Title: Back to Back

Author: tarotgal

Fandom: Lord of the Rings (set long before FotR)

Rating: PG(if that)

Pairing: Aragorn/Legolas

Disclaimer: They're so not mine, I'm sad to say. And I'm poor but no richer thanks to this story

Summary: Out journeying, Legolas and Aragorn stop for a night's rest even though it's snowing.

Feedback: Sure :-)



Back to Back


     "Are you certain it's best to stop?" asked Aragorn, hiding a yawn behind his hand. "I think the snow storm's starting to pick up again. Shouldn't we keep going?" Though his words were noble, it was clear he was physically exhausted and found a spot beneath a tree which seemed to be blocking the snow. He leaned against it with a deep sigh. Legolas gave a soft chuckle at it. "You're right as usual. I could use a bit of rest even if I am cold."


     "Back to back to keep warm," advised Legolas, sheathing his knife in the holder hanging on his belt. Even he was feeling the chill in his bones. It seemed well understood through the stories of men that elves were immortal, never dying, never hungry, never feeling the elements. It was easy for men to make up such stories to understand how elves were able to survive things they could not, from the stretches of time to diseases. And the elves, looking so good in their eyes, did not dare refute such tales of gallant honor and unthinkably heroic deeds. There was no need to explain to most men, not that they would listen if the elves did try, about how elves could be killed in battle or die of broken hearts, or how elves rarely caught a chill or felt terrible hunger, though both were physically possible.


     Leaning their sides against the tree Aragorn had chosen, they sat down on the slightly snow-covered ground, back to back. Beneath the tree, the snow did not fall upon them, and they were able to dry out a little, though they were still frozen by the winter sting and harsh winds.  Aragorn bent his legs and hugged them to his chest. He rubbed his gloved hands together to generate heat. Legolas, on the other hand, had his legs out straight in front of him, though crossed, and his arms crossed over his chest. Both wore thick brown cloaks with hoods, but after days in the cold, the cloaks did little to keep them anything close to protected from the snow.


     Legolas used the moment to be sure they had a good vantage point of the area. While it was safer most times to sleep in clearings, there was no way to build a fire this night, and the more trees that surrounded them resulted in less snow making it to the ground. It was a fine choice, Legolas had to admit, feeling slightly more comfortable with so many trees around to help hide them. The snow was, as Aragorn had observed, starting to pick up again and he could see it falling all around.


     "Been a while since we sat like this," Aragorn said, a fierce yawn riding the tail of his comment.


     "Would you rather squeeze onto my lap and miss looking at all this beautiful snow falling around us?" Legolas could feel Aragorn's head shake against the back of his own in answer. The snow was indeed beautiful. Even having trudged through it all day, and now feeling wet and cold and chilled thoroughly to the bone, there was still a beauty to the way it fell that escaped neither man nor elf.


     Aragorn closed his eyes, very used to sleeping when on missions with Legolas. When he was off with the other rangers, or even men in general, he was always the one to stay up longest and be on the lookout for trouble. He easily sacrificed his sleep for the safety of his company, and would gladly do it without being asked. But with elves, it was different. They needed so much less sleep that he did not feel guilty about falling to sleep, for he knew they would be up anyway. And with Legolas, it was even easier. Long ago they had reached an agreement about sleeping. Legolas would always stay awake and watch over him without having to be asked, and Aragorn could slip quietly to sleep without needing to tell him first. Aragorn was especially relieved of this tonight, as the days' travel had been quite cold and tiring. All he felt like doing was taking off his boots, leaning back in front of a fire, and dozing off with a mug of hot milk in his hand.


     Legolas, though awake, was feeling similarly. There was a bit of an itch to his nose that accompanied the runniness that had been present all evening. The snow and cold had not been so bad until the sun had begun to set, for then the temperature had dropped far below freezing and the winds had picked up. Legolas had perfected the art of sniffling in small, short sniffles that were so soft Aragorn had overlooked them, even when standing right beside him. The sniffles, however, did not help as much to hold off the itch in his nose. What he needed was a handkerchief to blow his nose into to get rid of the itch for the rest of the night, but he hadn't thought to bring any. Men always had handkerchiefs, but elves so rarely got sick that they never bothered. Thinking about how long it had been since his last bout with illness, Legolas became a bit annoyed with himself for not bringing one along this time. It was tempting fate, and it seemed fate had just caught up with him. Without so much as a second's notice, a sharp sneeze struck his nose with the sort of urgency Legolas could not remember ever feeling. He snapped forward at the force, his arms still crossed over his chest, his back leaving Aragorn's for a moment. "hihshhhhh!"


     Aragorn's eyes flew open. He had been on his way to falling to sleep when he heard a noise and felt a coldness at his back. He lifted a gloved hand and rubbed at his eye. "Legolas? What was that?"


     "Naught to worry about," Legolas replied, wishing it were true. He sat back against Aragorn's back, glad the man could not see him rubbing at his nose as he was now. The itch in his nose was lessened, thankfully, and with any luck if he was forced to sneeze again, Aragorn would be fast asleep by then and not hear him.


     "Just a noise of the forest," Aragorn mumbled to reassure himself. Legolas knew the noises even better than he did, and if the elf wasn't worried, he wouldn't be either. He'd only heard it on the way to sleep, after all.


     Not wanting to lie to his friend, Legolas did not reply. He simply waited in silence, straining his ears to listen to Aragorn's breathing. Shallow and normal at first, then it slowed and deepened into a steady rhythm. Grateful, Legolas risked a sniffle that was a bit louder than usual, glad to be able to sniffle without Aragorn hearing. It cleared his nose a bit better than his smaller ones had, and as he rubbed his hand against his nose, he was glad to be able to do so without Aragorn watching.


     There was a crack of a branch to their right, and Legolas pulled his bow close, pulling the string back with an arrow. But he let it go slack as he heard the sound again and saw it belonged to a small branch which broke from the weight of the snow upon it and the heavy winds against it. Satisfied that this was no danger to them, he relaxed with a sigh. His breath came out roughly, scratching his throat along the way, making him cough. What had started with a sniffle was quickly progressing into much more it seemed.


     Hoping he was wrong, Legolas sniffed again. His nose was growing itchier and itchier. Wiggling it was no use, and wiggling his face around it was even worse. He lifted a hand and rubbed two fingers roughly beneath his nose, then up alongside his nose. Again, it was no good. "Itchy... oh, let me alone!" He whispered in frustration. He rubbed his palm against his nose, moving the tip of his nose back and forth. It was no use, however, and again he tried to blame the cold weather for the itches in his nose. "ihhSchhh!" And for his sneezes. Aragorn stirred at the noise, but did not wake. Legolas rubbed his glove-less hand at his nose, sniffling. He needed to sniffle more after each sneeze, but the itching in his nostrils was significantly lessened. This undoubtedly would be a long night, whether he was actually coming down with something or not.


     The wind and snow surrounded the wood, and the trees blocked much of it from them as they sat. But the temperature was still dropping, and even Aragorn's warmth against his back wasn't much. He shivered in his cloak and crossed his arms over his chest again, rubbing his hands up and down his upper arms while they were there. Legolas seriously doubted that anyone would be out in a night like this, and certainly anyone who might have been trying to track them or threaten them would have long since given up or froze to death. It was absurd to think that they would be disturbed this night, and it was a much more pleasant idea to simply close his eyes and sleep as Aragorn was doing. But the fact was that Aragorn was expecting him to keep watch, though that was becoming difficult. The wind grew louder, and only an elf's sensitive ears would be able to hear if danger was approaching. This alone kept his eyes open a little longer. He didn't want to let Aragorn down.


     After a few minutes more of sniffling and sitting watch, his nose began itching again. His brow furrowed in concentration as he tried to hold the sneezes off. It wouldn't do to sneeze all night long and risk waking Aragorn, even if his nose did feel less itchy after each sneeze. He scrubbed his finger under his nose again, nose twitching against it. The itch traveled through his nose, stinging with urgency, filling his nostrils with the need to sneeze. Helpless against it, Legolas raised his hand, bending his fingers to cup them around his nose, part of his hand roughly covering his mouth. "IHShhh! ihhhShhuhh!" He sniffled wetly and wiped his nose on the back of his hand, glad for the temporary relief from the itching that the sneezes brought. And still he could hear the steady breathing coming from Aragorn which meant he had not woken at the sound. He sighed and spoke into the night, "Two that time. It's getting worse." There was no one to answer him, but he felt a bit better to complain out loud. Besides, there was no one around to see him talking to himself, either.


     As the evening stretched into night, and night stretched into late night, the darkness was overwhelming. The moon and stars were hidden away by the dark clouds that brought the snowstorm and the glow that had remained after sunset had long since died. Everything was dark, from the tree they were sitting beneath to the woods surrounding them. Legolas tried to tell himself to stay awake because potentially anything from a werewolf to a troll might come upon them at any moment. But with no fire to warm his hands by, awake and alert were harder to come by.


     Shivering a little, he pulled his legs and arms close to his chest to conserve heat, and soon his head began to rest on his bent knees like a pillow. The sound of the wind and trees was the only noise for miles and miles, as all sensible animals had certainly retreated to their nests and homes already. There was nothing to watch, nothing much to listen to, and nothing to do except curl in on himself and try to survive the night without freezing to death.


     The itches in his nose struck up again as though they'd never left, and he rubbed his nose into one of his knees to keep from having to pull his arm up and rub his nose. It was progressively getting harder to keep from sneezing now, as even harsh rubbing seemed to do little to make the itches go away. By mistake, he let a heavy breath slip out, "hehhh..." He buried his face in his legs, the itches too intense now to resist. "ehhh..." He bit his lip, his face scrunching and his body tensing, until he let the fierce itches in his nose take over. "EHHHShhhhh!" He sniffled wetly, nose filled with congestion so little air made its way in. He coughed and closed his eyes, trying to ignore the pressure building in his nose apart from the tickles. With his eyes closed, he began to relax a little. Too much in fact, as he began to doze off. His head bowed lower, pressing into his knees until, on the verge of sleep, he realize he was not supposed to be sleeping. Quickly he pulled his head back up, shaking it to open his eyes and wake. He was sure he'd only been asleep for a second, perhaps two, but even his powers of estimation seemed to be going.


     Time, which was usually comforting to Legolas for its constant, predictable rhythm began to slow around him, making the night seem much longer than it should have been. In fact, he wasn't even sure if night had become late night yet, as everything was already so dark around him. The branches of trees swayed slowly in the wind, as they were weighted down with snow. And there were no birds or animals out to watch and regain a sense of things moving at the right speed. Even Aragorn's breathing seemed to have slowed considerably.


     After a while, Aragorn tilted his head back and to the side, resting it against Legolas' shoulder. The man's cloak hood rubbed against Legolas' hood, pushing it into his face and causing Legolas to turn his head to avoid it. His head drooping but still resting on his knees, Aragorn leaning heavily against him, Legolas felt he was quickly loosing all strength needed to stay upright let alone stay awake. His eyelids were the heaviest of all, reminding him of how many mountains they'd gone over, how many forests they'd passed through. He gave in and closed his eyes, telling himself it would be just for the purpose of listening better to everything around. But once closed, he found that he did not want to open them. He pulled his head up and it pounded with ache and congestion. He wished he had just one handkerchief he could blow his nose into to clear himself up, but his sleeve was the closest thing he had, and even he would not resort to such things. He'd seen Aragorn with a head cold numerous times, and the sight of the man snuffling into his sleeve was not the least bit noble, certainly nothing an elf would be caught doing.


     "hehh..." His breath raced again, and he folded his hand against his nose, holding it tightly, refusing to sneeze. This time, the sneeze stayed back, sitting not at the end or even at the back, but in the bridge of his nose. His nearby thumb pinched his nose closed, and he rubbed at the bridge of his nose to calm the urge. After what seemed like hours, it died down completely and he gave a sigh. His shoulders slumped, his whole body relaxed, and he lowered his hand.


     For a moment, Legolas turned his attention back to Aragorn, and to the forests surrounding him, doing the job he was supposed to be doing. For a moment, he allowed himself to forget feeling weak, to forget his bothersome nose. For a moment, it seemed like any other winter night. But then a moment later, his hand snapped back up around his nose and his breaths caught. "hehh!" His eyes closed tightly. And though he willed the tickle in his nose away with all his might, there was no relief this time. "hehh-IHHShhhhh! ehhChhhhh! ihhShhhh!" His nose full, there was no sound when he tried to sniffle. Forced to breathe through his mouth, his throat pained him when air traveled in and touched the back. He gave a cough, finding it loud, and held in the next several. Aragorn still did not wake, but Legolas' whole head pounded in answer, telling him not to hold in his coughs.


     As though the urge had been pulled from the pounding of his head, he soon needed to sneeze again. Still holding his hand to his nose, squeezing it in his palm, he again tried to hold the sneezing off. It seemed that if he was forced to cough out loud, the least he could do was to keep his sneezes quiet, or better yet nonexistent. He felt his nostrils protesting, fighting back against his fingers, and he squeezed harder. Legolas held his breath and tried to think of anything but the sneeze. The only thing he could manage to think of was Aragorn, and while he tried to force a fantasy into his mind, the sneeze struck. "hehhhh..." He braced himself. "hehSCHHH! ehhKshhh!" The sneezes were wet, and he wiped his hand on his pants legs, wincing. He had been tossed forward, and Aragorn, leaning against him, had gone down with him and back up again. Legolas sniffed in hard several times, though it didn't do much good. His nose still tickled and ran and he felt miserable all over.


     Sick. There was no denying he was sick now. And there was no way he'd be able to properly act as a lookout. His attempts at holding back sneezes and analyzing his body proved to be too much of a distraction. His eyes hurt as he looked around the forest again. Black trunks stretched up towards the dark sky, their branches disappearing into the night before they got to the clouds. He could not tell if the increase in snow was due to the storm getting worse or the wind picking up. While the tree prevented snowfall directly beneath it, the wind was tossing snow into both Legolas and Aragorn. With thick snowflakes flying right into his face, it made his job as lookout even more difficult.


     Legolas strained his eyes, searching for movement he did not expect to see. He, too, fought against the rush of wind against his ears, trying to listen for something, anything, out of the ordinary. But there was nothing. Nothing but an ache in his eardrums, thanks to the congestion and the cold. He cupped his hands over his ears for a few seconds to warm them, finding them like ice to the touch. The pain at his eyes was not so easily thwarted. He closed his eyes, again trying to distract himself from the sickness. He desperately thought again of Aragorn. Everything seemed so much more peaceful with his eyes closed, especially when he had visions of Aragorn lying on his back in a field of grass in his mind's eye. With his eyes closed, the need to sneeze wasn't quite so bad. Additionally, the pounding in his head was dulled and the wind seemed slightly less cold.


     Suddenly his head bobbed up, and he snapped out of sleep. For how long he had nodded off, he did not know. He knew only that he was wrong to have closed his eyes for even a second and allowed it. But his eyelids were heavy and the thumping in his sinuses constant. Thinking not of the watch or of Aragorn, his mind was only filled with how much better it had felt with his eyes closed. Perhaps merely squinting might provide similar results. He relaxed and tried to close his eyes only halfway.


     Legolas snapped awake again with a start. This time he was sure he had been asleep mere moments. Still, it was no comfort. He could not go on this way, that much was clear. With a deep sigh that rattled from congestion as he exhaled, he turned and tugged on Aragorn's sleeve.


     The man, deep in sleep, did not stir. Legolas turned more, careful to support Aragorn as he did so though his hands were cold and growing numb. He tugged again on the sleeve, where it protruded from his cloak. "Aragorn," he said, finding his voice deeper and a pain hitting him in the back of his throat when he spoke. "Aragorn, wake up." He shook Aragorn at the shoulder, which was his best bet.


     Aragorn pulled himself out of sleep slowly, blinking. "What-what's the matter?" He started looking around for the danger, and went straight for his sword.


     "Not that," Legolas said, holding his arm still. "We're alone. It's just..." His eyelids felt heavy and tired, and he rubbed at one, which only made it hurt more. "I cannot keep my eyes open any longer." He needed to sniffle, to blow his nose. He swallowed hard and resisted the urge to rub his sleeve beneath his nose. "I can't keep watch... because I can't keep from falling asleep."


     Caught in mid-yawn, Aragorn nodded wearily. "I will take a shift."


     Legolas did not want to explain that Aragorn hadn't been asleep long enough, that it had only been an hour or two at the very most. Though maybe it had been more, considering how time seemed to be slowing so much. But he did need to explain that he wouldn't be able to take any more shifts. A few hours of sleep would do him good, that was true, but a head cold wasn't going to go away quite that easily. He shivered, searching for the right words to use. When they didn't come, and his nose tickled, he decided that Aragorn was going to find out anyway. The elf lifted his hand to his face and pitched forward with a sneeze. "hehhYishhh! heh-" Legolas pinched his nose to keep the rest of the tickle back, and rubbed his finger against it.


     This roused Aragorn a little more fully from his near sleep daze. "Are you ill?" He yawned again, this one shorter, as he pulled his hand out of the glove and held it against Legolas' cheek. "You are freezing."


     "It is cold out," Legolas confirmed. The snow was starting to come down harder, and the wind was picking up. He shivered as a gust made it past the trees and washed over him. He knew what Aragorn meant of course. Elves were normally quite warm, whatever the temperature outside was. They weren't supposed to feel the elements so fiercely normally. Legolas wiped his hand over his face, trying to get the wetness the snow had left there off.


     Aragorn retracted his own hand and fumbled around beneath his cloak. Finally he pulled out a handkerchief. "It's not much," he said, unfolding it carefully. "But it should last you the night." He waited for Legolas to snuffle into it before continuing. "Why did you not tell me you were ill?"


     "Not sure I knew, myself," Legolas said with a shrug.


     "Of course you knew," Aragorn said, taking the handkerchief carefully and wiping Legolas' nose dry for him. "You were sniffling all evening, and don't think I didn't notice." Legolas smiled back at him, blushing, then a strong shiver raced through him. Aragorn noticed it as well. "Come, we no longer need to sit back to back. That's not the best way to keep you warm now." Then he pulled Legolas to his chest and wrapped an arm around him, cloak draping over him as well. "Now curl up against me. I'll keep watch."


     Legolas shook his head. "No, you shouldn't have to. I'll be... all right..." Aragorn handed the handkerchief back over, and pulled Legolas closer, onto his lap. Legolas curled into the warmth of Aragorn's chest as the man's strong arms came around him with the cloak. The cloak wasn't able to keep all the snowflakes riding the wind from settling on them, but it did keep Aragorn's warmth from escaping. Legolas closed his eyes and buried his nose in the handkerchief, exceedingly glad for it. "hehhChhhhh! ehhShhhhh!"


     Aragorn kissed his head, as he blew his nose, and held him tightly. "Sleep and feel better. I'll protect you. I'll watch out for you, for us both, for a change."


     Aragorn rested his head on top of Legolas', but kept his eyes open and the rest of his senses equally alert. Legolas rubbed his cheek into the man's soft clothes. The chest and arms were warm, and he could hear Aragorn's heart beating fast within. "But Aragorn--"


     "Shhh," the man hushed him, but with a gentleness. "I may be chilled and wet and exhausted, but I am trying to enjoy the beauty of the snowfall." Legolas went quiet at this. One of Aragorn's gloved hands stroked his cheek gently, soothing him to sleep. When his eyes were closed again, the pain behind them backed away. He could rub his nose and blow it to relieve congestion. And that nagging voice in his head telling him to stay alert was gone, letting him instead think on Aragorn, though now the lovely spring scene had been replaced by a romantic winter one in which Aragorn was nursing him back to health. He tried to savor feeling better for as long as he could, but he slipped into sleep so quickly that he barely had time to whisper a thank you.


     Legolas snapped awake again, just once more, out of habit. He surveyed the scene as the panic within him from the quick waking died away. Aragorn still held him tightly, and still petted him comfortingly. Legolas still clung to the man's warmth and to the handkerchief willingly given. The snow seemed suddenly much more beautiful as it fell all around them, building up on the ground where the tree was not helping to cover. He gave a relaxed sigh and felt Aragorn's lips press against his forehead. He did not need to worry any longer, and with that knowledge he fell to sleep and stayed there the rest of the night.