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Snowmelt

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The water was going to be cold.

Gimli shucked his tunic, and thought longingly of the hot-springs of Erebor, of the wisps of steam that rose from the surface of the pools. Of the quiet talk that filled the air. They were a popular place, and not only for the therapeutic value of their waters. Families would go together, and friends, and those seeking a small moment of relaxation.

Also… also lovers. Would go there. Sometimes.

Gimli glanced up at the Elf, who was stripped entirely bare already. Every long limb seemed to go on forever, all fine, narrow and lithe. He would stand out like white-gold amidst copper in the baths of Erebor.

“I told you: you stare at me,” Legolas said without turning around. His long pale back was utterly unmarked: not a sign of his great age could be seen on that shining skin, not a scar, not a single tattoo. The Elf’s voice was smug.

Gimli forebore to answer, and bent his attention back to his laces.

“Ah!” Legolas let out a sigh of appreciation as he discovered the clever sluices that let water run into the great black stone tub. When he pulled the levers, the water gurgled out immediately. “Here is some ingenuity. Maybe ingenuity enough even to impress a Dwarf?”

“It’s going to be cold,” Gimli grunted, and pulled off his hose, hopping a little on one foot. “Still, it’s not a small challenge to get water up to this height: I’ll be impressed later, when I’m clean.”

Legolas laughed a little, and there were the sounds of splashing as he got into the thing. Gimli shook his head and smiled to himself as snatches of bright Elvish song filled the room almost at once. More splashing filled the air as Legolas presumably dunked his head, though the singing continued with barely a halt.

“I said you could sing underwater, and I was right,” he said.

“Ah, meleth, to be clean!” said Legolas, and his voice bubbled into another lilting string of Elvish song with hardly a breath.

Gimli could only smile some more – a little helplessly. Then he straightened and laid out his filthy clothes upon a chair. He’d have to see about cleaning them later. Scratching at his stomach and ribs, which were itchy with grime, he yawned again. So tired. On automatic, his hands went to unwind his breechcloth.

There was total silence.

His eyes flicked to the bathtub. Legolas was watching him avidly, his arms folded upon the rim of the tub. His chin rested upon his arms, and he showed absolutely no sign of embarrassment at being caught thus. “So?”

Gimli paused, his hands frozen where they were. “Yes?”

“You said it was permitted to show off now,” Legolas said, with no small hint of impatience. “Yet you huddle in your corner, as you have ever done. Come into the light!”

Gimli grinned at him. “I did, didn’t I?”

Legolas grinned back. “Go on, then!”

There was a small voice that crouched in his ear and whispered, what if he cannot find a Dwarf fair to look upon? The look on Legolas’ face silenced it at once. The Elf was openly gazing at him, unashamed as always in his admiration. He seemed unable to look away, in fact: those unearthly eyes barely seemed to blink at all as they drank him in.

Mahal help him, how did one show off before an Elf?

Ah.

“Now this,” Gimli said, and held up a hand, “this bit I am very proud of. This hand: it slew more Orcs than an Elf, you know.”

Legolas sat up straight. “You…!”

“Quite proud of my feet as well. And my toes, as the two go together, I suppose.” Gimli wriggled them against the cold stone floor. “They’re not dainty, but they get me where I’m going. They ran me all across Rohan, after all.”

Legolas’ face was a picture. “And what else?”

“Hmmm. You might appreciate this bit here a little more.” Gimli pointed to his head. “It might not be quick on the uptake, but it gets there in the end.”

“And what is next, Master Dwarf? Your legs?” said Legolas, and he gave them a pointed look. “Will you speak of their fine properties?”

“I could, I could,” Gimli said innocently. “They did their share of the work, with the running and all. So I should give them their fair due.”

Those strange eyes danced in appreciation of the game. “What can they do, other than running? I would have you show off to your fullest. To do otherwise would be cheapening you, wouldn’t you say?”

“Why, they can jump, naturally,” Gimli said with a great show of surprise. “And dance, and kick, as several Orcs have found to their disadvantage.”

“Such thick legs surely are… unable to bend very far?” Legolas said - very delicately. He waited with a wide-eyed look of guileless interest on his face as Gimli coughed and spluttered.

Cheeky thing. He seeks to turn the game on me!

“Oh, you’d be surprised, you’d be surprised,” Gimli managed eventually. “Though ‘tis said that Dwarves’ legs are strong enough not to let go…” - He paused long enough to see Legolas’ eyes widen – “…once they’ve reached solid ground.”

“Is that true?” This time it was Legolas’ turn to sound less-than-composed.

“We’re a sturdy bunch, as a rule,” Gimli said, as modestly as he could. “What else can I show off for you, Master Elf?”

Legolas wetted his lips with his tongue. “Ahhh. Your back?”

“A wise choice.” Gimli turned around, and flipped his hair over his shoulder so that Legolas could see better… not that an Elf needed any assistance with their sight. “You know of my marks – some of them, at least. The scar there is honourably won: a patrol, northern edge of Erebor, when I was one-hundred and ten. The bloody Orc played dead and slashed me in the back when I moved on. I haven’t made that mistake again, let me assure you.”

“Elbereth Gilthoniel,” Legolas’ voice murmured hoarsely. “Gimli-nîn… f-flex a little?”

Gimli glanced back over his shoulder to see that Legolas’ ears had turned nearly the colour of his beard. “Why, certainly,” he said, as polite as could be, and rolled his shoulders back. The sharp intake of breath was everything he could have hoped for.

“What is… the scar there, the one in the,” Legolas paused, as though gulping. “On your hip?”

Gimli hooked a thumb into his breechcloth and pulled it down a little, so that the top of a tattoo showed – oh, and also the full extent of the scar, naturally. “Not so honourably gained, that one,” he mused. “A training accident. I did not step back in time, and caught my partner’s axe in the side. Another mistake I have not repeated!”

“Turn around again?”

“As you will, Highness,” Gimli said, all exaggerated deference, and he turned back to face Legolas. “Have I displayed myself sufficiently for you?”

“Not nearly, my Lord,” Legolas retorted. His ears were still a very violent colour. “Now. Your arms, Master Dwarf.”

Gimli gave him his best, most courtly flourishing bow. Then he held his arms out straight, like a scarecrow. “Now these, I confess, I am proud of indeed. They can wield axe and sword, haul coal and gold alike. They have learned to use a paddle – though not gracefully, I’ll concede – and they can climb and haul rope.”

“Surely they can do more,” said Legolas. “Can they, oh... can they embrace?”

“Never had any complaints on their hugging ability, no.” Gimli grinned at him, and let his hands fall to his hips. His fingers tapped at his furry belly.

Legolas’ eyebrows jumped high. “Oh? I feel I should test this. I cannot be assured of their ability without first knowing it for myself.”

“In due time, in due time.” Gimli shook his head. “There’s a goodly part of me left yet, you’ve barely even begun!”

“No, and I chafe at the bit,” Legolas murmured, low and intent. “A feast, you are, laid here for my perusal, and you ask me to choose dish by dish. Cruel Gimli!”

“Ah!” Gimli lifted a finger. “I am doing as you command: if there is one here who prolongs this meal, it is you.”

Legolas’ eyes glittered, his beautiful face torn between amusement and annoyance. “Neatly said, silvertongue. Now, these arms. You have shown me your back: will you do the same with these?”

“Do you wish it?”

“Oh, yes.” The shine in Legolas’ eyes turned wicked. “Oh, yes I do.”

Gimli bowed again to hide the sudden heat in his cheeks, and then straightened to bring his arms up in a (to his mind) tremendously exaggerated pose. “There we go lad: as ordered.”

He thought he would be greeted with peals of bell-like Elvish laughter, and so he was astonished to see Legolas slide into the water a little, as though in shock. The Elf scrabbled at the edge of the tub again, and then he said in awe, “each must be as thick as my thigh!”

Gimli gave his arms a nonplussed look. “Aye. What of it? I am a Dwarf, after all.”

Legolas pressed his mouth into his own forearm, his gaze locked onto Gimli. “Sweet Varda,” he mumbled against his skin, and then he frowned. “Would you move your beard? I cannot see your chest.”

Gimli dropped his silly pose, and was again astonished to see the sudden look of disappointment flash over the Elf’s face, swiftly hidden. “Such disrespect,” he said, and he knew his lip was twitching. “Asking a Dwarf to move his beard.”

Legolas met his eyes in challenge. “Shall I admire it first, then?”

“Well, it’s not at its best today, so perhaps after I have washed it,” Gimli said, lifting the end of a braid and giving it a rueful look. “Bloody Orcs. There’s muck everywhere: it shall take an age to clean properly.”

“Would you care for a helping hand?”

Gimli’s eyes snapped up, and his breath nagged in his chest. There was an avid, hungry look on Legolas’ face. “That… would be a kindness.”

“Then we shall do so together,” Legolas said, and he shifted impatiently. “Your chest, Master Dwarf!”

Gimli laughed. “A most tenacious Elf! Very well, my chest it is!” He took hold of the two braids of his beard and pulled them over to one side. “Now,” he said, and tried to ignore the little flicker of heat that erupted in his belly at Legolas’ (now expected) gasp. “This is a mark for my first kill, and this pattern is simply because I liked it. Here are the badges of my mastery and my lineage, and this mark here - this for my sky-name.”

“Star,” Legolas said softly. Gimli glanced up at him.

“Star, yes.”

“So much hair.” Legolas’ hand travelled to his own hairless chest: narrow, to be sure, compared to Gimli’s, but with the solid and uneven musculature of the dedicated archer. “It grows in a pattern, over the chest to the centre, and then down…”

“As most hair does.” Gimli raised an eyebrow. “You have known Men before, you cannot be as ignorant as that.”

“I have had no cause to see them unclad,” Legolas said pointedly “Nor are Men like Dwarves.”

“True enough.”

“You are still wearing your breechcloth,” said Legolas, and the look on his face was the closest Gimli had seen to a pout since leaving Erebor and his nephew behind. “Gimli-nîn, do you still cling to your modesty, despite all your words?”

Letting his braids fall, Gimli sighed. “Just. I suppose it’s nerves, lad.”

“Nerves!” Legolas sat bolt-upright. “You have no need for nerves! You stand there in all your beauty, and-”

“You glow and shine like sun-struck diamond, and you speak of my beauty,” Gimli said flatly, and Legolas harrumphed.

“You are talking nonsense. We will not argue over beauty.”

A bark of laughter escaped him. “Why not? We argue over all else!”

Legolas snickered, and then he threw back his head to laugh properly. “As always, to the point! So, will you join me? Come here, you must be itching fiercely by now. The water is cold, but it is clean.”

“Cold water won’t assist me in showing off for you,” Gimli grumbled. At Legolas’ pleading look, he sighed in defeat and unwound his breechcloth at last. Letting it fall, he stepped with bare feet out of it and padded over to the bath, feeling rather awkward and gauche.

Legolas didn’t say a word, but held out his hand to help Gimli into the bath. There were two blotches of colour on his cheeks. Gimli decided not to mention them.

“Mahal’s beard, braids, boots and balls!” he choked as his feet hit the floor of the tub. “That’s freezing!”

“We are probably bathing in snowmelt,” Legolas said. “Mindolluin stands so near, after all.”

“He says it without a single chatter of his teeth,” Gimli said, his arms already goose-pimpling. “Urgh! This shall be a hasty wash!”

“You will adjust,” Legolas said, and sat back. “Here, they have placed a stool. You will be able to sit comfortably.”

“Comfortably!” Gimli rubbed at his legs, which were already beginning to feel heavy and leaden from the chill. “This isn’t comfortable, ghivashelê, let me tell you.”

“Then I must work quickly, mustn’t I?”

Before Gimli could ask what Legolas meant, a double handful of water was poured over his head and he emerged with another curse and a yelp. “Mahumb! Legolas, that is terrible!”

Legolas’ heart-stoppingly beautiful face came into focus just past the locks of sodden, streaming red hair. “You always talk so much,” he said, beaming widely – before he did it again.

“Ulf--” Gimli gulped and puffed and shivered, and Legolas swam back into view. He was grinning.

“There. Now I may wash you. And you can continue your showing off.”

“You—you!” Gimli threw caution to the winds, and launched himself at the Elf with a roar. “Du Bekar!”

They went under in a tangle of limbs, and the shock of the icy water punched all the breath out of Gimli. He didn’t stop trying to get the upper hand, though his entire hide felt on fire from the utter coldness. Legolas laughed and laughed, and water sloshed out of the tub as they wrestled together. Gimli was stronger, though only marginally – but Legolas was far better at moving in water, and had a longer reach besides.

Finally Legolas had him pinned with both forearms and a knee on his belly. “Concede,” he said, his mouth twitching and his breath coming fast.

“Dwarves do not surrender,” Gimli said, lifting his chin.

“This one will,” Legolas said.

“Or?”

Legolas laughed again, and bent forward. His long fall of golden hair brushed against Gimli’s chest, tickling as it went. “Are you cold now, beloved?” he said into Gimli’s ear.

Well, how about that. “No,” he grunted.

Legolas kissed the bare place behind Gimli’s ear and then he leaned back, releasing Gimli’s arms and grinning. “Then that is one to me in this bout,” he said. “And now I can wash your hair.”

Gimli’s hand rose to the snarled mess on his head. “My sister would have conniptions if she saw it,” he agreed, relaxing back. The water wasn’t so bad, he supposed. “And she usually takes umbrage with it in its normal state.”

“You do not keep as many braids as other Dwarves I have known,” Legolas said, and he scooted around behind Gimli and ran his fingers through the place where Gimli’s hand had rested. It tangled immediately. “Oh!”

“And that would be why,” Gimli said, and winced. “It’s not like Elf-hair, lad. Nobody’s likely to make bowstrings out of it.”

“No, but they might make the softest wool imaginable,” Legolas said reverently. Then he shook himself. “Soap and a comb?”

“By the bath there.”

Legolas did not even need to leave the water to find them where they lay on the floor: his arms were long enough to reach over the edge, if he leaned his body over a little. “Tell me if I yank,” he said, and began to run the (much depleted) bar over Gimli’s hair, following it with the comb.

“I’ll barely notice. I’ve a hard head, kurdulê.”

“Truer words were never spoken,” Legolas muttered, and Gimli gave his thigh a light pinch.

The feeling of hands in his hair was at once so familiar and so strange to Gimli. The gentle touch on his scalp sent the usual pleasurable shivers down his spine, unwinding knots as they went. But the hands that untangled his hair were not those of his father, mother or sister. Gimli let out a soundless sigh, and let his mind drift and his body relax.

Soon Legolas was humming again. His hands did not falter at the unfamiliar texture, but worked at an even and steady pace, and his humming sounded rather dreamy, to Gimli’s ears.

“Now you put on a display without even trying, Meleth,” he murmured eventually. “I had no idea it was so long.”

“It frizzes a bit.” A lot.

“It’s beautiful. The colour is so rich and vibrant, I half-expect my fingers to come away painted with it. So long, so full. So soft. I had expected it to be coarse.”

“Aye, well, it can be.” Gimli arched into the next stroke upon his hair, and the whisper of the comb sent a new wave of sensation skittering over his skin. “I care little for it, to tell the truth. It drives Gimrís mad.”

“That is your sister?”

“Aye.”

“Already I find common ground with her. It is so beautiful, Gimli. So very beautiful.” A gentle hand ran over the newly-untangled fall of his hair, and Gimli’s head fell back. “And you are a giant cat.”

“If I am a cat, you are a twittering starling,” said Gimli, lost in a pleasurable haze. It felt so good to have dear, beloved hands in his hair again. “And you say I talk too much.”

“You do.” Legolas bent – the water rippled – and he pressed a kiss to the skin of Gimli’s shoulder, where it met his neck. “Do not undo my hard work. You must oil and braid it properly.”

“Mmph. Rather show you how to do it.” Gimli felt as relaxed as if he were in the hot-springs of Erebor.  “Then you can have all the entertainment of seeing to it, and I shall have my hair combed on the regular.”

“Lazy thing.”

“I wish you joy of it. It’s a pain in the arse to dry, and it goes dull and brittle in winter-time. Have fun.”

“Oh, I shall. You will not recognise yourself.”

Gimli snorted. “Too late there, my Elf.”

Legolas chuckled. “Yes, I suppose we are both much changed.”

“Mmm.” Gimli lifted a hand lazily, watching the water trickle back into the bath. “I suppose.”

“Turn around, your beard next.”

Gimli tipped his head back again, reluctant to move. “Must I?”

“Yes,” Legolas said with mock solemnity. “You must.”

“Ah, well then, if I must.” Gimli roused himself from his delicious torpor and shuffled around on his stool to face Legolas. The Elf hesitantly reached up to Gimli’s cheek, and upon Gimli’s nod he stroked his fingers over the wiry bristles.

“Now that is coarse, you must admit,” Gimli murmured.

“Yes, but.” Legolas scooted closer, his eyes intent as he reached up with his other hand to cup Gimli’s face. “But, not as I expected either. It is slick from the water, rough, each hair thicker than I could ever have imagined. It feels like otter fur almost, soft and tough and smooth all at once.”

“Don’t put any of that soap in: it dries out faster than you can blink.” Gimli lifted his own hand to sift the long, golden hair in his fingers. It fell down upon being released, straight as a weighted line, and swung back and forth. The light rippled over its surface. “Not like this, I assume.”

“No.” Legolas wet the comb, and with exquisite care and delicacy he began to work it through the long cascade of Gimli’s beard, beginning from the ends.

“My beard has not been shown such care in decades,” Gimli felt the need to say.

“Then your sister and I shall have much to talk about,” Legolas replied, his head bent in concentration. “Hush. Speaking makes it waggle about.”

Gimli rolled his eyes. “It is attached to my chin, Legolas.”

“Hush!”

Gimli obediently kept quiet as Legolas returned to his painstaking grooming. It was more interesting watching Legolas’ face than talking, anyway: the Elf seemed rapt, lost in the dull work. Every look, every touch, every sweep of the comb was laden with worshipful reverence.  How had it come to pass that an Elf of Mirkwood could tend to a Dwarf’s beard with such… such devotion?

“You must rinse now,” Legolas said softly.

Lost in some dreamy languid fog, Gimli took a breath and slid off his stool. The water closed over his head. His eyes could make out the play of lamplight on the water’s surface, and he drifted for an endless silent moment. A cloud of redness billowed about him, waving gently with the motion of the water, and Gimli looked up at the lights and thought about love, about luck, and about survival.

And about Legolas – always, always about Legolas.

Then there was a light touch upon his stomach, and Gimli jerked out of his short reverie. Tipping his chin up so as not to muss his hair, he stood up in the bath in time to see those slim, hard fingers withdrawing. When he looked up again Legolas’ ears were crimson once more.

“I am very curious,” was all he said, defensively. “And you have not sufficiently shown off yet.”

“My sincere apologies for keeping you waiting.” Gimli gave his Elf a slow smile, and was gratified to see Legolas’ eyes darken. He sat back down on his stool, and gestured at himself from crown to toes. “What else did you wish to admire, my Elf? I have a very fine pair of knees, I hope you observe.”

Legolas’ hand inched forward again, and he laid it upon one of said knees. “Yes, they do seem to be all that knees should be,” he murmured.

Gimli swallowed. “I invite you to inspect these thighs of mine, if you would.”

The hazy relaxed mood still lingered, but now there was a slight frisson to it. The air felt brighter and more alive, like a plucked string, humming and taut. Legolas’ eyes shone with humour and love and challenge, and he slid his hand from Gimli’s knee up to his thigh, where he kneaded at the dense muscle with long, strong fingers. “Very kind,” he breathed. “I thank you. They are indeed worthy of my attention.”

Clearing his throat, Gimli rasped, “that’s… rather higher than I was expecting.”

“Hmm.” Legolas inched closer still, and he bent his long neck and mouthed at Gimli’s ear. His hand did not stop working at Gimli’s thigh. “I have not tasted these yet. They’re rather good: I may form an addiction.”

So this was how it felt to be a rabbit before a stoat.

Warmth slid down his spine as Legolas kept working at his ear, and Gimli’s breath picked up. Between the kissing and the unceasing hand upon his thigh, he felt rather dizzy. “Legolas,” he said, and Mahal wept, was that his voice? He sounded more unlike himself than he had ever done, low and cracking and hoarse.

“And these, yes.” Legolas shifted even closer, and his lips moved to Gimli’s cheekbone. “Mmm. Yes.”

Gimli sat as still as stone even as a fire began to spark and crackle in his belly, as Legolas kissed his eyes, his brow, his nose. “Not my nose, surely,” he managed. Legolas made an impatient noise.

How are you still talking,” he whispered, and then long arms were winding around him and Legolas was pressed full-length against him, and they were kissing.

His hands were full of wet, slippery, freezing-cold Elf, and Gimli clutched at Legolas’ shoulders and waist as he returned the kiss. His mouth moved without a shred of hesitation, as though he had known all his life what to do. No fumbling encounter of his youth had been so easy or assured. He fell into Legolas’ rhythm without a pause. The Elf’s lips were patient and yet persistent, for all that - smooth and soft, but with a challenge in them. A question, a mystery, a comfort. Like everything. Like everything they were, like all they had ever been together.

Lithe as a squirrel, Legolas clambered into Gimli’s lap without breaking the kiss, and his hands came to frame Gimli’s face. “Meleth,” he murmured, and his fingers stroked at the skin around Gimli’s eyes and smoothed down his neck, to rest upon his chest. “Sevog i veleth nîn. Ci bain, Gimli-nîn. Gerog i chûn nîn mi i chaim gîn.” The words tumbled out of him, breathy and liquid, and the fire in Gimli’s belly flickered in answer. The Elf kissed him again, and again, eagerness and curiosity and delight in every soft slide of their lips. “Gin melathon an-uir.”

You are the one speaking this time,” Gimli gasped against smooth, sweet skin, and Legolas shook with laughter.

“And yet you cannot help but answer!”

“I will steal your tactic then,” Gimli said, and snuck a hand around that fine-boned head to kiss Legolas again. Oh, his hair was like something living as it curled and danced and sang against Gimli’s skin, catching in eyelashes and in the rough folds of his palm. Tipping his head, Gimli opened his mouth upon Legolas’. The noise that escaped the Elf was totally unrestrained.

“Mahal below, lad,” Gimli croaked after pulling away. The fire in his belly had definitely found a home somewhat lower. “That’s positively indecent.”

“Do it again,” Legolas ordered him breathlessly, his eyes nearly swallowed by his blown pupils.

“Yes, my prince.” Gimli pulled Legolas down once more, fitting their mouths together like fine jewellery. The moan Legolas let out was loud and completely abandoned. It made Gimli shudder and groan. “Legoluuumph,” he tried, but Legolas swiftly kissed him, stopping him mid-word. A long-fingered hand snuck around his side to knead at his hip. Gimli’s eyes rolled back into his head and he surrendered... for a moment.

“Lego-mmm… Legolas,” he tried again in-between kisses. The Elf was determined, however, and he pushed himself even closer (how?) and their chests pressed and slid against each other.

“You,” Legolas said, and the puff of his breath on Gimli’s face was hot, “need to learn to be quiet.”

“Legolas,” Gimli said, and when the Elf dove in for another kiss Gimli brought up his hand to press against Legolas’ mouth. “I need to get out, or my muscles will freeze in place.”

The Elf’s eyes blinked over the edge of his fingers, and then Legolas sat back on Gimli’s thighs, frowning. “I forgot.”

“Not something you’ve ever dealt with before?” Gimli said, and used his raised hand to stroke over the sleek golden head. Legolas’ eyes half-lidded. “A peculiarity of mortals, I suppose. I have fought all day, and the chill of the water is making my legs seize up. I had best get out before they stiffen entirely.”

With a single swift movement, Legolas stood and stretched out his hand to Gimli. “I am sorry, meleth. I find I am eager to begin exploring you, and so all thought of your--”

“Now, don’t apologise,” Gimli said, taking Legolas’ hand and standing. He stretched again, his joints popping. “It’s all right! And I was enjoying myself. Wouldn’t be averse to continuing where we left off,” he looked up at Legolas from beneath his brows, “someplace slightly warmer.”

Legolas beamed. “Then we should go to this warmer place, and I shall carry on.”

“Any carrying-on is likely to warm me more than you know,” Gimli said, and brought Legolas’ hand up to buss a kiss upon the knuckles. “Now, before I freeze solid, where in Mahal’s name do they keep the towels?”

Legolas leapt from the tub, water streaming from his body in rivulets as he crossed the stone floor. “Here, I think,” he said, and opened a low chest. “Ah!” He stood and threw a towel at Gimli, and it hit him in the face. “Do not muss your hair and beard! I worked hard on them.”

Gimli clambered out, clutching the towel against his chest. “Oh, I’m sure you’ll find a way to muss them regardless,” he shot back, smiling at the Elf’s impatience. “I’m not going anywhere yet, lad. Slow down!”

“Didn’t you want to warm up?” Legolas retorted, rubbing his towel hastily over his body. “Hurry up!”

For the first time, Gimli allowed himself to look his fill at his Elf. He had that odd pearly shine to his skin of all Elves, and that strange, stretched-out look that had so perturbed him when he was young. When had it stopped seeming so abnormal? Now it was only Legolas, only natural. It was the way he was, and former oddities now seemed dear and familiar and lovely. His hair fell to his mid-back in a single uninterrupted sheet of hammered gold. His face was fine-boned and unlined and full of fire and humour, and his eyes sparkled. There was hardly a hair on him compared to Gimli: only a smattering at his groin and beneath his arms, a shade darker than that on his head. The muscles moved smoothly beneath that unmarked skin, and every action was full of that silken, deadly grace.

“Staring again,” Legolas sing-songed. “Come on, Gimli, stop dawdling!”

“You,” Gimli said low, his heart in his voice, “are so beautiful.”

Legolas’ head whipped back to him, and then a slow, sweet smile touched his lips. “Should I make you admire my every part?”

“I could sing your praises from here until the day I return to the stone,” Gimli said honestly. “You are so beautiful.”

“Come here, then,” said Legolas, and he held out a hand. “Come here with me.”

Gimli clutched at his towel with one hand and gripped Legolas’ hand with the other, and then he was following the Elf back to the other room. The sight of the bed with its rich coverings made his heartrate speed up. He fixed his eyes on the gentle slope of Legolas’ back, watching the smooth roll of muscle beneath flawless Elven skin.

“Here.” Legolas sat on the bed, and tugged at Gimli’s biceps to bring him closer. “Come here. Now, I will braid your beard, and your hair. And then we will see about warming you.”

Gimli found no words to answer that.

Legolas took the towel from his nerveless hands and carefully blotted as much moisture from his beard as possible. Then he sectioned it into three parts, and quickly wove a loose braid that would hold long enough while sleeping.

“Turn around,” Legolas said, and scooted back on the bed. “Sit down now, my love.”

Gimli clambered up onto the bed and sat cross-legged as Legolas knelt behind him. Once again, long nimble fingers sank into his hair and Gimli stifled a shuddering sigh.

“You enjoy that,” Legolas said. His voice was very quiet, but it seemed rather loud in the closeness of the room.

“Very much,” Gimli answered, and let his head drop forward. “It’s something we… we only reserve for family. Lovers, aye. Those that are special to us. To braid and to be braided – that’s a…” He groped for the word in Westron.

“I see.” Legolas tied off the braid he had woven into Gimli’s hair. Then he ran a hand over it, following its line down the middle of Gimli’s spine. Little shocks of shivery pleasure followed, skittering up Gimli’s back and making his scalp tingle. “Thank you then, for the honour.”

“Oh, honour’s all mine.” Gimli snagged that slim hand as it made another pass, and he brought it to his lips and kissed it. “All mine, my darling one, my sweet.”

“I still wish to explore,” Legolas said unevenly as Gimli trailed his lips across his palm and from there along the length of those bow-hardened fingers. No kissing, only lips and breath – and Gimli crowed internally at this sign of how he could affect this ageless creature. He was not the only rabbit here.

“You should not be the only explorer here,” Gimli rumbled, and Legolas let out a little gasping sound as he allowed his teeth to catch on the skin over the heel of his palm. “Let me do some exploring of my own, hulwulê. If that sits well with you, of course.”

“Of course,” Legolas echoed. Then he shook himself. “Gimli, I must tell you that I have never done this before. I do not know how it stands amongst Dwarves…”

Gimli blinked.

Then he twisted around to face the Elf – rather quickly. The bed bounced with his movements. “Legolas, I mean it – you must not feel pressured, I would wait forever if it is what you-”

“I know what I want,” Legolas interrupted, his chin lifting. “I simply. Don’t know. How?”

Gimli stared at him, a little lost for words. Then he pressed their foreheads together and kissed Legolas. “You daft Elf,” he rasped. “Honour and my dratted hair indeed. Why now?”

Legolas frowned. “You think I would come to our bed married to another?”

“Married?!”

Now Gimli felt light-headed. This conversation was spiralling out of control! What had just happened?

“Aye, married!” Legolas glared, and then the light of realisation dawned in his eyes. “Oh. Then Dwarves do not…?”

“What, marry?” Inappropriately, Gimli wanted to laugh. What a notion! “Aye, we do!”

“But it is… not. It may be done for…” Legolas struggled with it for a moment. “Not for. Have you done this before, then?”

Oh now, now – that was pain in Legolas’ face. Gimli could not have that.

He took another breath, and sat back to give Legolas as calm a look as he could manage. “Dwarves love once,” he said simply. “We may take bedmates or shield-companions, if we are so inclined. I have done so in the past, for sport and companionship. Friends may now and then share their blankets, and no attachment need follow. But love itself? No, love is no sport for us. If a Dwarf loves, they love but the once. And that love is eternal and unwavering and everlasting.”

Legolas’ breath slowed as he absorbed that. “I see.”

“Does this upset you?” Gimli dared to lift a hand and to smooth back the golden hair that had half-fallen across Legolas’ face, shadowing his eyes.

“It is… different.”

“Aye, different.” Gimli snorted. “As well you told me: I would have liked to know that I was married at some stage.”

Legolas’ ears reddened again. “Ah.”

Gimli smiled at him. “We always stumble over these things until we find our feet. It’s all right, ghivashelê. It is different, but no less good, for all that. Tell me how it is, with Elves.”

Legolas blew out slowly, and most of the tension left the carriage of his shoulders. “For Elves, the marriage rite itself is the act of joining. That is how it has been for long Ages. Desire cannot even exist between Elves without love to quicken it: it is simply not possible. We cannot share bodies without first sharing hearts.”

Gimli pressed a hand to his forehead, trying to stop his mind flying to pieces.

“I know what I want,” Legolas said again, and then he looked up from beneath his lashes at Gimli. “But,” he stressed, “I do not know how. And I am… very curious.”

That was quite a meaningful look, that one. Gimli pulled himself together. Another difference – what was another difference after so many had been fought and overcome? This was Legolas. This, they could work through, like they had worked through everything else.

And too – it remained unsaid, but it hung in the air nevertheless: I love you and so now I desire you, in the way of the Elves. For one cannot follow without the other.

Nothing in Gimli’s life, not even the three glimmering golden hairs coiled in his pack, had ever inspired such wonderment.

“Well,” Gimli said, hushed, and he ran a tender thumb along Legolas’ jawline. Smooth as satin. “There’s plenty we can do that isn’t an Elven vow. And I find myself curious as well. Come now, bold one. You may continue your exploration with a will, and nothing to stop you.”

Legolas made a soft, indistinct sound in his throat. Then he surged forward to take Gimli’s mouth again, and long-fingered hands came to press against his chest. Gimli gave way to them easily and unhesitatingly, letting Legolas press him down against the velvet coverlet.

The Elf pressed his face against the side of Gimli’s beard, running his cheek against the stiff wiry hairs for a moment. His hands mapped out the muscles of Gimli’s chest, lingering. “So broad,” Legolas murmured, and laid a kiss upon Gimli’s breastbone, where the hair gathered thick to trail down towards his navel. “Like the earth itself: I could shatter myself on you.”

“There’s an idea.” Gimli dared to lift his own hands, to run them down the length of Legolas’ sides. The Elf shivered. “I’d let you. And you call me silver-tongued, you flatterer.”

“Put it to some use,” Legolas puffed, as clever Dwarvish fingers slipped down to his waist and then trailed teasingly and tickling back up his sides. He trembled again. “That…”

“Simple things often surprise,” Gimli said with another smile.

“More. And stop talking.”

You stop talking.”

“You first.” Legolas kissed him again, and then bent his head to nip at his thick, solid collarbone – exposed now, for the first time in months. “These are lovely.”

As that leaflike pointed ear was right there and all, Gimli took the opportunity to do as he had wanted to for weeks, and ran a curious tongue over it. The effect was immediate and electric. Legolas stiffened, and then the hard blunt pressure of teeth upon his collarbone made Gimli arch up.

“More!” Legolas demanded. “Do that again!”

“Bossy, aren’t you,” gasped Gimli. He wrapped a hand around Legolas’ fine-boned skull to get a better angle, and then bit down lightly on that translucent, delicate thing. Legolas’ whole body seemed to flush with heat. Any residual chill from their icy bath was banished in that glow. 

“Gimli, Gimli-nîn, meleth-nin, ai…” Legolas swallowed and panted, his breath fast upon Gimli’s throat. His hands clutched at Gimli’s chest. “More!”

“Patience, darling one,” Gimli managed roughly. “Those sounds you make will have me finished before this even begins.”

Legolas twisted, lithe as a ferret, to give the Dwarf a wide-eyed look of determination. Then he lunged forward to run his own tongue along the wide round shell of Gimli’s ear once more. “How do you like it,” Legolas said low, his breath hitching as he bit down just as Gimli had.

“Ach,” Gimli felt like his skin was too tight to contain him. “And that will surely end me!”

“Mmm.” He could feel Legolas’ smile against the skin of his neck, and then one of those questing hands found his nipple and flicked at the barbell there. “Does this…”

“Ach!” Gimli pressed his chest forward into that hand, and it was his turn to demand. “Flick – aye, flick there. Now!”

“Bossy,” Legolas chucked breathlessly, and then he did as requested. Gimli’s eyes slid shut. No fumble between friends was like this. So much laughter, so much strangeness, so much delicacy, so much fire. This was so different – ah, but different was no less good. So so good. Better, even.

Legolas massaged at his breast, his thumb flicking at the piercing. “I have wondered at this,” he said huskily, and then bent his mouth to it. Warm breath puffed over the cold metal. “I wonder no more.”

“It’s a warrior’s tradition to…” Gimli propped himself up on his elbows in time to see Legolas take his nipple into his mouth – that lovely, lovely mouth –

Gimli then flopped back on the bed as little sparks flew through him as though flying from a stoked fire. “Oh, Mahal curse it, I don’t care,” he gasped, and Legolas laughed against his skin, the vibrations travelling through him to settle in his belly.

“Softer than I had thought,” Legolas murmured, his nose dragging along the crease between the massive chest muscles and ribs, over the line of warrior's knots inked there. “And here, softer still.”

“We don’t see the sun upon our skin very often,” Gimli felt the need to add, but Legolas nipped him and his head slammed back against the bed with a thump.

“When you so kindly put on that show for me,” Legolas said, and there was a laugh in his voice, badly-hidden, “I had thought you to be hard all over. It looked it.”

“I’ve lost more flesh than is proper, on this journey. My mother will be feeding us both for decades,” Gimli said.

“Mmm. Roaring fires, malt beer, meat from the bone?”

Gimli pressed his forearm over his eyes and chuckled. Legolas splayed a hand over his belly to feel the muscles there jump and stutter. “Do not bring up my former foolishness when we are naked, you terrible creature.”

Legolas laid a whispering kiss against Gimli’s navel, and then mouthed gently at the layer of Dwarven padding around his waist that their quest had not yet stolen. “So soft, and yet you are carved steel beneath it. So heavy with bone and muscle, and then this softness…”

Gimli reached for him, fingering the pointed tip of an ear. It looked too delicate to be clasped between his thick, blunt, browned fingers, but Gimli knew better. The Elf was hardier and more eternal than a Dwarf could ever imagine.

“More ink,” Legolas said, and he licked his lips. “This one is for your name, you said…”

“Aye. That’s Durin’s Crown, there: the seven stars that shine in the deeps of…” Giml broke off his words as Legolas licked a stripe over his tattoo. “Wicked, wicked thing,” he managed, and pinched the ear between his fingers in retaliation.

Legolas’s eyes flicked up at him, glinting from beneath lowered lids. “And now, here,” he said, and settled back between the thick brackets of Gimli’s thighs. “I confess, I have been more than curious… Your secrecy has driven me nearly mad with wondering.”

“And?” Gimli propped himself back up upon his elbows. “Do I meet all your standards, Master Elf?”

“I find myself well-pleased, Master Dwarf,” Legolas said, and his frank and lascivious tone of voice made those little sparks race and dance merrily in Gimli’s belly once more. “Oh Gimli…”

Eagerly Legolas took him in hand without a single glimmer of hesitation. The muscles in Gimli’s thighs quivered as Legolas began a slow stroke, his narrow brows narrowed as though in avid concentration. His eyes began to crinkle in delight as Gimli’s breath hissed and shuddered out from between his teeth. “And this may become more than an addiction. Look at you! How the earth quakes!”

“You will drive me to distraction,” Gimli croaked, and tried desperately to keep his hips from following the torturously-slow stroke to its peak every time. His heels dug into the mattress. “Legolas…”

Legolas did not answer, still fascinated by the motion of his hand and by the stifled movements and moans of the Dwarf below him. Gimli tried to breathe, to breathe – Legolas wished to discover this, and he deserved to take his time about it – but oh, how had Gimli forgotten the infuriating patience of the Elves? The time stretched and stretched and he shook and quaked. The pace never built at all, but remained at that frustratingly slow, aching speed: so close to what he needed, but never quite there at all.

“Bunmel,” Gimli pleaded, and then groaned loud and long and heartfelt at the feel of a hand holding his hips down, pressing him into the coverlets.

“You move as I have never seen you move,” Legolas said in fascination. His eyes glittered with triumph and want, the whites clearly visible even in the gloom. Gimli could see the evidence of Legolas’ desire standing long and hard in the shadow between his legs. It did not seem to distract Legolas in the slightest from his torturous exploration.

“Please, Legolas,” Gimli said, and his breath was now punching out of him in short gasps.

“Metal here, too. I can barely get my hand around it,” Legolas breathed. “And you move so, and writhe for me…”

Gimli’s nerve broke. “I’ll do more than writhe, you…” He launched from his prone position like a stone from a slingshot. His every muscle quivered with pent-up need. “You have a gift for making me lose my head,” he growled. The Elf laughed as Gimli wrestled him back, pinning him upon the bed with his greater weight and holding his arms down with one thick-fingered hand.

“I had wondered when you might do that.”

Maddening, beautiful, wonderful Elf! “I should give you a taste of your own medicine.”

“Please do,” Legolas grinned. He looked far too smug, and so Gimli rolled his hips against Legolas’ with one smooth, unhurried motion. Legolas’ grin morphed into a soundless open-mouthed cry, and so Gimli did it again, and again.

“Ahhhh,” Legolas let out a soft broken sort of noise, and Gimli regretted all that time now spent thrashing wildly against the overwhelming force of Elven curiosity. Why had he lain there helpless when he could have been wringing such lovely sounds out of that lovely mouth?

“You,” Gimli said, and he took a nipple into his mouth and bit down gently, “are so beautiful. Look at you, shining here for my eyes alone like this… Legolas, Legolas my âzyungel, my love. Will you sing?”

“Gimliiii,” Legolas gasped, and his hands fluttered uselessly around Gimli’s shoulders before clutching him tightly and pressing up against the next roll of their hips. Slipping and sliding, their lengths bumped and brushed against each other snugly, pushing upon Legolas’ narrow belly and the thick ridges of Gimli’s. Legolas whimpered, deep in his throat.

Gimli couldn’t quite reach to kiss that mouth and stopper it, but then, neither did he wish to silence all those delightful sounds, and so he licked and rolled the nipple between his teeth and let one of his hands curl down to knead at the Elf’s thigh. “Long everywhere, my love,” he said, and at the feel of his breath against wet skin Legolas cried out without words.

His head turned this way and that, golden hair clinging to his skin. His back arched as Gimli’s hands ran over him, his body hungry for more sensation and yet drawing away from the unfamiliarity.

“Long and lithe and lovely, so beautiful.” Gimli licked a stripe up the side of that slim torso to mouth at Legolas’ other nipple, slowly and with as much promise as he could manage. Legolas’ hands buried themselves in Gimli’s hair and he keened between gritted teeth as Gimli slid his hips along Legolas’ again, leisurely and languid.

“More!”

“My prince,” Gimli whispered, smiling upon the smooth skin of Legolas’ chest. Then he began to move faster, canting his hips in short bursts of pressure that soon had Legolas’ breath sobbing out in unison.

“I don’t…” Legolas’ eyes were wild.

“I have you, darling.” Gimli pressed his greater weight down against Legolas, fitting them together like a mortar in a pestle, and allowed himself to watch for a moment. Legolas tried to thrust up against him, but could only thrash a little. His hips jerked and spasmed, and he throbbed against Gimli like the great hammers of Erebor’s forges. The heat poured off him in waves, and he was shining with his sweat. “I have you.”

“You call me maddening!” Legolas cried thickly. “Please – please…!”

Gimli squeezed Legolas’ hip. “You are maddening,” he said, fondly and breathlessly. He then thrust hard against Legolas once, twice – and the Elf’s face went open and pained and amazed, his mouth falling open in a strangled gasp.

“Ah – ah – ah -!” he panted. His hands gripped so tightly upon Gimli’s back that they would leave bruises, he knew.

“You never,” he managed through snatched, gulping breaths, “stop singing, do you…”

“Show me,” Legolas demanded in a broken voice, nearly sobbing. “Please! Meleth e-guilen!”

Gimli bent his head and breathed hot and wet against the smooth expanse of that heaving archer’s chest, and his hips snapped hard and firm against his love – this his love – this his lover now! “Legolas, Legolas,” he groaned, the words dragged up from the pit of his belly and rumbling in his chest.

Legolas wailed and cursed in the Elven tongue, and his long legs (long, so long, went on for days…!) wrapped themselves around Gimli for purchase. His hips pressed up – up – up –up - and Gimli swore and moaned and squeezed at Legolas’ hip with jerky, spasmodic fingers.

“Please!” Legolas cried, and then the throbbing between them began to pulse unevenly and Legolas’ gasp turned high and thready. “Gimli! Gimli…!

“I have you!” he choked. “I have you, beloved – let go!” - and Legolas stiffened, arching like the bow he loved. Warm, sticky wetness grew between them, and Gimli ground down in tiny circles as long as he dared to prolong his Elf’s pleasure.

“Ahhh…” Legolas trembled and quivered like a leaf, his limbs twitching. Then he relaxed all at once, his legs unhooking and falling to the bed, limp as a fish. “Ai, Gimli, meleth nîn, nan aear a geil!”

Gimli pushed up onto his hands, careful to shift his weight away from anything… oversensitive. “I trust that was worth the wait,” he murmured, and tried desperately to ignore the ache in his own loins. “That was glorious to watch.”

“Mmm.” Legolas blinked lazily at him, smiling. Then he seemed to remember Gimli’s state, and glanced down. “Ah, you are…”

“Believe me, it should not take long after the display you just made,” Gimli said wryly. “I am poised on the brink. I shall catch alight in a moment, kurdulê.”

“You are indeed.” Legolas said softly, and gently touched a hand to Gimli’s brow. “So warm.”

“We’re made to run on the warm side.” Gimli shifted uncomfortably. “Legolas…”

“Let me help you.” Legolas rolled them over, and it was Gimli’s turn to be hemmed in by determined hands and long clinging hair. “Let me… just, let me…”

When Legolas took him in hand again, Gimli nearly shouted in relief and had to muffle it in the meat of his forearm.

“You learn too quickly,” he croaked, and Legolas smiled and kissed him.

This time there was no infuriatingly slow pace, but a quick building rhythm that soon left Gimli’s thighs quivering and a molten stew of need bubbling in his belly. “Ghivashelê, kurdulê, hulwulê,” he breathed against smooth beardless lips, and Legolas picked up the pace again.

The tempo built like a roll of thunder: distant rumbles that crept closer and closer, their echoes travelling through Gimli’s flesh. Vaguely he felt Legolas stooping, and then there were teeth at the barbell in his nipple.

The thunderclap broke and Gimli groaned out, long and low and broken, as release finally found him. His eyelids pressed closed so tightly that light bloomed in random bursts against his eyes. Legolas slowed his pace, wringing him out and leaving him an exhausted, shuddering mess.

Gimli opened his eyes. Above him, the Elf shone like mingled gold and mithril. His heart swelled against his ribs. In a voice that creaked and crashed together like breaking rock Gimli said, “I don’t know what we’re becoming, but I’m glad we’re doing it together.”

Legolas laid his head briefly upon Gimli’s chest, listening to the slowing beat of his heart. Then he sat up and said, very quietly, “I love you.”

“And I you.” Gimli laughed and pushed a hand through that fall of golden hair – mussed, for the first time in his memory. Your hands shall flow with gold, and yet over you gold shall have no dominion, whispered the Lady in his mind, and Gimli wondered if she had seen this all those months ago, if she had known. “And as I outlasted you, I shall call it my victory.”

“I should think that I won this bout, meleth nîn, as I finally saw a proud Dwarf beg,” Legolas said, smiling.

“A draw?”

“A draw.”

Raising his sticky hand, Legolas looked at it for a moment with a distant sort of puzzlement.

Then he said, “now we need another bath.”

Gimli, loose and wrecked and sated, stared at him. Then he began to chuckle.

“I do not think I have the energy to show off for you a second time!”

FIN