by Cassia and Siobhan

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Are you listening?
Sing it back.
String from your tether unwinds
Up and outward to bind.
I was spinning free...
I was spinning free...

Jimmy Eat World

    Legolas waited until the sound of their steps had receded beyond hearing and ran back to the room where Aragorn hung.  He had no weapons on him and he noted the way that the rope was near breaking.  The human hadn’t acknowledged his presence at all; he faced towards the back wall, his head hung down between his shoulders, the ache in them too intense to fight.  He was breathing slowly, trying to still the pain that lanced through his body.
    Indeed, Aragorn had given up.  He didn’t watch the rope as it unwound.  His heart was saddened by the news of Legolas’ death. He wanted to believe the elf was just lying, but Doriflen was more than simply insane, he was insane and he was smart, too smart.  The royalty couldn’t be allowed to live.  He would have toyed with them as he had with Aragorn and then he would have killed them too, just like he promised. 
    The last piece of the rope slowly unwound and Aragorn closed his eyes, holding his breath as he felt himself fall.
    But the spear tips never touched him and it was with great surprise that he felt strong hands grab him from behind and pull him away from the edge of the opening.
    Legolas had watched the rope quickly untwist itself.  He had little time before the ranger fell to his death.  Bracing his feet on the sides of the opening Legolas timed his rescue and pulled Aragorn to safety as the last of the ropes separated, releasing their prisoner into the elf's waiting grasp.
    He pulled the human tightly against him and stepped away from the gaping maw in the floor of the room. 
    Aragorn twisted in the grip, trying to see what was going on and slightly afraid that Doriflen had returned and decided he had more games to play with him.
    He heard Legolas' voice whisper in his ear as the elf dragged him back from the pit, “Strider?  Strider?” 
    Legolas gently lowered his friend to the ground and crouched in front of the human. 
    “Legolas?” Aragorn asked in confusion. 
    The elf carefully pressed his fingers against the man’s bruised lips, cautioning him to silence when he looked into the confused, pain-filled eyes.
    “Strider you do live!  Yes it is I.”  The prince glanced furtively out into the hallway as he gently held the man’s face.  “I need to find something to cut the ropes with.”  Releasing his friend the elf crept back to the edge of the pit and glanced in.  He could see the spear tips glinting in the soft light of the glowglobes pressed into the walls.  Carefully leaning down into the hole he grasped one of the poles and with some difficulty snapped the head off the shaft.  The rough wood bit into his burned hands as it broke and he cried out softly in spite of himself.
    “Legolas?”  Aragorn whispered, “Legolas, are you alright?  He told me you were dead. He said he...” the ranger stopped talking as the elf crept back to his side.
    Moving quickly, Legolas slipped the sharp blade between the man's hands and slit the ropes, carefully pulling the bindings away from his injured wrists, wincing with the pain he knew he was causing.  “I’m sorry. I have to get these off of you.”
    “He said you were dead,”  Aragorn whispered brokenly. Ignoring the pain in his wrists, he trembled slightly as he watched his friend.  His body was still in shock.
    Legolas pulled his outer tunic off and ripped it into strips, binding the human’s torn hands gently. “I am not. You cannot believe anything he says.  Although I do have to admit that he did try very hard,” Legolas answered sarcastically, busying himself with tending his friend.
    Aragorn noted the way Legolas was shaking slightly and caught the elf’s hands in his own and turned them palm up.  “You're hurt.”  He looked at the blistering burns on the elf's hands. “These are bad, Legolas.  You need to get them taken care of.”
    The elf gently disengaged his hands from the human and continued to bind up Aragorn's wrists.  “I am not as bad as you are right now.  Now be still and let me have a look at you.”  When he was through he carefully rested the man back against the wall and pressed his hands against the human’s ribs, trying to determine just how badly beaten his friend had been.  He was afraid that they would have little time and that Doriflen would return at any moment.  The elf had been entirely too eager to see how his handiwork had taken effect on his prisoners to stay away long.  The seriousness of their situation caused Legolas to move quickly.
    “Were you beaten as well?”  Legolas asked softly, wanting to know what other injuries they had to contend with. 
    Aragorn groaned and doubled over as the elf touched his ribs. “Yes,” he ground out through the pain. 
    Legolas took the man’s face in his hands and tipped his head up, inspecting the cut to his brow and the bruising on his lips.  “I'm sorry Aragorn. I’m so sorry.  I wish I could have been here sooner.  I was trying to find where they had taken you when I was trapped.” 
    The man nodded slightly, his eyes pressed tightly shut as he dealt with the pain that radiated through him.
    “Relax and breathe slowly, the pain will decrease.” Legolas instructed him softly.  He touched Aragorn’s temple gently, probing to see if the human had any fractures or breaks in the bone near his eye.
    Aragorn pressed himself back and wrapped his hands around Legolas’ forearms, repeating himself quietly, “He said you were dead.”
    The elf met the sad, weary gaze of his friend and smiled softly, pulling the human into his arms and holding him for a heartbeat. “No, I am not dead, Strider.  I am just fine.”
    “You are not fine,” the man mumbled against him.
    Legolas laughed lightly. “Well I look a far sight better than you.”  He pushed the man gently back and held him by the shoulders as Aragorn quickly swiped away the tears in his eyes.
    “I know where your father is.”  The ranger spoke softly, smiling slightly around his split lip as he began to come back to himself a little more. “We need to go release him and take back your kingdom.”  The fear was beginning to wear off and reality set back in.  His body ached fiercely but in his heart he was ready to end Doriflen's tyranny once and for all.
    “Then what do you say we go do just that?  I have had enough of being the hunted one.” Legolas smiled back into the dark eyes that watched him, glad to see his friend grabbing back on to reality once more. 
    “Here, these might be useful too.” Aragorn limped to the doorway, pulling down the large spare ring of keys he had noticed earlier and tossing them to Legolas. 
    Legolas nodded.  “Let’s go.”

    “Try that one,” Legolas pointed impatiently as Aragorn flipped through the keys on the ring, trying different ones in the lock in front of them.  They had come across an inordinate amount of locked doors, and although they all gave way sooner or later, finding the right key was becoming an irritating and time-consuming task.  It had fallen to Aragorn when Legolas’ hurting hands and fingers had proved to only slow the job.
    “I already did, just give me a minute,” the ranger muttered as he shuffled through the keys as swiftly as he could, trying to ignore the impatient elf behind him.  As usual, the last key tried was the one that turned the lock and the door in front of them pushed open quietly on its hinges. For that at least, Aragorn was glad.  He and Legolas were both as tense as bowstrings.  The hidden dungeon Doriflen had described was not nearly so easy to locate in the maze of twisting tunnels and hidden chambers as one might have thought. They had taken several wrong turns and were only partially sure that they were on the right track once more. 
    Legolas chafed at the delay.  He was beginning to think that he had never known his home quite as well as he had thought.  The vast, hidden labyrinth down here was mind-boggling; that it had been kept secret for so long was even more amazing.  Any other time it would have made the elf curious, but right now it only irritated the desperate nagging in his heart that hated any further hindrance to reaching his father.  If Doriflen had decided to end his game and kill both his nephew and Aragorn, as he obviously had meant to do... did that mean the same was true of Thranduil?  Would Doriflen want to have him killed as well?  And if they didn’t get there in time...  The prince bit his lips together tightly. 
    Aragorn passed the keys back to the prince so he could use one hand to steady himself against the wall as he walked, stealing a sideways glance at his friend as they slid silently down the new hallway that opened out before them.  Legolas was very obviously on edge.  Every moment that went by seemed to be wearing heavily upon him.  Secretly, the ranger wondered what would happen if... if for some reason they should find King Thranduil too late.  The human frowned and pushed the thought away.  He did not want to see what that would do to his friend; he did not want to even imagine it.
    The short, dark passage that they were in opened out into a medium sized room that let into another, smaller room beyond, but it was this room that held the friends’ attention, because here at last they found what they had been seeking... and dreading.
    Hanging limply against the far wall, a tall, noble-looking, golden-haired elf dangled from a set of chains about his wrists.  The manacles fastened to the wall above the elf’s head, barely letting his feet touch the floor.  The King had been stripped to the waist and dried blood covered the side of his mouth and chin.  Thranduil’s head hung forward, unconscious.
    “Father!” Legolas cried, rushing forward, every fiber of his being crying out in sorrow and horror at the sight before him.  They had only made it halfway across the room however, when the horrible sound of the door to the passage behind them being opened came to their ears.
    Footfalls and the echo of Doriflen’s voice, speaking to his guards, immediately told the friends that they were in trouble.  Again.
    Grabbing Legolas by the arm, Aragorn started to drag the prince into the next room with him, but Legolas resisted, struggling against the ranger’s desperate attempts to hide them, unwilling to abandon his father.
    “Legolas, come on!” Aragorn risked a hissed whisper, his eyes large.  He did NOT want to get caught again.  That would do no one any good.
    “I can’t leave him...” the elf’s eyes were torn as he looked at his father’s helpless form.
    “You can’t help him if you get killed!  I promise we’ll return, Legolas, I promise!” Aragorn hissed back.  They dared speak no more as the footsteps drew closer, but the ranger’s eyes pleaded with the elf to heed reason and come with him before it was too late.  
    Against the wishes of his heart, Legolas gave in and let Aragorn drag him into the adjoining chamber at the last possible moment, before Doriflen and his guards entered the room.
    The second room was a dead end, and the two friends could do nothing but press themselves against the wall of the small enclave and hope that no one would bother with the tiny, empty chamber.
    Fortunately for them, no one did, not for the moment at least.
    “What?  Not awake yet?” Doriflen’s cruel voice carried clearly to the ears of the two friends hiding in the next room, followed by a sharp thwack of flesh striking flesh. 
    Next to Aragorn, Legolas tensed, balling his hands into fists despite the pain that it caused. 
    “Wake him up!” The command was sharp and Doriflen’s men had obviously obeyed somehow because several moments later a soft, low moan made Legolas draw his breath in sharply.
    “Greetings, brother,” Doriflen sneered.  “Did you miss me?”  The two friends could hear the twisted smile in his voice.  “Sorry I’ve neglected you for so long, but I’ve been having quite a lot of fun with your dear son and his tag-along.”
    Thranduil stiffened, but his face remained hard and stony.  “Legolas is not here.  You lie, Doriflen, you always lie.”  His voice was rough with thirst and pain, but still proud and firm.  It broke Legolas’ heart.
    Aragorn shot a glance at his friend, but Legolas’ eyes were closed tightly, his head pressed back against the wall behind him.  His father’s words echoed painfully through his head.  ”Legolas is not here...
    “Not this time,” the elder elf gloated; pulling from his robes one of the long, ivory-handled hunting knives he had taken from his nephew earlier.  He twirled the blade lightly between his fingers, knowing Thranduil would recognize it.  “You see, he returned, he and his little ranger friend.  A bit too late to help you though I fear.  He’s still a pretty boy, brother,” Doriflen’s voice was oily, taunting.  “But stronger than the last time I saw him... it takes so much longer to make him scream now than it did when he was young.”
    The words had the desired effect and the clank of chains from the next room told them that Thranduil had yanked against the manacles holding him captive. 
    Legolas’ chest tightened until he thought it would crack his ribs.  He had seen Doriflen play this game on his father before, when he was a boy.  He hated that he was once again being used against the ones he loved, as an instrument of hurt.
    “Keep your hands off him, Doriflen!”  The king remembered all too well the beaten, frightened, bloodied child he had finally recovered from his brother’s clutches so many years ago.  Legolas had almost died.  “If you hurt him I swear I’ll-”
    “Oh please, you’ll what?” Doriflen mocked his brother’s helplessness.  “Besides it’s a little late for that... the boy’s dead.”  He laughed at his brother’s stricken face.  “Oh yes, quite dead in fact.  It’s his own fault. He wouldn’t stay put, so I had to take care of him.  Roasted alive in one of the magma-vents... You remember those, don’t you, brother?  I would have done the same to you years ago, if father hadn’t pulled you out and spoiled everything... but no one was there to stop me this time, unfortunately for you.”
    Thranduil’s voice was thick and trembled with rage and heartache.  “I’ll kill you, Doriflen!  I swear I’ll kill you for this!”
    A sharp snap, all too easily recognized as a whip, cut the air, eliciting a soft, stifled moan from the captive king.
    Aragorn tensed and closed his eyes at the sound, his own recent injuries still incredibly raw and painful.  Movement by his side made him open them again quickly, just in time to reach out and grab Legolas as the prince tried to push past him. 
    Aragorn shook his head in alarm, grappling with Legolas to keep him from going out there right now.  Both of them were weary and in large amounts of pain.  Neither of them was in any kind of shape to attempt taking on Doriflen and his guards in an enclosed area when more warriors were only a call away.
    Legolas’ face was painted with rage and pain and he struggled with Aragorn as they heard the whip snap again, and again.  The elf wasn’t thinking, but he didn’t want to, he just wanted to stop what was happening in the other room.  He desired nothing more than to throttle Doriflen and let his father know that he was not dead!
    Aragorn winced at the stress the silent scuffle placed on his many injuries, but he would not let go, grabbing Legolas by the shoulders, and forcing his friend back against the wall.  Legolas hissed softly in pain as his wounded back made contact with the stones, which gave Aragorn the upper hand for a moment.
    I’m so sorry, Legolas, Aragorn apologized mentally for causing his friend more pain, but the prince was not thinking straight and was going to get them all killed if he wasn’t restrained from acting on his heart instead of with his head.  It was a good thing the occupants of the other chamber were too focused on their own affairs to notice the soft sounds of the scuffle in the far room.
    Using Legolas’ moment of distraction to slide his fist up against the underside of the prince’s jaw, the ranger let it rest lightly against the pressure spot that both of them knew would make Legolas pass out for a minute or so if he applied any amount of force.  “Please don’t make me do it!” Aragorn mouthed silently, hating having to add to his friend’s trauma like this when Legolas was obviously already very upset and hurting.
    Legolas stilled under his friend’s grip, not wishing to fight Aragorn, and knowing that the human was right... but that didn’t help the pain that was tearing his heart out in time with the rhythm of the whip in the next room.  His hands gripped the ranger’s arms tightly as he tried to calm down.
    The prince’s eyes flashed, but the anger was for Doriflen, not Aragorn.  “And what if it was your father in the next room, Estel?” he whispered, the words barely audible, save for the fact that their faces were only inches away from one another. 
    Aragorn closed his eyes for a moment.  If that were Elrond in the next room... he had to be honest with himself; he probably wouldn’t have waited even this long.  He probably would never have left that chamber in the first place, no matter who tried to drag him out...
    “Then I would already be out there and probably already be dead,” Aragorn whispered back.  It was almost more lip-reading than speaking between them, for the fear of discovery kept them both virtually silent.  “So I need you to be stronger and wiser than I would be, and I think you are, Legolas.”
    Legolas released his grip on the ranger, lifting his hands slightly in a gesture of acceptance and Aragorn let him go.  Turning, Legolas gripped the rough wall until his burned hands screamed, pressing his forehead against the cool stones and trying to block out the sounds from the next room. 
    Gently, Aragorn laid one hand on Legolas’ arm, standing near his friend and letting his forehead lightly touch the elf’s temple, listening to the prince’s gulped, hurried breathing.  He didn’t say anything, there wasn’t anything to say, but he wanted Legolas to know he was there.
    Suddenly the sounds stopped. 

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