Gimli pressed the back of his hand to Legolas’ forehead. It had been days, and the elf was still burning with fever. The congestion and sore throat had been easy enough to handle with handkerchiefs and tea. The headache and weakness had been taken care of with some of Aragorn’s herbs and plenty of sleep. But the fever… the fever was harder to manage. Gimli tried cool compresses. He tried warm blankets. He tried even more herbs. But the elf’s fever just wasn’t breaking the way it was supposed to.
Poor Legolas went through stages of shivering and others of burning hot. Sometimes he clung to Gimli for warmth. Other times he pulled away, hypersensitive to touch. But, more often than not, he thrashed about, only slightly aware of what was going on.
“That’s it,” Gimli said, more to himself than to Legolas. “We’re going to try something my Oinfather used to do when one of us had a bad fever. Not sure if it works the same on elves, but it’s worth a try.” He left off the part where he was feeling desperate. If Legolas was aware of what was going on, he didn’t need to know that part.
Slowly, Gimli pulled down the blanket and sheet covering Legolas. He expected the elf to shiver, but he didn’t; he didn’t really react at all. One item at a time, Gimli stripped off Legolas’ clothing. He took his own tunic off and then, after thinking about it, took his trousers off as well while he was at it. Under any other circumstance, the sight of his lovely elf stretched out naked in bed would have been the start of something wonderful indeed. With long, blond hair and a slender body, even ill Legolas looked lovely. But now he also had flushed red cheeks and a dazed expression on his face, and all Gimli wanted was to make him feel better. Then Gimli scooped Legolas up with one arm against his back and one under Legolas’ knees, taking care not to jostle or squeeze too tightly.
Legolas’ head rested on Gimli’s shoulder. “Where are we going?” Legolas asked, weak but aware and curious.
“To the bath.”
“Ah,” Legolas said, closing his eyes. “Good idea. You could use a bath.”
Gimli turned his head and kissed the bridge of Legolas’ nose. Legolas’ nose twitched and he sneezed into Gimli’s neck. “Galu.” Good thing they were heading to the bath. Washing his elf, washing his neck, he could take care of both at the same time.
Gimli carried him out of their cabin, across the front porch, down the stairs, and through the trees. Around the back of the house, where the side of the mountain gently sloped toward the cabin, a river snaked through. Years ago, when they had built their home here, they had diverted the river slightly to create a small pool just big enough for bathing in.
Gimli set Legolas down on the grass just beside the pool of mountain spring water. Oin never just dropped one of them into water; that could be too much of a shock to the system. So Gimli set him right on the edge and scooped water up in his hands, dripping it on Legolas’ feet and calves to start with. “Are you all right?”
Legolas nodded and slumped over, lying down, stretching out, too weak to sit up any longer.
Gimli took Legolas in his arms, letting the elf lean back against him. They slid, inch by inch, into the bath. By the time they were sitting in the bath instead of on the grass, Legolas was shivering again, even with one of Gimli’s strong arms wrapped around him. “C-c-cold,” Legolas said, his teeth chattering.
“I know, love.” The water was tepid, if anything, not even cool. Under normal circumstances, the elf wouldn’t even be able to feel such a mild temperature change. “We’ll just stay for a few minutes and then head back to bed.”
“Go b-back… n-now.”
Gimli tried to turn his heart to stone against his elf’s pleading, but his heart was breaking. And it only got worse.
“Please… G-Gim… out…”
“Soon,” Gimli promised. He cupped some water in one hand and dripped it down Legolas’ warm, bare chest. The elf shivered violently in reaction.
“Nuh-n-now!” He tried to push away from Gimli, tried to get free to pull himself out, but Gimli was far stronger than his ill elf and his arms held tight to his thrashing lover.
Gimli bit the inside of his cheek and wondered what his Oinfather would have advised right now. This might just be the only thing that could lower Legolas’ fever, and every instinct inside him told him to stay a little longer. But he wasn’t going to be able to listen to much more of this pleading before his heart took over and made him give in. With a hand that was almost shaking from uncertainty, he poured more water down Legolas’ chest and arms.
As long as Legolas was shivering, his body would be trying to warm itself up. This bath would be useless and his fever might actually rise. Gimli had to do something. Fast.
And as much as he hated it, he only had one plan. “Close your eyes,” he told his elf. “Close your eyes and relax. Imagine that the water you feel is of the sea. The… western sea.”
Even weak and feverish, Legolas’ sea-longing took over. He calmed almost at once, the shivering entirely gone.
“You’re looking out to the West, where one day you will sail. The water greets you like a good friend, washing over you.”
His eyes closed, Legolas nodded his agreement. He leaned back, his body going limp, and let his dwarf pour handfuls of water upon him now without complaint from mind or body.
Gimli kept going, washing Legolas all over, even running water down his face. Legolas didn’t seem to mind or perhaps didn’t notice that this was freshwater, not the saltwater of the sea. He let Gimli was him, caress him, cool him. When something in Gimli told him it was enough, he lifted Legolas out and carried him back to the house again. He dried the elf with a towel and slid a nightshirt back over his head.
“Want to go back to the Western shore,” Legolas murmured blissfully as Gimli tucked him into their warm bed.
“One day,” Gimli reassured him, his heart breaking all over again. “Let’s get you healthy again first. Then, one day…” He choked on the remainder of the sentence. Yes, he knew that one day Legolas’ sea-longing would become too much and he would have no choice but to sail into the West with his brethren.
Legolas laid his head upon a pillow. Then he reached out for Gimli, pulling him close. Gimli slid under the covers and let Legolas hug him, hold him. “But I shall only go to Valinor if you go with me.”
Gimli lifted his hand, feeling first Legolas’ forehead and then his cheeks. They were still warm but, perhaps, not as hot with fever as they had been. Gimli wondered if his elf would remember saying such a thing, and he wondered if it even would be possible. He had always thought that one day he would lose Legolas to the sea; he had never before entertained the idea of going with. He hoped it wouldn’t take another terrible fever for them to speak of this again.