Legolas looked over at his companion, frowning at the blue tinged lips on the young ranger. Legolas himself felt chilled to the bone, and though Aragorn was wrapped in several more layers of clothing than the elf himself was, he knew his friend was far colder.
"We have to stop, Strider!" The elf yelled to be heard over the blowing wind. "We will not make it back to your home tonight!" Aragorn looked alarmingly dazed but managed to nod at Legolas' words. The prince worriedly held his gaze for a moment longer before peering into the snow, trying to remember the layout of the land. He had been visiting Aragorn for several months now, and though they had gone on many forays into the woods, seldom had they come this way.
A few more steps and a rock wall loomed out of the snow directly in front of them. Legolas smiled, relieved. A rock wall was bound to have overhangs, possibly even a cave if they got lucky, and that would do well. He started to follow the wall, glancing back at Aragorn again, his scowl deepening as he realized the bluish tinge had now spread to the rest of the ranger's face. The young man stumbled in the snow, seeming to have difficulty pushing himself further, and Legolas realized in alarm that his friend's shivering had stopped, a sure sign he was developing hypothermia.
He held back a moment, allowing Aragorn to catch up to him, but the human irritably shook off the elf's arm when he attempted to support his friend. Legolas sighed in frustration, but did not offer his assistance again, instead concentrating on finding shelter.
The rock wall helped to shield them from the worst of the wind, and being on the leeward side of it, the snow was not as deep here, barely an inch deep. Legolas glanced up at the sky again, blinking the searing snow out of his eyes. He realized his estimation of the nightfall had been far off. They had now only a few minutes left of light, and he did not want to think about what could happen if they were still out here when the temperature plunged even further with the night.
He stumbled as the hand he had been trailing on the rock wall suddenly met with nothing, and he nearly hit his head on an overhanging shelf as his hand plunged into a sharp opening. He ducked down and glanced inside, a smile finally coming to his face.
The cave entrance was not high, coming only to his chest, but sloped up as it went further back in the rock, til at the back even the tallest man could stand without brushing his head on the rock. The floor was dry, and more importantly, the last resident had left blankets rolled up and pushed back from the entrance, and a large pile of wood next to a clearly used fire pit. Legolas suddenly remembered what Aragorn had told him, that there were many of these caves in the cliffs near Rivendell, used mainly for hunting parties to stay in when their hunts took longer than expected. They were allowed to be used by anyone in need, with the expectation that when you left, the cave was ready to be used by the next person in need. Legolas sighed with relief that the last occupant had remembered to restock the wood, as they would not be able to find any dry wood now.
He poked his head back out of the cave, looking around in a panic when he realized Aragorn was not there. The elf glanced down at the snow, realizing that his friend, in his delusion, must not have realized Legolas had stopped, and was continuing to press forward in the snow. He could not see the ranger, but the tracks were easy to follow, even for someone with no tracking skill. Legolas followed them, catching up to Aragorn after only a dozen steps and turning his friend around with a firm grip around the shoulders. Aragorn looked blearily up at the elf as he was turned, not appearing to see him, but he did not fight as Legolas half dragged, half carried him back to the cave.
Legolas ducked his head under the opening and pulled his friend inside. Aragorn stood there, clutching the cloak tightly to him as Legolas kneeled down next to the fire pit and started positioning tinder for a fire. After a moment, Legolas stood and gently pulled him down. "Sit before you fall, Strider. I will have a fire going in no time."
Aragorn sat where Legolas had pulled him, staring off into the distance, as if seeing something else. "Ada, put more wood on the fire, I'm cold." He muttered. Legolas looked at him sharply. The man was truly delirious if he was calling for Elrond. Did he think himself home? He quickened his efforts to get the fire going, worry seeping into the corners of his mind.
Shortly he had the tinder arranged and reached into an inside pocket of his tunic, thankful beyond belief that they had not lost all their supplies when the horses spooked. He frowned at the memory.
It was to have been a routine hunting trip, a day or so out, two or three to hunt game, and a day back. But what neither of them had counted on was winter coming early and with a vengeance seldom seen in this part of the world. Even the sudden bitter cold and blowing snow would not have been a major tragedy in itself had not Legolas' horse been startled by some unseen smell and shied, plowing into Aragorn's and causing both riders to be unseated. Whatever had spooked the horses had caused them to bolt quickly toward the safety of their stables, taking along the supplies strapped to their backs, the extra food, blankets, and the game they were returning with after a successful hunt. The two friends had attempted to chase the horses down, but soon were left far behind in the driving snow. The only supplies they had left were what they carried on their persons, dreadfully little when they rode.
Aragorn still had a pouch of healing medicines that Elrond insisted he carry at all times, his short dagger, and a small water flask he had carried against his skin to keep it from freezing. Legolas had his quiver with bow and arrows and ivory handled knives, and a small piece of Lembas and a chunk of flint in an inside pocket of his tunic. He unsheathed one of his knives and banged the flint against it, thanking the Valar that he had taken to carrying the fire making stone inside his tunic instead of strapped onto his horse like he used to do.
He was rewarded with a large spark and the dry tinder caught almost immediately. He carefully fed wood onto the fire, ignoring the pain in his own cold and aching hands. Already being out of the cold winds and driving snow he could feel the warmth returning to his body, but Aragorn was not looking so good. His gaze was vacant and unseeing, and when he muttered under his breath in Elvish, Legolas could pick up the names of his adopted brothers, Elladan and Elrohir, and his father, Elrond. Clearly he was delusional and thought he was back in Rivendell.
Under Legolas' skill, the fire was quickly blazing, throwing its light around the cave. Legolas noticed a snowflake falling from the ceiling and looked up, seeing that a tiny hole had been bored in the roof, allowing an escape for the smoke. Before long, the tiny space was heating up nicely and Legolas' shivering subsided, feeling finally returning to his numb fingers.
He glanced over at Aragorn. The man was still where Legolas had pulled him down, staring into the flames, not moving. Legolas gently unwrapped the outer layer of his soaked clothes from him and pulled his hands from the fabric, gently rubbing them. He really would have preferred to get something hot into Aragorn, but their cooking utensils were on the horses, and there was nothing in the cave.
Aragorn allowed himself to be doctored, which worried the elf more than any resistance could have. The ranger was quite fond of saying he was fine, and refusing treatment, even when he had suffered the most grievous injuries. The fact that he was not protesting now concerned his friend. Aragorn was still not starting to shiver, a fact which worried Legolas greatly. The human did not seem to be warming up, even with the temperature rapidly rising in the confined space of the cave. Legolas assumed the wet clothes must be the culprit. They had been walking for several hours in the driving snow and were both drenched. Now that he was out of the snow and wind, the wet clothes were no longer bothering the prince, but the more fragile human was still showing signs of distress. He was still not responding to anything Legolas did, and continued softly muttering to himself.
Legolas made a quick decision, and before the ranger could regain enough sense to fight him, quickly stripped the man's wet clothes off, wrapping both blankets around him. He remembered what Elrond had told him once when dealing with a hypothermia victim. If their clothes were wet, they were worse than useless in warming the victim. Better to have no clothes on than wet clothes which sapped whatever warmth the person was managing to create. He hunched down on the other side of the fire, glancing over at Aragorn. The man had not moved from the position Legolas had put him in after his clothes were removed, not even to pull the blanket around him, and it was slipping off one shoulder. With a curse, Legolas moved around to the other side of the fire, seating himself behind his friend and wrapping the blanket tightly around his shoulders, holding it there with his arms around the man's chest, his chin on Aragorn's shoulder.
Aragorn's mutterings became softer and finally stopped altogether, his head falling back on the shoulder of the elf as consciousness fled from him. Legolas swore again, louder this time, as he pulled his friend more tightly against him. He gently rocked the man in his arms, not knowing what else to do. The wet clothes were off, a fire was blazing, he had warm, dry blankets wrapped around him, Legolas was sharing his body heat, why was he not warming?
A thought suddenly occurred to Legolas, and if the situation had not been so frightening, he would have laughed. Gently laying the man down on the floor, he quickly shed his own clothes and laid down next to Aragorn, pressing his body tightly against the man's back and pulling the blanket tightly over the two of them. He could feel the cold body pressed up against him and shivered slightly. His own backside was sticking out of the blanket and growing cool again, away from the fire, but he ignored it. But before long, he could feel the warmth growing under the blanket, and Aragorn's shivering at last starting again as his temperature finally began to raise.
Legolas reached for the fire pit and brought one of the rocks closer to them, feeling the heat from the hot stone singe his hands. Several more stones he brought closer, wrapping them in a fold of the blanket and tucking them against Aragorn's chest and stomach, makeshift hot water bottles.
The elf got up several times during the night to restoke the fire, each time laying back down pressed up against the ranger's back, his arms around Aragorn's waist, giving him as much warmth as he could. The fact that the man had not yet regained consciousness worried him far more than he wanted to admit, though Aragorn had not yet passed to the next world either.
As dawn approached, he could feel the warmth returning to his friend's body and allowed his mind to wander. He glanced down at the man in his arms, desperately hoping Aragorn lived long enough to make fun of him sleeping naked with the man. The cave gradually began to lighten and Legolas realized that dawn had finally arrived, and even better, the snow had stopped. The fire was still burning brightly, and he closed his eyes, intending on only resting, but before long, was dozing off. A slight movement of the man in his arms brought him back to reality, and when Aragorn turned confused eyes on him, could not help but smile.
"Leg....Legolas...." Aragorn's voice cracked, raw from the biting cold and driving snow of the night before and he swallowed several times before continuing. "....where are we?" he whispered, looking around with bleary eyes at the cave around them.
"A cave, half a day's walk from your home. We had to take shelter here from the storm."
"Snowstorm. Do you not remember?"
Aragorn's gaze turned inward for a moment, but he did nod. "I think so. I just remember being cold."
"Cold is an understatement, mellon nīn." He says softly. "I almost lost you."
Aragorn nodded, throwing back the blanket and rising to his knees. Suddenly realizing he was naked, he flushed a deep red. His blush deepened when the thrown back blankets revealed an equally naked elf. "We were....I mean....I was...and you were....." He stumbled, unable to meet the eyes of his friend. Legolas laughed, not as uncomfortable with the situation as the young ranger was. Nudity was not something he was uncomfortable with, many of the formal ceremonies of the elves were indeed conducted with little to no clothing on.
"You were freezing to death, Aragorn. You needed my body heat and our wet clothes were a hindrance to warming you." He said gently, truly not wanting to embarrass the man. He motioned to where Aragorn's clothes were spread out on the ground near the fire, now nearly dry. Aragorn quickly pulled them on, the blush finally beginning to subside, and he turned to his friend with an intense expression in his eyes.
"If you tell ANYONE we slept together naked, I swear I will kill you, Legolas." He tried to look angry, but the twinkle in his eye gave him away.
Legolas was pulling his own clothes on and laughed at the look in his friend's eyes. "Worry not, Aragorn. Enough people already believe there is something beyond friendship with us. No need to give the rumor mill further fodder." He grinned. "And besides, even if I was inclined to lie with another male, I would certainly not make it with a scummy human."
Aragorn laughed as well, playfully punching Legolas in the shoulder. "Nor would I make it with a prissy elf." Legolas returned the playful punch with a shove of his own. They gathered up their meager belongings and headed for the mouth of the cave, but before they reached it, Aragorn took Legolas' arm and stopped him, and his expression grew serious. "Hannon le, mellon nīn." He said softly.
Legolas nodded, acknowledging the thanks, but then his eyes sparkled again. "I could not very well return to Rivendell with your body, Aragorn. Your father would kill me."
Aragorn snorted. "Or my brothers. It would be a contest to see who would get first shot at you."
"And we cannot have that now, can we? Because then MY father would be upset about my death, and would want to avenge it." He shook his head. "No, that could become quite messy." They ducked out the mouth of the cave into the blinding sunshine of the morning and started back toward Rivendell. "I would not want to deal with an elven civil war just because you died. Easier to just save your sorry life."
Aragorn's eyes widened. "Sorry life? If your horse had not shied, we never would have been in that predicament." He playfully pushed the elf into a snowdrift. Legolas grabbed a handful of snow and threw it at the human, catching him square in the back of the head.
"And if your horse had not shied when mine did, we could have ridden double and been there by nightfall." He ducked as the ranger threw a snowball at him, earning a glower from the man. But Aragorn was ready and threw another snowball, this time catching his friend square in the chest. It exploded on impact, coating the elf's clothes in a fine layer of white. "You will pay for that, ranger!" He yelped as the snow slid inside his trousers. He grabbed a large handful of snow and aimed at the back of the fleeing human.
Aragorn ducked, expecting a snowball to the back, but when he saw the look on the elf's face, his eyes widened. If Legolas was not intending on throwing the snowball, the only other option was that he was planning on shoving it down his tunic. Suddenly deciding that fleeing was the more preferable option, he took off as fast as he could toward home. The elf laughed and followed, keeping the man close, but letting him stay just out of range. He was sure that once they reached Rivendell, Elladan and Elrohir would be more than happy to help him whitewash his friend......
Translations of Elvish words:
Ada, short for Adar, father, so Ada would probably be the equivalent of "dad"
mellon nīn: my friend
hannon le mellon nīn: Thank you, my friend.
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