It was a stranger thing to share a bed with an elf than it was to share a campsite. Out in the wilds, where anything might happen across them, Legolas' bizarre half-sleep, open-eyed and still, had not seemed quite so strange. They'd all slept fitfully enough. Gimli had thought that the elf had simply been no different, in substance at least if not in manner. But here in Minas Tirith, in their own bed that was shared between them, surrounded on all sides by walls and boon companions, it seemed that Legolas still slept just as strangely.
Or rather, it seemed that such sleep was not strange at all, not for an elf, however much it might seem so to a dwarf.
Bah! In truth, Gimli thought grumpily to himself, he shouldn't be surprised, should he? Legolas was naught but a bundle of strangeness all told, and had never been otherwise, blasted elf that he was. No. It wasn't strange that Legolas was strange. What was strange was that Gimli was here to watch him, to willingly share with him, to be made strange alongside him. That was the unnatural part, he supposed. The elf couldn't help what he was. Gimli could most definitely have chosen other than to share in it.
So he told himself, at least. So he vouched ferociously and defiantly to himself in the silence of his own thoughts. And yet. Yet. Could he really? After all that they had endured together, could he ever truly have chosen differently?
He looked at the still figure lying across the sheets beside him. Sleeping. Whatever elves called sleep. His open eyes were distant and vacant, lost in whatever strange realm elvish minds wandered to at rest. He looked peaceful enough, Gimli allowed. He wore a thin, light shirt and a soft robe, gifts of Minas Tirith, and his hair had spread out across the pillows around his head, the better to cheerfully smother any poor dwarf tired or foolish enough to lay his head beside him. He hadn't stirred at the weight of Gimli's gaze on his face, lay still and untroubled by the dwarf sitting cross-legged and grumpy at his side. Peaceful, yes. As peaceful as Gimli had ever seen him, and perhaps as much because of Gimli's presence as despite it.
And that was the thought. That was what soothed and stirred him in equal measure, what gave the lie to his defiance and left him floundering helplessly and willingly in all this blasted strangeness. That thought was why he could not, could never, have chosen differently.
The elf rested peacefully beneath his watch. This creature, immortal and powerful and irritatingly indefatigable in his foolishness as he was, capable of going for days and perhaps weeks without ever laying his head, rested now at ease because Gimli was with him. And had rested even then, even back in those wilds and those campsites, where anything might have happened upon them, because Gimli had stood watch above him. Even then. Mahal damn him, even then. How was any dwarf to answer that?
It was the elf's fault, too, that they shared their bed even now. The whole of Minas Tirith to choose from, as many beds as could be wanted, even with the weight of wounded, and Legolas had offered to stay instead with him. Because elves did not need to sleep as often, and dwarves were short enough to share, and it would be a shame to waste two beds when with some negotiation only one would do.
Gimli might have argued that. Had the elf been imperious about it, had he presumed, Gimli might have gleefully argued just for arguing's sake. But Legolas had not. He had looked at Gimli all the while, patient and mischievous, willing to be overruled, and somehow Gimli had found himself agreeing before he'd quite registered what was coming out of his mouth. Aragorn's expression had been a sight. There'd been that consolation at least. But it disturbed him still that the elf could move him so without his knowledge, let alone his leave.
Move him. Yes. Legolas did that. The crux and the keystone of it all. Gimli still wasn't sure when and how that had happened, but it had. It must have. He was here, wasn't he? He was sitting bootless and barefoot in the middle of some mannish bed, keeping watch over a sleeping elf, and it was Legolas that had led him here at every step along the way. Legolas, with his wryness and his friendship, his mischief and his courage, his ever-present and damnable trust. Had Gimli ever expected that from an elf? For that matter, had Legolas ever expected to offer it to a dwarf? It was the elf's fault, it had to be, but had even he expected it? That they would come to be here. That they would come to ...
That Gimli would come to care. That he would come to care this much. He looked at Legolas now. He studied the spindly shape of him, lanky and frail-looking as any elf, like metal figurines that had been set back into the heat and lengthened from their moulded shapes when drawn forth. Beautiful things, of course. One only had to look at the Lady Galadriel. But strange, oddly shaped, oddly made, not dwarven. Not a thing one would think could truly win the heart and care of a dwarf. And yet. And yet.
Yet Legolas had moved him. Somehow, the elf had levered aside some long-settled stone in a dwarven breast and made a space for himself in its absence. It was not friendship Gimli felt for him now, or not alone. It was too strange and too heavy a thing by far.
He would follow Legolas anywhere. Through wood and wild and darkness, into the deepest shadow, across the furthest sea. Even to those places where elven minds wandered in their dreaming, if need be. Not because he had to, not because the world depended on it, but just because it was asked. He would place his heart and his trust in Legolas, and walk with him side by side wherever the elf need go. He would be followed, too, in his turn. He knew that as well. He could hold out his hand, though all the orcs and all the darkness in the world lay around them, and where he went Legolas would follow. Where he asked, Legolas would answer. Their trust went both ways. Whichever one held watch, the other might rest easy in his care.
And more, for that was yet something he might offer and hope for with any of the Fellowship, those friends who had walked with him through all the shadows of war, he thought that he and Legolas both desired it. They desired to wander still, to choose each other's company first and foremost, to wander through strange places at leisure simply to watch each other in their confines. For that reason they had made their plans of pilgrimage to Fangorn and to Aglarond. For that reason, perhaps, the elf had chosen to share this bed with him, in all of Minas Tirith, and for that reason Gimli had chosen to allow it.
For that reason, he watched the elf as he lay sleeping, as strange and spindly and undwarven as Legolas was, and found in it a sweet and pained contentment. He found a rush of tenderness at the sight of open, dreaming eyes, a swell of formless yearning at the sight of slender elven hands. He found longing, and happiness, and peace, just from the presence of Legolas at his side.
That was love, he thought distantly, both heartened and terrified by the weight of it. This thing he felt, this weight in his chest, it was love. It could be nothing else. In all of Minas Tirith, in all of Middle Earth, he had found the other half of his heart resting in an elf's breast.
Naturally. The way his luck had always run, of-bloody-course that's what he'd done.
Ah well, he sighed, as he closed his eyes and rubbed his palms across his face, untangling a knot in his beard idly in passing. Well, it was done now, and not to be regretted. For all its strangeness, never that. He had followed Legolas through Fangorn, for Mahal's sake, and meant to do so again. Following him to a bed instead, to a home or to a heart, could not be half as onerous as all that.
"You look pensive," a soft, sleepy voice murmured beside him, somehow not at all unexpected, and Gimli lowered his hands to glower happily down at the elf once more. Legolas blinked up at him, only partly come back from his dreaming, and tried a small, smug smile on for size. Just because, Gimli thought. Because it fit, because it was normal, because the gentle tease was a part of who they were. Legolas stayed still beside him, languid and peaceful, save for that small quirk of his mouth. "Does something trouble you, my friend?"
Gimli thought about that for a second. Did it trouble him? Was that the word for what this feeling did to him? But no. No, not really. Not anymore. He'd had his moment to be distressed and disturbed, and in the end, inevitably, he'd come through it. He'd known he was going to, somewhere inside him. He had to have. He'd never have agreed to lie here otherwise.
"... No," he decided at last. Firmly, and with proper dwarvish determination, just to see Legolas raise a querying eyebrow. Gimli shook his head at him, abruptly happier than he'd been since victory was won and they'd learned that the hobbits were alive. He leaned over, brought his face near to that which had become so dear to him. Something more than teasing flickered across Legolas' features. Something startled, Gimli thought, and maybe hopeful. "Not troubled, no. I was just sitting here coming to terms with how I love you, that's all."
And this, this look that came over his elf's face, was not strange at all. A sweetness stole across it, a hope and a profound relief, a soft and quiet joy. Legolas' smile widened, very much without his leave, Gimli thought, and the happiness in his eyes was deep and true.
It was mischief that answered first, though. It was that sly and irrepressible thing about his elf that stepped first into the breach.
"Was it a difficult thing to come to terms with?" Legolas asked him, soft and laughing up at him. The elf moved at last, lifted one hand from its place upon his chest to touch lightly at Gimli's cheek. "I confess, I feared it would take you a great deal more time to do so."
Gimli snorted at him for that. He reached up himself, wrapped the elf's hand in his own. Held it gently, for all the gruff amusement of his words. "Then I'm glad it wasn't so hard after all. You should know better by now, elf of mine, than to underestimate a dwarf!"
Legolas laughed, bright and openly. "I should indeed," he conceded, his eyes shining still, and not with that elven half-sleep either. "I suppose you have never failed to answer me, my friend. Even if you needed a goad here or there."
"Hrr," Gimli growled, a little put out even through his happiness. "Was that what this was? Asking to share a bed, to prod me through my deliberations?"
Legolas' expression softened. Mischief fled, if for only a moment, and solemnity flowed through in its wake. "No," he said softly. "Or not only. I had hope, Gimli, but this is not a thing I would force you to. I asked to sleep beside you because to do so brings me peace and comfort. Because I would wish to, even if we were naught but friends. No better friend could I ask for, to stand watch over me in my rest. I would want to keep that while I may, and for no more reason."
Something moved in Gimli's chest, some last stone beneath the lever of the elf's trust and his love. Gimli felt it happen and allowed it. He rejoiced in it, even, for there was nothing strange or unexpected in it either. He leaned into the hand Legolas still held against his cheek, and let a smile of hope and relief dawn across his own face in his turn.
"I'd like to kiss you," he told Legolas frankly, enjoying a little the startlement it caused. "And then, I think, I'd like to lie down beside you, and manage to lay my head beside yours without getting smothered by all your damned hair, and maybe get a little rest myself before the morning comes. Anything else we can work out then. Do you think that can be managed, elf of mine?"
Legolas did not speak to answer. He came up onto his elbow instead, his smile soft and laughing once more, and leaned in to press his lips to Gimli's light and sweet as morning time, almost too fast to be answered. When he lay back down again, leaving Gimli more than a little flustered behind him, he took care to sweep his hair out to one side and leave a space on the pillow just the right size for a dwarf to lay his head.
And perhaps, Gimli thought, snorting softly to himself in unwilling amusement, perhaps that was a better answer than all the flowery words of elves might have managed.
It was good enough, at least, for one very tired and happy dwarf to be going on with.