Author’s Note: Part 2 of the story. Takes place after The Return of the King. Pairing Legolas/Aragorn.
Disclaimer: I don’t own any of these characters, and I’m not making any money from this story.
Warning: Angsty, H/C

...I Can Take It

Aragorn sat silently; his fingers steepled in front of his face, his long legs stretched out in front of him. He stared into the embers of a long-dead fire, seeing nothing. An empty wine flagon sat on the table at his elbow; another lay unheeded by his feet. The room was dark and cold…nearly as dark and cold as the empty space where his heart had once dwelt.

Arwen’s words had been running through his head unceasingly.

“You are not the man I believed you to be… you turn hope into falsehood, trust into mockery …you wound one whose love has never deserted you…one whose love has never deserted you…one whose love has never deserted you…”

Had he been able to move, Aragon would have covered his ears with his hands in an attempt to escape from those angry words…words, he realized bitterly, that were only too true. Too much wine had rendered him incapable of physical action, but had failed to silence the words in his head.

They circled there, chased endlessly by the all-too-well-remembered phrases he had uttered himself.

“No longer can I trust you…you have played me false…I no longer wish to have you by my side…no longer wish to have you by my side….”

Words from his own mouth. Words driven forth without thought, born of frustration and weariness, of too many cares and too many sleepless nights…but no, those were excuses. Poor excuses; excuses for his own weakness, his own failings, his own inability to be the man—the King—he expected himself to be. He sank deeper into the abyss of guilt and despair, cursing the wine that had failed to send him into blissful oblivion.

“You have an amazing talent for taking a bad situation and making it even worse, did you know that, A'maelamin?” A soft voice whispered very close to his ear. He tried unsuccessfully to get his eyes to focus, as strong arms lifted him from the chair and carried him to the bed. Someone removed his boots, efficiently stripped off tunic and leggings, and settled him gently against the pillows. A hand caressed his forehead.

“Let go your cares, let go your sorrow. There will be time to deal with this tomorrow. Sleep now. Sleep and forget…” The voice trailed off, Aragorn’s eyes shut of their own accord, and the blessed oblivion came at last.

# # #

He opened his eyes to a room filled with sunlight that stabbed through his aching head like a dagger. Hastily slamming his eyes shut again, he rolled to one side and let out a small moan as his stomach threatened to lose its contents then and there. Fighting down the nausea, he felt an arm wrap around his shoulders, lifting him slightly, and a goblet of cool liquid was pressed against his dry, cracked lips.

He attempted to shake his head, sure that his stomach could not handle anything at the moment, but the goblet did not move.

“Drink; it will make you feel better.”

Aragorn forced himself to swallow, expecting the worst, but to his surprise the liquid not only stayed down, it eased the nausea and made his throbbing head a bit more tolerable. Cautiously he opened his eyes, and found himself looking up into the solemn cornflower-blue ones staring back at him.

“Legolas?” He queried in a confusion of doubt and relief. The elf smiled down at him.

“Well, it seems you are able to recognize me this morning at least. Were you attempting to drain the wine cellar entirely on your own last night?”

Struggling, Aragorn levered himself into a sitting position and closed his eyes briefly as the room whirled around him.

“Stay still, Estel, and give the drink a chance to work. Even the strongest medicine cannot counter the effects so quickly.” Legolas’ arm was still firmly around his shoulders, the slender body providing support for his own trembling form. With great difficulty, Aragorn pushed himself away.

“Legolas, the things I said, I did not…” he was stilled by a gentle finger against his lips.

“I know that. We will talk about it later. For now, rest a bit. Let my potion work. When you are feeling well, we will talk.”

Reluctantly, Aragorn subsided, and allowed himself to slide back into sleep.

# # #

Two hours later, washed, dressed and feeling reasonably whole, Aragorn left his chambers in search of Legolas. It did not take long to find him.

He was seated on the stone wall of the garden, laughing at something Arwen was saying to him. Smiling, she reached up and crowned him with a wreath of delicate purple flowers, then they both turned their heads as Aragorn’s approach made him known to them. He hated to interrupt the scene; they looked so content, so happy. He hesitated, searching their faces, waiting to see anger, reproach, distrust.

Quietly Arwen moved toward him, took his hand in her own, and bestowed a gentle kiss on the palm. Her eyes shone with love and understanding, but she said nothing, simply allowing her hand to caress his cheek before leaving the two of them alone. Legolas sat still on the wall, waiting for the man to approach him, his face calm and watchful.

Aragorn had to force himself to take the steps forward, to quell the agony in his heart as he looked into those serene blue eyes.

“Legolas, I…I…” he stammered, unable to continue. Legolas simply waited.

“By the Valar, I am a poor excuse for a man!” Aragorn burst out, as he turned, placing both hands flat on the wall and staring off into the distance. “All those years as a Ranger, all the trials, all the dangers faced, enemies overcome, and still I have not the wit to know the difference between friend and foe! I injure those who care for me, belittle those who would help me, cast away the very one whom I love and honor and respect more than any other…” He drew a deep, shaky breath, willing himself to turn and look at the silent figure next to him.

“I cannot say I am sorry. It is not enough, there are no words to express the regret, the sorrow, the anguish I feel for what I have done. And yet you stayed, you cared for me; you looked at me not with disdain and hatred but with understanding. I gave you anger, and mistrust, and returned your attempt to care for me with nothing but hurtful words and deeds, and you…you…” he stumbled to a stop and looked away, unable to continue. After a moment he whispered, “How could you take that from me, and then still treat me with love and care?”

A pale strong hand reached out to his chin, turned his face so that he was forced to look into those deep eyes. “I can take whatever you have to give, A'maelamin. That is what love means.”

Aragorn tore himself away, shaking his head in angry denial. “No, that is NOT what love means! Putting up with my uncontrolled temper, my hateful words, my arrogant behavior, and then acting as though I had done nothing wrong is NOT what love means!”

“I never intended to act as though you had done nothing wrong.” Legolas’ voice was sharp with disapproval. “Nor was I “putting up with” your behavior.” He slid from the wall gracefully, catching Aragorn’s wrist strongly in his hand and forcing the man to face him again. “I was allowing you time to think this through on your own; to come to your own conclusions about what you had said and done. Taking what is given does not mean letting you get away with it once you have realized the error of your ways.” He stared straight into Aragorn’s eyes as he said it, and there was no gainsaying that look. “Nor does it mean letting you wallow in your own guilt and self-recriminations. Love requires atonement, Estel, and then forgiveness. As well you know.”

As the words sank into his awareness, Aragorn could not repress a small sad smile. He did indeed know well.

“Come.” Legolas said firmly. “We will finish this now, and start afresh.” He sat on a nearby low bench, and waited.

Almost, he rebelled. Almost, his pride and kingship and need to be all things to all people triumphed. Then he heard again the words just recently spoken by his beloved elf. “I can take whatever you have to give. That is what love means.” He would show his love no less strong, no less worthy. Steadily he walked forward to stand beside Legolas and allowed himself to be gently guided down across his lap. He felt the deceptively slim arms hold him firmly in place while the nimble fingers effortlessly stripped down his leggings.

Never had Aragorn felt so exposed, so weak. Yet this was only just, was only what he deserved. He had struck out in anger and distrust, and now he must pay with acceptance and vulnerability.

His musing was brought to an abrupt end by the sharp report of a hardened palm striking his bare flesh. The sting was more than he had expected, but he held himself still and quiet as the hand cracked down upon his buttocks again and again. Soon, however, it became harder and harder to remain still.

Legolas felt the slight squirming, the sharply indrawn breath, and increased both the force and the tempo of the strokes. Estel bit his tongue in an effort not to cry out.

“Let it go, Penn-neth.” Legolas spoke calmly while continuing to rain down hard smacks on the tender area between cheeks and thighs. “You are not in charge here. You cannot control what happens. You cannot stop it, nor can you long resist it.”

Aragorn began to struggle, kicking out in an attempt to escape the punishing hand, but his strength was no match for that of the elf, who continued to hold him firmly in place while seriously increasing the blazing heat in his backside.

“Let it go.” His voice was soft, soft as silk, and the palm of his hand was as hard as a rock. The combination swept over Aragorn like a tidal wave, and he felt himself washed away in a flood of love and pain and grief and understanding. A sob forced its way from deep within him, and the dam was broken. More tore from his throat, cries of sorrow and pleas for forgiveness, and finally just wordless, gasping sobs that left him shaking and drained.

The hand that had been so harshly punishing him was now gently rubbing circles on his back, soft voice crooning endearments and reassurance as if he were a little child. Indeed, he felt like a little child; had not felt so helpless and needy in more years than he could remember. Helpless, and needy, and yet safe and cared for. He let the emotions flow through him, let the tears fall softly now as Legolas’ powerful arms lifted him up and cradled him against his chest. He uttered a hiss of pain as his breeches were drawn up, and his hand clutched at Legolas’ silken tunic while the gentle elven voice caressed and soothed him.

They sat for a time, as the shadows lengthened around them, neither wanting to move. It was a brief respite, as they both knew. Aragorn would once again take up his duties and responsibilities; Legolas would once again provide support and assistance for his King. Life would continue to send its challenges, to give its gifts, to take its payments. But whatever life had to give, together they could take.

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