The End of Beauty
It haunted him, becoming his constant companion.
That which Aragorn feared most was coming to pass: the death of beauty and light, the fading of hope that he would ever know love again and possess the care to enjoy it. With each step closer to the dreaded forces that held Merry and Pippin, Aragorn's dream of a life of peace seemed less the noble goal of a would-be king and more the delusions of an ignorant Man. He and the others walked blindly into doom. Worse, they did so willingly.
You are a fool, he berated himself as he led Gimli and Legolas through the twilight forest. Rivendell is the last light you will ever know. You will never see your beloved again.
His beloved... Even in the privacy of his mind, he feared to speak her name. For the Ring had already tainted Aragorn's soul. When Frodo had offered it to him, the Ring had drawn forth from him a desire for power Aragorn had not known he possessed. He would not allow it to warp his memories of Elrond's daughter. Not when she was the last thing of beauty he could remember --
A light breeze caressed his cheek as Legolas trotted past him. Nay, Aragorn admitted uneasily, perhaps not the last. Against his will, the Man's eyes followed the slender Elf as he wove through the trees. How long, he wondered grimly, until pale hair replaced the soft brown of his affection? How long until his tongue yearned to curl around the name of another?
The shame of betrayal stained him. He clutched at the token of Evenstar that hung safely beneath his tunic. She alone is the light, he reminded himself, tearing his eyes from Legolas' retreating figure. The edges of the pendant dug into his palm. *She* is beauty. It is she for whom you fight.
Yet when a cry broke from the forest ahead, it was not for her that his heart missed its beat. Sword drawn, Aragorn crashed through the trees, heedless of Gimli puffing behind him. The hair on the back of the Man's neck rose at the sounds of snarls and grunts issuing from the trees ahead. The familiar icy brew of fear and adrenaline sluiced his veins. He imagined the twisted horde of uruk hai that awaited him and inexplicably, his steps faltered. Traitorous thoughts slid sinuously into his head. He could turn back. The Fellowship no longer existed. How much more of fear and death could he swallow until the vileness tainted all he saw? All he touched?
The sweet singing pitch of an arrow in flight pierced his confusion. Whatever his doubts, Legolas needed help. Angered at his momentary lapse, Aragorn charged into the melee. Legolas stood at its center, a marvel to behold. Golden hair gleaming, brow knitted in concentration, the elf released arrow after arrow into the swarming crowd with a composure Aragorn envied. Bolstered by the Elf's courage, the Man slashed his way to the other's side.
As though to make up for his earlier hesitance, Aragorn fought with the passion of a man possessed. Bodies piled swiftly at his feet and his sword ran black with their blood. Hacking, slicing -- he jerked his blade free from a screaming creature only to find himself without further foe.
"You are a fine fighter!" Gimli exclaimed from behind him. "You fight with the strength of ten Men!"
"Or one Elf," Legolas teased.
Breathing heavily, Aragorn shoved wet hair from his face and glanced askance at the smiling Elf. Pale hair tangled enticingly about the pointed ears. A rosy flush brightened Legolas' cheeks, making him glow with an impossible beauty.
To his horror, responding heat pooled low in Aragorn's body. Desperation made him lash out. "How came we to be attacked?" he demanded. A strange sort of sickness settled in his stomach as he watched the smile melt from Legolas' face. "What use are your Elven senses if they cannot detect the thunderous approach of the enemy until they are upon us?"
Stunned, Legolas dropped the arrow he had been retrieving. "They lay in ambush," he protested. "I did not hear until --"
"You did not hear because you were entranced by the forest and its blasted song! You could have let us fall," Aragorn accused, sheathing his sword violently. "What then, of poor Merry and Pippin?" He turned away, unable to bear the hurt and outrage that stole all color from the Elf's face. The Man lowered his voice, steeling it to reflect nothing. "Do your duty, Legolas. There is too much at stake to allow your fascination with the forest to turn your head."
Legolas was a proud Elf. Aragorn knew it and expected a haughty response. But even Gimli was taken aback when the Elf turned on his heel and strode into the forest, arrows forgotten. For some reason, Legolas' silence disturbed Aragorn more than if the Elf had tried to defend himself. It hinted of something personal and that was the last thing the Ranger wanted.
Gimli stepped beside him, the small dark eyes curious and uncomfortably perceptive. "Aragorn --" the Dwarf began.
"Save it," the Man cut him off. "This is not about sparing anyone's feelings, this is about survival. There can be no room for mistake. We must see the Fellowship to its completion."
"Legolas is no idle day-dreamer," Gimli growled in uncharacteristic defense of the Elf. "His role in the Fellowship has been performed with skill. Without him, we would not have gotten this far."
Aragorn looked to the trees where the Elf had sought solace. He heard himself speak as if from afar. "The sooner Legolas realizes that nothing exists in this world save the task we are set upon, the sooner we may all return home."
And to those who wait for us, he wanted to add. But the thought did not hold the comfort it once had.
He turned his back on the Dwarf and bent to tug Legolas' arrows from the bodies of the dead. Gimli released an irritated snort but Aragorn ignored him. Pain and self-disgust churned in his gut. He did not want the Dwarf to witness his uncertainty.
It was not until Legolas stepped wordlessly from the trees and they resumed their journey that Aragorn felt the true depth of his shame. The Elf took the point as usual, his golden head held high and straight, brown eyes fixed with determination. He did not swing his head to gaze in wonder upon the trees and animals as he had been wont to do. When a bird above them trilled engagingly, all but Legolas turned to admire it.
'Tis what you wanted, is it not? Aragorn asked himself, watching the stiffly set shoulders ahead of him. Triumph tasted like bitter ashes as his own voice mocked him: Legolas no longer sees the beauty in the world around him. Well done. Now, he is just like you.
Camp was a silent, uncomfortable affair. A word had yet to be exchanged between Man and Elf since the fight with the uruk hai. Gimli grumbled his disapproval with every step.
Aragorn wiped the remnants of his meal from his hands. "Who will take first watch?"
"I shall." Legolas vanished into the darkness before the others could protest. Aragorn stared after him. The Ranger doubted Legolas would return to wake them when their turns came. The Elf would keep watch the entire night, proving a point that did not need
proving.Unwilling to dwell on that train of thought, Aragorn selected a stone from the earth and drew it across the length of his blade.
"The way you fought today, a reed would have served you just as well."
Aragorn inclined his head at the Dwarf's compliment, Anduril sharpening beneath his ministrations. "I would prefer the advantage of a keen blade, given the choice. I have not your indefatigable strength."
The Dwarf harrumphed. "Strength can be found in many places," he replied, sounding unusually philosophic. "Yours is the strength of leadership. Many would follow you to their ruin, if you but asked."
Aragorn looked up, his hands stilling. "Is that what you think I do? Lead us to ruin?"
Gimli's face was shadowed. "Corruption does not always lie in wait by the side of the road. Sometimes, it travels hidden within us." The Dwarf's eyes rested on Aragorn's hand where it had lifted to Evenstar's necklace. "Succumbing to the darkness need not come at the point of a blade. Indeed, I find that the strength of Men is oft challenged by much softer stuffs."
Aragorn forced his hand from the Elven pendant. "For a Dwarf, you play convincingly well at wisdom." He set his sword atop his bedroll, following it down with a sigh of weariness. "Leave off of baiting me, my friend. The strength of this Man is far from inexhaustible."
"Stubborn!" Gimli muttered, but he said no more, settling into his own blanket.
Long after the other's gutteral snores fell into rhythm, Aragorn stared sightlessly at the stars. Gimli's words troubled him deeply. Aragorn had long believed that the shadow, when it came, would engulf him from all sides. He despaired at the possibility that the darkness was within him to begin with, radiating outwards to bring the others down.
Again and again, he brought to his mind the injury he had forced upon Legolas that day. Who was he, to inflict such pain? Legolas was a magical being, sprung from the very heart of Middle Earth, destined to walk the land long after the mountains had eroded. He, on the other hand, was nothing but a Man. And a poor example of one, at that.
He tossed aside the covering blanket. He would set things right. He strode into the forest, not expecting to find the Elf so easily. But Legolas had remained near to the camp, a silent sentinel against evil.
A different fear altogether slowed Aragorn's steps as he drew near. Moonlight gilt the high cheekbones that turned at the Man's approach. Legolas regarded him without rancor, the smooth Elven features free of emotion.
"I am no threat to you," Legolas said quietly.
"It had never entered my mind," the Man replied.
The Elf continued as though he had not heard. "You look upon me and you see an end to all that you hold dear. I threaten the peace of your heart. I do not seek to." The hint of a frown flitted across Legolas' face. "It is not I who set you upon the edge you now walk. Nor will I push you off of it."
Aragorn dampened the defensive anger that arose in him. "You presume too much," he bit out. "I came but to apologize."
Legolas' looked away. His voice, when it came, floated almost reluctantly to the Ranger's ears. "I know you desire me. It colors your every word. I beg of you, turn away now, before you forget yourself and resent me more than you already do."
A rustle of wind stirred the hair around Aragorn's stunned face. He found himself without words, unable to refute the Elf. Yes, he finally admitted to himself, he did desire Legolas. With an intensity that banished thought of any other. To remain would be to embrace betrayal of the one good thing he had left to him.
He lifted his foot in retreat, then hesitated. His brow creased as he studied Legolas. Ah, but betrayal, he discovered with surprise, was not Aragorn's alone. Thinly disguised emotion drew the Elven features taut. Hope, yearning, fear -- was Legolas aware of how much he revealed? It did not matter. Though the Elf said not a word, Aragorn knew that if he returned to the camp now, the chance to truly know Legolas, to uncover the many facets of his beauty, would be lost. Calling himself every sort of fool, he caught the Elf unawares, dragging their bodies into a tight embrace.
He had chosen well. Legolas belonged against him. Nothing had ever felt so right. Marveling at the exquisite anticipation that sizzled along his nerves, Aragorn wondered that it had taken him so long to realize this.
"I thought I was lost," he whispered thickly, staring into eyes that blazed with the warmth of the earth. "I could no longer see the joy left in life. I had forgotten what it is that we fight for. Never could I resent you, fair Legolas. You are my friend. You are my light."
Legolas gasped, eyes widening as Aragorn rocked his hips slowly, deliberately into the Elf's. The fair face flushed, brown eyes glazing as the friction brought their desire into teasing contact. Aragorn watched the moist lips part, felt himself surge with need as he imagined that soft flesh surrounding him. "All this time," he murmured hoarsely, ducking his head to nip at a delicately pointed ear, "I have fought your temptation. To no avail, you see. You defeat me."
Slender hands tugged his head up. "I did not ask for this," Legolas panted. The struggle for control of his desire left the Elf shaking. "I would not remove the Lady Arwen from your heart."
Aragorn's mouth covered the Elf's, coaxing a sigh. "You have not removed Arwen," he breathed against the other's lips. He felt the slender body shiver. "You have replaced her."
Legolas made a sound of denial but Aragorn would not let him voice it. His lips slanted gently across Legolas' face, mapping its contours, its velvet texture. When the eyelids fluttered shut, he placed kisses atop the soft skin there.
At last Legolas responded. Warm hands slid down to cup Aragorn's buttocks and pull him closer. The Ranger groaned, his own fingers drifting to the hem of the Elf's tunic. His hands slipped beneath, finding the twin nubs and circling them teasingly. Legolas moaned, body twisting, until Aragorn relented and pinched the hardened nipples with his calloused fingertips. The cock that pressed against him twitched in response.
"You torment me, Aragorn!" Legolas bucked as the Man's fingers plucked and pulled at him. A final twist, then the fingers lifted, skimming lightly down the flat plane of the Elf's stomach. A large warm palm cupped Legolas through his leggings. The Elf trembled.
"I feel as though I am playing an exquisite instrument," Aragorn told him. "A flex of my fingers thus --" the Elf moaned helplessly "--or a firm stroke here --" Legolas whimpered "--and I am able to draw forth the most beautiful sounds I have ever heard." Aragorn curled his hand around the pulsing erection, let his fingers brush the sensitive sac below. His eyes drank in Legolas' responses, greedily stroking his stiff cock to wring more from him. "You are beautiful."
"I cannot bear it!" Legolas suddenly cried. He shoved Aragorn's hand aside and dropped to his knees upon the grass. Blood rushed to Aragorn's cock as his breeches were opened and his throbbing length sprang free into the cool night air. Legolas cupped him, his face awash in awe as he admired the Man's strength before him.
A hand settled atop the golden hair. "Taste me," Aragorn urged huskily. The Elf did not hesitate. His soft, wet tongue swirled eagerly about the head of Aragorn's flesh. The Ranger moaned low in his throat. He threw his head back, eyes shut tightly, and braced his legs against the tremors that threatened his collapse. Legolas did not tease, but sought to worship. Lips and tongue traced a burning path of discovery along the Man's length. The Elf hummed appreciatively, nearly undoing Aragorn, before taking the Man completely in his mouth.
"Legolas..." It was all he could manage. The Elf's tongue wrapped around his cock like a silken fist. Aragorn twisted his hands through strands of golden hair and pumped himself into the tight heat of Legolas' mouth. When the Elf took him deep, it was like a gift. Aragorn managed to still himself, trembling on the brink of release. Legolas sat back and kissed the shining tip of his cock. Silver pearl glistened on his lips as he looked up at the Ranger, questioningly.
Aragorn touched the smooth cheek, smiling as the Elf leaned into the caress. "How came I upon such good fortune?" It was a question meant for himself, but Legolas answered it. "You are heartsore after all you have seen and done." Legolas turned his lips into the sword-roughed palm and kissed it. "Let me draw you into the light, King of Gondor. Find your peace within my body and let it strengthen you."
Wordless, Aragorn pushed Legolas back upon the loamy earth, settling himself between the archer's thighs. Leggings were swiftly tossed aside, allowing the heat of their desire to burn together. Aragorn rubbed his cock over and around Legolas', listening to the Elf's breath catch. It fired the Man's blood, but it was not all that he wanted. He moved lower along the slender body until his erection slipped between muscled buttocks and pressed against the tight entrance there.
Brown eyes re-focused, settled upon him with trusting expectance. Aragorn's dream of peace had never seemed more attainable than at that moment. Stroking Legolas' lips with his own, Aragorn merged their bodies into one.
The Elf was impossibly tight. Aragorn could not remember such bliss. Losing himself to pleasure, he thrust hard and deep, rocking their bodies against the cool earth. He twisted his hips, changing the angle and was rewarded as Legolas' eyes rolled back, a muffled cry escaping his lips. Aragorn struck that tender spot again and again, unwilling to let the Elf hide behind the barriers of his considerable control. He wrapped a hand around Legolas' straining erection and pumped it in time with the cock that pierced him. The last crumbling walls of Legolas' composure disintegrated into dust.
Aragorn sucked in his breath as the Elf bucked beneath him, impaling himself deeper upon the Ranger. Aragorn groaned and dropped his forehead against the other's. A glint of silver flashed in front of his eyes. He froze.
It swung free of his tunic, suspended like a glistening teardrop between Legolas and he.
Their eyes met above the dangling silver. Legolas had gone still. The acceptance of rejection lay clearly upon his face. He would give Aragorn up, the Man saw, never mention it again, if that is what the Ranger wanted. Aragorn shook his head, disbelieving.
"I will not let that happen," he declared. "You and I, Legolas, have known too much of sacrifice already." He drew the pendant over his head and set it carefully upon the grass. "If I fall tomorrow, it will be the memory of this night that eases my passage into darkness."
A single tear slipped from the corner of Legolas' eye. Aragorn bent and kissed it away. "Does this trouble you?"
Legolas shook his head, eyes shining. "The forest," he said in wonderment, "Aragorn -- it sings for us!"
The Ranger buried his face in the Elf's damp hair. Shame unmanned him. To think that he had tried to deny Legolas such magic. What a fool he had been. He inhaled the scent of the Elf and of the earth beneath him and slowly moved his hips once more. Ecstasy flared through him with renewed intensity. He knew beauty now. Realized it had never left him, merely existed where he had been afraid to
look.Slowly, with care, Aragorn pleasured them both. Within that enveloping effort, the archer found release. Watching Legolas' strength give way to trembling vulnerability, Aragorn decided he had never been more humbled. He thrust deeply into the Elf, chasing the last lingering threads of Legolas' rapture and caught them, erupting with a strangled shout. Legolas held him as he shook. When he at last raised his head, the fair Elven face smiled up at him with a love that stole Aragorn's breath.
"No matter what horrors you face in the course of your life, my brave King, you will find beauty as well, if you but trust yourself to see it."
Peace settled like a mantle about Aragorn's shoulders. "I will not find myself beseiged again," he murmured, touching the other's lips. "Come what may, I have found the light I thought I had lost. I love you, Legolas." He savored the joy that burst from the Elf like sunlight. "You are everything to me."
*And what of the shadow?* His thoughts turned to the Ring and the corruption it had pulled from him. His mouth thinned as he hugged Legolas tightly. Things had changed. Let the darkness try and take him. He would never walk in shadow again...
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