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Axe and Bow

A Legolas and Gimli fan archive

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Raven's Song

by Camilla Sandman

Category:
Rating: R for some possible violence and sex
Warnings: None.
Disclaimer: This is not my world. I will listen to Tolkien. I will not steal Tolkien's character. I will not ignore Tolkien's writings. Tolkien is God .  ... But can I interpret?
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Summary: Young and alone on a long road,/ Once I lost my way: / Rich I felt when I found  another; / Man rejoices in man. The story of Gimli and Legolas (slashy, oh yes. Cam's fist, last and only slash story).
A/N: Expect a lot of references to Nordic mythology and language. Tolkien borrowed, as do I.

The proverbs are from Håvamål, which my forefathers believed Odin himself had spoken. 



CHAPTER 1

*****

Young and alone on a long road,
Once I lost my way:
Rich I felt when I found another;
Man rejoices in man

_ Håvamål

*****

Night fell over Lothlórien, veiling the forest in darkness.

The Fellowship was sleeping, their faces pale in the moonlight. They rested uneasily, Legolas imagined. Grief and fear seemed to follow them even into the land of dreams, if they indeed did dream.

They needed their sleep, yet Legolas almost wished he could wake them this first night in Lothlórien.

The night was cold and he felt alone. He did not wish to think, to pause and consider all that he had seen. Yet his mind seemed bent on it.

Gandalf's last cry echoed in his mind still, though he had locked the sound of it away. But at night he could feel the cry even without hearing it -  a cold grip on his spine. He had not known terror until that day, and though the Balrog fell, he could still feel the terror in his veins. It flowed with his blood, filling every part of his body.

He should not feel like this. Not in fair Lothlórien, the Golden Wood of his kindred. They were safe here - for a little while before the Quest had to go on.

Into fire and darkness they would walk.

Frodo slept nearby, his face as pale as the moon at dawn. Young was the hobbit, yet his face told of more grief and toil than even an elf should experience in a lifetime. Alas, all hope rested on him and the elf could not foresee anything but hardship for the hobbit. Perhaps the burden should be taken from him. He seemed so small and fragile.

"Nay!" Legolas muttered, realising he had almost thought of that he should not think. The call of the One Ring, foreign yet familiar. He would not listen. He would not.

"I never imagined such beauty in a forest," a deep voice said behind him, and he turned to see Gimli, awake and slowly approaching. A shadow he seemed, almost merging with the dark.

The dwarf looked different - the bitterness always gleaming in his eyes when the two were in the vicinity of each other was gone. His face was open, eyes filled with quiet wonder.

They regarded each other for a moment, the dwarf and the elf.

It occurred to Legolas he had never truly looked at the dwarf, not through open eyes. Always with distrust he had regarded Gimli, always just one step down from enemy. A dwarf, nothing more, nothing less.

"Lothlórien," Legolas replied at last. "So near the Shadow, yet as bright as starlight."

"As is the Lady Galadriel," Gimli muttered.

"Yes."

They said nothing for a while, as if words would ruin the growing feeling of common ground. The night was quiet, rustling water and a distant bird the only sounds to be heard. It was an odd bird to hear though, Legolas was almost sure it was a raven.

"I would dearly like to see more of this beauty," Gimli said hesitantly. "If I return to my kindred, I shall tell them a tale of this, so that no dwarf will be ignorant of it ever more. Fiendeskog my people call it. An ill name. I shall rename it in the tales."

"My heart desires to see more as well. I have heard tales of Lothlórien but no tales do it justice."

"No tales ever will."

Legolas shot the dwarf a curious glance, for it did not all sound like Gimli. The dwarf's voice was soft, though dark and rumbling. Some change had come over him - perhaps it had come over them all.

"I have seen beauty in what I feared, and fear in what I imagined beautiful, Legolas. Perhaps then I shall find a friend where I saw an enemy."

"Perhaps," Legolas agreed, astonished at the dwarf's trail of thought.

The dwarf regarded him calmly.

"Frodo needs to rest," Legolas went on. "A few days we must tarry, or the hobbit may be lost to us. I fear for him, Gimli. He bears great evil, and a shadow lingers over him."

"A shadow," Gimli repeated slowly. "Since Gandalf fell my heart has grown heavy. I wonder if perhaps the enemy is not out there, but right here - in the Fellowship."

"An enemy?" Legolas asked, alarmed, and for a moment he thought the dwarf would turn and accuse him.

"Nay, I cannot say. I am tired, and a strange mood passed over me."

The dwarf hesitated, as if he wanted to say more, but was not quite sure what.

"Speak your mind, Gimli," Legolas said impatiently, feeling a surge of anger. Here the dwarf had spoken words of friendship, only to begin rambling about enemies!

"I would speak it if I knew it!" Gimli shot back. "My mind is clouded, as by dark magict. I have not felt like myself since I entered this wood."

"And you blame the elves for this?" Legolas replied angrily

"No! I."

The dwarf took a deep breath, and shook his head.

"I was a fool to think I could speak my mind to an elf," he muttered. 

High above, the raven screeched.

Legolas closed his eyes. "No, I am a fool. You spoke of a worry, and I grew angry at your words though I had no reason to. Forgive me. I. I feel this worry also, and your words troubled me."

"It is the call of the Ring," Gimli said quietly. "Fouler it seems here in the fair wood of the Golden Lady. We may all be fools to be on this Quest, and little may come of it but death."

"Perhaps so. But you shall see Lothlórien," Legolas replied, feeling a strange determination coming over him. "If you so desire, we shall see it together." 

"Yes," the dwarf said, and without another word, he went back to the rest of the Fellowship. Throwing a look behind him, he saw the elf regard him, as light as a star against the darkness of the night.


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CHAPTER 2

***

'And it seemed to me too,' said Gimli, 'that my choice would remain secret and known only to myself.'
- Gimli on Galadriel's 'mind-probing'

*****

To a false friend the footpath winds
Though his house be on the highway.
To a sure friend there is a shortcut,
Though he live a long way off

- Håvamål

*****

Time mattered not.

Gimli had always been aware of time - he was mortal after all, though he would see many Men be born and die before it was time to lay down the axe and pass beyond the veil. He had also always been aware of the timelessness of the elves, and in some ways resented them for it.

He had never imagined a place could be timeless as well. The mountains, as constant as they were, still changed. Time would touch them, just more slowly.

Lórien was timeless. At once it felt older than anything he had ever felt, and still young. Birds would sing as if they had always been there and always would. The sun rose and dawned and it seemed as if no time had passed at all. Yet more to wonder about, amidst confusing thoughts.

Not to mention fear. For his feet were dangling high above the ground, and the tree had not looked this tall from the ground.

'You must see Lothlórien as we do, from the trees,' indeed. Dwarves belonged on the ground. Whatever had possessed him to agree to climb up? There was really no reason to, the elves guiding them had turned back. Although Gimli was sure the trees had eyes. This was a seeing forest.

Perhaps he had wanted to prove a point. To himself, as much as the elf. And to whomever was watching and regarding him with distrust. He could feel the elves's eyes on him and though he did not understand their language, he had heard the resentment in their voices when Legolas had insisted he come.

Legolas looked happy though, his ageless face shining in the dawning sun. The elf walked as lightly on the branches as he did on the ground, while Gimli clung onto the nearest branch for dear life.

"I suppose you find this amusing," the dwarf remarked.

Legolas suppressed a smile. "Trees are clearly not for the dwarves, for you look as miserable as an orc in sunlight."

"You were not so cheerful yourself in Moria," Gimli replied sourly and the brightness disappeared from Legolas's features.

Gimli instantly regretted it, for memories of Gandalf began to assault him. He had not had time to think it over properly, and grief waited in the dark corner of his mind. Yet it had to wait there a while longer. They had little time for grief.

"The darkness of Moria did not come from just a longing for the open sky," Legolas said after a moment. "Though I could not see much beauty in it."

"And if Lothlórien was burned and black, would you suddenly forget its beauty?"

"No."

"Then do not say Moria is not beautiful," Gimli said forcefully, letting go of the branch for just one moment to get a better grip.

The world went around and the beloved ground greeted him hard.

"Gimli? Gimli?"

Legolas's face came into view, leaning over him. Bright hair brushed against his arm, and suddenly another image came to him.

**

Light in the darkness. He could feel warm skin against his, warmer than he could have imagined. A flame - drawing him in always.

'Gimli,' the flame whispered. 'Touch me. Take me. I am yours.'

Skin against skin, lips against lips and light against dark.

And Galadriel's voice, soft yet filled with steel, echoing in his mind: 'This you may have. But will you sacrifice the Quest and the Fellowship for it? What will you chose, Gimli, son of Glóin?'

**

Staggering, Gimli got to his feet, breathing hard. The ground seemed to spin under his feet for a moment as he tried to regain his senses.

The elf regarded him with concern. 

"Nay, I am not hurt, Legolas. I felt dizzy for a moment, it has passed."

"It was a long fall. Perhaps." Legolas began.

"Perhaps next time I will know better than to imitate an elf," Gimli said hotly. "Enough of this. You have shown me the forest, and night is falling. I desire food and rest."

With that he begun to trot off, before suddenly realising he had no idea where they were and which direction led back to the others. Turning, he saw the elf leaning against the tree, arms crossed.

"Do all dwarves change their mood as suddenly as the winds change?"

"And elves do not? Blindfolded I was requested to walk through the forest, treated as if I were an enemy and suddenly I am welcomed as a friend. But I see how they regard me still, all save Lady Galadriel."

"The elves here have had reasons for their distrust," Legolas replied, still leaning against the tree. "As have I."

"Have *I* given you reason for distrust? It would seem to be that elves scarcely trust anyone but their own kindred."

"The same can be said for the dwarves. Yet Lord Elrond trusted you to join the Fellowship." Legolas paused. "Gandalf trusted you."

"But you do not," Gimli concluded and again wondered why it mattered to him. Why was he here? A silly notion, it had been. He should have stayed asleep, and not approached the elf in the first place.

But there had been something about Legolas that night - an air of loneliness, of grief, of. Longing? The dwarf was not sure what it had been, only that he had felt the same. The vision of Lady Galadriel had troubled him and the meaning had eluded him. Riddles and visions. Where was an orc's neck to chop at when needed? Perhaps it would not make the path any clearer, but at least he would feel less useless.

What good had he done in Moria but to watch Gandalf fall?

"I trusted Gandalf, and I trust Lord Elrond. I trust Lady Galadriel, and she feared you not. Will you accept that?" Legolas finally offered.

Gimli merely bowed.

"Come then, Master Dwarf. You are heading towards Mirkwood if you continue that path."

Sighing, Gimli begun to follow the elf through the trees. Somewhere in the distance the mountains of home probably glimmered, out of sight.  Home.

And yet - here, the air so bright and fair, silently following Legolas - he was glad he had come.


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CHAPTER 3


*****

He who has seen and suffered much,
And knows the ways of the world,
Who has travelled', can tell what spirit
Governs the men he meets
- Håvamål

*****

Golden water.

So bright was the sun on the water that it almost seemed golden. The air was golden too, though shadows waited for them down the river. Soon, they would leave Lothlórien and nothing would seem golden ever again.

The boats seemed so light on the water they hardly left a trail, almost as if they had never been there.

Legolas let a hand break the surface of the water for a moment, feeling the cool water against his skin. The beauty of Lothlórien went beyond its trees, it seemed to bring something to the air and ground and water as well. A feel of light, even when it was dark.

Gimli sat behind him in the boat, the dwarf looking unusually pensive. Legolas had always thought dwarves rash and shallow, but his dwarfish companion did not match that picture. Often deep in thought, Gimli seemed to take in Lothlórien even more than his companions. His face shone with a dark gleam, but it was pleasant to be near.

Strange. The dwarf reminded Legolas of the stars. Stars were more than the light they gave out, more than the flame that burned within. They were guides to others in the dark.

"I am torn between wishing I had never come and wishing I never had to leave," Gimli said quietly. Legolas glanced at him, noticing to his surprise that the dwarf had a hand in the water also. "Golden this forest is, more golden than the gold of our mines. I would not think gold could be alive."

Legolas suppressed a smile. As astonishing as it was, he was enjoying the dwarf's company. Certain topics they never talked about, for old resentments waited there. But the silence was not uncomfortable, and many a times they simply shared a smile over the hobbits's merry chatter or stabs of grief when something reminded them of Gandalf.

Gandalf.

The elf pushed the paddle deeper into the water, pushing the boat forward. The stream was strong and the boat had good speed, so he needn't paddle hard. Still, it was doing something and thus lessened the feeling of despair.

No time to grieve.

"I think I hear his voice at times, whispered on the wind," Gimli said, causing the elf to nearly lose the paddle. How did the dwarf know what he was thinking?

"He tells me to have hope," Gimli went on. "Have hope, Legolas."

"You are telling me to have hope?" Legolas kept his voice even, not sure if he should be angry or astonished or even touched that the dwarf cared.

"Yes," the Dwarf said simply. "I could not see any after Moria. If I can see hope through an elf, you can see hope through a mere dwarf."

The boat turned sharply, and for a while neither said much. The two other boats were not far ahead, though the mists were beginning to fade them. The sun seemed bleaker now as well, as Lothlórien was behind them and only darkness awaited.

No more golden water.

Legolas tried to keep his mind on the water and the boat, but grief and anger were piling up in him and it felt like he could hardly breathe. Anger at the dwarf for being so calm and supportive, anger at himself for being angry, but most of all anger for not letting himself grieve. He wanted to grieve and to cry, but he could not let himself.

"I do not need your reassurances," he finally said, sharper than he had intended. He could feel the Dwarf's eyes on him, and for some reason hot anger pulsed through his body.

Gimli said nothing, and the silence grew tense. The mists were growing also, and the sun seemed pale and cold. If spring were upon them, no one had told the sun.

Even the hobbits were quiet, and there was not one bird to be heard. No cheerful song, no warnings of danger. Just silence.

The mists faded and darkness crept in. Thought it seemed more grey than black, for compared the dark moods of the Fellowship, nothing could be black.

Finally Aragorn steered them towards the west banks, and they set up a small camp. The hobbits already slept, and were carried onto the ground. Boromir and Aragorn soon slept, but it was the uneasy sleep of hardened warriors.

Legolas could still feel the dwarf's eyes on him, saying nothing and everything at once.

"You should get some sleep," the Elf finally said, keeping his eyes on the water.

"I am a dwarf, not a frail Man."

"At least Men have the good sense to know when to be silent."

"Coming from an elf." Gimli began, and Legolas turned. The two stared at each other, and to his chagrin, Legolas felt tears wanting to emerge.

"And coming from a dwarf, words mean nothing!" he almost spat out, clinging on to the only thing that kept grief at bay.

"Words mean more to us than elves, who waste them on idle chatter and endless songs," Gimli replied, eyes blazing.

"What would you know of the grief we sing about?"

"Grief is only for the precious elves? You are not the only one who dearly wish to cry at the losses of the world. I feel it too, Legolas. Perhaps I have not known Gandalf for a thousand years, but I feel grief too. Frodo feels grief. Do not belittle us because you have lived longer."

Gimli took a deep breath and the anger seemed to fall from him.

"If I anger you with my mere presence, I can ask Aragorn if Sam and Frodo will agree to change boats."

"No!" Legolas surprised himself with the force of his reply, causing Aragon to stir slightly.

"No," the Elf repeated, more softly this time. "I apologise, Gimli. I spoke harshly, but the words should have been for me only, for they are not directed at you."

"Think nothing of it," Gimli said equally softly. 

"You are right, Frodo feels grief beyond any of us," Legolas said, sitting down and leaning against a tree. "To us Gandalf was a symbol. To Frodo he was a friend."

"He was a friend to all of us, Legolas. A friend and a guide."

"Who will guide us now?"

Gimli sat down as well, taking off his helmet and letting the wind grab hold of his hair.

"We must go on without a guide, and seek solace in each other. That is, I mean in the Fellowship," the Dwarf added hurriedly, as if he had meant to say something else.

And the stars twinkled faintly, little dots of light in the never-ending darkness.


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CHAPTER 4

*****

A wayfarer should not walk unarmed,
But have his weapons to hand:
He knows not when he may need a spear,
Or what menace meet on the road.

- Håvamål


****

Dull was the day, dull and grey and so much like the day before Gimli wondered if a day had passed after all. Perhaps he had fallen asleep in the boat and dreamt it, though he did not feel rested. The mists on the river seemed to have entered his mind, for clear thought was impossible.

'Think nothing of it.'

He had said it, and meant it, yet Gimli could not help but hear the words echoed in his mind again and again. The harsh words of the elf, as harsh as they had been they turned equally soft. It astonished the dwarf how quickly elves could change their way, how quickly the anger would fade in their deep eyes. Or perhaps it was the dwarves that were slow, and felt everything more deeply.

'What would you know of the grief we sing about?'

Perhaps the grief was different for his kindred, but it was not less. It was not. It was just more silent, for dwarves sung rarely compared to the elves.

Legolas was tense, his keen eyes taking in the banks and trees. If the elf saw anything, he made no sign of it. It seemed oddly silent, no birds, no animals, only the sound of runing water.

A few drops of water had fallen into Legolas's hair, reminding the dwarf of pearls in gold. No, not pearls - topaz. Misty blue topaz, the colour of Lady Galadriel's eyes - and Legolas's.

Where did that thought come from?

'I do not need your reassurances.'

Then why did he feel compelled to give them?

Everything was misty. Where was the shining star to give direction?

He looked down at his pouch, fighting a desire to take out the treasure within. The strands of hair given to him by the Lady of Lothlórien, a sign of a new understanding. Dwarves would not fear her kind anymore, not if he could help it. She would be a star to them, fairer than all others.

Fairer.

He looked up at Legolas again without thinking, taking in the tense back, the flowing hair, the pale skin and the tall frame. The elf did not need the sun on him to shine, though the sun should. Elves were creatures of sunlight and starlight, and like gems they needed the light. They were beautiful without light, but the light reflected in them and thus made both them and the light seem more magnificent.

Lady Galadriel was a crystal, bright and fair and most beautiful when filled with light. And Legolas..

The dwarf shivered. He should not be thinking this, yet the image of a gem matching Legolas had already entered his mind and he could not shake it.

Opal. Black as the night sky it could be, or as blue as a clear mountain lake. A rock, but fragile and breakable. A gem of light, though beautiful even in the dark.

He shook his head, trying to shake the thought as well. It was a not an easy task in this pocket of silence. It was almost as if the world slept while they moved on. As if the landscape rolled by and did not see them. 

What would then happen when the world awakened? Would the ravens come, singing of death as they always did? 'The heralds of death', his father had once called them, for they had come with orcs.

It would almost be better to face orcs than this grey dullness, this feeling of something coming closer, yet no signs of it. A storm with no clouds. Legolas could feel it, the dwarf knew by the tension in the elf's back. Even the hobbits seem to feel it, for they were quiet. They all waited. 

The waiting was always the worst part of a battle. Even after a hundred battles and a river of blood the waiting was the worst. For none was a more cruel predictor than your own mind.

He closed his eyes, the cold wind sweeping through his clothes and into his heart. What much good could one confused dwarf do? Frodo bore the burden, Aragorn led them, Legolas scouted for them, the hobbits were their spirit and Boromir a support for Aragorn. What then could Gimli, son of Glóin do?

"Gimli," Legolas said softly, and the dwarf looked up. "You told me to have hope, yet you look as if all grief in the world has befallen you."

"Dwarves are poor at offering advice," Gimli replied, wondering if the elf was still angry.

"No. You are right. If the wise one sees hope, so must us fools."

"Fools who think we can change the world."

A brief smile touched Legolas's lips, lighting up his whole face. An opal with an inner light he was, though with a golden frame.

"Perhaps we can, Master Dwarf. If an elf and a dwarf can share a boat without pushing each other in the water, a small hobbit can bring the fall of Sauron."

Gimli returned the smile, as they both looked over to the boats ahead. Hobbits might be small, but they were quick to win deep affection. Not for their naivety, for that had long since died. No, for their brightness of spirit even in the darkest places. They were the most unprepared for this travel, yet they had shown courage to shame even the greatest warrior.

"Curious beings," Legolas said, shaking his head slightly, causing the drops of water to fall from his hair. Startled, the dwarf felt a drop of water meet his skin and slowly run down his cheek. He caught it with his hand, staring at the bright speck of blue.

It was only water, yet. It felt warm against his skin, as if it had been near a flame.

The boats floated on, the water swirling around them. And clutching his axe, Gimli thought he heard a distant raven singing its song of death.


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CHAPTER 5
Ash nazg durbatulûk' is 'One Ring to Rule Them All' in the tongue of Mordor




*****

Let no one wonder at
another's folly,
it is the lot of many.
All-powerful desire
makes of the sons of men
fools even of the wise.

- Håvamål


*****

Legolas shivered. It was not the wind or the night that made him to feel cold, for the air was growing warmer. The night was quiet, no signs of the orcs from earlier. Huddled in the boats on the shore with the rest of the Fellowship, he had no reason to be cold. Yet he was.

It was his heart that was cold, the fair light of Lothlórien could no longer warm him. And the shadow in the sky had greatly disturbed him. His bow had felled it, as his bow should have sung in Moria. Not one shot had he fired at the Balrog, and Gandalf had fallen.

Perhaps arrows would had done little good. The Balrog was a shadow of the past, of greater times and greater evils. But Mithrandir had deserved one shot fired, even though it would have been in vain. The loss seemed so much greater to the elf knowing he had not even tried to prevent it.

And though he should not wonder, he did. What if the Ring had been used against the Balrog? The Ring could have been used, the Ring could have.

He shivered again. It seemed lately that the Ring called to him even more, speaking of great deeds to be done in memory of Mithrandir.

Gimli was nodding off behind him, though Legolas could still feel eyes on him. No, not eyes. Attention. Attention on him, an awareness focused on him and the others. A calling in the dark, a calling of the dark.

The Ring. Always the Ring. So small, yet so precious. Precious.A sudden desire to see it came over him, and he lifted his hands without even thinking.

'Ash nazg durbatulûk,' a voice in his mind whispered.

"Gimli!" he whispered alarmed. "Gimli!"

"I am awake, you need not call out as if you are trying to wake the forest," Gimli replied gruffly. "Are there orcs about?"

"No."

"Another shadow?" Gimli sounded fearful, and more alert as he spoke.

"No - or rather, yes. I feel a shadow in my mind. It is the Ring, Gimli. You were right. There is an enemy in the Fellowship. It is the Ring - and also us, because we hear its call. Do you hear it?"

"Of course," Gimli said sharply. "But I have seen beauty that cannot be created with evil, and the Ring cannot tempt me to rebuild Moria any more. It would not be beautiful then, but darker than it is now. I desire it, as do all living things, but it would not aid me."

"It calls to me in the name of Gandalf," Legolas whispered, bowing his head, aghast at his own thoughts. "I fear it may turn us all to evil as our desire grows."

"It may," Gimli replied. "It may not. One shadow fell from the sky today. You felled it, Legolas. You will defeat the Shadow of Sauron also, my friend. Gandalf was good. The Ring is evil. No deeds done with the help of it would honour his memory. You know this in your heart, lest I be a poorer judge of character than any living dwarf."

"Twice you have offered me comfort now, Master Dwarf," Legolas said, feeling strangely warmed. "I begin to wonder if all dwarves are steady rocks to their friends, even when their friend is a fool of an Elf."

Gimli smiled in the dark. "The wisest are those who know how big a fool they are. And dwarves are wise indeed."

"No less wise than the elves it would seem," Legolas smiled as well. Turning backwards for a moment, he put a hand on the dwarf's shoulder. Gimli seemed startled, but said nothing.

"Thank you," Legolas said softly. He felt strange, heart no longer cold and his fingers tingling. Yet it was not uncomfortable, and he let his hand linger for just a moment.

Just an everlasting moment.

The others were silent, though the elf doubted they were sleeping. Boromir seemed restless, sitting straight against his boat, eyes ever on Frodo and Sam. Aragorn too, seemed focus on the hobbits, though with an eye on the trees.

"Legolas?" Gimli asked and the elf turned back to face his dwarven friend again.

"Have you see ravens in the skies?"

"Yes," the Elf replied.

"My kindred believe them to be a sign of death," Gimli said slowly. "I fear their song. I need not hear it, for I feel it in my heart."

"Perhaps they bring death to our enemies," Legolas suggested. "Perhaps they sung for the fallen shadow."

"Perhaps. But the song lingers on, Legolas."

"I know not the tales of your kindred. We have no tales of the songs of ravens, for to our ears they do not sing."

"You do not listen closely enough."

"I have never heard an dwarf accuse an elf of not hearing before," Legolas replied. "Nay, Gimli, I took no offence to your words. We hear and see differently  from your kindred. Perhaps if you can teach me to hear their song, I can teach you to love trees."

"You should not attempt the impossible," Gimli said, looking up at the small trees surrounding them. "Though if we are to walk into Mordor, even a dwarf may miss trees."

Nearby Frodo stirred, shivering, as if he had heard the name of 'Mordor' mentioned and it brought him fear. And close by, Boromir's eyes never left the halfling, even when the sun rose to warn of a new day.

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CHAPTER 6

*****

Cattle die, kindred die,
Every man is mortal:
But the words' glory
Will never die
In honourable reminisce

- Håvamål


*****

The wind picked up, almost as if it was howling mournfully for the fallen. The stars mourned too, as pale and cold as the moon. There was no warmth in the night, no comfort in the sky.

Yet morning would bring no comfort.

Aragorn had already fallen asleep, the Ranger's face deeply troubled even so. If the man dreamt, it was not peacefully. Legolas stood nearby, watching the dark sky with a strange calm.

Gimli felt no such calmness.

His feet hurt, his hands hurt, his side hurt but most of all his heart hurt, almost like a fatal wound.

Boromir was dead. Frodo and Sam had ventured alone into darkness. Merry and Pippin might be lost to them too. The dwarf's heart wept for the fates of all of them.

Death had come. And he had not stopped it. He could have chased after Merry and Pippin, he should have. He had felt a worry in his heart, a feeling of impending doom. But when Legolas had run off, he had not thought, he had not paused to even consider where he should go.

He had followed the Elf. Boromir had fallen defending the hobbits and the Fellowship was broken. Death had come again, as the ravens had warned.

He bowed his head.

"You should sleep," Legolas said softly without even turning. He seemed but a shadow against the sky, though his hair shone palely in the night.

"I cannot. Death haunts us, Legolas. Gandalf fell, Boromir fell and the hobbits may suffer an ill fate. I cannot sleep."

"We may all suffer an ill fate."

"Galadriel spoke of this to me," Gimli replied. "I have failed the Fellowship. I chose poorly."

"No." Legolas turned, walking over to the dwarf with soft steps. "Frodo chose his path. We cannot help him. We can only hold hope in our hearts that they will walk out of the darkness again."

Gimli looked up at the elf, whose face was filled with only caring and warmth. Legolas did not understand. He could not. He was immortal, and yet Gimli had chosen to protect him, perhaps the one among them who least needed protection.

'I chose you over the Fellowship,' the dwarf though miserably. 'Alas for Gimli! Alas for my heart, for it has betrayed me.'

He bowed his head again, unable to meet Legolas's eyes. Never had he known a living being with more intense eyes.

"Gimli," Legolas said softly. "You offered me comfort. Now let me comfort you. Tell me what troubles you. It is more than the fate of the hobbits and the loss of Boromir."

"I." Gimli began, realising suddenly he was not even sure what it was himself. He felt - What did he feel? Pain. Confusion. Fear. Longing. So many emotions it was hard to tell one from the other. A web which had caught him, and he did not know how to untangle it.

"Will you remember me after I die?" he suddenly asked, the question coming from a dark corner in his mind he had not been aware of. "Will you remember Boromir and Gandalf too? Forever is a long time."

Legolas sat down, his hair blowing slightly in the wind. His eyes remained on the sky though, watchful.

"I am an Elf. We do not forget, Gimli. We sing of the past, of those lost to us. They remain with us; a whisper in the wind; a song to the stars; a memory in our hearts. I sung for Boromir, I will sing for you."

"Yes, but what will you sing? What words will you use for Gimli, son of Glóin?"

"Gimli," Legolas said forcefully. "Look at me. We need you. You are a friend, a valiant warrior and I will not let you think otherwise. We need your stout courage for this hunt, or it will fail."

Gimli lifted his head, seeing the intense light in the elf's eyes. No longer was it directed at the sky - it was directed at him, and his heart shivered.

"I need you," the Elf said more softly. "Never has an elf grown to rely so much on a dwarf, and his gruff words and snoring at night. When I sing of you, it will be words of praise. What can I give to comfort you but that?"

"A kiss," Gimli muttered. He did not realise what he had said until he saw the elf's startled expression.

"Legolas."

"Nay. Say nothing, Gimli son of Glóin. You ask odd things of the elves. But I offered you what comfort I could give and I will give it," Legolas interrupted. "Then you will sleep, my friend, lest I knock you down to force you to rest."

Gimli stared at him, wondering if it was a dream, and if it was, if he could remain within it always.

The elf leaned forward, his golden hair mixing with Gimli's own black in the wind. Light and dark, elf and dwarf, immortal and mortal.

And then all thoughts abandon the dwarf as lips softer than autumn rain met his own. He closed his eyes, for he could not hear and see anymore. His senses were but focused on one thing. He was not even sure if his body trembled or not, for he was not even aware of it.

There was just the warmth and softness comforting him, a thousand times more intense than a dream would ever be. A waking dream, taking his breath away. Sweet and unfamiliar the elf tasted, yet as refreshing as a drink of a mountain spring.

All too soon the contact was broken, and gentle hands guided him to the ground.

"Sleep, Gimli."

And he did.


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CHAPTER 7
A/N: I should be writing OFUM - but my fever has obviously done weird things to my brain, because it keeps throwing me lines for this story!
Sindarin used:
Nîn mellon - my friend
Morn gîl - dark star

Ta, J.

*****

Foolish is he who frets at night,
And lies awake to worry'
A weary man when morning comes,
He finds all as bad as before.

- Håvamål


*****

Dark was the night, as always. Darker it seemed still, for the dark mood of the hunt added to it.

Another day passed, another night to halt while the hobbits slipped from their grasp. Hope was fading as their trail was, become as cold as death. Yet there was no turning back - where would they go? War was building, dark times were ahead. Legolas could feel it in his very bones, denying his mind the rest it needed.

His companions slept, though the elf feared their dreams brought them no comfort and little rest. Not for the first time Legolas wondered what their dreams were like. Were they even aware of them when morning came, or did Mortals forget them as they forgot so much else?

Did they sometimes wonder what was real and what was a dream? Did Gimli think the night before a dream? Not with a word had the Dwarf addressed it, his dark eyes on the horizon throughout the day. Whatever he was thinking, it was hidden in his eyes and the elf could not unlock it.

Perhaps there was another reason. Legolas furrowed his brow. Had he misunderstood the Dwarf's words? Had Gimli been thinking of someone else among his own kindred, someone he had desired to be there? Had his words been meant for someone else, spoken in longing to the horizon and not to Legolas at all?

What did dwarves desire? The elf used to think he knew what they desired all too well - merely gold and gems. He was not so sure any longer.

Why had he kissed Gimli? And what did he, Legolas of Mirkwood, desire? Galadriel had offered him many things, and he had not desired any of them. Not deep down. Just one thing she had said to him that he did not quite understand.

What will you chose, Legolas, son of Thranduil? Pain or the calling of the sea? Will you use the Ring to end the pain?

You will not fear death, Legolas Greenleaf. You will fear life, for therein lies the greatest pain you will know. You will find beauty in the darkness if your heart stays true.

All elves went to the sea. So why did he know her words were true and that the choice was there? Why did his lips still burn even now?

He shivered, though the night was not cold. Torn he felt, as if he had stepped into another world, calling to him, yet the familiarity of his own world called as well. Would Mirkwood give him peace?

No. For it was his heart that was torn, and that he could not leave behind. Something was growing there, something he did not quite understand.

"Nîn mellon," he said softly into the wind.

'My friend. My friend Gimli.'

It was the truth and yet not the truth.

And the darkness in his heart grew. Where was his father to offer counsel? Though perhaps his father could offer little but knowledge of the dwarves's fighting ways. Friendship between elves and dwarves were rare and there had been none for a very long time.


How deeply did dwarven friendships run? Few of his kindred would know.  Perhaps Galadriel had known, but Lothlórien was far away. As was  Mirkwood. 

His eyes went to Gimli's sleeping form, taking in the tired face, the mass  of dark hair flowing down his back and the mass of dark beard flowing down his front. His eyes were hidden, but Legolas could see them clearly in his mind. Many elves would look at the dwarf and not find him beautiful.

Yet the dwarf was, for within him shone a dark light. Not dark and terrible as Mordor, but dark as the earth was. The earth that gave trees and grass and life and beauty beyond anything built by mortals or immortals. 

And what could such a creature desire? Certainly not an elf, mind only on the sky and the stars. 

Would he have kissed Gimli even if the dwarf had not asked?

The ground was soft and he sank down to it, feeling the grass under his hands. His lips burned, and his skin felt warm. 

Yes, he would have. Not perhaps then, but in some other night when seeking the dark light of the dwarf. There was his answer, so obvious and yet unthinkable. 

You will not fear death, Legolas Greenleaf. You will fear life, for therein lies the greatest pain you will know. You will find beauty in the darkness if your heart stays true.

"Morn gîl," he whispered. 

'Alas for Legolas! Alas for my heart!' he thought miserably. 'I have fallen for a dark star.'

Gimli shifted slightly in his sleep, turning away from Legolas. In the east the sky warned of the dawn's coming, and soon the elf would to wake them both. The hunt would go on, even though hope was faint. Friendship demanded this. Into death they would follow the hobbits as long as the trail remained. 

He would have to lock his heart away and run through the sunlight as nothing had changed. Lady Galadriel was right. Pain lay in life, not death. In dreams he could have his dark star, but the dream always ended and the day always came.

And yet he would not give it up. For even with the pain, he had never felt so alive and so awake. 

Dawn came. 

"Awake! Awake!" he cried, jumping onto his feet.

Yet, how he wished it was not so and that the night could have lasted just a little longer, dark and painful as it was. 


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CHAPTER 8

And the day is important and demands of us
But the night is yours and mine and now

- Halvtan Sivertsen (a slightly less ancient Norwegian) >

*****

At love should no one
ever wonder
in another:
a beauteous countenance
oft captivates the wise,
which captivates not the foolish.

- Håvamål

****

Gimli was not sure at first what awoke him. The night was quiet, and for a moment he wondered if he had slept at all. But Gandalf had changed position, leaning on his staff and staring into the east and not the west.

Aragorn slept a few metres away, nothing but a shadow against the darkness.

And Legolas. The elf was sleeping against Gimli's back, and the heat of the contact was what had woken the dwarf.

For a moment he just lay there, the warmth of the contact filling his body and he felt at peace. Gandalf was back, greater than before. Pippin and Merry were safe, or at least as safe as one could be in these troubled times.



His foolish choice to protect Legolas and follow the elf rather than going with the hobbits had not brought ruin on them all. They were heading for darkness, but Gandalf was their light now. Their path had a guide.

And his heart was no longer as heavy.

*"He stands not alone. You would die before your stroke fell."*

Legolas's words, spoken so confidently and with a hard edge that had lifted the dwarf's heart even higher. The elf would have shot that arrow at Éomer for him, Gimli the son of Glóin, a mere dwarf.

"Legolas," he whispered softly, unsure if the elf slept or not. The body next to him did not stir.

Gimli turned slightly, finding himself facing the elf. Bright eyes were looking at him, and yet not looking at him. Where did the elf wander in his mind? To a place of no pain, no grief, no darkness, an escape from where they were?

Legolas deserved a path of light and soft grass under his feet. Beauty, as the elf was beautiful. 

Gimli closed his eyes again, his own mind wandering to the familiarity of the mountains, tall in the bright sunlight. How he missed their shadow, their tallness and promise of shelter. White-crowned, misty draped, hard-skinned mountains.

Real mountains, not the knives of dark rocks surrounding Mordor.

Mordor.

He shivered.

And to his astonishment he felt a hand steady his own trembling hand. It was withdrawn within a heartbeat, and he opened his eyes to meet Legolas's.

"Gimli," Legolas whispered, sounding startled. His eyes shone in the dark, and for a moment the dwarf thought he saw a flame flicker.

The elf lifted a hand, stopping just an inch from Gimli's face.

"Legolas?" Gimli asked softly. For a moment it seemed the elf would reach out, but then the hand was withdrawn.

"Nay, Gimli. I cannot, I cannot." Legolas began, shivering. Gimli's soft hand on his halted whatever words about to be spoken.

"There are times when even an Elf should know to be silent, my friend," Gimli said quietly. His hand had already wandered to the elf's face, a thumb stroking along the chin.

Even the night seemed to hold its breath.

Gandalf was pacing nearby, eyes ever on the horizon. He seemed to shine like a star, white against dark.

"Friends offer friends comfort," Gimli whispered. His hand wandered upwards, stroking high cheek bones and pointed ears. So different from his own. So unfamiliar. So delicate. 

Legolas closed his eyes, lashes dark against his pale skin. Gimli let his hands now explore what his eyes had taken in so many times, the pale skin under his fingertips warm even in the coldness of the night.

Astonished at his own courage and that his friend did nothing to hinder it, Gimli brought his other hand to the silky, golden hair. It felt different from his own, a brook compared to a waterfall.

The ears were slim and long, as elves were; yet sharp as their senses were. Odd to behold for his kindred, but so fitting for the elves. The ears were not hard as he had imagined, but soft in his hand. 

The chin was strong, more relaxed now and not set in determination. The face seemed gentler now that Gandalf had returned, as if a burden had been lifted from the elf's shoulders. Shoulders that should bear no burdens.

Ears that should hear no evil. Skin that should not be soaked in blood. And lips - lips that should be forever cherished.

Warm and full they were against his fingertips, hot breath stroking his skin. Would they taste the same a second time?

He leaned forward without thinking, and as if Legolas knew what was coming, the elf parted his lips slightly.

The first contact was brief, teasing, hardly a touch at all. Gimli dared not let the contact last longer, fearful the elf would reach for his knives and never again speak to him. But instead an arm went around his neck, pressing lips against lips with a sudden intensity.

It was a different kiss, harder, more urgent and desperate. Not a gentle gift to a friend, but the expression of need and wanting and perhaps even something Gimli refused himself to even think of.

He was not sure how long it lasted, only that it did not last long enough. Suddenly his arms were empty and Legolas had leapt to his feet. A heartbeat later Gandalf's voice sliced through the night.

"Awake! Rohan waits! We must ride, time moves against us."

Gimli stumbled to his feet, cheeks blazing. What in the name of Durin had he been thinking? What had he done? Such a fragile friendship and he had disgraced it for a moment of dreams.

Legolas did not look at him. Perhaps - perhaps they would not speak of it and it would be as if it had never happened. For he could not bear to see the elf's fond gaze turn hostile. Not now. Not ever.

The pain of longing was nothing compared to the pain of loss.



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CHAPTER 9
A/N In this universe, Legolas's mother has crossed the sea.

******

Fortunate is he who is favoured in his lifetime
With praise and words of wisdom:
Evil counsel is often given
By those of evil heart.

- Håvamål


*****

Desire

The eyes of Wormtongue had shone with it, a fever in the man's blood. Desire for that which he could not have - Éowyn, fair maiden of Rohan. What had once been a man was now but a void, howling winds weeping for his fate. How easily men could be corrupted.

Yet at the moment Wormtongue had run past them, running to his master Saruman, Legolas had felt a stab in his heart.

Not for the fate of men - for the fate of one pained elf. 

It would not take much before he would stand there, fever in his eyes, willing to do anything to end the pain and have that which he desired.

His dark star, his friend, his comfort. His desire. His heart pined for something he dared not quite put into words, for if he worded it, it would be true. And if it was true, he faced the pain of being rejected.

And the winds would howl for Legolas of Mirkwood, corrupted by his desire for a dwarf. His kindred would not understand, and the hatred would grow. 'A dwarf had corrupted an elf,' they would say- but it would not be the truth. It would be his own doing. His own pain.

The pain of losing Gimli was too great to face. Yet he had to. Immortality carried a heavy price. And a part of him - a small part -wished he could still resent Gimli, still merely see him as a dwarf.

But he had stumbled onto this path and there was nothing to do but walk it to the end and hope his heart held true.


Perhaps men were not so easily corruptible after all. Perhaps they only faced a greater pain on their path.

And Aragorn looked even greater as the elf regarded the human ranger. Great among men, surely, but great among all living beings even more so. He bore the pain of a lost father and mother, and the uncertainty of mortality. None knew what waited beyond the veil of death, and to not know was to fear.

To fear was to feel pain.


And Legolas found himself longing for youth and the spring days he would ride with his father in Mirkwood, singing in bright voices to the beauty of the forest. The world had been Mirkwood and it had been grand enough.

But as he had grown older, the forest had grown smaller. Shadows had crept in, and the songs were rarer. His father was older, more worn. Tired, for he had seen many years, and above all yearning for his wife beyond the sea.

Legolas did not remember much of her, for she had left when he was young. But a sudden urge to lay his head in her lap came over him now. To hear her songs and close the world out with her golden hair, as he had once done.

The world was here now, and there was no hiding. Following his friends, his steps seemed to echo through the halls with an eerie sound. Almost haunting, it seemed.

They ate hurriedly at a great table, Théoden with many questions for Gandalf. Even here the sense of urgency was still about, lingering like a foul shadow. When would they rest? Where could they rest?

In the arms of a dwarf.

Legolas closed his eyes, nearly shivering as the sensation of touch was recalled by his body. Warm, slow, sensuous caresses turning his body to a flame. Too wonderful to endure and yet not enough. He desired more.

He could not have more. The dwarf had offered him comfort, nothing more. And even the comfort would end, for Gimli was mortal. He would die, forever vanished from the land. The very thought was pain.

Pain. How did mortals stand it? The elves felt pain, but Valinor waited in the West, promising healing. Where waited healing in Middle-earth?

Gimli was sending a few looks at Éomer, but otherwise looked no different than any other day. Did he not remember what had happened? Or was he simply being gentle by not speaking of it?

The minds of dwarves were no more easy to understand than that of men. Different they were, though. Men's thoughts were on their faces. The dwarves spoke through their eyes. Gimli's were as clear as a mountain spring, and the elf found he missed the feel of those eyes on him.

"He was crafty: dulling men's wariness, or working on their fears, as served the occasion," Gandalf was saying, looking grim as he detailed the betrayal of Wormtongue. Gimli nodded, his eyes for a brief moment flickering over to look at the elf.

There was no resentment there, as Legolas had feared. Just the openness and warmth that had always been there, had he had a care to look before. Yet something new had entered into them.

Fear. Fear was reflected there. Fear for the future, fear for their friends, fear for the beauty of Middle-earth.

'I shall protect it all for you, Gimli,' Legolas swore silently. 'Until the pain claims me whole.'

Gandalf's eyes suddenly fell on the elf, and Legolas felt the piercing glance of age and wisdom on him. The wizard had changed, not just in appearance and clothing. Power lay around him; granted power, not stolen power.

So many great beings. Gimli, Aragorn, Gandalf and even Théoden, the King throwing off old age as if it was a blanket. They all shone in the dark with their own light.

And what of him? Would he become as Wormtongue, twisted and evil, blinded by pain and desire? The Ring had known. The Ring had tempted him.

The Ring was out of his grasp. But there were other forces of evil at work besides the Ring.

"Legolas," Gandalf said quietly. "Pain is not an evil until it overcomes us. Remember that."


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CHAPTER 10

******


The coward believes he will live forever 
If he holds back in the battle, 
But in old age he shall have no peace 
Though spears have spared his limbs

- Håvamål

*****

The air was thick of the smell of death and blood, as if nothing else in the world existed. Bodies were scattered about - orcs and humans alike. And though Legolas should be safe on the walls of Helm's Deep, Gimli found himself drawing a sigh of relief every time he saw a body and it was not an elf.

And his axe swung about with renewed hope. His arms were stiff and tired, his head hurt from a blow. Éomer fought nearby, sword glinting sharply in the night. They had been cut off from the walls, forced to retreat to the Dike and find whatever shelter they could from the wave of enemies.

Thirty-five orcs had died by his axe. And soon he would fell his thirty-sixth, for the orc ahead of him was tired and slipping. Very soon it would give the dwarf an opening. Orcs had no patience, which was their great fault. They rushed for the kill, not caring if it was their kill or their death.

The orc hissed, baring its ugly teeth. It was hard to imagine a creature so foul had come from creatures so fair - orcs and elves seemed to be the mirror of opposites.

Finally the opening came, and Gimli thrust his axe forward. It met with flesh, sliding through it swiftly. Blood spilled to the ground, staining the earth and his boots.

Lifting his head, the dwarf stared into the dark eyes of a raven, sitting calmly on the dead body of an orc just a few feet away. His heart froze.

"Nay," the dwarf whispered fearfully. "You have not come to herald the death of Legolas. You have not. I will not let it happen."


The bird merely inclined its head, revealing nothing and only reflecting the scenes of death in its eyes. In its eyes Gimli saw the orc coming at him from behind, weapon held high and gleaming with blood.

Ducking, Gimli extended the axe in front, swinging around and up to the exposed side of the orc. The axe lodged into bone and the orc screamed; a screamed drowned in blood as it gagged. It fell to the ground, twitching, and Gimli tore his axe free.

Thirty-seven.

And if he returned alive to face his friend again, perhaps. Perhaps. Life was hope, and hope rested in the clear sky-blue eyes of Legolas Greenleaf.

Éomer was fighting two orcs, his sword flashing so quickly it was but a glimmer of steel in the air. Clutching his axe, Gimli went for the right one. It did not see him coming, and moments later it would not see anything ever again

Éomer's sword ripped into the other, Gúthwinë finding its mark soundlessly. The orc stumbled and fell and the raven's cry pierced the air.

A moment later there was a great tone in the air, a horn blown. Hooves could be heard among the cries of men. Again sounded the horn, and despair came at the orcs. Throwing their shields and spears, they ran.

Gandalf had come.

Gimli too, ran, following Éomer. The thirty-ninth orc the dwarf struck down as he ran, for it had slipped in a blood pool. Gimli did not pause to think, fear throbbing painfully in his chest, echoing his heartbeats.

Legolas lived. Legolas lived. Legolas lived.

He suddenly realised morning was coming; the sky was already paling and specks of gold promised a coming sunrise. A fair morning it would be, if the night of death was truly over.

Two fleeing orcs were felled with one blow by his axe, his arms gaining extra strength from the promise of morning. His body desired rest, his mind reassurance, his eyes the image of a living elf.

Before him the path began to clear. One last orc stood defiantly, but high up Gimli thought he saw a glimmer of golden hair and his axe sliced through the air to meet metal and flesh. Legolas - Legolas lived.

Forty-two dead orcs by the axe of Gimli. He smiled grimly. 

Éomer glanced at him, looking grim but determined.

"That was a heavy blow to the head you had, Master Dwarf. Let me look at it."

Gimli merely nodded, sinking down on a rock. He felt tired, but strangely awake. The sun had begun to rise, its merry face bringing warmth to his exhausted spirit. Long they had travelled with little rest and a long path awaited them still.

Others having sought shelter in the Dike joined them, some as still as death as they saw fallen friends on the ground. Many had been lost, but perhaps death would bring them peace. Life never did.

Gimli shuddered - fear, relief, strain and wariness were all fighting for control within him. He desired sleep; sleep in the warm embrace of someone he could not have.

"No permanent hurt done," Éomer said gently, fastening a linen band around the dwarf's head. "Your axe is sharp and well-wielded, Gimli, son of Glóin."

The dwarf got up and bowed low, before following the others to the gathering of the victors on the fair grass. Unstained it was by blood, as by strange chance.

And there, standing tall next to Gandalf and Aragorn was Legolas. The dwarf drank in the sight, wondering if his eyes would betray him. It did not matter now. All that mattered was that he lived and the elf lived, and the raven's song had not been for them. Not yet.

And Legolas's glance met his across the host of men; the elf's eyes warm and inviting and as blue as the morning sky. 

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CHAPTER 11

*****

The mind only knows
what lies near the heart,
that alone is conscious of our affections.
No disease is worse
to a sensible man
than not to be content with himself.
- Håvamål

*****

Gimli was alive.

Perhaps it was a little thing in the eyes of the world, where mortals died every day. But it was enough to fill Legolas with hope and something a lump so warm in his chest it was nearly painful.

Gimli was alive and complaining.

"I am not made of glass!" the dwarf exclaimed as Legolas offered a supporting arm. The elf suppressed a smile, watching the dwarf walk on stubbornly on his own through the soft grass. It was a beautiful morning, even more beautiful given the night that had been.

"No, you were most assuredly made of sour attitude," Legolas replied lightly. "Let me look at your wound."

"It is nothing."

"Do you not trust the keen eyes of an elf to determine that for you, Master Gimli?"

The dwarf sent him a look, half mock annoyance, half something entirely different. The sun was falling on his dark hair, exposing the spots of blood. A reminder of the battle that could so easily have taken him away. A reminder Legolas wished gone.

"You need a bath," he said gently. "There is a stream beyond the trees. We do not leave for a few hours yet."

The dwarf nodded and began walking, pausing after a few steps.

"Are you not coming, Master Legolas?"

The elf hesitated for just a moment. It was as if the battle had made them both bolder, although doing exactly what he was not sure. He just knew that his head was light with joy and glory at being alive and walking next to Gimli.

The trees soon shielded them from the reminders of battle, closing them into a world of their own. The stream was bubbling along quietly, swirling in places and rushing in others. It did not run smoothly, but it found its path.

Gimli filled his hands with clear water; clear water that reflected them both - the dwarf and the elf a mere foot apart. A foot and a world.

Legolas looked away, unable to stare at the image. It mirrored too closely an image in his head, only there it had no space separating them then.

"I feared you dead," Gimli suddenly said in a low voice.

Light banter could not shield him from this, Legolas realised. And Valar help him, he desired to say the words here in the bright sunlight of the morning. He kneeled down, staring into the eyes of Gimli the Dwarf where doom waited.

"As did I, morn gîl," the elf whispered, a hand reaching out to touch the bloodstained band on its own accord. Gimli did not look away or move. He simply waited, water tickling out between his hands and onto the soft grass.

"My heart went cold at the thought of your death. I. I." the elf struggled to find the words, not even sure if there were words for the pain he had felt.

"I live yet, and felled more orcs than you," Gimli replied.

"Do you desire a prize?"

"Yes."

"Name it," Legolas whispered, lifting off the band. The wound made him shudder even though it was not deep.

They stared long at each other, the last of the water falling away from Gimli's hand. The elf cupped his hand, bringing fresh water up to wash away the blood. Washing away the pain too, he wished.

The touch soon turned into a caress, his hands stroking along the sides of the dwarf's face, combing away hair and rubbing off dirt. It struck him as odd that never had Gimli seemed more beautiful despite blood and dirt. Perhaps it was the sunlight. Perhaps his own eyes had changed over the night, seeing differently from what he once had.

Gimli's eyes were not rejecting. They were inviting; an invitation to Legolas and none other.

How had he failed to see so before?

Gimli's hand caught the elf's as he went for more water, strong fingers closing around his slender wrist.

The air was still. Somewhere distantly shouts could be heard and the clatter of weapons. The stream swirled on as if it was not aware of what hung in the air.

Legolas felt distant, almost flying high above. He could not feel the ground under his knees or leaves that had fallen in his hair. He barely even felt Gimli's fingers hesitantly stroking his wrist and palm.

Here the choice lay. Pain and life or the path of his kindred to the sea with a light heart.

"Legolas?" Gimli whispered. "If you wish to leave, leave now."

"I am staying," Legolas replied softly. "Unless you wish to chase me away."

"No."

With hands locked they stared at each other. Slowly, giving Gimli every opportunity to back away, Legolas leaned in. He could not deny this, for it would be to deny his own heart. The choice had been made, if he indeed had ever had it. The dwarf made no move to back away, rather parting his lips and allowing the elf a taste of pleasure beyond imagination.

Legolas was gentle this time, even though his body cried out for more contact. Lips and lips and palms against palms were not enough. Beard scratched against his skin, leaving the skin tickling.

Deepening the kiss with each heartbeat, Legolas explored the unfamiliar territory, slowly increasing the pace. The dwarf did not rush him, hands busy with patterns of caresses on the elf's arms and palms, as if making a mental map to follow later. Slowly, always slowly. A part of Legolas feared that if he rushed it, the moment would end and never come back.

And how could he turn back now, even knowing the pain?

The greatest pleasures brought the greatest pains.

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CHAPTER 12

*****

Rejoiced at evil be thou never; but let good give thee pleasure.

- Håvamål

****

There was a pleasure so great it held pain. It was to hold a flame in his arms and know he could be content to hold it forever, knowing it to be his. It was to be breathless from a kiss felt to his toes and nearly curling his beard. It was to caress skin as pale as starlight and as soft as dew on moss.

It was. It was to love Legolas.

The elf sighed softly, fingers entangled in the dwarf's beard and combing through it. Legolas seemed to be in no rush, content with a slow pace of delicious torture. Elves took their time it would seem, because they could have as much of it as they desired.

But Gimli was no elf, and his body ached. His hands went to unclasp the elf's cloak, letting it fall to the ground.

Legolas broke the kiss, and for a long terrifying heartbeat the dwarf thought his friend would pull away and shatter his heart. Instead the elf mirrored his movements and Gimli's cloak fell to the ground, green on green.

"Legolas."

"Did you not once say elves talked too much, Master Gimli? It would seem dwarves are fond of talking when they should find better use for their lips too," Legolas replied, his eyes twinkling.

Gimli opened his mouth to speak, only to be silenced by the elf's lips on his, demanding and teasing and so intense he hardly noticed Legolas's hands pull at his clothes. The air was warm, just a gentle breeze caressing the dwarf's skin as it became exposed. He was only vaguely aware that they sunk onto the grass and that a rock was burrowing into his back.

His face burned, though he was not sure if it was hot from the sun or the mere presence of Legolas. Skin against skin made his body shiver, as the elf's hands wandered downwards, downwards, downwards.

"Ai!" Gimli cried out. "Legolas, nay, I cannot."

"Your body says it can," the elf muttered, his words hardly audible as he trailed a path of kisses down the broad chest of the dwarf. Blonde hair fell around him like a golden crown, shining in the sunlight.

It took all of Gimli's willpower to keep his body under control. His hands dug into the earth, his body felt as tense as a drawn arrow and he had a desire to cry out Legolas's names against the blue sky.

But if he had thought that torture, it was nothing against the painful pleasure as the elf replaced his hands with his mouth.

Swallowed by a flame. Gimli could hear his own voice mutter in dwarfish, begging Legolas to stop and to continue at once, but it felt distant. He was surging upwards until he crashed into blinding light, engulfing him until he saw nothing but gold.

Slowly, he became aware of a soft voice by his ear.

"Nîn meleth," Legolas whispered. "I am sorry, I thought not of your injury."

"Neither did I," Gimli muttered, panting. His head felt light and hot, but he was not sure if it was from his injury or the fever in his blood.

By the Valar, what had he done? He had told Legolas he had desired a prize and the elf must have felt compelled to give it.

Hastily, he sat up, Legolas's hand sliding off his chest where it had rested lazily. His body screamed in protest at the loss of contact, but he paid no heed.

"Gimli?" Legolas said softly, sitting up as well. Green grass had filtered into the elf's hair and with a painful stab to the heart Gimli realised he had for a moment forgotten the difference between them. He had only seen the mirror of desire.

He was mortal. He would die, and Legolas would live with the pain as the ravens would sing of the coming of death. He could not wish such a fate on his Elven friend, for he could scarcely imagine what he would feel if Legolas died. The sun should shine down on the elf until the end of time, granting brightness to his life forever. No pain. No grief.

"This cannot be," Gimli said as forcefully as he could, hoping his courage would not fail him.

"That is not your choice to make," Legolas replied after a moment, and the dwarf turned to look at him and met eyes of steel.

"You approached me, Gimli. It is you who have taken the first steps, even when I offered little encouragement. And because of this you assume it will end just because you say so. I will not let it."

"You will not let it," the Dwarf repeated.

"Nay." Legolas straightened, his whole posture radiating determination - and strangely, power. It occurred to Gimli that never had the elf looked more the son of a king.

"I will not let it, Gimli, nîn meleth" Legolas said more softly, wrapping the dwarf's hand in his own. "And I will gladly tie you to a tree until you see sense. I have been foolish and afraid long enough. I will not let fear blind you as it did me."

"I will die, Legolas."

"Aye. And when you die, a part of me will as well. You have already claimed it, and I have gladly given it. You cannot change that now."

Staring into the elf's eyes, Gimli's resolve faltered. His courage had failed him. He could not turn away from the flame, for he was already burned.

"Touch me. Take me. I am yours," Legolas whispered, and leaned forward.

And when the elf whispered his name reverently, bodies locked and joined, gold running through the dwarf's hands, Gimli found that tomorrow and the cursed ravens could wait.



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CHAPTER 13
A/N Á mátt sín ok megin is Ancient Norse. Since Tolkien did not make a language for the dwarves, I am borrowing that of my forefathers's, seeing how dwarves use runes same as my culture once did.

*****

Moderately wise
should each one be,
but never over-wise.
His destiny let know
no man beforehand;
his mind will be freest from care.
- Håvamål

*****

How different the world seemed, Legolas noted, taking in the world as they rode. The distant mountains stood steeper, the grass grew greener and the trees. Tall and strong they stood, old and filled with the spirit of a fairer and darker Middle-earth.

It was not that the world had suddenly changed. The world changed slowly, not overnight. It was him who was different. It was a strange feeling, as if he had been dreaming his life and had only now woken up.

Or perhaps this was the dream that he had finally wandered into.

Legolas smiled briefly. They were riding towards Isengard and Saruman's evil, yet he could not recall having felt this light of heart since leaving Rivendell.

Gimli leaned against his back for a moment, and Legolas closed his eyes at the contact. Having the dwarf behind him on the horse seemed only natural, but it had certain distractions. A desire to ride the horse into the forest and find a secluded spot arose, but that would surely rise eyebrows.

Not that they did not rise eyebrows already, the dwarf and the elf riding together. There would surely be many of those yet to come as well. And grief and pain and death, but it did not matter today. He was alive. They were going into death, but he was finally alive.

And yet, fear was gripping him.

"You are quiet," Gimli observed.

"You are too, my friend," Legolas replied. "I do not mind the silence. Your presence comforts me, Gimli. I feel that the path before us is swirled by mists and I cannot see ahead."

"Gandalf will guide us," Gimli said confidently.

"On this path he will. But if hope does not fail and Sauron falls, what then of the path? Where will it lead?"

"To the Glittering Caves, my friend. Or have you forgotten our agreement?"

"Nay. Gimli."

"I know what you are asking," the Dwarf interrupted. "À màtt sìn ok megin, Legolas."

"I do not speak Dwarfish," the Elf pointed out.

"Perhaps you should learn, if you plan for our paths to be as one."

An answer and not yet an answer. Legolas furrowed his brow, wondering. It had seemed so clear in the sunlight, resting on the soft grass, arms and legs intertwined. Gimli was his opposite, yet his mirror. A desire for something more than their kindred offered and a search for something neither could name.

And how was it possible to feel such fear and pain, but at the same time happiness beyond any words elves knew?

The path led into uncertainty, and what was there to guide them?

A thought occurred to him.

"It means to have faith," he said, not really asking. Faith guided in the uncertainty.

"Yes," Gimli replied. "To have faith in yourself and your own power. The path will take us where it wills, be it darkness or light. I fear you will regret binding yourself to a mortal such as I, but you are as stubborn as any elf. When age claims me, remember the words of Gimli the Dwarf."

"I will remember far more than your words," Legolas said softly. "I have bound myself to you, but have you bound yourself to me? You have said nothing."

"I thought elves had keen eyes and were not as blind as trolls in sunlight. Dwarves do not kiss elves merely to establish friendship, Legolas. I bound myself to you long ago."

Legolas suddenly laughed, a rich laughter that caused more than a few to send glances in their direction.

Perhaps they had both found what they were searching for in the most unlikely of places. As all elves he loved the light and tress, but had found beauty in the dark. Dwarves loved the dark underground, but Gimli had found light to be desirable.

"I doubt Saruman is expecting a laughing elf," Gimli said, his voice filled with barely contained merriment.

"Saruman is not expecting Gandalf, I think. Not the Gandalf we have now, fairer and far more dangerous. More and more changed he seems to me as we ride on."

"We have all changed."

"Yes. The world is changing, Gimli. My people is fading and the beauty we created with it."

"Not all beauty fades, Legolas," Gimli said softly, and the elf could feel the warm glance of his friend on him. "It simply is shrouded in lost memories until it is found again. Moria's beauty is not faded for my people still remember it."

"But the age of Men is coming. Men will not remember."

"Perhaps not. Perhaps they will yet in tales and dreams where the echoes can be heard. The past never dies or is forgotten. It merely echoes in the present. You do not see it because to you the past is still a part of you. You live forever. We hear the echoes and the whispers of the dead because one day we will join them."

"Not yet," Legolas whispered fervently, clasping the hand that rested on his hip for a moment. "Not yet, nîn meleth."

Realisation dawned on him. He was feeling more alive because at last he had seen the preciousness of life. Among elves life was always life, never-ending, always there. That had changed. He could not love a mortal and not embrace every precious moment of living.

Gimli said nothing, merely leaned against Legolas's back again as the horse trotted on, following the path into the unknown.



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CHAPTER 14

*****

A tree withers
that on a hill-top stands;
protects it neither bark nor leaves:
such is the man
whom no one favours:
why should he live long?
- Håvamål

*****

Night was falling as tired warriors sought dreamless sleep. The stars hung low and the moon seemed cold and almost weeping, though from what no one knew. It was spring, but little warmth filled the nights still.

Gimli was not sure what awoke him, even if he indeed was awake. An arm was wrapped around him and he felt a warm body next to him, but his mind felt lifted, as if he was standing on a peak high above and observing himself. A cold wind was wrapped around him, hissing, whispering in his ear.

He was not awake, nor did he sleep.

'Gimli.'

The voice called to him again, softly, but not soft as Legolas's voice. This voice was made to be soft, it was not filled with gentle autumn rain and spring breeze as the elf's.

'Gimli, Glóin's son, hear me. '

It was familiar, edged with power and wisdom and reaching out to him, only him. Saruman.

'Listen to me. Mortality is a skin that you might shed. I can give you eternity. Such a wonderful gift for only a small story. Tell me of the Ringbearer, Gimli, and you shall have immortality. '

"No," Gimli muttered, but his heart leapt painfully. Immortality. An eternity of love, nestled in the arms of light given shape.

'Do not deny yourself this, Dwarf. I see your heart. I see your mind.'

'You can offer me nothing, Saruman.'

Even in his own mind, the words sounded weak and pitiful. Oh, how he desired it! To know he would never cause Legolas pain he would almost give anything - his heart, his soul, his life. But this he could not give. Frodo's quest was beyond the importance of a simple foolish dwarf who had not the strength to deny his own heart.

'Tell me where the Ringbearer is, Dwarf. Tell me and you shall never die. Chose forever. I can give it to you.'

A shudder went through Gimli, the words echoing through his heart. Forever. He could choose to have love forever.

And then, clear as glass, he saw himself standing before Galadriel, heard her words once again. She had known. Immortal love or protecting the Fellowship to the last. But even as his mind conjured up images of life forever, he knew what the choice was.

'Nay. I will die the moment I spoke the words, for I would no longer be Gimli. I deny you, Saruman the Fallen! I deny you! I saw Gandalf break your staff. You are dead, only your shadow lingers. Your words are empty and filled with lies, wizard. I chose mortality and my friends. Begone!'

Something warm tickled down Gimli's face. Startled, he realised it was blood. The wind hissed menacingly, swirling about him in anger.

'Fool. Die then, mortal! Die and become dust, forgotten and lonely, knowing the pain you have caused. '

"Nay!" Gimli called out, twisting away. Something soft restricted him, and he struck out. The mists swept away from his mind and he realised he had hit the elf.

"Gimli?" Legolas sounded startled and deeply concerned, his blue eyes regarding the dwarf.

"Saruman," Gimli muttered through clenched teeth. "I apologise, Legolas. My fist was meant for the wizard."

'And myself,' he added silently. 'Forgive me, Legolas. I chose pain for you.'

"I am not sure if I should forgive you or go for my bow. Why did you think me Saruman?"

Gimli lifted a hand and gently caressed the elf's reddening cheek, cursing inwards.

"I dreamt. Even so I should have known your fair form from his foul."

"Many foul things seem fair, and fair things foul," the Elf replied, but the concern did not vanish from his face. Lifting his own hand, he touched the dwarf lightly on the nose, running a finger along the side, pausing just above the lips.

"I forgive you, Gimli, son of Glóin, but do not lay a punch on an elf who is trying to sleep. Many who have done so have ended their life on the tip of an arrow."

"I thought elves would need least rest of all," Gimli said lightly, grasping a subject distant from death and despair.

"Ever we ride on. Elves do not tire easily, but even I desire rest. A decade resting in the fair grass of Mirkwood, you in my arms."

"And would not your kindred find that strange?"

"As I did? Aye. But they will see your light, morn gîl, as I have."

Gimli closed his eyes for a moment, trying to remain afloat in the strong undercurrents tearing at him. A warm thumb outlined his lips ever so gently, hardly touching at all.

"We are not alone," the Dwarf muttered, wishing he had a dark cave he could drag Legolas into and for just a little while, feel warm and whole.

"I know. It may be long before we are alone again as the war marches on. But as long as you are near, I will not complain."

'But when I cannot be near any longer, what then?' Gimli thought and for a moment it seemed as if the wind gripped him again. He was but dust in a dwarven shape, soon to be spread on the winds.

And where was Frodo tonight? Was he safe and warm, alone in his burden even when watched over by ever-faithful Sam? All burdens were carried alone. Even Gimli the Dwarf's, small as it though seemed compared to others.

As if knowing his thoughts, Legolas leaned his forehead against Gimli's, and they sat quietly in the night as the moon wandered its lonely path over the sky.



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CHAPTER 15

*****

In the wind one should hew wood,
in a breeze row out to sea,
in the dark talk with a lass:
many are the eyes of day.
In a ship voyages are to be made,
but a shield is for protection,
a sword for striking,
but a love for a kiss.

- Håvamål

*****

The gulls. Alas for the gulls. Alas for the sea, and for Legolas, son of Thranduil, longing for the sea.

His heart was heavy, even with the victory of battle. What joy could be had in that, when so many still awaited? What joy could be had in a fallen enemy when his blood stained the ground and a new took the fallen's place so quickly?

What joy was in Middle-earth when the sea called?

Minas Tirith glittered cold and white, as the moon soon would. Warriors were already sleeping; wary and tired they were from the battle. Gimli had vanished temporarily, getting news of the hobbits and other missed friends.

Legolas wished for him, to feel anything but this terrible longing in his heart. His father had spoken of the sea-longing, but never how strong its grip was. Even now, he looked to the West where the wind came from.

Did it come from the Sea, carrying whispers of the waves, calling for him?

The raven brought death, the seagull brought pain. Alas for the birds!

Alas for his heart, for it was torn between two desires and he did not know which was the strongest.

"Legolas?" Gimli said, appearing by his side. "We may enter the city in the morning and visit the hobbits. They."

He got no further as the elf turned around and fell to his knees, bringing the dwarf's lips to his in a crushing kiss. The intensity of it nearly had Gimli falling backwards, and the dwarf seemed more than a little startled.

Parting his lips, he nevertheless allowed the elf access to the much desired warmth and Legolas clung to the short form next to him. His heart could not feel longing if it was aflame. His blood could not sing of the sea if it was delirious with fever.

"Legolas?" Gimli asked, breaking the kiss gently.

"Gimli, nîn meleth," the elf muttered, nestling his head on the dwarf's shoulder. Dark hair scratched his skin, but that too was a feeling other than longing. Hands came around him to stroke his back, melting away tension.

"We might be seen here," Gimli said softly.

Legolas lifted his head. "There are trees nearby, their leaves offering shelter."

"As long as we do not climb them," the dwarf replied, then saw Legolas's face. "Nay, Legolas."

"It is like flying in an embrace, my friend, high above the grass, caressed by skin and wind alike."

"And fall to your death," Gimli replied, looking grim. It was enough to bring a smile to the elf's lips. "I am a dwarf, not a bird."

"So you are," Legolas whispered, staring into the dwarf's deep, mirroring eyes. "And I am an elf, trapped with an elf's desires."

"The sea," Gimli muttered, bowing his head. "Alas, it would seem that I will lose you, and not you I."

"I will not leave you," Legolas whispered fiercely. Gimli said nothing, but doubt was in his eyes. "I will not. I bound myself to you, Gimli, son of Gló in, and to that I hold because I wish to."

But even to his own ears, the words sounded weak, quickly taken by the wind. So he let his lips do what his words could not - reassure them both of the fire that burned between them.

Gimli tasted deeply and freshly of something he could not identify still. Perhaps all dwarves tasted of it, he had no one to ask for comparison. Or perhaps this was the unique taste of only Gimli, reminiscent of the sharp, earthy air of autumn.

The moon rose. Short of breath, they found a desolated spot by the tress, sinking to the grass with the darkness a blanket over them. Legolas was impatient, tearing at the dwarf's clothes, desiring skin against skin, to *feel*.

The wind died down, becoming a soft breeze of spring, brushing at Legolas's skin. A ghostly touch it seemed, as the pale moon gave an eerie light this night.

Cloth fell to the ground, weapons were discarded, but even now within reach. There was no full rest to be had while war still lingered. But it was a kind of rest this, a moment of life so desperately needed amidst the winds of death that swept over all.

Legolas bit into Gimli's shoulder as his body buckled under the dwarf's skilful hands, stroking and caressing in patterns of exquisite torture. How could Gimli know so readily what he needed, and give it so unconditionally?

He closed his eyes as light began to gather somewhere in his body, every stroke and touch creating more and more until he felt adrift in a sea of light. But anchored to the earth, to the son of the earth.

"Gimli," he whispered in reverence as lips brushed against his, soothing and warm. His body tensed and he flung out his arms, the sea of light exploding in a white fire that swept through him.

"If it was possible to capture the beauty your face holds now, all dwarves would visit from far away lands to behold it," Gimli whispered softly, leaning his head on the elf's chest as Legolas began to regain his sense of now.

"It would pale against the image of you," Legolas replied, exhaling slowly as his breath begun to calm. "Alit with a light that shines even in the dark. You are beautiful for what you are, Gimli. Such beauty never fades."

'But was that enough to hold onto?' he quietly wondered, clinging to Gimli even as the longing arose in his heart once more.

It would have to be. For he could not leave his heart, even if it was pained.

"I will not leave you," he whispered.

It had to hold true.



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CHAPTER 16

*****

Cattle die, kindred die,
Every man is mortal:
But I know one thing that never dies,
The glory of the great dead.
- Håvamål

*****

It was over.

And yet it was not.

Darkness was banished, the Enemy was defeated, but Middle-earth was bleeding. The earth seemed infinite saddened and joyful at once. For evil had left its mark, and it was not fully banished. The evil that rested in the hearts of men and dwarves alike still remained and would as long as there was life.

Victory, bittersweet victory.

Men were gathering around Gimli, their faces jubilant and bright. But even so, a shadow of sadness was on their faces, a reminder that many had fallen to see this day come. Too many.

But not Pippin. Gimli found himself smiling, leaning on his blood-trimmed axe for a moment. Not Pippin. The hobbit would remain to spread the sunshine of the Shire, something they all could need.

"Gimli!" a voice called, and his heart was instantly warmed, for he knew that voice. He had known the elf had lived, for he had seen his bright form between the men, but his friend had then vanished to speak to Aragorn.

He turned around to indeed see Legolas walk softly towards him, eyes shining.

"They live. Frodo and Sam live," the Elf said, the sun shining on his blood-streaked hair. A streak of blood was on his face also, and Gimli had to resist the urge to run over and wipe it away.

"They live," Gimli repeated, and his heart leapt once more. The hobbits lived and Legolas lived; and the air was fair and rich. Sadness could wait. It would take its toll when joy diminished and rebuilding came. All that was fair and lost could not be reclaimed.

But fair things still lived in Middle-earth, and Sauron could threaten them no longer. The shadow was gone.

Legolas smiled, halting a mere feet away from the dwarf. They regarded each other in silence, Gimli taking in ever detail so that he might remember it - until he would return to the earth that been home to his kindred. It would be an image to give him peace in death.

Legolas was happy, more happy than Gimli had ever seen the elf, but even so sad as well. None knew the bittersweetness of victory more than the elves.

"A feast shall be hold when they awake," Legolas said after a while. "The King has bid us attend and eat with him."

"Even in my brightest hope, I did not think I would see them again," Gimli said softly. "I am at a loss for words, my friend. What do an Elf say about this day?"

"The Elf is no less at a loss for words," Legolas replied, then closed the distance between them. As the elf bent down and embraced him, Gimli closed his eyes.

"The shadow is gone, nîn meleth," Legolas whispered, resting his head on Gimli's.

They clung to each other as men around them sang and cheered, for at a day like this, even an elf embracing a dwarf caused no stir. Birds sang, bright tones that seemed to shimmer in the air. With the tones a bright voice mixed; the voice of Legolas, bright and strong and signing in his own language.

Gimli felt his friend's chest vibrate with song as he leaned against it, mixing with the steady heartbeat. And though he did not know the words, the song reached into his heart, echoing all the things he felt. Joy, grief, relief, fear, happiness, strain, pain, tension - all that the song spoke of, but most of all remembrance.

The song ended on a barely audible tone, lingering in the air like a streak of silver, hopeful, vibrant and filled with wonder. It reminded Gimli of the sense of wonder he had felt when young, sneaking out to listen to the tales of the elder dwarves. He had hid in the shadows, listening with great apt to the deeds of dwarves now gone, of Khazad-Dûm, of gold and mithril and dwarves guarding it, and caves.

And he had longed to see the world. But it had turned out to be a world shrouded in darkness and hostility where beauty had faded. The wonder of the tales had been forgotten in his mind, but not his heart.

He knew not of any songs the dwarves had to echo this, but he had the strangest feeling he could write it. His kindred had forgotten wonder. It was time to reclaim it.

Not Moria. Moria was still a tomb and the air was foul there now. It was best as a memory now, fair and bright in the minds of dwarves. Perhaps one day it would be clean again.

The Glittering Caves. Even as his mind stumbled over it, he knew the path led there. Untarnished beauty, a remembrance of what Middle-earth had been. What better way to honour what had been lost?

He took a deep breath, realising Legolas smelled of blood. It was a sickly sweet smell, tearing into his nostrils. For a moment he wondered if his friend was hurt, then realised he would have seen it. This was blood of the enemies, of what had been, clinging to them both.

The stains could be removed, but the blood would never vanished.

He felt Legolas's hand stroke against his cheek briefly, and he looked up to meet misty blue eyes smiling at him.

"Gimli, son of Glóin," Legolas said softly. "I am glad you are here with me, as the world fades and changes. A great deed we have all done, for Sauron has fallen."

Gimli felt his throat dry up. At least with Sauron to fight, Legolas had had a reason to linger. Would he leave now, sail over the sea and forget his Dwarven lover except for in silent nights, when the ravens would sing?

But Legolas said nothing, merely looked at him with eyes so bright and filled with starlight he wished he could bathe in it forever.

Today, with the Shadow departed, he could almost believe wishes came true.



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CHAPTER 17

*****

It is better to live,
even to live miserably;
The living can always something accomplish
- Håvamål

****

Legolas took in the fair trees, his heart singing as he ran swiftly over the grass. The grass was soft under his feet, and hardly any mark told of his presence. It was almost as if he had not been there at all.

A strange desire to leave a mark here, in fair Ithilien, came over him. Mirkwood was his father's mark. What would be Legolas's, now that the world would fade?

Unwillingly, he looked to the West. A wind was sweeping that way, gently lifting the leaves and caressing the trees. Westwards, where the stars would shine over the sea, reflected in the still water, twice as beautiful. He could almost see it, almost smell the salt, almost hear the seagulls.

The sea.

He halted, resting a hand on a tree trunk. The sea and the forest both filled his heart; both called to him with strong voices. Could he learn to love the dark caves of the dwarves as he had learned to love a dwarf?

Or could Gimli grow to love the forest and sleep happily under the trees? If the elves would even welcome a dwarf into their midst.

A cold grip settled on his heart. Could he forsake his own kindred for Gimli? The dwarf would probably not allow him. And what would the dwarves say of an Elven lover? He had not considered their kindred's reaction, nor what he and Gimli would do after the war.

It had seemed to futile to think ahead when death had so surely awaited. And yet here life was, glorious and dark and with unclear paths.

Soft footsteps told him someone approached, and he turned to see Aragorn, looking young and vibrant, the fate of Isildur at last lifted from his shoulders.

"Expecting death and getting life is a strange gift, Legolas," the Man said gently, eyes shining.

"It is indeed, King Elessar," Legolas replied and for a moment the two friends merely looked at each other, the quiet joy of life filling them both.

"I did not think this would come to pass," Aragorn said after a moment, glancing eastwards. "Tomorrow awaits duties. Tonight I wish to merely breathe in the air without the foulness of Sauron there."

"We owe much to the hobbits. They did what no elves or men could. Mortal beings causing the downfall of an immortal evil." Legolas paused. "They saved a world they will not see blossom."

"We do it for those who will come after us, Legolas. Mortality puzzles you, I see it in your eyes. You wonder how deeply we feel," Aragorn replied, putting a hand on the elf's shoulder.

"And mortals wonder what forever changes. There is an abyss between our kindred. Yet we strive to cross it."

"As Arwen will for you," Legolas said quietly, surprised at how keenly the Man saw and felt. There was an echo of shared sorrow in them both. A flicker of sadness crossed Aragorn's face, gone as fast as it had come.

"Aye, my friend. Her choice. I did not wish it upon her, yet she made it. A part of me wishes it was not so, a part of me loves her too deeply to wish it otherwise."

"I know," Legolas whispered, and closed his eyes Images of the sea and Gimli assaulted him, and for a moment he wondered if Arwen too felt the call of the sea.

When he opened his eyes again, Aragorn had slipped away, walking among the trees like a swift shadow.

'May you live long, for all of us,' Legolas thought sadly. Aragorn would die, and the greatness of Men would diminish. All would change. But would he linger to see it happen, see Gimli grow old and die?

The hobbits were sleeping as he walked out of the woods, but Gimli sat by a dying fire, rings of smoke coming from his pipe. But the smoke was soon caught by the wind and gone, leaving no trace.

"Are the trees that wonderful?" Gimli remarked as he looked up, a smile touching his lips. "I nearly feared a tree had stolen your heart and I would have to get my axe."

"Nay," Legolas replied, sitting down next to the dwarf, smiling softly at the humour in his friend's voice. "None can take that which is already claimed."

Gimli sent him a look warmer than any campfire. Legolas felt his skin tickle, and he reached out to stroke the dwarf's cheek. Warm, soft yet weathered. Gimli had seen many years come and go. Who knew how many more there would be?

"There is sadness in your eyes," Gimli suddenly said, catching Legolas's hand in his own. "I have begun to understand the elves, Legolas. You never feel truly happy, for you know always what has been lost. Nor are you ever truly lost in sadness either, for you know that too will pass. We mortals live in the moment because we have nothing else. Even know I see your heart is troubled. And because your heart is trouble, mine is too."

"I fear what is to come."

"Do not fear tonight," Gimli whispered fiercely. "Sauron fell. Do not fill the void with a new fear so quickly. I feel the pull of tomorrow in my heart, the fear and uncertainty. I wish to live now."

"Teach me," Legolas replied softly, lifting Gimli's hand to kiss it.

"It would be a long lesson," Gimli said and edged closer, looking up at the elf with an unreadable expression.

"I have forever," Legolas muttered, pushing away fear, worry and longing. Forever was now. That was what mortals embraced. That was life. Forever was *now*.

And he desperately wished it was true.



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CHAPTER 18

Silence becomes the Son of a prince,
To be silent but brave in battle:
It befits a man to be merry and glad
Until the day of his death

*****

Farewell.

Gimli had said many farewells these last few days. Almost so many he thought he was growing accustomed to them. Farewell to the hobbits; to Aragorn; to the Glittering Caves; to Fangorn and the odd Ents; to Galadriel, fairest of all women. Yet the hardest one remained.

Legolas.

They had seen Fangorn and the Glittering Caves together, beauty that doubled in magnificence because they saw it together. Many stolen embraces and nights spent together there had been - even so it was not enough. He wanted more - though perhaps even an eternity had not been enough time. But now the time to part ways had come.

They both had to return to their own people, to go home. Home - but it would not be home any longer. He had changed; he was no longer the Dwarf who had left, in so many ways. The battle scars were only the scars visible; there were many more just inside his skin.

And here one more would be made, as Legolas had to head one way and he another. This would be the most invisible scar of all - a scar to his heart. Yet in so many ways the most felt scar of them all.

There was no home anymore, not when Legolas would be so far away.

"There is much to rebuild and heal," Legolas said after a while. The Elf's face was impossible to read, though his eyes seemed to be filled with longing. The sea. Alas for the curse of the elves!

"But there will come a time when healing completes and the time has come to live anew," Gimli replied, tensing. Would his friend now tell him to forget all that had happened? Could he? Even when he grew old and his mind failed him, would he not remember the embrace of Legolas and the fires that danced within?

"In a year. A year from now I will be here, ready to live. I will wait under the stars and the sun. Will you come?" Legolas asked, his voice strangely even.

"Of course," Gimli whispered fiercely.

They stared at each other for a long time as the sun was beginning to vanish beyond the horizon. Somewhere out there the hobbits were wandering homewards; Gimli hoped they found their home as they had dreamed of it. It was hard to return home when you had changed in body and heart and home had not.

"This is not farewell. We will meet again," Legolas said forcefully. "I will not leave my heart to wither and die. You have my heart, morn gîl. Treat it kindly."

"And forget not this stubborn and fool-hearted dwarf."

"All the ages of the world could pass and I would not forget you. Gimli." the Elf's voice faltered and for a moment pain flashed over his face.

Impulsively, the dwarf flung his arms around his friend as best he could and they clung to each other. The dying sunlight embraced them one last time, a blanket of golden air swirling about. And then the sun vanished to let darkness reign. Until morning.

But until morning came, only the memories of the sun would warm. Only the faith that it would rise again could help you endure the darkness.

Faith and memories. Faith that Legolas would not forget him; memories to warm him in dark nights when his heart cried for its mate resting in the forest of Mirkwood. Memories were a poor comfort. But it was all he would have.

A year. An eternity. Much could change in a year. Fair eleven maidens would remind Legolas that love was easier among your own kindred; the sea would call to him in dreams and attempt to claim his Elven soul.

"I will lose you," Gimli whispered, feeling the Elf's heartbeats against his chin.

"No. I will lose you. Elves mate for life. You are mine, there will be no others."

"I should not have let you."

"My choice," Legolas replied, pulling away. He looked intently at Gimli. "Do you think you could have prevented my love for you?"

The dwarf averted his eyes, nodding just ever so slightly. A strong hand on his chin forced him to meet the bluest eyes - blue enough to shame the sea.

"There are greater forces at work than you and me, Gimli. I do not know why a dwarf was destined to take my heart, but I refuse to believe it was not meant to be or could have been changed by a simple decision on your part."

"I fear that belief. For it would mean I was destined to bring you pain," Gimli replied, willing Legolas to understand.

"I have never felt this alive. Never, though I have lived for many years. It comes with a price. I am willing to pay it."

The Elf leaned forwards, his hand still on Gimli's chin. Blue eyes filled with steel met his; steel, yet grief lurked behind the determination. Even if he denied it, Legolas would regret this choice when the sea called and mortality laid its claim on Gimli.

And the dwarf's heart wept for his friend. But even so he could not make himself regret what had happened. For it was too wonderful to regret and he was too selfish. He desired the Elf's heart more than all the gems under the earth. And he could not renounce it.

"Farewell. Till we meet again then," he said softly, just as Legolas's lips descended on his own. A gentle kiss at first, a simple touch farewell, a promise.

We will meet again.


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Epilogue

*****

Brand burns from brand
until it is burnt out;
fire is from fire quickened.

- Håvamål


*****

The trees blossomed green and fair, basking in warm sunlight and cold river water. The wind would sing, brushing the leaves until the trees could hold them no longer. Softly, the wind lifted them and they fell to the ground, no longer green. Red and yellow and brow they coloured the ground until life left them. Only the colour remained, until the snow would cover all and lull life to sleep. Until it woke again, to find that the leaves had become soft earth in which new life could now grow.

Thus passed the years, each season the same and yet not, for new life is different even when it springs from old.

And new life brought change, as it always did.

Middle-earth was not the same but the change was slow. So slow you could almost believe it was the same, as bit by bit greatness vanished. It had to be so, for to vanquish darkness, the light had been sacrificed.

Legolas sat by the quiet fire, staring calmly at the star-filled sky. He was waiting as always; at times it seemed to him his life was nothing but a wait. Waiting for friends to die, for his kindred to leave Middle-earth, for Gimli to step into the warmth of the camp. He had not seen the Dwarf for a while now, and it worried him.

It was their place, this. When no duties beaconed they met here, sometimes just speaking of things that had passed, sometimes speaking no words at all. A strange relationship for an Elf to be in, he reflected, but no stranger than a hobbit deciding the fate of Middle-earth.

He heard the Dwarf long before he saw him and he smiled briefly at the heaving breath.

"Legolas," Gimli said softly, sinking down by the fire. The Dwarf looked haggard, Legolas noted, and he felt a strange stab to his heart.

"I almost did not come," Gimli went on and there was a strange look in his eyes. "I thought of merely leaving and perhaps trust a message to one of your kindred."

"About Aragorn? I know," Legolas replied. "I went to Minas Tirith and saw his tomb. You were not there."

"I am dying, Legolas."

Legolas froze and his mind went blank. For a blissful moment he thought he had only heard it in his mind, then he saw Gimli's calm expression.

"No," the Elf whispered forcefully.

"And now you regret your choice, as I knew you would," Gimli said, tossing another log on the campfire. "I am leaving for the mountains to die. Better if you were told later. But my heart is weak as it always has been."

He looked up, eyes clear and longing. "One last embrace I desired and so I come, adding to your grief. Forgive me, Legolas."

Legolas stood up abruptly, his head pounding. He could feel Gimli's eyes on him, loving and pitying and above all else, filled with regret.

"Galadriel. Galadriel will do something."

"Lady Galadriel? She is in Valinor, Legolas."

"We will sail there. You will not die."

"Legolas."

"You will NOT," Legolas said forcefully and something much like hate trickled through him. The Dwarf dared not die from him. No. "We will sail."

Gimli closed his eyes and Legolas fell to his knees, all the strength and resentment leaving him. Only sadness and fear remained. He sought Gimli's embrace without thinking, only now seeing the trace of white in his friend's hair and beard.

"We will sail to Valinor," he whispered again, clinging to Gimli with all the strength he had. "Long ago you promised you would come when I asked. I ask again. Will you come?"

"Of course," Gimli replied, but the sadness did not vanish from his face nor did the shadow of the raven's call. Death. Death was in his face.

*****

They went to the Havens. First they sought Minas Tirith and saw the cold tomb where so many friends rested. They passed through Fangorn, but the forest felt cold and quiet. If the Ents were here, they slept.

It was a strange journey, for the land was quiet and colder than Legolas could remember. Gimli was quiet and slow and the Elf would find himself listening to each breath, relieved it came and fearful it would be the last.

Even the sea could not warm Legolas's heart, though the longing was fulfilled. He knew not if Gimli would even be allowed into Valinor, but he had to try. They had healers there, elves of great powers. There was a way, there had to be.

And so they sailed.

The sea too was quiet, a pale mirror of the sky as their boat left Middle-earth. Gimli slept when they set sail, and there was little objection left in the Dwarf. He seemed only tired and bent, a shadow of the fire that Legolas had fallen for. And even so, the starlight still shone in his dwarfish eyes.

To that Legolas clung to as he steered on, following the stars. They could not deny a star to come to Valinor, the birthplace of all light.

But on the fifth night, Gimli awoke and the shadow on his face had grown to block the light.

"Forgive me, Legolas. I. I am tired."

"I wanted to show you Valinor," Legolas whispered, sinking down near his friend and letting the boat drift. "Just a little longer. You must see Valinor."

"I have no need to see it, my friend. I have seen it in your eyes already." Gimli smiled, lifting a hand to touch Legolas's cheek. "Such a fire were you, the fire I was named after. Ildr. I am. sorry.. I loved you."

"Gimli!"

The dwarf smiled, a strangely joyful and sad smile. "Farewell, Legolas. Till we meet again."

And the wind stirred the water ever so slightly, breaking the mirror. Only the stars in the sky remained, unchanging.

Over Valinor they burned, as one last ship came sailing in at night. Only one woman awaited it, her golden hair shining like fire. Galadriel, knowing as always. And above her, a raven circled. At long last, Legolas knew why it was there.

The raven did not sing of death. It sung of life, the whole of life. And the whole of life included death.

And he wept as he bore his friend's body ashore, while the raven circled above, softly singing of the tale of Legolas and Gimli.

The tale was over. But the song lingered on.


Author's Final Notes:  Thank you, reader, for indulging me in my experiment. And thank you Norway, for your history and sea and mountains and fjords and forests that raised me to believe that life is precious and that love - in all the forms it may take - is the greatest tribute to life there is.

Fini


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