"Estel, you are cheating! I saw you hide that card up your sleeve!"
"What card?" Aragorn turned his most innocent look on the indignant elven prince.
"The one up your sleeve!" Legolas fixed the human with a mock glare and stiffly folded his arms. Three days later and the elf was feeling a lot better. Unfortunately, he remained confined to the healing wing and he felt as though it was slowly driving him mad. "Go on, pull it up! Pull it up, I dare you, Estel!"
"Fine." Aragorn smirked as he pushed up his sleeves and raised his arms, chuckling at the look of utter confusion on his friend's face. "See, Legolas, there is no card here."
"But I saw…" Legolas trailed off, his expression changing into what was clearly a pout. "You are cheating, I know it!"
"Ah, my friend, you wound me. To imply that I would commit such a heinous crime. Mayhap, Legolas, you are merely terrible at cards." That ought to do it. Aragorn chuckled, his eyes sparkling with mirth. Unluckily, the Ranger was not fast enough to dodge the swift cuff aimed at the back of his head. "Alright, I yield, I yield! It is under the blanket!" The human sheepishly pulled out the offending card and Legolas shrieked with glee as he snatched it and promptly added it to his own hand. The very picture of smugness, the elf then turned the cards face up on the bed.
"Do you see what that is, Estel?" he crowed in delight, "That, my foolish friend, is a set. Perhaps it is you who is so bad at cards that he feels the need to cheat?" Legolas could not wipe the grin from his face, despite the pain that his merriment still brought upon him.
Aragorn continued to smirk though, now clearly struggling not to laugh, and gestured to the card which Legolas had taken from him.
"And this?" Legolas's smile faltered for a brief moment, before it was back, and looking even more haughty than before as the prince confidently waved Aragorn off.
"Does not count."
"Does not count? Legolas, have you finally lost that pigheaded elven brain of yours?" Aragorn gave in to laughter, enjoying their banter.
"Do not make me get out of this bed, Strider."
"Nobody is getting out of any beds!" A booming voice from the doorway startled the pair and they turned guilty faces on the newcomer.
"Ah, Lanthir…" For once, Legolas looked lost for words. "I did not see you there…"
"Yes, that part is quite evident." The dark-haired elf tried not to show his amusement as he strode across the room. "Now, I need to examine the two of you. Who will go first?"
As the day progressed, Legolas grew more frustrated by the hour. Aragorn, being human and thus slower to heal, spent most of his time sleeping, and this left Legolas practically climbing the walls in vexation. To make matters even worse, Lanthir and the other healers insisted on checking in on them often, effectively preventing the elf from attempting any sort of escape. He knew that Elenath was due to visit the healing wing once his military duties were complete, and Legolas clung to the anticipation, hoping that it would somehow get him through the day.
His stomach growled and a sharp pang of hunger shot through him, and Legolas was again reminded that he had not been allowed to eat since the accident. Huffing in dismay, he wished forlornly for something to eat other than the paltry broths he had been offered so far. Strawberry pastries. What he would not give for one of the sweet delights. Letting out a loud sigh, Legolas put down the book he had been attempting to read, and decided that he would attempt to sleep away his misery.
"Legolas?" With a frown, the young elf blinked his eyes into focus and saw that Thranduil stood in the doorway. He held back a groan of annoyance, for his father was still the last person whom he wished to see. Despite having been briefly in and out of the room over the past few days, the Elvenking had not brought up the incident and Legolas knew that sooner or later it was going to happen. The not knowing made him anxious and he wished his father would simply get it over with.
"Ah, you are awake." Thranduil sounded pleased. "And it makes me glad to see that your eyes were not closed in sleep this time."
"Aye, I am much improved." Legolas shifted so that he was sitting upright against the pillows and suppressed a wince. Despite his improvement, it still hurt to move. "Nevertheless, they will not let me out of here..."
"Yes, well…" Thranduil seemed distracted, suddenly needing to smooth out the non-existent creases in his robes. "Legolas, we must speak." Legolas sighed. And so it begins.
"Legolas, I…" Thranduil started, and then hesitated as if he was unsure how to continue.
"What?!" Legolas instantly regretted that, inwardly cringing at how defensive and sharp his tone had been. Too late, for Thranduil's expression had already hardened.
"You disobeyed me." The king's eyes flashed and Legolas's heart sank. "Why?" At this, the younger elf felt his ire rise. He closed his eyes and inhaled deeply, holding it as he tried to curb his instinct to retaliate.
"Legolas, I asked you a question." A surge of anger flooded over Legolas as he raised his eyes to meet his father's. His hands were balled into fists under the blankets, which he clenched and unclenched as he fought with his emotions.
"I wished to ride." Legolas tossed his head defiantly as he spoke, again immediately frustrated by his own actions. He of all people knew how futile it was to provoke his father, but when Thranduil used that tone, it brought forth a reaction in the prince that the young elf struggled to control.
"You what? Legolas, is this some kind of joke to you?" Thranduil's eyes narrowed to dangerous slits, and Legolas knew that he ought to pick his next words carefully.
"I wished merely to take some time for myself…" This was not going to end well, he knew.
"Valar, Legolas!" Thranduil roared, and lashed out, hitting the door with a loud crack that caused Aragorn to bolt upright in bed with a cry of alarm. The human looked wildly around the room, clutching his side and panting.
Legolas glared at his father and reached over to reassure his friend, placing a hand on the Ranger's shoulder and speaking softly to him. Thranduil sighed and nodded at Aragorn, seeming to deflate as he dragged a hand through his hair. He turned to leave, but then paused and retrieved a wrapped package from his pocket, which he dropped on the nightstand.
"Here," he said stiffly, "The healers said you could have this. And Legolas, do not let this happen again or you will not like the consequences." With that, the Elvenking swiftly turned and swept out of the room.
"What was that about?" Aragorn, still holding his side, grimaced and looked at his friend in concern. Legolas shrugged distractedly in response, not making eye contact with the human as he stared out into the hallway, obviously troubled. "Let me guess – "
"Not now, Aragorn." Legolas sighed heavily and shook his head before giving the Ranger a sad half smile. "Forgive me; I just do not wish to speak of it."
"I understand, there is nothing to forgive." Aragorn shifted in order to get more comfortable, and his eyes caught the still-wrapped package. "Should we open that? I for one am curious." The human grinned and Legolas chuckled, his mood lightening.
"Curiosity killed the human." Legolas smirked, knowing and appreciating what his friend was doing. "But fine – if it is filled with snakes then you shall deal with them." Aragorn laughed at the sheer ridiculousness of the elf's statement, and Legolas reached for the parcel, suddenly becoming sombre as he turned it over in his hands. It was wrapped in brown paper and patches of oil showed through in places, turning patches of the thin paper translucent. A wonderful aroma drifted up from it, and Aragorn couldn't hide his amusement as a visibly dumbfounded Legolas pulled out a strawberry pastry and blinked in disbelief.
"Ai Valar, Adar…" Aragorn heard him mutter softly, and though the elf quickly looked away, it was not before the human had seen the hint of moisture that suddenly shimmered in his eyes.
Legolas sighed again as he listened to the soft snores emanating from the human's bed. Though the hour was late, sleep would not come to him and he was growing more restless by the moment. He bit back a groan of frustration and resumed staring at the ceiling, watching the way that the smooth stone began to transform in the gloom, forming strange shifting patterns across its surface that intensified the longer he stared at it.
He needed to banish it from his mind, but he could not. Like an itch, the urge grew, built, and he could think of nothing else – yet he could not scratch it. Not unless… Legolas sighed, rolled over, and kicked at his blankets. They were heavy and constricting as if they meant to suffocate him in their velvety embrace. Even the very air in the room felt thick and cloying, and the elf closed his eyes and tried to take deep calming breaths while counting backwards, lips forming the unspoken words as he tried to take his mind off the urge.
Soon he could endure it no longer. The elf eased himself upright and quietly pushed the covers aside, already feeling some relief at the freedom from their plush confines. Swinging his legs over the side of the bed, Legolas paused for a moment before cautiously standing. He was expecting the wave of dizziness and pain that gripped him, and only wavered slightly as he gripped the bedpost while he breathed through it. Thankfully the episode was shortlived and he soon straightened, feeling pleased with himself. He took a tentative step forward, feeling the bite of cold stone against his bare feet. Passing a closet, Legolas paused thoughtfully to grab a cloak which he fastened around his neck before moving on.
A loud snort startled the elf, and he glanced quickly at Aragorn in time to see the Ranger shift in his sleep, inadvertently throwing off his blanket. Legolas felt his heartbeat quicken as the human mumbled something and began to grope for the covers, whimpering in obvious pain as he did so. Feeling sympathy for his friend and also worrying that he would wake, Legolas awkwardly crouched and put a comforting hand on the Ranger's brow, then used his free hand to retrieve the blanket and settle it over the human before soothing him back to a deep sleep. Once he was sure that Aragorn would not wake, the elf continued his cautious journey across the expanse of floor that separated him from his goal.
Finally, he reached his destination. He placed both hands on the old stone windowsill and leaned on them while he caught his breath. The heavy wooden shutters were open and Legolas could not help but marvel at the view before him. Bathed in moonlight, the gardens stretched out below in a sea of soft silver and gentle indigo. Further out and as far as the eye could see, scatterings of trees converged into a single mass of midnight blue as Mirkwood crept ever closer to the walls.
Legolas closed his eyes and leaned out a little, letting the gentle breeze caress his skin and play softly with his hair, sending the pale gold strands floating lazily about his face. Ignoring the lingering pain in his abdomen, Legolas inhaled deeply, savouring the bouquet of scents carried in the night. The sweetness of young, dewy grass and flowering clover mingled with the earthy notes of oak and beech. A nearby cricket began to chirp, its song rising to join the cacophony of others, all unified into one single voice. Legolas exhaled slowly and opened his eyes. He had lived his entire life here in Mirkwood, yet he remained in awe of her beauty. Though darkness sought to claim her, nature always fought back, and it was nights like this that made sure he never forgot that.
Steeling himself, Legolas pushed more of his weight into his arms. His wound protested and he felt the stitches pulling. Grimacing, the elf shifted before swinging a leg onto the windowsill. Immediately he let out a soft gasp as the pain stole his breath, then chiding himself, he quickly checked Aragorn. The human stirred lightly and Legolas held his breath – but the Ranger did not wake and so the elf gritted his teeth and quickly climbed the rest of the way onto the smooth stone ledge.
After resting a moment, Legolas scooted over to the edge and carefully let his legs drop over, stretching them out until his toes hit tree bark. The elf smiled – this particular tree had been his saviour on many occasions when he daren't risk using one of the palace doors. With a last glance at the Ranger's slumbering form, Legolas dropped somewhat stiffly from the ledge and landed on the branch below. Pleased, he slid gingerly down the rough trunk and into the thick cushion of grass at the foot of the tree. The window was not overly far from the ground, yet the exertion had left him breathless and in more pain than he would have liked to admit. He needed to rest a while, and lowered himself to sit among the knotted roots and dewy softness, uncaring about the dampness that seeped into his leggings. The tree, a thick and gnarly old pine, shook its leaves in reprieve at the fugitive and dropped several pine needles onto the elf's head. Legolas laughed merrily and brushed them away, patting the trunk fondly and smiling as he allowed himself to relax and simply appreciate the beauty around him.
Presently Legolas began to shiver as the chill and damp affected him. He frowned in annoyance, knowing that it was due to his weakened state. The tree, sensing his discomfort, rumbled softly – but Legolas waved away the being's concern as he grabbed a low knot in the bark and pulled himself to his feet. He had an idea and gathered his strength before starting to walk. His steps were laboured and heavy and he had to pause every few feet to catch his breath, but eventually he reached it.
A tall willow grew on the grassy slope, fed by one of the many mountain streams that bubbled and sang their way through the gardens. Legolas stepped over the spongey waterside grass and picked his way across the stones that broke the surface to form a crude pathway. He almost slipped on an unexpected slime-covered rock, but recovered and made it to the willow. Body aching, Legolas parted the cascading foliage before stumbling to the tree's wide base and collapsing upon the smooth slab of stone that lay on the ground there. It had been fashioned into a simple bench, but instead of a back support, the stone had been curved to hug the smooth trunk of the willow.
Legolas leaned back against the tree, letting out a heavy sigh – yet also deriving satisfaction from the fact that he had successfully gotten to this place. It was probably his favourite place in all the gardens. The long, delicate willow branches hung down in a shielding curtain all around the tree, creating a magical, sacred world that was sheltered from the outside. The only sound within the sanctuary was the gentle ripple of flowing water, a melody that never failed to soothe the elf – and now was no exception. Legolas felt his eyes grow heavy and he was soon lulled into a deep sleep.
Legolas awoke with a start, letting out a groan and cradling his arm to his chest after the sudden involuntary movement. He was unsure how much time had passed, but something had definitely woken him. Some noise had pierced his refuge within the willow, but he did not get time to figure out what.
"Legolas?" Ah, that would be Aragorn. The Ranger was close. Legolas opened his mouth to call out to the human, but before he could do so, there was a splash followed by a pained moan and a string of curses.
Legolas's eyebrows shot up and he darted from his hideout with a speed he did not realise he could muster. The human lay in a heap midway across the stream. Ragged breaths tore at his chest as he tried to push himself up, and he did not even see the concerned elf as he scrabbled vainly, his limbs trying to find purchase on the slippery rocks. His many wounds were holding him back though, and just as he gave up, cursing miserably and shivering, he felt a pair of strong hands grasp him and haul him onto the bank.
"Legolas?" The human's teeth were chattering as he stared wide-eyed at the elf. He could see that his friend was in pain and started to speak, but Legolas hushed him and frowned.
"Estel, why are you out here in such condition?" The human did his best at a smirk, but the effect was ruined by the chattering of his teeth.
"The same could be… said of you!"
"Nay, Aragorn!" Worry shone clearly in Legolas's blue eyes. He started to pat the human over, finding no bleeding and not being able to prevent the relieved sigh that escaped him. "You are mortal and your wounds are slower to heal than mine. I merely wished to get some fresh air – I assure you, I am able… Mostly! Estel, stop looking at me like that; I am serious!" Aragorn shook his head and huffed grumpily before getting his legs under him and rising to hands and knees. "Estel, what are you - ?" Legolas dodged as the Ranger grabbed at him.
"Getting you back to the healing wing!" Aragorn clenched his jaw and staggered to his feet, doing his best to bite back the agonized grunt that wished to make itself heard. He stood triumphantly for a few seconds before swaying dramatically, his face paling. Before he could fall, Legolas had wrapped an arm around him.
"Estel, come – I have an idea."
"No, the healing wing is that way!"
"Oh give up already, you cannot go anywhere in your condition, and I fear that I have used the last of my strength in pulling a scruffy human from the river."
"If you had not – "
"Hush." Legolas gently steered the Ranger through the veil of willow leaves and helped him to sit on the stone, and then he too sat.
Bending stiffly and again quelling the human's protests, Legolas lifted his friend's legs and placed them flat along the stone to aid in preventing the Ranger's calf from swelling further. Aragorn was now lying stretched out on the bench, his back pressed lightly against Legolas's shoulder. He was still shivering, and the elf could feel the wetness of the human's shirt as it soaked into his own. Aragorn tried to look nonchalant as he hugged his arms to his chest in order to conserve heat.
"Estel, here." Legolas shrugged off his cloak and tried to drape it over the Ranger, but the human balked.
"Legolas, I am – "
"You are being absurd, Aragorn. I can see how you shiver." At this, the human looked self-conscious and tried to suppress the shaking, but Legolas continued firmly. "Let us start by getting that wet shirt off you – it is not a cold night, and you can use this." The elf held up the cloak once more. Aragorn made a face but sighed in a reluctant concession, allowing Legolas to help him remove the soaked garment.
The elf was glad that the human could not see his face, or he would surely have seen the look of sadness and worry there, for once the shirt came away, Legolas was reminded just how grievously his friend had been wounded in his defense. The elf's fingers strayed unconsciously to the sodden bandages that encircled the Ranger's side, and it was only when the human flinched away with a grunt of pain that the elf was startled from his thoughts.
"Estel, forgive me!" he exclaimed, "I did not mean to… "
"Nay, Legolas, all is well. You only surprised me." He let out a slight laugh, but it was strained and Legolas sighed, quickly tucking the cloak around his friend. Aragorn murmured his thanks and relaxed against the elf, his shivering soon abating.
The pair remained like this for a while, until Legolas spoke.
"Estel, how did you get down here? Surely you could not have..."
"The door, Legolas. I used the door. They exist, you know." Aragorn chuckled.
"But it was locked; I saw Lanthir lock it myself!" Legolas could not mask his confusion. Aragorn snorted, reached into his pocket, and produced a small metallic object which Legolas could not quite make out. "You… picked it?"
"Naturally." Aragorn looked smug.
"Ah, Estel, I should not even have asked. Nor will I enquire as to how you came to possess whatever that is in the first place."
"Second cupboard on the right, third drawer. Never forget how well I know that room." Legolas groaned and rolled his eyes in the dark.
"Would never dream of it."
"Legolas?" It was Aragorn who broke the silence this time. The elf raised his head from where it had begun nodding towards his chest. "Please do not do that to me ever again." The Ranger's voice was soft and Legolas knew that the human spoke of more than the elf's escape from the healing wing. He let out a soft, amused huff before answering.
"I promise I will try." Aragorn hummed lightly in agreement and Legolas could see the smile on his face without looking.
"Legolas." The Ranger blinked against the heavy pull of sleep. He needed to get Legolas back to the healing wing before they risked being found there in the morning. Aragorn heard nothing by way of a reply – only the soft, even breathing of his friend. He turned to see the elf fast asleep, head bowed and eyes shut. "Ah, Legolas…" The human felt affection well in his cheat as he shifted the elf into a more comfortable position and laid back again. Legolas mumbled something incoherent and snuggled into the soft curve between the Ranger's shoulder and neck, sighing contentedly and then continuing to sleep. Just a little longer, then, Aragorn told himself, and then promptly fell asleep.
Thranduil's robes swished as he rounded a corner and resumed striding purposely across the lawn. The frown on his face would have rivalled that of the Lord of Imladris, and rightfully so, for the Elvenking had awoken to a frantic Lanthir and a missing Legolas. The grass was soft and springy between his bare toes (for he had been in quite a hurry), and the rays of morning sunlight fell in magnificent foggy shards over the trees, but all was lost on the elf as he searched for his son. He had been all over the gardens and was on the verge of sending a search party into the forest if Legolas was not found soon – when something occurred to him. A brief memory of a little elfling playing beneath a tall willow. Maybe, just maybe… Thranduil gasped and, uncaring of who might see, turned and ran barefoot through the gardens.
By the time he neared it, Thranduil was breathing quite heavily. Pausing to gather himself, the Elvenking glared at the old pine tree that watched over the healing wing, seeing the tree visibly rustle in embarrassment. Despite the being having no doubt facilitated his escape, Legolas was not up in its branches though, and Thranduil continued on his way.
Thranduil soon reached the stream and its rocky crossing, quickly and nimbly navigating the mossy stones. His fingertips brushed green leaves as he drew apart the curtains, and there he was – his Green Leaf. Or rather, them. Legolas was draped over the Ranger, fast asleep and mouth slightly open. One hand hung over the side of the bench while the other was spread over the human's face. As Thranduil watched, Aragorn gave a soft snore and curled tighter around the sleeping elf, wrapping his arms around the prince and causing the cloak that had been covering them to shift, exposing the human's bandaged torso. Even in their compromised states, the pair looked so utterly content.
Despite himself, Thranduil smiled, and when at last he moved, it was to retrieve the cloak and gently cover them, before turning back towards the palace. He needed his slippers and he supposed they could sleep just a little longer before he alerted the healers.
Well, there you have it :) Some good old fluff for the ending, as it should be! Huge thank you to anyone who has followed this since the beginning and put up with my inconsistent updates, as well as anyone who has read this through - and especially to my reviewers. Even if I don't always reply, I read and appreciate every one of them! I'm working on another story so we'll have to see how that comes along, but I do hope to be sharing that with you soon. Take care, everyone!