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The Days Were Made For Running (And The Nights Were Made For Love)

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The bed in Minas Tirith is far better than the hard ground Legolas has found himself used to these past long months, finely stuffed with straw and with a pillow far better than his folded cloak, yet he finds himself unable to sleep.

 

Even with his Elvish nature that requires far less sleep than his mortal companions he had been thankful when given a room to retire to although he has seldom used it these past days. This time in Minas Tirith has been a respite, a gift, and one no one has taken lightly. He has spent most of his nights outside under the stars, sometimes venturing back to the fields where Aragorn camps, and has taken what joy there is to be found in the time he has with his friends, has laughed and found hope restored in their company, in the simple pleasure Merry and Pippin take at being reunited, even if Merry is still shaky when he stands from his bed in the Houses of Healing.

 

It is his first time lying in this bed, for he has chosen instead to walk through the city at night and listen to the stars but he needs sleep now, and while part of him had thought to lay outside he finds he cannot. Even the song of the stars had not been able to drown out the whispers of the dry earth, speaking to him of the green things that once grew in it, making his hands twitch with the need to coax life back to the ground, so instead he had finally chosen to sleep in the room that thus far had done little more than hold the few possessions he felt comfortable parting with, for even in the safety of the city he had not wanted to be without his bow.

 

He had hoped sleep would take him quickly, for he knows he needs his strength to face what they ride to tomorrow, will need his eyes sharp and his fingers quick on his bow.

 

And yet, he lies awake.

 

He could blame it on the lack of stars, on the press of stone where he wishes instead for the song of trees to wrap around himself, but he knows it’s a lie. There is a window in his room, designed to allow the sun to seep in and warm the cold, white stones during the day and now it gives him a view of the stars, their song whispering to him.

 

No, he is not without the song of the stars, he is without the company of his companions.

 

Without the gentle rise and fall of Aragorn’s breaths, soft and deep in his sleep, without the brilliant, gentle warmth that Mithrandir seems to radiate, without Gimli’s-

 

Without Gimli.

 

It had been only a few nights after leaving Lothlorien that Legoals had first laid his bedroll near Gimli’s. The grief of Mithrandir’s death had weighed heavily on them all still, and while the Golden Wood had offered some respite for Legolas, the chance to be amongst other Elves as he had not been since their journey began even if they were not truly his own, the wounds of grief were still fresh and raw, healed only enough they could all ignore them during the day, but still deep enough to trouble them when there was nothing else to occupy their thoughts. It had been the Hobbits who all bedded down together first, a tangle of curly hair and bare feet that seemed to bring them all comfort.

 

It was with this thought that Legolas had decided to follow their example and seek closeness and comfort, but it was only when Gimli had watched him settle down with eyes hooded with sleep and gruffly whispered “Goodnight, Master Legolas,” voice weary and hoarse from a day spent singing songs with the Hobbits to keep their spirits up but still carrying a note of contentment, that Legolas had realized perhaps he was not the only one needing the comfort of a friend, as odd and strange and new as their friendship might be.

 

That Gimli has grown dear to him is no secret, and not one he would wish to keep. Gimli’s presence, his unwavering heart and steady courage and his bright smile, covered even as it is by the fiery fall of his moustache and beard, and his laugh, that resonates like the rumble of a earthquake and fills Legolas with lightness whenever he hears it, all give him strength, give him hope and a reason to carry on. Even when the road is long and bleak Legolas knows he would walk it, and gladly, would find a song to sing always on his tongue, if Gimli were by his side.

 

No, it is no secret that Gimli is dear to him- Legolas sings it to the trees, to the stars, the notes crisp and pure, like the birdsongs that filled the Greenwood once were, before the darkness crept in. He would tell everyone, gladly, happily, of his friendship with Gimli, the unlikeliest of shield brothers they may be, but there is no one else he would rather stand by his side.

 

What he can not tell, the longing he keeps tucked away in his heart and brings out only in those moments where everything is still and quiet with night, is the way the sight of the sun in Gimli’s hair, lighting the red aflame, sends an echoing blaze through him, a coil of tense heat that settles low in his belly, twisting tight and hot until he sometimes feels he has no space left in him for breath. He cannot tell anyone of the way that sometimes, when Gimli is pressed tight behind him upon Arod, his hands light upon Legolas’s waist, that he thinks of those same hands, rough and calloused from wielding an axe, but oh how gentle he dreams they would be, skimming beneath his tunic and touching the soft skin beneath the dirt-stiffened clothes he wears, pulling him close, close, impossibly closer, to Gimli’s warmth. His own hands would tremble with inexperienced, unsure and unsteady (but unafraid, for what would he have to fear with Gimli? What has he ever had to fear, with Gimli by his side?) until he would wind them in that glorious fall of hair, lay them on Gimli’s broad shoulders to borrow some of his steadfastness.

 

Watching Gimli crawl through the Tunnel of the Dead, his palms scraped raw by the earth and stone, the braids of his beard dragging, and yet, even reduced to crawling, brought to his hands and knees as though he were naught but a babe, Legolas had been only able to see his strength, the courage that carried him forward when it would have been easier to give up, he had known that he could not have found one more worthy to give his heart to.

 

When he had heard the call of the gulls, their sweeping song waking something in him, he had wept, but not, as he had allowed Aragorn and the sons of Elrond to believe, with the longing their song had woken in his blood. He had wept instead with sorrow and joy, for all that the sea called to him it’s pull was not stronger than the weight of his desire for Gimli- he had wept, heavy with the knowledge, that so long as Gimli lived on Middle Earth he would never be able to leave, no matter how tempting the song the sea sang to him.

 

He had resolved to tell Gimli, had promised himself, with Gimli’s broad hands strong upon his waist to hold him on Arod, his back supported by the bulk of Gimli’s chest, as he had swung his head about in an attempt to regain himself, surely looking as wild and fey as he can only imagine the Elves must be described in the tales the Dwarves told of them, and buried his face in the coarse braids of Gimli’s head, finding finally that only the comforting scent that had lulled him into reverie so many nights before had the strength to pull him back to himself, that he would tell Gimli of the truth that had settled long ago on his heart but that had taken him so long to understand.

 

Legolas had sung as they walked into Minas Tirith, his legs weary and his arms tired from the draw of his bow, but Gimli still walked by his side and they were both uninjured and the city yet stood, a shining white beacon, and he had found his voice lifting in song for all that there was loss there was also joy blossoming in his heart.

 

Surely if ever there was a time to tell Gimli it was then, flush with an impossible victory.

 

Except he had said nothing, for there was ever more to do and never time, never time to pull Gimli aside and taste the mouth hidden beneath the fall of his moustache, to fit his slim, Eleven hands into ones coarse with callouses from the handle of an axe, to tell Gimli that every song Legolas sang, every smile and laugh and every step forward he had taken since their path darkened was bolstered only by Gimli at his side, to speak to him of Elvish courting rituals and run his fingers through Gimli’s russet hair and ask if he would allow Legolas to twist an Elvish braid in it, something to mark to all the world, even if only his Elven eyes would understand, that Gimli was tied to him.

 

To ask Gimli to teach him all the impossible ways their bodies might fit together.

 

To tell Gimli of what it meant for them to lie together in such a way, of the simplicity of an Elvish wedding that only required a joining of bodies to mark the joining of souls, and to make sure Gimli knew how he wanted it, that he was driven not just by desire to slake the thirst Gimli had woken in him with heat and flesh, but that he ached to marry Gimli, to make Gimli his husband.

 

But he had said nothing and now, now he lies awake in a too soft bed without Gimli beside him, and tomorrow they ride off to face their death.

 

It is this thought that finally drives him from his bed. There may not have been any chance to tell Gimli of all that he holds in his heart and there’s every possibility that Gimli will be sleeping and if he is Legolas will not disturb his rest, will simply fortify himself with the sight of his heart resting and return to his rooms content with the knowledge that for Gimli at least there is peace. He already knows he will not watch Gimli die tomorrow, has contented himself with the fact that he will fall before Gimli, is determined to do so. It may be cowardly but Legoals cannot watch Gimli fall- if one of them dies let it be him, that he will pass knowing Gimli might live to see the dawn of a new age.

 

It is not enough, not in the face of what they will stand against tomorrow, but it is all he has, and Legolas has subsited on hope for these many long months, it will be enough to see him through until he meets his end tomorrow.

 

It has to be.

 

He slips through the palace as silent as moonlight filtering through tree branches. The stone is quiet, and at first the stillness makes him uneasy until he remembers that the glittering white stone must be speaking to Gimli in the way the trees talk to him. He hopes, despite the horrors these walls have faced, that they recognize in Gimli the hero he is and speak to him only of comforting things.

 

Although if Gimli can charm the Lady into surrendering three strands of her golden hair Legolas has no doubt that his poet of a friend, with his mithril tongue and kind heart, can coax forth from stone stories of better times, those past and those to come.

 

He raps lightly on the door to Gimli’s chambers, fingers as quick and light as they are on the draw of his bow, dancing across the grain of the wood even though it is long dead and the are no whispers to be found in the whorls and knots of it.

 

“It can only be Legolas who would sneak here on such quiet feet. Enter, friend,” Gimli calls, his voice deep as the rumble of a mountain.

 

The door swings open with a creak that sounds damning in the silent stillness of the night. Gimli has shed his trousers and armour and wears only his tunic, unlaced at the neck and hanging off his broad shoulders loose around the chest and stomach the weariness of the road has whittled down. Still, even with the heft of his chest pared from what it was in Rivendell Gimli is still reassuring solid and sturdy, the muscles in his legs corded with strength and his forearms flex with muscle from even the smallest movements where he has pushed his sleeves up.

 

He is sitting at a man sized table, his feet barely touching the ground, and although he has turned to greet Legolas as he entered there’s a piece of parchment laid before him, sharp, angular marks upon it that can only be Khuzdul. The letters are strange to Legolas’s eyes but he sees enough to tell that though they bare a resemblance to the ones carved into stones at Moria they are not the same- they lack the hard edges those did, and Legolas wonders if it is a different dialect, if the language of the Dwarves has evolved and grown like those of the Elves or if Gimli’s hand is simply more graceful and turns what should be sharp angles into something smoother, if his pen arcs across the paper with the same grace he swings his axe.

 

“I did not mean to disturb you,” he apologizes.

 

“Nay,” Gimli tells him with a dismissive wave of his hand. “You do not. I find myself unable to sleep so I found someone to beg parchment and ink from.”

 

“You write to your family?”

 

“Aye.” Gimli leans back in his chair, the hem of his shirt rising higher with the movement and baring a swathe of pale thigh, lightly furred, and Legolas knows if he were to touch even his Elven fingers would revel in the warmth of the skin. He swallows, and forces his eyes back to Gimli’s face, finds that even as he mourns the view the sight of Gimli’s face, so handsome and oh so dear to him, is a comfort. “We both know what awaits us on the morrow. I thought to leave something for my family, that they may know, whatever happens, I would choose the same again.”

 

Legolas smiles softly. He will not tell Gimli that he will do everything in his power to ensure Gimli lives to tell his family himself.

 

“I would choose the same as well,” he confesses, and he speaks low but hopes the truth in the words is not dampened for their quietness. By the smile Gimli gives him he thinks it is not.

 

“And what of you, Legolas? I know Elves sleep less but surely even you are tired by all we have faced and what we will face tomorrow.”

 

“I find myself unable to sleep as well.” He slips in all the way now, closes the door behind him. The room is lit with starlight and a candle, the warmth of the flame and the cool brightness of the stars turning Gimli’s hair from it’s usual red into dappled patterns of burnished bronze and the brightest of silver, like sunlight flickering through tree leaves to the forest floor. Legolas is not a craftsman- his skill is with his bow and his knife and he has never had reason to regret that, even now is grateful for it is that bow, those blades, with which he will keep Gimli safe tomorrow, but he finds his fingers itch to make something to capture the beauty of Gimli, his dear, dear Gimli, his heart, in this moment, even if he knows he could never do his friend justice. “Perhaps I miss my friend beside me,” he says, as close as a confession as he will allow himself. Gimli does not need to know what truths are writ on Legolas’s heart, of the sacrifice Legolas will make, and gladly, tomorrow, that Gimli might live.

 

If Gimli knew he would protest, would roar with his Dwarven temper that burns as hot as the forges his people live by, would curse and cajole in an attempt to change Legolas’s mind and it would all be in vain for Legolas will not be swayed.

 

If he told Gimli now that he loves him, that Legolas has loved him for so long that he finds it impossible to remember a time when he did not, even if he knows they did not start this quest as friends, it would only burden his friend.

 

But perhaps, just for tonight, for one last time, he can have this. The comfort of Gimli’s company, the beauty of his smile, the warmth of his laugh that fills Legolas with light.

 

If he only has one night left to live he will spend it with Gimli.

 

“Daft Elf,” Gimli grumbles, but there is only good humor in his voice. “Do you mean to tell me that you have been awake this entire night, only for want of being uncertain of your welcome? Do you not know that you are always welcome?”

 

He grins. It is a wonder, with Gimli’s clever tongue and gift for words, that it took Legolas until that frantic moment at Helm’s Deep where he cast his eyes wide for sight of his friend only to find him missing to realize he was in love with Gimli.

 

“I thought you might be asleep. As well you should be. You will need all your strength.”

 

“I thought we were done with this,” Gimli answers, waving his hand. “Your Elvish doubt about the endurance of Dwarves.”

 

“I doubt nothing about you, Mellon-nin. It is only that I wish you as well as possible. You need rest. What we face tomorrow is no easy thing.”

 

“I fear it is not,” Gimli agrees, and sighs. “It is wise advice. Perhaps even Elves should heed it,” he challenges, gaze sharp on Legolas who ducks his head forward that his hair might fall to cover his ears, flushing red under Gimli’s scrutiny, for he knows well how sharp Dwarven eyes are in the dark.

 

“Of course,” he offers. “I would not keep you from sleep. Good night,” he bids, even as his heart aches with sorrow to leave Gimli.

 

“Legolas, wait,” Gimli calls, voice gentle as Legolas’s fingers curl on the handle of the door. “There is no cause for you to leave. The bed is big enough. And you walked all the way here,” he says with a wry smile that barely peeks through the bush of his moustache. He rises from his chair and Legolas says nothing when stout fingers land on his, still wrapped on the door handle. “Perhaps you are not the only one who finds it hard to sleep for missing his friend.”

 

The Ring has been lost to them for many months, missing with Frodo and Sam so far beyond their reach that not even Mithrandir can find it. But even when it was near, dangling from Frodo’s neck, singing to Legolas in those hours where he kept watch alone, calling him and tempting him, it had never offered him anything he wants so much as the chance to sleep beside Gimli one last time, to feel the warmth and weight of his friend and to remind himself what he will fall fighting for.

 

“I have grown used to having you at my side,” he admits, fingers sliding off the metal of the door handle.

 

Gimli’s stay upon his for one brief, lingering moment.

 

Gimli settles himself on the bed while Legolas strips his leggings and outer tunic, grants himself one moment to fold his road worn clothes. They are stained despite his best efforts to scrub them in streams and rivers when the opportunity presented itself, dirt settled into seams that will never be washed away. If he were to take them home, back to the Greenwood, he thinks he would just see them burned, so worn and threadbare in places they’re not worth the effort to salvage them, but instead he will don them one last time. They will be the clothes he wears to battle, the outfit he will be wearing when he dies.

 

He is an Elf, a Prince of the Greenwood. He should not have splattered and worn things as his funeral clothes, he should not be facing death at all, but he can find no regret for his decision.

 

Gimli has settled on one side of the bed when Legolas climbs in. Even with how wide the bed is and how slender Legolas is Gimli’s shoulders are still broad enough to brush his when he lays. He shifts just a little, under the guise of settling, until he is closer, as close as he dare. Only their shoulders touch but he can feel the heat of Gimli’s body so close to his.

 

He turns his head and while his eyes may not be as suited to the dark as Gimli’s he can still make out the soft expression Gimli wears on his face, the fall of his hair against the pillow with his head turned toward Legolas. If this is indeed his last night alive there is no place he would rather spend it, but even still his heart, and before he never would’ve called it greedy, would’ve said that he found contentment and happiness in his woods and the stars and the draw of his bow and wanted little else, his heart calls for more. He gathers himself, opens his mouth to speak, but finds no words.

 

The movement catches Gimli’s eye and he shifts, turns to his side and the twist of his body on the mattress pulls Legolas with it, ever closer to the bulk of Gimli’s body, and Legolas knows he should resist, should pull himself back to the edge of the bed, but he finds himself helpless against it. “What ails you, Legolas?” He asks, concern in his voice, and when his hand lays on Legolas’s shoulder with all the tenderness the old stories had taught Legolas the Dwarves could never possess the breath shudders out of him and his eyes flutter closed. He breathes deep and finds his courage.

 

“There is something I wish to do,” he says, words barely a whisper for they have such a short distance to travel, eyes opening to find Gimli so close. “If you would allow it.”

 

“Speak, lad,” Gimli whispers back, hand squeezing where it still rests on Legolas’s shoulder. “You have nothing to fear from me.”

 

Gimli bids him to speak but Legolas finds his words, as they so often have before, deserting him. But he finds no grief in it, in his tied tongue and missing words, no sorrow or embarrassment, not now, in this bed with Gimli so near and his hand so warm through Legolas’s shirt. They’re so close it’s nothing at all to roll forward and press a kiss to Gimli’s lips, the motion at first clumsy and off center, the generous fall of Gimli’s whiskers tickling his lips and rasping against his cheeks until Gimli’s palm sweeps from his shoulder to his neck, curling at the base, his thumb resting at the hinge of Legolas’s jaw as he tilts his head just slightly, and suddenly there is nothing but warmth and burning heat and hot, damp breath between them.

 

“Is that all you wish?” Gimli asks, their lips barely apart, and Legolas shivers, tingles with the thought that he knows what those lips taste of.

 

He wishes they had more time, that they do not face what they do tomorrow. That he could take Gimli to his home and asks if he could ever find beauty in the woods. Legolas would fall to his knees and hold Gimli’s dear face in his hands and ask if he could imagine loving an Elf, for Legolas is his, wholly and completely. He wishes Gimli would stay behind tomorrow, stay safe, that he might live, but Legolas knows it would be an insult to his friend to even suggest it so instead he must simply keep Gimli alive himself. He wants to wish that Gimli had never come, was at his home in the mountain, away from the horror and bloodshed they have faced, but he can’t regret this, Gimli beside him with his never faltering laugh and the swing of his axe.

 

He wishes he could find the strength to tell Gimli all he wants, the secret wishes that will never come true, not now, but that he clings to anyway.

 

But that is all too much for him to force Gimli to shoulder, the burden of Legolas’s heart, the love of a friend who will not survive this last battle.

 

Still, if he can not have that, perhaps he can have what else he wishes for, for these last few hours. Gimli’s hands upon him, and his skillful mouth, that is good for so much more than just pretty words. Gimli’s solid body, so full of beauty and strength, beside him, under him -he draws a shaky breath at the thought- inside him.

 

Legolas shudders and when Gimli’s hand cups his cheek he leans into it. “No,” he answers finally. “No, that is not all.”

 

There is much he aches for that will never come to be but perhaps, as selfish as it may be, he can have this. Can have Gimli tonight, and tomorrow will stand tall and proud, arrows at the ready, beside his husband.

 

If Gimli doesn’t know what this will be, the weight their actions tonight will hold for Legolas, he find it matters not. If Gimli never knows that this joining will mean them married in the tradition of Elves it will not make it matter less to Legolas. Perhaps it is even better, if Gimli does not know that Legolas will leave him a widower. He will see Gimli into the next age and that will be enough for him.

 

He closes his eyes, breathes deep, and lets the knowledge of what they do settle over him. He leans forward then, and this time Gimli rises to meet him in their kiss.

 

The eloquence Legolas lacks in words he has always made up for in his graceful movements, the quickness of his feet and the steadiness of his hands on his weapons, fingers fast as they notch an arrow to his bow and his wrists swift with the slice of his knives. But he finds his hands shaking as they come to rest on Gimli’s waist, fingers clumsy where they twist in the fabric of his shirt, thoughts foggy from the dragging sweetness of Gimli’s kisses.

 

“You are nervous,” Gimli says, and it’s not a question. He lays his hands atop Legolas’s shaking ones and Legolas turns his, loosens them from their grip on Gimli’s shirt and turns them to cling instead to his friend’s strong fingers. “What ails you, lad? Why are you shaking?” Gimli asks, and presses a long, lingering kiss to Legolas’s brow, hand coming up to thumb hair back behind a pointed Elven ear. “If you do not want-”

 

“No!” He cries, jerking his head up to look at Gimli, clenching his fingers around his friend’s even tighter. “No,” he says again, softer this time. “It is not that. It it only, I know not how it is for Dwarves, but I am, that is-” he finally cuts himself off, frustrated with his own stumbling words and the flush he feels on his cheeks.

 

“Peace,” Gimli says. “It is only I here,” he reminds softly and guides Legolas’s head down with a firm hand on his neck until he is tucked safely under Gimli’s chin, face buried in the braided nest of Gimli’s beard. He finds it easier to talk when he is looking only at the russet and gold of Gimli’s beard, can smell only pipeweed and skin and a deep, earthen scent that Gimli carries with him everywhere instead of the chilly, damp walls of the castle that serve only to remind him he is an Elf and belongs out under the sky. Gimli’s fingers stroke through his hair, occasionally brushing the tips of his ears, and the touch sparks white hot want in him.

 

“It is only that I have, I have never done this before,” he finally says, proud when his tongue only trips on the words once.

 

He is not expecting Gimli’s laugh, a deep chuckle that shakes the chest beneath him. Hurt flashes through him but there is no mockery in Gimli’s laugh, only warmth and affection.

 

“That is all that troubles you? Truly?”

 

Legolas nods and raises his head to watch the twitch of a smile beneath Gimli’s moustache.

 

“Oh, my daft Elf, that matters little. I can show you the way,” he promises, and draws Legolas toward him for another kiss.

 

His hands still shake but he finds he can ignore it, can focus instead on the heat of Gimli’s skin beneath them, the way the hair that smatters Gimli’s entire body feels when he finally slides a palm beneath the hem of his shirt to the belly underneath. He moans when Gimli parts his lips with his tongue, gasps when a hand cups him through his smallclothes, and when Gimli heaves him over with a strong arm he goes willingly, thighs spread wide over the plane of Gimli’s hips and hands braced on his chest.

 

Gimli rocks up gently, a slow, grinding roll of hips careful not to topple Legolas, but when the bulge between his legs nudges against Legolas’s answering one his hands skitter off and send him falling forward with a choked cry, caught only by Gimli’s hands on his waist. “Easy,” Gimli soothes, good humor in his breathless voice as he smooths a hand down Legolas’s flank.

 

He pants, great, gulping breaths in an attempt to clear the hazy fog of lust from his head even as Gimli continues to rock the heat of their sexes together, firm, steady touches that send sparks of fire up Legolas’s spine.

 

“Gimli, Meleth-nin, please,” he begs, eyes sliding shut to the look of wicked satisfaction Gimli wears at how thin and reedy his voice is, difficult even for his ears to pick up, but Gimli must hear regardless. The hand on his waist turns vice like and unbreakable as stone, anchoring him in place and Gimli gives a firm thrust, the heavy weight of his cock pressing against Legolas’s, trapped in the confines of his smallclothes, that sweet, honeyed ache between his legs pooling further and he worries he’s going to spill like this, squirming uselessly against Gimli’s hands and the steady press of Gimli’s groin tight against his. He makes a sound, less than a word, a high mewl that catches in his throat, and if he weren’t already flushed his cheeks would burn at the pathetic noise. Finally, right as he teeters on the edge, hands curled tight around Gimli’s shoulders, Gimli eases his hips back down to the bed, breaking the heated contact. Legolas trembles, his body pulled taut as a bowstring, his member throbbing between his legs and he worries it’s too late, that the press of Gimli’s body has pushed him too far and he will fall but he fights for a breath, rocks his hips against the air until the demanding pulse of desire between his legs settles and fades.

 

He bends forward and tries to distracts himself from the pounding of his cock with a kiss, open mouthed and panting, lips smearing together while Legolas whimpers against Gimli’s mouth. Gimli’s hands flex and flutter in their hold on his waist. He shifts below Legolas, grunts when the hardness in his smallclothes bumps against Legolas’s thigh. “Mahal help me, you drive me to madness, Legolas,” he pants, and turns his head to bite the point of Legolas’s ear, teeth carefully grazing along the ridge of it and it leaves Legolas shaking in his hold, overcome by the contact that skirts the edge of painful but never quite tips to it, shocks of pleasure that leave his fingers curling in the bedsheets, the fabric of Gimli’s tunic, into the give of his own thigh while he chews on his lip in a desperate bid to cling to his senses.

 

Please ,” he gasps, and if there were more air for words he would beg, would plead, for Gimli to do something about the terrible, wonderful gnawing ache of want within him. And oh, oh how he would’ve laughed, all those months ago when they departed Rivendell, if he had been told that he would be reduced to begging the Dwarf for anything. Gone is any of the Elvish pride Gimli would’ve onced accused him of having, any haughtiness he might’ve had stripped away by the simple touch of Gimli’s mouth. “Please, Gimli, I know there is more and I would have you show me.”

 

Gimli stills, breath haggard in Legolas’s ear, before he speaks quietly. “Are you sure?” He dips a hand under the hem of Legolas’s shirt, palms the narrow hip he finds there, warm and possessive.

 

“Yes,” he breathes out and leans more heavily into the touch of Gimli’s hand. Legolas is young for an Elf but still probably much older than Gimli knows. His years have been at once long and far, far too short, but for all his years, for all he has seen and done, for all his life has been touched by sorrow and happiness, it all pales compared to these few short months with Gimli at his side. He has learned the clutch of grief unbearable and found it soothed by the presence of his friend. Legolas has run until even Elvish endurance is exhausted and found the strength to continue on in his companions at his side. For all his years, the quiet peace he knew before the darkness truly took hold in the Greenwood, the contentment he found amongst the other Elves, the ones who knew him well and had watched him grown from a shy young prince into one who preferred the company of his bow to that of others and left him to it, those joyful days where he could get lost in the forest with only the trees for company, he has never found a happiness like this in the touch of Gimli’s hands, so unlike his own slim ones but so familiar to him now, the warm press of a body that floods him with heat he’s never known before. “Yes,” he answers again, voice steadier, stronger. “I am sure.”

 

Because even here, at what could well be the end of the world, the eve of their last, foolish stand, when everything that is to come depends on the strength of Hobbits they haven’t seen in months and the courage of men, when nothing is certain and they fight only for hope, even here, Legolas finds that about this, about Gimli, he can never be uncertain.

 

Gimli kisses him him again. Gimli is as strong as any Dwarf, as strong as a mountain, his body hard packed with muscle and broad shoulders that cut an impressive figure even out of his layers of armour, but there is none of that hardness in his kisses. He is gentle, careful in a way that makes Legolas tremble, even the rub of his beard that should be harsh and scratchy is soft, a careful brush that is almost ticklish and makes Legolas giddy for even when he closes his eyes there is no mistaking who it is he is kissing. The fingers that skim Legolas’s tunic off are featherlight, bumping over the ribs long months of travel have left more defined, before finally tugging it over Legolas’s head, sending his hair falling about him in a wild cascade as he pulls free and sits up.

 

He shivers, not from the cold that hangs in the air, instead from the eyes Gimli rakes over him. He knows Dwarves are lovers of beauty, and though they were not to his taste even he was forced to admit that the wares they sold in Dale the few times he ventured to the city were always the work of expert craftsmen. He wonders what Gimli sees, if there is any beauty to be found in his pale, hairless body in the eyes of a Dwarf, and pulls his shoulders in, casts his eyes down and draws a steadying breath before he looks to meet Gimli’s gaze, braces himself for the disappointment he will find there.

 

He should know better than to doubt his friend. He knows him so well and yet, he thinks, Gimli is ever able to surprise him. When he finds Gimli’s eyes they are heated, the warm brown of them dark with desire, and the hand he traces down the plane of Legolas’s chest is near worshipful. “Oh, ‘ibin abnâmul,” he whispers, and the sound of Gimli’s voice wrapped around the sacred language of the Dwarves makes Legolas’s hardened cock quiver and smear wetness inside his smallclothes. “You are a sight to behold. I know not how it came to be that none have been lucky enough to behold you as such before, but it is not in the nature of Dwarves to question our good fortune. It is a gift you give me, and one I will take, and gladly.”

 

And Gimli’s hand, that had stopped on the flat of Legolas’s belly, slips inside the waist of his smallclothes, skims the small tangle of curls before brushing careful fingertips along the length of his cock. It is at once too much and not enough, a fleeting contact that nevertheless knocks the breath from him and leaves him curling forward, desperate to feel the length of Gimli’s body beneath his.

 

Legolas’s fingers burrow under Gimli’s beard to tangle in the collar of his shirt, his hands clumsy as he tugs on the garment. Gimli laughs when he makes a noise of frustration and gently releases Legolas’s grip with his own hand. “My clothes have suffered enough. I would rather you not destroy them further.”

 

“Then do not tease me so.” Legolas is startled by how much his words sound like a growl, none of the lilting Silvan accent they usually carry coloring them. His nerves are gone, taunting thoughts that Gimli would find him lacking scattered by the obvious weight of Gimli’s desire and replaced by a wild, feral instinct to take and to have. It is something he has never felt before and perhaps it should worry him, this fire that wants to consume him, but Gimli’s hands are steady upon him, holding him together, and he can find no concern, no shame or embarrassment. There is only want. Desire. A longing Gimli has woken in him and that Gimli alone can sate.

 

Gimli laughs again, draws Legolas’s hands from their grasp on his tunic and brings them to his mouth to kiss the palms. “Impatient Elf,” he chides, but his voice, thick with lust, and the mirth in his eyes turns it into an endearment. “All you had to do was ask.” He goes to sit up but finds himself trapped by Legolas’s body. “Although I fear you will have to give me room.”

 

The petulance of Legolas’s pout at having to move is soothed with a kiss when he reluctantly rolls off, the sweet, bubbling brightness of it making up a little for the loss of Gimli’s body, before he finally strips the loose fabric off, allowing it to flutter to the ground beside the bed.  

 

He has seen Gimli bare chested before, in stolen moments where they washed clean in cool forest streams and even in the bathhouses at Rohan where they had scrubbed off the filth and gore of the battlefield. Legolas had blamed his flush on the steam that filled the air, not the sight of Gimli’s strong chest, with it’s thick coat of red fur and the strength of his arms that flexed with every movement. Now he doesn’t have to pretend he isn’t looking, doesn’t have to catch brief glimpses under his lowered eyes.

 

He makes to protest when Gimli climbs off the bed, crawls across the mattress and reaches out with greedy fingers, bereft of Gimli beside him, but the words to beg Gimli back die when he reaches for the lacings of his small clothes and tug open the knot. The legs he reveals are as thick and strong as tree trunks, corded with muscle, a scar slicing across the outside of one thigh, a glaring white patch of thickened tissue where no hair grows, and if they had the time Legolas would ask him about it, would ask Gimli how it came to be and if it still hurts him sometimes, if their long trek has made it ache and twitch in pain or if all their walking has kept the tissue soft and flexible. And then, if he were truly brave, if they had the time, Legolas thinks he would kiss it, would run his fingers over it and marvel at the ways in which Gimli’s body has changed and grown to keep him alive and to heal, to bring him here to Legolas and this very moment.

 

But there is not time. There are only these few stolen moments, these too short hours before dawn and all that it will bring with it comes.

 

Gimli has survived until now, and he will survive this too, and that is all there is to it. Legolas resolves to give it no more thought.

 

He looks from the scar on Gimli’s body, the reminder of his mortality, instead to the vee of Gimli’s legs and shudders at the sight. Gimli’s cock is hard and bobbing, nested in a mat of hair that is darker and coarser than that on his head. Elves are modest, they prefer private baths and if they aren’t available keep their smallclothes on, so Legolas is not familiar with pricks beside his own but even still he thinks Gimli’s must be impressive, as long as his hand and with a fat crown that flares out into a thick shaft. It is ruddy and darkened with blood with a fold of loose skin at the base of it.

 

Legolas closes his eyes, takes a steadying breath.

 

When he opens them Gimli is looking at him with concerned eyes, a downward tilt to his lips and a furrow between his brows. “Legolas, my friend,” he begins slowly, as if tasting each word on his tongue before saying it, and the show of hesitation in his friend who has never tripped over his words before makes Legolas sit up, worried that something is wrong, worried that he has done something wrong. “I know you have never done this before and I would not, that is, how much do you know?”

 

Legolas relaxes, flooded with fondness at Gimli’s concern. “I know what I ask,” he reassures. “I understand the, the act.” He does not tell Gimli of the scrolls the Elves keep, the ones that detail the marriage acts, where he had first learned the simplicity of Elven marriage. He had read them when he was younger, when he was finally grown and mature, when he had thought that perhaps it would not be much longer before he found one to marry, someone who would light the fire of desire in him, and he would take them as a husband or a wife. But he was younger than most of the Elves of the Woods, and even if there had been others close to him in age and unmarried he preferred to spend his time alone, where words could not betray him, where he was not judged for lacking his father’s graces. It has seemed almost an age since he last read those scrolls, the elegant hand of some Elven scribe beginning to fade even then, and he had long since ceased to think that he would find someone to share this act with, and yet he had never forgotten. It had seemed at times a cruelty, a reminder that none had ever awoken desire in him, that he was odd for an Elf, unwed at more than twice the age Elves usually married by, and so likely never would marry. But as with so many things he is now only grateful.

 

He can not regret those lonely years. Gimli is bare before him and his mouth still tingles from the heat of their kisses. He would endure another age alone if at the end of it there was this.

 

With Gimli standing and Legolas still on the bed they are almost of a height and Gimli tilts his head forward and Legolas leans to meet him, ever hungry for more of Gimli’s kisses, except Gimli does not kiss him. He presses their foreheads together, settles a hand on the nape of Legolas’s neck. It is odd, something Elves never do, but there is an intimacy to it that Legolas relishes, the way their noses bump and the rustle of Gimli’s beard. He can feel the pant of Gimli’s breaths, the air blowing cool across his skin. Finally Gimli mutters something, the words too soft for even Legolas’s ears to discern but he can pick up the rumbling syllables of khuzdul before Gimli drops his hand.

 

He takes a step back, hesitates before surging forward to grab Legolas’s face between his hands and kiss him deeply, leaning so heavily that they almost topple backward before he rips away, both their chests heaving, and nods. “You should finish undressing.” Gimli takes a resolute step back before he turns and walks to his pack, tucked against the wall, while Legolas strips of his smallclothes, gasping when his cock is finally freed.

 

Gimli is holding a small pot in his hands when he returns, smelling pungent and earthy. It is a vial of the same emollient Legolas has, given to them by the healers at Rohan, something slick and viscous to smooth on wind burned cheeks and chapped lips, a thick oil that can be worked into leather boots and straps that need softening or used to coat rubbed raw blisters. Legolas has even used it to keep his bowstring supple and he has watched Gimli polish it into the handle of his axe to prevent the wood from drying out and splitting. His pulse pounds as he watches Gimli set it on the table beside the bed before he again lays down and turns to face Legolas.

 

He curls toward Gimli, gasps open mouthed against a whiskered cheek when Gimli slots a leg between his and ruts it high against the throb of Legolas’s bare sex. The contact is overwhelming, the touch of Gimli’s skin against the heated crux of him, the sensitive flesh where he has before only ever felt his own touch makes him dizzy and it is only his hands on Gimli, ever his steadfast anchor, that keep him grounded.

 

“Please,” he implores, smearing his lips against Gimli’s face in a move too clumsy to rightfully be called a kiss. “I know not if I can bear this much longer. Meleth-nin, will not you touch me?” Distantly he registers the danger of calling Gimli such but he finds he cannot deny himself the joy of naming Gimli in such a manner, of speaking the words in his heart even if Gimli does not realize what they mean. The hand Gimli lays on his side is as hot as a brand and wildly Legolas wishes it was, wishes Gimli could mark him and that he would ride into battle carrying the handprint of Gimli, Gimli, who will be his husband before he leaves this bed, upon him.

 

Gimli does not respond, not with words, but his hands turn possessive and his touch firm, stroking over the planes of Legolas’s body, tugging him closer, his mouth hot and hungry when he captures Legolas in a kiss, his thigh still tucked tight between Legolas’s legs and he works himself against it, helpless against the pleasure of it although careful not to spill, not like this, fingers twisting in whatever handfuls of bedding he can grab. He stills when one of Gimli’s hands fits itself the the divot of his lower back, whines high as he nibbles at the join of Legolas’s neck and whimpers at the loss when the careful press of teeth draws back. Gimli’s chest is heaving below him and his own pulse flutters like a baby bird, pounding so hard he can feel it all the way down in the tips of his fingers.

 

“It would be easiest,” Gimli begins, and is forced to pause and draw a long breath before he can continue and satisfaction swells in Legolas at the sight of his chest expanding, at the sweat matting the hair on his chest, flush with the knowledge that it is his inexperienced Elven body that Gimli finds pleasure in. “It would be easiest if you were astride me, as before.”

 

His legs tremble as he tries to swing one across Gimli’s hips, the muscles weakened from this in a way they never were even after their days of running, and it is only when Gimli wraps his hands tight around his waist and all but lifts him that Legolas is able to move. Their cocks brush, bare and burning hot, Gimli’s thick and broader though perhaps just a bit shorter than Legolas’s own, and they both moan at the contact. Legolas would be embarrassed by the thin reediness of his voice but Gimli’s own is deep and raw.

 

Gimli’s movements have perhaps never been fluid as Legolas’s own but there has always been a surety to his movements, a solidness that Legolas has come to find beauty in, but now his hands are clumsy as they open the small pot on the bedside and scoop some of the thick cream out, muttering a curse when a drop of it drips from his fingers to the wooden table but makes no move to clean it.

 

“If I hurt you-”

 

“You could never,” Legolas cuts him off, voice still thin but there is the strength of stone behind the words. He could never doubt Gimli’s strength but just as surely he can never doubt his friend’s gentleness. He tilts his hips, closer to the hand that Gimli hovers near his flank, slides his hands down the chest below him and relishes the crinkle of hair beneath his palms, the shifting of carved muscles that ripples below his touch. Still, Gimli hesitates, despite Legolas’s reassurances. “I have waited long for this,” he promises, almost the truth. He has waited long for Gimli, for the one his heart would decide on, for one who would make him ache with need and soothe the ache with their touch. He has waited long for Gimli, for one as handsome and strong, for one who can shine with light in even the darkest of times, for the one he wishes to take as his husband, for who else could be worthy? “Would you make me wait longer still?”

 

Gimli surges up, uncaring that he smears the grease on his fingers down Legolas’s shoulder when he drags him forward for a kiss. When he pulls back Legolas tries to chase after him, stopped only by the hand at his shoulder. Gimli’s mouth is only far enough away that he can speak, the hair of his beard still dragging on the oversensitized skin of Legolas’s face, but nonetheless it feels too great a distance, still makes him ache. “You have too much faith in me.”

 

“Never.” He has trusted Gimli for long months now. He fights, for the good of all Middle Earth yes, but also for his friend, that the land Legolas will leave behind when he falls will be one worthy of Gimli, one he may find the happiness he deserves in. Of Gimli he can never be unsure. “Please,” he asks simply. “I know what I ask for.”

 

Gimli does not ask again if Legolas is certain but the hand he draws down the length of Legolas’s back, dragging a line of warmth on the skin, is slow, slow enough Legolas could protest if he wanted, could still stop and change his mind. But he does not stop Gimli, only gasps and arches into the touch, mouth falling open in a whine even as his eyes fall shut when the heel of Gimli’s hand presses into the divot of his lower back. The finger Gimli presses into him is broad and wet with oil, a burning stretch that Legolas rocks back toward anyway, greedy for it, to take any part of Gimli into himself.

 

Gimli pets his side and Legolas’s legs clench tight against Gimli’s hips when he adds a second fingers to the stretch. It leaves him shaking and panting, already feeling too full, too much that leaves him panting in pleasure regardless, a stuttering gasp of air knocked from him when Gimli’s fingers twist and curl and rub firmly against something inside of him that leaves him shaking and trembling, tumbling forward, head landing on Gimli’s shoulder as he shudders and even still his hips press back against Gimli’s fingers.

 

Gimli laughs, slow and sweet but bright, joyful, warm as a sunbeam creeping slowly across the forest floor, and Legolas closes his eyes, basks in the feel of Gimli’s body tight against his and the blunt fingers twisting inside him, the brush of Gimli’s hair, wild now when it has always been combed and braided, even after their most vicious of battles, and it is only now, because of Legolas, because of the fingers he fists in that burnished gold hair, that it is untamed. The kiss nipped to his ear makes him shiver, a low, long strum of his body that Gimli must feel.

 

“It seems I worried for naught. I feared perhaps you would find no pleasure in this.” The thought is so absurd that Legolas can only laugh at it, choked and broken as the sound is. He wishes he could find the words to tell Gimli how much pleasure Legolas finds in him, not just in this, in the odd, beautiful ways their bodies fit together, but in his company, in the voice he raises in good humor despite the darkness that dogs their every step, in the same voice that turns words to poetry and speaks wisdom that Legolas had not found in Elves ten times his age. He yearns to tell Gimli that his hands upon him, the fingers that curl inside him and the ones that had mussed the braids from his fine hair, bring him a pleasure he did not believe possible, one he was sure he was never meant to feel.

 

But there are no words, not for this, not that he trusts to sound right on his tongue, so instead he tries to tell Gimli in the shift of his body, in the whine he can’t keep in, the possessive fingers that scratch down Gimli’s chest, the hair coarse but the skin below surprisingly soft beneath his fingers despite the callouses his bowstring have cut into them.

 

Legolas cries out at the stretch of a third finger pressing into him and Gimli stills, strokes his side with his other hand while Legolas squeezes his legs tights against the hips he’s straddling, bites into the swollen skin of his lips and draws a ragged breath against the pain as Gimli murmurs soothing nonsense to him. He sucks in a deep lungful, presses a hand tight against his neglected sex, weeping against the skin of his belly, and desire pulses through him, leaving no room in his body for pain. His muscles fall loose, Gimli’s fingers slipping inside with no resistance and his legs relax their clench on Gimli’s hips, shoulders slouching forward, loose and limbless with pleasure.

 

His body aches with loss when Gimli’s slips his fingers from the clutch of his body but that same hand, still slick and damp, tugs his hips forward and it is only his hands splayed open on Gimli’s chest that keep him from toppling off balance. The head of Gimli’s cock brushes against his hole, slips in the grease smeared there. He whines, high and tight, the sound barely unfurling in his chest, suddenly, desperately overcome with the need for this, for Gimli to claim his body, to know Legolas in a way none have before and none after ever will.

 

The need, that squeezes tight around his chest, for the chance to name Gimli as his husband.

 

Even if Gimli will never know.

 

Even if it will not matter after tomorrow.

 

Even if it changes nothing, if it matters to none but him, means nothing to any but him.

 

Gimli growls a curse, so low even Legolas’s ears can not pick out if it is Weston or Khuzdul, and braces his clean hand on Legolas’s hip while the other he fists tight around the base of his swollen prick. With a gentle, rolling nudge of his hips he presses upward and Legolas gasps as his body gives to the insistent, steady press and opens for Gimli, spreads around the fat head of Gimli’s cock until it is tight inside him, leaving him shaking with only Gimli’s hand keeping him upright, his arms falling uselessly to his sides while he shivers and moans, unable to think around Gimli’s cock finally inside him.  

 

Gimli’s hips rock slow and steady, like the rolling of waves crashing against the shore, a slow, calm, rhythmic slide of flesh on flesh, nudging deeper inside him with gentle, cautious movements that leave him gasping and his mouth hanging open. Gimli is hot and hard inside him, both hands tight on Legolas’s hips when they’re finally flush, his chest heaving and his heavy breaths rustling the thick fall of his beard.

 

His legs tremble when Legolas tries to shift himself up and he can feel Gimli’s own twitching with the urge to thrust, to grind up and claim and if Legolas had any air for breath he would tell Gimli to take his pleasure, to use Legolas as he wished and know that whatever he would give Legolas would gladly take, but he also knows his friend is too noble for such a thing, his careful handling of Legolas a sure sign of it, that he would argue and protest, and so Legolas braces his hands on Gimli’s chest, forces his liquid muscles to pull him up and let him fall, to show Gimli that there is no pain or hesitation, only their heated bodies and the heavy, sweet ache in his belly that burns brighter with every steady glide of Gimli’s prick within him.

 

They say of the Elves that the call to the West, the siren song of white shores, is so strong that once it has been awoken none have ever been able to resist its pull. They may fight it, for years, decades, perhaps even centuries if the things that anchor them to Gondor are strong enough, but eventually they will all succumb. When Legolas had heard the first cry of the gulls he had understood but now, with Gimli, stong, handsome Gimli, his dearest friend, his heart of hearts, his husband , and the thought makes him choke on a breath, makes his hips stutter and every single bit of him tremble, with Gimli’s hands upon him and his compact body caught willingly between the spread of Legolas’s thighs, the pull to the West is forgotten, a weak, faded want that will never compare to the heady, drugged pleasure Gimli coaxes aflame in him.

 

It is no surprise that Gimli’s movements are as steady and assured here as they have always been. Legolas had watched his friend swing his axe with an assuredness that is only born from long hours of practice ingraining the memory of the movement deep into muscles, has seen Gimli tread even the most uneven of terrain with a surefootedness that is borne only from being completely aware of one’s body and after the first time he had nudged that sensitive spot inside of Legolas with his cock he has unerringly hit it with every thrust of his hips, every slow, dirty grind has dragged against it and left Legolas helpless. Even his Elvish endurance is exhausted, sweat slicking him and making his now limp hair cling to his back and neck when he finally cups a hand around his own sex. It is hard against his belly, has been weeping pearlescent drops that slide down to dry tacky against his legs and so sensitive that even the first feather light touch he brushes against it makes him cry out.

 

“Gimli, Meleth-nin, please. I must, I cannot-” He is cut off when Gimli surges forward, hands falling from Legolas’s sides to push himself up from the mattress and the kiss he takes is fierce and bruising, Gimli’s beard scratching the skin of his neck to redness while he nips with sharp teeth into the abused skin of Legolas’s lips. His cock, trapped between them, spurts more wetness against his palm and it is only the tight fist he curls around it that keeps him from tipping.  

“Legolas, amralime,” and this close Legolas can feel the rumble of Gimli’s chest even before he speaks the words, and more spill from his lips, a tumble of harsh Khuzdul syllables softened by the husk of Gimli’s breathless voice, his face pressed into the curve of Legolas’s neck, hips rutting into Legolas with powerful thrusts that make his head hang, lips tasting the salt at Gimli’s temple, the sweat tangling the hair there that he kisses greedily until there is only the flavor of Gimli’s skin on his tongue and the sound of a language he does not understand but that makes tears prickle in his eyes because it is Gimli saying them to him, Gimli’s voice wrapped rough around the words, and their meaning doesn’t matter because Gimli is here, body tight against Legolas’s and pressed deep inside him and moved to speak the language of his people.

 

Gimli’s words stop abruptly and his hips give one more firm thrust, cock driving hard into Legolas, and with a choked noise Legolas finally spills, thick white semen pulsing out of him, and it is only Gimli there, holding him up, that keeps him from collapsing, sagging against that firm chest and his arms draping bonelessly around Gimli’s shoulders while Gimli tightens his own arms around his back and hold him steady as tremors wrack his body.

 

He breathes, low and steady, in time with the hand Gimli sweeps up and down the line of his back, a long, slow drag of warm palm that pricks goosebumps into his sensitive skin. “ Herven ,” he mumbles, the word slurred on his tongue and spoken so quietly he is not sure he spoke at all until Gimli’s chest rumbles with a chuckle.

 

“Surely my beard does not let you forget that I am not an Elf,” he teases but tilts his head up to kiss the hinge of Legolas’s jaw anyway, that same beard scratching against him and the roughened contact makes Legolas’s cock, still held in his hand, twitch, suddenly too sensitive, and he drops it, lets it smack wetly against Gimli’s belly.

 

It makes him realize Gimli is still hard inside him, the hips he sits astride flexing tightly as Gimli tries to ignore his own need and hold them still, considerate of the way even the barely there shifts of humid air across his skin feels too much. It takes considerable effort to make his muscles work, to rise slightly and fall back down, but the strain of tired limbs is nothing to the joy of spearing himself on Gimli’s prick, the skittering of his nerves that border on pain a sacrifice he would make a hundred, a thousand times over for the way Gimli shudders and groans and pulls Legolas tighter against him.

 

“You do not have to,” Gimli tells him, voice strained in a way Legolas has never heard it, even raw from the cries of battles or worn thin as he sang song after song with the Hobbits to keep their spirits up.

 

Gimli has given him much, even more than Legolas knew to ask for, even more than he knows. Throughout their long journey and in these few stolen hours. There is no part of him not alight with love for his friend, no part of him not humbled to be able to call Gimli his husband, no question in his heart that it is a gift that he will fall keeping Gimli alive. Gimli has given him so much, the thought of keeping this from him, even for mere minutes, is unthinkable.

 

“I do,” he insists. “Take your pleasure, Gimli.” He braces his hands on Gimli’s shoulders and pushes him flat on his back, wiggles his hips with the same bouncing trot he sways with when they ride Arod, and any protest Gimli may have dies, hands falling from their soothing strokes of Legolas’s back to seize his waist and with a grunt he drives his hips up with such force that Legolas’s spent cock bounces against his thigh.

 

He growls Legolas’s name but speaks no more, only groans as he thrusts once more, his grip bruising as his cock pulses, branding Legolas as his deep inside, head tossed back and with the red curls of his hair and beard limned in moonlight, the beads woven in glinting, he looks wild and fierce, not made of flesh and bone but instead the steel of a blade and the stone of the mountains, something unmovable and unbreakable even as his muscles strain taut for one short, endless moment before they fall to liquid, his heart hammering in the cage of his chest beneath Legolas’s palm, every beat a pounding reminder that he is here, with Legolas.

 

He collapses when Gimli’s softened cock finally slips from him, tumbles forward graceless into the solidity of Gimli’s chest. When he shivers stout Dwarven arms wrap tight around him. Gimli blinks, sleepy and slow, and though his mouth is hidden beneath his moustache the curl at the corner of it tells of a smile as he tilts Legolas’s head down for a kiss.

 

When their mouths part Legolas rolls off of Gimli but does not go far, their bodies curling toward each other, heads on the same pillow and their mouths so very near, sharing breath. Legolas searches for something to say but finds himself loathe to break the silence.

 

All that needs to be said has been, all he needs Gimli to know he does, and whatever he leaves unspoken is for him and him alone.

 

Instead he contents himself with lying his head on Gimli’s shoulder, counting the rise and fall of it beneath his cushion of copper hair, and Gimli’s fingers stroke through his hair until his breathing evens into long, deep, slow lungfuls of air.

 

He is grateful, as he has never been before, that Elves keep their eyes open during reverie. It was necessary on many nights of their journey, a way for them all to steal much needed moments of rest, but now he only thinks how wonderful it is that he will be able to see Gimli the whole night through.

 

~

 

Morning dawns as it inevitably does although Legolas has been awake for many hours even before the sun sends its first watery tendrils of brightness over the horizon. He presses one last tender kiss to Gimli’s brow, smoothed now in sleep, to the small wrinkles at the corners of his eyes which laughter and smiles have wrought into the paper thin skin. He could stay longer, mourn the fact that he will never get to see them deepen and grow, but there is nothing to be done for it and so he refuses to give the sorrow any space.

 

He pauses to dip a cloth into the bowl of water set out for Gimli the night before and scrubs himself quickly. He flushes as he wipes between his legs, tender but not painful for Gimli was so gentle with him. The water has cooled overnight and he finds the chilled wash refreshing but makes a note to find someone to send warm water for Gimli’s morning ablutions. Although Aragorn has refused to enter the city again the rest of the company has been treated as the friends of the King, embraced by a people eager to see their rightful king on the throne.

 

He is quick and quiet as he dresses, loathe to rouse Gimli before he must, and his friend, his husband, is still sleeping when he steps to the door on light feet that seem almost to dance with happiness.

 

He needs to make his way down to the fields and find Aragorn but Legolas ducks into the kitchens first anyway. They are abandoned, for everyone knows what this day brings with it and there are far more important matters than keeping the fires in the Citadel’s kitchen burning, but there are stocks of hard bread and cured meats and he wraps some in a cloth and climbs back to Gimli’s room. He sets his bundle on the bedside table and wakens Gimli with a slow stroke across his shoulders. He grumbles and turns his face farther into the pillow before rolling over to face Legolas.

 

Their gazes catch, something sharp and heated, and Legolas’s body sings with desire, with the memory of the pleasure to be found at Gimli’s hands, his breath hitching quietly. Gimli’s eyes flick to his throat and he wonders if Gimli is remembering the kisses he pressed there, the words he spoke against it.

 

It is Gimli who turns aside first, squinting at the sunlight filtering through the high window. “We ride then?” He asks, voice rough and it may be simply from sleep but there is a catch to it, a hitch that has never been there in all the mornings they spent sitting beside a fire together.

 

He ignores it, as Gimli does, because there is no time for lovers now. There is only what they must do. Legolas would mourn but he has already been given more than he could have asked for.

 

“I have heard no word yet, but I would guess shortly. I must find Aragorn for he still refuses to enter the city.”

 

“Foolish lad,” Gimli grumbles, but they both know what Aragorn does is for the best. Legolas has to look away as he climbs from the bed, unable to trust himself to remember his duty at the sight of Gimli bare in the dawning light.

 

“I brought you something from the kitchens,” he gestures vaguely to the food with his back turned. He catches a glimpse of Gimli shrugging into his shirt, arms flexing as he pulls it on, and swallows. “I will go find someone to bring you warm water. I fear it has cooled overnight and-”

 

“Legolas,” Gimli cuts off his nervous chatter. “It is fine. I have endured much worse than a cold bath.”

 

Legolas did not realize how tight the muscles in his shoulders had wound, the nervous tap of his fingers against his thigh, certain he would reveal himself in some way, that there would be some tell when all he wishes is to spend what time he has left in Gimli’s company. He forces himself to relax. “If you are sure. I will leave you to it and go to find Aragorn.”

 

He turns to leave but is stopped by a hand on his wrist. Gimli says nothing but he tugs on Legolas’s hand and he follows, as he will always follow, bends low, and his ears can hear the thundering of his own pulse. Gimli does not kiss him, and he is unsure if he is disappointed or relieved. A kiss now, in the breaking of the dawn, in the daylight, is more than he could ever hope to ask for, but the time for such things is past. They must face what is before them and Legolas knows it does not leave room for lovers.

 

Instead Gimli touches their foreheads together, a quick press of skin and briefly, as catching the flash of something well hidden moving through the woods, the thought of how easy it would be to turn it into a kiss crosses Legolas’s mind but he makes no move, instead simply revels in the touch of skin and the puff of breath smelling of pipeweed- and when did he become fond of the smell?- before Gimli breaks the contact and Legolas rises from his bend. “I will find you,” Gimli says, and if Legolas allowed himself to think on it he would say the words sound like more than a promise.

 

So he does not think on it.

 

He has what he has, and it is a gift indeed, to call Gimli his husband, and if no one else can know it doesn’t trouble him, for this gift is his alone.

 

The city bustles as he makes his way down the levels and to the fields below although there is no chatter, everyone he passes moving with a purposefulness that leaves no room for talking.

 

Aragorn is indeed standing in the fields, surrounded by men and horses although surprisingly alone as the men of Gondor prepare. He spots the sons of Elrond standing some feet away and quietly conversing as he picks his way to Aragorn and averts his eyes lest they read the truth in them.

 

“My friend,” Aragorn greets him, and though it is clear he is burdened by the weight of all they have endured and what they have yet to face there is a lightness to his face Legolas has not seen since they left Rivendell, before they knew all this journey would take from them. “I expected to see Gimli with you.”

 

“He was dressing still when I left his room,” Legolas answers, and it is only when Aragorn stills beside him that he realizes the truth that can be gleaned from his carelessly given answer. “No, Aragorn. I did not mean-“ he tries to protest, but the words stick to his tongue.

 

“You have never spoken lies well, my friend,” Aragorn tells him, wryly. “Perhaps I am not as surprised as I should be,” he says slowly, slyly, with a slanted look to Legolas that makes him duck his head to avoid it. “My congratulations.”

 

“No!” Legolas exclaims, almost wildly as he attempts to shush Aragorn. He glances around them but the noise of an army is enough to drown out even his startled words. “No, Aragorn, please. You do not understand. I beg of you to say nothing.”

 

“My friend, I was raised among Elves,” and here his voice dips low, that not even sharp, curious  Elven ears will be able to hear. “I know the wedding traditions,” and there is pain in his voice, sorrow, and Legolas knows of who he thinks, knows why Aragorn would bother with learning Elvish wedding traditions, and if panic were not banded tight around his chest he would offer his sympathy.

 

“You may, but Gimli does not.” The words are barely a whisper.  It is all he can find to say. He ducks his head, throat tight.

 

“He does not know?” Legolas nods, but does not look up. “Oh, Legolas. My friend. Do you not think he deserves to know? I did not believe you thought so little of our companion.”

 

“I think the world of him!” Legolas defends himself, and at the ferocity of his words Aragorn holds his hands up in a show of peace, a gesture to calm and remind Legolas that there are others about. “Gimli is dearer to me than anyone,” he continues, voice quieter but no less fierce.

 

“Then why does he not know that he wed you last night?”

 

“I think the traditions of Elves will mean little to a Dwarf.”

 

Aragorn’s face softens with understanding and sorrow, his shoulders sagging, and he looks worn and ragged, frayed, like the fletching on an arrow that needs replacing. “It may mean little to Dwarves but I think it would matter greatly to Gimli.”

 

“That’s why he cannot know. I will not tie him to me.”

 

“As you are tied to him?”

 

“I would have been tied to him regardless.” Aragorn smiles softly at Legolas’s confession, eyes sliding off to the middle distance briefly as he no doubt thinks of his own love, the one who may never be his but who he will love always regardless. “Besides, you know as well as I the risk we take. Neither of us are fools, Aragorn. I do not lie to myself that we will both live to see the end of this.” He does not tell Aragorn that he will fall first. That he will selfishly pass on with the hope that Gimli may live to see the new age they hope to usher in.  

 

Aragorn sighs, and the hand he claps to Legolas’s shoulder is heavy with acknowledgment he cannot say at the truth in Legolas’s words. “I do not regret it,” he promises at the look of grief on Aragorn’s face.

 

The words seem to resolve Aragorn and he stands straighter, nods. “I wish I did not have to ask this of you but I could not ask for more worthy friends,” he says, then pauses, sighs. “I am afraid I must ask even more of you. There is still much to do before we ride.”

 

“What do you need?”

 

“Gandalf is with Imrahil, overseeing the men of Rohan. And it appears I have somehow lost them,” he says with humor.

 

“I will find them,” he offers, and Aragorn smiles his thanks.

 

“Legolas?” He calls as Legolas turns to go find Mithrandir. “Do not underestimate him. Or yourself.”

 

Legolas nods tightly.

 

He has finally found Gandalf when he is almost toppled by a small weight and fierce arms colliding around his middle, the noise of Pippin’s running approach lost amidst the cacophony of preparations for battle.

 

He has only regained his balance and pats Pippin on his curly head, breath knocked out of him, when he looks up to see Gimli grinning at his predicament. “I found a lost Hobbit on my way down,” he explains, laughter bubbling in his voice.

 

“I am pleased to see you as well, my friend,” he tells Pippin, patting him on the head. He has never been truly comfortable with touching, it was not his father’s way and he too enjoyed his solitude to seek it elsewhere, but he finds himself unable to deny the Hobbits their friendly greetings. “But I fear there is much we must do.”

 

Pippin stands to attention immediately and Legolas casts an eye across their unlikely fellowship. Pippin before him and he thinks of Merry, still weak, who’s side Pippin has not left until today, the two halflings who knew not, not truly, what they would face across these long months but came anyway, and now Pippin stands before him ready to follow once more into battle, to stand beside his friends once more, this time aware of the greatness of the darkness they face, and ready all the same. Mithrandir beside him, always wise, but who has grown only kinder in his wisdom. A king, Aragorn, who asks men to face the impossible but will stand beside them as they do.

 

And Gimli, the Dwarf who was able to look past centuries of hatred, who was able to charm the Lady of the Wood into parting with a gift she had denied others before, who was able to find in an Elf a friend. Who only hours ago took that same Elf as a lover and turned hands roughened in battle into the kindest of touches.

 

Legolas’s husband. His love. His heart of hearts. The other half of his soul.

 

Truly, there are none more worthy to inherit Middle Earth.

 

“Aye. Then we should not waste time,” Gimli agrees, and Legolas allows himself one final lingering gaze, the bright sunlight sparking every color of red and bronze and gold in Gimli’s hair, the determined set of his mouth making him no less handsome, the brown of his eyes no less warm for all that Gimli knows what awaits them, before he puts sentiment behind him and they plan for battle.

 

The men of Gondor are outfitted and ready, the sun high in the sky, when Aragorn stands beside his horse, banner high in the air. He pauses to speak with Mithrandir and exchanges words with Elladan and Elrohir before clasping their hands. Legolas has been avoiding them, making quick, short conversations when he must and never meeting their eyes for fear of what they will find there. He has often resented the reputation the Greenwood Elves have of being odd but finds himself thankful for it now, for rather than be offended they have only seemed to put it down to strangeness of the Elves of the Woodlands.

 

The warriors of Gondor and the Riders of Rohan are sitting on their horses, blades sharpened and ready, when Aragorn walks to Legolas and Gimli, ready beside Arod. “My friends,” he begins, and casts a regretful eye across the field of men ready to follow him into battle, to their deaths, for a chance.

 

“We took an oath, laddie,” Gimli says before Aragorn can continue whatever path of apology or offer to stay behind he had started. “And I will see it through. You would not doubt the word of a Dwarf, would you?”

 

And it will be for a very short time, but where Gimli goes, so long as he is alive, Legolas will follow. “Or an Elf?”

 

“I would never,” he promises, and nods his thanks to them before he sets forth to lead his army.

 

It is almost as it has been for these many long months, Gimli behind him with steady hands on his sides, the gentle rocking gate of Arod the same as it has ever been.

 

It is not, of course. Never before has such an army marched with them. Aragorn leads not as a ranger but as King.

 

And Legolas heads to battle now not for Middle Earth, but for his husband.

 

Pippin is returned to their side and they have all seemed to find comfort in his cheerfulness, even Gandalf, who he rides with, seems joyed in his own quiet way that their youngest companion is with them, but as they travel farther from Minas Tirith Pippin seems to dim, occasionally twisting to look behind them although the white city has long since passed beyond their sight. Legolas does not know how to tell him that he understands how he must miss Merry, still in the Houses of Healing.

 

Legolas does not know if he would find the will continue if Gimli were not with him.

 

It is the sight of Pippin, grim and determined, hardened in a way one so young should never have to be and bereft of Merry, and the weight of Gimli at his back, who has ever given Legolas courage when he finds his own lacking, that inspires him to sing.

 

Gimli has teased him often for the songs he so sings, although it has been long since the jabs were actually intended to try and silence Legolas. Often the songs he sings are ones he does not give thought to, the melody simply bubbles in him until it bursts forth. Sometimes the songs are his own, snippets of the words of trees he hears on the wind so lovely that he simply must raise his voice in song, odes to the slant of moonlight through the leaves, the neverending song of a river trickling over stones. Sometimes they are songs he once knew, for though Elves memories are good their lives are also long.

 

He gives no thought to the song he begins to sing and is surprised to realize as his voice rises high, high, higher, of the song he has chosen. It is a lament, a slow, sad tune, the cry of an Elven maid who mourns her mortal lover and looks to the sea for solace. She cries for their short years together, weeps for the long life she still has to live without him by her side. It is a sorrowful song, mournful, a reminder to the Elves that their immortality is both a blessing and a curse, and a heavy one at that.

 

It is an old song, older even than Legolas’s father, so old he knows no history of who wrote it. Perhaps it is from when the Elves were young, when they were only beginning to understand the pain friendship with the mortals could cause. Legolas had heard it when he was younger and thought the maid foolish, the forger of her own heartache.

 

Now though he no longer thinks her foolish. And he also finds no sorrow in the words. The words are clear and high in his voice, the Sindarin words lilting and drifting, and Legolas hears birdsong and steals the trills and chips and incorporates them into the tune, until there is no sorrow, no mourning, no loss to be found in the words.

 

Only clear, bright, bursting joy.

 

Elrond’s sons, riding beside Aragorn, glance at Legolas with matching looks that makes it clear they must think him driven to madness by the course that lays before them. Mithrandir betrays nothing although Legolas is certain there must be confusion at the bright happy tune he gives to the sad words. Aragorn though does not look at him, not directly, unwilling that even a look might betray Legolas’s confidence, but Legolas sees the slow, understanding smile that curls on his face all the same.

 

Gimli tilts forward just enough to lightly press his forehead against Legolas’s back, a feather soft touch he barely feels through his tunic, and his words spiral higher and higher, soaring above them, until they tumble to an end in a unstoppable frenzy of love, love, love, the final note holding without waver before dropping.

 

Pippin applauds, a smile on his face once more, and scattered cheers and praise echo from the men behind them and Legolas ducks his head in embarrassment for he had forgotten, truly, that he meant only to sing a song to cheer their youngest friend, not to raise his voice high and loud and clear enough that the men of Gondor and Rohan heard. “That was magnificent!” Pippin cheers, and voices behind them echo the sentiment.

 

“Aye,” Gimli agrees. “It was beautiful,” he says sincerely, and Legolas can not resist lifting one hand from the reigns to lay it briefly atop Gimli’s.

 

Quietly he murmurs, “Thank you,” before forcing himself to drop his hand.

 

“What is it about?” Gimli asks, and Legolas’s heart stutters, breath lodged in his throat. How to explain that he sang a lament and found no sorrow in it? That the tale of an Elf mourning their mortal love brought him only comfort for there was sadness, but there will always be sadness, and for a moment, for years that are far too short for an Elf, there was happiness, and Legolas could not mourn that?

 

“It is a celebration of better times that once were.” It is Aragorn who speaks, his friend who saves him, and as he speaks Legolas realizes Aragorn does not lie for him, he gives only the truth. The fondness he feels for his friends swell in him, and he knows suddenly that Aragorn found no sadness in the song either, that he recognized within it not a dirge for what is gone but only a rejoicing for what was. “And a promise, that though there may be darkness now, there is hope for peace once more.” Now Aragorn does twist in his saddle to look at them, and there is sadness on his face, yes, for all they have lost and all they stand yet to loose, but there is hope too, and Legolas gives a small nod of thanks. “Fitting, I think.” There is laughter in his voice, quiet and subdued, but there all the same. Legolas would not have noticed it before but they have all seen one another dragged to their worst and lowest, have witnessed each other cracked open and weeping and soaring with victorious joy at battles won.

 

It is so low at first he does not recognize the sound as singing, feels the buzz of the words echo through Gimli’s chest against his back before his voice deepens enough that Legolas realizes Gimli is signing, his voice thick and sweet as honey as the tune raises in volume, filling the silence around them as even the trees end their chatter in recognition that a Dwarf is signing in their closely guarded language. Even the forest does not know how many ages it has been since Khuzdul has been heard by others than Aulë’s children.

 

And Gimli sings it openly and proudly, the tune sweeping above them, voice strong and clear.

 

Legolas has heard Gimli sing before, found comfort in it even in those early days before he liked Gimli. Those first few weeks, when they were still all together, when they had nothing to look forward to except weary feet and many more miles, it had been Gimli who first sang. A song in Westron, with a simple, plodding tune, heavy with repetition, and Legolas had at first smugly thought that if these were the only songs the Dwarves had to offer it was no wonder they guarded them so closely, lest they expose their lack of musical talents, but as he listened on the third repeat Sam had taken up the tune, and then the other Hobbits joined in, and while Aragorn and Boromir did not sing their stride slowed to match the simple beat of the melody and Legolas had silently been forced to admit to himself that it was a good choice of a song as five voices tripped over the words and the Hobbits smiled as they had not since they departed Rivendell. When finally they had all grown tired of the song it was Frodo who had asked, “Is that a Dwarvish song, Master Gimli?” and Gimli had laughed loud and cheerful and ruffled a hand through Frodo’s curls and said, “No, Master Frodo. It is one I learned from the men of Dale.” Frodo had frowned but before he could further question Aragorn had surprised them all by starting another song, and this one Boromir knew and Gimli and the Hobbits had picked it up soon enough and even Legolas had found himself humming quietly and Mithrandir had laughed heartily when the lyrics took a bawdy turn.

 

That night while the others slept Legolas had turned his face to the stars and listened to their song while his fingers tapped a steady rhythm against his leg and the next morning he had awoken the others by signing. Gimli had not complimented him as the others had but their usual bitter words had been silenced.

 

Gimli’s voice has always been lovely if roughened, strong and sturdy as the Dwarf himself, well suited to steady rhythms with strong beats, low and deep, grounded like the stone the Dwarves were born from. But now as he sings, the syllables of Khuzdul that should be sharp and rough rounded and liquid by the lilting melody that somehow wraps around and softens them, Gimli’s voice is still deep, but smoothed, as the jagged edges of a stone worn by the running of a river, and if before it had reminded Legolas of the steadfastness of stone now it makes him think of dark, rich, fragrant earth, the soil that grows the green and living things the Elves so love.

 

But then, are they not the same? Does the stone the Dwarves live in not eventually fracture and crack and erode and after many long ages crumble to become the very earth the forests take root in?

 

Legolas knows nothing of what the words mean but the melody is easy enough to lose himself in, steady and sure as a heartbeat but undercut with gleaming brightness that dips on the downbeat into something serious and somber before it soars again.

 

It sounds like a promise, an oath, perhaps a prayer.

 

A vow.

 

The song cuts abruptly and even though Legolas felt the rumble of the words in Gimli’s chest end moments before the words there is a hanging, tremulous second of silence before he draws a breath and the sounds of the forest trickle back in. Gimli clears his throat after a beat. “There is more, but it is meant for two voices and I fear I could not do it justice.”

 

“Do not apologize, my friend,” Legolas tells him when the giddiness the song had awoken in his blood releases him enough he can speak. “It was beautiful,” he says, more quietly, and Gimli does not speak but he does not have to, simply touches a hand to Legolas’s side in thanks.

 

“Was that a Dwarven song?” Pippin asks, excitement in his voice.

 

“Aye, that was a Dwarven song,” he confirms, and Pippin smiles, contented and smug, for the Hobbits had tried repeatedly to goad Gimli into teaching them songs of the Dwarves ever since they discovered the language was closely guarded and not shared with others and now he has something to hold over the others. “It is a blessing, for a bright future,” he says, and though the words are not quiet Legolas cannot help but feel they were meant just for him.

 

A promise indeed.

 

As they stand before the Black Gates, Mithrandir having refused Sauron’s bluff, and they await the forces of Mordor, Gimli beside him with his axe in hand and Legolas with an arrow at the ready, Legolas gives himself one final gift and looks at Gimli, his friend, his husband, closes his eyes and remembers the touch of Gimli’s hands upon him, the heat of his mouth, and when he opens them Gimli is looking at him, and smiles.

 

For a bright future, he thinks, and notches his arrow.

 

~

 

He does not keep count.

 

Oh, he cries out numbers, listens for Gimli’s answers in the moments they lose each other, but they’re meaningless, only a way to ensure Gimli still stands. His arrows fly, flitting from his fingertips with the swiftness of a startled bird to seek their target, and when those are gone his knife flashed in the dawn as he fights. He loses sight of Gimli but somehow they find their way back to each other, fighting back to back, side by side, again and again. He sees a violent splash of red on Gimli’s brow but there is no time to wonder if it is Gimli’s or one of their enemies. Gimli still stands and that is all Legolas can focus on.

 

The slice of his knife.

 

The thud of an axe splitting through armour to the flesh underneath.

 

Gimli, still alive and standing.

 

There is no room for anything else.

 

The earth shakes and splits and it sends him stumbling, his knife sinking into the shoulder of an orc all that keeps him upright. He does not see Gimli, flings his head wildly about and catches sight of red, burning bright beneath the sun, and turns to fight his way toward it.

 

Except it is easier. The enemies that fall at his blade fall swiftly, they flee from him instead of raising their weapons, and he is not far from Gimli but by the time he reaches him the battle is won, Sauron’s forces either fleeing or laying down their weapons and he falls to his knees, lets his hands uncurl from his blade.

 

“Legolas? Legolas, are you hurt?” Gimli cries, panicked, his beloved axe abandoned on the ground as he turns Legolas’s face toward his, desperately searching Legolas for injury.

 

“I am well. I am well, Gimli. Mellon-nin , worry naught,” he reassures and reaches out to rub his fingers over that awful smear of blood staining Gimli’s face but beneath it is not a wound, only solid, whole flesh, and Gimli is alright, he is uninjured, and Legolas is helpless against the sob that bubbles in his throat. Gimli pulls him into a tight embrace, stout arms tight around Legolas’s shoulders and his face tucked against the braids of Gimli’s beard, right at the crook of his neck where he smells of sweat and metal and this close Legolas can hear the beat of his heart, a pounding that says alive, alive, alive.

 

He does not realize he is weeping until Gimli’s hands stroke across his shoulders. “It is alright, my friend. We have survived. Mahal’s hammer, I know not how. But we are still standing.”

 

“Yes,” he gasps, hands twisting in the bits of cloth he can find hidden beneath layers of leather and metal. “Yes.” He does not knows how to tell Gimli that he cries in joy, that he has succeeded. Gimli has survived, he is still whole and standing.

 

And somehow Legolas is as well.

 

Instead he pulls Gimli tighter, and cries his relief into Gimli’s shoulder and listens to his pulse thudding in his neck.

 

Alive. They are both still alive.

 

Legolas knows not how long he stays there, crying his relief into Gimli’s shoulder while Gimli’s pulse beats reassuringly in his ear, can not begin to count the minutes or the hours they stay there amidst the chaos of a battle won, until a small, high voice calls their names and when he pulls away Pippin is running toward them, waving his arms and hollering. “Master Giml! Master Legolas! Are you alright?”

 

He stumbles to a stop before them, shaking even as he smiles widely, and they share a look that Legolas knows means they will both keep an eye out for their friend- they know too well that the flush of victory can fade quickly and leave one distraught and listless for days afterward. Legolas himself, battle worn and more accustomed than Pippin, has just cried tears of relief he will probably be embarrassed for later. And Pippin is young, so young, not yet hardened to the cruelties the world holds.

 

“You are well?” He asks again.

 

“We are unharmed,” Gimli assures him and almost stumbles when Pippin launches himself forward to hug him.

 

“We were worried,” Aragorn says as he reaches them, smiling indulgently as Gimli untangles himself from Pippin’s hold. “When we saw you on the ground we thought perhaps you had taken an injury.”

 

“I am uninjured,” Legolas tells him. “I was, I was simply overcome. I could not truly believe that we had survived,” he admits, looking to his dusty boots.

 

“You will not be rid of me that easily, Elf,” Gimli says gruffly, but there is a smile on his face, hidden by the wild fall of his beard, but Legolas has spent many months looking at Gimli, can tell he is smiling from nothing but the small crinkles that fold the corners of his eyes. His next words are softened though, the fingers he touches to the back of Legolas’s hand light for all the comfort they impart. “It can be a strange thing indeed to find oneself still alive when you believed you were facing your end. There is no shame in it.”

 

“Thank you, my friend. It is hard for me to believe our luck but there is time now for me to learn to believe it.”

 

“Time for that, and much else besides,” Aragorn tells him, and when Legolas looks there is something in his gaze, a reminder that he knows Legolas’s secret and an urging that he tell Gimli. Something flutters in his stomach, some feeling, and he knows not if it is guilt or hope.

 

He ignores it for now, pushes it aside, and instead allows himself to bask in the fact that they have survived. They have all survived, but there is still much to do. It is easy to fall into step beside Gimli and follow Aragorn back to Elrohir and Elladan, to pick their way carefully across the land and search for wounded.

 

There will be time for all that he must say later.

 

And for now he had this, Gimli at his side as he offers what comforts he can to the dying. Gimli’s hand on his back as he turns to the east and gazes toward what was once Mordor and worries for their friends not with them.

 

He has Gimli, grumbling and laughing and weeping for their fallen, at his side.

 

Alive, alive, alive.

 

~

 

Perhaps it is not a lie, not truly, if Legolas intended it to be true.

 

With Gimli behind him on Arod as they rode west Legolas had decided that he would tell his friend when they were safely back in Minas Tirith. It would not be fair, he reasoned, to tell Gimli, to reveal to him the nature of Legolas’s deception, even if he had at the time truly believed it would come to nothing, even if he had believed that he would not have to face Gimli’s anger because he did not think he would be alive to do so, surrounded by the rest of the army they rode with.

 

He would tell Gimli when they were alone, so that if Gimli raged he could do so in quiet, and Legolas would hear every unkind word Gimli could hurl at him without an audience, if he decided he simply never wished to see Legolas again they could both disappear into the bustle of a newly freed city preparing for their new king and Legolas would let him, although he feared to be so harshly wrenched from his friend’s side was a pain not even the peace of white shores could ever heal.  

 

Except even when they were returned, he said nothing.

 

Perhaps it could be blamed on the preparations for a coronation but Legolas played little part in them. Gimli commissioned a new set of clothes for the occasion and Legolas had often found him in the same room he had slept in that night not so long ago scratching on his parchment but when Legolas had asked if he was writing more letters to his family to assure them of his safety Gimli had simply told him no and not elaborated even though Legolas’s eyes could pick out that whatever it was his friend wrote looked nothing like Khuzdul and more like drawings.

 

Still, he understood the need for secrets, and didn’t  press.

 

Instead he spends his nights underneath the stars, soaking up their quiet peace, and during the days he coaxes Gimli into taking long, rambling walks through the city. They attract stares, although they pay them no mind, and if it is because they are and Elf and a Dwarf walking and laughing as good friends or because they were members of the Fellowship Legolas can not tell.

 

“I saw a group of Elves in the city,” Gimli says, back propped against a tree in one of the city’s long overlooked gardens as they take a rest. It is tall and weathered, it has seen much, and Legolas sinks his hands in the loose earth, trying to decide if it can grow anything other than hardy, scraggly trees that seemed to grow more from stubborness and habit than any sort of hospitable conditions.

 

“There will be many more arriving soon, I suspect,” Legolas responds, wiping his hands together to clean the soil off of them. “We often take little interest in the politics of men but Aragorn has many Elven friends and it is well known who his queen will be. You will, you will be the one Dwarf, will you not?” He asks, suddenly worried Gimli is lonely, the only one of Durin’s Kin in a city filled with men and Elves. Even the Hobbits have one another.

 

“Aye. It is too far for any to travel. I will have to represent the whole of my kin.”

 

“They could not ask for a better Dwarf to stand in for all of them.”

 

Gimli says nothing at the compliment although he takes a long, lengthy draw on his pipe. “If you wished to spend time with your own I would understand, Legolas. You need not abandon the other Elves simply to keep a lone Dwarf company.”

 

“Do you wish me to leave you?” He should have considered that now, with no common goal, Gimli grows tired of Legolas’s company, that he wearies of walks through gardens when his Dwarvish nature yearns for stone. They have spoken and not, shared stories of their homes and the wonders they wish to take the other to and when they have not been speaking Legolas has sung and when he has not sung there has been silence but it has always seemed peaceful and companionable to Legolas but perhaps Gimli tires of him all the same.

 

He does not speak his pain at the thought but it pierces him, sharp and burning and brutal.

 

“No, Legolas, no. But I have worried that you spend your days with me out of pity, that you worry I will be lonesome on my own, and ignore your kind for worry of me. And I would not have that. I would not wish you to keep me company at the expense of your own happiness. Surely you would prefer the company of Elves to that of a Dwarf.”

 

“I prefer the company of my friend,” he reassures, and the pain that gripped him when he feared Gimli was trying to break from his company melts away so quickly it leaves him unsteady and uncharacteristically ungraceful and he has to balance himself in his crouch with a hand to the ground, curling his fingers in the dirt.

 

He could tell Gimli now. Tell him that he will always choose his company over any others, would always prefer to be with his friend, who holds Legolas’s heart, Gimli, who cannot hide his kind nature, who does not complain when Legolas abruptly drops the melody of a song because he can not remember how it goes on. His words do not catch in his throat around Gimli as they do with others because he knows his friend will never interrupt and if he teases it is never cruely meant.

 

He could tell Gimli that he is avoiding the arriving Elves, for he fears what they will see when they look in his eyes. He is proud that Gimli is his husband but he is ashamed by his own cowardice in failing to tell his friend.

 

He says nothing.

 

“It is a strange new age indeed,” Gimli says, sucking on his pipe and grinning when Legolas looks at him in askance. “Imagine, an Elf and a Dwarf, choosing the company of one another.”

 

“If that is what this age will bring, friendship between the Elves and the Dwarves, it is one I am glad we lived to see.”  

 

“Aye. And I as well.” Gimli tilts his head back against the tree he leans on and turns his face to the sun, eyes closed and face lax and serene, the light picking out all the shades of red and chestnut and auburn in his hair.

 

Legolas abandons digging his hands in the soil to settle next to Gimli. He prefers the cool air of a dense forest but with the warmth of the sun on his face and the gentle heat of Gimli beside him, shifting closer so his shoulder rests against Legolas’s arm, he wonders if he has ever been more contented.

 

“Seems almost impossible that it should be the two of us, the first of our kinds in so many ages to forge a friendship. The sons of fathers who hate each other.”

 

Legolas smiles sadly although thankfully Gimli’s eyes are still closed so he does not need to try to hide it at the mention of Gloin and the reminder that regardless of Gimli’s fondness for him, that even if Gimli could forgive Legolas’s deception and cowardice in not confessing, even if Gimli could perhaps look past everything to find it in himself to love Legolas as more than a friend, they will never be truly accepted by their families. Legolas would not mind, he was willing to die for Gimli, he could gladly tolerate a cold reception from his husband’s family, but it would be too much to ask Gimli to bear his family’s scorn.

 

“Yes,” he agrees when he feels he can speak without the words choking him. If Gimli notices the pause he doesn’t comment on it. “Odd indeed. I fear that the Dwarves of Erebor hold no love for my father, and I fear Gloin especially. I can not imagine he would be pleased to know the company his son now keeps.”

 

“Bah. Those were your father’s sins. And perhaps he can not be blamed for what he did, not truly. Much as I loathe to say it,” he grumbles. And now he opens his eyes, looks to Legolas. Legolas has never been pierced with one of his own arrows but the experience must be similar to being held by Gimli’s fierce stare, pinned and flayed open by it. “Gloin has a Dwarves temper and it is true that we hold grudges long, but I would not allow him to punish you for what your father did.”

 

“I thank you, Mellon-nin. But I doubt you will ever have cause to defend me from your father’s wrath. It has been long since a Dwarf has set foot in the Woodland Realm, and if any did I doubt that it would be Gloin.”

 

“Aye. And I know not if an Elf has ever walked the halls of Erebor, but it is a new age. Perhaps it is time. And the woods are not so very far from the mountain.”

 

“Are you inviting me to visit Erebor?” Legolas asks, incredulous. He has never doubted Gimli’s courage but he is startled nonetheless to learn that Gimli would challenge centuries of his people’s hatred for him.

 

His heart beats, patters as the fluttering of a birds wings, with something like hope.

 

Legolas pushes it aside.

 

“No, I am asking if you would wish to visit me.”

 

“I would be permitted?”

 

“I will not lie, there would be grumbles and whispers. But if it was on my invitation you would not be turned away. We agree this feud between our peoples must end and we have taken the first step, Legolas. If we must be the ones to take the second and third until the rest follow in our wake, so be it. I would not have my dearest friend be kept from me simply because there are those who cannot see beyond grudges they do not even remember the cause of.”

 

There is little he can say when faced with Gimli’s fierce determination. Only the truth. “I would like that, very much indeed. And perhaps someday you could come to the Greenwood.”

 

“It is not enough that you would drag me through Fangorn? You would subject a Dwarf to your Elven forests as well?” Gimli scoffs, but there is a smile on his face and good humor in his tone.

 

“It is you who would bring an Elf to the Glittering Caves!”

 

“That I would,” he concedes, and even the mock fight he had put on fades out of him and Gimli leans back against the tree once more, still pressed close, a contented smile on his face.

 

“Tell me of them again,” Legolas asks. It is partly because he wishes to hear Gimli speak more, to sit beneath a sunny sky with his friend at his side and listen to the deep honey of the voice which he has grown to so love over long, long walks and across the embers of low burning campfires. It is also because he wishes to distract himself from the ache that took root in his chest as soon as he mentioned having Gimli in the Greenwood.

 

He would take him, and gladly. He wishes to walk the same paths of the forest he has tread countless times before in his long years but see them anew through Gimli’s eyes, to guide him through the long, winding hallways of his father’s home so that Gimli may see the way Legolas had learned to sequester himself even when surrounded by others and know that it is his company Legolas desires above all others, above even the Elves he grew up around.

 

But he cannot. Not while he carries this secret, for Thranduil will know the moment he looks into his son’s eyes what he has done. If Gimli is to come to the Greenwood it can only be as Legolas’s husband.

 

He knows his happiness is only borrowed. But he will cling to it, selfishly, for truly the only one who will be hurt in the end is himself, for just a little while longer.

 

After Fangorn, he decides. He will tell Gimli before they part ways. It will be kindest that way. Gimli will be able to leave him there, will continue to Erebor and never again look upon Legolas and perhaps in time the sting of Legolas’s deception will fade a little and he will not think so bitterly of Legolas.

 

And Legolas will never walk the halls of Erebor, will ache every moment he is parted from his friend, but it will be worth it. Gimli will go on to lead a happy life, if a short one by the way Elves number things, and Legolas will pine but he was always going to miss his friend. It was settled, all those months ago in the Golden Wood when they walked among the trees and Legolas for the first time found that he was free and easy with his words, that he was happy to have footsteps beside his as he walked beneath the trees.

 

He was always going to miss Gimli.

 

If it hurts more because Gimli is his husband he cannot regret it. Any of it.

 

“You will see them soon enough.”

 

“Yes, but I enjoy hearing you speak of them.”

 

Gimli sighs, but it is not in exasperation. It is almost dreamy, as if Gimli is allowing himself to picture what the future may hold. “I know Elves find little beauty in stone but, oh, Legolas, I think if there was ever caverns that even an Elf could appreciate it would be these. I hope you will like them, that you will be able to look at them and see the beauty in them, though it is not like that of the woods. But I know you like the stars, and these shimmer like the night sky. I know they will not sing to you as the stars do but I dearly hope that maybe you will be able to listen as a Dwarf does, for they do sing Legolas, the rocks and the gemstones. They fill the caves with their voices.”

 

He does not tell Gimli that he loves the caves already, simply because of how Gimli speaks of them. Does not tell him that he has already found beauty in them because of the joy and reverence that echoes in Gimli’s voice when he speaks of them.

 

He does not tell Gimli that he is sure he will find beauty in the stones in a way perhaps no Elf has done before because Gimli has changed him, in ways he does not know if he will ever truly understand.

 

“They sound wonderful,” is all he says instead, and if it is not the poetry Gimli speaks his friend is not bothered by Legolas’s lackluster response and they fall into silence, Gimli picking up his pipe again while Legolas sits, still and contented in Gimli’s company.

 

His happiness is counted in hours and days, such a time as to be almost meaningless for an Elf, and all the more precious for it. He will hold and savor it for as long as he can and vows to put the not far enough away future from his mind.

 

~

 

It is near dusk when Legolas finally finds himself back by Gimli’s side.

 

They had greeted Aragorn as he reentered the city together in the morning, although they had not been alone, with the Hobbits excited at their sides and Gandalf seeming only amused by the Halfling’s antics.

 

The suit Gimli had commissioned for the occasion had been finished only the day before and the sight of Gimli in deep, deep blue hugging the broadness of his shoulders, perfectly tailored to show that the breadth of Gimli’s frame came from hard won muscle and strength (and oh, oh Legolas had not forgotten the hard packed muscles of Gimli’s chest, the way his stomach had only the barest layer of fat padding the muscles beneath, and at first sight it had stolen the breath from him. He had known Gimli was of Durin’s line, had come to find beauty in his face long ago, but until that moment, with Gimli’s hair pulled off his face and tied into intricate braids, he had never truly realized that Gimli’s handsomeness had not been his good humor and kindness shining through but that his high forehead and the cheekbones he barely saw for his beard were as much a part of it as his innate goodness. Foolish, Legolas had been foolish, and it was a mistake he would pay dearly for the rest of the day when he had been forced to take only glancing looks at Gimli’s radiance.)

 

Legolas had tried to protest that his place was with the rest of the Fellowship and not the Elves that had come to witness the coronation but when Aragorn turned to him with an accusing look his protests had died. Perhaps the sons of Elrond had warned the others that the rumors of the Greenwood Elves being odd were true for none seemed surprised when Legolas did not meet their eyes long enough for them to read the truth in them.

 

Perhaps it is not so surprising that the people of the city put on such an elaborate celebration. They have suffered long and much, have sacrificed countless sons without loosing their spirit, and now that the battles are finally won it is no wonder they wish to celebrate. The crown rests lightly on Aragorn’s brown although he stands tall with all the responsibility it carries, Arwen radiant at his side, and the somberness of the occasion has broken for food and ale and music when Legolas finds himself in a great hall seated at a low wooden table with the Hobbits across from him quickly making their way through more food than they have all had the entire journey and Gimli sitting beside him.

 

Somewhere a lively tune is struck up, something to dance to, quick but with the steady beat Legolas has come to associate with the songs of men, but he finds his hand tapping along on the table anyway.

 

“Is this an Elven song, Master Legolas?” It’s Sam who asks, curious, until he has to defend his plate from Merry.

 

“No, not at all. But I have forgotten how much I enjoy hearing music played.”

 

Pippin interrupts as soon as he has finished wiping a hand across his mouth, eyes sparkling, although if it is with drink or simple merriment at what he has to say Legolas cannot tell. “Gimli sang for us!” He exclaims. Legolas would have thought he’d have told the others long before now, eager to have something to taunt them with, but Pippin’s joy at being reunited with his friends has been undeniable, so it is possible he had forgotten until suddenly reminded.

 

His pronouncement does not get the response he was clearly hoping for. “We’ve all heard Gimli sing, Pip,” Merry tells him, more interested in his food.

 

“No! I know, but I mean, in Dwarvish, ” he informs them. “Didn’t he?” He asks, looking to Legolas and then Gandalf sitting next to them.

 

“It is called khuzdul,” Gandalf corrects him. “But indeed, Gimli sang a Dwarven song for us as we headed to the Black Gate.”

 

There is hushed silence as the other Hobbits abandon their food to stare at Pippin in wonder.

 

“You told us you couldn’t.”

 

“You said it was only for Dwarves.”

 

“You let Pippin hear, but not us?” At Merry’s tone, jealousy disguised as disgust, Gimli tosses his head back and roars a laugh. Legolas is more reserved with his amusement, smiling into his mug of ale, but his eyes meet Gimli’s over the rim and he’s forced to put it down lest he snort into it.

 

“Will you sing for us now, Master Gimli?” Frodo asks, eyes wide and hopeful, and the mirth that danced in Gimli’s eyes in the face of Merry’s envy disappears as he offers the young Hobbit a small smile.

 

“I am afraid I cannot,” Gimli tells him regretfully, and Frodo’s face falls. It is not with the jealousy of Pippin having the experience but something else, something Frodo has obviously held close and tight. At the look of disappointment Gimli reaches across the table and pats his hand, so small compared to Gimli’s own. ”You must understand that it is not because I do not trust you, but I believe even your uncle, who spent many months with Thorin’s company, never heard a word of Khuzdul. And he is still spoken of today, in the halls of Erebor.”

 

“It is true, Frodo,” Gandalf reassures. “Thorin’s company was so careful they never even spoke it around me, and I know the language, although a much older dialect to be sure.”

 

The look of distress lifts from Frodo’s face at Mithrandir’s words although Legolas has little time to be glad of it for Gimli tenses beside him, muscles gone rigid and tight until he draws a sharp breath.

 

“I did not realize you spoke khuzdul.” The words are tight and measured as Gimli says them, although when Legolas looks to Mithrandir there is nothing but a small smile on his face.

 

“Yes. As I said, an older dialect, much as Lady Galadriel. Still, I believe it is passable enough.” Legolas looks between them, and there is a stiffness to Gimli, a guardedness he has not felt since those first weeks when Gimli favored everything Legolas did with suspicion.

 

“Then could you sing a Dwarven song for us?” Merry asks Gandalf, too busy being upset that Pippin holds claim to something he wants to take note of the tenseness of the air.

 

“I will not, Merry,” he says to a chorus of disappointed groans. “It is not my place to reveal Dwarven secrets,” he continues, but his eyes are on Gimli. Gimli studies Gandalf, who meets his gaze with a knowing smile and a tilt of his head that Gimli returns and then relaxes.

 

Legolas has forgotten about the odd exchange and even the Hobbits have exhausted their near-endless appetites when the sweet notes of a lute echo through the hall and Legolas perks at the sound, the notes clear and high as other instruments join in, followed shortly by voices. It is not a tune he recognizes, although given the number of Elves who seem to melt out of the crowd to stand nearer the musicians he may be the only one, but it is a treat nonetheless to hear Elvish words and melodies in the halls of men.

 

“Do you know the song?” Gimli asks.

 

Legolas shakes his head even as he smiles. “No, I do not. It is not a song of the Elves of Greenwood but it is no less lovely for being my first time hearing it.”

 

“Aye. And it seems you are not it’s only admirer.” He follows Gimi’s gaze and is surprised to find Aragorn on an emptied floor, Arwen at his side. Aragorn has changed from the rich clothes he wore earlier in the day to something more like what Legolas is used to seeing him in, simple breeches and a shirt, although the fabric is much finer than what his friend has worn these last few months. Arwen shines as she smiles, face bright as she stares at her king and he leads her along.

 

Legolas watches them, the steps Aragorn leads her through, the way she seems to almost float, so light on her feet, the way Aragorn draws her close as the music raises, coming to an end much quicker than an Elven song typically does, the trill of a flute hanging in the air and Legolas wonders if the song was intentionally cut short out of deference for the men around them.

 

There is a scant moment of silence before another song starts, and this time Aragorn and Arwen are joined by others Elves who until the music was struck up had mostly stood together in the corners of the great hall and spoke quietly amongst themselves. This song is livelier, and for the first time that day Legolas sees many of the Elves break their stoic facade to smile, taken by the music of their people as they swirl around in their brightly colored clothes.

 

“You could find a partner and join them. I am sure you would find some willing,” Gimli suggests.

 

Legolas shakes his head. “No. I fear I would not be very good. These are not the dances of the Greenwood and I do not know them,” he replies, which is half a truth. He may not know the dances but the steps look similar to many he does know, but more than not knowing he is reluctant to leave Gimli’s side.

 

“Are they really so different? I can not imagine you are not graceful enough to learn quickly.” Gimli, blessedly, is not looking at Legolas but still at the Elves dancing with merriment so he does not see the flush that creeps onto his face although unfortunately Mithrandir across from him does, one eyebrow raising as he appraises Legolas with a look he hopes is not understanding. He does not say anything though, and the moment is broken when Gimli speaks again. “You would not be the only one it seems,” he says, and Legolas looks away from Mithrandir to see Gimli pointing to Eowyn and Faramir having joined in the outer edges of the dance. Eowyn is smiling, her hair loose around her face and Faramir looks cautious of his movements even as he can not take his eyes off her.

 

There is a pang of jealousy deep within him at the sight. He is happy Eowyn and Faramir have found each other but can not help but be envious that they can be so open about it. He has seen Eomer give them dark glances from time to time but Legolas does not doubt that he will not stand in the way of his sister’s happiness. His own future does not hold such happiness, but his present has this, Gimli beside him and smiling, warm and here and alive, and while Legolas has selfishly decided to stretch these moments of happiness for as long as he can he knows they will end.

 

But he has this for now, and it is enough. If his life had been different he would not be here, would not have this, and he can find no sorrow in that.

 

“I would be surprised if we don’t have another wedding to celebrate in the upcoming weeks,” Mithrandir muses, smiling.

 

“Has Faramir asked her to marry him, then?” It’s Sam who asks, turning back toward them with a wistful look on his face.

 

“I do not believe he has yet,” Legolas answers. “Although given the scowl I have caught Eomer wearing over these past few days Faramir has not done very well hiding his intentions.”

 

“He hasn’t,” Merry agrees. “Not yet. She told me they'll wait until Strider marries Arwen.”

 

“That’s a shame,” Sam announces. “Having to wait when you know what you want.” Frodo pats his shoulder companionably.

 

“I doubt they’ll have to wait much longer, Sam,” he reassures with a smile.

 

“Not past the morning, if I’m to be any judge of these things,” Mithrandir tells them with a wry twist to his lips.

 

“You think they plan to wed tonight?” There is surprise in Sam’s words as he glances back over his shoulder to find Aragorn and Arwen standing side by side.

 

“An Elvish wedding is different, Sam,” Frodo says, words low and quiet. “I read it in one of Bilbo’s books, once.”

 

Legolas freezes, even as his heart thunders in his ears.

 

“Well come off it then,” Pippin says. “What makes it so special?”

 

Legolas does not remember standing from the table, knows not if he makes an excuse or if he looks as wild as he feels as he flees from the room, darting between people as he runs from the hall, Frodo’s explanation, his voice lowered in propriety even as it is, still picked up by his sharp ears. He thinks he may hear Gimli call his name but he doesn’t pause, runs and runs past groups of revelers until he is outside and even then he does not stop, keeps running under the moon that now shines bright through the streets of the city.

 

It is not exhaustion that causes him to stop, his lungs do not burn as a mortal’s would, his muscles do not seize and cramp, but rather grief, a sob that has been welling in his chest finally stealing his breath and forcing his feet to still.

 

He is in one of the city’s gardens, the very same one he sat in just days ago when Gimli invited him to Erebor. He sits against the same tree and turns his face to the moonlight.  

 

There will be no visits to Erebor now. There never would be but it had been a hope to cling to, that perhaps in time, if he had found the right words to justify himself, Gimli would come to forgive him, or at least think less harshly of him. Gimli values loyalty, and what Legolas took was a betrayal but it was supposed to be a small happiness for himself, one that would not matter to anyone else, and he had wondered if maybe Gimli could come to see that.

 

He had foolishly thought he had time. To find the words to tell Gimli, to confess his secret, his cowardice that had kept him from speaking the truth.

 

Legolas had only wished a little more time. A chance to savor Gimli’s friendship for as long as he could have it.

 

The sound of footsteps make him jump, prepared to flee again. Perhaps he will run all the way to the shore and take a boat across the sea, leave this hurt behind him.

 

(He will not, he knows. So long as Gimli is alive he will never be able to leave. Even if Gimli hates him for this as he rightfully should Legolas will not be able to leave Middle Earth. Not so long as there is a chance, however small, that Gimli may one day forgive him and count Legolas as a friend, that he may be able to see Gimli again, if only as friends. He will not be able to leave, not so long as his love stands.)

 

The footfalls are too light to be Gimli’s, stepping softly on the earth, and when Elrond steps off the path into the garden he nods at Legolas in greeting. Legolas does not remember to cast his eyes downward until it is too late, to consumed by his misery as he is. He is sure Elrond has read the truth in his eyes although he seems unsurprised by it.

 

It startles him when Elrond takes a seat beside him. He does not doubt that Elrond must love the trees and the earth as Legolas himself does but he has never seen Elves outside of the Wood relish dirtying their trousers with dirt as he does.

 

“I heard the strangest tale of the Elves and the Dwarves. One I found I could not truly believe, not at first.” Legolas casts his gaze aside even though Elrond is not looking at him but instead toward the sky. It is pointless to wonder how Elrond has heard. Perhaps his sons had known, perhaps in some careless moment Legolas had not been quick enough at avoiding their eyes and they had managed to mask their disgust at what he had done. He can only hoped the story has not reached his father, not yet. He can not hide it but he would face Thranduil’s anger himself. “It is said,” Elrond continues, “that when the Dwarves of the Mountain stood against the Darkness, with them stood the Elves of the Woods.”

 

“You have heard news of the Wood?” He has thought of the Greenwood of course, but somehow it has never occurred to him that his home was in danger. He had worried about his father’s anger when he discovers that Legolas has wed himself to a Dwarf, has even feared that perhaps Thranduil’s love of his son may not outweigh his hatred of the Dwarves and that Legolas may have no home to return to. It has often seemed in all their journeying that the danger had always lain in front of him but it had never occurred to him that perhaps it was where he had left behind as well. He had, afterall, joined the Fellowship to protect his home from what evil lay in Mordor.

 

“I have,” Elrond says with a slow dip of his head. “I have not seen it myself but it still stands, and it’s King as well.” Legolas takes a deep breath of relief, worry he did not realize he carried with him soothed. Elrond tips his head as if to catch a faraway sound but then shakes his head and turns to face Legolas. “Although I hear it is only begrudgingly that he will admit that were it not for the Dwarves of Erebor and the men of Dale the damage to the Wood would have been much worse.”

 

“And the Mountain?” Legolas asks. He has never been to Erebor, and now never will, but he finds a fondness in himself for it regardless. It is where Gimli lived, the home he will return to, and Legolas hopes it still stands unscathed, to spare his friend the pain it would bring him to know it destroyed. Gimli would blame himself, for not being there to stand and die beside his brethren, even if he would not regret the quest he undertook.

 

“Erebor still stands,” Elrond tells him. “Though unfortunately her King was lost in the battle.”

 

“It was as honorable a death as a Dwarf could hope for.” Legolas whips his head to Gimli’s voice where he carefully picks his way across the hardened earth. Elrond offers him a serene smile although there is a hint of mischief in his expression and Legolas realizes he had heard Gimli’s approach and had intentionally distracted Legolas.

 

“Master Dwarf,” Elrond greets as he rises, inclining his head in greeting. “It is good to see you well.”

 

“Aye. And you,” Gimli returns, giving a stiff nod before looking back to Legolas. He looks away, ashamed, and rakes his fingers through the dirt, curls a fistful of the crumbling earth in his hand and steadies himself for what he must say with the thought of the green growing things it may one day birth.

 

“You will forgive me,” Elrond says. “I fear I must leave you and return.” With that as a parting he turns and quietly makes his way back to the path he came on, heading toward the revelry Legolas can hear even so far away.

 

“Legolas,” Gimli says, slowly, softly, more gently than Legolas deserves.

 

“I did not think it would matter,” he says, the words a rush. Gimli had been taking a cautious step toward him and stops suddenly at the words.

 

“You did not think it would matter?”

 

There is no mistaking the pain in Gimli’s voice and Legolas has to close his eyes again, too cowardly to face Gimli’s fury. “It did not matter because I was not going to survive.” He hears Gimli swallow but he says nothing. The silence stretches on until Legolas can bear it no more. “I did not care if I lived, so long as you did. And I am sure the traditions of the Elves mean little to a Dwarf, and so if in the eyes of the Elves we were married it did not matter, and selfishly I wanted to fall protecting my husband.” It is the first time he has said the word and it aches, like claws in his chest, something dark and terrible tearing him from the inside with the knowledge that this may well be the only time he ever refers to Gimli as such. “I, I do not, can not, expect your forgiveness, but you are still alive and that is all that matters.”

 

Legolas,” Gimli says, and his name is choked, thick. He opens his eyes and is startled to find tears on Gimli’s face. “You mad, foolish Elf.” He takes a stumbling step forward and falls to his knees, grasps Legolas’s hand in his own bigger, warm ones. His hand shakes in Gimli’s, trembles as it did not when he stood to face an army that should have been unbeatable. Gimli reaches up and twines one of Legolas’s braids around his fingers and studies it, strokes his thumb along the twist of it. “The Lady Galadriel told me gold would have no dominion over me, that it would not rule my heart.”

 

“You are too good for it,” Legolas says. He does not know why Gimli brings it up but he does not doubt that the legendary greed of the Dwarves does not touch the heart of his friend. His friend, who is here, with Legolas’s hand in his own, generous, good Gimli, who does not seem angered with Legolas although he can not explain it.

 

“I was relieved. I believed it meant me safe. That you would not bewitch me.”

 

“I did not!” He cries, pulling his hands back. “Gimli, I swear. Whatever you may think of me, however devious and dishonest you believe me, I swear to you Gimli that there was no enchantment. I will not claim that you have no reason to hate me but I did not bewitch you.” Whatever Gimli may think of him, whatever trick this is where Gimli pretends kindness so that his hatred will burn all the more, and Legolas will not pretend he does not deserve it, he can not have Gimli believe that he acted under anything than his own free will.

 

“Aye, but you did,” Gimli says, gently, reaching to take Legolas’s hand again. “Not against my will, not with magic, perhaps you did not intend to, but bewitch me all the same you did. Legolas, do you not see? Gold may hold no power over me but in the moonlight your hair is not of gold, it shines of Mithril. And I have never know a Dwarf who can resist the call of something so precious.”

 

Something warm and bright bursts in his chest, a shining sliver of light in the despair that has wrapped around his lungs. “Gimli, what are you saying?”

 

“You have heard me speak Khuzdul twice now, Legolas. I sang as we headed to the Black Gate, but before, do you recall?”

 

He can not recall the words, not exactly, but he shivers at the reminder of them, of the way they had sounded in Gimli’s low deep voice with only inches to travel, Gimli’s mouth so close to his own and strong arms wrapped around him, holding him tight. He nods, not sure he can trust himself to speak.

 

“Legolas, can you not guess? After all this time? They were vows .”

 

“Vows?” The word is shaky, so soft a whisper his own ears can barely pick it up. But it seems loud enough Gimli hears.

 

“Aye. Vows. It is uncommon to say them without witnesses but the power of them is there all the same. And the song loses some of the meaning without both parts but it does not change the fact that it is a promise of love and fealty on the behalf of the singer. That it is usually sung as part of a wedding ceremony and not on a march to battle does not mean I meant it any less.”

 

Legolas stares at him, unable to find words, certain he must look as mad as he feels. He curls his fingers in Gimli’s. When Gimli’s hold tighter he finds his voice. “You did not say anything.”

 

“I was sure the traditions of Dwarves would mean little to an Elf,” he echoes back to Legolas. “And it did not matter, for I was not going to survive. I was not going to seek you out for I was a coward, I was too scared that I would lose you if I told you what I wished, and our time was already too short, I would take what little time we did have left, but you came to me, Legolas, you came to me and I could not resist. I did not tell you for your heart is too kind and loyal, and if you knew I knew you would mourn me as more than a friend. But I was not going to survive, Legolas, so I believed it meant that I could steal that joy for myself, and if you did not know it did not matter so long as I knew.  And I did not care if I lived, so long as you survived. You are still alive, Amralime, and that is all that matters.”

 

The khuzdul word sparks something in him, a memory. “You have called me that before. What does it mean?”

 

Gimli’s smile is radiant, warmer than the sun, brighter than the moon that shines down on them. “My love. It means my love.”

 

Legolas surges forward, pulls Gimli to him and kisses him, sloppily and messily, grinning into the kiss as he wraps his hands in Gimli’s hair. He had thought he would never have this again, had learned to be content in the knowledge that he had had it once but now, impossibly, Gimli is here with him, has done the same Legolas has.

 

“Gimli, meleth-nin, my love, herven,” he rambles as Gimli strokes hands through his hair.

 

“Legolas, my one.” Legolas hiccups a sob at the words, tears wet on his face, but he is smiling. “I want you to come to Erebor. I want you by my side, as my husband. I want you to see the Mountain and the Glittering Caves and selfishly I hope you may love them as I do. But if you can not I will come to love the Woods, for I can love any place, so long as you are there.”

 

“You would follow me to the Greenwood?” His voice is fractured, though whether by tears or laughter he can not say.

 

“Aye. If you would have me. Can you truly not know, Legolas? That I would follow you anywhere? You have asked me what it is I write and I have not told you. Perhaps you have guessed it is a letter to my family. You know I wrote one that last night, but what I did not tell you is that I wrote to tell them not to mourn for me. That I had found my one, and it mattered little to me if I fell, so long as he did not.” He makes a distressed noise at the confession, cups Gimli’s dear face in his hands. He has come so close, so many times, in so many ways, to loosing this. He can scarcely believe it is being offered to him, that Gimli is here with him, and loves him.

 

“I would not have you place so little value on your life.”

 

“I do not,” Gimli reassures him. “It is simply that I value yours more. And it does not matter, my love. Not now. We are here, I could not ask for more.”

 

“Nor I,” he murmurs in agreement. They sit under the moonlight and stare at each other, Gimli’s face in his hands and Gimli’s hands in his hair. Perhaps they would have sat there until the dawning of the next age, simply content to be in each other’s company, until Legolas is startled by voices. They are far off, but the night is still and silent here, away from the celebration that continues, and it is enough that his ears pick it up. It has been many long months since he had the luxury of not constantly listening for any out of place noise, always ready for an ambush, and it will be a hard habit to break himself of.

 

“We should return, Meleth-nin, before we are missed.”

 

Gimli blinks and when he smiles, softly, sweetly, Legolas is helpless but to return it. “But you have not let me tell you what it is I have been working on.”

 

“What is it you write, Gimli-nin?” He asks, willing to let himself be swayed to stay here.

 

“I do not write, Legolas. I draw plans. You know I have spoken with Eomer about allowing the Dwarves to mine the Glittering Caves. And even since before I approached him I have been trying to find a way to build a room in a cave that would appeal to an Elf. I know you can not live in the darkness as I do, and so I wondered if you would not feel too confined if there was a room carved toward the top, that it could open to the night sky. Or perhaps you would prefer something close to the entrance, that you would never be more than a few steps to the outside. I know the plains of Rohan are not like your home, but they are lush and green and it is not so far to Fangorn if longing for trees grew too heavy.”

 

“You wish me to live with you in the Glittering Caves?”

 

“My daft Elf, have you heard nothing I’ve said? I would have you by my side, always, if you wish it as well. Where else does my husband belong?”

 

It takes him long moments to find his voice. It is dizzying, to swing so quickly to having believed Gimli’s friendship lost to him forever to hearing himself referred to as such. “I wish it as well,” he agrees, and Gimli pulls him into a kiss, deep and heated, one that makes his hands tremble and his blood burn.

 

“Legolas, marry me,” Gimli whispers darkly, the words coarse.

 

“Of course. Gimli, my love. Aragorn is king. No one would contest his right to do so, and I am sure he would. Or when we reach Erebor, if you wish-”

 

“No, Legolas,” he interrupts, catching Legolas’s chin in his broad palm and swiping a thumb over his lips to silence him. “Marry me. Now. In the way of the Elves.”

 

“Oh.” He can find no words than the breathless sound, all thought stolen from him by Gimli’s heated gaze and the hands that drag down his body.

 

He nods, laughing and joyful, as Gimli leads him forward, hand warm in his.


-End