Title: Front to Back
Fandom: Lord of the Rings
Disclaimer: They're so not mine, I'm sad to say. And I'm poor but no richer thanks to this story
Summary: Sequel to 'Back to Back', Legolas and Aragon attempt to make it through one last day of their journey, finding their attempts hindered by the elements and a sick elf
Feedback: Sure :-)
Front to Back
The sky lightened gradually as morning fell upon the man and sleeping elf. But though the darkness lifted, the snowstorm was still present, with thick snowflakes blowing around them. The sky was still covered with grey clouds that cast the woods into a dim sort of haze and made Aragorn feel sleepier than he should for having rested through part of the night. He didn't much feel like getting up and continuing, but knew it was for the best.
Aragorn looked down at the elf, sleeping soundly with his mouth half open and a handkerchief clutched to his chest. They would need to leave soon, if for no other reason than Legolas needed the comforts of a warm bed and a hot drink and those were things they would only acquire once they reached the end of the journey. In fact, if there had been any possibility of lighting a fire, Aragorn would have been trying all night and morning to that end. But the snow had been constant, and all the wood damp. Aragorn still had his arms wrapped warmly around Legolas, holding the elf to his chest beneath his cloak. This was much more like how they usually slept, though most times it was the other way around. He relaxed, leaning his head back against the tree trunk, and rubbing his thick gloved fingers softly against Legolas' cheek. "Legolas," he whispered, his call silenced by the wind. He spoke more loudly, "Legolas, wake up." The elf turned his head a little towards Aragorn's touch, but did not wake.
Aragorn sighed and kissed the top of his head. "Meth îdh lîn." The words tumbled easily from his tongue as though he had been born speaking them. Their graceful beauty touched Legolas' ears and made the tired elf open his eyes. "Time to wake." Aragorn's voice was soft and gruff from lack of sleep, though he tried to sound uplifting. "Good morning."
Legolas looked around a moment, not used to sleeping so steadily for so long a time. Quickly he seemed to remember the previous night, and their journey, and how miserable he had been. He closed his eyes tightly and rubbed his face into Aragorn's chest. "Baw, Estel." He snuffled and coughed, the congestion getting the better of him. Legolas shivered violently and snuggled closer, arms drawn up to his chest, trapped between the two bodies to keep them warm. He knew he was acting like an elfling again, helpless and weak, but did not care. He seemed to have felt so much better when asleep.
"It is very early yet," Aragorn explained, judging as best he could by the shade of the clouds and how long it had been since the dark sky began to lighten. "I am tired as well and would like to sleep." This seemed to do nothing more than make Legolas feel guilty, and a slight whimper accompanied his next sniffle. "I do realize that you are feeling ill, but I am afraid that is why we cannot possibly linger." With another kiss and a tight squeeze, he released Legolas. They still had half a day's walk ahead of them, perhaps more with the weather as it was, and needed to be off as soon as possible if they wanted to avoid walking after sunset when temperatures dropped again without the sun.
Legolas pulled away and stood, shivering. He pulled his hood up over his head and wrapped the cloak tightly around himself. He shifted his weight from one foot to the other, trying to warm his muscles which had gone stiff overnight. The arrows in the quiver on his back slid from one side to the other as though putting a noise to his protest. Aragorn stood with a stretch, feeling nearly as exhausted as he had the night before when they stopped. At least he had been off his feet for the night, and those felt better. He left the support and shelter of the tree, checking his sword and knives to be sure he had them all in place. Then he pulled the sides of his cloak forward, wrapping it around him, and headed on through the forest. Silently Legolas followed just a step and a half behind, on his left side.
Pausing, Aragorn looked over his shoulder and past his hood to see Legolas pulling out the handkerchief and sniffling into it. It seemed almost an obsession, the way he tried to clear his nose then wipe it dry, hiding how he rubbed his nose to keep the sneezes from returning for a few extra minutes. "Was wondering when I would hear you start sneezing again," mused Aragorn. "How are you feeling? Any better after a night of sleep?" Legolas shook his head. From over the handkerchief, Aragorn could read in his eyes that he was actually feeling much worse. "Sorry," Aragorn said softly, reaching back and patting the hand that held the handkerchief. "We will be there soon."
Legolas nodded, sniffling, and tucking the handkerchief back away. It was not out of the ordinary for Legolas to be quiet, but this was a little extreme even for him. The only noise which came from him, as he took up his spot behind Aragorn again, was almost constant sniffling. Unlike the previous day, this sniffling he did not try to silence, though he did seem annoyed at it and lifted his hand to rub at his nose numerous times.
"hehhh..." But at no time did he rub more than when he had to sneeze. Once in a while he managed, nostrils flaring against one or two fingers, to hold a sneeze back for a significant while longer. But usually the rubbing just helped his nose feel better when it itched with the need to sneeze. He pulled the handkerchief out, found as dry a spot as he could, considering it was snowing hard, and lifted it to his face. "hehhIHShhhh! Ehschhhhh! Sniff, sniff, sniiifffff!"
Aragorn looked back, lifting an eyebrow as he watched Legolas stuff the handkerchief away. He paused for a moment, allowing Legolas to catch up with him. Then he put his arm around Legolas' shoulder. "Forgive me for asking so impertinent a question, but why do you not just keep the handkerchief out and blow your nose as you need to?"
Though wanting to keep his distance and not be coerced into answering the question, Legolas still found himself snuggling into the warmth of the man beside him. Their pace slowed, allowing them to synchronize their steps and get closer. Legolas did not need to answer in words, for Aragorn already understood and did not press the matter. Legolas was used to being cold and wet, but not used to feeling cold or sick. Even a few moments between sneezes when he could forget about how he felt were apparently very important to him. Not to mention that the snow was soaking everything rather completely.
Aragorn turned his head and kissed Legolas' cheek, finding it a bit damp. At first he thought it was only the snow, which was primarily blowing into their backs but sometimes the wind tossed it into their faces as well. But as he walked beside the man, listening to the heavy, strained breaths, he realized there was more. Even at this moderate pace, Legolas seemed to be working hard to breathe and keep up. Aragorn pulled his relatively dry hand from his glove and wiped it against Legolas' sweaty brow. Legolas closed his eyes at the sensation and smiled. He gave Aragorn a tight hug, then pulled away so that they could walk faster separately.
As they separated, Legolas pulled out the handkerchief quickly. "ehhhh..." Aragorn raised an eyebrow, watching as the elf paused during the sneeze. His ears and nose seemed to twitch slightly in unison. "hehhh..." He stopped in his tracks, not wanting to stumble blindly forward as he was forced to close his eyes. "ehh-hehhh..."
"Are you going to sneeze or are we going to be here all day waiting?" asked Aragorn with a grin.
Legolas opened his eyes for a moment to glare at him, but as he did, he caught the sun as it poked out over the trees. Aragorn chuckled at Legolas' desperate expression, and then reached out and held the elf steady as the sneezes struck. "hehhEKshhhh! IHShhhhh! h-heh-IHChhhh!"
"Galu." Aragorn waited for Legolas to rub his nose before they resumed walking again. Their pace was normal, but normal for the two of them was quick to most anyone else. Usually, Legolas had no trouble keeping up with Aragorn. In fact, typically it was Aragorn who had to push himself to keep up at their pace. But the illness seemed to be hurting that as well. Several times Aragorn had to turn and catch Legolas as he tripped over a rock or a root protruding from the ground. Several times Aragorn had to stop and wait for him to catch up from a few steps behind. Several times Aragorn had to remind Legolas that they were getting closer with every step and the best way to feel better was to hurry along.
Though somewhat harsh, Aragorn was also overly sympathetic. He knew what it was like to be sick out in the wilderness and have no one show sympathy. But in those cases he hadn't had terrible snowstorms to deal with either. The snow was coming down thicker and faster than before, and Aragorn worried that it would slow them too much., forcing them to spend another night out in the cold.
He glanced back at the elf, seeing him shivering and sniffling, and knew for certain that they could not possibly spend another night in the weather if they hoped to survive. Legolas' cold was much too harsh already. And having spent most of the night awake, Aragorn was feeling exhausted and ready for a warm Rivendell bed as well. "Hurry along," Aragorn coaxed the elf, whose head was bowed towards the wind and whose feet trudged relatively slowly through the snow.
"Trying!" Legolas replied, raising his voice so it would carry through the wind. He had one hand on his handkerchief, and the other holding his hood so it wouldn't be blown back from the wind. As they traveled on, they began walking straight into the wind, rather than just getting it at an angle, and this slowed them down considerably. Each step became more difficult, and instead of their brisk walking, they were at a slow walk. The wind pushed against their fronts, making their paces smaller, and making them feel, instinctively, as though they should be going backwards rather than fighting to move forwards.
Aragorn stopped soon thereafter, sensing something. Or, rather, not sensing something. When he turned, Legolas was indeed far behind. In the snow, which only got thicker by the second, the elf's tall and pale form blended in with the snow and the trees so well Aragorn had to look twice to be sure he had spotted his friend. He waved a hand, ushering the elf to continue on. Then he turned with his back to the snow for a change to wait for Legolas to catch up.
"Sorry!" The elf panted. His cheeks and nose were bright red from the cold, but the rest of his face was so pale that it was nearly blue. "You're going... so fast..." He explained. Then he quickly raised the handkerchief, so wet from the snow that it was of absolutely no use. "hihhIHKchhh! hehEH-Shhhh!"
"Galu!" Aragorn called through the storm. Even up close, it was hard to get a good view of Legolas through the snow. He could tell, though, that he was not doing very well at all. "I will try to slow down," Aragorn promised. "As long as you try to keep up."
Legolas nodded determinedly. "We will meet each other halfway," he agreed. The extra incentive and the added assurance from Aragorn was enough to make him feel a little stronger and more energized. And for a while, he was just that. He fought to keep up, and for the most part he did so, walking just behind Aragorn. Aragorn could not see him, but Legolas had a good view of Aragorn's back. The dark brown cloak was a bold enough color to make him stand out against the snow. For nearly half an hour, he walked just behind the dark cloak, matching his pace, though stumbling a little. But after that, the distance between Legolas' front and Aragorn's back increased. The elf's long legs were growing numb with cold and tired from overexertion. Legolas tried to double his steps to catch up, but by then it was too late. "Aragorn!" he called out to the man before he got too far out of voice range, though Aragorn did not stop. "Estel!" he tried, and that seemed to get the man's attention.
Aragorn stopped and looked back. He waited again for Legolas to catch up, then put his arm around the elf. "We must keep moving!" he said. "It is really too cold to stop. We will go more slowly if you need to, but we must keep moving!" As they were moving closer to the edge of the forest, the snowstorm was getting worse. There were fewer trees to block the wind from the sides and the snow from the top. This would be the most difficult part of the journey, Aragorn was certain. He turned back around to continue onwards.
"I need to... catch breath... again," Legolas panted, leaning into Aragorn's back for support. "And need... to sneeze." Before he could even catch his breath, it caught in his throat painfully and he sneezed. "heh... hahIHShhhh! Hehshhhh! ihhhHehshhhh!" He sniffled wetly, rubbing the handkerchief at his nose and wincing.
Aragorn looked back, rolling his eyes. "You will just make it worse if you rub your nose with something cold and wet. It will get sore and chapped." He reached back and tapped Legolas' nose.
Legolas sniffled and rubbed a finger at his nose which twitched from Aragorn's touch. "Can't help it," he said. "My nose tickles so much, I feel like I have to sneeze all the... hahh... all the time, now." He quickly cupped his hand over his nose and mouth. "hehhhIHShhhh! YIHShhhhh! Hah..." Aragorn watched the elf sway uncertainly on the spot, screwing up his face in hopes of holding back another sneeze. He reached out and held Legolas by the shoulder, keeping him stead. "hehh... hehIHChhhh!" Legolas rubbed his whole hand under his nose and groaned miserably. "I hate getting sick."
Aragorn could not blame him. "Come on," Aragorn said, nudging him along. "Keep walking. Walk while you sneeze. We'll be there before you know it."
Snuffling against his hand, Legolas looked at the man skeptically. He knew as well as Aragorn that they were far away yet. And at this rate they would not made it by nightfall, let alone late afternoon when the sun began to set. "Come along," Aragorn reiterated, more softly so that Legolas' elf ears could just make it out above the wind. "I want to get you tucked into bed before you get any worse." His gloved hand moved swiftly from shoulder to Legolas' cheek, holding the elf steady with a reassuring touch. Aragorn pushed past the hood of the cloak to press his lips against Legolas'. The two sets of lips were cold, but warmed each other a little at the meeting. Aragorn pulled back roughly, staring deep into the elf's eyes, communicating their desperate need to move on. Then quickly the man turned on his heels and led the way through the forest with Legolas right behind him.
The kiss and the encouragement helped inspire speed for nearly an hour, after which Aragorn paused and looked back to find Legolas had fallen far behind again and did not have the breath to call out for him to stop. Sensing a pattern he did not much like, Aragorn turned his back again to the wind and waited for Legolas to catch up. "Sorry!" the elf cried, panting, rubbing his hand at his nose, having by now abandoned the useless handkerchief. If his nose was being especially troublesome, he pulled a bit of his shirt cuff out from beneath the cloak and rubbed his nose with it. Aragorn wondered if the elf had picked that up from seeing him do it on occasion. "I caddot keeb ub with you." He made a face and cleared his throat before sniffing a half dozen times. "I cannot keep up with you," he repeated, the stuffiness lessened but not gone completely. "I can barely see you through this snow."
Aragorn nodded with understanding. He reached down and took Legolas' hand in his. The elf's long, slender fingers entwined with his gloved ones, in a tight hold. "We will go at your pace then. Be sure to stay with me." He turned his head and looked up at the snow. For as much as he wanted Legolas to hurry along with him, he feared that losing the elf completely in the storm because of an ability to keep out would be far worse. "I believe the storm is getting worse. It would not be wise for us to get separated."
Legolas agreed. He pulled his hood forward and held it at the bottom to keep it over his head and closed as much to the wind as possible. He squeezed the man's hand, finding the connection comforting. Aragorn again turned to the snow and went along, pulling Legolas behind. They moved at an incredibly slow rate, and Legolas stayed right behind Aragorn the whole time, finding that if he walked close enough to the man's back, the wind and snow were not too bad at all. But while it was a considerably slower pace, he still had trouble keeping up. They dropped hands for a while, then recovered them again. It was easier to stay in synch when their hands were held, but Legolas could not use Aragorn to hide from the elements when they held hands. And then there was the sneezing. Legolas pulled his hand away when he needed to sneeze, covering his nose and mouth even though the effort was not needed. But he seemed to feel bad enough about using his cuff to rub his nose and did not want to full-out be rude and sneeze unchecked.
It wasn't until later in the day that the coughing started to be a bigger problem. Their water was nearly frozen in their pouches, though using body heat they could ensure a gulp of water to be defrosted at a time. This did little to soothe the itch in Legolas' throat, however. His head cold was making it too difficult to breathe from his nose, so he was forced to breathe through his mouth. But as the walking was strenuous, he panted hard at the effort. His mouth and throat were dry from so much use, and his head burned with a fiery heat which was fever combined with too much activity. Aragorn squeezed his hand every time a small fit of coughs were inspired by his itchy throat and harsh breathing. But Aragorn, too, tried his best to keep them moving, however Legolas felt. This was easiest of course when they were linked by hands, or when Legolas held onto Aragorn's shoulder for support and guidance through the blinding snow. But several times the elf had to pause to catch his breath and then double his pace to get back behind Aragorn.
After a while, Legolas leaned back against a tree to catch his breath. He lunged forward a moment and grabbed Aragorn's shoulder, holding him back as well. "Ara...gorn," he gasped, falling into the man with breathless exhaustion. "I cannot keep up." He coughed harshly, directing it into Aragorn's shoulder, and pulled back, ashamed.
But Aragorn held him close, patting his upper back until the coughing died down. "It's all right. Take a few moments, then we'll be off again."
Desperately trying to make the man understand, Legolas grabbed a handful of Aragorn's cloak, squeezing hard. "You must go ahead alone... get to Rivendell." Aragorn looked disapproving and disagreeable when Legolas looked up. "Come back for me on a horse."
"I will do no such thing," replied Aragorn, pressing Legolas against him and rubbing his back this time. "You simply need a moment's rest, and a bit of assistance." But as he looked his sick and weakened friend over, he realized that it was going to take much more than just a bit of assistance. His hand ran down Legolas' back, found his hand beneath the robes, and picked it up again. He turned to the side and bent down on one knee, sticking it into the cold, wet snow with a shiver. Still holding Legolas' hand, Aragorn guided it to his shoulder. "Come now, climb onto my back."
Exhausted, sick, and miserable, Legolas' mouth broke into a smile. He cleared his throat and rubbed at his nose. "I thank you for the humor," he said, gazing down at the man. Smiling did seem to make him feel so much better. At least if Aragorn could still joke, things must not really be as bad as they felt to Legolas. "I am feeling well enough to continue-on-now--" Legolas broke off, his body seized by more harsh coughs.
Aragorn waited for the coughing to die down. "Twas not a joke," he said, although the smile had brightened his countenance as well. "You are ill and I can help. There is no one around for miles to see." Legolas looked past the snow-covered cloak, past the pale face of his friend, into the deep brown eyes that seemed to be sincerely offering this absurd assistance. With a deep breath, Legolas pressed his front to Aragorn's back. The man gripped Legolas' legs, pulling them up to his hips, then straightened as much as he could with the elf on his back. It was fortunate that Legolas was thin and relatively light, or Aragorn might have doubled over from the extra weight. His legs already felt too tired to carry on, but he knew Legolas' must have been feeling the same. With a deep breath of his own, he started forward, holding the elf's legs against his side while Legolas hung on with arms around Aragorn's neck.
It was slow-going of course, though not quite so bad as they turned direction and Aragorn walked so that the snow hit their sides, not their faces. Without the wind constantly pushing right against them, Aragorn's pace was not too pathetic for a man with a tall elf on his back. The only major problems were when Legolas' body shook from coughs or sneezes. Sneezes were particularly difficult to manage, as they were stronger and more sudden. Legolas' sneezes, luckily, had a build-up to them. Aragorn could hear the sharp intake of breath right by his ear and prepare himself, holding onto Legolas tightly and slowing or even stopping to brace himself for the impact. Legolas sniffled much more than sneezed, however. And in his current position his nose remained relatively untended to. Unlike the night before, Legolas did not hold back his sniffles for Aragorn's benefit or for general politeness. Instead they were louder, more forceful, and spoke much more towards how the sick elf was feeling.
By mid-afternoon, Legolas had fallen asleep on Aragorn's back. With his body so relaxed, extra weight seemed to be added to Aragorn, who was already hunched over. Several times he stopped and leaned against trees for a brief breather, himself. But he still managed to cover much distance without the coughing and sneezing to slow him down to break the rhythm of his stride.
All that was in his mind now was getting home as soon as possible. The thought was helped along as the forest began drastically thinning and he hit the field that separated the two forests. With the end in sight, neither the snowstorm nor the heavy elf on his back seemed to matter any more. Soon they would be in Rivendell, with warm drinks and hot fires. With cozy beds of feather comforters and baths with lavender and rose petals. He would tuck Legolas into bed first, then change into his warmest nightshirt and slide beneath the covers as well. Sleep, or even just a chance to rest his body, now looked more favorable to him than all the warm meals he could imagine. On his back, Legolas sneezed and snuffled in his sleep. "Soon, Nîn Melui," he called back to the sleeping elf. Aragorn quickened his pace, finding again the rhythm the sneeze had pushed him out of. "Just hold on a little longer. We shall soon be home."
Meth îdh lîn= End your rest
Nîn Melui- My Lovely