Glorfindel heard the soft splashing, shifting automatically so the child behind him wouldn’t be seen as he moved around the last bend that led to the small stream.
His hand relaxed from its place on his sword’s hilt, recognizing the half-dressed elf kneeling in the snow beside the icy water. The very edges of the stream were frozen, a few bits broken off to provide easier access to the water.
The young prince jumped, turning quickly with wide and frightened eyes, even as his hands scrambled for his shirts and cloak. "Gl-Glorfindel," he rasped. "What brings you out here?"
"Estel wanted to assist Nuril in making decorations for the tables. For the feast tomorrow night," he added, when it seemed Legolas hadn’t remembered any reason to be tromping through the snow for bits of holly and pine. "Why are you bathing out here? Mithril didn’t throw you, surely?"
Legolas’s expression turned slightly sheepish, as it always did when his horse’s name was mentioned. Glorfindel thought he heard ‘sisters’ grumbled under his breath, but couldn’t be sure, as the horse in question chose that moment to shift, crunching another hole in the frozen layer of snow and ice. "No, he didn’t throw me," he said, his tones hinting at petulance.
Glorfindel had to smile. It was, after all, an insult for an elf to be thrown. "It is far more comfortable to bathe in the halls."
Legolas looked away quickly, but his voice was indifferent. "It doesn’t matter. I’m clean, and ready to return." Legolas bowed his head swiftly and moved to Mithril, setting the horse into a quick trot.
Glorfindel saw the proud back stiffen before the head bowed slightly, Mithril bolting forward.
"Glorfindel, why did he leave?" Estel asked, looking at him in confusion.
Glorfindel smiled automatically at the boy, and rested a hand on his head. "Perhaps he didn’t hear you, child."
"I… I think his hearing is better than that," Estel said softly. "Does he not like me anymore?"
"Of course he does. I rather think he was just upset to be interrupted while bathing."
"But he used to join Dan, Ro and me in the baths."
"Has he since arriving this time?"
"No. He’s always got something to do when we go."
"Hmm." He looked down at the mess of twigs, berries, nuts and cones that Estel had been fiddling with so determinedly that he hadn’t even really noticed what was going on until Legolas swept past them. "I think we should be heading back, Estel. Nuril wants to have those centerpieces done before tomorrow."
Estel nodded, shifting his bundle to slip a cold hand into Glorfindel’s warm one.
Glorfindel frowned. "Are you cold?"
"Only my fingers and nose," Estel said cheerfully. "My boots are really warm, and the cloak Ro gave me keeps out the wind."
Indeed, for once the twins had been wise in their spoiling of their ‘little brother’. Glorfindel released the chilled hand to shift the hood into its proper place, then reached down again.
Running through a mental list of everything he had to be sure was done before the boys could be allowed into the hall for the feast, Glorfindel almost missed a sniffle.
He might never be a father, but he far too often felt like a mother. For that split second, at least, when his heart skipped into beating just a touch too fast, and all the worst possible causes for such a noise raced through his mind… after that, he felt like himself, again, a bit worn, a bit weary, and far too old to be dealing with a group of four boys under their ‘general’ majority.
Of course, he wasn’t sure the twins would ever grow up.
He entered the room after a brief knock, and set half his mind to checking that they were dressed properly, that the slingshots were properly on display on their dressers, that practice weapons were resting against the wall or hung beside the fireplace and not hidden in long folds of formal robes…
The other half focused on figuring out why Estel was sniffling.
"What happened?" that half asked, even as the other half was beaten down before it could ask ‘Where’s Legolas?’
"Estel tripped on a bit of streamer left out to be hung, fell into one of the girls carrying dishes in, and ended up landing—I don’t even want to know how—on one of the knives she was carrying. He’s got a bit of a nasty cut on his arm, but it’s not that bad and Da already took care of it."
He nodded at Elrohir. "Where’s Legolas?"
Elladan frowned. "In his room."
"Shouldn’t he be getting ready?"
"He said he’d meet us in here when he was done," Elrohir shrugged.
"He’s been acting a bit odd," Elladan grumbled, eyeing a bottle before glancing at Glorfindel.
Forewarned is forearmed, and Glorfindel quickly pinned a look on him that made the boy pout but stop contemplating the depths of his pockets.
Considering how much trouble they could cause, Glorfindel never had understood why Elrond refused to have the seamstresses either sew their pockets shut, or simply make their clothing without pockets altogether.
Estel sniffled again, so Glorfindel sat down beside him, motioning for a comb when he saw the twins hadn’t finished preparing the boy. He started combing out the always astonishing number of tangles even as he studied the bandage on his arm.
He almost smiled, seeing it had been well over-wrapped. No doubt in part to make Estel feel like he had a great war-wound to boast about, but also so there was little chance of him getting the bandage unraveled before someone noticed and stopped him.
"Now, Estel," he mused, before pulling a full twig—with a brown leaf still determinedly attached—from the thick dark hair in bafflement. "What’s the matter? Your arm isn’t still hurting, is it?" That was highly unlikely. Elrond was very good with herbs.
"No," another sniffle.
"Then what’s the matter?"
"It’s gonna scar and be ugly," he pouted, the words coming through blocked tears, emphasizing some words awkwardly.
Glorfindel was about to go into a speech designed to reassure and comfort, when a flash of blue and gold dashed out of the corner of his eye. A sliding sound he knew too well from living near the twins, a crash, and a muffled cry made his mouth snap shut.
They stiffened and turned from the swinging door of their room to him. "Take care of Estel. I’ll fetch Legolas."
Elrohir blinked, but took the outstretched comb, and Elladan nodded.
Glorfindel could hear Elladan trying to say something about healing, and rolled his eyes towards the stars—hoping he wouldn’t have to undo whatever was said.
Then he followed the startled elves and the general chaos until he was outside.
Seeing the dents in the snow was further cause for worry—only an elf who was troubled would leave such deep marks, even when moving so quickly.
Still, it made tracking easy.
Before long, the marks led to a tree. A tree with no elf hiding in its branches.
Okay, not so easy. He wasn’t a wood-elf, and while he could climb—of course he could!—he wasn’t able to move through them with the same ease as a fish moved through water.
He closed his eyes, breathing quietly as he strained his ears. Without his vision, his already acute hearing sharpened farther, to the point that would annoy the others in his hunting parties. They didn’t have the concentration to suffer listening to everything around them.
A small animal shifted in its burrow beneath the snow a small distance to the north.
A rabbit and fox met with a small squeak and a crunch of bone to the southwest.
A large bird rose into the air to the west.
And a small hitching breath came from the east.
It was stationary, and slightly muffled.
As long as Glorfindel moved quietly, the prince wouldn’t hear him approach.
Moving quietly wasn’t always easy, in this kind of snow—patches of it had been partly melted before freezing, forming a thin layer of ice that sometimes crunched beneath even elven feet, but those patches were trickily hidden by gusts of fresh snow, making it impossible to be certain of silence.
Still, when Glorfindel finally found Legolas, he felt certain he could have been a dwarf blundering around chin deep and gone undetected.
Then again, dwarves did seem inordinately fond of cursing in such situations.
Eyes that glinted too brightly looked at him briefly, before being hidden against curled up knees once more. "Go away, Glorfindel," he pleaded, sounding so miserable that Glorfindel sighed.
He could climb up… but if Legolas really didn’t want to talk—which seemed extremely likely, considering most would never have been able to find him once he took to the trees—he’d just run off again, and not stop until he was well out of hearing distance, which wouldn’t be wise in his current state even if he was armed.
Which, naturally, he was not.
So Glorfindel couldn’t climb the tree. He had to talk Legolas down.
He was never going to be a father.
Still, that determination aside—one he’d decided roughly once a day since meeting the twins, who had promptly pulled his hair and let him see what they’d had for lunch, respectively—he had little he could work with.
Legolas wasn’t one to be squeamish about wounds. Being a prince, he’d been trained with weapons from a ridiculously early age—the twins hadn’t even officially started their training, and they were older.
He had also been acting rather odd, recently, his startled and fearful response yesterday morning not being the…
Legolas not bathing with the others.
Choosing to bathe in the frigid water of a stream far enough away it was unlikely anyone would ever come across him. The panic when someone had.
Choosing to dress in his own room, rather than with the others as he had every time before this trip.
Fleeing when he heard the words ‘scar’ and ‘ugly’ coming from Estel in a bitter and tearful voice.
Taking a deep breath, Glorfindel unclasped his cloak and laid it upon the snow. He removed his robes and folded them just enough they wouldn’t touch the snow when he dropped them onto his cloak. Then his tunic came off, his shirt, and finally, his boots and leggings. He stood on the pile of his clothing, and turned his back to the tree Legolas was perched in. "Look at me, Legolas," he ordered, even as he pulled his hair around so his bare back was fully exposed.
There was a hitched gasp, a shift of cloth, and then a small ‘whumph’ as Legolas landed on the ground behind him.
Fingers trailed over his shoulder, curving down his back. They reappeared on his side, then his arm…
"I… I thought…"
"What?" Glorfindel asked, shivering slightly.
Legolas had rounded him, taking him in from head to toe. "I thought you were given a new body."
"I was. My previous body was burnt beyond use."
"But… you have so many scars. Burn marks. How?"
"A warrior’s life."
Legolas lifted his eyes from a jagged slash that would have killed him, had he not been able to twist just right at the last moment. Then he turned, shifting cloak and tunic to show the mark Glorfindel had only recently realized he had seen the previous morning.
"From the orcs?" From the attack that had been bad enough for Thranduil to want his heir out of the Wood while things were dealt with.
Legolas nodded quickly, shaking a little.
Glorfindel traced the puckered flesh, eyeing it critically. "In a hundred years, no one will ever see it."
"No. Except for you."
Legolas turned back again, the slight peace in his eyes faltering. "Estel—"
"Legolas. If you were with one of your sisters and heard a noise in a place you expected none, what would you do?"
He blinked, then shrugged. "I would put her behind me and notch an arrow."
Glorfindel nodded. "So what makes you think Estel saw you? He didn’t even realize you were there until you were leaving."
Bright eyes widened. "But… just now, he—"
"He’s worried about a cut he got this afternoon." Glorfindel grimaced. "I hope Elladan has managed to convince him it isn’t that bad. Children heal very quickly."
Legolas’s eyes traced a few more of the many scars covering Glorfindel’s body before looking away, turning to let the old warrior dress when unable to repress another shiver. He let out a soft laugh. "I suppose I’ve been foolish," he mused quietly.
"Wisdom is not for the young," Glorfindel declared airily.
Legolas laughed, and nudged him with his elbow as they began walking back to the House of Elrond. "Says the elf who stripped naked in a snow-bank."
"It worked, didn’t it?"
Legolas looked up, and smiled a small, peaceful smile, resting his head against Glorfindel’s shoulder before darting away, laughing as Glorfindel grimaced and shook the snow Legolas had brushed onto him from a branch away.
A smile touched his lips as he watched the young elf peer out from behind a tree, laughter bright in his eyes.
Maybehe’d consider someday being a father.
But it was unlikely.