In answer to Spark's Challenge:

Among Friends By: Char k_lara7@mckeeler.com

Usual disclaimer: I don't own anything, not even the idea, since I'm answering a challenge here.

A/N Thank you to everyone who reviewed this story. Your comments have encouraged me to post it here. Thank you.

The Battle of the Helm's Deep had been won, the Men and Elves victorious. The men had returned to Edoras and the Elves had marched onto Mirkwood to Thranduil's aid. It was a lull in the storm and the men of Rohan had well earned a celebration.

Two hobbits were dancing and singing providing much needed entertainment to the group of weary, but victorious soldiers. Many had died that day, but at least they had not died in vain. Aragorn could be seen weaving in and out of the crowd showing his pride in the people. Good cheer was being passed around from goblet to goblet and the Wizard looked on with renewed hope.

But missing from the revelers were two of the most honored soldiers, the elf and the dwarf. As soon as the victorious army had returned the elf had stabled his horse. When Gimli had been called away to assist Aragorn, Legolas had disappeared. Now, as the party got underway, the dwarf went looking for his friend. He found him outside, restringing his bow. The elf had forgone his outer tunic and was for once dressed in his shirt, letting down his guard for just a moment. The blond head was turned away toward Gondor, as if the elf was waiting for trouble and wanted to be the first to see it.

With his face in profile, Legolas looked lonely. It struck the dwarf then, that although he might be comfortable among a crowd of rowdy men, the elf might feel out of place. That was of course absurd, but then elves has strange notions, especially this one.

"Elvish prince-lings who do almost as well as dwarves in battle should be inside celebrating."

The grumbling comment brought a small smile to the elf's face as he turned to his unlikely friend. "I'm keeping watch. I feel something moving this way. It is a far way off yet, but it comes."

"Bah! Quit your fretting Master Elf and come join the rest of us. The watch is on duty tonight. Let them do their duty, and you do yours."

"I'm the rear-guard, this is my duty."

"Not tonight it's not. Your duty tonight is to go in there and enjoy victory with your soldiers. You help lead them to this victory, you must help them celebrate it. Now let's go inside, they are about to start a new game."

The elf looked like he would still hesitate, so Gimli reached out a hand to help pull him up. Realizing the stubbornness of dwarves, and the futility of refusing, which would most definitely cause the scene he didn't want, Legolas allowed the dwarf to pull him to his feet. As they stepped inside, Aragorn looked up from his discussion with Gandalf, smiled and raised his goblet to them. Legolas nodded in return, then searched out to find the least crowded corner of the room and headed in that direction. Before he even get half way there the dwarf pulled him to a stop and leaned him against one of the center beams in the room. "Here is good," Gimli said by way of explanation, waving to one of the soldiers to pass him two mugs.

Legolas looked longingly at that solitary corner, before turning to the drink now placed in his hands. "What is this?"

"The house brew, my lord," the soldier replied, "the best ale around." Legolas looked askance at his mug then turned to Gimli as the dwarf spoke.

"Drink up, lad, the game has just begun."

Legolas turned to him, "So it's a drinking game?" He looked around at all the soldiers cheering each other and downing their own drinks. "And what exactly is the point of it?" He looked back at Gimli who now had a mischievous smile on his face.

"Last man standing wins!" And the dwarf started laughing.

With an uncertain glance at his mug, Legolas brought it to his lips. The first bitter taste brought a grimace to his face, and made Gimli smile all the wider. The dwarf was certain he could out drink the prissy elf any day, yet another way to even the playing field between them.

Aragorn looked over at his two best friends and smiled at the look on the elf's face. No doubt the dwarf had just challenge the elf to a drinking contest, for although apparent that the elf didn't care for the drink, he continued to sip away at it. Even he wasn't sure who would win this one. Gimli was used to the drink of men, but Legolas had been raised on elven wine. His money was on Gimli, since he had never, in the sixty-seven years he had known the elf, ever seen him drink more than a glass of elven wine. On the rare expedition to a human town, Legolas would just pretend to sip at the various house brews. But these men before him had become comrades and he couldn't refuse to drink with them.

Eomer made his way over to the odd pair. He owed them his thanks, and apologies, for with out their help, his people would have been lost. The shy human looked first to the Dwarf, then the elf, then turned to his men and raising his mug shouted, "The people of Rohan raise your glasses in honor of our guests, for without their help, we surely would have fallen."

"Guests?" Gimli asked. "No Horsemaster, we are not guests, tonight we are among friends. And we drink beside you in honor of the Victory we have won together, and to remember our lost ones together."

At that the Crowd cheered and raised their glasses together. The Eomer lowered his glass and said, "I know not how you have managed it, but you have brought hope back to this land. For that I thank you. Drink up and enjoy this moment, for I do not know when we might have cause to celebrate again."

"It is an honor to be among such friends, Eomer of the Mark," Legolas said, as he lifted his mug and drank deeply.

After two mugs, Legolas had relaxed enough to be at ease with the company, although he still had not managed to develop a taste for the brew. It was a priceless moment to see the elf with a smile on his face, laughing with the men around him.

Theoden walked up behind Aragorn and stood next to him. "You travel with a unique group, my friend. An elf and a dwarf who share the same horse. I never thought I would see the day when those two races could be friends."

"Yes. It has been a long journey so far, and longer yet to go. But better traveling companions one could not ask for. When we set out from Rivendell I never would have thought they would become my right and left arm, but now I know they would travel through death itself for me and our quest."

Gandalf joined them then. "Well, let us hope it does not come to that." Then he paused and said mysteriously, "Although it may yet. We have managed to fight the enemy back. Our journey is not yet done. We will still see many adventures before the threat to Middle Earth is gone. Frodo and Sam must still journey forth. These are troubling times. It is good to see Legolas smile again.

"So shall we lay odds on who will win the game?" Just then the elf suddenly stopped laughing at whatever Gimli had said, turned and abruptly left the room, looking slightly green.

"It would seem, Gandalf, that Legolas has not the fortitude our Dwarf has."

A few minutes later Gimli walked over to Aragorn concern etched on his face. "Lad, I think you had better check on our elf."

"I'm sure he will be fine in a few minutes, Gimli."

"I don't think so. He muttered something about 'the eye' and left."

"Alright, I will go talk to him in just a little bit. Let's give him some space. He's not used to being welcomed among large groups of men, and perhaps the drink was too strong."

"That elf is too stubborn to feel its effects."

But Aragorn got sidetracked talking to Eowyn and never got a chance to go check on his friend.

Hours after the reveling had ended and everyone had go to bed, Aragorn realized he had not seen Legolas since the drinking game earlier. He got up and wandered outside. The view was breath taking. Off to one side of the platform, a solitary cloaked figure stood.

Walking over to his silent friend, Aragorn tried to see what the elf saw. Legolas turned to him. "What bothers you so, my friend?"

"The stars are veiled... something stirs in the east... a sleepless malice," Aragorn looked at Legolas. "So far away, or so close. Grief clings. My father's people are about to have this war come to them. I will loose many friends, possibly even my father and yet, I will be here."

"Do you regret your decision to come on this quest?"

"No, my place is here, beside you my friend. Father would be insulted if I thought he could not defend my home without me. For many years we have fought the evil forces of Dol-Guldor. That won't change with me here. The Mirkwood People, my people, are capable of defending the wood. I would see the White City and the end of the quest we have started."

"I am glad, for I would be lost without you, mellon-nin. We have been on many roads together. This one will find us meeting together. The White City is beautiful. The halls of kings cannot be described. I would not choose this path I must take, but the people of Gondor are good. I promised Boromir that I would not see the White City fall, and together you and I will see the end of these times."

"I have to wonder where Frodo and Sam are this night. Can they see the light of the stars? I know in my heart they are still alive, but my head questions the wisdom."

"They are alive, follow your heart. The day will come when you will be able to show that stubborn Dwarf the forest of your home. We shall not fail." Wanting to lighten the mood, Aragorn changed the subject. "So guess who won the drinking contest?"

It took Legolas a moment to think about what Aragon said. "That would be Gimli, for he quite bested me in my tolerance of the vile drink."

"Not quite my friend. I do believe victory falls to you, for you are the last one standing. Gimli has been out for hours."

Legolas smile in reflection for a moment. "When we set out on this quest, I never would have imagined myself willingly seeking his company, drinking with him, sharing our victory. Now I cannot imagine the end of this quest without him at our side."

"He does kind of grow on one doesn't he?"

Just then Legolas looked out over the plains of Rohan. "The eye of the enemy is moving."

Aragorn looked out at what Legolas was seeing. There was nothing in front of them, but many years together had taught him to trust the elf completely. Foreboding entered every muscle of his body.

"He is here!"

A moment later the stillness of the night was broken by a piercing scream from Pippin. Aragorn rushed into the hall, Legolas right behind him. Aragorn grabbed the glowing globe away from Pippin only to feel the most painful sensation and dropped it just as quickly. As he tried to recover, he felt the elf's presence at his side, as always.