Gimli's cousins had never been known for their subtlety. Normally Gimli found this amusing, but as he watched them shifting uncomfortably in their seats across the table from him he only found it irritating.
Gimli set down his glass with a click after catching Fili nudge Kili for the seventh time since they sat down.
"Well, what is it?" He asked irritably.
"What?" Kili asked with his most convincing innocent face.
Gimli hadn't fallen for that face since he was six.
"You two have been acting shifty since you got here. Now, out with it!"
They shared a meaningful glance before Kili sighed, having lost some wordless argument.
"It's just that we don't see you anymore, Gim," he said, fiddling with his straw wrapper, "You're hardly ever around since he—"
"Legolas," Gimli growled, "his name is Legolas and you can say it."
He leaned back in his chair, crossing his arms over his broad chest. "And what do you mean I'm never around? I'm here now, aren't I!"
"Yeah, but it's been three weeks since the last time we saw you!" Kili continued.
"We're just worried about you, Gim," Fili added, with a concerned furrow between his brows.
"Well you can just stop," Gimli snapped, digging through his pocket for enough cash to cover his bill. "And mind your own business for once!"
He slapped the money on the table with more force than necessary and quickly made for the exit, ignoring the calls of his cousins behind him.
Gimli stalked down the sidewalk at a fast clip, grumbling to himself about nosy relations not knowing when to leave well enough alone. He was fine and absolutely did not appreciate them implying that he was in over his head. Especially about Legolas.
He veered off into the park near his apartment, not wanting to go home just yet. He walked until he reached an empty bench beneath a shade tree, just far enough off the path that he was unlikely to be interrupted.
He leaned back, consciously unclenching his fists as he closed his eyes and taking a deep breath of the smell of growing things.
That was the only voice that sounded like relief.
He opened his eyes to see Legolas walking over from the paths he liked to run on. He was wearing the running shorts he liked to wear when he was training; the ones that made his legs look like they went on for ages. Sweat glistened on his forehead and plastered the hair that escaped its messy bun to his skin.
In short; he was a vision.
"I thought you were getting lunch with your cousins," Legolas continued, taking a seat on the sunnier side of the bench.
"It was a quick lunch," Gimli replied.
"That's not like the three of you," Legolas commented.
"Well they were poking into our business where they shouldn't have."
"Like they've never been overly curious before?" Legolas chuckled, "Isn't that why we said they were never allowed to meet Merry and Pip?"
"Heaven help us if they ever do," Gimli replied, rolling his eyes as he affected an over dramatic tone. "But I'd rather not talk about them right now," he continued with a sigh. "Training for the next marathon?"
"Always," Legolas replied, accepting the change of topic easily as he daubed at the sweat on his brow.
"When is it?" Gimli asked. He'd have to make sure he didn't have to work that day so he could be there at the finish line.
"I don't know," Legolas replied, trying to push the loose strands of hair back into place.
"That's not like you."
Legolas shrugged, unconcerned. "There's always another marathon to train for."
"It certainly seems that way," Gimli agreed.
"What about you?" Legolas asked.
"I've got a gig next Thursday at the Green Dragon," Gimli replied, "They've got ten performers doing three songs each."
"Sounds like fun. Have you decided which songs you'll do?"
"Not yet," Gimli said.
"What about the song you made with the lyrics I wrote you?"
Gimli ran a hand over his beard. "The one about sailing off to paradise? I'm not sure. I'm still not completely happy with the tune."
"Well you'll never be happy with it if you don't keep working on it," Legolas said with a fond little grin and concern in his earnest blue eyes. "I haven't heard you practice in a while. I miss it."
"Alright," Gimli relented, "I'll practice tonight. But only if you promise not to make cracks about my guitar being pitchy."
"No promises," Legolas said with a wink. He stood up, stretching briefly. "I'm going to finish my training and meet you back at the apartment."
With that, he set off for the path at a jog, calling, "Bye Gimli! Your turn to cook tonight!"
Gimli snorted, closing his eyes. "It always is," he said before getting up and running his hand along the sun-warmed side of the bench. He shook his head and started trekking back to the apartment. He needed to get his guitar tuned.
That night Gimli was washing the last remnants of his famous home style chili out of his dinner bowl when the shrill chirping of his cellphone demanded his attention. He cursed as he let the bowl clatter against the sink as he rushed to get his hands dry on the kitchen towel before it rolled to voicemail. He scooped up his phone and answered with a rushed "Hello!" as he finished wiping his free hand on his jeans.
"Gimli," came his father's voice. "Glad I caught you. I wasn't sure if you had a show tonight or not."
Gimli shifted his phone to a more comfortable position and wandered into the living room. He settled into his favorite chair as he replied, "Yeah, I don't have anything until next Thursday. Until then it's just shifts at the shop."
He heard his father make a thoughtful sound before saying, "I thought you had something this week."
"Oh, you mean the gig I was thinking about taking at The Crystal Cave Café," he said, recalling the plans he had made to perform in the little coffee house below the Helm's Deep Brew House. It was one of those little gems of a place he found when he'd gone out exploring the city during the fall. He kept promising Legolas that he'd take him there, but they just never seemed to have the time.
"I had to pass it up," he explained, "my voice wasn't up to it."
"Alright. So where is the Thursday show? Your mom and I will come see you."
"Dad..." Gimli sighed.
"Come on, I promise we won't embarrass you."
Gimli would believe that when he saw it.
"It's been more than a month since we got to see you perform last! What am supposed to brag to your uncle Oin about?" His dad asked with a chuckle.
"You could just not brag for a week or two," Gimli replied as he rolled his eyes. His dad and uncle were famous for their one-upmanship battles.
His dad snorted on the other side of the phone, demonstrating just how much he thought of that idea.
"It's at the Green Dragon," Gimli finally relented, "but I'll only be doing three songs and there will be nine other performers."
"We'll still be there to support you," his father assured. "You know we'll always support you, no matter how hard things are."
Gimli sighed. "I know, Dad, but I'm alright."
"Are you sure?"
Gimli pinched the bridge of his nose. "I'm sure, Dad."
"Because you know you can always come home for a while if you need to."
"I'm fine, Dad," Gimli snapped. Why did all of his family have to be so damned nosy! They acted like he didn't know what he was doing. "Don't you trust me?"
"I trust you it's just—"
"You don't think I can handle myself," Gimli didn't want to hear it.
"If these were normal circumstances I wouldn't be worried at all, but you are cutting us out. You never would have passed up a show before," his father pressed on. "It's like you're retreating from everything."
Gimli stood up and started pacing the living room floor as he growled into his cellphone. "Did Fili and Kili talk to you about this?"
"You can't blame your cousins for being concerned," his father scolded mildly.
Gimli let out a frustrated sound and bit out, "I do not need all of you checking up on me. I am fine! I'll see you next Thursday," before furiously stabbing the end call button. He masterfully reigned in his temper enough to resist chucking his cell phone across the room. Instead he hissed out a breath between his teeth as he squeezed his eyes shut and stuffed his phone into his pocket.
The soft sound of bare feet padding against the thin carpet in the hall announced Legolas's presence.
"Gimli, is everything ok? You sounded angry," he asked.
Gimli looked up at him with a tired sigh. Legolas had changed out of his work out clothes into a pair of jeans and some old t-shirt he'd worn soft. There was a concerned furrow between his brows.
"It's nothing," Gimli replied. "Just Dad being an overprotective bear, as usual. It's like my whole family thinks I'm going to crash and burn. Like this thing with us is some big mess."
Legolas nodded sympathetically. He was always the more patient of the two, it made him a great listener, both to Gimli's songs and his problems.
Gimli ran a hand through his hair. "I have been just fine living here for five years, and that's not gonna change overnight."
Legolas gave him a wry little smile. "Families worry. It's what they're for. I mean, just look at my father!"
"Rather not," Gimli replied, "I've had enough family drama for one night."
Legolas just chuckled. Not bothering to argue the point.
"There's still chili on the stove if you're hungry," Gimli added.
"Nah, I'm good," Legolas replied with a dismissive wave of his hand.
"After all of that running?" He asked raising a skeptical eyebrow.
"I ate a big lunch," Legolas replied brightly.
"Admit it," Gimli teased as he crossed his arms over his chest, "you just don't like my chili!"
Legolas laughed, raising his hands in surrender as he retorted, "I said nothing of the sort!"
Gimli chuckled before stifling a yawn. "I think I best be turning in for the night. I've got an early shift at the shop tomorrow. You coming to bed?"
Legolas shook his head. "I've got to finish a lab for my online biology course," he said, flopping onto the couch as he glared balefully at the biology book propped against his charging laptop. "It looks like it's going to be a late night for me," he sighed, still making no move to pick up either textbook or laptop.
"I don't envy you," Gimli said.
"Thanks for your sympathy," Legolas said flatly. "Good bye, Gimli. Sleep tight."
"Don't stay up all night," Gimli replied as he headed back to the bedroom. Legolas always did put off his school work to the last minute.
Gimli was almost home after a long shift stocking shelves at the shop when he heard a familiar voice call out, "Gimli! Hey, Gimli!"
"Hi, Aragorn," Gimli replied as his friend rushed up to walk alongside him, the worn leather of his boots scuffing against the pavement.
"Glad I caught you," Aragorn said, "haven't seen you in a while."
"It's been busy," Gimli agreed. "What are you up to now?"
"Just trying to stay in touch," Aragorn said with a shrug.
"What?" Gimli asked theatrically. "Not planning out another wild road trip across the country worthy of the man named Aragorn Estel Elessar Telcontar Dueñas, Spanish royalty by blood!"
Aragorn snorted. "Yeah..." he drawled, "the royal third cousin five times removed." He had discovered his ties back to the Spanish royal line because of an investigative genealogy project he had in freshman year of college. The poor guy made the mistake of telling his closest friends, and they would never let it go.
"Maybe I should get a road trip going," he continued, "it might do you good to start getting out and about again."
Gimli rolled his eyes. "Not you too. Everyone is making a big fuss right now about me not getting out enough."
"Well it's been more than a month since the last time you came out with gang, or even had anyone over," Aragorn said as he stepped out of a bicyclist's path.
"It isn't a crime to feel a little less social," Gimli grumbled.
Aragorn sighed deeply, like he was gathering strength. "Look, we miss Legolas, and we miss you too, Gimli. It feels like we're losing you."
"We— I am fine," Gimli blustered, "I should have expected this from my family, but I didn't think I'd have to hear it from my friends, too."
"It isn't healthy the way you're just shutting yourself away." Gimli's only response was to quicken his pace, suddenly wanting this chat to end as swiftly as possible.
Aragorn made a frustrated sound, but just lengthened his stride so he could keep pace with Gimli until they made it to the front door of Gimli's apartment building.
He shoved his hands in his pockets and, almost tentatively, said, "I'm going to visit him this Sunday. You should come too."
Gimli didn't respond.
Aragorn sighed again before saying, "Look, just think about it ok. I'll see ya around."
"See ya," Gimli mumbled, not turning to watch Aragorn's tall figure disappear down the sidewalk. He dug the key out of his pocket and quickly unlocked the security door, climbing the stairs up the second story at a fast clip. He bolted into the apartment and all but slammed the door behind him.
With some shock Gimli realized that he was breathing hard, like he had been chased for a mile rather than chatting with an old friend. He leaned his head back against the door with a thunk, digging the heels of his hands into his eyes and trying to regain some measure of calm.
"Gimli! Are you alright?"
Gimli hadn't even noticed Legolas lounging on the couch when he came in. He looked at his boyfriend watching him wide-eyed and worried.
"I'm fine, love," Gimli was quick to assure him. And he was fine. Really. That's what he kept telling everyone and he meant it. He was fine.
"Gimli..." Legolas was apparently not taking him at his word. He sat up straight to really look at the redhead.
"It really was nothing," Gimli said, "I just ran into Aragorn outside, that's all."
Legolas looked surprised. "Aragorn? We haven't seen Aragorn in a while..."
Gimli didn't know where the dawning sense of dread inside him was coming from.
"Or Eomer and Eowyn," Legolas continued, tilting his head to the side in that almost bird-like manner of his. "Or any of our other friends..."
Gimli swallowed as he met Legolas's piercing and perplexed gaze.
"Why is that, Gimli?"
"Please, Legolas, don't ask me that," Gimli quietly pleaded.
"But why?" Legolas asked, getting up from the couch. "Why don't we see anyone anymore?"
He started walking towards Gimli, the expression on his face a cross between bewilderment and distress as more realizations occurred to him. "Why don't you touch me anymore?" He asked, his voice becoming more distraught. "Why don't you even say goodbye to me anymore!"
"Please!" Gimli begged.
"Why, Gimli! Tell me why!" Legolas demanded.
"BECAUSE YOU ARE NOT REAL!" Gimli cried, squeezing his eyes tightly shut.
There was no answer, not even the whisper of a breath. The whole apartment was silent.
"You are a dream," he choked out, "a dream, and nothing more."
He looked around the empty living room, noting the thin layer of dust on the textbook Legolas bought for his online courses, the running shoes still sitting by the door where he left them before he got too tired to run, and the untouched pot of chili on the stove where Gimli left it the night before. He took a shaky breath in as tears built up in his eyes.
"You're gone, love."
Sunday rolled around, not quite sunny and not quite cloudy, but something that shifted in between the two.
Gimli found himself standing in front of a little marble marker set into the ground of the Erech Stone Cemetery, a wreath of forget-me-nots held loosely in his hand.
Aragorn shifted to the side of him, laying a hand on Gimli's shoulder and giving it a supportive squeeze. "I'm glad you came," he said, his voice staid.
"Yeah," Gimli quietly replied, "I've been putting this off for way too long." He swallowed hard, kneeling to set the wreath by the grave marker. He stayed kneeling and ran his hand over the engraving in the marble, fingers tracing the carefully carved, 'Legolas Green, 1988-2014, Cry not for me, for I go to find the sun!'
"For some reason, I just never figured that he'd be the one to go first," he murmured.
"I know what you mean," Aragorn agreed. "With all the running and the healthy living stuff, it always seemed like he'd outlast us all. Never thought he'd end up having to spend so much time in the hospital."
"You know, it's not fair."
"No, it's really not."
They stayed in silence for a while, just taking some measure of comfort in the undemanding company. Finally, Aragorn broke the quiet. He had to head back, and offered to give Gimli a ride back to his apartment, but Gimli needed to stay a bit longer.
After Aragorn left, Gimli took a seat on the marble bench facing Legolas's grave marker. He thought it was fitting that more work had been put into a place for Legolas's guests than the marker itself. Legolas would have liked that.
"I miss you," Gimli addressed the marker, "I miss you so much, Legolas. Sometimes I can pretend that you're still here with me, but I think I've been doing that too much. That's not good for either of us."
He sighed deeply. "But I don't know how to be me without you anymore. I don't know what to do."
He snorted at himself.
"That's not even covering what to do with your things. Like what am I supposed to do with your computer or your wig? I know you always said you wanted to try a short hairstyle someday, but I think you could have found a better way to do it, love."
He ran a hand through his hair.
"I finally tuned up the guitar again. I'm going to finish that song you wrote. I'm sorry I could never get it done before, but I promise I'll come and play it for you once it's finished."
With another breath to help him control his composure he stood to his feet.
"I'm sorry I didn't say this before. I should've said this in the hospital, but you'd been fighting it for so long and it just felt too much like giving up on you. This is late but... goodbye love."
He nodded to the grave and turned to leave. He was glad that he managed to keep the tears from falling until he left the cemetery. Legolas would have felt so guilty if he saw Gimli crying over him.
For now, he needed to get home and call his parents. Maybe visiting them more often might help.
Because Gimli wasn't fine. Not right now, but he was going to start trying to be.