A Fine Balance
by Ana Library Elf


contribution in LASlash Ficathon 9/2005 for SILEYA!

Author: Ana Library Elf (lib_elf AT yahoo.com)

Beta: Chloe Amethyst (the kind and knowledgeable!)

Pairing: Aragorn/Legolas

Rating: PG-13 to NC-17 Romance and Angst.

Disclaimer: I own no characters from any Tolkien book or movie. No profit, just sweat. However, I like to listen to the nice voices.

Summary: FOTR, AU, post mines of Moria. Can Aragorn help his Elf restore the lost balance of duty versus desire, or head vs. heart, or love vs. honor? (*or* all of the above)

*Author's note: Inspired by the Theban Band art work: "Swoon" Photo-manip image of Legolas passed out in the arms of Haldir. I had to find out *what* was going on and why?! (sorry, no L/H action, this is all about first time A/L!) Sadly, since copyright issues exist, I cannot share that image here. LOTR Theban art can now be found at Yahoo Group for Theban Band (http://groups.yahoo.com/group/thebanband/?yguid=197212724 ) as zipped jpg folders in "Files" section. *evil grin* email me if you cannot find it.

Warnings: None really, just playing in AU, a little angst, fluffy romance, adventure and metaphysical stuff.

Archive: ALSlash, (OEAM, Aniron, Nectar --- all slash appropriate sites welcome, just LMK?)

Feedback: Always appreciated!

Author's notes: Liberties taken with use of Quenya & interpreting the Valar --- please indulge?

All word research done at "Council of Elrond" language dictionaries.

Sindarin Language Notes:

daro: "stop"

mellon: "friend"

meleth: "lover"

melethron: "male lover"

Aran Guren: "King of My Heart"

le annon veleth nin: "I give my love to you"

suilad: "greetings"

mae govannen: "well met"

Quenya Language Notes:

hroa envinyata fëa : "flesh (or body) heals the spirit"

hroa: "body" Quenya dictionary (COE)

envinyata: "heal" (verb) literally "to renew" Quenya dictionary (COE)

fëa: (noun) spirit or soul Quenya dictionary (COE)

"A Fine Balance"

Ana Library Elf August 2005

Setting: Lothlorien, during the Quest

Chapter One: "Losing the Battle"

He spoke quietly into the blue darkness. "I have not the heart to tell you. For me, the grief is still too near."

Legolas closed his eyes and listened to the ethereal lament echoing throughout the vaulted arboreal arches of Lothlorien. Crystalline sorrow threatened to escape the net of dark lashes against the porcelain skin, but he held himself together and presented a calm exterior to reassure the other members of the Fellowship.

Gandalf was gone – their center lynchpin of stability had fallen away into the darkness of Moria. The members of the Quest all felt an aching emptiness and a deep sense of unease for the security of their group. The royal archer silently suffered his own internal turmoil and a different apprehension stirred within. He needed to be alone. A fall of moonlight hair glinted in the shadows as the slim figure walked slowly away into the aisles between the huge trees. Only Aragorn noticed the lost look on the fair face and after several minutes quietly followed the Elf.

In the last weeks Legolas had become an ever-tighter bowstring no matter whether scouting, hunting or fighting, and had seldom found true rest even in reverie. Maintaining maximum alertness was a different experience with this mixed group of travelers than when he had been on patrol with elves. When sharing duties with Elven warriors there was another level of mental rapport that allowed individuals to be aware of their surroundings as well as receive emotional sustenance. There was no such connection in the Fellowship, even as much as they were loyal to each other and committed to the same goal. In truth, the archer had felt drained while supporting the others and compelled to maintain his own standards of excellence in all other activities. Nothing less than perfection was satisfactory for a Prince of Mirkwood.

Moving further into Lorien pathways he was conscious of a deep fatigue, and even felt lingering pains from the battles in Moria. This was an unusual state for an Elf when normally one would have recovered from injuries within days. Legolas wasn't thinking normally either, as images of the confrontation with the Balrog played over and over, and forced him to relive the paralyzing fear and intense anguish as Gandalf fell into the abyss. He was ashamed of his own terror and at the same time relieved that it had not been a certain other individual who was claimed by darkness. He visualized the last dangerous jump over the stone bridge, and with an aching sigh remembered the comforting weight of the ranger within his arms.

Coming to a circle of trees, he walked forward and leaned into one of the majestic mallorn, seeking reassurance in the midst of emotional storms and physical discomfort. The tree radiated sympathy as the Elf's thoughts churned in an uncharacteristic manner and emotions escalated after long repression in the Moria mines. Being underground had been torment for a Wood-elf since the tension was alleviated only by the brief distractions of battle. The trauma of Gandalf's loss had further shredded mental stability and the need to press on had barely kept it all at bay. The prince was pulled in too many directions at once: duty, fear, grief, and a growing awareness of a long denied desire. He turned his face into the sweet bark and reached for support as a wave of dizziness washed over him.

Traveling on the same tree lined path, the Lothlorien Marchwarden observed the Elf ahead of him. At first not knowing who it might be, Haldir was simply struck by the grace of the figure and the sad droop of the elegant head pressed against the large tree. In another moment he quickened his pace as the other seemed to falter, bending forward in obvious distress. He neared, and recognized the prince.

"Thranduilion, what troubles you?" The Marchwarden placed a sustaining arm around lithe shoulders as Legolas straightened with effort. Haldir noticed the paleness of the sculptured features and downcast eyes that failed to meet his own.

"'Tis but tiredness. Pray do not concern yourself Marchwarden. I would not disturb your duties."

"My duties include the comfort of our guests, and it is more than tiredness." Haldir felt a tremor in the form within his grasp, as if the archer was so tense he was vibrating.

"Come, sit." He guided the prince to a bench and felt him sink down quickly, trying to hide unsteady legs. "You did not used to be so reserved with me. What pride keeps you quiet now?"

"Nay, not pride." The lyrical voice was low and strained. Haldir continued to rest an arm around the rigid warrior, remembering other times when he had been a mentor to the younger Elf and sensing a deep disturbance. The golden head hung low, still refusing to rise toward the cool gray eyes.

"You are not well, Greenleaf. Talk to me. I will find out what is wrong, one way or another." Haldir gently turned the fine boned face and glimpsed bruises showing at the base of the alabaster neck. "What is this?" He pushed the gaping collar open a bit more and felt the prince stiffen under probing fingers.

"I was not quick enough in the mines—the troll…."

"You should be recovered by now. There is more here than physical trauma." Legolas half-heartedly tried to pull away but the Marchwarden held tight and reached for the natural mental connection between battle companions. His eyes widened as he sensed the deep pain and the variety of divisive feelings tearing at the prince's mind and body. Haldir gripped the archery trained muscles even tighter and felt a wincing reaction under his hands. "You are very hard on yourself; there is no reason to be ashamed of your conduct."

"I failed to be at my best. It was being underground—"

"Did it stop you from fighting with all the fine skills you possess?"

"Nay, but a Mirkwood warrior does not show fear."

"Daro. Remember, fear is a useful tool. It is an awareness that teaches us to pay attention. It is foolish to ignore, and our companion in every battle. You fought well anyway, and I know were instrumental in saving the Fellowship more than once."

"Aye, but I was not strong enough to maintain focus. I was distracted." The royal archer abruptly stood, still graceful, but swaying slightly as Haldir rose behind him.

Haldir pressed near. "No one could have saved Gandalf. You take on too much."

Legolas took a step forward, and lifted his head to the sparkling darkness as cascading hair created a silver stream down his back. "I am not worthy Haldir. My thoughts and heart are divided."

"Do you think Isildur's heir does not know your feelings?" The older Elf had seen within the archer's conflicted soul, to the core of his desire and the desperate control that required heart to be sacrificed for honor.

"I cannot let him know. I cannot betray the faith of the Fellowship, or his trust—" The subdued voice caught as the mental and physical torment reached an unbearable peak. The prince felt his body seeking escape and had the oddest sensation of mentally rushing upward toward the stars. His knees folded and consciousness surrendered as the archer slowly toppled backward into strong arms that broke his fall.

The Marchwarden had seen what was coming and reached forward quickly as Legolas collapsed, pulling the willowy form against his shoulder, and supporting the slender Elf against his broad chest. He held still for several long moments, sympathizing with the pain flowing through their mental rapport and at the same time immobilized by the prince's physical proximity. He was acutely conscious of the smooth satin throat near his cheek and the passionate heart fluttering under his hand. Aye, it would have to be a cold soul indeed to ignore this one's affections, repressed or otherwise. He would prove to be right; such feelings were not ignored.

Aragorn caught up to his quarry in time to see the warrior limp in Haldir's arms and in three quick strides was beside the warden as the stricken prince was carefully eased onto soft moss.

"What comes to our royal archer?!" He exclaimed in no small concern, possessively brushing silken hair and reaching for a pulse just below the sharp jaw line.

Haldir noted the attentiveness. "Burdens both physical and mental trouble the woodland prince. You may be able to remedy both." Aragorn glanced at him in surprise as he continued to examine the motionless Legolas, who was somehow very compelling in graceful disarray of fanned hair and relaxed limbs.

The Lothlorien Elf knelt beside the ranger and pointed to the bruising showing at the open collar line of the inanimate Sindar. "There may be more of this. Apparently, he is not healing well."

Without hesitation Aragorn loosened the soft shirt and bared the ivory torso. He hissed in dismay at the dark contusions covering the left side and tried to remain clinical as he ran callused hands over velvet skin, searching for further injury. The human took a steadying breath as his healing senses found deeper tissue trauma and possible cracked ribs. His abilities reached deeper and tried to unblock checked energy flow in several vital centers. The golden Elf remained quiescent with eyes unnaturally closed.

"Why did he not tell me he was hurt?!" The Dúnadan's hands remained on the smooth pectorals, and he became abruptly aware of tightening peaks under brushing fingers. He moved to safer territory on the marble shoulders.

Haldir looked into eyes as stormy as his own. "Possibly because he did not wish to discuss why he is not recovering."

"And that is -- ?"

"Mental stress. Moria was one element. A Wood-elf suffers severely underground."

Aragorn nodded and remembered how Legolas took extra watch shifts while stating he may as well be useful as long as he could not rest. His performance never visibly declined, but there must have been even more affliction than the Elf would admit. The ranger glanced down, one hand supporting the shapely skull, feeling luxurious hair crushed against his palm. He closed the open shirt, very conscious of glowing, exposed skin.

Haldir continued. "Gandalf's fall was another pain. But the heaviest burden of all was the silent conflict of duty versus desire. That made everything else more difficult." Facing the elder Elf's regard, the human's intense eyes flickered, but did not turn away . "You must be aware of how Legolas regards you."

Aragorn's breathing quickened. "He has always given me the greatest respect and loyalty. We have known each other many years."

"He would die for you. And possibly you for him." The Marchwarden sighed. "Even he may not know when it happened, but—Estel, a fine balance has been overthrown. You have engaged more than his loyalty—you have his heart, and that heart may be breaking. That is why he is not recovering."

Aragorn closed his eyes as bittersweet joy filled his mind. He had known for a long time that he felt more than friendship for one of the fairest of the Firstborn. He never believed that Legolas felt more than brotherly affection in return. The Elf was by turns teasing, exasperating, logical, sometimes foolishly brave, a friend who listened and advised, never demanded, and who was always available. The Elf must have incredible emotional control to have kept the depth of his feelings hidden. For both of them, the stress of this journey had breached long held barriers. The ranger was shaken.

"Nay. Prince Legolas cannot be bound by a mere human." The words sounded hollow even to his own ears.

"You are not a mere human, Son of Arathorn. What does your heart tell you?"

Aragorn looked at the still beauty under his hand and ached to do more than touch. "He is the brightest thing in my life. I would do anything for him." He realized his own uncertain future, and at the same time recognized an unshakable determination to have Legolas by his side. The realization shone in his mind that whether they lived or perished in this Quest, he could not imagine a life without the Elf as part of it.

Haldir must have seen some of that determination in his face. "If you really mean that, then there is a chance of healing. Come, let us see what can be done."

Gesturing for the human to follow, the authoritative Elf easily scooped Legolas into his arms and walked down one of the other paths. Slender limbs and a spill of flaxen hair swayed in the Marchwarden's hold as Aragorn followed unhesitatingly, still looking with concern at the unresponsive body.

In a short time they came to a tree so huge that a single chamber was hewn inside the massive trunk. The interior glowed with dozens of candles and Haldir entered the open door arch quickly, not looking to see if Aragorn followed. Inside, the room was full of flickering shadows and reflections thrown by flames dancing in glassed sconces mounted on the honey toned wood. It was furnished with thick rugs and stacks of richly covered pillows, and had the necessities of bathing and cooking facilities concealed in curtained alcoves off the main area. A fireplace was set with logs, but not lit. The entire atmosphere was soothing, intimate, and somehow very sensual.

While still keeping an observant eye on where Haldir carefully deposited Legolas, Aragorn looked around the room in curiosity. "What is this place? It could be a lovers' retreat."

Haldir's eyes gleamed in the low light. "How interesting that you perceive the essentials. This is a place of healing the spirit and the flesh. Or more correctly, where the flesh can heal the spirit, 'hroa envinyata fëa'"

He arranged the prince on a collection of pillows, settling him gently. "This is a sacred space open to all who seek healing through the unconditional sharing of the body in a heightened state of spiritual awareness."

He continued. "The way of the Eldar embraces love in all forms. What is expressed here can heal the mind and the body. You are more powerful than you know, young human. Consider what is already within your heart, and you can achieve much for the ailing prince and yourself." There was a look of comprehension on the ranger's face as he watched Haldir check a pale, slack wrist.

The Warden shook his head. "This is not good. He should be coming round by now."

Aragorn quickly leaned over the motionless archer, again radiating his own unique healing tendrils of energy and felt a stirring in the fair form under his hands. The subtle, entrancing fragrance so peculiar to Legolas came to the human's senses as the Wood-elf murmured something in Sindarin and arched into the ranger's touch, bringing one of his hands up to grasp a mortal forearm with tenacious strength.

"Peace, mellon, I am with you." Aragorn spoke without thinking, offering comfort and took the slim hand in his own. The prince quieted, and without truly awakening, turned slightly toward the ranger's warmth.

Haldir stood and went to a shelf where medicinal supplies were kept. He nodded. "It goes better when you are near. We need to talk before going further." He poured a glass of miruvor for the human, who sipped with one hand, while keeping the other connected to long, white fingers. "This is the way of it. You and Legolas need each other's strength to continue. The terms of the relationship must change if the prince is to recover."

Aragorn's eyes flew to Haldir's face. "What are you saying? That he won't be able to go further with us?"

"Not quite. But judging by responses, you do realize that you are half bonded already? If the connection is denied, you will both suffer, and quite possibly the prince will fade."

"I won't allow that to happen. Legolas' light will not fade from Middle Earth while I am here."

The Marchwarden started as they both felt a harmonic resonance echo through the trees and tingle on the surface of their prickling skin. "You have just spoken words of prophetic truth and the Lady's power in this wood has acknowledged it. Are you ready to face her judgment?"

The ranger stiffened. "Would she deny what Legolas needs? I think I understand what you are asking and I will not hold back from what I know is right."

"You are human and have free choice, but be warned that the Lady always sees to the innermost realities, and may tell truths you fear to know."

Gray eyes glinted steely sparks. "This I understand, and hear me in return, Haldir of Lorien. I know not if any of us will survive this journey, but I will keep faith with those I love and never abandon a friend—Elf, human or otherwise." He turned back to the one whose hand he still held, and found himself being regarded by hugely dilated sapphire eyes. He had to lean forward to hear the muted voice.

"Aragorn, you need not make this choice. You have a destiny to fulfill. I knew this when we first met, but could not change what moved within me. Do not be tied to my mistakes –"

A callused finger touched the silken lips. "Hush, mellon nin, it is mine to make. You and I have shared too much to forsake a future we cannot predict. I only know that you are a guiding light in my life and will not be abandoned."

Legolas shifted, wincing and trying to rise. "Nay, my captain, you are bound to the Evenstar and her future will help fulfill yours in ways I cannot."

Haldir reached to help the prince sit up as another pair of hands supported the insistent royal archer. The Lorien Elf looked at the ranger over the bright head between them. "You are both right. The future is unclear and the present needs must be addressed. As for the Evenstar, there are precedents…."

Aragorn nodded. "I know of what you speak Marchwarden, and if we succeed, and if we survive, I will recognize all commitments and make sure that honor is served in all things."

For a second time a chiming resonance was felt in the wood and Haldir raised a surprised eyebrow. "Spoken like a true king, and again the truth is felt. Yes, Elessar, you are the one."

"'Tis not a title I have earned. And will not deserve if compassion is withheld." Aragorn's eyes dropped to the wilting figure held in their mutual grip. Legolas was awake, but breathing shallowly, and with a slight frown between the flying dark brows.

There was a whisper of sound outside the tree and as all eyes turned to the door, the Lady of Lothlorien regally entered the chamber in a glowing waft of sweet fragrance and white robes.

Haldir immediately stood, a reverent arm across his chest in salutation. "Lady Galadriel, we are honored."

Her enigmatic smile brightened the very air. "You knew I would come, Marchwarden. Many forces are at work in this wood and I hear them all." Galadriel advanced toward the trio. "This chamber holds the threads of the future. The next age will be shaped by other than the Firstborn."

Her gaze held them, especially Aragorn. "Your need called, and I am here to offer choices."

Legolas turned large eyes on the ranger and struggled to stand. The human responded with a swift arm around the slim waist and helped them both to rise and face the immortal being filling the room with waves of power.

She extended a radiant hand. "Prince Legolas, son of King Thranduil, and Aragorn, son of Arathorn. There are many paths open for both of you." The dark eyes revealed no emotion as they gazed on the human. "Isildur's heir, you spoke truly and named a future that is most likely to be. Thranduilion, should you wish it, you may share that future, though it will not be free of pain."

Legolas inclined like a wind-tossed sapling and pulled slightly away from Aragorn. "My Lady, Elessar should be free to choose his path without encumbrance. I offer my bow and my life to the Fellowship."

A pale brow barely lifted. "And what of your heart, fair prince?"

The shining head dropped low. "It will make no demands."

Aragorn stepped closer and encircled the trembling shoulders with strong arms. "And what of my demands? You have freely given me a treasure I secretly desired but never hoped to possess." The prince's head snapped up and face went even paler as the human continued. "I demand that you allow me to return the regard long denied, but now called by its true name."

An unsteady white hand lifted ineffectually to stop the words, but the human turned the Elf to face his declaration. "Allow me to love you, Prince Legolas of Mirkwood."

"Nay, Aragorn, do not be forced to this by pity."

"Pity has nothing to do with it." Golden hair fanned out as the willowy prince was fervently shaken. "Stop being so stubborn!"

The Lady and her Warden exchanged satisfied glances while the other two totally ignored them.

Legolas clutched the ranger's arms in an effort to remain standing and spoke in a painful, breathless voice. "What of Arwen? I will not come between you."

"If we all survive, we will be together. She loves you too, and would kill me if I allowed harm to come to you. Think, Legolas. There have been royal arrangements before, there can be again. Do not shut me out." Aragorn held tight to the swaying form as the archer shook his head.

"I want to hope, Estel –" He laughed disjointedly. "You are our hope aren't you? But how—" Words were cut off as his captain wrapped the warrior in an enveloping embrace that brooked no resistance.

The human tried to remain careful of injuries while he buried his face in the sweet juncture of neck and shoulder, and inhaled the lush scent of the Wood-elf. Blurred, dark indigo eyes swam out of focus as the doubting prince finally understood the other's sincere intentions. The world shifted, his heart gave a great lurch, and he simply went limp in Aragorn's arms. The future king cradled the precious body to his chest and carried Legolas to the nearest layer of pillows.

Not even realizing how imperious he sounded, the ranger ordered Haldir's assistance. "Bring me a glass of the miruvor." He applied the restorative to bloodless lips and was rewarded with more comprehension in the depths of the blue-black eyes. Never taking his gaze from the beloved visage, he held one of the chilled hands in a determined grip and listened as the Lady spoke.

"I think the choice is made." She smiled in her own mysterious manner. "The trees are happy, Lassegalen. Accept what has been given and take strength for the future." She turned to the Marchwarden. "Does Elessar understand the way of 'hroa envinyata fëa' ?"

The silver haired Elf nodded, smiling in return. "I think he knew the moment we entered the room. All that is needed now is time and privacy. Will you ward the doors, or shall I post guards?"

The White Lady made a series of intricate gestures and several things happened at once. The logs sprang to flaming life in the grate, water could be heard filling the nearby bathing tub, and a green shimmering curtain of light appeared in the doorway.

She advanced to stand beside the two lovers. "The sharing here will heal you both and create hope for the future. This space is yours for two nights and two days. Be prepared, you may receive dream guidance or challenges. Either way the time is yours alone. Blessings on you, Prince Legolas, and king to be, Elessar. Your combined light will guide us all." She turned, and with Haldir close behind, stepped through the glimmering green doorway and left behind an aura of blooming freshness and forest tranquility.

The man and his Elf sat still for several moments while Legolas leaned into the circle of the human's steadfast arms and simply felt safe. Aragorn dropped a soft kiss on the translucent temple and spoke quietly. "Don't talk, I'll make some tea."

Chapter Two "Restoration" (Setting: Lothlorien, and Valinor during the Quest)

Aragorn waited until Legolas fell into his first true reverie in weeks and tried to ease away from the somnolent figure without disturbing much needed rest. The Dúnadan began carefully untangling himself, paused while fingering a gilt strand behind a leaf-edged ear and decided stillness was a better option. He stared at the radiant creature so trustfully pressed against his shoulder and remained wrapped round the Wood-elf, noting a faint blush tinting the lofty cheekbones and nourished his senses with the heartbreaking beauty that clung so selflessly to his mortal fate. Breathing slowed and both spirits accepted temporary slumber.

An indeterminate time later the ranger awoke to a light weight resting on his chest and found himself observed with painful intensity by the Sindar's cobalt gaze.

"Hannon le, my captain. I am grateful to have you by my side --- for what little time is granted us."

There was a note of sadness in the melodic voice and the Elf started to say more but the human interrupted.

"No more protests, melethron." Dilated azure eyes blinked at the endearment and the man continued. "We are here for each other and we *both* need this for whatever the future holds. Will you accept that?"

"Aye, Elessar, you have my loyalty and my life." The archer inhaled slowly. "Take my heart — it is already yours."

Aragorn brought a gentle hand to the column of white neck and rested a thumb on the sensitive corner of jaw and delicate pulse. He whispered. "You must partake of my heart as well."

He felt a tremor in the fine form as the noble warrior turned his head away and let the pain emerge. Legolas was pulled into a vital embrace and silver rivulets streamed down ivory features.

Unconditional acceptance was the Elf's final undoing and erratic respiration turned into convulsive grief that went on and on in a deeply felt release. The human held tight and let the tears flow, but sensed that control was needed before too much strength was expended. He gathered the shaking archer into his arms, all the while murmuring soft comfort as he carefully undressed the yielding body and headed for the bathing area where the tub was still magically warm.

The ranger's clothing was rapidly shed and the two companions sank into steaming water as a rich swirl of gold tresses pooled around their shoulders and luminous limbs were soothed into trembling submission. Aragorn inhaled mingled breath and regarded the sweetly arched mouth with unashamed desire while savoring a suspended moment before their first lovers' kiss.

Incandescent cerulean eyes suddenly blazed into gray as Legolas abruptly closed the gap in a lighting strike of eager lips and the heat of that joining went right to the human's center. They both felt every sense explode at once. It was as if a deep harmonic chord sounded, a nova expanded behind closed lids, each inch of skin tingled, smell and taste mingled in ultimate delight, and all anatomic molecules spun in one unified revolution. The forest pulsed powerfully while Arda and Valinor took note.

Legolas tenderly cupped the man's face and drank once more of mortal sweetness. "Aran Guren, King of My Heart, make us one. Burn away sorrow with love!"

Aragorn felt the words dance across his spirit, and with a blaze of power all his own set about to passionately consume his beloved Elf. Leaving the bath, he spread the faultless body on velvet cushions just as luxuriant as the creamy skin he caressed, and began worship with the slender feet. Tracing sculptured arches and encircling tapered ankles, he separated the long, leanly muscled legs. Light strokes trailed up calf and quadriceps, teasing inner thigh and bypassed downy treasure for later discovery.

The prince reached to return the touch and was gently commanded.

"Nay melethron, not yet. You are to let me love you. Accept what is given and let the healing begin."

A pleased hum greeted the statement and further sighs attested to successful efforts. The ranger was determined to explore slowly and not to rush the journey since this was a voyage he had dreamed of for far too long to be hurried, and he found the reality of Legolas in his arms a joy beyond belief. Bringing pleasure to this amazing being of immortal grace was a blessing he had never thought to achieve and it was incredibly stimulating to watch the erotic arousal on the fair face and to realize that he was the cause of such bliss.

Aragorn restrained slim wrists and licked the inside of one bicep, finding a surprisingly tender spot that elicited a hitched gasp. He continued to taste, lick, nibble, suck, chew, bite, and kiss his way across the archer's chest as the ever more responsive sinewy torso writhed delightfully. The sensitive Elf was trying to stay in his hroa as stimulation by his beloved sent his mind spiraling. The feel of Elessar's rough cheek and battle hardened body sent sweet fulfillment to the Elf's wounded soul and his spirit unfurled fragile leaves in the bright rays of the human's nurturing love. In addition, dark bruises on the pale ribs had almost faded completely, attesting to the further effectiveness of the chamber's restorative abilities.

The ranger felt the flat abdomen beneath him clench as his own arousal was fast becoming more pronounced and the prince's milky length also rose to attention. Tanned fingers opened a convenient vial of fragrant oil and liberally anointed both their rigid members with a fisted, pumping stroke as the Elf's eyes rolled up with a soft moan. Aragon still feared that he might be reaching his human limits too quickly and decided to take advantage of Eldar anatomical knowledge and proceeded to engulf a delicate ear with clever, swirling tongue and firmly pinch erect pectoral peaks.

A piercing trill emerged from the straining, unblemished throat as Legolas sang out his ecstasy. The Dúnadan felt a ripple run up his spine at the sound and was shocked when the seemingly transported Elf easily flipped him over onto his back and suddenly reversed their positions. Aureate silk caressed his stomach as the prince's hair spilled across his skin, while talented lips found a secure destination on pillared manhood. The ranger nearly swooned from the combined assault of mellifluous vibration and masterful oral articulation.

The man looked down at a face and form that appeared carved of molten light as the Firstborn's aura enveloped them in a scintillating sphere of white energy.

A familiar voice echoed in his mind. "Estel, le annon veleth nin, I give my love to you."

And with that—Legolas shifted alabaster flesh over the mortal's substantial column and Aragorn entered the portals of paradise in one consummate thrust. The hot, welcoming constriction was pure rapture and the man felt a spiritual bond create the stunning vision of both giving and receiving penetration. The Elf's soaring song took them to a new level of awareness and the sensation was more intense than anything he had ever experienced. He fell into rhythm with the surging transfixion and was moved to add his own vocal harmony as pleasure cycled in coruscating waves.

The prince's head fell back and Aragorn's fingers dug into lush thighs as their cries rang out together and shared culmination was a glorious moment of breathless release and profound joy. Heat, illumination and sound filled their minds while the simultaneous effect of harmonic resonance and corporal bonding literally exploded both fëar out of their fleshly shells.

They fell – spinning slowly, descending through limitless clear light .

Consciousness retreated and bodily sensation was gone. Suspended and weightless, they felt memories begin to surface like bubbles rising from a stone tossed into a deep lake.

Legolas drifted. The prince saw his mother being prepared to leave for the Gray Havens; an elleth of surpassing beauty fading under the burden of unbearable pain.

He remembered an Elfling of barely 40 seasons, who felt responsible for her departure and could not understand the emotional distance of a grieving father. Alone and cut off from Thranduil, who held in his own anguish to spare his son, the young one transformed that loneliness into perfect performance in all things. He became a faultless warrior for Mirkwood, a noble, compassionate Elf, and although a quiet son, always hoped to bring a smile to the beloved, austere features of a painfully detached parent.

The prince made a vow to never fall short in any way, lest he loose another loved one. Aragorn floated in another time. He felt small and helpless in warm arms as the horse that carried two humans pounded into the night. All he could see was the familiar braid of brown hair that hung over his mother's tense shoulder and inhaled the cold wind and fear that rode with them. They were alive, but his father was not, and to survive they were being taken to shelter in the Elven realm of Imladris.

The child did not understand these changes, only that he was safe with the Elves—where he thrived and grew strong and self-sufficient. Eventually he blessed and bade farewell to a grieving mother who faded after years of mordant sadness. He learned to keep to himself, and to worship the beautiful beings who were endlessly patient with the awkward struggles of a maturing young human.

The unknown heir of Isildur made a vow to guard those he loved, and to somehow make the world a safer place for mortal and immortal alike.

The columns of memory bubbles met, blended, and resolved into a river streaming upward in parallel paths and inevitable conjunction. The complimentary dance of silver essences was at once a celebration and acceptance of whatever the currents of the future held for both Elf and man. It was a blessing to gain insight into the other's secret heart, to recognize familiarity, and to realize that whatever happened, they would now be together.

Motionless time—shared light—changing direction and spiraling downward.

Their next physical sensation was a soft shush of flattened grasses. It was odd to feel a firm surface after such an amazing spiritual flight and Aragorn lifted his head, surprised to survey a blooming meadow completely surrounding them.

His arms tightened around the spent Elf as Legolas slowly stirred against his side. They were both groggy and trying to wrap dazed minds around revelations that were surely important, but at the moment the images were fading dreams of healing comfort.

"Meleth nin, I think we are somewhere else –" Elessar stopped as he noticed a velvety tongue meander up his bare abdomen, along with a sound that was suspiciously like a purr. Again, he was struck by physical reality in the midst of what he had to assume was an illusion.

"Ahh, as nice as that is my love, please look up, and tell me if you know this place?"

The prince arched a supple back, brilliant eyes scanning the area and amber hair gleaming in the sunlight. "Aye. 'Tis the gardens of Irmo, the Master of Visions and Dreams in the land of the Valar."

He stood and easily pulled Argorn to his feet. "I think we are here for a reason."

While happy to see and feel his Elf's renewed vigor, the ranger was still confused. "Explain."

"This is a portion of Valinor that is open to many spirits seeking restoration. Even the Valar come here to partake from the fountains of Irmo and his spouse Este. Come, let me show you." Muscles rippling under radiant skin, the Elf grasped his lover's hand and led the way toward a shining structure in the distance.

Elessar drank in the vision of Legolas' naked magnificence moving ahead of him, fully appreciating the graceful undulation of the splendid buttocks, but felt less than magnificent in his own human substance. He slowed, leaning back on the Elf's insistent pull.

"Hold a moment." He ran a hand up the archery-toned shoulder, again pleasuring himself with the mere touch of his beloved. "Dream realm or not, *you* my sweet Elf, are always beautiful – however, I feel somewhat 'exposed' and reluctant to meet spirits of any kind in this state. Do we have a choice of what we experience in this land?"

The prince stopped, pressing into mortal warmth. "Not really, but you underestimate yourself, Estel. Look inward, for it is your human spiritual power that shines here. Do not be ashamed."

Surprised, the man looked down and was startled to observe a radiance flowing from his own form: an ambient emission that appeared to pulse as steadily as the illumination from the Sindar. He smiled, happy to be so "clothed," and accepted the situation.

Legolas wrapped powerful arms around his love. "Your humanity is your strength and beauty. Never forget that, or how much I love you. You burn bright and true, showing us the way, no matter how dark the night."

Aragorn smiled back. "Hannon le, meleth. That is much how I view you, and perhaps Lady Galadriel *is* right; our combined light will help guide others. Now, show me these fountains and welcome spirits."

Within a short distance they indeed found a sparkling marble fountain surrounded by a stately, vine-covered pergola. Sitting on the basin's sculptured edge, Legolas scooped crystal water into cool white fingers and held perfectly still for Elessar's delectation. Aragorn drank slowly, kissed each slender digit and then returned the favor while enjoying the downcast lashes and feathery touch of soft lips. As the Elf's tongue began tickling his palm, they both laughed out loud and nearly overbalanced into the pool when a resonant voice suddenly addressed them close at hand.

"Welcome, fair lovers. Be refreshed and find easing of your burdens." A tall ellon of wondrous aspect had appeared beside them; he shone with resplendent light and was of breathtaking beauty. This had to be the Valar Legolas had named, Irmo Master of Visions and Dreams. He was clothed in long robes of various shades of green, as were his eyes, though it was hard to look upon a face so intensely radiant and framed by silver hair that lifted in unseen breezes.

Legolas stood first, stepping gracefully and somewhat protectively in front of the slower moving Elessar. "Hail, Lord Irmo. Thank you for your hospitality." The prince lifted a hand to white breast and bowed, as strands of gilt brushed forward over blushing, exquisite features. "We are blessed to be here, please pardon our unannounced intrusion into your privacy."

"No pardon is required, golden prince. All may seek my fountain's repose. You are here for a purpose as you have already guessed." Glowing verdant eyes gleamed in an appreciative manner; even a Vala could enjoy the appearance of this incomparably lovely Silvan Elf.

Aragon slipped a possessive arm around his lover's supple waist. "We have received healing and self- knowledge from Lothlorien's power and hope to continue our Quest in Middle Earth. This appears to be a part of that learning process, or is it something else?"

The Lord's eyes darkened in serious thought. "Aye, it is. You will need all your resolve and strength for what is to come. Your first joining of the flesh has begun the bonding of fëa and hroa. Your memory journey has also helped to heal and to confirm your path together." His voice lowered and eyes shadowed further. "I am afraid you must pass through one more dark challenge before the final physical bonding will complete your covenant and your Quest can continue."

Legolas' head lifted in a warrior's stance, as if scenting the enemy. "Let me endure that trial alone. The heir of Isildur does not need to be tested further; he has already proven himself many times over."

Aragorn moved in front of the lithe figure, almost growling in his concern. "Nay, it is not your duty to take all burdens unto yourself. It is more fitting that the heir takes sole responsibility for this."

Irmo nodded, not surprised at the response. "You both would gladly take pain for the other. You are both very used to being alone. However, think about what it truly means to share experiences and a life together. Are you stronger individually? Or is your sum greater than the independent parts?"

They both looked struck by new thoughts. The Dream Lord smiled sadly. "This last lesson is a dream challenge, but real hurt can be felt. One way or another you will return to Lothlorien and face the next chapter of the third age. He lifted a green clad arm. "Blessings on you, valiant spirits. It begins."

A blazing hand made a wide gesture and sparkling drops of fountain water scattered like small stars over the aureate head of the Elf and the chestnut curls of the man. They fell into each others arms as darkness enveloped their sight and another whirlwind visionary journey carried them away.

Chapter 3 "Last Challenge" (Setting: *Elsewhere* and Lothlorien, during the Quest)

This time they landed on their feet, still with arms entwined, in a dark forest very reminiscent of the *worst* parts of Mirkwood. Dank, unnaturally deformed trees rose in staggered ranks and clammy groundcover twisted under their bare soles. They were still quite naked and observed that the brightest thing in the vicinity was their own soft luminescence.

Legolas stepped back and caressed the man's cheek. "I am afraid we make good targets. I am sorry, this looks dreadfully familiar." He cocked his head in that alert way Aragorn had learned to both love and respect, and then in the distance they heard an ominous, snarling shriek.

Bow strengthened fingers gripped the ranger's biceps. "Not good. Spiders are coming. Real or not, I know this evil, and without weapons you are more vulnerable." Crashing sounds were rapidly drawing close. "I can lead them astray, take to the trees my captain!"

"Nay, we both go." Sterling eyes flashed dangerously as the Dúnadan dragged the resisting Sindar toward the nearest thick trunk. "Even if this is a dream, do you think I would abandon you to those creatures?! We will improvise something. Climb!" And to emphasize his point, the mortal gave the snowy backside a resounding slap. The Firstborn yelped and moved.

As they both struggled up the slippery bark, Aragorn continued to mutter angrily. "Stubborn Elf. We have fought together under many conditions. Being lovers should not change the issue to one of sacrifice."

Legolas hissed back. "Peace future king! I yield to your judgment. Quietly—let us see what cooperation can produce." He reached down from a wide branch and pulled the human up to sit beside him and soon they could discern two rather large spiders circling the area below.

Blond hair shook gently near the ranger's shoulder. "They are too big to climb."

The smaller of the two children of Ungoliant stretched as far up the trunk as her length would allow and shoved violently into the dark tree. If not for the Elf's lightening reflexes, the human morsel would have slipped within easy reach.

"Big enough to cause problems—" commented the man wryly, as the other spider went to the opposite side and tried the same maneuver. "It seems we are being given a lesson in team work." The arboreal growth swayed alarmingly in response to the double action.

The ranger pointed to long, thick vines adorning the branches nearby. "Ropes?" He pointed to the scrabbling spiders. "Many legs." He made a twirling motion. "Tangle and trap!"

The prince nodded in swift understanding and reached up as the Dúnadan enjoyed supporting flexible hips and assisted the Elf to pull down numerous snaky vines. The tree oscillated vigorously while they knotted together a generous length of the fibrous substance with fast, coordinated efforts. Once done, it took only a brief contact of azure and gray orbs to decide the next move.

Each held an end of the improvised rope and in a surging leap, man and Elf propelled themselves from their unsteady perch to land with athletic balance on either side of the largest spider. Even in mid-flight, the ranger could not help but observe the graceful extension of his Elf's glowing limbs and floating golden mane as he descended to the ground.

The same appreciation was not found in their enemy as the bright bits of prey proceeded to unexpectedly dart *toward* their attacker and wrap an annoying restraint around rearing front legs. The larger arachnid, correctly termed "he" by the supposed victims, tumbled forward and became completely entangled in the successfully deployed vine. The second smaller spider charged around the tree and tripped into the wildly thrashing appendages of her mate, and both set up an ear-splitting series of angry screeches.

Legolas flashed a brilliant grin and landed a triumphant whack on the ranger's rump before sprinting off into the underbrush. Aragorn yelled insults, turned to follow and felt something cold and slimy impact into the center of his back. He didn't want to think about what it was, and it didn't slow him down at first. After several minutes of the fastest running he had ever done in his life, he was forced to stop, called out to the archer, and sank to his knees breathless on the forest loam. The prince was beside him in an instant, apologetic and concerned at the man's labored respiration and blanched features.

Legolas' heart pounded harder as he realized what must have happened. It was venom; one of the spiders had fired a shot as they were escaping. He avoided touching the black liquid between clenched shoulder blades and caught the ranger as he slumped forward. If this dream encounter was following the rules of reality, then the amount was not enough to strike down an Elf, but it might be enough to seriously damage a human. And if Irmo had spoken accurately, true harm could be experienced here.

"Legolas, keep going, I will only slow you down –" gasped the man.

"Nay, do not be foolish. By my will and your own we are in this *together*" The Elf replied.

He quickly used broad leaves with trapped rain water to wipe away as much of the poison as possible and saw with worry that the human's eyes had closed. The lean figure remained unresisting as the prince hoisted him across resilient shoulders and with surprising agility took a rapid path through the dense growth in search of sanctuary and further distance from the arachnids. As they progressed, the thick clouds overhead added their burden to the already damp forest and began deluging the area with torrential rain.

The landscape did not correspond exactly to Mirkwood's territory but many of the features were similar and a rocky outcropping ahead promised a possible refuge. Climbing the uneven path was a challenge while carrying a slack body, but the royal archer had more than enough motivation to seek higher ground. The sudden downpour had gathered into thick streams atop the moist ground and now threatened to flood the jungle-like environment. The Dúnadan began stirring as the prince reached a flat ledge and gently lowered him beneath a stony projection. They were both drenched and muddy as the Elf wrapped supportive arms around the shivering human, huddled close and spoke into the wet, darkened ringlets.

"We are safe for the moment – unless other creatures seek the same location. You appear to have survived the venom and the rain helped remove the residue."

Aragorn turned into the comfort of a luminous shoulder. "Le hannon, meleth. Do you think we have learned our lesson of cooperation yet?" He gritted chattering teeth and gazed fondly into aquamarine eyes as droplets sparkled in dusky lashes and chased down flawless cheekbones.

"Possibly, but doubtless we need further experience. With Eru's blessing we may have a future in which to do so. I have seen more of your fine character with each obstacle we faced, and I tell you again, you *are* worthy to be king."

Cool lips advanced to barely a breath away. "Elessar is already king of my heart." A pink tongue stole several beads of water from the ranger's smile before meeting the responsive mouth in a thoroughly amorous kiss.

An inarticulate murmur rose from the bearded throat and the Elf was enveloped by suddenly strong human arms. They shared a long moment of passionate renewal while rivulets of water coursed over their warming bodies.

Unfortunately, this time the feel of the earth moving was not the result of blissful overload, but the vibration of something large and unfriendly treading nearby.

Pewter eyes narrowed. "We have company." Rattling gravel could be heard over the dissipating rain.

The archer also tensed. "Trouble." He rolled to the edge of the overhang and peered above, intently listening and extending acute Elven senses. "Warg. Several. They haven't scented us yet because of the water." Facial radiance illuminated a deep frown as he realized they were trapped in this rocky corner.

Aragorn understood and spoke in a low whisper. "This nightmare has posed many interesting problems, all of which must be treated as real interactions. We are not done learning." A grim smile gleamed in the shadows and he gripped the Sindar's forearm. "So, my life partner, do we hide or run?"

A tightening of white fingers on the mortal's arm sent a quick answer. "Run. Together. Now."

They emerged from beneath the ledge as an ugly fanged snout appeared at the end of the path. Another soon followed, and the decision to depart rapidly turned into a need to climb when the exit was blocked by more furred, smelly bodies. Agile fingers and toes proved to be assets as the bipeds outmaneuvered the four-footed ones on the vertical stone face. However, the predators could still run like the wind and the hunt went back up the trail immediately.

The Firstborn's strength pulled the ranger up the last few feet as they reached the rock summit. The warg pack howled scant yards away and escape choices grew limited. The prince looked to where the opposite edge fell away in a foggy rift of unfathomable depth and crystalline eyes gazed at the ranger in bleak distress.

Time expanded infinitely as Aragon focused on small strands of Elven hair glinting in slow motion breezes. Arda held briefly still while images past, present and future telescoped into a vision of simultaneous experience.

He saw Legolas' features in every exquisitely remembered detail, as well as the vibrant faces of his Fellowship companions. He heard the song of his Elven family and the anonymous hum of mortality in greater Middle Earth, and overshadowing all, the turbulence of light and darkness that surged in a never ending symphony of opposing melodies. The core of this gestalt was brilliant warmth that offered a refuge amidst conflict and a welcome home to every spirit. Those who shared a portion of inner light were connected to others on the great journey, and at the End of All Things were destined to be together.

In startling clarity, two points of illumination stood out in the flow of images. A silver moon was inexorably drawn to a golden sun and the pair ignited an incandescent nova that nurtured numerous stars. Their unconditional love was a guiding beacon that inspired hope and generated faith for the future. It was all there and could happen if --

Golden hope and silver faith spiraled down to the moment of decision.

They stood on the hilltop facing alternatives: on the one side, ravening fangs, on the other, a mysterious abyss.

The Elf's proud head lifted resolutely. "Aragorn – this is your choice; I am with you all ways."

The man stood tall and regal. "Aye, your faith has renewed hope—and we will take the unknown together."

In a move as fast as any Elven warrior, the future king leaped to the Sindar's side and with a steely arm carried them both over the cliff and down into swirling mist.


Bright sunlight filtered through the towering mallorn at the center of peaceful Lothlorien. It was close to the end of the second day following the arrival of the weary Fellowship band into the healing sanctuary. Haldir had continued to supervise their needs and reported their progress to his lord and lady. The Halflings were resilient and had resumed most of their normal spirits. The other two were somewhat solitary in their recovery but had become more talkative as food and rest took effect. Just today, the Gondorian noble had inquired after the ranger, and to the warden's surprise, the dwarf had gruffly asked about Thranduilion. They were both given the same polite answer: man and Elf were well, and seeking restoration in a private manner. No further questions were asked.

In the last twenty-four hours Haldir had felt strong surges in the power currents surrounding the sacred "envinyata" chamber and as he walked in that direction also sensed stirring within the trees. They had pulsed in eager anticipation all day and it was as if the entire forest was waiting for something important to happen.

The Marchwarden took more than a brotherly interest in the Mirkwood prince and given a different series of events, might have offered his own healing to the young Elf. As it was, he generously wished for the bonding to be successful, both for the well being of the royal archer, and for the uniquely important human: the "king to be" as the White Lady had named him.

He rounded a corner of the pathway and abruptly stopped, suddenly hit with mental images so vivid he needed to sit down on the nearest bench. The trees were positively singing their joy in the feelings and pictures they were radiating far and wide. Haldir sucked in a deep breath when fiery sensuality went straight to his groin.

It was as if he was in the room, and before him—

Muscled brown arms were braced above a writhing white vision of splayed luminous limbs and scattered mithril hair. A warrior's arched back tapered to powerful gluteals that clenched in spasmodic ecstasy. Long pale legs were reverently lifted to broad shoulders as a splendid arousal transfixed the quivering form below in slow, undulating thrusts. Pure love was awesome in its intensity and the two strong bodies molded to each other as if determined to press through the flesh and reach the spirit. Voices rose in pleasured harmony as hroa and fëa became one. The ethereal consummation was reached and finally man and Elf were thoroughly, irrevocably, completely and truly *bonded.*

White light blasted clear the image as Haldir blinked and joined in a windy sigh that swept through the grove. The trees approved and sent strength to the human who would love their Wood-elf, and in the chamber Aragorn smiled.

With perfect timing Galadriel and Celeborn arrived upon the scene as their warden managed to stand but remained in an abstracted fugue for several moments. The White Lady had a dreamy smile and Celeborn's hand rested softly on the small of her back

"My Lieges. Pardon my inattention. It was …. They were – amazing. I was distracted." Haldir finished with less than his usual aplomb.

Celeborn exchanged a warm glance with his lady. "We were also aware, as was most of the wood. Such a shared bonding has never been so widely felt. It must be a sign of Iluvatar's blessing and portends a hopeful new age for those who remain in Middle Earth."

Galadriel made a subtle gesture and the misty green curtain across the doorway vanished. The three entered the chamber quietly, for they did not wish to intrude but realized that the healing period had been completed and it was time to resume normal activities. A fading luminescence suffused the room and appeared to originate from tumbled pillows where two entwined bodies rested in blissful conjunction.

An enchanting sight greeted the observers as they approached the lovers' bower. One fair arm was thrown back on a cushion of flaxen hair spread beneath both profiled faces, and a sinewy human leg was in relaxed possession of an elegantly curved marble hip. The sculptured forms displayed warriors' strength and the sensitivity of true love as they curled around each other in protective support. Elessar's expression was tranquil, and the prince's skin glowed with healthy radiance. The vision was one of fulfillment as well as healing resolution sought and found.

The mortal's eyelids fluttered open and as he recognized those who surrounded their repose, his contracted grip brought the Elf out of reverie. Legolas automatically pressed closer to his beloved and caressed a furrowed brow while breathing soft endearments.

Haldir felt obligated to clear his throat. "Suilad Thranduilion, and Isildur's heir." He gave a special look to the Dúnadan. "Balance is restored. We rejoice in your bonding and welcome you back to Lothlorien."

Legolas draped an easy arm around his blushing companion and brightened the room with a dazzling smile. "Le hannon, Marchwarden. We have learned many lessons and our new covenant will allow us to continue the Quest with renewed strength." With Firstborn grace, the Wood-elf sat up and retrieved nearby clothing, thus handling both his lover's embarrassment and the need to ease the transition back to reality.

It was none too soon for the comfort of all, as others were heard approaching the chamber. A youthful voice piped insistently.

"Master Dwarf, you say these feelings were meant for us to experience? Bonding is not a private elvish thing?"

"Aye, lad. Sometimes it is private, but this was different. The Lady made it clear. Did you not hear her words? This is a blessing for all to share and will help the Fellowship *and* Middle Earth if we succeed."

Gimli and Pippin led the remaining members of the band to the doorway where they stood in hesitation. They were all ready to offer shy congratulations, but could not decide whether to enter or – knock? Aragorn hurried forward, pleased to be the host once his leggings had put him back in control.

"Mae govannen, friends. Enter and be refreshed." He and Legolas pulled cushions into a circle on the amber floor and invited their fellow travelers to join the Lord and Lady who were already seated in regal relaxation, much to the surprise of Boromir, and to the delight of the dwarf.

The ranger set about to brew the long delayed tea that had been promised seemingly ages ago and the halflings quickly found a store of dried fruit and lembas, passed out all the consumables and proceeded to eat and drink to their heart's content. Legolas quietly distributed cups and saucers and drifted gracefully around the room in loose silken shirt with hair unbound and was content for his captain to take charge.

Aragorn took pleasure in simply looking at his Greenleaf and for a long moment contemplated the pure, unconditional love so freely bestowed by the Mirkwood prince and realized that Haldir was more right than he knew. This restored balance was the key to his own destiny and the fair form that embodied sustaining faith would enable Estel to generate the dream he had held for so long: peace for Middle Earth and safety for those he loved. He smiled at Legolas across the room, hope was alive.

Galadriel and her lord enjoyed the respite from formal protocol and observed that even their cool Marchwarden could unbend in the presence of the irrepressible hobbits and their innocent flood of questions. Later, even Boromir was able to relax and accept gentle teasing from the young ones. The evening passed in renewed congeniality for the Fellowship and an added bonus was the warden's appreciation of a dwarf's new found respect for Eldar ways. It was a good beginning for a hopeful tomorrow.

Again, the Lady could see many threads of the future gathered in this room. Her abilities could discern layers of light and dark in the paths that everyone here would travel, even her own. She sighed as time unfolded and felt the importance of small things, for larger events would find them all soon enough.

Her gleaming eyes caught movement of the Dúnadan and his Elf as they slipped out of the cozy chamber and Galadriel's heart lightened in contemplation of the lovers' new bond. She smiled a blessing on their departure.

Legolas paced beside his captain, wearing only the fine shirt, while his own radiance shown through the sheer fabric. The illumination outlined lean shoulders where they repeatedly brushed against the man as they walked in companionable silence until he remembered a question.

"What did Haldir mean when he said: 'balance is restored'?"

"He was referring to your loss of internal balance regarding me."

"Oh." He stopped and tilted a shining head, regarding the human with suspiciously bright eyes. "And I suppose *you* have been a model of emotional balance where I have been concerned?!"

The ranger missed the teasing tone. "Well, not exactly, but our bond has become a point of stability for both of us, do you not agree?"

They were on a solitary path where a convenient patch of soft grass spread beside a large mallorn. Legolas put his very strong Elven hands on broad human shoulders and pushed Aragorn into the tree.

"I think we have not learned enough about stability points." He hooked a bare ankle behind the Dúnadan's calf.

"I think you need another lesson in just what being 'balanced' is all about." He jerked hard, and sent the surprised man sprawling backward onto the verdant earth.

He then proceeded to reinstruct his love in all the important elements of balance: weighted bodies exchanging dominance, warm lips on cool skin, knowledgeable fingers exploring intimate contours, blond hair contrasting with brown, and the divine fulcrum of giving or taking pleasure.

The future held many more lessons, but for now, desire commanded duty, head and heart were in agreement, and love was honored.

Darkness took one step back and indeed a fine balance was restored.




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