Disclaimer: Standard disclaimer applies – not mine, no money, just for fun.

Please Note - this story is AU!

Thanks to my wonderful beta Sarah for her time, patience, understanding and expert beta-ing skills. Thanks also to all of you who have stuck with me to this, the end. To those who have reviewed – I can't thank you enough for your wonderful words and support - it means the world to know there are those out there reading and liking! I wanted to thank Istnes in particular – you gave me such heartfelt and amazing reviews but my thanks just bounced back to me, so hopefully you will see this and know how very much you are appreciated! And now, the end:

Chapter 9

How to Best an Elf

They were silent Orcs, thought Gimli as he tightened his grip on his axe. He could see a ghostly figure coming towards him, hidden in the dark shadows of the forest. It moved so smoothly too, not like any Orc he had ever seen. He was beginning to doubt that it was an Orc when a low whistle justified his thinking. Gimli vaulted across Legolas' still body, prepared to face whatever new terror might await them.

"Peace Gimli!" he heard a voice cry out.

"Aragorn!" A man materialized from the shadows. It was indeed the Ranger striding quickly across the clearing, dropping to the ground at Legolas' side. Gimli felt such relief that he went weak in the knees and had to struggle to keep to his feet. "What are you doing here?"

"How is he?" the man asked, ignoring Gimli's admittedly inane question while placing a palm across the Elf's forehead. Almost at once his eyes dropped to the gash on Legolas' cheek and he cried, "Ai! Where did this cut come from? What? Did he fall from the tree again?"

"He did not fall from the tree," Gimli stated.

"Well that's a relief," the Ranger responded. "I'm not sure his pride could take two falls in one week and you witnessing them both."

"He decided to jump from the tree during an Orc attack, instead," Gimli groused. "As if he would be of any use whatsoever."

Aragorn's eyes flew open wide and he shot the dwarf a sharp look before turning to quickly attack the few clasps of Legolas' tunic Gimli had made the effort to close. "And was he?" he asked, evenly, his voice stretched taut and thin.

"Was he what?"

"Was he useful? Did he help you with the Orcs?"

"Well," Gimli grumbled. "I suppose he was at that. But at a great price, I fear." He knelt down beside the Ranger, dropping his axe to the ground, happier than he had ever been to see a human being.

Aragorn's fingers were shaking as he opened the Elf's tunic and pulled up the bandage. He uttered a relieved grunt upon seeing Gimli's handiwork. "Excellent work, Gimli. I had no idea you were such a seamstress," he said. "I suppose he ruined my hard work when he jumped from the tree?"

"Yes. Well, perhaps then," Gimli answered absently, cocking his head as he surveyed the neat row of stitches he had just made in the archer's side. "Or perhaps it was when one of those beasts planted a fist in his stomach. Or when he threw his own punch - that might have done it - or could have been when he was drawing his bow…" Aragorn's eyes widened again and he turned back to his patient, practiced hands now roving frantically up and down the archer's ribs, searching for new injuries.

"All is clear," a voice, soft and melodic said from behind them, the shock of it sending Gimli sprawling across Legolas' legs. He immediately grasped his axe again and came to his feet, at once. "Ai! Relax stunted one," the same melodic voice chimed although with an intensity that gave it surprising power. An Elf, golden haired like Legolas but broader through the shoulders stepped from the shadows. "It is a wonder your kind survives, given your appalling lack of senses." Aragorn had risen beside Gimli and placed a cautionary hand on the dwarf's shoulder.

"All is well, Gimli. This is Haldir, Marchwarden of Lórien. And these are his brothers, Rúmil and Orophin," the Ranger nodded toward two more golden-haired Elves as they stepped into the clearing. "They are here to help." All three Elves shared facial features beyond their hair that spoke of their common ancestry. They were fair as were all of their kind, but Gimli could not help but think how different their beauty was from that of Legolas'. These Elves had hard features; thin, pale lips and flint grey eyes that held no mirth. Legolas, on the other hand, had eyes the colour of the sea that seemed to reflect all that was of nature around him. There was a congeniality about him too, not the blatant suspicion that emanated from the one called Haldir who looked down his nose at Gimli with an almost tangible distrust.

"Have you ever met the Prince of Mirkwood?" Aragorn asked, stepping aside and indicating Legolas with a wave of his hand. Haldir stepped forward, frowning. The two brothers kept their vigil on the edges of the clearing.

"No," the Elf responded. "I have never met the young Prince, but I have heard of his skill with a bow." Haldir assessed Legolas with a detached eye. "He does not look like a warrior…"

Gimli bristled. "Well, neither would you look like a 'warrior', as you say," he broke in, "if you had had a poisoned arrow embedded in your ribs for days." He pushed himself between the surprised Elf and Legolas, forcing the creature back a step and then two. "An arrow that you took while trying to protect the other members of your group, I might add!" Again, Aragorn placed a hand on his shoulder. The Elf splayed his hands before him.

"Peace, stunted one. I meant no offence. You did not allow me to finish – he does not look like a warrior from Mirkwood, I intended to say. He is as golden haired as a Lórien Elf. I meant nothing against his skill, which, I have no doubt is exceptional, if what I have heard of him is true."

"Gimli," Aragorn's calm voice broke in. "Would you help me, please? I need to get this wound rewrapped and then we need to find somewhere safer to rest until Legolas is ready to travel." He tugged on Gimli's shoulder. Gimli glared a moment longer at the Elf, ignoring the flicker of amusement in the other's eyes before turning to kneel beside the Ranger, ignoring Aragorn's look of out and out shock.


They found another tree to climb and there they remained for three days and nights. Gimli sat beside Legolas for most of that time, serving as Aragorn's second in anything required and gradually coming to an understanding with the other three Elves. Aragorn was at first shocked by Gimli's fierce protectiveness as he stood guard over their incapacitated friend, with shock gradually turning to amazement.

Their friend! A Dwarf calling an Elf, friend – incredible! But Gimli did just that on several occasions, even though Legolas was unconscious and could hear none of what was said of him. And equally as incredible – the Elf allowed Gimli to help him once he was awake and aware. If Aragorn had had any idea that the result of leaving an injured Legolas in Gimli's capable hands would have resulted in such a change in their attitudes toward one another, he might have considered sacrificing the Elf to some slight injury at the very start of their journey together, a small price to pay for peace.

Beyond incredible and cause for no small measure of jealousy on Aragorn's part was the fact that Legolas allowed the helping, without complaint. Aragorn, the Elf's closest friend for many long years, rarely received that honour - he was permitted to help only after being tortured with a litany of whines and complaints, arguments and denials. Gimli offered a cup of medicine and Legolas took it. Gimli told him he could not rise and Legolas relaxed again against the blankets without a word. It might have been enough to drive Aragorn to protest if not for the sheer beauty of the quiet that reigned during the Elf's all too brief convalescence.

Legolas' fever broke, at last, and his wound stopped its incessant bleeding. It was time to go, though Aragorn insisted that they make a litter and Legolas be carried through the forest. At that point, the Elf's cooperation with any of them, Gimli included, came to an end. But with more sleeping drugs, this time hidden in his broth, once again, Aragorn won out. That took care of day one. Day two would not be so simple – Legolas awoke in a surly mood, made worse by the firm hand Aragorn placed upon his chest to hold him down when he tried to rise and the fact that the Ranger had captured both of his slender wrists in a firm hold so he couldn't escape. "Easy, Legolas. You need to relax, to rest. You will hurt yourself."

"I am fine," the Elf ground out, gritting his teeth and arching his back, trying to buck the Ranger's hand from his chest, all the while struggling fiercely to free his hands. "But I will hurt you if you don't let me up!" he threatened.

"You need at the very least another day not walking, Legolas, and you know it," Aragorn insisted, his hand pressing down harder on the Elf's chest, though concerned, even as he did that the Elf might hurt himself with his struggle. "I can see it just by looking at you. It is obvious that you are exhausted and that you hurt."

"You cannot force me, Aragorn," the archer bristled. "You do not command me! I am fine. Now, let-me-up!" He at last freed his wrists and grasped Aragorn's hand, flinging it from his chest. He rose at once to a sitting position and scooted on his backside away from the Ranger, stopping only when a tree at his back forced an end to his escape. His eyes remained wide and trained warily on Aragorn's every move.

Aragorn sighed heavily before pulling himself to his feet. "You know I want only what is best for you, Legolas."

"And I'm supposed to believe anything that comes from your mouth when all you do is lie to me and trick me?" the Elf countered.

"That is hardly all I do, my friend," Aragorn sighed again. "And besides, I never lied to you," he pointed out. "I tricked you, yes, but I never lied to you. Gimli gave you the drugged water, not I. And I never said I wouldn't put something in your broth, now, did I?"

"Humph," Legolas snorted.

Aragorn rolled his eyes. "Very well," he said, shrugging his shoulders in defeat. After all, what else could he do? Knock the stubborn creature on the head? The Elf certainly wouldn't be taking any food or drink from Aragorn's hand or Gimli's either, for that matter. And the Ranger doubted that the Lórien Elves would have any better luck – Mirkwood and Lothlórien did not share the most trusting of relationships. "I promise not to trick you," Aragorn consented. "I will not put you to sleep again against your will. Nor will I resort to violence to accomplish what you know you should do."

"And I'm supposed to believe you?" Legolas repeated, dragging himself shakily to his feet, his back still pressed against the tree as if protecting himself from a rear attack. "Humph," he snorted again.

"Eloquent, as always," Aragorn muttered. He spun away and began furiously pacing in frustration about their campsite, tucked away beside a lovely glade, making a point of avoiding the spot where Legolas stood, back planted firmly against the tree trunk. The Ranger paused and cast his gaze out across the sun-dappled field, trying to calm his worry, wondering what he might do to win another day of rest for his friend. Legolas should not be up and moving about - not yet. His wound was far from healed and he could easily break it open again, not to mention the fact that he was weak and in pain, neither of which he would ever admit. That he was even alive at this moment was nothing short of miraculous and Aragorn did not want to tempt fate any more than it had already been tempted.

He sighed heavily, recognizing that he could not force his friend to lie down on the stretcher, though he had briefly considered trying that approach. He had realized quickly that although he might have been able to wrestle the Elf onto it and perhaps could also have managed to tie him there, given Legolas' weakened condition, he could very well end up causing more harm than good if he tried; harm to the Elf's health and even to their friendship, if only temporarily - Legolas could be proud to the point of ridiculous, even dangerous, at times as witnessed by his present behaviour. He was his father's son, in that respect. Aragorn was about to start his useless pacing once more when something in the waving grass caught his observant eye. He stood watching for a moment, letting the sight soothe his frazzled nerves until a sudden thought filled his head. And gave him hope. He turned to face the Elf. "I promise not to trick you but I demand that you give me the opportunity to win your acquiescence."

"And why would I do such a thing?" Legolas responded, his eyes narrowed with suspicion.

"Because to not do so would be to admit that the dwarf is more capable than you are."


Aragorn smiled. This was going to be easier than he had thought. "Eloquent and predictable," he snorted but not so quietly that the Elf didn't hear.

Legolas folded his arms smugly across his chest. "Predictable perhaps. A predictable winner."

"We shall see about that," Aragorn stated, unable to keep the grin from his face.

"So," Legolas said, ignoring him and warming to the subject. "What is this task you set before me that will prove me more capable than a dwarf."

"A simple matter, really. If you are so healthy that you can walk, well, then, you can walk across that field there and get to the other side before Gimli does." Legolas moved carefully toward the edge of the glade, keeping a wary eye on Aragorn, as if the Ranger might suddenly attack him. He sized up the distance before turning back, his eyes once again narrowed with suspicion.

"You must be jesting, of course."


"Then you have no intention of keeping your word, or you are trying to trick me again."

Aragorn gazed at him, patiently. "I promise you Legolas, on our friendship, I neither lie to you nor do I trick you. I want what is best for you only, but will not attempt to achieve that without your agreement in the matter. I can only accomplish that, I believe, by the means I put before you now. You will be the one to decide your fate. Not I. You have my word."

"I have only to cross this field ahead of Gimli and you will allow me to walk the remainder of the distance to Lórien," Legolas stated, disbelief edging his every word.

Aragorn nodded, solemnly.

"Say it aloud, Aragorn. I do not want it to be said that I 'misinterpreted' your nod."

"Yes. That is correct. Make it across this field ahead of Gimli and I will allow you to walk the remainder of our journey."

"With your blessing."

"Nay! That I will not say. It will not be with my blessing that you walk and likely send your stubborn self to the Halls of Mandos but I will allow you to walk unhindered by my complaining and wheedling."

It took Legolas but a moment to accept the offer. "Very well. I accept your terms and your contest. Where is Gimli?" Predictable indeed!

The dwarf appeared at just that moment, having been scouting the area for Orcs along with Haldir. The other two Elves had been listening, with veiled amusement, to the banter between Prince and Ranger, curious, but not understanding what was happening.

"I am here," Gimli stated. "Have you had some sense driven into that flighty head of yours, Elf? Walking is hardly an option for you in your condition and I would like to get on with it. I've been promised a good meal in Lórien and I would dearly love to have a good meal. I certainly don't want you slowing us down any more than you already have." Gimli chuckled at the dark glower that sprang to Legolas' face.

"Gimli," Aragorn broke in quickly. "Since you are so anxious to arrive at Lórien soon, I have managed to wring from our friend here an agreement that if he can beat you in a foot race across this field then he will walk the rest of the way to Lórien. I think that would prove that he is indeed well enough if he can manage such a feat. If he loses, he will allow himself to be carried, without complaint." Gimli placed a hand to his forehead, shielding his eyes from the morning sun as he examined the path that Aragorn indicated.

"Across there?" he asked, his voice rising at the end.

"Yes," Aragorn answered, calmly.

"Yes, Gimli," Legolas chimed in. "That shouldn't be difficult for you. I am after all merely a flighty headed Elf. No reason you can't beat me, now is there, given my 'condition', as you put it?"

"Well, no, I suppose not," he answered ignoring Legolas completely as he turned back around, instead pinning the Ranger with an incredulous look. "My legs are, after all, half the length of yours and I'm wearing chain mail versus your leggings and light tunic. No problem at all, I would say."

"Now Gimli," Aragorn placated, placing a hand on the dwarf's shoulder. "You have only to remember what you know of your friend and this shouldn't prove to be difficult at all."

"What I know of my friend…"


Legolas shot Aragorn a warning look. "No tricks, Aragorn. Remember? You promised."

"No tricks," Aragorn answered, splaying his hands before him. "I am only reminding Gimli that he knows you better than he thinks. Knows you better than you know yourself, I believe."

"Highly unlikely." Legolas responded turning away. "When do we begin?"

"Why, now I think. We need to get moving or we'll get nowhere today. Gimli?"

The dwarf sighed, shrugged his shoulders and started for the Elf's side. Aragorn stopped him, placing a hand, again, on his shoulder. "Remember, Gimli, what I told you?"

"Told me?"

"Do not assume for a minute that you can take Legolas on in anything. You will need wiles in order to best him. And, I believe, Gimli, that you are up to the task. You are a most observant individual." Gimli gazed at Aragorn long and hard. Suddenly, his eyes widened and understanding, at last, dawned.

"I would like to walk the path first, Elf," he said, eyes still on Aragorn, a smile quirking his lips. "I think I might need to check the terrain."

Legolas spun around to face both man and dwarf. "Oh, no you don't. You two have conspired against me before. I won't fall for that again. Just as Aragorn promised, Gimli, so must you."

"Promise what?"

"That you will do nothing to trick me in this test."

"You have my word, Elf. I will not trick you." The Elf continued to regard the dwarf uneasily for a moment but at long last relented and stepped back, waving a hand toward the open field.

"Very well, but if you think I will acquiesce if you cheat, you are mistaken."

"You will acquiesce, Elf, because you will lose," Gimli chortled, his confidence firmly in place as he wandered out slowly across the field. Legolas kept a keen eye on him as he went. He had gone only partway across the field when he turned and scurried back.

"Very well, Elf. I am ready," he stated serenely, ignoring the look of suspicion Legolas cast him.

"Now, the one rule of this race…" Aragorn began.

Legolas interrupted with a groan. "I knew it! Already a rule. This will not be a fair race, I'm sure. What do I have to do – race on my knees?" Aragorn rolled his eyes.

"No, not on your knees. The only rule is that you must walk. You cannot run. Is that so difficult, Legolas? You can certainly out-walk a dwarf, can you not?"

"Of course I can. No trouble at all." He ignored Gimli though the daggers being thrust into the side of his head from the dwarf's eyes must have stung all the same. The two lined up beside each other. Legolas was smiling brightly, seemingly relaxed, though Aragorn could easily sense the fatigue that hummed through his body and the pain that he fought to control, the entire reason for this contest. The Elf needed at least a week before he should perform any sort of physical exertion, at all. Aragorn knew he would be lucky if he managed to keep the stubborn fool down for another day. He would use his own Elven taught wiles to see if he could bring that about, knowing that if Legolas were remotely healthy, this ploy of his would never work. Still, even given Legolas' less than stellar health, success rested squarely on Gimli's shoulders.

The other three Elves looked on in amusement as Aragorn began to count. At three the two mismatched opponents both took off walking, Aragorn following at a discreet distance. Legolas, of course, took the lead at once but did not capitalize on it. He instead took the opportunity to lord over the dwarf that he was infinitely faster. He sped up then slowed down, pausing to let Gimli get a little in front before taking off again and passing him. Gimli, serious as could be, put his head down and just walked, straight and even, not too fast, not too slow. Midway across the glade, he stopped. "Why, look here!" he said, turning slightly and gazing out across a field of wild flowers, his hands clasped behind his back. Legolas stopped and sauntered back, his eyes wary but eager too, joining Gimli in his contemplation of the beauty spread out before them.

The Elf had been trained since before he could walk to be careful, watchful, and ever vigilant. At any moment a spider could strike, an Orc or a Warg attack. But this was a quiet glade with a man and a dwarf nearby, armed and dangerous, not to mention three fellow Elves guarding their backs. Legolas let down his guard though Aragorn was quite certain that if he had been himself, he would not have. Then again, when the sight that Gimli's eyes rested upon caught Legolas' attention as well, Aragorn couldn't have sworn that even if the field had held a horde of Orcs and a pack of Wargs, the Elf wouldn't have done exactly what he did. Aragorn, in fact, was counting on it. Legolas let out a soft cry and took several steps off of the path before dropping to his knees in the field of flowers.

"Butterflies!" he cried, holding his arms out before him as if beckoning the tiny creatures to come to him. And come to him they did. They fluttered around him, lighting on his shoulders, his arms, his golden head. Gimli seemed himself to be mesmerized, not part of the plan at all. "Look Gimli!" the Elf called. "Look at their colours. Aren't they beautiful?" The dwarf took a step off the path too, only to be stilled by a hand to his shoulder followed by a stern look from Aragorn.

"Yes, Elf, they are," the dwarf answered, though his attention was back where it needed to be.

Aragorn moved off of the path while simultaneously pulling Gimli back onto it and knelt beside his friend. "Do you know why their wings are such bright colours and carry such an intricate pattern?" he asked.

Legolas responded without taking his eyes off of a particularly beautiful specimen that had landed, trustingly, on his chest, "No. Do you?"

Aragorn laughed. "Of course, I know everything, do I not? I am a Ranger after all," he smirked. Legolas rolled his eyes, still concentrating on the butterfly clinging to his tunic. "Agree or I shan't tell you."

"Well, you certainly know more than I do about butterflies," Legolas admitted, chuckling. "Tell me or I'll command this one to attack." he grinned, his finger gently nudging the one still clinging bravely to his chest. "I sense he likes me and would do my bidding."

"Well that is something you know about butterflies that I do not," Aragorn laughed. "I never heard of one who would attack on command, certainly not at the command of a flighty Elf."

Legolas, only half-listening, ordered, "Well, believe it and continue, or risk annihilation."

"Very well, very well. I bow to you. The fear of being attacked by a butterfly renders me helpless before you." With a quick glance to Gimli after ensuring that Legolas was still engrossed in observing the butterfly on his chest, Aragorn began his explanation. "The colour and design of a butterfly's wings are used both to repel and attract. See this?" With a finger hovering above one golden wing, Aragorn traced a dark line that formed an intricate pattern across the velvety surface. "It allows the butterfly to blend into its surroundings, when viewed from above, so that birds cannot identify them as prey." Legolas leaned closer, his forehead nearly touching Aragorn's as they both examined the tiny insect. "And they are used also to attract a mate," Aragorn finished, a smile quirking his lips.

"Repel and attract," Legolas grunted, approvingly.

"Yes, much like how your own beauty repels and attracts," Aragorn chided, digging his elbow gently into Legolas' uninjured side. "Repels lovely maidens but attracts all manner of Orcs and wargs and spiders." Legolas however was having none of it, still entranced by the butterfly that had taken wing from his tunic and now darted about his head.

"I refuse to listen to you," he said, a rapt smile fixed upon his face.

"Well," a voice called from afar. "Perhaps you will listen to me!" Legolas turned toward the voice, recognizing in an instant what had happened. He leapt to his feet but it was too late - much too late. Gimli stood at the far end of the clearing, one step away from victory. He lifted his leg high and stamped it into place. Legolas gave a soft moan.

"You tricked me," he muttered under his breath to the Ranger still kneeling at his side.

"I did no such thing," Aragorn stated, offended. He drew himself to his feet. "You tricked yourself. No one forced you to stop and have a conversation about butterflies."

"But you knew they were here before you made this wager with me."

"Aye, I'll admit to that."

"And Gimli did not think of this on his own."

"I did not tell him anything, Legolas. I merely set up the circumstances. Perhaps he knows you fairly well after observing you so closely these last weeks. I think the only time he was not observing you on this journey was when he was at last forced to sleep. I believe he has learned a few things about you in that time. Can you not say the same of him?"

Legolas gazed out across the field, toward the dwarf who was now dancing blithely back and forth from foot to foot, shouting. "Other than the fact that dwarves cannot dance?" he grumbled.

"Yes, other than that."

"Or sing," he added, grimacing, when Gimli's shouts turned into something sounding much like the squeals of a wild pig caught in a trap.

"Other than that, too."

"Hmm." Legolas' eyes narrowed and he pursed his lips. Aragorn could only hope that the Elf thought further on the question posed and not on devising some way out of his promise. He was rewarded when, suddenly, a soft smile broke across his friend's face. "Perhaps I can," the Elf mused.

"Good things?"


"Such as?"

Legolas cocked his head, the smile still quirking the corners of his lips. "Dwarves are hard headed," he said, chuckling.

"And, what else?" Aragorn prodded.

"They are fierce warriors. I would not want to face one in battle."


The light air about the Elf faded and he sobered, the smile turning thoughtful and – bemused. "They are loyal, to a fault. Gimli would have died ere he would have allowed anything to happen to me. He owed me nothing, Estel. He did not even like me..."

"I do not believe that," Aragorn avowed, shaking his head. "Not for a moment. But yes, loyal Gimli is, and that is a trait of most Dwarves I have met."

"And stubborn. Ai! He would not see reason if it hit him between the eyes!"

An answering smile had begun to grow on Aragorn's face. "Yes, stubborn is a good way to describe Gimli. Loyal, stubborn. What else?"

"Honest and forthright and true. I would stake my life on the fact that he would do what he said he would do, if he could. That he would speak the truth, at all cost. That if he would ever call me friend, that I would have him as one for life, no matter how foolish or idiotic or "flighty" I might be."


"If he would ever deign to call me that."

"You are observant, young son of Thranduil," Aragorn asserted, placing a hand on Legolas' shoulder. "Those are indeed traits I would have said of Gimli too. And what is most intriguing, my friend, is that those traits describe someone else I know. Loyal, stubborn, honest, forthright and true. One who I am honoured to call friend and who stands before me now, humbled by a dwarf." Legolas rolled his eyes. "One," Aragorn continued, ignoring the look, "whom is also called friend by a Dwarf, though few in Middle Earth would believe such a thing could happen."

At once, a dazzling and dimpled smile lit Legolas' face and Aragorn felt a deep, abiding joy, something he had not felt since, well, he could not even remember how long it had been. He only wished that Gandalf were here to see it, for it had been the wizard who had remarked after a particularly trying day between Elf and Dwarf that the two were more alike than dissimilar and could be fast friends if only they could get beyond their prejudices. He had seen something Aragorn could not have imagined to be there. But, as in most things, the wizard had proven to be correct.

Legolas winced and sucked in his breath and though he continued to smile, fine lines of pain surrounded his upturned lips. He shuddered too, though he tried to hold himself stiff against it, but Aragorn, his hand still grasping the Elf's shoulder felt everything, the pain, the exhaustion, the struggle to hold it all in. It was enough to bring him back to the issue at hand. "You have lost the bet, mellon-nîn. You know what that means," he said as he turned to face his friend. The smile vanished from Legolas' face and he dropped his head to stare at the ground.

"Please, Aragorn. It is - humiliating."

"I am sorry, Legolas. I would never do anything that would hurt you. You know that. But I also have my responsibilities. You should not be walking," he said, his voice taking on a pleading note. "You should not even be standing right now. Give me this one day and I promise that tomorrow, if your wound looks better and your strength has improved, I will allow you to walk some of the way. I will not have you enter Lórien on a stretcher, if it can be avoided. It would not do your pride any good, nor would it help me to have word of such a thing reach your adar's ears."

"He would not hold you responsible…"

"Humph." Legolas' head shot up and he punched Aragorn in the arm.

"Eloquent as always, Ranger."

Aragorn squeezed his friend's shoulder tightly, drawing him near, resting his forehead lightly against the other's. "I will never, if it is in my power, allow you to be hurt, or to suffer. I'm sorry if that bothers you or if you don't approve of my methods. But there it is. I will be no other way."

"Eloquent and predictable," Legolas muttered, though his voice was tender and the Elf relaxed, for a moment, against him. Aragorn savoured the moment before a soft clearing of the throat behind him brought him back to the needs of the present. He pulled away, giving the shoulder beneath his hand a gentle squeeze before motioning to Haldir, Rúmil and Orophin to move forward.

"You may bring the litter. I believe our friend will submit now that he has been bested by a dwarf."

Legolas winced but the wince turned into a rueful smile. "I have no one to blame but myself," he allowed. He raised his head again, the rueful smile turning to a sly one. He quickly pulled away from Aragorn's grip, turning to run in full flight. "But that will not stop me from blaming someone else, too, anyway. And I think the dwarf is ripe for my revenge."

"Legolas! Do not run! I swear, Elf! No running!" Aragorn shouted, fingers grasping at the soft fabric of the tunic that had only a breath before been within his reach. But Legolas was already halfway across the glade. Gimli had stood for a moment, innocent and unaware that he was now a target. He caught on quickly when the first clop of sod hit him between the eyes.

"Why, you Elf!" He reached down to grab a clump of his own and return the favour, only to find that the Elf had leapt into the tree, high above his head. A fall of water soaked him thoroughly as Legolas jumped back and forth on the dew-laden branches. "Get down here!" the dwarf sputtered. "Get down here and I'll tie you to that litter myself. Do you hear me? Get down here!"

The next day they entered Lórien, Haldir and Aragorn leading the way, Rúmil and Orophin in the middle and a dwarf and an Elf bringing up the rear. The two in back had spent the entire morning squabbling and bickering back and forth, forth and back, until the rest of the group had resorted to threats of binding and gagging if they would not cease their endless arguing. In an instant, the two had joined together, turning as one to face their enemies. Hands raised, the rest of the group had backed off. Moments later, the two were at it, again as if nothing had ever happened to interrupt their 'discussion'. They entered Lórien united, whatever differences they once had, forgotten, or at the very least, relegated to some distant woodpile not to be revisited again for the duration of their journey together, a journey that would extend far beyond the quest to destroy the one ring, a journey that would last a lifetime for one of them and an eternity for the other.

The End

"Legolas was away much among the Galadhrim and after the first night he did not sleep with the other companions, though he returned to eat and talk with them. Often he took Gimli with him when he went abroad in the land, and the others wondered at this change." Fellowship of the Ring, The Mirror of Galadriel.