Title: The price of friendship

Rating: K+

Summary: On their journey to Imladris, Legolas and Aragorn not only meet rather unfriendly orcs, but other bad things as well. Will they ever make it to the Last Homely House?

Disclaimer: They are not mine and I think they are grateful for that.

A/N: Written for the Teitho Challenge "That's a first" (2nd place).

Chapter 1: Orc attack

"Legolas, behind you!" Aragorn's shouted, watching horrified as a huge orc hurled himself at Legolas, scimitar raised.

Legolas ducked the mighty swing in the last possible moment and thrust his own knives into the beast's chest, killing it instantly. With a nod of thanks in Aragorn's direction, Legolas tightened his hold in his knives, before he engaged the next orc in battle.

Aragorn and Legolas had been travelling from Mirkwood to Imladris, and they had been only a few leagues from the valley when a band of orcs had attacked them. The elven patrols from Imladris had worked hard to secure the roads leading from the West to the East, eliminating many orcs. The rest of them were now bent on killing each human, elf or dwarf they saw. They were mean and pitiless, vicious and deadly.

Assured that Legolas was holding his own, Aragorn took a deep breath and fought on. There were only a few orcs left, but blood lust stood in their eyes. They had seen their comrades fall, and that made them even more wild.

Swinging his sword with both hands, Aragorn killed another orc, but more came coming. He could hear Legolas fighting behind him, his twin knives swishing through the air in a deadly dance. Panting from exhaustion, Aragorn blinked a few times in rapid succession, before he side stepped a thrust meant to decapitate him. A strong sword stroke of his own killed the orc, but Aragorn had no time to even watch the beast fall.

With a grunt and a howl of fury, another orc attacked him, making their blades collide in mid air. The might behind the orc's swing was strong enough to force Aragorn to his knees. He hit the ground hard, and with a moan of pain, Aragorn quickly rolled to the side to avoid being hacked in two. But, he was not quick enough. The long journey from Mirkwood to Imladris had already tired him, as well as the fight. It was enough to slow his movements a fraction; and it was all the orc needed.

Shrieking, the beast plunged it rusty blade into Aragorn's unprotected side. Searing pain erupted in his chest, and an unearthly scream of agony broke forth from his lips, chilling his own blood. With a gleeful roar the orc pulled his blade back, now red from Aragorn's blood, holding it high into the air as a token of victory.

It was the last thing it ever did, for in the next moment a white handled knife found its home in the orcs throat, killing it slowly. Aragorn however, never saw the beast sink through its knees, blood bubbling from its cut neck, did not see the orc thrash on the ground, before the light disappeared out its yellow eyes and it died.

The pain in his side was so intense that it seemed to swallow him whole, and the rest of the world with him. All was a red haze, all sound gone, and Aragorn did not even realize that he had his eyes tightly shut and his hands pressed over the vicious wound. His warm blood was running over his hands and seeped through his fingers, staining the forest ground.

Suddenly, strong hands gripped his own, trying to pull them away from the wound, and the pain this caused was so intense that Aragorn screamed in agony again, his voice sounding strange even in his own ears. But the other hands would not let go, prying his fingers away mercilessly. In pain and confused, Aragorn lashed out, hitting something soft, but his arms were quickly caught, his limbs restrained. The struggle was more than Aragorn could take. With a sob of pain, he let himself fall into the waiting darkness and felt no more.

Awareness came not with the slow, brain jumbling haze that Aragorn knew from former experiences of unconsciousness, but with a hot, searing pain in his side that brought him to full awareness in but a few seconds. His first reaction was to get away from whatever was causing him so much agony, but again two strong hands restrained him, holding him down.

"Strider, lie still!"

Recognizing the voice, Aragorn stopped his struggles to break free and instead blinked his eyes open. The face looming above him was out of focus, and he needed a few tries until his eyes could adjust to the light around him and make out the face of Legolas, looking down at him.

"Legolas?" He asked weakly, his voice sounding hoarse.

"Aye, it is me. Stay still, or the wound will open again." Legolas answered, his voice sounding slightly frustrated. It was dark, so Aragorn assumed that he had been unconscious for at least some hours. When he turned his head, he could just make out the corpses of a few orcs. Legolas and he had obviously not yet left the place of battle.

"Here, drink this." Legolas helped Aragorn to take a few sips of water, but every movement caused Aragorn pain, and he could not drink as much as Legolas wanted him to. With a sigh, Legolas helped him to lie down again, before he replaced the water flask at his belt. With a sight, Legolas looked down on him.

"Are you in much pain?"

This was such a stupid question that Aragorn simply blinked at the elf sitting beside him. He had known Legolas for almost a year now and had joined him on numerous patrols in Mirkwood. Aragorn had thought that he had come to know Legolas quite well by now, although he knew that there were many things about Legolas that he did not know yet. But, he had never heard the Prince of Mirkwood ask such a stupid question.

When he did not answer, Legolas leaned closer, "Strider?"

Knowing that there was no sense in lying, Aragorn nodded weakly, "Yes, I'm in pain. Much pain."

In the darkness, Aragorn could not really make out Legolas's face, but he thought to see concern flicker through Legolas's eyes. When the elf spoke, though, his voice sounded as it always did when Legolas talked to him, a bit cold but polite, "Then we will rest here till the morrow, and then leave this stained place. You should rest."

And although he had not said it, Aragorn had no problem hearing the 'human' at the end of the sentence. Nodding, he closed his eyes, trying to block out the pain, and faster as he had thought possible, he fell asleep.

Morning dawned with frost on the grass and a clear blue sky. Birds were singing and greeting the dawn, while fawn and stag munched on the fresh grass. That was, until a loud yell shattered the peaceful stillness, making them flee.

The nightmare had been horrid, waking Aragorn from his troubled sleep with a yell on his lips. Again, Legolas was quickly at his side, keeping him from sitting up.

"Don't move too quickly, Strider. It was but a dream. You are safe, the orcs are all dead and cannot hurt you anymore." His voice sounded almost as if he was talking to a child, and while Aragorn tried to still his raged breathing, he berated himself for showing his weakness so openly. Legolas was maybe one of the best friends of his brothers, and he was no longer a stranger to him, but they were no real friends either; at least not on Legolas side. Ever had the elven Prince been wary around him, and although Aragorn knew that Legolas harboured no bad feelings against him, it was a long way between travel companions and friends.

During his visit to Mirkwood, Aragorn had tried so hard to gain the Prince's respect, to be strong and independent just like his brothers, and now he was lying on the ground, whimpering like a small child after a bad dream.

Wiping a hand across his face and rubbing his eyes, Aragorn took a steadying breath, "I'm fine."

Legolas lifted an elegant eyebrow and looked down on him for a moment, before he rose to his feet, "We should leave this place and head for your home ere the maladorousness of the orcs crawls into our leg wear."

This time, it was Aragorn who lifted an eyebrow, shaking his head at Legolas's choice of words. Elves…

While Legolas broke their camp, doused the fire and packed their packs, Aragorn gathered his strength and prepared himself for the journey that lay ahead of them. Imladris was not far away, they should reach it shortly after nightfall, and with a bit of luck, they would even run into a border patrol. Not for the first time, Aragorn regretted the fact that they had not taken any horses with them, but the animals would only have been a hindrance on their track over the mountains and through the woods.

All too soon for Aragorn's liking, Legolas knelt down beside him, "Are you ready to resume our journey, Strider?" His clear blue eyes scanned Aragorn's body, and a small frown marred his features, but he said nothing more.

"Aye, I am." With Legolas's help, Aragorn lifted himself into a sitting position, wincing when the wound in his side send fiery stabs of pain throughout his body. He pressed a hand against the injury to stabilize it, feeling the tight bandages that Legolas must have applied while he had been unconscious, then tried to get to his feet. Had Legolas not supported him, he would have landed flat on his back again.

"Strider? Are you alright?" Was there real concern in the elf's voice? Aragorn was not sure.

"Aye, but I think I need a bit of help here." Taking a deep, slow, steadying breath, Aragorn let Legolas take him under the arms and slowly, ever so slowly, put him into an upright position. The moment he stood on his own two feet, the world swam in front of his eyes, and he leaned heavily on the Prince until the dizziness passed.

"Can you stand unaided, Strider? Then I can fetch our packs." Legolas asked cautiously, and when Aragorn nodded, he let go of his supportive hold on the young ranger. For a heartbeat longer he stood next to Aragorn, as if afraid that Aragorn would tumble to the ground any second, but when Aragorn only swayed a bit and then found his balance, Legolas quickly fetched their packs, flung them over his shoulder and then rolled up the blanket Aragorn had rested on. Flinging that over his slim shoulders as well, Legolas took a last look around. "I think we can leave here now, the forest will deal with the evil that lies here."

Swallowing thickly, Aragorn took another deep breath to master the pain he was in, before he nodded, "Nature is stronger than man- or elfkind ever will be. It was here before we were and will exist long after we are all gone."

"Wise words, for one so young." There was a twinkle in Legolas's eyes, but it was gone as quickly as it had appeared. Instead, the small frown reappeared, "Let us set out ere we grow roots." Legolas hesitated, before he added, "Do you require my aid in walking, Strider?"

Aragorn quickly shook his head. His side was on fire and already he could feel cold sweat break out on his body. His legs were not feeling that steady either, but he had been injured before and knew that it would get better once he was walking. Well, at least until a certain point, but as long as he was able to walk unaided, he would not encumber Legolas with his weight.

"I can walk unaided, at least for now."

Legolas looked him over once more and shifted the packs on his shoulders, "Do not hesitate to tell me when you feel unwell, young ranger, for then we will rest. Although my heart desires to reach Imladris as soon as possible, we should not make undue haste and risk worsening your state."

Sighing inwardly, Aragorn nodded, "No, that would be utterly undesirable."

For a moment, Legolas's lips twitched upwards, but he simply tilted his head slightly and gestured for Aragorn to proceed him. "After you."

In too much pain to speak what was burning on his tongue, Aragorn slowly began the walk to his home. At first, his steps were slow and he staggered often, but after a while he walked himself into a state of ignorance, and his mind was mostly blank so that he would not feel the pain the injury caused him.

Legolas never left his side, was always only a foot behind or beside him. His presence was reassuring to Aragorn, for he knew that Legolas would not let him fall should he stumble, and that he was at the same time keeping an eye out for more trouble that could hinder their passing. Where one band of orcs was, the next one was never far away.

They stopped frequently, giving Aragorn the time to rest and gather new strength. While Aragorn rested, Legolas would climb the highest tree around and peer into the distance, trying to catch sight of the smoke of a fire or any other sign that an elven patrol was near. Alas, his sharp eyes saw nothing and no one.

Around midday, Aragorn felt himself drift out of his pain induced stupor, and he knew that he had reached the point where he would not be able to sink down into it again. During the last hour, the pain in his side had worsened; it felt as if a sharp edged knife was again and again plunged into his side, and he now constantly felt the copper taste of blood on his tongue, although he knew that he most likely had no internal injuries.

Legolas had quickened his steps slightly and was now walking in front of him, only a bit, never too far away. Taking a shuddering breath, Aragorn felt the world suddenly grow dim, and he reached out quickly to steady himself against a tree trunk. He kept his eyes closed until the spell passed, but he knew that he could not go on without another rest. He was just to tell Legolas, when the elf called over his shoulder, "I can see the Ronasire (Eastriver) shining through the trees!"

Letting out a sigh, Aragorn pushed himself away from the tree he was leaning against. That they had reached the river did not only mean that he would be able to rest for some minutes, but the river also indicated that they had made better progress than he had anticipated; they had made it a third of their way in the morning.