any. With the phone in hand, she walked to the sliding glass doors, opening them just enough to sneak out onto the balcony. Celebrian enjoyed the convenience of the touch screen controls, and the contact list now even more since she could read the language. Tapping her sister's name and starting the call, she was slightly dismayed to find that the voicemail prompt came up instead. 'No matter,' she thought. 'I have a feeling Morwen needs her rest just as much.'

"Morwen," she began, "I feel that I am in a dilemma that I cannot solve. Ithilwen...she is not doing as well as she lets on. I cannot help but feel that this has something to do with Prince Legolas, and the very idea is perplexing. From what I have learned, Ithilwen speaks of these meetings as if they were fëa-bound, but that cannot be possible. The laws of our kin make that highly unlikely, and yet it is the only conclusion that I can fathom. I am sure that you are aware of these happenings, but I only wanted to share my views with you. Sister, we are grasping at the reigns of something that is not fully clear, and the path for your oldest daughter is hazy in its nicest terms. We need to find a way for her to speak to the prince again, for I feel that it will be the only thing that can raise her from her current state. I cannot wait to speak to you again, and am even more excited to see you."

It was a wonder she didn't get cut off leaving the message, but she wanted to get her point across. Her sister may have known that Ithilwen was struggling without her new friend, but she wasn't sure if Morwen knew how bad it had become. Celebrian pressed her lips into a thin line as she wiped the screen of the phone on the hip of her night shirt - she wasn't sure why Ithilwen did it after each call, but she assumed it was custom. Going back into their room and closing the sliding glass door, her whole body went rigid when she heard her niece speak.


Celebrian felt her heart sink at the tone of Ithilwen's voice. It sounded so...broken and hurt...and there was nothing that she could do to fix it.

If anyone in the world could say they experienced a bad night of sleep, it would be Esther, and likely that few could top the reenactments that plagued her dreams. Nightmares would be the more operative word, but the Nightmare King himself wouldn't be this cruel. Typically her night terrors consisted of the day that Jack died, from learning of his death to arriving at the scene, only to see the adults turn her away. Tonight's visions were of something more troubling.

In Jack and Esther's mortal days, it was customary for the youth to be prepared for an early marriage. Often, they were selected by the families to be paired off, usually to accomplish a higher means of alliance with the other bloodline. In Jack and Esther's case, it was an arranged marriage that was to take place out of duty and harmony. The families could see the possibilities even when both were still bundled in diapers and crawling. There were disagreements, but they also complimented the other's traits. It wasn't until the pair were in their early teens that they secretly began to notice the other in a different light, with their feelings building to their first fated kiss in the barn that winter. After that, it was hard to see the other the way they once had, but neither minded. A future marriage would only further cement the friendship they had built for years.

Then, the inconceivable happened. Jack had taken his sister out to skate on the icy lake one winter morning, however, neither was aware of the thin surface until it had begun to crack. His sister had told Esther that Jack wasted no time in scooping her off the cracked portion, but the extra weight couldn't hold out long enough for him to move. He went under in the blink of an eye, having either drowned or frozen to death in the sub-zero temperatures. A memorial service had been constructed, and a cross adorned with some of his personal effects. The body had never been found, and no evidence of his demise had even been found when the following spring came around.

For Esther, it felt like her whole world had come to a screeching halt. Her friend, her love, and her future were all gone within a day. She would never get to see Jack again, never get to hear his laughter or be able to scold him for his insane antics. She would never be able to tell him of how brave he was for his actions. These and more thoughts would linger in her mind for the remainder of the season. Esther had enclosed herself within her house, not wishing to engage in any social activities after that. What was once a beautiful scene of tranquility outside her window looked to be nothing more than a sea of broken dreams dressed in a powder-white blanket of frost.

Her parents were growing more concerned for her wellbeing as each day passed. They would often encourage her to take part in the winter festivities, hoping that talking with others would ease her pain. Esther would refuse each offer with a sullen reply. There was no breaking her out of this depression, and its wear began to show on her. Her eyes were carrying dark circles, the light in them fizzled out. Her frame had shrunken in size comparable to a teen boy with no musculature, for she rarely ate enough to get filled. It was obvious to Esther's parents that their daughter was quickly wasting away, and they had to act fast and bring her back, lest there be another youth of the village to be laid to rest.

The change came with the start of spring, and although the ground was barely thawed, Esther's parents could not contain the news any longer. They had found a suitor, a man that was roughly a decade older than their daughter had expressed an interest in seeking her hand. At her expression of disbelief, they explained that if she were to marry, it would ease the passing of Jack in her mind. How they came to this conclusion, Esther would never understand, but ever the obedient daughter, she agreed to at least meet the man that recently arrived from London.

His name was Samuel Leventhorpe, and he had only been a member of their community for a month and a half - about two weeks after Jack's passing. He was a widower, losing his wife to illness in London, and was left childless as a result. He had come to their little town to begin a new life, and in his attendance of the social gatherings he had learned of Esther from many of the people. Having heard that she lost her fiance, and her dreams of starting a family, he had expressed his desire to make her acquaintance. If nothing else, he wanted to at least become a friend to her in their marriage. The first time Esther met Samuel, she was convinced that his upstanding demeanor and politeness to her were astounding, and dare she think it - charming.

The courtship had lasted four months before Samuel formally proposed, making it an elaborate spectacle in the middle of the town. Esther still smiled and accepted, knowing that Jack would have been more discreet and down to earth. She would continue on to compare Samuel's behaviors with what Jack would have done, all the way into their marriage two months later. However, he wasn't Jack. He would never be Jack. She just didn't know then how different Samuel would be.

As it turned out, the Samuel that Esther saw behind closed doors was not the same Samuel that everyone else saw. On their wedding night he had taken no caution with her, even knowing that she was inexperienced, and for the first time Esther began to wonder if this were a mistake. His touch had been rough, and while she was prepared for some discomfort, she wasn't getting any pleasure out of the moment at all. It seemed like once he had his release, that was it. He had rolled off of her and turned away to sleep, leaving her sore, unfulfilled, and regretting her decisions. She thought that the next time they joined, she would express her wants. Let him know that she had desires too. That would be simple, right?

Wrong. Esther couldn't have been more wrong. Samuel even told her so the following night as he took her roughly again. "Women lack the capacity to experience what men feel," he had said, gripping hard enough to leave bruises. "You are mine to derive pleasure from, and you are fulfilling your duties, my wife."

When he wasn't using her body for his own devices, Samuel was ever the cruel husband. Esther would face constant scrutiny from him about what she wore, how she acted in public, and even the way she prepared his meals. When he felt that the emotional abuse was not enough, he became physically violent towards her. Somehow, it was her fault that she had been unable to conceive. It was her fault that he said the terrible things he did, that he would have to strike her with his belt. All of this was her doing, and it all happened as soon as their front door closed, shutting out the world that saw him as a respectable man. Esther now knew better; it was just too bad she couldn't get out.

Samuel was adept at hiding his markings from the public, selectively striking Esther where her dresses would conceal the evidence. But she couldn't express any sign of pain, oh no. If word came back to her husband that she mentioned being the slightest bit sore, the beatings would get worse. Esther was reconsidering the story of his previous wife's death in her seventh month of "blissful married life". Given the marks on her arms and legs, it wouldn't have surprised her to learn that his first wife was beaten to death for an inability to bear him a son.

Alas, for Esther, she would not see that fate. It was nearing the anniversary of their wedding that she stuttered the words she wished would have been said in more pleasant circumstances. Samuel had been on another rant, and he had grabbed her by the arms, shaking her and then flinging her to the floor of their kitchen. Through her split lip and discolored bruise beneath her eye, Esther said, "S-Samuel...I-I am w-with ch-child..."

Fiona was pretty sure she hadn't eaten anything peculiar before she retired for bed that night. She had been tempted by the bean and cheese burritos in the freezer, but decided to eat them for lunch the next day. Still, she could think of nothing to explain the dreams she was having.

For starters, she was in some place that she had never seen before. It was elegant, and most certainly beautiful, yet she had never seen tree trunks so big in her life! Everything about the dream was peaceful, and she had been enjoying walking through the undisclosed area. Then she had found herself in a large bed - her bed she assumed - only she wasn't alone. Some man with dark hair had his head resting in her lap! Fiona couldn't see his face, but somehow she knew he was smiling at her, and she found herself smiling back. It had to have been someone she trusted, since no man had ever been in her bed, much less with her in her sleepwear!

Jolting awake, Fiona rubbed her face and pushed the hair out of her eyes to look at her clock. It was four in the morning, too early to really get up, but still too risky to go back to sleep. After what she had been dreaming about, she wasn't certain she wanted to sleep any longer anyway. 'I think I'll just go ahead and start breakfast,' she decided, kicking back the covers and rising.

It was when she reached the bottom floor of the house that she heard tapping, and following the sound led her to the dining room. "Mom? What are you doing up at this hour?"

Morwen looked up from her laptop. "I couldn't sleep. What about you? You're almost never up before six."

Fiona moved into the kitchen to start a pot of coffee. "I had...a weird dream," she began. "I dreamt that I was in some place that could only come out of a fantasy novel, but it was so peaceful."

"How is that weird? It sounds delightful."

"Oh, that part was. It was what came next that's weird." The younger woman opened the fridge to take out the required ingredients for pancakes and bacon. "I was in bed, and in some snazzy jimjams, but there was a guy! And he had his head in my lap!"

Morwen's eyebrows nearly reached her hairline. "I assume the jimjams were in their proper position?"

"Yes, Mom! Gah!" Fiona started to crack eggs. "He just had his head in my lap like we were talking, and I guess I was running my fingers in his hair. Which, I don't know anyone who has hair that long, by the way! I couldn't see his face, but he was smiling at me too!"

"It sounds like you're dreams are trying to tell you something."

"What, that I need to get laid?!"

"No, no." Morwen shook her head as she laughed at the stricken expression on Fiona's face. "You don't have a solid friendship with a male companion. The dream clearly must be telling you that it's lacking in your life."

"But I'm friends with Gene and Will, Mom."

"Not this kind of friendship, Fiona. Your soul lacks the intimacy of a friendship where you can confide in the other about everything. Like a solid girl friendship, but with a guy. You know, like what your sister has with Legolas."

"You think they're that tight?" After adding the last ingredient to the batter, Fiona took the whisk and began to stir until it was completely blended. Satisfied, she set the bowl aside to prepare the bacon strips.

Morwen was seen shrugging. "Perhaps, if they were in the same world. She'd be loathe to hear it, but that was how Haldir and I grew to love each other. I'm not saying that this kind of friendship always becomes romantic, but as beings we do crave that kind of trust in another. Yet as soon as the word 'romance' comes into play, the interpretation is all skewed."

As soon as Fiona filled the skillet with bacon strips, she turned her attentions back to the pancake batter. Listening to her mom talk about this helped her make sense of the dream, so maybe she was looking for a deeper friendship after all? The thoughts of the friendship reminded her of what Morwen had said about her husband, and Fiona couldn't hold in her question any longer. "Hey Mom? This is going to sound weird but...whenever Haldir does show you think...I mean, I'll understand if I'm wrong in assuming, believe me...but...will I still have a place in the family?"

The lack of an immediate answer made Fiona's chest tighten, and it took her looking up to see that Morwen was watching her with an expression of disbelief. "Why on earth," she began finally, "would you think that you wouldn't have a place in this family once Haldir came into the picture?"

Fiona swallowed. "It's just...I'm not an elf," she tried to explain. "I have no ties to middle-earth, and for all precautions I'm mortal. You'd probably have to see me wither into an old crone or something. It doesn't seem fair for y'all to have to go through that-"

"And neither does it seem fair to abandon you just because my husband were to return," Morwen said firmly. She had left the table to stand next to Fiona in the kitchen as she talked, and could almost see the younger woman attempt to recede into herself the closer she got. "Just because your lineage is unclear doesn't make you any less a part of this family. If you are immortal, that's great. If you only have a mortal lifespan, we will come to terms with the future when it gets here, but don't think for a second that you are loved any less. Do I make myself clear, Fiona?"

She knew she would have been lectured for far longer if it wasn't the crack of dawn. Fiona also knew that her spilling out these insecurities wasn't the brightest idea she ever had - and there had been some doozies - but it just, came out. It wasn't like she was just coming to grips with this now; oh no, she had begun to worry over it the more Ithilwen talked about Legolas months ago. The doubts had just accumulated into an infectious wound. Luckily for her, Morwen's words were the cure, and while she would most likely catch hell from her siblings when they heard, her mother was understanding. "...Yes Mom," she said finally.

"Good," Morwen nodded, satisfied. "Now tend to the pancakes; I'll watch the bacon."

The kitchen became silent then, save for the sounds of the bacon grease popping in the skillet or the scrape of the spatula against the griddle. Fiona was mulling over her mother's words of reassurance. Morwen was silently contemplating just how Haldir would react to learn that she had taken in two more children in their absence from middle-earth.

Some time passed before Morwen broke the silence, adding, "And just to be clear: I make sure to fuss at all three of my babies equally. You don't have to come out of my vagina to be my baby, and I don't care how old y'all are. I'll line all of you up and tan those hides."

Despite the valid threat, Fiona still laughed at that mental image. "Duly noted, Mom."

Chapter Text

Ithilwen couldn't get out of Raleigh quick enough; the traffic alone on a normal day would have been hectic, but attending a convention during a three-day weekend was claustrophobic. They headed east to the Outer Banks, where Ithilwen intended to visit three particular places: Hatteras, Ocracoke, and the Graveyard of the Atlantic Museum. If time permitted they would stop at Kitty Hawk, but Ithilwen's original plans had more interest in pirates than flying.

To get from Hatteras to Ocracoke, a ferry had to be taken, and though Celebrian had seen more technologically-advanced things since her arrival, she was still amazed that the small ferry could transport so many cars between the islands. She and Ithilwen had gotten out as the ferry began to move, standing at the rails watching - and occasionally waving - to the passengers of nearby ferries that were coming from Ocracoke. In keeping with her blogging activities, the younger elleth had also filmed during some of the ride.

Ithilwen was wearing the silvery tunic again, this time with the sleeves rolled up and unbuttoned to expose the sleeveless top beneath. Unable to keep her thoughts in check any longer, Celebrian had to ask. "That tunic is elven made, isn't it?" Her niece was also sporting something she called sunglasses to block the bright light, so she could not gauge the elleth's expression other than the content smile on her face. "It's from Legolas, isn't it?" she prodded on.

That expression of contentment changed to surprise, and possibly a slight blush as well. 'This is interesting,' Celebrian thought.

"Was it that hard to guess?" she asked timidly.

"Seeing as how there are no ellyn in this world, and you only spoke to Legolas in your dreams, it wasn't hard to guess at all. How did you come by his tunic, if I may ask?"

Ithilwen chewed her lip. "I'm not sure, exactly," she began. "When I woke up after one of our meetings – he was in Rohan, I believe – I found it laying on my bed. I don't think he knows I have it, though. He hasn't said either way, but when I do get to see him again, I'm going to try to give it back."

'If he could see her in it now I don't think he'd care if she kept it,' Celebrian thought to herself.

Despite her dream-terrors in the previous night, Esther was ever the same bubbly individual as she had been before. It had taken a brief crying jag - and some terrorism on her nearest pillow - but she had gotten through it and carried on. It was in the past, and in the past it would remain. Samuel was long dead and gone, and the day was anew, ripe with possibilities.

Those possibilities included sending new "presents" through her portal in the park to her unknown recipient.

She had gone down to the local convenience store and selected a number of items on clearance or on sale to send, thinking variety was the spice of life. So far that day, she had sent a large straw floppy gardening hat, an individually wrapped Twinkie, a paperback book from the young adult teen romance genre, a skateboard, and a new-generation Furbie with bright blue fur.

Esther figured that if the Twinkie and the Furbie could survive the journey, any humanoid body ought to be able to.

In Minas Tirith, not only were the guards on duty perplexed by the odd assortment of objects that appeared through the wizards' portal, but so was the wizard himself.

Many of the company that intended to travel were finishing their preparations, but a few of the visiting lords and ladies were present to watch the scene unfold. Once again, Celeborn commented on how the large gardening hat didn't suit the wizard at all, only for his wife to pluck it from his head and place it on hers. She had kept the sunglasses on her person and paired them with it.

"The look suits you somehow," Miraear said. It was hard not to laugh, because the sunglasses were large enough to cover a good portion of Galadriel's face. The hat's size only made her look that much smaller.

The next object to appear from the portal had been the Twinkie, and for once no one was willing to be the guinea pig. "Perhaps we should find one of those Halflings," Thranduil muttered, watching on as Gandalf struggled with the plastic wrapping.

"It is very...spongy," Gandalf observed, holding it up to his nose. "I also smell a sweetness to it, but for the life of me I do not understand how its texture is this moist. I believe it is some sort of pastry-" Either unwilling to wait for one of the hobbits or just hungry himself, Gandalf took a rather large bite out of the Twinkie.

"I do not think he likes it," Elrond noted with some amusement.

"He does not. Not entirely," Galadriel responded as she adjusted her new hat. She didn't have to read his mind to see that; it was as plain as day.

Gandalf had eventually finished chewing the treat, though he didn't feel that it was so much a treat as a monstrosity. "It is a sweet," he concluded, "though I do fear for the appetites of those mortals if this is a common delicacy."

He turned back to the portal just in time to see the skateboard appear and roll towards the elven rulers. A book appeared shortly after, and while he stooped to collect the book, the skateboard continued on its straight path.

"What is that?" Miraear asked. "It looks like a narrow shield...but it has wheels!"

"It is coming towards you, Thranduil," Elrond said.

"And what am I supposed to do?" the elvenking shot back.

"You could stop it," Celeborn suggested smartly. "Just stick your foot out."

Thranduil would have responded to Celeborn's attitude, had the moving board not been so close. Had he not put his booted foot out to stop the thing, it would have likely run across the hem of his robe. He moved his foot down, only for the back end of the board to tip upwards. Thranduil took a step back, and they all watched as the board dropped back down. He looked up to see Celeborn giving him a hint of a smirk that suggested he were scared of the thing. "If you are so clever Celeborn, you should put both of your feet on it!"

Seeing it as a personal challenge, Celeborn simply adjusted his robes and moved to stand next to the skate board. Clearly it didn't look to be difficult to control, it was just a matter of balancing one's weight on the board so as not to tip up either end. It was only after he placed one foot on it that Celeborn realized he had misjudged the swiftness of the wheels on stone. The skateboard jerked violently forward as he quickly hopped onto it, and with some frantic arm waving and swaying, he was able to maintain his balance.

"You look disappointed," Galadriel said, glancing at Thranduil.

"I am," he replied. "I had hoped that your mate would have placed that...thing...on two wheels as I had."

"Give him time. He will figure it out sure enough-"

"I beg your pardon, meleth," Celeborn called out from on the skateboard, "but whose side are you on exactly?!"

Galadriel only smiled widely at her husband. "I am on the side that finds the humor in the situation. You just happened to be part of the spectacle." She turned away from her husbands' bickering about the contraption he still stood on with Thranduil to see that Gandalf was grumbling about the book in his hands.

The book wasn't particularly thick in their terms, nor was it bound in their ways. In fact, the cover itself didn't feel like a cover because it was so flimsy. The paper inside wasn't of any better quality, and the print was incredibly small. Gandalf couldn't make heads nor tails of the text, or even why the cover had a painting of a pair of hands with a piece of fruit. It was disappointing to find that he could not decipher the text from the other world, but that feeling was quickly replaced when another item appeared through the portal.

Legolas, Gimli, and Tauriel had been walking through the courtyard when the bright light of Gandalf's portal had caught their attention. Curious, they approached the scene to find the elven lords and ladies already there. Celeborn was making wild gestures as he spoke with Thranduil, who was beginning to stand on what they could only assume was a plank of wood with wheels. Elrond stood next to Galadriel and Miraear, and the three were dividing their attention between the bright light and the two lords. At least, they believed Galadriel was; she was once again wearing those "mortal blinders" as they had been decreed.

Gandalf, having been sent a cover for the head, the eyes, a book, an...edible treat, and a potential elf-lord hazard, expected to see something bigger come through the portal. Perhaps a small animal, like a goat, or even the owner of these items...just not what he got instead.

What appeared in the markings on the floor was unlike anything they had ever seen, making the closest spectators move up to get a better look. It was small, perhaps the size of the book, and it was covered in bright blue fur. It's ears and feet were a bright purple, as well as the outline of the face, while a small tuft of yellow hair stood at the very top.

"What is it, Mithrandir?" Elrond asked.

"I...haven't the foggiest." He wasn't sure where to begin to pick the thing up, which was fine as the thing itself decided to move on it's own.

The blue creature raised up slightly as its beak opened and closed, its ears wiggled, and then the eyes opened. "Da da da da- da da da da- dah daah daaah!" it spoke, then hummed, followed by "Dah a-loh u-tye!"

The lords and ladies jumped back as one, as did Gimli and Tauriel. Gandalf had drawn his sword and was ready to cleave the thing in half, but Legolas had made a mad dive to scoop it up before the wizard could strike.

"I've heard of this!" Legolas bellowed out over the sounds of the creature going "Dah Doo-ay Wah!" as he lunged.

"And just what sort of devilry is that, ion-nin?" Thranduil could only look on appalled as his son clutched the talking creature to his chest. It was still babbling on and blinking as if it had been provoked, though being saved from the edge of a sword would provoke anything to babble incoherently.

Legolas only came back to them once he was certain that Gandalf wouldn't try to take a swing at the device in his hands. "It is a toy from the world Ithilwen is in," he said. "She told me about these once; I believe she even owns one herself. She called it a Fur-bee."

Celeborn had been about to question his granddaughter's sanity when he looked over at his wife, who was still wearing the mortal accessories as if they were highly prized jewels. He shouldn't have been surprised; the women in this family were all a little eccentric in some way. "What does it do exactly?" he chose to ask instead.

"You speak to them, play with them." To demonstrate, Legolas took the Furbie and shook it up and down quickly. The Furbie's response was "Wah-! Wah-! Wah-!"

"Then it is settled." Gandalf adjusted his robes, as though the motion would give him a sense of his dignity back. He had nearly destroyed a toy and almost called it a foul beast; he had a lot to rebuild. "Legolas will keep his charge and return it to the modern world. I assume it misses its owner."

The wizard had been chuffed to see that the prince was no longer listening. Instead, he was occupied waving the Furbie back and forth before his sister, who continued to give it an odd look. Gimli could decide on whether to laugh or to share in her apprehension. Thankfully someone else in their group wasn't certain of that toy either.

"Ah-may koh-koh-!"

"Legolas," Miraear was struggling not to laugh, "perhaps you should cease annoying your sister with your new toy and show it to Haldir? I am sure he would like to see it."

The "Monthly Cleaning Purge" had begun in Burgess.

Morwen had jokingly named the rundown of tasks a "purge" one winter season. Instead of waiting for spring to officially arrive to begin cleaning like most in their area, the three women (and sometimes Bernard if he was available) would take one day out of the month to thoroughly scrub down everything. It kept the routine maintenance of the large house down to a minimum with little effort, just as each "purge" date was. The intent was to keep the cleaning efforts at an amount to where just one or two people could handle the workload if needed.

Since Ithilwen and Bernard were out of town, it was up to Morwen and Fiona that month. They had gone around the house, opening windows to allow the spring breeze to come in and freshen the air; the doors were opened as well, though their screen doors remained closed. The open airways also made it bearable to breathe inside with the scent of bleach, pine-sol, and Mr. Clean being used.

Outside, the clothesline that was set up in the back yard was strung with bed linens, and those that were not able to fit had been secured along the upper porch railing. When Morwen wanted things "fresh", she usually went the extra mile on each purge day to wash the extra bed linens that had been tucked away in the closets. The week was forecast to be sunny and warm with no chances of rain, so it was as good a time as any to put the clothesline to good use.

Jack walked around Toothiana's glade, wondering to himself if she was even in that day. He had sent her a message to tell her that he was coming to visit, but since she had begun to go out and collect teeth herself again, it was hard to catch her. He had a lot on his mind, and since Bernard threatened to deck him with the "Christmas Spirit" if he interrupted his work again for the third time that month, he sought the fairy out.

"It's so good to see you, Jack!" In a blur of bright colors, Toothiana had swooped down from behind him to inspect his teeth, as usual. "Looking bright and beautiful, as always!"

Jack had managed to detach himself from her fingers as he answered. "Yeah, I know you're talking to my mouth when you say that, but it's still weird."

She only smiled as she waved the comment off. "Your message said you wanted to speak to me about something," Tooth frowned, "Is everything okay?"

"Yeah. I think." Jack ran a hand through his hair as he looked out across the glade. "You know how I've been having some crazy dreams lately, right? There's this one that keeps coming back, and I can't help but wonder if it's trying to tell me something."

Tooth motioned for him to sit with her on the large rock closest to the pond. Jack sat, but instead of sitting his staff beside him like he normally would have, he kept it in his hands, twisting it as if he were anxious. She hadn't seem him act like this since he had gotten his memories back from Pitch, and the thought was troubling.

"I see a girl- no, I think she's a woman- at least, she looks like an adult, but she's not very old. Her hair is dark brown, like her eyes, and she has freckles. What makes this weird is that I think...I think I grew up with her."

"Before you became Jack Frost?" Tooth asked.

Jack nodded. "Yeah. I see myself in these dreams, but I also see her there. And we talk a lot too. Sometimes fight, but mostly talk. The problem is that I never hear a name! I get close to hearing her name, and everything becomes distorted. I have this feeling - well, a guess - that she's somehow important to my past."

"It sounds like you may be right, Jack."

"Tooth," Jack began slowly, "If you have the time, could...could you look into your records of teeth for this girl? I mean, is it possible?"

She pursed her lips in thought before she gave an answer. "It will take me some time, but I will see what I can do, Jack. You need to understand something though; based on your time period and the description of the young woman, my search results could be very broad. I will have to narrow each set of memories down until I find a set that contains you as one of them. Still, there is a small chance that you could not show up, even if her teeth records are found."

Jack frowned. He figured it would be something like that. "I get that." He sighed, moving to set his staff next to him. "I guess this is what they mean by 'nothing ventured, nothing gained', isn't it?"

Tooth smiled. "I'll do my best Jack. If anyone deserves to find out a mystery like this, it's you."

Gandalf had sent out messengers through the halls of the kingdom to bring forth everyone that intended to make the journey. A rather large group stood before him with varying travel packs (and weapons). Legolas stood at the front with Haldir, still clutching the Furbie that Gandalf strongly disliked.

"Why did you let him have this, Mithrandir?" Haldir asked, pointing to the blue ball of fuzz that continued to babble. "It hasn't stopped bleeting since Legolas showed it to me."

"Wee-tee! Wee-tee! Hahaha!"

"And now it's learned to laugh," Haldir continued, "I suspect that is due in part to Gimli's influence."

Said dwarf had begun to laugh when the Furbie did, only to hide it quickly with a cough. Pippin stood next to him and declared that he found it funny. "You would," was Merry's response.

"Should we let Thranduil hold the narrow shield with wheels?" Celeborn asked loudly, only to get a dark look from the elvenking.

"I would think that you would be more suited to the task," he bit back.

Elrond pinched the bridge of his nose as his mother-in-law moved between them to break up any further argument. She hadn't taken the hat and blinders off since she put them on, and all it did was bring up more questions from some of the others about where they could get one. 'I married into this,' he thought. 'Celebrian, my love, I dearly wish you were here. You are perhaps the only sane beacon in my life right now.'

"Nee-tye! Nee-tye!" The Furbie stated loudly. Then it made what they could only assume was a noise that resembled passing gas when Legolas shook it. This time Gimli did laugh, and out loud.

"Enough!" Gandalf said loudly, bringing the attention back on himself and the matter at hand. "You can all continue these shenanigans when you are on the other side of the portal!" He waved an arm behind him as he continued, "The portal is ready. You will have three months to locate the Lady Morwen and Lady Ithilwen-"

"Three months?" Aragorn asked, "Is it wise to leave this world for that amount of time? The war has just ended not long ago! The people of middle-earth will need their leaders to rebuild-"

"And they will get them back quickly enough," Gandalf assured. "I have adjusted our length of time accordingly. For each month you spend in the other world, only one day will pass here. Three days is the smallest timeframe that I could ensure so that the misplaced ellith could be found and returned. When the portal reopens, time will resume its normal course."

Haldir nodded, understanding. "What shall we do with these...items?" he asked, motioning to the Furbie in particular, who chose that moment to blow a raspberry and laugh.

"I would suggest finding the owner of that creature in particular and returning it. Tell them in no uncertain terms that it was nearly cut in half by a longsword for its devilry antics." For Gandalf, if he never saw it again, it would be too soon. "Remember, you must be at the portal's location on the day of it's opening, three months from now. I can only hold it open for a limited amount of time; if you do not cross through on that day, you will not return."

Haldir spared a glance at Legolas, who still didn't look very sure of himself. He didn't blame him; now that the day had come to actually go to the other world, he was just as nervous. He hadn't seen his daughter since she was a small elfling, and he was scared. He didn't know what to expect from either Morwen or Ithilwen. Legolas had told him that she said they missed him greatly, but a century and a half's time was lost. His relationship with Morwen wouldn't be hard to rekindle. That left his fears on his daughter's reaction. Could he make up for lost time? He severely hoped so.

"Haldir, Legolas," Gandalf called to them, "I ask that you stand closest to the portal. If anyone should choose to follow, they merely need to follow you. The portal will hold a strong link to the other world, so there will be no fear of getting lost in the void. May the Valar protect you, and I wish each of you going a safe and prosperous journey."

Gandalf stood directly across from the group when he began to recite the spell. It was a hidden language to everyone in the area, and from the symbols that were beginning to glow, it was a good sign. He gave Legolas a nod to proceed into the portal when he had finished speaking.

'This is it,' Legolas thought, looking at the brightly glowing circle. He took a few tentative steps forward. 'I'm coming for you, Ithilw-!'

Any grace that Legolas possessed was tossed out the window a moment later when he felt the hard shove of someone behind him.

Back in the secluded area of the park, Esther was quickly growing alarmed at the changes in her sigil.

Earlier that day, when she had sent the hat, the skateboard, the book, the twinkie, and the Furbie through, she had gotten an assortment of "gifts" in return. Far away from the sigil sat two old (and heavy) books that smelled slightly musty, next to them a banner that had what she thought was a white tree embroidered on it, a small dish wrapped in linen, and a beaded bracelet that vaguely reminded her of the renaissance festival wares. However, these were all authentic. She had taken a sniff of the dish, and deciding that it smelled nice enough, sampled it. It was some sort of cured meat, most likely smoked, along with their version of biscuits or cornbread. Not the most appetizing or gourmet presentation, but it was filling, and it kept her from having to go down to the nearest food chain for breakfast.

Now, the sigil was glowing brighter than she had ever seen it. Parts that hadn't normally shone like a rave event now were, and as her luck would have it. Bunnymund's tech wasn't designed to conceal the area from above.

That only made the large glowing blue hole in the sky more alarming.

'I am so fucked if this makes the evening news,' she thought. 'Kiss that promotion goodbye, Esther!'

The blue portal above her sigil only lasted moments, but it was enough to raise Esther's anxiety to epic proportions, even as a large cluster seem to appear as it closed. The mass came down to land just as quickly as it appeared, and to Esther's curiosity and horror, it landed just across from her on the other side of the sigil.

Chapter Text

The clocks at Burgess Elementary slowly ticked by, much to the teacher's and the student's agony. It was ridiculous, really, to have to come to school for only half the day before the start of their summer break. Thanks to Jack Frost, there had been more snow days than were probably necessary, and this caused their scheduled days out of class to be filled in as makeups.

The fourth grade teacher, Mrs. Mosher, closed her book and removed her glasses. "Since we have only a few minutes left before the bell rings, I would like to thank each of you for a wonderful school year. You've been a joy to have, and when we meet in the halls again next year, I'll be a mommy." she rubbed her swollen belly, not wishing to move from the air conditioner, but wanted to leave as much as her students did.

The bell rang at last, signaling the end of the school year and the moment of sun and freedom from homework for many students. Mrs. Mosher watched as they hastily grabbed their bags and tried to squeeze out the door as one, issuing one more goodbye to her and an early congratulations for her and the baby.

"Free at last!" Pippa sang, bounding down the stairs. Jaime, Cupcake, Monty, Caleb, and Claude were quick to follow her. "So what do you guys want to do first?"

"I've got to get Sophie from Miss Carmichael first," Jamie said. "Promised Mom I'd swing by after school and get her." He looked to his friends to see if they had any objections, but since none of them had the first idea of how to spend their break, they nodded and followed him down the street.

After picking up Sophie, the children went on to the park. It wasn't far from Miss Morwen's house, as they called her, and Jamie's mom told him the day before that she and Fiona had returned home. Miss Morwen was a nice woman that had no issue with allowing the children to come by and visit, with their parent's permission of course. They all knew that she and her daughter Ithilwen were different, and the stories that Miss Morwen would tell them were always fascinating.

Jamie found it strange that she was married when he never saw her husband in all his years of knowing her. One day they had asked if she was divorced, and had been told that was not the case. "In our culture," she said, "there is no such thing as divorce. When we hold a binding ceremony, it is for eternity." The kids took it to mean 'till death do us part', which Morwen was quick to correct them, in that her husband was not dead, just in another world.

Had they not witnessed and helped the Guardians against Pitch, they might have thought her crazy. As it was, the small group of friends weren't quick to disbelieve anything dealing with magic after that.

They had just reached the entrance of the park when Claude brought their attention to what was in the sky. His brother had been about to shame him for pointing out a bird, but what Claude had seen was far from having feathers.

"What is...that?" Pippa asked uncertainly, her jaw going slack at the sight of the bright blue portal in the sky.

"Magic?" Cupcake guessed.

"Bunny!" Sophie said excitedly. She didn't quite grasp the role of the Guardians like the older children did, but she knew that that kind of magic could only come from them.

"It looks like Portal," Jamie said. His mind was buzzing with the possibilities as they began to dart across the grass to where the portal originated. "Oh man, I hope they've made Portal a live-action game! That would be so cool!"

"Holy Hell."

Esther couldn't believe what she was seeing. She pinched her arm, just to make sure she was awake, and as the nerves screeched in protest at the abuse, she knew.

Her portal worked.

Granted, the beings that came through it lay in a huge dog pile across the sigil markings from where she stood, but they were most definitely alive. The grunts, groans, and protests to get off of the lower layers was testament to that. From the pile she could hear the words "We made it" come somewhere from the bottom, and a slightly muffled "Hooray" followed it in response.

The guardian could only stand there in stunned silence as the number of people that appeared before her grew. She had no idea from the mass how many had lay there, and had she thought of it then, she could have joked that they looked like clowns coming out of a tiny car. The members of the traveling party stood, adjusted their clothes, brushed blades of grass from their persons, and looked around.

Then they noticed her.

"Hello..." she stammered, giving a weak wave. "Live long and prosper?"

Many sets of brows furrowed at her reference, unsure of what to make of the strangely dressed woman across the area. Haldir moved forward a few steps, only to halt as he noticed that the woman took a hesitant step backwards. Given that they were wearing a number of weapons, he couldn't blame her for keeping her distance. In an effort to ease her mind, he removed his sword from his hip and laid it on the grass before her. He then proceeded to remove the other smaller pieces of weaponry and set them with his sword. Finally, he extended a formal gesture of greeting to her as he spoke.

"Mae g'ovannen," he spoke softly. "We mean you no harm, my Lady. I am Haldir of Lorien."

Esther wasn't familiar with the elven language, but she could tell from his tone and body language that he was only trying to say hello. Feeling slightly foolish, she failed to hid her blush of embarrassment even as she bowed lightly in response. Then it had struck her about what he said, and she looked up sharply.

"You're Ithilwen's father!" she blurted out suddenly.

"You know of my daughter?"

"I'm one of her friends," the woman responded almost as eagerly. "I'm Esther!"

Haldir had then proceeded to introduce each of the members of their company that crossed the portal, starting with his mate's kin. The young woman would nod a greeting to each of them, but somehow he had the distinct feeling that she hadn't yet committed all of the names to memory.

It was when he introduced Legolas that Esther noticed what he cradled in his hands. "You found the Furby!" she laughed in delight, and the toy itself made an arrangement of noises.

"Gandalf nearly cut it in two with his sword," Legolas told her, finding the image just as funny as it had been when it nearly took place.

"So everything else came through then?" Esther asked. She noticed that Celeborn was holding the skateboard under his arm, and Galadriel continued to look around in the large sunglasses and hat. "Who tried the Twinkie? You know, the yellow spongy pastry..?"

"The wizard did," Thranduil informed her, adding "He did not care for it, however we took great enjoyment out of watching him eat it."

Esther grinned. "Yeah, you either love those things or you hate them. Ithilwen loves them," she continued, "but she won't eat a Moonpie. Can't say I blame her on that one though-"

A set of shouts were coming from the trees past Esther, and all turned to focus their attention on a small group of kids that burst through them. Thankfully, none of the travelers drew their weapons, but the kids did come to a screeching halt at her ankles regardless.

"What are you lot doing here?" Esther asked, noticing that they each looked slightly winded and red-faced.

"School's out," Pippa breathed.

"Saw a portal," Caleb gasped.

"Thought it was magic," Cupcake said bent over.

"Thought you guys made Portal," Jamie finished."

Esther wasn't very familiar with the latest video games, but she had recognized the name that Jamie mentioned, having heard nightmare stories from Fiona when she played with Ithilwen. "You thought...oh, sorry kiddo. That wasn't the plan today." She paused to let them regain some of their composure and straighten. "No, what I was doing was making a magic portal, and Ithilwen's family and friends came though from their world."

Monty had muttered something about people from another world topped Portal any day as Haldir went through the introductions again. Esther hung back slightly and listened, suddenly praising all the gods for intervening with those kids. If they hadn't shown up, she would have likely explained how she got them here and why sending the odd assortment of items was necessary.

Seeing as how many were High Elves and the majority of people were also rulers of kingdoms, it was probably better to not tell them this specific magic had been practice up till now.

Despite the efforts of Morwen and Fiona's cleaning purge, it had still taken them two days to ultimately cross everything off their list. It wasn't surprising, since no one had been in the house for a good while, so naturally dust accumulated.

Fiona was sitting at the bar dividing the kitchen from the dining room with her laptop as she waited for the dryer to finish its current cycle of clothes. Morwen had been in and out the back door with folded sheets and other linens that she had plucked from the clothes line. All that had been left to wash was their clothes that they had taken on the road.

The younger woman had been about to declare that there was nothing of interest on the Internet that afternoon when she came across a particular video.

Or rather, a set of videos.

"Well that's convenient," she said to herself with a smile. "Nice of you to share your trip with us, sister!" Fiona had set about moving each of the posted videos to a "watch later" list, when she got a closer look at the latest upload. "Hey, Mom!"

"Yes," Morwen had said loudly. She had been in the laundry room putting away the last stack of towels when her daughter shouted for her. "What is it?"

Fiona looked up to see that her mother was standing in the doorway of the laundry room looking at her expectantly. "Sorry, thought you were still out back," she grinned. "Anyway, Ithilwen's put up a video saying that she's going to do a livestream chat this evening."

"Well then, we'll just have to watch for it, won't we?"

From the Outer Banks, Ithilwen drove north, making it a point to go around Raleigh instead of through it again. As she neared the North Carolina-Virginia border, she felt some kind of anxious pulling in her mind that she couldn't explain. Once they crossed the border though, that peculiar feeling made itself known in her chest as well.

Ithilwen chose not to alarm her aunt with this bit of information, since she had no idea how to even describe it. She chose instead to chalk it up to indigestion from all the fast food they had been eating.

Before they checked in at the hotel, Ithilwen went ahead and picked up their convention badges at the registration desk. Celebrian had commented on the strange naming of the event, since the location didn't warrant it being "the middle" of anything.

"It's because the ocean to the east of us is called the Atlantic," Ithilwen supplied. "You know, when we were on Highway 12? That other half was the Atlantic ocean."

She had been so preoccupied with talking and trying to ignore the feeling in her chest that she tried to unlock their room with her con badge four times before she realized. If her aunt had noticed her odd behavior, she didn't comment on it. That was fine, in her opinion, because she still couldn't give an answer that wouldn't make her sound crazy.

'Maybe I am,' she thought to herself as Celebrian disappeared in the bathroom to take a bath. Ithilwen set about unpacking their stuff before she shouted to her aunt that she was going to step out and get them something to eat. She made sure to lock the door on her way out, even though she'd just be going to the grocery store just down the street. There was a microwave in their room, a perk that she intended to make use of that night.

The walk through the park and down the street was met with many looks from the adults that were outside getting started on their yard work. Some would ignore them save for stolen glances, others would stare outright, and some even waved.

"What strange devilry is that noise?" Gimli asked, hearing a roar come from one of the houses. "Is it a dragon?"

"I wish," Jamie replied. "It's a lawnmower. They're used to cut the grass."

"You wish there were dragons?" Faramir asked in disbelief. "A dragon would destroy an entire village in a heartbeat. That is not something I would ask for so easily."

"So you have dragons in your world?" Monty looked up at him.

"Very few, anymore. They are not the worst things to come across in middle-earth, but those that remain are still dangerous."

Pippa spoke up next, before Monty could bring in the inquisition. "You're all here to bring Miss Morwen and Ithilwen home, aren't you? How long will you be with us?"

Haldir noticed how solemn the girl sounded when she asked her questions. His family must have been close to them, because it seemed that these children would miss them an awful lot. "The wizard that opened the passage for us to travel through was able to give us three months time before it would open again."

The girl's face lit up at this information. "That's great! You'll be here for our summer break!" Pippa knew that when the day came for the two women to return to their home, they wouldn't see them ever again. It wasn't going to make it easy to say goodbye, but she had long ago told herself to think of it as them moving.

Esther remained silent through this exchange, but she couldn't help but feel some guilt as the marchwarden stated their limited time frame. 'This is for the best,' she kept telling herself. She'd be losing some good friends, but it wasn't their world to begin with. When Ithilwen found this out, she would likely be sad as well. 'And yet, not nearly as sad than if she were to stay and watch these children age with nature. I wish I could change this, but I'm not even sure Father Time could stop death.'

She really hated her trains of thought sometimes.

"Mom?" Fiona yelled.

"What?" came the same yelled reply from the other side of the house.

"You might want to come in here." Fiona squinted her eyes to try and better focus on what she was looking at. "The kids are coming up the driveway, and unless they've brought with them a medieval lynch mob, we've got company."

She had been walking back to her studio to return her laptop, having given up finding anything more interesting than her sister's news, when Fiona noticed movement through the front door windows. At first she had thought that Jamie and the others were playing hooky from school, until she glanced down at her watch to see that it was after three already. Looking back up, she had been surprised - and slightly alarmed - to see that there were more people than just the kids. Even though she could see Esther walking by Sophie, she still couldn't help but wonder who was with the kids.

Was this some new movement to protest their being gone on trips?

"Was that yelling?" Elrond asked aloud as they began their trek up the long driveway.

"Yeah, they do that," Caleb supplied. "It's a big house, so half the time they shout to each other to figure out where they are."

Haldir shared a puzzled look with Legolas as they walked. What had this world turned his family into?

Fiona had rushed off to the studio to deposit her laptop on the desk before meeting Morwen at the foot of the stairs. The two then went out to stand on the front porch to await the children and their guests.

"Can you tell who they are, Mom?" To the younger woman, the group looked more like a reenactment troop that lost their way to the renaissance fair. The thought only made her think of her sister and the unwatched playlist saved on her computer.

Morwen peered out across the yard and gasped. Fiona felt her stiffen and began to get nervous. "Mom?" she tried again. "Should I go call the cops?"

The elleth didn't say anything, only shaking her head. "It's…Haldir…" she breathed lightly.

"Haldir?" Fiona repeated, confused. "Haldir…" Then the pieces clicked into place. "Holy shit Mom! That's-"

"HALDIR!" Morwen screamed at the top of her lungs, leaping off the front porch and breaking out into a run, leaving a stunned Fiona behind her.

The group approaching heard her scream and Haldir broke off from the lot to run to Morwen, who had her arms out to grab him. Both Fiona and the others watched on as Morwen kept calling his name out, even as she slammed into him and brought him to the ground. The watchers of the scene before them kept their distance so as not to intrude. Fiona jogged from the porch to the mass of people in their front yard, coming to stand beside Jamie and Sophie.

"Wow," Fiona said, "You know when you told us that you'd knock him to the ground when you first met again, I didn't think you'd actually do it."

Morwen had to stop kissing Haldir's cheeks so that she could sit up and address her daughter. "When you've been away from your love for over a century, you'll understand." She turned back to her husband who was still trapped beneath her. "You're here!"

"I believe tackling me to the ground established that," he replied dryly. "I've missed you, Morwen."

"I've missed you too," she replied, leaning back down to kiss him lightly on the nose. Seeing him after so long felt like a piece of her soul had been returned to Morwen. In any other instance, nearly two centuries would have been short, but for a couple that had been separated by forces against them, it had been a miracle she hadn't fallen to grief.

Fiona looked around at the ragtag group of people. She began to recognize that a lot of them were elves, and there were some humans, but she wasn't sure about the shorter individuals. "So…you're all here," she began, "That must mean that the war in middle-earth is over, right?"

"That is correct, my lady," Aragorn said with a nod. Legolas stood beside the ranger, looking around the yard before them, almost as if he were looking for something.

'Or someone,' Fiona thought with realization. "Holy crackers, it's you!" she walked up to Legolas. "Yeah! You're Legolas!"

"You know of me?"

"You bet your pointed ears I do!" Fiona said excitedly. "You're just like Ithilwen d-"

"Described," Morwen cut in with a pointed look at Fiona.

"Right, described," she giggled.

For all the world, Legolas looked more anxious at the mention of the elleth's name. Haldir tensed, wondering why he had not seen her yet. Morwen and Fiona shared another look, this time nervously, which did not escape any of the others around them.

"My lady," Legolas began, looking at Fiona, "Where is she? Where is Ithilwen?"

The young woman frowned and glanced at Morwen again. "She's...well, she's not here right now."

"Gone?" Haldir had looked to Morwen in disbelief. They had worried over how they would get to this world, and when they finally arrive, their family is divided? "Where is she?" he asked his mate.

Morwen felt slightly ashamed that she couldn't answer that question. Instead, she asked Fiona if she could recall where Ithilwen's next stop was.

"I think it was Raleigh, or down on the coast." Fiona knew the schedule was in her inbox, but her sister's directions were erratic. "I've got it saved, so I can look it up," she amended, "but I do know that she's almost at the end of her trip!"

Haldir was still baffled, and made no hesitation in saying so. "I still fail to understand why she is gone in the first place."

"I think it might be better to explain inside," Morwen told the group. "It's a bit of a story, and from the looks of it y'all have been through the ringer getting here."

Chapter Text

"Come on in," Morwen said, propping open the front screen door. "Make yourselves at home."

Of all things to happen that day, the last thing she expected was to look outside and see her husband walking up her driveway. Morwen's heart was swimming at finally seeing him once more, and from the way he looked at her, the feeling was mutual. Seeing the rest of her kin and then some was even more of a surprise. When Ithilwen had first told her months ago that Legolas said he intended to find a way to this world, they both failed to mention that a third of the population would be coming too.

'And now they're all going to be living here,' she realized far later than she would have liked to admit. Morwen had noticed that Thranduil was among the group, and she tried not to think about the potential arguments between her adar and the elvenking. Besides, there were other matters to attend to at that moment.

"Hey Morwen?" It was Esther. "I'm going to escort the munchkins back to their houses so you guys can get settled-"

Fiona muttered a "Hang on" as she moved to stand next to the guardian. "Don't forget to come back over for the thing that's set to happen this evening, okay?"

Esther nodded and began to usher the children out of the house when Haldir turned to his mate. "What 'thing' is taking place this evening, melleth? And where is Ithilwen?"

Once again, Morwen and Fiona shared a look between them, and it still did nothing to reassure the marchwarden. "Do you want a quick tour of the house first-"

"I want to know where our daughter is," Haldir stated.

"Alright," Morwen sighed. "Ithilwen's elsewhere in the country right now on a trip. Back when things...well when she said her connection with Legolas broke...she was a mess. Not knowing what was happening only made her think up worst-case scenarios that didn't leave her any peace of mind. So, she planned to take a trip; visit a list of places she picked out to try and not worry over things she couldn't do anything about."

"If it helps she's almost through the list of places she wanted to visit," Fiona added. "I think there's only a couple left."

Legolas looked apologetically to Haldir, feeling even worse for blocking Ithilwen off. If he hadn't, would things have been the same? Would she still have been gone when they arrived here?

"And what of this evening's...event?" Haldir asked.

Fiona's expression changed to one of pure delight, and for the new arrivals, it spoke of some promise that things weren't as bad off as previously thought. "Right! This evening Ithilwen has a livestream scheduled where she'll be able to talk live with anyone viewing her video from around the world!" When she received blank stares, she remembered. "Yeah, sorry. That wasn't very clear, was it? What I mean is that we'll get to watch Ithilwen and be able to talk with her from wherever she's at this evening!"

Many of the expressions changed to something akin to curiosity and excitement. Well, most were. Fiona wasn't familiar with all of the names of their houseguests quite yet, but she could most definitely tell who Legolas' parents were. It seemed that his father wasn't particularly thrilled either way, or maybe it was just his resting bitchface?

While Haldir had come into the modern world knowing that his mate had taken in two other children as her own, Morwen did not. As it was, she had been struggling to find the words to tell him of Fiona's significance as soon as she had seen him. Somehow springing it on him wouldn't be the best idea, and with so many now under the roof, finding a private place proved to be challenging.

Most of the occupants had meandered around on the bottom floor, but Morwen had discreetly pulled both her mate and youngest child into the kitchen. Of course in a house filled with elves, keeping what transpired "hush-hush" would be impossible. Right then she would have settled for quiet.

Before she could even get the words out, however, Haldir spoke up. "I know what it is that you wish to say, melleth."

"What? How?"

"Because I know," he said. "Legolas informed me before we left middle-earth." With a slight gesture to Fiona, Haldir added, "It was fairly obvious when you brought both of us into this room as well."

Fiona, Morwen noticed, had gone a shade paler at being acknowledged. It was like the younger woman wasn't certain of how Haldir was reacting, and thus being singled out was assumed to be a bad thing.

Haldir then turned fully to face Fiona, and was surprised when she started. 'What does she expect, I wonder?' "I know that my mate has called you daughter for a long time," he told her slowly, "If you will allow me, I would like to call you daughter as well."

"Y-You mean you don't mind that Mom took me and Bernard in?"

"Of course not. Children are a blessing to elves, and are cherished. We do not choose to give our love easily, but we give our love wholeheartedly. Morwen has claimed you, and in time I hope that you will allow me to do the same."

Fiona let out a breathy laugh. "And here I was worried that you'd want nothing to do with us!"

"I told her that couldn't be further from the truth, Haldir."

"Well can you blame me, Mom? Ithilwen's not the only one that overthinks things!" Fiona looked back to Haldir. "So uh...what...what can I call you, then? I mean I don't want to go around saying your name if you're taking me in as your kid, but I'm not very fluent in your language either..."

"What do you wish to address me as?"

"Is 'Dad' okay? It's the modern form of 'father' in this world, and it would just be until I can better understand your language. I wouldn't want to mess up and call you a cow's butt or anything!"

"That is acceptable...daughter," Haldir smiled. This young woman certainly had an interesting way of describing things, so he could only imagine what Ithilwen must be like. Legolas had told him that they had grown up together.

"I thought that you were going to stop at the grocery store for our dinner?"

"I was, but the Taco Bell next to it smelled so good that I picked these up when I came out."

"Your naneth was right." Celebrian stooped to peek in one of the nearest bags on the bed. "You should never go to buy food when you're hungry."

Ithilwen shrugged her words off, even though she knew they were true. A hungry stomach had gotten her in trouble on many occasions in the past. She stopped in the store to buy some drinks, some quick-microwavable meals, and a little bit of junk food. It was when she was packing her purchases away in the car that the winds shifted, and she got a good whiff of the Taco Bell aroma, so she made a b-line for their drive through as soon as she got behind the wheel.

Now she sat at one of the desk chairs in front of her laptop with various fast food wrappers, napkins, and plastic sporks scattered around. Celebrian had been unpacking the plastic bags while she fixed their plates, justifying that if this didn't satisfy them there were other things to eat later.

"Isn't your live-event to take place this evening?"

"Livestream, and yeah, in a couple of hours. You want to sit in with me for it?"

"Oh no, I couldn't possibly do that! This is your thing-"

"What if I want you to be a part of it?"

Celebrian looked to be finding a way out of it. "I don't know, Ithilwen. I couldn't possibly know what to say-"

"You just be yourself!" Ithilwen passed her aunt a plate across the desktop as the older elleth sat down with her. "That's the fun thing about the internet. You don't have to pretend to be anyone else if you don't want to."

"Then may I ask you something, Ithilwen?"


"Why do you choose to dress as others for these conventions? You change your entire personality when you are among those people, and I don't understand why. In the little time that I have come to know you as an adult, you are so much more than what you let the world see."

Ithilwen had a mouthful of her crunchwrap, and suddenly found that the longer it sat there the harder it became to swallow. Her aunt was right, of course. She had changed entirely when she was in costume, but she didn't realize how much. Was she trying to blend in with the mortals as part of the event, or was this something deeper?

"I...I didn't realize that," she said finally. "When I put on the costumes, I try to think like the character; how they talk, how they move, how they act...things like that. In the past it was just that. I had no idea I was so unlike myself..."

Celebrian reached for her drink as she listened to Ithilwen. "It seems to me that you are hiding behind these characters. There's nothing wrong with masquerading, but I can't help but worry that you're doing this as an escape from your worries."

She shrugged again. "I probably am," Ithilwen replied. "I've been so worried about how Ada and Legolas are that I'm looking for any excuse."

"Is it just that?" When Ithilwen gave her a questioning look, she added, "Your sister told me that a mortal boy had hurt you recently, but she didn't explain."

"That's because I never told her the whole story. He...said some mean things to me, and they struck a chord. It's been a couple of months, and I'm past it now."

"You're certain?"

"I am."

"Good because I happen to know that Legolas is a fine young ellon-" Celebrian was cut off by Ithilwen's groan of dismay. "All I'm saying is that he's very respectable! But if that's how you're going to react then let me ask you one more question."

"It doesn't have to do with Legolas, does it?"

"No," she jerked a thumb over her shoulder towards a pile of unopened travel bags. "I've been meaning to ask you why you've been carrying around a decayed head since I saw it weeks ago."

Ithilwen's expression changed to delight, much to her aunt's confusion. "So it really looks like it's decayed! Wicked!" As the younger elleth began to describe how she came about having such an item in her possession, Celebrian only became more confused.

Morwen had opted to give her new houseguests a quick tour of the house so that they could begin to settle for the evening. After the news of the livestream had been made known, many had expressed an interest in watching as well.

"There's two floors to the house with an attic up at the very top," she explained as she led them around. "Down here there's the dining room and kitchen. Just beyond the kitchen you'll see a door; that goes to the laundry room. Over there is the living room, and this door's a small closet. The double doors next to it open to the den, and they're most always open. Down the hall," she jogged slightly to try and get ahead, "Is another closet, a small bathroom next to it, and Fiona's photography studio at the very end on the left. On the right, there's some guest bedrooms. Upstairs are a few more bedrooms, another hall closet, and two bathrooms not connected to a bedroom. It'll be a bit tricky to place everyone, but we have plenty of bed linens and things."

"Don't worry 'bout that, Lady Morwen," Gimli said. "As long as I got a place to lay my head, it doesn't matter to me." The others nodded in agreement, some even adding in that they would be fine bunking with others.

Morwen smiled at the dwarf and looked around to take stock of how she could organize things. Haldir would be with her, obviously. Ithilwen's room was off limits for the moment because her daughter was not there to give her consent. She noticed that there were four other couples that could get privacy up on the top floor where her room was. There were a handful of smaller guest rooms downstairs that could be divied up between the remaining guests. She looked at Fiona. "Are the guest rooms ready to be used?"

"Definitely. On the upper floor and the bottom one. The bottom ones are a little smaller, and could only fit one to two people in each, depending."

"We can share a room," Pippin said. "We're not very big, as you can see Miss Fiona, and we'd be fine with one of the smaller rooms down here."

Fiona watched the other three nod, not knowing that the hobbits were not as enthusiastic about heights as their elven friends. She was then told by Eomer that he would bunk with Gimli, and Elladan and Elrohir would also share a room. Erestor had agreed to share a room with Glorfindel, but warned the balrog-slayer that any shenanigans in the middle of the night would surely get him hit.

That left the couples to a room for each pair, and Elrond and Legolas to a room to themselves.

"Where are you going to sleep, Fiona?" Morwen asked, having done the calculations in her head and realized that one of the upper rooms would be occupied by an elf or elven couple.

"The studio." She answered simply. "Most of my stuff is down there anyway, and what isn't I can move up to the attic to get out of the way. Most of the stuff in there needs to be moved up there as it is. Besides, Tauriel said that she'd stay with me, and there's plenty of room in the studio for the both of us." She seemed rather content with the idea, and Morwen didn't choose to argue with it. Fiona then moved down the hall and motioned for the lower-floor occupants to follow her and choose a room.

Morwen led the others upstairs and began to get them situated for rest. After she had shown Elrond to his room, that left her parents and Legolas when Fiona came bounding up the stairs.

"Hang about, Mom!" She called out. "Have you given Legolas a room yet?" Morwen shook her head. "Good, come with me!" she tugged on the elf's arm, leading him to a room at the opposite end of the hallway. "When Ithilwen told me that you guys were going to come out here after the war, I knew this was the room for you. It's got a bit of a balcony near some trees, so it's almost like being back home. At least I think, since I don't know what your home looks like," Fiona rambled.

"This will be fine," Legolas said, amused at this girl's antics. "I thank you, Lady Fiona."

"Please, Fiona is fine," she said, turning to leave and let the elf get settled.

Outside in the hall, Fiona was met with three pairs of eyes watching her; one set was puzzled, one set was sparkling with laughter, and one set was pointedly annoyed. She watched as Galadriel led her husband into their new room and shut the door, leaving her to be stared at by Morwen. "What?" she asked innocently.

"I know what you're up to, missy," Morwen said softly, knowing that her relatives could still hear.

"I don't know what you're talking about, Mom," Fiona walked up to her. "So what are we doing for supper?"

"It's your decision tonight, Fiona, since you seem intent on plotting things." Morwen said, watching her descend the stairs. "I'm not impressed, I hope you know that."

"I know, Mom."

Fiona led Tauriel the door of her studio after evading Morwen's scrutiny. So she had taken some liberties with placement. What was it going to hurt? She didn't see any harm in it, after all. "Please excuse any mess that's in here," she grinned at the redheaded elleth beside her. "We recently cleaned up, but my studio has a habit of never staying organized for long."

Tauriel peeked inside the doorway after Fiona stepped back. "It does not seem to be out of sorts," she stated. "It looks quite organized."

"Controlled chaos is more like it, and you're sweet for saying that." Fiona encouraged her to come in and look around. "So this is my second bedroom, in a way. When I'm working on a project I'm more likely to crash in my bed down here than go upstairs. The bed's over here," she led Tauriel to a side room. "There's a closet, bed, and a small bathroom just past it, so it's pretty cozy. There's some room in the closet and chest for your things if you want to unpack right now."

Fiona moved around the elleth, who was still looking around at her new living quarters intently, to fetch her laptop and assorted cords. Tauriel turned to watch her. "What are you doing?"

"This?" A nod. "I'm going to hook this up to the TV in the den so we can watch the livestream. I've gotta hurry though; we've got less than two hours and I'm not sure if I remember how to connect it right."

Tauriel seemed to forget about unpacking for the moment, more interested in watching Fiona connect the flat paneled object to the odd looking ropes to whatever it was that would show them her sister.

The arrivals from middle-earth had only been in the house for nearly two hours, and already Fiona would compare it to a co-ed dormitory, the only difference being that none of them could understand the function of a microwave, much less pizza. In hindsight it probably wasn't the best choice of modern food to introduce to them, but with so many wandering around the house asking about this or that and the livestream to be ready for, it was Fiona's first idea for dinner. The poor delivery person had to have a second come out with him to help unload the number of pizzas she had ordered. All Morwen had told her when she asked "How many?" was to order a lot.

With an assortment of pizzas to choose from on paper plates, sweet tea in any available cup that could be found, and some rearrangements made in the den, the entirety of the household was sitting around watching as the young woman double-checked her laptop's connection to the television. On second thought, Fiona knew this was a terrible introduction to the modern world, but it's not like she knew they were coming ahead of time!

"Is it set up, Fiona?"

"I think so," she sighed. "You know Ithilwen's better at this stuff than I am, Mom. When she and Will get to talking about all the technical stuff, my eyes cross." Fiona returned to her seat on Haldir's left and reached for the laptop on the table.

"Do you not have sufficient time to eat first?" he asked, noticing that she was ignoring her plate in favor of the device.

"She likes this kind cold," Morwen told him. "Especially after the sauce went sweet. But they've gone back somewhat; not nearly as good as it used to be though."

"I like this...what was it you called it? Pit-zah?" Pippin's expression was pinched as he attempted to pronounce the odd-sounding word.

"Pizza," Fiona said, looking up. "This pizza place is the best in our area, in my opinion. You just can't have a sweet tomato sauce on pizza. It has to be tangy." She reached over to her plate, grabbed the smaller slice and took a bite out of it, more to appease her new father than being hungry. Setting the rest down, she wiped her hands and went back to clicking on the laptop. What she did on the computer screen would blink and appear on the television, and those close enough to see the smaller screen could tell that the work she had done paid off. "Hey Mom," she began, looking up, "Should we give any...ah...background information before the livestream starts?"

Morwen knew right away what Fiona was trying to get at. The problem was she didn't know how to go about announcing this bit of news.

"There's a chance those video blogs Ithilwen put up might also bring attention know," she continued.

"I know."

"Know what?" Haldir asked.

A small gasp from elsewhere in the room had everyone turning their attention to Galadriel, who looked straight at Morwen with slightly widened eyes. "It is true, then."

"You knew, Naneth?"

"Knew what?" Both Celeborn and Haldir asked.

"I had my suspicions," the older elleth said carefully.

"Wait - how did you know?!" Fiona looked slightly alarmed.

"Knew. What?" The same ellyn had asked again, with a little more force.

"Will someone just answer the question already so that we can continue on with our lives?" Thranduil spoke up. Beside him, Miraear swatted at his arm, telling him to be patient.

Morwen let out a groan of defeat, sounding very much like a teenager not getting their way. "Alright, fine. There's...something...that has happened on Ithilwen's trip that we haven't told y'all about yet. It's a big thing...and I don't know of any way to say it other than just saying it..." She took a breath and said, "Celebrian was brought over into this world from Valinor and she's currently traveling with Ithilwen."

The room was silent for a matter of seconds before all hell broke loose. Celeborn had rounded on Galadriel, demanding to know why she didn't tell him this already, and her responding that she wasn't certain it was fact. Elrond and his children were firing a barrage of questions at Morwen about how she got there, how long she has been there, how she's doing, and eventually they all began to run together. The remainder of the room that held no personal connection to the newly-named elleth were trying to understand why this was such a big deal, while those that knew attempted to fill them in.

"This is why I was hesitant to tell you!" Morwen blurted out, holding up her hands to halt any further questions. "Everyone just calm the hell down. Yes, she's here. Yes, she's doing fine. I'm not sure how long she's been here; when I found out I was in another country entirely."

"And she might be in the livestream with Ithilwen," Fiona offered, "We can ask them questions when it starts, if that will make it any easier. It'll be like she's talking to you, even though she won't hear your voices."

"It might be better if they don't know who all is here, actually."

"What do you mean?" Haldir asked, looking at his wife in disbelief. He had waited for so long to get back to them, and now he was being told to not let his other daughter know he was around? What made that any easier?

"Fiona can relay the questions, so long as we keep them generic and not reference anything having to do with home. This is on the internet, and I know that's not something you understand yet, but think of it as a palantir that anyone with one can access. It wouldn't be good to announce the existence of another world from this one; mortals don't take kindly to change." Morwen reached over to grasp his hand lightly. "I suggested this for everyone's benefit, Haldir, not to be mean. I just think that it would be better for Ithilwen and my sister to discover this news when they get home, and not where numerous people can watch their reactions for entertainment."

" This is seen as entertainment in this world?" As a child Faramir had created a multitude of ways to occupy his time avoiding studies. Somehow the thought of a group of people watching something akin to a river stream didn't sound like good entertainment.

"When this livestream is over, Mom and I will have to show you guys some of Ithilwen's old video uploads. They're hilarious!" Fiona snickered to herself, thinking back on the multitude of videos they had made in the past. Some were serious, but most of them were ridiculous and often over dramatized intentionally.

The screen on the television flickered once again as Fiona navigated to the address that the livestream would be on, all the while trying to explain why the internet existed in the first place. Morwen told her to give it up as the page finished loading the video player, telling her it was only making things more confusing. Not that it mattered if Fiona had set off firecrackers in the den at that moment, because all eyes were suddenly focused on the television and the elleth that had appeared on the screen.

"Is that-?" Haldir couldn't bring himself to finish the question that he already knew the answer to. He knew right off that it was Ithilwen. She had grown up to look like her naneth, even as she sat there on the screen making odd faces.

"Ithilwen," Legolas finished. The prince felt like a stone had been lifted off his chest the moment he saw her. He was surprised at how much relief he felt when he saw her. Obviously he had missed her, but he didn't know just how much until then.

"This is your oldest daughter, Morwen?" Miraear asked. "She is lovely!" The redhead turned to her mate and said haughtily, "See? She is very much a real elleth, Thranduil!"

"You doubted my granddaughter's existence?" Celeborn asked evenly.

"No, I doubted the connection your granddaughter shares with my son."

"Well given the way he's looking at the screen it looks like Legolas is going to lunge at it to get to her," Elrohir remarked. He leaned forward in his seat, adding, "You do know that she is not in that box, right Legolas? I don't understand this device, but I am certain that you would not want to dive into it."

The elf grumbled out an "I know that" just as Ithilwen began to speak.

"So if you're just joining the chat room right now the livestream won't start for another twenty minutes," she said, twisting in her chair. "I thought I'd get it going now because well...I don't have anything else to do!" Ithilwen laughed. "The con won't start until tomorrow, and my aunt and I already got our badges-"

"What is that movement in the corner?" Eomer asked, pointing to the white box at the lower right corner of the window.

"It's a chat box," Morwen answered. "Anyone that's on the page can write a comment in the box, and anyone else on the page when it goes up will be able to see it. It looks like someone's asking what event she's going to tomorrow."

"-We're going to be at Anime Mid-Atlantic tomorrow, actually! We just left the Outer Banks this morning and drove nonstop back to Virginia, which doesn't sound like much of a drive, but I tool the long way around Raleigh. After the livestream ends tonight I'll probably edit that footage and upload it before bed; I think you're really gonna like it!"

"She's recorded her trip so far," Fiona said quickly. "Mom and I haven't watched any of them yet though."

"And now we'll get to watch them with you," Morwen told Haldir with a smile. "You'll get to know her before she even gets home!"

On screen, Ithilwen had been talking about some of the clothes she had recently bought to one of the people in the chat when another body appeared. This one was slightly taller, but every bit familiar to many of the household as she sat beside Ithilwen. Celebrian was wearing very modern clothing, but she still looked the same as she had when her family had last seen her. Arwen had reached for her brother's hands, taking one in each of theirs for support. It wasn't clear who was supporting who, but it was easy to see that this was an emotional moment for all of them.

"What about those shirts we bought in Ocracoake?" Celebrian asked her niece.

"Right!" Ithilwen started laughing then. "There were a bunch in this gift shop, and I couldn't choose just one-"

"So she bought every joke shirt with the word 'booty' on it."

"I think my favorites are a toss up between 'Where's the booty at?' and 'Booty hunter'." She was practically cackling then.

Celebrian was now looking directly at the screen. "Do you see what I've put up with on this trip? Such maturity befitting of my kin, isn't it?" She sounded exasperated, but she was grinning as she said it.

"Is your sister serious, Morwen?" Haldir asked. "I've forgotten that she has a tendency to think she is witty."

"She's serious, I swear! Ithilwen can be very mature, I assure you! Just..."

"She likes to not act her age sometimes," Fiona finished. She reached for her cell phone and began to touch the buttons that appeared on the smaller screen.

"What are you doing?" Morwen looked past Haldir's worried stare. "I thought you were going to use the chatbox?"

"I am, but I'm going to text her before the show starts just to mess with her. And Dad's gotta hear her ringtone!"

"Do I want to?"

As it turned out, it was Fiona who didn't want to hear the ringtone. She visibly cringed as the sounds of Toto's "Africa" echoed from the television. While Celebrian was looking around the hotel room confused, Ithilwen was grinning widely as she got up to retrieve her phone. "I knew I made the right choice when I chose this new ringtone," she said as she sat back down. "What do you think of it, Fiona? I know it's your favorite song and all..."

"Like hell it is!" Fiona responded as her thumbs sped across the phone keypad. "You are an evil sister! That song is completely ridiculous!"

"You're ridiculous," Ithilwen was still grinning as she looked directly at the camera. "Is there a reason you're texting me in front of your computer?"

The strawberry blond went silent as she continued to type on the phone. Elsewhere in the room, conversation started to pick up.

"The lass looks like she's doing alright," Gimli commented.

While Legolas understood what his friend meant, something about it still rubbed him the wrong way. "She looks happy," he said, trying not to sound hurt at her carefree appearance. The last they had spoken, she had been upset to see him go. Now he was seeing her as he had early on in their meetings. Had something happened to change things between them?

"It could be a ruse," Faramir noted.

"You can see it as well?" Frodo asked him.

"Somewhat," he replied carefully. "I am not as familiar with the young woman's story as the rest of the room, but I have my doubts that she is the kind to let go of her companions so easily."

Esther hurried into the den and took a seat next to Fiona. "It hasn't started yet, has it?" she asked Morwen. "I had to run some reports to the office after I took Cupcake home."

"You're just in time," Fiona said, sending her message. "And Legolas? My sister's been a wreck since your connection broke. Believe me, Faramir's right about it being a disguise. Give her a second and I know she'll prove it."

Morwen leaned around Haldir to make eye contact with Fiona, silently asking "What did you do?"

The younger woman picked up on the unspoken words and went defensive. "I swear I did nothing, Mom! I only asked her-"

"I am SO wearing that necklace!" Ithilwen blurted out suddenly. She maneuvered in her chair to scoop the hair back off her shoulders. "See? I brought it with me when I left for the trip! I haven't taken it off since."

"It seems like that is not the only thing that she took with her," Aragorn said amused. "Legolas, is that not your tunic that she is wearing?"

Haldir's head whipped to the left to see Legolas staring on in a mixture of surprise, horror, and embarrassment. "When did you give my daughter your clothes?" he asked evenly.

"Rohan, before we left for Helms Deep," Gimli filled the marchwarden in.

"That may not be the only thing he has given her," Tauriel noted, studying the screen intently. She didn't miss the snort from the young woman across the room, but chose to pretend she did. Her brother was already getting uneasy looks from the elleth's father. "Naneth, is that the necklace you sent to Lothlorien months ago?"

"The very same."

While Haldir was interrogating Legolas about these latest developments, it was all Fiona could do not to tell her sister of the chaos that was happening in the den. It was just too damned funny! Still, it wasn't fair for just Legolas to be drug through the pit of mortification, so instead she got on the chat box asking about the tunic. The noise that came from the television next wasn't even remotely human.

It seemed that Celebrian had gotten better at reading the English language, because she answered Fiona first. "Don't let your sister fool you. I've woken up at night to look over and see her asleep with that tunic as a blanket!"

"I can't believe you just said that!"

More text was appearing in the chat box, asking questions that Celebrian took to answering. "The ring on the chain belongs to the same young man, CharliesAngel04-"

"WE'RE JUST FRIENDS!" Both Legolas and Ithilwen shouted at the same time.

On the screen, Ithilwen had begun to blush from her chest up to the tips of her ears. "Okay, I don't know when this livestream was taken over by my nonexistent love life, so let's answer some new questions!" She lightly patted her cheeks in hopes of tamping down the blush. "Alright, I'm seeing this one get asked a lot. 'Do you believe in love at first sight?'-"

"How is that a new question?"

"It's new because it's not directed at my love life specifically! My answer is-" Ithilwen went silent for a minute as she thought it over. "-I'm...gonna have to say no. At least, not in that romantic-comedy, Disney-produced imitation anyway. For me, I think you can 'fall' in love with someone at first, but it's more a physical attraction that draws you to them than actual love. I mean, you won't really 'love' love the person until you understand why you love them, and that just doesn't happen by first looks."

Celebrian had a different opinion. "Your uncle and I fell in love almost instantly. Although, we did court each other for far longer than most young people now stay in a partnership."

"I thought Uncle Bilbo said that elves chose a partner for their lifetime"

"He was right," Elrond nodded. "However, some of us take much longer to declare our love official than others-"

Morwen snorted. "You are such an idgit, Elrond! You know damned well the reason you two didn't get married right off was because of Adar!"

"If we had you wouldn't have a niece and nephews because your adar would have made that impossible!"

Fiona looked up from the laptop screen to look at the raven-haired offspring. "I guess you can thank your grandpa for not making him ill-equipped then, huh?" she winked, laughing at the expression on the twin's faces.

"I am your grandfather as well," Celeborn interjected. "Just as Elrond is your uncle and his children your cousins."

"Yes, when Morwen and Haldir claimed you as theirs, you got the rest of the family," Galadriel smiled. She didn't have to see into the woman's thoughts to tell that she was elated by that comment, but Fiona did mentally rejoiced in the revelation. It appeared that she hadn't anticipated the marchwarden's acceptance, much less for anyone else to include her.

"Okay, here's one on Twitter from ' CaptainAmerica': Which superhero would you categorize yourself as?" Ithilwen's nose scrunched up as she thought. "I don't know..are we talking Marvel or DC?"

"Is there a difference?" Celebrian asked as the chatbox exploded with comments.

"She's gonna start World War Three with a comment like that," Fiona said.

"Is that bad?" Eowyn asked. "What she said?"

"In certain social circles a question like that could spark a huge argument," the strawberry blond explained. "Some see Marvel as the superior comic universe, while others will say it's DC. Personally, I'm all for Dark Horse or Top Cow comics; I've found them less confusing to keep straight because their writers stuck with one idea."

"It means that both Marvel and DC's writers can be very indecisive," Morwen added.

"I think..." Ithilwen was still musing over the question. "...from Marvel, I'd say Rogue. Not Anna Paquin's Rogue though - the animated series' Rogue. She gets the short end of the stick as far as her powers go, but she also has the ability to do a lot of things most others couldn't because of them. From DC I would say Poison Ivy, even though she's a villain. Although," she paused slightly, "my sister would say I'm more like Black Canary, because apparently I scream like a banshee."

"Well she does! She dropped a shelf on her foot one time and you never heard such shrill swears come out of anybody before!"

Esther was among the many that looked at Fiona in disbelief. "You know, somehow I would have guessed you'd say Harley Quinn, given how she likes to prank you."

"That would be my second recommendation."

"Hang on!" Ithilwen laughed onscreen. "The chat's going by so fast I'm missing questions! The next one I'm seeing is 'What was your childhood obsession?' Oh, that's a tough one, there were so many! I was a weird kid-"

"She still is!" Fiona cut in.

"-and liked a lot of different things. Kids now have those Pokémon cards, and don't get me wrong I used to buy them too, but I just fell out of love after the Team Rocket and Jungle expansions and gave them away. No, but I do have a good sized collection of Pogs back home that I'm quite proud of. I used to have some Barbies before they went and screwed her up, but no Ken. I was never a fan of Ken."

"Why was that?" Celebrian asked.

"He was too...cleancut. Ken always looked suspicious to me, like some creepy car salesman in really bad clothes."

Fiona typed something in the chatbox that was met with a ton of "Lols". Celebrian had seen her comment and read it out loud for her niece's benefit, who was preoccupied with her drink.

"Your sister says that you never liked Ken because there was nothing going on downstairs-" She paused as she finished the sentence, realization of what she read dawning on her. "Did he really not-"

"No he didn't and that was not the reason, Fiona!"

Morwen wasn't sure which was funnier, the expression on Celebrian's face on the screen or of those around her in the den. "To be fair," she said as she tried to control her laughter, "She did bring the one Ken doll she had up to me without his pants and declared that 'that wasn't right'."

"I guess she wanted more," Esther couldn't help herself. It only made Fiona laugh harder, as did a few others in the room. "Fi, gimme the laptop - I've got a question I want to ask!"

Fiona passed the laptop over to Esther and turned her attention to the television to watch the text appear. If she wasn't certain that Ithilwen and her were a bad influence on the guardian, she was now.

"Here's another on from Fiona." Celebrian looked up at the camera as if she could see Fiona sitting in the den, then looked back down to the screen. She had to be careful about what she read off the device; she had no idea who could have been watching! "'Who is your favorite Doctor and/or companion?' I...don't know what that means."

"It's a TV show about a guy that can regenerate and flies through space and time in a big blue box," Ithilwen told her aunt, "And I know you're there, Esther! Wherever my sister's at, you're there, because only you would make me answer that question!"

Fiona's response - as a few others - popped up on the screen. "So answer it!"

Ithilwen blew a raspberry at the camera, mumbling about how everyone was against her. "I'm always going to be a David Tennant fan, but I liked Christopher Eccleston's Doctor. I haven't watched enough of Matt Smith to really say, and yes I know I'm behind!" She sighed. "On companions, if we're shipping, then Ten and Rose. But just a companion in general, it's always going to be Donna Noble. You can ask Fiona, I bawled like a baby with Donna's last episode!"

"But why would you watch something that makes you cry?"

"Because the writing is so good! And it's not that it's always sad; it can be funny and scary too." Ithilwen had been about to add on to her comments when she noticed the time. "Oh man, it's starting to get late! I know the time's run over, but I'll hang around for about ten more minutes."

The chat box had begun to move more quickly as the other viewers asked questions. Ithilwen would often answer many of them in short-answer form, mostly because they didn't need any further explanation. One of her last questions however, did give her pause.

"Stephanie Hudgens asks, 'What was the weirdest thing to happen to you in life?'" Ithilwen scratched her chin and pulled a face that Haldir was quickly learning that meant she was stumped. "That's a really good question. There's been a lot of weird stuff that's happened, but when I think back on it it's pretty normal. Oh-! I do know something!" Her hand reached up to grasp the chain around her neck, almost like it had become a habit. Ithilwen twirled the ring on the chain around her fingers as she answered with, "It's no so much weird in the sense that "Oh I just got abducted by aliens and we went to Mr. Gatti's" though, but it did happen recently. Back at the start of the year I met someone that I didn't expect. Well, it's not that I was looking to meet anyone, but we just happened to cross each other's paths..."

"She's rambling again," Morwen whispered to Haldir. "She does that when she's anxious."

"...I guess what makes it weird is that we've never met face to face. He's...stationed overseas, so we've only been able to talk long-distance. But then a little while ago, I stopped hearing from him-" Ithilwen's words stopped suddenly, and Celebrian wondered if she was going to cry right then.

Her words weren't doing the prince any favors either, Fiona noticed. 'He looks like he could go to pieces too.' She bit her lip in frustration, wishing she could tell her sister that they were all doing well. Very quickly, she typed a question and hit the enter key before Morwen could comment. Or stop her.

"Fiona's asked, 'Do you miss him?'"

The scratchy laugh that bubbled up from the younger elleth only added more evidence that she had nearly cried moments ago. Legolas wasn't sure if he wanted to know the answer. He had after all, been the one to break their connection. He had been the one to keep everything hidden from her senses. It was because of him that she was hiding how upset she had been about the entire situation. If he were honest with himself, he wouldn't be surprised if she said that she didn't care if she ever heard from him again.

Who was he kidding? The very words would devastate him!

"Of course I miss him!" Ithilwen had answered, and Legolas felt a weight lift off his chest. "I miss him a lot! He's become a really good friend these past months, and I'm really worried about him."

Some of the other responses that came up in the chatbox read "I'm sure he's fine" and "Maybe he's just busy?". It was reassuring, Fiona found, to see that other's shared the same train of thought as her. Of course now she knew that he was fine; she just hated that Ithilwen didn't know.

"Ion-nin," Miraear said softly, "I don't believe that you have anything to fret over with this young lady."

"Except maybe that shriek her sister spoke of when she sees him," Elrohir joked.

"Do you truly believe that Legolas would care?" Elladan asked his brother.

"She could bring him to the ground," Aragorn mused, thinking back on how Haldir had been tackled in the front yard. Like mother like daughter maybe?

"The lass is so small though! That would be a feat!"

Annoyed, Legolas ground out, "You all do know that I am sitting right here?" Regardless, he wasn't about to deny how happy it had made him to hear her words.

"I hate to cut it short here guys, but we've really gone over the time limit I set." Ithilwen smiled apologetically on screen. "We've got to get some sleep for the convention tomorrow, and if ya'll wanted to see the latest vlog I have to finish editing it! But thank you all so much for coming to the livestream today. I'm sorry I didn't get to all the questions, but if you'll tag me on my Twitter account I'll answer them when I can. I hope you all have a great remainder of your day, and love you guys so, so much! Take care of yourselves!"

The video frame in the webpage had gone blank, signaling the end of the livestream. Some activity in the chatbox remained, but Fiona clicked off of the website disinterested. She looked around the room at each of the new arrivals, who also looked around for some cue as to what was next.

"So what did you guys think of the live stream?" Fiona asked.

"It was...strange," Pippin commented.

"It looked like a type of magic that would make communication between realms more efficient," Eomer said.

Aragorn shook his head quickly. "The palantirs did that, and look at how well they were received."

"Even with middle-earth in peace?" Eowyn looked at him. "Our messengers can only travel so far in a day. This-" she gestured to the television "-was instant!"

"True, but there is always the possibility for good blessings to be corrupted if given to irresponsible people," the king responded.

Esther pulled a face. "Yeah, the Rick Roll troll was not one of the best things to come out of the history of the internet."

"I thought that was "Actual Cannibal Shia LeBeouf?"

Haldir looked between the two younger women, then back at his mate. "I don't know what that means."

"It's alright, meleth. Fiona won't be able to resist showing you at some point while you're here."

Said woman looked indignant. "I bet you that one day in the future some historian's going to come across that song and think that it was a memorial to an actual serial killer. Between that and Grumpycat, the people of this time have so much to be proud of," Fiona grinned.

Miles away from Burgess, hidden in the enchanted glades of her home, Toothiana's fairies were bustling around. Some made deposits of new teeth that had been collected, others were leaving to collect more teeth, and some still remained behind to properly organize the records. For the guardian of memories, however, her task was not about collecting new memories that day.

Toothiana had been buried in her alcoves of records, sorting through the time periods to pinpoint just when Jack had lived as a mortal. It had been simple enough from his last talk with her, but the difficult part was narrowing down the years of his life and lining it up with any young woman that fit his description. She had tried going through his own memories, only to come up short, as he had once told her. It was maddening, but she was determined to help her friend sort this mystery out. Toothiana had a feeling that she was getting closer, but with the description of a "dark haired teenage girl" to go on, she still had an enormous pile of records to sift through.

Chapter Text

"So that was the livestream," Morwen said, breaking the silence in the den. "It's not too late if y'all want to start watching the vlogs Ithilwen put up-"

"And what is a vee-log, exactly?" Haldir wasn't sure about these strange words in this modern world. In his opinion it made the Dark Speech sound wholesome.

"It's like the livestream we just watched, but it's recorded so that we can watch it over and over again. You can make a vlog about all sorts of things. Ithilwen's decided to make it a visual journal of all the places she has been on her trip, so in a way, those watching it are going along with her. Some made by other people that I've watched have been pretty interesting; as long as you have the materials to make the vlog and post it online, your options for subjects are really broad."

"I think Mr. Bilbo would have made a fascinating visual storyteller," Sam commented.

"For that matter any one of us could have been," Frodo added. It was true. In some strange way any one of the members of the Fellowship would have built a unique chain of vlogs had things been different. Very, very different.

Fiona looked around at the group of people in the den, and it suddenly hit her that each one of these individuals had been affected by the war in middle-earth in a big way. It was more than a bit intimidating to realize that she had been surrounded by people who were trained to kill on some level. Especially when the biggest thing she had ever killed had been a young black snake in the garage with a shovel.

'And now one of them is my dad,' she thought. 'I wonder if he'll want me to run drills or something? Would he teach me to fight with a sword if I asked?'

Legolas shifted in his seat, thinking over what he had just watched. Ithilwen was well, and as hard as she tried to hide it, he could see that she was still hurting. He wished that he could go and find her- "Where is Ithilwen now?"

"She said Anime Mid-Atlantic, but the hotel they're staying at could be anywhere." Fiona did a quick search to pull up the convention's official website. "It's...actually it's about two hours south of where we're at-"

"Then let us go get them!"

"-Hang on, dude!" Fiona hated to burst his bubble, but she had to tell him. "That two hour drive is roughly 106 miles! Plus, we don't even know where they're staying!"

"How far is that?" Arwen asked.

"About thirty-five leagues," Morwen answered. "It isn't that far a distance to travel, but like Fiona's said, we don't know their location. By the time we found where they were staying, the convention would likely be over and they would have returned home."

Haldir sighed, suddenly feeling like Legolas looked. "Then we must wait for them to return to us?"

"'Fraid so, melleth." She reached over and squeezed his arm gently. "You want to watch some of her vlogs tonight?"

He nodded silently, and Fiona began to click away on her laptop to bring up her sister's video channel. Haldir watched the young woman, studying his youngest child. She had shoulder-length blond hair with a tinge of red to it, and if one looked close enough they could see faint freckles that were scattered across her nose. Her eyes were blue, unlike the leafy-green that his mate's now were, though that was a matter to address another time. Fiona looked up from her device to see him watching her and gave him a lopsided grin, apparently not at all perturbed by his assessment.

"Whenever Ithilwen does a series of uploads, she puts them all in order in a playlist," Fiona said, motioning with her cursor on the screen. "If we don't watch all of them tonight, we can pick right back up where we left off. And here's the first one-"

Clicking the thumbnail, the page adjusted again to show a large box similar to the live stream, with the addition of the aforementioned list. In that large box sat Ithilwen in her car.

"Hey guys! It's been a while since I last did any vlog-like stuff...actually it feels like it's been forever since I uploaded anything. But what can ya do? Life. That's what happens. All the damned time..."

"Is this rambling a common occurrence?" Haldir asked.

"She does it when she's nervous," Morwen said, "I'm not surprised she's doing it. I talked to her over the phone as she was getting ready to leave and could tell by her voice. Ithilwen's gone out on her own before, but I think it had more to do with other things."

"So I actually planned this trip two days ago. The idea to record it came today from a friend, so you can thank him for these." In the video, Ithilwen twisted and pulled some things out of sight of the camera's view, but from the motion it was apparent that she was driving. "I just came out of the Food Lion with a bunch of stuff to eat on the way down to Texas - not all of it healthy I might add - but it'll be something better than those gas station hot dogs when I have to stop on the road. Have you ever tried those?" Her expression then became one of mock disgust and horror, making Fiona snort. "That's a gamble is all I'm saying!"

The video then proceeded to show edited clips of her journey through the southern states, usually accompanied by off-the-wall comments. It was clear that with the further the video played, the more relaxed she became talking to no one in particular. And Ithilwen would talk about anything. She had switched from talking about her plans to the weirdest landmarks she had seen in the state she was passing through.

"I swear she doesn't have an attention disorder," Morwen stated when she saw the questioning look Haldir had sent her.

Through more edited clips, Ithilwen had arrived in Texas. She was out of the car and carrying the camera in front of her as she walked down a corridor in a building they had learned was a hotel. "The first stop on my list is HauntCon, and for those that are unfamiliar with it, it's a gathering of big haunted house troops that changes its event location each year. It's a shame Fiona's not with me this year, cause I know my sister just loooves to go in haunted houses, and there's going to be some night tours that I'm really excited for-"

"Just for the record, that is a LIE! I hate haunted houses, and Ithilwen's the reason!"

"What did she do to make you hate them?" Elladan asked. "For that matter, why would one purposely go into a haunted house?"

"Entertainment," Esther answered, "It depends on the person that goes in about the entertainment, however." She had sent out her Cherub Bytes on many an occasion to the local haunted attractions in October, usually with surprising results. Despite the macho confidence that some men put on for their girlfriends, it was usually them that screamed when the costumed killer got them by surprise.

Fiona, on the other hand... "We went to this one place down in North Carolina years ago, called Kersey Valley Spookywoods. Every year they have a different theme to keep things fresh. Well, I don't remember what theme it was supposed to be, because when we were waiting to go in, some guy in creepy makeup appeared behind me to get my attention-"

Morwen held up her hands in a wide gesture. "She jumped this far off the ground without getting a running start," she laughed. "I thought for sure Ithilwen was going to we herself from laughing so hard."

"It's not that funny, Mom."

"It was."

"Okay, can we get back to the vlog please? Alright then." Fiona didn't hesitate to unpause the video, even though she could see the smiles of some others in the room from hearing the story. It wasn't the only time she had been spooked by one of her sister's hairbrained ideas, and if history was any indication, it wouldn't be the last.

Back on the video, Ithilwen was seen juggling her bags with the camera still in hand as she attempted to open the door. "Success! We're in! Ha ha!" With bags and camera still in hand, the door behind her was kicked shut, and the bumpiness of her steps was echoed once more as she walked further into the room. "There's a haunted tour tonight, but I've been driving for over twelve hours with maybe two stops, so I just want to get some sleep-"

"She is aware that she does not require sleep?" Thranduil questioned Morwen. Already he was looking at this elleth as more mortal-raised than elven, and the tone in his voice showed it.

Before Morwen could answer, Fiona spoke up rather quickly. Legolas thought it was rather brave considering his adar's nature, but she also wasn't familiar with him either. "I've seen Ithilwen stay up for days without much rest, sir. I think the reason she kept hitting the sheets so frequently was that she was looking for something she couldn't find when she was awake."

"You mean Legolas, right?" Pippin asked.

The strawberry blond nodded, smiling apologetically at the elf when she thought about what she said. "I really didn't mean for it to come out sounding dirty, but she really has been looking for you. Before Mom and I left to do our things I'd wake up to hear her in the kitchen mucking around in the middle of the night. Said she was trying to eat weird stuff so she could try and trigger a dream."

The video unpaused and the clips changed to the early morning hours with Ithilwen finger-combing her hair with her free hand. "It's morning," she yawned, "I'm kinda tired, but breakfast is just downstairs, so I'm gonna go eat and tonight I'll be going on the first haunted tour." What followed was a short montage of clips that showed some highlights of the hotel she was staying at, what she ate for breakfast, and brief glimpses of the designated convention halls. When it came back on to her face, it was night time once again, and she was walking along the corridors.

"I had an idea to get some footage of the stops on the haunt tours, but it fell through, so this vlog is going to be a lot shorter than some others. One," she held up a finger, "it's dark, and nothing translates good on camera in the dark. I've tried it before, so I should have known better. Two," another finger joined the first, "The attraction coordinators are really funny about their projects being recorded, so no pictures are even allowed. It makes sense, since they're still beta-testing." A noise from further down the corridor made her pause in her steps, then she continued on in a whisper. "It's after midnight and not everyone at the Sheraton is coming in from the haunted tour, so I need to be quiet.

The camera jiggled again as she made slow steps into a brisk walk back to her door. Once she got inside and shut the door, she spoke again. "Where was I? Oh yeah - three," and a third finger, "the workshops I signed up for may or may not let us have anything to remotely record on, but I can still tell you about what I did." Ithilwen blew a raspberry. "Some first vlog, huh? I can't even show you half of the things I'm doing for one reason or other. Anyway, the tour. Right. The first place we went to was called the Cutting Edge, and the premise was that it was a century-old meat packing plant. The machinery still inside was functional, only it was human bodies being processed!" She paused to make a mock-terrified face and added sound effects.

"This is entertainment?!" Aragorn remarked. "They should have taken the Dimholt like we did if they wanted entertainment!"

With his words, Gimli, Haldir, Glorfindel, and the twins shifted uncomfortably and exchanged quick glances. They quite vividly recalled not wanting to go in that particular place, and was secretly paranoid one of them would out the other four.

"So the entire thing took about an hour to get through, and man did it look realistic! I was really impressed. The prop bodies were hauled around on hooks and conveyor belts as we went through the plant, and it was kinda funny waving to some of least until one waved back and we found out it was an actor." She laughed at the memory. "The next stop was Hangman's House of Horrors. I found it pretty good, though the story was basic. No one's fault of course; it's just hard to write a truly original story without it sounding like something else to someone. So anyway the legend of the Hangman was about a serial killer called Hezekia Jones, who stalked a particular river out by the attraction and waited for victims to...well hang. Apparently a lynch mob had formed one October and got him at his game with his own rope. And like all horror movies, what happens?"

"What happens, Merry?"

"I don't know, Pip! Watch Miss Ithilwen and find out!"

"The killer is left by the protagonist- protagonists, 'scuse me -and hung by the rope overnight." She shrugged. "I guess they couldn't be bothered to cut him down? For whatever reason, he was left to hang there all night, and when the gravedigger came out to get him down and bury him, he found the noose empty. A legend had formed that it was that very noose that kept him alive, because it harbored the souls of his victims. Naturally," she grinned, "last year was the last of the procured souls, so he'd be looking for a new victim. And that's where I leave you tonight, lovelies! Tomorrow we get to get up and do it all over again!"

The video jumped again, and this time Ithilwen was outside walking. "It's the next day, and I've got about an hour before one of the workshops I signed up for starts. It's called, of all things, 'Makeup to Die For' and we're going to learn how to apply some really grotesque makeup. We were told that we could bring along a friend to bedazzle with blood, but I'm on my lonesome here so I'm going to make myself up."

If anyone had been hoping to see something from within the workshop, they were sadly let down, although the next piece of video that came up more than made up for it. Ithilwen sat in her hotel room looking as if something had exploded violently in front of her. Had Haldir not seen Ithilwen before this moment, he wouldn't have recognized his own daughter. Her hair was teased and in a wild mess. The makeup around her eyes was dark grays and greens, making the hollows of her eyes almost as sunken in as the contouring along her cheekbones. The lightest parts of the makeup all over the rest of her face had made her skin appear washed out and sickly, and it extended down her neck and across her collarbone. But the kicker to this look was the amount of blood that she had used, and Ithilwen had used it everywhere.

"I really hope that isn't the kind that stains," Fiona snickered.

"I highly doubt that," Morwen said. "These places don't settle for cheap quality makeup, and I imagine there's a good makeup remover to be found somewhere."

"Aren't I fabulous?" Ithilwen grinned, striking a pose in front of her camera. "Somebody call Vogue!"

Fiona's snickers turned into full-blown laughter when she heard someone shout "That is anything but fabulous! That's terrifying!"

"As you can see, the workshop was A LOT of fun. I've been going around the hotel afterwards asking the employees if there was something on my face-"

"She gets that from you." Haldir said as he looked pointedly at his mate, who only batted her lashes at him innocently.

"-and tonight is the costumed masquerade. The theme is the 'Texas Chainsaw Massacre', and I didn't plan to attend the masquerade initially, so I didn't bring anything specifically for it. However, I do have some plain pieces that I can put together to make a 70s slaughtered college student that should work. Now obviously I can't get video in there, but I will take some pictures and upload them to my photostream account if you're curious."

The video changed again, and this time it had Ithilwen sitting at a table in a large room with others. The tables were filled to the edges will all kinds of materials, and it was Esther that guessed that it was a workshop. The noise was dimmed enough to allow for Ithilwen to voice over this section. "This was the 'Create-a-Bust' workshop that took place the following day, and as you can see I'm halfway through making up my wig head. He's a standard foam male head, and I think I'm going to call him Bob. By the time this video's online, Bob has been finished and carefully packed away with my bags. I had so, so much fun working on him that I'm thinking about hitting the craft store when I get home to make some more. How about a Beetlejuice one? Wouldn't that be the coolest?"

"I don't know what that means." Arwen frowned. She wasn't sure why her youngest cousin would find enjoyment out of decorating a head. Maybe she'd have to see it in person to understand.

"It's one of her favorite movies," Morwen explained. "I think it was the only time she could tolerate Alec Baldwin, too."

"I don't know what that means," Haldir said.

"He's an ass." Was the response from Fiona.

The video jumped again, and Ithilwen was walking around her hotel room. When she turned past the windows, it was evident that she recorded this at night. "We just got back from the night's haunt tour, and this time there was only one. They call it Zombie Manor, and it's labeled as Fort Worth's most intense and terrifying haunted house experience. I think this one might have been my favorite out of all of them simply for the bizarre backstory. See, the "legend" if you will, begins back in the 1800s when a dude called Delacroix moved his family to this big manor house from Lousiana."

"There was also this servant named Bedula, who as a kid had extraordinary voodoo skills, and she ultimately became the household manager for Delacroix at seventeen. She managed the work of all the other servants Delacroix had hired and was even given her own private quarters in the manor. When she was older, she had fallen in love with the stableman, married him, and gave birth to a little girl they called Tamara."

"Now Tamara grew up to be very beautiful and free-spirited. Unfortunately, the now-geezer Delacroix also noticed, and like the dirty old man he was...expressed his...fascination with Tamara-"

"Ew! Ew! Ew!"Esther muttered under her breath. "I knew it was coming but ew!"

"-It's never explicitly said that he acted on his urges, but for the sake of arguments lets say he did, and she wasn't able to fight him off. Now whether or not it had happened, provided the story was factual, Bedula caught wind of the rumors. And she was PISSED. I can't say I'd blame her. I mean, you grow up working for someone you respect, and then turn around years later to find that he's disrespected your baby? Oh hell naw. That wouldn't fly at all!"

"Your daughter certainly has a...way with words," Thranduil commented. Her facial expressions that accompanied the story she was telling only added to her character, but that still didn't mean much to him.

"Anyway, Bedula decided that whether or not he defiled her daughter, he was going to pay for it. Two decades of repressed magic within her came out at once, and she placed a curse on Delacroix, asking for the backup of her ancestors to infect his curse with pure evil. This curse was meant to affect him and everything he owned, and this is where the story gets really weird. The crops that grew on the property wilted, the livestock would be found dead, and any visitors to the manor were stricken with the plague. And if you think that wasn't a pretty sight to behold, well the deceased remains that got up out of the ground weren't doing any favors to the property value either! They'd swarm the lands and house in hordes, and over time decay and nature would eventually conceal its existence from the rest of the world."

She paused to reach out behind the camera for her drink, taking a sip and setting it back. "When the story started I thought we were going into an old-world voodoo house, but the whole thing was like something out of the Walking Dead. Only you know, no CDC meltdown to tell us that you don't even have to be bit to get infected. So this last part of the story is probably the strangest, and I swear that I am telling it like we heard it. As it closes, some mysterious guy appeared on the remains of the property one day that was called 'The Caretaker', and he had some old wild-west dressed cronies that followed him like ducks. Wherever these undead were, the Caretaker and his tag team weren't far behind, and no one knew how or why the dead were even waking up. If you can call it that; personally if I had risen from the dead the first thing I'd do would be shower. So as I was saying - I swear I don't have ADD - there was no way of knowing when the virus that made them rise even appeared. Some rumors circulated that the old servant Bedula had something to do with it; others said there was something far more sinister at work."

"That's it?" Eowyn asked. "I thought the story would have a more satisfying ending."

"Don't ever watch The Village," Esther told the woman. "I thought Ithilwen would cook the rental DVD in the grill when we finished watching it."

"Finished, hell!" Fiona snorted. "She damn near yanked the DVD player open to get the disc out when we got to that stupid-ass twist!"

Faramir looked over to Morwen. "Is this story that bad?"

She nodded. "Very bad. It put us all of any of M. Night Shyamalans' movies."

"Despite the really bad cliffhanger in the backstory, the attraction really does deliver. It feels more like you're in a zombie environment than a house built in the 1800s with its social stigmas of the times. Still, it was a fun one, and if you're in Fort Worth come October you should really check this place out if you're into haunted houses."

There was some movement from Ithilwen's end, and the camera view became jumbled as she adjusted its new position on the same surface that her drink sat. "I've also decided to skip out on the rest of the convention tomorrow. I've done all I wanted to do here, and there's not much else that's holding my interest. So I'm going to go to bed, get up and get ready for the next stop on my trip. If you liked the video, let me know with a comment or something. Let's start a discussion: Do you like haunted houses? Are there any you'd recommend? Do you even like Halloween - tell me now! Or later, whenever you want! I'm exhausted so I'll see you tomorrow!"

The video went dark, and in place of it appeared various thumbnails that the houseguests learned led to other related videos. Fiona had turned on the autoplay feature so that she wouldn't have to hunt for the next button. It clicked to the next in the list, and when the video began Ithilwen was talking to someone off camera.

"You're not in view," she said, motioning with her hand for whoever it was to come closer. "You need to come sit over here."

Before the other person even came into the camera's view, everyone in the den knew who it was. Elrond felt his heart skip a beat as he saw his mate move to sit down by his niece. It had been a shock to see her appear in the livestream, but that didn't matter to his peace of mind. She was here, not in Valinor like she should have been. Why had she taken the journey to this world, when she had no knowledge that her sister and niece had been sent here? For that matter, why had the Valar allowed it?

"Hey guys! I'm down here in Waxahachie, Texas! Been here about a few days already, though there wasn't much I was doing besides resting up. You guys are in for a treat today; this is my Aunt Celebrian, and she happened to come into town about the same time I did. She's going to be traveling with me for the rest of the roadtrip, and she agreed to be a part of the vlogs too!" She looked over at Celebrian. "Go on," she whispered, "Say hi."

"Well met, internet companions of Ithilwen," Celebrian said.

Morwen slapped her forehead. "Oh my god."

"I think that's the first time I've ever heard viewers described like that," Esther commented.

"As my niece has informed me, that was not the proper greeting." Celebrian was still dressed in the gown that she had been wearing the day Ithilwen found her, so she hadn't been in the modern world long. Luckily, she had learned enough to lie through her teeth about her heritage on the internet in that short amount of time. "Do forgive me for my manner. I have been living in sabbatical for an extended period of time, and have not yet been acquainted with many of the luxuries the modern world provides."

"Well," Erestor looked to Elrond, "Lady Celebrian is not wrong."

"I am just thankful that she is not alone now. How long has it been since they were at...wherever it was that Ithilwen said?" Elrond wasn't about to attempt to pronounce Waxahachie.

"Ithilwen uploads her videos roughly the last night of her stay in one place or the next morning," Fiona told him. "I know that where she's going in this video takes place in April and May usually, so she could have met up with Aunt Celebrian only a couple of weeks ago."

"And she has changed her manner of speaking that quickly?"

"Your niece is an influence," Morwen said.

Elrond nodded, seeming satisfied with that comment.

"I never said it was a good thing!" His sister-in-law laughed.

Something was off. Ithilwen could feel it.

It was that same something that had been nagging at her ever since she crossed the border into her home-state, and whatever it was had only been getting more intense.

They had been attending various panels through the day, with the latest being one featuring Vic Mognogna, yet she couldn't tell anyone a word of what he said if they had asked. She had been too distracted trying to figure out why the chest pain she was experiencing wasn't going away, or why the accompanying headache had decided to join in the fun. It seemed like the only relief she got was either when she was asleep or when she held the livestream the night before.

'Maybe it was because I got to talk to Fiona again?' she thought to herself. 'I mean we haven't gotten to talk often enough since we've all been out doing separate things. It doesn't feel like homesickness though, but why do I feel the sudden urge to go home? No one's there. Nana and Fiona won't be home for at least another week.'

Ithilwen's thoughts were shaken along with the gentle shove from Celebrian, indicating that the panel had ended. She nodded, rising to her feet and collecting her bag, following the crowd out into the open area.

Then Celebrian had taken a firm grip on her arm and drug her off to the side of the hallway. "Do you mind telling me what is bothering you, penneth?"


"Something is wrong," Celebrian insisted, "I can see it as plain as day in your eyes."

Ithilwen let out a half-hearted laugh and shrugged her shoulders. "I wish I knew exactly. All I know is that I haven't felt right since we crossed the border, and the longer I'm here the worse it is."

Her aunt's eyebrows furrowed. "What ails you?"

"My chest hurts, like someone's punched me dead center. My head started hurting back there in the panel, though that may have been from the crowds-"

Celebrian was stumped. "Why have you not said something sooner?" The feeling of pain that her niece had described was very near the same ache she had once felt back in Valinor. 'I deeply desired to be with my family once again, however I do not understand what it could be that trouble her...'

"I didn't want to worry you," Ithilwen said meekly. "I've also been having these thoughts that there's something wrong in middle-earth. Like our guys didn't make it-"

"That is nonsense and you know it!" Celebrian whispered quickly. "Do not let your doubts consume you, Ithilwen. Your mind is only trying to work against you and make you believe the worst had happened. Listen to what your heart says."

Ithilwen sighed. "My heart's telling me that it doesn't want to be here anymore."

"Do you mean here? Or this world?"

"Both, but here specifically. There's just...not much that's keeping me distracted from this feeling here."

Celebrian took her arm gently within hers this time, leading Ithilwen back towards their hotel. "If you do not wish to remain here any longer, what is your desire then?"

'You mean besides my desire to see Legolas again?' "I'd like to finish my roadtrip. There's one more stop on the list. do you feel about camping?"

"We're here at the Scarborough Renaissance Festival!"

The majority of the video was of Ithilwen and Celebrian going around to various booths and events. Celebrian's change of dress was one of Ithilwen's simpler medieval gowns, while Ithilwen herself had chosen to wear Legolas' tunic with some dark gray leggings and boots. The elf in question was choosing to not say anything about her choice of dress, though Haldir kept shooting looks over at him as if he had ordered her to wear the tunic.

In the video for Scarborough, the staff at the festival were very much in character, never breaking stride even as they inquired from Celebrian about what the younger woman with the small box had in her hands did exactly. Haldir had been alarmed to see the giant turkey leg Ithilwen had gotten for lunch, while Gimli had roared with laughter.

"I see the lass likes to eat!"

"Yes! I told Ithilwen to go buy a turkey leg at least one time when she stopped for the renaissance faires!" Fiona looked pleased, at least. The one good thing Haldir could say for that moment was that she had a fork and knife in hand to cut it.

They had gone on to view a glassblowing demonstration before the scheduled jousting tournament, ending their visit. While everyone expected the video to stop there, it actually continued. Now they were sitting in Ithilwen's car, and the camera had been set up onto the dashboard to bring both of them into view.

"As you can see, we're on the road, but since you don't know where, I'll tell you - Greenwood, Louisiana-"

"Did I hear that right?" Tauriel asked.

"There is a place called Greenwood, yes," Morwen told her.

"-an interesting fact about Greenwood," Ithilwen continued, "This is just a small area of Shreveport, the third-largest city in the state. Did you know that the latest remake of 'The Town that Dreaded Sundown' was filmed in Shreveport? I haven't seen it so I don't know if it's any good, but typically reboots of movies suck the big one."

"Why are they bad?"

Ithilwen shrugged. "It depends. The writing can be terrible, or they cast actors that don't suit the roles. A lot of it has to do with the nostalgia of watching it the first time, and that sticks with you."

The video then transitioned to a montage of other clips Ithilwen had picked. They saw the view of the Red River from the bridge they crossed, the welcome sign at Bossier City, as well as other random pieces that she had deemed fascinating. It wasn't until they crossed from Mississippi into Alabama that a new musical selection had come up in the video.

"Really, Ithilwen?" Fiona asked the TV with exasperation.

"I don't understand," Glorfindel spoke. "Why do you sound frustrated, my lady?"

"Of all the music in the world she could choose from, my sister chose to put "Sweet Home Alabama" over the montage of them driving through Alabama!" Her hands covered her face, and though mumbled, the rest heard her say, "My sister is such a dork it's not even funny."

Chapter Text

"We just arrived in Georgia." Ithilwen was looking around her almost paranoid-like, while Celebrian could be seen sitting on one of the beds in their hotel room. "And down here they say a particular word differently than other parts of the South, so I could get into a heap of trouble for doing this-" The camera jiggled as she carried it out in front of her and onto the hotel room's balcony. The skies were a mix of oranges and blues, indicating that the sun had been setting when they arrived. She took a breath, and very loudly declared "Y'all are saying it wrong! It's not PEE-CAN it's PEA-CAHN!"

From down below, a voice shouted back, "Girl I know you're not about to start the second Civil War up in this place!" It was said with humor, and Ithilwen could be seen laughing and waving back to whomever it was that had responded to her odd criticism.

The next clip that came up in the video had both Ithilwen and Celebrian crammed into what they quickly learned was the bathroom of the lodgings they had selected. The older elleth was wearing the same gown she had worn to Scarborough, only this time she was weaving small braids through her hair, with its base to be hidden by the lush flower crown she had been given. Ithilwen's choice of clothes was more...out there. While most of the houseguests were unfamiliar with the concept of the modern pirate, they could at they very least admit her choice was interesting. A dark wide-brimmed hat with a long feather sat on the far edge of the counter while she curled her hair with the curling rod in hand. A gray off-shoulder blouse with long puffy sleeves was tied in places and tucked beneath the intricately designed corset that appeared to squeeze her natural assets even higher. Across her hips were a pair of leather belts and a worn and wrinkled scarf, more for decoration than holding up the black pants she was wearing. Her wrists were covered with a number of bangles that Fiona suspected she picked up at the bargain store just for this costume.

"Hey," she said to Legolas, "She wasn't kidding when she said that she's been wearing that ring you gave her!"

It was true, for there draped over her collarbone sat the mithril chain that strung the ring Miraear had sent to him in Lorien. Legolas couldn't explain it, but he found an odd satisfaction in knowing that she had been wearing it on her travels.

In the video, Ithilwen had slowly unrolled the last strand of hair from her curling iron, smiling as it produced the desired wave like the others. While Celebrian was finishing another braid, she had reached for her hat, carefully put it into place, and then began to strike an odd assortment of poses in the mirror. Since the camera was facing them from it's place on the counter, those watching could only see Celebrian burst out into laughter as she looked at the reflection of Ithilwen shimmying behind her with the expression of a drag-queen duck.

There was most definitely some laughter in the den, but Haldir could only look over at his mate as if to ask if this was their child. "You have much to catch up on, sweetheart," she had told him gently. Ithilwen was young, yes, but she had accumulated many years of experience at being a dork.

"Guess who we ran into today!" The camera had been on Ithilwen solely, until it panned out to show whom she was standing beside. It was a young man, with somewhat long and dark curly hair. He smiled uneasily at the camera with Ithilwen's arm around his shoulder, dressed in her costume for the festival. "It's my brother!" She said excitedly. "For those who don't know, this is Bernard, and he came down to visit Aunt Celebrian and me this morning! Go on and say hi, B."

"Hello, internet. How's the Game going?" A wail off camera from Ithilwen - and in the distance another person - had him grinning triumphantly. "I see we're still playing that one."

"Do you have any idea just how many you pissed off?" Ithilwen laughed, coming back into view.

"I don't understand, what is this game?" Sam asked.

"It's a running joke on the internet," Fiona told the hobbit. "It's a mind game where you try not to think about, well the game. If you do, you lose. For a while there people used to be bad to randomly interject it into conversations just to make everyone around them lose, because you automatically think about the game."

"This is another form of entertainment?"

"Eomer's got it," Esther said.

"I'll have to remember that one when we return home," Celebrian was heard saying.

Elrond didn't seem too happy about that. 'I know understand what Morwen had been referring to earlier. It seems my niece has made it a habit of unknowingly corrupting my mate.'

While the others were discussing the nature of The Game, Haldir took the time to study the young man in the paused video. This was Bernard, the ellon that Morwen had adopted, like Fiona. He appeared nice enough, and he seemed to get along well with Ithilwen. 'I wonder if he will have the same expectations that Fiona did,' he thought, glancing over at his other daughter. 'I knew the moment that Legolas told me of their existence that they were a part of the family. Perhaps he will be easier to convince that he is just as welcome; Morwen did say that he has taken on the older brother role seriously.'

Bernard's appearance in the vlogs didn't last long, as he claimed that he needed to return to work, but he had wanted to meet up with his sister for just a few brief hours. In that time they had gone to two department stores and stopped for breakfast. After Bernard had left, the ellith had continued on to the Georgia Renaissance festival.

Of all the shows that had been mentioned in the vlog, Ithilwen admitted that her personal favorite had been "Hey Nunnie Nunnie", while Celebrian was obligated to say "The Tortuga Twins" show, since she had been picked from the audience to stand in as Maid Marian. From what bits Ithilwen had been able to record, she had been a good sport about it.

"We're at Myrtle Beach for XCon! See, it ain't all renaissance faires on this trip! But first, we went down to the nearest Wal-Mart and kinda went a little nuts." In the background of the hotel room, a pile of plastic bags with a familiar blue logo stamped on them was in view. "You can't wear costumes the entire time you're on a roadtrip, and since I'm an idgit that didn't schedule time to wash the little bit of regular clothes I brought, we bought a few more sets to carry us through the last leg of the trip. I'm gonna have so much laundry to wash when I get home it ain't even funny..."

Ithilwen had picked the camera up from its stand and turned, bringing the focus on Celebrian, who was wearing a very different dress from what she had been seen in. It was white with accents of pinks, purples, and golds, trimmed in what appeared to be jewelry-like pieces and ornate armored shoulders. "Check out Aunt Celebrian! I was able to convince her to wear one of the cosplays I brought, and she chose Twilight Princess Zelda." Her attention now focused on her aunt, she said, "It fits you really well. Way better than it does me."

"Don't need the wig though," Celebrian had said, her speech patterns beginning to mimic Ithilwen's. "I have twice the amount of hair than the wig you styled for this does!" She had taken the camera from Ithilwen then, turning it and thoroughly scrambling any view of the hotel room in the process. When it stopped moving, the view was on Ithilwen, who was wearing-

"What. Is. That." Haldir ground out through gritted teeth.

"I think it's Catwoman?" Morwen said.

Fiona shook her head. "Nah, it's Black Cat, Mom. From Spiderman, remember?"

"Sorry, I never cared for Spiderman."

"Well Ithilwen only liked this character's design, so-"

"What is my daughter wearing?!"

Morwen knew this was not going over well with Haldir, even as she tried to explain to him that it was a costume. To be fair, the overly fluffy white collar that trimmed the front plunge of the body suit did hide a lot of her cleavage from view.

"I don't like it," he said stubbornly.

"I didn't figure you would," she sighed. "Ithilwen's an adult-"


"-And she's perfectly capable of defending herself if someone were to assault her. But these places are very well monitored, so there's security everywhere if there's a problem."

"I still don't like it," Haldir said after a moment's silence.

Morwen had to cover her mouth to muffle the words that came out next, but it was easy to see that she had been exasperated with him. No one dared to say anything else regarding the younger elleth's costume, even if it had been tempting to push the marchwarden's buttons. The video continued on to show them walking outside in costume, and in the background there were many others in their chosen costumes for the event. Ithilwen had been talking into the camera about a fashion show they had just left, occasionally stopping to wave at someone who had called her by her character's name. A few times they had even been stopped for pictures, which Haldir didn't approve of because of his daughter's state of dress. Things were going fine until one of the normally-dressed attendees had asked her to remove the mithril necklace before taking a picture, and Ithilwen got defensive very quickly.

"I'm sorry, but this was given to me by someone very important," she told him patiently, "It means a lot to me because it's his."

"So you've got your boyfriend's class ring. What's a minute of not wearing it so I can get a proper picture?" Clearly the attendee wasn't having any of it, and neither was Ithilwen.

"Because I said so!" was Ithilwen's response, and a few con-goers nearby had stopped to watch the scene. "The guy that gave this to me is on active duty and I don't know if I'll see him again anytime soon! If you have such a problem with my necklace, you can find yourself another cosplayer to pester!" Without waiting for a response, Ithilwen turned and walked off, with Celebrian muttering assurances to the other con-goers they passed as she continued to record her neice's retreating back.

Fiona looked over at Legolas. "I bet that makes you feel really good, huh?"

"If the red ears are anything to go by lass, I bet he is!"

Aragorn scratched his chin as he looked at the paused video. "I take it the story being told about you is that you are a modern warrior here?"

"I suppose so..."

"It is," Morwen confirmed. "There's many branches of military here in this country, and it seems like every month we hear on the news that more are being deployed. It's an easy enough story to tell without being really specific."

Back on the video, the clips had changed again, and Ithilwen's feathers still looked ruffled from that encounter. "Yes, the necklace doesn't go with the costume," she bitched, "but Legolas gave it to me and I'm not about to risk losing it for some mama's boy with the intelligence of a can of beans!"

Celebrian was heard laughing out loud at the rant, and then the clips changed again. From the change of clothes, it was the next day. They had been talking about a place called Wonder Works and the laser tag game that had been arranged specifically for convention attendees. Neither one was a winner in the round of laser tag they played, but they lasted longer than most others. Not much else in the video that Ithilwen spoke of was recordable. She talked about some of the zombie survival panels and about the Dealer's Room. Of anyone in the den that was watching the video, the hobbits were likely those close enough to understanding the inner workings of the Dealer's Room. Items were spread out across booths that looked like more modern versions of the stalls their kin had built to push their wares, and the crowds were just as busy.

The end of the video showed them once again in the hotel on their last day of the convention, going over everything they had done. "I think the best panels we saw were the zombie survival ones,' Ithilwen reflected thoughtfully.

"I think I could survive in a zombie apocalypse. I never would have guessed to use the items they described as weapons though."

"Well, just so long as you outrun your slowest friends, you're good. And if you can't outrun a zombie you really need to work on your cardio. I fear I have a disadvantage however," Ithilwen said, looking down at herself. "A girl can only run as fast as her boobs will allow her, you know?"

As the video ended in the same manner as the others, Morwen looked over at her mate. "Aren't you proud of your daughter?" she asked sweetly, knowing the expression she'd get in reply, and Haldir didn't let her down.

"Okay so this is a longer vlog," Fiona noticed how the allotted time on the next video had been doubled. "I don't see how. They just left a general convention in Myrtle Beach."

The video footage for Animazement was only a fraction of the total time in the vlog. It showed Celebrian and Ithilwen once more as Zelda and Black Cat, with some of the same types of clips that were recorded in XCon. However, the clips were cut off in a hurry, because in the next part both Celebrian and her were seen in the camera's view, giggling like young ellith.

"So we heard a rumor in the Dealer's Room that someone famous had made a guest appearance at this convention to do autographs, and we left in a hurry to go see if it was true." She was grinning widely as she still giggled. "It turns out...the rumors were right! We got to meet him, and he signed something special for me-"

"And we got pictures taken with him!"

"Yes, we did!" Whoever it was, Ithilwen had done a little dance of victory as they walked. "I really wish I could tell y'all who it was, but there's a chance someone I know will see this, and I don't want to ruin the surprise for them! So when I get home, I'll tell who it was, but not before!"

"Okay, now I want to know!" Fiona pouted. She made a mental note to check her sister's photo stream before going to bed, in the off chance she spilled the beans early.

The vlog continued on and they were seen in the car. "We decided to leave the convention early, if you couldn't tell by the bags shoved in the back seat, and we're heading out to the coast." Celebrian's hand came up behind the camera and turned it on it's spindle on the dashboard to show what they saw.

"This is Highway 12, and it takes us out to the Outer Banks," Ithilwen could be heard saying. "It is literally just one long two-lane highway, and the further out you get you can see water on either side of the road, which is a little unnerving. For those of you watching that have never been out this way, and either are or might be considering it, here's a tip: If for any reason you want fast food, get it before you get out here. Because we've passed signs that have literally said that they are the last fast food joints going in this direction! They ain't kidding!" She laughed.

The camera turned back to face them, and Celebrian's expression of horror spoke volumes of how much she had picked up from Ithilwen. "I got scared when I saw it, so we stopped and got chicken nuggets." From out of view her hand rose to hold up a large box of chicken nuggets, but her expression never changed.

"What part of a chicken do you get a nugget from?" Pippin asked. "It's not-"

"No! No!" Esther laughed. "It's the chicken breast, but it's been cut down into nugget-sized pieces." She cut Fiona off before she could interject, saying, "Do not get me started on that pink-slime rumor, Fi. I've seen you gorge on a 12-piece just the other month!"

"Gorge?" Morwen raised her brow.

"I was hungry and I didn't eat breakfast!"

"So you eat McDonalds?"

"It was the first place I saw!"

"Just admit you went for the fries."

"...Fine, I went for the fries and stayed for the nuggets."

Esther's face contorted at Fiona's statement. "That sounds like the tag line for a bad porno or something."

"A sad one too, considering both are small- So yeah let's get back to that vlog, shall we?" Fiona had to quickly change the subject. Not only were she and Esther getting odd looks from the houseguests, but her new father-figure didn't look thrilled with the subject either.

"We're here at the Graveyard of the Atlantic Museum," Ithilwen was heard saying as she and Celebrian were standing before a rather plain-looking building. "The museums' name isn't meant to be a cryptic title; this particular stretch of the Atlantic coast is actually referred to as a marine graveyard because of its composition. Ships that weren't familiar with the waters around here were caught unaware by the hidden rocks along the shoreline, and they would gut the hulls of even the most armed ships designed for combat."

"Not to underscore the history of the pieces on display inside, but wasn't it rather empty?"

Ithilwen shrugged. "The website says that it is more often than not swapping out its exhibitions so that more areas can be covered, but still. You guys, it took us maybe half an hour tops to look at everything. I'm not saying it was wonderful, but it does give you some insight into pieces of history you probably won't cover in your textbooks in school." She struck a pose, pointing off into the distance. "Off to the next place on our list!"

The video switched again, and this time it showed the ellith exiting Ithilwen's car. "Y'all in in for a treat today," she said as she shut her door and joined Celebrian, who was looking off in the distance in awe. "We just arrived at the Cape Hatteras Lighthouse." The camera was turned in the opposite direction, and everyone in the den was able to see the structure Ithilwen had mentioned. It was enormous, with wide black stripes wrapping upwards, and its base was fitted with bright red brick. Crowds were gathered already, some in small clusters to take pictures, while a long line had begun to form at the base of the lighthouse.

"This is the world's tallest brick lighthouse, stretching to two-hundred and eight feet tall," Ithilwen explained to the camera as they walked forward. "What we're looking at is actually the second one to serve the island; the first was only ninety feet tall, but since it wasn't working out, they added on another sixty feet and painted the bottom red some decades later. Then the storms came and tore that up, so they just said 'Screw it, we'll rebuild it from scratch' and we have this one. I know some of y'all that watch these videos are pretty young, so you may not remember this, but back in 1999 it was decided to move the lighthouse back almost three thousand feet from its former position."

"How did they manage that?!"

"Very, very carefully. I remember watching them move it on the news; it was really slow going, and took almost a month to move it and its surrounding buildings."

"Was it falling apart?"

"It would have fallen into the ocean if they hadn't moved it. Too many years of hurricanes coming up the coast had worn away the shore right in front of it, and since it's so big..." The camera turned back around quickly to show a maniacal-looking Ithilwen with Celebrian behind her shoulder. "We'll be back shortly; we're gonna go climb the lighthouse!"

The video jumped again, and this time Fiona had to adjust the volume as the sound of wind hitting the camera's microphone became intense. Her sister had come into focus just as another gust of wind had tossed her hair into her face. With her free hand, Ithilwen pulled her hair back out of her eyes. From the looks of things, Celebrian had twisted her long hair up into one hand and pulled the mass over her shoulder.

"Sorry for the quality right here guys, but as you can see it's hella windy at the top of the lighthouse. Found out from one of the guys that works here that we just climbed two hundred and fifty-seven steps to reach the top - or well the part that's accessible to the public." The camera tilted up slightly behind her. "See, up there behind my head is where the lantern sits, and only authorized personnel are allowed to go in there. Now we're going to do something cool, and hopefully I don't turn loose of my camera-"

"Seeing as how she used it for the live stream we know it went well," Fiona muttered.

The camera was turned again and Ithilwen let the view pan slowly out across the landscape. "Isn't that just amazing?" she said. "If you look out this way you can still see the path it took from where it was moved, and just past that's the ocean. Now, for the one I know y'all are waiting for-" Ithilwen must have had a strong grip on the camera as she stepped up to the railing of the lighthouse, because just watching the camera's view of the landscape shift from across to straight down the side made a few stomachs turn.

"I kinda want to drop a super-bounce ball off the side to see if it would bounce when it hit the ground, or if it would just impale itself," Ithilwen said offhandedly, adding, "I swear I'm not gonna do it! I don't even have one on me, and there's too great a risk of someone walking under it if I did."

Celebrian couldn't help herself. "That would be a splitting headache."

"Okay yeah, we have to get you out of this high altitude, Aunt Celebrian. You've become cornier than me."

"I'm not the one that said 'On your left' to each person we passed on the way up!"

"What?" Elladan looked over at Fiona when he heard her hand smack her face.

"It's a running joke from a movie," was all she said. "One guy gets his jollies by passing his buddy on his left on a morning jog."

Glorfindel seemed to find it amusing. "I'll have to remember that one for when I run my group through their rounds."

"Is it worth the risk?" Erestor asked. "You have died once already."

"Who would be brave enough to take on me?"

"Me if you keep rearranging the books in the library!"

"Guys, the video." Morwen tried to nudge their attention back to the screen.

The video changed again to show them in the next day's attire. Ithilwen was wearing Legolas' tunic over a sleeveless shirt and jeans, while Celebrian had changed into one of her newly-bought maxi dresses. They were swaying slightly as they stood by the car, which didn't quite make sense. "Today we're going to Ocracoke Island to see its lighthouse, but we have to take a ferry over, and it's pretty cool because you actually drive your car onto the ferry!" The wind was not nearly as bad as it had been at the top of the lighthouse, but it did blow loose strands of hair around their faces. The clips afterwards showed them handing out along the edge of the ferry, waving to passengers on the returning ferry some distance away. Then they had gotten back in the car as the ferry reached the island, driving off and back onto the roads.

"Okay so we can see the top of the lighthouse," Ithilwen sounded frustrated as she sat behind the wheel. The sunglasses over her eyes didn't allow anyone to see otherwise. "The problem is we can't FIND where it is, and I've been circling this road for almost twenty minutes!"

"See our problem?" Celebrian had tilted the camera to show the very smidge of the top of a white lighthouse just peeking beyond the trees. As she turned the camera back to face them, her expression turned to one of shock and she shouted, "THERE!"


"There! Right there, Ithilwen! The sign!"

Ithilwen must not have known what Celebrian had been shouting about at first, but she did pull the car over when she could park. They both got out of the car, Celebrian making a hasty grab for the camera and turning it into a vacation version of the Blair Witch Project as she hurried across the road with Ithilwen to look at the sign.

"The hell?" Ithilwen muttered, lowering her sunglasses to get a better look at the sign. "IT'S IN SOMEONE'S FREAKING BACKYARD?!"

Morwen had let out a bark of laughter at her daughter's exclamation, as did many others in the den. She had sounded so frustrated that they couldn't locate the structure, that to find it at last - coupled with her reaction - was hilarious.

When the camera came back on Ithilwen, she was looking none too pleased as they walked down the stretch of boardwalk set up to the lighthouse. "Thanks to Aunt Celebrian, we finally found the lighthouse. Fun fact," she said with no hint of amusement in her voice, "This is one of the oldest lighthouses still in active service in this country. No one's allowed to go inside except for maintenance, because when it was initially built it had wooden steps, but when they succumbed to rot they were replaced with a wiry one. It's also a frigging midget."

"Basically you can only take pictures outside of this one."

"Right. I still don't see how a ship can even see the light from this thing, but anyways. We've got one last stop before we head back to Hatteras Island."

The last place they visited looked like a simple structure, painted in bright red wood and trimmed in white with a long ramp in the front set up with white railing. Ithilwen and Celebrian were standing on either side of a bizarre looking cutout that was missing its face. "We're at Teach's Hole, the museum on Ocracoke Island dedicated entirely to Blackbeard the pirate!"

As they went inside and looked around, Ithilwen explained what she knew from her history classes as she pointed out things. "His legal name on record was Edward Teach, and part of the reason they called him Blackbeard was for his appearance." The camera focused in on a life-size statue of what historians assumed he looked like based on what evidence they had. "He was a huge dude who went all Martha Stewart and laced his beard with lit incense or something that made enough smoke to make his enemies think him the devil. How he got into piracy is debatable by the sources you read, but most of them can agree on how he died at least."

The camera then was shown a flash of some old documents framed with pieces of artifacts on display. "See, there was some drama involving the Governor of North Carolina and Blackbeard and the people. They felt that their governor was enforcing piracy, even though at the time Blackbeard had accepted the King of England's pardon for piracy. Just before that, he had run his beloved ship, Queen Anne's Revenge, aground in the Beaufort Inlet, sending the treasure off in another ship as a decoy. The way I read it, it was a ploy to throw his entire crew under the bus so that he could make it on his own. However, the governor or Virginia sent down a fleet of men to capture Blackbeard, and at the helm was Lieutenant Maynard. It was between him and Blackbeard on his ship at the Ocracoke Inlet that fated morning. Blackbeard took twenty sword wounds and five gunshots before he finally died. Maynard ordered his head cut off and tied to the bowsprit before they returned home."

"Isn't that overkill?"

"If you believe the myth that Blackbeard's body swam the circumference of the boat three times before sinking, then no." Ithilwen laughed. "He wasn't an easy sumbitch to kill, so his death really did end the golden era of piracy." The clips changed again and this time they were back outside of the museum, heading to their car. "So that's the Teach's Hole. I'm sorry to cut it short here guys, but the ferry runs on a schedule and we have to get the next one back to Hatteras or we'll be sleeping in the car tonight. Leave a like if you enjoyed the video, or just comment down below letting me know your favorite part. We'll see you guys next time, bye!"

Fiona paused the video right as it stopped. It had reached the end of the playlist, and Ithilwen wouldn't have her next installment ready until the next day.

"Did they ever find the treasure?" Gimli asked.

"Nope," Esther told him. "It's been a mystery of if there's even something to look for. Though, they did just find another canon from the Queen Anne's Revenge not far from where it sank. It's spent centuries under water, so the recovery is a really delicate process."

"Sort of like the Titanic but not," Fiona joked.

"That one can't even be lifted," Esther countered.

"Why not?" Celeborn asked. "Your mortals are advanced enough to locate these structures, surely they can lift them from their resting places."

Morwen shook her head. "This ship is so big that when it sank, it split in half before it reached the ocean floor. It's too old and too far down for anyone to safely reach without a lot of equipment. But that's just the tip of the iceberg...okay bad pun but basically there's a lot of sunken ships in this world's history!"

Thranduil looked down his nose at the television. "Elven-built ships do not sink."

"No, but they will burn if you set fire to them," Galadriel grinned. "Was that too soon?"

Miraear laughed, at least. "Everything is too soon for my husband."

Morwen stretched in her seat. "Let's just put the past behind us, okay? No talk about old bad blood or kinslayings please?"

"Your naneth brought it up-"

"I meant in jest-"

"Nothing about that is meant to be in jest-"

"Guys!" Fiona shouted, getting the attention of everyone in the den. "Sorry," she mumbled to Esther as the guardian wiggled her finger in her ear, pulling a face. "It's late, so why don't we just get ready for bed?"

"A good idea," Tauriel nodded, giving her adar a look. She knew the young woman wasn't aware of the age-old mistrust between her adar and the woman's grandparents, and she didn't want to give her a front-row seat to the mayhem that night. It was more something that was meant to be eased into slowly.

Miraear had murmured something into Thranduil's ear that he agreed with, and slowly they rose to exit the den. She had bade everyone a goodnight for the both as they left, and soon enough, the others were following suit. As Tauriel was being led away by Fiona, Esther turned to the remaining elves in the den.

"I owe you something," Morwen whispered, stepping up to envelope the guardian in her arms. "Thank you so much for bringing everyone here. I'll never be able to repay you for this, Esther."

"How did you know?" She glanced over to the marchwarden, but he had shaken his head as if he knew her thoughts.

"No one else could have created magic like that this side of middle-earth," Morwen replied, cupping her cheeks. "You have a wonderful ability, Esther. Do not forget that."

Esther smiled, glad to have been able to do something right. "Thank you, Morwen. I've got to head back to the office for a minute before I go home, so I'll say goodnight." She waved back as Haldir moved to stand beside Morwen, offering her the customary farewell as she disappeared into the mix of glitter and dust of her magic.

Chapter Text

"If you wanted to upload the video, we could have rented a proper room," Celebrian commented, watching her niece fight with her laptop.

It had been a spur of the moment thing for them to check out of the hotel Ithilwen had selected for Anime Mid-Atlantic, leaving early to make reservations at the Shenandoah Valley Campgrounds for the last festival on her road trip list. Celebrian had been enthusiastic about camping, even with the modern equipment and the struggle to set up the tent. They had arrived early enough to make themselves comfortable and allow Ithilwen the ability to use the free wifi on site to upload her last few vlogs. She knew the younger elleth had been erratic in her behavior the last few days, but it was more evident the closer they reached her home, and neither could understand why. Celebrian had picked up on something exciting in the air, but she could only assume it was due to the renaissance festival they had attended.

"Because," Ithilwen groaned, slumping in her foldout chair, "This is the last of the videos, and the outdoors is doing me some good."

"Are you sure about that?"

"I'm fine," she ground out through her teeth. The slow upload speed was beginning to grate on her nerves. Truthfully, she was feeling better since she got away from the city. The calmness of being in the woods, or even just driving into the small town down the road was comforting to her mind. She still knew she had to get home, but she was determined to stay another day for the renaissance faire, even if she wouldn't record any of it. 'There's no reason to get my underwear in a bunch trying to get back home when I know damn well no one's there.'

The space between the two ellith was silent for a few minutes, aside from the occasional sigh from Ithilwen. Celebrian sat back in her chair and watched her chew her lip as she stared at the screen as if she could will it to go faster.

"Do you think what you're feeling has something to do with Legolas?" she asked suddenly.

Ithilwen shrugged, and sighed again. "I don't...know, to be honest. I desperately want it to be, but I know I'm getting my hopes up."

"And why do you think that?"

"Because nothing good happens to me?" Ithilwen's gaze changed from the screen to the sky above. "I had a mortal boy court me earlier this year, only for it to end in disaster because he was a complete tool. That started out alright and just went downhill real quick. Just before I met him I met Legolas. We became friends even quicker than my relationship burned up, and then all of a sudden we lose contact with each other. He told me in the last meeting that he would be going with Aragorn to the Black Gate, and that's it. I haven't felt anything from him or seen him in my dreams since."

"And you think these few instances make you unlucky? My dear girl, surely you recall why I sailed to Valinor!" Celebrian laughed. "I can assure you that what you've experienced is simply a part of life. Good things happen just as often as bad things do. You learn from the bad experiences and appreciate the good ones." She leaned forward in her chair and reached out for Ithilwen's closest hand. "Now listen to me well, penneth. I cannot tell you for certain that what you are feeling is this or that, but I can tell you that you should trust your instincts. Are they telling you this feeling is good, or bad?"

"It...good, I guess."

"No guessing."

"Okay, fine. I can't say it's good or bad. It's...anticipation? It's like there's something waiting for me and I need to get home soon to find out what it is."

Haldir woke up in an unfamiliar bed the next morning, and had he not felt his mate in his arms he would have been greatly concerned. Everything from the previous day came back to him, and he pulled her tighter in his embrace, thanking the Valar above that he was with her once more. 'All that is missing are my other children,' he thought to himself. Ithilwen was on her trip, and he wasn't sure where Bernard was. Morwen had tried to explain that he spent much of his time working at a place called the North Pole, but the details only confused him.

The previous night had been fruitful in many ways as well. Not only had he seen his first daughter, he had learned some about her interests and mannerisms based on the videos they watched. Haldir had met his second daughter and come to find that she had been anxious to meet him all along. And even later that night, he had taken Morwen in his arms and shown her just how much she was missed.

"Good morning, Haldir," Morwen had whispered, breaking him from his thoughts. She turned in his arms, placing a light kiss on the end of his nose. "Did you sleep well?"

"The best I have since you were taken from me," he replied. His fingers traced paths through the tangled hair of his wife. "What is to be done today?"

"Mm," she hummed. "Well, today we get you all acquainted with the modern stuff so you feel more comfortable living here. But right now? I have to get up to pee," she laughed, struggling when his arms tightened around her waist. "Let me go! I really need to go!"

"And what will I do without you?" he asked jokingly.

Once she was loose, Morwen sat at the edge of her - no, their - bed and looked at him. "Fiona should be awake," she said. "You could go downstairs and get to know her. I think you both would like that. Just get dressed first. I don't mind seeing your bare behind, but modesty in this world among mortals is greatly cherished. And I don't think you want you children to see you naked."

"Of course not," he said, rising to pull on a fresh tunic and leggings. Morwen had scuttled off to the bathroom, but he knew she heard him.

Haldir skipped putting the boots on for once, choosing to go barefoot. It was an odd experience for him, because he was used to being on the run, ready to swap out at the patrols. But now he was in a foreign land and entirely different world, where there were no patrolling schedules for each area. Here he was able to actually relax, a daunting concept in itself.

He found Fiona in the dining room, sitting at the large table by herself, with a small rectangular device in her hands. She had been so caught up in what was on it that she didn't see him approach the table until he stood across from her. She jumped slightly, not expecting to see anyone else. "G'morning...Dad," Fiona said, nearly slipping up and calling him by name instead. "Sorry, I almost called you Haldir. Do you...want to sit down?" She offered one of the chairs nearby her, not expecting him to sit beside her.

On the contrary, Haldir did in fact choose to sit beside Fiona, which made the woman feel pretty good. "A good morning to you as well, Fiona," Haldir said. "Are you the only one awake at this hour?" It wasn't the best conversation starter, but it was a legit question.

"I think I heard some bumping and thumping from some of the bedrooms down here," she said. "Tauriel's awake and taking a bath in the studio bathroom. I've just been sitting here playing Tsum Tsum." She held up the rectangular device. "What about you? I thought you'd know...upstairs with Mom. I mean it's been a long time since y'all saw each other; I didn't figure she'd let you out of her sight."

Haldir couldn't help by smile at the humor in Fiona's statement. "Your...mother is currently using the facilities as well," he said, opting to omit her exact words.

"Mom had to pee. Got it," she grinned, tapping at the screen on the device, holding it over to him. "You want to try something addictive?"

"What do you do?" Haldir had taken the device gently, noticing how thin it was, fearing it would break under his strength. The screen displayed bright colors and odd little creatures in a pile at the bottom; he detected five different types at most.

"It's called Disney TsumTsum," Fiona explained. "You see those little head-like things? You connect three or more that are close together by dragging your finger across the screen. They'll pop and more will appear, so you keep doing that until you run out of time. It's got other special bubbles and effects that will give you a higher score or combo you can use too, but it's really just about beating your friends' high scores."

Haldir stared back down at the game. "It appears simple enough."

"I got to warn you though, it's really addictive."

Haldir wasn't so sure how a simple match-three popping game could consume one's time, especially since the game only allotted one five measly lives. Fiona tapped the start button for him, and the game began.

Miraear was tying the cords on the back of her dress as she heard Thranduil move around the bathroom and mutter in Sindarin. He had woken having to relieve himself, and from the sounds of things, he was having difficulty with the modern amenities. "Have you tried that little handle?" she called to him. "It does resemble the chained handles at home, after all. Perhaps it functions the same?"

Her husband didn't respond, but from the loud swooshing and the string of swears that followed, he had figured it out. Thranduil came out of the bathroom looking slightly alarmed at the force of the modern plumbing.

"You could have just asked for help, you know." Miraear couldn't contain her smile of sympathy as she turned to face him. "No one is going to fault you for not knowing something in this world."

"I will not be bested by a plumbing device," he said stubbornly, crossing his arms. "Celeborn's child will not get amusement at my expense."

"Her name is Morwen, and you might want to start using it. Don't let your opinion of the adar affect your manners with the child or the grandchildren. We're guests in their home, so be on your best behavior please?"

"I am on my best behavior. It is Celeborn that does not agree with my level of thinking."

"Melleth, sometimes I don't agree with your level of thinking." Miraear kissed him quickly on the lips and pried his arms apart, looping on of hers through the crook of his elbow. "Now can we go interact with the rest of the household, or do you wish to start a battle with the bathing quarters again?"

As they made for the door, Thranduil tried to get the last word in. "Some days I wonder how I deal with you, woman."

"I ask myself that very question about you," she quipped back.

The sounds of the household coming alive would take Morwen some time to get used to. Even with the three of them at home at once, she and the girls could only make so much noise. It was a welcome change, moreso now that her family was together. 'Almost together,' she reminded herself as she turned into the dining room. Haldir was sitting at the table with Fiona, holding her tablet while Fiona was directing him on which moves to make excitedly. "What have you done to your adar?"

"I got him hooked on TsumTsum," she said without remorse.

"I am not hooked, as she puts it," Haldir said, not looking up from the tablet, "I am simply learning."

Morwen had to bite back a reply when she heard him ask Fiona if she'd be willing to allow him another round of the "bubble heads", and turned to the kitchen. It had been a long time since she had made breakfast for a relative army, and she had some work to do.

"Do you want any help Mom?"

"You get your ada hooked on TsumTsum and you're going to desert him to it's depths? I'm alright this morning. You just keep at what you're doing." She had been scouring the fridge and cabinets as she talked, noting that there was not a lot of food for one solid breakfast, but she could make a variety on what she did have. Pancakes seemed to be the quickest batter to mix up, and she could get those started as the sausage links and bacon were thawing. "On second thought," she added, "If you want to mix up some biscuit dough that would be great."

Fiona got up to comply with her mom's request as more of the household began to wander into the dining room. 'Oh yes, this is gonna take some getting used to,' she thought, sending a smile to Tauriel as she came through the kitchen. The new roommate arrangement was pretty cool. Tauriel was pretty reserved in her manner, unlike some of her old friends from school during sleepovers. Where they had always wanted to be in the other's business, Tauriel understood boundaries, but Fiona suspected that might change the more they got to know the other. The redhaired elleth had no issues sharing the large bed in Fiona's studio either, which was a plus because Fiona had disassembled the "prop bed" to make more room in the studio. All in all, she had a good feeling that Legolas' sister would make a good friend.

Now Legolas on the other hand...Fiona was still trying to come to grips with actually seeing the elf her sister had talked about for months. He was a lot bigger than Ithilwen's drawing gave him credit for, and to imagine her sister standing next to him was bizarre. He had come into the dining room with the dwarf and they sat together at the table with Haldir.

She kept stealing glances over her shoulder as she mixed the dough together, watching as more and more filed around the dining table like lost ducks. 'I guess they would be,' she realized, 'They really have no idea how this world functions.' Fiona took the dough out of the bowl and laid it across the counter, sprinkled flour onto her rolling pin, and began to roll out the dough to the proper thickness. She tried not to grimace as she felt the telltale signs of sinus pressure begin behind her eyes and move down the bridge of her nose. 'It never fails. I go off to work, come home, and damn it if my sinuses don't screw up!' She wasn't going to let them get the best of her that morning.

Things would have been fine if Morwen hadn't noticed. "Fi, you alright? Your face looks a little puffy."

"I'm fine," she had said, yet it suddenly came out as "Ah'm fined". Fiona's shoulders slumped as she tried to say it again. "Sinuses," she said roughly, going back to cutting out the biscuits.

"It doesn't sound like you can breathe well," Morwen frowned. "Do you have any allergy medicine?"

Fiona shook her head. "Rand owt." She had tried to inhale through her nose, and while Morwen tried her best not to laugh, it was incredibly hard when the younger woman made a wheezing noise. "Awh'll bee fined," she tried to say. "Dammwit! Dis suhks!"

"What ails you, my lady?" A gentle voice from behind her asked. When Fiona turned to give the male a piece of her mind, she noticed that it was one of the younger-looking dark haired elves. Instead of his expressionless face was one of concern as he studied her features.

Fiona laid the biscuit she had cut from the dough onto the cookie sheet and turned back to the ellon, dusting the extra flour from her hands. She motioned to her face, pointing out with flour-covered fingers where it hurt the most. "Mhy nose is duffed uhp," she tried to say. "Mhy face hurdts doo."

"It's her sinuses," Morwen explained to her nephew, "When she's going from a very dry climate to a humid one, it does a number on her. She gets bad sinus pressure and she can't breathe properly."

The ellon turned to Fiona and held a hand out to her. "If you will allow me, my lady, I can remedy your unfortunate circumstances?"

The younger woman looked back to Morwen, who nudged her to go, already taking the first tray of biscuits to put in the oven. Fiona looked back to the ellon's hand, and placing her own in it, she was gently led out of the kitchen and down the hallway. All the while, she had been trying to recall the name of this elf, but her foggy mind was having trouble remembering which twin it was. 'At this point, I don't care,' she thought miserably. 'If he can clear this up, I'll owe him my life!'

From the hallway, the dark haired ellon had led Fiona into the guest room he shared with his brother. She stood at the doorway awkwardly as he went to search his packs, pulling out small items and placing them on the bed. He had some sort of plant that he had ground up into a powder, which was added to the cup of water he asked her to collect from the bathroom. Fiona watched as he swirled the contents of the cup in his hand before he nodded in satisfaction, passing it to her. "If you will drink this, my lady," he instructed.

Normally Fiona would have been against drinking anything she wasn't familiar with, most of all given to her by someone she barely knew. 'Nothing about this is normal,' she thought, accepting the cup and downing its liquid. It had a peculiar medicinal taste to it that made her shiver. She felt his hands take the cup back before she felt those same hands gently touch either side of her face.

"There is one more thing I would like to do," he told her softly. "There is a pressure spot that will relieve you of the pressure you feel elsewhere. I am a practiced healer, and in no way is it my intentions to hurt you. Thus, if you feel discomfort, please inform me."

Fiona nodded very slightly, fearing if she overdid it she'd throw up what she just drank. The ellon's fingertips traced the sides of her face with the lightest touch as they came to rest at a spot just above her ears. She felt his thumbs move into the spot where his fingers had been, followed by a little pressure. It wasn't terrible; in actuality it was like a massage for her skull, but just as soon as she felt the pressure he had placed there, it was gone.

"Take a deep breath," he instructed.

"I'm not so sure about-" Fiona's eyes widened as she looked up at the ellon in surprise. "I...I can speak English again!" She inhaled through her nose. "And I can smell! Oh dang, Mom's cooking bacon this morning!"

The ellon chuckled, seeming content with the response to his treatment. "It pleases me to hear that you are satisfied."

"More than," she said, turning back to him. "I owe you big time, er...please don't get mad at me if I get your name's Elladan, right?"

"That is correct, my lady," Elladan told her. He extended his arm to her, and after she had accepted, began to escort her back to the kitchen.

"Well thank you, Elladan," Fiona smiled up at him. "You truly don't know how grateful I am for your help. Modern medicine will only work for so long before you build a tolerance to it. And uh, if it's okay with you, you don't have to call me 'my lady'."

"The herbs I ground for your water will help stave off any future maladies of the sort, though the pressure spot treatment may only be temporary. If you require it again, you have only to ask. And," he added as they stopped outside the kitchen, "Fiona, it is very easy to tell me apart from my brother."

"How's that?"

"Because I am the handsome one," Elladan said with a wink as she returned to her task, laughing. So maybe getting to know all of these new people wouldn't be so bad after all.

"What's this?"

"It's a stereo."

"Oh. What's it do?"

Fiona's cheeks puffed out as she sucked in a breath, trying to find a way to explain the mechanics of the device to the hobbits. Pippin had no problems asking the questions the other three were too shy to ask, and while she didn't mind answering them, wording it easily was difficult. "Okay," she began, laying a hand on the top of the stereo, "You guys have bands that play music, right?"

"It's mostly a group of other hobbits that come together and play," Sam told her.

"Well, here we call that a band, and if it's really big and fancy an orchestra. This thing here can also play music. It doesn't have any people in it," she added as she made some adjustments to the system, "but there's a few different ways to play music. This little box here is the cassette player, which plays a little rectangular box with a thread on it that will break very easily. Over here is the compact disc player, which is like the first one but more...advanced? You have these discs that it reads to play the music. Now this big thing on top is the record player. It looks like the compact discs, but is much older and bigger. This spindle will run over the record and play the music that way. Finally," she reached down to press the on button, "there's the radio."

Even though the volume had been turned down significantly, the large speakers still filled the room with sound, making the hobbits and everyone else nearby jump in surprise. Fiona was quick to lower the volume even more, thinking the sound was hard on the ears.

"That's the ray-dee-oh?" Merry asked. "What is that sound?"

"That's the music," Fiona smiled. "See the radio is different than the rest of the stereo in that it picks up signals from other places and plays it through the speakers. And that sound is the Red Hot Chili Peppers. They're a band."

Eomer, who had been looking at the nearby bookcase, had to comment. "Surely that is a jest."

Fiona grinned at him. "'Fraid not, Eomer. They're actually not the strangest group name that's been made though."

"You mean that there are more people who label themselves after foods?"

"Oh all kinds of things! There's The Doors, Nine Inch Nails, The Carpenters, The Band, The Smashing Pumpkins, The Rolling Stones...oh I know there's more! Me and Ithilwen looked them up online once; most of them we had never heard of, and they were mostly variations on dirty words. I'll have to ask her and see if she remembers any more of them when she gets home."

Faramir, having overheard the conversation, came to stand by his brother-in-law. "Are we sure these are the names of musical talent, or is the Lady Fiona having a go at our expense?"

"She seems rather sincere in the names," Eomer whispered back. She had turned back to show the hobbits something else around the stereo, but he didn't want her to think he was insulting her. "Things are far more different in this world than any of us ever expected. It might be best to simply follow along and attempt to make sense of it."

"Morwen," Elrond called, "what is the significance of this display?"

The elleth came over to see that Elrond, Haldir, Erestor, and Legolas were looking at the large display case set against the wall in the living room. It had originally been placed in the den, and then the introduction of motion video gaming had come out, and so had the display case. Nearby she saw Thranduil and Miraear looking out the window, but she had a funny feeling Thranduil was listening anyway. "That's where I've put all of Fiona and Ithilwen's accomplishments in school," she told her brother-in-law. "Bernard's would have been there, but he was already an adult when we met, and none of his work was documented. I've got pictures to make up for that however," she grinned.

"What do they mean?" Haldir asked.

"Well, this is just some of their biggest stuff," she began, "I have a lot of their certificates and paper-based achievements in books, but this stuff is from both their high school and college graduations." Morwen pointed out each piece from top to bottom and left to right, talking about how when they completed certain requirements, they would take part in a ceremony to honor their achievements. "They wore those caps with the black gowns you see in the pictures, and next to those are their diplomas. It's just a physical item that announces their completion of high school, but nowadays that piece of paper is needed by employers to hire anyone."

"If they completed this...high school," Erestor failed to grasp the meaning of the words, "what does the significance of these mean?"

"Oh, those are the college degrees," Morwen said, following his gaze. "College isn't mandatory, but it's more an option if you want to get a higher paying job or just want to further your education. Students will either pay out of pocket, request funding from the government, or if worse comes to worse, take out loans to get them through school. My girls had it easier than some in that I could pay their way through college, but they busted their butts for those degrees."

"And what are these?" Miraear had moved from her spot by the window to looking over Legolas' shoulder, pointing to the various colored cords and strips of fabric that lay by the graduation caps. Morwen could see out of the corner of her eye that Thranduil was steadily moving closer to see what his wife was talking about.

"Those are society cords and stoles. If you can meet certain requirements, like logging so many credit hours after a time and have maintained your grades, you get an invitation letter from one of the student societies. If you become a member of the society, you get to take part in various activities they hold and wear their colors on graduation day. These blue and gold ones," she pointed to, "are not the easiest society to get into because they're really picky about grades. Basically if you make it into this one you're doing something great. It's also a way to become more familiar with other students on campus and build a network of friendships once you get out of school."

"There are quite a few colors," Legolas noted, "How many societies are there?"

"I forget how many held chapters at their school, but I know both Ithilwen and Fiona were in the same three," Morwen told him. "Each society has two colors, so you can imagine seeing those two walking across the stage!"

Haldir nodded, studying the graduation pictures more than the items around them. It was yet again something that he had missed out on, but his mate had done a wonderful job of preserving the memories in this cabinet. They both looked very happy in their pictures, wearing the customary caps, gowns, and society colors, holding up their degrees. He still didn't understand the concept of this structured education or why it was built the way it was, but it pleased him to know that they had taken the initiative to broaden their knowledge.

Thranduil chose not to say anything as he looked over the items in the glass case. He should have known that the grandchildren of Celeborn would take an interest in pursuing knowledge. The display proved that they had a high level of intelligence, but he failed to see how this would prepare them for any practical instance. And given what he had seen in the recordings of the other granddaughter, he really had to wonder how her manner had even gotten her those accomplishments.

While the houseguests in Burgess were adjusting to their new surroundings with one surprise after the next, Toothiana's glade was also filled with surprises that day. The guardian had been alerted by one of her helpers that something significant had been found in the archives, and she had rushed over to see. Baby Tooth had explained to her in their own special language that it had something to do with the request Jack had made.

Toothiana's progress up to that day had been slow, but it was to be expected. There were many, many children's teeth to sort through during the time period that Jack had lived. Then there had been the process of eliminating any child that did not have dark brown hair or eyes, or had never lived to see their teenage years. After that, it became even trickier, because that was where the details stopped. She, along with a select few of her fairies, had begun the arduous process of sorting through each remaining set of teeth, skimming the memories to see if they contained anything remotely related to Jack Frost.

Toothiana came to a standstill in the archives, listening intently to the discussion between her fairies. They had been motioning to a pile of teeth containers next to her, but it was more an argument about which one was due to go on break. "I'll take care of it," she said, startling the two fairies. "It's alright. Both of you go take a break, you need it." The guardian smiled as they thanked her and flew off. She knew their time off would be limited; even if they weren't on search-duty, they'd be helping the other fairies collect teeth around the world.

She turned back to the pile of containers and selected the top one. Toothiana cracked it open gently, as she had done with all the others, and peeked inside. Her bright eyes widened as she watched the memories play out, and she knew that she had found the right one at last!

"Jack will be so relieved," she told herself, closing the container. Then Toothiana froze mid-motion as a thought struck her. Did that girl look familiar, or were her eyes playing tricks on her?

Opening the container again, she took another peek at the memories. The more she watched for the details, the more her eyes widened. With a gasp of realization, she snapped the container shut. Speaking to Jack would have to wait, she had decided right there. At the present there was something far more important to get to the bottom of.

"Guys!" Fiona shouted from the den's doorway, "Ithilwen's got her vlogs up!"

Everyone had filtered into the den rather quickly at her announcement, curious to see what the two ellith were up to in the next installment. Fiona waited until all had made themselves comfortable before she pulled up the playlist.

"Oh, hang on," she said. "There's two vlogs. That's weird."

Pressing play on the first unseen one, they were greeted with Ithilwen in the hotel room where she had recorded the livestream. Or at least the face was Ithilwen's; everything else was drastically different. Her hair, or rather the wig, resembled a more vibrant version of Fiona's natural hair color, and the set of black robes she wore held a plunging neckline that did nothing for modesty. A pink scarf was draped over her shoulders, and once again, the mithril chain and its ring sat in its expected place.

"So it's the next day, and for those of you that didn't catch the livestream when it was, well live, I'll be uploading that later tonight to the channel. Basically this is the day after that," she laughed. "We're at Anime Mid-Atlantic today, and unfortunately there's not a lot of different stuff to tell you about it that wasn't covered already. Aunt Celebrian's going as Twilight Princess Zelda again, and today I'm Rangiku Matsumoto from Bleach."

The camera hobbed as they exited the hotel room and moved down the hallway, but Ithilwen kept talking. "If you never watched Bleach, she's one of the Soul Reapers, which I guess is like a grim reaper that fights demons? She's part of a special guard, and she's a lieutenant with a sword that can turn its blade to dust to smite things."

"And she has big boobs," Celebrian interjected bluntly, making Ithilwen laugh.

"True, but no one gives her character enough credit. It's like if you're a female character in a story with huge boobs it kills any credibility with her intelligence. I think that's why I can relate to her sometimes. Cause I've gotten the 'men are talking, darling' from some guys, and when I do show them how smart I am they look so surprised."

"Your appearance just makes them unaware of your real talents."

"I tell you what it'd be a real talent if these girls could crack a walnut, but they're only good for catching food!"

Fiona's hands covered her face in embarrassment. "As usual, my sister has no filter."

"I think it is refreshing," Eowyn said from her place beside Faramir. "Not many women in middle-earth speak so freely. At least, not in Rohan." She wasn't so familiar with the ellith in the den to know for certain if they all shared Ithilwen's persona yet. Arwen had been the first female elf she had encountered, but she has still been intimidated by her presence to really talk to her before.

The vlog continued to show much of the same footage that had been seen in the previous videos. In all, it's compilation lasted a little over five minutes, but the interesting bit about this upload was the conversation at the end. Both ellith were still in costume, walking out of some eating establishment and through the parking lot to Ithilwen's car.

"So there's been a change of plans," Celebrian said with a knowing grin. Her manner of speaking had begun to resemble Ithilwen's in the short time they had been together.

The camera moved over to Ithilwen, who didn't look all that enthusiastic, and it showed. She looked tired, or possibly troubled, it was hard to determine with the movements of the video. "Yeah, as it turns out, I haven't been able to get into the fun of Anime Mid-Atlantic," she said after the video jumped to them in the car. "I don't know why exactly, unless it's just burnout? I just- I need to get out of here, so we're going back to the hotel to get our things together and we're going to check out early. There's one more place on our trip that I want to go to, and I think it might turn my mood around. I'm real sorry about not having much to show today, but there will be lots of pictures, I promise!"

"Why do you think they left so early, Mom?"

Morwen shrugged. "I don't know." She looked over at Legolas, who seemed to know that she was looking at him and met her gaze. He looked just as unsure as Ithilwen had in the video. Was it possible that she knew that they had arrived?

The next video was double the time of Anime Mid-Atlantic's vlog, but it started out very differently. Ithilwen and Celebrian were sitting in the car once again, but everyone was surprised by the first words. "We're going camping!"

Ithilwen had grabbed the camera as she was getting out of the car, and in the background she panned around to show the parking lot. "Instead of staying at a hotel farther out than the last event, Aunt Celebrian and I decided it'd be more fun to go camping! We're at Wal-mart right now to get some things before we go out to the camp grounds, so ya'll are coming along with us today!"

What took up most of the video was of the ellith going around the department store with the camera recording. Celebrian was more reserved in what caught her attention; Ithilwen...not so much. When she saw something interesting her whole expression changed to match what she said. It was hilarious to watch, and it was a welcome relief to seeing her so down at the end of the last video. They had a shopping cart - or buggy as Ithilwen called it - filled with things to sleep under, foods to eat, and other small odds and ends they either required or didn't need but wanted.

"Did we get everything?" Ithilwen had asked her aunt.

"Not everything," and the look that followed told the younger elleth that she had asked a question she knew the answer to.

Ithilwen appeared to know, because she began to get defensive as Celebrian took control of the buggy and began to push it down the aisles. "Uh uh! No! I'm not getting that! I'll look absolutely ridiculous!"

Celebrian had taken the camera as well, turning it to face her as she spoke. "Ithilwen is digging her feet in about buying a bow, but she doesn't realize that her aunt is just as stubborn. There's a contest to take place at this festival that requires her to use a traditional bow and arrow, but she insists that she's a terrible shot-"

"That's because I am!"

"And how do you know?"

"Because I haven't practiced since before college!"

"You get your talent from both of your parents, penneth. You'll do exceptionally well."

"You have far too much faith in me, Aunt Celebrian."

"And you should have more in yourself."

This back-and-forth went on all the way up to the checkout line, where the video had cut off. When it came back on, both were sitting in the car, and Celebrian was looking triumphant as Ithilwen looked sour. "We found a bow," the older elleth said, "Though it was rather hard to come by, as many of the models made now do not fit the requirements of the contest."

"That's because they're more modern."

"Well they look strange."

"If you want to see strange, I have a compound bow at home I'll show you."

"I wonder why this vlog is so choppy," Morwen muttered. "Ithilwen's a borderline perfectionist and wouldn't do something half-assed unless there was a good reason."

"Maybe it has something to do with the previous recording?" Arwen asked. "She did not seem content in it and wished to leave earlier than she intended."

The video's quality was indeed lackluster compared to earlier ones. She had put forth no effort to excessively trim the clips to take out the "useless" pieces, and any snippets of music that were included were barely audible on the car's radio. When the clips changed again, Celebrian had control of the camera, holding it out before her to show Ithilwen sitting in an outdoor foldout chair. "And here we have the mighty warrior-child Ithilwen preparing to do battle against other worthy foes in a healthy competition of skill-"

The "mighty warrior-child" growled in irritation as she began to shake the entire package that held the bow she had just bought.

"That is, if she can win the battle against unleashing it from its cage." Celebrian's voice had been so serious that it made what they were watching even funnier.

"Ha ha," Ithilwen said, finally breaking into the package. "You're the one that forced me to buy this. I ought to make you open it."

"But it is your bow. I will not be participating in the competition, you will. Therefore, it is your responsibility to open it. Mine will be recording your performance so that your naneth will get to enjoy it later."

The video jumped again, and from the appearance of the camp grounds it was the next day. The camera was sitting on a low surface facing both ellith as they sat together eating out of small containers. "It's about 7 in the morning," Ithilwen said between bites, "and a lot of the campers are still asleep, so we have to keep the noise down." She held up her container of food. "Luckily when we were at Wal-mart getting food yesterday I thought ahead so we'd have breakfast. It's not much, just some of those single serving to-go bowls of Corn Pops, and they didn't have any of the little jugs of white milk so we had to get chocolate."

Celebrian could be heard giggling next to her. "It's an experience," she said at last. "I am wide awake now!"

"And on that note we're going to finish eating and then get ready for the Stone Glenn Tower Renaissance Festival."

When the video had come back on, Ithilwen was holding the camera out to get both her and Celebrian in shot. She was wearing Legolas' tunic and necklace with the corset peaking from beneath the unclasped part of the tunic. She had taken one of the simpler belts from her pirate costume and added it to the tunic, leggings, and boots she had on. Celebrian was wearing another simple medieval gown, sewn together in a way that would allow the woman wearing it to ride a horse sidesaddle or otherwise without issue; it's length was cut into long slits to show the leggings and boots she also wore underneath it. As they learned, where this festival was located was more "authentic" and lacked paved walkways. If she was going to be chasing her niece around with the camera, she wanted to have more freedom to move.

Like in the previous videos, much of the content that Ithilwen and Celebrian had recorded was similar, however the people they interacted with at the festival were very different. Many of the performances were music-based, and there was a "wizard" and a sword swallower that had left Celebrian feeling unsettled.

"I'm sorry, but that's not natural!" she said into the camera as they walked through the grounds. "Nothing that big is supposed to go down your throat!"

If Morwen hadn't found the unintended dirty comment from her sister hilarious, it was the quickly reddening face of her brother-in-law. She had actual tears running down her face, and Fiona had to pause the video until order could return to the den. Morwen had been past making any sounds she was laughing so hard. The children of her sister and brother-on-law quickly put two and two together and were appalled at the insinuations, but none of that compared to the troubled look of the Lorien ruler and adar of two daughters or how Elrond had tried to disappear in the couch he sat on. It was this that had made Thranduil join Morwen in laughter.

"If we could return to the matter at hand," Elrond pleaded, hiding his face in his hands.

"I thought we were, brother?" Morwen had managed to get out, ducking as a decorative pillow came flying at her. "Now that's not very mature! You're the leader of Rivendell!"

"And you have a dirty mind!"

Galadriel had raised her hands, ready to stand up the rest of the way if needed. "There will be plenty of time to torment each other after the video has run its course," she said delicately. "Now let us return to our viewing, shall we?"

"Of course, my Lady."

Morwen snorted, earning her a look from her naneth. "Yes ma'am."

'And I'm the youngest one in this room?' Fiona thought in disbelief as she unpaused the video. Celebrian had reappeared again to be in possession of the camera, and in the distance stood a line of archers, one of whom was Ithilwen. They each took a turn firing arrows into their designated targets, then things were put on hold for judging, and the next round began. This kept up a few rounds before the judges decreed the winner for each competitive category. It was hard to see what the results were on the camera, but from Celebrian's energetic movements it must have been a good sign.

"Morwen would be so proud of you right now," Celebrian gushed as she jogged to meet Ithilwen in the crowd. In her hands was a golden arrow, the prize of the archery competition.

Ithilwen couldn't help but roll her eyes at her aunt. "I'm out of practice and there was a three-way tie in our age group."

"But doesn't it feel good to know you haven't lost it?"

"Oh yeah, like riding a bike," the younger elleth had mumbled, setting the prized arrow and her bow onto the back of her quiver so she wouldn't have to carry them.

The footage showed some more sights and demonstrations before it was focused on the ellith again, only this time they were standing with an old man in odd-looking robes. Celebrian was the one speaking, as Ithilwen had been standing before the man looking more than a little star struck. "Could you say your name again, please?" she had asked the man.

Deep in character, the man replied, "Ah, I am the famed Alcofribas Nasier the Soothsayer, my lady! And what is that peculiar item in your possession, if I may be so bold to ask?"

"It's a magic box that allows our friends and kin to see what we see," Celebrian replied.

"That is indeed a fascinating item!" Alcofribas bowed low before them, "then I shall extend my greetings to thee friends of the Ladies Celebrian and Ithilwen! May your days be ever blessed!"

Celebrian could be heard giggling, enjoying the over-dramatization of this character. "Could you do me a favor, kind sir, and tell our friends what you had told my niece moments ago?"

"If the Lady bids it-" he had looked to Ithilwen, and all she did was nod weakly. "-very well! As i have told the Lady Ithilwen, there are many, many surprises awaiting her on the horizon! My cards have told me thus." Alcofribas had produced a worn deck of tarot cards from his robes. "I was told that this young lady has been hurting for a time, but that her fears are for naught if she will listen to her heart. It is very simple; listen to thine heart and it will never fail thee!"

Fiona quickly paused the video. "Did he somehow just out y'alls arrival?"

"It is possible, if Ithilwen has been given any hints of our arrival," Celeborn told her. "I would not doubt that the slightest clue would fail to make her see that something is amiss from what she expects to return to."

"Let's not panic," Morwen said, noticing that Legolas was a step away from jumping out of his seat. "There's also a chance that this soothsayer is not a legitimate diviner. I mean what he said could be construed to fit anyone's situation."

"So you think he's a quack?"

Pippin's eyebrows furrowed. "How is that man a duck?"

"Mom meant that she thinks he could be a fraud," Fiona told him.

"I thought we wanted our daughter to come home," Haldir stated.

"We do! I just don't want Ithilwen to get so frazzled she gets into a wreck getting home, that's all!"

As Fiona unpaused the video - again - it switched to another scene. Now Ithilwen and Celebrian were back on the campgrounds at their rented site. Celebrian could be seen in the background of the clip setting up a fire in the pit for the evening. Ithilwen had turned the camera back at her aunts' insistence, and the view was jostled as she sat down in her chair.

"That's day one of the festival, and it's only going to be around for two days this year. I checked the program and a number of the things we didn't see today will also be available tomorrow." She paused and pursed her lips, looking away from the camera, then back. "This has been a really fun road trip, don't get me wrong," she started again, "I know these last couple of vlogs have been pretty lax in content, but part of that is because I just didn't want to recycle footage I've already gotten. The other...well I guess I'm homesick. I miss my mom and my sister, and now that my aunt's here, it's a pretty big deal that we get home soon anyway, cause she and my mom haven't seen each other in a long time-"

"You have no idea."

"-and I think what that soothsayer said earlier today really rattled me. I mean if you watched the livestream you'll remember me talking about my soldier friend overseas. Yeah, he's been on my mind since...well since he told me he'd be going out on his last mission, and it's been a couple of months since we've talked." Ithilwen paused again as if to collect her thoughts. "I've been trying to use this trip to not think about what all could go wrong for him, but when I get still, the thoughts keep coming. I can't stop them. I just...I just want - no, I need him to be okay. I don't know what I'd do if something bad happened."

"Remember what Alcofribas told you!"

"Right, follow my heart and all that. Well my heart says that he's alright, but it's also telling me to get home. It's like it knows something it's not telling my mind, you know?" She laughed lightly. "So that's why I haven't been myself recently. This overwhelming urge to go home is trying to take over. But here's what I'm going to do: I'm going to upload this, uncut cause the wifi isn't very strong, and Aunt Celebrian and I are going to hold out for the last day of the festival. I made a point of blogging so much of the different stuff today because we'll be packing up camp most likely to leave the next morning. Now it's up to you guys, did you enjoy the road trip? What were your favorite parts? Tell me in the comments, and when I get online I'll see about reading and responding to them. I love you guys, and thank you so much for taking the time to comment on these videos!"

The video went black, signaling its end. No one moved. No one said anything. Pairs of eyes would not-so-discreetly look over to the prince to gauge his reaction to the end of the video. Legolas himself was trying to avoid everyone's stares, wishing he could retreat into himself to think about it all.

'Ithilwen really is hurting,' he thought, 'and I did this. Will she be as forgiving as she sounds when she sees me? I cannot deny the thought of seeing her at last is a relief, but if she is angry with me, will it be worth it?'

'You have nothing to fear, Prince Legolas.' Galadriel had picked up on his thoughts without really trying and set about soothing his worries telepathically. 'I do not expect her to bear ill will towards you for your decisions. She will be filled with joy at simply knowing that you are well.'

Legolas smiled in thanks to the Lady of Light, feeling better from her words. That was, until Morwen gasped suddenly. It seemed that she had been doing calculations in her head, because she blurted out, "If Ithilwen and Celebrian are leaving after the end of the Stone Glenn Tower festival, then they'll be heading out on the road tomorrow!"

Chapter Text

By the time that the group at the house had finished watching the last vlog, Ithilwen and Celebrian had already packed up most of their camp, turning in early that night. The next morning, they had disassembled the tent and packed the remaining items in the car, checking out of the camp grounds as soon as they were able. Around seven-thirty, they were on the road once more, going to stop at the first Dunkin Donuts they came across for breakfast.

Getting back on the road seemed to improve Ithilwen's mood even more, Celebrian had noticed. The younger elleth was more alert than she had been any morning since she had found her. Occasionally she'd look over to Celebrian and say that she was fine without prompt, but it was obvious that she wasn't. There was something there in her eyes that had her on edge, and she couldn't help but wonder if it had something to do with what the mortal diviner had told her. 'She may just miss her family,' she thought. 'I understand that entirely.'

Back at the house, it was a flurry of motion from the get go the following day.

Morwen had been at the helm of the kitchen, this day with assistance from Fiona and Sam in preparing breakfast. Haldir had become more silent as the day began, and it was easy to see he was nervous. On the other end, the children of Elrond were almost as energetic as Legolas, knowing that they were going to see their naneth once more. It was all they could do to sit still, much less not prattle on excitedly.

After breakfast, Fiona had introduced anyone interested in the novelty that was digital cable. "With 300 plus channels y'all should be able to find something interesting to watch," she said with a grin, placing the remote in Arwen's outstretched hand. She had shown them how to change the channels and the volume before she pulled Legolas aside.

"So um, I don't know if you'd be interested in this or not, but," Fiona held up her laptop with a pair of headphones, "If you wanted to watch Ithilwen some more, she's got more videos on her channel. I mean I know it's not the same as talking to her, but it's something, right?"

Legolas had been more than content with watching the elleth's old videos. He had gone upstairs with the laptop, since she had told him that the signal picked up better there. Fiona watched him disappear, not at all worried about her computer. 'I think I'd be an okay babysitter,' she decided to herself. 'Most of them are in the den watching god knows what, and Legolas is occupied with the internet. So now who's left to fix? Dad? Uncle Elrond? Mom?'

Esther had been stacking binders on another bookshelf in her office when she felt a presence enter without comment. "If you're here to bug me about my love life Delia and Deren, you might want to rethink your mission."

The voices she expected to hear were not what she heard. "Are they really that bad? I thought they just had good intentions."

"Tooth!" Esther spun on her heel, nearly dropping the binder she held. "What brings you here? I thought you were updating your archives with a new sorting method or something?"

"I had another project that pushed it back," the fairy said. "And I have somethings I need to ask you about."

"Such as?"

"Why you haven't told Jack that you're the girl in his dreams." Toothiana watched as the blond guardian turned back to the bookshelf to resume her activity. "I'm serious, Es. Jack came to me asking me to see if I could find out who the girl was that he's been seeing in his dreams! I think he's starting to get his memories back."

"Well that's good for him," she said distractedly.

"Aren't you going to tell him? I mean you two did grow up together!"

"And then what?" Esther turned back around. "Do you have any idea how long I've waited for him to see me as he once did? Do you know it also scares the hell out of me that one day he's going to ask me what happened to my life after he died?"

Toothiana didn't need to ask what she had referred to. She had seen it tucked away in the memories the further she dug, and nothing about Esther's final years was pleasant. In fact, it was so dark that the fairy thought she would have been violently ill just watching what snippets she did see. She sighed, floating forward to place her hands on her friend's shoulders. "You do know you'll have to tell him," she said. "He cared about you too much then to not ask when he does remember."

"I know, believe me. I just...I don't know, I need time, okay? The thought of recounting those days before either of us is ready makes me want to vomit stomach acid, drink it, and vomit it again."

The fairy cringed visibly. "Still, I would brace myself for when Jack does recognize you," she said, choosing not to comment on the lovely imagery Esther had described. "He's been dreaming of his past, and you're in it. He's going to put two and two together eventually." She had moved back towards the door, adding, "I'll go. I need to tell Jack that I did find the teeth as he asked-"

"Wait," Esther swallowed. "Can you do me a favor and not tell Jack it's me? I'm not ready for this discussion."

Toothiana nodded. "I'll tell him that I haven't found out her name yet. That I have to look further in the memories to know for certain I'm right. Will that buy you enough time to come to grips with this?"

"Yes. Thank you, Toothiana."

"You're my friend too, Esther. I'm going to help you where I can." Toothiana sent her an encouraging smile as she left the office. Instead of going back to her glades, she took another route. While she had promised not to tell Jack, she knew she had someone she could confide in this new information.

Ithilwen had thought that getting a head start on the road early enough would prevent any problems with traffic. Somehow, the Fates had it in for her getting home this day. Things had gone well until they had left the Dunkin Donuts to get back on the interstate. Really, she should have known something would happen when she hit every red light in between. Then they got on the interstate and drove for twenty minutes before they saw any clusters of vehicles, and perhaps ten minutes after that ran into the congestion that brought everything to a standstill.

Frustrated, she cut off the engine after a guy walking by back to his car announced to the other drivers that there had been a pileup ahead that involved a tanker spill. He had been wishing it was a supply truck filled with snack foods or something that wouldn't take as long to clean. As it was, the tanker had turned over, blocking most of the lanes that lead to Burgess, and the rest were blocked by crumpled cars, emergency trucks, and police cars. The cleanup crew had yet to arrive when Ithilwen got caught in the jam, and there was no way to turn around to take another exit now. Too many cars had fallen into the same trap they had.

"This is just great," she frowned, hitting the steering wheel in anger. Instant regret followed, since it did no good and left her hand sore.

Celebrian had remained silent, knowing nothing could be said to ease the younger elleth's mind. She didn't understand why it was such an issue to clean up a spill, but her niece had told her that there were many liquids in this world that could cause potential harm. 'There are a lot of things that these mortals have created that are harmful,' she thought. 'It doesn't make sense to produce something that is harmful. Are weapons not enough anymore?'

"What the hell is that noise?" Ithilwen was so irritated that she failed to recognize that her own cell phone was ringing until Celebrian retrieved it. "Hello?"

"What on earth are you so ill about?" the voice said into her ear. "Aren't you on your way home like you posted about?"

"Nana? Hang on," she pressed an icon on her screen. "You're on speakerphone, go ahead."

"I was just calling to check on you and my sister, but if you're in a foul mood I can only imagine what Celebrian's like right now-"

"I'll have you know your daughter is the only temperamental elleth in this car right now!"

"Ooh, someone's feeling sassy," Morwen remarked. "What's happened?"

"If the news ain't on yet, there's a tanker spill on 95 North. We just left Richmond about...almost an hour ago now."

"Aw, that's disappointing. Is it that bad?" Morwen had thought to call Ithilwen on a whim, since so many were preoccupied with other things. She glanced over to Haldir, who was softly cursing the tablet game he was playing in Sindarin as Elrond watched over his shoulder. Apparently he had gone through the TsumTsum lives and was now playing Dumb Ways to Die.

"We can't see anything ahead of us but the flashing lights of the ambulances and the police cars," Ithilwen had said. "I don't think anyone's hurt, but there's some kind of liquid spill on the road, and they've got to wait on the cleanup guys before they'll even open up one lane."

"Wait, what's that going through the grass?" Morwen had heard her sister exclaim. "They're not on the road! That's not fair!"

"...I think that might be the cleanup guys." Ithilwen trailed off. "Idgits couldn't even come from the other direction. Now I'm worried."

Morwen laughed, even though it wasn't one of the better responses. "You know how men can be, penneth. They'll take the long way to doing something when you want them to hurry up." She had been sitting at the opposite end of the table with Galadriel and Miraear with cups of coffee as she talked. "They're still pretty efficient when they want to be, and from the sounds of the horns I'm hearing, they're gonna hurry."

"I hope so, I want to come home," Ithilwen said softly. "I know y'all aren't there, but-"

"What are you talking about? Of course we're here! Fiona and I arrived home early!"

The phone had gone silent and Morwen had to check to make sure the call hadn't been lost. Finally, when Ithilwen spoke again, she said, "Nana, I...I still haven't-"

"Your dreams?" she finished delicately, noticing from the corner of her eye that Legolas had come downstairs. He had moved into the kitchen to get a glass of water. Best to choose her words carefully now. "It's going to be okay," she told her daughter. "I have confidence that you'll see Legolas again soon."

From the kitchen, Legolas had set his glass down on the bar, coming to stand by the table. He had been about to inquire if it was Ithilwen when Miraear had leaped up from her seat to cover his mouth with her hands. It had been so sudden that it caught everyone by surprise, and Haldir had sworn again when his character had been fried by the electric fence.

"Are you sure, Nana? I'm scared I won't and I don't know what I'm gonna do if I can't talk to him again."

"Trust your nana," Morwen said. "I know what I'm talking about. You just focus on watching for the traffic to start moving. We'll see you in a little while okay?" She said her goodbyes and hung up the phone just as Legolas had pried his naneth's hands off his face.

"Why did you do that, Naneth? I only wanted to ask if that was Ithilwen."

"Because Ithilwen would have heard you through the speaky-phone if you had said anything!" Miraear insisted. "She's already unable to travel because the roads are blocked. Can you imagine how upset she'd be to know you were here and that she couldn't see you?"

"I'm surprised she hasn't just started running back, honestly," Morwen said. "I mean it's about a two hour drive from Richmond, but she could be further along the route than we know."

"And what is the significance of that?" Thranduil said from the other end of the table. While Elrond had been side-seat gaming with Haldir, the two rulers had sat across from each other in a silent staredown. The lot of ellyn had been the entertainment of the three ellith before Morwen had dialed Ithilwen.

"It means that there's almost a hundred miles between here and Richmond and I can't be sure where she's at to know how long she'll be before she gets home."

"Then this communication has been pointless."

Celeborn had been about to say something when Galadriel sent him a look, telling him it wasn't worth the effort. He chose instead to sit back in his chair and continue his staring.

"No, it hasn't Adar." Legolas was looking determinedly at Thranduil now. "Ithilwen is coming back today. That's something worth knowing." He then retrieved his glass of water and disappeared upstairs.

Miraear had looked to her mate, noticing that his expression was slightly surprised. She shook her head and turned back to the other ellith at the table. If he couldn't see how much the arrival of this elleth meant to his son, he was going to have a long road ahead of him.

"What did y'all find to watch?" Fiona sat down in the empty spot next to Elladan on the couch in the den. She couldn't help but laugh as she looked to the screen to see her answer. "You're watching Boomerang!"

"Actually, the box said it was something called the Thundercats," the dark-haired ellon next to her replied. "I fail to see how any of them are feline in nature, however, or why the males in this show wear such tight and exposing garments."

"It was the eighties; things were weird. This is actually the original show, thank god. I found out that they had remade it and it's just awful! Doesn't have the same nostalgic feeling that this one has."

"Who are 'they' and why would they remake something like this?" Elladan looked down at her curiously. She was a peculiar mortal, but she was fascinating to listen to, he discovered. Her way with words was unorthodox but she made things simpler for them to understand.

Fiona shrugged. "In this case, 'They' are the people involved in making television programs. In the last few years people have been so unimaginative that they've been remaking old tv shows and movies just to make money, the results are never pleasing."

"It appears to be a waste of one's time then."

"See, you're catching on real quick!"

Fiona smiled up at him, and Elladan found that he liked to see her smile. The young woman had been immensely patient as they had asked her questions, never once getting annoyed like Erestor might have when he was a youngling. When they began to understand a concept she was explaining, her smile was different. It lit up her face and he could feel the sense of accomplishment radiate from her as she beamed. It was as if she had surprised herself with her ability to teach, and was just as excited as they were to make sense of things. It wasn't hard to find himself smiling back down at her.

"Oh!" she said suddenly. "I just remembered! Mom sent me in here to tell y'all that she heard from Ithilwen!" When she had the attention of the rest of the room, Fiona continued. "Mom says that Ithilwen and Aunt Celebrian are stuck out on the road because an accident has blocked the way here. There's a mess that has to be cleaned up before they can let anyone pass through, but she wanted me to tell everyone that they are on their way home."

"They still are not aware that we are here?" Arwen asked from across the den.

"Nope. I think that might be for the best. It might be kind of terrifying to pull in the driveway and be swamped by two dozen people you aren't expecting to see."

"When should they arrive, do you think?" Frodo asked.

Fiona shrugged. "That I have no idea. Mom said it was a liquid spill, so I'd say it could be at least another hour before they get the road clear enough to open one lane. She said Aunt Celebrian said there are so many cars ahead of them that they can't see the overturned truck that made the mess. But," she sighed, "they should be here today. Maybe early this afternoon?"

Gimli huffed. "And the lad?"

"He's busy rewatching videos on Ithilwen's channel," the strawberry blond grinned. "I loaned him my headphones with the laptop so we wouldn't hear them play over and over. I think it's safer that way. Tauriel, your mom said that he nearly blew it when our mom was talking to Ithilwen."

"Oh Eru, what did he do?"

"I heard he tried to ask for Ithilwen, but your mom intercepted and basically gagged him to keep him quiet." Fiona had missed this moment in the dining room, but she could only imagine how funny it was to witness. As they turned their attention back to Snarf and Lion-o, she wondered if when her sister and aunt did arrive, how in the world they would keep Legolas in the house.

Or would it be easier to just let him meet her at the car door like a puppy? Fiona wasn't certain if he'd jump her like one, but that image made her bite her lip to keep from laughing. Captain Planet was coming up next, and it had always been one of her favorite shows.

"I have news."

North and Bernard had been looking over the current naughty and nice list, taking note on how there were some children that had been waffling between the two sides when Toothiana had burst into his private office. Her feathers were looking rather ruffled, as if she had just been through a skirmish. Or a traffic block, as they had learned that two ellith in particular were in, thanks to one of North's many observational snowglobes.

"What's got you in a tizzy?" Bernard asked her, straightening and feeling his spine pop. He really had to stop bending at weird angles during work.

"It concerns Jack's current predicament." And she had launched into how Jack had come to her to ask her to look through her database of children's teeth to see if any contained the memories of a young dark-haired woman. She also went into detail of what she had seen when she did find a particular set of memories that fit the description, and just whose teeth they had been. The only thing that she failed to tell them were some of the darkest details that were contained within. It wasn't her place to give all of the information; just what was imperative to solving Jack's lapse of memories.

After she had finished her tale, North had sat back in his chair while Bernard paced the room. The head elf had known a tidbit of this young woman that Jack had been friends with from a fly-by announcement in the middle of the night. However, he didn't know that he also knew the woman's identity. It made him feel ridiculous, but with the way he saw this woman now, it wasn't hard to see how it was easy to miss making the connection.

"You are certain of this, Tooth?" North asked her. There wasn't doubt in the question, but he wanted more than a hypothesis when it came to this issue.

"I am," she nodded. "I even went to speak to her about it. North, she told me that she didn't want Jack to find out! I saw that they were such close friends when they were children; how could Esther not want to tell Jack that she is the girl he's seen in his dreams?"

"Isn't it obvious?" Bernard stopped his paces. "She's worried, Tooth. Whatever Jack has seen of Esther in his memories is only the tip of the iceberg in their...whatever they were. There's got to be something there that she's afraid for him to find out."

Toothiana sighed and tried to smooth the feathers out at her hip as a distraction. "There's...some darker parts of her life after Jack died," she said. "I'm not at liberty to give details, but what happened...what I did see...I think even Esther wishes she could forget it."

"What do we do then?"

North gave both of them a calculating look. "We do nothing," he said softly. "This is between Jack and Esther. When Esther is ready to tell him, she will tell him. If she cannot, then Jack will have to go to her when the time comes. I think it would be in their best interests to not linger on this topic.

By the time that Ithilwen and Celebrian had gotten off the interstate, it was lunch time, and since neither wanted to eat leftover lunchmeats on ice, a stop at KFC was mandatory. "I like Bojangles' chicken better," Ithilwen said as they pulled out of the drive thru, "but I love KFC's wedge fries, and the to-go cups are convenient."

"You just like eating your foods in odd containers."

The younger elleth laughed. "That too!"

Once they had hit the back roads, it was much easier to get home. The only traffic they had to worry about was the rare school bus belonging to a district that hadn't finished the academic year yet or a tractor going to the fields. Ithilwen couldn't help but notice that she was getting more anxious the closer she got home, but it was the kind of excited nerves she felt before something she was really looking forward to. Was it coming back home? Seeing her naneth and sister again? Or maybe it was seeing her aunt reunite with her naneth once more.

Celebrian was almost bouncing in her seat when Ithilwen announced they had turned on the road that led to their house. She had been having a blast learning about her niece on the road trip, and now that they were reaching the house, she'd get to see her sister and other niece! When Ithilwen turned into a driveway that had been obscured by trees, she said, "Is this another road?"

"Nope," the elleth laughed. "We just have a long driveway. The house is still a ways back, but it's big enough to see once you get past these trees."

And Ithilwen had been right, for no later had she said so, the trees opened up to an expansive yard, and in the distance a large, white house with dark gray roofing sat square in the middle. It didn't compare to the elven home she had had in Rivendell, but it was a lovely-looking house in its own modern way. It was also fairly large for just three people to inhabit, moreso when some of them were apt to be away for work purposes. Celebrian could see two figures standing in the front yard as they got closer. The shorter of the two had strawberry blond hair, but she still recognized the beaming face of her sister after so long, so she surmised that the other woman must be her new niece.

As soon as the car came to a stop and the engine cut off, the front passenger door shot open and out Celebrian came. "Morwen!" Her arms were outstretched to embrace her sister, and despite her best efforts, she still felt tears prick her eyes as they hugged. "It's been so long since I've seen you!"

"You have no idea," Morwen laughed, pulling away. Her eyes had been watering as well. "You look good, sister. Your time in Valinor has done you some good!"

"Being with my family has helped much more." She turned to the other woman who had come to stand a few feet behind Morwen. "You must be Fiona, am I right?"

Fiona, not expecting to be addressed, smiled in surprise. "That's me," she said, holding her hand out. "It's nice to meet you at last!"

Instead of taking her hand to shake, as she thought, Celebrian had pulled her forward to hug with a smile. "It is wonderful to meet you as well, penneth. You must call me Aunt Celebrian; we are family, after all!"

Morwen had moved around to the driver's side of the car to hug Ithilwen as the other pair talked. "I've missed you, sweetheart," she said, pulling back to inspect her. "You don't look like the zombie I feared you would, so that's good."

Ithilwen raised her eyebrows. "Does that mean you'd cut my head off if I did?"

"Oh nonsense," her naneth tutted. "We'd just take your arms and bottom jaw off to keep you from hurting anyone. I'd suggest putting you in the shed whole, but well then Fiona'd be doing the mowing, and we've seen how well stowing walkers in a barn goes."

Fiona stepped over with Celebrian, giving her sister a quick hug and adding, "Yes, if I'm to take on all the chores if you turn, I need my limbs."

"Y'all are cruel," Ithilwen said with mock hurt. She couldn't help but notice that Fiona had gestured back towards the house. "What's going on? Y'all got company over?"

"In a manner of speaking," Morwen told her, though she assumed her words fell on deaf ears as the screen door creaked open. Both her sister and daughter had their attention focused on the front porch as a small handful of people slowly emerged.

'Is this a dream? I've got to be dreaming.' Ithilwen was pretty certain that her day had started out rough with the backed-up traffic in the bright sun, but this just didn't seem plausible. There were four people coming down off the porch, and none of them looked like any visitors that had ever come by before. Between the long hair and the intricately decorated robes, she knew. As her gaze settled on the closest male that was approaching, she knew. Could she help it that her voice cracked when she said, "Ada?"

Haldir didn't say anything until he had Ithilwen in his arms. It had been surreal to see her as he came out onto the porch, and with each step he took to get to her he knew it wasn't his imagination. She had grown so much from the little thing that she had been when he had last held her!

"Oh my god." Ithilwen had tried not to cry, really she did. No one could blame her though; this was her adar after all! "You- You're here! Ada, you're here!"

"That I am," he told her gently as he held onto her. "You have grown so much since I have last laid eyes on you, Ithilwen."

She couldn't help but laugh, and this lifted his spirits. Ithilwen pulled back from the hug regretfully, wiping at her eyes as she did so. "How?"

"You can thank the work of your friend Esther," a new voice said from behind Haldir. Ithilwen turned and noticed the remaining three. The one that had spoken was the elleth, and her features looked eerily similar to her naneth's...

"Grandma?" The smile was unmistakable, and the grasp she had on the hand of the blond ellon was just as evident. "Grandpa?" The glance to the left of her grandfather had been just that, as Celebrian had launched herself at the ellon-


So it was her uncle! Not that she could see him, since Celebrian was all but climbing on him in her attempts to hug his neck. She was laughing and crying, peppering his cheeks in kisses as she exclaimed about how much she had missed him.

"I was foolish, melleth," she kept on, "Sailing to Valinor was a terrible idea! Being without you and the children had become too much for me-"

"You needed to heal," Elrond insisted. While he hadn't run at his mate as his brother-in-law had, that didn't mean he didn't miss her any less. Actually, he expected her to seek out her parents before him!

"But I have," Celebrian turned to point to her niece, who had been greeting her grandparents. "I've been with Ithilwen these last few weeks! It's been a breath of fresh air to be with kin again, and now you're here! Tell me, how are our children?"

Elrond smiled at her. "You can see for yourself," he said, "You truly believed that they would turn down the opportunity for a reckless adventure?"

"They're here?"

"They are somewhere in the house, yes."

"I want to see them!" she declared as she moved over to hug her parents as Ithilwen moved over to greet Elrond.

"It is good to see you, Uncle." Ithilwen smiled. "I'm glad you're here; your wife has been a handful on the road trip!"

Elrond chuckled at her joking tone. "Your aunt is like your naneth, as you have now learned. Just as much as you resemble Morwen. I cannot help but wonder, however," he paused, getting a closer look at her eyes. "How have your eyes come to be green? Morwen's are a similar shade."

Ithilwen shrugged it off as Morwen answered, "I think it's something to do with the magic that sent us here. Could have been something to do with the residue. We've both been checked out by healers here, and nothing odd's come up, but it's not unheard of in this world for the eyes to change colors."

While Morwen was talking with Elrond, Ithilwen moved back over to stand with Haldir and Fiona. "So you do know Nana's taken in a son, right?" she asked.

"I do, and I look forward to meeting this Bernard." Haldir placed a hand on Fiona's shoulder. "This one still does not believe that I have accepted her into the family-"

"That's not true!" Fiona blurted out. "Okay well I'm still getting used to the idea! Y'all have only been here for a couple of days."

"Wait, a couple of days?" Ithilwen couldn't believe it. While she and Celebrian had been hotfooting it up the East Coast, they could have been home when her adar, uncle, and grandparents arrived! "Now I feel like a putz," she mumbled.

Haldir took note of the guilt in her expression. "You have nothing to apologize for, Ithilwen. I was told of your...ah...reasons for making this trip in the first place. There is no way you could have known we would have arrived had you stayed."

In any other circumstance those words might have cheered her up, however they only made her feel worse. The entire reason she took the road trip was to distract her from worrying about what was happening in middle-earth, and she still couldn't banish the thoughts. "But...if you're here...that must mean that the war is over in middle-earth, right? Cause Legolas told me-" she had to stop for a second, fearing her voice would crack again. Ithilwen really didn't want her adar to believe her to be a crybaby now that she was grown. "Legolas told me that you would both find a way here after the Ring was destroyed. Is he here? Is he okay?"

The marchwarden glanced to Fiona, who only looked on at her sister with a hidden expression. Haldir almost expected her to blurt out that he was fine, but it seemed she wanted to keep the surprise going, even if it made the elleth anxious. "How about we go inside?" he suggested, noticing that his in-laws and Morwen had already begun to make their way to the porch.

Ithilwen nodded, falling in step with her sister and adar. She had seen her naneth and grandparents disappear in the dining room, while Elrond had taken Celebrian into the living room by the hand. Her mind had tuned out everything around her as her thoughts spun ridiculous scenarios. 'Something's wrong. Ada's not telling me everything. Legolas promised me he'd find a way to this world, unless something happened to him?' In that moment she wanted to go back to the Stone Tower Glenn festival an punch that soothsayer in the mouth for his inaccurate prediction.

Legolas had heard the sound of the car pull up in the driveway from his given bedroom. He had been powering down the laptop that Fiona had loaned him when he heard the sounds of voices outside, and without even seeking out a window, he knew Ithilwen was home. Carefully, he had taken the laptop and headphones downstairs to put on the closest table in the studio. He would have to remember to thank Fiona again later, but as it was, he only had one goal in mind right then.

He wanted to see Ithilwen. He had to see Ithilwen; to know that she was there, to know that she was okay. His nerves had gotten the better of him, and he couldn't bring himself to go outside with Haldir and the others. From the sounds elsewhere in the house, it seemed that many were preoccupied.

It was the thought that she would be furious with him that kept Legolas from following Haldir. Yes, he had promised her that he would find a way to her, but he also had promised himself that he wouldn't upset her. Seeing the damage that mortal had inflicted had established that one, however what he saw in the later vlogs did nothing to assure him that she was "just fine". It hadn't been intentional, of course; it had merely been a thought with regards to her peace of mind. But just because he didn't go outside, didn't mean he wouldn't still seek her out.

He heard the front doors open and shut, with many voices filtering off to different sections of the house. From his place at the end of the hallway, he could just barely see Haldir and Fiona around the tall plant. And then he saw Ithilwen. 'She looks withdrawn,' he thought. 'And it is because of me.' With a determined step forward, he revealed himself to the two that were aware of their surroundings. 'I need to fix this,' he swallowed.


The elleth had looked up, not really seeing him. Legolas sighed to himself as he walked slowly down the hall. He was afraid that she didn't recognize him until her eyes lit up, and he felt the corners of his mouth begin to curl up. Ithilwen had looked back to Haldir and Fiona before her head whipped back to him.

"Legolas?" And then she was running down the hall at him. "Legolas!"

Arms out as he got closer, Ithilwen had dove into them as she kept saying his name, burying her face in the crook of his neck and shoulder. Legolas wrapped his arms tightly around her, not caring in that moment if he was crushing her or not. He was just too relieved to finally see her in person again, and this time he wouldn't be waking from the dream.

"Legolas!" Ithilwen felt her eyes begin to sting once more, and try as she might, she couldn't stop the tears from falling. "I was so worried about you! I couldn't find you in my dreams after that night-"

"I know," he told her as his own face disappeared in her shoulder. "I'm so sorry, Ithilwen. I thought I was doing the right thing..." Legolas couldn't bear to hear her crying; it broke his heart all the more knowing that it was because of him. "Please don't cry, Ithilwen," he murmured, "Everything's alright now. It's all over."

Even being in the tight embrace, Ithilwen managed to nod against his shoulder. She had been hit with too many emotions in so short a time. She lifted her head up to try and breathe through her nose, discovering to her horror it made a high-pitched wheezing noise. The swear she had been about to utter was replaced with a squeal as she felt herself being lifted about the waist. Legolas had lifted her up from the floor by her waist while still hugging her to his chest, and she had to shift her weight to his left shoulder so she could still look down at him without giving him a face-full of her chest. As she looked down to see him smiling up at her, Ithilwen couldn't help by smile back.

A voice from the front door caught their attention, and Legolas turned to the source, still holding Ithilwen against him. "You're not mad we didn't tell you, are you?" Fiona asked.

Ithilwen wiped at her cheeks with her free hand. "Of course not," she sniffled. "I'm just glad you're both here at last! This day had started out rough, but it's gotten so much better now."

"I am happy to hear that," Haldir smiled at her. "You might wish to compose yourself, however. There are far more surprises to be met with."

"What are you talking about?" Ithilwen looked to her sister and adar, then back down to Legolas, who was smiling up at her differently now. "What's going on?"

Chapter Text

"Seriously guys," Ithilwen looked down at Legolas, and then back to Haldir and Fiona. "What's going-"

The scream in the living room would have made her come up off the floor if Legolas didn't have a hold of her waist.

"-the ever-loving hell was that?!" It was from a female, and it oddly sounded like Celebrian, but there was more than one voice. "Can Uncle Elrond scream like a girl?"

"You will have to ask him," Haldir said. He hadn't moved from his spot, and he could only watch in mild amusement as Legolas carried Ithilwen back over to them. He had almost suggested that the prince release her, but both of them were too focused on the source of he noise and wouldn't have heard him.

"That sounded like another elleth," said a voice that Ithilwen had never heard before. She peaked around Legolas' head to see an elleth with long red hair dressed in greens standing with a shorter and much hairier man who could have been a follower of ZZ Top if he hadn't been wearing a worn tunic from middle earth. "Do you intend on setting her down on her feet today, Legolas?"

Ithilwen bit her lip so she wouldn't laugh at the slightly flustered look on Legolas' face as she was lowered to the floor. He turned them towards the elleth and bearded man with his hand at the small of her back, saying, "This is my sister Tauriel, Ithilwen. She believes she's funny."

Tauriel grinned. "I am delightful," she said cheekily. "And I am his older sister, Ithilwen. Do not let him try and tell you otherwise."

"By half a century," he mumbled. "This is Gimli," he said a little louder, introducing his dwarven companion.

"It's nice to meet you at last, lassie," Gimli smiled. "The lad here has been talking our ears off about you since he met you!"

"Have you now?" Ithilwen looked up at Legolas, only to see that he was once again flustered and not making eye contact with anyone. "Well it's a pleasure to meet you both-" Her words were cut off with another bout of loud commotion from the living room. Ithilwen had been about to turn and ask again what that was, but the colorful blur that swarmed her from all sides had been a clue.

Moments before Ithilwen had taken notice of Legolas in the hallway, Elrond had pulled Celebrian into the living room. She had been humming with excitement to learn that her children were also in this world and was itching to see them again. Her mate had taken her by the hand and led her inside, making a right turn into another larger room, where he called out their names. She heard them say something about a cartoon being on they were watching, but got up from their seats anyway. "They have been watching that box in the den for hours now," he grumbled. "Fiona has coined your children 'couch potatoes' already, though I am unfamiliar with what it means. I suspect it cannot be good."

Celebrian only chuckled to herself. She wasn't about to tell Elrond that she knew the term; it was one of the many odd words that Ithilwen had introduced her to during their trip. She looked up to see movement from the doorway across the room, and three familiar dark-haired elves emerged. Tears welled up in her eyes, and she had to let go of Elrond's hand to wipe them away. It had been far too long since she had seen her children, and even if they were grown, they were still her babies.

"Naneth!" they said at once, and had Elrond not stepped back a few paces he would have been trampled by the twins alone as they ran to their mother, wrapping their arms around her waist from either side. Arwen was more composed as she pulled Aragorn behind her, but he had tugged himself loose so that she could embrace Celebrian as well.

There were sniffles and tears from the pile of elves in the living room, but it was hard to decipher just who was crying and who was trying not to amid the exclamations, questions, and choked laughter.

"We've missed you, Naneth!"

"Please don't cry, Naneth!"

Celebrian laughed again as she attempted to squeeze all three of them in a hug at once. "I'm just happy, my darlings," she told them. "I have missed you all terribly!"

Arwen pulled back first, and tried to pry her brothers off of her. Given how they had come across her that particular time, she couldn't blame them for wanting to hold on, but their naneth needed to breathe! "You look wonderful, Naneth," she told her once she could get a good look at her mother. Celebrian's overly-large sunglasses that were resting on the crown of her head and the long floral print maxi dress were a striking contrast to the elven gown they had last seen her in, but it was the elleth in the dress that made the difference. When she had sailed, Celebrian had been worn and fragile; now, she was in excellent health, and the glow Arwen once remembered her naneth having about her had returned.

"Thank you, sweetheart," Celebrian said. "You can thank your cousin for that. Since she found me in Texas, she's taken good care of me. But I believe there is something different about you," she continued, looking her daughter up and down with a smile. "I do believe you have bound yourself, haven't you?"

The evenstar's cheeks went slightly pink, and she turned to gesture towards Aragorn to come join her. When he was by her side, she said, "Yes...Naneth, and this is my husband, Aragorn-"

"Elessar, I believe?" Celebrian smiled. "You resemble your great-grandfather very much. Ithilwen has told me the stories that Legolas has told her for months about you while we traveled, and I am so happy to finally meet you."

Aragorn looked slightly surprised to see that she was handling this announcement so well. He had been afraid that with the way Elrond had reacted, that Arwen's mother would be the same. " do not disprove of your daughter's decision?" It wasn't one of the best opening lines of conversation, but this was a big thing that needed to be cleared between them, or it was going to be horribly awkward in the house.

Celebrian tilted her head to the side and studied the new king. "You are a good man, Elessar. I can see it in your eyes, and I can see how much Arwen loves you. I would rather my daughter - and sons - find the one that they truly love in their lifetime than to be oppressed because of a technicality. You both are a good match for the other, and I know you will protect Arwen and care for her unconditionally."

"You took the news better than Adar did," Elladan pointed out, carefully avoiding the stern look Elrond shot his way.

"Yes, he wouldn't give his blessing until Estel here became King of Gondor-"

"Elrond!" Celebrian looked appalled at him.

"What?" He questioned. "Your sons are making this statement out to be as if I had no faith in Aragorn-"

"It doesn't sound like it!"

"That is far from the truth!"

Elrohir moved to stand next to Aragorn, who felt like he was being called out for something he didn't do. "The good news is Naneth is on your side-"

"I never said I disproved of Arwen's marriage!"

"Adar you wanted me to sail West before the war even ended-"

"I did not wish for you to grieve if the worst should happen-"

Aragorn interjected, coming to Elrond's defense. "To be fair, I also suggested that she take one of the ships to Valinor."

"You have no faith in yourself, Estel." Elladan said.

"Yes, you took the Paths of the Dead before the rest of us-"

"I thought we were to never speak of that, brother!"

"You two did not join Aragorn?" Now Elrond was looking at them suspiciously. Celebrian was enjoying this back-and-forth banter between all of them as she stood between her daughter and son-in-law.

"Not true," Elrohir continued to babble, "We just didn't go in when he did. Uncle Haldir and Glorfindel didn't go in immediately either-"

A loud gasp from the den was heard then, followed by, "We swore an oath to never speak of that!" And in the doorway to the den stood Glorfindel, looking none to thrilled about being called a chicken by two other chickens. "Prepare to be punished for uttering anything about that span of time."

Knowing that the possibility of the balrog slayer enforcing his threats were real, both Elladan and Elrohir began to high-tail it out of the living room, mumbling words of going to greet their cousin. The pause and the second exclamation from the hallway was their cue.

Ithilwen could barely blink before she felt herself sandwiched between to bodies, and for a third time she wanted to ask "What the hell?!" but was unable to.

"Good to see you, dear cousin," the voice from behind said.

"We've missed you terribly," said the voice in front.

"No one to tease-"

"-or chase-"

"-but now we get to-"

"-make up for lost time-"

"-isn't that great?" They both finished in sync.

Being squished between the strong bodies wasn't helping Ithilwen recall names. All she could see was dark hair and colorful tunics in front of her. Wracking her brain, the fog cleared and she realized just who had dogpiled her in a surprise hug. "It's Elladan and Elrohir, right?" she asked. "I'm sorry I don't remember your faces well."

"That's because you were just a mere babe in bundling when you were taken from us," Elladan said, stepping back from the embrace. "Let me also thank you on behalf of the three of us for taking care of Naneth. You cannot begin to imagine how happy we are to see her doing so well today."

Ithilwen smiled up at her cousins and started to say that she was happy to spend time with Celebrian, when another voice entered the hallway. Luckily, the tone and venom laced within the words weren't directed at her.

"Haldir, these two turkeys have let their loose tongues slip and divulge our most guarded secrets from the war!" It was a blond ellon, broad shouldered with long hair that curled in spirals down his back. Ithilwen was pretty sure that he'd make any hairstylist cry tears of agony. The deep voice that spilled out from his lips didn't match the angelic face, especially not since it sounded so offended.

Haldir looked slowly from Glorfindel in the doorway to the twins, who thought they could take refuge behind Ithilwen. It would have been amusing, given they were taller and broader, but he had also been a part of the "nope squad" at the cave entrance.

Fiona, not having any idea about what was happening, looked around and asked, "What? Did y'all get so cold you had to get naked and sleep close for body warmth or something?"

"Elves do not feel the extremities," Elladan told her from Ithilwen's left shoulder. "And we do not feel the same shame in our nudity that mortals are accustomed to."

"So what's the deal? What did you guys do that was so embarrassing?" Ithilwen looked over to Legolas, who shrugged and looked to Gimli, who began to shuffle his feet as a distraction.

"I believe it is more of what they did not do immediately," Legolas offered. "I had been wondering why the lot of you were arriving later than Aragorn and myself."

"Alright! If you must know, we hesitated at the entrance to the caves!" Elrohir looked ashamed. "Your adar, my brother and I, Gimli, and Glorfindel all entered the caves last. Estel had gone in first, and it wasn't long afterwards that Legolas followed."

"To be frank," the blond in the doorway began, and Ithilwen realized that this was Glorfindel, "I hesitated because of what happened the last time I got near a large stack of rocks. I would think I would receive some sympathy given that I would be going underground willingly this time!"

The swirl of the argument in the entryway could be heard over in the living room. Morwen was in the kitchen getting a head start on dinner preparations, while her parents, Thranduil, and Miraear sat in the dining room listening intently. She couldn't help but snort out loud at the sounds she was hearing, and learning about her mate almost chickening out with her nephews was something she'd later tease him about with no shame. "I think she found her cousins," she said aloud, "and from that voice I'm guessing Glorfindel."

"An esteemed warrior afraid of going into the mouth of a cave." Thranduil sighed, finding this eavesdropping to be an embarrassment to elven-kind.

"You can look at me and tell me that you would not hesitate," Miraear eyed her mate skeptically.

"There were no spiders in there."

"There were the souls of fallen warriors," Celeborn pointed out. "Would you really wish to contend with a being that could not easily be slain twice?"

"Could they not be shot with an arrow?"

Glorfindel's voice carried into the dining room, and from the sound, they were approaching. "Your son tried that," he grinned from behind an embarrassed Legolas. "It didn't work out so well."

Ithilwen, still next to Legolas, looked up at him in disbelief. "You shot a ghost."

"What? They looked solid enough!"

"You're lucky you didn't die!" she responded. "It's one thing to do that in a video game, but don't do that again!"

"Well in the event that I encounter another spectral form, what do you suggest?"

"Salt?" Ithilwen shrugged. "It worked on Supernatural." She turned her head to look across the room, noticing the two new people sitting with her grandparents. With a sheepish smile, she gave them a small wave. "Hi."

The unknown elleth rose from her seat, tugging on the ellon's arm as she went. "You must be Ithilwen," she said gently, "I am Miraear, Legolas and Tauriel's naneth. This is my husband and their adar, Thranduil."

Ithilwen felt her cheeks warm. "Oh wow, I didn't even know! I'm terribly sorry- It's an honor to meet you both, really!" She felt more than silly when she almost curtsied in her jeans and t-shirt, and it didn't help that both of them were dressed far more formally than she had since her college graduation. Miraear seemed to radiate sunshine with her smile, and appeared to be the more cheerful of the pair. With her, Ithilwen felt like she was welcomed in a room. Thranduil, on the other hand, remained silent and gave her a calculating look. 'Is he sizing me up? Judging me? Not the first time for that.' She didn't get the feeling that it was meant to be rude, but more...intimidating. He would be one that she'd have to tread carefully around until she got to know him better.

Legolas remained silent, not because he felt the same intimidation that Ithilwen was presently, but because he wanted to see how his adar would react to meeting her. Given how little he was speaking, there was really no way of knowing. Thranduil was never one to withhold an opinion, but the slightest nod he gave in her direction gave him some hope that he would warm up to her. However, these thoughts were shaken when he felt Ithilwen move from his side. Alarmed, Legolas looked over to see Glorfindel take her by the wrist and lead her away into the kitchen. 'Where is he taking her?' he thought to himself. 'And why do I feel the need to go and get her? She just arrived! This is her home for Eru's sake!'

As it appeared, Glorfindel had taken introductions into his own hands. Tall, brooding kings only made for awkward moments, and there were still many people for the elleth to meet! "You naneth has told us about your educational endeavors, and there's someone I want you to meet that would go toe-to-toe with you in academic discussions if it's something he knows about!"

Ithilwen could only be led along as the famous slayer passed her naneth to reach an ellon with long black hair. He turned her loose, only to clap the ellon on the shoulder to get his attention, and from the grumbled response in elvish, it wasn't the best way to approach him. When the nameless ellon did turn to face her, she found herself surprised - and a bit jealous of how lovely his hair looked. His robes were varying shades of dark blue, and between their cut and his stance she couldn't help but think of him as an elven Severus Snape.

"This is Erestor," Glorfindel said to her. "He's a counselor of your uncle's in Rivendell, and he's also a curator of the library that is housed there. If you ever need clarification on our people's history, this is who you'd want to come see."

"How very uncharacteristic of you, Glorfindel-" Erestor had begun to say, but the slayer kept going.

"-And if you ever want to mess with his head, go in the library and rearrange the books."

"There it is," the raven-haired ellon sighed. He looked down at Ithilwen and said, "I would advise against it, but I have a feeling that you are much the organizer that I myself am."

Ithilwen found herself smiling. "You'd be right," she told him. "There's nothing more maddening than looking for a book and it not being where it's supposed to be."

"Not true," Morwen called from the stove. "A destroyed drawer of Dewey Decimal System cards being ransacked and scattered over the library is a librarian's worst nightmare."

There was more movement from the corner of her eye, but she had to keep her eyes on the skillet in front of her so she didn't see who had come to collect Ithilwen this time. Needless to say, when Legolas appeared in the kitchen looking around, she was surprised.

"I thought you were the one who took off with Ithilwen," she remarked.

Legolas shook his head as Glorfindel complained about there being too many blonds in the house. It was Erestor that pointed in the direction Ithilwen had been taken, telling the prince that it was the Lady Eowyn that had collected her. Legolas had gone out the doorway in the direction they had left.

"I am Eowyn, formerly of Rohan," the blond woman pulling Ithilwen down the hallway said. She had barely asked if the elleth was herself before telling her that there were others to meet, and once more, Ithilwen was taken by the wrist and led along through her own house. "I apologize for my abruptness, Lady Ithilwen. It was not my intention to startle you."

"Oh please, just Ithilwen's fine. And you're not the first to do this today, so think nothing of it." Truth be told, Ithilwen had been startled, but only because it seemed like there were people popping up all over the place. Her grip was firm, which the elleth found impressive. "You happen to swing a sword now and then?"

Eowyn laughed. "Occasionally," she replied. "And you must address me as Eowyn then. I daresay we will be seeing each other often enough to speak casually!"

The woman led Ithilwen through the back door and out onto the porch, where she was met with an assorted cluster of men. Two of them were taller than herself, but the other four were much smaller, maybe Jamie Bennet's height if that tall. They all had looked up in surprise at the intrusion and fallen silent at the pair's entrance.

"Do you wish to explain why you have commandeered this young woman?" The blond haired man with the beard asked.

Eowyn pulled a face at the man, and before she said anything, Ithilwen quickly realized this was her sibling. "If you must know, I brought her out her to meet each of you! The state of the house is in chaos-"

"Precisely why we chose to sit outside," he continued matter-of-factly.

"As I was about to say," she ground out, "This is Ithilwen, Lord Legolas' friend. Ithilwen, this oaf here is my older brother Eomer, and beside him is my husband Faramir." After both men had nodded greetings to the elleth, she was turned to better see the shorter of the group. "And these are the Hobbits of the Shire," she continued. "That is Samwise Gamgee. Beside him is Frodo Baggins, and they are Meriadoc Brandybuck, and Peregrin Took."

"You can call me Sam," the round-faced hobbit said with a smile.

"And Merry and Pippin are fine with us," Pippin said.

Ithilwen nodded, but she didn't take her gaze from Frodo. "You are the ringbearer," she said.

"I was."

It seemed that Frodo didn't know where she was going with her words, so it came as a surprise when she smiled. "I owe you so much, Frodo. It is because of you that my adar and friend are here at last. You brought my family together once more, and I cannot thank you enough for that."

Frodo smiled nervously at the elleth. "It is nothing," he tried to play it off.

"You did so much for middle-earth," she protested, "You can't say that's nothing-!"

"Frodo has the same kind of problem taking praise as you do, Ithilwen," Fiona's voice rang out from the door. She appeared moments later as they all turned, with Legolas right on her heels. "By the way, you left your elf in the kitchen. He was about to have a fit trying to find you, cause Erestor's directions only went so far."

"Were you worried that I disappeared?" Ithilwen couldn't help but find it oddly endearing that Legolas was looking for her. She couldn't fault him, even if the circumstances were rather silly.

"Should we get some of that elvish rope?" Pippin looked to Sam, who shrugged. "That way Legolas wouldn't lose track of Ithilwen, or is that wrong?"

Legolas looked embarrassed for the teasing, but Ithilwen's cheeks warmed for an entirely different reason. From the look that Fiona had, she had picked up on the train of thought, and had been about to say something. She wouldn't stand for it, and had been about to say something else entirely when she remembered, "Oh shit I left food in the car!"

"You love food, Ithilwen. How in the hell did you forget you left food in the car?" Fiona, along with many of the other houseguests, had followed her out the front door. Some had stopped to linger on the porch, unsure of the large white contraption the elleth was walking towards, but some chose to brave the unknown and approach it. The strawberry blond found this amusing, frankly. 'It's like if they think we're going up to it then it's safe, but I'd probably be the same way if I was them.' "By the way," she turned back to face the porch, noting that Celebrian was standing with Morwen and Elrond. "How did your first car ride go, Aunt Celebrian?"

The first response was the echoing sound of laughter from Ithilwen, who had chosen to just lean into the driver's side window to pop the trunk. Legolas and the twins, who were closest to the car, jumped in alarm at the sound. She shimmied out and straightened her t-shirt as she answered. "Lots of poking and questions. And white-knuckling."

"It wasn't that bad!" Celebrian blushed.

Haldir continued walking towards the car, peering into the windows suspiciously. "What does that term mean?"

"It means Aunt Celebrian was almost as scared as the driver's education teacher that Ithilwen had before she got her license." Now Ithilwen was blushing again, but Fiona kept going. "Her first day on the road for practice, and Ithilwen has to take this right turn, but she's going about 45 and barely slows down-"

"I tapped the break like I was told to!" Ithilwen chose to ignore the grins from her cousins as she began to open the back passenger door to remove the coolers. They may have not known the mechanics of how a car worked, but she did know carriages existed in middle-earth, and the images they must have been forming in their minds were something else.

"You made the poor guy go back to strictly teaching the classroom material!" Fiona had moved to the end of the car and lifted the trunk. "You have no fear behind the wheel, Ithilwen, and that's not something you want to say outside of a Mario Kart game. ...Okay yeah I have no idea which bags are yours."

Celebrian collected her skirts and jogged down the steps of the porch and to the car. When she reached her niece's side, she began to pick them out. "Ithilwen got me these," she said, but as soon as she had one in her hands, they were taken by Elladan.

"Let me, Naneth." Then he turned to Elrohir and said, "Will you take Naneth's bags, brother?" The wide grin had made Fiona laugh before she could stop herself, even with the assurances from their naneth that she could carry them.

"Dare I ask what all of this is?" Haldir had been poking around the back passenger door on his side of the car, and had managed to figure out how to open said door. It was the mountain of containers that sat in the seat that left him flummoxed.

"Food's in the back seats," he heard Ithilwen say, "And I think my purse, still. The clothes and stuff we bought is back here."

"A lot of odds and ends," Celebrian noted.

"Yeah," the elleth laughed.


She looked up from her bags, which Legolas insisted on taking despite her protests otherwise, to find her adar looking at her strangely. With Ithilwen distracted, her slack on the bag in her hands loosened, and Legolas was quick to sling it over his shoulder, looking smug at having won. Then he saw the look Haldir was giving her and became confused.

"W-" he paused, running a hand across his mouth, as if he thought it would help him find the words. Haldir tried again, brows knit together. "Why in Feanor's name do you have a bloodied head in here?" There was just no other way to say it. He had removed a small box and passed it to Fiona when he saw it. It was just...sitting there on top of another box. It wasn't real, he could tell that much, but he needed more context for why one of his daughters would have a severed head in their possession.

The answer, however, wasn't one he expected. "Oh! You found Bob! That's the horror-head I made at one of my workshops in Texas!"

"You- You made this?"

"Yeah, ain't he cool?"

Ithilwen looked so proud of herself, Haldir couldn't question it further. He tentatively lifted it from its resting place at studied it further. She had put some effort into making it appear lifelike, but most ellith would have taken pride in intricately woven tapestries, not...a decapitated body part. Haldir sincerely hoped that Bernard was not as twisted in his thought processes as it appeared his daughters were, though given who their naneth was, he wasn't surprised.

Elrond had taken Celebrian's things and led her upstairs to show her where they were staying. Fiona and Tauriel, with the assistance of the twins, had taken the bags of cosplay parts into the studio, where Fiona had explained that there was a special closet set aside for them. Many of the bags were left to sit in the corner of the living room to be taken care of when Ithilwen returned downstairs. As it was, she was following Legolas upstairs, who wouldn't turn loose of her bags.

"I can get them," she said again as they reached the top of the staircase.

Legolas turned, looking quite smug still. "It would be improper to allow a lady to carry her things when an ellon is capable and available."

Ithilwen narrowed her eyes as his lips spread into a grin. "You're screwing with me."

"I assure you I'm not, Ithilwen. I was raised to show respect to a lady."

"Your grin says otherwise, but fine. You're still a guest here so I don't expect you to follow 'protocol' or whatever. My room's this way," she said, turning left and going to the last room at the end of the hall. She left the door open wide enough for Legolas to get through, since he had been stubborn enough to carry all the bags. "You can just set them on the bed. I'll worry about unpacking them later when I get a load of laundry started."

Legolas did as she requested and looked about her room. The color scheme was light, opening the room up and making it seem bigger than it already was. The bed was positioned at the center of the closest wall, and directly across from it sat a cabinet that housed a moderate-sized television. To the left of the bed was an end table, and beyond that was a closed door. The closet lay open to the right of the cabinet with the television, where Legolas could see that it was deeper than it first appeared. Against the wall beside the entry to the room sat more cabinets and a simple mirror set onto the wall. Beside the balcony doors sat a small cushioned bench, scattered with pillows and a throw blanket. All around the room, Legolas could see where she had left personal touches. Pictures were tacked or hung in frames, various knick knacks and crafting pieces were laying on any open flat surface. It was a room that was designed for use, but also a place for comfort and rest.

"I believe I have something of yours," Ithilwen spoke, jarring Legolas from his thoughts. "I'm not sure how I got it, but I can't think of anyone else it might belong to."

Legolas watched the elleth move around him and open one of the bags, shuffling clothes to one side or the other, before pausing and withdrawing a silvery material.

"It needs to be washed, but I wanted to return it to you when I saw you in person," she said, holding out the tunic that she had come to possess.

"I was wondering where that had disappeared to during my stay in Rohan," he chuckled. "You have kept it this long, Ithilwen. You should continue to be its owner."

"A-are you sure?" Ithilwen stuttered. "I couldn't possibly-"

"I am sure," he said, holding a hand up. "If you will wait here, there is something I have that I believe is yours." Ithilwen nodded mutely and watched as he walked out of the room, returning moments later with something folded in his hands that she could not make out.

At least until he unfolded it.

"Oh dear god," she moaned. "How-? How-? Howdidyougetthose?!" she nearly squeaked, her face going an interesting shade of red.

"Possibly the same way that you acquired my tunic." Legolas, she noted, was also looking quite red around the ears. "I woke up that morning in Rohan to discover I had misplaced a tunic...and gained..."

"My underwear." Ithilwen muttered, before giggling. "I should be mortified! Why do I find this so funny?"

Legolas began to smile. "It was quite the surprise, I assure you."

Once she had her giggle-fit under control, Ithilwen had to ask. "So I wore your tunic, did you wear those?"

If his ears were red before, they were redder now. "Absolutely not!" Legolas nearly cried.

"I'm sorry, I had to ask," Ithilwen sounded genuinely apologetic, but the smile wouldn't go away. "Some guys in this world do that sort of thing, or so I've heard. I couldn't help but ask."

"I did carry them beneath my tunic for the remainder of the war," Legolas said with all seriousness.

Ithilwen's face went from smiling to shock. "You did what?"

"I had this...fabric...folded beneath my undertunic for the remainder of the war. All the way from Helms Deep to the battle at the Black Gate."


"Of course. It is not unheard of for a warrior to carry a ladies' favor into battle with him." Legolas found it oddly funny how she could stand there and gape like a fish.

"Well..." Ithilwen cleared her throat. "...if...if my...underwear...gave you the luck of victory in the war for middle-earth, then you should keep them," she finished with a small smile.

Legolas smiled, glad to see that she hadn't been upset. He intended to return them to her, just as she had with his tunic. "Shall we head back downstairs? There is still much that must be done before dinner this evening." A quick glance in the mirror showed that the elf's face had returned to its normal shade.

Ithilwen nodded, and they made their way out into the hall. "You know," she began offhandedly, "There's a bra that goes with those." She didn't pay attention as Legolas tossed the garment into his room, but she heard the snort all the same.

"Again, I am not wearing them."

Downstairs, things had settled for the most part and everyone had once again spread out around the house instead of clustering around the two new arrivals. Morwen was in the kitchen preparing supper and showing Sam how the appliances worked. He had expressed an interest in helping out, having known the struggles of cooking for a large group of people. She had told him about her early days as a working mother in the world, back when it was less common for women to work in public service.

"I started out as a waitress at a Waffle House down in Georgia," she explained, opening a box of wild rice. "This was back when we were moving every decade, since the anti-aging was problematic. Handling hungry people with a smile all the time was exhausting, more mentally than physically if you can believe it. But I moved up to cooking, and I think that was more stressful in a way. Some people wanted their eggs one way while some wanted them another, and there's regulations to remember so you don't accidentally give a customer food poisoning."

Sam had been cutting up the recently-thawed sausage into quarters, when he paused to look at her. "How did you manage?"

Morwen shrugged. "I had to support my girls. They're what's kept me going when I thought about giving up, and there's been some dark times. Anyway, the story has a happy ending, right? The war is over, family is here, and everything's worked out." She smiled down at the hobbit on the step stool. "So how long are y'all here for? There's a way back to middle-earth, right?"

"Yes ma'am," he nodded. "Mister Gandalf said it'd be about three months time before the portal would open to bring us back, but...there's also that Miss Esther as well. We met her at the portal when we arrived, and she said she had some hand in the magic."

"That sounds like Esther all right. She may be the key to helping us all return home when it's time."

"Are you going to miss it here, Miss Morwen?"

She smiled again. "Yes, and no. I will miss the friends we have made, but I know that we will lose them eventually, so it is best to depart now when we have the opportunity. They wouldn't wish to keep us from our home on their behalf."

In the dining room, Ithilwen felt herself be surrounded by people that felt no shame in openly staring. Her adar, she couldn't fault, but the others? Fiona was sitting on their adar's right, with Elladan on her other side, and she was staring at the elleth expectantly. "What?"

"Where's the pictures?"

"What pictures?"

"You said in your vlogs that you had pictures of some celebrity! I've been haunting your photo accounts to see if you put them up! Come on now, show us the goods!"

Elladan jerked his thumb at Fiona. "I can attest to your sister's stalking. She has been relentless since we learned of this."

Ithilwen felt her jaw go slack. "Wait...wait. You guys saw those vlogs?" Her face had gone a shade paler at the thought. "How many did you see?"

Arwen appeared in the dining room doorway with Eowyn. "We saw each one you had made available to watch, thanks in part to your sister."

"They were very entertaining," Eowyn said. "We felt as if we were there with you on your trip!"

The elleth now had her hands covering her face as she groaned in embarrassment. "I can't believe y'all saw those," she mumbled. "I just...I can't even right now."

"There is nothing to be ashamed of," Haldir told her from across the table. "These were things that you enjoyed and wished to share. It makes me happy to know that you enjoyed yourself on this trip. However," he sighed, "there were some things that I did not approve of, despite your naneth reminding me that you are an adult now."

Before she could ask, Celebrian had appeared in the dining room with a thick envelope in her hand. "I bet it's Black Cat, isn't it Haldir?" She grinned when her brother-in-law didn't look amused. "It is! Oh, and here are the pictures-" Celebrian had to dodge Fiona's attempts to grab them as she passed them to Ithilwen, "-the ones that Fiona are wanting to see are in there. I think in our rush to pack we chucked them in one of my bags."

It was an overly-packed envelope from Wal-Mart, Fiona noticed. Ithilwen had gone for buying disposable cameras instead of worrying about her digital camera. 'Guess that explains why they weren't online.' "When did you get these developed if you two were leaving the cons early?"

"When we stopped at Wal-Mart to get the bow," her sister answered distractedly, removing the stack and shuffling through the pictures. Legolas, who had been sitting next to her, would try and lean over her shoulder, but she'd catch him and lean away, grinning. "There's something else that goes with this picture-"

"Right!" And Celebrian had left the room. A few minutes later, she returned with a larger piece of paper that was sheathed in plastic. "This one I remembered where we set it."

"Can we see that?" Elladan asked.

"Not until your aunt does, since it's for her."

"Aunt Morwen!"

"Hang on, I'm almost there-" Ithilwen had been quickly shuffling through the photos in her hands.

Fiona grinned widely. "That's what she said." It became even funnier when she explained it to Gimli, who was sitting on Legolas' other side, who pointed out that the "lass did say it". The reactions were priceless. Haldir didn't find it that funny, but the ellon on her other side looked as if he were putting this reference away for future use.

"Shaddap," Ithilwen said.

Movement in the kitchen stopped as Morwen and Sam joined those in the dining room. "What's the fuss? We've got supper going."

Celebrian looked to Ithilwen, who nodded, so she passed what was in her hands to Morwen. "This is something we picked up at one of the conventions," she said. "I couldn't for the life of me understand why your daughter was giggling until I saw for myself, and it makes a lot of sense now."

Morwen took the item and looked between her sister and oldest daughter suspiciously. Then she looked down at her hands and shrieked so loudly that Haldir was on alert until she said, "I love it!"

Poor Sam, just like many of the others that heard the shriek and came running to the source, could only look on in confusion as the matriarch of the house flushed like a young elleth. "What is it?" Haldir asked finally, not understanding why his mate had suddenly lost her mind.

"Well, a while back the girls and I were watching the TV when we came across this fantasy show. There was a wizard and magic…and…him,"

"Who?" Haldir asked.

"Darken Rahl," Ithilwen said, grinning widely. "Nana's character-crush."

Before Haldir could ask, Morwen turned the photograph around to show the room. It featured a dark haired man in sleeveless red robes, brandishing a sword over his head. At the bottom right corner of the picture was a scrawled hand written note, 'To Morwen, with love, Craig Parker'.

"I don't understand the writing," he said, frowning. Ithilwen recited it from memory, watching her mother blush further and receive raised eyebrows from the rest of the room. "Who is this Craig Parker, and why is he writing 'with love' to my wife?" he demanded.

"He's the actor that plays Darken Rahl," Fiona said. "And most autographs from celebrities do something like that. It's better than just signing their name, and it shows that they appreciate the requestor's support in their work. You don't have anything to worry about, Dad."

"Then why do you find this person, or character, so appealing?" He looked up at his mate.

She held the autograph closer to him. "Just look closer," was all she said.

"He looks like you!" Celebrian blurted out, and those at the table leaned in closer to look at the picture Morwen was holding out. Haldir felt far too many sets of eyes shift between the picture and him and it was almost as unsettling as the resemblance. "You know, if your hair was darker, shorter, and you had facial hair!"

"Are you trying to tell me something, melleth?"

"No, of course not! It's just that his eyes reminded me so much of yours, that when I'd get really sad, watching his character cheered me up."

Ithilwen handed her naneth the two pictures she had in her other hand. "You'll be pleased to know he was very nice," she added. "And smelt like sugar cookies."

Morwen took the pictures, which showed Ithilwen and Celebrian standing on either side of the actor in their costumes, and smiled. "I know you're joking about that last part, but I appreciate the thought, even if your adar doesn't." Satisfied, she set the photos down on the table, which Fiona picked up to get a closer look at. She did return to the kitchen with the autographed photo, however.

Elladan had leaned over Fiona's shoulder to look at the photos with her, glancing at his uncle occasionally. There were some differences, but it was a bit frightening regardless. Seeing his naneth dressed in costume was equally strange, but it was Fiona's comments that shifted the subject back to her sister. "You know we couldn't see it in the vlogs, but you've really got some cleavage going on, Ithilwen."

"And you wonder why I disapproved?" Haldir looked down at Fiona, who passed the photos across the table. Seeing the prince take hold of them didn't help matters, because he knew Legolas wasn't looking for similarities between himself and the actor. He was an ellon, after all. 'An unbound ellon,' he thought with a grimace, 'and as far as I know, one that is not currently courting an elleth.'

"There's fur around the collar!" Ithilwen tried to diffuse the situation. Haldir was looking sourly at Legolas, and Legolas wasn't looking up from the pictures, so he had no idea. She looked over at Legolas, only for him to look up at her at the same time, as if he were studying her. "You planning to commit that image to memory?" she teased, hoping it would lighten the mood.

Unfortunately, all it did was make his ears turn pink and her cheeks burn.

The evening improved from the embarrassments that Ithilwen experienced that afternoon. Stories were shared of the past few months, and the more she heard from the new house guests, the more that yearning to return home made sense. Morwen and Sam had made a pot of jambalaya with cornbread for dinner. It wasn't the fanciest meal that had ever been made, but the taste more than made up for the quickly-put-together look of the sausage and chicken with the rice mixture. After dinner, some moved about the house to wind down for the night, and for the youngest that meant sitting out on the back porch to watch the lightning bugs for a while.

Others, such as Thranduil and Miraear, would retire earlier. Miraear had disappeared into the bathroom to wash her face before bed, while Thranduil shed his robes and slipped under the covers. The night seemed like a good opportunity for intimacy, and he hoped to take advantage of it. Miraear, however, wanted to talk first.

"I think it is nice that Morwen's children are home now," she said, coming out of the bathroom. She stripped her dress as she went, stooping to collect it and lay it across the nearby chair before reaching for a night dress.

"There is one other," Thranduil said. "An ellon, if you will recall."

"I do, but we have been told that he is working presently." She paused to adjust the straps on her dress, pulling her hair out of it. "I hope that we will get to meet him soon though. Her two daughters are a delight to listen to, and Legolas has not looked so happy for quite a while, if you will recall."

Her mate snorted as she crawled into the bed covers beside him. Miraear had begun to leave light kisses on his neck and shoulder as her hands took to exploring his chest, moving lower at an incredibly slow rate. Thranduil groaned in impatience, and she nipped at his skin as one hand disappeared under the covers. He was so annoyed by the topic of their conversation, that he hadn't noticed, and said "That elleth is a passing fancy to Legolas, and once the new wears off, he will return to his former self-"

Had Thranduil been paying attention to his mate's wandering hand, he would have anticipated her reaction to his statement, or at the very least the flash of annoyance in her eyes as she gripped him. And squeezed. Hard.

"You believe that?" she asked innocently, looking up at her husband, who was looking wild-eyed down at her. "You believe that the happiness of one of our children is based on fleeting emotions?"

"Melleth-" He had to suppress a yelp as she squeezed again.

"Then I suppose that my annoyance with you is fleeting as well," she continued. "It would be a shame if I were to act on this emotion, for it would leave both of us very disappointed."


Miraear's eyes narrowed. "You need to listen, Thranduil. That elleth downstairs has done nothing to deserve your attitude towards her presence, and I would think that for Legolas' sake you would put forth a little bit of effort to get to know her." Her hand that had a grip on him gave another small squeeze, and this time the elf king did make a strangled noise in his throat. She had him where she wanted him, and that was to listen. "I happen to find her demeanor charming, if not a bit eccentric. I would suggest that if you do not wish to approach Elrond with this piece of you to reattach, that you try to be decent towards her, like I know you're capable of."

When she turned loose, Thranduil gasped and shot his mate a dirty look, who didn't look the least bit sorry. "I believe your point has been made," he said. "You do realize that this is asking much of me."

"Yes, and I know you are well equipped to be civil. You never carried out any of the threats you made with Gloin's son once you met him." Miraear climbed into his lap, moving his hair away to kiss the other side of his neck. "And I am glad you understand, because I really did not wish to dismember you this night. Or any night."

"You will be lucky if I am even functional this night, cheeky elleth," he growled into her ear.

"I am sure you jest-" she had to suppress a squeal as she felt his arms tighten around her waist and her weight being shifted as he flipped her onto her back. Of course there wouldn't be any permanent damage. They both knew this, just as they knew the likelihood of her following through on the threat was nonexistent.

Chapter Text

The next morning, Ithilwen had crept downstairs for a cup of coffee in her pajamas. It was somewhat early, and with so many in the house with sensitive hearing, she didn't want to wake anyone.

Haldir had watched her silently from the dining room table as she snuck into the kitchen past Morwen, who held out a mug for her to take. Moving around the kitchen with the grace of their kind, the elleth had quickly fixe