Between Darkness and Dawn

Chapter 5: Sacrifices and Decisions

by Cassia and Siobhan

First > Previous > Next
I can barely look at you
But every single time I do
I know we'll make it anywhere
Anywhere from here

Light up, Light up
As if you have a choice
Even if you cannot hear my voice
I'll be right beside you

-- Snow Patrol

They had been traveling north for quite some time now and the jagged edges of Angmar’s mountain peaks could be see in the near distance, poking up through the mists that clung to them like blackened teeth.  One seemed a few shades darker than the rest and a twisted spire arched skyward near its summit.  Neither friend had to guess very hard which mountain it was they sought. 

Every day Aragorn's strength waned and the illness taking him deepened.  Every day it was harder to get up and face another day’s long, cold, grueling march.  In consideration of his friend’s failing health, Legolas forced the ranger to stop early that night, quickly making camp in a secluded part of the forest.  The human was too ill to protest.  That was a sure sign he was fading.  

“Legolas...” Aragorn’s voice was soft and weary.  

The elf immediately left off tending to the fire he had started and glanced at his friend.  The ranger was huddled back against the tree behind him, a drawn, slightly frightened expression on his face.  His eyes did not fix on the elf, but wandered about as if lost.  The ranger’s gloved hand groped outward slightly over the blanket around him, as if searching for his friend.  

Legolas thought his heart would break.  Hurrying over he sat down beside the ranger.  Sliding his hand into Aragorn’s agitatedly twitching fingers, Legolas squeezed the human’s hand reassuringly.  It was bitingly cold this time of year in the northlands and their breath frosted harshly on the chilly air.  Aragorn’s movements had disturbed his protective covers and he shivered in the cold wind.  The elf gently pulled the blankets back around his friend’s shoulders, tucking the edges in protectively.  

Aragorn started when the elf took his hand, but then seemed to relax a little, calmed by the elf’s nearness.  

Legolas stroked the fingers in his grasp gently with his thumb, rubbing reassuring circles into his friend’s palm.  “Sîdh, mellon-nín, pân natha mae.  Peace, my friend, all will be well.” 

Aragorn smiled slightly, letting his head fall to the side a little.  It came to rest against Legolas’ shoulder.  “Nach milui artheled enni.  You are too good to me, Legolas,” he whispered hoarsely.  

Legolas was slightly alarmed by his usually strong friend’s state of weakened dependency, but he let none of that fear color his reactions and simply wrapped his free arm around the human’s shoulders, allowing Aragorn to feel the comfort of being enfolded in the elf’s firm embrace.  The ranger’s throbbing shoulder eased up a little under the elf's touch.  The relief, small though it was, was most welcome. 

Aragorn’s breathing was slow and labored.  The poisons working on him were taking their terrible toll.  He hated how weak it was making him, how much he knew he was leaching off of Legolas’ strength just in order to keep going.  He felt incredibly ill... and very afraid.  

“Legolas?” the human murmured softly. 

“Hm?” the elf absently stroked the human’s sweat-slicked hair with the fingers that rested against his friend’s shoulder, Aragorn’s gloved hand still fondly trapped in the long fingers of the prince’s other hand. 

“I can’t see.” Aragorn’s voice was quiet, but a tiny trace of fear flittered around the edges of his tone.  

Legolas started and pulled his friend up quickly by the shoulders, looking into the ranger’s familiar grey eyes.  He realized the human’s wandering gaze was looking right through him, not focusing on anything.  Cold dread chilled the elf’s heart like ice as he passed his hand in front of his friend’s eyes several times.  Aragorn’s gaze did not follow his hand.  The ranger was blind.  

“Can you see nothing at all then?  When did this happen?”  The prince looked deep into the human’s eyes, turning Aragorn’s head gently from side to side in his grasp as he checked him over.  He tried to keep any alarm or panic out of his voice, maintaining a façade of calm for his friend’s sake. 

“About an hour ago, but it’s been dimming for days.  There’s nothing wrong with my eyes.  It’s the poison.” Aragorn’s voice was still soft and matter-of-fact.  He appreciated that Legolas was not overreacting from the startling news.  He didn’t have the strength to deal with that kind of emotional swell right now.  “It’s stealing all the light... leaving nothing but consuming darkness.”

Legolas tried not to choke on the lump in his throat.  He hated to imagine his friend caught in a darkened world like this.  The poison was taking Aragorn too hard, too fast.  He was doing his best to support his friend and share his strength with the ranger, but it wasn’t enough.  He could warm the human’s chilled body with his touch, but it left as soon as the elf withdrew.  All he could offer seemed to be but small drops of strength that quickly disappeared into the darkening maelstrom trying to steal Aragorn away from him.  Something had to be done.  He had to find a way to make a difference, any difference... The prince pressed his lips together tightly. 

“Wait here a moment, mellon-nín, I’ll be right back,” he reassured, rising and moving away. 

Aragorn nodded and leaned back against the tree.  He could hear the faint sound of Legolas moving around their small camp, but could not see what the elf was doing.  He had no idea what his friend had in mind.  In truth he felt too ill to care very much.  He shivered slightly from an unnatural cold that had nothing to do with the sharp, north winds. 

Aragorn was glad when Legolas sat back down next to him because the elf’s presence seemed to push the cold away from his body and let him feel warmth again in his aching bones.  The ranger smelled a new scent lingering around the elf and wrinkled his nose.  “Togiuith?” he exclaimed the name of the herb questioningly. 

Legolas nodded, and then remembered his friend couldn’t see him.  “Yes, I stole it out of your pack I’m afraid.”  He smiled gently.  Peeling the leather glove off Aragorn’s right hand, he swabbed the human’s palm with a bit of the pale umber tincture he had taken from his friend’s belongings. 

The human was puzzled.  He didn’t understand what Legolas had in mind.  Togiuith was a drawing herb, used for pulling the sting out of insect bites or mildly poisoned wounds, but it would do nothing for a toxin as severe as the one afflicting him.  He did not think it would have any benefit for someone in his current state.  “Legolas...” 

The elf hushed him.  “Just trust me, Strider, all right?  I may not be a healer, but we wood-elves know a thing or two that might surprise you.”  Legolas rubbed his own right palm with the herb. 

The human seemed a little uneasy, so Legolas began explaining to assuage his hesitancy.  “When the spiders first appeared in Mirkwood, the wood-elves were hard pressed to know how to deal with them.  The most common ones use their venom to immobilize, rather than kill... but some breeds do kill with even a bite.  That breed has almost died out as they were weaker beings than their cousins and the elves hunted them to near extinction, but in the early days they were much more prevalent.  At that time, our people were dying frequently with nothing to save them, until a remedy was found.”  Picking up one of his long knives from the ground beside them, the elf cleaned the blade with the same Togiuith tincture. 

Legolas did not mention that what he was about to attempt usually only worked, or at least worked best, between family members whose ties of kinship were strong.  That was the reason he had not tried it sooner.  But now they were swiftly running out of time.  Aragorn was the brother of his heart; that had to be enough... Somehow, it had to be. 

Lifting the ranger’s hand, he turned it palm up in his grip, laying the cool metal of his knife blade against the callused flesh so that Aragorn could feel it and not be startled by what he was going to do.  

Aragorn felt the steel against his skin and turned questioning, sightless eyes upon his friend.  He made no move to pull away because he trusted the elf completely, but that didn’t mean that he understood.  

“Legolas?  What are you doing?” 

“I’m going to have to ask you to trust me, my friend,” Legolas repeated gently as he flipped the blade onto its sharpened edge against the ranger’s flesh.  “I think I can help you, and at the very worst it will do you no harm.  It is something my people discovered a long time ago.  The Togiuith cannot draw the poison by itself, but it can act as a catalyst if used correctly between two people whose bond is strong enough.  I think ours is.”  There was a gentle smile in Legolas’ voice that set Aragorn at ease. 

The ranger nodded, giving his wordless consent for whatever the prince wanted to attempt. 

Legolas accepted the permission and his fingers tightened on Aragorn’s hand.  “Relax, mellon-nín, this will only hurt for a moment.” 

Aragorn had a fairly good idea of what the elf intended to do and breathed deeply as Legolas used his knife to cut a long, deep incision across the center of the human’s right palm. 

Deep, red blood welled up around the knife and Legolas winced sympathetically.  “I’m sorry, Estel,” he murmured, asking forgiveness for causing his friend pain. 

Aragorn shook his head, meaning that no apology was necessary. 

Setting Aragorn’s hand carefully on his leg so that the bloody palm was turned upward, Legolas took his stained knife and swabbed it with the herb tincture once more before placing the shining silver blade against his own flesh.  Without flinching, the elf carefully sliced his left palm open in the same manner in which he had cut Aragorn’s right.  Pouring several spoons worth of the Togiuith into the bowl of his injured palm, the elf's muscles tightened as the herb stung sharply.  He should treat Aragorn’s wound with it as well, but the elf hated causing Aragorn further pain, so instead he poured more into his own palm, hopefully absorbing enough for both of them. 

Lifting the human’s arm out of his lap, Legolas clasped Aragorn’s right hand with his left, pressing their bleeding palms together and trapping the Togiuith between the two wounds. 

Aragorn hissed through his teeth as the medicine and the contact burned his palm.  For a minute or two they just sat that way, hands clasped, unspeaking.  Legolas’ eyes were closed and he was whispering something quiet under his breath that might have been a prayer, or might have been part of whatever ritual he was sharing with his mortal friend. 

The ache of the medicine faded... then Aragorn’s palm began to tingle.  It was not an unpleasant sensation, however.  In fact, as it spread up his arm and throughout the rest of his body, he breathed a sigh of relief.  It was as if a warm breath of fresh wind had entered his chilled, aching bones, revitalizing his flesh and lifting some of the darkness of oppression from his soul.  

Legolas felt Aragorn’s cold, stiff body begin to loosen against him and he smiled.  It was working.  He knew they could make it work.  The elf breathed slowly, deeply, wading his way through the physical effects of what he was doing.  While Aragorn got a reprieve and fed off the elf’s strength, Legolas was physically sucking the poison that was killing his friend out of the ranger’s body, and into his.  A creeping chill frosted the prince’s bones and his joints began to ache.  He was suddenly keenly aware of the sharp frostiness of the air and the chill that radiated from the very earth itself under him.  The light of the world around him dimmed several shades and he knew he was experiencing what his friend had been going through these many days now.  A deep, grinding ache flared in his shoulder.  He did not know if he was feeling Aragorn’s pain or if the touch of the morgul poison was reawakening old associations in his own body.  The elf tensed to keep his teeth from chattering. 

Despite the ill effects, Legolas wished he could pull everything out of his friend. He wished he could transfer Aragorn’s fate to himself as Lord Elrond had so selflessly done for the prince earlier in the year.  But he could not.  Legolas did not have that gift and the best he could offer Aragorn was some of his strength and a brief reprieve, lightening the human’s load of suffering by enabling him to share the poison killing him with another body.  Between immortals, and working only against spider venom, the cure could save lives... but this poison was a hundred times worse and Aragorn did not posses the strength of an elven body.  Through the sharing of his immortal blood, Legolas could slow the ranger’s descent into darkness, but he could not stop it forever. 

Aragorn smiled softly as the essence of Legolas’ life-blood flowed into his veins, aided by the herbs and the strength of the elf’s will.  Blessed relief blossomed out through the ranger’s body like a warm, gentle river; like taking a hot bath after being too long in the snow.  

Legolas smiled too, despite the pounding headache building between his temples as he pulled Aragorn’s tainted, mortal blood into himself.  The elf knew the effects on both of them would not be lasting.  His body would deal with and neutralize the poison he was absorbing with his friend’s blood, given a little time.  Unfortunately, the vicious morgul poison would continue to propagate in Aragorn’s body and would overwhelm him again after a short period of time.  As much as he wanted to, Legolas could not cure Aragorn; he could only buy him more time.  

Aragorn’s brows furrowed in concentration as darkness wavered around him like a shifting veil.  Slowly, light began to seep back into his awareness, painting the world around him into vague, muted shapes as though seen on a very dark night.  Into the blindness of his private midnight, Legolas’ dim form appeared beside him, growing slowly brighter.  The ranger could see his friend now, sitting next to him and clasping his hand.  The elf’s eyes were closed as he concentrated on what he was doing.  

Legolas shimmered brightly in the darkness, bathing in the elf’s own inner light... yet it was not the same kind of glow as when Aragorn observed the prince in the dark of a normal night.  Usually, Legolas appeared as if he were reflecting the radiance of the stars like ithildin, but right now the prince shimmered as if he were totally made out of light himself.  He even looked different... Aragorn did not know how to explain it but, for a few moments, he was seeing Legolas as he looked in the unseen realm between that which was visible and that which was intangible.  The natural radiance of the wood-elf’s fëa shimmered around his friend like silver-blue moonlight, drawing Aragorn into the circle of light until he was totally encompassed by the brightening glow. 

Suddenly, Aragorn realized that he himself was glowing dimly.  Then, a moment later, the world about snapped back into focus.  Aragorn was assaulted with the sights, shapes and colors of the fire before him, the rocks and the trees around them, the fading evening sky and the slowly waking stars overhead.  He blinked hard several times to make the adjustment of having his sight return, but otherwise felt unable to move.  It was not an unpleasant feeling.  It was simply as if his body had become part of something he couldn’t understand.  He was overwhelmed by the rush of clarity and warmth, afraid to break whatever wonderful spell had wrapped him up in its embrace. 

His gaze was still locked on Legolas.  The elf was no longer glowing and looked normal once more to his sight, although perhaps a little weary.  Yet there was a smile in the prince’s eyes when he opened them, meeting his friend’s gaze. 

Legolas saw Aragorn staring at him.  Color had returned to the ranger’s face and warmth to his touch.  The elf was relieved.  He smiled softly when the human just sat there, seemingly frozen in whatever he was experiencing.  Legolas had not stopped to think what this kind of sharing between a mortal and an immortal might do to a man, but apparently his friend’s body was a little overwhelmed.  It did not know what to do with the elven blood and elven strength that had just been given.  Had he been a normal human, his body would not have been able to accept the gift, no matter how much love it was given with.  But Aragorn was a descendent of Elros, a man of Númenor and twin of Elrond, and his body could accept the strength imparted to him, even if momentarily at a loss of how to deal with it.  

Aragorn opened his mouth, but seemed to be trying to remember how to talk.  

Legolas smiled gently, squeezing Aragorn’s hand in his, not quite ready to release it yet.  

“Speak, my friend,” he urged, trying to lead the ranger back to a functional state.  If he did this again, he would have to be careful how much of himself he gave to his friend for, apparently, the human’s body could take only so much.  He hadn’t thought of that.  

Aragorn chuckled slightly and let a deep breath out as he returned from wherever he had been.  “Dear friend...” he murmured, squeezing Legolas’ hand back.  “What did you do?” 

Legolas gently unclasped their bloodied palms and commenced cleaning Aragorn’s wound carefully.  

“Nothing permanent I fear,” the elf apologized quietly.  Legolas felt a little dazed, but pushed the sensation aside.  “Still, it should help for a time.”  He bound up the ranger’s palm with slowed fingers and tied off the soft bandage.  “Can you see again now?” 

The ranger nodded, looking around them.  Yes, he could see more than he felt he ought to be able to honestly, especially considering that the moon had risen and the sun was almost set.  It was as if the darkness did not matter, but formed merely a slight filter upon his vision. 

Aragorn frowned as he looked at his bandaged hand after Legolas released it... either he was seeing things, which was entirely possible given his state, or his fingers were glistening with a slightly incandescent light in the growing dusk.  That was very odd.  The next thing he realized, with a small thrill of panic, was that Legolas, still beside him, was not glowing at all, even though he normally would be as darkness descended.  

“Legolas,” the ranger’s voice suddenly took on a serious, demanding tone.  “What did you do?” 

Legolas had cleaned the blood from his hand, but was having difficulty trying to bandage it one-handedly.  His normally graceful fingers fumbled with the soft cloth.  He focused on the task with a slight frown. 

“I told you, nothing permanent, Estel.”  He sighed.  “My people discovered how to use Togiuith to initiate a transfer of blood and strength.  It allowed the person bitten by the spider to exchange some of the poison for the strength of another elf.  Split between two people, the toxin was not deadly... unfortunately, I cannot do that for you with this foul morgul poison.  I can’t cure you, Estel, I can only help.  I’m sorry.” 

Legolas’ fingers trembled slightly and he dropped the bandage in disgust at his own clumsiness.  

Aragorn caught his friend’s hands between his own, taking the strip of cloth from the prince and gently wrapping it around the elf’s self-inflicted injury.  The ranger winced.  The wound in his friend’s fair palm looked dark and ugly.  Small tendrils of black ran away from the edges under the skin and the flesh was already deeply inflamed. 

“I don’t care about that,” the human said quietly, covering Legolas’ bandaged hand with his own.  “I mean, what did you do to yourself?”  Aragorn’s eyes were sorrowful and worried.  It was nearly completely dark now and Legolas’ elven incandescence remained disturbingly absent.  He might as well have been another human sitting across from the ranger. Aragorn was quietly terrified of what Legolas might have sacrificed for him. 

Legolas read the dread in his friend’s eyes and shook his head quickly.  

Ú-gostach, fear not,” he reassured.  “I have taken no lasting harm.  This poison is not meant for me, and what small amount I absorbed, my body can deal with.”  The elf spoke true, but carefully avoided telling his friend that having mortal blood in his veins was nearly as difficult as dealing with the poison.  He felt... old, and suffocated, as if he were both blind and deaf with all his extra senses severed.  He hadn’t expected it to be quite this bad and was suddenly eternally grateful that he was an elf.  If this was even a small taste of mortality, it was not something he relished. 

Aragorn nodded.  As long as his friend had not done anything seriously detrimental to his own health, he would not comment.  Legolas’ hands were cold in his and he hated that the elf had in any way hurt himself to help him. 

Legolas felt warmth spreading through his arms and quickly pulled his hands away from Aragorn.  “Daro!  I did not give you strength so you could give it away again, Strider,” he chastised gently.  “Please, mellon-nín, you need to keep it for as long as you can.  I... I cannot lose you.” 

Taking the elf by the shoulders, Aragorn pulled him close, hugging Legolas tightly.  He didn’t say thank you; somehow that didn’t seem quite adequate for someone who was willing to tamper with his own immortality to keep his friend alive.  He didn’t know what to say, so he just held his friend quietly, trusting that somehow, the elf who knew him so well, would know what was in his heart. 

Legolas did. He hugged the human back.  He smiled when Aragorn released him.  “Now get some rest, mellon-nín, I will keep watch.” 

Aragorn did rest, and for the first time in days his sleep was deep, dreamless, and refreshing.  

Legolas stood guard over his friend all night long.  As it had been every night since they had entered this land, he had the eerie feeling of being watched.  He could not see anything and nothing came near them, yet he knew it was out there.  The back of his neck prickled constantly and the sensation left him on edge more tonight than any other night.  He attributed his added jumpiness to his own diminished strength, but it remained nevertheless uncanny and very disturbing.  The elf felt certain they were under constant surveillance but, so far, they had encountered no kind of resistance at all.  In fact, it seemed as if something or someone were actually keeping any dangers of the wilds away from them.  As if someone did not wish their journey hindered by unnecessary delays.  That was not a comforting thought. 

By the time the sun rose, Legolas was much more exhausted than he should have been.  The elf had the rare experience of feeling glad to see the stars disappear as the sun slipped up into the sky and ended the long, anxious, wearying night. 

The prince rubbed his eyes.  He wanted to sleep, but that was out of the question.  They had to move forward; Aragorn was running out of time.  Rushing to their doom with open arms because to delay meant death... it was quite a situation they were facing. 

Echuiach, mellon-nín.  Wake, my friend,” Legolas stirred the ranger lightly.  

Aragorn stretched and opened his eyes, sitting up slowly.  He could still feel the dark pulse in his shoulder wound as it slowly worked to reclaim his body, but Legolas’ gift last night had not been in vain and he felt better than he had in days.  He couldn’t say the same for his friend, however. 

The ranger chuckled as he pulled himself to his feet, rubbing sleep from his eyes.  “You look terrible, Legolas,” he teased lightly.  “Bad night?” 

The elf’s slightly blood-shot glare dared the ranger to laugh at him again.  “Mortals,” he rolled his eyes.  “Pack up, Strider, we’re leaving.” 

“Yes, sir,” Aragorn bowed with mock deference.  “Apparently not only humans are grumpy when they’re tired.” 

Legolas didn’t bother to reply, but started gathering up his gear.  Aragorn frowned.  The prince was not himself. 

“Legolas... perhaps we should wait.  You should rest before we move on.  I’m sorry; you should have woken me to take turns, mellon-nín.”  The truth was that Legolas often took entire night watches alone.  Normally it did not faze the prince, but today Aragorn wondered if this was one time Legolas should not have pushed himself. 

Legolas shook his head.  “No, rest is time we cannot spare.”  He forced a smile for his friend’s sake.  “I’ll be fine.” 

The day’s journey was long and both human and elf were fatigued at the end of it.  The dull chill had started working its way out from Aragorn’s wound again and his head throbbed.  Legolas, sharing his friend’s pain, felt nearly the same, although, even as Aragorn’s strength began to wane again a little, the elf’s was slowly working its way back to normal. 

After making camp, Legolas sat down and found he could not get up again.  He was freezing cold and couldn’t get warm.  He was exhausted and ached everywhere.  Valar, how did Aragorn stand mortal life?  

Aragorn knelt next to his friend.  He was weary, but he was used to feeling this way.  It was not as much of a shock to him as it was to Legolas.  Pulling a blanket around Legolas’ shoulders, he gave him a gentle nudge towards the ground.  

“Rest, mellon-nín, my turn to take first watch tonight,” he said. 

Legolas could no longer deny his need for rest and reluctantly obeyed.  “Promise you’ll wake me,” he murmured as sleep claimed him.  “I don’t want you wearing yourself out, Estel.” 

“I promise,” Aragorn agreed, pulling the blanket up higher and tucking the edges in around his friend’s body to stave off any nightly chill.  He would not be foolish and wake Legolas to take the second watch because he knew he was running on borrowed strength alone right now. Legolas had to stop pushing himself as if he were invulnerable.  That elf didn’t know his own limits, and was suffering from an influx of poisoned mortal blood.  

Aragorn was not overly worried about anything attacking them during the night.  Obviously, the evil that was drawing them in was not about to let them get harmed too soon, if that were any comfort.  So he felt safe letting his attention rest on Legolas for a while as he watched his friend sleep. 

Legolas shimmered very dimly in the moonlight and Aragorn was gratified to see that in combination with that fact that the elf slept with his eyes open.  His friend was drained, but would be all right.  Still, the worn, haggard expression on the fair face and the troubled rise and fall of the slumbering shoulders made Aragorn’s heart ache.  

Too much.  Legolas was as always ready to give up too much for him.  Like now... how could he let the elf walk back into the hands of evil, after having seen twice how that evil almost destroyed his friend?  Aragorn would die one way or the other... but Legolas... The human rested his head in his hands.  He felt the cloth of the bandage on his palm against his forehead, and dropped his hands down into his lap again.  Fingering the bandage he slid it off a little, peering at the wound underneath.  He was slightly surprised to find it almost completely healed already.  Only the knitting scar was left, and that still shimmered faintly in the moonlight.  A dim streak of radiance was all that remained left across his palm, like a small trace of his friend’s selfless love. 

Reaching out, Aragorn gently eased aside the bandage on Legolas’ out-flung hand, being careful not to wake the slumbering elf.  At the moment however, it would have taken a lot more than Aragorn’s soft touch to stir the prince, despite the fact that he was usually a light sleeper. 

The ranger swallowed hard.  The wound to Legolas’ palm was still dark and disturbing to look upon.  It had barely healed at all, although the black tendrils had at least receded back into the dark center.  Legolas’ body was fighting; it would just take time. 

Aragorn replaced the bandage and squeezed the elf’s hand lightly.  Legolas, still fast asleep, responded reflexively and a small smile flittered across his lips. 

Aragorn wanted to cry.  Their wounds were a physical manifestation of what was happening, what would happen if they continued onward as they were.  Legolas gave him life; in return all he could give the elf was death.  That was the way it was between humans and elves.  It was the same thing that kept him from Arwen.  Did he love Legolas any less, to let him make the kind of sacrifice that he did not want to require of his beloved?  They were brothers of the heart, yet very different in body.  It always came back to this inescapable fact.  With growing resignation he realized it always would.  How could it not for a mortal amongst elves? 

Selfishly, he had to admit that he wanted his friend with him.  When Legolas was by his side he felt he could face anything, even the possibility of the slow, horrible death confronting him, even the dark terror that wanted to eat through his very heart... but it was not fair to the elf.  

Aragorn was mortal; his death was an eventuality he could never escape, whether it came now or years from now.  Not so for Legolas.  Only a very cruel person could want to link an immortal star to the same doom as an Arda-bound mortal.  Aragorn was not such a person. He had tried to explain that to the elf in the beginning, but he knew Legolas would never listen to him. 

Rising quietly, the human picked up his pack.  Legolas would never leave him willingly, even if his life were the price he paid.  Aragorn knew that, but could not accept such a cost.  The ranger could hide his trail as good as or better than any elf.  Legolas would never be able to follow him.  The decision came quickly, but it was not lightly made. 

Aragorn paused, taking one last look at his dear friend.  His eyes stung.  He knew Legolas would never understand.  The elf would be angry and hurt; he knew he would be if the situation were reversed.  Yet his friend’s life was worth any sacrifice, even one so dear as that of their friendship. 

He hated to leave the prince sleeping and unguarded, but it was the only way.  In the long run, Legolas would be safer. 

Kneeling down beside the elf, Aragorn pressed a gentle kiss upon his sleeping friend’s brow. 

“Valar keep you, my brother,” the human whispered quietly.  “I shall love you always.” 

Pulling the brooch from the neck of his cloak, Aragorn pressed the small mithril star into Legolas’ palm.  The pin had belonged to Elladan and Elrond before him.  Legolas knew how much it meant to the ranger, and would understand the message his friend was leaving. 

Le ú-nach erui,” Aragorn whispered softly.  “You will never be alone.” 

The elf’s long, graceful fingers closed automatically around the brooch, the peaceful expression on his face deepening.  “Estel...” he murmured in his sleep. 

Aragorn closed his eyes, turning his tear-stained gaze to the starry heavens.  “May you find estel - hope, my friend, and know I never wanted to leave you like this.  Forgive me.” 

Rising silently once more, the ranger slid noiselessly away from the small camp and was almost instantly swallowed up by the darkness of the night beyond.