Title: Braid

Author: Khylea

Rating: PG

Timeline: Shortly before the One Ring is destroyed. Some spoilers (possibly, depending on how closely the movie follows the book) for ROTK. Assuming movieverse, with elves having been at Helm's Deep.

Characters: Aragorn, Legolas. The twins, Elrond, and Glorfindel play a part in a flashback.

Genre: Humor/Angst (No, that's NOT a typo. The flashback is humor, the current time period angst.)

Archive: Feel free, just drop me a URL where I can visit it please sl_chester@hotmail.com

Disclaimer: I do not own Lord of the Rings...duh....no money is being made on this fic...duh...I think we all know the drill.

Summary: On the outskirts of Mordor, Aragorn reminisces while braiding an injured Legolas' hair.

Dedication: For Anais, who keeps me writing. :)

Author's Notes: Since I don't know how closely the movie of ROTK is going to follow the book, this may or may not be considered an AU. In the book, after the battle of the Pelennor Fields, outside of Minas Tirith in Gondor, it was decided to make an assault on Mordor. Those who were riding to that battle knew full well that they had little to no chance of success, and their battle was meant to be merely a diversion, to keep Sauron's attention away from Frodo and Sam, to give them time to destroy the ring. This story assumes those facts are correct, and if the movie doesn't follow that plot, then I guess consider it AU. Words enclosed in asterisks *like this* are a character's thoughts. Translations at the end.





The blackness of night gradually gave way to dawn, but still the unearthly silence hung in the air like a suffocating black cloud. This close to the evil of Mordor, no crickets chirped in the night, their songs giving way to birds as the sun rose. No flowers bloomed. Even the grass had died, suffocating under the oppressive darkness of all within those black confines.

Aragorn watched the sun rise, wondering if anyone else in camp had slept any more than he had. He knew what they had to do; keep Sauron occupied until the Hobbits could complete their task of destroying the ring. But he wondered how many lives that would cost him. Who would be killed this day? The Rohirrim? They had already paid dearly with their losses at Helm's Deep. The elves? Their losses had been even more grievous, and the death of so many immortals tore at his heart. Or perhaps one of the Fellowship? Gandalf or Gimli or Legolas? His comrades that he had come to respect and care for so much in the last few months?

He heard a soft stirring in the tent behind him and quickly pushed the tent flap aside. Legolas was just beginning to stir, moaning softly at the aches in his body. "Easy, mellon nin." Aragorn said, helping him to a sitting position.

Legolas blinked at him, blearily trying to clear his vision. Thanks to Aragorn's care, the swelling on his head had receded during the night, but the lump where he had taken a hard hit from the pommel of an orc sword the night before was still causing him great pain. The battle had been short but fierce, no deaths, but many minor injuries. Legolas had taken one of the worst wounds, an arrow in the shoulder and the lump on his head, but with his rapid elven healing, was quickly recovering.

He leaned heavily on Aragorn for a moment before straightening his back and attempting to sit on his own. Aragorn looked at him closely, concerned. "It is sure to be an intense fight today, Legolas. Are you sure you will be well?"

"If I can lift my bow I will fight by your side, Estel. We have come too far for me to abandon you to the dark forces now."

"But if you do not have your usual accuracy you will be a danger, Legolas. To others as well as yourself."

"I assure you that you will never know I am injured, Aragorn." He replied, somewhat annoyed at his weakness. He managed to climb to his feet without falling and slowly, carefully, moved out the front of the tent, taking a few steps to a nearby lake. Carefully kneeling down next to it, he stared into the glassy surface of the water for only a moment before sighing and reaching up to touch his hair. Aragorn had removed his braids during the night, concerned the pulling on his scalp might hinder his recovery. The elf gasped at the shooting pains that raced through his arm as he reached to touch his scalp.

Aragorn was there in an instant, kneeling down next to him. "Careful. The arrow wound in your shoulder should have some time to heal."

Legolas pushed his friend's hand away, reaching up to touch his hair again. "I will be alright, Aragorn. I just...." He gasped again at the pain, quickly dropping his hands to his sides.

"Legolas, leave it be. Your hair is fine."

Legolas shook his head violently. "No it is NOT fine. I need to brush and braid it, I cannot leave it like this."

"Legolas, do not be foolish. You cannot possibly reach that far to braid your hair. It will be fine, it just...."

"You do not understand, mellon nin." Legolas interrupted softly. "It...it has always been braided. It....it must be braided."

Aragorn stared at his friend for only a moment before quietly dropping to the ground next to him. "What is it, Legolas? Why must it be braided? I know it is an elven tradition, but certainly you could skip one day if it will cause you pain."

Legolas shook his head. "No, I cannot." He took a deep breath, and when he finally turned to face his friend, his eyes were dark and glazed with pain. "My mother braided it in this style the day she was killed. I have kept it the same way to remember her. Never has a day gone by when I have not had it braided in the way she did."

Aragorn nodded mutely. Legolas had mentioned his mother a few times, but not often. He knew she had been killed by orcs when Legolas was just young, but the elf seldom talked about her, and he knew few of the details of her death. He could see Legolas was fighting back tears and gently clasped the elf's shoulder.

"Would you like me to braid it for you?"

Legolas turned toward his friend, looking pointedly at the ranger's disheveled hair, and raised an eyebrow skeptically. Aragorn gently slapped his uninjured shoulder, grinning. "Do not look at me that way, Legolas." He said. "Just because I do not brush my hair often does not mean I do not know how to braid. I was raised among elves, remember? I often braided my father's hair."

Legolas' eyebrow climbed further, remembering some of the intricate hairstyles he had seen on Lord Elrond in the past. He found it hard to believe that a man who seemed to have such a disdain for personal cleanliness could have created such beautiful braids.

Aragorn slapped his shoulder again. "I did! If he were here, you could ask him yourself."

"As I would, Estel." He thought for a moment. "Very well, if you would like to try, I will allow it. But I reserve the right to reject your effort if I wish."

Aragorn snorted, standing and returning to the tent to retrieve a strip of leather to tie off the bottom of the braids. "Prissy elf." He muttered under his breath, and grinned at Legolas' comeback.

"Scummy human."

He returned a few minutes later with several strips of soft leather and Legolas' hairbrush. Kneeling next to the elf, he began gently pulling the brush through the soft golden hair. Legolas winced in pain as he caught a tangle, and Aragorn muttered a soft apology. For several minutes Aragorn worked, until the elf's golden tresses shone like spun gold in the early morning sun. Separating out a section of hair near his right ear, the ranger began to braid. Legolas turned his head slightly when he heard a soft chuckle.

"Is something humorous, Aragorn?"

He chuckled again. "Not really. Just remembering some of the scrapes I got into when I was younger. How father tolerated me, I shall never understand."

Legolas chuckled as well, remembering the stories of Aragorn's childhood they had shared around the campfire at night. "You, yes. You, Elladan, AND Elrohir, THAT I do not understand."

Aragorn laughed. "Very true, Legolas. Very true." His smile widened, his eyes sparkling at a memory.

"What?"

Aragorn shook his head. "Did I ever tell you about the time Lord Glorfindel ended up with purple hair?"

Legolas shook his head, snickering. "No. But I would love to hear it."

Aragorn finished off the braid and tied off the bottom, then moved to Legolas' other side, starting on the other braid. "Well you see, it went like this...."

*Flashback*

"ESTEL!!! ELLADAN!!! ELROHIR!!!!" The three brothers glanced up from their breakfast as they heard the bellowing voice of Glorfindel echoing down the hallway. A moment later, the elf-lord appeared in the doorway of the kitchen, dripping wet, a towel wrapped around his waist.

Six year old Aragorn's eyes widened at the sight, the pale skin streaked with blue, the blonde hair a strange purple color. The twins looked away quickly, trying to hide their snickers behind their hands, but their brother stared with open-mouthed amazement at the dripping elf.

"Which one of you did this?" Glorfindel turned a cold stare on the snickering twins. "Elladan? Elrohir? Who did this?"

Aragorn shifted uncomfortably in his seat, unwilling to let his brothers take the blame for him. "I...I did, Glorfy." He said hesitantly, cringing when Glorfindel turned to glare at him.

"Estel? YOU put purple dye in my soap?"

He nodded. "I found some lavender yesterday when I was out playing. Ada said you like lavender soap, so he helped me make some. I put some berry juice in it to give it a pretty color. I thought it would wash off."

Elrohir finally lost the battle to control his laughter, causing his twin to break out in fits of laughter as well.

"Elladan, do you...." Elrond entered the kitchen, his voice trailing off at the sight that greeted him. A half-naked, dripping wet, purple-haired seneschal, two snickering twins, and one young boy who looked like he would gladly disappear into the wall if he could, were not everyday sights in the House of Elrond's kitchen. "Glorfindel? What...what happened?"

The blonde crossed his arms over his broad chest. "Your SON...." He said, emphasizing the word, "...decided my new lavender soap was not a 'pretty enough color' and put berry juice in it."

"I didn't mean to cause any trouble Ada, honest. I didn't know it would stain." Estel pleaded, afraid he was going to get in trouble.

Elrond glanced up and down Glorfindel's body, taking in the stained skin, the purple hair, the water pooling at his feet. A muscle in his cheek twitched as he attempted to fight down the smile.

"You find this funny, Elrond?"

The Lord of Imladris quickly shook his head. "Of course not. I just...um...." The twins glanced at their father, who was rapidly losing the battle for control. His breath came from him in short spurts as he tried to keep from laughing.

"Purple is SO your color, my lord." Elladan said thoughtfully, causing Elrond to lose it. He exploded into fits of laughter, collapsing against the wall, holding his sides, tears leaking from his eyes. Estel watched his father for a moment before smiling himself, suddenly realizing his Ada was not angry at him. The three elves' laughter echoed through the kitchen, increasing in volume at the glare they were receiving from Glorfindel.

After a moment, the blonde shook his head. "I should have stayed in the Halls of Mandos." That just caused the elves to laugh all the harder, and with a last shake of his head, he stalked from the kitchen. Finally Elrond motioned to his youngest, kneeling down to put himself at the boy's eye level, wiping away his tears.

"Estel, the next time you want to color someone's soap, let me know. We will put a dye in it that will not turn anyone's hair purple."

The boy nodded quickly. "I will Ada. I didn't mean to make him angry." Estel enjoyed his lessons with the elf lord and did not want to have to give them up.

Elrond saw the fear in the boy's eyes, and reached up, gently brushing his cheek with the back of his hand. "Glorfindel is not angry, my son. Merely embarrassed. He knows you meant well. And worry not. The juice will wear off in a few days. Until then though, I would recommend avoiding him."

"Yes, Ada. I will." Elrond pulled the boy into his arms, holding him tightly against his chest for a moment, gently stroking the tousled hair, before pulling away and standing up.

"Finish your breakfast now, Estel. I will see if I can find something to help wash the color away."

"Yes, Ada."

Elrond nodded and took a step toward the door, smiling again as another howl of laughter echoed down the hallway. Erestor apparently liked the color as well....

*End flashback*

Legolas was snickering, imagining a purple-haired elf lord. "How long was it before he let you live that one down?"

Aragorn chuckled, finishing off the last of the long braid down Legolas' back. "I shall let you know when he does." With a quick motion of his fingers he tied off the braid with a strip of soft leather and moved to sit beside the elf. It was not long before his smile dropped, and Legolas could see he was again retreating into himself.

"So your father used to know how to laugh." He prodded, hoping to draw Aragorn into another story, trying to distract him from the task they had to accomplish that day.

"Yes. A long time ago, Legolas. Before I met Arwen." He shook his head. "I never should have fallen in love with her. I knew our love would only cause him pain."

Legolas reached to grasp Aragorn's arm. "You cannot choose who to love, Aragorn. Our hearts choose for us, and sometimes their choices can be difficult to live with." Aragorn said nothing. "And do you really think your love for Arwen is the only reason your father no longer laughs? He has a deep awareness of the darkness in the world. He senses it on a deeper level than most elves. That does not mean he cares for you less."

Aragorn sighed. "No. But neither have I made it easier for him. I was never content with staying home. Even when I was a child, I would disappear for hours on end, driving him sick with worry. And when I grew older, I would leave to wander the wilds for years, never telling him where I was going or when I would return."

"Aragorn, he knows you have the soul of a ranger. He would not fault you for that. Neither would that cause him to stop loving you." Aragorn said nothing to that either. "Perhaps at first he gave you a home out of a sense of obligation because his sons were unable to protect your father. But I know he has grown to love you as a son. Do you think he loves your brothers more because they are of his blood?"

"No." Aragorn said softly.

"No." Legolas repeated. "Just because he has difficulty showing love for you does not mean he doesn't care." He squeezed the arm he still held. "Did you know he came to me the night before we left Imladris?"

Aragorn turned to face the elf. "To what end?"

"He asked me to watch over you. 'Protect my son' he said. My son, Aragorn. Not 'Estel', not 'Aragorn', not 'Strider' or any of the other names you have accumulated over the years. 'My son.'" Aragorn held his friend's gaze for a long time before looking away and nodding, and Legolas could feel the tension drain from the man's body.

"Thank you, Legolas." He said softly. The elf looked at his reflection in the lake, and nodded in satisfaction. The braids were clean and neat. His mother's memory was properly honored.

"No, Aragorn, thank YOU." The ranger caught his eye, nodding slightly, understanding the reason behind the gratitude. Turning his gaze toward the black walls of Mordor, he sighed deeply. *Hurry, Frodo. I do not know how long I can hold them off.*

END

Translations:

Ada: Short for "Adar" which means "father", so Ada would be roughly equivalent to "Dad" or "Daddy"

Mellon nin: My Friend