Title: Shifts I

Author: tarotgal

Fandom: LotR, near the end of FotR

Rating: G

Disclaimer: Not mine! None of it! I promise!

Summary: The goings on during one night during the fellowship's journey 

Notes: Written in honor of backvelvetband's birthday, May 7



Shifts I


     Constantly on the lookout for Orcs or any other sort of danger for that matter, the eight remaining members of the fellowship took turns staying awake to protect the others as they slept. There was no fire this night, for they were well aware they were being followed.


     But the day's journey had been hard, and nearly everyone had been wet at one point or another. The elf and dwarf's boat had been the first to tip, though neither had been at fault with this. An unexpected movement of Frodo and Sam had caused Aragorn's to rock as well, filling the boat with water that took quite a long time to bail out. Boromir's eye had caught the creature Gollum in its corner and, distracted, had nearly run aground on shallow rocks. Instead, it tipped, losing an oar but none of the more precious cargo. Still, each would have been quite glad for a warm fire to dry clothes and shoes by during the night. Instead, they had to settle for somewhat dried out bedrolls and their wonderfully thick cloaks from Lórien. And each seemed eager for as much sleep as possible that night.


     "Goodnight," yawned Legolas as Aragorn patted his arm and relieved him of duty far into the night. The elf required less sleep than the others, and thus took longer shifts. But tonight he seemed just as cold and wet and tired as anyone else and was most eager to crawl inside his bedroll for a few hours of rest.


     Aragorn sat down on a log a few feet away, his back to the sleepers which were now the four hobbits and Legolas. Once in a while one of the hobbits woke and asked to help out in the watch as well. But it was usually the elf, dwarf, and two humans who stood guard during the night. Behind Aragorn and to his left stood Boromir, leaning with his back to a tree trunk and his arms crossed over his chest. He looked Aragorn's way and nodded in acknowledgement that the other man was taking a shift. To his right and behind sat the dwarf, smoking his pipe and fingering his axe at the same time. Even relaxed, Gimli was always at the ready. Aragorn admired that. Together they formed a triangle, with the sleepers in the middle. They kept their eyes and ears open and tried to be alert.


     Though three of their fellowship were on watch, and all three were tired, there was no conversation to keep them awake. They feared waking the other members and looked forward to the same relative silence when it was their turn for sleep. Yet there was not complete silence. They set up camp close enough to the river to hear its flow, a soft roar of white noise that made them all feel sleepier yet. The gentle rush of water drowned out the other night noises of the woods, making them all a little on edge for fear that they could have a visitor nearby and no hear or realize it until it was too late.


     What they did hear, above the river, was a soft, muffled sneeze. "hh'Chhh!"


     In his sleep, but somehow hearing the disturbance, Pippin mumbled a very sleepy "Bless... you..."


     Boromir smiled at the hobbit's comment, and looked up to meet Gimli's gaze across from him. Gimli grinned back, "I would expect hobbits to be able to eat in their sleep," he said, pulling the pipe from his mouth to speak. "Compared to such, speaking while asleep is no hard task."


     Aragorn turned around as well, with a grin of his own. He could easily see the dwarf eating in his sleep. Eating, drinking, and smoking as well. He would have liked to have done likewise just now. If only he could manage to be attentive and stand watch while sleeping and all would be set.


     He looked down at the five sleepers, wondering if Legolas had drifted off yet or not. He looked asleep, or at least the bit of him that was visible did. He had snuggled down into his bedroll so that just a bit of the top of his head was visible. As the night was cold, the hobbits all slept similarly though in pairs. Merry and Pippin slept back-to-back while Sam and Frodo did the same. Frodo was curled in a tight ball under his bedroll, looking especially miserable not just cold. The journey had been hard for them all, but the influence of the ring was weighing hard on Frodo in a way none of them could really understand.




     Aragorn looked up and then over at Boromir, who was running a hand through his hair. His head was down, and he gave a light but visible shiver.


     "Blesses," Gimli called over to the man. He bit back down on the end of his pipe. There was nothing left in it to smoke, but he seemed to like holding it in his mouth anyway.


     Boromir lifted his head. "I did not sneeze," he said flatly. "I thought it was you." Gimli shook his head. In unison they looked over at Aragorn, who already held a hand up.


     "It was not mine, either," he told them. Both the dwarf's and the other man's faces showed doubt. "Truly," he insisted, his voice tired and a bit rough as always but free of congestion. "I am not ill."


     "Did not say you were," said Gimli. "We only assumed you had sneezed."


     "I had not," Aragorn repeated firmly. If it had been his, he probably would have denied it as well. But the truth was this time that it really was not his. His nose felt calm and clear. But the question remained: who had sneezed, then? The sneeze had been nearby, and Aragorn was sure it must have come from their group as he was sure no one else was about. But the only ones awake were they three. He could not imagine either Gimli or Boromir dragging it out this long if it had been theirs. "Who then...?" Aragorn asked curiously, looking from Gimli to Boromir and back again. But they had no answers to give. Gimli looked around, as though searching for someone else. Boromir simply stood against the tree looking thoughtful.


     Minutes passed with no sneezes, and no noises at all apart from the wind rustling in the leaves and the ever-constant flowing river. All three slowly put it out of their minds, turning their attentions towards their task of standing guard. Not far from their thoughts was the crossroads they would soon be at. There were multiple paths to take, and the time to decide would be soon. Aragorn knew the decision would be on Frodo's shoulders and hoped the hobbit would be up to making the right one. Whichever they chose, however, would be dangerous. There was no way to avoid that.




     Another sneeze. Aragorn looked around, as did Gimli and Boromir. It was quite obvious that none of them had lied, for not one had sneezed. And, yet, the sneeze had been heard just the same.


     "If hobbits could eat and speak in their sleep, surely sneezing would not be out of the question?" Gimli suggested.


     Boromir frowned, looking them over critically. Aragorn felt inclined to agree with Gimli's assessment. Perhaps one of the little ones had caught cold from a spill in the river today. Considering the little food and sleep, it would not be unlikely. But the question was, which one of the four? And why had they not noticed before now? They hesitated to wake any of them up to find out, but curiosity seized them all now and had no intention of letting go. They all watched closely and carefully, studying the sleepers for movement and sound. Even a light snore would have been helpful. But there was nothing now. So they waited.


     And they did not have to wait long. Not five minutes later there was another sneeze. "h'Kchh!" And though they were watching closely this time, they did not see any of the four small bodies shake from sneezing. They did spot the fifth body moving, however briefly.


     Aragorn looked to Boromir, who looked back with concern. Gimli simply looked confused. 'But he's an elf,' Gimli mouthed.


     He motioned for them both to be silent, and then Aragorn rose and walked quietly over to the sleepers. He was quite glad for the white noise from the river now. He crept over quietly, squatting down beside the large bedroll. He held his breath as it moved slightly, and then "hh'Chhh!"


     Aragorn threw back the blanket to reveal Legolas. The elf was lying on his side, propped up on an elbow, with a finger pressed hard against the bottom of his nose. His nostrils twitched violently against his finger, and his ears twitched in synch.


     "Legolas," Aragorn breathed heavily.


     Legolas' lips curled up into a soft smile. "I am afraid you caught me in a rather-huhh- compromising position."


     Aragorn sighed. "Oh, Legolas..." As he watched the elf struggling against the tickle in his nose, he imagined how Legolas must have been lying still, trying to keep his sneezes back this whole time.


     Only in battle did Legolas ever wear such a look of concentration, and it only intensified as the moments passed. His brow furrowed, his dark eyebrows narrowed. The smile shifted into a frown and his breathing hitched. As his nostrils flared more, he soon realized that he would not be able to hold this sneeze off for much longer. He closed his eyes as his nose and ears twitched like mad. Aragorn reached out and laid his hand on top of Legolas' where it lay against his bedroll. Finally he relented. "h'Chhhh! h'CHH!"


     The sneezes were quick, but when he opened his eyes, Boromir was at one side and Gimli on the other. Gimli took him in a comforting hug from behind, and Boromir put a hand to his forehead. "Your skin feels as though it is on fire," he said.


     Aragorn squeezed Legolas' hand. "My friend, why did you not tell us you were ailing?"


     "It is but a light sniffle. A few hours' rest will see it vanish I am certain." He restrained a cough with much less effort than he'd taken for the sneezes. "I did not wish to worry anyone."


     Aragorn's expression softened. That was the elf, all right. Always looking his best on the surface no matter what was the matter. But his eyes betrayed him. Aragorn had been friends with the Elven prince far too long not to see that. Even Gimli, looking at him from an angle both behind and to the side, could see it. Boromir, however, saw only that Legolas was going to sneeze again.


     The elf's breath caught and his finger scrubbed at the bottom of his nose. His eyes closed, but he held the sneezes back as best he could. He tried to ignore the tickle in his nostrils and the wiggling of his ears that signaled the sneeze was imminent. He tried to ignore his hitching breaths that made him sway in place.


     "Foolish elf," Gimli said with a deep chuckle. "You've already lost. We know you are ill. Give it up."


     Aragorn nodded in agreement. "Just go ahead and sneeze," he said with kind command.


     "hihh..." He paused, waiting, dropping his hand down from his face to sneeze freely. "huh'Chhhh! h'Kchhh! Hh... h'IChhhh!" He sniffed wetly and opened his eyes to find Boromir presenting him with a handkerchief. He it with a nod of thanks and tended to his nose with it. Then looked around to be sure the hobbits were all still asleep. Luckily they were. "I might as well stay on guard," he said, shaking his head. "With these sneezes I will not get the rest I need anyway."


     "No, you need to try to sleep," Aragorn insisted. "We need you well." He cupped the elf's cheek in his hand and stroked it with his thumb.


     "I'll be up anyway," Legolas tried to debate. "One of you should sleep in my place while I watch."


     "Certainly not," Gimli answered firmly for them all. "You need your rest, Master Elf. And we will see that you get it." His hand patted Legolas' shoulder reassuringly and his arm squeezed in a half hug. "You must try."


     Legolas rubbed at his nose and bobbed his head up and down with a nod. "I shall try, then." Gimli helped ease him back down and Aragorn pulled the part of the blanket back up over Legolas.


     Boromir got up and, breaking form, began to circle the camp to be sure no one had approached while they had been distracted. No one had.


     Aragorn squeezed Legolas' shoulder and left him to Gimli for the time being. He patrolled the area as well, before settling back down on the same log to look and listen. He heard nothing but the river.


     Legolas sniffled into the handkerchief, then froze, feeling another sneeze coming on. His brow furrowed again, and he buried his nose in the handkerchief instead of having to smother his sneezes into the blanket. "h'CHHH!" He sneezed, snapping forward a little. Gimli rubbed a hand up and down his back. "You do not need to wait for me to sleep," he said, rolling onto his back to look over at Gimli.


     The dwarf shook his head and glanced at Aragorn, who was watching them. "It is their shift to watch and my shift with you," Gimli said with a smile. "Now blow your nose and see if you cannot fall asleep before you need to sneeze again."


     Legolas obeyed, blowing his nose hard. His eyes darted around the camp, looking at the others. Aragorn looked away so Legolas wouldn't know he was still intently watching.  He knew Legolas would have preferred to spend the night alone with his cold so that they wouldn't be bothered by something they couldn't help. But it also seemed to Aragorn that Legolas was glad for the comfort and company. He only hoped that the elf would feel better when he woke up. Then at least the hobbits need never know.


     "Sleep," Gimli reminded him, rubbing his arm through the blanket. Legolas looked up at him, then over at Aragorn who had the same convincing look on his face. Legolas smiled, nodded, and closed his eyes.