Disclaimer: Not mine. Never in a million years and then some mine.
This is what I call the action part, where the reader just sees what happens but doesn’t actually know what the characters are thinking.
*I LOVE this part*
Part 3 - Straying
Aragorn was silent, his knees propped up in front of him and his arms resting across them, shoulders hunched and neck bent over, as if awaiting the guillotine. His coarse, dark clothes were tattered and smudged from travel, while his grey elven cloak kept him hidden in the dark. His face was contemplative and absent, searching the flames for answers that his own mind and heart could not provide.
Adjoining him laid Gimli, his breathing heavy and steady, too fatigued to even make the effort of snoring with his usual gusto and flair. He had fallen asleep on his feet warming himself by the first embers of the fire, and had been laid down by his companions without awakening. His back now absorbing the heat that the mature embers gave off, his body relaxed for the first time in hours, though they seemed ages, his grubby hand never releasing the handle of his ax.
Not even the thundering of all the orc armies of Sauron could awaken Gimli.
Yet should they attack, he would be hewing necks amongst them.
Legolas slept some feet away on his back, head propped up on the bundle of his pack. His long legs were stretched out directly in front of him, his hands clasped tightly over the other and against his chest, eyes open and unblinking. He faced the open sky, cloudy and a smoky dark grey as it was. His eyes themselves were unfocused and blank, resembling a comatose or dead person. His light blond hair was swept back away from his face, an aged, faded gold hue in the firelight, save one errant, short strand.
One, single strand.
If the strand that was arched sideways and laid across the elf’s cheeks itched or tickled him, he made no move to relieve the irritation. Not a muscle in his face twitched, nor did his fingers flex, nor did his breathing hitch in preparation for a sneeze or a sigh. The Elf ignored the strand completely.
Aragorn remained frozen where he was, his eyes not twitching from the firelight for a second. Not moving, nor wanting to, nor feeling even the slightest inclination to avert his gaze from the flames that threatened to sear the retinas with the strain and intensity that Aragorn was asking of them. Not wavering for one second, no, not he.
The forest was silent around them, the tree trunks as imposing as sleeping dogs. The night was windless and dark, waiting in anticipation for the final link to snap without feeling overbearing.
Gimli slept the sleep of the dead.
Legolas reclined as one who was dead.
Aragorn clenched his fists tightly, clenched his eyes shut desperately, clenched his jaw till it ached.
He leaned forward.
Aragorn, son of Arathorn, arose silently, his neck straightened and his shoulders arranged, and strode with all the authority he could muster over to where Legolas lay as sleek and straight as the elven arrows in his quiver. Aragorn scowled.
The Man loomed over the elf for longer than a pause, longer than a while, longer indeed than 7 minutes in full. His facial muscles never moved, nor did his body posture for a moment. He fingered, no, stroked the hilt of Anduril in the remaining time after the first seven minutes, while the rest of him stayed still.
The Elf, in turn, gazed mindlessly toward the sky; heedless of the scrutiny he was under now. His own posture remained innocent, secure in his surroundings and company. His eyes resembled hazy colored glass, cold and flat.
The Man was the first to break the contest of wills and eyes first, crouching down to his haunches and dropping the authority and regality from his posture. His eyes less intense and searching now, fell softly on his companion. He released Anduril.
Aragorn lifted his hand half uncurled towards the Elf’s face, calluses and dirt visible even the faint light the fire provided and his own body blocked.
He hesitated briefly.
He breathed in with a new resolution, extended his hand to its full length and lifted it 6 inches away from the Elf’s face. He then passed it quickly through the stream of the Elf’s gaze, checking constantly for the slightest alteration in the size of the pupil or a wavering of the temperature of the frigid depths of the retinas.
He withdrew his hand then, letting the wrist lie on his knee with his fingers half curled, surveying the elf and the single strand of hair. Yet another pause passed, while the watcher surveyed the sleeper with an emotion less hostile than before.
The Man lifted his hand from his knee again, the movement sure and decided. Index and thump poised in a pincer arrangement, with the rest of his fingers relaxed and still half curled, the hand made its way to the strand. There was no longer a hint of fear or hostility in Aragorn’s posture.
A white hand gripped Aragorn’s firmly around the wrist.
Not quite hard enough to be painful, but not far from it.
A normal man would have startled. A lesser man might have cried out. Aragorn was neither, and simply stayed in the position he had been in before the white hand had gripped his own. His one regret was that he had dropped his armor of authority and hostility and now it was too late to rearm them before Legolas could see him.
Where the white hand had come from, it was uncertain. Obviously from the Elf’s chest where the other hand still rested, but when had it moved, how had it known it was there, how had Legolas known he was there…
To those questions he had no answers. He had but to wait for the Elf to explain himself, and pray he himself would not stutter nor blush nor do anything else so incriminating or embarrassing.
The Elf’s eyes remained locked on the stars, not seeing them nor seeing anything else either. The muscles in his white face remained motionless, the bones and cold flesh of his hands gripping Aragorn’s wrist did not twitch, nor could he feel the Elf’s blood pulsing beneath the frigid skin. Aragorn’s own blood ran slow and cold itself, his heart beating irregularly.
Aragorn waited, not willing to be the first to break the silence and still of the forest and moment.
Legolas never moved, never tightened his grip nor loosen it, nor break the filmy sheen over his eyes with the focus of consciousness or the blinking of waking.
A crease appeared between the brows of the Man, and he frowned at the eyes.
Aragorn tugged lightly on the grip that the Elf held, feeling the hand maintain the same degree of pressure, while the Elf’s eyes never wavered. The Man scowled at the eyes.
His other hand rose from it’s warm place on his crouched knee, and moved assuredly to the head of the Elf, hovered briefly half uncurled in front of his face, before compressing into a fist of hard calcium bone and weathered skin and plummeting down to strike him in his exposed eyes.
The Man stopped his hand before it brushed the single strand of hair that was the reason for the matter.
The Elf had not blinked. Nor twitched.
The Man straightened his neck and the crease in his brow smoothed out in relief. Aragorn inhaled deeply, though silently, and his heart resumed its normal tha-thump, tha-thump, and the circulating blood made his skin warm again.
He eyed the grip that held his hand so tightly, and moved his free hand to hover above the fingers, as they were perpendicular with the sky. He did not touch the other’s hand, though the proximity was quite close. His own hand was dark and tattered with scars and burns against the fair skin that was so close to it.
The Man could feel an increasing heat and humidity between the palm of his free hand and the open parts of his wrists, and held his hands steady. The warmth from his body concentrated and grew, till a thin sweaty film coated Aragorn’s open palm. The icy grip no longer cut off the blood to his fingers. The forearm, clad in light blue and wrist guards, showed the muscles relaxing.
Then, painfully slowly, by mere centimeters and minutes, he guided all three hands to the Elf’s chest, waiting for the fingers to laxen in their strength. When the white finger tips began to deviate from the Man’s wrist and straighten into a more relaxed position, the Man waited, letting the warmth of both his hands relax the cold flesh between them, as a rock and sunshine would relax a reptile or lizard.
The Elf’s hand was still firm, but unguided, and slid from the wrist of the Man to his own hand that rested on his chest, to clasp it loosely onto his own cold hand. Moisture could be seen where the Elf’s running hand brushed against his unused one. Both hands, though still clasped against his chest, held each other looser, in a more relaxed posture.
The Man, just briefly, just lightly, just barely discernable in the darkness of the woods and the shadowed crevices of his own face---smiled.
And with the hand that had been entrapped, pinched the tip of the single strand of hair and carefully pulled it back to where the majority of it rested.
Aragorn then stood without glancing at the Elf again, pivoted smartly yet silently on his heel and walked back to fire, which had died down to smoldering crimson embers in his absence, and where Gimli continued to snore.
His steps sounded loud to him, and his sat down in his previous post, returning to stare at them embers. His eyes were not focused on the embers with the same intensity as before, and his breathing was slightly faster than it had been but other than that he was as he had been before and had never moved a hair.
His shoulders were hunched, and his grey elf cloak covered his tattered clothing, and under the cloak his hands lay across each other, enjoying the warmth that they provided each other and fingers rubbed against the callused joints.
He sat like that for half an hour, hands rubbing against and over each other, till a glance at the sky and the stars made him stand once again. Walking over to Gimli, he shook the dwarf’s shoulder gently.
The snoring continued.
Aragorn frowned, and whacked him on the back with his open palm.
A snort, a groan, yet another whack with a closed fist, and Gimli was awaken and up and on watch.
Aragorn took the Dwarf’s sleeping place and posture, with his back towards the fire and his head nestled in the crook of both arms. Gimli in turn sat down heavily in the spot that Aragorn had held, head pushed up by his fist.
With bleary eyes Gimli frowned at the dimming flames, and with a few muttered words stood back up and swinging his ax cheerfully strode into the woods, leaves crunching beneath his heavy steps and thick boots. Even when he was many yards in the gloom, the remote crunching could still be heard.
Roughly six minutes of complete stillness save the flaring of the embers passed over the campsite, where both Man and Elf layed silent under the high treetops. Not even an autumn leaf fell during those six minutes.
Then a small, tentative stroking of fingertips against one another broke the moments. Slow, thoughtful movements, stroking the bottom of his thumb over the top of his fingertips. Feeling the smoothness of his fingernails, the rough, scratchy feel of knuckle joints that connected the tips to the rest of the fingers.
Legolas continued to stare up into cloudy dark sky, eyes glazed, unseeing, and unfeeling.
He lifted the topmost hand up from his chest and held it white against the dark sky, still rubbing his fingers together and studying them clinically. He fully extended his hand, and turned it over on both sides. No emotion passed through his features, save one of that of curiosity and detachment.
With the same hand, he smoothed down the back of his hair, feeling out the single strand that had been the cause for Aragorn’s sudden interest and on locating it, wrung it through his thumb and index, squeezing whatever moisture had been left in there out.
He then held the hand in front of his face, searching his white skin for traces or clues for an indeterminate crime. The Elf turned the hand over and around, and it could be noted that his skin was the back of his hand was the same tone of white as the palm. He also had very little visible hair on the back, if any at all.
He pulled his hand closer to his face, under his nose, and sniffed it curiously.
If his senses were able to find any scent unusual, whether alluring or revolting, his face gave no sign of it.
But he kept his hand there long after the smell-test was conducted, no longer rubbing his fingers together but instead searching to dark clouds that hid the stars. Though windless and quiet in the woods, a current was circulating high up in the heavens; his keen eyesight allowed him to discern the gaseous figures colliding and reforming.
Legolas unfolded his hand from its half curled position under his chin, and very delicately, with just the fingertips, traced his windpipe down through the skin on his throat.
Looking very much like a cat, he rubbed his throat back up using the side of his neck and the back of his hand, over his jaw line and across his cheekbones to his forehead and smoothed down his hair. He was able to find the single strand of hair without searching for it this time. He ran the strand through his fingers again.
He relaxed his hand there for a while longer, and made evident his first emotion aside from curiosity regarding the incident.
Legolas was breathing faster.
Not much faster, certainly nothing that could be heard from a feet from him, and certainly nothing that the casual observer could detect from a close distance. The air appeared to be going in and out of his nose and lungs at the same speed it had been all night. There was only one thing that betrayed him, really.
His remaining hand that was clutched painfully tight against his chest was rising and falling slightly faster than before. And it was at irregular intervals, too.
The Elf closed his eyes slowly, his face as cold and impassive as ever.
Moving his entire arm forward in one smooth movement, he held his hand in front of his face once more. Now his hand was clutched in a fist.
He licked his lips nervously.
Moving slowly, he rubbed the knuckles against his cheek, kneading his fist into the sensitive skin under his eye, and ever so softly, ever so slowly, brushed the back of his hand against his lips. Painfully slow, feeling the bones under the cool flesh and the dried stickiness of sweat brush gently against his lips. His index ran across the slender length of his bottom lip, pressing down on it and making his mouth open slightly.
Eyes still closed, the tip of his tongue slid across the tip of his finger, under his nail. He clenched his eyes tighter and inhaled deeply.
He didn’t move.
He didn’t breathe.
Now the whole length of his tongue slid out, and pressed fully against the length of his hand, starting from the base of his wrist, lingering at the knuckles, all the way to the fingertips. Therein, his index slid inside his mouth up to the knuckle, while his tongue licked and sucked at it. Pressing his lips tightly together, the index slid out shining but relatively dry.
Legolas opened his eyes carefully, slowly, and stared at his index, and indeed entire hand. The faint light of the stars could barely trace out the trails where his saliva had passed.
Gimli was scowling darkly at the Elf.
When he had returned from his errand, how long he had been standing there, how much he had seen…it was uncertain.
The Elf returned the gaze impassively and levelly, and made his own opinions towards the other’s race known. They maintained their staring contest for little less than half a minute, before Gimli snorted again and dropped his gaze first and began to administer the fire that had gone out completely.
“Goddamn elves”, Gimli muttered. “Always said you couldn’t leave alone without havin’ to check over your shoulder every bloody second.”
Gimli continued to mutter, following along the lines of Men and keeping a decent fire and Elves in all their peculiarity.
For his part, Legolas recrossed his hands at his chest for the third time and with opened eyes turned to the sky and pretended to sleep. He did not appear to be listening to Gimli.
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