Title: Departing Shadows

Author: Yuggster

Rating: T, for references to violence and torture.

Genre: Angst, with a touch of hurt/comfort and a daub of humor.

Disclaimer: Lord of the Rings does not belong to me. Well, except for four copies of the books (yes, four) and DVD's of all three movies.

Summary: Legolas arrives to winter in Imladris after an ill-fated patrol in Mirkwood. But when the prince's refusal to accept the truth of what happened affects his healing, Aragorn is determined to break through the shadows that threaten his friend's spirit. No slash. Second-place winner of the December Teitho contest.

Author's Note: This story was partly inspired by the Pretenders' "I'll Stand By You"


"Legolas!"

Aragorn refused to let the knee-deep snowdrifts impede him as he surged forward to greet his friend. The prince had come to Imladris for the winter, arriving, it seemed, just ahead of the heavy snows.

"Hello, Estel," the blonde elf said wearily, dismounting from his horse and nodding to the groom that had come to take care of the animal.

"I see Smokey is well," Aragorn commented, referring to an old joke they had between them about the horse's name.

Legolas rolled his eyes. "For the last time, Ranger, his name is Simoliké."

Aragorn laughed, throwing an arm around his friend and pretending not to notice the elf's flinch. "It is wonderful to see you again, Legolas."

The elf sighed, relaxing just slightly as the man guided him down the cleared walkway up to the house. "Are your brothers home?" he asked with a hint of hesitation.

"They're out until this evening," Aragorn explained, biting back a grin as he remembered the twins' protests at being sent away the day the prince was due to arrive. "Ada wanted them to help some of the other homes prepare for winter."

He noticed Legolas seemed relieved to hear this, and wondered at the elf's reaction. Then again, he thought, knowing the circumstances behind the prince's journey perhaps it was not entirely unexpected that he would be hesitant to face the rather exuberant greeting that Elladan and Elrohir would cook up.

"How are you, Legolas?" Aragorn asked as they entered the house, turning his friend to face him.

Legolas looked down, and for the first time Aragorn noticed the dark shadows under the elf's eyes, the deep pallor of his skin, and the almost haunted look in his eyes. "I am fine," the prince said softly.

Rather than outright scoff the elf's answer, as he was used to doing, Aragorn simply nodded. "I believe my father asked to speak with you when you arrived," he said. "He's in his study...just leave your bags, someone will take them up later."

Aragorn walked the elf to his father's study, and was surprised when Lord Elrond asked him to remain. He sat easily in a chair, noting with some concern that Legolas was perched as though about to bolt.

"Legolas," Elrond greeted, setting aside the scroll he had been studying. "How is your father?"

"He is well, Lord Elrond," the prince replied, fidgeting a little.

"Are you aware that he sent me a letter to tell the reasons behind your arrival?"

Legolas flinched. "I had guessed as much."

"Can you tell me what it says?"

The younger elf frantically shook his head, his eyes wide. Aragorn looked on in concern, and only a restraining glance from his father kept him from jumping to his friend's side.

"Then shall I tell you?" Elrond asked, not even waiting for a response. "In his letter he mentioned that your patrol suffered a devastating attack by a party of orcs. All but three of the elves under your command were killed in battle, and those of you who survived were taken captive. The orcs recognized you as captain of that patrol and slowly tortured the other three survivors to death in an attempt to get information out of you. Is this correct?"

Aragorn's eyes widened, and he glanced at his friend. Legolas was trembling, his gaze fixed on Elrond as though afraid the older elf would attack him.

"Legolas, you cannot hide from what happened," Elrond said kindly. "Yes, six of your people are dead...six good elves that should not have suffered so. But you must not blame yourself, Legolas. You must face what happened and—"

But whatever else Lord Elrond was going to say was forever lost as Legolas chose that moment to bolt from his chair and flee the study. Aragorn was after him in a heartbeat, not so much to bring him back to Elrond as out of honest concern for his friend.

Luckily, in his haste Legolas was less stealthy than usual and Aragorn could easily follow him. He found the elf just outside the door, bent over on his knees with his arms around his stomach. Aragorn knelt beside his friend and wrapped an arm around his shoulder, pulling the prince's hair back as Legolas was violently sick.

"I can't, Estel," Legolas whispered, his voice shaking. "He asks me...I can't."

"What happened?" Aragorn asked. "You don't have to tell me if you don't wish to," he added as Legolas tensed. "I want to help you...tell me what I can do."

"I..." Legolas shivered. "I can't, not yet."

"All right," Aragorn nodded. "What do you wish to do, then?"

Legolas sighed and sat up just enough to lean against Aragorn. "I want to forget than any of this ever happened."

"I know," the human said soothingly. "But my brothers will be returning soon," he added, squinting at the setting sun. "Do you want me to tell them you've retired early?"

"No," the elf said, standing shakily to his feet. "I do not wish them to suspect something is wrong."

Ai, anyone who looks you in the eye would know that you are not well, Aragorn thought. "Perhaps you would like to bathe and rest before dinner, then?" he asked, ever mindful of all the lessons he'd received on being a gracious host.

Legolas smiled, and in that smile Aragorn finally saw a glimmer of the elf who was his best friend. "You would not mock me for my 'obsessive bathing'?" he asked.

"Not today," Aragorn said with a laugh. "I believe you know the way...or would you prefer me to escort you so you don't get lost?"

"No, Aragorn," Legolas sighed. "But if you could apologize to Lord Elrond for my behavior..."

"Of course," the human nodded. "I'll speak with him immediately," and get him to tell me just what is going on, he added mentally. "See you at dinner, then," he called before making his way back to his father's study.

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"Come in, Estel," Elrond called, not even bothering to look up.

"Ada, what is going on?" Aragorn asked, not even bothering to pass on his friend's apology as he knew Elrond would not hold Legolas' behavior as offensive in any way.

Elrond sighed and motioned for Aragorn to close the door. "In his letter Thranduil told me that Legolas has refused to speak of anything that happened during his captivity."

"He said he doesn't want to talk about it," Aragorn said.

"He is burdened because he feels responsible for six deaths that were beyond his control...six elves who would have gladly given their lives to keep the secrets of Mirkwood safe."

"Did the orcs know he was a prince?"

"No, they thought he was only a captain. Had they known, however, they might have tried to use him as leverage. In that case the results may have been different," Elrond sighed, massaging the bridge of his nose with two fingers.

"Different?"

Elrond met the human's gaze, a depth of sorrow in his eyes that Aragorn had not expected. "When the deaths of his comrades failed to get him to speak, the orcs resorted to torturing Legolas. He spent three days in their grasp, until another patrol found and rescued him."

Aragorn sat back in shock. "He was tortured..." he repeated softly. "Is he going to be all right?"

"Only time will tell. I will say this, though," Elrond held up one finger. "If he does not come to terms with what happened he will break. His spirit is already shadowed, and I fear what will happen if he does not begin to release this soon." The elf-lord sighed. "I believe he is on the brink of fading."

The young man felt his resolve harden. "I will not let that happen," he said fiercely.

Elrond's gaze saddened further. "I hope so, ion-nin."

Aragorn turned to leave, but hesitated and looked back to his father. "You were wrong," he said softly. "You should not have confronted him. He is not ready."

The elf raised one eyebrow, his gaze tightening slightly. "And how do you know this?"

"He told me," the man said simply. "He will talk to us when he's ready...not before. For now, the best we can do is simply listen and wait for him to tell us. I dare say there have been enough healers trying to draw him out."

Elrond nodded to acknowledge Aragorn's argument, though the human could tell he hadn't convinced his father of anything. Sighing, he left the study and jogged down the hall to the one elf he knew he needed to see: Legolas.

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Legolas was not surprised in the least when he came out of the bathing chamber to find Aragorn perched on his bed. He had almost expected the human to come barging in while he was still bathing, as though thinking that catching the prince unawares would make him reveal what he had gone through.

He shook his head, dispelling that thought. Aragorn would never do that to him. "Are you waiting for something, Human?" he asked, forcing a playful tone to his voice.

"Just wanted to see if you needed anything else."

Legolas sighed. "I don't want to talk about it."

Aragorn's brow furrowed in concern. "I wasn't going to ask."

The elf paused, trying to keep his hand steady as he reached for his hairbrush. "Why not?" he asked bluntly.

"I don't want to rush you," the man said simply. "I want you to talk to me when you're ready."

Legolas caught himself blinking back tears, his emotions stretched too far at this point for any sort of restraint to last. "What if I'm never ready?" he said in a whisper.

"You will be," Aragorn said confidently. "Take some time...take a few days to rest, if you like. You're safe here," the man added, resting his chin in his hand and studying the prince as he brushed his hair.

The elf sighed, setting the hairbrush aside and lying down on the bed. "I know," he murmured, fighting the bone-chilling exhaustion that seemed to follow him everywhere.

"My father's healers," he said after a few moments, "spent every day trying to convince me to talk about what happened...what I saw, what I went through. Every time I saw them I just started retreating further and further within. It was out of desperation that my father sent me here. He hoped your father could do something."

Aragorn grunted an acknowledgement. "He wants to help," the man said quietly. "And he could probably understand what you're feeling...but I know what you mean."

Legolas turned a curious eye on his friend, waiting for the human to continue.

"In my first months out with the rangers," the man explained, "we came across a pack of wolves. They were bent on destroying us, and managed to kill two of the younger rangers before we killed them. One of those men was my friend," Aragorn added softly. "The first human friend I'd ever made. We were near Imladris, so they brought the wounded here. I knew my brothers and my father had lost friends before...but having so many try to help me recover from my friend's death was just overwhelming and I shut them out. It wasn't until one of the other rangers simply told me that he would just listen if I ever needed to talk that I found myself willing to share anything."

He turned a saddened gaze toward the prince. "If you need to talk, Legolas, I will listen. And whatever you share, I will keep in secret as long as you wish. If you need me, I will stand by you through whatever you face."

Legolas sighed and nodded. "Thank you," he whispered, the world darkening as he drifted off to sleep.

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Elladan and Elrohir cornered Legolas later that night in the Hall of Fire, demanding an account from their friend of his journey and the latest news from Mirkwood. Aragorn was relieved to see Legolas at ease, laughing and joking, but disheartened when he saw through the facade to the crumbling spirit within the prince.

He could see that the elf was exhausted, though he wondered if that was more due to the journey here or to the terrible weight he carried. "All right, enough," Aragorn declared, smoothly stepping in and maneuvering his friend away from his brothers. "You can speak with Legolas in the morning, the hour is growing late and I wish to have a word with my friend before he retires for the night."

Ignoring the protests from the twins—half-hearted and jovial though they were—Aragorn steered Legolas to a vacant balcony.

They stood in silence for a while, looking out as a light snow fell throughout the valley. "Everything is so peaceful here," Legolas finally said, sighing and leaning heavily against the railing. "Not like home...there is no shadow over Imladris."

Aragorn grunted softly in agreement. "You know, tomorrow the first thing my brothers will do is drag me out of bed and bury me in the snow. They've done it during the first snow every year, but I wasn't here for the first snow so they'll probably do it with this one. They used to try convince me it would teach me to walk atop it as elves do...but I've long since learned that was a lie."

Legolas chuckled. "And I suppose you'll wish me to come to your aid?"

"Of course," Aragorn grinned. "What else are friends for?" he added, and lighthearted though his tone was he hoped Legolas would understand the hidden message.

The blonde elf sobered immediately. "I know," he said quietly. "I have been struggling all day...here I have a friend who has promised to stand beside me no matter what I face, yet when it comes to facing myself I have not the courage to ask."

Aragorn's heart went out to the elf. "You don't ever need to ask, Legolas," he replied gently. "I will always stand with you."

"Always?" the elf asked, turning to Aragorn so the human could see the tears glistening in the elf's eyes. "I am afraid, Aragorn. Afraid to face what is inside of me...afraid that the memories will be too much...but most of all I am afraid that if everyone sees this they will know I am a coward."

The elf turned away, covering his face with one hand. Aragorn immediately pulled his friend into an embrace, letting the elf sob into his shoulder. "You are not a coward," he said firmly. "Fear is just another battle, Legolas. You must face it, and you can defeat it."

When his friend had calmed down enough to release his death-grip on Aragorn's tunic, the human gently steered the elf through a set of fairly empty corridors to his chamber.

"Now sleep," he ordered, taking a look around the guestroom in which Legolas was staying. Sudden inspiration struck, and he turned to his friend's pack and began digging through it.

"What are you doing?" Legolas asked.

"It is far too cold in here," the man complained. "Even for an elf...you'll catch your death of cold if you stay in here tonight," he stood up triumphantly, a set of Legolas' sleeping clothes in his hand. "Come with me," he ordered, grabbing the elf by the arm.

Ignoring his friend's protests, he ushered Legolas down to his own chamber where a fire was already roaring happily in the fireplace. "This is much better, isn't it?" Aragorn asked, swiftly changing into his own sleeping clothes.

Legolas raised one eyebrow. "My room is not cold, Aragorn."

"Well...maybe not to you but I'll rest much better knowing that you're not sleeping in a room so frigid it could freeze a dragon," Aragorn retorted, climbing into his bed. It was large enough for three or four people, so he knew the elf couldn't protest because of lack of room.

The elf shook his head in amusement, and turned his back to change. Aragorn's stomach somersaulted when he caught sight of a few still-unhealed wounds on the elf's back—marks left from a whip and burns the size of his thumb. Whatever shadow had fallen on Legolas' spirit had left his friend unable to fully heal.

Legolas finished changing and slid into the other side of the bed. "Happy now, Human?" he asked.

"Of course," Aragorn laughed. He blew out the lamp on the bedside table, and waited until Legolas' breathing evened out to slip into sleep.

And when the nightmares struck, as he had known they would, he was right there.

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Lord Elrond paused outside of Legolas' room—the prince was a frequent enough guest that one of the rooms was considered his—and knocked softly. Not hearing an answer he quietly opened the door and peeked in, a bit surprised to see that the room was vacant.

Then again, he mused, he shouldn't have been surprised at all.

Chuckling inwardly he stealthily opened the door to his youngest son's room just enough so slip in, and couldn't hold back a smile.

They were still sleeping, Aragorn with his arms wrapped around Legolas and the elf's head tucked under his chin, as though his mere presence could beat back the shadow that hung about the archer's spirit.

It was the nature of their friendship—of the friendship of two friends closer than brothers—for each to protect the other.

This time, Aragorn was the protector...against whatever demons preyed on his friend's spirit.

Elrond held back a sigh as he approached the bed, not wanting to wake either prince or ranger. He knew what he had said in his study had sounded unfeeling and harsh, but he had been hoping to force Legolas to face what had happened. He could now fully see the distress his words had caused the younger elf, and standing at the end of the bed he could make out distinct tear-trails left on the prince's face from whatever horrors he'd endured in his dreams.

And his eyes were closed, as though that would keep the images away.

Elves could usually control their dreams, but Elrond knew that Legolas had been repressing memories of his captivity and those memories would seek to break through, mostly in the form of nightmares.

But perhaps...perhaps his son could succeed where all of healers of Mirkwood and Legolas' own family had failed. The love of a brother, extended without hesitation or condition, might be just what was needed to break through the shadow.

As though knowing he was being thought of, Aragorn opened one eye and regarded his father with a raised eyebrow. Elrond pressed a finger to his lips to indicate silence, and slowly retreated, pausing just long enough to throw a smile over his shoulder at his son and the sleeping prince.

He would not speak about these things to Legolas again, he decided, unless the prince approached him. Perhaps Aragorn was right, and the best cure would be to listen and wait until Legolas was ready to speak.

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Aragorn had dozed off when his father left, but woke suddenly with a yelp when a pair of hands seized his feet and dragged him off the bed.

"EL!" he shouted, not knowing which twin it was. Laughing gray eyes peeked into his as the less-responsible twin perched on the bed.

"It snowed last night, Estel," the twin—Elladan—said cheerfully.

"It is far from the first snow," the human grumped, trying to wrestle his feet away from Elrohir.

"Ah, but it is such fresh snow," Elrohir exclaimed, chuckling and pulling Aragorn a few more feet when the ranger tried to sit up and pry his hands away.

"Couldn't the snow wait a few hours?" a fourth voice asked groggily as the prince sat up, awakened from his exhausted sleep by the commotion.

"Legolas! Help me!" Aragorn called, ignoring the surprised glances of the twins who had evidently not seen Legolas when they entered the room.

"Aye, help him!" Elladan shouted, jumping to his feet and grabbing Legolas by the wrist. He dragged the prince off the bed, ignoring the protests and finally managing to dump the blonde elf, along with several blankets and a few pillows, onto the floor.

"What do you say, 'Dan?"

"I say the smelly human needs a bath!" Elladan exclaimed. "Shall we go?" he added, easily flinging Legolas over one shoulder and opening the door.

The prince was helpless with laughter in spite of his protests by this time, as every time he tried to wriggle away Elladan managed to poke him in a ticklish spot.

Elrohir followed, still dragging Aragorn by the ankles. The ranger began protesting that they would have to go downstairs—surely Elrohir would let him walk that much?

But he had forgotten his brother's tenacity. Elrohir did let go of Aragorn's ankles, but only to grab him around the chest and haul him down the stairs backwards, leaving his feet to drag behind.

Elladan was waiting impatiently by the door when Elrohir finally arrived with his struggling captive. Together they took their prisoners outside, Elladan depositing the prince gracefully in a clear spot in the yard and running to aid Elrohir.

Aragorn shouted in protest, but was no match for the twin elves as they managed to bring him to the ground, burying him in the snow and wrestling with him until he was completely soaked, shivering in his sleeping clothes.

"A-ada will b-be angry with y-you if I c-catch cold," Aragorn muttered through chattering teeth, hugging his arms tightly to his chest to preserve some warmth. Why did he let them to do this to him every year?

"Ah, but it is winter and you have nowhere better to be," Elladan said with a grand shrug. "What better place than the healers' wing?"

Legolas laughed at this, still sitting aside atop a patch of unbroken snow.

"The prince is amused," Elrohir commented.

"Yes...perhaps before he judges this as amusing he should experience it for himself," Elladan suggested with a wicked grin and in a flash the two had jumped to their feet and ran for the prince.

To Aragorn's alarm, the prince reacted with wide, fearful eyes and turned to flee.

The twins laughed as they chased him down, gleefully giving him the same treatment they'd given their brother. But Aragorn heard Legolas' protests grow more frantic and fearful, until he was in a high state of terror and begging the twins to stop.

Ignoring his own discomfort, Aragorn plunged into the unbroken snow and drove his way forward to the three elves, angered when his brothers treated the younger elf's fear as part of the game.

"Get off him!" Aragorn shouted, somehow pushing both Elladan and Elrohir away. Legolas lay curled up in the snow, his arms over his head and his breath coming in terrified pants. "Legolas?" he asked softly, placing a hand on the trembling shoulder.

The prince recognized Aragorn's voice and launched himself up into his friend's arms, burying his face in the man's sodden tunic to muffle his sobs of fear. Aragorn was shocked to see a small amount of blood on the snow, and more on the back of the elf's tunic.

With a warning glance at his brothers to stay back, Aragorn wordlessly gathered up the archer in his arms and trudged back into the house, heading straight for the healers' wing.

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The moment his son entered the room carrying the trembling elf, Elrond knew the twins' yearly prank had gone tragically wrong. He sighed to himself, pulling back the blankets on one of the beds and nodding for Aragorn to set the prince down. He would have to explain this to his sons later...it wouldn't be fair to them to leave them wondering.

Then, as Aragorn showed him the reopened wounds on the archer's back, his concern grew.

"Ada, he was terrified," Aragorn confessed in a low voice, hoping they were far enough away that the blonde elf couldn't hear them. "He was pleading for them to stop, but they were just joking."

"I should have told them," Elrond sighed.

Aragorn agreed with his own sigh, bringing a few rolls of bandages over to bind his friend's wounds. Elrond dispensed a servant to bring down dry clothes for his son and the prince, seeing that both were cold and wet.

"Legolas?" Aragorn asked, kneeling beside the bed to look his friend in the eye. Elrond glanced over and was startled to see the prince pale-faced, tears streaking out of tightly-closed eyes. "It's all right," the human said soothingly, placing a hand on the elf's shoulder. "It's over...they're gone."

The servant returned with the clothes, and Elrond politely turned away, pretending to be hunting for something on the herb table, as Aragorn helped his friend change before changing himself.

"A-aragorn?" the prince whispered.

"Yes?" the man was kneeling again in an instant, grasping the white-fingered hand that extended toward him.

"Will you stay?"

Aragorn smiled tenderly. "I wouldn't be anywhere else."

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Several hours later, after hearing the story from their father and shoveling all the paths from the house to the various outbuildings, Elladan and Elrohir peeked into the healing room to see how the prince was faring.

Legolas was sleeping again, Aragorn in a chair at his side with a book in hand. He glanced up at his brothers and offered them an apologetic glance.

"We came to apologize," Elrohir whispered.

Aragorn shook his head. "You didn't know," he murmured.

"Still...when he asked us to stop..." Elladan's voice trailed off when he thought of how he and his twin had unintentionally hurt their friend. "Is he all right?"

"He will be," Aragorn nodded. "He finally told me what happened," he added with a sigh. "He slept a bit just after you...after we came in, but woke up after another nightmare. This time, though, he told me what it was about."

Elladan raised one eyebrow, unconsciously imitating his father. "Another nightmare?"

Aragorn nodded sadly. "He had four last night. Ada said it was repressed memories trying to break through, and now that he finally told me what happened it seems he's sleeping peacefully."

The twins agreed, both noticing that the prince seemed more at peace than he had been since his arrival. "I hope can forgive us," Elrohir murmured.

"He already has," Aragorn replied gently. "He knows you didn't mean to cause him pain."

Elladan nodded, eyes suspiciously damp-looking. "Well, I guess we'd better get changed if we want to be warm and dry for dinner," he commented wryly. "Ada has had us clearing the paths for the past few hours as punishment for reckless behavior."

Aragorn couldn't keep a broad grin from spreading across his face. "Doesn't he do that every year?"

"Aye," Elrohir shrugged. "I'm beginning to think it's less punishment for throwing you in the snow and more because he knows we'll actually do it."

"You do deserve it," Aragorn interjected laughingly.

Elladan just snickered. "It's worth it every year to see your face, though," he teased. "Come on, 'Ro, unlike some humans we don't enjoy playing in the snow," he added, leading the way out of the healers' wing.

Neither he nor his twin caught the devious smile spreading across their brother's face.

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Clean, dry, and impeccably dressed, Elladan and Elrohir sat at the table in the dining hall merrily chatting with the other elves in the hall. Their father sat at the head, as usual, either conversing with the elves to either side of him or just watching out over the hall.

Legolas and Aragorn were not in their places, but given the prince's frail condition of late the twins expected them to be taking dinner in the healers' wing.

And so neither one suspected anything until two rather large buckets filled with snow were upended over their heads, the buckets left to sit like oversized hats.

Pushing the bucket off his head and shaking the snow out of his eyes in fury, Elrohir glared about the room to see who had done such a thing. His eyes lighted on Aragorn and Legolas, sitting across the table with suspiciously-innocent faces.

"Why, Legolas," Aragorn said in mock amazement. "I do believe it is snowing indoors."

Legolas nodded, looking up at the ceiling as though it were a wonder to behold and valiantly holding in his laughter.

His heart was lighter than it had been in weeks. Aragorn had listened, offered what strength he could, and simply stood with Legolas as he faced the fear in his soul.

And beyond that fear was the peace he had thought he lost.

Finally, the shadows were departing.

The End


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