Here's the final part of the story!
The brightness of the morning belied the struggle going on through the forests on the road to Imladris.
Legolas had nearly worried his lower lip raw as he forced back another cry of pain. Aragorn was leaning heavily against him, coughing harshly, his face pale and drawn. The elf shifted his weight on his feet, wincing as the movement sent another spasm of pain through his side.
"...sorry..." the ranger whispered, slowly catching his breath.
The elf just grunted, sighing in relief when Aragorn finally regained his balance enough to stand on his own rather than leaning on his friend. "Are you all right?" Legolas asked in concern.
"Aye," Aragorn nodded, blinking a bit to get his bearings. "We should rest."
Not waiting for the elf's response, the man simply sat down on a fallen log. He glanced up at Legolas, a tiny smirk playing across his face. "You will be able to get up again, won't you?"
Legolas ignored the ranger's jest and sat beside him, stiffening for a moment as he inadvertently pulled at his wound.
The ranger immediately noticed his friend's discomfort. "You're hurt."
"And you're sick," Legolas retorted.
Aragorn snorted, though Legolas could still see the concern in his friend's fever-dulled eyes. "Quite the pair we make."
Legolas had to agree. "Why is it that every time we are together we nearly die, despite our best efforts?" he asked softly.
"Elladan would probably say we survive despite our best efforts," Aragorn commented, dropping his head down to rest on his knees. He raised it again momentarily, studying the elf. "How do you feel?"
Tired, sore, cold, and like I might die if I have to take another step, Legolas thought sardonically. "Fine," he whispered, closing his own eyes and hunching over slightly to press one hand against his side.
The ranger snorted again. "Should I change your bandage?"
"No," Legolas winced. "I...it won't come off."
Aragorn straightened, pausing as his skin grayed from the sudden movement. "What?"
Wincing again at his friend's tone, Legolas looked down to avoid his friend's worried eyes. "I tried, it's...the blood dried and I could not get it off." He had tried, back in the cave while Aragorn was still sleeping, but the blood had soaked through the bandage and around the skin, and was now stuck to his flesh on either side of the wound. "At least it's not bleeding," he offered quietly.
The ranger sighed, resting his head in his hands. "I wish you had told me," he muttered, sniffing. Legolas glanced at him, wondering if his friend was crying but it was merely the man's nose running. "I could have done something back at the cave."
Legolas wanted to protest, to say that leaving was more important, but he had no strength to. He was too tired, and just wanted to rest.
It took the elf a moment to realized he had almost blacked out, and that Aragorn was kneeling in front of him with a worried expression on his face.
"Estel?" he asked, confusion coloring his voice.
The ranger's eyes furrowed in concern or pain. "You're not well...here, lie down."
"No," Legolas protested, fighting against his friend's grip. "We have to keep going."
"I need to look at your wound."
Aragorn sighed in impatience. "We do have to keep moving, Legolas, but your wound needs to be tended to."
Legolas shook his head. "It's nothing," he replied, earning a glare and a grimace from the human. "It's not bleeding," he amended, fighting yet another wave of lightheadedness.
The ranger grumbled something about stubborn elf-princes under his breath. "All right," Aragorn finally said, pushing himself up to his feet and extending a hand toward Legolas.
He accepted the help gratefully, swallowing his pride as the ranger pulled him to his feet. His knees nearly buckled, and Aragorn quickly wrapped an arm around his waist to support him.
Legolas closed his eyes for a moment, regaining his balance. "I'm all right," he said quietly. "I can walk."
Aragorn nodded, pulling Legolas' arm around his neck. "Let's go."
The elf tried to pull away. "Aragorn."
"Legolas, you nearly passed out a moment ago," the ranger argued, refusing to release his hold on the elf. "Let me help you."
"But you can't," Legolas protested. "You're sick."
The man fell silent for a moment. "Lean on me," he said quietly. "Then when I can't walk any further I'll lean on you."
Legolas swallowed apprehensively. He honestly didn't know if he could support the ranger's weight in his condition, but if Aragorn was willing to try the least he could do was go along with him. "All right," the elf assented, fighting back pride in the face of practicality.
It was slow going, and it was agony for Legolas when it was his turn to support his friend's weight. But he refused to complain, knowing the ranger had to feel just as weak if not more so, even if he was hiding it rather well.
As the morning passed into afternoon, their progression grew even slower as both were forced to stop more frequently to rest. Legolas' wound was a constant ache in his side, and to make matters worse his head was spinning with every step. Aragorn's fever had grown higher, and he could scarcely breathe without coughing, congestion settling deep in his chest.
And then, Legolas fell.
He bit back the cry of pain to a whimper as his knees took the brunt of both his weight and Aragorn's. Despite the ranger's protests that they could stop to rest, Legolas struggled back up to his feet and managed to take another step before falling again.
Aragorn collapsed beside him, his body wracked with harsh coughs. Legolas groaned, covering his eyes with one hand as the spinning in his head abruptly turned to a rhythmic pounding, like the hooves of a horse galloping down the beaten path.
The elf started, opening his eyes and turning to look worriedly at his friend. Aragorn's voice was unrecognizable, his throat raw.
"Go," Legolas whispered, curling up as his side throbbed mercilessly.
Aragorn somehow managed to shake his head. "I won't leave without you."
Legolas growled, but it turned into a whimper as the pounding in his head grew steadily louder. "It's too late."
"No," the ranger grabbed Legolas' wrist. "We can still make it."
Sighing, Legolas closed his eyes. "I'm sorry, Estel."
He heard Aragorn move, and felt the ranger hook his hands under his arms. "Get up, Elf!" the human demanded. "This is nothing, remember? Nothing! Get up!"
With a shiver, Legolas futilely tried to pull away. "If one of us has to die," he whispered weakly.
"No, Legolas," Aragorn's voice broke off, and Legolas winced, imagining the pain in his friend's eyes.
"I am sorry," he said again.
Legolas started, blinking up at the ranger. "What?"
"Legolas...it's your horse!"
The elf struggled to follow his friend's gesture, his eyes growing wide in shock at the gray horse galloping in their direction, his hooves in perfect rhythm with the pounding that echoed through Legolas' aching head. Which, of course, had been the horse all along.
"Ranger," Legolas sighed, a slight spark of hope finally reentering his mind as his faithful horse trotted up to him, gently nudging the elf's hand with his nose. "I've told you before...his name is Simoliké."
Aragorn chuckled, turning his head aside to cough. "Do you think you have enough strength left to ride?"
Legolas smiled, pushing himself up onto his elbows. "Simoliké will not let me fall," he said confidently. As you would not let me give up, he silently added. The horse neighed and tossed his head as though in agreement.
"That's not the question, then," Aragorn said with forced cheerfulness. "Will he let me fall?"
"As long as you stop calling him 'Smokey'."
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"Good morning, Estel."
Aragorn cracked his eyes open, a bit startled at the face that leaned over him.
Lord Elrond smiled. "Your fever has lowered, Estel."
The ranger looked around him, eyes wide. "How did I get here?"
The elf-lord frowned. "You do not remember?"
Aragorn shook his head, his brow furrowing in puzzlement.
"The prince's horse brought the two of you in last night," Elrond explained, sitting on the edge of the bed, his keen eyes studying the human for any sign of lingering weakness that would hamper his healing. "Yours had returned before, but his had not. Legolas was unconscious, and you were delirious and barely holding on."
The human slowly nodded. He remembered bits and pieces now. The last thing he remembered clearly was climbing onto the horse with Legolas, relief at having been found by the good animal too strong to wonder how or why Simoliké had found them. The rest of the journey passed in a blur...it seemed the landscape had grown hazy, and while he could remember the moment that Legolas had passed out—a moment which Aragorn was sure took a decade or two off of his own life—most of the ride seemed faint and unreal. Almost as though it had been something in a dream or a story.
"Legolas," Aragorn tried to sit up, held back by his father. "Ada, where is Legolas?"
Elrond's brow furrowed in concern as he tried, futilely, to calm the human.
Aragorn fought against the elf-lord's grip, his mind locked on his friend's words.
"It's too late."
"Estel," the steel in the elf-lord's tone brought Aragorn's focus back to his father. "If you will be calm I will tell you."
The ranger immediately quieted, staring up at the elf in apprehension. With a small, sympathetic smile Elrond simply stepped aside, gesturing to the bed beside Aragorn's.
Legolas lay curled up in the other bed, his face still pale but with more color in it than before. A blanket was drawn around his shoulders, and he looked to be sleeping peacefully.
"He was half-conscious for a while," Elrond said softly. "I tended his wound and gave him something to combat the poison, but I daresay he has no more idea than you of where he is."
Aragorn sighed in relief at the sight of his friend. "Ada, could he have died?"
Elrond glanced down at the human. "It is possible," he admitted. "He was very weak, as you were. But whether he would have matters not...what does matter is that he didn't."
The ranger silently agreed, clapping a hand over his mouth to muffle the coughs that erupted. Elrond smiled briefly, turning to a nearby table to retrieve a mug. "Drink, Estel."
Aragorn made a face at the bitter taste of the medicine his father gave him. "It won't put me to sleep, will it?" he asked worriedly.
"No," Elrond raised an eyebrow in mild amusement. "But it will make you very tired, and if you wish to sleep you should not resist the impulse."
Had Aragorn been younger, he might have pouted. "I want to be awake when Legolas wakes up."
He heard his father sigh, and fought to hide a grin. "It may not be for some time," Elrond warned Aragorn.
However, as though actively trying to belie Elrond's words, Legolas chose that moment to groan.
The elf-lord was immediately at the prince's bedside, speaking to him in hushed tones as the wood-elf slowly woke up.
His friend's sleep-confused voice brought another smile to Aragorn's face. "We made it, Legolas," he called, not even minding the hoarseness of his own voice.
The elf was quiet for a moment, as though trying to understand this. "We made it," he repeated softly.
"Aye," Aragorn's smile broadened as Elrond stepped back so the two friends could see each other.
"We're alive," Legolas said, shaking his head as though he could not quite believe it.
"Despite our best efforts," Aragorn added, his grin turning a bit more mischievous.
Legolas blinked in astonishment at his friend's words, then his eyes widened in understanding and he turned to bury his face in his pillow, suddenly helpless with laughter. Elrond looked on in concern as Aragorn started laughing as well, stopping with a wince as the movement triggered an irritated cough.
"What do you mean?" the elf-lord asked, looking from one hysterical being to the other.
Still chuckling, the ranger reached over to pat the elf-lord's hand. "It's nothing, Ada," he said, grinning over at Legolas. "Absolutely nothing."
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AN: The Smokey/Simoliké reference was also made in Departing Shadows.