For Attenia and her love of rainbows and hurt/comfort - happy birthday, and I hope you gain as much joy from reading this as I did from writing it. Please be advised that this story contains mention of self-harm, and it could be triggering for some. I have done my best to make this a wholesome and hopeful sort of story, though.
Regarding Legolas and Aragorn's relationship in this story, as well as Legolas's motivation for doing what he does, I've deliberately left these ambiguous - either one can be whatever you want it to be. I'm also still very busy with Red and White - this is just a little one-shot.
Rainbows and Wrists
Aragorn sighed and burrowed deeper into his pillow. He was so warm, tucked away from the snowstorm that raged against the window. He reached out to pull the source of the voice closer to himself, and a hand found his own and gripped it – hard.
"Estel, I need you." That got his attention. Sleep forgotten, Aragorn bolted upright. His heart hammered wildly within his chest.
"Las? Ai, let me see it." The human groped blindly in the dark with his free hand, swearing as he fumbled on the nightstand until at last the room came to life, bathed in the soft glow of candlelight. "How bad is it?" Aragorn grabbed at the sleeve of his companion's sleepshirt, trying to hitch it up. The elf before him shrank back though, wordlessly shaking his head as he refused to meet the Ranger's eyes.
"I didn't," he said softly. "But I… I really want to, Estel."
"You didn't?" Aragorn succeeded in exposing the pale arm. In the flickering orange light, he could see them. Some were faded, white and barely noticeable unless you were looking for them, while others were shades of bright pink and red, standing out against the milky skin. They wrapped the inner forearm, crisscrossed and entwined like climbing vines. The scars varied between small and large, jagged and smooth, and yet all were alike: stark reminders of the abuse that the elf had wrought upon his own skin as he had sought to free his mind from an even worse agony. They were, each one, in various stages of healing, and a check of the other arm confirmed the elf's words. "You didn't." Aragorn breathed a sigh of relief as tense shoulders relaxed, and arms moved to hold the other in an embrace. "I'm proud of you, Legolas."
"There is nothing to be proud of, Estel," the Prince of Mirkwood murmured into the human's shoulder, so quietly that Aragorn almost had to ask him to repeat it. "I shouldn't want to do this. And yet, I cannot stop. I need it, Estel." Legolas raised his head and looked searchingly into the grey gaze that met his own. Sadness swirled within the blue depths of the elf's eyes, and something else: uncertainty. "Why do I need it still?"
"Hush, Las." A rough hand cupped the base of the prince's neck and pressed his cheek once more against the broad, strong chest of the Ranger. Legolas could hear the heartbeat there, no longer fast and anxious, but even and steady. Calm. Aragon placed a gentle kiss on the top of the blond head. "That you came to me is already enough. I know this is not easy, but it is part of getting better. And you are getting better, even if it does not always feel like it. I can see it."
Legolas brought his own arms up then, encircling the human's lower back and grasping tightly as he nuzzled into Aragorn's sleepshirt, breathing in the Ranger's familiar scent. The human smelled of pine needles and leather, of cedarwood soap and of safety. But safety was not enough. With a last squeeze of the Ranger's torso, Legolas stood from the bed, determined not to meet those grey eyes as his hand slipped from the human's hold.
"Then you are the only one."
"Where are you going?" Aragorn shifted, clearly ready to follow the elf.
"I need to, Estel." Legolas's voice was pained, as though he hated the traitorous words that escaped his own mouth. "I'm sorry."
"Wait, Las." Aragorn leapt off the bed then and grabbed the elf's wrist, feeling the prince stiffen at the touch. "Please. I cannot pretend to know how difficult this is for you, but please – let me help. And if I cannot help, then I promise, I will let you do it if it is what you truly need. All I ask is that you allow me to try."
"Estel, I don't know…"
"Please, Legolas. I cannot stand by and watch you hurt yourself; not unless I have done everything in my power to help first."
"Alright, Estel." Legolas breathed out slowly and any fight within him evaporated. He made no move to return to the bed, but he turned once more to face the human. "What would you have me do?"
"I – " Aragorn faltered for a moment, realising that he hadn't thought that far yet. All he knew was that he had to do something, for the alternative was unthinkable. "Come back to bed. Talk to me. The urge will pass – and we will weather it together until it does."
"I don't want to talk." Legolas sounded tired. His shoulders slumped in defeat and he focused his attention on the window, watching the snow piling up in the corners of the glass. His left hand found his right forearm and the nails closed around the wrist, fingers flexing and relaxing, causing Aragorn to restrain them with his own. "Talking is not going to make it go away. It's always there, Estel; I can feel it under my skin. Sometimes more, sometimes less. Some days I win, and yet others… I am weary of fighting it. I want to cut. Just let me cut."
"You know I cannot!" The desperation on Aragorn's face when Legolas met the human's eyes again, was like an arrow to his heart. "Not if there is something I can do to stop it. It breaks me to see you wound yourself. If you do not want to talk, then I will find another way. " Now, ironically, it was the human's nails digging into the elf's arm, but Legolas said nothing. "You are not alone, Las. Lean on me and let me help you."
And then, he had an idea. A marvellous idea; one so crazy that it might just work. It must have shown, for Legolas looked at him curiously, quirking his head and lifting one eyebrow, the ghost of a smile tugging at his lips despite his anguish.
"Out with it, Estel!"
"I have it!" It was all Aragorn could do not to beam with joy, although he soon found himself frowning as he realised the flaw in his plan. "I think this is going to work, but I require something from you first." The Ranger rearranged his hands so that they were holding both of Legolas's. "I have to go and fetch a few supplies – I will not be long, but I need you to be safe until I return. Can you do that for me?"
"Estel…" Legolas hesitated. But one look at the trust and adoration shining in Aragon's eyes, and his mind was made up. The elf nodded. He disentangled his right hand from the human's and reached into the drawer of the nightstand before guiltily pressing a blade into the Ranger's palm. "Take this with you."
"Legolas! Why do you have this? I thought we had agreed – "
"I am sorry, Estel. I kept it in case: I needed to. But I am giving it to you now, am I not? And it is the only one, I swear it. Hurry though, for I fear that I can't fight much longer. Even if I do not have the knife… if it gets bad enough, then I have no doubt that I will find something." Legolas dropped his gaze and balled his fist. Aragorn pulled the elf into a fierce hug then, and before he released the prince, the human put his lips to Legolas's brow, imparting a tender kiss filled with more emotion than words could speak.
"I understand. You are so strong, and I am so proud of you. Can you sit down on the bed and remain there until I return? I will be only a moment, and I think it will be worth the wait."
Aragorn made haste through the halls of Imladris, knowing that one wrong move could wake the House of Healing's sleeping occupants. As dark as it was, the Ranger had not brought a candle and relied instead upon what sparing shards of moonlight managed to penetrate the storm clouds. That he knew the entire house by heart certainly helped him navigate, and the human paid special attention when moving past the chambers of his twin brothers, for he needed to find what he sought and get back to Legolas – he did not have the time to explain his purposes to Elladan and Elrohir, and he knew their concern for the woodland prince would drive them straight to Aragorn's chambers. It was not that the Ranger did not value their help – far from it in fact, but he would prefer to try his idea alone with Legolas. Aragorn made it past his brothers' doors without event and padded silently down the hall until he passed his foster father's bedroom, taking a turn in the passage and following it until he reached a small storeroom that was used for keeping writing implements and such. Quietly, he opened the door, praying that there would be no creak of protest from the old wooden frame, and slipped inside. Once he was sure he had not been detected, Aragorn felt around for a candle. By its light, he found a basket and wasted no time in assembling his supplies and piling them into the small container until it was full to the brim. After taking a moment to verify that he had not forgotten anything, Aragorn hitched the basket around his elbow and began the painstaking journey back to his room, where he dearly hoped Legolas had not given in to his urges.
Legolas rocked quietly backwards and forwards where he sat on the bed, humming softly to himself in the hopes of calming his mind. What was taking Estel so long? His arm throbbed with the overpowering desire to slash at it, and his fingers itched to pull open drawers and cupboards in search of anything sharp. But he could not, for he had given Estel his word that he would wait; that he would allow the human to try whatever he had in mind before ultimately giving up and allowing Legolas to do what he knew he needed to. He had to give the Ranger that much, at least. But Valar, he needed it. He needed the pain. Maybe if he dug his nails into his wrist for a while – it wouldn't count if there was no blood, surely? Legolas ran the fingertips of his right hand over his scarred forearm, feeling each bump and dent under his touch. Each one, a symbol of his pain, pain that he deserved to feel; needed to feel. He dragged his nails lightly over himself, not hard enough to hurt – just enough to know that they were there, and then closed his hand around the thinnest point of his wrist, nails pressing slightly into his skin. It didn't count if there was no blood.
"Legolas?" The door opened, and the prince startled, holding his hands out for Aragorn to see.
"I did not think that you were, but I'm glad regardless."
Legolas ran a hand through his hair, trying to regain his composure. Estel would have been beyond disappointed if he had walked in and seen Legolas so close to harming himself. The elf took a good look at Aragorn now that the human was no longer about to catch him in the act, and he saw that the Ranger carried a basket that seemed full of containers, and – were those… paintbrushes? He watched as Aragorn placed the basket down on the floor and began to unload its contents. Paintbrushes were laid down first, soon followed by tiny earthen bowls filled with what Legolas's nose told him was definitely paint. Lastly, Aragorn pulled a roll of canvas from the bottom of the basket and spread it over the floor along with some cushions that he pulled from an armchair. Legolas watched him blankly, unsure how an art project was meant to help him with his current predicament, but also knowing better than to question the human and his ideas. The Ranger had a funny way of knowing what would help the elf, even when Legolas himself could not fathom an idea. This time though, Legolas could not help but have his doubts. However, he supposed, should this not work – a prospect which seemed extremely likely – Legolas would get to vent his frustrations after all, so either way, he would have some kind of relief. He could work with that.
Aragorn, seemingly satisfied with the arrangement of the various items, returned to the bedside and touched Legolas gently on the shoulder.
"Thank you for waiting so patiently for me. Come, it is ready." He extended his hand and Legolas took it, allowing the Ranger to pull him upright and guide him to sit on a cushion. Aragorn reached into the basket one last time and produced a series of candles, lighting one beside each of the paints, which Legolas noticed spanned a huge array of colours. Once the candles were lit, the human picked up a paintbrush and dipped it into the first of the paints, and then held it out for Legolas to take. As Legolas took it, he saw that the paint was a deep crimson, the colour of blood. He turned the brush over in his hands, frowning as mixed emotions warred in his mind.
"What am I meant to do with this?" Confusion won out.
"Paint with it. On your body – wherever you wish to hurt yourself, I want you to use each of these paints instead."
"Estel, I don't know." Legolas had not painted on his skin since he was an elfling – he was grown now, and even without taking that into account, he could not imagine deriving any joy from the bright colours in his current state. He wanted to bleed, not to paint.
"Las, just try it. Tell me, where do you want to use your knife?"
Legolas's brows knit again, and he felt his heartbeat quicken, but he pointed shyly to a scar near his wrist. He could feel himself breaking into a sweat – something about sharing this with Estel felt incredibly intimate, but he persevered. "Here. I want to cut here. And here, and here…" He trailed off in a broken whisper. "Everywhere."
"Then we will start there." Aragorn smiled at him encouragingly and gestured to the scar that Legolas had started with, not a trace of judgement on his face. "Go ahead, roll up your sleeve and use the brush." And so, Legolas did. He pressed the soft bristles to his skin and drew them across his arm in a bright swathe of red. And then he dipped the brush back into the paint and did it again. Aragorn had mixed it with plenty of water, and the consistency was thin enough that the excess paint trickled down his arm – like the blood he wanted so desperately to free from the confines of his veins. And Legolas felt something. Maybe Estel was not crazy after all. He closed his eyes and focused on the sensation of the paint running down his skin. He could almost trick himself into believing that it was not paint at all…
"When I see this red, I think of the love that I have for you." Legolas opened his eyes to see Aragorn gazing at him earnestly. "I see a proud, capable warrior willing to give anything for those he holds dear."
"I – thank you, Estel." Legolas felt his cheeks heating up, but then the feeling was eclipsed by sadness as he dropped his eyes down to the paintbrush again, reaching out to dip it back into the red paint. He could not stand to hear such kind words, not while his brain screamed at him that they were lies. As Legolas placed the brush into the paint, Aragorn stopped him, covering the elf's hand with his own. When Legolas looked up, the human handed him a clean brush, already pushing the next colour towards him. Three quick swipes and the red was joined by a new hue.
"Orange, like the excitement that follows you everywhere you go. You and I have had enough adventures together to make even my brothers jealous, and I would have it no other way. How dull my life would be without you, Legolas!" Legolas could not help but smile at that – although then he remembered all the times that his sense of adventure had ended up with either one or both of them hurt, and his expression sobered. He did not get time to dwell on it, though, for Aragorn was already holding out the next colour. As with the paints before it, the yellow ran thickly down his arm, but this time, Legolas drew the brush across his other arm, too.
"I have always admired the warmth that you bring into the lives of all who know you. You are as the sun, Legolas. And even when your light is dim, it never stops shining." Maybe Aragorn was telling the truth. Surely the human would not lie to him.
"Green, for your adoration of growing things. Every time I watch you speak with the trees, I wish that I, too, could possess such a gift. And though I cannot understand them, when the trees nestle their boughs around you and hold you close, I can see the love that they hold for you in return. And they are right to love you, Legolas." This was true – Legolas could not refute the bond that he shared with the tiniest sapling to the mightiest oak, and trees could not lie. The elf ended up with a large emerald stain on the grey of his sleepshirt, and he tugged it off and cast it aside, feeling a lightness that had nothing to do with the shedding of the shirt's meagre weight.
The blue, Legolas splashed liberally over his arms and chest. Blue like the sky that he and Estel would lie under as they watched clouds, and a symbol of the trust that he and Estel shared.
"Blue like the peace that I wish for you – I want you to know the same peace that you bring into my heart whenever I am with you." Legolas's chest swelled a little then with emotion – with all his flaws and broken pieces, he had been sure that all he brought into Estel's life was pain and more pain, but here was the Ranger, proclaiming the opposite with a fierceness that the elf could not doubt. To think that he was still able to bring peace to another's life. Maybe he was worth something, after all.
Indigo came next, conjuring memories of a twilight sky; he and Estel pointing out the first stars and jumping into the river in the fading light of summer. Happy recollections of a time when Legolas, too, was content.
"Indigo," said Estel happily, "is quite the rarity among the hills and forests of this world. And as are you, Legolas. My life is so much the richer for having you in it. It is also the colour of wisdom and of intuition – and if not for yours, I fear that I shall have long ago been some spider's dinner." The human made a disgusted face, and Legolas could not help but laugh out loud at it. The elf found now that rather than smearing the paint over his arms and trying to imagine that it flowed red and hot, he did it with burgeoning joy and creative abandon.
He was still grinning broadly when Estel presented him with the last colour – a rich, brilliant purple.
"Violet." Legolas stirred the brush into it and then swirled the tip over his arms, watching the colours run together and pool in swirls of rainbow hues across the canvas that the Ranger had so thoughtfully covered the floor with.
"Violet." Estel smiled. "Like the flower. Violets are able to withstand the cold of winter and are one of the first blooms of spring. Plant violets and you will soon find that they come up all over the garden where you least expect them, overcoming all manner of challenges to do so. Like a violet, so too will you triumph over this trial in your life, and you will bloom. I know this, with my whole heart."
"Oh, Estel." Legolas felt the last of the sadness and frustration lift from him, and something stirred within his heart: happiness. "Thank you, you foolish human." And then he launched himself at the unsuspecting Ranger, brush in hand, covering Estel's face in a bright streak of violet before the human had time to react. Estel shrieked with delight as they proceeded to roll across the floor, each one fighting to cover the other in as much paint as they could get their hands on while trying to avoid the candles. The puddles of excess colour that had until now been contained within the canvas soaked into their clothes and hair as they wrestled, giggling and clawing at each other in their mirth.
When at last their game ended and Aragorn and Legolas caught their breaths at the foot of the human's bed, it was the elf who broke the silence first.
"You were right, Estel." He leaned into the space between the Ranger's shoulder and neck, relishing in the other's warmth.
"It worked." Legolas pressed a kiss to the human's stubbled jawline, and let out a contented sigh as his body relaxed.
"I am so glad. And I would do it a million times over."
"I know that you would."
Aragorn put his arm around the elf and squeezed. The road to recovery was fraught with hurdles, but tonight had been a victory. And as long as he was there to support Legolas, the Ranger would do anything to ensure that this would be one of many victories to come. He looked down to tell Legolas exactly this, but instead found the elf fast asleep, his breathing deep and slow. With a smile, Aragorn reached behind him and pulled a blanket off the bed, wrapping it around both of them before letting his breaths match the elf's as he, too, surrendered himself to the land of dreams.
The sun rose late the following morning. The storm had passed, and warm rays set alight the snow that covered the Last Homely House in a blaze of burnished gold. But even more lovely was the scene that greeted the day through the bedroom window of one human: nestled against the back of the bed, were Aragon and Legolas. Both man and elf still slept, but sometime during the night, the blanket had slipped off their shoulders to reveal the evidence of the night's activities. Resplendent in every colour of the rainbow, from smatterings of reds and oranges and yellows, to splashes of greens, blues, indigos, and violets – and every shade in between, both the son of Elrond and Prince of the Woodland Realm were a truly astonishing sight. Aragorn stirred lightly in his sleep, pulling the blanket closer around the two of them, and Legolas smiled as he snuggled closer to the Ranger. Both would sleep for a while yet, but that was alright. For together, they had driven back the darkness, and it was all that mattered.