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Lost Lives

Chapter Text

The only reason the Sons of Elrond were even anywhere near this side of the Angle was because of Glorfindel.

"Check the settlements." He said, "There have been reported attacks." He said, "We might need to fortify the defenses of Imladris. I'll stay and defend the borders in case anything tries to ambush us. You two princesses love exploring so much so I'm certain you have no qualms about scouting the perimeter. Make a competition out of it, if you wish. You had no problems making a competition out of my hair." He said, bitterly, and with his hair up in an unflattering ponytail to hide its uneven cut.

Initially, the twins giggled about it the entire horse ride to the Angle. They'd managed to destroy the ends of Glorfindel's hair that he had no other choice but to cut the hair that was stuck together by some syrup they've concocted that had hardened. Elladan was quick to own up to it, and Lord Elrond had to yank his sons' ears again after two thousand years(There was a lot more ear pulling before then, too). Which was what also earned them the punishment of scouting alone. In hindsight, it was not, perhaps, the best idea because there were orcs attacking settlements roaming about. But they were not about to humiliate themselves by admitting they'd need help. What were a dozen more orcs to skilled warriors, anyway?

Their pride got the better of them, of course. They were used to being the ones doing the ambushing and attacking. But because there was just two of them and they could easily get outnumbered, they had to settle on stealth which required a bit more finesse. The trees in the Angle were not used to being touched or climbed by Elves. They did not always know how to support one, for example, if one unexpectedly jumped up and swung on top of its lower branch and it took more coaxing than what Elladan or Elrohir were used to to let them stay on the branches long enough for them to see their perimeter.

They had already found the settlment, which consisted of only five separate farmhouses southeast of the Angle, and was situated right next to the loud-rushing Bruinen river. The families were wiped out, all of which were women, children or the elderly. The Rangers who left them behind must be on their duty to protect the Shire.

The Orcs had passed, a party of thirty, as best as the twins could guess. The ground was a chaos of footprints, but the prints all led back further southeast, to the direction of Moria. The prints of some of the Dúnedain that had tried to flee were on their way north, where a larger, more secure village could be found, but they could not escape the orcs.

There was nothing left to do. They had to go back and report what they found, and quickly. They were just about to retreat back to where they tethered the horses when they heard it.

A scream.

Someone was still alive.

Olivia Carson was not a fan of swimming, or the cold, or the outdoors in general. She was a New York City girl. Hot water, noisy traffic, and the jungle of skyscrapers was what she was used to. The last thing she remembered was taking a shot of vodka during a party. And then someone barreled into her and pushed her into the pool. She had went outside to get some air, and the condominium her friend owned had a rooftop pool, so she retreated to the rooftop, where more drinks were being served. The next thing she knew, she was gasping for breath, paddling through an ice-cold river with currents pushing her away from the bank and rocks cutting into her skin while was being dragged back by the water. Either someone had drugged her or she was completely wasted and had gotten herself thrown into the East River--which was disgusting because she was pretty sure the East River had toxic waste. She didn't remember it ever being this strong, though.

And the foaming water around her looked really clean. In fact, she was pretty sure she wasn't in any river near New York because she belatedly realized there were trees beyond the bank. There was never this many trees in New York, except for Central Park.

She started screaming for help, then, even when she didn't need it. Not because she was drowning, but because she was panicking. By the time she got out of the water, her arms and legs were shaking from both the effort it took to paddle and because of how cold she was. Liv literally had to drag herself to the riverbank, and when she got there, she turned on her back and plopped down on the grass, gasping for breath only to realize she had laid down on something sticky. Sitting up, she felt her back and realized, disgusted, that she was lying in shit. Actual, stinking shit.

"Fuck it! Fuck this!" She screeched, scrambling away from the offending shit and washing herself in the river, howling at the cold water trickling down her back. She searched her body for injuries. She had scratches on her knees from the grass that stung terribly. Her ripped jeans were more ripped than ever and her socks were soggy inside her boots. She unlaced her ankle-boots and pulled them off her feet. The boots made disgusting squelching noises and Liv cursed once more, tipping her boots over to dump the water that had accumulated in them and removing her socks. She was in the process of lacing her boots up again when she felt something cold and metallic on her throat.

She froze, and tried to look up but all she could see was the woods in front of her. Her eyes were not used to such darkness. She realized with a shock that it wasn't just the river that was unfamiliar. Hell, there wasn't a single building in sight at all. Wherever she may be, she was nowhere near New York.

How drunk was I? She thought to herself.

"Fuck this." She muttered, trying to inch away from the blade pressed to her throat. Woke up in the middle of the fields only to get mugged. Amazing. Just her luck.

Elladan glanced up at his twin, his keen eyes seeing what she could not through the shadows of the trees.

“What are you doing, you fool?” Elladan hissed at the girl while Elrohir, his back turned to them, kept a watchful eye on their perimeter. Elrohir’s bow was in his hand, and he scanned their surroundings while Elladan focused on the girl. She was wearing such strange clothes. A ghastly fuschia top of some sort, tasteless even for humans. For one thing, the shirt was too small, and showed off her stomach. The sleeves fell off her shoulder and the entire thing showed far too much skin. She also wore torn pants that looked like it was made from some stiff, heavy, dark blue fabric that clung to her legs in a very inapproiate way and such strange, black ankle-boots made from a soft fabric that had high heels. Not something one would or should wear when roaming the wilds at night during these dark times. Elladan had moved silently behind the girl, and had brought a sword to her throat. It was the only way he could think of to make her shut up immediately. They couldn't risk the orcs who had attacked the village hearing her and attacking. It was unwise to shout at the top of one’s lungs, announcing to every predator within ten leagues where their next meal was waiting.

“Putting a sword to a distressed girl’s neck is impolite, Elladan.” Elrohir remarked, turning to his twin with a small smirk once he decided the coast was clear, although he kept his bow ready just to be careful, even though Elvish eyes were hard to deceive.

“She stinks.”

“She is covered in manure.”

“And she looks like she had just taken a dip in the river. What do you know of this village's attack, girl?” Elladan said, addressing the girl once again.

Liv, meanwhile, was stuck sitting on the ground, mouth hanging open at the two figures conversing. She did not understand a single word they had just said. Were they speaking in some sort of secret language? Or had someone slipped something in her drink during the party and this was all just some trippy hallucination?

“Perhaps she is just lost.” Elrohir said, diplomatically, observing the petrified girl.

“Hey. Um. If you could just point your knife somewhere else, that’d be great.” Liv piped in.

The twins looked at each other in surprise.

“What did she say?” Elrohir asked.

“I was hoping you would know. Erestor always said you were the diplomat and was more learned at languages than I.” Elladan said, suppressing a grin. Elrohir did not take his brother’s playful teasing, and instead just shook his head.

“What are you doing so close to Imladris, girl? Are you one of the Dùnedain?” He asked the girl, stepping closer. Liv blinked up at the man who had stepped into her line of sight from out of the shadows. He had dark, sleek hair that reached the middle of his back, longer even than her own hair. His skin was fair, almost translucent in the glow of the moon and stars, and his eyes.

God, his eyes.

Grey and warm at the same time. Sharp and kind. A fascinating mix of contradictions that made it impossible for her to look away.

He was the most beautiful person she had ever seen.

The only thing that took her aback was the sharp point of his ear, sticking out from behind his hair, but even that did not detract from his beauty. If anything, it only added a surreal effect to an already unbelievable kind of splendor.

Okay, no questions about it now: She most definitely was hallucinating.

Liv mentally shook herself. Focus, girl. It’s just a guy, she tried to convince herself. She could tell that a question was directed at her, but for the life of her she did not know what they were saying. “English. I only understand English.” She said. She cleared her throat as she spoke. She was getting tongue-tied. Over some guy. Some ridiculously attractive guy. This didn't usually happen.

Elladan and Elrohir only stared at her. Elrohir quirked an eyebrow at the girl. She had not blinked since he first revealed himself to her.

“English?” She repeated again, miming talking with her hands.

“I think she is asking if we understand her.” Elladan muttered. Liv sighed in frustration. Clearly, they didn’t know what she was saying. Where the hell was she, anyway?

“Listen, buddy, it's been a rough night. I don't have shit to give you unless you count actual feces. Just leave me alone and let me go home." Christ, what a way to cure a hangover. This was not going well at all. "Please." Liv added, a bit more desperately than she intended it to be.

Her plea made Elladan hesitate. She certainly did not seem like a threat. He did not bring his guard down, however. Perhaps it was a trick. Elrohir, always the more intuitive of the two, inclined his head, and Elladan relented, dropping his sword. Both Elladan and Elrohir kneeled in front of the girl. Her brown eyes, soft and doe-like, stared at them with confusion. And not a little wonder.

Liv stared from one man to another. Twins. Hot twins. Sweet heavens above. They were breathtakingly gorgeous. It was impossible to tell the two apart, especially in the darkness, although the calculating look in the other one’s eye and the way he frowned slightly at her told her he was likely to be the harder of the two, the more guarded.

Elladan could not understand her at all, but looking more closely at the girl, she seemed to be genuinely distraught. There was something about her that was very odd. Something he could not quite put his finger on. She felt old, but not the same way that Lady Galadriel or Mithrandir felt. There was no deep sorrow and wisdom in her eyes, no sadness that carried the weight of a thousand years, and he had the strong sense that she did not belong. It went beyond her strange appearance and language. No, it felt deeper than that.

“What is your name, girl?” Elrohir said.

She shook her head, to indicate that she did not understand. He repeated the same question in several different languages, and still she only stared at him, blankly. Elladan leaned closer to her, and Liv pulled away, looking affronted.

Hot as he may be, the guy was getting too close to her personal space. It's not as if it's bad enough that she was freezing her ass off, drenched from head to foot. She did not need two strangely beautiful men, one of whom was holding a bow and the other wielding a knife, wearing clothes more appropriate for the Middle Ages, looming over her. Ugh. Did she land in a roleplaying reenactment camp? Really? It wasn’t enough that she couldn’t understand what these two buffoons were saying, they had to be costume-wearing weirdos, as well? They were hot, but there was such a thing as getting too close for comfort.

Lord, help her right now.

“Okay. Can we cut the act for a second, please? Am I still in New York? You know, the Big Apple?” She asked, making a motion as though biting a fruit, which only confused the two.

“Is she hungry?” Elladan asked. “Elrohir, could you not make sense of her?”

Elrohir sighed and shook his head. “No. Whatever language she is speaking, it is one I have never heard before.”

Elladan pinched the bridge of his nose. They were not going to get anything from her, that much was clear. But they couldn’t just leave her here in the middle of the woods, it would be unspeakable to just abandon her and leave her to get lost. If their father ever heard of it, he would have their heads.

“Perhaps Father would be able to understand her language better. We could take her back to Imladris.” Elrohir suggested.

Elladan drew back.

“No.” He said, firmly.

“Elladan.” A warning tone from Elrohir.

“Absolutely not!”

“Elladan.” Now Elrohir just sounded exasperated.

“Hello? Still here. It's cold as fuck. I'm drenched, if you haven't noticed.”

The twins turned as the annoyed voice broke through their conversation. Liv knew they were talking about her, she could tell from the way the twin on her left gesticulated as he muttered angrily, and she was not happy about it. “Just point me the way home. I can’t have gone far. Do you know the way to Manhattan from here?” She said.

Again, just stares.

“Come on, you have to know New York. Central Park? Statue of Liberty?” Liv said, slowly, acting out her words by holding her arm up as though holding a torch.

“What is she doing?” Elrohir said, dumb-founded.

“Tricking us. We cannot allow a stranger speaking in an unknown language into Imladris during these dark times! Imladris has remained hidden from the shadow, and I will not allow that secrecy and safety to be compromised by letting a stranger through our doors.” Elladan snapped.

“Well, what would you have us do? Leave her to the wolves? Have you forgotten that five families have been murdered by a pack of orcs?” Elrohir snapped back. Elladan raised his hands in frustration.

“Girl!” He barked, harshly, making Liv draw back in surprise. Although, her surprise gave way to annoyance as those brown doe-eyes of hers narrowed and she frowned at Elladan. Liv was not one to take kindly to being addressed like that. It didn’t matter how attractive this guy was, he had no right to yell at her.

“Don’t take that tone with me! You don’t get to talk to me that way, princess!”

Elladan’s jaw dropped. She did not just use that tone with him.

“You see the ingratitude? We rescue her and she yells at us in return!”

“We did not rescue her from anything. If you will recall, you held a sword at her throat moments ago.” Elrohir said, evenly.

“She is probably one of the Dùnedain! Though I thought they had enough common sense to know that such clothes would not be comfortable to wear in the wilds.” Elladan said.

“You’re talking shit about me, aren’t you? I can tell.” Liv said, poking Elladan, which only enraged the elf.

“Just who do you think you are!” Elladan roared, poking her back, not hard but enough to make her scoff in annoyance.

“Who the hell do you think you are, jackass!” Liv screeched, pushing him with an open palm. In hindsight, it was probably not a good idea to anger a man who had a knife hidden somewhere in his person.

Elrohir got between them before Elladan showed the foolish mortal just how strong an angry elf could be. She was bold. Too bold. A dangerous trait to have for a stranger who did not speak their language.

“Stop behaving like this!” Elrohir growled. “And you!” He pointed a finger at the girl, who showed him her middle finger but kept silent as it was. He did not know if that was a gesture of surrender or something...much more insulting. He did not want to think about it.

“We will take you to the Dùnedain. Perhaps they are missing a brat.” Elrohir snapped, getting to his feet.

“I do not relish having to travel with such a troublesome, fiery woman. Her stench is already too much for me to handle.” Elladan complained.

“We cannot leave her in the woods, Elladan. We have to take her back to her people. We can send word to ada once we reach the nearest Dùnedain settlement. Caladír’s home is not too far from here, barely a day’s travel.” Elrohir said, firmly, before turning to the girl, still sitting on the ground, arms crossed although he suspected this was more to keep herself warm now. He could hear her teeth chattering from the cold.

His face softened. She looked at him with both anxiety and annoyance, but he could see her distress. See clearly that she was lost, see the way her eyes widened with not a little bit of fear as she saw the two strangers babbling away in an unknown language and there she was, sitting on the ground, cold, miserable and with horse shit dripping off her shoulder, and from where she was sitting, it seemed they were abandoning her.

Liv did not know where she was. She was starting to highly doubt this was all just some drug-induced hallucination, but how anyone managed to drug her so much that she would end up in the middle of nowhere, with only strangely beautiful, costume-wearing strangers speaking in a completely foreign language, was beyond her. And it terrified her that she immediately panicked at the prospect of the two of them leaving, because then, she’d be forced to brave through the dark woods alone. She may as well lie down and wait for wolves to get her.

But then Elrohir stretched out his hand, offering to help her up. There was a small smile on his lips, and she glanced back at his scowling twin whose arms were crossed, before looking back at the kinder one.

“It is alright. Come. We will take you to your people. Do not fear.” He said, slowly, and though Liv did not understand what he said, she reached out and let him pull her up.

Chapter Text

They had horses.

They were really serious about the Middle Age Role-playing gig. Liv looked into the beast’s black eyes. The horse stared right back. She narrowed her eyes at it and jumped back as the horse snorted. There was no way in hell she was getting up on that stinky thing. She knew she wasn’t one to judge, given that she literally smelled like the wrong end of the horse, but there was no way she was getting on that thing. Didn’t these two have cars? A bicycle, even? They looked like they were rich. They looked like they visited a dermatologist and got hair spas every week, and they had enough money to throw away on such expensive-looking costumes, complete with hand-stitched designs.

Liv glanced back at the twins, who were talking in hurried whispers, and all she needed was a jab from the grumpy one in her direction to know they were talking about her, which further irked her.

“You take her! You were the one who volunteered to help her!”

“Stop being so childish, Elladan.”

“You still owe me for the goat incident.”

“You know the goat incident was an accident.”

“Ha! You are still taking her! I am not taking her on my horse. She is all wet!”

"Such chivalry. Father would be so proud of you, dear brother."

"You be the chivalrous one if you are so concerned with her!"

“I’m not getting on any horse.” Liv interrupted, and although neither of the two understood her words, they could tell from the way her arms were crossed that she was being stubborn about something.

“When do you plan to rid yourself of that distasteful shirt? Respectable women do not wear such indecent clothes." Elladan snapped back, motioning at her revealing shirt.

“Wha--?” Liv looked down at herself. Okay, so she wasn't dressed for the woods. She wasn't dressed for comfort and she was still wet. She could see that. But it's a better alternative than going butt naked. She wasn't going to strip in front of these two, no matter how good-looking they might be.

“This goes, or neither of us will take you. This.” Elladan picked up the sleeve of her shirt, “Goes.” He jerked his thumb over his shoulder to indicate throwing the shirt away. That much she got. She narrowed her eyes and opened her mouth to protest but Elladan spoke over her, “Or we.” He motioned at himself and his twin. “Will leave you.” He pointed at her with his index finger, “Here.” He pointed downwards, at the ground.

"I have nothing to wear." Liv whispered, dangerously.

Elladan, not understanding a word, simply crossed his arms. She crossed her arms back.

He scowled.

She scowled back.

The message was clear enough.

"I have nothing else to wear, asshat. What, do you expect me to not wear anything?" She snapped. She motioned at her wet clothes and shook her hands, "Nothing." She said.

Elrohir, sensing another fight and understanding what she was trying to say, offered something to her. A pair of trousers, way too big to fit her around the waist. And a loose shirt, also too big for her. But at least these were dry and would cover her arms.

"What am I supposed to do with this?" She asked.

"Dry clothes. Here." Elrohir said, ignoring her babbling and offering her his extra belt, which he took from his pack. "Go. Change." He pointed to the shadow of the trees and motioned at the clothes in her arms.

Happy for any warmth, she took the clothes and retreated to the woods to change. The two Elves kept their backs to her to give her privacy. She came back with both the pants and the shirt secured tightly to her waist with the belt.

"Finally." Elladan rolled his eyes and turned to her, only to do a double take at the sight of her.

Thanks to his Elvish eyesight, even the dim light of the moon did nothing to hide the cleavage exposed because the collar of the shirt she was wearing was too low on her. She looked like a mess, all baggy clothes with high-heeled boots. She stumbled gracelessly through the unfamiliar terrain of the woods. Once she was within arm's reach, she unceremoniously threw her wet clothes--underwear and all--at Elladan, who gave an indignant scoff, which she ignored. She glared at him angrily, as if daring him to say anything. Before he could open his mouth, she protested with a snarl.

“Quit staring at my boobs.”

It made Elladan blink up at her and quickly turn around, pulling the wet clothes away from him and holding them at arm’s length. Elrohir himself was so surprised by the way she so shamelessly showed off her womanly figure, he could do nothing else but look away. He kept his eyes well above her neckline, which meant he had to look at her smirking at the two of them. It was a small comfort for Liv that she had driven them both to embarrassment just by the sight of a bit of skin. They act like such virgins, although she doubted they actually were. With faces like that, they looked like the kinds of boys that got around with women all the time.

“I’m still not getting on a horse.”

Elladan exchanged bewildered looks with Elrohir. “I do not think she is a Dùnedan. Their people would never dare speak to the Elves of Imladris this way.”

“Yeah, that’s right. Keep talking about me as though I’m not here.” Liv muttered.

Elrohir sighed. “If this is what we have to look forward to whenever we talk to her, this journey would be long indeed.”

“And to think we’d only been trying to do our duties and patrol the borders.” Elladan sighed.

“Trouble does find its way towards us, does it not? Even when we do not look for it.” Elrohir gave a small smile, making Elladan chuckle in agreement.

Liv approached the kinder twin and motioned at the horse, shaking her head. “No horse.” She whispered, practically begging. Elrohir furrowed his eyebrows. “I do not think she wants to get on the horse.” He said.

“She would have to.”

“We have to. We need to take you back to your people.” Elrohir said, addressing the girl. He motioned at her and then at the horse. “You have to get on.”

Her face fell. He’d seen that look on her face enough times to know that she was about to resist and argue again. Elrohir sighed in defeat. He did not have to look to his right to know that Elladan was smirking. “You will be riding with me, don’t worry.” He said, motioning first at her, then at himself, and then the horse. It made more sense, seeing as she and Elladan were not getting along, and forcing them to sit on the same horse would most likely result in an unpleasant accident. She seemed to trust Elrohir more, and it would perhaps be a quieter journey if she was with him.

Oh, how Elrohir almost wept at the thought of sharing a horse with a woman who smelled very much like horse manure. Her clothes may have changed but she still reeked. He could hear Elladan stifling his laughter as he swung his leg over the horse and held out a hand for her.

She moaned, looking up at the sky. “Okay, you can take me back now.” She said to God.

When nothing happened and the twins exchanged looks, she stared at the hand Elrohir was still offering her, and with a curse, she reached out and took his hand, surprised by how effortlessly he pulled her up. From her touch, Elrohir found it strange that her hand had no callouses, as though she has never worked a day in her life. Yet another quirk of their new companion.

Elrohir nodded at Elladan, leading his horse onwards, and Liv shrieked (far too loudly for his sensitive elvish ears) when the horse’s rump jerked, making her cling tightly to the Elf around his waist.

Elladan hesitated for a moment to look down at the clothes she threw at him, checking the stitching and the kind of fabric it was. He frowned before stowing the clothes—shit-covered and drenched as they were—in his pack. Perhaps the Dùnedain can explain how she managed to come by these garments.

Liv was cold. She didn’t think it was possible to be this cold without snow but she felt it. Elrohir could feel her arms shivering, the sleeves of the tunic she wore kept slipping off her shoulder and she kept yanking it up. They had to stop for camp and to hunt for food near a stream, hidden behind a thicket of trees but with enough ground to set a fire on. The moment they were back on the ground, Elrohir unclasped his own cloak from his neck and wrapped it around Liv.

“Oh.” Liv said, looking up at him gratefully when she felt the fur-lined cloak around her arms, still warm from the heat of his body. He was an entire foot taller than her, and his cloak was too long for her, so it ended up trailing along the ground. “Won’t you be cold? You? Cold?” She pointed at him, and wrapped her arms around herself to imitate shivering.

Elrohir smiled, securing the cloak with his own clasp on her shoulder. She was actually concerned for him. She was not as bad as Elladan insisted she was. “No. I am not cold at all.” He said, shaking his head before taking his bow out.

“What do we do with her while we hunt? I am sure the lady needs to eat but I doubt she knows anything about hunting.” Elladan said as he strode beside his brother.

Elladan nodded at the girl, who glowered at him. Why was she so unpleasant with him but so nice to Elrohir? “Hungry?” Elladan asked the girl in an attempt to be polite, patting his stomach.

“A bit.” She said, holding her thumb and index finger near each other. He chuckled at her unfamiliar hand gesture, but could make out what it meant. “I will go. You stay here with her.” Elrohir said.

“What? Why me?” Elladan exclaimed.

“Because I’m the better shot in the dark.”

“That is not true!”

“And because you two need to sort out your differences now. I am already losing my patience with both of you glowering at each other all the time.”

“I do not glower!” Elladan said, defensively. Elrohir raised an eyebrow at the look on his brother’s face. Elladan sighed. If Elrohir could put up with her and stay on a horse with her in silence, perhaps there was hope that Elladan would not have to talk to her at all.

“You will be held accountable for any injuries I will sustain from her.” He grumbled.

“Do not be so hard on her. She is terrified and lost. And I do not believe she has seen an Elf before now. Be gentle.” Elrohir said, turning back to the girl with a nod. Liv stepped forward, ready to follow him but he held out his palm. “No. Stay.” He said, firmly.

“But…” Liv said, glancing at Elladan, who knelt on the ground to work on setting up a small fire. Oh no. She was not going to be left here with him!

“Stay.” Elrohir said, the same time Elladan said, “Sit.”

She glanced anxiously from one Elf to another before finally sitting on a log across Elladan. Elrohir gave her one last comforting smile before walking off into the woods, his footfalls barely making any sound.

For a moment there was only silence and the sound of stone striking against stone as Elladan set up the fire, and when the fire burst into life, he sat back and let the crackle of the fire fill in the silence between them.

When he looked up at her, tears were in her eyes.

Liv could not tell when her first tear fell. All she knew was that when things finally settled down and she could think about her situation, she felt a gnawing anxiety in her gut, and not a little fear. She was in some strange land, probably out of the city by the looks of it. But where exactly she was, she couldn’t tell. God, Wendy was probably worried about her. Liv shared an apartment with her friend, but Wendy was staying at her boyfriend's house for the weekend. No one was going to miss her and call in her disappearance until Monday.

She wasn't close to her parents--could not, in fact, waited to have moved out as soon as she could--and she had no siblings or grandparents that would worry over her. Her mother was too busy with work, her dad was probably in the Bahamas with his new girlfriend. She and Wendy shared a luxury apartment that both of their parents were paying for but... nobody would miss her.

And that was what drove her to tears. That all her friendships were superficial. No one would care if she disappeared. No one would notice it.

The stress of it all, from the horse shit to her wet clothes to landing in an unknown country and being escorted by two beautiful strangers was just too much for her to bear. And as with every time she was stressed, her body’s reaction was to produce tears. She tried to stifle her crying both because of embarrassment and because she hated the thought of crying in the presence of the asshole she was forced to sit with. A small gasp for breath escaped her.

Elladan stood up in alarm, and the moment he realized what was going on, he started panicking himself. He had no idea what to do. Whenever Arwen cried when she was little, it was Elrohir who knew how to comfort her. Elladan usually just sat next to her, awkwardly patting her back while Elrohir shushed her and distracted her. But with Elrohir hunting for food, it was just him left, and he did not know whether he should walk over to the girl or just leave her be with her thoughts.

He took his chance and stepped towards her hesitantly. When she realized he knew she was crying, a strangled gasp came out of her and she scooted away from him, falling off the log she was sitting on in the process. It was already embarrasing enough that she still smelled like horse shit, and that she was now fumbling to sit up amidst the cloak that was now uncomfortably strangling her. Liv flat out refused to show her vulnerability like this.

“Ssh.” Elladan said, taking another step toward her, with the air of someone approaching a dying animal.

“Go away!” She hissed, covering her face with Elrohir's cloak. Elladan froze in his tracks. The one time he tried to be nice and that was what he got in return.

“I was just trying to comfort you, you ingrate!” Elladan hissed back.

“Stop yelling at me! Why do you hate me so much?” Liv shouted, yanking the cloak away from her face. Her eyes were still shining with tears but a fire had sparked within her, fueling her anger.

“Would you kindly stop yelling? What did I do to you this time?” He groaned, covering his forehead with his hand.

“Oh, what, so am I giving you a headache now?”

“Ugh, you are giving me a headache.”

“Asshole.”

There was silence again while they glared at each other. At least she had stopped crying, although the tear tracks were still fresh on her cheeks. She drew Elrohir’s cloak tightly around her in an attempt to shield herself from Elladan and he scoffed as he sat down by the fire again, closer to her log this time.

“Look,” Liv started, making him look up in annoyance but the hardness of his gaze slowly vanished when he saw the look on her face while she stared into the crackling fire, “if you understand me, please drop the act right now. Please. This is serious. Please tell me we’re still in America. Please tell me you’re taking me back home.” A fresh set of tears blurred her vision but she blinked them away in frustration.

Elladan heard the plea in her voice, heard the desperation, pain and confusion. But he had no idea what she was saying, and he had no idea how to help her.

“Goheno nín.” He said, shaking his head to indicate he did not understand her but wished he could help her. The pity in his eyes was all she needed. She sniffed and drew further into herself, cocooning herself in Elrohir’s cloak. He left her alone with her thoughts, but scooted closer, anyway. She may be annoying and maddening but he could tell she was in such distress and he knew all she needed was to know that whatever she was going through, she was not alone.

A few minutes later, when her eyes and cheeks were dry of tears, Elrohir returned with three rabbits on hand, held by the back legs. There were clean slits through their necks.

When Elrohir set the rabbits down on the ground with a grunt near her feet, she began shrieking yet again, and all the twins could do was moan and listen to her rant in her own language.

Chapter Text

“What are you doing?” She was screeching.

“Why will she not stop screaming?” Elladan groaned, taking out a knife and pulling the hide off the first rabbit with his fingers. She made a disgusted sound and retched while he pulled the skin all the way up to the neck and down to the feet.

“Stop! Stop!” She screamed, turning around while Elrohir pulled the hide off the second rabbit.

“Ugh! What is wrong with yo—“ Liv gasped. Elladan, rolling his eyes, started to cut the head and feet off.

“No. No.” She shook her head, clamping a hand over her mouth. Oh, she was going to barf. It was going to happen, she was sure of it. She turned away from the grizzly sight, but not soon enough for Elrohir not to notice something.

“She is turning green.” He said, half-amused, half-exasperated as he did the same with his own rabbit.

“It’s as if she has never seen an animal getting skinned before in her life.” Elladan was more annoyed.

And so, they prepared the rabbits for dinner, working quickly and efficiently in a way only two experienced hunters could. Liv kept her back to them the whole time, unable to stop thinking about her childhood pet rabbit and how it got eaten by the neighborhood cat. How she adored that rabbit.

“I’ve decided I’m vegetarian. I’ll only eat carrots and cabbage from now on. Like a rab--Oh, God.” She was rambling to distract herself from the sound of the pair of them butchering the poor animals until the thought of said animal made her groan. Liv made the mistake of turning around just in time to see Elrohir pulling out the entrails of his rabbit. She ran up to the nearest tree—stumbling all the way because of her high-heeled boots—and placed her forehead against the trunk, moaning.

Elladan, who had already removed the entrails from his rabbit, looked up at the mad woman stumbling through the woods. He rolled his eyes, before wordlessly picking up the third rabbit to remove the hide and entrails before the meat was ruined.

“Have you and our fair companion spoken to each other, then?” Elrohir asked while they worked on the rabbits, tearing off fur and cutting off various body parts that were not needed, while saving the liver, heart and kidney.

“We did not speak so much as argue.” Elladan said, “And she is not fair. She is wild and loud and annoying.”

“Given that you do not share a common language, that is quite a feat.” Elrohir said with amusement, “And that is an exaggeration. She does have a fair face, for a wild mortal previously covered in manure.”

Elladan glanced back at the woman still muttering to herself, holding tightly to the trunk of the tree she had found as though she was trying to make herself one with it.

“I do not see it. Give me a tall, blonde, graceful elleth any day.” He muttered. Elrohir chuckled.

“I knew there was a reason why you wanted to visit Calas Galadhon so badly.”

Elladan shook his head, but when he caught his brother’s eye, he could not help but laugh as well. As they cut the rabbit meat into pieces, they realized Liv had stopped muttering. In fact, she had gotten very quiet. They turned back to see Liv sitting on the ground, leaning on the tree she was previously hugging. She had her arms wrapped around her knees, which were drawn up to her chin. Her forehead rested on her knees while she breathed deeply, in and out, to calm herself down.

“You think we can approach her now?” Elrohir asked. Elladan cut a twig and shaped it so they could skewer the rabbit meat and cook it over the fire.

“Try and see.” Elladan had learned it was not the wisest decision to approach her when she was upset and clearly looked like she wanted to be left alone. But it would not be fair for only one twin to be on the receiving end of her unintelligible, angry babbling. That would be a sight. Elrohir might not lose his patience as quickly as Elladan, but his anger exploded just as harshly as his brother’s. The orcs that dared to come too close to the borders of Imladris knew that. As Elrohir got up to ask their ‘fair companion’ to join them by the fire, Elladan thought about how orcs would fare on the receiving end of her sharp tongue. The thought itself made him laugh to himself, and the thought of Elrohir going through a shouting match with her... Now, that would be something indeed.

He watched from the corner of his eye as Elrohir cleared his throat and the girl raised her head from her arms, blinking up at him like a sleepy doe. He said something to her, but since neither of them could understand each other, she just continued to stare up at him.

Elladan waited, but the explosion never came.

“What is the matter?” Elrohir asked when she looked up at him. “You. Upset.” He said, pointing to her, and then to his furrowed eyebrows. Liv smiled weakly. She was suspicious of whichever twin was approaching her because she still could not tell them apart, but the moment he smiled at her, she knew which twin it was.

“I had a pet rabbit once.” Liv said. “I was like, six, she was all white except she had this black patch on her left eye. Mrs. McNeal’s cat ate her, though. But, anyway, my dad made sure to throw what was left of her away before I could see so long story short, I’ve never seen an animal being butchered in front of me before. I’ve never had to see a rabbit getting skinned. Sorry if I freaked out but seriously you people need to be a bit more discreet. People don’t just tear a rabbit apart with their fingers, it’s barbaric!”

As she continued to rant, the pitch of her voice raised higher and higher. She wasn’t screaming, but rather squeaking by the time she managed to let the last sentence out, all in one breath. And as she opened her mouth again to continue ranting, Elrohir leaned down and placed his hands on both of her shoulders, making her look up at him.

God, he had such beautiful eyes.

“It was not our intention to upset you.” Elrohir said. “But I see we did, anyway. Goheno nín. And you must excuse my brother, he can be quite…grumpy.”

“Why do you people keep saying that? Goheno nín? What does it mean?” Elrohir leaned back when she said the first Sindarin phrase he had ever heard from her. She was looking up at him, confused, as though asking what the words meant.

Goheno nín.” He said, putting a hand to his chest to show he was sorry. “Goheno nín.” He repeated, placing his palms together in what Liv could only describe as a pleading, apologetic gesture.

“I’m sorry.” She translated for him, understanding dawning on her features. She placed both hands to her chest, “I’m sorry. Goheno nín. I’m sorry.”

Aym sa-ri?” He repeated, his accent heavy. It wasn’t much, but it made Liv feel better that finally, finally they could understand each other even for a little bit. It was a huge relief. She nodded several times, her eyes lighting up.

“What about mae l’ovannen?” Elrohir said, sitting next to her on the base of the tree, just to distract her and make her feel better, and also because Elladan was right in saying he was the linguist between the two of them. Her language was unique and fascinating, and the way her words rolled quickly off her tongue held him. Liv, in turn, was enjoying hearing him talk in his own language. The twins, she realized, spoke two different languages. Sometimes, their words sounded hard and simple, and sometimes their words blended into each other, in a way that was beautiful even when she could not understand them.

Mae l’ovannen.” Elrohir repeated, raising his hand and waving.

That was easy. Liv turned her body to him, excitedly. “Hello.” She said, waving her own hand. He repeated the word back to her and she nodded, enthusiastically, making him smile. Well, she was no longer upset. Perhaps now, she would be more willing to eat rabbit meat.

“Eat?” He said, making eating motions with his hands. Her face fell and her eyes widened as it flickered to Elladan. He was holding three sticks of meat up to the fire. Rabbit meat.

“I don’t know…” She said, wringing her hands. Elrohir got up and offered his hand to her, “Come. You will have to eat. We have a long journey ahead, still.”

Liv took his hand and let him help her up, before she glanced again at the grumpy twin. “Elladan is actually pleasant company, given the chance.” Elrohir said.

“Elladan?” She repeated. The other twin, sitting by the fire trying not to eavesdrop on their strange conversation, raised his eyebrow when she said his name.

“Elladan.” Elrohir motioned towards his brother as they walked back to the fire. “Elrohir.” He said, motioning to himself. Great, she knew their names. Now to be able to tell them apart.

“Liv.” She said, pointing to herself.

“Ah! Our fair companion finally has a name!” Elladan exclaimed.

"Leev?" Elrohir repeated in an endearing accent.

"Close enough." Liv shrugged. Elladan handed Elrohir one of the sticks he was holding up to the fire and Elrohir gave the stick to Liv, who hesitated before taking the stick, with rabbit meat attached to it, she reminded herself, up to the fire to let it cook.

“No salt?” She asked. Of course, nobody paid any attention to her so she just sighed in defeat and raised the stick near her face.

She sniffed. Liv hated to admit it, but the bunny smelled better than she expected. It didn't smell as good as fried chicken, though and she almost weeped at the thought of fried chicken. Deep fried, crunchy chicken. She looked down mournfully at the sad bits of bunny meat stabbed through with her stick. They weren't the golden brown goodness that was fried chicken, that's for sure. But there was nothing else left to eat and she was really hungry.

God help her now. She nibbled at the meat that wasn’t too charred from the fire. It had tougher meat than chicken, and tasted like nothing. Does nobody here know what seasoning is? It was a testament to how hungry she was that she continued to bite into the rabbit meat.

They ate quickly, and were back on the horses the moment they buried the evidence of where they camped. The ride was long and uncomfortable, and at the speed they were going, the cloak Liv was wearing was blown back by the wind, once again exposing her arms to the cold. She kept a firm grip around Elrohir’s waist, whimpering whenever the horse jumped over roots or cantered through streams.

She didn’t think it was possible to get carsick when she wasn’t in a car but there she was, just about ready to throw up the bunny she ate not thirty minutes into their journey. They only stopped when she almost fell off the horse out of sheer exhaustion, and when they did, the sky was already grey, the sun teasing to rise back to the sky.

She’d been screaming, running, and riding throughout the night, and she was dead tired. Elrohir slowed the horse down enough to allow her to straighten back up.

“I’m fine. I’m okay.” Liv mumbled, though she clearly was not. Her hair was a riot, and there were dark circles beneath her eyes.

Goheno nín.” Elrohir said as Elladan, realizing his brother was not immediately behind him, doubled back.

“What is wrong?” Elladan asked, turning to Liv with concern.

“She is tired. I forgot that humans need rest more than we do.” Elrohir said. Liv yawned widely. He got off the horse, and Liv turned to him, bewildered. “Why are we stopping?” She asked.

“Move forward.” He said, motioning with his hand for her to go forward on the horse. “Forward.” He repeated when she merely blinked at him. Understanding what he was asking, she scooted forward and Elrohir mounted the horse again, this time riding behind her. His arms held her in place, and what strong, muscular arms they were. She was small compared to the towering Elf behind her.

“We cannot waste time. These parts are not safe.” Elladan said, looking around.

“I know. Caladír’s home is not far. We will be there by morning, I expect. And Liv can finally go back to her people.” Elrohir said. He tilted his head downwards, at the girl already nodding off between his arms. “Rest, if you can.” He said, but in her tired state, Liv had already leaned back, her head on his arm. It was harder to maneuver the horse with her in front, but Elrohir managed to command the horse with his voice.

Five hours later, when they were passing through a heavily wooded, dark area less than a mile from the Dúnedain village, Liv woke up and had turned to Elrohir, discomfort clearly etched on her features.

"I... uh... Dude. You need to stop." She said. Elrohir slowed the horse down while she craned her neck up to look at him.

"Stop!" She squeaked again, louder this time, making both Elves stop their horses.

"Good morning to you as well." Elrohir said while she wriggled out of his arms. "Where are you going?" He tried to stop her from getting off but she pushed him away impatiently.

"What is it this time?" Elladan asked, approaching Elrohir's horse.

"I need to pee, okay?!" Liv said in a stage-whisper, stomping her foot in impatience. Elladan and Elrohir glanced at each other.

"Oh, for God's sake--" Liv threw her hands up and stomped into the woods.

The two Elves, not knowing what was happening, made surprised noises and slid off their horses.

"Oh, my God! Just stay there! Don't come any closer or else!" Liv warned, turning around and pointing a threatening finger at the twins. They stepped back in alarm, staying rooted to the ground as she retreated back into the woods.

Elrohir coughed nervously, "I think she needs to... relieve herself."

Elladan looked down at his boots, feeling his neck grow warmer. "Ai..." He muttered, walking back to his horse. Elrohir rubbed the back of his neck and turned his back to the woods to give Liv some privacy.

"What is it with those two, what, are they superhuman or something? Do they not know what sleep and relief are?" Liv said to herself, looking around for a tree to pee on. She groaned while she stepped around bushes and shrubs. There was still very little light in the sky, so she mostly stumbled around until she found solid ground behind a tree large enough to shield her. She pulled her pants down and squatted, carelessly pushing away at leaves and shrubs that tickled her neck and arms.

She still felt the tickle of those leaves, even felt a stinging pain and had begun to itch, when she went back to the horses. The twins deliberately avoided her gaze. She tried to hide that she was scratching the uncontrollable, stinging itch she was feeling by hiding her hands under Elrohir's cloak, but before long, her arms had begun to burn because she had to wrap her arms around Elrohir's waist during their ride to the Dùnedain settlement.

Caladír lived in a small settlement with his fellow Dùnedain, and while the Elves of Imladris were no strangers to the Dùnedain, for they traded with them daily, it came as a surprise when Lord Elrond’s sons themselves came, unannounced, with a girl between them and the astonishing question of whether she was one of theirs. “We do not know her. And no one has come to us, asking for their missing wife or daughter.” Caladír said, as the girl slipped off the horse she was sharing with Elrohir ungracefully, looking around her in wonder while scratching at an itch that was developing on her arm.

They were in a small village, with children running around, laughing. The adults went about doing their chores. Some were carrying baskets of dirty linens in their arms, some were carrying wooden planks to fortify houses, and most of the adult males and teenagers were training their horses or learning how to use swords and bows. It was all very communal. Everyone knew each other, and everyone greeted each other as they passed each other by. The settlement was small, but she could see different kinds of workshops, from dressmakers to tanners and even a bakery in the midst of small cottages. They were surrounded by trees. Trees and grass, and beyond the trees, she could hear the loud rush of running water—possibly a river. In the distance, above the trees, she had the view of the white peaks of mountaintops.

Liv approached the bakery, the wonderful smell of freshly-baked bread drawing her in. The baker, a kind-faced man, smiled at her and offered her a piece of bread. “For me?” She asked, pointing at herself. The man’s face slipped into a confused stare at her unknown language, but he smiled and offered the tray. She took a piece of bread, and bit into it. Ah, yes. Much better than bunny kebab. “Thank you.” She said, wishing she had the language to express her gratitude. The baker smiled at her, understanding what she was trying to say.

“Liv.” She turned at the sound of her name, and saw one of the twins motioning for her, one hand holding on to the reins of the two horses they had ridden on the way to the village. In the sunlight, the twins’ presence grabbed for attention. The people around them were tall, but the twins—in their intricate garment and their perfectly brushed hair, as well as their pointy ears—drew attention from all those around them. Liv was surprised no one was staring as hard as she did when she first saw them. Even in the daylight, it was hard to tell one from the other. She’d have to find some sort of reminder so she wouldn’t mistake one twin for the other.

Elrohir smiled easily as she approached, stuffing a piece of bread in her mouth. She fell into step next to him and they approached Elladan, who was showing Caladír Liv’s blouse.

“She was wearing this when we found her.”

“What. Is that?” Caladír asked, looking down at the fabric with raised eyebrows.

“We were hoping you would kn—“

“No, I meant... What is that? Why is there manure on it?”

“Oh. We do not know. When we found her, she was already covered with it.”

“I bet Halbarad would have loved to see the look on your faces to have to deal with a girl covered in manure.”

“She was screaming at us. The woman is mad, I tell you!” Elladan said, heatedly. Caladír snorted in his laughter and carefully took the manure-covered clothing, inspecting the stitching. “Those are very even stitches. They look more like elven work to me.” Caladír said, “And yet, I think it would be a great insult to the elves to say they would make something as simple as this. What kind of dye was used for this?” Caladír said, his voice hitching in astonishment as he held the clothing up.

“Where is Halbarad?” Elladan asked, changing the subject, looking around.

“Last I heard he was patrolling near the Shire. He did plan on coming back to the western settlement to recruit more Rangers, but that would not be for another month or so. If you need to send a message to Lord Elrond, I can send my son to carry it for you. Anorvain happily volunteered to protect the folk of Bree. I think he's got a soft spot for Hobbits. He is just about to leave, himself. I’m sure he can carry a message to Imladris on the way to Bree.”

“Yes, please do keep waving my clothes around, why don’t you? Have you people never seen a crop top before?” Liv piped in, making Caladír raise his eyebrows at her.

“She sounds like Ethuilien. They would get along very well, I suspect.” Caladír muttered as Liv glared at him.

“She has no respect, I tell you.” Elladan sighed.

“How could you tell? I did not understand one word she said.”

“Elladan does not like her.”

“Give me a reason to, Elrohir.”

“Speak English.” Liv piped in.

“She keeps saying that, too.” Elrohir pointed out.

Ai, she is giving me a headache.” Elladan said.

“Caladír!”

The man and the elves turned to the direction of the angry voice, jumping back in surprise. A woman, tall and beautiful, with a kind face and the same dark hair and grey eyes that was the mark of a Dùnedan, walked towards the small group gathered near the house, carrying a basket of clean laundry in her arms.

“The sons of Lord Elrond come, they bring a girl covered in dirt and grass, and instead of inviting them inside, you let them stand out here to be gawked at?”

Caladír looked shame-faced as Ethuilien turned to the bewildered girl, who looked at her with curious, wide eyes.

Ethuilien wrapped a comforting arm around Liv, while she tucked her laundry basket beneath her other arm, “Come. Let us get you inside. Give you proper clothes to wear. Those leggings must be uncomfortable.”

Liv looked over at Elrohir, who was still holding the reins of the two horses, as she was dragged into the cottage. Caladír sighed and invited the twins inside. The cottage had several rooms, with doors that could be bolted. Inside, it was homely and warm. Ethuilien helped Liv inside, comforting her and asking her how the journey was as she set the laundry basket down on the table. When she realized Liv could not understand a word she said, Ethuilien waved a hand and just led her to the kitchen while she prepared Liv's bath. Ethuilien and Caladír worked to fill a wooden tub inside the bedroom with hot and cold water. A hard feat, as it involved buckets of water that was filled outside the house and carried into the bedroom.

Liv stood awkwardly in the middle of the largest room in the cottage. There was a wooden table, with two benches on either side near a fireplace. She sat down to stay out of the way. Elladan and Elrohir sat on either side of her, while she started scratching at an itchy spot on her arm. “Nice place.” She said to fill in the awkward silence. Elladan started untying the laces of his bracers. She tried to discreetly scratch at a spot that she couldn’t reach on her back by wriggling her back against the edge of the table.

“Stop that!” The ever-perceptive, ever-grumpy Elladan said.

Liv didn’t need a translation to know what he was saying.

“My back itches. Shut up unless you want to help.” She snapped, turning her back to him and reaching for the itch on her back. “What are you doing?” Elladan asked, furrowing his eyebrows at her. She copied his facial expression mockingly.

“Stop being a child.” Elladan sighed, batting her hand away to reach for the spot she’s itching for while Elrohir raised an eyebrow at them both.

“You two are getting along.”

“I am scratching a reeking woman’s back. I have never been more embarrassed in my life.” Elladan said. Liv closed her eyes and leaned towards Elladan, her back arching like a cat.

“I think I have more than enough proof of quite a number of embarrassing moments to top this.” Elrohir muttered.

“Elrohir, do stop talking.” Elladan said.

Caladír walked in to find a chuckling Elrohir, a glaring Elladan and a girl scratching mercilessly at her neck and arms.

“I do not want to know.” He sighed.

“Her bath is ready. What are you doing?” Ethuilien said, rolling her sleeves down as she walked into the room.

“I think she…” Elladan started to say before quickly shutting his mouth.

“What?”

“Well, before we got to the settlement, she was in desperate need to…um…” Elrohir was blushing.

Ethuilien inclined her head to tell them to continue.

“We could not accompany her all the way into the woods! She is a grown woman. How were we supposed to know she had no idea what wood nettle looked like?” Elladan said, defensively.

Ethuilien shook her head, muttering something about how men, whatever their race, were all the same. She motioned for Liv to follow her, and she obediently stood up, still scratching at her neck as she followed Ethuilien to the bedroom while Caladír led the twins back out the house to go after his son, Anorvain, so they could send a message to Imladris.

Ethuilien led Liv to a cozy room, with a small vanity table next to a wardrobe and a bed big enough for two people in the middle. In the corner, behind a divider of fabric, was a wooden tub, filled with warm water. A small table stood next to it, with a yellow bar she assumed was soap; a brush she assumed was for scraping dirt and mud from her skin; and a small, wooden stick, with bristles at the end, like a paintbrush, except much smaller. Liv could only pray it was actually a medieval version of a toothbrush.

“Elladan and Elrohir will be bathing in the river with the men. The men would be bathing there today after all the women finish their laundry.” Ethuilien said. Although she was merely talking at Liv instead of to her, it filled the silence while she rummaged through drawers, producing a small bottle and giving it to Liv, motioning to her hair.

“Shampoo!” Liv gasped, gratefully taking the bottle, removing the cork and sniffing. It smelled like rose oil.

“I shall leave you to it, then. This is for you. This dress has not been worn for a long time, but I think they would fit you.” Ethuilien said, showing Liv a long-sleeved, grey dress and an undershift, moving to go to the other room.

“Wait.” Liv called after her, making Ethuilien turn back.

“Liv.” Liv said, motioning to herself. She repeated her name again when Ethuilien furrowed her eyebrows in confusion. Ethuilien smiled and introduced herself as well. “Eth-weel-ee-yen.” She said, slowly.

Liv smiled back and repeated her name.

“When you are done, come back to the kitchen and I will have something for the rashes.” Ethuilien said, pointing in the general direction of the kitchen. The smile on Liv’s face tightened. Clearly, she did not understand a single word.

“Itch. Kitchen. And food. Are you hungry?” Ethuilien said, first making scratching motions on her arm, then pointing to the kitchen and placing a hand on her stomach. Liv nodded enthusiastically. The thought of eating actual food not made of soft, fluffy bunnies made her stomach grumble. Ethuilien gave Liv a final smile before leaving her to her bath. Liv was more than happy to finally be alone and for a chance to be clean.

Chapter Text

Liv unclasped Elrohir’s cloak, letting it slide to the floor. It was soon followed by her jeans and underwear. She lowered herself into the bath, and a moan of pleasure escaped from her. Oh, what a wonderful bath it was. The yellow bar smelled nice, and she realized there was also oil in the bath water itself that released wonderful smelling fumes. Ah, yes, relaxation and a clean body. If only she wasn’t so itchy. It took all of Liv’s willpower not to use the larger brush as a scratcher. That would be rude. And the shampoo or whatever it was worked miracles on the tangles of her hair.

Her next problem, other than the angry rash now appearing on her arms and neck, was underwear. If people were going to be reenacting the medieval ages, did that mean that underwear didn't exist here? Was the thin, white dress supposed to be the only thing she would wear beneath the grey dress? The dress was long, after all, reaching her ankles. But she would be damned if she wasn’t going to be wearing anything else beneath. Ugh, but her clothes were filthy.

As Liv debated with herself on whether she should wear her dirty underwear—the thought itself made her shudder—the twins walked back in the cottage, drying their hair with towels that they borrowed from Caladír.

“My lords.” Ethuilien bowed when they walked in. She was holding a jar in one hand, waiting by the fire where she had started cooking chicken stew, while Caladír showed her Liv’s top.

“The woman you brought… I am sure she is not one of the Dùnedain, although she certainly looks like she might be of our people. But we are few enough already in this area of Eriador. If anyone had gone missing, we would know. Whoever she is, though, we do not know her.” Ethuilien said.

Elrohir’s heart sank. It was what he and Elladan feared most.

“Well, she has to have a family looking for her. I thought she was an important woman when we first met her. Her hands are soft, as though she has done little work in her life. And I doubt she has ever worked in the kitchen. You should have seen her reaction when she saw us skinning a rabbit. Not to mention her lack of knowledge on common poisonous plant. If I did not know any better, I would say she was a noblewoman.” He said.

“And yet noblewomen would know how to greet elven lords when they are in front of her. If anything, she should at least know how to speak even the most basic Westron.” Elladan said.

“The poor girl is lost and terrified. I am concerned for her family. They are probably worried sick about her.” Ethuilien said.

"Could she have been a survivor from the attacked homes you were scouting, my lords?" Caladír asked.

Elladan shook his head, "She seemed more worried about finding her actual home than the village. I doubt she even knew an attack had happened. We found her crawling out of the river."

"Oh, the poor girl." Ethuilien gasped. "But, then, that must mean her family is out there looking for her now!"

“Exactly. Elrohir and I could go to Imladris, ask father if any of the other Dùnedain are looking for a girl there and send messengers to the nearest settlements that she could have come from. She could not have come from far away. She wore shoes that were highly inconvenient for travelling and she was not prepared for long travel, nor do I believe she would have survived long in the wilds by herself. Her home has to be nearby but until we find it, we cannot take her with us. The lands are far too dangerous. It was a small miracle we even managed to get here without being attacked by wolves or orcs. I will not risk another journey with Liv. I do not think she is capable of defending herself in an ambush.” Elladan said.

“You are leaving her with us?” Caladír asked, eyebrows raised.

“I do not think that would be a good idea. Not that we do not welcome her. We would gladly take her in but what of her? What does she want?” Ethuilien reasoned.

“Ai, if only we could understand what she is trying to tell us. It would make this easier for us.” Elrohir sighed, running his hand over his face in defeat, sitting down on the bench heavily just as Liv walked in, fresh-faced and wearing Ethuilien’s old dress. She was tugging self-consciously on the dress, scratching at a rash on her neck. Elladan froze at the sight of her.

Elrohir, who heard Liv walk in before seeing her, straightened up when he saw her. He had remarked before that she had a fair face, but when she was cleared of dirt and mud, he could see it more clearly. How could she not be a Dùnedan? She had the face of one, definitely. Her features just seemed so familiar. The dark hair, the wide, inquisitive eyes, the set of her jaw. She had a proud, yet delicate face, a unique mix that he had come to associate with the women of the Dùnedain, who still bore the distinction of their Númenorian ancestry.

Ethuilien approached her with the jar, reaching into the paste and slathering it on Liv’s neck.

“Jewelweed.” Ethuilien said, pointing to the jar. “It is good for the rash. Arm.” Ethuilien said, pointing to Liv’s arm, who dutifully rolled the sleeve of her dress up to expose her rashes. Once Ethuilien was done with her ministrations, she moved to the pot hanging by the fire to check the stew.

Liv was quick to notice that Elladan and Elrohir, despite looking cleaner and fresher than when she left them(God damn their blemish-free, distracting good looks), were still dressed for travel. Their weapons were still secured on their belts and Elrohir’s bow was still strapped to his back.

“Are we leaving already?” Liv asked, slightly disappointed that they wouldn’t be able to eat the stew Ethuilien was preparing. She was really hungry after what they went through in the past twelve hours. She pointed at herself, and then at the twins, and at the door.

She did not miss the concerned looks exchanged by the two.

“Liv…” Elladan sounded too careful, too gentle.

“We will go.” He motioned to himself and then his twin, “You will stay with Caladír and Ethuilien. At least, until we find your family.” She did not understand the last sentence he spoke, she was too focused on what he first said as he pointed at himself and Elrohir, then at the door, before pointing to her and then motioning at Caladír and Ethuilien.

She was shaking her head in protest.

“No. No. You can’t leave me. I have to go home. Home. I have exams next week, my parents are going to kill me if I miss classes and my roommate is probably already worried. Please.”

It was exactly what the twins expected. Elladan, already raising his hands up because he had no idea how to deal with an upset person, shot a nervous look at Elrohir. Elrohir stood from the table and approached Liv.

“Liv.” His voice was firm but not cruel, a gentle reprimand. “The wilds are a dangerous place. We will never be able to forgive ourselves if any harm comes upon you if we take you with us. Caladír is willing to take care of you. Just for a while. Just until we find your family.”

Liv shook her head, both out of incomprehension and out of panic. It had only been hours, but the twins were the people she trusted to lead her home. She couldn’t believe they would just dump her into strangers’ laps. Has she really been that insufferable?

“I’m sorry. I won't yell at you again just…please. Don’t leave me here. I'm sorry. Goheno nín.” She risked holding on to Elrohir’s forearm. He did not shake her away. Instead, he placed a comforting hand on her shoulder, guilt weighing heavily on his heart, seeing her so upset. She was asking for forgiveness for something that was not even her fault.

“You need to stay, Liv. For your own safety.” He was gentle, but his tone was firm. There was no changing his mind.

Liv bypassed distress and went straight to anger.

How dare they treat her like a child that can be dropped off in a daycare? Her understanding went beyond words. They were abandoning her. She was sure of that.

“Fine, then. Be that way.” Tears threatened to break through the dam behind her eyes. She was frustrated, confused and the only two people she could remotely trust were leaving her behind.

Elrohir could not blame the look of hurt and anger on her face. She snatched her hand away from him and crossed her arms, refusing to look him in the eye.

Goheno nín.” He said.

“Yeah, right.”

“We will be back, Liv.” Elladan said, approaching her. She avoided his gaze.

“Ethuilien is a good teacher. Perhaps when we return, you will be able to speak a bit of Westron or Sindarin and tell us about yourself.” Elrohir tried to sound optimistic. Liv was not buying it. Ethuilien nodded as Elladan caught her eye, “Of course, my lord.” God knows Liv needed the distraction.

As Elrohir’s hand slipped away from her shoulder, she stepped back.

Navaer.

She was not going to cry, she was not going to beg for them to take her with them. She was not going to do it.

Elladan and Elrohir hesitated, waiting for Liv to say something to them. When she refused to speak or even raise her head to them, they walked out.

Liv saw their boots walk out from her line of vision, and heard the door open and the horses nickering. She heard one of the twins say a command to his horse, heard the hooves gallop farther and farther away. All the while, she stood there, frozen, feeling cold and alone.

She felt calloused hands around her shoulder. “Tolo, Liv. Come.” Ethuilien whispered, gently, leading Liv to sit on the bench and giving her a bowl of the stew.

She barely spoke after that, but she was not ungrateful to her hosts. She expressed her thanks whenever she could. Caladír and Ethuilien were extremely patient with her, considering she was dumped on their doorstep and had become her caretakers on such short notice. For the rest of the day after eating two bowls of chicken stew, Liv resisted the discomfort she felt because she did not want to bother Ethuilien about relieving herself. She was still afraid of going into the woods to relieve herself after the wood nettle incident, although after Ethuilien applied the paste, the itching and rash were gone within an hour. But when she could no longer hold it, she shyly woke Ethuilien up in the middle of the night, her hand wrapped around her abdomen.

Ethuilien was quick to lead her to an outhouse behind their cottage. There were several outhouses standing next to each other, behind a ring of other cottages. Ethuilien led Liv to a trough, taking a wooden pail and jug and teaching Liv how to work the pump to get water into the trough and then dipping the pail into the trough once it had enough water. Ethuilien wondered at Liv’s struggle to even pump water. She could see what Elrohir meant when he said that she seemed like a noblewoman. She did not even have enough strength for such a simple task, nor did she seem to know what to do with the outhouses—as though she had someone attending to her chamber pot all her life.

And her face when she opened the door was priceless. Her nose wrinkled at the smell of stale urine and something she did not want to think about. Ethuilien instructed her, to the best of her abilities, how to clean up after herself by pouring the water from the pail to the hole in the middle of a sort of box. A medieval version of a toilet, except there was no plumbing. Ugh. She could tell where the smell was coming from, some people didn’t bother to clean up too well. How utterly archaic.

Ethuilien waited for her patiently, and Liv reminded herself to bring two buckets along next time just for the sake of whoever was going to go in after her.

The day after that, Liv helped Ethuilien prepare food. Contrary to what Elladan first believed, Liv did know her way around the kitchen, and Ethuilien was pleased to see that Liv was getting distracted by doing something she enjoyed.

“Mom had a boyfriend who was a chef when I was, like, twelve years old and he was actually really nice and taught me how to cook. Even after they broke up, I still enjoyed experimenting with food. I love food more than I love people, to be honest.” Liv explained, as she chopped up potatoes in a strange shape. She knew Ethuilien had no idea what she was saying, but talking about home and her hobbies eased the pain, if only for a little. Ethuilien watched as Liv showed her how to make hash browns using various herbs as seasoning. Caladír was very appreciative of their new ward’s abilities that night.

“Her cooking is amazing! I wonder if she could handle a bow as well… Perhaps…”

“You are not teaching Liv how to hunt!” Ethuilien reprimanded her husband.

Liv looked up at the sound of her name, “Man?” She asked. “What?” It was the question that was addressed to her several times the day before when she was introduced to some of the neighbors, who couldn’t understand what she was saying. Caladír and Ethuilien were well-respected among the Dùnedain. So when word spread that they were going to be taking care of a stranger, people came over to welcome the new addition to the village. Liv thought the only reason they came was to gawk, or maybe she was just being pessimistic. Either way, while feeling like a clown set up for viewing pleasure, that question just stuck to her mind whenever she opened her mouth.

“He wants to teach you to hunt.” Ethuilien motioned pulling an arrow from a bowstring.

Liv’s eyes widened.

“See? Even she does not like the idea of it.” Ethuilien said.

“Teaching her how to wield a blade would be useful, and you know it.” Caladír’s tone darkened as he crossed his arms. Ethuilien frowned at her husband. She could not deny that there was truth in his words. The Rangers in their settlement were getting sent out more frequently to take care of any creatures or orcs that were getting too close to the village on top of hunting down deer and rabbit for food. And after the attack on the southern settlement, patrols have been set up to protect their own larger village. No one wanted to admit it, but evil creatures were getting bolder.

“Not before she learns how to communicate.” Ethuilien said.

“That is not a ‘no’!” Caladír called as she stood up from the bench to clean up the table.

“That is also not a ‘yes’.” Ethuilien replied, making Liv look at one and the other.

“You. Learn. How to speak.” Caladír explained, pointing to her, patting his head and making talking motions with his hand.

Liv’s stomach dropped to the floor. She did not like the idea of learning a new language. If anything, it was only because that meant they were expecting that she would stay here far longer than just a few days. Which meant they were expecting that she would not be returning home soon. It had been three days since she was last seen home. She was certain that she was now on a missing persons list. Even her father had to be concerned for her safety at this point. He and her mom had to be looking for her. She was worried about what it would do to them. Her parents argued over everything and blamed each other for things neither have control over.

It was horrible, growing up and hearing them throw nasty accusations at each other or blaming each other, especially with things that concerned her. Even after their divorce, the two still managed to find a way to blame each other for something. It drove Liv insane, and it was one of the reasons why she couldn't wait to move out into her own apartment.

Oh God, if they were going to fight because of her... She would carry the weight of that guilt for as long as she was away from New York.

She started shaking her head vigorously, making Caladír rise from the table.

“No. No. I have to go home.”

“Ethuilien…” Caladír called as he moved around the table to sit next to Liv.

The thought of her parents talking again usually would have made her ecstatic. She sometimes caught glimpses of how good their lives as a family were, and would dream of her being a good enough reason for her family to be whole again.

The thought of her family reuniting after twelve years would have given her relief, it would have taken a huge thorn off her side, would have given her hope for a good future for their family. Instead, they were probably reuniting because of worry and fear for her life. This was not how she wanted her parents to patch things up. Twenty-two years old and she was still their little girl. Twelve years after their divorce and she still wonders why she wasn't enough for them to stay together.

Plus, the impossible thought of just exactly where she could be was starting to get to her. A fantasy land with pointy-eared, beautiful men, horses, no plumbing, hunting for food. This was either a very large, Middle Ages set up or somehow, someway, she was sent back to some fantasy land—

Oh no. No, she was not even going to go there. She was not even going to think about it. Time travel was a thing that was not possible. She was not going to—

“My love, I think Liv is choking!” Caladír called as Liv started breathing in and out, her breaths sharp. She was wheezing, looking up at him with wide eyes.

“What?” Ethuilien cried, sharply. She ran back inside the house, her hands dripping wet while Liv hyperventilated.

Okay. That was it. She was insane. She had finally snapped. She had gone completely and utterly nuts if she was actually considering time travel. Either that, or some hidden island where the people still lived in the medieval times existed without the entire world knowing.

Oh, she had to be desperate.

Desperate and insane if she was actually considering it. Three days in and she has completely lost her marbles.

“I’ve lost my mind.” Liv managed to gasp out. Caladír, not knowing what to do, placed a comforting hand on both of her shoulders.

“Breathe. Slowly.” He said, breathing deeply and slowly, in and out, to demonstrate for her as Ethuilien kneeled next to the bench, taking her hand.

“It’s okay. We’re here. What is wrong, Liv?”

Liv caught her breath enough to start breathing normally again, but by then there were tears in her eyes.

“Home.”

“She keeps saying that word.” Caladír said. “Do you think she means home? I can’t imagine what it must be like for her to be taken somewhere and be told she would be staying with strangers indefinitely.”

“Home?” Ethuilien said, gently. Liv’s eyes focused on her, and Ethuilien placed a hand on her chest, over her heart. It was enough to make the tears spill from Liv’s eyes as understanding dawned on her. Ethuilien sighed and wrapped her arms around Liv, who leaned into the comfort of her arms as she sobbed.

It was all Ethuilien could do to comfort the inconsolable girl.

Chapter Text

If Liv was quiet the day before, it was nothing compared to what she had become the days after her breakdown. She kept to herself, barely ate, and at night, although she tried to cover it by biting into her pillow, Caladír and Ethuilien could hear her crying.

She cried herself to sleep, and the morning after, she would wake up expecting that the day before was just a dream. When she would realize what she was facing was reality, she would squeeze her eyes tight, willing herself to wake up from whatever convoluted, extremely long dream she was in.

Ethuilien, in an attempt to shake Liv off her lethargy, took her for walks around the village. It only seemed to cause her to retreat further into herself. Every workshop they stopped at, the reality of it all beat into her. The only thread of hope she was hanging on to was the twins. They had to come back at some point and take her back.

Ethuilien had given her more dresses to wear, bought more fabric to make her new undershifts and had brought leather that Caladír himself had made to the tanner for new shoes to wear. All of it was just a painful reminder that she would not be getting home anytime soon.

“I am sure news of your family would come soon. It is just more practical to give you new clothes and shoes. Your old ones would not be comfortable while you stay here, and you could always take them back home with you. They are gifts.”

Of course, Liv could not be comforted by words that held no meaning to her. A shadow of her usual self appeared when they visited the baker. The baker, Gilvagor, remembered Liv and was quick to offer her one of his honey cakes when they stopped by his store.

“She knows her way around a kitchen. I think she enjoys cooking.” Ethuilien said, making Gilvagor beam.

“Ah, if only we could understand each other! I would love to learn recipes from the foreign land she comes from!” He said.

“We are working on her Westron. If she has the vocabulary for it, I’m certain she would gladly trade recipes with you.” Ethuilien said. It was not a total lie. She had started teaching Liv common words like ‘please’ and ‘thank you’, words she easily repeated both in Westron and Sindarin, as well as greetings. She had even learned how to say “I am Liv.” In both languages. And, of course, “sorry”, as well as “yes” and “no” but she was not focused enough for more in-depth lessons. Ethuilien already had slate and chalk ready for the lessons. As the most learned woman in the village, she was entrusted by others to teach their sons how to write. She could not compare to Erestor of Imladris, of course, but she was experienced with teaching beginners, and was perfectly capable of teaching grammar.

On the seventh day of her stay, Liv started regaining a bit more energy. It had been seven days of gesticulating and babbling. It would make life much easier, both for her and her hosts, if she started learning how to speak their language. So for the next few weeks, she distracted herself with lessons. Frustrating lessons that involved learning from memory.

“But I need to write!” Liv argued, the fire Elladan and Elrohir had been introduced to resurfacing when Ethuilien first presented her with a slate and chalk for their lessons.

Ethuilien, who was also a fiery woman, noted Liv’s tone of voice.

“Do not use that voice with me, young lady! You will learn with a slate and from memory like any other person. You may be of royalty from wherever you came from, but here, you are equal to us.” Ethuilien snapped.

“You sound like my mother. I just want paper and a pen. Paper? Pen?” She said, motioning at the book and quill laid on the table in front of Ethuilien.

“Paper? You want to write on paper?” Ethuilien snorted. “Paper is expensive. I will not waste paper unless I knew you were capable of handling a quill. No, Liv.”

She didn’t understand everything, but she knew condescension and ‘No’ she understood well enough.

Liv breathed deeply, in an attempt to calm her temper. “Fine. Fine. If you want to make this harder for the both of us then fine.”

“Alright, then.” Ethuilien snapped after Liv had slammed the slate down on the table.

And so Liv slowly, but surely, started learning how to speak and write Westron. When she had finally gotten the alphabet down after a week of practice, she spent most of the day with the vocabulary book Ethuilien had given her so she could practice writing with a quill and ink. She had also started helping around the house. She cooked and cleaned for most of the day, and spent at least two hours with Ethuilien working on her Westron.

She steered clear away from Caladír after he hunted. The memory of the skinned bunnies was still fresh and clear in her mind. It had been weeks, and she was yet to actually taste liver and heart from deer. Whenever organs were set on the table, she only ate vegetables. Sometimes, chicken and beef were served, and those were the times she volunteered to cook.

Liv kept herself as busy as possible. When she had started regaining her energy and coming back to her old self, Ethuilien took her to the village stores to get new material for hunting gear for Caladír, and the Dùnedain were welcoming to her. She had started getting to know people, and while she was still the foreigner that people looked at curiously, she wasn’t completely pushed aside, either.

But at night, when everything was still and quiet and there was nothing distracting her from her thoughts, she thought constantly of home and her friends and family. She wondered if they were actually looking for her. She wondered if they were trying to contact her, or if she was just that friend you called for parties. Had she left a mark on anyone? Has she ever made a connection significant enough for people to notice her absence? Or was she ever just that one spoiled New York brat who had daddy issues and drank and partied her problems and relationships away? The thought made her weep. It made her regret not opening up to Wendy. It made her regret pushing her parents and everyone else around her away by forming this facade of a sarcastic, reckless nobody. She left no mark on the people she knew. It only made her feel more isolated from everything than ever.

She wept for days. Ethuilien and Caladír knew it. Sometimes, it would be Ethuilien holding her until she slept. Sometimes, Caladír would stay right outside her door, saying soft words. Sometimes when dreams of her mother crying over an empty casket with only a framed picture of her to hold while her dad held another woman haunted her, she would throw the windows of her room open, gasping for breath and Caladír would be there, hands gently holding her shoulder, reminding her to breathe.

Just breathe, Liv. Look at me. Look at how I breathe. You can do it.

And those were the nights she was thankful for them. For Ethuilien, for holding her together when she was falling apart, for opening her house and her arms and her heart. And for Caladír, for reminding her to be strong, for telling her that she can get through it. She did not know what she did to deserve their kindness, but they gave it to her anyway, without question, and she was grateful for that.

After three weeks, and after she had started to sleep without crying her eyes out, it was them she thanked first. The longer she stayed with the Dùnedain, and the longer she felt Elladan and Elrohir’s absence, the more worried she got. But she had also realized that wallowing in misery and self-pity would not make anything easier. She was a New Yorker. She looked at misfortune in the eye and told it to go fuck itself. That was how her mother taught her to live through the hard times. What would her mother say if she saw her crying in the corner, giving up? No. Liv had to pick herself up.

She kept thoughts of time-travelling to the very back of her mind. She welcomed a new day because it meant she could occupy herself with something to do.

She had also gotten to know the women in the village, and it was all thanks to communal skinny dipping in the river. It had to come eventually. In a land where plumbing did not exist, the most efficient way to bathe was in the river. A cold, rushing river. In front of other people. It was a testament to how strong-willed Ethuilien was that she managed to drag Liv all the way to the river. It wasn't easy to convince Liv to do something she was set on not doing.

She had just finished washing the bowls they had used for their meal when Ethuilien approached her by the trough, holding two flannels, two soaps and two vials of shampoo.

“Let us swim in the river today, Liv.” Ethuilien said, in her too cheerful voice. Liv recognized it immediately. It was the voice she used when she was convincing Liv that learning a whole new alphabet and script would be fun and easy. It was a trap Liv had learned not to fall for again.

“The river?” Liv repeated, looking out the window. Those grey skies don’t look good. Don’t grey skies mean incoming rain? Doesn’t incoming rain mean colder weather?

"No, I thank you." She tried to say, politely.

"Liv, you have not bathed in two days."

Liv did not need to be reminded of that. And she especially did not need to wash off two days of stink by swimming naked in a cold river. With people everywhere. Usually, she would need five shots of vodka before she started flashing her goodies to a crowd. Nudity was the kind of thing one just got used to in art school. Liv herself had to pose nude for class twice. It was no big deal to a liberal arts school that she's gotten used to seeing it and Lord knows she's had sex enough times to be comfortable in her own skin. But she had never full on went nude in public, outdoors, and especially not when she hasn't shaved--and for all the chores and activity she had been doing, shaving kind of reached the bottom of her priorities. She was aware of public baths that happened in the river, but for almost a month, she had been filling up the tub in her room so she could bathe in private. It had the added benefit of giving her a work out because those pails were really heavy and carrying them all the way into her room was a huge feat. She had just started getting used to carrying them without feeling like her arms were burning.

"I...um..." Since she did not have the vocabulary to say 'No, really, why can't I just take a bath in here?' She was left with no choice but to follow Ethuilien, who told her to take her dirty clothes for washing along. Outside, women milled around, holding baskets and towels beneath their arms.

"Okay." Liv said as she hesitated by the front door, armed with a towel and dirty laundry. Was it just her, or was there suddenly a hundred more women in the village than she remembered?

"Liv!" Ethuilien called, motioning for her to move quicker. Groaning, Liv followed after her.

If Liv thought she was stubborn, she was nothing compared to Ethuilien. The moment she saw the first sign of a naked woman splashing water at her friend in the river, Liv did a U-turn. No. Way.

She was not going to do this.

"Liv!"

"No. I thank you but no." Liv said, already walking away. She was stopped by Ethuilien pulling her back.

"Stop being silly and come. We do not have all day." Ethuilien giggled.

"I not go." Liv tried to pull her arm back.

"Liv."

"No."

"You are being ridiculous."

"Jeez, leave me alone. I'm not getting in the river!" Liv cried out in English, grabbing on to the nearest tree.

Ethuilien simply laughed at her obvious annoyance and embarrassment. "Come, silly girl. There is nothing to be ashamed of!"

Liv knew Ethuilien was strong. She could carry two buckets of water and pump water into the trough easily, as well as help Caladír carry and butcher deer whenever he came back from a hunt, and Liv was sure Ethuilien was perfectly capable of defending herself in a fight. So, of course, Liv had no chance of winning when Ethuilien started to bodily pull her to the river.

"No, stop!" Liv protested. Ethuilien let go, but any thought of escape was dashed as the women in the river greeted them.

"Ah! Liv! Joining us, at last!" One of the women, Miluieth, called out, waving. Ethuilien gave Liv a victorious grin as Liv, shoulders slumped and heavy, had no other choice but to drag her feet to the river, where several other women greeted her and Ethuilien. "You have been cooped up in Caladír's home for a month now. It's about time you interact with the rest of the village."

"I no speak good Westron or Sindarin." Liv said, apologetically.

"The more you surround yourself with Westron, the quicker you will learn, I say." Another woman, Gilhendil, said. Liv blinked at her. She was butt naked.

In fact, everyone was. And even Ethuilien was stripping her clothes off to go into the river. Oh shit. Oh shit. Here it was. Communal skinny dipping.

Good lord, that was a lot of boobs. And hair. She'd always thought she was comfortable in her own body, but never around so many strangers! "Come on! You will get used to the water, do not worry!" Ethuilien said, motioning for Liv to come in. Liv, knowing she had no other choice, very slowly put her dirty laundry down on the ground. She was vaguely aware that they were out in the open, and she looked behind her to make sure there were no prying eyes, despite knowing that the Dúnedain were honorable people.

"Okay. You can do this, Liv. Relax. Calm down. Just think of something else. I've never realized this before but there are more nipples in this world than people. And now I sound like a lunatic." Liv muttered to herself as she slowly began pulling off her clothes. The women nearby heard her whispering in her own language, and exchanged nervous looks as she winced and smacked her forehead at something she had said to herself.

"Perhaps there was a good reason Caladír hid her from the public..." One of them whispered.

"She is crazy." The other agreed.

Liv was aware of the confused glances and the whispers behind hands. She turned and gave the two women a wide grin. They grinned right back. Liv didn't notice them whispering to each other again because she was too preoccupied with jumping into the river so that her naked body's exposure to the world was kept at a minimum.

She had gravely underestimated how cold the river was. She practically drowned as her legs, frozen stiff from the shock of the river's cold, gave beneath her and the rush of the river pulled her down. She emerged, coughing with the help of Ethuilien and Gilhendil.

"I forgot how used to hot water she is." Ethuilien muttered.

"I'm fine. I'm fine." Liv said, sticking up her thumb to tell them she was good. Her entire hand was shaking from the cold. Gilhendil blinked at her in confusion.

"Was that a rude gesture?" She said, icily.

"Trust me, if that was a rude gesture she would be snarling at us instead of smiling. Lord Elladan described how she is when she is angry." Ethuilien said, laughing as Liv finally settled down, neck deep, into the river where she sat.

"So it is true she came with Lord Elrond's sons? She must be of importance, then. A lady of Gondor, perhaps? A daughter of a Dúnedan captain?" Gilhendil said, while Liv curled on the river floor, washing her hair in the water.

"It is not my place to say. All I know is that she was lost and Caladír and I are willing to take care of her."

"How very kind of you. I suppose you would want a daughter to take care of. Given..." Gilhendil paused at the furious glare Ethuilien shot at her. She bowed her head in shame, "Forgive me, Ethuilien. I spoke out of turn."

"Do not metion it again. Not like this, not with this many people." Ethuilien sounded more hurt than angry. Gilhendil nodded, and the two welcomed the distraction as a peal of laughter erupted from a nearby group.

Liv was minding her own business, washing her hair, scrubbing her arms with soap, when Miluieth came over, seeing her alone and offering to wash her hair for her.

"You have such lovely hair. It would look beautiful with flowers in it. There will be a feast next month to celebrate Loëndë. You must let me braid your hair." Miluieth said.

"Good, good. Yes." Liv wished she could better explain that she did not plan on staying for another month, if she could help it. She'd already been gone for too long. She missed being able to shave her underarms, and there was the more pressing issue of her period and what she would have to do when it came. Liv highly doubted pads or tampons existed here. She'd been too shy to ask Ethuilien, but she had no escape now. She'd ask Ethuilien the moment they were alone again.

"Let us wash our clothes, yes?" Miluieth said, showing Liv the clothes she would be washing.

"Yes!" Liv said, enthusiastically. Liv has never done her own laundry. There was always someone else doing her laundry for her. So, maybe she could observe how they do it and do the same thing. Miluieth led her to another group of women who were bashing clothes on rocks. She looked around in confusion. Violence was never the answer to anything. Why did these people have to use strength for everything? Her arms could only do so much. She's been getting more arm exercises in one month than she ever had in a year in New York.

"You people have issues..." Liv muttered while she observed them all attacking their clothes. Damn. They must really hate dirt and washing. She stooped by the riverbank and proceeded to rub her soap on the dirty clothes in her hand. This was how she knew people in her time did it, and it seemed more effective than whatever everyone else was doing.

The women around her simultaneously burst out laughing. Liv looked up at them, frowning. "What?" She said, in Westron this time, as the word was very familiar to her.

"That is a waste of soap, Liv." Miluieth giggled.

"Soap for wash. Body, clothes. Soap can wash." Liv said, in an attempt to make them understand that she was not about to violently ruin her clothes. They weren't even her clothes because they were all just borrowed from Ethuilien.

Instead, she was greeted with another round of laughter.

"Ai, Ethuilien. This girl you brought is truly entertaining! Soap for washing clothes, honestly!" One of the women in the group said.

"They do things differently, where she comes from. Let her do what she is comfortable doing." Ethuilien replied, icily.

"No one is stopping her from doing it, but her clothes will never get clean this way." Miluieth said, fairly. "I will teach her. Come, Liv. It's not as hard as you think."

Easy for her to say when she's been living an active lifestyle all her life. They let her finish with her soap-washing, and then taught her their ways. Liv could only finish one dress before her arms had started shaking. Laundry here took some work! She'd been taking washing machines and dryers for granted. She had three more dresses(all donated to her by Ethuilien) that needed cleaning, and it was at that point that the women around her took one dress each and helped her out. That was the moment when she first felt that she wasn't left out. There was banter, laughter, and a sense of belongingness. By the end of it all, after they had all dressed and were carrying their clean laundry in baskets, Liv did not feel so much like a stranger to them. They thought her ways were odd, but they had begun opening up.

They even helped her with her Westron lessons. Miluieth, who was the closest to her in age and the one Liv found it easiest to get along with, was especially helpful. She would point to random things and make Liv say the Westron word for each: rock, cottage, pail, sun, horse.

She was making progress, for once. And that night, Ethuilien found Liv on the table, the candle she had used burnt down and her head buried in her arms. She had ink stains on her fingers and cheek but on the vocabulary book she always kept with her were written several new words and their translation in her language. Ethuilien smiled, closed the book and led the bleary-eyed girl back to her room to sleep.

It was a small thing, but it made Ethuilien happy that Liv started showing signs of improvement, because that night, she slept peacefully for the first time since she arrived.

Chapter Text

The sun was shining particularly bright that day, and the birds were chirping. It was the kind of day that Liv loved about Middle-earth. The coolness of the wind, the clean smell of grass. It was such a stark contrast to the dank, pollution-filled air of New York, where the sound that greeted her in the morning wasn't women laughing outside the cottage, or giggling children, but the alarm clock ringing and the busy traffic right outside the apartment window.

Today, however, everything irritated Liv, especially the voices she heard from outside her room. The fact that they were babbling in a mixture of Sindarin and Westron that her confused brain was too slow to process only made it more unbearable.

"Put that away and stop waving it about!" It was Caladír, who sounded quite amused about something.

"But it is so strange. Is it a hat? Why does it have holes?"

"Perhaps the holes are for the ears, brother..."

"My lords, I do not think Liv would be happy to find you waving her clothes at other people." Ethuilien said, her tone gentle but already, she was losing patience.

"True, true. Need I remind you of that tiny little shirt? The one with the horrible red or purple color?"

"What has happened to that shirt, Caladír? I hope you have thrown it away or burnt it."

There was the sound of something hitting against something solid, followed by a pained yelp.

"Do not be rude!"

"That was my shoulder, Elrohir!"

"Was it the one that got bent because you were showing off to one of the Galadhrim ellith? The one with the hair all the way down her uh...?"

"Aha! So you were interested in her! Did she not have such a wonderful ah...?"

"My lords!" The reprimanding tone of Ethuilien made Liv sigh deeply and bury her head beneath her pillow.

"Well, to answer your question, it was in fact the shoulder I bent. However, I was not showing off."

"You were two seconds away from doing a backflip in front of her had her husband not called her over."

"That is a bare-faced lie!"

"Elladan, do put the hat down. You are turning the same shade of red."

"Oh, shut it, Caladír, before I tell Ethuilien about the ellith you look at."

There was another thump and a yelp of pain, this time followed by a whine, "Ow! Ethuilien, I did nothing wrong!". There was another round of laughter.

It was all rather loud and annoying and so early in the morning. Liv groaned loudly, and kicked her blanket off. The laughter died down.

"The dragon awakens." Someone whispered and yet another round of laughter erupted from outside. The damn walls were paper thin! Why did they have to be so loud?

Liv got to her feet and pulled a dress over her chemise. She yanked her door open, and froze when she saw the two guests sitting around the table.

Twins.

This time, it was quite easy to distinguish one from the other as one of them was frozen mid-laugh, with her panties on his head, his pointy ears sticking out against the bright red lace.

Liv did not know whether to laugh or scream, so instead she just stood there, confused and mortified, while everyone else bated their breaths, waiting for the imminent explosion.

"Mae g'ovannen." The twin wearing her panties greeted.

That brought Liv to her senses. She pulled her dress up and bent down to yank her slipper off her foot and threw it at him with deadly precision. Had Elladan not been an Elf, he would not have been quick enough to catch the slipper she had thrown but there was no force in the world that could have stopped her second slipper from hitting his cheek.

"Ow, fu--"

"Language!" Ethuilien snapped while Caladír and Elrohir roared with laughter.

"Put my fucking panties down, you pig! What is wrong with you!" Liv yelled. Westron be damned, she was going to yell at him in English if only to express her anger better.

"Do you even know who you're throwing your shoes at, woman!" Elladan's ears were as red as the panties on his head, but he charged towards her with all the righteous elven fury at his disposal. Liv, despite being an entire foot shorter, did not back down.

"Yes, I'm a woman. And those are women's underwear! Have some dignity, you idiot!" The last word was the only one she picked up, but it was enough for her to go on.

"If you value your ugly hat so much, take it!" Elladan yanked the panties off his head and yanked it down her own head.

"It's not a fucking hat, Elladan, oh my God!" Liv released an annoyed sigh and pulled the panties off her head.

"Down there. Drawers. Inside." Liv pointed somewhere below her stomach, and then waved the panties, before pointing between her legs again. She was careful to speak in Westron, and while her words were simple, she hoped it was enough.

Elladan choked on his own tongue, every biting remark he prepared in his mind quickly forgotten.

"Understand?" Liv snapped. It was a word she was familiar with, as it was something Ethuilien would always say to her during their Westron lessons.

Elladan nodded, his mouth slack.

"Good." Liv bent down to pick up one slipper and yanked the other from Elladan's hand, before she stomped back to her room. Just as she was about to slam the door shut again and proceed to bury herself beneath her pillow and blanket, she caught sight of Elrohir.

Elrohir, who was clutching on to Caladír's shoulder as the pair of them snickered and gasped for breath, promptly rearranged his features to a serious expression.

There was another moment of confusion as he and Liv stared at each other.

For a moment, a flash of disappointment crossed Liv's face but that was quickly replaced by anger.

"You leave me here."

The words were barely whispered, but it was a slap to everyone present that it would have hurt less if she had screamed the words in their faces.

"Goheno nín, Liv."

"A month. You leave me for a month."

"I know. Goheno nín."

Elrohir was apologizing for something more. She could hear it in his tone. Her heart sank.

"New York? Home?"

He could not bring himself to say the words. She could not bear the pain of the confirmation. Her shoulders slumped. So, that was it. She won't be going home any time soon. She probably won't be going home at all.

She closed the door softly and disposed of her panties on the ground, but behind the door, everyone could hear as she slid to the floor and tried to stifle her sobs. She had tried to run for the bed, but had only managed to reach the foot of the bed before her knees gave in.

It was all too much. The Westron, the cottage, the birds singing outside. It was all alien to Liv, all hard for her to adapt to. To be told that there would be an even slimmer possibility for her to go home brought her back to the time when she was lethargic and barely talking to anyone. That had been almost a month ago. She was sure by then her tiny family had again shattered. Her parents only had each other now, and they could barely even stand one another. There were so many things Liv wanted to apologize for, so many things she still wanted to do, so many mistakes she wanted to make up for. The worst feeling that drove guilt through her heart was the thought of her causing her friends and family pain.

"Liv..." It was Ethuilien. Liv sniffed but did not reply.

"Caladír took the twins outside. It is just us. Do you want to talk?"

"No."

Silence.

"Goheno nín, Liv."

"Oh, God. Not you, too. This isn't making me feel better!" Liv gasped the words out through her tears, too distressed to form words in Westron anymore, but Ethuilien continued.

"I know Caladír and I have a small home. I know what we have may be nothing compared to what you are used to but we are trying to make you feel welcome. We wanted you to stay in our home because we could not bear the thought of leaving you alone without a family. We tried to be there for you. I know what we can give you is nothing compared to the feeling of being around those you love most, but we have come to care for you. I am here for you if you need me." Ethuilien said, slowly, so Liv could understand each word, but hearing them only made the tears fall faster.

The door swung open fractionally, and when Liv did not protest, Ethuilien stepped inside and found her curled on the floor, her back leaning against the side of her bed. Ethuilien kneeled in front of her and held her close. Liv clung to her arm and cried, letting go of her tears once again.

"I am sorry, Ethuilien... Adar, naneth... They no see me now." She whispered, feeling worse that she can't express herself better in Ethuilien's language.

"Ssh, ssh. I know, dear girl. I have known loss, as well. I know how hard it is, but you are a strong girl. You must remain strong for them. There might be hope yet. You might see your family again."

Liv knew better.

When she had calmed down enough, Ethuilien led her to the kitchen and she sat down on the bench in silence, defeated, while Ethuilien brewed chamomile tea for her. Caladír walked in with Elladan and Elrohir. Elladan was sporting a red welt on his cheek from her slipper, but he did not seem to mind. Caladír was the first to approach her.

"I no mean what I say." Liv said, looking up at Caladír. "I thank you for taking care of I."

Caladír smiled warmly, "Of me." He corrected gently, "And you're welcome, sweet girl. You're always welcome."

"Of me." Liv repeated, her smile weak. The look on her face crushed his heart.

"Elladan and I... We came to take you back." Elrohir started.

There was a loud crack.

Ethuilien had dropped the cup she was holding, and it now lay in pieces on the floor. "Take her back?"

"To Imladris. Father wants to see her. And we can explain to her why we took so long to come back." Elladan replied.

"No." Liv snapped. "I stay here. You leave me. You cannot leave me and take me, too."

"We have to work on your tenses..." Elrohir sighed. Her glare turned to him.

"You want shoe on face, too?" She threatened. "Two slippers. One face. You be twins again."

"Liv. If we take you to Imladris, you will be educated on your language. You'll be taught how to cook and sew and tend to horses there." Elladan said this as though it was supposed to convince her going to Imladris was a good idea.

"I know how to cook! I no need to sew. I not want to sew. And horses here! Outside!" She jabbed a finger at the direction of the door.

"My lords, she has yet to fully adapt to being around fellow humans in a small settlement, I do not think it will be good for her to learn that you could not find her family and proceed to take her away from the people taking care of her to elven territory." Ethuilien was almost begging.

"I stay here." Liv said, finally.

Elladan and Elrohir exchanged looks.

"Perhaps we could visit Imladris when her vocabulary has improved. She needs time and she needs to be around fellow Men." Caladír said.

Elladan sighed, "If that is what you wish. But I feel we both owe Liv an apology."

"Yes. You owe Liv an apology." Liv repeated, heatedly.

"I am sorry for the hat."

"Not a hat!" Liv was tempted to throw her shoe again.

"And I am sorry we could not return quicker. We've sent messengers, we even went to Bree to ask Halbarad for help, and he sent out messengers to all the Rangers he knew but the Dúnedain are a few and scattered people. They roam the wilds and sometimes do not return for weeks. When they all reported back to us, no one was missing their daughter or wives. Those who have lost daughters have found their dead bodies but..."

"Dead bodies?" Caladír interrupted.

"The orcs are getting bolder." Elrohir said, gravely. "Which was why father wanted to bring Liv to Imladris. He wanted to see for himself who the mysterious missing girl was before she gets into any danger. Her being near the first out of many attacks and being the only survivor could not have been a coincidence."

"You look in wrong place! America! New York! I am American!"

"There is no such place in Middle-earth, Liv. Middle-earth: Gondor, Rohan, Eriador. No Amrika. No Noo Yolk." Elrohir said, gently.

Liv buried her hands in her hair, her shoulders shaking. That was not what she needed to hear. How did the United States of America not exist? How could it not be on any map? Just where in the world was she?

"I stay." She whispered, and that was the last of it. Ethuilien had a new cup prepared for her and Liv drank her tea in stubborn silence. Elladan and Elrohir knew there was no changing her mind and that there was no use forcing the issue.

"We will visit Imladris when she is ready to. I am sure Lord Elrond would understand. She needs time to recover." Caladír said, his hand landing protectively on Liv's shoulder.

"Alright. We will tell Father. Do warn us before you come to Imladris, however. Melpomaen hates it when visitors come without prior notice." Elrohir said.

He stood, and hesitated in front of Liv.

"I truly am sorry for causing you any pain. We just wanted you to be safe. Rest now." He said, reaching out for her and hesitating as she shrunk away from him. He felt his guts twist together. She had never shrunk away from him. During their brief travels together, it was him she leaned on. But Liv was unmoving and angry. She was not some sort of special possession to be passed around. She was not a book for people to just borrow and drop off whenever they pleased.

Elrohir straightened up, and again, she avoided looking at anything else but their boots. For the rest of the day, Liv stayed in her room, busying herself with her vocabulary book while Caladír went out to hunt and Ethuilien went about doing errands.

As if the day hadn't already gotten off to such a wonderful start, her monthly friend decided to finally rear its ugly head.

"Shit." She said as she was just about to drop her chemise to take a bath and realized a red patch had formed at the back side.

Which then proceeded in Liv sinking in the tub, calling for Ethuilien, who did not return until at least half an hour had passed.

She burst into the room at the sound of Liv's calls, only to find her in the tub, scrubbing away at the stain on her chemise with the brush she used for brushing away dead skin off her back and her bar of soap, which did not produce nearly as much bubbles as she wanted.

"What are you doing?" Ethulien gasped, clutching her chest to steady her pounding heart. There was water that had splashed on to the floor, and Liv had carelessly thrown aside her dress and shoes when she saw the stain.

"What I must do?" Liv said, with barely controlled panic.

"What do you mean, what do you do? What do you usually do when your period arrives?" Ethuilien threw her hands up, frustrated.

"I have pads or tampons!" The two words were unfamiliar to Ethuilien, "Rag to throw away." She racked her brains for the words she could use to describe disposable cotton for sanitary use.

"Well, we don't have that here. Wait there. I shall come back." Ethuilien ran out to get something from her room, and came back with a belt and a piece of cloth. Liv stared at the cloth.

Was she supposed to fold that up like a pad? She imagined it would look like she was giving birth to a brick if she folded the fabric. It was too thick and too long. She could cut it up into smaller cloths, but with what? As if to answer her questioning look, Ethuilien showed Liv what to do with it. Basically, it involved making a belted diaper. Both ends of the fabric were tied to the belt, which was then secured and tied up. When Liv just looked at Ethuilien in confusion, Ethuilien asked her to stand.

So there she stood, blushing furiously as she stood naked while Ethuilien secured the adult diaper on her, and gave her a pair of drawers--undergarments that looked and felt like shorts--to secure her pad/diaper in place. Today was turning out to be the worst day of Liv's life in Middle-earth, so far.

It was only the beginning as her craving for a cheeseburger kicked in.

Chapter Text

They had started working on tenses.

It was frustrating for both Liv and Ethuilien because Liv was being grumpy and uncooperative and Ethuilien snapped a lot, which discouraged Liv further. Ethuilien had been trying to keep everything between them normal. She did not feel it would do well for her to treat Liv like a wounded animal. The news of not being able to find her family had made Liv return to being unsociable, quiet and short-tempered.

Well, more short-tempered than usual.

Caladír tried to make Ethuilien tone down her her strictness but she had made up her mind. Liv will not recover if they continued to remind her of her misfortunes and let her wallow in her misery. She needed a distraction now more than anything.

"Come, Liv. I have told you this before. Eat. Ate. Eaten."

"I want to eat a cheeseburger."

"What is a cheez-berrger?"

"I had eat cheeseburger."

"Have eaten."

"I want a cheeseburger."

"Concentrate, Liv!"

Liv was miserable. She did not usually have cramps during her period, and when she did, it was bearable. The problem with her during her time of the month was her uncontrollable cravings. And thinking about cheeseburgers only reminded her of what she was missing back home.

It would be better if she knew how to make burger patties, but it was impossible for Caladír to get a hold of ground beef. Beef was hard to come by already, and the technology of grinding has still not been discovered. She was thinking about ways in which she could mince beef with knives into tiny pieces, but she had no clue if there was only a certain part of a cow that was desirable for burger patties. As such, she was too distracted to learn anything.

"Can I go, please?" Liv straightened up in her chair. Ethuilien sighed, rubbing her temples.

"Not until you get your tenses right."

"You only make me do tenses because Elrohir tell you to." Liv snapped.

"Your grammar is appalling."

Liv groaned. "Fine!"

And so, they stayed there for two hours, and by the end of their lesson, Ethuilien gave Liv homework because of the lack of progress they made.

"Homework! I live here! I'm twenty-two years old and I'm being given homework like a ten-year-old!" She huffed as she threw herself on her bed and started on her translations and tense changes.

"Liv." Caladír knocked on her door an hour later. Half of him stepped inside her room. Liv looked up at him mournfully.

"Ethuilien is out, doing some errands with Gilhendil. Let us sneak out, shall we?" He said, holding a brown rucksack for her.

"Sneak where?" Liv asked, sitting up, immediately. Anywhere to get away from tenses!

"Come. I'll teach you how to ride a horse."

Nevermind. She'd take Ethuilien's lesson over riding those ugly beasts--alone, too. What a nightmare.

"No. I thank you." She did not know what the worse punishment was, riding a horse or doing translations.

"If you want to travel, you'll have to learn how to ride. And hold a sword."

"Sword? I? Why?"

"The wilds are not safe. If we are to travel, you must know how to defend yourself. I will not always be there for you." Caladír said, gently. Liv frowned at her homework, and at the rucksack Caladír was holding.

"Fuck it." She sighed in English and came over to take the bag from him. Inside was a grey tunic and a brown, leather vest. There was also a pair of thick, brown leggings and boots. They looked like female hunting clothes.

"Where do you get this?" Liv asked, pulling the tunic out. Caladír only gave her a half-smile. "See if it fits." He said, as he pulled her door close and let her change.

Everything did fit, strangely enough. And when she showed Caladír how the outfit looked, he had completely frozen.

"What?" She asked, shifting uncomfortably. Caladír seemed to shake himself back to reality, and a grin forced itself on his lips.

"It looks good on you." His voice sounded strained. Confused, Liv just followed him out and he showed her his own horse. It was rare for anyone in the village to have a horse. The village stables itself only housed ten horses, as the Dúnedain liked to travel by foot. Thankfully, Caladír's horse was mild-mannered and friendly. There was one horse in the stable she didn't like that much. It gave her the stink eye. Liv didn't trust these things at all. Why would any living creature want a walking disaster like her on top of them? She had a feeling Caladír's horse sensed her tendency to be clumsy, because it tried to shake her off when she got on top.

Caladír assured her that horses just shake their manes and tails and that it was normal. Liv was suspicious and would only ride the horse out of the stables if Caladír guided it with a rope in front of the horse as well.

"Liv, only children need that!"

"No!" A word she had become all too familiar with, and which she kept repeating until she won, with Caladír shaking his head but smiling as he went to fetch a rope.

The lesson was mostly just Liv holding on to the reins, with Caladír guiding the horse via a rope in front. He taught Liv the basics of how to guide the horse, how to sit on a horse, and mostly they just circled the stables. Afterwards, when they had led the horse back inside and they were back to the cottage, they stayed outside while Caladír happily showed her the sword she would be training with. Liv looked at the thing with apprehension.

"Why train I with sword?" Liv asked.

Caladír shrugged, "I figured you needed a fun distraction, and I do not mean just the grammar lessons."

He has been distracting her from thinking too much about home. Liv smiled. It was really thoughtful of him to waste a good portion of his day just to distract her. Usually, he would be gone the entire day with the other Rangers, hunting. That he chose to stay to make her feel better warmed her heart.

"You not have to do that. I am fine." She said, only half-lying. Her parents would always be in the back of her mind. She was always worrying about them, but she already promised herself: No more breakdowns. She cried her tears, now it was time for her to hold her head up and be strong for the people she loved. If she had wanted to go back, she would need to be active, not waste away in self-pity. This wasn't the Liv that had confidently walked into New York traffic and slammed her fists against the hoods of cabs when they got too close.

"I know you are." Caladir said. "I have every confidence in you that you will stay strong through everything. Can't say the same for you holding a sword, however. Is this the first time you"ve held on?"

Liv smiled sheepishly and nodded, taking the sword from the sheath. The blade dropped to the ground like a stone.

"How is the balance?" Caladír asked.

"It only feels like I'm carrying a baby whale but other than that.." Liv muttered under her breath, relapsing to English as she struggled with her grip on the hilt. God damn! Was this how carrying another full-grown adult felt like? How the hell do these people keep swords strapped to their waists all the time? In Westron, she said, "Fine."

"Good. You need to develop your upper body strength. You have the arms of a ten year old."

"I thought you were supposed to be helping me." Liv muttered in English, glaring at him. Caladír did not back down. He just raised his eyebrow.

"You speak in your own tongue when you are annoyed."

"Well spotted, Captain Obvious."

"You are still doing it." Caladír looked like he was enjoying himself.

"What I must do?" Liv grumbled.

"Lift the sword up with one hand." He ordered. Liv's jaw dropped. She could barely hold it up with both hands!

"Stop looking at me like that. You can do it." Caladír encouraged.

Liv looked at him, aghast. He was serious. "How long do I have to hold it up?"

"For as long as you can." He said, simply.

"This is training?"

"If you cannot hold a sword up for long, you will never be able to swing it twice." Caladír explained.

She was starting to miss the grammar lessons.

Muttering under her breath, Liv tried to keep the sword held up. Caladír walked around her until she dropped the sword.

"I guess we need to work on your strength and endurancd first, then." Apparently, that meant she had to run lapses around the entire cottage. Liv had never before realized just how big the damn cottage was. She liked jogging as much as the next girl, but the ground was uneven, which made it harder to navigate. By the end of the session, she was sweaty and shaking with exhaustion. Now, she really wanted to go back to her grammar lessons.

"We shall work on your strength and endurance first. That run was..." Caladír tried to find the right word for her performance. Liv supplied it for him.

"Pathetic?"

"Where did you learn that word?"

Liv noticed he did not argue, and she shrugged. During the times that she did laundry with the other women, Gilhendil had quite a few choice words for the men asking for her daughter's hand. 'Pathetic' was one of the words she used to describe a man who had cowered at the sight of her husband.

"Regardless, we all have to start somewhere." Caladír said.

"I start with pathetic?" Liv said, glumly. Caladír snorted in his laughter, and she managed to give him a weak smile.

"What is this?"

The two turned in the direction of Ethuilien, who was looking at Liv in horror as she gaped at the two of them. Liv had the disturbing thought that maybe Ethuilien thought she was pulling the moves on Caladír. She stepped back in alarm at the look on Ethuilien's face, but it was not the look of a wife who has been betrayed. There was something else there.

Ethuilien turned her gaze on Caladír. "I told you to burn those clothes."

"My love..."

"Don't 'my love' me. I told you to get rid of them. I told you not to keep them!"

"It was Aurien's own handiwork. I could not bear to just destroy them."

Liv shrunk back, looking at one and the other as Ethuilien visibly started shaking. Okay, so she wasn't angry about Liv and Caladír training together. She wasn't angry, at all. There were tears in her eyes. Liv was taken aback as Ethuilien stormed inside the cottage, dropping the basket of herbs and vegetables she was holding while Caladír ran his hand over his face.

"What I do?" Liv asked, stooping down to pick up the fallen basket.

"It is not your doing..." Caladír said, while he stared at the door where Ethuilien had gone through. His gaze fell to the ground. "Aurien was our daughter. She was around your age when she died two years ago."

She died? They had a daughter who died? Liv looked up at Caladír, mouth open in horror. Jesus, she was completely wrong about what Ethuilien was so upset about! It never occured to her that something like that could happen but it all made sense. The dresses, the spare room with the vanity table, the scented oils. Those were women's things. Liv had assumed it was all Ethuilien's but she had never taken the time to think: Ethuilien was taller than her. Her clothes wouldn't fit Liv so well. No, apparently, those all belonged to her daughter.

"Oh, Caladír. I am sorry." She said. Caladír only shook his head sadly, to indicate that she had nothing to apologize for.

"Aurien loved the wilds. She wanted to be a Ranger and did not want to take a husband. Ethuilien tried to stop her from doing what she wanted but Aurien was stubborn. She made the clothes you are wearing now in secret, and had gone off with other Rangers. The last time Ethuilien and I saw her, she had argued with Ethuilien. Harsh words were exchanged, and Aurien stormed out of the house. She and her companions were ambushed by a group of wolves. Ethuilien never forgave herself for what happened."

The pain in Caladír's voice tugged at Liv's heart. She had always seen Caladír as an easygoing man. Silent but strong and protective. And Ethuilien was a strong woman she admired so much. To know that they suffered through such a tragedy made her wonder how they could have stayed strong through that. When her family went through even the smallest amount of pressure, they had disintegrated.

"She tried to stop our son, Anorvain, from answering Halabarad's call for more men, but her children take after her. Anorvain was just as stubborn, and he is an honorable lad. Ethuilien knew she had to let him go."

"Where is Anorvain?"

"Oh, probably with Halbarad or some other Rangers. He was leaving just as you arrived here. It was good timing. Ethuilien needed the companionship and the distraction you gave her. She has grown very fond of you."

Liv looked down, "I feel bad to wear the clothes of Aurien. I do not want to hurt Ethuilien."

"It's not your fault. Besides, Aurien would find it such a waste for her hard work to just collect dust at the bottom of our trunk. Ethuilien was just surprised. Stay here, I will talk to her." Caladír said.

So Liv sat on the grass, while Caladír went after his wife. She looked down at the clothes she was wearing. She couldn't imagine how it must have been for Ethuilien to lose her daughter like that after a heated argument.

Actually, she could.

The last time she talked to her dad, she had yelled at him about being an irresponsible asshole who slept with younger models but couldn't even be there for her. She had yelled about how sending money was not enough to make him a father. Now, she'll never be able to ask for forgiveness. She'll never be able to make up for her harsh words.

And she could understand why Ethuilien would still feel pain after two years, because the guilt of never taking horrible words back weighed heavily in her own heart.

Caladir swallowed, as a lump begun to form in his throat. He did not think Ethuilien would react the way she did. Not after two years. He should have known better. Ethuilien loved their children dearly. She never was the same since Aurien's loss.

Ethuilien was slumped against the kitchen table, taking deep, slow breaths. Even now, she was keeping her composure, always in control.

"Ethuilien."

She sniffed and turned around to face him, and his heart sank at the sight of her. Her eyes were puffy and red, and tear tracks stained her cheeks. "I wish... I wish it was easier." She croaked.

"It never is." Caladír said, approaching her and sitting beside her.

"You don't understand. Every day, I look at Liv and think of the daughter we lost. I think of how Aurien would be like, how spirited she is. Because I see her in Liv. I see the daughter we lost, but it is not the same."

Caladír sighed and pulled his wife into his arms. "I see those clothes and I am reminded of our Aurien saying I do not truly love her. I see my mistakes in those clothes. I wish I did not, but it is all I see in my mind's eye. I see Aurien standing in the kitchen, stubbornly arguing that she has as much right to be a Ranger as her brother. I see her walk out the door, with that cloak and those boots turned on me, Caladir. I see those clothes as the last clothes I saw her wear the last time she was alive." Ethuilien choked at the last word, and a fresh wave of tears spilled from her eyes. Caladir pulled her tighter and closer to him, wishing he could take her pain from her.

"Those clothes are Aurien's own hard work. I can't burn the last memory of our daughter, Ethuilien."

Ethuilien sniffed. "I do not know if her last memory is something I can bear."

"You should not have to bear it. You should treasure it. It is time for you to let go of your guilt. Aurien will never blame you for anything. You have to forgive yourself." Caladír whispered.

Ethuilien pulled away to look up at her husband, her support. When all else is lost and confusing, Caladír is the one thing in her life that made sense.

"Liv is probably worried..." She sniffed, straightening her back.

"Liv cares for you, you know. We are the closest thing to family that she has right now." Caladír said. A weak smile formed on Ethuilien's face as she wipes her tears dry.

"And I care for her as well."

Caladír pauses for a beat. "Aurien would have been great friends with her."

Ethuilien nods, "Yes. She would have." If her voice cracked again, Caladír chose not to comment on it.

Chapter Text

It was Ethuilien who told Liv to get inside. At first, everything was awkward. And Liv retreated to her room to change immediately. She had to wash her used cloths as well, and by the time she had hung up her cloths to dry and had changed into fresh ones, wearing a green dress, Ethuilien was back to cooking.

Liv approached her by the table as she chopped the carrots.

"Goheno nín." Liv said. Ethuilien looked up at her with puffy eyes. "It was not your fault, Liv." She said.

"I not want to bring back thoughts... no... memories."

Ethuilien nodded, but said nothing. Liv recalled what Ethuilien had said just a day before, about knowing loss. What must it be like? To lose a daughter that way, and to have the last memory of her be one where she was arguing with her. Liv could only imagine the guilt and pain Ethuilien had went through. Losing a child was never easy. Losing anyone was never easy.

Liv knew this, too, a bit. Her pain was not the same as Ethuilien's. She has not lost anyone the way Ethuilien and Caladír have, but she could understand a part of it. And she wanted Ethuilien to know that she empathizes.

"I am here for you if you need me, Ethuilien." Liv said, echoing Ethuilien's words to her, and pushed by confidence, reached out to squeeze Ethuilien's shoulder.

Ethuilien's smile was small and sad, but she said, "Thank you, Liv." with such gentleness that Liv's heart broke for her.

The following days, things slowly went back to normal. The lessons continued, and became more demanding. The two of them had dedicated more time to lessons, because Ethuilien wanted Liv to be good at tenses and possessive forms. It was a critical point in her lessons, and after Liv's cravings had passed, their lessons went by without a hitch. They went back to their usual routine. Except this time, Ethuilien started opening up more.

"You remind me of Aurien. She was just as strong-willed and stubborn. I think that is why I grew fond of you easily." She told Liv one time while they were cooking together. It was her first mention of Aurien, and she had said it because Liv was telling her that she wanted to continue her training with Caladír, much to the couple's surprise. Ethuilien and Caladír would start telling her little stories of Aurien, and there would be pain and longing in their voices, but it also brought smiles to their faces. Keeping Aurien's memory alive brought the household closer.

In turn, Liv opened up as well. When she began more advanced lessons in her Westron and had begun speaking in proper tenses and had started getting the hang of verb conjugations, she started talking about home and how New York looked like. She started telling them about what, exactly, she was wearing when Elladan and Elrohir found her and why she was wearing it. She started opening up about her lifestyle.

"Aha! So Elladan was right! You are of nobility!" Caladír once exclaimed.

"No! Not at all. I was full of luck enough to be born with...with...gold...?" Sometimes, Liv still stuttered with her Westron, but it was a huge improvement from how she was two months ago.

Ethuilien smiled, "Gold, yes. Treasure."

And so, they got to know each other better. But nobody spoke of their loved ones' deaths or short-comings. None of them spoke of bad memories, of mistakes, or regrets.

It was enough for the three of them to keep the memory of those they love alive. And it helped Liv. Talking about home did not make her sad anymore. There was longing, yes, but she no longer saw the sense of crying all the damn time, which was a good thing because she would never forgive herself for not recovering. She had adapted to many things before, she could adapt to this.

Ethuilien, Caladír and Liv were a little family, and Liv had brought a new sense of youth to the household. There was laughter in the cottage again, and Liv had started doing errands in the village alone.

She started making friends, as well, especially with Miluieth and Gilhendil. The three of them became inseperable. One would never be found without the other two close at hand. They did laundry in the village together, they bathed in the river together, they shopped for food together. Miluieth's family owned a large farmstead and were the most important producers of fruits and vegetables in the settlement. Gilhendil's husband was the butcher, who also owned an animal farm, mostly chicken, lambs and goats. They also owned some cows and pigs.

It was Gilhendil who pushed Liv to not be squeamish around animals anymore, particularly the skinning of them.

"Oh, for goodness' sake, Liv. It's perfectly natural. What did you expect we do to the meat you cook?" Gilhendil always was blunt.

"Ignorance is bliss, as they say from where I am from." Liv said as she watched Gilhendil yank feathers off a chicken.

"Well, you're here now. And this is what happens. Go on, take a chicken and pull out its feathers."

"But I like this dress!"

"It is a pretty dress." Miluieth noted.

"So what if it is? Pull up a stool, grab a dead chicken and get to yanking! The chicken will be free if you do."

"You really want me to stop being afraid of them, do you not?" Liv sighed as she placed the basket she was holding and pulled up a stool. Pulling out chicken feathers was the same as doing laundry--it involved more strength than Liv imagined. It was a mark of how much doing chores and training with Caladír made her body stronger. She'd gained weight and had started gaining some muscle on her arms. Her body was the most fit it had been since high school, when she used to play volleyball before she found parties a better use of her time. By the end of the chicken violence, she had gained a whole chicken she decided she would stuff and bake.

"See? I told you, it is not that bad." Gilhendil said, victoriously.

"I would rather go back to still life drawings..." Liv muttered.

"Still-life drawings? What are those?" Miluieth asked, for this was new information.

"Oh, it is nothing. Before, I was learning how to create art. Still life drawings are just drawings of things that are not alive, like fruits or plants. And you try to draw them as precisely as possible. It is quite boring." Was the closest Liv would come to explaining a typical class in art school. Her forte was painting, although she was good at drawing as well. She loved using colors to create her own interpretation of something. Still life bored her. It did not leave much room for creativity.

"Oh, but that is wonderful! You must meet my mother! She makes medicine out of herbs. We have an entire garden dedicated to medicinal plants and she is looking for someone to help her write a book of her compilations of the herbs in our garden so it will be easier to identify her plants and to list down medicinal effects of those plants."

"I cannot identify plants, Miluieth." Liv admitted.

"You do not have to! Mother just needs someone to draw the plants in fine detail. She is talking about getting an apprentice as well, perhaps you are interested in learning about how those herbs are used to treat diseases or wounds."

"An apprentice? Why now?"

"Well, more Rangers are coming back wounded..." Miluieth said.

"You mean more Rangers are becoming less careful." There was a warning tone in Gilhendil's voice.

"What do you mean? Why are they getting wounded?" Liv demanded. Caladír had been going out more often, and the time he spent in the wilds was getting longer. He'd most often be gone than be home nowadays, and it worried Liv. Ethuilien had tried to reassure her that Rangers would go out for weeks and even months without returning home, but she trusted Caladír to come back. Liv, however, was worried.

How dangerous could hunting for animals be?

"Just some trouble in the wilds. They run into wolves and other dangerous predators, Liv. Do not worry yourself." Gilhendil said. "Stop frightening the girl, Miluieth."

"It was not my intention. Regardless, mother would love to meet you, I think. I'll go ahead and ask her if you could come over." Miluieth beamed, as she and Liv bade Gilhendil farewell and walked back home.

There was a lot more activity going on in the village than usual. The children, especially, seemed to be excited over something.

"What is happening? Is there a party?" Liv asked when they passed by a group of women arguing over the color of fabric they'll be using on the tables that were being set outside, in the larger space in the middle of the settlement.

"It is Loëndë, Liv! Mid-year's Day! There will be a feast tomorrow night. Some Rangers would be coming home tonight to celebrate, if they could."

"That is great news! I hope Caladír comes home with Anorvain. I have not met him yet!"

"Sometimes, I forget how short a time you have been here. Anorvain is quite a handful. You will get along with him, I think." Miluieth said.

"Hey! What is that supposed to mean?" Liv playfully pushed Miluieth, who giggled as she pushed back.

"I meant that you and him share the same sense of humor."

"So, the 'quite a handful' part, that was not about me, as well?"

"I never said that. Goodbye." Miluieth smirked, detouring to her house and ignoring the indignant scoff Liv made.

Anorvain did arrive with Caladír that night, and his first task: Get to know his parents' new ward.

Liv smelled him before she saw him.

"Ethuilien, I think a rat died in here. There is an awful smell!" She called out.

"I am offended! I do not smell that bad!" Anorvain appeared from inside his room, where he had dumped his gear and dirty boots.

Liv shrieked.

He looked like a caveman. His beard was wild, his hair unruly and he stunk. Liv, not knowing what Anorvain looked like because they had never met each other before, grabbed a broom and held it in front of her, thinking their house had been broken into.

"Leave! Before you lose your nuts!"

"My what?"

Liv cleared it up by swinging the broom's handle upwards, between his legs. Anorvain whimpered and fell to his knees. Liv, fueled by the aggressive New York attitude and her training, charged and hit the back of his head. Anorvain had received worse blows, but being beaten with a broom by a pretty girl in his own home was the worst hit of all.

"Stop! Stop! I live here!"

"Oh, yes? Strange that I have never seen you here before!" Liv raised the broom, Anorvain rolled out of the way.

"Damn. Elladan was right about you." Anorvain said. Liv froze mid-swing.

"How do you know Elladan?" She narrowed her eyes.

"We've hunted together, along with his younger twin, Elrohir. I've been guarding the borders of Bree with Halbarad all this time. Did father not tell you I would be coming home?"

"How am I supposed to know who your father is?"

"Because you have been living with my parents for, how long has it been? Two moons past, now?"

Liv promptly dropped the broom.

"You are Anorvain?"

"And she figures it out." Anorvain muttered, seeing that as his cue that it was safe to stand now.

"Goheno nín. I thought you were a robber! I thought--"

"A robber? Do not let anyone else hear you say that. The Dúnedain do not steal from their neighbors--from anyone, for that matter. There is no honor in that." Anorvain almost sounded offended.

"I am sorry. I did not mean to hurt your feelings."

"It was not my feelings that you hurt, trust me." He muttered. Liv frowned, looking down in guilt.

"Ah, do not worry. I am glad you're willing to defend my home despite not being trained in how to fight." He said, rubbing his forehead where Liv had previously landed a successful hit with the broom.

"Caladír is teaching me." Liv said.

Anorvain moved to the kitchen and plonked down on the bench. Liv went ahead and poured mead for him.

"Is father making you run around the house and do push-ups?" Anorvain asked, barely containing a grin. Liv nodded and handed him a cup.

"He did the same to me. It will not be long before he deems you strong enough to pull back the string of a bow." He said, raising the cup in salute to her and gulping half of the drink down. "Now, where is my dear mother? I grew my hair out precisely to see her face when she sees it."

He didn't have to wait long, and he got another good whack from the broomstick courtesy of Ethuilien when she saw the state he was in.

"Gone for months and you come back and track dirt and mud in the house! Have you forgotten your manners the same way you have forgotten to cut your hair?" Ethuilien snapped, waving the broom around.

"Mother, nobody but you actually cares about the state of my hair."

He got another whack for that cheek.

"Bath! Now! Before I drag you to the river and bathe you myself!" Ethuilien ordered. It was quite entertaining to watch a grown man being scolded by his mother, and Liv hid her laughter by pretending to be busy stuffing the chicken she had brought home with spices and herbs.

Caladír and Anorvain came home from a bath in the river to a meal courtesy of Liv. Honey-glazed baked chicken--she had to go to the bakery and ask Gilvagor to let her use one of his ovens to bake it in exchange for her recipe of the chicken itself--and mashed potato, which Ethuilien made the gravy for. It was not the same kind of gravy Liv was used to, and the smokey flavor of the chicken was new to her as well, but it was all highly approved by everyone else.

That was a good day. Anorvain and Liv, it turned out, quickly got along like brother and sister. It had not even been a full day before the two had started teasing each other, and the cottage has not been filled with such laughter in two years.

Chapter Text

The entire village was working double time. Children were busy making leaf and flower crowns, the older children were running around on last-minute errands, young women were milling around the tailor for their dresses and the adults were decorating and cooking for the feast. Liv was not spared from doing a task, and she was assigned to work with the baker--who, it turned out, was also the second in command next to Caladír. It was strange to know that someone who made such delicate cakes and cookies was also a skilled warrior. Everything about Gilvagor was contradictory, and it was this reason that Liv enjoyed getting to know him.

While Gilvagor mixed the batter and placed the trays in the ovens, Liv decorated. There were lemon cakes, carrot cakes, honey cakes and soft butter cookies. The village was celebrating a particularly bountiful harvest, and there was no shortage of food.

Gilvagor was pleasantly surprised at Liv's handiwork. It was not the same designs he usually made, but her work was pleasing to the eye as well. When she was done, she went back home to find Anorvain, despite brushing his mother off, had cut his hair and trimmed his beard. It was a very neat cut too, much like the hairstyle Liv was used to seeing in the modern world.

Over two months, the shortest she had seen on the men was just above shoulder-length. Some had hair longer than her own. Gilvagor kept his face clear of a beard and kept his hair tied back in a ponytail to keep it away from the food he cooked, but the rest of the men let their beard grow. Caladír's beard flourished, and his hair was kept at shoulder-length. Liv wondered if he kept it that way because he was just lazy or because Ethuilien actually found it sexy. The latter made Liv shiver. It was like imagining one's parents flirting with each other.

Anorvain won the shortest hair award by a mile.

"Who did this to you?" Liv gasped, fake horror in her voice, the moment she saw him.

Anorvain raised an eyebrow. "Have you looked at yourself lately?"

That earned him a smack to the arm. "Did Ethuilien cut it for you?"

"No, actually, father did. He is very good with razors and knives."

"Amazing. You actually look human now."

"Alright, young lady, that is it!" Anorvain charged and Liv bolted back out the door, laughing as he chased her. They circled trees, jumped fences and ran around some of the adults taking food to the platform where the feast would be held. The children nearby giggled as they saw the two of them, and decided to join the fun. "Get him! Get him!" Liv cried, pointing to Anorvain and the children stampeded towards him with muddy feet.

"I'll get you!" Anorvain called. The children clung to his leg and tugged at his tunic, begging him to carry them. He carried those he could, while the others asked for a turn. Anorvain looked around him in distress.

"And then what?" Liv called, tauntingly.

"And then you will have to dance with me later, after the feast."

Liv promptly stopped laughing. "I cannot dance!" She snapped. Unless you counted hip-swaying and a lot of grinding, Liv wasn't exactly the wholesome dance partner he probably expected.

"You will have to learn quickly, then! Get her! She has cookies!" Anorvain put the children down and pointed at Liv. The children charged. Liv tried to run but some of the children grabbed her dress and Anorvain caught up with her easily, tackling her to the ground. The soft grass cushioned her fall, and she squealed as he started tickling her. And then other hands started tickling her until she was gasping for breath.

"Promise to save a dance for me later." Anorvain said.

Liv tried to wriggle out of his grasp. "No!"

"Wrong answer. Attack!" He ordered and the children pounced, subjecting Liv to more torture.

"Stop! Stop! Fine. I will do it, you big, lumbering oaf!" Liv gasped, pushing him off and sitting up, wiping tears from her eyes. She grabbed a nearby child and started tickling her. The little girl shrieked with delight until she wriggled free.

"Go on, now! Bathe. You cannot go to the feast in that state." Liv said to the children.

"No baths!" Some pouted.

"We will play again tomorrow!" Anorvain chuckled. "But only if you bathe."

The children dispersed, and Anorvain joined Liv on the ground as she lay back, gasping for breath.

"I won this fight." He said, triumphantly.

"You won nothing." She said, nudging him with her elbow as they looked up at the clouds passing above them.

"Everything is so blue and clear. You could never see the sky like this in New York." She said.

"Why not?"

"The skies there are grey and full of smoke. And the people were too busy to look up."

"Were you one of those people?"

"I was. I stopped caring about what I thought did not matter. I was too busy drinking my nights away and wasting money to spare a thought for the beauty of my surroundings. It was a terrible way for me to rebel. After my father left me and my mother, I just...stopped caring. About everything."

"Your father left you?" Anorvain sat up, his face contorted with disgust.

"Do not sound so surprised. It happens a lot in my time. It was better for them to end their marriage than stay in a harmful relationship. My father was already with another woman. It was just... not good for me, emotionally. I was but a child. At the time, I just wanted the screaming and arguing to stop and it did when my father walked away."

"So, he left? That is the most dishonorable, selfish thing anyone could do! You were young yourself! How did he expect you and your mother would survive! Who would hunt for your food, who will protect you? And to leave his family for another woman! What a disgrace! I ought to find your father and give him what for!" Anorvain snapped. Liv smiled as he got angry in her stead. The Dúnedain, she knew, were people who valued family and honor. Betraying family was unthinkable, and Anorvain could not believe anyone would be so spineless to leave their wife and children behind for such a dishonorable reason as infidelity.

"New York was not so dangerous that we needed such protection. And food could be bought, already prepared. He had to give us...gold. It was part of their agreement. He still pays for my studies."

"You should have punched him, at least. Spineless rat." Anorvain muttered.

"You and your violence." Liv said. "He was giving us gold. I had been angry at him before for abandoning us, but what else was I to do?"

"Your mother was okay with all of this?"

"Ha! She has never been happier when they separated. She had other men asking for her hand. No, they were both happy with the separation. They just...forgot about me. They did not care what I did. They were too busy arguing over their possessions to worry about what it was doing to me." Liv sighed, still looking up at the sky. If her vision had blurred, she told herself it was just the light of the sun and she blinked it away.

Anorvain lay back down again.

"You have been through a lot."

"I will live. I have survived many troubles. I have yet to go through a real obstacle. I am fortunate compared to others for I still lived comfortably and had everything I could ask for. You have been through more trouble than I. Everyone has that big challenge ahead of them that they must face."

"You are right about that. And currently," there was a hint of mischief and amusement in Anorvain's tone that made Liv turn to him in suspicion, only to find that he was smirking at her, "yours is that dance you owe me."

Liv shook her head and they both chuckled.

They came back home, and Ethuilien fussed about the state Liv was in. She had flour, frosting, jam, grass and mud all over her as evidence of what she had been doing.

"Like a child! You are a grown woman! Take a bath right now! I left a dress for you on your bed for you to wear later. And Gilhendil's children stopped by to give you one of the flower crowns they made. Hurry now!" Ethuilien said, pushing Liv back to her room before scolding Anorvain for letting Liv get in the state she was in.

Liv did as she was told, and found a beautiful white dress laid out on her bed. The sleeves were of lace, and the dress itself was light and easy to move around in. There was also a new pair of white flats for her.

She walked out of her room wearing her dress to find Caladír and Anorvain looking pleasantly surprised. They also wore white tunics. Their trousers were clean and their boots polished.

"That is Aurien's favorite dress. It looks good on you." Caladír said.

"It is beautiful. Are you sure it is alright for me to wear it?" Liv asked, just as Ethuilien walked in wearing a white, satin dress, the sleeves of which flowed to her wrists.

"That dress has been collecting dust for the past two years. I do not think Aurien would approve of her favorite dress wasting away." Ethuilien said, approaching Liv with a wreath of roses. There were daisies around Ethuilien's own dark hair, and Ethuilien secured the crown of roses on Liv's head.

The four walked out and found the village full of life. It was something new and welcoming. Their little settlement was usually quiet, but today there were families celebrating, men were drinking and women were dancing and singing. It was quite a sight to behold. Children especially looked adorable, and they went around offering bowls of fruit to the people, while a trio of Dúnedan maidens sang on the platform in Sindarin, their voices melding beautifully together in the cheerful tone of their song. There were lanterns strung up on trees and the long tables were decorated with green fabric. The longest table of all held the buffet. There were five roast pigs, dozens of stews, cakes, cookies, tarts and barrels of wine.

Liv found Gilhendil immediately and thanked her for the flower crown. "Thank my children. They had a lot of time on their hands. Now, where are those little rascals?" Gilhendil said, looking around.

"They are probably serving the fruits. The fruits are the best part of Loëndë, after all." Miluieth said, sporting sunflowers on her hair, also courtesy of Gilhendil's children. As promised, she made Liv sit on a bench so she could tie her hair back in a braid. There were a lot of questions asked about Anorvain, too. Apparently, he was a desirable bachelor. Liv snorted at the thought. "He would not know what to do with a woman if one danced naked in front of her." She said, making Gilhendil laugh and Miluieth blush.

The feast itself was amazing, and Liv, caught up in the celebrations, had dared try the food she usually avoided--cow tongue being one of them--and found herself enjoying the rich wine.

"Careful, now. Dorwinion wine is hard to come by, and it is very strong." Anorvain warned.

"I can hold my liquor." Liv said, raising her goblet as Miluieth joined the singers. When the feast was done, the tables were pushed back to make room for activity. The people were loud and more open to laughter, and the children began the dancing. It involved turns and elbows and a lot of moving about that Liv found beautiful in and of itself. Every party she'd been to involved grinding and fists in the air but the dance before her now involved dancing with everyone, as partners were switched, and even women got to dance with other women and men got to dance with men.

Anorvain and Gilhendil both held Liv around each arm and dragged her to the dancefloor. She tried to back away, but she was swallowed by the group and she had no other choice but to participate. She shook her head at Anorvain's triumphant grin, trying to copy the movement of those around her.

She danced with some of the men she had never interacted with before, and she especially enjoyed dancing with Gilvagor.

"Roses look good on you, little miss." He chuckled as they linked arms and turned.

"The tarts are lovely, Gilvagor. I had four already!" Liv laughed.

"Just four? That will not do at all! You must eat more!" Gilvagor said as they separated and Liv found herself, palm raised to find she was dancing with Caladír. His palm touched hers and they circled each other before they turned the other way and linked arms.

"See? Dancing is not that bad!"

"I am tempted to trip you."

"But that will ruin the dance! You look like a proper Gondorian lady now!" Caladír chuckled.

"What is that supposed to mean?"

"Oh, a little joke Elladan, Elrohir and I shared. Perhaps one day, I'll explain it to you." He said, raising an eyebrow as they changed partners.

Anorvain's wide grin greeted her, "What was that you said about not dancing?" He teased.

"This is your fault and I hope I step on your foot." She said, just as the music flowed to something softer and slower.

"You do owe me this one. I will give you an opportunity to step on my foot now." He said, holding out a hand for her. Liv shook her head, supressing a grin, and took his hand. The dance was very much like a waltz. One arm held shoulder-height, the other on their partner's back. Couples held each other closer than most. Unfortunately, she did not have the opportunity to step on anyone's toes but that was okay.

It was the height of peace and tranquility. Liv allowed herself to get lost in the moment and drink up the beauty of everything. Miluieth's voice filled the air as she sang the solo parts, and to her right, she saw Caladír steal a kiss from Ethuilien. The two stopped dancing long enough for Ethuilien to pull Caladír closer, and Liv smiled. It was good to see them happy.

Her grin slowly evaporated when Caladír pulled back and turned in the direction of the trees, behind which the river flowed loudly. It was dark, and Liv could barely see anything but he cried out for the others to stop.

Those nearby looked around in confusion, and those closer to the woods were suddenly alert as well.

An arrow flew from the shadows and struck Miluieth, who was standing in plain sight at the raised platform. She choked on the last words of her song and fell to the floor.

A woman screamed nearby as everyone froze for a split second in stunned silence.

More arrows rained down on the villagers.

One of them landed on Ethuilien.

Chapter Text

Liv was still frozen in shock when Caladír shouted. Ethuilien fell back in his arms and he steadied her, gently laying her on the ground while pandemonium ensued.

Liv felt herself being pushed back as men and women grabbed their children, and those whose parents had been killed by the hail of arrows were sobbing nearby. Anorvain had immediately ran towards his mother, falling to his knees.

There were tears streaming down Caladír's cheeks. He was yelling something at Anorvain, and Anorvain was yelling back while Liv stood, frozen, not knowing what to do.

"Mother! Mother, please!" Anorvain begged, kneeling before Ethuilien. An arrow found its mark on her stomach and she was gasping in rattling breaths as blood trickled from her mouth.

"No, no!" Caladír begged when Ethuilien froze and her eyes closed. She had gone limp in his arms.

Anorvain sat back on his heels and grabbed his hair, unable to grasp what had just happened. This could not be real. This had to be a nightmare. He did not want to believe he had just seen his mother die in his father's arms.

"Liv. Where is Liv?" Caladír sounded dead when he gently laid his wife down. He felt cold, numb. His entire system had shut down. It felt more like he was watching himself move, felt disconnected from his own body. He was vaguely aware of the smell of blood on Ethuilien, and the sticky feeling of it on his hands.

"What...?" Anorvain was too stunned to understand.

"Liv! Find her!"

"I will not leave you here!"

"Go! One of us has to come out alive to tell the others!"

Their heads turned back to the direction of the woods as their keen hearing picked up what Liv could not.

Orcs.

A lot of them.

Every Dúnedan who was still alive was unarmed, and the orcs were coming fast. Some had fled back home to get their weapons, most were weeping over their dead children, siblings and spouses.

Anorvain got to his feet, his eyes blazing in anger but Caladír pushed him aside just in time.

The arrow that would have hit Anorvain landed on Caladír's head.

Liv snapped back to her senses, and she ran.

It wasn't possible. It wasn't fair. Everyone in the village was supposed to be celebrating. Caladír and Ethuilien were so full of life just moments ago. How could something so horrible happen in such a short amount of time? Her legs brought her closer to the people who took care of her, the people who were there for her, who taught her how to speak a new language, taught her how to ride a horse, taught her how to survive, supported and comforted her when she fell in hopelessness, told her they were there for her when she felt lonely. Blood pounded in her ears. They can't be dead.

Anorvain got to his feet and intercepted her. She slammed into his chest while he held her back, his hand finding the back of her head. She screamed and tried to push him aside, a sob wrenching out of her.

"No, Liv. You cannot see them like this!"

"No! Please! Ethuilien! Caladír! Please." Liv's cries hitched in her throat but Anorvain held her head firmly to his chest to shield her vision.

"We cannot help them, anymore." His voice was so soft, and yet she felt as if he had spat the words in her face. A strangled sob came out of Liv, and her entire body slumped.

Anorvain craned his neck as the shrieks of delight from the woods came closer. The orcs were approaching, and he could hear them unsheathing their swords.

Anorvain pulled back and his hands went to either side of Liv's head, making her look up at him and only him, shielding her from the chaos around them. "We will run for the stables. Keep your eyes on me. Do not look at anything else, do you hear me? Do not turn back." Anorvain said. Liv nodded, her eyes wide with fear but her trust in him never faltering. He held her hand and they ran.

Some of those who had survived had come back, weapons strapped to their backs or waists. Men, women and teenagers alike were holding bows, swords, spears and daggers. Tables were upturned to make barriers they could hide behind. Gilvagor ordered those with bows, and the Dúnedain, keen-eyed even in the dark, found their revenge for their fallen loved ones as their arrows landed on their targets.

Liv did as she promised, keeping her eyes on Anorvain's back, confused and terrified as she was, even when the sound of steel against steel echoed in her ears. The shrieks and gurgles of horrible creatures rose from behind her. She tried to block out the sound of battle, of people screaming in pain, of unknown creatures shrieking and growling. She focused on her breathing and counted her breaths. How many would she get until those creatures caught up to them?

They never did, though. Anorvain took her to the stables and grabbed a saddle, working quickly to strap it to Caladír's horse. The horse teetered restlessly until Anorvain swung his leg over the horse.

"Come, Liv. Quickly."

"We cannot leave them!"

"Liv! The village has been ambushed! Someone has to tell the nearby village or every Dúnedan on this side of Eriador will be wiped out." Anorvain yelled.

And so, with a heavy heart, Liv found herself on the back of Caladír's horse again, and they charged off.

"Remember what I said about not looking?" Anorvain said. Liv kept her eyes on the back of his head, even when she felt blood splash on her feet and heard the thud of fallen bodies. She couldn't tell if the bodies were friend or foe. At one point, Anorvain leaned down to yank a sword stuck to someone's chest.

"Hold on!" Anorvain yelled, speeding the horse forward. Liv locked her arms around Anorvain's waist. She squeaked as Anorvain swung the sword. She heard a sick squelch as he pulled the sword out of whatever he had hit. She heard Gilvagor shout a command in Sindarin, and arrows whizzed past her. There were creatures that squealed in pain around her. She heard Gilhendil shouting, "Hold your ground! Do not let those bastards get past!"

"Archers, find higher ground!" Gilvagor yelled.

"What is happening?" Liv's words were muffled in Anorvain's tunic.

"Do not. Look." Anorvain growled. She felt the horse stop and turn, and then it shot forward. Again, she felt Anorvain swing his sword, and heard the frustrated growls of the creatures they were battling. She heard arrows whiz past once again, and that was when she realized Anorvain was charging towards small groups of enemies, making them scatter to give the archers easier targets.

"Go, Anorvain! We can handle these dogs!" Gilhendil ordered.

"No, we cannot leave them." Liv gasped as Anorvain sped off, back to the woods.

"May Eru protect you." Gilvagor called after them.

"Hold on, Liv." Anorvain said.

Liv never let go. And she never turned back.

Chapter Text

Anorvain never stopped or slowed down for the next four hours, and by the time morning had set in, Liv couldn't feel her legs anymore. Anorvain only stopped when they were out of sight of the settlement and only when Liv had slid off the horse in exhaustion. Her body was as heavy as her heart.

Everyone she had known in the past two months, everyone who had a hand in welcoming her to this strange land, were all gone. Taken so brutally by creatures she couldn't even see. Anorvain was furious. She could tell he wanted to be back with his people, defending his home and his fallen parents. He couldn't stop pacing as they stopped to water the horse.

Liv was on the ground, panting and in tears. Aurien's beautiful dress was in tatters, and parts of the skirt were drenched in something foul and black, and also with something red.

Blood.

She had lost her flower crown somewhere within the chaos, and her hair had come loose from its braid. Anorvain was drenched in sweat and blood himself, but he was alert.

"Anorvain." Her whisper made him stop pacing, and when he turned to look at her, she found that she was not surprised at all to see tears in his eyes. To lose his parents like that, to watch them be shot down right in front of his eyes... Liv could never imagine the pain he was going through.

She got to her feet, her arms open as Anorvain clung to her. They held each other, became each other's support. Liv's silent tears were nothing compared to the sound of anguish that came out of Anorvain.

"We have to find the others. Gilhendil and Gilvagor will keep the enemy at bay." Liv knew she was just falsely reassuring him, but Anorvain clung to that hope. The others were depending on them to warn the rest of their people. They had a duty, and fueled by anger and a desire to save what remained of their home, Liv and Anorvain rode again, stopping only to relieve themselves.

They arrived at the next Dúnedain settlement in the morning, and found the village still had their streamers and banners up. These people celebrated Loëndë well into the night, not knowing the horror of what had happened just miles away.

People immediately became concerned when the pair of them rode through the village, with Anorvain demanding to see Halbarad. They had ridden hard, and both were shaking from fatigue. When the horse stopped, a group of villagers had already ran out to find their leader. Anorvain's legs trembled as his feet found the ground and it took three people to get Liv off the horse, sore as she was.

She did not know when the exact moment was that she fell unconscious, but she remembered waking up in an unfamiliar room, her head throbbing in pain and her legs stiff and sore. For a brief time, in her confused, bleary state, she thought she had an awful nightmare. She had forgotten most of what happened the night before. She remembered dancing, and remembered drinking wine. For one blissful moment, she thought she had drunk herself to sleep but a sinking feeling was in her stomach.

"Ethuilien?" She muttered, sitting up from the bed, hoping her friend would have a remedy for her tired body.

"Ssh, Liv." She knew that voice, but it did not belong to Ethuilien.

"Elrohir?" She said, looking up in confusion. Why was Elrohir here? Where was here, exactly? What happened?

"It is Elladan. Anorvain told us about what happened."

That was her breaking point. Memory rushed back, not all but enough for her to remember that Ethuilien, Caladír and Miluieth were no longer alive. Her entire body seemed to crumble as her face contorted in sorrow and she wept. Elladan knew how Liv hated letting other people see her cry, so to see her like this--shaking her head, drawing her knees up and burrowing her face in the fabric of the blanket covering her legs--made him nervous. He was always on the front lines of war, seeing the destruction first hand. He could never imagine what it must have been like for her to have to see that.

She did not flinch away when he sat on the bed and wrapped his arm around her shoulder. She felt cold, despite it being a beautiful summer day. The reality of it all sunk in. She had finally settled, she had finally felt welcome and even started feeling at home, only to find the people she cared about ripped from her so violently.

"They were good people. They did not deserve to die like that." Liv whispered.

"I know, Liv. We will hunt every last one of those orcs down for doing this, I swear to you." Elladan said.

Liv looked up at him, blinking, "Where is Anorvain? When did you get here?"

"You have been asleep for twelve hours. We did not want to wake you for you needed to rest. We arrived two hours ago. Halbarad sent a messenger to Imladris seeking for help in the wee hours, and we came as fast as we could. He is rallying the men he could spare. We will be riding soon, and Anorvain volunteered to join us."

"I need to see Anorvain." Liv threw the covers back.

He led her out the house after letting her quickly change into a dress laid out on the foot of the bed. The dress was too big for her, but that was the least of her concerns. When she came out, she found several men dressed in grey cloaks already sitting atop their horses.

"Anorvain!" She called, and one of the men came back to the ground.

"It is good to see you up." He said.

"Are you sure about this?" She asked, eyes wide.

"I have to do this, Liv. I have to make sure they... that their bodies..." Anorvain looked down, and Liv touched his cheek.

"Say no more. I understand. Be careful. Come back as soon as you can. I do not want to lose you, as well." She said.

"I will be back, little sister. I promise you that." Anorvain said.

Liv gave a small smile. "Little sister?"

"Mother and father treated you like their own. That means you are family, despite how short a time you have known us."

Liv hated tenses the most out of her grammar lessons, and the use of past tense to describe Ethuilien and Caladír only drove a nail deep into her heart.

Anorvain noticed the change in her expression. "The orcs will pay for what they did. Every last one of them."

Liv knew he meant it. There was anger that fueled him, and there was no stopping it. Heaven help anyone who got in his way.

The next two days went by awfully slow for Liv. Halbarad had a wife and a daughter who took care of her needs, although she begged for something to do by the end of the first day. She did not want to worry about Anorvain or the twins, and she certainly did not want to stop and think about what happened to the rest of the village. She needed to keep herself busy.

"You have to rest. Your muscles are still sore, yes?" Morfinnel, Halbarad's wife, said to her as she volunteered to clean the dishes. It was easier said than done, as it involved two or more trips to the trough outside the cottage but that meant less idle time for Liv.

"No, no, I am fine."

Morfinnel relented and let Liv basically turn the house over. There was no stopping her, and Liv refused to sleep that night. She could not bear the thought of seeing Caladír or Ethuilien in her dreams. She didn't know what was more painful, imagining them at their moments of death, or the memory of them full of life.

But finally, finally Anorvain and the others returned. The Company was smaller than she first remembered.

"I came back for you, of course." He said, and he recounted what had happened. Or, at least, the important parts. He spared her of the gory details. He spared her of the number of those who died. Gilhendil, Gilvagor and the rest of the village drove the orcs back. Some had run back to the mountains, and Elladan and Elrohir led the chase after them while another Imladhrim called Glorfindel led another attack north, to the Trollshaws, where some orcs had taken refuge.

"It was an organized attack. Nobody expected it to happen." Elrohir said.

He, Elladan, Anorvain and Glorfindel had all regrouped in Halbarad's cottage, while Halbarad led the Dúnedan refugees to Imladris. They were all circled around the table, looking down at a map while Liv stood nearby. She was currently distracted by the tall, silent blonde that had arrived with the twins. He'd make a fortune out of L'Oreal commercials. Was Imladris a land of pointy-eared supermodel warriors or something?

"Why did they do it?" Liv asked, wrenching her eyes away from the blonde.

"The more important question is 'how'. Orcs have the brains of birds. They are too simple-minded to organize the kind of ambush they made. Someone must have led them." Elladan said.

"But why?"

"Estel has been on a journey with Mithrandir, the last I heard of him. Perhaps they were trying to foil him." Elrohir said.

"We do not even know where he is now. Why would they choose to destroy our settlement?" Anorvain said, running a hand through his hair in frustration.

"I do not think there was any particular reason other than that your village was the closest to the Misty Mountains."

The giant speaks, motioning at the map laid before him. Everyone else leaned forward as Glorfindel pointed.

"The village was here." He said, pointing to an area west of the Bruinen River, just south of what Glorfindel called the Ford of Bruinen. The village was situated north-east of an area called "the Angle", and true enough, they were close to the Misty Mountain. That was the beautiful view of snow-capped mountains that used to greet Liv every morning.

"And the village we found Liv in was south of yours, Anorvain. Just here." Elladan said, pointing at a location east of the Angle, next to the Bruinen River. Somewhere to the southeast was the Gate of Moria, from what Liv could read off the map and south of where she was found was Eregion.

"Father told me the orcs are growing bolder. I did not realize they had grown bold enough to start attacking villages." Anorvain said.

"How are the others?" Liv asked.

"They defended the settlement valiantly. Once they had regrouped and had weapons, the orcs were easily wiped out. When we arrived, the orcs had already retreated. We hunted the rest down while the Dúnedain took the wounded to Imladris. Those who stayed behind are rebuilding right now, tending to the dead, fortifying our defenses." Anorvain replied.

"I cannot believe anyone would be so evil as to destroy a village simply because it was nearby and they were bored. What kind of heartless monsters do that?" Liv said through hissed teeth. She could not believe there was no deeper reason. It was beyond cruel to kill innocent people for no reason.

"Those are orcs for you. These creatures have no soul." Elrohir said, and his words came from a deep anger and hatred. She didn't think it was possible for such a beautiful face to contort with rage like his did.

"Are you certain there are no more orcs that could attack other villages?"

"There has only ever been three major settlements in the Angle. Our village was one, the other is south, near Eregion, and this village here is west, right next to Mithaethel." Anorvain said.

"So few?" Liv gasped.

"Most of the Dúnedain have settlements near Bree and the Shire. I am sure there are other much smaller, isolated farmsteads in the Angle, but they are too secluded for the orcs to notice or attack."

"The situation is under control now. There will be patrols, and Imladris will help. It is time for the survivors to bury their dead." Glorfindel said.

Liv looked down. "So... That is it? I do not think I can come back to see the cottage empty. Caladír and Ethuilien have been part of my life here since the first day. The memories in the cottage..." She said, shaking her head, her heart heavy as tears threatened to break through the dam behind her eyes once more.

Anorvain sat on the bench next to her, and he let her lean her head on his shoulder. "I know how you feel, which is why I am giving you an option now to go to Imladris to heal."

She looked into his eyes, "But what about you?"

"I will go back to Bree. I do not think I can bear the memory of returning to the cottage again. Ever. I can find a new home there, get a fresh start while doing my duty. I will stay in Imladris for a time, but after that..."

"You are sure about this? The Rangers in Caladír's command will go to Gilvagor if you reject the position." Elladan asked.

"Gilvagor is a noble man. The village is in good hands. I was never a good leader, anyway. I am a warrior, a fighter. I am no diplomat or governor. I am at my best in the wild, fighting and protecting others. Father would understand. He loves the village more than anything, he would want it to be in capable hands." Anorvain said.

So, that was that. After a day's rest, they would ride back to see what remained of the village, something Liv dreaded but had to face. She had lost so many people, and the pain bore down on her hard. Ethuilien had taken such good care of her, became Liv's closest friend and confidante. And now she was gone. And Caladír... He was the closest she had to a father figure. She could not imagine the settlement ever being the same again after what just happened.

Any pain she felt was a hundred times worse for Anorvain. He had lost his entire family in a span of two years. She didn't think she'd ever be able to get over that kind of trauma, and she understood why Anorvain wanted to get as far away from the Angle as he could. There were too many memories, too many ghosts. She would be there for him as long as he needed her, but she was also willing to give him space if that was what he needed to heal.

She barely slept that night. Dreams of Ethuilien and Caladír kept her awake. And something else kept her up... The sound of a man in pain. Anorvain was not sleeping, too. Armed with the memory of the comfort Ethuilien and Caladír had given her when she was in a similar state of distress, she pulled on a dress and knocked on the door to Anorvain's room.

It took a long time for Anorvain to answer, and when he did, his voice was hoarse. "Yes?"

"Can I come in?" Liv said, gently.

Another long pause. Liv, believing this was her dismissal, said, "I am here whenever you need me." and was about to retreat to her room to give him space when she heard him say, "I need you now."

She opened the door to find Anorvain on the ground, clothes and hair dishelved, leaning against the foot of his bed. She sat next to him and he curled up, laid on her lap and wept for his family.

They fell asleep on the floor, when both of them cried themselves to exhaustion.

Chapter Text

When Liv and Anorvain arrived at the village, everyone was bruised and scarred, but they were welcomed with open arms. Liv felt the bond of the community strongly then. They were a small group, and everyone felt each and every loss. Those who survived were each other's comfort.

The bodies were to be buried--twelve in total. Three were children that Liv recognized she played with just days ago. Their graves were so small compared to the rest. It was a cruel reminder of how early their lives were lost. Three more bodies she recognized as friends.

She was terrified of approaching the bodies, which were laid out on the platform where just three days ago, Miluieth was singing on. They were to pay their last respects before the bodies were buried. A long line had formed to give their last respects to the dead.

"I do not think I can do it, Anorvain." She said as the two of them came ever closer to the two bodies laid together, covered by white shrouds. She knew the calloused hands resting atop the unmoving chests. Those hands held her in the night when she had nightmares.

Ethuilien's hands were strategically placed to cover the spot where the arrow had pierced her. Liv's heart pounded in her chest as she felt pressure behind her eyes. She did not think it was possible to produce so much tears and yet, there she was. She stood by Ethuilien, and she looked so at peace, frozen in a deep sleep. Her features were as proud as they were in life.

Liv let the tears fall. She reached out with trembling hands to touch Ethuilien's hand. Whatever they did to the bodies, they masked the smell of death with herbs and flowers. Liv leaned forward, ran her fingers through Ethuilien's dark, silky hair that fanned out around her head.

"Thank you for everything." Was all Liv could say. It was all she could do. She gave Ethuilien's hand a final squeeze. "Navaer." Everything she said felt inadequate for all the sacrifices Ethuilien did for her, but in the end, her gratitude was all she could offer and that brought heaviness to her heart, to know that she had never shown how much she appreciated Ethuilien. She thought she had more time.

She did not learn about how precious time was, not even when she was wrenched from her own home.

She turned to Caladír, and laid her head on Caladír's chest. His hands were on either side of him, and a wreath of flowers adorned his head to cover the wound she knew was there. This time, there were no words. Just tears.

Anorvain rubbed her back, but she could hear him sniffling behind her and she turned around and hugged him. She didn't let go, even when he held her so tightly that it became hard for her to breathe. She was going to be his rock. She was going to be strong for him. To do right by Ethuilien and Caladír.

There was also one final body.

Miluieth, one of the kindest souls she had ever had the honor of knowing. She had her arms folded across her stomach. She was beautiful. She was a beautiful soul, always ready to greet everyone with a smile. Miluieth was Liv's first friend from the village, and their time together was too short. She had a heart so good that God didn't let it live. Liv didn't know if the people of Middle-earth had the same concept of heaven as she did, but she knew that Miluieth was there, singing with her honey-sweet voice, gracing the heavens with that warm smile.

They laid the bodies to rest, the villagers all rising up to sing. And in the Sindarin tongue, they captured through music and melody the pain of such a loss, the horror of what happened but also the promise of a new day, of a day those who remained would live in honor of those they have lost.

After the song, the village was completely and utterly silent and the sound of the rushing Bruinen river was deafening, as though it, too, was mourning those who had gone.

Liv and Anorvain went back to the cottage together, and Liv said her first words since her last goodbye to the people she loved.

"It smells like Caladír's feet and Ethuilien's hair."

She never knew how familiar that scent had become for her. There was a split-second of silence, before Anorvain's chuckle filled the cottage, and they turned to each other, eyes shining with tears but remembering the people they both loved. Their laughter quieted too soon.

The memories were too overwhelming.

Liv went back to her room, her place of refuge, and opened the closet. Her old clothes were there--her ripped jeans and boots. She never could find her pink crop top, however and it did not matter, anymore. They belonged to another girl now. Liv did not feel the same as when she first arrived wearing those clothes. She threw them in a rucksack with the first dress Ethuilien had given her, and her favorite brown boots that she would wear when going out for errands. Anorvain collected Caladír's sword and longbow, as well as a ribbon--Ethuilien's favorite ribbon. His tokens from home. The parts of his parents he would always keep close to him.

When they had both closed the door and sat atop the horse Anorvain had inherited from Caladír, they made for Imladris, never to go back again.

Liv found a new her in this village. And a part of her would always remain with them, but she could not bear to imagine rebuilding life there without Caladír or Ethuilien. It just didn't feel right. And as for Anorvain, he had lost everyone else that tied him down to the village. There was no one to come home to. It was time for him to make his own journey.

"You will not leave me, would you?" Liv asked while they both traveled back to where they were to meet Elladan and Elrohir on the way to Imladris. Their pace was slow, both of them quiet and distant despite sharing the same horse.

Anorvain's head turned slightly to her direction. He had said before that he wanted to stay in Bree. But now... He couldn't bear the thought of leaving her alone, the one final thread of family he had connecting him to his parents.

"I can never." He said, and that was a small comfort. She still had someone, and he understood the isolation and grief she was feeling. She was not completely alone, and neither was he.

She leaned her head between his shoulders, her arms tightening their grip around his waist ever so slightly.

"And you?" He asked after a pause. "I know you have a home you must return to. Will you be leaving soon?"

Liv's vision blurred, her chest tightening painfully. There was no way for her to go home. "No." Was her only reply.

She tried to hide it, but he knew she was crying again.

"I am sure you can find a home in Imladris. Or you can come to Bree with me. Whatever happens, we stay together. Agree?" Anorvain asked.

She nodded, "That is a good idea."

They were quiet for the rest of the ride, until the dusk covered the trees in shadows again.

Chapter Text

Liv and Anorvain had come to where they were supposed to meet Elladan and Elrohir, only to find their horses but not the twins themselves.

"They stood us up." Liv did not sound suprised at all.

"'Stood us up'? Just when I thought your grammar has vastly improved." Anorvain said, teasingly. Liv smacked his shoulder. It felt bizarre that they were talking like they normally used to, but neither of them minded. It was better than the silence that had accompanied them until then.

"It is an expression from where I come from. It means they agreed to meet with us but do not actually come."

"Well, their horses are here, so they must be around."

"Around or above?"

Liv almost fell off the horse in surprise. Anorvain chuckled, looking up at the trees above them. Liv followed his gaze only to see nothing but shadows and the light of the stars winking from between the leaves.

A bird-like whistling sound came from the tree, but Liv could not find the source.

"Elladan is off trying to find a bird. He wanted to catch a peace offering for Melpomaen." Elrohir said from somewhere above. Liv looked around wildly but her eyesight was not as good as Anorvain's. She could not find the source of Elrohir's voice at all.

"Whatever for?" She asked, squinting at the shadow of the leaves.

"Melpomaen's favorite bird has not returned in days. Elladan felt bad for him so he wanted to bring a new one."

"So, why are you the one on a tree?" Liv called.

"I am up here, Liv." Elrohir let out a breathy laugh, and dropped down to the ground effortlessly to her right, way far off from where she was looking at. He barely made any noise. The leaves did not even rustle when he jumped down. "I was supposed to be the look-out but I find that the trees give a better vantage point as well as protection from other, more unfriendly eyes."

"Elves would find any reason to be up on a tree. Even Age-old Elf lords." Anorvain commented.

"Like little children." Liv mused.

"Perhaps I should take you up a tree." Elrohir said.

"That is not a good idea. She can barely stay up on a horse." Anorvain muttered.

"What is that supposed to mean?" Liv snapped.

"Ah, I see. I do know what you mean. She is too...delicate for such a task."

"Who are you calling delicate?!"

The Elf and the Dúnedan snickered.

"Let me up on that tree, I will show you who is delicate." Liv snapped.

"Oh, come now, Liv. We are simply teasing."

"I cannot say no to a challenge, however."

"Very well. When we get to Imladris." Elrohir nodded. "The trees there are used to our touch. It would be easier to keep you on them."

Liv snarled.

Elrohir smiled.

Anorvain tried, and failed, to stifle his laughter.

Elladan burst through the trees. A tiny, white and brown owl glared at her from his shoulder. Elladan looked pleased with himself.

"I swear, I'm surrounded by a bunch of idiots." Liv muttered in English,

"You are muttering in your tongue again. Who are you annoyed with this time?" Elladan asked.

"Everyone. Everything." She answered.

Elladan chuckled, "That does not surprise me one bit. Is she not beautiful?"

He motioned at the owl. It only glared at Liv, which made her inch away.

"Animals do not like me, it seems." She said. Elladan muttered something to the owl, and it hooted back at him and took off to the sky. He then swung up on his horse while the owl circled just above the treetops.

"Come. If we move quickly, we could get to Imladris by morning, right on time for us to break our fast, maybe even earlier." Elrohir said, approaching his horse and swinging up on it.

"I do miss the food in Imladris. Is the pretty elleth still available?" Anorvain asked.

"All Elves are pretty, Anorvain. Be specific." Liv said.

"Aha! You think I am pretty?" Elrohir teased.

Liv narrowed her eyes at him, "Sure, if it makes you feel better."

Honestly, she did. She was still sometimes taken aback by how truly beautiful he was. But she was not about to admit that.

"Does that mean you find me pretty, as well?" Elladan piped in.

"Not you!"

Elrohir and Anorvain laughed, while Elladan made a noise of indignation.

"But Elrohir and I are twins!"

"I like Elrohir more." Liv shrugged, clearly entertained by the look on Elladan's face.

"This is a surprising turn of events. Ladies usually go for Elladan." Anorvain commented.

"I really cannot imagine why." Liv muttered.

"Whose idea was it to teach you to speak Westron? I liked you better when you were speaking nonsense. It was much easier to ignore you." Elladan said.

"I see. Well, then, whenever I call you an annoying oaf, I will say it in English. Since you like it so much." Liv drawled.

Elladan stuttered. Elrohir and Anorvain could barely control their horses because they were laughing so hard.

"It seems you have found your match, dear brother." Elrohir chuckled.

"She is an immature brat!" Elladan said, glaring at Liv.

"Stuck up bully!" Liv fired back.

"All I hear is a kitten playing at being a lion."

"All I hear is a baby whining."

"Stop talking, Liv." Elladan snapped.

"Stop talking, Liv." Liv mocked in a high-pitched voice.

"Stop that!"

"Stop that!"

"And you are calling me the baby?"

"If the two of you continue this, the wolves will find our location." Anorvain said, although he looked more amused than annoyed.

"He started it!" Liv said at the same time that Elladan cried, "She started it!"

Elrohir shook his head, although he had a faint smile on his face. "Children. You are acting like children."

Elladan and Liv glared at each other, but stayed quiet for the remainder of the journey.

"No one ever answered my question about the pretty elleth. The one with red hair." Anorvain said.

"You will find out when we get there, I suppose." Elrohir replied.

It did not take long for them to arrive to Imladris. They only had to cross the Ford of Bruinen, and by the time they had crossed to the borders of Imladris, it was still dark out. The river flowed noisily, a sound Liv had become familiar to. The Bruinen River was the very river she, Ethuilien and Miluieth would do laundry together in. Where the women of the village bonded. They would still go there, of course. But Liv, Ethuilien and Miluieth would not be with them. To think of life continuing in the village without the two women Liv had become close to was strange indeed.

They had to stop the horses when they came upon a narrow bridge, too narrow for even two people to walk on side by side. Below that, the river's white foams flowed. The bridge did not even have a parapet.

"Are we lost?" Liv asked, while the twins and Anorvain slid off their horses. Liv herself stayed on the horse, even while Anorvain held his hand up to help her down.

"What do you mean? We are almost there." He asked.

"I am not crossing that." Liv said, pointing at the narrow bridge.

"I thought you could not say no to a challenge?" Anorvain teased.

Liv glared at him. He raised his hand in surrender, chuckling.

"I know this bridge is aesthetically pleasing to the eye and all but this is so inconvenient." Liv said in English, sliding off the horse on her own.

"A coin for whoever calls it first when she starts speaking in her own language when she is annoyed." Elladan muttered to his twin in Sindarin.

"What was that?" Liv asked, glaring at the twins. Her Sindarin was not as good as her Westron, so she could barely understand them even if they had spoken loud enough for her to hear each word.

"Be careful not to slip. We shall go in a single file." Elrohir said, choosing not to answer her question.

Elladan went ahead first, holding his horse's reins behind him. He crossed the bridge quickly and without hesitation, and he was followed by Elrohir, who breezed through the bridge confidently.

The pressure was on for Liv.

She walked slowly, with Anorvain a few steps behind her, guiding the horse they had shared.

"Do not look down if it frightens you." Anorvain said.

Which, of course, only made her look down.

Ohh-kay.

That looked like a sudden drop to a sure, violent death.

How deep was this part of the river? How cold was it at this time of night? Oh, no. Liv felt sick. She turned around and smacked Anorvain's arm for making her look down, but she turned back around too quickly and almost lost her balance. Elrohir reached out for her instinctively, but she waved him away.

"No, I can do this. I am fine." She said, although thankful he was always ready to help.

In the end, she did manage to cross the bridge without losing her life. And she relaxed as soon as they were on the other side.

"The worst is over now. Come, see the beauty of Imladris. Not many Men come through these lands. It is a safe haven, and you will find it to be a peaceful place. A good place to heal." Elrohir said, matching his pace to Liv's. His horse snorted behind him and he turned around to give it a pat.

That was when Liv noticed something. It was weird that she never noticed it before, because she had ridden with the twins before, but her attention was always focused on something else, and she knew nothing of riding horses when she first met them so she never paid any mind to it.

"You do not have a saddle." She said.

Elrohir smiled. "All Elves ride with no saddle. It is too cumbersome. I feel the horse does not move as freely when it has a saddle. It was only ever a Mannish practice. More for the human's comfort, which unfortunately leads to extra burden for the horse."

"Really now? I thought it was to protect the..." Liv swept her hand to the lower part of her body but Elrohir merely raised an eyebrow.

"Okay, nevermind. I will not go there." She muttered.

"To be fair, a saddle makes it easier to control the horse." Anorvain piped in.

"You do not need to control anything, you have to work with the horse. You have to establish trust, listen to the horse while it listens to you." Elrohir said.

"Some horses do not listen as well as others." Anorvain said.

"Some do not listen at all." Liv muttered, side-eyeing Caladír's old horse that was now in Anorvain's possession.

"You humans pull the reins too tightly. A horse is a friend, not just a beast you ride." Elrohir said, icily.

"We just don't have the Elven touch." Anorvain shrugged.

"Elven touch?" Liv asked.

"Elves are very much in touch with nature. They love and connect with nature more than any other race on Ennorath." He answered.

"Or Men are just too distant. You Men now focus on selfish deeds and ambition that you forget to appreciate the simpler, more beautiful things." Elrohir said.

"The trees and the wind do not communicate with us the same way it does with you Elves." Anorvain said.

"Perhaps they still do and you just forgot how to listen." Elladan piped in.

"Wait, I do not understand. Trees can talk?" Liv furrowed her eyebrows.

"If you listen closely." Elladan nodded.

"Trees do not actually speak, do they? I do not think I can handle talking trees as well."

"Trees themselves do not have speech the same way we do. But you can feel their emotions through every ridge on their bark and hear their thoughts through every rustle of leaves. When a tree trusts you enough to let you climb their branches, they would consider you a friend. Animals that nest and live in them are considered family. You can see what they have seen if you let them show you." Elrohir said, with a wistful tone in his voice. As he said those words, he looked up at the trees that lined their path up the road to Imladris, and as though to support his words, a soft breeze passed and made the leaves rustle. Liv found herself looking up as well, and through the swaying leaves of the trees above her, the stars winked down at her. Countless stars that shone bright and clear.

And she was taken by the beauty of it all. She was so enthralled that she actually stopped in her tracks just to look up. It wasn't like anything she had seen before. The skies have never been this clear in New York, and the soft breeze through the trees was fresh. She could breathe it in and not have to worry about breathing in pollution. An owl hooted above her, hidden in the treetops. It was peaceful, soothing. And all she had to do was look up to believe there could be a little bit of magic in the world.

Elladan turned around when he realized that his brother and Anorvain had stopped walking and were both looking at Liv, who was at the very back of the group, just looking at the stars. Anorvain looked up as well, wondering what it was that she had seen.

Elladan understood, though. The stars reflected in her dark brown eyes, and he has never seen anyone look as captured by something like Liv did, as if she was drinking up what she was seeing to sear that image into her mind, to remember the exact position of each of the countless stars in the sky. Liv's face softened. She has never looked this relaxed before. He had only ever seen her confused, angry or in despair. She was beautiful when she was like this. Calm, and at one with her surroundings.

"Liv?" Elrohir said, softly, and she snapped back to reality and looked at him, blinking.

"I want to paint this." She said, motioning at the sky above her. "I want to stand in this very spot, right here, with a brush and black, blue and white paint at hand, and make this moment last."

It had been a long time since she had been inspired to paint anything.

"You paint?" Elladan asked, eyebrows raised.

"Are you going to make fun of me again?"

"No," He answered, quickly, "no, not at all. When we get to Imladris, I would like to show you something."

This surprised Liv. "Oh? Is it worth leaving this beautiful view behind?" A small smile lit her face up.

He smiled back, "I think it is."

"Intriguing." Her smile widened. It was surprising to both Anorvain and Elrohir, because Elladan and Liv have never spoken this calmly before.

"Elvish magic, I tell you. The moment she stepped into Imladris' lands, this happened." Anorvain muttered as Liv walked between him and Elrohir again.

"What? I like the view. I have never seen so many stars before in my life." Liv said.

"I think Imladris would be good for you." Elrohir said. "Both of you."

"I hope you are right." She said, looking up one last time before training her eyes back on the road, feeling hollow when a thought crossed her mind:

Ethuilien would have loved the view and Caladir would have pointed out some constellations to her. She would have given up anything for one more quiet moment with them.

Chapter Text

They continued to travel by foot, and by then the sky had begun to light up to a dull grey. They arrived just before the sun came up and Imladris was finally revealed to Liv. She gasped at the sight of it. Imladris had houses, intricate white houses, built into the side of valley. The beautiful houses themselves did not look out of place, in fact, it looked like they were just part of the mountains. The Bruinen River flowed between the valley, which stemmed from waterfalls, as though it was the lifeblood of a mountain that felt truly alive. Liv looked around her while they continued up the path to a large entranceway carved of wood, transfixed by what she was seeing.

Near the entrance, a group of Elves stood waiting for them, wearing grey cloaks and carrying lanterns, because it was still a bit dark out. Two Elves stood ahead of the group.

"My lords." One of the Elves at the head of the group greeted when they had walked through the entranceway.

"Melpomaen! Just the Elf I wanted to see!" Elladan's entire face lit up. As he said it, the tiny, white and brown owl Liv completely forgot about came swooping back down and landed on Elladan's shoulder.

"Look, a friend has come with me."

"Oh, this is delightful!" Melpomaen gasped. He threw the hood of his cloak back and Liv almost did a double take. She was not expecting such a beautiful person beneath that hood. It still sometimes took her aback that Elves could look like they do. Effortlessly beautiful and ageless.

"Oh, my lord, thank you."

"You can stop moping about the other one now." Elladan stroked the owl's head and it flew from his shoulder to land on Melpomaen's shoulder.

"Does that not hurt?" Liv whispered to Elladan. All the Elves present turned to her. She looked around, wondering what on Earth she did this time.

Elladan raised a hand dismissively at them.

"What did I do?" She hissed, even softer this time. The Elf called Melpomaen gave a small smile as he stroke the owl perched on his shoulder.

"You know everyone can still hear you, right?" Anorvain looked entertained. Liv only looked more confused.

"Elves can see and hear for hundreds of leagues, young lady." Melpomaen said. "There is no need to whisper. We hear you clearly. And no, it does not hurt. Elves have a higher tolerance for pain than Men, and even then... the owl is careful to be gentle. She knows not to dig her claws too deeply."

Liv blushed at the attention she was getting, "I just... I thought since owls were supposed to be predators that their claws would be very dangerous."

"No, no. This is one is still young and small. Her claws do not hurt as much yet. You may hold her, if you wish." Melpomaen turned his shoulder towards her. Liv backed away quickly.

"No, I thank you." She said, shaking her head vigorously.

"I can never understand your kind's aversion to the other creatures of this world..." Melpomaen said, shaking his head.

"Not now, Melpomaen. Our guests are tired." The Elf beside him said. "Even so, Lord Elrond would like to speak to Liv as soon as possible."

"Oh, come now, Erestor. I am sure Father would understand if we let her and Anorvain rest. It is quite early and they have been travelling all night." Elrohir said, moving closer to Liv in a protective gesture.

"No, no, Lord Elrond was very specific. Liv and the two of you in his study once our guests have found their rooms."

"Us?" Elladan exclaimed.

"What did we do this time?" Elrohir asked.

"What did you do this time?" If Liv had eyes as sharp as a Dúnedan's or an Elf's, she would have seen Erestor raise an eyebrow at the twins beneath the hood of his cloak.

"Nothing!" Both of them replied, indignantly.

"Well, then, you have nothing to worry about. Lord Elrond just wants to talk. Melpomaen." Erestor inclined his head at Melpomaen, who bowed and gestured the other Elves forward.

"Please." A female Elf says in Sindarin, motioning for Liv to follow her. Melpomaen stood waiting. Other Elves moved around Anorvain, who spoke to them with an easy smile.

"Elladan, Elrohir! I shall join you!" He called to the twins, who were already retreating to the stables.

"Don't leave me here." Liv said, turning back to him.

"You are in good hands, Liv. I just have to put the horse in the stables. I will follow you as soon as I am able."

"They are all so..." Liv side-eyed the beautiful Elf next to her.

"Pretty?" Anorvain supplies the word for her. "I would say you'll get used to it but then again, you never get used to it."

"Great advice, Anorvain." Liv drawled.

"Liv!" Melpomaen called.

Anorvain chuckled, "Go. You'll be fine."

The female Elf beside her started talking in Sindarin again, too fast for her to understand, and while Anorvain and the twins went one way, Liv went in the opposite direction away from them.

"I must say, we have been looking forward to your arrival here in Imladris. I did hope to meet you under better circumstances. It saddens me to learn about Caladír and his wife. They used to visit us here often since Caladír was given leadership over the settlement North of the Angles. Their location made it easy for us to trade with them." Melpomaen said.

"Melpomaen. Rambling." The Elf called Erestor said. Liv was too stunned by the casual mention of Caladír and Ethuilien that she did not even understand or remember the second half of whatever it was Melpomaen had said.

"Oh, it appears I have been. In any case, we thought you would be arriving weeks ago. Your room was already prepared. It was quite curious that your arrival would be looked forward to like this."

That only made Liv feel uneasy. She remembered the Red Undies Incident and how that day was supposed to be when she would be coming to Imladris with the twins. What would have happened if she just went with them on that day? Would she be minding her own business now, blissfully unaware that the closest thing to a family she had here was dead?

"You must forgive Melpomaen. He could be quite talkative. If he is not talking to you, he would be talking to his birds. Most of the time, people prefer him talking to the birds instead." Erestor muttered to Liv, while Melpomaen was distracted by the owl circling above his head.

"Oh, no. It is alright." Liv shrugged.

"Your name is Liv, yes? Very unusual name. It does not sound like any language I have ever heard before." Erestor continued.

"It is short for Olivia."

"I see! It all sounds foreign to me but I can understand how that name came about. Tell me, what does Aw-leev-ya mean?" He said, almost excitedly.

"Umm... I suppose it has something to do with olives?" Liv was too embarrassed to admit she had no idea why her parents gave her that name. She never asked before. She didn't think anyone would care.

"Interesting! And is it considered an uncommon name?"

"Erestor, not now." Melpomaen said, amusement in his voice, while his little owl landed on his palm and he patted the top of her head.

"Oh, you must forgive me, Olivia. When we first heard of you, the twins mentioned that you spoke an entirely foreign language and I was very excited to meet you and learn about this language of yours."

Liv would be lying if she said the attention she was getting wasn't flattering. Where the Dúnedan were wary of her initially, Melpomaen and Erestor, at least, seemed pleased with her arrival.

"I heard Ethuilien taught you your Westron and some Sindarin."

There it was again, a sudden jab to her heart. Ethuilien's name was still heavy in Liv's heart. She couldn't bear to hear any mention of her or Caladír's name without feeling as if she would break down on the floor. The floors in Imladris were made of white stone. She focused on her surroundings instead to try and calm herself.

The intricate pillars and windows she had seen from afar were even more beautiful up close. They were carved carefully. She had never seen anything like it. Every corner, every pillar, every wall was made with care and expertise. The gentle, white curves were a stark contrast to the black, geometric steel and glass buildings she was used to. The smooth floors were so different from the harsh grey cement streets in New York. And while in New York, she found the electric lights and the images in Times Square's buildings eye-catching, the beauty of Imladris was its tranquility, its peacefulness, how it embraced and valued nature.

And the paintings! It was like walking through an art gallery, only better. Because the paintings she would pass by told stories. They weren't self-portraits or splashes with watercolor. They were painted to perfection. The best kind of realism she had ever seen. Life seemed to leap out of the golden frames.

"Ah, you like the paintings?" Erestor noticed her looking at every painting excitedly.

"I do. They are very beautiful." Liv said.

Erestor looked at the paintings and waved a hand, dismissively. "These are quite plain. Young Lord Elladan painted them when he was but an elfling. I think he would agree his artistic abilities have vastly improved since then. But Lady Celebrian was very fond of these paintings and had them hung on the hallways. Lord Elrond never took them down since."

"Lady Celebrian?"

"Arwen and the twins' mother and Lord Elrond's wife. But do not mention her so casually to Lord Elrond. The pain of her loss still has not eased, not in a thousand years."

"She died?" Liv gasped.

"What? No. She sailed to Valinor. Dreadful business. One that must not be discussed now." Erestor said, a bit sadly.

"Imladris has never been the same since Lady Celebrian left." Melpomaen sighed.

"None of us were." Erestor agreed.

There was a sad silence as they walked further through the hallways. So the twins knew loss as well. She wondered what kind of person Lady Celebrian was. She must have been loved dearly by everyone if her departure affected everyone so much.

"You are making her sad." The female Elf beside her spoke in Westron for the first time. Liv was too surprised to find her still there that she couldn't protest.

"Oh, yes, introductions. How rude of us. Olivia, this is Melpomaen, Imladris' chamberlain, in charge with the housekeeping. I am Erestor. Lord Elrond's chief counsellor. This young elleth is Rossien."

"Please, just call me Liv." She smiled.

"Liv." Rossien repeated, as they all slowed down when they neared another hallway. "This is your room. You will find a few dresses in the wardrobe that would fit you, I hope."

They stopped in front of a room, whose doors already opened up to a spacious room with a large bed in the middle. The open windows showed the view of the waterfalls of Bruinen and the white curtains moved in the breeze. There was a partition made of curtains at the far side of the room, where Liv guessed the tub would be.

"We shall leave you to it, then. Liv, if you need anything else just tell Rossien. She would accompany you to Lord Elrond's study when you are done." Melpomaen said. The owl on his shoulder hooted sleepily and he and Erestor backed out of the room, closing the door behind them.

Rossien moved to the wardrobe and began to pick out some of the dresses. "This would look very nice on you." She said, picking out a white and grey dress.

"Go on ahead in the bath. It has already been prepared for you. The bath oils are on the table. Would you be needing anything else?"

"Nothing more, thank you."

"I will be just outside your room. Leave your dirty clothes on the table. Someone will pick it up to be cleaned." Rossien said, and with that, she bows and walks out the room.

Liv was thankful for a moment of peace alone. The bath was exquisite! The bath oils smelled wonderful, too. And Liv was happy to find that while the soap still did not produce as much bubbles as she was used to, it smelled great and the large brush used for scraping dirt away was softer and didn't feel like she was scraping off two inches of skin along with it.

The dress Rossien had laid out fit her well, and there was an extra chemise in the wardrobe and a pair of white shoes.

When she had walked out of the room, she found Anorvain talking to Rossien.

"Ah. Olivia!" Anorvain called.

"You never call me that." She said.

"That is because I did not know your full name until Ross here told me."

"Ross? You two are close, then?"

"He likes to think so." Rossien smirked.

"You break my heart." Anorvain said, dramatically placing a hand on his chest. Rossien giggled.

"Go rest, Anorvain. I need to bring Liv to Lord Elrond."

"I am not tired. I shall accompany you." Anorvain said.

"I already have third wheel vibes." Liv muttered in English, rolling her eyes while Anorvain walked beside Rossien.

Liv was correct in her assumption. Rossien was more comfortable speaking in Sindarin, so that was how she and Anorvain conversed. Liv, whose Sindarin was worse than her Westron, felt left out. She had concluded that the 'pretty elleth' that Anorvain mentioned before was Rossien, judging from the way he could not keep his eyes off her.

She couldn't believe she was thankful to see Elladan when she did. "Get me away from them." She muttered, escaping from Anorvain and Rossien, who were giggling about something. Elladan chuckled to himself as he offered his arm for her to slip her hand through, and she did so.

"Where is Elrohir?" Liv asked.

"Already with Father. Come."

"Nice paintings, by the way." Liv said, motioning to the ones lining the hallway.

"Oh. Some young elfling drew those. They're alright, I guess." Elladan said. Liv wouldn't have believed he was blushing if she hadn't seen it herself. They stopped in front of a door and Anorvain walked towards Liv.

"Oh, remembered me, did you?" She snapped.

"You'll be fine. Lord Elrond is very kind. Although, he is the Lord of Imladris. Very important elf. Do not upset him, Olivia."

"Thank you for the help." Okay, now Liv was getting really annoyed.

Anorvain laughed, "You know I like to tease you. But you will be fine. I will be waiting right here." He held her hand and kissed the top of her head, and Liv, her expression softening, squeezed his hand.

She turned to the door, her heart pounding for some reason and she nodded at Elladan. Time to face the Lord of Imladris, then.

Chapter Text

Liv had had a lot of uncomfortable moments in her life, but this one topped it all off. There was nothing more intimidating and isolating than having to sit on a chair while five important-looking and distractingly gorgeous male Elves formed a semi-circle in front of her. Lord Elrond sat in the middle of the semi-circle, with Elrohir to his right and Erestor to his left. Beside Elrohir sat Elladan, and beside Erestor sat Glorfindel.

Lord Elrond looked very much like his sons. He had the same strong jaw, the same grey eyes, the same long, dark hair. But he smiled at her, and his smile was warm, kind, comforting. It eased the nervousness Liv felt, if only for a little. Because as kind as his face was, his presence still demanded respect and authority. Kind of like when meeting the President--which Liv had done before, having lived a privileged life in the modern world. She was in control and confident then, but now she felt small and insignificant.

"So, you are the enigmatic Olivia. I have heard a great deal about you." Lord Elrond said as greeting.

"Yes, that is me. Please, call me Liv."

"Olivia?" Elrohir muttered, eyebrows furrowed, to Elladan.

"Liv is short for Olivia, or so she tells me." Erestor said.

"If you do not mind me asking, Lord Elrond... Why am I here?" She asked.

She jumped when the door opened behind her, even though the door opened softly. Melpomaen came in carrying a pitcher and several glass goblets which he set on a nearby table.

"You see, Liv, the Angle has been a peaceful place these past few years. It had suffered attacks before, but that was quite a long time ago. The Dúnedan have not been threatened until recently and it just coincides that the first major attack on a Dúnedan settlement was where my sons would find you. No other survivor but you." Lord Elrond said. "You can see why I would be very curious."

Liv's heart skipped. She had no idea that when she first came around, she was near another attack site. All she had known at the time was that she was lost and confused. And no one ever bothered to tell her that the twins found her in a wreckage. "I assure you, Lord Elrond, I had nothing to do with that. I did not even know I was anywhere near an attack site until now!" She insisted.

"You did not?" Lord Elrond turned to his sons.

"We had assumed she did know. She was very near the wreckage." Elrohir said.

"You overestimate my ability to see in the dark. I am used to bright lights illuminating my way. At the time, the first thing I remember was struggling not to drown and trying to get out of the river, which was why you found me soaking wet." Liv said.

"You had no idea what happened before that?" Glorfindel asked.

"No. Before that I was...well..." She was drunk. She was by the rooftop pool, near the bar. A Miley Cyrus song was playing. An idiot even drunker than her decided it would be cute to scream, "I came in like a wrecking ball!" and barrel into her, causing her to fall, headfirst and backwards at the edge of the pool. She remembered the excruciating pain, and in her drunken confusion, she still managed to move and roll to her side.

The next thing she knew, she was in the river. And the pain was gone. Hell, she didn't even remember the pain. Not until now, when she had to stop and think back on what had happened. Her memories were a mess, like a dream she was trying to remember but had slipped from her mind, skipping events until she couldn't possibly remember what had happened between one scene and then another.

"It is all very... confusing..." Liv mumbled, her eyebrows coming together. Now that she thought about it, she had no idea what happened between the party and the river. It was all a blur.

"You do not remember?" Erestor asked. Liv shook her head.

"I remembered the party... I remember someone had pushed me. And the next thing I know, I am half-drowning in the Bruinen river."

"A party? You were not in the settlement?" Glorfindel asked. Liv shook her head again.

"No. I told you before, I was in New York. I was not anywhere near medieval villages. I was home." New York felt so distant to her now. Home echoed hollowly through her. What was her home now if she could not reach New York?

"She kept mentioning New York, even before she could speak Westron." Elrohir said.

"That is the city I was born and raised in. New York, in America. The United States of America."

"There is no such place in Ennorath, we told you that before, Liv."

"And I told you to look again. I could not have just vanished from my home and landed in some fantasy land where Elves and...and horrible creatures that kill villagers exist!"

She jumped when Melpomaen offered a tray in front of her. "Wine. Good for the nerves." He said and she gladly took a goblet filled with wine and drank shakily. He offered the tray to the others and they, too, took a goblet each.

"Fantasy land?" Lord Elrond echoed, "Interesting choice of words. Why would you consider it a fantasy land?"

"Because! Elves do not exist! People do not walk around with swords, or hunt animals down, or skin rabbits."

"Not from where you come from?" Glorfindel asked. "What is life like in your home?"

Liv drew in a shaky breath. "There were cars, electricity, plumbing!" Liv did not know any Westron translation for those words, so she ended up speaking in English.

"A completely different language, as well." Erestor said.

Trying to explain the modern world in Westron was hard. It took up most of an hour for her to explain what electricity was, what plumbing was, what buildings were, why her clothes were different, what cars were, what money was, what her government was like, why Elves did not exist in her land.

Through it all, the Elves in front of her were silent and listened intently. Melpomaen came back with food about half an hour in. It seemed they would not be leaving soon.

There was a short pause after her explanation of the government. "What a strange and complicated system... There is nothing like it." Erestor had said, completely fascinated by how voting and democracy worked. Apparently, in Ennorath--or Middle-earth, in the Common Tongue--kings, queens and royalty was the system of government. It was simpler, in his opinions, and did not allow political greed. Not the same kind that was prevalant to corruption and abuse as the system Liv was used to.

"Lord Elrond, I have mentioned before..." Glorfindel said.

"Yes, I see what you mean. But it is unique that instead of travelling forward, she seems to have been...sent back."

"What do you mean?" Liv piped in.

Lord Elrond turned to her. "I think perhaps you should explain, Glorfindel."

"A long time ago, I felt the same kind of confusion, Olivia. I, too, could not recall what happened between something I was doing and how I got to another location. And when I came to, everything was different. It had been a thousand years or more and a new war was being fought, and everything as I knew it had changed. There was a different Enemy, the Elves have found new homes, the Ñolder had been pardoned. You can imagine my confusion and denial at the time. I thought I was dreaming, or under the Enemy's spell. But it was not the case."

Liv perked up, hearing Glorfindel's words. That was exactly how she felt. Confusion, denial. She thought she had been drugged.

"Slowly, I came to realize what had happened to me. I died, battling a Balrog. I was found lying in the fields. Most of the people I had known had perished in the previous battle, but Lord Elrond was kind enough to take me in, fill in the gaps in my memory. I did remember glimpses of a grand hall. Many Elves were waiting in line for...something. I was waiting too... and then, I heard a voice telling me to go back, and the next thing I knew, I was in the fields."

"You died?" Liv gasped.

"And was sent back." Glorfindel nodded.

"No, no, no. That cannot be it." Liv shook her head. She got to her feet unsteadily, clutching tightly to her goblet.

"No, no, no, no. You can't have died because if you died, that means you were resurrected and if...if what's happening to me is what happened to you, then that means... that means..." She was muttering in English, shaking her head, trying to deny it. Her hands shook. She tried to drink more wine to calm herself.

"No, no. I can't be dead. That can't have happened. I can't be..."

"She is having trouble breathing." Elrohir stood up immediately and approached her. She backed away.

"Nope! No! Stay right there, buddy. Don't touch me. I can't have you touching me right now."

"What is she saying?" Lord Elrond turned to Erestor, who shrugged helplessly. Everyone was on their feet.

"She's crying. What do we do?" Elladan said.

Liv was close to losing it. Her entire body was shaking, and tears blurred her vision. Elrohir stepped forward, and she just stood there, frozen, shaking her head because she could not accept that the only logical reason she was still standing there was because she was resurrected or sent back or whatever else they might call it. It just wasn't possible. She didn't even feel Elrohir take her goblet of wine away from her but she felt it when he gently took her hands in his.

"Liv." Elrohir said, softly.

And she broke down. Her gasps echoed through the room, her sobs were wretched from her throat and he held her. He supported her the only way he knew how.

Deep down, she knew she was somehow taken back in time. She tried to deny it. Tried to believe she had gone insane, instead. But to have someone else who had gone through something similar confirm it cemented the thought. It was why America couldn't be found in any maps: Because it did not exist. It was why cars and processed food and electricity and plumbing did not exist: Because no one had discovered those yet.

But for someone to confirm it... Liv would much rather believe she had lost her mind than to believe she had died and that a higher power sent her back in time.

"Perhaps what we experienced were similar in a way, but also unique. You must not think we went through the same ordeal." Glorfindel said, patting her back. "We are two different people, and perhaps both of our experiences were unique to ourselves alone. You must not lose hope. You could still go home."

Liv shook her head, burying herself closer to Elrohir. No, somehow, she always knew, deep down. There would be no going back. She was lost in history. She'd lost her life in New York. She'd lost her family, her friends, the life of luxury she had lived. It was all gone. All she'd been doing for the past months was wait and hope, and she was always let down.

She might as well accept it.

She'd given up. She was done resisting. And it broke her heart that she finally gave in. It broke her heart to have to let go of the life she knew, of the people she loved. She could not find a way back, and all these powerful Elves had no clue what was happening. They did not know how to fix it. If they didn't know what to do, then she certainly didn't.

"Take her back to her chambers, Elrohir." Lord Elrond said, softly. "We are done here."

Liv caught his eye, and she felt those kind eyes of his pierce through her crumbling strength.

"She will need time and rest." Lord Elrond said.

"Yes, Father." Elrohir nodded.

"I am truly sorry, Liv." Lord Elrond said. She said nothing. She let Elrohir lead her away. Elladan had taken off his cloak and wrapped it around her shoulder. She let the comfort and warmth of the fabric envelop her.

"What happened?" She heard Anorvain gasp when they came out of the room. He stopped in front of her, inspecting the tear tracks on her face. Liv remained passive. She did not push him away. She just stood there.

"I want to lie down, please." She whispered.

"Of course, of course. Come." Elrohir said, pulling her towards him protectively. The three of them escorted her back to her room in silence. Elladan had called Rossien to help her slip out of her dress and into a night gown.

Liv slept the entire day.

Chapter Text

Lord Elrond sighed and sunk back in his chair when his sons escorted the poor girl out of his chambers.

"Perhaps it was not a good idea to tell her all that. I did say our experiences could not have been exactly the same. I was sent forward, she was sent back. I am an Elf, she is just human." Glorfindel said.

"And after the ordeal she had gone through in the settlement. The girl has already lost so much." Erestor said.

"She has accepted it. I think, deep in her heart, she knew. She looked into my eye, and she knew we were right. It hurt her to accept the impossible and let go of all she had been clinging to." Lord Elrond said. "She would need support now more than ever. Everything she ever knew has slipped from her. She would need something else to hold on to. Something stable. Or she would fall to isolation and sadness so deep, we may never bring her back. Mortals, I've come to realize, are prone to fall to their emotions."

"She seems stronger than most mortals I know. And that is saying a lot." Glorfindel said.

Lord Elrond gave a small smile. "That is true. She is strong. But even the strongest needs support from friends. Imladris could help her... But watch out for her, Glorfindel. You of all people understand her situation the most."

"Of course, my lord." Glorfindel bowed.

Liv woke up early the next morning believing everything that happened in Lord Elrond's study was a dream. She was woken up by a soft knock on her door.

"Tolo." Liv called, sleepily. Rossien walked in holding a tray.

"I brought you breakfast." She said. Rossien was gentle. Too gentle. Like she was caring for a wounded animal. And then the events of yesterday came flooding back in Liv's memory. Glorfindel sharing his story, Liv sharing her story, her break down over being told she had experienced the impossible. It was chaotic, to say the least.

Liv lay back down on her pillow and threw her blanket over her head.

"Liv." Rossien sighed, sitting at the foot of her bed after setting down the tray she was holding on the bedside table.

"I'm fine." Liv lied.

"I know you are not. When was the last time you have eaten anything? You did not eat at all yesterday."

"I had some of the bread Melpomaen had brought yesterday."

"That is not nearly enough. I brought bacon and eggs. And a salad, if that is what you would prefer. As well as bread, butter and milk."

Liv pulled the blanket down below her eyes to peek at the tray Rossien had brought. She was hungry, alright. But she could not find the strength to get up and eat.

"Talk to me, if you wish." Rossien said.

Liv shrugged. "I just have to adjust, I guess. I'll be fine." That's all she's been doing since she got to Ennorath. Adjust. Adapt. Change her lifestyle to suit those around her. What was another adjustment for Imladris?

Rossien sat there awkwardly. She did not know what to do or say given that she did not know Liv well at all. So, she had no choice but to bow out and report the morning's exchange to someone who did.

When Elladan knocked on her door and she told him to come in, he found her still curled up in bed. The food Rossien had brought had gone cold and remained untouched.

"You have accepted your situation, I can see that. But that does not mean you have to resign yourself to it." He said.

"There's a difference?" Liv didn't mean to come off cold, but she found herself not caring that she did.

"You can sit there and wallow in your misery, and we can try to help you as much as we could but only you have a final say on your happiness. Only you control your destiny from this point onwards."

"No, I think the gods have made it quite clear my destiny is something they could just play with." Liv snapped. "I wish it was as easy as you say to just accept it, Elladan. I wish it was easy to be okay knowing I could have died and was resurrected. I wish it was easy to accept that I will not be going home because it does not exist yet. Do you think I enjoy being miserable? If I had a choice, do you think I would choose to feel tired all the time?"

Elladan was quiet. He sighed and approached her bed, looking down. One hand rested on his hip, the other rubbed his temple, trying to find the right words to say. Why was it so hard for him?! If Elrohir was here, he would have known the right words to say.

"You have been blessed, you know?" He finally said. "I have known so many mortals who died before they should have. Many good and honorable men and women."

Liv sniffed and pulled her blanket over her eyes again, Caladír and Ethuilien's smiling faces flashed in her memories. They deserved a second chance at life, as well. Why not them, too? Why did she have to be so alone?

"But the Creator chose you. The girl I met in the Angle, the girl who babbled in her own language and threw her clothes at me would not have accepted defeat so easily. Is that stubborn girl still there?" He said. "I know it is not easy, Liv. I have seen something like this happen before, and it hurt that I could do nothing to help. She lost hope and gave up on us. Please. Do not lose hope. Not you, as well. It will get better. You will get better. It will take time, but you must be strong."

Liv hated to admit it but he was right. This wasn't her. She wasn't the kind of person to give up so quickly. She'd already been through isolation and cold sadness when she first arrived here and she fought through that. She will fight again. She had to remember that she had been fortunate. More fortune than most, and she would fight this internal battle for all the people she loved. She would do it for herself. It would take time for her to heal.

But she had the rest of her life for that.

She looked up at Elladan, gloomily. "I hate it when you are right." She said, sitting up. He coughed and turned away when the blanket revealed her nightgown.

"You have seen more skin when you first met me." Liv rolled her eyes.

"It would be rude to look again."

She snorted. "Well, then, get out."

Liv had never seen someone turn around so quickly. Elladan practically ran out the room.

"Eat your food, Liv!" Elladan called before closing the door behind him.

Liv turned to the untouched food on her bedside table. It would be a shame to let it spoil, so she ate what she could and prepared for another day.

There was something about Imladris that was quite calming. It was huge, to start with, and there were many little rooms and plenty of places for her if she wanted to be alone, which she did. Liv just found that she couldn't deal with people, not yet. Sometimes she would come across a Dúnedan refugee from the settlement, and they would exchange pleasantries, but there was always an understanding between them: they needed time alone, they needed time to breathe and mourn those they have lost. There weren't a lot of refugees, anyway. Only those who have been gravely injured were there, and they would go back to the settlement the moment they were strong enough to ride a horse. None of them ever stayed too long, which was a good thing. Neither Liv nor Anorvain could face anyone from that part of their lives yet.

The others let her heal at her own pace. They helped, of course, Anorvain most of all. He would often drag her out to the training grounds to get her back into shape. She was very reluctant at first. In fact, after a week of the meeting in Lord Elrond's study, it took bribery before she even agreed to walk to the grounds.

"Come on! I will bring you to the seamstress for a new dress!" Anorvain said, while he sat on the foot of Liv's bed. She was on the desk at that time, quill in hand, filling out her old grammar book, the one that Ethuilien had given her to practice Westron. She was working on contractions, mutations and compound words at the time.

Liv looked up from the book. "No." It felt as if that was the ninth time she said the word. That one syllable was starting to sound like nonsense to her. Was 'no' even a real word? Could the reason why Anorvain did not accept it as an answer be that it did not exist?

"Two dresses." Anorvain said, standing from her bed to approach her. He bent down so his face was near hers, and Liv inched away from him.

He pulled a face. He was using his eyes in a very unfair manner. Liv fired back with a cold glare, although she liked the idea of having two new dresses made for her. She was still, after all, a pampered girl who used to love shopping. It was hard to resist the mere idea of getting new clothes.

"Two dresses and a new pair of shoes." He said.

Liv smiled, triumphantly, closing her grammar book. Shoes were her weakness. "You have yourself a deal."

Liv had Anorvain to thank for meeting Arwen, as well. Anorvain had asked Rossien if there were any available seamstresses. Rossien, who went to the dressmaker' workshop to check, made a passing comment to Arwen about Anorvain asking so he could buy Liv's dresses. Arwen then volunteered to help Anorvain choosing a dress.

On the day she and Anorvain were to go to the dressmaker's workshop, Liv came out of her room expecting it to be just Anorvain waiting for her. She had to support herself on her door handle when she saw Arwen.

She could usually control herself around Elves, but sometimes, Elven beauty still got to her. And Arwen was perhaps the most beautiful female Elf she had ever laid eyes on, and that was saying a lot. She had pale, flawless skin and beautiful grey eyes. Definitely Elladan and Elrohir's sister. She had a delicate face and dark hair that flowed like a river down her back. No curl was out of place. Her skin was unblemished.

"Um... Hello..." Liv said, not quite believing Arwen was real. That kind of perfection belonged in her imagination. That kind of flawlessness can't be real.

Arwen smiled. Liv practically turned into a puddle.

"There you are."

Liv didn't even notice Anorvain until he spoke.

"Liv, this is Lady Arwen. She was kind enough to spend a day for us and help us with the seamstresses." Anorvain introduced. Liv bowed to Arwen because it felt like the right thing to do. It felt as if being introduced to royalty.

"Oh, no, please. You are doing me a favor, as well. I get very bored sometimes and Rossien is always busy. I have heard a great deal about you, Liv. Elladan and Elrohir have spoken highly of you. I wanted to meet you myself."

"Elladan? Talking highly of me? That is new." Liv laughed. Arwen joined in the laughter.

"I have also heard the two of you argue but his heart is in the right place. Enough about Elladan, however. Come, let us get you those dresses. I am thinking of something light blue. It would look good on your complexion. And perhaps red..."

"Red? What a bold color." Anorvain exclaimed.

"Hush, Anorvain, the ladies are talking." Arwen said.

Liv burst out laughing. "I like you! Now, how about red? What kind of red? Blood or rose?"

"There is a difference?" Anorvain asked.

Arwen giggled at Anorvain's confused face, "I think rose. And in lace. Yes, I think that would look good on you. You can wear it during a party."

"Is there going to be a party soon?" Liv asked.

"No, but it is always good to be prepared for one."

It turned out Liv and Arwen got along almost instantly. And it also turned out, shopping was still the best mood booster for her. Anorvain had never seen Liv so energetic as he had when she was flipping through the sketches presented to her by some of the seamstresses. The seamstresses were appreciative of a new customer that knew what she was talking about when it came to clothes, as well.

"This looks so Valentino! I'm actually in heaven!" Liv squealed, pointing to one of the drawings. It was the same shade of red to Anorvain as the last four dresses but when he pointed it out, six pairs of eyes glared at him and he never spoke again.

Eventually, rescue did arrive while Liv was trying on one of the dresses that was on display. It was the perfect red lace dress and Liv and Arwen were both very excited when they saw it. They admired its details lovingly, even the damn buttons! Anorvain could not understand what all the fuss was about and was starting to regret even suggesting getting new dresses when he did not even understand what was happening. He almost sobbed in relief when Elladan and Elrohir walked in.

"Thank the Valar!" Anorvain gasped, practically throwing himself at Elrohir when he hugged him.

"I do not understand them at all! I had no idea there were so many ways to say 'red'!" He complained.

"It seems we have arrived just in time." Elrohir said, amused.

"Just in t--?! Any second longer and I would have fainted."

"It is just dresses, Anorvain. You are exaggerating." Arwen clucked.

"They are after me, Elrohir! They are out for my blood."

"So dramatic." A voice from behind a partition said. Elladan made a choking noise when he turned to the direction of the voice. Liv set the partition aside and swept her hair over one shoulder and looked at herself in the mirror. She was draped in a red, lace gown. She was covered from the neck down, but beneath the lace was sheer fabric that teased of the skin below.

"Oh, I like this." Liv said, unaware of the twins' slack jaws while she looked at herself in the mirror.

"It looks good on you." Arwen said, although her eyes observed her brothers, and she wore a smug smirk, as though knowing exactly what was on their minds.

"It is exquisite! Oh, Anorvain! You have to buy this dress!" Liv squealed, still unaware that the boys have gone utterly silent.

"It..." Elrohir coughed, "...it does. Very beautiful. Beautiful gown."

That was when Liv turned to them. Elrohir was not one to stutter.

"How come no one has ever claimed that gown?" Elrohir asked the seamstress, trying to ignore the smirk forming on Liv's face as it dawned on her.

The seamstress shrugged, "The elleth it was originally designed for did not like how the color turned out and said that the collar was uncomfortable."

Liv wasn't uncomfortable so much as flattered by the blush on Elrohir's cheeks. It was adorable. She was used to that look, devoured boys who looked at her that way alive while she was still in high school, wrapped posh rich guys who looked at her like that around her little finger.

Neither of the twins were like those boys, though. Their admiration stemmed from seeing Liv smile and relax again. She glowed in the dress. They weren't struck because she was a rich heiress who gave them a time of her day. They were struck simply because it had been too long since they saw her smile, and the dress only brought out the beauty they already knew she possessed.

Anorvain, of course, couldn't say no to the dress and Arwen even helped buy a third one. Liv was appreciative of all they did. She knew Elven dresses couldn't be cheap, especially ones as elaborate as the ones she had tried on. Anorvain was just happy to see her giddy again. He had no idea buying a new dress would have such a positive impact on Liv, and he would have given all the gold he had just to help her find her ground again.

He knew she wasn't completely healed of the pain she felt, but it was a step in the right direction.

When Anorvain and Liv were alone together, they sat on a bench overlooking the Bruinen River. It was peaceful, quiet. They didn't even talk for a while. It was Liv who broke the silence.

"You know, Anorvain..." She said, "I am here for you. I have been too focused on myself and that is wrong. I apologize. Please know, you can always talk to me if you wish."

Anorvain turned to her with a smile, "Where is this coming from, now, little sister?" He teased. He elbowed her playfully and she elbowed back.

"I am serious! You have been so strong. I do not know how you can still joke around and be care-free after what happened. I can barely hold my tears back when I think about..."

Liv had gone quiet. And the teasing smile on Anorvain's lips faded.

"It still hurts, Liv. There are nights when I still cannot sleep because I keep thinking about them. But I just imagine that none of my family would be happy to see me miserable. I get my strength from the good memories and try not to dwell on the bad." He said.

"Does it not get hard? Keeping a smile on your face all the time."

"It does. Believe me, it does. I know I act like a fool most of the time but sometimes, it does get too much." He sighed and rubbed his face, leaning back a bit. "Sometimes, I just want to stop and take out my sword and break it on a rock to release my frustration. But that can lead to a destructive path. And then I think of mother berating me for acting so carelessly, and I think of father going off about how the sword had been passed down through generations, and I think of Aurien laughing at how ridiculous I look."

He chuckled softly to himself, his eyes distant, his mind had gone to a time when his family was still complete. He was lost in his own memories, or fantasies.

"And that helps?" Liv asked.

"Oh, yes. Very much so. I just think about how would react if they were still alive, and that gives me strength." He said. "For they still live on. In my heart, in my mind. The values my parents taught me are still with me. So long as I live, they live in my heart and mind as well. And then it gets a bit easier. For me, at least." He said.

Liv was filled with such admiration, then. Anorvain was a pure soul, a good soul. Beneath the jokes and the care-free attitude was a strong and optimistic heart.

She leaned her head on his shoulder. "I think I can see now why Miluieth liked you."

She felt his head turn in her direction.

"Because I'm devilishly handsome?"

She smacked his arm, making him laugh.

"For what it is worth, Liv. I think you have your own strength as well. You just have to see it in yourself first."

There was silence for a moment before Liv, her voice thick with emotion, whispered, "Thank you. For believing in me when not even I could."

"I wish for the day to come when you do. You will be a force to be reckoned with." He said.

She smiled, pulling away. "I never told you about how I came to be here. Why I have not yet gone home. Why I never will. You never asked me."

"Because I did not need to know. Whatever your past is, whatever you decide to do, I will support you. I do not need to know your past, I trust you and care for you because of who you are."

Her smiled widened. "And yet, you deserve to know. It will sound strange, however."

"Mm. I have seen a dwarf color his beard a bright shade of blue voluntarily. Nothing is strange to me anymore."

"Oh, this will easily top the blue beard." She said.

"Bring it on." He said, rubbing his hands together.

And so Liv came forward, and poured herself out to him. Poured out her past, her identity, her fears. And all Anorvain did was listen intently, squeeze her hand when her tears betrayed her. He did not judge her, he did not question her. He just let her talk.

And they stayed on that bench until the sun set behind the rolling hills, and when Liv had finished talking, Anorvain only pulled her in for a hug. "You still have a family in me, Liv." He said.

And through tears, she said, "I know. And you have a family in me, still, Anorvain."

 

And God, how relieved she felt that day. It was as if a weight was lifted off her shoulder that she didn't even know she was carrying. It felt good to have someone listen without questioning her. Everything Anorvain did in that one day brought such relief in her, and she was filled with such care and love for this man who so easily accepted her as a sister. And she vowed she would let nothing harm him and his good soul again.

Chapter Text

Elladan had made a promise to Liv, and what better way to fulfill that promise than the day when she was willing to tolerate other people's presence. He'd taken advantage of her cheerful attitude after she went to the seamstresses'. The sun was just beginning to set when he knocked on the door to her bedroom.

Liv, who waa not expecting anyone to visit her, and especially not Elladan, was taken aback by his hurried tone. "Quickly! Get dressed!" He said, excitedly. He was holding a silk knapsack in one hand and a canvas between his arms.

"What's wrong?" She asked, bewildered.

"Nothing is wrong. But get dressed, quickly! I must show you something before it gets dark."

So she did, quickly pulling on a surcoat over her dress and following him.

"I did tell you that I wanted to show you something when we arrived. I'm sorry if it had to take this long before I remembered." Elladan said, guiding her through the halls. She'd never seen him this excited before, and she was too distracted by the careless way he threw his head back to smile at her. God, he was beautiful.

"Just here." He said, "Father loves coming here. But for now, it is just the two of us." He led her through a passage and she slowed down to a halt. They were standing on a small cliff that overlooked the entirety of Imladris. Beside them rushed a waterfall, which joined with the river of Bruinen, snaking through green fields as far as her eye could see, and nearby was the face of the mountain where Imladris was housed upon. From here, Liv could see the narrow footbridge, the only passage towards Imladris, and on the face of the mountain was the white houses. Behind the peaks of the mountains was a burst of orange, where the sun shone.

"This is beautiful." She gasped, looking around her, taking it in.

Elladan stood beside her, more distracted by the way her eyes drank up the beauty of her surroundings than the surroundings itself. The light highlighted her soft profile from where he stood, making her pale skin glow.

He would have loved to draw her then, to take his time in observing every soft curve and line that made up her face, to work slowly and carefully to get just the right shape of her eyes--those wide eyes that, for once, weren't narrowed or rolling in annoyance. They were a dark shade of brown, yet they lit up whenever she smiled. He wanted to preserve that smile in a drawing. Liv rarely smiled, and to see her being so calm and content made him smile as well.

"Here." He motioned to a blank canvas resting on an easel of some sort. It was made entirely of smooth wood.

"You said you wanted to paint the sky. There is no view more inspiring than the one you see before you now." He whispered, their hands meeting when he offered her a paintbrush.

"Come. I will show you how to make paint. I already prepared everything but I suspect paint is made differently from where you came from so I wanted to show you how I make it." He said.

It was heart-warming, to say the least. Liv had never seen Elladan so excited. She couldn't help the grin on her face as he sat her down and laid a wooden board before him that had shallow bowls carved into it, an Elvish version of a palette. He had eggs. Actual eggs in his hand. The silliness of watching grumpy Elladan with a smile on his face while holding eggs made her giggle.

"Any other time, I'd be annoyed that you are laughing at me." He said.

"What makes this time so special?" She said, sitting on the stool in front of the canvas. She turned to see him sitting on a stone bench where he had laid out all the things he would need for paint. He took one of the eggs in his hands. She'd learned in Art History that before acrylics or any paint that she was used to in modern times existed, medieval painters used eggs and mixed it with natural dyes. Liv never got to use eggs as paint before because, well, she didn't think they were important. Tubes of paint could be bought in her time. All she had to do was mix colors. Yet even to watch Elladan work delicately fascinated her.

"I haven't seen or heard you genuinely laugh... At all, in fact." He said, cracking the egg in his hand.

The smile slipped from her face, "By all means, don't stop on my account." He teased, as he separated the egg white from the yolk.

The smile continued to slip. "I can't believe you have never seen me laugh." She said.

"I think it may be because I annoy you so much."

There was silence while Elladan carefully placed the egg-yolk in the tray and mixed some sort of dye for the paint. When he offered the palette to her, it was all soft colors of yellow, pink, orange, white, green, blue. He prepared for this, and it seemed he had prepared for a long time.

"There. Now you can paint the sky." He said.

"Will you not join me?" Liv asked, dipping the paintbrush into the rich green and testing the paint out at the bottom.

"Oh, do not worry about me. I will be here." He said, motioning to the bench behind her. She turned around and faced the view. Liv allowed herself to relax for once. She was in her element. Painting took her to a deeper part of her, to somewhere quiet and calm. The sun was just about to set, and it painted everything in an ethereal orange hue. She never did get to paint a sunset. Especially not with this view, dipping behind lush snow-capped mountains, and clear, foaming water rushing next to her and white-pillared Elven houses lighting up lanterns to prepare for the night.

Painting a sunset was incredibly difficult. There was only so little time before it got too dark to paint properly. But she had allowed herself to get lost in her element. Painting was... therapeutic was not the word, but it had the effect of making her realize things.

That there was some beauty in this world that we can never fully put down into words or into pictures. That there were beautiful things too fleeting to capture. That there are things that can only be experienced, but are hard to describe because it's all just so personal. That some things were meant to be appreciated for a while before we have to learn to let go. To learn to say goodbye to a sunset that will never look the same again the next day. To say goodbye to the memory of people who have made an impact on her life, but let go when it was time.

She had barely painted the green fields when she sighed and stepped back. The sun had completely sunk behind the mountains. There was paint on her fingers and hands. She turned around so she could find a place to set her brush and palette down when she saw Elladan hastily putting down his own canvas and charcoal.

"What is that?" Liv asked. He waved his hand, non-chalantly.

"A drawing."

"Really?" She sounded amused at his vagueness.

"Yes, really." He took the brush and palette from her and set it down on the bench next to his charcoals.

"You have..." He pointed at her cheek, which she touched in confusion when he pointed.

"No, just..." His thumb went over to swipe the stray bit of paint he had pointed at.

Liv froze as Elladan's thumb worked gently.

Hoo boy.

He pulled away, only realizing that the red tint to her cheeks wasn't because he'd rubbed paint off her face.

"You are blushing." He smirked. She stepped back, furrowing her eyebrows.

"I am not! It is just cold!" She lied.

"Oh, are you feeling a breeze that I do not feel?" He teased.

"Honey, you would have to do more than that to make me blush." She said, turning away so she wouldn't have to see him looking smug at the fact that she was, indeed, blushing madly.

"Honey?" He repeated, dumb-founded.

"Sssh. Just feel the breeze, Elladan."

He snorted in his laughter.

"Okay. I will not say no more. I would not like to have this moment ruined by you punching me."

"Good. So you do have some sense of self-preserverance." She said.

"Ooh. Big words. When did you learn that? Ow!" Elladan yelped when Liv smacked his arm.

"I also learned a few curse words in Westron. Do you want to hear how good I have gotten?"

"Valar preserve us, I do not want to know how creative you can get with your curse words." He sighed, pinching the bridge of his nose. She laughed, shaking her head.

"Well, then, do not give me the opportunity to practice, then." She said.

"No, my lady, I will not, indeed." He chuckled. They quieted down as the sky turned from orange and pink to dark blue.

"Hey." She nudged him when he stood next to her as they looked over at the view of silver houses and lanterns lighting up Imladris. He nudged her back.

"Thanks. For today. It really helped me realize some things." Liv said.

"Oh? Like what?" Elladan asked.

"That it is okay to move on, and it is okay to take your time moving on." She said.

There was silence between them for a while.

"You will be okay." He said, gently. "We are here for you, Liv. You still have friends. And Anorvain considers you family."

God. Anorvain. He'd been through so much and yet could still put a smile on his face, could still pull the effort to make her feel better when so much has been taken from him so violently. Anorvain was selfless, and Liv felt unworthy of the friendship he had given her. And Elladan, Elrohir, Arwen. They were the sons and daughter of the Lord of Imladris. That they would take their time to make her smile meant so much to her.

Liv looked up at the elf beside her, and gave him another smile. It was all she could offer him. "Thank you."

She meant it with all her heart. Because for once, she believed those words. She believed she wasn't as alone as she thought.

"You are welcome." Elladan replied, brightly.

"Do you want to go back to your room now? I imagine I had interrupted something." He said.

"No, you did not at all. Frankly, you had saved me from an afternoon of boredom."

"Then I am glad to be of service." He said, bowing.

"Ugh. Stop being so nice. That is Elrohir's job." She said, scruching up her nose as she giggled.

"Should I go back to calling you annoying?"

"Ha! I would like to see you try. And do not think you can distract me from your drawing. I will see what you have made when it is finished, yes?" Liv said.

"Only if you show me your painting first."

"My paintings are nothing compared to..." She paused, "...the ones I have seen in the hallways."

"Yes, well." Elladan chuckled, nervously, rubbing the back of his neck. "I'm sure your painting would look just fine."

"We show each other when we both finish, right here." Liv suggested.

"You have yourself a deal, Olivia."

"Call me Olivia one more time." Liv said, in warning.

"Olivia." Elladan repeated, fearlessly. "It is a fascinating way of slipping off the tongue. Olivia."

It also had a fascinating way of making her heart jump to her throat whenever he said it. Oh, God, this was embarrassing. She shook her head, relieved that there was not enough light anymore for him to notice her blushing once more.

He turned around and began cleaning up the brushes and art supplies they had laid on the bench. And she was just about to help him when he said, in a very teasing manner, "So, did you feel another breeze, yet again? Or should I just pretend I did not see you blush?"

"Elladan!" She snapped, exasperated, making him laugh. She took the silk knapsack from him and gave him a smack with it.

"Take me to my room, you bully!" She said. He just laughed harder, barely feeling any pain when the knapsack landed on his arm.

"Alright, alright! It is getting cold, anyway." He said, as one last tease and they walked back to her room.

And just like that, they were back to mercilessly teasing each other, their laughter echoing through the halls as they did so.

Chapter Text

It seemed Anorvain and Elladan were not the only ones determined to help Liv get back to being her old self. Erestor had thought of continuing her grammar lessons, and Liv was actually thankful for the distraction. It wasn't something everyone agreed with.

Anorvain and the twins were all against the idea because they all knew that grammar lessons was something Liv exclusively had with Ethuilien, and they did not want her to have to be reminded of anything that might upset her but she surprised them all by accepting the idea. Honestly, even Liv surprised herself. But she knew it would be for the better. She had to move on, after all. She had to start somewhere. "I still have the grammar and vocabulary books Ethuilien had given me. She would be disappointed and, frankly, very annoyed with me if I let them go to waste." Liv said, shrugging one time when she announced she would not be joining Anorvain for training lessons because she would be having lessons with Erestor. It was the first time she ever mentioned Ethuilien's name, and the first time she actually stopped to think about having a different language teacher.

Anorvain was willing to drop the lessons for the day, of course, once Liv had expressed that the language lessons were something she wanted to do. It was a good sign that she was willing to do something she had been avoiding since Loëndë. He knew she was very reluctant to get back to physical training with him because it reminded her of Caladír. But now that she was willing to do that and accept a new language teacher after Ethuilien, he was very supportive. It meant that she was recovering, that she was no longer avoiding things because it was all a painful reminder of what had happened. He accompanied her to Erestor's study, with a little smirk as he said, "You'll love Erestor." which at first confused Liv. What if Erestor was even more strict than Ethuilien?

It turned out, Erestor was actually more lenient with his lessons. Just like Ethuilien, he refused to give Liv a quill and paper but he did give her a bigger slate and was patient with corrections. Liv would have been pleased with the leniency, if he didn't let it slip that he expected it from such a young mortal who had so much more to learn. It appeared she would be treated as a child.

Liv was not one to take being looked down upon. Usually, it was her doing the looking down on. It did not feel good to be on the receiving end.

"Hmm. This translation is close enough. Your adverbs and tenses need a tad bit more help, but I would expect these common mistakes." Erestor said.

That was the fourth time he said it.

"Thanks." Liv said, drily.

"You are quite welcome! Here." Erestor said, enthusiastically. He handed her three books. "If you ever get bored. And these would also help with your grammar. I think reading books is a great way to improve both vocabulary and grammar. These are Sindarin poems, but you will see their translations in Westron on the opposite page. Here, look. So you can have a headstart with Sindarin, as well. Or, at least Tengwar. I don't expect you to understand it but at least you will be familiar with how it is written." Erestor opened a book, and on one page was the familiar alphabet of Westron. On the other was a new script she had never seen before. They looked like an artist made these strokes. They were intricate and curving. Even Elven alphabet was made artistically and beautifully.

It more than made up for the condescencion.

"Ooh! Thank you!" Liv said, flipping through the pages of the book.

"You are welcome." Erestor said, smiling.

It felt as if he was refraining himself from saying something. Liv could see the tightness in his features.

"What's wrong?" She asked.

He shook his head, smiling. "Nothing at all, dear girl. Do not worry."

"No, please, tell me. Is there something wrong?"

"Well," Erestor wrung his hands, "it is just that... Do you remember when first we met and I asked about your language? I was wondering if you could tell me about it? Teach me, even."

This took Liv by surprise. She could tell Erestor was a scholar, a curious and intelligent one at that. She just didn't expect he'd be this curious. He had mentioned before his interest in it, but she didn't think his interest was that deep that he would truly want to learn it.

"Of course, if you think it would be a bother... I mean... It was just interesting. But you must think me rude."

"No! No, no, not at all." She said, waving her hand, "I would love to. Really. You teach me your language, and I could teach you mine as best as I could."

Liv didn't know how much of a relief it would be to be speaking English and possibly have someone understand her, for once.

"You would?" For a very old being, Erestor had such a child-like excitement. "We could meet here, say, after breakfast, yes? Every day?"

"How about every other day after lunch? I promised Anorvain I would train with him on mornings."

"Of course." He said, "Take your time! But do you think you can teach even just the alphabet to me, with their Westron translation? I would very much like to study it."

"I could just write it. You will have to give me a quill, however." Liv said.

"Ah, yes, of course! But are you sure you know how to use this? Here, let me teach you--"

"I know how to write, Erestor."

"You do?"

Liv tried not to get offended with the complete surprise in his tone. It's not like she'd been writing on a slate the whole time.

"What did you think I was doing with this slate and chalk?" She asked, waving the slate in his face, ready to throw it at him.

"I thought you were just copying what I was writing on my slate without actually knowing the meaning of it." He said, looking more and more surprised. Her lips pursed in annoyance.

"Have I offended?" He asked, delicately.

"Have you--? Why did you think I couldn't write?"

"It is just that... Not many human women are learned in languages. The Dúnedain are perhaps the exception, because they take after their ancestors, who pursued knowledge and arts, as well. But the women of Rohan and even Gondor do not study."

"But that's terrible!"

"Not being learned is not terrible, Liv. Some do not have the opportunity to learn like you do."

"But surely those who have the opportunity would choose to take it." She frowned.

Erestor smiled, "There are things they consider more important, and you must respect that decision."

Liv tried to take that in. In the modern world, it was a necessity to study. Hell, she'd been spending thousands just to be able to get an education. How anyone could think it wasn't important here blew her away.

"In my time, being educated was necessary in order to get a good job to be able to raise a family. In fact, people will think very little of you if you do not finish your education. I have spent a large amount of money to get a good one. I have been studying for more than half my life." She said as Erestor handed her a quill and she began writing. It felt odd to write in the alphabet she had grown up with. The simplicity of it all was a stark contrast to the careful way she wrote the Westron alphabet.

"Why would you need to spend anything at all? Anyone can be a teacher, all they have to do is pass down their knowledge."

"It's different where I come from. There, the learned make a living out of teaching. It is not a bad thing that they do. But there is a system for education now."

Erestor sighed, "I do not understand Amrika and all your systems. The governance is faulty enough. To make a system out of education as well seems overcomplicated."

Liv smiled. "Not just in America, it happens all over the world. Education has vastly advanced there."

"I suppose it has if it needs a system. But why would you need to pay such a large amount of gold for it? Is that not unfair to those who perhaps do not have the means to that much money? If the people there need education to get a job that pays enough money, then how would they afford the education they need in the first place?"

Liv froze mid-writing. She felt guilty that she never put much thought about that. She had been selfish and privileged. Two things that made her callous to the sufferings of those less fortunate than her. To her, all that mattered was that she was getting into art school. She didn't think about how she studied in private schools all her life. She didn't think about anyone else at all as long as she was getting what she wanted.

"It is very unfair. Education has become a privilege when it is supposed to be a right in my time." She said, just as she finished writing the alphabet.

"Fascinating!" Elrohir said, holding the paper up to observe every line and curve.

"Very fascinating! A bit simple, and awkward when written together. How do these all come together cohesively...? Perhaps it is to be more practical. All these simplistic lines..." He muttered to himself. Liv observed him, amused, as he tried to copy the letter 'A' below the one she had written.

"Ha! Three straight lines was all it took!" He turned to her, looking pleased with himself.

"Oh, dear girl, I think we will have a lot to talk about! But you must go off to lunch. I heard Lady Arwen and you have befriended each other rather quick. I know you like to eat by yourself in your room, but perhaps you would be interested in joining us in the Hall of Fire later? There will be story-telling and music. And Lindir will be singing. Have you met him yet? Or Bilbo?" He asked.

Liv shook her head. She hasn't been very social since she got to Imladris. In two weeks, Rossien and Arwen were the only friends she made apart from Anorvain and the twins. All the other Dúnedan refugees, at that point, had returned to the settlement. It was, perhaps, the peacefulness and quiet that helped her feel better. That and she no longer had any reminder of what happened during Loëndë, now that all the refugees were gone, meant that she was able to breathe a bit more freely now.

"Ah, Lindir is a wonderful singer! Join us for dinner later and you can see him perform!" Erestor beamed. Liv smiled and agreed to do just that. Erestor seemed pleasantly surprised at how easy it was to get her to join in on activities now. She wasn't isolating herself as much as she used to, although she still looked like she was hesitating.

Liv went out just in time to see Rossien and Arwen walking towards her. "Ah! We were waiting for you. Come, Liv! All the other ellith want to meet you!"

"They--what---" Liv spluttered as the two beamed at her.

"Lady Arwen is hosting afternoon tea. It will be all women, Liv, do not worry." Rossien said.

"You must join us!" Arwen added.

"You honor me, my lady." Liv tried to bow but Arwen, with her tinkling laughter, simply looped her arm through Liv's.

"The boys have had their time with you. You must relax, have some cake and tea." Arwen said.

And so, she did. Liv was introduced to some of the elleth sitting around the table that was set up in a patio by the gardens. There was Cristiel, the daughter of the blacksmith in one of Imladris' workshops and who took up her father's love for swords and blades. And the seamstress that Liv had ordered her three new dresses from she knew was Nimeth. Elarinya was one of the oldest among the elleth there, and in fact, was Arwen's nursemaid. Arwen's respect and affection for her ran deep, and Rossien later tells Liv that Arwen was spending as much time with Elarinya as she could because the older elleth was to sail west with Gildor Inglorion soon.

"Sail west?" She asked.

The ellith were confused as to why she did not know what Rossien was talking about. Everyone in Imladris that was not in Elrond's study when she talked about her situation assumed she was just a Dúnedan refugee who decided to stay. They did not know she had next to no idea what Elven culture and history were. They did not know that she was oblivious to the waning number of Elves in Imladris, or how the leaves were no longer green and how quickly they fell from their branches. Liv saw the beauty of Imladris as it was fading. She will never see it in its full beauty.

"The time of the Elves is over, Liv. It is time we go back home. Soon, I will journey to the Grey Havens and sail to Valinor. I have been in Middle-earth for too long." Elarinya said. And though her face was youthful, it seemed her eyes carried the sadness of a thousand lifetimes, and Liv did not doubt she had lived for so long, if she knew Arwen as a baby.

"Well," Liv said, leaning forward, "you are not going anywhere without telling me stories of our lady Arwen as a child."

Laughter greeted her words, and Arwen covered her face in embarrassment, "No, Liv! She will not be merciful!" She moaned, although there was a smile on her face as she said it.

"You might think Elladan and Elrohir would be a handful as children but they were tame compared to Arwen as a child, were they not, tithen pen?" Elarinya said with a grin. "She would sneak into the stables and steal the horses when no one was looking."

"'Steal' is such a heavy word, mellonenin. I put them back, did I not? Uninjured, too." Arwen said.

"The horses, yes. She would track mud in the hallways and knock on my chambers begging not to tell her ada or naneth about the scratches on her arms from falling off the horse."

"But you could have been gravely injured!" Liv turned to Arwen, who merely shrugged and said, "I am still alive now so whatever injuries I had did not last."

"No thanks to you, young one! Every day she comes in looking like she had been wrestling on mud, I would bring her to the healer, and tell myself that would be the last time I will let her get away with it."

"She never told my parents, however."

"Nay, I did not." Elarinya sighed, giving Arwen an affectionate smile. "It would be a crime to betray her small face as she looks up at you, wide-eyed, and makes you promise not to tell on her."

"It is not fair at all, the face she pulls when trying to get out of trouble." Cristiel said. "Ah, but the best face she makes is when she is admiring someone else."

"Oh no, not you as well!" Arwen laughed.

The other elleth smirked. "You know our little Arwen had a tiny crush on Lord Glorfindel?"

"'Tiny' being an understatement." Rossien muttered before sipping her tea and hiding her smile behind the cup.

"Do not listen to them, Liv!"

"Too late, I want to hear it. I did not think tall, silent, blondes were your type." Liv said as she helped herself to the cakes, listening to the gossiping Elves around her and giggling as an embarrassed Arwen went red.

"It was just a phase!" Arwen countered.

"I grew up the same time as Lady Arwen. We were still very young, but I was already watching my father in the workshops. Lord Glorfindel would come in and visit my father to have his sword re-sharpened or so and one day offered to train me." Cristiel said, "He was training new recruits to be part of the patrol that would be under his command and Lady Arwen here would always be watching him. I thought at first it was one of the younger ellyn she was watching but Glorfindel will feel her staring and wave at her and she would run quickly out of sight."

"Years later, though, Lady Arwen would be all grown up and would still be looking out a window to watch the trainees." Elarinya said.

"But it's not Glorfindel she'd be looking at anymore." Cristiel teased in a singsong voice, making the women around the table burst into giggles.

Arwen covered her tomato-red face, mortified. "This afternoon tea is over." She joked.

"We will tell you about Estel another time, Liv." Rossien said, raising her eyebrows playfully, making Arwen join in the giggles as well.

"Will you be staying here long?" Nimeth asked, out of the blue, changing the subject then.

"I have no idea. I may stay for a month or two, but that would depend on Anorvain. If he decides to leave earlier or later, I will go with him."

"Ah, yes. Anorvain." Was it Liv's imagination or did Nimeth's eyes flicker in Rossien's direction? "Some say you are his bethrothed."

Liv promptly choked on the lemon cake in her mouth. Rossien handed her a cup of tea to help her wash down the lump now lodged in her throat. Some of the ellith snickered at her reaction.

"No! No, no!" Liv heezed, "No." She repeated for reassurance. "God no." And once more for emphasis.

"I see... It is just that, he spent all that gold for your dresses and we would always see you two alone together, getting very comfortable, I say." Nimeth teased.

"He is like my older brother! We have faced a lot of hardship and joys together but I love him as one would love family, nothing else. His parents took me in as their ward, and that is how we came to know each other." Liv explained, "Besides. I know one redhead he is particularly interested in..."

She side-eyed Rossien, and it was her turn to blush, turning the same shade of red as her hair.

The Elves around Rossien squealed, "Ha! I told you he has feelings for you!"

"It would not do well to lead him on, however." Rossien mumbled.

"Is it considered leading him on if you share feelings for him as well?" Nimeth said.

"It is a tiny crush."

"I said the same for Estel." Arwen commented.

"You also said the same for Glorfindel, my lady."

"Ouch. Should I tell Anorvain now and spare him the pain?" Liv tried for a joke, which Rossien smiled at only half-heartedly.

"He is a good man but something tells me his heart lies elsewhere. He has never been interested in marriage, Aurien had said as much when she was still alive. All he ever wanted was to be a Ranger, to have a simple life. I do not think I can give him that." Rossien said.

The mood shifted then, and Rossien squared her shoulders, sighing heavily, before beaming at them. "Come now, no more talk of men. The only thing they are good for is causing headaches." She said.

"At any rate, Liv, if you would be staying and need anything to occupy your time, you could join us for job rotations. Every Elf in Imladris contributes in some way to the community. Some are healers, some are blacksmiths, some are guards. You are a guest here but... If you ever need a distraction, I could teach you embroidery, and Elarinya is in charge of the kitchen. You could always drop by." Nimeth suggested.

"That warms my heart. Thank you, Nimeth." Liv beamed.

"It is no trouble at all. Any friend of Lady Arwen is a friend of ours." Nimeth replied.

The tea ended when the ellith had to go back to work. Liv walked Arwen to her room, thanking Arwen for honoring her with her company and inviting her to afternoon tea.

"It was no trouble at all. A new face in Imladris is always a welcome sight. Would you be joining us in the Hall of Fire tonight?" Arwen asked as they stood by the door to her chambers.

"Erestor told me I am missing out on things so I think I will go later."

"Oh, excellent! Come by my room later! Nimeth has not quite finished with your dresses, but I have a few that will fit you. There will be dancing later. And Liv." Arwen called as Liv nodded and turned to go.

"I do expect you to join in the dancing."

Liv giggled and bowed, "Of course, my lady, how can I refuse?"

Arwen beamed and closed the door. Liv prepared for her first night to enjoy in Imladris.

Chapter Text

Liv fidgetted in her dress, but not out of nervousness. She grew up attending social events, and she was excited, now that she had actually thought about going to one again. It would not be a mindless party full of alcohol and graceless grinding of bodies. She couldn't imagine Elves doing anything of the sort at all, and she was not at all in the mood for a party of that sort, after her conversation with Lord Elrond. No, she did not at all think she would be drinking heavily in that kind of atmosphere again even if madness befell all the Elves of Imladris and they threw anything remotely similar to a chaotic house party.

Arwen had let her borrow a beautiful dress, and while Arwen had said a feast in the Hall of Fire was a common thing in Imladris, she insisted Liv to sit and let Elarinya fix her hair.

"We rarely have new guests here apart from your people but, the Dúnedain being who they are, they never stay as long as you do. Let us have some fun." Elarinya said, brushing back Liv's hair.

"She just misses having elflings around to take care of." Cristiel said, who was the only one in their group dressed in armor. She would not be joining them in the Hall of Fire because she had to go on patrol that night.

"Why would I need elflings when you lot are a handful already?" Elarinya said.

"Look on the bright side, at least you know we would still rely on you for comfort and guidance." Rossien said.

Elarinya looked smug, "That is true. You would be making impulsive and reckless decisions without me." Elarinya finished securing the headband on Liv's hair and Arwen, Rossien, Elarinya, Nimeth, Cristiel and Liv walked to the Hall of Fire, with Nimeth saying goodbye at the door so she could do her duty. A few Elves greeted them and Arwen took Liv by the hand so they can find somewhere to sit.

Everyone was there. Lord Elrond sat at the head of the table, with Elladan and Elrohir on his right and Glorfindel on his left. Erestor sat beside Glorfindel, and Melpomaen sat next to Erestor. There was also a strange, small, curly-haired person sitting beside Melpomaen that Liv had never met before. Anorvain was sitting on Elrohir's other side, but when their group walked in, he scooted to make room for Arwen and Liv.

"Liv! I am so glad you can finally join us!" Anorvain said as greeting while Elarinya, Rossien and Nimeth found their own places to sit. It was like being in a dinner party surrounded by supermodels. Having so many Elves in one place was overwhelming for Liv's senses. Two or so weeks in Imladris and she was still knocked back by their beauty.

"I don't believe I've had the pleasure of meeting this young woman. Dúnedan, are you, miss?" The curly-haired person asked.

Liv tried to work an answer for that one. She wasn't Dúnedan and she didn't want to outright lie to a stranger but she couldn't tell exactly who she was. Anorvain, sensing her moment's hesitation leaned closer to her and pretended to scratch his nose, muttering under his breath "Say yes." which made Liv nod vigorously.

"This is Bilbo. An old friend of ours." Melpomaen said. "Bilbo, this is Liv. She came with Anorvain."

"Ah! You are the Bilbo Erestor told me about!" Liv said.

"Erestor has been talking about me, eh? I hope it was all good things he has to say about me."

"Ah, do not worry. Erestor has not slandered you yet."

Erestor paused mid-way from drinking from his goblet, "Yet?" He repeated.

“We shall see how long that takes. I mean this with all affection, Erestor, but sometimes you can be…” Bilbo tried to find the word,

“Full of himself?” Melpomaen said.

“Hey!” Erestor protested the same time Biblo said, “Yes, that.”

“I am not that full of myself!” Erestor huffed, making Liv snort.

“Not you, as well, young lady.” Erestor said.

“I just laughed. I said nothing!” Liv said.

“How goes your lessons with Erestor, Liv?” Lord Elrond asked.

“Erestor is a great tutor, Lord Elrond. And he took interest in my language. We have decided to meet daily for lessons.”

“Did you?” Lord Elrond looked pleased. “Good. It is good to see you being active. I also heard you have been training with Anorvain. Will that be a regular happening as well?”

“Yes, my lord. Anorvain is convinced I should get into ‘prime physical state’ so I could hold a bow.”

“Ha! You are having Anorvain teach you how to use a bow?” Elladan exclaimed.

“Watch your tongue, Elf. Or I would have to tell Liv about the ridiculous things you do with your bow. There is a reason Elrohir is the better archer.” Anorvain threatened.

“He is not!” Elladan said, indignantly.

“It’s okay, Elladan, you are still the better painter.” Liv said.

“You have not even seen my paintings.”

“Elladan, I pass by your paintings all the time going to my room.”

“I never told you I made those. Who told you I made those?”

“Oh.” Erestor coughed.

“Ahh…” Melpomaen suddenly became very interested in his goblet.

“You two with your big mouths.” Elladan shook his head.

A few Elves from the kitchen came in at that moment and served the food. Jugs of pulp fruit juices were served, as well as mead. There were various platters there as well, mostly chicken and deer but there was also vegetable dishes that looked delicious. Dinner was packed with laughter and conversation. The Elves of Imladris were a tight-knit group, so everyone knew one another and there was a lot of talk. This took Liv by surprise. For some reason, she saw Elves as majestic beings, old and powerful, who held themselves up as regal. But they were youthful and fun-loving, almost care-free. They loved teasing each other, they loved to gossip, and they loved to sing and dance, which she saw for herself as they went to the Hall of Fire.

Arwen wasn’t kidding about the dancing. There was a band of some sort, Elves who played harps and flutes and who invited everyone to dance to lively tunes. Arwen came up to Liv, then, pulling her to the middle of the dance floor despite the fact that Liv had no idea how to actually dance. It wasn’t like the modern world, where she perfected the art of flailing and making it look seductive in a club. The Elves danced, and everyone was involved. It was a cooperation of arms and feet and twirling that Liv wasn’t used to, but she enjoyed immensely once she got the hang of it.

Lord Elrond sat at a platform, clapping and laughing along until Elladan and Elrohir pulled him in as well. His sons were deaf to his protests.

Ada, you waste your robes if you cannot spin in them.” Elrohir laughed as he and Elladan both circled around their father. Arwen, who was holding Liv’s hands as they danced turned at that moment.

“Liv, get Erestor and Melpomaen!” She said, breathlessly and Anorvain, who was nearby, winked at Liv as he threw his arm over Erestor’s shoulder, who tried to squirm away.

“Mel!” Liv called, linking her arm with the taller Elf. He looked confused as she dragged him away, then laughed as he saw where they were heading.

“The twins always try to get their ada to dance. Lord Elrond is quite the dancer when he was younger, but he does not dance as often as before.” Melpomaen said. Lord Elrond was shaking his head, playfully scolding his children.

“The three of you are a menace!” He laughed. “This is not how an Elf lord should present himself.”

“Oh, come, ada. You love this song!” Arwen said, until everyone else had circled around them, moving their arms and legs in unison. The music rose, and the crowd cheered.

“Dance! Dance, dance, dance, dance!” Liv started the chant, and the rest of the Elves picked up. Arwen, Elladan and Elrohir formed a circle with their father and danced, graceful and nimble as water. And Lord Elrond, giving in, cracked a smile and followed with his children’s movements. A loud cheer erupted then, and the rest of the Elves formed their own circles.

The dance involved a group of four, and Liv found herself being pulled into a group with Anorvain, Erestor and Melpomaen. Elarinya, Rossien, Glorfindel and Bilbo were beside them and the moves were fairly simple, yet looked elegant and full of life. There were arms linking, bodies circling around each other, until the music rose and the small groups all came together to form a small circle that, as the dance progressed, formed larger, like a bud opening up at spring. And as the music ended, everyone in the room cheered.

Some Elves then sat to continue talking, and Liv sat beside Bilbo, the two strangers just observing their surroundings.

“Who would have thought a Hobbit like me would live the rest of his years in a place like this?” Bilbo said. He held a book in his hand, and there was a jar of ink beside him.

“If anyone ever told me I would be dancing with tall, beautiful Elves in a beautiful place such as Imladris, I would have laughed. I have never seen anything like it.” Liv said. Bilbo laughed.

“Imladris has changed. I wish you came here before…” He paused, “…before all that has happened. Sixty years ago, the leaves were greener and the Elves never stopped dancing and never stopped playing music. Now…”

Bilbo motioned to the platform reserved for the minstrels and the band. There a single Elf stood, and as he opened his mouth to sing, Liv was captured by the beauty of it. She did not need to understand the words, which he sang in Sindarin, because the music flowed through her, spoke to her in a way that brought emotions. It felt like a bittersweet farewell, of nostalgia, memories that will never return, people who will never return and it seemed to be a warning for the days to come. As though Lindir was saying through the way he melded the melodies that, though there were dark times ahead, the light will always be there, waiting in the end. And it took Liv’s breath away. Elves were beings she could never have imagined, and they made magic in a way. Maybe it was just Lindir, but the way he delivered his song brought comfort to her and there was appreciative applause as his song ended. Lindir bowed low before stepping off the stage. And throughout the rest of the night, the energy was more subdued. The band seemed to pick up from Lindir’s tone, and their music turned into something that felt almost like a goodbye.

“What did you mean, Bilbo? You said Imladris has changed.” Liv said as the music continued.

“The Elves are leaving. They sail for the Grey Havens, many of them, and they will not return. I came here to Imladris to rest before I, too, must pass, one way or another. I am an old Hobbit, Miss Liv. Old and tired. And I find solace in these Elves. They leave those they love behind, with the promise that one day, they will meet each other again, west of the sea. I write my book in the hopes that when we meet again, I can give it to Frodo. I needed to put it down into writing, everything I have done, everything that made me who I am. I have burdened him so, my poor boy…” Bilbo seemed almost as if he was saying it to himself, and he clutched his book tightly.

“Bilbo?” Liv asked, touching his shoulder to bring him back. He jumped slightly and blinked up at her, and then his face lit up into a teary smile. “Do not mind me, my dear.”

“I know what it’s like… Leaving those you love behind.” Liv said, in hopes of comforting him, “I’ve lost so many, and I’ve left behind so many that I will never see again.”

“Goodbye is harder when you know it is permanent.” Bilbo said.

“Goodbye is harder when it’s left unspoken on your lips and you cannot say it to those you want to say them to the most.” Liv whispered.

“Such sadness for such a young heart.” Bilbo said, “Do not let it consume you. Let it be a lesson for you to cherish the people you have now.”

Liv gave him a small smile. He tapped her hand gently and stood up, stretching a bit. “Blast it, my back hurts. I shall retire to my room now. You have a good night, young lady.” He said.

“You, too, Bilbo.” She said.

After Lindir’s song, the mood had shifted. The Hall of Fire had become quieter, and though Elves still sat in groups, their voices were softer, their laughter pierced with longing. Anorvain and Rossien were alone, sat beside each other. Elarinya and Arwen sat near Lord Elrond, Elladan and Elrohir in another part of the Hall. The Hall itself was large, with two grand, white pillars at the farthest wall, where a hearth burned. A group of Elves were sitting near that hearth, with Lindir telling them a story. Liv had become lost in her own thoughts when someone sat next to her.

“It is rare to see you without either the twins, Anorvain, or Lady Arwen by your side nowadays.” Liv tried not to gape at Glorfindel. She was a tad bit intimidated with him, as they had never spoken alone together. And it didn’t help that he truly was one of the most beautiful Elves she had seen, aside from Arwen. His golden hair made him stand out from the rest of the ellon of Imladris, and the way he always held himself with dignity exuded authority and confidence.

“I just needed to rest.” Liv shrugged.

“How are you holding up? With everything that is going on?”

Liv shrugged again, “As well as I can. Everyone has been very kind and welcoming.”

“It is good to see you settling in. You have made friends quickly and for that I am glad.”

“Was it hard for you?” Her eyes met his, “When you…came back?”

Something in his gaze made it clear that he knew what she meant. “I will not lie, it was easier for me to settle in. Those I knew from my past life were still there, I could speak their language. All I needed was a…history lesson, I would say, of all that had passed before I returned. But it was, in other ways, also hard. I died knowing many of those I had come to love had passed, and Gondolin had fallen. It was hard to adjust to the knowledge that Gondolin was no more. That, despite my return, I would never be able to bring those I lost back.”

“You did your best, though.”

“Aye, I did. And I see you doing your best. I understand, Liv. I understand that it takes time. But take it from me. You will find friends that you will love and will love you. And you will see why your second life, the gift that the Father of All himself has given you, is worth living to its fullest. For the memory of those you left behind.”

She could practically hug him then, but it would feel too much like hugging the President of the United States so she settled with a smile and saying, “Thank you.”

And when Glorfindel left to join Erestor, and Anorvain walked up to her asking if she was tired, Liv stood up from that bench and promised herself she would start looking at the brighter side. She would live her life to the fullest, starting tomorrow.

“Hey, Anorvain.” She said as he walked her to her room. They stopped right in front of the door, “You think you can teach me how to use a sword? Caladir once said he wanted to teach me but we never got around to it.”

This took Anorvain by surprise, “Are you sure? Swords are dangerous. And pointy.”

She laughed, “Yes, you oaf, I’m sure. Tomorrow.”

“Tomorrow?!” He gasped, scratching the back of his head, “What brought this on?”

“I just think it’s a good skill to invest my time in.”

“It will not be pleasant. It will hurt, I tell you now.”

“I can deal with a few scratches!” She said, indignantly.

Anorvain chuckled, ruffling her hair. Liv batted his hand away, “Okay, little sister, if you are sure. Don’t say I did not warn you.”

And with that, he turned to go to his own room and Liv closed the door of hers, determined that when she got out the next day, she would be a shell of herself no longer.

Chapter Text

"Guard!"

"Ow! Shit, Anorvain!"

“Oh, crap. I said guard, Liv. Why did you turn around?”

“I thought you were yelling that there was a guard behind me. Shit!”

“Erestor will not be happy about the new addition to your vocabulary, Liv.”

“I’m bleeding! Save your sermon.”

Anorvain sighed and dropped his sword. The moment his sword touched the ground, however, Liv’s slack hold on her own sword tightened and she kicked Anorvain in the shin. He yelped and Liv pushed him to the ground. Surprised, Anorvain fell, although his instincts kicked in immediately and he managed to shift his weight enough that he braced his hand behind him to soften the fall. Before he could stand again, however, the tip of Liv’s sword was at his face.

“Who taught you such dishonorable fighting tactics?” Anorvain frowned.

“I taught myself. Besides, I did not lie. I am bleeding, see? Just not too much.” True enough, on the back of the hand holding the sword, a fresh cut had a few trickles of blood, but Liv didn’t seem to mind. There was a victorious smirk on her face.

“Can I be the gentleman and bandage it up now or would you rather get an infection?” Anorvain asked.

“Say I won first.”

“Give me your hand, you impudent girl.”

Liv straightened up and dropped her own sword on the ground. Anorvain straightened up and checked the damage.

“It is a good thing the sword was blunt and that I did not put much force into the attack.” Anorvain said as he gently held Liv’s hand in his, inspecting the wound. Thankfully, the wound was shallow and that his quick reflexes held him back from doing major damage. “I tried to stop the moment you turned but I had already swung. You are lucky I did not cut your hand off.”

“Wait, that can happen? Even with a blunt weapon?”

“You’d be surprised how effective at killing blunt weapons are, if you have the skill. Does it hurt terribly?”

“No.” Liv lied. It stung like a bitch but she wasn’t about to admit that. “I can still hold a sword.” That last bit was true. She wasn’t wounded enough not to be able to hold a weapon.

“Rossien is going to kill me. And if not her, Elladan and Elrohir. And if not them, Arwen.” Anorvain said as he took a bandage and deftly wrapped it around her hand, securing it by forming a knot to Liv’s wrist.

Liv opened and closed her hand to test if the bandage was tight enough, “Why would they? I was the one who suggested weapons training.”

“You know how protective Elladan and Elrohir are with you… And this is your first injury in two weeks.” Anorvain said, collecting their blunted weapons.

“They are not! And be glad that two weeks had passed before I had a scratch.” Liv said, following Anorvain as he went back to the weapons rack.

Anorvain stayed true to his words. He begun to teach Liv how to handle a sword, and for two weeks they became regulars on the training grounds. Liv was not yet skilled enough to spar, and they still moved slowly so Liv could be more comfortable holding a sword. Most of their friends would stop by to watch them train. Cristiel and Glorfindel, especially, were most eager to see Liv’s progress. They had started training new recruits, and the training grounds would usually be filled with trainees that would be under Glorfindel’s command. The physical exercises that Anorvain had been making Liv do helped immensely with her sword training. She was able to carry the practice swords more easily compared to when Caladír first made her hold a sword.

At first, they used wooden swords so that Liv would know different types of offensive and defensive moves, and then they moved to blunted swords so Liv could execute those moves. The process was slow, and often, Liv would find herself aching and exhausted with a new bruise after each training session. It was at first embarrassing for Liv to be surrounded by sprightly, graceful Elves who moved fluidly and beautifully, almost as if they were dancing but Glorfindel assured her that Anorvain was teaching her the necessities.

“You do not train to look graceful, that is just what Elves are. You train to protect yourself. You do not have to look elegant, and no one will care if you look elegant or not, so long as you keep yourself alive.” Glorfindel said. Liv thought it was easy for him to say that because after thousands of years of being a master swordsman, Glorfindel made sword-fighting look easy. It was a marvel to watch him on the training grounds. He moved quickly, and each move he made flowed with the next, and to Liv, it did look like an enthralling, dangerous dance. Liv found herself not at all wondering why a younger Arwen had a crush on the golden-haired Elf-lord. Aside from his beauty, there was a certain allure to watching him train younger Elves.

Today, however, it was just Anorvain and Liv in the training grounds. There was a certain quiet on Imladris that day. It was always quiet in Imladris, that was what Liv enjoyed the most about it. But there was a tension in the air that she had never felt before. She had been staying there for a month but had only felt the air shift that day. Everyone was more subdued. Cristiel and the rest of her squad were still out on patrol—In fact, many warriors were. Liv had not seen the twins at all and Arwen was not at breakfast in the Dining Hall. Erestor was stuck writing letters to merchants who traded with Imladris, Elarinya was with Arwen, Nimeth was busy with work and Melpomaen was all over the place, dealing with cleaning bed chambers. One thing Liv knew: Everyone was keeping themselves busy.

“It’s so quiet today.” Liv said. Anorvain looked around, but his expression darkened.

“What is it?” She asked, now concerned. Even Anorvain, the ball of sunshine, was quiet. Something was not right in Imladris.

“It’s… nothing for you to worry about, Liv.”

Liv pulled out the doe eyes, and she looked imploringly at Anorvain until he sighed and gave in.

“It’s Elladan and Elrohir.”

“I was wondering where they were. They were not at breakfast. Is something wrong? Are they hurt?”

Anorvain released a mirthless laugh through his nose. “We would be lucky if they got hurt. Perhaps if they did…”

He stopped, glancing at Liv from the side.

What? Now I’m concerned.”

“Elladan and Elrohir have…a habit.”

“A habit?” Liv repeated.

“It would be cruel to call it an obsession.”

Liv frowned. She did not expect this bit of news.

Anorvain sighed, “Look, I am not the person to ask this, Liv. Something happened in the past, and that something led Elladan and Elrohir to have an extreme hatred for orcs.”

“That is no surprise. I hate orcs and I have not even actually seen them.” There was spite in her voice as she said it. Orcs took Caladír and Ethuilien from them, after all.

“Oh, believe me.” Anorvain shook his head, “There are few left in this world that hate orcs as much as the twins. The day they first found you was one of their good days. They would use any excuse and do all sorts of things so they can be sent out into the wilds to hunt.”

“And is today a bad day?” She asked, her voice softening.

“Unfortunately. Grief affects everyone differently. I deal with it by running from it, the twins, however… They lash out. They are angry, bitter, vengeful in their grief.”

Cold trickled up Liv’s spine, despite it being a warm day. Truly, it was beautiful but the mood in Imladris dampened the beauty, and now she understood why. She only knew the twins to be caring, mischievous and playful. The twins Anorvain was describing were strangers to her. What horrible thing could have happened that would affect them so negatively and so deeply?

“Lord Elrond and Glorfindel have been trying to prevent them from going out on their…excursions alone when they seek revenge. But sometimes, there just is no stopping them, and today they sneaked out. Everyone knows what they are doing. Glorfindel sent out patrols to look for them before they hurt themselves because they will not stop until they are satisfied, and it is hard to satisfy their vengeance.”

"Anorvain, we need to find them."

"Are you mad? It is too dangerous, Liv. They go into the woods or into caves and kill a lot of orcs. You will not last two seconds in a fight like that and I do not say that as a challenge." Anorvain added as Liv bristled, ready to protest.

"I don't like this, not being able to help them. They have saved my life and I do not like the idea of them risking theirs."

"Neither do Arwen and Lord Elrond. Elladan and Elrohir are both too thick to see what it does to their father and sister when they are being reckless." Anorvain said, "Or maybe they do and they just do not care. I do not know which is worse."

They headed back for lunch when they heard the chime of bells that announced that food was ready in the Dining Hall. Arwen still has not come out of her room, although Elarinya and Rossien were there. Liv was still in her training outfit.

"What happened?" Rossien said, her eyes narrowing at Anorvain as she saw the bandage on Liv's right hand.

"Nothing." Liv and Anorvain both replied. Rossien's mouth formed into a thin line and she stared at Anorvain, who raised his hand in surrender.

"Truly, Rossien, I am fine." Liv said, almost laughing. Poor Anorvain kept getting bullied by strong-willed women around him. It was no fair to him at all. "Is Elarinya alright?"

Liv found the elleth staring forward with unfocused eyes, absent-mindedly playing with the food on her plate. She seemed to be deep in thought.

"No, but it will pass." Trust Rossien to always be blunt. Liv sat down on the bench, sitting across Elarinya. The elleth blinked at her and quickly rearranged her features into an unconvincing smile. She looked tired.

"Had your first injury, I see." She said. Liv chose not to prod Elarinya with questions. If she did not want to talk about it, the least Liv could do was to provide a distraction so Elarinya could feel better.

"It is barely a scratch." Liv said.

"Anorvain, if I find this cut making a scar on her hand, I will have your head." Rossien threatened.

"For the last time, she chose to be trained in swords. It is no fault of mine if she gets injured."

"You know, bows would not injure you so." Elarinya suggested.

"Glorfindel will never stand for me teaching Liv to use a bow. It was hard enough keeping him away from her sword-training."

"Glorfindel wanted to train me? I did not know that. All he's been doing is dropping hints and lecturing me about 'respecting te sword'." Liv said.

"He has a tendency to be rather intense with his training." Elarinya said.

"Cristiel used to cry after archery lessons. I had to fill her jar of poultice for the paim almost every week." Rossien said. "But do not tell her I said that. She will have my ears."

"Trust me, you do not want Glorfindel as your trainer. No one would threaten him not to overwork you save Lord Elrond, and even so, he would push you to your limits."

"He is intense." Elarinya said.

"You said that already." Liv said.

"Yes, but it is vital you know that. An Elf may be able to take it, but I do not think a human will, or at least one who is not Dúnedain."

There was a shout from outside that made Liv jump. Several Elves turned in the direction of the door, then turned back to their food, muttering about how they did not want to face the wrath of those outside. They looked torn between being relieved and being scared.

"For the last time, Glorfindel, do not interrupt!"

"Interrupt? You are bleeding at this moment and you are angry that I interrupted?"

"We can--"

"I swear, elfling, if your next words to me are 'handle ourselves', I will tie you upside down on a tree right now."

"Stop calling us elflings!"

"Then stop acting like elflings! Do you have any idea how worried your father has been? Arwen is not eating for fear of your safety! Stop doing this to them, Elladan. This has gone on for too long!" Elarinya, Rossien and Anorvain all stood to go to the door. Liv followed behind them. They slipped out quietly, though Liv doubted they would have been noticed even if they had barrelled out the door banging plates together. The three ellyn outside were too occupied shouting at each other.

Liv froze at the sight of the twins. It terrified her to see them like this. Elladan's beautiful face was contorted in a look of rage and his eyes were dark. Most of his tunic was stained with something dark and thick, but there was a dark red stain at his side. Elrohir was right beside him, and he too looked equally furious. His hand still clutched his bow tightly, and those gentle hands were stained with dirt and blood.

Liv did not know who these Elves were. These were not the Elladan and Elrohir she knew.

Glorfindel practically shone in his arnor of silver. There was barely any dirt on him. The only sign that he had been in a melee battle were the thick, black stains at the bottom of his cloak.

"Let me see." Elarinya's voice was strong, strict. The twins both turned to the direction of where Elarinya, Rossien, Anorvain and Liv all stood. Liv shrunk, hiding half of herself behind Anorvain. The looks on Elladan and Elrohir's faces were such a stark contrast to how she was used to seeing them. Their rage could not be contained, though they simmered down almost immediately when they realized who spoke.

"It is nothing." Elladan said, his voice still edged with steel but at least he was no longer shouting.

"Elladan..." Elarinya's tone brooked no argument. Elladan sighed in defeat and turned slightly to show the gash at his side.

"If you want to get yourselves killed, go ahead and impale yourselves upon your swords and save your father and sister the trouble of worrying for hours. I am sure Celebrian would love to hear the news of how her sons died in such a stupid manner, though it would still be more intelligent than what you had just done." Elarinya snapped, approaching Elladan to inspect his wound. She purposely dug her finger into his side, making him yelp in pain.

"Oh, did that hurt?" She pretended to look stunned.

"Hand over your weapons."

"What?!" Elladan gasped.

"No!" Elrohir exclaimed.

"Now."

The anger burned out from Elladan and Elrohir's eyes. Elrohir held his bow out. He did not move from his position, instead waiting for someone else to take it. Glorfindel stepped forward and took it from him, his face softening to something like concern. Elrohir glared at the wall next to Glorfindel's shoulder. Elladan took longer with unbuckling the straps holding the sheath of his sword to his waist. It seemed his wound was painful enough to make his movements slower, but he was too stubborn to show it. Glorfindel held his hand out for the sheath, and Elladan gave it to him.

"To the House of Healing. I will tell your father about this." Elarinya said, walking past them and turning to the direction of Lord Elrond's study. Both of the twins froze when they saw Liv standing behind Anorvain.

"Come, Lord Elladan. Let us get that taken care of before an infection sets." Rossien said, stepping forward to lead Elladan to another hallway. He hesitated at the look on Liv's face, but turned to follow Rossien without another word, Glorfindel coming up behind them.

It was only Anorvain, Liv and Elrohir then.

"Are you done now?" Anorvain asked, coldly.

Elrohir sighed, then ran a hand down his face. His body relaxed and he slumped against the wall, his back leaning on it, where he slid down to sit on the floor.

"I'm guessing that's a yes." Anorvain said, taking a step closer to Elrohir, who sat with one leg stretched forward and the other positioned so that he could rest his elbow on his knee.

"What happened?" Anorvain asked.

Elrohir sighed again, "You know what happened."

"I meant what made you run off."

"We did not run off." Elrohir said, "We took horses."

"Elrohir, you know what this does to your father."

"Anorvain, gwador, I really do not want to listen to your lecture right now. We have already heard it from Glorfindel on the way back to Imladris and we have heard the extension of it from Melpomaen when he greeted us at the gate." Elrohir's voice was uncharacteristically hostile, "Save it."

"If that is how you wish to be." Anorvain muttered, retreating. He backed away and turned back to the Dining Hall. Liv hesitated as she and Elrohir shared glances for a brief moment. Liv opened her mouth to say something, thought better of it, and simply followed Anorvain back inside, though her appetite has soured.

Anorvain assured her that their anger would pass, but it disturbed Liv to find them in such a state. Once again, she found herself wondering what horrible thing might have happened that would affect the twins so much that they would put their own lives on the line and fight with people she knew they respected. It must have been a terrible ordeal, and she knew it had something to do with their mother, after Elarinya brought up her name: Celebrian.

She was on her way to her room after eating to change when she noticed a figure outside the training grounds beneath the trees. She immediately recognized it as Elrohir. Figuring that her clothes could wait, she stepped outside towards him.

His hand was resting on the trunk of the tree and he was speaking in Sindarin.

You are angry, Elrondion?

"Not angry."

Not anymore.

Elrohir's lip quirked upwards.

Your sister asked where you were. So did the elleth in the Noldo's command.

"And what did you tell them?"

I thought you said not to tell them anything.

"Thank you, mellon."

You realize there has been a girl behind you this whole time?

Elrohir turned as the tree's leaves rustled, almost as if it was laughing. Liv was standing with her arms crossed, watching him communicate with the tree. He did know. He heard her footfalls on the ground, but he was not eager to look at her. The last time she saw him, her eyes were filled with fear.

"Talking to the trees?" She asked.

"It gives me comfort. Conversation with the trees can be entertaining, even."

"I thought you said they didn't have the same speech as us."

"They do not. It is hard to describe. I run my hands through their barks, feel the ridges beneath my fingertips and we just seem to have an understanding. It is like listening to music and understanding the message being conveyed though there are no words." Elrohir said.

"Are you really so upset that you would rather talk to a tree than to your friends?"

The tree's leaves rustled once more, What did she mean by that? Am I not your friend?

Elrohir smiled again, "You may have offended the tree."

"Sorry, tree."

Elrohir took his hand away from the tree and tried to smile at Liv. She had seen him smile at her enough times to know it was forced.

"You want to talk about it?" She asked. His face fell.

"I'm sorry you had to see us like that, Liv." He said. She came closer and held her hand out. Like he used to always hold his hand out for her so he could show support, she did the same now. He took her hand and tugged her closer.

"What happened?" She asked.

Elrohir shrugged. "Elladan had a nightmare. He wanted to hunt to forget it and I was happy to oblige."

"Elrohir, everyone was worried."

"I know that."

"Was it worth it?"

Elrohir's hold on her hand tightened. "It was."

"You cannot believe that." She said, softly.

"Oh, but I do."

"Elrohir..." His hand jerked away at the tone in her voice.

"It is done, Liv." He winced as she backed away.

"I'm sorry. Goheno nín. Damn it." Elrohir hissed under his breath. He disliked seeing her be fearful of him. She had never been afraid of him, not since they found her terrified in the woods. It hurt to see it in her eyes. There was a tense silence between them. Liv decided to change the subject.

"Help me climb a tree."

Ha! I would love to see her try. The tree's branches seemed to lift out of reach.

Elrohir sighed, "I did say I would get you to climb a tree. It is a good thing you are still in leggings then."

He touched the tree again, "Mellon, I will need your help. Please do not let the pretty girl fall." He said in Sindarin.

The tree seemed to consider it, but slowly, its branches lowered, She will not fall, Elrondion.

Elrohir motioned for Liv to come forward, and he instructed her on how to climb, guiding her gently and helping her up by lifting her up when needed. Liv scrambled up slowly, but she managed to hold on to the branches until it was thick enough for her to sit on. Elrohir sat next to her, where they were settled on a branch that overlooked the training grounds.

"This is nice." Liv said, swinging her legs. She was not scared of heights. She used to live in a Penthouse suite. She knew what being high above ground was like. "I can see why you'd want to escape here. The leaves provide cover and it's quite peaceful."

"I cannot face ada or Arwen. Not yet." Elrohir said.

"Then maybe you should not have run off--oh, wait. Sorry. Ride off." Liv said, drily.

"Not you as well." He sounded tired.

"I'm worried, Elrohir. I have never seen you and Elladan like that before. I was--" She bit her bottom lip, looking down. She did not want to make it worse.

"What's wrong, Liv?" He prodded.

"I was scared. Of you. For you. I kept thinking about what could possibly have driven the two of you to such...hatred."

Elrohir took his time answering, and he scooted closer to her, his eyes focused on the sparring area of the grounds. "You've seen Elladan's paintings in the hallway, I assume?"

Liv nodded.

"Some of the paintings were of our mother. You have heard of her?"

"I know she sailed off to Valinor."

"She did." Elrohir had never looked so heartbroken.

"She was captured by orcs on the way to Lothlórien. They tortured her, did...terrible things to her. Unspeakable things. Broken bones, blood everywhere... My father healed her wounds but she never healed from the trauma." Elrohir's voice was quiet but there was hatred beneath it, "Elarinya was with her on the journey. Another elleth died when they were captured--Elarinya's sister. From what naneth could tell us, she had it worse. They broke her, and she died because of what those monsters did to her. During the ambush, naneth made Elarinya ride back to ask for help. Elarinya was the only one who had escaped to tell us what happened. We found naneth in a cave, barely hanging on to life. We almost lost her to those monsters."

Liv's heart ached for them. So that was the story of Lady Celebrian's departure. This explained the twins' hatred and the deep sadness in Elarinya's eyes. God, she couldn't imagine what that must have been like, for any of them, Lady Celebrian, especially. She did not want to think about what the orcs could have done to her, it was too much to imagine.

"Elladan and I couldn't... couldn't live with ourselves for taking too long. And we couldn't sit still while there were more of those monsters out there. We will stop hunting when they are all gone from the world. We want them dead." Elrohir hissed.

Liv couldn't bear to see him like this, and he looked so young. At that moment, though she knew it had been thousands of years since he first came to the world, he seemed to her as just a young elf missing his mother, angry and grieving. There were tears he fought hard to hold back. Liv moved slowly, to let him push her away if he wanted, and she wrapped her arms around his shoulders. Elrohir did not push her away, though. Instead, he leaned on her shoulder, letting her hold him, wrapping his arms around her waist. His hold was tight, to keep himself from collapsing.

The twins have tried to be the support their family needed. Their father was devastated for years, shutting himself in his study and burying himself in his work. Arwen was always quiet and was barely talking to anyone. Imladris mourned for Lady Celebrian. And Elladan and Elrohir were left to pick up the broken pieces of what was once their happy family.

The twins have only ever had each other to comfort themselves in their grief. To the rest of Imladris, they had to appear strong, and their grief took a different form. They sought out their mother's attackers, hunted them down and killed them like the vermin they were. But even so, Elrohir had to hold Elladan up. Elladan was more affected by what happened, after all. He suffered nightmares because it was he who found their mother first, and he couldn't handle seeing her in the state she was in--wounded and terrified and dirty, covered in her own blood and her dress in tatters. So, while the twins had to be strong in front of Imaldris, it was Elrohir who had to be strong for his brother.

But then, there was no one left to support him. And sometimes, it became too much.

He pulled away when he managed to catch his breath, and Liv held on to whisper, "I am here for you, Elrohir." before she let him go.

"Thank you." He said, running a hand down his face.

"It's hard having to put up a facade all the time. It's tiring."

"Then talk to your family. You do not have to lash out like this. People will understand that you are not invincible." Liv said.

Elrohir nodded, "I know. Elladan and I have just gotten used to not opening up to others."

"Well," Liv put a comforting hand on his cheek, wiping the tear that had rolled down, "now would be a good time to start. Look back on the good memories instead of dwelling on the bad. Tell me about your mother. Tell me your favorite thing about her, what she is like, who her favorite child was." Elrohir chuckled at that last part.

"Naneth loved Arwen the most. She'd deny it, but Arwen would not have gotten away with so much as a child if naneth did not let her. Elladan and I would always be punished if we were caught."

"If?" Liv repeated.

"You'd be surprised how ingenious two elflings determined to get out of trouble can get."

"Did it include jumping out the window to sneak out?"

Elrohir blinked at her, "Yes, in fact. We have perfected the art of window jumping."

"Weakness. I snuck out right through the front doors." Liv boasted.

"Oh, did you? But have you stolen Glorfindel's horse for a dare?"

"I stole my father's Ferrari and crashed it into a pole."

"A what?" He blinked in confusion.

"Nothing." Liv said, breezily. "What was that about Glorfindel's horse?"

Elrohir chuckled, "Elladan dared me to see if either of us can ride Asfaloth. Glorfindel's horse does not allow anyone but Glorfindel to ride him. As expected, Asfaloth was indignant and almost kicked me in the face. And then chased us out of the stables." Elrohir chuckled.

"Glorfindel was not happy, I take it?" Liv said, glad to see him smile and return to the Elrohir she knew.

"On the contrary, he was quite entertained. Stood there laughing and encouraging Asfaloth to gallop faster. The horse chased us until we climbed a tree and we could not come down for hours."

"What if you needed to pee?"

"I told you, ingenuity."

"Ugh," Liv made a face, "forget I even asked." Elrohir laughed at the face she made.

"Who was to blame for you two always getting into trouble?" Liv asked.

"Believe it or not, I was. Elladan would rather stay in his room and draw or paint when we were younger. I was the one who was easily bored."

Liv was surprised. She'd thought Elrohir was the more sensible of the two. Elladan seemed moody to her whereas Elrohir was always poised. There were still so many things she had to learn about the twins.

"Elladan took the blame, though. He was the older twin so naneth would scold him. I pretended to be the innocent younger brother simply following Elladan's example." He grinned, "But she fawned over Elladan. She encouraged his artistry and hung his paintings on the hallways for guests to admire. And she gave me books to read that started my love for language and history. She would read books of poetry to me when we were younger."

"She sounds wonderful." Liv said. Her mother had never been like that. Liv grew up in the care of nannies because her mother was always off working.

"She loved to dance, most of all. And sing." Elrohir said with a small sigh, his eyes fixed on the horizon as he recalled the memories of their mother. "Arwen got her talent for singing from our naneth."

"I have yet to hear Arwen sing."

"You would love it. Her voice is calming. Just like naneth's."

Elrohir looked down. He was hesitating, as if he wanted to say something. Liv placed a hand on top of his to tell him it was okay.

"You miss her. I understand." She said, softly.

"I know I will see her again in the Blessed Realm... But I do miss her terribly." Elrohir said. "And I know I would find her happier there. But she once said... Before she left, naneth said we would never be complete again. I do not know what she meant by that and it frightens me. She said we would each find our happiness, but our family will never be complete in the Blessed Realm. And I blame those damned orcs for it."

"Elrohir, you still have your family now. You should not push them away when you still have a chance to be with them." Liv said.

Elrohir turned to her, then. "I am being selfish."

"No, you are not."

"You are here without a family and yet I am here, pushing mine away."

"I've been pushing my parents away long before I got here. My relationship with them is not the same as you with Lord Elrond and Arwen." Liv tried to cover up the sudden pang she felt, but he saw through it.

"Still, I should have realized. I'm sorry. Elladan and I must look like complete fools."

"After the red underwear incident, I kind of figured both of you really are just fools." She said, trying to lighten the mood. Elrohir has been through enough negativity. She did not want him to keep blaming himself. He took so much responsibility on his shoulders already.

A small smile appeared on his lips, "Is that so?"

"Quite so."

"I guess I could just leave you here and you can figure out how to come down by yourself."

Liv glared at him, "You would not dare."

"Would I not?" He had already slipped off and landed on a lower branch.

"Elrohir!" She snarled, threateningly.

She heard the sound of his laughter from a lower branch.

"If I fall and die, I'll come back as a ghost and haunt you." Liv warned, making her way down slowly. Okay, this was harder when no one was helping her.

"Elrohir, for fuck's sake! Oh my God." Liv reverted to muttering in English as her feet pedalled mid air, trying to find a branch to hang on to while her arms held on for dear life. She looked at the bark of the tree, "Listen. Dude. I really don't want to die today so if you could, like, not make me fall, that would be great. I need some cooperation here." She said, still in English.

"Aha! You are annoyed again!" Elrohir called, noting her use of her mother tongue.

"Make a branch drop on his head, come on. Please." Liv said, straddling a lower branch as she hugged the tree. The branch groaned threateningly between her legs and she held tighter to the tree trunk.

"Okay, no branch dropping then, sheesh! Fucking weed." She muttered.

The branch tipped downwards and Liv lost her grip on the tree. She shrieked as she fell back and closed her eyes, ready to accept broken bones and death.

Instead, Elrohir caught her neatly. And she clung to his neck as she panted, grateful to still be breathing.

"The tree said you threatened it." Elrohir sounded amused.

"The tree is a liar, I did no such thing!" Liv snapped, still clinging to him to steady her heart rate. She glared up at the tree, whose leaves rustled as if a strong wind had blown through it.

"The tree said you called it a weed."

"Weed." Liv snarled at the tree.

"Now, now, mellon! You almost killed her. Of course she is upset." Elrohir laughed as the tree rustled in anger.

"No more tree climbing today." Elrohir looked down, suddenly aware Liv was still in his arms. He gently put her down and her feet touched solid ground once again. He was blushing as he did so. Liv didn't seem to mind. She was too busy glaring hard at the offending tree.

When she turned back to face him, though, her expression softened.

"Are you feeling better now?" She asked. Elrohir nodded, "Much better."

"Good. I was actually on my way back to my room to change into a dress when I saw you. And now that there are leaves all over me, I think it's best I do just that." She said.

Elrohir gave a small bow, "Of course, my lady. I'll walk you to your chambers, if I may." He offered his elbow, and her hand slipped around to loop through his arm.

"If you have time, could we visit Elladan later? I expect Rossien would be done with her ministrations with him, then." He asked, as they made their way to her room.

Liv smiled. "Sure." She said.

Elrohir led her to her room, and waited outside as she bathed and changed, thankful that Liv was willing to talk to him and put up with his dampened mood.

And he found himself being thankful for finding her in the woods all those months ago.

Chapter Text

Arwen gazed out the window the moment she heard the commotion. The voices cut through the air like the swing of a sharp sword. There was a soft knock on her door.

"Enter." She said, softly. She turned as the door opened, and Cristiel bowed. The younger elleth wore her hair dark back in a thick braid, and the blood on her hands indicated she had recently been in battle. Arwen dreaded to think how her patrol found Elladan and Elrohir.

"We managed to retrieve the twins, hiril nín."

Arwen released a sigh of relief.

"They did not get hurt?" Arwen asked.

"Lord Elladan is wounded," Cristiel said, making Arwen look up with concern, "but it seemed more of an annoyance than a pain to him."

Arwen shook her head. Typical of Elladan. "Thank you, Cristiel. I am glad you came to me with this."

She turned around, but Cristiel stood there, not yet sure if she should go. She noticed the untouched plate of food by the table.

"Arwen," Cristiel said, gently, "when was your last meal?"

Arwen shrugged and continued to look out the window. It pained Cristiel to see Arwen so quiet. She knew Arwen to be energetic and adventurous. This was not at all anything like her usual demeanor.

"Saes, hiril nin, you must eat."

Ignoring Cristiel's plea, Arwen asked, "Where are my brothers?"

"They went with Lord Glorfindel. They were headed towards the House of Healing."

"Ah, so the raised voices I heard was theirs?"

"Yes, hiril nín. They have been arguing with Lord Glorfindel this entire time."

“And my father?” Arwen asked, worry painted on her fair face.

Cristiel hesitated. “Angry, as would be expected.” The younger elleth replied, “Lord Erestor is trying to calm him down in his study right now. Melpomaen thought it was best I call for you. For Lord Elrond’s sake.” Cristiel looked down. It pained both women that Lord Elrond would be in such distress. It took the greatest toll on him, after all, that his sons would be blinded by hatred and vengeance so.

“Thank you, Cristiel. I will go to ada’s chambers now.”

“And then you will eat?” Cristiel dared to be a bit defiant, and a small smile appeared on Arwen’s face.

“Not until after I see my brothers, mellon.” Arwen said.

“Good. Moping does not suit you.” Cristiel returned Arwen’s smile and bowed as Arwen motioned for her to lead the way.

Liv and Elrohir walked in to Elladan moaning in pain with Rossien rolling her eyes beside him.

"Not one word of complaint from you, penneth." Elarinya snapped. She was sitting on a chair beside Elladan's bed, while Glorfindel stood by the wall with his arms crossed.

"I'm not complaining, though, am I?" Elladan said.

It appeared Elladan had also calmed down, though he was grumpier than he usually was.

"Where have you been? The ellith are torturing me!" He whined as Elrohir walked in.

"I needed air. I am sorry you had to wait so long. You were unconscious when I first came here." Elrohir said.

"You can blame Rossien for that. She sedated me."

"I am sorry but it was necessary. f you had not fidgetted so much, I would not have resorted to making you drink milk of the poppy." Rossien said.

“Is that any way to speak to your lord?” Elladan harrumphed, though he seemed to be teasing more than anything.

“I only speak the truth, hir nín." Rossien put as much sarcasm into the last two syllables as she could. It was quite impressive. Elladan made a face at her as she turned her back.

“Charming as ever, Elladan.” Anorvain said, shaking his head. He was sitting on an empty bed near Elladan’s.

“I’m fine! I don’t need to be confined here any longer!”

“You were moaning two seconds ago.” Rossien said as she checked the vials on the table beside Elladan’s bed. "This is for the pain if it ever comes later." She said, holding the bottle up for Elladan to see.

“You have about five minutes left before Lord Elrond arrives here with Arwen, and then you’ll be given something to moan about.” Elarinya muttered. She got up from the chair she was sitting on to walk to the door. Elrohir and Liv made way for her, and Liv tried to smile reassuringly at Elarinya as she passed. When she left, Liv took her place on the seat beside Elladan’s bed.

“Liv.” Elladan said in greeting.

“Idiot elf.” Liv muttered back.

“The disrespect!” Elladan huffed. “I am injured! Your bedside manners are atrocious!”

“I thought you said you were fine.” Liv raised an eyebrow.

“And you deserve it. Have you ever heard Liv when she is giving a scolding? You would think mother and Aurien were in one person.” Anorvain chuckled.

“I already had a scolding from the Noldo.” Elladan muttered, waving at Glorfindel’s general direction.

“How long did they say you are to stay here?” Elrohir asked.

Elladan sighed, deeply, “Overnight. Just until the antidote to the poison wears off and I am no longer numb.”

“You’re acting as if you’ll be spending half a century here. You’re lucky you only have to stay overnight.” Liv said, “I saw that wound. I’d have thought a seasoned warrior would have done better to defend against it."

“If Cristiel had not shouted for Glorfindel, I would not have been distracted.”

“Don’t besmirch my warriors to my face, Elrondion.” Glorfindel snapped.

“Are you still mad?” Elrohir tried to be teasing. The look on Glorfindel’s face made him step back.

“I am glad your safety is of so little importance to the two of you, but believe it or not, you do have a family here that would be devastated should any harm come to you because of your own stupidity.” Glorfindel said. He sounded more tired than angry at that point.

“Yeah, well…” Elladan laid back on the bed and refused to say anything else. Glorfindel shook his head and left the room as well, Rossien following behind him.

With only Elrohir, Anorvain and Liv there, Elladan’s entire body sagged. Liv sat on the bed beside him and took his hand in hers. Elladan did not pull away, instead squeezing her hand.

“Could you stay here tonight? I just… really need company.” Elladan muttered. “All of you.”

“Of course, Elfling.” Anorvain said.

“How are you holding up, Elladan?” Liv asked, her voice soft. Elladan exchanged looks with Elrohir, and Elrohir nodded, very slightly, but enough for his brother to catch. They had been pushing against everyone, and it was tiring. Elladan just wanted to rest. And Liv’s eyes, so brown and kind, was enough to melt him.

“I suppose Elrohir told you about… our issue.”

Liv frowned, “You don’t have to tell me if you do not want to. Elrohir has told me enough. I just want to know if you’re fine now.”

“I guess. I do not take pleasure in worrying Arwen and ada so, you know.” Elladan said. In those grey eyes, Liv saw the same deep sadness and guilt that she saw in Elrohir’s eyes. They blamed themselves for their mother’s fate, although they shouldn’t, and it broke Liv’s heart that there was nothing she could do to ease their pain or conscience.

“Are you two calm enough to discuss what happened?” Anorvain asked. Elrohir looked at his older brother. It was Elladan who was affected most, after all. It was up to him to say if he wanted to talk about it. As the two usually do, they communicated through nods.

“I had a dream… Mother lying on the cave floor. Except it was too late for us to rescue her. There was so much blood…” Elladan said, and his face visibly paled. His grip on Liv’s hand tightened, almost painfully but she did not pull away. “I could hear Meldaseldë crying for help but I could not find her, and I heard her scream…” Elladan’s eyes were closed. Elrohir was by his side immediately.

“That is enough. Say no more, muindor. Do not tire yourself so.” Elrohir said, gently, laying a hand on Elladan’s forehead.

“The antidote is working, at least. You do not have a fever.” He said, trying to change the subject.

Elladan gave a hollowed laugh, and explained for Liv’s benefit. “Rossien said that would only happen in the beginning. The poison the orcs used binds to the antidote, but the antidote would have to be flushed out of my system, so I would have a fever later, if the antidote worked at all.”

“You’re lucky it only takes you overnight. A wound such as yours would take a week to heal, at least, if anyone but an Elf received it.” Anorvain said.

Liv had no idea it had been that serious. Growing up as sheltered as she had, she was not familiar at all with wounds and how to treat them, or the seriousness of wounds. She had been too far away to see for herself how bad Elladan’s wound was, though she suspected it would not have shocked her as much as it would if she had seen it before Loëndë. The blood on Ethuilien, the arrow through Caladír’s head. She would not have forgotten those easily.

The door opened then, and those in the room turned. Lord Elrond’s face was set in disapproval. His forehead was creased, and his mouth formed a frown, but the moment he saw Elladan on the bed, pale and clutching Liv’s hand, the look disappeared and was replaced by gentle concern. Liv stood, but Elladan still held on to her hand, though his grip had loosened until it was only their fingers laced together, hidden in the folds of his blanket. Arwen followed behind her father, exchanging looks with Elrohir.

Ionenin.” Elrond muttered, approaching Elladan on the other side of the bed. He had eyes only for Elladan and Elrohir. It was almost as if Liv and Anorvain were simply part of the background. Like Elrohir, Lord Elrond touched Elladan’s forehead to check for a fever, and then he set the blanket covering Elladan’s wound aside to see that it had already been wrapped.

“Rossien stitched it up.” Elladan said. Lord Elrond pulled away and waited for his sons to say something. Elrohir looked down, shifting uncomfortably.

Goheno nin, ada.” Elladan’s voice was soft. As always, it was him apologizing for both of their antics.

“There is nothing to forgive, my son. I am just glad you are in one piece.” And just like that, Lord Elrond forgave whatever worry and frustration his sons had brought him. It was enough that they were safe and alive. Elladan let go of Liv only then to let his father gather him up in a hug. Liv stepped back with Anorvain, retreating to the balcony to give the family time alone.

“I half expected Lord Elrond to… go off.” Liv whispered, and made an exploding motion with her hands. Anorvain shook his head, amused.

“You have yet to see Legolas with his father. They melt, all of them. They are all bluster until they stare into their children's eyes and then they are quick to forgive. I’ve come to believe Elven fathers are much more gentle than Mannish ones. If I had pulled something like that, Father would have given me what for.”

“Legolas?”

“The Prince of the Woodland Realm. He comes here every few years and is good friends with the twins. They are like brothers, the three of them. The only one Elladan and Elrohir would allow to… hunt with them.” Anorvain said. Liv got his meaning immediately. Whoever this Legolas was, he was the only one the twins trusted to hunt orcs with. She did not know what to make of the prince. After seeing the worry in all the Elves of Imladris as their twin-lords left to 'hunt', she didn’t know what kind of friend would allow them to cause that much distress to the people around them and let them risk their lives like that. But Liv did not know him, and so she did not form any judgments. She and Anorvain just stood facing the valley, and though neither one of them spoke, they both wished once again for Ethuilien and Caladír's presence.

“Do not think this will go unpunished.” Lord Elrond’s voice was firmer now, and Liv and Anorvain felt it was safe enough for them to turn back. "You are confined to the grounds. No riding, no leaving Imladris, not without Glorfindel by your side."

The twins groaned.

"What about Arwen?" Elrohir asked, hopefully.

"What about me?" Arwen raised an eyebrow.

"Can we take her riding?"

"That's assuming I would let you ride with weapons on you. Do you take me for a fool?" Arwen sounded offended.

"We take you for a loving sister who would let her big brothers run free when they must." Elrohir wrapped his arm around Arwen's shoulder and she released a breath of laughter from her nose.

"Nice try. But you are confined to the grounds, big brother."

"And to make sure you will not be sneaking off, you will help with Liv's training."

"What?" Elladan and Elrohir exclaimed with varying degrees of surprise.

"Ah, perfect! Anorvain could help with your swordsmanship and Elrohir could help with your archery." Arwen said.

"What am I supposed to do?" Elladan asked.

"You can be the moral support."

"Ada," Elladan said, evenly, ignoring the smirk on Arwen's face and turning to his father instead, "she is at the very beginning of her training."

"Exactly. There will be plenty for you to teach her." Elrond said.

"We do not want to injure her. Look, she already is injured and she is only at the very basics of training!" Elladan motioned at Liv's bandaged hand. She quickly hid her hand behind her back.

"Excuse you? How fragile do you think I am? I'll be fine!" Liv protested.

"I did not expect to teach her more than basic self-defense, my lord." Anorvain said, to be fair to the twins. The twins gave sighs of relief.

"Nonsense! You are surrounded by skilled warriors. You must continue with the training." Elrond said.

"Yes. That way, I can come with you when you're off Rangering." Liv said to Anorvain.

"Rangering is not a word." Elrohir said, ever the linguist.

"I'm foreign. I came make up words if I want to." Liv said.

Anorvain shrugged. "I have no problem with letting them help with Liv's training."

"Were you not on our side a moment ago?"

"The side I am on, gwador, is the side that keeps you out of trouble."

"No, Elrohir." Lord Elrond said, firmly, as Elrohir opened his mouth to protest. "You are in no position to be negotiating your punishment."

"I do have a suggestion, ada." Arwen said, sweetly. Those who knew Arwen well froze. That was the voice she used when she had something particularly devious in mind. Elladan narrowed his eyes at her in warning. She pretended not to notice and instead picked on a stray thread on her dress.

"Erestor has said he needed help responding to trade manifests from Mannish traders..." As soon as the words left Arwen's mouth, there was a great deal of protest and whining from the twins, while Anorvain practically cackled in delight.

Arwen continued as if her older brothers weren't demanding for her to stop talking, "And Melpomaen said he needed more hands to help him with the inventory. All those barrels and bags of flour needed to be counted after all."

"Liv! I think there is a bow that is perfect for your size!" Elladan exclaimed.

"Have you perhaps asked Liv if it is okay for you to use her as punishment, ada? She certainly has no need to suffer two whining ellyn." Arwen said, mildly.

Liv shrugged. Truth be told, she was perfectly content training with whoever, so long as she was training. It may even add to her amusement to see how the twins act as trainers.

Lord Elrond turned to her, "I am sorry for not considering your position in this, Liv. You do not have to train with them. I would not wish to impose them upon you."

"Oh, no. It is no trouble at all, Lord Elrond. Perhaps," Liv exchanged mischievous looks with Arwen, "if the twins behave themselves, they could join my training. But if they prove to be more of a nuisance, then by all means, let them write letters of trade with Erestor."

She and Arwen proceeded to giggle at the gaping looks the twins gave her. With that said, Lord Elrond left his children to rest. Melpomaen came in with Rossien holding trays of food so they could all eat, and Anorvain left only for a brief moment to recover Elladan's sketchpad and Liv's small canvas.

She had tried to finish her sunset painting through the weeks, and though she knew it was far from perfect, it was almost done and it was one of her best works yet. She'd never produced something with so much detail before. Her teacher would have been proud if she made this in art school. She positioned herself on the balcony, with Anorvain watching as she brushed details into her work with slow, careful strokes. She had painted Imladris in purple and orange hues, and the Bruinen river was foamy white.

"This is gorgeous. You should sell this. A lot of merchants place a high value on Elven art." Anorvain said. Liv pulled away to laugh.

"Anorvain, this is hardly Elven quality." She said.

Elrohir approached her other side, "It is a pretty piece. If it is sold by Elves, this would fetch a good price. Merchants cannot tell the difference between Mannish art and Elven art, anyway. So long as it is from Imladris, they would sell it at a high price." Elrohir's voice straines at that last part.

"Nimeth will be going to a nearby Mannish settlement to trade fabric a fornight from now. You can go with her if you wish, see a different part of Arda that is not the Angle or Imladris." Arwen said from where she sat. True to her word, Arwen had started eating again. Now that she wasn't anxious, her hunger caught up with her. She had already finished the food on her tray and was picking at Elladan's own food, which was left untouched. The sun was beginning to set once more and Elladan was already asleep out of fatigue.

Liv did not notice he had fallen asleep until it became too dark to paint again and she turned back to check on him. Her heart dropped and she stifled a scream, her hand covering her mouth.

"What, what is wrong?" Elrohir was quick to notice. She pointed at Elladan. His eyes were wide open and he lay so still. She felt sick. Maybe his wound was already infected and it now took effect.

"Is he... Is he d-dead?" Liv squeaked out the last word.

"What?" Arwen gasped, turning to her brother to check. The moment she did, however, she relaxed. She almost laughed.

"He is asleep, Liv."

"Nobody sleeps with their eyes open! Check his pulse!" Liv was still squeaking.

It was Elrohir's turn to laugh. "All Elves sleep with their eyes open. They dwell in Elven dreams and memory. If an Elf sleeps with their eyes closed, that is when you should worry. Elladan is fine."

"Are you sure?" Liv approached the side of Elladan's bed and found the fabric of his blankets shifting as he breathed slowly. She released her breath. He was staring blankly at the ceiling, his eyes unfocused and unblinking but he looked so at peace, she dared not wake him. She checked his forehead, and his temperature was starting to rise.

"He will be okay." Arwen assured her.

Arwen retreated back to her chambers when night set in, and Elrohir accompanied her. Anorvain and Liv let the two have their privacy, and instead chose to remain with Elladan, who definitely had a fever and needed someone to look after him. Rossien came in again that night to place a bowl of water and vinegar on his bedside table, and a cloth was soaked in the water-vinegar mix and placed on Elladan's forehead to reduce his fever. All that was left to do for Liv and Anorvain was to wait.

As Arwen and Elrohir walked, there was only silence between them. It wasn't until they stood in front of Arwen's door that she stopped to talk.

"I am glad you're safe, muindor." She said.

"I'm sorry for worrying you so, muinthel."

"But you really are not." There was an edge to Arwen's tone.

Elrohir stepped back, hurt but Arwen shook her head, "If you truly were, you would stop. And you have not stopped in centuries. Please don't hurt yourself like this, Elrohir." She placed a comforting hand on his cheek.

"If anything should happen to you..." She looked down, her eyes blurring with tears, "I just want you and Elladan to be safe. I do not mean to be insolent. I just want to protect you both as much as I can."

"Hey," Elrohir sighed and pulled her closer for a hug, "I swear we will try not to cause any more trouble for you and ada."

"You swear?" Arwen asked.

"I swear." Elrohir repeated.

She pulled away from him, "I will hold you to that promise. Good night, Elrohir." She said, and with that, she retreated to her chambers.

When Elrohir returned to the House of Healing, Elladan was awake, sketchpad and charcoal in hand while Liv read a Sindarin book beside him, curled up on the chair, doing translations. There was a jar of ink balanced on the chair's arm rest. Anorvain was on the empty bed beside Elladan's, his arm covering his eyes as he snored.

"What are you drawing?" Elrohir asked. It was a testament to how skilled Elladan was that he could draw so well under only the orange glow of the candle lanterns above their heads. Liv herself looked ready to give up as she squinted at the Tengwar on her book. She was absent-mindedly brushing the feather of her quill against her lips.

"He refused to show me. Said it was not done yet." Liv said, throwing an accusing glare at Elladan.

"You look rather lovely when you do not frown like so." Elladan motioned at her furrowed eyebrows.

"Come on, is that still the sketch from before? It must be finished by now." Liv said, reaching out for the sketchpad, although careful not to knock away the jar of ink beside her.

"It is not even halfway done." Elladan said, inching away from her.

"You will rip your stitches if you strain like that." Elrohir took the sketchpad from his brother's hand and looked down at what he was drawing. His eyebrows raised in surprise, before he looked at Elladan, who shrugged sheepishly.

"You are taking a very long time with this. I have seen you draw more complicated art before." Elrohir said, evenly.

"What is he drawing?" Liv demanded.

"I keep getting distracted. It is hard to get the right shapes. It never looks perfect and does not bring the subject to justice at all." Elladan said. Elrohir did not know if his face was red because of the fever or because he was blushing.

Elrohir gave Elladan the sketchpad back with a small smile. "I can see why you would be distracted." He said.

"Sooner or later, you will have to show me that drawing." Liv said, pulling back to go back to her translations and closing the jar of ink beside her.

"Elrohir, how do you pronounce this?" She offered the book she was holding to him and Elrohir was only happy to oblige. They spent the rest of the night with Elrohir pulling up another chair beside Liv, working on the translations of her book and crossing out words she translated wrong while Elladan continued to draw in silence and Anorvain slept.

Eventually, Liv fell asleep with her head in her arms on Elladan's bed. Elrohir took her translations book from her lap and laid it on the table beside Elladan's bed, and then he took the sketchpad and charcoal from Elladan's hand as Elladan slept, his hand inches away from Liv's head. And he looked at the two wondering if they saw in each other what he could already see in them. It was there, beneath the teasing and banter. Elrohir just wondered if they both even knew it, yet.

Chapter Text

Melpomaen and Erestor stared out the window from what they assumed to be a safe distance. After all, no matter how awful any trainee in Imladris was, not a single arrow has ever strayed through that window.

"She is in a dress." Erestor observed.

Melpomaen laughed, "She said something about wanting to look good while, and I quote, 'kicking ass'."

Erestor raised an eyebrow.

"It's a different kind of ass. Not the animals. The other kind of ass, as she puts it. The one that is 'more satisfying to kick'." Melpomaen said, mildly, his expression completely chipper.

Erestor's eyebrows furrowed.

"I will have to ask her about where she picks up this kind of language."

"Oh, she has said worse, believe me. Even taught Anorvain how to say, 'Your mother should have just swallowed' in her own language." Still that carefree, happy expression from Melpomaen.

Erestor made a choking noise. "Swallowed what, exactly?"

"Aren't you the one she's teaching her language? I assure you I have no idea."

"Next thing we know, she is going to want to start climbing trees wearing a dress. Most impractical. Skirts are heavy." Erestor said.

Melpomaen chuckled, "Oh, but you very well know that would only make her want to try harder."

"True," Erestor nods, "she does have a tendency to take everything as a challenge."

"You know, after all this, I want to be able to shoot a bow from a tree." Liv announced as Anorvain fetched the arrows she had shot at the target. Mostly failed at shooting, in all honesty. Her arrows were either far from the target or scattered all over the ground, and Anorvain was hunting a dozen of them down.

"Not if you are wearing a dress..." Elrohir said.

"Ha! Watch me!" Liv gave Elrohir the bow and stretched her arms. She wore a light dress, with sleeves that fit snugly around her arms all the way to her wrists. Rebellious strands of her dark hair had already escaped from the braid down her back, but she simply blew them away impatiently before stretching out a gloved hand for her bow.

"You release your arrows too quickly." Elladan said. "And your elbow is too high."

Anorvain came back with her arrows, sweating profusely. "Could you at least attempt to aim at the target?" He gasped.

"Funny, Anorvain. Very funny." Liv said, in a tone that suggested she found none of it hilarious at all.

Elladan put the arrows back in the quiver strapped to Liv's back and she nocked an arrow. Before she could release the arrow, his hand was already on her elbow, guiding it to the correct position.

"May I come closer?" He asked.

"Sure." She said. Elladan stepped forward, so close to her that his chest brushed against her back as he adjusted her form.

"Don't close your other eye." His laugh brushed against her ear.

"Pull back farther until your fingers are just by your mouth."

She did as she was told and aimed carefully. She felt the wind cooling her back as Elladan stepped back.

"Now, release." It was Elrohir who spoke this time, but his eyes followed his brother and not Liv's movements.

The arrow whizzed, and both Elves' heads turned to see where it landed. Anorvain gave a surprised chuckle.

"It's closer to the ring." He announced. "Well done, Liv! Now, do it again!"

Liv beamed at the arrow planted a few inches from the center ring. Nowhere near the target, but it was the closest she had ever come to. Melpomaen and Erestor applauded from a nearby window.

"Try aiming more to the right. You are doing well, Liv." Elrohir said.

She aimed, and did exactly as Elladan taught her. She recalled what he said about pulling the bowstring back and keeping her elbow straight, and imagined his breath against her neck. The heat of his body pressed against hers.

Bewildered by the thoughts that had come uninvited in her head, her aim went far off.

Melpomaen and Erestor yelped and lunged away from the window. Liv gasped and covered her mouth. Elladan and Elrohir used each other for support as they broke into giggles, laughing more at Melpomaen's face than anything else. The serene, happy look was wiped off his face, replaced by one of utter shock. Melpomaen was no warrior, and as such, has never held a sword or stood as arrows whizzed past his head. He was holding locks of his hair up to his eyes.

"I think the arrow caught some of his hair." Anorvain said, while Erestor grabbed the shocked chamberlain by the shoulders and shook him to bring him out of his trance.

"Sorry!" Liv cried out, weakly and bit her bottom lip.

"I think that is enough for one day." Elrohir said through guffaws.

"No, no. Please. One more." Elladan gasped.

Liv turned to them, very slowly. Her mouth formed a thin line and she glared and then rolled her eyes. Their laughter subsided almost immediately and they raised their hands in gestures of surrender.

"You are doing well, Liv. You cannot become a good archer overnight."

"Even Legolas did not become a good archer until at least three hundred years of training."

"I hate to break this to you, but I am quite certain I do not have three hundred years to spare." Liv said.

"Ah, but give it a few weeks and you will be able to at least hit the target." Anorvain said.

"Watch me hit it after only two weeks." Liv said as she pulled off her gloves.

"You will need to train every day if you are to do that." Elrohir said.

"Good. We can pass the time that way. I need to go to lunch with Arwen, though, so if you don't mind." She gave Anorvain her bow, quiver and gloves.

"We have lessons after lunch!" Erestor yelled from the window. Liv raised a thumb to acknowledge his words. But just as she turned, she saw Arwen walking towards them with Rossien behind her, holding a basket.

"I thought we might have lunch together, for a change. Have a picnic near the river." Arwen said, brightly. Everyone was happy to oblige. In the basket was half a dozen sandwiches, sponge cakes and fruit pulp juice, as well as grapes and apples. They sat on a blanket next to the river, under the shade of a tree as its leaves rustled lazily in the afternoon breeze.

"We should do this more often. This is nice." Anorvain said as he lay on his back, using his arm as a cushion beneath his head. Rossien, who was sitting nearby, was running her hands lazily through his hair. Rossien seemed to be doing it absent-mindedly. If it wasn't for the smiles they exchanged as Anorvain looked up at her, his tone changing ever so slightly to imply a meaning only she was meant to catch, Liv would have thought Rossien wasn't even aware of what she was doing.

Oh.

Liv looked away, not wanting to intrude on their privacy. Instead, she decided to look up at the tree they were under.

"Is it talking right now?" She asked, because Elrohir was leaning his back on it with a smile on his lips, his eyes half-closed. He blinked as Liv spoke.

"It's singing, actually."

"Singing?" Liv repeated. "Why can't I hear anything?"

Elrohir shrugged. "The edain have long forgotten how to listen when trees speak. They can understand you when you try to talk to them, but I do not think you hear their response anymore."

"A pity, too. The trees sing such beautiful melodies." Elladan added. "I'm glad we did this, Arwen. I don't think I've been this relaxed in a while."

"I am glad you think so. We haven't had a picnic here in a long time. You two are always busy in the wilds. I get lonely, you know." Arwen said.

"Well, it's a good thing we are here now then. It might be another long time before we are able to get together like this again." Anorvain said.

"What do you mean?" Rossien asked, her hand freezing.

"I would like to go back to the wilds, go back to Bree, to be more specific. I've been here, idle, for too long." He said. Both Liv and Rossien made surprised noises. Elladan and Elrohir whipped around to look at him.

"When were you planning on telling me this?!" Liv was angry.

"So soon? But, you've only been here for a month!" Rossien was hurt.

"Is there any particular reason for this decision, Anorvain?" Arwen asked. She alone had not reacted to what Anorvain had said, as though she was expecting it from him.

"I need to go back to my duties. I have patrols, people I need to protect."

"Then I'm coming with you." Liv said, with finality. He turned to her, shaking his head, but she was already prepared for his protests. He sat up and faced her.

"Liv, it is too dangerous."

"I'm coming with you."

"You will not be living in comfort. It will be a solitary life."

"I will be fine."

"No more pretty dresses, no more warm fires, no soft beds. Just grass and rocks and wolves."

"We promised each other we'd always stay together." She took his hands. "What brought this on?"

"Anorvain, if it was something I said..." Rossien whispered.

"No, it is not that at all." Anorvain turned to her and reached out, as though to comfort her, but realizing they were not alone, pulled away.

"It is duty and nothing more. And you cannot come with me, Liv. Not yet."

Liv bristled. It felt as if she was being abandoned once again, and she wasn't taking it well.

"What about weapons training?" She said, in a desperate attempt to keep him by her side.

He turned to Elladan and Elrohir, and the two nodded.

"Are you sure duty is the only reason you are doing this, Anorvain?" Arwen asked, her eyes keen.

Liv noted that Anorvain didn't meet Arwen's gaze.

"Yes, my lady." Liv also noted that Anorvain dragged the first word out. She knew when he was lying.

He turned to face Liv again, "I won't go right away. I will stay another week for you, but I have to go. And you cannot come with me. But," He said in a louder voice when Liv opened her mouth to protest, "I will return. Perhaps in a month or two. And then you can accompany me to Bree. I just... need time to be alone. And focusing on my duty will help me."

Liv thought on this for a moment, looking into his eyes and seeing his pain. Anorvain needed time alone. And he was a Ranger, a Dúnedan, who loved the wilds. He wasn't happy just sitting here. Liv had her own way of grieving, and she knew he had his. She just wished she could be there for him the way he was for her, when she was at her lowest point.

"You will come back after a month." She said.

"Or two." A ghost of a smile was on his face.

"And you will take me with you when you return."

"I just have to prepare and air out our house, get rid of the nasty male smell you so like to complain about." He joked.

"And you will write whenever you can, or send a message to let me know you're not gravely injured or ill."

"I'll give you a promise right now that I will not fall to either of those."

"Pinky-promise." She held out her finger for him. He laughed at the ridiculousness of it.

"What?" He chuckled.

"Where I am from, if you do a pinky-promise, it is unforgivable to break it." She said in a serious tone.

"Then I pinky-promise to stay alive and come get you after two months."

"One."

"That I cannot promise."

"Fine. Just promise not to get yourself killed." Liv said. He was important to her. Anorvain was a good person, a dear friend, and someone she cared so much for. It terrified her that they would be separated, after they have faced so much together.

He hooked his own pinky around hers, "Only if you promise me to do well in your weapons training."

"I promise." She said. And though it was childish, it meant something to both of them. It was their own pact to each other. A promise in front of witnesses that they do not plan on breaking.

Rossien remained silent, and Elladan and Elrohir began to grumble.

"If only we could go with Anorvain." Elladan sighed. "But alas, we are confined to the grounds."

"You two cheeky elflings will stay here." Anorvain said. "And you will not guilt-trip Liv to take you anywhere that is not part of Imladris."

"You will not be saying that when you're trapped to the waist in mud." Elrohir said.

"Or getting yourself caught by bandits." Elladan raised his eyebrows, teasingly.

"They're joking." Anorvain said when Liv's mouth tightened.

"For what it's worth, mellon, we will miss you. Now we have no one to tell us corny jokes."

"Do you want to hear one now?"

The group groaned.

"No, please. I have had enough!" Arwen pleaded.

"Knock, knock."

"Who's there?" Elrohir answered.

"Don't encourage him!" Elladan snarled, pouncing on his brother, who laughed and simply dodged his arm.

"Interrupting horse." Anorvain already had a wide grin on his face.

"Don't you dare!" Liv, who had already heard this joke even in her own time, took a sponge cake, ready to shove it in Anorvain's mouth if he decided to continue.

"Interru--" Elrohir started, but before he could continue, Anorvain cut him off by making a remarkable impression of a horse's neigh. He and Elrohir roared with laughter, Elrohir clinging to the tree his back was leaning on while everyone else just groaned again.

"Alright, Anorvain." Liv said in a singsong voice, "Knock, knock."

"Who... who's there?" Anorvain chuckled, still not recovering from his own joke.

"Interrupting cake."

His eyebrows furrowed, and he had only gone as far as opening his mouth before Liv stuffed the cake she held in her hand. Anorvain fell back on Rossien's lap in surprise and she giggled as the frosting covered most of his chin. He wiped it away with the back of his hand as he chewed the soft cake. Giving Rossien a wink, he sat back up to wipe the frosting on Liv's face.

Liv squeaked and grabbed another cake, throwing it at Anorvain's direction, but he moved out of the way and it hit Rossien instead.

"Oh, God! Oh, my God!" Liv gasped, covering her mouth with both hands as Rossien wiped bits of cake off her red hair. Arwen and the twins were almost in tears from laughing.

"Don't laugh!" Rossien said, throwing some of the cake in her hands at Arwen, who laughed and tried to dodge it.

"These are lovely cakes! Do not waste them!" Arwen giggled, although already, she was reaching for one to throw.

Elladan threw a handful of grapes at her and she squeaked and turned to him, mischief in her eyes as she reached for the rest of the sponge cakes. Elladan was already up and climbing the tree they were under, laughing as Arwen protested.

"You do know my aim is as good as Elrohir's, right?" She called up as she gathered her skirts and stood, looking up at the tree, where Elladan tried to hide behind the leaves.

"You haven't aimed a bow in centuries, Arwen." Elladan pointed out, and Arwen's head turned, trying to find his hiding spot.

"And how would you know?" She asked, her eyes locking on to the spot of dark hair through the leaves. The tree's branches shook and moved to cover Elladan but it was too late. She had already seen him.

"Because you prefer swords. Don't think we don't see you in the grounds with Cristiel."

"Well then, muindor, you have nothing to fear." Arwen said in a voice so sweet, it almost induced fear.

"Right..." Elladan drawled.

Arwen threw the cake, there was a yelp and the branches of the tree shook and shifted to allow Elladan to hang on and swing down, half his face covered in icing. Arwen shook her hands to flick away the icing left on her fingers with a victorious smirk that made her look so much like her brothers.

"Alright, I give up." Elladan said, finding an ally in Liv, who turned to him, giggling, and helped him wipe the icing left on his face.

"You are... how do you say this..." Liv said, searching for a word as she licked some icing off her fingers.

"Sticky." Rossien said.

"Delicious." Liv said, making Elladan stammer and blush. Anorvain and Elrohir snickered beside each other. Turning to the two, Liv threw a grape in their direction.

Elrohir caught it in his mouth and Arwen and Rossien clapped, impressed.

"Oh! Beat that, Anorvain!" Rossien laughed, taking some grapes and throwing it. Anorvain leaned his head back and caught the grape in his mouth.

"Go further!" Liv encouraged, motioning for the two to step backwards, and the two obeyed.

They spent the rest of the afternoon by the riverside, the lazy air carrying the youthful melody of laughter, of squeals of delight, and cheerful chatter. It was a wonderful contrast to the strained and tense silence of Imladris yesterday and it seemed, as the group of friends played games and had fun, that even the trees seemed to laugh with them.

Of course, Liv still had to go to Erestor's study for lessons and it was a small comfort that their fun halted only for her friends to walk with her, all of them covered in bits of food and smelling like cake and grapes.

"What did you do?" Elarinya gasped as their group walked by where she and Glorfindel were talking. Glorfindel raised an eyebrow, but seeing the smiles on Arwen and the twins' faces, he only offered a smile behind Elarinya while the elleth clucked about the mess.

"I swear, the lot of you are regressing to being elflings once again. The edain, I can understand, for they are young..."

"Hey!" Liv and Anorvain protested,

"But look at all this mess! Like children!" Elarinya sighed.

Arwen looked down, biting her bottom lip and the twins stayed silent. To any casual observer, it would seem they all look chastised. But Elladan and Elrohir both knew when Arwen decided to pull out the doe-eyed, repentant look to wriggle out of trouble. It has helped them in more than one occasion before, and has never--not in thousands of years--failed them.

And this time was no exception. Liv watched with amusement as she saw Elarinya practically melt at the look on Arwen's delicate face, and what a look it was.

"I am glad to see that you are all enjoying yourselves, though." Elarinya said, softly. "But please change quickly. It is most unbecoming for the lords and lady of Imladris to go around with stains on their clothes and cake in their hair. Rossien..." Elarinya turned to the other elleth, who bowed and tugged Arwen's arm to take them to the hallway leading to the chambers. Glorfindel shook his head, having been on the receiving end of Arwen's "look" before and falling victim to it many times. He inclined his head at the group when they passed.

"I bet if you punched someone in the face and gave them that look, they would apologize for hurting your hand." Liv muttered under her breath when they were out of earshot.

"I would never punch anyone in the face." Arwen said.

"Even if they were very annoying?" Anorvain prompted.

"Violence solves nothing. It is better to learn how to speak to your enemy than to fight him head-on."

"Did you not chase away some Dwarven guests out of Imladris when we were all in Lothlórien?" Elrohir said.

"They were invaders, not guests." Arwen said, coolly.

"You chased dwarves away from Imladris?" Liv raised an eyebrow.

"They left voluntarily, I just helped them out of the door." Arwen said.

"You officially scare me."

"You remain the only person who thinks so. Everyone else treats me like fragile glass." Arwen replied.

"It's the eyes." Elladan sighed. "You cannot look into those eyes and not want to protect someone so good."

Arwen smiled, though she tried to hide it.

They stopped in front of Erestor's study, and the door was slightly open.

"Erestor." Liv greeted then blanched at the monstrosity of papers piled on the desk where she and Erestor usually sat.

"Uh..."

"Ah, Liv, excellent! I was just about to get you, since you are late. Come in!" Erestor was only too bright and cheerful. Liv backed away, disturbed.

"We will only be doing translations today, sweet girl. The rest of the papers are trading documents that need to be read."

This made the twins back up as well behind Arwen in an attempt to be less visible, although in reality, it did nothing. They were both taller than Arwen, after all. And nothing could escape Erestor's eyes.

"Aha! Elladan, Elrohir, just the ellin I was looking for! Lord Elrond did say you could help me with the documents."

"He must be mistaken."

"We will only cause trouble."

"And we do not want to stress you out."

The twins shot off their excuses, suddenly very interested in the carpet.

"Nonsense." Erestor waved a hand, "I insist."

The last sentence was said with just a tad bit more force that made Elrohir groan.

"Can we change first?" Liv asked, to give the twins time to prepare.

"Why are you so messy? Did you roll around on the baker's working table? I would not put it past you."

"Hey!" Everyone standing by the door protested.

"Go! Go! We are losing daylight!" Erestor waved them off.

And so the rest of the day, the twins spent in Erestor's study. It was rather entertaining to watch Elladan and Elrohir scratching their heads in frustration while they tried to diplomatically respond to the numerous, complicated requests of merchants and the different items they were selling. The only thing bearable about it was the presence of Liv, who was eager to translate the book on poetry Erestor had given her. She was already half-way through, and was only getting better once she understood how Sindarin worked. Her Westron was also growing immensely under Erestor's tutellage.

"You are rather gifted with these things. It's great to see someone so learned!" Erestor said in delight as he tried to read the English translation Liv had written below the Sindarin one of a passage on a book.

"Should that not be an 'es'?" He pointed at a word. Liv looked at what he was pointing out.

"A what?" Her eyebrows only furrowed in confusion.

"An 'es'." He took a quill and wrote on the corner of her paper, the letter 'S'.

"Oh. No. No, that is how you spell 'cinder' in my language."

"But why does the 'C' sound like an 'S', then? What about this word? The word is 'candle', yes? It sounds like how a 'C' should sound. And they are both followed by a vowel. So, why is this one read as 'sin-der' and the other 'kan-dle?" He looked utterly mystified.

Liv smiled, "'Kan-del'." She corrected.

"What?" Erestor only looked more confused. "But the letter 'L' goes before the letter 'E'? Why is it pronounced as though it was the other way around?"

Liv giggled, "It is alright, Erestor. English is just...weird. I would write a poem I knew as a child that talks about how complicated English is, but really, once you understand how sentences and tenses are formed, the language is quite easy." Liv said. "Besides, you should try learning German. Or French. Or maybe not, my head still aches thinking about learning those."

Erestor looked up at her, "What is 'frents' and... and...?"

"German? They are other languages from where I come from."

"Fascinating! So, just like in Ennorath, you have different languages. How do you learn so much, then?"

"Privilege. Pressure. My mother is a French singer, my father is a German...trader, though I was born and raised in New York." Liv could not exactly translate what a 'CEO' did, and thinking about her father too much brought a pang to her heart.

"She came from a rich family. Caladír used to joke about her being a noblewoman of Gondor." Elladan said from behind a pile of papers.

"My mother was, what in English is called, a 'socialite'. She threw parties and made friends with other rich, privileged people. I grew up in an environment where I would be having breakfast with the children of very wealthy people, politicians and actors, on a daily basis." Liv explained, "Very much like here in Imladris, I imagine. Except there, people were mostly arrogant and bragging about their money. They applauded and congratulated themselves for being rich and famous and having it easy."

Liv looked down in shame, "I must admit I was one of them. My mother was quite well-known, and I made it a habit to use that to my advantage. But the friendships never felt genuine. And someone would always feel left out and inadequate. Sometimes, one would bring others down so they wouldn't be the one feeling left out. Not like here. Here, everyone is treated equally."

Elrohir looked up at her with a comforting smile, "I'm glad you like it here, Liv. No matter what, you have a place here in Imladris with us."

Liv beamed, and turned back to Erestor, who patted her shoulder. "You must miss your old life." He said.

"Every day. But there is nothing I could do now. I just have to make the most out of what I have now."

"You know, Liv..." Elladan said, slowly, "I think you should meet our grandmother."

Erestor turned to him, "Do you really believe that would be a good idea, Lord Elladan?"

Elladan shrugged, "If there is anyone who could provide answers, it would be her. And I am sure she would want to know about Liv and her...predicament."

"That is weeks of journey! It's not safe." Erestor said.

"I'm not training to defend myself for nothing. If your grandmother could provide some answers that isn't just guesses, I would go to her, no matter the danger." Liv said, straightening up in her seat.

"Not without Lord Elrond's permission!" Erestor cried.

"And not anytime soon." Elrohir said, evenly, "Erestor is right. It's too dangerous. Until I'm sure you would be able to last two minutes in a fight, you will remain in Imladris."

"I can accept that." Liv looked down at the book she was translating, and there was silence for a minute before she looked up again and said. "Who is your grandmother?"

And so ensued the longest history lesson about Lothlórien and the Lady Galadriel from Erestor. About her power, her connection to Lord Elrond and the twins and Arwen, what Lothlórien was, and even who the Galadhrim were. At the end of it, Liv, Elladan and Elrohir were only too happy to be out of Erestor's study.

The week went by too quickly. The archery lessons continued, but Elladan and Elrohir were slowly taking over. Anorvain and Liv were practically inseperable, always by each other's side during meals. One was never in a room without the other.

Seven days later, Liv woke up with a heaviness in her heart. She didn't even bother fixing her hair. She just put on her dress from the day before and went to the dining hall before the sun even came up from behind the peaks of the mountain. Anorvain was already dressed for travel. His grey cloak was pinned on his shoulder, and he wore sturdy boots and brown breeches. Rossien was sitting beside him, facing the table where she played with her food, while Anorvain sat with his legs outstretched in front of him, his back leaning on the table.

"I will miss you." Rossien whispered, rolling a grape between her fingers.

"I miss you every day, Ross."

"I suppose I should have expected this. Your people never stay here for very long, and you in particular, are too noble to dismiss your duties. I'm surprised you stayed as long as you did." She said.

He chuckled, "You say that as if it's a bad thing."

"It's not that at all!" Rossien turned to him, observing his profile, wondering how long it would take for his short hair to grow past his shoulders, or how untidy his beard would look. She wanted nothing more than to touch his face, just this once.

He looked at her, at those sad grey eyes that held thousands of years worth of pain and memory, and he looked down. It was unbearable for Anorvain to think she was hurting because of him.

"We both knew this would never have worked out between us, not in a thousand years." He said.

"I know." She nodded her head once, then said, "I have lived a thousand years. I cannot help but be optimistic though every instinct in my body is telling me not to be. I'm sorry for what I said... About how we should never allow ourselves to take it farther than we could bear."

"Never apologize for that. It is better this way. It would seem what we have is just not strong enough. In time, you will find an ellon more worthy of you, and I will be here to support you when that time comes."

Rossien looked down. "I wish I told you sooner how I truly felt. I keep thinking..."

"If it would change anything?" There was a sad smile on his lips. "I try not to dwell on what might have been. It is less painful that way. And truth be told, I should have told you sooner, as well."

"And now it is too late." Rossien's words were whispered.

"And now it is too late." He repeats.

Rossien had completely forgotten her food. But her hand moves under the table to take his, and they hold each other, allowing themselves this comfort one last time.

"I will always be here for you." She said.

"And I for you, Rossien." He said.

And then there was only silence, broken only by the door opening and human footsteps approaching. It was Liv, hair loose and untied.

"I didn't want you to leave without saying goodbye." She announced as Rossien and Anorvain inched away from each other. Liv pretended not to see that their hands were intertwined before she walked in.

"I would have never thought of it, gwathel." And just like that, the easy smile is back on his face, and Rossien's heart ached. She tried to memorize how his eyes crinkled, how his mouth quirked at one side first before the other. She would not be seeing that smile in a while. Two months was a short time for an elf, yet two months seemed an eternity now.

"Do you havr extra trousers packed? Food, water? Shampoo?"

"Who brings shampoo to the wilds?" Anorvain asked as Liv fussed over him, checking his belt for his weapons though she knew his sword was secured, smoothing out his shirt though she knew it would only get crumpled anyway, and brushing off lint from his cloak knowing full well it would be caked in mud soon enough.

"I would. What, do you never take a bath when you're in the wilds?" She froze mid-motion from fixing the brooch on his shoulder.

"Once or twice, if there is a stream wider than the length of my forearm and deeper than my ankles." He mumbled.

"No wonder you smelled like a dead rat when I first met you."

"If you're ever going to Bree with me someday, you do know you would be smelling like dead rat as well."

"I will not, for I will have shampoo with me."

He laughed, and though Liv tried to glare, his laughter was infectious, and she found herself laughing along.

Elladan and Elrohir walked in to find Liv and Anorvain talking excitedly about Bree and about the journey to Bree. Rossien was quiet, though she usually was, and it was only Liv who noticed that she was only too quiet. Elladan, though, knew that Liv was trying to put on a brave face for Anorvain. He could practically feel her nervousness palpitating through the air. Anorvain was her last living memory of her time in the Angle. They considered each other family, and Elladan knew how much it pained Liv to have to let him go. She, who has continuously lost everyone she cared about.

But her smile was bright, and despite her fear and anxiety, she wanted only to show Anorvain that she would be okay. That he should not worry. And Anorvain tried his best to lighten the mood, to let her know he would be alright.

But still, when the time came for Anorvain to say goodbye, Liv's facade cracked just a tiny bit. Her smile was no longer bright. And in those expressive eyes, there was only worry.

"Please do not tire the elflings out." Anorvain said to Liv, "And don't hurt her. I will have your pointy little ears if I see so much as a scratch on her." This he said to the twins.

"Do you have so little faith? You wound us, Anorvain." Elladan sighed, dramatically.

"And for the love of the Maker, do not sneak out of Imladris. All of you." Anorvain continued. He had just finished securing his pack to his horse, and he pulled out some sort of fabric, thick and grey.

"Here." He said, wrapping it around Liv's shoulder and securing it above her throat with a simple, silver brooch. "I cleaned it as well as I could. Keep this. So you have something practical to remember me by and not just the stupid jokes I make." He tried for a smile.

The cloak was warm and lined with fur. And it had the earthy smell that Anorvain usually had, the smell of leaves after the rain. He probably wore this when it was raining during his travels. It seemed thicker than the one he was currently wearing. Liv looked down at the straps on his leather vest.

"I must admit, I will miss your jokes." She said. His hand moved gently to sweep her hair out from beneath the cloak and to her shoulders. When his hands were on either side of her jaw, he leaned forward and kissed the top of her head.

"Two months, gwathel. Just two months and I will return, I swear it." He said reassuringly.

"I will expect to be hearing from you." She said.

"Of course, Liv." He walked towards Elladan and Elrohir, and exchanged hugs with them. Elladan smiled at something Anorvain said, and then he was moving to his horse.

He slowed down and stopped in front of Rossien, and his fingers brushed a lock of her hair behind her ear.

"Take care." She said.

"You too." Was his reply.

The air was heavy with words unsaid. But the moment passed, and Anorvain was on his horse. Liv held on to the reins.

"Please, please, do not get into trouble." She said.

"Me? Trouble? The only time I get into trouble is when I'm with the lot of you!" He laughed. Liv forced a smile on her face as she let go of the reins. And then the horse was moving, going from a trot to a canter to a full on gallop as soon as he was out of the gates.

And Liv watched him go, already missing the comfort of his laughter. The smile on her face had completely vanished. But she kept her eyes on him, until he was a small dot in the distance, finally turning out of sight, his cloak feeling heavy on her shoulders.

Chapter Text

There was one exciting thing that Liv was looking forward to. And Elladan was glad to give her a distraction after all of Liv's lessons were finished. It was good that Liv was kept busy. Having a routine meant she had a task to focus on, and that meant less time worrying about Anorvain.

She was quieter, those around her noticed that, and Elladan caught her laughing at something Cristiel had said during lunch and then turning to her side as if expecting someone to be there laughing with her, only to be confused and have realization dawn moments later. She had always laughed freely whenever Anorvain was nearby. It was after all, only an afternoon since he left. She would have to get used to not having his presence around.

Elladan had Elrohir help him set everything up. It wasn't a big preparation. It was just one thing, but he found himself very nervous.

"What if she finds it strange?" Elladan asked as he carefully positioned it. Elrohir sat with one ankle resting on his other leg's knee.

"She is used to 'strange'."

"You were supposed to say 'It's not strange at all, Elladan, do not be ridiculous!'"

Elrohir smirked, "It's not strange at all, Elladan, do not be ridiculous." He parroted.

"But it is, however! Look at it! Oh, I should just throw it into the Bruinen." Elladan said, looking closer to see if he had positioned it just right.

"You are not facing a horde of orcs, brother. She will not bite you." Elrohir got up and stood beside his twin, hand stroking his chin in contemplation. Elladan glared at him. Given the chance, they both knew Liv actually would literally bite them.

"Oh, you know what I mean!" Elrohir waved a hand. "Don't be so dramatic! It will go well, I assure you."

He swung an arm around Elladan's shoulder as he pulled him closer. "Honestly, it is like watching a lovesick elfling!" Elrohir teased.

"I'm not an elfling! I'm older than you!" Elladan said, trying to push Elrohir away.

Elrohir laughed, "But you are lovesick."

"You're lucky our father and sister love you or I would have thrown you over the cliff by now." Elladan grumbled.

"Ai, Elladan. I am your brother. More than that, we shared the space in our mother's womb. I grew up knowing more than anyone else what you truly feel, no matter how hard you try to hide it." Elrohir said. Elladan looks down, his feet shuffling.

"If I had any sense at all, I would tell you how wrong you are." He said.

"But we both know we can't hide anything from each other." Elrohir nodded.

Elladan looked up at him, sheepishly, "Do you truly think she will like it?"

Elrohir shrugged. "One way to find out. Let's go, her lessons should have ended by now."

They walked back inside the halls, Elladan glancing one more time behind him.

Liv had just said goodbye to Erestor when the twins turned the corner towards her. She beamed at them and held up a book, "Erestor told me my translations and contractions are getting much better! He says my Westron has vastly improved!" She said, excitedly.

"Ah, that is good to hear!" Elrohir beamed.

"And I have you to thank. You have been so patient with my ceaseless questions." She smiled.

Elrohir chuckled, "It was nothing at all."

Elladan did not miss the slight nudge that Elrohir landed on his ribs.

"Did you know the book you were translating is a book of poetry that Erestor wrote himself?" Elladan started, and immediately wanted to smack his face. It sounded ridiculous to his ears, and he could swear he heard Elrohir snort. It was Elladan's turn to elbow his ribs while Liv looked down at the book in her hands with complete admiration.

"Truly? Some of these poems are so heart-warming. I can't believe he didn't tell me!" Liv said, more in delight than anything else.

"Knowing Erestor, he wanted you to form your own opinion without bias." Elrohir said. "But I must now bid my leave. I promised Arwen I would go with her to the kitchens today."

It was a bare-faced lie and Elladan knew it. "Arwen does not cook. And Melpomaen forbade our entry to the kitchens after the last time we found the miruvor there."

"Melpomaen advised us not to enter the kitchens. He did not forbid us." Elrohir said, already backing away, "As if he could, anyway. Melpomaen does not even have the heart to send away the cat when it gets in without feeding it."

Elladan gaped at him like a fish and he could swear Elrohir's shoulders were shaking in silent laughter.

Liv was quick to notice something was off. She raised her eyebrows.

"Do not look at me like that!" Elladan said, exasperated.

"Elflings." She muttered under her breath as she made to go back to her room.

"Wait, Liv!" Elladan called. She turned back to him.

"I want to show you something. I think it is about time I do." He said.

A smile slowly crept to her face, "Is this what I think it is?" She asked. They did, after all, promise to show each other the work they had done before. Liv had finally finished her painting of a sunset, and she was only waiting now for Elladan to finish his drawing. Her nerves gave way to excitement.

He smiled back, and that was all the encouragement she needed. "Oh, wonderful! I need to get to my room and get the painting. I will meet you there." She said, excitedly.

"You do not want me to escort you?"

"No, no! We are supposed to show each other at the same time. I cannot risk you catching a glimpse at it." She said. Elladan laughed as she practically ran back to her room.

They met back at the secret spot, at the balcony situated on a cliff beside the waterfall of the Bruinen. Before them was the entirety of Imladris, with its white-pillared homes and the stone terraces and gazeebos. And beyond that, the river snaked through lush, green lands all the way to the snow-capped mountains. Elladan had a cloth covering his finished work. His drawing was smaller than Liv's painting, and he tried to help her set it on the bench when she walked in, but she kept it close to her, the back facing him.

"I have not been this nervous over a painting in a long time. Or this excited." She admitted.

Elladan scratched the back of his head. It was a relief to know he was not the only one investing on what the other would feel about their art. Elladan's art was always personal, always drawn or painted with care and this drawing was one he worked some time on.

"Ladies first." He said.

"Don't laugh." She said, and her voice was softer when she said it. Liv has not had any inspiration to paint before she came to Ennorath. And she was terrified her skill would prove laughable compared to what Elladan was probably used to. Elven art was flawless. And here was hers, a simple sunset that still took too long to make.

When she turned the canvass around, a delighted smile was on Elladan's face. It was beautiful. The painting was a mixture of swirls of orange and pink and purple and green. The mountains, she painted with a halo of a soft white color. And she put so much detail into the green land below, where the Bruinen River, with its white and pale-blue foams, kissed the green lands, there were trees and rocks. It was still a painting that looked Mannish, far from Elven beauty. Something that an elf who wouldn't know the painter would point out where they could see where she started her brush strokes and where her hand may have been too heavy or too light, but even for something made by Mannish hand, it was an exquisite painting. And for Elladan, he would not have wanted it any other way, because here was where she laid her soul bare. The painting spoke volumes about how she must have felt while making it. The purple was heavier, darker, this was where her hand was too heavy, as though it was her sadness creeping into her work, but the orange blended into it with soft strokes, and it spoke of her slowly accepting her change and the white halo behind the dark mountains was the hope she had after the dark times she had been through.

"We need to give you a bigger canvas." Elladan said. He would want to see her paint a scene of her own.

"Tell me you like it, I am in agony here." Liv said, and while her tone was playful, there was vulnerability beneath it. Elladan understood what it felt to show a finished work of art. It was like exposing a piece of your soul to someone.

"It is wonderful, Liv."

"But do you like it?"

He cracked a smile, and her voice was so tender then that he wanted to reach out, catch her face between his hands and tell her that yes. Yes, he loved everything about it.

"I love it." He said.

A relieved laugh bursts out of her, "I am naming it Sunset By The Waterfall." She said. "But enough about me, show me yours."

Elladan had faced a band of orcs, had faced the wrath of their parents while growing up, had gone through battle with the first Rohirrim, but showing this particular drawing to this particular person made him just as nervous as going into battle with his bare hands. He took the fabric off the painting and offered it to her, with the blank space at the back presented to her. He replaced her spot in supporting her painting and helped her lean it against the stone bench and then she turned the drawing.

And her breath caught.

It was a pair of eyes. The entire canvas was filled with just those eyes. Round, dark eyes, made with so much detail even though it was drawn only with charcoal. And in those eyes reflected a scene of a starry night, and the shadows of trees.

Liv recognized these eyes as her own.

She looked up at Elladan, mouth slightly open.

"You hate it. I was afrai--"

"I love it." How something could be made with such detail, how such fine lines could be drawn the way he did, was beyond her. It would take skill and practice of years and years that Liv knew she would never be able to pick up. And for a warrior, whose hands have held weapons, whose hands were rough and calloused from thousands of years of holding those weapons, his hand was exceedingly gentle and precise with his drawings.

If she looked at the drawing now, she would see eyes full of hope and excitement over what it was seeing. But it also looked as though it was eyes mourning after what she had seen, during a starry night, and behind the shadow of trees. What Elladan made seem to come to life, and conveyed emotions that Liv would never in her wildest dreams would be able to pull off with her own hands.

"Elladan, I love it." She gasped, as tears welled behind her eyes. His face fell.

"You are crying." He said. "Oh, no. I would never want you to cry again."

He was frantic, once again, not knowing what he had to do to comfort her and he tried to take the drawing from her but she held on tight to it. "It's beautiful."

Liv had been a subject of a painting before, but never before had someone taken so much care to depict her the way Elladan had. It was, to her, the highest form of compliment as an artist. And before she could stop herself, she was reaching out and he responded by stepping closer, and she was tipping her toes and he was leaning down as her arms wrapped around his neck and her chin settled on his shoulder. His own arm was around her waist, pulling her closer while his other hand was on the back of her head.

"You are crying." Elladan repeated.

"I am happy. Do not ruin the moment." She laughed, though her voice was thick with emotion. And they held each other closer.

And Elladan, at that moment, realized he had fallen for her. He may have fallen for her a long time ago, but here was where he realized it for himself. With his heart spilled into his drawing. This simple drawing. She looked at all the beautiful things around her with eyes that soaked everything in. With eyes that lightened up whenever she smiled. He must have fallen for those eyes. He must have fallen for that smile.

But God, she had never looked at him like that. He realized this all too quickly. There were still so many things she had to accept, loss she still had to grieve. Who was he to add to her confusion? He might have been brave enough to hint at what he was feeling a moment ago. But the moment had passed, and he cared about her too much to further shake the familiarity she so needed now.

"I am glad you are happy, then." Is what he said instead, and she pulled away from his embrace and looked at the drawing once more.

"How you put so much detail in with just charcoal..." She whispered. His hand absent-mindedly reached out to wipe the tear tracks down her cheeks. And she looked up and gave him the softest smile she had ever given him.

"I will be going with Nimeth when the merchants arrive here. Hopefully, I will be able to buy a frame for this. I would want it hung." She said.

"You would hang my drawing?" He sounded flattered.

"Yes, silly. In my chambers. I think there is a spot to put it. I could sell my painting for the gold to buy a nice frame."

"If you are hanging my drawing, I am hanging your painting in the library."

She looked at her own painting, "It is so simple compared to what you have made, though." She said. "It would look out of place with all the elven art."

"It would stand out and it would be beautiful, Liv." He assured, taking her hand. She looked at their joined hands and smiled. She was not going to admit there were butterflies in her belly wanting to burst out.

"I cannot believe it took you this long to show me." She said.

He shrugged, "I wanted it to be perfect. I could never get the shape of your eyes right."

"Well, my dear Elladan, I think you captured them flawlessly. Thank you."

His smile was so gentle. "For what?"

"For showing me this. I needed it."

He stepped back, and their hands separated as he bowed low. "Anything for you, my lady." He teased.

She smacked his arm. "Hey! Ow! Your punches are stronger now!" He whined.

She laughed, "Don't be such a baby!"

"I am not a baby!"

"Whatever you say, my lord." Liv flourished her hand dramatically and bowed as well. Elladan shook his head and took her painting to be hung.

And it seemed then that a great weight lifted off both of their shoulders. Their laughter echoed through the halls, until Liv stopped in front of a painting of an elleth with silver hair sitting atop a white horse with her silver cloak cast over the horse's rump, only the profile of her face was visible. Liv had passed by this painting before, had observed it and admired its beauty. It had conveyed sadness, and the painting had almost a dream-like quality to it, like the amount of white paint was intentional.

Elladan turned back to check what she was looking at, and his smile melted off his face. "I made that after mother left for the Grey Havens." Elladan said. "That was how I remembered last seeing her. When the light of dawn broke through the trees and she turned, never to come back."

He had not opened up about their mother yet. It was always Elrohir who talked about her. Even mentioning her was still painful for Elladan, regardless of the years.

Yet there he was, feeling either very bold or very vulnerable to the one woman he had allowed a glimpse of his soul, a woman who understood loss as well as he did.

Those brown eyes blinked up at him, "I am sorry. You do not have to tell me more if you do not wish to."

He nodded, slowly, grateful for her. "She would have loved you. She would have loved your passion for all that you did. She waa just like you, youthful, stubborn but wise. Yes, I think she would have gladly been friends with you. Arwen loves you enough as a friend already."

"I care for Arwen as well."

"She will need you when Cristiel leaves for the Havens as well."

"What? Leaving, already?" She gasped.

"In about a month, or when summer ends."

A month. If she remembered, it was the first week of August, by the calendar she was used to. By September, Cristiel would be gone.

"Cristiel has sisters, her parents, her husband waiting for her in the Undying Lands. She's been wanting to follow them for fifty years now."

"And Elarinya? I know she has been wanting to leave for a while now."

"Elarinya wants to go as well. It is only by Arwen's request that she stays."

"And you?"

He turned, sharply. "Me?"

"You. Elrohir. Arwen. Lord Elrond. Will you be leaving as well?" Liv asked. Elladan knew she was asking for the sake of protecting her heart from the pain of their departure.

"No. Not for a long time, I expect."

"Long by your standards or mine?"

He shifted the painting he was holding to hold it with one hand, and his free hand went to her shoulder. "Mine, Liv." He said. "We will not leave you. Elrohir, Arwen and I will not leave you."

He couldn't do that. Not to her. Not without leaving his own heart behind with her if he did. Her shoulder loosened, as if she had been tense the entire time. He led her away from the painting of Celebrian, but her eyes lingered a moment longer before he had led her back to her room.

Chapter Text

Spirits were high the next day. Elves were milling around, excitedly talking about the coming merchants. They would be coming all the way from a land called Gondor. Erestor was already watching over where the stalls were to be placed--the courtyard that was right by the entrance to Imladris was filled with tables for the merchants to set their stores on. Glorfindel and Cristiel were bringing in guards to patrol the area in case any enemy or wolves came too close or followed the caravan of merchants coming over.

Melpomaen was knocking down every door, asking if there was anything anyone needed from the merchants. There were some Elves who did not wish to mingle with the Men, something about it being too early to be dealing with overexcited merchants, but Melpomaen was generous enough to take down items they may need: candles, wax, new quills, new sheaths for their swords.

Liv woke to the sound of knocking, and out of breath Melpomaen might have been, he still greeted her with a warm smile when she opened her door just enough for her head to poke through.

"You have drool. Just over here." He said, in a tone too bright for her mood. Liv was not a morning person. She quickly dragged her sleeve across her mouth, mortified.

And then.

The bird.

It was a tiny bird, with brown feathers. Two of them, in fact, fluttering in from the window and chirping annoyingly.

"What happened to your owl?" Liv asked, squinting at the two birds that landed on Melpomaen, one on his shoulder, the other on top of his dark hair.

"Sleeping, I expect. These new friends were just saying the merchants are about an hour away from arrival. That was what I came here for. Would you be needing anything? I could have them brought to you if you wish." He asked.

Liv's head poked farther out, so that her shoulder was visible. Melpomaen blushed and kept his eyes two inches above her head. She was wearing a thin nightgown, after all, and he wouldn't want her to feel uncomfortable with his gaze. Liv did not notice. She was too busy checking the hallway to see if the Elves were already on their way to the courtyard.

"It's fine. I will go down myself. Mel, if you see Nimeth, could you ask her to come to my chamber so we can go see the merchants together?" She said, lighting up almost immediately.

"Yes, yes, of course. And I will get someone to bring in hot water for your bath."

"Thank you, Mel! I do not know what I would do without you." Liv smiled.

"Oh, you'll be miserable without me airing out your chambers and tucking in your sheets. I know it." He chuckled before walking away. The birds on his shoulder take flight above his head, chirping once more.

Nimeth arrived just as Liv got out of the private bath that she helped set up when two Elves brought buckets of water in. The scent of flowers from the bath oils she had used was heavy in the room and Nimeth even came in with two large packages and a third, smaller one, stacked on top of each other and placed on the trunk at the foot of her bed.

"I finished them just in time!" Nimeth said, excitedly while Liv wrapped a robe around herself. Nimeth opened one of the packages and held out a beautiful light grey top, with subtle embroideries of a darker grey and pearls. The sleeves only covered her shoulders so that her arms would not be constrained by heavy sleeves like most of the dresses she owned, and the hem of the dress went down in a V shape at the front and back. The bottom long skirt was a separate piece of the same darker shade of grey as the embroidery and it was light and flowy and perfect for moving through the woods of Imladris.

The other package was the beautiful dress that Nimeth had altered to perfectly fit Liv. It was the same sheer dress with red lace and a full, red skirt. The sleeves would fit snugly around her arms to her wrists and the collar was a turtle-neck. Liv remembered Arwen once said this would be perfect for a party.

The smaller package was the most surprising, though. And the one that touched her heart the most. The clothes were simple, familiar, and so obviously made by Mannish hands. But Liv knew the person who made this worked hard on it.

It was Aurien's Ranger clothes. The shirt and pants and vest she had made in secret. The outfit Caladír wanted her to wear because he did not think Aurien would want it to gather dust at the bottom of a trunk. "Anorvain gave it to me a day before he left. I had it washed yesterday. He said he brought it with him the last time you went to the cottage and wanted you to have it."

His cloak and now Aurien's hard work. There were no words for how much it meant to Liv that he trusted her with these things. She had something of their family with her now. Something to remind her about their love and care for her during her darkest times. She had something of Aurien, even. Liv found herself missing a girl she has never even missed. Aurien's presence was still heavy in the cottage back in the settlement. Even after two years, her family still kept her memory alive. And for Liv, to be trusted with this memory was an honor.

Liv hugged Nimeth tightly for the gifts, and Nimeth welcomed her in her arms with a bright smile. "You are welcome." Nimeth said, because she could see that Liv truly appreciated what she had brought, so much so that she had been rendered speechless.

The two went down to the stalls and were greeted by Bilbo just as they were getting to the courtyard, with a book tucked beneath his arm and Lord Elrond walking beside him. "Ah! There you are!" Bilbo greeted.

"Mae g'ovannen, Bilbo. Lord Elrond." Liv said, bowing as she greeted the Lord of Imladris.

"Aha! Finally putting Erestor's lessons to good use, I see." Bilbo beamed, conversing fluently in Sindarin.

"Only little. Still I not know how to speak good." Liv said, replying in what little Sindarin she knew.

"Ah, no one perfects Sindarin overnight. I still get my mutations wrong and I am a hundred and eleven years old. But you are doing well. Very well." Bilbo said, reverting back to Westron. "Anyway, I was just on my way to get more parchment. It appears I have quite a few more pages to fill before this book is finished."

"I'm sure it's going to turn out great. Will I be given the chance to read it when you do?" Liv asked.

"I would expect you to! It is filled with adventures, Liv. An adventure of dwarves and friendship and... things that could have been." Bilbo's voice trails at the last part, as though a dark memory slithered into his mind, and Lord Elrond placed a hand on his shoulder in comfort. Bilbo recovered quickly however, and a smile was lighting up his face once more before Liv could ask what was wrong, "But there are dragons, too, and trolls. But you cannot read it until after I finished!"

Liv laughed, knowing exactly what it felt like when doing a work in progress. "Could you at least tell me the name of the main character?"

"Me, of course." Bilbo said. "But that is all you are getting from me about it. Do not worry, I only have a few chapters to finish and then comes the grueling task of drawing maps as accurately as possible."

"Elladan has told me you are skilled with art, Liv." Lord Elrond said.

"Yes, hir nín. They're not as good as Elven art but I would like to think I am skilled." Liv said. "Hey, Bilbo, if you would like me to help you draw those maps, I am always available."

"I appreciate the thought, Liv, but this book has... significance to me. I would like to create it by myself. And besides, your hands are already full with training, so I hear." Bilbo said.

"How goes the training?" Lord Elrond says.

"Very well, hir nín. My shots are landing closer to the target, and I think I have more muscle in my biceps now."

"Still wearing a dress for training?" Lord Elrond sounded amused.

"Of course. I am planning to learn how to climb trees while in a dress." Liv said.

"As long as you do not wear heavy dresses. Sweat stains are hard to take out of heavy fabric." Bilbo injected.

Nimeth, who had been quiet up until that point, snorted and hid her giggle behind her hand.

"What is funny?" Bilbo deadpans.

"Oh, sweat stains are nothing. Try getting blood out of a heavy dress."

This took far too long for Bilbo to process, while Lord Elrond's eyes widened fractionally and Liv clutched Nimeth's arm as they both tried not to laugh at the look on Bilbo's face.

"Uhh, the merchants. I am sure you would like to check the silks, Nimeth." Lord Elrond said in a hurried tone.

"Yes, Lord Elrond." Nimeth bowed and took Liv's hand and tugged her away.

There was, indeed, plenty of fabric and Nimeth went right into bargaining for prices. Liv stopped by every stall. Some sold wine, some sold practical items like parchment, quill and ink, and some sold fine jewelry. But she felt magnetized towards a stall that sold canvases and paint brushes and frames. The stall was smaller compared to the others, but there was so much to choose from. So many colors of paint, so many brushes. There was even charcoal and a sketchpad.

The merchant, a shorter woman with kind eyes, held out a set of paintbrushes at her.

"Oh, no, I could not." Liv said, although already reaching out for one of the brushes. It was so well-made. The wood used was smooth and just the right weight. Liv felt a twinge as she remembered how, if she was back home, she would have laughed at the simplicity of it, and how she would have bought a more expensive set just because she could. When she used to have no care how much money she spent before, now she was only all too aware that she had not one coin on her and how desperate she was for her own set of brushes and paint. She was just about to hand it back when someone said,

"Give it to her, kind woman. I will pay for it."

Arwen's hand extended to give the woman a few silver coins. The woman's eyes widened, "My lady, it is worth only a few coppers." She extended the money back to Arwen but she shook her head, "Please, take it."

"I cannot accept this when I will only part with a set of brushes."

"Can I have a frame, then? Just a simple one. Nothing fancy or too big." Liv was embarrassed to have to even ask. She felt like a child for doing so. Arwen did not seem to mind. And the lady gave her a silver frame, perfect for the size of Elladan's drawing.

The woman stared reverently at Arwen. And Arwen simply smiled, thanked the woman, and motioned for Liv to follow her.

"Thank you, my lady. Thank you." Liv said.

"Do not worry about it." Arwen said.

"No, really. You have been very kind to me from the very beginning. Thank you for that."

"Perhaps it is because I see myself in you..." Arwen said, and there was something in the way she said it. With sadness and certainty. As though she knew something but was holding what she knew back. After all, Liv did not know Arwen had the gift of foresight, like her mother and grandmother did. Perhaps she has seen something about Liv that made her feel protective over her. A sense of familiarity in similar fates.

"And you really did look like you wanted those brushes." Arwen added quickly before Liv could ask what she really meant. "You're happier when you paint. Goodness knows there has been too much sadness in Imladris. I'm glad to bring even a little joy into our lands."

"Wine, fair ladies?" A merchant stopped to hold out a goblet to them. "From Gondor's finest vineyard. Try a sip, give it a go." The merchant said.

"I guess there is no harm in trying." Liv said as she tried a taste.

And forced her expression to remain neutral.

The wine was strong. It didn't taste the same as the wine she was used to drinking in Imladris, and she did not know if she liked it or not. "It's...different." Liv said, midly, "Strong."

"Truly? The dwarves who tried our wine once said it was not strong enough." The merchant sounded delighted.

"Never take a Dwarf's word when it comes to food. Their tastes are usually very different compared to Elves." Arwen said.

Liv took another sip of the wine, "But, you know what, I think I may actually be starting to like it."

"Have a bottle, if you wish." The merchant offered. Liv shook her head, once again feeling a flush of embarrassment. "Ah, no. Thank you."

"Liv..." Arwen was already reaching for the pouch she had in her hand.

"No, please." She turned back to the merchants, "Will you be returning here anytime soon?"

The merchant turned his eyes towards Arwen, who shrugged and gave an apologetic look. "Trade negotiations are handled by either my brothers or Erestor."

"I am sure we would be coming back if Imladris would have us again. The Imladhrim are a fair people and it has been a pleasure trading with you." The merchant said, bowing to Arwen as he did.

Arwen smiled, "You honor us, Man of Gondor."

The two of them continued to stroll around the courtyard. Melpomaen was there with Glorfindel, who was frowning and glaring up at the birds chirping around his and Melpomaen's heads.

Two birds held up a parchment that Melpomaen was checking. His hands were full with things he had already bought. Glorfindel practically hissed at a bird that came too close.

"It is a bird, not a wolf, Lord Glorfindel." Melpomaen said, consulting the list once more.

"One of your pets keep trying to build a nest on my head." Glorfindel's voice was thin.

"They are not pets. They are--"

"Friends. Yes, I know." Glorfindel rolled his eyes, "I wish your friends did not try to touch my hair, however."

"Perhaps they think you need to style it differently. You have worn it in the same style for nearly an Age. The only time you wore it down was when Elladan and Elrohir forced you to cut the damaged hair off."

Glorfindel shivered, "Never mention that again! I am a warrior. I do not need to style my hair." He said with as much dignity as he could muster.

"Of course, great warrior Glorfindel." Melpomaen said in a cheerful voice. Glorfindel narrowed his eyes at him.

"Goodbye." He said, marching off.

"Wait! I thought you wanted to see if they had any more sandalwood oil!" Melpomaen called, looking up from his list.

"You check! Bring it to my chambers if they have them."

Liv and Arwen separated as Glorfindel stormed towards them and made his way to the training grounds. The two exchanged confused glances before they joined Melpomaen. He was almost to the bottom of his list, and he was checking off items he had already bought for the other Elves who did not want to come down to the merchants themselves.

Liv took the list from the birds still patiently holding it up, and the two circled above her head.

"Twenty sacks of sugar. Fifty sacks of flour and... a lot of eggs." Liv read the list for him.

"Ah, my lady. Liv." Melpomaen would not have noticed them if Liv had not spoken.

"How are you going to carry all of this to the kitchen?" Liv asked, running her finger down the list. It was a mark of how well a tutor Erestor was and how fast a learner she was that she could understand the Tengwar on the pages.

"The merchants brought carts. Also, now that you are here, Elrohir wanted me to tell you to see him in the stables."

"Me? Why?"

"I did not ask. Though, I suppose it had something to do with the pretty saddle he bought."

"He bought a saddle?" Liv was utterly perplexed.

"Ah, Cristiel has told me that Elrohir had been going to the stables a lot. Perhaps you should go." Arwen said, and she said it in such a casual tone, that Liv was suspicious she knew all along it was happening.

Confused, Liv did as she was told. "I will drop these off at my chambers first." She said, lifting the things in her hand. She passed by Nimeth and Rossien, both holding new fabric and Rossien had an extra basket for gardening tools. Liv bade the two goodbye as she made her way back inside. She placed Elladan's drawing in the silver frame and hung it up above the table where she usually worked on her grammar exercises for Erestor.

She fastened Anorvain's cloak with a clasp at her throat and went to the training grounds, which was near the stables. She stopped when she saw the twins fighting, however.

She had never actually seen the two fight. Weapons were drawn and there was a look of concentration on their faces. They moved faster than her eyes could catch a glimpse of where their swords clashed. They circled, blocked and thrust in a fluid, deadly dance.

She would have interrupted immediately if she had not heard Elrohir laugh. "That is twice now you've failed to block properly."

"I did block you!" Elladan protested.

"Barely."

"You are just frustrated because I'm a better defensive fighter."

"Say that when you can block properly, Elladan." Elrohir laughed again.

"Liv!" Elladan turned to see her watching them in amusement. He blocked Elrohir's next swing without even looking, instead giving her a glowing smile.

"Is this how the Lords of Imladris play?" She said.

"This is how the Lords of Imladris--don't even try it, Elrohir--this is how we hide from the good Lord Glorfindel. We have not practiced in a while. He will have seen our skill has slipped." Elladan answered.

"He can't really blame us when he was a strong advocate of keeping us away from our weapons." Elrohir said, dodging to the left as Elladan swung his sword.

"And yet you have them now." Liv observed.

"Elarinya said we can have them back and that ada said we could get out of Imladris once more." Elrohir sounded most pleased.

"And to thank you," Elladan said, "we decided to bring you to one of our favorite places outside of the halls of Imladris."

"Thank me?" It was a wonder to Liv that the two could have such a casual conversation while they swung deadly weapons at each other.

"Elarinya observed our...tempers...are better when you are around." Elrohir paused only for a split second and yet Elladan still managed to find an opening. Elrohir stepped back to avoid Elladan's blade.

"Strange, I thought I've been testing your tempers the entire time." Liv teased.

"Ssh. Do not ruin the moment. We are trying to thank you." Elladan managed to stand in front of Liv to tap her nose with his finger. She scrunched up her nose, making him laugh.

Elrohir relaxed his position when he did, smirking. "You are outside of the circle. I win."

"Not because of your superior skills, I assure you." Elladan turned to his brother.

"If that would make you feel better. Come, Liv." Elrohir said, taking Liv's hand and pulling her towards the stables.

"Okay, okay." She laughed.

Elladan took Elrohir's sword from him as the two led Liv to stables. Elrohir even made a show of covering her eyes, and she laughed at the silliness of it all. She did not have the heart to tell them people had already spoiled what their surprise was.

When Elrohir's hands slipped off her eyes, she had to blink to adjust to the dimmed light of the stables, but in front of her stood a pure white horse, a beautiful saddle already secured on it. She smiled, though hesitating to step forward. She has never had a good experience on a horse, both emotionally and physically. The first time she got on one when she arrived in Middle-earth, and Elrohir was forced to take her, stink and bad attitude. The other times was when she was in great sorrow, with the memory of loss and despair behind her.

"Go on. She will not bite." Elladan held out a hand for her and she gladly took it. With one hand, he stroked the horse's neck and he laid Liv's hand on its nose.

The horse nudged her hand, and she pulled back in surprise, then tried to touch her again and a laugh burst out of her.

"They're not that bad, I guess." She said, stepping closer to the horse. "I think I'll name her Gloss." She said, in what limited Sindarin she could get from.

"A name, already! That was quick." Elladan said.

"I figured I would just name it after its color."

"You figured?" There was suspicion in Elrohir's voice.

"Melpomaen kind of spoiled the surprise. I was already trying to figure out what to name the horse before I got here." Liv said, sheepishly.

The twins' faces fell slowly. "We have been planning this for weeks!"

"We wanted to give you your own horse. We wrote to the merchants to bring a selection of saddles when Erestor made us write those trade manifests." Elrohir frowned.

"We even planned to give the horse to you the moment ada allowed us to leave Imladris again. We've been sneaking off to the stables when you were not around to select the right horse." Elladan sighed.

"To be perfectly fair to Melpomaen, all he said was that you bought saddles and wanted me to go to the stables. It was presumptious of me to assume you would give me a horse, now that I think about it." Liv said, looking down. Once again, she caught herself being a spoiled and entitled rich girl. She was disappointed in herself for still expecting people to hand her things and spoiling her. It was embarrassing enough that Arwen paid for so many of her possessions now. She took advantage of her parents' wealth, but now she was ashamed to be relying on other people's generosity. That had been what kept her alive in Middle-earth: someone else would be gracious and selfless enough to take her in, care for her and feed her.

"Liv?" Elladan whispered. She had stopped moving and had looked down. When she looked back at him, he pretended he did not see the blush on her cheeks.

"Hm?" She tried to be casual.

"Do you like it? Our gift."

All everyone around her did was give her gifts. She did not know why she was fortunate enough to be surrounded by such generous people, but she thanked God He brought them to her, anyway. It was a humbling experience. She had a lot of money once, too, but she was never as generous as them. And everyday, they make her realize how her privilege before had led her to be uncaring of those less fortunate. If she could do anything to give back now, she would.

"I love it. Thank you, both of you." She said, turning to the twins.

"Well, we are not done yet." Elladan said. His hand never did let go of Liv, so he pulled her towards the side of the horse and helped her up on the saddle.

"I am still not a good rider." Liv confessed.

"Now would be the perfect time to learn, yes? What did you name her, again? Gloss?" Elrohir said.

"Snow White, yes. It is the name of a gentle princess in children's stories from where I come from." She explained.

"It is a beautiful name. Come, Gloss has already been trained to also follow verbal commands so it will be perfect for you to learn with her." Elrohir said.

"Not to mention, it will also improve your Sindarin. She will only respond to Sindarin commands." Elladan added.

"Let's see how well Erestor taught you, shall we?" Elrohir laughed, and his horse neighed and sped off. Elladan's steed galloped off at a slower rate as he kept a close watch on Liv, and the Sindarin comands for "Go!" and "Left!" slipped naturally off her tongue. Their journey took them to the woods at the foot behind Imladris and Liv laughed in delight as Elladan and Elrohir made their horses circle around hers, their hair whipping in the wind as they sped ahead when they reached a clearing.

Gloss, as Liv first thought, was a gentle and patient animal who seemed to know when and how to move to keep her rider safe, despite Liv's lack of skill. They reached a clearing where a stream passed through and where some of the white houses of Imladris could be seem from the top of the trees.

They rested by the stream, while the horses grazed nearby. The ground was covered in daisies, and Elrohir picked some to give it to Liv. Elladan lay on his back, his arm covering his eyes as the sun streamed through the leaves. It was peaceful and calm and there was laughter between the three of them.

"If someone had told me three months ago that I would be sitting with flowers around me in the company of the two grumpy Elves I would have thought I had gone mad." Liv said as she observed Elrohir casually making a crown with the daisies he had gathered.

"Grumpy? Who are you calling grumpy?" Elladan's arm slipped downwards a fraction so he can raise any eyebrow at her.

"You, Lord Grumpy Pants." She said, poking his side, making him yelp and inch away from her. Liv's face lit up. "Aha, I had no idea you were ticklish." She said, scooting closer.

"Don't you dare!" Elladan warned and gasped as Liv practically tackled him, her fingers going to his side. He let out a surprised laugh and struggled while Liv cackled at his helplessness.

"Elrohir! What are you doing there, help me!" Elladan pleaded.

Elrohir chuckled, but took his time in putting down the flower crown he was making. With barely any effort, he pulled Liv off his poor brother by the waist, but she struggled away from him and in the process, landed on her back with Elrohir above her.

"Hm. I wonder how many times you have had a woman in this position before." She teased.

Elrohir blushed. "Never!" He said too quickly.

"Now, now, no need to get so--Ack! That is not fair!" Liv wriggled away from Elrohir as he tickled her waist.

"Revenge!" Elladan laughed, making Liv shriek as the two attacked. But because Liv was a dirty fighter, she pushed and pinched the two until she managed to struggle out of the heap and kicked her legs until they raised their hands in surrender, chuckling as they did.

"You two are children!" She huffed.

"You started it, as I recall." Elladan said, settling on his back again.

"Shush, or I will attack you again." She threatened, lying down as well. They lay facing opposite parts of the clearing, so that only their heads were beside each other, and Elladan unconsciously brought his hand up to play with her hair that had fanned out on the grass. Liv closed her eyes lazily as his fingers brushed through her hair, and turned to face him. Even upside down, his profile was handsome. She found herself wanting to touch his cheek or trace the delicate shape of his nose so that she can paint them with precision. His own eyes were staring up, unfocused in Elven sleep and the sunlight coated his skin in a golden glow.

They did not realize Elrohir had slipped away to bring the horses to another part of the clearing, to also hunt for different flowers and fruits for them to snack on.

But Elladan's eyes cleared and her turned to find Liv looking at him, and he smiled lazily at her.

"You are beautiful." She said.

"Me? You should see yourself. Painters would never run out of inspiration if you were their muse. Sculptors would labor endlessly to carve you into stone to make sure they have your features just right." His smile widened.

Liv was awestruck. Perhaps it was just the effect of drowsiness on him. Elladan was still half-asleep, after all. Perhaps he was just dreaming of something else. But his head inched forward, and their noses touched.

"You are more beautiful than anything in this world, Olivia." He whispered.

Olivia. Her name sounded different when he said it. Breathless, careful to say it just right. Her name on his lips made her feel as if she was the only Olivia in the world. How a name could feel so intimate on the right person's lips confused her, but it felt right.

He must be dreaming. Liv was sure he was. But his gaze on her was steady and clear and her guts danced at the thought of him looking at her without shame to tell her she was beautiful.

"I found apples."

The spell broke and Liv sat up so quickly that blood rushed from her head and made her dizzy.

"Great!" She said, too loudly. Elrohir raised an eyebrow as Elladan sat up more slowly, rubbing the back of his neck as he did.

"Did I interrupt something?" Elrohir asked.

"No." The two answered in unison. Elrohir froze with the apples in his hand and he threw two at their direction. Liv was too jumpy to catch hers, but Elladan caught the two and offered one to Liv. The two caught each other's eyes as Liv reached out for the apple, and they lingered a second longer when their skin brushed against each other.

"Take this to your room as well." Elrohir continued, pretending not to notice though he smirked at Elladan when Liv pulled away, and offering a bunch of lavanders, daisies and forget-me-nots to her.

"Thank you. They're... nice." Liv couldn't find herself saying the word 'beautiful'. The word suddenly felt so much more intimate than before.

"Now, then." Elrohir sat down in front of Liv and placed the flower crown he had made on top of her head while she bit into her apple. "In order for us not to get murdered by Erestor when we get back, let's practice your Westron, shall we?" He said, and Liv was only too happy for the distraction.

They spent the rest of the morning until afternoon in that clearing, and things eased back to normal between Liv and Elladan as the twins helped her with her contractions. And when they got bored, they taught Liv how to ride her horse.

And Liv convinced herself that maybe Elladan's sleepy words were just words he said to someone else in his dreams. Maybe he was just drunk on sleep. Though a small part of her kept his words locked in her heart, she told herself the words were not what she hoped he meant. Because if she fell in love with Elladan now, too many things would change.

And she was terrified of change.

Chapter Text

Dear Anorvain,

I hope you are doing well. It has been three weeks since you left Imladris and I miss you everyday. I do miss your jokes, it's true. Please remember to eat. And bathe. Don't forget to bathe. But also to sleep and to wash your clothes. And your boots. Do not forget to clean your boots. And, please, as much as possible, avoid any situation where you have to bring your sword out. Halbarad is here, but he had to talk to Lord Elrond, and he looked worried. He said he would have his son carry this letter to you. I hope it finds you safe and healthy. And I hope you get this soon. This is a time when I miss having a cellphone. If we had those now, all I would have to do is talk into it and we would be able to talk for however long we want, no matter where we are.

Rossien is missing you. She tries to hide it but she does. Her and Lindir are getting along well, however. Lindir visits her when we're in the kitchens. Speaking of which, I find that I am enjoying helping the cooks. They are most interested in my 'foreign' recipes, so they call it. But I will never mention fried chicken again. They practically had a heart attack when I told them it had to be soaked in oil. Arwen enjoyed it when I made it for her, though. She finished four. She also loves donuts. You will not believe how much she can eat and still look like a proper lady while doing it. Elarinya is amazed at Arwen's new-found love for the food I make. I will make some for you when you get back here. I will make you so fat, you will never want to go back to the wilds again.

I'm avoiding Elladan, though not for the reasons you may think. But I would rather tell you in person than on paper. He just makes me uncomfortable. Like my stomach is in knots when he is around. I can't eat when he is sitting in front of me. And his smile. I have almost injured myself twice just yesterday when he looked at me during training. And yet, I still find myself laughing along with him. I find myself watching him leave after he takes me to my room after dinner. And when he brings me flowers when I come back from afternoon tea with Bilbo or Arwen.

He and Elrohir are teaching me how to ride. It is one of the things I picked up quite well, though I suspect it's because Gloss--that is, my horse--is already well-trained. And I am getting better and better with Westron. Sindarin is harder. I have trouble with it. But Erestor says I am a natural at Westron. I suspect it's because the rules of the language are almost similar to English. I am also teaching Erestor calligraphy. He saw me writing in cursive the other day and he was quite fascinated. One session later and he is already better at it than me. He was most excited when he could write his name in my language. He has picked the language up well, though I expect nothing less from a master of books. He can hold conversational English now, and Elrohir wants to learn as well.

Elladan and Elrohir also want to take me to meet their grandmother, Lady Galadriel. But we would have to travel after winter. They tell me the Redhorn Pass is not safe this time of the year. You could come with us. You would be back here when the time comes, right?

I send you all my love,
Olivia

"Liv, let us go get lunch." Rossien called from the door.

"Just a second. I have to finish this letter." Liv said. The letter took longer than it should have taken her to write it. Skilled though she may be at speaking and listening, her writing was still something she had to work on, though she wrote Westron better than Sindarin. Truthfully, Liv did not think she would be able to speak or write Sindarin even after six months of learning. The language was more intricate and complicated than Westron, and she was preoccupied with other things now that she had settled in Imladris. She had training with weapons, horse-riding and the cooks in Imladris' kitchens insisted she stick around more often.

And she was painting when she had free time. She had made four small paintings of the flowers she encountered in the gardens, and she would usually be painting in the terraces while Bilbo wrote beside her. By mid-August she had heard all about his nephew, Frodo, and about the Shire.

Glorfindel had taken to watching her weapons trainings. He was already suggesting that she duel with the newest recruits to test her skills. Her archery was also getting much better. Liv had noted over the course of her training that her muscles were getting more toned, especially her arms and legs, though she now constantly had nicks and callouses on her hands where she held her sword.

That day, however, she was able to write to Anorvain because the twins were nowhere to be found. She had assumed they were simply away on an important matter. After almost three months in Imladris, she realized it was not uncommon for them to be away for a day or two as they, too, sometimes took border duties with Glorfindel. Sometimes, they went out with other warriors to hunt for food.

But the moment Liv saw the look on Rossien's face, she knew something was wrong. She looked tense and worried, playing with the end of her hair while waiting for Liv--a nervous habit of hers.

Liv knew what it was about without Rossien even having to speak.

"How long have they been gone?" Liv asked.

"They went with Cristiel but snuck away. Lord Glorfindel is fuming, though no blame was put on Cristiel. They did not think the twins would fall back to their habit so quickly."

"It's been almost two months since that last happened!"

"A mere blink in the life of an immortal Elf."

Liv paused for a beat and Rossien narrowed her eyes in suspicion.

"Liv, don't you dare."

"I didn't say anything!"

"You were thinking it. Look, it's too--what are you doing?"

Liv had retreated back to her room to grab a cloak. Rossien ran in to find her tying the lace of her cloak at her throat.

"You are wearing a dress." Rossien pointed out as if that was an issue to Liv.

"Psh." Was the only noise Liv made before hastily tying her hair up.

"Liv, you do not even know the way! You will only get lost and there are wolves--"

"You could come with me."

"Me?" Rossien laughed. "No. I am not a warrior. You are better off asking Cristiel or Lord Glorfindel--wait! No!" Rossien smacked her forehead when she realized her mistake as Liv threw her a wicked grin.

"Don't! You will get in trouble."

"Oh, lighten up. You sound like Elarinya."

"I do not!" Rossien huffed, "If I sounded like Elarinya, I would be threatening to lock you in your room, not warning you of the danger of your childish impulsiveness."

Liv feigned a hurt look, "I did not think you would be the kind to use my mortality against me."

Rossien groaned, "No, no, I did not mean that!"

"I am a young mortal who is too weak to take care of myself, then?"

"No! Liv!" Rossien sounded near panicking. Liv almost felt bad for causing her to feel distress. She released a sound of frustration, "Fine, fine! Risk your life if you want, do not blame me when something happens to you."

"Nothing will happen to me, Rossien."

"You sound very sure of yourself."

"Because I know as long as I'm with the twins, I will not get hurt."

"Oh, I will regret this." Rossien groaned.

"Cover for me. Also, if you see Halbarad, could you tell him to give this letter to Anorvain?" And with that, Liv turned to the nearest doorway that led outside, nearest to the stables. She did not notice the flash of longing on Rossien's face when she mentioned Anorvain's name. Thankfully, the cloak she wore hid the sword strapped to her waist, and she casually strolled through the training grounds. Like the last time the twins went off to hunt orcs, the grounds were empty save for a squad of five Elves in hunter's gear. Glorfindel stood in front of them, gesticulating.

Cristiel stood at the back, her eyebrows furrowed. All their attention was given to the golden-haired Captain.

Liv veered as far away from them as possible and snuck into the woods where she and the twins had been in several times to get to the clearing. She had been here many times over the past two weeks. This part of the woods, she knew. So she treaded confidently through the trees, her hand on the hilt of her sword. She turned back to make sure no one had seen her and almost shrieked when Cristiel landed on the ground beside her.

"And where are you off to?" Cristiel said, breezily.

"Strolling." Liv lied, "There's a clearing that I enjoy just over--"

"I know which clearing you speak of and I also know you do not go there without company or without your horse." Cristiel stepped closer and Liv backed away.

"I thought it is a good day for a walk."

"And you just happened to bring a weapon with you?"

Liv was about to protest and make up another lie but Cristiel, quick as lightning, pulled her cloak away and took her sword, her movements quick and fluid. Liv huffed in annoyance as Cristiel jumped up the branch of the nearest tree.

"Cristiel!" Liv hissed, looking up at her.

Cristiel stood on the narrow branch as one who would stand on a tightrope, except she did not falter at all. She was even swinging Liv's sword to test its balance. "Good for slicing and stabbing, not so good for decapitations or hacking limbs off."

"Give it back!"

"So how did you convince our dear Rossien to let you sneak off to follow the lords of Imladris?"

"The same way I will convince you to give back my weapon and let me go." Liv said.

"You will find I am not easily swayed. Rossien is soft. I, however, know the consequences of letting you go alone into the woods where wolves and orcs roam." Cristiel said. "And if by some miracle, you do find the twins when our best scouts can't, your safety will not be guaranteed."

"And why is that?"

"Where the twins usually are, they will usually be surrounded by twenty or so orcs. It is not a pretty sight to behold, penneth."

"I am not going to let them hurt themselves."

"They will hurt themselves whether you let them or not."

"So, that's it? You let them lash out in such a dangerous way and not do anything about it?"

Liv's sword sailed down from the tree, right in front of her. Liv was too stunned to react.

"Careful how you speak, tithen pen. You are a guest and a friend of Lady Arwen's and I have enjoyed your company, but my loyalty is to the House of Elrond, not to you. You do not know what happens beyond what we let you see. There are scouts on the lookout for Elladan and Elrohir right now. Why do you think the grounds are empty when they, too, are gone? Do you think we're careless enough to let the Lords of Imladris put their lives in danger? You insult not only Lord Glorfindel's ability to mobilize troops but Lord Elrond's wisdom."

"Cristiel, saes." Liv was hurt that Cristiel, usually warm and joking when they were together, would be so cold now. "Goheno nin. I just want to make sure they are safe and back home."

"And I'm merely trying to keep you safe." Cristiel's voice was softer now. "But if you truly wish to, fine. Do not say I did not warn you. Keep up if you can." And with that, she jumped from one tree branch to another. Liv yanked her sword out of the ground and ran.

It was easier said than done. The ground was littered with branches and pebbles. She was slow because she tried to keep quiet, and she watched Cristiel jump from tree to tree effortlessly, until Cristiel dropped down to the ground when the trees had become scarce. They were nearing some caves, and they seemed to be at the edge of the mountain.

"Sword out." Cristiel ordered in a soft voice and Liv drew her sword as they entered the cave. Cristiel took her hand when it had become too dark for Liv's eyes to see, but the deeper they went, the louder the sounds of a battle became. Liv could hear the gurgles and shrieks of some unknown creatures. She realized that it was the same noises she heard when creatures attacked the Dúnedain settlement. Those were orcs.

She could hear familiar voices calling to each other and cursing in Sindarin. And she stopped in her tracks at the sight before her. There was very little light that filtered through the underground passage. Had it not been for the two torches on the ground, she would see nothing at all. But she still saw too much.

Cristiel pulled her back when she tried to step forward and Liv made the mistake of looking down. She almost fell back into Cristiel, because by her foot was the body of a disgusting creature, half of its face sliced off. Thick, black blood stained the bottom of Liv's dress and it smelled like a putrid corpse. The ground was littered with corpses of these ugly creatures--black eyed and with sharp, yellow teeth. And in the middle was Elladan and Elrohir, swords and arms drenched. They were coated with sweat and the black blood of orcs and their faces had only pure fury. They were terrifying.

"Elladan." Liv's voice was weak. Cristiel tightened her hold on her forearm in warning, but her grip loosened almost immediately and a second later, she was firing arrows at the orcs that were charging towards the twins.

One of the orcs, sensing that the twins were not the only ones in the cave anymore, ran towards their location. Liv drew her sword and before she knew it, the orc was impaled by her blade.

Elladan turned, furious at the distraction. It took three seconds for it to register in his mind that Liv was standing by the entrance to the passageway, the front of her clothes and her arm drenched in blood. It was too similar to the sight of Celebrian when she stood in front of him, injured and in shock. Liv was panting, and beside her, Cristiel was firing arrows at incoming orcs. An orc charged at Liv from the other side, where Cristiel would not be able to aim a clean shot through and Elladan charged with a fury that terrified both orc and Liv alike. Right before her eyes, Elladan hacked the creature limb by limb into several pieces, yelling curses he would not have otherwise uttered in her presence in any other situation.

"Elladan." Liv's voice was louder now. He turned to her and she was surprised to find that there were tears in his eyes. His whole body relaxed and his sword slipped from his hand until he was on his knees, gripping his hair, coating his hair with the blood of the orc. He could not unsee the sight of Celebrian calling for him, "Ion--Ionenin. Elladan, Elladan!"

Soft hands on his cheeks, drenched in blood as she tried to comfort him, while she bled through an infected wound, her hands cold, her silver gown torn.

"Elladan."

"Ionenin. Where is your brother? Your sister?"

"Elladan. I'm here. I'm here for you, ssh."

He cried out. His mother had fainted after that, and he was so sure she had died. So sure he had been too late. "I'm sorry, I'm sorry. Goheno nin." He muttered over and over until Elrohir knelt beside him.

"It is alright, Elladan." He felt the slender hand on his cheek let go, followed by a stronger, warmer, larger hand on his back.

"Naneth."

Liv watched with pity as Elladan sobbed, and called for a mother that was not there, unable to distinguish reality from memory. Elrohir had pulled Liv away when she tried to comfort him, but Elladan did not even recognize her. He looked straight at her but did not see her.

"Get out." Elrohir's voice was soft but deadly.

The cave was quiet, and the corpses of fallen orcs were on the floor. Cristiel pulled Liv up, for she had knelt down in front of Elladan, and none-too-gently, guided her back out to the open air, not minding if Liv tripped several times on the way out.

When Cristiel turned back to her, she looked Liv up and down and said, "Now, do you see why it is difficult to bring them back?"

Liv had never, not in her wildest dreams, thought it would ever get that hard to see. She did not realize until that moment how deeply Lady Celebrian's loss affected her sons--Elladan, especially. She realized at that moment that bringing the twins back was difficult not because they were stubborn, as she had first believed, but because when they were hunting, they hunted for a purpose: to take vengeance on the creatures that harmed their mother, to pay back the pain Imladris suffered. And this has caused them to channel their deepest, angriest thoughts and memories. Memories are as real as starlight to Elves. When they slept, dreams and memories are one, and sometimes felt more real than their waking life. Now, Liv realized just how overwhelming it could get, how vivid memories can be for Elves.

"They get reckless. They stop caring that they're hurt, which is what worries Lord Glorfindel. Sometimes, the only time they do stop is when one of them gets injured." Cristiel looked down, kicking the dirt.

"Does it happen so often?" Liv asked, her eyes still on the entrance of the caves.

"It depends. Sometimes it takes years and years before their memories get the better of them. Sometimes, it takes only days, especially if the weather is gloomy. The skies were grey when Lady Celebrian was rescued, and even the grey sky can bring their memories to the surface." Cristiel explained. Just like that quiet day in Imladris, when she first saw a different side of the twins.

"When was the last time? Before I came here."

Cristiel looked at her then, "Anorvain was eight years old, Aurien was five. Elrohir was peeling guts off Elladan's hair when we found him. Aurien pulled some orc innards from Elladan's hair when he arrived and Anorvain and Aurien were on a tree. She was upside down and she pulled the innard thinking it was one of his braids. In truth, when she found out what it truly was, Anorvain was more terrified than her."

Liv almost smiled at brave little Aurien, but it faded before it truly came to her lips. Because she knew how guilty the twins would have been for scaring children. "And Elarinya?" Cristiel turned sharply as Liv mentioned the older elleth's name.

"Elarinya had a sister that died in the ambush, too." Liv recalled.

"Elarinya blames them. And she blames herself, as well." Cristiel sounded so tired. "Meldaseldë and Elarinya were both handmaidens to Lady Celebrian. They went with her along with three warriors as bodyguards. She blames herself for running away instead of staying with her sister, even though it was Lady Celebrian who told her to flee, and she blames the twins for not arriving on time to save Meldaseldë."

"That's horrible!" Liv gasped.

Cristiel shrugged, "Elarinya stays only for Arwen. She hates that the twins actively seek danger when her own sister died without seeking it. It does not seem fair to her. The only reason she has not faded from a broken heart is her resentment."

"She should not blame the twins, though. They are still grieving to this day." Liv said, now fiercely protective of her friends. She knew how much the twins blamed themselves already, especially for their mother's trauma. It was not fair that they should also be blamed for something they could not control.

"I know that! But to Elarinya, her loss is greater. She will never see her sister again until they meet in the Halls of Mandos while the twins will see Lady Celebrian once more in the Blessed Realm. I know it's not what you want to hear, and I think part of the reason why the twins have not healed is because of the unnecessary blame put on them, not least of which is the blame and guilt they place on themselves. Imladris has truly changed since Lady Celebrian left. There is bitterness in the air." Cristiel whispered.

It explained some things, especially Elarinya's hostility towards the twins when they last went on a hunt, however unfair and misplaced the blame may be. She remembered Elarinya's harsh treatment of the twins the last time they went off. How angry she had been when they arrived. Her heart broke for them all, because the tragedy truly did affect them deeply.

It was Elrohir who went out first, holding Liv's sword. Liv's mouth dropped open at the amount of blood and flesh on him. He winced when he saw her, and Cristiel turned her around so she can pull Liv's cloak to cover the blood stains on her dress. Elrohir gave her the sword, and she slid it back in its scabbard. She took his hand and he squeezed to let her know he was fine.

"I am...okay now. We both are." Elrohir said, his voice monotonous. Liv brushed the strands of hair clinging to his cheek and he nodded, gratefully.

Elladan went out moments later and met Liv's eyes. Without words, the two approached each other and Elladan held her with a fierceness she had never felt before. His grip was tight, almost as if he was holding water that might seep from his fingers, as though Liv would vanish if he did not hold on.

"I'm here, I'm here." Liv held on just as tightly, and Elladan was thankful for her arms around his neck, and he buried himself in the scent of her hair, reminding himself that she was here. She was real. She was not hurt. If she had let go at that moment, he might have shattered.

"I'm sorry if I ever--if it was my fault--If I had hurt you--" Elladan said.

"You didn't. You can never hurt me. You are safe, now. Let's go home." She said. He sighed into her hair and pulled away slowly.

Cristiel had already gone ahead to let Glorfindel know that the twins have been found. The three of them walked back, with Liv between them.

"I'm sorry." Was all she said.

"Don't be." It was Elladan who spoke. "It is us who are sorry and are ashamed."

Liv stopped in her tracks and held his arm, "It is nothing, nothing to be ashamed about or apologize for."

"Liv," Elrohir's voice was a whisper, "please. If you think this will make us feel better--"

"Of all the insolent, reckless, stubborn--you two!" Glorfindel and five other warriors met them halfway out the woods and Liv felt the two Elves beside her tense up. Glorfindel did not at all seem surprised to find Liv with them. He sniffed and looked disapprovingly at the blood on her dress, some of which were transferred to her clothes when she held Elladan. He turned, then, to the twins. Before he could open his mouth, Liv spoke up.

"They are uninjured."

"Cristiel, take the penneth back to Imladris. I need to have a word with Lord Elrond's sons."

Furious at the condescension, Liv shrugged off Cristiel's arm. Cristiel looked offended, and only backed away when the twins sent her cold glares.

"It's fine. I need to talk to someone there, anyway." Liv said, coldly, marching past Cristiel towards the direction of Imladris. Cristiel and another warrior went after her to make sure she would get to Imladris safely, and when she reached the gates, Melpomaen made a surprised noise when she walked in with her gown covered in the black blood of orcs.

"What happened?" He asked, but Liv sped past him and towards the familiar path to Lord Elrond's study. She had only been there once, a lifetime ago fresh after Caladír and Ethuilien's funeral. Once was all she needed to remember the way. What surprised her most was the steady beat of her heart, determined at what her mind had set out to do.

Lord Elrond opened the door before she could knock. He only looked slightly alarmed at the state of her clothes.

"I'm sorry for the intrusion." Liv said.

"I suspect you are not at all." Lord Elrond stepped back to let her in. This time, her heart skipped. She was nervous now of how Lord Elrond would take what she had to say.

"What is it that was so important that you needed to speak to me?" Lord Elrond sounded tired.

"The twins need help." She let out. He froze, his back turned to her and his hand still on the handle of the door. "Their mental health needs to be addressed. People need to stop blaming their recklessness and focus on the true reason why they go out hunting."

"Do you think I do not know this?" Lord Elrond's voice was a dangerous whisper. "Do you think I do not know why my own sons continue to suffer even after centuries?"

"Then, why not do something about it? You know they are suffering, why do you continue to punish them as if their trauma is their fault? Has anyone considered that their excursions are their silent cry for help?"

"I have tried, Liv. I have tried to get them to open up about their experiences. I have tried everything but they simply refuse to open up. They would rather have the rest of Imladris believe they really are just reckless and irresponsible than to be asked invasive questions. Elves do not heal as quickly from this kind of pain as humans do. If they are not ready to open up, I do not want to force them."

The twins have allowed themselves to be Imladris' emotional punching bags. It was their guilt that was making them believe they deserved it. Even after everything they have been through... Liv's eyes welled up with tears of frustration. They have been bottling their experiences up, and she knew it was imploding on them, backfiring in self-destructive, angry ways.

"Maybe it's time to stop acting like it's less than what it is in an attempt to protect them. Because it's not a good plan. I saw Elladan. I saw him relive the memory of finding his mother. They both need help but they do not want to ask for it because they still want to appear strong for Imladris. They blame themselves because they think everyone wants to blame them, and they act how they think people expect them to act so that people who are grieving as well would have someone to blame. It is a vicious cycle filled only with unhappiness."

Lord Elrond turned to her, "I wish it was that simple. I would take their pain if I could. But it takes time--"

"How much more time is needed? You said so yourself, my lord, it has been centuries. I think this is them asking for help now. Please, Lord Elrond, for their sake, speak to them. Maybe this time, they would be willing to talk about it. No punishments, no pretenses, just a conversation about what truly hurts them."

Lord Elrond hesitated, and she could see the fierce protectiveness and utter sadness in his eyes, "I tried the same thing with Celebrian... and when I did, she sailed away. I fear I might have pushed her away by being insistent. I do not want that to happen to my sons."

Liv closed her eyes. Heartbreak. That was the only thing present in that room. Lord Elrond's voice faltered at the mention of his wife. Her departure had left a deep scar on his being, and now he admits his fear of losing his sons to the same tragedy that cost him his wife. His hesitation to act was not due to callousness or ignorance of his sons' experiences, it was his paralyzing fear that he will lose them if he felt he was being too forceful. He felt he had been pushing Celebrian too hard, and is now too afraid to reach out to his sons because he was afraid he would push too hard.

"What does Arwen say?" Liv whispered.

"Arwen is the strongest among us. She is the only one keeping this family together, anymore. I do not know what any of us will do without her holding us all up. Arwen wants them to open up in their own time, but she knows not even they can be strong enough to keep the pretense going. Sometimes, they do open up to her. But she has her grandmother's wisdom. She knows it is I who needs to speak to them in order for them to truly heal." Lord Elrond circled back to his desk and sank on the cushioned seat, resting his forehead on his palm. He sighed and looked up at her.

"Glorfindel and Erestor have both expressed the very same sentiments before. They have told me to speak to them." He said.

"And do you trust their judgments, my lord?" She asked.

"More than anyone else's."

"I do not want to presume I am any more wiser than you for that is untrue. But... I do care about the twins. And I care about Arwen. And I would wish only joy and healing for them and for you." Liv said. There was no embarrassment as she said it. When it came to things that mattered, she was firm.

There was a sad smile on Lord Elrond's face, "On the contrary, there is wisdom in the innocence and optimism of youth. You are not as afraid of the world and its consequences and harshness. You still hope."

Liv could almost feel the weight of thousands of years on Lord Elrond's shoulders, then. All the battles he has had to face, all the hopes dashed by reality. At that moment, she was not envious of his immortal life and the burdens of immortality. She did not know what it must be like to live a thousand lives of Men and watch as everything else changed while Elves remained, perpetually the same. And she did not want to know.

"Well," Lord Elrond sighed, as if finding his resolve, "this would be a long conversation. Glorfindel is coming with the twins right now. I hear their footsteps."

"I will go, then." Liv said, bowing and walking out of the room, feeling emotionally drained. She opened the door and found the twins approaching in front of Lord Glorfindel. They hesitated, but for once, did not seem afraid. Only vulnerable. Lord Glorfindel's hold on their shoulders were gentle, not at all what Liv was expecting. There was only the brush of Elladan's fingers on hers before they went inside the room, muttered, "Ada" at the same time and closed the door behind them.

Glorfindel waited in front of Liv. "Has Lord Elrond agreed to speak to the twins?" He asked.

Liv looked up at him, and found there was a tired smile on his face, "Yes." She said.

"Good. I thought he finally would. They have all been trying to ignore the real problem for too long."

Liv was perplexed. "But... you were... You were angry at them! Just now, you were calling them insolent and reckless!"

"What? No, I was calling you insolent and reckless. Don't think I did not hear or see you try to sneak out, despite being warned not to go after the twins alone. I made Cristiel follow you so you will not hurt yourself due to your stubbornness and yet you still somehow manage to bring yourself into danger."

Liv scoffed, offended. "And the last time? When you were berating them?"

"They were blaming me for Elladan's injury when it was he who did not block the orc's blade." Glorfindel said, indignantly.

Liv rolled her eyes. What is it with the Noldor and their pride?

"Yeah, well..." She trailed off.

Glorfindel's features settled into a frown. His hand lifted lazily to the hilt of his sword, as if it brought him a small comfort. "I will not say we handled the situation perfectly. Mortals see Elves as wise and unable to make mistakes when the truth is, our wisdom comes from thousands of years of mistakes. We still make them. Though it pains me this lesson was at the cost of the twins' peace of mind."

It was refreshing to hear him say it. To admit Elves were still capable of doing wrong despite all that they have outlived. Liv herself had looked up to the Elves as flawless beings. It was impossible not to when they did well in all they set their minds to. It was grounding to hear even a great warrior such as Glorfindel admit that they were not at all perfect.

"If you don't mind me asking. What did you tell the twins to get them to talk to Lord Elrond?" She asked.

"When you left, I asked them for forgiveness. I saw the looks on their faces. There are walls they put up every time and they only come down when their father, sister or...you are around. And before, I had tried to break those walls down instead of let them open up in their own time. So, I asked them if they were alright, they hesitated to answer, and I said if they would perhaps like to talk instead to Lord Elrond. And really talk." Glorfindel said.

"And what did they say?"

"Nothing. They both just looked at each other. It was Elladan who stepped forward first."

Liv sighed in relief in what felt like the first time in a long time. "I'm glad." She said. Lord Glorfindel smiled, his features soft and almost angelic.

"Despite everything you have been through and everything you have lost, know that you were meant to be in Imladris at this moment. Imladris has helped you heal, and it turn, you have helped Imladris heal."

There was something in the way he said it, as though her arrival was something he had been expecting. As though he knew everything she did would lead to this moment and more. Liv had heard about how some Elves had the gift of foresight, and there had been a sneaking suspicion in her mind that Lord Glorfindel was one of those Elves. Whether her small actions truly did have an effect on those around her, or whether her arrival there was simply timely and coincided with all these events, she did not know. Glorfindel's eyes were as unreadable and mysterious as ever and he bowed and turned away before she could ask any more questions.

Chapter Text

The changes in Imladris after that day were subtle. If Liv had not known Elladan and Elrohir, she would not have noticed that they laughed more freely than they used to. They were also spending more and more time with Lord Elrond, and sometimes, it was Cristiel handling her weapons training because the twins would be out riding with Lord Elrond or spending a day in the library with Arwen.

Their healing process was slow. It was difficult to unlearn and let go of old habits, but the twins had more support than ever. Imladris almost seemed brighter, as though the land itself was rejoicing in this seedling of hope, fighting back against the darkness. It was a shame that so many Elves were choosing to leave for the Grey Heavens before September had truly arrived. By Mid-September, the population of Imladris had considerably declined.

Less and less laughter could be heard through the halls. The air was colder, as well, though perhaps it was simply because Spring had come to an end.

But there was one thing to rejoice over: Rossien and Lindir.

Liv wanted to dislike Lindir at first, if only because she wanted to stand up for Anorvain's honor. But even she was brought on by his charm almost immediately. He was a gentle person, and a lover of words. He had learned a few words of English from Erestor and had one day dropped by the kitchen to find Liv and Rossien grinding spices into powder. Liv almost smashed her own hand when he said "Good morning, Liv" in her language.

"What the fuck." Liv said in English. She had spoken to Lindir plenty of times before. She and Rossien were always together, and Lindir became a more constant presence as time wore on. But she had never mentioned her native language to him before. It was a shock to hear such a simple greeting from him.

He bowed his head, "My apologies. I thought it would please you to hear your own language spoken to you now and again."

Liv's mouth was still open. Rossien's lips were quirked up in a small smile.

"I did not think your native language is Westron. Your words come quicker, as though the letters stumble together. And your consonants are either too soft or too hard. A new speaker." He said, "So I asked Erestor that if the Common Tongue was not your native language, something must be. And he taught me some words he knew in Eeng-glich."

Liv was touched, and she was completely sold on Lindir soon after that. Her mind often went to Anorvain, perhaps pining for a crush who has found her true love. Rossien had looked at Anorvain with both sadness and joy. There was caring, certainly, but also a fear of losing. With Lindir, it was as if she was staring at the stars. Steady, and loving. And she looked at him that way when he smiled and laughed, and especially when he sang.

Sometimes, Liv caught herself looking like that at Elladan, but she always knew to look away. The butterflies in her stomach had to die and fast. She had no plans of complicating Elladan's life any further. He and Elrohir needed time to heal, after all. Liv had no idea when this feeling began, but now that she felt it whenever he smiled at her or his skin brushed against hers, she was acutely aware that she was standing at the edge of a line. She could not bear to cross it.

"You know what is not fair?" Elrohir said while they sat at the clearing. The three of them had just come to a silent agreement to ride there once a week, to get away from the flurry of activity in Imladris. They usually brought a picnic basket with them, and Elrohir's fingers were coated in powdered sugar from the donuts Liv had made. "This is supposed to be unhealthy. You cooked this bread in oil, you say? It is not fair that something so right could be so wrong."

"Wait until you get a hold of cheeseburger and ice cream. Which you will never have, unfortunately." Liv sighed. Her cravings were starting to kick in again, and though her donuts weren't as sweet as the typical donuts she used to enjoy in the modern world, it would have to do.

"I wish we could go to your New York. It must be exciting there with all the strange food and clothing." Elrohir said.

"Ha. Get ready to be yelled at by rude cab drivers, then. My driver used to get in fights all the time with cab drivers. My mother almost ran late to a performance because of the awful traffic."

"You speak in Westron and yet I understood nothing." Elrohir said.

"Oh. Oh, of course." Liv felt a pang of homesickness, "Uh. We had carriages. Sort of like horses but...faster. And we hire someone to control it for us." It was the closest she could come to explaining it.

"Your mother had a performance, you say?" Elladan said. He, too, was enjoying the donuts immensely.

"My mother is a singer. Quite a famous one where I come from, too."

"Can you sing as well?" Elrohir perked up, immediately.

Liv shrugged, "I took lessons but I never really liked it. I did not want to stand in my mother's shadow. Painting is my passion. I lost interest in having a musical career quite early in my life."

"Aha! So you can sing."

"I do not sing."

"But you can."

"I will not."

"Elladan! Persuade her to sing! She always listens to you."

"Liv? Listen to me?" Elladan laughed. "We are talking about the same Olivia, right, brother?"

"The day I listen to what either of you suggest is the day I sprout pointy ears and become an Elf."

"You will have to sing for us, eventually. We sing for you all the time. It is only fair." Elrohir pushed.

"You do not sing to me. Lindir does in the Hall of Fire."

"You know he will never stop until you agree." Elladan said as Elrohir opened his mouth to insist.

Liv made the mistake of looking at Elrohir's eyes. He held her gaze with a pleading expression. She returned the expression with one that could have shouted out, "No".

"Alright, I have a challenge for you."

Oh no.

Elrohir had found her weakness.

"The first one to finish five of these delicious fried bread gets the final decision. If I win, you will sing for us. If you win, I will stop asking you forever." Elrohir said.

Liv squirmed. She could never say no to a challenge. It was practically an impulse to be competitive for her. And she could wolf down donuts pretty fast.

"You're on." Liv said. Without warning, Elrohir had stuffed one donut in his mouth.

"That's not fair!" Liv said, quickly recovering and pushing a donut in her mouth as well. She nudged his arm with her foot to distract him while she stuffed another donut in.

Elrohir said something about cheating and impudence in Sindarin. Elladan cackled at the sight before him; both his brother and Liv's faces were covered in powdered sugar and honey. But in the end, Elrohir won and Liv was downing the jug of orange juice they had brought.

"Not...not fair!" She wheezed as her throat cleared.

"Me? You are the cheater between us!" Elrohir accused. Liv stuck her tongue out at him while she tried to brush crumbs off her dress. Elladan helped by taking out the crumbs that had somehow gotten in her hair and wiped sugar off her face. Liv, not wanting to admit she was blushing, practically fell back into Elrohir's arms to avoid how Elladan's touch made her nerves sing. Elladan simply raised an eyebrow and shrugged.

"I just remembered, I have to... go... talk to Arwen. Yeah." Liv said, getting up and and on top of Gloss, effectively riding away from Elladan and Elrohir's demands to sing. The twins were too busy balancing their feelings of confusion, laughter and indignance(on Elrohir's part) by her sudden departure with a lame excuse to run after her.

"You will still have to sing, Olivia!" Elrohir called after her. She avoided him for the rest of the day, hoping he'd forget the deal. By the time dinner came, Elrohir seemed entirely unaware that they had any agreement.

It was a peaceful night in the Hall of Fire, and Lindir was singing his own song, of love and fire and grey eyes. It was quite romantic and Liv giggled along with Arwen and Cristiel when Lindir flashed a smile their way. Between them, Rossien was as red as her hair.

Anorvain had never done something like that before. He never proclaimed his love, never made an effort to show how much she meant to him. It was always shy, secret smiles and stolen moments of fingers brushing together. A boy still afraid to be admit how deeply his feelings ran.

"You never told me when he started courting you." Liv said to Rossien as Lindir's gaze wandered somewhere else. Rossien laughed. "About eighty years ago. I was just playing hard to get. I was young and looking for excitement. I wanted a fearless warrior, not a minstrel."

Ah, that explained Anorvain.

"Lindir stopped pursuing me for a time, discouraged. And then Anorvain came along and he was funny and energetic and brave and, well, I was like an elfling." She said. "It was a year ago when Anorvain first showed he wanted anything more than friendship. But he always hesitated. I was older, in his eyes. Though by Mannish standards, I am considered as young among the Eldar as you are to the race of Men. He never did tell me what he truly wanted. He gave me small glimpses of his affection, but nothing more." There was a hint of disappointment in Rossien's voice. "When he left last time, Lindir began pursuing me again. Needless to say, he doubled his efforts and I find I do like minstrels after all."

As she and Rossien spoke, Elrohir came forward to whisper something in Lindir's ear. The minstrel was still playing his harp, though he was no longer singing verses and therefore was free to speak.

Lindir's expression slipped into something that almost looked like fear and he shook his head.

"Come on." Elrohir prodded. "It will be fine."

"With all due respect, my lord, I will not want to be on the receiving end of her glare. They can be like daggers, those eyes." Lindir leaned towards him to whisper.

"Coward." Elrohir sighed.

Lindir did not take the bait. "You do it, then."

Elrohir made a small, choking noise.

"Coward." Lindir threw back in a singsong voice. And then, too quickly, he yelled, "Liv!"

Those who were nearby turned to her direction, confused. They had thought Lindir was singing a song about Rossien. Liv blinked at him in bewilderment.

"Lord Elrohir has something to ask."

Elrohir's jaw dropped, just as most of those in the Hall who heard turned back to the platform. Now, everyone was confused and curious. Somewhere, Elladan could be heard snorting in his laughter. Liv only quirked an eyebrow up.

"I would ask the Lady Olivia to sing tonight."

Like a tennis match, the eyes of those in the Hall--now including Rossien, turned to Liv, expectantly. Liv's eyes narrowed.

"I did not know you could sing." Rossien said.

"That is because I do not sing." Liv said through gritted teeth as her eyes seemed to form into daggers that she threw in Elrohir's direction. Lindir continued to play his harp cheerfully, the melodies mild and calming, which was a complete contrast to the excited curiosity in the air.

"Please?" Elrohir tried for a sweeter voice. "You promised you would."

"I did no such thing." Liv protested.

Elrohir pouted. Arwen hid her giggle behind her hand. It was a trick he must have learned from her. Liv noted it did not fit Elrohir's face to look so petulant, but the sight of it did make her laugh.

To Liv's credit, she did not blush, though her mind was racing. She was not going to sing in front of the population of Imladris, all of whom could be piss-drunk at that moment and would still sound better than her.

"Will you stop pestering me if I do?" Liv asked.

"My lady, you wound me. A lord of Imladris does not pester." Elrohir joked.

"Does he not?" Arwen asked, innocently.

"Fine." Liv sighed. Elrohir looked taken aback. He was expecting more resistance and found himself pleasantly surprised. Liv just wanted it over with. "But do not say I did not warn you."

She stood and cleared her throat. Her heart pounded in her chest. She had sung in front of a crowd before but she was sixteen then and was doing it for a mediocre talent show. Now, she felt as if she was singing in front of a bunch of clasically trained singers who would judge every failed note she made. The Hall was quiet. It wasn't dead silence--there were people still talking amongst themselves but Liv felt like her voice was amplified now that Lindir had stopped playing his instrument.

"Wise men say only fools rush in.
But I can't help falling in love with you.
"

It was the first song that had popped into her head, and it was easy enough without any complicated, high notes. It was slow, sweet and sincere. At first, her voice was soft but as she went into the second stanza, she gained enough confidence to let her voice carry through the hall. Her eyes went to Elladan as she sang, without her even realizing it. Erestor, who was sitting between Elladan and Lord Elrond, translated her English for them. She found herself thankful at that moment that her mother had made her take those singing lessons when she was young. At least she would not make a complete and utter fool of herself.

"Like a river flows surely to the sea
Darling, so it goes
Some things are meant to be
"

Elladan's mouth quirked upwards as Erestor whispered something to him. His grey eyes were warm. Those beautiful, sad eyes...

Liv faltered, and her voice faded. Those believing she was finished with the song clapped appreciatively, though she knew they were just being polite. Mortal songs were simplistic and repetitive, not like the music of the Elves, which flowed together and told a story in a beautiful tongue.

"Why did you stop?" Rossien asked as Liv sat back down.

"I did not. That was the end of it." Liv lied, though her heart still pounded in her chest. God, she really was in too deep. She really was developing feelings for Elladan. It was really happening. She had caught herself several times but now, there really was no escaping it.

Elrohir was approaching her with a huge smile, Elladan behind him. Liv stood up too quickly.

No, she did not think she could face him. She did not think she will be able to bear it.

"I need air." Liv announced, "Tell them not to follow me." She added the last part to Rossien, who gaped at her as she gathered the skirt of her dress and walked out of the Hall of Fire as quickly as she could without full-on running.

Once there was no one around to see her, however, she found herself running to the place where it had all begun: The edge of a cliff, beside the waterfall, where the entirety of Imladris could be seen, little lanterns making the land glow with a quality she could only describe as Elven; ethereal, like a thousand fireflies lit the ground. This was where she and Elladan were first alone together, where she painted her pain and Elladan drew a part of her behind her.

She clutched at her stomach, willing the butterflies to die, willing her heart to stop beating uncontrollably, willing her breath to return. She was not going to put Elladan through her and her strings attached and her extra baggage. She was not going to be the silly mortal who would fall for an Elf. She had read stories, of Beren and Lúthien, particularly. She did not have the same bravery and skill as Beren. She would not be able to do great deeds to prove her love because she was just ordinary. And Elladan deserved someone who was perfect and kind and immortal. Liv would never forgive herself for causing him any more pain, which she will because she was mortal and would die.

"Liv?"

No. Not that voice. Not that voice in that tone. Liv closed her eyes.

She could tell Elladan and Elrohir apart now. Not by their faces--it would take years to distinguish their faces--but by their voices. Elrohir's voice was gentle and sweet. Elladan's was deeper and quiet. And when he said her name, he said it so smoothly. She didn't have to look to know which twin came to see her. Perhaps he, too, knew this was the place she would have run to.

"What are you doing here?" He asked.

What was she doing here, of all places? Why was it that her place of refuge was here?

"I'm sorry, Elladan." Was all she said.

"What could you possibly be apologizing for?" He stepped forward, and she felt his presence immediately. She didn't think she could bear having him that close and not be able to touch him the way she wanted to. His comforting hand was on her shoulder and he tugged her around to face him.

She wasn't crying. She was never one to cry unless in total distress or frustration. And she hated crying in front of others. But her eyebrows were knit together and she was breathing deeply to try and calm herself.

"I tried to fight it. I would never want you caught up with my strings and baggage. I cannot do that to you, not after everything you have been through. I refuse to hurt you." She said.

Elladan stepped closer and she backed away but his hand was on her cheek and she craved his touch too much to get away from it. He shushed her, brushing her hair away from her face.

"Tell me what's wrong." He said. She shook her head. She refused to say the words out loud.

"You know that you of all people could never hurt me." He whispered.

Liv's eyes bore into his and there was so much pain behind them. "What I feel... It's not possible. Not for me and you. I'm not Beren. I'm not a powerful warrior who can defy a god. I am merely a girl lost in history. What I feel..." Her words faded on her lips. She had said too much already.

Elladan's hold on her arm tightened. Understanding dawned on him but he did not dare to hope. "Liv..." His breath caught, "tell me what it is you feel."

He needed to hear the words from her. To know that what he felt, she felt as well. That he wasn't deluding himself with thoughts of how she would feel in his arms. But she shook her head again.

She always was so stubborn.

"If I tell you that I felt the same way," He said, slowly, and her eyes widened, "would you tell me then?"

She didn't answer because she didn't know. Her thoughts swirled in her head until she was dizzy. And then, he was leaning forward, and his lips were on hers. He was gentle. He gave her time to pull away.

But God help her, she didn't. She couldn't.

She stepped closer and his hands cupped her face, tilting her head up and brushing back the strands of her hair. There was only the soft breeze and her hand on his chest and the warmth of his mouth. The kiss deepened, her lips parting so his tongue could slide between them. His movements were instinctive. All he knew at that moment was that he wanted her closer. It was what they both wanted, and her eyes closed to savor that moment.

Liv was the one who pulled away first.

"We can't do this." She gasped.

He blinked at her in confusion. They had all but said the words. He knew that whatever she felt, it had gone beyond friendship, and she knew he felt the same way. It was agonizing that she was still fighting it. "Why not?"

"I will not live forever, Elladan." She said.

His heart sank. That was what kept her from saying the words. Her mortality hung in the air as though it was an axe ready to strike them down.

"I will grow old and die and I will hurt you when that happens and I can't do that. Not to you who has been through so much already."

"Liv--"

"You deserve more than me. You deserve someone who will make you happy for all your days and I will not be able to give you that. Even if the thought of you being with someone else kills me, I know that they would be better than me."

"Listen to me. If there is anyone who is to get hurt because of what we feel, I will make sure that it is not you. Do you understand me?" Elladan said, firmly.

"The only thing that can hurt me is the thought that I will burden you further."

"Do I have no say in this at all?" He sounded so heartbroken. It felt as if the entire world had come to a screeching halt. She was hurting him now, she knew that. But Liv convinced herself it was better to do it now rather than later. Loving him was selfish. Loving him meant making him choose to love her and her mortality. She loved him too much to ask that of him. This way, he still had a chance to walk away, and she would not blame him if he did. This way, he'd realize she wasn't worth it and choose someone better than her. But all he did was look at her, confused and hurt. She couldn't stand it any longer.

"I'm sorry." She said, again.

Though she knew she was making a huge mistake, Liv turned her back on him and walked away, back to the familiar path to her room. It took all of her willpower to keep her composure but once her doors closed, her hand covered her mouth to muffle the whimper that fought through her lips.

This was for the best, she tried to convince herself. He is hurt now but it will hurt far more in the future. Better to do it now while they can both still walk away. Better for her to save him the pain. For once in her life, she was going to be selfless. Although she felt as if she was grinding down the broken pieces of her own heart, she told herself she was doing the right thing. She crawled into bed already filled with regret.

God, where was Anorvain when she needed him?

Chapter Text

Liv kept to herself the next day. She was half-tempted not to go through with her training lessons, conflicted on whether she should stay away from Elladan to give both of them time to get over the events of last night, or to pretend last night didn't happen for Elrohir's sake. She was peeking out from the doorway that led to the training grounds to see if the twins were waiting for her, which they usually were every morning they did training.

But aside from the new recruits, there was no one else there. Liv would have turned back if someone had not tapped her shoulder.

She straightened up and tried to look as dignified as possible.

"What are you doing?" Cristiel asked.

"Nothing."

"I've been waiting for you. Lord Elrohir said I was to train you this morning. He and Lord Elladan are preparing to travel today."

"Did they say where they were going?" Liv followed Cristiel to the training grounds as she said it.

"I suspect they'll be making sure the roads are safe for those travelling to the Grey Havens, and later they will be leading a patrol further out. We haven't heard from the Dúnedain in a while and while that is not usually a big deal, Lord Glorfindel has been insisting on being more vigilant and the twins volunteered to lead the search." Cristiel said.

Which was a relief, to Liv at least. Anything that delayed confronting Elladan was a small blessing, but she worried for Anorvain. She had not heard from him at all, not even after she sent her letter, although Arwen had assured her once that it would take at least two weeks for him to see it and at least another two weeks for his response to arrive, if anyone was even taking it. Long-distance communication was not how she was used to it being. It could even take an entire month for her letter to have reached Anorvain.

After training, she stayed in the terraces, where Arwen, Rossien and Elarinya joined her. They sat on a blanket on the soft grass, shaded beneath a tree that Arwen sang to. The boughs seemed to bend down to provide more shade for them and Liv marveled at Arwen's abilities to coax the trees.

"I still don't know how you do it." Liv said as Arwen sat back down, smiling up at the tree.

"What?" Arwen asked.

"It's like magic or something."

"What do mortals mean by 'magic'?" Elarinya asked, "We speak to the trees, they respond. That's all there is to it."

"Well, we can't talk to trees." Liv pointed out.

"Arwen is loved by the trees. They tell her she reminds them of another who used to sing to them. The one with dark hair like a river." Rossien said.

"Lúthien?" Liv asked.

Arwen smiled, "The trees do love to flatter."

"It's true, though. I've read about Lúthien. The stories say her beauty was indescribable. To be honest, I thought I'd fallen in a dream when I first saw you, like Beren did when he first saw Lúthien." Liv said to Arwen.

"Beren fell in love with Lúthien, however."

"Who said I may not have fallen in love with Arwen at that moment?" Liv joked, making Arwen laugh.

"You laugh at my professing my love for you? I am wounded." Liv said, dramatically.

"Well, you would have to tell Estel that you are laying claim on me." Arwen said, going along with the joke.

"Estel can suck it. Nobody can claim you because you are not a possession or trophy to be won."

Rossien giggled, "Suck what, exactly?"

"Use your imagination." Elarinya smirked, to which Liv laughed at. She then held out her hand to take Arwen's.

"Come, Arwen. Leave the nasty, bearded Man for me. I am all soft skin and flowers. I will tell you which dress you look best in and I will understand if your cycle has arrived and you become grumpy. I'll even give you a backrub."

"It's tempting." Arwen said with a coy smile. "But I fear there is someone else in your heart that you love more than I. You will not hurt me by only placing me second in your heart, will you?"

Liv gasped, still going along with the act. She had even put on a Shakespearean style of flourishing movements, much to Rossien and Elarinya's amusement, "Alas! For our love has withered before it could truly bloom!" And she swooned, her head falling on Rossien's lap.

"I see your vocabulary has vastly improved now!" Rossien said, pinching her cheeks.

"Ow! Ow! I am not a child!" Liv batted her hand away. Rossien laughed and continued to pinch both cheeks.

"Ack! Save me from the firey beast, my love!" Liv called for Arwen.

"Alas, for the evil sorceress has kept me locked in my tower!" Arwen sighed, hiding behind Elarinya.

Rossien and Elarinya both made sounds of indignation.

"Who are you calling a beast, tithen pen?"

"'Evil sorceress', am I?"

"My love, I will save you!" Arwen and Liv said in unison, reducing everyone to tears of laughter. They haven't laughed so freely in what felt like a long time. It was a contradiction to the subdued atmosphere of Imladris at that moment, but they were glad of the light-heartedness. If only they had more moments like this.

"How come most story books involve men saving damsels in distress?" Liv asked no one in particular, rolling off Rossien's lap to lie on the ground and watch the leaves of the tree they were under sway in the breeze.

"Because men are fragile and need validation at the cost of women's worth. Someone has to feed the male ego." Elarinya muttered.

"That they do. I can be a damsel. I can be in distress. But I can also save myself." Rossien said.

"You do not even know how to use a sword to defend yourself." Elarinya pointed out.

"I can, actually. I just do not want to. I am a healer. I mend wounds, not inflict them. I feel as if it would corrupt my ability to preserve life if my hands are stained with blood I have taken." Rossien said.

"Rossien is the most gentle person I know." Arwen said. "Trust her to always care for you, Liv."

"You flatter me, my lady."

"And trust her to tell you the honest truth when you need it." Elarinya added.

"Alright, what did I do to deserve these praises?" Rossien said.

"Nothing. I am just being sentimental. You know how I get whenever more Elves leave for the Grey Havens... And, perhaps, this is me also saying goodbye." Elarinya said, softly. "I may have to leave with them soon, Arwen. The latest I can stay is next year."

The smile slipped from Arwen's face. Elarinya touched her cheek. "Do not look so grieved, child. I am sure by next year, you will be happy, whatever decision you make. Whether you choose the Gift of Men or the Doom of the Eldar, I know you will not regret it."

Liv hesitated, and sat up to face Arwen. "What does Elarinya mean by that?"

"My father, brother and I are peredhel. Half-elven. My father and uncle were both given a choice if they would choose mortality or immortality. My uncle chose mortality and ada chose immortality. That decision is given even to his children."

Liv's heart skipped. They had a choice to be mortal?

Even Elladan?

Liv had to stop herself before she could even dare hope. She had made her decision on Elladan. And knowing what she just found out now, her decision only remained firm. Lord Elrond and Lady Celebrian were both immortal. Liv would not only be asking Elladan to love her, mortality and all, she would be asking him to leave his family behind. No mortal could go to the Undying Lands. She would die here and he would be alone and unable to reunite with his family when that happened. She could not do that to him.

"Let us not speak of it. You see how worried you made Liv?" Arwen said, trying for a lighter tone.

"Goheno nin. Come, let us speak of something else." Elarinya said, "Like your paintings. You have made a lot of paintings since your stay here. Do you not want to sell them? Everyone in Imladris makes some sort of income. If you are more comfortable, you can officially work with me in the kitchens. Cooks are given a silver per day."

"Oh, that is thoughtful of you. I did think to make portraits for people as a source of income but there are other Elven artists more skilled than I." Liv shrugged. "And then I thought about designing dresses, but I cannot sew to save my life."

"That is a good idea! You could design clothes for the Elves here! I'm sure they would appreciate your unique style. And the seamstresses can make the dresses you have designed." Rossien encouraged.

"Practice it now, Liv. By next year, you may be designing a wedding dress." Elarinya said, making Arwen and Rossien giggle. "Two wedding dresses, at that." Elarinya added.

"Well, three. If Arwen is to wed me, I must wear a wedding dress, as well." Liv smirked.

"I find you most beautiful when the sleeves are off your shoulders, dearest." Arwen said. "And with your hair in curls."

"Speaking of such, have you ever attended a wedding feast between those of the same gender, Liv?" Rossien asked, while Liv sat up. Rossien's hands twirled around Liv's hair and tied it strategically so that the strands of her hair were in small knots that, if pulled free after a certain amount of time, would leave the strands in curls.

"Of course. You haven't?"

"It's not common among the Eldar, but it happens, although not often enough in my lifetime. What makes a marriage sacred is not the feast itself, but the act right after. The consummation. Elves only ever lay in bed with their one true love. To lie with someone else is unthinkable." Rossien said.

"Now, that's romantic."

"There is intolerance among Men over same-gender relationships, however. And same-gender marriages are practically unheard of, in Gondor especially. Glorfindel once sighed about how restrained he felt when he went there. Too many judging eyes." Elarinya said.

"Glorfindel's gay?" Liv gasped. Glorfindel was an Elf that was still mysterious and other-worldly to Liv. The thought of him falling in love seemed too normal for someone like him, but all creatures of the Earth need love, after all.

Rossien stopped mid-motion with Liv's hair, "Happy? I guess he is. Is there a reason he shouldn't be?"

"No, no. In my native tongue, that is how we call those who are attracted to the same gender."

"Oh? We simply call it attraction, it does not matter what the other person's gender is. How strange that your people would feel the need to name love when it is simply love." Rossien said, returning to Liv's hair. "The One who created us would not have made us fall in love, regardless of gender, if he did not want it to be that way. It's silly that Men think it's anything but natural. But you are a young race, and proud--bordering on arrogant most of the time, meaning no offense. You think anything not done by the majority should be rejected."

"My father used to tell me that Glorfindel and Ecthelion were ridiculously sweet together. They used to do each other's warrior braids, so I've heard." Elarinya said, "It is said to bring good luck and protection if your lover does your warrior braids. It's also why Glorfindel never lets anyone else touch his hair. To him, his hair belonged to Ecthelion as much as it did to him."

Liv almost squealed in delight at the thought. Knowing Elves were more accepting of different sexualities was something that greatly eased her mind. They would not have lived forever and not be accepting of things that were simply natural. She already knew Elven society was equal between genders, but it was a pleasant surprise to know they were also accepting of other sexualities.

"Oh, what a time to be bisexual!" Liv sighed in English. She was surrounded by extremely beautiful ellith and ellyn, and they would not judge her for appreciating both.

"I suppose knowing that is a good thing? It is very uncommon for a human to be perfectly okay with it." Elarinya said.

Ah, there was the snag. Apparently, one can trace homophobia all the way to Middle-earth ages. Liv did not let it dampen her spirit, however. Gondor was far away, and she was liking Imladris more and more.

"If only you knew..." Liv muttered, and then hesitated. A question was itching at the back of her mind, but she did not know if it was appropriate to ask.

"What is it? You can tell us." Arwen said, ever the instinctive one.

"It's just..." Liv bit her bottom lip, "you say that Elves lie only with their spouse. But what if, hypothetically, an Elf falls in love with someone who has had multiple partners outside of marriage?"

There was a moment of silence and confusion. It was only Arwen who looked at her with steady eyes, "If..." Arwen started, "hypothetically, it happened, the one who has had multiple partners would have to at least be honest before the two of them are married. Consummation is sacred to Elves. And sometimes, it could be a heartbreaking thing, to know that the person they love has laid with other people."

Liv's heart sank. Well, there was another reason not to get herself caught up with Elladan. She wasn't exactly a shy little flower. She's been with other men and women before. It would, again, be unfair to Elladan.

"But also, hypothetically," Elarinya started, though Liv suspected she knew what Liv was really asking, "Elves also understand that the race of Men are young and will die young. We understand that Men make rash decisions and want to do things before their time is up. So, having multiple partners would be understandable. And true love knows it is not something to hate a person over."

"Hypothetically, if, say, it did happen that an Elf... fell for another who has laid with others before who was not Elven--like Beren and Lúthien-- chances are, if the love is true and strong, they would be accepting of their partner, flaws and all. History and all." Rossien added.

"Although you must not ask these kinds of questions to anyone else other than us, Liv. Not everyone would view it as such. Even among Men, having multiple partners is not a pleasant thing. In fact, I hear stories from the Dúnedain that some humans are shamed for it, though there truly should be no shame in loving people. Some people think they have found their one true love, and most of the time, they realize they are wrong only after giving themselves to that person." Arwen said, firmly.

"And sometimes, they give themselves to others without realizing that the other person is only taking advantage of them. I remember Aurien's story about a girl in their village... It was not a happy tale." Rossien said.

Liv had no intention of bringing this up with other people. She brought it up with her friends because she trusted them. She knew what Arwen was warning her about. If Liv had carelessly brought up how she wasn't a virgin to anyone, she would be judged harshly.

"Bright side?" Liv tried for a weak smile, "The person with multiple partners would make the act way more enjoyable for the other. Skip the awkward learning stage and all."

There was a stunned silence, where even Elarinya blushed.

And then the four of them burst out laughing, and they spent the rest of the morning comparing Elven and human views on love, which was nice. Liv enjoyed girl talk with Arwen, Rossien and Elarinya the most. It somehow always flowed from teasing and joking to serious conversations and then back again. It helped them forget for a while the dwindling number of Elves still left in Imladris.

Their conversation only ceased when the bells rang, signaling that it was time to bid farewell to those who would be leaving for the Grey Havens. The four of them went to the courtyard, where horses and Elves were lined up and ready to leave. Elarinya and Rossien went into the crowd to hug their friends. Liv recognized one of the ellyn who usually worked in the kitchen hug Elarinya, and laughed as she said something about combing his hair.

Arwen stood back with Liv, who walked in and found her eyes glued on the small group of warriors with Lord Glorfindel. They would be accompanying the travellers until they had reached the arched bridge that led outside of Imladris' borders, and then the warriors would be patrolling the borders the entire day, and would not be returning until at least nightfall the next day.

Liv thought she caught a glimpse of the twins with Glorfindel, then. And she flickered her eyes away before she could lock eyes with anyone, and found Cristiel approaching her after helping one of the travellers up on a horse.

Liv was surprised that Cristiel decided to stay. She wasn'g recognizable right away because it was one of the rare moments where Cristiel was out of armor and the soft curls of her hair were not restrained by the braids they were usually in.

"I thought you would be leaving today." Liv pointed out.

"Disappointed?" Cristiel joked.

"No, I am glad." Liv said, "So this is why you spent your morning training me, then? Instead of preparing to leave."

"I would have trained with you, regardless. It would be my last goodbye to you if I had decided to leave." Cristiel said. "Besides, Lord Glorfindel said I needed to stay just a while more. It pains me to keep those I love waiting but I am needed here." Liv admired Cristiel for her sense of duty. She missed her family terribly, yet she chose to stay despite knowing she had every chance to go to Valinor.

"How do you stand it, Cristiel?" Liv asked as the Elven Company led by Gildor Inglorion started to leave. It was cold, even when it was the afternoon, and Liv was thankful she had the foresight to wear Anorvain's cloak to keep herself warm.

Cristiel looked down, while Lindir sang a song of farewell for the Elves who would be leaving. "I don't know, Liv. I keep myself busy. Standing still for too long means having nothing to block out the pain and the call of the Sea."

"Does it get easier? Does it hurt less?"

Cristiel turned to her and stroked her hair. "Baw, tithen pen." She said, gently, "It never does. But you get used to the pain after a certain time."

Cristiel endured through the pain of staying here when she had every chance to leave Middle-earth behind her. She could be resting in the Undying Lands where no hurt or sickness could be felt, yet here she was, where Middle-earth was tainted by blood of battles long past. Some of the Elves in Imladris were already alive and could remember the Battle of the Last Alliance. And Cristiel was born in a time where peace and war were coming too dangerously close to each other. If it was Liv, she would have left as soon as she could. But she was not Cristiel. She was not an honorable and brave warrior.

"How long did it take for you?"

Cristiel gave her a sad smile. "Centuries. Take comfort in knowing you will not have to bear so much pain for that long."

Elrond, Arwen, the twins. They bore the pain of Celebrian's loss even to that day. Perhaps Liv should be happy that she would pass and not be forced to live through suffering forever. The Company began to leave.

Liv turned one last time to where the warriors were, and found that they had already gone ahead with no word of goodbye. Liv did not know if she should be relieved that she did not see the twins that day.

The next day, instead of weapons training, she had lessons with Erestor and afternoon tea with Bilbo. The rest of her day was spent on helping Elarinya take inventory of the ingredients still available in the kitchens. Before dinner, Liv visited Nimeth, who apparently was expecting her. It was nearing nightfall, just before dinner. She knew Nimeth had been busy with her own work as a seamstress. So Liv found that the best time for them to meet was when everyone else had settled down.

"I heard you have dresses you want to make." Nimeth said, as greeting when Liv approached her worktable in the seamstress' shop.

"Want being the key word because I have no ability to make them." Liv, who was already carrying a sketchpad and art supplies, sat down on the chair beside the table where Nimeth had laid out a dress of black velvet and long, red sleeves. It was almost finished, and Liv admired its beauty and the work it must have taken to make the details. "For Arwen. Lord Elrond wanted to surprise her with a new dress. He enjoys spoiling her." Nimeth said, fondly. "About your dress?"

"I was wondering..." Liv started, "I plan on selling my paintings when merchants arrive here again. When I get enough gold, I would like to pay you to make a dress for Elarinya. A dress that I designed."

Nimeth's eyebrows rose, but she smiled. "I would love to! But why Elarinya? I was under the impression Rossien was your closest friend."

"Oh, I have a dress in mind for Rossien. But not until a minstrel we both know asks her a very important question." Liv said, conspiratorially.

Nimeth laughed, understanding what Liv meant.

"I wanted to make one for Elarinya as a parting gift. When she leaves for Valinor. I want her to have something to remember me by, and something practical so she can always use it." Liv continued.

Nimeth's smile widened, and her expression softened. "That is a great thought. Come, show me what dress you want to make."

Liv placed her sketchpad on the table and began drawing. She wanted to give it a modern touch, while still influenced with the style she had come to associate with Elvish dresses. The upper half would fit close to the body and would have sleeves that went only to the elbow, made of lace. But the bottom would be a flowy skirt, and she would dye the bottom of the dress a lighter color so that the dress would have a gradiant color of grey that eased into white.

"Is it too ambitious?" Liv asked. She wasn't scared that it was ugly. She was rather proud of it for her first dress design, but she was nervous that there will not be resources to make the dress she wanted possible.

"You will have to spend extra for the dye at the bottom, but I have made dresses for Elarinya enough times to know the measurements of her torso and arms."

Liv beamed, "So, you will do it?"

"I will do it." Nimeth said. Liv hugged Nimeth to thank her. Nimeth laughed in surprise.

"Tomorrow, though. Right now, I want to eat and perhaps dance later."

"Yes to the eating, no to the dancing." Liv said, as she and Nimeth left the workshop together and went to the Dining Hall. The first person she noticed was Elladan, sitting beside Elrohir and laughing along to something Melpomaen said.

It seemed those on border duty had come back just in time for dinner.

Liv tried her best to hide behind Nimeth without making it obvious and sat with her and Cristiel farther from where she usually sat beside Arwen and Rossien.

Cristiel seemed surprised to see her there.

"Hello." She said, noting Liv's nervous glance to the head of the table.

"Hi!" Liv said, a bit too brightly.

"Alright, tone it down a notch, sunshine." Cristiel said. She glanced over Liv's shoulder just as Liv sat beside her. Nimeth pulled up plates for them both and handed one to Liv.

"He just looked over here."

"Who?" Liv and Nimeth said in unison. Liv fought the urge to look at Elladan, while Nimeth--unaware of anything going on--looked around only too obviously.

"Don't look." Liv muttered.

"I don't even know what I'm looking for!" Nimeth said, perplexed.

Cristiel snorted and looked down.

"He looked again." She said, just to mess with Liv.

"Shush!" Liv hissed, elbowing Cristiel.

"Ow! That was my breast!"

"Oops."

"I'm going to eat." Nimeth said, giving up on whatever inside joke Liv and Cristiel had going. Liv avoided looking at the head of the table for the rest of the night, and even seriously considered going to her room just to avoid seeing Elladan until Arwen and Rossien stopped her.

"What is going on with you right now?" Rossien asked, looping her arm through the crook of Liv's elbow.

"Nothing. I just wanted to talk with Nimeth some more about the dress I designed." It was easier to lie to Rossien, but Arwen frowned.

"Is that really all?" Liv had the strangest feeling Arwen knew exactly what was bothering her but chose to stay quiet.

"Yes." Liv insisted. Arwen looked mildly disappointed. Liv felt guilty for getting caught in the lie.

"Don't look at me like that." She muttered to Arwen, who looked away immediately.

"Mm. If nothing is truly bothering you, then you will join us with dancing, I hope?" There was that all-too familiar mischievous tone Liv recognized in Lord Elrond's children.

Before she even knew what was happening, Rossien and Arwen had pulled her into the middle of a complicated dance while Lindir played a quick and lively tune.

"Oh, fuck." Liv said, while she tried to avoid stepping on anyone instead of actually dancing. No matter how hard she tried, she was not a good dancer at all. She was too focused on her feet that by the time she looked up, someone had held her hand up and had gently taken her waist.

She looked up and realized only then that it was a paired dance.

"Oh, fuck." She muttered again.

And then she realized who her partner was.

"Oh, fuck."

Liv hoped to God it was Elrohir.

"You keep saying that word."

The bright smile that came after his words confirmed it was.

Liv let out a sigh of relief.

"Expecting someone else?" He said, wriggling his eyebrows.

"No, no. This is perfect." Liv said. It was a small mercy that Elrohir led their dance. She was too distracted looking around her. Elrohir noticed immediately and knew exactly who she was looking for.

"Elladan is complaining about how his leg hurts after he fell off a tree earlier. I have to remember to tell Legolas about it. He would never let Elladan live it down."

The mere mention of Elladan's name was an in icicle in her heart. And either Elrohir chose to ignore how she winced or did not notice it.

"Let's talk about something else." Liv said.

There was only the slightest hint of surprise on Elrohir's face.

"Alright, then, spin." Elrohir raised his hand so she could twirl, and he gasped when she stepped on his foot.

"Sorry!" She said, the two of them giggling.

"I have had worse." Elrohir said. "And I'm sorry for missing your training. We had to do our duties beyond Imladris."

"Will I ever get to go with you?" She asked, perking up immediately.

Elrohir laughed, "Why would you want to? It is boring and uncomfortable."

"I want to go!" Liv said, excitedly.

"Not until you have managed to hit all of your targets during archery, without relying on luck."

Liv frowned.

"That look only works on my brother, Liv." He teased, then looked up as the dancers switched partners. There was a flash of mischief on his face but Liv was already spinning before she could interrogate him.

The next thing she knew, she was in Glorfindel's arms and he was practically throwing her around like a ragdoll. There was the sound of someone giggling--Elrohir, Liv realized--followed by Rossien whispering, "Oh, the poor girl."

"Liv!" Glorfindel beamed.

"You better calm the fuck down right now, man." Liv couldn't help but speak in English. Keeping up with Glorfindel took all of her concentration.

"What?" Glorfindel slowed down just a bit due to confusion.

"You're full of energy." Liv said, mildly.

"Uneventful patrol." He replied as if it answered her utter confusion.

"Were you that bored?"

"We pointed out the shapes of clouds to each other. I also counted a total of three deer and a family of sixteen rabbits. Sixteen!"

There may have come a point where Elrohir snorted rudely as Glorfindel lifted Liv from the ground and dipped her down. Liv clung on to his shoulder as if she had just been pushed off a tree branch.

She ran back to a bench as soon as the song ended, her hair dishelved.

She smacked Elrohir's arm as soon as he was within arm's reach, and it was only through his Elven reflexes that the filled goblets he was holding did not spill on his shirt.

"Congratulations, you survived." Elrohir teased. Liv smacked his arm again for good measure. "Peace! I come with a peace offering!" He laughed, holding the other goblet out for her. Liv took it and drunk the wine. She watched as Glorfindel took a rather disturbed-looking Elarinya to the dancefloor as the music hit again.

Glorfindel certainly put a lot of energy into his dancing. He was very...excitable. Elarinya tried to keep up with his energy, and in fairness to her, she kept up well, though she looked tempted to trip Glorfindel just to put a stopper on his boundless energy.

"He does that sometimes after leading patrols. Glorfindel gets easily bored and he dances to drain all his pent-up energy. Elarinya is the only elleth who can keep up with him." Elrohir said, handing Liv the other goblet of wine in his hand.

"She is barely keeping up with him." Liv pointed out.

"She will live. She's a strong woman. She kept us together when we..." Elrohir looked down, his voice fading, "...She has lost so much and she still reminded us everyday to be strong. It took many seasons for us to realize how deeply she mourned Meldaseldë's loss. Before that, they had lost their parents when the Battle of the Last Alliance happened."

Liv had no idea it had been that bad for her. Elarinya had lost all of her family to tragedy. It was a miracle she still stayed in Middle-earth when there was nothing left for her there.

"And then Meldaseldë died, but still Elarinya stayed here. She did not marry. She wasn't particularly attracted to men or women and seemed perfectly content tending to wounded soldiers, and managing the kitchens and gardens."

"She never talks about her family, or her past." Liv whispered, watching as Elarinya laughed at an energized spin from Glorfindel.

"I don't imagine she would want to. Truly, I do not know why she has not left for the Grey Havens yet. She deserves a break."

"I think she's waiting for something. Something that has to do with Arwen." Liv said.

Elrohir nodded, "She does care for Arwen. More than anyone else. She took care of us when we were children but she was there ever since Arwen was born. They have a strong bond."

Elrohir looked at her, nervously, "But do not tell her I told you. She doesn't like Elladan and me. Not after..."

"Ssh. I will not tell her. Do not think about it." Liv said, and this time, her hand on his arm was gentle.

"Thank you. To be honest, I would rather she blame us than herself. She has blamed herself enough times."

"I would rather you not blame each other at all and forgive each other." Liv said, softly.

Elrohir gave her a sad smile, "It is too late for that now. The only way for Elarinya to truly heal from her pain at this point is going to Valinor."

"Ow!" Glorfindel's yelp made the two of them turn around. The music was just ending and Glorfindel was hopping on one foot while Elarinya flicked her hair off her shoulder, innocently, as though simply brushing lint off her sleeve.

"Oh, no. Did I step on you? I apologize. Come, you should sit and let your foot rest." She gasped, guiding Glorfindel to the benches.

"You did that on purpose!" Glorfindel snarled.

"I assure you, my lord, I did not. And if I did I would have been doing the world a favor." Elarinya's tone was icy.

"Come on, come on. They will start arguing. It will not be pretty." Elrohir said, motioning for Liv to follow him. Liv was only too happy to let him lead her away.

"Do you want me to take you to your room, now?" Elrohir asked. "I expect you're tired after dancing."

"Sure. And thank you. Tell me about how the patrol went."

So Elrohir did. The trip from the Hall of Fire to Liv's chambers was short but that was enough for Elrohir to tell her what was going on: The Dúnedain were travelling either to Bree or to their major settlements in the Angle. After the attack in the village, those who lived in isolated farmsteads realized the importance of stayng with a larger group. But other than that, there was nothing. Not even a stray wolf. The lands were quiet.

"Too quiet." Elrohir had said. "But it is not somethjng to worry about."

When they stopped at Liv's room, Elrohir hesitated.

"What's wrong?" Liv asked, noticing how quiet he had become.

"You and Elladan... Everything is well between you, right?" He asked, hesitantly.

Liv did not answer.

"It's just... The look on his face whenever your name is brought up in conversations is strange. And the two of you did not talk at all today."

"I do not owe Elladan all of my time, Elrohir." Liv didn't mean to sound hostile.

"I know that." He said, hastily, "But I thought you would at least say hi."

"I'm fine. We're perfectly okay."

"Then you will join us in the clearing tomorrow?"

It was Liv's turn to hesitate. That would mean an afternoon of only staying with Elladan. She did not know if they were ready for it.

"Maybe. If I have nothing to do."

Elrohir frowned. "Oh. Of course."

She opened the door and stepped inside her chambers. Before she closed it behind her, she heard Elrohir mumble a 'good night' to her. And she had no idea what she was to do tomorrow.

Chapter Text

It was almost October. It had been five days since that night with Elladan, and three since Liv told Elrohir she would think about joining them in the clearing.

She did not.

In fact, she had been avoiding them.

Or they had been avoiding her--Elladan, especially. Or perhaps Liv was just being full of herself again. Everyone was busy, after all. The warriors had more work than ever. Glorfindel was still troubled, and every instinct in his body told him that something seriously wrong was happening. Those on patrol duty were usually out for two or three days, and they would come back with the same reports: Everything is quiet. There is no need to worry. And still, he insisted on doubling patrols. Still, he insisted on training their recruits.

Erestor tried to talk Glorfindel into putting the warriors through less work. The lands were quiet, after all. "You have always been so dramatic." It was a joke, but one that annoyed Glorfindel.

"Imladris is well-protected because I am dramatic. You would think one would be more grateful that I am making sure nothing is wrong."

"Nothing is wrong, whether you make sure of it or not." Erestor snapped.

"That's because we have been vigilant. Do you think I enjoy taking the warriors away from their families?" Glorfindel snapped back.

"Enough." Lord Elrond said, and the two ceased their argument at once.

"Glorfindel is right, Erestor. Imladris is well-protected, and it is a combined effort from us both and because he is careful. I admit, even my instincts tell me that something is not right."

"Two of us against you." Glorfindel muttered, not meeting Erestor's gaze.

Erestor sighed in exasperation, choosing to ignore Glorfindel and instead saying, "What about Liv? She does not feel anything is wrong, does she?"

"She does, actually. I oversee her training. She looks distracted these days." Glorfindel answered.

"Actually..." Arwen interrupted. It was not uncommon for Arwen to be present during these meetings. Like her mother, it was expected that she, too, knew exactly what was happening in Imladris, and she had wisdom just as much as her parents did. While Elladan and Elrohir were trusted with leading the warriors, Arwen was trusted in meetings concerning Imladris. "She is troubled because of Elladan. But that is their own personal matter. She does not sense any danger, though I do not think she would. She has not shown signs of having the gift of foresight at all and I don't expect she would. She is young and mortal. Though perhaps it is simply a matter of waiting for something to awaken it."

"It's been months, Glorfindel, and she seems like any other bright, young girl. She has many talents but foresight is not one of them." Erestor said.

"Are you going to counter everything I say?" Glorfindel turned to him.

"No. I am going to reason with some of the things you say." Erestor replied.

"Erestor is right, Glorfindel. Liv is like any other of her race." Lord Elrond said. "It would be unfair of us to expect something great from her. The girl needs to heal. I still sense deep sadness in her, though Imladris has greatly helped her in the past months. Perhaps she just needs to settle down into a life here."

"She would not be sent back with no purpose. And even if there was no purpose, she would not be sent back without a blessing. I know that girl is special. If she was not, she would have died and stayed dead." Glorfindel said.

"Oh, for goodness sake. Is that what this is about? Your obsession with Ecthelion--" Erestor started but Glorfindel turned on him so slowly with a dangerous look that he never got to finish what he was going to say.

"Don't." Glorfindel whispered. "This is not about Ecthelion. And if your lips taint his name again, I would cut your tongue out myself."

"My lords!" Arwen reprimanded.

"Nothing happens without a purpose. That girl was sent here either as a warning or as a sign of hope. I will not wait until it is too late to find out which." Glorfindel continued.

"You are trying to find a purpose where there is none. You still do not see that some things just happen and it is beyond even your skill to reason with what the One does." Erestor pushed.

Glorfindel's back straightened. He was not sure if he was irritated or glad that he was unarmed and unable to hurt Erestor at that moment. He had half a mind to throttle the other ellon. But instead, he said, as calmly as he possibly could, "I will take the twins and five others south. Just to be sure."

"If that is your wish." Lord Elrond said.

"Then may I leave, my lord?"

"Go ahead."

"Come back safe." Arwen said as Glorfindel walked out of the room.

The moment he closed the door, Lord Elrond looked at his daughter, "Has Liv shown signs of having foresight?"

Arwen shook her head, "She has expressed her worry for Anorvain's safety. But that is only natural. They are the closest thing to family that they both have. He is practically her brother. But no. If she is starting to have dreams or visions, she does not tell me about them. It could be that her dreams are simply dreams."

"Let us hope that really is all. The poor girl has been through enough already." Erestor said.

"Elladan has told me once they wanted to take her to grandmother. They may not have the gift of foresight but their instincts have never failed them. Perhaps they were on the right track." Arwen said.

"Glorfindel senses something is wrong beyond the borders. We cannot take Liv out of Imladris in case his instincts are correct, which they usually are." Lord Elrond replied. "And in any case, she would still need to learn how to ride well."

Arwen, who had been standing by the window, looked out to find Liv astride a horse, with Cristiel on another steed behind her. A small smile played on Arwen's lips.

"She is, at least, a fast learner."

Liv, meanwhile, was blisfully unaware of anything happening beyond the training grounds. She and her horse, Gloss, have both learned how to work with each other and Liv was getting better at controlling her even without using verbal commands.

"Don't speed up!" Cristiel warned when Liv urged the horse onwards.

"Oh, do no worry, Cristiel! Gloss will take care of me, right, baby?" Liv cooed.

Gloss threw her head back.

"She says you are the baby, who does, indeed, need taking care of."

"Aw, look at her being a mom!" Liv cooed.

"Liv, I don't think it was her intent to flatter you."

"Let's pretend it was. I do not think I like being insulted by a horse."

Cristiel snorted, like she always did when Liv made such remarks. Liv prided herself in being one of the few people who could make Cristiel snort with laughter, regardless of whether she intended to be funny or not.

"Cristiel!"

Liv and Cristiel slowed their horses down and turned to find a rather annoyed-looking Glorfindel walking towards them.

"Where are the twins?"

"I do not know, my lord. Perhaps they are with Lady Arwen."

"They are not. Find them and tell them to bring five of our men for a patrol on the southern borders." And just like that, he was stomping away.

Liv and Cristiel exchanged bewildered looks, "What's with him?" Liv muttered.

"I don't know. I don't want to know. Come, mellon." Cristiel said to her horse, and they sped off to find the sons of Elrond.

They found the twins near the stables dueling. It still amazed Liv to see their bodies at work when they were training. How fluid and quick their movements were, like a snake that was striking or a wave crashing over a beach. They were deadly but entrancing to watch. Liv wondered how they would be on the battlefield. She imagined them to be invincible. After all, they moved so fast and had preternatural senses. How could anything harm them?

They stopped training the moment Cristiel approached. Liv strayed behind while Cristiel spoke to them. She avoided looking at Elladan by very carefully pulling her riding gloves off.

"...looked angry. He's never been like this since the Watchful Peace ended." Liv caught Cristiel saying.

She then made the mistake of looking over to where the Elves were gathered and found Elladan looking up at her at the same time. Their eyes locked briefly before she looked away.

"Tell Glorfindel we will take the troops. You rest, Cristiel." Elrohir said.

"Ha! Rest. I will rest when I sail to the Undying Lands." Cristiel muttered before bowing and taking her leave.

It was only Liv and the twins left.

"You are leaving again." Liv said, more to Elrohir than Elladan.

"We should return in two or three days' time." Elrohir's eyes went from his brother to Liv, gauging their reactions. "Don't get too bored while we are gone."

"I have plenty of fun without you, thank you very much." Liv said.

"Defensive, are we?" Elrohir laughed. No one else laughed with him. After a pause, he sighed in defeat and said, "I'm going to get the horses. You two work out whatever fight you have. It's no fun being around the two of you like this."

And so there was only the two of them.

Liv cleared her throat. Elladan looked at his feet.

"You be careful on your patrol." She muttered, still not looking at him.

"And you be careful with your training." He said. God, how his voice made her ache. She had not heard it in five days. She nodded, unable to bear how awkward things had become. It shouldn't have to be this awkward with him but here they were.

She turned around, ready to run after Cristiel. Or to just run, in general.

"Liv." If she had not secretly been wanting him to call her name, she would not have heard him say it.

She stopped in her tracks but did not look back.

"Yes?" Her voice was faint.

"I hate this."

Despite herself, Liv smiled. Elladan was nothing if not honest. But, still, she kept her back to him.

"I hate seeing you look away. I hate not being able to talk to you. I hate not being around you."

She was not going to turn around. If she did, she would break and she would not know what she would do if she looked him in the eye.

"Liv, please. I am in agony here."

So am I, she wanted to say. But she gave in and turned to look at him.

"Please be careful." Were her words as she finally met his gaze.

He held her eyes with his, and it seemed all the words unspoken between them passed in that second. He made a move towards her, thought better of it and simply nodded.

"Let's go, Elladan. If we delay further, Glorfindel will have our ears." Elrohir called. Behind him trailed his and Elladan's horses.

Liv turned to him with almost a pleading expression.

"Well, Liv, we will see you in two or three days." Elrohir said, with forced cheer. She smiled at him as he approached and placed a comforting hand on her shoulder.

"May the stars watch over your path." She said to him.

The nights after that made Liv increasingly worried. She could not stop thinking about Anorvain. Her mind was constantly preoccupied with thoughts of his well-being. No news had arrived from him, no sign of his whereabouts, no anything. She had taken to asking Melpomaen every day if there were letters for her and his answer would always be the same: I am sorry, Liv, but no. And always, she was met with the same reassurances: Bree is far, Liv. It takes at least three weeks to travel from here to there. And the Dúnedain do not leave for Imladris unless they have to. He is fine.

But she knew, deep in her heart, that something was going amiss. Lord Glorfindel would not be this worried if everything was as fine as everyone else claimed. She found herself now waiting for a sign either from the twins or from the Dúnedain. She tried to keep busy in the meantime. Merchants would be arriving soon again, after all. Erestor would sort trade letters while she would be doing grammar exercises during their lessons. And if she wasn't doing that, she would be in the seamstresses' shop working on Elarinya's dress with Nimeth.

It had reached the point where she would dream of Anorvain, injured and sick. But those dreams always faded to black, and she would forget them soon after opening her eyes.

After three days, Liv almost believed nothing was wrong.

That is, until Cristiel came back from patrol on the second day of October looking flustered.

"Rossien." She said, gravely. She had caught up with her and Liv just as they were going to dinner.

Rossien stopped in her tracks at the look on Cristiel's face.

"We are taking him to the healing ward. His injury is infected. On the way here, he went from hot with fever to cold as ice. If he is not treated soon, he may have to lose his arm...or turn into a wraith. Lord Elrond is already being called."

Rossien's face paled and she muttered Elbereth's name before she rushed for the healing wards without another word.

"What's going on? Who is injured? What is 'wraith'? I do not know that word." Liv frowned, watching Rossien go.

"Liv." Cristiel's tone was grave. "Liv, I am sorry."

"Sorry? What...?"

Oh God.

Oh God, something must have happened with the twins.

With Elladan.

Cristiel wouldn't look at her with such pity and sadness if it was not one of them. A lump formed on Liv's throat that was too hard to swallow, and before Cristiel could stop her, she ran in the direction of the healing wards. If anything happened to either of them, she would not be able to bear it. It was supposed to be a routine patrol. How it could turn out to one of them almost losing an arm was beyond her. But she would never be able to forgive herself if...

She stopped in her tracks outside the healing wards.

It took a moment for her to register them both. Elrohir had dried blood he was wiping off his hands with a damp rag, and Elladan's face was grave but they were uninjured. They were standing there, perfectly healthy.

Liv sighed in relief. She would have run to them if they had not approached her first, and she found herself throwing her arms around Elladan before she could stop herself.

He hesitated before his arm wrapped around her waist.

"You're okay. You're not hurt. Thank Elbereth you're alright." She said.

From where she stood, however, she had a clear view of the healing ward. Her eyes locked with Rossien's before the elleth closed the door. And for a split second, Liv found out who the injured person was as he groaned on the bed while Lord Elrond stood beside him.

The world crashed around Liv then. Her moment of relief vanished quickly.

"Elladan..." Elrohir whispered. Liv tried to push herself away from Elladan but he held her firmly in his arms and turned her away from the already closed door.

"No, no, please, he needs me right now." Liv pushed again, tears blurring her vision. She struggled to get to the door, to get to where he was, to hold his hand and tell him it would be okay.

She couldn't breathe. All she could feel was her heart pounding against her ribs. All she could think about was his smile and his open laughter and his heavy cloak that she always wore. It would be unfair...It would be cruel if he was to die now.

"Saes." Liv's voice broke as she fought to get to Anorvain. She would have fallen to her knees if Elladan was not holding her. Instead, she clung to him, closing her eyes as he held her head to his chest.

"Ada and Rossien will not let him die, Liv. Anorvain will be fine. He is in the most capable hands."

"I promised myself I would let nothing hurt him anymore. He has been through so much. He has lost everyone. He does not deserve to have this happen to him as well. He is a good person." Liv cried.

"He has you. He will not fall to darkness. He is strong." Elrohir said.

It was agonizing after that. The three of them sat on the floor in front of the door because Liv refused to go one step further. She sat between them, with Elladan's protective arm around her shoulders. Sometimes, Anorvain would scream and Liv would squeeze her eyes tight, imagining the unbearable pain he was probably in. Elrohir tried to ease her pain by singing. Elven music, after all, could calm her senses. He sang a soft lullaby while Elladan, whose shoulder Liv was leaning on, stroked her hair and she fell into a fitful sleep where she dreamed of tall, hooded figures in tattered, black robes. She dreamed of four children trembling together as these hooded figures slowly approached them. She dreamed of fire, and of Anorvain yelling for his companions to run.

"Black Riders! Run!"

A sword flashed in the moolight and Liv did not know if it was in her dream or if it was in the waking world where she heard him scream in pain because everything had faded to darkness.

"She's dreaming." Elladan whispered to Elrohir while Liv's head jerked to the side. In sleep, her eyebrows were furrowed, and they were sure she was having a nightmare.

"Should we take her to her room?" Elrohir asked.

"She would not forgive us if we take even a single step away from this door." Elladan said.

"Ai, this is not good. If Glorfindel had not asked us to patrol, we would not have found Anorvain until it was too late."

"Anorvain is only half of our problem. If the Nine are all abroad...that could only mean the Ring has been found."

"Something tells me even Imladris will not be spared if that is true." Elrohir sighed.

"We need to restock our weapons, resharpen blades, make more arrows. The armorers and blacksmiths would have to work hard once more." Elladan rubbed his temple. "Those leaving for the Grey Havens would likely be delayed. If the Nine have reached as far as Bree, the Road will not be safe and we cannot spare more warriors to protect them when we would need those warriors now more than ever."

Liv jerked awake as the door opened. She blinked up at Rossien.

"He's okay." Rossien said.

Liv straightened up, but Rossien held her hand out. "But you cannot see him yet."

"Why not?" Liv demanded.

"He needs rest. He fought a difficult battle to stay alive. He needs time to heal. You can visit him tomorrow after he has slept tonight."

"I'm not leaving this spot until I see him." Liv snapped, defiantly.

"Suit yourself. But you will still not be allowed to see him."

"Rossien..."

Rossien winced, and looked away. "I'm sorry, Liv. I would have let you see him immediately but Lord Elrond says to let no one in. He is fine, I promise you. Please rest if you can."

Liv leaned on Elladan's shoulder and stayed right where she was. "I'm staying here."

"Rossien."

Rossien turned as Lord Elrond called her name.

"Tell my sons I need to see them in my study immediately."

"Liv is still here, sir."

There was a pause, followed by hurried whispers.

"Tell her she is to come to my study as well."

Rossien turned to the twins. They heard the conversation and nodded but Liv, who did not have Elvish hearing, looked at the Elves with confusion.

"Father wants to see us in his study." Elrohir said.

"But what about..." She threw another look at the door.

"I will take care of him, Liv. Don't worry." Rossien said, gently. "If he calls for you, I will fetch you myself."

Elladan and Elrohir walked with Liv between them, and if anybody noticed that Liv was holding Elladan's hand tightly, they did not comment on it.

They waited outside Lord Elrond's door, while Liv fidgeted uncomfortably.

"I should be with him. He needs someone right now." She said, pacing in front of the door.

"He is with Rossien." Elrohir said.

She clicked her tongue impatiently and continued to pace. Lord Elrond approached them with Glorfindel, Erestor and Arwen in tow.

"Liv!" Arwen gasped, seeing her hair and clothes dishelved, her face flushed and her eyes puffy was not something Arwen had seen since Liv first came to Imladris. Liv immediately ran to her arms and the two held each other, Arwen supporting Liv with quiet words and gentle hands.

"Why is she needed here? She should be with Anorvain. It would make both of them feel better." Arwen said to those around her.

"She needs to know what happened to Anorvain." Lord Elrond said, softly. "I will not keep you long, Liv. In the morning, you can see him. But know that he may not wake for the next few days."

"Let's just get this over with." Liv said. She sounded more tired than angry now. They went inside the study, Melpomaen dutifully arranging a late dinner on the table. His birds chirped on his shoulders.

"Thank you, Melpomaen. I can always trust you not to let us go hungry." Lord Elrond smiled.

"None of you eat as much as you should." Melpomaen lamented, bowing out of the room. Glorfindel and the twins were quick to get themselves something to eat. They have been in patrol, after all, and had not eaten since they arrived. Liv felt too anxious to eat anything, so she settled with wine, while Lord Elrond and Erestor simply sat at the table without touching anything. Arwen pulled a tray of sandwiches towards herself and began to eat as well.

"Anorvain should recover. We found him just in time."

"If it was not for the patrols, we never would have found his trail. He was delirious when we found him. His wound was bleeding through his bandages, and his eyes..." Elrohir shuddered, "he was close to becoming one of them. You could see it in his eyes and the way he shrunk back when Glorfindel approached him."

Erestor turned to Glorfindel, "Alright, you can say it."

Glorfindel, having no idea what Erestor was talking about, gaped at him, "Hngh?" He said, through a mouthful of food.

"You can say you were right. Your instincts were correct, as they usually are. If you did not insist on patrols, we would have found Anorvain either dead or a wraith."

"Stop!" Liv winced. Imagining Anorvain dead made her physically sick. If one more Elf mentioned him dying, she may actually throw wine at them.

Glorfindel swallowed his food, his face grim, "I do not like being right about this. The Nine are abroad, Lord Elrond."

"Or maybe just one." Erestor said, hopefully.

"No. The Nazgûl do not travel alone if they are to travel that far from their master. They are seeking the Ring."

"So it has emerged once more." Lord Elrond said.

"I'm sorry, but how does this help Anorvain? Why am I here?" Liv asked.

A quiet settled on those around her, "Liv. To understand the gravity of the situation, you have to know who the Dark Lord of Mordor is. I do not expect Erestor tells you about such evil in your lessons but he is an important part of Ennorath's history. One that you have to know about sooner or later."

"Sauron is a servant of Morgoth. His most loyal servant. You know who Morgoth is?"

"The Vala that Lúthien and Beren defied. One who caused much sorrow to the world. Satan on steroids, basically." Liv mentioned the last part to herself.

"Exactly. A long time ago, Sauron tricked an Elven smith to create Rings of Power. He made three for the Elves, and these alone remained untouched by his evil. Seven were given to the Dwarves, and it brought a sickness of greed into their very hearts, and Nine were given to Men, who became servants to Sauron's will. These Rings were controlled by the One Ring."

"I take it Sauron has the One Ring?"

"He had the One Ring." Elrohir said. "You remember I told you that Elarinya's parents both died in the Battle of the Last Alliance? That was a great battle where Elves and Men joined forces to defeat Sauron at the height of his power. That was where Isildur used Narsil to cut the Ring from Sauron's hand."

"Narsil is that broken blade in the library." Liv briefly remembered admiring it, laid out and still taken care of. Erestor had promised her he would tell her its history in one of their lessons.

"Sauron was defeated, but when the time came for the Ring to be destroyed, Isildur was consumed by it. He kept it for himself and was later killed and the Ring faded from knowledge. It was peaceful for a time. And then, in recent years, Sauron openly announced his return." Lord Elrond continued his tale.

"And the Ring?"

"Still nowhere to be found. The Ring itself has a will of its own. It has Sauron's cruelty and malice. It tempts all who look upon it. And anyone who is tempted by it could be corrupted to do only evil. The Ringwraiths used to be great kings of Men. The best of them. Now they are mere servants to Sauron's will. They walk in the world unseen save for their cloaks of black and strike terror into the hearts of all who dare come face to face with them."

"Cloaks of black?" Liv frowned.

She remembered something. Something from her dream, something Anorvain had yelled.

"What is it, Liv?" Glorfindel asked, his eyes keen.

"I remember... My dream..."

Glorfindel and Arwen both straightened in their chairs. Erestor's mouth gaped open.

"What was in your dream?" Glorfindel demanded.

"It was dark. Anorvain was shouting something about 'Black Riders'. He was telling the other Rangers to run."

"And?" Arwen urged.

"And nothing. That is all I remember." Liv frowned. She felt as if there was something she was missing, but she could not remember anything else. Her mind was too focused on Anorvain that she forgot the rest of her dream.

Glorfindel looked slightly disappointed, but then he looked up at Erestor.

"Father? What's going on?" Elladan frowned.

Lord Elrond looked at Liv for a time. Liv stared back, confused.

"Nothing for us to worry about tonight."

"Ada..." There was a warning tone in Arwen's voice.

"Not tonight." Lord Elrond repeated.

"I brought Liv here so she would know what happened to Anorvain. The history of the One Ring is important. It is why the Ringwraiths exist in the first place. And it was, indeed, a Ringwraith who almost killed Anorvain. His wound was inflicted by a Morgul blade, and a wound from one festers and turns the victim into one of them. I suspect Anorvain was in a hurry. He is a fast rider, and he was trusted by his father to bear news when it was needed to be spread quickly. Perhaps the Rangers gave him the same task and the Black Riders pursued him eastward. He must have used his arm to block their blade out of desperation." Lord Elrond explained.

"But they didn't kill him." Erestor said.

Liv gave him a deadly glare.

"It is true! The Nazgûl knows not what mercy is. They were in a hurry. I suspect they simply tried to scare the Rangers off their posts so they would gain control of the Road."

"Which means the Ring is travelling. If it was not travelling then, it must be doing so now. Nine of them in the same place could only mean one thing. They know where it is. They know who has it." Arwen said.

There was stunned silence. Elladan whispered a curse. Liv looked around her. The faces of those around her were grim and fearful. Whatever was happening was more serious than she thought.

"Anorvain will not be the last person a Morgul blade touches before this month ends." Arwen said.

"Anorvain will not be the only one injured by great evil before this year ends, Morgul blade or no." Glorfindel said.

"Keep the patrols going, Glorfindel. Gildor is travelling to the Grey Havens at this moment with many other Elves. I suspect they would send word if anything is amiss. Double the training on recruits and warriors alike. If anyone asks, Anorvain was injured by a poisoned blade and nothing more. The less the Imladhrim know of what is happening for now, the better. I will not have Sauron striking fear into their hearts now. Not when we do not know the entire situation yet." Lord Elrond said. "And Liv?"

Liv was taken aback at being addressed. "Hir nin?"

"If you have any other strange dreams you cannot explain, you will tell Arwen or Glorfindel about it."

She blinked at him in confusion, "Of course, hir nin."

They were dismissed, with only Lord Elrond and Glorfindel remaining in the study. And still, something bothered Liv. She felt as if she had missed something important. But for the life of her, she did not know what.

"Are you okay?" Liv asked Elladan as they walked out the doors.

"Me? I am more worried about you."

"I'm fine. You were the one who was on patrol for three days."

Elladan was about to reach out and take her hand when Elrohir placed a comforting arm around Liv, "Are you tired?" He asked, not realizing Elladan had taken a step away from them.

Liv tried to smile. Instead, she winced.

"I take it that's a yes." Elrohir said. "First thing tomorrow, we will take you to Anorvain. But you will rest tonight, okay? No sneaking out, no staying awake pacing your room, no late night snacks or cold bubble baths."

"Can I howl at the moon as a ritual to put protection on those I love?" Liv asked, drily. Half of her was impressed that Elrohir knew her well enough to know her habits when dealing with stress.

"Haha. Funny. I will laugh at that because you are upset." He ruffled her hair. Her hand went up to karate chop his away from her hair.

"That is the most energy you've shown all night!" Elladan remarked.

"Touch my hair and it will be the last time you have hands." Liv pointed a threatening finger at Elrohir.

"But Elladan gets to touch your hair all the time!"

"Touch your own hair."

"I'm hurt." Elrohir gasped, dramatically, in an attempt to make her smile.

She gave him a slight push but let him pull her towards him when he wrapped an arm around her shoulders.

When they stopped before her chamber door, she pulled both of them in for a group hug.

"I was really worried about the two of you, as well. Please be extra careful when you go out on patrol, okay?" She said, her words muffled by the fabric of their clothes.

"Hey," Elrohir shushed, gently, patting her back, "we will always be here for you."

"You have nothing to fear, Olivia. We will always come back." Elladan said.

"Please wake me up the moment the sun comes up. I want to visit Anorvain right away." Liv said as she pulled away.

"Of course." Elrohir replied.

"You get some rest now. Good night, Liv." Elladan said, his hand still on her back even after Liv had pulled away. She looked up at him, and for the first time in a week, she met his gaze without looking away.

And he thought, as she went in her room and he and Elrohir made their way to their own chambers, that for her, he'd come back from Mandos' Halls itself just to see the emotion in her eyes that she never showed to Elrohir or anyone else. For that look of love and longing that she gives only to him, he'd go anywhere.

Chapter Text

Elladan did not disappoint. The sun had barely risen when he knocked on the door to Liv's chambers. Liv opened the door just as she was tying a robe over her nightdress.

Elladan kept his eyes planted firmly on her eyebrows to be polite. They were nicely shaped, he thought. But her eyes were her best features. They were brown, something rare among Elves and Dúnedain alike. He remembered how he had tried to perfectly capture them when he drew that part of her. He briefly daydreamed about drawing the rest of her; her silhouette, her back turned, her hair still dishelved just after getting out of bed, her profile soft in the morning glow.

"Elladan?"

His eyes focused enough for him to realize those nicely shaped eyebrows were furrowed in confusion. He has not said a word since she opened the door, he realized. A blush crept up his cheeks.

"Anorvain has still not woken up but as promised, I shall take you to him." He said, quickly.

Liv stepped back to let him in but he hesitated.

"Get inside, Elladan." Liv rolled her eyes.

His blush deepened.

"It will not be polite to enter a lady's room when she is not yet out of her nightgown."

"Okay, first of all: You once barged in here while I was still in bed. Second of all: I have a partition. I can get dressed behind it."

Elladan did not know which was more mortifying, but he walked inside, anyway. He closed the door behind him while she walked to a wardrobe at the other side of the room and pulled out one of the dresses there.

"This is hardly appropriate. The sun is barely up. I expected to be waiting outside." He said, keeping his back to her while she went behind a partition to change. Her room was littered with art supplies, quills and papers from her grammar lessons. Paintings she had finished were stacked against the walls. Above her study-desk was the drawing he had made for her, framed in silver. She had left her mark on the room, and had made it hers.

"Well, I wouldn't want you standing outside. You're still the son of the Lord of Imladris. And it's not like..." Liv stopped short. She was not about to admit to Elladan, of all people, that it would not be the first time she had invited men to her bedroom before. She hung her nightgown over the partition, and the sound of the fabric shifting made Elladan's head turn slightly out of instinct.

"Like what?" He said. Despite himself, his eyes lingered on her silhouette for a second before he turned back around quickly and kept his focus on a painting of tall, geometrical towers that were all standing beside each other.

"Where is Elrohir, by the way?" Liv said, choosing to avoid the question.

"We are not attached at the hip, Liv. I don't always know where he is nor am I always at his side." Elladan said.

Liv snorted softly. "Alright, Lord Grumpy Pants. I was just asking."

She stepped away from the partition and washed her face in a bowl of water near the marble tub placed inside her room. She dried herself with a towel and walked towards him when she was done.

"Beautiful, as always." Elladan couldn't help but say.

She looked down, and he realized it was the wrong thing to say.

"I'm sorry." He said, "I cannot help it."

"Do not apologize. You did nothing wrong." She muttered.

For some reason, this annoyed Elladan. It was frustrating that Liv kept pushing him away, but then later giving him the slightest bit of hope which he clung to.

"We can't just act like everything is as it was before, Liv."

She did not know what made her say it or why she didn't stop herself, but Liv said, "Before what, Elladan? Before I ran to the healing ward after Anorvain got stabbed and all I could think about was your safety and my regrets and if you would still live another day? Before you kissed me and I said we could not do that because it would break my heart that I will one day break yours? Before you drew a part of me and captured a part of my soul that nobody else in this world sees?"

Before she had fallen in love with him. Before things got complicated. Before their feelings for each other went from friends to something else and they were both too stubborn or too scared to say the words out loud. Perhaps Liv did expect that things could just go back to normal--whatever that meant for either of them when things had never actually been "normal" since the day they met. But she was tired and scared and didn't want her illusion of normalcy to shatter. She didn't want to face something she couldn't run away from.

"All of them. We've been trying so hard to ignore it over and over again and this keeps happening. You, dancing between yes and no. You, being terrified of the prospect of hurting me in the future while you hurt me every day for denying it. You, making me think that there might actually be a chance between us and that you are willing to try only to dash all of my hopes." Elladan's voice shook with emotion at the last part, "It might be alright for you to avoid these things, Liv, but I have had enough of pretending things are not what they truly are."

This conversation was bound to happen, they both knew it. Elladan just wished it didn't happen now. But if not now, he was not sure when exactly would be the best time. The morning had such a potential for them to just get along again but he was done letting her run away from what was happening between them. For too long, that had been what he was doing with his own fears. He was not going to add this to the list of things he could deny.

She stepped back and shook her head. "This is not the time for us to talk about this." She whispered, pretending his words did not at all feel like shards of glass dug into her heart.

"When will be the best time?" He insisted, "When I am lying in the infirmary gravely injured? When the memories become too much and they take over once more and I am at my most vulnerable? Because those seem to be the only times you ever let go and allow it to happen."

"Allow what to happen, Elladan?" If her voice raised, he did not flinch.

"This--you, me." He motioned between the two of them in frustration.

"And what is between you and me?"

Elladan sighed in impatience, Liv crossed her arms and looked at the floor.

It was pointless. Liv was not ready to talk about it.

And he was done trying to get her to face it.

"You know what," He sighed, reeling in his emotions, "you are right. This is not the time for us to talk about it when you clearly do not want to admit what it is. If you would kindly pretend this conversation never happened, let's go to Anorvain."

Elladan stormed out of the room, brushing past her to the door on the way out. Liv shut her eyes so the tears will not fall. It was too early in the morning. She was an idiot for believing things would get back to normal just like that. She only wished their argument did not happen at that moment, though she knew in the back of her head it would still happen some other time, but his words rang in her ears and stung every inch of her.

When she had composed herself, her shoulders relaxed and she followed him to the healing wards, lagging a few steps behind. She had never been more grateful to see Rossien when the door opened, but she froze when she saw Anorvain.

He was pale, and there was dried blood on his chapped lips. His hair and beard had grown wild and his left arm was wrapped in bandages. His veins stood out, dark red against his skin. Though the air in the room was fresh and crisp, he looked at the brink of death.

"He looked worse last night. At least now, a bit of color is back in his cheeks." Rossien said, placing a damp rag that was drenched in vinegar and water on his forehead.

"His fever is high but that is a good thing." Rossien said, "That means his body is fighting off the infection instead of..."

Rossien gulped. She no longer wanted to continue that line of thought. Her eyes were puffy, either because she had not rested yet or because she had cried recently.

"Thank you for taking care of him." Liv said to Rossien.

"Of course. He needs me now and I will not let him down." Rossien said, weakly. Liv took Rossien's shaking hand and let the other elleth hug her.

"I was so scared." Rossien said. "I thought the worst... I would never have forgiven myself if he died in my care. He's the only family you have left."

Liv's heart went out to Rossien. Even in her darkest moments, she thought only of others. She thought only of Anorvain's safety and Liv's comfort. The only time she thought about herself was thinking if her own skill as a healer would be enough.

"You did the best you could and that's all you need to do, Rossien." Liv whispered, while Rossien hugged her tightly.

"Rossien? Liv?"

Lindir walked in with a plateful of food to find the two hugging, and he nodded at Elladan, who was standing by the foot of Anorvain's bed.

Rossien sniffed and straightened up. "I am okay." She said.

"You're tired. You need to rest." Elladan said.

"I brought you something to eat. Elarinya told me you have been here all night." Lindir said, his eyes moving to Anorvain while he held out the plate he was holding.

"That's..." Rossien turned to Anorvain, as well.

"Is he going to be alright?" Lindir asked, mildly.

"He should be." She replied, rubbing her forehead. "Thank you for the food."

He kissed the top of her head and placed the food on a nearby table.

"You really should rest, Rossien. I can take care of Anorvain." Liv said.

"I need to change the dressing on his wound and make more of the athelas salve. And his fever..."

"I will be here." Lindir said.

Rossien looked up at him, "You?"

"Yes, me. He matters to you, so I will watch over him with Liv while you rest."

She bit the bottom of her lip, feeling guilty that people were worrying about her when she was fine and Anorvain was not.

"Rest, Rossien." Elladan said, gently, "Take it as an order from your lord. Or as a request from a friend."

She looked around at her friends, all looking at her with varying degrees of concern, and at Anorvain.

"Okay..." She sighed.

"Take your food." Lindir reminded, handing her the plate as she walked out. She kissed his cheek on the way out, and said, "I wil see you later."

He nodded and gave her a small smile.

Liv and Elladan looked away from the affectionate scene. While Rossien and Lindir were clearly getting closer and stronger in their love, Liv and Elladan couldn't be further apart.

Their eyes met from opposite sides of the room.

This could be us.

I want this to be us.

They looked away, both of their hearts heavy.

Rossien left and Liv took her place beside Anorvain's bed. His skin was definitely warm. His body was at least fighting off infection, but Liv did not know at what point fever became dangerous.

Anorvain began to groan in his sleep, and Liv shushed him, "I'm here. I'll take care of you, gwador. Come back to us."

It hurt Elladan to see Liv and Anorvain like that. Liv held Anorvain's limp hand while leaning over him, and he knew how she hated having an audience when she cried but her tears fell on Anorvain's hair while she placed a kiss on his forehead.

Anorvain turned his head towards her in his sleep and Elladan stepped forward to soak a towel in the vinegar and water mixture that Rossien left behind to place on Anorvain's head.

"What has Anorvain done for Eru to punish him like this? Losing his sister, watching his parents die, the girl he loves not loving him back, and now this." Liv said, pulling back to let Elladan check Anorvain's condition.

"Do not say such things." Elladan said, softly, "He is strong."

"So Eru wants to break him apart, is that it?" There was anger injected in her words.

"I do not presume to know what the One has planned for him. I admit, he has been through a lot but that will only make him stronger."

"I would defy every God if it meant no harm would come to him again. Strength be damned." Liv said.

This made Elladan smile. Mortals really were stubborn, and they were never one to accept their fate. Liv was young, after all, she did not understand that things happened and no one would be able to stop it.

"If I could take his pain, I would." Elladan said, "But his pain is his to bear. All we can do is support him. But I am not worried about Anorvain. I know that, like always, he will overcome this. He still has you. You are still his family."

Liv looked up at him, gratefully. The sting of their conversation that morning dulled, enough for them to set it aside in order to help each other take care of Anorvain.

And take care of him, they did.

An entire week passed with Liv barely leaving the healing wards. Sometimes, she would sleep in a chair beside Anorvain's bed, and always Rossien was present. Lindir and Elladan came in to check on both of them, though the women always waved their concern aside. It was touching that Lindir was always present. He bore no ill feelings, and stayed up late with Liv so Rossien could rest.

Sometimes, while Anorvain was having a restless night of sleep, Rossien would be pouring milk of the poppy in his mouth, and Lindir would sing to keep him calm. If Liv did not believe in the magic of Elven song before, she saw it unfold and improve Anorvain right before her eyes. His features would relax, and his head would turn towards Lindir's voice, as if he was searching in the dark for the source of the souns.

Liv watched Rossien work her skill on Anorvain. She watched as Anorvain's condition improved under Rossien's care. Liv had paled when she first saw the wound on Anorvain's arm. It looked almost as if it was festering, and when Rossien first exposed the wound to replace the bandages, Liv could not believe her ears when she was told it was improving.

"It's black. Look at it." Liv deadpanned.

"Better than black and oozing with pus and blood. The stench is gone, too. Athelas does work wonders on these kinds of wounds." Rossien said, slathering a salve made of some herb that made the air in the room fragrant.

It was like having to smell spirit of ammonia to get rid of nausea or dizziness but with a sweet, mild scent instead of one that was sharp and overwhelming.

In time, Rossien taught Liv how to change Anorvain's bandages for herself, and Anorvain was sleeping much more peacefully.

But it wasn't until the ninth of October did he open his eyes. Liv was asleep, at the time, curled up in an armchair with a blanket Elrohir had wrapped around her when he walked in to find her asleep.

"Liv?" Anorvain muttered, weakly. Liv, who was sound asleep did not immediately wake up. Anorvain tried to reach out to her with his injured arm, but regretted it immediately when a sharp pain shot up the entire upper left part of his body, and his hand jerked to the side, knocking down a glass bowl that shattered on the floor and left a sour scent in the air.

That woke Liv up with a start, and she was by his side immediately.

"You're awake! Oh my God, finally. It's been a week!" She gasped, helping him sit up. "Do you need anything? Water? Food? Does anything hurt?"

"What happened?" He groaned.

"Elladan and Elrohir found you during one of their patrols. Any longer and they would have found you dead." She whispered the last part, fearfully.

"I have to tell Lord Elrond about the--"

"They know the Nazgûl are abroad. They are doubling patrols now--"

"No, Liv. You do not understand. The Nazgûl know who has the Ring. They're looking for a Hobbit named Baggins."

Liv paled. "But...Bilbo is here." She said, weakly.

"Not Bilbo, the other Baggins." Anorvain replied, hastily.

Liv straightened up, her hand on her mouth. The Ring... Bilbo left the Ring with Frodo. Bilbo had talked about his nephew before, who he left behind in the Shire with all of his belongings, his treasure, his house. And now the poor Hobbit was in the wilds; defenseless, with servants of Sauron looking for him.

"Get Lord Elrond and Glorfindel. Please, Liv, this is important." He urged.

She didn't need to be told twice. She ran, and nearly knocked Rossien aside in her haste.

"He's awake--Lord Elrond--Baggins--"

"Slow down! What is wrong?" Rossien said, steadying Liv with a firm grip on her arm.

"Anorvain is awake but he wants me to get Lord Elrond and Glorfindel."

"Glorfindel is training the recruits. Lord Elrond is in his study, as always."

Liv bolted, leaving a confused Rossien behind as she gathered her skirts and ran to Lord Elrond's study. "My lord!" She gasped, knocking on the door. Lord Elrond opened it a few agonizing seconds later to find Liv still knocking on his door.

"The Ring. They know where it is. They're looking for a Baggins." Liv wheezed, trying to catch her breath. "Anorvain is awake. He told me to get you immediately."

Lord Elrond visibily paled.

"Get--"

"Lord Glorfindel. I know, my lord, I'm on my way." Liv took a large gasp of breath and made for the training grounds. Hundreds of warriors were there, holding their bows aloft and firing at targets farther than Liv had ever or will ever reach.

Surprisingly, Elrohir was there as well. He was, after all, the one better with a bow between him and Elladan. Elladan himself was deep in conversation with an ellon in traveller's gear.

"Anorvain is awake?" Glorfindel said as a greeting.

Liv nodded.

"Not good news?" He inquired.

Liv shook her head.

Glorfindel sighed, but did not seem surprised. In fact, he looked like he was expecting it.

"Alright. Listen!" He raised his voice, which carried out through the entire training grounds.

There were several shouts of "Stop! Lower your bows!" before the recruits turned in attention.

"I have important matters to discuss with Lord Elrond. I will leave you in the capable hands of my captains. For Elbereth's sake, do work on your aim. I had expected more improvement by now. Need I remind you that you will not be allowed past the borders of Imladris with performance that poor?"

Liv was astonished. As far as she could tell, the recruits all managed to shoot their targets right in the middle. She did not know what Glorfindel was berating them for, but she had no time to react.

Elladan came forward with the Elf he was in conversation with, "It's confirmed. The Nine have reached the Shire and Frodo Baggins was last seen by Gildor's Company on his way to Bree with three of his kin."

"They would be on their way here. The logical choice would be to continue to Imladris. The Hobbits know they are being followed." The other Elf said.

"Where in Arda has Estel been? Is there no news of him?" Elrohir said, his eyebrows furrowed in frustration.

"Anorvain should know. The Rangers answer to their Chieftain, after all." Glorfindel said. "Please send Gildor our thanks for letting us know. If you need food or supplies--"

"Elarinya has offered to help. Thank you for your hospitality." The other Elf said.

"Let's go, then." Liv said when the other Elf bowed and left for the kitchens. The rest of them went back to the healing ward.

"I wish you would at least stay still. You need rest. I have only just stitched your wound." Rossien said to Anorvain while he paced around the room, his left arm in a sling while they waited for Liv to bring Lord Elrond and Glorfindel.

"I'm fine. See? Perfectly healthy." Anorvain said, breezily.

"You almost died." Rossien snapped.

"Why, Rossien, I do believe you feared for my life."

"Feared for your--?!" She hissed through clenched teeth, "Yes, you oaf. I feared for your life. I care about you!"

"Please do not fear for me. Puts a bit of pressure on my fragile self. It's hard to stay alive, you know. Almost ate a very suspicious mushroom out of desperation on my way here." Anorvain tried for a warmer tone. Rossien looked like she was watching a kitten hopelessly get tangled in yarn.

"I'm fine! Stop looking at me like I died! No, wait. That was the wrong thing to say." Anorvain yelped when he saw Rossien's crestfallen look.

"Ai! Can we talk about when this thing will come off, instead?" He motioned at his sling.

"Not anytime soon, I'm afraid. Which means no strenous activity, no horse-riding, no sword-fighting, no Rangering."

"Rangering is not a word."

Rossien paused, then said, "Liv is rubbing off on me."

"How soon is "not anytime soon"? Not tomorrow? Not after a week?"

Rossien looked at him as though one about to tell someone they had a life-threatening illness, "I'm not sure, truly. I've never had to treat a wound from a Morgul blade in all my life. I just assisted Lord Elrond. But... Anorvain..." She bit her bottom lip, hesitating, "I don't think that wound will fully heal, ever. The most you can expect it to heal is when clots start to form."

Anorvain froze, "Will I still be able to do my duties?"

"You will, I'm sure. Just not like before. It may hurt to use your left arm if you exert yourself."

That made him sink into an armchair and lean his good elbow on his knee, his hand rubbing his face.

"Anorvain..." She took his hand in hers as she kneeled in front of him. Her other hand went to his cheek, "I'm sorry I could not be of any help."

He leaned his cheek closer to her touch and closed his eyes, "You did all you could. You saved my life. That is more than enough for me."

Rossien pushed him away at the sound of approaching footsteps. Liv came in, followed by Glorfindel and Elrohir.

"What are you doing up?" Liv said, concern etched on her face as he stood up to greet her.

"I'm fine, gwathel." He mumbled while she checked his temperature. "You worry too much."

"I do not know what I would do if you had died. You promised you would write. I was so scared." She said, still checking him for any sign of sickness. He could tell she was trying to hold back tears.

"Ssh, come here." He pulled her in and Liv practically choked him with the tightness of her hug. "I'm sorry I failed you."

"You are alive. That's enough for me." She said into his shirt.

Someone entered the room and Liv felt Anorvain stiffen. Confused, she looked up at Anorvain's face to find it set in cold distaste--something she had never seen on him. She turned to the doorway to find Elladan on the receiving end of that glare.

Elladan either did not notice or chose to ignore the look he gave as Lord Elrond came forward.

"Rossien, if you would kindly give us the room, please." He said.

"Yes, of course, hir nin." She said, getting up and leaving, closing the door behind her as she did.

"How are you?" Lord Elrond asked.

"I'm fine, I promise. We have more pressing issues to talk about."

"A messenger from Gildor said Frodo Baggins is on his way here." Elladan said.

"Hopefully, Lord Aragorn will be with them. The last time I was at Bree, he met with us and told us he would be keeping an eye on those who would be coming into the Prancing Pony. He has been waiting for Mr. Baggins for some time now." Anorvain explained, "We've been watching the Road to keep it clear and safe for Frodo but... Those bastards came in and ambushed us. They took control of the Road."

"How are the Rangers?" Glorfindel asked.

"Scattered. They slaughtered half of our numbers in the ambush. All Nine of them charged..." Anorvain shivered, and his injured arm fidgetted uncomfortably, "...it was a gruesome sight. Halbarad and Hirthor were looking for supplies and more Rangers before the attack came. They left enough Rangers behind to patrol the borders of the Shire, but we were not prepared for the Nazgûl."

"Halbarad and Hirthor were here around August." Lord Elrond said, "Halbarad did mention that the borders of Bree were quiet. Too quiet, in fact, and that he did not like it. He feared something was about to happen."

"Whatever he felt, he was right. Hirthor returned only a day before we were attacked with supplies and Halbarad was still away with reinforcements. We lost too many Rangers that day. They sent me as a messenger to let you know as soon as possible." Anorvain let out a short breath of mirthless laughter, "Fat lot of good that did. I got myself sliced instead and now the message has come a week late."

Liv's mind whirled. That meant Frodo was in danger. If the Nazgûl gained control of the Road, they would be able to easily track Frodo. And without the Rangers protecting the villagers in Bree and the Shire, it will make it so much easier for them to just take information or even worse.

"Glorfindel, Elladan, Elrohir. Take our bravest warriors and send them to find any trace of Frodo. Make all effort to give him safe passage to Imladris. When you take your warriors, let them know it is voluntary and that they will be riding against the Nazgûl. If they ever encounter them, they must either fight or outride them." Lord Elrond said, grimly.

Glorfindel bowed and left the room.

"My lord, I--"

"You will be staying here, Anorvain." Lord Elrond interrupted before he could finish his sentence.

"But, my lord--"

"You can barely lift your arm. You will stay here and heal, penneth. You have done your duties and more."

"What about me?" Liv asked.

Everyone in the room turned to her, astonished.

"You will be staying here." Elrohir said, as though anything else was a ridiculous notion.

"I can't just sit here and do nothing!"

"That is exactly what you will do. The Black Riders are no joke. And they are not orcs. They would terrify even the bravest of our warriors. No, Liv, you will stay."

Liv was stunned that it was Elrohir, of all people, berating her.

"Talk to Bilbo." Elladan said. "He would need the company right now. I expect you and Anorvain can distract him until Frodo arrives. He must be worried."

Liv calmed enough to think about it, and said, "You will return in one piece, yes? Both of you? No stabs, lacerations, broken bones, burns or any of the sort."

Elrohir chuckled, "Us? Injured? The heavens will fall before that happens."

"Keep safe, gwador." Anorvain hugged Elrohir with his good arm, looking as if he was already planning fifty different ways to sneak out of Imladris.

"Rest, Anorvain. And no climbing out the windows or bribing the warriors to let you borrow their horses." Elrohir said.

Anorvain had the gall to look offended, "I would never!"

"Goodbye." Elladan said, though he looked at Liv.

"Bye. Don't do anything I would not do." Liv said.

"Liv, that is terrible advice." Elrohir joked.

"I hope you step on horse poop." She snapped, to which Elrohir laughed at. He hugged her and followed Glorfindel out the door.

There was a moment's hesitation before Anorvain placed a protective arm around Liv's shoulder, "Goodbye. Come back safe." He said to Elladan, though with a little less enthusiasm.

This time, Elladan did notice Anorvain's cold treatment.

"Are you well, Anorvain?" Elladan asked, mildly.

"Fine. You, Liv?"

Liv looked up, baffled. She had no idea what Anorvain was doing or why he was acting so weird. "I'm...fine?"

"We're all perfectly fine, then." Anorvain said.

Elladan's mouth opened slightly in confusion, but he thought better of prodding him and simply muttered, "Alright, then..." before following after his brother.

"Has the athelas gone to your head?" Liv said to Anorvain when Elladan had left the room. "It's a weed, isn't it? Are you high?"

"What?" He asked, as if she should know exactly what was bothering him. When she showed no sign of giving up the Confused Bambi act, he went on, "You said he was making you uncomfortable!"

Liv's jaw dropped. Anorvain had never seen her turn so red in such a short amount of time.

"What?" He insisted.

"You're such an idiot!" She said, turning away. She knew exactly what Anorvain was pertaining to: the letter she had written to him--which he apparently gravely misunderstood. She had mentioned that Elladan was making her uncomfortable, but did not realize how vague her letter had been.

"Your bedside manners truly are atrocious." Anorvain said as he sat back down on the bed. "Explain, then. Apparently, we have too much time on our hands."

Liv hesitated. In all ways, Anorvain has been like a brother to her. But she did not know how brothers usually reacted to conflicting romantic issues from their sisters. She assumed if she opened up, Anorvain will simply make fun of her and tease her mercilessly. God knows he already does that a lot already.

"Liv. I'm bored. Talk to me." He whined, trying to get under the blanket with only one functioning arm.

A heartbeat. Two. Three.

"I think I love him."

The blanket slipped from Anorvain's grasp as he was pulling it up and the momentum made him punch himself in the eye.

"Ow! Elbereth's knickers!" He moaned, covering his eye.

Liv went up to him immediately to check.

"Warn me the next time you have shocking news like that, will you?" Anorvain gasped, blinking his eyes rapidly to fix his blurred vision. Liv was just as stunned as he was.

She had never actually said the word out loud until then.

Love.

It carried a lot of weight, a lot of meaning, and a hell of a lot of strings attached.

Anorvain sighed and slumped back on his pillows once he realized his eye would be fine.

"At least you have the guts to admit it." He scooted to the side to give her space in the bed, where she sat with her legs crossed.

"That is exactly the problem. I can't admit it. Not to him. I will only hurt him."

Anorvain sighed, "You do not think you are worthy?"

Liv shook her head.

"Thinking about how your inevitable death would affect him?"

She nodded.

"Thinking about how different your culture is from his and how he is a lord who is descended from heroes and a Maia?"

"You're not helping!" She wailed.

"That was how I felt about Rossien. Except, without the Maia and Noldor ancestry to think about."

Liv groaned and face-planted into his pillow.

"Why are you hesitating so much, anyway?"

"Because!" She whined into the pillow.

He poked her side and she inched away, glaring up at him.

"You do not understand! I have been with other people before. I have been in relationships before but I have never felt like this. Warm and...and... open. That is what it's like with him. I have walls, Anorvain. Walls I have built around myself so I will not get hurt but with him, it's like the walls are made of paper and he is a flame."

"What is different with him that makes you feel this way?"

"I don't know and that is what scares me. I always used to be able to tell why I liked someone. Like my last lover, Adrian; he was a good sculptor who was very good with his hands and I found that attractive. The girl before him was adventurous and daring and unpredictable and I found that exciting. The girl before her, Lea, she was...Eru, she was kind and gentle and accepted me when I was doubting myself. Between them are one night stands and people whose names I don't even remember anymore."

"And with Elladan?"

"Elladan is all of them and more. And I cannot tell which part of him made me fall in love with him because I love everything. That's scary, Anorvain. Loving everything about someone. And I'm scared of hurting him most of all. I'm dead weight. I have strings attached and past relationships and I can hurt him."

Anorvain sighed, and was quiet for a moment.

"If you are going to live your life unafraid of the world no matter how cruel it is but be afraid of such a pure thing as love, you will only live in regret." He said. "You have always been fearless. You take everything as a challenge. This should be no different. Elladan has his own strings he has yet to untangle. We all do."

He took her hand and squeezed, "Stop resisting, Liv. Talk to him. Tell him how you feel. Now, before it's too late and you lose your chance. Take it from me. The two of you deserve to be happy."

"I'm not an Elf--"

"No, you are not. You are mortal. Start thinking about all the moments you are wasting and how many moments you could spend with the person you love before your time ends."

The way Liv looked at Anorvain was unlike anything he had ever seen on her. Worry and vulnerability and just the tiniest bit of hope were in her eyes, in the way her lower lip trembled but her hands kept steady, in the way she blushed and in her bright eyes.

Her gaze flickered over to the door, as if wanting to go but then she turned back to him with a frown.

"I'm sorry, by the way. About Rossien." She said.

Anorvain looked down, though a sad smile was on his face.

"I'm not. I love her, but I love her enough to know she is happier with Lindir. I took too long. I wasted one too many moments." His voice made her heart ache, "But I will always regret not kissing her. Just once. It would have been enough. Now, I will have to think about someone else kissing her in the places I can only dream about."

He swallowed and laid back on the bed, "Ai, Liv, at least I have you."

She snuggled close to him and laid her head on his uninjured shoulder.

"Pinky promise not to leave each other's side?" She said, holding her pinky out, expectantly.

Anorvain chuckled, before his own pinky wrapped around hers.

Like always, they were each other's support and confidant. And they were thankful they got to keep the healing wards to themselves for one night of peace.

"Do you not have any funny stories to talk about? Keep our minds off...things."

Anorvain thought for a moment, thankful for the distraction, and a grin slowly appeared on his face, "Want to hear about the story of how Hirthor discovered pipeweed for the first time?"

She laughed, already sensing the mischief in Anorvain's voice.

For a moment, there was peace. And laughter. And a silly story that kept both of them from falling apart.

Chapter Text

"Mr. Frodo!"

There was a scream, a painful scream that pierced the air.

"Strider!"

Another painful scream. The sound of a struggle, a fight. The hair-raising shriek of something not human.

Three children and a tall man were kneeling in front of another child.

"This is beyond my skill to heal..."

Liv straightened up, gasping for air. She was sitting on the arm chair beside Anorvain's bed, and he was asleep. The sky was grey, and the sun had not fully risen yet but she felt sick to her stomach. Something was wrong.

It felt too much like when she dreamed about Anorvain. It felt too real, and too intense.

She looked at Anorvain still sleeping on his bed, trying to catch her breath. She couldn't see the faces of anyone in her dream. The man's back was turned to her, and he was covering the child on the ground.

But she knew something was wrong. Every instinct in her body screamed at her to do something, but there was nothing she could do. She did not know those people. She only knew that they were in danger and could be anywhere in Middle-earth at that moment.

"Liv?" Anorvain's voice was still husky, and he was only half-awake.

"Good morning." Liv was surprised at herself that her voice could sound so calm.

Anorvain looked out the window to find that it was still dark outside. "You are up early."

"I had a bad dream."

"Maybe it's because you have been sleeping in a chair. There are extra beds in this room, you know that, right?"

"I was reading." Liv held up the book still open at the last page that was on her lap.

Anorvain sighed and sat up, "Well, I am awake now as well. Perhaps we can get breakfast already?"

He was setting his blanket aside so he can slide out of bed but she placed a hand on his uninjured arm to stop him, "Wait. You cannot get out of bed yet."

He sighed, "I'm fine, gwathel. I can walk to the Dining Hall, I assure you."

Liv could tell that while his voice was mild, he was not going to be convinced to stay in the healing wards, so she got up, stretched her tired legs and walked with Anorvain to the dining hall. The doors were open and Elves were moving to and fro, some already well into their work.

He froze at the sight of Rossien and Lindir sitting together, however. All four of them looked up at each other, with Anorvain quickly looking away when he caught Lindir's eye.

"We could just sit at another table if you want." Liv whispered, still gauging Rossien and Lindir's reactions.

Rossien frowned.

"She heard you." Anorvain muttered in an even lower tone.

Rossien's frown deepened. Anorvain cleared his throat, avoiding her gaze.

"Come, Liv. We are all mature adults. We can sit together at breakfast as friends. And nothing else. It will not be awkward."

Liv had not even come close to the vicinity of Rossien and Lindir's table but already, it felt awkward.

Neither Liv nor Anorvain moved, however.

"You first." Anorvain gave her a slight push.

"Ow! Jesus!" She pinched his uninjured arm in annoyance.

"Argh! Insolent child. Go!" He pushed her again.

"Push me again Anorvain. I will tell Arwen!"

"Oh, just go!"

"You go if you're so eager!"

"You're being a child!"

Liv scrunched up her face and mocked Anorvain talking when she turned her back on him.

"I saw that, Liv!"

She did it again just to annoy him.

"Manwë's dirty trousers, just--"

"Push me again, I dare you." Liv warned but moved towards Rossien and Lindir's table, anyway.

Rossien and Lindir both looked in the brink of bursting into giggles but were holding it in.

"Mature adults, he said." Liv muttered, plonking down on the bench across Lindir, who opened his mouth to say something and instead chuckled heartily.

"The two of you truly act like children!" Lindir said.

"He is the child, I assure you." Liv muttered, pulling a plate towards herself.

"He left." Rossien said, a hint of disappointment in her voice. Liv turned to the doorway to find that Anorvain was, indeed, gone.

Liv frowned. He really did not like seeing Rossien and Lindir together.

"He faced down orcs and Black Riders but can't look his ex and her new boyfriend in the eye." Liv sighed in exasperation while she pulled up another plate and filled it with Anorvain's favorite fruits and bread. There was even jam there that he liked, and orange fruit juice.

"Where are the trays in this godforsaken place?" She said, looking around for the stack of trays that were usually set on one side of the table.

"You are talking in your own language." Rossien observed,

"Which means you are annoyed." Lindir added,

"You never speak in your own language unless you are annoyed."

"Which is usually how the twins can tell when to tease your harder."

"Okay, love trolls, you can stop finishing each other's sentences now. It is too early for this...this..." Liv stabbed the air with her fork and pointed at Rossien and Lindir's smirking faces, "ew."

"Someone is not a morning person." Lindir teased.

"Shush, lover boy." Liv pointed a threatening finger at him, getting up to fetch a tray and placing her plate as well as Anorvain's and a jug of juice on it.

"If you will excuse me, I have to feed my very mature adult of a brother." Liv said, bowing to the two and taking the tray with her out of the Dining Hall.

She had not even completely gone out the doors when Anorvain's free hand grabbed her forearm, "Watch it!" She hissed, balancing everything on the tray as best she could.

"What did they say?" Anorvain asked, clearly uncomfortable.

"They said you looked like a buffoon and are acting like a five-year-old."

"Excuse them. I am five and a half!"

Liv did not know if she should laugh or glare at him. She settled with threatening to pour the contents of the tray on him and had half a mind to do so if he had not kept a hold on her arm.

He gave her a toothy grin, before saying, "Seriously, what did they say?"

"Nothing. Can we find somewhere to sit? My arms are getting tired."

"Let me get--"

She turned the tray away from him, "You have only one functioning arm."

"I can hold a tray!" He snapped.

"Find a place to sit!"

"Aurien was only slightly more annoying and bossy, do you know that?"

She pulled the mocking face again when he turned his back.

Anorvain shook his head, letting her lead the way, and mutterong, "I saw that."

Liv smirked. Hey, if anything made her feel better, it was annoying Anorvain.

She stopped short when she saw Bilbo, though. He was sitting in the terraces that looked out at the entrance of Imladris, where any and all guests go through to enter the Halls. He was sketching on his book, as he always has been.

She would have left him in peace to continue his book if he did not shout and throw his bottle of ink to the ground. The bottle shattered, the sound harsh against the mild morning. The ink splashed and stained his bare feet but he made no move to pick it up.

His shoulders were shaking.

Anorvain gently nudged Liv and the two only needed to catch each other's eye before they moved towards Bilbo. They reached him just as he was dragging his hand across his face.

"Bilbo." Liv said, as gently as she could. She balanced the tray of food on her lap and offered the contents to him. Bilbo sniffled, but smiled up at them.

"Blast, it's still early in the morning. I am falling asleep where I sit." He fibbed.

"Nothing breakfast can't cure." Anorvain said, cheerfully. He sat beside Bilbo casually, so that Bilbo was between them, and he reached across the older Hobbit to get a piece of bread from the tray Liv carried. Unlike Liv, his voice was filled with unforced cheer. "Honestly, Bilbo. You need some juice. Or apples. Apple?" Anorvain offered one to Bilbo, who looked at the fruit gloomily.

"It's not going to eat itself." Anorvain said.

"No, I suppose it won't." Bilbo said, taking the apple from Anorvain.

"How is the book coming along?" Liv asked as Bilbo took a bite of the apple.

"It is coming... I just have to draw these maps now. Can't seem to find my notes, however, but they're here somewhere." He said.

"Can I see?" Liv said, reaching out for one if his drawings but he pulled it away possessively.

"No, not yet." He said, "I still have to show... I am not finished yet. I apologize, my dear."

Liv smiled, understanding. "Don't worry about it."

"Eat your apple, Bilbo. Keep your limbs strong." Anorvain piped in.

Bilbo scoffed, "The cheek! Are you calling me old?"

"I did no such thing!" Anorvain said, quickly.

Bilbo scoffed again but bit into his apple anyway. He pulled a face afterwards, "Will I ever eat a good, hearty meal again? These Elves are too healthy. My trousers are too big for me now, can you believe it?"

Liv laughed, "Well, if that is what you need, I shall give it to you. We would have to sneak into the kitchens, though. Elarinya would have a stroke if I ever suggest cooking the things I have in mind."

"Sneaking into Elvish kitchens is my specialty." Bilbo smiled.

Anorvain snorted, "Like that time you broke a company of thirteen Dwarves, was it? from right under the Elvenking's nose."

"It was the cellars, not the kitchens." Bilbo corrected.

Liv raised an eyebrow, "Tell me, how does a Hobbit sneak thirteen Dwarves from an Elven cellar?"

Bilbo chuckled, "With Dorwinion wine and sheer luck."

They ate the rest of the food on the tray with Bilbo telling stories of his adventure in Mirkwood--Eryn Galen, as the woodland Elves called it--and Liv and Anorvain provided enough of a distraction to keep his mind off his nephew. They did not need to know he was terrified for Frodo's sake. What was important was that they were trying. And when they got up to leave him with his book, Anorvain leaned down to take the bottle of spilled ink on the ground.

"He will be okay, Bilbo." He said, "He is a Baggins after all. He would have all the luck in the world."

Bilbo's smile was tinged with sadness, "I hope you are right."

Together, Anorvain and Liv took the empty tray and plates to the kitchen and Anorvain waited while Liv washed the dishes.

She was frowning, and was staring blankly in front of her. He didn't think she even noticed that he was taking the plates from her and stacking them to be dried on one side.

Of course, Anorvain took that opportunity to yell, and a plate slipped from Liv's hands as she jumped and squealed in surprise. She turned to him as he cackled, and began to punch him where he was not injured, "Go. Fuck. Your. Self." She let out, through gritted teeth.

"Ow! I am injured! Come, Liv! Be nice!" He teased. She was tempted to chuck a plate at him.

"Eat my shit, Anorvain." She snapped.

"Oh, come on." He whined, nudging her. She held a plate towards him threateningly, "Peace! Peace! Elbereth, what is with this change of mood?"

"Nothing!" She said, hastily. She went back to washing dishes without a word.

"Liv..." Anorvain knew she was holding something back.

Liv did not look up at him. If she did, her control would crumble and she would be spilling out her own fear. Talking to Bilbo with his barely contained fear for Frodo brought back the dream she had. It was slipping from her memory. All she could remember was the injured child and his friends around him. She hoped to whatever God that was looking down on them now that they were protected from harm. She hoped whatever dream she had that it was just that: a dream and nothing more.

But her feeling of dread never went away.

In fact, seeing Arwen distracted during dinner only strengthened her fear. Arwen was not talking to anyone and her eyes were constantly unfocused. It wasn't until Liv sat beside her that she said anything.

"Do you feel it as well?"

Liv, who had no idea what she was talking about at first, gaped at her, "Hiril nin?"

"Worry. Fear. Fear that is all too real. I feel it. There is great evil at work." Arwen whispered. Arwen, who was never afraid of anything, who was always composed and sharp, was scared.

Liv knew at that moment that it would be wrong not to confide in Arwen. Lord Elrond did tell her that if she had any strange dreams, she would let Arwen know, so she did. "I dreamed of a child." She whispered back.

Arwen's grey eyes were sharp once more.

"I couldn't see much. I couldn't even see their faces properly. It was dark but one of them... Arwen, I am afraid they are in danger and I don't even know who they are."

Arwen's gaze was unwavering. For a moment, the two sat beside each other, playing with the food on their plate. Finally, Arwen looked up at her, "Were you absolutely sure it was a child? A child and not a Hobbit?"

Liv hesitated. Now that she thought about it... The children all had curly hair, just like Bilbo had. Arwen nodded, gravely, sensing the understanding in Liv's eyes.

"I have seen Frodo on Weathertop. I have seen the Black Riders chasing them day and night." Arwen sounded frustrated. Liv knew Arwen. She knew the elleth would want to be doing something to help but they were both in Imladris, and Frodo is miles and miles away.

"What do we do, Arwen?" Liv whispered.

"There is nothing else we can do but pray they get here in time. And hope the Ring is not in the Enemy's hands."

"Do you think it is?"

Arwen had a small smile, "I do not. I trust Estel. He will not let that happen. We just have to wait."

And wait they did. The days went by agonizingly slow, and Liv kept Arwen's company. Two days trickled into five, and then a week, and more. The mood in Imladris had changed once again. There was apprehension, and worry for the warriors that had still not comehome. Liv thought she was keeping an eye on Arwen, but the truth was, it was the other way around. Arwen feared the instability of peace, a peace Liv had come to know and had taken refuge in, would bring back her depression. It never truly went away, after all. It was always there, lurking, though Imladris had helped her feel better. And with her remarkable ability to somehow glimpse into events that are either happening miles away, or things that have passed, or things that were yet to come, Arwen knew Liv would need the support.

Foresight, after all, is gained through thousands of years of wisdom. It comes with a deeper understanding of the world to be able to make sense of it.

Arwen was not surprised that Liv could not control when her visions came to her, or even remember or understand them. She was simply too young and naive to know how the world worked.

But her instincts were always spot on.

On the 18th, Liv had made a passing remark. She thought someone important was coming, and hoped it would be the twins. She worried about them so. Arwen had told Lord Elrond, believing Frodo would be arriving. But someone else arrived that, truthfully, everyone had been looking for.

He rode in a fine, white horse. His beard was long, his eyebrows bushy and his eyes blue from beneath his long, pointed hat.

"Mithrandir?" Melpomaen choked when he ran to the courtyard to meet the guest.

"Lord Elrond. Take me to him."

Liv and Anorvain were in the training grounds that time. She was helping him redress his wounded arm. The wound had thankfully stopped bleeding and had closed, but no matter how they tried to clean it, it still smelled like it was festering.

"I think this is a reminder of how close I was to death." Anorvain said, cheerfully. Liv paled.

"Oh, do not say such things. It was terrifying having to actually see you half-dead." She groaned.

"Hey, it is fine now. I can barely feel it." He assured her, "And thankfully, it's my left arm. I can still hold a sword, see?" He said, demonstrating by spinning his sword with his right hand as he got up from the bench. Liv got on her feet as well, gripping her own sword.

"I do not want to hurt you." She said. He chuckled.

"Tithen pen, the only one who would get hurt is you if you do not block on time."

He shot forward with such speed that Liv barely had time to block it. Annoyed, she countered with her own attack, her feet finding the right place on the uneven ground to keep the balance, despite the fact that she was still in a dress.

"Are you never going to wear pants? Is that not heavy?" Anorvain moved as if to simply point at her skirt, but Liv knew better and blocked his swing just in time.

"I'll wear pants if you agree to wear the skirt instead." She smirked, swinging her sword overhead. Anorvain blocked and pushed her back. All the while, he protected his left arm. It had come off the sling but it hung limply at his side, sometimes. He told her he wanted to continue her weapons training. With Elladan, Elrohir and even Cristiel gone, he took it upon himself to be her trainer again. But Liv could tell, he wanted to train for another reason, as well.

He would need to get used to his left arm not being as fully functional as it used to be. He continued to brush off his injury, but Liv knew that though the Elves did a full on miracle healing him, the infection that had set in would have done permanent damage. The training was as much to benefit him as it did her.

He has yet to pick up his bow again, or get back on a horse. And Liv knew how much he loved horses and riding. She was only glad that she could help with his physical recovery in some way.

"Stop!" Anorvain said, when his eyes flickered past her as he saw movement.

A white horse came towards them, with an old man clad in grey right behind him.

Liv aimed her sword at the stranger, "Who are you and how did you get past the guards?"

He looked like a homeless beggar, from the state of his clothes to his untrimmed beard that went past his belt, to his dirt-covered hands. Anorvain yelped and pushed Liv's sword to the ground, "Forgive her, Mithrandir. She is new here." He said, hurriedly, to the offended old man.

"Who is this insolent child?" The old man asked, looking at Liv cautiously.

She mouthed the word 'child' under her breath and would have raised her sword again had Anorvain not kept her hand down.

"Liv. It's short for Olivia." She answered, looking the old man fom the tip of his pointed hat to the end of his muddy robes. There was something about the old man that felt...strange. Like there was more to him that meets the eye and she was trying very hard to find out what.

"Well, Liv, short for Olivia. I would have you know that I am too tired to tolerate disrespect. There are more important matters at hand that I must deal with. Anorvain, where is Glorfindel?"

"He left on the ninth day of the month with the twins." Anorvain said.

"Why are the Noldor never there when you need them..." Mithrandir mumbled as his horse walked freely away from him.

"Your horse is getting away." Liv pointed out.

"Shadowfax is not my horse and I pray for the soul who claims he is theirs or attempts to control him. Anorvain, Liv." Gandalf nodded at the two of them and turned back to go to Lord Elrond. His gaze twinkled for a split second at Liv in curiosity, but Liv had already looked away. When he was out of sight, Liv looked at Anorvain, "Who was that?"

"Someone very old and very powerful. He is an honored friend of Lord Elrond's. He is just as important as Lord Elrond and Glorfindel, in fact. So congratulations, you just sassed someone who deserves great respect." He scolded.

Liv felt shame creep up her face and tinge her cheeks red but she was too proud to admit to anything, "He looked homeless."

"Sometimes, I forget that you came from a privileged background and can become callous to others."

"That's not fair!"

"Neither is deeming someone homeless just because of their clothes." He said, patiently. "Control your sass."

"I cannot control my sass. My sass controls me." She said, backing away and raising her sword at him. "But okay, I will apologize to the old man."

"And you will learn to hold your sword properly." He said, moving with lightning speed again. This time, she was not able to react and her sword fell to the ground with a thud.

Their training went on, while elsewhere, Gandalf and Lord Elrond discussed the fate of the Ring and the Ring-bearer, and how the end of peace loomed over their heads.

Chapter Text

Gandalf looked at Elrond as if he just sprouted wings in his pointy ears.

"The future?" He deadpanned.

"I understand your confusion. I do not blame you in the slightest for not believing right away but there is your answer." Lord Elrond said.

Gandalf looked out the window to where Liv was training with Anorvain. Elrond's study had a good view of the training fields, and beyond, Gandalf could see horses grazing. It was a beautiful sight, calming, even.

"She will do no harm, I assure you." Elrond added, observing how keenly Gandalf looked at the girl.

"I highly doubt she will do anything of the sort. But there are more important matters at hand. Elrond... The Ring is moving, and the Nazgûl are seeking it. We must ensure Frodo will arrive in Imladris safe and the Ring protected."

"When do you think he will arrive?"

"Soon. We were supposed to meet in the Prancing Pony. That was a month ago. But even without meeting me, I know he would have made his way here, with Aragorn as his guide."

Elrond tilted his head to the side in curiosity, "Is there a reason you did not meet him?"

Darkness swept over Gandalf's features. As he began to tell his tale, Elrond's face transformed from disbelief to grim acceptance.

They needed help, though there will be none. Protected as Imladris was at that moment, the peace will end before the year would.

And for Elves, that is a very short time indeed.

Liv did not see Gandalf at all after that, and her mind was constantly on something else that she did not even have time to look if she wanted to. Her vocabulary lessons with Erestor were still going, and she was always busy from morning until dusk. But it wasn't these activities that occupied her mind.

It was always her fading dreams and the constant nagging of her instincts. It was frustrating, and she felt helpless, though she did not know why. Anorvain, being the guy that he was, blamed her moodiness and even shorter temper on her period. She actually was on her period, but Liv knew it went beyond that.

Whatever she felt, it was like an echo of the fear she felt during Loëndë. Something evil was approaching, and try as she may, Liv could not shake it off. Even the Elves were restless. Elarinya was more quiet than usual, and whenever she was called, she jumped. Lindir's songs were more melancholic and Arwen was back to shutting herself in her chambers.

It seemed the only ones keen on keeping a positive attitude were Anorvain and Melpomaen. Always, the two would call for either Liv or Arwen whenever they looked too absorbed in their thoughts. Melpomaen was helping Elarinya with sorting out herbs and ingredients for the kitchens, much to Elarinya's delight. And Anorvain would always pull Liv back to the training, under the guise that it was for his own physical therapy.

On the 20th, however, they woke up to find that even more of the warriors were heading out. By then, Anorvain's arm was out of its sling, and while he had just begun attempting to ride again, he was doing great with a sword. He and Liv were supposed to meet in the training grounds for their daily routine, but he was surprised to see some Elven warriors were already gathered there with weapons on them. Their faces were grim, their shoulders tense.

"What is happening?" Anorvain asked one of the warriors. Astorion, his name was, Cristiel's second-in-command and best friend.

"Lord Glorfindel has found the Hobbit and Estel, but all Nine of the Ringwraiths are on their tail. Cristiel and Lords Elladan and Elrohir are coming back, hopefully in time to drive the Ringwraiths off. The trees tell us the Hobbit is riding alone, and is injured."

"Alone? Glorfindel let him ride alone while injured?" Anorvain gasped.

"Asfaloth would not let the Hobbit fall."

"That is not what I was worried about. A Hobbit cannot outride the Black Riders."

"Unless said Hobbit is riding Asfaloth. That horse is like the wind."

Anorvain shook his head in disbelief. "Why are your warriors armed, then?"

Astorion hesitated for a moment. "Lord Elrond and Gandalf will unleash the River the moment the Ringwraiths step foot in its waters. We will be their lookout, stationed in the tallest trees for the greatest view of the field in case Elladan, Elrohir and Cristiel do not make it in time to accompany the Hobbit."

"I'm coming with you."

"No, you are staying here. You will be a liability if we have to worry about you as well."

"I am a warrior!" Anorvain said, indignantly.

"An injured one. Keen, though, your senses may be, Elven senses still far surpasses yours. Now is not the time to act like a fool, Anorvain." Astorion said.

Anorvain felt like a child being told off. Astorion gathered the warriors and with that, they left.

Liv found Anorvain strapping an actual weapon to his waist, with a look of mild irritation on his face. Her hands were in pockets hidden within her skirts. As the weather grew colder due to the approach of winter, Liv had begun wearing thicker dresses, some of which had pockets in case she needed to warm up her hands.

"Where are you going?" She asked.

"The Elves think I'm a liability and will not let me help protect Frodo."

"Frodo is here?"

"Frodo is on his way, and he is injured with all Nine after him. You would think he would need all the help he can get."

"Who told you you would be a liability?" Liv looked ready to beat them up.

"Astorion."

"Ah. That would explain it. The stick up his ass is in even further than Cristiel's."

Anorvain blinked in confusion, "Astorion did not have a stick up his--what have you seen?"

Liv stared back in equal confusion, "What are you talking about?"

"Me? What are you talking about? How did you know he has a stick up his... his....?"

"It's an expression, you fool!" She laughed. "In any case, I am coming with you."

"No!"

"Yes!" She took a sharper weapon from the rack, a shortsword. "You're either going with me or you will not be going at all."

"Insolent, stubborn, little..." Anorvain muttered under his breath.

"Yeah, yeah."

They did not get horses. Two horses galloping through the valley down to the river would not be overlooked, and they would be sent back inside the House of Elrond before they even left the courtyard. Anorvain was a Dúnedan, after all, and he knew these parts well. The Elven warriors would be ahead of them, but they did not need to catch up. They needed to be in another part of the woods, with a closer view to the river.

"So," Liv said, as she struggled to walk the woods quietly. Anorvain moved like a ghost. Liv felt like a bulldozer next to him, stepping on a branch or sinking her foot into mud, "if we do find Frodo on time, how do you plan on driving all Nine Ringwraiths back?"

Anorvain did not hesitate. His words came out calmly, "I don't know."

Liv, who was busy untangling the skirt of her dress out of a bush it had caught in, looked up, "Come again?"

"I don't know. I'll know when we get there."

"So, we're winging it?" Liv said, "Fantastic."

"Why do you insist on wearing a dress? The purpose of stealth is so we will not be detected. I think you just alerted every Elf within miles of our location with your last noise."

"Then it would be better for you to keep quiet." Liv snarled.

"Well, he's not wrong."

Liv and Anorvain both turned in the direction of the voice. Coming towards them was one of the twins, looking very annoyed to have found them despite weeks of not seeing each other.

"Elrohir." She said, "What are you doing here?"

"The better question is what are either of you doing here? You are lucky I found you. We thought an orc had gotten through the scouts' defenses. If Elladan had found you, he would have shot first and asked questions while you were dying." Elrohir scolded.

"Elladan wouldn't hurt me." Liv said.

"He would if he thought you were an orc. And you do stomp around like one." Elrohir said.

"Hey!" Liv cried, indignantly.

Elrohir turned and whistled, the sound was like a bird's chirp. Moments later, Elladan was climbing down from a tree and Liv could not explain the ache and relief she felt at the same time when she saw him, weeks after their last painful conversation.

"We are wasting time, Elrohir." Elladan said. He nodded at Liv and Anorvain, as if he barely knew them, and climbed back up the tree. Elrohir gave Liv an apologetic look.

"He..." Elrohir started, but then he shook his head, "Nevermind. If you cannot keep up, I suggest you go back to Imladris."

And then he, too, was climbing a tree, leaving Anorvain and Liv behind.

"Come on." Anorvain said, leading Liv in the direction of the river.

"She's too loud." Elrohir muttered, distracted by yet another pebble Liv kicked.

"She is not used to hunting. I told you we should have taken her even just once on a scouting party." Elladan said.

"Carry her. You're right, we have no time for this."

"Why not you?" Elladan snapped.

"Because she will bite me if I attempt to."

"What makes you think she will not bite me?"

"Oh, she will. But not as hard. You might even enjoy it." Elrohir said with a smirk.

Elladan glared at him, but time was off the essence. They were in too much of a hurry for Elladan to argue. So, he heaved a sigh and dropped in front of Liv, who jumped. He turned his back on her and said, "Get on."

"O-on what?" She said, mystified.

"You are too loud and slow. I need to carry you if we are to get to the Bruinen without being detected."

"No--"

"Oh, just get on." Elladan snapped. She did so, but not without almost strangling him when she clung to his neck.

"Careful!" He snapped, his hands going to the back of her knees so he could support her. He was suprised by how heavy she was.

"What in Arda are you wearing? Do you have rocks hidden in your skirts?"

"It's called a petticoat, Elladan."

"Is that a type of weapon?" He muttered as he climbed the tree, adjusting to having someone on his back.

"Anything can be a weapon if you try hard enough." She said. Even though he couldn't see her, he knew she was smirking.

Anorvain was still on the ground, keeping up with them by merely listening to their conversation. As the Bruinen river came closer, however, they had become quiet. Until it was only Liv and Anorvain's breathing that could be heard. The Elves were eerily still. With Elladan's support, Liv stood on a branch of a tree. From where she was, standing beside Elladan, holding on to the trunk of the tree, while he was squatting to see through the leaves, she could only hear the River.

And then the shrieks came. Only one at first, from the distance.

There is evil approaching, Elrondion, the tree warned Elladan.

I know, mellon. But we must stay. Is the Halfling safe?

He is being chased by evil, and he carries evil with him. He is not safe.

But is he alive?

The tree was still, Barely was all it said.

There was a bird call, and Elladan turned to the tree where Elrohir was. Liv couldn't see him, but apparently Elladan did, as he nodded and brought out his bow. He turned to Liv, patting his own shoulder to let her know she should get on again, but just as she did, another shriek came, and another, and another.

Liv's hold on Elladan's shoulders tightened, her nails digging into the fabric of his tunic. He could feel her tensing, and the trees rustled in agitation. The shrieks of the Nazgûl struck fear into the heart of every living thing, and while the trees were of no danger--for the Nazgûl did not even consider them to be alive--even they were terrified of their approach.

The whispers of the tree echoed through the woods, and all the Elves in the vicinity could hear their thoughts. The Lord of Imladris has come to protect. The Grey Pilgrim stands with him. They need only a signal.

The Noldor said that the moment you see him, you are to send your companions the signal to move away from the River."

"Away?" Elladan frowned.

Away, the tree repeated.

"Stay here. Sit." Elladan whispered to Liv. She did as she was told, holding on to the trunk all the while as Elladan climbed a higher branch. From there, she could see the River more clearly.

It was peaceful, but the fear in her heart only increased.

Then she heard it. The thundering sound of a horse's hooves. She could see that it was white, and it carried a familiar child.

No... Not a child.

Now, Liv could see clearly. It was not a child at all. In fact, she could see now that this was the same person she saw in her dreams.

A Hobbit.

"It's Frodo." She whispered.

The leaves of the trees rustled again. Liv looked around, trying to see where the other Elves were but her gaze came back to the river, where the Hobbit, all alone, crossed to the other side.

And on the other side were nine tall, hooded figures.

The Nazgûl.

"Argh!"

"Anorvain?" Liv gasped, hearing the gasp of pain from him. He moaned again, and Liv made the split-second decision to go on a lower branch. There were so many things happening. The urgent rustle of the trees, Frodo yelling at the Riders, his voice drowned out by the river's waves, Anorvain on the ground, clutching the arm that had been injured by a Morgul blade, and all the while, Liv moved slowly, from branch to branch, until she found ground again, and just in time as Anorvain fell back.

She caught him, and they both sank to the ground because she was unable to support his weight. He bit his bottom lip to prevent more noise, but he groaned in pain, and Liv had no idea what to do. He lay on her lap, and she brushed his hair back in an attempt to comfort him. Thankfully, they were still hidden in the woods behind a boulder, but she was not at all confident that they would not be found.

"Tell me what to do. Please." She whispered, urgently.

"Its blade... I can... I can feel it..." He moaned.

"Anorvain!" She hissed, but at that moment, the Nazgûl shrieked again, followed by Anorvain's pained gasp. Liv looked back up the River, to find Glorfindel on the other side and the water rushing, as though a dam had just opened. She thought her eyes deceived her, though, for did the water take the form of white horses?

The Nazgûl that were in the River were caught by the flood, and their hoods vanished under the white foam of the Bruinen. Glorfindel let out a battle-yell, brandishing his sword, his armor glinting silver.

The remaining Nazgûl shrieked and lost themselves, falling into the rushing river instead of meeting the Elf-lord face-to-face. Behind him, there was a tall man, who looked much like Anorvain and Caladír for Liv to make the quick observation that he was Dúnedain, followed by three other Hobbits.

The very same ones, she realized, that she saw in her dreams. It was clear now that she could see them what they were.

She turned back to where Frodo was, but he was on the ground, having fallen off Asfaloth. Anorvain slowly relaxed, his breathing evening out as the pain in his arm subsided.

He looked up at Liv with eyes that were filled with fear and apology, and she bent down to hug him, grateful that whatever pain was brought to him was not permanent.

"What happened?!" Elrohir snapped as he knelt beside her to check Anorvain's arm.

"It... just started to hurt again. Elbereth, it was like being sliced once again except the pain never dulled."

"Damn it. Never attempt to face a Ringwraith again, do you understand?! You are lucky they were too focused on Frodo to care about you."

"I'm fine! Help me up!" Anorvain insisted. Elrohir pulled him up by his uninjured arm, and he groaned as he did, but they jogged to where Frodo was.

"Take him back to Imladris! He's been stabbed by a Morgul blade. Take him for ada to heal!" The Dúnedan on the other side of the river shouted.

Cristiel and the other warriors were already approaching. Two warriors had Elladan and Elrohir's horses, pulling them by the reins. Cristiel was holding her own horse, and a gash was on her cheek but she looked otherwise fine.

"Take Asfaloth!" Glorfindel yelled.

"I will take him. I am the fastest rider." Cristiel said, gathering Frodo in her arms and helping him back up. He gasped in pain, and Liv could see that he was deathly pale. Blue veins stood out against his skin, his lips were tinged a sick shade of grey and his eyes were cloudy white.

Cristiel was on top of Asfaloth and already riding off before anyone else could protest.

"Are you alright?"

"We heard you. We thought you had been injured again."

"This is what I meant when I said you would be a liability!"

The rest of the Elven warriors gathered to check up on Anorvain, who looked mortified that he was being given any attention for nothing at all. He tried to push their concerns away, and while the Elves were either talking to him, or waiting for Glorfindel, the Dúnedan and the Hobbits to cross, Liv's eyes fell on something on the ground.

It was a simple gold band. A golden ring, with no inscription or jewel. How it could just be there was beyond her. She bent down to take it and observe it. It was not to her taste, at all. She liked her rings with gems and with thinner designs. This one was too thick and simple.

And yet...

She observed the ring, slowly coming to admire its simple beauty. In fact, she might just keep it.

"Liv!" She jumped and turned when Anorvain called for her, "Save me!"

On impulse, her hand wrapped around the Ring and hid into the folds of her skirt.

"Save you from the concern of your friends?" She teased.

"Gah!"

Before she knew it, she was slipping the ring into the pocket of her skirt, and she approached the group, who were now waiting for Glorfindel to arrive with the Dúnedan and the Hobbits.

"Next time, Astorion, if Cristiel is not around to do it herself, tie these two to a tree when we are leaving to scout." Were Glorfindel's first words when they circled around to their side of the River, jerking his thumb at Liv and Anorvain, who had the grace not to look at Astorion in shame. One of the Hobbits turned back to the River, where the water had calmed down.

"What was that?" He asked. He looked younger than the other three.

"Lord Elrond must have opened the dam." The Dúnedan said.

"He did. He told me to expect that should the Nazgûl come this way. They would never have reached Imladris."

"What about Mr. Frodo?" Another one of the Hobbits asked.

"He is safe. I would trust Cristiel with my life. She would bring him to Lord Elrond on time." Glorfindel said.

"Welcome to Imladris." Elrohir said, a smile on his face as he bowed to the Hobbits.

"Anorvain." The Dúnedan said.

"My lord." Anorvain bowed low, "Good to see you in one piece. I had begun to worry."

"I heard about the attack in Sarn Ford. Forgive me for not being there."

"You had more important matters to attend to. You cannot be everywhere at once, and we understand that."

"Halbarad?"

Anorvain frowned, "Truly, I do not know. Last I saw of him, he was fleeing with the rest of the injured."

The Dúnedan sighed and ran his hand over his face. He looked tired. There were bags beneath his grey eyes, there were dirt and grime beneath his nails and his messy, dark hair was flecked with grey.

"Come, Estel. Let's bring you home. You need rest." Elladan said, wrapping an arm around the man.

"And a bath." Elrohir muttered under his breath.

"Estel?" Liv piped in. The Dúnedan turned to her in surprise that she would address him at all.

"I'm sorry, it's just... Arwen has told me much about you."

"I don't believe Arwen has told me about you, however." Estel said.

"I did not think she would. I met her only recently."

"But they have been inseperable since. Liv, here, is being tutored by Erestor in Sindarin, and by the twins with weapons and riding." Anorvain said.

"They haven't taught you to use a bow, have they?" Estel asked.

"They have, in fact. It was the first weapon they taught me to use."

"Your training is lacking, then."

Estel neatly dodged the smack to the head Elladan aimed at him.

"Strider, pardon me for interrupting but... Mr. Frodo. We can't rest until we see him safe with our own eyes." One of the Hobbits said.

The group sobered immediately, "Of course. Come. With a party of Elves, you have nothing to fear."

"But... The Riders..."

"Do not worry. Elrohir and I will see what the flood has done to them. We shall see you again soon, Master Hobbit." Elladan said.

"I'm coming, too." Anorvain and Liv said in unison.

"No." Elrohir said, flatly. With that, they took their horses and left.

Liv and Anorvain both stared at their back, sullenly. Anorvain was the first to join the other group, while Liv stood watching their backs, her hand slipping into her pocket again.

There was a nagging urge for her to try on the ring in her pocket, and almost as if in a trance, her fingers brushed softly against the band.

"They won't come back no matter how hard you stare at them." Estel's voice crashed through her conscience. She blinked up at him, and took her hand out of her pocket.

"That is one of Arwen's dresses." He commented, his eyes observing her movement.

"She said she never wore it because it was too heavy."

"And yet, you wear it here, in the middle of the woods."

"It's cold. And to be fair, I did not expect to be here in this exact spot at all."

Estel smiled, "Come, then. The sooner we are back in Imladris, the sooner we could be in the Hall of Fire to warm up."

He followed after the others, and Liv hesitated, with that ring still in her pocket, having no idea the power that was in her grasp at that moment.

For the Ring has a will of its own, and it serves only its master. And anyone else who holds it could be corrupted, their greatest desire could be twisted, until they fall to its evil.