Title: Cold Defeat

Author: tarotgal

Fandom: Lord of the Rings, post-RotK

Disclaimer: Not my boys and not my art, I was simply inspired by both.

Summary: While out scouting, Aragorn and Legolas run into a bit of a problem with the weather.

Notes: Written for the weekly hatching general bunny #78 (Find an interesting picture and base your story on it.). Picture used: Winter3.jpg at Lassegalen's Laire: http://www.lassegalenslaire.com/laire/index.html



Cold Defeat

     "Maybe we should think about heading back!" Aragorn called, taking a step back as a gust of wind caught him off guard in mid-step. He regained his balance then quickened his pace until he had caught up with Legolas. "The storm is getting worse!"


     Legolas cast a glance over his shoulder, cocking his head and regarding Aragorn closely. "Surely the good king is not giving up just because of a few snowflakes?" The joke played in his eyes, making Aragorn smile for a moment.


     "I simply recall the last time I was with you out in the snow when you had the sniffles. Your recovery took you twice as long as normal. And you will not have me in your bed this time to assist you like last." He seemed sad that his place had changed. Even though that memory seemed like a lifetime ago to him, his instincts still told him to take care of the elf as once he did. He refused to give in to them, however. There was Arwen to consider now. And Gimli, too.


     "Estel, I..." But then Legolas froze in realization, though his gloved hand made it up to his face just in time. Two brown, suede fingers played against the bottom of his nostrils, brushing lightly against the slight twitching, shaking as the elf drew a deep breath. "hahhhhhhh...KTChiiii!" He gave a light sniffle, his fingers still brushing and bumping the tip of his nose. "I am, after all, the one who is sick and I maintain we should finish here first. Much as I would love to be back with Gimli in front of a warm fire, I do have an obligation to the other elves."


     Aragorn shrugged so that the armor upon his shoulders clanked. "We will do as you suggest, then." He stuffed his bare hands into the pockets of his outer cloak. He had given Legolas his gloves earlier in their escapade, as the elf owned none. Legolas had insisted all the while, just as he was doing regarding finishing the scouting, that he had not been cold but Aragorn knew him too well and had done some insisting of his own.


     There wasn't much more ground to cover here anyway, and Aragorn could already envision the roaring fire, warm drinks, and thick blankets that lay ahead for them once they returned to their encampment. It was enough to keep him going as they traversed the landscape, mentally mapping the edge of the forest Legolas had hopes to settle in. Two days ago they had stumbled upon a troll den that had taken some effort to eliminate, and the day before they had found an old orc nest, but otherwise the area seemed ideal.


     It looked beautiful, too, even with the trees stripped of their leaves and everything covered in snow. They could both imagine the potential. Once they were sure the area was safe, it was all a matter of where to start building.


     "ih-yihhhh-HITChiiii!" Aragorn dug a hand out to pat Legolas on the back. His hand looked pale against the elf's slick green cloak, but not as pale as Legolas looked in it. Legolas shivered, pulling it more tightly around himself, and Aragorn pushed his fur-trimmed hood over his blonde head with a smile. Then they continued onward.


     The snow began falling more heavily by the hour. While Legolas was able to walk upon it, Aragorn had no choice but to trudge right through. The snow came up just past the tops of his boots, meeting his knees and the hem of his cloak. It made the black shine and soaked into the red velvet, making it heavy and hard to move in. But he pushed through, thinking of resting his feet and snuggling into a warm bed. He smiled as they headed around a last bunch of bushes and swung around to head back.


     He could feel his sword slap the side of his thigh as he moved through the high snow one step at a time, swaying from one side to the other. Legolas walked at a moderate pace, careful not to get too far ahead. Of course, he was slowed by the need to stop and sneeze occasionally anyway.


     Aragorn was almost glad for the snow as it helped Legolas stand out in the forest. The green outfit would have blended into the trees, bushes, and grassy hills had it been spring or summer. But even through the thick flakes and raging wind, he could make the elf out as they walked now.


     "Aragorn!" Legolas shouted, turning. It took Aragorn by surprise. The man lost his rhythm and fell forward into the snow. It was thick and hard so that he didn't sink straight to the ground, but he was covered with snow up to his ears. Legolas helped him stand back up, then the elf put a hand on his shoulder. "Aragorn," he said again. "Something is very wrong with our camp."


     With great alarm, Aragorn brushed himself off and squinted through the trees as though he could see as well as the elf. "What is it?"


     Legolas shook his head. "I cannot... see..." He pressed the back of his hand to his nose and mouth, fingers splayed but limp as all his energy was going into controlling his oncoming sneeze. Aragorn reached up and held onto the elf's hand on his shoulder in a comforting way, and Legolas squeezed back. "ihhhh-KChhhhh! Yihhh-EHShihhh!"


     "Galu," Aragorn whispered as Legolas sniffed and straightened back up, relying on Aragorn for support in doing so. "The camp?" he reminded Legolas worriedly.


     "I believe... buried..." Legolas shook his head again, unable to say for certain.


     "We should hurry then," Aragorn suggested.


     They quickened their pace, with Aragorn moving faster almost impossibly through the deep snow. It still seemed to take forever to reach the spot where they'd set up camp days ago.


     Not thirty paces from it, Legolas stumbled, his foot sinking below the snow and his whole body crashed forward, falling down into it. Seeing the fall through the heavy snow but not being able to get to him in time, Aragorn scrambled forward. It was awkward helping him up, but the elf was light and used to being above the snow unlike the man who was not so lucky and had to walk through it. He thought momentarily of just scooping the elf up in his arms, but thought perhaps that might feel a bit too familiar. So, Aragorn just grabbed a hold of Legolas and pulled. Legolas wrapped his arms around the man as he was helped out of the snow and to his feet once more. Or, more accurately, his foot.


     Legolas winced when he tried to put weight on his right foot. "Ankle," he whispered.


     "Twisted?" Aragorn asked hopefully but concernedly.


     "I am certain I heard a snap," he replied, shaking his head. He hopped forward on one leg and grabbed hold of Aragorn as the hop threw him off balance. "But I can still move." On the verge of making another bad hop, he paused to cup a hand to his nose and mouth. "ehhh-YIHChhhhh!" He pitched forward, hood falling off, hair streaming down his back. "IhhhChiiiih!"


     Aragorn chuckled and pushed Legolas' hood back up for him, the fur tickling his cheeks. "Galu. Now hold onto me." He pulled Legolas down to his level, behind him on the trail he'd made through the snow. Legolas held onto his shoulders and they moved forward carefully, step by step.


     When they finally reached the area, there was no indication that there had been a camp at all aside from a few tent posts and part of a banner sticking up out of a large snowdrift. Aragorn clapped a hand to his eyes with a sigh. Legolas rubbed more at his nose. It would take hours to dig it all out and set it back up, assuming it was not damaged beyond repair, and there would not be any dry wood with which to build a fire.


     "What are we going to-- ah-- do?" Legolas asked, slightly breathless from walking with such difficulty.


     Aragorn rubbed his hands together as he thought. "Clearly we won't be staying here tonight." Their only option, as far as Aragorn could see, was to walk towards town where they'd stabled their horses and left the rest of their company.  The problem was that Legolas was in absolutely no condition to walk a short distance, let alone a long one. And at that estimated pace, it would take all night and well into the morning to reach their destination.


     "You are still thinking of heading back," Legolas guessed, and Aragorn nodded. He was not yet ready to give up completely. "I do think we had better, but I cannot guarantee how long I shall be able to keep going. You might have to go on ahead and send help back."


     Aragorn did not care for the idea of leaving an ill and injured Legolas out in the middle of a storm. He was confident the elf could take care of himself under normal conditions but these circumstances were far from normal. If danger should appear, Legolas would have little ability to fight and even less to flee. So he hoped that Legolas could make it farther than either of them expected. "You may lean on me as much as you need," he said. "Let me be your other leg." Legolas gave a firm nod. They collected a few belongings from the campsite and then they started off.


     It did not take long for the two of them to fall into a pattern. Aragorn would take a step forward with his right foot. Then he would move his left foot up beside it just as Aragorn hopped forward. It was slow but steady progress but the camp was barely behind them when Legolas requested they stop for a moment.


     "Forgive me, my friend," Legolas said, hanging off the man's side and looking up towards the snowy hill which still lay in front of them as though he were an elf with vertigo. "But I am short of breath and dizzy." He cupped a gloved hand to his face. "hihhChiiiiii! ihh-hihh-yihhhh-Chhhhhh!" He sniffed and looked into Aragorn's eyes, pleading. "Already I must rest a moment more."


     Understanding that the elf did want to try to continue on, Aragorn looked around for a place that might be more suitable than standing in the middle of open forest. In this particular spot, he could feel more wind and snow hitting them and contributed that to the open space and fewer trees surrounding them. The man spotted a promising spot a few meters away. "Just a few steps further," he told Legolas who, as he was now relying on Aragorn just to stand, had no choice in the matter.


     Aragorn led them to a tree which grew so that one branch came off the thick trunk and made its way not upwards but sideways. It was just above knee-high with all the packed snow beneath it, and Aragorn was confident it would serve as a good bench. Once they were right up to it, Aragorn could see that it was a substantial branch, but one that might break off if too much weight were applied. He quickly brushed the snow off of it, his hand stinging as it came into contact with the cold and wet though he had no time to linger on his own discomforts. The branch would surely not hold them both, but it would hold the elf without a doubt.


     "Put your arm around my shoulders," he told Legolas, who did just that. Then he scooped the elf up and set him down lightly on the branch. Legolas was sitting on part of his cloak, which had fallen open in all the movement. And Legolas still held onto and leaned into Aragorn who stayed at his side to keep the elf from falling off. For added assurance of that, he held Legolas with a hand on the elf's far arm and a one of the elf's far thigh. Most importantly, it got Legolas off his foot and allowed him to relax properly for a few moments.


     Legolas sighed silently. Aragorn could feel the elf's body rise and fall with the breath. "Estel," Legolas began, looking down at his injury as though he could see the break inside. But the name was all he could manage before his breath caught. Frustrated, he held his gloved hand up to his mouth. "hahhhh-CHIIIIH! Hehhhh-SHIIIIII! EH-Chiiiiiii!"


     Aragorn held him tightly to keep him from falling off the branch as he sneezed. Legolas' hood had slipped down again. Hunched over slightly from the sneezes, he rested his head against Aragorn's chest. His eyes were level with the leaf pin the man had been given in Lothlórien and his cheek pressed into the cold blue and red fabric which bore the White Tree of Gondor. Legolas sniffed hard and coughed weakly a few times. "You should go on alone," Legolas told him.


     "I will not leave you here," Aragorn replied. "You are not well and there is far too much snow."


     Legolas shook his head. slightly, still keeping it against his friend's chest. "I... you... hahhh-Chiiieee! ehhhSChhiiiii! I... hehhhh..." Legolas' own struggle was lost. "EHChiiiiih!"


     "I am sorry, but that argument is not convincing enough. It is settled: I shall not leave you and we will rest until you can continue onward." He looked around at the scene before him, not at all certain how they would proceed.


     Legolas sniffled hard, dragging his fingers under his nose repeatedly as he held off sneezing long enough to speak, "I am simply so sorry that you're in this mess... hehhhKSChhiii!"


     Reaching over, Aragorn directed Legolas' face upwards, forcing the elf to look him in the eyes. "The blame does not reside solely on your shoulders. We are in this mess together and will get out of it as such."


     Comfortingly, Aragorn stroked the side of the elf's head. He knew his hands must be cold and his ring freezing, but Legolas seemed to calm at the touch, especially as his fingers grazed gently over the pointed tip of Legolas' ear. The elf closed his eyes wearily and sniffled again in a sort of appreciatory manner. Instinctively, Aragorn's lips found Legolas' forehead and kissed gently.


     Aragorn and Legolas might have even relaxed more had it not been for the sound of a horn, deep and rumbling down at them through the trees. Tensing, they both looked up at its origin to see a small search party at the top of the hill, apparently signaling to others that they had found what they were searching for. Relieved to see they were flying the king's banner and had brought horses, Aragorn burst into a full smile. Legolas, too, was relieved at their arrival, but did not smile.


     His expression was grave not because he was an elf and did not usually show such outward emotions, but because of the sight that met him at the top of the hill. One member of the search party looked just as grave, though perhaps angry and shocked were somewhat better words for it. "Gimli," Legolas whispered at once, sitting up straighter and pulling back from Aragorn, who still held him lest he fall off. At the name and as he noticed the same, Aragorn's smile faded as well. No matter how they explained it, Gimli would still be furious with them. And to say dwarves had jealous streaks would be putting it mildly.


     As Gimli and the others headed down the hill towards them, Legolas gestured for Aragorn to help him down, and the elf stood on one foot, holding onto the branch instead of Aragorn. As he felt more sneezes coming, he simply turned his face towards his shoulder. "hehhh-IHHKshhhhh! ehhhhhChiiishhhhh!"


     Gimli stopped right in front Aragorn and Legolas, looking from one to the other. Legolas rubbed his nose into his shoulder and cleared his voice. "Gimli, I can explain..."


     "Save your breath," Gimli said at once. He reached up and suddenly Legolas found himself entirely in the strong dwarf's arms. He wrapped his own arms around Gimli's neck to help keep balance. Gimli hesitated for a moment, then gave Legolas a quick but caring kiss not on the forehead but on the lips.


     Then Gimli nodded towards Aragorn and the three led the way back up the hill to where the horses waited for them. "I'm glad to see you're both alive, safe, and... relatively well," he said, eyeing Legolas briefly. He kept his eyes on the ground for the most part so he would not lose his footing. "When the snows picked up, we set out to find you and located what was left of your camp. Search parties have been combing the vicinity for the last hour."


     "My fault entirely," Legolas explained. "Aragorn thought we should turn back but I--"


     "I thought I said to save your breath," Gimli said, cutting him off again. Then, watching Legolas' face out of the corner of his eye, "Aragorn, would you reach into my left front pocket, please?"


     Not wanting to get on the wrong side of the dwarf, Aragorn quickly obeyed, withdrawing a handkerchief. He handed it over to Legolas just in time to catch the sneezes. "ehhhh... hehhhh-YIHHHH! ehhhhChiiii! Ehhh... ehhh-HEH-TChiiii!"


     "Caught another cold, have you?" Gimli asked in a most non-judgmental way, and Legolas nodded in reply, busy snuffling and blowing into the handkerchief. "Well, you'll soon be wrapped in hot blankets and sitting in front of a fire. That should help." He glanced over at Aragorn. "Both of you. You look frozen, too, Laddie."


     Aragorn nodded, making tight fists in his pockets in an attempt at keeping his hands as warm as they could get at the moment. He hurried along after Gimli and Legolas, willing to admit defeat by the snowflakes for today at least.