Disclaimer: Lord of the Rings and all characters belong to Tolkien. I am merely keeping Haldir alive at Helm's Deep.
Authors Note: I do not know too much about Éomer so I am going to make some stuff up.
A Mortal Love
Part 3 - The Cleansing
"Master Elf, we appreciate your help, but most wounded have been taken care of, and you look like you might want to take a bath and rest," said Éowyn. The healers had asked her to talk to Legolas, who had assisted them for the last ten hours. Even Aragorn had left to rest.
Legolas looked up from applying a bandage to a Man whose leg had been pierced by two Uruk-Hai arrows. At first he didn't understand her words or intentions, having lost himself in the pain and suffering that surrounded him.
Éowyn sighed as large, friendly eyes met hers. "I will look after this one, please rest."
Legolas watched her absentmindedly as she took the bandages from him, seeing to the injured Man. Finally her words registered with him. "Nay, I am not tired yet and there is still much to do." He didn't want to be alone for he would lose himself in his grief. In his long life he had never witnessed such a massacre, so much death and pain. At least here he was of some use, helping the injured deal with their pain.
"You are injured as well, Master Elf," said Éowyn, pointing at Legolas' left arm. "Didn't you notice?"
"It is nothing," said Legolas, shaking his head. He would heal quickly, but these Men wouldn't.
"I won't take no for an answer, leave..." Éowyn gestured him to leave. "Visit the bathing house or the stream, Master Elf."
Reluctantly Legolas took a few steps away from her, suddenly wondering where Aragorn had gone.
Éowyn guessed correctly and said, "Your friend left two hours ago, exhausted and asleep on his feet."
Legolas nodded once. He would not object any longer, but bathe quickly and then find another place where he was needed. Walking slowly, he looked dazed about, wondering how they had managed to defeat such evil. They had won merely one battle, the war for Middle Earth still had to begin!
His despair returned, as he stepped outside and passed a pile of Uruk-Hai corpses who would be burned at sunrise. He averted his eyes, seeing some men retrieve an Elven archer from beneath a fallen Uruk-Hai. Overwhelmed by grief, he started to run, not even looking what direction he was heading in.
A few moments later he arrived at the artificially engineered stream which Éowyn had mentioned. The darkness of night clouded him and one quick sweep of his surroundings assured him that he was alone. Looking down, he realized Éowyn was right; dark Orc and Uruk-Hai blood stained his clothes and blood clods had formed in his hair. In a desperate urge to rid himself of them, he stripped and waded in to the icy cold water. In his hand he hid a small knife, just in case an Orc or Uruk-Hai had survived and was now looking for victims. Let them come! He would gladly kill them!
He dived beneath the water, wetting his hair and throwing back his head as he resurfaced again. He regretted having no soap, but the water would do. Slowly, he undid the braids and began to wash the blood from his hair. His eyes swam with tears, remembering the Elves who had fallen in battle. He had survived, but right now he wished he was dead as well, blaming himself for their death. Maybe if he had fought harder, more cunningly...
He would never weep in front of his friends, or strangers for that matter, but now that he was alone he released his pain and sobbed softly. As he wrapped his arms around his waist, he wished he wasn't alone, but no one was close, and he wouldn't allow anyone to comfort him anyway, expect for maybe Aragorn, but that path was forbidden to him. Aragorn's love belonged to Arwen, and was out of his reach. At times like these, he wished for his father and brother to be with him, but they were struggling to keep Mirkwood safe. Alone... why did he always feel so alone? Why wasn't there anyone he could turn to?
Legolas startled, annoyed at being caught unaware. As he spun around, the dagger glimmered in the moonlight, warning his possible attacker that he was armed and no easy prey.
A dark shadow stepped forward, whispering softly. "Peace, Legolas. I am a friend."
Legolas lowered the dagger, recognizing the voice. What was Aragorn doing here?
"Would you be offended if I joined you? I even brought you a set of clean clothes."
"How did you know I was here and what I was doing?" Legolas cocked his head, saw the clothes draped over Aragorn's arm and suddenly grew very much aware of his state, his very --naked-- state. Thankfully the water reached his waist, making him feel less exposed. He wasn't shy, or ashamed for his body, but he was afraid what Aragorn's closeness might do to him.
"I rested for the last hour and after I woke I returned to tend to injured, only to be turned away by Éowyn. She told me clean up and directed me here. She also happened to mention that she had sent you here as well." Aragorn placed the clothes on the ground. "You owe me an answer."
Legolas nodded thoughtfully. "Aye, you may join me." Telling Aragorn 'no' would only make the Man more curious. He turned around when Aragon removed his clothes, fearing he might betray his interest. "Thank you for bringing the clothes." He hadn't looked forward to slipping back in to bloodied clothes after taking his bath.
"You are welcome," said Aragon softly, knowing Legolas heard him perfectly. He was a bit surprised to find Legolas' back turned to him, but reasoned that the Elf wanted to give him some privacy. Sighing blissfully he stepped in to the water, letting it wash away his enemy's blood.
A full moon peeked from behind dark clouds, just long enough for Aragorn to notice Legolas' injured arm. "Would you like me to look at that for you? Maybe it needs binding." He waded toward Legolas, watched the Elf shiver and realized that those shivers weren't due to any cold. Legolas was desperately trying to smother his sobs, but Aragorn heard nonetheless. Briefly he felt like an intruder, wanting to give Legolas his privacy, but at the same time the sobs tore at him.
Legolas knew he had given himself away when Aragorn moved behind him. By the Valar, why couldn't he stop crying, stop mourning the dead?
Aragorn's voice was calm, not asking or expecting anything, merely offering comfort and Legolas appreciated that. "So many died..."
"So many Elves," clarified Aragorn. "Their death pains you."
"Aye..." Legolas raised his head and stared at the starless sky. The moon hid behind clouds once more, but he still didn't turn to face Aragorn. It was time to leave the water, but his path would take him too close to Aragorn and then the Man would see his tear streaked face. He flinched, feeling Aragorn's fingers explore his injury and he almost pulled away, but he stopped himself just in time. "Do not trouble yourself. It is nothing."
"It still needs binding," said Aragorn firmly. "You already lost blood."
Legolas nodded once, using his hair to hide his features. "It if must be..."
"There is still some blood clinging to your hair, may I remove it? I brought a comb..."
Legolas shook his head. "That is not necessary, but I thank you for your kind offer."
"Legolas, would you look at me?"
Legolas shivered. Why did Aragorn want to look at him? Yet, he still turned and faced Aragorn, but avoided looking at the Man's eyes.
"Legolas, there is no need to hide your pain from your friends. You witnessed the death of your people and only a few survived. Let me comfort you." Aragorn frowned, wondering why Legolas was hiding from him behind a curtain of golden hair. "Legolas?" He raised a hand and cupped the Elf's chin in the palm of his hand, forcing Legolas to look at him.
Once more the moon left its hiding place and it projected a silvery reflection on to Legolas, making him seem like liquid silver. Aragorn gasped at the sensation. He wanted to tell Legolas how bewitchingly handsome he was, but knew he couldn't. "Let me comfort you and tend to your injuries."
Legolas finally returned Aragorn's stare. "Do not tell the Dwarf that I let you comfort me..."
Aragorn chuckled. "Come, my friend. The water is too cold to my taste." He guided Legolas out of the water, careful not to peek at his friend's body. The last thing he wanted was to grow aroused while being naked. He picked up the towels he had brought and folded one around Legolas, who listlessly sat down on a rock. Legolas absentmindedly rubbed his skin dry and Aragorn did the same. "Here, these will fit."
Legolas accepted the shirt and leggings and slipped in to them. He was about to put on his boots again, when Aragorn's hand settled on his shoulder.
"You are not leaving yet. I want to have a look at that arm first. Push back your sleeve."
Legolas knew better than to argue with Aragorn and obeyed. "It is but a scratch."
"You are fortunate indeed. The wound is already closing, but I want to bind it to prevent more blood loss." He looked at Legolas for permission.
Legolas nodded, and watched Aragorn's ministrations absentmindedly.
"There is a ceremony at sunrise. Would you like to attend it? It might by your only way to get some closure." Aragon pulled the sleeve back in to place and handed Legolas his Elven cloak. The blond's hair was a tangled mess and he would love to straighten it out and braid it again.
"I should," whispered Legolas slowly, "but I am not sure I can. The loss is overwhelming."
Aragon decided that he didn't need Legolas' permission to comb his hair and sat beside his friend, slowly untangling the blond locks. He realized instinctively that Legolas was showing him how much he trusted him, allowing him to be comforted in this manner. Aragorn thoughtfully braided Legolas' hair, wondering if his friend even suspected his attraction, he thought not.
Legolas enjoyed the feel of Aragorn's fingers in his hair and sighed. When Aragorn had finished braiding, he cocked his head and looked at his friend, almost admitting his love, but then his gaze shifted to Arwen's pendant. He grew quiet, realizing it was folly to admit his love and he would probably ruin their friendship. It was best to remain silent. "Thank you, Aragorn. I feel better now." It was a white lie. He felt even more miserable now that the pendant reminded him that this could never be.
"Would you like me to accompany you to the ceremony?" offered Aragorn, knowing only too well how much Legolas was suffering.
"I..." Legolas looked away, unable to stare at Arwen's pendant any longer. "I would like that, but..."
"It is agreed then, I will accompany you." Aragon met Legolas' gaze and wondered at the unreadable expression in those hypnotic eyes. "You have friends, Legolas."
"A Dwarf and a Man," said Legolas teasingly, finally smiling. He might never have Aragorn's love, but their friendship meant just as much to him.
"Aye, a stubborn Dwarf and a Man," corrected Aragorn amused, relieved that Legolas was feeling slightly better. "Will you allow me to watch over you while you rest? I will wake you before sunrise."
Legolas shuddered, looking at the breached, bloodstained walls and shook his head. "I do not wish to go back there."
"We can sleep here... under this oak tree." Aragorn smiled encouragingly. "Why don't you lie down and rest?"
Legolas was tempted and finally gave in. Lying down, he stared at the dark sky. How many more hours until dawn?
"Sleep, my friend. Allow your mind to find rest and peace." Aragorn's fingers trembled, stroking the blond hair and he forgot to breathe when Legolas rested his head in his lap. "Aye, my friend... Calm your mind and enjoy this moment of quiet." He kept the soft murmuring up, relieved to see Legolas' eyes finally turn blank. At last Legolas was resting. Staring at the blond, Aragorn grew painfully aware of the pendant that rested against his skin. He had seen Legolas look at it earlier and an unidentifiable expression had appeared in his blue eyes.
Thoughtfully, but determined, Aragorn slipped the necklace from his neck. He briefly stared at it, and hoped Arwen would live forever in the Undying Lands. Right now, only this moment existed and he lost himself in Legolas' vacant eyes, falling asleep as well.
"Éomer? The King wants to speak with you."
Éomer nodded. "I will join him in a moment." He dismissed the servant and looked at Haldir, who was still asleep in his arms. He had to untangle himself first!
The servant left to deliver his message to the King and Éomer gently raised his arm, released Haldir and moved away from the Elf. A part of him admired the unearthly beauty, but another felt distanced, uncertain what the future would bring. Haldir tensed and Éomer pulled the covers back in to place, making sure his charge was warm. "I will be back shortly," he whispered, ignoring the fact that Haldir couldn't hear him. And he would return with clean clothes. Maybe one of the servants could wash Haldir's hair and remove the blood from his body? But nay, had he been injured he wouldn't want a servant to perform such an intimate act.
/I am a warrior, I can do this for another warrior./
Éomer looked one last time over his shoulder at Haldir. Reassured that the Elf was asleep, he walked in to the corridor, eager to talk to Théoden.
"Sire, you asked for me?" Éomer approached the King, bowed and waited for Théoden to address him.
"Aye, Éomer, we need to talk." Théoden's inquisitive eyes searched Éomer's. "We need to discuss Haldir."
Éomer nodded in understanding. "It was Rohan's one way to repay this debt."
Théoden looked at his nephew thoughtfully. "I understand and respect your decision..."
"But?" Éomer frowned, knowing Théoden well enough to know the King was going to speak his mind.
"It is inconvenient, you being bound to an Elf, no matter how valiant a warrior he might be. You will be the next Lord of the Mark so you must marry and produce an heir. It seems hard to do that with an Elf close the entire time."
"Once he has healed he will return to his people," said Éomer defensively, but he was worried about the exact same thing. "And there is always Éowyn. She would make an excellent Queen." Théoden's eyes narrowed and Éomer realized he had said the wrong thing. "She is strong and worthy of the throne."
"She is a woman!"
"She would rule the Mark well!" Éomer was getting frustrated. "Why are we discussing this?" A sudden stab of cold swept through him and he rubbed his arms, trying to get warm again. "If you are so opposed to her taking the throne, let me rule and make her son my heir!" Oh, he knew his temper was getting the better of him, but he didn't understand why Théoden couldn't understand that women were just as suited to rule as men!
Suddenly he swayed on his feet, hair flying and hands reaching for the wall to support him. Ice bit cruelly through him, nearly freezing his heart.
"Éomer?" Concerned, Théoden approached his nephew. "What is wrong?"
"The Elf..." Éomer looked stricken, suddenly fully realizing what Elrond had meant by staying close to Haldir. "I must return to my rooms..." Éomer staggered out of the Great Hall, down the corridor and nearly collapsed, as his heart threatened to stop beating. Two strong arms unexpectedly caught him and he looked up at the face of Lord Elrond.
"I told you not to leave him alone!" Elrond was furious. "Hopefully we are still in time!"
Éomer was dragged along, trying to walk on his own, but Elrond seemed frantic.
"I cannot lose him now," muttered Elrond.
Éomer stared at Haldir, curled up in the bed and shaking like a leaf. "What's happening?" He stumbled toward the bed and collapsed on it.
"Remove your tunic," ordered Elrond. "Now!"
Hearing the urgency in the healer's voice, Éomer complied.
"Now hold him!" Elrond pushed back the covers, waited for Éomer to lie down and covered them with the blankets. "Hold him, Man! Mandos is calling him once more!"
"I did this to him? I didn't realize..." Éomer's face contorted and he wrapped his arms around Haldir, recalling a time when Éowyn snuggled up to him for warmth and comfort. He drew from that memory, stroking Haldir's hair and mumbling soft reassurance. "I am sorry I left..."
"Do you still feel him in your mind? Do you?" Elrond rested one hand on Haldir's head and the other on Éomer's, trying to strengthen their connection.
Éomer concentrated. "I still feel him, but he's cold, so cold... He feels like ice."
"Touch him," commanded Elrond, trying to steer the energy coming from Éomer.
Éomer felt confused. "Touch him?" Hesitantly his hand rubbed Haldir's icy cold arm, trying to get to terms with the fact that he was holding another male in his arms. This wasn't his baby sister he was comforting... Could he care for Haldir like he had cared for Éowyn when they were children? "I won't let you go. I brought you back once before and with Lord Elrond's help I will do it again! You will not deny me. I won't allow it!" The vacant eyes flashed, and Éomer sighed, seeing recognition in them. "At last." His relief at finding Haldir conscious again surprised him.
"The... Man..." whispered Haldir, barely aware of what was happening. A moment ago he had been at Mandos, sitting next to his fallen fellows, but it had been so cold... so lonely as their faces were expressionless. He was actually relieved to be back at Helm's Deep.
Elrond knelt at the head end, and searched Haldir's eyes. "We almost lost you a second time."
Haldir shivered, the cold seeping in to his bones. So this was how cold felt? Why was he feeling it in the first place?
Elrond's gaze shifted to Éomer. "Son of Rohan, heed my words, do not leave him alone again or we will lose him after all."
"I now understand." Éomer felt ashamed for deserting Haldir.
Elrond nodded. "I will leave you then, and trust you not to make the same mistake twice."
"Thank you to coming to his aid, my lord." Éomer met Elrond's eyes one more time and then concentrated on Haldir as the half-Elf left the room. "I regret endangering your life." The cold inside his mind was now fading and he continued to rub the bare skin beneath his fingertips. Haldir's skin seem to warm beneath his very touch.
"I... was... back at... Mandos." Haldir's speech was slightly slurred and he looked at the Man in wonder. "Will you... tell me?"
"I was foolish enough to throw Lord Elrond's warning to the wind and I left to talk to my uncle. I should have known better." Éomer's hand reached for the blond locks, eager to remove the dirt from them. "You came back from death and yet death clings to you. Will you allow me remove it?"
Haldir blinked sleepily. What was that Man talking about and why had Elrond left?
Éomer called for a servant and asked for warm water, towels and clean clothes. The servant hurried away to fetch everything his master needed and Éomer thoughtfully stared at Haldir. "You are still tired, are you not?"
Haldir managed to nod. "Why... does... my back...hurt?"
"You suffered a blow there. It probably ended your life."
"Would... you take me... back to my... people?" Haldir found it increasingly hard to concentrate on his speech. Sleep tugged at him, but he was not yet ready to surrender.
"I am afraid most of your fellow archers are dead." Éomer saw the shock in Haldir's hazel eyes and regretted being the bearer of such ill tidings. "Only a handful survived and the healers are tending to their wounds."
Haldir flinched, reliving the last minutes before his death. "Dead... so many... dead..." Their eyes had been emotionless, their bodies cold and they had stared at the dark sky. "They... were not... supposed... to die..." He had led them in to death. Why hadn't he stopped this folly? But nay, the sacrifice had to be made.
Éomer nodded empathically. "Elves do not usually die, do they?"
"Nay... I knew them so well... taught them... the way of the Wood... herb lore..." Haldir's eyes filled with tears and they slipped down his face, revealing his anguish.
"But Lord Elrond managed to save you," pointed Éomer out to him. "And now you are my responsibility." The glare Haldir directed at him surprised him.
"I am no one's... responsibility and certainly... not yours, Man."
Éomer chuckled, knowing it would further anger the Elf. "But you are..."
Haldir was about to protest again, but the servant returned with two buckets of hot water, towels, washing clothes and clean robes. "Put them next to the bed," instructed Éomer. He slowly broke the embrace while waiting for the servant to leave.
Haldir wearily eyed the items. "What...?"
"You are covered in blood, your own and the dark blood of the Uruk-Hai. You will feel much better after I cleaned you up."
Haldir's eyes narrowed. "I forbid... you to touch me... in that manner."
"You forbid?" Éomer chuckled again, enjoying their verbal bantering, although he wasn't sure Haldir would see it the same way. "You are in no position to..." Haldir suddenly struggled upright, releasing a strangled yelp when his back nearly paralyzed him.
"Lie down!" Éomer gently pushed Haldir down again, making sure he rested comfortably on his right side. "Lord Elrond already removed your armor and tunic, now let me do this!"
Haldir's eyes blazed with fury. "I will do it... myself."
"You cannot do it, you lack the strength." Éomer dropped the washing cloth in the water, retrieved the soap and created a lather. "Stay put and let me tend to you. Let me do this for a fellow warrior... even if I am only a Man."
Haldir realized he didn't really have a choice and nodded stiffly.
Éomer pushed down the blanket and cleaned the parts of Haldir's back that weren't bandaged. "That must have hurt..."
Haldir tensed. "I do not know... what was worse, the pain... or knowing that my men... had died..." His eyes widened, realizing he had spoken words aloud that had never meant to be heard.
"I understand... When I lead my men in to battle I worry about them as well. I would be a bad leader if I didn't." He finished cleaning Haldir's back and started on the left arm, slightly raising it. "Your men are treated with all respect and there will be a ceremony for them at dawn. I doubt though that you can attend it."
"Why... not?" Haldir gritted his teeth when Éomer gently rolled him on to his other side. He was loathe to admit it, but Éomer was right. It would be days before he would be able to walk again.
Éomer started on Haldir's other arm, taking great care to remove the blood from the Elf's fingertips. Talking seemed to distract Haldir so he followed up with questions. "Lord Elrond told me you are a Guardian of the Wood?"
"Aye, I serve the Lord and... the Lady." He gasped in pain when Éomer shifted on the bed, causing his back to flare in agony. Unexpectedly the wash cloth moved over his chest, and he hated admitting it, but the warm water lessened his ache. However, he tensed again when Éomer started to remove his boots and leggings. "What are you... doing?"
"Your leggings are drenched with blood." Éomer chuckled, bemused. He was actually enjoying taking care of the Elf and couldn't resist teasing him.
Haldir swallowed convulsively. The Man had dared to remove his underwear as well! He endured the Man's touch, wondering why Éomer was performing this task personally.
Éomer wondered how to wash Haldir's hair, but eventually settled for unbraiding the hair, rinsing it with a small amount of water and combing it. The Elf could take a bath when he had recovered enough to leave the bed. "I would braid your hair, but it think you would be more comfortable without the braids." Not getting a response, he rose from the bed to fetch the brown sleeping robes.
"Much better," stated Éomer pleased, helping Haldir to slip in to his robes. Seeing the exhausted expression in Haldir's eyes, he gently lowered him on to the bed again. "Do you think I should keep you company? Lord Elrond said to stay close to you."
Haldir sighed. "I think it would be best." Oh, he was going to talk to Elrond. What had the Lord of Imladris been thinking when binding him to a Man? Once he felt stronger he would question Elrond about that! In the mean time he would concentrate on his recovery, even he depended on this... Man... for now.
"You really don't like me, do you," stated Éomer amused as he slipped back in to position, facing Haldir and carefully wrapping his arms around the Elf. "Why do you always feel cold?"
"Mandos is cold," replied Haldir, shivering violently.
Éomer soothingly rubbed cold skin, which grew warm beneath his fingertips. "I used to hold Éowyn like this."
"Éowyn?" Haldir couldn't help being curious, after all, this Man had saved him.
"Éowyn is my sister," said Éomer fondly. "You will meet her..."
"I do not plan to stay that long..."
"From what Lord Elrond has told me you might not have a choice." Éomer watched Haldir fall asleep. It would take time him some time to get used to seeing Haldir sleep with his eyes open.
Glorfindel woke as Elrond tried to sneak back in to their room again. His eyes settled on the half Elf, openly revealing his worry. "Why did you not wake me when you left?"
Elrond cringed at Glorfindel's hurt tone. "You were tired and needed to rest. I regained much of my strength and decided to let you sleep."
"Where did you go?" Glorfindel stretched, feeling cramped after sleeping in the chair.
"To see Haldir." Elrond didn't think it necessary to worry Glorfindel with what had happened. He had seen the pleading expression in the sapphire eyes when he had brought Haldir back. Glorfindel had been painfully reminded of the fact that he had once dwelt at Mandos as well. This was taking its toll on his seneschal who was in dire need of rest. "The bed is big enough for the two of us," said Elrond thoughtfully. "The chair is no acceptable place to sleep."
Glorfindel nervously averted his eyes. "It will do."
"Nay, it won't," said Elrond firmly, laying down on his right side. "Come here, Glorfindel and lie down. I do not bite."
Glorfindel laughed awkwardly at Elrond's attempt at humor. It was probably Elrond's way to reassure him. Eventually he laid down as well, catching Elrond shiver. "You are cold."
"Elves do not get cold."
"But you are half-Elven," said Glorfindel smugly.
Elrond let him get away with it. "Then pull up the covers."
Glorfindel did, and continued to search Elrond's eyes. Love stared back at him, but it pained him that Elrond couldn't overcome his fear of abandonment. Oh, he understood. He had seen the pain Elrond had been in when Celebrian had sailed to Valinor and had mourned the loss as well. He didn't dare hope that Elrond would overcome his fears one day. Hope was dangerous...
Elrond returned the probing gaze, but was unable to maintain it for a long time. Mending the nearly broken bond between Haldir and Éomer had once more drained him and he dozed off.
Glorfindel smiled saddened, and stole a touch, gently caressing Elrond's face. /You captured my heart and it no longer belongs to me... Please guard it well for me./
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