by Cassia and Siobhan

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    “I brought lunch,” Aragorn said with a small smile, nodding towards the tray in his hands as he let himself into his brother’s room.  He battled his own hesitancy as Elladan looked up.  The elf had barely spoken to his human brother since he had ordered the young ranger out of their father’s room several days before. 
    Aragorn tried to believe what Elrond had told him, that Elladan had not reacted to him out of anger or blame towards himself, but rather anger and helplessness at their situation.  However, the fact that the elf still seemed to be holding himself distant from his little brother did not encourage the young ranger.
    “That is well,” Elladan smiled ruefully, with a touch of frustration.  “Since they see fit to keep me like a prisoner in this bed!”
    “You’re as bad as father,” Aragorn shook his head as he set the food tray down on a table by Elladan’s bed and drew a chair over for himself.  “Elves really do make miserable patients you know,” he joked.
    Elladan just shrugged and sat up stiffly, not meeting his brother’s eyes.  Usually such a taunt would have warranted a snappy come-back from the elf, but Elladan said nothing and Aragorn resisted the urge to bite his lip.  He didn’t like what had come between them. 
    They ate in virtual silence.  Aragorn made attempts at conversation, but Elladan said very little.  Finally the young ranger couldn’t take it anymore. 
    “Elladan, I’m sorry, all right?  I’m sorry!” Aragorn looked down at his hands, giving up any attempt to continue eating when he felt so sick inside.  “I’m sorry that father got hurt because of me, I’m sorry I ran away and got into more trouble instead of staying to help... I can’t make it better by saying that, I know, but please... stop avoiding me.  Yell at me if you wish, tell me I was in the wrong, I won’t disagree, but please... Stop looking at me as if I were a stranger to you.”
    Elladan looked up at his brother, completely startled by the outburst, before quickly dropping his eyes again.  “Estel, I don’t blame you for what happened!” the elf shook his head incredulously. 
    “Then why do you refuse to look at me?” Aragorn asked quietly.
    Elladan looked up again quickly, his dark eyes sad.  “Because I drove you away when you were hurting and needed help, Estel.  I didn’t mean to, but I hurt you badly enough that you ran away and nearly got killed because of it!”  The elf’s gaze clouded with guilt.  “When we found your brooch on top of the cliff and it became clear what had happened... I knew it would be my fault if we lost you, Estel.  And I couldn’t even go looking for you...”
    “But it wasn’t your fault,” Aragorn shook his head.  “I control my own actions, even the stupid ones, not you.”
    Elladan was unconvinced.  “So you think, but if I had not acted as I did-”
    “Elladan, don’t blame yourself for everything that happens to me,” Aragorn blurted in frustration, cutting his brother off.  It was ironic for him to be on the other side of that particular argument.  “I’m your brother, not your child.”
    “You don’t understand Estel,” Elladan said flatly, looking away again.
    Aragorn resisted the urge to sigh.  They were getting nowhere.  The ranger started to rise, but the elf’s voice stopped him. 
    “I remember when you were just a baby, Estel.  When we rode out that day, years ago, we didn’t expect trouble... but your father ended up dead,” Elladan said quietly. 
    Aragorn’s brows furrowed and he sat back down, grasping the shift in topic.  This was news to him.  Obviously,Elladan was speaking of Arathorn, his human father.
    “Yes, Estel,” the elf nodded at the ranger’s surprised look.  “Elrohir and I were there that day.  We were right there and there wasn’t a thing we could do to stop what happened... or maybe there was and we did not do it... I shall never know.  Arathorn died in my arms.  Then we came back to find the camp gutted and smoking, and you the only living thing in the middle of all that carnage...  I vowed then that I would not let you die the way your father did.  I would protect you better than I did him.”  Elladan did not look up to meet his adopted brother’s gaze.  “And that was even before I knew you, before you grew to be a brother to me...” he did not continue.
    Aragorn was silent for several moments as he pondered this new information.  Little had ever been spoken of his coming to Rivendell and he remembered no time before he had lived here, other than his old nightmares.  Those were the only place that he ever recalled seeing his human father’s face, although he had no way of knowing whether it was an accurate picture or not.  He had always supposed that perhaps he saw his father die, but he knew now that it was not so, yet in some way, he had known what had happened.  However, realizing that he had apparently witnessed the sack and slaying when the camp was destroyed helped Aragorn understand the terrors that had haunted his childhood dreams, horrors that his innocent mind could not understand then. 
    In light of the revelation, he also began to understand some of Elladan's occasional over-protectiveness of him.  Elrond was right;  Elladan was a protector.  But the time was drawing near when he would be able to protect Aragorn no longer and they both knew it... Still, it was hard for Elladan to let go of the charge he had taken upon himself.
    These thoughts passed unspoken between them and slowly the tension seemed to start easing out of the room.
    “I don't make your job any easier, do I?” Aragorn grinned gently, breaking the silence after a few moments. 
    Elladan actually smiled softly in response, shaking his head wryly.  “Nay, little brother, assuredly you do not!”
    “I don’t know...” Aragorn cocked his head to one side, taking in the bandages the elf was wearing.  “I’m not the one who got stuck under a hundred tons of fallen building...”
    Elladan rolled his eyes.  “No, just under falling trees in flooding valleys with hunting wolves about!”
    Aragorn laughed, “What?! Who told you? I swore Legolas to secrecy.”
    “I weaseled it out of him,” a laughing voice from the doorway interrupted them.  Aragorn turned to see Elrohir leaning against the door frame.  “Is this a private party?” he questioned with a mischievous grin.
    “Elrohir, you brat!”  Aragorn shook his head. Elrohir’s smile was infectious and he motioned his brother in. “You weaseled it out of Legolas or you wrestled it out of him?”
    Elrohir sat on the edge of the bed and started eating food off of Elladan’s plate.
    “Beat it out of me is more like it,” Legolas answered for the twin before he could speak.  He stepped into the room and stood just inside, egging on the conversation and teasing Elrohir.
    “Oh please. You exaggerate.” Elrohir rolled his eyes, popping a piece of fruit in his mouth.
    “Care to see the bruises?”  Legolas raised his eyebrows in mock indignation, and started to roll up his sleeves.
    “What!?” Aragorn glared at Elrohir and stood to his feet, moving towards Legolas who could contain his laughter no longer.
    “No Strider.” He held up his hands to fend off the ranger. “I am only teasing.”  The elf glanced at Elrohir. “I did tell your brother,” he confessed sheepishly, “He kept asking me and is actually awfully funny.  I mean I never would have found you if I hadn’t stepped right on you like that.”  Legolas shrugged and his glance was an apology in itself.
    Aragorn shook his head and glared at the twins. “You have been around my brothers too long.”
    With a light laugh Legolas agreed, “That in all likelihood is very true.” The elf leaned around the ranger, smiling at the twins quickly before redirecting his attention to Aragorn. “However, the reason I came to find you is that Mithrandir would like to speak with you before he leaves.”
    “Of course.” Aragorn walked past Elrohir and smacked the elf lightly upside the head, eliciting a burst of laughter from the twins.  He had just reached the threshold when Elladan called him back.
    Aragorn turned questioningly.
    “Thank you.”  Elladan smiled warmly at his younger brother. “And thank you for rescuing me too,” he added, knowing that the human would understand full well what he meant.
    Aragorn smiled openly at the dark-haired elf and nodded in welcome.  He leaned back into the room, his look turning mischievous as he added, “Elrohir there had the hard part.  I just pulled you out.” 


    Aragorn found Gandalf in one of Rivendell’s exterior hallways gazing at a fresco that had been painted onto the palace wall many years ago.  The picture depicted a battle scene: a human warrior was pressed back by an armored demon, his sword shattered on the creature's breastplate.  Behind the painting on the opposite side of the walkway was a statue of an elf holding the pieces of the same broken sword on a stone tray draped with velvet.
    Quietly the ranger approached the old wizard and stood silently just behind his right shoulder, gazing at the scene so artistically displayed on the wall.
    “Interesting painting, wouldn’t you agree?”  Gandalf murmured.
    Aragorn did not answer right away. The picture was more than just a finely wrought representation for the ranger, it was history, his own history and it was still too new for him to know exactly how he felt about it. 
    Gandalf glanced at the human out of the corner of his eye, carefully watching the young ranger’s responses.  Aragorn’s eyes were narrowed and it looked like sorrow that creased his brow.  The old wizard breathed in deeply on his pipe, pulling the sweet smoke of the Shire weed into his lungs.  He held it there savoring it for a moment before releasing his breath, blowing the smoke out slowly so that it lingered in the air and obscured the painting, concealing it for a heartbeat before the gentle winds of Rivendell swept it away.
    “The future is just like that.”  Gandalf spoke quietly, “Shrouded from sight.”
    The ranger’s attention was fully on the older being and he waited a spell to see if the wizard would continue to speak.  When he did not, Aragorn spoke into the silence, deftly changing the subject, “You wished to see me, Gandalf?”
    The older man started slightly as though he hadn’t noticed the youth and turned to fully look at the ranger. “Hmm...”, he nodded, his eyes narrowed as he stared into the dark silver ones that easily held his gaze, “that I did.  Walk with me.”  Raising his pipe to indicate the direction he wished to go, Gandalf walked off.
    Yet Aragorn tarried just the fraction of a second longer, watching as the last of the smoke was cleared from the painting and he beheld it again.  Tearing his eyes away from it he glanced quickly at the broken sword before following the wizard down the hallway. 
    The slight inattention was not lost on Gandalf and he waited while the young man caught up to him, allowing Aragorn to fall into step with him before he spoke again.
    “Elrond has told me that he has informed you of your lineage.”
    “Yes.” Aragorn kept his eyes straight forward but the muscles in his jaw tightened imperceptibly, “Such as it is.”
    Gandalf looked squarely at the ranger. “You should speak with more respect of your ancestors.”
    Aragorn halted and turned towards the wizard, “I respect my forefathers, I am honored to be of their race, if for no other reason than it is akin in some distant way to the house of Lord Elrond, but... you know the legacy of my ancestors!  What could have been done and was not.  What honor is there in that?”  Fire danced in his eyes and his words were sharp.
    With a sigh, the grey-haired man looked down, collecting his thoughts. “You don’t yet know the full story, Estel.  Only pieces.” He used the young man’s elven name trying to calm him. “There will come a time when you are told.  But you should know now that your ancestors, even your human father, were all great men.  They just at times made unwise choices.  It happens.”  Gandalf shrugged and began to walk again, trailing the ranger as Aragorn thought through the older man’s words.  Indeed Elrond had told him that the men of his family were good men, he had known them all throughout his lifetime.  The truth was, Aragorn was proud of his birthright, but perhaps a little fearful of himself.  If so many good men had fallen, how would he fare when tested?
    When Aragorn did not answer him, Gandalf questioned him further, “Do you understand the things I have told you?”
    The ranger nodded silently, his eyes cast to the pavement beneath their feet as it sloped down, terminating in the garden that ran alongside the house towards the front gateway.
    Gandalf continued. There was so much the boy needed to know. Now was not the time for full disclosure but there were things that the wizard knew that even Elrond was not privy to just yet.  He stopped mid-stride and turned towards the human, fixing Aragorn with a kind, warm gaze.
    “Estel, be young.” Placing his hands on the ranger’s shoulder he gave the youth a gentle shake, smiling into the eyes that reflected a soul older than it should have been. “Enjoy your youth.  Your destiny will find you soon enough of its own accord.  And until such time as it does, remember that you have friends in this life to help you who do not care that you are imperfect or slow or young.  Such is the gift of men.  And I, young Aragorn, son of Arathorn, would be honored if you would consider me one of them.  Anytime you should begin to doubt yourself, you just come and talk to me.”  He tapped his chest with his long pipe and leaning forward, fixed the human with a smiling gaze.  “The narrow path is not so hard to cling to when one is not walking it entirely alone.”
    Aragorn stood in shocked amazement, his mouth dropped open slightly as he tried to think of how to answer the offer of such a gift.  He would have thought that Gandalf had much better things to do with his time than bother with him.
    “So shocked!”  Gandalf laughed deeply, humored by the young man’s response.
    “Forgive me Gandalf, of course. Yes. I mean please. I should like to call you my friend.”  Aragorn stumbled for words smiling back at the elderly man, “I will definitely be taking you up on that offer.”  He gripped the wizard’s arms with his hands.
    “Good! Good!”  Gandalf turned the ranger towards the courtyard and began to slowly amble forward, draping his arm across the human’s shoulders and pulling the boy closer to him. “But there is one thing you must promise me.”  He gave the youth a conspiratorial glance.
    “Anything. You have only to ask.” Aragorn turned quickly turned serious.
    “You must teach me how it is that you are so adept at throwing these elves off all the time.  First you get Elladan to shoot himself in the foot and I heard the tale of how you were able to sneak up on your father and push him into that pond you so love to frequent.”  By this time Aragorn was laughing out loud, “Why there is not another being around other than another elf that I have ever heard of who can sneak up on them and surprise them like you do and consistently so!”
    “It would be my pleasure, Mithrandir,” the ranger answered, using the wizard’s elven name. “I excel at that.  In fact if you had been raised with Elladan and Elrohir you would have learned quickly too. It’s the only way to survive in this house!”
    By the time they stepped into the courtyard through the west gate, they were both laughing helplessly as Aragorn recounted many of the mishaps that he had played the protagonist in.
    Legolas was waiting for them inside the entryway.  He held the bridle of a high-spirited steed, his face breaking into a huge smile as the two walked towards him.
    With a sigh Gandalf caught his breath, wiping away the tears that the laughter had brought to his eyes with the over large sleeve of his robe. 

    Elrond stood in the doorway to Rivendell, his arms crossed and his hands thrust into the sleeves his over tunic.  He smiled at his youngest son; the human had a way of bringing joy into every aspect of life that he touched.
    Turning to the elf lord, Gandalf removed his hat and bowed formally, “My old friend, it is time for me to take my leave of you yet again.”
    “May the winds bring you quickly back.  You are ever welcome here, Mithrandir, and I am indebted to you.”  Elrond bowed to the old wizard his eyes bright.
    Turning back to the ranger, Gandalf inclined his head, “Estel, you remember my offer.”
    “I will, Gandalf, I promise.”  The ranger held out his hand to the older man but the wizard brushed it aside pulling Aragorn into a warm embrace.
    “See that you do,” he whispered in Aragorn’s ear.
    “Legolas!” the wizard called to the elven prince as the human stepped out of the hug. “Watch this one.  He’ll get you into trouble if you aren’t careful.”
    “Ah, Mithrandir,” Legolas cast sad eyes on the wizard, “I am afraid it is too late all ready, the Dunadan has corrupted me and all within this fair house. There is no hope for us any longer.”
    The answer caused the wizard to break into laughter, his face crinkling with a thousand laugh lines, mirth the very color of his eyes, “Well then make sure he doesn’t get you arrested again and stay away from the chickens. I’d hate to have to tell your father where I found you.”
    “You wouldn’t?!” Legolas choked, biting back the laughter.
    “Oh wouldn’t I now?” Gandalf teased darkly.
    “Mithrandir, we have prepared a horse for your journey and there are bags of food and herbs for your travels as you may have need of them,”  Elrond interrupted the teasing, unable to stifle his own smile.
    “Ah, and for that I thank you.” The old wizard walked toward the horse and easily untied the bundles behind the saddle. “But I have a ride already.”  He cast his eyes skyward.
    As if on cue a dark arrow fell from the heights, freefalling into the valley directly over Rivendell.  Feet above the courtyard arch, Gwaihir unfolded his massive wings and back beat the air, stopping his forward flight and gracefully landing atop the stone archway.
    Legolas pulled the horse in close to him, keeping a tight grip on its bridle as the animal shied sideways, skittish from the presence of the great eagle.
    Gwaihir inclined his head toward Elrond. “It is good to see the Lord Elrond up and whole, as well as Thranduil’s son.”  The eagle speared them both with its keen gaze.  “How fares your oldest?”
    “He is well and I thank you for your assistance, great one, with his rescue.  Rivendell is in your debt.”  Elrond bowed to the eagle.
    “It was my honor, Firstborn.”  Gwaihir waited until Legolas had passed the stallion off to a waiting servant before jumping down into the courtyard.
    Gandalf turned to his friends and winked at them, a lopsided grin on his old face. “Gwaihir has been gracious enough to drop me off at my next...” He stalled looking for the right words, “my next destination shall we say, on his way home.”
    “I am not even going to ask.”  Aragorn rolled his eyes at the cryptic explanation.
    “It’s just as well,” mumbled the old wizard as he walked towards the great bird and climbed onto his back.  “I will come again soon.  Take care of each other,”  he called to them as Legolas and Aragorn stepped back, joining Elrond on the steps of the house. 
    Gandalf was waving at them all even as the eagle leapt skyward, its powerful wings barely brushing the stone walk as it pressed the air underneath itself and vaulted into the sky.
    “He is different, is he not?”  Aragorn asked quietly as he watched Gwaihir bear away the family friend.
    Elrond turned back towards the house. “In all my years I have never met the likes of anyone quite like Mithrandir.”
    “Do you ever get used to the way he talks?” the young human questioned, following the two elves into the main room.
    “Never!” Both Legolas and Elrond answered in unison, causing all three of them to break into laughter.
    The leaves in the courtyard swept in a tight circle as the winds streamed down the valley, carrying on their slight breezes the far off cry of an eagle calling through the rift on its way out, following the Bruinen as far as it ran.
The End

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