Summary: Aragorn discovers nothing is simple about a simple bath, while Arwen finds that lending a helping hand has unexpected rewards. Too bad there's an evil Ring to be destroyed and an overprotective father in Imladris. What really happened while Frodo was recovering from the attack of the Witchking...



This Side of Paradise

By Nieriel Raina


Part One: Filthy, Naked and Dreaming of You


At last! The journey had been long and treacherous, but finally, he was home. The hobbits were safe, and Frodo was recovering. Aragorn and Glorfindel had reported all they had seen to Erestor, who would pass it along to Elrond when he finished his healing duties with Frodo. Now Aragorn could take care of some basic needs.


He slipped the dusty leather jerkin from his shoulders and hung it on the peg until it could be cleaned, a habit drilled into his head over his years growing up in Imladris. Gilraen had been quite fussy about such things. His mother had drilled certain habits into young Estel's head for as long as he could remember, insisting on everything being neat and tidy. Dirty clothing left scattered around a room cost him the loss of more pleasant activities and once he had achieved a certain age, his help actually laundering the items.


"We do not make more work for others, even if they are assigned to collecting the laundry," Gilraen had often told him. At the time, his little boy mind had not understood that concept. Now he understood it far too well. Maids had enough to do without picking up clothing strewn from one side of a room to another.


Slipping his filth-encrusted boots off, Aragorn sat them under the jerkin, and then peeled off the tunic he had worn during his journey from Bree with the hobbits. He wrinkled his nose in disgust as he glared at the shirt. Though his family often teased him about his appearance when he arrived from months spent in the wilds, Aragorn did not enjoy being filthy and smelly. He endured it simply because it was necessary to surviving in the wilds; he much preferred clean clothing and hair and regular bathing.


Scratching at his scalp with one hand, and trying not to think about what he might find hidden in his dark locks, he tossed the soiled garment into a bucket next to his boots. Off next came his leggings, even fouler than the tunic. They smelled of sweat, swamp muck, wood smoke and would probably offend even an orc's nose. The stiff leggings joined the tunic in the bucket, followed by his unmentionably filthy small clothes. Those were more fit for the fire than the laundry tubs!


Completely free of every stitch of clothing, Aragorn stepped into the large tub filled with hot water that sat in the center of the bathing chamber and moaned in pleasure as it began its magic of washing away the grime. He bent his knees so he could lay back and immerse as much of his body as he was able, allowing the water access to his sore muscles. Various cuts and abrasions stung but it was a welcome pain. Laying in the water, he closed his eyes and allowed himself to be lulled to near dozing. He would need to scrub with a soapy cloth and wash his hair, but not just yet.


He let his mind wander, as the smell of some crushed herbs in a dish on the small table next to the tub pulled him back in time to a hill in Lothlórien many years prior. There he had heard the most beautiful voice utter vows that he cherished and relived in memory as oft as he could. He wiggled down a bit more so his head rested more comfortably against the edge of the tub and let his mind drift to the future, a wicked smile turning his lips.


Lost in imaginings of soft, creamy skin, dark hair and depthless grey eyes, he never heard the light steps in the hall, or the latch lifting — or the creak as the door was swung open.


Part Two: Lending a Hand


Arwen walked, lost in thought and paying no heed to her steps. The initial flurry of activity had ceased since Frodo arrived near death. But the hobbit improved, and now she wondered when his guide would arrive. Was Aragorn alright? Had he been injured? She could not help but worry about her beloved as the not knowing ate at her heart.


"Oh!" She stumbled back a step as something bumped into her and soft cloths tumbled to the floor.


"Oh, my apologies, my lady!" Ivornel, one of the chambermaids, gasped as her eyes met Arwen's. "Please, forgive me! I did not see you!"


Arwen smiled kindly as the servant set the basket she had been carrying on the floor. Ivornel scrambled with one hand to pick up the few towels that had fallen when they collided.


"It is all right, Ivornel. I was not paying attention to my own steps." She paused, noting the chambermaid's awkward fumbling due to a smaller basket slung over the maid's other arm. "Is Thalawest working you too hard, Ivornel? You are carrying far more than usual. Has he become so hard a taskmaster?"


Ivornel looked up, struggling to regain her feet with both baskets. "He is kind as always, my lady. But there is so much going on. New guests arrived today! There is simply too much to do. Oh!" She lost her hold on the basket and it thumped back to the floor, the newly retrieved towels tumbling out again. "Perhaps it is a bit much."


Arwen held back a laugh at the other's comical look of dismay. "It is indeed. Mayhap I can give you a hand with it? Where are the towels to be delivered?"


"Oh no, my lady! It would not be proper!" Ivornel cried out as she stooped to collect the fallen cloths.


"Nonsense! I am not above doing a bit of work. It is not as if carrying a few towels will even cause me to break into a sweat." She knelt and picked up the last towel, refolding it and placing it back in the basket along with the others Ivornel had folded. "Now, you just tell me where to deliver them, and then you can get on with your other chores."


"Thank you, my lady," the maid replied with a sigh of relief. "They are to go to the east bathing chamber. Gaeras is opening that room up for some of the guests, and he would like it stocked and ready should they wish to bathe. The towels just need to be set on the shelf." She curtsied. "I appreciate your help, my lady. It is a great relief!"


"It is nothing," Arwen assured her. "Now, be off with you! I can handle carrying a basket of towels to the East Wing." And so saying, she lifted the wicker and set it against her hip. Turning around, she made her way to the eastern side of the Last Homely House with a smile on her lips.


She entered the bathing room and was surprised to see a lantern lit the room, then her eyes fell to the occupied tub in the center of the room. Her eyes widened, then her smile tilted into to a rather wicked smirk. She would enjoy this encounter, that was for certain.


Part Three: On Dangerous Ground


Aragorn startled, his eyes shooting open as fingers suddenly trailed down over his chest. His hand shot out, capturing the intruder's fingers. They were soft and delicate compared to his rough, calloused hands. He felt a moment of disbelief, then her voice whispered over him, and he felt her body settle on the floor behind him.


"What have we here? A lonely ranger, bare of his weapons and helpless in a tub?"


Aragorn blinked, Arwen's low voice sending a thrill through him; then he glanced down at himself in the water. With his legs thrown over the sides of the tub, the direction his thoughts had traveled before she had entered and the seductive quality of her voice, he realized he was quite exposed in a rather vulnerable position. His eyes widened and he released her hand, shooting to an upright sitting position and pulling his legs into the tub in an attempt to cover himself.


He heard her soft chuckle. "Or perhaps not so bare of weapons; it seems a ranger is never without a sword."


"Arwen!" he snapped, his face heating as his eyes focused on the closed door. If they should be discovered… Elrond would kill him, plain and simple. Not to mention Elladan and Elrohir, or Glorfindel, or Erestor, or… "You should not be here," he hissed, thoughts of a painful death diminishing the effects of her presence on him.


"Oh, but I am the lady of the house and it is my duty to see the guests within it have their needs met." Her hand trailed up his chest to his shoulder. He jumped as she dipped a washcloth into the water. Reaching out, he snatched it from her, using it to try to cover more of himself.


Twisting his head around to glare at her, he found himself face to face with a very amused looking Arwen. “You act as if I have never seen a naked man before, my love,” she teased, her lips twitching.


Her words drove his protests from his mind and brought a frown to his face. Arwen? His Arwen? Had seen a naked man? “When?” he asked, wincing at his own affronted tone. He glanced longingly over his shoulder at the towels on the shelf behind his beloved, out of reach unless he stood and turned to face her where she knelt on the floor…


“When?” she laughed. “For nearly an age I have worked alongside my father in his healing arts. You forget, my love, that I am no naïve maiden, no matter how innocent I may be in body.” She paused and then frowned at him. “Estel, why has your face turned all red again?”


Aragorn shook his head, not about to answer that question. “Arwen,” he pleaded. She was getting far too much amusement from this at his expense. In other circumstances (preferably those in which she were his wife) he would enjoy the situation along with her. But not here and not now.


“It is not every day I am so rewarded for helping out the maids.” Her eyes sparkled with mirth. “I only wished to help you bathe, my love.” But her laughing eyes also held a longing he understood all too well. Good intentions aside, they tread on dangerous ground.


He opened his mouth to state such when the door opened again. His head swung around and before he even gazed at the intruder, Aragorn knew he was in trouble. When his eyes alighted on Elrond standing in the doorway… He gulped.


I am going to die.



Part Four: Daddy's Girl


Arwen's heart rate tripled as she gazed up at her father and suddenly realized that in finding her beloved in such a state and in teasing him, she had made a grave error. She had not once thought they would be discovered, and yet now her father now stood in the doorway, his eyes on them both. Elrond's face was expressionless, always a dangerous sign, but his eyes…


Her breath caught in her throat and her apprehension turned to true fear. Her father's eyes burned with the rage of a man about to commit murder. She had only seen that look once before in her father's eyes, and that was when he had gotten word that Celebrían had been attacked.


Aragorn stiffened where he sat before her. He knew Elrond's moods as well as she did. Nothing he said would make a difference either. She needed to do something, and quick, but what? How could she ever divert her father's wrath? She needed to distract him somehow, make him think that what he was seeing was anything other than what it really was.


Not that we have done anything wrong!


A dark discoloration on Aragorn's shoulder caught her attention, the skin swollen and a rainbow of colors. It looked quite painful and her heart leapt as a plan formed in her mind. Letting her eyes trace his body further, she also discovered several cuts she had not noticed before.


Yes, this might work, but I must play the part well.


"Adar!" Arwen gasped out, turning what she hoped was her most innocent, doe-eyed expression upon him. The sound of her own voice grated on her nerves but she would endure it. She would need every bit of her feminine charms to convince Elrond. "I am so glad you are here! Estel is hurt!"


"Not nearly enough." At least that is what she thought her father growled. Aragorn pressed back against the tub, but thankfully remained silent, his eyes fixed on Elrond. The fire in Elrond's gaze did not lessen as his eyes narrowed suspiciously upon her.


Oh dear. He does not believe me. This shall take drastic measures!


She turned her attention to Aragorn's shoulder and pouted her lower lip out just as she had as a child when bringing him injured animals. "It looks terrible," she said in her saddest little girl voice, "and these cuts begin to fester!" She looked back up at her father, blinking her wide eyes at him and hoping he would not see through her act.


There! She saw the tiniest flicker in his eyes. He wavered!


Aragorn remained still and silent, though she wished he would help play the part. Would it be too much for him to act hurt?


"I was helping one of the chambermaids," Arwen explained, keeping her wide-eyed gaze on her father. "When I entered the chamber to deliver the towels, I found Estel in the bath, his face in a grimace." She eased her features into a pleading expression. "I hurried over to see what hurts he suffered and knelt to examine them." She let her fingers lightly trace the large bruise, careful not to press against the swollen skin. It truly did look painful, though she knew quite well that the grimace on Aragorn's face had been caused by anything but pain, though to his credit, Aragorn hissed in response to her touch. She could have kissed him.


Glancing back up at her father, she realized he still did not completely believe her. "Please, Ada?" she begged in that voice he could never resist, giving him 'the look' — the one that never failed to obtain whatever she wished. "You must look at this!"


Elrond took a step towards her, his anger dying in the face of her seemingly earnest pleas.


"What are we looking at?" a familiar voice asked.


Oh no! No, no, no, no!


A moment later Elladan and Elrohir peeked into the room.





Part Five: Hobbits, Nazgul and Glorfindel, Oh my!


Aragorn groaned. Could this day get any worse? Elrond had started towards him and Arwen, supposedly to inspect his wounds, though Aragorn still feared he might be in for some additional bruising. Elrond might have raised him, but when it came to his daughter, no one was safe. And now his brothers stood in the door, their gazes both surprised and amused, but thankfully not angry. At least not yet.


"Here now, what is this?" Elrohir asked. Aragorn noted that while amusement tinged his brother's expression, his hand rested on the hilt of the knife his brother used to dress game. Aragorn knew how sharp it was and his only consolation was that it would not hurt too badly when they gelded him.


"What is going on here?" Elladan echoed. He appeared simply curious, but with Elladan, expressions meant little.  Aragorn decided that he should have let the Nazgul kill him. It would have been less painful.


Elrond's forward motion had halted upon the appearance of the twins, and he turned partially towards them, sweeping a hand towards Aragorn and Arwen. "Your sister claims she was delivering towels for a maid."


"I was!" Arwen chimed, her annoyance clear in her tone.


Elrond continued as if she had not spoken. "And that upon entering the chamber, she discovered your little brother," —Aragorn frowned at the term — "occupying the tub."


"I did!" Arwen snapped and was dutifully ignored.


"And that he was hurt…"


"Not as much as I will be," Aragorn murmured, shifting uncomfortably in the lukewarm water. Really, was it necessary for them to discuss this here while he sat naked in a tub of rapidly cooling water?


"He is!" Arwen's exasperation was emphasized by the sound of a stomped foot.

Aragorn didn't blame her for her anger. He was getting a bit put out himself. After all, who had walked all over Arda for years looking for that wretched creature, Gollum? Who had returned home only to be sent back out to guard the Shire? Who had rescued Frodo and his companions from their own folly and then been forced to spend weeks in the wilds with hobbits? Who had faced down the Nazgul?


"And she claims," Elrond paused to cast a glance at him at his words and Aragorn wished he had held his tongue, "that she remained in the room to treat his hurts."


Both twins' eyes turned towards their sister and Aragorn peeked up to where she stood beside the tub, expecting another angry outburst, but was instead surprised to see a blush spreading across her cheeks.


"Uh huh," Elrohir said, his eyes twinkling with either deep humor or dark anger. It was so hard to tell sometimes with him. Then his lips turned into a wicked smile as he turned that gaze on his twin. "This beats the time Adar caught you behind the hedge with that maiden from Lothórien."


Elladan grinned. "Yes, at least we both still had our clothes on." The smile turned wicked as he turned calculating eyes towards Aragorn, who wondered what would happen to the line of kings after they removed his ability to reproduce. "Let us see these hurts," Elladan added, stepping further into the room and peering down at Aragorn. He snorted when his eyes met the scratches and bruises that decorated Aragorn's torso. "These hurts required your presence in a closed bathing chamber with your, er, unclothed betrothed?" Elladan asked his sister. Arwen only blushed a deeper pink, and Elladan turned his gaze to his father. "And you believed her?" It was easy to hear the disbelief in his brother's voice and Aragorn cringed.


"I had yet to inspect them before you burst in here!" Elrond snapped, quite uncharacteristic of him, but Aragorn thought the anger might be at how close to the truth Elladan had hit. An argument ensued between the four of them, while Aragorn sat in his cool bathwater feeling quite put out himself. As their voices rose, he wondered if all of Imladris now knew of the situation.


When Elrohir made quite the inappropriate comment, however, Arwen's palm connected to her brother's cheek and the resounding smack brought a short silence to the room. Elrohir lifted a hand to his reddening face, his eyes wide. Then the arguing began again in earnest in louder voices and Aragorn found he had had quite enough.


Standing and uncaring about his unclothed state, he bellowed, "ENOUGH!" All four of the peredhil spun to look at him with wide eyes where he stood in the tub with cold water dripping off places he'd rather not think about at the moment.


"Forgive me for breaking up this family discussion but I am cold, wet, hungry, injured and tired. I have spent months in the wilds without a decent bath, walked for weeks with hobbits — have you ever traveled with hobbits??" When their heads all shook negative, he continued. "They complain about the littlest discomfort and things such as missing Second Breakfast, and Elvensies, and afternoon tea… And don't get me started on that damned pony not getting enough to eat! On top of that we had to divert through a swamp full of biting flies, and even then we were hunted by Nazgul, who tracked us to Weathertop where one of my charges was grievously injured!


"Then we raced for Imladris so Frodo might be saved, only to encounter the merry bells of Glorfindel, which at the time I welcomed! I'd forgotten how annoying he can be in the wild. And once Frodo went ahead on Asfaloth, I had to listen to him grumble and complain about walking the rest of the way back and how foul we all smelled, all the while grinning like an idiot! And once I returned, all I wanted was a bath, something to eat and a bed; so pardon me if I leave you to your 'discussion'."


"And where do you think you are going?" Elrohir asked, narrowing alarmingly angry eyes at him, but Aragorn was beyond caring.


"I am going to find another bathing chamber with hot water and a locking door; and I'm going to finish my bath, dress in clean clothes, and then I'm going to eat whatever I can find and sleep for the next three days!"


Turning, he grabbed a towel from the shelf behind him and wrapped it around him then stepped from the tub, or attempted to. He would have stormed off half naked through the halls of Imladris if his foot had not caught on the edge of the tub, laying him flat on his face at his family's feet with the towel drifting to the floor beside him…just as a cheery voice asked, "Has anyone seen Estel?"


Aragorn groaned and looked up, his gaze meeting the green and brown garb of a Mirkwood warrior, complete with the insignia of the royal family and, specifically, the youngest prince.



Part Six: Resigned Fate


Legolas stared at his naked friend lying prone at Lord Elrond's feet, his head turned just enough that Legolas could see Aragorn had not been rendered unconscious by his fall, for Legolas could see the Man's eyes blinking at the hem of Elrond's robes. And yet Aragorn just laid there, as if resigned to some horrible fate.


Legolas looked up at Elrond. The Master of Imladris was staring at his foster son with a slightly startled look. Then Legolas glanced over at Elladan and Elrohir who looked far more surprised by the Man's fall. No one moved, no one spoke or offered a hand up. It was as if time simply stood still.


Then a small gasp drew his attention across the room where he discovered Arwen standing with one hand covering her mouth, her eyes wide and focused on Aragorn's unclad and very naked form. He had no idea what had led to this situation, but in that moment, the humor of the situation hit him, and he felt his eyes crinkle with restrained mirth.


He cleared his throat, drawing Arwen's gaze to his own. Then he lifted a questioning brow and glanced down at Aragorn and back to Arwen. To his complete amusement, the Evenstar's face turned beet red and she spun around, folding her arms. The edge of her skirt moved, betraying the foot tapping underneath and it was all Legolas could do to keep from bursting into laughter.


Turning his attention back to Elrond, he watched the lord sigh. "Are you hurt?" Elrond asked the Man at his feet.


Aragorn just laid there, staring bleakly at the hem of Elrond's robes. "No," he murmured.


Elrond looked up and his gaze met Legolas's. Legolas felt his lips twitch, though he did try to hold it in. He dared not glance at the twins. As he watched, Elrond lifted a hand and pinched the bridge of his nose as his eyes slid shut. A moment later a most undignified noise left the Master of Imladris, then Elrond's lips took to twitching and the next thing Legolas knew Elrond Peredhel, Master of Imladris, folded double with laughter.


Beside him, Legolas heard the twins begin to snigger as well, but Legolas could not pull his gaze from Elrond. Had he ever seen the lord laugh so? Legolas did not think so. He grinned.


Aragorn continued to lie on the floor, but now his eyes were closed, his head shaking back and forth as if in denial.


"Adar!" Arwen's voice broke through their laughter. "It is not funny!"


"My daughter," Elrond managed, looking up at her but still partially bent with a hand over his stomach. "That," he pointed down at Aragorn, "is funny!"


Arwen's eyes widened and her face flushed again, this time in anger. Legolas could feel her ire. She opened her mouth, but before she could speak, Elrond restrained his mirth to a few chuckles and lifted a hand. "Enough. You should not be here. Go now. We will see that your betrothed is…" he cleared his throat, "properly cared for."


"Properly disposed of, he means," Aragorn murmured from the floor.


"I will not leave you to torment him further!" Arwen fumed, turning livid eyes upon each by turn.


"What did I do?" Legolas asked. "I just got here!"


"You shall never let him live this down," was her reply.


Legolas grinned. "Absolutely not."


"That's for certain," Elladan added.


Elrohir snorted.


Aragorn groaned.


"Out!" Elrond demanded, pointing to the door. In a huff, Arwen moved to obey, hesitating as she passed her poor betrothed. She cast another glance down at Aragorn, but Elladan reached out and grabbed her by the arm, effectively shoving her from the room, then closing the door.


Once the lady was safely from the room, Elrond bent down and began feeling Aragorn's limbs. "You are certain you are not hurt?" he asked.


"Does it matter?" the Man asked. "You are going to kill me, so what's a few bumps and bruises?"


Elrohir snorted again, and Elladan smacked him on the back of the head. "What?" the younger twin asked, looking affronted. "It was funny!" Elladan shook his head, but smirked.


"I am not going to kill you," Elrond said, standing and reaching a hand down to the Man. "You are capable of that all by yourself, it seems. Can't even get out of the bath without…" Elrond began to chuckle again.


Aragorn let out a long moan, but reached up and took his father's hand in one of his own. "This really is not what it looked like," he grumbled.


"Might I suggest that next time you lock the door?" Elrond said, raising a brow. His lips still twitched and the twins' eyes shone with mischievous amusement.


"Forget locking the door. I refuse to bathe in this house again." Aragorn declared, glancing about the floor.


Legolas picked up the towel that had fluttered to his feet and handed it to his friend, who snatched it around his waist.


"Not even a 'thank you'?" Legolas asked, smiling.


"No," Aragorn grumbled. "Arwen was correct; you shall never let me live this down."


"For certain," Legolas confirmed. "You would have to go to Mordor to get any reprieve…" He grinned at the Man.


Aragorn, however, cocked his head to the side. "You swear it? I go to Mordor and you'll forget this ever happened?"


Legolas felt his brows rise high on his forehead. "By the stars, Aragorn! You would be mad to go to Mordor just to get away from being teased."


"Do I have your word?" the Man asked again.


Legolas frowned. Elrond's eyes had taken on a strange gleam, and the twins seemed to be doing their best not to look at each other. Something was going on here, some secret they were privy to of which he had yet to be informed. But Aragorn go to Mordor? It was mad!


"On my honor as a son of Thranduil. If you go to Mordor, I will forget what I've seen…unless of course, I join you, in which case, I shall tease you every step of the way."


— o —


A couple days later…


"I will take it!" Frodo's voice rose over the clamor. "I will take the Ring to Mordor." The silence that followed that statement was deafening. "Though, I do not know the way."


Gandalf rose to his feet. "I will help you bear this burden, Frodo Baggins, as long as it is yours to bear."


Aragorn stood and strode over to the Hobbit. He knelt before Frodo. "If by my life or death, I can protect you, I will. You have my sword."


"And you have my bow…"


The End





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