This story has achieved Nectar's Highest Accolade...It really is the best A/L story I’ve encountered to date. :::smile:::

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Journey To Rohan

 

Journey To Rohan
by Peaceangel.2004

With gratitude to:
Tularia – most patient Beta on earth
Akasha Elfwitch –for the wonderful artwork
Pairing: FPS: Aragorn/Legolas
Rating: NC-17 for explicit sex and violence (sparingly)
Warning: Non-consensual sex, angst
Summary: How does Strider help a proud Elf recover from a life-threatening trauma?
Feedback: Greatly desired! (on site or email author at: earthdanser AT verizon.net)
Disclaimer: These characters do not belong to me and this is non-profit story telling.
Story takes place prior to LOTR, when darkness begins its descent…

Chapter One – Elven Superiority

Strider whistled expertly, imitating the chirp of a small white and brown sparrow that he and Legolas used as their signal to call each other. There was no response and his brows furrowed in concern. He glanced up at the reddening sky. Soon it would get dark and the Elf had gone ahead to scout for a cave where they might rest for the night. Strider thought he found a suitable location but there was no sign that the Elf had ever been here.

He sent out the shrill call again. Nothing. The man quickened his pace but also began to look carefully at the ground and surrounding trees, bringing all his tracking skills into full swing. He had descended a small hill about a quarter of a mile ago and had noticed signs of a camp that looked to have been used maybe one day ago. Whoever they were, they did not take great care to hide evidence of their having been there.

It was a three days journey to Rohan by foot. It would not be unlikely that they would run into men so close to the land of the horse lords. But these lands were not well patrolled by Theodin’s guards, as the darkness was starting to spread to the places of men, leaving the area wide open for mercenaries to move undetected. Strider stopped and examined the ground. Fresh footprints. Not orcs, anyway. The criss-cross pattern looked more like man made sheepskin boots. If the Elf had passed through here there was no sign of it, although that did not mean Legolas had not been here. He examined the surrounding area, glancing occasionally into the trees. It looked like a party of about four or five men had traversed through the foliage, leaving clear evidence of their passage. He followed the trail; feeling more and more disquieted but didn’t know why. The markings suggested a sudden burst of increased speed and less organization. They had started to run, the Ranger surmised, either from something or toward something. Strider paused and sent out his birdcall again, more urgently. If the Elf were any where within a few miles of him, he would surely hear it and respond. Again, there was nothing.

The men’s tracks took him through the underbrush of some dense trees and before he could wonder why they would have taken such an unlikely route, he spied the glint of something yellow peeking out from under some heavy vines. He quickly ran to the object, his stomach feeling like an unwholesome weight had settled within it. It was an elven arrow. Its shaft was broken. Clutching it tightly in his fist, Strider closed his eyes for a moment, before plunging through the underbrush and into a wider clearing. At first he saw nothing. He moved stealthy, noiselessly and listened to the sounds of the forest around him. If anyone was around, they were not moving or even breathing. He continued to scout, his senses now hyper alert to any signs that might lead him to his companion.

More tracks took him around a bend of clumped bushes and then his eyes fell on the pale skin of a bare arm. He leaped forward with a yell of alarm.

The Archer was lying on his stomach, nude and unmoving.

“Legolas!” screamed the man in anguish. He gently turned the body of his friend over, cradling the head and shoulders in his arms, frantically he checked to make sure that the Elf was indeed still breathing. Strider gasped at the dark yellow and black bruises on the archer’s face. There was a bleeding gash on the back of the Elf’s head that looked to have been from the hilt of a sword. The lips were swollen and bleeding. His hands were still bound at the wrists. Dark bruises covered the alabaster skin down the arms and chest.

Strider cursed viciously under his breath, mentally promising to personally slice the throats of the orc scum that dared to harm this noble being. He untied the hands and tenderly pulled the rope from the bleeding wrists, noticing the rough fibers of the rope that remained imbedded in the raw flesh. They would have to be washed out. Strider checked for injuries to the neck and spine that might preclude moving the Elf too much. Finding none he checked for evidence of broken bones. Thankfully he did not find anything but did have a concern about a very dark black bruise that covered the entire left side and extended to the back. He felt the ribs for any breaks. It was possible the Elf had cracked ribs and he feared internal injuries to the kidney and liver. Elven healing ability should eventually take care of all that as long as Strider kept the Elf from going into shock. Turning the Archer onto his side gently, Strider ran his hand down the toned back, noting several bruises on the shoulders and sides. Gulping down his mounting anxiety, he moved to examine the dark bruising around the Elf’s buttocks. Fingers shaking, he parted the cheeks gently and found what he was dreading. Dried blood on the inside of the thighs. A curse spat past his lips.

Strider closed his eyes, with head lowered and swore an oath to all he held dear. He would hunt the bastards down and kill them without mercy. He would torture them until they begged for death. He’d pull their filthy polluted hearts from their chests and feed it to them before they died….

Enough. Taking a deep shaky breath, he forced himself to get moving. Few Elves survived a rape. Legolas’s life was hanging by a thread and it was up to him to keep this beautiful being on this side of the veil.

Near the tiny cave, he had found some two miles back, there was a wide slow moving stream. He’d head for that location. It was almost dark. The trail of the maggot scum lead in the opposite direction. Toward Rohan. He had been intending to go to Rohan anyway. Now he had a more personal reason to go to the land of the horse lords. But later for such dark thoughts.

Strider lifted the motionless body of the Elf into his arms, draping his cloak about the still figure, and started back the way he had come. Going in a different way than through the rough thick foliage, he found more evidence of the men and their sport. Strider gently lowered the Elf to the soft ground and went over to retrieve the archer’s quiver that had been emptied and bow, still in one piece, lying discarded on the ground amidst the scattered arrows. He also found something else of keen interest. Near the archer’s ripped tunic lay a small sharp object. A dart. He picked it up carefully and smelled the tip. A faint odor lingered. Carefully wrapping the item in a thick leaf he put it in a safe place. That explained a lot. The Elf was subdued by a poisonous dart. The evidence around him however told the story of the Archer’s resistance. Blood, which did not come from the Elf covered one of his long knives and there was blood on the ground. There was a scrap of ripped black fabric near the knife. He took that as well.

Strider realized he wasn’t breathing and forced himself to take long steadying breaths. Don’t think, he told himself, just keep moving. He unclenched his fists and gathered up the Elf’s belongings, eyes sweeping the scene of the crime, taking in every detail. He paused to examine the footprints one last time, committing the criss-cross pattern of the prints to memory. He adjusted the bow and the restocked quiver around his own back, having packed the ripped and soiled clothing into his bundle, and bent to pick up the unconscious Elf. Legolas groaned at the movement.

Strider held him carefully. “It is all right, Mellon. You are safe now. I am here.”

But the Elf was still unconscious. Strider picked up the light body and began his trek over the darkening terrain, cradling his precious cargo against his chest. He went directly to the stream and after removing his pack, and his own clothing, walked directly into the cold water with the body of the Elf. The heat that came off the archer’s skin burned against his bare chest alarmingly. He tried not to think. He tried not to consider that his sweet companion might not live through the night. He lowered them both into the rushing water of the stream. The coolness was refreshing and served to calm his own mounting panic. He wanted to wash the wounds out and clean the blood off the archer. The coolness of the water would help with the fever as well. Gently lowering the slim body into the water, Strider kneeled and began to rub the body with a soft cloth from his pack and a generous amount of fragrant elven soap. He had teased the Elf mercilessly about the soap when they left Rivendell. The memory brought a sting of tears to his eyes.

“You will be well again, my friend. I promise you,” he told the unconscious Elf, stroking the archer’s cheek with the soft cloth. “I will take care of you, Mellon Nin.”

He gently cleansed the bleeding wrists, carefully wiping the sticky fibers out of the raw flesh, and washed the stains of blood and dirt from the Elf’s face. He scrubbed the hair as best he could, knowing the archer would want to do that over later, and carefully washed the chest, torso, legs and privates. He wanted the Elf’s body to be free from all residue of the assault. Legolas moaned several times and came awake blearily for a few moments before drifting off again. The Elf’s pupils were pinpricks and Strider recognized the lingering effects of the drug. He spoke reassuringly to the Elf as he ministered to his needs. There was no recognition in the Elf’s face.

When the bath was done he lifted the Archer from the water and wrapped him into two cloaks. Holding the Archer up against his shoulder, with one arm under him like a small child, he moved the Elf and their belongings to the cave and settled the Elf on some soft moss while he set about making camp. He decided to risk a fire. The Elf needed warmth. And he’d need the fire to prepare some healing tea and some salve for the gashes in the Elf’s flesh.

When Legolas opened his eyes he did not know where he was. Bleary shapes met his vision. For some reason his eyes would not focus. He felt oddly numb, as if he was floating a few feet above himself, and he wasn’t bothered much about the strangeness of the situation. He could hear some movement and a flickering light told him there must be a campfire near by. He could hear the quiet motions of someone stirring a pot and the smell of some of those foul herbal teas drifted to his nostrils. He made a face at the smell, but smiled slightly. Strider was at it again. Playing healer. He hoped that foul smelling stuff wasn’t going to be presented to him.

Sure enough, the smell grew stronger as the man placed the warm cup on the ground near the Elf. A blurry shape filled his vision, blocking out the mottled light of the fire. He tried to focus but all he could get was the wavy outline of Aragorn’ s unruly dark hair, and the black outline of his shoulders. His face was in shadows but the Elf could make out the soft blue of his eyes.

“Mellon. Are you awake? How do you feel, my friend?”

Why did the Man sound so upset? He could hear it in the Ranger’s voice. It was thick, like tears were lodged in the man’s throat. A solicitous hand touched his face, stroked his cheek and fingers ran through his hair, which he realized was wet. The touch brought him back into his body a little bit more. He realized he did not feel very good.

“Aragorn?” He tried to ask what had happened but his throat was raw, and his jaw hurt. He must have been injured but he did not remember a battle. He tried to speak again but the man was lifting him carefully to sit. That hurt as well. In fact, his hazy mind could not find a spot on his body that did not ache.

“Shhhh, Legolas. Don’t try to speak yet. You were hurt Mellon Nin.”

Really? That much he had figured out on his own. Oh, but his body did ache considerably, and in some strange places. What in Middle Earth had happened to him? A small tendril of alarm was beginning to penetrate the fog of his mind. He was trying to reach for some memory that might explain. Before he could try to ask any questions, a warm cup was pressed to his lips and the foul stench assailed his nostrils. Oh, by the Valar, it stunk. He tried to protest but the resolute healer poured the warm liquid down his throat. What a lovely caring soul was his Aragorn. Although, at the moment, Legolas would have liked dearly to tell the healer just what he could do with his ‘medicine’.

Legolas was forced to either swallow the pungent brew or drown in it. The healer, knowing his patient tended to be less than cooperative about such required operations, found it necessary to resort to unorthodox tactics on occasion.

When the cup was drained, and Legolas could breathe again, he sputtered a curse on the heads of all humans and their stubborn notions of helpfulness. Aragorn laughed heartily, relief washing through his tense body leaving him feeling suddenly exhausted.

He collapsed next to the Elf and rested a hand on Legolas’s chest. The Elf was still wrapped in the two cloaks and Aragorn pulled the covering up to the archer’s chin. “How do you feel, Mellon?”

“Like a Balrog had me for dinner, then spat me out again,” said the Archer in a grumpy raspy voice. The warmth of the stinky brew was filling him pleasantly, however, and his aches were already diminishing. Well, maybe the Human did know a thing or two after all. He smirked to himself. His eyes were sliding shut again. Aragorn’s hand drifted up to the pale cheek and touched it tenderly. The Archer opened his eyes again but the lids were drooping, clearly he was fighting sleep.

“What happened, Aragorn?” he asked quietly.

The Man swallowed. “I…I am not sure, Meleth. Do you not remember anything…?” The Archer’s eyes were closing and he did not catch the hopeful tone in the Man’s question.

“No…I don’t remember …was it a battle?”

Aragorn shifted to pull the Archer into his arms, laying the blond head against his chest. The Archer’s brows drew together in a question at the strange gesture. He could not remember the Ranger doing such a thing before. But he was really too tired for more speech, and the Man’s arms and chest were far more comfortable than the cold hard ground.

“We will talk about it tomorrow,” stated the Man. “Sleep now.”

Legolas nodded sleepily against the warm chest and wrapped his own arm around the Man’s middle to anchor himself more comfortably in the warm nest of Aragorn’s embrace. Humans and their funny ways. He decided he would not discourage the Healer too much, as long as he kept his potions away from the Elf.

Legolas found he had slept long into the next day. When he awoke at last the sun was already clear across the sky. He frowned. Why had Aragorn not awaken him? He forgot about his decision not to discourage the Healer, when Aragorn approached him.

“Why did you not wake me? We have lost much time.” He sounded very grumpy and his head hurt. What was wrong with him? His body felt strangely numb and heavy.

Aragorn sat down next to him, with a cool cloth and began to wipe his face with it. Legolas gasped at the sudden cold on his face. The Healer probed at a bump on the back of the Elf’s head and frowned.

“You have had a fever, my friend. And you are suffering the effects of a concussion. We are not going anywhere today. Nor tomorrow either.”

Legolas felt his temper rise unaccountably at this statement and the uncalled for ministrations. “That’s ridiculous!” he snapped. “I am an Elf. I don’t need to rest and be coddled like …like…” He stopped suddenly and shut his mouth. The Man simply stared at him. This was so unlike him. Aragorn was only trying to help.

The Archer looked down at the ground, clearly embarrassed by his out burst.

A gentle hand lifted the curtain of gold hair that had fallen to obscure his face. His chin was coaxed up by a finger so that his face would lift to look at the Man. “What is it, Mellon?”

Aragorn’s strong hand held his face and concern shone in the man’s eyes. The steel gaze was almost hypnotic and the Elf’s eyes fluttered toward the ground again, a rosy hue creeping to his cheeks.

“Legolas?” the Man asked again, a concerned but firm request for the Elf to say something.

“I am sorry, Aragorn. I know you know what is best. I …don’t know what is the matter with me.”

The Man sat next to him and rested his arms on his raised knees. His shoulder touched the Elf’s.

“You were hurt and you have had a slight fever. That is reason enough to be a little off balance. Don’t let it trouble you.” He gave the Elf a little reassuring nudge with his shoulder. Legolas smiled shyly in return. Then his stomach rumbled in a most unelf like manner. Aragorn laughed. And Legolas’s blush deepened.

“Well, I’d say that is a good sign. An appetite is always a sign of returning health.” The Man moved to the hearth and began to ladle out some broth. He added some raw vegetables and a piece of lembas to the wooden makeshift tray and brought it over to the Elf. Legolas felt shy to be treated so by the Man and mumbled a ‘thank you,’ as he accepted the flat piece of wood with its contents. He ate slowly, taking small bites. He had been hungry yet eating seemed like a chore.

The sun was journeying across the sky towards the horizon and a fluff of red clouds drifted lazily across the blue expanse. Legolas raised his eyes to the beauty of the sky, the way light penetrated through the trees …

The crash of the tray, with its clattering contents, made Aragorn’s head snap up. He turned to look at the archer who was standing up looking at the setting sun with a frozen look upon his face.

The Archer was standing unmoving, as if cast in marble. Aragorn stood as well. After a quiet moment he slowly approached the Elf. “Legolas?” he asked in a low voice. “Legolas, what is it? Is something out there?” The man turned to scan the surrounding forest with his eyes and ears. He could perceive no threat. But what was the Elf staring at? The azure eyes had a far away expression.

When the Archer failed to respond a third time the Ranger cautiously placed a hand on the Elf’s shoulder. It was the last thing he remembered before sailing through the air and crashing into a tree. He had only blacked out for a moment. When he came to, he shook his head to clear the stars that danced before his eyes and searched for the Elf. Legolas had collapsed to the ground. Aragorn jumped up and ran to the Archer’s side but did not put his hands on him. The Elf was huddled on his knees, and holding his head. He was rocking gently back and forth. Aragorn could here him chattering in Sindarin.

Distressed by this sudden hysteria, Aragorn leaned forward and said in as calm a voice as he could muster, “Legolas, my friend, I am here with you. Will you let me help you? Its alright, now.”

Legolas moaned. “Aragorn? What is wrong with me? Something is wrong…but I don’t know what it is…”

The Man chanced to touch the distressed Elf and gently placed an arm around his shaking shoulders. “I am here for you, Mellon Nin. What ever is wrong, I promise you, we will take care of it together.”

The Elf stopped his rocking and looked up at the Man. His eyes were large and shining. Aragorn felt himself staring at the blue orbs, so impossibly bright. He felt his heart thump madly in his chest.

“Do you promise?” asked the Elf in a small voice.

“Of course,” smiled the Man. It softened his normally somber features and the Elf smiled in return, embarrassment coloring his cheeks again. Before Aragorn saw it coming the Archer moved into his arms and hid his face against the Ranger’s rough tunic. Aragorn looked down at the golden bundle in his arms, surprised by this uncharacteristic expression of vulnerability. Aragorn’s hand came up to stroke the golden head that leaned into his chest. The Elf’s body was still trembling. He wrapped his arms around the shining being, torn between concern for the Elf and a sharp awareness of his own physical reactions to the sudden intimacy. He mentally chided himself. This was no time to become distracted. Then again, the Prince’s beauty was always a distraction. He glanced down at the white face pressed against him and let his fingers drift to caress the smooth cheek. Legolas closed his eyes and relaxed into the trusted embrace of the Ranger. Leave it to Strider to make things right.

Aragorn cursed silently again at the monstrous beings who could inflict such injury against one of the First Born. It was things like this that made him detest his own heritage. Looking into the now tranquil face, he feared what might happen if the Elf recovered his memories of the assault. He had thought it a blessing from the Valar that the Elf could not remember what had happened to him. Elves often gave up their spirit willingly to the Halls of Mandos after a rape. Aragorn knew this well and until the Elf had regained consciousness he had felt frozen in a state of terror. Once Legolas had awakened, Aragorn put off the thought of what to do when Legolas would start to ask questions. Now it seemed the Elf’s mind was trying to grapple with an awareness that was not fully coming to consciousness. Not yet. Maybe it never would. He could only hope.

Aragorn sighed. He needed Elrond for something of this magnitude. He just didn’t know what to do. His instincts told him to not disclose anything unless the Elf himself seemed on the verge of remembering.

Legolas finally stirred in his arms and pulled back, looking calmer if not completely settled. “Thank you, Strider.” He said by way of regaining some of his dignity. Aragorn knew the proud Prince was not accustomed to feeling dependant on anyone. The Ranger nodded and moved to clean up the tray, giving the Elf some space. The sun had finally set and the temperature was dropping quickly.

Legolas eyed the trees wistfully, feeling a desire to go into their branches, but some mysterious fluttering in his stomach made him choose to abandon the idea in favor of staying on the ground. He settled himself back on his bedroll near the fire and was unaccountably relieved when the man came and laid down right next to him. He turned and tried to find a comfortable position but seemed unable to relax his tense body. Aragorn must have sensed his discomfort, and ever the healer, reached over without a word and pulled the Prince into his arms again. Legolas stiffened, feeling awkward and embarrassed to be seen as needing this kind of human attention. “Aragorn, its not necessary that you do this…” But his body was already finding the perfect hollow against the Ranger’s warm body. “Be quiet, Legolas, and go to sleep,” the Man mumbled. The Ranger’s breathing was already growing heavy and soon was lost to sleep.

“Aragorn?” The Elf got no response. He shrugged and snuggled deeper into the inviting warmth and followed the Man into a healing sleep. Aragorn opened his eyes a crack and looked at the dozing Elf. He felt fear clench his insides. What would become of the Elf? He would do anything he had to to bring Legolas back from this nightmare. But a dreadful feeling lurked about his heart that things would get worse before getting better.

Chapter Two -

When Legolas woke the next morning he was still tightly wrapped in Aragorn’s arms. He had moved in his sleep to cast a possessive arm and a leg over the Ranger’s body, firmly securing the Man, who had become his pillow for the night, in just the right place. He opened his eyes, finding himself uncomfortably close to the Man’s face. The Ranger was looking at him with obvious amusement. The Man’s hand was absently stroking a lock of his hair.

The Elf’s cheeks colored a bright red and he hastily untangled himself from the Man with a mumbled apology. Aragorn laughed gently and tousled the Elf’s hair as he moved to get up. Legolas threw him a mock glare. “I am not a dog to pat on the head so, Human.”

Aragorn laughed again and said something like, “I’ll remember that, next time I find you licking my ear, Elf!” before he disappeared into the woods to relieve himself. The Elf’s blush deepened and he swore that come evening they’d be sleeping on opposite sides of the fire.

The Elf had begun the preparations for a simple breakfast by the time the Man returned. His dark hair was wet and his body was still dripping from his early morning dip in the cold stream. Legolas looked at him curiously. The Human didn’t generally like bathing in very cold water. It was a bit of a joke that Legolas had to bribe him to bathe at all.

“That smells good,” commented the Man. “I am hungry.”

The Elf moved gingerly, his body still sore, and ladled out some of the porridge made from lembas, herbed water, and berries, a combination the man enjoyed. For himself he took only a small piece of Lembas and a handful of berries. The Man observed his slow, careful movements, judging most of the discomfort came from the injury to the ribs and left side. The Elf seemed to not be sitting comfortably either. After the simple meal, the Ranger approached the Elf.

“Why don’t you lie down, Mellon, and try to sleep.”

Legolas glared at him in annoyance. Why was the Man hovering over him like this? Seeing the look on the Elf’s face the Ranger moved to the water on the hearth and busied himself with some new concoction.

The Elf paid him little attention as his mind drifted to other things. He and the Ranger had been traveling together for many months now, although their friendship spanned several years. They had fought side by side many times. He recalled the first such time, having impressed the Ranger with his elven fighting skills. In truth they were almost equally matched, although the Man preferred the sword. They had discovered early on that they made a good fighting team. Yet he could never understand the Man’s tendency toward being a mother hen towards him. He supposed it was the healer in him. Elrond could be the same way, according to the twins. But Elrond was also their father. His thoughts turned back to Strider. It puzzled him that the Man should so easily forget about elven superiority. In another day or so his injuries should be completely healed yet the man behaved as though the Elf had contracted a terminal illness.

The thought made him take a closer look at the Man. Aragorn had dark circles under his eyes and his face was especially drawn of late. Legolas cursed himself for having failed to notice the signs of exhaustion in the human. He hadn’t even asked if Aragorn himself was hurt at all. Legolas climbed slowly to his feet and walked silently over to the man who was stirring something over the fire.

Aragorn looked up in surprise to find the archer kneeling on the ground next to him. “Legolas, what is it? Are you in much pain? Can I give you something?”

The morning sun reflected brightly in the Elf’s honey wheat hair and his blues eyes looked wide in the thin pale face. Since the night Aragorn bathed the Elf, his hair had not been properly braided, and it now cascaded well past his shoulders creating a perfect golden frame for the lovely face. Like all men, Aragorn tended to be mesmerized by elven beauty but few were fortunate enough to behold the Prince of Mirkwood. Like the Evenstar, the Prince was said to be one of the fairest of the Eldar to presently walk Middle Earth. Aragorn counted himself as very fortunate indeed to be one of the very few who knew that the Prince’s compassionate and humorous nature made him as beautiful on the inside as he was on the outside. Legolas allowed only a very few to get close to him. It was the result of being relentlessly pursued his whole life, Aragorn realized.

The object of his adoration now placed a delicate pale hand on the Man’s shoulder. “Aragorn, please forgive me, my friend. I did not even ask you if you were hurt. You seem not yourself.”

Aragorn swallowed past the lump in his throat. He mutely shook his head, and realizing that the Elf was looking at him curiously he cleared his throat and said, reassuringly, “Nay, my friend. I am well, just tired.” Legolas seemed not to be fully convinced. The Man placed a hand on the Elf’s, which still rested on Aragorn’s shoulder. Caressing the soft skin with his thumb, the Ranger looked deeply into the sapphire pools thinking how easily one could lose themselves in such beauty. “Thank you, Mellon, for thinking of me. But it is I who should be asking you these questions.”

Legolas smiled at the warmth, which came into the Man’s pale blue eyes. He found the Man’s moods infectious at times. It pleased him to see the Man smile. Seeking to reassure his friend, he put a little more energy into his voice than he really felt. “I am well, Aragorn. In a day or so all my scrapes will be healed. There is little need for your concern.”

The Man took in the forced reply and magnified a smile in return so not to cheat the Elf from his desire to make the Man happy. He ladled some of his concoction into a bowel and offered it to the Elf wordlessly. Legolas’s forced bravado turned into a grimace as he accepted the bowel. He sniffed at the broth suspiciously, wrinkling his pert nose.

Aragorn watched all this and could not help but chuckle at his friend’s antics. The elven Prince could be surprisingly childish on occasion. The Elf quirked an elegant eyebrow at the Ranger. “What is it?” he asked.

“Something to help the healing process,” the Man replied, which the Elf noticed was no reply at all. He wanted to refuse the brew, but the man gave him his best pleading look. Damn. He knew Legolas could not say no to a pout of such magnitude. With a dramatic sigh and a roll of his gorgeous eyes heaven ward, the Elf pinched his nose and swallowed the contents down to the dregs.

With a sour turn of his sweet mouth to let the Man know what he thought of the taste, the Elf handed back the empty bowel. “See what I do for you,” he teased the Man.

The Ranger accepted the bowel and smirked, “You honor me, my fair Prince.” He followed this with a mock of a courtly bow.

The Elf gave him an eloquent “Hmmmph,” and tossed his head proudly, hair glinting in the sun, as he stood to return to his bedroll. The ground suddenly heaved beneath his feet and the world did a summersault. He would have sunk to the ground had the man not caught him. He wrapped both arms reflexively around the man’s waist as Aragorn steadied him. When the world slowed its spin he glared up at the man.

“WHAT” he emphasized in annoyance, “did you give me, human?”

Aragorn had the wisdom not to smirk at the angry, and increasingly, sleepy Prince. “I told you. Something to help the healing process.”

The Elf moaned slightly as the world began it’s gentle swaying motion again. It was not entirely unpleasant but he could feel his legs were becoming wobbly. “But what is in it…?” he tried again.

The Man sighed. Aragorn named some of the herbs he had used in the tea.

“You tricked me!” Violet eyes flashed in indignation.

Aragorn gently scooped the protesting Prince up into his arms and carried him to his bedroll, while the Man’s ears were assaulted by a gentle spattering of elvish oaths. He settled the Archer carefully on the sleeping pallet and tenderly arranged a cloak over his body to keep out the chill. The Elf was not yet asleep but the eyes where drooping fast. The Elf watched as the man smoothed the covers over him and stroked his hair away from his face. Without warning Legolas felt the sting of tears in his eyes. He could not truly recall a time, before meeting the Human, when someone treated him with such tenderness and caring. His mother had died when he was a young Elfling. As a Prince, he had always been afforded much attention befitting a member of the royal household, yet there was nothing personal in it, as most were intimidated by him and kept their distance. His father loved him, of course, but Thranduil was not given to sentimentality. For some reason this Human’s tender nonsense affected him deeply, especially now.

“Yes,” the Man said softly, in response to the Elf’s former accusation, still touching the covering, smoothing and re-smoothing it. “I tricked you. But not really. You do need to sleep in order to heal. The herbs will relax you and help your body to use its energy for healing.” The Man looked down at his hands for a moment and said softly, “ I hope you aren’t too angry with me.”

Legolas fought off the pleasant lethargy that beckoned him to sleep, just long enough to take hold of the Man’s hand. He held it warmly in both of his own and smiled at his friend. “I am not angry, meleth,” he said and then, more shyly, not looking at the man, he asked “Will you stay with me?”

Aragorn nodded, not trusting himself to speak, and laid himself down next to the Elf. To his surprise the Archer lifted himself slightly and drew the Man’s arm around his shoulders. He then settled back down and nested his head comfortably on the Ranger’s chest. Aragorn found that he was only too happy to comply and pulled the lithe body close against him, drawing the covers over them both. He draped his other arm around the Elf’s slim waist and rested his cheek against the golden head.

Aragorn sank into the comfortable feeling of holding the slim warm body in his arms. The Archer seemed to weigh next to nothing and the Ranger found it very enjoyable to feel that body pressed against his. He had chastised himself soundly all of the previous night for the scandalous thoughts that he had been having for the Prince. By morning the thoughts had chased themselves around his head so many times that he had finally given in to at least accepting them. After all, the Prince of Mirkwood was one of the fairest creatures in Middle Earth. Who wouldn’t be driven to lustful thoughts with such a creature pressed against them all night long. Unfortunately, his new found self acceptance did not preclude him having to rush off, first thing in the morning, for a dip in a very cold stream to rid himself of the evidence of his desire.

Aragorn absently stroked the silky mane letting his fingers bury themselves in the tangled hair. He did not notice when sleep finally came. He was awakend by a sharp jab to his knee delivered by the hard point of a boot.

Aragorn was instantly on his feet, hand going to his sword. The horse lord held up his hand to allay the Ranger’s fears. Several feet away were two others on horse back.

“Who are you? By your looks I would guess a Ranger, speak!” demanded the fair haired man.

“I am called Strider. I am traveling with a message from the Istari for your King Theoden.”

The horse lord cast an appraising eye at the blond hair sprawled in all directions from under the covers and a flawless marble face, with eyes closed, that shone in the mid day sun. He cocked an eye brow at the Ranger.

“You do not seem to be in too much of a hurry,” said the Horselord sarcastically. “We do not allow slavery in Rohan. You should have left your concubine at home.”

Aragorn bristled at the brass insult and at the man’s admiring stare at the sleeping form.

He moved to block the man’s view of the sleeping Elf and challenged the man with a glare of his own. “My companion is an Elf. A warrior of the Green Wood. He is seriously injured.’

Aragorn’s glare swept to include those two on the horses. “He was ambushed by a group of men. Do you know of any one who has been about these lands who would do such a thing to one of the First Born?”

The Horselord bristled at the accusatory tone. “We are guards in service to the King and swore an oath to protect the innocent,” he replied sternly.

“I apologize,” said Aragorn, “if my tone gave offense, Horse Lord. Theoden King’s laws are well known as is the reputation of the Rohirrim. I am deeply grieved for my friend and I will seek out those who hurt him.” His tone left no room for doubt that the guilty party would have no mercy.

Aragorn gestured to the Elf, “My friend cannot be moved yet. But my message from the Istari is not an urgent one. Please inform your King to look for our arrival within a fortnight.”

The leader of the Rohirrim bowed his head and handed him the reins of his own horse. “This is Hasuf,” he said. “You may return him to me when you arrive at our citadel. He will bring you safely.”

Aragorn looked at the blond man in amazement. He inclined his head in a formal bow. “You honor me, my Lord. And whom should I ask for when I return him?”

The man took off his helmet to reveal a rather handsome face with intense eyes. “My name is Éomer. I am nephew to the King. There is no need to thank me, Ranger. It grieves me that your fair companion suffered at the hands of the lawless who now cross our borders. If I find them, I will hold them for you to exact payment or if you like, I will kill them myself.”

Aragorn bowed his thanks again. “No,” he said with a tilt of his chin. “ I want them.”

The horse lord inclined his head in parting and swung up to ride with one of his companions. They disappeared through the sparse trees towards the plains of Rohan. Aragorn walked the horse to a near by tree and tethered him there. When he returned to the Elf he was greeted by two appraising blue eyes.

The Man swallowed nervously. How much did the Elf hear? Or had he just awoke?

He sat down without a word next to the reclining Elf. Legolas looked at him but his expression was unreadable.

“We have a horse,” stated the Elf. His melodic tone betrayed nothing. The man nodded.

“Yes,” he said. “We were paid a visit by some Rohirrim. They will inform Theoden to expect us in a fortnight”

The Elf nodded, his bright eyes were unreadable.

“Are you hungry?” asked the man, his pale blue eyes asking a different question altogether.

The Elf seemed not to hear. His azure bright eyes searched the sky.

So he had been attacked. By a group of men? The Elf felt bewildered. Why could he not remember any of it, then? An uncomfortable malaise seemed to be settling over his heart. The Man was silently watching him and this increased his discomfort. He suddenly wanted to be alone, unobserved. Turning away from Aragorn he closed his eyes, seeking privacy behind the façade of sleep. He let his mind drift, but the question continued to haunt him. Why could he not remember? What had happened? How could he have been so careless? His body felt thick, and heavy, like a dead thing. The more he searched his brain for an image, a face, the source of an ache, the heavier and thicker he became. He did not like the numbness that was slowly overtaking him. Or perhaps he did, he wasn’t sure. But somewhere, underneath the odd lack of feeling, a dark dread was settling into his soul.

Aragorn, lost in his own thoughts, started when the Elf’s sharp blue eyes snapped open suddenly. Legolas sat up gingerly and began to get to his feet. The Man was instantly at his elbow.

“What are you doing?” he asked.

The Elf bit back the annoyance he felt from entering his tone. “I need to go bathe.” He started to walk in the direction of the bubbling stream, his elven hearing guiding his steps.

“I’ll come with you, you shouldn’t be alone.”

The Elf stopped and turned to face the Man. He stared at his friend suspiciously, trying to read what was hidden behind the Ranger’s worry. Why shouldn’t he go alone? Aragorn seemed nervous. “Why?” demanded the Elf.

Aragorn swallowed before answering. “You aren’t that steady on your feet. I want to make sure you will be alright.”

The Elf glared at him. Heat flared within him, chasing the numbness away, replacing it with anger. He wasn’t that bad. Did the man think him incapable, now?

“Aragorn, I am going to bathe, and I am going alone.”

Before the man could protest, he softened his tone, and added, “I’ll be alright.”

Aragorn watched him go with worried eyes.

Finally alone, the Elf breathed a deep sigh of relief. He found the clean little stream and sat down by its banks, feeling leaden all of a sudden. The stream bubbled around him cheerfully, sunlight sparkling off its rapidly moving surface. A pair of sparrows dipped playfully around each other, splashing into the surface then careening into the bright blue sky. The wood Elf sat impassively watching the frolicking birds. A small furry woodland creature waddled up to the Elf and ambled peacefully around his feet. Legolas felt a small smile drag itself out of the depths of his despair for the little being.

“You honor me with your visit, little brother,” he said to the muskrat. It chatted at him amiably before ambling its way down the bank of the stream.

The heavy cloak of uncaring draped itself over the Elf again. He sat for some time staring at nothing. His mind seemed to be in a fog. Some tiny part of him at last suggested it might be a good idea to get into the water. Slowly he stood and removed the clothing from his body, realizing distantly it was his spare set of leggings and tunic he was wearing. Aragorn must have changed him into the clothes after bathing him the other night or perhaps the following morning while he slept.

Yes, he could remember the Ranger holding him in the stream. But the memory came only in flashes. He stepped numbly into the cool water and stood for awhile, watching it pool around his thighs. The cold water pulled him a little more out of his numbness and he could feel the rocky bottom with his feet. A sharp stone jabbed the bottom of his foot. He absentmindedly scraped his foot harder against the protrusion. The slight pain brought with it a small measure of alertness. Perhaps if he went deeper the coldness would help to lift the fog that relentlessly wanted to settle over his mind and body. He dropped to his knees in the rushing water and let it pool up to his waist.

He began to shiver. That was odd. The cold didn’t usually have that effect on him. But at least his body was feeling again. The Elf dunked his head into the cold water and flung his hair back in an arc, sending a spray of water into the air. He felt very cold now and his shivering increased. As if coming out of a dream, he looked down at his body. By the Valar, no wonder he hurt so. His was covered in bruises. His eyes traveled to the black marks on his arms, and he fingered the red angry lines around his wrists. His stomach lurched as he dipped his finger into the gouged skin. Slightly light headed, now, he craned his neck to examine the very large and painful bruise on his left side. This injury he was well aware of. He could feel it extend to his back. It was quite tender to touch as his fingers probed it gently. But how had it happened? He strained to remember something, but his mind was a blank.

Next, his hands traveled to the bruises on his legs, tracing the vaguely familiar pattern of black and blue marks that covered them. He sat up, kneeling in the water to follow the black mottling of bruises around his legs and to the inside of his thighs. Despite the coldness of the water, he felt oddly removed from himself, as his hands traced the sensations to his privates and around to his buttocks. He must be very bruised there for the flesh was painful to the touch. His fingers moved further, dipping into the crease of his cheeks, exploring the sensations associated to these odd injuries. One finger followed the painful trail, experimentally, to the pucker of abused flesh.

His hand froze and in a fog of indifference, he pulled it away. The leaden feeling had returned and he could do little else but sit back on his feet, letting the water rise to his waist and rumble around him noisily. It thundered in his ears, the stream no longer seeming so friendly, and he remotely wondered what would happen if he laid down in the water and let it take him away. He did not know how long he had sat like that. It may have been a long time for the sun was already beginning its descent. The man’s anxious voice penetrated his fog as if from a great distance. His body, he realized, felt stiff and frozen.

Aragorn waded into the stream and carefully moved to stand in front of the Elf. “Legolas?”

The Ranger had become increasingly worried when the Elf did not return from the bath and he finally gave in to the impulse to follow him to the stream. Legolas was sitting in the rumbling stream up to his waist staring off into the trees. The setting sun highlighted his golden hair and white skin, creating a delicate, ethereal quality about the slim, pale beauty. But there was something very disturbing about his stillness. He seemed lost, in his own world. The Man had cried out his name several times and finally, in a state of extreme alarm, Aragorn waded out into the stream fully clothed. He knelt down in the water in front of the beautiful Elf.

“Legolas? What are you doing, Mellon?” the man asked tenderly. He was becoming worried about the Elf’s trance like states.

Legolas started as if Aragorn had appeared before him out of thin air. “Aragorn,” his voice was small, distant. “I forgot…”

Aragorn asked carefully, “What did you forget?”

“To come back…” The Elf looked lost, his blue eyes impossibly large. They had a vacant expression that the Man did not like one bit.

Aragorn took the Elf gently by the shoulders and urged him to stand up with him in the water.

“Come, Legolas, I think its time we went back to camp.” When the Archer did not move Aragorn carefully picked the unmoving being up into has arms, his profound worry for the Elf overshadowing the erotic feelings typically produced by the sight and feel of the Elf’s naked body. Scooping up the Archer’s discarded clothing, Aragorn hurried back to the camp site. He placed the quiet Elf on his bedroll and quickly covered the chilled body with the two cloaks.

Sitting on the ground next to the Archer, Aragorn vigorously rubbed the shoulders and arms with a cloth to dry him. Legolas seemed to finally stir out of his strange hypnotic state and looked at the anxious Human. “Aragorn, why can I not remember what happened to me?” the voice was soft, and the Archer, feeling self conscious, looked at the ground when he spoke.

“I don’t know,” said the Man, “perhaps you will remember in time. Or…or maybe remembering is not necessary for your healing…” Legolas did not miss the Man’s averted gaze. The Man was hiding something. But why? He had always been able to trust Aragorn. He had never before felt as though the Man was keeping secrets. No. He would not start becoming suspicious of Aragorn. If the Man was keeping something from him then the cause must be that there was something wrong with the Elf himself.

Perhaps the man felt he could no longer trust him. ‘After all, how often does an Elf let himself get ambushed by men?’ he thought bitterly. And to be honest, Legolas wasn’t exactly bouncing back from what ever happened to him. His body was not healing as rapidly as it should be. And then there was the matter of his little lapses. The Man had not said anything about the Elf’s strange fugue like states but Legolas could tell Aragorn was worried. It was no wonder the Man hovered over him so. Strider probably felt he had to watch the Elf’s every move, now.

“Legolas?” The Man was looking at him with that frown, the one that caused a severe crease to form between the Man’s brows, when he was extremely upset. Had he drifted off again?

The Elf forced his face to reflect some emotion. ”I am alright, Aragorn. I think I must still be a little tired. I am sure by tomorrow I’ll be able to travel.” The Elf tried to offer a reassuring smile but his voice sounded hollow, even to his own ears.

The Man took in the slightly vacant eyes and the wooden smile so atypical of the joyful Prince. Clearly, things were not improving for his friend. The physical injuries were healing slowly, but the Man was becoming increasingly concerned for the Elf’s emotional well being.

“It is alright, my friend,” the Man tried to sound reassuring. “ We are in no great hurry. Now that we have a horse it won’t take that long to get to Rohan. I think we can take another day or two to let you recuperate.” Aragorn had placed a firm hand on the Elf’s shoulder. The Man’s rough hand was warm against the Elf’s bare skin and Legolas’s mind registered his nakedness. Blushing suddenly, he pulled the cloak tighter around him, eyes dropping to the grass. Yet there was something very reassuring about the man’s touch. A calmness radiated through him. His mind seemed clearer and his body became less tense. Legolas tried to hide his disappointment when the Man finally removed the hand.

“Here,” Aragorn said, handing the Elf his clothes.

The Elf accepted the bundle and watched the Man move to take care of the horse, giving Legolas some privacy to dress himself. The sapphire eyes watched as the man approached Hasuf. The Ranger stroked the horse’s mane, speaking to the animal in elvish as he brushed the lustrous coat with a rough collection of stiff dried grasses tied together to form a brush. As Legolas watched Aragorn’s gentle handling of the animal he felt a blush creep into his cheeks. For some reason, watching the Ranger’s tender care of the beast summoned an unexpected assortment of feelings in him. A pleasant warmth spread through his body, as if he remembered a memory, or perhaps his wayward mind just imagined a memory, of the Man touching him with such tenderness. The Man’s hands were rougher than elven hands, but there was a reassuring strength in them. They made him feel safe and secure. He closed his eyes and recalled how those hands felt on his skin, stroking him, holding him, igniting a fire within him….

Legolas’s eyes popped open at the startling images that were rapidly followed by a feeling of shame. What was happening to him? Since when did the thought of the Man create feelings of *that* nature in him. Legolas looked quickly in Aragorn’s direction, embarrassed to be caught thinking unfair thoughts about his friend. As far as he knew humans preferred the opposite gender for mates. Aragorn would most likely be disgusted and possibly even feel betrayed by the Elf for harboring such thoughts. Legolas sank to the ground, shaken, and put his head in his hands. That blow to his head must have been more severe than he had been willing, at first, to admit. It was the only explanation. He also reflected that he was becoming too dependent on the man. The idea of an Elf craving physical closeness with a human to feel safe was preposterous. Legolas looked up at the Man again. Aragorn was talking softly to the horse who whinnied in approval, apparently enjoying the strong strokes of the brush against the length of his flank. Legolas smiled, despite his distress.

Aragorn was a most worthy Man, to be sure. He was noble, strong, focused, loyal, and an excellent leader. And of course, the man was a compassionate healer. But even Aragorn would grow tired of playing nursemaid to an Elf eventually. The idea that the Ranger might tire of him jolted the Elf. It was high time Legolas pulled himself together, he decided. He was a warrior of Mirkwood and he should start to act like one. What ever happened out in the woods, he resolved to place firmly behind him.

With that promise to himself in mind, the archer moved to his belongings to find his weapons. If felt like centuries had passed since he had held his bow in his hands. The feel of the smooth wood brought an immediate comfort to his distraught mind. He sat on the ground with his quiver of arrows and began to sort through them. The familiar activity soothed him as his fingers deftly went to work mending the broken shafts and feathers.

The sight of the archer tending his arrows would have brought a measure of comfort to the man as well, had the discerning eyes not observed the fine tremor in the Elf’s fingers. Aragorn sat down on his heels next to the busy Elf, with a gentle smile. His eyes studied the tense face partially hidden behind the silver curtain of hair.

“You seem to be feeling better, Mellon.” It was not a question exactly but the man’s eyes flicked over him with unerring powers of observation. Those steel blue eyes seemed to penetrate into his very soul.

The Elf felt his cheeks color, partly from the odd feeling that he was getting lately whenever the man looked at him or sat close to him. But another part of him felt angry at the intense perusal. What was Aragorn looking at? Could the man see into the Elf’s thoughts and the humiliating direction they had taken? Was the man looking for evidence that something was wrong with him? The arrow shaft he had been working on snapped, suddenly, in his tight grip, startling both the Ranger and the Elf. As if looking on from some great distance, the Elf helplessly watched himself jump to his feet in a rage. He was swept up in a tide over which he had no control, a boiling anger erupting from deep within him. He moved so quickly the Ranger was knocked backward onto the ground. Before the man could react, the Elf had stormed off into the woods, and disappeared into the trees.

Bewildered, it took some moments for the man to recover from his shock. Strider jumped to his feet and ran in the direction the Elf had taken, eyes frantically scanning the branches above him. The Elf was nowhere in sight. Amazed that the injured Elf could vanish so quickly, Aragorn cursed himself for his lack of attention to the direction of the archer’s moods. But, then again, the Elf was becoming increasingly unpredictable. The man was running through the woods, now, pausing only to call out the Elf’s name. He knew the Elf could hear him, as long as he was not lost in another trance.

“Legolas!”

Aragorn called the archer’s name with increasing alarm. His normally serene and kindhearted Elf would never let the man worry so. Part of him wanted to trust that the archer would return to the camp as soon as he had cooled off, but the man feared what dangers could befall the Elf while he was in this irrational state. “Legolas!” the man called again, with a touch of panic in his voice, “Legolas, please come back!”

Several yards away and about 15 feet up in a tree, the archer sat with his head cradled in his arms. The fear in the man’s voice penetrated the turmoil of emotions within him. What was he doing? Why had he run off like that, leaving the man to worry about him? Aragorn did not deserve such treatment. Angry with himself, he was also becoming slightly alarmed about his own state of mind. Never in his long life had the archer not been in command of his own actions. He tried to calm the rapid beating of his heart. Something was definitely wrong with him. The man’s voice came again through the trees and the Elf latched onto it as an anchoring point to reality, calming his rising panic.

“Here,” he cried out softly, feeling immensely relieved when the Ranger found him almost at once.

The Ranger leaned on his arm against the tree, breathing heavily from his frantic run through the forest. Looking up at the Elf, the Ranger’s discerning gray eyes picked up immediately on the other’s relief at being found as well as the Elf’s inner turmoil. Aragorn breathlessly gestured for the Elf to come down. To his relief the Elf responded to the silent command and slowly climbed down to the ground to stand before the man. The archer was red faced and would not lift his face from his study of his feet to meet the man’s eyes.

Still slightly winded, the man gently pulled the Elf into an embrace. Legolas should not have been surprised, but he was. He had expected to be questioned but instead the man merely held him tightly against the reassuring warmth of his body. Feeling both guilty for his inexplicable anger, and grateful for the man’s silent understanding, he leaned against the hard chest, bringing his arms up around the man’s waist, and pressed his head to the man’s shoulder. They stood like that for a long time, each relishing the relief that washed through them. Finally the man pulled back. “Come, my unpredictable Prince, lets go back to camp.” The man kept an arm draped over the Elf’s shoulders, unwilling to relinquish his hold on the moody archer, and led the way back to their campsite. The Elf did not say anything as they walked, but Aragorn suspected the Prince was greatly perplexed by his own behavior, and more likely than not, embarrassed. Although disturbed by the Elf’s inexplicable behavior he sensed questioning Legolas would only add to his friend’s distress.

The man guided the Elf to his bedroll, and went to the hearth to prepare a soothing tea. The blue eyes of the Elf followed him. Legolas watched the familiar movements: the man’s careful unpacking of his various dried herbs, the consideration process for selecting the right blend for his purposes, the way he hunched over the pot, stirring the brew with measured attention to when additional ingredients were added. Legolas found the familiar actions of the ritual soothing. A burst of fondness for his human lightened his heart and he leaned back on his arms with a sigh.

When the brew was complete and the man approached him, steaming cup extended, the Elf took it without protest. Aragorn sat down next to him and draped his arm around the Elf’s shoulders without speaking a word. Legolas found himself leaning gratefully into the man’s frame, feeling more and more like himself. Well, no that was not true. The ‘Prince of Mirkwood’ he knew would never have accepted such intimate attention from the man so openly. No, he was not himself, but he felt better. Resting in the circle of Aragorn’s arm, he sipped the tea, which was starting to taste good to him. He was changed. He didn’t know why but right now, he wasn’t going to fight it. The man was not complaining and Legolas, it appeared, had no choice but to allow the human to take care of him.

When the cup was drained, Legolas, set it down and snuggled deeper into the man’s arms. He let his head fall to the man’s shoulder and let his eye’s drift shut. The wind was picking up and his hair was lifting to fly gently about his face. Aragorn pulled a cloak around them both tightly against the evening chill and gathered the Elf’s hair, tucking it in under the blanket. Aragorn stretched them both down near the fire with the cave wall behind them. It was not deep enough to be a true cave but hopefully would offer some shelter if it rained.

Exhaustion took them both into a sound sleep. When it began to rain, Aragorn pulled the Elf closer to him and covered them as best he could with the blankets from his pack. Legolas did not wake but the Elf moaned in his sleep and his hands clutched at the man’s tunic when thunder clapped loudly over their heads. Aragorn stroked the Elf’s face, which was a mere inch from his own. The storm was becoming violent and the sleeping Elf twisted to bury his face in the man’s neck. Aragorn could feel the Prince’s hot breath against his skin as lips brushed his throat. Aragorn gasped at the sizzle of desire that coursed through his veins. His erection suddenly pushed against the fabric of his trousers uncomfortably. Life was so unfair, the man thought dismally, as he tried to push himself away from the tantalizing body that pressed against him. The last thing the traumatized Elf needed was another lustful human pawing at him.

The sleeping Prince, it seemed had other ideas. Even as Aragorn tried to twist his lower half away from the Elf, Legolas unconsciously snuggled closer, bringing the length of the slim golden body flush, up against the man, throwing a leg sinuously over one of Aragorn’s. The Ranger groaned at the feel of the muscular tight body in his arms, the lips and face brushing the skin of his neck. He turned his head toward the Elf, prepared to lightly wake the beautiful archer in order to move him away, but instead his lips brushed up against the Elf’s soft mouth. The lips were like flower petals, sweet and yielding. The moist breath filled his mouth and the man’s tongue slipped rebelliously passed his lips to taste the heady nectar of the Elf’s kiss. Aragorn froze in unbelievable torment at the impossible situation. His tongue breached the yielding barrier and in his sleep the Elf moaned, opening to draw the Man in. In that moment, the Elf’s blue eyes fluttered open. Looking into the man’s gray eyes, the Elf recoiled, horrified by what he perceived he had done to the human.

The Man sat up, equally horrified to see tears suddenly well up in the archer’s eyes. “Legolas…” he began, feeling overwhelmingly guilty. The Elf scrambled up against the rock wall behind him, a hand pressed to his mouth, his blue eyes large as saucers in the pale drawn face. Before Aragorn could utter another word the Elf stammered incomprehensibly, “I’m …I’m sorry, Aragorn…” and was gone into the night. Aragorn darted after him but the Man was blinded by the torrential down pour. Rain and wind pelted against him, slowing him as surely as if he ran head long into a herd of oliphants. “Legolas!” he screamed but the howling wind drowned out his voice even to his own ears.

The Man ran blindly, sliding in the mud, tree branches scraping his flesh as the wind whipped around him.

“Legolas!” the Man’s scream followed him on the gusting wind but the Elf ran through the woods in a mindless panic. His dash through their camp was not deterred as his reached unerringly into his pack to wrap his fingers around the bright hilt of his long knife. There was no thought behind the deed except the sudden surge to finish the job the men had started. He should never have lived through the assault. He knew that now as clearly as he knew deep in his bones that they meant to kill him. It was Strider who had delayed his journey to the Halls of Mandos. Now the man’s silences and averted looks made sense to him. Aragorn could not protect him any longer from the memories that flooded him. He had been raped. It was like poison in his flesh. It lived in his blood and oozed out of his pores. The Elf had become as vile as his assailants. What had he done? Even now the feel of the Ranger’s mouth against his lips sent waves of desire through his tainted flesh. The memory of the Ranger’s arms and mouth overlapped and became confused with the sordid images of the men who attacked him. The bruising grip of unfriendly hands holding him down, the rough mouths that sucked on him and called him names, the things he was forced to do… The Elf clutched at his head, as he ran through the sheets of rain that came down on him. Aragorn!

His heart lurched at the betrayal he had committed against his human companion. The voices of the men who raped him rang in his ears. Elf Whore. They were right. Stuck up little piece of ass. Who did he think he was? Elvish superiority? A Prince? He was nothing but a pretty face and a tight ass for riding. They showed him that. They rode him like an animal. They had broken him, in body, but also in mind and in spirit. Elf Whore. The clapping thunder above reverberated through his body as blow after blow of the men’s fists resurfaced in a torrent within his raging mind. He fought them, at first. He fought viciously but a great lassitude overtook him. The potent poison rendered him submissive but the Elf had lost awareness of such details. The words of the men, foul and more damaging even than their deeds, rang in his ears. Nothing but a pretty face and a pretty ass. It’s what the world thought of him. He’d suspected it before but they showed him. He had pleasured them, the five taking turns with him like rutting beasts. He was nothing but a thing, an animal, a whore for their insatiable lust. They showed him when they took him, two and three at a time. Tears ran down his cheeks, mingling with the rain that plastered his golden hair to his face. The heavens opened up and his grief poured out of him as violently as the storm that raged around him. He should have died. He fell to his knees, knife blindly slashing and stabbing at the muddy thatched ground. Aragorn! He needed the Man. But he was lost in the dark cataclysm of his own nightmare. There could be no rescue this time. He wanted no rescue.

The Elf stopped, knife blade buried into the earth, clutching onto its hilt, he violently emptied his stomach until only dry heaves remained, the horrific memories pouring through him without mercy. He should have died. Now he had tainted the one good thing left in his life, his friendship with the Ranger. Aragorn would probably forgive him. It was in the nature of the human to be giving, faultlessly so. But Legolas could not forgive himself. He could not come back from such a horror, not without the man. And he could not expose Aragorn to more of the madness. It was time to put an end to it. Lightening flashed overhead and thunder exploded with a force that made the forest floor shake. The ground had turned to thick mud and clung to him as if the earth itself clutched with angry fingers, trying to drag him down, trying to drown him. Yanking the dagger loose from the ground, he lurched blindly to his feet and began to run again.

The Elf slipped and tumbled down a sloping muddy trail to land at the banks of the overflowing stream. The storm raged relentlessly, whipping his hair and his clothes about his slender frame, and the stream had become a raging river. He crawled, muddied and bleeding, along its edge, digging his torn fingers into the rough stones. The long elven blade shone brightly in the flashes of lightening, still clenched in his hand. The river’s black waters called to him, promising an ominous peace. He sobbed, as he lay on his stomach by the raging bank, but the sounds of his grief disappeared in the howl of the wind. The trees around him almost bent in half as the wind whipped furiously at their branches. The pelting rain threatened to drown the earth in its fury. It was as if the Valar themselves wept at the sight of the dishonored Elf. He looked into the darkness of the river without really seeing. He’d throw himself in. But not before making sure survival was impossible. The long silver blade of his knife gleamed as he lifted it to his eyes. It was the blade he had used to stab one of his rapists. That was when they kicked him brutally in his ribs and back, their heavy boots dragging across his pale naked flesh.

He looked at the cold metal of the blade like a long lost companion and tested its sharpness out on the flesh of his forearm. The stinging pain felt good. His bright red blood sank into the earth and anger boiled within him. This time the elven knife would do its work flawlessly. He sent a prayer that Mandos would open its doors to him and if not, at least, that the Ranger would be free of his burden of caring for the sick Elf and be able to move on, finding happiness in his life. Aragorn deserved that. The thought of the man made him hesitate. Aragorn would grieve, but this was for the best. The man didn’t need to be subjected any further to the Elf’s sickness. Legolas would die eventually, any way. Better to release the man now, than cause him more harm. The archer did wish there could be some way to leave the man a message. He did not like the thought that the man would probably blame himself. But seeing as there was no way to do such a thing, Legolas decided the most compassionate thing to do was to simply free the man. He turned his attention to the blade that shone brightly in the reflected light from the lightening. He would bleed himself dry and the river would wash the vileness away. And Aragorn would be set free.

The Elf raised the flashing blade to his throat; his eyes closed against the pelting rain, and took a deep breath. The blade pierced his skin and then went careening through the air, lightening glinting off the spinning shaft, before it disappeared into the black water. The Elf had landed into the shallow end of the rushing stream, Aragorn fell heavily on top of him.

Without much thought about what he was doing, the Elf began to struggle against the man. Their struggles took them deeper into the raging torrent of the river and Aragorn screamed into the Elf’s face, “Stop! Or we will both drown!”

The words penetrated the Elf’s mind enough for him to slow his struggles, so not to drag the man down with him, but he still tried to pull away from the man’s grip. “Let me go, Aragorn!” the Elf screamed above the howl of the wind, “I should be dead! You know its true!”

The man growled his frustration and recognizing they were drifting dangerously into deeper waters, he heaved his fist into the temple of the struggling Elf. The surprising move caught the archer off guard and the blow effectively knocked the Elf into oblivion. Aragorn clutched the limp body against him and slowly dragged their way back toward the muddy bank. The raging black waters beat at him, pulling at the unconscious body in his grasp.

Both Human and Elf slipped under the murky surface as the world exploded above them. Lightening and thunder crashed around him as Aragorn’s head broke through the surface, coughing and sputtering, the Elf still in tow. He turned the Elf’s face to the air. Strider screamed his defiance at the universe that seemed bent on tormenting them. Nothing was taking his Elf away from him. Nothing! The water threatened to dislodge the floating body of the unconscious Archer from his frozen arms several times, but the Man’s grip was unbreakable. Finally able to touch bottom, he scrambled to find purchase to stand, his feet sinking up to the ankles in thick slushiness. Their waterlogged clothes slowed his movements but he eventually hefted the Elf out of the river. He climbed out heavily and leaned against the unmoving body of the Archer to catch his breath.

Legolas coughed and water poured out of his mouth as the Man turned him onto his side. Aragon pounded the Elf in between the shoulder blades until Legolas was breathing again. The Elf moaned, his face pressed to the ground, but remained incoherent. Aragorn took hold of the slim body by the arms and pulled him up. He clutched the Elf to his chest, and tears slid down the man’s face as the rain continued to drench the earth.

“Oh, Legolas,” he whispered into a pointed ear, “what were you trying to do?” Aragorn smoothed the wet hair away from the Elf’s face. The closed eyes fluttered, long lashes brushing the pale cheeks, but they did not open. The man brushed his lips against the fair brow, reverently.

Aragorn slowly climbed to his feet, pulling the Elf up into his arms. He slung the unconscious Prince over his shoulder like a sack of potatoes and began the treacherous climb up the sloping muddy ground. Aragorn’s heart was beating wildly and he sent a prayer of thanks to the Gods for leading his blind steps through the blackness of the storm to the river. The image of his beloved Elf, blade raised to his own throat, was one that Aragorn suspected would haunt him for the rest of his human days. A cold fist was clenched about the man’s heart. That so precious and so exquisite a being, as the Prince of Mirkwood, should choose to leave this life by their own hand, it was a desecration of all that the Valar held dear. As a man, and as a healer, Aragorn rebelled at it violently. He was not going to permit this fine creature to kill himself, not by his own hand and not be simply allowing himself to fade away. Aragorn refused to let it happen.

By the time the first rays of the sun started to lighten the morning sky, the rain had stopped and the wet muddy ground was beginning to dry. Large puddles dominated the camp area and a fire was impossible. The storm had been violent but the earth was washed clean. The Ranger and the Elf were both drenched through and through. When Aragorn had finally made it back to their little camp he had collapsed on the wet ground. The Man leaned up against the cold rock and pulled the Elf onto his lap, the archer’s golden head falling against his shoulder. The man sighed in relief, hugging the golden mud caked body to him in gratitude. He contemplated the miracle of finding the Elf just in the nick of time. The man could not permit himself to think what it would have been like to find the Elf’s dead body. Yet that very image filled his mind leaving him cold and shaking. The cold fist around his heart squeezed tighter. A boiling anger was threatening to overflow inside him. He was angry at himself, at his own weakness, that he gave in to temptation and kissed the archer. His thoughtless self-indulgence had almost killed Legolas. Aragorn would never have forgiven himself if he had been too late to save the Elf. But it was more than that, even. Somewhere along the way, friendship had turned to lust. This he knew. But he never truly comprehended, until now, that lust had become something deeper still. It was love that drove him. Looking down at the sleeping Prince, the Man’s heart lurched in his chest. By the Valar. He touched the Prince’s soft lips with his fingers, in amazement, and a tear escaped his eye. He loved this Elf. Aragorn clutched the body of the archer in his trembling hands, thinking how close it had been. If he had arrived one moment later, he’d have been holding the Elf’s dead body in his arms. Rage boiled within him.

His anger was not only at himself. Oh, to be sure the vile monsters who were the true cause of all this suffering would die, by Aragorn’s hand, even if it took the remainder of his life to hunt them down. He would do it. But, no, that was not all of his anger. He looked down at the pale perfect beauty of the Elf. He stroked the smooth, baby soft skin of the Prince’s cheek with his fingers. He wanted to bend down and kiss the perfect mouth. He wanted to devour those sweet lips. He was enraged, the man knew with sickening clarity, at Legolas. The Elf would have to be made to understand that suicide was not going to be the answer to his suffering. Aragorn was not going to permit it. If he had to sit on the archer, bind him hand and foot, or tether the Elf to the Man for the rest of his life, he would do it to ensure that never again would the Elf even consider such a deed. Actually that last idea had some appeal, thought the Man. Aragorn looked into the pale thin face, and stroked the soft skin, mind racing. Before he knew what he was doing he bent and placed a gentle, chaste kiss on the Elf’s forehead. Mine, he thought, furiously. He pulled the precious body tighter; lips softly pressed against the fair brow, and squeezed his eyes shut against the tears that managed to fall at last down his cheeks. When he lifted his head he found himself looking into the surprised eyes of the Elf.

Legolas stared up at the Ranger, his mind trying to grasp what had happened. He was in the river, drowning…but strong familiar hands, the ones that now held him tightly, had pulled him out. Aragorn. But he had a knife….The man had stopped him from killing himself. His senses were filled with the essence of the Man, suddenly.

He could hear the man’s heart beat. He could smell the scent of leather and pipe weed in the soaked clothes. He could feel the Man’s breath on his face. The pain in the steel gray eyes, only inches from his own, refused to let him look away. Tears on the man’s face held him transfixed. The man’s hands were on his skin, just as he had imagined before. They were rough hands, but strong, and now they tenderly stroked his cheek.

Legolas found it hard to breath against the tender assault to his senses. Meanwhile, the Man was staring at him, drinking in the vision of the Elf, alive and aware.

“I thought I was dead…” said the Archer, dully.

“You tried to make it so. You almost succeeded,” the Man’s voice was harsh, laced with pain.

The Elf frowned and looked away. “You should not have stopped me.”

Aragorn’s hand firmly took hold of his face and forced the Archer to face him. What Legolas saw in the Ranger’s face made his eyes grow large. It was fury but also something indefinable. “Never.” Said the Man in a tone that would brook no argument. “Never say that again.”

The Elf was speechless for a long moment, but rebellion surfaced from somewhere, and his own anger flared. “What right do you have to keep me here?” he demanded in a strained voice. “You know what happened, don’t you? You’ve known all along…” His voice was a bitter whisper. The man blanched at the words but he held the Archer’s gaze steadfastly.

“Yes. I know. Not all, but I know.”

“Then you know I cannot go on!” The Elf began to struggle in the Man’s grip, trying to release himself. Despair was rising within him again, and the Man’s closeness, his touch, was too uncomfortable. Legolas’s traitorous, tainted flesh yearned for the Man’s breath on his skin, for his touch to arouse him. The feeling of being restrained, however, set off another emotion. It frightened him. He had to get away. He was right to try to end it, before. He was really, and truly, insane. The confusion in his mind proved it. “You should not have interfered!” He shouted at the Man, desperately trying to free himself now.

“You are not thinking, Legolas! This is no answer!” the Man clamped his hands around the slender wrists and trapped the Elf in the circle of his arms. He tried to sound reasonable but his own ire was growing.

“I know I am not thinking!” screamed the Elf in anguish, “I can’t think! I can’t feel! I …I just can’t Aragorn…” the Archer stopped fighting, abruptly, and clutched onto the Man, tears streaming down his cheeks. Aragorn cradled the sobbing being in his arms, and began to rock back and forth, tears coming to his own eyes and rolling down his face as well.

“I can’t Aragorn” the Elf sobbed again. “You just don’t understand…I’m nothing! I’m nothing but what they said…” The Elf’s voice was lost in the sobs that poured out of him, his face buried against the man’s chest.

Aragorn’s brows drew together at that last half uttered sentence. He pulled the Elf back a little and forced the Archer to look at him. “What,” he demanded, “what did they say?”

The Elf tried to avoid the man’s eyes, but the fight in him was spent. “They said…they said…that I was…” The Elf’s voice faded, humiliation making his cheeks burn, and he tried to look away again.

“What, Legolas?” the Man insisted.

“They said…that I was …only a ..a pretty face, and a…a pretty…that I was good for only…”

The anguished Elf could not go on but the Man had gotten the gist of what the Elf was saying. He grabbed the Elf by the shoulders and looked into the bright sapphire eyes. “And you believe them?” he demanded.

“They called me things…a whore…they said I caused it…them to …to..” the Elf’s eyes clearly shone with confusion. Aragorn closed his eyes, privately promising again to hunt them down and mutilate them with his bare hands.

“Legolas, how can you place any stock in the words of vile orc spawn like that? Don’t you see what they were doing by saying vile things like that?” the Ranger said reasonably.

“But look at what I did to you!” cried the Archer.

Aragorn stared at him, not comprehending what the Elf was talking about.

“I …I...betrayed you, Aragorn!” The Elf’s voice was anguished. “In the cave, before..” he added in clarification, deep shame coloring his cheeks.

The Man swallowed. “You mean…when we…”

The Elf nodded, tears swelling in the blue eyes yet again. “I’m sorry Aragorn, I didn’t mean for it to happen…” Sobbing loudly again, the Elf did his best to hide his face from the Man, but Aragorn’s hand on his chin continued to hold him in place.

“Legolas…you didn’t…”

But the Elf shook his head, “Don’t deny it, Aragorn…I know what I did. and you’ve only tried to help me…You’ve always been a friend, and I …I…” Tears poured forth from the Elf’s blue orbs as the Archer continued to blame himself for his perceived infraction.

The Man stared at him for one speechless moment, and then taking a deep breath, leaned forward and kissed the sobbing Elf full on the mouth. He could hear the Elf’s gasp, sobs interrupted, as the Man’s mouth came down on his in a chaste but very tender kiss. The Man’s lips did not leave his for a long, heart stopping moment. The Man wanted there to be no question about who initiated this intimacy and who wanted it. He hoped the Elf would not hate him for it, but right now it was imperative that the Elf understood he did nothing wrong to the Ranger.

When Aragorn finally and carefully pulled back, the Prince stared at him, blue eyes huge against the alabaster skin. The petal soft lips parted to form the only word that came into the Elf’s stunned mind, “Oh….”

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Aragorn smiled tightly, holding a delicate hand in both of his own, he averted his gaze from the startled blue eyes and drew tiny circles on the soft skin of the Archer’s hand with his finger. His brows drew together in a pained expression when he spoke again. “I kissed you, Mellon Nin,” he said quietly, “not the other way around.”

Legolas’s mind reeled at this new development. He had never considered this possibility. In truth, he was having trouble believing it. He shook his head slightly, “Aragorn…” he stopped, feeling bewildered. Suddenly self conscious of his prone position, lying in the Man’s lap, Legolas slowly moved out of the Ranger’s arms to sit up.

The Man released him, apprehensively, and studied the Elf’s face with alert eyes.

But the Elf, who for the moment was too stunned to consider running away, merely shifted to sit facing the Man. Aragorn could sense a new trepidation in the Archer’s body as the Elf put a little distance between them. The Ranger winced internally. The Elf’s eyes searched his face, apparently looking for some clue as to what this might mean. Perplexed, Legolas shook his head again, in denial of what had just happened, suspecting, perhaps, that this was some healer’s trick to make him feel better.

Suddenly afraid of the Elf’s continued silence, a different kind of panic began to grow in the pit of the Ranger’s stomach. Aragorn’s words tumbled out of him, in a jumble, “I am sorry, Mellon. Please don’t hate me. I didn’t mean for it to happen, and I promise you it won’t happen again…”

The Archer looked up suddenly at this, his blue eyes wide with both distress and confusion. Aragorn paused in mid sentence, noting the Prince’s mixed reaction with interest.

“Aragorn,” the Elf interrupted, “I …” the Elf’s gaze flitted back to the ground, unwilling to meet the Man’s penetrating stare, “well…what I mean is…I’m not upset…” The blue gaze flitted over the man’s rapt expression and away again, before continuing, “ What I mean is…well, …I just don’t understand, why…”

The Elf looked up at the Man, who was studying him, and repeated, “Why did you?”

The Man looked at the soaked, muddy Elf and took a deep breath. The blue sapphire eyes were bright in the white thin face. They were highlighted by dark smudges of exhaustion. The golden hair was still plastered to the Archer’s face, framing the sculpted cheekbones. Wet leaves were tangled in the untidy mane from their near drowning in the river. The Prince was a mess, worse than he had ever seen him, and Aragorn found a small smile creep unbidden to his lips. He reached out fondly to pluck a long soggy leaf out of the blonde hair, and he shrugged his shoulders as he discarded it. “I love you,” he said simply, amazed by how easily the words rolled out.

There. He had said it. The Prince’s mouth dropped open. Apparently, whatever Legolas had expected the Man to say, this evidently was not it. Aragorn felt somewhat relieved, however, by the admission. Now that he had mentally come to grips with his feelings for the Elf, it felt good to get it out into the open. He did not expect the traumatized Elf to respond in kind. In time, perhaps, the Elf would be able to say the words back to him. Should the Prince of Mirkwood be even so inclined. Aragorn had not given it all much thought. What were the chances that a highly desirable Elf Prince would choose to mate with a mere mortal? But, no matter. His love for the Elf was enough. No, the Man was not expecting anything. Right now, Aragorn had but one simple goal: to get the Elf past the point of wanting to die.

Seeing the Elf’s stunned expression grow into a look of discomfort, the Man said hastily, “You don’t have to say anything, Mellon. I don’t expect anything, other than what we have always had…I hope you can still accept my friendship…” he added, a little fearfully.

Legolas started at this and said, quickly, “Of course, Aragorn, we will always…” The Archer stopped, as if remembering his pact with himself to end his own life.

Aragorn reached forward, wrapping his hands around both of the Elf’s wrists. “Legolas, listen to me.” The Man’s steel eyes bore into those of the Elf. “You are not going to kill yourself. I am not going to let you.”

The steel in the Man’s grip and in his gaze left no room for further argument. Legolas was too exhausted. The Elf sighed and looked at the ground. “Legolas.” The Man was apparently not finished yet, giving the Elf a little shake by the held wrists. Legolas raised his face tiredly to look at the Man. Aragorn had a look the Archer had seen many times. It said there would be no compromise. “Promise me,” said Aragorn.

The dawning frown on the Prince’s face did not bode well. Aragorn drew closer, eyes blazing, and wrapping one powerful hand around both thin wrists, he gripped the Elf’s chin firmly, forcing the Prince to look at him. “Legolas, we both almost drowned out there.” The Man’s voice was measured and firm, “Now. Promise me, Prince, that there will be no further attempts to take your life!”

Despite the Elf’s obvious exhaustion, a flash of anger momentarily alighted the Archer’s drawn features. “Aragorn…” the Elf sounded tired, but the Man could see the beginnings of another battle. Aragorn was determined to put a stop to it before it began.

“If you do not give me your promise, then I’ll do what ever is necessary to keep you safe.” The Man said with a tightening of his grip on the slim wrists. The Elf’s eyes widened in indignation and mild fear. “I would rather not keep you tied up or sedated…” said the Ranger, darkly.

The Elf’s eyes grew wider still. “You would not dare…” He could not believe the Man was serious.

“I would not want to resort to such measures, but if you don’t give me your promise then I may have no choice.” Aragorn’s somber expression told him the Man was deadly serious.

The Elf frowned again, but when he looked up at the Man the fight had finally gone out of him. “Very well. You have my promise. I will not try to kill myself.” The words were dragged out of him it seemed, from some deep painful place. When the Man released his hands the Elf pulled himself away, and moved to the wall of the cave and huddled in on himself, refusing to look at the Human.

The Ranger sighed. Something told him it was going to be another long day.

The horse had long since disappeared and the Man could only hope the poor beast had gone back to its familiar home in Rohan. If not, he’d have to find a way to make amends to Lord Éomer, when he next met the horse lord. Aragorn moved slowly, tiredly as he bent to pick up their scattered belongings. He was sore from the treacherous swim and from struggling with the Elf. The sun was peeking from behind the clouds and the smaller puddles were already drying up. The wood, however, was all still too wet for a fire. Aragorn laid out some faggots that might be dry enough for a fire later that night. He hung their soaked blankets in the branches of a tree, hoping that by nightfall they would be useable.

As the Man moved about the camp, restoring order, he occasionally glanced at the Elf. Legolas had remained resolutely quiet, still huddled in on himself against the back of the cave. The Elf’s eyes would not meet the Man’s but occasionally Aragorn could feel their burning intensity upon him. Well, at least the Elf had given his promise. Aragorn was not bluffing about tying the Elf up. The Man sighed, looking at the Archer, who looked away stubbornly. If the Man had any distant hopes of winning the Elf’s affections some day in the future, they had receded far into the back of his mind. It seemed he’d be fortunate to simply have the Prince not hate him.

When nothing else remained to be done with their camp, Aragorn stood tiredly, and looked down at himself. He was soaked, hot, tired and layered in dried mud. Glancing at the equally disheveled Elf, he walked over to the stubbornly quiet Prince.

“Legolas?” The Elf continued to study the ground. Aragorn frowned. “Why don’t we go get cleaned up?”

The Elf continued to stare at nothing, refusing to look at the Ranger. He was dirty? So what. Aragorn was going to force him to live, and thus die a slow death, instead of the merciful quick one. But the Elf had managed to fail even at that. If he hadn’t been so slow with the knife last night, this would all be over, for both of them. So be it. A dull gray cloud settled over his thoughts. He would just wait for death to claim him. Perhaps this way was better. The Man, at least, would be spared feeling the guilt he would otherwise have suffered. Despite his anger at the Human for forcing him to make that promise, he really did not want Aragorn to suffer because of the Elf’s mistakes.

“Legolas?” the Man had knelt down in front of him. Legolas dragged his eyes up to meet the Man’s. Aragorn looked exhausted and worry for the Elf lurked in the Man’s eyes. Legolas felt the last remnants of his anger toward the Ranger begin to fade. The poor Human did not deserve this.

Aragorn extended a hand to him. Legolas slowly took hold of it and allowed himself to be pulled up from the ground. Aragorn paused to collect a small bundle of spare clothes from his pack, soap and two soft cloths. He sheathed his sword as well, unwilling to go that far unarmed. He held out his hand again, and Legolas took it with only the slightest of hesitation. He mentally shrugged. Its not like he had any dignity left. And if it helped the Human to feel better, by treating the Elf like a child, he would indulge the Ranger. When the inevitable would come, at least the Man would feel he had done everything humanly possible to help the Elf.

He followed the Man wordlessly through the sun-dappled trees. His fingers absently tracing the calluses of the Man’s sword hand. His eyes traveled from the Man’s face to the trees. Amazing how these same woods were so ominous, so unfriendly just a few hours ago. The clouds had become sparse and the sun shone her bright face again, warming the ground. They stepped over dropped branches and broken saplings that had not the strength to withstand last night’s gales. Legolas’s eyes followed the trail he had taken in the night, the places where he had fallen in the mud and darkness, and had cried out his soul’s torment.

Aragorn’s hand tightened on his, transmitting warmth up his shaking arm. It flowed through his body and he took a deep shaky breath. Legolas swallowed the lump in his throat. He clutched onto the Man’s hand as they reached the stream. Tame, once again, the water bubbled in greeting. Legolas stopped suddenly, last night’s travails filling his mind. Aragorn stopped with him.

“Its alright, Mellon.” Aragorn said quietly. He put an arm around the Archer’s shoulders and nudged him forward. They came to the bank, close to the spot where Legolas had sat the night before, blade extended to his throat, only seconds away from death. Legolas looked at the area impassively, wrapped again in his gray cloud of indifference. His life seemed to have turned into one giant mistake. First, he allowed himself to be captured by a group of monstrous humans; he allowed himself to be defiled; then, he failed in the simple task of putting an end to his disgrace in a way befitting a warrior. He shoulders slumped in defeat. There was nothing left for him to lose, it seemed. The sunny shore of the stream, curiously, held no evidence of last night’s torment. Nothing to indicate how close he had come to death. He became aware of the Man’s stillness beside him, and turned questioning eyes to the Ranger.

Aragorn seemed to be lost in a nightmare of his own. The Man was staring at the ground where he had found the Elf the other night. The Man’s grip on Legolas’s hand had become crushing. It pulled Legolas out of his fog and he winced in pain. The Man immediately released his hold on the thin hand with an apology. But Legolas moved into the Man’s arms, and lifted his hands to touch Aragorn’s face. Aragorn looked at him, surprised by the Elf’s sudden attention.

“Aragorn.” The Elf didn’t say anything more. His cool hands traveled to lock behind the Man’s neck. Aragorn could see the regret and the sadness in the blue depths. His arms lifted to encircle the beautiful being and Legolas dropped his head tiredly to the Man’s shoulder. Aragorn held him tightly, almost afraid to breathe for fear of disrupting the fragile moment. His Elf was alive and in his arms. He stroked the matted blonde hair down the Elf ‘s back, sending a silent prayer of thanks to the Gods for getting them through another night. Eventually, Legolas stirred and looking up at the Man, said, “I think you are right. I need a bath.” Then with a small smile, he added, “And so do you.”

Aragorn managed to look insulted as he laughed gently. Relief washed through his bones. He knew things were far from perfect, but the light moment was a gift from the Valar, and he would take it. They both peeled off their stiff muddy clothes and waded into the cool water, each averting their eyes, suddenly shy around each other. The Man handed the soap and a soft cloth to the Elf, while he went about washing their dirty clothes. Legolas’s slow laborious movements drew the Healer’s attention. Legolas had sustained some new injuries during his wild run through the woods. The black bruises stood out starkly against the marble flesh. Aragorn followed the stiff, pained movements as Legolas tried to wash his back. In a carefully neutral voice, the Man asked, “Would you like some help?”

The Elf did not meet his gaze but after a moment, nodded. Aragorn stepped behind the slim body, attempting with all his might to avoid looking too closely at the naked feline beauty before him. It was one thing to tend to the injured Elf, while unconscious, and quite another thing to have the sultry golden body stand alluringly in front of him. The cool water rumbled around their thighs as the Man stepped close to the Elf, placing a hand on his shoulder. Aragorn couldn’t help but look down admiringly at the youthful perfection of the Archer’s whipcord body. The Prince was muscular in a boyish way, yet with a feminine silkiness so typical of the beauty of the elves. The Ranger’s eyes traveled down the sinuous spine to the gentle curve at the small of the Elf’s back, to the swell of the rounded buttocks, and the muscular thighs. Taking a steadying breath he began to gently scrub the pale body, tightening his grip on the Elf’s shoulder, to hold him still and to prevent the Elf from turning around and seeing the Man’s semi erect state.

Legolas closed his eyes against the onslaught of sensations caused by the feel of the Man’s tender ministrations. The cloth rubbed lightly across his shoulders and down his back. It skimmed carefully over his abused flesh. The Man’s naked body behind him radiated an impossible heat. The cloth went lower, cool elven soap slick against his dirty skin, wiping the grime from his flesh. Legolas moaned and felt his knees grow week. The Man’s steadying hand on his shoulder seemed to radiate a burning heat. Legolas could hear the Man’s breathing, behind him, grow rapid. He wondered that the temperature of the water didn’t rise with so much heat coming from the Human. He wanted to lean back into the hardness of the chest, and feel the course human hair skim his back. He desperately fought the impulse.

Legolas’s mind began to spin strangely. What was happening? Aragorn had said he loved him. He had not allowed himself to think on it all this time, since the words had been spoken. But now, with the Man naked behind him, the Man’s strong hands on his body, he felt again the familiar desire coiling in his own belly. Did he desire Aragorn? His swelling organ seemed to suggest something. But was it real or the tainted result of what had happened to him? It was too much, the Elf thought, dizzily. He couldn’t grapple with all these confusing emotions and try to think straight with the Man’s hot hands on him.

As if sensing the Elf’s sudden distress, Aragorn stepped away from him. “There,” the Man said, trying to sound casual without looking directly at the Elf, “you still need to do your hair.” He handed Legolas the soap, after pouring a liberal amount into his own hand for himself. Legolas mumbled something in gratitude and knelt into the water. He went to work on his hair, but found himself sneaking peeks at the Man, when Aragorn had his eyes closed against the soapy water that ran through his hair. The Man’s body was muscular in a bolder way than what was typical of elves. His skin was tanned and hair sparsely covered most of his body. The Ranger’s arms and legs were powerful, attesting to his hard travels. Scars, old and new, covered his chest and arms. Strong arms, thought Legolas, and a wonderful hard chest. What would it be like to run his fingers through the dark hair on the Ranger’s chest?

Legolas felt his body stir uncomfortably as he stared at the Man’s body. Aragorn was not like the Men who had attacked him. There were similarities but Aragorn had a scent about him, a musk underneath the leather and pipe weed, that Legolas associated only with the Ranger. He was glad of that. He would not want to be close to the Ranger and be made to think of those beasts who had abused him. He moved in the water to get closer to the Ranger, while Aragorn still busied himself with his hair. Taking advantage of the opportunity, he looked at the Man, openly, wanting to get closer to him, to feel the Man’s hands on him again, to smell his musk. How odd, he thought, his depression momentarily forgotten. He had never really noticed before how very beautiful the Man was: the way his dark curls fell so unruly to skim his shoulders; the expressive mouth, which could form a stern line of disapproval or bestow the sweetest of kisses; the crinkling lines of humor at the corners of the steel gray eyes; the eyes, Legolas realized, that could penetrate into ones very soul. Just then those very eyes, which the Elf had been contemplating as he drifted closer to the Man, popped open.

Having washed away the soapiness, Aragorn found himself staring at the Archer who was standing directly in front of him with a peculiar expression on his sun bright face. The Man covered his sudden discomfort with a laugh, “What’s the matter, Mellon? Do you not recognize me without the dirt and mud?”

The Elf laughed gently as well, equally startled to find himself caught in his rapt perusal of the Man’s body, a rosy blush creeping to his cheeks. “Here,” the Elf said impulsively, suddenly feeling bold, “let me help with that.” Legolas took the wash cloth from the Man’s motionless hand and moved to stand behind the Human. Aragorn’s eyes widened in shock, as the Elf moved silently behind him and began to gently rub the Man’s back with the soapy cloth. Aragorn swallowed, trying to maintain his rapidly evaporating composure, as the Elf’s cool hand skimmed across the skin of his shoulder and back, while the cloth traveled up to the back of his neck and around his ears. The porcelain fingers traced the outline of a scar across his back.

He could feel the Elf’s cool breath on his shoulder as the Archer leaned closer, his smooth chest not quite touching the Man’s back. Aragorn’s heart rate doubled when he felt the smoothness of the Elf’s cheek press against his shoulder, the Elf’s nose and mouth just barely brushing the skin there. The Elf inhaled deeply and sighed.

The Man swallowed, intense desire lancing through his body. But also he felt a fluttering of concern. This was strange behavior for the Archer. “Legolas…” he said, swallowing again, his mouth suddenly dry. He wanted the Elf, badly, but he could not blunder into a sexual situation when Legolas was still so obviously confused. It was only a few hours ago that the Elf had come close to slicing his own throat, right there, almost on the very spot where they now stood.

“You are beautiful, Aragorn…” whispered the Elf from behind him, his voice sounding far away. “You are the best friend I have ever had…and I have been such trouble to you…” Legolas closed his eyes, despair resurfacing as he thought of the pain he had caused this Man.

Hearing the sadness creep back into the Archer’s voice, Aragorn turned and took the lithe form into his arms, in a comforting embrace. The erotic nature of the Elf’s behavior and the feel of the nude body against his was almost overpowering, but, damn it, he was going to control himself. “You are no trouble to me, Mellon Nin. You know that.” He placed a gentle kiss on the smooth skin of the Elf’s brow. “Come. Lets go back. I could use some food,” he added lightly. He led the Elf out of the water, thinking they had to get some clothes on before things got out of hand. By the Valar, he was only Human after all.

The tender kiss seemed to bring the Elf back from where ever his thoughts had taken him and Legolas smiled, shyly. Maybe he would try, for the Man’s sake, to not be in too much of a hurry for death.

They were down to a pair of pants, and a long white shirt, both of which belonged to Aragorn, as far as clothing went. Aragorn handed the Elf the long shirt and he put on the trousers, as they would be too big to stay on the Elf’s waist. The Elf smiled at their condition when they had finished dressing. His long bare legs were creamy under the white linen shirt that hung to just a few inches above his knees. The Elf’s long golden hair, clean and combed, draped practically down to the Archer’s waist and Aragorn had to try not to stare at the stunning vision, for it summoned too many erotic fantasies. For his part, Legolas was equally challenged with the temptation of the Ranger’s exposed chest. For some inexplicable reason, Legolas found it increasingly difficult to not reach out and touch the Man’s rippling muscles.

Both, Man and Elf, embarrassed and self conscious, walked with eyes down cast back through the woods. They were so preoccupied by the unusual tension rising between them, that they almost missed the sounds of the two mercenaries who were shuffling through the trees until they were almost upon them..

“My, my …look what we have ‘ere, mate. It’s the pretty one!….I told ya’ we shoulda’ brought ‘im with us.” A filthy Swine of a man said to his balding companion, smacking his chops in excitement.

“That bloke, Rosa, said Elven sluts die after ye’ bang em’….but here he is… looking sweeter than ever, too….” The brutish Swine-man staggered forward, with the reek of alcohol coming off him. His tongue protruded through a gap in his yellowed teeth as he leered at the Elf. “I been dreamin’ bout you, pretty…”

Aragorn cursed himself for his inattentiveness when the two fiends materialized, suddenly, from behind a clump of trees. The Ranger drew his sword in a swift, fluid motion with one hand, while grabbing onto the immobilized Elf with his other.

The two fiends already had their weapons drawn and pointed at the Man, ignoring the unarmed Elf. Legolas stood frozen, and Aragorn pulled the Archer behind him protectively. Aragorn could feel a violent tremor run through the Elf’s body, as the Archer pressed against him. The two thugs began to circle slowly in opposite directions around the huddled pair. Aragorn followed them with his eyes, sizing them up, and decided to keep his attention focused primarily on the over confident bald one.

“Looks to me,” said Baldy to his toothless companion, “our pretty has a boyfriend…you gots competition, mate!” He chortled self-indulgently at his joke, moving around the two warriors. How he loved toying with his prey before he stuck ‘em.

“Ay, well,…we’ll make short work of ‘im and take our pretty back to Rosa. Eh?” said the Swine.

“Forget ‘im,” spat the other man, “we’s on our own, lets take the Elf back with us. No point in sharin’ if ye get me…”

The two laughed at their shared joke.

Both men were startled when the Ranger addressed them.

“So,” the Man said casually, “you two know my Elf. Then you’ve saved me the trouble of hunting you down. That makes my life easier. Tell me where the others are and I might kill you quickly.”

The Bald one smirked, with a game look in his eye. Was this dark, hot-shot challenging them?

“You’re outa ya league, Mister. Thinking, maybe, you gonna’ show off in front of that pretty little piece there? Only thing you’ll be showjn is your insides spread out all over the ground ‘ere, after I gut you,” said the Bald man, contemptuously.

“You think so?” said the Ranger in a dead calm voice, eyes glinting in anticipation.

The Bald man smirked at the cocky son of a bitch. He’d met plenty of brave men on his travels who thought they’d best him. They all ended up orc chowder. Yep. Men had a way of underestimating Baldy. Like this guy. Baldy was gonna enjoy killing this Man.

Swine-man, on the other hand, didn’t look so confident, all of a sudden. The steel gray gaze of the Ranger was unnerving. The Man was too calm, and Swiney didn’t like that. He flicked his tongue through the gap in his teeth and fingered something in his coat, nervously, as he held his weapon aloft. The Man’s glare made him cast a nervous look at Baldy. But Baldy was starting to have fun, circling the Man and the Elf, and making cooing noises at the Archer while he pointed his sword at Aragorn. Apparently, he didn’t think the Elf would be an issue in this show down. And it occurred to Aragorn, as well, that dispatching these two might be easier if he could dislodge the frozen Elf from his side long enough to be able to move.

“Legolas,” the Ranger spoke in elvish, “when I make my move, I want you to make for the trees, understand, Mellon?”

He thought he wasn’t going to get a response but the Elf whispered, “I understand.”

“Now!” yelled the Ranger as he lunged for the nearest man. Aragorn threw Legolas away from him towards the woods. He raised his sword at the same time to meet the attack of the Bald man. Their swords collided and as they grappled the other man pulled his hand from his coat, holding a hollowed reed, with a sharp needle pointed out the end. He brought the device to his mouth and aimed for the Ranger, whose back was being purposely maneuvered towards him by his Bald companion.

“Aragorn, look out!” cried the Elf, flinging himself at the fat toothless thug.

The Elf jostled the man’s aim enough to thwart the small missile’s direction. The dart buzzed past the Ranger’s ear and embedded itself in a tree limb just above the Ranger’s shoulder. Baldy cursed, seeing the dart missed its target. Aragorn turned in time to see the Elf knock the big Swine of a man over. Unfortunately his concern for the Archer left Aragorn momentarily unobservant of his opponent. The Bald man pulled a small dagger from his belt, as Aragorn’s sword locked with his, and thrust at the Ranger’s belly with a grunt of satisfaction. The wound was not deep but it gave the Bald man an advantage. He brought his sword hilt crashing down on top of Aragorn’s head, bringing the Ranger down to his knees. With a savage kick to the Ranger’s head, the Bald man toppled Aragorn to the ground. The thug stood over the unconscious Ranger and with a triumphant smirk raised his sword over the prone figure. He jerked forward suddenly, yellow gummed eyes popping almost out of their sockets in surprise. A gurgling sound came from his mouth along with a gush of red. He looked down at his round belly to see the point of a bloodied sword protruding coldly from his guts. In a swish of movement the sword point pulled out of him from behind, leaving pieces of dislodged entrails in its wake. He turned on unfeeling legs to face his killer.

“You!” he stammered, in disbelief. The last sight the rapist beheld was the savage glint of indigo brilliance in the eyes of the beautiful Elf, the last and most fortunate of a long list of hapless victims.

Legolas dropped the sword and ran to the Ranger’s side.

“Aragorn!” he screamed, voice echoing in the suddenly quiet clearing.

He fell to his knees next to the Man and searched frantically for a pulse. “Aragorn!” he pleaded. “Please be alright! Please be alright…” Tears blurred his vision, panicking at the sight of the blood that gushed from the man’s stomach wound. The Human did not respond and it seemed to the Elf that his pulse was abnormally slow. “Aragorn! Please, please don’t die! I can’t go on…Aragorn, I can’t …not with out you!” He was near hysteria and forced himself to breathe, reminding himself that he was a warrior, with some experience in wound care. He could help the Man as long as he remained calm.

Taking another long breath, he forced himself to look at the man critically. The Ranger had suffered a blow to the head, and had a gash on his forehead that was weeping. But the stomach wound was bleeding profusely. He had to stop the bleeding. Legolas ripped the sleeve off the shirt he was wearing to form a ball of cloth and pressed it against the open wound. The Man’s flesh was becoming clammy. “Aragorn, please, please wake up…” he begged, stroking the Man’s face. He could not imagine the Man not waking up.

Had he really thought earlier that he had nothing left to lose? He looked down at the Ranger’s pale face and he felt his heart breaking. No. He thought frantically. Not Aragorn. Please! Please! He begged silently. Please don’t take this Man. The pain of having been raped paled somehow in comparison to this devastating new fear. He could not lose Aragorn. Nothing could be worse than that! How could he have ever dreamed otherwise?

Legolas pressed on the wound frantically, praying it would stop the bleeding. He was speaking to the Man in elvish, offering words of encouragement, imploring, beseeching, words of need, even uttering words of love…anything to bring the Man back to him. He did not notice the dark shadow that fell across him from behind.

A heavy weight came down in his shoulder unexpectedly. Before the Elf’s grieving mind could accurately identify what it could be he was flat on the ground. The huge weight of the loathsome fat man pinned him, threatening to crush him from the sheer bulk of the fiend. The bloated face of the toothless thug filled his vision. “Thought you’d dispatched me, eh? Little whelp…I’ll show you it ain’t so easy to get rid o’ me.”

“No!” screamed Legolas, trying to push the foul smelling Swine-man off of him. But the man was too heavy and Legolas felt the air being crushed out of his body, his vision becoming blurred from lack of oxygen. Then the foul mouth came down on his, the loathsome tongue slathering his face, and some last remnant of strength welled up mysteriously from Valar knew where. He managed to heave the hulking man from him and brought his knee up sharply to the man’s groin.

The fiend howled and Legolas scampered out from under him, making a dive for a discarded sword a short distance away. Before he could reach it, however, a thick hand grabbed at the flowing mane of hair and yanked the Elf backwards, hard onto the ground again. A large fist impacted into Legolas stomach, immobilizing him. Legolas doubled over at the pain, tears squeezing out of his tightly shut eyes. The world did a somersault and Legolas found himself thrown over the big man’s shoulder. He kicked and thrashed savagely, managing to strike the man in the kidney. With a roar the big man dropped the Elf but a thick hand tangled in the blond hair again. His head was slammed into the ground and when he came to from the momentary blackness, he realized he was being dragged by the hair across the ground. Rocks scraped and cut the backs of his bare thighs, and he was flung against a tree. His head hit the trunk, with a thud, and he almost blacked out again.

When his vision began to clear he was dangling like a child’s rag doll, his feet barely touching the ground, up against the tree with the man’s crushing weight thrown against him. Hands roamed over his body and the foul mouth assaulted his, muffling his cries. He thrashed against the assault and the mouth came off him with a sneer.

He was backhanded across the face, roughly, by a large meaty hand. “Be nice, now,” growled the rapist.

The fiend brought a thick arm up against the Archer’s throat and pressed roughly against the Elf’s windpipe. He rubbed his thick body up against the Elf. The large flabby hand slowly making its way down the Archer’s struggling body to stroke the creamy white thigh. Legolas screamed as the fat fingers began to work their way up the smooth skin under the shirt.

“Now, now little Elf, none of that. You’re boyfriend’s dead. No one’s going to help you.”

“No!” Legolas moaned, as the hand traveled slowly further up the leg, pushing the white shirt slowly up to expose the curve of the Elf’s buttocks, sausage fingers stroking the sweet mound. “NO!” screamed the Elf, again, struggling in a panic to free himself.

The lecherous fiend laughed in the Elf’s face and sneered, “I missed you my lovely. I’ve had many…but you were the best… the most fiery... I think you missed me too…”

“Release me!” screamed the Elf, in shrill horror.

“Now, no need to be coy, lovely one…I know the others were a bit rough before, but now its just me, and I know how to treat a pretty trick like you right…” the man’s fat hand was traveling to the Elf’s front, under the white garment, and the Archer screamed again, shutting his eyes in an effort to block out the sensations, as the brute’s fingers closed around him callously. The fondling hand stopped it’s movements abruptly.

“I think I have a thing or two to say before you go any further…”

The Elf’s tightly shut eyes popped open at the sound of the familiar voice. Aragorn was standing behind the fat man with his sword point on the man’s throat. Blood was oozing from the gash on the man’s forehead and he seemed to be swaying a bit on his feet but the sword was held firmly at the man’s jugular.

“Get away from the Elf.” Aragorn commanded, pricking the flab of the man’s two chins with the point of the sword for emphasis.

The fat man backed off the Archer with his hands up in the air. “Look, don’t kill me…I can tell you about the others…right? You wanted to know about Rosa, right? He’s the one who did the Elf bad…” The man went flying to the ground as the Ranger smashed the hilt of the sword into his fleshy back.

The Ranger advanced on the craven, sword extended. “You will tell me everything I want to know or I will hack you to bits…” with that last statement Aragorn swung the sword, severing the fingers of the hand that had dared to touch his Elf. The Swine’s wail echoed through the forest, sending a flock of black birds into a frenzy through the trees. Swiney clutched at the bleeding stump, eyes bulging as the Ranger advanced on him.

Strider circled the groveling man, calmly. A shimmer of madness in the steel eyes pinned the moaning fiend, in terror, to the spot where he had fallen. Blood bathed the fiend’s front where he clutched at his mutilated hand. Swiney moaned loudly as he followed the Ranger’s movements with his frantic eyes.

“Where are your friends?” asked the Ranger, circling the fallen rapist, like a bird of prey.

“All right, just don’t do any more…” he sobbed.

“No more?” asked the Ranger, his gray eyes glinting strangely in the afternoon light. “Did you stop when he asked for mercy?” The Ranger demanded, pointing to the Elf, who was standing frozen to the spot against the tree, eyes fixed on Strider.

“Tell me about this Rosa. What is he doing and where can I find him?” the Ranger demanded coldly, his swinging sword sliced the air in constant motion.

“All right…all right,” sobbed the man on the ground, raising his good hand up in a pleading gesture, then yanking it back as the sword swing again, just missing him. “He deals in slaves, all right?” The Swine man cried, “ He picks ‘em up from around, ya know? He gets by the Rohirrim because he has someone on the inside…right under Theodin’s nose! Sells ‘em in Rohan. I don’t know no more, all right?” The man was crawling backwards, now, looking around like a trapped animal.

“Who?” demanded Aragorn. “Who is his contact in the Palace?”

“I don’t know, honest! Rosa don’t tell us much. Some advisor to the King. That’s all I know, honest. We just get the slaves and move ‘em. Please..don’t kill me. I’m sorry about the Elf, honest….”

At the mention of the Elf, Aragorn growled and hacked at the fallen man, again, this time slicing off part of the man’s ear. The fiend screamed and began to blubber loudly.

“Tell me where is Rosa now, how do I find him?” Strider stepped forward as the whimpering man crawled backward, clutching his head.

“He’s still in Rohan!” the man sobbed. “ But we’s were goin to meet ‘im at the tavern outside the edge of the city, …please, no more!”

“When?” Asked Aragorn, following the man who had pulled himself up against a tree.

“In seven days…please, I am really sorry about the Elf…” the man turned toward Legolas who stiffened. “I’m really sorry…I didn’t mean no harm, ya know…just couldn’t help it ….” He looked at the Man who was slowly advancing on him. “You know…you’re a man…look at him,” he rambled, hysterically, pointing at the Archer, “he’s just ripe for the taking, you’re a man,…you gotta understand…”

“Yes,” said Aragorn in a lethal tone. “I am a Man. Would that I was not. Better to be spawned of a demon than to share heritage with a vile creature such as you.” Aragorn advanced, on the sobbing man like silent death.

“No…” sobbed the Swine-man.

“You are not fit to breathe the same air as that Elf which you desecrated.” The Man hefted the sword with an avenging cry, and severed the foul mouthed head of the rapist from his bloated body.

He stood rock steady, a coldness permeating his senses, in the aftermath of the killing. It was unlike any he had ever committed before. He had killed orcs in his day, even a troll once, but never a man, never like this. Never in cold blood. And never had he enjoyed it until now. He swayed suddenly and dropped the sword from his nerveless hand.

He turned away from the decapitated body and looked dazedly at the Elf, who was still frozen against the trunk of the tree. He swallowed, guiltily. Had he become a monster? What would sweet Legolas see, now, when he looked at the Man? Afraid to meet the shining blue orbs, Aragorn looked dismally at the scene of carnage around them.

“Aragorn.” The Elf was unexpectedly in his arms. Feeling suddenly very weak, his arms came up around the golden being and he hugged the Archer to him gratefully, burying his face in the silvery mane.

“Shhhhh..It is alright now, Mellon nin,” he whispered, feeling the golden body shake violently against him. “These two are dead and will never harm you again. Soon I’ll hunt down the others and send them packing to what ever nightmare realm accepts their miserable souls. I promise you, my heart. They will never hurt you again. ”

The Elf continued to hold him, a fine tremor running through his body. Cool delicate hands came up to stroke Aragorn’s bare shoulders. They ran tremulously through the Man’s hair and touched his face, examining him closely. “I thought I had lost you…” the Elf whispered shakily.

“Nay,” said the Ranger, with a reassuring smile. His hand buried itself in the silky strands of the Elf’s hair. “You will not lose me. I plan to be here for a long time.”

“Aragorn, I was so…” the Elf shook his head, tears rolling down his cheeks, “When I thought I’d lost you..I felt so alone…Promise me, you will never leave me!”

Aragorn brought both hands up to cup the Elf’s face. He felt tears sting his own eyes as he looked into the fearful cornflower blue orbs. “I promise. I will stay by your side, my Prince, for as long as you want me.” He stroked the tracks made by the Elf’s tears with his thumbs tenderly, a small smile upon his lips.

Legolas lifted his shining face to the Man. Aragorn’s eyes widened. And the Elf gingerly brought the silk petals of his lips to brush against Aragorn’s mouth, allowing the Ranger for the first time to taste a hint of their sweet nectar, before pulling away to hide his face shyly in the warmth of the Man’s neck. It was less than a kiss, and at the same time much more. Aragorn’s heart bloomed in the radiant warmth of sudden hope. He held the beautiful Prince to him possessively, his heart pounding wildly in his chest.

After a few moments, Aragorn began to sway slightly, the adrenaline from the fight slowly leaving him, and the shock of the Prince’s show of affection rendering him weak. The Elf pulled back in alarm.

“Aragorn, you’re wounded. Come, sit down.” Legolas guided the man away from the scene of carnage to sit on a near by log. He bent to inspect the wound on the Man’s torso that was still bleeding.

“I’m alright, Mellon nin,” said the Ranger. “It looks worse than it is. Lets get the rest of our cloths and go back to our camp. I have my pack there with every thing we need.”

Together, supporting each other, they limped back to their camp site. To their surprise, they were greeted by the welcoming sight of Hasuf. Aragorn smiled and walked over to the Rohirrim’s horse. He greeted the animal with a firm stroking and the horse whinnied in response. “Your Master has taught you well about duty!” said the Ranger to the horse. Aragorn left the horse untethered, suspecting it was not going to leave without it’s Master’s guests.

Legolas was boiling water over a fire, and handed the man his pack of herbs when Aragorn sat heavily next to him. Under Aragorn’s instruction, the Elf fitted the Man with a healing poultice to his side and bound the wound with strips of cloth. He tended to the Man’s other wounds gingerly, with careful touches, while the Man observed him. The Elf was quiet and the Ranger found himself thinking back to the scene that greeted him when he began to recover consciousness.

The Elf was on the ground underneath his assailant. Aragorn could hear the man’s howl of pain and knew that the Archer had managed to inflict some injury. He had caught a glimpse of gold as the Archer crawled out from under the big man but knew the Elf had not gotten far before being yanked back by the brute. Aragorn pushed back the blackness that had been threatening to over take him. The Archer’s screams were like a bucket of ice water, pulling his hazy mind out of its lethargy.

The filthy Swine-man’s words to the captive Elf had poured into Aragorn like molten lava, incensing him. It took all his strength to climb to his feet, dragging his sword up with him. The vision of the foul brute pawing and groping the fair Prince had burned itself into the Man’s mind, driving him beyond the bounds of madness.

Aragorn shook himself from the memory. Sitting in front of the fire, he looked at the fair Elf who stirred the brewing tea in silence. How could anyone desire to inflict harm on a creature of such loveliness?

The Elf’s face was sporting a new collection of bruises from the man handling he had endured. Aragorn reached into his pack and fashioned a cool wrap of water and healing herbs. When the Elf poured the tea and brought a cup over to the Man, Aragorn set the offered cup down next to him, and gestured for the Elf to sit before him. He leaned close to the silent Elf, whose bright eyes followed his every move, and probed the new bruises. The Elf gasped, but did not protest when Aragorn began to clean his wounds. Aragorn gently swabbed the lovely face free of dirt and dried blood. Legolas hissed in pain as the cool cloth rubbed at his swollen lip and bruised jaw.

“I’m sorry, Mellon,” whispered the Man.

The Elf smiled reassuringly. He was surprisingly compliant, as the Healer inspected his head wound from where the Elf was thrown into the tree. “Let me look at those scrapes, too,” said the Man, indicating the abrasions on the back of the Elf’s thighs. Legolas hesitated momentarily then, stood turning his back to the Man, allowing Aragorn to wash the cuts on his legs. He tried not to shake when the Healer lifted the white shirt partially to clean the gouged skin on the curve of the buttocks. But Aragorn’s touch was clinical as he applied a soothing cream to the abused skin.

The man rose when he was finished, and went to the blankets that he had draped into the tree branches that morning. Legolas watched, perplexed, until the Man walked over to him and draped a sun-warmed blanket over his shoulders. He was led to the sleeping area next to the cave wall and guided silently to lie down.

“Aragorn, you are the one with a knife wound…” the Elf protested, sitting up. Aragorn’s hands gently guided him back to the ground, and taking the other blanket for himself, settled down next to the Elf. Legolas relaxed when the Man returned to his side and made room for the Man to cuddle against him. Legolas doubted he’d ever be able to find restful sleep alone again. The Elf lifted his head, compliantly, when the Man brought his arm around the shoulders of the Archer. Legolas settled his head on his favorite spot on the Man’s chest, and draped an arm around the Man’s middle, careful of the stomach wound.

Legolas closed his eyes happily when the Man’s hand curled around him, burying itself into his long hair. “Tomorrow, Mellon, we make for Rohan,” said the Man, softly. Legolas nodded, sleepily. He didn’t want to think about Rohan. He’d be happy to leave this place, because of what still lay out in the woods. But he was not afraid. He was in Aragorn’s arms and that is all he needed. He closed his eyes, pleasantly…and began to dream.

That was when the nightmare began….

He was drowning in the river, the storm crashed around him and he kept going under as the tide pulled at him. He clutched onto the hard body next to him, feeling familiar arms go around him, and he shook water from his eyes…trying to see, but the rain pelted him, blinding him…..turning to the man who held him…his mouth was taken in a kiss, one of profound passion…but something was wrong. He opened his eyes and Swiney stared back at him …his toothless grin flashing in the lightening of the storm. Legolas backed away from him frantically, trying to scream but no noise would escape his frozen lips.

“What’s the matter, Pretty?” said the Swine man, extending his bleeding stumped hand towards the Elf.

Legolas screamed…..

The Elf thrashed against the hard body next to him and strong arms subdued his movements. “Legolas!” He shuddered violently in the embrace and screamed again. It was the scream that finally woke him. Never had he heard such a sound come from his own mouth.

The Ranger was holding him by the shoulders and looked as frightened as Legolas felt. He had been dreaming and apparently had woken the Man up with his trashing about.

“Legolas, its alright, Mellon. It’s just a dream.” The Ranger looked shaken but was starting to calm as the Archer slowly reclaimed some semblance of normalcy.

“I am alright now, Aragorn….I am sorry…I woke you,” Legolas sat up slowly, eyes darting nervously into the dark trees.

The Man also sat up, but kept his hand on the Elf’s shoulder, noting the agitation in the Archer. “There is no need for an apology,” said the Man quietly. He looked at the Elf who was trying to shake the remnants of the dream. “Do you want to talk about it?” the Man offered.

Legolas shook his head, emphatically. “Just a bad dream,” said the Elf, “It’s already fading…”

Aragorn nodded. Of course. It made sense, after all, who wouldn’t have nightmares after what the Elf had gone through? Aragorn didn’t exactly have a soundless sleep this night either. Images of the Elf in the hands of the fiend kept playing over and over in the Man’s mind. He found himself wondering what else the Archer had experienced when he was first captured. Swiney had seemed to think he was being gentle in comparison to his friends’ abuse of the Elf. Aragorn looked at Legolas with some concern, noting the Archer had gently shrugged off the Ranger’s hand and had moved a little bit away from the Man. Aragorn tried not to let this bother him. It was only natural that the Elf might feel a need to reassert his personal space. Still, Aragorn couldn’t help but feel disquieted and, well, even a little hurt by the gesture.

The Elf had pressed himself up against the cold wall of the cave and had wrapped himself in a blanket. He lowered his head onto his arms, against his raised knees. Aragorn watched him silently, feeling suddenly very shut out and helpless. He didn’t know what to do. Exhaustion tugged at him but evidently sleep was not going to be on the agenda for the rest of this night. He sighed quietly and stood up. Before taking a step towards the dwindling fire, the Elf’s head shot up. “What are you doing?” the Elf snapped, still jittery from the bad dream.

Aragorn gaped at him for a moment, than said casually, “I’m just going to stoke the fire. It’s going down a bit.”

Aragorn moved to the fire and added a few more dry branches. He could sense the Elf’s nervous eyes following his movements. He proceeded to put water on for tea. If he was going to be sitting up with the Elf, he for one, needed something for his jangled human nerves. Something in the scrutinizing blue gaze told him the Elf was not going to be as compliant as he had been earlier to the Man’s ministrations.

As anticipated, Legolas watched him closely while he added his herbs to the water. The Archer seemed unusually suspicious. He questioned Aragorn as to his movements an inordinate amount of times. Finally, Aragorn settled down next to the Elf. The Elf shook his head in rejection of the offered tea. Not really surprised, Aragorn set it aside. “What is wrong, Mellon nin?”

“Nothing,” came the rapid answer. Then in an uncharacteristic tone of sarcasm, the Elf added, “What could be wrong? Two of the HUMANS who defiled me are laying in pieces out in the woods; YOU almost died, and I almost….” The Elf abruptly stopped. He brought his hands up to his face and rubbed his eyes in frustration. Aragorn watched the Elf silently and reached a supportive hand to the Archer’s shoulder. He was unprepared for the scathing look this earned him as his hand was roughly cast aside. “I am not an invalid, Aragorn! I am tired of being treated like one!”

The Ranger sat motionless, shocked by this sudden hostility. The Elf had buried his face again in his arms, shutting the Man out once again. Aragorn looked on helplessly. Finally, he said, “I am sorry, my friend. I did not mean to treat you like you’re an invalid.”

The Elf did not look up and finally, the Man rose and walked back over to the fire. Aragorn felt shaken by this sudden and unexpected attitude in the Elf. He sat down in front of the fire and poured himself a cup of tea. His mind raced with thoughts of self-recrimination, self doubt and just a bit of indignation. Since he had found the Archer, beaten and unconscious, the Man had lived in a perpetual state of fear and worry. Now he was being accused of treating the Elf as an invalid. As much as he loathed himself for it, anger began to bubble up within him towards the Elf.

Aragorn forced himself to swallow his tea without tasting it, letting it scald the inside of his mouth. An image of Elrond floated to his mind. He could well imagine what his foster father would say to him now. He was a healer and he should not take this new attitude, displayed by the traumatized Elf, personally. The logical thought that followed this one, left him with an even more dismal feeling, than his childish indignation that he was not being properly appreciated. It was the realization that the Archer’s show of affection in the woods probably should not be taken personally, either. The Ranger had just prevented the Elf from falling victim to another rape. Naturally, the Elf felt grateful and emotionally over taxed. Aragorn’s anger left him in the wake of the far more potent feeling of disappointment and intense loss. He sighed heavily as he stared into the fire.

As the sky began to lighten over the horizon, Aragorn heard the Elf stir from his place against the wall. The Archer had been silent for the past couple of hours and the Man hoped the Elf would be ready to let him in again. But it was not to be. The Elf moved past the Man wordlessly and went to retrieve his clothes which the Man had tucked under his arm as they departed the stream, prior to the attack by the two fiends. Legolas moved some distance away and dressed himself with quick, efficient movements.

Aragorn tried not to be obvious in his observation of the Elf. Legolas pulled on his boots, once fully dressed, retrieved his weapons and returned to his seat against the cave wall. He began to methodically sort out his arrows, laying those that needed repair to the side. Aragorn turned away from the Archer, feeling a wrenching sensation in his gut, and tried to follow the Elf’s lead by getting his own belongings in order. It was almost impossible, he discovered, to not feel the slow simmer of loss and despair that was overtaking his spirit as the Archer steadfastly refused to speak or interact with him.

He gritted his teeth as he glanced at the Archer, who was seemingly engrossed in his task. Aragorn wanted to storm over to the Elf, grab him and shake him. He wanted to scream at the Elf. A few hours ago it was Legolas who admitted to feeling alone and desperate at the thought of losing the Man, who had begged Aragorn to never leave him. Now, Legolas was the one who was forcing them each into a state of painful isolation.

He took a deep breath. No. Aragorn was not going to go over there and demand to be taken care of because of his insecurities. His friendship with the Elf had withstood much and he could afford to be patient. If his Elf needed space and time to reassert his independence, then, the Man was going to give it to him. Why then did Aragorn feel so bereft? The Man had to stop and consider the unsavory possibility that he had grown accustomed to a dependant Legolas: one who needed him, depended on him, and who would eventually have grown to love him.

Aragorn blanched at the guilty thought. No, he could never take advantage of another person’s pain! Surely he wasn’t that insecure in himself, to actually desire to keep the Elf dependant? He shook his head silently. Aragorn refused to believe such a thing about himself. He loved Legolas. He wanted the Prince to be his, but whole and healthy. Unless, the dark thought surfaced, deep down he did not believe it possible that the fair Prince, at the height of his strength, would ever actually consider the Man as a mate. Aragorn turned this unpleasant thought over in his mind, as much as he hated to consider it. He found himself staring at the Archer, busy with his arrows.

The golden Elf, covered in bruises, was still a creature of unparalleled loveliness. In truth, even the Evenstar did not compare. His silver mane draped down over one shoulder as the Elf tilted his head with an intense look of concentration. The silver strands formed a perfect frame for his delicate bone structure. With nimble movements, the Elf rethreaded the feathers of the arrow in his hands. Long delicate fingers worked quickly on the finely detailed work. His blue eyes were the color of brilliant sapphires in the morning light as they focused with precision on the task. The petal soft lips were pressed together in an attitude of quiet deliberation. Aragorn couldn’t help recalling the sweetness of those lips that pressed against his own for the first time out in the woods. It was a mere whisper of a kiss, yet the Man realized in that moment how he could lose himself completely in the beautiful Prince.

Just then the blue sapphires shone brightly in the dim morning light as they raised to meet his gaze. Aragorn looked away guiltily, failing to catch the fleeting look of pain that crossed the crystal depths. What could Aragorn have been thinking, the Man chided himself. Did he really think this majestic being could ever choose to bind himself to a Ranger? This was the Elven Prince of Mirkwood. Thranduil probably already had an arranged match in mind for his son. Aragorn wanted to kick himself. He had almost succeeded in deluding himself into believing Legolas could be his.

The Elf looked up at the sound of the Man angrily stomping out the fire. Aragorn did not look at him when he loaded their packs onto the horse. Finally, the Ranger said, without looking in the Elf’s direction. “Let’s get started, even on horseback, we will not make Rohan until tomorrow eve.”

The Archer rose soundlessly and slipping his quiver and bow over his shoulders, he approached the waiting Man. Aragorn jumped into the saddle and after a moments hesitation reached down an offering hand to the Elf. He was almost surprised when the Elf took it, and hauled himself up behind the Man.

They began at a gentle trot, the horse apparently delighted to be on the move at last. Aragorn had to do little to direct the beast. Hasuf apparently knew the way quite well. It left the Man little to do but try not to think or brood. He found both tasks impossible, especially in light of the fact that the Elf’s warm body was pressed pleasantly up against him and the Elf’s pale arms stayed secured around his waist. They rode for several hours and the Elf’s body slowly leaned into his until the golden head was finally resting against his shoulder. It was maddening. Aragorn’s body felt like a tightly coiled spring.

He knew he shouldn’t be angry at Legolas, yet the Man came to the realization that he was. He felt rejected, dismissed. It was all so absurd. Aragorn’s mind continued to summon images of the Elf’s cool cheek pressed against the Man’s naked shoulder when they had stood in the stream, the same shoulder upon which the Elf now rested. He replayed the touch of those cool lips against his own, later in the woods. That gossamer touch undid him. Aragorn felt …betrayed. He had told the Elf he loved him. Why did the Archer lead him into believing there was a chance when there was not? The weight of the sweet body against him suddenly incensed him. This just wasn’t right!

Aragorn pulled on the horse’s rains, angrily. Hasuf whinnied in consternation and the Elf started at the sudden stop. “Aragorn? Why have we stopped?” the Archer’s voice sounded nervous. It was uncharacteristic of the Elf and it brought Aragorn out of his self pity instantly.

“I am sorry, Mellon,” he said guiltily. “I wasn’t paying attention. We’ve been riding for hours and I think it might be time to rest the horse.” He slid off the saddle easily and looked up at the Elf who looked dubious. The Man shrugged his shoulders by way of a confession, “Alright, I think we could all use a rest…” He offered this tactfully, hoping to not elicit another attack for treating the Elf as an ‘invalid.’

But Legolas merely gave him a quizzical look, as if sensing there was even more to the Man’s behavior than he was admitting, and slid off the saddle wordlessly. Aragorn led the horse to a grassy area and returned to the Elf who had set about getting a fire going. The day was bright but the temperature was cool. Aragorn found himself leaning gratefully towards the warmth of the small fire. It crackled invitingly and the Man realized he was very hungry. “I’m starting to get tired of lembas,” he grumbled, reaching into their pack of supplies. Before he knew it, the Elf was walking into the woods with his bow and arrows. Aragorn jumped up after him. “Where are you going?” he demanded, grabbing hold of the Archer’s elbow.

The Elf pierced him with a look that could sear the bark off a tree. “Hunting,” he responded in a tone that suggested the Man think carefully before uttering his next words. The Man did just that. What could he say? Was he to tell the best Archer the Green Wood ever produced that he was no longer capable of so simple a task as tracking a rabbit?

Gritting his teeth, Aragorn merely nodded and trudged back to the fire, his pulse beating loudly in his ears. He forced himself to sit. But his hearing went into a hyper alert mode as he catalogued every forest sound within his human range. His eyes raked over the woods were the Elf had disappeared. Thankfully he did not have long to wait. The Elf returned almost within moments with two hares slung to his shoulder. Aragorn tried not to look too relieved when the Elf had reappeared. Legolas dropped the hare carcasses in front of the Man and echoed an old joke between them, “I hunt them, you cook them.”

It made the Man smile, but it was a sad one, for the joke recalled happier times untainted by the brutal realities of rape. He wondered if the Elf would ever again laugh and sing as he used to. The thought brought smoldering tears to the Man’s eyes. He averted his gaze from the quiet Elf as he dressed the meat and prepared it for cooking.

The meal was eaten in silence and Aragorn again found himself feeling lonely and shut out. He hated this silence between them and did not understand it’s origin. He wondered about saying something to the Archer. But all such thoughts were interrupted when the Archer jumped to his feet with bow and arrow extended. Aragorn stood up too, and as he did so, a group of Men approached on horseback through the trees.

The leader slid off his horse and stopped at the sight of the arrow that continued to point at his chest. His friends had their arrows drawn and pointed at the Elf. Aragorn quickly stepped forward and placed a gentle hand on the Elf’s shoulder.

“Its alright Mellon! This is the Horselord who left Hasuf with us.” The Man removed his helmet and stared at the elven warrior, who was apparently unwilling to lower his weapon so quickly. The Elf was even more startlingly beautiful than what the horse lord remembered, when his eyes first lingered on the slumbering vision. He stepped forward casually and gave a slight bow to the Archer, ignoring the lethal weapon leveled upon him.

“I am Éomer, Master Elf. I am glad to see you have recovered from your injuries,” the blond Man’s eyes were intense and the Elf felt them linger upon him longer than what was necessary. Nevertheless, Legolas lowered his weapon, his Elf eyes keeping all of the men well within his sights.

“Lord Éomer,” greeted Aragorn. “I have much to discuss with you. We…encountered two of the band who attacked my friend.” Aragorn cast a weary look at the Elf, but the Archer remained as still as marble. “One of them disclosed a matter that will be of great interest to you.”

Éomer leveled his gray gaze upon the Man. “Yes,” he said with a meaningful look, “we found the remains of your encounter with the mercenaries.” His gray eyes flickered to the Elf as well. Did something in the gruesome scene alert the horse lord to the intentions of the two rapists? Legolas found himself suddenly staring at the ground feeling his cheeks burn at the strange Man’s scrutiny.

“May we join you?” asked the horse lord. Aragorn gestured with his hand for the men to join them around the fire. Legolas found himself suddenly loath to be anywhere around this group of humans. He wanted to run into the forest but such an act would surely make him look cowardly. He sat down next to the Ranger, when the humans were all gathered around the fire and kept his sites on the group. The Elf’s silence was a source of discomfort at first, but men being what they were, it was soon forgotten. Éomer and Aragorn spoke quietly about the words of the Swine-man, while the others ate and talked loudly about inconsequential matters. Occasionally the young horse lord cast curious looks at the Elf but seemed willing to respect the Archer’s need for silence. By the time the meal was done, the sun was journeying across the sky.

Éomer stood and said, “We will ride until the sun has reached the horizon. By that time we will have reached a protected valley were we will camp for the night.” He returned to his horse and the group saddled up. Legolas found himself unaccountably troubled by the thought that they must now travel with the company of these Rohirrim. He did not voice his feelings, however, aware that prior to his attack he would probably have delighted in the brief contact with these humans of the south.

Before Aragorn mounted their horse, the Ranger turned to the Elf, and asked quietly, “Are you all right?”

Legolas scowled at him. “Of course I am alright.” Aragorn stared at him for a moment longer, which caused the Elf’s offended scowl to deepen. Finally, the Ranger hefted himself into the saddle, trying to hide his own growing irritation. The Elf accepted the hand that was held out to him and settled himself behind the Man. Legolas didn’t want to admit it, but as he slipped his arms snuggly around the Ranger’s waist, the tension that had thrummed through his body since the arrival of the humans began to dissipate.

Their horse brought up the rear and this also eased the Elf somewhat , as he could keep his eyes on all the men who traveled in front of them.

By du sk they had arrived to the location of which the young horse lord had spoken. The Elf’s exhaustion was evident as he was again leaning heavily against the Ranger. The Man squeezed the hand of the Elf that held on at his waist, alerting him that they had arrived. Aragorn slipped off Hasuf’s back, ready to stretch his legs. He looked up expectantly at Legolas. The Elf sat rod straight in the saddle and seemed unwilling to dismount, nervous once again as he watched the men around them. After a few moments he slid to the ground next to the Ranger. His knees almost giving out on him as he landed. Aragorn steadied him with a hand but the Elf shook him off and walked over to lean against a tree. It was now getting dark and the Rohirrim where going through their familiar rituals of setting up camp. Tents were erected easily. His eyes lingering on the Elf a moment longer, Aragorn sighed heavily and moved to take the packs off Hasuf, unsaddling the horse and tethering him to a tree. Legolas stood a little apart and watched all this with nervous darting eyes.

Aragorn’s self absorption was pushed into the back of his mind when he contemplated the exhausted Elf. This was the first day of hard traveling for the Archer since the attack, and he had not exactly had rested during the days after Aragorn had found him. In fact, Aragorn reflected that the Elf had endured one trauma after another without any real respite. His thoughts were interrupted by Éomer’s approach. The horse lord handed the Man a folded burlap cloth to serve as a tent.

“It can get cold here at night,” the Rohirrim stated as he helped the Man to raise the small shelter. His eyes drifted to the silent Archer.

Legolas stayed apart from the group, and watched the men in silence. Éomer gestured to the Elf quietly as he and Aragorn drove a stake into the ground. “Your friend seems to be having trouble, still.” It was not a question and Aragorn bristled slightly at the horse lord’s tone.

“He will be fine,” said Aragorn, defensively.

“Will he?” the Horselord stopped what he was doing and looked pointedly at the nervous Elf.

“What do you mean by this?” the Man demanded, in a low voice.

Éomer turned his gaze on Aragorn. “I recognized the two in the woods. I know what they were and what they had done to other victims.” His tone was dark. The horse lord drew closer to the Ranger. “Few have survived, to my knowledge, such brutality. And I have heard Elves in particular tend to …”

Aragorn cut him off sharply, “The Elf will be fine. I will not let him fade away.”

But Éomer seemed to regard the Ranger with an odd look. It took a moment for Aragorn to recognize it. The handsome horse lord was regarding him with pity. “You care for him. That is obvious, but is it wise to become so attached when you know what the probable outcome will be?”

Aragorn took a step back from Éomer, horrified. He shook his head in negation and walked away.

Legolas watched Aragorn approach him with a look of consternation on his face. He had noticed the horse lord talking with the Ranger but he did not make any effort to listen to their conversation. The presence of so many humans was unnerving him more than he would have guessed. His heart was beating wildly in his chest and as tired as he felt, he could not imagine falling asleep with these men so close by. In addition to this Aragorn had been unaccountably moody of late. Legolas tried not to think about the Ranger. He had almost forgotten about the dream but somehow he felt a deep fear that the Human had not been the same since the fight with the two rapists.

Legolas felt the Man’s eyes on him again. It bothered him to be watched so. He turned away as Aragorn purposely strode over to him. “Legolas, it’s time to get some rest.”

The Elf bristled at the stern tone. He was not a child. Why did the Man insist on treating him like one.

“You rest, I will stand watch,” said the Elf in a defiant tone that Thranduil would have recognized instantly. The Man seemed to recognize it also but something new in the Man’s manner told the Elf that this was one fight he wasn’t going to win.

“No.” stated the Man in a quiet tone of finality, the steel of the Man’s gaze piercing him. “We have the Rohirrim here to stand watch. You are going to sleep. You are ready to drop and Elven pride wont prevent it.”

The Man walked to the tent flap and held it back for the Elf to enter. Legolas seethed with outrage at such treatment, but it was true. He was exceedingly tired. He was not healed and his body was rapidly betraying him, once again. The Elf gritted his teeth and approached the tent silently. He crawled inside and felt himself suddenly very claustrophobic. He was not going to stay in here! He started to back out but the Ranger entered behind him.

“Aragorn, please, I cannot stay in here…” the Elf stammered.

The Man put his arms around the Elf’s shoulders, sensing the skittish Archer was liable to bolt into the trees. “I am here, Legolas. There is nothing to fear. Come, lie down.”

Legolas shook his head, feeling his rising anxiety turn to panic.

But the Man’s arms came around him. “Just breathe, Mellon,” whispered the Man, soothingly into a pointed ear. Legolas clasped his hands around the Man’s waist, and leaned into Aragorn. He pressed his eyes shut against the unseen terrors that threatened to overwhelm him. “That’s it. Just breathe. All is well, I am here with you.” Aragorn breathed deeply as well, and the Archer found himself falling into the Man’s rhythm. In, out, in, out… slowly, he started to relax, and found himself leaning heavily against the Man.

Aragorn lead the Elf to the two bedrolls that had been pushed together. Legolas appeared too distressed to feel annoyed at the Man’s actions. He let himself be pushed down gently and relaxed a little as the Ranger laid down next to him. His breathing slowly began to calm as he settled himself in Aragorn’s arms. He had told himself he would not continue to rely on the Man like this but his body was like an enemy now. He needed to feel close to the Man to be able to sleep; to breathe even, if this experience was any indication. He loathed himself for his weakness. Frustration welled up in him but he was too tired to think on it further. Aragorn’s hand was stroking his back and the repetitive motion was lulling him pleasantly.

The Elf buried himself in the Man’s chest. He could hear the Man’s heart beat and that soothed him as well. The steady beat comforted him but it also reminded him of the tremendous fear that had gripped him out in the forest, when he thought the Ranger was dead. He pressed his hand against the Man’s chest reverently. Life was so fragile. With the flick of a knife this man could be gone. His arms tightened about the Ranger and moisture formed behind the Elf’s shut eyes. Aragorn’s hand traveled to his hair and gently stroked the silky tresses. The Man’s fingers brushed his cheek and came away wet.

Aragorn swallowed, pain constricting his heart. “What is it, Mellon? Will you not talk to me?”

But the Elf only shook his head, almost imperceptibly, clutching onto the Man. If he spoke it out loud, all that plagued him, he feared he would go insane. He dared not speak it…his fears of losing the Man, the feelings he tried to hide even from himself for the Ranger, his humiliation at what Aragorn had witnessed…More tears squeezed themselves out of his tightly shut eyes. Aragorn had seen. The thought was like a dark arrow into his heart. What must the Man think of him now?

Aragorn swallowed again, against the tightness in his throat. “Its all right, Mellon. Sleep now. I am here with you and we are both safe.”

Legolas let the Man’s words soothe him. He drifted. Sleep came between silent tears that wet the Man’s chest. He drifted…

The rain pelted against him, he pushed against the rough man who tried to restrain him. It was the Swine-man. “I am really sorry,” said the Swine “Just couldn’t help it…” Legolas pushed against him, trying to fight the raging river that threatened to drown him. Aragorn! Where was he? The Ranger wasn’t here. Legolas tried to swim and slowly managed to come to the bank…Swiney behind him was screaming …the Storm raged around him.. and as Legolas turned and looked the Swine-man was begging…”Please come back, Pretty…..It hurts bad…” he was holding up his mutilated hand.

Legolas climbed out of the river, as lightening flashed …an explosion rocked the forest and lightening illuminated the dark woods …the Elf ran wildly into the trees…Aragorn!…he ran blindly into a figure that emerged from the blackness…but it was not the Ranger.

His screaming woke him. Strong arms held him but this time he knew who it was and he melted into the Ranger’s embrace. “Shhhh…Its alright, its alright…” crooned the Man. Legolas was shaking violently in the aftermath of the dream. His face was damp and he realized he was crying again, or perhaps he had never stopped. Tears again. It was strange. There were perhaps two times in his hundreds of years of existence that he could recall ever crying, and he had been only an elfling then. Now it seemed it was all he did. He had promised himself to try to live for the sake of the Man, but could an Elf survive so many tears? Somehow, he didn’t feel right inside himself. Perhaps he was fading, after all.

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Morning came too quickly, and Aragorn did not feel rested. The dark circles under the Elf’s eyes suggested what the Ranger already knew. After the nightmare the Elf did not go back to sleep. He had huddled against the Man, refusing to speak of the images that had awakened him for the second night in a row. Aragorn sensed the Elf’s embarrassment at waking up screaming but there was more here of concern than damage to the Elf’s pride. The Archer was suffering and his symptoms seemed to be worsening rather than improving. The words of the Horselord played over again in Aragorn’s mind and settled about his heart like a cold hand. He was not going to let the Elf fade. But what could the Man do, exactly?

Legolas picked at the food that the Horselord had brought over to the two travelers. The Horselord boasted of the fine meats and pastries of Rohan. Aragorn found it was well placed praise as he finished off his portion.

He walked over to the Elf and sat down next to him, quietly. “You should eat something, Mellon.”

Legolas favored him with a half smile and a look of long suffering. He handed the plate of barely touched food to the Man. “I fear human food is not much to my liking, Melleth,” he offered, placatingly. Aragorn suspected it was the Elf’s appetite, in general, that was lacking and this troubled him.

“Legolas, we wont be leaving for some time, yet. Wont you go and lie down for a while? You hardly slept last night.”

This time the Elf did frown. Before the Man could say anything else the Archer stood up, taking his weapons with him, and strode into the woods. Aragorn sighed.

He did not chase after the Archer, feeling confident the Elf was not going to be wandering too far, this time. He would try to give the Elf his space but he would not be able to relax until the Elf was safely under his observing eye. He decided to busy himself with taking down their tent and stowing their belongings for the ride to Rohan. His eyes intermittently searched the woods for signs of the Archer.

He was annoyed when one of the Rohirrim asked for the Ranger’s help for his friend who had sustained a wound. Normally, the healer would be too willing to offer his services to those in need, but he was loath to leave the area of their little camp prior to the Elf’s return. Seeing that he had little choice, Aragorn picked up his satchel of herbs and creams and followed the man to one of the tents, casting one last nervous look into the trees.

Thus it was Éomer who chanced to notice the Elf’s return to the area where the Ranger and he had stayed that night. He noticed the Elf’s immediate rigidity upon the horse lord’s approach. Éomer stopped at a little distance, not wishing to alarm the already agitated Elf. “Your friend is helping one of my men who is injured,” said the Rohirrim Captain.

Legolas nodded in acknowledgement of this information. His azure eyes followed the horse lord as he approached casually. Éomer regarded the weary Elf and slipped into a slower, more casual stance similar to what one might assume with a skittish colt. “I am sorry, Master Elf for the hardship you encountered inside our borders.” The man offered this carefully, noting the slightly panicked look that came over the beautiful Elf. He was really rather mesmerizing, realized the horse lord as he studied the wood-elf closely.

“I thank you for your words,” said the Elf softly, “it is not always possible to control what occurs inside one’s realm.”

“You speak as one who knows,” said the horse lord, finding that he liked the Elf’s melodic tones, “where are you from? Lothlórien?”

“Nay,” answered the weary Elf who maintained his distance from this stranger. “My people are sindar elves, my father is King Thranduil of Mirkwood.” Legolas averted his gaze as he offered this bit of information. The Horselord gaped. “You are Prince Legolas?”

The Elf’s head snapped up to stare at the Captain of the Mark. “How do you know my name?”

“Many humans choose to remain ignorant of the Elves and of other races, as well. But as King Theodin’s nephew I was expected to learn of those who live outside our narrow borders. I have traveled much and I even visited the Golden Wood. That is why I thought you were from Lothlórien. You have the same coloration as those elves.”

“So …you learned of Mirkwood and the royal family while visiting Lórien?” Asked the Archer, drawing a little closer to the man now.

Éomer seated himself near the fire, gesturing for the Elf to join him. “Yes. It was of interest to me that Mirkwood is the only elven realm with a monarch.”

The Prince nodded, drifting a little closer to the fire where the man had seated himself. “I am amazed that a human was allowed entrance into the Golden Wood,” said the Archer, with a quizzical tilt of his head.

The handsome horselord laughed, good naturedly, “I bet that you are, Prince. I met a very intimidating Elf who guarded the entrance to the Golden Wood. He came damn near putting an arrow in my heart before I could utter a single word, much as you almost did,” he added with a smile. To his amusement the Elf had the grace to blush. It was rather pretty, thought the horse lord, and he was pleased when the Archer finally moved to sit across from him.

“Was his name Haldir, by any chance?” asked the Elf softly, a small smile touching his lips.

“You know him!” said the horse lord. Legolas nodded.

“He was my archery instructor when I was an elfling,” there was a definite smile now in the Elf’s tone. Éomer laughed aloud. “ Of course!” he said teasingly, “That unflappable archer’s stance and the ‘shoot first, ask questions later’ approach, how could I have missed it? You must have learned that from your teacher. Imagine my fortune to meet the pupil of the Elf who taught me the meaning of the word diplomacy.”

Even Legolas had to laugh at this. He knew quite well how Haldir of Lothlorien felt about visitors to the Golden Woods. Even other elves were keenly scrutinized by the serious Marchwarden. For a human to have successfully entered the Wood some serious negotiations indeed must have been entered into.

“Tell me,” the laughing human continued, “does that haughty Elf ever smile?”

Legolas tilted his head in mock deliberation, the light of the sun casting a warm glow about his slender exotic form. “I spent almost two centuries with him, when I was an elfling. No, I don’t believe in that time I ever saw him smile…until the day came for him to leave Mirkwood, as I had completed my studies with him.”

Éomer gave him an intrigued look, quite taken by the stunning blue eyes and pale beauty of the Elf. “And why, fair Prince, was that?” he asked softly.

The Elf blushed a little to be addressed so by this man, but leaned forward in a mock conspiratorial tone, “I think he found me to be a bit of a prankster. After two centuries of finding honey in his quiver and red mallorn sap in his shampoo he was eager to end our lessons early.” The Elf laughed gently, the sound was one of lilting silvan springs and the horse lord was enchanted. Legolas continued, lost it seemed in a pleasant memory, “ But I convinced him, each time, to never tell the King.”

The man laughed heartily, trying to picture this demure and lovely Prince being a naughty mischievous Elfling. Legolas smiled in return, the tension gone from his face.

“Legolas?” Aragorn stood quietly, taken aback by the sight of his Elf smiling and joking, apparently, with the Captain of the Rohirrim.

“Ah, Ranger!” said the horse lord, magnanimously with a resounding slap to his thigh. “Your Prince and I have discovered that we share something in common,” he let the tantalizing sentence hang for a moment for emphasis.

“Oh?” said the Man, slightly irritated by this Rohirrim’s familiarity with the Archer. Éomer traded a knowing smile with Legolas before continuing, which increased Aragorn’s irritation to full blown annoyance. “We are acquainted with the same dour personage of the Marchwarden of Lothlorien.”

Legolas’s smile widened at this description of his old friend, imagining quite well what the Lorien Elf’s reaction would be to such a characterization.

“Really?” said the Man, his annoyance going unnoticed by the others. Was this Rohirrim flirting with his Elf?

Éomer had stood up and crossed around the fire to stand in front of the Elf. Legolas rose in a fluid motion and accepted the horse lord’s extended hand shyly. Aragorn stiffened.

“I hope we have an opportunity to speak again, Prince. You may be able to clear another mystery up for me,” The brash horse lord leaned forward slightly, still clasping the soft hand in both of his own and in a pseudo- whisper said, “What manner of persuasion did a young Princeling use to convince the severe Marchwarden to hold his tongue?”

Legolas smiled, a bit coyly it seemed to the Ranger’s narrowed eyes. “That is indeed a long story, Lord Éomer,” responded the Elf demurely.

“Perhaps another time then,” said the Rohirrim with a bit of a bow.

The horse lord excused himself and returned to his men, who had began to dismantle their camp.

Aragorn approached Legolas with eyes flickering from the ground to the look in the Elf’s face. “So…” said the Ranger. But he did not get a chance to finish his sentence for just at that moment a scream came from further out, where the watch stood. “Orcs!”

In a whirlwind, the orcs descended upon the camped Rohirrim. Aragorn drew his sword, his other hand reaching out to the Archer. But Legolas was already firing arrows into the invasion force. The plain was filled with the clanging sound of metal as the men of Rohan fought with a surprising ferocity..

Unfortunately the Rohirrim were drastically out numbered 4 or 5 to one. The Elf’s arrows buzzed in the air taking out one orc after another unerringly. Seemingly unprepared for this enemy among the Rohirrim one of the fell beasts gestured toward the Archer. A small contingent of the beasts broke away from the main group and began to run toward the Elf and the Ranger.

Meanwhile, the Captain of the Rohirrim plunged into the center of the fray gutting one beast while another raised its sword at his back. Sensing the movement, Éomer turned to plunge his sword into its belly but the beast fell forward on its own, a golden fletched arrow protruding from its neck. Another yellow arrow buzzed inches from his nose and hit an orc between the eyes just as it raised it’s sword toward the blonde man. The horse lord looked across the field to the golden Archer who at this point was running out of arrows. The band of orcs was converging upon him. The Ranger was involved in violent swordplay with two opponents at the same time. Handling himself expertly, Aragorn dispatched one and then the other. He leaped to the Elf’s side and catapulted a charging orc over his back. It landed neatly on the Archer’s last arrow. The Elf pulled the arrow out of the dead body in a fluid practiced move and sent it passed Aragorn’s shoulder, as the Man ducked out of it’s way, into the orc that aimed for the Ranger. At the same time, Aragorn’s sword gutted another that set it’s sights on the Elf. Legolas dropped his bow, quiver now empty, and reached for his one remaining long knife. The silver blade was invisible as it spun and sliced into the orcs that surrounded the Elf.

Éomer worried for the already injured Archer but the Elf moved with an inhuman grace, killing the things almost effortlessly. The Ranger, ever by the Elf’s side, cleared the area around them. The horse lord spared another moment to watch the dynamic teamwork between Man and Elf. They moved fluidly, each anticipating the other as if in a well choreographed dance. The vision summoned an odd feeling of desire within the horse lord. But there was no time for contemplating the peculiar emotion. The remaining orcs decided to retreat and they dispersed into the trees.

“After them!” yelled Éomer to the Rohirrim. Several of the Rohirrim followed the few escaping orcs while others went to help the wounded. Aragorn and Legolas ran up to him, out of breath.

“This has never happened before,” said Éomer to the two, “Orcs have never attacked so close to the city!” The horse lord’s distress was evident. He stalked over to a fallen orc that was still alive. The horse lord grabbed the creature by the throat.

“Tell me, orc” spat the man, “how is it your kind travel during the day so close to Rohan?” He throttled the creature for good measure. It spat at him, “You cannot hold the darkness back, human filth. It is already sitting at your king’s feet…”

Éomer choked the beast, “What do you mean?”

Legolas, who was standing by the horse lord’s shoulder, said quietly, “Its dead, Lord Éomer.”

The man dropped the body with a violent thrust. He turned and looked at the men in the field. Aragorn was already tending to several of the wounded. But at least two of the Rohirrim were dead. Éomer kicked the body of the orc savagely with a cry of rage. A cool delicate hand touched his arm gently. The horse lord turned his burning eyes onto the cool sapphires and a gentle breezed wafted over the man’s heated face. With it came a return of reason. He smiled gratefully to the Elf, the touch on his arm sending a signal of sudden arousal to his brain.

His moment of cool respite was interrupted by one of his men who reported the remaining orcs had escaped. Aragorn stood behind this man. “Lord Éomer, two of your men are dead, and most of the others will be able to travel in a day or so.” The Ranger was sympathetic to the eager horse lord whose face fell at the thought of having to delay pursuit of the orcs.

“It is of little consequence,” said the Elf. “Aragorn is an expert tracker. Together we will be able to hunt them down, even with a day’s lead.”

The Ranger felt himself puff a little with pride. It was childish, he knew, but he had been feeling a bit put out by the horse lord’s friendly advances towards the Archer. The fight against the orcs had been somehow rejuvenating for the Ranger. He had needed an outlet for his mounting frustrations and with the Elf at his side again, anticipating the Ranger’s moves, harmonizing to the Man’s style, he felt like things were almost back to normal between them. One always seemed to know what the other was about to do. After it was over they came towards each other, eyes taking in the sight of the other, silently appraising the familiar form of the other for injuries. Their eyes locked in quiet acknowledgement of the bond between them.

Aragorn was brought back from the memory with a jolt. “Do you need anything to treat them?” Éomer was asking.

“We need to erect a tent to house those who need tending to. I’ve already sent one of your soldiers who has some knowledge of plants to look for specific herbs that I’ll need. He’ll be able to help me.”

Éomer nodded, “Good, because I will ask you to travel with me as soon as possible to go after them. That orc spoke about darkness sitting at the foot of the King. It does not bode well. This was no mindless orc attack, they were sent against us by someone.”

The man whom Aragorn had sent to gather the plants returned and the Ranger set off at once to work on the injured. Legolas restocked his quiver and adjusted his bow over his back. The Archer silently watched the horse lord as he strode about the camp speaking to his men. The man was a good leader. He was obviously well liked and respected by the Rohirrim. Legolas walked quietly up to him as Éomer had moved to the two fallen soldiers. The horse lord was kneeling on the ground next to the bodies.

Sensing the Elf’s presence he spoke with out turning, “I have known this one’s family all my life. They lost their oldest in a battle last year. Now I will bear the body of their youngest home to them to be buried next to his brother.” His hand drifted down to touch the head of the young fallen soldier.

Legolas felt his throat constrict at the sight of the dead young man, and the sound of grief in the Captain’s voice. He carefully knelt down beside the Rohirrim.

Éomer raised his head as the Elf began to sing. The man’s heart finally overflowed to hear his sadness echoed in the lilting strains of the elvish melody. It was a voice of clear crystal sweetness tinged in grief so stirring to the human heart that the men stilled their movements respectfully to hear it. They gathered closer to pay tribute as well to their fallen comrades. Aragorn, busy with the wounded inside the large tent, paused to hear the familiar voice stir the air again with its haunting beauty. He let the elvish words of sorrow wash over him and tears moistened his eyes, but he did not still his actions to tend to his patients. The song recalled much loss in the Ranger’s own life, but more fearfully it made him think of what his life would be like now if he lost the Elf.

The song came to an end and Éomer stirred from his place to look at the Elf gratefully. The dirge had reawakened in him a desire for action. He stood suddenly and began to bark orders to two of his lieutenants. As the horse lord mounted his steed, Legolas ran over to him. “What are you doing? You should not go after them alone!”

“The men need to be treated for their injuries. But this cannot wait. I will take two of my warriors with me and I will get the answers I need!”

“Wait,” cried Legolas. “If you insist on going like this then I will come with you.” He vaulted behind the horse lord, “I can help!”

Éomer hesitated. He could use the Archer’s skill but Aragorn would be enraged if Éomer took the Elf into such a dangerous situation. “Are you sure?” he asked the Elf, “Your friend would not want this…”

”I make my own decisions, Lord Éomer. Aragorn knows that.”

With a final nod, the horse lord gave a short command to his other man still standing by the tent. “The warrior I would have left in charge is dead. The Ranger is in command of the Rohirrim until I return. Follow his orders as if they came from me. Understood?”

At the man’s nod he launched into the woods with the Elf behind him and two of his warriors riding at their side.

The tracking skills of the wood elf lead them to a hill densely covered in trees. Voices drifted to them but it was a strange sound for they were both human and orc. Leaving the horses at the foot of the hill they crawled to the top and looked down into a shallow opened area. A small hand full of orcs and three men were standing facing each other.

“You were supposed to kill the Rohirrim Captain, orc scum! That’s what you been paid to do…maybe the lord you follow won’t be too pleased with you after all”

“You didn’t tells us there was an Elf with ‘em. He took out fifteen of us with ‘is damn bow! The humans fought worsen we thought, too. But I ain’t seen you there a killing him, smart mouth!”

“Never mind. Here’s your payment. Be gone with you, foul thing. Rosa will be here and he’ll take care of it.” The men dropped two struggling bundles onto the ground in front of the orcs.

Éomer and Legolas exchanged tense glances as the Orc untied one of the sacks and two children came tumbling out, bound and terrified. The other larger one was still struggling on the ground. With out exchanging a word the Elf and the three Rohirrim drew their weapons.

Gold arrows flew through the trees, into the clearing, toppling the orcs that surrounded the squealing human children, while the three Rohirrim descended the hill with swords raised uttering a battle cry. The slave traders and remaining two orcs met them with clashing metal.

Legolas ran to the children and cut through their bonds swiftly. “Don’t be afraid, I am going to free you,” he said in westron.

“Please, help our momma!” cried the little girl as she clutched onto her smaller human brother. The Elf cut through the second sack, still bound on the ground, as the battle ensued around him. A pretty woman emerged. Her clothing was ripped and had a haunted look about her battered face. He looked at her compassionately and freed her from her bonds. She stared at him in awe as she gathered her children to her with ferocity. Suddenly taking in the scene around her, she flashed the Elf a quick look of gratitude before pulling the children with her into the forest. Legolas watched them disappear into the woods and felt a lightness wash over him. Perhaps he could still make a difference in the world, with whatever time was left to him.

He didn’t see the raised sword that came down on the back of his head. The blow sent him sprawling and his last thought before darkness took him was of Aragorn.

.....

“What do you mean they left?!” yelled the Ranger in anger, at the gaping young man.

“Lord Éomer said you were in charge,” said the cowering young Rohirrim.

“Fine,” said the grim Ranger, steel eyes flashing. “Saddle up!”

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CH.8

Éomer came to with a rough jab to his side. He was on his knees but his tied hands were stretched far above him. He was hanging from his wrists and the swaying motion told him he was inside a moving wagon. The unfriendly jab came again and a rough hand grabbed a fist full of his blonde hair, yanking his head back painfully.

“Here wake up, you!” said a gruff voice. “What are you doing with this Elf?”

Éomer opened his eyes painfully, and peered through the swollen lids at his assailant. A dirty man stared at him malevolently. His face felt bruised and before he could say something insulting to the thug another punch landed on his jaw. Laughter came from a gravelly throat somewhere behind him.

“Hit ‘em again! Filthy Rohirrim. Stuck up piece of shit! I hate them Rohirrim, always showing up at the wrong times.”

Another blow rocked Éomer’s head back on his shoulders, threatening to send him back into the blackness. “I think you’re right, Satch,” said the one who was delivering the blows. He grabbed the blonde man’s head by the hair and held his face to the light. “This is the Captain himself. Rosa’s gonna be happy `bout this! Maybe he’ll give us a reward and let us play with the other one.”

“Nay, the Elf’ll go to Rosa…you know that!” said the one called Satch. “I say we kill the Rohirrim now. Rosa wanted him dead anyway. We can give Rosa the head!” A rough hand grabbed Éomer by the hair from behind him and a dagger was pressed against his throat.

“Leave him alone!” cried a soft melodic voice in westron.

“Ah! The pretty one’s woken up, Satch, look. Now we’re really gonna have some fun!”

Éomer peered through his cracked lids to see the beautiful Elf similarly bound and suspended from the roof of the moving wagon. The man named Satch, withdrew the cruel dagger abruptly from the Rohirrim’s throat, and moved past Éomer in the tight space to squeeze himself behind the similarly restrained Elf. He was a filthy large man with grimy hands. Forgetting about the Horselord, the slaver grinned toothily as he ran his hands down the sides of the Archer’s lithe body while his companion tried to kiss the struggling being. About this time the wagon was rolling to a stop and someone from up front yelled to the two thugs, “Get them ready! Rosa will want to see them.” The man named Satch grumbled loudly and left the struggling Elf to move to the suspended Horselord.

Éomer let his head sag down on his chest, feigning unconsciousness. His hands, still tied at the wrists, were unhooked from the beam of wood that held him suspended. In a swift move he brought them both up sharply into the man’s chin, curling his hands into fists, surprising his assailant and knocking him backward. Legolas at the same time, seeing his opportunity, wrapped his legs around the other man who was moving toward the freed Horselord. Éomer withdrew a small knife from his boot and thrust it into the belly of the man whom he’d knocked out. He sliced through his bindings quickly and grabbing the man, immobilized by the Elf, and sliced his throat, killing him instantly.

He quickly cut through the Elf’s bindings, flashing a reckless smile at the Archer who responded with a raised eyebrow as he rubbed at his wrists. “You alright?” whispered Eomer. The Elf had blood on his face and looked beaten up but he nodded and moved easily enough, once released from his bindings.

“What’s going on back there, you louts?”

Éomer cast a roguish look at the Elf, reminding Legolas somewhat of the Ranger, and in imitation of the gruff tones of the slavers yelled, “I needs some help ‘ere, mate, the Elf’s too savage for me.” Éomer threw the Elf a wink. Legolas stared nonplussed at the brash human.

Wild laughter came from the unsuspecting slaver who lumbered toward the back of the wagon. Éomer moved to hide himself from the approaching man. “Oy, I’ll help ye with the Elf, he looks like a frisky one, all right….”

The rest of the foul man’s words were lost as Éomer’s arm grabbed him from behind and closed around the man’s throat. Before the man could yell out the Horselord’s knife cut the slaver’s throat from ear to ear. With a gurgle the man dropped like a stone.

Éomer flashed another smile at the observing Elf and gestured quietly toward the front of the wagon. They moved stealthily to the entrance and peered through an opening in the canvas.

A man was yelling at two others, “Tighten up the gap there! That chain needs to be tightened. And stop those kids from their sniveling, gag them if need be!” The slaves were lined up, like merchandise at an auction, each wearing a thick ankle manacle with a round loop. A long chain ran through the loop of each cuff, effectively shackling the slaves together. The chain ends were wrapped and secured around two heavy tree trunks several feet apart.

Men and orcs walked around the camp. The slavers were grumbling with the orcs over the management of the large group of slaves. Others who walked about seemed to be buyers. They were men, some of them barbarians, by the looks of them, others looked to be well to do citizens of Rohan. They looked over the new stock of slaves, inspecting teeth, poking and prodding. Young boys and girls, mostly, were huddled around each other as the slavers snapped their whips and kicked at the crying children mercilessly. Éomer clenched his fist at the sight of these innocents being treated like animals. The slave trade was apparently alive and thriving in Rohan despite all his efforts to squash the movements of the traders.

“Shut up, you!” yelled one of the men, as he roughly gagged a young girl.

Éomer gripped the side of the canvas, about to leap out, but the Elf’s cool hand stayed his movement. He looked questioningly at the Archer who pointed silently at the two new arrivals. Two horses approached from the woods, one was obviously a personal guard but the other looked to be a nobleman. His black greasy hair clung to the side of his face, and blended into the black of his expensive fur cape. As his face came into view, Éomer’s eyes widened in shock. “Grima” he whispered.

The dark lord approached the leader of the slavers. “How is it that you failed to kill the Captain of the Mark? Was it not our agreement, you rid me of that nuisance, and I allow you to engage in your …dealings, undeterred? The King’s nephew has sharp eyes and grows as a thorn in my side.”

“Blame the orcs you sent, necromancer! They are the ones who failed at the simple task.”

“It was the Elf that saved the Horselord,” cried an orc, apparently offended by the slaver’s comment.

“What Elf?” asked Grima.

“It is no matter,” said the slaver. “I have them both in the wagon. The Rohirrim is yours but I keep the Elf as payment for the loss of my men. Good help is hard to find you know!”

Grima leaned forward on his black horse, “You have Éomer in the wagon? Why did you not kill him?”

The slaver laughed at the wizard’s obvious look of fear. “I thought I’d make a present of him to you!”

The wizard’s horse stirred nervously, and Grima’s beady, yellowed eyes darted nervously to the wagon. He climbed down from the skittish animal.

“Just kill him, you fool! If he were to escape…if he were to learn of my involvement he could jeopardize everything! The King is not yet completely under my enchantment. Everyday he falls deeper within the web of my spell but total control is still moons away!”

Within the wagon, Éomer’s face gleamed with a fearsome light. “Wormtongue,” the name dripped like acid from his lips, “I knew you couldn’t be trusted.” The Rohirrim’s hands clenched into fists as he eagerly envisioned throttling the repulsive little man.

“I have everything under control,” boasted the slave trader “and I will give you the Rohirrim’s head if you but wait a moment.” He gestured to two of the men to go to the wagon, “Bring out the new cargo, men.”

Legolas touched the Horse lord’s shoulder and gestured toward the large drums of booty in the wagon. Among them was a vast amount of alcohol, which men liked to consume. He looked meaningfully at one of the patrolling slavers who carried a torch from the fire. Éomer smiled in understanding and nodded. He watched the Elf move noiselessly out the back of the wagon as the slaver walked past.

Rosa and Grima had turned away and were speaking in lowered tones as the two men, directed by Rosa, approached the wagon.

The two climbed the front steps of the transport when a sudden explosion and a blast of hot air hit them. The canvas of the wagon was suddenly engulfed in flames. Screams came from the slaves and men ran about frantically. Several of the slavers ran to slap at the flames with blankets of burlap. Rosa barked orders at the men and orcs to get water. Grima slithered into the shadows in alarm and made for his horse but the frightened animal bolted. Amidst the confusion two shadowed figures ran from the wagon, one shooting arrows into the small group of slave traders who tried to control the screaming children. The blond Horselord ran to the slaves and hefted his sword over the chain. “Get back!” he yelled at them.

Two orcs began to run at him. “Look out!” yelled one of the children, pointing at the advancing orcs.

The Horselord brought the sword down on the chain, breaking the links. He pulled at the long length of chain, now severed from it’s anchor, trying to free each of the young people from their bondage. “Run, run!” he cried to the children who scurried to free themselves from the chain. Orcs and slavers ran at them but golden arrows flew into them as they approached the captives and the Rohirrim Captain.

A couple of orcs got past the rain of arrows and fell upon Éomer with a cry. Black smoke unfurled into the sky and the smell of burning wood was pungent in the air. Yells from the slavers and the orcs told Éomer that the Archer was still free and firing arrows at the slavers. The would be buyers ran from the scene, some trying to mask their identities, as the trading was brought to an abrupt and obvious end. The wagon was now ablaze and the dry branches of two nearby trees caught as the flames from the wagon licked higher into the air. Horses galloped in all directions, slavers trying to recapture their escaped merchandise and buyers trying to leave the scene of the criminal activity, believing they were under attack from the King’s Rohirrim.

Éomer drove his sword into the belly of one of the orcs that grabbed at him but the other slashed at his arm, causing him to drop his weapon from his suddenly weakened fingers. The foul beast grinned at him triumphantly and pointed its sword at his throat. “Time to say good night, Rohirrim,” the orc said in thick barbarian westron.

Éomer backed away, clutching his bleeding arm. He looked around frantically and as the orc raised the blade to strike the deathblow, a dark body came hurtling out of nowhere and collided with it. Éomer tried to follow the blur of movement but couldn’t tell who his rescuer was until the dusty form of the Ranger disentangled himself from the limbs of the now very dead orc.

“Where is Legolas?” the Ranger demanded, grabbing hold of Éomer’s good arm.

Éomer looked frantically into the now hellish scene of fire. Several of the trees were ablaze and men ran to and fro. The Rohirrim, led by Aragorn, had arrived just in time to save his life. Some Rohirrim were running after the fleeing buyers. Others were still fighting with what remained of the orcs and the slave traders. The freed slaves were being gathered at a safe distance from the flames by the young Rohirrim healer.

“Where is he?” yelled Aragorn frantically, again. Éomer’s eyes traveled to were Grima and Rosa had been standing by the far side of the slavers’ encampment. Through the flames he could see Rosa raising his whip savagely.

“There!”

The Ranger and the Horse lord ran through the chaos of flames and screams. The flames roared out of control and thick smoke filled the area burning their throats and eyes. Aragorn clutched a rag to his nose and mouth as he followed at Éomer’s heels. Then he saw them.

The Elf was on the ground and attempting to crawl away from the murderous attack of the slaver. A savage rage burned in the eyes of the rapist as he advanced upon the Archer, whip snapping viciously. Fire roared around the pair blocking them from the Rohirrim and the Ranger. “Legolas!” screamed the Ranger as flames reared up in front of the Man.

Éomer grabbed Aragorn’s arm and yelled above the roar of the flames, “We can’t get through here!” A burning tree limb fell from above, Éomer pulled the Ranger out of its way and yelled at the Rohirrim who were still fighting around them, “Fall back, fall back! Get those kids to safety, clear out of here!”

Aragorn grabbed hold of the Rohirrim, “I’m not leaving Legolas!” he screamed above the noise. The forest was blazing around them and black smoke made it almost impossible to breathe.

Éomer’s eyes frantically scanned the hellish scene trying to find a way in past the flames to the Elf. His eyes fell on Hasuf. With a shrill whistle the horse galloped instantly toward the Rohirrim Captain. “Wait here!” He shouted at the Ranger, and ran to meet the galloping animal. Without breaking stride the Rohirrim leapt onto the back of the advancing beast and together they plummeted over the flames and disappeared into the circle of black smoke.

Éomer clutched his shirt over his mouth and nose, and peered with burning eyes through the thickness. The Rapist had his whip wrapped around the throat of the Elf. Éomer jumped off his horse and ran towards them when a large burning tree branch fell like a missile at his feet. The heat burned his face as he dodged the flaming mass.

The Elf gasped, vision going black as his fingers desperately tried to peel the leather cord from his throat. The face of the Rapist filled his vision and a quiet voice told him this would be his last sight. Rebellion reared within him and he groped frantically around him for anything that might serve as a weapon. Miraculously his fingers closed on something long and sharp. He brought the object up with what remained of his flagging strength into the man’s exposed throat. Surprise eclipsed the rageful and ravenous look of the Rapist. The fingers of the man released his death throttle on the Archer’s throat as he groped at the protruding shard of wood embedded in his neck, blood spurting over his fingers. His eyes rolled into the back of his head as his body collapsed on the prone Archer.

Blackness almost claimed Legolas then. But the body on top of him was lifted away, and strong hands picked him up, hastily unwrapping the length of the leather whip from around his throat. He was lifted off the ground and thrown onto the back of a horse. Blackness finally took him as the horse took flight through the inferno that surrounded them.

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Aragorn tried to run after the Horselord as he disappeared into the black cloud of smoke. Rage and helplessness were driving him insane. If Legolas died in there he could not imagine the devastation to his heart. It was pointless to wonder when it happened. It simply had. He was completely in love with the Elf and no longer could he tolerate the thought of living his life without the gentle Mirkwood Prince by his side. He had to do something.

His eyes scanned the scene of devastation around him and fell on a skittish black colt that was neighing in terror behind the flames of the underbrush. It was the horse of one of the noblemen from Rohan, the conspirator, who plotted with the slavers against the King. Aragorn vaulted over the burning bushes and approached the terrified animal, uttering cajoling Elvish phrases as he slowly touched the animal’s snout. The Man’s commanding nature instantly calmed the disoriented horse. The beast discerned immediately the lack of threat in this human and allowed himself to be mounted.

Patting the willing animal, Aragorn prodded it to leap over the flaming brush and with words of praise, Aragorn directed the compliant horse into the wall of smoke where the Horselord had disappeared only moments ago. They emerged through an opening in the flames and thick smoke burned their eyes and throats. The horse whinnied in fear but remained calm under the firm hand of the Ranger as he prodded it gently forward.

Aragorn peered through the choking blackness for signs of the Elf and for the Horselord. He blinked away the burning moisture from his eyes and saw the murky shape of the Rohirrim Captain. Éomer was kneeling on the ground. Aragorn waved at the thick curls of smoke in front of his eyes, trying to see what was happening. The Rohirrim’s horse, Hasuf, was moving nervously nearby with the prone form of the Archer slung motionless over the horse’s back. Aragorn opened his mouth to yell out when, through the clouds of smoke, his eyes detected the bent shape of a small man in black, standing over the fallen Rohirrim. The man had his arm extended and the Ranger saw a long thin wand pointed at the Rohirrim’s chest. Éomer was holding his head and struggling to stand.

Aragorn kicked his heels into the sides of his black colt and the beast lunged forward. The man in black turned in shock at the sound of his own horse bearing down on him. The Ranger leaned into the animal as they galloped full tilt toward the wizard. The necromancer fell back as the beast reared up on its hind legs, with a furious snort, and aimed to come down with its hooves on the ill favored black traitor. Whether by design or ill fate, it was at that exact moment that a tree, behind the fallen wizard exploded in fiery wrath. Aragorn pulled back on the raging horse as the tree began to topple over them. He galloped to the Horselord who was trying to shake off the confounding spell and was climbing to his feet.

“Can you ride?” Aragorn shouted at the dazed Rohirrim.

Éomer nodded and vaulted with unsteady legs over Hasuf’s back. The Ranger led their way and the two horses broke into a frantic run as the tall trees now thundered down around them. They cleared the blazing woods and continued to flee for miles until the air became clear again and the cool fresh breeze lifted their sooty hair from their over heated faces. They met up with the rest of the Rohirrim and the rescued slaves, a good distance away, at a makeshift encampment by a clear running stream. The sky behind them was black with smoke as the fire burnt itself out.

Aragorn jumped off his black horse and ran to the Rohirrim Captain with a yell. Two Rohirrim ran over to help them. Éomer was slumped over the unconscious Elf. He was lowered by the two young warriors, and taken to a bedroll with the other wounded. Aragorn pulled the Elf into his arms and lowered him to the ground.

“Those burns look bad,” said the young healer over his shoulder. Aragorn had not noticed the young man’s presence. He had eyes only for the Elf. In fact, he had not even taken in the condition of the reddened skin that was already bubbling over on the Elf’s right arm, neck and shoulder. He was just so happy to have the Archer back in his arms. “Should I get an aloe poultice for him?” questioned the young man, looking eagerly at the Ranger.

Aragorn nodded without looking up. The Rohirrim ran off to retrieve the supplies. Aragorn now was finally alone with the Elf. He looked deeply into the pale thin face, so youthful and innocent in sleep. He looked past the whip slash on one cheek and the angry red lines around the Elf’s tender throat. His eyes traveled over the fair brow, the long black lashes that brushed the sculpted cheekbones, the pert nose, the full rosy lips. He held the Elf to him, long spill of golden hair cascading over his arm to brush the ground, and he trembled as all his suppressed emotions welled up within him. Aragorn felt his eyes mist uncontrollably as he poured over the face that had become the focal point of his every thought.

The Elf’s eyes fluttered open and for a moment there was no reaction in the dilated blue orbs. The Archer blinked and as those impossibly bright cornflower eyes finally focused on the Ranger, bent so close over him, a stunning smile brightened the lovely features. It was as if the sun broke free from the hanging clouds and the Ranger’s tears now did fall, unrestrained, down his soot-smudged face. A white delicate hand drifted up to cup the Man’s cheek, and pale fingers traced the clear streaks left by the tears on the dusty skin. “Aragorn,” the soft voice floated to the Man’s ears like the bubbling of a gentle brook.

Drinking in the sight of the shining face, Aragorn let his hand trail through the silken hair. “Legolas,” responded the Man brokenly, not trusting his voice to say more, afraid of what he would say if he did speak.

The Elf swallowed, his throat felt raw from the smoke and tight for an altogether different reason. Like the rising of a gale in a sudden summer storm, he was hit by the overwhelming presence of the Man. His body began to shiver uncontrollably in the wake of the unbidden and undeniable wave of longing. Like a blanket of warmth, the Man’s arms wrapped around him.

Concerned that the Elf was going into shock, the Man leaned even closer and holding the trembling figure tight against his chest, he whispered, “It’s alright, Mellon, I am here. You are safe now.”

The Elf’s body thrummed in excitement to feel Aragorn so tightly against him. Teeth chattering, he clutched onto the Ranger, and unashamedly buried his face into the nape of the Man’s neck. His emotional reserves were finally depleted, in the wake of this last trauma, and Legolas could no longer summon the strength to deny the obvious. He desired Aragorn. Every inch of the Archer’s body was suddenly alive with a buzzing need to feel the Ranger’s strong, warm hands touch him. He wanted to feel the entire length of the Man press against him, to envelope him completely. The Elf inhaled deeply, reveling in the Man’s scent underneath the smoky odor, which covered them both. He pulled back only slightly, breathing hard, to rub his smooth cheek against the Ranger’s scratchy beard. His own face was now damp with elven tears. Aragorn shuddered and pulled back, trying mightily to withhold the urge to consume the Elf in a passionate kiss.

Legolas’s head fell back onto the Ranger’s arm and looked into the moist gray eyes. “I …I feared I would never see you, again…” said the Elf, voice barely audible.

The Man smiled through his weeping, still bent close to the Elf’s upturned face, “I would never have stopped looking for you, Mellon nin.” Aragorn’s fingers tenderly traced the curve of the Elf’s smooth cheek.

Legolas smiled up at him. “I knew that you would find me, my Ranger,” the Elf’s other hand touched the Man’s face as well, careful of the blisters on the back of the hand. Their faces were mere inches apart and the Man’s warm breath upon his face was making him drunk with a sudden desire to feel the Ranger’s lips on his. He had but to raise his head but a little to close the distance between them. Before the thought could transform into action the young Rohirrim healer trotted up to them, breathlessly, with arms full of medicinal supplies.

Aragorn pulled back self consciously, as the apprentice healer knelt next to the Elf. Aragorn reached out and stopped the young man. “I will do that,” he said gently, but with an air of dismissal. Looking disappointed the young healer nodded and walked away, slightly deflated.

The Elf smiled up at him. “You have an admirer,” he teased.

The Ranger’s face reddened and looked confused.

“The young healer,” said the Elf, with an almost coy look. “He admires you.”

The Ranger shrugged, cheeks still red from his misapprehension about who his admirer was. He looked up across the camp and said inexplicably to the Elf, “You have an admirer too.”

It was Legolas’s turn to look confused as Aragorn arranged the bandages, herbs and bowl of warm water out on the ground before turning to examine the Elf’s burnt hand. When a shadow fell between them and the sun, Legolas realized whom it was that Aragorn was talking about.

Éomer knelt down on the ground, opposite the Ranger, and took the Elf’s other hand. “I am glad, Prince, that you are alive. You were remarkable. Your old teacher would have been proud of you. I never could have made it without you, nor would those people be free now.”

Aragorn’s jaw clenched as he tended to the Elf’s wounds. His eyes slanted to the Elf’s smiling face as he bent his head to prepare the poultice dressings for the Archer’s arm and shoulder.

“I am glad I could help, Lord Éomer,” said the Elf, demurely.

The Rohirrim Captain smiled and a bold hand came out to smooth a golden lock of hair away from the Elf’s face, and stroking his pale skin in the process. The Elf blinked at the intimate gesture, his eyes flickering just barely in the direction of the Ranger, before averting his gaze.

“Can I help you with that?” asked the Rohirrim, causing the Elf to look up. The Horselord was holding a roll of bandage and addressing Aragorn.

Aragorn raised his eyes to meet the Rohirrim’s and took the bandage from Éomer with a studied smile. “I think I have the situation well in hand.” The Ranger’s gray eyes were like ice and fire, all at once, and the steady voice communicated in tones of warning what words did not.

Humans communicated on so many levels, Legolas had realized, after many years of acquaintance with the Dunedin. The dark aura of the Ranger at that moment was one most men would back down from. Wide sapphire eyes flicked, apprehensively, to the red face of the brash Horselord. A vein pulsed in the man’s temple as he met the daggers of the Ranger’s stare with a challenging one of his own. “Very well, then.” Éomer said, stiffly, after another long heartbeat. He looked down at the Elf before standing to leave and said, “Prince, I look forward to seeing you on your feet again. There is much of Rohan that is good and beautiful. I would like the opportunity to show it to you.” The Rohirrim clasped the pale fingers of Legolas’s uninjured hand for a moment longer and with a half-cocked eyebrow at the Ranger left them, wit the mildest hint of a flourish.

“I’ll just bet you would,” came the scathing, sub-audible retort from the Ranger as he dropped the rolled bandage with a thud.

Legolas looked at Aragorn, startled by the Man’s sudden animosity. “What?” asked the Elf.

“Nothing,” said the Man heatedly, his face now shuttered in grimness. He lifted the Elf to sit up, without another word, and proceeded carefully to peel off the burned and shredded tunic. He wiped the Elf’s torso clean with a cool wet cloth and applied the poultice of soothing aloe and chamomile. Exhaustion began to catch up to the Archer. He closed his eyes pleasantly, and leaned his forehead onto the Man’s shoulder, as Aragorn worked on his back.

The Man’s touches soothed his spirit, and he sighed contentedly. He leaned into the Man’s gentle touch as Aragorn gently rubbed cream into the angry red lines around the pale column of the Archer’s throat. When his injuries had all been tended to, Legolas watched the Man wordlessly arrange a wide bedroll on the ground under the soft shade of a tree. Aragorn brought the Elf to the bedroll and after arranging the Archer on the soft padding, he made to get up. Legolas’s hand darted out to catch the Ranger by the wrist. “Aren’t you going to lie down?” he asked with a little more feeling than he had intended to impart to the question.

Aragorn looked at him, surprised, for once and then with a nod, arranged himself down next to the Archer. Legolas moved up for the Man to squeeze an arm under the Elf’s shoulders. Snuggled finally in his favorite spot, upon the Ranger’s chest he closed his weary eyes with a contented sigh. For the first time in a long while, he slept peacefully, with no dreams. None that is, save the tantalizing erotic images of a naked Ranger who caressed and touched him in the way of lovers.

When the Elf opened his eyes, again, the sky was purple with the warm streaks of the rising sun. It was dawn, and birds chirped happily in the trees as the forest was slowly awakening to the promise of a bright new day. He was still firmly tucked into the Man’s warm embrace and a heavy blanket covered them both against the chill that still clung to the air. Legolas stretched carefully, his body protesting with the pain of his newly acquired injuries. He looked up into the face of the Ranger who was silently watching him. Legolas couldn’t help but let the smile in his heart reach his face and the Man responded with one of his own.

“Good morning,” whispered the Ranger, without moving. “Did you sleep well?”

“Aye,” said the Elf again, with another contented stretch. But he resettled himself back into the folds of tangled limbs against the Ranger. Noting the baffled look on the Man’s face, he decided to throw caution to the wind, and enjoy himself.

Aragorn all but gasped when the Elf threw an arm and a leg over him, snuggling happily against the Man’s hard chest. When the Elf looked up at him, face bright with joy, Aragorn’s heart began to hammer wildly against his rib cage.

“This was the first night,” said the Elf, quietly, “that I did not have bad dreams or a feeling of dread haunt my every moment.”

Recovering himself from his shock, Aragorn wrapped his arms warmly around the pliant body that was pressed against him and smiled. “I am glad to hear it, Mellon nin,” he whispered. His lips were close to the Archer’s smooth brow and as he spoke, he leaned his head down, so that they just brushed the dewy skin. The Archer sighed, and closed his eyes. Studying the Elf’s reaction, the Ranger bent his head a little lower and pressed his mouth to the smooth forehead again. It was a chaste kiss, one that might be meant for a brother. But the Elf’s body pressed against him and thrummed to life at the gentle touch. Aragorn’s hands felt hot as they moved slowly, of their own accord, he thought, to stroke the Elf’s back.

With eyes still pressed shut, the Elf’s body moved against him again and a small muffled moan escaped the Archer’s mouth. Aragorn’s head spun dizzyingly, and his breathing was coming in short gasps as his mouth moved in light butterfly touches, over the Elf’s brow to barely skim the skin of the cheek. Legolas’s fingers curled into Aragorn’s clothing and clutched with white knuckles as he turned his face up to the Man.

Aragorn looked at the pale shining face. The Elf’s eyes were still closed and the full rosy lips were parted slightly. Aragorn’s eyes riveted to the pouting lips, and he froze, taking in the exquisite moment. The sounds of the camp coming awake around them seemed like a million miles away. As if suspended in a dream, Aragorn felt himself falling forward, plummeting it seemed down a long winding tunnel, his entire being now focused on the central point of the Elf’s mouth. In reality he had only moved a fraction of a millimeter, as he made the journey to the place of his heart. Closer,… his heart now pounding loudly in his ears, he thought it might burst before he would get to his destination, …closer, he would do it …he would do it, now… there was no turning back.

And then he froze, the Elf’s blue eyes had opened and were staring at him. The Man’s heart seemed to skate to a halt in his chest and doubt suddenly paralyzed him. Legolas’s shining eyes were like the ocean of clearest blue. The Elf perceived the Man’s frozen plight and, making up his mind, made the fearful leap for them. His lips closed on the Man’s mouth, eyes still open and holding the Man’s in bold declaration. Heat flared between them, burning them and melding together what was separate only in theory.

Aragorn groaned to finally taste the Elf’s mouth. His tongue, no longer shy, plunged into the warm recesses. He groaned again loudly as the Archer eagerly responded, bringing his own tongue into Aragorn’s mouth, they dueled in hot passion for dominance. Finally the Elf fell back onto the ground and dragged the Ranger on top of him. Aragorn covered the willing body with his own, mindless in the desire to crush the lithe form to him and claim the Elf right then and there. A gasp of pain brought him to his senses and he leapt off the injured Elf. Legolas followed him, however. Rolling over on top of the Man, and forcing Aragorn to the ground this time, he pressed his hungry lips to the Man’s mouth. When the kiss broke, the Elf looked down at the stunned Man, and smiled, “Don’t worry my Ranger, I am hardier than I look.” The Elf had straddled him boldly and sat up to look down at the amazed Human.

Aragorn smiled, feeling deliriously happy all at once, and ran his hands warmly up the Elf’s thighs to rest on the Archer’s slim waist. “I know it, my Elf. But I am unwilling to re-injure you. I have waited this long, I can wait until you are stronger.”

“Nay,” growled the Elf, “I want you, now!” The Elf slid sinuously down the length of the Ranger’s body, and worked his hands into the Man’s clothing to skim his hands across the Man’s chest. Aragorn gasped and gaped in shock at the amorous Elf. The Ranger looked at him in disbelief.

“Am I dreaming?” he asked breathlessly after another passionate kiss, bestowed upon him by the beautiful Archer.

“It is more lovely than any dream I have ever had,” whispered the Elf against his lips. The Archer’s hands now found the Man’s nipples and caressed the sensitive skin, making the Human gasp again loudly.

Giving up on chivalry, the Ranger grabbed the pliant flesh above him and kissed the Elf hungrily. The Elf moaned in desire as the Man’s mouth ravaged him and hot hands slid inside his tunic and down into the back of his leggings to cup his firm round buttocks. The burning hands squeezed the enticing mounds and feather light fingers grazed the crack to his nether port. Legolas bucked against the Man, and pushed up hungrily against the questing fingers. But some portion of his mind threw up barricades to the sensations as jumbled memories of his violation reared up unexpectedly out of the darkness. He was becoming distracted, caught between the extreme desire for the Ranger and the fear of remembering more vividly what was done to him. The more he struggled to remain present with his Ranger the more numb his body and mind started to become.

He hedged away slightly from Aragorn’s caresses, brows furrowing in concentration to block the intruding memories. Just then a voice from the encampment called up to them from a discreet distance.

One of the Rohirrim was summoning everyone in the camp to attend a morning meal and to gather to discuss their next course of action.

Under the guise of discontinuing due to this interruption, the Elf pulled away from the Ranger, with a sad smile. Aragorn groaned and left his arms loosely around the Elf’s waist. He looked up at the Elf with glassy eyes of passion. Legolas felt his heart bloom bright at the sight of the unadulterated love and desire on the Man’s face. He leaned back down and placed a warm kiss on the Man’s sultry lips.

Aragorn rolled them over so he was now leaning over the Archer. He looked down at the Elf that was his true love. He caressed the white cheek and placed tender kisses on the Elf’s brow and lips. But his discerning eyes followed the slight frown at the corner of the mouth. Pulling back slightly for a better look, he said, “What is it? Are you unhappy with this, my heart?”

The Elf shook his head frantically, and clutched onto the Ranger’s shoulders. “Nay, my Ranger, I want this! I want you, Aragorn.”

The Man breathed a sigh of relief but his observant gaze did not relinquish its perusal of the anxious Elf. “I want you as well, Legolas. But something is wrong. I can see it.” When the Elf shook his head again and averted his eyes, the Ranger took hold of the Archer’s chin and bade the Elf look at him. “Tell me, my love. What ever it is, do not be alone with it.”

Legolas looked up at him with bright eyes. “I want you, Aragorn. Please believe me. But..I think, well, ..I keep remembering…” He broke off as tears misted his blue orbs.

Aragorn pursed his lips and leaned in to touch his forehead to the Elf’s. “It will pass, my love. Until then, we don’t have to do anything. I won’t even kiss you, if you don’t want it.” He pulled back to look at the Elf whose gaze was bright and wondering. The Elf wrapped two arms around the Ranger’s neck and drew him down into a kiss.

When they parted, they were both breathless. “I love you, Aragorn,” the Elf said, quietly. “Will you wait for me, then?” He asked almost fearfully.

The Ranger smiled and hugged him possessively. “Wild Wargs could not drag me from your side, my fair Prince.” The call from the Rohirrim made them both stir and with another soft kiss, they both rose to join the men of Rohan.

When they had reached Rohan, Legolas stayed close to the Ranger, no longer pretending to not be bothered by the presence of so many humans. It was unnerving and he could not wait to give King Théoden the message Aragorn carried and to leave this place of Men.

Aragorn put his arm carefully around the Elf’s shoulders as they stood by the large window overlooking the city. They had been given their own chamber, choosing to stay together in one room, and had bathed and rested. Legolas leaned into the circle of the Man’s arms and let his head fall to the Ranger’s shoulder, as weariness dragged at him. He knew his body was still grappling with the cumulative effects of so many shocks, but Aragorn’s embrace was like an anesthetic that took away the pain. He sighed. He could hardly believe how things had changed for the two of them. Although they had done no more than kiss and cuddle, he felt more at peace and more complete, with his Human lover, than ever before in his life.

If only he could rid his mind and body of the pernicious memories that continued to plague him, sometimes at the most unexpected of moments, life might then be perfect. As it was, he suffered from an uncomfortable nervousness most of the time, unless the Ranger was by his side. His appetite was also not at all what it should be and he knew the Ranger fretted over his continued refusal to eat. He had lost weight and his skin was too pale even by Elvish standards. Dark smudges under his eyes made the blue sapphires stand out even more against the white of his skin. Aragorn continued to question him about his sleep. Although the horrible nightmares seemed to have ended, Elvish reverie eluded him and sleep was somehow not the restful experience he remembered it to be. He felt depleted.

A sharp rap on the solid wooden door made the Elf jump. Aragorn squeezed him consolingly and disentangled himself from the chagrined Archer to respond to the summons. A page stood at the threshold and bowed to the Ranger as if he was royalty. “My Lord, the King is now prepared to receive you in the throne room.”

“Very well, just one moment,” the Ranger closed the door and walked over to his Elven lover. “Are you sure you wish to remain here?” the question was tinged with concern.

Legolas sighed. He was not the only one, now, prone to feeling nervous and fretful when they were apart. He smiled up at the Man. “You know, we need to both get over this, my Ranger. I will remain here and try to rest. Nothing will happen.” He wrapped both arms around the Man’s neck and leaned to place a kiss on Aragorn’s lips. The Man’s arms came up around him and Aragorn moaned as his mouth slipped open to accept the Elf’s tongue. Finally, Legolas pulled back and smiled at the flushed Man. “You are being waited upon. Go and hurry back.”

Aragorn brushed his lips on the Prince’s forehead tenderly and gifted his Elf with a gentle smile. His gray eyes however remained shadowed with worry. “I want you to try to sleep while I am gone.” He brushed a lock of golden silk away from the Archer’s eyes as he spoke. “I will return as soon as I am through with the King. Then we can spend some time together.”

“There is nothing I would rather do,” whispered the Elf, looking into the pale gray eyes in wonder still, over their new relationship.

When the door closed behind the departing Ranger, Legolas turned to the window again and fought down the cold shiver of icy imaginary fingers running lightly down his spine. This would not do. He was not getting better. The weather outside was desolate and gray, like his sudden mood. He moved restlessly around the large room trying to dispel the gloom that rose up from deep inside him.

He refolded a few articles of clothing brought up to them by the wash maids. He picked up his weapons, with half a mind to work on them, when his eyes fell on his one remaining dagger. He pulled it out of its sheath and held it in front of his eyes with a strange sense of déjà vu. He ran his finger down the length of the blade. The other, he realized, was still probably at the bottom of the river, where it had been knocked out of his hand by Aragorn, the night he tried to kill himself. Had he really wanted to die? Shaking his head in disbelief, Legolas quickly reset the quiver of arrows, bow and dagger back into the corner where he had deposited them when they had first arrived. He moved away from them as another shiver passed over him. He roamed restlessly back towards the center of the room, his fingers tapping lightly on the bedpost as he stood looking aimlessly about the empty chamber.

Finally recalling Aragorn’s directive to try to sleep, he walked around to the side of the bed and sat down heavily. Now only a square patch of gray sky could be seen through the window casement. His eyes suddenly misted with tears. Ay! He was weary of crying. They skated rebelliously down the slope of his cheeks nevertheless. With a sigh he let himself fall back onto the bed and closed his eyes wearily. The restlessness in his soul writhed like a pit of snakes in his belly and an uneasy sleep took him. A new dream began.

Éomer walked up the long winding stairs that lead to the sleeping chambers. He had spent all morning with the King, but Théoden was growing more confused with each passing day and seemed not to comprehend that his advisor, Grima, was the man Éomer claimed to have seen with the slave traders. The court advisor was conveniently away on some business outside the city. What spell did Grima have over the King? Éomer huffed in frustration as he mounted the last step and walked aimlessly down the long hall.

Théodred might be able to talk sense into his father, but the Prince of Rohan was far, at the outskirts of the plains dealing with other problems. The darkness in the land of the horse lords was growing. Éomer slowed his steps as he realized where his angry strides had lead him. He paused and looked behind him down the empty corridor. He knew the Ranger was at that very moment meeting with the King to discuss Gandalf’s concerns about the sway of darkness in the lands of Men. Éomer could guess that the Istari wanted to propose an alliance of some sort. But Théoden was as suspicious of Gondor as he was of the realms of the Elves and the Dwarves. Éomer strongly doubted that in his present irrational state the King would even consider giving the notion more than a passing thought. Aragorn would probably be awhile.

The Horselord paused in front of the wooden door to the guest chambers. He knew the Archer was not in attendance in court. He wavered, then taking a deep breath, knocked softly on the door. He waited for a few moments then knocked again more loudly. Again nothing. With a sigh, he turned to leave when a soft sob from the other side of the door stopped him in his tracks. He carefully pushed on the handle and the door swung open. At first he saw no one then heard the soft sound of crying again, coming from the bed. The Captain of the Mark no longer hesitated. He entered the room quietly, not wanting to alarm the occupant, and approached the bed.

“Prince?” he said softly.

The Elf was curled on his side, with his eyes tightly closed. His face was moist with tears and perspiration. He moved restlessly, clutching at the bed clothes with white knuckles.

Éomer swallowed past a sudden lump in his throat. He sat carefully on the edge of the bed and gently stroked the pale face of the Elf who writhed in the clutches of another nightmare. “Prince, wake up. You are dreaming...” he shook the Elf’s shoulder gently.

The Elf sat up with a sudden jolt. “Aragorn!”

“Shhh…It is alright, Prince. He is still with the King.” Éomer rubbed the distraught Elf’s back gently, as the shivering being clutched at him, still in the throws of the dream. “I need Aragorn!” sobbed the Elf.

“It is alright, Legolas. It was just a dream. Come now, my fine warrior, wake up.”

Legolas was breathing heavily but his eyes focused on Éomer and the Horselord could see reason was returning to the startling blue sapphires. The Archer was still trembling as he tried to regain his composure.

“Do not fret, Prince. Even the fiercest warrior may suffer from ill dreams following a trauma…it will pass,” the Horselord said in a comforting voice.

But the Elf shook his head mutely, and pulled back to draw his knees up to his chest. He rested his forehead on his knees and tried to steady his breathing. “It is not that kind of nightmare, I fear.” His voice was so soft that the Horselord at first wasn’t sure he had spoken at all.

He looked helplessly down at the poor distressed Elf. Laying a soothing hand on the Prince’s shoulder, he asked quietly, “What do you mean?”

The Elf finally stirred and when he raised his eyes to the Rohirrim again, they were wide and haunted, “I have had those kinds of dreams, of which you speak. This was different. It was a vision of the Gates.” The Archer’s voice was a hushed whisper and the blues of his eyes shimmered with fright, “For us Elves, the Gates lead to the Halls of Mandos. I fear… Lord Éomer, what do men say it feels like to be dying?”

Tears filled the blue eyes, magnifying their luminosity, and the Horselord felt a shiver travel down his spine at the chilling words and at the look in the huge eyes. He felt his own eyes mist in response and drew the Elf silently into an embrace. Legolas let his head fall on the Rohirrim’s shoulder and a sob broke forth softly.

“Nay, do not say such things, fair Prince,” The Horselord said brokenly.

“But I fear it is true,” whispered the Elf against the Man’s shoulder.

“Then, Prince, you must tell the Ranger,” said the Horselord quietly.

“Nay! I cannot…” sobbed the Elf.

“You must! Something may still yet be done, if...”

“Nay, it is too late,” moaned the Elf, “ I should leave here so he does not have to suffer watching it happen!” The agitated Elf moved restlessly in the Rohirrim’s arms. Éomer looked at him, aghast at the irrational words.

“Do not speak such words! Do you love the Man?” At the Elf’s frantic nod, he continued, passionately, “Then you would do him a disservice. Let him help you if he can!”

“NO!” Yelled the increasingly agitated Elf, seemingly caught up again in the terrifying visions of his dream.

Just at that moment the door to the chamber burst open and the Ranger stood framed in the archway, stunned by the sight of the yelling Elf in the arms of the Rohirrim. Before rational thought could prevail, the Ranger flew through the air and tackled the Horselord off the bed and onto the floor, overturning a dark wooden table in the process.

The stunned Elf suddenly broke from his trance, as the two men rolled in a jumble of limbs on the ground. Legolas leapt off the bed to pull the enraged Dúnadan off the Rohirrim. “Aragorn! What are you doing! Stop it!”

He pulled at the Ranger while the Horselord blocked the raining blows. “Ranger, this is not what you think it is!” Éomer grunted. “ Get hold of yourself!” the Rohirrim yelled into the Man’s face.

Aragorn stopped and looked at the Elf who was trying to restrain his arms. “What happened? You were yelling…I thought...”

Legolas shook his head, “He was not doing anything to me, Aragorn. He was just …trying to help.”

Aragorn climbed off the floor and took hold of the Elf by the shoulders, looking deeply into the pale thin face. Taking in the Archer’s earnest expression, he turned to Éomer, and having the grace to look mortified, Aragorn extended a hand to the Rohirrim who was still sitting upon the floor rubbing a swelling eye. Éomer looked at the offered hand and grasped it firmly as the Man pulled him up. He looked at Aragorn and said with a burgeoning smirk, “This is going to be a shiner, Ranger. You’ve spoiled my good looks.”

Aragorn grinned in return. “Don’t worry, you still have that blonde hair.”

Legolas sighed at the Humans and sat down on the edge of the bed. Aragorn was next to him in a heartbeat. “I am sorry, Legolas, and to you, Lord Éomer. I realize now I made a mistake. But, why were you yelling, Mellon nin?” He put his arm over the Elf’s shoulders and looked at the drawn face in worry.

A knock on the door, that was still wide open, drew their attention. “My Lords, you have a visitor,” said the hesitant voice of the page. Stepping aside, another figure stood framed in the threshold to the chamber. Haldir of Lothlórien swept the disheveled room and its three equally tousled occupants with a piercing gaze of disapproval.

“My Prince,” he said with a low bow. “Your father, King Thranduil, has sent me for you.”

Legolas gasped and clutched convulsively at the Man next to him. He turned wide tearful eyes to Aragorn before lowering his gaze. Aragorn’s arm tightened around the shivering Elf, taking in the alarm this stunning news and the arrival of the Marchwarden had on his lover. Before he could utter a word to the imposing figure of the Lórien Guard, Éomer stepped forward in greeting.

“Mae govannen, Haldir of Lórien,” said the Horselord in perfect Elvish. “Your arrival would seem to be timely. What is your intention for the young Prince? If I may ask, for his welfare is important to us.”

Haldir’s eyes had remained fixed on the Archer almost since entering the room. He now stepped over to where Legolas sat in the arms of the Ranger and knelt down in front of Legolas. “My Prince,” he said softly.

Legolas raised reluctant eyes to meet those of his old teacher, humiliation and pain staining his cheeks red. “Haldir,” he said softly and reached out a hand to the older Elf. The Marchwarden took it in both of his, and brought it reverently to his lips. The Marchwarden silently held the young Elf’s gaze. The two Humans felt, more so than saw, the static lift in the air as the two Elves communed. Finally, the Prince seemed to melt from Aragorn’s arms towards the Lórien Guard and with a soft sob fell into his teacher’s embrace. They huddled together on the floor with Legolas ensconced on Haldir’s lap as he had done on many occasions as a small Elfling. The severe Marchwarden also seemed transported to an earlier time as he stroked the younger Elf’s hair and crooned to him gently.

Éomer stepped closer, watching the emotional scene, with fascination. The Horselord could see Haldir had tears in his own eyes as he held the Archer’s head tenderly to his breast. A glance at Aragorn told Éomer that the Man was equally in a state of extreme grief to see his Elf so deeply in pain. That and the tears on the Marchwarden’s face spoke of a situation that was growing more alarming by the moment. It was said, after all, that Elves rarely cried.

Éomer placed a hand quietly on Aragorn’s shoulder, and looked down at the huddled Elves. “Haldir?” he questioned softly.

Haldir raised shining eyes to Éomer then moved his gaze to rest on Aragorn who held his breath. “Legolas is dying, Aragorn. He must come with me to Lorien.”

“No!,” cried the Man, into the stillness, although his voice was barely above a whisper. Aragorn fell to the floor next to the two Elves and reached for the Archer. Legolas willingly disentangled himself from his old teacher to look wearily at his Human lover. Aragorn’s hands came up to hold his face tenderly, tears streaming down the Man’s cheeks. “No, Legolas,” he said softly, lips trembling.

The weary Elf, leaned towards him, and kissed him tiredly on the cheek. “I am sorry, my love,” he whispered as he let himself be wrapped in the Man’s arms. “I do not wish to be parted from you. I just…don’t know how to stop it.”

“No!” said the Man, quietly but firmly. “Legolas, I told you I will not let you die. Do you hear me, Mellon nin?”

Legolas nodded against the Man’s chest, a small smile coming to his lips. “I hear you, my Ranger. I will try…”

Aragorn exchanged looks with Haldir, who nodded at him with approval. “We will leave at once,” said the Marchwarden. Aragorn nodded, his arms wrapping possessively around his Elf.

They had been in Lórien for several days. Éomer had chosen to escort the small contingent of Elves, bearing the fading Prince, with Aragorn at his side, back to Lothlórien. He felt it was his responsibility and his duty to do at least this much. Deep down, Éomer knew it was even a bit more than that. He cared for this Elf. He wished sorely that his first dire prediction to the Ranger did not prove so prophetic.

He picked his way listlessly through the beautiful garden of white flowers, when a voice interrupted his sullen thoughts. “Quiet contemplation does not suite you, Horselord. Your feelings are too dark. The flowers are protesting.” Haldir stepped from behind the large trunk of a Mallorn.

Éomer smiled at the Lórien Guard. He rather liked this haughty, imposing, self-confident Elf, probably because he reminded Éomer of himself. He smirked at the thought, as the Marchwarden regarded him with amusement. “Now you are laughing,” remarked the Elf, “are all men’s moods so fickle?”

“Ah, my dear Marchwarden, I am merely pleased to have your company again. You have lifted me from my thoughts.”

Haldir fell in step with the brash young Human and cocked an eyebrow. “Then, for the sake of our flower brethren, I should stay with you awhile.”

Éomer made a small bow in the Elf’s direction. “As you please.” They walked quietly down the winding path among the heather and white bell shaped flowers. The serenity of the morning was marred by a subtle sadness in the air. The trees sang a melancholy song. Haldir shuddered and the Horselord, noticing, seemed to intuit the cause. “Any news on our fair Prince?” he asked after a moment of heavy silence.

The silver haired Elf made an almost imperceptible motion with his shoulders, his own mood darkening, “The trees do not offer encouragement, Horselord. I have known Prince Legolas for a long time. He is strong willed, like his father. If he can be saved it will be because he wills it to be so. I only hope that he shall will it.” He paused to look at the Human, meaningfully, “His injuries were grave. The body might recover, but for an Elf, the danger is to the soul which may be torn asunder and lost forever. Most Elves would not have survived this long after suffering such brutality.”

Éomer nodded, grimly. “Indeed,” he agreed in a quiet tone, “He is very strong willed, and a formidable warrior. But that is no surprise to you. You were his teacher.”

The older Elf smiled sadly. “He gave me quite a turn on a number of occasions, I dare say. It was not easy for him, to grow up with only his father. King Thranduil, Human, is by far one of the most formidable Elves in Middle Earth.”

Éomer chuckled, “Then I shall stay well away from Mirkwood. My last visit to Lothlórien was enough of an education in learning to respect the First Born.” He added a small bow toward the Marchwarden in acknowledgment of a lessoned learned.

The Elf laughed. “You know, Human, you had it coming. Such pride often invites challenge.”

“I know” said the Horselord, “so I am repeatedly being told.”

As if by mutual agreement their steps had taken them to the pavilion which housed the injured.

Voices were raised within and the frantic timbre of the Ranger’s protests carried easily through the lofty branches of the ancient tree, which embraced the House of Healing. Exchanging looks of alarm, Éomer and Haldir raced up the winding steps to the first tier of the graceful structure. Galadriel stood motionless, framed like a work of art, between two pillars that supported a jutting arch above her head. Even from a distance, power emanated from her seemingly ephemeral form that would give most men pause before approaching. The dark figure of the Future King stormed about the airy chamber as though facing down a Nazgul.

“You can’t let him die!” screamed the Ranger, who was well past the point of peaceful discourse. “I will not allow it. You said there was still a chance…”

“Aragorn, your destiny involves the liberation of all Middle Earth. I will not risk your life in a dangerous bonding.” Her voice was cool and lyrical in its detachment.

“My Lady,” the Man stammered, “you must allow me to try to save him. This is the Prince of Mirkwood that we speak of. I know I can bring him back.”

“Indeed, I grieve with you, as all of Elvendom will grieve, for the loss of one so favored by the Valar. But you are Elessar Telcontar. You cannot risk yourself in this manner. Too much rests on your shoulders, heir of Isildur.”

Éomer exchanged a stunned look with the Marchwarden. The Lórien Elf appeared to be as amazed by this revelation as was the Horselord.

The Rohirrim stepped forward boldly and went down on one knee before the Lady of the Wood. “My Lady, if I may be heard.”

The Lady turned towards the brash young Captain, and with a raised eyebrow, indicated that he should speak. Without rising from his knees Éomer looked upon the beautiful Elf Witch. “My Lady, if I understood correctly, this Man is the heir of Isildur, and may hold the key to lifting the darkness that rapidly consumes my lands and kills my people. But this same Man may also hold the key in saving the fair Prince of Mirkwood, possibly by risking himself in the process.”

The fair Galadriel nodded her head gracefully as she drifted closer to the mortal. “That is essentially correct, young Human.”

“Then, my Lady, as a representative of Men, who have much to lose or gain by the deeds of this Ranger of the North, I do beseech you to let him try to save the Prince. I would offer myself gladly to perform this service if it would suffice, but I doubt that any but this Ranger will do. For I do perceive it is their bond of love that has kept Legolas alive thus far.”

Aragorn bowed his head solemnly towards the Horselord who had proven himself yet again to be a true friend.

Galadriel stopped her forward movement and stared at the Horselord, her piercing gaze moving past the surface of his mind to see what lay beneath such an astounding plea. What she found there was unexpected and somewhat humbling. As she suspected, the young Rohirrim was enamored of the beautiful Prince of Mirkwood. But beneath this lay something deeper and more surprising. His competitiveness with the Ranger was surpassed by his admiration for the Man. An image of Aragorn existed in the Rohirrim’s mind. The Man was seen as both compassionate and decisive, a leader who would be gladly followed into battle out of loyalty. It was the Man’s capacity for love which made him trustworthy.

Indeed this was the era for Men to rise at long last, if such depth of conviction and integrity was an indication of the mettle of Man. “I see in your thoughts, Éomer son of Éomund, that you would gladly follow one who rules from his heart as well as from his mind.”

The Horselord knew his mind was laid open to this mysterious creature and so he met her eyes with all the pride of his race. “My Lady, I will follow one who knows the importance of loyalty and of love. If the race of Men is to throw off the darkness, we shall have to do it from a place that is truest and best in us. We shall have to stand together and do so from a place of courage that is not afraid to face total annihilation in order to do what is right.” He raised his chin defiantly, and said, “I stand with my brother and beg that you help him now to help the Prince.”

Before the Lady of the Wood could speak to such an impassioned speech, the Marchwarden stepped forward and went down on bended knee, next to the Rohirrim. Galadriel stared at her ancient guard. “Marchwarden, you wish to speak?”

Haldir met her gaze, “My Lady, for many centuries have I served as guardian to the Golden Wood. It is a sign of the times, is it not, that I should now bend my knee, along side my Human brother, to beg for the life of the young Prince? As an Elf, I too have much to lose, yet victory over the coming darkness will be hollow and empty if it comes from the abandonment of one of the fairest of our kind.”

Galadriel gazed at her Marchwarden and then turned to Aragorn, who gaped at her in hopeful expectation. “It will be difficult, and there are no guarantees that you will be successful in bringing him back even if you yourself do not die with him.”

Aragorn nodded his head solemnly, “I understand.”

The winding tunnel was dark, black in fact, like the deepest velvet yet somehow pregnant with sentience. He flew through it on unseen wings and a peacefulness encompassed his spirit and eased his mind. Long had the restlessness eaten at him until he felt to be but a shell of himself. But within this vastness of timeless space the wounds no longer seemed to matter. Perhaps they only belonged to the shell of his body. He knew he was not alone yet the voice of another in this darkness would have startled him. Was he approaching the Gates of his dream? Was there truly such a place or was it all a fabrication, a myth, like the “heaven” of which men spoke to console themselves when death touched them. Legolas did not know. He still knew his name and so was aware of his existence. Was he still alive then, attached to his body still, in some lingering way before the final death knell? If so, he wondered at what those left behind might think. Did they stand around his motionless form trying to bring him back or to help him to be released? He did not sense anything one way or the other. He was alone in this vast charcoal night. Perhaps this was death and nothing else happened.

Time had no meaning in this place. He may have been here for a day or an eternity. He could almost forget the suffering that had tormented his mind since the attack. He almost could forget his body and his life altogether except for the tiny nagging thought that some people would grieve his loss. His father came to mind, but Thranduil was strong. He would go on to care for Mirkwood and survive. Aragorn. The Ranger was another matter. It was more than a loose end. Legolas felt a tremor at the thought of the Man grieving for him. As if the idea fed on itself he could see the Ranger clearly, beautiful in the strength of his presence. Like a shining beacon in the darkness the Dúnadan pulled him forth. Legolas now stood before the light of the Man. Was it a vision called up from his memory of the Ranger or was this truly Aragorn?

As if in answer, the Man reached for him and the powerful light of the Human surrounded him. “I have been searching for you, my Love. Why do you hide in this darkness? Come with me into the Light.”

In an instant faster than thought Legolas stood on a green field of myrtle and sage. The green of the grass and the trees was more vibrant than anything he could remember seeing with his Elf eyes. The waters of the falls gently sloped over flat sunny rocks and fed the shining lake. The breeze picked up his hair and fanned it gently about his shoulders. He held up his hand and studied it in the light. His body glowed and he felt vibrant and whole again.

He looked in wonder at the Man. “The blackness was safe but a place of your own choosing, Mellon Nin.”

“This is your world then?” asked the Elf as he slipped into the Man’s warm embrace. “It is beautiful.”

“Only because you are here with me.”

“Am I really here with you, Aragorn? Is this real or a dream?”

“We are together, my Legolas. I have grown, my heart, to love you more than life itself. Where you go, I shall now follow.” The Man bent to kiss him gently on the lips.

Heat flared within the Elf, and Legolas felt a smoldering passion rise untainted from the well of his soul. Finally unfettered by the shackles of memory his arms rose to embrace the warm body of the Ranger. The kiss deepened and Aragorn’s tongue now invaded the hot sweetness of the Elf’s mouth.

Legolas moaned as the sharp driving need to feel the Man’s hands on his bare flesh consumed him. Aragorn lowered him to the ground and covered the Elf’s smooth body with his own. Hands roamed hotly over tingling flesh, and lips and teeth nipped on tender skin. Aragorn’s mouth tasted the Elf’s throat and traveled to the sensitive point of an ear. His fingers skimmed over the white skin of the collarbone and to rub across the tender nubs. Legolas moaned as a nipple was pinched between thumb and forefinger, while the mouth now kissed him again in fiery passion. Aragorn’s hard cock rubbed over his own erect shaft, dueling in unquenchable desire, slipping and sliding over each other, while the Man’s hands explored every hill and valley of the Elf’s body.

Legolas groaned and thrust up into the Man’s groin as his mouth was taken again. The Ranger’s fingers skimmed into the cleft between the Elf’s cheeks and Legolas moaned into Aragorn’s mouth as a finger dipped into the warm channel. The Man’s knee wedged between his legs forcing them apart, and a shiver of anticipation shook him wildly as Aragorn’s finger pushed deeper inside him. The Man’s warm tongue invaded his mouth as the finger borrowed deeper until it brushed against h sweet spot. A jolt of pleasure electrified him, almost dislodging him from the invading digit. Legolas moaned against the Man’s lips.

“Are you alright?” asked the Man huskily.

“I want you, Aragorn! I want you now!” cried Legolas softly against the wind chapped lips that kissed the corner of his mouth and teeth that nipped at his full bottom lip.

Legolas moaned again as his thighs were parted and his hips raised to fit snuggly on the Man’s lap. His eyes opened to look trustingly into the blue of the Ranger’s smoldering gaze. “I want you, Mellon Nin. I want you to be mine, forever,” said the Man, whose eyes now shimmered suspiciously.

Legolas gasped as he felt the weeping head of the Man’s cock push up against his opening and desire flared to an even higher pitch as the Man tenderly pushed past the ring of guardian muscle. Legolas moaned to feel the hard shaft enter him, and he pushed down to meet the sweet invasion, marveling at the total absence of fear. He pushed down, feeling the hard flesh enter him until Aragorn was completely sheathed. They held each other’s eyes and Legolas felt tears spring to his own blue orbs. He had wanted this for so long. He wanted to feel the Man inside him. He needed Aragorn to possess him and to claim him. To forever wash away the stain of the rape with the strength of the Man’s passion and the mark of the Ranger’s own seed.

Aragorn bent down and kissed him tenderly. “I love you, Legolas. You are my home.”

The tears did spill now from Aragorn’s eyes, and Legolas tasted the salt on the Man’s lips. “Is this a dream? Are we really together?” he asked fearfully. He needed this to be real.

“We are together. I will never leave you.” Aragorn now pulled out slowly, dragging his thick weeping shaft over the sensitive bundle of nerves and the Elf arched beneath him with a cry. Aragorn pushed back in again, slowly, then with out pause pulled out again in maddeningly slow movements.

“Ah!” cried the Elf, “faster …” he panted, “harder…”

Aragorn smiled and pushed in stronger this time, and as he pumped into the Archer, Legolas moaned and spread his legs even wider to allow greater access. He vigorously pumped his hips up to meet the Man’s thrusts, now hungry for the wild rutting of the beasts of the wild. He cried out as the Ranger clamped bruising fingers onto his flanks, holding him steady, controlling him, as he pumped furiously into the Elf’s nether port. “You’re mine,” growled the Ranger, as he lifted the Elf’s legs over his shoulders and angled deeper. “You are mine, now and forever!”

“Yes!” screamed the Elf, giving himself over to the wild possession by the Man. He threw his head back onto the ground as the Ranger took him with abandon. Rapid thrusts seared his spasming channel. Strong fingers wrapped around his shaft, pumping him convulsively. “Come for me, my love,” commanded the Ranger in a thick voice filled with lust. “Come for me, now.” Legolas screamed as the hand pumped him mercilessly and the thick long cock pushed hungrily deeper into him with every thrust. He was completely mastered by the Man’s love. He could fight it no longer and he released himself into this final and ultimate possession. His body convulsed in thrilling release, as the Man wantonly rode him, his own seed squirting violently over his chest and belly. The spasming channel pushed the Man over the edge and with one, two, three more thrusts Aragorn came deep into his lover’s body with a howl of satisfaction.

Their heaving bodies wrapped around each other and as the wild beating of their hearts started to slow, Legolas felt Aragorn shift to lay next to him. Strong hands lifted him and he was pulled to lie on the Man’s chest in his customary place. Legolas sighed, and snuggled deeper into the warm arms. He threw a leg over the Man, and rubbed his cheek contentedly against the hairy chest. Legolas chuckled.

“What is it?” asked the Man, still somewhat breathless.

“I didn’t know you could perspire in heaven,” said the Elf as he flicked his tongue out to lick the salty drops off the Man’s chest.

Aragorn chuckled deeply. But the Elf suddenly sat up and looked at him with wide eyes of alarm.

“Aragorn! Why are you here!”

Aragorn sat up as well, confusion on his handsome face. “I told you, my love. You are my home.” He reached out and stroked the sweet cheek of the Elf tenderly, his thumb brushing lovingly over the full bottom lip, which was now slightly bruised from their vigorous lovemaking. “I will never be parted from you.”

The Elf gasped as a realization of sorts was starting to sink in. “No! This cannot be…What have you done, foolish Man?”

Aragorn’s eyes narrowed in slight irritation. “I told you I would not leave you. Nor would I let you die. I made Galadriel give me the power to bond with you.”

The Elf caught his breath, a hand rising to his mouth in shock. “Bond! But that means…By the Valar! How long have you been here? We can’t stay here…you are needed!”

He grabbed at the Man who was looking at him in mild confusion. “Legolas, all I need is you.” The Man reached for him, pulling the Elf into his arms amorously.

Legolas pried his mouth from the Man’s possessive lips. “Nay, Aragorn, listen to me…we need to get back before we lose the thread to our bodies.” His words were cut off as his mouth was taken again in a warm kiss.

“I love you, Legolas,” whispered the Man, against his lips.

“I love you too, but now we must go,” he pushed the Man off him and rose to his feet. Extending a hand to the increasingly confused human, he pulled Aragorn up and grabbed him by the shoulders. Looking deeply into the love struck eyes of his Ranger, Legolas said, “Now, you said you will never be parted from me, so come. We will go back together. Hold me tight and concentrate on returning…”

Aragorn wrapped his arms tightly around his most prized possession, and pressed his lips against the Elf’s mouth. “If that is what you want, my heart. I will go where ever you desire.”

Legolas kissed him tenderly, “I desire to go back home, back to me… to us.”

.....

Haldir sighed as the impatient Human paced back and forth over the wooden floor of the pavilion. “Well, how long should we wait? How are we to know if it worked?” growled the worried Horselord.

“Are you always so impatient, Human?” asked the Marchwarden in exasperation, as his eyes followed the pacing to and fro movement of the Rohirrim. The Man was a bundle of irrepressible energy. Haldir had a mind to teach this fair-haired Human a lesson in patience.

“Are you always so complacent? Does it not burn within you to know the outcome of what could spell life or death for us all?” retorted the irritable Rohirrim, in a bark of annoyance. Haldir raised an elegant eyebrow at the Horselord. Yes, a new lesson was in order for this young human, prior to his departure from the Golden Wood. He almost got the chance to say so when Galadriel entered the waiting area.

They both stood up and waited expectantly for her to speak. “They are both now sleeping soundly.” She sighed and nearly collapsed on a wide wooden bench. Haldir and Éomer were both at her side, one holding each delicate white hand, as they lowered her to sit. She smiled at the energy that thrummed through her towards each other as she brushed their helping hands with her fingers.

“It was very close,” she said. “In fact I was quite sure I had lost them both to death. But then, the Prince reached out to me with his mind, and together they slowly made their way back to themselves.” She sighed, still dazed by the powerful experience of touching death so starkly and then being swept into the brilliancy of love and strength of will that brought them back to life. Her eyes turned towards the alcove where the Man slept peacefully, with his Elf tucked securely into his arms, the golden head of the sleeping Prince nested snuggly on his sweaty chest. She smiled. “The Valar only know what miraculous fruit will come forth from the seed of love that has been planted this day.”

The Man chuckled in his sleep, as his playful Prince kissed the drops of perspiration off his skin and cuddled against him. A deep healing sleep took them both to a beautiful green meadow where their souls danced and made love fearlessly to one another, and spoke of a future that was yet unwritten but secure. The bonded pair slept soundly in each others arms, while the trees sang of a love destined to become more legendary even than that of Tinúviel and Lúthien.. The Elf’s hand rested lightly on his belly as a glowing ember of new life implanted itself deep within him. His mate’s hand came to rest over his own. Beneath their laced fingers, the future King of a United Middle Earth basked in the warmth of his undying parent’s love.

The End, or a New Beginning….

 

 

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T he I llicit E lixir A ward *~~~~~*
Journey To Rohan

Journey To Rohan
by Peaceangel.2004

With gratitude to:
Tularia – most patient Beta on earth
Akasha Elfwitch –for the wonderful artwork
Pairing: FPS: Aragorn/Legolas
Rating: NC-17 for explicit sex and violence (sparingly)
Warning: Non-consensual sex, angst
Summary: How does Strider help a proud Elf recover from a life-threatening trauma?
Feedback: Greatly desired! (on site or email author at: earthdanser AT verizon.net)
Disclaimer: These characters do not belong to me and this is non-profit story telling.
Story takes place prior to LOTR, when darkness begins its descent…

Chapter One – Elven Superiority

Strider whistled expertly, imitating the chirp of a small white and brown sparrow that he and Legolas used as their signal to call each other. There was no response and his brows furrowed in concern. He glanced up at the reddening sky. Soon it would get dark and the Elf had gone ahead to scout for a cave where they might rest for the night. Strider thought he found a suitable location but there was no sign that the Elf had ever been here.

He sent out the shrill call again. Nothing. The man quickened his pace but also began to look carefully at the ground and surrounding trees, bringing all his tracking skills into full swing. He had descended a small hill about a quarter of a mile ago and had noticed signs of a camp that looked to have been used maybe one day ago. Whoever they were, they did not take great care to hide evidence of their having been there.

It was a three days journey to Rohan by foot. It would not be unlikely that they would run into men so close to the land of the horse lords. But these lands were not well patrolled by Theodin’s guards, as the darkness was starting to spread to the places of men, leaving the area wide open for mercenaries to move undetected. Strider stopped and examined the ground. Fresh footprints. Not orcs, anyway. The criss-cross pattern looked more like man made sheepskin boots. If the Elf had passed through here there was no sign of it, although that did not mean Legolas had not been here. He examined the surrounding area, glancing occasionally into the trees. It looked like a party of about four or five men had traversed through the foliage, leaving clear evidence of their passage. He followed the trail; feeling more and more disquieted but didn’t know why. The markings suggested a sudden burst of increased speed and less organization. They had started to run, the Ranger surmised, either from something or toward something. Strider paused and sent out his birdcall again, more urgently. If the Elf were any where within a few miles of him, he would surely hear it and respond. Again, there was nothing.

The men’s tracks took him through the underbrush of some dense trees and before he could wonder why they would have taken such an unlikely route, he spied the glint of something yellow peeking out from under some heavy vines. He quickly ran to the object, his stomach feeling like an unwholesome weight had settled within it. It was an elven arrow. Its shaft was broken. Clutching it tightly in his fist, Strider closed his eyes for a moment, before plunging through the underbrush and into a wider clearing. At first he saw nothing. He moved stealthy, noiselessly and listened to the sounds of the forest around him. If anyone was around, they were not moving or even breathing. He continued to scout, his senses now hyper alert to any signs that might lead him to his companion.

More tracks took him around a bend of clumped bushes and then his eyes fell on the pale skin of a bare arm. He leaped forward with a yell of alarm.

The Archer was lying on his stomach, nude and unmoving.

“Legolas!” screamed the man in anguish. He gently turned the body of his friend over, cradling the head and shoulders in his arms, frantically he checked to make sure that the Elf was indeed still breathing. Strider gasped at the dark yellow and black bruises on the archer’s face. There was a bleeding gash on the back of the Elf’s head that looked to have been from the hilt of a sword. The lips were swollen and bleeding. His hands were still bound at the wrists. Dark bruises covered the alabaster skin down the arms and chest.

Strider cursed viciously under his breath, mentally promising to personally slice the throats of the orc scum that dared to harm this noble being. He untied the hands and tenderly pulled the rope from the bleeding wrists, noticing the rough fibers of the rope that remained imbedded in the raw flesh. They would have to be washed out. Strider checked for injuries to the neck and spine that might preclude moving the Elf too much. Finding none he checked for evidence of broken bones. Thankfully he did not find anything but did have a concern about a very dark black bruise that covered the entire left side and extended to the back. He felt the ribs for any breaks. It was possible the Elf had cracked ribs and he feared internal injuries to the kidney and liver. Elven healing ability should eventually take care of all that as long as Strider kept the Elf from going into shock. Turning the Archer onto his side gently, Strider ran his hand down the toned back, noting several bruises on the shoulders and sides. Gulping down his mounting anxiety, he moved to examine the dark bruising around the Elf’s buttocks. Fingers shaking, he parted the cheeks gently and found what he was dreading. Dried blood on the inside of the thighs. A curse spat past his lips.

Strider closed his eyes, with head lowered and swore an oath to all he held dear. He would hunt the bastards down and kill them without mercy. He would torture them until they begged for death. He’d pull their filthy polluted hearts from their chests and feed it to them before they died….

Enough. Taking a deep shaky breath, he forced himself to get moving. Few Elves survived a rape. Legolas’s life was hanging by a thread and it was up to him to keep this beautiful being on this side of the veil.

Near the tiny cave, he had found some two miles back, there was a wide slow moving stream. He’d head for that location. It was almost dark. The trail of the maggot scum lead in the opposite direction. Toward Rohan. He had been intending to go to Rohan anyway. Now he had a more personal reason to go to the land of the horse lords. But later for such dark thoughts.

Strider lifted the motionless body of the Elf into his arms, draping his cloak about the still figure, and started back the way he had come. Going in a different way than through the rough thick foliage, he found more evidence of the men and their sport. Strider gently lowered the Elf to the soft ground and went over to retrieve the archer’s quiver that had been emptied and bow, still in one piece, lying discarded on the ground amidst the scattered arrows. He also found something else of keen interest. Near the archer’s ripped tunic lay a small sharp object. A dart. He picked it up carefully and smelled the tip. A faint odor lingered. Carefully wrapping the item in a thick leaf he put it in a safe place. That explained a lot. The Elf was subdued by a poisonous dart. The evidence around him however told the story of the Archer’s resistance. Blood, which did not come from the Elf covered one of his long knives and there was blood on the ground. There was a scrap of ripped black fabric near the knife. He took that as well.

Strider realized he wasn’t breathing and forced himself to take long steadying breaths. Don’t think, he told himself, just keep moving. He unclenched his fists and gathered up the Elf’s belongings, eyes sweeping the scene of the crime, taking in every detail. He paused to examine the footprints one last time, committing the criss-cross pattern of the prints to memory. He adjusted the bow and the restocked quiver around his own back, having packed the ripped and soiled clothing into his bundle, and bent to pick up the unconscious Elf. Legolas groaned at the movement.

Strider held him carefully. “It is all right, Mellon. You are safe now. I am here.”

But the Elf was still unconscious. Strider picked up the light body and began his trek over the darkening terrain, cradling his precious cargo against his chest. He went directly to the stream and after removing his pack, and his own clothing, walked directly into the cold water with the body of the Elf. The heat that came off the archer’s skin burned against his bare chest alarmingly. He tried not to think. He tried not to consider that his sweet companion might not live through the night. He lowered them both into the rushing water of the stream. The coolness was refreshing and served to calm his own mounting panic. He wanted to wash the wounds out and clean the blood off the archer. The coolness of the water would help with the fever as well. Gently lowering the slim body into the water, Strider kneeled and began to rub the body with a soft cloth from his pack and a generous amount of fragrant elven soap. He had teased the Elf mercilessly about the soap when they left Rivendell. The memory brought a sting of tears to his eyes.

“You will be well again, my friend. I promise you,” he told the unconscious Elf, stroking the archer’s cheek with the soft cloth. “I will take care of you, Mellon Nin.”

He gently cleansed the bleeding wrists, carefully wiping the sticky fibers out of the raw flesh, and washed the stains of blood and dirt from the Elf’s face. He scrubbed the hair as best he could, knowing the archer would want to do that over later, and carefully washed the chest, torso, legs and privates. He wanted the Elf’s body to be free from all residue of the assault. Legolas moaned several times and came awake blearily for a few moments before drifting off again. The Elf’s pupils were pinpricks and Strider recognized the lingering effects of the drug. He spoke reassuringly to the Elf as he ministered to his needs. There was no recognition in the Elf’s face.

When the bath was done he lifted the Archer from the water and wrapped him into two cloaks. Holding the Archer up against his shoulder, with one arm under him like a small child, he moved the Elf and their belongings to the cave and settled the Elf on some soft moss while he set about making camp. He decided to risk a fire. The Elf needed warmth. And he’d need the fire to prepare some healing tea and some salve for the gashes in the Elf’s flesh.

When Legolas opened his eyes he did not know where he was. Bleary shapes met his vision. For some reason his eyes would not focus. He felt oddly numb, as if he was floating a few feet above himself, and he wasn’t bothered much about the strangeness of the situation. He could hear some movement and a flickering light told him there must be a campfire near by. He could hear the quiet motions of someone stirring a pot and the smell of some of those foul herbal teas drifted to his nostrils. He made a face at the smell, but smiled slightly. Strider was at it again. Playing healer. He hoped that foul smelling stuff wasn’t going to be presented to him.

Sure enough, the smell grew stronger as the man placed the warm cup on the ground near the Elf. A blurry shape filled his vision, blocking out the mottled light of the fire. He tried to focus but all he could get was the wavy outline of Aragorn’ s unruly dark hair, and the black outline of his shoulders. His face was in shadows but the Elf could make out the soft blue of his eyes.

“Mellon. Are you awake? How do you feel, my friend?”

Why did the Man sound so upset? He could hear it in the Ranger’s voice. It was thick, like tears were lodged in the man’s throat. A solicitous hand touched his face, stroked his cheek and fingers ran through his hair, which he realized was wet. The touch brought him back into his body a little bit more. He realized he did not feel very good.

“Aragorn?” He tried to ask what had happened but his throat was raw, and his jaw hurt. He must have been injured but he did not remember a battle. He tried to speak again but the man was lifting him carefully to sit. That hurt as well. In fact, his hazy mind could not find a spot on his body that did not ache.

“Shhhh, Legolas. Don’t try to speak yet. You were hurt Mellon Nin.”

Really? That much he had figured out on his own. Oh, but his body did ache considerably, and in some strange places. What in Middle Earth had happened to him? A small tendril of alarm was beginning to penetrate the fog of his mind. He was trying to reach for some memory that might explain. Before he could try to ask any questions, a warm cup was pressed to his lips and the foul stench assailed his nostrils. Oh, by the Valar, it stunk. He tried to protest but the resolute healer poured the warm liquid down his throat. What a lovely caring soul was his Aragorn. Although, at the moment, Legolas would have liked dearly to tell the healer just what he could do with his ‘medicine’.

Legolas was forced to either swallow the pungent brew or drown in it. The healer, knowing his patient tended to be less than cooperative about such required operations, found it necessary to resort to unorthodox tactics on occasion.

When the cup was drained, and Legolas could breathe again, he sputtered a curse on the heads of all humans and their stubborn notions of helpfulness. Aragorn laughed heartily, relief washing through his tense body leaving him feeling suddenly exhausted.

He collapsed next to the Elf and rested a hand on Legolas’s chest. The Elf was still wrapped in the two cloaks and Aragorn pulled the covering up to the archer’s chin. “How do you feel, Mellon?”

“Like a Balrog had me for dinner, then spat me out again,” said the Archer in a grumpy raspy voice. The warmth of the stinky brew was filling him pleasantly, however, and his aches were already diminishing. Well, maybe the Human did know a thing or two after all. He smirked to himself. His eyes were sliding shut again. Aragorn’s hand drifted up to the pale cheek and touched it tenderly. The Archer opened his eyes again but the lids were drooping, clearly he was fighting sleep.

“What happened, Aragorn?” he asked quietly.

The Man swallowed. “I…I am not sure, Meleth. Do you not remember anything…?” The Archer’s eyes were closing and he did not catch the hopeful tone in the Man’s question.

“No…I don’t remember …was it a battle?”

Aragorn shifted to pull the Archer into his arms, laying the blond head against his chest. The Archer’s brows drew together in a question at the strange gesture. He could not remember the Ranger doing such a thing before. But he was really too tired for more speech, and the Man’s arms and chest were far more comfortable than the cold hard ground.

“We will talk about it tomorrow,” stated the Man. “Sleep now.”

Legolas nodded sleepily against the warm chest and wrapped his own arm around the Man’s middle to anchor himself more comfortably in the warm nest of Aragorn’s embrace. Humans and their funny ways. He decided he would not discourage the Healer too much, as long as he kept his potions away from the Elf.

Legolas found he had slept long into the next day. When he awoke at last the sun was already clear across the sky. He frowned. Why had Aragorn not awaken him? He forgot about his decision not to discourage the Healer, when Aragorn approached him.

“Why did you not wake me? We have lost much time.” He sounded very grumpy and his head hurt. What was wrong with him? His body felt strangely numb and heavy.

Aragorn sat down next to him, with a cool cloth and began to wipe his face with it. Legolas gasped at the sudden cold on his face. The Healer probed at a bump on the back of the Elf’s head and frowned.

“You have had a fever, my friend. And you are suffering the effects of a concussion. We are not going anywhere today. Nor tomorrow either.”

Legolas felt his temper rise unaccountably at this statement and the uncalled for ministrations. “That’s ridiculous!” he snapped. “I am an Elf. I don’t need to rest and be coddled like …like…” He stopped suddenly and shut his mouth. The Man simply stared at him. This was so unlike him. Aragorn was only trying to help.

The Archer looked down at the ground, clearly embarrassed by his out burst.

A gentle hand lifted the curtain of gold hair that had fallen to obscure his face. His chin was coaxed up by a finger so that his face would lift to look at the Man. “What is it, Mellon?”

Aragorn’s strong hand held his face and concern shone in the man’s eyes. The steel gaze was almost hypnotic and the Elf’s eyes fluttered toward the ground again, a rosy hue creeping to his cheeks.

“Legolas?” the Man asked again, a concerned but firm request for the Elf to say something.

“I am sorry, Aragorn. I know you know what is best. I …don’t know what is the matter with me.”

The Man sat next to him and rested his arms on his raised knees. His shoulder touched the Elf’s.

“You were hurt and you have had a slight fever. That is reason enough to be a little off balance. Don’t let it trouble you.” He gave the Elf a little reassuring nudge with his shoulder. Legolas smiled shyly in return. Then his stomach rumbled in a most unelf like manner. Aragorn laughed. And Legolas’s blush deepened.

“Well, I’d say that is a good sign. An appetite is always a sign of returning health.” The Man moved to the hearth and began to ladle out some broth. He added some raw vegetables and a piece of lembas to the wooden makeshift tray and brought it over to the Elf. Legolas felt shy to be treated so by the Man and mumbled a ‘thank you,’ as he accepted the flat piece of wood with its contents. He ate slowly, taking small bites. He had been hungry yet eating seemed like a chore.

The sun was journeying across the sky towards the horizon and a fluff of red clouds drifted lazily across the blue expanse. Legolas raised his eyes to the beauty of the sky, the way light penetrated through the trees …

The crash of the tray, with its clattering contents, made Aragorn’s head snap up. He turned to look at the archer who was standing up looking at the setting sun with a frozen look upon his face.

The Archer was standing unmoving, as if cast in marble. Aragorn stood as well. After a quiet moment he slowly approached the Elf. “Legolas?” he asked in a low voice. “Legolas, what is it? Is something out there?” The man turned to scan the surrounding forest with his eyes and ears. He could perceive no threat. But what was the Elf staring at? The azure eyes had a far away expression.

When the Archer failed to respond a third time the Ranger cautiously placed a hand on the Elf’s shoulder. It was the last thing he remembered before sailing through the air and crashing into a tree. He had only blacked out for a moment. When he came to, he shook his head to clear the stars that danced before his eyes and searched for the Elf. Legolas had collapsed to the ground. Aragorn jumped up and ran to the Archer’s side but did not put his hands on him. The Elf was huddled on his knees, and holding his head. He was rocking gently back and forth. Aragorn could here him chattering in Sindarin.

Distressed by this sudden hysteria, Aragorn leaned forward and said in as calm a voice as he could muster, “Legolas, my friend, I am here with you. Will you let me help you? Its alright, now.”

Legolas moaned. “Aragorn? What is wrong with me? Something is wrong…but I don’t know what it is…”

The Man chanced to touch the distressed Elf and gently placed an arm around his shaking shoulders. “I am here for you, Mellon Nin. What ever is wrong, I promise you, we will take care of it together.”

The Elf stopped his rocking and looked up at the Man. His eyes were large and shining. Aragorn felt himself staring at the blue orbs, so impossibly bright. He felt his heart thump madly in his chest.

“Do you promise?” asked the Elf in a small voice.

“Of course,” smiled the Man. It softened his normally somber features and the Elf smiled in return, embarrassment coloring his cheeks again. Before Aragorn saw it coming the Archer moved into his arms and hid his face against the Ranger’s rough tunic. Aragorn looked down at the golden bundle in his arms, surprised by this uncharacteristic expression of vulnerability. Aragorn’s hand came up to stroke the golden head that leaned into his chest. The Elf’s body was still trembling. He wrapped his arms around the shining being, torn between concern for the Elf and a sharp awareness of his own physical reactions to the sudden intimacy. He mentally chided himself. This was no time to become distracted. Then again, the Prince’s beauty was always a distraction. He glanced down at the white face pressed against him and let his fingers drift to caress the smooth cheek. Legolas closed his eyes and relaxed into the trusted embrace of the Ranger. Leave it to Strider to make things right.

Aragorn cursed silently again at the monstrous beings who could inflict such injury against one of the First Born. It was things like this that made him detest his own heritage. Looking into the now tranquil face, he feared what might happen if the Elf recovered his memories of the assault. He had thought it a blessing from the Valar that the Elf could not remember what had happened to him. Elves often gave up their spirit willingly to the Halls of Mandos after a rape. Aragorn knew this well and until the Elf had regained consciousness he had felt frozen in a state of terror. Once Legolas had awakened, Aragorn put off the thought of what to do when Legolas would start to ask questions. Now it seemed the Elf’s mind was trying to grapple with an awareness that was not fully coming to consciousness. Not yet. Maybe it never would. He could only hope.

Aragorn sighed. He needed Elrond for something of this magnitude. He just didn’t know what to do. His instincts told him to not disclose anything unless the Elf himself seemed on the verge of remembering.

Legolas finally stirred in his arms and pulled back, looking calmer if not completely settled. “Thank you, Strider.” He said by way of regaining some of his dignity. Aragorn knew the proud Prince was not accustomed to feeling dependant on anyone. The Ranger nodded and moved to clean up the tray, giving the Elf some space. The sun had finally set and the temperature was dropping quickly.

Legolas eyed the trees wistfully, feeling a desire to go into their branches, but some mysterious fluttering in his stomach made him choose to abandon the idea in favor of staying on the ground. He settled himself back on his bedroll near the fire and was unaccountably relieved when the man came and laid down right next to him. He turned and tried to find a comfortable position but seemed unable to relax his tense body. Aragorn must have sensed his discomfort, and ever the healer, reached over without a word and pulled the Prince into his arms again. Legolas stiffened, feeling awkward and embarrassed to be seen as needing this kind of human attention. “Aragorn, its not necessary that you do this…” But his body was already finding the perfect hollow against the Ranger’s warm body. “Be quiet, Legolas, and go to sleep,” the Man mumbled. The Ranger’s breathing was already growing heavy and soon was lost to sleep.

“Aragorn?” The Elf got no response. He shrugged and snuggled deeper into the inviting warmth and followed the Man into a healing sleep. Aragorn opened his eyes a crack and looked at the dozing Elf. He felt fear clench his insides. What would become of the Elf? He would do anything he had to to bring Legolas back from this nightmare. But a dreadful feeling lurked about his heart that things would get worse before getting better.

Chapter Two -

When Legolas woke the next morning he was still tightly wrapped in Aragorn’s arms. He had moved in his sleep to cast a possessive arm and a leg over the Ranger’s body, firmly securing the Man, who had become his pillow for the night, in just the right place. He opened his eyes, finding himself uncomfortably close to the Man’s face. The Ranger was looking at him with obvious amusement. The Man’s hand was absently stroking a lock of his hair.

The Elf’s cheeks colored a bright red and he hastily untangled himself from the Man with a mumbled apology. Aragorn laughed gently and tousled the Elf’s hair as he moved to get up. Legolas threw him a mock glare. “I am not a dog to pat on the head so, Human.”

Aragorn laughed again and said something like, “I’ll remember that, next time I find you licking my ear, Elf!” before he disappeared into the woods to relieve himself. The Elf’s blush deepened and he swore that come evening they’d be sleeping on opposite sides of the fire.

The Elf had begun the preparations for a simple breakfast by the time the Man returned. His dark hair was wet and his body was still dripping from his early morning dip in the cold stream. Legolas looked at him curiously. The Human didn’t generally like bathing in very cold water. It was a bit of a joke that Legolas had to bribe him to bathe at all.

“That smells good,” commented the Man. “I am hungry.”

The Elf moved gingerly, his body still sore, and ladled out some of the porridge made from lembas, herbed water, and berries, a combination the man enjoyed. For himself he took only a small piece of Lembas and a handful of berries. The Man observed his slow, careful movements, judging most of the discomfort came from the injury to the ribs and left side. The Elf seemed to not be sitting comfortably either. After the simple meal, the Ranger approached the Elf.

“Why don’t you lie down, Mellon, and try to sleep.”

Legolas glared at him in annoyance. Why was the Man hovering over him like this? Seeing the look on the Elf’s face the Ranger moved to the water on the hearth and busied himself with some new concoction.

The Elf paid him little attention as his mind drifted to other things. He and the Ranger had been traveling together for many months now, although their friendship spanned several years. They had fought side by side many times. He recalled the first such time, having impressed the Ranger with his elven fighting skills. In truth they were almost equally matched, although the Man preferred the sword. They had discovered early on that they made a good fighting team. Yet he could never understand the Man’s tendency toward being a mother hen towards him. He supposed it was the healer in him. Elrond could be the same way, according to the twins. But Elrond was also their father. His thoughts turned back to Strider. It puzzled him that the Man should so easily forget about elven superiority. In another day or so his injuries should be completely healed yet the man behaved as though the Elf had contracted a terminal illness.

The thought made him take a closer look at the Man. Aragorn had dark circles under his eyes and his face was especially drawn of late. Legolas cursed himself for having failed to notice the signs of exhaustion in the human. He hadn’t even asked if Aragorn himself was hurt at all. Legolas climbed slowly to his feet and walked silently over to the man who was stirring something over the fire.

Aragorn looked up in surprise to find the archer kneeling on the ground next to him. “Legolas, what is it? Are you in much pain? Can I give you something?”

The morning sun reflected brightly in the Elf’s honey wheat hair and his blues eyes looked wide in the thin pale face. Since the night Aragorn bathed the Elf, his hair had not been properly braided, and it now cascaded well past his shoulders creating a perfect golden frame for the lovely face. Like all men, Aragorn tended to be mesmerized by elven beauty but few were fortunate enough to behold the Prince of Mirkwood. Like the Evenstar, the Prince was said to be one of the fairest of the Eldar to presently walk Middle Earth. Aragorn counted himself as very fortunate indeed to be one of the very few who knew that the Prince’s compassionate and humorous nature made him as beautiful on the inside as he was on the outside. Legolas allowed only a very few to get close to him. It was the result of being relentlessly pursued his whole life, Aragorn realized.

The object of his adoration now placed a delicate pale hand on the Man’s shoulder. “Aragorn, please forgive me, my friend. I did not even ask you if you were hurt. You seem not yourself.”

Aragorn swallowed past the lump in his throat. He mutely shook his head, and realizing that the Elf was looking at him curiously he cleared his throat and said, reassuringly, “Nay, my friend. I am well, just tired.” Legolas seemed not to be fully convinced. The Man placed a hand on the Elf’s, which still rested on Aragorn’s shoulder. Caressing the soft skin with his thumb, the Ranger looked deeply into the sapphire pools thinking how easily one could lose themselves in such beauty. “Thank you, Mellon, for thinking of me. But it is I who should be asking you these questions.”

Legolas smiled at the warmth, which came into the Man’s pale blue eyes. He found the Man’s moods infectious at times. It pleased him to see the Man smile. Seeking to reassure his friend, he put a little more energy into his voice than he really felt. “I am well, Aragorn. In a day or so all my scrapes will be healed. There is little need for your concern.”

The Man took in the forced reply and magnified a smile in return so not to cheat the Elf from his desire to make the Man happy. He ladled some of his concoction into a bowel and offered it to the Elf wordlessly. Legolas’s forced bravado turned into a grimace as he accepted the bowel. He sniffed at the broth suspiciously, wrinkling his pert nose.

Aragorn watched all this and could not help but chuckle at his friend’s antics. The elven Prince could be surprisingly childish on occasion. The Elf quirked an elegant eyebrow at the Ranger. “What is it?” he asked.

“Something to help the healing process,” the Man replied, which the Elf noticed was no reply at all. He wanted to refuse the brew, but the man gave him his best pleading look. Damn. He knew Legolas could not say no to a pout of such magnitude. With a dramatic sigh and a roll of his gorgeous eyes heaven ward, the Elf pinched his nose and swallowed the contents down to the dregs.

With a sour turn of his sweet mouth to let the Man know what he thought of the taste, the Elf handed back the empty bowel. “See what I do for you,” he teased the Man.

The Ranger accepted the bowel and smirked, “You honor me, my fair Prince.” He followed this with a mock of a courtly bow.

The Elf gave him an eloquent “Hmmmph,” and tossed his head proudly, hair glinting in the sun, as he stood to return to his bedroll. The ground suddenly heaved beneath his feet and the world did a summersault. He would have sunk to the ground had the man not caught him. He wrapped both arms reflexively around the man’s waist as Aragorn steadied him. When the world slowed its spin he glared up at the man.

“WHAT” he emphasized in annoyance, “did you give me, human?”

Aragorn had the wisdom not to smirk at the angry, and increasingly, sleepy Prince. “I told you. Something to help the healing process.”

The Elf moaned slightly as the world began it’s gentle swaying motion again. It was not entirely unpleasant but he could feel his legs were becoming wobbly. “But what is in it…?” he tried again.

The Man sighed. Aragorn named some of the herbs he had used in the tea.

“You tricked me!” Violet eyes flashed in indignation.

Aragorn gently scooped the protesting Prince up into his arms and carried him to his bedroll, while the Man’s ears were assaulted by a gentle spattering of elvish oaths. He settled the Archer carefully on the sleeping pallet and tenderly arranged a cloak over his body to keep out the chill. The Elf was not yet asleep but the eyes where drooping fast. The Elf watched as the man smoothed the covers over him and stroked his hair away from his face. Without warning Legolas felt the sting of tears in his eyes. He could not truly recall a time, before meeting the Human, when someone treated him with such tenderness and caring. His mother had died when he was a young Elfling. As a Prince, he had always been afforded much attention befitting a member of the royal household, yet there was nothing personal in it, as most were intimidated by him and kept their distance. His father loved him, of course, but Thranduil was not given to sentimentality. For some reason this Human’s tender nonsense affected him deeply, especially now.

“Yes,” the Man said softly, in response to the Elf’s former accusation, still touching the covering, smoothing and re-smoothing it. “I tricked you. But not really. You do need to sleep in order to heal. The herbs will relax you and help your body to use its energy for healing.” The Man looked down at his hands for a moment and said softly, “ I hope you aren’t too angry with me.”

Legolas fought off the pleasant lethargy that beckoned him to sleep, just long enough to take hold of the Man’s hand. He held it warmly in both of his own and smiled at his friend. “I am not angry, meleth,” he said and then, more shyly, not looking at the man, he asked “Will you stay with me?”

Aragorn nodded, not trusting himself to speak, and laid himself down next to the Elf. To his surprise the Archer lifted himself slightly and drew the Man’s arm around his shoulders. He then settled back down and nested his head comfortably on the Ranger’s chest. Aragorn found that he was only too happy to comply and pulled the lithe body close against him, drawing the covers over them both. He draped his other arm around the Elf’s slim waist and rested his cheek against the golden head.

Aragorn sank into the comfortable feeling of holding the slim warm body in his arms. The Archer seemed to weigh next to nothing and the Ranger found it very enjoyable to feel that body pressed against his. He had chastised himself soundly all of the previous night for the scandalous thoughts that he had been having for the Prince. By morning the thoughts had chased themselves around his head so many times that he had finally given in to at least accepting them. After all, the Prince of Mirkwood was one of the fairest creatures in Middle Earth. Who wouldn’t be driven to lustful thoughts with such a creature pressed against them all night long. Unfortunately, his new found self acceptance did not preclude him having to rush off, first thing in the morning, for a dip in a very cold stream to rid himself of the evidence of his desire.

Aragorn absently stroked the silky mane letting his fingers bury themselves in the tangled hair. He did not notice when sleep finally came. He was awakend by a sharp jab to his knee delivered by the hard point of a boot.

Aragorn was instantly on his feet, hand going to his sword. The horse lord held up his hand to allay the Ranger’s fears. Several feet away were two others on horse back.

“Who are you? By your looks I would guess a Ranger, speak!” demanded the fair haired man.

“I am called Strider. I am traveling with a message from the Istari for your King Theoden.”

The horse lord cast an appraising eye at the blond hair sprawled in all directions from under the covers and a flawless marble face, with eyes closed, that shone in the mid day sun. He cocked an eye brow at the Ranger.

“You do not seem to be in too much of a hurry,” said the Horselord sarcastically. “We do not allow slavery in Rohan. You should have left your concubine at home.”

Aragorn bristled at the brass insult and at the man’s admiring stare at the sleeping form.

He moved to block the man’s view of the sleeping Elf and challenged the man with a glare of his own. “My companion is an Elf. A warrior of the Green Wood. He is seriously injured.’

Aragorn’s glare swept to include those two on the horses. “He was ambushed by a group of men. Do you know of any one who has been about these lands who would do such a thing to one of the First Born?”

The Horselord bristled at the accusatory tone. “We are guards in service to the King and swore an oath to protect the innocent,” he replied sternly.

“I apologize,” said Aragorn, “if my tone gave offense, Horse Lord. Theoden King’s laws are well known as is the reputation of the Rohirrim. I am deeply grieved for my friend and I will seek out those who hurt him.” His tone left no room for doubt that the guilty party would have no mercy.

Aragorn gestured to the Elf, “My friend cannot be moved yet. But my message from the Istari is not an urgent one. Please inform your King to look for our arrival within a fortnight.”

The leader of the Rohirrim bowed his head and handed him the reins of his own horse. “This is Hasuf,” he said. “You may return him to me when you arrive at our citadel. He will bring you safely.”

Aragorn looked at the blond man in amazement. He inclined his head in a formal bow. “You honor me, my Lord. And whom should I ask for when I return him?”

The man took off his helmet to reveal a rather handsome face with intense eyes. “My name is Éomer. I am nephew to the King. There is no need to thank me, Ranger. It grieves me that your fair companion suffered at the hands of the lawless who now cross our borders. If I find them, I will hold them for you to exact payment or if you like, I will kill them myself.”

Aragorn bowed his thanks again. “No,” he said with a tilt of his chin. “ I want them.”

The horse lord inclined his head in parting and swung up to ride with one of his companions. They disappeared through the sparse trees towards the plains of Rohan. Aragorn walked the horse to a near by tree and tethered him there. When he returned to the Elf he was greeted by two appraising blue eyes.

The Man swallowed nervously. How much did the Elf hear? Or had he just awoke?

He sat down without a word next to the reclining Elf. Legolas looked at him but his expression was unreadable.

“We have a horse,” stated the Elf. His melodic tone betrayed nothing. The man nodded.

“Yes,” he said. “We were paid a visit by some Rohirrim. They will inform Theoden to expect us in a fortnight”

The Elf nodded, his bright eyes were unreadable.

“Are you hungry?” asked the man, his pale blue eyes asking a different question altogether.

The Elf seemed not to hear. His azure bright eyes searched the sky.

So he had been attacked. By a group of men? The Elf felt bewildered. Why could he not remember any of it, then? An uncomfortable malaise seemed to be settling over his heart. The Man was silently watching him and this increased his discomfort. He suddenly wanted to be alone, unobserved. Turning away from Aragorn he closed his eyes, seeking privacy behind the façade of sleep. He let his mind drift, but the question continued to haunt him. Why could he not remember? What had happened? How could he have been so careless? His body felt thick, and heavy, like a dead thing. The more he searched his brain for an image, a face, the source of an ache, the heavier and thicker he became. He did not like the numbness that was slowly overtaking him. Or perhaps he did, he wasn’t sure. But somewhere, underneath the odd lack of feeling, a dark dread was settling into his soul.

Aragorn, lost in his own thoughts, started when the Elf’s sharp blue eyes snapped open suddenly. Legolas sat up gingerly and began to get to his feet. The Man was instantly at his elbow.

“What are you doing?” he asked.

The Elf bit back the annoyance he felt from entering his tone. “I need to go bathe.” He started to walk in the direction of the bubbling stream, his elven hearing guiding his steps.

“I’ll come with you, you shouldn’t be alone.”

The Elf stopped and turned to face the Man. He stared at his friend suspiciously, trying to read what was hidden behind the Ranger’s worry. Why shouldn’t he go alone? Aragorn seemed nervous. “Why?” demanded the Elf.

Aragorn swallowed before answering. “You aren’t that steady on your feet. I want to make sure you will be alright.”

The Elf glared at him. Heat flared within him, chasing the numbness away, replacing it with anger. He wasn’t that bad. Did the man think him incapable, now?

“Aragorn, I am going to bathe, and I am going alone.”

Before the man could protest, he softened his tone, and added, “I’ll be alright.”

Aragorn watched him go with worried eyes.

Finally alone, the Elf breathed a deep sigh of relief. He found the clean little stream and sat down by its banks, feeling leaden all of a sudden. The stream bubbled around him cheerfully, sunlight sparkling off its rapidly moving surface. A pair of sparrows dipped playfully around each other, splashing into the surface then careening into the bright blue sky. The wood Elf sat impassively watching the frolicking birds. A small furry woodland creature waddled up to the Elf and ambled peacefully around his feet. Legolas felt a small smile drag itself out of the depths of his despair for the little being.

“You honor me with your visit, little brother,” he said to the muskrat. It chatted at him amiably before ambling its way down the bank of the stream.

The heavy cloak of uncaring draped itself over the Elf again. He sat for some time staring at nothing. His mind seemed to be in a fog. Some tiny part of him at last suggested it might be a good idea to get into the water. Slowly he stood and removed the clothing from his body, realizing distantly it was his spare set of leggings and tunic he was wearing. Aragorn must have changed him into the clothes after bathing him the other night or perhaps the following morning while he slept.

Yes, he could remember the Ranger holding him in the stream. But the memory came only in flashes. He stepped numbly into the cool water and stood for awhile, watching it pool around his thighs. The cold water pulled him a little more out of his numbness and he could feel the rocky bottom with his feet. A sharp stone jabbed the bottom of his foot. He absentmindedly scraped his foot harder against the protrusion. The slight pain brought with it a small measure of alertness. Perhaps if he went deeper the coldness would help to lift the fog that relentlessly wanted to settle over his mind and body. He dropped to his knees in the rushing water and let it pool up to his waist.

He began to shiver. That was odd. The cold didn’t usually have that effect on him. But at least his body was feeling again. The Elf dunked his head into the cold water and flung his hair back in an arc, sending a spray of water into the air. He felt very cold now and his shivering increased. As if coming out of a dream, he looked down at his body. By the Valar, no wonder he hurt so. His was covered in bruises. His eyes traveled to the black marks on his arms, and he fingered the red angry lines around his wrists. His stomach lurched as he dipped his finger into the gouged skin. Slightly light headed, now, he craned his neck to examine the very large and painful bruise on his left side. This injury he was well aware of. He could feel it extend to his back. It was quite tender to touch as his fingers probed it gently. But how had it happened? He strained to remember something, but his mind was a blank.

Next, his hands traveled to the bruises on his legs, tracing the vaguely familiar pattern of black and blue marks that covered them. He sat up, kneeling in the water to follow the black mottling of bruises around his legs and to the inside of his thighs. Despite the coldness of the water, he felt oddly removed from himself, as his hands traced the sensations to his privates and around to his buttocks. He must be very bruised there for the flesh was painful to the touch. His fingers moved further, dipping into the crease of his cheeks, exploring the sensations associated to these odd injuries. One finger followed the painful trail, experimentally, to the pucker of abused flesh.

His hand froze and in a fog of indifference, he pulled it away. The leaden feeling had returned and he could do little else but sit back on his feet, letting the water rise to his waist and rumble around him noisily. It thundered in his ears, the stream no longer seeming so friendly, and he remotely wondered what would happen if he laid down in the water and let it take him away. He did not know how long he had sat like that. It may have been a long time for the sun was already beginning its descent. The man’s anxious voice penetrated his fog as if from a great distance. His body, he realized, felt stiff and frozen.

Aragorn waded into the stream and carefully moved to stand in front of the Elf. “Legolas?”

The Ranger had become increasingly worried when the Elf did not return from the bath and he finally gave in to the impulse to follow him to the stream. Legolas was sitting in the rumbling stream up to his waist staring off into the trees. The setting sun highlighted his golden hair and white skin, creating a delicate, ethereal quality about the slim, pale beauty. But there was something very disturbing about his stillness. He seemed lost, in his own world. The Man had cried out his name several times and finally, in a state of extreme alarm, Aragorn waded out into the stream fully clothed. He knelt down in the water in front of the beautiful Elf.

“Legolas? What are you doing, Mellon?” the man asked tenderly. He was becoming worried about the Elf’s trance like states.

Legolas started as if Aragorn had appeared before him out of thin air. “Aragorn,” his voice was small, distant. “I forgot…”

Aragorn asked carefully, “What did you forget?”

“To come back…” The Elf looked lost, his blue eyes impossibly large. They had a vacant expression that the Man did not like one bit.

Aragorn took the Elf gently by the shoulders and urged him to stand up with him in the water.

“Come, Legolas, I think its time we went back to camp.” When the Archer did not move Aragorn carefully picked the unmoving being up into has arms, his profound worry for the Elf overshadowing the erotic feelings typically produced by the sight and feel of the Elf’s naked body. Scooping up the Archer’s discarded clothing, Aragorn hurried back to the camp site. He placed the quiet Elf on his bedroll and quickly covered the chilled body with the two cloaks.

Sitting on the ground next to the Archer, Aragorn vigorously rubbed the shoulders and arms with a cloth to dry him. Legolas seemed to finally stir out of his strange hypnotic state and looked at the anxious Human. “Aragorn, why can I not remember what happened to me?” the voice was soft, and the Archer, feeling self conscious, looked at the ground when he spoke.

“I don’t know,” said the Man, “perhaps you will remember in time. Or…or maybe remembering is not necessary for your healing…” Legolas did not miss the Man’s averted gaze. The Man was hiding something. But why? He had always been able to trust Aragorn. He had never before felt as though the Man was keeping secrets. No. He would not start becoming suspicious of Aragorn. If the Man was keeping something from him then the cause must be that there was something wrong with the Elf himself.

Perhaps the man felt he could no longer trust him. ‘After all, how often does an Elf let himself get ambushed by men?’ he thought bitterly. And to be honest, Legolas wasn’t exactly bouncing back from what ever happened to him. His body was not healing as rapidly as it should be. And then there was the matter of his little lapses. The Man had not said anything about the Elf’s strange fugue like states but Legolas could tell Aragorn was worried. It was no wonder the Man hovered over him so. Strider probably felt he had to watch the Elf’s every move, now.

“Legolas?” The Man was looking at him with that frown, the one that caused a severe crease to form between the Man’s brows, when he was extremely upset. Had he drifted off again?

The Elf forced his face to reflect some emotion. ”I am alright, Aragorn. I think I must still be a little tired. I am sure by tomorrow I’ll be able to travel.” The Elf tried to offer a reassuring smile but his voice sounded hollow, even to his own ears.

The Man took in the slightly vacant eyes and the wooden smile so atypical of the joyful Prince. Clearly, things were not improving for his friend. The physical injuries were healing slowly, but the Man was becoming increasingly concerned for the Elf’s emotional well being.

“It is alright, my friend,” the Man tried to sound reassuring. “ We are in no great hurry. Now that we have a horse it won’t take that long to get to Rohan. I think we can take another day or two to let you recuperate.” Aragorn had placed a firm hand on the Elf’s shoulder. The Man’s rough hand was warm against the Elf’s bare skin and Legolas’s mind registered his nakedness. Blushing suddenly, he pulled the cloak tighter around him, eyes dropping to the grass. Yet there was something very reassuring about the man’s touch. A calmness radiated through him. His mind seemed clearer and his body became less tense. Legolas tried to hide his disappointment when the Man finally removed the hand.

“Here,” Aragorn said, handing the Elf his clothes.

The Elf accepted the bundle and watched the Man move to take care of the horse, giving Legolas some privacy to dress himself. The sapphire eyes watched as the man approached Hasuf. The Ranger stroked the horse’s mane, speaking to the animal in elvish as he brushed the lustrous coat with a rough collection of stiff dried grasses tied together to form a brush. As Legolas watched Aragorn’s gentle handling of the animal he felt a blush creep into his cheeks. For some reason, watching the Ranger’s tender care of the beast summoned an unexpected assortment of feelings in him. A pleasant warmth spread through his body, as if he remembered a memory, or perhaps his wayward mind just imagined a memory, of the Man touching him with such tenderness. The Man’s hands were rougher than elven hands, but there was a reassuring strength in them. They made him feel safe and secure. He closed his eyes and recalled how those hands felt on his skin, stroking him, holding him, igniting a fire within him….

Legolas’s eyes popped open at the startling images that were rapidly followed by a feeling of shame. What was happening to him? Since when did the thought of the Man create feelings of *that* nature in him. Legolas looked quickly in Aragorn’s direction, embarrassed to be caught thinking unfair thoughts about his friend. As far as he knew humans preferred the opposite gender for mates. Aragorn would most likely be disgusted and possibly even feel betrayed by the Elf for harboring such thoughts. Legolas sank to the ground, shaken, and put his head in his hands. That blow to his head must have been more severe than he had been willing, at first, to admit. It was the only explanation. He also reflected that he was becoming too dependent on the man. The idea of an Elf craving physical closeness with a human to feel safe was preposterous. Legolas looked up at the Man again. Aragorn was talking softly to the horse who whinnied in approval, apparently enjoying the strong strokes of the brush against the length of his flank. Legolas smiled, despite his distress.

Aragorn was a most worthy Man, to be sure. He was noble, strong, focused, loyal, and an excellent leader. And of course, the man was a compassionate healer. But even Aragorn would grow tired of playing nursemaid to an Elf eventually. The idea that the Ranger might tire of him jolted the Elf. It was high time Legolas pulled himself together, he decided. He was a warrior of Mirkwood and he should start to act like one. What ever happened out in the woods, he resolved to place firmly behind him.

With that promise to himself in mind, the archer moved to his belongings to find his weapons. If felt like centuries had passed since he had held his bow in his hands. The feel of the smooth wood brought an immediate comfort to his distraught mind. He sat on the ground with his quiver of arrows and began to sort through them. The familiar activity soothed him as his fingers deftly went to work mending the broken shafts and feathers.

The sight of the archer tending his arrows would have brought a measure of comfort to the man as well, had the discerning eyes not observed the fine tremor in the Elf’s fingers. Aragorn sat down on his heels next to the busy Elf, with a gentle smile. His eyes studied the tense face partially hidden behind the silver curtain of hair.

“You seem to be feeling better, Mellon.” It was not a question exactly but the man’s eyes flicked over him with unerring powers of observation. Those steel blue eyes seemed to penetrate into his very soul.

The Elf felt his cheeks color, partly from the odd feeling that he was getting lately whenever the man looked at him or sat close to him. But another part of him felt angry at the intense perusal. What was Aragorn looking at? Could the man see into the Elf’s thoughts and the humiliating direction they had taken? Was the man looking for evidence that something was wrong with him? The arrow shaft he had been working on snapped, suddenly, in his tight grip, startling both the Ranger and the Elf. As if looking on from some great distance, the Elf helplessly watched himself jump to his feet in a rage. He was swept up in a tide over which he had no control, a boiling anger erupting from deep within him. He moved so quickly the Ranger was knocked backward onto the ground. Before the man could react, the Elf had stormed off into the woods, and disappeared into the trees.

Bewildered, it took some moments for the man to recover from his shock. Strider jumped to his feet and ran in the direction the Elf had taken, eyes frantically scanning the branches above him. The Elf was nowhere in sight. Amazed that the injured Elf could vanish so quickly, Aragorn cursed himself for his lack of attention to the direction of the archer’s moods. But, then again, the Elf was becoming increasingly unpredictable. The man was running through the woods, now, pausing only to call out the Elf’s name. He knew the Elf could hear him, as long as he was not lost in another trance.

“Legolas!”

Aragorn called the archer’s name with increasing alarm. His normally serene and kindhearted Elf would never let the man worry so. Part of him wanted to trust that the archer would return to the camp as soon as he had cooled off, but the man feared what dangers could befall the Elf while he was in this irrational state. “Legolas!” the man called again, with a touch of panic in his voice, “Legolas, please come back!”

Several yards away and about 15 feet up in a tree, the archer sat with his head cradled in his arms. The fear in the man’s voice penetrated the turmoil of emotions within him. What was he doing? Why had he run off like that, leaving the man to worry about him? Aragorn did not deserve such treatment. Angry with himself, he was also becoming slightly alarmed about his own state of mind. Never in his long life had the archer not been in command of his own actions. He tried to calm the rapid beating of his heart. Something was definitely wrong with him. The man’s voice came again through the trees and the Elf latched onto it as an anchoring point to reality, calming his rising panic.

“Here,” he cried out softly, feeling immensely relieved when the Ranger found him almost at once.

The Ranger leaned on his arm against the tree, breathing heavily from his frantic run through the forest. Looking up at the Elf, the Ranger’s discerning gray eyes picked up immediately on the other’s relief at being found as well as the Elf’s inner turmoil. Aragorn breathlessly gestured for the Elf to come down. To his relief the Elf responded to the silent command and slowly climbed down to the ground to stand before the man. The archer was red faced and would not lift his face from his study of his feet to meet the man’s eyes.

Still slightly winded, the man gently pulled the Elf into an embrace. Legolas should not have been surprised, but he was. He had expected to be questioned but instead the man merely held him tightly against the reassuring warmth of his body. Feeling both guilty for his inexplicable anger, and grateful for the man’s silent understanding, he leaned against the hard chest, bringing his arms up around the man’s waist, and pressed his head to the man’s shoulder. They stood like that for a long time, each relishing the relief that washed through them. Finally the man pulled back. “Come, my unpredictable Prince, lets go back to camp.” The man kept an arm draped over the Elf’s shoulders, unwilling to relinquish his hold on the moody archer, and led the way back to their campsite. The Elf did not say anything as they walked, but Aragorn suspected the Prince was greatly perplexed by his own behavior, and more likely than not, embarrassed. Although disturbed by the Elf’s inexplicable behavior he sensed questioning Legolas would only add to his friend’s distress.

The man guided the Elf to his bedroll, and went to the hearth to prepare a soothing tea. The blue eyes of the Elf followed him. Legolas watched the familiar movements: the man’s careful unpacking of his various dried herbs, the consideration process for selecting the right blend for his purposes, the way he hunched over the pot, stirring the brew with measured attention to when additional ingredients were added. Legolas found the familiar actions of the ritual soothing. A burst of fondness for his human lightened his heart and he leaned back on his arms with a sigh.

When the brew was complete and the man approached him, steaming cup extended, the Elf took it without protest. Aragorn sat down next to him and draped his arm around the Elf’s shoulders without speaking a word. Legolas found himself leaning gratefully into the man’s frame, feeling more and more like himself. Well, no that was not true. The ‘Prince of Mirkwood’ he knew would never have accepted such intimate attention from the man so openly. No, he was not himself, but he felt better. Resting in the circle of Aragorn’s arm, he sipped the tea, which was starting to taste good to him. He was changed. He didn’t know why but right now, he wasn’t going to fight it. The man was not complaining and Legolas, it appeared, had no choice but to allow the human to take care of him.

When the cup was drained, Legolas, set it down and snuggled deeper into the man’s arms. He let his head fall to the man’s shoulder and let his eye’s drift shut. The wind was picking up and his hair was lifting to fly gently about his face. Aragorn pulled a cloak around them both tightly against the evening chill and gathered the Elf’s hair, tucking it in under the blanket. Aragorn stretched them both down near the fire with the cave wall behind them. It was not deep enough to be a true cave but hopefully would offer some shelter if it rained.

Exhaustion took them both into a sound sleep. When it began to rain, Aragorn pulled the Elf closer to him and covered them as best he could with the blankets from his pack. Legolas did not wake but the Elf moaned in his sleep and his hands clutched at the man’s tunic when thunder clapped loudly over their heads. Aragorn stroked the Elf’s face, which was a mere inch from his own. The storm was becoming violent and the sleeping Elf twisted to bury his face in the man’s neck. Aragorn could feel the Prince’s hot breath against his skin as lips brushed his throat. Aragorn gasped at the sizzle of desire that coursed through his veins. His erection suddenly pushed against the fabric of his trousers uncomfortably. Life was so unfair, the man thought dismally, as he tried to push himself away from the tantalizing body that pressed against him. The last thing the traumatized Elf needed was another lustful human pawing at him.

The sleeping Prince, it seemed had other ideas. Even as Aragorn tried to twist his lower half away from the Elf, Legolas unconsciously snuggled closer, bringing the length of the slim golden body flush, up against the man, throwing a leg sinuously over one of Aragorn’s. The Ranger groaned at the feel of the muscular tight body in his arms, the lips and face brushing the skin of his neck. He turned his head toward the Elf, prepared to lightly wake the beautiful archer in order to move him away, but instead his lips brushed up against the Elf’s soft mouth. The lips were like flower petals, sweet and yielding. The moist breath filled his mouth and the man’s tongue slipped rebelliously passed his lips to taste the heady nectar of the Elf’s kiss. Aragorn froze in unbelievable torment at the impossible situation. His tongue breached the yielding barrier and in his sleep the Elf moaned, opening to draw the Man in. In that moment, the Elf’s blue eyes fluttered open. Looking into the man’s gray eyes, the Elf recoiled, horrified by what he perceived he had done to the human.

The Man sat up, equally horrified to see tears suddenly well up in the archer’s eyes. “Legolas…” he began, feeling overwhelmingly guilty. The Elf scrambled up against the rock wall behind him, a hand pressed to his mouth, his blue eyes large as saucers in the pale drawn face. Before Aragorn could utter another word the Elf stammered incomprehensibly, “I’m …I’m sorry, Aragorn…” and was gone into the night. Aragorn darted after him but the Man was blinded by the torrential down pour. Rain and wind pelted against him, slowing him as surely as if he ran head long into a herd of oliphants. “Legolas!” he screamed but the howling wind drowned out his voice even to his own ears.

The Man ran blindly, sliding in the mud, tree branches scraping his flesh as the wind whipped around him.

“Legolas!” the Man’s scream followed him on the gusting wind but the Elf ran through the woods in a mindless panic. His dash through their camp was not deterred as his reached unerringly into his pack to wrap his fingers around the bright hilt of his long knife. There was no thought behind the deed except the sudden surge to finish the job the men had started. He should never have lived through the assault. He knew that now as clearly as he knew deep in his bones that they meant to kill him. It was Strider who had delayed his journey to the Halls of Mandos. Now the man’s silences and averted looks made sense to him. Aragorn could not protect him any longer from the memories that flooded him. He had been raped. It was like poison in his flesh. It lived in his blood and oozed out of his pores. The Elf had become as vile as his assailants. What had he done? Even now the feel of the Ranger’s mouth against his lips sent waves of desire through his tainted flesh. The memory of the Ranger’s arms and mouth overlapped and became confused with the sordid images of the men who attacked him. The bruising grip of unfriendly hands holding him down, the rough mouths that sucked on him and called him names, the things he was forced to do… The Elf clutched at his head, as he ran through the sheets of rain that came down on him. Aragorn!

His heart lurched at the betrayal he had committed against his human companion. The voices of the men who raped him rang in his ears. Elf Whore. They were right. Stuck up little piece of ass. Who did he think he was? Elvish superiority? A Prince? He was nothing but a pretty face and a tight ass for riding. They showed him that. They rode him like an animal. They had broken him, in body, but also in mind and in spirit. Elf Whore. The clapping thunder above reverberated through his body as blow after blow of the men’s fists resurfaced in a torrent within his raging mind. He fought them, at first. He fought viciously but a great lassitude overtook him. The potent poison rendered him submissive but the Elf had lost awareness of such details. The words of the men, foul and more damaging even than their deeds, rang in his ears. Nothing but a pretty face and a pretty ass. It’s what the world thought of him. He’d suspected it before but they showed him. He had pleasured them, the five taking turns with him like rutting beasts. He was nothing but a thing, an animal, a whore for their insatiable lust. They showed him when they took him, two and three at a time. Tears ran down his cheeks, mingling with the rain that plastered his golden hair to his face. The heavens opened up and his grief poured out of him as violently as the storm that raged around him. He should have died. He fell to his knees, knife blindly slashing and stabbing at the muddy thatched ground. Aragorn! He needed the Man. But he was lost in the dark cataclysm of his own nightmare. There could be no rescue this time. He wanted no rescue.

The Elf stopped, knife blade buried into the earth, clutching onto its hilt, he violently emptied his stomach until only dry heaves remained, the horrific memories pouring through him without mercy. He should have died. Now he had tainted the one good thing left in his life, his friendship with the Ranger. Aragorn would probably forgive him. It was in the nature of the human to be giving, faultlessly so. But Legolas could not forgive himself. He could not come back from such a horror, not without the man. And he could not expose Aragorn to more of the madness. It was time to put an end to it. Lightening flashed overhead and thunder exploded with a force that made the forest floor shake. The ground had turned to thick mud and clung to him as if the earth itself clutched with angry fingers, trying to drag him down, trying to drown him. Yanking the dagger loose from the ground, he lurched blindly to his feet and began to run again.

The Elf slipped and tumbled down a sloping muddy trail to land at the banks of the overflowing stream. The storm raged relentlessly, whipping his hair and his clothes about his slender frame, and the stream had become a raging river. He crawled, muddied and bleeding, along its edge, digging his torn fingers into the rough stones. The long elven blade shone brightly in the flashes of lightening, still clenched in his hand. The river’s black waters called to him, promising an ominous peace. He sobbed, as he lay on his stomach by the raging bank, but the sounds of his grief disappeared in the howl of the wind. The trees around him almost bent in half as the wind whipped furiously at their branches. The pelting rain threatened to drown the earth in its fury. It was as if the Valar themselves wept at the sight of the dishonored Elf. He looked into the darkness of the river without really seeing. He’d throw himself in. But not before making sure survival was impossible. The long silver blade of his knife gleamed as he lifted it to his eyes. It was the blade he had used to stab one of his rapists. That was when they kicked him brutally in his ribs and back, their heavy boots dragging across his pale naked flesh.

He looked at the cold metal of the blade like a long lost companion and tested its sharpness out on the flesh of his forearm. The stinging pain felt good. His bright red blood sank into the earth and anger boiled within him. This time the elven knife would do its work flawlessly. He sent a prayer that Mandos would open its doors to him and if not, at least, that the Ranger would be free of his burden of caring for the sick Elf and be able to move on, finding happiness in his life. Aragorn deserved that. The thought of the man made him hesitate. Aragorn would grieve, but this was for the best. The man didn’t need to be subjected any further to the Elf’s sickness. Legolas would die eventually, any way. Better to release the man now, than cause him more harm. The archer did wish there could be some way to leave the man a message. He did not like the thought that the man would probably blame himself. But seeing as there was no way to do such a thing, Legolas decided the most compassionate thing to do was to simply free the man. He turned his attention to the blade that shone brightly in the reflected light from the lightening. He would bleed himself dry and the river would wash the vileness away. And Aragorn would be set free.

The Elf raised the flashing blade to his throat; his eyes closed against the pelting rain, and took a deep breath. The blade pierced his skin and then went careening through the air, lightening glinting off the spinning shaft, before it disappeared into the black water. The Elf had landed into the shallow end of the rushing stream, Aragorn fell heavily on top of him.

Without much thought about what he was doing, the Elf began to struggle against the man. Their struggles took them deeper into the raging torrent of the river and Aragorn screamed into the Elf’s face, “Stop! Or we will both drown!”

The words penetrated the Elf’s mind enough for him to slow his struggles, so not to drag the man down with him, but he still tried to pull away from the man’s grip. “Let me go, Aragorn!” the Elf screamed above the howl of the wind, “I should be dead! You know its true!”

The man growled his frustration and recognizing they were drifting dangerously into deeper waters, he heaved his fist into the temple of the struggling Elf. The surprising move caught the archer off guard and the blow effectively knocked the Elf into oblivion. Aragorn clutched the limp body against him and slowly dragged their way back toward the muddy bank. The raging black waters beat at him, pulling at the unconscious body in his grasp.

Both Human and Elf slipped under the murky surface as the world exploded above them. Lightening and thunder crashed around him as Aragorn’s head broke through the surface, coughing and sputtering, the Elf still in tow. He turned the Elf’s face to the air. Strider screamed his defiance at the universe that seemed bent on tormenting them. Nothing was taking his Elf away from him. Nothing! The water threatened to dislodge the floating body of the unconscious Archer from his frozen arms several times, but the Man’s grip was unbreakable. Finally able to touch bottom, he scrambled to find purchase to stand, his feet sinking up to the ankles in thick slushiness. Their waterlogged clothes slowed his movements but he eventually hefted the Elf out of the river. He climbed out heavily and leaned against the unmoving body of the Archer to catch his breath.

Legolas coughed and water poured out of his mouth as the Man turned him onto his side. Aragon pounded the Elf in between the shoulder blades until Legolas was breathing again. The Elf moaned, his face pressed to the ground, but remained incoherent. Aragorn took hold of the slim body by the arms and pulled him up. He clutched the Elf to his chest, and tears slid down the man’s face as the rain continued to drench the earth.

“Oh, Legolas,” he whispered into a pointed ear, “what were you trying to do?” Aragorn smoothed the wet hair away from the Elf’s face. The closed eyes fluttered, long lashes brushing the pale cheeks, but they did not open. The man brushed his lips against the fair brow, reverently.

Aragorn slowly climbed to his feet, pulling the Elf up into his arms. He slung the unconscious Prince over his shoulder like a sack of potatoes and began the treacherous climb up the sloping muddy ground. Aragorn’s heart was beating wildly and he sent a prayer of thanks to the Gods for leading his blind steps through the blackness of the storm to the river. The image of his beloved Elf, blade raised to his own throat, was one that Aragorn suspected would haunt him for the rest of his human days. A cold fist was clenched about the man’s heart. That so precious and so exquisite a being, as the Prince of Mirkwood, should choose to leave this life by their own hand, it was a desecration of all that the Valar held dear. As a man, and as a healer, Aragorn rebelled at it violently. He was not going to permit this fine creature to kill himself, not by his own hand and not be simply allowing himself to fade away. Aragorn refused to let it happen.

By the time the first rays of the sun started to lighten the morning sky, the rain had stopped and the wet muddy ground was beginning to dry. Large puddles dominated the camp area and a fire was impossible. The storm had been violent but the earth was washed clean. The Ranger and the Elf were both drenched through and through. When Aragorn had finally made it back to their little camp he had collapsed on the wet ground. The Man leaned up against the cold rock and pulled the Elf onto his lap, the archer’s golden head falling against his shoulder. The man sighed in relief, hugging the golden mud caked body to him in gratitude. He contemplated the miracle of finding the Elf just in the nick of time. The man could not permit himself to think what it would have been like to find the Elf’s dead body. Yet that very image filled his mind leaving him cold and shaking. The cold fist around his heart squeezed tighter. A boiling anger was threatening to overflow inside him. He was angry at himself, at his own weakness, that he gave in to temptation and kissed the archer. His thoughtless self-indulgence had almost killed Legolas. Aragorn would never have forgiven himself if he had been too late to save the Elf. But it was more than that, even. Somewhere along the way, friendship had turned to lust. This he knew. But he never truly comprehended, until now, that lust had become something deeper still. It was love that drove him. Looking down at the sleeping Prince, the Man’s heart lurched in his chest. By the Valar. He touched the Prince’s soft lips with his fingers, in amazement, and a tear escaped his eye. He loved this Elf. Aragorn clutched the body of the archer in his trembling hands, thinking how close it had been. If he had arrived one moment later, he’d have been holding the Elf’s dead body in his arms. Rage boiled within him.

His anger was not only at himself. Oh, to be sure the vile monsters who were the true cause of all this suffering would die, by Aragorn’s hand, even if it took the remainder of his life to hunt them down. He would do it. But, no, that was not all of his anger. He looked down at the pale perfect beauty of the Elf. He stroked the smooth, baby soft skin of the Prince’s cheek with his fingers. He wanted to bend down and kiss the perfect mouth. He wanted to devour those sweet lips. He was enraged, the man knew with sickening clarity, at Legolas. The Elf would have to be made to understand that suicide was not going to be the answer to his suffering. Aragorn was not going to permit it. If he had to sit on the archer, bind him hand and foot, or tether the Elf to the Man for the rest of his life, he would do it to ensure that never again would the Elf even consider such a deed. Actually that last idea had some appeal, thought the Man. Aragorn looked into the pale thin face, and stroked the soft skin, mind racing. Before he knew what he was doing he bent and placed a gentle, chaste kiss on the Elf’s forehead. Mine, he thought, furiously. He pulled the precious body tighter; lips softly pressed against the fair brow, and squeezed his eyes shut against the tears that managed to fall at last down his cheeks. When he lifted his head he found himself looking into the surprised eyes of the Elf.

Legolas stared up at the Ranger, his mind trying to grasp what had happened. He was in the river, drowning…but strong familiar hands, the ones that now held him tightly, had pulled him out. Aragorn. But he had a knife….The man had stopped him from killing himself. His senses were filled with the essence of the Man, suddenly.

He could hear the man’s heart beat. He could smell the scent of leather and pipe weed in the soaked clothes. He could feel the Man’s breath on his face. The pain in the steel gray eyes, only inches from his own, refused to let him look away. Tears on the man’s face held him transfixed. The man’s hands were on his skin, just as he had imagined before. They were rough hands, but strong, and now they tenderly stroked his cheek.

Legolas found it hard to breath against the tender assault to his senses. Meanwhile, the Man was staring at him, drinking in the vision of the Elf, alive and aware.

“I thought I was dead…” said the Archer, dully.

“You tried to make it so. You almost succeeded,” the Man’s voice was harsh, laced with pain.

The Elf frowned and looked away. “You should not have stopped me.”

Aragorn’s hand firmly took hold of his face and forced the Archer to face him. What Legolas saw in the Ranger’s face made his eyes grow large. It was fury but also something indefinable. “Never.” Said the Man in a tone that would brook no argument. “Never say that again.”

The Elf was speechless for a long moment, but rebellion surfaced from somewhere, and his own anger flared. “What right do you have to keep me here?” he demanded in a strained voice. “You know what happened, don’t you? You’ve known all along…” His voice was a bitter whisper. The man blanched at the words but he held the Archer’s gaze steadfastly.

“Yes. I know. Not all, but I know.”

“Then you know I cannot go on!” The Elf began to struggle in the Man’s grip, trying to release himself. Despair was rising within him again, and the Man’s closeness, his touch, was too uncomfortable. Legolas’s traitorous, tainted flesh yearned for the Man’s breath on his skin, for his touch to arouse him. The feeling of being restrained, however, set off another emotion. It frightened him. He had to get away. He was right to try to end it, before. He was really, and truly, insane. The confusion in his mind proved it. “You should not have interfered!” He shouted at the Man, desperately trying to free himself now.

“You are not thinking, Legolas! This is no answer!” the Man clamped his hands around the slender wrists and trapped the Elf in the circle of his arms. He tried to sound reasonable but his own ire was growing.

“I know I am not thinking!” screamed the Elf in anguish, “I can’t think! I can’t feel! I …I just can’t Aragorn…” the Archer stopped fighting, abruptly, and clutched onto the Man, tears streaming down his cheeks. Aragorn cradled the sobbing being in his arms, and began to rock back and forth, tears coming to his own eyes and rolling down his face as well.

“I can’t Aragorn” the Elf sobbed again. “You just don’t understand…I’m nothing! I’m nothing but what they said…” The Elf’s voice was lost in the sobs that poured out of him, his face buried against the man’s chest.

Aragorn’s brows drew together at that last half uttered sentence. He pulled the Elf back a little and forced the Archer to look at him. “What,” he demanded, “what did they say?”

The Elf tried to avoid the man’s eyes, but the fight in him was spent. “They said…they said…that I was…” The Elf’s voice faded, humiliation making his cheeks burn, and he tried to look away again.

“What, Legolas?” the Man insisted.

“They said…that I was …only a ..a pretty face, and a…a pretty…that I was good for only…”

The anguished Elf could not go on but the Man had gotten the gist of what the Elf was saying. He grabbed the Elf by the shoulders and looked into the bright sapphire eyes. “And you believe them?” he demanded.

“They called me things…a whore…they said I caused it…them to …to..” the Elf’s eyes clearly shone with confusion. Aragorn closed his eyes, privately promising again to hunt them down and mutilate them with his bare hands.

“Legolas, how can you place any stock in the words of vile orc spawn like that? Don’t you see what they were doing by saying vile things like that?” the Ranger said reasonably.

“But look at what I did to you!” cried the Archer.

Aragorn stared at him, not comprehending what the Elf was talking about.

“I …I...betrayed you, Aragorn!” The Elf’s voice was anguished. “In the cave, before..” he added in clarification, deep shame coloring his cheeks.

The Man swallowed. “You mean…when we…”

The Elf nodded, tears swelling in the blue eyes yet again. “I’m sorry Aragorn, I didn’t mean for it to happen…” Sobbing loudly again, the Elf did his best to hide his face from the Man, but Aragorn’s hand on his chin continued to hold him in place.

“Legolas…you didn’t…”

But the Elf shook his head, “Don’t deny it, Aragorn…I know what I did. and you’ve only tried to help me…You’ve always been a friend, and I …I…” Tears poured forth from the Elf’s blue orbs as the Archer continued to blame himself for his perceived infraction.

The Man stared at him for one speechless moment, and then taking a deep breath, leaned forward and kissed the sobbing Elf full on the mouth. He could hear the Elf’s gasp, sobs interrupted, as the Man’s mouth came down on his in a chaste but very tender kiss. The Man’s lips did not leave his for a long, heart stopping moment. The Man wanted there to be no question about who initiated this intimacy and who wanted it. He hoped the Elf would not hate him for it, but right now it was imperative that the Elf understood he did nothing wrong to the Ranger.

When Aragorn finally and carefully pulled back, the Prince stared at him, blue eyes huge against the alabaster skin. The petal soft lips parted to form the only word that came into the Elf’s stunned mind, “Oh….”

---------------------------------------------------------------------------- -------------------------------------------------

Aragorn smiled tightly, holding a delicate hand in both of his own, he averted his gaze from the startled blue eyes and drew tiny circles on the soft skin of the Archer’s hand with his finger. His brows drew together in a pained expression when he spoke again. “I kissed you, Mellon Nin,” he said quietly, “not the other way around.”

Legolas’s mind reeled at this new development. He had never considered this possibility. In truth, he was having trouble believing it. He shook his head slightly, “Aragorn…” he stopped, feeling bewildered. Suddenly self conscious of his prone position, lying in the Man’s lap, Legolas slowly moved out of the Ranger’s arms to sit up.

The Man released him, apprehensively, and studied the Elf’s face with alert eyes.

But the Elf, who for the moment was too stunned to consider running away, merely shifted to sit facing the Man. Aragorn could sense a new trepidation in the Archer’s body as the Elf put a little distance between them. The Ranger winced internally. The Elf’s eyes searched his face, apparently looking for some clue as to what this might mean. Perplexed, Legolas shook his head again, in denial of what had just happened, suspecting, perhaps, that this was some healer’s trick to make him feel better.

Suddenly afraid of the Elf’s continued silence, a different kind of panic began to grow in the pit of the Ranger’s stomach. Aragorn’s words tumbled out of him, in a jumble, “I am sorry, Mellon. Please don’t hate me. I didn’t mean for it to happen, and I promise you it won’t happen again…”

The Archer looked up suddenly at this, his blue eyes wide with both distress and confusion. Aragorn paused in mid sentence, noting the Prince’s mixed reaction with interest.

“Aragorn,” the Elf interrupted, “I …” the Elf’s gaze flitted back to the ground, unwilling to meet the Man’s penetrating stare, “well…what I mean is…I’m not upset…” The blue gaze flitted over the man’s rapt expression and away again, before continuing, “ What I mean is…well, …I just don’t understand, why…”

The Elf looked up at the Man, who was studying him, and repeated, “Why did you?”

The Man looked at the soaked, muddy Elf and took a deep breath. The blue sapphire eyes were bright in the white thin face. They were highlighted by dark smudges of exhaustion. The golden hair was still plastered to the Archer’s face, framing the sculpted cheekbones. Wet leaves were tangled in the untidy mane from their near drowning in the river. The Prince was a mess, worse than he had ever seen him, and Aragorn found a small smile creep unbidden to his lips. He reached out fondly to pluck a long soggy leaf out of the blonde hair, and he shrugged his shoulders as he discarded it. “I love you,” he said simply, amazed by how easily the words rolled out.

There. He had said it. The Prince’s mouth dropped open. Apparently, whatever Legolas had expected the Man to say, this evidently was not it. Aragorn felt somewhat relieved, however, by the admission. Now that he had mentally come to grips with his feelings for the Elf, it felt good to get it out into the open. He did not expect the traumatized Elf to respond in kind. In time, perhaps, the Elf would be able to say the words back to him. Should the Prince of Mirkwood be even so inclined. Aragorn had not given it all much thought. What were the chances that a highly desirable Elf Prince would choose to mate with a mere mortal? But, no matter. His love for the Elf was enough. No, the Man was not expecting anything. Right now, Aragorn had but one simple goal: to get the Elf past the point of wanting to die.

Seeing the Elf’s stunned expression grow into a look of discomfort, the Man said hastily, “You don’t have to say anything, Mellon. I don’t expect anything, other than what we have always had…I hope you can still accept my friendship…” he added, a little fearfully.

Legolas started at this and said, quickly, “Of course, Aragorn, we will always…” The Archer stopped, as if remembering his pact with himself to end his own life.

Aragorn reached forward, wrapping his hands around both of the Elf’s wrists. “Legolas, listen to me.” The Man’s steel eyes bore into those of the Elf. “You are not going to kill yourself. I am not going to let you.”

The steel in the Man’s grip and in his gaze left no room for further argument. Legolas was too exhausted. The Elf sighed and looked at the ground. “Legolas.” The Man was apparently not finished yet, giving the Elf a little shake by the held wrists. Legolas raised his face tiredly to look at the Man. Aragorn had a look the Archer had seen many times. It said there would be no compromise. “Promise me,” said Aragorn.

The dawning frown on the Prince’s face did not bode well. Aragorn drew closer, eyes blazing, and wrapping one powerful hand around both thin wrists, he gripped the Elf’s chin firmly, forcing the Prince to look at him. “Legolas, we both almost drowned out there.” The Man’s voice was measured and firm, “Now. Promise me, Prince, that there will be no further attempts to take your life!”

Despite the Elf’s obvious exhaustion, a flash of anger momentarily alighted the Archer’s drawn features. “Aragorn…” the Elf sounded tired, but the Man could see the beginnings of another battle. Aragorn was determined to put a stop to it before it began.

“If you do not give me your promise, then I’ll do what ever is necessary to keep you safe.” The Man said with a tightening of his grip on the slim wrists. The Elf’s eyes widened in indignation and mild fear. “I would rather not keep you tied up or sedated…” said the Ranger, darkly.

The Elf’s eyes grew wider still. “You would not dare…” He could not believe the Man was serious.

“I would not want to resort to such measures, but if you don’t give me your promise then I may have no choice.” Aragorn’s somber expression told him the Man was deadly serious.

The Elf frowned again, but when he looked up at the Man the fight had finally gone out of him. “Very well. You have my promise. I will not try to kill myself.” The words were dragged out of him it seemed, from some deep painful place. When the Man released his hands the Elf pulled himself away, and moved to the wall of the cave and huddled in on himself, refusing to look at the Human.

The Ranger sighed. Something told him it was going to be another long day.

The horse had long since disappeared and the Man could only hope the poor beast had gone back to its familiar home in Rohan. If not, he’d have to find a way to make amends to Lord Éomer, when he next met the horse lord. Aragorn moved slowly, tiredly as he bent to pick up their scattered belongings. He was sore from the treacherous swim and from struggling with the Elf. The sun was peeking from behind the clouds and the smaller puddles were already drying up. The wood, however, was all still too wet for a fire. Aragorn laid out some faggots that might be dry enough for a fire later that night. He hung their soaked blankets in the branches of a tree, hoping that by nightfall they would be useable.

As the Man moved about the camp, restoring order, he occasionally glanced at the Elf. Legolas had remained resolutely quiet, still huddled in on himself against the back of the cave. The Elf’s eyes would not meet the Man’s but occasionally Aragorn could feel their burning intensity upon him. Well, at least the Elf had given his promise. Aragorn was not bluffing about tying the Elf up. The Man sighed, looking at the Archer, who looked away stubbornly. If the Man had any distant hopes of winning the Elf’s affections some day in the future, they had receded far into the back of his mind. It seemed he’d be fortunate to simply have the Prince not hate him.

When nothing else remained to be done with their camp, Aragorn stood tiredly, and looked down at himself. He was soaked, hot, tired and layered in dried mud. Glancing at the equally disheveled Elf, he walked over to the stubbornly quiet Prince.

“Legolas?” The Elf continued to study the ground. Aragorn frowned. “Why don’t we go get cleaned up?”

The Elf continued to stare at nothing, refusing to look at the Ranger. He was dirty? So what. Aragorn was going to force him to live, and thus die a slow death, instead of the merciful quick one. But the Elf had managed to fail even at that. If he hadn’t been so slow with the knife last night, this would all be over, for both of them. So be it. A dull gray cloud settled over his thoughts. He would just wait for death to claim him. Perhaps this way was better. The Man, at least, would be spared feeling the guilt he would otherwise have suffered. Despite his anger at the Human for forcing him to make that promise, he really did not want Aragorn to suffer because of the Elf’s mistakes.

“Legolas?” the Man had knelt down in front of him. Legolas dragged his eyes up to meet the Man’s. Aragorn looked exhausted and worry for the Elf lurked in the Man’s eyes. Legolas felt the last remnants of his anger toward the Ranger begin to fade. The poor Human did not deserve this.

Aragorn extended a hand to him. Legolas slowly took hold of it and allowed himself to be pulled up from the ground. Aragorn paused to collect a small bundle of spare clothes from his pack, soap and two soft cloths. He sheathed his sword as well, unwilling to go that far unarmed. He held out his hand again, and Legolas took it with only the slightest of hesitation. He mentally shrugged. Its not like he had any dignity left. And if it helped the Human to feel better, by treating the Elf like a child, he would indulge the Ranger. When the inevitable would come, at least the Man would feel he had done everything humanly possible to help the Elf.

He followed the Man wordlessly through the sun-dappled trees. His fingers absently tracing the calluses of the Man’s sword hand. His eyes traveled from the Man’s face to the trees. Amazing how these same woods were so ominous, so unfriendly just a few hours ago. The clouds had become sparse and the sun shone her bright face again, warming the ground. They stepped over dropped branches and broken saplings that had not the strength to withstand last night’s gales. Legolas’s eyes followed the trail he had taken in the night, the places where he had fallen in the mud and darkness, and had cried out his soul’s torment.

Aragorn’s hand tightened on his, transmitting warmth up his shaking arm. It flowed through his body and he took a deep shaky breath. Legolas swallowed the lump in his throat. He clutched onto the Man’s hand as they reached the stream. Tame, once again, the water bubbled in greeting. Legolas stopped suddenly, last night’s travails filling his mind. Aragorn stopped with him.

“Its alright, Mellon.” Aragorn said quietly. He put an arm around the Archer’s shoulders and nudged him forward. They came to the bank, close to the spot where Legolas had sat the night before, blade extended to his throat, only seconds away from death. Legolas looked at the area impassively, wrapped again in his gray cloud of indifference. His life seemed to have turned into one giant mistake. First, he allowed himself to be captured by a group of monstrous humans; he allowed himself to be defiled; then, he failed in the simple task of putting an end to his disgrace in a way befitting a warrior. He shoulders slumped in defeat. There was nothing left for him to lose, it seemed. The sunny shore of the stream, curiously, held no evidence of last night’s torment. Nothing to indicate how close he had come to death. He became aware of the Man’s stillness beside him, and turned questioning eyes to the Ranger.

Aragorn seemed to be lost in a nightmare of his own. The Man was staring at the ground where he had found the Elf the other night. The Man’s grip on Legolas’s hand had become crushing. It pulled Legolas out of his fog and he winced in pain. The Man immediately released his hold on the thin hand with an apology. But Legolas moved into the Man’s arms, and lifted his hands to touch Aragorn’s face. Aragorn looked at him, surprised by the Elf’s sudden attention.

“Aragorn.” The Elf didn’t say anything more. His cool hands traveled to lock behind the Man’s neck. Aragorn could see the regret and the sadness in the blue depths. His arms lifted to encircle the beautiful being and Legolas dropped his head tiredly to the Man’s shoulder. Aragorn held him tightly, almost afraid to breathe for fear of disrupting the fragile moment. His Elf was alive and in his arms. He stroked the matted blonde hair down the Elf ‘s back, sending a silent prayer of thanks to the Gods for getting them through another night. Eventually, Legolas stirred and looking up at the Man, said, “I think you are right. I need a bath.” Then with a small smile, he added, “And so do you.”

Aragorn managed to look insulted as he laughed gently. Relief washed through his bones. He knew things were far from perfect, but the light moment was a gift from the Valar, and he would take it. They both peeled off their stiff muddy clothes and waded into the cool water, each averting their eyes, suddenly shy around each other. The Man handed the soap and a soft cloth to the Elf, while he went about washing their dirty clothes. Legolas’s slow laborious movements drew the Healer’s attention. Legolas had sustained some new injuries during his wild run through the woods. The black bruises stood out starkly against the marble flesh. Aragorn followed the stiff, pained movements as Legolas tried to wash his back. In a carefully neutral voice, the Man asked, “Would you like some help?”

The Elf did not meet his gaze but after a moment, nodded. Aragorn stepped behind the slim body, attempting with all his might to avoid looking too closely at the naked feline beauty before him. It was one thing to tend to the injured Elf, while unconscious, and quite another thing to have the sultry golden body stand alluringly in front of him. The cool water rumbled around their thighs as the Man stepped close to the Elf, placing a hand on his shoulder. Aragorn couldn’t help but look down admiringly at the youthful perfection of the Archer’s whipcord body. The Prince was muscular in a boyish way, yet with a feminine silkiness so typical of the beauty of the elves. The Ranger’s eyes traveled down the sinuous spine to the gentle curve at the small of the Elf’s back, to the swell of the rounded buttocks, and the muscular thighs. Taking a steadying breath he began to gently scrub the pale body, tightening his grip on the Elf’s shoulder, to hold him still and to prevent the Elf from turning around and seeing the Man’s semi erect state.

Legolas closed his eyes against the onslaught of sensations caused by the feel of the Man’s tender ministrations. The cloth rubbed lightly across his shoulders and down his back. It skimmed carefully over his abused flesh. The Man’s naked body behind him radiated an impossible heat. The cloth went lower, cool elven soap slick against his dirty skin, wiping the grime from his flesh. Legolas moaned and felt his knees grow week. The Man’s steadying hand on his shoulder seemed to radiate a burning heat. Legolas could hear the Man’s breathing, behind him, grow rapid. He wondered that the temperature of the water didn’t rise with so much heat coming from the Human. He wanted to lean back into the hardness of the chest, and feel the course human hair skim his back. He desperately fought the impulse.

Legolas’s mind began to spin strangely. What was happening? Aragorn had said he loved him. He had not allowed himself to think on it all this time, since the words had been spoken. But now, with the Man naked behind him, the Man’s strong hands on his body, he felt again the familiar desire coiling in his own belly. Did he desire Aragorn? His swelling organ seemed to suggest something. But was it real or the tainted result of what had happened to him? It was too much, the Elf thought, dizzily. He couldn’t grapple with all these confusing emotions and try to think straight with the Man’s hot hands on him.

As if sensing the Elf’s sudden distress, Aragorn stepped away from him. “There,” the Man said, trying to sound casual without looking directly at the Elf, “you still need to do your hair.” He handed Legolas the soap, after pouring a liberal amount into his own hand for himself. Legolas mumbled something in gratitude and knelt into the water. He went to work on his hair, but found himself sneaking peeks at the Man, when Aragorn had his eyes closed against the soapy water that ran through his hair. The Man’s body was muscular in a bolder way than what was typical of elves. His skin was tanned and hair sparsely covered most of his body. The Ranger’s arms and legs were powerful, attesting to his hard travels. Scars, old and new, covered his chest and arms. Strong arms, thought Legolas, and a wonderful hard chest. What would it be like to run his fingers through the dark hair on the Ranger’s chest?

Legolas felt his body stir uncomfortably as he stared at the Man’s body. Aragorn was not like the Men who had attacked him. There were similarities but Aragorn had a scent about him, a musk underneath the leather and pipe weed, that Legolas associated only with the Ranger. He was glad of that. He would not want to be close to the Ranger and be made to think of those beasts who had abused him. He moved in the water to get closer to the Ranger, while Aragorn still busied himself with his hair. Taking advantage of the opportunity, he looked at the Man, openly, wanting to get closer to him, to feel the Man’s hands on him again, to smell his musk. How odd, he thought, his depression momentarily forgotten. He had never really noticed before how very beautiful the Man was: the way his dark curls fell so unruly to skim his shoulders; the expressive mouth, which could form a stern line of disapproval or bestow the sweetest of kisses; the crinkling lines of humor at the corners of the steel gray eyes; the eyes, Legolas realized, that could penetrate into ones very soul. Just then those very eyes, which the Elf had been contemplating as he drifted closer to the Man, popped open.

Having washed away the soapiness, Aragorn found himself staring at the Archer who was standing directly in front of him with a peculiar expression on his sun bright face. The Man covered his sudden discomfort with a laugh, “What’s the matter, Mellon? Do you not recognize me without the dirt and mud?”

The Elf laughed gently as well, equally startled to find himself caught in his rapt perusal of the Man’s body, a rosy blush creeping to his cheeks. “Here,” the Elf said impulsively, suddenly feeling bold, “let me help with that.” Legolas took the wash cloth from the Man’s motionless hand and moved to stand behind the Human. Aragorn’s eyes widened in shock, as the Elf moved silently behind him and began to gently rub the Man’s back with the soapy cloth. Aragorn swallowed, trying to maintain his rapidly evaporating composure, as the Elf’s cool hand skimmed across the skin of his shoulder and back, while the cloth traveled up to the back of his neck and around his ears. The porcelain fingers traced the outline of a scar across his back.

He could feel the Elf’s cool breath on his shoulder as the Archer leaned closer, his smooth chest not quite touching the Man’s back. Aragorn’s heart rate doubled when he felt the smoothness of the Elf’s cheek press against his shoulder, the Elf’s nose and mouth just barely brushing the skin there. The Elf inhaled deeply and sighed.

The Man swallowed, intense desire lancing through his body. But also he felt a fluttering of concern. This was strange behavior for the Archer. “Legolas…” he said, swallowing again, his mouth suddenly dry. He wanted the Elf, badly, but he could not blunder into a sexual situation when Legolas was still so obviously confused. It was only a few hours ago that the Elf had come close to slicing his own throat, right there, almost on the very spot where they now stood.

“You are beautiful, Aragorn…” whispered the Elf from behind him, his voice sounding far away. “You are the best friend I have ever had…and I have been such trouble to you…” Legolas closed his eyes, despair resurfacing as he thought of the pain he had caused this Man.

Hearing the sadness creep back into the Archer’s voice, Aragorn turned and took the lithe form into his arms, in a comforting embrace. The erotic nature of the Elf’s behavior and the feel of the nude body against his was almost overpowering, but, damn it, he was going to control himself. “You are no trouble to me, Mellon Nin. You know that.” He placed a gentle kiss on the smooth skin of the Elf’s brow. “Come. Lets go back. I could use some food,” he added lightly. He led the Elf out of the water, thinking they had to get some clothes on before things got out of hand. By the Valar, he was only Human after all.

The tender kiss seemed to bring the Elf back from where ever his thoughts had taken him and Legolas smiled, shyly. Maybe he would try, for the Man’s sake, to not be in too much of a hurry for death.

They were down to a pair of pants, and a long white shirt, both of which belonged to Aragorn, as far as clothing went. Aragorn handed the Elf the long shirt and he put on the trousers, as they would be too big to stay on the Elf’s waist. The Elf smiled at their condition when they had finished dressing. His long bare legs were creamy under the white linen shirt that hung to just a few inches above his knees. The Elf’s long golden hair, clean and combed, draped practically down to the Archer’s waist and Aragorn had to try not to stare at the stunning vision, for it summoned too many erotic fantasies. For his part, Legolas was equally challenged with the temptation of the Ranger’s exposed chest. For some inexplicable reason, Legolas found it increasingly difficult to not reach out and touch the Man’s rippling muscles.

Both, Man and Elf, embarrassed and self conscious, walked with eyes down cast back through the woods. They were so preoccupied by the unusual tension rising between them, that they almost missed the sounds of the two mercenaries who were shuffling through the trees until they were almost upon them..

“My, my …look what we have ‘ere, mate. It’s the pretty one!….I told ya’ we shoulda’ brought ‘im with us.” A filthy Swine of a man said to his balding companion, smacking his chops in excitement.

“That bloke, Rosa, said Elven sluts die after ye’ bang em’….but here he is… looking sweeter than ever, too….” The brutish Swine-man staggered forward, with the reek of alcohol coming off him. His tongue protruded through a gap in his yellowed teeth as he leered at the Elf. “I been dreamin’ bout you, pretty…”

Aragorn cursed himself for his inattentiveness when the two fiends materialized, suddenly, from behind a clump of trees. The Ranger drew his sword in a swift, fluid motion with one hand, while grabbing onto the immobilized Elf with his other.

The two fiends already had their weapons drawn and pointed at the Man, ignoring the unarmed Elf. Legolas stood frozen, and Aragorn pulled the Archer behind him protectively. Aragorn could feel a violent tremor run through the Elf’s body, as the Archer pressed against him. The two thugs began to circle slowly in opposite directions around the huddled pair. Aragorn followed them with his eyes, sizing them up, and decided to keep his attention focused primarily on the over confident bald one.

“Looks to me,” said Baldy to his toothless companion, “our pretty has a boyfriend…you gots competition, mate!” He chortled self-indulgently at his joke, moving around the two warriors. How he loved toying with his prey before he stuck ‘em.

“Ay, well,…we’ll make short work of ‘im and take our pretty back to Rosa. Eh?” said the Swine.

“Forget ‘im,” spat the other man, “we’s on our own, lets take the Elf back with us. No point in sharin’ if ye get me…”

The two laughed at their shared joke.

Both men were startled when the Ranger addressed them.

“So,” the Man said casually, “you two know my Elf. Then you’ve saved me the trouble of hunting you down. That makes my life easier. Tell me where the others are and I might kill you quickly.”

The Bald one smirked, with a game look in his eye. Was this dark, hot-shot challenging them?

“You’re outa ya league, Mister. Thinking, maybe, you gonna’ show off in front of that pretty little piece there? Only thing you’ll be showjn is your insides spread out all over the ground ‘ere, after I gut you,” said the Bald man, contemptuously.

“You think so?” said the Ranger in a dead calm voice, eyes glinting in anticipation.

The Bald man smirked at the cocky son of a bitch. He’d met plenty of brave men on his travels who thought they’d best him. They all ended up orc chowder. Yep. Men had a way of underestimating Baldy. Like this guy. Baldy was gonna enjoy killing this Man.

Swine-man, on the other hand, didn’t look so confident, all of a sudden. The steel gray gaze of the Ranger was unnerving. The Man was too calm, and Swiney didn’t like that. He flicked his tongue through the gap in his teeth and fingered something in his coat, nervously, as he held his weapon aloft. The Man’s glare made him cast a nervous look at Baldy. But Baldy was starting to have fun, circling the Man and the Elf, and making cooing noises at the Archer while he pointed his sword at Aragorn. Apparently, he didn’t think the Elf would be an issue in this show down. And it occurred to Aragorn, as well, that dispatching these two might be easier if he could dislodge the frozen Elf from his side long enough to be able to move.

“Legolas,” the Ranger spoke in elvish, “when I make my move, I want you to make for the trees, understand, Mellon?”

He thought he wasn’t going to get a response but the Elf whispered, “I understand.”

“Now!” yelled the Ranger as he lunged for the nearest man. Aragorn threw Legolas away from him towards the woods. He raised his sword at the same time to meet the attack of the Bald man. Their swords collided and as they grappled the other man pulled his hand from his coat, holding a hollowed reed, with a sharp needle pointed out the end. He brought the device to his mouth and aimed for the Ranger, whose back was being purposely maneuvered towards him by his Bald companion.

“Aragorn, look out!” cried the Elf, flinging himself at the fat toothless thug.

The Elf jostled the man’s aim enough to thwart the small missile’s direction. The dart buzzed past the Ranger’s ear and embedded itself in a tree limb just above the Ranger’s shoulder. Baldy cursed, seeing the dart missed its target. Aragorn turned in time to see the Elf knock the big Swine of a man over. Unfortunately his concern for the Archer left Aragorn momentarily unobservant of his opponent. The Bald man pulled a small dagger from his belt, as Aragorn’s sword locked with his, and thrust at the Ranger’s belly with a grunt of satisfaction. The wound was not deep but it gave the Bald man an advantage. He brought his sword hilt crashing down on top of Aragorn’s head, bringing the Ranger down to his knees. With a savage kick to the Ranger’s head, the Bald man toppled Aragorn to the ground. The thug stood over the unconscious Ranger and with a triumphant smirk raised his sword over the prone figure. He jerked forward suddenly, yellow gummed eyes popping almost out of their sockets in surprise. A gurgling sound came from his mouth along with a gush of red. He looked down at his round belly to see the point of a bloodied sword protruding coldly from his guts. In a swish of movement the sword point pulled out of him from behind, leaving pieces of dislodged entrails in its wake. He turned on unfeeling legs to face his killer.

“You!” he stammered, in disbelief. The last sight the rapist beheld was the savage glint of indigo brilliance in the eyes of the beautiful Elf, the last and most fortunate of a long list of hapless victims.

Legolas dropped the sword and ran to the Ranger’s side.

“Aragorn!” he screamed, voice echoing in the suddenly quiet clearing.

He fell to his knees next to the Man and searched frantically for a pulse. “Aragorn!” he pleaded. “Please be alright! Please be alright…” Tears blurred his vision, panicking at the sight of the blood that gushed from the man’s stomach wound. The Human did not respond and it seemed to the Elf that his pulse was abnormally slow. “Aragorn! Please, please don’t die! I can’t go on…Aragorn, I can’t …not with out you!” He was near hysteria and forced himself to breathe, reminding himself that he was a warrior, with some experience in wound care. He could help the Man as long as he remained calm.

Taking another long breath, he forced himself to look at the man critically. The Ranger had suffered a blow to the head, and had a gash on his forehead that was weeping. But the stomach wound was bleeding profusely. He had to stop the bleeding. Legolas ripped the sleeve off the shirt he was wearing to form a ball of cloth and pressed it against the open wound. The Man’s flesh was becoming clammy. “Aragorn, please, please wake up…” he begged, stroking the Man’s face. He could not imagine the Man not waking up.

Had he really thought earlier that he had nothing left to lose? He looked down at the Ranger’s pale face and he felt his heart breaking. No. He thought frantically. Not Aragorn. Please! Please! He begged silently. Please don’t take this Man. The pain of having been raped paled somehow in comparison to this devastating new fear. He could not lose Aragorn. Nothing could be worse than that! How could he have ever dreamed otherwise?

Legolas pressed on the wound frantically, praying it would stop the bleeding. He was speaking to the Man in elvish, offering words of encouragement, imploring, beseeching, words of need, even uttering words of love…anything to bring the Man back to him. He did not notice the dark shadow that fell across him from behind.

A heavy weight came down in his shoulder unexpectedly. Before the Elf’s grieving mind could accurately identify what it could be he was flat on the ground. The huge weight of the loathsome fat man pinned him, threatening to crush him from the sheer bulk of the fiend. The bloated face of the toothless thug filled his vision. “Thought you’d dispatched me, eh? Little whelp…I’ll show you it ain’t so easy to get rid o’ me.”

“No!” screamed Legolas, trying to push the foul smelling Swine-man off of him. But the man was too heavy and Legolas felt the air being crushed out of his body, his vision becoming blurred from lack of oxygen. Then the foul mouth came down on his, the loathsome tongue slathering his face, and some last remnant of strength welled up mysteriously from Valar knew where. He managed to heave the hulking man from him and brought his knee up sharply to the man’s groin.

The fiend howled and Legolas scampered out from under him, making a dive for a discarded sword a short distance away. Before he could reach it, however, a thick hand grabbed at the flowing mane of hair and yanked the Elf backwards, hard onto the ground again. A large fist impacted into Legolas stomach, immobilizing him. Legolas doubled over at the pain, tears squeezing out of his tightly shut eyes. The world did a somersault and Legolas found himself thrown over the big man’s shoulder. He kicked and thrashed savagely, managing to strike the man in the kidney. With a roar the big man dropped the Elf but a thick hand tangled in the blond hair again. His head was slammed into the ground and when he came to from the momentary blackness, he realized he was being dragged by the hair across the ground. Rocks scraped and cut the backs of his bare thighs, and he was flung against a tree. His head hit the trunk, with a thud, and he almost blacked out again.

When his vision began to clear he was dangling like a child’s rag doll, his feet barely touching the ground, up against the tree with the man’s crushing weight thrown against him. Hands roamed over his body and the foul mouth assaulted his, muffling his cries. He thrashed against the assault and the mouth came off him with a sneer.

He was backhanded across the face, roughly, by a large meaty hand. “Be nice, now,” growled the rapist.

The fiend brought a thick arm up against the Archer’s throat and pressed roughly against the Elf’s windpipe. He rubbed his thick body up against the Elf. The large flabby hand slowly making its way down the Archer’s struggling body to stroke the creamy white thigh. Legolas screamed as the fat fingers began to work their way up the smooth skin under the shirt.

“Now, now little Elf, none of that. You’re boyfriend’s dead. No one’s going to help you.”

“No!” Legolas moaned, as the hand traveled slowly further up the leg, pushing the white shirt slowly up to expose the curve of the Elf’s buttocks, sausage fingers stroking the sweet mound. “NO!” screamed the Elf, again, struggling in a panic to free himself.

The lecherous fiend laughed in the Elf’s face and sneered, “I missed you my lovely. I’ve had many…but you were the best… the most fiery... I think you missed me too…”

“Release me!” screamed the Elf, in shrill horror.

“Now, no need to be coy, lovely one…I know the others were a bit rough before, but now its just me, and I know how to treat a pretty trick like you right…” the man’s fat hand was traveling to the Elf’s front, under the white garment, and the Archer screamed again, shutting his eyes in an effort to block out the sensations, as the brute’s fingers closed around him callously. The fondling hand stopped it’s movements abruptly.

“I think I have a thing or two to say before you go any further…”

The Elf’s tightly shut eyes popped open at the sound of the familiar voice. Aragorn was standing behind the fat man with his sword point on the man’s throat. Blood was oozing from the gash on the man’s forehead and he seemed to be swaying a bit on his feet but the sword was held firmly at the man’s jugular.

“Get away from the Elf.” Aragorn commanded, pricking the flab of the man’s two chins with the point of the sword for emphasis.

The fat man backed off the Archer with his hands up in the air. “Look, don’t kill me…I can tell you about the others…right? You wanted to know about Rosa, right? He’s the one who did the Elf bad…” The man went flying to the ground as the Ranger smashed the hilt of the sword into his fleshy back.

The Ranger advanced on the craven, sword extended. “You will tell me everything I want to know or I will hack you to bits…” with that last statement Aragorn swung the sword, severing the fingers of the hand that had dared to touch his Elf. The Swine’s wail echoed through the forest, sending a flock of black birds into a frenzy through the trees. Swiney clutched at the bleeding stump, eyes bulging as the Ranger advanced on him.

Strider circled the groveling man, calmly. A shimmer of madness in the steel eyes pinned the moaning fiend, in terror, to the spot where he had fallen. Blood bathed the fiend’s front where he clutched at his mutilated hand. Swiney moaned loudly as he followed the Ranger’s movements with his frantic eyes.

“Where are your friends?” asked the Ranger, circling the fallen rapist, like a bird of prey.

“All right, just don’t do any more…” he sobbed.

“No more?” asked the Ranger, his gray eyes glinting strangely in the afternoon light. “Did you stop when he asked for mercy?” The Ranger demanded, pointing to the Elf, who was standing frozen to the spot against the tree, eyes fixed on Strider.

“Tell me about this Rosa. What is he doing and where can I find him?” the Ranger demanded coldly, his swinging sword sliced the air in constant motion.

“All right…all right,” sobbed the man on the ground, raising his good hand up in a pleading gesture, then yanking it back as the sword swing again, just missing him. “He deals in slaves, all right?” The Swine man cried, “ He picks ‘em up from around, ya know? He gets by the Rohirrim because he has someone on the inside…right under Theodin’s nose! Sells ‘em in Rohan. I don’t know no more, all right?” The man was crawling backwards, now, looking around like a trapped animal.

“Who?” demanded Aragorn. “Who is his contact in the Palace?”

“I don’t know, honest! Rosa don’t tell us much. Some advisor to the King. That’s all I know, honest. We just get the slaves and move ‘em. Please..don’t kill me. I’m sorry about the Elf, honest….”

At the mention of the Elf, Aragorn growled and hacked at the fallen man, again, this time slicing off part of the man’s ear. The fiend screamed and began to blubber loudly.

“Tell me where is Rosa now, how do I find him?” Strider stepped forward as the whimpering man crawled backward, clutching his head.

“He’s still in Rohan!” the man sobbed. “ But we’s were goin to meet ‘im at the tavern outside the edge of the city, …please, no more!”

“When?” Asked Aragorn, following the man who had pulled himself up against a tree.

“In seven days…please, I am really sorry about the Elf…” the man turned toward Legolas who stiffened. “I’m really sorry…I didn’t mean no harm, ya know…just couldn’t help it ….” He looked at the Man who was slowly advancing on him. “You know…you’re a man…look at him,” he rambled, hysterically, pointing at the Archer, “he’s just ripe for the taking, you’re a man,…you gotta understand…”

“Yes,” said Aragorn in a lethal tone. “I am a Man. Would that I was not. Better to be spawned of a demon than to share heritage with a vile creature such as you.” Aragorn advanced, on the sobbing man like silent death.

“No…” sobbed the Swine-man.

“You are not fit to breathe the same air as that Elf which you desecrated.” The Man hefted the sword with an avenging cry, and severed the foul mouthed head of the rapist from his bloated body.

He stood rock steady, a coldness permeating his senses, in the aftermath of the killing. It was unlike any he had ever committed before. He had killed orcs in his day, even a troll once, but never a man, never like this. Never in cold blood. And never had he enjoyed it until now. He swayed suddenly and dropped the sword from his nerveless hand.

He turned away from the decapitated body and looked dazedly at the Elf, who was still frozen against the trunk of the tree. He swallowed, guiltily. Had he become a monster? What would sweet Legolas see, now, when he looked at the Man? Afraid to meet the shining blue orbs, Aragorn looked dismally at the scene of carnage around them.

“Aragorn.” The Elf was unexpectedly in his arms. Feeling suddenly very weak, his arms came up around the golden being and he hugged the Archer to him gratefully, burying his face in the silvery mane.

“Shhhhh..It is alright now, Mellon nin,” he whispered, feeling the golden body shake violently against him. “These two are dead and will never harm you again. Soon I’ll hunt down the others and send them packing to what ever nightmare realm accepts their miserable souls. I promise you, my heart. They will never hurt you again. ”

The Elf continued to hold him, a fine tremor running through his body. Cool delicate hands came up to stroke Aragorn’s bare shoulders. They ran tremulously through the Man’s hair and touched his face, examining him closely. “I thought I had lost you…” the Elf whispered shakily.

“Nay,” said the Ranger, with a reassuring smile. His hand buried itself in the silky strands of the Elf’s hair. “You will not lose me. I plan to be here for a long time.”

“Aragorn, I was so…” the Elf shook his head, tears rolling down his cheeks, “When I thought I’d lost you..I felt so alone…Promise me, you will never leave me!”

Aragorn brought both hands up to cup the Elf’s face. He felt tears sting his own eyes as he looked into the fearful cornflower blue orbs. “I promise. I will stay by your side, my Prince, for as long as you want me.” He stroked the tracks made by the Elf’s tears with his thumbs tenderly, a small smile upon his lips.

Legolas lifted his shining face to the Man. Aragorn’s eyes widened. And the Elf gingerly brought the silk petals of his lips to brush against Aragorn’s mouth, allowing the Ranger for the first time to taste a hint of their sweet nectar, before pulling away to hide his face shyly in the warmth of the Man’s neck. It was less than a kiss, and at the same time much more. Aragorn’s heart bloomed in the radiant warmth of sudden hope. He held the beautiful Prince to him possessively, his heart pounding wildly in his chest.

After a few moments, Aragorn began to sway slightly, the adrenaline from the fight slowly leaving him, and the shock of the Prince’s show of affection rendering him weak. The Elf pulled back in alarm.

“Aragorn, you’re wounded. Come, sit down.” Legolas guided the man away from the scene of carnage to sit on a near by log. He bent to inspect the wound on the Man’s torso that was still bleeding.

“I’m alright, Mellon nin,” said the Ranger. “It looks worse than it is. Lets get the rest of our cloths and go back to our camp. I have my pack there with every thing we need.”

Together, supporting each other, they limped back to their camp site. To their surprise, they were greeted by the welcoming sight of Hasuf. Aragorn smiled and walked over to the Rohirrim’s horse. He greeted the animal with a firm stroking and the horse whinnied in response. “Your Master has taught you well about duty!” said the Ranger to the horse. Aragorn left the horse untethered, suspecting it was not going to leave without it’s Master’s guests.

Legolas was boiling water over a fire, and handed the man his pack of herbs when Aragorn sat heavily next to him. Under Aragorn’s instruction, the Elf fitted the Man with a healing poultice to his side and bound the wound with strips of cloth. He tended to the Man’s other wounds gingerly, with careful touches, while the Man observed him. The Elf was quiet and the Ranger found himself thinking back to the scene that greeted him when he began to recover consciousness.

The Elf was on the ground underneath his assailant. Aragorn could hear the man’s howl of pain and knew that the Archer had managed to inflict some injury. He had caught a glimpse of gold as the Archer crawled out from under the big man but knew the Elf had not gotten far before being yanked back by the brute. Aragorn pushed back the blackness that had been threatening to over take him. The Archer’s screams were like a bucket of ice water, pulling his hazy mind out of its lethargy.

The filthy Swine-man’s words to the captive Elf had poured into Aragorn like molten lava, incensing him. It took all his strength to climb to his feet, dragging his sword up with him. The vision of the foul brute pawing and groping the fair Prince had burned itself into the Man’s mind, driving him beyond the bounds of madness.

Aragorn shook himself from the memory. Sitting in front of the fire, he looked at the fair Elf who stirred the brewing tea in silence. How could anyone desire to inflict harm on a creature of such loveliness?

The Elf’s face was sporting a new collection of bruises from the man handling he had endured. Aragorn reached into his pack and fashioned a cool wrap of water and healing herbs. When the Elf poured the tea and brought a cup over to the Man, Aragorn set the offered cup down next to him, and gestured for the Elf to sit before him. He leaned close to the silent Elf, whose bright eyes followed his every move, and probed the new bruises. The Elf gasped, but did not protest when Aragorn began to clean his wounds. Aragorn gently swabbed the lovely face free of dirt and dried blood. Legolas hissed in pain as the cool cloth rubbed at his swollen lip and bruised jaw.

“I’m sorry, Mellon,” whispered the Man.

The Elf smiled reassuringly. He was surprisingly compliant, as the Healer inspected his head wound from where the Elf was thrown into the tree. “Let me look at those scrapes, too,” said the Man, indicating the abrasions on the back of the Elf’s thighs. Legolas hesitated momentarily then, stood turning his back to the Man, allowing Aragorn to wash the cuts on his legs. He tried not to shake when the Healer lifted the white shirt partially to clean the gouged skin on the curve of the buttocks. But Aragorn’s touch was clinical as he applied a soothing cream to the abused skin.

The man rose when he was finished, and went to the blankets that he had draped into the tree branches that morning. Legolas watched, perplexed, until the Man walked over to him and draped a sun-warmed blanket over his shoulders. He was led to the sleeping area next to the cave wall and guided silently to lie down.

“Aragorn, you are the one with a knife wound…” the Elf protested, sitting up. Aragorn’s hands gently guided him back to the ground, and taking the other blanket for himself, settled down next to the Elf. Legolas relaxed when the Man returned to his side and made room for the Man to cuddle against him. Legolas doubted he’d ever be able to find restful sleep alone again. The Elf lifted his head, compliantly, when the Man brought his arm around the shoulders of the Archer. Legolas settled his head on his favorite spot on the Man’s chest, and draped an arm around the Man’s middle, careful of the stomach wound.

Legolas closed his eyes happily when the Man’s hand curled around him, burying itself into his long hair. “Tomorrow, Mellon, we make for Rohan,” said the Man, softly. Legolas nodded, sleepily. He didn’t want to think about Rohan. He’d be happy to leave this place, because of what still lay out in the woods. But he was not afraid. He was in Aragorn’s arms and that is all he needed. He closed his eyes, pleasantly…and began to dream.

That was when the nightmare began….

He was drowning in the river, the storm crashed around him and he kept going under as the tide pulled at him. He clutched onto the hard body next to him, feeling familiar arms go around him, and he shook water from his eyes…trying to see, but the rain pelted him, blinding him…..turning to the man who held him…his mouth was taken in a kiss, one of profound passion…but something was wrong. He opened his eyes and Swiney stared back at him …his toothless grin flashing in the lightening of the storm. Legolas backed away from him frantically, trying to scream but no noise would escape his frozen lips.

“What’s the matter, Pretty?” said the Swine man, extending his bleeding stumped hand towards the Elf.

Legolas screamed…..

The Elf thrashed against the hard body next to him and strong arms subdued his movements. “Legolas!” He shuddered violently in the embrace and screamed again. It was the scream that finally woke him. Never had he heard such a sound come from his own mouth.

The Ranger was holding him by the shoulders and looked as frightened as Legolas felt. He had been dreaming and apparently had woken the Man up with his trashing about.

“Legolas, its alright, Mellon. It’s just a dream.” The Ranger looked shaken but was starting to calm as the Archer slowly reclaimed some semblance of normalcy.

“I am alright now, Aragorn….I am sorry…I woke you,” Legolas sat up slowly, eyes darting nervously into the dark trees.

The Man also sat up, but kept his hand on the Elf’s shoulder, noting the agitation in the Archer. “There is no need for an apology,” said the Man quietly. He looked at the Elf who was trying to shake the remnants of the dream. “Do you want to talk about it?” the Man offered.

Legolas shook his head, emphatically. “Just a bad dream,” said the Elf, “It’s already fading…”

Aragorn nodded. Of course. It made sense, after all, who wouldn’t have nightmares after what the Elf had gone through? Aragorn didn’t exactly have a soundless sleep this night either. Images of the Elf in the hands of the fiend kept playing over and over in the Man’s mind. He found himself wondering what else the Archer had experienced when he was first captured. Swiney had seemed to think he was being gentle in comparison to his friends’ abuse of the Elf. Aragorn looked at Legolas with some concern, noting the Archer had gently shrugged off the Ranger’s hand and had moved a little bit away from the Man. Aragorn tried not to let this bother him. It was only natural that the Elf might feel a need to reassert his personal space. Still, Aragorn couldn’t help but feel disquieted and, well, even a little hurt by the gesture.

The Elf had pressed himself up against the cold wall of the cave and had wrapped himself in a blanket. He lowered his head onto his arms, against his raised knees. Aragorn watched him silently, feeling suddenly very shut out and helpless. He didn’t know what to do. Exhaustion tugged at him but evidently sleep was not going to be on the agenda for the rest of this night. He sighed quietly and stood up. Before taking a step towards the dwindling fire, the Elf’s head shot up. “What are you doing?” the Elf snapped, still jittery from the bad dream.

Aragorn gaped at him for a moment, than said casually, “I’m just going to stoke the fire. It’s going down a bit.”

Aragorn moved to the fire and added a few more dry branches. He could sense the Elf’s nervous eyes following his movements. He proceeded to put water on for tea. If he was going to be sitting up with the Elf, he for one, needed something for his jangled human nerves. Something in the scrutinizing blue gaze told him the Elf was not going to be as compliant as he had been earlier to the Man’s ministrations.

As anticipated, Legolas watched him closely while he added his herbs to the water. The Archer seemed unusually suspicious. He questioned Aragorn as to his movements an inordinate amount of times. Finally, Aragorn settled down next to the Elf. The Elf shook his head in rejection of the offered tea. Not really surprised, Aragorn set it aside. “What is wrong, Mellon nin?”

“Nothing,” came the rapid answer. Then in an uncharacteristic tone of sarcasm, the Elf added, “What could be wrong? Two of the HUMANS who defiled me are laying in pieces out in the woods; YOU almost died, and I almost….” The Elf abruptly stopped. He brought his hands up to his face and rubbed his eyes in frustration. Aragorn watched the Elf silently and reached a supportive hand to the Archer’s shoulder. He was unprepared for the scathing look this earned him as his hand was roughly cast aside. “I am not an invalid, Aragorn! I am tired of being treated like one!”

The Ranger sat motionless, shocked by this sudden hostility. The Elf had buried his face again in his arms, shutting the Man out once again. Aragorn looked on helplessly. Finally, he said, “I am sorry, my friend. I did not mean to treat you like you’re an invalid.”

The Elf did not look up and finally, the Man rose and walked back over to the fire. Aragorn felt shaken by this sudden and unexpected attitude in the Elf. He sat down in front of the fire and poured himself a cup of tea. His mind raced with thoughts of self-recrimination, self doubt and just a bit of indignation. Since he had found the Archer, beaten and unconscious, the Man had lived in a perpetual state of fear and worry. Now he was being accused of treating the Elf as an invalid. As much as he loathed himself for it, anger began to bubble up within him towards the Elf.

Aragorn forced himself to swallow his tea without tasting it, letting it scald the inside of his mouth. An image of Elrond floated to his mind. He could well imagine what his foster father would say to him now. He was a healer and he should not take this new attitude, displayed by the traumatized Elf, personally. The logical thought that followed this one, left him with an even more dismal feeling, than his childish indignation that he was not being properly appreciated. It was the realization that the Archer’s show of affection in the woods probably should not be taken personally, either. The Ranger had just prevented the Elf from falling victim to another rape. Naturally, the Elf felt grateful and emotionally over taxed. Aragorn’s anger left him in the wake of the far more potent feeling of disappointment and intense loss. He sighed heavily as he stared into the fire.

As the sky began to lighten over the horizon, Aragorn heard the Elf stir from his place against the wall. The Archer had been silent for the past couple of hours and the Man hoped the Elf would be ready to let him in again. But it was not to be. The Elf moved past the Man wordlessly and went to retrieve his clothes which the Man had tucked under his arm as they departed the stream, prior to the attack by the two fiends. Legolas moved some distance away and dressed himself with quick, efficient movements.

Aragorn tried not to be obvious in his observation of the Elf. Legolas pulled on his boots, once fully dressed, retrieved his weapons and returned to his seat against the cave wall. He began to methodically sort out his arrows, laying those that needed repair to the side. Aragorn turned away from the Archer, feeling a wrenching sensation in his gut, and tried to follow the Elf’s lead by getting his own belongings in order. It was almost impossible, he discovered, to not feel the slow simmer of loss and despair that was overtaking his spirit as the Archer steadfastly refused to speak or interact with him.

He gritted his teeth as he glanced at the Archer, who was seemingly engrossed in his task. Aragorn wanted to storm over to the Elf, grab him and shake him. He wanted to scream at the Elf. A few hours ago it was Legolas who admitted to feeling alone and desperate at the thought of losing the Man, who had begged Aragorn to never leave him. Now, Legolas was the one who was forcing them each into a state of painful isolation.

He took a deep breath. No. Aragorn was not going to go over there and demand to be taken care of because of his insecurities. His friendship with the Elf had withstood much and he could afford to be patient. If his Elf needed space and time to reassert his independence, then, the Man was going to give it to him. Why then did Aragorn feel so bereft? The Man had to stop and consider the unsavory possibility that he had grown accustomed to a dependant Legolas: one who needed him, depended on him, and who would eventually have grown to love him.

Aragorn blanched at the guilty thought. No, he could never take advantage of another person’s pain! Surely he wasn’t that insecure in himself, to actually desire to keep the Elf dependant? He shook his head silently. Aragorn refused to believe such a thing about himself. He loved Legolas. He wanted the Prince to be his, but whole and healthy. Unless, the dark thought surfaced, deep down he did not believe it possible that the fair Prince, at the height of his strength, would ever actually consider the Man as a mate. Aragorn turned this unpleasant thought over in his mind, as much as he hated to consider it. He found himself staring at the Archer, busy with his arrows.

The golden Elf, covered in bruises, was still a creature of unparalleled loveliness. In truth, even the Evenstar did not compare. His silver mane draped down over one shoulder as the Elf tilted his head with an intense look of concentration. The silver strands formed a perfect frame for his delicate bone structure. With nimble movements, the Elf rethreaded the feathers of the arrow in his hands. Long delicate fingers worked quickly on the finely detailed work. His blue eyes were the color of brilliant sapphires in the morning light as they focused with precision on the task. The petal soft lips were pressed together in an attitude of quiet deliberation. Aragorn couldn’t help recalling the sweetness of those lips that pressed against his own for the first time out in the woods. It was a mere whisper of a kiss, yet the Man realized in that moment how he could lose himself completely in the beautiful Prince.

Just then the blue sapphires shone brightly in the dim morning light as they raised to meet his gaze. Aragorn looked away guiltily, failing to catch the fleeting look of pain that crossed the crystal depths. What could Aragorn have been thinking, the Man chided himself. Did he really think this majestic being could ever choose to bind himself to a Ranger? This was the Elven Prince of Mirkwood. Thranduil probably already had an arranged match in mind for his son. Aragorn wanted to kick himself. He had almost succeeded in deluding himself into believing Legolas could be his.

The Elf looked up at the sound of the Man angrily stomping out the fire. Aragorn did not look at him when he loaded their packs onto the horse. Finally, the Ranger said, without looking in the Elf’s direction. “Let’s get started, even on horseback, we will not make Rohan until tomorrow eve.”

The Archer rose soundlessly and slipping his quiver and bow over his shoulders, he approached the waiting Man. Aragorn jumped into the saddle and after a moments hesitation reached down an offering hand to the Elf. He was almost surprised when the Elf took it, and hauled himself up behind the Man.

They began at a gentle trot, the horse apparently delighted to be on the move at last. Aragorn had to do little to direct the beast. Hasuf apparently knew the way quite well. It left the Man little to do but try not to think or brood. He found both tasks impossible, especially in light of the fact that the Elf’s warm body was pressed pleasantly up against him and the Elf’s pale arms stayed secured around his waist. They rode for several hours and the Elf’s body slowly leaned into his until the golden head was finally resting against his shoulder. It was maddening. Aragorn’s body felt like a tightly coiled spring.

He knew he shouldn’t be angry at Legolas, yet the Man came to the realization that he was. He felt rejected, dismissed. It was all so absurd. Aragorn’s mind continued to summon images of the Elf’s cool cheek pressed against the Man’s naked shoulder when they had stood in the stream, the same shoulder upon which the Elf now rested. He replayed the touch of those cool lips against his own, later in the woods. That gossamer touch undid him. Aragorn felt …betrayed. He had told the Elf he loved him. Why did the Archer lead him into believing there was a chance when there was not? The weight of the sweet body against him suddenly incensed him. This just wasn’t right!

Aragorn pulled on the horse’s rains, angrily. Hasuf whinnied in consternation and the Elf started at the sudden stop. “Aragorn? Why have we stopped?” the Archer’s voice sounded nervous. It was uncharacteristic of the Elf and it brought Aragorn out of his self pity instantly.

“I am sorry, Mellon,” he said guiltily. “I wasn’t paying attention. We’ve been riding for hours and I think it might be time to rest the horse.” He slid off the saddle easily and looked up at the Elf who looked dubious. The Man shrugged his shoulders by way of a confession, “Alright, I think we could all use a rest…” He offered this tactfully, hoping to not elicit another attack for treating the Elf as an ‘invalid.’

But Legolas merely gave him a quizzical look, as if sensing there was even more to the Man’s behavior than he was admitting, and slid off the saddle wordlessly. Aragorn led the horse to a grassy area and returned to the Elf who had set about getting a fire going. The day was bright but the temperature was cool. Aragorn found himself leaning gratefully towards the warmth of the small fire. It crackled invitingly and the Man realized he was very hungry. “I’m starting to get tired of lembas,” he grumbled, reaching into their pack of supplies. Before he knew it, the Elf was walking into the woods with his bow and arrows. Aragorn jumped up after him. “Where are you going?” he demanded, grabbing hold of the Archer’s elbow.

The Elf pierced him with a look that could sear the bark off a tree. “Hunting,” he responded in a tone that suggested the Man think carefully before uttering his next words. The Man did just that. What could he say? Was he to tell the best Archer the Green Wood ever produced that he was no longer capable of so simple a task as tracking a rabbit?

Gritting his teeth, Aragorn merely nodded and trudged back to the fire, his pulse beating loudly in his ears. He forced himself to sit. But his hearing went into a hyper alert mode as he catalogued every forest sound within his human range. His eyes raked over the woods were the Elf had disappeared. Thankfully he did not have long to wait. The Elf returned almost within moments with two hares slung to his shoulder. Aragorn tried not to look too relieved when the Elf had reappeared. Legolas dropped the hare carcasses in front of the Man and echoed an old joke between them, “I hunt them, you cook them.”

It made the Man smile, but it was a sad one, for the joke recalled happier times untainted by the brutal realities of rape. He wondered if the Elf would ever again laugh and sing as he used to. The thought brought smoldering tears to the Man’s eyes. He averted his gaze from the quiet Elf as he dressed the meat and prepared it for cooking.

The meal was eaten in silence and Aragorn again found himself feeling lonely and shut out. He hated this silence between them and did not understand it’s origin. He wondered about saying something to the Archer. But all such thoughts were interrupted when the Archer jumped to his feet with bow and arrow extended. Aragorn stood up too, and as he did so, a group of Men approached on horseback through the trees.

The leader slid off his horse and stopped at the sight of the arrow that continued to point at his chest. His friends had their arrows drawn and pointed at the Elf. Aragorn quickly stepped forward and placed a gentle hand on the Elf’s shoulder.

“Its alright Mellon! This is the Horselord who left Hasuf with us.” The Man removed his helmet and stared at the elven warrior, who was apparently unwilling to lower his weapon so quickly. The Elf was even more startlingly beautiful than what the horse lord remembered, when his eyes first lingered on the slumbering vision. He stepped forward casually and gave a slight bow to the Archer, ignoring the lethal weapon leveled upon him.

“I am Éomer, Master Elf. I am glad to see you have recovered from your injuries,” the blond Man’s eyes were intense and the Elf felt them linger upon him longer than what was necessary. Nevertheless, Legolas lowered his weapon, his Elf eyes keeping all of the men well within his sights.

“Lord Éomer,” greeted Aragorn. “I have much to discuss with you. We…encountered two of the band who attacked my friend.” Aragorn cast a weary look at the Elf, but the Archer remained as still as marble. “One of them disclosed a matter that will be of great interest to you.”

Éomer leveled his gray gaze upon the Man. “Yes,” he said with a meaningful look, “we found the remains of your encounter with the mercenaries.” His gray eyes flickered to the Elf as well. Did something in the gruesome scene alert the horse lord to the intentions of the two rapists? Legolas found himself suddenly staring at the ground feeling his cheeks burn at the strange Man’s scrutiny.

“May we join you?” asked the horse lord. Aragorn gestured with his hand for the men to join them around the fire. Legolas found himself suddenly loath to be anywhere around this group of humans. He wanted to run into the forest but such an act would surely make him look cowardly. He sat down next to the Ranger, when the humans were all gathered around the fire and kept his sites on the group. The Elf’s silence was a source of discomfort at first, but men being what they were, it was soon forgotten. Éomer and Aragorn spoke quietly about the words of the Swine-man, while the others ate and talked loudly about inconsequential matters. Occasionally the young horse lord cast curious looks at the Elf but seemed willing to respect the Archer’s need for silence. By the time the meal was done, the sun was journeying across the sky.

Éomer stood and said, “We will ride until the sun has reached the horizon. By that time we will have reached a protected valley were we will camp for the night.” He returned to his horse and the group saddled up. Legolas found himself unaccountably troubled by the thought that they must now travel with the company of these Rohirrim. He did not voice his feelings, however, aware that prior to his attack he would probably have delighted in the brief contact with these humans of the south.

Before Aragorn mounted their horse, the Ranger turned to the Elf, and asked quietly, “Are you all right?”

Legolas scowled at him. “Of course I am alright.” Aragorn stared at him for a moment longer, which caused the Elf’s offended scowl to deepen. Finally, the Ranger hefted himself into the saddle, trying to hide his own growing irritation. The Elf accepted the hand that was held out to him and settled himself behind the Man. Legolas didn’t want to admit it, but as he slipped his arms snuggly around the Ranger’s waist, the tension that had thrummed through his body since the arrival of the humans began to dissipate.

Their horse brought up the rear and this also eased the Elf somewhat , as he could keep his eyes on all the men who traveled in front of them.

By du sk they had arrived to the location of which the young horse lord had spoken. The Elf’s exhaustion was evident as he was again leaning heavily against the Ranger. The Man squeezed the hand of the Elf that held on at his waist, alerting him that they had arrived. Aragorn slipped off Hasuf’s back, ready to stretch his legs. He looked up expectantly at Legolas. The Elf sat rod straight in the saddle and seemed unwilling to dismount, nervous once again as he watched the men around them. After a few moments he slid to the ground next to the Ranger. His knees almost giving out on him as he landed. Aragorn steadied him with a hand but the Elf shook him off and walked over to lean against a tree. It was now getting dark and the Rohirrim where going through their familiar rituals of setting up camp. Tents were erected easily. His eyes lingering on the Elf a moment longer, Aragorn sighed heavily and moved to take the packs off Hasuf, unsaddling the horse and tethering him to a tree. Legolas stood a little apart and watched all this with nervous darting eyes.

Aragorn’s self absorption was pushed into the back of his mind when he contemplated the exhausted Elf. This was the first day of hard traveling for the Archer since the attack, and he had not exactly had rested during the days after Aragorn had found him. In fact, Aragorn reflected that the Elf had endured one trauma after another without any real respite. His thoughts were interrupted by Éomer’s approach. The horse lord handed the Man a folded burlap cloth to serve as a tent.

“It can get cold here at night,” the Rohirrim stated as he helped the Man to raise the small shelter. His eyes drifted to the silent Archer.

Legolas stayed apart from the group, and watched the men in silence. Éomer gestured to the Elf quietly as he and Aragorn drove a stake into the ground. “Your friend seems to be having trouble, still.” It was not a question and Aragorn bristled slightly at the horse lord’s tone.

“He will be fine,” said Aragorn, defensively.

“Will he?” the Horselord stopped what he was doing and looked pointedly at the nervous Elf.

“What do you mean by this?” the Man demanded, in a low voice.

Éomer turned his gaze on Aragorn. “I recognized the two in the woods. I know what they were and what they had done to other victims.” His tone was dark. The horse lord drew closer to the Ranger. “Few have survived, to my knowledge, such brutality. And I have heard Elves in particular tend to …”

Aragorn cut him off sharply, “The Elf will be fine. I will not let him fade away.”

But Éomer seemed to regard the Ranger with an odd look. It took a moment for Aragorn to recognize it. The handsome horse lord was regarding him with pity. “You care for him. That is obvious, but is it wise to become so attached when you know what the probable outcome will be?”

Aragorn took a step back from Éomer, horrified. He shook his head in negation and walked away.

Legolas watched Aragorn approach him with a look of consternation on his face. He had noticed the horse lord talking with the Ranger but he did not make any effort to listen to their conversation. The presence of so many humans was unnerving him more than he would have guessed. His heart was beating wildly in his chest and as tired as he felt, he could not imagine falling asleep with these men so close by. In addition to this Aragorn had been unaccountably moody of late. Legolas tried not to think about the Ranger. He had almost forgotten about the dream but somehow he felt a deep fear that the Human had not been the same since the fight with the two rapists.

Legolas felt the Man’s eyes on him again. It bothered him to be watched so. He turned away as Aragorn purposely strode over to him. “Legolas, it’s time to get some rest.”

The Elf bristled at the stern tone. He was not a child. Why did the Man insist on treating him like one.

“You rest, I will stand watch,” said the Elf in a defiant tone that Thranduil would have recognized instantly. The Man seemed to recognize it also but something new in the Man’s manner told the Elf that this was one fight he wasn’t going to win.

“No.” stated the Man in a quiet tone of finality, the steel of the Man’s gaze piercing him. “We have the Rohirrim here to stand watch. You are going to sleep. You are ready to drop and Elven pride wont prevent it.”

The Man walked to the tent flap and held it back for the Elf to enter. Legolas seethed with outrage at such treatment, but it was true. He was exceedingly tired. He was not healed and his body was rapidly betraying him, once again. The Elf gritted his teeth and approached the tent silently. He crawled inside and felt himself suddenly very claustrophobic. He was not going to stay in here! He started to back out but the Ranger entered behind him.

“Aragorn, please, I cannot stay in here…” the Elf stammered.

The Man put his arms around the Elf’s shoulders, sensing the skittish Archer was liable to bolt into the trees. “I am here, Legolas. There is nothing to fear. Come, lie down.”

Legolas shook his head, feeling his rising anxiety turn to panic.

But the Man’s arms came around him. “Just breathe, Mellon,” whispered the Man, soothingly into a pointed ear. Legolas clasped his hands around the Man’s waist, and leaned into Aragorn. He pressed his eyes shut against the unseen terrors that threatened to overwhelm him. “That’s it. Just breathe. All is well, I am here with you.” Aragorn breathed deeply as well, and the Archer found himself falling into the Man’s rhythm. In, out, in, out… slowly, he started to relax, and found himself leaning heavily against the Man.

Aragorn lead the Elf to the two bedrolls that had been pushed together. Legolas appeared too distressed to feel annoyed at the Man’s actions. He let himself be pushed down gently and relaxed a little as the Ranger laid down next to him. His breathing slowly began to calm as he settled himself in Aragorn’s arms. He had told himself he would not continue to rely on the Man like this but his body was like an enemy now. He needed to feel close to the Man to be able to sleep; to breathe even, if this experience was any indication. He loathed himself for his weakness. Frustration welled up in him but he was too tired to think on it further. Aragorn’s hand was stroking his back and the repetitive motion was lulling him pleasantly.

The Elf buried himself in the Man’s chest. He could hear the Man’s heart beat and that soothed him as well. The steady beat comforted him but it also reminded him of the tremendous fear that had gripped him out in the forest, when he thought the Ranger was dead. He pressed his hand against the Man’s chest reverently. Life was so fragile. With the flick of a knife this man could be gone. His arms tightened about the Ranger and moisture formed behind the Elf’s shut eyes. Aragorn’s hand traveled to his hair and gently stroked the silky tresses. The Man’s fingers brushed his cheek and came away wet.

Aragorn swallowed, pain constricting his heart. “What is it, Mellon? Will you not talk to me?”

But the Elf only shook his head, almost imperceptibly, clutching onto the Man. If he spoke it out loud, all that plagued him, he feared he would go insane. He dared not speak it…his fears of losing the Man, the feelings he tried to hide even from himself for the Ranger, his humiliation at what Aragorn had witnessed…More tears squeezed themselves out of his tightly shut eyes. Aragorn had seen. The thought was like a dark arrow into his heart. What must the Man think of him now?

Aragorn swallowed again, against the tightness in his throat. “Its all right, Mellon. Sleep now. I am here with you and we are both safe.”

Legolas let the Man’s words soothe him. He drifted. Sleep came between silent tears that wet the Man’s chest. He drifted…

The rain pelted against him, he pushed against the rough man who tried to restrain him. It was the Swine-man. “I am really sorry,” said the Swine “Just couldn’t help it…” Legolas pushed against him, trying to fight the raging river that threatened to drown him. Aragorn! Where was he? The Ranger wasn’t here. Legolas tried to swim and slowly managed to come to the bank…Swiney behind him was screaming …the Storm raged around him.. and as Legolas turned and looked the Swine-man was begging…”Please come back, Pretty…..It hurts bad…” he was holding up his mutilated hand.

Legolas climbed out of the river, as lightening flashed …an explosion rocked the forest and lightening illuminated the dark woods …the Elf ran wildly into the trees…Aragorn!…he ran blindly into a figure that emerged from the blackness…but it was not the Ranger.

His screaming woke him. Strong arms held him but this time he knew who it was and he melted into the Ranger’s embrace. “Shhhh…Its alright, its alright…” crooned the Man. Legolas was shaking violently in the aftermath of the dream. His face was damp and he realized he was crying again, or perhaps he had never stopped. Tears again. It was strange. There were perhaps two times in his hundreds of years of existence that he could recall ever crying, and he had been only an elfling then. Now it seemed it was all he did. He had promised himself to try to live for the sake of the Man, but could an Elf survive so many tears? Somehow, he didn’t feel right inside himself. Perhaps he was fading, after all.

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Morning came too quickly, and Aragorn did not feel rested. The dark circles under the Elf’s eyes suggested what the Ranger already knew. After the nightmare the Elf did not go back to sleep. He had huddled against the Man, refusing to speak of the images that had awakened him for the second night in a row. Aragorn sensed the Elf’s embarrassment at waking up screaming but there was more here of concern than damage to the Elf’s pride. The Archer was suffering and his symptoms seemed to be worsening rather than improving. The words of the Horselord played over again in Aragorn’s mind and settled about his heart like a cold hand. He was not going to let the Elf fade. But what could the Man do, exactly?

Legolas picked at the food that the Horselord had brought over to the two travelers. The Horselord boasted of the fine meats and pastries of Rohan. Aragorn found it was well placed praise as he finished off his portion.

He walked over to the Elf and sat down next to him, quietly. “You should eat something, Mellon.”

Legolas favored him with a half smile and a look of long suffering. He handed the plate of barely touched food to the Man. “I fear human food is not much to my liking, Melleth,” he offered, placatingly. Aragorn suspected it was the Elf’s appetite, in general, that was lacking and this troubled him.

“Legolas, we wont be leaving for some time, yet. Wont you go and lie down for a while? You hardly slept last night.”

This time the Elf did frown. Before the Man could say anything else the Archer stood up, taking his weapons with him, and strode into the woods. Aragorn sighed.

He did not chase after the Archer, feeling confident the Elf was not going to be wandering too far, this time. He would try to give the Elf his space but he would not be able to relax until the Elf was safely under his observing eye. He decided to busy himself with taking down their tent and stowing their belongings for the ride to Rohan. His eyes intermittently searched the woods for signs of the Archer.

He was annoyed when one of the Rohirrim asked for the Ranger’s help for his friend who had sustained a wound. Normally, the healer would be too willing to offer his services to those in need, but he was loath to leave the area of their little camp prior to the Elf’s return. Seeing that he had little choice, Aragorn picked up his satchel of herbs and creams and followed the man to one of the tents, casting one last nervous look into the trees.

Thus it was Éomer who chanced to notice the Elf’s return to the area where the Ranger and he had stayed that night. He noticed the Elf’s immediate rigidity upon the horse lord’s approach. Éomer stopped at a little distance, not wishing to alarm the already agitated Elf. “Your friend is helping one of my men who is injured,” said the Rohirrim Captain.

Legolas nodded in acknowledgement of this information. His azure eyes followed the horse lord as he approached casually. Éomer regarded the weary Elf and slipped into a slower, more casual stance similar to what one might assume with a skittish colt. “I am sorry, Master Elf for the hardship you encountered inside our borders.” The man offered this carefully, noting the slightly panicked look that came over the beautiful Elf. He was really rather mesmerizing, realized the horse lord as he studied the wood-elf closely.

“I thank you for your words,” said the Elf softly, “it is not always possible to control what occurs inside one’s realm.”

“You speak as one who knows,” said the horse lord, finding that he liked the Elf’s melodic tones, “where are you from? Lothlórien?”

“Nay,” answered the weary Elf who maintained his distance from this stranger. “My people are sindar elves, my father is King Thranduil of Mirkwood.” Legolas averted his gaze as he offered this bit of information. The Horselord gaped. “You are Prince Legolas?”

The Elf’s head snapped up to stare at the Captain of the Mark. “How do you know my name?”

“Many humans choose to remain ignorant of the Elves and of other races, as well. But as King Theodin’s nephew I was expected to learn of those who live outside our narrow borders. I have traveled much and I even visited the Golden Wood. That is why I thought you were from Lothlórien. You have the same coloration as those elves.”

“So …you learned of Mirkwood and the royal family while visiting Lórien?” Asked the Archer, drawing a little closer to the man now.

Éomer seated himself near the fire, gesturing for the Elf to join him. “Yes. It was of interest to me that Mirkwood is the only elven realm with a monarch.”

The Prince nodded, drifting a little closer to the fire where the man had seated himself. “I am amazed that a human was allowed entrance into the Golden Wood,” said the Archer, with a quizzical tilt of his head.

The handsome horselord laughed, good naturedly, “I bet that you are, Prince. I met a very intimidating Elf who guarded the entrance to the Golden Wood. He came damn near putting an arrow in my heart before I could utter a single word, much as you almost did,” he added with a smile. To his amusement the Elf had the grace to blush. It was rather pretty, thought the horse lord, and he was pleased when the Archer finally moved to sit across from him.

“Was his name Haldir, by any chance?” asked the Elf softly, a small smile touching his lips.

“You know him!” said the horse lord. Legolas nodded.

“He was my archery instructor when I was an elfling,” there was a definite smile now in the Elf’s tone. Éomer laughed aloud. “ Of course!” he said teasingly, “That unflappable archer’s stance and the ‘shoot first, ask questions later’ approach, how could I have missed it? You must have learned that from your teacher. Imagine my fortune to meet the pupil of the Elf who taught me the meaning of the word diplomacy.”

Even Legolas had to laugh at this. He knew quite well how Haldir of Lothlorien felt about visitors to the Golden Woods. Even other elves were keenly scrutinized by the serious Marchwarden. For a human to have successfully entered the Wood some serious negotiations indeed must have been entered into.

“Tell me,” the laughing human continued, “does that haughty Elf ever smile?”

Legolas tilted his head in mock deliberation, the light of the sun casting a warm glow about his slender exotic form. “I spent almost two centuries with him, when I was an elfling. No, I don’t believe in that time I ever saw him smile…until the day came for him to leave Mirkwood, as I had completed my studies with him.”

Éomer gave him an intrigued look, quite taken by the stunning blue eyes and pale beauty of the Elf. “And why, fair Prince, was that?” he asked softly.

The Elf blushed a little to be addressed so by this man, but leaned forward in a mock conspiratorial tone, “I think he found me to be a bit of a prankster. After two centuries of finding honey in his quiver and red mallorn sap in his shampoo he was eager to end our lessons early.” The Elf laughed gently, the sound was one of lilting silvan springs and the horse lord was enchanted. Legolas continued, lost it seemed in a pleasant memory, “ But I convinced him, each time, to never tell the King.”

The man laughed heartily, trying to picture this demure and lovely Prince being a naughty mischievous Elfling. Legolas smiled in return, the tension gone from his face.

“Legolas?” Aragorn stood quietly, taken aback by the sight of his Elf smiling and joking, apparently, with the Captain of the Rohirrim.

“Ah, Ranger!” said the horse lord, magnanimously with a resounding slap to his thigh. “Your Prince and I have discovered that we share something in common,” he let the tantalizing sentence hang for a moment for emphasis.

“Oh?” said the Man, slightly irritated by this Rohirrim’s familiarity with the Archer. Éomer traded a knowing smile with Legolas before continuing, which increased Aragorn’s irritation to full blown annoyance. “We are acquainted with the same dour personage of the Marchwarden of Lothlorien.”

Legolas’s smile widened at this description of his old friend, imagining quite well what the Lorien Elf’s reaction would be to such a characterization.

“Really?” said the Man, his annoyance going unnoticed by the others. Was this Rohirrim flirting with his Elf?

Éomer had stood up and crossed around the fire to stand in front of the Elf. Legolas rose in a fluid motion and accepted the horse lord’s extended hand shyly. Aragorn stiffened.

“I hope we have an opportunity to speak again, Prince. You may be able to clear another mystery up for me,” The brash horse lord leaned forward slightly, still clasping the soft hand in both of his own and in a pseudo- whisper said, “What manner of persuasion did a young Princeling use to convince the severe Marchwarden to hold his tongue?”

Legolas smiled, a bit coyly it seemed to the Ranger’s narrowed eyes. “That is indeed a long story, Lord Éomer,” responded the Elf demurely.

“Perhaps another time then,” said the Rohirrim with a bit of a bow.

The horse lord excused himself and returned to his men, who had began to dismantle their camp.

Aragorn approached Legolas with eyes flickering from the ground to the look in the Elf’s face. “So…” said the Ranger. But he did not get a chance to finish his sentence for just at that moment a scream came from further out, where the watch stood. “Orcs!”

In a whirlwind, the orcs descended upon the camped Rohirrim. Aragorn drew his sword, his other hand reaching out to the Archer. But Legolas was already firing arrows into the invasion force. The plain was filled with the clanging sound of metal as the men of Rohan fought with a surprising ferocity..

Unfortunately the Rohirrim were drastically out numbered 4 or 5 to one. The Elf’s arrows buzzed in the air taking out one orc after another unerringly. Seemingly unprepared for this enemy among the Rohirrim one of the fell beasts gestured toward the Archer. A small contingent of the beasts broke away from the main group and began to run toward the Elf and the Ranger.

Meanwhile, the Captain of the Rohirrim plunged into the center of the fray gutting one beast while another raised its sword at his back. Sensing the movement, Éomer turned to plunge his sword into its belly but the beast fell forward on its own, a golden fletched arrow protruding from its neck. Another yellow arrow buzzed inches from his nose and hit an orc between the eyes just as it raised it’s sword toward the blonde man. The horse lord looked across the field to the golden Archer who at this point was running out of arrows. The band of orcs was converging upon him. The Ranger was involved in violent swordplay with two opponents at the same time. Handling himself expertly, Aragorn dispatched one and then the other. He leaped to the Elf’s side and catapulted a charging orc over his back. It landed neatly on the Archer’s last arrow. The Elf pulled the arrow out of the dead body in a fluid practiced move and sent it passed Aragorn’s shoulder, as the Man ducked out of it’s way, into the orc that aimed for the Ranger. At the same time, Aragorn’s sword gutted another that set it’s sights on the Elf. Legolas dropped his bow, quiver now empty, and reached for his one remaining long knife. The silver blade was invisible as it spun and sliced into the orcs that surrounded the Elf.

Éomer worried for the already injured Archer but the Elf moved with an inhuman grace, killing the things almost effortlessly. The Ranger, ever by the Elf’s side, cleared the area around them. The horse lord spared another moment to watch the dynamic teamwork between Man and Elf. They moved fluidly, each anticipating the other as if in a well choreographed dance. The vision summoned an odd feeling of desire within the horse lord. But there was no time for contemplating the peculiar emotion. The remaining orcs decided to retreat and they dispersed into the trees.

“After them!” yelled Éomer to the Rohirrim. Several of the Rohirrim followed the few escaping orcs while others went to help the wounded. Aragorn and Legolas ran up to him, out of breath.

“This has never happened before,” said Éomer to the two, “Orcs have never attacked so close to the city!” The horse lord’s distress was evident. He stalked over to a fallen orc that was still alive. The horse lord grabbed the creature by the throat.

“Tell me, orc” spat the man, “how is it your kind travel during the day so close to Rohan?” He throttled the creature for good measure. It spat at him, “You cannot hold the darkness back, human filth. It is already sitting at your king’s feet…”

Éomer choked the beast, “What do you mean?”

Legolas, who was standing by the horse lord’s shoulder, said quietly, “Its dead, Lord Éomer.”

The man dropped the body with a violent thrust. He turned and looked at the men in the field. Aragorn was already tending to several of the wounded. But at least two of the Rohirrim were dead. Éomer kicked the body of the orc savagely with a cry of rage. A cool delicate hand touched his arm gently. The horse lord turned his burning eyes onto the cool sapphires and a gentle breezed wafted over the man’s heated face. With it came a return of reason. He smiled gratefully to the Elf, the touch on his arm sending a signal of sudden arousal to his brain.

His moment of cool respite was interrupted by one of his men who reported the remaining orcs had escaped. Aragorn stood behind this man. “Lord Éomer, two of your men are dead, and most of the others will be able to travel in a day or so.” The Ranger was sympathetic to the eager horse lord whose face fell at the thought of having to delay pursuit of the orcs.

“It is of little consequence,” said the Elf. “Aragorn is an expert tracker. Together we will be able to hunt them down, even with a day’s lead.”

The Ranger felt himself puff a little with pride. It was childish, he knew, but he had been feeling a bit put out by the horse lord’s friendly advances towards the Archer. The fight against the orcs had been somehow rejuvenating for the Ranger. He had needed an outlet for his mounting frustrations and with the Elf at his side again, anticipating the Ranger’s moves, harmonizing to the Man’s style, he felt like things were almost back to normal between them. One always seemed to know what the other was about to do. After it was over they came towards each other, eyes taking in the sight of the other, silently appraising the familiar form of the other for injuries. Their eyes locked in quiet acknowledgement of the bond between them.

Aragorn was brought back from the memory with a jolt. “Do you need anything to treat them?” Éomer was asking.

“We need to erect a tent to house those who need tending to. I’ve already sent one of your soldiers who has some knowledge of plants to look for specific herbs that I’ll need. He’ll be able to help me.”

Éomer nodded, “Good, because I will ask you to travel with me as soon as possible to go after them. That orc spoke about darkness sitting at the foot of the King. It does not bode well. This was no mindless orc attack, they were sent against us by someone.”

The man whom Aragorn had sent to gather the plants returned and the Ranger set off at once to work on the injured. Legolas restocked his quiver and adjusted his bow over his back. The Archer silently watched the horse lord as he strode about the camp speaking to his men. The man was a good leader. He was obviously well liked and respected by the Rohirrim. Legolas walked quietly up to him as Éomer had moved to the two fallen soldiers. The horse lord was kneeling on the ground next to the bodies.

Sensing the Elf’s presence he spoke with out turning, “I have known this one’s family all my life. They lost their oldest in a battle last year. Now I will bear the body of their youngest home to them to be buried next to his brother.” His hand drifted down to touch the head of the young fallen soldier.

Legolas felt his throat constrict at the sight of the dead young man, and the sound of grief in the Captain’s voice. He carefully knelt down beside the Rohirrim.

Éomer raised his head as the Elf began to sing. The man’s heart finally overflowed to hear his sadness echoed in the lilting strains of the elvish melody. It was a voice of clear crystal sweetness tinged in grief so stirring to the human heart that the men stilled their movements respectfully to hear it. They gathered closer to pay tribute as well to their fallen comrades. Aragorn, busy with the wounded inside the large tent, paused to hear the familiar voice stir the air again with its haunting beauty. He let the elvish words of sorrow wash over him and tears moistened his eyes, but he did not still his actions to tend to his patients. The song recalled much loss in the Ranger’s own life, but more fearfully it made him think of what his life would be like now if he lost the Elf.

The song came to an end and Éomer stirred from his place to look at the Elf gratefully. The dirge had reawakened in him a desire for action. He stood suddenly and began to bark orders to two of his lieutenants. As the horse lord mounted his steed, Legolas ran over to him. “What are you doing? You should not go after them alone!”

“The men need to be treated for their injuries. But this cannot wait. I will take two of my warriors with me and I will get the answers I need!”

“Wait,” cried Legolas. “If you insist on going like this then I will come with you.” He vaulted behind the horse lord, “I can help!”

Éomer hesitated. He could use the Archer’s skill but Aragorn would be enraged if Éomer took the Elf into such a dangerous situation. “Are you sure?” he asked the Elf, “Your friend would not want this…”

”I make my own decisions, Lord Éomer. Aragorn knows that.”

With a final nod, the horse lord gave a short command to his other man still standing by the tent. “The warrior I would have left in charge is dead. The Ranger is in command of the Rohirrim until I return. Follow his orders as if they came from me. Understood?”

At the man’s nod he launched into the woods with the Elf behind him and two of his warriors riding at their side.

The tracking skills of the wood elf lead them to a hill densely covered in trees. Voices drifted to them but it was a strange sound for they were both human and orc. Leaving the horses at the foot of the hill they crawled to the top and looked down into a shallow opened area. A small hand full of orcs and three men were standing facing each other.

“You were supposed to kill the Rohirrim Captain, orc scum! That’s what you been paid to do…maybe the lord you follow won’t be too pleased with you after all”

“You didn’t tells us there was an Elf with ‘em. He took out fifteen of us with ‘is damn bow! The humans fought worsen we thought, too. But I ain’t seen you there a killing him, smart mouth!”

“Never mind. Here’s your payment. Be gone with you, foul thing. Rosa will be here and he’ll take care of it.” The men dropped two struggling bundles onto the ground in front of the orcs.

Éomer and Legolas exchanged tense glances as the Orc untied one of the sacks and two children came tumbling out, bound and terrified. The other larger one was still struggling on the ground. With out exchanging a word the Elf and the three Rohirrim drew their weapons.

Gold arrows flew through the trees, into the clearing, toppling the orcs that surrounded the squealing human children, while the three Rohirrim descended the hill with swords raised uttering a battle cry. The slave traders and remaining two orcs met them with clashing metal.

Legolas ran to the children and cut through their bonds swiftly. “Don’t be afraid, I am going to free you,” he said in westron.

“Please, help our momma!” cried the little girl as she clutched onto her smaller human brother. The Elf cut through the second sack, still bound on the ground, as the battle ensued around him. A pretty woman emerged. Her clothing was ripped and had a haunted look about her battered face. He looked at her compassionately and freed her from her bonds. She stared at him in awe as she gathered her children to her with ferocity. Suddenly taking in the scene around her, she flashed the Elf a quick look of gratitude before pulling the children with her into the forest. Legolas watched them disappear into the woods and felt a lightness wash over him. Perhaps he could still make a difference in the world, with whatever time was left to him.

He didn’t see the raised sword that came down on the back of his head. The blow sent him sprawling and his last thought before darkness took him was of Aragorn.

.....

“What do you mean they left?!” yelled the Ranger in anger, at the gaping young man.

“Lord Éomer said you were in charge,” said the cowering young Rohirrim.

“Fine,” said the grim Ranger, steel eyes flashing. “Saddle up!”

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CH.8

Éomer came to with a rough jab to his side. He was on his knees but his tied hands were stretched far above him. He was hanging from his wrists and the swaying motion told him he was inside a moving wagon. The unfriendly jab came again and a rough hand grabbed a fist full of his blonde hair, yanking his head back painfully.

“Here wake up, you!” said a gruff voice. “What are you doing with this Elf?”

Éomer opened his eyes painfully, and peered through the swollen lids at his assailant. A dirty man stared at him malevolently. His face felt bruised and before he could say something insulting to the thug another punch landed on his jaw. Laughter came from a gravelly throat somewhere behind him.

“Hit ‘em again! Filthy Rohirrim. Stuck up piece of shit! I hate them Rohirrim, always showing up at the wrong times.”

Another blow rocked Éomer’s head back on his shoulders, threatening to send him back into the blackness. “I think you’re right, Satch,” said the one who was delivering the blows. He grabbed the blonde man’s head by the hair and held his face to the light. “This is the Captain himself. Rosa’s gonna be happy `bout this! Maybe he’ll give us a reward and let us play with the other one.”

“Nay, the Elf’ll go to Rosa…you know that!” said the one called Satch. “I say we kill the Rohirrim now. Rosa wanted him dead anyway. We can give Rosa the head!” A rough hand grabbed Éomer by the hair from behind him and a dagger was pressed against his throat.

“Leave him alone!” cried a soft melodic voice in westron.

“Ah! The pretty one’s woken up, Satch, look. Now we’re really gonna have some fun!”

Éomer peered through his cracked lids to see the beautiful Elf similarly bound and suspended from the roof of the moving wagon. The man named Satch, withdrew the cruel dagger abruptly from the Rohirrim’s throat, and moved past Éomer in the tight space to squeeze himself behind the similarly restrained Elf. He was a filthy large man with grimy hands. Forgetting about the Horselord, the slaver grinned toothily as he ran his hands down the sides of the Archer’s lithe body while his companion tried to kiss the struggling being. About this time the wagon was rolling to a stop and someone from up front yelled to the two thugs, “Get them ready! Rosa will want to see them.” The man named Satch grumbled loudly and left the struggling Elf to move to the suspended Horselord.

Éomer let his head sag down on his chest, feigning unconsciousness. His hands, still tied at the wrists, were unhooked from the beam of wood that held him suspended. In a swift move he brought them both up sharply into the man’s chin, curling his hands into fists, surprising his assailant and knocking him backward. Legolas at the same time, seeing his opportunity, wrapped his legs around the other man who was moving toward the freed Horselord. Éomer withdrew a small knife from his boot and thrust it into the belly of the man whom he’d knocked out. He sliced through his bindings quickly and grabbing the man, immobilized by the Elf, and sliced his throat, killing him instantly.

He quickly cut through the Elf’s bindings, flashing a reckless smile at the Archer who responded with a raised eyebrow as he rubbed at his wrists. “You alright?” whispered Eomer. The Elf had blood on his face and looked beaten up but he nodded and moved easily enough, once released from his bindings.

“What’s going on back there, you louts?”

Éomer cast a roguish look at the Elf, reminding Legolas somewhat of the Ranger, and in imitation of the gruff tones of the slavers yelled, “I needs some help ‘ere, mate, the Elf’s too savage for me.” Éomer threw the Elf a wink. Legolas stared nonplussed at the brash human.

Wild laughter came from the unsuspecting slaver who lumbered toward the back of the wagon. Éomer moved to hide himself from the approaching man. “Oy, I’ll help ye with the Elf, he looks like a frisky one, all right….”

The rest of the foul man’s words were lost as Éomer’s arm grabbed him from behind and closed around the man’s throat. Before the man could yell out the Horselord’s knife cut the slaver’s throat from ear to ear. With a gurgle the man dropped like a stone.

Éomer flashed another smile at the observing Elf and gestured quietly toward the front of the wagon. They moved stealthily to the entrance and peered through an opening in the canvas.

A man was yelling at two others, “Tighten up the gap there! That chain needs to be tightened. And stop those kids from their sniveling, gag them if need be!” The slaves were lined up, like merchandise at an auction, each wearing a thick ankle manacle with a round loop. A long chain ran through the loop of each cuff, effectively shackling the slaves together. The chain ends were wrapped and secured around two heavy tree trunks several feet apart.

Men and orcs walked around the camp. The slavers were grumbling with the orcs over the management of the large group of slaves. Others who walked about seemed to be buyers. They were men, some of them barbarians, by the looks of them, others looked to be well to do citizens of Rohan. They looked over the new stock of slaves, inspecting teeth, poking and prodding. Young boys and girls, mostly, were huddled around each other as the slavers snapped their whips and kicked at the crying children mercilessly. Éomer clenched his fist at the sight of these innocents being treated like animals. The slave trade was apparently alive and thriving in Rohan despite all his efforts to squash the movements of the traders.

“Shut up, you!” yelled one of the men, as he roughly gagged a young girl.

Éomer gripped the side of the canvas, about to leap out, but the Elf’s cool hand stayed his movement. He looked questioningly at the Archer who pointed silently at the two new arrivals. Two horses approached from the woods, one was obviously a personal guard but the other looked to be a nobleman. His black greasy hair clung to the side of his face, and blended into the black of his expensive fur cape. As his face came into view, Éomer’s eyes widened in shock. “Grima” he whispered.

The dark lord approached the leader of the slavers. “How is it that you failed to kill the Captain of the Mark? Was it not our agreement, you rid me of that nuisance, and I allow you to engage in your …dealings, undeterred? The King’s nephew has sharp eyes and grows as a thorn in my side.”

“Blame the orcs you sent, necromancer! They are the ones who failed at the simple task.”

“It was the Elf that saved the Horselord,” cried an orc, apparently offended by the slaver’s comment.

“What Elf?” asked Grima.

“It is no matter,” said the slaver. “I have them both in the wagon. The Rohirrim is yours but I keep the Elf as payment for the loss of my men. Good help is hard to find you know!”

Grima leaned forward on his black horse, “You have Éomer in the wagon? Why did you not kill him?”

The slaver laughed at the wizard’s obvious look of fear. “I thought I’d make a present of him to you!”

The wizard’s horse stirred nervously, and Grima’s beady, yellowed eyes darted nervously to the wagon. He climbed down from the skittish animal.

“Just kill him, you fool! If he were to escape…if he were to learn of my involvement he could jeopardize everything! The King is not yet completely under my enchantment. Everyday he falls deeper within the web of my spell but total control is still moons away!”

Within the wagon, Éomer’s face gleamed with a fearsome light. “Wormtongue,” the name dripped like acid from his lips, “I knew you couldn’t be trusted.” The Rohirrim’s hands clenched into fists as he eagerly envisioned throttling the repulsive little man.

“I have everything under control,” boasted the slave trader “and I will give you the Rohirrim’s head if you but wait a moment.” He gestured to two of the men to go to the wagon, “Bring out the new cargo, men.”

Legolas touched the Horse lord’s shoulder and gestured toward the large drums of booty in the wagon. Among them was a vast amount of alcohol, which men liked to consume. He looked meaningfully at one of the patrolling slavers who carried a torch from the fire. Éomer smiled in understanding and nodded. He watched the Elf move noiselessly out the back of the wagon as the slaver walked past.

Rosa and Grima had turned away and were speaking in lowered tones as the two men, directed by Rosa, approached the wagon.

The two climbed the front steps of the transport when a sudden explosion and a blast of hot air hit them. The canvas of the wagon was suddenly engulfed in flames. Screams came from the slaves and men ran about frantically. Several of the slavers ran to slap at the flames with blankets of burlap. Rosa barked orders at the men and orcs to get water. Grima slithered into the shadows in alarm and made for his horse but the frightened animal bolted. Amidst the confusion two shadowed figures ran from the wagon, one shooting arrows into the small group of slave traders who tried to control the screaming children. The blond Horselord ran to the slaves and hefted his sword over the chain. “Get back!” he yelled at them.

Two orcs began to run at him. “Look out!” yelled one of the children, pointing at the advancing orcs.

The Horselord brought the sword down on the chain, breaking the links. He pulled at the long length of chain, now severed from it’s anchor, trying to free each of the young people from their bondage. “Run, run!” he cried to the children who scurried to free themselves from the chain. Orcs and slavers ran at them but golden arrows flew into them as they approached the captives and the Rohirrim Captain.

A couple of orcs got past the rain of arrows and fell upon Éomer with a cry. Black smoke unfurled into the sky and the smell of burning wood was pungent in the air. Yells from the slavers and the orcs told Éomer that the Archer was still free and firing arrows at the slavers. The would be buyers ran from the scene, some trying to mask their identities, as the trading was brought to an abrupt and obvious end. The wagon was now ablaze and the dry branches of two nearby trees caught as the flames from the wagon licked higher into the air. Horses galloped in all directions, slavers trying to recapture their escaped merchandise and buyers trying to leave the scene of the criminal activity, believing they were under attack from the King’s Rohirrim.

Éomer drove his sword into the belly of one of the orcs that grabbed at him but the other slashed at his arm, causing him to drop his weapon from his suddenly weakened fingers. The foul beast grinned at him triumphantly and pointed its sword at his throat. “Time to say good night, Rohirrim,” the orc said in thick barbarian westron.

Éomer backed away, clutching his bleeding arm. He looked around frantically and as the orc raised the blade to strike the deathblow, a dark body came hurtling out of nowhere and collided with it. Éomer tried to follow the blur of movement but couldn’t tell who his rescuer was until the dusty form of the Ranger disentangled himself from the limbs of the now very dead orc.

“Where is Legolas?” the Ranger demanded, grabbing hold of Éomer’s good arm.

Éomer looked frantically into the now hellish scene of fire. Several of the trees were ablaze and men ran to and fro. The Rohirrim, led by Aragorn, had arrived just in time to save his life. Some Rohirrim were running after the fleeing buyers. Others were still fighting with what remained of the orcs and the slave traders. The freed slaves were being gathered at a safe distance from the flames by the young Rohirrim healer.

“Where is he?” yelled Aragorn frantically, again. Éomer’s eyes traveled to were Grima and Rosa had been standing by the far side of the slavers’ encampment. Through the flames he could see Rosa raising his whip savagely.

“There!”

The Ranger and the Horse lord ran through the chaos of flames and screams. The flames roared out of control and thick smoke filled the area burning their throats and eyes. Aragorn clutched a rag to his nose and mouth as he followed at Éomer’s heels. Then he saw them.

The Elf was on the ground and attempting to crawl away from the murderous attack of the slaver. A savage rage burned in the eyes of the rapist as he advanced upon the Archer, whip snapping viciously. Fire roared around the pair blocking them from the Rohirrim and the Ranger. “Legolas!” screamed the Ranger as flames reared up in front of the Man.

Éomer grabbed Aragorn’s arm and yelled above the roar of the flames, “We can’t get through here!” A burning tree limb fell from above, Éomer pulled the Ranger out of its way and yelled at the Rohirrim who were still fighting around them, “Fall back, fall back! Get those kids to safety, clear out of here!”

Aragorn grabbed hold of the Rohirrim, “I’m not leaving Legolas!” he screamed above the noise. The forest was blazing around them and black smoke made it almost impossible to breathe.

Éomer’s eyes frantically scanned the hellish scene trying to find a way in past the flames to the Elf. His eyes fell on Hasuf. With a shrill whistle the horse galloped instantly toward the Rohirrim Captain. “Wait here!” He shouted at the Ranger, and ran to meet the galloping animal. Without breaking stride the Rohirrim leapt onto the back of the advancing beast and together they plummeted over the flames and disappeared into the circle of black smoke.

Éomer clutched his shirt over his mouth and nose, and peered with burning eyes through the thickness. The Rapist had his whip wrapped around the throat of the Elf. Éomer jumped off his horse and ran towards them when a large burning tree branch fell like a missile at his feet. The heat burned his face as he dodged the flaming mass.

The Elf gasped, vision going black as his fingers desperately tried to peel the leather cord from his throat. The face of the Rapist filled his vision and a quiet voice told him this would be his last sight. Rebellion reared within him and he groped frantically around him for anything that might serve as a weapon. Miraculously his fingers closed on something long and sharp. He brought the object up with what remained of his flagging strength into the man’s exposed throat. Surprise eclipsed the rageful and ravenous look of the Rapist. The fingers of the man released his death throttle on the Archer’s throat as he groped at the protruding shard of wood embedded in his neck, blood spurting over his fingers. His eyes rolled into the back of his head as his body collapsed on the prone Archer.

Blackness almost claimed Legolas then. But the body on top of him was lifted away, and strong hands picked him up, hastily unwrapping the length of the leather whip from around his throat. He was lifted off the ground and thrown onto the back of a horse. Blackness finally took him as the horse took flight through the inferno that surrounded them.

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Aragorn tried to run after the Horselord as he disappeared into the black cloud of smoke. Rage and helplessness were driving him insane. If Legolas died in there he could not imagine the devastation to his heart. It was pointless to wonder when it happened. It simply had. He was completely in love with the Elf and no longer could he tolerate the thought of living his life without the gentle Mirkwood Prince by his side. He had to do something.

His eyes scanned the scene of devastation around him and fell on a skittish black colt that was neighing in terror behind the flames of the underbrush. It was the horse of one of the noblemen from Rohan, the conspirator, who plotted with the slavers against the King. Aragorn vaulted over the burning bushes and approached the terrified animal, uttering cajoling Elvish phrases as he slowly touched the animal’s snout. The Man’s commanding nature instantly calmed the disoriented horse. The beast discerned immediately the lack of threat in this human and allowed himself to be mounted.

Patting the willing animal, Aragorn prodded it to leap over the flaming brush and with words of praise, Aragorn directed the compliant horse into the wall of smoke where the Horselord had disappeared only moments ago. They emerged through an opening in the flames and thick smoke burned their eyes and throats. The horse whinnied in fear but remained calm under the firm hand of the Ranger as he prodded it gently forward.

Aragorn peered through the choking blackness for signs of the Elf and for the Horselord. He blinked away the burning moisture from his eyes and saw the murky shape of the Rohirrim Captain. Éomer was kneeling on the ground. Aragorn waved at the thick curls of smoke in front of his eyes, trying to see what was happening. The Rohirrim’s horse, Hasuf, was moving nervously nearby with the prone form of the Archer slung motionless over the horse’s back. Aragorn opened his mouth to yell out when, through the clouds of smoke, his eyes detected the bent shape of a small man in black, standing over the fallen Rohirrim. The man had his arm extended and the Ranger saw a long thin wand pointed at the Rohirrim’s chest. Éomer was holding his head and struggling to stand.

Aragorn kicked his heels into the sides of his black colt and the beast lunged forward. The man in black turned in shock at the sound of his own horse bearing down on him. The Ranger leaned into the animal as they galloped full tilt toward the wizard. The necromancer fell back as the beast reared up on its hind legs, with a furious snort, and aimed to come down with its hooves on the ill favored black traitor. Whether by design or ill fate, it was at that exact moment that a tree, behind the fallen wizard exploded in fiery wrath. Aragorn pulled back on the raging horse as the tree began to topple over them. He galloped to the Horselord who was trying to shake off the confounding spell and was climbing to his feet.

“Can you ride?” Aragorn shouted at the dazed Rohirrim.

Éomer nodded and vaulted with unsteady legs over Hasuf’s back. The Ranger led their way and the two horses broke into a frantic run as the tall trees now thundered down around them. They cleared the blazing woods and continued to flee for miles until the air became clear again and the cool fresh breeze lifted their sooty hair from their over heated faces. They met up with the rest of the Rohirrim and the rescued slaves, a good distance away, at a makeshift encampment by a clear running stream. The sky behind them was black with smoke as the fire burnt itself out.

Aragorn jumped off his black horse and ran to the Rohirrim Captain with a yell. Two Rohirrim ran over to help them. Éomer was slumped over the unconscious Elf. He was lowered by the two young warriors, and taken to a bedroll with the other wounded. Aragorn pulled the Elf into his arms and lowered him to the ground.

“Those burns look bad,” said the young healer over his shoulder. Aragorn had not noticed the young man’s presence. He had eyes only for the Elf. In fact, he had not even taken in the condition of the reddened skin that was already bubbling over on the Elf’s right arm, neck and shoulder. He was just so happy to have the Archer back in his arms. “Should I get an aloe poultice for him?” questioned the young man, looking eagerly at the Ranger.

Aragorn nodded without looking up. The Rohirrim ran off to retrieve the supplies. Aragorn now was finally alone with the Elf. He looked deeply into the pale thin face, so youthful and innocent in sleep. He looked past the whip slash on one cheek and the angry red lines around the Elf’s tender throat. His eyes traveled over the fair brow, the long black lashes that brushed the sculpted cheekbones, the pert nose, the full rosy lips. He held the Elf to him, long spill of golden hair cascading over his arm to brush the ground, and he trembled as all his suppressed emotions welled up within him. Aragorn felt his eyes mist uncontrollably as he poured over the face that had become the focal point of his every thought.

The Elf’s eyes fluttered open and for a moment there was no reaction in the dilated blue orbs. The Archer blinked and as those impossibly bright cornflower eyes finally focused on the Ranger, bent so close over him, a stunning smile brightened the lovely features. It was as if the sun broke free from the hanging clouds and the Ranger’s tears now did fall, unrestrained, down his soot-smudged face. A white delicate hand drifted up to cup the Man’s cheek, and pale fingers traced the clear streaks left by the tears on the dusty skin. “Aragorn,” the soft voice floated to the Man’s ears like the bubbling of a gentle brook.

Drinking in the sight of the shining face, Aragorn let his hand trail through the silken hair. “Legolas,” responded the Man brokenly, not trusting his voice to say more, afraid of what he would say if he did speak.

The Elf swallowed, his throat felt raw from the smoke and tight for an altogether different reason. Like the rising of a gale in a sudden summer storm, he was hit by the overwhelming presence of the Man. His body began to shiver uncontrollably in the wake of the unbidden and undeniable wave of longing. Like a blanket of warmth, the Man’s arms wrapped around him.

Concerned that the Elf was going into shock, the Man leaned even closer and holding the trembling figure tight against his chest, he whispered, “It’s alright, Mellon, I am here. You are safe now.”

The Elf’s body thrummed in excitement to feel Aragorn so tightly against him. Teeth chattering, he clutched onto the Ranger, and unashamedly buried his face into the nape of the Man’s neck. His emotional reserves were finally depleted, in the wake of this last trauma, and Legolas could no longer summon the strength to deny the obvious. He desired Aragorn. Every inch of the Archer’s body was suddenly alive with a buzzing need to feel the Ranger’s strong, warm hands touch him. He wanted to feel the entire length of the Man press against him, to envelope him completely. The Elf inhaled deeply, reveling in the Man’s scent underneath the smoky odor, which covered them both. He pulled back only slightly, breathing hard, to rub his smooth cheek against the Ranger’s scratchy beard. His own face was now damp with elven tears. Aragorn shuddered and pulled back, trying mightily to withhold the urge to consume the Elf in a passionate kiss.

Legolas’s head fell back onto the Ranger’s arm and looked into the moist gray eyes. “I …I feared I would never see you, again…” said the Elf, voice barely audible.

The Man smiled through his weeping, still bent close to the Elf’s upturned face, “I would never have stopped looking for you, Mellon nin.” Aragorn’s fingers tenderly traced the curve of the Elf’s smooth cheek.

Legolas smiled up at him. “I knew that you would find me, my Ranger,” the Elf’s other hand touched the Man’s face as well, careful of the blisters on the back of the hand. Their faces were mere inches apart and the Man’s warm breath upon his face was making him drunk with a sudden desire to feel the Ranger’s lips on his. He had but to raise his head but a little to close the distance between them. Before the thought could transform into action the young Rohirrim healer trotted up to them, breathlessly, with arms full of medicinal supplies.

Aragorn pulled back self consciously, as the apprentice healer knelt next to the Elf. Aragorn reached out and stopped the young man. “I will do that,” he said gently, but with an air of dismissal. Looking disappointed the young healer nodded and walked away, slightly deflated.

The Elf smiled up at him. “You have an admirer,” he teased.

The Ranger’s face reddened and looked confused.

“The young healer,” said the Elf, with an almost coy look. “He admires you.”

The Ranger shrugged, cheeks still red from his misapprehension about who his admirer was. He looked up across the camp and said inexplicably to the Elf, “You have an admirer too.”

It was Legolas’s turn to look confused as Aragorn arranged the bandages, herbs and bowl of warm water out on the ground before turning to examine the Elf’s burnt hand. When a shadow fell between them and the sun, Legolas realized whom it was that Aragorn was talking about.

Éomer knelt down on the ground, opposite the Ranger, and took the Elf’s other hand. “I am glad, Prince, that you are alive. You were remarkable. Your old teacher would have been proud of you. I never could have made it without you, nor would those people be free now.”

Aragorn’s jaw clenched as he tended to the Elf’s wounds. His eyes slanted to the Elf’s smiling face as he bent his head to prepare the poultice dressings for the Archer’s arm and shoulder.

“I am glad I could help, Lord Éomer,” said the Elf, demurely.

The Rohirrim Captain smiled and a bold hand came out to smooth a golden lock of hair away from the Elf’s face, and stroking his pale skin in the process. The Elf blinked at the intimate gesture, his eyes flickering just barely in the direction of the Ranger, before averting his gaze.

“Can I help you with that?” asked the Rohirrim, causing the Elf to look up. The Horselord was holding a roll of bandage and addressing Aragorn.

Aragorn raised his eyes to meet the Rohirrim’s and took the bandage from Éomer with a studied smile. “I think I have the situation well in hand.” The Ranger’s gray eyes were like ice and fire, all at once, and the steady voice communicated in tones of warning what words did not.

Humans communicated on so many levels, Legolas had realized, after many years of acquaintance with the Dunedin. The dark aura of the Ranger at that moment was one most men would back down from. Wide sapphire eyes flicked, apprehensively, to the red face of the brash Horselord. A vein pulsed in the man’s temple as he met the daggers of the Ranger’s stare with a challenging one of his own. “Very well, then.” Éomer said, stiffly, after another long heartbeat. He looked down at the Elf before standing to leave and said, “Prince, I look forward to seeing you on your feet again. There is much of Rohan that is good and beautiful. I would like the opportunity to show it to you.” The Rohirrim clasped the pale fingers of Legolas’s uninjured hand for a moment longer and with a half-cocked eyebrow at the Ranger left them, wit the mildest hint of a flourish.

“I’ll just bet you would,” came the scathing, sub-audible retort from the Ranger as he dropped the rolled bandage with a thud.

Legolas looked at Aragorn, startled by the Man’s sudden animosity. “What?” asked the Elf.

“Nothing,” said the Man heatedly, his face now shuttered in grimness. He lifted the Elf to sit up, without another word, and proceeded carefully to peel off the burned and shredded tunic. He wiped the Elf’s torso clean with a cool wet cloth and applied the poultice of soothing aloe and chamomile. Exhaustion began to catch up to the Archer. He closed his eyes pleasantly, and leaned his forehead onto the Man’s shoulder, as Aragorn worked on his back.

The Man’s touches soothed his spirit, and he sighed contentedly. He leaned into the Man’s gentle touch as Aragorn gently rubbed cream into the angry red lines around the pale column of the Archer’s throat. When his injuries had all been tended to, Legolas watched the Man wordlessly arrange a wide bedroll on the ground under the soft shade of a tree. Aragorn brought the Elf to the bedroll and after arranging the Archer on the soft padding, he made to get up. Legolas’s hand darted out to catch the Ranger by the wrist. “Aren’t you going to lie down?” he asked with a little more feeling than he had intended to impart to the question.

Aragorn looked at him, surprised, for once and then with a nod, arranged himself down next to the Archer. Legolas moved up for the Man to squeeze an arm under the Elf’s shoulders. Snuggled finally in his favorite spot, upon the Ranger’s chest he closed his weary eyes with a contented sigh. For the first time in a long while, he slept peacefully, with no dreams. None that is, save the tantalizing erotic images of a naked Ranger who caressed and touched him in the way of lovers.

When the Elf opened his eyes, again, the sky was purple with the warm streaks of the rising sun. It was dawn, and birds chirped happily in the trees as the forest was slowly awakening to the promise of a bright new day. He was still firmly tucked into the Man’s warm embrace and a heavy blanket covered them both against the chill that still clung to the air. Legolas stretched carefully, his body protesting with the pain of his newly acquired injuries. He looked up into the face of the Ranger who was silently watching him. Legolas couldn’t help but let the smile in his heart reach his face and the Man responded with one of his own.

“Good morning,” whispered the Ranger, without moving. “Did you sleep well?”

“Aye,” said the Elf again, with another contented stretch. But he resettled himself back into the folds of tangled limbs against the Ranger. Noting the baffled look on the Man’s face, he decided to throw caution to the wind, and enjoy himself.

Aragorn all but gasped when the Elf threw an arm and a leg over him, snuggling happily against the Man’s hard chest. When the Elf looked up at him, face bright with joy, Aragorn’s heart began to hammer wildly against his rib cage.

“This was the first night,” said the Elf, quietly, “that I did not have bad dreams or a feeling of dread haunt my every moment.”

Recovering himself from his shock, Aragorn wrapped his arms warmly around the pliant body that was pressed against him and smiled. “I am glad to hear it, Mellon nin,” he whispered. His lips were close to the Archer’s smooth brow and as he spoke, he leaned his head down, so that they just brushed the dewy skin. The Archer sighed, and closed his eyes. Studying the Elf’s reaction, the Ranger bent his head a little lower and pressed his mouth to the smooth forehead again. It was a chaste kiss, one that might be meant for a brother. But the Elf’s body pressed against him and thrummed to life at the gentle touch. Aragorn’s hands felt hot as they moved slowly, of their own accord, he thought, to stroke the Elf’s back.

With eyes still pressed shut, the Elf’s body moved against him again and a small muffled moan escaped the Archer’s mouth. Aragorn’s head spun dizzyingly, and his breathing was coming in short gasps as his mouth moved in light butterfly touches, over the Elf’s brow to barely skim the skin of the cheek. Legolas’s fingers curled into Aragorn’s clothing and clutched with white knuckles as he turned his face up to the Man.

Aragorn looked at the pale shining face. The Elf’s eyes were still closed and the full rosy lips were parted slightly. Aragorn’s eyes riveted to the pouting lips, and he froze, taking in the exquisite moment. The sounds of the camp coming awake around them seemed like a million miles away. As if suspended in a dream, Aragorn felt himself falling forward, plummeting it seemed down a long winding tunnel, his entire being now focused on the central point of the Elf’s mouth. In reality he had only moved a fraction of a millimeter, as he made the journey to the place of his heart. Closer,… his heart now pounding loudly in his ears, he thought it might burst before he would get to his destination, …closer, he would do it …he would do it, now… there was no turning back.

And then he froze, the Elf’s blue eyes had opened and were staring at him. The Man’s heart seemed to skate to a halt in his chest and doubt suddenly paralyzed him. Legolas’s shining eyes were like the ocean of clearest blue. The Elf perceived the Man’s frozen plight and, making up his mind, made the fearful leap for them. His lips closed on the Man’s mouth, eyes still open and holding the Man’s in bold declaration. Heat flared between them, burning them and melding together what was separate only in theory.

Aragorn groaned to finally taste the Elf’s mouth. His tongue, no longer shy, plunged into the warm recesses. He groaned again loudly as the Archer eagerly responded, bringing his own tongue into Aragorn’s mouth, they dueled in hot passion for dominance. Finally the Elf fell back onto the ground and dragged the Ranger on top of him. Aragorn covered the willing body with his own, mindless in the desire to crush the lithe form to him and claim the Elf right then and there. A gasp of pain brought him to his senses and he leapt off the injured Elf. Legolas followed him, however. Rolling over on top of the Man, and forcing Aragorn to the ground this time, he pressed his hungry lips to the Man’s mouth. When the kiss broke, the Elf looked down at the stunned Man, and smiled, “Don’t worry my Ranger, I am hardier than I look.” The Elf had straddled him boldly and sat up to look down at the amazed Human.

Aragorn smiled, feeling deliriously happy all at once, and ran his hands warmly up the Elf’s thighs to rest on the Archer’s slim waist. “I know it, my Elf. But I am unwilling to re-injure you. I have waited this long, I can wait until you are stronger.”

“Nay,” growled the Elf, “I want you, now!” The Elf slid sinuously down the length of the Ranger’s body, and worked his hands into the Man’s clothing to skim his hands across the Man’s chest. Aragorn gasped and gaped in shock at the amorous Elf. The Ranger looked at him in disbelief.

“Am I dreaming?” he asked breathlessly after another passionate kiss, bestowed upon him by the beautiful Archer.

“It is more lovely than any dream I have ever had,” whispered the Elf against his lips. The Archer’s hands now found the Man’s nipples and caressed the sensitive skin, making the Human gasp again loudly.

Giving up on chivalry, the Ranger grabbed the pliant flesh above him and kissed the Elf hungrily. The Elf moaned in desire as the Man’s mouth ravaged him and hot hands slid inside his tunic and down into the back of his leggings to cup his firm round buttocks. The burning hands squeezed the enticing mounds and feather light fingers grazed the crack to his nether port. Legolas bucked against the Man, and pushed up hungrily against the questing fingers. But some portion of his mind threw up barricades to the sensations as jumbled memories of his violation reared up unexpectedly out of the darkness. He was becoming distracted, caught between the extreme desire for the Ranger and the fear of remembering more vividly what was done to him. The more he struggled to remain present with his Ranger the more numb his body and mind started to become.

He hedged away slightly from Aragorn’s caresses, brows furrowing in concentration to block the intruding memories. Just then a voice from the encampment called up to them from a discreet distance.

One of the Rohirrim was summoning everyone in the camp to attend a morning meal and to gather to discuss their next course of action.

Under the guise of discontinuing due to this interruption, the Elf pulled away from the Ranger, with a sad smile. Aragorn groaned and left his arms loosely around the Elf’s waist. He looked up at the Elf with glassy eyes of passion. Legolas felt his heart bloom bright at the sight of the unadulterated love and desire on the Man’s face. He leaned back down and placed a warm kiss on the Man’s sultry lips.

Aragorn rolled them over so he was now leaning over the Archer. He looked down at the Elf that was his true love. He caressed the white cheek and placed tender kisses on the Elf’s brow and lips. But his discerning eyes followed the slight frown at the corner of the mouth. Pulling back slightly for a better look, he said, “What is it? Are you unhappy with this, my heart?”

The Elf shook his head frantically, and clutched onto the Ranger’s shoulders. “Nay, my Ranger, I want this! I want you, Aragorn.”

The Man breathed a sigh of relief but his observant gaze did not relinquish its perusal of the anxious Elf. “I want you as well, Legolas. But something is wrong. I can see it.” When the Elf shook his head again and averted his eyes, the Ranger took hold of the Archer’s chin and bade the Elf look at him. “Tell me, my love. What ever it is, do not be alone with it.”

Legolas looked up at him with bright eyes. “I want you, Aragorn. Please believe me. But..I think, well, ..I keep remembering…” He broke off as tears misted his blue orbs.

Aragorn pursed his lips and leaned in to touch his forehead to the Elf’s. “It will pass, my love. Until then, we don’t have to do anything. I won’t even kiss you, if you don’t want it.” He pulled back to look at the Elf whose gaze was bright and wondering. The Elf wrapped two arms around the Ranger’s neck and drew him down into a kiss.

When they parted, they were both breathless. “I love you, Aragorn,” the Elf said, quietly. “Will you wait for me, then?” He asked almost fearfully.

The Ranger smiled and hugged him possessively. “Wild Wargs could not drag me from your side, my fair Prince.” The call from the Rohirrim made them both stir and with another soft kiss, they both rose to join the men of Rohan.

When they had reached Rohan, Legolas stayed close to the Ranger, no longer pretending to not be bothered by the presence of so many humans. It was unnerving and he could not wait to give King Théoden the message Aragorn carried and to leave this place of Men.

Aragorn put his arm carefully around the Elf’s shoulders as they stood by the large window overlooking the city. They had been given their own chamber, choosing to stay together in one room, and had bathed and rested. Legolas leaned into the circle of the Man’s arms and let his head fall to the Ranger’s shoulder, as weariness dragged at him. He knew his body was still grappling with the cumulative effects of so many shocks, but Aragorn’s embrace was like an anesthetic that took away the pain. He sighed. He could hardly believe how things had changed for the two of them. Although they had done no more than kiss and cuddle, he felt more at peace and more complete, with his Human lover, than ever before in his life.

If only he could rid his mind and body of the pernicious memories that continued to plague him, sometimes at the most unexpected of moments, life might then be perfect. As it was, he suffered from an uncomfortable nervousness most of the time, unless the Ranger was by his side. His appetite was also not at all what it should be and he knew the Ranger fretted over his continued refusal to eat. He had lost weight and his skin was too pale even by Elvish standards. Dark smudges under his eyes made the blue sapphires stand out even more against the white of his skin. Aragorn continued to question him about his sleep. Although the horrible nightmares seemed to have ended, Elvish reverie eluded him and sleep was somehow not the restful experience he remembered it to be. He felt depleted.

A sharp rap on the solid wooden door made the Elf jump. Aragorn squeezed him consolingly and disentangled himself from the chagrined Archer to respond to the summons. A page stood at the threshold and bowed to the Ranger as if he was royalty. “My Lord, the King is now prepared to receive you in the throne room.”

“Very well, just one moment,” the Ranger closed the door and walked over to his Elven lover. “Are you sure you wish to remain here?” the question was tinged with concern.

Legolas sighed. He was not the only one, now, prone to feeling nervous and fretful when they were apart. He smiled up at the Man. “You know, we need to both get over this, my Ranger. I will remain here and try to rest. Nothing will happen.” He wrapped both arms around the Man’s neck and leaned to place a kiss on Aragorn’s lips. The Man’s arms came up around him and Aragorn moaned as his mouth slipped open to accept the Elf’s tongue. Finally, Legolas pulled back and smiled at the flushed Man. “You are being waited upon. Go and hurry back.”

Aragorn brushed his lips on the Prince’s forehead tenderly and gifted his Elf with a gentle smile. His gray eyes however remained shadowed with worry. “I want you to try to sleep while I am gone.” He brushed a lock of golden silk away from the Archer’s eyes as he spoke. “I will return as soon as I am through with the King. Then we can spend some time together.”

“There is nothing I would rather do,” whispered the Elf, looking into the pale gray eyes in wonder still, over their new relationship.

When the door closed behind the departing Ranger, Legolas turned to the window again and fought down the cold shiver of icy imaginary fingers running lightly down his spine. This would not do. He was not getting better. The weather outside was desolate and gray, like his sudden mood. He moved restlessly around the large room trying to dispel the gloom that rose up from deep inside him.

He refolded a few articles of clothing brought up to them by the wash maids. He picked up his weapons, with half a mind to work on them, when his eyes fell on his one remaining dagger. He pulled it out of its sheath and held it in front of his eyes with a strange sense of déjà vu. He ran his finger down the length of the blade. The other, he realized, was still probably at the bottom of the river, where it had been knocked out of his hand by Aragorn, the night he tried to kill himself. Had he really wanted to die? Shaking his head in disbelief, Legolas quickly reset the quiver of arrows, bow and dagger back into the corner where he had deposited them when they had first arrived. He moved away from them as another shiver passed over him. He roamed restlessly back towards the center of the room, his fingers tapping lightly on the bedpost as he stood looking aimlessly about the empty chamber.

Finally recalling Aragorn’s directive to try to sleep, he walked around to the side of the bed and sat down heavily. Now only a square patch of gray sky could be seen through the window casement. His eyes suddenly misted with tears. Ay! He was weary of crying. They skated rebelliously down the slope of his cheeks nevertheless. With a sigh he let himself fall back onto the bed and closed his eyes wearily. The restlessness in his soul writhed like a pit of snakes in his belly and an uneasy sleep took him. A new dream began.

Éomer walked up the long winding stairs that lead to the sleeping chambers. He had spent all morning with the King, but Théoden was growing more confused with each passing day and seemed not to comprehend that his advisor, Grima, was the man Éomer claimed to have seen with the slave traders. The court advisor was conveniently away on some business outside the city. What spell did Grima have over the King? Éomer huffed in frustration as he mounted the last step and walked aimlessly down the long hall.

Théodred might be able to talk sense into his father, but the Prince of Rohan was far, at the outskirts of the plains dealing with other problems. The darkness in the land of the horse lords was growing. Éomer slowed his steps as he realized where his angry strides had lead him. He paused and looked behind him down the empty corridor. He knew the Ranger was at that very moment meeting with the King to discuss Gandalf’s concerns about the sway of darkness in the lands of Men. Éomer could guess that the Istari wanted to propose an alliance of some sort. But Théoden was as suspicious of Gondor as he was of the realms of the Elves and the Dwarves. Éomer strongly doubted that in his present irrational state the King would even consider giving the notion more than a passing thought. Aragorn would probably be awhile.

The Horselord paused in front of the wooden door to the guest chambers. He knew the Archer was not in attendance in court. He wavered, then taking a deep breath, knocked softly on the door. He waited for a few moments then knocked again more loudly. Again nothing. With a sigh, he turned to leave when a soft sob from the other side of the door stopped him in his tracks. He carefully pushed on the handle and the door swung open. At first he saw no one then heard the soft sound of crying again, coming from the bed. The Captain of the Mark no longer hesitated. He entered the room quietly, not wanting to alarm the occupant, and approached the bed.

“Prince?” he said softly.

The Elf was curled on his side, with his eyes tightly closed. His face was moist with tears and perspiration. He moved restlessly, clutching at the bed clothes with white knuckles.

Éomer swallowed past a sudden lump in his throat. He sat carefully on the edge of the bed and gently stroked the pale face of the Elf who writhed in the clutches of another nightmare. “Prince, wake up. You are dreaming...” he shook the Elf’s shoulder gently.

The Elf sat up with a sudden jolt. “Aragorn!”

“Shhh…It is alright, Prince. He is still with the King.” Éomer rubbed the distraught Elf’s back gently, as the shivering being clutched at him, still in the throws of the dream. “I need Aragorn!” sobbed the Elf.

“It is alright, Legolas. It was just a dream. Come now, my fine warrior, wake up.”

Legolas was breathing heavily but his eyes focused on Éomer and the Horselord could see reason was returning to the startling blue sapphires. The Archer was still trembling as he tried to regain his composure.

“Do not fret, Prince. Even the fiercest warrior may suffer from ill dreams following a trauma…it will pass,” the Horselord said in a comforting voice.

But the Elf shook his head mutely, and pulled back to draw his knees up to his chest. He rested his forehead on his knees and tried to steady his breathing. “It is not that kind of nightmare, I fear.” His voice was so soft that the Horselord at first wasn’t sure he had spoken at all.

He looked helplessly down at the poor distressed Elf. Laying a soothing hand on the Prince’s shoulder, he asked quietly, “What do you mean?”

The Elf finally stirred and when he raised his eyes to the Rohirrim again, they were wide and haunted, “I have had those kinds of dreams, of which you speak. This was different. It was a vision of the Gates.” The Archer’s voice was a hushed whisper and the blues of his eyes shimmered with fright, “For us Elves, the Gates lead to the Halls of Mandos. I fear… Lord Éomer, what do men say it feels like to be dying?”

Tears filled the blue eyes, magnifying their luminosity, and the Horselord felt a shiver travel down his spine at the chilling words and at the look in the huge eyes. He felt his own eyes mist in response and drew the Elf silently into an embrace. Legolas let his head fall on the Rohirrim’s shoulder and a sob broke forth softly.

“Nay, do not say such things, fair Prince,” The Horselord said brokenly.

“But I fear it is true,” whispered the Elf against the Man’s shoulder.

“Then, Prince, you must tell the Ranger,” said the Horselord quietly.

“Nay! I cannot…” sobbed the Elf.

“You must! Something may still yet be done, if...”

“Nay, it is too late,” moaned the Elf, “ I should leave here so he does not have to suffer watching it happen!” The agitated Elf moved restlessly in the Rohirrim’s arms. Éomer looked at him, aghast at the irrational words.

“Do not speak such words! Do you love the Man?” At the Elf’s frantic nod, he continued, passionately, “Then you would do him a disservice. Let him help you if he can!”

“NO!” Yelled the increasingly agitated Elf, seemingly caught up again in the terrifying visions of his dream.

Just at that moment the door to the chamber burst open and the Ranger stood framed in the archway, stunned by the sight of the yelling Elf in the arms of the Rohirrim. Before rational thought could prevail, the Ranger flew through the air and tackled the Horselord off the bed and onto the floor, overturning a dark wooden table in the process.

The stunned Elf suddenly broke from his trance, as the two men rolled in a jumble of limbs on the ground. Legolas leapt off the bed to pull the enraged Dúnadan off the Rohirrim. “Aragorn! What are you doing! Stop it!”

He pulled at the Ranger while the Horselord blocked the raining blows. “Ranger, this is not what you think it is!” Éomer grunted. “ Get hold of yourself!” the Rohirrim yelled into the Man’s face.

Aragorn stopped and looked at the Elf who was trying to restrain his arms. “What happened? You were yelling…I thought...”

Legolas shook his head, “He was not doing anything to me, Aragorn. He was just …trying to help.”

Aragorn climbed off the floor and took hold of the Elf by the shoulders, looking deeply into the pale thin face. Taking in the Archer’s earnest expression, he turned to Éomer, and having the grace to look mortified, Aragorn extended a hand to the Rohirrim who was still sitting upon the floor rubbing a swelling eye. Éomer looked at the offered hand and grasped it firmly as the Man pulled him up. He looked at Aragorn and said with a burgeoning smirk, “This is going to be a shiner, Ranger. You’ve spoiled my good looks.”

Aragorn grinned in return. “Don’t worry, you still have that blonde hair.”

Legolas sighed at the Humans and sat down on the edge of the bed. Aragorn was next to him in a heartbeat. “I am sorry, Legolas, and to you, Lord Éomer. I realize now I made a mistake. But, why were you yelling, Mellon nin?” He put his arm over the Elf’s shoulders and looked at the drawn face in worry.

A knock on the door, that was still wide open, drew their attention. “My Lords, you have a visitor,” said the hesitant voice of the page. Stepping aside, another figure stood framed in the threshold to the chamber. Haldir of Lothlórien swept the disheveled room and its three equally tousled occupants with a piercing gaze of disapproval.

“My Prince,” he said with a low bow. “Your father, King Thranduil, has sent me for you.”

Legolas gasped and clutched convulsively at the Man next to him. He turned wide tearful eyes to Aragorn before lowering his gaze. Aragorn’s arm tightened around the shivering Elf, taking in the alarm this stunning news and the arrival of the Marchwarden had on his lover. Before he could utter a word to the imposing figure of the Lórien Guard, Éomer stepped forward in greeting.

“Mae govannen, Haldir of Lórien,” said the Horselord in perfect Elvish. “Your arrival would seem to be timely. What is your intention for the young Prince? If I may ask, for his welfare is important to us.”

Haldir’s eyes had remained fixed on the Archer almost since entering the room. He now stepped over to where Legolas sat in the arms of the Ranger and knelt down in front of Legolas. “My Prince,” he said softly.

Legolas raised reluctant eyes to meet those of his old teacher, humiliation and pain staining his cheeks red. “Haldir,” he said softly and reached out a hand to the older Elf. The Marchwarden took it in both of his, and brought it reverently to his lips. The Marchwarden silently held the young Elf’s gaze. The two Humans felt, more so than saw, the static lift in the air as the two Elves communed. Finally, the Prince seemed to melt from Aragorn’s arms towards the Lórien Guard and with a soft sob fell into his teacher’s embrace. They huddled together on the floor with Legolas ensconced on Haldir’s lap as he had done on many occasions as a small Elfling. The severe Marchwarden also seemed transported to an earlier time as he stroked the younger Elf’s hair and crooned to him gently.

Éomer stepped closer, watching the emotional scene, with fascination. The Horselord could see Haldir had tears in his own eyes as he held the Archer’s head tenderly to his breast. A glance at Aragorn told Éomer that the Man was equally in a state of extreme grief to see his Elf so deeply in pain. That and the tears on the Marchwarden’s face spoke of a situation that was growing more alarming by the moment. It was said, after all, that Elves rarely cried.

Éomer placed a hand quietly on Aragorn’s shoulder, and looked down at the huddled Elves. “Haldir?” he questioned softly.

Haldir raised shining eyes to Éomer then moved his gaze to rest on Aragorn who held his breath. “Legolas is dying, Aragorn. He must come with me to Lorien.”

“No!,” cried the Man, into the stillness, although his voice was barely above a whisper. Aragorn fell to the floor next to the two Elves and reached for the Archer. Legolas willingly disentangled himself from his old teacher to look wearily at his Human lover. Aragorn’s hands came up to hold his face tenderly, tears streaming down the Man’s cheeks. “No, Legolas,” he said softly, lips trembling.

The weary Elf, leaned towards him, and kissed him tiredly on the cheek. “I am sorry, my love,” he whispered as he let himself be wrapped in the Man’s arms. “I do not wish to be parted from you. I just…don’t know how to stop it.”

“No!” said the Man, quietly but firmly. “Legolas, I told you I will not let you die. Do you hear me, Mellon nin?”

Legolas nodded against the Man’s chest, a small smile coming to his lips. “I hear you, my Ranger. I will try…”

Aragorn exchanged looks with Haldir, who nodded at him with approval. “We will leave at once,” said the Marchwarden. Aragorn nodded, his arms wrapping possessively around his Elf.

They had been in Lórien for several days. Éomer had chosen to escort the small contingent of Elves, bearing the fading Prince, with Aragorn at his side, back to Lothlórien. He felt it was his responsibility and his duty to do at least this much. Deep down, Éomer knew it was even a bit more than that. He cared for this Elf. He wished sorely that his first dire prediction to the Ranger did not prove so prophetic.

He picked his way listlessly through the beautiful garden of white flowers, when a voice interrupted his sullen thoughts. “Quiet contemplation does not suite you, Horselord. Your feelings are too dark. The flowers are protesting.” Haldir stepped from behind the large trunk of a Mallorn.

Éomer smiled at the Lórien Guard. He rather liked this haughty, imposing, self-confident Elf, probably because he reminded Éomer of himself. He smirked at the thought, as the Marchwarden regarded him with amusement. “Now you are laughing,” remarked the Elf, “are all men’s moods so fickle?”

“Ah, my dear Marchwarden, I am merely pleased to have your company again. You have lifted me from my thoughts.”

Haldir fell in step with the brash young Human and cocked an eyebrow. “Then, for the sake of our flower brethren, I should stay with you awhile.”

Éomer made a small bow in the Elf’s direction. “As you please.” They walked quietly down the winding path among the heather and white bell shaped flowers. The serenity of the morning was marred by a subtle sadness in the air. The trees sang a melancholy song. Haldir shuddered and the Horselord, noticing, seemed to intuit the cause. “Any news on our fair Prince?” he asked after a moment of heavy silence.

The silver haired Elf made an almost imperceptible motion with his shoulders, his own mood darkening, “The trees do not offer encouragement, Horselord. I have known Prince Legolas for a long time. He is strong willed, like his father. If he can be saved it will be because he wills it to be so. I only hope that he shall will it.” He paused to look at the Human, meaningfully, “His injuries were grave. The body might recover, but for an Elf, the danger is to the soul which may be torn asunder and lost forever. Most Elves would not have survived this long after suffering such brutality.”

Éomer nodded, grimly. “Indeed,” he agreed in a quiet tone, “He is very strong willed, and a formidable warrior. But that is no surprise to you. You were his teacher.”

The older Elf smiled sadly. “He gave me quite a turn on a number of occasions, I dare say. It was not easy for him, to grow up with only his father. King Thranduil, Human, is by far one of the most formidable Elves in Middle Earth.”

Éomer chuckled, “Then I shall stay well away from Mirkwood. My last visit to Lothlórien was enough of an education in learning to respect the First Born.” He added a small bow toward the Marchwarden in acknowledgment of a lessoned learned.

The Elf laughed. “You know, Human, you had it coming. Such pride often invites challenge.”

“I know” said the Horselord, “so I am repeatedly being told.”

As if by mutual agreement their steps had taken them to the pavilion which housed the injured.

Voices were raised within and the frantic timbre of the Ranger’s protests carried easily through the lofty branches of the ancient tree, which embraced the House of Healing. Exchanging looks of alarm, Éomer and Haldir raced up the winding steps to the first tier of the graceful structure. Galadriel stood motionless, framed like a work of art, between two pillars that supported a jutting arch above her head. Even from a distance, power emanated from her seemingly ephemeral form that would give most men pause before approaching. The dark figure of the Future King stormed about the airy chamber as though facing down a Nazgul.

“You can’t let him die!” screamed the Ranger, who was well past the point of peaceful discourse. “I will not allow it. You said there was still a chance…”

“Aragorn, your destiny involves the liberation of all Middle Earth. I will not risk your life in a dangerous bonding.” Her voice was cool and lyrical in its detachment.

“My Lady,” the Man stammered, “you must allow me to try to save him. This is the Prince of Mirkwood that we speak of. I know I can bring him back.”

“Indeed, I grieve with you, as all of Elvendom will grieve, for the loss of one so favored by the Valar. But you are Elessar Telcontar. You cannot risk yourself in this manner. Too much rests on your shoulders, heir of Isildur.”

Éomer exchanged a stunned look with the Marchwarden. The Lórien Elf appeared to be as amazed by this revelation as was the Horselord.

The Rohirrim stepped forward boldly and went down on one knee before the Lady of the Wood. “My Lady, if I may be heard.”

The Lady turned towards the brash young Captain, and with a raised eyebrow, indicated that he should speak. Without rising from his knees Éomer looked upon the beautiful Elf Witch. “My Lady, if I understood correctly, this Man is the heir of Isildur, and may hold the key to lifting the darkness that rapidly consumes my lands and kills my people. But this same Man may also hold the key in saving the fair Prince of Mirkwood, possibly by risking himself in the process.”

The fair Galadriel nodded her head gracefully as she drifted closer to the mortal. “That is essentially correct, young Human.”

“Then, my Lady, as a representative of Men, who have much to lose or gain by the deeds of this Ranger of the North, I do beseech you to let him try to save the Prince. I would offer myself gladly to perform this service if it would suffice, but I doubt that any but this Ranger will do. For I do perceive it is their bond of love that has kept Legolas alive thus far.”

Aragorn bowed his head solemnly towards the Horselord who had proven himself yet again to be a true friend.

Galadriel stopped her forward movement and stared at the Horselord, her piercing gaze moving past the surface of his mind to see what lay beneath such an astounding plea. What she found there was unexpected and somewhat humbling. As she suspected, the young Rohirrim was enamored of the beautiful Prince of Mirkwood. But beneath this lay something deeper and more surprising. His competitiveness with the Ranger was surpassed by his admiration for the Man. An image of Aragorn existed in the Rohirrim’s mind. The Man was seen as both compassionate and decisive, a leader who would be gladly followed into battle out of loyalty. It was the Man’s capacity for love which made him trustworthy.

Indeed this was the era for Men to rise at long last, if such depth of conviction and integrity was an indication of the mettle of Man. “I see in your thoughts, Éomer son of Éomund, that you would gladly follow one who rules from his heart as well as from his mind.”

The Horselord knew his mind was laid open to this mysterious creature and so he met her eyes with all the pride of his race. “My Lady, I will follow one who knows the importance of loyalty and of love. If the race of Men is to throw off the darkness, we shall have to do it from a place that is truest and best in us. We shall have to stand together and do so from a place of courage that is not afraid to face total annihilation in order to do what is right.” He raised his chin defiantly, and said, “I stand with my brother and beg that you help him now to help the Prince.”

Before the Lady of the Wood could speak to such an impassioned speech, the Marchwarden stepped forward and went down on bended knee, next to the Rohirrim. Galadriel stared at her ancient guard. “Marchwarden, you wish to speak?”

Haldir met her gaze, “My Lady, for many centuries have I served as guardian to the Golden Wood. It is a sign of the times, is it not, that I should now bend my knee, along side my Human brother, to beg for the life of the young Prince? As an Elf, I too have much to lose, yet victory over the coming darkness will be hollow and empty if it comes from the abandonment of one of the fairest of our kind.”

Galadriel gazed at her Marchwarden and then turned to Aragorn, who gaped at her in hopeful expectation. “It will be difficult, and there are no guarantees that you will be successful in bringing him back even if you yourself do not die with him.”

Aragorn nodded his head solemnly, “I understand.”

The winding tunnel was dark, black in fact, like the deepest velvet yet somehow pregnant with sentience. He flew through it on unseen wings and a peacefulness encompassed his spirit and eased his mind. Long had the restlessness eaten at him until he felt to be but a shell of himself. But within this vastness of timeless space the wounds no longer seemed to matter. Perhaps they only belonged to the shell of his body. He knew he was not alone yet the voice of another in this darkness would have startled him. Was he approaching the Gates of his dream? Was there truly such a place or was it all a fabrication, a myth, like the “heaven” of which men spoke to console themselves when death touched them. Legolas did not know. He still knew his name and so was aware of his existence. Was he still alive then, attached to his body still, in some lingering way before the final death knell? If so, he wondered at what those left behind might think. Did they stand around his motionless form trying to bring him back or to help him to be released? He did not sense anything one way or the other. He was alone in this vast charcoal night. Perhaps this was death and nothing else happened.

Time had no meaning in this place. He may have been here for a day or an eternity. He could almost forget the suffering that had tormented his mind since the attack. He almost could forget his body and his life altogether except for the tiny nagging thought that some people would grieve his loss. His father came to mind, but Thranduil was strong. He would go on to care for Mirkwood and survive. Aragorn. The Ranger was another matter. It was more than a loose end. Legolas felt a tremor at the thought of the Man grieving for him. As if the idea fed on itself he could see the Ranger clearly, beautiful in the strength of his presence. Like a shining beacon in the darkness the Dúnadan pulled him forth. Legolas now stood before the light of the Man. Was it a vision called up from his memory of the Ranger or was this truly Aragorn?

As if in answer, the Man reached for him and the powerful light of the Human surrounded him. “I have been searching for you, my Love. Why do you hide in this darkness? Come with me into the Light.”

In an instant faster than thought Legolas stood on a green field of myrtle and sage. The green of the grass and the trees was more vibrant than anything he could remember seeing with his Elf eyes. The waters of the falls gently sloped over flat sunny rocks and fed the shining lake. The breeze picked up his hair and fanned it gently about his shoulders. He held up his hand and studied it in the light. His body glowed and he felt vibrant and whole again.

He looked in wonder at the Man. “The blackness was safe but a place of your own choosing, Mellon Nin.”

“This is your world then?” asked the Elf as he slipped into the Man’s warm embrace. “It is beautiful.”

“Only because you are here with me.”

“Am I really here with you, Aragorn? Is this real or a dream?”

“We are together, my Legolas. I have grown, my heart, to love you more than life itself. Where you go, I shall now follow.” The Man bent to kiss him gently on the lips.

Heat flared within the Elf, and Legolas felt a smoldering passion rise untainted from the well of his soul. Finally unfettered by the shackles of memory his arms rose to embrace the warm body of the Ranger. The kiss deepened and Aragorn’s tongue now invaded the hot sweetness of the Elf’s mouth.

Legolas moaned as the sharp driving need to feel the Man’s hands on his bare flesh consumed him. Aragorn lowered him to the ground and covered the Elf’s smooth body with his own. Hands roamed hotly over tingling flesh, and lips and teeth nipped on tender skin. Aragorn’s mouth tasted the Elf’s throat and traveled to the sensitive point of an ear. His fingers skimmed over the white skin of the collarbone and to rub across the tender nubs. Legolas moaned as a nipple was pinched between thumb and forefinger, while the mouth now kissed him again in fiery passion. Aragorn’s hard cock rubbed over his own erect shaft, dueling in unquenchable desire, slipping and sliding over each other, while the Man’s hands explored every hill and valley of the Elf’s body.

Legolas groaned and thrust up into the Man’s groin as his mouth was taken again. The Ranger’s fingers skimmed into the cleft between the Elf’s cheeks and Legolas moaned into Aragorn’s mouth as a finger dipped into the warm channel. The Man’s knee wedged between his legs forcing them apart, and a shiver of anticipation shook him wildly as Aragorn’s finger pushed deeper inside him. The Man’s warm tongue invaded his mouth as the finger borrowed deeper until it brushed against h sweet spot. A jolt of pleasure electrified him, almost dislodging him from the invading digit. Legolas moaned against the Man’s lips.

“Are you alright?” asked the Man huskily.

“I want you, Aragorn! I want you now!” cried Legolas softly against the wind chapped lips that kissed the corner of his mouth and teeth that nipped at his full bottom lip.

Legolas moaned again as his thighs were parted and his hips raised to fit snuggly on the Man’s lap. His eyes opened to look trustingly into the blue of the Ranger’s smoldering gaze. “I want you, Mellon Nin. I want you to be mine, forever,” said the Man, whose eyes now shimmered suspiciously.

Legolas gasped as he felt the weeping head of the Man’s cock push up against his opening and desire flared to an even higher pitch as the Man tenderly pushed past the ring of guardian muscle. Legolas moaned to feel the hard shaft enter him, and he pushed down to meet the sweet invasion, marveling at the total absence of fear. He pushed down, feeling the hard flesh enter him until Aragorn was completely sheathed. They held each other’s eyes and Legolas felt tears spring to his own blue orbs. He had wanted this for so long. He wanted to feel the Man inside him. He needed Aragorn to possess him and to claim him. To forever wash away the stain of the rape with the strength of the Man’s passion and the mark of the Ranger’s own seed.

Aragorn bent down and kissed him tenderly. “I love you, Legolas. You are my home.”

The tears did spill now from Aragorn’s eyes, and Legolas tasted the salt on the Man’s lips. “Is this a dream? Are we really together?” he asked fearfully. He needed this to be real.

“We are together. I will never leave you.” Aragorn now pulled out slowly, dragging his thick weeping shaft over the sensitive bundle of nerves and the Elf arched beneath him with a cry. Aragorn pushed back in again, slowly, then with out pause pulled out again in maddeningly slow movements.

“Ah!” cried the Elf, “faster …” he panted, “harder…”

Aragorn smiled and pushed in stronger this time, and as he pumped into the Archer, Legolas moaned and spread his legs even wider to allow greater access. He vigorously pumped his hips up to meet the Man’s thrusts, now hungry for the wild rutting of the beasts of the wild. He cried out as the Ranger clamped bruising fingers onto his flanks, holding him steady, controlling him, as he pumped furiously into the Elf’s nether port. “You’re mine,” growled the Ranger, as he lifted the Elf’s legs over his shoulders and angled deeper. “You are mine, now and forever!”

“Yes!” screamed the Elf, giving himself over to the wild possession by the Man. He threw his head back onto the ground as the Ranger took him with abandon. Rapid thrusts seared his spasming channel. Strong fingers wrapped around his shaft, pumping him convulsively. “Come for me, my love,” commanded the Ranger in a thick voice filled with lust. “Come for me, now.” Legolas screamed as the hand pumped him mercilessly and the thick long cock pushed hungrily deeper into him with every thrust. He was completely mastered by the Man’s love. He could fight it no longer and he released himself into this final and ultimate possession. His body convulsed in thrilling release, as the Man wantonly rode him, his own seed squirting violently over his chest and belly. The spasming channel pushed the Man over the edge and with one, two, three more thrusts Aragorn came deep into his lover’s body with a howl of satisfaction.

Their heaving bodies wrapped around each other and as the wild beating of their hearts started to slow, Legolas felt Aragorn shift to lay next to him. Strong hands lifted him and he was pulled to lie on the Man’s chest in his customary place. Legolas sighed, and snuggled deeper into the warm arms. He threw a leg over the Man, and rubbed his cheek contentedly against the hairy chest. Legolas chuckled.

“What is it?” asked the Man, still somewhat breathless.

“I didn’t know you could perspire in heaven,” said the Elf as he flicked his tongue out to lick the salty drops off the Man’s chest.

Aragorn chuckled deeply. But the Elf suddenly sat up and looked at him with wide eyes of alarm.

“Aragorn! Why are you here!”

Aragorn sat up as well, confusion on his handsome face. “I told you, my love. You are my home.” He reached out and stroked the sweet cheek of the Elf tenderly, his thumb brushing lovingly over the full bottom lip, which was now slightly bruised from their vigorous lovemaking. “I will never be parted from you.”

The Elf gasped as a realization of sorts was starting to sink in. “No! This cannot be…What have you done, foolish Man?”

Aragorn’s eyes narrowed in slight irritation. “I told you I would not leave you. Nor would I let you die. I made Galadriel give me the power to bond with you.”

The Elf caught his breath, a hand rising to his mouth in shock. “Bond! But that means…By the Valar! How long have you been here? We can’t stay here…you are needed!”

He grabbed at the Man who was looking at him in mild confusion. “Legolas, all I need is you.” The Man reached for him, pulling the Elf into his arms amorously.

Legolas pried his mouth from the Man’s possessive lips. “Nay, Aragorn, listen to me…we need to get back before we lose the thread to our bodies.” His words were cut off as his mouth was taken again in a warm kiss.

“I love you, Legolas,” whispered the Man, against his lips.

“I love you too, but now we must go,” he pushed the Man off him and rose to his feet. Extending a hand to the increasingly confused human, he pulled Aragorn up and grabbed him by the shoulders. Looking deeply into the love struck eyes of his Ranger, Legolas said, “Now, you said you will never be parted from me, so come. We will go back together. Hold me tight and concentrate on returning…”

Aragorn wrapped his arms tightly around his most prized possession, and pressed his lips against the Elf’s mouth. “If that is what you want, my heart. I will go where ever you desire.”

Legolas kissed him tenderly, “I desire to go back home, back to me… to us.”

.....

Haldir sighed as the impatient Human paced back and forth over the wooden floor of the pavilion. “Well, how long should we wait? How are we to know if it worked?” growled the worried Horselord.

“Are you always so impatient, Human?” asked the Marchwarden in exasperation, as his eyes followed the pacing to and fro movement of the Rohirrim. The Man was a bundle of irrepressible energy. Haldir had a mind to teach this fair-haired Human a lesson in patience.

“Are you always so complacent? Does it not burn within you to know the outcome of what could spell life or death for us all?” retorted the irritable Rohirrim, in a bark of annoyance. Haldir raised an elegant eyebrow at the Horselord. Yes, a new lesson was in order for this young human, prior to his departure from the Golden Wood. He almost got the chance to say so when Galadriel entered the waiting area.

They both stood up and waited expectantly for her to speak. “They are both now sleeping soundly.” She sighed and nearly collapsed on a wide wooden bench. Haldir and Éomer were both at her side, one holding each delicate white hand, as they lowered her to sit. She smiled at the energy that thrummed through her towards each other as she brushed their helping hands with her fingers.

“It was very close,” she said. “In fact I was quite sure I had lost them both to death. But then, the Prince reached out to me with his mind, and together they slowly made their way back to themselves.” She sighed, still dazed by the powerful experience of touching death so starkly and then being swept into the brilliancy of love and strength of will that brought them back to life. Her eyes turned towards the alcove where the Man slept peacefully, with his Elf tucked securely into his arms, the golden head of the sleeping Prince nested snuggly on his sweaty chest. She smiled. “The Valar only know what miraculous fruit will come forth from the seed of love that has been planted this day.”

The Man chuckled in his sleep, as his playful Prince kissed the drops of perspiration off his skin and cuddled against him. A deep healing sleep took them both to a beautiful green meadow where their souls danced and made love fearlessly to one another, and spoke of a future that was yet unwritten but secure. The bonded pair slept soundly in each others arms, while the trees sang of a love destined to become more legendary even than that of Tinúviel and Lúthien.. The Elf’s hand rested lightly on his belly as a glowing ember of new life implanted itself deep within him. His mate’s hand came to rest over his own. Beneath their laced fingers, the future King of a United Middle Earth basked in the warmth of his undying parent’s love.

The End, or a New Beginning….

 

 

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