Title: Through the Years

Author: tarotgal

Fandom: Lord of the Rings

Rating: G through NC-17

Pairing: Legolas/Gimli

Disclaimer: Not mine! No money made! Please don't sue!

Summary: A series of events in their lives.

 

Prologue

 

                Legolas brushed past Gimli in the hallway. He ignored their sitting room and went straight for the front door.

 

                Gimli, on the other hand, headed for the sofa, though he kept a close watch on his elf.

 

                Legolas placed his palm flat upon the door, paused, then walked to the window. He gazed outside, though all he could see was the solid white of snow. There were endless amounts of snow, stretching out towards the woods that surrounded their house. Legolas pressed his hand to a windowpane and curled his fingers uselessly against the glass.

 

                Gimli, on the other hand, carefully piled a new log on top of the tiny sparks in the hearth. He added a few sticks and moved the lot around until the flames found the log and began to slowly eat away at it.

 

                Legolas paced past the door to the other window. He found nothing but the same at it. But he squinted and concentrated on the sight, as though he could see beyond the snow. Then he walked back across the front wall towards the other window.

 

                Gimli, on the other hand, plopped down onto the sofa. He pried his boots off with the toe of one foot against the heel of the other and kicked them off. Then he set his stocking feet down on the footstool and wiggled them at the flames. Warmth crept slowly upwards through his body and he leaned back with a sigh. He wanted Legolas to enjoy this with him.

 

                Legolas continued pacing, inspecting, contemplating.

 

                “Being restless is not going to make it melt faster, elf.” The winter storm had been relentless, not only coming down strong and steadily for an entire week but building up outside so that they were completely snowed in.

 

                Legolas glanced at Gimli but did not pause in his pacing. “I need to go out.”

 

                Sighing, Gimli raised his arms with a powerful stretch. He folded his hands behind his head. “You just went out an hour ago to go to the barn, remember?” Legolas could get out by tunneling up through the snow, walking across the top layer- level with the roof of their home- and digging back down again. Ever since the snow began, he had ventured out a few times a day to feed Arod and make sure there was water for the barn cats.

 

                Legolas shook his head. “Not enough to just go to the barn. I need to be out there with the trees and the birds and the sky…”

 

                “And the snow.” Gimli added. He slapped the sofa cushion beside his a few times. “Sit down.” He tried to sound commanding, but Legolas was not buying it.

 

                Legolas shook his head again. “I need to go out.”

 

                Gimli spread his legs a little and opened his eyes. He stared unblinkingly at Legolas. “And I need you to sit with me and keep me company. I still feel a bit under the weather.”

 

                Legolas immediately turned on his heels and walked across the room. He folded himself onto the sofa and slid an arm around Gimli's shoulders. The elf pulled the dwarf close and rested his cheek against Gimli's forehead. “You feel no warmer,” he whispered. “How is your throat?”

 

                Gimli cleared his throat demonstratively and received a cuddle in response. “I will feel better soon,” he said, suddenly feeling guilty. It was one thing to have Legolas relax with him and quite another to cause Legolas to worry about him.

 

                Legolas kissed the top of Gimli's head. “Of course. And I will be with you until you do. Just as you have done for me.”

 

                With a smile, Gimli snuggled greedily against Legolas' body. He closed his eyes and could not help but remember those many, many times.

 

~ * ~ * ~ * ~

 

Mislead

 

                “I win again. Naturally.” Gimli laid down his cards, grinning bolding. It was forced bravado, however. For the last two hands, Legolas' mind had clearly been elsewhere. On top of being distracted, Legolas had also been rubbing at his nose and sniffling. It was almost constant now, whereas this morning it had been only an occasional bother.

 

                “Congratulations,” said Legolas, sweeping his hand of cards up with the discard pile and Gimli's before shuffling thoroughly. He turned his head. His nose twitched. And he sneezed over his shoulder. “ihhhh-Hihtchhhh!” After a thorough sniffle, he continued shuffling as though nothing at all had just happened. Gimli watched Legolas deal the cards, organize his hand, then do absolutely nothing.

 

                Gimli waited. And waited. And waited some more. He inspected Legolas more closely and noticed the elf's nostrils flaring more often than they should have been. What was clear and decided to Gimli was still being resisted and denied by Legolas. Gimli cleared his throat. “Your play, Legolas.”

 

                “Right!” Legolas jumped in, laying down two cards. Two cards that did not go together. Gimli cleared his throat again. “Ah!” Legolas snatched one back up and replaced it with one that was hardly much better.

 

                Gimli put down a matching card and watched Legolas wince. Then Legolas coughed. Gimli thought that looked painful. “Legolas… are you coming down with something?” Legolas looked innocently confused. Gimli was hardly convinced. “Do you have a cold?”

 

                At this, Legolas gave a laugh. “Elves do not catch colds often the way men do. I cannot possibly be sick because I only just had a cold fourteen years ago. That is hardly a blink of the… the eye.” Legolas turned his head again. His breathing deepened and quickened. Then he cupped his hand to his face. “hih-hih-IHShhhhh! Ihchuhh!

 

                Play resumed, slowly but steadily. Legolas played a good card initially, then two measly ones, then one completely pathetic one. Gimli countered with an equally useless card and Legolas did not even blink at it.

 

                 In fact, he barely looked at it before tossing down another card, seemingly at random. “hehh… ihhhh… Yehhh…” All of Legolas' attention was on his nose now. He pinched it then cupped his hand over it. His eyes shut and breath caught. “ihhhChuhh! ihKTchhhh!” Legolas looked sheepishly at Gimli but did not drop his hand. “All right,” he admitted in a whisper. “Perhaps I do have a little cold. Sniff!

 

                Gimli got up for a handkerchief. He did not carry one regularly, but wished that he did. His closest hanky was in a chest of drawers one room over. By the time he got there and back again, Legolas seemed to be in a worse state.

 

                Legolas' cards were splayed out on the table without a care to who could see them. For a second, Gimli was thrilled to see Legolas had nothing of value there. Legolas would easily lose another round. But then Gimli saw Legolas gasping for breath and handed over the hanky straight away. Legolas snatched it up and held it over his nose and mouth. “hehChmphh! ehShmphh! Ehh-heh-IHHH… ihhhhh…” His eyes fluttered open for a moment, practically begging to sneeze. Gimli gave him a sympathetic look, reached out, and squeezed his hand reassuringly. “iihhhhhh… hehTchfffffff!

 

                “Blessings.” A kiss to Legolas' forehead made Legolas give in to Gimli. He let Gimli pick him up and carry him the short distance through the cavern to Gimli's bedchamber. “There now,” Gimli whispered, tucking the elf into their bed. As dwarf beds were made for dwarfs, a special, larger bed had been commissioned to accommodate Gimli and his companion. As far as Gimli was concerned, there was no finer bed in all of Middle Earth, and that was due entirely to who he shared it with. He was less certain that the elf felt the same way, however.

 

                Gimli climbed into bed and petted Legolas' head comfortingly. “You spoke earlier about how elves do not catch colds the same way that mortals do.”

 

                Legolas sniffled and nodded. “Typically, the only time elves fall victim to illness is when we are heartsick.”

 

                “I see.” From what little he knew about elves, Gimli had presumed as much. When he put two and two together, there was really no other conclusion to draw. “Who is it that you love more than me, Legolas?” he asked with a flat, serious tone. Legolas looked started and opened his mouth, but Gimli stopped him. “You need not speak his name… or her name… but if your heart aches to be with this other instead of me, you should go. I want you, but I will not have you ill on my account.”

 

                With one hand pressing the hanky to his nostrils to combat a runny nose, his other hand caressed the side of Gimli's face lightly, tenderly. “The one I love- the only one I love and the only one I want- is you, Gimli Son of Gloin, Gimli Elf-friend, Gimli Lord of the Glittering Caves.”

 

                Gimli stared back at him, the deep brown eyes becoming a little too embarrassingly moist. He blinked back his emotions and did not let them get as far as even needing to clear his throat.

 

                Legolas sniffed for them both. “Whatever is making me a little sneezy, has nothing to do with my emotions. I promise, it has nothing to do with you. Do you understand?” His thumb still rubbed against Gimli's cheek, continuing to convince by touch and by the look in his sweet blue eyes.

 

                “So what happens now?” Gimli whispered.

 

                “Well…” Legolas took his hand back and used both to hold the handkerchief to his nose. “First, I think I n-need to sn-snehh… sneeeeee-eh-hehIHPShuhhhh!

 

                “Bless you.” Legolas blew his nose, and Gimli waited. Then Gimli started to get up. “You need another hanky.”

 

                Legolas' reflexes were fast, and he grabbed hold of Gimli. “Stay with me.” And then, as a question. “And let me stay with you?”

 

                Gimli settled back and wrapped himself around Legolas.

 

~ * ~ * ~ * ~

 

Torment

 

                Everyone said that dwarves were stubborn. They said it like it was a bad thing. Gimli couldn't quite wrap his head around that way of thinking. On the one hand, yes, all right, dwarves could technically be a bit set in their ways, but so were a lot of races. Take the hobbits, for instance. Just because they prefer to keep to themselves and enjoy simple pleasures did not mean those pleasures were not worth having. Besides, there was nothing wrong with being a bit stubborn. Gimli had always thought it important to stand firm about the things you wanted, the things you believed. Because, otherwise, how would anyone know to trust that you really wanted and believed them? Stubbornness certainly had its uses. But as far as Gimli was concerned, there was no one more stubborn in the whole of Middle Earth than Legolas Greenleaf.

 

                The Mirkwood throne room usually gave Gimli the shivers. Today, however, the king was far away and what was going on with Legolas brought him a bit of amusement. The elf was sick. Again. Just a little trifle of a cold, really, and it was getting better now that they were back in the forests. His throat was smooth, his voice clear and gentle, his eyes a bright blue, and his nose as pale as ever it was. The only traces left were irrepressible sniffles and sneezes, though those came more often than not.

 

                Sneezy or not, Legolas had insisted on fulfilling his princely duties. And today that meant sitting for his royal portrait. Legolas sat on the chair just to the right of the throne, wearing a stunning set of silver and green robes. Gimli had not expected that.

 

                Legolas had told him that very morning that portraits were always done in the nude. It was tradition that the doors to the throne room be locked and the only ones allowed inside were the artist and the subject. Both went without clothes because that was the only way to get a proper, natural, true representation, even if the only part that was painted was the shoulders and above. The painter would be without sleeves and fabric to get in the way. The subject would glow.

 

                Naturally, Gimli had insisted on being present. He had twisted Legolas' arm right around and begged for ten minutes until Legolas conceded. The only stipulation was that Gimli would have to be naked as well, so as not to interfere with the harmonics of the room.

 

                When the sitting began, Gimli began stripping off his tunic, kicking off his boots, and undoing his britches. The painter's jaw dropped and his whole face went red. It was then that Gimli realized Legolas was still clothed. He swore colorfully. Legolas laughed. In fact, Legolas chuckled for so long that the painter got quite annoyed with them both. Legolas only quieted down when the painter threatened to walk.

 

                The painter was a tall, thin, dark-haired elf by the name of Dinent. He seemed beyond amusement and the sort of serious that Gimli wasn't fond of in elves. Gimli felt like an intruder when he took a seat in a chair several paces behind the painter. He watched as Dinent set up the canvas and paints. There were bushes and jars, rags and oddly-shaped tools. It was foreign to Gimli, but also quite intimately magical. The elf was recreating his Legolas on canvas.

 

                Slowly.

 

                Gimli was so engrossed in watching the painting that he didn't notice Legolas' struggle until it was obvious: Legolas had to sneeze. Legolas gave very few signs at first- just a twitch of the nose and a flutter of the eyelids. There was a tiny, irregular breath here and there. The painter might have noticed, but said nothing. Gimli, however, recognized it at once. Gimli smiled at him, but Legolas' expression did not change when their eyes met.

 

                Gimli raised his eyebrows questioningly. Legolas blinked back. That, Gimli was sure, was Legolas' way of saying he was fine.

 

                Except that the elf was clearly not fine. Nostrils flared. Eyes fluttered more frequently. Legolas waited until the painter was occupied with his canvas before raising a hand and very quickly swiping at his nose. The momentary relief showed in his face and in his eyes, but not for very long.

 

                Soon after, his nose twitched again and his upper lip quivered. He sniffled uncontrollably and the sound echoed throughout the large room. It was embarrassingly loud, and Gimli looked for a flush in the elf's cheeks that was only barely noticeable. Perhaps the painter had not seen it for the Legolas in the portrait- which was mostly a peach-colored blob with the most basic of facial features at the moment- did not have red cheeks.

 

                The Legolas in the portrait looked solemn and handsome. The real Legolas still looked handsome, but was losing his fight.

 

                Now his nose wouldn't stop twitching and when he closed his eyes, they remained closed. Dinent cleared his throat impatiently, but there was nothing Legolas could do now. Legolas dug a small handkerchief out from his sleeve and covered the lower half of his face completely to muffle the sound. “hhhff-hhfffff-H'chiffff!” It tossed him forward, hair spilling over his shoulders and into his face.

 

                “My Lord?”

 

                Legolas snuffled into the handkerchief rather messily, gave his nose a violent wipe, then straightened up as though nothing had happened. “Resume,” Legolas instructed, a hint of apology in his voice.

 

                Gimli was not fooled for an instant. He knew what Legolas was struggling against and knew it was only a matter of time. Legolas' cold was nothing if not resilient. Gimli could not comprehend why Legolas insisted on sitting for this portrait instead of staying in bed with Gimli. No obligation was worth this sort of torment.

 

                Legolas' nose wrinkled not a minute later. The elf sniffed lightly but remained composed, as though the sound were not originating from him. Gimli pretended to look around the room for another abnormally sick elf, and Legolas caught the movement with a suspicious look in his eyes. Then those gorgeous blue eyes shut and he leaned back. “ehh-ehh-Ihhh!” Legolas pinched his nose and pursed his lips until the sensation passed. It took longer than Dinent seemed pleased with. The painter made a quiet sound of disapproval, not quite hidden by the rattle of a used brush dropped into a water jar.

 

                With his hands back in his lap, Legolas forced himself to sit as still as a statue. His nose had to be tickling, Gimli was sure, and was probably running. The elf no doubt could feel it and was trying to ignore it. Minutes passed. Then, when Gimli was nearly convinced, Legolas' breath caught.

 

                The gasp was so loud it filled the room. “ihhh- hihh!” Legolas pinched his nose again, but his nostrils continued to protest. “ihhh-Yih! HIH!” The elf scrambled for his handkerchief and had it up to his face just in time. “HihShffff! ihChfff!

 

                “Bless you,” called Gimli, calmly.

 

                Dinent did not even turn to look at Gimli. His eyes were fixed on Legolas. “My Prince, I require my subjects to strike a pose and keep it. If that is not possible, I would be happy to return another time.”

 

                Even with an easy escape, Legolas did not submit. All he need do was nod, but Legolas shook his head instead. “I do apologize for the interruption.”

 

                “Or, perhaps, you would prefer another painter…”

 

                Legolas blinked. “Naturally, I would not. Please continue.”

 

                Gimli cleared his throat, unable to stay silent. “Legolas-” He was cut off.

 

                “Dinent is a master with the brush, Gimli. Sniff! He paints efficiently and beautifully. Without a doubt, he is one of the most talented painters in the realm,” Legolas explained.

 

                For the briefest of flashes, Dinent looked less than pleased to be referred to as only one of the most talented. Then he wiped off one of his brushes and squirted more plate onto his color pallet.

 

                Not noticing, but rubbing two fingers under his nose, Legolas continued. “He has painted portraits of my whole family. One day I would like very much for you to sit for a portrait as well, Gimli.”

 

                Dinent seemed even more tight-lipped now, and Gimli was certain that the elf did not want him here now as an observer or as a subject. Gimli could think of a hundred things he would prefer to do that sit in this unfriendly throne room and have an uptight elf paint his likeness. Besides, Legolas' father would never allow that portrait to be hung on the walls with the rest of the family's.

 

                “In order to paint,” the painter said, armed with a fresh paint brush. “I require silence,“ Legolas sniffed a badly-timed sniff, “and for you to be still.”

 

                Legolas nodded and straightened up to resume his pose. Dinent resumed painting. And Gimli resumed watching in silence. When Legolas sniffed again a second later, everyone again pretended not to hear. Gimli, however, frowned. If things continued down their current path, this adventure would inevitably end badly. Intending to do anything he could to save his elf, Gimli took a deep breath and resorted to the only thing he could think of.

 

                Legolas sat up straight in the throne, head slightly turned, eyes staring off into some distant corner of the room. His nostrils flared in a silent sniffle, but Gimli was not fooled. It was only a matter of time. Sure enough, within a minute, a louder sniffle rent the air and Legolas' eyes flickered towards the painter and Gimli. Gimli took the opportunity to catch Legolas' eye and motion to his neck. Legolas watched as Gimli's hand moved up and unbuttoned the top button of his tunic. Then the second button was undone. The slightest amount of dark chest hair peeked out. Gimli saw the corners of Legolas' mouth turn up briefly and the dwarf knew without a doubt that he had him.

 

                Gimli slid his hand slowly down his front, snaking towards his lap. He rubbed his hand up and down his thigh, getting increasingly closer to his groin. The painter still painted, his back to Gimli, utterly oblivious. Gimli's hand slid up, under the bottom hem of the tunic. Lost beneath fabric, his hand moved, then emerged with the end of the tie of his britches. As he pulled the end, the bow broke form and his waistband loosened.

 

                Legolas was entranced now. He was sniffling nearly nonstop and not noticing. His eyes were fixed unblinkingly upon Gimli.

 

                Taking advantage of his captivated audience and the partial privacy afforded him by a painter who did not want him there in the first place, Gimli plunged his hand down into his britches.

 

                Legolas coughed in surprise.

 

                Gimli merely continued to grin to himself. His hand wrapped around his member, warm but soft. It thickened as he worked it, gazing back at Legolas. The elf was only one step away from drooling. His mouth hung open ever so slightly and his ailment was completely forgotten. Gimli fingered his cock until it was hard, then began fisting it. The motion, even beneath the cover of his britches, was unmistakable. It was also delightful.

 

                Elves were too caught up in their ways- in tradition and convention. It would do Legolas good to witness some bold, risky, risqué behavior. It would all be over should the painter turn around, so Gimli stayed quiet, mouth closed and shirt folds pulled up to minimize even the soft noise of a hand and arm moving back and forth at a quick pace.

 

                Conflict burned in Legolas' eyes. It was his move to make, but he stubbornly seemed unable to give in to reason. Gimli knew he would need to take this further.

 

                With a look of pleasure on his face, Gimli closed his eyes each time he inhaled. He opened them, looking at Legolas, as he exhaled. His breaths came in time to the strokes of his hand. And then his feet began rocking- heel, toe, heel, toe- giving the illusion of movement. His pelvis jerked forward once, then once more. At the start, it had been calculated and he had been sure that he would never come from this. However, now he was not so sure. His body was reacting to everything- the touch, Legolas' incredulous looks, the prospect of being discovered- and soon he would not be able to control himself.

 

                Legolas was so wrapped up in watching that he did not realize his need to sneeze until it had burst from him. Legolas pitched forward, sneezing unrestrainedly. “ehYIHTchhhh! Hitchhh! ihhKshhh!” He scrambled for his hanky and accidentally dropped it on the floor. “ehhhh-IHSchhhh!” He bent over, blindly searching for it. His nose ran, and he covered it with his free hand. “ihhTchhh! ehp'Tshhhh!” Finally, his hand found cloth and he brought it to his face. He gave a soft, productive blow and slumped back in his seat. “Excuse me,” he said, breathlessly.

 

                But when Legolas looked up, Gimli was still rubbing himself madly. Legolas stumbled over his words. “Dinent, I apologize, b- but I think it would be proper, it would be best I mean, if we… did-resumed-completed this at some later date.”

 

                “As you wish, My Lord.”

 

                Gimli wrenched his hand out in a flash, the cool air of the room hitting his hot and slightly-moist palm. He did not yet wish to risk rising to his feet, but did not need to. While still rubbing at his nose, Legolas helped the painter collect his things. Then he saw Dinent out and locked the door again from within.

 

                He walked back across the room, meeting Gimli at the front of the room. “You…” Legolas shook his head at Gimli.

 

                Gimli reached out and grasped Legolas' forearms. He ran his hands up and down Legolas' arms. “Me,” Gimli said, grinning. “Looks like you finally noticed me then?”

 

                Legolas' eyes widened a little. He cocked his head. “Yes, sniff, sniff, I finally did.” He pulled one arm away from Gimli in order to rub at his nose.

 

                Gimli's free hand found Legolas' hip instead. He opened his mouth again, planning to say something sly and borderline seductive, maybe something of a tease with a bit of playful concern behind it. But Legolas bent forward and kissed him. It was a sniffle-filled kiss and Gimli chuckled a little around Legolas' mouth.

 

                Legolas pulled back, the handkerchief raised to his nose once more. “ihhhTShhhhh! IhhShuhhh! Ihh-YihChuhh!

 

                Gimli reached up, rubbing his fingers against the back of Legolas' hands, under the folds of the hanky. “Do you want to retire to bed?”

 

                “No. I want you,” Legolas insisted. He sniffed hard, nostrils flaring for a second, then tossed the handkerchief aside. “Right this moment, you stubborn, insistent little imp.” He grabbed Gimli's tunic and pulled it off again. Sniffling into his shoulder, he threw Gimli down into one of the thrones and immediately mounted him. With his britches pushed down to his ankles, his body was flush against the plush throne. The throne room was definitely beginning to grow on him.

 

 

~ * ~ * ~ * ~

 

Deceit

 

                The selection was overwhelming. Why hadn't Legolas just said what kind of tea he needed? The tables of herbs spanned nearly half of one side of the level. There were hundreds if not thousands of bottles. There weren't just little, crushed herbs but also large, dried bunches which hung from the shop roofs. How was he supposed to figure out which were the ones that would help Legolas?

 

                Gimli approached one table with trepidation. The tiny bottles blurred in front of his eyes so that they all looked the same. He had no expertise in this area and was swiftly feeling overwhelmed.

 

                Surely if he went to the Houses of Healing he could find the answer out straightaway. The healers and herb-master would be able to hand him a selection in no time. But— in no uncertain terms— he had been forbidden to do that. It was wise not to argue with an elf; but it was even wiser not to argue with a sick elf. Legolas wished his illness to remain private and Gimli would not betray his lover's trust. However, Gimli was not going to get through this without a little help from someone. Already he had been gone too long from their chamber.

 

                So Gimli selected a shop at random and ventured inside. The air inside was so thick with scent Gimli suddenly found he could not breathe. The musty, stale smell of caves was one thing; a tiny room packed full of smelly herbs was another. His throat stung badly. His eyes watered. He coughed repeatedly and backed out to save his lungs the fight. He was followed by the elderly woman whose shop it was. “Can I help you?” She might have been elderly, with long, wrinkled fingers, piercing hazel eyes, and startlingly sharp features, but her voice was clean, smooth, and kind.

 

                “I'm looking for an herbal tea, I believe. Or some sort of thing to alleviate the symptoms of a cold.”

 

                “But you are not sick.” She cocked her head, mostly hidden in the hood of a sheer, lace, lavender cloak.

 

                “Not for me,” he said. Then, knowing that this might give him away but that it had to be said, “It's for an elf.”

 

                She looked thoughtful for a moment, then she decidedly sprung into action. She snapped off a piece of this and ground up a bit of that. She put the whole thing in a ceramic bowl and ground it together. She added two pinches of one thing and five of another. Gimli watched as little sparkles were ground into the mixture. “Now, this should do the trick,” she said almost absentmindedly. “Though there will be some side effects.”

 

                Gimli did not particularly care for the sound of that. “Such as?”

 

                “Well…” She added a whole green leaf of something that smelled so strong and minty it made Gimli's nose twitch from two paces away. “Drowsiness is a possibility. So is dehydration.”

 

                Gimli nodded. Neither of these were of much concern to him. He had ordered the elf into bed yesterday— practically tied him there to keep him there at first— and Legolas had been sleeping almost constantly since. On the occasions during which the elf was awake, Gimli had him drinking water and whatever juice was available. The hope was that this particular cold might pass more quickly than usual.

 

                 “Also…”

 

                He wasn't too fond of that 'also', however.

 

                “This mixture will make him hard.”

 

                It was Gimli's turn to cock his head. He stared down at the bowl. He made a questioning grunt of a sound.  

 

                The woman interpreted it correctly. Her eyes had laughter behind them. “This will surely make him hard. Aroused. Erect. Stimulated—”

 

                “Gimli?”

 

                Gimli recognized the voice, and turned to see Aragorn practically on top of him, helping himself to Gimli's private business. Exactly how much of that had the man heard?

 

                “I know how Legolas can be. I am not surprised he cannot keep up with you.” Apparently, the man had heard enough. “If you wanted performance herbs for him, all you had to do was ask me, my friend.” With the old woman's permission, the king selected a few of her herbs. He didn't grind anything up, but he did do a bit of mixing and stirring in a small pot he'd selected.

 

                Gimli was momentarily struck speechless. Legolas could keep up with him effortlessly, with stamina befitting the immortal and warrior he was. Gimli doubted any dwarf would be able to do as much. And Gimli had absolutely no complaints about the quality or duration of their lovemaking. Neither to Aragorn's face nor in front of a complete stranger could Gimli protest that his sex life— at least when the elf was feeling well— suffered for nothing.

 

                “This *is* intended for Legolas, correct?” Aragorn asked, his hand hovering over two small, clay pots, as if deciding which to use.

 

                Gimli nodded. If Legolas did not want his illness known, there was nothing else he could do apart from lie. “That is right.”

 

                Aragorn smelled his mixture after every addition. And after one particularly strong sniff, Gimli— whose height came with as many advantages as disadvantages— couldn't help but notice a certain bulge beneath the royal robes. Gimli looked away at once, eyeing the concoction the woman had made instead and wondering how he was to get that to Legolas now. “You might want to wait to test this out until after the ball tomorrow, or you might be too occupied to leave your chambers.” He gave Gimli a wink. Gimli replied with a nervous smile.

 

                Legolas had been quite keen to attend the ball, and thus devastated at the onset of his cold so close to the date. Only with luck— and some healing herbs— would they be able to put in an appearance.

 

                “Here you go.” Aragorn poured the mixture into a small, black pouch that fit in the palm of Gimli's hand. “Extra potent, made just for an elf. He should have no trouble now.”

 

                “Thank you,” Gimli replied. “I will see you tomorrow night at the ball.”

 

                “I should hope so!” Aragorn disappeared as quickly as he had arrived. Gimli immediately set down the pouch Aragorn had given him, as if worried he might absorb some of the herbs through the pouch and through his skin and suddenly need to fuck something.

 

                “Please continue, kind woman.”

 

                She smiled and finished her work, added in a drop of something liquid in a small, blue jar. Then she gave it one more stir before pouring it into another pouch. This one was larger, and brown instead of black. She handed it over. “No charge.”

 

                “I insist. To help you replenish your stores.” Gimli put down several coins and backed away so she could not give them back. “Thank you for your patience and skill.” He hoped very much that he'd done the right thing in not going straight to the healers with this. Perhaps Legolas would be better off in their care… or perhaps he'd be just fine after a few cups of tea and more comfortable in his bed, snuggled up to Gimli.

 

                Gimli pocketed the pouch of medicinal herbs and left with one more 'thank you'. But his boots made it only as far as the next shop before he found himself spinning around and doubling back. He picked up the small, black pouch as well. “Since it is already prepared, it seems wrong to waste it, does it not?”

 

                She smiled at him with amusement.

 

*

 

                Gimli pressed his hand flat against the door and pushed it open soundlessly, not wanting to wake Legolas. He needn't have bothered. Legolas was stretched out in bed under several heavy quilts, hanky to his nose, sneezing repeatedly.

 

                “eh-IhhShhhh! Sniff! yihShuhh! ihh-yih- IhShehhh!” The only pauses in-between sneezes lasted— at most— a few seconds.”YihShoo!” A few seconds were all the elf needed in order to acknowledge Gimli's return and ask, with his eyes alone, if he had brought something back. “YihSchhh!

 

                “I have some herbs,” Gimli told him, walking over and touching his lips to Legolas' cheek in small resemblance to the sort of welcome home kiss he usually enjoyed. Gimli noticed that the elf's handkerchief was sopping and reached for it. Legolas pulled back, then snapped forward, sneezing wetly again, in great need of it. “Hnn,” Gimli cooed roughly, forcing the elf's hand down. Gimli pressed part of the back of his hand to Legolas' nose.

 

                “ihhhh-hihhhh… yihh-IHhhhh… iihhhhyihhhh…

 

                He felt the elf's breaths against his palm as another sneeze built, and Gimli applied just a little more pressure to Legolas' nostrils, driving the sneeze back for the moment. With his other hand, Gimli retrieved a fresh handkerchief from the drawer built into the bottom of the raised bed. His arms were stretched wide to accommodate the action, and he his position faltered. He heard Legolas whimper as his breath hitched once more. Gimli transferred the hanky from one hand to the other quite quickly and both of Legolas' larger hands covered his as the three pressed the cloth to the elf's nose. “kih'fschhhhh!” The tips of Legolas' ears twitched, signaling that he wasn't done sneezing. “YIH! IH! KEHtchfffff!

 

                Legolas looked up at him for a second, then blew his nose loudly for quite some time. Gimli sat down on the bed. The dwarf petted Legolas, stroking his hair, the whole time. “Thadg you,” Legolas said finally. He kept the hanky pressed to his nose to keep it from dripping, but he was better and smiling. Legolas moved closer. He curled his body around Gimli's for warmth and comfort. He managed even to rest his head on Gimli's thigh.

 

                “Hey there now,” Gimli chuckled ever so lightly. “If you get too comfortable, I will not have the heart to get up and make you that tea. And then you might not be fully recovered in time for tomorrow night.”

 

                “I care dot,” said Legolas, stuffily. “I've beed thidgig while you were gode. I do dot really deed to go to the celebratiod. It does dot batter how lodg I hab the sdiffles—”

 

                Gimli interrupted to point out, “You have a little more than a case of the sniffles, my love.”

 

                Legolas shrugged and sniffed involuntarily. “It does dot batter how sick I ab so lodg as I hab you.” he draped an arm around Gimli's waist in the front. Then his body tensed up. “ehh-ehh-ehh-Gibli?” Gimli leaned forward a little, putting his arm on the curve of Legolas' back through the covers, trying to help brace him. “ehhhhh-ihh-Yih! Sniff! ihhh…” Legolas' hands trembled with the handkerchief and Gimli helped hold that into place. “Yihshhoo! Snffffffff! ihhh-IhSchhhh!” Legolas' arm tightened around Gimli's waist and his whole body curled more, fitting against Gimli's perfectly. “ehp'Chihh! ihh-Ehktchhhh!

 

                “Bless,” said Gimli, sorting out the strands of blond hair, fallen over his thigh and fallen into Legolas' face. As he looked at the elf's smile and listened to his cute little sniffles, Gimli decided which of the two pouches he would dip into first. “How about some tea now?”

 

 

 

 

~ * ~ * ~ * ~

 

Messages

 

                A hawk arrived directly after dinner. It settled down on a branch and stared fixedly at Gimli. Gimli smiled and stuck his arm out. The hawk landed on it, digging into the thick sleeve and his arm. He winced slightly but unwound the paper from the hawk's leg. He read it through once, and was about to re-read it when a small sniffle met his ear.

 

                “Is dat frub Farabir?”

 

                Gimli stared at the signature of the note, which could have come from only one man since the hawk belonged to Faramir and not even Eowyn used it for messages. She preferred the personal touch of sending messengers. Gimli worried his bottom lip a moment, which was hard to spot considering his beard. “No,” he replied.

 

                Legolas had a handkerchief pressed to his nose. “Doe?” Legolas cleared his throat. Now he sounded angry on top of sick. “Bud the hawk…”

 

                Gimli did not want Legolas reading the message. However, he could not lie directly to his elf. “It is from Faramir not Farabir.”

 

                Legolas attempted to snatch the slip of paper from Gimli's hands, however the dwarf pulled it away. The hawk fluttered at the movement but had clamped on tightly to Gimli's arm.

 

                “I do not think it is wise for you to read it just now.”

 

                “Gibli!”

 

                But Gimli would not be moved and Legolas was in no condition to put up a proper fight. In the end, Legolas gave a deep sigh and gave up. He turned away from Gimli, sniffling madly into his handkerchief. Concerned, Gimli put his hand on Legolas' back and rubbed soothingly. This cold of Legolas' had come on quickly but refused to let him alone. It had been a whole week now—a week of listening to sneezing and putting up with sniffling and trying to figure out what exactly that elf was saying in that stuffed-up voice of his. Legolas gave a congested little cough and his eyes fluttered shut. Hair obscured his ears, but Gimli knew for certain they were twitching. The handkerchief obscured the elf's nose and mouth, but Gimli knew well what they were winding up for. “ihhTChuhh! Hitchhhh! Ehh-ehhh-KTchhhh!

 

                Startled by the noise, the hawk selected a spot on a nearby railing. Well-trained, it was still waiting for a message to take back in reply.

 

                Feeling miserable and snuffly, Legolas wrapped himself around the dwarf, hugging his lover for support. He pressed his cheek against the top of Gimli's head and hugged Gimli close. Gimli smiled and relaxed back against Legolas. He was so comfortable that he didn't even notice Legolas' hand moving until it was too late.

 

                The message was pried from Giml's hand far too quickly for him to grab it back. “Elf!”

 

                Legolas read through the message, ignoring Gimli completely. “I shall go ad odce.”

 

                Those were five words Gimli could not bear to hear just then. “Be reasonable. You are ill. You cannot travel in such a state.”

 

                “I hab doe choice. You read de dote. If Farabir add Eowyd require by assistance, snuff, sniff, snifffff, I bust helb.”

 

                “What you must do is get into bed and nurse that cold of yours before it gets worse.”

 

                “I have had it for ages. It has just aboud rud its course.”

 

                “Run its course? Legolas, you are nearly as bad today as you were when you first came down ill. However will you manage a long ride there?”

 

                “It is odly ode add a half day ride—less thad that if I do dot stob to sleeb.”

 

                “It is nearly bedtime already. And you look exhausted. You will never make it through the night.”

 

                “You should hab bore faith id be, Gibli. I will be tired, but I cad still ride.”

 

                Gimli's teeth were clenched, his brow furrowed, his lip twitching. The elf was not listening to a word he said or even reading his body language, which Legolas was usually good at. “I forbid you to go.”

 

                “You would dot dare.”

 

                “I would. Must I send you a strongly-worded message by hawk in order for you to listen to me?”

 

                Legolas tensed up and Gimli was momentarily worried their strong tones might progress to angry shouts. But then Legolas snapped forward. “hhhh-KTChhhhhh! Kerchhh! ihhShuhhh! ehhTChhhhhhh!

 

                Gimli winced at the wetness he felt against the top of his head. “Galu.”

 

                “Thag… hehh… ihhhh- ih-TChhh!

 

                Gimli paused a moment, then looked up. “Was that the last of it, or should I expect more?” He ran a hand over the top of his head.

 

                “Last for dow,” Legolas said, and rubbed his nose. “Bud by dose still tickles.”

 

                “Which is why you should go back to bed.”

 

                “Which is why I should leave dow, before id gets worse.”

 

                Gimli turned, glaring at Legolas. “Do you hear yourself, you uptight prick?”

 

                “Did you read Farabir's dote, you stubbord arse?”

 

                With a great sigh, Gimli stormed inside their home. His footfalls were heavy, but he could still hear the elf's soft footsteps not far behind. Gimli went straight to the dresser and began rifling through the drawers. He tossed clothes over his shoulder, onto the bed.

 

                “What are you doig?” Legolas asked, upon entering the room. He sat down on the bed and re-folded some of the items between wet sniffles into his sleeve.

 

                “If you insist upon going, then I insist upon going along with you.”

 

                Legolas smiled. “Gibli, I abbreciate id, but it is dot decessary. It is odly sniff, sniff a little code. Ihh-Tchhhh! Sniff!

 

                “Necessary or not, I am going.” He turned around and walked to the bed. He set down a small stack of hankies and then put his hands on Legolas' thighs. “You need looking after.”

 

                “Add you're— hihh— willidg to do dat? Ihh-HiKshhhhh!

 

                Gimli took the top handkerchief from the pile, refolded it around his hand, and pressed it to Legolas' face. “Try as you might, you cannot stop me.”

 

                Legolas blew his nose softly and nuzzled his face into the handkerchief and Gimli's warm hand beneath. “All right, thed. If you bust.”

 

                “No,” Gimli said, smiling. “I must.” He proceeded to gather up everything to force it into the saddle bags.

 

                But as Gimli turned his back to Legolas, the elf smiled. Legolas rubbed at his nose then lay back on their comfortable bed. He took writing supplies from the top drawer of the bedside table and scribbled off a reply to Faramir: We are leaving now. Will be there within a day unless Gimli becomes too overprotective of me, in which case it will be two. He stopped writing and grinned to himself. He would have dreaded making this journey alone with a head cold such as his. But now, with Gimli to care for him and keep him company, the trip would be a delight. And for a while there, he had been quite worried that the dwarf wouldn't pick up on any of his messages.

 

 

 

 

~ * ~ * ~ * ~

 

Assistance

 

                The fall was cooler than Gimli had ever remembered it being. And the winter was colder and full of snow. Both had Gimli on edge constantly, worrying about Legolas constantly. The beginning of spring was cool and wet, and that was the last straw for the dwarf. When Legolas' father sent his usual invitation to them to stay a while in Mirkwood, Gimli accepted before Legolas could even try to persuade him.

 

                Gimli's assumption that the weather had something to do with Legolas' colds was not completely without basis. Legolas had all but admitted to him that elves could sometimes fall ill in less-than-elvish conditions. And much as Gimli did not want to believe it, living with a dwarf in the mountains was not the best place for his elf.

 

                Apparently, however, Mirkwood this season was no better. There was a chill in the air from the moment Gimli woke every morning and Legolas was always up and awake during the whole, chilly night. So Gimli considered their hot, morning routine in bed to just as much a necessity as a pleasure. And he kept his ears attuned to Legolas, anticipating the first sniffle or harsh rasp of breath. In Gimli's opinion, it was merely a matter of time before Legolas fell ill again. All he could do was wait and be prepared for the inevitable.

 

                “Hold it firmly but not tightly,” Legolas said, laying his hand on the smaller shoulder. He ran his hand down the extended arm, which tensed up a little, making the bow stand straight, perpendicular to the ground. “Let it be an extension of your arm, not a thing in your hand.” The arm relaxed slightly to a more natural position. “Good. That is better. That will serve you well.”

 

                Gimli smiled with pride and looked up at Legolas.

 

                Despite a soothing, encouraging tone, the elf showed no emotion on his face as he moved from one elfling to the next in the row, inspecting their stances and commenting on what he saw about each. His father apparently trusted him enough to guard the One Ring and save Middle Earth but not enough to teach the best young archers. Or even the second best. Or third. Or anything but the worst. Not that he minded terribly; he simply had to continuously remind himself to teach the very basics. Gimli could see Legolas fighting with himself over it, even from where he sat, a short distance away from the group.

 

                He could also see one of the elflings fighting against something. He recognized the twitching ears and squinting eyes. “Legolas?” Gimli called, feeling it was worth mentioning. Not only was the little elfling in distress, but Gimli was worried for Legolas' health.

 

                But the young elf looked imploringly at Gimli, and those bright green eyes made Gimli's heart melt. A little hand reached up, swiped at a nose, and then snapped back down so quickly that it threw Gimli off.

 

                When Legolas turned to Gimli, who was quite a few paces away, Gimli waved him off with a “Never mind. Continue.”

 

                Once each of the elflings had a fair-to-moderate stance, Legolas proceeded to explain about the sort of steady rhythm and smooth movement needed to get an arrow from quiver to bow. Gimli couldn't help but notice the little elfling with the insistent tickle in his nose. He also couldn't help but notice that Legolas' lecture was boring the little ones. They wanted hands-on practice, not talk.

 

                “I want to see you all take out an arrow once more and hold that pose.” Legolas said, standing back. “On the count of three.” He counted, and when it was time, his students all did as they were expected to. Some did not pull the strings of their bows back quite far enough, and some still fumbled with arrow retrieval, but in all it was a good effort. Even Gimli was somewhat impressed, having seen how uncoordinated the elflings were that morning. However, before Legolas could speak any words of praise, one of the arrows was accidentally released.

 

                The elfling Gimli had had his eye on before had reluctantly sneezed at just the wrong time. The arrow soared through the air, landing just a few feet short of the targets set out for them. No harm had been done but the elfling apologized profusely while scrubbing the back of his hand at his nose. “I did dot bead to! Blease forgibe be, Bridce Greedleaf?” For a moment, he looked as though he just wanted to curl up and disappear. But then a moment later, he snapped forward, sneezing wetly against his hand.

 

                “Galu,” came synchronized blessings from both Legolas and Gimli. Legolas' had been a kindness. Gimli's had been out of habit. Legolas walked over to the elfling and reached down to feel for fever. Gimli flinched at the sight of the touch. “You might have told me if you were feeling poorly, Arranis.”

 

                The elfling Arranis nodded and sniffled into the cuff of his brown sleeve. “I bight have bissed out od idstructiod thed.”

 

                Gimli had to admit the elfling had a point. And Gimli had certainly been guilty of hiding a weakness or two over the years in order to spend more time with Legolas. All empathy was gone a moment later, when the elf sneezed yet again, catching Legolas' hand and arm with the spray.

 

                “May I have a handkerchief, Gimli?” Legolas asked, already holding his hand out for one.

 

                Gimli always carried one, also a habit after so many of Legolas' colds. He got up, walked over, handed it over, and then gripped Legolas' arm. The older elf carefully rubbed the elfling's runny nose for him, then pressed the folded hanky into Arranis' hand. Flinching again, Gimli clenched his teeth and tightened his grip. “A word, Legolas?”

 

                “I am in the middle of--”

 

                “Now?” It was phrased as a question, but it was anything but. And his eyes not his tone conveyed his urgency.

 

                Legolas gave a nod of agreement and told the class to practice their stances while he was gone. “You too, little one. Wipe your nose and practice. I shall be right back.” He ruffled Arranis' hair and then followed Gimli to the far side of the clearing. They sat on the fallen tree Gimli had decided earlier would make a nice seat, as there was no nice, sturdy rock nearby for that purpose. “Yes?” Legolas asked casually, as though he had no idea why he was there.

 

                “Do you really think this a good idea?”

 

                “Hmm?” Legolas was either oblivious or very good at feigning ignorance so he could continue his lesson.

 

                Gimli glanced back at the class. One sick elfling would become two or three by the end of the week. And as the cold spread throughout the class, the instructor would no doubt be equally susceptible. Possibly more-so, considering it was his Legolas. Gimli squeezed Legolas' hand. “I do not want to see you ill. I do not want you feeling miserable. I do not want you catching a cold if it can be avoided.”

 

                Legolas took Gimli's hand in both of his and squeezed back. “Gimli, if I am meant to catch a cold, then I shall, precautions or not. You should have learned that much by now considering how many colds you have seen me through.”

 

                Gimli shrugged and tensed up. This was not the conversation he wanted to have right now, in front of other elves. “After all we have been through, the fellowship, the battles, you and me… you can still claim our lives are not made from our choices?”

 

                “I can say some things are out of my control,” Legolas replied. “Such as when the next time I might feel a little sniffly will be.”

 

                There was silence between them for a while. Gimli watched the young elves and their bows. They definitely needed work. He took a deep breath. “So you are not feeling sniffly now?”

 

                “Not now,” Legolas said, smiling one of his rare, genuine, face-lighting smiles. He breathed in and out, showing that his nose was clear.

 

                Gimli did not feel especially comforted by that. He suspected a cold was not far away.

 

                “Wait, Gimli, is this why I did not have to argue as usual with you about spending some time in Mirkwood? You thought it would help me avoid a cold?”

 

                Flushing red, Gimli looked away, muttering “Silly.”

 

                “Sweet,” Legolas corrected. “Misguided, but sweet.” He petted Gimli's cheek, stoked the beard, and fingered one of the braids. “I hope you are not too miserable staying here amongst the elves.”

 

                It was not his home, but Gimli had to admit he had not been miserable once during the stay. He could not possibly be miserable with Legolas at his side. And even if Legolas did fall ill eventually, he had still made it longer into the year than usual. That was something. Gimli looked over at the elflings again, watching them all, and then looking beyond them to the quiet, golden wood. He heard a bird chirp and saw graceful movement from one tree to another in the distance which could only be an elf. A soft breeze disturbed the leaves at the very top, making them rustle softly.  The sun shone down in a beautiful, mid-morning haze. “I can stand it.”

 

                “And will you be able to stand it the next time I come down with a cold?”

 

                Gimli smiled up at his elf. “Aye… I have another handkerchief.”

 

                “I know you do,” Legolas whispered, moving in for a kiss. It took a second for Gimli's lips to respond, but then he kissed back out of habit. And then out of passion. Legolas' kiss was more convincing than anything else and Gimli closed his eyes, letting his worries melt away during it.

 

                Gimli had his hand in the elf's blond hair and his tongue in the elf's mouth. Legolas' hand was on Gimli's thigh, sending thrilling tingles throughout the dwarf. The kiss could have lasted five minutes, it could have been ten, or it could have been an hour. Gimli would have liked it to have gone on all day.

 

                But it ended when Gimli heard a snigger. He opened his eyes to see the entire class of elflings standing not so far away, watching them. Legolas did not have eyes in the back of his head, but he did see Gimli's shocked and embarrassed expression and he probably heard the same twittering laughter. Legolas winked at Gimli, and pulled back just enough to have use of his mouth. “I thought I asked you to practice?” He waited a beat then turned to see the elflings quickly disbanding and taking up their positions in line again as though they had been there the whole time. Legolas gave Gimli a quick peck of a kiss then resumed his instruction.

 

                Before lunchtime, he had them aiming and shooting. Most of them missed the targets, but a few arrows got lucky. Gimli collected the arrows from the targets, ground, and surrounding trees in the safety between rounds. Legolas went down the row and back up again, offering tips, making corrections.

 

                However, he went easy on Arranis, who probably should have stayed in bed that morning. The sneezing increased and progressed to coughing. Both became frequent enough that he was hardly able to grab and arrow and shoot. Legolas checked his head again as the elflings was blowing his nose. His bow lay abandoned on the ground and his face was almost completely eclipsed by the large cloth. Legolas leaned over. “Perhaps you should go sit down for a little while? You do not have to leave; you could still listen to my instruction.” Reluctantly, the little elf nodded, sniffed hard, and nodded again. “Go sit next to Gimli, all right?”

 

                Legolas had planned to stop for the day when the sun reached its apex, but they were making good progress so he considered letting it go a little longer despite rumbling stomachs.

 

                At first, Arranis merely sat on the log a few feet from Gimli. But after a while, the little one started to fade. Gimli had seen Legolas do the same many times, and he supposed he would again, probably much sooner than he would have liked. “Come here,” Gimli whispered, and the Arranis scooted closer. Gimli patted the elf's back reassuringly and kept him from nodding off and falling off the log to his embarrassment. Soon the elfling had snuggled into his side and was snoring lightly.

 

                “One last thing for the day, I think.” Legolas turned to call Gimli and instead found himself smiling at the scene before him. Gimli was so good at being comforting to a sick elf, and Arranis looked so comfortable that Legolas almost hated to break it up. “Gimli? Could I borrow you for a moment, please?”

 

                Gimli woke Arranis and made sure he was all right before going over to stand in front the class with Legolas. “Final lesson of the day,” Legolas said. He had brought the arrows and bows from a bag that Gimli had thought was now empty. But instead Legolas took out a small sack of apples. “Precision.” He set one apple down on Gimli's head.

 

                “Oh no.”

 

                “You will be fine,” Legolas assured him. “You do trust me?”

 

                “I trust you,” Gimli replied. He dropped his voice and eyed the elflings. “Only you.”  For once that day, Gimli was busy worrying about someone other than Legolas. He found himself blindfolded and standing with his back against a tree. He refused to look scared, but he had been paying attention earlier and did not think this a very good way to practice precision.

 

                “I want you to spend a few seconds aiming and then take turns trying to hit the apple. Hands in the air. Who wishes to try first?”

 

                Gimli's heart pounded hard. If none of them volunteered, would Legolas let the task drop for the day? When he had agreed to help Legolas out it had been so he could keep an eye on his elf. It was difficult to do that while blindfolded… and run through with arrows.

 

                “Arranis? You are feeling up to it?” There was a pause, and some coughing, and Gimli wanted to shake his head 'no' but was too terrified to move his head by this point. “Good. Get your bow and stand right here by me.”

 

                “Legolas?” This was not a good idea. He heard a sneeze and some sniffling. Gimli's voice rose slightly in tone. “Legolas?”

 

                “Hold still,” Legolas answered him. Then, to Arranis, “That's right. Hold your bow like that. Do not sneeze now. Aim and fire when you have it.”

 

                Sweat trickled down the back of Gimli's neck. His hands were clenched in tight fists. Elves were strange and unpredictable; he should have known something like this might happen sooner or later in Mirkwood. He waited in darkness, stomach turning over and over in worry.

 

                But then it all happened at once. There was a sharp inhale leading to a sneeze followed by the soft twang of an arrow leaving its bow leading to a strong thump as the arrow struck something.

 

                Gimli immediately grabbed at the blindfold and pulled it down. He studied his body at once, looking for the spot where an arrow might be. He did not see one. Two fingers dug into his beard and found his chin, lifting it up. He saw Legolas standing just in front of him, where apparently he had been standing all along. He held the apple impaled on an arrow he had shot. “That,” Legolas whispered to him, “is for not telling me the true reason you agreed to come here.” He slid the apple off and placed it in Gimli's hand. “That is for lunch. And this…” Legolas leaned over and kissed Gimli, “is for trusting me.” He looked over his shoulder. “Help yourselves to the apples as a reward for doing well today and I shall see you back here tomorrow morning.”

 

                With Gimli pinned against the tree, Legolas kissed him hard. Gimli noticed a few elflings watching them and whispering to each other. He strained to hear and clearly caught one whispering about how he wanted his very own dwarf to love when he grew up. Gimli chuckled against the kiss. Legolas held the kiss and Gimli closed his eyes again, listening to the elf's breathing for signs of stuffiness. He would get Legolas back for the trick later. After the kiss. Yes, after the kiss and after that which would come after the kiss.

 

 

~ * ~ * ~ * ~

 

Mistakes

 

                Gimli did not know why he hadn't tried this before. There was no doubt in his mind that this hearty soup, a family recipe passed down on his mother's side, would make Legolas feel better.  Not even a tenacious, elven cold could stand up to this soup for very long.

 

                Gimli's chin cleared the counter by an inch only. Chopping the ingredients was the easy part; everything else… Gimli grunted and resisted the urge to slam the door to the cabinet he'd been rifling through for the past ten minutes. “Baramaethor, where are the cloves?”

 

                The elves had their own names for most spices, so Gimli's requests had mostly been met with blank stares. Cloves, however, seemed to be universal. The elf stepped a few paces to the left and reached up to a high cabinet completely out of Gimli's reach. It was no wonder Gimli hadn't found them. He grumbled a thank you as he cast a look around the large, Mirkwood kitchen. The elves moved with such easy grace as they prepared their foods, dancing around each other without collision and without mess. The cooks were so at home in the room that it made Gimli feel even more out of place.

 

                He brought two carrots over to the sink and bumped the tap with the bushy green end of one to get the faucet to run. He scrubbed them clean, though they already seemed far cleaner than the carrots he was used to. And when it came to turning off the water, it was more difficult. He stretched his arm out, the counter digging into his armpit. His fingertips brushed the cool metal but only managed to turn the flow stronger. He grunted again and lowered himself from his tip-toes. If only the elves hadn't made their cupboards so damn high or their sinks so damn big.

 

                “Here. I have it.” Cugedhion stepped over and turned it off for Gimli. “Are you sure you would not prefer a stool?”

 

                “Or a small ladder, even?” asked Andaer. Gimli was not sure, but thought he saw a smirk playing there on the elf's face.

 

                Gimli told them he was fine and took his annoyances out mercilessly on the defenseless carrot. He tipped the pot slightly, just enough to slide the chopped pieces into the simmering mixture. He had to stand on his toes to stir, and pain shot through his feet, even with his thick boots on. He knew Legolas would be in no mood to rub them tonight, which made it all the worse.

 

                It cooked forever. He stirred and sniffed, and tasted frequently. He added pinches of this and that, then finally dipped a spoon in and thrust it at an elf. “Taste this,” he demanded.

 

                Surprised to be asked for help, Cugedhion took the spoon at once. Elvish taste buds were different than his, after all. Legolas had never minded his cooking, but he wanted to do this right. And he wanted to give Legolas absolutely no reason to refuse this meal.

 

                “Superb,” said the elf, who smiled with his brown eyes quite genuinely.

 

                Gimli's heart soared. He grunted and cleared his throat. “Maybe just a bit more salt…”

 

                There was plenty of soup in the end. Gimli had no idea how to make soup for one when the recipe was for a dozen, so he thanked the kitchen staff by leaving nearly a full pot behind while he took a bowl to Legolas' chambers.

 

                Legolas sat across from Gimli at the table, a spoon sat lightly in his hand, and a bowl of hot, steaming soup sat in front of him. His lunch was going mostly uneaten, however, since he had little opportunity to eat.

 

                “ihhhTshhh! hihKShhhh!” Legolas breathed in through Gimli's thick handkerchief, and let his breath out slowly. That mere movement was all he managed before his nose tickling once again. “ehh-IHShhh! ihhSchhh! Ihh-ihh-YIHShhh!

 

                Gimli worried his bottom lip between his teeth. Naturally after spending hours in the elves' kitchens preparing soup Legolas would be unable to eat it properly. He watched the elf clear that ticklish nose then sit and stare at the soup. Slowly, Legolas' eyes closed and his head began to lower. Gimli could see the dark circles under his eyes more clearly from this angle, and he realized that soup was not the answer. He also realized Legolas was going to fall asleep in the soup if Gimli didn't stop him soon.

 

                Before Gimli could do anything, Legolas' shoulders rose and his head snapped down. “hehh-IHShuhh! ihTchhh!

 

                Apparently, thinking soup would help had been a mistake. Gimli jumped up from his seat, raced over, and pulled the spoon away. “Forget lunch. You are going to bed. Now.”

 

                “Gibli…”

 

                “How can you protest?” He locked arms with Legolas at the elbow and pulled the elf from the seat. “You are practically asleep at the table already!”

 

                “It will do doe good,” Legolas protested in a weak, stuffy voice as Gimli dragged him by the hand to the bedroom. When he was tucked into bed, he shook his head. “I caddot sleeb.” He tried to get up, but Gimli immediately climbed up and sat on his legs.

 

                “You will if I have anything to say about it.”

 

                Legolas could not help but smile. It lasted only a second, however. “ihhhh'KTchhhh! hepitshhh!

 

                “Why can you not sleep?” Gimli asked concernedly, instead of blessing Legolas.

 

                “Dot tired edough?” Legolas suggested.

 

                Gimli narrowed his eyes. “You have a horrible head cold and you look exhausted, my love.” The elf could not even manage to eat a bowl of soup. “You are tired enough. What is the real reason?”

 

                Legolas shrugged. “There are several. This bed, for ode.”

 

                “Cannot get comfortable?”

 

                Legolas shook his head. “Actually, it is too cobfortable.”

 

                Gimli considered this for a moment. He had thought for certain he was the only one who didn't like the bed. Elf beds were terribly soft. The mattress was stuffed with something other than feathers and instead of supporting his body he just sank squishily into its depths. It was difficult to get out of and difficult to move around in. The sheets were far too soft to the touch, like they would just melt away, and the blanket was so light he could not even be sure it was pulled up over him. But, mostly, he had assumed his discomfort was due to the fact that he was used to his bed back at home. It had not occurred to him that Legolas might feel likewise. “You miss home?”

 

                “Very buch,” Legolas said. He reached out from under the covers and found Gimli's hand with one of his. The other pressed his handkerchief to his face. “ihhh… ihhKTchhh-ihhChuhh! Sniff! But there are other reasods, too. It has to do with this blace.”

 

                Gimli was now thoroughly confused. “But this room is yours and Mirkwood is your home.”

 

                “Dot adybore.” He linked fingers with Gimli and squeezed tightly. “I wadt to be sick back at our hobe, dot here. It feels stradge to be ill here.” A slight, soft look of pain appeared on his face, the sight of which made pains shoot through Gimli's chest. “Elves do dot ofted sleeb. We odly really sleeb whed subthig is wrog, such as whed we fall ill. Here id Birkwood, with the elves all around, I ab dot used to sleebig.”

 

                “You slept all right last night,” Gimli pointed out.

 

                Legolas nodded. “I did. Because you were sleebig with be.”

 

                “Well then! Scootch over!” Gimli declared, pulling back the covers at once.  

 

                He snuggled up next to Legolas and nudged the elf. “C'mon. Sit up so I can get an arm under yeh.”

 

                They shuffled until Legolas was lying more on Gimli's body than the soft mattress and looking quite comfortable. Of course, that lasted only a matter of seconds. “hihKShhh! ihhTishhh! Ihhh-Hihshuhhhh!

 

                “Bless, bless, bless and however many more your nose needs,” Gimli whispered, stroking Legolas' head and worrying that Legolas would never be able to fall asleep now.

 

                Legolas blew his nose heartily into the handkerchief. “I will dever sleeb agaid,” Legolas mumbled into Gimli's collar through the handkerchief. “Too suddy.”

 

                This one took Gimli a moment. “Sunny?” The elf nodded, and Gimli raised an eyebrow. Back home when Legolas was ill, he frequently took warm naps with the sun shining down on him. The sun itself was not the problem, but still Gimli pried himself away to close the drapes. If darkness—or dimness at least—was what it took to get Legolas to relax, Gimli would certainly give it a try.

 

                Gimli slipped back into bed and pulled the covers up. Legolas immediately shoved them back down. With motions only, they preformed a silent dance. Legolas kicked at the covers, warming from the effort. He peeled off his nightshirt, tossed it off the bed, and flopped back down again quite gracefully. Gimli pressed his hand to Legolas' hand to feel for fever. Legolas shook off the touch, but Gimli had felt enough to know Legolas was not running a temperature. Legolas nuzzled close and Gimli wrapped his arms around his elf.

 

                “eh-IHGfshihhhh! Oh… snfffffffffff…oh Gib… Sniff!

 

                “Hush,” Gimli insisted. “It is not the first time you have sneezed on my chest and it will not be the last.” Legolas blew his nose and Gimli waited. Then he traded handkerchiefs, switching the damp one out for a fresh, dry one. “So long as you are comfortable, you can sneeze on me as much as you like.” Legolas nuzzled his face into Gimli's shirt affectionately, with a little, amused smile.

 

                But Legolas was still not comfortable. He tossed and turned for close to half an hour. He tried lying on his back, where the congestion made him cough. He tried lying on his stomach, but flipped back over a minute later with a frustrated sigh. He tried one side, hugging Gimli like a stuffed bear. He tried the other side, with Gimli spooning him from behind. He sneezed a dozen, two dozen, three dozen times. His head pounded and nose ran, but mostly he sneezed. “It is doe use. Snifffff! Sniffffff! I caddot sleeb,” he finally declared.

 

                Gimli put his hands on Legolas' shoulders. “Then relax. Let your body and mind rest as much as possible.” He began squeezing the elf's shoulders and the elf began to purr under his breath. Gimli grinned. “Oh, you like that?”

 

                “Love that. Sniff! Sniff! Add you dow it.”

 

                Even if Gimli hadn't known it before, he certainly did now. As he worked his hands across Legolas' shoulders and back, Legolas gave off a whole host of sounds. “Nngh!”s and “Mmmph!”s and “Ahghh”s that all had a relaxed, pleased sound to them. There were tiny squeaks as Gimli's hands squeezed the shoulders tightly and lower, almost dwarf-like grunts when the bases of Gimli's hands found a hard knot. With Gimli working methodically and caringly, Legolas relaxed whether he meant to or not.

 

                The sneezes did not leave him completely, however. “ihh… ih… ihhhh…” Legolas pinched his own nose through the hanky, his audible buildup giving Gimli warning. “ihhhHIHShhhhh! Eh-Shuhhh!” Legolas' body shook uncontrollably with each sneeze, and Gimli took his hands off to let the elf move freely. “Sniff! Bless be.”

 

                Gimli smiled and snuggled up close again. “Bless you,” he whispered into Legolas' ear.

 

                Legolas' mouth twitched. “Thadk you.”

 

                There was something in that tone, Something that Gimli recognized. Something that made Gimli regret getting so close. He checked himself and cleared his throat, but began rubbing again.

 

                He rubbed Legolas' shoulders, throwing himself into the action completely.  Legolas loosened and sighed, melting, relaxing, letting the massage go even longer than he had expected it to. In fact, he was so relaxed he did not even have the volition to raise his hand and catch his sneezes. Gimli hardly cared about that. “ihhhh-hih-eh-YIHShhhh! Hihtchhh! ehChoo!

 

                “Bless—”

 

                “EHTchhhh!

 

                “— you.”

 

                “Sniff! Sniiifffff!” What Gimli did care about, however, was the way Legolas' pink nose was so runny and sniffly after sneezing. Careful to keep a little bit of distance yet, Gimli reached over and pulled the handkerchief from Legolas' hand. He rubbed it against Legolas' nose. “Thadk you,” Legolas muttered, nuzzling and sniffling. “Keeb rubbig by back?”

 

                Gimli breathed hard, feeling Legolas lean back against him. Gimli had to put his weight on Legolas in order to rub the elf's nose and back at the same time. His touch made Legolas sigh happily. The two rocked together, warm and a little too close. “I am sorry,” said Gimli, his hand moving in circles against Legolas' smooth back. His fingers tingled against the warm skin, and the rest of him tingled as well. “I cannot help it. You have a certain effect on me.”

 

                “Blease dod't be sorry.” Legolas raised a heavy hand and took hold of Gimli's. The handkerchief was dropped as the hands moved lower. Gimli's hand was guided to Legolas' crotch, and his eyes widened. “I caddot sleeb. We bight as well.”

 

                Gimli bit down on his lower lip again. Legolas was sick. The elf couldn't be thinking straight. This wasn't such a good idea. Though it was true nearly every massage he had ever given Legolas ended in sex, it wasn't at all what he'd had in mind when he had begun this particular massage. Legolas' rear rubbed against Gimli's crotch, making the dwarf moan. He buried his face in the long, blond hair. “No,” he whispered. “I only meant to help you to sleep.” But his hand instinctively wrapped around Legolas' hardness and when the elf's long fingers encouraged him to stroke, he could not resist. Legolas' member was firm, velvety, and flushed with need. Gimli kissed the elf's back and felt his own cock straining in his trousers. It desperately wanted to rub harder against the elf's flawless rear end. “All right. But slow and gentle.”

 

                Legolas thrust into Gimli's fist at the most rhythmically opportune time and Gimli moaned again. He wanted fast and strong. Legolas wanted fast and strong. And his tricky little head cold apparently wanted fast and strong.

 

                “ihhhKShh! Hetchihhh!” Legolas' body shook against Gimli, who could not then get his trousers off fast enough. He slipped into Legolas just as Legolas' mouth dropped open for another sneeze. “ehhh…” Gimli tensed up along with Legolas, anticipating. “yihhhKUTChuhhh!

 

                “If you continue to do that,” Gimli said, almost breathlessly, “if you keep sneezing and moving like that, I will surely not last long.”

 

                Legolas practically whimpered. “Dor will I. hihh… add… ihhh… I do deed to-to-toehhhhhhhh-to sdeeze!” Legolas wrapped his hand around Gimli's, the two pulling his cock together. Gimli's thrusts were as deep as possible and steady right up until the sneeze struck. Then all bets were off, bodies jerking and shaking uncontrollably. “Hihshooo! Ehh-ehhhKudgchoo!

 

                Gimli felt hot wetness against his palm and he closed his eyes as his own waves of ecstasy took hold of him. He lost track of how many times Legolas sneezed; all he felt was Legolas' body welcoming him.

 

                It took a few moments for Gimli to regain his senses afterwards. He slid out and helped himself to the handkerchief to wipe them both off. “Well, that was unexpected.” He gave a laugh. “Do not get me wrong. It was wonderful. If I had known it was so good, I might have tried that before. It was simply unexpec… Legolas?”

 

                Gimli sat up and scrutinized the scene before him. “Legolas?” Legolas sucked in a deep, rattling breath in the form of a snore, and his body relaxed as he exhaled. Gimli settled down beside his lover. “I really should have tried that before.”

 

 

 

~ * ~ * ~ * ~

 

Certainty

 

                Gimli wished for Aragorn's talents as a tracker. And he wished for Legolas' heightened senses. All he had right now was a stitch in his side, a fire in his chest, and a rage that could not be contained. He should have been at home in these caves. He should have been able to find his way through the maze. He should have been able to get to Legolas more quickly.

 

                There were shooting pains in his arms from the intensity of the fight with the Olog-hai. He could barely keep his axe up at the ready in both hands as he ran through the cavernous underground tunnels. Legolas was here somewhere, hidden away, hopefully bound and not… not dead. Gimli fought back a wave of nausea and groaned as he approached an intersection. He slammed against the side of a cold, damp cave wall to catch his breath. Closing his eyes, he listened to his ragged breathing and thumping heart. He had neither tracking skills nor heightened senses, but he had something better. Something deep down in his stomach told him Legolas lay to the right. So Gimli's feet moved in that direction before he even made a conscious effort to push off the wall and sprint onward.

 

                Though the dwarf did not usually run, Legolas recognized the footsteps immediately. He opened his eyes and looked up to see Gimli in silhouette, standing at the end of the tunnel. He tried to call out, but loud breathing was all he could manage.

 

                At first, Gimli did not see him. His heart sank to find yet another dead end. But then he caught sight of a pair of shiny eyes, staring out from the darkness like a frightened wild animal. Gimli nearly passed out with relief. He looked around to be sure they were alone, then he charged forward. He raised his axe along the way. The second he got to the elf, he lowered the blade and cut clean through the bindings holding Legolas' ankles to the ground. Then came a similar slice at his thighs and another at his waist. Each cut was strong but stopped just short of clothing and skin. The precise cuts set Legolas' lower body free.

 

                Legolas looked up, beyond grateful. Then he turned his head and sneezed viciously into his shoulder. His hands were bound behind his back. He sniffled and rubbed his nose into whatever part of his shoulder and upper arm he could reach, which wasn't much. Gimli ached with sympathy. “We need to get outside,” he told Legolas. “I killed two but there could be others.”

 

                Legolas shook his head. “Only two,” he whispered. Even his whisper had a dry, croaking sound to it. Gimli cut the bonds at the elf's wrists. Legolas moved with the slow, deliberate action of one who has not moved for days as he brought his arms out from behind his back. The first thing he did was to rub his nose. “Knew you would come.” He sniffed again, miserably. “Sick.”

 

                “Hardly surprised,” Gimli replied, cupping his hand against the curve of Legolas' cheek and chin. “And I feel sick for not getting to you sooner, my elf, my love.” Gimli's voice broke and his breathing came in quick gasps, trying hard not to shed tears. He blinked and grunted and sniffed along with Legolas. Then, losing the fight, he opened his arms and lunged forward for an embrace.

 

                But Legolas shrunk back, shaking his head violently. “No, please. It has been days since I moved and… I am not clean.” He looked imploringly, hoping Gimli understood his meaning fully.

 

                “All the more reason,” Gimli said. “Or are you afraid I shall stain your clothing?”

 

                There was Legolas, huddled weakly on the floor of the cave, cut, bruised, scraped and soiled. He was sick with cold and shivery. And there was Gimli, squatting down, drenched and dripping in bright red blood—most of which was not his. They both needed cleaning, but they needed something else more.

 

                Gimli raised his arms and moved forward again. He wrapped them around Legolas and squeezed the elf close for all he was worth. Slowly, Legolas' body relaxed and, finally, the elf's arms raised and hugged Gimli back.

 

                “I tried to fight one,” Legolas said, weakly, into Gimli's shoulder. “I thought I was not doing too terribly but I did not see the other until it was too late. And then they… my bow. Oh, Gimli, my bow.” Legolas somehow gestured downward and Gimli suddenly realized that amongst the dirt and pebbles there was more. Gimli pulled back and took a closer look. His heart sank as he recognized the ornately-carved wood and the tiny bits of what had once been fine hair of the Galadhrim.

 

                Gimli swallowed. “I saw your effort. Had one of the trolls not been so badly wounded, I might not have been able to overtake them both.”

 

                Rubbing his cuff at his nose. “I only fired a few arrows into it. How did you manage to take them in the end?”

 

                “Call it instinct,” said Gimli, who had no real way of explaining the madness and rage that had come over him when faced with the creatures who had taken his love. He could not even remember the battle the way he could recall any other battle he had been in. It was a blur of weapons and shows of strength.

 

                “ehh-ihhhh…” Legolas' eyes closed and his breath hitched. Then he pitched forward. “ehhKTchhuhhh!” He swayed a little, sniffled, and rubbed his hand at his ankles where the bindings had been.

 

                Gimli felt the intense urge to leave. Now. “Can you walk or shall I carry you?”

 

                Legolas was certain he could walk, though he did not move with his usual grace. Together, Gimli and Legolas navigated the tunnels. They spoke sparingly, but said enough for Gimli to agree with the elf in that trolls had taken Legolas because they knew who his father was. It had been years since Olog-hai had been spotted near Mirkwood, but apparently the rumors that a few survived could now be confirmed.

 

                Gimli had left his pack and cloak by the entrance to the caves. They lay there still, not three paces from the body-less arm still holding a massive hammer. Legolas walked past the carnage without acknowledging it and began disrobing.

 

                The elf stepped out of the cave as he shed his leggings. He stood in the pouring rain for a moment, then he lifted his arms. He held them up, outstretched, and let the water wash him clean. The rain came down in sheets, heavy, pounding, with no wind to get in the way. It fell straight down, and the golden elf bathed himself in nature.

 

                Gimli let the rain find him, as well. The blood was so thick on his clothes it appeared like paint. Not all washed off, but a good amount did. He stood in a soggy, muddy puddle tinted with red-pink. His clothes were heavy, stained. His hair was dark and damp. His boots were squishy. And instead of just being wet, the rain was freezing cold. It was like ice pelting him relentlessly. Miserable did not begin to describe him now.

 

                Legolas, however, looked as though this were bliss to him. He practically glowed and glistened. The areas where the restraints had been were scraped and bruised, and he had plenty of other cuts and markings. But Gimli thought he looked simply gorgeous, like a plant basking in the sun and holding its leaves out to help collect its water. The rain seemed to rejuvenate him as much as clean him.

 

                It reminded Gimli of the sight he had seen in Lothlórien, when he and Legolas had felt the beginnings of love. Gimli's thoughts drifted off at once, as though they were back in that warm pool, under the gentle, cascading waterfalls. Tenderness and intimacy. Adventure and discovery.

 

                But then Legolas snapped forward, then back, then forward again in a graceful pattern of sneezing. “ihhKTchhh! Ehhh…ehhhShoo! hihhKShoo!” He scrubbed the back of his wrist at his nose briefly. “heh-eh-ehh-ehhhhhhh-Hiptchhhh! ihhhShihhh!

 

                Gimli smiled, realizing that Legolas had been a bit sneezy back then as well. Then Gimli headed over and took his elf by the hand. “Come,” he requested, and Legolas sniffled but nodded.

 

                 At the mouth of the cave, Legolas doubled over with a few congested coughs and a fresh series of sneezes. “hih-IHShoo! Ehhh-KEHTChoo!” He dropped down to his knees, as though folding in on himself. “ihhh… ihhhhhhihShihhh!” And in addition to sneezing, he began shivering.

 

                Gimli walked over and draped his cloak over Legolas' shoulders. As Legolas was kneeling, the thick cloak flowed down from his shoulders to the ground, covering him completely as it would not have down had he been standing. Legolas' shivers slowed but his sneezes did not follow suit. “ihhhh-hihhhh-hihshhhh! Huhhh-h'Shihhh!” He did not open his eyes in-between each sneeze, simply swayed back and forth with each uncontrollable sneeze. “ehh-IHChuhh! Ihhhh…ihhhIHShihhh!” His nose and ears both twitched and his mouth remained half open, awaiting the next. “ihhhhhhhh… ihhh… ehhhh… EH-Hshffffff!

 

                Legolas opened his eyes to find Gimli standing before him, a handkerchief in hand, pressed to Legolas' face. Legolas caught Gimli's sympathetic eyes, then blew his nose until the tickle in his nose had died down. Smiling and practically blushing, Legolas then looked away. “I am pathetic. I cannot imagine why you fought so hard to come to my rescue.”

 

                Gimli snorted and clenched his teeth. “Elf, I would have no reason to fight or even live without you by my side.” He pressed his hand to Legolas' cheek. “And after this, I will not be letting you out of my sight ever again.”

 

                Laughing, Legolas snuggled into Gimli, who hugged him through the cloak. His body was sore and the squeeze fell at just the wrong spot. But Gimli's touch was worth slight discomfort. Silly as Gimli's statement was, Legolas could not help but want it to be true. “And if some day I decide I must sail out into the West? What then?”

 

                With a shrug, “I suppose I will just have to go along with you.” He grinned. “I will fight anyone who tries to stop me. After taking down two fierce trolls, a whole band of elves should be no problem singlehanded.”

 

                Legolas coughed to clear his throat and closed his eyes. “Should that come to pass, my love, I am certain you will not fight alone.”

 

 

 

~ * ~ * ~ * ~

 

Bliss

 

                “iihhh-HihShhh!

 

                Gimli glanced back over his shoulder. “Are you certain you do not want to just go home, my love?”

 

                Legolas sniffed and shook his head. “It cannot be helped, I am afraid, unless we wish to go hungry.”

 

                Gimli made a derisive noise. “We will not starve, whatever happens. We can always go hunting.”

 

                “hehh-IHShhhhh!

 

                “I  can always go hunting,” he corrected himself. He gestured for Legolas to come closer, and Legolas obeyed, bending over and hugging the wooden basket to his chest. Gimli held his hand to Legolas' head for a few moments, carefully evaluating. “Are you feeling any worse?”

 

                Legolas shook his head against Gimli's hand. “I am only suffering from a sniffle right now. But there is no reason to waste our time. The sooner we finish here, the sooner we can journey back… huhh-home. Ihshihh!

 

                “Do you need a handkerchief?” Gimli asked concernedly.

 

                Legolas shook his head again and straightened back up. “When I do, you will be the first to know.” His eyes squinted and closed and his chest rose with a breath. “hhhhh-Ehptshhhhh!

 

                Gimli stood there, musing and grumbling. “We should head home,” he mumbled.

 

                But Legolas reached down and stroked Gimli's cheek. “When we are finished here at the market, we can head home.”

 

                Gimli started to say something else, but held his tongue quite uncharacteristically. He led them onward. The two visited the nearest town market regularly every few weeks. This time, however, they had not been in nearly a month. Their supplies were running lower than usual so it could not wait any longer. The market was always busy, as it served so many in the area and beyond. It was also a popular place for traders passing through towards the woods or the mountains. On any given day, you might find nothing but food or you might find treasures; there was no way to know. But all Gimli had his eye on today were the necessities. “We need some hay for the barn and some fresh fruit for us. And we could probably use some—”

 

                “Gimli?” Legolas' nose and ears twitched. “I think I need that huh-handkerchief n-now.”

 

                Stepping up on a box against one of the tables, Gimli could reach his elf's face. He held the handkerchief up, waiting patiently. “huhhh-Chih-shooo!

 

                “Finished?” Gimli asked. Legolas nodded.  “Good. Then blow your nose.” Legolas obeyed. “Again.” Legolas hesitated, then blew his nose again into the handkerchief. Gimli folded the cloth, wiped Legolas' nose, and insisted. “Once more.”

 

                “Gibli, I do dot deed—”

 

                “Yes, you do need. I can hear the sniffles and flutters in your breathing. Now blow your nose so we can finish making our purchases.”

 

                Legolas blew his nose.

 

                “Good elf,” the dwarf soothed. “Now, the fruit…” He steered them down one row of stands to another. Soon the basket held not only flour and sugar, but a dozen apples. As Gimli's coin pouch grew lighter, Legolas' basket grew heavier. “Do you need some help with that?” Gimli asked, looking back at the elf.

 

                With a shake of his head, “I can handle the food. It is only…”

 

                “Do you need to sneeze again?”

 

                Legolas smiled shyly. “I suppose I do. There is a little tickle in my nose… and getting stronger.”

 

                Gimli motioned for Legolas to kneel and dug the handkerchief out of his pocket again. He stroked Legolas' head while they waited. Legolas' breathing was irregular and his eyes were closed. “ihhh… heh-hihhhhh… ep-hep-Ihtchhhhh!” Legolas snapped forward. “ehgggggshuhh! Sniff! hehShihhh!” Each sneeze was strong, all-encompassing, and soon Legolas was forced to set the food down and lean against his dwarf for support. “eehh-IH-shoo! ihhhChoo! Huh-huh-huhShuhhh!

 

                As the day went on, the sun went down. Soon the sun was only just above the treetops and it was chilly outside. The cold weather made Gimli all the more concerned. As chill bumps rose up and down his arms, Gimli nodded towards the nearby inn. “Perhaps you should go in and stay warm while I finish?” the dwarf suggested.

 

                Legolas shook his head and stood up against Gimli. “I wish to stay with you.” He sniffled and wrinkled his nose rather cutely.

 

                Gimli stared the elf down. “No. I have made up my mind. You will go and I will collect you when I am done. You need warmth and comfort. ”

 

                “Actually,” countered Legolas. “I need… ihhh…” Eyes closed and chest heaving. “ihshhhhhhhh!” The sneeze was free and unrestrained, and it bent him over a little, accommodating a second sneeze. “hihhShhhh!

 

                Gimli was not moved. He still looked gruff and worried he took the handkerchief out again. “Come close, elf. Let me tend to your nose a bit more.”

 

                Legolas bent over and Gimli fussed over him, rubbing at the elf's nose. When a sneeze seemed to be forthcoming, Gimli ran a finger against the outer ridge of Legolas' ear. The tip twitched more violently and Legolas' eyes closed. Gimli stroked again, caressing gently, repetitively, until the twitching slowed and then stopped. Legolas opened his eyes, and their blue depths held relief. “May I sniff blow my nose, love?”

 

                Readjusting his grip, Gimli gave a nod. Legolas blew his nose in several, small exhalations. But after a few blows he was cut off by a sudden, violent sneeze. “IHHHChoo!” He rubbed his nose into the handkerchief and sniffed a few times. “Sorry,” he said, his voice sounding stuffy and tired.

 

                “That is it,” Gimli said decisively. “I will not see you suffer like this. You need to be at home.” He wiped Legolas' nose for him. “No arguments, elf. We are going.”

 

                The wagon trip back home was slow but steady. Arod knew the way well, allowing Gimli to snuggle with Legolas and supply him with a handkerchief. The elf nodded off several times, but mostly he sat there sniffling and snuggling up against his dwarf to keep warm. Even the thick blanket they had wrapped around the two of them did not keep the chill away completely.

 

                When they arrived at their home, Gimli took the blanket from around himself and wrapped it more tightly around Legolas. “Go in and get under the covers.”  Legolas hesitated. “I will be at your side in a couple of minutes.”

 

                As the elf went inside, Gimli unhooked the horse and led him to the barn. He fed and watered his friend and then collected the food from the wagon, leaving the bales of hay there to deal with later. He brought the food inside and headed straight for the bedroom, but did not find the elf there. After a quick search of the house, he found Legolas in the sitting room, in front of the fireplace, shivering and sniffling.

 

                Gimli kissed the top of Legolas' head, then quickly set to work building a fire. He winced at each uncovered sneeze he heard.

 

                “Gimli?” Legolas called.

 

                “Just one moment more,” Gimli promised. He added one more stick to the fire and then nodded approvingly at the dancing flames. The moment he finished, he snuggled back up to Legolas, under the blanket, a clean handkerchief at the ready.

 

                Gimli was more than attentive and completely devoted. Now Legolas barely had to do more than breathe funny in warning. At the mere hitch of breath, Gimli usually had the handkerchief up, awaiting the next sneeze. This time, however, it took a little more. “Gim… hihhh… I need...” Gimli raised the handkerchief, pressing it to Legolas' face. Legolas' eyes were already closed but he wore a look of concentration and his body rocked slightly with each breath. “ihhh… ihhh…” It seemed to stay there a moment, tickling playfully. Finally it struck. “IhhhhSchuhhhhhh!

 

                “That was a big one,” Gimli commented. “Galu.”

 

                Legolas nodded in agreement and rubbed his nose into the handkerchief. “Thank you.”

 

                Gimli nodded back. Then Legolas tiled his head and rested it against Gimli's, using the dwarf as a pillow. “Legolas?” Gimli asked. “I do not mean to sound as though I am complaining. Believe me, I am not. I am perfectly happy.” He tightened his hold around Legolas. “But I have wanted to ask you a question for quite some time.”

 

                “Go ahead. Sniff!

 

                “Well… I have wondered why you prefer I tend to you when you are ill.”

 

                Legolas pulled back, blinking at his dwarf. “I should have thought that was obvious.”

 

                Gimli chuckled and shook his head. “I suppose you like me to fuss over you?”

 

                “I suppose you are right,” Legolas said, smiling. “But there is more to it.” Legolas took one of Gimli's hands, slipping his fingers in-between and squeezing. “I must warn you. It is silly.”

 

                “Silly? You?”

 

                Legolas breathed in deeply, sniffled a few times, and then explained. “You and I, Gimli, are warriors. We are hunters, fighters. We were part of the fellowship and part of the war. We are both heirs of leaders  who could not claim softness and mercy as their dominant traits. We are tough and hard but in you, Gimli, I see such tenderness. I see it when you look at me. I see it when you make love to me. And I see it the most when I am a bit sneezy and you take care of me.” Legolas sniffed and rubbed at his nose. “And when I am ill, it is the one time I do not have to be strong. And nothing makes me happier than when you are looking after me.” Gimli squeezed the elf's hand. “Do you see how silly it is?”

 

                Gimli shook his head. “It is just as silly as me feeling happy when I get to look after you. You, my strong elf, actually needing me.” He laughed.

 

                “At the market, earlier, you were not as annoyed with me as you seemed.”

 

                “Not remotely. I was merely concerned about you.”

 

                Legolas pressed his lips to Gimli's cheek. “I love when you are concerned about me,” he whispered. “And I… I ne-eed you—” Gimli quickly readied a handkerchief. Legolas hugged Gimli close as he nuzzled his face into the handkerchief. “hihShoo! ihhhShihhh!

 

 

 

~ * ~ * ~ * ~

 

Trade Off

 

                “ihh-hihChihhhhhh!

 

                Gimli pulled his cheek from Legolas' back and opened his eyes. “Bless.” He rubbed his hand up and down Legolas' back, fingers applying pressure against the thick cloak fabric. “That is all I can take, elf.”

 

                Legolas sniffled. “Snff-sniff! I'b all right, Gibli. Sniff!

 

                “You are sneezing again, and I would be mad to do nothing about that.”

 

                Legolas jerked forward with another, sudden sneeze. “hihShuhh!

 

                “Lift your arms.”

 

                Legolas hesitated. “Gibli…”

 

                “Lift your arms, Legolas Love. I am taking the reins.”

 

                Sniffling, Legolas straightened in the saddle. He lifted his arms and Gimli slipped his hands beneath. The hands found the reins and pried the elf's hands off. They let Arod do most of the navigating, but there was only one path through these woods so there was little chance of getting lost. However, when they hit the fork in the road, Gimli asked the horse to go right while Legolas dug his heels in to direct him left. “Gibli, the caves are that way,” Legolas said, gesturing.

 

                Gimli sighed. “And there is an inn less than a mile that way,” Gimli replied, pointing in the opposite direction. “It is a little out of the way, perhaps, but worth it for a hot meal and a hot fire this night.”

 

                “I do dot deed—”

 

                “I am afraid you do. If I had known you were coming down with a dreadful cold before we left, I would never have agreed to this trek. But, as it is too late for that, the least I can do is make certain you arrive in one piece. We may get there late, but at least we shall get there in the end.” And with that, Gimli dug his heel in and lifted his arm and the horse took the left path.

 

                “ihhh…” Legolas sounded uncertain and leaned back a little as he was forced to take in deep, shaky breaths. “ihh-hehhh…” It sounded as if every bit of energy Legolas had within him was being channeled into the gradual build-up of the impending sneeze. Gimli gripped the elf between his arms, holding him tightly in place. His cheek pressed against Legolas' back. And he whispered soft, soothing reassurances. Legolas' only answer was a weak “ehpt-hihhh” followed by an only slightly more certain “hihhhh!” Then, finally, Legolas pitched forward with release. “hehShishhhhh!” Messy, strong, wet, and completely unrestrained.

 

                Gimli blessed him, feeling relieved that soon they would be stopping to rest. There was a deadly chill in the air which would have worried Gimli otherwise. But with a nearby stopping point in sight, the harsh wind blowing Legolas' silken blond hair back at him was far less worrisome.

 

                Soon enough, the need to sneeze crept back upon Legolas. He tried to fight it at first, resisting the little series of “ih-hih-hih!” breaths that took hold of him. But then the little breaths became bigger gasps, and his body swayed weakly with each. “ihhhhhh…Gib… I-I… I hab to sdee-hept! Ih! Hih! Hih-CHIHHHH!” Legolas jerked forward in place.

 

                Gimli hugged Legolas to him as best he could, without losing the reins. “Any more like that, and I shall be forced to strap you to this saddle for your own safety,” said Gimli.

 

                Legolas shook with silent, elfish laughter that Gimli could feel instead of hear. “Is beig bound to you od horseback supbbsed to be a deterredt?” He attempted to take a breath through his nose but it was stuffed to fullness and the sound of the unsuccessful attempt made Gimli hug Legolas tighter in sympathy.

 

                “You are still better at this than I am.”

 

                With a tiny shrug to express what Gimli would not be able to see in his eyes, “You are doig a fide job with the horse.” Legolas leaned forward and patted Arod's neck. “He is doig a fide job with you as… as well. heptiShhhhh!

 

                Gimli cleared his throat nervously at the compliment and concentrated on their pace. The sooner they arrived, the sooner the elf would be able to rest without risking falling off the horse.

 

                However, the inn was less accommodating than Gimli had hoped for. Due to an impending snow storm, according to the village weather woman, the stable was packed full. Gimli and Legolas were forced to take Arod to the stables on the far side of town and hike back through the cold. They were both chilled to the bone and shivering when they reached the inn on foot, but the benefit was that Legolas was too sniffly and sneeze to protest now.

 

                They stood outside, leaning against the side of the inn, and waited for Legolas' nose to calm. “ihhh-ihh-IHHShihh!” Quivering uncertainly, “eh-hehh… add agaid… eh-HIHShhh! ketchihh!” Legolas blew his nose without being prompted, following it up with a few wet, clearing sort of sniffles.

 

                Shaking his head because Gimli could still see the illness on Legolas' face, Gimli knew there was only one thing to do. He went up on the tips of his toes and caught Legolas in a sudden, surprise kiss. The elf coughed to himself once then kissed back. When Gimli pulled back, Legolas' face was glowing with a smile.

 

                “Under control?” Gimli asked. He could have sworn he felt a snowflake hit him, and he resisted the urge to rush the elf inside where it was warm.

 

                Legolas nodded. “Whatever habbeds, I shall dot sdeeze id frodt of the iddkeeber add give hib cause to toss us out.”

 

                Gimli nodded agreeably and summoned up the strength he would need to tell a bold-faced lie if necessary. Legolas warmed himself by the fire as Gimli arranged for a room.

 

                “Sorry ta tell ya, but we have only one small room left,” the gray-haired innkeeper told Gimli, leaning over the desk so he could look Gimli in the eye.

 

                “I shall take it.” Gimli plunked his coin pouch down on the desk. Along with a jingle, Gimli could have sworn he heard a sniffle. Gimli felt his ears redden but knew it would be disastrous to call attention to Legolas just now, however concerned he was for the elf. With so many travelers and such bad weather nearly upon them, any innkeeper would be daft to knowingly let someone ill stay when there were alternative travelers.

 

                Gimli squeezed between Legolas and the wall by the fireplace. “We have a room,” Gimli said. “Though there is a further complication.”

 

                The key swung from Gimli's hand as they walked up the second flight of stairs and found their room at the very end of the corridor. Gimli opened the door and let Legolas enter first. The elf stood there for a moment, sniffling softly and surveying the room. Then he burst out laughing. Gimli closed the door behind them and wrapped his arms around the laughing elf.

 

                The room was small, but large enough for two single, dwarf-sized beds. “I am so sorry,” said Gimli. “It was the only room left.”

 

                Legolas broke away and walked over to the beds. He pushed the two beds together. They were low to the floor, so he had to bend to lower himself onto them. But he curled up on his side and managed not to hit his head on the headboard. “I fit,” he insisted, though it was only just the truth.

 

                Gimli laughed and knelt by the beds. He kissed Legolas deeply until the telltale sniffles reappeared. Then Gimli nuzzled his nose against Legolas' sniffly, runny one. “How I wish you were not ill,” he said, digging a handkerchief out of his pocket.

 

                Nodding back, Legolas took the hanky and rubbed his constantly ticklish nose. He buried his nose in the cloth, where even his breaths were muffled. “ihhh-ihh-Hihshfff! Eh-geh… heh-Cuhshfffff!” He snuffled and blew his nose. Then he met Gimli's gaze. “I dow how buch you wadted to get to the caves toborrow.”

 

                With a sigh, Gimli rolled his eyes. He stroked Legolas' head, threading his fingers through the hair and lightly trailing his fingertips against Legolas' temple. “I could not care less about the destination so long as my journey is with you.”

 

                Legolas' hand found Gimli's, and their fingers wove together naturally, as if their hands were made for each other. “We have travelled throughout Middle Earth, you and I. This time I take the reins, I make the decisions, and I stay awake at night.”

 

                “Gibli,” Legolas protested. “There is doe deed—”

 

                “It is worth it to make sure you are comfortable and taken care of.”

 

                Legolas smiled one of his rare, highly-expressive smiles. It was full of gratitude and love and everything that had made Gimli soft the first time he had seen it, all those years ago in Lothlórien. “The odly way I will be cobfortable is if you squeeze idto this idsadely sball bed with be add let be hold you close eved though I'll be sdifflig.”

 

                Gimli tilted his head to the side, sitting on the floor but sharing Legolas' pillow. “This time, you fell ill even before we reached the caves. It is a pleasant change.”

 

                Legolas looked amused. Amused and tired. His eyes fell closed and would not open again until morning. Gimli's eyes stayed open and watched his elf's every breath not because he worried someone might barge in and discover the elf was ill and not because he worried about Legolas' sleep.  He stayed awake because the night was a journey of its own and he wanted to savor it. He squeezed Legolas' hand as it went heavy in his own.

 

 

 

~ * ~ * ~ * ~

 

Regret

 

                The elf was wrapped warmly in dwarf-made blankets, with a thick, black, fur skin draped over the bed. Gimli lounged, naked atop the bed in order to hold Legolas without burning with heat. The fur caressed his arse in such a pleasurable way that Gimli would have suggested Legolas try it as well, if not for the elf's intense shivering. A small stack of handkerchiefs sat between Gimli's spread legs and Legolas was quickly going through them with sneezes.

 

                “ehhhh-Gihshhuhhh! Yih-shihhhhhh!” Legolas gave a violent shiver and tried to blow his nose, but he did not manage to be quick enough. “eiihhhhhgihshhhh! Eh-hehahhh… ih-ih-IHTSchhhhhhhhhh!” The elf snuffled and rubbed at his nose with every dry bit of the hanky. Then he tossed the damp one aside and picked up a dry one so that he could be ready for the next sneezes.

 

                Gimli frowned to see Legolas so pale and weak, lying against the dark, crimson pillow. Even the blond hair seemed to have lost some of its shimmer. Gimli worried his hand would shake if he moved it to stroke those soft strands. So he let his arms stay put, wrapped around the part of Legolas he could reach, the part that wasn't buried under all the layers. “I have seen you through many a cold,” Gimli said, thoughtfully, worriedly. “Never before have I seen you looking quite so bad.”

 

                There was a look in Legolas' eyes that startled and unsettled the dwarf. Then Legolas turned his head, unable to speak but able to sneeze. “ih-ihh-ihhShihhh! Eh-gehhhh-Yihshhhh!” They tossed him forward each time, until he could relax back into the comfort of Gimli's arms. Only to sneeze yet again. “IHHShhhhh!

 

                “So very sneezy,” Gimli murmured.

 

                Legolas dabbled at his sniffly nose. His eyes were still closed, perhaps a bit teary, regardless. But his mouth hung open, ready and expecting the next sneeze to come at any second. As it turned out, it was less than five seconds. “ihhChihh!” and was followed by two more. “hihh-Ihshhh! Yih-ih-ih-ihh-Shihhh!

 

                When next Gimli could squeeze a world in, he did so with an accompanying kiss to Legolas' cheek. “Sometimes—” he stopped abruptly as another sneeze broke in.

 

                “heh-Kehtchhhhh!” Legolas wiped his nose and lowered the hanky, trying to give Gimli and not his tickling nose his attention.

 

                “Sometimes I feel that if I could just pinch that lovely nose of yours, I would be able to stop those sneezes from coming out and torturing you.”

 

                Legolas sniffled, his small nostrils flaring, and looked at Gimli as though inviting him to try. “Worth… hehh… worth a ihhhhhh… worth a try?”

 

                The corners of Gimli's mouth twitched. “Do you feel like sneezing now?”

 

                Legolas shook his head back and forth.

 

                “Will you tell me when you feel one coming on?”

 

                Legolas nodded his head up and down.

 

                Gimli's short fingers drummed against Legolas' palm, tickling slightly so that Legolas smiled and closed his hand around Gimli's to still the touch. They squeezed each other's hands but then relaxed the grip. They stayed there in silence for a while, Gimli reflecting again on the wonders of this soft fur he was on and wondering what it would feel like to lie face-down upon it. Gimli's imagination was just about on the verge of running away with him and his libido when he felt his hand squeezed.

 

                Looking over, Gimli only just got his thumb and first finger to Legolas' nose in time. As he chuckled, the elf's sneeze tried to build. “eh-eh-eh-“ The nose fought and struggled against Gimli's fingers but amounted to nothing. “ihh-hih-hih-ih-ihyehhh!” The second series did likewise. The third, however, broke past Gimli's defense, just barely. “ihh-hihhh-Hmph!” The held in sneeze came with an awkward, painful sound. Gimli winced.

 

                “Perhaps we will not try that again,” Gimli said, pulling his hand back.

 

                Legolas sneezed again, spraying with uncontrollable force. “ehBTshhhhhhhh!

 

                The spray was cool against the dwarf's hand and forearm. Legolas' nose dropped with an uncomfortable, liquidy fullness. Legolas buried his nose in a hanky for stronger-than-normal blows and sneezes. Gimli could only watch and pet sympathetically.

 

                “Val-sniff! Valiadt effort,” Legolas said weakly.

 

                Gimli wrapped his arms around Legolas again. Legolas snuggled close again. “I do think this one is the worst you have ever had.”

 

                “Doe,” Legolas said. “It odly seebs like the worst because it is the ode I have dow.”

 

                But Gimli did not believe this. He tried to talk himself into it, but the constant sniffles and another, sudden elf shiver were too persuasive. Gimli's mind wandered again. Each of Legolas' colds was different. Some were mild, others intense. Some were full of fevers and misery and some, like this one, were full of sneezes. The problem wasn't so much in that Legolas had another miserable, sneezey cold. The problem was that Legolas had another cold of any sort.

 

                “Where could you have caught this cold?” Gimli asked. “We have not been to town in ages. There are no sniffly little elflings. We are not even in the damp caves. Yet you have another cold. Why?”

 

                Legolas did not answer. There was no sneeze preventing him from speaking. There was something in his expression, however, that set Gimli on edge. Then, without even needing to imagine anything, the thought occurred to Gimli. “It is me.”

 

                There was something like fear in Legolas' eyes, which startled Gimli more than anything else. The dwarf pulled away, retracting his arms, and then sliding off the bed. He hesitated, looking at the lump of elf beneath the blankets. Then he walked straight to the foot of the bed. He bent over, fumbled with the latch for a moment, then threw open the trunk. It was practically empty, but it did not take long to toss their battle gear out and begin tossing his clothes in.

 

                The fear was still upon Legolas' face as he extricated himself from the blankets and crawled across the bed on all fours. Legolas perched at the foot, holding onto the footboard, with the intricate carvings and the inlaid stones in the wood. “What are you doig?”

 

                “Sparing you misery,” Gimli replied flatly, bustling around, collecting his things, refusing to make eye contact.

 

                Legolas shivered. “By leaving be alode whed I'b ill add deed you?”

 

                “By removing the cause of your illness.” He sighed and looked up. “Elves were not meant to be with dwarves. We have tried, for years, to deny that. We are perfect for each other, but when it comes down to it, nature is still against us.”

 

                “Gibli?”

 

                “I cannot do this to you, Legolas. I would follow you anywhere, even over the sea to the West. But I would not have you sneezing and ill in the Undying Lands, and I would not have it here if it can be prevented.” Gimli slammed the lid down and tried to do the latch. But his hand trembled and his fingers slipped from wetness that came from several, large tears that has spilled from his eyes.

 

                “Gibli—”

 

                Gimli shook his head. “I have to go.” Legolas climbed off the bed and wrapped his arms around his dwarf.

 

                “You do dot. Ihhh… ihhh-GIHShhhhh! Sniff! Gibli…” Legolas rubbed his nose with one hand and ran his other hand up and down the dwarf's back. “Whed I sdeezed od you, you did dot eved flidch.”

 

                This was something Gimli had not expected to hear. He looked up, confused. “Of course not. I love you. I do not care about that.”

 

                And, suddenly, Legolas' eyes were penetrating, like piercing daggers. “And I love you and do not care about it either.” Gimli tried to pull away, but Legolas held him close. “I would habbily edure a hudred colds if it beadt you stayig with be forever.”

 

                Still shaking his head, “But—”

 

                “But you will dot be aroud forever. Gibli, if it is ode thig I have learded it is that sub thigs do dot last. Eved if you are the reasod I cobe dowd with so bady colds, the colds bass quickly. Add your life is too short dot to sbed it with be. If I did dot have you…” He trailed off with a strangled sob and a whole series of sniffles.

 

                “Hush.” Gimli raised himself up on his toes and Legolas lowered his head slightly to allow Gimli to silence him with a strong kiss. Then, without a word, Gimli led Legolas back to the bed. He tucked the elf under the blankets, this time snuggling under the covers with him, despite the heat.

 

                “ihhh-Kihshhh! Ihktchhhh!” The elf rubbed his nose with a handkerchief but stayed close.

 

                When Legolas' nose was wet against Gimli's skin, the dwarf smiled and hugged Legolas closer. “How long have you known I was weakening you?”

                Suddenly, Legolas looked scandalized. “You do dot weaked be! I ab strodger with you at by side.”

 

                “How long have you known?”

 

                “Ages. A lodg tibe.”

 

                “Do—” Gimli hesitated. “Do you regret being with me?”

 

                “Dever.”

 

                Gimli confirmed, “Never?”

 

                “Dever. Dot odce. Sniff! Ihh… ihhhChihh! Sniff!

 

                Gimli took charge of a handkerchief and wiped Legolas' nose for him. “Not even when you feel sneezey like this?”

 

                A gentle smile in reply made Gimli's heart soar. “Esbecially dot id tibes like this. I love whed you tage care of be.”

 

                “I know you do,” Gimli soothed.

 

                Legolas closed his eyes and nuzzled closer, fitting his head right between Gimli's shoulder and neck. “Do you regret us dow?”

 

                Gimli's hug tightened. He kissed the top of Legolas' head, the soft hair against his sensitive lips. “Never.”

 

                “Dever?” Legolas asked for confirmation, with his stuffy nose obscuring the word.

 

                Chuckling, “Never.”

 

 

 

 

~ * ~ * ~ * ~

 

Epilogue

 

                Gimli woke with a start. He scrubbed his face with his hand, looking around the sitting room. The fire had burned down to ash long before and there were not even cinders left with which to resurrect the flames. Without their dance, the room felt cold and lonely. Gimli was alone on the sofa once more, though he had been eased down against one of the cushions and covered with a thick, wool blanket that wasn't keeping him as warm as it should have. Before he could sit up and inspect the lock on the door to see if Legolas had taken advantage and made another break for it, Gimli heard footsteps behind him.

 

                Legolas settled on the edge of the sofa and handed over a large mug of what purported to be steaming liquid. At first sip, Gimli grinned and gulped down a mouthful of spiced ale. The spices went straight to his head. They made his nose run dreadfully, but Legolas was there with a handkerchief and an embrace. So by the time he was done with the drink, Gimli's nose felt clear and he felt warm. “Thank you, elf,” he whispered into Legolas' chest.

 

                The elf gave a nod, then turned his head to the side and rested his cheek on the top of Gimli's head. “It is the very least I could do, dwarf.”

 

                But Gimli felt him twitch so slightly he could easily have pretended not to feel it. But Gimli knew better by now and knew what that urge meant. “How long until…?” he asked.

 

                “Not long now,” replied Legolas. His voice sounded so heavy and full of emotion—longing, anticipation, ache, pain, and relief.

 

                “All right,” Gimli said, giving his nose another rub for good measure. “Then come with me.”

 

                It took some time to dig out of the snow. The path they'd made earlier so Legolas could get to the barn had caved in and been snowed over. But Gimli's axe cleared the way as well as anything could, its smooth, silver edge shining against the wet, white snow drifts. And, luckily, the snows had ceased falling, allowing them some control and escape at last. Gimli grunted repeatedly, his range of motion inhibited at first, until he'd made room. And it was with freezing hands and numb feet that he reached the surface.

 

                Shivering and sniffling, he did not regret the work for a moment as Legolas climbed out after him. Where Gimli sank into the snow like a rock, Legolas strode on top as though lighter than a snowflake. Legolas wrapped two cloaks around Gimli then held them in place with strong, warm arms and the body of a joyous elf.

 

                No words needed to be exchanged in the silence and neither even dared to move. Gimli even held his breath for as long as he could, unable to feel the elf's chest rising either. They stood and waited. No birds sang. No wind whipped past. No trees rustled. It was deathly still for moments on end, and Gimli dreaded that it would last one moment too many.

 

                But then, just as Gimli was ready to burst with worry, the softest of glows came upon them. Gimli found himself looking into Legolas' face, the soft peach complexion suddenly dancing before him. Those gorgeous blue eyes closed, light eyelashes resting peacefully against skin. The elf's expression was one of pure bliss, beyond perfection, as if this were where he had been meant to be all his life. Like magic, Legolas lit up in the soft afternoon rays of the sun as it made its way to the west. It stretched out, washing over them both, beckoning Legolas to follow.

 

                Gimli hadn't needed Legolas to tell him how soon that day would arrive. He knew his lover was being called back. He knew Legolas would soon voyage away forever from this land that had been like a heartbeat to Gimli. He knew, perhaps even better than Legolas, what would happen to the elf if he did not go, and he would not see such suffering for all the world, no matter how romantic Legolas made the choice to linger here sound.

 

                It wasn't until Gimli sneezed that the realization struck him. The sneeze crept up on him slowly, teasing him and making him wish he'd pocketed the handkerchief instead of leaving it inside on the sofa. His breath hitched twice, and his eyes closed. It was then that Legolas pressed a bit of cloth to his nose and mouth. Then Legolas petted the back of Gimli's head soothingly, letting him know it was okay to disturb the silence of the sunset with a sneeze. Gimli pitched forward, against Legolas' chest, sneezing strongly.

 

                Afterward, Gimli opened his eyes to see not just the handkerchief he'd left behind but Legolas smiling down at him. His head was turned away from the sun then. Though his face was in shadow, it was no less beautiful. Though the rays of dancing light competed for his attention, Legolas kept his gaze fixed on Gimli, making sure the dwarf was all right. And though a sniffle had never really gotten between them before, Gimli worried it might be different now that Legolas was being called.

 

                “Careful,” Gimli said. “Too close and you'll catch this from me.”

 

                “If that is my fate, so be it. It matters not,” Legolas replied without a single care but with the warmest hug yet. With his arms wrapped so tightly around Gimli, it seemed as though they were one being. For, perhaps, they were.

 

                It was at that moment that Gimli realized Legolas had to leave Middle Earth and had to take Gimli with him. For Legolas would not be satisfied in his heart until he reached the white shores. And he would not be complete without Gimli in his arms.