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The elf could smell the battle coming, Gimli was sure. He leant against the parapet and did not watch, for the time, but while his eyes narrowed against the wind, his nostrils flared, and his gaze turned deeper and deeper inward.

His eyes could probably see the hordes coming from miles away, and with their hours of waiting, he would not watch the whole while, but Gimli could see the fine-pointed ears twitch and shiver, and not with the bite of the wind. He shifted his weight, and watched Legolas, and chewed his lower lip. He had spoken of weariness, of the days ahorseback, clinging to the elf's skinny torso and bouncing on the beast's spine fit to jar his helmet from his head. He could feel battle coming, in his bones. For days he had known it; it was inevitable. But the knowledge snapped and crackled across his skin as the host of Isengard approached. He had not been so anxious for battle in decades, and he hardly knew whether he was impatient for it to begin, or frightened.

He blew softly into his beard, and steadied his hands on the haft of his axe.

"What ails you, Gimli?" He had not thought the elf paid him any attention. Gimli glanced up, sharply.

"The waiting," he muttered. "I have not been so anxious for battle in an age. Give me an orc or a troll, or a sharpening stone--anything to try my axe. Dwarves were not meant for--" for what, he did not know. For standing atop high walls, and gazing down a league at the solid earth? At least the stones beneath his feet were solid enough. "It is fit to drive me mad." He had to force himself not to roll his shoulders restlessly under the sudden focus of Legolas's scrutiny.

Both the blue-black eyes fastened on him at once, narrow, and the pointed chin tilted down. "Indeed," he murmured. "I like it not." And his lips curved, only slightly, in the barest hint of a smile. Not ten minutes before, Gimli had brushed aside Legolas's own misgivings. Legolas said nothing of it--he had no need to. And Gimli found a smile on his face as well, for a bare instant before he frowned.


"Death," Gimli whispered. "It has never troubled me so before. Better I had not time to think of it before it were upon us."

His lips firmed, but Legolas looked away again before the uncertainty bubbling in Gimli's chest gave rise to unwise words, and before the elf said anything either. Into the ensuing silence of near-solitude--Legolas, and Gimli, and the shadow of death, and these words they never fully felt nor spoke--Legolas's speech fell at last like stones. "I wish these battlements were Dwarvish, Gimli," and he looked down to meet Gimli's eyes just as searchingly as before.

How long could he bear that gaze? Gimli felt his neck warm, and closed his eyes for a moment. Not long. Not long at all. But was he finished?

"I think I would know your thoughts, my friend," he said finally, as though answering a question Gimli had not asked or a gruff disavowal that stuck still in his throat.

It was an opportunity not to be missed, though he knew not what he asked. No matter. Asked he had. Gimli looked up into his eyes and met his gaze stubbornly. The sure stones beneath his feet did not tremble, and he did not waver--it was all his imagination and the hypnotic magic of cursed Elven eyes. "You are immortal, Legolas, only outside the reach of spear and sword and arrow. In battle, you are as mortal as I."

"But for the added shield of skill, dwarf. My arrows fly true to their marks--"

Gimli hardly knew what he was doing. A growl, not of rage, but of--what? And his blunt fingers, wrapped tight around his friend's soft sleeve. "But your neck," he said, "is as white as the fair Lady's, mark for any arrow, and you wear no mail. You may die."

Legolas was insulted at the slur to his skill, drawing his two thousand years about him like a chilly cloak and straightening his supple spine. "I will not die." If he could read in Gimli's face what Gimli could read in his, he would be less offended, though perhaps as angry.

"You may, and I may, though not as easy as these poor lads--the men of Rohan will die as you say, little more than a wall of flesh between the hordes and the Keep. But Fate is cruel, Legolas, and you know not what may come to pass. And if not today, then when? At the foot of Barad-dur? Do not pretend to me--" and his voice had gone low and fierce "that you hold to more than the faintest of hopes."

Legolas dropped slowly to his knees. His eyes were wary, now, as though he sensed the drift of Gimli's thoughts--or had caught the movement of his eyes, more like, drawn like moth to flame to the white gold of Legolas's hair and the forbidden starlight of his luminous cheek and neck. "I do not lie to you."

Gimli laughed harshly, "Then beware of the lies you would tell yourself." Legolas seemed puzzled. He frowned and said nothing, and his gaze did not waver in shame. Gimli had the panicky feeling of a baby lost in a narrow crevasse, walls slippery with water. Lost. Lost. When his grip tightened, Legolas did not wince, and he had drawn closer somehow, tense as a taut bow-string. Their eyes were of a height. The wind teased Legolas's hair. "I would not die," he said forcefully. "Legolas. I would not die with this between us, and no words to match it. You know what I feel."

Now the elf blanched. "No," he said sharply, jerking free of Gimli's grip with a sure movement that looked far easier than it could have been. "How dare you speak it?"

Gimli's throat and chest were tight with bitterness. "If I die," he roared, "you will have heard me, Elf, damn your propriety, damn your offense!" He reached out again, and both his hands were full of his friend's forearms. The other stared back at him with narrow eyes, but Gimli could never have caught him if he had wished to move away.

He leaned closer, until he could almost feel the heat of Legolas's body. Legolas was as unmoving as a tree.

"You will know. My heart, Legolas, is heavy with it--with all the weight of the terrible battle being waged, for Aragorn, for the hobbits and all our friends. With deaths, and guilts. With all the slight Elvish weight of you, you maddening Elf--" If he continued, his voice would break.

"Gimli!" he said desperately, over the sound of Gimli's voice. "You must not!" His voice lowered to a hiss. "These things--are not to be spoken! This hour is the hour of battle! Keep your secrets in your heart! This battlement should not hear them." The chill of his voice burned Gimli's hands, and in shock he let go and turned away.

"Then they will not," he said, but he had not gone three steps before his hand was caught, from behind, in the crushing grip of slender fingers. Death, fear, humiliation--they sky above was one great shadow and the sun did nothing to warm it. "Let me go, Legolas." But he turned, and when again their eyes met, it was with an electric shock--the cold was gone, and Legolas looked, if anything, less certain than himself.

He was holding Gimli's hand, and had captured the other, now, all four of their hands piled stupidly between them, hot in the cold wind. "All I ask, Gimli, is the time to know my own heart."

As though he did not know it already!

"And yet, Master Elf," he replied coldly, "you ask a great boon. Time is all we do not have."

In the early morning they sought the armoury under Helm's Deep, their weapons still stained with orc blood. "I am all over filth," observed Legolas, without seeming to mind too greatly.

"You look nearly as great a ruffian as I, Elf," Gimli chortled. "I should not like to come on either of us in the woods alone at night."

"I am glad the children are all gone from the armoury," said Legolas solemnly, "for when they made to run from my wild man's muddy face to you, they would be arrested at once by that rakish band about your head." At these words Gimli felt the light touch of Legolas's hand in his hair, about the edge of the linen bandage. "Is it tied so tightly to keep your skull from splitting apart, Master Dwarf? What wound lies beneath? And why were your helm and your axe, and your hard head, not sufficient to keep you safe?"

Gimli answered not the teasing words, but the lingering touch, a finger brushing over the linen, another cool against his head through the tangled matted mess of his hair. "It is but a scratch," he said, tilting his head to look up, and Legolas's hand moved away, fleet as a bird, and they shared a smile.

"This is the armoury?" Legolas said.

Gimli nodded and pushed aside a heavy wooden door. All of Helm's Deep was carved out of the mountainside in various degrees of completion, and with various amounts of skill. Stubby stalactite spires dangling from the arching ceiling of the chamber told of a history before the coming of the men of Rohan. The floor was smoothed, and parts of the walls; and in some places veins ran through rough-edged rocks, and dampness seeped out to meet questing fingertips. The corners were dark with cobwebs, but empty. The center of the floor was pale with white dust in the shapes of many booted feet, and the room nearly emptied of armour but for a blood-stained pile near the door, much in need of mending. The stains were new.

They were looking at the same thing: "Much blood was spilled this night," said the elf, his hand coming to rest on Gimli's shoulder, where it fit more comfortably than in the soiled mess of his hair.

"Aye," Gimli said gruffly, "and this cave was a place of quiet beauty just yesterday unmarred for long ages by the blood of the fallen." But he knelt to sort through the unfortunate armour till white dust coated his hands to the elbow and puffed across his knees, and black and russet smears of blood darkened his knuckles and fingertips. So much was unsalvageable--leather pieces torn by orc knives, mail pierced and bent, shedding broken rings on the floor. Gimli gathered the metal--the rings could be forged anew, and stronger, too; but much of this armor had seen its last battle.

So absorbed was he in his task that he did not notice his companion had abandoned it until Legolas's voice came to him from some slight distance away. "This rock, Gimli," he said dreamily, "look. It might almost be a flower."

Gimli looked up. "Will you stand at the wall seeing flowers where none grow, or help me complete our work here?" He growled. Legolas did not even turn.

Without standing and moving to his side, it was impossible to see where his gaze was bent. Legolas fingered a rough spot on the wall where a cluster of crystal pushed through encroaching sediment, formed with the dripping of water like a film of grit but hard to the touch.

Gimli considered. "The dark strains your eyes, friend. That is a crystal. It makes a poor enough flower."

But when he looked up, Legolas's expression had not wavered, and his fingertip hovered over a facet of crystal thrusting through its sheath of gray stone. It would make a clumsy petal. "Like a dwarvish flower," he mused softly. "Stone and gems, and too rough to have been shaped by any hand, yet no sculptor could better it. I think i know exactly the flower it portrays, the more I look at it..."

His elf wits had clearly gone wandering, and Gimli put his hands on Legolas's elbow gingerly, thinking rapidly how fast he could get them to sunlight again. "What nonsense you speak!"

Then Legolas looked down to meet his eyes, laughing a little, but still distant. "I almost think I am asleep, Gimli, it is so dark. And the flower will remain like this in the dark for thousands of years, a bloom half-opened to display its beauty and half-closed to hint at what lies hidden beneath the surface of the stone, never to wilt nor fade." He resisted Gimli's tug on his elbow. "But too," he said as if to himself, "like this, never ripe to be plucked."

Gimli shifted his weight on his feet, uncomfortable with such poetical fancy. Beside the plain stones of his words, Legolas's rhapsody was like an intricately worked flet in Lothlorien, a bower perched high in some fey and slender tree. But the mood, as it had descended, was quickly shaken off, and before Gimli himself had chased his troubled frown, Legolas was covering the hand that still rested on his elbow and smiling down at his discomfiture. "Let us remove this soiled armor from its presence," he said, "if you feel yourself equal to the task." And without a glance back to Gimli's growl, he drifted to his former position and folded himself in a supple crouch, graceful as a willow wand, with his hair falling unregarded like dirt-smeared sunlight over his shoulders.

They passed that day, marching, a stand of trees from the far-gone Fangorn Forest, and a host of ancient Ents. They followed the path of an old highway to make camp at midnight on the bone-dry banks of the River Isen, no more than an empty bed.

Ten more days he would have ridden like a sack of bones, bouncing on Arod's back, clinging to Legolas's. With all his practice he grew less uneasy and less clumsy, but Gimli knew always that he did not belong. Ten days' more saddle sores would he have endured for the opportunity of whetting his axe on Saruman the Traitor's neck.

Even if it meant nine more nights making camp with Legolas, watching his fair head and his fair face, and the jet fall of his eyelashes on his moonlit cheeks as he unpacked saddlebags, ate, struck fire, mended a small rent in his tunic, all with the sure grace of a dance. There was little enough to be said between them.

Aye, so little his blood leapt with it, and his tongue tingled, clumsy and heavy in his mouth with too many words. What of them had he not said already? And the specter of death stood once more further back. With it should have gone all his urgency. Gimli held his tongue. No, he could not speak.

Now the elf was seated in the light of his small fire, his legs crossed neatly, and he held out a hand to Gimli in invitation. "Come now, friend," he said, "and let us have a look at your split skull."

Gimli regarded him suspiciously, but Legolas seemed disinclined to bend. "It is well," he said, "but a scratch."

At this Legolas scoffed. "Then you will allow me to rid you of this dirty linen bandage. You will not face Saruman the Traitor as one wounded, with the knot of torn fabric falling over your eye and dust in the plaits of your hair?"

Against his will, he was moving closer to the elf, the fire snapping and sending its shadows dancing merrily over Legolas's face. Its heat licked at his cheeks and the backs of his hands.

The tone changed. "Come, Gimli," he beseeched, and a more bewitching creature had never sat by the side of a fire than this cool woodland elf with his flame-flushed face, and tendrils of silken hair escaping their elaborate braids. Gimli knew what it was to be bewitched by them.

Else he could never have found his head resting on Legolas's knee and his hands crossed over his chest, his eyelids drooping under their own weight while Legolas whispered to himself in Elvish, and his long-fingered hands touched and smoothed Gimli's hair. "Lie still," he warned, and there was the hot trickle of water on his forehead. Gentle fingers had unfastened his braid and smoothed his hair out; now they parted it, tracing the path of the "scratch" on his scalp and dabbing it clean, smoothing the hair back from it and--yes, combing through it gently with his hands.

"Will I be respectable for our meeting with the enemy?"

"I will be proud to have you at my side, and there will be none to see the elven nature of the braids in your hair." Gimli tried to sit up, but a steady hand, surprisingly heavy, pressed on his chest. "Nay, Gimli, it is well. Leave it to me, and rest."

His knee was warm under Gimli's head, his face a pale blur above, because Gimli could not quite be troubled to open his eyes and focus them properly. The fire hissed and spit. "So you mean to braid my hair, elf," said Gimli. "You are amazingly slow at it." The fingers paused in their rhythmic combing motion, and his scalp, warm and tingling, protested the cessation. Half Gimli's hair at least must have been as smooth--well, not so smooth, but certainly as tidy--as Legolas's, lying in a weighty snake of curls over Legolas's thigh.

"Our elven braids require the hair be free of knots before one may begin."

Drowsy, warm and sated, Gimli retorted automatically, "I fear if one day i wish my hair to knot, it will not dare after all your combing." His eyes did not focus, but that was a smile.

"Come, Gimli," he said for the second time that night. Gimli was fast learning to beware the words. "Admit you like it." He buried one cool hand in Gimli's hair so it cupped the back of his head, the heavy tresses spilling from his palm. His fingertips touched Gimli's head in cool little firebursts of sensation, and moved gently, in the smallest of circles. Gimli did not think his mouth had been closed for long. Yet he also did not think he had answered, and Legolas was saying as if he had, "As do I, and after all, if it is to both our liking--to our comfort--"

Part of him struggled to wake up, knowing instinctively that he would want to be awake; but Legolas's hand was in his hair, and his other on his chest, and he was warm and safe and too content to raise alarm in his weary body so unaccustomed to such washes of pleasure. He knew he said "Legolas" aloud, though how loudly he said it might be a matter for some debate, and the elf heeded him not, unless it were to bend closer.

"I have never seen hair so fine as yours," he said, which ridiculous statement Gimli was still trying to conjure the words to contradict when he bent all the way over, his hair falling around him, until his nose touched Gimli's hair. There he buried his face, behind Gimli's ear, with a gentle nuzzling motion like an affectionate kitten or a pony, and his hot breath whispered on Gimli's neck.

Of course, all argument fled.

Not even did he say "What of yesterday?" or "What does this mean?", but lay passive under Legolas's hands but to turn his face, and tilt back his head. It was but a short distance for Legolas's lips to his ear, and there they paused. Legolas whispered, "Do not speak to me of death. You could no more die yesterday than I, dwarf, and do not think i would sit idly by and watch your death, but follow you to the gravest danger and buy your life with mine. You dare to doubt me?"

Gimli dared nothing, with Legolas's free hand spread wide across his chest, where the neck-lacing of his tunic had somehow come undone, and his heart hammered under the touch of those fingertips. What nonsense was this? For Legolas, though his lips brushed Gimli's ear and his cheek and the ends of his golden hair trailed across Gimli's open lips, sounded angry. But such tenderness--Legolas was like a dream, but beyond the sphere of Gimli's dreaming. He arched up into another calming touch.

"Doubt not," said Legolas. "Gimli, you will live," and his mouth closed upside-down over Gimli's, a slow confusion of softness, and heat, and the strangest wet Elven flavor, till he closed his eyes and the shutters of his mind and let himself dream.

In the grey light of dawn their party was up and to horse, and Legolas gripped Gimli's hand with the same sturdy clasp as ever and swung him onto Arod's back, where he rested for a moment in uncertainty, hands open useless on his thighs. Legolas whispered a word to the horse, who was fresh with the kind of energy no dwarf was meant to mount upon. He sprang forward, making Gimli's grip tighten, his knees clasping hard against Legolas's hips as Legolas's on the horse's flanks. He was helpless to stop his hands from touching the trim curve of waist under Legolas's leather jerkin. The elf looked down over his shoulder, smiling secretively with all the light of the fire, and he said, "Gimli, you cannot fool me, for i know your stout heart fears nothing." And took Gimli's hands in his, and wrapped them about his waist.

There were few feelings as familiar to him now as that of the shape of this elf in his arms. Even as he felt the familiarity stealing into his bones with lassitude--the smell of wind-whipped hair and dusty Lothlorien cloak--Gimli frowned to himself. First on Helm's Deep, Legolas's incomprehensible denial--time to know my own heart--now a kiss, now this smile. "Cursed elves," he muttered into his beard, "He speaks nothing but riddles." He knew Legolas could hear him, but would not let that stay his tongue. He had protested being put on this horse often enough. "Riddles, and he would while away an immortal life speaking them, and laughing, until death came for him and took his fool breath." It would happen, no doubt, thousands of years hence, when Gimli was dust and naught to Legolas but memory, if that.

Nay, it was not true; it was there last night, and in his eyes this morning; Legolas challenged death with more than laughter, and his anger wasn't at Gimli when he declared his own life the barrier between Gimli and death. "Sooner I would die myself than let him," Gimli muttered, but the thought or the wind made him shiver.

If Legolas felt him draw closer he said nothing of it, but much, much later, when the rhythm of Arod's hooves had near lulled Gimli to slumber, "My good dwarf," he said softly, "The ways of elves are strange to you." Perhaps he had been asleep, Gimli thought; his eyes were still closed beneath his helm against the bite of the wind, but he could feel his body starting awake. And when had the fingers of his hand twined with Legolas's? "You have but to trust me."

"With what have I not trusted you, elf?" he demanded gruffly.

Perhaps he still dreamt, for the next words from his companion were only, "How fare your braids?" Gimli knew not how to answer, and they rode on in silence. Legolas was not dismayed, but continued with a smile in his voice, "If your head but kept still they would last a hundred years. I think they will serve you well the length of this day."

Arod took earth beneath his hooves as only a horse of the Riders of Rohan would, as a bird flies through the air--as an arrow from Legolas's bow, fleet and true to the mark. The sun rose and the tangled and weed-choked lands of Saruman surrounded them, eerily empty of life and nearly as gray beneath the sun as in the milky reflected light of the dawn.

It was a moment before Gimli realized the words Legolas spoke were not in Elvish, but for his ears as well. "When I had as many years as you now have, I was but a child, the merest babe. When I had ten times your years I was young still, and, Gimli, such a fool. The Lord Elrond would call me young, and a fool now," he laughed.

Gimli frowned. "Durin's race have not the luxury of a thousand years to learn the wielding of axe and pick."

"Indeed," Legolas said warmly. "And you hardly need it. Sometimes, Gimli, I think myself young still beside you, and yet all the time we have passed together has been as an eyeblink beside the hours I have spent singing to a single woodland spring."

"Young," said Gimli disbelievingly, and the fingers tightened around his till his hand almost hurt, clutched in a doubled fist and held tight to Legolas's breast beneath his cloak. He could hardly catch the elf's next words, for they came in a pale whisper.

"Indeed, and I find myself growing younger."

"Let not time be short," said Legolas, pausing with his hand on a broken stone, a fragment of the great walls of Isengard, his eyes fixed far away in the distance. The piece of wall stood forlorn there where some Ent had flung it, higher than waist-height on Legolas and still joined perfectly between the places where it simply crumbled away. An Ent's great hands had torn it carelessly from the wall as an Elf might pluck a leaf from a tree, and here it stood, easily the weight of ten dwarves. The Ents were not lightly angered, and long would Saruman regret these days.

There was no look about Legolas of watching, as when he saw the hosts of Isengard or the Nazgul advancing from afar; his blue eyes paled and clouded with naught but thought.

That afternoon he had stood before Treebeard, whom Gandalf called oldest and greatest of the Ents of Fangorn Forest, and declared Gimli a trustworthy companion, and begged leave to bring him into that wood. "While Gimli lives," Legolas had said, "I will not come to Fangorn alone."

Gimli smiled to himself, but looking down, hid his face in his beard. "What mean you, elf?"

"Only that, Master Dwarf," said Legolas. "Never before has time held fear or meaning for me." He looked down and met Gimli's eyes solemnly. A cloud drifted like pale gauze in front of the sun and a shadow fell on his face, painting his changeable eyes deepest black. "Two days gone you demanded to speak of that to which I felt unprepared to listen, and already I mourn the passing of those two days. Two days, Gimli," he said urgently, and Gimli found his hand crushed for the second time that day--not unwelcomely. "Two days gone never to return, two days of a fixed number--"

"You speak to a mortal, Master Elf," said Gimli. Legolas's eyes were dark with pain, though, and he turned his face away at these words, meant to be reassuring.

"Gimli," he said in a low tone, and dropped to his knees in the dust. "Forgive me."

There was no time for forgiveness or condemnation or thought to pass his lips, only breath, before in what seemed a very un-elf-like heat Legolas claimed them, and his hands gripped Gimli's waist through mail and leather. The helm fell unheeded to the ground; the long-wearing Elvish braids parted like water before Legolas's clever fingers, though these stumbled at Gimli's armor.

A sound came from the elf's throat, a growl or a sob, and he jerked the side lacings free.

Gimli gently pushed his fingers back to unfasten his clothing himself. "It will be faster this way. --Legolas," he said gently, "two days are not lost, and even could you rid us both of all our armour in two minutes, they could not make it up to you."

Legolas smiled briefly at that, though Gimli's view was blocked as he drew the coat of mail over his head. Cool air rushed in against pale and unprotected skin, but while his eyes were hidden, Legolas had slithered from his own shirt and tunic, and he reached to draw Gimli down beside him in the lee of the fragment of wall. A chill crawled over his back, and Legolas's hands chased it with cautious touch, surprisingly firm.

It was easy and familiar, after the long days on the back of the horse, and the fire of flesh on flesh without raiment between them was a shock for only an instant, as plunging into a pool of deep warm water. Natural, it was natural and sweet as fresh earth, and for all the times he had held Legolas in his embrace, his arms were the most familiar place in all Middle-Earth. At the same time he might never have imagined their clasp about him with all Legolas's lifetime in which to do it.

Gimli's whole body buzzed nervously, new and not-new, like so much else. The elf had wasted no time burying a hand in his hair again, and the other shaped the length of his back and drifted over his buttocks through his breeches, with a firm touch. Not flesh to flesh, here, but the fire burned hotter than ever, like nothing he had ever felt in darkness and privacy with the comfort of his own hand.

He opened his mouth to cry out, and found he only spilled the name "Legolas" like a prayer into his elf's very mouth, hot and hard.

There was a smile against his lips, and Legolas's hand busy at the lacing of his breeches, but he stopped to hold Gimli still and laughed, "Love, you wriggle like a fish."

Gimli flushed, but he thought better of retorting, and buried his face as he longed to under Legolas's jaw, behind his ear, searching out the source of that scent he knew so well. Legolas, beneath him, shifted to press one long slender thigh against the aching hardness between Gimli's thighs just as he solved the puzzle of lacings and peeled back the leather as though he treasured in his hands a fragile and precious fruit.

"Do not think I protest," Legolas whispered, "because I do not wish you to wriggle, Gimli--indeed, it is most--" Gimli had found a smooth golden tendon, standing in relief next to the hollow of the elven throat, between the wings of collarbone, and he bit gently. "--Ai! Gimli!" More he whispered, fevered curses or endearments in his native tongue, and sought Gimli's lips again with another little cry.

He had forgotten the gentleness of before, but with course tenderness he tangled their legs, and clasped them tight together, and writhed himself in a slow lithesome splendor. Gimli burned, his belly tight and pained with crippling desire, beyond all speech. Where they touched he felt blinding wonder, wave upon wave of sweet torture and increasing ecstasy, till the paths of Legolas's hands on his body made him like a work of art.

It was like no pleasure he had known, and no dream--and Legolas gasped such broken sounds and words that he could not but believe their feelings were the same.

They lost Legolas's leggings in a fever, sitting and falling together and laughing with their legs and then their arms tangled. Legolas let Gimli's clumsy fingers try the laces while he pushed his hands into the thick hair of Gimli's chest, scraping the tender flesh beneath with his perfect elven fingernails.

At last, free of all encumbrance, Gimli knew his love, and though his eyes could feast for but a moment on Legolas in stillness before he slipped back into his arms, yet it seemed his arms, and his neck, and his belly, saw laid before him all the elf's beauty still. His furred thighs parted around the press of Legolas's, and when he looked up at the break of a kiss the elf's face was pale and drawn, his eyes closed, his forehead damp with sweat.

"Legolas," he tried to say, but could hardly speak, and the name was the merest growl.

Blue eyes snapped open.

"Can you," he whispered. He knew what he wanted, and what he asked, but truly was it said that this feeling could never be known till it were known. Gimli was young indeed among the dwarves, whatever his elf thought--his body had only finished stirring to wakefulness in these last years, or so he had thought--until he felt the press of Legolas's hip against the throbbing hardness of his shaft, and thought he had never in his life been so awake before. In this, at least, Legolas must be far older than he.

Legolas stopped his mouth with another kiss, his mouth by now wholly familiar, descending open already to blot other sensation. He tilted his chin, and his tongue slid hot and slick between Gimli's lips, tracing breathless circles in his mouth and twining about his own tongue like magic. The lips against his curved, and some small sound of protest escaped him as his head followed, eager lest he escape a moment's sensation. Legolas's patience was, perhaps, better suited to a woodland bower than to the lee of a stone wall at cold and broken Isengard. Not until Gimli tenderly cradled the elf's head in his hands and his fingers rubbed incidentally the length of a fine ear, lingering at last at the point, did he begin to see the loss of Legolas's control. A shiver gripped him, and his mouth was open, the kiss forgotten, to Gimli's momentary annoyance.

"Oh," he sighed, and before Gimli knew, his short legs were twined about the elf's hips. It was not so very different from the stretch of riding a horse, and the muscles not unaccustomed to strain. His shaft was trapped deliciously between their bodies, and when Legolas squirmed, he felt the living leaping heat of the Elf's, long and slender, in the crease of his groin and thigh, slipping between his legs, wet and slippery.

"Legolas," he said, "Legolas." He had not the words for his demand, but his meaning was taken well enough, he thought, for Legolas's hands were both filled with the muscles of his buttocks once more to shift his weight, and a slim finger traced their cleft and found the entrance to his body.

At a single touch, he cried out and clasped his legs tighter. He had felt, for only an instant, the heat of Legolas's shaft there, and every nerve in his body pulled tight as if in pain, screaming incoherent cacophany as of a thousand hammers ringing on metal. He bit his lip. Had he the breath, he might have begged.

But there was no need. Though they trembled on his hips, Legolas's hands guided him well, and there was heat, two deep breaths drawn and a long slow thrust, their flesh melting together through a flame-hot flash of pain. But the sensation quieted his body's desperate agony of need for the moment, quieted it like a slow sweet draught of the finest liquer to quench a thirst, only to awaken again in the wake of its passing a more terrible thirst than before. For an instant, he felt entirely filled, and their bodies rested together, before need gnawing in the pit of his belly drove a cry from him and he shifted clumsily, thrusting his hips as he had used to do into his own hand. Inside him waves of feeling surged and receded, and Legolas was utterly silent, now, his eyes glinting brightly up so that Gimli could not think to look away. He shifted them expertly, his hands on Gimli's hips guiding him up and down, a slow stroking withdrawal and another, swifter entry seeming to press deeper into his body than before. They found rhythm quickly enough, their teeth clenched, grunting as they came together and drew apart. When finally his body knew the movement well enough to spare his attention, and Gimli bent to capture another kiss from Legolas's open red lips, their teeth clicked together painfully, and he tasted, for an instant, elf blood on his tongue. He growled, and Legolas's steady movement stuttered.

They were both gasping, sweat-soaked, breathless, unable to manage more than graceless pushing and pressing, hard and fast. Each stroke now woke new clusters of nerves to cry for release within him, greater and greater pleasure till the weight of it was too much to bear, and he fell beneath it, lost. Legolas stiffened and cried out in his arms, and they lay spent together, curled as close together as their exhaustion would allow. The wind whispered over them, drying sweat from their bodies. They watched the sun fall in the sky, and Gimli did not think they slept.

"Elf," Gimli said when some time had passed, and Legolas murmured some disgrace of an answer into his hair, nothing but a questioning throaty noise. He felt lips on his neck. Gimli smiled. "You courted danger, today, to allow this to happen here."

"Allow," Legolas whispered, "my gruff and grizzly beautiful dwarf, I would allow nothing else, and I have you know this day was planned very carefully."

Gimli laughed, "You would have me believe you wanted nothing more than the cold hard ground--"

Legolas said reasonably, "Why then do you think I led you to this fragment of stone wall? And to what purpose did I clutch your strong hands so fiercely this morning, Gimli?"

Gimli slid his leg idly between the long smooth legs of his lover and turned his head to command a kiss from the elf's bruised lips. "Your careful planning did not bring us a blanket."

A hand combed through his hair, and Legolas said with deep determination, "I need none. And I would waste no more time."