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The Great River


There are rivers in Erebor, of course. Just like there is life underground, no matter what an Elf may believe, there is water; it chisels through rock with more skill than the Dwarves do, and springs from the caverns and deep lakes, tumbling through the city. The rivers in Erebor, however, are sensible rivers. They know what space they may occupy, and they follow their courses sedately— and the Dwarves do not presume upon the rivers of the mountains to carry them from place to place.


(There is a river in the Mirkwood, too, but you'd be a fool to take a boat down it.)


The point is— The point is that though Gimli is accustomed to water, he is not accustomed to this. He is not in the slightest made to endure this damned river and the ridiculous beautiful elven-boats; he and Legolas course down the waterway behind the Hobbits and the Men, both of them in high dudgeon for all that Legolas spent an hour this morning singing. The singing has stopped, now, and they are carried on towards the Gates of Argonath.


The white water rolls past them, and Gimli's hood is drenched; droplets glitter in his beard, but he can hold himself secure in the knowledge that he looks less ridiculous than Legolas, whose hair is flat against his head and flying in the shifting wind. About them, on either side, rise two high shelves of rock, wind-beaten trees clinging to life with a desperation. The sun is a thin white line against the tops of the walls, and glints pale and weak against the water.


They turn a narrow corner— Gimli nearly loses hold of the oar, but they rescue the boat, at least, from being dashed against the rocks. And then he bursts into helpless laughter, for Legolas' unbound hair had risen into the air under its own momentum as he leaned to push them away from an outcropping with the long end of his oar, and when he had straightened, unsuspecting, and the boat had turned the corner, a sudden gust of wind and the speed of his movement had flung the long, wet curtain of his hair square into his face.


There is a moment of silence in the suddenly quiet water; up ahead the river widens and slows, and Legolas pulls his hair out of his mouth. Gimli shuts his own mouth, and pretended valiantly that he had not laughed so hard, but Legolas merely meets his eyes and that is it, they are both laughing wildly. It had not been quite as funny as all that, but somehow with the pounding of his heart and the dread of what will happen once they reach the end of their passage on the river is enough to spur them both to heights of amusement never before scaled.


"You mock me," Legolas says, with an imitation of dignity, chin upturned.


"You mock yourself, my friend," Gimli replies, and then stops breathing for half a second. Oh, Legolas has been his friend since Lothlorien— Since Moria, perhaps, or earlier— but they had never said it. He fears, suddenly, that an ancestor, watching him absently from the Halls of Mahal, will be roused to a veil-piercing fury and reach through to warn him of the dangers of the Elves of Mirkwood, possibly with the use of an axe as an educational aid, but in the silence nothing happens.


The roar of the river echoes against the walls of the ravine. Far above, in the distant sky, a bird sings. Legolas smiles, slow and shocked, and Gimli finds that he does not care much what his immortal ancestors think of him.


On the boat winds, and though they are flung like sand in high winds up against the walls of the ravine Gimli finds still that he sneaks glances at Legolas, and finds himself being watched, and smiles, and they share secretive grins without explanation until they reach the last banks.

 

The Breaking of the Fellowship


The river is wide and glittering, reflecting the bright blue of the sky; Gimli walks beside it in silence, and it is still strange to have Legolas beside him, though they had spent long hours walking in Lorien; perhaps the acknowledgement, long overdue, has set his head a little oddly, for there is something new about the way that they walk so close.


"How awful it is," Legolas says quietly, "That disaster might strike us so soon after such wonderful sights. I said it then and I may say it again— these landscapes are new to me, and their beauty is increased by it, and even now when Frodo has vanished from us there is still the song of birds I do not know in the trees, when I might most wish to study them, but be unable to."


"It is always the order of things," Gimli says ruefully. "First that things that are new might be most beautiful, and second that they are the things that are most easily taken from us, and that are the most difficult to understand. But fill yourself not with worry; the lad is a scholar, and he takes his time to think. That is all, I suspect. It is the way of the serious and the solid."


"If he is away under his own power, yes, he will come back— if I believe in anything it is that— but what if that is not the case?" Legolas looks down at him and for the first time it is clear just how struck by terror he is; his eyes are dark, as if shadowed by a storm. "I have known too many lone travellers fallen upon unawares to trust, and we knew when we departed that this journey would be perilous. What if that peril has come now?"


Gimli sighs, and scans the horizon again, climbing an embankment for a view, but finds nothing. "I share your discontent," he says quietly. "I, too, have seen how the forces of Mordor, and of the untainted wild, can prey upon the unwary and the wary alike. Yes, it is possible— probable, perhaps. But fear will not change the odds. And I do not with to entertain the prospect that the journey has been for naught."


They walk in silence a little longer. Aragorn whistles that he has had no success, and his heart sinks a little lower.


"You are correct," Legolas murmurs, as if with great reluctance. "We gain nothing from morbid speculation. I shall endeavour to proceed as though he is simply gone and thinking on it."


Gimli hums his agreement. A thin white cloud skids across the sky, and its shadow slips over the hills unremarked.


"Erebor is peaceful," Legolas says, as though he has been thinking it some time. "You said you had seen how the dark things and the monsters slaughter the unwary— but surely there cannot be much of that in Erebor? I cannot fathom where you would have seen it."


Cold comes over Gimli like the shadow of the cloud, but he shakes it off. "Erebor is peaceful, yes, but Erebor is young. And I was born in Ered Luin, where we delved into crumbling earth and found goblin-tunnels where iron ought to be— until the Company left, we were a dying city, formed of refugees, bitten and scarred from the flight from the Dragon and not safe in the home we found."


"A dying city I can understand," Legolas sighs. The high sun lingers on the outlines of his face. Gimli thinks, without quite realising that he thinks it, of how new things are the most beautiful.


And the easiest taken away, his own voice murmurs back to him in the depths of his mind. He walks a little closer beside him. The Mirkwood in his memory rises about them, dark and half-dead, but Legolas is walking in the bright sunlight and he is more alive than a person has any right to be, so he sets aside the worry and the forest. Frodo will come back and all will be well.

 

"We neither of us have ever had much peace, have we?" Legolas continues, voice light in thought. His hand lingers beside the quiver at his waist in much the same way that Gimli finds his fingers around the handle of his axe without ever thinking to draw it, and a muscle in his jaw is tense as they search. "Perhaps we have more in common than we once thought."


"It has been some time since I thought we were so different," Gimli says. Words fail him. At his feet, clover flowers shed white petals over the long grass.


Legolas blinks up into the sunlight. "It has been some time since we were strangers," he says, as thought he is only just realising this. "Just this morning you called me your friend."


"I did, and I will not recant it unless given a good reason."


"Good," Legolas says, with a startling fierceness. "Good. And— you are my friend, too."


"Poor fool of an Elf, you've gone and done it," Gimli says, and it's light-hearted but he means it. "No getting rid of me now."


Legolas just— beams down at him, that same honest joy that they had shared on the river, and Gimli thinks, poor fool of a Dwarf, you've gone and done it. He wonders if he might not draw Legolas' hand away from his quiver— hold his hand in his own and keep his axe-hilt unworried— he sees it, in his mind, the way that their mismatched fingers might tangle, the way that the tense muscles in Legolas' wrist might relax if he could only dare to reach out.


And then, rising over the plain like a scream, Boromir's horn sounds.

 

The Departure of Boromir


They are good in battle. So good it worries Gimli— and then again, half a second later, so well-suited to the dance that even now he can hardly imagine that a partner would not duck underneath an Orc's wide swing just late enough that Gimli can catch the hook of the beast's falchion with his axe, or that it might be possible to fight beside someone who would not watch his back with that fervour and receive the same.


It worries him because he fears growing dependent, perhaps, but it also worries him because it is very possible he already has.


So it is not much of a surprise that the back-guards of the marauding party do not last long; their black blood seeps into the long grass of the sun-drenched plains, and he and Legolas stand, back-to-back, in the aftermath.


Always, always, that is the way of it now. Him and Legolas, in the aftermath.


But they are done, now, breathing in the air, and though urgency still fills him he can take a moment, just a second, of shocked stillness. And then Legolas sighs, the tension unwinding from his shoulders.


"We must find them," he says, staring off into the distance after something that Gimli cannot see— or perhaps he watches nothing at all, and is simply resting his eyes on a mountain because he does not wish to look at the earth and its viscera.


"Aragorn and Boromir," Gimli says, and no further conversation is needed. The hobbits are gone, all of them, but there are Men that they may still yet safe. They crush the grass beneath their boots as they hurry back to the river, but he could no more slow down and go carefully than he could take to the skies on wings.


Perhaps he takes to strange metaphors in times of fear. Perhaps that's all this is.


And then, suddenly, as they clamber over a ridge and call out for their companions, Legolas takes his hand. He does not look at him— there is no time for that— but he has done it regardless.


His hands are long and thin and as strong as the rest of him. There is a ripped callus on his index finger. It is the wrong time to notice it, he has no thought left to spare, but notice it he does, and maybe that was the intention; a pleasant distraction in a time lacking in them.


He does not hold tight. If he had taken Legolas' hand earlier, when he had wished to, then Legolas could not have nocked an arrow so fast, Gimli could not have swung his axe so soon— but the orcs are dead, so he holds very lightly, and does not press down on the tear over Legolas' finger, which, he thinks, must ache.


There is a part of his mind that has been alone in a dark forest since the chamber of Marzabul. Very quietly, separate from the rest of him, that part of his mind finds a warm shelter and a bright hearth.


And then, of course, they find Aragorn. And Boromir.

 


The Riders of Rohan

 

The sky is still something new to a dwarf born underground. This sky is new, far from the street-candles of Dale and of Rivendell, carbon-black and glittering. Gimli stares up at it, aching with tiredness, and cannot will himself to sleep. Hours, a day's worth of running, and he is not yet done. The time that he has been on his feet has become one long grey-green smear in his mind of the grass and clover blurring past his eyes, and yet he cannot silence his mind.


Aragorn is on watch again; the fire-bright flicker of his pipe is the only light close to the earth, but it is not enough to see by. He crouches, and his breathing is almost silent. Legolas, too, less than a foot away, is soundless, his back against a tree, but Gimli does not think he is asleep.


His breathing is too even. There are no fragments of worry where the dream stumbles over a thought that is not kind, there are no hitches when the sleeping mind tangles in itself, so he is not asleep or in the dreaming-thought of elves; he sits and worries, like Gimli does, and in the morning they will all be half-dead after their six hours of unrest.


Gimli pretends that he is not accusing Legolas of exactly the habit that holds him in his grasp. What if they get Aragorn first, his mind whispers. What if there is another ambush, and he is slow to wake, and they are taken or worse? What if there is no right choice? What if they are dead already?


His heartbeat is loud in his ears. He sits up.


The moon is waxing, barely there, just the afterimage of a shadow, but either it's shedding enough light or Legolas himself is pale with sourceless light. There is a long, long moment where Gimli just looks at him. His hair is still braided, travel-tangled; he's burnished by long hours under the sun, and in his lap his hands are open. The torn callus on his index finger, from too long on his bowstring, is half-healed for all that it happened yesterday, but the skin is still raw. His eyes are open in something like the sightless sleep of elves, staring ahead— and then his head turns sideways, half a degree. He gives a fragment of a smile, thin as the moon.


"Go back to sleep," he whispers, and his voice has dropped from sleep or lack thereof.


"No 'back' about it," Gimli grumbles back, but returns the smile. A cloud, blacker than black, swims across the sky, and for a moment he thinks of ravens.


"You need sleep to— you are a dwarf, as you have reiterated many times," Legolas responds, a crease of confusion between his eyebrows, head falling against his shoulder. "You don't function without rest as I do."


"There are many things I don't function without," he sighs. "And I don't believe I could sleep now if I tried."


Legolas opens his mouth as though he is considering a joke, and then closes it again. His eyes blink closed for half a second, like an admission of weakness.


"I understand," he says, and doesn't wrap it up in other platitudes or sentiments of figures of speech. When he opens his eyes again, his pupils cover the iris, trying to glean as much from the dark as possible.


In violation of everything his father told him when he was young, Gimli thinks that he probably does understand.


"You need the rest too," he says slowly. "Maybe not quite so physically as I do, but I've seen you without it, and you become . . ."


"I know," Legolas breathes. "I know. But— what if—"


"What if, indeed." There seems to be nothing else to say, so he tilts his head back and watches his breath condense into mist in the cold air. In the black sky the white stars are laid out like glittering dust. The sound of the river is long behind them, but for a moment the cool wind in the trees murmurs like water, and he can take himself back to the morning of the day before. And then, almost better than the moment's peace, Legolas shuffles away from his tree, awkwardly, not quite looking at Gimli, and leans slowly against his shoulder.


"Well," he says with faux-lightness, "I shall never sleep, if you insist on thinking so loudly beside my ear."


"I— I apologise—"


"I didn't mean to ask you to move, you great idiot," he laughs, quiet as he can. "I meant to ask you what has your mind in knots so awfully, if you would share it. Other than— other than the obvious."


A cricket sings in a distant tree, and then falls silent. Gimli fears that he has made some awful mis-step, but then Legolas' breath moves past his air in a warm sigh. "I think that— I think of a world that is not real. I wish— I wonder— What it might be like if I were not myself, and if this world and this journey were different, and I could just exist." The next words are more a shape in the air than a sound: "With you."


Gimli turns his head just a fraction, just enough to see that Legolas' gaze has wandered away into the distance, seeing nothing, his mind too wide and dark to fathom. "Who would you be?" he asks. "In this unburdened world, with no old enmity?"


"A hunter, perhaps, or some other version of myself, without the fates of the Mirkwood walking beside me. I could go unregarded; I could decide for myself what it is that I feel, and I could just be your friend, and nothing more. Freely."


"Nothing more?" Gimli asks, and his voice spills from him without his permission. For a moment he wonders whether he has said it at all, and then Legolas leans forward as if to look at him.


He looks to be very far away, for all that his knee is still pressed against Gimli's, and then he smiles, half-false and tremulous. "Perhaps a little more," he murmurs. "If you would permit it."


"And who— who would I be?"


"Yourself, and nothing less. I would not like you nearly so much if you were someone else."


"What might he do? This Legolas Light-hearted, were he here with me instead of you?"


"He might . . . He might take hold of your hand, perhaps."


"Well, he may do that all he likes, and it has happened before; it would not be remarkable."


"Perhaps not. Or perhaps it might."


Gimli runs his hand down his own thigh until it barely brushes Legolas' knee— silent permission, for all that he has given it verbally. Legolas does nothing for a moment, and again that dread that he has stumbled unforgivably returns.


And then, so slowly it would be easy to mistake for the motion of the wind, Legolas does take his hand, in two of his as though holding something precious, and yes, there is something new and remarkable and inevitable about the way that he brushes his thumbs along the blood vessels across the back of his knuckles. Legolas looks down at their hands, and curls inwards, but Gimli is watching nothing but his face. He's not sure he's breathing.


"Forgive me," Legolas says. Before Gimli can say that there is nothing he would not forgive, he has lifted the tangle of their joined hands. Time seems to be moving at half the usual pace, and he looks up, once, to meet Gimli's eyes, and then, as though he has gathered all necessary courage all at once, he rests his lips on the scarred edge of Gimli's knuckles.


Gimli does not have nice hands. He works too hard, he is too old, now, for soft hands and grace, but still Legolas kisses his fingers. His eyes close, and he waits there, lips pressed against Gimli's skin as though he expects that it will not last long.


"Oh," Gimli says. The distant wind blows.


Legolas takes another breath and pulls away, but before Gimli can caution himself against it he has a featherlight hold on his jaw. He does not touch his mouth— he does not think he has the courage— but he runs a thumb along the crease beside his mouth, and smiles in return, helpless as he always has been. "I would permit him this, as well."


Slowly, like ink spreading through still water, a smile ripples across Legolas' face. When he presses another kiss to Gimli's palm, it is around the smile, not so neat but all the more wonderful for it. Another, to the muscle at the base of his thumb, and then to the tendons of his wrist where his sleeve has fallen, where the skin is thinner and more sensitive.


He must be able to feel the way that Gimli's pulse thunders against his lips. He must.


"What else might he do?" Gimli says, quieter than the wind in the long grass, and when Legolas looks up his eyes hold the same shocked hope that Gimli is holding tight in his chest. "If he were able?"


"He might— He might . . ."


They drift together like two ships passing too close in the night, unwary, until Legolas is hovering an inch in front of Gimli, spine curved awkwardly so that they are not touching anywhere but where Gimli's hand lingers on his jaw. Not holding, not pushing, just touching, just to feel the warmth of him.


And then Gimli kisses him.


It is everything he had never dared to think it might be. Legolas freezes for a moment, his lips wet from where he had chewed at them in worry, and then he breathes out and settles into it. They kiss softly, shallow, slow, as if it might shatter if they used too much force or asked too much— but it does not shatter.


They rest their foreheads together, and if Legolas does not know what that means for Dwarves, well, it won't hurt him. They breathe into the same space, the air moving in circles, and Legolas holds his eyes; it is too dark to see anything but the way that his dark eyelashes fall across his cheek, how the distant white light of the moon glitters in his pupils.


"What might you do?" Gimli asks, and fears that it might be the sideways force that shatters the gem. "You, before me now, under no pretencions— no other versions would I prefer but you, for I would not like you nearly so much if you were someone else."


This time he smiles into the kiss.

 

Helm's Deep


"Where you go," he had said, "I will go," and now he wishes for the reverse of the statement, that Legolas might be here with him in the places that before he would have longed to go alone.


The caverns here are like stepping from the Earth into the Halls of Waiting. Like running for your life into a dream. Above him, a dome of pale marble forms an almost perfect half-sphere, the sand soft and fine beneath his boots, a river of clear water singing. He can see, for a fraction of a second, how a mirror might glow in the very centre of the room, how natural light might filter through the water and project sea-patterns onto the vaults of the ceilings, how dust might glitter like gold . . .


The sounds of the soldiers still echo through these halls, these neglected halls, but he closes his eyes and he can imagine the racket to be a family of Dwarves instead, living here, crafting mirrors and fine reliefs to make the Caverns shine, secure in the most beautiful place that he has ever seen.


He has decided, he realises, what he wants his future to look like, and he has come to know it while he sounds of battle are only beginning to grow quiet outside.


How strange it is! How odd and awful and shining, that he might live all his life content to never tie himself to a cause or a place or a person, and now that he is on the edge of growing old he has found a cause and a place and a person, all at once within a year. And each of them incompatible.


He sighs, and resolves not to think of it. Not thinking of things has always served him well in the past. Why would he abide thoughts of what cannot be when this domed hall opens into another chamber and another dream, this one black as night-velvet and shot through with veins of fire-bright, and the next one . . .


The next one smells of earth. The next one is not golden but green, and the bright river is white in the late evening sunlight, for the ceiling opens out onto the cold white sky. A carpet of moss grows over the black stone and the tumbled fragments of quartz. The wind whispers. There are no men buried here, but still there are the clouds of white simbelmyne, like pinprick stars.


Each of them incompatible, he thinks, but this is a place where he could see Legolas. Yes, he thinks, the water, the green and growing things. A hall of compromise, perhaps. A space between the different worlds that they occupy.


Oh.

 

The Passing of the Grey Company


"How is it that the Dwarves treat— Marriages?"


"Hm." He contemplates for a moment the way that his father had clung to the secrecy of their old traditions, but, it seems to him, all the sanctity and power is due to the Dwarves involved, and it doesn't matter a whit if an Elf knows. Besides, all is ending, and— it makes itself known to him suddenly, and then he cannot imagine ever not knowing it— there will be a day, if they survive, when he will want Legolas to know.


An odd topic of conversation to take up, as they ride up slowly through the mountains. He knows he's half-conjuring it, but still the pale rain seems to shift around them, his breath rising into the air as a white ghost. He is not made for this, and if it weren't for faith he would have abandoned this haunted path long ago. The dead were not meant to walk, and he was not meant to walk beside them.


"We have half a thousand traditions," he answers, and it is a relief that he had never before appreciated, to ride through the cold with Legolas warm against him. "Every family invents another, and every rebellious Dwarrow changes them to spite their parents. Ours, as sons of Durin, are yet more convoluted, precise, but at the fundamentals the principle is the same, and unceremonious. A Dwarf may be married in the rain in a well with none other than their beloved, and still in the eyes of all who matter the marriage is the same as a King's golden wedding."


"In the rain, in a well?"


"I have a second cousin who was married wading through waist-deep mud in a collapsed mine, waiting for rescue. They had a commemoration ceremony seven years later, and the bride arrived in her mud-stained work-clothes."


Legolas laughs quietly. The vibrations echo in Gimli's chest, and Gimli waits for the pronouncement that an Elf would never stand for such disregard of propriety, but it never comes. "Marvellous," he says instead, and a tension that he hadn't been aware of melts away.


A sudden rush of affection takes him, and for a moment it is easy to forget how the dead are waiting for them. He leans up in the saddle as much as is possible and presses a kiss to the skin just below Legolas' ear. A flicker of smug pride warms him when Legolas shivers, attempting not to smile, and the tips of his ears flush darker.


Next to them, sitting ramrod straight in his saddle, Aragorn rolls his eyes— but he also smiles, something he hasn't honestly done since the Orthanc-stone, so Gimli counts that a success.


"And what are those fundamentals?" Aragorn looks almost wistful.


"Oh, well—" Suddenly those traditions seem a little more important, but . . . What is there to it? He has fought beside them for longer and bloodier battles than any he grew up with, and think that they have likely seen more of him, of who he truly is, than anyone. "It's simple," he says. "Not that anything of the sort is truly simple, but it's at least mechanically so. There may not be anyone else present, so there are ceremonial rooms for the purpose, and it is done at night, so that they might enter the day together— But if one cannot tell the time of day, it is excused, and of course a cavern or a well or an empty tent might suffice, but not a stable."


"Why not a stable?"


"I've no idea, but my father has told me very firmly that it's not legitimate in a stable."


"And in your private space that is not a stable," Legolas says, and it is a relief as much as anything is that the humour in his voice is not mocking, "What do you do?"


"Well, you . . ." He finds himself flushing, and busies himself with a hilt-buckle so that Aragorn does not take it upon himself to comment. "One says things. Promises. It used to be that there was a written contract, illuminated works of art, but these days we are rather more free with it, and it can be spoken. And then one goes outside again, and there is usually dancing and a feast, but not always, and then if possible one greets the dawn."


He doesn't mention the exchange of Names. He doesn't mention that his parents had insisted on no written contract until it could be drawn up illuminated in gold, which meant no contract until Erebor, because it could not be spared in Ered Luin, and then the gold was touched by the dragon and could not be used, and so they never had one. Some things he still intends to keep to himself.


Legolas takes one long breath, judged by the expansion of his ribs, and holds it, and Gimli cannot fathom what he's thinking.


"You do not need permission?"


He laughs aloud. "From whom?


"Parents, or lords," Aragorn says, and then with an odd little sideways glance to Legolas, "Kings."


"Oh, no, of course not. Ridiculous idea. Nobody's business with whom a Dwarf takes up except their own and their partners."


Aragorn just watches him for a moment and then smiles. His hand drifts up to his chest, and Gimli pointedly does not ask. Smiling is better than staring at the mist.


"I think I approve very much of the way the Dwarves do things, then," Legolas says, looking back over his shoulder.


"And so you ought."

 

The Dawnless Day


Returning from his travels has always been perilous. He arrives home to Erebor each time and is astonished at the size of it, the bustle, the sheer number of people that he is reminded exist in the world, and how small the sky seems from a window; each and every time, it shocks him.


As the camp wakes up, that same vertigo returns. The sun has not yet risen, the sky a pale grey against the black of the mountains, the clouds thick and dark above, and the noises of people sound out like a reminder that he has been away from home too long. He has made actual camp, and that, too, is jarring in a way it never has been before; it is odd to lay a bed, instead of finding flat earth and hoping for clear skies. It is odd that there is clear water to drink, and someone has brought him firewood, and there are tents in the colours of many kingdoms, none his own. Gimli blinks out at it all, his sleep not yet quite gone.


When Legolas returns with a kettle, the Men watch him surreptitiously, the way they watch the Hobbits and him— as if they are not quite sure that he exists, his hair loose about his shoulders and shining though there is no light to make it shine, long limbs striding in and out of the gloaming. Still, when he smiles it is the realest thing in the camp.


The fire glows and glitters; a hundred camp-fires join it, smoke coiling up in blue smudges, and Legolas settles against him, a familiar weight in an unfamiliar place. Tea-smells, breakfast smells, metal oils and armour, the sounds of whetstones and an army awake with nervousness; they surround them, the unmistakable hallmarks of people that he has been without for so long, running through the wilderness.


They sit in companionable silence as the world wakes up, Gimli checking each ring of his mail and Legolas' quick fingers re-fletching perfect arrows. He is not yet sure whether nervous activity makes the worry better or worse.


"The sun should have risen," Legolas says abruptly, glaring down the horizon.


A pale grey light is there, yes, but it is faint and growing fainter as the clouds crowd thicker; a cold wind blows from no source.


"Perhaps we slept for less time than we had thought," Gimli says, but against the distant hills a red, red light is reflecting from the black clouds, and he cannot lie to himself. He swallows, and hastily pulls on his gambeson.


"Orc-works," Legolas says. "Or witchcraft."


"Gandalf could do it, but not for long."


"To turn out the light of the sun like a candle-hood? No, I doubt he could."


"The sun is still there, as it is at night— just hidden, I think, behind that black curtain as it is hidden by the Earth."


"A night without stars," Legolas murmurs. "A day without a dawn."


There is a curious thing about Elves that he has learned— in the absence of light, they shed their own, white as moonlight but thin, just a glimmer. In the sudden blackness, as he has been before, Legolas is the one thing that is clear and visible against the blurred horizon. Gimli thinks something poetic and nonsensical about stars, and stops his thought before it can sprawl out of his controls.


Legolas turns back to him and takes a hold of Gimli's face, running one finger along the edge of the healed cut on his forehead where the skin is still stinging-sensitive; Gimli just blinks at him, and raises his eyebrows.


"Are you satisfied of my existence, then?" He asks, as though he does not fully understand the urge.


"I don't think I've ever been so sure of something in all my years," Legolas replies, but there is something strange in the twist of his mouth.


Gimli sighs, and draws him closer, wraps his arms around him and rests his chin on Legolas' shoulder. They sit there in the dark, and slowly, slowly the tension in each of them unwinds.


"Marry me," Legolas whispers. The air of his breath moves, warm, across Gimli's neck.


He says nothing; he's not sure that he can. Legolas shivers, and speaks again.


"If— If I am to die, or you, or both, Gimli— I would like most of anything to die with you as my husband."


"Ask me again," Gimli says, and draws back to look at him, to see the way that he half-smiles and the red light glitters. "Ask me again, when it's all finished. I should not tie you to me from fear, but rather I would marry you for the joy of it, for the joy of you."


Strange as anything, this, in the quiet dark. "It is too fast," he continues, voice low, "And I love you. I love you with a love that deserves more than this, in a field under a storm-cloud. So ask me again, when we live, when we're free, and when you're sure."

 

(Years later, in the Glittering Caves and under the bright sky, while the river runs quiet and no battle sounds, he does.)