Cell Number Eight

Chapter 5: Help My Heart Heal

by Cassia and Siobhan

First > Previous > Sequel

Aragorn turned, his hand never leaving his friend.  “You are supposed to be sleeping,” he remonstrated softly, but with a gentle smile.

“I can’t.”  The small child shook his head, creeping slowly forward.  Once out of the shadows and into the glow of the firelight, they could see the glistening tear tracks that wet the boy’s small cheeks.  “Hets’pa is there,” he whispered, obviously frightened.

“Oh, Dari,” Aragorn reached for the boy with his free hand and wrapped the prince in a strong hug when the small body slammed into him.  Eldarion’s tiny fists gripped the king’s tunic, unwilling to let go.  His little body trembled against is father’s strong chest.  Slowly, however, the child’s taut frame seemed to relax a bit under the comforting feel of Aragorn’s heart beating a calming rhythm against his own.

“That man will never hurt you again, do you hear me?  He is gone,” Aragorn promised.

A small nod answered his question.  “I sleep with you,” a tiny voice stated.  The comment was not a question, not a request, but a statement.  The child was unwilling to sleep alone.  Dari was coping well, but it would take time for the nightmares to fade.  Waking up alone in the dark was not going to be pleasant for him for quite a while.

Kissing the top of Eldarion’s head, Aragorn gave in easily. “Yes, tonight you will sleep with me, but tomorrow Dari, I am sending you home to Nana with Jonath.”

“You come too?” Eldarion looked doubtful.

Aragorn hesitated, obviously torn.  The thought of letting his son out of his sight again for any reason was frightening and he wanted so much to be near the child at all times... but one look at Legolas told Aragorn that he was not a well elf and, until he could be sure that the prince’s problem was not physical in nature, he did not know how wise it was to move him.  The wound to the elf’s side had barely even begun to close although it had been several days now.  That was unbelievably slow healing for an elf and it worried Aragorn.  Yet Dari needed to go home to his mother and Arwen needed to see her son; Aragorn knew what the loss had been doing to her.  Torn between staying and leaving, the King had a hard choice to make but, in the end, he knew that he could not play games with Legolas’ life; it would be ill repayment indeed for everything his friend had done for him and his family.

“I will come very soon,” Aragorn promised gently.  “But not right now.  I am not convinced that it is safe to move Legolas yet; it might hurt him more, you understand?  But you need to be home, your mother has missed you greatly.”

“No, no, don’t wanna go,” Eldarion pleaded, his soft protests drowned out by the King’s second-in-command.

“My Lord,” Jonath approached the fire ring and crouched down across the fire from his king. “I should remain with you; Draecyn can take the prince home to the queen.  As soon as I find him.”  The last part was muttered almost under the soldier’s breath.

The guilty smile that stole across the king’s face drew a frown from the warrior.  “My lord?” he questioned darkly as Aragorn glanced quickly to Legolas looking for help.

“Well, I don’t think that will work very well.  You see... We were both up early this morning and I sent Draecyn back to Minas Tirith to inform the queen and the elven envoy that we had found Eldarion and Legolas,” Aragorn answered, his gaze drifting back to the warrior across the fire pit. “I forgot to tell you...”

“That is why I have not been able to find him?  Why no one knew where he was?” Jonath stood from his seat, running his hands back through his tangled hair, a gesture he often repeated when frustrated.

“...or anyone else for that matter.” The king continued quietly.  He tried not to smile as he watched the captain of his guard fume quietly.  He really hadn’t meant to cause a problem.  The soldiers were his to command and Draecyn had been more than happy to go.  If Aragorn had not had quite so much on his mind, he would not have forgotten to inform his captain that he had commandeered his first lieutenant but, as it was, he obviously had.

“Looked for him everywhere.” Jonath muttered, “Did anyone know where he’d gotten to?  No of course not!  I was ready to cite him for desertion!”  Turning back to his liege, the soldier pierced the king with a glare that would have sent any underling scurrying.  It had the opposite effect on the man he was supposed to protect.  Aragorn had to resist laughing for fear of mortally offending his chief guard.

Jonath’s scowl deepened.  “My Lord, please, I mean no disrespect, but I cannot be useful to you when you continually leave me uninformed.  We really must talk about our communication.”

“Or lack of it, to be more exact,” Legolas taunted quietly, glad to have attention turned on someone else’s problems for a little while and enjoying the chance to smile about something.

“You’re not helping me here, Legolas.” Aragorn grimaced at the elf, shooting a glare out of the corner of his eyes.

“He is right, my lord!  I must know these things. You cannot do everything yourself without informing someone.”  Jonath remained respectful, but spoke his mind.  Aragorn had told him to do so since the beginning and so he was freer with his opinion around his King than he would have been a few years ago.

Disentangling himself from Eldarion, Aragorn rose to his feet trying to pacify the soldier. “You’re right.  I just...things got out of hand and then Legolas and Eldarion and...”  He walked around the campfire and stared into the dark eyes watching him, “It was an unforgivable oversight.  I’m sorry.  Truly I am, but Dari needs to get home and I trust you to do it.”  He spoke only for the man’s hearing, although he knew Legolas could hear him full well.

“No, Ada!”  Eldarion raced after his father, grabbing onto Aragorn’s leg and refusing to let go.  “No, I stay, please.”

“I swear he has his mother’s ears,” Aragorn muttered, throwing a glance at Legolas as he unlatched the small child and picked him up.  Eldarion wrapped his arms around his father’s neck and held on tightly, still protesting.

“Don’ leave me again, Ada,” he whispered, whimpering.

“Shh, I won’t leave you, Dari, I won’t,” Aragorn soothed.  He didn’t know what he was going to do, but there was no way he could make the boy leave now, not when it so obviously distressed and pained him.

“Perhaps Arwen should be brought out here. I am sure she’d love to see how you live the other half of your life.” Legolas pointed the stick that Aragorn had been using to stir the fire at the king, noting with raised eyebrow the clothing that he wore, “Say, for instance, your attire,” the elf teased laughingly, grateful for the change in conversation.  Sometimes he would simply rather forget the ache, sometimes it just felt good to laugh and pretend it didn’t exist because, for those few moments, it did not.

“There is nothing wrong with my clothes!” Aragorn shot back at the elf, making a belated attempt to straighten his rumpled leather jerkin.  The effort was useless.  He was trying to quiet Eldarion and ignore Jonath’s muttered grumblings while carrying on a conversation and it was starting to wear on his nerves.  “Besides, it’s not as if Arwen never saw me when I was a Ranger, you know.  I put up with the frills when it matters, but those clothes I have to wear constantly when I am at Minas Tirith are no elf-make, I’ll have you know.  Most of them are tight and uncomfortable.  Restricting, that’s what they are!”  He patted Eldarion’s back comfortingly and glared at Jonath who stalked away griping about not knowing where his own second-in-command had been sent off to and how a kingdom should and should not be run.

Shaking his head in frustration, Aragorn circled back around the fire and set Eldarion down before seeking out the old, worn pack that he still took with him.  “In fact,” he continued as he dragged the pack back with him and untied it, “Arwen thinks she threw away my overcoat!” He pulled the rumpled, leather jacket from the sack and triumphantly held it up. “She couldn’t be more wrong.  I had an attendant dig it back out.”  He smiled playfully as he shrugged into the familiar garment with a contented sigh.

Legolas had to laugh at the sudden eruption of happy, humorous chaos that had claimed the camp.  It was a welcome respite from their serious conversation and the elf half suspected that Aragorn was doing it intentionally.

“My lord!”  Jonath had heard the entire conversation and knew that the queen desperately wanted to be rid of that coat. “You cannot wear that, you are the king!”

“Which is exactly why I can and will wear it, my dear Jonath.”  Aragorn laughed along with the elf that reclined next to him.  “It’s mine!”

“Well you can wear it until Arwen finds out at least,” Legolas teased.

With a shrug Aragorn rolled his eyes, “It will take us days to get home, or her days to get here. I’m safe for now.  Aren’t I, Jonath?” he taunted the warrior.

His second-in-command threw his hands in the air, turned and walked away.  They could hear him call back as he stalked towards his own tent, “Why would I tell her?  I don’t even know where my second-in-command is, how could I possibly know what my lord is wearing, let alone thinking?”

“You know I love you, Jonath! What would I do without you?” Aragorn called after his personal guard.  The teasing and totally irreverent statement elicited a snort of derision before Jonath entered his tent.  He was devoted to his King, but the man would refuse to be a proper sort of dignitary every occasion possible.

“You are going to drive him to an early grave, you know that, don’t you?” Legolas chuckled.  “And if the clothes really bother you, for goodness sake have some elven ones made. You know you have only to ask anyone...”

Aragorn shook his head with a small smile.  Legolas was laughing; that was what he wanted.  “I know, it really isn’t that much of a problem.  I suppose I just miss the way Nathroniel always made my ceremonial clothes in Rivendell.  Middle-earth lost its best seamstress when she went over the sea.  You remember when Ada had her and her husband make clothes for you in the fashion of the wood-elves when we returned from Mordor?”  Aragorn’s eyes were distant, bittersweet emotion playing across their silver depths.  The world was changing, so much that had once been had now ceased to be.

Legolas did not miss the look in his friend’s eyes.  The longing.  In a way it was very familiar and he found himself wondering if maybe Aragorn could understand him better than he thought.  Outwardly, the elf just smiled and nodded.  Yes, he did remember the time of which Estel spoke.  It had meant a great deal to him at that time to be able to be clean, healed, and dressed like himself again, not in borrowed clothes after everything they had gone through in Mordor, although he had never admitted as much to Aragorn.  Truly, Nathroniel and her husband had had a magic touch with fabric and the clothes they made him had remained some of his favorites to this day.

Ada, don’t make me go home.” Eldarion had not given up his quiet pleading and took the moment of silence to return to the subject that was foremost in his heart.  He had nestled back in his father’s lap as soon as the king sat back down near the fire ring, his tiny hands playing with the frayed edges of his Ada’s worn overcoat.

“No, we’ll all go back together I suppose.”  Aragorn turned to Legolas.  “If you do not mind, I think it would be best.  I will be able to treat your wounds better there as well.  I will have a larger supply of medicines on hand... if you feel it will be all right for you to travel so soon.”

Aragorn more than expected the elf to agree immediately, since Legolas always thought himself capable of anything.  When the elf hesitated, the King became worried.

“I... suppose so, Estel,” Legolas smiled bravely, trying to push down the swell of depression that the thought of going back to a stone city brought to him.  He liked Minas Tirith; it was beautiful and his people had helped it blossom again even as Gimli’s had restored the stonework to its former glory... but it was still a human city enclosed in wall upon wall of stone and right now it was not what his heart desired.  Of course he could never say such a thing, however; he would not be that selfish.  Aragorn needed to be home with his wife and his son.  Legolas tried to use that to push away the ache, but it did not leave.

Aragorn froze.  Legolas was obviously saying yes just for him, and that both surprised and concerned the former ranger immensely.  “Legolas, if you do not feel well, we will wait, I did not mean to push you, I just thought...”

“No, I am healing well, you are right” Legolas interrupted quickly, feeling guilty for his reticence.  Of course Aragorn wanted to go home; didn’t they always want to go home after something like this?  Only... Minas Tirith was not home for Legolas.  He didn’t know if anywhere on Middle-earth was anymore.  “I’m sorry, Estel. I’m just tired.  Of course, we can leave tomorrow.”

Aragorn did not believe a word of it; he knew Legolas far too well. “No, Legolas, you are not healing well and that has me worried.  If you do not wish to go to Gondor, I will understand.  Would you rather return to Ithilien?  We can remain here a little longer and then if I think you are well enough in a few days, I could send for Raniean and Trelan, or send some of the men to take you back...”

“No,” Legolas shook his head quickly, decidedly.  “I will stay with you.”

Aragorn frowned.  Something seemed very wrong.  “What is it, mellon-nín, where do you wish to go?”

“The sea,” Legolas blurted out entirely without meaning to, his voice hoarse with emotion.  He flushed a moment later, horrified at having let out what he never intended to say in such an abrupt manner.  The shocked look that crossed his friend’s face made Legolas drop his gaze and look quickly away.  Valar, why had he said that?  He had promised himself not to burden Aragorn with this struggle!

“The sea...” Aragorn was obviously trying not to let his voice crack.  He cleared his throat.  “You mean Pelargir... or the Havens?” he asked quietly, his eyes compassionate but aching as he knelt down to level himself with his friend’s gaze.  Valar knew he would never hold his friend back, but...

“Neither!” Legolas shook his head in anguish.  The elf would not meet Aragorn’s intense gaze.  He buried his face in his hands.  “I didn’t mean to say that.  I don’t want to go there, I cannot go there.  Please, forget my foolish words... just... let’s just go to Minas Tirith and forget...” The elf’s shoulders betrayed him with a shuddering shake.

Dari had fallen silent, watching the two adults he loved in quiet somberness, as if he could tell something was wrong.

Aragorn did not understand the sea longing, and realized that perhaps he never could, but he had seen how it affected Legolas, although never more so than now.  And the pain he saw at this moment in the elf’s eyes... that he did understand, it mirrored the growing pain in his own heart as he considered having to say goodbye to Legolas as he had already done with so many other dear ones.

“Legolas,” he said very seriously, his voice gentle as he reached out and touched his old friend’s shoulder gently.  “You know I love you.  You also know that I want you to be happy, whatever that means.  I will take you anywhere you ask me to, my friend, and I promise I will be happy for you, and with you.”

Legolas’ eyes filled with tears at the kind words.  He had underestimated his friend’s ability to understand him and the ache in his heart now was both happy and bittersweet.  “You would come with me?” he rasped slightly.  Aragorn had not gone all the way to the Havens even with Elrond, but had stopped short at Rivendell; beyond that would have been too hard for the human, too painful a goodbye.  Yet he was willing to do whatever Legolas needed of him without question.  It meant more to the prince than he could express.

Aragorn blinked back tears of his own as he squeezed Legolas’ hand, entwining their fingers tightly together.  “Yes, mellon-nín. I would take you to the ends of the earth if you asked me to,” he promised, his voice thick.  The suddenness with which this had come up was breathtaking.  When Thranduil left almost unexpectedly along with half of Mirkwood a few years ago, he had expected Legolas’ quandary then, but now... it was hard.  Some part of his mind had always known that he would have to say goodbye to Elrond someday, but Legolas... Legolas he had always seen as part of his life, forever.  Yet he would never ask the elf to stay at the cost of his own health and happiness.

“Then...” Legolas swallowed hard and tried to smile.  “I would like to go home, to the only place that still feels like it might be home.”

Aragorn’s brows knit and for a moment he did not understand.  Legolas had confided that Mirkwood no longer felt like home with his father and so many of his people gone, and somehow he did not think the elf was speaking of Ithilien...

“I want to visit my room, Estel, and see if it’s still there waiting for me.” Legolas’ voice was wistful.

The meaning behind the words continued to escape the man, but he could tell it was very important to Legolas, so he just stared quietly at the elf for a few moments.

Seeing his friends confusion, Legolas tried to explain himself, slightly embarrassed by his request but needing his friend to grant it, if only one last time.  It was the last place on Middle-earth that he could think of that might hope to draw his aching heart back from the lure of the sea.  Or at least, so he hoped.

“You were right, your father is still with us.  He left us a legacy of love and memories we will never forget.”  Legolas smiled at the young boy cradled in Aragorn’s lap, “You will be that kind of father for Dari too, I know it.  He needs you to stay with him now, and Arwen will need you too, and I know it is not my place to take you from them...but...”  Legolas glanced down, his gaze drifting to the fire, his voice slipping slightly lower.  He hated to be so selfish as to desire any corner of Aragorn’s time like this, but he felt like he was going crazy inside and if he could not turn to Aragorn for help, then there was no one he could turn to.  “But... mellon-nín, I need you as well.  I need to be near you for a time, but not here, and not in Minas Tirith.  Let us go home, Estel, once more, please.  We always went home, didn’t we?  I think we could both walk this time, even if I am hurt...” his voice trailed off.  It was a childish request.  It wasn’t really even his home as it had been Aragorn’s.  What was he thinking?  And yet... yet he dared ask anyway, trusting that his friend would not think ill of him for doing so.

Blue eyes locked onto the silver ones that watched the elf intently.  Aragorn shushed his son’s soft questions as the child tried to keep up with the conversation.  Slowly, realization dawned in the man’s mind and he stared open-mouthed at the elf.  He might have expected to make such a suggestion, but he hadn’t expected Legolas to.  He didn’t realize how deep the elf truly meant it when he used to call Rivendell his second home.

“Yes.”  Legolas answered the unspoken question, “Home.  I want to sleep in my room and be at peace again.  Ithilien is healing, but it is still disturbed by the evil that lived near it for so long and the White City never fully sleeps.  I shall always love Mirkwood, but since my father left...” He swallowed.  “It holds only the empty call for me to follow him over the sea.  Too many places do.  Mayhap Rivendell will be the same, but I have to know if even with Lord Elrond gone it is as I remember it.  I know the fires have gone out in the Last Homely House, but I long to sit in those halls again.  The peace still lingers there from your father’s reign.  The valley simply sleeps.  Let us return once again, send word to your wife and your brothers.  Ask Raniean and Trelan to meet us there.  I am sure it is they who await word in Minas Tirith; they could escort Arwen.  Mayhap Gimli will come as well, if he is able.  You, Arwen and Dari need to be together to heal your hearts as well, I know this... could it not be just as good for you there?  I...  I need it Estel.  It’s where we always went to heal.  Maybe I could find that peace again there.  If I cannot...” he swallowed hard.  “If I cannot, then there truly is no peace for me left here, and I will simply have to live without.”  The admission was quiet, and free of self-pity, but very sincere.  Legolas would fight his way through this inner turmoil somehow.  He would not abandon his friends here on Middle-earth, Aragorn, Gimli, Arwen, now Dari... but his heart ached and he was weary.  He wanted to heal, but his own heart was not allowing it as the terrible sea longing sought to split him in two.

The quiet pleading in the elf’s request nearly broke the human’s heart.  It had been years since he had visited Rivendell.  Decades since he had set foot in those halls.  There were nights he missed it so much it felt like a weight on his heart; but his life had changed.  He had duties, responsibilities, a kingdom to run – and so he had silenced those inner longings, pushing them aside.  Until now.  For half a moment, Aragorn thought maybe he did understand the sea longing after all.  If it was anything like the strong, bone-aching tug of longing that wound around his heart at the thought of seeing Rivendell again, then it was no wonder Legolas felt torn.

Slowly Aragorn nodded, his eyes fixed on Legolas’ unwavering gaze, “As you wish, gwador-nín. We will go home.”

“Home?” Eldarion echoed sleepily.

“You,” Aragorn turned his attention back to the child momentarily, “will go back to bed.  And tomorrow we set out for Imaldris.  You have never been there, ion-nín, but I daresay you will find it quite an adventure.  But only if you go to sleep now!”  He tickled the child, eliciting squeals of delight from the little boy.  “Now off with you! Uncle Legolas and I will be in shortly.  You can leave the flap open so you can see us. Go!”  He set the child down and gave him a push towards the tent he was sharing with Legolas.  For nights after they had found the elf, Aragorn had feared he was going to lose the prince and had kept Legolas in his own tent.  The elf had remained with them even after Legolas had improved, just so Aragorn could keep a close eye on him... and because Dari could not yet quite stand to be parted from the elf through the night. The child slept best with Aragorn on one side, and Legolas on the other, and so they had humored him since Legolas also drew comfort from the proximity.

When Eldarion had returned to the tent and finally bedded down again, Aragorn turned his attention back to Legolas.  The elf was watching him with a haunted, open gaze and the man was able to see into the prince’s bared soul.  Legolas was afraid.

Softly the prince spoke, “I’m sorry.  I fear I am terribly selfish to make you do this.  But I feel I need time away from prying eyes, from mothering kinsmen and even from most humans for awhile; somewhere where I will be safe until the nightmares are gone, Estel.”  He swallowed hard as he admitted more of the truth to his friend.

Scooting closer, Aragorn gently leaned over Legolas and kissed the elf’s forehead.  “You’re not selfish Legolas, I think it will be the perfect place for Arwen, Dari and I to rest after all this as well.  Dari seems well, but he cannot stand being alone.  There are fears there that must be healed.  So that is where we will go...until the nightmares are gone, for everyone.”  He grasped Legolas’ hand in his own and squeezed it carefully.  “I knew Dari was not the only ones having them; you should have told me sooner.”

“I could not.”  Legolas sighed deeply, trying to even out the emotions that chased through him.  “But are you sure you can leave for an extended period of time such as this?  The kingdom...”

Aragorn laughed softly, brushing Legolas’ hair away from his face as he sat back up.  “Can take care of itself for a few months.  I certainly have more than enough council members and advisors to keep things going, and Faramir is always a more than capable Steward in my absences.  The kingdom could practically run itself, honestly.  I have been in Minas Tirith for a long time now, and things are going smoothly.  Besides,” he smiled down at the elf, “I need a vacation, and I think Arwen will enjoy returning there since she cannot bear entering an empty Lorién anymore.”

“Then I suggest you get on Jonath’s good side; we will need his help.”  Legolas laughed quietly, a blessed, if brief relief finally replacing the tense anxiety that had gripped him the past few days while he tried to keep the longings of his heart bottled up.

“Jonath is already making preparations,” a deep voice called softly across the camp.

Aragorn started and turned, surprised that the man had heard their conversation.  Glancing back at the elf he smiled conspiratorially, “I think he inherited Arwen’s hearing as well, if it’s possible!”

“I heard that!”  Jonath countered.

“I am sure you did!” Aragorn turned towards his guard with a smile.  “Can you send word back to the Queen that we will meet her in Rivendell?  Ask her to come with a limited contingent, please.  She will understand.”  Aragorn did not like leaving without her, as he knew she would be desperately eager to see Eldarion again, but the plea he had seen in Legolas’ eyes was of the most desperate kind.  The elf was obviously losing his own inner battles, battles that Aragorn barely understood, and that frightened him.  They needed to start moving now, and he could only hope and pray that his wife would understand and forgive him the apparent oddness of his actions when he could explain it all to her.  He ached to see her again, for them to all to be together, but he would just have to have a little patience.

“As you wish, my lord.” Jonath bowed slightly, “My king?”

When Aragorn nodded the soldier continued, “Shall I send the main companies home as well?”

“Yes.”  Aragorn’s smile widened, “We’ll take no more soldiers with us than we need; you and your contingent should be plenty.  The road to Rivendell is a safe one.  My brothers still see to that.”

With a nod, Jonath left the light of the fire and moved off into the darkness to rouse a party of soldiers to convey the king’s wishes.

“He is good for you,” Legolas commented softly.

Nodding slightly, Aragorn knelt next to the prince and eased his hands under the elf’s arms.  “He is that,” he answered. “Someday he may actually make a proper King out of me.  He is a good friend, but I already have a gwador,” he whispered as he helped Legolas into a sitting position and then slowly shifted the elf up to stand next to him.  “And this gwador needs sleep.”  When Legolas started to protest, Aragorn warded off the argument, “And if he does not sleep on his own, then I will drug him.”  He smiled wickedly as the elf glared at the man.

Wrapping his arm around Legolas’ waist, he slowly walked the elf back to their tent.

“You wouldn’t.”  It was more a jest than a real statement.  Legolas knew very well that his friend would, as he had often enough.  Yet he knew it was the expected response and there was some real tinge of remembered joy in his voice when he said the familiar words.  He had had a good life, such a good life...

“Oh yes, I would.  I still have father’s special brew.” Aragorn laughed.  “He passed all his secrets on to me before he left, you know.”

“I do believe that it is my turn to drug you, not the other way around,”  Legolas protested.

“Oh no, I haven’t lost count.  It’s my turn...” Aragorn bent down, supporting the elf’s weight as they entered the tent.

“I am positive you are wrong,” Legolas countered with a smile, enjoying the opportunity to shrug off his cares, at least for the moment, and laugh with the friend he had been laughing with for what now felt like so many years.

“Well, after I drug you tonight, then it will definitely be your turn.”  Settling Legolas down on his mat, Aragorn pulled the tent flap down.  “And if you fight me on it, I will make a scene and force you to drink it!”

The age-old argument with its well-worn threat set the elf to laughing, a musical sound that carried through the camp, infecting the King of Gondor who began to laugh as well.

Jonath quietly took up his position outside his liege’s tent, a smile breaking across his face.  Long had it been since he had heard his king laugh, and the sound of it warmed his heart.  He thanked Ilúvatar again for giving him the position he had as the king’s personal guard... even if he did occasionally want to throttle the man.

Things were returning to normal, the royal family was safe as was the King’s best friend.  With a sigh of contentment Jonath glanced towards the night-darkened sky and sought out Eärendil as he had unconsciously learned to do from spending so much time with his King.  The quiet conversations and laughter coming from the tent behind him brought a smile to his face.

Inside the tent, Legolas lay down next to Dari who was tossing somewhat restlessly.  Although he was still asleep, the child immediately scooted over as soon as the prince laid down, so that his back was pressed against the elf’s chest as he had done so many times over the past months.  Legolas’ arm instinctually curved around the small body, hugging him close.

Aragorn covered both with a blanket and lay down beside them.  Dari’s still restlessly groping right hand found purchase in the loose folds of his father’s sleep shirt and fell still at last.  The small body finally seemed to truly relax, his other fist pressed up to his face, his thumb in his mouth in a way that made him look even younger than he was.

Aragorn laid his arm over his son’s sleeping form, just above Legolas’, marveling softly at the beautiful, babyish curves of his son’s face.  How had something so perfect, so painfully innocent survived such an inhuman hell as he had been through with so little damage?  He was grateful for it, but still very amazed.  Oh how he loved this dear, little boy.  He looked up, and his eyes met Legolas’ over Eldarion’s sleeping form.

“I am glad we’re taking Eldarion to see Rivendell.  It is a good place for children... something I want to be part of his early memories,” the ranger whispered quietly.

Legolas nodded in the moonlight.  “Do you know what I am glad for, mellon-nín?”  The elf smiled faintly as sleep began to pull at his consciousness.   “I am glad to have a friend like you,” he answered his own question softly before sleep took him.

Aragorn smiled tenderly at the visage of the elf prince, cuddling his little son, surrounding them both with a golden halo of tresses that glowed dimly in the darkness.  Dari’s moon-stone glowed faintly around Legolas’ neck, pulsing slightly with his heart-beat.  There was a protective aura around them, like a blanket of safety that Aragorn was also included inside now.

That was how Dari had made it through, Aragorn knew.  Even spent and emotionally torn as he was, Legolas always gave and gave freely.  He had kept Dari’s little heart and mind safe enough to survive the horror and be able to find peace again on the other side.  Quietly, Aragorn promised that he would do as well by Legolas.  Somehow, he would help his friend find the peace and inner healing that he needed to weather the mental and emotional storms that had him floundering.

“I promise, mellon-nín,” he whispered quietly, his hand sliding up to rest atop Legolas’ on Dari’s gently rising and falling side.  “I promise I will bring the smile back to your face and the joy back to your heart, just give me time.”

In his slumber, Legolas stirred and smiled slightly, as if moved by a pleasant dream.

Aragorn returned the smile unconsciously before closing his eyes and surrendering his own battle with sleep.  Outside the stars rose high in the firmament and the twin orbs that would lead them to Rivendell winked down protectively over the little camp as the watch fires slowly burned down and peace settled like a blanket over the darkened earth.


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