1. The Scars of Stone And Sky
In his mind he begins to spin a story for the stone: how it came to lie deep in the dark earth a long time ago after all was sung to being, how it stirred and shifted as these grounds were broken and made anew, how the walls of Imladris were raised around it. He imagines he can read this story in the edges and scars of the stone.
He sits under the tree for a long time, looking upward at the changing light through the green and golden layers of leaves, the stone forgotten in his hand. He is fifteen and the last of the summer is wrapped around him; he sees many stories that he believes could be his, many lives that he has but to reach for and he can live them. He lets them grow and branch out and push against the limits of the sky, and he cannot see where they end, not yet.
But that night he espies his mother talking to Lord Elrond, and when he approaches them and they hide the words away, he knows they were talking about him.
He always does.
In the morning the sky is the same as before: his thoughts have not marked it, have not left a scar on its infinite bright shadow.
He asks about his father, and he asks again; but words shift on his mother’s tongue like the colour of the skies, and stories shift as they leave her lips. Somewhere behind the stories of what might be Estel senses one that does not shift, will not change, is set in stone.
He knows it will claim him one day.
* * *
When Aragorn wakes, the darkness is dense outside the walls and the Shadow is near. He feels its weight in his bones and his blood, its chill tightening on his skin. A dim lantern is flickering on the windowsill; the White City is awaiting morrow soundlessly.
Come dawn, he must stand as a lord again, pass through the Houses of Healing and the whispers of the King’s return floating in the hallways. Come another night and another dawn, he must take to the path that is hard and narrow under his feet and lead the army of the West to the Black Gate beyond which hope is brittle, perhaps already broken.
But tonight he hides under his grey cloak, in a quiet chamber in the farthest corner of the Houses, where no one knows to look for him.
He sits up in the bed and pulls the cloak more tightly around himself, for the night is cold. He sees it then, a figure sitting in the corner: pale and still as a stretch of sky seen through a narrow window.
Legolas looks at him, eyes silvery in the half-light. Aragorn feels an old ache stir inside him, like a reed that silently turns in deep water without sending the slightest ripple to the surface. He thinks of the path under his feet, dead blind stone with fates drawn on it at the beginning of time, those that he has no power to shape anew. But these are things he does not speak of, for there is no changing them with words.
“I expected you to be guarding outside the door,” he says.
“I came in to bring you food,” says Legolas simply. “I can hear from here if somebody is moving in the hallway, and guard is kept at the front door through the night.”
Indeed, there is a tray with a piece of bread, fresh water and dried fruits placed carefully on the wooden bench by the window. Next to the tray there are two clay bowls used in the Houses of Healing for infusing herbs in hot water. The water in the one Aragorn brought with him earlier has grown cold, but in the other bowl the water is still steaming. The sweet fragrance is sweeping the webs of dusk in the corners of the room, and Aragorn understands why his weariness is gone.
“You brought some more athelas as well,” he says. “Thank you.”
Legolas is motionless; the fragile light of the lantern is wavering on his face, glinting in his eyes.
“If you wish me to go, I will go,” he says quietly and shifts.
Aragorn wishes to forestall him, close him within the circle of his hands like fleeing light that is already coming to an end. The Elf does not get on his feet, however, does not leave.
Aragorn lets himself hope, silently and in secret.
“I have slept all I will tonight,” says Aragorn, “and I would prefer to have company, lest my mind turn to paths darker than I wish to walk before I must.”
Legolas turns his gaze to the floor and Aragorn cannot know what is stirring inside him, any more than he can reach the movement of stars or hear their songs beyond the sky. But the Shadow is close and vast and terrifying, and so is death; this they both know.
After a moment or many the Elf tilts his head, looks at Aragorn and a faint smile is dancing on his face.
“What shall we do to pass the quiet dark hours then, friend?” asks Legolas.
The knot in Aragorn’s chest loosens, but does not unravel entirely. A strange and familiar heat is crawling under his skin. He does not let it surface, for it is chained within stone, and not even the hands of night and darkness may set it free.
“Tell me stories I have not heard before,” says Aragorn.
“What stories would those be?”
Legolas seems lost in thought, hands playing with the sleeve ends of his tunic. Absently, he pulls the left sleeve up, revealing a strong arm and rubbing it. Just below the elbow Aragorn is able to distinguish a long white line of healed scar tissue, hardly visible. He wonders how it would feel against his fingertips.
“Tell me the stories behind your scars,” says Aragorn. “You have had many more years than I to gain them, so there should be more than enough tales to keep us occupied until dawn.”
A challenge sharpens Legolas’ face.
“A story for a story, a scar for a scar. If I share mine, you must share yours.”
“So be it,” says Aragorn. The ache arises inside him again, curls up somewhere between his throat and chest. “Would you come closer?” he suggests. “It is too dark for me to see the marks on your skin from afar.”
Slowly Legolas stands up. His sleeve falls back down to cover his forearm. He walks to the bed and sits down next to Aragorn, who senses his warmth, the glow of his spirit within the vigorous body. Aragorn thinks he hears Legolas’ breath hitch as he places his hand on Legolas’ arm. He waits, gives the Elf time to withdraw, to reject; but Legolas looks at him intently in the eye and the tenseness melts away from him under Aragorn’s touch.
Aragorn pulls the sleeve deliberately upwards, until the scar on the forearm is entirely in view. He tarries once more. When Legolas does not draw back, he runs his fingertips lightly over the scar. The skin is even and smooth, but at the widest spot of the scar he finds a small dent where he can still sense the shape of the ancient wound.
“Who gave you this scar?” asks Aragorn.
Legolas takes his gaze off Aragorn’s eyes, lowering it. The breathing is flowing steady and light between his parted lips.
“A wild boar on a hunting trip when I was hardly more than an Elfling. I had accompanied some older Elves without my father’s permission, and it was only thanks to their keen eye and swift skill with the bow that I lived.”
Legolas moves Aragorn’s hand gently away from the top of his own, is again distant and solid as sky. He turns Aragorn’s wrist upwards and brushes the pale streak on it with his thumb.
“What of this scar of yours, who gave it to you?”
“An Umbarian trying to protect his lord and failing, when I walked and fought as Thorongil.”
“A scar that has long outlived its maker, then.”
“Many scars do,” replies Aragorn.
Shadows shift on Legolas’ face like things unspoken, and Aragorn has known this ache for a long time; but he is bound to a path of stone, and the sky above him has never been his to touch. He points at an old, faded mark in the middle of Legolas’ palm.
“The one who gave you this one, does he still live?”
Legolas’ face gives nothing away as he says,
“I should hope so. He sailed into the West a long time ago. It was a parting gift.”
“An enemy, then?” Legolas makes no reply. “A friend?”
“A lover.” The light of ages past is veiling Legolas’ eyes, and Aragorn asks no more, for there are things that belong to this moment, and others that must stay hidden from him.
Legolas leans closer to him and lifts his hand to Aragorn’s neck, where a long and slim scar reaches from below the ear towards the collarbone. Aragorn feels the fever in his own blood, the throbbing of his veins against Legolas’ lithe fingers as their caress lingers on his skin.
“I have long wished to hear the story behind this scar,” whispers Legolas.
“I once fell from a tree in Imladris and a branch scratched me.” Aragorn hears a new kind of edge in his own voice, hoarse with desire.
Somewhere, the path of stone is beginning to crack and crumble.
“Lord Elrond was delighted, I take it?” Legolas’ fingers are aglow on Aragorn’s skin; they slip between the shoulder and the fabric of the tunic, halting there.
Aragorn reaches for words but they will not bend on his tongue, they would escape and give in to what has never been said. His hand rests on Legolas’ thigh and restrained touches are shifting in him restlessly, looking for a way out. Legolas’ eyes are dark and blazing.
Aragorn gazes at him and moves his hand upward, sliding it under Legolas’ tunic, on the heated skin that trembles at his touch. Legolas gasps and bites his lower lip. Aragorn lifts the hem of the tunic, uncovering muscular flanks that are heaving under his hands. His fingers brush a small but deep scar, seemingly cut by a sword’s blade.
“And this one, who made this?” asks Aragorn huskily.
“I should think you would remember,” says Legolas. He sighs deeply and his eyes fall closed. “Once upon a time a young Ranger mistook me for I am still uncertain what – an Orc, perhaps?”
Aragorn’s fingers are moving on Legolas’ skin, his thoughts are moving on Legolas’ body. He has known this ache for a long time, and nearly as long has he known it is not going to go away.
“And how is it possible,” he asks, “that an Elf was no match for a mere Ranger?”
Legolas opens his eyes and smiles a smile that surges over Aragorn, leaves him breathless and trembling and bruised under his skin.
“Ah, but he was an exceptional one. He was already a master of the sword then, and he moved as quietly as an Elf. I was caught off my guard. And I have followed him ever since.”
Aragorn’s face is ever closer to Legolas’, and he whispers his question against Legolas’ lips.
Legolas’ hand moves onto his chest, entwines in the folds of his tunic.
“If he needs to ask, he may not be quite as exceptional as I have always believed him to be,” says Legolas.
It is then that Aragorn feels something shatter inside himself.
He kisses Legolas deeply, twisting his fingers in the pale hair and letting himself open to what is resonating between them. This is a piece of sky suddenly thrown against his unshielded heart, impossible and endless and undeniable; this is the earth growing stone and thorns and silence around him, claiming him and possessing him, until he is caught between sky and stone.
Legolas pulls back from him, face heavy and clouded, limbs tense as a receding beast’s. His hand remains on Aragorn’s chest.
“Aragorn… I do not wish to be your regret. I would not come between you and your vow to another.”
“At death’s door vows are weighed anew, and one bond of the heart does not make another untrue,” says Aragorn and knows it to be so. “My greatest regret would be to know that there was one night when I could have loved you and chose not to. Legolas, I have ached for you nearly as long as I have known you. If you wish to go, go; our friendship will remain unchanged and nothing beyond it will be spoken of between us ever again. But if you wish to stay, you do not need to deny yourself this desire because of me. Should any scars and regret come out of this, I will bear them as I must.”
Legolas makes a sound and Aragorn thinks of trees arching in the wind, he thinks of a storm shredding and throwing them, trying their strength. The shadow on Legolas’ face breaks and dissolves. He takes Aragorn’s face between his hands, looking at him, studying every trait, and leans his forehead against Aragorn’s. The colour of Legolas’ eyes makes Aragorn think of the skies after rain, his skin is smooth and alive under the garments. The ache is running through Aragorn’s whole body in tingling currents, tightening in his throat and chest and loins.
A flame bursts to life behind Legolas’ eyes and he licks his lips, and this time the kiss is longer. Aragorn feels the muscles kindle and respond as he slides his hands over them. Legolas’ lips are warm and soft and hungry against Aragorn’s, and Legolas pulls him closer, breathes into his mouth and climbs to straddle him.
Legolas’ body is firm and unyielding, his movements the relentless and precise movements of a warrior. His hands are everywhere, on laces and belts and bare skin. He licks his palm until it is wet, then drops his hand between Aragorn’s thighs and strokes him root to tip.
Aragorn thrusts forward, grasping Legolas until they are wholly pressed against each other and Legolas is moaning quietly. Aragorn trembles, the white-hot ache wreathing and spinning inside him, and he kisses Legolas again and again, learning his taste, sucking on his lips and tongue, savouring the softness of his mouth.
Legolas’ hips are moving, and his fingers are still on Aragorn’s shaft. Aragorn wraps his hand around their erect lengths and begins to stroke hard. The kiss breaks and Aragorn cannot quite reach Legolas’ mouth now because Legolas is throwing his head back and gasping and letting out small noises, and Aragorn himself is a tremor of sharp, sharp desire, ever closer to release.
Aragorn comes first, the orgasm clutching at him inside, his face heated and moist and his words muffled against Legolas’ neck. Legolas follows after a few more strokes, hard fingers digging into Aragorn’s back. They are wet and sticky and it has been a long time since Aragorn has had such a scent on his skin. Legolas’ hand is cradling the back of his neck.
They lie down on the bed, this narrow space held by the dense and mute stones in the walls, the open and hungry mouth of the night outside. Aragorn knows the Shadow is vast and terrifying and close, and so is death; but Legolas is closer, close as the hidden thoughts in the darkness of his body.
The scars on Legolas’ skin shift like light under Aragorn’s hands, they shift like stories, and they taste like words on his tongue: secret and true and fleeting, once spoken.
Outside the walls the darkness slowly begins to bow towards dawn, washing over sky and stone.
* * *
A man picks up a stone where his tent has been packed away outside the city walls. The surface of the stone is cold and moist against his fingertips; it is full of scars. The horses are waiting and the armies too, and the White City is bidding its farewell to them.
He drops the stone among others, and no longer looks for stories in it. He knows now that stories may bend and break, and that sky cannot be chained within stone.
He mounts his horse and looks at those who follow. A swift, secret smile brushes Legolas’ face and wanes like light. Under his garments, in the hidden places on his skin, Aragorn feels the lingering warmth of Legolas’ hands. Should the Shadow take him, this he will still have.
Aragorn thinks of the scars of stone that will eventually wear away, and of the sky that will remain.
* * *
A/N: Heartfelt thanks to Kenaz for the swift and hawkeyed beta, which truly helped polish this piece.