Hi everyone! It's been a while since I updated this last, though I've been working on and off on getting this chapter up the entire time. Please note that this chapter contains trigger warnings for disturbed mental health, panic attacks, and self-harm. Take care of yourself and stay safe! The world is currently a rather scary place, and while we all know the effects it could have on the physical health of ourselves and others, remember not to neglect your mental health. If you or someone else is struggling, please reach out!
Chapter Three: Sharp Edges
"Nath, I am here!" Something was wrong, Legolas realised with a crushing sense of dread. Something was terribly wrong. For though Elenath's gaze was upon him, it was as though the Silvan stared through him, his fair face devoid of any recognition.
"Las, I can't see."
"What do you mean, you can't see?" Legolas felt a wave of weakness wash over him, and he sank to his knees. His hand somehow found Elenath's outstretched one, gripping as though his very life depended on it. The Silvan before him said nothing, and a tear slipped from his eye and splashed onto the prince's hand. "Elenath, tell me this is not so. Tell me that you can see!" Legolas almost choked on his own desperation as he pleaded brokenly with the raven-haired warrior. Elenath's response, much to Legolas's horror, was to attempt to shake his head. What happened next seemed to Legolas to take place in sickening slow motion, and yet at once, altogether too quickly for him to intervene. The Silvan gave a cry of pure agony that would haunt Legolas for years to come, and both the elf's hands shot up to grab his head. Except, Elenath's shattered right arm only made it halfway before the Silvan paled even further, looking as though he were about to be ill. And with that, his eyes rolled back in his head and Elenath toppled forward, landing heavily against Legolas's chest. As his arms instinctively wrapped around his friend, the prince could think of only one thing – this was all his fault. And then violent pain crashed over him and it was his own turn to cry out.
Legolas knew that he needed to get Elenath back to the safety of his bed with all due haste, but he found that the terrible pain in his chest and back – especially his back – rendered him almost entirely immobile, so much so that he could not even regain the breath that had just been cruelly ripped from his lungs. All he could do was clutch the Silvan in a death grip as he hoped for help to arrive. Luckily, Legolas did not have to wait for long before he felt hands on his shoulders. He opened his eyes (when had he closed them?) and saw the alarmed faces of both Elweth and Laegon peering down at him.
"Prince Legolas, what happened?" The elder healer was the first to speak, dropping to his haunches and removing one hand from the prince's shoulder to check Elenath's pulse. Legolas's pain was receding now, and as he sucked air into his aching chest, he found that he was able to speak.
"It was my fault." The prince's voice was but a whisper, and he hung his head as he felt tears pricking his eyes. "He was awake and I - I could not rein in my own emotions. I questioned him and caused him distress." Legolas's voice faltered, and he brought a hand up to scrub furiously at his face. "He aggravated his wounds and lost consciousness. Laegon, he… He couldn't see." The prince raised eyes that shone with tears. To Laegon, he looked altogether like a lost elfling, and the sight broke the healer's heart. "What does this mean?"
"Prince Legolas." Laegon could not help the small sigh that escaped his lips. He motioned for Elweth to assist him, and together the healers lifted Elenath's unconscious form back onto the bed. The elder healer continued to speak while his expert fingers checked the Silvan's vital signs. "Sometimes, severe head trauma can result in an array of other symptoms. While they can be extremely distressing, they are usually temporary, and we must not despair." Once Laegon was satisfied that the unconscious elf was settled against the pillows and stable, the healer turned his attention once more to Legolas. "My Prince, can you stand? Prince Legolas? Can you hear me?"
"Usually temporary," Legolas echoed, sounding hollow. "You say that this is usually temporary." Wincing, the prince pushed up off the floor and swayed to his feet. His legs, still tingling from the assault on his body, almost gave out, but the young elf shrugged Laegon's hands off him with more force than was necessary. He was breathing hard, his fists clenched and trembling with emotion. "That is not good enough! For that implies the possibility of permanence, and I cannot accept that! There must be something that can be done." His gaze was almost pleading as he looked to Laegon and then Elweth. A traitorous tear rolled down his cheek, and Legolas let out a sound that was half laugh, half sob.
"Prince Legolas." The tawny-haired healer stayed his impulse to reach out to the stricken young elf before him. Through the layers of anger and confusion, he saw immense fear and hurt, and all his instincts screamed at him to console and nurture. Laegon was also experienced enough, however, to know that now was not the time, and so despite his wishes, the healer remained where he was. "With all my heart, I wish that this was not so, but alas, all we can do is to give Elenath time. We will treat what symptoms we can, and we must let him know that he is surrounded by our love and care. The rest, we must entrust to the Valar. Prince Legolas?"
"I need some air." Legolas turned abruptly on his heel, making for the door with jerky, pain-filled movements. "I will return soon." Laegon, from his position beside the bed, merely nodded sadly as he watched the younger elf go, once more feeling powerless to help despite a lifetime of training.
Legolas walked as fast as he could, quickly arriving at a small, secluded balcony. Reaching the furthest edge and far from prying eyes, the young prince allowed himself to slump over the railing, ignoring the throbbing of his wounds as he cast his gaze vacantly over the palace gardens that wound their way down the rocky slopes. Their beauty was lost on the elf; his focus solely on gaining control over the hitch in his breath and the shaking of his limbs as his mind raced along to his heartbeat. Just breathe. He heaved a ragged breath as a tear made its way down his cheek, and almost immediately raised his hand to swipe the rebellious moisture from his skin. Just breathe. Pain lanced through his back at the movement, and with a quiet whine, Legolas crumpled onto a nearby bench where he wrapped his arms around his tortured ribs. They ached fiercely with every inhale of frigid air, compounding the young elf's efforts to normalise his breathing. That this was the first time in his short life that he had been injured thusly did nothing to help, either. The more he tried to breathe, the more it hurt, and the more it hurt, the more his lungs cried out for air. And Elenath couldn't see, and it was all his fault. Need to breathe. It was all his fault. The world began to grey out, and Legolas gasped for air as he clutched his sides, whimpering brokenly at the agony that this simple act wrought upon him. Can't breathe.
"Penneth!" Legolas's head snapped up at the voice, as a pair of hands settled on his shoulders. Teary blue eyes widened as they met an identical and clearly alarmed set.
Thranduil had met with an empty room upon his attempt to visit his son, and when a trip to Elenath's chambers had revealed only flustered healers and an unconscious Silvan, the Elvenking had abruptly taken off in search of Legolas. Rounding a corner in the passage, the sounds of soft sobbing had reached his ears, and without a second thought, the golden-haired king had darted towards the source: a nearby balcony. Once Thranduil's eyes adjusted to the bright sunlight, he had been met with a truly heartbreaking sight – curled up upon one of the corner benches was his Legolas, clearly distressed as he appeared to fight for air, and the Elvenking all but sprinted to his side.
"A-Ada!" As soon as Legolas raised his head, his eyes wild and panicked, Thranduil realized what was wrong. He dropped to his knees before his son and gently unwrapped the prince's arms from his sides until he could take the trembling hands in his own.
"It is your ribs, yes?" Thranduil himself had sustained many a broken rib in his life, and would not soon forget the pain that came with the injury – or the panic that arose with feeling one's breathing constricted. When Legolas gave a frantic nod, the Elvenking knew what he needed to do: he had to get his son to calm, and in doing so to slow his frenzied gasping. "Penneth, hear my voice." He shifted both of Legolas's hands into one of his own, pulling them to rest against his chest. With his free hand, Thranduil cupped the base of the prince's neck and began rubbing slowly and tenderly over the tense muscles. "Breathe with me. In… and out. Feel my chest rise and fall. Let your breath slow and match with mine. In… and out." Legolas's first attempt was met with violent coughing that left him dry heaving over the flagstones, on the verge of passing out. Thranduil persevered though, keeping his tone low and comforting, and eventually, Legolas's breathing evened out. His eyes lost their terrified look, and the prince sat back, shaking visibly as he drew a sleeve over his forehead.
"Th-Thank you, Ada. I know not what came over me." Heart still pounding, Legolas dropped his gaze, swallowing hard against the bile that burned his throat.
"Look at me, Penneth." Thranduil gently tipped the prince's chin up, and Legolas found himself staring reluctantly into the face of his father, the king's elegant features creased with worry. "I think this is about more than your ribs, my son. I was just in Elenath's chambers, and the healers seemed frightfully upset." Thranduil did not miss the way that Legolas stiffened at the mention of his friend. "Would you like to tell me what happened in there? Clearly, it has distressed you greatly."
"I - " The prince pulled away and scooted along the bench with a grunt of pain, stopping only once he had put some distance between himself and his father. He gazed out over the lightly falling snow, deliberately not looking at Thranduil when at last he spoke. "It is Elenath, Ada. He - he can't see!" Legolas's shoulders began to tremble with the effort of holding back emotion, and though Thranduil wished to take his son in his arms and comfort him, he knew that he needed to respect the young prince's space. "The healers, they do not -" Legolas paused for a moment and tried to compose himself before speaking again, his voice little above a whisper. "They do not know if his sight will return."
"Ai, Legolas. It saddens me to hear this." The king let out a heavy sigh, causing Legolas to turn and look at him. The expression of genuine grief on his father's face before the Elvenking hid it took the young elf aback.
"Ada? What is it? Wait... you have seen this before, haven't you?" The usually stoic king shifted in discomfort under his son's gaze for a fraction of a second, but it was enough for Legolas to know.
"Penneth, I fear that is a story for another time. It will do you no favours to hear of the horrors of war right now. Not whilst you are grieving."
"But - " Legolas's protests were hushed as Thranduil took his hands once more, and a haunted sadness returned to the Elvenking's eyes.
"Nay, Legolas. Trust me. Please trust me on this."
Heart pounding at the implications of his father's hesitance to talk, Legolas found that he could only nod mutely.
"Come, Legolas. Allow me to walk you back to your chambers - you need to rest if you are to heal, and heal you must." Thranduil stood and offered an outstretched hand to his seated son. Legolas opened his mouth to say that no, he was quite alright where he was, but all that came out was a gasp of pain as his back throbbed, and after a moment he meekly took the hand of his father. Thranduil wrapped a supportive arm around the injured elf and helped him to his feet, then began to slowly steer him in the direction of his rooms, only to stop as Legolas baulked at a turn in the corridor.
"Elenath. I must check his condition first." Though the words were ground out through clenched teeth, the Elvenking could still feel the stubbornness that they held.
"Very well, Penneth. But then, you will rest in your chambers."
Legolas lay quietly in his bed, listening to the early evening chirping coming from his window. The covers were pulled up to his chin and though the bedding was soft and warm, he could not rest. Instead, his father's parting words to him echoed in his mind. None of this is your fault, Legolas. Except that Thranduil did not know the truth: that all of it was his fault, and it made the archer sick. To make matters worse, when they had passed by Elenath's chambers earlier, the Silvan had still lain deeply unconscious, and Laegon had been unable to say when, or indeed even if, he would wake. And yet, Legolas thought bitterly, here he lay, warm and safe in the royal chambers, while the souls of his companions paced the Halls of Mandos and the foul creatures that had slain them ran free in the darkness of the forest. If any elf should have died that fateful morning, it was himself. And so, Legolas waited. He waited until after the evening meal (which he had forced down for no reason other than to please Laegon). Until one by one, weary elves retired to their beds. Until Thranduil looked in on him and he feigned sleep. And until, at last, the palace was silent. Now he could act.
Legolas waited just a little longer and then stood cautiously from his bed. Though dizziness and pain fast made themselves known, they soon passed – something Legolas noted with great relief. For what he was about to do, he could not afford to be weighed down by injury. Quickly, the young archer gathered his things, thankful that they had been returned to his room. He dressed simply, strapping on his white knives ere he drew, then sheathed them in practised movements, satisfied when the pain this caused was minimal. His hand reached unbidden for his bow, but the elf stopped with a scowl as he remembered the limitations placed upon him by his injuries. But of course! Shoulders straightening, Legolas crossed the room and swallowed the contents of the vial that still stood on his nightstand, before scrawling a hasty note that he tucked into his drawer. In the event that he did not return – and indeed, Legolas was not sure that he meant to return – his father ought to know the truth. His task complete, Legolas grabbed his bow, buckled his quiver into place, and carefully opened his chamber door.
The hallway was bathed in soft candlelight to keep the night at bay. Legolas kept to the darkest of the shadows as he silently navigated the passages, making sure to avoid the night guards as he went. As a member of the royal household, Legolas knew their patrols by heart, and soon, his efforts were rewarded when he emerged into the chilly night air. He could not reach the stables without drawing attention, he knew, and so he would need to move on foot. It would take him longer, but it could not be helped. Pulling his cloak closer and trying to quell his shivering, Legolas set off into the night. For a debt would be paid in blood this night, and whether that blood be black or red mattered not.
Snap! Legolas jumped sideways, groaning in pain. The snow had quickly saturated his clothes, and the young elf had long since given up on holding back his tremors as his body sought in vain to warm itself. He was chilled to the bone, and to make matters worse, his mind had begun to play tricks on him. Cursing, Legolas lowered the blade that he'd automatically drawn, and pressed a palm into his aching back. Only a branch, breaking under the weight of the snow. The archer let out his breath in a puff of steam and continued to trudge ahead, only to flatten himself against the trunk of a tree, his heart in his throat. A small bird burst from the undergrowth in a flurry of wings, squawking its displeasure at the elf who had so carelessly disturbed its sleep. Legolas, for his part, tried his best to draw in a slow and steady breath as he willed his racing nerves to calm. This was his beloved forest; he had grown up sheltered by her leaves and nursed by her waters – this was his home, and he need not be afraid.
Need not be afraid. Need not be afraid. Need not be afraid. And yet, he had every reason to be afraid. As Legolas moved ever further into the heart of the forest, things around him began to change. The once-comforting boughs of an oak became twisted, grasping claws that loomed in the dark, snagging in his hair and clothes as he passed. Leering faces swirled and whispered in the corners of his vision, all sharp teeth and forked tongues that vanished as soon as the elf's glance alighted on them. Something cried out in the blackness, making the hairs on the back of the elf's neck stand on end. And the snow, dropping softly all around him from laden branches, transformed as he watched into masses of crimson, dripping blood and viscera into pools at his feet. And Legolas realized that he was standing in it; his very clothes soaked in bloody claret as the metallic scent rose to his nostrils. No! Horrified, Legolas stumbled backwards, in his haste falling over himself and sinking deep into the ooze. A scream tore loose from his throat and he flailed wildly as he fought to gain his feet. Chunks of cold, torn flesh slithered over his hips and torso, and dark, congealed blood wrapped his body. Shadowy figures flitted between the trees, and the sounds of eerie, disembodied laughter reached his ears. Bloated, rotting entrails floated to the surface of the slurry, closing around his limbs and pulling: dragging him down into a sanguine grave. Panicked, Legolas raised his blade, hacking frantically to free himself. The shadows moved in closer, and Legolas could see that their decayed faces had once been those of elves. The innards pulsed and crawled over his chest, squeezing like a terrible snake with every frenzied pant that left his lungs. He couldn't breathe.
Legolas choked in a heaving gasp that ended in a sob as his ribs protested, and his eyes darted to the source of this sudden, new pain. Above the bracer on his left arm and slightly below the elbow, blood was welling up from a cut, staining the green of his tunic sleeve. Green? And indeed, his tunic was green, dark with water and not blood. His chest was clear, and around him, the snow was crisp and bright in the murky moonlight. As if to prove this, a large chunk of it fell softly beside him with a muffled thump. In the distance, a fox called, and then the forest was quiet. It was just that: a forest. The only blood was that which trickled from his own forearm, red and real as the stinging pain that throbbed in his cut flesh, made by his own blade as he'd fought against the visions of the darkness. Legolas stood, finding that he could do so with relative ease, and brushed the worst of the snow from himself. As he looked out at the seemingly normal woods around him, Legolas realized it: this was no longer his Greenwood, and he was no longer safe here. She had stolen his innocence, and now it felt as though her very air meant him harm, cloying and thick with malice. This was Mirkwood now, and he needed to leave. And so, his mission abandoned, Legolas turned and fled for the palace as he tried to breathe through the lump in his throat. Between his fingers, he clutched the bloody cut in his forearm, for the pain was all that he could trust right now. The pain was real.
Legolas made it back to his chambers just as the first few notes of birdsong pierced the silence that had until now been broken solely by his own ragged gasping. Only when the door closed behind him and the key turned in the lock did he dare to let go of his slowly bleeding arm. Making his way to the bathchamber, Legolas shed his outer garments and peeled off his sodden tunic so that he could inspect the wound. Despite the blood that dripped sluggishly into the stone basin, it did not appear overly serious, which the elf confirmed after holding the area under the cold mountain water that poured from the open faucet. While it could certainly benefit from a few stitches, Legolas was hardly going to expose himself to the healers, and his trembling right hand, still numb from the cold, lacked the dexterity for him to perform the task himself. Instead, Legolas retrieved the rudimentary healing supplies that he kept among his belongings, and simply bound the wound as best he could. His adrenaline was wearing off fast now, and he could hardly stand as he tightened the bandages and stripped off the remainder of his wet clothes. Tasks complete, the elf pulled on his sleepwear and all but fell into bed, the fingers of his right hand wrapped a little too tightly around his bandaged forearm.
Legolas did not stir until well into the next day, when soft knocking at the door roused him from his exhausted slumber.
"Prince Legolas?" Laegon. "May I come in?"
"Just a moment." Legolas sighed and rolled over in bed before forcing himself to stand, wincing as his back and ribs protested. An unfamiliar pain flared in his forearm, and the elf sucked in his breath as last night's events came back to him, accompanied by a sense of bitter disappointment. He had failed again: instead of avenging his fallen friends, he had turned his back on them. No doubt they looked down upon him with disgust from the Halls of Mandos even now. Legolas's hand closed around his most recent wound at this thought, for he deserved the pain. Quickly, he kicked the pile of damp clothing under his wardrobe, to be dealt with later, and, after making sure that his sleeve was pulled down to hide his arm, Legolas opened the door to greet the healer.
"Good morning, Laegon." Legolas ran a hand through his hair and hoped that his smile reached his eyes.
"Prince Legolas." The tawny-haired elf bowed slightly. "I apologise if I woke you. May I come in?"
"Of course." The prince tried for his characteristic humour as he moved aside for the healer to enter the room, hoping that it would hide the turmoil currently waging a war in his mind. "I was rather beginning to miss being poked and prodded." Laegon, for his part, seemed to accept this and gave a wry smile as he pulled up a chair beside the bed and opened his bag. Legolas watched him laying out his supplies, fidgeting nervously with his arm as he did so. There was something he needed to ask the healer, but he almost could not bring himself to do it. He feared the answer he would get. But he had to. He had to know.
"How does Elenath fare this day?" The words were out, and Laegon startled slightly at what was obviously an unexpected question. Just before the healer managed to compose himself, Legolas saw a bleakness in the elder elf's green eyes.
"He has not woken since yesterday, my prince. I will not lie to you: it does not look good. However, for now, he is stable, and so we must not abandon hope." Legolas nodded mutely. He didn't think this would ever get easier to hear.
"Can I see him? And what of those that did this to him – to us?" Since he had failed in his own mission, Legolas could only hope that one of the patrol units more experienced and more hale than himself would soon lay waste to the vile creatures in his stead.
"I am sorry, my prince. There has, to my knowledge, been no word from the scouts this morning. And yes, you may see him after lunch, for which King Thranduil requests that you join him."
"Now?" Legolas tried to keep his tone neutral, when really, just the thought of holding a conversation with his father was overwhelming, and he wished instead to climb into bed and sleep until none of this was real anymore. But it was real – he could feel it in the throbbing of his arm. His world had been completely and irreparably shattered, and even his once-dear forest thirsted for his blood.
"Yes, now. As soon as I have tended to your injuries."
"I understand." Legolas sat down in defeat on the bedside and indicated to Laegon that he may begin.
"Let us see that chest wound first, then." Legolas felt a surge of panic well up within him at the implication that he should remove his shirt, but then he nodded and unbuttoned the garment's front so that the fabric fell loosely around his shoulders and exposed his chest while leaving the evidence of the previous night hidden. "Do your ribs pain you excessively?" Laegon immediately asked, and Legolas very nearly let out a sigh of relief as not only had the healer not questioned his actions, but the older elf had even attributed a perfectly rational explanation to them. A brief sensation of guilt passed over the prince then, for how he was actively deceiving the healer, who wished only to help. The feeling was, however, stolen by a growl of pain and a sharp series of coughs as the removal of the dressings over the arrow wound jarred his broken ribs. Laegon exclaimed a profuse apology and pushed a vial of pain relief at Legolas, but the young archer shook his head and instead set it down on the nightstand as he caught his breath.
"It is alright, Laegon. I am fine. Continue." He took a deep breath and set his jaw as the healer resumed his ministrations. The arrow wound was healing well, it was decided, and the stitches would be out within a week. Of course, the healer just had to move onto his back after that, which completely dampened any sense of optimism that the news over his chest wound might have created. Every muscle in his back twitched and spasmed under the other elf's touch, leaving Legolas almost reaching for the pain remedy in desperation as he dug his nails into the bedclothes. He deserved the pain though, and so he bore the suffering until at last, Laegon lowered his shirt and packed away his supplies. He said nothing all the while, but Legolas could read the healer well enough to know that there was no need – the older elf was far from happy with his findings. For now, though, Legolas just sat on the side of the bed, shoulders heaving and soaked with sweat as he waited for the pain in his back to subside, all the while trying not to set off his ribs with each breath. Once the cramping muscles had faded to a dull ache, the prince looked up to find Laegon staring at him, clearly waiting to speak.
"Prince Legolas, it is almost time for lunch. The walk may even ease your back pain. Do you require my aid in dressing? I understand that your ribs – "
"No. Thank you Laegon, but I will manage on my own." Legolas gave the healer a tight smile, and Laegon nodded and headed for the door. "Then I shall wait outside for you. Simply call for me should you have need of anything." Laegon stepped out into the passage with a bow and closed the door, leaving the young archer alone once more.
Legolas allowed himself a frustrated groan as he dragged a hand over his face. He hurt all over and did not relish the prospect of dressing, but he could not accept Laegon's help since his body bore the fresh evidence of the night's activities. He would need to care for the wound well, he knew, for if he wished it to remain secret, then he would need to ensure that its healing should be swift and unhindered. Thinking about this made his hand creep over the dressings once more, squeezing until tendrils of pain drove sharp thorns deep into his flesh. This cleared his mind, and he released his arm and moved to the bathing chamber, where he stripped off his shirt, gritting his teeth against his throbbing ribs. Once he stood bare chested and panting, Legolas turned his attention to his forearm and carefully unwrapped the bandages. The cut had bled a little overnight, though not alarmingly so, and once the wrappings came away, the elf realised that the wound was once again oozing fresh blood: no doubt due to his own aggravation of the injury. Deciding to leave the area uncovered while he sponged his body, Legolas pulled off his leggings and proceeded to clean himself as best he could, not for the first time wishing that he could make use of the bathtub. Sitting on the side of the tub made the process easier on his abused body, and once it was complete, the archer washed and bandaged his arm, taking care to make the bandages as flat and unobtrusive as possible. He didn't want them creating lumps in his clothing and attracting undue attention. After wrapping a towel around his waist, Legolas came to stand in front of his wardrobe. He needed to look presentable, but at the same time, he also needed attire that was easy to get on. After some deliberation, the elf selected a soft cotton tunic and a pair of leggings that he hoped would fit his requirements, and laid out a slightly more formal robe to wear on top. Struggling into the garments proved trying after the energy he had expended during the night, but at last it was done, and Legolas collapsed into an armchair to rest for a moment and slip on his boots.
There was still the matter of his hair, though. Settling for pulling a comb through it until most of the tangles had smoothed, he left the flaxen gold tresses flowing loose over his chest and back. Then, with a small squeeze of his arm, Legolas took as deep a breath as his ribs would allow, set his face to neutral, and opened the bedroom door.
Legolas managed to fake it all through breakfast. He didn't crumble into broken sobs when Thranduil embraced him. He exchanged pleasantries and assured his father that he was healing well. He even managed to eat some of the fruit that he pushed around his plate, though it turned to ashes in his mouth. Thranduil did not pry into the issue of his son's memories, and the prince was glad for it. Under the table, his fingers curled around the cut in his forearm. The pain would get him through this until he could leave. The pain gave him strength.
Breakfast ended abruptly when the Elvenking was summoned for urgent court business. Thranduil stood from the table and embraced his son, ever conscious of the prince's injuries, and when he stepped back, his eyes locked with Legolas's, both concerned and apologetic at once. The blue orbs held an unspoken sincerity, as though they meant to look upon the prince's very soul.
"I am alright, Ada," Legolas whispered, gently brushing his fingertips over his father's cheek, and did his best at a reassuring smile. He just hoped that the older elf bought his words. Someone needed to believe them, for Legolas was not sure that he believed them himself. Fortunately, Thranduil nodded, and his shoulders relaxed.
"I will see you soon, Penneth. Listen to Laegon and do not push yourself too hard." With a last glance at his son, Thranduil turned and strode from the room as his countenance changed at once from that of a worried parent to a proud king, ready to take on the responsibilities of his realm. Legolas took a moment to watch him go, and then breathed out in an audible sigh once he was alone. It did nothing to ease the guilt of deceiving his father, and his fingers worried at the dressings on his forearm before remembering that he was now free to see Elenath.
It did not take Legolas long to reach the chambers of his friend, and once he stood before the entrance, he experimentally tried the handle but found the door locked. Part of him had hoped to slip in undetected and visit alone at the Silvan's bedside, and so he felt a twinge of disappointment as he raised his hand to knock. Now, he could only hope that at least one of the healers would be present in the room to let him in, else he would have to expend precious energy in finding them in the vastness of the stronghold. Before his knuckles reached the wood though, the door opened enough to reveal Laegon's face. The elder healer pressed a finger to his lips and quickly beckoned for Legolas to enter. The young prince stepped over the threshold, frowning as he looked questioningly at Laegon. By way of answer, the healer inclined his head towards the bed, a knowing smile playing across his features. When he spoke, his voice was a barely audible whisper.
"Elenath sleeps. You may go to him, but try not to wake him."
"Sleeps?" Legolas hissed, his gaze settling on the mound below the bedclothes. "But you said…" The prince's confusion only made the healer smile further.
"He rose from unconsciousness not half an hour ago. He was not long awake and fell asleep after taking his medicine." Laegon took a glance at the bed. "And as of moments ago, I can assure you, my prince, that his consciousness remains present. Come, I will show you."
Heart thudding in his chest, Legolas dared to follow the older elf across the room.
"Can he see – " The elf's question died on his lips as a loud whimper sounded from the bed, and the sleeper stirred within. A strained voice carried to their ears, and both Legolas and Laegon covered the remaining distance to the bed as though a pack of wargs were on their heels, the prince biting back a growl as his back protested the sudden movement.
"Who's there?" The voice was thin and ragged as though it had endured much abuse, but it was unmistakeably that of Elenath. Laegon was the first to reach the Silvan, much to Legolas's frustration, but he knew it was for the best as the healer placed a comforting palm upon the young warrior's chest, causing Elenath's restless movements to still.
"It is me, Laegon. Prince Legolas has come to visit you. Are you in need of anything?" Elenath let out a noncommittal hum at the question, as if trying to assess his body in order to decide on the answer.
"Las?" Foregoing a response to the healer, Elenath strained to turn his head towards the elves at his bedside, and as the blue eyes roved between them, Legolas dared to hope.
"I'm here, Nath." And then his hopes were cruelly dashed as the Silvan raised his good arm towards Legolas and completely missed the prince, instead pawing at empty space until Legolas cupped the hand in his own and lowered it to rest on his knee, softly intertwining their fingers as he squeezed gently. He took the opportunity to send an alarmed look at Laegon. He remains blind! The healer nodded sagely at him, his expression clearly sympathetic, though he followed the gesture with a cautionary shake of his head, indicating that Legolas should not speak of such things around the Silvan. The prince's brows knit for a moment, though he quickly realised the sense in Laegon's decision, since to speak freely would likely serve only to upset his friend, and upset was not something that Elenath should be subjected to in the fragility of his current condition. Instead of saying anything, Legolas merely rubbed circles into the back of the raven-haired Silvan's hand with his thumb, and then ran his other hand up his friend's uninjured arm until his palm came to rest lightly on the shoulder. Elenath made a contented sound at the contact, and some of the pain lines on his face smoothed.
Seeing his friend this way made Legolas's stomach turn: it had been his own actions that had put the loyal Silvan warrior into this state. As he swallowed uneasily against a wave of nausea, the young archer was struck by the urge to sink his fingertips deep into the cut in his forearm; to rend the wound open and bleeding in a sweet symphony of pain. He could not stand his own healing, not whilst Elenath lay quiet and barely conscious in his bed, his precious elven sight stolen from him and his very fate in the hands of the Valar. Not whilst the bodies of his friends lay in the frozen ground of the palace cemetery, their restless souls pacing the Halls of Mandos. Radhron. Traston. Radriel. And Caladwen. Legolas's hand rose subconsciously from its position over Elenath's, and he choked back a gag as his stomach rolled. He saw Laegon's eyes on him though, and quickly exhaled a long breath through his nose as he redirected his hand to rub at his eyes rather than at his forearm. The green eyes lingered on him a moment, and Legolas fought to suppress a shudder before the healer's attention returned to the Silvan. It would not at all do for Laegon – or anyone – to discover either the wound or Legolas's compulsion to deliberately aggravate it. For then he would need to tell them the truth of what had really happened in the forest with the others, and he could not. The looks of disappointment and disgust on the faces of those close to him, and indeed every elf in the kingdom, would be too much to bear. And he would deserve it. He deserved all of it for what he had done. He was a worthless coward, but still he could not tell them. Not now. Not yet. Self-loathing clawed at his chest, but Legolas focused on returning his hand to its former position, keeping it well clear of his forearm. As his skin contacted Elenath's, the prince was surprised when Elenath took his hand in a grip that was surprisingly firm.
"Thank you, Las." The softly murmured words had the young prince perplexed. "Laegon told me. You saved my life." Legolas looked to the healer in horror at this, wondering just how much his friend had been told, but Laegon shook his head emphatically. It was probable then, that the Silvan remained unaware of the fates that had befallen the others. As if to prove Legolas's conclusion, Elenath sighed lightly and his hold on the prince's hand relaxed as the Silvan gave himself over to sleep.
Legolas and Laegon watched over the sleeping form for a time in silence, until the healer stood up and motioned for the prince to follow. Stopping once they had reached a small alcove in the stone, Laegon explained that Elenath had no memories of anything that had happened to him, or even the events leading up to his head injury, and so had been told simply that he had had an accident while on a routine patrol, and that it had been Legolas who had carried him to safety. The healers had decided that in order to keep the Silvan calm and afford him the best chance of healing from his ordeal, no further information than was strictly necessary would be disclosed to the swordsman unless he began to regain memories of the patrol, or reached a stable enough point in his recovery where his body would safely handle the distress that the deaths of his fellow kinsmen would surely bring. Physically, it was encouraging that Elenath was conscious and able to communicate, but it was still too early to say whether he would pull through, and if so when, or even if, his sight would return. The next week or two, Laegon estimated, would be telling as far as the Silvan's prognosis was concerned. It was possible that Elenath's loss of vision was caused by swelling within the elf's brain, in which case his senses might be restored to him as the inflammation subsided, but again, it was impossible to be certain of anything at this point.
Legolas listened to the healer with clenched teeth. That he was the hero in Laegon and Elenath's eyes was utterly abhorrent to him – in reality, he was the opposite, and that made him want to scream out the truth to anyone who would listen. The healers were heroes. Elenath's white horse was a hero. But him? How could he ever be worthy of his friend's gratitude? Of Laegon's version of events? For without Legolas's own folly, the Silvan would be safe and whole, probably telling jokes on the training field at this very moment. It should be him – Legolas – in that bed, not Elenath. It should never have been Elenath. And that the Silvan's recovery still rested in the hands of fate robbed him of any energy that he still possessed. Once Laegon had finished speaking, Legolas excused himself to his room, where he crawled into bed and relinquished his hold on consciousness without even removing his boots.
The next few days passed in a haze of exhausted repetition and anguish. On awakening from what had become increasingly restless nights of sleep, Legolas's day would begin with Laegon examining him and carefully evaluating the prince's healing. From there, Legolas would take breakfast with his father, or, if the Elvenking's time had instead been occupied with court matters, the young elf would eat alone in his chambers. He preferred taking his meals alone, as this way he was not forced to eat in order to maintain the façade of serenity that had become a permanent part of his appearance when around others, shrouding his pain – both of body and mind – from those who would pity, or worse, worry for him. He was undeserving of their compassion. After breakfast, Legolas would head straight to Elenath's quarters, where he would spend hours at the bedside of his friend. Sometimes, he would read quietly to the Silvan, and other times he would simply sit in quiet melancholy. Mostly, the raven-haired warrior would be unconscious or deeply asleep, and on the rare occasions when Elenath was awake, he would be taken by relentless pain and sickness, and seizures that would wound Legolas to his core as he held desperately onto his friend's trembling hand through it all. Lunch and supper would, like breakfast, either be spent with Thranduil or alone, and every hour in-between would find Legolas once again in Elenath's chambers. He would retire late into the night and crawl exhausted into his own bed, where his sleep was broken by nightmares and pain. And then as soon as he woke, the routine would start all over again. Often, the agony in his heart would grow too much to bear, and he would close his fingers tightly around his forearm (which he had managed to keep secret from Laegon), digging his fingers in until the very real, physical pain there would calm his racing heart and grant him the strength to continue. Until the day that it did not. And on that day, in the middle of a sunny winter afternoon, Legolas found himself curled up and shaking on his bedroom floor, the door locked tightly behind him and a piece of broken glass pressed to the exposed skin of his wrist.