The butterfly had emerged too soon.
For an hour he had watched it, and Aragorn could still see it desperately attempting to unfold the damp wings. But it was too weak. And the wings were not fully formed. Even their color was desperately dull.
It would never know flight.
Aragorn dropped from his perch at the seat of a forked branch near an elm's trunk. He walked softly over sun-warmed grass, the green almost white in the noonday heat, to better observe the helpless insect. "You're early," the Man gently told the butterfly, empathy in his tones, even for such an insignificant thing.
"It's just a bug."
Aragorn jumped at the deep voice, utterly shocked that he'd heard no one approach, his heart racing at the familiar tones. He turned to flash a harsh, gray gaze before his expression softened to something less fiery. "Just a bug? Does the form this spirit takes lessen its right to live?"
"You sound like your tutor."
"Good. Better him than you."
"You wound me!" Glorfindel joked, though his eyes did not match his smile. "You're too philosophical."
"For a king?" Aragorn demanded.
Taken aback, Glorfindel shook his head. "For a warrior, I meant."
"I'm not a warrior," the Man grunted, turning back to study the slowing flap of stuck-together wings.
"You will be."
"Just like I will be king?"
Glorfindel let out a sigh. Aragorn refused to turn around and acknowledge it. "I know it's tough, boy. I know that Elrond makes it little easier; only the damn half-Elf could dishearten and encourage at the same time."
"Do you have to be so bloody offensive all the time?"
"No." Glorfindel shrugged, though Aragorn did not see it. "It's my defense mechanism."
Aragorn huffed to himself. "Of the two of us, why do I always seem to be the more mature one?"
"Because you are!" Glorfindel agreed. "I'm old. Not wise."
Allowing a laugh, Aragorn nodded. Then he wondered, "So you don't care about butterflies?"
"Dammit Aragorn." But it was a groan, not a curse. "You can't worry about EVERYTHING. For one thing, you just don't have the time. Do I care about butterflies? Well I do now, damn you."
"No matter how hard I try," Aragorn confided in a whisper aimed at the trembling insect, "No matter how hard I look or reason, it won't get easier."
"That's right. Congratulations. That's my life lesson for the day. I'm going now."
Aragorn spun back around, trying to force the regret and hope out of his own eyes, force it down somewhere deep. "No!" he demanded. "Stay."
"Oh?" Glorfindel asked, poised as if to walk away. "Why should I?" he dared.
Aragorn desperately fought the blush. He was too old for such things. All the same, he could feel the heat creeping up his face, overwhelming under the light of the high sun. Worse yet, he knew perfectly well that Glorfindel was perfectly aware of this fairly common reaction. Surprisingly enough, the old Elf had been gentlemanly enough not to mention it.
"Stay because . . ." Aragorn was reaching and he knew it. He looked at the tiny creature clinging still to the case of its cocoon. "You can help it," he met the dare. He glanced back to the Elf who could carry himself so easily in the carriage of one who is completely at ease with his own strength. Tall. Almost broad. Quick eyes and golden hair. Aragorn looked hurriedly away again.
"Help it?" Glorfindel rumbled in a challenging tone. "What makes you think that?"
"You're an Elf," Aragorn pointed out sardonically. Then, quieter, "You can do things I can't."
"Maybe," the warrior agreed. "But healing was never my forte. Besides, even Elrond can do little for a premature birth."
Aragorn nodded grimly, lifting up a hand as if to run a finger down the insect's long abdomen, and then thought better of it. "We're never really ready for life, are we?" he brooded.
"Never," Glorfindel agreed in a low thunder. Aragorn could hear the smile in the voice. "Life lessons never come easy, and invariably come too late. When young, advice is ignored as impractical or too much work. When old, we forget that there are still things to learn. It never stops. And you'll never be ready."
"I'm not finished. You cannot predict, you cannot depend on wishes, you cannot live always in dreams, boy. But you can fight, when the time comes. Accept the changes, when they come too. And don't you ever fall into the trap of despair." By the end of this speech, there was a particular fire in Glorfindel's voice. "Don't you ever."
"Why?" Aragorn commanded. He steeled his resolve and met Glorfindel's eyes. He saw in those quick eyes something rare. Aragorn's jaw loosened and nearly dropped in surprise. "You believe, don't you?" he said, voice heated and low and disbelieving. "You think I'm to be king. Like a prophecy." His voice grew rich with disdain, "I thought you didn't believe in wishes."
"It's not my wish," Glorfindel told him guardedly. "And there would be much for you to accomplish. Too much, it seems sometimes."
"But you believe it."
Glorfindel shook his head. "What I believe: it doesn't matter."
"It matters to me."
"Why?" Glorfindel asked.
"Because you're my swordmaster. Because, like Erestor and Elrond, you have always challenged me. To look beyond my preconceived boundaries."
"Oh? And what have you found there? Beyond these boundaries of yours?"
"Usually, I find things I wish I never knew existed. Sometimes, I find a precious jewel to covet for life. A grain of knowledge, a forever-truth."
"Forever-truth? No such thing," Glorfindel teased. "Nothing is forever."
"Even the world?"
"Even the world," the Elf agreed.
"That's rather dismal."
"That's why I try to ignore it." Glorfindel managed a smile. "I try not to think too much."
"And you say I'm juvenile."
Aragorn shook his head and looked back to the shivering winged thing. "Are you sure there's nothing you can do?"
"Yes," Glorfindel quickly said. "If you're so concerned about the damned butterfly, you do something."
Aragorn growled low in his throat, lifted his hand again, leaned in close. Closer. The insect's body was full and beautiful, black and iridescent, smooth and furry. Only the wings were crippled. He leaned in closer. "What can I do for you?" Aragorn begged, his warm breath washing over the wrinkled wings. Then, he smiled. "I have an idea," he said, breath ghosting over the butterfly. Aragorn maintained his position, head bowed just a bit, face close the struggling bug. "Glorfindel, come here."
The golden Elf curiously approached. He ducked under the low-hanging branch to stand opposite the Man, and he had to lean down a little further to be on a level with the empty cocoon. He mimicked Aragorn's actions, breathing softly out when he spoke. "What are we doing?"
"Look at the butterfly," Aragorn told him, gray eyes still focused on it. "Our breath is warm and moist. It's helping to keep the wings from drying out. Maybe, it just needed a little more time."
Glorfindel couldn't help lifting his brows in surprise. "Damn. I think you might be right."
They maintained their gentle breathing, both trained intently on the tiny creature that painstakingly forced the wrinkled wings to stretch and test the air, revealing colors like aqua and viridian in strange patterns on otherwise black wings. Those shining, shimmering colors could have been stolen from Glorfindel's eyes.
The wings opened and closed. Opened and closed. And then the butterfly flew away, floating shakily on the breeze before it gained a steadier hold on the finicky air.
And the Elf and the Man were left, with heads bowed, staring suddenly at one another, the empty cocoon a translucent brown shell between them.
Aragorn licked his lips. He stood up straight again, in sudden, jerky movements.
Glorfindel did likewise, but slower, calmer.
They looked at one another over the low branch, still indecently close.
Aragorn moved the way humans tend to. Not quite graceful. Not quite steady. His lips searched for Glorfindel's and found them. It was wet. And hot. He pulled back.
"Well this is awkward," Glorfindel told him.
"For me," Aragorn agreed, blushing again. "Not for you."
"Why not for me?" Glorfindel queried, his head tilting curiously.
"Because you're Glorfindel. Nothing gets to you."
"Says you," Aragorn reminded him.
"Well, I think this is awkward," Glorfindel protested, a bit miffed.
"Because you're my student."
Aragorn shrugged. "So turn around and walk away," he challenged. "Forget it. It won't be hard for you."
"Don't claim to know me," Glorfindel ordered. "Don't be like that. You're not even forty years old. You're a Man."
Aragorn furrowed his dark brow in confusion. "You sound like you're trying to convince yourself, Glorfindel."
"All these many years," he agreed. Then he turned around. And walked away.
Aragorn watched him go, knowing that this was something Glorfindel would never forget. "Maybe it just needs a little more time," he whispered to himself.
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