Title: Bad Company

Author: Yuggster

Rating: T (violence)

Genre: Action/Adventure, General

Disclaimer: Lord of the Rings belongs to Tolkien, as do Legolas and Aragorn. The bandits belong to me, but you wouldn't want them, would you?

Summary: After an incident in an inn, Legolas and Aragorn are taken captive by a group of bandits. When one of the bandits finds the one proof of Aragorn's heritage that ranger and elf had fought so hard to hide, he reacts in a way that neither could have predicted.

Like all my stories, this one is not slash.

Warnings: Some non-graphic torture, mostly off-stage.

Author's Note: This story is set about twenty-five years before Lord of the Rings.

Bad Company was written for Celebdil-Galad and Tinlaure's third fanfiction contest (won first place as the only entry). The challenge was to include the line "Do you act like this because you don't know any better? Or because you think it is fun to tempt the Valar?" in context in the story (it's in the second chapter). They have a new challenge up now, too. You can find out all about it on their homepage (you can get to it through their profile--they're in my favorite authors list).

I'm posting the chapters here separately over the next few days (six chapters and a very short epilogue), but you can check out the whole thing on Celebdil-Galad and Tinlaure's website.

Chapter One: A Thief Revealed

"I still don't see why we had to come here."

Aragorn grinned and pretended he couldn't hear his friend's protests. "What?" he called, placing one hand behind his ear.

The elf grimaced, rolling his eyes. "Why did we come here?"

"Because I like this inn," the ranger retorted, even though he had only been here once. "We can be ourselves here," he added with a grin, clamping the stem of his pipe between his teeth.

Legolas fidgeted, crossing his arms as though afraid of being touched by anything in the place. "Perhaps you can, but I find it hard to be myself in the presence of so many of your kind."

Raising one eyebrow, the ranger leaned forward. "And what's wrong with the race of men?" he asked, puzzled as his friend had never showed prejudice toward men before.

"It's not the race of men, Strider," Legolas said daintily, straightening up higher in his chair as a drunk tottered by. "I just never realized how many humans were as smelly and filthy as you."

Aragorn laughed, shaking his head. Here, in this rowdy inn with his best friend, he felt he could finally lay all the responsibilities of being the Hope of Men and leader of the rangers aside and simply be Estel, or at least Strider. "I thought you'd have gotten used to the smell by now," he commented. "You've been traveling with me, haven't you?"

"Yes, but even on your foulest day you never smelled this...ripe."

"Ah, you should spend more time with the rangers, my friend," Strider said with a grin. "Your nose would grow immune to many smells if you did so. And it might just cure you of your insatiable need to bathe."

Legolas glared at his friend, though his eyes were sparkling with merriment. "I'm merely trying to make up for your apparent allergy to soap, Strider."

The human just laughed again. He could hardly hear his friend over the ruckus of the men gathered, and from the commotion at one of the tables it appeared a fight was breaking out. "We should leave," he said, nodding toward the struggling men.

The elf raised one eyebrow in agreement, standing up from his chair and backing away from the table.

A man ran up against him, grizzled and filthy-looking, and simply reeking of ale. "Pardon me, Lord," the man wheezed, grabbing Legolas' shoulder to steady himself. "Won't happen again."

Aragorn bit back a laugh at the look on his friend's face as the drunk pushed away from him and began to totter off, but his laughter soon died as Legolas whirled about and grabbed the man by the wrist. The man yelped and cried out, demanding that the elf unhand him, but Legolas simply twisted the man's arm to reveal the small money pouch clasped in the his fingers. "I believe that is mine," the elf said smoothly.

A sudden hush ran through the room as the thief was exposed. The innkeeper shouldered his way through the crowd, badgering them to get back to their tables. "I'm so sorry, kind sirs," he blustered, retrieving the pouch from the man and giving it back to the elf with a bow. "I'll whistle up the sheriffs and we'll just nip him into jail."

Legolas secured the pouch back at his belt, but shook his head to the innkeeper's offer. "There's no harm done. Just let him go."

Strider smiled as a whisper ran through the crowd at the elf's apparent mercy. He knew, though, that Legolas simply didn't want to face the prejudice and accusations that would accompany making a formal complaint, as men tended to stick together and automatically assume the elf had caused the trouble in some way.

They shouldered past the man, who stood fuming and rubbing his shoulder, a furious expression on his face. "There's no harm done," Strider mimicked as they made their way up to their room. "What about the harm to my nerves? I feared you were going to twist his arm off—and there are too few of us Smelly Humans in the world."

Legolas glared at the ranger, shoving Aragorn aside as they entered their room. "Do not mock me, Strider, or I shall be forced to call you by your given name."

Strider raised one eyebrow in consternation. "What do you mean?"

"Oh...simply that wonderful term of endearment your mother used to use...what was it again?"

Growling, Aragorn lunged at the elf, landing painfully on the floor as the lithe being simply stepped aside. "Now, Strider, remember your knee."

Aragorn groaned. Only days ago he and Legolas had had a run-in with orcs—which wasn't exactly unusual, except that this time both had escaped unscathed. That is, until Aragorn tried to mount his horse and the beast side-stepped, resulting in a twisted knee for the ranger and several hours of laughter for the elf. "Keep laughing, Princeling, and you'll find yourself at my mercy."

"At your mercy?" Legolas asked merrily, sitting on one of the beds. "And just how would that happen?"

The ranger shrugged, sitting on the other bed and tugging off his boots. "Even elves have to sleep."

"But humans need much more."

"That's why I'll have my revenge when you least expect it," Aragorn commented, fighting back a yawn. Now that they were away from the constant noise and motion of the dining room, he found it hard to stay awake.

"Just go to sleep, Ranger," Legolas ordered, leaning over and neatly tipping Aragorn onto his side.

Strider growled. "I'll have my revenge, Elf."

"I'm sure you will," Legolas said sweetly, drawing a blanket over his friend. "I'm sure you will."

In moments, Aragorn's snores filled the room and Legolas quietly laughed to himself. "Children," he muttered and lay back to sleep, lulled into a false sense of security by the apparent safety of the inn.

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