"Why do you keep me here if you hate me so?"
Thranduil actually drops the goblet he is holding, belatedly grateful that he had finished off its contents a moment earlier. The echo of the metal hitting stone rings through the small room, and he slowly turns to face her.
Tauriel stands before him, tears streaking her cheeks, fists knotted into the material of her tunic at her sides. Her hair floats loosely about her head like a halo of fire, and her green eyes pierce him with a sharp, clear grief that chases his breath from his lungs in a shuddering exhale. When he does nothing but stare at her, Tauriel takes a breath, the sound closer to a sob than he can bear.
"Why not just send me away and be done with it?" she asks, her voice a rough whisper.
Thranduil's hands tremble as he takes a hesitant step forward, then another. It has been a few months since the battle, and while he is eternally grateful that he did not have to watch helplessly as she faded over her feelings for the dwarf, he has not been able to bring himself to look at her. Seeing her grief and knowing that it is for another is too much for even him.
"Tauriel," he whispers, reaching out for her. The girl turns her head from his touch.
"You have always hated me," she says in a voice that is strained with tears, "you can barely bring yourself to look at me half of the time, so why-" She has to pause here, take a gulp of breath before continuing. "Why do you insist that I stay?"
And what is there that he can say to that?
She watches him expectantly, but there is nothing he can tell her that will satisfy her question, no way he can explain to her that she is his One without sounding mad or scaring her off. So he remains quiet, pleading her with his eyes not to be upset. To understand that there are reasons behind his actions, mad as they might seem.
Her lip trembles and she closes her eyes for a moment as her composure almost slips entirely away. When she looks up at him again, her gaze is cold and hard.
"I take my leave, then, My Lord."
She turns to walk away but he is faster and has closed the distance between them, grabbing her wrist before she can take even a single step.
"Forgive me," he says, and his voice is rough and broken, "Forgive me, Tauriel. I do not know how to love."
She does not turn back around, but he sees her shoulders deflate.
"Please..." he whispers, and yes, he is begging, but he cannot bring himself to care, "please, do not leave me."
"How could you possibly want me to stay when I can see your eyes fill with grief every time you look at me?" she asks, and he feels that he deserves her harsh tone.
"Because it would grieve me more to never see you again," he says, and if his voice breaks in the middle of the sentence, neither of them decides to notice.
She is silent for a long moment, and he is left listening to his heart thud against his ribcage. At last, she turns to face him.
The word is small and broken on her tongue, and he edges a half pace closer. She closes her eyes but does not otherwise react when he reaches a hand to cradle her cheek, the simple action being the most intimate thing he's ever done. He cannot find words to explain, so he throws caution to the wind. In a move as reckless as any she's ever made, he leans to brush a feather-light kiss against her forehead.
When he draws back, shock and confusion are warring for prominence in her expression, and he brushes his thumb along her cheek.
"You are dear to me in ways that you cannot possibly understand," he whispers, "Please, Tauriel, do not leave."
She looks at the ground, and he lets his fingers drop from her cheek. Her face is troubled as she considers his plea, debates it with herself.
"Tell me," she says at last, and Thranduil can only stare at her in confusion until she elaborates. "You said I was dear to you in ways I could not understand. Then explain it to me. Make me understand. And then I will stay."
He closes his eyes, does not care when he feels a tear dampen the corner of his lashes.
"You are Her."
He can practically feel her confusion, and he lets out a trembling breath.
"My wife. You are Her. She was killed a century before you were brought to me. If I am to believe correctly, her death was the day before your birth. You are Her, Tauriel. Reincarnated. I-"
His voice breaks and he presses his free hand over his eyes. He sounds mad. Completely, utterly mad as he speaks the words aloud, and his emotions have shattered the careful prison he had spent centuries building around them. He takes a gasping breath, willing the burning tears to stop, but of course they do not listen to him. They never have.
"I cannot lose you again," he all but whimpers, and then his throat cinches closed and will allow him to speak no more. He fights his emotions, pouring every ounce of his willpower into making the damned tears stop but he has held them back for far too long, and they will no longer be contained.
His breath catches sharply in his throat as he feels warmth press to his chest, feels Tauriel's arms twine around him, and suddenly he is surrounded by Her scent, silken hair tickling his neck as she tucks her head beneath his chin. And there, standing with his eyes closed in the middle of his throne room with her pressed close, it is as if She had never left him.
His hands fall slowly to return her embrace, and he notices that he is trembling. She, however, is calm. More calm than he has ever seen her before, as if he has lifted some great burden from her.
"I will not leave you, My Lord," she says softly, and the only thing he can do is crush her into his embrace and cry like a child in her arms.