Between Darkness and Dawn

Chapter 25: Healing Comes Slower

by Cassia and Siobhan

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//He was suffocating.  He couldn’t breathe.  The gag was back in his mouth and he was choking around the tears that streamed down his cheeks.  Sweat stung his eyes and plastered his hair to his face.  His hands were bound and he couldn’t remove the gag, couldn’t untie the hoods over his head.  He was dying!

And he was alone.

He thrashed wildly against the bonds, every breath becoming more labored, each gasp for air tightening harder in his chest.

He heard Legolas scream from another room and yelled out to his friend, trying to speak around the gag.//


Bolting upright in bed, the human shied away from the shadow that moved from the doorway and leaned over him.

Daro, saes,” he pleaded with the night terrors to release him.  His room was dark.  The fire under the mantel had long since died and the embers were barely glowing.

“Estel,” the intruder spoke the ranger’s elvish name softly, reaching out to touch the man.

Pushing the hand away, Aragorn scooted farther back.  His bed creaked and he gave way as the figure sat slowly down on the edge of the mattress.  Aragorn’s breathing was ragged and labored and the man watched fearfully through wide, sleep-fogged eyes.

It had been a week since Aragorn had returned to Rivendell, but the nightmares had given him no respite, haunting his sleeping hours and dogging him any time he tried to rest.

Gently, Elrohir took Aragorn’s upraised hand in his own.  The man trembled softly as his breathing evened out.

“It’s me, El,” the twin continued softly.

“I can’t breathe,” Aragorn whispered hoarsely. He touched his face with his left hand, feeling for the gag he knew he would find there.  The wisps of the dream still tangled his perception of reality. “I...I can’t breathe,” he repeated, softer this time.

Legolas stepped into the room, knowing immediately from the soft sounds of distress what was happening.  He had heard the ranger call out his name and had woken with a start, running swiftly to his friend’s room.

He knew what Estel was remembering and walked quickly to the window, pulling the heavy curtains back and allowing the winds from the river below to sweep into the room.  The cool night air and the light of the stars touched the man and he drew in a deep breath. His breathing hitched slightly as the fears began to recede and he looked up into the eyes of the two elves, finally seeming to see them for the first time since he had woken.

When Legolas sat down on the bed next to Elrohir, Aragorn gently reached out and touched the elf’s face.  His shaking fingers lightly traced where the bridle had been in his dreams.  He tightened his grip on Elrohir’s hand, trying to ground himself.  Elrond had given him an extra portion of the special tea and his mind was having difficulty waking.

“You shouldn’t be awake, Estel,” Elrohir whispered quietly.  He watched his brother with growing consternation.

Trapping Aragorn’s hand against his cheek, Legolas reassured the man. “It’s not there, Estel.  It’s gone.  It was only a dream.”

“I put it on you,” the man whispered horrified.

“He’s not fully awake.” Legolas turned to Elrohir seeking the elf’s help. “Go find a candle, or perhaps Lord Elrond.  I can’t seem to wake him.  He’s having nightmares and the sleeping potion is not releasing him.”

“You couldn’t breathe,” Aragorn whispered, still caught in the dream.

“I can breathe fine, Estel, and so can you,” Legolas answered gently, laying his free hand against the man’s chest.

Aragorn blinked sleepily as he watched the elf.  He couldn’t shake the fears and tremors that held him trapped.  Trembling slightly he tried to focus, tried to wake from the dream in which he was caught.

Elrohir returned in moments with a candle.  Elladan trailed his twin, walking slowly into Aragorn’s room.

“What’s going on?”  Elladan asked around a yawn.

Aragorn blinked as the light was brought in and drew in a sharp breath, finally waking and shaking off the last of the terrors that had gripped him.

“What?”  He glanced at the elves around him questioningly.  Locking onto Legolas, he realized that he had been dreaming as the prince gently let go of his hand.

Aragorn traced the elf’s cheek carefully as the last vestiges of his nightmare faded.  There was no blood on the prince’s face, no cuts from where the bridle had been.

“I was remembering,” he faltered for an explanation.

“You were dreaming,” Legolas corrected.

Slightly embarrassed Aragorn glanced at the bed sheets that pooled around his waist.

“It’s all right, Estel, Elladan still has nightmares too,” Elrohir offered.

“I do not!” Elladan argued as he gently cuffed his twin.

“You do, and you know it,” Elrohir replied, ducking slightly.  His smile put the other at ease. “We all do.”

“Really?”  Aragorn glanced between his brothers, his gaze lighting lastly on Legolas.  He frowned as memories haunted him.

“Don’t,” Legolas warned softly.  “And yes, we all do.  Forget the notion that elves can always control their dreams.  It’s not always true.”

Elladan sat down in the overstuffed chair and swung his legs over the arm.  “For me it was Mannyn, holding that knife to El’s throat.” He was watching his twin. “It was a reoccurring one for many years.”  He shook his head slightly as he continued speaking.  “I watched him die so many times whenever I closed my eyes.  It has been years but I still have it from time to time.”

Nodding in empathy, Elrohir smiled softly. “My night terrors show that building falling on you when the earth shook so many years ago.  I can never find you, and when I do, you have already gone on without me and I cannot continue.”  The sorrow and pain from that time still touched the elf’s words.

Elladan returned the gentle smile his twin laid on him.

“It did not happen that way, El.  I’m here,” he quietly reassured.

“I dream of Doriflen,” Legolas whispered softly.  He glanced down at his hands, not meeting the gaze of anyone in the room.  “Sometimes he goes after my father, sometimes it’s Randomir.  Sometimes it’s me.  Most often lately, it is you.”  The elf looked up guiltily at the ranger.

“Legolas... ”  Aragorn reached out and touched his friend’s shoulder.

With a small smile, the elf glanced sideways at Elrohir. “I never make it to them in time either.  I don’t think one ever does in dreams.”

“Then perhaps we should be glad that life is not a dream,” Elrohir retorted with a small smile.  “I always thought that people who wished such had never really considered the implications.”

Silence stretched between them for a time.  The elves had shared their fears; they would give their human friend time to share his when he was ready.

“I dream of him,” Aragorn’s soft voice broke the silence presently.  “His touch.  The way I couldn’t breathe, the pain...  And what he did to you.”  The ranger turned sad, pain-filled eyes on the prince.  “What I did.  I dream of that thing and being forced to put it in your mouth.  I can’t breathe...”

He shifted away from the others and turned his back on the elves.  He hated himself for what he had done.  He hated sleeping lately.  He couldn’t get the images out of his mind.  They hurt his heart too much.  Every time he lay down, the Wraith haunted his dreams, holding a bridle in one hand and that dreaded gag in the other.  He shuddered involuntarily at the thought.

Legolas scooted forward, following his friend.  He gently touched the ranger’s back.

“Why don’t you stay in my room tonight, Estel?” Elrohir offered quietly.

Aragorn laughed softly.  “El, do you know how old I am?”  He remained staring at the far wall.

“You’re not that old.  In elvish years, you would still be considered a child.  Besides when El has nightmares he sleeps in my room and he’s much older than you,” Elrohir countered.

Elladan laughed lightly at the admission, but did not argue.  Aragorn glanced over his shoulder at the elves, fearful of their opinions of him at the moment.

“When you take a wound, it does not heal overnight,” Elladan admonished lightly.  “You must let it heal.  And usually it heals slowly, depending on how grievous the infliction was.  Yours has been deep.  No brush with the Nazgûl can be easily set aside.  You have to give yourself time and you’ll need help.”

“Remember how I often I stole into your room after the Nazgûl captured me?” Legolas smiled softly as the man turned around and stared hard at his brothers and friend.  Their words were kind and he realized they were not hiding their weaknesses from him.

“I do remember it was quite some time before you slept through the night without waking.”  He smiled at the elf.  “I want it gone now,” he confided.  His words were quiet and pained.

“Well that, dear brother, will not happen anytime soon,” Elladan said softly.  Clasping the human on the shoulder he half dragged the man out of bed.  “Let us go into the kitchens.  Beoma has been sending over regular batches of honeycakes since he heard you were missing and I know Celboril has hidden a few of them.  Nothing cures nightmares better than that old Beorning’s pastries,” he fondly teased.  With a smile, he led the foursome down into the pantry for a midnight snack.

“That was kind of him,” Legolas remarked.

“Or maybe he just wants an excuse to send Pejor away over the mountains every few months,” Aragorn responded with a devilish grin.

“Strider!” Legolas elbowed his friend.  “That’s not nice.”

“Mm, probably true though,” Elrohir said with a smile.

No one in the house was awake and the cellars were wide open, an easy target for the four hungry raiders.

Elladan was heating milk over the stove as Elrohir dished out the last of the honeycakes.  The three elves and the man ate, sharing stories about their nightmares and mishaps.  They kept their voices hushed, wishing to simply be together and not be disturbed by anyone else at the moment.  They had confiscated stools from various places in the house and used them to sit around the worktable in the middle of the kitchen while they consumed their midnight snacks.

The conversation had died down and the room quieted.  Aragorn propped his head up with one hand and stared sleepily at Legolas.

“You look like you will fall asleep any moment,” Legolas commented, laughing lightly as the human yawned.

“It’s Ada’s fault,” Aragorn murmured.  “He’s always giving me that dratted tea.  He thought I didn’t know.  I don’t think I can fight it off much longer.”  He blinked slowly, trying to focus on the elf across from him.

“Then let’s head for my room, it’s the closest.”  Elladan stood from his seat and headed for the staircase.

They turned into the first doorway on the left and piled into the elder elf’s room.  Elrohir lay face down on the large mattress, quickly making himself comfortable while Elladan stoked the fire and threw more logs into the hearth.  Turning back to his sleepy-eyed twin he motioned the twin off the bed.

“Out, you, the bed is for guests tonight.”  He smiled as he nudged the dark-haired elf.

“There are no guests in this room, El,” Elrohir murmured nearly incoherently.  He swatted at Elladan and snuggled down in the blankets, “I only see brothers.”  Closing his eyes he fell fast asleep where he lay.

With a small laugh, Aragorn crossed his legs and sat down on the floor near the hearth.  “He is right, my brother; we are no guests.  Besides, I would rather sleep near the fire,” The human admitted sheepishly. “It’s warmer here.”

Legolas stepped back out into the hallway and disappeared for a few minutes.  When he returned he was carrying two pillows and the blanket and coverlet from Aragorn’s bed.  Kneeling down next to the ranger he passed the man a pillow and shook the blanket out, draping it around Aragorn’s shoulders.

“I’ll sleep on the side nearest the door,” Legolas teased, “That way if anything comes in, they’ll get me first.”

The elf laughed when Aragorn smiled and gave him a playful shove.  He still remembered the first time that conversation had come up while they were staying in Orthanc.

Sleepily, Aragorn lay down with his back to the fireplace.  His eyelids were heavy and he fought to stay awake as Legolas’ pulled the coverlet out and smoothed it over the prone human.

Grabbing his own pillow, Legolas lay on the floor facing Aragorn.  They could hear Elladan talking softly to Elrohir, trying to get his twin to move over as he made himself comfortable in the bed.

Aragorn grabbed the edge of the coverlet and pulled it over so it draped Legolas’ slim shoulders.  His gaze held the elf’s as he rested his head back down on the pillow.

“I never got to apologize,” he whispered.

Before he could continue, Legolas touched his lips and silenced him.  “Yes, you did.  Many times in fact.  It was only a dream.  I am fine.”  He gently touched the ranger’s forehead and whispered softly in elvish, “Sleep, my friend, just sleep.”  His memories of Elrond using the same incantation came to the forefront and he inflected the words perfectly.  By the time he was through speaking, Aragorn slept deeply, no longer fighting the pull to rest.

The wood-elf smiled.  Maybe that was one memory he wouldn’t let go of so easily; it was quite useful.

Elladan glanced down from the bed and smiled.  It was good to have everyone in one room for the night.  Content, he relaxed next to his brother and let sleep take him as well.


The house was oddly quiet for as late as it was.  Elrond walked through the hallways looking for his sons.  Glorfindel had left earlier, wanting to check the sentries.  Celboril was somewhere about.  The elf lord knew he had seen him, but of the four younger beings there was no sign.

Mounting the staircase he headed for Aragorn’s room only to find it empty.  Expecting to find the human with Legolas, he moved to the next door and carefully pushed it inward.

No one.

The same emptiness occupied Elrohir’s room.  Walking back towards the stairwell, the elf lord was interrupted by the sounds of his house servant.  Celboril had watched from the floor below as Elrond searched the rooms and he was confused by the frown on Elrond’s face.

“Lord Elrond, what is wrong?”  Celboril called up.

“Aragorn and the twins are missing.  Legolas is gone as well.  Have you seen them?”  Elrond leaned over the railing, answering the question.

“Have you tried Elladan’s room?”

“They never sleep there. Elladan does not waken easily.  They would...” Elrond stopped speaking as he pressed the last door open.  The fire had died in the fireplace and the glowing embers barely lit the room.  Walking in softly, Elrond stopped just inside the door and smiled fondly down at the twins sleeping in the large bed.  He and Celebrían had had the sleeping couch specially made when the elves were younger for just such occasions.  Fortunately they had had the forethought to make them big enough to accommodate adult bodies.

On the floor near the hearth, he found Legolas and Aragorn.  The prince blinked slowly and focused on the elf lord, careful not to move or speak.  He did not want to waken the ranger.

“Nightmares?”  Elrond asked simply.

“Yes,” Legolas whispered his response as the elf lord kneeled down next to him.

Aragorn shifted slightly, drawing in a deep shaky breath.  Reaching over the elven prince, Elrond placed his hand on the human’s forehead, quieting the tremors.

“Peace, Estel,” Elrond’s low soft answer relaxed the man.

Ada,” Aragorn barely whispered the word but the elven ears heard it clearly.

“Yes, I’m here,” Elrond reassured with a soft smile.  He glanced down at Legolas who hadn’t moved.  The prince was content to stay where he was until it was time to get up.  It felt good to be safe.

“What time is it?” a soft question came from the corner of the room.  Elladan was watching their father sleepily.

“Late,” the elf lord answered.  He stood to his feet and paced back towards the door.  “Do not worry.  Sleep a bit longer.  I’ll have Celboril make up some food and we can all break our fast in a few hours.”

With a yawn, Elladan nodded and closed his eyes.  Elrohir rolled towards him, his hand reaching out to his twin.  When his fingers touched Elladan’s shoulder, he settled down and rested once more.

“Hard night?” Celboril asked from the doorway when Elrond turned to leave.

“Nightmares,” Elrond answered, closing the door softly behind him as he moved into the hallway.  “At this point I am not sure if it were all of them or just Estel.”

“Then I think panjacakes are in order,” Celboril called over his shoulder as he walked down the stairs in front of the elf lord.

“I think they would be welcome, dear Celboril,” Elrond laughed, following the cook into the kitchen.