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This Rising Tide

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Gimli eyed the black clouds on the horizon and couldn't quite hold back the shudder that ran down his spine. The radio that stuttered the weather reports through static had not minced its words when warning its listeners to be prepared for this storm. Gimli had spent the better part of the day boarding up the fuel station windows and securing tarps over its contents.

The storms were becoming more frequent. He wondered how much longer it would be possible for people to live on the surface like this. Perhaps he'd move back to Erebor once this season was over.

He ignored the little voice that told him he'd been saying that every storm for two years.

The sputter of an engine drew him back outside, and he watched in amazement as a scooter pulled up at the fuel pump. The rider dismounted and stared at the pumps in obvious confusion.

"I'll do it," said Gimli, trying to sound helpful rather than resigned. Since he'd started this job a year ago, maybe only three out of ten customers had known how to work the pumps.

"Thank you," said the traveller.

The pump whined as it poured its contents into the scooter's fuel tank. "Do you want me to do the secondary tank too?"

"Please," said the traveller. He was looking behind him at the clouds, although Gimli couldn't make out his expression behind his helmet.

Gimli finished fuelling up the scooter and gave the traveller the price. As the traveller handed over the cash, Gimli gave in to curiosity. "Do you have somewhere to stay tonight?" he asked, nodding at the storm.

"I was hoping to make it to Dale before it hits," said the traveller.

Gimli snorted. "There's nothing there anymore," he said. "Not even a fuel station. Certainly no hotel. The last residents cleared out a couple of years back."

"Oh," said the traveller. He pulled a crumpled map out of his pocket and shook its folds out. "That's unfortunate."

Gimli looked at the map curiously. "Where did you get that? It looks old."

"It's pre-catastrophe," the traveller admitted. He tucked the map away with a sigh. "Can you recommend anywhere?"

Gimli shrugged. "No, because there isn't anywhere." He eyed the traveller warily. "Look, why don't you hole up in the storeroom here? It's not fancy, but it's strongly built and there aren't any windows to blow in." He'd been planning to do that himself if the storm hit before he'd finishing preparing the shop.

"I..." The traveller swore in language Gimli didn't recognise. "I think I need to take you up on that offer."

"Humans," Gimli muttered under his breath. "No sense at all." In a louder voice, he said, "Here, let's take your bike into the garage," he said.

"It's a scooter," said the traveller, a little petulantly. He pulled his helmet off, letting loose a waterfall of long, straight hair.

"You're an elf," said Gimli, staring.

"I am," said the traveller sheepishly. "Does that change your offer of hospitality?"

"No," said Gimli, after a moment's hesitation. Even elves didn't deserve to be out in that storm. It did reduce the likelihood that Gimli would offer to keep the traveller company. He'd weathered the last storm alone and had not been looking forward to doing it again.

But elves were elves and they blamed dwarves for everything that was wrong with this world, even the things that were accidental or not even their fault. Gimli mostly avoided them.

"Perhaps you can indulge my curiosity and tell me what brings an elf all the way out here, alone," said Gimli.

"I was thinking about departing for the West," said the elf. "But I decided I wanted to see the world first."

Gimli had forgotten that option was available to elves. He snorted. "And here you are, with an out-dated map, a scooter and not even the common sense of a small child."

The elf looked offended. "I—" he began, but Gimli waved him off.

"Bring your stuff through, if you still want to stay."

The elf winced when Gimli showed him the storeroom. At Gimli's look, he quickly explained. "I am not used to spending extended periods in confined spaces. It's not a judgement on the quality of the space."

Gimli eyed him for a moment, then sighed. He was a lonely sap after all. "Would you like company?"

The elf blinked at him in surprise. "From you?"

"You don't have to say yes," said Gimli, offended.

"I am merely surprised that you would make the offer," said the elf. "I gladly accept it, if it is given willingly."

"I wouldn't offer if I didn't mean it." He huffed into his beard. Best to not leave a stranger alone in the shop anyway, pitiful though its contents were. "I'm Gimli, son of Gloin."

"Legolas," said the elf. "Of..." His eyes darkened. "Of nowhere, now. My home is buried beneath the ocean."

The ocean had claimed Khazad-dûm and the Blue Mountains, but it had not yet touched the Lonely Mountain, although it crept higher every year. There was mountain enough left to make homes for plenty of dwarves.

"I'm sorry to hear that," said Gimli at last.

Legolas shrugged. "Those of my people who stayed have made homes in the Emyn Duir. It is not a bad life, but it is not mine."

So his guest had not travelled very far at all. Perhaps it was fortunate their paths had crossed now, before the elf got himself into actual trouble.

--

Gimli busied himself making preparations for the storm. He made certain the radio and electric torches were charging properly – they had hand cranks but the longer he could get by without that the better. He fetched mattresses, blankets and pillows and arranged them in the storeroom. After a little prompting, Legolas joined him in rearranging the stores to give them as much room to move as possible.

He got the elf to fill water bottles while he prepared them some food. He tightened the valves on the pumps and secured them under tarpaulins. He finished boarding the windows that didn't have shutters, and tested the ones that did.

When the storm front was almost upon them, Gimli went to the back and turned off the generator.

The whole ritual was practically routine by now. He barely needed to consult the yellowing checklist stuck to the office door, a legacy of his cousin's stint in the station several years before.

"You've done this a lot," said Legolas, reading the list through.

"Aye. We get storms through here every couple of months."

"We got them in the mountains too, but they were not so severe as these precautions indicate."

They entered the storm room and barred the door, each of them curling up on a mattress with pillows for support.

The radio was broadcasting warnings into the room, barely discernable under the wind howling through the air vents. It cut away into static once the rain hit.

It started on the roof, quickly graduating from a gentle patter to the chaos of a thousand drums.

Legolas winced.

"This always happens," said Gimli. He shook the radio just in case, but nothing changed. "I don't want to turn it off just in case."

"You can turn it down some more," said Legolas. "I'll still hear it if it changes."

Gimli muttered under his breath about elves, in Khuzdul so that the elf wouldn't understand it, but turned the dial down all the same.

"Do you need the light?" he asked, suddenly realising this gloom must seem very dark indeed to an elf.

Legolas shook his head. "I am fine with the dark."

They sat without speaking for a while, Gimli trying in vain to get comfortable sitting against the wall. At last he gave up and lay down on the mattress, staring at the roof. "How long have you been travelling?" he asked.

Legolas coughed. "Not long. A few weeks, barely over a month. I thought I would head east to Rivendell after this."

It was nothing Gimli hadn't already guessed. "I haven't heard anything of Rivendell in a long time," he said.

"Nor have I, but I do not believe it is destroyed. Not while Lord Elrond remains on the shores of Middle-Earth."

"And you think he hasn't left?"

"I would know, I am sure of it."

Gimli rolled over so that he could see the elf. "What's all that about, anyway? This going to the West business."

"The Valar are calling us back to the West in preparation for Illuvatar to remake the world. All of the elves, even those who resisted their call in the early ages."

Gimli snorted. "And where does that leave us, who still live here?"

"I don't know." Legolas seemed truly confused. "It is not my place to criticise the will of the one who brought us all into being, but... I still love this world. I do not wish to leave it. There is still so much I haven't seen."

"Where did you want to go after Rivendell?"

"I wished to travel east to the rolling hills of the Shire, south through Rohan to the ancient forest of Fangorn, and north again to Lothlorien, where I could see the mallorn trees in full glory. But I do not know how much of these places remain." He sighed. "The waters have risen higher than I realised."

Thunder crashed outside, very close. Gimli started, and the elf swore rapidly in his own language. "If it's overhead, it'll probably pass over us soon," said Gimli.

The elf settled down, wrapping his arms around his knees. "Do you have family, back in Erebor?"

Gimli nodded. "I have my parents, two sisters and a veritable army of cousins."

"That must be nice," said Legolas. "I only have my father and my father's ward, who is as a sister to me."

"Are they both still... you know. Here?"

"Tauriel left some decades ago," said Legolas. "I don't know where she is now. My father... he has no interest in leaving his forest."

"I like having a big family, but it's noisy. And family can be so nosey, you have no idea."

Legolas laughed. "Thus the fuel station in the middle of nowhere?"

"Hardly the middle of nowhere," said Gimli. "You can reach Erebor in less than a day."

"I apologise," said Legolas, laughing.

"I know where your friend Tauriel is," said Gimli suddenly. At Legolas's surprised look, he continued. "She eloped with one of my cousins and they're living somewhere over the Misty Mountains."

"She eloped with a dwarf?" said Legolas.

Gimli bristled. "Do you have an issue with that?"

"Surely it is unusual," said Legolas.

"Aye," said Gimli. "They were convinced neither of their people would accept them, and who knows, they could have been right. I still get letters from Kili occasionally. They seem to be happy together."

"That's good," said Legolas.

Thunder crashed again, much quieter this time.

Gimli yawned. "Storm's moving away. I'm going to sleep for a while," he said. "Wake me if the radio comes back."

"I will," said Legolas. "Sleep well."

The rain was so loud against the roof that Gimli could have been alone in the storeroom, as he'd been for so many storms before. It was easy to let the rhythm of it lull him to sleep.

--

He woke to find Legolas apologetically shaking him. "You said to wake you if the radio report changed."

Gimli sat up and rubbed his eyes. Judging by the radio clock, he'd been asleep a few hours. Behind the clouds, the sun was probably starting to peek over the horizon.

Legolas turned the volume up on the radio. It was still awash with static, but after a few iterations of the same message Gimli managed to figure out that the lockdown was no longer in effect. The rain was still heavy outside. "We should be good now," said Gimli. "Once the rain stops you'll be able to get on your way." He pulled out an energy bar and tossed it at Legolas, who caught it with deceptively quick reflexes. "Staying up all night always makes me hungry." He grabbed a bar of his own and gobbled it down. "Do you need to sleep?"

"Oh," said Legolas. "No, I got enough rest over the night. Thank you."

Gimli had heard elves slept with their eyes open. He wasn't certain if this was weirder or not.

"How long have you been running this fuel station?" asked Legolas.

"Almost three years now," said Gimli. "I was ready to give up after the first year, but something makes me stay on. Maybe I'm just stubborn."

Legolas smiled. "Perhaps you like helping foolish travellers."

"It's long past time I called one of my cousins out to take over," said Gimli. He got to his feet and opened the door cautiously. The roof had held, which was a relief. Three storms ago it had sprung a leak and he'd had to radio to Erebor for help restoring it. One of the windows had broken, but everything else seemed to be intact.

He carefully swept the broken glass into the bin and reinforced the boards over the window. The wind had scattered leaves and other debris over the floor, but it was nothing a bit of work with the broom wouldn't fix.

"I'm going to leave the power off a little longer," said Gimli. "Just in case."

Legolas nodded.

By mid-morning, the rain had ended, the clouds had scattered and the sun was making the puddles steam. Gimli helped Legolas retrieve his scooter.

Legolas hesitated, helmet in hand. "Thank you," he said. "I wouldn't have liked to endure that storm alone."

Gimli felt his cheeks flush. "If you're ever back this way..." He would probably be back in Erebor. "Well."

They looked at each other helplessly for a moment.

"Did you have your heart set on travelling alone?" asked Gimli.

"I beg your pardon?" said Legolas.

"I'll hand the station over to one of my other cousins," said Gimli. "If you wanted a companion, I'd be willing. Not that I'm interested in trees or any of that nonsense, you understand."

"Of course," murmured Legolas.

"But there are caves in Rohan that may yet have escaped the waters. I lived in the Blue Mountains for a while as a child and I would visit again before the sea claims it."

Legolas nodded in understanding.

"And," Gimli added, "we could visit Kili and Tauriel."

Legolas smiled. "I would like that." He put his helmet on the back of the scooter again. "Can I stay here in the meantime?"

"No," said Gimli. At Legolas's confused look, he continued with a grin. "But I have a guest room in my house."