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WARNING: CONTAINS MENTIONS OF MPREG, CHILD LOSS AND GIL-GALAD/ELROND. And while I’m at it, I’ll throw an AU warning in there too.Standard AU, Ereinion reborn and thus alive during the second age. But, like Family, this is not necessarily the same AU as FLTF.This fic also contains Little!Estel, lots of wonderful angst and even a bit of fluff. …Does that a redemption make? :DSilaren and Pumpkin are mine, everyone else is Tolkien’s.Elrond sighed and leant against the ornate marble post at the top of the stairs, wrapping his left arm around the post and his right around his midsection. He rested his cheek against the back of his left hand and watched as the four-year-old Estel tried to teach Pumpkin, Ereinion’s ginger cat, how to fetch. Ordinarily he would have found it funny because not only was Pumpkin a cat and not a dog – and therefore not in the habit of learning tricks, – the child was talking to her in Common when Pumpkin only understood Elvish. However, today there was no room in Elrond’s mind for anything but dark musings. The shade under the verandah contrasted sharply with the bright sunlit courtyard, mirroring the shadows in his head that could not be dispelled even by Estel’s sunny innocence.If he knew who he really is, would he act differently? Does he know that as much as I might wish it, he is not truly my child? Would I have taken him in if my own child had lived? Would Gilraen have it asked it of me? How long can I keep his heritage secret? How long until he decides he is man enough to follow his destiny? Will he ever follow his destiny?Elrond’s thoughts plagued him, just as they had done for most of the previous night and all of that morning. Thoughts of what the child’s future had in store, how young he would be when, inevitably, he would leave home and discover what the world was really like, and come back changed. Elrond did not want that to happen. He had seen that happen to too many people and he wanted to keep Estel from the suffering for as long as possible.His initial hesitancy in taking in the young heir of Gondor went deeper than Estel’s heritage. It was neither the fact that Estel was Elros’ descendant, nor that he was human that bothered the elf Lord: they were not reasons to keep the young human at a distance; they were reasons to love him all the more.No, Elrond’s reasons were of his own failings. The consistency of his inability to produce viable offspring, and thus make use of the ‘gift’ he had been given.”Elrond?”The half-elf turned his head slightly to the right at the sound of his name, although he already knew that it was Ereinion emerging through the front doors. The former King stepped up behind Elrond and wrapped his arms tightly around the younger elf’s waist, resting his chin on Elrond’s shoulder and cradling him slightly.”What are you thinking about?”Elrond sighed and leaned into the embrace, turning his head to look at Ereinion as best as he could. “You know, people will see,” he said softly.”Mmmm,” Ereinion murmured as he tightened his hold on Elrond’s waist and pressed a kiss to the half-elf’s neck. “Let them see. I don’t care.”Elrond laughed softly, returning his gaze to the small human. He had deliberately avoided answering Ereinion’s question but knew that the other elf would not relent until he got an answer. Ereinion could tell that Elrond was not just letting his mind drift; he was brooding.Ereinion followed Elrond’s gaze and said softly, “You didn’t answer my question.”Elrond pulled away from Ereinion’s warm embrace and turned to face his lover, changing position so he leant with his back against the pillar and his hands folded behind his lower back. “I was thinking about children,” he said finally, watching for Ereinion’s reaction.”Human children or children in general?” Ereinion asked, gesturing towards Estel.Elrond shook his head with a slight smile. “Actually, it was our children that I was thinking about.””Our children?” Ereinion repeated, scrunching up his face. “We don’t have any. Well, not biological ones,” he added.Elrond looked up at the older elf. “Exactly. That’s what I was thinking about.”He looked back at Estel and Pumpkin, and suddenly appeared very young to Ereinion. It seemed that, as Ereinion watched, the courtyard of the Last Homely House fell away and was replaced with the second-floor balcony of Lindon Hall. Elrond was standing in the same position, had the same loose, unbound hairstyle, the same expression on his face and in his eyes. Doubtless he was brooding over the same thing that he had been all of those years ago. His high-necked robes were in a different style, but the silk brocade they were made from was the same salmon colour. Essentially, the only differences between this day and that one were that it was hundreds of years later, in a different Age and a different city. And they had another child to mourn.And, of course, Elrond had been staring broodingly out to sea on that particular occasion, and here there obviously was no sea. The former King blinked and shook his head slightly, returning his mind to Rivendell. Despite all the changes that had occurred since then, it still seemed that Elrond’s 103-year-old counterpart stood in front of him. Ereinion suppressed a sigh, knowing what Elrond was thinking. The infant’s death had not been Elrond’s fault, both elves knew that, but Elrond still blamed himself. He always did, wondering if it had been his fault, some factor of his genetic makeup that was not compatible with Ereinion’s, or a defect caused by his mixed heritage that rendered their potential offspring unviable. Something that he had or had not done that would have affected the outcome.Ereinion stepped closer to Elrond and slid an arm around his waist. The half-elf leaned into the embrace. He had, like most of the boys in his line, inherited the ability to conceive. Neither of them were quite sure where it had originated, but they did not question it, simply glad that this ability negated the need for them to enter into political marriages in order to beget heirs, as it allowed them to, theoretically, beget one of their own.But theory was one thing and practise was another. Conception was not a problem, that happened easily; it was gestation that proved difficult. Of their five pregnancies, only two had gone fully to term: the most recent had been one of those two. During the final two months Elrond had been very ill, and they did not know if the illness was caused by complications with the pregnancy, or if the illness itself caused the complications. At any rate, it had turned an ordinarily high-risk pregnancy into an intensive-care, 24-hour-vigil case. As it got closer to his time the half-elf had gotten sicker and sicker, and it got to the point that Ereinion refused to leave his side, no matter how the twins and Cra tried to convince him to take a break.Two days prior to the due date and one night before the surgical delivery was scheduled, Elrond had woken up in excruciating pain, bleeding profusely. The illness had already dangerously weakened him, and his body had been unable to handle the added stress of labour. He had quickly fallen into a coma as his body started to shut down, protecting itself from overload. Aurellias had started the surgery immediately, knowing that he could not hesitate if they were to be saved.However, despite his quick-thinking and immense skill, he was not able to save them both.Three hours into the operation he had come out of the room and approached Ereinion with an expression of grave horror. He could only save one, and Ereinion had to choose.The former King closed his eyes against the memory and unconsciously tightened his grip on the half-elf. Even though he desperately wanted a child of his own, it had not been a hard decision. He had chosen Elrond, and even if they never had any children, he would not regret that choice. He simply could not live with only half of his heart and soul.A month after the birth, while Elrond was still recovering, Gilraen had arrived in Imladris with nothing but her two-year-old son and a small bag of baby clothes. She knew that her village could not stave off their attackers for much longer, and it was not safe for Aragorn to stay there. She could not bear to leave her husband to protect their home all on his own, so she travelled to Imladris to beseech Elrond to take Aragorn in and raise him, as he had done with most of the child’s ancestors. Elrond sent reinforcements with her when she returned, even though no one expected the battle to be victorious. Still aching from the physical and emotional pain of losing his own child, Elrond had eventually agreed to take Aragorn in, even though he felt guilty at so easily accepting a substitute for the son he had lost. Since then, Estel had been treated as if he truly was an Imladrian prince, and Elrond seemed to have resigned himself to the fact that he was as close to a biological child as they would ever get. Even the name Elrond gave him, Estel, spoke volumes.Ereinion opened his eyes again, and as the two elves watched, Estel glanced up from his current activity and waved at them, smiling. The half-elf returned the wave and smiled a touch, before letting the smile drop when Estel looked away.”Medui estel: last hope. And not just for Men. The last hope, perhaps, for us as well.” Elrond’s voice was quiet, so much so that Ereinion barely heard him.”Last hope?”Elrond laughed bitterly. “We should have five children. And yet, we have none. I have the twins and the girls, and we are raising Estel, but technically he is not ours.”Ereinion frowned. “So?”Elrond exhaled. “What if we are destined to never have children of our own? Children that are biologically yours and mine. It is possible, and yet it never comes to fruition. Why? Because it is not meant to.””Perhaps,” Ereinion suggested, “it is just not the right time.””Then why do the Valar allow it to happen?”The former King shrugged. This was a familiar argument. “Maybe things happen or may happen that at the time they were not aware of. It does happen, you know. They are not all-powerful and Ilvatar does not reveal everything to them, and sometimes it is simply Nature herself who interferes with the higher plans.”Elrond sighed. “I know,” he admitted quietly. “And I would forgive them that if it did not hurt so much.”Ereinion kissed Elrond’s temple. “Everything does happen for a reason, and perhaps it is better this way.”Elrond glanced at him sharply.”Think about Silaren,” Ereinion explained. “If she had survived, you would not have been able to fight in the Great War, and would not have witnessed my death. Would not that have been worse? Each day, waiting and hoping for my return and when you finally hear the horns and see the banners flying in the wind, you learn that I am no longer alive. You would not have been there the one time you truly needed to be and it would haunt you the rest of your life.” His voice had grown quiet but it returned to its normal timbre when he continued, “And it is likely that if you had a child with me, you wouldn’t have married Celebran; and that would be a sad loss, for the children you have with her will do great things.”What his lover had said was true, Elrond acknowledged. “I think perhaps I would not have been so willing to take in a two-year-old human with a newborn to look after, regardless of who said two-year-old human was.””Exactly.” Ereinion’s other arm encircled Elrond’s waist and the King held him close. “All children are blessings, in whatever way they are granted to us.”Elrond smiled. “I was the one that said that to you.””You were,” Ereinion agreed. “You should listen to your own advice. It’s good.”They both watched Estel for a few moments, and then Ereinion once more spoke, “He needs to be a good warrior and a good King, like your brother was. No one else could raise him to be thus.””I know.”Another kiss to his temple. “Besides, he is your distant nephew. If it were possible to medically test lineage, the results would undoubtedly say you are family. His ears might just be an accidental legacy from your human ancestors. His green eyes might be inherited from me. He does not remember his human parents; we are the only parents he will ever know. There is no reason why he cannot be considered biologically ours.””Except then he would not be of the line of Isildur.””No, he would be of the line of E?rendil, which is considerably more noble.”Elrond just shook his head with an amused smile and focused his attention once more on the human he had taken into his care. Ereinion had always been the more optimistic of the two of them, and was good at making Elrond see his side. His lover’s words had quietened most of his doubts, except one. They were in the Third Age, and with the events that would come to pass in the near future, it was likely that it was drawing to an end. Both he and Ereinion had been born during the First Age: that made them over 6000 years old, Ereinion’s death notwithstanding. Elrond could not help but wonder if, in this respect, they were perhaps past their prime.”We are not old, my love,” Ereinion said, his lips close to Elrond’s ear. “There is still hope. And time.”Elrond took a moment to wonder whether Ereinion was somehow reading his mind. “There are barely any more elves left. Our time is coming to an end.””That will not happen for decades – the entire lifetime of a normal human. Men are restricted to such short lives and yet they manage to have scores of children.””I know,” Elrond said again. “But I am tired. Tired of the excitement, of hoping and anticipating, only to have those hopes dashed. If I was a human woman and had experienced this many failed attempts, I would be told that I am infertile.””But you are not a human woman,” Ereinion said. “And you would not have been given this ability if it would serve no purpose.””Once upon a time I thought the purpose of it was so that you could have a legitimate heir of your own body without having to enter a political, loveless marriage.””Elrond,” Ereinion said, tone incredulous, “I don’t blame you for the fact that I don’t have an heir, and you shouldn’t blame yourself either. Surely you are not still beating yourself up about that?””No,” Elrond conceded with a sigh.”Then stop finding excuses!” Ereinion chastised. “It will happen when it’s meant to happen. Trust me.””You know I do.””Good.”The slight breeze turned colder and a cloud drifted over the sun. The two elves on the verandah and the child in the courtyard looked up at the spot where the sun had been a moment before. Estel shivered in his short tunic and pants, and unceremoniously scooped Ereinion’s cat into his arms before moving towards his parents.Pumpkin wrestled himself out of Estel’s arms and haughtily stalked inside, annoyed at the indignity of his journey up the stairs. He decided that he had earned some pampering after that and went off in search of Erestor, who was sure to oblige him. Estel watched him go, and then shrugged and held his arms out to Elrond, who took the hint and lifted him up, setting the child on his hip.”Ada?” the boy asked, looking at both of the elves so they knew he meant both of them.”Yes, Estel?””I love you.”Elrond smiled and held him tighter, and Ereinion wrapped his arms around both of them.”We love you too, Estel,” he replied.”You’ll always be my parents.”Elrond and Ereinion shared a glance, both of them a little teary at the admission. Elrond kissed the top of the boy’s head as it lay on his shoulder, and Ereinion’s earlier comment came back to him. All children are blessings, in whatever way they are granted to us. He decided that it did not matter whether Estel was biologically his child – after all, out of the elves that he counted as his family, only his four children were closely related by blood. Heritage was not important; the only thing that mattered was love. And he did love the boy. They both did. Elrond smiled and held Estel closer.”And you’ll always be our son.”

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