"Estel…" Aragorn looked down on the bloodied twin in his arms.
"Hush. Elladan, do not speak. You don’t have to fear, the orcs are gone now. They will not hurt you again. I have made sure of that."
"Estel… Ro.. Is he..? Is Ro…?" Aragorn could see the fear in his brother’s eyes.
"Ro will be alright, Dan. You will both be alright. And Ada too. He already said he would be able to heal you both."
"Good." Elladan sighed relieved. "Good."
"Now go to sleep, my brother. You are safe. Rest or I’ll knock you with a club on your head until you do."
The eldest of his brothers giggled and shook his head. "No more clubs, please. I have had enough of those to last a lifetime, and so has Ro." Involuntary he shivered.
"You are safe," Aragorn repeated and he knew it was true, in spite of the fact that both of the twins were covered in blood and bruised from head to toe, for Elrond had promised him they would be.
The ranger looked around the late orc-camp and shuddered how much blood of his family had been shed there.
He closed his eyes and sighed in relief.
He was so lucky to have found them in time.
"Halbarad! Gather the men! To Imladris!"
Elrond felt the dizziness slowly getting worse and unconsciousness was tucking at his brain. There was nothing his body wanted more than just to lie down and forget everything, to sleep until the pain lessened.
"No!" Elrond spoke desperately.
This could not happen; he could not give up now. As a healer he knew that, if he closed his eyes for just longer than a few seconds, he would never see Elladan and Elrohir alive again.
They were safe now, in the sense that they were back in Imladris and no longer being tortured by those hideous creatures, but they weren’t saved yet. One look at the table would convince anyone of that, as there was so much blood. Too much blood.
And though Elrond spread more of it all through the Halls of the Healing every time he took a step, he knew that he would have to keep standing.
The prize of giving in to his body’s needs was simply too high, and desperately he clutched to the table Elrohir was on to keep himself from falling.
With all his might Elrond tried again, and again he failed.
"Please" he whispered, not really knowing who he was begging. "Please."
He knew he could do this, he had done this a thousand times before, but now, now when he needed the skill most, his hands could not stop shaking.
And if he couldn’t even get the thread through the needle’s eye, how on earth was he going to stitch?
His eyes fell back at the tables, two identical ones, standing neatly beside each other. On them were two identical bodies, bleeding from almost identical wounds.
The elven lord grasped the potion cabinet to remain standing in the latest wave of despair.
His healer’s mind told him that he was too wounded himself. That he should lie down and let himself be cared for first.
That it was better to have two dead than three.
But the part of Elrond that was a father refused to accept that.
There were no other healers in Imladris skilled enough to stitch these kinds of injuries.
He knew what he had to do.
And yet his hands were shaking and his vision was clouded by tears of despair and pain.
With his head he leaned against the glass door of the cabinet for a moment, trying to still his hands while he prayed for the strength to save his sons.
But Elrond was too much of a healer, he knew when things were lost, when recovery would not be in time and all that could be done was dim the pain, and ease the passing from one world into the next.
He was too much of a healer not to know there was no chance his strength would return to him any time soon.
His eye suddenly fell on the solution of all his problems.
It was there, right in front of him; a bright green liquid in a beautiful glass flask.
It was staring at him, begging him to take it, and Elrond knew that if he did his hands would steady and his mind would clear.
He would be able to save his sons.
And still he hesitated when he took the flask out of the cabinet, for the power to save his sons would come at a prize. This potion was highly addictive, and it was said that those who tasted it would never be the same again.
His eyes fell from the bright green liquid to the motionless figures on the table and he knew he didn’t really have a choice.
Elrond had lost track of time, but he knew that at least several hours, or maybe several days had passed since he and his sons were brought back from the orcs.
His sons were stable now, and the elven lord could look back on a job well done.
The potion he had taken had done the trick; his hands had stopped their shaking, his pain had lessened.
But the best of it had been the feeling of overall positivism that had spread through his body.
Where before despair had reigned he had been confident that it would all be alright; he had enjoyed healing his sons; he had been confident that all would be alright, and knowing that, he had found the confidence to do what he had to do.
Elrond know that the stitches in his sons’ bodies were the best he had ever done.
His sons were safe now, and his healer’s mind told him that he himself should now rest his own injured body.
But the rest of him didn’t feel like that at all.
His body had put up with him for this long after all…It would surely hold a little bit longer, while he celebrated the saving of his sons.
The first sign the potion was losing its grip on his body was visible in the way his hands shook when he took the glass of wine Aragorn was offering.
With all his might Elrond bit his fingers to remain still, as this was no better time for shaking hands than when he had to stitch the twins, as he had told Aragorn he was *fine* and had forced his youngest into this party.
Estel had looked at him and told him he should be in bed, with all the arrogance and certainty only a real healer could master, but Elrond had overruled him.
He had informed his youngest his wounds were less grievous than they looked and he had told him he needed this party. He had even told Estel off for not recognizing that sometimes a patient needed to feel good more than he needed to rest.
Estel had argued a bit, but to Elrond’s relief the ranger had not put up much of a fight. Elrond, of course was not only his father, but also the master healer of his house, and Estel had very little reason not to trust him.
Yes, Elrond hade been very relieved that Estel had let him have this party; mostly because, somewhere deep down, well hidden under the layers of happiness the potion had given him, Elrond had known his youngest son was right.
There were more and more signs of that beginning to show: The pain was coming back, and it suddenly hurt the Elven lord to breath.
He could feel Estel’s eyes watching his trembling fingers and he quickly put the wine back down.
Estel must not know of his weakness, he didn’t want his youngest son to know what he had done.
When he saw the worried look Estel gave him, Elrond knew he had trained his son too well.
Soon the youngster would pick up on the signs, soon Estel would demand to know how Elrond had been able to keep standing, and before long his son would lecture him about hiding wounds.
He could see Estel raise his eyebrow at him when he felt a particularly sharp pain. He really, really didn’t want a lecture right now.
"Are you absolutely sure you do not need to lie down?" Estel asked. Though he formulated his question carefully it was clear he thought Elrond should.
Elrond recognized the look his son gave him, and desperately searched for a way to convince the healer in front of him that he was fine. But his hands were shaking and he knew he could not hide the look of pain in his eyes.
He braced himself for the impact of Estel’s lecture when he suddenly found his escape in the pockets of his robes.
"I’m fine," he snapped at his youngest and with his experience of a thousand years of sneaking sleeping draughts into the cups of the stubborn wounded in his care, he poured some of the bright green liquid into his own wine.
The sun shone brightly and Elrond looked down upon his sons fooling around in the garden. Elrohir was still limping slightly and Elladan was paler than he should be, but both of them were laughing. Water splashed around everywhere due to some fight they were having with Estel.
It was the first time the twins were outside, and as he looked down on them Elrond knew he should be glad his once deadly wounded children were recovering this well, but somehow he did not feel that happiness in his heart.
The truth was the elven lord wasn’t nearly as well as his sons were. His wounds, as far as he knew, had not even begun to close yet, and the only reason he could keep everyone from noticing was the fact that he constantly changed bandages and relied heavily on the green potion that kept him standing upright.
He had tried for several times now to stop taking it, as he realized it kept him from healing properly.
But somehow every time he tried there was some reason that he had to be able to stand upright at that instance, as there was always an elven sanctuary to run or people to heal.
Furthermore… Aragorn was suspicious, and Elrond wanted to keep his son from knowing his weakness at all cost.
It would be too humiliating to be told off by his own son, no matter how well he had trained him.
He could feel Estel’s eyes burn upon him, and he knew that it would look suspicious if he was not smiling on the day the twins had been outside again.
The elven lord turned and moved into his study to find the only thing that kept him standing, the only means he had to smile: Trapped in a beautiful glass flask, the brightest green liquid he had ever seen.
Estel looked up from the bucket of water he had been ready to throw at Elladan when he felt his father’s eyes on him.
Elrond stood on the balcony, looking at his recovered sons without a trace of a smile on his face, or even in his eyes, and Estel was worried.
He didn’t like the way his father looked these past days, and he didn’t believe his father was ‘fine’ anymore.
Aragorn knew his father had been wounded when he and the rangers had brought him and the twins back from the orcs, but, in his worry over his brothers, he hade forgotten to check how grievously.
Over these past few weeks there had been many moments that his father had seemed fine. Moments in which the elven lord took more work on his shoulders that he ever had and seemed perfectly happy. But there were also moments when Elrond looked as he did now; a grey face with a painful expression, and a look as if he would never smile again.
The way Elrond looked now greatly worried his son, but when the elven lord turned and left the balcony, Estel knew he would be worried even more if Elrond returned with a large smile on his face.
By instinct Aragorn knew there was something wrong with Elrond’s waves of happiness. He could feel there was something… unnatural about it.
"What is the matter, Estel?" Elladan asked, noticing how his little brother seemed to have withdrawn fro the water-fight these past few minutes.
"Something is wrong with Ada."
"Something wrong with… Estel are you sure? When I talked to him this morning he seemed fine."
"Are you sure? Don’t you think he maybe… seems a little too fine? I mean… He was wounded by those orcs, I know it, but I have yet to see him rest and heal, and there is something, something… I don’t know…"
Elladan’s eyes narrowed.
"What do you think is wrong?" He asked his youngest brother.
Aragorn shook his head. "I don’t know." He spoke. "But I am going to find out."
For the first time in years Estel felt nervous doing this. In his ranger years he had sneaked around searching for information so many times it had become somewhat of a routine, but this time was different.
This time he was not gathering evidence or trying to find the hiding place of some evil person. This time he was searching his father’s office, and Estel feared the look of hurt and disappointment on his father’s face should he find him here more than any kind of torture he had ever heard of.
Every time he opened a drawer he felt like he was betraying his father by invading the small parts of Elrond’s world that he kept hidden from everyone.
That feeling got worse and worse as he found the most ancient letter he had ever seen, which was signed ‘Elros’ at the bottom, or a lock of gold-silver hair that the ranger knew had to be Celebrian’s.
He found children’s drawings made by the twins and Arwen, and the first attempts of a young child’s writing, probably done by either Elladan or Elrohir.
With every one of these finds the ranger felt worse.
Who was he to question this old wise elf that was his father, when he insisted he was fine?
The elf was a far better healer than Aragorn would ever be, what on earth was he thinking when he had decided to search Elrond’s study?
Too much happiness? When Estel saw the collection of memories of people and times long lost and gone he was amazed that Elrond had ever been able to smile.
Who was he, Aragorn, to decide in which amount the elven lord should be happy?
What on earth gave him the right?
He was ready to depart when he stumbled on a drawing he had not seen before, not made by Dan, Ro or Arwen, but by himself. ‘From Estel’ it said in the handwriting of a five-year-old, ‘To Ada.’
It was that drawing that made Estel turn back and continue his search again. He had the right to investigate on Elrond after all, as the elven lord was more than just an ancient wise elf, or a master healer. He was Aragorn’s father, and Aragorn would make sure he was alright.
Elrond was lying in his bed, tired, but unable to sleep. No matter how hard he tried not to, his thought kept concentrating on the glass flask in his study that now held his strength, happiness, and his peace.
His hands were shaking again, and he could feel a thin layer of sweat form on his forehead. His healer’s mind suggested several plants that could help him deal with this, ease his pain, and stop the shaking.
All these plants were perfectly safe cures that worked slow but steadily, but Elrond wanted none of those. In spite of the soft voice of logic in the back of his mind Elrond knew there was only one thing that really worked.
He got up from his bed and stumbled to his study, careful not to wake Estel or the twins, deciding that from now on he would just carry the green liquid with him everywhere.
As he reached his study he let out a sigh of relief. He had made it, no one had woken and soon he would be able to still his hands and his head, and finally, finally sleep.
He almost ran to his desk, ripping out the drawer he knew held the potion he yearned for.
It wasn’t there.
The elven lord threw out all the other contents of the drawer; treasured children’s drawings whirling onto the ground.
It wasn’t there.
He ripped out other drawers, desperately searching, while with each panicked movement of his hands more of his neatly stacked papers landed on the ground.
It wasn’t there.
"Looking for this?" It was spoken in the soft, almost hurt voice that Elrond had feared more than anything.
"I know what this is, Adar. I know what it does." Elrond could hear the harsh tone when his youngest son had spoken the word ‘it’. He could hear the disapproving.
"Estel… I… I need…"
"You need nothing of this!" his youngest son was furious now, Elrond could hear the anger boiling in his voice."
"Estel... I needed... for Dan and Ro, Estel... They needed to be saved!" Elrond still didn’t dare to turn around and face his son; he did not want to see the disappointment and anger in those large silver eyes.
"Dan and Ro have long been saved! You do not need this anymore!"
Elrond could feel his hands shaking, and tears form in his eyes. Did his son not see how weak he was? Did his son not understand that that potion was the only thing that could help him?
"Estel… please... I need..."
"No." The ranger’s voice was strong and stern, a king’s command, a ruler’s rejection. To Elrond it felt as if he were punched in the face.
He turned around, finally facing his son, though he was not facing the ranger’s eyes, but just the glass flask in his arms.
"Estel, you don’t understand…"
"GIVE ME THAT FLASK!" Elrond demanded, making a move as to grab it, but his son was faster, unhindered by shaking limbs and clouded vision.
"No," was his soft answer.
"Please... my son…" Elrond begged with a broken voice, hoarse with desperation.
"No." Again Elrond felt the rejection burn, and as he sank to his knees a sob escaped him. He reached one of his hands pleadingly towards the green liquid.
"My son," he whispered. "Aragorn…"
Aragorn looked down upon him, as a great god that decided Elrond’s fate, and he quietly shook his head. "I’m sorry," he spoke, whispering like his father, a voice raw of emotions. "Ada, I’m so sorry."
The words made Elrond look up, and witness in horror how his youngest lifted the beautiful glass flask and smashed it into the table.
The glass shattered and its content was spread all over the study floor.
"NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO," Elrond screamed in despair, as he crawled over to the dripping flask’s remains, and tried to drink as much from the broken shards as there still remained, not caring about the cuts the glass gave him.
He no longer paid any attention to the son in the corner that watched him with wet eyes and a broken heart.
It was the most horrible month Elrond had ever had, as the pain came back, and the shivering started. He was sick, dried out and shaking as though he had a fever, and every time someone came he asked, begged, and demanded some of the liquid he craved.
But all who saw him had the same look on their face. They pitied him, Elrond could feel that, but none of the ones that entered were willing to give him what he needed.
There were times the elven lord hated each of his sons for doing this to him. Times that he would have smashed each of their faces; hit them; hurt them, if only he had had the strength.
On other times he hated himself. He hated himself for ever wanting to hurt his sons, for being in this state, for everything.
He had known the green liquid was addictive.
He should have been strong enough to stay away from it.
He should have been.
He had known it.
The month passed and his pain lessened, and the shivering stopped. He was slowly learning to eat again. The drinks he took stayed in his body, and the green liquid no longer ruled his mind like it had before.
He no longer asked for the green liquid, and he no longer felt the need to hit Elrohir in the face when the youngest of the twins offered him bread instead.
Yet his self-hate remained.
It was easy to forgive his sons now that he could remember that they were only doing what was best for him, but it was impossible to forgive himself.
After all… he should have known.
Elrond looked up, noticing the stern tone of his youngest son, and fearing the lecture that would come.
So far, Estel had refrained from confronting him about hiding his wounds, or taking the green potion, but Elrond had known it had only been the silence for the storm.
After all… it was him that had raised the boy, and he had raised him well.
That he had done right at least.
The elvenlord looked down again.
"Ada. Look at me."
Aragorn could see his father was retreating into himself again, staring to the ground and acting as if he was a child that had just been caught stealing cookies.
"You will look at me when I speak to you." He repeated, in the most kingly voice he could find.
It felt weird, giving orders like this to the man who raised him, almost as if somewhere in the last few months Elrond and he had changed places.
The elvenlord looked up with shame in his eyes. Estel sighed.
"Why are you doing this anyway?" he asked, dropping his kingly attitude. He was no lord in this house, nor was he healer. The only one that could ever claim those titles was sitting right in from of him, hiding from his duties and Estel was at loss how to help him.
"Why are you hiding like this? Paperwork is ever growing, the river is raging, and all those elves.... and I just can’t… Elladan and Elrohir are doing a good job… but it is just… they are not you."
"Estel…" the name was spoken at the same tone Elrond had used for months now, the weak whining pathetic tone that didn’t fit at all with the strong and wise leader he had been. Estel hated that tone, and he countered it with his kingly voice again.
"Imladris needs you. You can not keep hiding."
"Elladan and Elrohir will take over. Imladris does not need me." Elrond no longer spoke in the weak tone Aragorn hated so much, but with all the certainty of a leader. He spoke as if his words had been final, ultimate, end of discussion.
But Estel shook his head. "Elladan and Elrohir need you too, Ada. You cannot just dump Imladris into their hands. "
"Elladan and Elrohir are fine! They do not need me! I am no longer fit to lead! Leave me alone!"
"No." Aragorn spoke, at the exact same tone he had used when he had denied his father the green liquid. "I will not leave you here to destroy yourself. I need you. Dan and Ro need you."
"They have been strong and capable adults for a long time now, Aragorn."
The use of that name cut a hole into Aragorn’s heart. Anyone could call him by that name. Anyone.
But to Elrond he was Estel.
But though he was wounded he did not give up. He would fight this battle, the hardest one in his life, to the bitter end.
"Yes, the twins are adults now. And yes they are capable and strong. And yet, not so very long ago, when they were both lying in the healing room bleeding from wounds that would kill them, they needed you then as they need you now."
Elrond looked away.
"And I could not save them…" He whispered.
"Yes you could."
"I could not… I could not stay conscious.. I could not save them…"
"You could save them and you did."
"The threat didn’t go through the needle… and they were slipping away from me…"
"But you saved them. They are still alive"
"I took the potion."
"You saved Dan and Ro."
"I took the potion though I knew it was addictive."
"To save Dan and Ro."
"I am weak."
Aragorn shook his head.
"Yes" Elrond’s voice sounded defeated, broken.
It was that same ‘no’ again. A ‘No’ powerful enough to overrule the Lord of Imladris, to win a battle, and to start a healing process.
For the ‘no’ of a king is the ‘no’ of a healer.