Legolas gazed around the dimly lit forest floor, scanning for tracks. His mind was only half on his task (though it was important that he succeed) because he was being distracted by the images of a certain Ranger that continually flitted through his mind.
Fifty years ago- a mere moment, as elves reckoned time- Legolas had visited Rivendell to spend time with his friends, Elladan and Elrohir. His father had given him permission to stay as long as he wished, and so he simply resolved to abide in the Last Homely House for several years. Journeys to other elven kingdoms for rare for the sons of Thranduil, and Legolas bad been determined to thoroughly enjoy himself. Flashback:
Legolas rode through the waters of the ford, and up the steep trail to the House. He could already hear the merry voices of his people as they sang from tree to tree. He glimpsed some of them and smiled. The dress of Rivendell was somewhat more regal and stylized than what he was used to in Mirkwood. Where he was clad in a simple, moss-green tunic and comfortable (and flattering) leggings of the same color and shade, the elves of Rivendell were garbed in robs of gold, rich purple or even white. Legolas laughed at this a little; never would he be caught in a white robe-twas the most effective way to draw spiders and orcs to you. Of course, he had to remind himself, this valley was a safe haven, much as the Golden Wood was. Mirkwood was the strange place out of the three kingdoms, since Dark creatures roamed it as freely as the elves.
'I personally think that makes us better fighters,' Legolas mused as he spotted the gates to the House not far ahead. 'At a very early age we are taught ten defenses against the Enemy's servants.'
He reached the courtyard beyond the gates and dismounted smoothly. At once, an elf appeared, smiling slightly. "You are one of King Thranduil's children, are you not?" he asked, reaching up and stroking the chestnut horse's nose and brow ridges.
"I am Prince Legolas," the other returned, a little surprised. This elf appeared to be a stranger to him. And though most of the sons and daughters of Thranduil had inherited their father's dark hair, Legolas had been born fair-haired and green-eyed, a rare jewel in the darkness of Mirkwood.
"You were noted by several of the Dunedain as you neared the valley," the elf responded.
Legolas remembered hearing the men as they went about their daily chores of hunting, gathering and cleaning. He had climbed a tree and watched them for some time as they wrestled in a small stream, fighting over who would wash the clothes that week ('or month, or maybe even year,' Legolas had thought, his mouth curving into a wry shape; he could smell them from where he spied). It had never occurred to Legolas that he had also been observed. He spoke out loud in his confusion. "Surely they couldn't have seen or heard me, with all the noise they made themselves!"
"Before he died, Arathorn ensured that they knew how to set subtle watchers. No one, unless they are aware of these guards ahead of time, can slip among the Dunedain undetected."
Legolas gazed at him for a moment, wanting to gape, but restraining himself. "Who are you?" he asked at last.
The elf bowed then, but he also made a slight noise of embarrassment. "Excuses. It's been a very off-day for me. I am Glorfindel, secretary of Lord Elrond Half-Elven. Welcome to Imladris, Prince Legolas."
"Thank you." Legolas was about to turn his mare free, as they did in Mirkwood, but then he hesitated. "Do I need to find her a stable?" he asked.
"Or she can roam free. The grass on the eastern side of the House is particularly succulent."
The mare tossed up her lovely head, whickered softly, then rubbed her nose against Legolas's shoulder. The prince smiled at her. "Go on; we're going to be here for awhile." She cantered away.
"How long are you planning to stay?" asked Glorfindel keenly.
"Until the twins drive me insane," Legolas responded.
Glorfindel laughed. "Together, that will take only a few minutes. May I suggest that you have patience with them, and come find those of tamer persuasions after they have gotten in your hair?" They began to walk towards the main building, where the Hall of Fire, as well as the library and Elrond's personal study resided.
"Of course. And I have known them for a long time; if they're anything like the children I grew up with, I'm prepared."
"For most, with age comes wisdom; with them, with age came daring and a propensity for loud parties."
"Lord Elrond doesn't seem the type to allow loud parties," Legolas noted, drawing on his former knowledge.
"Nor is he, but they have always had a certain power over him, with his wife in the Undying Lands and his daughter in Lothlorien." He smiled. "Though they may be getting a rude awakening; Elrond has a new child to care for now."
"Who is that?"
But Glorfindel only smiled. "I'll let Elrond explain that to you, if he wishes. Though doubtless you will meet the child if you stay here for any length of time." He grinned ruefully. "Or you will hear him."
Once inside, Legolas the ambushed by the twins and dragged into their room. By the time the door was closed, all three were panting heavily from their wrestling match; Elrohir was sporting a torn tunic and Elladan's carefully braided hair hung in his eyes. Legolas surveyed the twins, then pointed to his own unrumppled clothes and intact braid. "You haven't changed," he teased with relish. "I can still kick both of your asses effectively without half-trying."
"You may be the better wrestler, but we're the better hunters," Elladan boasted.
Legolas laughed outright. "Lies don't become you, son of Elrond." He tried to feel Elladan's forehead, but the elf ducked. "Perhaps you're feverish, or possibly you are simply mad."
"We'll have a hunt then, while you're here," Elrohir retorted, "and you'll admit that we're neither mad nor boasting."
A young child's wailing suddenly pierced the air. Legolas jumped in surprise, then glared at the twins, who were snickering.
"That's our brother," Elrohir offered.
"Has Lord Elrond taken a new wife, then?" Legolas asked.
"Nay, he loved our mother too much for that." Elladan beckoned. "Follow us."
The three of them left the twin's room and hurried down the corridor towards Elrond's set of rooms. At the door, Elladan gave a slight knock, but then simply pushed the door open without waiting for an answer. The other two followed him.
Legolas's jaw dropped. Elrond was standing, only half-clothed, in front of a table that was covered with a white cloth. And on the table, his legs kicking and his arms flailing as poop flew everywhere was a human child. He had to be only about a year old. He howled up at the ceiling as Elrond attempted to change him. The elf-lord's hands were covered with excrement, which he was trying to clean off so he could redress the screaming child.
A door on the left side of the room opened, and Glorfindel strode in, his hands clean and a fresh cloth diaper ready. He walked to the table, picked up the child under his armpits and held him there. The clean diaper was slung over his shoulder. Unlike Elrond, he was fully dressed, and, also in contrast to the dark-haired elf, he seemed completely at ease.
"I thought I wouldn't have to face this anymore after Arwen was potty-trained!" Elrond wailed, completely oblivious to the fact that he was being watched by more than Glorfindel and the baby. "Maybe I shouldn't have agreed to this..."
"You couldn't turn he and his mother away," Glorfindel answered as he took a clean cloth from where it hung on a rod at the edge of the table, soaked it in a basin of water, and then began to clean the child, who had stopped screaming and was whimpering quietly.
"I know, but it would be helpful if she were here right now..." He groaned as he looked down at his poop-stained raiment.
"She's resting. It's been a hard week for her." Glorfindel finished cleaning the baby, dried him off then slipped the diaper around his waist expertly.
"Where did you learn that?" Elrond demanded enviously.
"From my mother. I have no siblings, but my aunts and uncles had about fifty children each..." He chuckled at Elrond's expression.
"Fifty?!" Elrond cried.
"They are very long-lived," Glorfindel responded, grinning. "And female elves can give birth six times each year with only a fraction of the pain that mortal women suffer." He shrugged as he began to rock the human child, who was cooing now. "I was my parents' eldest son, I helped to take care of all of my nieces and nephews, and then helped to mind my great-nieces and nephews afterwards." Without looking away from Elrond, he asked, "Can we help you?"
Elrond spun around. "How long have you been standing there?"
"Since you started complaining that you-
Elladan jabbed his brother in the ribs. "Father, Legolas of Mirkwood has come to visit."
Legolas stepped forward, feeling a little uncomfortable, aware for the first time that the three of them had been eavesdropping. He bowed.
Elrond nodded to him, then turned, plucked the child from Glorfindel's arms and gave him to Elladan. "Will you mind Estel for a while, please? I do have paperwork that needs to be tended to sometime before the next winter."
It was then early spring. Elladan and Elrohir grinned at each other, then left. Legolas glanced at Elrond, who had retreated to his desk, then at Glorfindel, who was trying unsuccessfully to hide a smirk. Legolas followed the twins.
That afternoon, Legolas spent some of the strangest and most important years of his life under a tree in the center of Rivendell. He'd decided to take the baby, since Elladan and Elrohir both cried off, saying they had to prepare his feast. Before they disappeared, leaving him quite alone with the large-eyed child, Elrohir had muttered something about Estel being rather feisty, and he and Elladan needing a little break.
Legolas took Estel under a tree and began to sing to him. He was afraid the baby would start crying at any moment, and so he sang to stave off the inevitable.
Instead of screaming, though, Estel seemed to be studying him. He reached up and grasped a bit of blond hair that had fallen over Legolas's shoulder. He smiled, and Legolas was caught by the enchanting gray eyes that gazed so raptly up at him. The elf didn't stop singing, but he became less attentive to the words and more interested in the tiny features and the small hands that played with his golden locks.
"adalalaaa," Estel informed him, sounding approving and content.
Legolas laughed like cascading water. "Really?" he asked.
"bllaaa." Estel confirmed. Then he let go of Legolas's hair and reached up further. He frowned and tried again. He didn't want Legolas's hair; something else had caught his attention. Legolas bent closer, so that his face was right up to Estel's.
The baby grabbed Legolas's nose and giggled.
Legolas gasped, his eyes dancing. "You caught me!" he whispered.
"Eeee!" Estel cried. Then he yawned, let go of Legolas's nose, grabbed his hair again, then stretched a little. He whimpered softly, and made a sucking motion with his mouth.
"He'll be wanting this."
Legolas glanced up quickly. "Glorfindel... I didn't hear you coming." He took the bottle. "Thank you."
"He's mesmerizing, isn't he?" Glorfindel asked. Without waiting for an answer, he turned on his heel and walked away.
Legolas slipped the nipple of the bottle into Estel's mouth and watched in fascination as Estel drank happily. When he was done, Legolas raised the baby onto his shoulder as he'd seen his mother do with his younger siblings, and burped him. A little clear, sticky spit landed on Legolas's shoulder, but the elf brushed it away, rubbed his fingers on his leggings, and began to rock Estel slowly, humming as he did so.
"dooa," Estel murmured sleepily.
"Yes," Legolas answered as if he understood.
Legolas came out of his reverie when he spotted the single track in the soft dirt around the sapling's roots. This young tree had been recently planted, probably by a Ranger. Legolas frowned at it though, wondering why his prey hadn't simply stepped around the soft earth, leaving no impression at all. He'd been so careful up until now. 'Maybe he just slipped... but I doubt it, not this Ranger.' Intrigued, Legolas began searching for more signs in the direction that the footprint pointed.
That night, as Legolas rolled himself in his cloak in the high branches of the oak tree, still having not caught his quarry, or coming any closer to doing so, seemingly, he relived the discussion he'd held with Elladan, Elrohir and Haldir back in Rivendell. Flashback:
"Estel's coming home!" Elrohir cried, vaulting the railing and dropping the story and a half to the grass below. He landed lightly and rushed forward, catching Legolas's shoulders in a firm, excited grip. "Legolas, Estel'ss coming home! He'll be here tomorrow! The Dunadan, Halbarad, just brought news to Ada."
Legolas felt a stirring of guilt in his stomach as he always did when Estel's name was mentioned. "That's good," he said unenthusiastically.
"Ah, come now, Legolas, you aren't still angry with him, are you?"
:Legolas gaped at him. "What do you know about my feelings towards Estel?"
"I know he embarrassed you fifty-something years ago," Elrohir answered, and now his eyes stopped dancing. "That may seem like a mere day to us, Legolas, but surely he has forgotten his lust for you. He was only seventeen, after all; how did you except him to react to coming upon you naked?"
"He should have had more restraint, especially since he was raised by Lord Elrond. He's not a mere man; raised by elves, he should have known better."
Elladan's voice spoke from behind Legolas. He was walking towards the main house with Haldir a step behind, both carrying their bows and quivers full of arrows. "All men, and elves, when they reach majority, can't helped but be slightly sex-crazed." His tone was slightly wry, and if Legolas had been paying attention to it, he would have heard the self-mockery Elladan thrust upon himself.
Legolas laughed shortly. "So it's all right for a man during his age of majority to try and tumble me, is that it? Or do you just allow him such antics because he's your brother?"
"Estel is not the same young man you knew, Legolas," Elrohir interjected. "We've ridden with the Dunedain many times, and he has become more restrained in his moves and reactions."
"I'll believe it when I see it," was Legolas's skeptical answer. "Even if he holds himself in check, I'd be willing to bet he's just as arrogant a jackass as ever. No one can change that much, especially not Estel."
"He has changed," Elladan maintained. "And remember, his name isn't Estel anymore; it's Aragorn."
The next morning, Legolas rose early. He couldn't help thinking that he should be finely dressed when the exiled king of Gondor appeared. He plaited his hair with great skill, dressed in his best informal tunic and put on a pair of midnight-blue leggings. Gazing at himself in the mirror, he wondered if maybe he should wear something a little less flattering. There was no reason to tempt the Heir of Isildur unnecessarily. Then he frowned. 'Why am I worrying so much about what I look like in his eyes? He can deal with his emotions himself- and if he can't, I teach him again why he shouldn't ever touch an elf without permission.'
Still, before he left the room, he made sure his tunic was completely straight. As he walked down the corridor towards the dining room, he thought, 'I'll probably have time to eat a little breakfast and practice my archery before he arrives... not that I need practice.' Smiling to himself, he opened the dining room door.
Elrond sat at the end of one of the six tables, and his sons sat to his right and left. And beside Elrohir...
The man's back was to Legolas, but the color of the hair was the same as he remembered, though the hair itself was longer and wavier than he remembered. He was dressed simply in a forest-green cloak, which he'd unpinned so it simply lay on his shoulders, and, Legolas's saw under the chair, worn, comfortable-looking boats of tanned buckskin.
Legolas didn't realize he'd been staring until Elrond looked up, spotted him, and gestured slightly towards them. "Come, Legolas, join us. There is no ceremony this morning."
The man rose, and turned. His eyes were grey, as always, but darker somehow. His jaw was square and set, and his face was lined with care and weather. But when he smiled, the darkness that seemed to have settled on his shoulders lifted, and the grey eyes beamed at Legolas. He pulled the chair out beside him.
Purposely ignoring the offer, Legolas walked around the table to sit beside Elladan, and across from the man. He wanted a little distance between them.
Aragorn replaced the chair and sat again. He took up his fork, looked as though he were going to stab a piece of melon with it, then said, his eyes on his plate, "Well met, Prince Legolas."
His voce was quite a bit deeper than Legolas remembered; rougher, too, as though he had been smoking. Well, that was what Rangers did, wasn't it? Hunted the servants of the Enemy, slept and smoked. Legolas smirked as he thought this. "Yes, well met, Aragorn," he returned coldly.
Elrond broke the uncomfortable silence that followed Legolas's reply. "How long do you think you will be staying, my son?"
Aragorn did stab the melon, then he brought it to his mouth and chewed it before answering. "I'm thinking only a day or two," he answered after he'd swallowed. He looked up at his foster father. "I'm sorry it can't be longer, but I must go to Rohan now; Thengel King is dying, and I would see him one last time if possible."
"Are you strong enough to attend a feast tonight?" Elrond asked.
Aragorn smiled once again. "I would welcome the chance to spend time with my other family again."
"Other family?" Legolas repeated, feeling a little insulted, though he wasn't sure why.
Aragorn glanced at him, then quickly away. "I meant to say my first family, but yes, Legolas, I do have another. The Dunedain are my family as sure as they are my friends and my responsibility."
"Would you like to join Elrohir and I on a hunt?" Elladan asked. "Perhaps others of the house would come, too. Haldir of Lothlorien is here, and he is an excellent hunter."
Aragorn laughed. It was a full, strong sound, with no trace in it of the shadows that clung to his face and hid in his eyes. "Are you still trying to prove you two are the more skilled among us?" he demanded. Then he laughed again. "Very well, I will join you, but so that there can be no cheating or accusation, I propose a change in our usual game." He folded his arms and waited.
"And what might that be?" Elrohir returned, his voice and posture a perfect imitation of his little brother's.
"Simply put, I will be your quarry, and you must hunt me."
Legolas scoffed loudly, "You're a man! We'd run you down in an hour, even if you had a day's head-start!"
"Would we?" Elladan asked Legolas, raising an eyebrow. "I didn't know you were going to join us."
Aragorn said calmly to Legolas, his eyes quite serious, though his mouth continued to smile, "I promise, Prince of Mirkwood, I will be a challenge to you."
Legolas almost demanded, "A challenge in what way? Will you stalk me, Man?" but he bit his tongue and nodded. "It's settled then. When do we start?"
"Tomorrow, midmorning," Aragorn answered, looking to the twins to see if they approved. "That way we will all have a chance to sleep off the enormous amounts of wine and beer we're going to consume before sunrise." He rose, then. "May I be excused, Ada? Glorfindel promised me a gift when I arrived, and I should find him before he forgets."
Elrond nodded graciously. "I will see you at lunch, then." He, too, rose, stepped towards Aragorn and embraced him briefly. "It is good to have you home, Estel."
Aragorn returned the embrace, then stepped back, tears in his eyes. He bowed once more to all of them, then left, closing the door behind him.
Legolas rose. "I forgot something in my room; I will return." He, too, exited. When he was outside the dining room, he listened for Aragorn's footsteps and followed him towards Glorfindel's chambers. 'What sort of gift would he give you? It wouldn't be a sexual gift, by any chance, would it?' Part of his mind knew he was being unfair, but Aragorn had taken many lovers when he was still Estel, and Legolas found it doubtful that so much could have changed. Though he wasn't sure if Glorfindel had been one of those that came willingly to the young man's bed, it was possible, and so he followed. 'I would prefer to know his mind before the hunt.'
Not wanting to be observed, Legolas entered the guest room next to Glorfindel's which was thankfully deserted, crawled out the open window and crept along the ledge to the other window. The curtains were pulled back, and Legolas could see Glorfindel standing in the doorway, his back to the room. A low murmur of conversation reached Legolas, who pushed at the window slightly so that it was open a crack. Now he could hear clearly.
Glorfindel stepped aside, and Aragorn came in, closing the door behind him. "You've been away too long," Glorfindel noted as he led the man further into the room. "Have you missed everything?"
"Imladris will always be my home," Aragorn answered. He was touching one of the tables, looking at the carving of two soaring birds that Elrohir had made for his teacher some years ago. "Things don't change here, like they do in the rest of the world," he murmured, picking up the carving. "How long has this sat on this table, for instance? A century? Two centuries?"
"Six," Glorfindel answered as he watched Aragorn. "Elrohir has been an adult for some time now, and that was his way of thanking me for my teaching."
"More likely he was infatuated with your beauty," Aragorn returned lightly, still turning the birds over in his hands.
Glorfindel sighed. "Estel, don't go there please."
"I won't, not again. Besides, we're both adults now, and I am beginning to understand why you didn't allow his feelings to perpetuate."
"Really?" Glorfindel sat down at his desk, straddling the chair backwards. It was something Legolas rarely saw him do; he was usually so refined and proper.
Aragorn set the carving down, then took a chair himself, sitting identically with his arms folded on the chair's top rung. "A young Ranger-his name is Saru- approached me just as Elrohir did with you."
"How old is this Saru?"
"When he spoke to me of his love, he was thirteen."
"Aii! I knew the Dunedain blossomed young, but he was still a child!"
"I know." Aragorn shook his head. "He's twenty now, and in love with a woman by the name of Sarahe. I think they will compliment each other; she is soft with her friends, and fierce against her enemies, just as he is." He laughed quietly. "I only happened to be at the wrong place at the wrong time. He was extremely... horny... that day, and I was washing the blood of a deer from my hands, arms and chest."
"Has he forgiven you your refusal?"
"Yes, thankfully. Just like Elrohir, it took him awhile, but now we are close friends. If Saru's father, Halbarad, passes before I do, then I will make Saru my second in command in his place." He straightened suddenly. "Now what was this gift you promised me?"
Glorfindel smiled mischievously. "Something you'll never want to be without again." He went to a chest in one corner of the room, unlocked it, then bent with his back to Aragorn. He rummaged for a moment, then stood, bringing a long something out that was wrapped in cloth. He turned and held the present out to Aragorn, who had also stood. "I made these for you, so that when you come to the throne you will have something of the elves."
Aragorn removed the cloth and gazed in awe at the six small knives. "Glorfindel, they're beautiful." He held one up, gazing at it with joy. "So strong and light..." He smiled gratefully, and again the tears filled his eyes. "I will need these when the wilds are lonely..." He put the cloth back over them, laid them reverently on the nearby bench, and turned, hugging Glorfindel. "Thank you, thank you."
"I knew you would miss your people, Estel," Glorfindel murmured. He was stroking the man's hair as Aragorn leaned his head against the other's shoulder. Legolas saw no sexual hunger in his eyes. "Please remember that we love you, son of the North and West, and we always will."
Legolas shook his head. It was only a simple gift, after all. He left the window-ledge, feeling slightly embarrassed and hoping that no one had seen him.
At the feast that night, Legolas watched in amusement as one elf after other, male and female alike, approached Aragorn and asked him to dance. 'I would never fawn over him like that,' Legolas thought, though he had to admit, if only to himself, that the man was quite well-made. This was undisguised by any sort of covering, because a Mating Dance was being held in his honor, so that he wore only a doeskin kilt around his waist. His body was bronze and hairy- 'too hairy for me' Legolas thought-even as he grew hard at the thought of touching the downy, brown-gold fur that covered his chest and flat belly.
'He's not the only one with no shortage of partners,' Legolas thought as he dancing with Haldir. He'd been asked by nearly everyone there, except Elrond, Glorfindel and Aragorn himself. It wasn't unusual for the two eldest elves in Rivendell to simply watch instead of dancing, especially during Mating Dances, and Legolas told himself he would have refused if Aragorn had asked him.
"May I cut in?"
Legolas glanced at Elladan in surprise. He was looking at Haldir, asking to step in. Haldir nodded, then, as he pulled away from Legolas, was caught by Elrohir, who spun him away at once.
Elladan caught Legolas's hands, and they wove back among the dancers. Elladan wore a very naughty expression, something Legolas could scarcely remember seeing before.
"What's on your mind?" he demanded.
"Aragorn's challenge," the twin returned at once. "How would you like to make it more interesting?"
"How so?" Legolas asked, thinking, 'I misjudged his look for a sexual one, when he's just wanting to tease his little brother. I don't think Elladan has a sexual bone in his body.'
"Simply put, whoever catches him- we'll hunt alone, of course, making it more interesting- gets to..." he blushed a little "hit on him."
Legolas was about to squawk that he would sooner kiss a troll, but then he caught a glance of Aragorn out of the corner of his eye, saw to his surprise that Aragorn was dancing with Glorfindel, and felt an unaccountable rush of envy. 'I'll win, then teach him what it feels like to be assaulted...' But even as he formed the thought, he knew he wanted Aragorn for other reasons. "All right, I'm in. Do we tell him?"
Elladan shook his head. "Absolutely not." He winked at Legolas as Elrohir returned with an evilly-grinning Haldir, and the two brothers strode off together as Legolas and Haldir revolved, studying each other and considered what they'd both just been told.
Later that night, as Legolas made his way back to his room, he heard voices in the passage ahead of him. He recognized them instantly as belonging to Aragorn and Elrond. He crouched against the wall, concealing himself in a shadow as they approached. Elrond was speaking in a gentle, soothing voice. "Aragorn, time means different things to elves. We do not see fifty years as more than an instant."
"I know, but..." Aragorn sighed heavily. "He still hates me. I know I shouldn't have tried to... well, tried to rape him..."
"It wasn't rape, Estel; you didn't strip him or even mess up his hair."
"He thinks it was rape. And maybe it might have been if he hadn't been quicker and stronger."
"Personally, I believe that you would have stopped before it went that far. You were acting as a randy young buck, but you also had control, even then. I think you would have come back to your senses in time."
"Maybe... in any case, it doesn't matter. Legolas hates me, and he'll never forgive me for screwing up." He sighed deeply. "I want to be his friend, Ada; I hate not being on good terms with every elf; it's like having one of my Rangers angry with me."
"I know. Perhaps you should talk to him."
"He won't listen."
"He won't get a chance to listen if you don't try. Swallow your pride, Aragorn; it's sustained you through the hardness of the Wilds, but it's not needed here, and may keep you from accomplishing what you seek most." They passed Legolas, who held his breath, and then the two stood at a branch in the corridor. "Sleep on it, my dear Estel; I know you'll do the right thing." Elrond kissed Aragorn's forehead, then turned left.
Aragorn turned right, calling, "Good night, Ada."
When they were both safely away, Legolas crept to his own room. End Flashback
Legolas rose; he couldn't sleep. The sudden, desperate urge to be the first one to find Aragorn overpowered him. He gathered his bedroll, then dropped silently from the tree. There was a full moon, and he could see quite clearly. He gazed in astonishment at the twenty or so footprints beneath his tree. They hadn't been there before he went up- and they were undoubtedly Aragorn's! It looked as though he had paced here.
'How could I fail to hear him?' Legolas demanded, feeling foolish. 'That's it; I'm not going to give into any more memories. There'll be plenty of time to remember when I'm in bed with him.' Legolas caught his breath at the startling need he heard in his own musings. He shook it off fiercely, though, telling himself he just wanted to learn what sex with a man was like.
Legolas studied the tracks carefully. They seemed to point in all directions, but Legolas quickly saw a pattern. An equal number led north and south, and the rest all went west. So he traveled west, listening with everything he could spare, including his elven sense. He ignored the question of the seeming coincidence that Aragorn had paced under his tree, out of all the trees in the forest. There would be time to answer that question, and other such distractions, later. He tracked the moon down and the sun up, refusing to stop for rest. How far could the Ranger have gotten if he was under Legolas's tree only a little while ago?
As the sun rose, Legolas smelled the smoke from a campfire. He wasn't sure if he should ignore it, so he followed the tracks, which were becoming more frequent now, and kept the scent in the back of his mind.
Abruptly, he came out into a clearing. The forest fell away on all sides for about ten feet around. Legolas stood, transfixed by the sight he saw before him. The ground had been trampled here by a hundred feet, and, having grown up in Mirkwood, Legolas knew those feet to belong to orcs. Even if he hadn't known the tracks, dead orcs were scattered about the clearing. Aragorn's tracks led directly into the clearing. Legolas trod forth softly, his senses raised to a fever-pitch. With orcs about, he desperately hated to be in the clearing, unsheltered, but he needed to know what had befallen Aragorn. He soon determined that Aragorn's tracks were just as old as those of the orcs, making it likely that he'd met them here. And from the number of discarded arrows on the ground, it seemed he had fought them here as well. Legolas picked up an orc-arrow and studied the notched tip. He cast around the rest of the arrow-head, but couldn't find it. What remained of the arrow-head and the arrow-shaft were covered in blood. Legolas sniffed at it, though he almost knew, by the color, that it must be Aragorn's. He dropped the arrow, and began to follow Aragorn's tracks again, which led everywhere, but at last led to the edge of the clearing. Many of the orcs lay scattered in the clearing, but others had followed the man. Fearing the worst, Legolas trod cautiously forth.
Aragorn was bleeding from the arrow-wound; splatters of blood had been caught on stones, leaves, and the bark of trees. Still, the orcs followed the injured Ranger. Legolas had taken out his bow, and had fitted an arrow to the string, waiting. Occasionally, he came across the body of a dead orc. Most looked as though they had been stabbed rather than shot. Aragorn was either out of arrows or couldn't use a bow because of his injury. At last, the elf's sensitive ears heard the snarling of orcs.
Not far away, Legolas found an unnatural clearing in the woods, where tress had been pulled down and destroyed, seemingly for no reason, since the trunks lay everywhere. In the center of the clearing, six orcs surrounded Aragorn, who truly looked dead on his feet. His eyes were bright with pain, and his mouth hung open as he gasped for breath. Blood stuck his shirt to his ribs. He was standing, a filthy sword in his hand, but he could barely lift it, and he was losing the strength to stand. Then one of the orcs moved a little, and Legolas saw that the front of Aragorn's pants were torn away, exposing his organ to the foul creatures around him. His penis looked swollen, as though he'd sustained an injury in that most delicate of places.
"Come, pretty whore, let us soothe you," one of the beasts taunted.
Legolas loosed an arrow directly into the thing's unprotected head. He fired three more times before any of the orcs could react.
One of them, realizing that he was in danger, tried to seize Aragorn and use him as some sort of shield. But Aragorn staggered away from him, then fell to his knees, giving Legolas a clear shot, which the elf took, felling the other two orcs in an instant.
Legolas stepped forward, putting his bow on his back. He walked forward slowly, not wanting to startle Aragorn, who had surely seen him, and yet was staring at him as though he, Legolas, might be another enemy. "Aragorn?" Legolas ventured, keeping his voice gentle. "It's all right now; you're safe. They're all dead."
Aragorn didn't respond, but twisted his body so that he was sitting instead of kneeling. Then he began to fumble through the pockets in his cloak.
"You're injured," Legolas continued, moving closer still. "Let me help you."
The man shot a look up at him that said clearly, "I can't trust you." Then he returned to his searching, but he kept one eye on Legolas as he did so.
The elf stopped walking forward and dropped to his haunches. He stared at the man earnestly, unsure of what to say.
"You caught me," Aragorn said suddenly, his voice husky. "You were right; I wasn't much of a challenge to you." He pulled a pouch from his pocket and removed two leaves, which he took and chewed, sucking the juice from them. Then he began looking for something else.
A soft crunching sound reached Legolas's ears just before a large hand was clamped over his mouth. He jerked spasmodically, making "mmph, mmmphh!" sounds.
Aragorn looked up, startled, and Legolas saw the mixture of fear and rage in his eyes.
Then the knife was placed against Legolas's throat, and he ceased to care what Aragorn's eyes looked like.
"Two tasty, pretty whores, all for me," muttered the gravelly voice close to Legolas's ear. Then the black, vile tongue darted out to lick his unprotected ear.
Two other orcs came out of the trees, and the one that held Legolas leered at Aragorn. "Unless you want me to stick him like a pig, Manflesh, come with us." The other two orcs approached, bound Aragorn's hands, and dragged him to his feet.
Legolas wanted desperately to fight, but one look at Aragorn convinced him he couldn't. Aside from how his own death would be received, in Mirkwood as well as in Rivendell, how would the death of the last Hope of Men be received?
The smell of putrid breath brought Legolas back to reality. The orc that held him was blowing in his ear, then inhaling the scent of his hair. He and Aragorn were led out of the clearing and back into the pathless forest.
They marched for an hour, by which time Legolas could clearly feel the hardness that was pressed against him with every other step. The orc wanted him, and was making no secret of that fact. Neither were the other two, who played with Aragorn's penis, crushing it and then stroking, sucking at his neck until the Ranger had a circle of red-purple marks around his throat.
As much as Legolas hated walking with those loathsome hands on him, he dreaded what might happen when they stopped. So when the leader of the orcs, the one clutching him, called a halt, Legolas began to feel sick with fear. He steeled himself, telling himself he couldn't show his terror... but the smell of that decay-shit breath was enough to make his stomach clutch beneath his ribs.
He and Aragorn were tied to a sapling so that they were standing back to back. The orcs stripped them both and set immediately to their play. Legolas's ears, nipples and balls were abused by too-eager lips, tongues and teeth. All three orcs were assaulting both of them.
During a lull, in which all three orcs seemed to be touching Aragorn, Legolas heard one of them grunt, his need evident in his voice, "Just let us know it feels good. Then we'll stop." Legolas struggled, trying to see what they were doing, but he couldn't.
"You're hard, Man; just admit what we already know," the leader added. "It won't disgrace you. Only the five of us will know about it."
"I'm surprised you can count that high," Aragorn spat. Legolas heard the orc snap one of Aragorn's bones- he couldn't know which one-it was like a green branch breaking, and he shuddered slightly. Orcs were the worst creation ever made, he thought. It was almost impossible to believe that they had once been elves.
As if he was reading Legolas's thoughts, the leader returned to him, licking up his neck to his ear, then biting the sensitive skin, drawing blood. "You should be enjoying this," he breathed, his breath again making Legolas gag. "I'm your cousin, after all."
The elven prince knew better than to respond. Unlike Aragorn, he thought he at least knew when to keep his mouth shut. Anything that infuriated the orc couldn't be good for him.
"Say you like it," the orc encouraged, using the same technique he'd attempted on Aragorn. "It will all be over faster, and with less pain, if you do."
The other orc was speaking to Aragorn, and Legolas couldn't help but pay attention to the words they exchanged. "What is your name, fair one?"
"If you wish to know, release me."
"Ha! You must think me a fool! We tracked you too long for that."
"You'll learn my name if you untie me. I'm not going anywhere; the elf is my husband. And besides, I can't fight you; I have no strength. One of your friends stabbed me pretty badly. See my ribs?"
"Yes, I see them, but your name isn't important to me, not really. I'll just call you whore."
"My name means something to your master."
"I have no master."
"Really? I'm sure Urhag would love to hear you say that."
The leader abandoned Legolas for the moment, surged around the tree and seized Aragorn by his throat. "How do you know him, Filth, and be quick about it!"
"I know who killed his brother, Nurhang, last year, on the borders of the Misty Mountains. You're all a long way from home. Are you looking for his killer, by chance? It was a Ranger, you know, one of my dear friends." He laughed, though it sounded strained; Legolas wondered if the orc-leader was partially strangling Aragorn.
'What are you doing?' the elf wondered. 'Why are you feeding them this news?'
"The Ranger you seek is called Strider, though you may know him by other names, Orc-Slayer and-"
"Tell me where to find him!"
"If you let me go."
"No. You'll tell me willingly, or I'll enjoy beating it out of you."
"You can't defeat a Ranger's will; didn't your bitch-mother teach you anything?" Aragorn demanded. "Oh, wait, that's right, you have no mother. You sprang from the maggots in a decaying warg's flesh! And here I was thinking it was just your upbringing that made you so-"
There was a dull clunk as Aragorn's head was hit against the sapling.
Legolas heard a movement above him, glanced up and saw two humans watching them from a tree branch. He wasn't sure, but he thought they were both men. One of them had his bow out; the other held a throwing knife. Both looked absolutely furious. 'Are those Rangers?' Legolas tried to keep from blushing. He was standing in the nude, after all.
Then the orc-leader stepped around the tree and caught Legolas's face in his hand. "I could kill your little husband, Manflesh, if you don't tell me where Strider is."
"No!" Legolas had never heard such terror in the man's voice. "Please, I'll do anything, just don't hurt him!"
The orc laughed. "Really? Anything?" He began to rub up against Legolas. "What will you do for me? Would you lick me?"
"Fuck me?" one of the other orcs demanded.
"Yes, anything, just don't hurt him."
"What abou-" The leader's words stopped abruptly as three arrows ended his life; one in his head, one in his throat, and one, which barely missed Legolas, in his crotch. He was dead before he hit the ground. The other two orcs started to move, and were killed in similar ways.
'Three arrows?' Legolas wondered. 'There are only two Rangers.' Then he heard the light-footed approach of elves, and Elrohir's voice reached him, murmuring, "We're here, you two."
Legolas glanced up as the Rangers dropped from the tree and approached. One had long, red hair and the other- it was a woman, Legolas could tell now- had dark brown hair that hung to her waist in a neat plait. Then his hands were unbound, and Legolas stepped gratefully away from the sapling, accepting the long cloak the red-haired Ranger handed him.
"Strider, you promised you wouldn't leave Rivendell without us!" the young man exclaimed. He walked past Legolas, and the elf turned, following him with his eyes.
"My brothers challenged me to a hunt," Aragorn answered ruefully; he, too, was wrapped in a cloak, though this one was elven. "I couldn't resist a challenge."
"And yet you always tell us to travel in pairs," the woman interjected.
Aragorn laughed, but then groaned, touching his side gingerly. "You can punish me, then, when we return to camp. For now, though, I must tend my ribs." He looked around for his cloak, and Legolas, spying it, grabbed it off the ground and brought it to him. Aragorn smiled a little at him, an honest smile that reached his eyes this time, and said, "Thank you."
"You talked the orcs into confusion," Legolas noted, unsure if he was teasing or frankly awed.
"I saw Elladan and Elrohir and wanted to keep the orcs focused on me," Aragorn answered. He had removed the pouch from his cloak again, and was chewing more of the leaves.
"Estel, we just let you see us, you know," Elrohir told him. "The orcs would have never known we were there."
Before Aragorn could respond, Elladan, moving to his brother's side, touched the man's ribs lightly, muttered, "They're definitely broken," and ordered Aragorn to lie down. When the man had complied, Elladan gestured to Legolas and Elrohir. "Hold him," he commanded.
Elrohir knelt behind Aragorn and grasped his shoulders firmly. Legolas took Aragorn's left hand in both of his and squeezed it gently, bending close to Aragorn to catch his eyes. "Focus on me," the blond elf whispered. "Pay attention to only me."
Aragorn opened his mouth to respond- Elladan's hands moved quickly- there was a soft snap- and Legolas's hand felt as though it were in a vise. Aragorn was gritting his teeth, but still a whimper escaped his lips.
Elladan moved again, snapping two more ribs back into place. The man's eyes were watering and he shivered slightly as elven hands saw to his healing.
The two Rangers came close then, and the redhead asked, "Do you want us to take you home, Strider?"
"He should rest in a warm bed in a dry house for a few days," Elladan told them, checking his work delicately with his fingers.
"I think my brother is right, Saru; I'll rest and then journey to Rohan." Aragorn panted as he spoke, and sweat streaked down his skin.
"What shall I tell Malacai?" the young Ranger asked, squatting down beside Legolas and gripping Aragorn's arm. "Will you try to travel before you are fully healed?"
"Yes, I must. Tell your father that I will need one or two to go with me because of my injury."
The woman laid her hand on Saru's shoulder. "We could go with you."
Aragorn studied her for a moment, then broke into the language of the Rohirrim. Only the Rangers understood his words, "Are you not with child, Sarahe?"
Legolas glanced at the sons of Elrond, who shrugged. Elrohir mouthed, "Ranger secrets." The blonde turned back to Sarahe and Saru in time to see the young woman blush and nod.
"Then you must not come," Aragorn answered in the Common Speech. "I'll find someone to journey with me."
Legolas opened his mouth to volunteer, then shut it again. Aragorn wouldn't want him as a traveling companion... 'Besides,' he excused himself, 'I'd have to ask my father, and that could take a month. From what Aragorn has said, the king of Rohan could die at any time.'
The Rangers accompanied them back to the borders of Rivendell. No one spoke at first. Along the way, they met Haldir, who had run into another party of orcs, also looking for the Ranger, Strider.
"You've left quite path of destruction behind you, little brother," Elrohir teased.
Aragorn shrugged, and answered easily, "If I didn't kill him, we wouldn't be having this discussion."
At the ford, Saru said, "We'll turn back, then, and I'll tell Malacai." He caught Aragorn's shoulder gently, and the older man turned to face him. "Promise me, Strider," he commanded, his brown eyes flashing.
Aragorn nodded slightly, his eyes serious. "I will be careful, Saru, and I will take good warriors with me when I go. I have hope to return before the winter storms."
Legolas watched the warmth between the two men with more than a little jealousy, even though Saru was obviously with Sarahe. They seemed so comfortable together, and Legolas wanted to be the one touching Aragorn.
Legolas curled up in the tree, feeling undeniably depressed. When they had reached the Last Homely House, Elrond had ordered Aragorn to bed. Neither the twins or Haldir said anything to Legolas about the wager, and so he didn't mention it. He'd watched Glorfindel and Elrond follow Aragorn to his room, to ensure that he slept well, and the twins and Haldir had disappeared in another direction, leaving Legolas quite alone and forgotten.
In the tree, as the wind puffed softly around him, sounding like an elf mourning, Legolas began to cry, letting himself be rocked by the breeze, burying his face in his long hair. He shuddered, knowing that he would never be anything to Aragorn. Then he thought, furious at himself, 'He won't want me; why am I acting like a child? He doesn't want me, and never will.' But he couldn't still his tears.
The moon rose, and painted the leaves around him with silver. The sight of such beauty stabbed his heart. 'I have no one to share this with.'
'Why should I care?!' he shouted at himself. 'I've never wanted anyone before!'
'Do I love Aragorn?'
'It doesn't matter; it can't happen, so I may as well give up.'
He squeezed his eyes shut tightly and wished for the night just to pass. 'I'll return to Mirkwood in the morning,' he resolved.
He was awoken much later- the moon had set- by the sound of soft, gravelly singing. He sat up, and nearly fell out of the tree in shock as his foot got tangled in his cloak, and he pitched forward almost off the branch. Aragorn was sitting not far away, his back leaning against a tree. He was singing the Lay of Luthien, quietly, to the listening sky. His eyes were closed, and his hands were resting in his lap, but they were clasped tightly, as though he was in pain.
Legolas, enchanted, and also a little concerned, dropped noiselessly from the tree, and approached him. "Aragorn?" he breathed.
The man didn't seem to hear him. He continued to sing, and now Legolas could see the sweat on his forehead. He was shivering slightly, and his hands clenched harder.
Legolas dropped to his knees at Aragorn's side, and touched his arm. "Aragorn?" he repeated; he began to rub his fingers up and down the worn cloth. The arm beneath his touch was quivering.
Aragorn opened his eyes, and the grief in his gaze shocked Legolas. "What-" he cleared his throat roughly- "what are you doing here, Legolas? Did I wake you?" He looked away hastily.
"I heard you singing," the elf explained. He didn't pull back from Aragorn; the man seemed to need something.
"I woke you," Aragorn concluded, his eyes still averted. "My apologies, Prince Legolas; it won't have happen again."
He made as though to stand, but Legolas forestalled him. "Aragorn, wait." When the man looked at him, he added, "Please?"
Aragorn sat back down, his hands clutching each other desperately. He closed his eyes, too, as though to protect himself.
"Shouldn't you be in bed?" the elf pursued. "Your ribs-"
"They hurt too much to sleep," Aragorn responded, and now his voice was even huskier, as though admitting his pain made it twice as hard to bear. "And... and I was thinking about the orcs..."
"Orcs are like that," said Legolas, trying to sound airy and unconcerned. "They're sex-crazed when it comes to Men and Elves: we're the only ones that can survive them. Hobbits certainly don't stand a chance. They like having their targets alive when they're finished."
Aragorn scowled. "I wasn't talking about that..." He bit his lip for a moment, then confessed, "I have put my people in danger by killing that orc."
Legolas blinked. This wasn't what he'd been expecting. "Aragorn," he exclaimed in some exasperation, "as you said, if you didn't kill him, you'd be dead! How can you regret something like that?"
"I wish I had only my own welfare to worry about," the man murmured. "Saru is right; I should have never suggested such a foolish hunt." He laughed bitterly. "After living with elves for so long, you'd think I understand mortality better than most men, but here I am, throwing my life away for a game." He shook his head, disgusted with himself. "I'm a fool."
Legolas had a sudden thought, an unshakable impulse; he knew how to shut Aragorn up and calm his own raging emotions at the same time. Leaning forward, Legolas caught Aragorn's mouth with his own. His hands came up to Aragorn's shoulders, holding the man still as he deepened the kiss.
The Ranger sat, stunned, for a long moment, but at last he returned the kiss, his tongue seeking Legolas's, and his hands coming up to touch Legolas's hair, then his ears, lightly.
Legolas gasped in pleasure at the touch. "Aragorn..." he groaned into the other's mouth. His penis hardened instantly, and he shifted so that Aragorn could feel the effect he was having on the elf.
"I need you," Aragorn rumbled, his hands stroking up and down Legolas's back now. "Not like when I was young- I need you as one soul needs another, as a mother bird longs for her nest, as a fox-"
"Aragorn?" Legolas interrupted.
"Hmm?" the man asked, sounding startled.
"Do us a favor and shut up."
Aragorn laughed. "What!?"
Legolas's eyes were dancing. "You heard me, Ranger; how many other ways do you wish me to say it? Please be quiet, stint your foolish noise, keep your sexy tongue behind your teeth, use your mouth for something more product- Ahhh!"
Aragorn's fingers were stroking Legolas's growing organ. "I can do two things at once," he teased. "I went to the official Dunedain School of Multi-tasking." And then he captured Legolas's lips with his own, sucking at them, teasing the tongue he found. Soon, they were both moaning loudly.
Someone cleared their throat at that moment, and the two hastily parted, staring up guiltily at Lord Elrond. "Estel," the older elf admonished, trying to hide his smile, "you are supposed to be resting."
Unable to stop himself, Aragorn asked, "May Legolas rest with me?"
Elrond sighed. "Only if you really do sleep. You are in no condition for lovemaking, Heir of Isildur."
"Yes, Ada," Aragorn answered, blushing a little. He stood, and Legolas rose with him. Neither of them could quite meet Elrond's eyes.
"I am glad you found someone to take with you to Rohan," the elf-lord called to them when they had started walking towards the House.
They both turned, Aragorn gritting his teeth at the pain his sudden movement caused him, and Legolas held his hand more tightly. But then Aragorn smiled, and he whispered to Legolas, "Do you want to come with me to Rohan?"
Before he could answer 'Yes! Yes! I thought you'd never ask!' Legolas felt Aragorn's fingers on his face, wiping away the moisture they found there.
"Legolas," the man asked, sounding breathless, "why are you crying?"
His first instinct was to deny his tears, but Legolas shoved that arrogance aside and leaned willingly into the embrace Aragorn offered him. "I wanted- I wanted you-" he gulped- "to ask..."
Aragorn laughed softly, but there was no mockery in his voice. He drew Legolas even closer and laid his cheek against the soft hair. "I love you, Legolas."
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