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It came to pass in the year 3018--the first of the Great Years--that Legolas, son of the Elf King Thranduin of the Northern Mirkwood, first knew the Dwarf Gimli, son of Gloin.

It was a time of many firsts, though it preceded a time of many endings. In June of that year Thranduil was assailed in Mirkwood, and the creature Gollum, given him to guard by Aragorn son of Arathorn, escaped. The forces of Light remaining in Middle Earth learned of the finding of Isildur's Bane, the One Ring of Sauron; Gandalf the Grey was imprisoned on the tower of Orthanc by Saruman the White, who had turned to darkness; Frodo Baggins, a small hobbit, was stabbed by the Witchking's Morgul blade, and survived days of fever in the wraith-world before he could be healed by the arts of Elrond of Rivendell. Boromir, heir to the Steward of Gondor, journeyed far from besieged Minas Tirith to the North to take council with Elves, Dwarves, and halflings, and there became the first of his line to look on one of the line of Anarion in many years.

In the year 3018, on the 25th of December, the Fellowship of the Ring, an odd-mixed company of nine, set out from Rivendell at dusk on a long and perilous quest.

Their journey continued in 3019. Legolas became the first Elf in many years to enter the depths of dark Moria, the realm carved out by Durin and reclaimed by Balin. Gandalf the Grey defeated a Balrog and fell into darkness, and rose again as Gandalf the White. Gimli Gloin's son became the first Dwarf in untold years to see the beauty of fair Lothlorien, and the first to claim the fancy of the Lady Galadriel, who gave to him three golden hairs from her head, at his request.

Legolas and Gimli became, perhaps, the first Elf and Dwarf bound together in deep friendship, which grew slowly from wariness and even dislike to respect and affection.

And Legolas was the first Elf, he felt sure, since the dawn of time, to turn his eyes and his heart in silence on the stout and sturdy form of a Dwarf and find beauty there, the first Elf to watch a Dwarf unblinking through moonlit night after moonlit night--the first Elf to find love in his heart for a Dwarf, and marvel at it, and weep.

There was no time for grief for Mithrandir's passing until the Company emerged from Moria and came out of bowshot from the walls into Dimrill Dale in the shadow of the Misty Mountains. Even Aragorn crossed his arms over his chest and gazed into the distance, then, with tears rolling down his cheeks. Frodo stood wavering, frozen, as though he lacked even the strength to cast himself to the ground, until Samwise put an arm about his shoulders, and he relaxed and seemed to crumple, Sam still at his side, both of them sobbing. Merry and Pippin clung to each other.

Gimli sat slowly and buried his ruddy face in his square hands, and threw his helm down so his braided hair gleamed, coarse and thick, in the sun stealing from behind a cloud. Legolas, standing a little apart, seeking for quiet in his mind, was not too distracted to take notice of this, nor too deeply wounded by his own pain to feel another surprising, fresh cut of it for Gimli's. He looked up into the sky, turning his face to the sun, and closed his eyes.

The grief would stay with him long and long, he knew; but already he regained himself, laying it aside for when he might better and more respectfully serve it. Now there was no time; even as he took a deep breath and opened his eyes again, looking automatically at Gimli who had not moved, Aragorn said, "Alas! I fear we cannot stay here longer." They left, and went down the road from the Gates of Moria, past the Mirrormere and Durin's stone. That night they reached the edges of Lothlorien, and Legolas led the company across the stream Nimrodel, to camp.

He felt great joy to see the golden trees of his people's fairest land, and to breathe the sweet scent of mallorn and elanor even in winter. His soul was much eased, that night, and he spun for the Men and the halflings and his Dwarf tales of Lothlorien, the River Anduin, and the Maid Nimrodel for whom the stream was named. Legolas had never before seen a mallorn, and reality mixed with the fantasies of his long-gone childhood now, and the lore of the Elves of Mirkwood, who had never forgotten the beauty of the golden forest. Almost he could lose himself in this gladness, in the dream, beyond the reach of the calm glow of Gimli's black eyes.

But partway through the lay of Nimrodel his voice faltered, for he had no longer the stomach for all the verses, bittersweet with lost love long in the past. Sadness has a radiant beauty from without, but their own new loss, and the fresh revelations of his own heart, made his perspective too close and vivid. "--I cannot sing anymore," he said softly, looking down into his lap at his folded hands. "That is but a part, for I have forgotten much. It is long and sad... for it tells how sorrow came upon Lothlorien, Lorien of the Blossom, when the Dwarves awakened evil in the mountains."

Gimli was, for all the depth of his character, and the strength of his heart, fairly simple: open and honest, with himself and others, deeply loyal and brave. He frowned, "But the Dwarves did not make the evil."

Legolas shook his head. He admired Gimli, though his quickness to take offense was often amusing as well. Of course, he regretted that his words had given it. "I said not so; yet evil came. Then many of the Elves of Nimrodel's kindred left their dwellings and departed, and she was lost far in the South, in the passes of the White Mountains; and she came not to the ship where Amroth her lover waited for her." His voice was distant as he spoke of the murmuring of Nimrodel's voice, and her tree-dwelling by her waterfall.

It was Gimli's idea that they sleep, for safety's sake, in the trees, and though the halflings looked uneasy at the prospect, Aragorn decreed that it be so. Legolas led them deeper into the wood and away from the path, till they could see the yawning black mouth of Moria no more. He found the stream Nimrodel again, a silver glint in the distance, and turned his steps in that direction, drawn by it--perhaps drawn by the song ringing in his mind, though it was so sad. Near the falls of the Elf maid they came upon a ring of mallorns growing close together. Their lowest branches, high above Legolas's head, reached out like mighty arms, crossing together and forming a dense canopy that could not be penetrated even by his keen sight. He looked up in wonder, but could not guess their height exactly, though they were certainly very tall. Their pale trunks were great and wide, a mark of distinguished age. A shadow fell on the stream where some of them bent over it.

Legolas firmed his lips, intent on climbing up into one. He was excited, rather, if awed, at the prospect. He allowed a moment's pause to contemplate the tree's majestic beauty before he leapt into the air and caught the branch over his head. It was smooth under his hands, and he felt it thoughtfully for a moment, swinging there, before he pulled himself up--

"Daro!" commanded an Elf's voice above him, and Legolas dropped in instant obedience back to the ground, much shaken, for he'd had no inkling of any of his kinsmen nearby, and sensed nothing. And eager though he had been to meet the Galadrim, with the moment at hand, he quailed, and pulled himself close back against the reassuring solidity of the tree.

"Stand still!" He warned his companions quietly, looking up, eyes straining for a glimpse--. "Do not move or speak." He was instantly obeyed, and he could just sense the still shapes of the four hobbits and the two men. Gimli stood facing him a little way away, motionless as carven stone, but, Legolas thought, uneasy, and rightly. Though he felt fear still, it was not for himself but for the Dwarf, who was not likely to be welcomed by his cousins, who he could now see as a pale glimmer, occasionally, through shifting leaves.

Though the Elf assured him his companions had nothing to fear, and bade him bring Frodo with him up to their talan, he did not go without resting his eyes again, for a moment, on Gimli's shadow-darkened face. Well, he decided, turning to Frodo, he would not let his fear show, and would do all in his power for Gimli. He would not bring him into this forest to have him harmed.

That Haldir held him responsible for Gimli Legolas was unsurprised; in fact, he had expected it, and had willingly suggested it himself. He would have gone much further than agreeing to blindfold his companion to keep him safe, and he would tie it on him himself if need be, and watch over him carefully every step of their journey. It was not that he did not trust their guides; but he knew that they did not trust Gimli, and he would have nothing pass between them to put them more on their guards, or make them quicker to reach for weapons. He knew that despite all his efforts, Gimli was unlikely to be humble or obedient; he was proud, and wisdom was not even in question with him when honor might be at stake.

He sent Merry and Pippin up the rope ladder after Frodo and Sam, to sleep with Haldir, and turned to his other three companions. "I trust them," he said to Aragorn, immediately.

The King nodded. "As do I, with my own life or that of the Ring-bearer." Yes, with Legolas's and Frodo's and Aragorn's, but not, Legolas hoped, with Gimli's. He gave a little shiver.

"Haldir is a guard of the borders of this land," he told Boromir and Gimli. "He will keep watch over the halflings tonight, and he charges me lead you to sleep in another tree where there will be more room for us. I am to be responsible for your welfare--and your behavior," he added with a ghost of a smile.

"I suppose he wishes you to make certain we do not hew off any branches, or pluck off leaves for our amusement and send them drifting to the ground," Gimli said sourly.

Legolas returned, "I, at least, am confident you would not."

Boromir looked unhappy still, but he climbed up after Legolas without the aid of a rope ladder. Gimli was too short to reach the lowest branch; Aragorn picked him up and lifted him high, and Legolas bent down to clasp the two strong forearms, corded thick with muscle, and pulled the Dwarf into the tree.

"The flets of the Elves of Lothlorien are sturdy and strong, friends," Aragorn said quietly, when they had climbed the few branches to the platform. "We have plenty of room to stay here this night, and I will sleep easier out of sight and reach of whatever evil might stir on the ground."

"I am happy to sleep anywhere," Gimli said, digging a blanket from his pack. "We Dwarves are not made to find rest in trees, but I have fought enough Orcs this day for the week, at least. It has been a hard day's exertion. I am sure to sleep soundly."

"I wish I could say the same," muttered Boromir, stretching out gingerly. Legolas put his back against the trunk of the tree and made himself comfortable, seated, watching his companions carefully and especially Gimli as they lay in repose, shifting only slightly, and eventually fell to slumber.

He needed no instruction from Haldir to do so; it was no more or less than he had done for many nights, now, since before his troubled thoughts had settled into their present pattern, and his heart had showed itself to him. Many a night had his eyes strayed to the broad Dwarvish shoulders, the short, thick fingers that were yet somehow elegant. Many times had starlight limned Gimli's brow and his parted lips just so, through the branches of many a tree, spilling into his dark eyelashes and over his muscular thighs and flanks, and many times had Legolas wondered why his gaze lingered where it fell.

For an Elf, to have found one to whom you could bind yourself for all time before the passage of three millennia was not to be hoped for. For that one to be mortal was beyond fear or contemplation, unheard of but in legend and song. No thought of it had ever entered Legolas's mind.

For that one to be a Dwarf...? Nay, even now, knowing his heart, Legolas could not be entirely certain in his belief that it was so. Perhaps the odd ache of it, though it made him smile unexpectedly at Gimli's frowns in his sleep and look through the screen of mallorn branches with his thoughts lingering, not on the day to come, but on what his companion would say to hear his thoughts--perhaps it would flee or fade. Perhaps the quest would end, in defeat or victory, and Gimli would die bravely in battle or at the end of his years--Legolas felt a stab of pain, but continued--and he would live, fighting the darkness if need be, or elsewhere. Perhaps, after thousands of years--

--His imaginings failed. He could not envision what would come to pass should his life pass on, or rather, he could not see a future in which he found his mate elsewhere, another elf, in Mirkwood or the glades of Lothlorien or even on the Western shore. All he could see was a life full of the memory of these short days, hardly an eye blink in the stretch of an Elf's life.

Perhaps he should accept the unlikely, at last, as true, and turn his thoughts forward.

But where would they go?

Gimli, he thought, still watching the Dwarf's sleeping face, I wish you might lend me some of your courage.

All was well for a time in the morning, as they crossed Celebrant on a bridge of silver ropes and stood in the Naith of Lorien. When Rumil had vanished into the trees, though, on the far bank, and Haldir turned his gaze on Gimli, Legolas fixed his eyes on both of them, and did not quite hold his breath.

"We allow no strangers," said the foreign Elf, "to spy out the secrets of the Naith. Few indeed are permitted even to set foot there. As was agreed, I shall here blindfold the eyes of Gimli the Dwarf. The others may walk free for a while, until we come nearer to our dwellings, down in Egladil, in the Angle between the waters."

Gimli at once stiffened proudly. "The agreement was made without my consent," he replied grimly. "I will not walk blindfold, like a beggar or a prisoner. And I am no spy. My folk have never had dealings with any of the servants of the Enemy. Neither have we done harm to the Elves. I am no more likely to betray you than Legolas, or any other of my companions."

Legolas was frozen in dismay. He had not revealed the pledge to Gimli in the night, thinking it was done, for good or ill, and no benefit could come of telling him in advance. He now thought he might at least have warned the Dwarf, though he would still be unhappy with his lot. If only there were something to be done--but the laws of the Galadrim were immutable, and Haldir stood no less firm and no more so, it seemed, than Gimli!

"I do not doubt you, yet this is our law. I am not the master of the law, and cannot set it aside. I have done much in letting you set foot over Celebrant."

Gimli braced his small feet apart, as if to withstand the tugging of a strong breeze, and let one hand lie on the haft of his axe, dropping his chin stubbornly. "I will go forward free--or I will go back and seek my own land, where I am known to be true of word, though I perish alone in the wilderness." Legolas took two swift steps closer to Gimli and stood tense behind him, unmoving further, face stiff. He was very much aware of Haldir's grey eyes flickering to him before he answered,

"You cannot go back. Now you have come this far you must be brought before the Lord and the Lady. They shall judge you, to hold or to give you leave, as they will. You cannot cross the rivers again, and behind you there are now secret sentinels that you cannot pass. You would be slain before you saw them." His voice was dispassionate and cold. It could not have been better chosen to set the Dwarf's back up.

He drew his axe from his belt with one movement and stood holding it, ready to be killed instantly by arrows from Haldir and their other guardian, who lifted bows with arrows nocked, rather than go forward ashamed. Legolas cursed the stalwart courage and foolish pride of arrogant young dwarves, and the indecision that had stayed his hand. Anything would be better than this--he should have reached to catch Gimli's hand back from the axe, before it was too late.

He spoke before he was aware of it. "A plague on Dwarves and their stiff necks!" Legolas cried.

Aragorn stepped forward, though, before any disaster struck, and said, "Come! If I am still to lead this Company, you must do as I bid. It is hard upon the Dwarf to be thus singled out. We will all be blindfold, even Legolas. That will be best, though it will make the journey slow and dull."

As if a spell had been lifted, the tension eased in the air, though the Elves' gazes did not waver, Haldir's from Gimli nor Legolas's from Haldir's hand on its bow. But Gimli laughed, and let his hand fall, and said, "A merry troop of fools we shall look! Will Haldir lead us all on a string, like many blind beggars with one dog?" It was, Legolas could not help thinking, a rather bitter humor, but Gimli seemed much relaxed. Then the Dwarf turned and looked up, over his shoulder. Legolas had not thought him aware of his new position there, but he smiled, not entirely innocently, "But I will be content if only Legolas here shares my blindness."

Another curse on the pride of Dwarves, for it might well see him come to some harm, and would certainly make Legolas nervous and uneasy, unable to see for the remainder of the journey! "I am an Elf," he said at once, "and a kinsman here!"

It was useless to protest, though. Aragorn only laughed, for he knew he would be obeyed: "Now let us cry: 'a plague on the stiff necks of Elves!' But the Company shall all fare alike. Come, bind our eyes, Haldir!"

Legolas turned swiftly to meet the King's gaze, but quickly bowed his head. Aragorn knew his concern, and he did not see challenge in the grey eyes, but, he thought, subtle sympathy and reassurance. He stepped back; Haldir moved forward with a cloth in his hands.

Gimli was the first to fall to darkness. "I shall claim full amends for every fall and stubbed toe, if you do not lead us well," he cautioned, rather good-humoredly. Legolas was not restored to happiness so quickly.

Haldir said smoothly, "You will have no claim," moving next to bind Legolas's eyes. "I shall lead you well, and the paths are straight and smooth."

The cloth drew snugly about his face, and he felt the knot form in the back and the gentle hands fall away. "Alas for the folly of these days," Legolas said sadly. "Here all are enemies of the one Enemy, and yet I must walk blind, while the sun is merry in the woodland under leaves of gold!" --And over the faces of all the Company, and in their dark hair; and while they walked among strangers, though much of his misgiving had gone with Gimli's laughter.

The next day at noon they emerged from the shadows of the trees and were surrounded at once by a large company of Elves, at least three-score strong, from the sounds of their feet in the grass. Some held converse quickly and quietly with Haldir in the accent of the Galadrim, but Legolas listened carefully, unmoving, and heard of the destruction of the marauding Orcs--and of a message from the Lord and Lady that made him breathe easy again, for the first time in twenty-four hours.

"You are all to walk free, even the dwarf Gimli," said Haldir. "It seems that the Lady knows who and what is each member of your Company. New messages have come from Rivendell, perhaps." Legolas heard Haldir's footfall, and the deep breath Gimli took as the cloth fell away. "Your pardon! Look on us now with friendly eyes! Look, and be glad, for you are the first dwarf to behold the trees of the Naith of Lorien since Durin's Day!"

He waited patiently where he stood, and at last the second Elf, Haldir's silent shadow, came to take the cloth from over his eyes. Legolas blinked, once, and then caught his breath and gazed about him with wide eyes. They stood at the foot of fabled Cerin Amroth, glowing green like the fiery emerald on Aragorn's breast with fresh grass, crowned with still-gold mallorns and slender, naked white trees which spread their branches wide, pale and delicate. He dropped to his knees in the face of such beauty, wondering. He could hardly conceive of greater joy at coming to the Grey Havens, if he ever went there; to see at last the very myths of his fathers come to life before his eyes, more magnificent than painted by his wildest dreams or the most skilled of Elven artists!

Gimli still looked, too, and had as yet made no sound; but soon enough he breathed a great sigh, and closed his eyes, and sank to the ground. Merry and Pippin lay with their faces in the grass, laughing, and Boromir had stretched out to his full length with one hand over his eyes.

Legolas knelt some time there, drinking in the sights and sounds of the Naith of Lorien and savoring the deep quiet, the whispering of a breeze through the grass and trees. He doubted whether his thirst for such things could ever truly be sated, but there came a time when his eyes had filled themselves with the colors and images there and he was satisfied he could remember them in perfect detail. Gimli had opened his eyes again, and had at last turned his back on the hill to look back into the trees from which they had emerged.

He gave a start when Legolas sat in the grass next to him and teased gently, "Friend Dwarf, can it be that you find some beauty under the trees of Lorien after all, Elvish though they be?"

Recovering from his surprise quickly, Gimli retorted, "These trees are pretty enough, in the dying sun thus--see how these leaves glimmer like fine clear jewels, and the mallorns like gold? Still, they do not rival the glorious caves of Khazad-dum, nor the Kingly work of dedicated hands."

"Ah, Gimli." Legolas shook his head, smiling. "There is wonder indeed in this wood, that it makes a Dwarf see its brilliance, and compare it to gems and precious metals!"

"What is it you want, Elf?" He said gruffly, turning to stare at Legolas suspiciously.

Your trust. He bit back the true response that rose, and looked away. At length he said, "Have you still not forgiven me for pledging you to walk blindfold? Come, Gimli. I did not know how it would anger you--and in truth there was no other way."

Gimli grumbled into his beard. "Had Balin lived, you would have received the finest hospitality Dwarves can offer. Your kinfolk do not show such courtesy."

Legolas sighed, "I regret that the evil of the Enemy drives allies to suspicion of each other, yet it is as Haldir said. Lothlorien stands too near the Shadowlands to relax their laws for anything, if they would remain." He paused, and added softly, "And I regret the death of your cousin."

Silence. "It is a great tragedy. I fear that Moria is lost forever to the world, even should we somehow succeed in casting down the dark lord."

"It was very beautiful, even filled as it was with fear and shadow."

"Yes," Gimli said. "I can only imagine it as it was in the old days. But here, I almost feel we are in the old days still."

"Lothlorien does not feel the passing of years," said Legolas. "Child of Durin, you will see it exactly as Durin did."

Gimli breathed deeply, and answered, "I imagine Durin looked on Cerin Amroth like this."

Legolas nodded.

At last the Dwarf said--without turning to look at him--"Well, Legolas, I know you had no choice. I am still not free of fear, for the tales my people tell of this wood do not revere it. Yet you wore a blindfold too; perhaps my pride leads me too far. I forgive you, and am content."

Legolas kept his gaze on the silver and gold mallorns of the forest still as well. The wind whispered against the side of his neck, slid up over his cheekbones and his forehead, and stirred his hair in the edges of his vision. He was deeply touched by the unexpected words and struggled to master his reaction to them, and finally knew himself beyond doubt. His heart leapt in his breast; he revered the spirit behind Gimli's inscrutable countenance, and he could find no words to reply, other than to spill out in words the turbulent contents of his thoughts. Legolas smiled a little, not happily. That conversation should prove interesting!

It was not the time. "Do not give up your pride, Gimli, nor undervalue it," was what he said. "I begin to see it is an essential part of a Dwarf, rather like your bushy beard, or your unfailing loyalty." Perhaps he had said too much; but he could have done no less.

"Yet I notice you do not mention my stiff neck," he muttered, but he seemed pleased.

The Elves made for the Company a pavilion under the trees, with soft couches. Legolas laid aside his bow and arrows and his packs at once and lay there, closing his eyes. Elves have not the need for sleep of the other folk, and he had been awake for many, many nights. It was his first opportunity for untroubled sleep in a long while, and he fell at once into a deep slumber without dreams. The next morning he rose with the sun, while all his companions still slept, and left the pavilion to explore further the City of the Galadrim.

All knew him for a stranger by his dress and his dark hair, which was as rare in Lothlorien as was fair hair in Mirkwood. Yet he was not wholly strange there, only a distant cousin, long-estranged. The ways of the Elves of Lothlorien were not unfamiliar to him, though some of them he knew only from song, for Elves' lives are long, and their customs do not change quickly. He was everywhere welcomed for the news he could bring of the North and the journey of the Fellowship, though he would speak but few words of their quest.

When he wandered in the gardens, Elf-maids of the Lady came to offer him fine leisure-garb to replace his travel-weary raiment. Legolas smiled and thanked them, and followed them to a hot bubbling spring where he bathed with sweet-smelling soaps and oils extracted from flowers. Then he dried himself carefully and dressed in the soft silver fabric they had given him; when he was ready to leave, four Elves dressed much as he was entered the glade, laughing and singing together, but they stopped at once, seeing him there.

Legolas would have left after a moment's greeting, but they wished to speak further, as everyone seemed to--of the death of Mithrandir, even, and he had grown so weary of saying he disliked to tell the story that he was nearly ready already to begin telling it for a change. The foremost of them, a handsome Elf with his hair braided elaborately away from his ears before it fell onto his back, offered to braid Legolas's hair for him.

"In exchange for my stories?" Legolas smiled, feeling strained. "I warn you, I will not speak of Mithrandir's death for any reward."

"I demand no payment," the other returned, and it was then that Legolas recognized invitation in his eyes.

He considered, for a moment. He was strong and well-formed, for an Elf, taller than Legolas and slender, but broad-shouldered, with a striking face. Perhaps distraction would be good for him. But he had intended to seek out his companions of the Fellowship again, and as he considered lying with this fair, nameless elf, it was Gimli's brooding face he suddenly saw, and he found no appetite for it. "Then I thank you," he said, "and I accept, if you understand that you will receive none."

The Galadrim Elf took the rebuff with grace, and his fingers made swift work of Legolas's hair, forming multiple slender braids at the sides of his face and pulling them back, then, to weave them together like a coronet, falling in the center in an ornamental braid lying atop the rest of his hair. "There," he said, stepping back, "it is finished. Your hair is fine, for all its color, Cousin."

Legolas thanked him and took his leave, and sought his companions quickly.

They were at their repast when he arrived, and seemed surprised and happy to see him one and all, though Boromir was still preoccupied and somewhat withdrawn. "Legolas!" Cried Pippin. "Come share our feast! There is enough for all of us and ten more hobbits besides, if Meriadoc here weren't so hungry."

"It is Pippin, though," said Merry, unperturbed, "who has eaten all the rest of those sweet-rolls. I'm afraid you won't have any of them until tomorrow's breakfast."

"I shall be sure to try some, when next I eat," Legolas smiled, sitting at the empty place they had left him between Frodo and Gimli, and ladling out some soup from a silver bowl in the center of the table. He intended to share breakfast with them as well, but he grew restless and listless as they sat about their little pavilion speaking quietly, and slipped away to walk alone through the forest, where he could find the greatest peace to think.

Thinking was something he had great need of, and he wished to see every mallorn in the forest, for each was beautiful and individual. When he wrapped his arms about the trunk of one and leaned into its solid strength, he could gradually feel its warmth, the tickle of life under his skin, the sweet, sweet scent--and he could understand how, far back in the mists of time, his ancestors had taught trees to speak, creating the Ents, though he could not have begun to.

It was as sturdy, as stable and solid, as his Dwarf, and not, he thought, stepping back to look up at the canopy of gilt leaves, any more beautiful, though its beauty was of a different and more obvious kind.

He slept long, that night, in the branches of a tree outside the city. In the morning he brushed leaves from his hair and jumped to the ground, and began to walk again, touching flowers and trees and singing back at the birds who called to him. It was a long day, far from silent, for he listened to the whispering of the wind and the forest, yet filled with silence, for he was without any companion. The hours bled together under sun and shade, in mossy dell and beside sparkling stream. It was what he imagined dreams must be like for mortals.

If he became mortal, would he dream?

He drank the clear water of the stream and did not return to the pavilion again until dusk, feeling rather as though he had slept all day, after all. "Legolas!" Aragorn called, sitting alone outside, and it took him a moment to summon his voice and reply in the Elvish tongue,

"Good evening."

Aragorn looked carefully at him. "Are you well?"

"I have been in the forest," he replied. "It is so beautiful, like nothing I have ever seen, and I may never return. I wish to remember all of it that I can."

"Have you been alone?" Aragorn asked, taking another puff of his pipe.

"Today I have."

"Do not indulge your grief too much," the King replied gently, standing and turning to lead him back inside. "You may never find a way out of it again."

Legolas was thoughtful at supper, though he readily answered his companions' questions, praised the beauty of the trees, and laughed along with the others when Merry and Pippin wrestled with Boromir afterwards on the floor of the pavilion. Between them, the two hobbits did not quite match the Man's size.

Indeed, though he had only thought of the wizard as memories arose, with passive sadness, he had indulged another kind of grief perhaps too much. Was not his self-imposed solitude another such indulgence?

That night, Legolas left the pavilion and walked under the stars. He did not sleep. He was seated on his couch again before first light, waiting for the others to wake. His eyes lingered on Gimli--the way his hands curled in his sleep, the color of his parted lips, visible in among the bristles of his beard, the lines and curves of his body under its blanket.

"Weren't you going to vanish, Elf?" Gimli asked him some time after breakfast, as Legolas lounged in his chair at the table.

"I am going to walk in the City and the forest again, yes," he replied. "But not just yet. I find I do not want to go alone--I would have some companion to ease the pain of grief I still feel."

The noise fell around the room, and eyes dropped: all of them still carried heavy hearts for the passing of Gandalf the Grey. Gimli made no reply, and looked away again. Legolas stretched his legs out and waited, watching Frodo reading a book and Samwise at his feet, toying with a flower.

Finally he had waited as long as he would; he felt the call of the wind, and Legolas stood and moved away, but he paused, on a thought, before Gimli, so that the Dwarf looked up at him. He offered his hand. "I would not walk alone. Come with me, Gimli. I will show you the Gardens of Galadriel, and what beauty Lothlorien has that was built by hands."

Gimli was silent for a moment, surprised or, perhaps, confused? Embarrassed? If he knew--

No. Gimli laid his rough, callused brown hand in Legolas's slim white one and let himself be drawn to his feet. "I will go," he said. "I would like to see the Lady's Gardens, and more of the City as Durin did." He did not meet Legolas's eyes, but perhaps he knew that Legolas smiled.

"Good," he said, and turned to go. "Then your curiosity will be satisfied, and I will have my companion."

"I know that Elvish work must look strange to a Dwarf, used as you are to your dwellings of stone, with sturdy square pillars, even fluting, and symmetrical scroll-work. You search for the beauty in stone, and coax it from every material your clever hands touch. We see above all the beauty of growing things, and we seek to match it, to blend with it and leave no unnatural-seeming stain on the forest."

Gimli trailed his fingers along delicate open-work carven of wood on a low railing, and gazed over the talan's edge down on a fountain made of stone, much in the likeness of a tree. The piercings in the pattern between the leaves were some of them much smaller than the broad, flat tips of his fingers. "Your Elf-art is strange to me, and your little tree-buildings too--so light they seem as if they could be borne away on a breath of air. Dwarves were meant to dwell in the dark beneath the mountains, in caves lit by fires, and to sleep in shadows cast by lamps and candles, not by the light of the moon and sun. I long for the earth, and for the safety of a floor that cannot move, as this one can, to the whim of the wind that stirs the trees. Yet I find beauty here, and the evidence of hard, careful work, too. I think your Elven artisans are not so different in spirit from the Dwarves who do like work, for all the patterns they weave are so small."

"Indeed I find it so," said Legolas, who smiled, and spoke not of the spirit of Elven artisans, though in more than 2,000 years he had learned much of it. "You gladden my heart, Gimli. I did not know whether I had misjudged all your race for long years, or whether you are in truth a Dwarf much set apart, but I begin to believe it is the latter."

But Gimli was gruff, and though they wandered all through the City together that day and much of the next, and in the forest for several warm sunlit afternoons afterward, would never reply to any such remark. He did not refuse other conversation, however, though they were often very quiet. Legolas had not misled when he spoke of his grief. It was only in the peace brought by the silent company of Gimli the Dwarf and the ancient trees that he could feel truly the sorrow of his heart.

After some further days, Legolas returned from a long walk alone in the forest at night, after the moon had risen, and went to the pavilion of the Fellowship. He had been long in the shadow of the trees, and he did not know the hour, but assumed it to be so late that all would be asleep. He could rest a while on his couch without disturbing them.

Sleep he could find anywhere, and privacy with his thoughts; but only rarely could he gaze unobserved on the faces of his friends--not just Gimli's, for he liked to read what he could of the others in the shadows that moved on their faces in the night. He saw Aragorn sleep mostly dreamlessly, nearly unmoving, the habit of long years of stealth in the forest. He saw that when Boromir twisted in his sleep, his brow drew into a frown and his lips shaped words that he gave no voice.

Legolas knew that no sound could disturb the sleep of the Ring-bearer, and but that his little hands would clench, fisted in his cloak or around the Ring on its chain. He saw Sam start awake often, and that his master's face was the first and last sight sought by his anxious eyes. He read the evidence of Frodo's returned devotion in more subtle signs. Perhaps the halfling himself was not aware that he turned his face always towards Sam in his sleep, and breathed the most evenly when the sound of Sam's snoring was the closest to him and the most audible.

Any cold stirring of wind, any rustle or creak of sound, though it would not wake Merry or Pippin, would make them turn towards each other. They began every night rolled individually in their cloaks, at first, close together but separate, and even then the Moon at her peak found Pippin's face hidden on Merry's shoulder and the older hobbit's small arms wrapped protectively around his friend.

The first night in Moria, just as the company had laid themselves down to sleep, Boromir's foot had nudged a loose stone, and the grating noise had made Merry's eyes open wide. He and Pippin had put out their hands and clasped them tightly together. Thus reassured, their eyes had closed, but they had not truly slept until they lay close together in the darkness.

The second night in Moria, Pippin had sat, abusing his lower lip with his teeth, holding tightly to the edges of his cloak. He had not laid down until Merry had tugged at his sleeve and opened his arms, and they had slept every night since then in an inextricable tangle of arms and legs and curly heads and feet. Now they had separate couches, which they had pushed next to each other; Pippin's was empty.

So was Gimli's, but this was not because he occupied another. Legolas walked quietly around the periphery of the pavilion, and stepped back out into the night.

He would have left. He knew Gimli's presence, though, by the sound of his breathing--nearly loud enough, like Sam's in the forest, to make a mark for shooting. He turned, and their eyes met in the dimness. The Dwarf sat against the bole of a tree, his legs braced on the ground before him, puffing a pipe. "You were gone days this time," he observed. "The Halflings marked your absence."

And you, Gimli, did you mark it? "Indeed?" He asked quietly, sinking to crouch on the ground, bringing their eyes nearly level.

"As Master Samwise says, these Elves are wonderful and friendly, but 'one doesn't know them so well.' I hear that Meriadoc and Peregrin wished for your companionship to reassure them the Elves they heard speaking did not mock them."

Was that a smile, in the depths of the beard, behind the stem of the pipe? "I am glad to be so indispensable to the Company," Legolas retorted.

"I thought perhaps, if they knew you were near, the other Elves would guard their tongues more closely. But do not be surprised if Pippin tries to report their words to you tomorrow. I believe he wrote down the sounds he could remember."

Legolas was surprised into laughter, and he heard the musical rumble of Dwarvish chuckles as well, low and rough. "I came to the pavilion seeking companionship," he said, "prepared to wait for you to wake--yet you are about, and you have not slept, I think?"

"No, I have not. It is not so very late--and unlike yourself, I need sleep to think and function in the morning." Gimli seemed rather surly, as was often the case, but Legolas had come to understand that his habitual manner covered a variety of more vulnerable emotions.

"I sleep," Legolas protested, "sometimes; Elves do not need it, but it can benefit us, and it has been long since I could sleep as I can here in Lorien."

Gimli snorted. "But you will not sleep tonight."


"Go, then."

Legolas put out his hand and said with challenge in his eyes: "Come, then."

His companion seemed astonished, and said sarcastically, "Have I not told you that I must sleep? The ears of Elves are not what they once were. I recall a day when your kinsman could have shot Sam in the dark from the sound of his breathing."

"Ah, but finding an arrow-mark from the sound of breath and hearing the things that Dwarves mean, but do not say, are two very different matters, my friend. Am I to understand that when you said you must sleep, you meant you must do so now and here, and that you prefer not to walk with me?"

"It is the custom of my people to sleep at night!"

"Yet it is night already, and you are not abed. Gimli, when you demand it I will find you a bed in the roots of a mallorn-tree padded with moss so soft and thick you will forget you are not here on your couch, and so warm and comfortable you will wake and think yourself at home in your mountain, in your bearskins. And for now, you are too annoyed with me to sleep. You will walk with me and see a stream by moonlight, gleaming like mithril. The sight will cool and calm you."

Gimli looked up at him, puffing thoughtfully, and Legolas thought he saw suspicion in the bright eyes, or something yet harder to interpret. But finally he tipped out the contents of his pipe and ground out the embers. "Well," he said, "I will go with you. I have seen much of your beloved wood in the day, and little enough by the light of the moon."

Many nights had Legolas let pass watching his companions, and especially Gimli, in the shadows of trees and hills and the pale ghostly starlight and moonlight. He had studied their faces, and he had guessed at their thoughts and their dreams, recalling the events of the day. He had let his quietness blend into the forest until the thunderous silence of their sleep was all around, and the only sounds were the natural sounds of the plants' life, and he could almost hear their thoughts and his own ringing like bells.

He had often looked forward to those nights as the highlights of his days. Now he walked among the trees of the City with Gimli at his side, seeking the trees of the forest. Gimli's breath was louder and less steady than in sleep, his movements easy, economical and sure, but always accompanied with the creak of leather, the crack of twigs under his boots--never silent.

His face was in shadow, and his eyes were black and bright at once. Legolas found his waking presence was far preferable, though they exchanged no words as they moved further from the last fountains and flets of the City, to the mere sight of his sleeping form. The sounds made by a Dwarf walking through the forest had a Dwarvish assertiveness about them. Even the hiss of his breath was unapologetically loud, and when they stood still at last, Legolas could hear the pounding of his heart. With Gimli, he could never forget that he was not alone, and he smiled to himself a smile only a little bittersweet, content with the companionship and the sturdy strength of the thick muscles under his hand when he laid it on Gimli's shoulder.

"Have you thought it strange, Gimli, that we should be friends?" Legolas said, looking down into the pale water of the stream. When he dipped his fingers in it, it ran clear and icy-cold, and tingled on his skin, so he knelt and made a cup of his curled hand to drink from, a draught of sweetness so cold it burned his tongue like liquor.

Gimli sat beside him, folded his legs, and put his hands on his knees. "Is that what we are? And I thought I was your pet--a shaggy cur to follow at your heels, that you might never be alone in the forest, failing the company of your kin."

"Say not so!" Legolas cried, turning, "You must know I seek your company, a relief from that of the other Elves--" he stopped when he saw Gimli smiling at him, and began to laugh with a feeling of tremendous release. "You have had me," he said, shaking his head. "Never have I felt my age so. Made a joke of by a surly Dwarf!" But he wore a teasing smile, and at his words Gimli laughed too.

"You have laughed at my discomfiture often enough, Elf," he chortled.

"And so you have your revenge."

"Oh, I am not revenged yet. I must laugh at you many more times before that is taken."

"I do not know whether to dread it, or look forward to it with pleasure," Legolas said, but he was laughing as he had not for days, and he lied, for he knew he wished for it.

"But," Gimli said suddenly through his laughter, "since you ask, I have often thought it strange. It was too odd to credit at first that two such old enemies as we should find friendship together. For a long time, I could not believe it, and did not trust your friendship, though I knew I could trust you at my back in battle. But lately, since we came to Lothlorien, I have come to accept it. I cannot understand, but I know that I am dear to you as you are dear to me."

Legolas nodded, and for a moment could not speak, as he thought tears would spill from his eyes and fall into the stream. "Yes, dear you are to me," he said at last.

Gimli still did not look at him, but heaved a sigh. "We are an odd pair, you and I."

"Most odd." The threat of weeping fled, and Legolas found a smile again, and then a laugh. "Yet I would not change it."

The shaggy head lifted, and the Dwarf laughed too; and they did not turn their heads, but each looked on the same image of their smiling faces side-by-side in the pale mithril-shimmer of the stream. For a long while, Legolas watched their images in the water, and so did Gimli. Neither spoke, though they listened to each other breathe and were content.

And when Gimli slept, that night, in a bed of fragrant moss at the foot of a tree, Legolas was content to sit once more and watch him. The music of his heart was loud in his breast, so that almost he might have broken into song, but he would not disturb his companion's sleep. He left, silent and swift, while Gimli slept; and when the Dwarf awoke, he sat facing him across his cloak spread on the ground, piled with fruit for breakfast.

Gimli yawned and stretched, and sat up, and fixed Legolas with an inquiring eye. "I see you have not been idle while I slept."

Legolas said, "Not entirely," and reached out to offer him a pear.

Gimli took it, cradling it in one large hand, and raised it to his lips. He took a bite of the soft flesh; the skin gave way to his teeth crisply, and the juices trickled into his beard. He paused to lick his lips before taking another enthusiastic bite. "The breakfasts of Elves are the breakfasts of birds," he remarked, as he finished the pear at last, and touched the corner of his mouth to catch a last sticky drop. "Almost I expect to see seeds in your pile of food, Legolas. Yet it is very satisfying, for all that." --And selected an orange.

Legolas ate two apples, a pear, and a handful of berries quickly and carefully, without spilling a drop of juice, surreptitiously watching Gimli the while. He could not seem to take a bite without losing something that should have been in his mouth, and the plump pink tongue darted out repeatedly, swiping the sticky lips and leaving them glistening, lapping sugary juice from his wrist and the side of his hand.

He had not thought of that when he collected the fruit, at the edge of the City, but now he was very definitely aroused, his belly a great pit of fire. He would not look away from Gimli, though perhaps it was unwise--but he hoped his intent regard was not obvious. Legolas shifted where he sat to draw one knee up before him and drape his arms around it. It had been long since he had felt the simple pleasure of sexual heat--and it had never been like this just watching Gimli before, though he had felt for some time a vivid interest in the planes of the sculpted body, so well-hidden in armor and heavy clothing, and also a yearning that translated itself to desire for the strong form.

Gimli polished off another apple more slowly, seeming to savor its sweet-sour tang by the expressions he made. When his eyes drifted shut, his lips curving, Legolas felt muscles in his stomach tense. The whisper-soft fabric of his gold tunic chafed his skin. Finally the Dwarf had finished eating; he licked his lips again, then drew his lower lip into his mouth. When he released it, it was wet and red.

Legolas glanced away.

When he looked back, Gimli seemed to contemplate the remaining pieces of fruit, not reaching for one. "A pity that you haven't room for another?"

"Yes," he said, "they are surpassingly sweet."

It was intolerable. He would think of something else, and he had been waiting since Cerin Amroth to speak of this, which had never left his mind. "Gimli. We are friends."

Gimli raised a bushy eyebrow. "So we agreed."

"You said that though you did not believe it, you would trust me at your back in battle."

"I did," Gimli pointed out. "We fought side-by-side more than once."

"We do things we would not, if we were not forced. I wish to know, truly," Legolas said earnestly. "Do you trust me?"

"I had rather have you beside me in battle than any stout and sturdy dwarf--nay, than any ten of them," said Gimli. He met Legolas's eyes deeply, and held his gaze long, as he spoke. Legolas felt muscles unknotting in his stomach with a shudder, and knew he would answer. Sometimes the wisest course was the most impulsive.

"And I had rather have you by my side in battle than any fleet-footed army of my brethren, not for your clever axe, Gimli Gloin's son, but for the stoutness and sturdiness of your heart. More," he added with a deep breath, stirring the edge of his cloak with the toe of his boot-- "I had rather have you by my side, here, than separated from me by a yard of ground."

Gimli gave a start, and his eyes widened in surprise, but he did not look away from Legolas's steady gaze. There was doubt in his face at first, and Legolas thought perhaps he would not understand in his words all that had been meant. But they could not misunderstand each other like this, watching each other's faces so openly, and Gimli had not. At length his face softened, and he heaved a great sigh. "So," he said. "You speak. I confess I had not foreseen this--" an abrupt gesture took in both of them "--leaving the secrecy of our hearts, even in words bandied for the enjoyment of our ears. But indeed it seems your heart is braver than mine. Legolas," he commanded, holding up a hand when Legolas, his breath catching in wonder and then returning all at once, would have spoken: "I do not insist on silence, for now that you have broken it, I have not the strength. We will have this out, then, and it will lead us where it may. But..."

But Legolas was no longer listening. "Gimli," he cried softly, "Wait--you speak of 'this'--the secrecy of our hearts--?" So he had known. And he had said "our hearts."

Gimli's brows drew together, and he growled, "We will speak of it. It was you, Elf, who opened the subject!"

"Yes!" Legolas said. "But we are not speaking of what I thought we would! That you would speak as well I had not believed." Gimli looked puzzled, and he leaned forward over his knee and said, almost in a whisper, "Tell me, my good Dwarf, if you feel what I feel. Do our hearts hold the same secret? Say it is so, that what I had not dared to hope is true--that you long for me as I have for you."

The Dwarf had bowed his head as if in pain. Now he looked up and said hoarsely, "Can you doubt it?"

Legolas trembled. "New love," he said, "cannot but doubt."

"You mock me," Gimli muttered, turning his face away again, early morning sun painting the crease between his brows and the lines in his forehead. "When it is I who must doubt that a creature like you could yearn for my ugliness."

Legolas moved forward, kneeling on the edge of the cloak, and rose to his knees. He caught Gimli's hand in his own and wrapped his fingers tightly around the warm palm. "No," he said, caressing the furry back of the hand with his thumb. "Do not doubt me any longer, if you have. I have known my mind and heart these long days, and I might even have waited in silence forever, but for your words--. No, Gimli, do not doubt my heart, and do not speak to me of 'ugliness.'"

He had crossed the cloak on his knees, scattering apples and peaches right and left. Now he raised the hand he held in his grip and rested his cheek against its warmth. His eyes closed, and he breathed deep of a scent that reached dizzyingly deep into him, and said, "Your hand is so hot. And it smells of--earth, and you." He turned his face, brushing the backs of the thick fingers with his lips, and Gimli's hand clenched around Legolas's.

"Legolas," he whispered, "we must speak."

Legolas smiled against the fingers and turned the hand to kiss Gimli's palm. "Speak we will, my friend," he murmured, looking up to meet the smoldering in the Dwarf's black eyes.

"You," said Gimli, looking at Legolas's lips on his skin, "must stop, so that we may."

Legolas folded their hands together and lifted his head to focus his attention on his companion. "My apologies," he said ruefully. "I fear I have waited for so long, in such uncertainty, that I was nearly overcome with emotion. Very well: I am listening: speak."

Gimli said at last, looking at Legolas, "I find I do not know what to say."

His voice was troubled, his eyes solemn and wide, and Legolas could not but smile at him. "Say what you wish," he said, "and what is in your heart. There are many things to be said--and many that could be said now." Still he received no answer, and finally he clasped Gimli's other hand in his. Their fingers, so different, laced easily together, and the warmth spread out from Legolas's hands all through his body. The delight he found in Gimli's touch, even so hesitant, with such a worried crease in his proud brow, was powerful. He lifted the second hand to his mouth, and pressed his lips to the hollow at the base of the square thumb, where he could feel the pounding of Gimli's heart. He closed his eyes to better feel it, to savor the fast leap of it, sped, he thought, with arousal. The taste of Dwarf was not like the taste of Elf--musky and strong, powerful like the muscles in Gimli's shoulders and arms and thighs.

Gimli's hand shook, slightly, in his grip, and he found words at last: "What," he asked, "is this?"

Legolas forced his eyes open, and looked up without lifting his lips. "This is love," he said simply, "too great to remain in the heart, finding itself in the body. You say you are ugly..." his voice dropped, and Legolas opened his lips to touch the skin of the inner wrist with his tongue. "I find nothing but joy in the sight of you, my sturdy Dwarf. I would lie with you here, in your bed of moss, under the golden mallorn crowns. Say that you will."

"Speech," Gimli reminded him, uncertainly, but Legolas laughed gently and said,

"I am speaking." But he dropped their joined hands to his knees, nearly bumping Gimli's. He could not understand, precisely, the delay, but there was only one thing to be said. "I have told you what I wish, Gimli. I would not have you refuse me now, but I will not hold you here if you wish to go, and I will not speak of this again if you wish to retreat into silence." He waited.

At last Gimli said, his voice a near-unrecognizable husky rumble, "No. No, not--silence," and he lifted one hand with a look of wonder to cup the smooth curve of Legolas's cheek in his calloused palm.

Legolas leaned into his touch. "Then what is it you wish to say?" He asked softly, his eyes closed.

"Durin's blade," Gimli said in a hushed tone, "you are seductive, and beautiful, too beautiful to be real. And I am lost. Tell me I am dreaming," he begged.

"Child of Durin, you do not dream, and you are not lost alone," Legolas promised, raising his hand to hold Gimli's fast against his cheek, moving his face slowly, rubbing the rough ridges of hard skin against his cheekbone and the corner of his mouth.

A deep, fast breath, loud and uneven. "It seems I cannot say you nay."

"Do not." They were drawing nearer as they spoke, fearful of speaking too loud in the midst of their revelation.

Gimli said, his lips barely moving, "Yes--I will," and Legolas, with a little gasp of relief sharp-edged as pain, tumbled forward to claim his mouth as the thick arms came up around him.

He would not have thought of Gimli's kiss and any kiss he had shared in his long years with another Elf together, for the stout Dwarvish body was new to him and he to it. Then, to Legolas, an Elf, the kiss of his life's mate and the kiss of another were as different as day and night. His certainty made his hands on Gimli's shoulders steady, though all his body shouted with awakening joy so poignant it might have made a Man or Dwarf tremble. He shut his eyes and let himself fall into the kiss, his lips tingling with burning pleasure as they felt the gentle welcome of Gimli's mouth. The long bristles of his beard were springy and scratchy against Legolas's chin and around his mouth.

There was the firm pressure of his lips against Legolas's, gaining confidence and shifting slightly after a moment. There was the sudden feel of fingers pushing through the hair at the back of his head and cradling his skull, warm and sure and gentle, and the narrow silver threads of shivers that sparked down his spine in response to the touch. The other broad hand curved around his waist over his hip, and when the thumb traced a small arc through the fabric of his tunic, there were bottomless melting heat and a pulse of languorous delight that came and faded.

When Legolas gave an involuntary gasp, his mouth and Gimli's parted together, and their tongues met hesitantly, tip-to-tip, and slid along each other's lengths to learn the taste and shape of the kiss. It was sweet beyond measure, the first dark-flowering taste of Gimli's eager mouth, the hesitant welcome of his hot tongue as his lips moved awkwardly, stretching around half-formed words without breaking contact: "By all that is sacred," "Legolas," "Ah."

The beauty of it pierced him, making him quiver, making his heart press and strive violently against his ribs as his weight urged Gimli to lie back on the ground under him. Each touch was a slow caress, deliberate, embarked on with concentration and, still, reverent restraint. The palm of Gimli's hand slid up his side and over the muscles of his chest, then down his arm as jagged trailing shards of sensation turned his nerves to fire and moonlight in its wake. Legolas caught the hand in his once more and clasped it tightly as Gimli tilted his head back and to the side, teasing Legolas's tongue deeper into the moist shelter of his mouth.

Between one moment and the next, Legolas, swept along by the urging of his heart like a leaf fallen in a swift-moving river, tore his mouth away from the kiss, lips clinging raggedly, and pressed the side of his face against Gimli's, drowning in the smell of his hair. He could not find in him words or will enough to hold the storm of tenderness, and buried his lips under Gimli's ear, breathing deeply, without words. There were none. His tears found Gimli's cheeks, and Gimli, his hands just beginning to explore the pale flesh under the golden tunic, felt them and turned his head to catch the drops on Legolas's cheeks with a kiss retracing their path like the kiss of Spring on a mallorn-blossom.

Legolas felt Gimli's body all along his, with no movement between them but their hearts straining towards each other, Gimli's sighs stirring the hair that fell forward past Legolas's ears around their faces. Legolas gripped his hand more tightly and lifted his head, suddenly thirsty for more of the caress of Gimli's lips, sweet and wet. "Your hair," he whispered, and opened his mouth to accept the thrust of the hot tongue. He held a heavy braid in one hand. "Let me see it."

Gimli's hands did not still on his back, but he nodded, and Legolas's fingers were nimble even when his eyes were closed in pleasure or supplication. He freed the coil of hair and dropped the leathern tie to the ground, and combed through it blindly till his hand was full of it, coarse and thick like raw silk or rippling water, tracing curves and waves on his palm as it slithered through his hand. "You cannot see my hair with your eyes closed," Gimli said, against his ear, the words given voice on a tide of trembling breath with an edge of laughter or tears.

"I know without benefit of sight," Legolas said, but he opened his eyes, and then he had to claim another kiss when he saw the vulnerable solemnity of dark eyes gleaming over flushed cheeks. He sighed deeply and felt more of himself shudder to fragile life, pressing forth and seeking through skin prickling all over with joy and hunger.

It was not a time for promises, nor a feeling he could hope to capture with words. When he pushed back Gimli's leather jerkin and shaped the broad sculpted shoulders with light hands, and Gimli's fingers solved the mystery of Elven lacings on his trousers, though, his pleasure was shot through with grief.

That he had found his life's mate in less than three millennia, one for whom he would lay aside immortality? Unthinkable. That he should find love in his heart for a Dwarf capable of possessing his being so utterly, drowning his reason in sweet-searing, slow heat? If this was unthinkable, what then that this love should be returned in any small measure, and they should lie together in a gold-and-silver bower in the hallowed forest of Lothlorien? Finding finally any shadow of the joy of an Elf in the arms of his chosen, in the circumstances, even once, was beyond hope, and now it glimmered in his grasp.

He knew he dared not think beyond that once.

Yet he had peeled back the last layer of the covering on Gimli's furred chest, and his hands were buried in the soft curls, searching out the ridges of hard muscle. He kissed the hollow of Gimli's throat. He could not remain silent. His lips formed the words, insensibly, as they moved towards the Dwarf's again. His throat made the sound that emerged, though it clenched painfully tight. "A life of Springtimes in this fair glade could not equal the perfection of this moment."

His mouth descended again, and that enveloping dark warmth surged to meet him as Gimli's lips parted willingly.

But he had seen a spark in the black eyes, when another tear had fallen to his lover's face.

Gimli's hands closed on his shoulders. Legolas cried out when he was lifted away, leaving both their faces flushed, Gimli's lips bruised and dark and his searching gaze troubled. "What did you say?" He asked.

Legolas answered defiantly, though not without some misgiving. He was not ashamed. "'A life of Springtimes in this fair glade could not equal the perfection of this moment.'" Yet if it should cost him what had been within his grasp... "Ask," he said seriously, "And I will unsay it."

Gimli's hands had left his shoulders, and now he felt the gritty caress of rough skin on his temple and his cheekbone, the tender skin of his eyelid. His face was framed in the strong square hands, and his hair spilled over them like liquid night. "Your life, you meant," Gimli said, and it was not a question.

"A long, empty eternity of it," Legolas agreed, "for what is beauty, when one does not know love?"

Gimli frowned, "You have known love beyond the measure of Dwarf-years, since the times of my ancestors," but Legolas was smiling,

"No; for Elves live for one alone, and in ten thousand years I might have lain with thirty thousand Elves, and found the love of thousands more mortals and immortals--and never known what I taste on your lips. Gimli, I would not have spoken of this, and I beg you forget it if you must, for if you turned from me now--"

But Gimli had given a little gasp, his eyelids fallen, his hands buried deep in Legolas's hair, clutching the back of his head and finding his mouth blindly and unerringly in a mute second, suspended stark and crystalline in time, between the confession and the ravening commencement of the kiss.

It might have been wordless, but it sounded much like "Legolas."

They moved together, hardly aware, then, of aught beyond the singing of their blood and the mingling of Elven and Dwarven tears on their cheeks. Legolas unfastened Gimli's breeches, and they shed their clothes and lay twined together in the green velvet of the moss and the encircling roots of the tree. The magic of touch fed on the oceans between them of what could be felt, but not said, and slipped secrets back and forth from heart to heart in the gasps and cries they let fall into the silence spinning silver and gold above them.

At last their bodies stiffened, arching together, Gimli's fingers digging into Legolas's hips and Legolas's into Gimli's arms. A hoarse cry of pleasure shattering rang in two voices, and they lay spent, still until Legolas lifted his head to seek another kiss, tired and languid.

"What's this, my friend?" Gimli asked gently, brushing moisture from Elven eyelashes.

Legolas laughed, and his black hair fell forward and mingled on the ground with the tangled, wavy swath of Gimli's. "This is joy too great to remain in my heart," he replied, and bent his head for another soft kiss deep with promise.