DISCLAIMER: All characters and places belong to Tolkien and New Line Cinema. The great man is no doubt turning in his grave.
Author's Notes: This fic is a response to Catz's challenge posted on the HLA Slash list. Thanks to her for the inspiration and to Panthera for providing beta.
The Games We Play
Part II - The Game
Haldir left the following morning, but not before showing Legolas around his quarters, which were not far from the pavilion. If one stood on the little balcony outside the Guardian's chamber, one could easily see the white tent of the pavilion where the Fellowship stayed.
Legolas immediately felt at home within the sparsely furnished chamber, and he knew that his decision to stay here had been the right one. The furnishings consisted of a large bed and bedside table, another small table with two chairs, a writing desk and chair, a small bookcase and a chest of drawers, on top of which were a silver basin and a jar of water. The Prince ran his hand appreciatively over the ornate carvings of the desk, an amused smile on his lips. He could hardly imagine Haldir sitting here writing reports.
On one wall hung several ceremonial weapons: a bow, two swords, two long knives and a dagger. However, what caught Legolas' attention the most was a magnificent harp that stood in one corner of the room. The morning sunshine, which streamed from a nearby window, highlighted its burnished, gold hue. Enchanted, Legolas went to it.
"Do you play?" the Guardian asked.
"I have not played in many a season," the Prince admitted. "Not since my love for the bow and arrow surpassed all else. I have forgotten much."
"Now would be a good time to remember then," Haldir encouraged, gently placing a hand on the younger Elf's shoulder.
Afterward, Legolas walked Haldir to the city gates, where the Guardian met a small group of Elves who had also been assigned to the northern border and there they bid each other farewell.
"I do not know when I shall be returning," Haldir said, "but I hope that it will be before your company departs."
"I am certain of it," the Prince replied. "For who will be our guide when we must travel to the river's shores?"
"Lórien has many skilled guides," the Guardian answered, attempting to bait the Prince.
"But there is only one guide that I favor," Legolas whispered, leaning forward and brushing his lips against Haldir's cheek.
The Prince smiled as he pulled away, and for a split second, the Guardian thought he saw something in the younger Elf's eyes that he had not seen there before. A cool detachment, the gleam of a predator reflected in himself. It had just been an instant. Legolas smiled now, warmth and sincerity radiating from him, and Haldir could not help but smile in return. The Mirkwood Prince was a prize indeed and the Guardian would have him. Patience would only make the prize all the sweeter.
Legolas remained true to his word, taking all his meals with the Fellowship and spending additional time with the Halflings. Frodo and Sam often went off by themselves, but Merry and Pippin both had an insatiable curiosity, particularly Pippin, who bombarded the Elf with an endless series of questions, some of great importance, others of spectacular triviality. Legolas answered each question patiently and with an equal amount of gravitas, whether he was discussing complicated Elven bloodlines, or how he managed to keep his hair immaculately tangle free, which Frodo had overheard him explain one day and had promptly sent the Ringbearer into a fit of giggles.
The Hobbits asked Legolas to give them a tour of Caras Galadhon, even though the Prince was new to the city himself. In the end, Legolas roped one of the Galadhrim, who was quite taken by the woodland Prince, to give the Halflings their much-desired tour. Legolas accompanied them, as he also wished to become more familiar with the city, and out of concern for the pretty handmaiden of the Lady Galadriel who was to be their guide. He worried that the four Hobbits might be too much for her to handle, especially since she was unused to speaking in the Common Tongue. For her part, the handmaiden was overjoyed to have the visiting Prince by her side and left all the translation duties to him.
With the exception of this special tour, the Galadhrim kept mostly to themselves. Sam pointed this out one day and asked Legolas if there was a reason for it.
"The Galadhrim have always been a private people, as is the custom among my race," Legolas answered. "But in this instance, there is also the matter of language."
"Language?" Sam questioned.
"Yes. Few of the Galadhrim have any dealings with the world beyond their wood," the Prince explained. "Many cannot speak the Common Tongue, and those who are familiar with it have doubtless not used the language in centuries."
Sam nodded in understanding. Smitten by anything Elvish, the Hobbit decided to use this time to bridge the communication gap. Perhaps Mr. Frodo would help him, was the hopeful thought that entered his mind.
Frodo, who had been lying on his bed listening to the conversation, asked the Elf, "Is it the same in Mirkwood?"
"To some extent," Legolas replied. "We speak our own language, as well as lesser known Silvan dialects, when we are amongst ourselves. However, we have always had dealings with the men of Laketown and much trade passes along the Old Forest Road. In that respect, Westron has remained alive and well among my people."
"I should like to visit your wood one day," Frodo murmured sleepily, closing his eyes for an afternoon nap.
"Then perhaps you shall," Legolas whispered comfortingly.
The Elf was beginning to doubt that such a day would come, knowing that the fate of all Middle-Earth depended upon their quest. But he would not let his doubt poison the Ringbearer. His fears were held at bay in fair Lothlórien, where beauty and goodness remained undiminished.
Whilst the Galadhrim preferred to keep to themselves, they eagerly welcomed the Prince's company and Legolas often went with them on their short journeys and excursions. The Fellowship did not take offense at this, believing it only natural that the Elf would want to spend time with his kin. There was only one member of the company who believed that there could be another reason, but of course, he did not voice it. Lothlórien also brought peace of mind to the exiled King, but it left him with a restless heart. He took comfort in the knowledge that at the very least, Haldir was still on patrol along the northern border.
On the fourth day of their stay, something unexpected happened after breakfast. Legolas, who usually disappeared after meals, stood up and politely excused himself. Then, almost as an afterthought, the Elf looked in the Dwarf's direction and said, "Master Dwarf, I shall be visiting a rock spring today, one that the Galadhrim say leads to some interesting, albeit small, underground caves. Would you like to accompany me?"
The Fellowship exchanged surprised glances and there were raised eyebrows. No one was more surprised than Gimli, who stared at the Prince as though Legolas had grown two heads. But he recovered quickly and gave a small cough, an attempt to gather his wits before replying.
"A rock spring and caves, you say?" Gimli repeated. "Well, I suppose I could do with a wee bit of exercise." He nodded his head, as though to reaffirm his decision. "Very well, Master Elf. I shall accompany you on this little excursion."
Legolas seemed pleased with the Dwarf's decision. "Then I shall meet you here in half an hour. Is that satisfactory?"
"What is satisfactory for an Elf is more than satisfactory for a Dwarf," Gimli replied, causing the company to exchange amused looks once more. It would be a long morning for their two friends.
A long morning it proved to be, but an enjoyable one as well. So enjoyable that the Elf and the Dwarf began spending time together on a regular basis. Though Gimli constantly complained that Dwarves were not built for long treks, nor the many staircases and pathways of Caras Galadhon that did not stop him from accompanying Legolas on his numerous trips. For his part, Legolas made the pace of their walks manageable for his stout companion, often stopping for short breaks along the way.
Like two opposing forces inexplicably drawn together, the Elf and the Dwarf were slowly beginning to understand one another, to look beyond the misconceptions of one another's races. At the very least, to appreciate each other's differences. Where once Legolas had believed that Dwarves were greedy creatures - digging, hoarding, taking from the earth and not giving anything in return - he saw now that they were great lovers of beauty and purity. There was nothing that the Dwarves fashioned that was not beautiful. He now paid attention to the angular patterns on Gimli's helmet, to the smooth, clean lines of his axe. He remembered the endless, magnificent halls of Dwarrowdelf and he listened with fascination to Gimli's tales of old. However, what endeared him most about his newfound friend, though he would never admit it, not even on pain of death, was Gimli's quick wit and dry sense of humor. The Dwarf was stubborn to a fault, but then again, the Elf reasoned, the same could probably be said about him.
Indeed, Gimli was thinking the very same thing about his hardheaded companion. It was one of the numerous faults that he had grown exceedingly fond of in the Elf. While Dwarves found beauty in their craftsmanship, Gimli realized that the Elves themselves epitomized beauty. They were called the Firstborn and it was easy to see why. He was mesmerized by their natural grace and lulled by their melodic voices. Their manner, which he once would have described as proud and aloof, he now saw as noble and serene, a way of life that had been cultivated over countless centuries. While the Dwarf would never quite be able to understand the Elf's attachment to trees, nor his predilection for bathing, he did come to appreciate that Elves were one with nature, bound to the very song of life. As Legolas sat and communed with the great mallorns, Gimli would bow his head before their majesty and find his own kind of peace.
So it was that Legolas' days began to fall into a pattern. He would dine with the Fellowship and entertain the Hobbits, spend his mornings with the Dwarf and the afternoons with the Galadhrim. It was only the nights that the Prince had to himself and he often took to wandering alone. Gimli complained that he became brooding and pensive when night fell, taking this as a clear sign that the Elf desired some privacy. Legolas cherished these moments of solitude, when he sought to find his peace of mind. But no peace would come to him. Not while he waited for something to happen, not while he waited for someone to return.
It was past midnight when Haldir crossed the great gates of Caras Galadhon. Most of the Elves who had been stationed at the northern border at the same time as the Guardian had decided to stay there an extra night, deeming the hour too late to return to the city. However, Haldir was eager to return home, and together with a few Elves who had their own reasons for wishing to return immediately, had left the border at dusk. When they reached the main field, the Elves went their separate ways with parting nods and quiet words. The Guardian conveniently passed by the pavilion, his eyes searching for something that he was hoping to find. A smile spread across his face when he saw the empty bed space. He knew who would be waiting for him in his chamber and the Elf quickened his steps.
When Haldir reached the short path that lead to his quarters, he stopped. He felt flustered, though he could not explain why. Anticipation, he reasoned. It has been twelve days since you saw him last and your body has ached for his presence, his nearness. Strange, how this young Elf has managed to possess you so. Patience, the Guardian reminded himself. The attraction is not one-sided. Let him come to you.
Silently, he pushed opened the unlocked door and stepped inside. The fresh, spring scent of cool morning dew invaded his senses and he inhaled deeply. The smell of Legolas. What bliss it would be to wake up to this every morning, he mused. The room was bathed in moonlight from the open window on the far side. Haldir scanned the chamber, noting how a bow and quiver rested on top of the small table, together with one of the Elf's long blades. It would not have surprised the Guardian in the least to know that the Prince slept with the other blade beneath his pillow. He slipped off his pack and together with his weapons, left them by the door. Then his eyes fell on the large bed and the sleeping figure upon it. Legolas lay on his side, facing the center of the bed. He wore a thin, white nightshirt made of a transparent gauze fabric, the lacings conveniently untied. He occupied only half the bed, as though waiting for Haldir to return.
Haldir undressed quietly until he stood by the bed wearing only his leggings. His eyes never left the Prince as he allowed the night air to cool his heated flesh. Legolas was so peaceful in repose; free from the confines of the daily masks that he wore. Lust fled from the Guardian's body as awareness of this privileged moment sunk in. How many others had seen the Prince with his defenses laid bare? Was Aragorn one of them? Disconcerted by this unbidden thought, Haldir lifted the white cover and slid in between the sheets so that he lay facing the other Elf. Midnight blue eyes gazed back at him, unfocused and distant. Legolas was sound asleep.
The Guardian wanted to reach out and brush his fingers against the soft skin; place gentle kisses on the golden brow. He did neither. Instead, a wave of desire washed over him, more powerful than the lust that had heated his loins. It was the desire to protect, to comfort, to love. Yes, he thought. He could love this creature before him, but would Legolas love him in return?
I give my heart to no one.
Haldir almost laughed aloud at his naive musings. Love? What a foolish flight of fancy. It was unlike him to fall prey to such mawkish sentiments. What he felt for the Elf was a physical attraction, a base desire, and one that Legolas succinctly appeared to return. There could be nothing more. Love was never part of the game and it would remain that way.
Sunlight streamed through the window many hours later. Haldir felt a breeze brush by his cheek as he awoke. He knew that the hour was late, much later than he usually arose, but even Guardians were allowed late mornings, especially ones who had been stationed at the border for nearly two weeks. Familiar surroundings came into view as his morning drowsiness fell away. There was a fresh, spring scent enveloping him, the welcome smell trying to remind him of something terribly important that he'd forgotten. He knew what it was the moment his eyes focused on another pair of clear blue that gazed back at him. The Guardian had the distinct feeling that the Prince had been watching him sleep for some time.
"Good morning," Legolas greeted him.
"You mean it is still morning?" Haldir chided.
"Only just," the Prince laughed.
Haldir laughed with him. "Is this your normal rising hour, Prince Legolas?" he inquired lightly.
"If I wish my father to chase me out of bed with his scepter," the Elf jested.
"It is fortunate then that no one shall chase you out of bed in Lórien. Least of all, the Lord and the Lady."
The image of the two stoic Elven nobles running the Prince out of bed made them laugh again. As their laughter died away, Haldir asked seriously, "Why have you not gotten out of bed yet? Surely you have been missed by your companions?"
"I did not wish to disturb you," the Prince answered simply. "You were so peaceful at rest."
Much like you were last night, the Guardian thought. Instead he said, "Then we are of a like mind. I feared that I would disturb you last night when I returned. For a moment, I contemplated sleeping on the floor, but after two weeks spent on a wooden talan, the comfort of my own bed was too much to resist."
"Your fears were for naught," Legolas replied, "for I slept as soundly as I have since staying here. Furthermore, I do not see why you should have resisted the comfort of your own bed when it is, after all, your own bed."
"It may be my bed," Haldir said in return, "but I have offered it to you."
The Prince smiled at this double entendre. "For that I am grateful," he said. "But it is a rather large bed," he went on. "There is more than enough room for us to share."
Now would have been the perfect moment for the Guardian to lean forward and steal a kiss from those sweet lips, but something stopped him. A glimmer. A hint of the same cool detachment he thought he had glimpsed the morning he had left the city. However, he had not been sure then, how could he be sure now? The moment seemed to be replaying itself as Legolas disarmed him with an enchanting smile, golden hair spilling over the Elf's shoulder and crowning his face. Realizing that there was more to this young Elf than perhaps he had bargained for, the Guardian reached over and ran his fingers down the flaxen mane until he held a lock of the Prince's hair in his hand.
"I am glad you feel that way," he said, "and that we have come to an agreement regarding our sleeping arrangements."
Haldir said these last two words with a hint of more to come, and then smoothly slipped out of bed. He could feel the Prince's eyes on him as he found one of his robes and with a final smile at his guest; he left the chamber to bathe.
The news of Haldir's return quickly reached the Fellowship, who attributed Legolas' disappearance that day to this event. The company assumed that a bond of deep friendship had formed between the two Elves, despite their short acquaintance, for why else would Legolas feel comfortable enough to stay in the Guardian's quarters? They were happy for their Elven companion, save for one, whose mood darkened at the Prince's absence. If Aragorn had been pressed to explain his change in temperament, the Man would have found himself at a loss for words. He could not make sense of the feelings warring inside him. Was it concern for the Prince's well-being or jealousy that spurned him on?
With the exception of this first day, Haldir easily slipped into the Prince's routine. The Guardian often ate with the Fellowship and was curious to get to know these strange beings called Halflings. He soon discovered that the Hobbits were delightful company, particularly the youngest one, who was excited to have "another Elf at his disposal," as Pippin called it. The Guardian was considerably more miffed at the fast friendship that had developed between the Prince and the Dwarf, but he deigned not to comment. Gimli had mellowed since their last encounter, looking upon the Elves with a new sense of respect, and the Galadhrim had accorded the same respect to him in return. The Dwarf did not mind that the Guardian now joined them in their morning excursions.
Haldir enjoyed Legolas' company more and more with each passing day, and he nurtured the blossoming friendship between them. He often wondered if this was the right approach. His original goal seemed distant and unimportant when he was around the younger Elf. He wished to earn the Prince's trust and affection, but as the friendship deepened, the idea of betraying the Prince repulsed him. Was a lasting friendship with this rarest of blessed creatures infinitely more important than a single bedroom conquest? If he were to rationalize his predicament, did he not have the Prince in his bed every night? This thought put a bittersweet smile on his face.
One day as the two Elves rested amid the branches of an ancient mallorn, Legolas looked down at the Guardian and said, "I value friendship above all else."
Haldir glanced upwards and arched an eyebrow, careful to hide his surprise at this sudden statement. "Above all else?" he repeated questioningly.
A slight blush tinted the Prince's cheeks at his own bold opinion. "I love my family dearly," he began, "but I speak of relationships outside that of familial ties. Each relationship brings with it its own . . . intricacies." Legolas paused so that he may choose his words with care. "Lovers may come and go, sewing their seeds and leaving their scars. But friends, carefully chosen and nurtured, are like firm rocks upon which our lives ebb and flow with the tide, always secure in the knowledge that our foundations will not falter. Do you see what I mean, Haldir?"
"I am not certain," the Guardian replied. "Do you mean to say that friends cannot be lovers?"
The blush in the other Elf's cheeks deepened, but he spoke with conviction. "Not necessarily," he answered. "If that line were to be crossed, it should not be done so lightly. Friends may also be lovers, but only if certain conditions are maintained, and should the physical attraction fade, it is the friendship that must burn ever brighter."
Do you wish to become lovers? Haldir wanted to ask. He wondered what those conditions would be now that the door appeared to be open to him.
"I do not cross that line anymore," Legolas suddenly said, firmly closing the door with these words. "I have found the price to be too high and that is why I value friendship above all else."
Haldir respected Legolas' wish, realizing that they had fallen too deeply into the friendship pattern for him to take advantage of the Prince now. He did not regret the path that he had chosen, and he wondered with an ironic smile what the Ranger would say if he knew that the Guardian's nobility had won over his more base desires. Still, nobility did not prevent the sexual tension from rising whenever he was around the Prince. Never before had the March Warden been so grateful for his complete control over his body, lest it betray his desire. Discreet brushes of hand and leg, the warmth of a palm against the small of his back, a chin lightly resting on his shoulder - these simple touches sent bolts of lightning through him, but Legolas remained completely unaffected. The attraction had become one-sided, leading the Guardian to wonder if it had ever been there at all. Perhaps he had imagined it to give legitimacy to his own pursuit. Strange how the seduction had ended before it had even begun. He understood now how the physical flame had faded for Legolas to be replaced by this need for a lasting friendship. Would things have played out differently if he had not left that morning three weeks ago? If he had been able to maintain the electricity between them? Perhaps. He would never know.
As noble as his intentions had become, they did not prevent the Prince from invading his dreams at night. Sometimes he awoke with a start, breathing heavily, his body covered with a sheen of sweat. He would look to his right at the Prince's resting figure, thankful that Legolas slept with his back to the Guardian. Images of blond hair tangled in his fingers, of velvet skin pressed against his own and that lithe form writhing beneath him were still fresh in his mind. Legolas had become both a blessing and a curse to him, a valuable friendship poisoned by unfulfilled desire.
One night, Haldir awoke with a throbbing ache in between his legs. Aroused to full hardness, he knew that he could not go back to sleep in this state. Stiffly, he stood up and reached for the silk robe that lay near him. He wrapped it around himself and silently padded outside. The autumn air cooled his tingling skin as he leaned heavily against the balcony rail. He knew that his legs would not support him for long. Defeated by his desire, he slumped to the floor, resting his forehead against the wooden rail. One hand gripped the carved rail by his side, while the other began to undo the tie around his robe. Why did he have to tie it so tightly?
Distracted, the Guardian did not notice that someone had joined him until he felt a warm body pressed against his back and long legs wrapped around his. He stiffened, the knot of his robe loosened but still untied, his grip on the wooden rail turning his knuckles white.
"Why are you outside at this hour?" Legolas asked.
"The air is freshest in the middle of the night," Haldir replied, inwardly groaning at this pathetic response. Apparently, unspent desire slowed the wit as well.
"So it is," Legolas answered, inhaling deeply and playing along. "But I think you are here for another reason," he said after a while.
The Guardian sighed. "And what would that be?"
"Tension. You need to relieve your tension." Legolas placed his hands on the Guardian's shoulders, kneading them slowly. "So many knots, Haldir," he scolded lightly. "What could be the cause of such stress?"
"What indeed?" Haldir said, warming to the Prince's touch.
"I think I know."
Legolas' hands slipped inside the Guardian's robe, pushing the firm body closer to him. Haldir sucked in his breath but did not resist, melting against the other Elf. Was this not what he wanted?
He knew it most certainly was when those talented hands began roaming his chest, massaging one nipple and then the other, deliberately moving downward, easily untying the irksome knot of his robe.
"Legolas," Haldir breathed, letting his head fall against the Elf's shoulder.
"Is this want you want, Haldir?" the Prince asked, echoing the Guardian's very thoughts. One hand rested at the juncture between thigh and pelvis, stroking the soft downy hair, the other continued its teasing ministrations on the Guardian's chest.
"Yes," he moaned, shifting his hips, trying to bring his arousal into contact with the Prince's hand.
"Tell me this is what you want," Legolas demanded.
Lost in the haze of his desire and the blood pounding in his temples, the Guardian did not notice that the Prince's tone had grown cold, that the Elf waited for a confession to leave his lips before granting his release.
"This is what I want," Haldir repeated dazedly.
"Then that is all I need to know."
Haldir looked up at the Prince and all he could see was how the moonlight caught the fine golden hair, wreathing the other Elf's face in its pale light. He leaned upwards for a kiss, unaware of the hard gleam in Legolas' eye. The Prince smiled and like a dark angel he bent down, but instead of meeting the Guardian's lips, he dipped his head lower to nip and lick the exposed flesh of Haldir's neck. Nothing mattered anymore when Legolas took him in hand, expertly stroking and squeezing his leaking shaft. He hissed when Legolas brought him to the brink of release, but then held back, prolonging the pleasure, the torture. He squirmed in the other Elf's embrace, his free hand groping for something to latch on to before he used it to find his own release, his other hand still gripping the carved rail.
"Faster," he whispered and Legolas obeyed, long fingers curving into a tight tunnel. Moving his hand rhythmically, he increased the pace, increased the friction.
"Now," Haldir moaned, throwing his head back. "Now!"
A hand suddenly clamped over his mouth, muffling his scream as Legolas bit down, hard enough to bruise the soft skin at the base of his neck, while at the same time firmly pulling his shaft one last time. Haldir fell back against the Prince, spent and trembling as Legolas continued to trail butterfly kisses along his neck, taking the time to massage the injured flesh with his tongue. The hand fell away from his mouth, traveling up his face until it brushed the Guardian's sweat-moistened hair through its fingers.
"I have branded you, Haldir of Lórien," Legolas said enigmatically. "Now you may return to bed."
The Prince eased the Guardian off him and stood up smoothly, stretching his long legs. As Legolas disappeared into the room, it slowly dawned on Haldir that they had never even kissed.
The line had been crossed and Haldir knew that there would be no going back. He soon found out what Legolas meant by "maintaining certain conditions". The following morning, the Prince acted as though nothing had happened and they went about their daily routine, laughing and talking like old friends. Confused as Haldir was, he waited to see what would happen and his patience was rewarded when Legolas came to him that night, quickly stripping him of his clothes and covering his body in kisses. He responded instantly, pushing Legolas onto his back and straddling the Elf's slender waist. He leaned hungrily over the Prince, bending down to capture those teasing lips in a kiss, but Legolas placed a finger over the Guardian's mouth and shook his head. Haldir understood and this time, there was no mistaking the gleam in the other Elf's eye, but that did not deter the Guardian. Unfulfilled lust surged through him and he knew that he would be the dominant one tonight.
These nightly encounters became part of their practice and Haldir could hardly believe that the Elf he grappled with for control was the same Legolas whom he hunted and sung songs with under the boughs of the great trees. Legolas liked it rough - on the floor, on the table, against the wall. His glittering eyes and silky smile continued to taunt the older Elf and Haldir quickly realized that at night, all the Prince gave to him was his body. Legolas' heart remained tightly locked within its iron chest. This thought angered him, though Haldir could not bring himself to admit why. Instead, he would play rougher, tying Legolas to the bed and blindfolding the Prince so that he would not have to look at those indifferent eyes. Then he would take the young Elf without warning, thrusting hard and deep so that the bed shook with their exertion. The blindfold would loosen as silky hair rubbed against the carved headboard. It was during these instances that Haldir saw that Legolas' eyes remained tightly shut beneath the blindfold. He does not wish to see, the Guardian thought. The knowledge that Legolas' thoughts were far away served to incense him more. Who did the Prince imagine lay with him every night? Who did he wish cleaved him so deeply in two? With a sinking feeling, Haldir suspected that he knew.
Most of all, Haldir wondered why Legolas had chosen to share his body with him. While their friendship continued to grow during the day, the Guardian felt as though he were being punished at night and he could not fathom why. But Haldir had entangled himself too intricately inside the Prince's web to stem the tide. When had the hunter become the hunted? The Guardian could see now that they had been playing by the Prince's rules since he returned. The rules dictated that there were to be no whispered endearments or words of comfort after the act, and that no emotional investment was necessary to partake in carnal pleasure. These were the conditions that they maintained, but this was no longer enough for Haldir. Legolas was like a drug that he had taken, intoxicating and inescapable. Yes, he would play by the Prince's rules but there was a new goal at the end of the game. A kiss. A single elusive kiss and all that it represented. He vowed that he would have Legolas complete or not at all.
A palpable strain was developing between the two Elves that the Dwarf was not immune to. He could feel it in the air during their morning walks, though both Elves feigned indifference, Legolas showing greater skill than the Guardian in hiding his feelings. Sometimes Gimli would catch Haldir glancing at the Prince with a pained expression, but it was swiftly covered with a warm smile when Legolas looked in his direction. For his part, Legolas' mask of serenity and composure did not falter. But the Dwarf knew the Elf better than that now - the shields and defenses that the Prince hid behind to prevent himself from feeling. Legolas would only let one come so near before pushing them away and Gimli felt fortunate to have come so far, so quickly. Perhaps Haldir had come even farther in their short space of time, breaching a part of the Prince that frightened the Elf. Could that be reason behind this new development? Gimli was unsure, but he knew that things would come to a head soon and that one or both of them would be hurt. He sighed heavily, all the while thinking what a fine match the two Elves made.
The day of the Fellowship's departure was drawing nearer, though no one spoke of it. Haldir could feel it acutely like an iron fist crushing his heart. His time with Legolas was coming to an end and he had not resolved the issues between them. How did he broach a subject that was never acknowledged? How could he say words that were forbidden? He shook his head in frustration. Cowardice was a feeling that the March Warden was unaccustomed to. It would be easier to confront a hundred Orcs than to confess his feelings to the Prince, or worse, face the inevitable rejection.
The Guardian rested his head against the trunk of a mallorn. He was sitting in the clearing where he and Legolas had shared two bottles of wine during the Fellowship's first night at Caras Galadhon. It had been much simpler then, his goals had been different, his intentions far from noble. When had it all gone awry? Why did Legolas have this effect on him?
The soft crunching of leaves drew his attention to someone approaching. A figure appeared by the side of the clearing, a goblet in his hand. Haldir recognized the profile at once and though he did not particularly feel like speaking to the Ranger, he brought his hand up in an invitation to come and join him.
Aragorn looked at the Elf warily before walking towards him. He probably does not wish to speak to me either, Haldir thought with an amused smile. They had had little to do with one another since the Guardian's return. The bargain had not been forgotten, but it was clear who had won their unspoken wager. Or so it would appear to the Man, Haldir thought bitterly, for his heart knew that the victory had been a hollow one.
"Good evening, Aragorn," he said cordially as the Ranger sat down. "Your steps are heavy for a man of stealth."
"I did not think that stealth was necessary in the Golden Wood," Aragorn replied evenly. "For what need have we of stealth in a place where nothing may remain hidden?"
Haldir burst out laughing, startling the Ranger.
"How very true!" he exclaimed, unexpectedly warming to the mortal. "Forgive me," he said sincerely. "I meant no offense."
Aragorn smiled and shook his head. "No," he said. "Forgive me. My words were unnecessarily harsh." He lifted his goblet to the Elf. "Perhaps I have had a little too much to drink," he admitted.
"And what would drive one of the Dúnedain to drown his sorrows in wine?"
Now it was Aragorn's turn to laugh. "What drives us all?" he asked rhetorically. Then his voice grew somber. "Our time here is ending," he said sadly. "There is much that remains unsettled and the road that stretches before us is paved with uncertainty." He sighed, wondering why he was revealing this to the March Warden.
Haldir merely nodded, the Man's words echoing his own restless thoughts.
"You and I did not get off to a good start," he said after a moment's pause. "We need not part on the same terms."
"Are you calling a truce, Haldir?"
The Elf arched an eyebrow. "I was not aware that we were at war," he said and then broke into another musical laugh. Aragorn laughed with him.
"If a war were to be waged over such a prize," the Man went on, "then it would be worth all the pain and grief caused by the battle."
"He is no prize," the Guardian replied, absently twirling a nephredil in his hand. There was a strange emotion in his voice that caused the Ranger to look at him curiously. Then Aragorn chuckled softly.
"Even the Guardian of the Golden Wood is not immune to the Prince of Mirkwood's charms," he said with a shake of his head. "He is not a prize and should not be viewed as such. You have truly fallen under his spell if you are able to see beyond that."
"I am not the only one," Haldir answered, piercing Aragorn with his gaze so that the Man shifted and took another sip of his wine. "He never speaks of you," the Guardian went on, noting how the Ranger grew more uncomfortable with his words. "He speaks of your other companions readily enough. He has much respect and praise for all of them, but he never speaks of you. Why is that, Dúnadan?"
Aragorn did not answer.
"You were right," Haldir said after awhile. "His affection is not easily bought."
Confusion spread across the Man's features. "But you have become close friends, Haldir. I look upon you from afar and envy what is lost to me." He paused and then said quietly, "You share more than friendship."
Haldir laughed again, but there was only pain and longing in the sound. "That is one way of putting it," the Elf said bitterly. "We are friends by day, lovers by night." He looked at the Man, instinctively knowing that the Ranger would understand his words.
"I was not aware," Aragorn said softly. "I am sorry, Haldir."
"Dúnadan, what have you to be sorry for?"
Legolas stood on one of the paths overlooking the pavilion below, a goblet of wine also in his hand. He idly wondered where Haldir was but quickly dismissed the thought with another sip of wine. He did not like to dwell on the Guardian, not when his feelings towards the other Elf had become muddled and confused. Whatever his heart tried to tell him was quickly silenced by his mind and the cool calculation that governed all his actions. His intentions had always been clear, his goal set. But why? a persistent voice asked him. Why did you let it go so far?
The Prince watched as the stocky figure of the Dwarf strode towards the pavilion, conversing with the Captain of Gondor. His keen hearing could pick up Gimli's gruff voice as he argued animatedly with his companion. Legolas shook his head in amusement, mirroring Boromir's own gesture as their voices disappeared inside the pavilion.
The Elf scanned the surrounding area and spied the Hobbits by the fountain. He smiled as he watched Pippin jump up, ready to entertain his rapt audience. The Prince continued his search and was not surprised to note that the Ranger was nowhere to be seen. If his mind clouded at the thought of Haldir, then is positively blackened at the thought of Aragorn.
The name still haunted him, more so now than ever before. Legolas remained trapped in the past while the future burned before him. Against all odds, there was a light amid the darkness. A small, shining light that he could almost reach out and touch, if only he could let go of the past.
The Prince sighed and drank deeply, emptying his goblet in an effort to rid himself of these foolish thoughts. There was no point to these ruminations. War would soon be upon them, if it had not already begun. If their quest failed, all the lands would be covered in darkness. There would be nothing to come back to.
"What troubles the Prince of Mirkwood that he stays here by himself while his companions jest and laugh under the starry sky?"
Startled, though he did not show it, Legolas turned his head to the right and watched Haldir approach him.
"What troubles can any being have in fair Lothlórien?" he asked with a slight smile.
"Lothlórien is not always fair," the Guardian replied, coming to stand beside the Prince.
"Do you speak from experience, Haldir?" Legolas asked in a somewhat ironic tone.
Instead of answering the question, the Guardian looked at the Prince's profile and said, "I know what troubles you, Legolas."
Curiously, the Prince turned towards the other Elf and leaned lightly against the wooden rail. "What would that be?"
"Who would that be," Haldir corrected.
A shadow played across the Prince's face, but the neutral mask remained in place and the golden half-smile on his lips. So very young, Haldir thought, but already so cold. Unseen scars that tear at his soul. It should not be this way.
"The one you never speak of," the Guardian added. Legolas' brow furrowed, as though he didn't understand, but the older Elf knew better. "You have been looking for him," he continued. "Is that not why you stand here watching your companions from afar? It is too painful to be in his presence, but tolerable to observe from a distance."
"I do not know of whom you speak," Legolas finally said.
"You know perfectly well," Haldir taunted, taking a step closer. Legolas moved backwards before he could stop himself. "You are afraid."
"Of you?" the Prince said scornfully. "Never." He stubbornly held his ground, firmly placing his hand on the rail.
The attitude and the stance were so akin to the Dwarf that Haldir had to suppress a smile. He took another step closer, consciously invading the younger Elf's personal space. "He just entered the clearing," the Guardian said in a low voice. "Do not look!" he ordered, as the Prince was about to turn his head. "It is better this way."
Legolas remained completely still, trapped by the Guardian's steely gaze. There was something frightening about Haldir on this night. Something threatening in his step that rooted Legolas to the spot and unable to turn away.
"Isn't this what you want?" Another step closer. "For him to see us like this? Together?"
Legolas said nothing as Haldir wrapped a strong arm around his waist and pulled them so close together that their bodies touched. He did not yield to the Guardian's embrace, regarding the other Elf with accusation in his eyes.
"You punish him," Haldir murmured as he dipped his head to trail soft kisses down the Prince's neck. "You punish yourself."
Legolas' breath caught as Haldir worked his way back up, kissing along his jaw line. Such tenderness was alien between them, making the Guardian's actions all the more arousing.
"You punish me," the Guardian whispered hotly in his ear, gently nipping the sensitive tip. "And I do not know why."
Legolas shivered in spite of himself. Then Haldir drew away and the Prince missed his touch. He opened his eyes, unaware that he had shut them and looked at the Guardian with a mixture of wonder and apprehension. His heart was beating rapidly. He knew the other Elf could feel it.
"I have a solution to your problem," the Guardian continued, resting his forehead against the Prince. "A solution to all our problems."
"What is this solution?" Legolas' voice trembled slightly, afraid that he already knew the answer.
"Let me show you."
Before Legolas could react, the Guardian pressed his lips to the younger Elf, his free hand clamped behind the Prince's neck to prevent him from pulling away. Legolas stiffened in response and did not return the kiss. But Haldir persisted, nibbling the full lower lip until the slender body molded against his. When he deemed the time to be right, he thrust his hips against the Prince, making sure that his growing arousal was felt. As he expected, a moan escaped the other Elf and he pushed his tongue in between the parted lips. Legolas tasted like honey mixed with spice from the wine he had just drunk. Intoxicating. Haldir eagerly explored the moist cavern that had been denied to him for so long, insistent but not demanding. Now was not the time to frighten the Prince. His boldness had already gotten him further than he expected. Their tongues began to tangle with one another as Legolas slowly responded to the kiss. A thrill went through Haldir when he withdrew and Legolas followed, taking his time to explore the Guardian's mouth in return. He could feel the metal rim of the wine goblet pressed against his chest where Legolas had laid his hand, but the Prince did not push him away. It was with great disappointment that Haldir ended the kiss and rested his head on the Prince's forehead once more. The Guardian was breathing heavily, cradling the lithe body against his.
"What are you doing?" Legolas asked in a strained voice.
"What you want," Haldir replied. "I have always done what you want."
He fell back as Legolas pushed him away, the force of the metal goblet striking his chest.
"Then you are wrong," the Prince said in his cool, detached manner, turning around and striding away. "That is no solution."
Haldir stood there for a moment, his hand over the sting in his chest where Legolas had struck him. He had come to learn that everything the younger Elf did was deliberate and he smiled inwardly as he rubbed the sore spot immediately above his heart. He glanced down at the clearing below just in time to see the Ranger enter and walk toward the pavilion. The Man looked up and caught Haldir's eye, raising his hand to bid the Guardian a good night. Haldir returned the gesture; mindful of the enlightening conversation they had shared earlier that eve. Then his eyes fixed on Legolas' retreating figure. The Elf had just rounded the corner, presumably to return to their shared quarters. Haldir followed with purposeful steps. He was not yet through with the Prince.
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