Title: The Lost Never Die

Author: Ice Cube


Spoilers: Maybe some for The Two Towers (movie verse), and the OC's are from the stories The Bond of Friends and Standing By Friends, so maybe some small spoilers for that…

Disclaimer: Right, if I owned them anywhere outside of my dreams, the characters that are forthwith mentioned in this story would be making me a lot of money and very happy…so no, they aren't mine, and I'm a broke college student who has no money, so if you're going to sue, feel free, you won't get anything.

Characters: Aragorn and one of my own creation

Archives: Feel free; just let me know where so I can find it again.

Summary: When Aragorn falls over the cliff, he has a long road back to the Fellowship

Warnings: To those of you looking for slash, when I mean friendship and brotherhood, I take that in the trust you with my life and have no problem telling you about my current crush who is of the opposite sex way. In other words, if you're looking for slash, you won't find it here. By the way, like almost everything I've ever written, it's AU, so take that into account. Gilraen is missing from this and all my stories, and for anyone who doesn't assume that Elrond took Estel in as his son and the twins thought of him as a brother, I do…so…yeah…that happens in this. Besides, it says that Elrond took in Estel as a son somewhere in the appendices anyway…

I don't have my stories beta'd, I'm too impatient to wait for someone to proof it after I've written it, so I apologize for any mistakes, and if you email me to tell me that they're there, I'll fix them on Reviews are always a plus, it's great to know that people are reading my stories and like them, but as I'm a horrible reviewer, I won't hold my breath for them. Flames, however, will be treated with the utmost respect they deserve…they will be ignored completely or poked fun at with friends.

That said, on with the tale…

As he saw the cliff approaching, he feared. He feared and he remembered. For it had not been so long that he could not see the look of pure terror that cloaked the eyes of one he had sworn to protect. He remembered the small Ranger child that he had taken under his wing when he had found her wandering the Wilds, alone and skittish. He could not forget the promise that she would be safe with him. He could feel the despair he had felt cut through him when she died. And then he knew nothing as his head hit rock and he was thrown into blackness.

Aragorn drifted in the water, being dragged further and further from where he fell as the river ebbed and flowed towards the sea. Unconscious to the waking world, the Ranger wandered in and out of dreams, some pleasant and of his love, and some violent memories that he had thought long buried. He knew somewhere in the back of his mind that he should be struggling to open his eyes and fight to the banks, but the comfort of the lapping water and weightlessness was overwhelming, and he was content. He could feel the current beginning to pick up and thought idly that he was in trouble, but no matter how hard he tried to fight his way back to consciousness, another walk in Imladris with Arwen called to him, and he settled back into the painfree blackness.

Suddenly, the Ranger's path was halted as he was pulled underwater, and he could feel tendrils snaking around his shoulders. They bit and dug at his bruised skin, and he thought that he had finally met his end. He surfaced again as the grip of his captor eased momentarily, followed by a splash that drenched his battered face, and then the tendrils grabbed on again, tangling his overcoat in them. There was a moment of confusion as Aragorn did not understand how the leather could become entangled in weeds, but all was forgotten when his back began to scrape upon the gravel of the riverbed.

The tendrils let go when the Man was safely on the shores, and Aragorn next felt what he could only describe as rocks falling on his chest. 'Great,' he thought, 'saved from drowning to be buried in a landslide.'

Moments later, the rocks falling on his chest intensified, and Aragorn was forced to cough. He continued coughing up water and some blood for a few moments before blearily opening his eyes. His vision was blurry, but he thought he could see someone standing over him, hands on hips, shaking their head. Before he could blink, however, he heard footsteps running off, and he sank into blissful unconsciousness again.

When he woke once more, his horse was standing over him, and he remembered dreaming of Arwen. 'That must be who I thought I saw,' he thought as he struggled to wake fully.

"You're going to get yourself killed if you keep falling off of those cliffs, Estel. Valar, and you thought I was accident prone. You're lucky that water wasn't very deep, look at me, I'm soaked now."

If Aragorn hadn't been conscious before, he certainly was now. He had thought he was alone. He turned to see a fire crackling behind him and a ghost tending it.

"No, it can't be. You're dead. I saw you fall." Aragorn fell to his knees, shaking. "You…you shouldn't be here. I must still be hallucinating. Why can't the dead leave me to deal with the living?"

"Oh no you don't. I am no more dead than you are. Though I should have left you to accept your fate as you did to me. Why did you leave me to the Orcs, Estel? I once thought of you as a brother, a protector." The small being in front of him shook her head in disgust.

"K-K-Kao?" Aragorn could only stare as his memories assaulted him in the waking world.

It had only been a small planned hunt for the five, nothing too major as most of the party was still healing from their latest misadventure. Three Rangers and two Elves should have had no problems as they were following the trail of a herd of white tailed deer. As was their penchant for bad luck, however, the two children and three adults soon found themselves surrounded, fighting back to back once more.

Estel and Legolas found themselves separated from the band of three, and could only trust in the strength of their companions. They parried and blocked at the circle of Orcs who sought their blood. They could think of nothing else until they could break through and find how Tanad, Selinde, and Kaolith faired.

And break through they did, just in time to see the pack of Wargs set in on their friends. Legolas notched arrow after arrow, firing them into the pack as Estel set on them with his broad sword. Between the five of them, they managed to hold their own as the pack kept growing. Once more they were separated.

This time, Estel had the fortune of fighting side by side with his protégé, and the small, part-Elven child mirrored his fighting style so well that the two seemed inseparable. He could feel her hurts and knew before he saw that she had fallen under the pack. Memories of the deal he had once made with her to keep her safe if she stopped kicking him in the shins spurred him to fight faster and harder, reaching down to drag her to her feet by the back of her coat.

The momentary distraction was enough, however, and he found himself flat on his back, his sword clattering out of his now useless hand. He could see the Warg claws slicing through his wrist, but the pain he felt was drowned out by a scream. Adrenaline surged and he broke the neck of the Warg. Struggling to his feet, he saw Kaolith running after a Warg that had Tanad pinned on his stomach. Its jaws were open, warm saliva trickling down onto the boy's neck as the beast leaned in for the kill bite.

Estel could only watch in horror, knowing that no one could help the boy in time. He could see that Legolas had no more arrows, and Selinde was fighting off four Orcs with her back to the scene. Both he and Legolas threw their knives towards the Warg, but neither projectile was any help. Kaolith reached the beast and stabbed her sword deep into the beast's chest, but Tanad's scream of pain was cut short, and Estel hung his head while Legolas offered a short prayer.

Kaolith slammed her shoulder into the dead Warg's side, rolling it off her friend, but the sound of ripping flesh made her too shut her eyes and bow her head. Quickly though, she opened them and knelt next to the younger boy, turning him over and cradling his head in her lap. Blood spilled onto her leggings, but she didn't notice, and softly stroked his hair. She told him through her tears that he would be all right, and they would be back to terrorizing Imladris in no time.

Estel and Legolas wanted to move to comfort the girl, protect her before their foes noticed her, but they were too soon consumed with self preservation to do much for Kaolith. It was all they could do to keep fighting for their own lives, much less worry about anyone else. But when there was a lull in the battle, their attention was once more drawn to the children of their party.

"I promised that I would protect him. Now look what happened." Those words would echo in Estel's head long after the day was over. Kaolith's face was white, her hands red with Tanad's blood. She still cradled him in her arms; her sword still embedded in the Warg's cooling body. Estel hung his head, unable to look in the girl's distraught eyes.

At the last instant, however, he sensed danger again. As he looked up, he saw the Warg that was barreling down on the two. He yelled a warning, and it was just enough time to see Kaolith look up and for the realization to hit her that she was defenseless. From nowhere, an Elven knife cut through the air, stopping the beast in its path. As it crashed down, only inches from Kaolith's knees, the group all heard the crack of earth giving way. The last time the group saw Kaolith alive, it was with a look of pure terror cloaking her eyes, her hands still holding Tanad close.

When the earth threatened to swallow the rest of the beings, the Orcs and Wargs turned tail and ran off into the Wilds. Safe once more, the group crept to the edge of the cliff and peered over. The sight of Kaolith's broken body lying half in the water was too much to take in, and the three turned away in sorrow.

"And then you left me." The betrayal in the girl's eyes wasn't veiled, and it cut the future king deeply.

"Kao, you must understand. We went down to where you were and we looked all over for you. There was no sign of you. Kao, we assumed that the waters carried you away. It didn't seem there was anyway you could have survived that fall."

"You left me. And the Orcs came and took me. They took me in among them for ten years, Estel, and never once did I think that you weren't looking for me. No matter how much they beat me, how long they starved me, I never gave up on Hope. And here all along you thought I was dead? You weren't even looking. You swore that you would protect me Estel."

Aragorn reached out and fingered the scar that ran from the middle of her forehead out across her left eye. The orb was cloudy and blank. "They did this to you?"

"What, this? Yes they did; with my own sword. The one you gave me, remember? They seemed to like to use my own weapons against me. And when they weren't torturing me, they kept Tanad's body shackled to mine. I carried him for three months, Estel, until he disintegrated in front of me. You don't know what that's like."

"Kao, you don't know what it was like for us either. We had to drag Selinde home and tell my brothers and father. We watched her fade and finally…Kao, she sailed, there was nothing we could do. Legolas and I live every day knowing that we failed all three of you. Every time something went wrong in Imladris we looked to see if it was one of your pranks. We were headed to Helm's Deep when…"

"You fell. I saw. You're going to help defend Rohan from Sauron's forces?"

"And Saruman's."

"Then there's something you need to see. Come on."

They mounted Aragorn's horse, Kaolith at the reins, and rode hard through the night. Come daybreak, the girl pulled Brego to a halt and slid off. She handed the leather to Aragorn.

"What you seek is over that ridge. Go, and then get back to your responsibilities," she paused, "my liege."

Aragorn had been looking to the ridge when Kaolith uttered the last words. His breath caught in his throat. "You knew?" He looked down, but the girl was nowhere in sight. 'What?'

Shaking his head, the king rode to the top of the ridge. "Hannon lle, mellon nin." He could only hope that the words drifted to wherever she was now.

The End.

This was written as a part of a fic challenge, and though it uses Kaolith, Selinde,and Tanad, please do not see this as canon with the other stories in the Friends series...well, you can since I don't know if there will be another story in that series, but it is not meant to be part of that...