This Is My Path

Summary: Inspired by a friendship only hinted at in Tolkien's writings...set in the modern day.

Disclaimer: Not mine.

I remember staring up into the blackness of the night, wondering at the reason for my bleak, meaningless existence in a place where no one else cared for it. I had run away from home at the age of sixteen, and had subsequently gotten involved with bad company in New York soon after. I was no stranger to the drugs, drunken brawls, gang wars, and desperation. At that point, I didn't know if I would live to see the end of the year as things were going…

Then it all changed.

It was late in the evening as I recall. We were prowling the sidewalk, somewhere downtown, not quite sober and deriding the people who walked past us. There was a lull in the traffic, and then three figures appeared, walking soundlessly in our direction. The two flanking the third were so identical in appearance they must have been twins, tall with dark long hair and striking features, they made quite a pair. The third person was...beautiful beyond description. It is a strange way to describe a man, and in truth he seemed little older than a boy, though no child was he. Perhaps not so much older than myself at the time. He was tall also, but not as tall as his companions. Long white blond hair flowed down his back, and brilliant sapphire-coloured eyes seemed to glitter in the half light. His patrician features were delicate and so very fine. The three were dressed well, exuding elegance and high society. They seemed like models in the posters that were put up in bus shelters and on the billboards in Time Square.

In the face of such unattainable affluence and unearthly perfection, my friends and I responded in the only way we knew how at the time – we jeered at them, calling them fags and other epithets I cannot mention here.

They scarcely favoured us with a glance, and we did not stop our taunts as they walked past us, I, myself jeering the loudest and most crudely. It was almost as if I wanted them to stop and provoke a fight. They had moved off perhaps fifteen metres, when the golden one halted in his steps. He glanced at his companions and turned to face us, his face unreadable. Our ruckus only grew louder, in attempt to bait him to us; we were itching for a fight with these fine gentlemen. Something we could never call ourselves. I suppose in some corner of our disillusioned, frustrated subconscious, we wanted to punish them for having what we could never even dream of.

He strode over, stopping a metre away and focused his gaze upon me. For a moment my breath caught and I felt the tremors of panic welling up in me as I looked into his eyes. Young though I took him to be, the terrifying authority that now radiated from him shook me to the core. Ageless he seemed and powerful. He maintained his stare, unblinking for what seemed like half an eternity. I had a strong urge to avert my eyes, so unnerving was his penetrating gaze. Then he spoke.

"Choose your battles wisely, child, for each determines the path you take."

My friends howled in laughter. Such words spoken with an air of fine poetry had never before graced our hearing. He spoke with an elegant accent, tinged with something I could not identify. At the time, I cared not for his words of advice and was enraged that he dared call me "child".

I jumped up, pulling out a knife and advanced on him. He did not move, neither did his companions who had not said a word.

I threatened him again. "What did you call me, you expletives faggot?"

"I repeat myself: choose your battles wisely, child."

We threw ourselves at them, slashing at them, fighting like we were accustomed to – to the death. For the thrill of death and glory that might perhaps substitute for loss of honour. Decent fighters I considered my crew for few skirmishes did we ever lose. But we were not prepared in the least for these three. It was merely short seconds before my friends lay disabled around me, unconscious or held down by the twins. The golden one had "relieved" me of my weapon and now stood over me as I lay on my back, sprawled on the ground.

He knelt down beside me and again we had a stare-down. Were it anyone else, I would have expected my throat slit before I could blink my eyes and I held my breath, expecting the blow to come. But his gaze bore no malice as mine had. It was impassive and almost, compassionate. I held his gaze for some time. I know not for how long. I saw several emotions flicker across those mysterious blue orbs that I could not place.

Then he did something so unexpected I did not know how to react. He blinked slowly, took a deep breath, flicked the knife shut and placed it on the ground next to me. He pulled out his pocketbook and dropped five hundred dollars in my lap.

"Go home, Brian," he whispered. My breath had caught earlier when he first spoke, but now my heart stopped. Yet he continued.

"Pay your debts, your overdue rent and go home. Resolve the argument with your father and finish school. There is a great future ahead of you if you would only follow its path. I cannot force you onto it but I cannot in good conscience see young life wasted over misunderstood, petty words spoken in anger so long ago. This money should be enough to see you home. Or you can use it to send yourself into further oblivion. Choose wisely."

With that he stood up and they left.

I had never met him before. Certainly, never in my life had I come close to anyone or anything that came within a mile of such ...eerily beautiful quality. Yet he had known. He had known that I had run away because of the incessant quarrels with my father, that I owed money for rent, that my name was Brian. Not even my crew knew my real name.

Stunned, I sat there holding the money. Five hundred dollars... From a total stranger. No one had ever shown me such kindness, or given me a second chance. I knew then that I had to get myself back onto the path he had spoken of.

That one act, those few, quiet words. He changed my life, and here I am today. Never did I forget my past, and never did I forget why it all changed.

I returned to New York some years later, after I had finished school and had set up the beginnings of a successful business empire. I wanted to find him. To thank him? I didn't know what I could say, even if I managed to find him. I still don't know what to say. No words could ever express how grateful I am, how much I owe him for saving my life literally and figuratively.

I searched for years to no avail. Eventually I gave up. I began to think he was an angel sent by a divine being I had never believed in.

But two months ago, I was in London,and I saw Him. It had been thirty years but the man hadn't changed. Not a single bit. He hadn't aged at all. I told myself it couldn't possibly be the same man. But I was intrigued and I pursued this elusive being a good way down High Street when he turned to look at me.

"Why do you follow me, stranger?"

I opened my mouth, but words would not come at first. He gave me a strange look and made to walk away.

"It's you... Please..."

He turned to face me again.

"I've been looking for you," I stammered. "I wanted...I wanted to thank you. I owe you my life. I am forever indebted to you."

He looked at me as if I'd grown an extra eye. I knew this was ridiculous. The youth before me could not possibly be the same person who had rescued me from my pitiful existence all those years ago. But...he looked so exactly like that man. The long blond hair, the sapphire eyes, the same enigmatic gaze.

He stared at me for some moments.

"Sir, I have no idea what you are talking about. Good day to you."

But he had a smile upon his features as he turned and walked down the street.

I had found him. It was him. I was certain.

I stood there, lost in stunned silence. All the noise and people around me dulled to a hum and a blur as my head began to ring with shock and elation. By the time I regained enough of my senses to chase after him, he was gone.

Inwardly, I cursed myself. Though I know not what else I might have said or done had I caught up with him. Yet why did I have this powerful need to find my saviour? There was no measure of how much his act of kindness meant to me. And I knew of no sufficient means to demonstrate it either.

I stayed in London a few more days, attending meetings and other tedious issues. I was more than ready to leave the next morning. Upon returning to my hotel from a tiresome business dinner with prospective clients, I was ready to collapse into bed when I was presented with a small stack of letters and faxes by a girl at the reception. I sighed and took them up to my room, preparing to sift through them.

I had glanced through a few when an envelope caught my attention. My name was written in elegant, handwritten script on the front and curiosity piqued, I tore it open. It contained a single delicate sheet penned in the same hand.

"Dear Brian,

Let no debt stand between us for it gladdens my heart to know that you chose the wise path all those years ago. That in itself is repayment enough; though I would ask a favour of you this day. I ask that you help some unfortunate child as I did thirty years ago, in the hopes that one act in good faith may in turn initiate another.

Stay true to your path and may the light of the stars shine ever brightly for you.

A Friend"

Strange words from a strange "friend". But they meant everything to me. I cried myself to exhaustion that night but emerged from my room a changed man the next morning. I was determined that others might have a chance at the peace I had found. So here I am today, my life dedicated to the street children who have no where else to turn. I do this to make good on a promise and to bring hope to lives that have none. This is my path.

I never knew why I helped that child thirty years ago. Then as always when my thoughts wander this course, the voice in my head kindly reminds me that it might possibly be because that child looked so much like him I couldn't walk away and abandon that young spark of life to certain doom and failure.

The twins had never spoken of it. I supposed they were used to my ways and understood me more than I understood myself sometimes. Anyway, what was five hundred dollars to me? No. It was never about the money. Why did that haunting face disturb my rest as much as it did? Why could I not escape it? I didn't know a thing about the boy. He was a mere street kid so far removed from my own existence I would not have spared him a second thought had life taken the straight path that day. The tangents of our lives would never meet again and would probably never even have approached each other had I not turned around that day and allowed a fleeting glance to affect me so deeply.

Still I had never stopped wondering. What had become of the boy? Had he taken the money and bought himself another high, drank himself to oblivion, gotten killed in some feral street brawl? Or had he bought himself a bus ticket to, oh where was it now. Somewhere in Ohio. Some sleepy town in southern Ohio. Had he finished school? Found a job? Married? In my wishful dreams I pray he did. I wished him a happy, peaceful existence for the rest of his days. If only because he reminded me of a dear friend lost long ago. That wild dark hair, the gleaming grey eyes – mere trivialities of physical appearance. Why could I not forget? When had these feelings suddenly flown beyond my control?

Then he found me. Chased me all the way down High Street in London. At first, I knew not who he was, until his thoughts opened up to me and the rush of the memory of that miserable night flooded through my mind's eye. I realise that Life undoubtedly follows no man's rules. At least none of our own devising and none that we can discern with any assurance.

It was him. He who haunted me. He who stole my rest and made my heart ache for the uncertainty of his existence. Yet now he stood before me somehow, stuttering his thanks in emotion-filled gratitude. I decided it was best that I not acknowledge him openly. Not here, not now. Smiling, I told him I knew not of what he spoke and bid him good day, leaving him there mouth agape, lost amidst a sea of people, wondering if he might follow me, demanding explanations. How does one explain the immortal pain of losing a friend, of being so helpless in the face of bitter mortality. And how in that one small act of compassion, I had hoped to alleviate my own pain, irrational as it seemed.

I returned to our apartment, closed the door to my room and sank into my bed. I suppose I was filled with a certain happiness, for the boy was now a man and had indeed taken the bus ride home all those years ago. I glowed with relief.

I sat down at my writing desk and composed a short letter to him. I could not hope to explain my actions to him, for he sought a different closure to this matter. Hopefully, my request might help us both.

Estel, my friend, let this be a small legacy which I dedicate to your memory, for no greater quality of heart and soul did I ever have the privilege to know. Many paths of life have I walked, many will I yet come to know, but along the way, I will grow small flowers of remembrance in honour of the light which you shone on the long, and blessed path of my immortal existence.

A/N: Inspired by a great friendship only hinted at in Tolkien's writing. Forgive any errors in street/place names for I have never visited any of them. Pardon also the liberties taken with Tolkien's characters. I can only assume our favourite prince and his twin companions decided to journey back to Arda in the recent past, living amongst us mere mortals to fulfil some unknown purpose.