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Legolas squirmed as the Ranger's hand snaked into the waistband of his tight leggings.

He should have run. He could have, but now.....now he was lost.

The elf groaned softly, hardly able to breathe as that skilful and knowing hand moved slowly and deliberately lower. Calloused fingers drew down his garments to reveal the pale flesh beneath, and then he felt just the barest of touches as the palm rested delicately upon his quivering skin.

He should have run.

Heat, smarting, burning, took his breath away - he couldn't think, couldn't speak. All he could register was the fierce pain of the relentless strokes that left tracks of fire in his flesh. He wished it would stop, but he knew the end would not come yet. Not until he surrendered completely. His hands clutched at the bark of the tree trunk that supported them and he panted, open-mouthed, trying to cope with the stinging waves of pain as the Ranger tore into him.

The Ranger was angry, of that he was in no doubt; but he was grateful that the man had taken time to cool his frayed temper before leading him to this secluded glade to exact his penalty. He was relieved that none of the others would hear his cries, though for now he swallowed them resolutely. It would not do to capitulate too soon; the Ranger would know if his surrender was premature or was not absolute.

He needed this, he knew, they both did, this catharsis, this release. The weight of responsibility weighed heavily on the Ranger and he had to maintain control, over others and over himself. Boromir had voiced challenges that even now undermined his decisions and brought to the surface all manner of self-doubts. Splits that had started to appear in the Fellowship would widen, and the quest would fail; to the ruin of all.

For all his skill and prowess as a warrior and a leader, the Ranger had little faith in his heritage, his race, his destiny. He needed to exercise authority, he needed to have others acknowledge it. He needed this, even though he dare not admit it.

Legolas would have wept, had he had the breath to do so. Regret weighed heavy on his heart. He knew he should have held his tongue, not rushed to the Ranger's defence...he had been warned of this before. So quick to support and defend, his angry intervention had simply invited further dissention and derision. He should have had the wisdom to remain silent. And now, he suffered the consequences of his earnest but ill-judged words. The penalty was severe, but calm and order would be restored, the Ranger would be back in control, the wielder of power and authority reaffirmed, his hand steady and sure.

The Ranger shifted his hold on him, tilted his body at a steeper angle to give himself better access to that most sensitive spot. As his strokes hit home Legolas knew the end was near. The fierce onslaught was building towards a climax; he clung on for dear life, gasping and begging for an end to his ordeal.

The Ranger was grunting with the effort of maintaining the blistering pace. The rhythm of his strokes became ragged and sweat dropped from his brow, burning the elf’s flesh where it splashed down on him.

And then, just when he thought he could endure no more, at last it was over. Aragorn was clutching him to his chest, smoothing his hair, quieting his sobs, his own face damp with bitter tears. Guilt at what he had done...what he had been driven to do.

Despite the pain, Legolas sighed in relief and contentment. This was the best. This is what made it worth all the agony, every burning stroke. This wonderful quiet time of peace and serenity, that incredible lightness of spirit as if his soul had left its body behind so that it could soar, weightless and unburdened.

Because it could. And the words of grace and absolution came to his lips so easily now.

“You have led us this far, and you have not led us astray. I was wrong to speak as I did. Forgive me?”

“-moe edaved, Legolas”

The blessing of sacrifice.

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