Well, this time it really is the end. I want to say a HUGE thank you to everybody who has read the story and reviewed; you guys kept me going! There were many times when I just wanted to strangle the story, but, when I remembered how many people were behind it, I stopped and then trudged on. Thank you so much for your support and dedication.
While the story is done, I am pretty sure that I will go back and re-write the first couple chapters. Although I wrote those when I had a completely different plan for the fic, they now make me twitch and the obvious answer is to make them match with the rest of the story in tone and whatnot. I also am considering adding a bit to the drunken chapters, as I've remembered things I wanted to put in there and then forgot. So, I just thought I would tell you that, if anybody was interested in the future.
So, once again, thank you all sooooo much for everything. You guys have made it quite the experience.
Midnight Proc: You little speed-reading demon. Haha. I'm sorry that you don't like the longer chapters… but you won't have to deal with them anymore!
XNemesis: Well, everybody needs to take a break sometimes, hm? Morgoth seemed to be in a permanent conniption, to me at least. What a loony. Good luck with the essays and applications!
Lady Golodwen: Ah, you insist on making me figure out a way to condense my response. Very well. Uh… yes, hair clips would probably do that. We tried putting hair clips in my brother's hair, but it just isn't long enough. …Grammar nazi. /laughs/ Um… snorting is a funny thing, isn't it? Hehe. Ooh, and I made another clever! Hurray! Personally, I think it would have been entertaining if it had been Dom. Haha. Not very frightening. And yes, I am done.
Phoenix Golden Feather: I completely understand being busy. Thank you so very very very much for your compliment; it was so wonderful to hear something like that. It makes all the time and thought and research and head-banging-into-desk worth it. Hopefully I will get around to writing something else that you will like as much!
Crystal113: I can see why you wouldn't want to spit all over your keyboard. That would not be very pleasant. And yes, poor Haldir, for he always gets the short end of the stick. On the note of a gift-giving Sauron, there was a discussion about Sauron working in a toy shop for Santa Claus, but nobody wants to know where that led. Haha. And of course this is the epilogue of doom. Because doom is cool.
kingmaker: I love sarcasm… and that apparently shows. Personally, I found the scene with the Valar amusing, or that was the intent, at least. I'm glad that you enjoyed the story. Thank you so much for your reviews; I always looked forward to getting them.
Napolde of the Council: Sauron with a conscience. Go figure, eh?
Legolas's Girl 9: Yes, the story has finally reached its conclusion. It seems like a very logical place to stop. I'm so glad you love the story. I hope the epilogue meets up to standards!
Haleth Broadbent: I was rather worried about that last chapter, as I personally think Sauron was rather beyond getting out of his little evil habits, so I'm happy to hear that it was good. In a way, I will miss getting to write those annoying little chaps, as I have been for over a year and a half! Thank you for reading the story.
Spoofmaster: I can't believe you didn't think the shirt would start conversations! Haha, well then. I could have told you they would. It's not something you see everyday. Is it fun awkward, though? Egads, yes… now that I'm off this, I can help make the Pott story into something of an equally obscene length, I'm sure. Perhaps I will clean chapter six today. That would be productive in a non-productive sort of way.
After the last few days of showers, the sunlight seemed incredibly bright to Haldir. For a while, he had been content to squint, but now his face was getting tired of that and he resorted to holding his hand above his eyes. Unfortunately, this did nothing to block the glitter of the sun off the water.
"You're sure they said today?" Rumil asked as he kicked at the grass a bit.
"Yes, I'm sure it was today," Haldir said, getting a bit irritated with this question. He had been asked it a multitude of times the last day or so.
There was silence once more as everybody scanned the horizon, looking for the ship that would sail in new arrivals from Middle-Earth. It was this ship that would be bringing Haldir's parents to Valinor.
While the family had been informed of the day they could expect their parents to reach Valinor, there had been no specific time. The closest it got was 'in the morning,' but that was woefully vague.
As a result, the household had been at the docks at sunrise, which had been a few hours ago.
It made sense that Rumil would be the one to pester about it; he was, after all, the youngest and most antsy. Well… Haldir glanced at Lalaith, who was younger than Rumil by about two decades, and reevaluated his statement to only note that Rumil was the most antsy.
Everybody else was getting along fine. As Orophin was there, he was able to keep Rumil from going completely insane from lack of activity. Elhith and Lalaith were sitting together near Orophin and Rumil, watching them attempt to make up some game that included two rocks, a stick, and a clump of grass.
Haldir watched thoughtfully as Lalaith spoke with Elhith. Lately, he had been having suspicions about those two. Within the last few months, he had noticed the subtle changes in their dealings with one another. Still, he had observed that Lalaith was much more hesitant, even though the whole incident with Sauron had been nearly six years before. At least she learned her lesson, Haldir figured, although he didn't fear anything from Elhith. He was as good an elf as any and didn't have a malicious bone in his body.
Sauron, on the other hand… well, he obviously did.
At that moment, in fact, Sauron was casually trying to convince Rumil and Orophin that it would be appropriate, given that there were two rocks, for each to take one and pelt it at the other. Haldir just shook his head as Rumil laughed maniacally and took both rocks, before running off with Orophin close behind.
"Iaewur is probably one of the most deranged individuals I have ever met," a voice at Haldir's side said with a trace of laughter.
Haldir turned and smiled at Raudwen, nodding. "Yes, he is that."
Raudwen tipped her head to the side in mock-thoughtfulness. "But even those sort of people have their uses, wouldn't you say?"
"Oh? And why would you think that?" Haldir queried in turn, trying to ignore the irony of her statement.
"Well…" She paused to tuck one of Haldir's errant braids - for his hair had, mercifully, grown out again with no ill effects - back behind his ear. "If he hadn't been around to drag you off to Eressea, there would have been little chance of us meeting, would there now?"
He smiled again at this and then caught her hand, kissing her fingers. "The likelihood would not have been very high," he agreed.
It seemed that Sauron had taken that moment to come their way. "Public displays of affection. How utterly vulgar," he said, shaking his head grimly.
Raudwen looked at Sauron, her chin jutting out as it always did before she did something defiant. As expected, she did do something, which ended up meaning that she kissed Haldir without any sort of warning.
While Haldir had no reservations against this, he knew that Sauron would goad him about it later.
Sadly, this 'later' came much sooner than Haldir would have liked. The moment Raudwen drew back, she curtseyed mockingly to Sauron before walking over to Lalaith, who had been sitting alone.
Haldir rubbed his neck and smiled meekly, knowing that he must have been completely red. It was no real surprise to him, therefore, when Sauron started to laugh at him.
Sighing, Haldir sat down and picked at the blades of grass while he waited for Sauron to get over it. Grass was pretty darn interesting, after all.
Sauron was still laughing when he sat down, but he was much more composed. "What are you going to do if she takes to acting up like that when it truly is inappropriate?" he asked, grinning.
"She only does things like that because of you," Haldir muttered. "If you weren't always taking on that chastising, reproachful manner around her, she wouldn't do things like that."
"And I would lack a large area from which I glean my amusement. Besides," Sauron said in what Haldir had long ago decided was his philosophical tone, "it wouldn't do for me to give her a false appearance, would it? I'm sure you don't want her to think I am an alright person and suddenly show my true colors, do you?"
"Well, you never gave me a chance to voice my opinion on the subject, so it doesn't matter terribly much, does it?"
"If I gave you a chance to voice your opinion, that would mean I'd have to listen to it," Sauron noted with a snort.
Haldir nodded. "Oh yes, and we wouldn't want that."
"Of course not." Sauron leaned back with his arms behind him and his legs now stretched in front. "But there really is no harm done. She keeps you on your toes, and that's good for you."
"I daresay," Haldir said, finally daring to smile.
Now Sauron yawned, rubbing one eye with the palm of his hand. "I wish I hadn't stayed up so late last night. It made this morning very ugly."
"You didn't have to stay up, you know."
"Of course I know!" Sauron snipped. "But, seeing as it was my first night of freedom, it seemed to warrant some celebration, so it was worth it. It's just annoying now."
Nodding, Haldir looked out over the water again. Yes, two days ago they had both been called to the Mahanaxar, but casually by letter rather than personal entourage. Once they were there, the Valar had given Sauron the ability to move about Valmar freely. He had, after all, been extremely well behaved, for him. They had expressed their surprise at his conduct, and had so decided that he could be allowed to go about Valmar, at least, although his original sentence said he couldn't for an age.
While Sauron had made a motion to regain some of his former power rather than be allowed freedom to go around Valmar, this had been quite flatly denied. He had given a rather irritated sounding sigh, but had not pressed the matter. When Haldir asked him about it later, Sauron had said that it would be better just to bide his time, as he knew they wouldn't change their minds until they were good and ready.
After telling Sauron of their new decision, they had also informed Haldir that his parents would be arriving in Valinor.
And so they were all there now, waiting for the ship to finally arrive. It was apparently taking its sweet, sweet time.
"I never did hear what exactly you did last night," Haldir noted.
"That would be because I never told you."
Looking at him, Haldir blinked slowly. "I realize that."
Sauron smiled, but made no indication that he planned to respond further.
"Why don't you just tell me what you did before I end up hearing about it in rumors."
"I assure you, I did nothing that warranted rumors," he finally replied, and then frowned. "Which really is a shame."
"What did you do then?" Haldir pressed.
"I went for a walk."
For a moment, Haldir thought there must have been some double meaning to this. "What does that mean?"
"It means that I walked. You know what that means, don't you? You've done it before."
"I know what walking is!" Haldir said indignantly. "I just didn't figure you'd do something that dull."
Sauron snorted. "I was perfectly content with it, as I got some time to examine the city on my own and think. It would only have been dull to those who are not capable of thinking on a level to keep themselves entertained. Such as you; you have to be doing something to fill up what you lack in thought."
Scoffing, Haldir turned away. "You fail to realize that I spent years at posts, completely alone for days on end."
"That must have been incredibly taxing on your abilities."
Haldir figured he wouldn't dignify the conversation anymore by replying. This only caused Sauron to laugh at him again.
Through this, Haldir remained silent. When Sauron's laughter tapered off, he humored Haldir and let him have his quiet. Every once and a while, the breeze would come up off the sea below the hill they were on and bring a wave of cool, salty air. The relief was temporary, though; the moment it was gone, the sun seemed hotter than before.
"It would figure that today would be cloudless," Sauron muttered. "The first sunny day this week, and we have to come out."
Haldir gave a small laugh. "It is pretty bright, but it's good for you. You don't go out nearly enough."
"And whose fault is that, pray tell?" Sauron rejoined, raising a brow.
"I don't think you'd go out even if I gave you the option. Besides, you could always come along to the weapons shop, if you were so bothered by not going places."
"That sounds like so much fun, sitting around while you teach little children archery." Sauron shrugged nonchalantly. "But that is not the problem at the moment. The thing is, it's just…" He looked up, squinting and blinking furiously at the sun overhead. "…It's so bright. And hot. You're not the one stuck with having a collared shirt."
"That is true," Haldir said with a short nod. "But that's your choice to wear them."
"Oh yes, because it would be preferable for me to go without," he stated dryly. "That would simplify things, I'm sure. Not start any uncomfortable conversations."
"You never know."
Sauron looked at him. "No, I actually do."
Haldir shrugged this time.
They both were quiet again, their attention turned back to the sea. It had not been very long before Sauron broke the silence. "I see the ship."
"No you don't," Haldir said, even as he searched the horizon. "Where?"
Sauron sat up and raised his hand. "Over there," he said, pointing to a place slightly to their left with his pinky. Haldir had found this habit rather amusing in the past, but had gotten so used to it by now that he didn't really notice.
Indeed there was a ship, although it had taken a couple minutes before it had gotten close enough for Haldir to make out. "I'd say it would take two hours, at the least," Sauron reasoned.
With an aggravated sigh, Haldir stood up and brushed the grass from his tunic. "Well, I'm hungry and sick of being out here at the moment. Do you want me to pick something up for you, or would you like to come along?"
Sauron seemed to consider this, and then stood up. "I'll come along."
They found the others, who had all congregated together down by the shore, and told them of their plans. Haldir was suddenly quite glad that Sauron had chosen to come along; there were many requests for various things, and he knew there was no way he could remember them all.
The next half hour was spent looking for a vendor who would allow their dishes and such to be taken back to everybody else and figuring out how to carry seven meals between the two of them. In the end, both things were accomplished, and the food was distributed and eaten.
So, by the time all of that was done and the plates returned, it had worked out to be roughly two hours. Haldir suggested that they should go down to the docks then, as he noticed that there seemed to be a few groups going that way.
By the time they had navigated their way down the slope and onto the docks with the other people, the boat had made it into the harbor. That being the case, it was only a matter of minutes before it was moored to the dock and the gangway set up.
The first people off the boat was a group of little children, who ran down the gangway while looking in almost every direction at once, giving little gasps and cries of wonder at everything around them. They were followed by a few couples that were clearly the parents from the ranging emotions of mild embarrassment to exasperation or slight amusement their faces betrayed. After these there was no clear order; it was simply everybody disembarking as quickly as they could. There were many exclamations of surprise by those getting off at the faces they found waiting for them, and the dock was quickly full of the chatter of people as they sought to catch up with each other in the shortest amount of time possible.
Finally, nearly at the end, Haldir saw his mother and father. They were talking together as they looked around the docks and nearby city, clearly not planning on a reception.
So, it probably was a shock when they stepped off the gangway and were accosted by Rumil and Orophin.
Orophin swung an arm over their father's shoulder, smiling at the astonishment on his face. Rumil, meanwhile, had picked up their mother and spun her around.
"Rumil!" she gasped and then, even though spinning, noticeably frowned. "Put me down!"
"Aren't you glad to see me, Mother?" Rumil asked, grinning as he let go of her.
She steadied herself, and then sent him one of her wilting 'mother' looks.
"Ooh… that's good," Sauron whispered to Haldir. "I'm impressed."
Haldir had to fight down a laugh at this, knowing that if his mother caught him laughing at what she would obviously assume to be Rumil's tactics, the look would be directed at him.
"Are you all here…?" their father asked, looking at everybody.
"Yes, and then some," Orophin replied, releasing his shoulder as they approached.
"They all came out to see us?" their mother questioned, a smile breaking across her face instantly.
Lalaith now went and hugged them both, whispering things to them that Haldir couldn't hear. After that, Haldir figured that it must have been his turn to greet them. They both expressed their surprise and elation to see him out of Mandos already, a subject Haldir carefully skirted.
Both parents were practically beaming now, looking at all their children happily, when Haldir figured that he should make some introductions. "This is Elhith," he said, nodding at Elhith, who had been the closest to their father and therefore the most logical to introduce first. "He helped me get accustomed to Valinor after I was released."
The classic pleasantries were exchanged, Elhith living up to his amiable mood as always.
Next would be Raudwen, as she was in front with Haldir. Naturally, Sauron had chosen to be in the very back, as far removed as possible.
He gave Raudwen's hand, which he had been holding, a gentle squeeze. She interpreted this and, after touching his arm comfortingly, stepped forward with him.
It was very hard for Haldir to ignore the look his parents gave each other, as he could clearly read what it said and found it rather embarrassing. He had made no secret of his distaste for relationships when he had been in Lothlorien, even though his parents had insisted that he would come around eventually. That being the case, the look plainly said "well, well, well, what do you know?"
His mother might have realized Haldir's unease, and gave a small smile. "And who is this?"
Haldir glanced at Raudwen, who smiled at him, and then turned back to his parents. "This is Raudwen…" He paused for a moment to swallow. "… my betrothed."
Raudwen had been about to curtsey but, after a gasp, Haldir's mother quickly pulled her into a hug. "If you are to be family, there is no need for such formalities," she explained with a smile. She then held Raudwen at arm's length to look at her. "I always knew that Haldir would learn to have some taste eventually."
"Mother!" Haldir hissed, utterly mortified.
Raudwen, however, merely laughed, and took the other woman's hands. "Well, I wouldn't pass that judgment so quickly," she said, looking back at Haldir, who was still too distressed to speak.
"Nonsense," his mother dismissed, continuing to grin from ear to ear. Her smile softened a bit, and she added more seriously, "It truly is wonderful to meet you. If you were able to get that boy to change his views, you must be a special woman indeed."
With another small laugh, Raudwen greeted Haldir's father, who was much more appropriate, or so Haldir felt. The flush in his face had barely receded when they had finished speaking.
Now Haldir was a bit thankful that Sauron had been in the back, for his introduction would take some of the attention off Haldir. Clearing his throat, Haldir motioned to Sauron, who paused a moment before stepping forward. "And this is Iaewur."
Sauron, who could always play the part with great flourish if he felt moved to do so, bowed. "It is an honor to finally meet you," he said genteelly.
Both parents seemed a bit taken aback, but also quite pleased. "And how do you know him, Haldir?" asked his mother, her smile appearing again.
"He is my friend," Haldir said simply, surprising himself at how smoothly that had come out. It wasn't something he had ever said before, and yet there it had been. There hadn't been a pause or anything.
It took him a second to realize that the ease it had taken to speak the statement had been because it was true. And for once, the thought didn't really bother him that much.
"Well, I'm sure we shall be seeing much more of you then, Iaewur?"
Sauron nodded. "You will no doubt get sick of my company rather quickly. Haldir and I have been practically inseparable, haven't we?"
Haldir could tell by the quirk of Sauron's lip that he was trying not to laugh, something Haldir found himself attempting as well. But, as nobody - except Lalaith and Elhith - would understand the rather bitter humor that went with that statement, it was better not to laugh.
A happy chatter rose up now that all the introductions had been made. Raudwen leaned against him as they left the docks, sighing happily, and Haldir couldn't help but smile. While it had been a pleasant reunion, he couldn't say exactly why he couldn't keep the smile from his face.
It was then that he understood that everything had classically fallen into place. His family was all safe and together again. Lalaith's attention to Elhith made it clear that she had healed. Haldir himself was to marry the only woman he had ever cared for in such a way. And Sauron had, apparently, permanently settled for annoying rather than evil. That was a nice change.
After years of being on the edge of his sanity with worry and stress, Haldir finally felt like everything was where it should be. He could see the path of the future clearly before him.
He couldn't, however, see the path he was physically walking very clearly. A large clump of grass had been stuck in the road, perfectly positioned to catch his foot.
While Raudwen had been able to keep him from falling, she could do nothing about the laughter that came from Orophin and Rumil. "Why don't you look where you're going?" Rumil asked, still laughing at him.
Haldir picked up the grass, although Raudwen had protested weakly, and made to throw it at Rumil.
Suddenly, however, he discovered himself lacking the grass. Looking back, he found Sauron shaking his head. "That is not the way to solve your problems," he said calmly.
Haldir gaped at him. "Oh, please! Give me the grass back!"
"No." He had a forced-peaceful expression on his face, his eyes closed. "You can't use the grass." Slowly he opened his eyes, a impish smile crossing his face. "But you can use a rock."
A rock now replaced the grass. Haldir looked at it, frowning. "That's really horrible, you know."
"Yes, of course," Sauron agreed.
Haldir grinned and then tore off after his siblings, the small rock firmly in his grasp.
Raudwen shook her head at them. "If it weren't for you, I do believe he'd be a perfect gentleman."
Sauron laughed. "Well, we wouldn't want that, would we?" he asked her as they caught up with the group.
"It wouldn't be as interesting, I suppose," she acknowledged.
"No," Sauron said, watching with mild satisfaction as Haldir successfully hit Rumil in the back. "No it wouldn't."