He had not always been what he was now. Of that he was sure.
And yet, what he was now had always been a part of him since the moment of his creation. That was also certain. He had been formed of and for the wind shaking dewy leaves, the sun-warmed soil, the moonlight trickling through outstretched branches. He was their guardian. He was their celebrant. His existence was intrinsically tied to the world he was a part of.
Once he had been both more and less.
He had vague recollections of being separate from the elements. Of having lived a life in which he was able to want things for himself. Of making connections with other living beings, rather than just breeze, and earth, and plant, and light.
He could also recall a formless time, when there was no separating his self from the elements at all. It was a long time, when his world was full of flux. He simply existed as a part of it without any demands.
Now he supposed he was something in between. He had a form, and took actions of his own volition, yet he was not independent. The ties that bound him to the elements were still strong; unwilling to let him go. Perhaps he was not yet ripe?
So he stayed in the grove he had woken in when he first rediscovered the concept of waking from sleep.
He followed instincts as they arose, and thus relearned to drink from cool streams when his throat grew dry, and to eat the plants and animals that would sustain him when his body grew weak. He armed himself with supple greenwood, sharpened stone, and strands of his own long hair, following memories embedded in his muscles though still indistinct in his mind.
And he waited.
For what, he was unsure, but he would know it when the tethers to the world around him were ready to release him.
In the meantime, he cared for his grove and protected it.
There were others, similar to him in form but incomprehensible in all other ways. They were born of this world, but not tied to it as he was. So in their eyes, he was otherworldly. To his, they were alien.
They came to his grove with no reverence in them, surely seeking to mar or plunder it, so he drove them all off.
He liked to think himself fair; a concept he had recently found quite entertaining to muse over, so he gave them all a chance. A warning shot, and an opening to explain their intentions. Had any explained their intentions satisfactorily he would have welcomed them with no further aggression, but they never replied in his tongue. Then their options were to leave with their life, or die. At least most of them heeded the warning shot. And those who didn’t became stories for those did.
The sunlight was just starting to dip low, going golden as it skated over the yellow leaves and silver branches of his grove, when he became a aware of another presence.
He rose from where he had been relaxing, a practice he was in the process of refamiliarizing himself with, and took up his arms.
The intruder was easy to spot, with hair as red as a fox’s coat. He watched as the intruder’s head swiveled back and forth, searching.
He drew back on the bowstring, and let an arrow fly.
It lodged itself firmly in a tree’s white bark, a scant inch from the intruder’s face. The intruder startled backwards, dropping the pack he'd been carrying to press a hand to his breast before spinning to see where the shot came from. He knew the moment he'd been noticed by the widening of the intruder’s warm eyes.
He kept his bow at the ready.
“Next time I won’t miss on purpose, so choose your words carefully. Why have you come to my grove?”
The language flowed off his tongue with the ease of one who knows without ever recalling being taught.
He was ready to see if the intruder would run or stand. But to his surprise, the stranger spoke. And to his even greater surprise, he understood!
The words were stilted. Stiff in the way of one who has painstakingly returned to a once familiar activity left undone for ages. Still, he could understand the intruder perfectly when he replied, “Legolas! It is you! I have been looking for you for so long.”
He blinked in shock.
Suddenly, something that had been tightly closed, still developing inside him, burst into full bloom. He could feel the tethers that held him in line with his world go slack.
He was Legolas again.
The hand-hewn bow slipped from his fingers as a lifetime slid back into focus in his memory.
The whole epiphany took barely a second to complete, despite the monumental effect it had on his perception of the world around him.
He gaped, wide eyed, before he was able to ask, “Gimli? Is that really you? By the Valar, how long has it been? You look mannish!”
Gimli, for it was Gimli despite the changes wrought in him, responded with a relieved laugh. “You'd know better than I would, my dear Elf. Long enough for a new world to be shaped from the ashes of the old.”
He ran a hand over his head, still smiling in disbelief.
Legolas was mesmerized by the motion of Gimli’s hand over his hair, so much shorter than it had ever been in their time together.
“And have the Dwarves been reformed as Men in this new world?” he asked.
“I guess,” he replied. “I'll tell you if I ever find more Dwarves.”
He gave Legolas a fond look that had remained untouched by the ages.
“I’ve been spending all of my time looking for you.”
That was all it took for Legolas to throw himself into Gimli's arms. Gimli's scent was different, lacking the once familiar notes of forge and pipe smoke, but the feel of his arms embracing Legolas's shoulders had not changed a bit. It felt like coming home.
Gimli buried his face in the tangle of Legolas's pale hair, and just held him until his shoulders ached.
Finally they had to part again, if only so they could once again drink in the sight of each other's faces.
Gimli ran gloved hands over Legolas's arms, his brows furrowing.
“How aren't you cold?” He asked with concern.
“When has the cold ever bothered me?” He replied.
Gimli gave him a look.
“Times have changed, Love, and there's no guarantee that you're still as impervious to the elements as you were when you were an Elf.”
He scrutinized Legolas a bit closer before asking, “Are you still an Elf?”
Legolas just shrugged.
“What else would I be?”
Gimli shook his head in disbelief.
“The Internet would love to know,” he said nonsensically.
Legolas cocked his head in confusion.
“Who is ‘the Internet?’”
Gimli seemed to hedge for a minute before finally saying, “it’s complicated, but it's… kind of like a forum where people share information from all over the world. Someone posted some blurry pics of you and now everyone’s calling you The Bowman of Birch Grove… and debating if you really exist.”
Legolas gave an affronted huff.
“It is all a bit unreal, Legolas,” Gimli insisted. “You just came out of nowhere and started shooting at people who got too close. You haven't exactly been acting like a normal person. I mean, you took the time to make a bow and arrows, but no clothes?”
Legolas crossed his arms, fully aware he was pouting.
“Having a bow at hand comes naturally. Weaving is hard. You know I've never had any talent for it.”
“And Gimli,” Legolas continued after taking a second to enjoy the sound, “what are ‘pics?’”
“Sorry, that's slang for pictures. These ones are like, really realistic drawings of things that are done extremely fast,” he explained, although Legolas could tell from his expression that he wasn't completely happy with his explanation.
“That sounds like magic,” Legolas commented.
“Magic might be easier to explain,” Gimli replied.
“And these ‘pics’ are of me.”
“Yes, but they aren't very clear,” he said. “In fact, a lot of people have probably been coming here to try to get better ones.”
Legolas raised an eyebrow.
“Well that's silly. If that's what they came for, why didn't anyone just say so? I always asked what they were here for.”
Gimli gave him a look like he didn't know quite what to do with him.
“Legolas, they couldn't understand you. You're speaking Westron. They speak English.”
Legolas threw his hands up in exasperation.
Gimli dissolved into helpless giggles, his head buried in his hands. It didn't take long for Legolas to give into a giggle fit of his own. He was still too overjoyed at having Gimli back to hold onto any real frustration.
“This is going to take a lot of explaining,” Gimli said, rubbing a hand over his eyes. “More explaining than we can fit in one night. Come on, let's cover you up and get out of here.”
Legolas accepted the blanket that Gimli retrieved from his pack, wrapping it around himself like a cloak.
“I'll go wherever you go, Gimli. I'm ready to leave this grove behind and start a new adventure with you.”
The look on Gimli's face was warm and wondrous as he took Legolas's hand in his. Legolas followed without hesitation, no doubt looking equally besotted as he was led away from his grove.
From beneath the silvered bows of the birch grove, the sound of their voices slowly drifted in their wake—
[“I can't believe my husband’s a cryptid.”
—until all that was left was silence, and dim light glinting off the fallen bow and arrows.