A/N: This bit of silliness has been sitting unfinished on my computer for a long time now, so I finally decided to bite the bullet and complete it. Hope you enjoy!
Summary: Aragorn believes that Legolas is at fault. Strangely, Legolas does not agree.
Where Fault Lies
"Remind me once more, mellon nin," Aragorn muttered, tightening his grip on the hilt of his sheathed sword. "How exactly did we come to be here?"
Next to him, the prince of Mirkwood canted his head towards the ranger, keeping all movement to a low minimum in an attempt to avoid antagonising their adversary, who waited only a few dozen yards away. "Do not ask me to explain what is clearly your fault," he returned, his voice a whisper which wafted through the vast hall in which the pair stood, tense and primed for whatever might next befall them.
"My fault?" Aragorn repeated, his voice rising in disbelief. At the sound of movement from the front of the room, he paused, took a long breath and forced himself to calm. When he spoke once more, it was in a whisper which rivalled that of the elf beside him. "It was not I who suggested we travel to Laketown."
"Nor was it I."
"Nay, but it was a task designated to you by your father. I was only there as a safeguard."
The elf frowned, his lips tightening. "A safeguard for what?"
"Aye. Your father thought you would most likely encounter orcs during your journey, thus he suggested that I accompany you."
"Why would he think such a thing?"
"Have I never mentioned that you are perfectly capable of running into orcs whilst locked inside the library at Imladris?"
"You have, yet have I never mentioned that I am perfectly capable of defeating any number of those foul creatures blindfolded?"
Aragorn shot a quick, sidelong glance at the elf flanking him before rapidly returning his gaze to the front of the hall. "Considering the number of bandages you bear, mellon nin, you will forgive me if your words fail to instil the greatest confidence."
The elf's eyes narrowed to mere slits. "I am a warrior of Mirkwood," he hissed, the pride in his voice no less despite its soft volume. "I have fought the creatures of Mordor for more centuries than you have lived!"
"As I have not yet reached my sixtieth year," Aragorn returned dryly, "that is not so great a claim as one might think."
The sound of movement from the front of the room interrupted any response the elf prince might have been about to make. Aragorn and Legolas stilled simultaneously, their expressions hardening into uniform masks within the confines of a single second.
A stern, steel-edged voice rang through the hall like a clarion, reaching back to the towering doors before which the man and elf stood, winding its way between the tall pillars hewn out of the very stone of which the hall was formed.
"You may approach!"
With one last glare at each other, Aragorn and Legolas stepped forward, Legolas limping slightly, and strode to the front of the great room where they both sank onto one knee, their heads, light and dark both, bowed low.
"My lord," they murmured together.
Long seconds passed in terrible silence until finally Legolas rose to his feet, more slowly than usual, and took a single step towards the dais before them, where an imposing figure waited, still as stone.
"Before you pass judgement," Legolas began, his voice and manner courteous, "I think it only fair you consider that this was, in truth, the ranger's fault."
Leaping to his feet with a nimbleness more reminiscent of his elven companion, Aragorn swung round to face the prince, any sense of caution he had felt forgotten in light of the other's words. "What!"
Yet the elf had already taken further steps towards the raised platform with its carven throne, and was speaking earnestly, his wrapped and splinted fingers laced between each other, making him the very picture of veracity. "You must understand, my lord, that I had nothing to do with this. What is more, my attempts to discourage him were pushed aside despite the wisdom of my words."
"Do not believe him, my lord," Aragorn interrupted angrily, "for he is a traitor! You have heard how willing he is to turn on a friend to save his own self! He cannot be trusted!"
At this, the figure on the dais rose to his feet, resting a heavy gaze on the incensed man. "Do you truly believe it wise to accuse my own son of betrayal in front of me, Master Ranger?"
Swallowing the large lump that had suddenly crawled into his throat, Aragorn, son of Arathorn, lifted his gaze to see the Elvenking, Thranduil, glaring down on him from the height of his throne.
Silver-gold hair bordered the noble face of the ruler of Mirkwood, who appeared to be both old and young at once. A crown of woodland flowers lay upon his pale blonde head, its delicate blossoms intertwined with narrow vines and slender shoots from the elvenking's woodland realm, and the king's robes were stained the same green as new grass fresh from the earth. Beside the king, leaning against the carven throne, rested a limber oaken staff, a symbol of his status, carried by all those who had ruled Mirkwood since the elves had first arrived on the shores of Middle Earth.
Faced with the imposing sight that was sitting before him, Aragorn paused and reconsidered his words, which, he decided, might indeed have been hasty. "My apologies, King Thranduil," he began. "I thought only to-"
Yet the elf interrupted him, his voice strangely reminiscent of the wind moving through forest leaves, yet laden with a gravity that belied the thousands of years the elf lord had to his name. "You would do well, Master Ranger, to consider to whom you speak before speaking."
"That is what I tell him," interjected Legolas at once. "Yet he never learns."
The prince stepped forward, his face paler than usual against the painful-looking gash that cut across his left cheekbone. "Yes, Father?"
"You would do well to learn the same lesson."
"Now." The elven king fixed both elf and ranger with his gaze. "Explain."
Aragorn cleared his throat. "It is a long story, my lord, one which I am certain would be of no interest to you."
"Indulge me," the Elvenking responded. Aragorn was certain he detected the merest trace of dry humour in the elflord's voice, yet perhaps, he thought, eying the king's stony face, that was merely wishful thinking.
"Where do you wish for us to start?" he asked nervously.
"I think the beginning would be best, Master Ranger."
"Ah. The beginning." Aragorn cast a hopeless glance at Legolas, who studiously avoided his eyes, gazing instead at a spot slightly to the left of the king's throne as he picked at the bloody strip of tunic that was wrapped around his right forearm. "The beginning," the ranger began again, "is, I think, where it started to go wrong."
"Aye. For our plan was flawed from the start."
At this, Legolas lifted his head and fixed the ranger with a murderous gaze. "It was a good plan," he bit out.
"It was a terrible plan!" Aragorn retorted, turning on the elf prince.
Legolas glared at him. "I spent hours-"
"-which were clearly wasted," Aragorn interjected.
"-developing that plan. There was nothing wrong with it!"
"Any plan that involves using you as bait is doomed before it even begins!"
"Why?" Legolas demanded.
Aragorn stared at him. "Mellon nin," he said, with a hint of concern in his voice, "you are aware that you come with your own ransom note, are you not?"
Legolas glared at him.
Aragorn glared back.
Thranduil glared at them both before fixing his son with an iron-cold stare. "You mean to tell me, ion nin, that you offered yourself as bait?"
Legolas swivelled to face his father, then staggered as his bandaged ankle wavered beneath him. Reaching out hurriedly to steady his injured friend, Aragorn quailed as the elf king's glare turned on him.
"And you let him?" Thranduil demanded.
"I did not let him, as such," Aragorn protested.
One of Thranduil's slender eyebrows rose. "Indeed. Then how was it that Legolas managed to employ himself as bait?"
Aragorn felt his cheeks heat. "He slipped off whilst I was not looking, " he muttered, sending the prince a dirty look.
"So much for the legendary skills of the rangers," Legolas commented, an expression that was remarkably close to a smirk alighting upon his fair, if bruised, face.
Aragorn snorted. "Had I been aware of the fact that you were so foolish that you would approach a group of orcs alone and unarmed, then I might have kept a closer watch on you!"
"I distracted them, did I not?"
"You were taken prisoner!"
"As I intended to be!"
"Which only confirms my belief that you are a far greater fool than you look! Even the few periannath that I have met have had more sense than to be purposefully taken by orcs!"
"That is enough!"
Aragorn's jaw snapped shut, followed a second later by Legolas's. As one, they looked up.
The king of the Mirkwood elves was on his feet before them, his eyes like flint as he glowered down at them from the elevated height of his throne.
"I do not wish to hear another word of this foolishness," Thranduil snapped harshly.
"He started it," Legolas muttered, under his breath.
Aragorn kicked him, causing the lithe elf to plummet to the floor as his injured ankle collapsed beneath him. With a muffled curse, Aragorn quickly bent down to help him up, looping the elf's arm around his neck and levering him carefully to his feet.
Legolas looked up at his father as soon as he had regained his balance. His expression was guileless. "You were saying, Ada?" he asked.
Yet Thranduil had halted in his tirade and had instead sunk down onto his throne, his head cradled between long, pale fingers. After some minutes, during which neither elf prince nor ranger dared speak, the king's voice could finally be heard once again.
"Aye, my lord?" Aragorn replied, sharing a concerned glance with Legolas.
"I would have your word that my son will visit the healer's wing as soon as possible."
"I swear it, my lord."
"Then that is all. You may go. Now."
After one more concerned look at Thranduil, who had still to raise his head, Aragorn and Legolas together began the slow journey out of the hall, the ranger allowing the elf to lean on him as they exited. Yet as soon as they had cleared the doorway, and Aragorn was certain that they were out of sight of the king, he nudged the prince in the side, forgetting for a moment about the other's cracked ribs.
"I am glad that that is over," he murmured, as they manoeuvred their way down the long corridor.
Legolas' irritation had vanished and he nodded in agreement. "And I am glad he did not call the full council to decide our punishment, as he did last time."
Aragorn shuddered. "For a while there, I was certain that he was going to banish us."
"He would not have banished me, I am his son. You, on the other hand, are-"
"I am the one who saved his son's life."
"He did not know that. We did not recount that part of the story."
Aragorn stopped and let Legolas' arm slide from around his shoulders. "But you would have told him, surely."
Not looking at the ranger, Legolas started fiddling with the bandage wrapped around both of his pointed ears as he continued to limp down the hallway.
Watching him go, Aragorn heaved a sigh. "I should have left him to the orcs," he murmured regretfully, and he began to trail after the elf prince, already plotting his revenge.
Thank you for reading, and I'd love to know what you all think!