One great battle was behind them, but many more lay ahead. The company were settling down for the afternoon, some to plan, some to take stock of supplies and needs, some to tend beasts.
Gimli came up quietly behind Legolas as the elf was fletching arrows. "I need fresh air," the dwarf said without preamble. "Will you walk with me?"
Legolas nodded, resisting the urge to answer aloud, for he would have gone with Gimli anywhere, for all time, yet feared to say the words.
They walked in silence toward a forested area near the camp. After the clash and clang of weapons, after the bustle and clamor of camp, the quiet settled over them, palpable and comforting. "We should not stray far," Legolas said. "Aragorn will be looking for you, to tend your wound." He turned to his companion with a smile that quickly faded.
Away from the others, the dwarf had dropped his robust pretense, looking drawn and pale under the bandage that circled his brow. "You are in pain," Legolas said quietly. "More than you allow the others to see."
Gimli nodded. "Between you and me, there need be no pretense," he said.
Legolas felt his heart give a sudden lurch. They were still within view of the main camp; he selected a medium-sized tree and settled himself beneath it, legs crossed and back leaning against the trunk. "Lie down, my friend, and rest," he said, gesturing toward the mossy smooth ground beside him. "I'll keep watch, if you like." He hesitated a moment. "If you'll let me."
Gimli grunted assent, but winced as he lowered himself to the ground. He remained half-sitting, a hand to his head, for a long moment. "Dizzy?" asked Legolas.
Gimli started to nod, then said in a cracked voice, "Yes."
Legolas reached out then and guided him gently, taking Gimli's head and shoulders into his lap. "I have not the hands of a healer," he said regretfully, "but perhaps I can distract you awhiles." Leaning back again, stroking Gimli's forehead with one hand, he began to sing softly.
"Some Elvish sorcery, no doubt," Gimli grumbled, but his eyes closed and he relaxed visibly.
It was thus Aragorn found them asleep some two hours later, when he finally found time from his other duties to come and tend Gimli's wound. Legolas sat with his eyes open, but focused on another world, his chest rising and falling in the even rhythms of sleep. One of his hands was tangled in Gimli's hair as the dwarf lay snoring softly, his head cradled in the elf's lap.
Aragorn knelt beside them, not wishing to startle either one awake. "It is I, come to tend Gimli," he said in a low voice.
Legolas blinked and refocused, looking at him for a long slow moment. "Elessar," he said at last. "I am glad you are come. Gimli's hurt is more serious than he would admit."
"I suspected as much," Aragorn said. "It is the way of his people to hide any weakness." Legolas lifted an eyebrow. Aragorn unwound Gimli's bandage and examined the wound carefully. "This sleep is just what he needs, more than my doctoring," he said. "I feared his pain would not allow him to rest." There was a question in his voice.
"I have no skills such as yours," Legolas admitted. "I sang to him of Lothlorien, and it seemed soothing." He rubbed his eyes with his free hand. "I knew not my own weariness."
"We are all tasked," Aragorn agreed. "I shall try not to awaken Gimli; the more he can sleep now, the better." Aragorn focused unspeaking on his task for some minutes. "There," he finally said. "It should pain him less, henceforth. And he can leave the bandage off."
He looked thoughtful for a moment, and then spoke slowly, deliberately. "I have heard, more times than I have wished, of the sorrow that results when an elf loves a mortal."
Legolas quirked a half-smile at him. "I can guess from whom."
Aragorn did not smile back. "I do not jest with you, Legolas," he said, looking down at Gimli.
"In these dark times, Elessar, we are all mortals," Legolas said seriously. "A dozen times I might have died myself this past night. And love, at any time, is too valuable a treasure to surrender for mere peace of mind."
At that, Aragorn did smile. "I have heard that argument before," he said. "And found it convincing." He rose to his feet. "I leave Gimli in your care, and charge you both to rest while you can. Great work lies yet before us."
Legolas watched him go, and considered his parting words. "Great work, no doubt, for the Fellowship." He looked down at Gimli again. "But what of you and me - what lies ahead for us?" His sleeping friend made no answer.