Someone called his name. He tried to wake up but his body was weighted down and his eyes wouldn’t open.
"Father?" He moved anxiously trying to free himself from his bonds. Where was he? "Elrond?" He frowned as he fought his own body.
"No. Do not fight it."
Cool hands slid along his face and held him still. "It is Legolas. You are still here in the woods. Just listen to my voice and wake up slowly. I drugged you last night. You were feverish."
Aragorn swallowed hard. His throat was dry. Nothing this person said was making any sense. Unconsciously he switched to elvish. "Let me go."
Legolas sighed and tucked the edges of his cloak back around the ranger’s body. He had used it to cover the man last night after bringing his fever down. An arrow tip had wedged itself near the bone in his thigh and Legolas had missed it the first time when he had dressed the wound. During the night the tip had infected the wound and sent the man perilously close to death’s door. It had been a long night and a few times the elf had thought he was going to lose the young man. It had been during one of Aragorn’s feverish nightmares that Legolas had learned the ranger’s true identity. The man had called out for his father, claiming the sons of Elrond were his brothers. He argued with some unknown assailant that his heritage was not in question and he was the elven lord’s own. It had taken all of the elf’s strength to restrain the wounded man. At that point Legolas had opted to drug him in order to calm him down so that he could more easily see to his leg and remove the arrow tip.
"Who are you?" Aragorn’s words were slightly slurred as he settled down and concentrated on the voice that spoke to him.
Legolas continued to speak in elvish; it seemed to get through to the man easier in his current state of mind. Carefully, he moved aside the cloak and inspected the nasty gash running the length of Aragorn’s thigh. It looked somewhat better in the pre-dawn light but it was still red and hot to the touch.
"I am Legolas. I am the one who rescued you last night."
There was no response from the prone man and Legolas looked up from his task to watch the still face. "Aragorn?"
"You are the elf from last night?" Memory caught up with him slowly as the fog in his mind cleared.
"I did not mean to insult you. I vaguely remember that I seem to have." Dark, brown eyes opened slowly and fixed on the elf’s grey ones. "I am sorry."
Legolas looked down to the bandage in his hands and gently reapplied it to the wound. "You did not. It is I who owe you the apology. I mistook you for simply another man."
"Any certain man?" Aragorn carefully tried to sit up, watching his companion intently.
Not meeting his gaze Legolas moved quickly to his side and helped him up, leaning him against a nearby tree. "No. No one in particular."
When his question brokered no response he continued pressing. "You have been mistreated by men then, I assume."
"Your curiosity is misplaced." The elf moved silently to tend to the dwindling fire. "You should save your strength."
Aragorn smiled in spite of the situation; he loved a challenge and this elf held his interest. He was sure the lithe body was more than its seemingly twenty years. If he had his guess he would have measured this one to be well over a thousand years old. Something in the elf’s graceful quietness had tipped off the ranger. There was a depth to this one's soul that only came with age. Although it was always hard to guess the ages of elves, it had been a game he had readily played all his younger years with his elven brothers. He had gotten rather good at it. So he decided to play with this elf too.
"I’d say you were well over one thousand years old," his voice was soft and barely above a whisper, but he knew his companion could hear him easily, "even though you look like you could be my age. Your eyes are grey but there is blue in them, you are not from Rivendell. I would guess Mirkwood by your clothing. You carry yourself like royalty. Although all elves have that haughty gait when they want to." The last statement was meant as a barb, a taunt that usually fell from the mouths of men and it struck its target well.
Legolas’ head shot up and his eyes were hard and fierce as he pinned Aragorn with a withering glance. But the glare only caused the man to laugh, much to Legolas’ surprise.
"Peace, my friend. It was only in jest, my lord." Aragorn’s response startled Legolas. Only elves spoke to each other like that, men never called an elf ‘lord’. And for the first time the elven prince realized that the ranger had been teasing him.
Aragorn saw the change in his companion and smiled. "So do you want me to keep guessing or will you tell me yourself who you are?" He waited for a heartbeat and then continued, "And why, my friend, you hate men so much?"
Legolas dropped his gaze back to the forest floor as memories haunted him and he warred within himself whether to trust this man.
"You don’t have to." Aragorn spoke softly, the words came out in Common and he immediately switched to elvish, "I am sorry, I did not mean to press you. I am indebted to you. You saved me. I only wanted to know whom I owe my life to."
The elf swallowed hard, pretending to keep his hands busy with something as he tried to come to terms with the resurfacing emotions inside of him.
Aragorn let the silence hang, not wishing to press the other. He moved stiffly, trying to get more comfortable. The jarring to his leg sent a wave a pain through him and he drew his breath in sharply trying to deal with the sudden onslaught.
Legolas leapt to his feet and rounded the fire. He knelt next to the ranger and gently moved his leg to a more comfortable position, making sure that the bandage was secure and the wound had not reopened. Aragorn let him have his way while he worked on dealing with the pain. When the elf was done he lay the cloak back down over the ranger's leg. Aragorn reached out and touched the prince’s hand. Legolas instinctively jerked away again, looking up into the questioning, dark eyes that watched him.
"You said your name was Legolas?"
The elf watched him, almost not breathing.
"Legolas...Greenleaf? Are you Thranduil’s son?"
He nodded slightly.
"My father has told me of you. Now I understand a little better, I heard some about what happened to you in Dorolyn." The young ranger’s voice was quiet. Perhaps with more age and wisdom he would have found a little more tact in addressing the situation, but his intentions were good and his words earnest.
Legolas did not move. It was odd and uncomfortable for a moment, finding out that Aragorn knew something about what had happened to him. He did not like others knowing of his pain and his shame. How could this young human who, in the elf’s mind, had barely been weaned, possibly understand what he was talking about when he spoke of the evils of Dorolyn now gone for many centuries?
Aragorn watched as a shadow passed over the grey eyes that held his own. He could see the elf close in on himself. He had heard the stories of bravery about this son of Thranduil and had always wanted to meet him some day. For this to be that very person was exciting for him, but he could tell that for the elf it must have caused him nothing but pain. The realization that they might never be friends because of man’s inhumanity to all that wasn’t man made him sick.
"Please. I meant no disrespect. You are greatly honored in the halls of Rivendell. It is my privilege to meet you, prince of Mirkwood."
Legolas looked off into the woods behind them. He wasn’t sure what to say. He had thought the horrors of Dorolyn and his own fears were long laid to rest. For the most part he had not associated with men. Since his time in Dorolyn, he had stayed close to his father’s realm and honed his hunting and warring skills. His accuracy with a bow was now almost legendary. Aragorn was the first man he had encountered alone in a few centuries, and definitely the only one he’d had such close, prolonged contact with. It had not ever occurred to him that tales of his time in Dorolyn were ever spoken of outside his own kingdom – for rarely was it spoken of there.
Aragorn sighed. He had decided that Legolas’ silence was a rejection of himself as a man. He knew he should expect it from other men, especially those of Gondor and even from some of the elves themselves, but he had hoped…
"I took no offense at your words, Aragorn son of Arathorn, heir of Isildur." The elf smiled sadly at the surprise on the ranger's face. "Yes, I have heard of you also. Your own legend precedes you."
Aragorn watched him questioningly, wondering how a strange elf came to know about him what he himself had only recently found out.
"You spoke in your dreams last night," Legolas explained his knowledge of the man’s origin. "Your wound became infected and you were feverish."
The ranger nodded in understanding, wondering what else he had said.
"I was, however, not aware that you had decided to follow in the footsteps of the Dunèdain," Legolas continued. Even if he had not known of Aragorn before hearing his delirious words last night, he had heard something about Estel, the young human that Lord Elrond had curiously decided to take under his wing some years ago.
"Well then I guess there is a lot that we both don’t know about the other." Aragorn laughed at the awkwardness the conversation had instilled. "Let me try this again." He smiled at the elf and cleared his throat. Then extending his hand he introduced himself, "Hello, my name is Aragorn, you may call me Estel. It’s nice to make your acquaintance. And thank you for saving my neck by the way."
Legolas took the offered hand in his own, laughing out loud at the introduction. "It is good to meet you, Aragorn. I am indeed Legolas Greenleaf and it was my privilege to save your neck."
This only caused Aragorn to laugh even harder until he doubled over in pain from his bruised ribs. "Don’t make me laugh, it hurts," he ground out.
Legolas quieted down and let the ranger get his breath back before pressing him for more information. "What were you doing out here? Did you not know this is an area of war between the dwarves and the orcs?"
"Well, I was on my way to Mirkwood actually. And this seemed the quickest route."
"What? Is this your first time out on your own?" Legolas meant the barb as a jest, but his mouth fell open in surprise when Aragorn took the taunt seriously and looked away. When he finally found his tongue again, he blurted out, "It is!"
"So what of it?" Aragorn came back a little more defensively than he had meant to.
"I’m sorry, I meant no disrespect, but truly did not your father tell you to go south and around this area if you set out to visit us? This section of the wastelands has been in contention for some time; it is far from safe here."
Aragorn’s face reddened at being reminded of the lecture his father had given him before he left. When Legolas chuckled at the response, he shot him a withering glance.
"Then he did." Legolas nodded knowingly and continued lightly, "So very much like a man to think he can just go wherever he pleases." It was something that had come out of his mouth so many times he had never thought about it, and saying it to this ranger, who spoke elvish like a native born, it did not occur to him that it would be taken wrongly.
Aragorn switched to Common and replied evenly, "And yet I am a man. Why is it that you hate us so much?"
Legolas was taken back. "I did not say I hated you."
"No. But it is obvious you hate men."
The silence grew uncomfortable.
"It is to our shame then that you do." Aragorn let the statement hang between them, deciding to drop the subject altogether. Legolas was lost in his own thoughts and did not answer right away.
So preoccupied was the elf that he did not hear the rustling behind him. Aragorn was aware of the intruder only seconds before Legolas was. He saw the fangs and the dark bulk leaping from the underbrush as if in slow motion. Lunging for the elf’s quiver he pulled one of the long silver-bladed knives from its sheath and threw the blade at the airborne creature.
Legolas watched wide-eyed as the ranger grabbed for his knife and threw it towards him. He heard a snarling behind him and turned, instinctively throwing himself to the ground as he saw a dark shape hurling towards him.
The blade of his knife sunk deep into the wolf’s chest, but the animal's forward momentum was not stopped and the creature landed on top of the elf pinning him beneath his bulk.
"Legolas!" Aragorn dragged himself to the elf’s side and helped push the animal off of his chest. He pulled his wounded leg in close and sat up, trying to help Legolas as he got his bearings back again.
He was, for the most part, unhurt, but two long gashes ran the length of his cheekbone where the wolf’s paw had grazed his face. Aragorn brushed his fingers lightly over the deep scratches, looking carefully to see if they needed to be cleansed. Legolas winced at his touch, breathing in sharply, but this time he did not pull away. Leaning over, he pulled the knife from the still cooling body of the wolf.
His senses were on hyper alert and he easily leapt into a crouched position scanning the surrounding forest. The woodland sounds had ceased around them and an eerie calm was falling over the area. Bending back down he whispered softly in the ranger’s ear, "Wolves. They travel with orcs. They are near; we need to leave this place."
Aragorn nodded and quietly tried to move to a standing position. Legolas stepped behind him and helped him to stand. His thigh had started to bleed again and the depth of the wound would not allow him to put pressure on his leg. Soundlessly he collapsed, trying to keep from crying out with the pain. Legolas caught him and lowered him slowly back down to the forest floor. His heart was racing; he could smell the orcs, they were near. There wasn’t much time left, the sky was almost fully lighted and they were probably on their way back to whatever hole in the ground they had crawled out of. Finding the elf and the ranger in their path would not sit well with a band of orcs. A wolf cry hung on the wind; it was nearby.
"Go," Aragorn whispered to his companion. "Get out of here, they can’t catch you. If I hide maybe they’ll miss me." He pushed Legolas’ hands away from him and tried to drag himself into the undergrowth, but the elf would have nothing of it.
Wrapping his arms around the man’s waist he hauled the ranger to his feet. The elf’s strength surprised Aragorn as he was quickly righted. "We go together. What do you think Lord Elrond would do to me if he heard that I left his son to a band of orcs?" Legolas smiled wryly at the ranger. "Better they kill me with you than I return to him like that."
Aragorn chuckled at this judgment of his adopted father. He was about to respond when the forest around them erupted and a dozen orcs stepped from the trees encircling them and cutting off their hopes for an escape.
"Well, I guess you get your wish then." Aragorn looked over his shoulder to Legolas and carefully eased himself back down to the ground. The elf slowly lowered the man in his arms and protectively shielded him. Crouching behind Aragorn, Legolas held the ranger against him and crossed his elven knives over the man’s chest, looking each orc in the eye as the enemy judged their latest prey.