a/n: I don't own these characters, and couldn't be held responsible for what I might do if I did. No one pays me for this work.

Legolas sat quietly, watching the dying fire. His was the first watch; he would wake Gimli in a few hours. While he knew the others disliked taking the watch, being uneasy in the deep forest, Legolas welcomed the solitude. This forest was not familiar to him, yet he felt at home; besides, there were some things that required his attention, and more serious thought than he could give during the day, surrounded by hostile Orcs, strange Men, cheerfully noisy Hobbits, and one grouchy Dwarf. And Aragorn. Aragorn was not the least of Legolas' distractions.

Aragorn, son of Arathorn. Legolas had known Aragorn before the Council of Elrond, and though Legolas had always sensed the Man's latent nobility and heroism, he had never seen it in action until this journey. To himself, Legolas admitted that it had been part of his reason for coming along -- he had been curious to see what had become of Aragorn, and whether his destiny had begun to assert itself. More than curious, in truth, and this was what Legolas desired time to think over.

But he had no chance to pursue his thoughts further, for he was interrupted by a noise, coming from Aragorn's bedding area, which only the Elf's sensitive hearing could pick out. Legolas looked over at Aragorn, and saw that though he was asleep, he was clearly agitated. His head was tossing anxiously from side to side, his eyes were darting frantically behind his eyelids, and his hands -- one was gripping tightly to his bedding, while the other was clutching convulsively at his chest and neck. Legolas quickly walked to where Aragorn lay, and knelt beside him. He watched closely, thinking at first that Aragorn might be suffering some sort of physical attack, but Aragorn's unlabored, if fast, breathing told him it was not so; therefore he was probably experiencing some disturbing dream, and Legolas decided to wake him.

He reached out a hand and allowed it to rest gently on Aragorn's, laying on his chest. Legolas had meant to shake him slightly, but to his surprise Aragorn quieted almost at once, his hands becoming still and his body relaxing. But when Legolas, satisfied that Aragorn's nightmare was ended, began to pull away, the Man stiffened, and gasped, and his eyes began rolling behind his eyelids again. Legolas instinctively covered Aragorn's hand once more with his own, and when Aragorn again relaxed into tranquil sleep, Legolas sighed, and rearranged himself so that he was sitting cross-legged, more comfortable than kneeling. He gazed down at Aragorn's chest, where his own long hand was curved protectively around Aragorn's rough, calloused fingers, both hands rising and falling with Aragorn's breathing, now deep and even. And Legolas sat, and kept the watch, and did not wake Gimli.

*****

The morning was as bright and clear as could be expected in the deep wood, and Aragorn found himself lightened and warmed by the sunlight. He had come awake that morning to find Legolas sitting, staring at the dead embers, and Gimli still snoring peacefully. When Gimli did wake, and asked Legolas why he had not woken him for his watch, Legolas had replied innocently that the Dwarf had seemed to need the rest that night. Gimli had made an indignant, untranslatable answer in Dwarvish, and stomped off into the trees.

Since then, they had walked many miles, and yet Aragorn was not tired, and still felt as if he were surrounded by a strange mist of sunlight and song, even in these dank woods. He knew he had slept better the last night than he had since the journey had begun, and he felt light-hearted, even when he noticed Legolas watching him with a peculiar intensity as they traveled. Aragorn reflected that while Legolas probably thought he was being quite covert in his attention, it was difficult, as Aragorn was watching the Elf just as closely. But, the Man interrupted himself, this was all something to be dealt with later, after their Quest had been accomplished, if it were ever accomplished. Nevertheless, Aragorn was aware of Legolas' eyes on him, and his heart was not less light for the knowledge.

*****

That night, the watches were assigned to Gimli (since he was now so well-rested) and Boromir. As the Dwarf settled in by the fire, Legolas wrapped himself in his blanket, but knew he would not be able to rest until he had seen Aragorn sleeping peacefully. Aragorn fell asleep almost instantly, but began at once to shift anxiously in his bedding, and made small, but obviously pained, sounds. Legolas could hear Aragorn's distress, but Gimli and his fire were on the other side of the camp, and the Dwarf's ears failed to pick up the noises.

Legolas crept silently to Aragorn's sleeping area, and watched the Man for a moment. He was tossing and flinching as he had the night before, and his hands lay by his sides clutching at the blankets. Legolas reached out and touched the hand nearest him, softly. When it had no effect on Aragorn, he let his fingers wrap around Aragorn's hand, holding it gently, but securely. Aragorn became calm in his body, yet Legolas could see that his face was still tense, his eyes flickering and his mouth moving slightly. He reached with his other hand to touch the Man's dark hair, and smoothed it away from his face.

The action seemed to soothe Aragorn, for his motions slowed and his face looked less haggard. Legolas repeated the gesture, and allowed his long fingers to trace Aragorn's face from his brow to his temple and along his jaw line. Then, without forming any clear idea of what he meant to do, the Elf leaned down and pressed his lips very softly to Aragorn's forehead, where his fingers had been seconds earlier. Legolas closed his eyes and inhaled deeply, drawing in the scent of the Man, and moved his lips to follow the path his fingers had traced. How many times he kissed Aragorn's brow, how many times he murmured the Man's name to himself, how long the moment lasted, Legolas could not say. In fact he hardly knew what he did, only that to be this close to this Man whom he'd admired proudly and followed unquestioningly, this was happiness. Even when the Man did not even know of his presence; even though he could not -- would not -- return the emotion.

So lost in this unfamiliar intimacy was Legolas, that he did not notice the effect he was having on the Man, did not notice anything at all until, all at once, he was aware that Aragorn was not sleeping any longer. In the instant when Legolas looked up and saw Aragorn's eyes flicker open, he froze, his lips almost touching Aragorn's. He could not move, even when he felt Aragorn's arm move, and saw his hand come up to touch his hair, which he had let trail along Aragorn's chest. Legolas, for the first time in recent memory, was afraid.

*****

Aragorn had not come awake abruptly. He had first been conscious of a gentle, radiant mist of light enveloping him; it was a welcome change from whatever had come before, and it felt familiar to him. He could not remember what his dreams were these last few nights, but they always left him tired, more exhausted than when he went to sleep, and filled with a deep diffused sense of anxiety. But then came the soft warm mist, and he felt calm -- more than calm, he felt at peace. And then the out of the mist had come a sweet, unbearably beautiful voice, calling him by name. And then, he awoke.

He awoke to see that the mist had a face, a beautiful face, and long gentle white hands, and long golden hair which fell across his chest as Legolas froze above him.

"Aragorn..." whispered the perfect lips just inches from his own.

Aragorn looked at him for a moment. He did not want to frighten this impossible vision away, but he desperately wanted to know what was happening. "...last night?" Aragorn could barely bring himself to ask, lest he speak too loudly and cause the dream to dissolve.

Legolas sat up, pulling back from Aragorn but leaving his hand over the Man's. "Last night... I sat here with you, Aragorn, while you slept. You were restless and upset in your dreams, and I meant to wake you, but you seemed contented while I stayed with you."

Aragorn turned his head away, suddenly embarrassed at the situation. He had thought... but it was no matter; Legolas had simply been comforting a friend in need. Aragorn had been in need, like a small child, and Legolas -- who was, after all, several thousand years older than Aragorn -- had felt obligated to soothe him.

Legolas, as if reading the last part of his thoughts, said, "Aragorn, do not think I treated you childishly. You have many troubles to contend with, and it is not surprising that they should cause your dreams to be troubled as well."

Aragorn was hurt, in a way he did not fully understand, by Legolas' concern. He made to turn his head away, but Legolas reached out and touched his cheek, gently. "My friend, do not reject compassion and love where you find them offered. The journey has already been hard, and will only become more difficult as we go on -- it is not weakness to allow yourself comfort while there is time." Aragorn sighed, and made no reply.

"Close your eyes, Aragorn, and rest while you may. And if you will permit it, I will stay here for a moment to see you safely asleep." Legolas' voice was quiet, and his hand reached out again to stroke the Man's brow and brush his hair back. Aragorn did not answer, but he closed his eyes and let Legolas' calmness and softness wash over him, drawing him into sleep.

When he awoke, he found himself looking into Legolas' quiet blue eyes, and saw that the Elf was stretched out next to him under his own blanket. He opened his mouth, though whether to question Legolas or simply to thank him Aragorn did not know, but before he could speak a word Legolas was up and striding away into the forest.

*****

That day, both Aragorn and Legolas were uncharacteristically remote. Aragorn walked at the head of the Company, and Legolas followed at the end, and neither could be compelled to look at the other. Aragorn's footsteps were once again light, but his mind was whirling in confusion; he did not know what to make of the last night. He was fairly certain he remembered Legolas telling him not to reject compassion or love where he found them, and he was aware of an intense, unfamiliar ache deep inside his chest when he thought of those words. What was this strange longing tugging at the edges of his mind? He could not recall feeling it before -- not even for Arwen, he knew as soon as he asked the question.

Arwen, he had always felt, was beautiful, perfect, even fragile in her way; as soon as he had laid eyes on her he had desired to possess her, to protect her and love her. His body had ached for hers, to be sure, but he had never felt this all-encompassing need to be near her, and hear her voice and see her eyes on him always. In his mind, he had always seen Arwen robed in finest Elven clothing, standing in perfect beaming light, looking proudly into his eyes. Legolas, he thought suddenly, he wanted to see on his knees. Pleading. Begging to be thrown onto the ground, bruised and muddied, taken as cruelly as Aragorn might wish...

Aragorn shook himself roughly. What sort of daydreams were these, brought on by long walking and little food? He announced a short break, and nearly smiled at the Hobbits when they collapsed together in relief, forgetting for a moment their efforts not to show their exhaustion. Both Boromir and Gimli looked appreciative as well, making Aragorn wonder if, in his distraction, he had been pushing his Company too hard today. Aragorn suspected that he was imagining it, but even the Elf seemed weary of the journey.

*****

Legolas' steps had indeed been less light than usual that day, and he found that he welcomed the short break. He had noticed Aragorn becoming progressively more agitated as they walked, and wondered desperately what he was thinking of. Legolas was concerned that Aragorn had been offended at his behavior the last night. He had not meant to treat him condescendingly; so engrossed had he been in the Man's nearness that the thought of Aragorn being in any way childlike had never crossed his mind.

He had not stopped to consider Aragorn's reaction to his affection. And then, those things he had said when Aragorn awoke! If his earlier actions had not been completely inappropriate, Legolas felt sure that his comments to Aragorn about accepting compassion -- and love! -- where they were offered, most definitely were. It was true, Legolas reflected, that Aragorn had not forced him to leave, and had let himself be soothed to sleep... But that had been in the middle of the night, a time when Men's minds were dulled by sleep, and Legolas had no hope that Aragorn would ever accept his 'compassion' again, let alone his touch.

Legolas sighed in sadness, and rose to join the rest of the Company again. Aragorn's eyes were still dark and flashing with some unreadable emotion, Legolas saw, and without a direct glance the two returned to their earlier positions, at opposite ends of the group.

*****

After a day that seemed even longer than it was to two members of the Company, they made camp and the watches were assigned to Legolas and Aragorn. When the Hobbits had all curled into a heap with their blankets, and Gimli and Boromir had spread out their blankets, Legolas turned his back on Aragorn and stared determinedly into the fire. Aragorn turned away from the fire and the Elf, and wrapped himself in blankets, but could not sleep. He knew that Legolas was aware of his sleeplessness, and he also knew that Legolas would not come silently to him tonight. Aragorn did not know whether he was relieved by that fact, or disappointed, but there it was. He turned over again, angrily, and closed his eyes, and forced himself to be still.

"Aragorn." Legolas' gentle voice came softly over the camp. "You are not sleeping. It is pointless to lie silently when your mind is so troubled. It will not help you to sleep."

Aragorn raised himself and looked at Legolas. The Elf was looking at him, for the first time all day, and while Aragorn was frustrated and uncomfortable whenever he thought of Legolas, he did not pass up this opportunity to talk with him again.

"Perhaps I am just too well-rested from the last two nights." Aragorn smiled slightly at Legolas as he walked over to sit beside him near the fire. Legolas looked uneasy at the mention of those nights, but as he heard the humor in Aragorn's voice his eyes lightened and his lips quirked upwards a tiny bit. Legolas was relieved that Aragorn was willing to take what had occurred lightly, but he felt that, in order to set things right between them, he must apologize. It had been one of the finest moments of his long life, Legolas thought bitterly, and yet he must renounce it, and apologize for it! But it had to be done.

"Aragorn-" Legolas began, then trailed off. Aragorn looked at him, and the shock of seeing those dark, warm eyes directly on him for the first time all day nearly knocked Legolas off the log he and Aragorn were seated on, but he kept his place. He took a deep breath, and looked at the fire. "Aragorn, I know why you are restless this night." At this Aragorn's eyes came up flashing at Legolas, but the Elf did not see. "You are upset at what occurred last night, and the night before, and you are uncomfortable now to rest near me."

Aragorn laughed humorlessly, ruefully, but Legolas went on. "Aragorn, I wish to apologize for my behavior. While I did not mean to treat you as a child, I can see that you were offended by my attempts to comfort you, and I would not have you even more unhappy because of anything I do. Please do not lose your rest on my account, for I will not trouble you again."

Legolas had not looked up during this speech, but now he turned his eyes sadly to Aragorn. "I am sorry, Aragorn..." The Elf's eyes were pained, and Aragorn could see that his exquisite lips were set in an expression of pure agony, made the more painful by being left unexpressed, except that Aragorn could see Legolas' hands twisting and clenching unconsciously in his lap. Aragorn suddenly felt the same silent pain in his own heart, at the sight of Legolas in such despair. He could not stand by and let Legolas suffer so; no matter what his own doubts and discomforts were, it would not do to let such a beautiful loving creature break like this.

"Legolas," Aragorn began, as he reached to take the Elf's hands in his own. But Legolas stood abruptly, looking down at Aragorn desperately.

"Aragorn. I think you know what I feel for you -- that it is more than simple compassion and friendship. I know that you are trying to help, but you must not touch me now. Say what you will, but do not touch me, for it is too painful yet."

Aragorn stood to face Legolas, and deliberately reached with his hand to touch Legolas' hair. Legolas let out a choked breath, and turned away harshly, but Aragorn moved quickly to catch the Elf's arm. Legolas froze, and the Man wrapped his hard fingers around the strong but slender arm, and pulled, hard. The Elf lost his balance only for an instant, but in that moment Aragorn spun him around, and used one arm to pin Legolas' arm behind his back, and pressed the Elf against him, trapping the other arm between their bodies. Aragorn wrapped his spare arm around Legolas tightly, and held him there. He knew full well that Legolas was strong enough to escape if he wished, but he did not intend to let him go without at least showing him how serious he was.

But Legolas, surprisingly, stopped struggling almost at once, and stood against Aragorn, pulling away only enough to force the Man to keep a grip on him. Aragorn saw Legolas looking at him, his eyes surrendering yet communicating his pain and despair at being forced into this contact with Aragorn. Aragorn tightened his hold on Legolas, and quickly pressed his lips against the Elf's mouth. Legolas again froze, but Aragorn pressed harder and did not release him. When he felt Legolas' lips relax a tiny bit Aragorn flicked his tongue across them experimentally, and felt the Elf collapse against him, a desperate moan escaping as he opened his mouth to Aragorn, unable to pull away any longer. Aragorn explored the hot mouth eagerly, crushing Legolas in his grip as he swooned, melting against Aragorn compliantly. After a few timeless seconds, Aragorn breathed in and pulled away, noticing as he ended the kiss that Legolas was no longer resisting at all, but was following Aragorn's every motion with his own body, as if he could not now bear to lose an inch of physical contact.

Aragorn leaned over to place his lips next to the silken pointed ear, and spoke softly. "Now you shall listen to me, beautiful creature. I was not sleepless because I was offended by your actions. I could not sleep because I did not wish to fall asleep without you near me, Legolas." The Elf shivered at the sound of his name, whispered by Aragorn into his sensitive ear. Aragorn withdrew and looked into Legolas' wondering eyes. "It is true that I was surprised, by your actions and by my own emotions, and did not quite know what to make of things, but when I saw you in such agony over the thought that you had made me unhappy, I could not stay silent. To be honest, my friend, I am still not sure what to make of this, but there are some things I am certain of. I do not want you to think you cause me pain by your love; I do not want to reject what you offer me, and what I've felt in my own heart for you; I do not ever want to go to sleep after a long day's struggle without you lying next to me, lovely one."

Aragorn again pressed his lips to Legolas', but gently. "Now," Aragorn said, smiling, "will you have me willingly, Elf, or must I keep you like this forever?"

Legolas looked into his eyes, and smiled back at the Man who still held him. He extricated himself easily from Aragorn's grasp and took one step back, the smile fading slowly as he watched the Man's eyes. Before Aragorn's expression of confusion could turn to hurt Legolas moved back into his arms, wrapping his own arms around the Man. "Aragorn, I have always been yours, as long as you have been Estel of the Elves. You may keep me however you like, but know that I will always come to you willingly, and soothe you to sleep at night, and lie next to you in the morning, and walk with you during the day." And Legolas let his lips touch Aragorn's, and was lost again in the hot whirl of his scent and his touch and the nearness of the Man he loved.

*****

Later, much later, Aragorn stood by the fire and looked out into the dark trees. It was his turn to stand guard, and he would stand here until morning, watching over his Company: his flock of Hobbits, the cranky Dwarf, the proud Man. And one precious Elf, who rested now, his hands clasped lightly to his chest, his eyes open but unseeing. Aragorn would watch over all of his Company, and protect them, but most of all he would watch over this lovely creature, his Legolas.