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Aragorn, as Estel preferred to be known now, had spent hours getting dressed. His foster-brothers, Elladan and Elrohir had stopped by to help, but their aid consisted of little more than offering their opinions. Aragorn often wished that the Lady Arwen lived at Rivendell instead of Lothlorien, but never more than now. He knew that he would benefit from a feminine viewpoint, but being who he was, he did not sit and bemoan his fate. He simply did his best with the resources he had at hand.
If it were anyone else joining Lord Elrond at his table tonight, Aragorn would not have attended. He was recently returned from the North and a particularly grim tour of duty with the Dunedain Rangers. A brief sojourn in the Last Homely House was just the cure that the recently cognizant Heir of Isildur needed. Arriving in Rivendell to find that King Thranduil’s son was visiting, had thrown the Man’s plans into disarray.
Aragorn smoothed the front of his sapphire velvet tabard and stepped before the looking glass. His new shaven chin looked odd after nearly three years of scruffy beard and his normally wind-tangled locks rippled smoothly to his shoulders. His hair was held back from his face by a circlet of silver and a pale green gem hung against the breast of his high-collared, snowy silk shirt. It had been a long time since he had worn such costly garments.
The Man turned from his reflection in embarrassment. It was ridiculous: a Ranger preening before a mirror like a vain maiden and for whom? Prince Legolas whom Aragorn had met exactly twice?
The first time they had not even been aware of one another’s identities. Yet, the Man had felt an instant kinship with the strange Elf in brown and green. The encounter had lasted for mere hours, the length of an archery contest, but when the Elf had disappeared back into the forest with his companions, Aragorn had felt a keen sense of loss.
It was over a decade before he saw Legolas again. Aragorn and two other Rangers were pinned down by a pack of Wild Orc near the Northern border of Mirkwood. The Dunedain were almost out of arrows when a Tracker patrol arrived and routed the Orcs. Again, the meeting was brief, but Aragorn felt the link with the Wood-Elf.
The Man knew he was not imagining it. The bond he felt was an almost tangible thing that pulled him like a magnet draws steel. His anticipation at the prospect of seeing Legolas again had heightened to a state bordering on hysteria.
Aragorn reined himself in. He was merely going to have dinner with a guest of Lord Elrond’s. There was nothing unusual in wearing one’s best to honor a royal visitor. If Aragorn seemed distracted, well, he had been in the saddle for weeks and he was understandably weary. There was really nothing to be nervous about. With a sigh and a last tug at his black leggings, Aragorn left his room.
Finding the dining hall empty, Aragorn followed the sound of Elrohir’s laughter to Lord Elrond’s dining room. It seemed Elrond had chosen to entertain the Prince privately with only the family present. The Ranger felt immediately overdressed and sat quickly.
Since it would be rude not to, Aragorn looked directly at the Elf sitting to Elrond’s right and inclined his head in greeting. It should not have been possible but the Prince seemed even more comely than when the Man had seen him last. Even among the fairest of the Earth’s children, Legolas’ loveliness was exceptional. He was even more beautiful than Aragorn’s lyrical daydreams of him.
“Good evening, Es- Aragorn,” Elrond said. “Legolas tells me that he has met you before.”
“I have told you that already.” Startled from his reverie, Aragorn spoke a bit more vehemently than he intended.
Elrond raised his eyebrows. “I am only trying to draw you into the conversation,” he said. “You have a tendency to lurk in the corner if left alone.”
Aragorn looked down at his plate. Had his foster-father actually referred to him as a *lurker* in front of the Prince?
“Shy?” Legolas’ frosted glass voice filled the silence. “Aragorn? He seemed bold enough in my brief experience of him.”
Elrohir and Elladan exchanged a droll glance, but forbore to comment. When the Man looked up, Legolas smiled distantly and turned to give Lord Elrond his attention. The dinner seemed interminable to Aragorn; the only redeeming feature was Legolas’ shining presence. When Elrond finally rose and retired, Aragorn hurried after him.
Instead of seeking his room, the Man stumbled down the path that led to the falls. He did not hear the light steps of the one who followed him onto the bridge. When a hand touched his shoulder, Aragorn spun, reaching for the hilt of his dagger.
“I mean you no harm,” Prince Legolas said mildly.
Aragorn let his hand fall to the railing. “You startled me,” he said.
Legolas nodded. “You looked startled,” he said.
“Why did you follow me?”
“To ask what has become of you. Where is the Man I met in the Wilds?”
Aragorn turned to stare at the Elf. “He has had a bath and a change of clothing.”
“If that were all that was different, it would be easy to remedy,” Legolas said.
The Man’s gaze sharpened. “You will have to be plainer than that,” he said.
“Your reverence for Lord Elrond is only natural,” the Prince observed. “However, it seems to me that your regard goes deeper than respect or admiration. You worship Elfkind, putting us above your own Race.”
“Because you are better than Men,” Aragorn said simply.
Legolas’ eyes closed briefly at these words. “Do you think yourself of less worth than myself?” he asked gently.
“You are the moon and the stars,” Aragorn blurted out. “You are the light that . . .”
Legolas’ finger across Aragorn’s lips stilled the Man’s speech. “I confess, this is the sort of thing I hoped to hear when I journeyed from Mirkwood, but I am not sure you are the Man I came here to find.”
Aragorn looked down into the water, his lips tingling, still feeling the touch of the Elf’s finger. “So . . . you do not like the way I am dressed,” he said.
Legolas stepped back as the Man unfastened his brocade cloak and whipped it off his shoulders. The Elf’s brows rose as the garment sailed over the railing and out of sight. Aragorn pulled his long tunic over his head and sent it after the cape. The silk shirt followed as Legolas looked down at the rushing water. Something dark sailed over the Elf’s head and Legolas turned.
Aragorn stood next to his boots, naked but for his circlet and necklace.
“That is an improvement,” Legolas said. “I remember now what drew me to you.”
“Pray tell me,” Aragorn invited.
“You are yourself,” Legolas said somewhat cryptically. “If you would remember that you could be a great leader some day.”
Aragorn shook his head. “That is not my path,” he said with certainty.
Legolas gave an Elvish shrug. “I would follow the Man who stands before me now even if Sauron rose again,” he said.
“I challenge you to prove those words,” Aragorn said.
In one leap, the Man bounded to the railing. He balanced there for a moment, poised to leap, his lean musculature thrown into stark relief by the moonlight, and then he dove.
Legolas stood for a moment in indecision. The Man had dared him! Was a Prince of Mirkwood going to forget his dignity so far as to jump naked into a river because he’d been dared? In a trice, Legolas’ clothing had joined the Man’s on the ground and he stood upon the narrow rail. The Elf saw the Man’s teeth flash in a grin and then he was cleaving the surface of the cold water.
Aragorn yelped and swallowed a mouthful of the river as he was yanked under. The Man flailed, and his hand connected with solid flesh. Twisting around, Aragorn got an arm around the Prince’s slim waist. They bobbed to the surface gasping for breath, each vying to push the other back down into the chilly depths, slippery bodies sliding sensuously together.
Sputtering and laughing, they swam for the bank before they were swept away like Aragorn’s finery. Hauling themselves onto the mossy bank, they lay catching their breath for a moment. Legolas could not remember the last time he had played like this; a hundred years or more must have gone by since last he was so merrily carefree. The Man reminded the Elf what it was like to be young.
Legolas sat up and gazed on the Man’s nakedness in the starlight. Men were not so different from Elves, aside from the humans’ profuse body hair. Absently, Legolas wrapped one of the Man’s crisp pubic curls around his forefinger.
Aragorn grasped the Elf’s wrist. “You take great liberties,” the young Man said.
“Forgive me,” Legolas said, meaning it. “I acted without thought. It was wrong of me to touch you without permission.”
Aragorn rose from the ground and extended a hand to the Prince. “Are you asking my permission?” he inquired archly.
“Would it be given?’
The Man lifted one eyebrow. “You shunned me at dinner. Now you must court me.”
The corners of Legolas’ sweet mouth turned up. “May I touch you?” he asked.
“I would like it if you held me,” Aragorn said. “I am quite cold.”
The Elf’s smile deepened as he wrapped his arms around the shivering Man. Aragorn nestled close to Legolas and they sat in companionable silence until the Elf spoke.
“We should go inside,” Legolas said. “It is too cold out here for swimming.”
“Exercise would warm us,” the Ranger suggested. “I do not wish to go inside yet.”
“If you are suggesting we lay together, I am willing, but where shall we go?”
“Wait,” Aragorn said tightening his arms around the Elf’s ribcage. “There is something I must tell you first.”
“You have never joined with anyone,” Legolas said the words for Aragorn.
“Is it so apparent?”
“Elladan told me,” Legolas said.
“They treat you like an Elfling,” Legolas said. “I do not want a child; I want a Man. Can you be a Man for me, Aragorn?”
The Ranger met the Elf’s eyes. A pale flame flickered in Legolas’ chatoyant gaze like a will-o-the-wisp drawing the Man deeper into cool silvery mists. Aragorn saw a challenge and a promise glowing like beacons calling him to a great destiny. He stood upon a windy height, poised as he had been on the railing, about to take a plunge that would have far more serious consequences than ending up cold and wet.
Wordlessly, the Man reached for the Elf’s hand. Whether Aragorn was taking hold of his fate or grasping at support, Legolas was there. The Prince put his hand in the Man’s and twined their fingers together. With a quick squeeze, the Elf silently pledged his fealty if Isildur’s Heir ever had need of him.
Aragorn abruptly pulled Legolas toward him and brought their lips boldly together. In a frank expression of desire, the Ranger moved his mouth sensually against the Elf’s. Legolas wrapped his arms around the Man’s neck, melting against the broad chest. Aragorn’s hands slid down the narrow back to cup the Elf’s sculpted buttocks.
“Ai, Aragorn,” Legolas breathed in the Man’s ear. “You have kindled such a fire in me.”
“That pleases me,” the Man said. “I was so anxious for you to like me. I tried to make myself look as much like an Elf lord as I could thinking to please you.”
Legolas traced the blunt curve of Aragorn’s ear. “Elf lords grow on the trees in Mirkwood,” he said. “That is not what I want.”
“You do not mind that I am human?” Aragorn said just to confirm this wonderful fact.
“It is what I love most about you,” Legolas said.
Aragorn recovered from the first shock, only to reel again at when the sense of the Prince’s words sank in. “You . . . love . . . me?” the Ranger said incredulously.
“Why else would I be willing to share my body with you?”
Aragorn did not say any of the things that ran through his mind concerning the legendary curiosity of Wood-Elves or the possibility that Legolas was just very bored in Rivendell. Instead, he did the most intelligent thing he could have done at that moment.
Inclining his head, Aragorn took the Elf’s mouth as though it were his by right. Legolas responded ardently, welding his lips to the man’s, joining in the tender duel of tongues. When he broke the kiss, the Ranger met the Prince’s eyes.
“I would be honored if you would let me give you joy this night,” Isildur’s Heir said formally.
Legolas’ smile showed the stars the meaning of *glow*.
Man and Elf walked the flower-starred moss of the riverbank, arms about one another’s waists, singing softly of the bliss they would share. At the falls, they slipped behind the lacy veil of falling water to the fern wreathed grotto it concealed. There on the silken sand they plighted their love with their bodies. Behind that curtain for modesty’s sake we shall leave them only to join them again at another, less private, time. END