Summary: As Aragorn struggles to deepen his relationship with Legolas, outside forces work to interfere. Can Legolas see what is right in front of him?

Feedback: Is always welcome.
Beta: Laura and Tsunami

Warning: A bit of violence and attempted non-con

Disclaimer: Aragorn and Legolas both belong to Tolkien, as do many of the supporting cast and I do solemnly swear I am making no profit from this.

Authors Notes: This was written in September 2003 and published in November 2003 in the Melethryn #1 fanzine.

Part 1

It was golden day in the kingdom of Gondor. The sky was a clear blue, the sun shining down in friendly warmth upon the citizens of Minas Tirith, the nation's capital. However if this wasn't reason enough to celebrate then Gondor had another excuse. Today marked the sixteenth birthday of Gondor's crown prince, Eldarion, son of King Elessar and Queen Arwen.

For the past week the citizens of the great nation had been busy making preparations for the celebrations in honour of this joyous occasion. Yet today was doubly special, for although not old enough to be considered legally an adult, the young prince was now considered old enough to take on some of the responsibilities of his station in preparation for the day that he would be declared an adult, and eventually when he took the throne after his father.

Eldarion was sure that day would be a long time in coming. His father was of the line of Numenorian kings and had inherited much of the longevity of that race even though the blood had been thinned through many generations.

Within the capital itself more and more people were arriving to take part in the celebrations. Nobles from various regions of the nation, representatives and ambassadors from colonies and allies were also arriving to pay their respects to Gondor's prince. This celebration would bring people together in happiness, a stark contrast to a mere twenty years previously when the people of Middle Earth had despaired for their very existence under the dark threat of Mordor.

The fact that Gondor's king had taken part in the overthrowing of the dark lord's shadow had only endeared him further to his people, who had welcomed his arrival and his leadership. What had followed could only be described as a golden time for this once desperate nation. The king had immediately set about restoring as much as he could, and satisfying the needs of his people as swiftly as was possible. He had much help from the dwarves and what little remained of the elves on these shores, who had overcome their isolationist natures to help with the renewal of Middle Earth, although still bearing much animosity for each other.

Eldarion sat dressed in his formal tunic and breeches in the main throne room of the palace, a smile playing about his mouth at the long suffering expression on his father's face.

"Where is he Aragorn? That lazy creature should have been here days ago to help with the preparations, but does he even think to send ahead a message to say he will be delayed, no. He cares not for the worries of us mere mortals," Gimli the dwarf said, continuing the complaining he had begun upon entering the throne room some twenty minutes previously.

"I am quite sure that he has a perfectly good reason for not being here yet, just as I am sure that he would not miss this celebration for any reason other than mortal peril. He will be here," the king said, his answer remaining constant in response to the gripes of the dwarf.

"Ha, he has probably stopped to have a conversation with a tree. They are probably telling each other stories about how much things have changed in the past five hundred years. Wretch, just wait till I see him. I shall give him a piece of my mind," the dwarf grumbled.

"Perhaps you might stop giving this piece to me then," Aragorn said dryly, but the comment washed over Gimli's head, and Eldarion had to suppress a snigger.

The griping continued for another thirty minutes during which Eldarion keenly noted that behind all the dwarf's bluster and irritation there was a growing concern. It was not like his friend to be so tardy, and Aragorn's comment that only mortal peril would delay the elf took root in Gimli's mind. As the main hall doors opened Eldarion noted his father's sigh of relief at the interruption, and then the herald stepped forward to announce who had arrived.

"Your Majesty, Your Highness, Prince Legolas of Ithilien and Greenwood, and Lord Berest and family." the herald called out.

Heads turned abruptly to face the newcomers. Lord Berest and his family moved forward in order to approach the throne and present themselves. Gimli at the King's side stood on his toes trying to see past the rotund Gondorian and his similarly hearty looking family but could catch no sight of his friend.

"Legolas where are you?" he called out, amusing both the king his son and certain members of the court whilst simultaneously scandalising others.

A musical trill of laughter echoed in the throne room, and dancing lightly around Lord Berest's family appeared a familiar face. Aragorn quickly took in the tall figure with the long golden hair streaming behind him, a few strands braided in the warrior style of the elven people.

The king was instantly reminded of the way his thoughts had been turning with more frequency to his immortal friend, this laughing fey creature, flitting through his dreams in the same way he did through life. He felt a flush of colour steal across his cheeks as he thought of the way he had awakened from those dreams, sometimes achingly hard and hot, and at others he had awoken to find his sheets already wet with his seed, feelings of guilt and betrayal towards both his departed wife and his friend wracking him. Reminded of this he had trouble meeting the elven prince's eyes.

"Gimli my friend, it is good to see you," the lyrical voice said as the elf approached the throne. When he reached the dais he bowed deeply to both Aragorn and Eldarion. "Your Majesty, Your Highness," he acknowledged.

Eldarion laughed. "Legolas why the sudden formality, you know you are one of our dearest friends and need not be so stiff in your dealings with us," the young prince said.

Legolas the elf prince laughed. "True enough my friend, but I think that Gimli has scandalised your court enough for one day, thus making true my observations of dwarf kind. I am afraid that I shall have to uphold the honour of my own people by greeting you with all the dignity of my race."

The gathered court watched in amazement as Gimli's face slowly turned purple. Some of the closer courtiers backed away from the dais fearing the dwarf would explode with his rage. Instead most were startled when he let out a loud guffaw of laughter.

"I have missed you my friend," Gimli commented. "Now come and tell us why you were not here days ago as you promised to be."

Legolas' expression sobered. "Ah now that is a story. I was on my way here with a few of my people, having set out many days previously. I would have been here two days ago but we encountered Lord Berest and his family on the road." The elf paused and encouraged the Gondorian and his family to come closer.

"Aye Your Majesty, my family and I could never thank Prince Legolas and his people enough, without them I fear we would all have perished," Lord Berest said, bowing humbly before the elf.

Aragorn took in the frustrated look of his friend at this show of obeisance, and he thought that this was something the elf had probably being forced to endure for the past two days and almost laughed out loud, knowing well his friend's dislike for bowing and scraping.

"What happened to put you in so much fear for your life," Eldarion asked curiously.

"Orcs Your Highness. Our small party was set upon by a band of the foul creatures. Most of my men were gravely injured in the battle and we thought to give up hope of escape when suddenly Prince Legolas and his party came upon us. They immediately set upon the orcs and dispatched them with a skill and swiftness I have never encountered before. Yet none were as magnificent as the Prince himself, and when they had finished the Prince's people helped us to set up camp and tend to our wounded."

"Indeed, upon the battle field the elves are a sight to behold, their strength, speed and grace far surpasses our own mortal limitations, but you are right Lord Berest, Prince Legolas is considered one of the best warriors, if not the best of his kind," Aragorn said, his heart warming in response to the flush of colour that stole across the elf's fine features, meeting the prince's scowl with a raised eyebrow, his lips twitching in mirth.

"I do not doubt it Your Majesty. His people tended to our wounded and stayed with us until we were able to travel again, insisting that they remain to guard my people all the way to the city," Lord Berest continued.

"Indeed then please forgive the hospitality of my house Lord Berest." Turning Aragorn addressed his aide. "Coren, please make sure that Lord Berest and his family are escorted to their rooms and provisions made for refreshing themselves, then see that their people are housed and taken care of."

"Your Majesty!" the young man acknowledged with a bow before turning his attention to the noble man before him. "Lord Berest, if you would like to follow me I will see to it that your needs are met," Coren said moving to lead the family away.

"Prince Legolas, we will see you at the ball tonight?" Lord Berest asked anxiously.

Legolas smiled easily. "Of course Lord Berest, that is after all why we are all gathered, now please go and take some rest." Berest, his fears eased followed Coren from the throne room.

"Legolas, what about your people?" Aragorn asked.

"Do not worry my friend, I took the liberty of dispatching them to our usual rooms since I know you keep them reserved for us, they will join us tonight," Legolas explained.

Aragorn nodded in satisfaction. "That is well, however you must also be in need of refreshment. Did you sustain any injuries during your skirmish?" the King asked, his gaze carefully studying the prince for any sign of pain or discomfort.

"Nay, I am unharmed old friend worry not, but some of your Dorwinion vintage would be most appreciated," the elf grinned.

"Come then, let us retire to my private rooms where we can catch up on what you have been up to. Faramir and Eomer will likely join us when they return from their hunt." Aragorn then stood and dismissed his court, leading his son and close friends from the throne room.

Later that evening as the sun was beginning to set in the sky, the king made his way to his son's rooms. He knocked lightly on the prince's door before entering the chamber.

"Eldarion, are you ready?" he called out, seeing the chamber empty but the door to the dressing room open.

"Almost," a voice called back, and then a few moments later Eldarion stepped into view.

Aragorn felt his breath hitch in his throat. The young prince became concerned by the look on his father's face, and the intense stare directed at him. "Father, what's wrong?" he asked.

Aragorn shook himself from his reverie forcing a quick smile. "You look so very much like your mother," he commented quietly, and it was true.

Eldarion had inherited his mother's thick dark, soft hair and her deep blue eyes, although where elves had full pointed ears his own merely curled a little at the top, but more than the physical appearance was the essence of Arwen that lived in the young man. His kindness and wisdom almost made it appear as though Arwen were peering at him from his son's body.

"You still miss her," Eldarion said, but it was not a question. "Father I would not be offended should you choose to seek comfort in the arms of another. I do not think that she would begrudge you any happiness either."

"There has been no one since your mother. None could replace her presence in my heart," Aragorn said, guiltily thinking again of the thoughts that had plagued him recently of another elf.

"Yet many have tried, and have been unworthy, but there are others father. You have not seen them for you have not been looking. If you did find someone they would not replace my mother but surely you have room in your heart to love more than one person. I worry for you. I do not wish you to become lonely when I am married with a family of my own. You have a long life ahead of you. Perhaps you could use tonight as an opportunity to make more friends," Eldarion said grinning mischievously.

Aragorn laughed at his son's expression. "Perhaps so, but I already have very dear friends," he said.

Eldarion sighed in frustration at his father's stubbornness. "At least promise me that you will look upon the people who approach you with an open mind. I should hate to have to match my own father with a companion should you continue to be stubborn about this matter."

Chuckling Aragorn said, "Valar forbid! Very well I promise, now come let us go to your birthday ball before people begin to wonder where you are."

Throwing his arm around his son Aragorn steered them down towards the main staircase, and the grand ballroom. As the herald announced their presence the noise in the room settled to a quiet whisper, then applause broke out at the coming of the prince and king to begin this joyous celebration.

Eldarion grinned widely as he made his way with his father to the royal dais, nodding his thanks to the many murmured birthday greetings, speaking a few words to close friends. Settling himself next to his father at their table, where Eomer, Faramir and Eowyn had already been seated, he noticed two spaces at his father's left still vacant, and he took note of who was absent.

"Where are Gimli and Legolas?" he asked his father.

Aragorn frowned as he looked around the room. "I do not know, neither of their parties are present either. Perhaps they are still getting ready. Legolas did arrive quite late and Gimli will most likely wish to come down with him."

Eldarion nodded and turned his attention back to the people who were now approaching them to offer their birthday greetings and gifts. Some twenty minutes later both king and prince noticed a sudden hushed excitement by the hall's entrance, watching in curiosity they waited for the herald to make an announcement.

"Your Majesty, the dwarves of Aglarond, led by Lord Gimli, son of Gloin."

The crowd parted to allow the dwarves entry. They were magnificently dressed in glittering robes, displaying the wealth of their colony and at their head proudly strode Gimli, his face red with pleasure at the attention his people were receiving. He strode directly up to the dais before bowing to king and prince.

"Your Majesty, Your Highness. The dwarven colony of Aglarond wishes to pay their respects to Prince Eldarion upon his birthing day. Please allow us to present this small token." Gimli stopped and moved forward to pass a package to Eldarion.

Grinning widely at his father's friend, Eldarion opened the package and took out the gift within. Eldarion's was not the only gasp that escaped at the sight of the fine mithril hauberk that he held.

"Gimli, this is..." Eldarion could not find a word appropriate for how absolutely priceless this gift was. Ignoring protocol he bent and threw his arms around the dwarf in a tight hug. "Thank you," he said simply.

Gimli harrumphed, but his face was a hot red and he couldn't hold back his smile of pleasure. He gestured for his people to take their seats at the tables on the sides of the hall, before himself moving to sit at the king's side.

"Gimli, where is Legolas?" Aragorn asked.

Gimli snorted and a wicked grin crossed his features. "He was delayed by his own people. They refused to come down until he had changed into his formal attire. Apparently he had 'forgotten' to bring them and insisted that he would not look amiss in a smart tunic and breeches, but his people obviously know him better because they packed spares. I left them still arguing with him about how his appearance would reflect upon them since he is their prince. I added my own final words reminding him that this night was for Eldarion and that he should hurry up and get dressed before the party finished."

Both father and son laughed at the picture that presented. Legolas was well known for his dislike of formality, something he'd had centuries to nurture. They did not have to wait long to see if Legolas had taken heed of Gimli's words.

"Your Majesty, representatives from the elven colony of Ithilien, led by Prince Legolas Thranduilion."

All eyes turned to the entrance to watch the immortal beings enter. The elves walked slowly and gracefully into the hall, almost appearing to be gliding. Both male and female were almost unnaturally beautiful, but none more so than their prince, who walked ahead of them. His expression was serene but those who knew him well could see the tenseness of his eyes and mouth, signs of his displeasure.

Aragorn turned with everyone else to watch the elves enter but as he caught sight of Legolas he felt a sudden tightness in his chest, as though the breath had fled his body and could not find its way back in. The elven prince was luminous in silver. Soft breeches encasing his long legs, with silver buckskin boots that reached his knees. A long silver tunic that fell to mid thigh, and was open at the chest completed the outfit. Yet the outfit could not detract attention from the pale ethereal features of the prince, and his shining golden hair tied back in its usual braids, a small circlet of silver at his brow.

"By the Valar, Legolas looks amazing," Eldarion commented. "I think I forget sometimes that he is the son of a king too."

"Legolas appears somewhat uncomfortable," Eomer commenter lightly.

"Aye, I have never seen him so formally attired and with such a serious expression," Faramir remarked.

"He cannot take after his father then, for I have heard that Thranduil insists upon much formality in his court," Gimli commented.

Aragorn nodded absent-mindedly, unable to move his eyes from the vision of loveliness approaching the dais. "I have met Thranduil on a few occasions, and although Legolas has inherited some of his father attributes, it is said he is much more like his mother."

"What happened to his mother?" Eldarion asked curiously.

Aragorn frowned in remembrance. "Legolas told me once that she passed into Mandos' Halls when he was but an elfling."

"How sad," Eldarion said feeling understanding for the elf's loss.

Legolas and his party finally reached the royal dais and as one the elves swept a bow to the assembled nobility.

"King Elessar, Prince Eldarion, we thank you for inviting us to your birthing day celebrations. As kin we would like to honour you with our own humble gifts."

As Legolas spoke two elves moved to either side of him holding items wrapped in cloth. Eldarion rose from his seat and approached the elves, his curiosity apparent in every eager step. Meeting the smiling eyes of his elven friend Eldarion took the first gift as the elf holding it swept away the cloth. Eldarion gasped in delight as he took the elven made bow in his hands. Delicate elvish script was written along the finely crafted wood, and he translated his own name and lineage.

"Thank you," Eldarion said humbly, unable to stop his fingers from caressing the bow.

Legolas smiled in response. "A bow alone will not defend you my Prince." He gestured for the second cloth to be pulled aside and Eldarion gasped anew as a quiver full of arrows was revealed. The quiver was made from toughened leather but was decorated with whirling elvish patterns. The arrows nestled within, each one topped with feathers in the colour of his father's house, were inscribed with Eldarion's own name.

"Legolas I do not know how to thank you for this wondrous gift," the young prince said, shaking his head in bewilderment.

"Thank us not yet tithen caun, for we would be remiss in providing you only with a long-range weapon. Instead please accept these further gifts in keeping with elvish customs, one warrior to another." Little prince

Legolas stood aside, and the remaining two elves moved forward both sweeping back the cloth covering the items they were holding. It revealed a twin set of elven knives, similar to those wielded by the elvish prince himself, held by one elf, and by the other the long knife that was favoured by most of the eldar.

"Thank you all," Eldarion said, and the elves as one placed their arms across their chests before bowing. Turning back to face the gathered nobles Eldarion spoke again. "I would thank everyone who came here to help me celebrate the day of my birth. I would also say thank you again to everyone for the wondrous gifts you have presented me with today. They are greatly appreciated and will be much cherished."

There were many smiles of approval amongst the nobles for the prince's words and attitude, and Legolas turned to look at his friend Aragorn, shooting him a smile of warmth and pride. Aragorn grinned in response although he felt an excited fluttering in his stomach as the elf smiled at him.

The young prince's gifts were placed away carefully and everyone took their seats for the main banquet, with entertainment being provided by acrobats, jesters and musicians. After the food had been consumed along with many bottles of fine wine the tables were pushed to the sides and the musicians took their place in one corner before playing music that encouraged people to dance.

Aragorn stood with Legolas and Gimli watching as first Faramir swept Eowyn into his arms and Eomer approached a young maiden, and then as Eldarion swept another young maiden into a lively dance.

"You have done very well with him Aragorn, he is a credit to you," Legolas said quietly.

"Indeed, he is a fine young man," Gimli said, adding his own opinion.

"Thank you both. It means a lot that you both approve of him. It was very hard to be both father and king when he was young, and even harder after Arwen passed on," Aragorn said.

Legolas smiled warmly. "There is nothing wrong with having been bought up by only one parent Aragorn, I should know, although I think my father tended to overcompensate a little for being the only parent to raise me, he is still fiercely overprotective. In fact I am quite sure that a few of the elves who followed me from Greenwood did so on my father's order that they might report my activities and well-being back to him," the elven prince said pulling a face.

"But how old are you Legolas, surely he knows you are capable of looking after yourself? What about the quest of the fellowship?" Gimli asked in astonishment.

Legolas laughed, a musical sound that drew many eyes, and again Aragorn felt a flutter like a thousand butterflies flying around in his stomach.

"Ah Gimli, when you are as long lived as the elves things are different. I will always be an elfling to my father, he is over three thousand years my senior so my time in Middle Earth will always seem short to him. As to the fellowship, I fear my ears almost dropped off from the scolding I received upon my return to Mirkwood. He then proceeded to place me under house arrest until the arrival of the new moon, informing me that as both my son and his subject I had no right to run off on adventures like a wilful elfling." Legolas smiled gently at Gimli's outraged expression. "I was not angered Gimli, I understand my father well, and loyal members of our household informed me that he had been frantic with worry for the entire time I was away. Placing me under house arrest was just his way of making sure he could keep me under his watchful eye. It could have been far worse. Initially he threatened to keep me under house arrest for the rest of my life."

Aragorn laughed. "A long time indeed," he said knowing that elven kind were immortal. "Tell me mellonin, what made him change his mind and release you after only a few weeks?" My friend

Legolas grinned mischievously. "Let me just say that after a few weeks he decided that I had remained close enough."

All three friends laughed but a firm touch on his arm pulled Legolas' attention from his friends.

"Excuse me Your Majesty, Your Highness, Lord Gimli, I wondered if I might borrow Prince Legolas for a dance." The speaker was a woman perhaps in her mid thirties, with long silken dark hair that caressed her hips. Brown eyes looked at the elf with a frank regard that caused a little colour to creep into the prince's cheeks.

Aragorn felt a sudden annoyance with the interruption, and his gaze focused on the woman's hand, which had not moved from Legolas' arm. He felt another surge of irritation as Legolas smiled and excused himself before leading the woman onto the dance floor. He dimly registered Gimli laughing in amusement as he watched Legolas gracefully turn about with the woman held firmly in his arms. The woman, whoever she was, seemed to be enjoying herself immensely as well.

The king felt a small measure of relief when the dance ended, however that soon faded as Legolas once again took the woman in his arms and led her into another reel, all the time chatting amiably, even laughing on occasion.

Swallowing the sour feeling in his mouth he turned to his dwarven friend. "Come Gimli, I have a bottle of Dorwinion vintage that I have been saving for just such an occasion." Without looking back Aragorn led his friend off to a private room.

When they re-emerged thirty minutes later Legolas was still dancing, this time with a large, heavyset man, richly dressed.

"It seems that the elf is attracting a lot of attention tonight," Gimli commented blissfully unaware of Aragorn's churning emotions.

Deciding to ignore Legolas, Aragorn looked around instead for his son. Eldarion was standing with some of his age mates, talking and laughing. The young Prince caught sight of his father and excused himself before making his way through the crowd. Many people attempted to draw his attention but the young prince patiently dealt with them, not altering his course.

The music ended as Eldarion reached the kings side. "Father," he acknowledged. "Master Gimli, are you enjoying yourself?" he asked.

"A better question would be are you enjoying yourself tithen caun," Legolas voice said, startling them, for they had not heard his approach. Little prince

Eldarion grinned. "I am enjoying myself greatly as are you I notice. You have not lacked for partners since you took to the floor. You are much loved here in Gondor." Eldarion noticed a sudden tightness in his father's features but could think of no reason for it. He was distracted from his musings as another person approached their party. Eldarion noticed with a frown that it was Lord Cadofel. The young prince had no liking for this older man who seemed to ooze false sincerity.

"Your Majesty, Your Highnesses, Lord Gimli, I was hoping that I could perhaps beg Prince Legolas to take a turn with me in the next dance," he said. His eyes seemed to travel the length of the prince's body at a leisurely pace.

Everyone stiffened at this blatant overture, and Gimli stepped forward to confront the man. Legolas gently placed his hand upon his friend, his touch restraining the dwarf.

"I thank you sir, but I'm afraid that I am unavailable for this dance," Legolas said, his posture one of polite distance.

Lord Cadofel frowned. "Strange Your Highness, the music is about to begin yet your partner is not here. I cannot believe that they would abandon a prize such as yourself."

Legolas' eyes narrowed in impending fury and he opened his mouth to speak more plainly to this interloper when Eldarion beat him to it.

"Of course his partner is here Lord Cadofel, for Prince Legolas is to dance with my father. Is that not so father?" Eldarion said nudging the king.

Aragorn was startled at the mention of his name but quickly gathered his senses. "Of course. We agreed some time ago I believe, but I have had to wait my turn like everyone else." He forced a smile for the man before him.

"I see. Well I certainly could not hope to compete with my liege, perhaps afterwards..." Cadofel said trying again.

"I fear not sir, this will be my last dance of the evening," Legolas said with a look of regret.

"Surely not, I have heard tell that the elves have stamina far surpassing that of us mere mortals. I am sure you could dance all night Your Highness," Cadofel said, not seeming to recognise the animosity that was fast growing towards him.

"Ah, but Legolas arrived quite late and we have not seen each other in some time. I believe we will retire shortly to talk about old times, you understand I'm sure," Gimli said with a smile that looked in no way sincere.

"And now since the music is beginning perhaps you will excuse Prince Legolas and I as we take our places," the king said not waiting for the man's response before taking the elf's arm and leading him out into the centre of the room.

Legolas allowed Aragorn to lead him, bemused at the suddenly aggressive king. "Aragorn are you well?" he asked softly.

Aragorn did not look at him. "I am fine," he said.

Legolas frowned but did not question him, instead allowing his body to move from one step to another in time with the music.

"You look stunning tonight Legolas. That outfit suits you well," Aragorn said abruptly, trying to ignore the tingling sensation in his hands every time he touched the elf.

Legolas frowned and looked down at his clothes. "I am afraid that I cannot take credit for picking them. I was not aware that I even owned garments such as these. I fear that someone from Ithilien is in collusion with my father and that these clothes were sent by him."

Aragorn let out a genuine laugh. "You are becoming paranoid my friend, why would your father do such a thing?"

"Oh I do not doubt that it is for a number of reasons, firstly of course that my appearance reflects upon him both as a king and as a father. Then there is the fact that he has been talking constantly these past moons of my finding a mate and settling down."

Aragorn looked up startled, a sudden anxiety making itself known to him. "You mean he wants you to marry and produce an heir?" he asked.

Legolas laughed, a musical sound that drew smiles from those within hearing range. "Nay, and for that I am much relieved. I think my father has resigned himself to the fact that one day I will sail to Valinor and on that day he will sail with me, bringing with him the majority of Greenwood's inhabitants. Once we reach the west there will be no need to secure the throne, there we will face none of the problems of Middle Earth. Nay Aragorn, what he means is for me to find someone who will tame me, perhaps someone who will stop my 'foolhardy adventures' and encourage me to stay at home. But above all that is a father's wish to see me happy."

"Indeed, it would be a sorry man who denied you happiness my friend. So tell me, have you found this mate your father speaks of?" Aragorn asked, denying the part of himself that seemed to be interested for reasons other than the well-being of a friend.

"No, although I have met some people tonight that have the potential to become more than acquaintances," the prince said thoughtfully.

Aragorn suddenly felt a moment of vulnerability. "I should hope that in this quest to meet new people you do not forget your old friends," he said in a voice struggling to sound casual.

That made Legolas pause and turn to face the king in surprise. He surprised them both when he suddenly embraced the man, hugging him close. "I could never forget my true friends Aragorn, you mean far too much to me."

Aragorn grinned, and noticing that they were drawing more than a few stares he took Legolas' hand and led him back to where his son and Gimli stood talking.

"Eldarion, if you do not mind, I would steal Legolas and Gimli from your ball so that we may catch up on the time we have spent apart."

Eldarion grinned. "Of course not father. I shall see you all in the morning."

Aragorn smiled and led his friends from the room, not noticing that Legolas' hand was still clasped within his own.

Aragorn led his friends to his study ushering them in before him. He felt a flash of disappointment as Legolas tugged his hand free and moved over to the balcony, throwing open the doors.

"Ah mellonin, I do not understand how you can stand to be so enclosed. Were I to live in a place such as this I would wish to be outside all the time. You have a magnificent garden but it has been much neglected. The plants here scream for the touch of an elf," Legolas said watching a small bird perch upon the balcony wall. My friend

"For a time it did have such a touch," Aragorn said softly.

Legolas realised his mistake and quickly made his way to Aragorn's side, placing a sympathetic hand upon the man's shoulder.

"Ai, forgive me Aragorn, I did not wish to cause you hurt with my careless words," the elf said, sadness at causing his friend pain evident in his bright eyes.

Aragorn smiled. "It is well my friend. Arwen has been gone for some years, and as with all things, time brings a measure of relief. I no longer feel as though my heart were being torn from my chest when we speak of her. Instead I am reminded of the good times we had, Eldarion being evidence of the greatest of our joint achievements."

"I am glad of it Aragorn, we have long watched you isolate yourself from friends and family alike in your grief. We hope you can find a way to let happiness into your life again. Perhaps even find someone for companionship," Gimli said, his brusque voice offering its own comfort.

Aragorn laughed in genuine humour, the lingering sadness leaving his features. "Indeed Gimli, Eldarion has already spoken with me today about finding myself a new mate. He even advised me to look amongst the guests gathered for his birthday celebrations"

"And was there someone that caught your eye?" Legolas enquired wearing a mischievous grin.

A speculative look crossed Aragorn's features. "I am not sure mellonin, perhaps, but only time will tell." My friend

"Well if you have need of any assistance, you have but to ask," Gimli said slapping the man's back, Legolas nodding in agreement. The unlikely friends shared a look, missing the wince on the king's face that was quickly covered with a forced smile.

"My friends," Aragorn said. "I would be less than half the man that I am without your presence in my life."

Gimli laughed. "Enough of the womanly talk now Aragorn, I believe you invited us in here for more wine tasting."

"Indeed, then I must swiftly attend my duties as host and satisfy your every whim friend Gimli, I have something here you might enjoy a sample of a wine that my people in the south have been producing," the king said, his smile more genuine this time, opening a bottle of wine and pouring a generous amount into the dwarf's waiting goblet.

End of part 1