Author's Notes:

Here is a little in-between story for you, until I finish the next longer one:) It is only a oneshot, meaning it was too short to create an evil little cliffie out of it… ;-) I hope you enjoy reading and hit on the nice lonely little button in the lower left corner afterwards. :D
As usual, I will answer to all reviewers who leave me an e-mail address, though it may take some time as Real Life is trying very hard to keep me busy! ;-)

This story was written for a challenge by Alinah and Ro on Aragornangst.
I want to thank Alina and Ro for the inspiration,
Alina for the encouragement and the advice,
and my dear editor, Imbecamiel! ((huggles))


Summary: When Aragorn is lost in darkness, will he find the strength to survive? Angst, friendship. Also featuring Legolas and a short appearance by Thranduil.

Series: Belongs to the Mirkwood Tales, but can be read on its own, as is the case with all my stories so far.

Rating: T (to be safe)

Disclaimer: I do not own the characters and places in this story. It all belongs to the one and only J.R.R. Tolkien and as much as I'd like to, I cannot claim to be him. ;-)


o-o-o

Stronger than Darkness

o-o-o

For the first time in his life, he wanted to give up. The darkness had been growing inside of him for what seemed to be an endless time now, eating away at his strength, weakening his defenses, whispering poisonous words. He could not remember what had happened to him, or why he was in this place. He only knew he was trapped. There was no light, no peace, no hope. Nothing but pain and darkness and voices.

Give in, the voices said. It will be so easy. Just give in, and the pain will stop. You belong to us!

He knew they were right. He could not fight any longer. He was a failure, doomed to fall like his ancestors had. It was in his blood. He was tainted. There had never been a chance, there was no escape now. He could not escape from who and what he was. He was worthless. He had failed. Why fight? Why prolong the suffering? Something in him wanted to resist, to protest these thoughts, but that part grew steadily weaker. He was tired.

Yesss, come to us, listen to us, the voices hissed, and he felt their excitement. You feel the call, like we did! You are one of us!

He did listen. The shadows around him seemed to move as if they had a life of their own. They were swaying, creeping, coming closer. He could feel their dark, burning eyes upon him. He could feel their hunger, and he shivered at their icy touch. He did not recoil. He felt as if he was dying inside. What was there to fight for? He had never been so lost. He did not want to hurt anymore, and he could not find the strength to resist. It would only mean more pain. He wanted it to stop, to end. Perhaps he should just give in...

"Remember who you are!"

The words cut through the darkness and nearly made him flinch. This voice did not belong to him, but neither was it a part of the shadows. He knew this voice. It was familiar, and he knew it belonged to someone he trusted with his life and with his soul. He could not help but listen, feeling both curious and confused.

"Your spirit is so much stronger than they are. You are Estel! Do not listen to their dark lies!"

Suddenly his memory came back, and he knew. He remembered that he had heard that voice before, a seemingly long time ago, talking to him, trying to comfort him. Legolas! He took a step back from the shadows, seeing them for what they were, seeing through their lies for the first time. He was not only Aragorn, Arathorn's son and heir of Isildur, he was not only blood and bones and body. He was also himself. He was Estel, friend, brother, son and beloved. His spirit was his own. He was strong, and he was not alone.

"I cannot help you to fight them," the voice continued, and there was an underlying pain and desperation in it that made Aragorn's heart clench. "You will have to do this on your own. But I know you can defeat them. I know your strength and I believe in you, mellon-nîn."

Aragorn could not bear to hear the pain in his friend's voice. He wanted to talk to him, to comfort him, but he did not know how to reach him. He was still trapped in the darkness, though the voices had fallen silent and death would not get him without a fight now. He could feel the menacing presence of the shadows around him, waiting for him to show any weakness. He was not sure if the shadows he faced were real or hallucinations of a poisoned mind, but he knew he would have to defeat them if he wanted to live, to be free, to see the light again. He held on to Legolas' trust and his words, drawing courage from them and using them as a shield against the darkness.

Go back into the darkness and leave me! he commanded. I will not listen to you any longer. I am not my forefathers, nor my race. My choices are my own.

The shadows hissed at him, mocking him and taunting him with his innermost fears and weaknesses. But this time Aragorn refused to back down. Legolas had reminded him who he was, and he was not about to forget it again. He would not allow them to use his insecurities against him any more.

Go! he commanded again, cold determination in his voice.

This time, the shadows shrank back. Aragorn felt a deep relief and sudden joy as the shadows left and took the cold with them. He took a deep breath. He was free at last.

Looking around, he realized that he was still alone and surrounded by darkness, but there was nothing threatening about it now. Once again he tried to recall what had happened to bring him here, but that was the only part of his memory that still eluded him. The last thing he could remember was accompanying Legolas on a patrol in Mirkwood, and then… nothing.

Something rather bad must have happened to him, bad enough to somehow trap him deep inside, in a dark part of his own mind. And now he had to find a way back. He wished he could hear Legolas' voice once more, but his friend had stopped speaking. He wondered what was happening outside, and the thought made him worry. If he had been attacked like that, what had happened to the others? Was Legolas alright? He needed to find a way out of here as soon as possible.

Trying to find any clue where to go or what to do next, he suddenly felt something, a distant warmth. Someone was holding his hand. He tried to connect to his body, but his hand seemed to be the only part he could feel, the only warmth. He smiled as he suddenly realized that he knew the way back now. He concentrated on his hand, using the warmth like a beacon, until the world seemed to tilt and he started to fall.

-----

He heard melodious voices speaking softly in the distance, and a sound like gurgling water nearby. Something caressed his face, like – wind? - and he smelled grass and herbs… He felt completely exhausted, as if he had been very, very sick. The ground he lay on was soft, and he felt a peace that he had sorely missed for a long time. Wherever he was, he was back.

He tried to open his eyes and finally managed to do so. The voices fell silent. He looked right into the green foliage of a mighty tree, the branches swaying gently with the wind. Glimpses of a blue sky and a sparkling sun made him relax even more. Only too well he still remembered the darkness and cold of the strange place he had been trapped in. He turned his head and his gaze fell on Legolas. The elf still held his hand in his own. His left arm rested in a sling, and he leaned heavily against the rough bark of the mighty tree at his side, his head bowed. He looked weary and dejected.

The sight tore at Aragorn's heart. He did not know whether he could trust his voice yet, but he squeezed his friend's hand as hard as he could. Legolas flinched, blinked, and raised his head. His eyes found Aragorn's. He froze, obviously unable to believe what he saw. Aragorn more felt than saw a movement behind his friend and looked up to see Legolas' father standing there, putting a hand on Legolas' shoulder. Aragorn looked back to his friend, who still simply stared at him, too shocked to speak yet. Slowly, the desperation in those expressive blue eyes gave way to a deep, overwhelming relief. But it was Thranduil who spoke first.

"How are you?" he asked, slight worry in his voice.

"Tired," Aragorn answered, surprised that he could speak at all. "What… happened?"

"We had either very bad luck or we ran into a trap." This time it was Legolas who answered, his voice soft and his face still pale. His eyes did not leave Aragorn for a moment, as if he feared the human might vanish into thin air if he did. "We ran into a great company of orcs, but that was not the worst." Legolas fell silent for a moment, and when he spoke on, his voice trembled slightly. "There were Nazgûl with them."

The elf took a deep breath and continued: "We were outnumbered, but we managed to slay many of the orcs and flee. You were wounded by a poisoned blade… and you fell under the Black Breath when you stepped between one of the Nazgûl and his intended prey. The elf survived, but you… We fought the black creatures with fire and still managed to make our escape somehow, but I feared greatly for you. We carried you until we had reached the safe part of the forest, then I did not dare go any further. Your injuries were too severe. We sent messengers to the palace, and my father and our best healers came here to take care of you. They succeeded in healing your body, but the shadow was too strong. They could not call you back."

He looked at Aragorn silently for a long moment, as if he wanted to memorize his face. "I thought I had lost you," he whispered.

Aragorn was still trying to cope with what he had been told. Snatches of memory had returned to him, but most was lost in darkness. He did not dare imagine what the elves, and especially Legolas, had risked to save him from that Nazgûl and take his unresponsive body along on their flight. Only the whispered words of the elf were able to shake him out of the dark thoughts he had fallen into.

"You have not," he said, gently but firmly. "I am alive, Legolas." He smiled softly at the elf. "You called me back. You reminded me who I was when I needed it most. Without you, I would not have survived. Thank you, my friend."

There were tears threatening to spill from both of their eyes now, but for the moment all they felt was wonder and joy. They did not even realize that Thranduil had silently left to grant them some privacy.

"You should rest now," Legolas said finally. "You are still not well."

"I will," Aragorn agreed, eyeing the elf. "If you promise to do the same. I do not think you have taken any rest since we first met those orcs, and you are injured."

Legolas couldn't stifle a smile at that, though his eyes were still darkened by too-recent fears and memories. It was the first smile Aragorn had seen on his friend's face since he had awoken, and it warmed his heart.

"Stubborn human," Legolas said, and Aragorn chuckled. "Very well then, I promise you I will rest too." He noticed the way Aragorn looked at his sling and suppressed a sigh. "The wound is not severe and it has been taken care of by one of my father's healers. My father was looking over his shoulder the whole time, so you can ask him if you do not believe me." He sounded slightly exasperated now.

Aragorn allowed himself to relax. Thranduil tended to worry as much about Legolas' injuries as he did, so the elf had to be relatively well. Shaking his head, Legolas released his hold on the human's hand, drew the blanket up to his chin, and made sure that Aragorn rested as comfortably as possible.

The last thing Aragorn saw before he drifted away into his own dreams was Legolas rolling himself into a blanket and falling asleep before he even hit the ground. He smiled and allowed peaceful darkness to take him.

o-o-o

- The End -