A Cold Night Under the Stars

By: Cheryl W.

Disclaimer: I don't own The Lord of the Rings or anything in conjunction with The Lord of the Rings nor am I making a profit from this story. No copyright infringement is intended.

Author's Notes: Nothing deep here just wanted some fluff.

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Strider was cold and he hated himself for the weakness of his human body. The strong winds had made the notion of a campfire impossible and his coat and thin blanket proved ineffectual protection against the cold. With the aid of moonlight, he could see his companion, who lay at his side, was nestled peacefully in sleep. Not for the first time, Strider wished he had been born an elf.

Turning his back to Legolas Greenleaf, Strider tried valiantly to ignore the shivers that coursed through his body. It was not winter, only a cool fall. He should have the fortitude to bear this night's cooler temperatures, even with the winds that blew his hair and threatened to pull the blanket from his grasp. He was human but by no means fragile.... Well, not fragile in comparison to other men. To elves he was fragile. But he had strived long and hard to garner the respect of his elven brothers and friend, to make them see him as an equal not a child to be protected.

Pulling the blanket over his head, Strider tried to think warm thoughts. The chattering of his teeth proved a bad background to such daydreams. With resolve he clamped his jaw shut but his body took up shivering. Cursing his weak body, he wrapped his arms around his body and curled more into himself, wincing slightly as a recent wound to his back protested. Morning could not come quickly enough!

Strider jumped when something touched his back, but before he could spring to his feet, a hand grasped his shoulder and Legolas's voice carried on the wind. "It's just me."

Relaxing back against the hand that lay on his shoulder, Strider rolled to his back and faced his friend's gaze as the elf leaned over the human. "You scared years off of my life, Legolas," his voice light and relieved.

A smile pulled onto the elf's face, even as the wind wiped his blonde locks around his face. "You're a little jumpy for a seasoned ranger," he teased back.

"I'm jumpy like a seasoned ranger should be...if he wishes to continue to live," Strider countered with good humor.

But Legolas' smile faded with Strider's words, the worry he held for his friend rearing it's head at Strider's admission of the dangers that lurked upon every step of a ranger's life. But those worries he did not mention nor did he broach the subject of the flinch of pain he detected in his friend when he hugged him upon their reunion in Mirkwood that morning. Instead Legolas focused on his current concern. "You are cold, Estel."

Unable to truly see his friend's eyes, Strider judged Legolas' emotions by the tone of his words. "You worry too much, my friend. We humans tend to get cold. It is really not so abnormal an occurrence."

"But it is not a pleasant one, I believe," Legolas countered even as he removed his cloak and draped it over Strider.

Strider tried to push off the garment but Legolas deftly tucked his cloak around his friend, trapping the human's arms in it's folds like that of a cocoon. Strider struggled to pull his arms free of the cloak but Legolas leaned over him, his face inches from his best friend's.

"Aragorn, admit you are cold and accept my clock."

But Strider still had his pride, "I was warm enough with my blanket, elf. I do not need to be coddled."

The words cut deeply into Legolas and an anger grew in him. "Really, human," he challenged and in one swift motion, pulled the cloak from the human, causing Strider to be jolted off the ground only to land harshly onto its surface an instant later.

Legolas gracefully gained his feet and looked down at the stunned human. "You don't need to be coddled?!"

Anger tore through Strider and he climbed to his feet, tossing aside his blanket, uncaring that the wind swept it into the dark recesses of the forest. Standing toe to toe with his elven friend, Strider shouted above the now howling wind, "No, I don't need to be coddled?! By you or anyone else!"

Legolas did not back down from his friend's words but instead challenged back, "By coddled you mean helped?! The mighty Strider of the rangers needs no assistance ...unlike Estel of Rivendell."

If Legolas had intended to hit a tender mark within the man, he had aimed with accuracy.

Strider fell silent and then replied darkly, "Yes, I am no longer Estel, a human striving to be an elf and failing miserably. Needing your ....protection."

"What you had was my friendship!" Legolos shouted back. "I guessed falsely that Strider would value it as Estel did."

Turning his back on Legolas and taking a few steps deeper into the woods, Strider let the winds howl around him even as his emotions did the same. He had been foolish enough to think the years he had not seen the elf would not alter his friendship with Legolas. He thought it would be as if they had never parted. And for the hours of this first day together, that had seemed true. But night had a way of revealing everything hidden.

He almost jumped when Legolas' gentle voice spoke from directly behind him, "Do you truly believe I could not discern your pain," and Legolas lightly touched Strider's lower back, eliciting a groan of pain from the human as he touched the slowly mending wound. "Did you think I would mock your pain? Would mock you for being cold?! Exploit a perceived weakness?! Estel, you are the other half of my soul! I would sooner bring pain upon myself than you!"

A sigh escaped Strider and he hung his head. "I know, my friend, as you are the other half of my soul." He turned to face Legolas, "I am sorry, Legolas. My time with the rangers has hardened my heart to even your good intentions. I have learned harshly the cost of weakness, of frailty."

"I would never hurt you, Aragorn," Legolas solemnly swore.

Strider smiled in the moonlight, "Prissy elf," he taunted with their well loved argument.

Legolas laughed as he countered, "Scruffy human," and he pulled Aragorn into a hug, ever mindful of the human's wounded back. But Aragorn fiercely returned the hug almost in defiance of the elf's coddling intentions.

Breaking the hug, Legolas put his hand on the back of Strider's neck, "Mirkwood is but two hours from here. I vote we walk through this cursedly cold night until we reach home and sleep the rest of the night away on fine mattresses. Unless rangers have some thing against warmth and comfort?"

"Some rangers might but I do not," Strider sallied back and companionably grasped Legolas' shoulder with his right hand. "And I lied...I am cold to the bone my friend."

With smiles, they plucked their belongings from the ground and began to make their way through the forest toward Mirkwood. After a moment, Legolas draped his cloak over Aragorn's shoulder, earning him a surprised look from Strider. Then a smile sprang to Strider's lips, "Thank you, Legolas."

"Your welcome," Legolas replied, happy that he could aid his friend.

They walked in companionable silence through the windy moonlit night until Legolas spoke. "I am going to tend to the wound on your back, Aragorn," and his words gave no room for dispute.

Strider gave an exaggerated sigh, "Yes and I suppose you will even want to hear all the sordid details of how I came upon said wound."

"Oh, that is not up for debate, my human friend," Legolas drawled. "Besides you know what boring lives we elves live, I crave to hear exciting tales."

Strider snorted at that and gave his best friend a shove that sent the usually sure footed elf stumbling. This got a full-fledged bark of laughter from the ranger. "Not so surefooted tonight are we?"

Once again gaining his friend's side, Legolas countered, "As if you have any room to criticize!? You were the one that once tripped over a boulder and fell down a mountain, my clumsy human friend."

Turning with indignation toward the elf, Strider protested, "It was not a mountain...merely a steep incline!"

"Which you rolled down forever, hitting every rock and brush along the way," Legolas added.

"Yes, but it was not a mountain," Strider insisted.

Wrapping a companionable arm around Strider's shoulders, Legolas announced, "Things have been vastly boring around here without you, my friend. I almost started to write down our adventurous tales...I'm sure your father and brothers would find them fascinating."

Stumbling to a halt, Strider turned to Legolas, "You wouldn't dare? Do you know the lectures I would have to endure if they knew...if they even guessed the scrapes we've been in?!"

Catching the knowing smile on the elf's face by the moonlight, Strider knew Legolas was totally aware of the consequences of his tell all journal.

Turning the man again to the path and pushing him into motion, Legolas soothed, "I said I "almost" wrote them down... but between being allowed to tend to your wound and hearing all your tales of life as a ranger, I feel I will have no time for such leisurely activities."

"This sounds a lot like blackmail," Strider growled with unconcealed humor.

"What's a little blackmail between friends?" Legolas asked innocently.

"I would hate to have you as an enemy, Legolas Greenleaf! You are dangerous enough as a friend," Strider grumbled.

"True enough. Now you were going to amuse me with some ranger tales, I believe."

"I will tell you all you wish to hear...as long as you never tell my father and brothers. They worry more than you do."

Silently Legolas countered, 'Oh I'd say we worry equally my friend.' Aloud he replied, "Well they don't have the constitution of nerves like we Silvan elfs do."

Strider scoffed at that, "Oh really!?! How about the time..."

And they happily traveled the windy night, finding the coldness of nature no match for the warmth of their friendship.

The End.

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