Disclaimer: Everything belongs to Tolkien and his estate. No profit is being made from this.
Author’s Notes: Special thanks goes to Panthera for her efficient and lightning speed beta. Finally, this is a belated birthday present for Schizo. A hundred million thanks for your never-ending support and encouragement.
The Night Before
“I thought I would find you here.”
“I was hoping you would find me here.”
The figure smiled as he sensed his companion move to stand beside him and felt him place a warm hand on his shoulder, giving it a gentle squeeze.
“What do you think of the White City?”
“It is an architectural marvel of immense beauty,” his companion answered. “And you, old friend,” he said after a while, “how do you find this city of Men?”
“With immense beauty sometimes comes immense sadness,” was the melancholic reply. “This city is a dark star shining beneath the night sky,” he continued, keen eyes sweeping over the twinkling lights of the many tiered levels that lay before the two friends. “For all its beauty, I see nothing but sorrow and farewell.”
“It is unlike the Prince of Mirkwood to be so despondent the night before the wedding of his dearest friend.”
“I will not be despondent tomorrow.”
“No,” his companion agreed. “You shall smile and be as radiant as the dawn. You will stand beside him as you have always done, and you will watch as he takes his vows. Your heart will swell with pride at the knowledge that you have played a crucial role in his accomplishments, yet it will also break with the realization that this day has finally come.”
Legolas stared straight ahead, oblivious to his surroundings except for the pressure of the hand on his shoulder, its heat burning into his skin like a brand of fire. “I would not have wished for your presence,” he said evenly, “if I had known that these were the words you would say to me.”
Haldir smiled at the Prince’s cool tone. He too admired the view before him as he canvassed the myriad city lights. “There is no one else who would say these words to you,” he replied. “You should have told him.”
The Elven Prince looked to his left and studied the Guardian’s profile, the elegant aquiline nose, the head held high and proud, the long lashes that sensuously curled outwards, the full lips that curved into their customary knowing smile. Indeed, Haldir knew.
Legolas looked away, focusing on a single yellow light in the distance just in time to see it go out.
“No good would have come from such a confession,” the Prince said in that same monotonous tone.
“Perhaps,” the Guardian conceded. “But he would have known.”
“It is not enough to know. There is that human saying,” Legolas added lightly. “’Ignorance is bliss.’ It is appropriate in this instance.”
It was the March Warden’s turn to glance at his friend. “You are too noble an Elf, Legolas,” he said, “to bear this burden alone.”
Legolas met Haldir’s eyes and smiled, his tone softening. “I have not borne it alone.”
The Guardian returned the smile and lifted his hand from the younger Elf’s shoulder, moving to stand behind him. Legolas instinctively leaned against his friend, wrapping Haldir’s strong arms around him and holding the March Warden in place. He would have been content to stay in that comforting embrace in silence, but now that the subject had been opened, the Prince of Mirkwood felt compelled to speak. He had never concealed anything from Haldir before.
“I almost told him,” he said with a sigh. “There were two instances during the Quest when I desperately wanted to tell him.”
Haldir remained silent, waiting for his friend to continue.
“The first was in Moria,” the Prince said, pronouncing the name with a shadow of dread. “Have you ever been to Moria, Haldir?” he asked.
“Once,” the Guardian answered, “but that was long ago. Before it was overrun by evil.”
“Now it is a fearful place,” Legolas said. “Undoubtedly, the hadhodrim have left a great legacy there, but the legacy of the Dark Lord’s servants and creatures of a more ancient evil is greater still. I would not willingly go back.”
“There is no reason for you to return.”
“Let us hope it remains that way,” Legolas replied. “Moria is a place of living darkness that surrounds and suffocates you. No one could traverse its depths and remain untouched by its tendrils. I thought I would go mad. The walls and the rocks whispered such terrible things and then there would be nothing but the deafening sound of silence. I stayed near him during that time, and I feared that while we slept side by side I would murmur the words I longed to say, for my dreams were as dark as the caverns where we rested. Yet the possibility did not worry me overmuch, for I believed that if such a confession should fall from my lips, then my friend would think nothing of it, save perhaps the half-mad ramblings of an imprisoned Elf.”
Haldir did not agree but he did not voice his opinion.
“The other time,” Legolas continued, “was before the battle at Helm’s Deep. Saruman’s army was bearing down swiftly upon us and we were grossly outnumbered. In a moment of despair, when I was certain that we would not see the dawn, I almost told him. I did not fear death. To die fighting by his side together with the noble people of Rohan would have been a great honor. But to die in battle without telling him…” the Prince’s voice faltered.
“Is it not the same,” Haldir questioned, “to live without telling him?”
Legolas let out a quiet laugh. “Haldir,” he said, the mirth returning to his voice, “you always find a way to twist my words.”
“And you always find a way to avoid my questions,” the Guardian swiftly replied.
Legolas turned around to face Haldir, wrapping his arms around the other Elf’s waist. “No,” he said seriously, “it is not the same. This is the way it should be.”
Haldir did not speak as he cupped the Prince’s face in both his hands and leaned forward, their faces almost touching. He stared deeply into Legolas’ eyes that had turned into pools of midnight blue, searching for something, although the Prince himself did not know what. After a while, Haldir seemed satisfied and he smiled.
“You have always known what is best,” the Guardian said.
As the tension eased between them Legolas could feel his cheeks growing hot beneath Haldir’s hands. He was blushing. There were still times when his old friend could make him feel so young, and to hear his long-time mentor praise his decision-making skills was certainly such an occasion. He smiled at his own embarrassment and impetuously leaned up to kiss the older Elf. Haldir, who knew his former pupil well enough to predict such a reaction, pulled away slightly to postpone the kiss, just long enough to see the look of shock cross the Prince’s face. Then, chuckling inwardly to himself, he bent down to return the kiss. Whatever chagrin Legolas felt at the Guardian’s actions instantly disappeared when their lips met and he melted into the older Elf’s kiss as he had done so often in the past. Haldir had become comfort, security, a shield he could depend upon to keep all darkness at bay. Haldir was also passion, lust, and an insatiable desire that could heat his loins with the slightest touch. Yet as the kiss deepened, his tongue sliding against Haldir’s, his senses remembering the Guardian’s unique taste, reacquainting himself with the curves and grooves of Haldir’s mouth, the Prince’s heart ached with the knowledge of a love unreturned.
The kiss ended and Legolas quickly masked the sadness that had overcome him, but not swiftly enough, for the Guardian had caught a glimpse of his sorrow in the depths of his eyes. Just a glimmer and then it was gone, replaced by a wicked smile and a mischievous glint.
Haldir smiled and said, “He is looking for you.”
Legolas’ brow furrowed, the thread of their conversation temporarily forgotten.
“He wonders why you left his party,” Haldir continued. “He thought you would step outside for a breath of fresh air, but he is puzzled that you have not returned. He has gone searching for you.”
“Let us see if he will find me,” Legolas answered facetiously, believing Haldir’s words to be some sort of game.
Haldir bent down again and placed a trail of kisses along the Prince’s jawbone, pausing to nip the delicate tip of an ear before he whispered, “He is already here.”
Legolas drew back slightly, unable to hide the surprise on his face. Haldir’s jesting manner had faded and he was looking at Legolas with the same intensity that he had displayed only a moment ago. Realizing that his companion was completely serious, Legolas pulled away and automatically turned to his left where the entrance to the pathway where he and Haldir stood overlooking the city, could be found. He was just in time to see a dark figure slipping away. Before he could stop himself, the name fell from his lips.
The figure froze. He hesitated for a moment before turning around and walking down the path with measured steps. He passed under a short canopy of trees and then emerged under the moonlight to stand before his two friends. Haldir inclined his head slightly in deferential greeting, a nod that Aragorn acknowledged, noting how the two Elves had discreetly disentangled themselves from their embrace. Yet their body language left no doubt about the intimacy they shared.
“I did not mean to intrude,” the Man began.
“Nonsense,” Haldir replied with a shake of his head. “You are always welcome among friends.”
The Guardian cast a sidelong glance at the Prince who studiously avoided his gaze, suddenly finding the paved pathway terribly interesting. Aragorn had also become fixated on a cobbled stone by his left foot as he shifted his weight from one foot to the other.
An awkward silence followed.
Haldir stood in between the two friends, his exasperation level rising. “Well,” he said at last, looking from Elf to Man and back again. “Did you not wish to say something to Aragorn?” the Guardian inquired, directing his question at the Prince.
Dumbfounded and silently fuming but not betraying a hint of agitation, the Prince of Mirkwood arched a golden eyebrow in his own inquiring manner.
This was the opportunity that Aragorn had been hoping for and before Legolas could reply he spoke. “As a matter of fact I also wish to speak with you,” he said looking directly at his old friend.
“How fortunate,” Haldir replied in Legolas’ stead, politely excusing himself in the process. “A good night to you, Legolas,” he said, silently laughing at the flash of annoyance in the Prince’s sapphire eyes. The Guardian knew that there would be retribution after this night and that it would fall swiftly upon him. He looked forward to whatever ‘punishment’ the Prince would have in store. “And a good night to you as well, your Highness,” Haldir said, turning to face the King. “I wish you all the best tomorrow.”
“There is no need for such formality, Haldir,” Aragorn replied. “I thank you for your blessing.”
With a slight bow the Guardian departed and both Man and Elf watched as the March Warden disappeared round the corner of the pathway. Another silence fell between the two friends, but it was one of anticipation, laced with an edge of uncertainty. Legolas focused all his senses on the sounds of nature around him. He could hear the whisperings of the trees, the trill of a distant bird, the chirping of crickets nestled in the lush grass. A cool breeze blew against his heated skin. He was aware of gray eyes upon him and the unmistakable stately presence of his friend. Legolas looked at the Man and smiled.
“What is it you wish to speak of?” he asked.
Aragorn tilted his head to the right and returned the smile. “I have an idea that I want to share with you. But I need to show it to you first.”
The Man’s mysterious words piqued the Elf’s interest and he nodded his head. They set off down the path Aragorn had just come. It would not be an unpleasant night, Legolas told himself, as long as he kept Aragorn’s interest away from the topic he and Haldir had just discussed. Perhaps the Man would forget that there was something Legolas was also supposed to say.
The two friends strolled around the many pathways of the White Tower. Legolas got the distinct impression that Aragorn was stalling for time, although for what reason he could not fathom. In any case, the Elf did not mind. He knew that these peaceful walks with his longtime friend would become fewer and farther between once Aragorn had settled into his new life, and that familiar melancholy threatened to overwhelm him again.
At last the Man appeared to have made up his mind and he grasped the Elf’s arm, leading them to a secluded garden that Legolas had never visited before.
“What is this place?” the Prince asked, curiously looking about him.
“I would have thought that an Elf would be able to recognize a garden when he saw one,” Aragorn chided.
The Prince threw the Man a dirty look but he could not hold it for long, knowing that he had set himself up in the first place. With a musical laugh that warmed Aragorn’s heart, Legolas walked deeper into the garden to explore the trees and flowers that surrounded them.
“This garden,” Aragorn explained, stopping beside his friend who had become rapt by a particularly rare flower, “is traditionally known as the Queen’s garden.”
“Gardens,” Legolas corrected, tracing the outline of a delicate petal with his finger. “If Arwen has her way.”
“Indeed,” Aragorn agreed, forcing a short laugh. Hearing his betrothed’s name made him remember what it was he had to say to the Elf, and he doubted yet again his will to do it.
“Does this idea of yours have something to do with this garden?” the Prince queried, turning to face the Man.
“Yes,” Aragorn answered, entranced by the way the moonlight seemed to dance in the Elf’s fine hair, turning it silver under the caress of the moon’s beams.
Amused, Legolas waited for his friend to continue. It struck him that Aragorn was behaving rather out of character on this night, but he dismissed the notion, believing that even the King of Gondor could imbibe one glass too many of the city’s fine wine.
“What about the garden?” the Elf prodded after a moment.
“I was thinking,” the King said, snapping out of his reverie, “how much Arwen will miss the gardens of her father’s home, how much I will miss them,” he added. “Why not bring a part of Rivendell to Gondor?” he asked. “I would like to plant trees, shrubs and flowers that may only be found in Imladris here, to remind us of our heritage. What do you think? Is it even possible that plants indigenous to Elven lands would flourish in this environment?”
Legolas nodded thoughtfully, his attention drawn back to the blue star-shaped flower before replying.
“First of all,” he said, “it is a wonderful idea that Arwen will undoubtedly cherish. With regards to the second question,” and here the Elf paused, “I think that with the right care and cajoling, indigenous Elvish plants may flourish in this environment.”
“Care and cajoling?” the Man repeated with an air of disbelief that earned him another dirty look.
“Our plants do not grow merely because we water them,” the Elf remarked in a tone of mock disdain.
Naturally, Aragorn already knew this having seen the Elves care for their beloved forests and gardens first hand and he smiled, content to let his words irk the Prince.
“If need be,” the Elf continued his mind whirling with ways to make this garden worthy of a Rivendell substitute, “soil may be transported from Imladris. There are many ways of planting,” Legolas went on as though he were speaking to himself, “seedlings, saplings, cuttings, grafting. A little Elvish ‘magic’, as Pippin would put it, also wouldn’t hurt. Yes,” Legolas said, nodding his head. “I believe that with some effort your idea would work.”
The Prince was pleased as he looked at the Man once more, oblivious to the fact that his friend had been openly staring at him as he had listed off the possibilities for the garden.
“Well,” Legolas said with a sigh, “your guests are probably wondering where you are. We should return to your party,” he advised, moving past the Man but Aragorn’s hand on his arm stopped him. The Elf looked up quizzically.
“I would rather stay here,” Aragorn replied simply.
Legolas was aware of the pressure of Aragorn’s hand on his arm. The touch seemed to burn through his velvet tunic, similar to the effect of Haldir’s hand on his shoulder earlier that eve. He sensed a shift in the direction of their conversation and by accepting the King’s proposal, the Prince knew that he would have to be on his guard. Although his instincts told him to return to familiar company, the Elf acquiesced, allowing himself to be led deeper into the garden by the Man he loved.
Aragorn led them down the wide garden path, eventually veering off the trail and stopping underneath a magnificent willow tree where a carved stone bench had been placed near its trunk. He released the Elf’s arm and sat down on the bench, looking up expectantly at his companion as he waited for the Prince to join him. Legolas glanced up at the drooping branches of the giant tree, looking as though he would rather sit among them, but tonight was Aragorn’s night and the Elf obliged his friend by sitting down cross-legged on the stone bench facing him. Satisfied, the Man reached down and groped around the back leg of the bench, his hand finally closing around the neck of a bottle which he pulled triumphantly from its hiding place. Two bronze goblets soon followed.
“Since when did you become a magician?” Legolas asked, the sight of the wine and the goblets raising his defenses a notch higher.
“Since I had the presence of mind to ask a page to leave the bottle and these two goblets by this bench late this afternoon,” Aragorn replied, easily popping the cork and blowing away any dust that may have accumulated in the goblets before pouring the wine. He handed one goblet to his friend and then raised his own in a toast. “What shall we drink to?” the Man wondered aloud.
“There is much to celebrate.”
“Then let us celebrate our friendship,” Aragorn decided, “for it is the closest to my heart. For all the years you have guided me and remained steadfastly by my side, for your strength when I needed it most, and for all the years that lay before us still as the Third Age comes to an end. May we greet the dawn of a new age together and stronger than before.”
Legolas schooled his features to maintain his mask of tranquility as he held up his own goblet. There was a clink of bronze upon bronze and then both friends drank; Aragorn, more deeply than he intended, while Legolas took a delicate sip, the wine leaving a bittersweet aftertaste in his mouth. Bittersweet, the Elf reflected, just like this toast.
“There must be something important you wish to tell me,” Legolas suddenly said in the silence that followed.
Aragorn looked at the Elf, surprised. “What makes you say that?”
“I have found that your race prefers the effects of wine when one needs to bolster one’s courage,” Legolas explained, setting his goblet on the bench. “The irony is that while imbibing alcohol may loosen one’s tongue, it may also make one lose control.”
“And Elves do not ‘lose’ control?”
“Rarely.” Legolas held the Man’s gaze, his lips curving into a sly smile. “We do not need wine to say what it is we wish to say.”
“There are those who would argue,” Aragorn countered, enjoying their easy repartee, “that Elves do not say anything at all.”
“To hold a conversation with an Elf requires subtlety and wit.”
“And how am I doing?”
“Admirably, that is, until your last question,” Legolas replied with a theatrical sigh. “The wine must already be taking effect.”
Aragorn let out a laugh. “Really, Legolas,” he chided. “Must everything be a challenge with you?”
“Challenges motivate me. If we do not constantly seek to challenge ourselves, then we would never grow as people. Life would be very dull without challenges,” the Elf finished.
“Is that why you have not married?” the King asked, the question taking the Prince by surprise although he did not show it. “You do not wish to be tied down to a wife and family?”
“I have not thought about it,” the Elf answered truthfully. “But one does not need a wife to be tied to one’s family,” he added, his words carrying a double meaning that Aragorn well understood.
“Then what challenge shall you embark on next?”
“For a usually reticent man you are asking many questions tonight,” Legolas noted with an amused smile.
“Is it not natural for one to wish to know the future plans of a dear friend?”
“We should be discussing *your* future plans, not mine,” the Elf said, attempting to divert the subject of discussion from himself. “They are of far greater import.”
“It is my past, not my future, that interests me,” Aragorn said heavily, pouring himself another goblet of wine. Legolas’ goblet had remained untouched since their toast. “Do you remember the first time I became drunk?”
The Prince’s face broke into a wide smile. “Vividly. You were fifteen and it was the Feast of Midsummer.”
“Yes,” Aragorn confirmed. “To this day I am certain that Elladan put some fiendish drug in my wine, although I was never able to prove it.”
“Whether he did or not,” Legolas countered, “you certainly drank enough wine on your own.”
“Do you remember what I did?”
“Could you be more specific? You did a great many foolish things.”
“Among those many foolish things, I remember a kiss.” Aragorn paused. “I kissed you.”
“You mistook me for an Elf-maid,” the Prince replied dryly, finally picking up his goblet and taking another sip, not noticing how the Man gauged his reaction carefully. “It is quite disturbing the number of times that has happened to me,” the Elf mused, “particularly when wine and feasting is involved. What *I* remember from that night,” he continued, “is a certain tonic that has become a staple in your life.”
“The witchroot tonic has many other uses,” Aragorn attempted to justify.
“Such as…” The Man trailed off, searching for an adequate example. “Did you know that combined with the right mixture of raspberry and blueberry juice it is a powerful aphrodisiac?”
The Elf looked at the Man in shock. But a glint in Aragorn’s eye told the Prince that the revelation was made in jest and it was not long before the two were laughing merrily.
“A powerful aphrodisiac,” Legolas repeated, shaking his head.
“I almost had you,” Aragorn insisted, offering to pour more wine into the Elf’s goblet, which Legolas politely declined.
“May I remind you who introduced you to aphrodisiacs in the first place?”
“Have it your way then,” Legolas sniffed, pretending to be offended.
Aragorn smiled and took another drink of his wine. He liked the sensation of the rich liquid as it traveled down his throat, moved through his chest, finally settling at the bottom of his stomach, making him feel warm and content. Legolas is right, he thought to himself. I seek to loosen my tongue. Is this any way for a King to bolster his courage?
“I have always appreciated your tutelage,” Aragorn continued in a more serious manner. “Glorfindel is still the greatest of tutors, but I know that you taught me…other skills, aside from archery, that are of equal value.”
“And you have made good use of all of them,” the Prince complimented.
“Is it not strange, Legolas,” Aragorn suddenly said, leaning towards the Elf, “how in my youth I was always aware of my difference, of my limitations, of not being one of your kind. And now that I am among my own people, I do not feel like I belong.”
The Man looked at the Elf searchingly, and Legolas was moved by how vulnerable his friend appeared. It brought back memories of a youth named Estel who would come to him when he was confused, uncertain or distressed, and Legolas would comfort him, brushing away unruly hair from his eyes, often singing him to sleep in the crown of a great tree. Instinctively, Legolas reached out now and placed a hand on the Man’s shoulder, giving it a small squeeze.
“It is only natural, Aragorn,” he said gently. “It is but another step on your journey and in time you will grow accustomed to this new way of life. I know that you will use your dual heritage to your advantage and for the best interests of your people.”
Aragorn was aware of their nearness. He could feel the Elf’s breath, sweet with the scent of liquor, as it blew against his heated cheek. His eyes were drawn to the Prince’s lips as Legolas spoke, mesmerized by their movement. They appeared so soft, so inviting. He resisted the urge to kiss them, instead placing his hand on top of the Elf’s where it still rested on his shoulder. He meant to hold the Elf’s hand in his own, but his actions had the opposite effect of what he desired. As he lifted the Prince’s hand, returning the pressure of the comforting squeeze, Legolas pulled away and sat at his former distance, appearing smaller and even more withdrawn than before. Aragorn sighed inwardly, aware of the defenses his friend had erected on this night. It would be even more difficult than usual to get through to the stubborn Elf.
“Do you know what else I remember?” Aragorn asked, trying another approach.
Legolas did not reply, secretly dreading where the conversation would head next, but he smiled in an encouraging manner, indicating that Aragorn should continue.
“I remember the first time I fell in love.”
It was all Legolas could do to prevent himself from standing up and leaving. Instead, he concentrated on his wine goblet as he performed quick breathing exercises to remain calm. He knew Aragorn’s last statement required a response.
“Your ambition was high,” the Prince said, “but you have proved your courage and honor. You are truly worthy of the Evenstar of my people.”
“My ambition was high,” the King agreed, “but it is not the Evenstar of whom I speak.”
Legolas’ head jerked up, genuine surprise written on his face. Aragorn watched as the surprise turned into curiosity. At last, the Man held the Elf’s interest.
“Who is this maiden?” the Prince asked. “Is she also an Elf?”
“Yes, *he* is also an Elf,” Aragorn answered.
The Prince’s eyes widened slightly. Truly, his friend was full of surprises this night. An amused half-smile graced the Elf’s features as he spoke, “You must have been but a youth,” he said, “to speak of a love before Arwen. Could you even be certain of your feelings during such a turbulent time? I would wager that what you felt was a strong infatuation that you confused with love.”
“It is *not* an infatuation,” the Man replied vehemently.
Legolas was taken aback by the forcefulness he heard in the King’s tone, the use of the present tense in Aragorn’s declaration not escaping his notice.
“I did not mean to upset you,” the Prince apologized.
“No, Legolas.” Aragorn let out a nervous laugh. “You could never upset me. This is something I should have told you sooner.”
“There is no obligation upon you to tell me such things,” Legolas said, trying to ease the distress he could detect in the Man’s voice.
“But there is,” Aragorn almost exclaimed, leaning forward again and grasping the Elf by his forearms. “You are my confidant.”
“And you are confiding in me now,” Legolas continued in the same soothing tone, holding the Man’s arms in return.
“I was embarrassed,” Aragorn explained, troubled eyes looking into the Elf’s clear blue, “and a bit ashamed. But most of all, I was afraid.”
“Afraid of what?”
“What all men in love are afraid of,” Aragorn replied, wondering if his wise friend could truly be so naïve. “Rejection.”
“But why would I reject you?”
Aragorn did not answer and there was no need to, for he saw the realization dawn upon his friend’s face, followed by a look of utter shock. Instantly the Elf was on his feet but the Man stood up just as swiftly, his grip on the Prince’s arms only tightening.
“Legolas,” Aragorn pleaded, “do you not wish to hear my story?”
Through his distress, the Prince’s diplomatic skills took over and he replied politely, “Perhaps another time.” Golden hair curtained his face as he looked away; ready to break free from the Man.
“There is no other time.”
His arms were released but the Prince did not move, the tone of resignation in the King’s voice preventing him from abandoning the Man. Slowly, he turned to look at him.
“What is this story?”
“It is nothing you have not heard countless times before,” the Man sighed in defeat. “I would not bore you with it.”
“Then why did you wish to tell it to me?”
Aragorn closed his eyes. The question and answer pattern was familiar enough. Many a confession had fallen from his lips in his youth in just this same manner, and he silently cursed himself for never being able to lie to the Elf. He had been fortunate, or was it unfortunate, that Legolas had never asked these particular questions before. Then again, he had never given the Elf reason to ask such questions. The blame lay with him.
“The wine has loosened my tongue,” Aragorn replied, “but it has not made me lose control.” He sighed again. “I thought that it would be enough that you would know, but I realize now that is not the case.”
Legolas took a small step closer, his heartbeat quickening. He could see the clear parallel between this revelation and the one he had shared with Haldir earlier that evening. “Why did you think that it would be enough?” he asked, wondering if his own reasoning would be given to him.
Aragorn laughed but it was a sad sound, and he looked at the ground as he shook his head. “I don’t know,” he said helplessly. “I don’t know what I expected of this night. But I had to tell you…before it was too late.” He felt a smooth palm against his cheek as Legolas lifted his face and he met the Elf’s blue eyes. “I did not expect you to return my feelings and I know you were shocked by my confession. I have upset you, albeit unintentionally.”
Tentatively, Aragorn covered Legolas’ hand with his own, despising the sorrow he could see in the Prince’s eyes caused by his words, but unable to stop himself from continuing all the same.
“If there was one thing I could ask of you,” the Man began, “and in return I would promise never to speak of this subject again, would you grant it to me?”
A flicker of uncertainty in the clear blue eyes before Legolas answered: “What would you ask of me?”
Legolas did not respond but had become as still as a statue, his arm outstretched, his hand against the Man’s cheek as though in offering. Only the barest nod of the Elf’s head told Aragorn that his proposal had been accepted.
Cautiously, the Man closed the distance between them cupping the Elf’s face in both his hands, while Legolas still cradled his cheek. The Prince’s skin was smooth and soft to the touch, and the Man knew that the rest of the Elf’s body was hard steel covered by the same delicate veneer. Legolas remained motionless, allowing Aragorn to advance and take the lead. He would do nothing to encourage the kiss, even though the air had become charged in anticipation of this moment that he believed would never come to pass. He closed his eyes as Aragorn bent down; he could feel time being drawn out, lengthening, and he willed this moment to last forever.
Their lips touched. Legolas was tickled by the rough stubble on the Man’s chin and the Elf idly wondered if Aragorn would ever shave now that he was king. That thought quickly fled his mind as the Man pulled on his lower lip, seeking entrance. The Prince hesitated, reminding himself that he would not encourage but Aragorn persisted, and Legolas knew this moment would never come again. Against his better judgment the Elf opened his mouth and Aragorn seized the opportunity. Legolas let the warm tongue invade him, wondering what he must taste like to the Man. Aragorn was gentle but demanding at the same time, the cusp of a hurricane that somehow held itself at bay. Their tongues tangled and Legolas knew he was lost. His arms snaked up the Man’s broad back, pulling him closer. Aragorn’s exploration continued, elated by Legolas’ response to the kiss. When at last he withdrew his tongue, he could hardly contain the thrill that passed through him, heat flooding his groin as Legolas followed, slowly but surely, intent on exploring the Man’s mouth.
Aragorn tasted of the wine he had drunk with the faintest touch of pipe weed that he had smoked sometime during the night. The normally distasteful substance did not bother the Elf, intrinsically knowing that it was part of Aragorn’s being and that was all that mattered. He ran his tongue along the roof of the Man’s mouth and then wrapped it around Aragon’s own tongue one last time before pulling away, regretting the necessity of breath.
Aragorn still held the Elf’s face in his hands and he gazed at his friend in amazement, momentarily at a loss for words, both of them still breathing heavily.
“You do love me,” the Man whispered.
Legolas lowered his eyes knowing they could not hide what his voice could conceal. “Of course, I love you,” he said lightly, attempting to dismiss the topic. “You are like a brother to me.”
“I do not speak of fraternal love.”
The Elf sighed imperceptibly. Now that he had heard the Man’s confession, he found that he could not do the same. But nor could he deny what both parties knew to be implicitly true. Torn by his myriad emotions, the Prince held the Man tighter and laid his head to rest on his friend’s shoulder. Aragorn wrapped his arms around the Elf, his mind still trying to comprehend what had happened. *Legolas loved him.* His heart soared as the realization sunk in; it was more than he could have ever hoped for.
“We have both been fools,” Aragorn whispered, unable to keep the joy from his voice.
“On the contrary,” Legolas replied, his tone inexplicably sad to the Man’s ears, “we have both been very wise.”
Aragorn was not thinking of wisdom as he planted tender kisses on top of the Elf’s head, the silky hair smelling of pine and honeysuckle. Legolas lifted his head and the Man remained oblivious to the melancholic expression on the Elf’s face as he continued his trail of butterfly kisses along the Prince’s forehead, past the Elf’s temple and high cheekbone, finally capturing the sweet lips again. This time there was no hesitation and Legolas was swept into the kiss. Hands began to move and the fire that had been kindled in the Man’s groin started to burn. Aragorn’s hands slipped under the Elf’s tunic caressing the lean muscles, one hand remaining on Legolas’ back as the other found its way to the Elf’s chest, pinching a tweaked nipple before traveling lower, passing by a firm abdomen as it neared its desired goal. Just as the Man was about slip into the Elf’s breeches, a painful grip on his wrist stopped him.
The Elf’s tone was harsh and Aragorn looked at his friend in surprise.
“It would not be right,” the Prince explained, controlling the fervor in his voice, “even though I greatly desire it.”
Aragorn nodded, suddenly aware of his own unfulfilled need. Mixed feelings of relief and regret passed through him. Trust Legolas to keep his head even in the midst of rising passion. The Elf was also aware of the Man’s discomfort and he weighed the possibilities, finally coming to a decision.
“Aragorn,” Legolas said softly, stepping toward the Man again. “Although you are betrothed to another, I do not think she would mind,” and here the Prince chose his words carefully, “ if I gave you a gift on this night. You cannot return this gift,” the Elf said sternly, “but you may accept it if you wish.” He looked uncertainly at his friend, almost embarrassed by his own bold offer.
Aragorn grasped the Elf’s hand and brought it to his lips, kissing the knuckles gently. “I accept your gift,” he replied just as softly.
With his hand still clasped in Aragorn’s, Legolas leaned forward and kissed him, easily distracting the Man as he pushed him backward. Before Aragorn knew it, he was lying down on the stone bench, knocking over his own goblet in the process. The Elf, with his usual poise, picked up his goblet and took a sip of his wine before placing it aside. Then he glanced at the Man slyly before straddling him.
“You are heavier than you look, fair one,” Aragorn said, earning himself a dark look. “But it is not an unpleasant weight.”
“You were right, Aragorn,” Legolas began, “about the witchroot. It can be a powerful aphrodisiac but not with the preposterous recipe you gave me.”
The Man looked at the Elf doubtfully, wondering if this was another one of the Prince’s games. To prove his point, Legolas took out a tiny pouch from a pocket sewn on the inside of his tunic and undid its ties, placing the pouch under the Man’s nose. Aragorn immediately recognized the distinctive smell of the root. Even in its pure crushed form it emanated a foul, acrid smell.
“Then what is the genuine recipe for this aphrodisiac?” the Man asked.
“Simpler than you would imagine,” the Elf replied.
Aragorn watched as the Prince picked up his goblet again and sprinkled a fraction of the white powder into the remaining wine. Then he drained the cup, careful to keep the liquid in his mouth, and with a devious smile he bent down to kiss the Man. Aragorn accepted the kiss, the potion flowing into his mouth. The wine had taken on the bitter taste of the root, but it was still nowhere near as bitter as the witchroot tonic on its own. He ignored the taste, concentrating instead on drawing every last drop of the liquid from the Elf’s mouth. Legolas willingly obliged, finally ending the kiss when the wine had been thoroughly dissipated.
“Even a small amount takes effect quickly,” he whispered in Aragorn’s ear as nimble fingers began to undo the laces of the Man’s tunic. Legolas knew that his friend would feel quite warm in his velvet tunic soon enough.
Indeed Aragorn could feel his body temperature rising and his head was growing light. He closed his eyes, allowing the drug to take effect while a single thought crossed his mind: Legolas was a wicked Elf. It made him smile.
The Prince marked the smile on the Man’s face as he stripped him of his clothes. It mirrored the smile that he knew was also on his face. “I have always found it amusing,” he said, “that the witchroot when mixed with the very substance it is supposed to counteract becomes an even more powerful drug.”
The Man’s eyes snapped open as the felt the Elf lift his head and place some sort of cushion beneath it. He soon realized that he was resting on his own folded tunic. He is a considerate lover, Aragorn thought, pushing away the hint of sadness he could feel trying to overcome the power of the drug. Then Legolas settled comfortably on top of him, propping his head up on his elbows as he smiled down on his friend.
“The witchroot is just another example of what is true of all things in this world,” Legolas said. “Within it lies the potential for good as well as the potential for danger. It is how we choose to use this drug that determines its purpose.”
The Elf’s musical voice sounded distant to the Man, but the meaning was plain enough. Aragorn understood that there was much more at stake here than the discussion of a simple root. All of their actions carried a double meaning, a double significance that only one of them was willing to admit. The path seemed clear and Legolas was set in his course, but Aragorn was not so sure. There would be time to discuss it later, he reasoned.
It was at that moment Legolas decided to lift himself off the Man and Aragorn understood why the Elf had settled on top of his naked body in the first place. The contrast of the cool night air against his overheated skin served to electrify him like a million tiny charges against his flesh. He had never experienced such an intensity of physical feeling before and it was pleasurable in a way that words could not describe. He shuddered as another gentle breeze blew but it was not from the cold. When the Elf bent down again to place a kiss on his collarbone, the Man almost screamed.
This was the true power of the witchroot as Aragorn soon discovered for himself: the ability to sensitize one’s flesh to an unbearable point of pleasure. Every touch, every caress sent fibers of ecstasy straight to the pleasure center of his brain until the Man was certain he could take no more.
“Legolas,” he managed to gasp in between incoherent moans and sighs.
The Elf wished to prolong his sweet torture, but one look at the writhing body beneath him convinced him otherwise. There was a dangerous point when the pleasure would turn into pain. He placed his hands under the Man’s back, sweeping them down his spine in one smooth motion. Aragorn cried out at the contact, instinctively arching his back and raising it off the bench. It was just the reaction Legolas expected and he held the Man’s hips firmly, suckling gently on the tip of the Man’s weeping shaft. Aragorn threw his head back as Legolas took him in. It was too much. He thrust into the Elf’s mouth to end it quickly, while Legolas’ hands remained on his hips to steady and guide him. In a few moments, Legolas felt a warm fluid at the back of his throat and he swallowed it. Aragorn lay back on the bench breathless and shaking from the effects of his release. His muscular body was covered in a sheet of sweat and he looked down at the golden head that still lay in between his spread legs as Legolas patiently licked him clean. He is a considerate lover, the Man thought again and this time he held back a tear.
When Legolas was done he sat up and scanned the ground for the discarded bottle of wine. Finding it, he poured half a goblet and moved up the bench.
“Drink this,” the Elf instructed.
Aragorn managed to focus on the goblet and then at the Prince, slowly shaking his head. “I hardly think I need to inebriate myself further after that experience.”
“You must drink the wine,” Legolas insisted. “It will quell any remaining effect of the drug.”
Even in his dazed state the Man could sense the urgency in the situation and he allowed Legolas to lift his head and help him drink the wine. He was still too spent to move on his own.
“It is a more dangerous drug than I imagined,” the Man said when his head rested on his makeshift cushion once more.
The Prince nodded. “Could you feel the change?”
“Towards the end,” Aragorn replied. “The faintest stabs of pain seemed to follow the waves of pleasure, but they mingled so innately that my senses could hardly tell the difference. There is pleasure to be found in pain,” he added.
“To a certain extent,” Legolas agreed. “But the witchroot is a potent drug. It has also been effective in cases of torture, prolonging the pain until necessary, and in larger quantities, it can be lethal.” The Elf stopped speaking and remained silent, lost in some previous memory.
Aragorn thought about his friend’s words for a moment, suddenly wondering why the Prince had mysteriously produced a pouch of crushed witchroot at the opportune moment.
“Do you always carry this potent drug in a secret pocket sewn into your tunics?” the Man asked after a while.
“No,” Legolas confessed. “But I felt that I would have need of it on this night, in one way or another.”
Something in Aragorn’s heart stirred and he knew that there were matters to be discussed that he did not wish to address. He lifted an arm invitingly and said, “Come here.”
Legolas looked at Aragorn for a moment before lying down beside him, draping his body over the Man as much as possible in an effort to warm him. They managed to lie down in relatively comfortable positions even though there was hardly enough room for the both of them. Legolas wished they had a blanket that they could snuggle underneath but he put that thought aside as he fell into the easy rhythm of Aragorn’s breathing.
They lay that way for quite a while without speaking until the Man finally said, “What do we do now?”
“You will get dressed,” the Prince replied slowly moving off him.
Aragorn instantly missed the Elf’s presence and regretted that he had spoken but Legolas’ response had not answered what lay behind the true meaning of his query. He watched the Elf sit elegantly at the edge of the bench. “I was speaking in a broader sense,” he said seriously.
Legolas cast him a sideways look, indicating that he had understood the question well enough and then proceeded to gather the Man’s discarded clothes around the foot of the bench. He handed them to his friend and helped Aragorn sit up in order to dress himself.
“Tomorrow you will be wed,” the Elf began in an impassive voice, “You will face many challenges ahead as your people try to rebuild their shattered lives, and you will destroy the remaining forces of Mordor that have been scattered throughout Middle-Earth. You will be a good and just ruler, Aragorn. In your personal life, you will be equally rich, for your wife will bear you beautiful sons and daughters so that your line may continue and your family…” Legolas paused, his heart heavy. “Your family will be the greatest joy you will ever know.”
While he was speaking the Prince had stood up and walked away several paces, his back to the Man. He listened as Aragorn dressed, recognizing the movement of breeches being pulled up, the click of a belt as it was buckled, the scrape of laces against their holes as boots were tied. When Aragorn was done, he heard soft footfalls as the Man approached and stood behind him.
“Is that what you want?”
“It does not matter what I want.”
“It matters to me.”
Legolas thought quickly. Aragorn had been the most stubborn friend he had ever had, that is, until he had encountered that stouthearted dwarf, Gimli son of Glóin. But the Prince was convinced of his own powers of persuasion and much as it pained him to do so, he would make Aragorn see reason.
“What I want,” the Prince said as he slowly turned around to face the Man, “at this very moment, is to sit in the branches of that soothing willow tree.” He nodded to the tree on his left and arched a challenging eyebrow at the King. “How fare your tree-climbing skills?”
Aragorn looked at the medium-sized tree. Climbing was the last thing he wished to do but he knew that the suggestion had simply been another evasive tactic of his cunning friend. He was not going to let the Prince get away tonight. He would climb the blasted tree. “Very well,” he said with a slight nod and before he knew it, the Elf was off.
Legolas sprinted towards the tree and with a nimble leap, he swung onto the first branch and began the climb. “We shall not go very high,” he called back down. “The branches are sturdy but they progressively narrow towards the top. They would not be able to support your weight.”
Aragorn followed suit wondering how high was ‘not very high’ when dealing with a fifty-five foot tree. He soon found out as he came upon the Elf propped up, legs leisurely stretched before him on a particularly broad branch, his back resting against the tree trunk. Legolas held out a hand and the Man grasped it, thankfully sliding himself into the Elf’s lap. They had not done this in many seasons, not since Aragorn had been a youth known as Estel, but the familiar feeling of warmth and comfort quickly came over him. It was easy to return to old habits, the Man reflected and Legolas always had the ability to make things all right.
To speak would spoil the perfect stillness of the moment and so Aragorn held his tongue. Legolas began to sing, as the Man knew he would, and this time it was Aragorn who laid his head to rest on the Elf’s breast as he listened to the melancholic voice. Legolas sung of friendship and farewell, of endings that lead to a new beginning. The song was meant for them and as it filled the night air, the outermost drooping branches of the willow tree began to blow and moonbeams danced on their shimmering leaves, accompanying the Elf’s haunting song. When Legolas was done, he fell silent, and the stillness that had enveloped the pair before settled upon them again.
Aragorn shifted restlessly. Legolas seemed perfectly content to wait for the coming dawn and let destiny take its course but Aragorn had to speak and the Man considered his words with care.
“It could always be this way.”
“Sitting in trees and singing?” the Elf inquired in an amused tone.
“Sitting in a tree wrapped in your embrace while listening to you sing seems like an ideal way to spend the rest of my days.”
Legolas remained silent. The image Aragorn had planted in his mind moved him deeply, but he recognized it for the futile dream it was.
“We could leave this place,” the Man continued, “and go anywhere you wish. My task here is complete. Sauron is defeated. There are no more battles to be fought or wars to be won. We could return to your beloved forest and spend the rest of our days there.”
The Elf laughed unexpectedly, taking the Man by surprise. “Return to Mirkwood as an exiled King?” he chuckled. “I can already imagine the look on my father’s face,” Legolas said and began laughing again.
Instead of enjoying the jest as the Prince had expected, Aragorn sat up suddenly with a slight stiffening of his shoulders. “Why can’t you take this seriously?” he asked in a low voice.
Legolas stopped laughing and sighed. “Because you are not being serious,” he answered. “Your task here is far from complete. Sauron may be defeated but there is much work to be done. I do not only speak of rebuilding cities and farms, I speak of healing and unification. You are a healer, Aragorn, before you are a King. There is no one else who can bring the people together.”
“Gondor has survived for centuries without a King.”
“Survived,” the Elf repeated. “Gondor deserves better than that.”
It was Aragorn’s turn to remain silent. Legolas reached out and placed his hands on the Man’s tense shoulders, kneading them gently. “Do not forget,” he said softly, “why you embarked on the Quest in the first place. Yes, you swore to protect Frodo and to destroy the Ring, but the driving force behind your actions was a person, not a thing. She has waited many moons and given up everything, including forsaking her family, to be with you. You cannot abandon her now.”
The Man brushed away the Elf’s hands and sat sideways so that his legs dangled off the branch. Legolas drew up his legs to give Aragorn more room and put his arms around his knees. The Elf studied the Man’s profile, his furrowed brow and the lips pursed together in a thin tight line.
“I loved you before I met her,” he said as though rationalizing to himself. “Together we have fought side by side and have faced insurmountable odds. You have comforted me, guided me and given me hope in my darkest hour. Have we not done enough to earn a measure of personal happiness?”
“Do you truly speak of personal happiness, Aragorn?” the Elf questioned. “Or are you avoiding the responsibilities of being a King?”
“Do not try and change the subject,” the Man snapped.
“They are one and the same,” Legolas replied with equal force. “There is more than personal happiness at stake here. For all of us,” he added. “You *must* fulfill your destiny.”
“What if I do not want to?”
“Then you are being selfish.”
Aragorn shook his head. “Destiny is not a given, Legolas. You have always told me that.”
“No,” the Prince agreed and he released his knees, sliding forward. “We have our own free will. But I have always believed that our destiny is laid out before us, for some much clearer than for others. Your destiny was laid out before you were born. With each step you have taken towards it, the burden of your choices has only become more difficult to bear. This is the last step, Aragorn,” Legolas said, reaching out and taking the Man’s hand where he gripped the bark of the branch hard enough to turn his knuckles white. “You will not falter now.”
“I would give it all up,” Aragorn said looking at his friend, “for you.”
Legolas smiled and brought the Man’s hand to his lips, kissing the rough palm. “I know you would,” he said. “And that is enough.” He opened his arms and the Man moved into them again, resuming their former positions. “There is so much happiness in store for you. When you see Arwen tomorrow in all her shining glory, you will remember what seems distant now, why you did this for her and how much you love her. I know,” Legolas said hurriedly before Aragorn could interrupt, “that you love me no less. But there is no place we could hide that your destiny would not touch us,” he said softly. “And not a day would pass where we would not regret our choice.”
“If I have been selfish tonight,” Aragorn answered, “then you have been selfless. What of your own happiness, Legolas? Does it matter so little to you?”
“Do you think me so frail that I will simply fade with my grief?”
“No,” the Man quickly said, “You are one of the strongest people I have ever met.” Then he sighed. “And I know Haldir would not let that happen.”
Legolas did not miss the touch of jealousy that colored Haldir’s name and he held the Man tighter. “How long were you watching us tonight?”
“Long enough,” was the reply. “Do not misunderstand,” Aragorn said suddenly. “I am thankful Haldir is there for you. I am just…” he trailed off, searching for the right word. Finally he let out a quiet laugh and said, “I am just being selfish again.”
“I have known Haldir nearly my whole life,” the Prince explained, “and I love him dearly, though not in the way I know he wishes I could.”
Aragorn immediately understood and was ashamed by the jealousy that had risen in him so quickly. “Haldir is a noble Elf,” he said respectfully.
“The noblest of Elves,” Legolas corrected, hearing the pride in his own voice.
Another silence fell between them as had occurred so often during the course of the night. Each silence became progressively more peaceful and Legolas was relieved, believing that the most difficult decision had already been made. But the Elf was mistaken.
“There is one more thing we need to discuss,” Aragorn said after a time.
Legolas’ heart clenched. He had not heeded the warning of the Lady Galadriel and had paid the price. But it was a price he would pay again if given the choice. He would forever be in debt to the sons of Elrond. If it had not been for the arrival of the twins, the Prince would have doubted his ability to still the call of the sea when Aragorn needed his skills as a warrior most. Legolas had heard tales of the incessant call that drove some Elves to madness and despair. The call could never truly be silenced, not until he heeded it and departed these shores. Once he settled all his affairs, wisdom told the Prince that there would be no reason to stay. Perhaps he would find his peace in the Undying Lands.
“What about the sea?”
“I know you hear its call,” the Man said. “You never answered my question earlier this eve when I asked what challenge you would embark on next. I believe that the call of the sea may be your greatest challenge yet. You would be wise to listen to it and leave these lands.”
“I have considered the possibility,” Legolas answered truthfully. “It is appealing to me.”
“Is that what you will do?” Aragorn persisted.
“Is that what you want me to do?”
Aragorn stared at the lightening sky still studded with twinkling stars, marveling at how easily Legolas could turn his words against him. He was thankful that his back was to the Elf as Legolas held him. It would be too unbearable to look at the Prince’s handsome face and into his expressive eyes, and still have the strength to say what he was about to say.
“A true friend,” Aragorn began, “would tell you that leaving these shores would be the best course of action. A true friend would say that your people are also leaving these lands and that you belong among them, that there is nothing left for you here.” He stopped and took a deep breath, disentangling himself from the Elf’s embrace in order to sit up properly. “But it is the height of my selfishness that I wish for you to stay.” He closed his eyes. “There is nothing I can offer you,” he confessed, “that would be worth such a sacrifice. I cannot believe my own audacity after all that has passed between us on this night. I just wish to be near you,” Aragorn explained, “to know that we breathe the same air, to believe in the possibility of seeing you again.”
“You ask much,” Legolas said quietly.
“I ask too much,” Aragorn sighed.
Despite himself, the Elf leaned forward and wrapped his arms around the Man, resting his head on Aragorn’s shoulder. Time waited with baited breath for the Elf’s response and the Prince wondered how so much could have passed in a single night. Could he do this for Aragorn? Could he dwell in Middle-earth with the knowledge that he could never be with the Man he loved? Would it be any different from how he had lived these many seasons since this troublesome Man had entered his life?
Legolas could not deceive himself. It would be vastly different, for now he knew that Aragorn returned his love and yet their love would remain dormant and unfulfilled. It was one thing to urge his friend to complete his destiny, it was quite another to watch him live it and know that he had no part to play. At the back of his mind, the Prince was constantly aware of a call that would only increase in intensity as the years would slowly pass. Fate seemed cruel to him then and Legolas knew the first taste of bitterness had crept into his heart.
“I promise you,” he whispered into the Man’s ear, his melodious voice trembling, “that I shall not sail until you leave these shores.”
Aragorn wiped away the moisture that had gathered in his eyes, fighting back the tears that threatened to spill.
“Dawn is approaching,” Legolas said. The Elf’s voice had returned to normal as though the Prince had not just sealed his own fate. “You should get some rest.”
“Let us greet her here,” Aragorn suggested, hearing the sadness in his own voice, “with your beautiful song.”
“And what shall I sing?”
“Sing of us.”
Legolas nodded and began to sing, a song that began with promise, of friendship, of love, of battles fought and victories hard-won. But as the sky lightened and the stars faded, the song grew darker and unbearably sad, for a new day was dawning but the future in the eyes of Elven Prince remained bleak.
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