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Second Chances

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Extraordinarily, Imladris was bursting with activity. And it was not the kind of activity Liv was used to. Elves were whispering as she passed them by, the warriors were on edge, and Gandalf looked positively murderous.

Frodo was brought to Imladris barely hanging on to life. Had it not been for Glorfindel's timely rescue, and Cristiel's skill as a rider, he would not have reached the House of Elrond in time.

But the most pressing issue was one only a select few were most concerned with. While the rest of Imladris whispered about how troubled Lord Glorfindel and his warriors seemed to be after an unusually eventful patrol, and the warriors worried about how close the Ringwraiths had come to their borders, Lord Elrond and Gandalf were outraged.

The Ring was nowhere to be found.

"Find it! Find it before the servants of the Enemy get their hands on it." Lord Elrond ordered Astorion. Not even ten minutes since the patrol came back and they were already speeding off once more to locate it. In Erestor's office, Glorfindel was pressing Cristiel with questions.

"You are sure it did not slip from his pocket while you rode here?"

"My lord, I promise you, I would have noticed."

Erestor was there as well, and he squinted at Cristiel as she explained herself. "None of your warriors took it?"

Cristiel's back stiffened, but it was Glorfindel who answered, "My warriors would never do such a dishonorable thing! They know what is at stake."

"Someone has to have taken it."

"I admire your skill of grasping the obvious." Glorfindel rolled his eyes.

Erestor frowned, "You don't think..."

He and Cristiel exchanged looks, but before Glorfindel could ask what the look between them meant, Cristiel shook her head. "It wouldn't be possible."

Erestor doubted there were still many things that were impossible given all that has happened.

In the healing ward, Anorvain was sitting on a chair, while Arwen stood in front of him and Rossien redressed his bandage.

"But what if one of the other Hobbits have it? It would make sense. Frodo is injured, so one of them may have volunteered to take the Ring." Arwen said to Anorvain. It was she who was standing by him in the infirmary, while Rossien checked his wound. It didn't look any worse. It didn't release a foul stench nor was it red with inflammation. But Astorion and the others insisted on sending Anorvain there to be looked at, after what happened by the river. Perhaps the wound was still infected, they said, best not to take chances. Humans are such fragile creatures.

"We already asked. Frodo never let the Ring go." Anorvain said, in answer to Arwen's question.

"Where is Liv? Should she not be here?"

The look on Arwen's face as Rossien asked such an innocent question was unreadable, and certainly not something Anorvain would forget for a long time.

While thinly veiled chaos erupted in Imladris, Liv was blisfully unaware in her room, her door bolted so as not to be disturbed. She sat in bed, still in the heavy dress she wore when she trekked through the woods with Anorvain. Her hair was messy, some of the strands had broken free of her braid, and her dress had left mud tracks on her sheets. But she sat there, with the Ring in her hand as she turned it over, watching the sunlight reflect off it.

It was beautiful. Simple, elegant, precious even.

Put in on, a strange voice in her head would say. Sometimes, it felt as if it was coming from the Ring itself.

But the stubborn part of her, the part that refused to do things just because other people told her to, restrained herself. She didn't need to put it on. She just wanted to admire it, protect it. What would putting it on do?

See for yourself. See if it can lead you home.

Home.

What a bizarre word. Her home had been Imladris for the past four months. Before that, home was Caladir and Ethuilien and the Angle. What was home to her, anymore?

New York is home.

Her fist closed around the Ring. New York. New York where her parents were separated and she had friends who simply loved her name and her money. But New York had been her home for the longest time. Maybe going back would be what she needed. There would be no Elves, no Sauron, no Middle-earth. It would have plumbing, and an easy life, and her parents may still get back together. She could have that gallery she's always wanted to put up. And maybe she'd feel less lonely, less isolated. And if she didn't, she'd at least be able to drown it out with all the alcohol she could get her hands on and music that almost deafened her.

"Liv?"

Her hands were back in their pockets. Thank God the door was bolted.

"Just a second." Liv called, shrugging off the dirty surcoat of her dress and kicking it behind the door. She was left standing in a loose, white underdress, the sleeves of which went down to her elbows. She opened the door to let Arwen in.

It took one look at the mud and the grass on the floor, and the tear tracks on Liv's cheeks for Arwen's heart to squeeze in pity.

"Is something wrong?" Arwen asked, mildly, as Liv cast a furtive look at something behind the door.

"Nothing. I'm just tired." It never occured to Arwen before how easy it was for Liv to lie, but she had always seen through it. She may not be able to read thoughts like her daernaneth, but she could still sense someone's intentions well enough for her to recognize when someone was lying to her. Arwen tried to keep a straight face. Liv turned away to wipe the tears on her face. She hated letting others see her cry.

"Well. I imagine you would be. You travelled by foot from Imladris to the Ford and back."

"In a heavy dress, mind you. I think all that cardio work-out is paying off, or I would be crawling towards my bed right now." Liv laughed, her voice still thick with emotion.

Arwen laughed as well, "Do you think you could manage going to the Great Hall with me? I'm assuming you're hungry."

"I am. I would like to wash first, though."

"Of course." Arwen said, sitting at the foot of Liv's bed while she went to the basin to wash her hands, face and hair. There were scented oils there, and a soft towel.

For a long time, there was only silence, broken only by the tinkle of the water in the basin as Liv washed. Arwen did not miss the dress she had given Liv crumpled by the door. Another strange thing, for she knew Liv was always careful with the things given to her, so to see that pile so carelessly thrown there was suspicious, to say the least. And the itching suspicion Arwen first felt grew. There was something dark in the room, and it was more than just Liv's deception.

"Is there anything you're hiding from me?"

There was the sound of glass shattering and the strong scent of flowers. Liv was not clumsy, but she had somehow managed to knock down the tray of scented oils by the basin.

"No, hiril nin." Liv answered, too quickly. She wasn't, strictly speaking, hiding her Ring. She just didn't want to show it to anyone yet. What if it really could take her home? And what if they took it from her before she could see what it could do? Hell, if Elves existed here, why not magic, too? Arwen's expression darkened.

"Liv, have you ever successfully lied to me?"

Liv kept her back turned. Arwen's voice was icy. Arwen of all people. But Liv did not know what was wrong. She shouldn't have to feel guilty. She found the Ring by the river. It was hers. She only wanted to keep it to herself to protect it. Maybe because a part of her did believe in magic, and maybe that Ring was magical and it could bring her back home. She knew it was magic that brought her to Middle-earth, perhaps it would be magic that would bring her back to New York.

"Liv." Arwen insisted, her voice low. It was like listening to Elladan's dangerous voice back when they were strangers and he and Elrohir thought she was a spy. It was the kind of voice they used against those they did not trust. When Liv did not answer, Arwen continued, "Glorfindel once said you were a sign of hope for us. A sign of a good future for Middle-earth, with free people. He said you were special. I hope he is not wrong. I hope he is right when he said you are a blessing and not a warning."

That hurt. That cut deeper than it should have. But beneath the hurt was rage, and indignance. She had trusted her life to the Elves of Imladris. How Arwen could just turn against her so quickly for no reason at all felt too much like a betrayal. The Ring she found was none of their business. And if they wanted to make it so, they would have to do it when she is safely back home. Back in New York.

"Actually, I think I'm not hungry." Was Liv's soft answer.

Arwen stood, "Very well, I will go."

And with that, she left. Liv waited for several seconds until she could no longer feel the judgment of Arwen's gaze, when she could no longer feel the elleth's presence in the room, taking up the air. When she was sure Arwen was gone, she bolted the door close, and immediately went to the dirty pile of her dress on the ground, searching frantically for the precious Ring.

She sat on the ground, clutching the Ring and holding it to her chest.

Put it on. Put it on and maybe the pain will vanish. Put it on and the memory of Caladir and Ethuilien and Elladan would fade away.

Liv wasn't exactly happy back in New York. But at least there, she also wasn't aware of how incredibly unhappy she was. Maybe that was better. Maybe it could help. Maybe everything she lost, all the lives that were taken, maybe she could forget all that. What was the point of life if it was only full of pain, anyway?

---

"Liv has it. I could feel the Ring's power and pull on her. It was heavy in the room, as well. It whispers to her even now."

The look of fury on Lord Elrond's face was terrifying. He stood, leaning on his desk with Anorvain, Aragorn and Arwen around him. Gandalf was currently in Frodo's room, which was perhaps a good thing. Anorvain did not doubt he would have turned Liv into a toad if Arwen announced that she had the Ring in his presence.

Arwen had just come from Liv's chambers, and found Anorvain talking with Aragorn on the way to her father's study. She had told them it was best they follow her, and when Arwen said she thought she knew where the Ring might be, the looks on their faces fell. Anorvain looked crushed.

"My lord, I am sure there's an explanation..." Anorvain said, weakly but he was cut off by the cold glare Lord Elrond sent his way.

"I have cared for her, sheltered her, fed and clothed her. And here Arwen tells me Olivia has stolen the Ring."

"My lord, I assure you--"

"What do you know of this girl, Anorvain?" Aragorn said, his voice even.

"Father and mother took care of her. She stayed with them for two months after the twins found her by the river where the first settlement was attacked. She had no family, nowhere to go--she couldn't even speak our language."

"And how can you be certain the spies of Sauron did not put her there? How do you know she did not act confused simply to get herself to Imladris, to get close to ada? It is too much of a coincidence that she was there during two of the worst attacks the Dúnedain have had to suffer." Aragorn said.

"No!" Anorvain said, firmly. "No! I would stake my life on it, she is no servant of Sauron! She had every chance to betray us but she didn't! She does not have evil intentions. Arwen, hiril nin," he turned to her, "you know Liv. You know she's not a servant of Sauron. She cannot be! You know how unique her experience is."

Anorvain refused to believe Liv was anything close to ill-intentioned. She had lost so much, had shed tears for his parents. She cared for them, as well as the settlement. He knew that Liv's experiences were genuine. No servant of Sauron would have shown him sincerity and vulnerability the way Liv had.

Aragorn and Lord Elrond turned to Arwen, ever waiting for her wisdom. She was like her mother and grandmother, after all, fair and rational. Like Galadriel, she had a sense of what people's thoughts were.

"I do not think she is evil. But the Ring is. She is mortal and young. Beneath all that, I still sense deep sadness in her. Kings with stronger will, with more knowledge of what the Ring can do, with more awareness of what is at stake have succumbed to its power. I cannot blame her for being tempted. But she is vulnerable and its evil can corrupt her completely if we do not act quickly."

"She stole the Ring. Not just any Ring of Power, the Ring. The One Ring to rule them all." Aragorn said.

"And Bilbo Baggins stole it as well as the Arkenstone. Do we judge him as harshly for not realizing the full power of the Ring?" Arwen said.

"Bilbo Baggins had no knowledge of the Ring whatsoever. We explained to Liv what it was and how dangerous it is if it fell in the wrong hands and she took it anyway." Lord Elrond said. He sighed and leaned forward to place his elbows on his desk, his fingers steepled. "But I do not think the Ring will stay with her for long. Sadness and confusion can only motivate someone so much before they get tired and give up. It is not as strong a motivator as greed or ambition. It will want to break free from her eventually, and its hold on her may yet be weak enough for us to convince her to give it up."

"Let me talk to her." Anorvain almost sounded like he was pleading, "She is like a sister to me. She... Liv is not a thief. She just needs guidance, my lord."

"She needs more than that, I believe." Aragorn muttered, darkly.

Lord Elrond leaned back in his armchair, and looked up at Anorvia, but his eyes were no longer as harsh, "Do so, Anorvain, and I pray to Eru you convince her to give the Ring up. I would hate for Mithrandir to be the one to confront the girl. And I would not like for Elladan to return to Imladris only to find that the woman he gave his heart to has been exiled for betrayal."

Aragorn looked up with surprise at this, though no one else seemed taken aback by Lord Elrond's statement. Anorvain bowed and left immediately.

---

Liv had not left her chambers at all since they got back, and when Anorvain tried to push the door open, he found the door bolted from the inside.

"Liv?"

Why couldn't they just leave her alone?

Liv sighed in frustration. "I'm sleeping!" She called, then repeated it in Sindarin, and in English for good measure.

"It's me."

"Go away, Anorvain."

"I will knock on your door until you open it." He warned.

"Tell me how bloody your knuckles are in the morning when I wake up." She called.

He knocked, and kicked and made a loud mess that Liv tried to ignore. But eventually, he heard her say something in a language entirely new to his ears, "Hurensohn!" She opened the door, looking ready to commit homicide. She was still in her underdress, and despite what she said about sleeping, she looked quite alert.

Something was clutched in her hand. Anorvain's heart sank, already knowing what it was, but he eased his expression into a grin, not wanting to believe what he knew to be true.

"You still have leaves in your hair." He said, breezily. The glare she gave him was colder than Caradhras, but she was distracted enough to run her fingers through her hair. Without warning, he reached for the thing in her hand, and she barely avoided him. However, his hand knocked into hers and the thing she was holding slipped through her fingers.

It fell on the ground in front of him, shiny and simple and golden.

"No! Fuck!" She gasped. Two things happened at once. Anorvain kicked the door shut behind him, and Liv reached for the Ring.

He was stunned. She scrambled to her hands and knees and held that thing as if her life depended on it, breathing hard. And he stood there, unable to grasp what he was seeing. Liv had taken the Ring. She had taken the Ring and was now on her knees, losing all sense of dignity, just to keep it in her possession.

His face morphed from disbelief to anger. She was kneeling in front of him, and his grey eyes looked at her as if she was a traitor.

"Arwen was right."

Liv flinched at the disgust in his voice. Something else sparked in Anorvain, then. He had been indignant for Liv mere minutes ago, but now seeing the Ring in her hand... Anger burned in him. After everything the Dúnedain had suffered because of its master and its servants, here Liv was, insulting the very memory of all the people who have sacrificed their lives to destroy the Ring, craddling it as if it was some treasure to be protected.

"Have you completely lost your mind?!"

"I can explain."

"Explain then!" He barked, seizing her by the shoulders and pulling her to her feet. He needed to look into her eyes. He needed to see the guilt in them, and they were there. That was the hardest to accept. Liv knew what she did was wrong but she did it, anyway.

"I found it by the Bruinen. I didn't think--"

"That's right. You didn't think! You never do!"

"You're hurting me." She gasped. He let go immediately and covered his mouth, trying to breathe evenly, trying not to throw up.

"What did you plan to do with it, Liv? Take it back to its Master? Gain your reward?" The accusations he threw were daggers in her chest.

"I just wanted to see if it could take me home!"

He released a cold, harsh laughter.

"You stole the Ring, hoping for it to take you back to New York?!"

This time, it was Liv's turn to be angry. He made it sound as if it was foolish that she wanted to go back, that she wanted to return to when her life was simple and she felt no pain.

"I lost my life! I am forced to speak in languages I have never spoken before, with not even a spare change of clothes left for me, with no explanation for my family of where I might be! I have been left with nothing! And I thought... I thought it would help me forget all the pain. If you were given the chance to run from your pain, would you not have taken it?"

"What do you know of pain? I had to bring what was left of my sister's body back to my parents, and I had to watch guilt consume my mother. I've seen my parents killed in front of me! I got stabbed by a Ringwraith. Do not speak to me of pain." He spat. "I watched friends die, I stood by as the woman I love fell for someone else. But despite all that, I would not have stolen the Ring in an attempt to go back to a time that will never be, or to make it all go away."

Shame hit her then, hot and overwhelming, coloring her cheeks red. Her bottom lip trembled, and her eyes were downcast.

"You have family here, Liv! You have people who care for you here, who love you and trust you. And you threw all that back in their faces by taking the Enemy's greatest weapon for yourself."

"I didn't know." The excuse sounded pathetic on her lips now, but she needed to say it, to save whatever dignity was left of her. "I swear I didn't. Everyone was busy and I saw it and... I took it without thinking. I didn't know it was Sauron's Ring."

His expression softened fractionally. He believed that. He believed she didn't know any better. And he believed that the Ring had enough power to distort her pain, loneliness and desperation for Sauron's gain. That did not make what she did any less foolish--she should have had the common sense to know what it was--but even so, he could not fully blame her for taking it. Liv was a victim in this, manipulated by Sauron to do something she would not have otherwise done--and manipulated her so well that she believed everything was entirely her fault.

"You didn't suspect it could have been the Ring? It was where Frodo fell. You knew he had the Ring in his posession, and you say you didn't know?"

Liv winced, and looked down. She felt small, and dirty. "I suspected... When we got back. But it said it could bring me back to New York. It said I could forget and go back home."

"New York is gone, Liv." He said, softly. It would have been better had he yelled. It would have been better to feel angry than whatever it was consuming her at that moment as she broke down. Those words sounded like a death sentence to her ears. She sat on the ground and drew her knees to her chin and sobbed.

There it was.

There was the isolation and the pain beneath the surface. There was the deep sadness Arwen and Lord Elrond sensed in her, the desperation that the Ring brought out and perverted. Despite everything, Liv still longed for the place she called home, for somewhere to feel like she belonged. Anorvain did not know what triggered this episode from Liv, but he knew it was bound to come back. Loneliness that deep did not just go away.

His anger melted and he kneeled in front of her, taking her in his arms as she gasped for breath and her body shook with her sobs.

"Can Imladris not be home?" He asked. "Is Ennorath not enough?"

For so long, home to Liv was a maze of tall buildings and yellow cabs. Home was cameras flashing in red carpet events. Home was the view of the skyline at night with a glass of fine wine in her hand and her roommate playing The Weekend on full volume so they could dance and sing along and maybe make out without her roommate's boyfriend knowing. Home was where she was free--to love and to live and to make mistakes.

"Whenever I think Middle-earth can be home, something keeps telling me to try harder to go back to New York. If I was back home, I would have never had to watch Ethuilien or Caladír die. I would never have had to watch you fight for your life. I would not be surrounded by death and danger and trauma."

"Do you truly want that easy life? Is the friendship and family you have here not enough? Would you really want to forget us?"

"I have family waiting for me in New York, too." Liv pulled away, "If I had a chance to go back, would you hate me for taking it?" She asked.

Anorvain touched her cheek, and kissed the top of her head, "As long as you are happy. That is all I could wish for you. Whether home for you is New York or here in Imladris, or in the Angle or even in Bree. But the Ring would not have given you that. It would have sent you to despair and more pain than you could imagine. It would have sent the entirety of Middle-earth into slavery and evil."

"Are you going to tell anyone?" She whispered, shame in her voice.

He sighed, brushing her hair away from her face, "I have to, gwathel. You know I have to. But you can still make things right. Give the Ring back to Frodo. It is not yours to bear."

She buried her face in his chest, "I'm sorry. I'm so sorry. I didn't want... I didn't mean to..." She sniffed.

"You can still make things right. Ssh, gwathel." He said, holding her to him. Somehow, it only made her feel worse. She didn't deserve his kindness, or his affection. Not after how selfishly she had acted.

But he held her, anyway, whether she deserved it or not. He guided her back on her bed, and tucked her into her covers until she fell in a fitful sleep, and then watched over her until she calmed down.

Chapter Text

Liv woke in the middle of the night, and found the Ring still on the ground where she had dropped it.

She glared at it, but it just sat there, cold and shiny. It terrified her how quickly it clouded her thoughts and judgment, how much it brought the ugliness out of her, the isolation, the despair.

Had anyone else found it, she was sure they would have given it up to Lord Elrond without a second thought. But it was her who had to find it. And she hated herself for being so weak and careless. Mistakes can be made but this was a mistake that would have had grave consequences.

Now that she had some time to sleep, and her head had cleared, the gravity of what she had done, and the shame of it, overwhelmed her.

She couldn't face anyone after this. Not after she had thrown their kindness and acceptance in their faces. Anorvain would always be there for her but nothing would convince Liv that what she did was anything short of a betrayal. And she couldn't look at Arwen and see her disappointment, or Glorfindel or Bilbo.

God. Bilbo.

She had betrayed him the most. Frodo almost died just to bring the Ring safely to Imladris--he is fighting for his life right now--and that sacrifice would have been for nothing had Anorvain not confronted her about the Ring. Becase Liv knew she would not have been strong enough to give it up on her own free will. She looked at that accursed Ring on the ground, not wanting to touch it ever again.

She made the decision then and there. Liv braided her hair back, wore a thick dress that would keep her warm and leather gloves. She would leave. She would not be a burden to anyone and she would disappear and only hope they could forgive her. It wasn't the right thing to do, she knew that. But when had she actually made the right decision? She would take their resentment than their disappointment.

She left a letter, a pathetic one filled with excuses and apologies. And she laid that on her bed. She picked the Ring up for the last time, threading a silver chain through it and laid that on the bed beside the letter. Even then, she hesitated to let it go. It was still trying to pull her in, to tempt her into taking it with her. But Liv's disgust for it was strong enough to fight through her temptation.

"Never again." She said to the Ring.

Her plan would have worked had she done it anywhere else but in Imladris, where there were always Elves circling the grounds at any time of the day.

But she had not even left the House when she ran into Gandalf. Gandalf of all people. Liv was sure he was going to smack his staff over her head. So she was surprised--shocked even--that he smiled at her in greeting.

"Is it not too early for you to be up yet, young lady?"

"Me and Anorvain are going to train."

Lie after lie. That was all Liv seemed to know how to do right these days.

"At this hour? The sun is not even up yet."

Liv was positive Gandalf could see through her. She had the grace to not meet his eyes. "You know that this will only make things worse."

She stilled, even her breathing seemed to have stopped. Of course he knew what she did. He was a close confidante of Lord Elrond, a respected guest. He would know what she had done. The only thing that surprised her was how he wasn't dragging her out of Imladris himself.

"Running away will only hurt the ones you care about."

"I know that."

"Yet you will do it, anyway?"

Do not. Cry.

"It's better this way. I have overstayed my welcome in Imladris."

Gandalf stepped closer to her, "You have to face your mistakes, Olivia. Not run from them. When you do something wrong, you must take responsibility for it."

She looked up at him, her eyes shining with tears, "I'm so scared."

"And you should be, after what you did." He said, softly, "But you have to face your fears. And you have to face the consequences of your action. Prove that you are better than the enemy."

He walked past her, stopping when they were shoulder-to-shoulder. "It's okay to be afraid, Olivia. What matters most is what you do when you are."

He walked past her, and Liv stood there feeling like there were stones in her skirt, as heavy as her heart. She turned when Gandalf's footsteps stopped abruptly.

"Well, young woman, what are you still standing there for? Make your decision."

Her brown eyes found his blue ones. Her face was painted with worry. His was unreadable. It seemed to Liv that he was asking so much from her. She knew she was not as brave as he thought she was. She was terrified right now. But, he trusted her to do the right thing, and that brought her comfort, somehow. Finally, she stepped towards him, and a small smile lit up his face before it vanished a second later.

He was right. The greatest betrayal would be turning her back on everyone who ever cared for her.

"Breakfast later?" He asked, mildly.

"I don't think I'll be able to eat anything."

"Hm. If you change your mind, I heard Elarinya plans to serve cheese bread."

He turned and walked away, until Liv called for him, "Gandalf?"

"Hm?" He turned around again.

"I'm sorry I called you a homeless beggar."

"Now, when did that happen?" Gandalf chuckled, then continued to walk away.

Liv stood there for a second, looking out at the balcony to see the glorious view of Imladris just before the sun came up. She leaned forward, her elbows resting on the smooth stone of the balcony's edge. She was too deep into her thoughts that she did not realize someone had stood beside her, their hands behind their back.

"You're up early."

Liv turned, and was met with golden hair and a kind smile. "Good morning, Glorfindel."

"All this time, I thought you slept well until ten o'clock."

Liv smiled, "There's a first time for everything."

Glorfindel stepped forward, and placed an envelope in front of her.

"I take it you have changed your mind about leaving?"

Liv took the envelope and realized it was the letter she had written, the one filled with regret and excuses. It was open. Someone had read it recently. Him, most likely.

My friends, it started, forgive my weakness. I am not honorable like Anorvain, nor wise like Arwen. I am myself, flawed and selfish. And too ashamed to even face you again. You have all been so kind and generous. More than I deserve, I now realize. And I hope you can find it in your hearts to forgive what I have done. Both for taking the Ring and leaving without goodbyes. Please understand I did this because I value what you have done for me. You have all accepted me whole-heartedly, and this is how I repay you. Despite my plea for forgiveness, I do not blame you if you cannot give it to me. I've already asked for too much. I did not know any better. That is the only excuse I have. I know it is unacceptable.

Elladan, beloved, in whose eyes the stars shine most brightly. I hope you find happiness. I hope you do not hate me.

Goheno nin, and farewell, Olivia

Liv released a breath through her nose, and tore the paper in half, "No." She tore it again. "I'm staying." She ripped it to shreds; ripped her fears, her anxiety, her shame apart.

Glorfindel smiled, "Good. I would have been greatly surprised if you had left."

"You don't think I would have?"

"You love to prove everyone wrong. I thought you would have wanted to prove that you are better than a thief who runs in the late hours of the night."

"Technically, I was leaving early in the morning."

He chuckled, "Now you sound like the Olivia I know."

"You don't hate me, do you?"

"Isildur himself was not even able to resist Sauron's will. He had the chance to destroy the Ring and instead he kept it for himself. In the end, Isildur lost the Ring along with his life. And even then, I could not hate him, because that Ring is evil. But you," Glorfindel placed a hand on her shoulder, "Greatly annoyed and disappointed, but you came through. You did not start a war, at least. Or kill anyone. In fact, I do not think it was even in your posession for more than a week."

"It's only been a day, Glorfindel."

"A day, a week, five years. What difference does it make to an Elf?"

I smile. Of course. What was time in the eyes of an Elf who is immortal? "What did you do with the Ring?" I ask him.

"I left it right where you put it. I did not trust myself to pick it up, nor would I want to if I could resist its pull. It would have been much more dangerous if I possess it, even briefly. Erestor and Melpomaen are in your room right now arguing over who would pick it up to send to Frodo's chambers."

Liv laughed. "I would love to see that. And to teach them rock, paper, scissors."

The two turned when they heard shouts of victory coming from the direction of Liv's chambers. There was a string of curses in Sindarin that were too fast for Liv to understand.

"Was that Melpomaen?" Liv mused.

"Wonders never cease." Glorfindel motioned for Liv to follow him, only for them to practically bump into Arwen and Aragorn, on their way to breakfast, no doubt. Liv's heart sank. She looked down in shame, avoiding Arwen's gaze.

"Good morning." Arwen said, to break the silence. Even Glorfindel froze, just to see how Liv would react.

"Morning." Liv winced. She felt ridiculous for acting like a child, but when everyone else around her were centuries older, it was hard not to. Especially after what she had done.

"Liv." Arwen's tone was stronger, "You are not about to let what you did define you. I refuse to watch that happen."

Liv looked up at her with shining eyes, "What I did was wrong."

"Good. Continue." Arwen crossed her arms.

"And shameful. And it will never happen again, I promise you. I will do anything to make up for it."

Arwen stepped forward, and stopped an arm's length away from Liv, but it was Aragorn who spoke.

"You are young. I do not expect you to always make the right decisions. I am glad you are sincere in your apology."

Arwen's soft hands rested on Liv's shoulders, "You can make up for it by returning the Ring yourself. Frodo is still sleeping, and Sam has been watching over him."

"I don't ever want to touch that thing again." Liv shuddered. Just thinking about the Ring, thinking about its effect on her... It made her feel horrible.

"You are only as weak as you see yourself to be." Arwen said.

"That's a nicer way of her saying, 'You had the guts to steal it, you will have the guts to put it back'." Aragorn muttered.

"Estel." Arwen said in warning.

Aragorn raised his hands in surrender. "She would be right either way. No one blames you for falling victim to it, Liv. You had a moment of weakness, just one, and it corrupted you. That does not mean you are weak. But, you still have to prove yourself, and you can do that by giving it back."

Liv smiled up at him, seeing now why Arwen loved him. He was kind and wise, and spoke in a way that was almost like how the Elves spoke--vague, yet somehow comforting. He smiled back, and turned to Glorfindel,

"However, I do miss Elarinya's cheese bread." He said.

"Oh, I'm sure you did. What has the folk of Bree been feeding you?" Glorfindel laughed, the sound melodious, "But I will go with Liv back to her chambers. I think we will have to pry Lord Elrond's counsellor and chamberlain apart." For they could still hear the two arguing. Arwen volunteered to go with them, and Aragorn followed beside her. They opened the door to Liv's room to find a smug-looking Erestor and Melpomaen with his arms crossed.

"Creative, chamberlain. Very creative. I did not expect that from you." Erestor chuckled,

"You cheated!"

"I did not. You are simply a sore loser."

"What are you two doing in my room?" Liv piped in. The arguing ceased, and both Erestor and Melpomaen turned to Liv with identical looks of slight disgust.

"We would not even be here if you had not--"

"Lord Erestor, that is quite enough." Glorfindel warned. But Liv knew what Erestor was about to say, and it made her look down in shame. She expected she would be doing a lot of that in the near future.

"I am sorry for what I did."

"Oh, it's nothing, you only just stole the greatest weapon of the worst evil in Middle-earth, which had cost the lives of many great and honorable people, and almost cost Frodo's life." Erestor drawled. He can be mean when he wanted to be, and Liv couldn't blame him for being so.

"I know I made a terrible mistake, but I am trying to set things right." Liv almost sounded like she was pleading. Melpomaen softened up quicker than Erestor. He'd always been gentle.

"To be fair, you barely had it in your possession." Melpomaen said.

"It should not even have been in her posession to begin with!" Erestor snapped.

"If it was so easy to resist the Ring's pull, then tell me why you are simply not picking it up now to return it to Frodo's chamber." Glorfindel said, mildly.

Erestor looked away, but said nothing.

"This is not to excuse what Liv did, but she has apologized, she meant no harm, and she is as much a victim of the Ring as any of us." Glorfindel continued, "You will keep that in mind the next time you judge so harshly, Erestor."

Liv almost cried in relief. She didn't know why Glorfindel was so kind to her, and she wondered what she had ever done to deserve him defending her, but she was thankful for him, thankful that he believed in her when she was doubting herself so much. Liv approached the two, and she took Erestor's hands, "You have taught me a lot, and you were there as I struggled through our lessons, but you were always patient. Please believe in me like you always have whenever I was being difficult."

His expression softened fractionally, but he sighed anyway and squeezed her hand. That was enough for Liv. She stood in front of her bed once more and looked down at the Ring. Now that she was aware of it, she could practically hear it whispering to her again, telling her to take it and run.

"Let's take this back to Frodo, shall we?" Liv said, mustering up what was left of her courage and putting the Ring in the pocket of her new dress. She knew everyone was looking at her at the moment, and she did not plan on letting them all down now. They put their faith in her, despite her grave mistake. She was not going to throw that away. With the comfort that her friends were with her, she walked towards Frodo's bedchamber, with Aragorn showing her the way.

Arwen opened the door for Liv when she hesitated in front of it, hearing voices on the other side. The door swung open and there stood Lord Elrond and Gandalf. Lord Elrond's back stiffened when his eyes landed on Liv. "Frodo is sleeping. Leave us." He said.

Everyone moved to turn away from the door, but Gandalf coughed, and said, softly, "Not you, Liv."

"Right." Liv squeaked. Arwen gave her arm a soft squeeze before leaving, and Glorfindel gave her an encouraging smile. But the look on Aragorn's face was almost...sympathetic. As if he knew what Lord Elrond's lectures would sound like. Erestor closed the door in her face, and she turned to find Lord Elrond's grey eyes narrowed at her.

"What do you have to say for yourself, young lady?" Lord Elrond said. She never did get to answer, though, because the lecture came at once, "Were you not there when I talked about its history? Did it never cross your mind the danger of keeping it hidden?"

It continued for quite some time, and it was even worse because he wasn't yelling. He said what he had to say softly, and he sounded heavily of disappointment. That was what hurt the most--that she did not live up to their expectations. Liv wanted to flee. Never, not once in her life, has she ever been lectured for her bad behavior. Just passive-aggressive manipulation from her mother, yes, but never anything like this, where she was forced to stand there while someone older and wiser told her just how wrong she was. Even Ethuilien's lectures did not make Liv feel as small as she did when Lord Elrond scolded her. She felt lile a child, and she was, in Lord Elrond's eyes.

She bit her bottom lip and kept her eyes down the entire time. And when he finally let her speak, she looked up. "I have made mistakes in the past, I know that. And I know this was the gravest of all. If you want to send me out of Imladris, I will not blame you. I just..." She sighed, "...it spoke to me. Of New York. Of going back. I was a fool to believe it, I know, and if you want to send me away, I will not protest."

Lord Elrond looked slightly taken aback. He seemed to be in thought for a moment, before saying "I think you are right."

Oh, hell. Liv's heart dropped to her stomach. She was going to be sent out. Oh, God. She should have just left that morning. She should have gone ahead with her plan. Either way, she would be out in the wild with no idea where to go.

"The Lady Galadriel should have some answers for you. When my sons come back, after we..." He and Gandalf exchanged looks, "take care of some business, I will have them take you to Lothlòrien."

Liv blinked in surprise, trying to process what she just heard, "Wait--you're not...you're not kicking me out? You will let me stay?"

"Of course you are to stay here. It would be cruel to send you out of Imladris knowing you have no knowledge of the world beyond." Lord Elrond frowned at even the prospect of it. She sighed in relief, and almost cracked a smile.

"You are still in trouble, Liv. You still have to regain my trust." He paused, "I will not have Elladan give anything up for anyone less honorable than he."

Liv nodded, but said nothing. At this rate, he wouldn't even have to worry. She and Elladan have not been in good speaking terms for a while.

"The Ring, if you please." Gandalf said, motioning at the table beside Frodo's bed. She pulled the Ring out of her pocket, though she hesitated when she did. But Lord Elrond and Gandalf both looked at her intensely. She approached and put the Ring down on the table, along with the silver chain she had threaded it through. Even at that very last moment, she felt as if she was cutting off her own hand and putting it on the table. The Ring called, whispering promises of home, until Gandalf stepped in front of her, blocking her view of it.

"Breakfast?" He said, mildly. Liv turned to the Hobbit lying on the bed. He was still pale, and his arm was in a sling, but he was breathing evenly.

"Is he alright?" Liv asked the room.

"I have taken the shard out of his shoulder but it is a wound that will never fully heal, much like Anorvain's." Lord Elrond answered. "He is resting. Samwise looks over him. Frodo has a very loyal friend by his side."

There was a moment of silence, before Liv looked up at Lord Elrond, her face an image of heart-breaking regret. "I'm sorry I disappointed you."

Lord Elrond nods in understanding, as though expecting such a thing from a young mortal, and Liv continued, "We have a term in my language: l'appel du vide. It is the voice in your head that tells you to do something reckless and dangerous. I will be the first to admit, I follow that voice more than I should, and every time, it has led me to a bad place. But this was the worst of all."

Lord Elrond smiled wryly, "To be fair to you, that voice was taken advantage of by the will of the Ring. You are lucky that you have people who care about you enough to hold you accountable for your mistakes."

"It was so easy for it to corrupt me." Liv whispered, her voice shaking, "So easy for my judgment to be clouded. I used to think I was strong, but now..."

"Now, you prove your strength. You had it in your possession, and you had enough strength of will to let it go, which is more than what many who have held it could say."

Liv was grateful that they weren't kicking her out, and was especially relieved that Lord Elrond could still be kind to her, despite what she had done. She glanced behind her, at the sleeping form of Frodo, wondering if he or Bilbo would ever forgive her, bowed to Lord Elrond and Gandalf and left for breakfast.

She could swear people were looking at her with a judgmental gaze, but she made her way towards Arwen, Aragorn, Glorfindel, and Anorvain anyway.

"How are you doing?" Anorvain asked, scooting over to let her sit beside him. She immediately leaned on his shoulder and he took her hand, comforting her.

"I feel like everyone is staring at me." She said.

"No one else really knows about the Ring being here, save the warriors on patrol and those who ada trusts. You can feel at ease here." Aragorn said, in an attempt to comfort her as well. "Glorfindel made sure panic would not spread to the rest of Imladris. The less people that know of its existence, the better."

"I want to die." Liv sunk further into Anorvain's arms.

"We could train later, if you want. Get your nervousness out of your system. I promise I will let you hit me." Anorvain teased. She pulled away from him and glared, making him laugh, "You recover so quickly, dear sister."

Three people walked in the Great Hall as he said it. They were children at first glance, before Liv heard their voices. They were talking excitedly, and their voices, though cheerful, were deep. She immediately recognized them as the Hobbits who were with Frodo. If she didn't feel bad then, she definitely felt horrible when she realized they were approaching the very table she was seated in front of.

"This would be a fantastic time for the ground to swallow me, please." She muttered.

"You are speaking in your own language again." Anorvain told her.

"I am begging for Erú to smite me on the spot."

Arwen raised a disapproving eyebrow. Elves did not speak the name of Erú out loud, as they revere him as the Father of All, and did not like it when others used his name in vain. Liv, already agnostic at best, did not really understand the importance of his name, though she whispered a quick 'sorry' to Arwen, nevertheless.

"Strider!" One of them greeted, cheerfully, turning to Aragorn.

"I'm so confused. What is your actual name, truly?" Liv said to him.

He gives her a patient smile, "In Bree, I am known as Strider. To the Elves of Imladris, I am known as Estel. In Rohan and Gondor, I have gone by other names. But the name given to me by my father is Aragorn."

Liv nodded, though those around the table were under the impression that she was still confused. She did not, however, have time to process what he had just said when the Hobbits plopped down on the seats around Liv. And as she was surrounded by her guilt, so too was she surrounded by the Hobbits.

"Hey! We saw you two on the Bruinen yesterday!" The Hobbit who greeted Aragorn said, motioning at Liv and Anorvain with a huge smile on his round cheeks. "I'm Pippin. We were never properly introduced."

Anorvain smiled back, always at ease in social situations. "It is good to see you indeed, Master Pippin."

"Master? Him? Ha!" Another Hobbit on the table let out a laugh. "He'll let that get to his head, he will. I'm Merry. This is Sam." He claps the last Hobbit on the shoulder, who gives an equally warm smile to those on the table.

"I am Anorvain. This is my gwathel, Liv."

Liv gave an uncomfortable smile, making her look constipated more than anything.

"Gwathel?" Sam asked, finally joining the conversation while Merry and Pippin pulled three plates each in front of themselves and grabbed a piece of literally everything served on the table--berries, cheese bread, jam, eggs, toast, beans and orange juice. It perplexed Liv that such tiny people could eat so much.

"It means a sister that is not of your blood." Arwen answered for him.

Sam blushed, and looked away from her. Arwen smiled in understanding and continued eating. I imagine that's how everyone initially reacts when seeing Arwen. Elves are remarkably beautiful, but Arwen was on another realm. Liv could never recall a moment when even a single strand of hair was out of place on Arwen's head. Her eyes were blue and kind, and her lips were full and pink. Once again, Liv was astounded by Aragorn's luck that Arwen chose him to give her heart to.

"Liv here is new to the Sindarin language, as well. You should learn with her while you are here, Sam, to keep you occupied." Anorvain offered, with that cheerful, wide grin.

Liv gave a close-mouthed, forced smile and kicked beneath the table, hard.

"Ow!" Glorfindel hissed from beside Anorvain, who had evidently moved his leg out of the way just in time for Liv to keep the person sitting directly next to him. She could feel him chuckling silently beside her as he slyly covered his mouth with his hand.

"That would be lovely. You could ask Erestor for my grammar book." Liv said, as sweetly as she could to Sam.

"Erestor has much to do now with Lord Elrond. I do not think he would have time even for your regular lessons, Liv." Glorfindel piped in.

"And," Sam said, "meaning no offense, but the Elves intimidate me, miss. I'm still amazed to see them with my own eyes, even though we encountered Gildor's lot near the Shire. Now that was a sight to behold! But I don't think I could just walk up to Lord Erestor's office and ask for something. It wouldn't feel right. I would not want to intrude."

He looked down, sheepishly. Here was a Hobbit who was humble, and that endeared him to Liv almost instantly. She softened up, then hesitated, but in the end, seeing that hopeful smile on Sam's face, she sighed in defeat, "Oh, alright. I will teach you what I can. Of course, I could teach you words in my own language and you would not know any better." She winked, and Pippin paused from his eating to look up at her.

"You speak other languages?" He asked,

"Uh. Yes. English, German, French. No?" She tried bringing up those she was fluent in, hoping that since these hobbits travelled from a farther land, that they would know what those are and would react positively. Instead, she was met with confused, blank stares. "Nevermind, I will teach you Sindarin."

"That's very kind of you, Miss Liv." Sam beamed.

"In the mean time," Anorvain stood from his seat and turned to Liv, "we have training to do, right?"

Liv stood, and so did Glorfindel.

"Now that I think about it... Estel, when was the last time you trained?" Glorfindel said, turning to a rather perplexed-looking Aragorn.

"I fought five Ringwraiths single-handedly and survived. I assure you, I do not need training."

"But those Ring-wraiths survived as well, did they not?"

"My lord, if you would be so kind." Arwen chimed in, "Estel has other plans. With me, that is."

Glorfindel paused, looking sour, "Suit yourself, my lady. If he gets injured someday because he neglects his training, do not say I did not warn you."

"Ai, I do miss how dramatic you are." Aragorn smiled. Glorfindel simply shook his head and led the way to the training grounds. Liv was surprised to find more warriors already training there than she had ever seen before. And it may just be her eyes, but she thought she was seeing a lot of figures darting from tree to tree in the woods bordering the grounds.

She and Anorvain spent the rest of the day together, back in their training gear and swinging at each other with blunted weapons. This was a part of their daily routine, and Liv was glad for a sense of normalcy. After everything that had happened, and the danger that the Ring being found would surely bring, she was glad there was still something that did not change.

"Are you still going to be wearing that dress? It's all ripped and muddy at the bottom now, look." Anorvain pointed with his sword downwards. Liv did not take her eyes away from him, instead, choosing to swing her sword up, just in time for Anorvain to block, but give a grunt of approval.

"What kind of idiot do you mistake me for? I do not fall for the same trick twice." Liv laughed.

"Alright, alright. No dirty tricks, then. Just skill." And with those words, Anorvain gripped his sword with both hands and began assaulting her with continuous swings with his blade, making Liv back up as she was pushed back by the sheer force behind each swing he made, though she blocked each of them. She risked a glance behind her to see if she was nearing the line drawn that marked their sparring ring. Anorvain saw that, and swung for her legs, sweeping his sword at the back of her knees. The dress managed to absorb most of the impact, making Liv stumble forward. With no time for Anorvain to bring his sword back up, Liv took that as an opportunity to aim her own sword at his chest.

"Don't wear a dress for training, they say." Liv smirked when Anorvain backed away.

"Do not get cocky, now." Anorvain glowered at her, as they take their positions again and resumed their training. It was a good distraction for Liv, and a good way for Anorvain to get back in shape, so they spent well until afternoon in the grounds, alternating between sword and archery training.

Over the next two days, however, Liv focused on her horse-riding, knowing that she would be riding to Lothlórien and would need to be confident in her abilities to work with her horse so she can survive, but a part of her dreaded the day of the twins' return. Because how could she ever face the two of them when they have put so much of their faith in her only for her to a huge disappointment? She had barely been able to look Cristiel in the eye... And whether Erestor or Arwen admitted it or not, their trust in her had faltered. And everyone, whether they knew that the Ring was now in Imladris or not, felt the tension.

The mood in Imladris had shifted, as more of the leaves turned from green to yellow, and the flowers eternally fell from the trees. Danger would come soon, and everyone had the sense that it cannot be avoided any longer, only endured. So Imladris trained, and waited for the decision of Lord Elrond on what they will have to do next.

Chapter Text

Imladris was quiet. That's how it's always been. But there was a stir of activity late into October. Liv had been trying, and quite honestly succeeding, at avoiding the Hobbits, up until that point when the news had spread among their close circle of friends. Frodo Baggins was finally awake, after two days in Lord Elrond's very delicate care.

Liv was standing by the window in Arwen's sitting room, watching Sam with Frodo walking around the gardens. Her guts twisted uncomfortably seeing him and facing the possibility of having to talk to him, and then Bilbo.

"You cannot avoid them forever." Arwen said, emerging from her bedroom in a flowy, white dress.

"I can keep trying."

Arwen smiled, and stood by the window beside her. "You know what I noticed about you?"

"You know so much about me already, I'm scared to find out what you just noticed." Liv answered.

"That for all your front on taking any challenge thrown at you, you do not act when you know you will not be winning or will come out on top."

"Ouch, okay. How did you notice this?" Liv laughed.

"You know what you're capable of, but you always play it safe. If you are not confident that you will have the outcome you desire, or too scared to find out, you do not accept the challenge presented to you. You run from it." Arwen explained. That made Liv stop and think. As always, Arwen was right, though she would not want to admit it.

"You got all that from me looking out a window?"

"I got that from you accepting many of Anorvain's baits during your training but avoiding facing Frodo." She said, nudging me towards her vanity table, where Elarinya was waiting. Liv had been pretending she did not feel Elarinya's cold glare. Apparently, the older elleth also found out about Liv taking the Ring and was not at all happy about it. She had not spoken a word in Liv's presence.

With Frodo's recovery came a special night in the Hall of Fire. People were expected to dress up, and Liv was itching to wear the red lace dress Anorvain had bought her months ago. If there was anything Liv needed right now, it was the opportunity to dress up and do her hair.

While Elarinya helped Arwen prepare by lacing her dress and fixing an elaborate, jeweled headpiece on Arwen's head, Liv did what she was best at. Make up was something she could understand, even if it was made differently than what she was used to. Throughout their preparations, however, Elarinya never said a word.

"You will need to stop ignoring Liv's existence, Elarinya." Arwen said.

"I don't see why I should." Elarinya responded, speaking for the first time, and Liv looked at her helplessly, but she knew Elarinya. She knew how unforgiving Elarinya could be. Her parents died fighting a war against Sauron, only for this Ring to remain in tact. She had been unforgiving towards the twins, how much more a mortal she barely knew?

"I'll just go on ahead and find Rossien." Liv said, not wanting to start a fight. She knew she could not demand for Elarinya's forgiveness, so she left. Arwen sighed, but let her go. Elarinya kept her eyes firmly away from Liv, who hesitated before she made her way out, hoping that Elarinya would soften up even a little bit.

And that's when she saw them, covered in dirt and looking tired but relieved. Elladan and Elrohir. They greeted her with identical looks of pleased surprise. She had to endure looks of betrayal, disappointment and pity from people she cared about for three entire days and seeing their faces, relieved and glad, lifted a ton of weight off her shoulders. She almost sobbed when Elrohir opened his arms for her and she let him hug her, let him comfort her.

"You're back." She pulled away, and looked up at Elladan.

He hesitated, and that reluctance made her heart hurt, but she stepped towards him, anyway. "How are you? Are you hungry?" She asked him, so ready to sweep the stray strand of hair from his cheek.

He gave her a small smile, "A bit. We wanted to see Arwen first, though. And I see Frodo has recovered."

"Are you bleeding?" She had quickly spotted him keeping his hand hidden in the folds of his cloak. Elladan winced the moment she spotted the bloody bandage wrapped around his hand.

"It was not orcs, if that is what you are worried about." Elladan said as she held up the bandaged hand.

"I'm worried about infection! When did you get this? How did you get this?"

"It was a wolf, it bit my hand. Do not worry so much."

"A wolf? Does 'rabies' mean anything to you?"

"It does not. That is a word in your language."

"Exactly. You do not know how to handle animal bites! You might get seizures! Go unconscious!"

Elladan chuckled and cupped her cheeks with both hands. Her worried ramblings died on her lips as she melted into his touch, which eased much of her fears. God, how she missed him. She had to hold herself back from holding his arms in place so that his fingers would never leave her skin again.

"I am fine, silly girl." Elladan said.

"I'm just--we left things off horribly. I did not want our last conversation to be--"

"I'm here now, ssh."

"I'm here, too," Elrohir grumbled, "in case you forgot. I have a cut on my face, see?"

Elladan drew back instantly, and Liv turned to Elrohir with an apologetic gaze. "How did you get that?" She asked.

"He fell on his face and cut himself on a piece of rock." Elladan snickered.

"I jumped back from a wolf's vicious jaws, and did not get to stop my momentum as I went down, resulting in my face getting damaged." Elrohir said, defensively.

Liv nodded, eyes narrowed, "You fell and cut your face on a rock."

"I am glad you are so concerned for me." Elrohir said.

"Oh, I do. I truly do! You have no idea how glad I am to see you!" She pulled him in for another tight hug. He chuckled and patted her back.

"The dress looks beautiful on you."

Liv gave a proud smile. "Thank you. I think dinner's about to be served. There is a party."

"Ah. That explains you dressing up. I'm glad you found a reason to wear that dress at last." Elrohir chuckled.

"Are you joining us?" Liv turned to Elladan, her face glowing with delight. He simply looked apologetic.

"We have important matters to attend to, I'm afraid. But I would like to talk to you...later."

Her face took on an unreadable expression, the smile slipping from her lips, but she nodded. "Of course." She said, "Later, then."

Elrohir kissed her hand before she left and the twins watched her turn and disappear into another hallway, to the direction of Rossien's chambers.

The two brothers looked at each other, with Elrohir looking smug indeed.

"See, I knew from the beginning you could never resist her." Elrohir said as he placed on a hand on the handle to Arwen's room.

"I have no idea what you are talking about." Elladan rolled his eyes, earning him an elbow to his bruised rib,

"You two had a fight before we left and now that you're back, you realized whatever fight you had was not worth not seeing the smile on her face with those adorable dimples as she greets you, admit it."

"Arwen!" Elladan banged on the door to get Elrohir to stop wiggling his damned eyebrows.

"You're choosing to ignore me because I'm right." Elrohir mumbled just as the door opened. It was not Arwen who opened the door whoever, but Elarinya, who looked at both of them, examined their persons, saw their wounds and said, "You are not gravely injured now, are you?"

The twins shook their heads in complete synchronization.

"Good. If you will excuse me." Elarinya seemed more tired than usual, and the twins parted to let her through as she left the door open behind her. The twins stepped into the chamber. Arwen had large chambers, with a separate room leading to her bedroom, which was open to where Arwen was just finishing putting on her shoes.

"Ah, you are back!" She stood and hugged them both at the same time, her smile radiant.

"Look at you, little sister! I see every woman in Imladris is preparing for a grand party."

"Well, there is much to be celebrated. Frodo has recovered, Estel has returned and the Ring is secure, although that last part is more a secret relief than anything." Arwen said.

"What do you mean by that?" Elrohir asked.

Arwen blinked at him, "That's right, you didn't know because you weren't here when ada found out."

"Found out what?"

Arwen was silent for a moment, before she sighed and said, "I do not want to ruin your night. You have just returned and I'm sure Estel would want to know about your arrival. We did not expect you back so soon."

"Arwen, what are you hiding from us?"

"Me? Nothing. Just go to Estel now so you may have time to catch up with us in the Hall of Fire." She looped her arms through each of theirs and walked out the door.

"You are a terrible liar, sister." Elladan said.

"On the contrary, I am a fantastic liar. But alas, I'm not lying now, brother."

"You don't lie. You tell the truth and charm your way out of trouble."

"You not knowing what lies I have told proves I am a fantastic liar."

"You do not blink when you are lying, did you know that?" Elrohir piped in, making Arwen roll her eyes. She nudged him as they proceeded to make their way to Lord Elrond's study to discuss what they have found.

Liv never did get to see the twins during dinner, but that was okay. Because the moment she walked into the hall, standing arm in arm with Rossien, there was a group of boisterous Dwarves who were roaring with laughter, engaged in conversation with Anorvain. Melpomaen, standing at the side, looked at the group with apprehension. They were making a mess, that's for sure, but Anorvain called her over when he spotted her. Rossien gave the Dwarves a sour look and went to find Nimeth.

A goblet of wine was promptly placed in her hand by one of the Dwarves as she approached, and they greeted her warmly, as though like an old friend.

"Good ol' Anorvain finally found himself a girl?" One of the Dwarves said.

"Do not be ridiculous. She is like a sister to me. Liv, here, has her eye on someone else."

"Announce it to the world, why don't you?" Liv said, drily.

"Liv. A fine name. I am Gimli, my lady." One of the Dwarves said, giving her a short bow, his curly, reddish hair lowering to almost her belly button. It felt odd that Liv was actually taller than someone for a change. She had gotten so used to the willowy Elves around her, all well above a foot taller than her most of the time. Even Aragorn and Anorvain were taller. And save for the Hobbits, whom she had been avoiding, she had quickly become the shortest person in the entire House.

"A pleasure to meet you, Master Dwarf."

"This is my father, Glóin." Gimli motioned at the silver-haired, older Dwarf beside him. Liv froze. She knew that name.

"You are one of Bilbo's friends?" Liv distinctly remembered one of Bilbo's many stories where he accompanied Thorin's Company. Glóin being one of the thirteen Dwarves he travelled with.

"Aye! You know of Bilbo?"

"Know of him? He has told me stories of your adventures together! What is it like, being back here in Imladris after some time?" Liv was fascinated.

"I wish I could say it is pleasant but the only time we ever seem to come to Elrond's halls is for one trouble or other. Though, between you and me, my dear, the reception continues to be cold." The older Dwarf leaned towards Liv and jabbed his unlit pipe at Melpomaen looking half-scared at the mess they were leaving behind.

"I can never tell these Elves apart but that one was always weird."

"Mel? Oh, he's nice. One of the nicest, in fact."

"Nice and boring, maybe." Glóin said darkly, then turned back to the group, "Where can one find good music in this place?"

"Now, now, do not be rude, my friend." Anorvain said.

There was also other Elves there, with blonde hair and clad in green. Elarinya was talking to one of them, in fact.

"Ah, you want to meet Legolas?" Anorvain asked.

"Legolas?"

She'd heard plenty of stories of the Elvish prince, whose father was king of Eryn Galen, and was the only Elven king left in Middle-earth. He was good friends with Aragorn and the twins. In fact, they seemed to have spent many years of their lives together. She remembered that the twins trusted him enough to allow him to hunt orcs with them. There was a sour taste in her mouth. He's seen firsthand how the twins' trauma manifests. It almost felt personal, getting to know him. But Anorvain had already excused himself from the Dwarves to bring Liv over.

Elarinya saw them approaching, glared at Liv, and left. Liv simply took a big gulp of the wine in her goblet and let Elarinya stew somewhere else.

"Anorvain, mellon nin." One of the Elves stepped forward, clasping Anorvain's forearm in a warrior's greeting, before pulling him in for a hug.

"It is good to see you well! I heard about the settlement... You have my sincerest condolences, my friend. If there is anything I could do..."

Anorvain winced, clearly not wanting to remember Löendë. Liv placed a hand on his back as a silent gesture of comfort. Legolas caught this, and moved to hug her as well. Liv stepped back in alarm.

"Whoa, there, blondie." She said in English, not ready to be quite familiar. He was beautiful, clearly, but all Elves were. That didn't mean Liv wanted to get hugged by a stranger, though, regardless of how beautiful they were.

"Oh. Forgive me, I thought you were his wife."

"Liv, at this point, if we ever end up lonely and unmarried by the time we are both thirty, we should just marry each other to make everyone shut up." Anorvain muttered.

"Ew. That's like marrying my step-brother or something." Liv scrunched up her face, "And in any case, I will not be lonely and unmarried at thirty. I'm sure plenty of men would want to marry me."

"See, that's the Liv I know." He laughed. Legolas' gaze flickered between one and the other, observing their familiarity and banter. Anorvain turned to him and said, "This is Liv. She is like a sister to me, and no more. She thinks she's not annoying. Liv, this is Legolas, prince of the Woodland Realm."

"Ah, yes, do continue to speak ill of me in front of a prince. Your Highness." Liv bowed, and this time it was Legolas laughing with Anorvain.

"Well, she certainly does not lack any manners. My lady, a pleasure to meet you. You look lovely." He said, noting the eye-catching red lace dress she was currently wearing, a stark contrast to the greys and blues around them. There were other ellith there wearing soft shades of green or pink, but Liv certainly stood out with the bright red of her dress. And by the way she smiled at Legolas' compliment, she seemed to enjoy the attention.

"But next time, you do not have to say "Your highness". Legolas would do. Any friend of Anorvain's is a friend of mine, and you certainly are if he considers you family."

"I think more wine is in order here, hir nin." One of the Elves said, in Silvan, making Liv blink in surprise. She had not heard that particular dialect of Elvish being spoken until that moment.

"Yes, please. Come, Liv, tell me about yourself." Legolas said, turning to her and smiling.

Liv could see why the twins would like him. He had a youthful glow about him, and his eyes were pure blue and trust-worthy. His smiles, he gave often and his laughter was melodious. On top of that, he was polite and sweet. Truly a bright ray of sunshine, much like Anorvain, but more child-like. Innocent, even. He was young for an Elf, even Liv could tell. The only other Elf she knew who was so carefree was Rossien. They were Elves who have not suffered thousands of years of the world's repetitive cycles. She would place Legolas at no more than two thousand years old, maybe even less.

As they sat down for dinner, Liv found herself in the position just between the Dwarves and the Elves of Mirkwood. Frodo was talking to Glóin, and Liv was glad that he was occupied. The less interaction they had, the better. She did listen with fascination as Gimli explained their journey to Imladris. Having only seen the Angle and Imladris since her arrival, Liv was excited to hear about other cultures and other lands, and the Dwarves talked freely and with much enthusiasm.

At the head of the table was Lord Elrond. And on either side of him were Glorfindel and Gandalf. Not very far were Arwen and Erestor. Liv was further back, surrounded by Anorvain, Rossien and Lindir.

Eventually, the people gathered there moved to the Hall of Fire, where Bilbo and Aragorn would later be seen, though Aragorn arrived much later. Frodo, Sam and Bilbo all found a quiet place to sit together. Arwen stood by Aragorn's side, looking as beautiful as fresh snow upon grass. She shone like a bright star in the Hall, and her smile was ever-present as she stood beside her true love. Liv loved watching Aragorn and Arwen together, laughing, stealing soft touches, whispering. Liv didn't doubt that if given the chance, they would rather be somewhere private. It was beautiful to witness how they both looked at each other as if seeing their entire world before them. Every time, every single time they caught each other's eye, they smiled a little.

Lindir sang, as he always did, and Liv and Rossien sat near him to listen. Nimeth joined them later on, telling Liv, "I'm almost done with the dress you had asked to be made for Elarinya."

Liv's heart sank at those words. That's right. It was supposed to be her farewell gift to Elarinya to take to Valinor, but she avoided Liv so much, Liv doubted she would ever be able to even come within arm's length of her. She had been told of Liv hiding the Ring, as she was Arwen's lady-in-waiting, and was older than many Elves there. She has yet to speak to Liv since the confirmation that she had the Ring in her possession.

"Oh, wonderful. I would like to see it before I give it to her, though. Did you have any trouble with the design?" Liv said.

"Not at all. The dye-work was different, but nothing that I couldn't manage." Nimeth said.

"Do you want me to deliver it to Elarinya or would you rather pick it up yourself?"

Liv hesitated. She couldn't exactly explain to Nimeth or Rossien that Elarinya wasn't speaking to her anymore, and that she sincerely doubted she would accept anything from Liv at that point. The Ring's secrecy was still the utmost importance, and only a handful of people knew that she even had it. Lord Elrond and Gandalf, of course, and Anorvain, Arwen, Aragorn, Erestor, Melpomaen, and it would seem Elarinya as well. All very important people. Liv's heart sank. Even the twins were not aware of what she had done yet. She couldn't imagine the betrayal in their eyes if they found out. And it would appear, none of the Hobbits were informed, as well, or she suspected they would all hate her.

"I think I'd pick it up myself. I would rather give it personally." Liv said, just to be on the safe side.

"Okay." Nimeth eyed her curiously. Liv was just about to turn away when she felt Nimeth touch her shoulder. "You are okay, yes? You seem, I don't know, not like yourself lately."

"Me? Just..." Liv waved her hand nonchalantly, "...have a lot on my mind. I might start painting again to calm myself down. I haven't done a piece in a while."

"Do that. And if you ever need someone to talk to." Nimeth squeezed her shoulder. At this point, Rossien had turned around to join the conversation.

"Liv knows she can always turn to us." Rossien said, kindly. "We're your friends, Liv. No matter what."

She smiled at both of them as she leaned her head on Rossien's shoulder, muttering her thanks for their concern. Eventually, Bilbo got up on the platform to perform a song he had made, and Liv watched and clapped appreciatively when it ended. It was a different tone compared to Lindir, and Liv had to turn to Rossien and say, "I think Lindir has spoiled me with good music. I keep comparing everything I hear to his work. Not that Bilbo's song is bad. I just got so used to Lindir's songs."

"Enjoy them while they last. I heard he would start training with the other warriors soon so he might not be able to sing in the Hall lately. Lord Glorfindel was insisting." Rossien said, worried.

"Why?" Nimeth asked. Rossien only shrugged, "They are increasing patrols. They wanted to be prepared. No one ever tells me anything, really."

"Ai, sometimes I forget how young you are. And now there are Dwarves here, and Lord Legolas as well. Something is very wrong."

"Not for Liv, it seems." Rossien says, nudging Liv and motioning at the doorway.

Liv, not noticing Rossien's knowing smirk at the direction of the door, snorted. If anything, part of the tension among the higher ups in Imladris was because of her. Oh, if only Rossien knew.

But she turned, and saw Elladan, out of armor and hair perfectly brushed. He was leaning on the door frame, arms crossed. Before she could even wave hello, though, she felt someone tug on her arm.

"Liv! Pippin is asking for you to sing one of your songs from your homeland."

"Anorvain!" She hissed, still remembering the last time she sang in the halls. She did not get embarrassed often, so it was still a bitter memory and a sore wound for Liv and her ego when she had to walk out because she had a realization right in the middle of a song.

"Not to the entire Hall, just for him."

"I'm going to fucking sing Never Gonna Give You Up and have you people be the first ever Rick Roll victims in the history of the world." Liv snapped.

"I have no idea what you just said but I know what "fuck" means so you must be angry."

"Pissed. Off. In fact." She tried to tug out of his grip but his hold on her was strong. "Are you drunk?"

"I am as sober as any here." He leaned in closer, "Sam wants to talk to you and you will not avoid him. You owe him that much."

Of course this only made Liv fight harder against him but it was useless. Anorvain had regained his full strength by then, even with a weaker left arm.

"Miss Liv!"

She immediately stopped fighting and let herself be taken to where the Hobbits were. Sam was rubbing his eyes, looking like he had just woken up from a nap. Lindir's voice could be relaxing as hell, so she understood him.

"Samwise. Had a good sleep?"

"Yes, miss. These Elves sure know how to make their guests feel at home. I just wanted to thank you again. For offering Sindarin lessons."

"Bilbo told us about how you weren't from here as well. Where are you from? Is it nice? When are you going back home? Do you want to go back home?" Pippin asked, excitedly beside Sam.

Despite her nervousness, Liv laughed. "One at a time, Pippin! I'm not very far from here, actually. I am from the Angle. I lived with Anorvain and his family there. They took me in when I was lost and alone. It was very nice there, the people were honorable and kind."

"Will you be going back home, then?"

Liv turned to Anorvain, and a heart-breakingly sad, far-off look was on his face. Liv instinctively moved closer to him and didn't answer. It only has been a few months. Löendë was still a trauamatizing memory for both of them.

"Not anytime soon, Pippin. Maybe not ever." Anorvain said.

"Wh--" Before Pippin could finish what he was saying, however, Merry nudged him and told him to shut up.

"You wanted me to sing?" Liv forced a smile on her face to ease the mood.

"Yes, please!"

"Now, you must forgive my voice. I'm not as good a singer as any Elf here."

"Neither are we. Let's hear it." Merry piped in.

Liv had to take a moment, turning to Anorvain, who now looked at her expectantly. Rick Rolling them would be so much fun. But unfortunately, she would be the only one who would ever find it amusing. And that thought alone made it less appealing for her. So she stuck with some other song that would sound appealing in the Hall of Fire.

"You light up the room
And you don't even know
It's all I can do to leave you alone
But don't bring me flowers
You worry too much
Oh, my darling, to know you love me
It's enough
"

She sang softly, and the three Hobbits seemed enthralled that she was singing in a song in a language they have never heard of before. But when she continued, they clapped appreciatively.

"What were you singing about, miss?" Sam asked.

"The song is about a girl singing to the one she loves about how he did not need to bring her flowers or wine during a special day because they did not have much gold to spend on fancy things. She is saying that all she needed was to know he loved her, and that his love is enough of a gift."

Even Anorvain's eyebrows rose up, "Now I really want to understand the song as it is."

"I would offer lessons in my native language, but I do not want you adding even more curse words into your vocabulary." She turned to him with a smirk. When she did, however, she saw at the corner of her eye one of the twins leaning on the doorframe to the Hall. Liv knew this was Elladan. She knew in the knowing smile he gave her, the proud look on his face. His arms were crossed, but in a relaxed enough way to know he had been listening the entire time. When she caught his eye, he motioned with his head for her to follow him out.

"That was lovely, miss! See, Merry, I told you she was a singer! You look like a singer, Liv."

Liv turned back to the Hobbits and planted her hands on her hips, "Do I, now? As opposed to what?"

"A dancer. Merry thought you were a dancer."

"Sam, here, thinks you are an artist of some sort."

"I am, indeed, an artist. A better artist than singer, in fact."

Pippin looked crestfallen. "Ah, Sam always guesses right about these things. He always seems to have the right first impression from people. It never fails."

That made Liv nervous. What else did Sam think of her?

"If you will excuse me, gentlemen, I have an appointment."

"You're leaving already?" Merry asked,

"We'll talk later, dears."

Anorvain looked confused, and ready to tell Liv off for avoiding a situation once again, but she motioned towards the door and he saw Elladan standing straighter now as he waited for her.

"The twins are back!" Anorvain exclaimed. "Ah well. Better he finds out from you, then."

Liv's heart sank and she pinched Anorvain for reminding her. He was right, though, if anyone were to tell the twins about what she did, it had to be her. Especially to Elladan. She needed to explain to him, however futile it would be.

"Spying on me, were you?" She said as greeting to his inviting smile.

"You are quite hard to miss in that dress. You stand out like a flame."

Liv giggled, "I believe you just called me, in my language, what they say 'hot'."

"Hot?"

"Attractive, sexy, gorgeous. Which I know I am, but thank you for telling me." She patted his shoulder, and he burst out laughing.

"Alright, bighead." He tugged at the braid in her hair. They walked out into one of the terraces, and into this sort of balcony that could only be accessed via a stone bridge hidden behind flower bushes and trees.

"Do you want me to ask you how your travels have been?" She asked.

"I'd rather you tell me what has been happening here. Father told Elrohir and I that we were to take you to Lothlórien immediately."

That dampened the mood considerably and Elladan could immediately tell that Liv was uncomfortable from the way she slid away from him. He caught her hand and turned to her.

"What? What's wrong? I told ada Lothlórien should never be an option with the current danger brewing. The One Ring being found, wolves multiplying by the mountainside. If you don't want to go, Liv, I can tell father to delay going--"

"It's fine, Elladan, hush." She said, putting her fingers on his lips gently to stop his concerned rambling. She didn't deserve it. And now that he mentioned the Ring, she felt even worse. She was hiding that from him. Hiding the fact that however short her possession of the Ring was, she still took it. Stole it.

That will come between them. Whether by her telling him or hiding it, his trust would break. And Liv couldn't bear the thought of it. Now, more than ever, she longed for his touch. Anorvain had made her realize that her love for Elladan should not be forsaken. That she should at least tell him how she really felt. But if she did and he found out she stole the Ring, she would break his heart the way she had always feared.

It was painful that she had this much love for someone who was so, so close. But she'll never have him. Not with that looming over them. She should tell him now. Get it out of the way fast.

Oh, but she was selfish.

"I just think..." She said, "that we have not had as much time together. To talk, without walking away."

Elladan blinked, expecting anything but that. He had been waiting for Liv to make the next move. He had given her the space he thought she needed to process her emotions. He was sure of his: that he wanted to be with her, that he wanted to know her more intimately than Elrohir or Anorvain or Arwen ever did. He was simply waiting for her acceptance and rejection. He knew, deep down, that she felt the same way but for some reason hesitated greatly out of fear of hurting him because of her mortality.

"We did leave things at a rather awkward note." He admitted.

"In my defense, I was PMS-ing. I was emotional and scared."

He raised his eyebrow at the term 'PMS-ing'. He was not just a male, after all, but a male elf at that. He wouldn't know what human anatomy was. Liv smiled a bit at the look. He really did look cute with his eyebrows furrowed.

"I still am. I'm still scared that I will hurt you." She admitted, looking down. She had never been this emotionally vulnerable before. Liv hid her emotions behind sarcasm and bitchiness. Hell, she has never even said 'I love you' to her own mother in ten years, and did not say it to her past lovers.

He tilted her chin up with his fingers, "I told you before that you could never hurt me."

"And I don't think your father approves of me."

"Arwen loves you. And ada would want me to be happy."

"And I will make you happy?"

His hand went to her cheek, "Very."

She bit her bottom lip and his eyes caught the movement. Instinctually, he leaned forward and kissed her, running his tongue lightly over her bottom lip. It was exquisite, and soft. She tasted of wine. Liv tried to pull away but he followed the movement of his head and she laughed as he deepened the kiss. He had been waiting for this moment again. And she responded like she had been as well. Her hand went to his neck, her fingers tracing the back of his neck behind his dark hair.

The sensation of his lips on hers drowned out the guilt that Liv was feeling. She would enjoy this moment, with the stars above and the bushes of snow white flowers on their feet and a great view of the green field beyond Imladris, lined by the silver light of the moon.

Elladan pulled away this time, and yet she still never said the three words he needed to hear.

"You'll regret saying that when we're arguing over stupid, insignificant things again." Or when he finds out what she did.

"Oh, I'm sure you will be insufferable then."

"The only insufferable one is you, you stubborn knife-ear."

"As compared to you, she-beast?"

"I can insult you in four different languages, Elladan, remember that."

"Ohoho, we have a scholar here!" He mocked. She pushed him as he snorted.

"Wait until I get fluent in Sindarin. Then I will be able to insult you in five languages." She said.

"We can start now, if you wish. Whenever you want to tell someone that they are a son of a...prostitute. Just repeat after me..." And he proceeded to tell her various ways of saying "you are handsome", "you are kind" and "your hair is lovely", which she repeated back angrily at him. Every time she said "Elladan, you are handsome." he pretended to look offended.

And then it was her teaching him how to curse in what she called German, because Liv's reasoning was she found cursing in German to be very satisfying. Except she was teaching him how to say "I am an idiot", "I have shit in my pants" and "I haven't brushes my teeth in two weeks" in English because it would confuse him and amuse her greatly.

It was a good night. They could hear Lindir singing in the distance and though the wind was cold on their skin, it only gave them a reason to sit closer with each other. Liv cherished every moment. Because she knew days like this with Elladan were numbered and though it would devastate her the more she pretended that nothing was wrong, she was not quite ready to let him go. She could never have him, not completely and not without someone getting hurt, but in the meantime, she pretended he was meant only for her.

Chapter Text

It was ironic how despite Liv being in a completely different Age of the world, somehow, someway... She was still close to the elite of Imladris. Arwen was one of her most trusted friends, and she was even closer to the twin sons of the Lord of Imladris. The Chief Counselor of Lord Elrond himself was her tutor. So despite how hard they tried to keep things secret, she could see a pattern when it was presented to her. She knew something was off when Erestor cancelled their lessons--which he had already been doing a lot lately, and looked distracted when he was present. She noticed when Gandalf started becoming a figure that was both constant and absent in Imladris. She knew he was there, but most days, he was with Lord Elrond. She knew something important was happening when even Arwen looked worried and was constantly with her father. More than that, she was seeing a lot more elves in the training grounds than ever before. But today, it was even more apparent. Lord Elrond was nowhere to be seen, along with Gandalf, Glorfindel, Erestor, Frodo and Bilbo. Even the guests who had arrived the night before were not there.

Elladan and Elrohir, however, were glad that their part in whatever was happening had come to a pause. They have not had much rest themselves, especially with how busy Imladris has been. So they took full advantage of the free time by having a picnic with Liv, Anorvain and Arwen.

"I thought you would have grammar lessons with Erestor at this time." Anorvain said to Liv as she sat with them.

"So did I but when I got to his office, I heard Erestor talking with Gandalf about where they were holding a meeting."

"How did you know about the Council?" Arwen said the same time Anorvain said, "What meeting?"

Anorvain and Rossien looked confused. The children of Elrond looked surprised.

"I kind of...put my ear to the door."

"And Erestor did not hear you?" Anorvain cracked a grin,

"I would wager he was busy at the time."

"And they did not say you were to be part of it?" Arwen asked.

"Why would she be part of it?" Elrohir frowned.

"I thought it was established that the method of her arrival in Middle-earth was to be kept secret. She has no business being there." Elladan said.

"Does she not?" Arwen's knowing gaze practically made Liv melt into a puddle of shame. Her grey eyes narrowed ever so slightly at Liv, "Forgive me. I did not realize." That Liv hasn't told you hung in the air between Liv and Arwen. Neither of the twins seemed to have noticed. Arwen knew Liv spent all of the night before with Elladan, and expected that she would tell hom. Evidently not.

"Why are you not there?" Anorvain asked the children of Elrond.

"It's boring." Elladan said.

"Estel would tell us whatever they discuss anyway." Elrohir added.

"Father does not want them there because if you put the twins, Legolas and Estel in one place for too long, they will get into all sorts of trouble." Arwen said.

"That is not true!" Elladan protested.

"No? Need I remind you of the goat incident?"

Anorvain snickered under his breath as Arwen's eyebrow raised as a challenge to her older brothers.

"That was an accident." Elrohir said.

"What is the goat incident?" Liv asked, making Anorvain laugh again.

"Ah, the goat incident." Anorvain sighed, fondly.

"You weren't even born yet when the goat incident happened." Elladan deadpanned.

"And what a relief that must be for you. If I was already alive to witness it, I would never let you live it down." Anorvain teased.

"What is the goat incident?" Liv repeated.

"Any one of you mentions the goat incident, I will personally recreate it but instead of Aragorn, it would be you facing the goat."

"What the fuck." Liv looked around in confusion.

"Suffice it to say, Liv, that Elladan wearing your underwear on his head is less of an embarrassment than what Estel had to go through when he had to face that goat." Elrohir said. "I had never seen Lady Gilraen as angry as when she found out about it."

"This conversation will not distract me from wanting to find out what that meeting they're holding is about." Liv said, shaking her head at the twins. She would find out about the goat incident. All she needed was to catch them off-guard so she can snatch the truth from them. But after finding out there was a secret council being held somewhere in Imladris, her curiosity piqued--especially knowing Arwen thought she should have been part of it. Which did draw Liv to one conclusion: It had something to do with the Ring.

"We could always walk, very quietly, to a nearby window or hide behind a pillar near the council..." Liv suggested.

Arwen shook her head, "Anorvain is a bad influence on you."

"You did not need his influence when you went around sneaking with Estel in the dead of night." Elrohir muttered under his breath.

"What did you say?" Arwen snapped.

"I said when you look at me like that, I feel fright." Elrohir said in a stronger voice.

Liv promptly stood up, brushing down the dress she was wearing with her hands and walked away from the picnic. The twins, already sensing what she had in mind, shot to their feet as well and moved in front of her path.

"Where do you think you are going?"

"I want to see the meeting!"

Elladan shook his index finger in front of her and booped her nose, "No." He said in his cheeriest voice.

"This day is meant for us to relax." Elrohir added.

"If we sneak in there and ada finds out, he will banish us to Erestor's study and force us to deal with diplomacy, which is not at all very relaxing." Elladan continued.

"Arwen! Your brothers are annoying me!" Liv whined.

"They do that. It's their talent." Was the reply of a sister who knew full well how annoying her brothers could be.

"Rock, paper, scissors." She challenged Elladan, who looked utterly mystified at the random words she threw at his direction.

"I do not think what you just said translates as well in our language as it does in yours. You just said boulder, parchment and shears."

"If I win, we all sneak a listen at the council. If you win, we stay here and eat cake and get bored." She demonstrated how to play the game, to which Elladan shakes his head at with amusement.

"It is a child's game." Elladan said.

"It gets the job done."

"Alright, then. Best out of three." Elladan said, while Elrohir, Arwen and Anorvain speculated.

It was the only time Liv beat Elladan at any game or challenge. He argued it was unfair as he did not know this game, but she had won fair and square and Anorvain was already getting up to take Liv's outstretched hand.

"Where do you think they are holding it?" Anorvain asked.

"It is a secret council, Anorvain. We do not know." Elrohir said.

"Oh, for goodness' sake. Follow me." Arwen said, getting up herself and leading the way through the secret crevices of Imladris, to a white stone path that led to a hidden patio that Liv had never thought would be there. It was quiet and secluded, even for Imladris. And there, a circle of many important-looking warriors and lords sat, with Lord Elrond in a high chair. Erestor and Glorfindel sat beside him, and among the stout Dwarves and mysterious Elves of Eryn Galen, sat a man with a horn resting on his belt, and there was Bilbo and Frodo as well. In the middle of this circle was a pedestal, and there sat the Ring, golden and simple, as it always was. The group seemed to be in a focused discussion while Lord Elrond spoke to them.

Liv and Anorvain ducked beneath a windowsill, the twins quickly following them to crouch down on the ground beside them, and Arwen casting a quick look out the window before pressing her back against the wall.

"I feel as if I am herding unruly kittens." Arwen whispered, but Elrohir quickly cut her off with a 'shush', making her roll her eyes.

Gandalf was currently speaking, recounting the stories of the Black Riders that had passed through Bree. Anorvain squirmed uncomfortably, subconsciously tucking the arm that one of the Black Riders injured, the one that was taking too slow to heal completely. Gandalf was telling the council about the whereabouts of the Nine as they passed through a town called Bree. He spoke about the White Wizard, Saruman, apparently once a great friend and ally who was now turned into an enemy. This drew concern from Elladan, Elrohir and Arwen. Gandalf spoke about being captured, which made Liv feel guilty for calling him homeless when they first met.

Quite a lot more was discussed, and at great length. Liv grew tired within ten minutes, though it appeared neither of the twins and Anorvain appeared tired at all, such was their training as stealthy hunters. Even Arwen held out for much longer.

They spoke also of a man or a creature named Tom Bombadil, whom the Ring had no power over. Erestor had the idea of giving him the Ring, and a twinge of protectiveness from Liv made her involuntarily jerk. Despite no longer actually being in possession of it, the accursed Ring still held power over her. There were discussions of it being taken over the Sea, but Gandalf protested that the Ring belonged in Middle-earth, for better or worse. Perhaps most concerning, and enlightening, of all was Lord Elrond admitting none of the Elven lands in Middle-earth had the power to keep Sauron's forces at bay. Which meant that the longer the Ring stayed in Imladris, all the more quicker doom would befall its people. Suddenly, it made sense to Liv: the influx of Elves in training, the twins and Glorfindel always going out on patrol, Erestor cancelling grammar lessons so he can be by Lord Elrond's side. If there wasn't a war already, it would come soon enough.

After that, there is the circling conversation of destroying the Ring, with no one actually making a solid plan. By then, Liv had heard enough, her heart already heavy by the thought of an approaching war. She turned to the person nearest to her, which happened to be Anorvain, and tugged at his sleeve, motioning to him that she had had enough.

"I don't think Estel is going to be around for long..." Elrohir said, darkly once they were back to where they set up their picnic.

"We will not be around for long. I'm sure ada would ask us to scout before they plan to do anything, and we would need to tell daernaneth about what is happening, though I'm sure she already knows." Elladan said. Liv's heart sank. It was becoming a problem how often the twins had to leave, because the longer they left, the more she convinced herself to hide the truth from them longer. Clearly, Arwen was hinting at her that this was the wrong idea entirely. But Liv did not want to add to their burden. And she was terrified of what that would mean for her and Elladan. They had barely decided to give their relationship a chance again. She didn't know if she was ready to let it go quite yet.

"Oi! Wake up!" Anorvain snapped his fingers in front of her face, seeing how she had spaced out on them and pointed at someone behind her. Liv, completely unaware that someone else was there, looked up in confusion to find Nimeth there, holding up a parcel.

"Aw, shit." Liv sighed. She knew exactly what was in that parcel. Nimeth, as always, looked oblivious. She and Liv were friends, but Nimeth was always busy in her workshop and was always kept out of the loop when it came to problems. And she was one of the many Imladhrim who was kept in the dark about the presence of the Ring. Instead, she was proudly holding up the parcel, a brown box tied by a ribbon. "Personally my favorite work. The colors turned out beautifully." Nimeth said. What Liv would give to be as unaware as her of how bad things really have become. Still, it was a breath of fresh air to have some positivity.

Liv stood to take the parcel from Nimeth and gave her a hug, just because Nimeth's pure happiness made Liv feel more at ease, "Thank you so much!"

Nimeth was confused for a second before she returned the hug, "It is nothing, Liv! And besides, you paid for it. Come, do you want to show Elarinya now?"

Liv whipped around to Arwen, silently pleading for help. "That is a wonderful idea, Nimeth." Arwen said. "In fact, I shall come with you." That was not the help Liv wanted, but she could take the hint of what Arwen was saying: Stop avoiding your problems already.

"Why do women always have to go around in groups?" Anorvain muttered as the three left to find Elarinya, not like Liv had much of a choice. She dreaded talking to Elarinya. They had been good friends up until Elarinya just decided to cut all ties with her without even so much as an explanation from Liv. Whatever was about to happen, it was not going to be good and Liv had accepted that. But there was a twinge of anger from Liv, as well. For how insufferably stubborn Elarinya was, for how high she sat on her moral high horse when the reality was, she had her own flaws she needed to work on.

Oh, this was going to be either very ugly or full of tears and forgiveness. Liv had let her guilt tell her she deserved to be hated for her mistake, but over the course of being with Arwen and Anorvain, she also came to realize that she still deserved respect as a person, and she would be damned if she let anyone walk all over her like a door mat. She was Olivia fucking Carson. She did not back down.

She stopped Arwen just as they got to Elarinya's door, "If it's alright with you, my lady. I would like to speak to Elarinya in private first."

She needed to do this without Arwen trying to protect her. This was her battle to fight, her relationship with Elarinya that she had to mend. Arwen understood this, and nodded, taking her hand. "Good luck."

"It's only a dress. I'm sure she'll love it." Nimeth said, cheerfully, giving Liv the parcel. Liv was just about to knock when the door opened.

"Oh, there she is! Perfect timing." Nimeth said. Elarinya's expression was unreadable.

"I could hear you through the door. Can I help you?" Elarinya said, though not meeting Liv's gaze. Alright then, that was how she wanted to be.

"Can we talk?" Liv said, trying to ignore the prickling of the back of her neck or the pounding of her heart.

"We're talking right now, yes?" Elarinya said, coldly.

"In private."

"In secret, you mean? Much like how you secretly--"

"Elarinya." Arwen's warning tone. Nimeth was still there, after all, and Lord Elrond had made it clear anything about the Ring was to be kept secret. Nimeth herself was beginning to realize this was more than just about the dress.

"Uh. Am I even supposed to still be here?" Nimeth asked, weakly.

"This is an ambush." Elarinya muttered to Liv, though it did not matter. Arwen and Nimeth could hear her, anyway.

"It's what happens when you refuse to talk to someone maturely." It was the first snark out of Liv. Elarinya raised a challenging eyebrow and crossed her arms.

"Fine. Fine. You want to talk? We shall talk." Elarinya took in a deep breath, "I do not care what you have to say to save your face. You are a liar, and I cannot stand a friend like you any longer. I told Rossien what you've done--"

"You what?"

"--and I do not care if this makes me look like the villain, because I assure you, I am not the one at fault here. What you did was selfish, and you put the lives of the people of Middle-earth on the line for what?"

Liv's mouth was open in complete shock, but Elarinya kept going. "I do not want to speak to you. I do not want anything to do with you. I just want to live the rest of my misery here on Middle-earth at peace. Are we done talking?"

"No! Absolutely not!" Liv snapped. She had had it. She had already beaten herself down enough for taking the Ring. She was just coming to terms with what she's done, and she was not having any of Elarinya's bullshit. Liv did not know if she was more angry or hurt by how quickly Elarinya could just throw their friendship away like that, on one mistake, without any chance of trying to understand where she was coming from. Or the fact that she told Rossien when Rossien was Liv's best friend and deserved to know from Liv, not from someone else who wanted to create drama because she couldn't stand her own miserable life so she had to ruin someone else's.

"You have no moral ascendency over me when you have been the reason why the twins repressed their pain for so long. Elladan and Elrohir believed for so long that they are at fault for Meldaselde's death, that they are at fault for why their mother is no longer here. You invalidated their pain and blamed them for things that they had no control over. I am truly sorry for what I have done and I am trying to make it up to those I have wronged. I am trying to make things better. Have you even asked me why I did what I did? I will answer that for you; no! You formed your judgment and then talked about me behind my back about something so deeply personal. That was not your story to tell! Despite how wrong I was, I would have thought that our friendship meant something to you!" It all came pouring out of Liv, much like the tears of anger that now fought to break free from the dam behind her eyes.

"It is enlightening to know how little others mean to you. How it only takes one mistake for you to judge that you are better than others. You're not. Reflect on your own actions for once instead of projecting and causing drama. I am done trying to fix things with you if you are this resistant to it. What I did was wrong, I will not deny that. But you are not in the right, either."

With that, Liv threw the parcel containing Elarinya's dress at her. "I had that made for you. I hope you like it." And stormed off. Nimeth was standing there in complete shock and confusion, turning to Arwen, who was covering her face with her hand. Elarinya threw the parcel to the ground and kicked it out of her room, before slamming the door shut.

"What just happened...?" Nimeth asked, weakly, picking the parcel back up in her arms. "What I feared would happen." Arwen answered, before leading Nimeth away. This was Liv's battle to face, and Arwen was, in a way, proud that she was beginning to stand up for herself and confronting her problems. It would seem that Glorfindel's supportive words, and Anorvain's comfort gave her the strength that she needed.

Liv, meanwhile, was stomping towards the infirmary. This was where Rossien usually was, making herbs for healing. For as long as Liv knew Rossien, she knew that she was as caring as she was honest. It was why she loved Rossien and always felt comfortable around her, and anxiety couldn't even begin to describe how she felt when she found Rossien where she had expected her to be, silently checking the labels of the poultices she had made.

"Ross."

Rossien turned to face her, and there wasn't the usual warmth on her face. Elarinya breaking the friendship, she could take but Liv did not know what she would do if Rossien turned her back as well.

"I wanted to tell you." Liv's voice cracked. She knew she sounded desperate, like she was pleading, but it was all she could do. "I did. But I did not know how to."

"How about 'Hey, Rossien my most trusted friend, I stole the Ring'?"

"I couldn't! As stupid as it sounds, I could not face your disappointment. And I was ashamed. I was afraid. I did not want you to hate me."

For a painful moment, Rossien just stood there, frozen, considering Liv. Liv had expected the worst, so when Rossien approached her and threw her arms around her to pull her into an embrace, Liv had lost it. The tears flew, and Liv could not stop them even if she tried.

"I was hurt that you did not think you could trust me enough to share this with." Rossien said.

"I was scared you would hate me if I told you."

"I am disappointed, yes. And I thought I was angry but Liv, I am your friend. I will not leave you behind because of one mistake. I may have shed tears for what you did but you are doing something to make it better now, yes?" Rossien pulled away from the hug to hold Liv's face, gently.

"I gave it back the day after I stole it, I swear." Liv nodded, sniffing, but feeling relieved nonetheless. "Elarinya wants nothing to do with me anymore. I thought this would be our last conversation together." She confessed.

Rossien shook her head and hugged her once more, "Cutting you off will only alienate you, it will not help you. What you did was wrong, very wrong. But I will be here to help you rise from it. I am your friend, Liv, for better or worse. I cannot abandon you because of one mistake. All the years I have lived made me realize that everyone will disappoint me one way or another, that everyone will make mistakes, huge or otherwise. And I refuse to give up on you immediately. Our friendship is stronger than that."

Relief flooded through Liv. Anorvain was right. She had family here. She had never had a friend like Rossien before, and she was grateful that they were where they were now. Liv knew she would never want to trade this friendship with anything.

"But, Liv. You must tell the twins. They deserve to know, more than anyone. You have to tell them. It is wrong to hold back that kind of information from them and the longer you wait, the worse it will get." Rossien, always honest, always wise.

"I know. I know, and I will. When the time is right." Liv said. Rossien stroked her hair, "Oh, Liv. There is never a right time to break someone's heart, you either don't or you do. Tell them earlier to save them from even more heartache."

"I cannot bear the thought of hurting them, Ross. Especially Elladan. He deserves so much more than what I did."

"You should have thought about that when you did what you did. Now you will have to face the fact that your actions can hurt others." Rossien took her hands, "Consequences are not something you can run from or avoid. You only face them."

Liv had to admit, she was still scared. But it was a small comfort to know that Rossien would be there to support her and be her strength. Now, she just had to face the inevitability of telling the twins.

And, oh, how her heart broke at the thought of what she was about to do.