Tears Like Rain

Chapter 10: Take Me As I Am

by Cassia and Siobhan

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I want to roll my darkness into a million suns
I need to find forgiveness when all the pain is done
I want to hear I’m sorry, I want to let you go
I have to find my own life, I want to learn to grow.

Fear falls down like rain...
Fear falls like rain.

Take me as I am,
I’m not broken.
Pieces of my life are not tokens.
I want to let you know that I’m still learning
How to love again and stop hurting.

Tears fall down like rain,
and it makes me whole again.
Tears fall like rain...

-- Tonic

    Elvéwen stared out as the rain dripped down the eves and pattered outside the latticed shutters, but she wasn’t really seeing anything.
    Thranduil walked softly up behind her and wrapped one arm around his wife’s slim shoulders.
    Elvéwen started slightly in surprise, but then leaned into the silently offered embrace. 
    Thranduil held her head against his chest.  She felt so thin and fragile in his arms, like a supple willow bow suddenly touched by frost.  Elvéwen was strong, but he feared she was going to break.
    The Queen looked up at her husband with hopeful eyes.
    Thranduil winced and had to look away.  Always now, she turned that gaze upon him when he came to her.  That expectant, searching plea as if she still somehow hoped for the news that Thranduil was beginning to dread would never come.
    “No, Véa,” he whispered quietly, his own heart aching as he wrapped his arms around her waist and let her lean back against him.  “There is no word of Legolas.  They have found no trace of him.”
    Elvéwen sighed softly.  “Maybe tomorrow then.”
    Thranduil nodded, his throat tight.  “Maybe, my love.”  Yet even as he spoke, he wondered if he hoped in vain.  Legolas had been gone for more than a fortnight and thus far no searchers sent looking for him had returned with any hopeful news.  The way in which the child had simply vanished into thin air chilled the King’s heart to the bone.
    Would they ever find him?  Did Doriflen have him?  But surely, if his brother had the prince, he would have made this known to them already.  Yet there were a thousand other dangers out there in the woods, just as deadly.  Legolas had left willingly, but what if he was now unable to return?  What if he was lying out there somewhere... Valar forbid... dead?  Would they ever even know?  Or would the seasons continue to slide past, each one diminishing their hope of ever seeing their son again?  The long uncertainty of never knowing what had happened to their little Greenleaf was almost a worse thing to consider than actually finding his body.
    Thranduil pressed his eyes shut against the raging emotions that these thoughts sent swirling through him.  He was heartsick and worried, but he was also angry.  Angry at himself for not foreseeing Legolas’ reaction to his edict, angry at Legolas for showing such poor judgment and possibly getting himself killed, and angry at the Powers which moved the world for letting these dark times come to his family.
    His arms tightened around his wife’s body.  She was wearing so thin lately.  Hope beyond hope was still alive inside her, but every day Thranduil feared more and more what it would do to her if Legolas were brought back dead, or perhaps worse, never brought back at all.
    Somewhere inside, Thranduil knew he would lose her if that happened.  Perhaps he would lose himself as well.  Their struggling little family could not take another broken cord.
    An urgent knocking on the door disturbed the quiet moment between the King and Queen.
    “Yes, what is it?” Thranduil tensed immediately when he saw Elrynd bow respectfully, looking a little out of breath.  From the other elf’s countenance something had happened, and it was either something very important or something very bad.  Thranduil was not sure he was prepared for either case.
    “Your son, my lord,” Elrynd said hurriedly.  “The prince is back!”
    Elvéwen’s face lit up like a million candles, but it was Thranduil who answered.
    “What?  Where is he?  Is he all right?”
    Elrynd nodded quickly, moving out of the way so that Thranduil and Elvéwen did not bodily run into him in their haste to leave the room.  “Yes, my lord.  He seemed in good health.  Randomir is with him.  The young warriors have returned from their rite and apparently they found him on the way back.  They await you in your study.”
    Thranduil was not sure whether he was overjoyed that the boy was all right, or furious that he had intentionally stayed away this long, leaving them to worry without any regard for what that might do to his mother’s health.  He settled on being both for the moment.
    Legolas and Randomir were still sodden from their long trek in the rain.  The guards and servants, however, in their joy at seeing the prince return, did not seem to notice.  The pair had been swiftly ushered to the King’s study and told to wait almost as soon as they had passed through the gates.
    So Legolas stood, dripping water onto the floor by his father’s desk as he waited.  It felt like years.  He was so frightened he thought he was going to be ill.
    Randomir pulled off his waterlogged cloak.  Gently he unfastened Legolas’ as well and slid the wet material from the boy’s shoulders, passing both cloaks off to one of the servants who disappeared with them immediately.
    Legolas was clutching his pack so tightly to his chest that Randomir thought the child would give himself bruises.  He could tell his young student was terrified.
    “Legolas,” he whispered softly, pushing the damp, curling locks away from the prince’s face.  “Your father may be angry, but he will not send you away.  Be sure of this, child, from one who knows his heart.  He could no sooner reject you than cut off his right arm.”
    Legolas wished with his whole heart that he could believe that.  “I know Ada loves me,” he whispered hoarsely.  “But you can love someone, and still have to hurt them.”
    Randomir did not have time to wonder where this tarnished gem of wisdom came from because the doors to the study opened, admitting Thranduil and Elvéwen.
    The chieftain straightened up, wishing that he did not present such a soppy and disreputable picture in his Lord and Lady’s presence.
    Neither Thranduil nor Elvéwen were paying much attention to him, however.  The instant she entered the room, Elvéwen’s gaze lighted on Legolas and she hurried to embrace him.
    “Nana, I-I’m wet,” Legolas tried to protest slightly as his sodden and soiled garments leached muddy water onto her green silk dress, but Elvéwen paid it no heed.
    “Oh Legolas, I care nothing for that!” she ran her hands through his dripping hair, assuring herself that he was really here.  “You are here and unharmed, that is all that matters.  I was so worried, Tyndolhen...” her voice broke and tears spilled down her cheeks.
    Legolas felt wretched.  He had been prepared for his father’s anger, but his mother’s soft distress hurt worse.  He had not truly considered what his leaving would do to her and that thought smote him hard.  He loved his mother more than life itself, and he had caused her great pain.  That was not something he had ever wanted, or intended to do.
    “I-I’m sorry Nana,” he apologized in anguish, trying to wipe the tears from her cheeks with his cold, damp fingers.  “I didn’t think...”
    “No, you did not, that much is obvious.”  Thranduil’s voice made Legolas start.  The Elvenking’s tone was frosty.
    The prince licked his lips.  They suddenly felt very dry.
    “Why, Legolas?  Why did you do this, ion-nín?” Elvéwen asked sadly, taking both the boy’s hands in hers.  “Don’t you know what might have happened?  I thought we had lost you, Tyndolhen.”
    Legolas’ breathing was ragged.  He was trying very hard not to cry himself, but his voice was mostly steady when he answered. “I am sorry, Nana, truly I am.  I never meant for you to worry.  I... I just wanted to prove that I was ready for the rites... I wanted you to be proud of me,” his voice fell to a whisper as he realized how very foolish that sounded now, in the face of how hurt they had obviously been by his actions.
    Elvéwen’s heart ached.  Didn’t he realize they already were?
    “I fail to see how deliberate disobedience and reckless intransigence makes anyone very proud, Legolas.”  Thranduil was closer now and Legolas flinched at the hard edge his words carried.
    Elvéwen glanced up at Thranduil, slightly startled by his hard words when she knew how badly he had grieved and worried for his son.  “Thranduil...”
    Thranduil gave his head a quick shake, clearly signaling that whatever she had to say, he was not ready to hear.  He was glad Legolas was safe and relieved beyond words that he was back... but he was also furious.  Furious that Legolas could have gotten himself killed through his own stubborn willfulness.  Furious that he had almost shattered his mother’s spirit without even stopping to think about what he was doing.  The child had a lot to answer for.
    “I know, Father, I understand that now.  I’m sorry,” Legolas bowed his head.
    “That understanding comes late to you, I fear.” Thranduil was trying to remain calm and refuse the bubbling rage that his own fear and heartache had created inside him.  “Have you learned anything else while you were out risking your life and breaking your mother’s heart?”
    Legolas tried not to let his father’s words bite too deeply into his heart.  He knew he deserved them.  What he had done had been unkind and foolhardy; he deserved whatever his father said or did to him now.  That did not make weathering Thranduil’s displeasure any less painful, however.
    With nervous fingers, Legolas undid his pack and laid the carefully wrapped herbs and the folded wolf-pelt at his father’s feet.  The prince bowed formally, then gave up his pretence of courage and dropped to a crouch-bow on the rug, his forehead near the floor.
    “I-I present the tokens of a rite completed, my lord.  I went out a child and a fool.  I hope I come back to you wiser.  And, I hope... you can forgive me?” the prince asked hesitantly.
    Thranduil was silent for several moments.  He had not expected that Legolas had actually completed the rite on his own.  His gaze immediately traveled to Randomir in question.
    Randomir, silent until now, bowed respectfully when the King’s gaze landed upon him.  “He did complete it, your Highness.  I myself gave him his mark of courage and Tegi stood witness as he will readily confirm.  Telrayn and three of the other young elves were set upon by wolves on our return journey.  Telrayn was rendered unconscious and all four of them would have been killed if Legolas had not shown up when he did.”
    Randomir remained formal, but he hoped that his account would help Legolas, at least a little.  He understood Thranduil’s anger; he would be incensed if Raniean had done something like this, but he hoped that Thranduil would also be able to see that Legolas still bore scars left him by his uncle that made the young elf incredibly sensitive when it came to areas concerning his self-worth.
    Thranduil swallowed.  He wasn’t sure what to say.  He wanted to be proud of his son for his accomplishment, but the red haze that clouded his vision would not be dismissed so easily.  He did not want Legolas to get the idea that he would condone his actions simply because the outcome had been positive.
    “Why have you come back?” the Elvenking’s question was quiet, but still cold.  Legolas had a reason for running away; he wanted to hear his reason for coming back.
    Legolas flinched visibly and pressed his forehead closer to the floor.  However his father had intended the question, it ignited his worst fears.  Thranduil wasn’t going to accept his passage of the rite... his father would turn him out of their family.  He felt sick.
    Randomir shifted.  He knew how Legolas would read that question, although he knew it was not what Thranduil intended.  Randomir was painfully aware that it was not his place to intrude, but it was frustrating to watch the miscommunication between father and son.
    “I...” Legolas’ voice choked off.  He didn’t know how to answer.  He didn’t know what his father wanted to hear.  An apology?  How many more ways could he say he had been wrong?  Obviously Thranduil was looking for something else, and he didn’t know what.  Old, well-worn fears of not having the right answer when a question was asked nearly paralyzed the boy.
    “So you have no reason,” Thranduil’s gaze was leveled with his son’s bowed form.
    Legolas withdrew into himself further.  He wished the earth would swallow him up.  What was he supposed to say?
    “My Lord...” Randomir started quietly, but Thranduil held up his hand.
    “Thank you, Randomir, for bringing Legolas back safely, you may go now.  I am certain that you will be needed with your own family.”
    Randomir hesitated, obviously wanting to say more.
    “You are dismissed, Randomir,” Thranduil restated firmly.  When the King’s ire was up, no one crossed him.
    “Yes, your Majesty,” Randomir bowed with a small sigh and regretfully took his leave.  His fealty of obedience was to Thranduil as his King, but sometimes as his friend, he wished he could do things differently.
    Legolas heard Randomir leave and his discomfort deepened.  He realized with gut-twisting surprise that he had felt somewhat safe when his Saelon was with them.  With him gone, Legolas’ apprehension mounted.
    Thranduil’s feet stopped right in front of him.  “Get up.”
    Legolas scrambled to obey, quickly pulling himself back to his feet and standing straight, but with lowered eyes.
    “Legolas, what exactly do you think I should do with you?” Thranduil shook his head.  His mind was in turmoil.  As his relief began to edge out his initial rush of anger, he was unsure how to proceed.  He tried to think what his father would have done, but that was a useless venture, because Thranduil had always been far too afraid of his father’s displeasure to ever cross him like this.
    “Whatever you see fit, my lord,” Legolas intoned quietly.  His well-practiced mask was back in place and he showed no feeling on the outside.  Inside he was both frightened and hopeful at the same time.  As twisted as the logic was, he figured that if Thranduil intended to punish him, then that meant there was a chance he was not going to simply cast him out.
    Thranduil exhaled in mild derision at Legolas’ reply.  He took the calm statement and Legolas’ outwardly cool attitude to be a challenge.  The Elvenking did not respond well to challenges to his authority.  “Do you want a King or a father, Legolas?  Keep acting like a rebellious slave and you will be treated like one.”
    Legolas tried not to show how much that quiet threat shook him.  He had intended no defiance by his words, but he felt as if he were treading on quicksand.  He didn’t understand the rules here, he didn’t know what his father wanted.  Doriflen had been very big on rules, even if they always changed.  Legolas had learned how to operate under them: what to say, what not to say and when.  At the moment though, he felt like he was floundering because he didn’t know his father’s protocol for a situation like this and was unintentionally making a grand mess of the whole thing.
    “Thranduil,” Elvéwen’s voice was resolute.  “We need to talk.”  Thranduil looked about to put her off so the Queen gave him a serious glare.  “Now.”
    Thranduil did not look pleased, but he acquiesced with a nod of his head.  “Wait here,” he told Legolas before turning and following his wife out of the room.
    Once outside, he turned an irritated look upon the Queen, but she spoke first.
    “Thranduil, I know you’re upset.  I’m upset too, but please, consider this: Legolas has had a long and trying experience.  He’s wet, hungry, tired and hurting.  I fear you both may say or do things you will regret.  Can we not let the matter wait until he is dry and rested at least?  Surely it will not hurt anything to wait until morning?”
    It was difficult to talk to Thranduil once his temper was up, but he tried to listen to his wife’s words and not immediately shut them out.  “Elvéwen, I won’t send him off thinking we don’t care about what he’s done.”
    Elvéwen’s eyes betrayed a stubborn glint.  “I don’t think he thinks that, Thranduil.  And I would not have him thinking that we are sorry that he did come back.”
    “That’s absurd.” Thranduil shook his head as if it were the most obvious thing in the world.  “Véa, by his own insistence, he’s not a child anymore.  If he is grown enough to complete the rite on his own, then he is grown enough to understand that actions have consequences and not assume that every little thing is a direct personal slight to himself.  If he wants to be an adult, then he should stop acting like a child.”
    “But he is a child,” Elvéwen insisted.  “A few weeks have not changed that!  Thranduil, I’m not saying he should not be punished, I’m just begging you to let him know that you have not cut him out of your heart as he fears.”
    Thranduil sighed.  Elvéwen was always so worried about that, but he didn’t see the point.  Legolas knew he loved him didn’t he?  Had he not told him so many times?  Had he not shown it to him repeatedly?  Did the boy think his father that faithless, or did his wife concern herself too much with fears over things that did not exist?
    “Why should he think that?” Thranduil’s voice was terse.  “Véa, you have a kind heart but that is not what he needs right now.”
    “Why not?” Elvéwen’s voice was quiet, but piercing.  “It’s what Oropher never gave you, or your brother.”
    Thranduil’s scowl deepened.  “Do not speak so of the dead!  My father was a worthy elf and better king than I shall ever be.  He knew we would have hard duties ahead of us in life and prepared us for such.  He was strict, but I knew he cared, and I did not waste my time worrying over his every frown!”  He could not believe they were arguing about this.
    “Did you not?” Elvéwen’s eyes bored into him.  It seemed that she who had been at his side these many years now remembered differently.  “Then perhaps our son has too much of me in him.  Does that displease you, hervenn-nín?” her gaze was open and questioning.  Thranduil could see the flicker of vulnerability there and even in the heat of an argument he would not wound her with an uncaring response to such a statement.  He knew well his wife’s sensitive spirit and had always tried to tread with care when it showed itself.
    Elvéwen saw the change of attitude in her husband’s eyes and only wished he could see that Legolas had indeed inherited her sensitive soul in these areas, and not the thicker-skinned resilience of his father and grandfather.
    Of course it doesn’t, Véa,” Thranduil said quietly, making himself lower his voice and speak calmly.  “I think you should go, my love.  I would talk to the boy alone.”
    Elvéwen’s brows creased in concern and Thranduil shook his head, taking her hand in his.
    “Do not put such little faith in me, hervess-nín, my wife,” Thranduil stroked her cheek gently with his finger and let it curl under her chin.  “I won’t bite.  Trust me, all right?”
    Elvéwen smiled sadly and nodded.  She could not refuse him when he looked at her that way.  She did trust him.
    Thranduil kissed her palm and turned back towards the room where they had left Legolas.  Pausing outside the door he drew his breath in and let it out slowly.  Valar give him patience.  He pushed the door open and reentered the room.
    Legolas stood where he had been left, lips tight, eyes down and hands clasped rigidly behind his back.  His stance was still tense, but Thranduil now thought he glimpsed an underlying hint of uncertainty... as well as something else, something elusive.
    Legolas tightened ever so slightly when his father reentered the room alone.  He had heard the raised voices of his parents arguing and it made him miserable to know that he was the cause.  He could not hear what they had said, just the tone in which it was spoken, and he knew Thranduil was still angry with him.  The young elf risked a half glance upward before quickly dropping his gaze again.  Make that furious with him.
    The prince resisted the urge to swallow the knot of tension in his throat and shifted his aching shoulder stiffly.  He knew he had brought this upon himself; he had no one else to blame.
    The prince didn’t want to admit that his mother’s conspicuous absence and his father’s obvious anger frightened him.  He didn’t want to acknowledge that the part of him that knew he deserved to be severely punished for what he had done was secretly terrified of what that might mean.
    There was a time when even this situation would have garnered a different response from the young elf, a time when he could have dreaded his father’s displeasure, but not been so utterly terrified of the consequences.  He never used to fear his father... at least not like this, not the cold, nauseating, gut-turning illness that was churning in him now.  But things had changed; Legolas had changed.  Doriflen had changed him.  The young prince didn’t yet even fully realize how many of his views and expectations had been maliciously twisted and remolded by his uncle’s cruel games.
    In his head, Legolas knew his father was nothing like his uncle, but the training Doriflen had spent many traumatic months beating into the young elf was not so easily forgotten or dismissed.  Legolas had unwittingly accepted too much of it as truth, even now that he knew the lies he had been fed.
    Thranduil could see the tension in his young son’s ridged body, but failed to fully comprehend all the emotions behind it.  He was silent for several long moments, trying to figure out what to say, how to impress on Legolas the extremely foolish danger he had placed himself in, how to even start without losing his temper again.  He did not want to do that.  He had promised Elvéwen he would be gentle, and besides, losing control of his emotions did not help either he or Legolas.
    The silence shredded Legolas’ worn nerves a little further and he shifted uncomfortably, wincing as his bruised shoulder protested the motion, sending biting tendrils of stiffening pain skittering along his collarbone and down his arm again.
    Thranduil tucked his hands behind his back and sighed deeply.  He did not miss Legolas’ look of pain and briefly considered the stained, torn state of his son’s clothing.  The elf child was soaked to the bone, water still dripped somewhat languidly from the ends of his hair and puddled around his boots.  His tunic was soiled with dirt and grass stains, small rips in the fabric attesting to the rough state of the wilds he had survived.  There was a bruise on the prince’s smudged cheek from where a wolf had nipped him without breaking the skin, and Legolas probably had other hidden injures that needed tending as well.  Thranduil guessed there was something wrong with his arm from the stiff way his son was holding himself.
    “Take off your tunic.”  Thranduil’s command was sharpened by his concern as he considered what harm Legolas’ rash actions may have caused the child.  The rite of passage was not an easy one.  The fact that Legolas had taken his all alone, without even the aid of his friends or fellow group-mates was actually something that Thranduil would feel a little proud of one day, but right now he was more concerned with the fact that those same actions could well have taken his son away from him forever.
    Legolas froze; his stomach dropping through the floor as his heart jumped up to hammer in his throat.  He had no way of knowing what was going through his father’s head aside from the dark scowl on the King’s features... features that when he was angry looked far too much like his brother’s for Legolas’ heart not to skip a beat.  The young elf had become accustomed to hearing that order, accompanied by that look, for only one reason.
    “Legolas,” Thranduil’s voice was demanding and not to be trifled with.  He knew how the boy could be about hiding his hurts and he was still more upset with the child than he wanted to admit.  He was not about to put up with anymore of Legolas’ perceived willfulness at this moment.  “Now.”
    Legolas struggled to shake off the ice that had frozen him in place.
    “Yes, sir,” he whispered quietly, all the color gone from his face as he fumbled with the catches on his tunic.  He tried to breathe deeply and not hyperventilate from panic as he slid the soiled garment off his shoulders and set it aside.
    He could do this, he told himself.  He would endure whatever was necessary to find forgiveness in his father’s eyes.  If it meant that Thranduil would not disown him, then Legolas would gladly suffer through even one of his uncle’s most severe lashings.  However, that willingness did not remove his anticipatory fear.
    The prince’s smooth, elven skin showed no trace of blemish anymore where his uncle had spent hours marking him but, although invisible to the eye, the scars Doriflen had left him with were laid heavily across his young heart and soul.  If the Elvenking could have seen them, they would have made him weep.
    Thranduil frowned, his attention on the ugly blue-black bruise spreading out across the back of his son’s right shoulder.  The center of the bruise was inflamed and the upper layers of the skin were torn.  A little dried blood crusted with dirt clung to the abrasion.  The injury was not serious, but it was going to need tending.
    The Elvenking gestured towards his desk, meaning for Legolas to sit down in the chair while he looked at the swollen abrasion.  First however, before he examined it, he had to get something with which to clean away the dirt and blood.  The boy had the worst lecture of his life still in store for him, but Elvéwen was right, it hurt nothing to wait at least until Legolas was dry and tended.  Perhaps some much-needed wisdom would come to Thranduil in the meanwhile.
    The King knew he could just as easily have some of the healers see to his son, but he didn’t want to involve anyone else at this point.  He had too much he still needed to say to Legolas in private once he figured out how.
    “Wait for me,” Thranduil’s voice was still tense.
    Legolas saw his father gesture to the desk and tell him to wait.  His mouth felt dry.
    “Ada... please...” Legolas whispered softly, his resolve wavering.  He was not sure he could take this from his father’s hand after trying so hard to accept that Thranduil had not been involved in what his uncle had done to him before.  Even if he suspected it would be different with his father, even if he knew he really did deserve it this time... that didn’t make this any easier.
    Thranduil’s jaw flexed.  By the stars... Legolas could always pull on his heartstrings with just a word, even when he wanted to be angry with the boy.  This kind of trait, this weakness of heart, was something Oropher had pointed out to him a long time ago as a possible problem for someone in a position of power or responsibly.  The current Elvenking never could change how his heart reacted in these matters, but he tried to not let it rule his actions.
    “I said wait for me,” Thranduil repeated, sharper than even he had intended, gesturing firmly towards the desk.
    Legolas shrank back quickly as Thranduil left the room.  He bit his lower lip, despair pulling at him.  He’d really done it this time.
    The prince was tired, hurting, hungry and damp.  Adrenaline, anger and fear had taken a physically exhausting toll on his body.  He tried not to tremble as he leaned over the edge of the desk, resting his forehead on crossed wrists.  He tried to keep his breathing and body steady as he waited his father’s return, but the dread inside him was steadily growing, exacerbated by his extreme state of over-fatigue.  His mind wandered down dark pathways without his consent, wondering morbidly what exactly Thranduil intended to use on him that he did not already have with him in the room.
    A new zing of terror shot through his weary body at that thought and Legolas pressed his eyes tightly shut against the humiliating, burning sting.  Valar, why had he pushed his father to this edge?  Doriflen had always told the young prince that he pushed people until they had no choice but to hurt him.  Obviously, he had been right.
    Time dragged on.  Legolas did not know how long, but it seemed a life age.  He could not believe he had been this stupid.  If he had wanted to regain his father’s trust, then this was the worst possible thing to have done.  He must surely have shattered any chance he ever had with Thranduil now.  Why did he only realize these things after the fact?  The young elf berated himself harshly for letting his emotions get him into this mess that made his rational mind cringe.
    The trembling slowly turned into soft, shuddering sobs.  Legolas was physically and emotionally exhausted and could hold them back no longer.
    When Thranduil returned with ointment and bandages, he was surprised at how he found Legolas.  The position would make it harder to reach the boy’s shoulder, not easier.  Then Thranduil realized that his son was shaking.  No... his son was crying.  Crying softly, unobtrusively and obviously trying desperately to choke it off now that he knew his father had come back into the room.
    Thranduil’s heart clenched.  Yes, he was angry with the boy, angrier than he had been in a long time.  Yes, Legolas was in serious trouble.  Yet even so... Thranduil knew how grueling the trials Legolas had just come from were.  The boy was obviously spent and Thranduil now feared that he might be more injured than was readily apparent.
    He put his hand on Legolas’ back and the child jerked sharply, the young muscles tense under the King’s hand.  Legolas’ breath was coming rapidly even though he was attempting to conceal it.  Dark fear rolled off the prince in despairing waves.
    Thranduil recoiled in surprise.  Why in Arda was Legolas so afraid?  Certainly, he was in trouble, but had Thranduil really been that harsh with him a few moments ago?  Harsh enough to make his son this terrified of him?  The thought hurt.  He wanted Legolas to respect him certainly, but he never wanted his child to be afraid of him, not like this.
    “Legolas?” Thranduil’s voice was questioning and had lost some of its edge, but Legolas was too worked up by now to notice the change.
    The young elf flinched at the sound of his own name.  He wanted to ask, wanted to beg his father not to beat him, but the prince wouldn’t do that.  If it was the only way Thranduil would accept him back, then he would prove himself strong enough to endure.  He would accept the consequences of his actions and not bring any more shame down upon himself or his father.
    “Legolas, what are you doing, child?  What’s wrong?”  Thranduil pulled his son up gently by the shoulders, trying to see if the boy had any other hidden injuries that could be causing his unusual distress.
    Legolas blinked in surprise when his father pulled him up and he saw that Thranduil was carrying only a ball of bandage swathing and a jar of salve.
    “A-am I not to be punished now?” he asked quietly.  Being made to wait would be worse than getting it over with right away.
    Thranduil considered his son for a moment.  He set the salve and bandages down on the desk.  Seeing the boy’s weary, tear-stained and fearful face, his heart softened despite his best intentions.  He supposed even the lecture could wait.  At the moment Legolas looked very much a child and he supposed maybe he was expecting too much of him.
    “No, Legolas, not right at this moment.  You are hurt and worn out.  We can wait to deal with that issue until tomorrow.”  Thranduil’s anger was like a fire of kindling wood: it burned hot and bright when provoked, but died swiftly if it was not fed.  His rage was slowly cooling in the face of his relief that Legolas had returned to him safe and alive.  He would talk to Elvéwen about a suitable punishment for the boy later.  It was likely that Legolas was going to end up scrubbing palace floors and cleaning the stables for the next few years if Thranduil had his way, but that aside, his fury had lost its bite now that the initial fear reaction was fading.
    Legolas swallowed hard.  He did not know what Thranduil had in mind and didn’t want to have to wait.  He appreciated his father’s consideration, but he would get no rest fearing the future.  Besides, he did not want his father thinking he was too weak to take his punishment like an adult.
    “Adar,” he said hesitantly.  “I am sorry.  I know you don’t believe me, but I truly am.  I realize now that I was not thinking when I left and I should never have disobeyed you that way.  I accept the consequences of my actions, but please, couldn’t you do it now?  I am all right, really and I-I would rather not wait.”
    Thranduil paused at the odd request, a sudden, sad suspicion entering his mind.  What if he and Legolas hadn’t been talking about the same thing at all?
    “Do what, Legolas?” the King asked quietly, noting how pale the boy had become.  “What do you expect me to do?”
    The young elf shifted and flushed visibly, not sure where this was going and afraid of giving the wrong answer.
    “To... to beat me,” Legolas whispered softly.  “I-I know I’ve earned it, Father, I’m not disputing that, I just-”
    Thranduil suddenly pulled his son close, wrapping his arms tightly around the slim shoulders and cutting off the rest of the elfling’s hurried assurances.
    Thranduil shook his head, unable to speak for a moment as he rested the side of his face on the crown of the boy’s head.  It hurt deeply that Legolas would think him enough like his brother to take his anger out in that fashion, but at the same point if that was the assumption the boy had been working under, some of his actions made more sense.
    “Legolas, I have no intention of hurting you like that.  Not now, not ever.  Do you understand me my son?  I will never do to you what he did.  Never.”
    Legolas felt a small, unavoidable sob shake his frame.  He was unbelievably relieved.  Hearing his father speak so gently to him when he had expected only pain and incrimination filled an aching void in his heart.  He could not fathom the sudden shift.
    “B-but you were so angry...”
    “Yes, Legolas, I was,” Thranduil confirmed easily.  “I still am to an extent, young one, because I could have lost you.  You could have been hurt or even killed and that makes me very angry.  Do not doubt that there will be consequences for your rash behavior, but they come because I love you, ion-nín.  And because I love you, I would never hurt you like your uncle did.  No one deserves what Doriflen used to do to you, Legolas, and it’s an atrocity I will never repeat.  Do you believe me, my son?”  The question was earnest.
    Legolas nodded against his father’s chest.  “Yes, Ada, thank you,” he whispered.
    “Oh my child,” Thranduil rubbed Legolas’ back soothingly as he held him.  “You don’t have to thank me for not being my brother.  I can only regret that I ever let him near you.”
    Legolas shook his head slightly, his tense body finally beginning to relax.  He turned tear-reddened eyes and a bright smile up towards his father.  “No, I meant thank you for loving me.”
    Thranduil felt his throat swell shut and his eyes sting.  He cradled his boy’s head close to his breast and let his head fall down so that their golden hair mingled.  Oh Valar, Elvéwen was right, somehow... Legolas really hadn’t been certain.
    “Oh Legolas, you might as well thank the sun for shining.  How could I help but love you, my little leaf?” he murmured softly.  “How could I ever do anything else?”
    Legolas choked slightly on his relief.  “Then-then you... accept it, Father?  My passage I mean?  Y-You will not turn me out?”
    Thranduil had never even considered that possibility.  Wherever did Legolas get his ideas from?
    “Of course not, child!” the King shook his head with a painful chuckle.  “Legolas, you are my son, and you will always be my son.  To cut you out of my heart would kill me, ion-nín.”
    Legolas relaxed, almost melting into his father’s embrace. 

    Through the partially open doorway, Elvéwen quietly watched her husband and son embrace and smiled warmly.  Everything was going to be all right.

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