Summary: Legolas visits Estel in Imladris and finds that his friend is no longer the child he once knew and comes to a startling realization.

Chapter 1: The Children Are Home

Legolas was due to arrive at the Last Homely House any minute now. The sentries had signaled his passage into the valley not so long ago and various members of the household had eagerly come out to greet him. Elrond smiled to himself as he descended the elegant staircase into the courtyard of the main entrance. It had not been too long since the prince's last visit by the reckoning of the Elves, but the last eight years had seemed an age to his mortal son. The faithful and frequent correspondence between them had seen a unique friendship blossom between the young prince and Estel and this reunion had been carefully planned and anxiously anticipated for months and months. Estel and the twins were just newly returned from a long campaign up North with the Dunedain and the recent lull in spider-activity had finally allowed Legolas a well-earned respite from princely duties and patrol in the southern reaches of Taur-e-Ndaedelos.

Elrond loved the young prince like one of his own. An ache rose in his chest as he regarded the familiar figure riding swiftly up the path, the rider's streaming hair glowing a radiant golden hue in the late afternoon sun. Legolas was still considered a youth by the standards of their people, yet growing up amidst the ever-encroaching darkness in Mirkwood, he had seen and experienced far more than many seasoned warriors from the other Elven realms. Thranduil may not have entirely approved of the friendship that had sprung up between his young son and Elrond's mortal fosterling, but upon seeing the light it brought to his child's eyes, seeing that brightness so dimmed by constant battle rekindled, Thranduil gladly sent his son to Imladris when the invitation came, hoping that the tranquility of the Last Homely House and the companionship of Elrond's lively sons might grant Legolas a measure of peace in these troubled times.

Almost there, Legolas whispered to his faithful mount. It had been a largely uneventful journey across the Hithaeglir. He had only spotted orcs once and it had been easy enough to evade their detection. The giant spiders had been unusually reticent of late too and his father had taken the opportunity to send him off to Imladris as message bearer, telling him that he was under no obligation to return before the leaves began to fall. On the one hand, he disliked his father's overprotectiveness and felt guilty leaving his patrol but he appreciated the concern and an opportunity to visit with Estel again was not to be passed up.

He had first met Elrond's foster son during a visit to the Last Homely House years ago, and had been very taken with the adorably inquisitive toddler who had in turn grown much attached to him. Over the years, they had kept up a faithful correspondence and he had watched as the childish scribbles had given way to insightful epistles which he eagerly received and wrote lengthy replies to, sharing his own inner thoughts and cares with a mortal youth he had come to love as a brother.

They had managed to see each other a few more times in between, but nothing had prepared Legolas for what awaited him upon his arrival.

Where there once had been a gangly adolescent youth, there now stood a tall young man full grown and dressed in the manner of Dunedain. The dark, waist-long mane had been cut into a messy riot of short curls. Smooth cheeks and gentle chin had given way to rough-shaven stubble and a strong, square jawline. Once carefree, innocent silver eyes had taken on a worldly glimmer, though they still shone vibrantly as ever.

Still staring at the man who stood at the very front of the assembled group, Legolas dismounted swiftly and came to stand before the young ranger, the astonishment clearly written all over his fair face.

"Mae Govannen, Legolas," Estel grinned. "Don't you recognize me?"

"Estel," Legolas whispered with a widening grin of his own. "It really is you!"

The two friends flung their arms around one another and heartily embraced, laughing with unrestrained joy.

"Of course it's me. Have I changed so much?"

Before Legolas could reply, Lord Elrond stepped forward with a smile and the two youngsters turned to face him.

"Oh but where are my manners! Mae Govannen, Lord Elrond," said Legolas with a short bow. "I bring you my father's fond regards and my humble thanks for your gracious hospitality in having me here once again."

"You are welcome anytime, Legolas my child. I am glad to have you beneath my roof once more." Elrond took his forearm in the traditional warrior's greeting before drawing him in for a warm embrace.

"You have had a long journey. I shall let my sons show you to your room so you may freshen up before evening meal. It is wonderful that you have come, penneth. You have been missed."

Glorfindel and Erestor stepped forward to greet the prince but they did not get much beyond "Mae Govanen" when twin forms barreled down the stairs and all but tackled the young prince to the floor with twin shouts of "Legolas! You're here!"

Elrond, Glorfindel and Erestor smiled knowing smiles and shook their heads at the enthusiastic welcome they had gotten used to over the years.

"Don't tire out our guest now. See him to his rooms and try to stay out of trouble, hmm?"

Receiving a variety of cheerful grins and "yessirs" and "yes, adas" they made their way back into the house with parental bemusement, leaving the youngsters to sort themselves out and get the prince to his rooms.

"I see you refused your father's escort this time round, Tithen Las." Elladan couldn't help but point out as he hefted one of Legolas' packs and began making his way down the corridors to the residential wing of the grand house.

Legolas' face darkened a bit. "Ada means well but I'm no elfling to be protected and wrapped in swaddling clothes."

"No?" jibed Elrohir with a wicked smirk.

Playful blue eyes narrowed swiftly as Legolas leaned over to smack the offender.

"No! And I'll thank you kindly for not bringing up that epithet again, Elladan!"

"Aww, but you're still a little leaflet. Even Estel here is taller than you now!"

The ensuing melee of arms and legs did not bear witnessing and it was a characteristically and cheerfully disheveled foursome that delivered Legolas and his belongings to his customary suite overlooking the serene valley of Imladris.

A little ways away, Elrond stood upon a high balcony, letting the sounds of laughter and merry companionship drift up to him over the soothing spray of the waterfalls. A sweet song rose in his heart as the peace of tinnu settled over the valley.

The children are homeā€¦