He recognized this place. He had been here before, years ago—long enough it could have been a different lifetime ago. The little boy playing in the street had been killed in the war… but here he was; happy, smiling, a smear of dirt marking one cheek. His older sister laughed at something her lover said… he was dead, now, too.

Aragorn knew that, and yet… here they were. Whether the woman was alive, he didn't know. She would be old, now. Old by the ways of most men, at least.

After a moment he gave up trying to figure out how they could be alive, stuck in time, happy and unknowing of the world before him. He spoke with an old friend from the rangers, one who served now as a guard, with a long scar running over one eye that the man currently beside him hadn't gone to war to receive yet.

But he could forget that, just for this moment.

Tripper came bounding out from behind a leaning shack, stumbling a bit in his haste, shaggy and matted tail wagging furiously. Aragorn bent, reaching out to the friendly little dog, only to see teeth sink into his arm. There was pain, but no blood. He pulled away, and looked to the others in confusion, but they were gone, and couldn't explain how the friendly little dog had suddenly become savage.

The unreality of the moment caught him as Tripper surrounded his left leg, pulling him towards an oddly sturdy door in the midst of straw homes with rags hung in doorways to deter pests. Something else, something with warm fur and hot breath, latched onto his right arm, drawing him closer to the door. Deep apprehension settled in his gut, warning him away, even before the door opened. All he could see within was darkness, broken at first only by hands reaching for him. He saw the copper eyes of an orc he'd once beheaded, the gaping smile of another, a particularly grotesque uruk reaching for him. The worst, though, were the hands that weren't scared, weren't grey-cast or worn, weren't marked with leather and blood, gnarled fingers with thick, tattered nails. Long-fingered, pale, unblemished, knowing, wise, they were the hands of elves…

The screams he'd been hearing for some time registered in his mind, growing louder and louder until he suddenly realized with a jolt—

He was dreaming.

The hands vanished, the eyes closed, the door faded away, but the screams merely settled into an even roar.

He knew he had been asleep, and could tell he was lying on his right side, his left hand near his right wrist.

The roar remained, as did the panic. It grew, consuming him as he realized he couldn't move. He knew exactly how his body was placed, but he didn't know if he was breathing. The roar was his own blood, drowning out every other sound, even the potential sound of his own breath.

A suspicion rose in his mind, and though he vaguely knew it wasn't logical, he latched onto it as his only hope to survive this odd, frightening trial. If he could only scream for someone, they could help him. They would wake him! If he could but simply move, the nightmare would be over.

He attempted to draw a deep breath in preparation, but couldn't tell if he managed.

He knew it failed to escape him as a scream, or even a soft moan, so he gathered himself to try again.

Not a sound.

His despair began to grow. Even if he could make a sound, which wasn't looking likely any more, who would hear him? A guard? He was in the rather large royal chambers, with two doors and a sitting room between him and the two guards who were most likely half-asleep. Even if they heard him—through the stone and thick wood of the two rooms he doubted even Legolas on high-alert would hear him—they would more than likely dismiss the noise, unless it was an out-and-out cry for help. A small noise, which he might be able to make, would go unremarked. Noises he made in his sleep, they would think, and dismiss it.

No maid would be present until the morning hours—he and Arwen both preferred it that way.

Arwen… if he could make a noise loud enough, she would hear it. Loud enough, and it would bring her back from whatever bittersweet memories she was wandering through this night. It would bring her back, yes… but though he loved her, there were things in which they would forever be separate. She didn't understand mortal sleep, for she still took her rest as one of the eldar. She had never had a nightmare, had never seen him have one—not one as this was shaping up to be. Bad memories revisited, she could handle with all the grace of her kin—they had plenty of experience there. But with mere imaginings and twisted impossible sub-realities she was more lost than he, himself, was.

The thoughts, the odds, flashed through his mind, distorted and made less than they were by the endless roar of his own existence.

He gathered himself again, and could almost feel the air in his chest, though he couldn't tell if his body was listening enough to his demands to hold it in for a cry. Anything, he pleaded with his body. Anything will do.

He strained with all of his might to cry out, and managed a sound!

The most pitiful whimper he'd ever heard from any wretched creature in any desperate situation escaped him.

The rush of movement, of being able to open his eyes, feel breath in his lungs, move his arms and legs, forced the thought of that irony away for a moment.

He blinked a few times in the semi-darkness, and saw a shape rising towards him.

This was a familiar, welcome shape, and he let out a sigh and closed his eyes as she stroked the cold sweat and damp hair from his brow. Her hand rested on his cheek when that task was accomplished, her thumb brushing over his lips.

"A nightmare?" she asked, her voice low, soothing and sweet.

He considered that for a long moment, and had to hesitate. He'd never experienced anything quite like that before. To know he was awake and be unable to move, to even control his own breathing… unable to tell that he was breathing. Even now, awake, the cold reality soothed by the warmth of her touch, he could not forget that fear, the panic… and he still didn't know if he had been breathing. Perhaps he had glimpsed death. His death, at least. Darkness, those he had met in this life who had passed before him… or been sent because of him. It sounded as possible as anything else he had heard for the fate of man.

"Aragorn?"

He reached out, finding her skin easily in the loving brush of the stars and moon. He stroked her arm, and slowly shook his head. "I don't know," he admitted.

"Tell me about it?"

That bore no thinking about. "No, love," he murmured softly, moving forward to kiss her lightly.

The light caught in her eyes, making them shine for a moment before a blink took that sight away. Sorrow touched him, remembering a time when the stars remained whether in direct line or not.

She sighed, but didn't protest—she knew him too well to protest. Instead she did what she'd always done before for bad memories that woke him. She wrapped her arms around him, and pulled his head to her chest before kissing his crown. "Sleep, Elessar. I will keep watch."

He smiled faintly, thinking of the times Elladan, Elrohir or Legolas had said those very words. No matter the situation, he always slept better after hearing those words, knowing he could trust his very soul to their care. He closed his eyes obediently, and slept.


Hi, guys. Yup, a deviation from my more normal style (mainly, Legolas/OC romance). It didn't really fit into my collection of one-shots, which I'm considering breaking up, anyway. It's hard to tell what is exactly acceptable in the rules on here, anymore.

Anyway, commentary aside, has anyone experienced anything like this before?