Title: Competition

Author: tarotgal

Fandom: Lord of the Rings, post-RotK

Rating: PG-13 maybe?

Disclaimer: I am sorry to say I don't own these boys or their world. And I don't make a cent off this.

Summary: There's nothing like a little friendly competition...

Author's Notes: The idea for this fic actually came to me as I was reading part of the book Timeline by Michael Crichton. I wrote this for Lady Korana as a gift as she came in second place in my song guessing competition and was nice enough to let me take this where my muses wanted to go. A special thank you goes to my Aunt who sent me The Tolkien Companion without which I would have been rather clueless during one part in this story.

 

 

Competition

     It started innocently enough, as most of their competitions did. And, like most of their competitions, it started in a tavern after an evening of drinking.

 

     Legolas and Gimli were returning from a week's stay in Mirkwood, which had hosted the annual elven skills tournament. Despite having returned with a dwarf as a companion and lover, the elven prince had won his people's favor as well as half a dozen titles in the events. Ever humble, except when competing with said dwarf, Legolas had attributed his success in the games to all his experience during the war and claimed everyone would soon catch up with and surpass him. To the elf, they had been sad to see him go, but he promised to visit again soon. And though he was eager for home, the journey took five days at best and was tiring. This was how they came to be staying in an inn on night number four.

 

     Although the snow was something of a contributor, as well. Arod was a hardy horse, but even he could not carry them for days through a blizzard. He was more than grateful when they'd stabled him, and they were glad for the hot food and warm fires the inn provided. Along with food and firesides came spirits. There was plenty of wine for Legolas and ale for Gimli, and neither was too sure of himself as the night went on.

 

     "Aye," said Gimli, wearing foam upon his moustache as he had long since lost the politeness required to wipe it away. "I will concede that elves are taller. And skinner. And even more graceful. But dwarves..." He chuckled, holding up his finger and shaking it to emphasize his point. "Dwarves are stronger."

 

     "Surely you jest!" exclaimed Legolas, his eyes fixed upon Gimli's moustache for far longer than they should have been. "How can you make such a claim after all you witnessed this week at the tournament? Why, my bow's weight is two hundred pounds easily."

 

     "Two--" Gimli had been in the middle of another mouthful of beer, much of which was spat back out into his large mug as he was caught by the surprise. He coughed at the remainder and stared incredulously at Legolas. "My Dear Legolas, I have carried your bow and quiver for you many a time... and you clearly have the wrong idea of what two hundred pounds is!"

 

     "Not that weight," said Legolas, laughing and shaking his head for a little longer than normal. A look at Gimli reminded his wine-dulled mind that he meant to explain. "The weight of a bow is the strength required to draw it back. There is no man alive who could handle such a weapon, yet we elves manage as though it were feather light." That was a bit of an exaggeration, of course, but such was the way when speaking with Gimli on these matters... when one was somewhat intoxicated, that is.

 

     Or rather intoxicated, for that matter. The serving girl came around the tables and topped off glasses, filling both Legolas' and Gimli's with the proper drinks and giving them both extra smiles for not feeling her up as she did so as so many of the patrons did. The inn was full to capacity, and nearly all its guests were assembled in the tavern for merry-making and swapping stories after their meals. Legolas and Gimli were relatively separated from the others who sat closer to the large fireplace, drinking and boasting as well as hacking and spitting into the fireplace instead of using handkerchiefs. Legolas and Gimli, however, had preferred a bit of privacy and had chosen to sit at the end of a long table.

 

     "It might be that elves are strong, but I still maintain dwarves are stronger on the whole." He took another gulp then grinned broadly. "And while I cannot say for sure about all elves, I am certainly stronger than you."

 

     "Oh?" Legolas drained his wine goblet to the very last drop and set it back on the scrubbed wood table in front of him, nearly missing and dropping it on the floor. "Care to back that up?"

 

     Gimli plunked his arm down on the table, bent at the elbow. "Right here and right now, Love." He wiggled his fingers enticingly.

 

     Legolas smiled slightly and turned, placing his elbow on the table as well, clasping hands with Gimli's. "Prepare to be proven wrong in three... two... one..."

 

 

*          *          *

 

     "You know," Gimli said, holding the rest of the horse's tack as Legolas adjusted the saddle pad, packs, and saddle, fastening them into place. "We could stay another day and night here if you like."

 

     Legolas made no reply, but Gimli still heard soft sniffles the elf was trying not to make coming from the other side of the horse.

 

     Gimli walked around, the horse's front, making sure Arod saw where he was going. For a dwarf who had not been overly fond of horses before the war, he had certainly learned how to behave around them, or at least this one in particular. "Until you are feeling better, I mean."

 

     Legolas looked over, confusion in his eyes. "I do not follow."

 

     A sudden, loud laugh from the dwarf filled the stable and some of the other horses in their stalls gave starts, but Arod remained perfectly still. For a horse which had never been around dwarves before the war, he had certainly learned how to behave around them, or at least this one in particular. "You are ill, Legolas."

 

     "I am not," insisted Legolas, sounding offended. He tightened the girth then reached for the bridle in Gimli's arms.

 

     "I know for a fact you are," replied Gimli. "I was up half the night listening to you sneezing in bed beside me when you thought me asleep."

 

     This quieted Legolas' side of the conversation considerably. He fit the bit in Arod's mouth then pulled the straps back, setting them around the horse's ears. "The snows have calmed and we should take this opportunity to get home while we can. I dread the idea of being stuck here for weeks or more when the heavy snows come. I am more than well enough to travel," he said at last. Then, looking straight down at Gimli. "Elves are strong folk, you know."

 

     "Mmm," said Gimli, thoughtfully. "Then you wouldn't mind giving me a hand-up, would you?"

 

     Legolas smiled and bent down with one knee on the ground and the other bent as a step. He held a hand to Gimli. "Not at... at all." His other hand rubbed at his nose rather harshly, but he waited until Gimli was set in the saddle before turning and pinching his nose. "ihhhh... hihhhh-IHnxxxtt! Heptxx!" His head bobbed forward and he sighed deeply afterwards. Then he righted himself as though nothing had happened and mounted the horse as well. "Off we go," he announced, smiling as Gimli's arms slid around his waist and hugged.

 

     Though it had stopped snowing, there were still several inches of it on the ground. Arod went quickly but carefully through it as they stayed on the main road for as long as they could. Otherwise Arod might hit something under the snow or throw a shoe and all three of them would be stranded until someone happened by. Their pace was respectable now, however, and they both hoped to reach home before nightfall.

 

     They rode straight through the morning until just before mid-day when Arod decided he needed a break. Or, rather, he decided that the grass sticking up out of the snow on the side of the path looked quite appealing. Legolas was more than happy to give the reins slack and let the horse rest a while.

 

     Gimli and Legolas took lunch as well. They'd procured two day's worth of provisions at the inn, just in case, and Gimli eagerly dug some of it out of one of the saddle bags. He ate as normal, but Legolas only helped himself to a bit of the bread.

 

     "You never eat much when ill," Gimli commented, not the least bit surprised at Legolas' lack of appetite.

 

     "I'm not so ill. Simply not very hungry," Legolas said, taking the opportunity to fish around in the saddle bags as well. He finally located a handkerchief tucked away at the bottom of one of the pouches and quickly buried his nose in it. "huhhhh..." He breathed out heavily into the fabric as he held his nose through the folds. "ihhh... hehhhhh..." His eyes closed and body tensed up. "hihhhh... hih-hehh--"

 

     "Oh, just sneeze already!" exclaimed Gimli around a mouthful of bread and meat.

 

     Legolas' body relaxed and he opened his eyes, glaring over his shoulder at the dwarf. "Thank you, but I do not need to." He sniffed and lowered the handkerchief. He turned back around, looking down at the horse's mane for a moment. Then he snapped forward. "HIHH-TChh!" Legolas could hear Gimli chuckling as he lifted the handkerchief again and rubbed at his nose. Half-stifling it made his sinuses hurt nearly as much as his pride but as he rubbed, the tickling backed down a fair amount.

 

     "Galu. What were you saying about not needing to sneeze, then?" Gimli chuckled Gimli. "Not so strong when--"

 

     "It is just a little sniffle," said Legolas. "And we should be going." He picked up the slack in the reins and tugged lightly to let Arod know they wanted to move on. Gimli still had a few bites left, but Legolas did not want to wait for him. He finished up while bouncing in the saddle behind Legolas.

 

     The sun moved more quickly across the heavens than they cared for it too. In winter the days were short and the nights long. Had it not been for the date of the tournament being out of their control, Legolas and Gimli would have preferred taking this trip in any other season.

 

     Not only was there the growing darkness to contend with, but also the cold. Though it was no longer snowing, the rush of freezing cold air against them as they rode on horseback was enough to make even Gimli sniffle constantly. So for Legolas, the task of trying to contain his runny nose was difficult. He held the reins in one hand and his handkerchief in the other, trying and failing to manage both. It took two hands to direct Arod now that the paths were windy and splitting off all over. And to do anything more than press the hanky to his nose required two hands. His nose was badly in need of a good blow or two and he gave serious thought to stopping. But the area they were traveling through was not known to be the safest and Gimli would have thought him mad to stop there. And he would not risk Gimli's safety just because of a little cold he felt certain he could handle.

 

     "huhhh... h'ngg! huhhh-NGg-uhhh!" Legolas sneezed as silently as he could, his head throbbing with the pressure required to do so.

 

     He felt Gimli squeeze him a bit more tightly from behind. "We can stop if you need to," Gimli told him seriously.

 

     Legolas shook his head. "There is doe deed." He sniffed liquidly and rubbed his nose hard into the handkerchief. Then he immediately snapped forward. "hehhh-CHUH!"

 

     "Doe deed," mocked Gimli. "How silly of me." He rubbed Legolas' shoulder. "You sound terrible. You must feel terrible, too?"

 

     Legolas coughed and gave a small nod. He leaned back into Gimli's comforting touch.  "I feel..." Then he caught himself. He straightened and cleared his throat. "I feel a little under the weather. That is all. Snfffffff! I'm too strong to let a little cold bother me."

 

     Gimli's hand returned at once to Legolas' side and he sighed. After a brief pause, "Well if you decide you do need to stop, we certainly can."         Legolas rode on, however, neither needing nor wanting to stop where they were.

 

     It was not long after, however, that they were forced to stop. Not because of snow or even Legolas' cold, but because of a wire. It was strung up tight between two trees along the path that they were following about eight feet from the ground. Were he anyone but an elf, Legolas might not have spotted it in time and it surely would have knocked them off their horse or decapitated at least one of them.

 

     As it was, however, Legolas was able to steer Arod around in time, avoiding the wire but causing them to slow and fall into the trap. They came to a halt as two dozen or more men made themselves known, coming out from behind bushes and trees. Some were on horseback and some were on foot but all brandished weapons. As the men closed in around Legolas and Gimli, Legolas was sure the band was not simply interested in whatever coin and goods they could procure; they were clearly out for blood as well.

 

     They were dark-skinned as though they'd spent too much time in the sun, and to the last they wore dark browns and blacks. Even without their weapons they would have appeared fierce and angry. It was clear these Haradrim would not back down without a good fight.

 

     "These guys..." Gimli muttered into Legolas' back. "I thought we got rid of these guys."

 

     "Clearly they were dot so easily subdued," Legolas whispered back, his nose stuffy but his ailment forgotten in the face of this danger. "Cad you reach our weabods?"

 

     "Aye," said Gimli, already handing over Legolas' bow and quiver of arrows. He took his axe in hand, as well, looking as though he'd wished he'd brought more than just the one. Now that the war was over, there was so little reason to fight that he hadn't anticipated needing even the one. "Can you--"

 

     "I cad fight," Legolas assured him briskly, pulling an arrow back already. One of the riders cantered by, swinging his sword but Legolas ducked to avoid the blade and Gimli struck him down with a swing of his own. Legolas sniffed hard then released the arrow and it zipped through the air, hitting another man who was gearing up to attack.

 

     Unfortunately, those were the last moments of the 'attack one at a time' pattern. As the rest of the group rushed at them, Arod grew nervous but still paid attention to Legolas' direction, given not by the reins but through boot heels digging into the horse's side. He seemed terribly uneasy as the weapons came close to him, but he stood his ground for his masters.

 

     It seemed much easier for Legolas to manage fighting from his position, though he shot only when he could be sure of his target; he had brought a small supply of arrows. Apart from those on horseback, however, Gimli had very few targets. He could not easily predict the horse's movements and did not have a clear view of everything happening around him. So when he fell off Arod and onto the ground, he was almost relieved at the twist of fate.

 

     Legolas lost sight of him after a few seconds, his attention drawn by three men on white steeds who were taking jabs at him. Legolas felt a bit slower than usual, his reactions clouded by his cold. But he managed to avoid every thrust and swing and eventually eliminated the threat.

 

     Slowly but inevitably, the lines thinned until their enemies were either dead or had retreated back into the forest. Legolas felt quite alone for a moment atop Arod and amidst the small pool of bodies. He had only begun surveying the area for a moment before his adrenalin backed down and his nose tickled again. He raised his arm, sneezing heavily into the crook. "IHHHChhh! HIHTChhhhh! Ihh-ehhhh-YIHChhhhh!" Snuffling, he raised his head, looking around for movement.

 

     There was none.

 

     Every body on the ground amidst the snow was motionless, many with large open gashes but nearly the same number with arrows protruding from the chest. The horse stepped carefully around the bodies as Legolas led him about, still searching. He did not call out, not wanting his worst fears confirmed. And, at the moment, his eyes worked better than his voice. So he looked carefully and quickly.

 

     And then he saw Gimli. The dwarf lay unconscious, a man draped over his middle to pin him to the ground. Legolas sniffed again, patted Arod's side, then swiftly dismounted. He rolled the man off and gripped Gimli's shoulder just as the dwarf's eyes fluttered open. Gimli's eyes darted from right to left, then rested upon Legolas'. "I take it we won?"

 

     Legolas chuckled and nodded. He offered a hand, which Gimli took, but the dwarf was not quick to rise. He groaned softly and winced as he moved to get up, and Legolas noticed he was not using his right arm at all and leaning towards his left. "What is wrodg?"

 

     Gimli shook his head. "Just some minor injuries. I assure you, I can bear them."

 

     "That bay be," Legolas said, pushing back Gimli's cloak and tugging at the outer tunic. "But if you are bleeding, as I susbect you are, we deed to deal with... ehhhh... with it... yihhh... IHHH--" His nose quivered and he turned his head. "h'Nxxttt!"

 

     Gimli frowned as he watched Legolas exhale deeply with the rest of the breath that he had not used for the sneeze. "If you are strong enough to deal with that cold of yours, I can handle a cut and a few broken ribs," the dwarf insisted.

 

     "Broked ribs?!" Legolas exclaimed, looking at Gimli as though he could see within him to the injury. He noticed a dark stain on his brown sleeve, however.

 

     "No," Gimli said, cracking a smile. "Not 'broked ribs', 'broken ribs'." He gently patted the offending spot. "But I am strong. I can handle it."

 

     "Gimli..." Legolas sighed and pulled off the dwarf's shirt to see a cut running nearly from Gimli's wrist to elbow. "Oh..." He frowned.

 

     "Are you going to sneeze again?" Gimli asked, watching Legolas' expression.

 

     Legolas smiled and shook his head. He did indeed feel a bit of a tickle in his nose, but he sniffed it away. If Gimli wasn't going to give into his pain, he did not intend to either. "Doe, I ab dot," he said sternly. He got up quickly and searched about in the saddlebags for his pocket knife. He used it to cut a few strips of cloth from one of his spare shirts. Then he pushed Gimli's protesting hand away and wrapped up his lower arm. "You wod't be arb wrestlig with this ady tibe sood."

 

     "I could still take you," Gimli insisted through clenched teeth as he bore the pain associated with having his wound handled.

 

     "If you could dot before, you wod't dow," Legolas replied.

 

     "That match was a stalemate," Gimli reminded him. The dwarf pulled his arm back the second Legolas was done with it.

 

     Legolas eyed him. "I would wrab your biddle ub, too, if subeode wered't so stubbord."

 

     Gimli pulled his shirts back into place and wrapped his cloak around himself again. "I am not stubborn. I'm just not that hurt." He looked around at the bodies. "Comparatively."

 

     Legolas' eyebrows rose. "Cobared to theb, berhabs." After all, Legolas had a few hairs out of place but otherwise looked perfect. Apart from a bit of a flush in his cheeks and nose, of course, which he could attribute to the cold weather as much as to his cold. "hihhh... hih-Chhh!"

 

     "I would not be so quick to speak. Especially seeing as how you are having trouble with that at the moment." He grinned at Legolas and headed towards the horse, limping greatly for a few steps. He instinctively wrapped his arm around his chest and his steps seemed more normal. But he dropped his arms down to his side when he looked over his shoulder and saw Legolas watching him closely. "We should go. They could be sending reinforcements."

 

     That seemed as good an excuse as any to Legolas. He collected a few of his arrows, then knelt beside the horse so Gimli could use his leg to climb up. Gimli gave a stifled groan as he did so, but gave Legolas a forced smile once he was settled on the back of the saddle. Legolas climbed up in front and took hold of the reins once more.

 

     "We should send word to Aragorn about the Haradrim," Gimli said.

 

     Legolas agreed. "He should sed scouts to the Harded, surely. Sniff! Sniff! Esbecially if there are bed statioded this far... far dorth." He rubbed his nose into his shoulder for a moment, but could not rub the tickling away. He snapped forward with the sneeze. Gimli held him tight, though hissing softly in pain as he did so.  

 

     Arod seemed to more than understand their need to return home sooner rather than later and galloped swiftly. Though he hugged Legolas tightly from behind, the movement caused Gimli to grunt repeatedly as he bounced up and down in the saddle. Legolas decided not to mention the grunts as Gimli had chosen not to mention his sniffles.

 

     Legolas' sniffles were getting worse and worse as the day went on and the sun set over the trees. Despite his stuffy nose, Legolas could smell snow on the wind. Though he doubted they would run into the sort of trouble from which they had just emerged, he wanted to rest and wanted to do that at home and in bed. And when he called back to Gimli to ask if he needed them to stop, Gimli seemed to be of the same mind and told him to continue.

 

     It was several hours past dark when they left the path and traveled through the woods. Their pace did not slow, however, as Arod intimately knew the way from there. When they spotted their home through the trees, they both breathed sighs of relief.

 

     "Home," Legolas announced. He gave the reins a slight tug and Arod slowed to a stop just in front of the house. The elf carefully dismounted then quickly pressed his base of his hand against his nose. "Ihh... yihh... ihh-HIShhh! Sniff! Ihhh-Chishh!" As he straightened and went to help Gimli, Arod bent his legs and knelt down.

 

     It was not the most natural action for a horse and Gimli seemed to appreciate it greatly. Gimli climbed off Arod's back, wincing quite visibly now that Legolas was not hiding his sneezes either.

 

     "Sniff! I'll take Arod over, sniff, sniff, if you wadt to go id," Legolas offered.

 

     Gimli shook his head and his arm instinctively wrapped around his middle again. "If you can, so can I."

 

     The three of them headed past the house and to the barn. While Legolas took off Arod's saddle and tack, Gimli filled his feed bucket with oats. And while Legolas brushed Arod down, Gimli hobbled about and lit the lamps to melt the water in the trough. When Arod seemed warm, fed, and watered, Legolas and Gimli left for the house.

 

     From the moment they walked in the door, they went straight for the bedroom. They lost their boots and cloaks on the floor along the way. Gimli flopped down on the bed on his good side and Legolas fell upon the bed similarly to face him. Legolas slid his hand under a pillow to retrieve a handkerchief.

 

     A few sniffles and coughs immediately made way for sneezes and his whole body shook from them. "Hh'Chph! HehShh! K'Shmph! ihhhh-hihhh-HEH-Chphhh!" He blew his nose then gave a deep sigh. He turned his face towards Gimli's again. "So we are home."

 

     Gimli nodded back. "I suppose we had better..." He leaned forward a little and winced again at the pain. "Assuming you feel strong enough to carry on."

 

     Homecomings, they had decided long ago, were certainly causes for celebration. And there was really only one way to celebrate. Certainly the two were strong enough for that. If they were not, neither intended to say so.

 

     "If you can, so can I." Legolas nodded and blew his nose, hoping to clear it for long enough. Then he set the handkerchief aside and reached over to Gimli, caressing the dwarf's cheek then slipping his hand under his shirts.

 

     Gimli tried to reach over to Legolas, but he was lying on his good arm and when he moved his bad one he hissed sharply in pain. He quickly covered that with a cough and inched over to kiss Legolas gently.

 

     Legolas accepted the kiss for the briefest of moments, then tore away as the urge to sneeze filled him. "iihhh... ihh-yihhhh..." His eyes closed at once and he blindly grabbed for his hanky. "hehhhhhh-TChhphhhh! Sniff! yihhh-Shhphh!"

 

     "Galu," Gimli said, though the sentiment was drowned out by Legolas blowing his nose again. He went to brush away the few hairs that had fallen into the elf's face and caught sight of his arm where the blood had soaked through the bandages.

 

     Catching sight of it as well, "I should chadge those." But he seemed too tired to get up and do so.

 

     Gimli shook his head. "It's nothing I cannot handle."

 

     "Stubbord dwarf," Legolas muttered before aiming a sudden sneeze into his shoulder. "Hihtchhhh!" Legolas barely had the energy to rub at his nose, but made the effort because Gimli was watching. "It is clear you are hurtig. I could helb if you would just let be."

 

     "Oh," Gimli said with a laugh. "And you think I do not notice that head cold of yours growing worse? Do you think I do not wish you would let me comfort you?"

 

     Legolas sniffled. "I subbose I ab just as stubbord as you."

 

     "Aye," Gimli said. "And just as strong."

 

     There was a momentary pause, then Gimli called 'pax' just as Legolas called a 'truce'. Silence followed as they stared at each other more.

 

     Then Legolas rolled off the bed and disappeared for a moment, returning with bandages and a few more handkerchiefs. He lay down on Gimli's other side and scooted up right behind the dwarf. He helped Gimli off with his shirts and changed the bandages. Then he snuggled up with Gimli who managed to pull the blankets up to cover them both. "Better thad love-bakig," Legolas said with a sigh and a cuddle.

 

     "I refuse to move again for a very long time," Gimli agreed, closing his eyes as Legolas' arm wrapped around him high enough around him that it missed his injuries. He looked over his shoulder. "Are you comfortable enough?"

 

     "Oh yes," Legolas replied, snuggling into Gimli's back and nuzzling against Gimli's head. "Berfectly... ihhh...abart frob... yehhh... the sdee... hih-ih-Ihhhhh--" He had a handkerchief ready, but continued to hug Gimli. "EHH-Gnxxtt! Uhhh... sniff, sniff..."

 

     Gimli glanced over his shoulder again. "There is no need for you to hold them back now."

 

     Legolas smiled. "I bay have a biserable head cold, but I still did dot wish to shake you too buch." His fingers slid down, carefully caressing the dwarf's bare chest.

 

     "Aye, I thank you but I can handle a little shaking if necessary," Gimli insisted.

 

     "Of course, but you should dot be forced to edure it as I ab cabable of holdig back by sdeezes. Sniff! Sniffsniff! It is the least I cad do for you."

 

     "You speak as though you think you are better at care-giving than I," observed Gimli. "Assuming I have heard you correctly."

 

     "I sbeak the truth," Legolas said. "Eved if I ab a little stuffed-ub."

 

     "My Dear Legolas, you are also sorely mistaken. Even with injuries I am able to comfort you and keep you warm. I am clearly better at care-giving than you."

 

     "Oh?" Legolas said, sounding quite doubtful and equally sneezy. "ehhhh-hehhh..." He froze, waiting the extra few seconds for the sneeze to finally make its way out. "hihh... heh-CHISHH! hihhh-Ehschhh!" He sneezed over his shoulder. "Care to back that ub?"

 

     Gimli sighed. "Right here and right now, Love." He wiggled his fingers, sliding them in-between those of Legolas' hand on his chest. He clasped the elf's hand tightly and closed his eyes again.

 

     Legolas sighed happily and was asleep before he could count down from three.