There had been little time to reflect on recent events. From the Paths of the Dead to the triumphant passage of the black ships, Legolas and Gimli had never been apart, yet had never had a quiet moment together. Now, as they walked through Minas Tirith to visit their hobbit comrades, there was a breathing space, a bit of time to think.
Gimli found his reflections uneasy, for he could not trust the memories that haunted his mind. Between the blow to his head and Aragorn's powerful herbs, the day after Helm's Deep had become a blur. But scattered images persisted, and he wondered whether he had only dreamed of Legolas' face above him, framed in leaves and branches. Had he only imagined the hand that smoothed his forehead and stroked through his hair, and the low voice that sang of Lothlórien? He was suspicious of these recollections; they were too close to his longings.
After visiting Merry and Pippin at the Houses of Healing, Legolas and Gimli walked by some unspoken agreement around some of the long- deserted areas nearby. The stonework in this older portion, being of finer workmanship, had deteriorated less than the shoddy newer buildings elsewhere in the city. Surrounded by craftsmanship that reminded him of his people, Gimli felt more at home than he had in some time. Near the outer edge of the level, he stopped in the middle of a portico whose flagstones were so well fitted they needed no mortar, and breathed a sigh of satisfaction.
Legolas moved lightly across the stone flags to the very edge, where a low wall stood to protect the unwary from toppling. "There is a fine view of the city from here, Master Dwarf," he said, pointing out and down. A stone bench, weathered but sound, was placed by the overlook; Legolas perched himself on it and patted the space beside him.
Gimli joined him and they sat side by side, gazing out over the quiet streets.
"It is a relief to see our young companion on the mend," Gimli said after a while.
"The more I see the resilience of these halflings," said Legolas, "the more hope I have for the two on whom all our hopes depend. And I am gladdened to know that the Lady Eowyn was not lost."
Gimli nodded. "Her brave deed and astonishing recovery will no doubt become legendary."
"If she fully recovers," Legolas said. "There is a deep sadness about her."
"Yes," Gimli agreed. Privately, he admitted to himself that seeing Eowyn again had only strengthened his reluctance to speak openly to Legolas. Despite the noble restraint of both parties, her attraction to Aragorn, as well as Aragorn's pity for her, had been evident in their first meeting in Rohan. It was a sad sight: the vulnerability of an unrequited love, the discomfort of its unwilling object. Gimli had no wish to create similar embarrassment for himself and Legolas by making an unwelcome disclosure. "Her love for Aragorn must pain her," he said.
"Perhaps," Legolas said thoughtfully. "She thinks she loves him, but it would be closer to the truth to say she wants to be him. Her eyes are like those of a wild thing in a cage." There was a faraway look in Legolas' eyes. "Someday I imagine she will find one she truly loves, Gimli, and that love will not be the pathos of a creature seeking freedom, but something fierce and powerful, truthful and everlasting."
Gimli shifted closer, for he had not heard Legolas speak this way before. An idea struck him, a way to sound out his companion in metaphor. "And what if that love she finds is not among the Rohirrim, but elsewhere? Gondor, for example?" Gimli asked.
"What of it?" Legolas asked, sounding puzzled. "Is love not love wherever it is found?"
Gimli shrugged. "The ways of Gondor and Rohan are different. Surely that might pose an obstacle."
Legolas pulled one knee up under his chin and looked thoughtful. Gimli watched the graceful movement with pleasure; there had been a time when elves looked weirdly elongated to him, but he had grown to admire the lithe elegance in Legolas' every motion.
The elf appeared to choose his next words with great care. "Those who are captivated by mere appearance, or who seek only a profitable alliance, may be swayed by such considerations." He turned his head, looking Gimli in the eye for the first time. "But some there are whose love runs as deep as the delvings under the mountain, glittering with hidden beauty."
Gimli shifted to face Legolas. "Aye, and some there are whose love reaches as high as the trees, crowned with leaves and stars." He reached out a hand, meaning to touch his friend's shoulder, a noncommittal gesture to accompany a hypothetical conversation. But the sunlight gleamed in Legolas' eyes, and the warmth of it drew him, and he could not resist lightly touching his friend's cheek.
As Gimli began to pull his hand back, Legolas caught it and held it close. "Such lovers as these might come from the ends of earth, and no such differences would come between them," the elf said softly, bringing Gimli's hand to his lips. He kissed a knuckle of each finger lightly, then turned the hand over and kissed the palm. When he was done, he looked at Gimli, a question in his eyes.
Gimli's breath caught in his throat. He had thought his feelings strong enough when they were suppressed and he dared not speak or act. Now that he was free to express them openly, he was shaken by their sudden intensity. "Is it some eldritch power, Legolas, that moves me so?" he asked, his voice sounding hoarse in his ears. "Or is it my own heart that kindles this fire within me?"
The hand that still held Gimli's was trembling, but Legolas' voice was steady as he answered. "I cannot say. I only know, Gimli, that my heart beats with yours." Legolas pressed his lips against the inside of Gimli's wrist. "And I wish never to be parted from you." Letting go of the dwarf's hand, Legolas cupped Gimli's face in both hands with an abruptness that belied his calm speech, and bent forward swiftly to kiss him on the lips. It lasted only a moment - a moment of indescribable sweetness - and then Legolas drew back a few inches. "I did not know how closely I had bound myself to you," he whispered, looking intently into Gimli's face, "until I could not find you, that night of the Battle of the Hornburg. When I feared you might be dead, I felt as though half my soul had left me."
"At that same time," Gimli said slowly, returning the steady gaze, "I was viewing the incomparable splendor of the caverns of Helm's Deep. For all their beauty, they seemed incomplete, because you were not there to share them with me." He traced one of Legolas' ears with a fingertip, smiling as the elf leaned into the touch.
They moved together, then, for another kiss, longer and slower and deeper than the first. When it ended, Gimli said in wonder, "This afternoon is like a timeless moment set apart from the rest. Would that it would never end!"
"We are standing in the eye of the hurricane," Legolas said, "with the winds whipping around us, and stillness inside." Releasing Gimli, he rose gracefully from the bench and held out a hand to his companion. "Come, Gimli, let us take this moment, and fashion a jewel of memory that will sustain us through whatever is to come."
Gimli smiled and rose to his feet, taking Legolas' hand. "A single jewel, Master Elf? I shall fashion for you a necklace." And together they went.