The Test of the Fellowship
During the night the wind grew even colder. The full moon hid behind large, dark clouds. Aragorn did his best to keep the fire going, but small droplets of beginning rain were doing their best to put it out. Somewhere out there was Gimli standing guard, making sure they were safe. That thought soothed him.
Looking at his Elven traveling companion, he checked on the blue lines once more. He wasn't completely sure, but it seemed that they were fading. The blue lines had retreated from Legolas' throat and face and were now solely centered on the Elf's chest. Legolas shivered violently, his wide eyes staring unseeing at the dark heavens.
Aragorn rested a hand on Legolas' brow, trying to determine if the fever was retreating as well. He hissed when Legolas' skin felt like ice. Quickly his hands sneaked beneath the blanket, finding more cold skin. The Elf was freezing and the blanket did little to keep him warm. Aragorn could only come up with one way to keep Legolas warm all night long.
Determined, he removed his shirt. Gooseflesh appeared on his skin when it came in to contact with the cold air. He refused to think about how they would look to Gimli when the Dwarf returned; what mattered was that Legolas was cold and needed to get warm.
Legolas muttered softly as the blanket was removed, but a sigh escaped his lips as Aragorn lay down behind him. Aragorn pulled Legolas close, spooning behind the Elf. He wrapped his arms around Legolas and tucked the Elf's head beneath his chin. Then he covered them with the blanket again.
Lying this close Aragorn couldn't resist the urge to finger a lock of the Elf's silken hair. The smooth skin felt uncanny cold beneath his touch and it yet was the softest skin he had ever felt. Holding Legolas in his arms felt right, felt like he was finally fulfilling his destiny. Holding Arwen had never felt like this. His groin stirred and Aragorn pushed back his feelings of desire. He sighed relieved when the stirrings of arousal lessened.
He buried his face in the long locks, loving the way they seemed to caress his face. A bitter laugh left his lips. Although he wasn't bound to Arwen any longer, he couldn't follow his heart either. Something told him that Legolas wasn't the kind of man who settled for a mortal lover; the Elf was like a loner, much like him. Pursuing the Elf was useless. He simply had to accept that a sudden passion had overwhelmed him and that the object of that passion was out of his reach.
Falling for a man surprised Aragorn. In the past he had only fallen for women, one of them to be exact; Arwen. His life as a Ranger had kept him busy and he had always felt like coming home when Arwen had wrapped her arms around him. Now that had changed. Now holding Legolas made him feel whole and complete.
"You won't die, my fair Elf. You'll heal and I'll keep a close eye on you, making sure you don't get injured again. You should have come to me. I could have helped you fight the poison. There's no need for you to go through this on your own." Although he was sure that the Elf would recover he feared complications. Gimli had mentioned that Legolas was blind, that the Elf had been unable to see inside the cave. Would the herbs take away the poison that had slipped in to those magical eyes? Could Legolas' vision be restored? He couldn't bare the thought of this beautiful creature going through life blind.
Legolas stirred as if reassured by Aragorn's promise. "I'll watch over you as you used to watch over us. I'll be your eyes..." Although he couldn't see the Elf's eyes, he knew they were staring in to the darkness of the night.
When Gimli returned to their camp hours later he found Aragorn curled around Legolas. The Elf was trashing in Aragorn's arms and Gimli saw concern in the Man's eyes. "I hoped he'd be better."
"Not yet," said Aragorn. "The poison is at war with the herbs I gave him. Master Dwarf, would you make some tea? I put the healing herbs next to the fire." It was a miracle that the fire was still going strong.
"It needs more wood," observed Gimli. "I'll gather some after I brew that tea." He grabbed his flask, poured water in to a mug and placed it in the fire. He would have preferred using a kettle, but they were traveling light. "Do I crush the leaves?" Bruising them would help release their healing potion.
Aragorn nodded. "Yes, then put them in the mug and wait for a few minutes. Legolas needs to empty that mug. He needs those fluids."
"Elf grew cold, did he?" Gimli grinned, seeing Aragorn's darkened eyes. It definitely seemed that Aragorn enjoyed holding Legolas in his arms. Maybe Legolas' feelings were mutual? Gimli hoped so. The two men fit well together, completed each other.
"He's still running a fever, but at the same time he's freezing. His body is fighting the Uruk-Hai's poison." Aragorn waited several minutes and then judged the tea ready. "Help me. Legolas needs to sit up or I fear he won't keep the tea down."
Gimli knelt behind Legolas and together they managed to pull the Elf in a sitting position. The Dwarf pulled the blanket up to Legolas' shoulders, making sure the Elf remained warm. Then he wrapped his strong arms around Legolas to offer all necessary support.
"Please, Legolas, you need to drink this." Aragorn placed the mug cautiously at Legolas' lips. "Small sips. You need the fluids."
Gimli felt Legolas' body tense up when the warm liquid traveled down the Elf's throat. He barely resisted the urge to whisper some soothing words. When had Legolas found a way in to his heart? When had he developed fatherly feelings for the Elf? Was it because Legolas looked so deceivingly young? He reckoned the Elf was several hundred years old, but he looked like a twenty year old to the old Dwarf. Legolas was perfectly capable of taking care of himself, but not under these circumstances, not when the Uruk-Hai's poison was slowly killing him.
Aragorn studied the Elf's eyes, hoping to find some form of recognition in them. Legolas' head lolled to its right, resting against his shoulder and Aragorn choked down a sigh. An Elf never showed his vulnerability willingly. "Just a few more sips, Legolas. The tea will help you heal." Finally he caught a flash in the Elf's eyes; a flash of recognition.
"Ara...gorn?" His throat felt dry and talking pained the Elf. He blinked several times, hoping sight would return to him, but all he saw was darkness. It was the voice and the smell that made him recognize Aragorn's presence. So the Man had managed to dig them out.
"Gimli?" Legolas recalled that the Dwarf's leg had been buried beneath a rock. Had he managed to lift it or not? His memory was oddly fuzzy.
"I'm fine, Elf." A lump formed in Gimli's throat. It meant a lot to him that Legolas worried about him. "Now drink that tea."
Aragorn smiled when Legolas managed to swallow more tea. "The fever has a tight grip on you. I'll wake you regularly so you can drink more tea. If everything goes well you should start to feel better when the morning comes again." He also noticed the tension in Legolas' body. "Is something wrong?"
"I still can't see," admitted Legolas, trying to act calm and in control. "Will the blindness go away as well?"
Aragorn wished he had better news for his friend. "I'm not sure."
Legolas managed a weak nod. "Then I'll have to accept that." Living without his Elven sight seemed like a nightmare to him, but maybe his other senses would grow stronger and compensate his loss of sight. The tea unfolded its effect and Legolas grew sleepy again; it was his body's way of letting him know it needed more time to recuperate. He gave in, resting against Aragorn's chest. He shivered, feeling cold to the bone.
Aragorn placed the now empty mug on the ground and watched Legolas closely, recognizing the blank stare in the Elf's eyes. "He needs to rest."
Gimli couldn't help making a teasing remark; the tension was getting to him. "Then keep him warm, Man!"
Aragorn looked up while lowering Legolas back on to his bedroll and met Gimli's amused eyes. "Master Dwarf?"
Gimli laughed softly. "I'll be walking the grounds." He chuckled softly and walked away from the fire.
Aragorn wondered about the Dwarf's sense of humor or had Gimli noticed something? No, that couldn't be. He masked his feelings perfectly. With a deep sigh he slipped back in to his original position behind Legolas. This time the Elf moved closer, pressing back for more bodily contact. Aragorn sighed deeply, enfolded the Elf in his arms and held Legolas tight until it was time for the next round of tea.
His thoughts didn't make any sense. In his feverish dreams Aragorn was holding him close, skin against skin, the Man's face buried in his long hair. What a sweet dream it was. A dream he didn't want to end, but end it did. Plunged back in to darkness, Aragorn's face faded.
"Legolas? It's morning. You need to drink this tea one last time."
Aragorn no longer sounded that worried, that must mean that the worst was behind him. Slowly he tried to stretch his body, expecting pain and stiffness, but his body hummed with life again. The only thing that hadn't changed was the darkness that surrounded him. No matter how hard he tried, his eyes remained useless.
Suddenly a mug was placed against his lips and he drank instinctively. Gentle hands held back his long hair, almost caressing the strands. "Aragorn?"
"Yes, Legolas, it is I. You're healing. The poison almost left your body... I'm afraid to ask but I have to... Has your sight returned yet?"
Legolas fought back the tears that were building in his useless eyes. He wouldn't cry openly, maybe later when he was alone. "No." Aragorn's hand rested against the small of his back and it made him realize that he wasn't wearing his shirt or tunic. Was that the reason why he felt so cold? Aragorn's caress created a new sort of heat inside him and he wished he had the strength to put some distance between them, but he still felt weak. Why was Aragorn touching him in this way?
He concentrated on drinking the tea, trying to ignore the soothing caresses Aragorn bestowed on his back. The strokes felt nice and comforting, but he reminded himself not to read anything in to the touch. Aragorn's heart belonged to Arwen.
"We can't stay here much longer. The Uruk-Hai are gaining too much on us. Can you walk?"
Legolas managed to maintain his calm. "You should leave me here. I'm no longer of any use to the Fellowship. I'm already slowing you down. You must rescue Pippin and Merry. I can take care of myself." Saying the words hurt. He wanted to stay with Aragorn and Gimli, help them free the Hobbits, but he had to do the right thing. "It will take my other senses time to adapt to this new situation." In time hearing and touch would guide him, but not yet.
"I'm not leaving you here!"
To Legolas' surprise Aragorn sounded indignant. "It's the best thing to do, Aragorn. My presence would slow you down. Without me, Gimli and you can move more easily and faster."
Legolas recognized that tone. Aragorn wasn't giving in. "I followed you since we left Rivendell, but I can't follow you any longer. You're making a mistake."
"Leaving you here would be a mistake..."
Legolas gave up. He knew when he was beaten.
Gimli had heard their argument and anger rose deep from within his belly. "Elf, you can't expect us to leave you here!"
Legolas reacted at once, cocking his head and trying to pinpoint the direction Gimli was coming from. Aragorn's hand was still at the small of his back, drawing soothing circles and he wondered absentmindedly why the Man didn't stop the caress now that Gimli had arrived. Had the fever affected more than just his eyes, his brain perhaps? "It's the wise thing to do and you know it, Master Dwarf."
Gimli shook his head and came to a halt in front of the Elf. "Here are your clothes, get dressed, Elf." He wasn't giving in to Legolas' blind stare. "You're part of the Fellowship and you're staying with us."
A long sigh escaped Legolas. "That's settled then. I'll work hard on adjusting my senses..." He refused to be a burden to his companions.
Aragorn took hold of the shirt and tunic and noticed that most of the blood had been washed out. He smiled at Gimli in silent gratitude.
The Dwarf nodded, tapping his foot impatiently. He leaned on his mighty axe and was ready to watch Legolas for the next hours. "Aragorn, take the lead. I'll keep my eye on the Elf."
Suddenly Aragorn's body heat was gone, leaving him cold and shivering again. Then the Man's hands returned, helping him in to his shirt and tunic. "I can do this alone..."
"Let me help," pleaded Aragorn. He knew how hard it was on the Elf to accept help, but Legolas had better get used to it. In time, his senses would adjust, compensate for the loss of his sight, but that process took time. "Stay close to Gimli at all times," he instructed.
Legolas nodded obediently. When he tried to get to his feet, he swayed, feeling light headed and nauseous. Suddenly an arm was curled around his waist... Aragorn. "You should move on without me."
"No." Aragorn exchanged a knowing glance with Gimli. They would make sure Legolas was safe until they encountered a healer who could restore the Elf's sight.
Legolas shuddered; he doubted he would ever get used to living in utter darkness.
Aragorn worried about Legolas. The Elf had finally fallen in to step beside Gimli who was unusually alert. The Dwarf had a peculiar expression in his eyes and Aragorn knew that Gimli would go to great lengths to keep Legolas safe.
The warm sunlight was fading and the heavens darkened. It was time to make camp again and rest. But first he wanted to check on Legolas. He had adjusted his pace so the Elf could keep up with them, and they had made less progress than he had hoped, but leaving Legolas simply wasn't an option.
"We'll spend the night here." Aragorn pointed at the small cave. "Gimli, take Legolas inside. I'll make sure no one followed us and then join you."
Gimli nodded. "It's time to rest, Elf." Legolas' hand, tight curled inside his, twitched. The Elf was tired, but refused to show it. Gimli squeezed Legolas' hand reassuringly and led the Elf inside. He didn't like spending the night in a cave after the last one had collapsed, but it did provide good shelter from the wind. Legolas would be warm in here.
Legolas stood waiting, uncertain what to do. He raised his arms, felt along the rocks and realized they were back inside a cave. "Are we spending the night here?"
"Aye." Gimli unrolled his bedroll, more concerned for Legolas' well being than his own. "Lie down and rest." He used his hold on Legolas' hand to make him sit and then lie down.
"No, I can stand guard, Gimli. My hearing is still intact and..." Oh, but he couldn't deny how comfortable he felt lying down. His tired muscles relaxed and he released a shuddering sigh. Suddenly Gimli pressed something in to his hands and Legolas frowned. "What...?"
"I gathered berries during our march," explained Gimli. "Eat." There wouldn't be much else for dinner tonight.
"What about you and Aragorn?"
"We can go without food for a day, you however cannot. You're still recovering from that poison." Gimli finally released Legolas' hand now that the Elf was safe stretched out on the ground. "I'll try to build a fire, but the wood is damp."
Legolas hesitated to eat the berries. "We can share." He didn't like the idea of his companions going to sleep with an empty belly.
"Eat, Elf, and then rest."
Gimli's soft tone suddenly registered with Legolas. The Dwarf was still worried about him. "Thank you, Master Dwarf," he said, finally accepting the gift. He slipped a berry in to his mouth and then quickly ate the rest. Until now he hadn't realized just how hungry he was.
"We're safe here for the night." Aragorn entered the cave and nodded approvingly, seeing Legolas covered by a warm blanket. He was tempted to inquire about the Elf's health, but Legolas' expression told him that the Elf was uncomfortable being the center of attention. "We can get some rest tonight."
Gimli grumbled approvingly and made himself comfortable leaning against the wall. "Damn wood is too damp to build a fire. My old bones could have used one." But his eyes spoke different words; a warm fire would have aided the Elf's recovery.
Legolas, staring in to a black void, pretended not to hear. He needed some privacy, but Gimli and Aragorn never left him alone. He worried about his future. How could he call himself a warrior when he could no longer aim his arrows? It was best he returned to Mirkwood and forgot about the Fellowship.
Aragorn couldn't sleep, unlike Gimli who had quickly dozed off and was now snoring happily. His gaze rested on Legolas' face for some time now and he caught the shivers rocking the Elf's exhausted body. Soft Elven whispers echoed through the cave, calling him closer; Legolas was dreaming of home, of Mirkwood.
Suddenly the Elf curled up in a fetal position as the chills got worse. At night and with Legolas asleep, the last remnants of poison were tormenting his body with cold. Aragorn knew what he had to do and rose to his feet. He walked over to Legolas, pushed the blanket aside and settled down behind the Elf, folding his arms around the shivering body and pulling him close.
Legolas' sleep grew calm again, the shivers grew less and a soft sigh floated from the Elf's lips.
Aragorn, content now that Legolas was content, followed the Elf in to sleep.
Still half asleep, Legolas marveled about the warmth that cocooned him. Two strong arms were wrapped around him and a warm body was spooned behind him. Hadn't this happened before? Hadn't he awoken like this from his nightmarish dreams last night? Aragorn had been holding him, warming him, but why would the Man be holding him now? He was no longer in any danger. His body had dealt with the poison.
Concentrating on his hearing, he listened to the steady breathing behind him. His nostrils twitched, telling him Aragorn had pulled him close once again. He briefly considered pulling free, but he was unwilling to disturb Aragorn's sleep. What does this mean? Why is he holding me again? Why does being this close to him feel so good? It shouldn't feel this good. Aragorn was merely keeping him warm; the Man had probably seen him shiver and as a fellow warrior Aragorn was now offering him his body heat. It didn't mean Aragorn had developed feelings for him like he hoped the Son of Gondor would.
In the end he decided to remain motionless and let Aragorn sleep. He accepted the Man's gift of warmth and cherished it.
When Aragorn woke the next morning, he looked straight in to Gimli's laughing eyes. The Dwarf was definitely amused, grinning and chuckling. He considered questioning the Dwarf, but Legolas' deep and regular breathing told him that the Elf was still asleep so he let Gimli leave without asking why the Dwarf was smirking.
Holding Legolas he noticed that several things were different from the last time when he had warmed the feverish Elf. The smell of herbs no longer dominated Legolas' scent. He deeply inhaled the Elf's scent and ran his fingers lightly through the flaxen hair. Legolas was a mystery to him. The Elven Prince was a respected warrior, but something elusive clung to the Elf, which added to the mystery. Why did he feel that Legolas was hiding things from him, was keeping secrets?
But wasn't he keeping secrets as well? Up on that mountain, before the cave collapsed, he had said that there couldn't be any secrets between them and now he was keeping them himself. Once the right opportunity came along he would tell Legolas about his growing affection for the Elf. He didn't know how the other man would react, but that was a risk he had to take.
Legolas' breathing changed, became faster and Aragorn realized the Elf was waking up. He decided against retreat; let Legolas know that he enjoyed holding the Elf in his sleep.
Legolas sounded strangely shy and confused to Aragorn, which alarmed him. "Yes?"
"I thought it was a dream..."
"What? Being blind?" Oh, just speaking the words hurt! If only he could heal the Elf's eyes!
"No, you holding me..."
"You were cold. I saw you shivering." Aragorn's eyes caressed the golden hair, wishing he could once more run his fingers through the strands, but he couldn't, not yet... First they had to talk and this wasn't the right time for it.
"This feels different somehow." Legolas frowned. Should he voice his thoughts or keep quiet? "Why are you holding me? Just because I was cold? You could have given me your blanket instead."
Aragorn wasn't sure how to react. "I wanted to be sure that you were warm and comfortable. I never realized I could lose you. Elves live for thousands of years and I never thought Death could snatch you away like that."
Legolas wasn't ready to pressure Aragorn on his motives and decided to let the matter rest. "We should rise. We have a long way ahead of us."
"Legolas, I..." Aragorn wanted to explain, but the words wouldn't come to him. "I promise we'll talk."
"After we freed the Hobbits..." Legolas felt strangely disappointed when Aragorn released him, but reminded himself that their quest was more important than his personal problems. He accepted Aragorn's hand when the Man pulled him to his feet. "I can keep up with you and Gimli. Set a firm pace. The Hobbits are already too long at the mercy of those monsters."
"Tell me when you need to rest, Legolas." Aragorn raised a hand to cup Legolas' chin in his palm, but stopped himself just in time. Such a caress would show his feelings for the Elf and none of them were ready to face the attraction. They were struggling with their own thoughts and emotions. They needed time.
Gimli watched as Aragorn led Legolas from the cave. The Elf's hand rested on Aragorn's shoulder and something about the Man's posture told him that his services weren't needed today. It was obvious that Aragorn wanted to guide Legolas himself. Gimli grinned, but made sure Aragorn didn't catch his smirk. My friend Elf, your heart's desire might come true after all. The possessiveness Aragorn displayed this morning told the old Dwarf all he needed to know.
Swinging his axe over his shoulder, he marched behind them, vowing that nothing would happen to his blind companion.
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