Life After Death by LadyAna

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Story notes: DEDICATION: This story is dedicated to The Theban Group, Thalassa, jayjay58 and Elisa of "Lassegalenslaire" fame and anyone else who plays with pics of our boys! (Your photo-manips are always beyond beautiful!)

Betas: ( all the "mistakes" I make now are my fault!...) Thanks to all of those whose knowledge of LOTR might rival Tolkien himself and pointed out my errors, grammatical and otherwise that saved me big time! (Especially Rhapsody, whose insight, suggestions, research and input kept me from being *totally* humiliated. You Rock, girl!)

I tend to jump back and forth between book and movie canon and...sometimes I dismiss both entirely. Just don't be surprised if things are a little changed around.
The sky was a rich, clear deep blue as dusk and a few heavy clouds slipped over the land. The lone man in the cemetery pulled his coat around himself a little tighter, to shield from the chilly winds of the north. A cold autumn had befallen Gondor. He squinted his eyes against the brightly setting sun, letting his long hair fall forward. Dead twigs and rotting leaves crunched under his feet as he made his way through the stone markers and occasional crypt. He finally came to stand before an ornate tombstone made of white marble, sparkling crystal and bound by thin strips of Mithril. The shape itself was carved in a common design and therefore, unremarkable. It was the large jewel covering almost the entire center which made this commemoration familiar.

Aragorn knelt on the thick layer of flat, black and grey gems covering the oblong area, bowed his head and silently recited a elven poem honoring the dead. Upon finishing it, he was grateful he could do so without succumbing to grief. Such times had been less than not. He raised his head and let his fingertips drift over the cold stone, his voice just a whisper.

"Hello, my love."

Placing his hands together between his spread knees, he let his mind filter through the events he wanted to relay. He looked up from under his brow at the frosted wings before him. "All is well with the city." He smiled a bit and shrugged. "As well as can be expected, I guess. I have Faramir to thank for that, with him always helping to ensure the city's continuing stability. Do you remember when he assisted me in reaching an agreement with the Veterans' Guild? That was something not obtained since before I came."

He pressed his hand to his forehead, trying to ward off familiar pain settling behind his eyes. The cause was almost always the treaties, negotiations and administrative duties which begged his constant attention. "I admit I've found myself working longer each day as of late, finding little time for anything else. Even Eowyn thinks I've taken on too much in recent years." He grinned. "I can just hear you now, my lady, berating me for my continued devotion to duty. Your threat persists to haunt me, that you hoped for another dire consequence to Middle-Earth, just so I'd have the vain mission of saving everyone again and running off with a bunch of my friends to gleefully fling ourselves into mad turn, giving you some peace and quiet!"

He toyed with the polished stones beneath his knees. Nothing grew on this grave these days. Save for a year or so after the earth was first turned, an inexplicable patch of elanor sprouted at the base of the marble. It had been a sign to Aragorn, who'd been near death with immense loss, to not give in to resentment, to raise their son and not surrender to extreme sorrow. And just as unexplainable was when the yellow blossoms began to wither and die not long afterward. The King of Gondor knew in his heart, wherever the soul of his bondmate resided, somehow she'd deemed it permissible for him to live again. His grey gaze surveyed the heavens. No, he would not feel guilty, not for his waning pull towards this spot. It was a positive sign his morbid yearning was decreasing, since he now spoke with her only about once a month. As Legolas repeatedly reminded him, there was no crime in healing.

"Eldarion is excelling in his studies. His reading level went up a grade last week and he got a good mark on his report of 'The History of The Shire'. He rolled his eyes a bit. "And yes, all without my help, my lady! He's still not too happy with arithmetic, even though he's better at it than he lets on."

An icy breeze swirled around the grounds, causing the few icy rain dots falling to eddy, dance and settle, if only for the moment. Noticing such winter-play, Aragorn said, "Elee loves the snow. At times, I have to be very firm with him to come inside, even after he's been playing in the frigid winds far too long. I had a dream the other night, an impossible one. You were dressing him up warmly in a new elven cloak Legolas' gave him, so the both of you could play in the gardens...then you and Elee were covered in snow, your eyes sparkling with joy and you both were laughing and...and yet you've never seen him. Well, once..."

He abruptly came to a full stop, blanked his mind of everything and took a deep breath...and continued. He'd had enough of pleasant dreams that were more awful than nightmares.

"Legolas is still teaching him to use a bow and arrow." He raised his eyebrows as he spoke. "I can't refute it, even at Eldarion's tender age, he seems to have a gift for it. I am more than happy Legolas and he have developed quite a strong bond." He thought of how the archer had left not too long ago, from one of his many visits. "I must admit, I am glad he finds his way from Eryn Lasgalen at least three or four times a year and stays at the House. That is, when he's not traveling with Gimli or trying to placate his father in some manner. I am concerned about that. His father has again refused to sail to Valinor. There are very few elves left in Greenwood, those who stay out of some kind of devotion to King Thranduil. His domain has ended and he doesn't want to admit it. I just hope Legolas' alliance to his father doesn't..." Aragorn trailed off, unsure of his own musings.

"I expect to see him again in a few months. He's helping out with the Library's addition, making sure all the supplies are ordered and we have the necessary workers. I jested perhaps I would replace Faramir with him." Massaging his own stiff neck, he said, "There is much to think about, so very many plans I hope to have finished by then. The Library is not completed and Eomer has given me some tips on the school's financial strife. I don't know how the expense will be covered in time. I am surprised the city's enthusiasm in the past has been rather tame, like they've been waiting for this specific celebration."

He was once again astonished at his father's composure during that awful period nearly ten years ago. Aragorn remembered exactly when it dawned on him as to why Elrond did not sail to Eldamar after the fall of Sauron. One night, he watched Elrond joyously playing with his infant grandson, as if Arwen were still alive and well. At that point, Aragorn accepted the presence of his father for the extent of his own existence on Middle Earth. The Eleven Lord was here to stay until fate decided yet another caretaker to the son of the throne of Gondor.

"He knew." Aragorn breathed. "Somehow, Elrond had foreseen your fall, although he eventually confessed to me he was not specifically aware of when and how. All he knew was that it was highly connected with our son. That's why he never even considered leaving left until you became with child. And after...well, he knew I'd need help caring for Eldarion. I'm am just glad Elee brings him such delight."

His eyes flicked towards the incandescent replication of the Evenstar in front of him. Looking at the dates and words written in Elvish, then in Westernesse below, he let his fingers trail over the chiseled inscription, "Beloved wife, mother, daughter and friend to many." So was the final resting place of Arwen Undomiel, daughter to Lord Elrond and Lady Celebrian, wife to Elessar, the King of Gondor...and Queen of the White City.

"It's nearly ten years, my love, since you left. I will never accept how unfortunate and cruel it is that the worst day of my life was also one of the most joyous. Goodnight."

Aragorn reflected on how, long ago, Legolas convinced him this was not a time for sadness. The Elf had said it was not wise to mar the birth of Eldarion - or Elee as the archer deemed him - with the mourning of Arwen's passing and he was right. It is not their son's fault both occurred on the same day. With that, the ex-Ranger stood and made his way back to the Tower of Ecthelion, the place he now called home.

Three months later...

Trudging through the cold, packed white powder brought back some rough memories for the King, one being carrying two hobbits up a frozen mountain side. Reaching his destination at last, breathless and forlorn, he did not kneel.

"Hello, my love. I know I am late in speaking with you. I don't have much time as it is. It has been very difficult as of late. The city was besieged with an illness and many were very sick." His gaze dropped. "And yes, some have died. The cold made it worse. I was worried we were going to have to quarantine the entire city. The House of Healing was overrun and Elrond was beside himself trying to heal everyone. It is, however, improving."

"Sadly though, Faramir and Eowyn's daughter is still bedridden. As you know, she is a sturdy woman, with children of her own, but is presently very fragile. Elboron has not been affected...yet, that it. I have insisted Faramir take some time to be with them." He rubbed both of his hands over his face. "At first, the blasted fool refused, saying I needed his help! I have no idea how, but I do believe Eowyn contacted Eomer, lamenting Faramir's mulish ways. So the King of Rohan arrived in Gondor not long ago and plans to stay for a while. All I know is that it worked. Faramir is on leave at the moment."

"As you can pretty much guess, all plans for the festivities have halted for now. Just about every public building is closed in fear spreading the disease, including the school. At first, Eldarion was thrilled to hear that, but when he discovered he couldn't play with his friends or go outside, he became quite sour very quickly. I've...been avoiding him during this time." Aragorn suddenly held himself tightly, refusing to cry even more for those who saw their demise due to the recent malady. His voice became small and wounded, his eyes rimmed with unshed tears. "I had no idea how I was going to tell him a favored classmate had perished."

He closed his eyes, his face lax with relief. "Legolas is here as well, thank the Valar. He obtained some healing herbs, roots and teas. True, they were no cure, but it gave hope to those recovering...and a little peace to those were destined to fall. It was he who broke the news to Elee of his friend dying. I do not know what I would've done without him. Oddly enough, I had dreamt of you and Eldarion in the snow again and...I was afraid he would grow ill. Then I saw him wearing the cloak Legolas gave him in the dream...and somehow I knew he was safe, as if your hands wrapping Elee in the cloak secured him from harm." He paused, lost in memory of his brief mental respite. "I must go, my love. Until next time."

Four months later...

Barely a greeting accompanied the King as he bent his knees on the warm jewels. After the requisite information on the city, their son and his hectic work schedule, all told in monotone, he grew quiet. His brow furrowed and he looked around the plush, blooming gardens that surrounded the cemetery of Gondor's royal family line. Looking down, Aragorn hugged himself, his beige tunic crinkling in the chest. He shook his head a bit to clear it. "I'm sorry, my love. My mind is elsewhere." As usual, his fingers moved to below his knees. The black and grey gems there begged to be fondled and were strangely distracting and, in turn, comforting. His eyes fixated on the ground, staring at nothing during a long stretch of silence.

"Legolas just left." he suddenly said. "He's been moody as of late. That's...not entirely true. The first part of his visit was fine...then he grew sullen and distant. I don't know what's wrong. He is helping out for the celebration and everything...he's just so reserved and quiet. Eomer already arrived before him, saying he was treating himself to a bit of a holiday. Eomer did joke, however, that ever since Faramir's daughter was healed, little had been seen of the Stewart of Gondor, so perhaps Rohan's ruler could put take up the task, helping to manage a neighboring kingdom! I swear the man is daft!"

A great sadness suddenly came into his eyes. "He and I are planning a boating excursion soon. I...kept refusing his ideas for getting away, saying I was far too busy. Truth is, I could tell..." He hesitated, as if saying the words would make his worries even more real. "His hair is strewn with white. He moves slower."

He gulped, eyes closing in anguish. "I can tell my friends are aging....again. Whoever exalts unnaturally long life is a fool, especially when one resides amongst mortals. Hence, the plain reason I agreed to sail with him for a while."

He cupped his head, wincing at the pain there. "I had some meetings and hours later, I realized I hadn't seen Legolas anywhere around. I finally found him in the training rooms, working himself into exhaustion, practicing his long blades." His eyes widened in recall, amazed at his friend's exceptional speed and skill and happy once again he'd never been on the receiving end of the Elf's lethal abilities. "When I asked him what was wrong, he wouldn't tell me, saying he just needed to work out some frustration."

Aragorn wrinkled his face. "Then he started talking about his father insisting on his presence more often and why did Thranduil need him there and so little was left to rule in that blasted forest anyway and..."

He stopped, reliving the confusion and shock and hurt that filled him. "I couldn't...understand what he was saying. He was trying to tell me he wouldn't be here as often...and I asked why hadn't he mentioned it before and he replied he hadn't wanted to think about it. He assured me he would be here for the celebration in a few months, of course. Legolas smiled at me then, broadly, and wryly said I needn't trouble myself about his 'furlough', that I have more than enough men of royalty looking after me."

His look grew suspicious. "But his words...they felt hollow, like they were empty...his mirth, forced. But I don't see why he'd hide the truth." He grew grim. "But when Legolas Thranduilion does not wish to speak, rabid Balrogs won't phase him." He glanced back at the Evenstar. "You could usually get him to admit what was troubling him. I almost wish I knew what he was saying during his time with you."

"This morning, I went to his room intent on talking to him before he left and I was told he'd gone just a short while ago. I...panicked and ran toward the stables. I was steadfast on catching him, determined even to take my leave after him."

Chagrined, he closed in eyes. "Gods only knows what he thought with me bursting into the stables, breathless and wild. And here I smartly blurt out I thought I'd missed him. The smug Princeling smirked, damn him! After he silently fastened his bags to his steed, he came to me, eyes down and placed his hands on my shoulders. He put his forehead to mine and said, 'How could you ever think I'd leave without saying goodbye?' I let my head drop and I apologized. I looked at him and he smiled, saying to forget it."

The image of the archer just then made him think of something entirely different. Aragorn sagged greatly, unbelieving he'd nearly forgotten one of the most important topics. "Ah, yes. That is something else I meant to speak to you about. Ever since the great sickness during the winter months, it made me think. For a while there, I was fearful that I also had become ill. It...was a terrifying time. I kept wondering what would happen to Elee if I were to die. I know I discussed this with father years ago and it was agreed he would be the one to raise our son should I become incapable. It's just he's so busy at the House of Healing with his powers being diminished, Eldarion would most likely be with the handmaidens even more than now. I am wondering..." The King paused, unsure if he should voice his choice. "I am hopeful Legolas would be willing to...I don't know. I realize this is awfully presumptuous of me, to offer what has not even been a consideration. I will discuss this with Elrond first, of course. Until later, my love."

Three months later...

"I hope you enjoyed seeing everyone, my love."

A few hours after dawn, Aragorn stood at the headstone once again, admiring the massive amount of floral displays, each with a unique arrangement of exotic and familiar flowers, ribbons, bows and glitter. All gifts had been instructed to be an offering to Eldarion, but of course, there were many who brought something for Aragorn as well. That night, he'd made the request for the entire Kingdom to cease all activity at a certain time. It was humbling and moving and disturbing to see the entire city stand before him, despite the muggy heat, their heads bowed, the silence brutal, the people's bereavement a physical thing. A few moments later, brilliant explosions lit up the sky, a myriad of vibrant colors, twisting and flying towards the silver stars, signaling the beginning of the Birthday Festivities. It might have seemed odd for fireworks so quickly following honoring the deceased Queen, but as Legolas had insisted, this period was for a celebration, not just for those who have perished. "Lord Elrond was in good spirits last night. Over half the House of Healing attended the party along with him. His present to Eldarion was a small hand-crafted, brown and creme suede coverlet, with blank, aged parchment inside. It is to be his grandson's first journal. I don't think I ever seen Elee treat an offering with such reverence." What exactly Lord Elrond thought a ten year old boy would have to write down in such grand style, Aragorn had no clue.

"Legolas had a large, stunning portrait of you created to be hung in the new wing of the library dedicated in your honor. I was...quite taken with it. Merry, Pippin and Sam were here as well and yes, they brought gifts for Elee. Eomer was unable to stay long this time, so he paid his respect, gave Elee his present, then left shortly after his arrival. I was happy he came, though. Something quite blessed occurred as well. Legolas said Gimli donated to the school by sharing some profits from his Mithril excavation. It helped refinance the much needed instructor's fund, also made in your observance. I am pleased the school's wealth is sound for now."

His eyes went thoughtful. "I've been thinking, my lady...especially during Legolas' latest visit. He seems to be much more at ease than during his last time here. I wanted to give him something...just for being a good friend to me and Elee...and to you. I had Faramir do some searching and he was surprisingly able to locate the elven verse I needed. I had a craftsman fashion a small plaque out of crystal, gold and granite. On it, I had the poem inscribed of how missing and lost Elves ultimately find their way to Valinor. I had hoped it would give him some comfort regarding his mother."

He fought back a smile. "He...was deeply moved. I don't know why, but I chose that time to let him know that if I should fall before Elee is grown, that I wanted him to be the one to raise him. Father conceded to my wishes, seeing how close Legolas is to his grandson. The only stipulation was that Eldarion remain in Gondor."

Sheer awe filled his face, his eyes wide and clear, his voice only what an Elf could hear. "Legolas cried, then. I held him. He said he'd be honored to care for Elee. He thanked me. I told him there's no need for gratitude when I am the one who's been gifted with his wonderful association. He apologized for his if I would ever begrudge a rare glimpse of him unguarded. It was a remarkable moment for the both of us." Aragorn shivered and pulled away from the memory, the intimacy so great it was troubling.

"Later on, we sparred in the training rooms." He rolled his eyes in annoyance. "He insists I improve my archery skills. I keep telling him that is not my forte, to which he reminded me I could, how did he say it? Ah yes, hack him to pieces with Anduril, while he could barely lift the blasted thing, yet he still tries. So I finally got him to compromise by doing a little of both, starting with rapiers. I told him that he may not be a swordsman, but he had great grace and fluidity, like a swan. Would you believe he took offense to that?! He said he wasn't aware I saw him as so weak. I tried to explain swans could be fiercely protective and highly devoted."

"I then asked him what animal would he consider me? He said that was easy and named me a lion. I jested he saw me as a territorial brute. 'On the contrary', he says, 'Noble, majestic...courageous... a furious fighter...handsome to many, yet few would dare to solely owned your heart.' Well, I thoroughly knew that was a mock, especially since he was smiling. I said I knew lions didn't mate for life, to which he quipped I was the exception. Then I told him, in my own sardonic tone, 'Now that I think about it, if I were to describe you as a beast, it would have to be a hybrid of sorts, a blending of species...the sight of an avian, the agility of the feline, the dedication of the canine, the singing voice of a mermaid..."

His mind stated the words he fought at the time to keep from saying. He thanked the Valar Legolas did not notice his halting, laughing instead at the comparison to a female sea creature. "He exclaimed did I think his lyrical voice would wreck a ship! Yet, my smile was rigid. I could not... fathom why I instantly totaled my regard of him as such. My vehement impulse was to say he bore a likeness to a angel wrapped in golden flesh...united with a heavenly visage. We hadn't been working out long, but he was looking flushed, saying perhaps he should rescind his pallid account of me in light of my grand praise. I told him I say it as I see it. I realized I had no idea what this folly between us was all about, but it was very enjoyable to tease him as such! My bewilderment made me say little after that, in fear I would speak rashly...although I have little idea what I was worried I would say...wrong. The evening was still pleasant though."

Abruptly, he glanced around, surprised he had lost track of time, to be where he was and saying said words. He smiled. "I've done it again with you, my lost in the moment. I could always share every aspect of myself with you. I must leave. Until later."

Three months later...

The King kneeled on the grave and said nothing. The cold winds circled the burial grounds and an answer came to him for a question that had hounded him for a while now.

"I don't believe this," he whispered. His morose gaze found the icy facsimile of his wife's immortality, staring at it hard. "You would have seen it...from the very first day." He nearly snarled his words, though his anger was not directed at her. "Now I know why I tell you such things and in such great detail...I have no one else I can share these events with. You would have been able to tell what foolishness I was harboring, how I was slipping into denial. " He cupped his head, fighting back the hysteria threatening to take his mind. "I am even more unsound than I thought! My musings with you make even less sense than my ridiculous actions. By the Valar, what am I to do? Yes, I know. I know...I owe you an explanation for my wrath."

Aragorn took a deep breath and said, "Legolas just left. He didn't stay long, but the time that he was here, I..." He shook his head, choking on the difficulty of his disclosure. "We spent a lot of time talking and working out. And yet, a lot of it is unclear to me now, save for the incidents that took place last night...and this morning." The King furrowed his brow, his face reading dread, his eyes boring into the tombstone of the woman he once loved, refusing to let the sight go unfocused, like a man stoutly facing his executioner. It was a completely opposing sight for the mundane words he spoke. "I adore his company. We have such wonderful discussions, debating philosophy and current events. We are so competitive during our practices, yet it's all in good fun when one loses...or wins. I...enjoy watching him play or work with Eldarion. They have so much fun together. At times, he helps me more than some of my paid staff."

His next words were grave, foreboding. "Why did I not want to see what was happening?! And as I kneel here, my lady, I come to the cruel understanding it's being building for quite some time - a year at least! Now I am at a crossroads...and I am at a total loss." He jerked his clenched fingers apart, his hands throbbing from tension.

His eyes went empty, yet his voice eventually betrayed him, becoming heated and melodic. "We'd had a wonderful dinner. He wore this dark green tunic, with tiny threads of gold at the cuffs, neckline and hem. His hair was...undone, just loosely swept back and held with a clip."

His voice lowered. "As we were eating, after dropping many hints, in a very jocular, roundabout way, he said he was surprised I didn't find Eomer comely! His reason for thinking so was because every time Legolas showed up in Gondor, Rohan's King was already here!" Aragorn shook his head. "I had to contain my shock and amusement. That was why Legolas was so upset several months back! He thought Eomer and I had...lain together, or wanted to. The concept had never even entered my mind, but looking back on those times, I can see how Legolas would get that impression. I...thought his envy was adorable...and I set his mind at ease in a similarly comical venue, that I had not bedded anyone since you left. The relief in him fairly glowed."

"After dinner, we wound up in front of the fireplace, with some blankets and drinking tea with a bit of brandy. Eventually he told me his father found the plaque I'd given him. Thranduil broke down crying, sobbing uncontrollably and could not be quieted for nearly two hours. The only other time his father wept so severely was when the search party found his wife's pendant in the forest while looking for her. Legolas could never understand why that meant so much to his father. Now, he understood. The necklace was his family's heirloom and his father had given it to her as a sign of their bond. His father had been terrified she'd gone west without him, without saying a word to anyone. And Thranduil was also frightened he wouldn't see her there if he did sail. That was why Thranduil refused to go after all these years."

"Once his father calmed down and told him all of this, Legolas said somehow he looked younger, like a great weight had been lifted from him. I couldn't understand Legolas' stern expression as he told me all this. It turned out not long after that the King of Greenwood revealed he has decided to go to Eldamar after all. I...already knew the source of Legolas' anger. I asked him, 'You feel cheated, don't you?' He shot straight up, nearly yelling, 'Yes!' and went into a rage about how he'd lost both his mother and his father. First his mother vanishes and no one ever finds anything else about her and then his father 'died' as well, at least inside. He said he felt his father hated him for getting on with his life and leaving him behind and turning his back on his heritage and..."

Aragorn stopped momentarily, the admission hurting him as much as it did to hear it. "I don't think he even realized he'd started crying. I told him what he said wasn't true and his father did love him and he knew that. I told him to hush and I brought him close, wrapping my arms around him. I rocked him until he stopped, just a few moments later. I looked down at him...brushed his tears away, pulled back his hair and..." The ex-ranger's eyes floated closed, the horror taking him whole. He whispered, " would been so fall into that sure and joyful possibility. I... venture he saw my confusion and backed off, but did not go far."

He swallowed thickly, his heart fluttering, his breathing shallow. "When I awoke later, we were...intertwined, our bodies enveloped in covers...and one another. I did not...wish to offend him, so I began to move....and he bade me to stay, his tone near begging. The next morning when I awoke, he...was watching me...watching me sleep. He bid me good morning, as I did him. He brushed my hair back, caressed my face...came forward, nuzzling my face with his own...and he kissed me...and I did so in like kind. We kissed...and it was glorious."

"When he readied himself to leave, he pressed his forehead to mine and crooned, 'This is getting harder.' Of course, he meant leaving me. I agreed...and we kissed again, embracing completely. Desire took me wholly for once in a great long while...and once I could think clearly, I pointedly asked him when he was returning and he gave me a possible date. I had to fight the urge to tell him to make it sooner."

He looked back at the Evenstar, continuing his confession. "Yes, you would've seen through me, would've been the one to tell me what he and I were headed for. Long before I knew and chose to ignore it. You would know...that he moves me, deeply. My heart swelled with cheer to see his arrival and I was tranquil and at peace when we slept curled together and how he thrilled me when our lips met." He paused to look at the tombstone again. "I once called the love you and I shared a dream. I think, my lady...I believe, he has awoken my heart from the nightmare of aloneness."

His fingers traced the huge jewel before him. "You would know...but would you hate me for it? Would you forbid me this?" Fervency fueled his claim, "I would have never betrayed you, my love, my life. I would have been yours, solely, explicitly until I no longer drew breath...and now, I am close to one you considered a brother." His voice dropped again to nearly nothing. "I do not...know what to do. I am unsure whether to stop this path we are on or go forth with this new avenue."

He smiled ruefully. "Faramir guessed my dilemma after I unwittingly gave him a few clues. He informed me that should I take up cavorting with an Orc, the citizens of Gondor would reassess and raise their position on Orcs. I told him to bugger off, that this was serious. Then my Steward informs me most would be dim-witted to be surprised. Was it his fault the archer and I were the only ones who didn't know we were falling in love?"

He fought back tears. "Yes...that's it, isn't it? I love him. Forgive me, my lady...I never meant for it to happen...please believe that. lost and I don't think I want to find my way if it means hurting him...or you. My soul sings at the idea of being with him and yet, I feel I must let him go, lest I lose myself and...forget you. Just please...forgive me."

Two months later...

"He is here, my lady."

The freezing winds cut through the King's coat, but his numbed spirit refused to feel it.

"He can sense my unease and confusion and my reluctance...and I can see the light in his eyes that shined for the opportunity of our love dying."

He looked around the graveyard, as usual, truly seeing nothing. "Most likely he thinks I am uninterested, unwilling to be a part of the life he wants to share." Grief reared it's ugly head and he struggled not to cry, barely succeeding. "Truth is, I had that dream again. The one of you and Eldarion playing in the gardens in the snow. not want to let you go, my lady. Never, did I give a full moment to living without you once we were united after my coronation." He rolled his red, wet eyes. "I know, foolish for a man such as myself. How could I have ignored the world for what I have always known it to be? And now, Legolas is paying the price for my self-delusion."

Placing both hands on the round, white marble, he bent low and kissed it and whispered, "I don't know what to do, my lady. I do love him...but if I must, I will set him free, never to return, if his fate would be to live in your shadow. He deserves a heart free of one clinging to the past." He stood, resolved. "I will not tell him now and ruin this time between he and Eldarion. Yet...I will tell him I am trapped by a union that ended...and yet still lives. Goodbye, my lady."

One week later...

"Eldarion! Come inside now!"

"Just one more shot, Ada! Look! See how far it goes!"

The King hung his head, grumbling. "I said, come inside, young man. It's freezing and you've been playing outside far too long!"

The little grey-eyed boy pulled back his bow and shot his arrow high...and right into the graveyard. "Don't worry, Ada! I'll go get it!"

Aragorn smiled a bit as he came up to his son, whose dark curly hair was speckled with snow and his slightly pointed ears were red. The child looked so very much the time with Arwen in the King's impossible dreams. "No, young sir, you will not. Go inside or I'll send Legolas after you."

The child's eyes bloomed at the mention of the archer. "You mean he's come out of his room?!"

The King had to keep his smile from dropping. "No, but I know he will if I asked him to come get you. Now go on inside."

Elee pouted. "Well, why is he staying here if he's so sad about his father?"

Keeping his frustration down, Aragorn said, "I told you, Elee, the weather is too bad for his horse to be traveling in. Now get on with you. I'll get your arrow."

The young boy slumped in surrender. "Fine, Ada."

Aragorn noticed as he went to pick up his outer garment from the ground...and the King nearly fainted. Blinking rapidly, it genuinely took him a few seconds to gather his thoughts and respond, "Elee...Elee! Where...did get that cloak from?"

Looking down at the item in question, he replied, "From Legolas. He gave it to me last night. He said he made it himself! He didn't show it to you?"

Sure enough, it was identical to the one Aragorn saw in his dreams. " He probably wanted you to show it to me."

"Well, I'm glad he made it for me! I love it! I'll see you inside, Ada!"

Aragorn shook his head at the coincidence and started after the fallen pointer. He made his way through the wrought-iron arch, closing the ostentatious gate behind him, avoiding the high drifts of snow and over to the tan arrow sticking out of the patch of thick dead brush. He was about to leave, when a spark of light gold caught his eye. He turned, now seeing the bright blot clearly, but from a distance. He walked closer, the path he walked ever familiar, one he has taken countless times for the last ten years. His stride was slow at first, then upon realizing where fate was taking him, his feet flew beneath him, his heart beating furiously, the stifling wind singeing labored lungs, eyes leaking from the the foot of the grave that at one time ended his life. And now, started it anew.

Grey eyes were wide, clear, full and bright, his mouth slack in shock, the blistering cold meaningless. He clasped his hands over his face, crying convulsively and he dropped to his knees. The sheen of wetness froze to his cheeks and he fell forward, his fingers digging into the sheet of ice-covered jewels. He didn't know when it started, but he caught himself saying the litany, "...thank you...thank you...thank you...thank you..." He didn't know how long he was there, on hands and knees, pressing his face into the sun-colored, star-shaped petals representing the woman he once loved.

The elanor had returned.

The clarity of his understanding was crushing. His hectic work schedule was a way of coping with his solitary existence. Legolas was not immune to death, but he would not age or grow ill, squelching Aragorn's loss of his friends to time...apparently a direction the Elf conceded to. And his dreams were license to love again. Eventually, he stood, kissed the top of the tombstone, turned and went running like a maniac to tell a certain blond archer he was his intended for the rest of his unnaturally long life.

A little less than nine years ago, she saved his life the exact same way, just as she saved it when they'd first met, many decades in the past. And now, she'd done it again, telling him to love his friend as he longed to, that it was okay to let her go, to have life after death.
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