Legolas stood to place one hand over Frodo's where it lay on his bed. Frodo smiled up at him, tired but happy. Happy enough, at least. Happy as someone could be who'd been to the heart of Mordor, Merry supposed. Legolas whispered something in elvish that Merry didn't catch--and wouldn't be able to understand if he did--before placing his hand to his chest and taking his leave. Gimli stood and gently ruffled Frodo's hair before following after. Merry watched as Legolas held the door for his friend, Gimli ducking beneath his arm with about a foot to spare. Once Legolas and Gimli had taken their leave, Pippin turned to the rest of the hobbits. He nodded at Frodo and Sam significantly. “You know the two of them's in a family way.”
Merry nearly spit out his cake.
Pippin nodded, looking utterly smug with himself. Merry shifted in annoyance, scratching at his bandages. Easy to look smug when you were the only (mostly) undamaged hobbit in the room.
“Aye. Saw them back in Rohan, didn't I? Merry?”
Merry's eyes went wide, startled to be brought into this insanity. “I never- When? How? Did they tell you?”
Sam piped up from where he was alongside Frodo in his bed. “Begging your pardon, but, uh... which one of them would it be?”
Pippin shrugged, popping a bit of apple in his mouth. “Well it has to be both of them, doesn't it?”
Frodo's mouth was faintly open, expression caught between a laugh and shock. “I don't see why.”
“They're both men, Pip,” Merry exclaimed, finally too exacerbated to hold his tongue any longer.
Pippin shrugged. “Well, yes, I suppose. And I couldn't explain the particulars of it, sword to my throat-”
Three hobbits gulped very intimately at that turn of phrase.
“-but they're still getting up to it, you mark my words.”
“'Getting up to it'?” A sneaking suspicion began to creep up on Merry. “Pip, what exactly do you mean? Out and say it, no talking 'round. What about Legolas and Gimli?”
Pippin blinked and cocked his head. After a moment he leaned in and in a stage-whisper said: “They're having sex. With each other. Legolas and Gimli. Giving it the old-” he gestured vaguely, fingers poking in different directions and a confused little frown on his face. “You know. Gimli and Legolas, Legolas and Gimli. Grabbing a stepping stool and rub all on their... bits...”
Three hobbits fell back in various states of relief. Merry smacked Pippin as hard as he could all up and down his arm. Pippin squeaked in dismay.
“You dolt!” Merry smacked him exactly four more times. Five. “'Family way' doesn't mean sex. It means pregnant.”
Pippin's mouth dropped open in slow understanding. “Oh. Well of course I didn't mean that. They're both men.”
Merry rubbed his face and counted to ten.
“Oh... Oh! Fellas! That means Dara's pregnant!” Pippin exclaimed
Sam put his head in his hands. Merry smacked Pippin again. “We know, she had a party for it. You were there.”
Pippin shook his head. “I don't remember half the parties I attend. You know that.”
Frodo piped up in that subdued way he had, now: “Could we go back to the part where Pippin thinks Gimli and Legolas are... together? They're practically mortal enemies.”
Sam shrugged. “Well, last we saw they were getting friendly, weren't they? Back in Lothlorien, and on the boat ride to...” he fell quiet, eyes cast down. Even Pippin stilled at that. “They were alright then, I mean,” Sam finished in a whisper.
“'Alright' doesn't mean... that,” Frodo pointed out.
Merry shared a glance with Pippin. He'd seen Legolas and Gimli's relationship firsthand more recently than Sam and Frodo. And Pippin was right: they were up to something back in Rohan. Something that was either the height of familiarity or... something more.
“Did you ever catch them at it?” Merry asked, numbers already flitting through his mind.
Pippin shook his head. “Not at it, but plenty else. Didn't really have to, did I? They're so obvious with it, all loved-up and what.”
“They did leave together,” Frodo mused. “But it wasn't as though they were hand-in-hand.”
Sam's eyes were darting between his three friends. “Why do I get the feeling this is leading to an invasion of privacy? You know, just because they're our friends-”
“-is exactly why it's okay to place bets on it,” Merry finished for him. The numbers had finally squared up in his head, and he realized he could make a small fortune off his friends if he played this right. “Okay, here's the odds as I see them-”
Sam groaned, but Merry noticed that he listened just as closely as Pip or Frodo. Sam had a gossipy streak in him just as wide as any good hobbit. He'd be in, no matter what sort of good-faith protest he payed lip service beforehand.
“What are our options?” Frodo asked, propping himself up just a hair. Sam perked up himself at that—Merry nodded smugly to himself. Sam would be in if Frodo was, even if just a token wager.
Merry exchanged a look with Pip, considering. He seemed the most confident in the status of Gimli and Legolas' relationship. “Well, there's different levels, isn't there?” Merry mused. “We could call it black and white, but that wouldn't be sporting, would it?”
“Not sporting?” Frodo asked.
“Well, on account of us spending so much more time with them,” Merry continued to explicate. “Like Pip said, we've seen some things.”
“What things?” Sam asked, expression faintly queasy.
Honestly, Merry wasn't sure himself 'what things' Pip had been referring to, back in Rohan. Oh sure: Legolas and Gimli had been close friends when they rode into Isengard together, sharing one saddle between them. And they'd laid their bedrolls next to one another in the hall of the king, but so had everyone else in their company. Perhaps Pippin had caught sight of some nocturnal dalliances that weren't it but not far off, either, but Merry sure hadn't.
“There's plenty of information out there to be had, isn't there?” Merry explained. “First round of bets can be on whether or not they're 'in a family way', as Pip seems to think we should put it. If they are, bet number two can be on how long it's been going on, how far they've gone with it, and how in the hell 'it' works.”
Pip raised his hand. “I retract my participation in bet number... uh... the last one. I thought about that near the entire ride from Rohan and all that thinking got me was a sore bottom.” Pippin looked around at his friends with a faint air of finality, until he realized they were looking back in shock. He hurried on: “From the riding! The horse riding!”
Merry shook his head and hurried over to a table for quill and paper. “Pippin's sore arse aside, let's start calculating some numbers, shall we?”
Long fingers reached around a corner to snatch at wild red hair. A squwaked protest was quickly muffled by the paired hand to the one still tangled in coarse hair.
“Meleth nin, hush. It is I.”
Irritably Gimli shrugged off Legolas' hands, though Legolas could clearly see the beginnings of mirth sparkling in his eyes. He blustered and straightened at his braids before asking: "Well then-!"
"Hush," Legolas whispered, voice like the breeze through summertime leaves. Significantly, telegraphing more than he would need for an elf, Legolas nodded at the corner Gimli had just about been to turn.
Gimli's mouth fell open in a quiet "oh," of understand. On softer feet than Legolas might have once imagined him possessing, Gimli peered around the corner. Legolas needn't peer with him, for he could hear clear enough to picture the exact scene: two hobbits at the end of the hall, whispering hurriedly with each other.
Huffing, Gimli turned to Legolas and made a few quick signs in iglishmêk. Legolas stared at the signs in dismay as Gimli repeated them twice, thrice. Finally Legolas admitted defeat and shook his head. He wasn't yet the expert his Gimli expected him to be.
Frowning, Gimli switched from his dwarven language to pantomime. He cupped one hand around his ear, pointed at the corner, then shook his head. Ah. Legolas nodded and held up a hand, silently asking Gimli to wait a moment. Then he closed his eyes and listened carefully to the goings-ons down the hall.
"I'm sorry to say all bets are closed," the clear voice of Merry was saying.
"But you just took bets ten minutes ago!" That was Sam, exasperated.
"Yes, and how am I to know you haven't used those ten minutes to gather information? Perhaps you stumbled upon something you shouldn't have seen. Maybe Aragorn's been telling tales."
"It's been ten minutes," Sam pointed out flatly.
“A lot can happen in ten minutes. I'll need additional insurance if I'm going to take the risk of letting you in.”
“You're a right con artist, you know that?”
“We're all living like kings anyway, Sam. What's the difference of a few coin?”
“I don't expect you'll appreciate a lecture on prudence just now, so I'll just be placing a bet on them not being together.”
“Really? What about insurance?”
“I'm not paying you for ten lousy minutes-”
“No, no, not for me. For you. If you're wrong. You miss out on all the other bets. Do you want to place a bet on one of the sub-tiers of 'they are sleeping together?”
“No thank you.”
“Why on earth not, Sam?”
Sam's feet scuffed at the stone floor. Legolas had to lean closer to the corner to hear him—it sounded like he was talking with his chin down on his chest.
“Well, I mean... Legolas and Gimli are our friends. Way I reckon it, they'd tell us if they were... in love. I mean, if it was important to them.”
A pang of guilt went through Legolas at Sam's soft words. Well. Quite the way to get to the heart of the matter. Hobbits did seem to be adept at that.
"What do your lovely ears hear?"
Legolas nearly jumped, were it not for the rough hand wrapping around his arm. Instead of jumping he shivered and leaned into the touch. When he opened his eyes it was to meet Gimli's sparkling ones, full of the knowledge of exactly how Legolas reacted to him. Legolas' lips twisted into a smile, no matter how hard he tried to school his expression into something stern. Sighing, he tugged at Gimli's braids in lieu of being able to scowl.
Nodding over his shoulder, Legolas twined his fingers in Gimli's and led him away from the gabby hobbits. When they were out in the fresh air of one of Minas Tirith's many marketplaces, Legolas spoke freely.
“The hobbits have a wager between them,” he explained. Gimli's hand stayed twined in his as they walked. They might get a few stares, but possibly no more than the sight of an elf and dwarf walking in this city of men would in any circumstance.
“A wager?” Gimli asked. His eyes were fixed on a blacksmith, brow drawn low in disapproval. But he listened attentively, all the while.
“About us?” Gimli's eyebrows rose well into his hairline at that. He glanced up at Legolas, curious smile twitching at the corners of his mouth. Legolas sighed, imaging how lovely it would be to kiss at that smile, chase it to its source. Later, though. Somewhere more appropriate.
“And our... closeness.”
Gimli gasped, then laughed heartily. He brought Legolas' captured hand up to his mouth and kissed it. His whiskers tickled the smooth back of Legolas' hand in a most unusual and pleasant way. Previously unusual: now, Legolas was fairly familiar with the sensation. Though it was not likely one he would ever grow used to, not in the sense of complacency, at least.
“What do the wee lads think of us? Do they suspect the truth?”
“Apparently enough that they have contingency wagers in place, if their suspicions are confirmed.”
"What do you suggest we do about it?" Gimli's eyes twinkled with familiar mischief. "We could have a bit of fun at their expense."
"We might. We might also fix the odds in our favor, though apparently all bets are now closed."
"It's a shame we didn't hear about this earlier," Gimli mused.
Legolas slowed his steps until he came to a stop, tugging Gimli out of the way of the busy foot traffic of the street. “There is one thing I'd like to do, if you wouldn't mind?”
Gimli waved his free hand. “Ask, Âzyungeluh. What you ask, I will grant, even if it means building a home out of leaves and flowers and living at the tops of trees.”
Legolas laughed, brushing a hand through the fiery hairs of his beloved, imagining them trembling with every breeze and gust. “Nothing as such hardship as that, do not fear.”
They found Sam puttering around in one of Minas Tirith's kingly gardens, a box by his side and arms covered in dirt nearly to his elbows. Legolas nodded at Gimli, who shrugged, shoving his hands in his belt. A wordless conversation held between them—not the wordlessness of the elves that Legolas was used to, an understanding built from decades and centuries feeling the same beat of the earth; but a wordlessness all their own, a language formed together at the union of elf and dwarf. Legolas smiled fleetingly at Gimli, mind almost afield at the thought of the many unions they'd enjoyed thus, and the more to come, before he shook himself. The task at hand.
“Samwise? Might we have a word?”
Sam sputtered, almost falling over himself into the dirt. He straightened quick as could be, wiping his hands uselessly on his equally dirty pants.
Crouching, Legolas joined the hobbit in the dirt. He ran his hands through the smooth soil, getting a sense of the growing things just beneath the surface, waiting to be coaxed out by tender hands and hobbit know-how. He smiled at Sam, in what he hoped was a smile of solidarity, of the brotherhood of gardeners and tenders to green and growing things.
“It has come to my attention that we have been unfair to you, Samwise,” Legolas started.
Sam looked between them both, confused. “Begging your pardon, but there’s no cause for apology. Nothing you nor Gimli has ever done has been anything but good and fair.”
“It’s less what we’ve done and more what we omitted, master hobbit,” Gimli explained.
Gimli placed a heavy hand on Legolas’ shoulder. Not breaking eye contact with Sam, Legolas reached up and covered that hand with his own.
Sam’s eyes went wide. He stumbled back a few steps, hobbit feet catching in the loose soil. “Oh. Oh. Well, uh. I. Begging your- I’m not. That’s well and good and all. ‘Course. No need for- Oh.”
“We haven’t told many others yet,” Legolas explained, thumb stroking over Gimli’s hand. The weight of it on his shoulder was familiar: heavy like the stone dwarves toiled at, stolid and unwavering in its devotion. Legolas resisted the temptation to lean his cheek against the hand, to close his eyes and let the world fall away outside of the love of his one dwarf. It was a mighty temptation to resist.
“Aragorn knows, to his great regret,” Gimli said.
Sam looked between them, concern overcoming his shock. “What do you mean? Isn’t he happy for you?”
Legolas wasn’t a boy of one hundred, so he didn’t flush. But his ears might have turned red for unrelated reasons. “The circumstances of his discovery were regrettable.”
“Near tripped over us, one night on the road to Gondor,” Gimli explained.
“Oh.” Sam’s face slowly grew redder with every passing second, until Legolas feared for the integrity of his heart. “Oh.”
“No one much else knows,” Legolas continued. “Some of the Rohirrim. Elladan and Elrohir.”
“Most likely Gandalf, that saucy old wizard,” Gimli mused.
“Why me?” Sam asked.
Legolas smiled gently at the hobbit. “Because we felt it wasn’t right keeping you in the dark. We hadn’t meant to, we just hadn’t exactly found the right moment.”
Sam nodded his head. “Well, not exactly a thing that comes up in conversation, is it? And Mister Frodo and I have just gotten back not five days ago.”
The way he said it, “gotten back”, like he and Frodo had just popped out of town for a quick trip, made Legolas’ heart ache. Sam had managed to come through the worst of the world, still steadfast and loyal and kind as he always was. Legolas knew the journey had changed Frodo more, the burden of the Ring had pressed a more permanent imprint onto his soul. But to see Sam happy in the morning sun, hands full of good soil, made Legolas know it had been worth it. Life would go on, much as it had before, just as Sam went on as he had.
“We also heard whispers of some money floating around on our accounts,” Gimli put forth. Sam flushed and started to sputter out an excuse before Gimli raised his hand. “Not that we mind. But, seems you’re out of the running now, aren’t you?”
Sam frowned as he realized exactly that. “Oh, well. Suppose I am.”
“But we could help,” Legolas offered. “If you want. I’m sure you could talk Merry—or whomever might be running your pool—into letting you place a few additional bets. With some firsthand knowledge.”
But Sam was already shaking his head. “No no, now: that’d be cheating. A bet’s a bet. I made mine, and I lost, fair and square.”
Gimli snorted. “Fair’s not fair if Merry and Pippin have weeks’ worth of knowledge you and Frodo lack.”
“But t’weren’t like the two of you were getting up to any funny business in front of the two of them, was it?” Sam shook his head. “No, no: a bet’s a bet. But thank you for the offer, and thank you muchly for telling me. I’m honored to be counted in your confidence.”
Gimli knuckled at Legolas’ temple before laughing heartily. “It wasn’t that we were planning on keeping it a secret or anything, lad.”
“But perhaps some discretion would be in order…” Legolas mused as he looked at Gimli. “At least until the bet is over.”
Gimli raised both ample eyebrows as he met Legolas’ gaze, understanding slowly dawning. “Aye. Perhaps.”
Sam raised his hands and shook his head. “Whatever you two are planning, you can leave me right out of it. I’ve got this little garden, and Mister Frodo to take care of, and that’s enough by me.”
Rising from his crouch, Legolas brushed the dirt from his hands and knees and inclined his head to the hobbit. “We will leave you to your garden then, Master Gamgee. Don’t allow us to disturb your peace.”
“I thank you for that,” Sam said, bobbing his head. As Legolas and Gimli turned to walk away together, he added: “Oh, and, uh. Congratulations! I suppose.” Legolas and Gimli both turned to look at Sam, who was awkwardly rubbing the back of his head. “I mean. It’s good for you two, finding love and all. Amidst all this. Good for you.”
Legolas was only able to stifle his laughter by gripping onto his Gimli with both hands as they turned away.
“Thank you, master hobbit,” Gimli called back, words full of mirth. Legolas ducked his head as they stepped further away, tiny huffs of laughter escaping him try as he might.
“He was wishing us well!” Gimli pointed out, though Legolas could hear the barely-suppressed deep chortles that built in his Gimli’s chest. “Don’t laugh at the poor mite.”
“Leave it to a hobbit to, when confronted with the union of a dwarf and elf, wish us well,” Legolas sighed. His feet slowed to a stop, eyes glancing quick around the hall they were in, ears pricked up for any sounds of others. There were none. Sure of their isolation, Legolas cupped Gimli’s cheek in one hand and bent his head, drawing Gimli into a sweet, slow kiss. Gimli responded back enthusiastically, rough hands uncharacteristically tender as they reached up to tug Legolas down, deeper into the kiss.
Gimli broke the kiss, but only to murmur: “About that ‘union’ ye were on about…”
The blood stirred in Legolas’ veins like he was an elfling once more, full of the thrum of life, real life, beating and running and bleeding. He kissed Gimli again, breath harsh through his nose as his heart leapt.
“I have meetings this afternoon…” he murmured, though it was no real protest.
Gimli knew the lack of weight behind those words. With a growl he scooped Legolas up, flinging him over his shoulder. Legolas’ tinkling laughter echoed down the halls as he allowed his dwarf to carry him away to their bedchambers. Even if he had to tuck his legs and arms up, lest they drag on the floor.
The smoke from Gimli’s pipe curled up and away from the companions, out the window that he was so considerately sat beneath. Legolas perched on the bench at the end of the bed, long legs stretched out and dangling over the edge as he listened to his Gimli weave tall tales to the weak young hobbit in the bed. At least Frodo seemed to be listening with rapt attention, wide eyes devouring every story Gimli divulged.
“This, you see, leads some to speculate that there are no dwarf women,” Gimli was explaining. Legolas smiled as he listened to the story for the umpteenth time. So much for dwarves and their legendary secretiveness. “-but of course that’s ridiculous. We have mothers and fathers, same as the lot of you. It’s just our whole race tends to be more generously, er… haired.” Gimli picked at his beard, tossing one of the braids over his shoulder after a moment. He snorted and fell silent as he took a few puffs from his pipe.
“All the better for the rest of us to enjoy,” Legolas told him dreamily.
Gimli flushed at the compliment, waving his free hand dismissively.
Frodo’s gaze flicked between them, and belatedly Legolas wondered if they shouldn’t be acting less… themselves.
Frodo settled that question himself in a moment, when he commented: “I am glad to return to your company and find the two of you so well, both bodily and with each other.”
Gimli coughed, pounding his chest as he choked on his own pipe smoke. Legolas raised an eyebrow at him as he wondered at how much exactly the hobbit had gleaned. “Gimli and I had made peace before our paths separated us from you, Frodo,” Legolas pointed out. “In the woods of Lothlorien, the healing magic of Galadriel’s domain allowed us to cast aside our petty difference and embark on forming a… friendship.”
Gimli coughed again, though this time it wasn’t the wracking coughs caused by pipe spoke. He shot a look at Legolas. “Aye. ‘Friendship.’”
“Was it all the way back then?” Frodo mused innocently.
It was all too obvious by his mischievous smile and sparkle of laughter in his eyes exactly what he was getting at. Gimli huffed and Legolas draped his arms over the footboard, peering down the long length of the bed at Frodo.
“Did Sam tell you?” Legolas asked, chin propped up on his forearms.
“Sam knows! And he didn’t tell me?” Frodo pouted. “He was acting suspiciously today. I thought perhaps there was a surprise in the works- though, of course, I suppose this is one.”
“To us as well, though we’ve had more time to get used to the idea,” Gimli pointed out.
“So has it been since Lothlorien?”
Gimli snorted. “By the rock below, no! Not that long, not nearly. How long has it been, Âzyungeluh?”
Legolas’ head tilted dreamily to the side as he gazed at Gimli, cheek pillowed on his arms. He smiled as his memory brought him back, over the fields of Minas Tirith, through the rolling plains of Rohan, back to the kingdom of the horse-lords.
“We first declared our intentions towards each other in Rohan,” Legolas recalled. “The day before the long night of the battle for Helm’s Deep.”
“Aye,” Gimli whispered, remember that day. When tensions ran high and the certainty of death was all too strong. When a dwarf had taken an elf’s hands and tugged him gently aside, the mountain home of the humans giving him strength to voice the feeling in his heart. And an elf had responded with all the love held back in centuries of waiting.
Frodo snapped his fingers, muttering a soft curse under his breath. Legolas lifted his brow at Frodo, amused.
“Did you lose your bet?” Legolas asked.
“How did you- Oh, I suppose if you were talking to Sam…”
Legolas shook his head, eyes still drifting back to Gimli even as he spoke. “We caught word earlier and spoke to Sam after we knew.”
“Calm yourself, master hobbit,” Gimli told Frodo. “It’s not as though we take offense.”
"If neither you nor Sam won, may I ask who did?" Legolas pried.
"Well if you were together before Helm's Deep, then I suppose it's..." Frodo trailed off, suddenly tight-lipped. A hint of color returned to his too-pale cheeks, flushing them with spots of pink. "Er. Well. Depending..."
"Depending on what?" Legolas cocked his head, wondering with all revealed between friends, what else there was to cause such embarrassment?
A chortle from under the window informed Legolas that his Gimli knew something he did not. Legolas turned to him, eyes wide with curiosity.
Gimli snorted again, and Legolas felt himself smiling in earnest curiosity. Whatever had Gimli laughing would surely send him to the same state.
"What?" he asked again, voice already light with anticipatory amusement.
"It seems the bet was a mighty specific one," Gimli began. After a moment of hemming and hawing on his pipe, he clenched the long piece of wood tightly between his teeth so he could free his hands to sign. He only formed one word in iglishmêk, one Legolas knew well. It was always those sorts of words you learned first in a new language, after all.
Well. Instead of laughing along with Gimli, Legolas put on his haughtiest, most aloof, expression most filled with all the princely disdain he could muster. "I am saddened you would speculate of such things," he said as seriously as he possibly could. Gimli almost ruined it all, having to shove his fist in his mouth to keep from laughing.
Frodo, clever one that he was, wasn't suckered so easily. His gaze flicked between Gimli and Legolas before he cautiously asked: "Is it... inappropriate?"
"To the highest degree." Legolas sniffed. "Such a union may not be scared to hobbits, but to elves and dwarves this union is most sacred."
"Oh, right. Of course. Sorry..." Frodo's eyes were still narrowed as he looked between them both. Gimli wouldn't stop shaking with repressed mirth, which was kind of ruining the whole jest. Legolas glared at him and wished they were sitting close enough that he could kick him.
"We must be going," Legolas announced abruptly. He gathered Gimli up and pushed him in front, ignoring his sputtering about his pipe weed. "I bid you speak on this no more Frodo. Not to friend nor kin. Unions are private affairs, you see."
As Legolas swept a still giggling Gimli out the door, he heard Frodo call out: "Wait, but which type of 'union'?!"
Legolas let the door fall shut as he tapped at Gimli's head in reproach. "You're a terrible partner."
"I had no warning, did I?!" Gimli snorted as they strolled down the hall together. Then he burst into a fresh bout of laughter, hands wrapped around his stomach as he nearly doubled over. "Imagine him trying to tell Merry!"
"Imagine him trying not to tell Merry," Legolas countered, finally giving in to laughter himself.
“Alright, damn it all.” Merry slapped a purse of gold coins down onto the table where Legolas and Gimli were enjoying dinner together. Gimli peered at the coins, hefting them in his hands and running a quick calculation. Legolas watched Merry as he climbed onto the bench across from them. Once perched safely on the bench, Merry jabbed a finger in both their faces: first waggling it in front of Legolas’ nose, then Gimli’s. Legolas huffed softly and buried his face in his bowl of soup, one eye on his Gimli’s faintly consternated expression.
“You two owe me money. Or maybe you don’t. I’m not sure.”
Setting down his bowl, Legolas folded his hands over each other and set them carefully on the table. “How can we help, Merry?”
Merry turned back to face Legolas once more, shaking his little finger pointedly at him. “Are you or are you not cavorting with Mister Gimli over here?”
Legolas raised his eyebrows and turned to look at Gimli, whose face looked like it might turn as red as his hair. “Well, I don’t know. Gimli, meleth nin, have we been ‘cavorting’?”
After taking a few breaths to steady himself (and the laughter that was surely trying to pound its way out of his massive chest), Gimli stroked at his beard. Long, slow strokes, while Merry looked on and grew more and more impatient.
“Cavorting, you say? Well, let’s see now. I seem to recall some reveling, yes, yes. And perhaps some merry-making. Definitely plenty of capering and romping, plenty of rollicking, aye, that’s certain. Cavorting, let us just have a think, cavorting…”
With a growl of frustration Merry threw himself down onto the bench. He grabbed at a pitcher of ale in the center and poured himself a drink from it before imbibing heartily. Legolas almost felt sorry for the hobbit, except for the near-certain knowledge that said hobbit was the mastermind of this whole bet, and therefore deserved to be treated with some of his own medicine, before the pity began.
“Sam and Frodo both say you are. Frodo tried to sell me a cabbage in wintertime about it not being culturally appropriate to talk about such matters, but I got it out of him eventually. He says it was since Rohan, since before the battle for Helm’s Deep. But I say he doesn’t know his arse from a hole in the ground and therefore couldn’t possibly understand the difference between ‘declaring intentions’ which is what he says you said was what you were counting from and ‘actually giving it the old one-two’ which is what I say my bet was on.”
Merry took a deep breath, then buried himself back in his ale.
Legolas sighed as he looked to Gimli. He wasn’t sure if he was entirely interested in divulging the intimate details of his and Gimli’s relationship to someone as brash and loose-lipped as Merry. Illúvatar forbid it get back to his father. Not that it mattered when who did what—to his father all his dealings with Gimli would be blasphemy in his eyes. Still, it would do Legolas well if he could at least pretend to have maintained a sense of propriety.
“Âzyungeluh...” Gimli whispered to Legolas. His fingers signed in iglishmêk slowly, carefully. I… ??… leave… hobbit.
Ah. Legolas shook his head and smiled, placing his hands over Gimli’s large, strong ones. “No, meleth nin. Not unless it is for your own sake. Not for mine.”
Gimli grunted, thumbs coming up to stroke at Legolas’ hands. “We dwarves are jealous. We guard our treasures like wheat storehouses in winter, and growl and snarl like the shepherd’s dog at all who come near. Friend or foe, they all look like wolves to the eyes of a dwarf with a treasure to keep.”
Lifting Legolas’ hands to his mouth, Gimli softly pressed a kiss to the back of one, then the other. Legolas melted at his touch, at the coarseness of his whiskers belying the softness of his lips. He could hear Merry’s faint gasp of shock on his right, but ignored it in favor of keeping his full attention where it most wanted to be: on his Gimli.
"Well come on now. I'm not going to steal your elf, am I, now?" Merry prodded. "I'm just trying to settle a bet! Did you two get to doing the doodley-do before or after the battle for Helm's Deep?"
"What did Pippin bet, I wonder?" Gimli asked.
Merry jabbed one finger down onto the table, bending at the first knuckle. "Pip says you two didn't copulate-"
Gimli snorted heartily at the choice of words. Merry scowled and ignored him.
"-until after we all were back with the company. After Isengard, before Pip got whisked away to Minas Tirith with that bastard Gandalf because of that blasted rock. I say," Merry's finger slid across the table to point at another spot, a few inches down from the first, "you two probably started it up just after Helm's Deep. Maybe some relieved 'we're so happy we're both alive and not orc-food' union-ing, if you catch my meaning."
Legolas' lips twisted in amusement. "There's no meaning left to catch with how expressly you tied it down and laid it out."
"I have a goodly amount of gold on this bet, I do. And there's no way I'm losing to Pip."
Sighing, Legolas turned to Gimli. He wasn't especially prudish about their actions, though he knew dwarves were more secretive than elves. Out of deference to Gimli, Legolas took up both his hands in his own and kissed them softly. Then he signed, in stuttering iglishmêk against Gimli's palms: I love you.
That day after the battle had been a night for reunions and great relief. There was much to be done, and the men and women left to do it were exhausted beyond their abilities. The elves proved their worth then more than ever, seemingly indefatigable energies put to good use collecting the wounded and separating off the dead. Legolas, although he should have had energy to spare, found he didn't desire to do anything that took him away from his dwarf. Gimli, although just as hearty as Legolas, was not blessed with the same boundless well of wakefulness like the first-born. He sat just outside the mountain walls of the keep, food and drink in lap and hand, dozing off every few seconds.
"We should find you a bed," Legolas murmured as he watched Gimli jerk awake for the fourth time.
"Not enough beds and too many wounded," Gimli replied, the deep rumble of his voice even deeper than usual with exhaustion.
Legolas' gaze lingered on Gimli's hair, matted down with blood and sweat. His face--what Legolas could spot of it behind his wild hair--was covered in grime and orc-blood. Even his eyelashes were matted with the gunk. But his eyes, when they were open, at least, were that of a victor. Legolas leaned his shoulder more heavily against the mountain at their backs as his eyes drifted lower. Gimli's beard was in utter disarray--something he had learned of late was a source of great shame among dwarves. Though he supposed after a victorious battle having a beard in such a state could be a kind of badge of honor, perhaps.
Gimli's head jerked again, plate slipping from his lap and onto the stone beneath his legs. Gimli grumbled and started to pull it back onto his lap, before Legolas covered his hands with his own. "Shh, meleth nin. Rest, how much you can. Would-" Legolas' hands lingered, a desire in them to reach up and comb through the tangled mess of his beard. "I will return. Rest."
Gimli grumbled but let him go without protest, though Legolas could feel his eyes tracking Legolas' journey into the make-shift hospital laid out against the mountain. He returned as quickly as his fleet feet could carry him, settling beside Gimli with a basin of clean water and cloth.
"It's cold water, I'm afraid," Legolas apologized, voice quiet. He bent to the task of cleaning what grime he could from Gimli's skin, wiping and dipping until the water in the basin was black in a few short minutes.
"I didn't expect heated water with lavender petals strewn about," Gimli snorted. His eyes drifted closed beneath Legolas' ministrations, body relaxing against the stone wall like it was a comfortable place to be. Legolas' lips curled in amusement as he wiped at the crease between Gimli's strong nose and cheek. Perhaps the side of a mountain was a comfortable place for a dwarf to be.
"What's that new word you're using?" Gimli's eyes were still closed as he asked.
Legolas' fingers hesitated, dipping the cloth in the water for longer than necessary. When he glanced back up, he saw Gimli watching him in amusement.
"Aye," Gimli murmured, eyes drifting shut once more. "I thought as much."
"I... If you do not wish..." Legolas tried to keep his voice steady as he wiped at Gimli's cheek, just above the line of his beard. Though inside his chest, Legolas felt a cold dread grip his heart.
"Of course I wish," Gimli replied. Reaching out, he pressed one hand to Legolas'. His fingers moved, pressing a quick shape against Legolas' palm. "Of course I wish."
"Is this..." Legolas peered down at Gimli's hand, brow furrowed as he tried to remember the movement. He signed back, but then shook his head, knowing it was wrong. "This is iglishmêk?"
"This is... mell-ef nin?"
"Meleth," Legolas replied softly, though his heart soared to hear Gimli's stumbling attempts to pronounce his elven tongue.
"Mel-eth," Gimli said more assuredly. Then, after a long beat where Legolas figured he must have finally succumbed to sleep: "Âzyungeluh."
"Is that-" Legolas' heart skipped. He knew few words in Khudzul, and this was not one of them. He wondered, then. Was it meleth nin? Or was it something even more intimate?
One eye--clean now, of the blood and muck of the night--cracked open as Gimli peered out at Legolas. He smiled because of whatever he saw. "It's you. You are my... Âzyungeluh."
Legolas nodded, a soft ah of understanding escaping his lips. He bent his head to the water basin once more, but when he looked again he found Gimli's face clean. Setting aside the dirty water, Legolas turned his attention to Gimli's beard. Only when he placed his hands upon it, Gimli startled, eyes flying open and fully awake.
Legolas jerked back, fingers held to his chest in dismay. "Sorry, sorry. I- Is that not allowed?"
What little blood was left in Gimli's body after the battle of last night rushed to his cheeks. "...it is to you."
In silence Legolas combed his fingers through Gimli's beard, undoing braids and re-plaiting the coarse hair, smoothing down the knots and snarls as he came across them. He used the cloth on a few spots, gently dabbing away the worst of the battle grime. By the time he was done Gimli was breathing heavily, now well and truly asleep.
There was much to be done around the keep. Much work that could use an untired elf's hands and eyes. But for a few more minutes, Legolas settled himself against the mountainside and watched a single dwarf sleep.
To Merry, Legolas shook his head. "We did not. I believe you lose the bet."
Merry huffed, little cheeks blowing out in exasperation. "If I find out you're lying-"
"It's not our purses that are affected, master hobbit," Gimli reminded him. "And I would do well to remind you that my elf does not lie." He turned to gaze at Legolas, who basked, not a little bit stunned, in the adoration he saw there. "At least, not about this."
Merry collected his purse and left, fuming. Though he did have presence of mind enough to snatch up a roast chicken and bag of apples on his way out. Mustn't be too upset, then.
Turning back to Gimli, Legolas felt his breath snatched away as he met again with the full force of his adoration. Legolas shook his head and buried his face in Gimli's neck. His whiskers tickled Legolas' nose, causing him to huff against the warm skin. "You embarrass me," he mumbled.
One of Gimli's strong hands came up to wrap around Legolas' waist, pulling him closer. Legolas trembled at the feeling. Gimli might be a great deal shorter than he, but he was no amount weaker, not by any estimate. And he knew how to put that raw strength to good use, as he'd proven time and time again--both on the battlefield and also when it was just the two of them, hidden away in a bedroll or chamber somewhere. Legolas rubbed his heated face against Gimli's neck in an effort to soothe his burning passion, though the action had no such sought-after effect.
"Why don't we adjourn and I can make those smooth cheeks of yours turn red out of an entirely different feeling?" Gimli's rumbling baritone was like an arrow flying true to pierce Legolas' heart and parts beyond. Legolas pulled back and stood, tugging anxiously at Gimli's hand. Gimli hardly had time to laugh before he was tugged away from the dining hall.
"There he is, do you see?"
Legolas lifted the hand he had entwined with Gimli's and pointed, off at the great walls of Minas Tirith before them. Gimli squinted, lifting his free hand over his brow as he looked.
"Can't say that I do. Looks like those sharp eyes of yours win the day again."
"At least this time it is no threat."
Gimli snorted as they strode down towards the walls together. "Not in so many words, no."
Minutes later, Legolas waved up at the bottom of hobbit feet, dangling several meters above their heads. "Good morning, Pippin!"
"I'm not splitting my winnings with you," Pippin shouted down. His declaration was followed by an apple core, bouncing down the walls until it came to a stop by their feet. Gimli snorted and kicked at the core, sending it tumbling away from them.
"We never asked as much!" Legolas shouted. "We were merely curious."
“I told them, I’d seen you.”
“Seen us when exactly, Pippin?” Legolas called up to him.
Hoping to his feet, Pippin hucked another apple core as far as he could, one hand over his eyes as he watched it sail away. He waited a long moment, watching it until it fell, before he turned back to the dwarf and elf staring up at him from below.
“Loved-up. At Rohan, of course.”
Steady hobbit feet guided Pippin down from his perch, catching good footholds in stone and wood. Gimli stuck his hands on his hips, scoffing in indignation.
“And when exactly in Rohan did you see us? And what is it you think you saw?”
Pippin hit the ground with a thud, momentum carrying him forward a few steps before he came to a stop before them. He nodded up at Legolas, then beamed at Gimli, as he crossed proud arms over his chest.
“Saw you all loved-up, I did. The night I looked at the…” he trained off, faintly remembered pain creasing his features. “Well, before that. I was looking for a midnight snack, you know. Those horse-humans sure don’t eat enough for folks as big as them. And I must’ve taken a wrong turn on my way to the kitchens, because I ended up in... somewhere else. Not a stable, though it might’ve looked like one. And you two were there.”
Legolas’ mouth fell open in quiet understand. He looked to Gimli, whose jaw had gone tight in understanding.
"How did you... What did you..." Legolas asked. For this, this was more intimate than just catching himself and Gimli in flagrante delicto. This was something much deeper.
That night, Legolas had pulled Gimli aside 'to talk' as the company knew they were wont to. Only he brought his satchel with him, inside of which housed the cause for his anxiety on this otherwise peaceful evening in Rohan.
"When will you tell me where we're going, or is it meant to be a surprise until I stumble into Fangorn forest itself?" Gimli joked.
Legolas shook his head. "No. No, no where so far tonight. Though I do expect to hold you to that promise, once the war is over." One way or the other.
"Aye. Only after I see you held to your promise to return to the Glittering Caves with me."
"Aye," Legolas repeated softly, adopting Gimli's curious inflection.
"Well? Is it a surprise or isn't it?"
"Just here," Legolas said, stopping at a shed. It looked like nothing more than another horse stable, of which there were plenty in Edoras. Gimli appeared to have no intimate knowledge of the place, because his confusion never eased from his features.
They stepped inside together, Legolas' anxiety reaching a fever-pitch. He knew he had declared his intentions to Gimli, and Gimli to he, but he had little understanding of what that meant to a dwarf. He thought he understood what it meant to Gimli, thought they understood each other in their language between dwarf and elf, but there was no way to be certain. Except, of course, to ask.
Inside the small hut, Legolas led Gimli to a shrine built into the front. He pointed at the figures made of straw and and clay. "This is a shrine to Oromë, one of the Valar. He is sacred to the Rohirrim."
Gimli nodded, dutifully respectful, though no less confused.
Taking a breath, Legolas reached into his satchel to remove the small gift hidden within. He held it out to Gimli, fingers trembling around the small token.
"I had one of the women bring me into the caves. Not too far, just enough. And I had a jeweler make this, because I know no artistry like this myself. I paid for it in fletching and elven arrows, cut and made myself. So at least in same way my craftmanship went into it, though not exactly in a dwarven way."
Gimli stared at the simple hair-clasp, adorned with a red gem--a ruby, according to the jeweler he showed it to. After a long moment Legolas started to pull back, certain he had made a mistake. But Gimli's hands, though broad and short, reached out faster than Legolas to stop him. His hand closed over Legolas', who felt his trembling amplify. Or perhaps it was Gimli's own trembling joining with his own.
"Âzyungeluh..." Gimli whispered.
"I do not know how it is with dwarves. But I'd... With elves, there is a ceremony. A pledging. We invoke Illúvatar and Varda. I do not... I suppose if you have such a ceremony, you might invoke Aulë. I do not know."
"We have such a ceremony," Gimli confirmed. His hand was still wrapped around Legolas', the hair-clasp held between them. His eyes were fixed on their hands, not drifting once higher to meet Legolas' eyes. Legolas fretted. "And yes. We invoke Aulë."
Finally Gimli's neck craned back and he looked up at Legolas. And, oh: there were tears in his eyes, great shining tears as his hand trembled harder around Legolas'.
"I thought... to say the words here... I do not know if it would be enough for you."
"We'll keep the official courting for later," Gimli promised him. Then he reached up and dragged Legolas down into a heated, shaking kiss. Legolas fell to his knees in an instant, hand curling tighter inside Gimli's as he kissed and kissed him back, a thousand fold over for every kiss he received.
"There's much involved in dwarven courting," Gimli breathed, even as he began to strip himself of his armor and clothes.
Legolas huffed, every inch of him trembling now as he hastened to follow suit. For all his swiftness of gait and tongue, so often he felt left behind from Gimli and his quick-working heart and mind.
"I imagine it's much more formal than elven courting?" Legolas asked, though he was mostly uninterested in the answer. For now: time for the formalities and the proper to-dos later. When they weren't at war, when lives weren't cut short in great swathes around them.
"I'll show you," Gimli promised even as he reached for Legolas again, no cloth or armor between them. Legolas trembled as their two very different bodies came together.
"Later," he whispered back as he let Gimli guide him down to the floor soft with hay.
The pledged themselves to each other that night, in actions more than words or complex courting gestures. Afterwards, Legolas lay with his head pillowed on Gimli's mighty chest, listening to his heart beat thrum like a drum at war. He stared at the straw ceiling of the shrine and bemoaned the fact that he couldn't see the stars.
Gimli's thick arm encircled Legolas and held him tight, hand rubbing up and down his flank possessively. Although it wasn't the elven way, Legolas couldn't deny the thrill he felt at every sign of possessiveness Gimli showed towards him. He should be disdainful of it, it should be a mark of ill-character, but Legolas enjoyed it and knew it to be a symptom of so many of Gimli's strengths: loyalty, love, stolid fidelity. Legolas sighed and preened, long fingers running through the waves of body hair his curiosity had yet to be satiated concerning.
"You're not composing some elven poetry for me, are you?" Gimli grumbled, though his tone was fond.
Legolas flushed. "That's actually part of elven courting."
Gimli sighed. "I suppose I could go about it like I'm composing a victory song. A ballad to our triumphant love."
Laughter burst forth uninhabited from Legolas at the thought.
"You mustn't!" he insisted, propping himself up so he could look down at his Gimli. His hair fell in golden waves, forming a cylindrical screen around himself and Gimli's heads. Gimli reached up through the waterfall, tucking one lock behind Gimli's ear with such tenderness Legolas found himself aching for him all over again, though they had just retired minutes earlier.
"Well now I must," Gimli replied with a twinkle in his eye.
Leaning down, Legolas stole yet another kiss from Gimli, the thousandth of the night, and hoped his kisses would be enough to distract him from his victorious love march.
"I only saw you saying some words, then kissing," Pipping confirmed, alleviating both their fears. "Then I got the hell out of there because I haven't the faintest interest in male anatomy, whether it be elf, dwarf, or hobbit." Pippin paused, thinking for a moment. "Aside from my own."
Gimli's hand had come up to finger at his braid clip, thumb rubbing over the ruby adornment.
"How did you know that was our first-" Legolas stopped, swallowed.
Pippin shrugged. "When we feasted at Isengard, the two of you were all lovey-dovey, whispering sweet things and blushing like a tween every time you caught the other one looking. The next morning, well, I wasn't around for much since I was busy getting kidnapped off to Gondor, but you were both much more comfortable around each other. Just takes someone to know the signs, is all."
"And apparently that someone was you," Legolas murmured, shaking his head in amazement. "This world is full of wonders."
Puffing out his chest and stamping his foot, Pipping reminded them: "I'll have you know I'm an official guard for the steward of Gondor! Well, I suppose there's no more stewards, now that Aargorn's king. But, still! I'm an important hobbit, collecting awards and titles wherever I go."
"Of course you are, master Pippin," Gimli agreed, placing his hand on Pippin's shoulder. "And a loyal friend to boot."
Pippin nodded, clearly pleased with himself. Then he tilted his head and looked curiously between Legolas and Gimli.
"So how do you two go about it? Do you need a step-stool?"