Summary: He had not expected to find such softness in such a time. And had not expected himself to surrender so completely to it.

Pairing: Legolas/Estel (Aragorn)

Warnings: SLASH.

Disclaimer: All characters belong to J.R.R. Tolkien.

A/N: This was initially intended as a sequel to More than Moonlight, but the more I wrote, the more convinced I grew that MtM should not have a sequel. So I changed it around a bit and hope it works on its own. Those of you who have read MtM will, however, recognise the portrayal of Legolas.

The Sindarin element 'thoron' which later appears in Aragorn's chosen name Thorongil (which he uses while he is in the service of both Rohan and Gondor) means 'eagle'.

Wow... It's been a while since I posted a Legolas/Aragorn story. I hope you enjoy it.

A Long Way from Home

The man in the tattered cloak looked from the coins to the blue eyes and back again. His own, dark, eyes narrowed in badly concealed suspicion as he chose one of the silver pieces, held it up between his thumb and forefinger and bit into it demonstratively. He would find no fault with it and for a second something akin to disappointment caught his features. Then he spat on the ground by his feet and grudgingly lowered the coin.

"I know wha' yer are, I do," he muttered, more to himself than to his customer. "Yer ain't foolin' me..." With surprisingly quick hands, he shoved the small pile of silver into a pouch that hung at his belt. Then he peered up again and his mostly toothless grin was at odds with the calculating look in his deeply set brown eyes. "Yer one of 'em Elves, I know, I do... Got yerself more gold than silver I 'ear."

Legolas son of Thranduil wondered silently if the man was right; his father was very fond of living like the King he indeed was. However, that was beside the point.

"Silver fills up your pocket nicely, though, doesn't it?" he said smoothly, keeping his voice low and his cadence slow. "Mighty fine silver it is, too..."

"Silver's silver... fickle like the moon." The man edged a little closer. "No gold?"

Underneath his worn cloak he wore a tattered tunic, soiled and frayed at the edges, and of a dirty brownish-grey that really did very little to enhance his appearance.

"No gold." Legolas, in turn, took a step back. "Just as silver is silver, a deal is a deal." He flashed a smile. "It was a pleasure doing business with you."

The man slid behind the scarred wooden bench again, taking up position behind it. His distrustful gaze swept over the blades and daggers on display, checking... Making sure his foreign customer had not secretly snatched up one of those little daggers – so perfect for flaying a rabbit with... or slicing a throbbing vein in a terrified throat – and stowed it away out of sight. Nobody with any sense in their head trusted those Elves.

"Nice business..." he grunted, but could apparently find nothing wrong with the goods; his arrangement was intact and undisturbed. He did not lift his eyes to his customer again.

Thus dismissed, Legolas slowly turned away, mindful of making no quick moves, and joined the thinning stream of people winding through the market. The setting sun painted the western sky a crimson red and already the autumn chill was twining around his legs. He needed a warm meal and a bed... and some company perhaps. Yes, that would do for now.

-xxx-

The next day dawned bright and cold, and a pale sunlight skidded across the withered grass. There was a slight – just the slightest – hint of an approaching winter in the air. The past moons had seen an increasingly decaying landscape, but no rain. It was as though the world steadily dwindled into nothingness and today it was but an echo of the past summer's glory.

Legolas lay for a while between the sheets, watching the humble amount of daylight that made it past the casement challenge the remaining shadows. Elves were not generally known for staying at inns when they travelled, preferring instead to set up camp in whatever patch of grass, and under whatever tree they could find, but these parts of Middle-earth were only endless plains and little else but thistles and shrunken, gnarled shrubs grew here. Consequently, Legolas was paying dearly for a small room with a simple bed that creaked loudly at the very idea of him moving in it, a fire and a washbasin. Food was not included in the price.

As much as he liked going to bed with someone, he preferred waking alone. This, the young man he had singled out upon his arrival had quickly learnt and so he had crept out of the room ere dawn, leaving Legolas in a tangle of soiled bedclothes. The bed had made more noise than they had, in the end, but if there was one good thing about being an elf in this Man-made part of the world – and thus a creature out of legend and myth – it was that he was very rarely approached. He could do much as he pleased, and no one – for fear of something that had never really been satisfactorily explained to him - bothered him about it.

He rose after a while, sent for water and washed as thoroughly as possible before donning his clothes and pulling his hair away from his face in a tight braid. He had no wish to conduct his business shrouded in a large cloak and so the pointed peaks of his ears would have to remain unshielded. He had spent his first day here being unashamedly stared at, though otherwise left in relative peace. He shouldered his quiver of arrows, grabbed his bow and left the bed for one of the maids to deal with.

Beyond the door to his room a narrow and poorly lit corridor led to an equally narrow flight of stairs leading down into the only other room of consequence to the guests. The wooden panels were dented and dusty, and the candle holders empty. The floorboards creaked underfoot and a stale smell resided in the corners. As he descended the stairs, raised voices wafted out to him and he stopped in his tracks, more out of habit than curiosity, or fear of something being amiss. He immediately recognised the innkeeper's rough voice, clearly annoyed and out to dismiss, but the other... It sounded familiar, if only faintly so, and Legolas strained to hear.

"... if you could only..."

"A no's a no, boy! Learn it and live by it, for your own good!"

"But sir..."

Legolas slid a couple of steps further down, careful to not make any noise. He spotted soiled boots that honestly looked like no more than patches of leather flung together in a hurry and the ragged hem of a travelling cloak. It was of an anonymous grey.

"I've told you no. We ain't got no work for anyone come askin'."

There was a bit of silence then. Then the vaguely familiar voice returned, a bit disappointed, a bit sullen perhaps. And there was a note of defeat in it too:

"Could... I have some soup?"

The innkeeper did not answer at once but when he did, his words held a slight challenge. "It'll cost you, boy... Weather's been a bitch and we haven't got much huntin' done."

A lie for a stranger.

"How much is it?"

Taking another step on mostly silent feet, Legolas saw more of that stained cloak and then – another step – a mess of matted dark curls. He squinted in the meek light but for the life of him could not say what it was about the newcomer that nagged at some muddled, long-lost memory of his. It was a man... or at the very least a male. Legolas saw nothing of his face but the innkeeper had addressed him as 'boy' so most likely he was a child. Though he was tall. Legolas could not think of one mortal child in these parts of the world that he was expected to know by name. And he did not lie with children, no matter what some people seemed to believe. Still, something kept telling him that this someone was not a complete stranger.

Reaching the bottom of the stairs, he kept to the shadows by the wall, resigning himself with an inward sigh to the dust there.

"How much've you got?"

"Oh..." Fumbling, the newcomer produced a small, battered leather pouch and untied the strings. He wore no gloves and in the hazy daylight, Legolas saw broad hands, young hands. "It's... I..." He sounded embarrassed.

"Can't give you no food if you can't pay the price." The innkeeper, a tall, lanky, balding man began turning away from him.

"I can."

Surprising himself, Legolas took a few brisk paces towards them, bow lowered and quiver securely hidden behind his back so as not to frighten the innkeeper. The man had exhibited a pathetic fear of anything fast-flying and sharp the first time they met.

"Good morning, gentlemen." Legolas produced a smile that did not waver though he could clearly see how the innkeeper's annoyingly ingratiating mask slipped into place. "I see my friend here has arrived." He motioned at the boy by his side but did not look at him. "We would break our fast together. Be a good man and find us some soup and bread."

Watery blue eyes searched his face for only a heartbeat and then the innkeeper's voice grew slippery soft:

"Ah, and a good morning to you, sir. I did not know that this..." he waved a thin hand at the other mortal, "this... boy was your... Yours."

Legolas forced his smile to remain in place though he could not prevent it from stiffening a little.

The innkeeper gave a small bow with the expression of someone that had just bit into rotten fish. "If you will take a seat I'll be with you shortly."

He shot a glance at the boy by Legolas' side but apparently decided that for as long as he knew someone paid, it mattered little from whose purse the silver came. With a twist of his lips into the awkward semblance of a smile, he disappeared through a back door.

Opening his mouth to apologise for intruding, Legolas turned to the newcomer, but any words he might have intended to speak were lost to him. Large grey eyes were fixed on his face and pale lips had parted in silent shock.

Legolas stared at the mortal, the young man, the boy, while the floor swayed and finally fell away under his feet. Very slowly, as if in a daze, he registered the determined chin, the straight nose, the dark brows and the dark hair that fell around a chiselled jaw and high forehead. His gaze returned a couple of times to the lips... but those eyes... A shard of a memory shot through him.

This was...

"Elbereth..."

The boy's lips curved into the smallest of smiles. "No... only Estel," he said. "Only me."

The world regained its sharp edges. Blinking, Legolas heard himself laugh.

"Well, that's not bad either! By Eru you have grown!"

He found he could move again, and think clearly enough, but when they embraced, the smell of Estel's dark locks set his senses reeling. It was not an entirely pleasant smell, to be honest; the boy had apparently been on the road for a long time and the mix of sweat and dust told Legolas that he had not held a bar of soap for too many days; and yet it was all oddly comforting.

When they parted, Legolas must fight anew to find his footing. "Come, let us sit down." He conducted the boy to a table at the very back of the room. "I am surprised to see you here, to say the least!"

Letting his quiver and bow rest against the wall, he dropped into a chair and watched as Estel unclasped his soiled cloak and hung it over the back of another chair. He wore leather breeches and a leather jerkin over a loose shirt of undyed linen. He had definitely grown. As an elf, Legolas was naturally tall but now they were within an inch of the same height. He liked that. Catching himself, he quickly banned that thought from his mind and tried to focus on what Estel was saying instead.

"...came here and thought I might just as well ask but it didn't go very well, as I'm sure you heard." He slumped into the seat and his cheeks gained some colour even as he cast his eyes down. "You didn't have to do that," he mumbled. "I have some money... I just..." His voice died away.

"I'll happily pay for your breakfast," Legolas assured him but he pitched his voice low. "Gods, I have not seen you for... How long?"

"I don't know," said Estel, still with his gaze trained on the worn wood. "I remember you from a few years back... Was it Midwinter? You went hunting with my brothers – I watched you all leave and I was a bit jealous." His last words brought a curving of his lips and he looked up and smiled. "I was fourteen, I think."

That smile. Legolas' throat went dry as he took it in.

"Fourteen, you say?" He studied the young face. "And, forgive me, how old are you now?"

"Eighteen, last spring."

"Well... not bad, that either." Legolas smiled in return. There was so much simmering in that grey gaze. He leaned back in his chair. "So, tell me, what in the name of Manwë are you doing in these desolate parts? I didn't think Lord Elrond would let his young ward roam the lands just yet."

Estel nodded slowly, his smile fading. "I was the one asking for it. Father was not too pleased to see me go but he understood I was bored."

"Bored?"

With a shrug, Estel once more dropped his gaze to the dented table top. "I'm almost of age... I wanted to see the world. I'm not sure I'm doing very well, though."

"No?" It was hard to keep from reaching out. There were smudges of shadow under the boy's eyes and he was pale though Legolas knew his skin should have retained some of that colour that the sun bestowed upon the mortal race during the warm part of the year. "Why not?"

"People won't hire me for any work," Estel admitted. "I was luckier in the north but here all I see are their backs as they turn my offer down. I've been camping out in the wilderness a lot. I considered going back, home, but I don't know..."

They were interrupted, then, by the arrival of their breakfast. Legolas watched in silence as the innkeeper himself placed a basket of bread, some hard cheese and ale before them. He returned a second time with two bowls of steaming soup and a beeswax candle that he most grudgingly lighted.

When he was gone, Estel picked up his spoon but before plunging it into the soup, sent Legolas an embarrassed and very self-conscious half-smile. "Thank you."

As he dug in, Legolas unabashedly let his eyes wander over Estel's slim form. The boy's shoulders had broadened and by the way his breeches hugged his thighs, it was obvious that he had done quite a lot of riding and walking. But his hair was tangled and tousled and there was a ghost of an old cut on his left cheek. He had not shaved either and – Legolas' stomach fluttered – those cheeks with the humble stubble were positively begging for fingertips to run over them...

The uninspired daylight fell in through a couple of narrow windows but the glass was thick and milky and so the shadows had no problem stretching across the floor and the panelled walls. The dark wood of the furniture had not been polished in what was probably years. Legolas picked up his spoon and began eating, too, caring little about the taste of what proved to be a bland lentil soup, but being more concerned with his new-found company. Estel, though, did not speak another word for a good long while.

When they were done, Legolas dropped some coins on the table and sat back. "Where are you headed?"

Estel shrugged again. "I don't really know... I've never been this far from home before."

"I see. So you are free to journey wherever you fancy?"

"I guess..." He looked up briefly. "Thank you for breakfast."

"Thank you for joining me." Legolas smiled, wanting those grey eyes on him, liking how they reflected every word that slid past Estel's lips. "I've been travelling for many moons now, seldom finding a friend along the road. It is good to see you, though I barely knew you."

When the boy did not answer, he leaned forwards, suddenly struck by an idea. Or not so suddenly perhaps, but one he only now voiced.

"Listen, I have a few people to meet, some business to deal with, but if you would consider staying overnight, I'd gladly speak with you some more. It is long since I had any news of the Valley."

There was a flash of light in Estel's eyes. Of relief perhaps. "I would do my very best to satisfy your curiosity."

Of course, the boy did not understand how that offer might be interpreted. Legolas pushed aside any unseemly thoughts – for now, at least – and smiled.

"I would like that very much. I have a room upstairs if you wish to rest for a while."

His offer was met with resistance. "That is very kind but I could not possibly... I mean, it's your room."

"It is, and I may invite whomever I please."

"But..." Once more, Estel's hands went to the pouch at his belt. "I do have some more... a bit of copper, I think. I could..."

"Save it," said Legolas decisively. "I have not seen you for years and I would gladly house you... in this house which is not my own."

His words drew a reluctant smile from the boy. "You're too kind." But then he sighed and slumped in his seat. "This was supposed to be my adventure. I was supposed to, I don't know, succeed."

"At what?"

"Don't know. Anything? Not run out of money and be forced to accept the generosity of my brothers' friend..."

"Better to have me help you than someone else," said Legolas. He made sure his smile was gentle. "You can trust me."

Estel looked like he meant to smile in return but failed. Forestalling any other protests, Legolas pushed back his chair and stood.

"Come, I'll let you in and you can get some sleep."

It was not until he opened the door that he remembered the state of his bed. No maid had been in to straighten it and so the traces of last night's activities were still there to see. At least the air did not stink of lovemaking, he told himself as he let Estel enter first. Perhaps the smell of release and sweat had disappeared up the chimney. While the boy busied himself with his cloak and gear, Legolas arranged the bedclothes as best he could, trying not to think about what it would be like, feeling that young body pressed against his own.

It was not the fact that he was Elrond's ward that troubled him. More likely it was the boy's fragile appearance and apparent insecurity. He gave the pillows a good shake and, satisfied, stepped back – only to find his breathing impeded by the state of his guest.

Estel had pulled off his boots and his jerkin, and his belt lay curled up atop his cloak on the floor. He stood now before Legolas in his breeches and shirt, looking suitably hesitant.

"I'm sorry," he said, "I really don't mean to intrude."

"Worry not," said Legolas quickly, relieved that his voice had not abandoned him. He gestured at the bed. "I'm sorry it's a mess." His eyes once more raked the slender body.

Estel's smile was crooked. "Believe me, I've seen worse."

Legolas did not ask about that. He simply watched as the boy sat down, and then lay down, stretching out completely on the mattress. The bed complained even under his light weight but it did not seem to bother Estel who, with a content sigh, pulled the covers over himself and closed his eyes.

"Thank you so much, Legolas."

The elf knelt at his side, daring to brush a dark strand of hair from his face. "Sleep well. I will see you later."

"Yea..." A lazy smile drifted across Estel's lips. "Later."

-xxx-

It was cruel magic that turned Legolas' thoughts into fickle phantoms that day. He bartered long over a jar of salt and the price turned out reasonable, but as the day progressed he grew increasingly restless and found that he longed for sundown.

This was a small village, its fame due only to the market which had the blessing of being visited by various types of craftsmen and fishermen and farmers. It was close enough to the River – and close enough to a string of mountains which provided the vendors with a decent assortment of small gems that trickled forth from the Dwarves' underground dwellings. Thranduil had not been misinformed: it was indeed possible to make some good deals here. And garner a good impression of the local alliances and power games.

However, after he had paid for his salt, Legolas' instincts grew muddled as thoughts of his young guest invaded every corner of his mind. He had offered a night's hospitality because the boy was exhausted but was ashamed that his desires were so quickly mounting. He should bathe... They both should; Legolas doubted that Estel had had the audacity to send for water while he was gone. And afterwards he would treat him to supper. And then... Stowing the jar of salt away, Legolas tried to chastise himself. It would not do to jump the foster-son of Elrond like one jumped a whore. Indeed, it would be far better to not touch him at all.

As Anor sank towards the horizon, he finally found his way back to the inn without having settled any business at all concerning trade routes or political support in a world that grew increasingly uneasy. Nobody was keen on fighting for an Elven King they had never seen, it seemed. No, if Thranduil wanted pledges of fealty, he would have to come himself – or send a cleverer ambassador.

When the sky was painted pink at last, Legolas slipped inside and found that he must thread his way through a rowdy crowd. Pipe smoke hung low in the stuffy air and the clamour and the roaring of the fire tumbled over his senses. He scanned the crowd, hoping to spot a slim dark-haired figure somewhere but had no such luck.

He took up too much space with his bow and quiver, he realised, when a sharp elbow met with his ribs and no apology ensued. Slipping through the guests he made his way upstairs, his heart beating uncommonly fast as he knocked on his own door before sliding it open.

Estel was awake and dressed, but still dirty. He was sitting on the floor, with his back against the bed, mending his cloak. He looked up and gave a shy smile when he spotted Legolas.

"Hi."

"Hey." The elf closed the door behind him but did not come any closer. There was a humble fire crackling in the fireplace and he noted that the sheets had been changed.

Estel followed his gaze and hurried to explain. "A maid showed up a little while ago. I barely understood a word she said – she had the thickest accent – but she changed the sheets and built a fire." His cheeks reddened a little. "If they charge you more for the firewood–"

Legolas silenced him with a dismissive wave of his hand. "I have more than enough silver to keep us both warm," he said, but tried to keep his voice gentle so that he would not embarrass Estel further. "Don't fret."

Edging a bit closer he maintained a firm hold on his emotions. The firelight played upon Estel's face and set off his high cheekbones and dark hair. Relieving himself of his gear, he went to inspect the washbasin and found it empty. "Shall I send for some warm water and a tub?"

"You want to bathe?"

Legolas turned, smiling. "You don't?"

"Well... of course. But..."

"Never mind the price, all right?" He made for the door again. "And do you wish to eat downstairs or up here?"

The boy looked like he had been gifted with a whole palace. He blinked up at the elf.

"I... um..." Biting his lip, he glanced down. "Up here? I don't really like a crowd..."

"I'll be right back."

During the time it took Legolas to find a servant willing to fetch them both water and food, he tried his very best to see reason. The boy had given him no indication that he would be willing to do any more than share a bed with him – as a sleeping place. When he returned to his room, Estel had stored away his things and stood by the casement, the last of the faltering daylight toying with his hair.

They ate first, while they waited for the water to be heated and the tub brought to them. Estel told him such news of the Valley that he thought Legolas had not heard and their conversation was easy. Finally, setting aside his cup, Legolas heaved a sigh.

"I grow tired of ale," he admitted. "It is all these people drink, and it is not even a good one."

Estel was still nibbling some biscuits but he grimaced. "I haven't had much of it since I left the northern lands. Mostly spring water and rainwater and..." he shrugged. "I don't mind the taste."

When the servants arrived with their bath things they got up. Before their plates were taken away, however, Legolas stored the edible remains of their meal away. If he were going to see Estel leaving on the morrow, at least the boy would not go without food. The thought brought a sharper-than-expected pain to his heart and he quickly turned away from the image of the boy waiting by the bed. Again, he wondered if Estel would be willing, and then hated himself for wondering.

When they were alone once more, there was nothing else to do but undress. Without looking at his young guest, Legolas toed off his boots and undid his belt. He pulled his tunic over his head and soon his shirt followed. When he stood clad only in his breeches, he finally dared to face Estel.

The boy was not blushing but he did look somewhat uncomfortable. His eyes were glued to Legolas' bared chest and seemed unwilling to be anywhere else. The elf's stomach turned over rather pleasantly.

"Do you want to go first?"

"It's your bath..."

"Estel, do you want to go first?"

Very slowly, the boy dragged his shirt over his head and then hesitantly fingered the laces that held his breeches together. Now it was Legolas who stared, perfectly unable of averting his gaze to grant the boy some privacy. He was thin and so the lean muscles stood out gracefully in the shifting firelight. And he was streaked with dirt, too. After what felt like years, Estel hesitantly pushed down the leather that hid his groin and involuntarily Legolas licked his lips as he saw the flaccid length nestled in a patch of dark curls. Now, but only now, did he have the sense to turn away and let Estel proceed.

Only when he was certain that the boy was safely submerged in the steaming water did he turn back again.

"Oh, this is good!" Estel's groan did in no way dissuade Legolas' private parts from stirring. "You wouldn't believe how long ago it is that I bathed... in warm water, that is. And there's soap too!"

Biting down on his own tongue, Legolas hoped the sharp pain would check his responses to the skin now gleaming with a sheen of water. In the small space, he moved so that he could only see the back of Estel's head and pressed a palm hard to his groin. He could not, would not, be aroused now. He leaned against the wall and noticed how his breathing had picked up and how his blood coursed through him, warm and tingling.

As Estel washed, Legolas fought a silent battle with himself. He nearly groaned aloud as the boy washed his hair, letting his fingers tangle in his dark locks. It went on for ages, but in reality must have been only a few minutes for Estel suddenly reached for a towel and stood.

"Your turn. It's still warm."

Legolas pushed himself off the wall and on shaky legs drew closer to the tub. The water was not sparkling clean any longer and small islands of lather drifted on the surface. In the corner of his eye he saw Estel drying himself off and his mouth watered dangerously. With his back to the young man he dropped his breeches and prayed that his condition would not be noticed. He was not fully aroused but had hardened enough for his desires to be painfully obvious.

It truly was lovely, sinking into the warm water. He washed quickly, however, keen to be dry again, and dressed. As he cleaned his most intimate parts he forced himself to think about the rumours of an upcoming war and blackened Orc flesh pierced by his arrowheads. He very nearly succeeded in chasing all treacherous intent from his body and was so relieved by this that he was not at all prepared for Estel coming up to him with a dry towel.

"Here. You left it on the bed."

He was dressed in a long shirt that looked remarkably clean but no breeches or leggings. His hair hung in soft curls around his face and brushed against his unshaven cheeks.

"Thanks."

Taking the towel and standing could have been his undoing but Estel turned away and let him dry himself in peace. Grateful, Legolas made quick work of his hair, but left it falling across his shoulders in a mess. From his pack he dug out a shirt of his own and did not breathe properly again before it had fallen over his hips and groin.

He should fetch someone to take the tub away but had no desire to leave the room. Estel was hovering near the bed, clearly uncertain.

Finding his voice, Legolas nodded at it. "Please."

Estel fingered the covers. "It must seem to you that I do nothing but sleep... I didn't sleep the whole day, though," he added quickly. "It's just been a rough few weeks, that's all."

"I thought as much. And I don't mind. It really is good to see you again."

The boy flashed him a small smile and, to the loud creak of wood against wood, slid down under the blankets. Legolas let him fidget a bit with his shirt before lowering himself to the mattress and lying down beside him. The bed was not big and there were only a couple of inches between them. Estel's breathing was shallow, he noticed, before the scent of damp skin and soap assaulted him.

Estel shifted onto his side, grey eyes catching the light of the dying fire. Legolas should have banked it before getting into bed and perhaps the darkening night would have been easier on him; the boy's lips drew his gaze even as they remained unmoving and Legolas felt himself harden again.

Those glistening curls had already left darker marks on the linen where excess water had seeped into it. His own tangled hair was damp against his neck, but warm, and all the while, blood was pooling in his groin.

He meant to speak, to excuse his body's reaction to the sight and smell and presence of one so alluring, but he did not. Even before it happened, he knew he was doomed. He saw his own hand drifting towards a stubbly cheek, cupping it and brushing the pad of a thumb over a lower lip and felt it quiver at the touch.

Being so close, having only to reach out to know more about Elrond's foster-son, was hardly wise. Yet he knew somehow that Estel would be willing, was already willing, and that they had already left wisdom behind. He brushed the cheek with his knuckles and then very gently slid his fingers through Estel's dark tresses until they found the nape of his neck. Lingering there, he brought their mouths together in a first kiss.

The boy melted against him and opened up almost at once. There was no more doubt in him and all of a sudden Legolas felt very old. He tasted the ale on Estel's tongue but chased it away with his own until there was only sweetness left. He kept the pace slow and his treatment gentle. Pulling back a little, he contented himself with the barest touch of lips to lips before using the tip of his tongue to trace the fullness before him. Estel sighed against his mouth and his warm breath sifted over Legolas' face, both teasingly and reassuringly. One of the boy's hands found its way to his hipbone and cupped it shyly. With a smile, Legolas moved under that hand, closed the distance between them and let Estel know of the state he was in.

The boy did not gasp, nor did he pull back or tense. He simply moulded against the elf, moving into his embrace so completely that Legolas was unsure where he began or ended. When their groins came together and he discovered that Estel, too, was aroused, he could no longer hesitate. He renewed the intensity of the kiss and his hand left the boy's neck and travelled down the broad expanse of his back and found a way underneath his shirt. Then he sought out the rounded cheeks and trailed a first finger between them, waiting to see which reaction would greet this suggestion.

Estel's hand on his hip moved to the base of his spine and pressed him even closer. "Please, Legolas," he mumbled into the kiss.

The elf was light-headed when he briefly let go to look down upon him. Estel's cheeks were flushed and his eyelids heavy. There was a hint of a smile on his swollen lips.

"Have you done this before?" asked Legolas, pleased that his words came out soft and did not disturb the air in the room.

"Does it matter?" Estel's hand wandered up to his shoulder and lifted aside some of that damp, golden hair. "I know you will be gentle with me."

"But if you've never done it before, it will hurt." He leaned down and pressed a kiss to the soft lips. "No matter how gentle I am."

"I don't care." The boy's eyes opened fully. "I want you to hold me, and touch me... I am safe with you."

Legolas' heart, which he had never paid much attention to over the years, knew a flood of emotion. He nodded, having to fight past a lump in his throat when he spoke, "But you will tell me if I hurt you?"

Estel nodded, eyes shining now. "I promise."

"All right. Wait here."

He slid out of the cantankerous bed and stood. Then he pulled his shirt over his head and dropped it unceremoniously to the floor. It was as far as he got before an uncharacteristic bout of self-awareness assaulted him and he became very conscious of the way his heated flesh jutted out from his body. But rather than pausing to reflect upon that, he hurried to retrieve a small pot of salve. It was as he made to lie down again that he noticed Estel's gaze on him.

Legolas could not recall the last time he had blushed so fiercely as he did now. The grey gaze skidded over his chest, slid down his sides and his legs, only to travel upwards again and come to rest upon his hard length.

Estel's voice was breathless and bereft of everything that was remotely alike pride:

"I... I did that... to you?"

With a somewhat rueful grin, Legolas lay down again and pulled him close, his own chest to Estel's back.

"You did, and you do. Although my own mind played a part in it, too." He breathed in the boy's scent and let his hands roam his thighs and buttocks, pushing at his shirt, willing it to disappear.

"I've been thinking of you all day. I thought I would break when you stripped to bathe..." He buried his face in the dark hair and inhaled deeply. "Take it off," he added, with a tug at the shirt.

Estel did as he was bidden, at first struggling to sit, but soon enough his skin was once more revealed to Legolas. Smiling, the elf ran his fingertips down the length of his spine and relished the way Estel's skin prickled at the touch.

The boy was much more careful with his shirt, taking the time to fold it neatly before leaving it on the floor. Legolas was on the verge of saying something about that but then Estel turned back to him and there was colour high on his cheeks. Legolas found himself quite speechless.

Estel slid back down under the covers, but he twisted his head in a silent plea for another kiss. Legolas willingly obliged and took the opportunity to pop the cork of the pot and slick his fingers. When he had Estel sufficiently relaxed – when his attention was focused on the way Legolas slid his tongue against his own – the elf slipped a finger between his buttocks and searched for the entrance to his body. He found it and probed it, and now Estel did tense. Draping himself over the boy, Legolas coaxed him to breathe evenly as he worked a first finger inside. Estel's eyes were squeezed tightly shut but he did not complain as Legolas made his body accept the intrusion.

He offered more kisses, to his cheek and temple, to soothe the pain and when he deemed it possible, added a second finger and then a third. The rigid set of Estel's shoulders was conquered and the slim body grew pliant again. Carefully, Legolas twisted his fingers and grinned when he found the bundle of nerves deep inside that heat.

Estel started and his long inhale transformed into a cry. His eyes flew open. "Oh! That's...!"

"I know," said Legolas, repeating the action and rejoicing in the way the boy squirmed underneath him. Pulling his fingers out, he instead grasped Estel's length with long fingers and stroked. The boy shuddered as waves of pleasure washed over him. His eyes drifted closed again as Legolas moved his hand up and down his length.

Up until now he had managed to ignore his own need but now his desire mounted anew and the feel of warm skin against his own was no longer enough. Temporarily abandoning Estel's arousal, he took himself in hand and pushed against the tight opening and slid inside. At first, he believed the groan that tore from a pair of lips to be Estel's but soon realised, when a second followed, that it was his own. The boy was trembling and Legolas himself was none too steady as he waited for Estel to adjust. Once more he took Estel's hard length in a firm grasp and stroked. A small whimper urged him on and heat slithered down his spine.

It was long since he had made love properly. There had been many instances of rough coupling, some sucking and twisting, thrusting and pounding deep into the night and another, and it had been good. But now, when Estel fell back into his embrace and was so soft and so warm, and yet so hard, Legolas found that the gentle roll of hips, or the ghosting of lips over a cheek, or a content, slow smile took him even deeper. He stroked Estel in time with his thrusts and revelled in the way the boy moaned and moved against him.

Estel came so beautifully that it almost brought tears to Legolas' eyes. First he tensed, his breath caught in his throat, and then he seemed to want to curl into a ball, only to somehow sink deeper into the elf's arms, with a soft cry leaving his lips and a startled look on his face. Legolas' hand, slick with release, was caught in Estel's trembling grasp and held to his chest and Legolas could feel his heart beating wildly.

His hand stayed there for as long as it took Legolas to reach his own climax. Estel had gone completely soft now and steady, deep thrusts into his velvety darkness robbed the elf of most of his wits. When he peaked, he was only conscious of his mouth covering the boy's.

The climb back to awareness was long and steep, and Legolas only reluctantly made it. He was still sheathed in the supple body and made no move to pull out. Estel's hair tickled his face but he only tightened his hold on the boy and was happy that he met with no resistance.

The night had darkened further and the first ray of moonlight had fallen in through the window-glass, when Estel turned in his arms and buried his face in the crook of his neck.

When Legolas pulled him even closer, Estel followed so smoothly, wordlessly begging to be kissed. His lips formed the plea, his tongue pushed it out between them in the form of a keening little moan and Legolas soaked it up. He gave in, too easily, so readily; hidden from any curious eyes, they kissed because Estel begged and because Legolas could not resist this temptation.

"Do you remember what he said," whispered Estel at last, when the last embers had died in the fireplace and a new sheen of sweat was coating his brow. "The innkeeper, this morning?"

His fingers were tangled in Legolas' hair.

"No?"

There was a moment of dense silence before the boy spoke again. When he did, it was in a soft, nearly inaudible voice. "He thought I was yours."

There was no way to answer that. Not now, not tonight. Legolas could feel the weight of the implication heavy on his heart but it was too much to think about. He caught Estel's wayward hand and brought it to his lips to kiss it.

Estel's gaze followed the movements of their joined hands. When all was still, he spoke again, "I don't know where I'm going."

Legolas looked into those grey eyes, almost lost in the moonlight. Beyond them lay the world and many rumours and whispers of a growing shadow. He tightened his hold on the boy.

"Me neither."

-xxx-

In the depth of the night, when the moon had turned so that it could no longer spill its light across the bed, Legolas held his breath as he slipped out from underneath the covers and, as soundlessly as he possibly could, got to his feet. Behind him, Estel sighed in his sleep but did not wake

The boy slept on as Legolas crouched beside his gear and clothing to find the cloth-wrapped knife he had got the day before. The blade was not a large one, but it was beautifully set in a horn handle, carved to resemble the head of an eagle. For as long as he could remember, Legolas had been fascinated with the majestic birds – said to be the heralds of Manwë himself – and when he had caught sight of the knife in the market, he had bought it on a whim. He had meant to keep it for himself but now things had changed.

Moving as quietly as he could over to where Estel's belongings lay in a neat pile, he sheathed the blade and slipped it into one of the bags. He sat for a little while, more sensing than seeing the room around him. Without really knowing what he was doing, he placed a palm against the cool leather and mumbled into the darkness, "The eagles watch over you when I cannot."

Morning would come all too soon. He rose to his feet and returned to the bed. As he lay down and gathered a warm and soft Estel into his arms, he could not really say why tears were stinging his eyes.

He claimed another kiss and tried to think no more.

End