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Part 2

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A few hours later, as the sun rose and the youngest of the hale rangers brought a tray filled with hot mugs to the healing tents, Kenuric returned. He brushed aside the cup that was offered to him, and stared at the cot where the son of Elrond lay. He was not surprised to see Elladan and Aragorn there, but his eyes narrowed in angry suspicion as he watched the man slowly drawing his hands in slow, sweeping gestures just a hair's width above the naked form. It appeared he was stroking the cool flesh, though no actual contact was made. The other elf stood behind Aragorn, grasping both shoulders yet obviously not restraining him. Both wore frowns of concentration, and the elf was singing.

Kenuric was outraged, but only one syllable left his mouth before Elladan had darted across the floor to silence him. "Let be! Aragorn heals with more than draughts and bandages. You will not disturb him."

Kenuric was shaking with fury but knew better than to try to force two strong warriors from the tent. Elladan said, "You may watch, but from here. Elrohir was worse this morning, and Aragorn did not want to wait to speak with you before he began."

"Of that I have no doubt!"

Watching over his shoulder to make sure the healer remained at a distance, Elladan returned and stood at the foot of Elrohir's bed. He once again began to sing softly, and saw Aragorn's head bow as the man felt the tenuous connection between himself and Elrohir strengthen. His mouth twisted as his hands stopped their slow sweeping from brow to foot, and settled to hover over the angry, reddened wound. Aragorn's lips moved silently and his splayed fingers trembled. For long minutes the tableau held, until Elrohir drew a sudden deeper breath. Elladan's song faded on a whisper and he once again went to Aragorn and took him by the shoulders. Then together they drew the blankets back over the slender form. Aragorn laid one forearm next to Elrohir and rested his head against it. His breaths came shallowly and fast. Elladan crooned softly as he rubbed soothing circles on Aragorn's back until at last he could wait no longer and asked, "How is he? Did it help enough?"

The smile he could not see was evident in the voice that answered him. "I think so, 'Dan. I will need to treat him again, but the infection yielded well."

Kenuric stepped gradually nearer until he was at the foot of the bed. He stared at the elven face, now colored with a soft blush over the high cheekbones, where before it had been grey and sunken. He watched the blanket rise and fall in an easy rhythm. His voice was hushed as he stared at an impossibility. "What…what have you done?"

Elladan answered for the exhausted ranger. "He used the gift of his line. You must know of it, for you are well learned in the lore of the Dunedain."

Kenuric crept forward and grasped Elrohir's wrist, then put a hand beneath the blanket and laid it over the elf's heart. He felt the temperature of the body and the strong pulse. He saw the eyes open and showing the glaze of reverie. "I have never seen it like this! Arathorn and Arador were skilled, and those under their care always did better than might be expected, but I never saw the likes of this." He straightened to his full height and husked, "Can you do more? Can you help others than your brother? There are two that I expect to die today - can you help them?"

Elladan spoke quickly. "He must rest first; his gift is not limitless. Mandos does not like to release those he has called."

Kenuric nodded. "So the tales say. But I will be….pleased…if he will do what he can."

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Late that same night, Kenuric sat on his own cot, in his own quarters. He was aching with weariness, and his thoughts were in turmoil. He had had an amazing day, and was not sure how he felt about the wondrous things he had seen. One man still drew breath where Kenuric had been sure he would die. Another man had two legs, when by now he should have had but one. The healer stared at his hands where they rested on his knees, limp and shaking from the strain of two days of nearly continuous surgery. His thoughts ran an endless wheel, around and around and around. Finally he gave a bark of harsh laughter and said raspingly, "So, Kenuric, now what? For more years than you care to count you have been a bad-tempered, cross-grained, callous bastard to anyone and everyone. But, withal, you knew yourself to be the finest healer the Dunedain had seen in generations. In spite of your delightful personality, you give all you are, all you have, to save the lives of your people. And now. And now! Now that…that…boy has taken that from you. He does more in an hour than you can in a week. He does things you have never dreamt of in your wildest, youthful dreams, when you first knew that you must follow the healer's path." He lay down upon his bed, still clothed in bloody robes. It was unfortunate that there were no witnesses for what followed, for none that knew him would believe it without proof. He rolled upon his side, drew his knees up until he was a huddle of misery, and wept for the second time in as many days. His tears were few, but each was as bitter as wormwood, and stung as they snaked down his cheek.

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The next morning Aragorn gathered together all those who were able-bodied and sat them down to speak with them about their situation and to discuss the problems that had led to the disastrous fiasco of two days past. Aragorn had counseled with Elladan and had come to some conclusions on the best course for the next month or so. He spoke solemnly of those who had died and those still in the healing tents. He allowed the rangers to see his grief, but did not assume a blame that Elladan had finally convinced him was not his. Next he moved on to the mistakes in tactics that had been made, which were many – for the most part not fighting as a unit, but as individuals. He concluded with, "Most of you are veterans who must look at me and wonder why you should trust your life to a young, untried Chieftain. But you have been scrounged together from wherever there can be found a remnant of the Dunedain. You have not fought together before and there are deficiencies or conflicts in weaponry, combat techniques, and much more that we can and will address. For the next month we will not engage the enemy except in dire circumstances. During that time I will make you into a force that could easily have taken those orcs without the devastation we now face. I will read a list of those who will lead training today. You heard me correctly: for the next while you will train so hard that you will pray for an attack on the camp as a distraction. Archers: Lord Elladan. Longsword: myself. Arming sword: Trallen – and pay him strict attention for he is the dirtiest fighter at close quarters that I have seen outside the Chief Advisor of Imladris. Battle formations and drills: Lord Elrohir, when he is well enough, which should be in a few days. Everyone will train at every skill, but you will train twice as many hours on your weakest. Any questions?"

Totally stunned faces stared back at him. One foolish ranger said to his neighbor, "I thought we were trained!"

Trallen called out before Aragorn had a chance to speak. "From what I saw out there, you were trained and trained well – in milling about, falling down, and getting in my way when I had a clear shot! Close your mouths before you catch flies, and a third of you follow me. Now!"

On the farthest fringe of the small crowd, a tall, lanky figure stood with arms folded across his chest. He had come to listen, then to ridicule and protest. Instead he stood still until all the men had disbursed. His thoughts were dark, and lost in the past as he stared at the strong, determined man who now commanded them. When at last only he and Aragorn remained, the son of Arathorn stared hardily back at him, chin raised slightly. The posture tore at Kenuric's memories, but after holding Aragorn's gaze with his own, he nodded once in approval, then turned abruptly away.

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That night around the fire, the rangers were tired and quieter than usual. Without much conversation and no singing, most simply stared into the flames. They turned in early, and at length only two remained.

"How did the training go today?"

"Well, I'm proud to say there are at least fifteen men who now know they have no clue what to do with a short sword. Now that they are aware of that little fact, I may actually be able to teach them something. What did you think of him, today, eh?" For the two of them, there could be only one him.

"He saw the obvious – and all it took was six deaths to do it! So now he is addressing it - it is the least to be expected."

"He looked just like his da, today, did you see?"

Remembering the raised chin, Kenuric sighed. "I saw."

"What of your day?"

"Since he honored us with a few hours of his time, I saw more miracles and wonders. It begins to bore me."

An elbow jabbed Kenuric sharply in the ribs. "Huh! Made you jealous, more like!"

Beside the old warrior, the healer stiffened. He slowly rose to his feet and said bitterly, "Thank you. It needed only that to make a perfect day." Kenuric turned away, with none of his usual presence and style. As he walked into the night, Trallen saw a defeated curve in the proud back that neither years nor hardship had been able to bend.

Trallen scratched idly at his cheek. "I wonder if the young chieftain is still awake…"

He stood and stretched out joints that were not used to throwing rangers around all day, and ambled off.

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Aragorn was sitting outside his tent, cross-legged on the ground. The reason for his apparent ostracism could be found in the thin curl of smoke that wafted upward from his pursed lips. Strangely enough, his brothers did not seem to care much for pipeweed. He looked up as footsteps approached.

"Might I have a word, Lord Aragorn? It won't take long."

"Surely. Sit on that log, it will be kinder to your knees."

"Thanks for that, after the day I've had! Now, don't look like that. You're only doing what us older ones, and the smarter young ones, too, know needed to be done. We're independent folk, even when it means our harm at times. Your father would have done the same, and rougher with it, as well! No, it's Kenuric I've come to talk to you about."

A sigh. "What has he done?"

Trallen smiled and shook his head. "Nothing. I just thought I might tell you a few things about the old badger." Aragorn choked on a mouthful of smoke and waved his pipe to indicate Trallen should continue. "I've known him since we were both boys. I'm probably the only one alive these days that's anywhere close to a friend of his."

"I am sorry to hear that, but he does seem a bit…ill-natured…for easy friendships."

"Aye, he is that. But there's two things that you are that are making life a misery for him right now."

"What might those be? Alive? Breathing?" Trallen shot him a glare and Aragorn relented. "What am I that so sticks in his craw?"

"Not Arathorn."

Dead silence met the words as Aragorn lost his relaxed mood in a heartbeat. He swallowed hard. "He meant much to him? Arathorn? Ah, forgive me, it is hard to name him father, for the father of my heart is in Imladris. Can you understand that? I honor Arathorn, I want to know more of him, I want to be someone he could be proud of, but…do you understand?"

Trallen reached over and gave a hefty pat to Aragorn's knee. "Bless you, sir, of course I do. I've noticed you're careful to call Lord Elrond by his title and name around us, and I appreciate that. No point in rubbing our noses in something we can't be all that happy about. But the elf is your da, and we all understand that. Well, most of us."

"Thank you, Trallen. So, Arathorn and Kenuric - they were friends?"

"I understand you have a good friend in an elf from some nasty, dark country."

"I'm beginning to think you are an elf yourself, the way you talk around things! Yes, I am fortunate to have the Prince of Mirkwood for a friend."

"And he's just any old friend, eh?"

"If you know even a little, you know he is not 'just any old friend.'"

"So too was Arathorn to Kenuric. And you are so like him, yet just when we think, 'there he is, in the flesh' you do something elvish, or the light shows your eyes more crystal than grey. You smile easier than he did, and, don't take me wrong, but he was not so inclined to waste time talking to a man that was born in a cowshed. A might high in the instep, was your father. That's what brought them together at first: Kenuric is noble on his mother's side. When you come striding across the camp, so like and yet not – it's tearing the heart out of him. Would you accept a son of Prince Legolas in his place?"

"Not in his place, but I would care for him all the same! I would help him, my heart would rejoice to see him, especially if Legolas was gone…."

"Well, you're of a kinder heart than Kenuric. Hell, even Sauron is some days! But think carefully. Imagine Legolas has departed to the Halls. You're at home…and you see someone from the back. Maybe he's running up the stairs, and just for a second your heart gets its fondest wish. Then he turns, and….."

Aragorn was silent for a long time. At last he said quietly, "I still say I would love him, for Legolas' sake, but it would be hard….it would be very hard…..to have him sprung upon me as an adult fully grown. The more like Legolas he was, the harder it would be. But my resemblance to Arathorn is not something I can change, Trallen. What is the other thing that I am?"

"A miraculous healer." Trallen shifted around to look Aragorn directly in the eye. "Kenuric will get over you looking like Arathorn. Eventually he will know you better, and you will become more a person in your own right. Mind you, he may not like you any better! But at least he will not lose another fiber from his heart whenever he sees you. But this other business. Ai, Aragorn, he has spent his life as a healer. There's different kinds; I expect you know that well enough. Some are gentle; they sooth fears, ease pain, and inspire trust by their very presence. A wounded man can sleep soundly and at peace in their care. But others are fighters. Kenuric is as brave a warrior as you will ever meet. His foe is death, and for him the crusade is personal. Not like it is for some, in honor of loved ones lost. Nay, he battles death because every wounded man is his, and what is his he defends with all that is in him."

"I do know that - I saw it at once. He is the sort that has no family, no lover, for every bit of passion is spent in an endless struggle. But how am I a threat? I can join him in his fight. More lives will be saved if I help him. And I cannot deny my gift anymore than he can deny his."

"I am not suggesting any such thing. I'm just telling you so that you can understand him a bit. And perhaps I feel a little sorrow that his patients cannot wait to get out of his care. In all the time I've known him, only a handful have come back to thank him for a life wrested from Mandos' very hands. He brings much of it on himself, to be sure, but the things that are said of him! 'His touch will freeze a man solid', 'He loves to cause pain'; vicious things for a healer to hear, Aragorn. The fact that he is not an easy man to love does not mean he cannot be hurt. But in spite of all, he had his purpose; he knew he was the best healer the north has seen in an Age. People came long distances to be treated by him. But now, everyone will turn to you: their young, attractive, kind,miraculous Healer-Chieftain. I think, if we cannot aid him, he may die of this."

Aragorn stared at Trallen, horrified. "You are – you must be – exaggerating!"

Trallen shook his head decisively. "No, I am not. What is that thing that elves do? When life has too much sorrow for them to bear?"

"Fade. They call it fading."

"That is exactly what Kenuric will do. He will continue to function, but he will gradually fade away. One day he will lie down and not get up again. You might say it doesn't matter, since few care for him anyway."

"Never would I say such a thing. You think this will truly happen? He will die?"

Trallen stood. "We must find a way to help him. I have talked myself blue, trying to persuade him to give you a chance, trying to convince him of his worth. But it is not enough. It is an unfair burden to place upon you, since you have done nothing to him except exist. But could you try and speak with him?"

Aragorn had also regained his feet and reached out a hand to clasp Trallen's shoulder. "I do not know if that will make things better or worse, but I will try. He is more fortunate than he knows, to have you for a friend."

"I don't know if he would go so far as to say he is my friend, but I am his, whether he will or no. Thank you, Lord Aragorn."

Trallen walked toward his tent to get some well-earned rest, but Aragorn paced slowly for an hour, until his loving brothers called to him: "Estel, get in here and lie down! We cannot rest with an oliphant marching back and forth out there!"

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Kenuric was almost pleased as he straightened from a patient's cot an hour after dawn. He bid the man sit up and swing his legs out of bed, then swiftly tied a sling in place and cradled the ranger's left arm within it. It had been a tricky bit of surgery, though it was only muscle that had been injured. The surgery had required cutting out an arrow shard a hairsbreadth away from the major artery. He spoke brusquely to the man who waited anxiously, either from concern over his condition or fear of Kenuric's tongue. "You will spend no more time malingering here. You are healed enough to attend to some light duties. Do not use this arm for another week, and let me check it every day. Do not make me seek you out!"

The ranger scrambled to his feet, ducked his head on a mumbled, "Yes, I will remember, sir," and fled. In the doorway he passed Ros coming in, and bumped the arm carrying a mug of herbal tea. It splashed upon the floor, but enough remained that the apprentice carried it to his master. Kenuric took it with an impatient sigh, but the boy did not flinch. Instead he smiled at the healer fondly. Kenuric huffed and turned away. "You look like an idiot, grinning like that."

The apprentice just smiled wider and said, "Now that you have had your tea and are feeling mellow, I have a message to deliver. Though I was tempted to tie it to a rock and just throw it in with you."

Loftily ignoring outright impudence, Kenuric snapped, "Well? What is it?"

Smile fading, Ros said gravely, "Lord Aragorn wishes to speak with you privately, at your convenience."

Kenuric stared at him for a moment, then turned and hurled his cup at the tent wall. He swore when, instead of smashing into a hundred satisfying pieces, it just rebounded and thudded on the floor. He turned to Ros, and said tightly, "Pack my things. It appears I will be rejoining Halbarad sooner than I thought. Do not pack for yourself - I want you to stay and try to keep some semblance of heal-craft going here." Without another word he pushed through the tent flap and started striding for Aragorn's tent. Halfway there he paused, then defiantly straightened his back and raised his head. He would meet whatever blow Aragorn would deliver as he had met every calamity fate had dealt him.

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Aragorn invited Kenuric into his tent as soon as he heard the healer outside his doorway. Kenuric glanced around, sneering at the touches of comfort the rangers had provided their new leader. Aragorn motioned to one of the sawn log slices that the three brothers used as chairs, and Kenuric sat down. Aragorn walked about the tent for a few minutes, repeating his mantra/Do not lose your temper. Do not lose your temper. Do not -/

"Am I to watch you perambulate for an hour or did you have something to say to me?"

/ - lose your temper./ Aragorn sat down across from the healer and leaned forward wearing his most winning expression. Kenuric leaned back, looking at Aragorn as if the winning expression was soiling his robes.

Aragorn abandoned his numerous strategies. "Kenuric, you are obviously very unhappy I am here. What can I do, given that I cannot leave, to make things better for you?"

Kenuric was flummoxed. He had expected to be harangued for not being subservient enough, among other things. Now he was thrown on the defensive. He folded his arms and said nothing.

Aragorn kept a hand from rubbing over his suddenly aching forehead through pure force of will. "All right, we will leave that for now. Can you tell me why you feel so strongly about my presence here?"

Kenuric was as brutally honest with himself as he was everyone else. But how galling to have to say it aloud to him! He choked out, teeth gritted, "You are better than I at the thing that is most important in my life. You are more than fifty years younger than I, and you heal as if you had the power of the Maiar. I have trained in Gondor, Imladris, even in Harad! But you – you prance in here and suddenly I am nothing - " He stared blankly into a hideous future. "…nothing. There is nothing to me but healing, and now that is taken away."

Aragorn said quietly, "I am beginning to see that there is a great deal more to you than your heal-craft, but we will speak of that later. I do not understand why there cannot be room for two healers here. Let us not speak of me for a moment. What of Ros? Do you keep some of your best cordials, some of your finest surgical techniques from him, so that you may always shine him down?"

Kenuric stared at Aragorn as if he had grown two heads. "What?! Of course not! I am teaching that child everything I know! And he is good at it, Aragorn, he has the calling."

"It sounds as if you are proud of him."

"Do not be ridiculous. There is nothing to be proud of; he is a bright, talented boy, when he takes a moment to actually think, and takes to healing like a duck to water. Anyone could train him."

"He loves you."

As Aragorn had expected, those particular words left Kenuric speechless. Before the healer could gather his formidable temper, Aragorn said quickly, "The first day I came, he defended you to me. He pleaded with me to see who you really are, beneath your somewhat…abrasive…manner. You have not fooled him, though no doubt it took some time for him to truly see."

"He simply shows the proper respect to his master. It is rather refreshing in these ill-mannered times."

"It is more than that and you know it. He cares for you, and here is your pitiful little secret: you care for him. Admit it. You are not an unfeeling monster who loves to cut people up. You give a damn, and that is what makes your apprentice worship the ground you walk on."

"No more of this nonsense! If there is nothing else, I will return to my duties."

"He loves you."

Kenuric was now trembling and he clasped his hands together to hide it. He looked at them as he whispered, "Stop this. Please. I cannot…do not keep saying that! ...He must not care…I…I need to shut him out…shut them all out…"

Aragorn's voice was a mere wisp of vapor; a sigh. "Why?"

"Because…if…if…I do not…then the pain will come again…and…I…not again…not again…we are warriors….if he dies…if they die….not again…never again…"

Aragorn felt a fierce ache in his chest. He was beginning to understand. He would now do as Kenuric would, ruthlessly using a scalpel and cutting as deeply as necessary. He continued, "Arathorn. All this is because of Arathorn's death."

"You…do not understand!...You cannot understand!!" Kenuric broke off, gasping. Suddenly it was all too much, and the walls began to crumble. "Arathorn!...Ai, gods, Arathorn! You were heart's brother!" He buried his face in his hands, the old grief blazing anew.

Memories of desperate times when Legolas' life hung on one breath assailed Aragorn. He suddenly realized that Kenuric was himself. Or what he might become if Legolas died and he had no one to help him through the tearing grief. Kenuric was an orphan, even as Aragorn was, but those who took him in were distant relatives who considered him a burden. Kenuric was a loner who had found one person to connect with, to call friend. To call brother-of-the-heart. But his brother had left him – suddenly, hideously, with an arrow to the eye. So he had imprisoned his heart within a wall of ice, to keep the broken remnant safe from further pain. And so well had he protected his heart that anyone who desired to help him could not get close enough to begin the thaw.

So it was, and so it continued, for a long toll of years when all was cold and hard and brittle - and safe - with nothing to trouble the uneasy, forced peace that Kenuric had established at such a high cost. Then Arathorn strode back into his life. But not truly Arathorn; a usurper, a counterfeit, who looked like but not was. Aragorn remembered Trallen's words. "Maybe he's running up the stairs, and just for a second your heart gets its fondest wish. Then he turns, and…" Aragorn wondered how he would have handled such a blow. It was a testament to Kenuric's character that he had not broken completely at the sight of his friend reborn, yet not. But this circumstance was Kenuric's best hope for healing. Now, while his spirit was off-balance, while he had to deal with seeing Aragorn each day, was the time to try to help this proud, careworn man.

Aragorn knelt beside Kenuric but did not touch him. The embrace of an Arathorn look-alike might be more than he could tolerate. But, surprisingly, Kenuric reassured him. The healer lifted his face from his hands, and said dully, "It is all right. I know you are not him. But, I am sorry - I wish you were."

Aragorn laid a hand gently on Kenuric's back and felt the muscles spasm beneath his fingers. He slowly trailed his hand up and down, and the tension relaxed a little. Aragorn rubbed more firmly, saying, "I cannot go so far as to wish to be my dead father, but I want to help you, Kenuric. Trallen said you are very courageous, and I see that it is true. If you can find just a little more, you can get beyond the greatest pain. Let me help you."

The flat voice continued, "I do not know of this kind of healing."

"I do. At least in part. Lord Elrond could help those who wanted to die of grief – elves mostly, but some humans, too. Let me help you. You see, I have a stake in this."

"What could that possibly be?

"I find that I like you, Kenuric. I want you here: barking, sneering, and healing my men. As a commander, I need you. As a man, I like you. Let me help you, Kenuric. Please, let me help you."

The healer's body shuddered for two minutes as he tried to force two small words to leave his lips. Finally he gasped out, "Very well."

Aragorn leaned his forehead against the healer's back in relief. "Good…Good. Now, just relax into my hands." Aragorn began to slowly massage the rigid shoulders. He had no aim at this point other than to relax the man and let him regain his composure. When he heard the first little sigh of pleasure, he smiled. Damn it, he really did like the 'old badger'. After a long period of silence punctuated by small gasps as Aragorn released the knots in Kenuric's shoulders, followed by more soft sighs, Kenuric asked quietly, "What do we do, Aragorn? How do you help me?"

"Do you want to continue now, or would you rather wait until you are rested? I said you need courage because the first part will cause you more pain; it may be better to wait until tomorrow, as this has not been easy for you. But I promise you, Kenuric - it will get better."

"A son of Arathorn would not make promises lightly."

"No, he would not."

Once again silence reigned while Aragorn continued his gentle ministrations, until: "Then continue."

Aragorn moved to sit across from Kenuric and asked, "Are you sure?" At the nod, he took Kenuric's hands in his and said, "Tell me about Arathorn."

"You mean tell you about your father."

"No, Kenuric. Tell me about your friend."

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Two hours later, Elrohir saw a strange sight. Kenuric was walking across the compound, tall and straight as usual, but Aragorn was holding his elbow like he was helping Kenuric to his quarters. And Kenuric was not smirking, or sneering, or shouting. Elrohir hurried to the brothers' tent, hoping Aragorn would quickly return and explain why the sun was setting in the east.

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Elrohir did not see Aragorn privately until late that night, when the brothers had their usual discussion of the day and the next day's plans.

Aragorn looked exhausted and Elladan was the one who first broached the subject. "What is happening between you and Kenuric? Whatever it is, it is taking a toll on you."

Aragorn explained the situation and the twins exclaimed over Kenuric's tragic history. Elrohir said thoughtfully, "This will be hard on you as well. Even under the best circumstances such healing of the spirit takes a great deal from the healer as well as the patient. Your situation is complicated by being Arathorn's son. What you are attempting will be painful for you, also."

"It is only that circumstance that disturbed his carefully created isolation enough for there to be cracks in its foundations. Cracks that I can use to help him."

"Yes, I do see that, and he is most fortunate that the son of his friend is a fine and compassionate healer in his own right. But you will need to speak to us about these things, or you yourself may take some harm. Adar would not let you do this if he were here."

"If ada were here, I would turn Kenuric over to him gladly – he would be the perfect one to help him. But he is not, and I must do what I can. It is strange how I have come to like Kenuric, difficult though he is."

Elladan broke in, his voice warm and fond, "You have always seen the truth within, even as a child. It is part of your gifts."

Elrohir was still being cautious. "Even if you come to like him well, he may never be able to see beyond your face. Not completely. It may be too painful for him to be friends with you."

"It is all right, Elrohir; I know that. In fact, I can hardly imagine how we could ever be good friends. I will always be a pale imitation of Arathorn in his eyes. But I can still like him, though I will try not to trouble him once this is over and he is freed."

Elladan voice was soft. "Such a wise little brother. Elrohir, he will be fine. We will help him, while he helps Kenuric." He yawned widely. "Estel will be fine. Kenuric will be fine. I will be fine and you will be fine." He yawned again, and pushed his head deeper into that soft, lovely pillow. "All fine….everyone will be….just…fine."

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And so they were, for the most part. Kenuric finally grieved for the loss of his heart's brother, and was brought to understand that his own miracles, though harder won, were as needed as anything Aragorn could do. Aragorn and Trallen were secretly pleased that the 'old badger' did not suddenly become a sweet, gentle, peaceful soul. He still made impressive entrances and exits, though Aragorn would sometimes swear there was a tiny quirk in the corner of one lip when he did so. He still did not suffer fools gladly, and in his estimation most men were fools. No one, not even the camp commander, was safe from the rough side of his tongue, and for some strange reason, this made Aragorn's heart rejoice. But there were some changes. Though Kenuric's eyes still snapped with impatience, it was no longer fueled by pain that, since it was denied, was ever-sharp. He slept more peacefully now, and woke refreshed. In the healing tents, his bedside vitriol was replaced with some of the compassion he had always had, but had never allowed to show. His voice became one that Aragorn asked for in counsel, for he cut through weaknesses in plans like his scalpels cut through flesh. He was never able to be completely comfortable in Aragorn's presence, and this was a sadness to the man, but they worked out a strange relationship where Kenuric berated the him soundly and Aragorn smiled meekly and bore it. The sons of Elrond noted that whenever Aragorn was exhausted or wounded, Kenuric would somehow be ever-present, even in their own tent, tending Aragorn with his own hands and finding fault with his brothers' ministrations.

Oh yes, about Aragorn's first command: it turned out that Elladan was quite correct, and many were the legends that grew around the deeds done by the mighty son of Arathorn, near the mountains of Angmar. The territory was cleared of evil, for the second, or was it third, time, and the villagers resettled. But Lords Elladan and Elrohir always maintained that the mightiest deed done that year was the taming of a ferocious badger.

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Fin

"He must needs go that the devil drives" Shakespeare (he helped with the title, too)