Axe & Bow Archive Entry



by Kate of Kintail

Title: Cherishing
Author: Kate of Kintail
Fandom: Lord of the Rings
Rating: R/NC-17
Pairings: Legolas/Aragorn, Legolas/Gimli, Frodo/Sam loosely implied
Disclaimer: LotR was J.R.R.Tolkein's brain child and New Line Cinema owns the movie rights. I don't own a bit, none of it's mine, and that will probably be evident as you read. But I don't get any money of any kind from this and it's all for harmless fun and entertainment. I do use several lines and a song directly from the book/movie but again, those portions are obvious and I claim no right to them.
Summary: Just following Gandalf's fall, the Fellowship set out for refuge in Lórien. Legolas, overcome with grief he must repress, falls ill and depressed and attempts to survive the only ways he knows how.
Thanks: To everyone who has been supporting me through this story... you know who you are hugs
Feedback: Yes please! This is only my second attempt at writing in the fandom, and I know some parts are a little rough, but I'd love feedback Translations: Translations can be found for the Elvish at the end of the story

I could feel it coming on, amidst the heartache and the sorrow. A constant throbbing at my temples, and a discomforting chill running the length of my skin. The grief had let it through, that all-encompassing grief which pulled and twisted so much that I could not speak, could not react. The hobbits fell to the ground sobbing. Gimli had struggled in anger for revenge. The men, the warriors, thought themselves too tough to cry, but both blinked back tears and their voices trembled. But I... I did nothing. When every thought in the world should have passed through my mind, it was clouded by the dark sorrow. Even when Aragorn spoke my name, it barely registered. Overcome by grief, consumed by it, I did not even notice my ailment at first.

"Just a little further," Aragorn assured them all as they waded through another cold glacial lake up to their knees. It was as if they could smell the Orcs closing in behind them and they were all, admittedly, in no condition to fight. Sometimes Merry and Pippin scanned the waters for fish but without energy to catch any as they made their way through it; other times one or the other rode on Boromir's or Aragorn's shoulders, too weary to walk. Sam had been sniveling back tears and forcing smiles at Frodo, who had said not a word since the mines and whose footsteps grew slower and slower. Gimli complained constantly of the cold water which came to his waist at times, or of the fast pace at which they ran, or of their destination of which he thoroughly disapproved. Boromir ushered them on, as though following Aragorn's lead like a servant does his king. And Legolas remained silent, face calm, though his eyes were burning with tears he would not allow to fall.

Legolas felt the magic of the Lothlórien forest at once, and while it did not feel exactly like his home, it did feel like he was coming home again after years of being away. It was enough to give him more than a twinge of comfort. It took all his concentration to keep from shivering from the cold and damp. His shoes squished as he ran in them, and his soaked pants clung tightly to his legs. "How good it is to see this place," he whispered, crossing his arms in front of him for warmth as he walked with the group on the thin path between trees. The trees towered around him, bark glowing like magic. "If only it were spring and there were a golden canopy to welcome us."

"I feel nothing like welcome here," Gimli muttered, walking at the back of their line, rather reluctant to go any further. "These woods are no place for a dwarf."

Legolas looked back, giving Gimli the briefest of smiles. "These woods of my people will have a place for you as you are here with me." Gimli still seemed unconvinced and flinched, tightening his grip on his axe at each rustle in the brush from the wind or each turn around a blind bend.

"It is good to be here at last," Aragorn agreed. "I feel safer with each step closer to the heart of Lórien. Even if we are to greet it in winter."

Legolas shivered and rubbed the side of his hand against his nose. Would that it were any other season, for any season was warmer. His nose ran from the winds and a tickle in his throat kept him quiet, though wishing for nothing but silence anyway as they journeyed on through the singing forest. The setting sun shown ambers and golds over the bare trees, making them glow so beautifully that Legolas dared not take his eyes from the sight, lest the sun set and he miss it every delicate hue.

"Stay close, young hobbits," Legolas heard Gimli hiss behind him as they made their way deeper into the forest. "They say that a great sorceress lives in these woods. An elf witch... of terrible power. All who look upon her fall under her spell... and are never seen again." Legolas smirked briefly but it hurt his face to be so cheerful. Every muscle in his body ached for rest and time to mourn. Every bit of him longed to feel free of the sorrow, and the more he held it back, the more he felt his health slip away, out of even his reach to heal. Even the beauty and comfort of these woods and the song he had learned long ago of their story did little to soothe him.

Gimli continued, pulling Sam and Frodo, who lagged behind, beside him. "Well, here's one dwarf she won't ensnare so easily." Legolas froze, gave a moment's pause, then drew his arrow just as a number of elves appeared from behind trees to surround them. Behind him, Legolas heard Gimli boast, "I have the eyes of a hawk and ears of a fox- ooh." Gimli had apparently just seen the elves himself, and their drawn bows pointed at his eyes.

A tall, slender elf glided over and, smoothly spoke the insult, "A dwarf breathes so loud we could have shot him in the dark." To which Gimli gave a low grumble.

For a brief moment, Legolas felt caught in the middle, standing straight and regal with his bow like the other elves about him, but standing to defend not attack his companions. He felt compelled to speak on their behalf. "Boe ammen veriad lîn," he spoke sharply to persuade them to lower their weapons. "Im Legolas-" he stopped as the elf who had spoken looked him over.

It was a cold, icy sort of stare, penetrating his skin and looking in further than he might have liked. Could his sorrow be sensed through the feelings of need that overpowered him now? Could his illness be? Even now he could sense the Orcs growing nearer, closing in on the boarders. Lingering now in argument would be tantamount to having stayed out of the forest to welcome a slaughtering with open arms.

"Mae govannen, Legolas Thranduilion, Im Haldir," he was greeted finally, and the elf looked up at the trees. Addressing the whole company this time, "It is not safe here. We will climb up for the night while we decide what to do with these strangers in our land."

Gimli did not dare refuse with arrows pointing at his face and the hobbits, especially Frodo, seemed too weary and hungry to say anything at all. Aragorn whispered a thank you in Elvish and Boromir uncomfortably followed as well. It was Haldir who picked Frodo up to carry him to the tops of the trees, and it took considerable effort to get them all up, but each arrived safely. Platforms adorned the tops of the trees, with posts for lookouts rather than beds for guests.

Legolas was pulled aside by Haldir, and they spoke in Elvish and in hushed voices. "Our Fellowship stands in your debt, Haldir of Lórien," Legolas began, his face a bit dirty and warn and greatly showing his fatigue.

Haldir took his eyes off the band of strangers and concentrated on Legolas. "You must have been through much." Slowly he reached forward and let his fingers gently brush against Legolas' forehead. "For you to be so weakened... It is too bad you departed from Rivendell and Elrond's expert healing skills to find yourself here instead of the other way around." Despite his reluctance to allow their presence, he seemed awfully educated in their quest already.

"It is nothing," Legolas assured him, but nodded in agreement with the statement. In the distance, he could hear the sounds of arrows shooting through the air from high above, and of Orcs crying in pain and landing dead on the grassy threshold of the forest. Restless, his face twitched. The killing sounded as if it might be quite cathartic. He rubbed his nose subconsciously as it tickled. Then, to Haldir's raised eyebrow, "I require nothing for this. I ask only for aid for my friends."

"Your friends..." Haldir said slowly, seemingly glad to change the subject to them. "These strangers. Four Halflings, two Men and a Dwarf." He said the last word with such spite that even Gimli, who knew no Elvish at all, could understand what he meant.

Aragorn strode forward and took his place beside Legolas. "This is Aragorn," he said, putting a hand on the man's shoulder. "He is a most trusted friend of the elf folk of Westernesse."

Haldir raised both eyebrows. "Indeed. Aragorn of the Dúnedain, you are known to us and in the Lady's favor. But these others..." Legolas and Aragorn called them over and they stood in a line, as if for inspection.

"So much for the legendary courtesy of the elves," Gimli spat sarcastically, his helmet off as all their weapons and armor had been seized at the beginning of their climb up. "Speak words we can all understand!"

This was not, Legolas knew at once as he shot Gimli a warning look that the dwarf did not see, the correct thing to say. Haldir seemed less than impressed with the dwarf's confidence. "We have not had dealings with the dwarves since the Dark Days."

True, the dwarves had awoken the beast of shadow, but they had not been the ones to make it. And Gimli wanted his honor untarnished. "And do you know what this dwarf says to that?" And he spoke in the dwarf tongue at Haldir, "Ishkhaqwi ai durugnul!"

Aragorn was closer to Gimli than Legolas, and grabbed the dwarf's shoulder harshly with raised eyebrows and a warning look of his own. In a stern undertone, "That was not so courteous."

But it was too late, and Haldir had already decided, even as he paced in front of them again. He looked down at Frodo and, with a firm voice, "You bring great evil with you." He took a deep breath and addressed the whole Fellowship. "You can go no further."

Legolas began to protest, but Aragorn shook his head and stepped out to take Haldir aside for discussion. When Legolas followed, Aragorn shook his head again and gestured towards the others. Thus Legolas was forced to stand with his back to their conversation to watch over the others. He was worried about Frodo, who obviously blamed himself completely for Gandalf's death, both in the wizard's mere presence on the dangerous journey and in the choice of paths he had made. Even Boromir sensed the guilt and anguish, though his words were of little comfort to the hobbit. Legolas was more concerned with watching over Gimli, who sat rocking back and forth to keep warm from the wind. The Elves stood guard over him, too near for reason, if Legolas were to comment. Gimli did not seem at all comfortable at this height, and he seemed inclined to curl up into himself and pretend he was on the ground; he was clearly no threat.

Legolas caught snippets of the conversation behind him. Talk of obligation, of friendship, of great need. Talk of Elrond, and of the dwarves, and of the Fellowship of the Ring. And, in the end, Haldir sighed and called out, "You will follow me."

He led them over to two treetop huts, with room enough to sleep. The hobbits were bunked together in one, and both Aragorn and Legolas were given the responsibility of Gimli so they slept together with Boromir in the other hut. Elves stood guard in each. There were warm blankets and hot food enough for all. Though, despite their hunger, they did not enjoy the meal as much as they had hoped. Sooner than later, they went to bed, all but Legolas who was in need of rest but not sleep.

Legolas strode out to sit on the edge of the platform, overlooking the darkness of the beautiful forest. Even in the dark, his elf eyes allowed him to see each branch, each leaf that lay fallen on the forest floor. He could still see the beauty, and it gave him comfort. "Alas, would that this were not winter," he said softly as Haldir joined him, sitting beside. "But I am most glad to be here, still."

Haldir offered over a goblet of hot, spiced wine. "The journey in will be more to your liking. The further we go into the heart of these lands, the more like Spring it will become until the woods themselves seem immortal and unchanging as us. You shall see."

"I shall look forward to that." The drink was hot to his lips, and warmed him considerably inside and out as he drank. When he paused, he felt a cold shiver race through his body, and he instinctively drew himself closer to Haldir for warmth. Haldir looked up at one of the elves and was immediately brought another blanket, which he wrapped around Legolas' shoulders along with his arm.

Suddenly, Legolas felt a spasm seize him, and he lifted a hand to his nose and mouth as his breath caught. He paused, waited, then relaxed again.

Haldir eyed him, tightening his grip around Legolas in reassurance. "The journey tomorrow is long. You should rest tonight and heal. We will protect you and the others to the death while in our charge." He stood, fingering his bow which rested on his shoulder. "Sleep well."

But in this time, this place, Legolas did not feel much like resting. His body ached for it, but his heart was too sad to relax fully. In the end, he managed a few hours of meditation, eyes open, body trying its best to heal itself. But there was little healing done before the gentle rays of the morning sun caught his face in warmth.

Aragorn woke first, and slipped out of the hut to speak with Legolas. He settled beside the elf who was breathing heavily through his mouth. "Îdh Legolas."

Legolas shook his head. "Not when the morning sun brings to this place a glimpse of perfection. Look at the frost on the ground. And the gentle ice on the streams though the waters still rush beneath their surfaces."

Aragorn could not see these things with his human eyes, but he smiled and nodded at Legolas' enthusiasm all the same. He did, however, notice how tightly the elf clutched the blanket around him, and how he held a small cloth handkerchief in his hand.

Legolas sighed with pleasure. "One of us should be inside in case Gimli awakens." He made to get up, but Aragorn held him back down.

"If he is to wake, the lack of his snores will be enough to alert us to go inside."

Legolas' mouth twitched into an almost smile. "That is true enough." His body tensed, and he brought the square of cloth to his face expectantly. "yihtchh! hetchh!" He sneezed quietly. Even his sneezes sounded as if they were in Elvish. He wiped his nose discretely and turned to see Aragon looking most shocked.

"I have lived amongst elves for most of my life, and have never seen one sneeze before. I did not think they were capable of it," he said incredulously.

"We are," Legolas breathed, his nostrils flaring in a brief sniffle. "It simply does not happen often."

Aragorn regarded the elf for a few moments, before whispering softly, "Are you ill, my friend?"

Legolas took a while to answer, as he watched the rising sun's beams glisten on the morning dew and melt it away to trickles and streams of refreshing renewal. Finally, he replied with a nod. "Sometime between the grief and the cold river waters, I developed something I had neither the energy nor heart to fight." He sniffled again. "It is not yet fully upon me and I would hope to reach the tree city before it... is.... in full..." He trailed away, raising the handkerchief to his face again. "yetchuh! Ihtchhh! Ehtshhh!" He rubbed his nose dry and looked over at Aragorn to appeal to him. "I will be all right." Then, as if in afterthought, "Please don't tell the dwarf."

Aragorn chuckled and shook his head in promise. He wrapped his arm around Legolas' back and pulled him close for warmth, as it was chilly that winter morning, even with the sun. "I understand now why you wished for spring," he said softly as he leaned his head onto the elf's.

As the sun cleared the horizon, the party moved on, led by Haldir and escorted by nearly the whole group of elves. There had been more debate about Gimli in their setting out. He needed to be blindfolded through the lands, but refused greatly, spouting insults and noting his honor and heritage. In the end, they all agreed to be blindfolded for the unity of the Fellowship, Legolas as well. It allowed him some privacy at least, in sniffling and rubbing at his nose without being seen by his companions. After one small sneeze "ehctushh!" He felt a warm hand on his shoulder and could sense that it belonged to Aragorn. He touched the hand in thank you, and found it link with his own. They walked, hands held with Legolas in front and Aragorn behind, for quite a while.

Before long, a voice spoke in Haldir's mind and the blindfolds were removed from all, including the dwarf, so that they could all walk in enjoyment of the forest. They walked single-file for most of the way, in tired silence, each thinking his own thoughts, and each wishing Gandalf were there to walk with them. They crossed the small icy cold streams on foot, and climbed makeshift rope bridges over the larger ones.

They came to the edge of a cliff and the trees parted to reveal a high hill topped with lush green trees and brightly blooming flowers. Legolas knew it at once, even before Haldir noted with great reverence and love, "Caras Galadhon. The heart of elvendom on earth. Realm of the Lord Celeborn and of Galadriel, Lady of Light." Even to elf ears, Haldir's speaking of the names was pure beauty, and Legolas longed to be there now but it was still a day's walk away.

The glimpse gave them all the encouragement they needed to continue on. Quite a few times legolas was forced to silently stifle sneezes and by the time darkness had fallen over the forest again, his cares were only the safety of his companions and a warm, private bed for himself. He needed to be able to suffer in peace, alone with his demons and whatever had brought this cold upon him.

Though his companions entered with gasps of astonishment, the tree city was grander than even he could have ever imagined. Lights like fireflies danced about the gigantic trees, with stairs leading round and round the trunks. Every detail was elvish, with ornate carvings and music in the air. The songs of old which spoke of this place did not do it any justice, and Legolas was overtaken by the splendor.

They were led up one of the staircases to a beautifully sculpted palace of wood and light. All that was dark was slowly drenched in a comforting blue glow. Legolas stood behind his friends to watch over them, and Aragorn took the lead again to stand in the front. Two absolutely gorgeous elves descended the staircase in front of them, who could only be the Lord Celeborn and Lady Galadriel, hands held and faces peaceful. But when Celeborn spoke, he sounded not so much angry as disappointed in them. "The enemy knows you have entered here. What hope you had for secrecy is now gone." Aragorn bowed his head in a mix of shame and apology. Their hope for secrecy had been abandoned in their desire to survive.

"Eight there are here yet nine there were set out from Rivendell." The pain in Legolas' chest intensified, and rose to a fever pitch as Celeborn continued. "Tell me, where is Gandalf? For I much desire to speak with him." Clearly each face showed the answer, but the Lord Celeborn continued, sadly. "I can no longer sense him from afar."

It was Lady Galadriel who answered, however, her eyes full of understanding, her voice but a whisper. "Gandalf the Grey did not pass the boarders of this land." And at this she looked at Legolas, whose calm expression wore hints of the sadness to confirm this. "He has fallen into shadow." And her words filled Legolas with a fresh wave of anguish. Aragorn simply nodded.

Legolas answered, heart pounding. "He was taken by both shadow and flame." His eyes narrowed and he fought to hold back his emotions, though anger surged through his words. "A Balrog of Morgoth." Both the lord and lady seemed visibly distressed and saddened, but as beyond words as Legolas had been the day before. Still he felt the need to explain. "For we went needlessly into the net of Moria." His voice nearly broke. Did he blame Gimli for this? Or Frodo? His face showed only distress, close to tears, close to hatred. Perhaps he blamed only himself. No matter which was the case, he held back his emotions as much as possible, as was his way.

Lady Galadriel seemed to understand this guilt, and looked upon them all, especially Gimli and Frodo. "Needless were none of the deeds of Gandalf in life. We do not yet know his full purpose. But however it may be with the guide, the followers are blameless." She turned to Gimli, who heaved a saddened sigh of obvious guilt. "Do not let the great emptiness of Khazad-dûm fill your heart, Gimli, son of Glóin." He looked into her eyes, trying to believe that the actions of his people had not brought Gandalf to his death. "For the world has grown full of peril. And in all lands love is now mingled with grief." And she looked upon Boromir, who was closer to breaking down with tears than any of them.

"What now becomes of this Fellowship? Without Gandalf, hope is lost," Celeborn observed, not meaning that they could not do it without the wizard, but that the group had not the spirit or desire to do so. Aragorn found fault in this, his determination strong, his promise kept, but he knew the others well also.

"The quest stands upon the edge of a knife," described Galadriel. "Stray but a little and it will fail, to the ruin of all." She spoke slowly, giving them all time to take in her words. "Yet hope remains while all the Company is true." Her eyes here bore upon Samwise, whose cheeks flushed faintly with red as he felt her penetrate him. He felt naked before her, with his emotions of despair and love wrapped up in one package for her to see. And even Legolas could read that in his blush.

The Lady was kind, comforting, and spoke to them all now. "Do not let your hearts be troubled. Go now and rest, for you are weary with sorrow and much toil. Tonight, you shall sleep in peace." Haldir moved at this, and Legolas, too, helping to user them back down the stairs. For it had been agreed, with the hobbits especially, that they felt much more comfortable sleeping on the ground rather than in the treetops.

A makeshift camp was put at the foot of one of the great trees, with fresh fountains of water and soft beds of grass underfoot. They had fires for warmth and mattresses and blankets plenty for much needed comfort. They were fed not at a great banquet table, though the offer had been made, but instead in their camp on silver platters so they could be comfortable with each other instead of proper and stiff at a regal meal.

As the trays were taken and the members of the Fellowship made for bed, Legolas stole away, his head full of ache and congestion and dizzying with his surroundings. He leaned against a tree, breath catching in his throat. "hehKetchh! Yitchhhh!"

"You are weary. You should have rest," he heard in Elvish as Haldir appeared from around the other side of the tree.

"I am ill," Legolas replied in a whisper. "I should have known better." And he slumped against the tree, sliding with his back to the trunk down to the ground where he sniffled and blew his nose, drawing in on himself.

Haldir settled on the ground beside Legolas, brushing fingers gently over the elf's hand. "They are mortals and we will see them born and die time and time again in our lifetime. Even the wizards who live for generations can die as easily as we from battle or from a broken heart." He gently rested his hand over Legolas' chest. "Do not fade into sickness and sadness for his sake. You were meant to remain and remember him. It is our way. They will live and die again and again as we remain the same. And we must cherish the moments we are able to spend with them before each path goes its own way."

Legolas looked over at Haldir. The Lórien elf's eyes were filled with tears, but his face as hard and calm as it had been on their first meeting. Legolas could sense part of the reason Haldir had been so reluctant to admit his friends. "Here," Haldir said with a clearing of his throat, handing over a stack of garments. "You and your companions will wish to be washed and clean. The brook by your pavilion has eternally warm waters and should suffice." He stood and straightened his own garments. "Feel well again, Legolas, son of Thranduil."

Legolas nodded his appreciation and rubbed a bit at his nose before tucking away the handkerchief and going back to his friends with the clothing. It was a stretch to make some of it work, though Boromir refused politely and went to think on his own, settling down on a great tree root. The sleeves had to be rolled up to accommodate the hobbits, though they enjoyed having clean clothes of any kind to wear while washing their own.

Legolas, dawned in an elegant tight silvery top after his own washing, took up a water pitcher to tend to his thirst. His throat ached when he swallowed, and he had barely eaten a bite of dinner. It was then that he heard the music. Soft and sweet, and so sad. It echoed through the trees in a magical, mournful way. "A lament for Gandalf," he whispered, feeling sad again and wishing he could cherish the moment as Haldir had suggested. He looked up to the trees, their magnificence multiplied by the music. He caught a glimpse of Aragorn, sharpening the blade of his sword, and of the hobbits sitting about before bed.

Merry looked up at him as though, if he listened hard enough, he would be able to understand the words. "What do they say about him?"

Legolas shook his head. "I have not the heart to tell you." Then, admitting the reason, "For me the grief is still too near." His voice broke at last, "a matter for tears and not yet for song." His heart seized as the verses changed to discuss gandalf's unfaltering generosity to all races. He gripped the water pitcher as fever coursed through him. He needed to lie down, to rest. To lose himself in order to regain himself. But he did not want the losing to take place.

Samwise, making up his bed of thick blankets and soft fluffy pillows, muttered, "Bet they don't mention his fireworks. Should be a verse about them."

Frodo, from his nook in the tree, spoke, singing as though inspired by Bilbo himself:

When evening in the Shire was grey his footsteps on the Hill were heard;
before the dawn he went away
on journey long without a word.

From Wilderland to Western shore,
from northern waste to southern hill,
through dragon-lair and hidden door
and darkling woods he walked at will.

With Dwarf and Hobbit, Elves and Men,
with mortal and immortal folk,
with bird on bough and beast in den,
in their own secret tongues he spoke.

A deadly sword, a healing hand,
a back that bent beneath its load;
a trumpet-voice, a burning brand,
a weary pilgrim on the road.

A lord of wisdom throned he sat,
swift in anger, quick to laugh;
an old man in a battered hat
who leaned upon a thorny staff.

He stood upon the bridge alone
and Fire and Shadow both defied;
his staff was broken on the stone,
in Khazad-dûm his wisdom died.

Then, as if inspired by the very air around him, Sam stood with a very rare bout of courage and recited,

The finest rockets ever seen:
they burst in stars of blue and green,
or after thunder, silver showers
came falling like a rain of flowers

"Oh that doesn't do him justice by a long road," Sam muttered, embarrassed, and sat back down again, burying his head in his sack. Though everyone looked on him with renewed reverence.

Legolas had strayed by this time, past where Gimli lay snoring under the canopy. Past where the hobbits sat sharing memories. Past where Boromir sat sifting through rocks to feel their shapes and textures against his worn fingers as he thought. Legolas could not stand to hear the elves' songs for he was ill enough already with the grief and the sickness.

"Ihaew, Legolas?" he heard from behind, and looked to see Aragorn approach, with an armful of blankets and pillows.

Legolas gave a nod. "Ar dem," he added, sniffling. He turned slightly, clamping handkerchief to his face, "hitchuhh! ehtchhh!" The sneezes exploded from him, his body shaking with sudden chill as he wiped his nose.

"You are cold?" he asked, settling down beside the elf and wrapping a blanket around him. "When it is so warm tonight?"

Legolas nodded and rubbed at his nose. "If you find such a problem in that, why do you not warm me?"

Aragorn smiling, reaching over and vigorously rubbing the elf's arms through the blanket. "Because you did not look like you wanted warming."

Legolas turned and gripped Aragorn's shirt at the neck, holding roughly, tightly. "I am not sure that I do." He pulled the man to him and kissed him hard. "But I want you." The blankets and pillows tumbled to the forest floor and Aragorn and Legolas onto them.

Legolas ripped open Aragon's shirt, digging his fingers into the small warm hairs he found there. As he kissed the man, his fingers reached down and undid the belt and the britches, and slid in to touch the familiar warmth and goodness; Aragorn was not wearing his usual undergarments, and he was grateful for that. He shivered again and turned his head so as not to catch his lover in the spray. "hehtchhhh! hahtshhh!" There was a third waiting, playing with him. It started to come out "heh-" then promptly backed away again. "heh..." He tried to coax, but it did not seem to want to come out. "ehhh-heh..." On the third attempt, Legolas was becoming impatient, wanting to continue with the seduction, craving the brutal way Aragorn would take him and relieve all his problems. He reached up and pinched his nose tightly at the bridge to bring the sneeze around on his own. "EhKETchhhh!" he sneezed finally, and sniffled into his sleeve before shrugging out of the shirt completely to reveal his soft, smooth skin.

Suddenly, Aragorn pulled back, scrambling out from beneath the elf, panting. "Maybe I shouldn't."

Legolas' eyes grew wide, and he sat back on the blankets to look at his disheveled lover. "Whyever not?"

He shook his head, pretending to be to out of breath to answer. He rubbed at the stubble on his chin in thoughtful comfort.

"The others are too caught in their grief to come looking. And no elves will surprise us. They will hear, and smell, and know and will not come close." Legolas realized that being discovered in the acts of passion was not at all the reason, and tried again. "If it is my cold you are worried about, do not be. It is an elf cold, you cannot catch it." He paused to tease mischievously. "Though maybe you would deserve it after yesterday..."

A flash was seen in Aragorn's eyes, and he growled angrily, "What do you mean by that? If you are saying that I am responsible for-"

Legolas shook his head, trying to calm the man, "No, Love. Not that. I only meant that you jumped right into the role as leader as though you knew what you were doing. Ordering us around and all that." Aragorn looked as though he would be angry again, but Legolas continued. "We needed it then. Without Gandalf, it had to be someone... I was glad it was you."

Legolas had said the magic word, and at mention of Gandalf's name, Aragorn softened once again, a tear falling silently from his eye. "I did it on instinct, to lead, I mean." They knew Gandalf had wanted them to come this way, but from here, they did not know what was in store. "I..." but even he did not know what he would have said.

Reaching over, he pulled the man back to him once again. "I know. But I need you now." He sniffled wetly and, in annoyance, lost his grip on Aragorn. He reached back for his shirt, pulling out the handkerchief and unfolding it roughly as his breath came in deep gasps. Half naked and kneeling, his body swayed forward with each breath and one hand took a fistful of the blanket as the other covered the lower half of his countenance with the handkerchief. "eh...ih...Ehtchhhh! Itshhooo!" His body shook, but his natural balance won out and he stayed in place as he gave his nose a blow and pushed the handkerchief back away. Now on all fours, he looked back at Aragorn. "I have to feel something other than this. This pain, this sadness, this sickness." He closed his eyes as he felt warm hands on his rear, gently caressing. "I have to feel something else, and I want it to be you."

Aragorn slid his own pants down and off, along with the boots and ripped shirt. His hands traveled up the elf's sides, taking in the smooth curves of perfection that was the immortal body before him. His face nuzzled the elf's rear affectionately, tugging his pants down a little with his teeth while his hands helped undo the front and pull them the rest of the way off. He drank in the elf's body at once, clean and glowing softly in the moonlight. It looked thin and delicate compared to his own, but Aragorn knew better. They were warriors, two of a kind, alike in body as much as spirit. "Nîn Melui," he whispered, lavishing the body before him in kisses and caresses.

"Ú!" Legolas grunted, turning his head back. "Not tonight. Tonight I want it rough. I want you to make me forget about it all."

Aragorn nodded, understanding well as his body tensed with the same feeling. He needed to lose himself in his lover, to make them the only two real things that mattered even if it lasted only a short while. "Im henia, Nîn Meathor," he whispered hard and ran his hand over the elf's ass in warning.

Legolas tensed, knowing the man preferred a tight ass. His nose ran, and his eyes hurt, but he pushed it out of his mind as Aragorn pushed into him. The entry was slow but not dry by any means. Aragorn quickened as he pulled out partially and went back in, rocking on his knees as he knelt upright and took Legolas like a dog from behind. Legolas began to rock with him or against him, varying the rhythm, making Aragorn work harder for it. The sensations of pleasure grew, bursting through him, taking him over.

After long, arousing minutes, Aragorn reached beneath and took tight hold of Legolas' cock, stroking him into submission. Legolas stopped rocking and tensed up again, moaning softly at the pleasure. He pushed back and they toppled over sideways, with Aragorn spooning from behind. Aragorn wrapped one arm beneath and around him, holding his chest tightly, while the other hand continued its job at Legolas' crotch. The man continued the thrust, now with more strength and control. He synchronized his thrusts with his rubs, and dug his teeth into Legolas' shoulder to keep from crying out too loudly. Harder. Faster. Their legs intertwined, giving a different angle to the thrusts. Stronger. Quicker. One rough Ranger finger flicked over the elf's nipple in synch as well, and Legolas tightened in pre-orgasm so alluringly, with arched back and a shuddering moan in elvish tongue, that Aragorn lost himself at the same moment. They tensed and shook together, Legolas digging one hand into the flesh on Aragorn's side, Aragorn biting to draw blood on Legolas' shoulder blade.

When each had finished and relaxed at last, the hot breath on the back of his neck was what returned Legolas to reality. "I'm pulling out now," Aragorn warned, slipping out of the warmth with a shudder of pleasure and relief. But he stayed in spooning position, wrapping his arms around Legolas instinctively, keeping him warm as he laid his head down against the back of the elf's neck and head. He noticed the bite he had given Legolas had already stopped bleeding. That was an elf for you. The fingernail marks in his side would take much longer to heal, even with the skills he had learned from the elves.

But Legolas was still stiff, as his body physically relaxed. The sex had done its part to drive the pain from his mind for a while, but now he was not at all sure what to feel. Aragorn held him so tightly and lovingly that he could not escape, even if he'd realized that he wanted to. The man snuggled against him, the tough fighter reduced to relaxed bliss, as if the man could only hold one thought in his mind at any time. So simple were the minds of mortals. And yet, Legolas' mind was the weak one right now. He reached down and pulled a blanket over the two of them, feeling Aragorn warm to him even more. The man pushed his legs forward, one between Legolas' two, and one on the top so that they alternated man's and elf's.

Despite his straying thoughts, Legolas did feel slightly comforted by the man's hold, and his companionship. But when he felt the grief return with tears in his eyes and a stinging in his throat... and when he felt the need to sneeze again weakly with all the energy left in his body, he found Aragorn was already fast asleep and the only comfort he could receive was the touch and presence. He thought of Haldir's words towards cherishing mortals while they were there, but when the tears flowed freely, he did not want to cherish, he wanted to be the one cherished.

The night was short and mild, but Legolas woke with a terrible chill. He pulled a blanket with him from the makeshift nest and wrapped it around his middle and shoulder loosely as he walked about the forest floor. He could feel the grass growing between his toes. He could feel the trees singing the song of the sun's first light of the day. He could feel the flowers and leaves turn in greeting to all that was good and healthy and pure. He could sense that many of the other elves were awake as well, not needing nearly the sort of sleep as mortals. They bustled around in the tree tops above. Though Legolas felt tied to the Fellowship and their shared experiences of peril and grief, he longed to be among his own kind once again.

Without thinking again on it, he pulled on his clothes and started up the nearest stair to the great city above. And when Aragorn finally awoke, he was neither surprised nor concerned to be alone. He simply pulled the blankets more tightly around his naked form and fell back to sleep.

Breakfast was a most enjoyable affair, with the tastes of food he had known all his life rejuvenating him a bit, and the talk of the elves rejuvenating him a lot. Aragorn made good conversation, but it was another thing entirely to be surrounded by dozens of his own kind, with the same natures and needs. They were sympathetic towards his ailment, too, offering him warmer clothes off their backs and more hot spiced wine than Legolas thought was wise to drink so early in the morning.

He was nearly done with his meal, though not having eaten much, when he felt a warm hand on his shoulder, and not of the same sort as he had felt with Aragorn the day before. He looked up to see Haldir. "I am leaving for the Northern fences again. We are intensifying our watch there now with your arrival and news. I will bid your companions farewell on my way there, but wanted to invite you along."

Legolas knew Haldir could make a place for him in his rotation, but that the elf really did not believe Legolas would accept the offer. It was an honor to have had it extended, however. Blocking out his feelings in order to patrol and fight was quite appealing, but Legolas knew better. "Thank you most graciously, but I must refuse."

Haldir reached over to feel his forehead once more a slight frown adorned his otherwise strong face, and a bit of pity showed in his voice, "Find strength from your kin, Legolas. And though you might heal slowly, you will start feeling better soon." He bent and kissed the top of the elf's head. "Namárie!." Legolas bid him farewell as well, but did not quite believe the words. He had a feeling he would be feeling worse before he got any better.

I could feel it growing worse, as I walked alone that morning. My head pounded. My nose ran. And I felt dangerously close to tears every time a sneeze reminded me that I had allowed myself to get this sick. The others stuck to their camp, and to each other, and while I ached for friendship I had no desire to return so soon to see them. The forest was as magical as all the songs I had ever heard and as mysteriously tragic as well, cut off from other elves, and destined to fall from the evil that had been awakened at their borders. Many times I felt shortness of breath and came to rest upon a rock or tree to cough and sneeze and shiver though I was warmly garbed.

"hehKtushhhh! Ehhtchhhh!" Legolas directed into his handkerchief, emptying his nose with an appropriate blow afterwards. It made him feel unnatural to be an elf and sick in this place. He should have been enjoying a rest and the company of his own kind, but instead felt inclined to wander away in his misery and suffer alone without prying eyes to ask of the state of his health. He wanted to cry... to express his grief... but was not exactly sure how to go about that. "yihh-Kitchhhh!" He pushed his hair back behind his ears and straightened up to continue his walk, but did not get any further than a step.

"Legolas?" Startled, he turned, looking around. The head cold must have interfered with his senses for he had neither smelled nor heard that he had company. He spotted the dwarf coming around a large tree stump, looking a bit unnatural as well without his armor and axes. "Sorry, Laddie, I didn't mean to startle you. I just wanted to be sure it was you. All you elves look the same."

Legolas gave a partial smile at the comment. "Oh, and dwarves are easier? You can barely see your faces for the beards." He paused, fingering his handkerchief which he had quickly pushed into his pocket. His nose tickled again, but he did not exactly wish to sneeze in front of Gimli. "What are you doing out here?"

The dwarf coughed uncomfortably. "I, arh, needed some fresh air."

Legolas tried not to allow his surprise to show through. Dwarves, made from hard stone of the earth, were not the types to long for fresh air and growth like that of the forest. They cut themselves off in secret mines and caves and much preferred to stay put when relaxing rather than walking long distances. Gimli had been no exception up to this point. "This forest is full of it," he replied, now suddenly wondering how the dwarf had been able to slip away from the watchful eye of Aragorn.

Before he had much time to draw any conclusions or even assumptions, his nose tickled madly to sneeze. He pulled the handkerchief out, turning away from Gimli as much as possible and hunching over to hide his actions. "ekktchhh! Yih-tushhh!" He gasped for breath and blew his nose in attempts at forcing the tickle away. When he had tucked the handkerchief away and turned back to Gimli, he saw that the dwarf was preoccupied with the strangely-shaped leaves of a fern. Legolas smiled now fully, and Gimli looked up at him sympathetically. There was much understood but not said between them. Then Legolas asked straight out, "Would you like to walk with me a while before lunch?"

The dwarf grinned as widely as possible beneath the bushy brown beard. He nodded and took up a spot to the side and just behind. Legolas did the leading, for his instincts knew the forest. His pace was slow from the stuffiness in his head and the ache of his body, but a perfect speed for Gimli to keep up with him with no extra effort.

They walked in silence for both their parts, but not uncomfortably so. It seemed they were able to know each other much better in their silence than if they gave voice to their feelings and thoughts. But once in a while Gimli would ask for a name of a plant and Legolas would supply it. Or Legolas would ask about a particular rock or mineral and Gimli would explain its uses. Legolas brought them back to the pavilion exactly as a group of elves came with trays of food for lunch, and he was startled to find that he felt hungry again. Gimli seemed ravishingly so, as normal, though Legolas remembered the little he too had eaten the night before at dinner.

The hobbits sat together at meals, as was natural. Even Samwise, who normally sat so close to Frodo that they became the same being, was seen laughing and talking with Merry and Pippin, who typically paired with each other as kin. But all four of the hobbits seemed drawn into a group, discussing feelings and telling stories. Frodo had known Gandalf best, through Bilbo of course, but they all shared common memories of Gandalf from his visits to the Shire. Oddly enough, the men sat together as well. Boromir seemed to gain confidence and comfort in his talking with Aragorn, who was right at home amongst the elves. But they spoke as much of Gondor as of Gandalf, and those were discussions that no one but they were involved in. Legolas noticed that Gimli barely spoke, and nor did he, himself. When Legolas did speak it was many times in Elvish, as though the spirits of the trees around him made him revert to his native tongue. But the others did not seem to mind, sensing this need in him, and Aragorn translated when it was something important or else simply carried on conversations with him alone.

Legolas sought out companionship amongst the Galadrim that afternoon, warmed by more wine and by the language of his own people. He was given a bed in a small hut of his own, though the pillow smelled of Haldir and he guessed the elf guard had volunteered it upon his absence on patrol. It was a small hut, just big enough to fit a bed on one side while leaving the other side open for visitors or equipment. There was a small window, and a large door, both without coverings to the fresh air breezed in, filling the place with springtime scents that Legolas could barely smell through his stuffed-up nose. Legolas was, regardless, very grateful and snuggled into it for frequent naps while elves sat around him with songs and stories. They were eager to hear of Mirkwood, of the ways of the elves there, of the history since sauron, and of the great trees and mountains which lived there as well. They were patient and happy listeners, and did not mind when he stopped to sneeze or take a drink after coughing. And they left him to himself with well wishes when it looked like he needed it. It was easier to feel sick alone, to sneeze freely without any pittying eyes upon him. But it was also easier to feel depressed and saddened and most of the time he wished for companionship even as he wanted his privacy to be ill.

He returned to the pavilion at dinnertime, as he did at breakfast and nearly all of the other meals. Legolas carried on a few conversations, though falling into Elvish more than was normal for him. He was much more subdued, and much more self conscious when he felt a sneeze coming on. A number of times he heard Aragorn make an excuse for him as he left the table, rubbing his nose with a fist or his sleeve. The tension between Legolas and Aragorn had increased as well, and though they got along like friends they had not spoken privately once since their last bedding; Legolas was not sure that he wanted to. It was almost a relief to return to the treetops, and more importantly his bed, high and comfortable in the trees amongst others of his own kind.

Legolas had to notice the next day at breakfast that Gimli was not doing well. He did not look quite as bad as Legolas felt, but he barely spoke even when a joking insult was thrown his way. And though he always looked tired and worn around the eyes, it looked as though he had not been sleeping as restfully as usual.

When the meal was over, he went back into the nook to lie back down, but Legolas caught his arm. "I am going walking to the south today. If you are in the mood for a walk as well, I thought we could keep each other from getting too lost."

Gimli smiled, knowing well that Legolas could not lose himself so easily as that in these woods. But he grunted in agreement and the two set off at once without a word to the others, despite Aragorn's suspicious eyes boring into their backs. This walk, too, was quiet, but not so much as their first. Legolas spoke of the other elves, relating a story or two as he had been told them. Then, cautiously, he asked for stories of the dwarves. At first, Gimli refused to say a word on the subject. Then, slowly, he opened up. Perhaps it was the persistence, or perhaps his own need, or perhaps it was the magic of the woods. Whatever it was, he told the stories with such enthusiasm and passion that Legolas almost wished he were a dwarf himself, and that was saying something. The dwarves were strong and proud but had a sense of humor, a thirst for love, and loyalty that rivaled the elves' in many ways. With every story Legolas told, he pushed Gimli for one, and soon there was no need to push at all the forest was filled with their talking and laughter as they walked.

And then, came Gimli's first story of Moria, which slipped out naturally before he could stop himself. "My cousin visited once with a story of his childhood in the mine. They used to push him around in the little carts, you know? The ones filled with mithril and ore. He fell asleep in one and they let him be. When he woke, he was much alone at the end of a dark passage that seemed to have no end in either direction. Well, you could imagine he-"

At this, Gimli tripped over the end of a tree root. "Oof!" Legolas, with his quick reflexes, reached out to pull him upright, hands on his front and side. The dwarf grunted and nodded his appreciation, slightly embarrassed that he had not been paying attention to his path because of his story. But Legolas said nothing of this, and instead prodded him to continue. "So finding himself in such a state, what did your young cousin do?"

Gimli smiled, regaining his balance as Legolas' hands left him. "He was frightened, but he had been taught how to make sparks with two stones or one and metal. Now, he had the metal of the cart, and a small stone of quartz he wore around his neck. Quartz is good for this task, as are feldspar or jasper or chirt. But he had nothing for the spark to settle on. Thinking quickly, he ripped off his sleeve and tied the cloth to an iron pole he pried off the side of the cart. He knocked the rock against the metal, and in no time a small fire burned at the end of his pole-"

This time he stopped not because of a wrong footfall but to allow time for Legolas to finish sneezing. "heh-Ektshhh! ihhHeshh! Ehh-Kutshhh!" The sneezes were getting stronger and more frequent. But the dwarf did not mind the opportunity to rest for a moment or two. "heh-Ketchhh!" And Gimli never said a word about the sneezes, as Legolas never did. Legolas, leaned against a tree to blow his nose, recovered quickly, and bid Gimli to continue the story as they continued their walk.

Gimli did so in a hushed voice. "Well it was not a moment too soon for he had the fire and looked in one direction to see nothing but an endless passage, but looked in the other to see two very large cave trolls coming at him. Now he was little, but his legs were strong and he ran quite fast in the first direction. He scampered up some hills of rock and turned corner after corner, following the cart's tracks as best he could, hearing the footsteps and grunts of the trolls behind him. At last, he reached a worksite where a few dwarves sat on a break. He managed to explain the danger and by the time the cave trolls rounded that corner, well, they were met by a dozen fierce dwarves with an axe in each hand, ready to fight. And it was my little cousin, holding his small axe with both hands for the weight who struck the first blow as the trolls attacked." He stopped to chuckle hard at the image, and Legolas was inclined to agree, knowing the size and ferocity of the beasts. "That was a good day to be a dwarf, he told me."

"I should think so," Legolas agreed. As though they had timed it, they came to a thick old tree covered in vines. Legolas' face lit at once, and he turned, looking down at Gimli. "Look!" and he pointed. "Woolworth vines, just like I used to climb when I was young. They are excellent for swinging." Gimli looked, but most apprehensively. "heh-Ihshhh! ehh-Cheshhh!" Legolas barely bothered with the handkerchief in his excitement, wiping his nose on his sleeve in a most unelvish sort of way. "Come, Gimli, you must try this," he called, racing the dwarf over to the tree. He tested the strength of one vine, then another, finding them as strong as the tree itself. Then held a hand out to Gimli.

The dwarf refused outright. "I should like to stay on the ground, I think." He looked warily up at the tree, which extended upwards as though for miles.

"I won't take that for an sniff, sniff answer. Come. You will love it, I promise." And this time, hesitantly, Gimli took his extended hand.

With a jump from Gimli and a thrust from Legolas, the dwarf sat on one of the vines as a swing, clutching it tightly as he fought to balance his body. Legolas gave him a push, and he was off, not just swinging back and forth but upwards. With a sharp rush of wind, he shot up the tree towards where the branches jetted out of the trunk. He called out in terror and surprise, clutching the vine for safety as he was swept lightly back and forth through the air. A moment later, Legolas joined him on the next vine over, swinging with delight. "Get me down!" the dwarf called over angrily, fearing very much to look down and see how far up they were now.

"Do not look down!" Legolas called. "Look there!" and he pointed to where the tree city sat atop its hill and a small pavilion rested at the base of a tree. He could see each of them clearly in form, but knew Gimli had not those eyes. "Can you see our friends?"

Gimli, getting used to the swinging motions, looked out, his eyes widening. "Yes!" he roared. "I can almost see my bed from this height! This is fantastic!" he said in disbelief, starting to smile as the gentle swinging started to feel natural to him.

"There are a great number of these vines in Mirkwood," Legolas called over, trying to make himself heard as he swung back and forth opposite Gimli. "As children, my friends and cousins and I would go and play on them like this for hours, climbing about from tree to tree to find the best views of the city below. When more grown, we used them to get up to the tops of the trees faster when needing to be lookouts for danger or to maneuver around enemies in battles."

They remained there for a long while before the vines decided they had had enough of their occupants. Slowly, they swung the elf and dwarf back downwards. Gimli, rather comfortable and enjoying himself by this time, even reached out and felt the bark of the tree as they went down. It was thick and soft against his fingers. As they reached the bottom, Gimli's vine shook with finality, and tossed him free. He went flying through the air and tumbled onto the ground in a rolling ball.

Legolas was thrown off as well, landing perfectly on his feet, rushing over to where Gimli lay face down on the ground. "Gimli?" he called, startled and worried at the sight of the motionless body. He laid a hand on the dwarf's back in concern.

The dwarf coughed, then rolled over chuckling. "You could have warned me about that!"

Legolas' face flashed with relief. He extended a hand to help Gimli up. "I did not realize dwarves were so good at summersaults."

Standing, Gimli brushed himself off. "Let's just say this dwarf is good at them. And good thing, too!" But he looked up at the tree and its vines with the same fondness Legolas had shown in his eyes.

Gimli's stomach growled. "ehh-Hitchhh! yih-Techhh!" and Legolas sneezed. "We should head back for lunch," Legolas said, sniffling into his sleeve as he pulled his handkerchief out to blow his nose.

"Lunch?" Gimli asked, looking up at the sky, or what he could see of it through the thick green canopy above. "I would think it much closer to dinner time. We have been walking for some time now."

Legolas was startled suddenly at his mistake and wondered if it was due so much to the cold as to how much he had been enjoying himself. "You are right. Let us start back in time for that, then." He noticed a fruit tree, with branches too tall for Gimli to reach. "I need a snack," he said, plucking one shiny red piece off for himself, then another for Gimli without even asking if the dwarf wanted any. He threw one over to Gimli naturally and they continued walking. Legolas smiled as he watched the dwarf devour the fruit hungrily, and as he took a juicy bite out of his own, savoring the sweetness as it melted in his mouth. "I think," he said, looking over at Gimli who now walked comfortably at his side, "that it is your turn to tell a story."

The dwarf nodded, thought for a moment, and began a story about his own childhood, the receiving of his first axe as a coming of age present. His details about its jeweled hilt and strong blade were so compelling that Legolas had to follow that story with one of his first bow and arrow set.

When they were an hour from camp, one of the sudden spring rains snuck up on them. It was the middle of winter everywhere else but in the heart of this kingdom where it was so much like spring. The rains were short but cold and made Legolas shiver terribly. Their paces quickened slightly, simultaneously.

Legolas felt weak against the cold, unable to hold back sneezes as they struck. "hetCheshhh! Ihh...hehTishhhh!" Not wanting his handkerchief to become wet with rain, he rubbed his nose upon his sleeve, which did little as his sleeve was wet too. His hair felt heavy, pulling down on his head, making it ache more. Droplets ran down his face, neck, beneath his clothes, beginning to soak him. "hehhSeshhhh! hihCheshhhhh!" His own sneezes started to feel wetter as well, making him completely uncomfortable. He began to long for the dry clothes, the warm bed, and the hot spiced wine. Their paces quickened even more.

"hurCHUFF!" The sound was loud and sudden, startling Legolas.

Legolas cast a glance down as the dwarf who scowled and pulled out a handkerchief to rub at his own nose. "Are you... all right?" He asked hesitantly. "I mean, you have not caught... I did not think it possible that you could catch my... well..." How was it possible for a dwarf to catch an elf cold? A pang of guilt suddenly shot through Legolas.

But Gimli shook his head. "It's these rains," he admitted, shivering violently. "I wish i were back under the tents in camp right now. I feel drenched." He shook his arms to illustrate the fact and sniffed wetly. "Dwarves do not like feeling drenched."

If he were
not possessed of such concern for his friend, Legolas might have laughed just then. Instead, he paused, looking around, doing some quick thinking. "There," he said, pointing at a low hanging branch. "Come, Gimli." They changed direction and headed over at once. With a little maneuvering and rearranging, Legolas managed to spread the branch out so that it could span over them both, while still allowing the leaf cover to be thick enough to keep at least some of the rain off themselves. He had to hold it in place with one hand, but it was sufficient as a temporary shelter.

With a bit of a desperate pre-sneeze expression, Gimli turned away from Legolas for a moment to cover his nose. "hurh-RUFFF! SHUHF!" His sneezes were deep and strong, and surprisingly loud for such a small creature. They nearly made him jump from the strength. But he seemed to have the same sort of feeling about them as Legolas did, and neither made any mention of them, though their eyes said the silent exchange of `bless you' and `thank you' quite well by now. "This is an excellent spot to wait this out," Gimli commented, rubbing at his nostrils through the handkerchief. That was as close to a thank you as he seemed capable of at the moment.

"This should pass in a few minutes, unless I am much mistaken." But Legolas, too, was quite glad of the extra excuse to have sought some shelter. While he was still chilled, the refuge did make it seem much more bearable. "hehIHHshhhh! Hetchhhh!" He didn't even seem to mind sneezing quite as much. Legolas rubbed his nose with his own handkerchief, hiding a smile behind it as Gimli gave his own nose a strong, honking blow. Legolas wondered how strange this might look if anyone came upon them just then, elf or friend or both.

"The rains have stopped, Laddie," Gimli stated, breaking him away from his thoughts.

Legolas coughed and nodded, letting go of the branch and silently thanking it for its help. He led the way back, as Gimli admitted to feeling a bit turned around now. "I believe it is again your turn for a story," he said as they walked back at their normal speed.

Talk at dinner revolved, once more, around Gandalf. More fond remembrances, more stories to remember. Gimli and Legolas had been through many stories that day, but had thus far avoided any mention of Gandalf between them or of the evil which had taken his life. And they were both notably quiet during the dinner conversation as well in what had already become a dangerous and noticeable pattern.

"Not that I'd ever want to, but when are we leavin?" asked Pippin, helping himself to another dinner roll even as he took the first bite out of his current one.

"I think we will stay two days more, and set out at dawn from there." He did not seem to want to leave either. "The elves' hospitality is great, and I fear none of us will see its like for a very long while. I am eager to give us all time enough to heal." And while he looked at Frodo and Sam, whose injuries were on the mend, he stole a glance at Legolas, who nodded affirmatively at the decision.

After dinner, when Legolas bid them all good night above the sounds of the elves' lamenting, Aragorn pulled him aside. "Legolas-"

"heh-Ehshhh! ihhChushhh!" He turned away from the others, walking with Aragorn at his heels a ways away from the encampment.

Aragorn sighed and put his hand on the side of Legolas' neck, stroking the elf's cheek with his thumb. "How are you feeling?" he asked softly, sympathetically. "You've been sneezing quite a bit more than you did at first."

He nodded, sniffling. This was not what he wanted to talk about. "Yes. Sniff, sniff! I have a cold. Sneezing tends to happen when... when... heh..." He stiffened and raised his handkerchief. "heh-Ihshhhh! ehhhhChushhh!"

"Can I get you something? Do you need help getting to bed?" Aragorn asked, concerned.

"I'll be... all..." of all times possible, his nose picked now to sneeze rather than to convince Aragorn that he was truly all right. "ihh-Hektchhh! ihhTushhh! yihtshhhh!" With a sigh, he rubbed his handkerchief at his nose.

"Here," Aragorn retrieved his own handkerchief and brandished it. "You can take mine."

Legolas refused politely. "I'll be all right, Aragorn." But he didn't feel all right. In fact, he felt just about the opposite.

Aragorn took him in his arms, hugging warmly. "I don't believe you, Nîn Melui... Nîn Meathor... whatever you want me to call you." In that short time, everything moment of Aragorn from the last few days of their journey came flooding back. Holding Aragorn's shoulder tightly as they stood in the mines. Wrapping his arms around him tightly to keep him from falling into the chasm after Aragorn and Frodo jumped over. Being pushed away as Aragorn had a private conversation with Haldir. And the rough but glorious sex which had driven every care from his mind for several brilliant minutes as he fit Aragorn so perfectly. Aragorn pulled back, kissed the elf gently on the cheek, and looked at him with deep, hurting eyes. "Is two days enough for you here? We could take three more, or four. Will you be well in just two?"

Legolas shook his head and rubbed at his nose. "No, but I will be better." He cupped his hand over nose and mouth again as his eyebrows raised and fell. "hehEhtchhh! hih-Yetchhhh!" With another blow of his nose, he cleared his throat. "We cannot linger her for longer than that. It is not the elves' responsibility to protect us from the Orcs, or from Saruman. If two days is enough for Frodo and the rest of you, then two days is enough for me." He paused, then leaned forward and gave Aragorn a soft, sensual kiss to convince him of this. He tugged at the man's lower lip gently as he pulled back. "Do not worry about me, not here in this place."

Aragorn ran his hands gently through the elf's long, blonde hair. "It is nice to be with elves again. I have missed this," he looked around, as though smelling the air. "And I have missed you, Legolas." He ran his hand down the elf's body, resting at his groin.

Legolas pulled back slowly. "I-" But, not knowing what to say, he was glad when his words were taken from him by more sneezes. "heh...ihh...ehhh-Hitchhhh! ehtchhh! ihtchhhh!" He shivered weakly and, instinctively, fell back into Aragorn's body for warmth.

"You should get to bed," Aragorn whispered in his ear, soft and soothing. "Rest and be well." With a soft kiss, he led the elf to the nearest stairway upwards to the treetops. Legolas kissed him goodnight gratefully, though his eyes wandered back to the camp to catch a glimpse of Gimli rubbing his nose and eyes roughly with a fist. He felt a need to go to the dwarf, but his feet were already taking him up the stairs.

The night was long for Legolas. He didn't much feel like sleeping, but didn't feel much like being up, either. After the elves left him for the night, with a warm drink and another few stories, he snuggled up in the blankets. His nose tickled more at night, it seemed. At night he was alone with his suffering and alone with his thoughts. "heh-Ihshhh! ehhtchhh!" His handkerchief was soft and dry against his nose, but little help when the sneezes did not seem to want to stop. "ahh...ihhKetchh! hetchhh! ehtchuhh!" Every time he closed his eyes at a sneeze, he saw Gandalf. Or the darkness. The shadow. The fire. He saw the tears. He heard the screams. "ehh-Hetchh!" And every time he tried to slip away into meditation and rest, the sneezes came again, not letting him forget his suffering, his misery. "hetchhhh! ehhChishhh!"

Legolas sat up in bed, clutching the handkerchief in one hand and blankets in another. His breath caught and a fierce shiver ran through him. Gazing up at the stars, his eyes closed slowly as his nose tickled with an irresistible urge to sneeze. "hehh...Ihshhhh!" He caught it in his handkerchief. "hehshhuhh! Hetchuhhh!" Along with those two.

His head throbbed miserably, feeling worse as the songs for Gandalf began again. Slow, soft, mournfully depressing. He wanted to cry, but could not seem to make himself do so. There were elves all around who would hear sobs, should he let himself go. But the music was overpowering. He tried holding the pillow over his head in bed, but he needed a free hand to rub at his nose, and he could not block out the song entirely... nor could he block out the sorrow he felt when he closed his eyes to the darkness.

"ehhhh...Chishhhh! hetchhh!" Nose buried in the handkerchief, he blew and sniffled and then pulled himself wearily out of bed. He had to get away from his thoughts, from the music, from the misery. With the blanket around his shoulders, he headed out along the paths, looking down at the dark ground below. "ITCHhhhhhh!" he sneezed violently, grasping a low-hanging branch for support as he made sure to keep his balance.

"Le baur îdh," noted an elf, looking up from his watch guard duties. He was tall, even for an elf, with deep green eyes that looked Legolas over critically from head to toe.

Legolas shook his head, replying in Elvish, "Couldn't sleep with this cold," Legolas snuffled, rubbing the handkerchief at his nose. "I thought I would take a walk."

"The night is crisp and chill," he walked over, pulling the blanket around Legolas' shoulders tighter and rubbing his hands up and down Legolas' arms. "Your bed is warm."

"My bed is... is..." he held his hand up in warning and took a step back to give himself room. "hetchishhhh! Ihshhhh!" The sneezes tossed him forward weakly. He spent some time blowing and wiping his nose before brining his head back up to face the elf.

"Galu," the guard blessed him, then patted his arm. "Maer dû, matha mae," he said with a sympathetic smile and bid Legolas on his way.

He walked slowly, not knowing the paths well or where they would take him. One path was lined with bright blue flowers that glowed dimly when he passed his hand near one. Below his feet, the texture of the path changed from resembling leaves to rocks, with small pebbles lining the walkway. "ihh-TShhhhh! hehShehhh!" He passed a few elves playing some sort of card game and pinched his nose tightly as he passed some obvious residences. His nose tickled greatly, urging him to sneeze, but he managed to hold it back until he had passed by and put some distance between. "ehh-Ihshhhhh! Hetchhh! HETchuhhh!" Legolas walked with his handkerchief out and ready, clutching the blanket tightly as the night air caught him. It was indeed crisp and chill, but he tried his best to block it out. He had certainly been through worse recently. Through icy waters up to his waist. Through avalanches of snow in the mountains. A bit of a nighttime chill was nothing to an elf. "hehtchhhh! Ahh...ehhhTishhhh!" even if it did make his nose run terribly.

Legolas traveled on, coming to a stop a ways further at a bench which overlooked a silver lake below. The songs did not reach this far, allowing him a moment of peace. There were few waves due to its small size, but though it was quiet it was soothing and he found himself closing his eyes again not to sneeze or to see Gandalf, but to concentrate on the waters. His nose ran into the handkerchief, but his body relaxed at last with the moon's glow shining down through the tree leaves.

He felt soft hands shaking him awake, and opened his eyes to see two elves. One was the guard he had met briefly before, the other looked familiar from one of the story sessions or meals or something like that. The familiar looking one helped him sit up, while the guard whispered, "An haust, Neth Pen." Legolas smiled. It had been many years indeed since he had been called young by anyone other than his father. And though he did not want to be taken care of, he did not object at all when they pulled him to his feet and supported him back to his bed. Legolas had the terrible suspicion that the guard had been ordered to guard him rather than the area... and it also occurred to him that perhaps that had been a request of Aragorn's... or maybe Haldir's. Either way, his bed was warm and fluffy and his pillow soft and inviting. They tucked the blankets around him tightly. "Îdh mae," they whispered, and obediently Legolas felt his eyes heavily close.

Legolas woke to dawn the next morning, and before he could so much as sit up, a small plate of food and drink was brought to him. "Maer aur, Legolas." The plate was placed on his lap as he sat, looking it over briefly. It was the same elf guard again, and the deep green in his eyes was even easier to see in the morning light.

"Im úcaeleb," Legolas protested, trying to push the plate back and throw off his blankets. But he found that his arms were tired and his spirit heavy; the blankets remained. The elf sat down on the edge of his bed, steadying the plate as Legolas settled back into bed. "heh-" he gasped, pulling his handkerchief from beneath his pillow. "hah-Ehshhhhh! Ihushhh!"

"Galu," the guard blessed him again, holding the plate steady and still. He looked upon Legolas with great pity, as though he could see the overwhelming sadness through every sneeze.

Slightly uncomfortable, Legolas revised his last statement. "Im ihaew," he said, "Im úcaeleb."

"Im henia," nodded the guard, but he nudged the food closer.

Legolas took a bit of bread and juice, though his stomach was not quite into it. Nor, he realized at his first painful swallow, was his heart. With sudden inspiration to ask, he inquired as to Aragorn's involvement in this, and the other elf nodded. Apparently Aragorn had arranged for someone to look after him, and make sure he both slept and ate appropriately when he was among the other elves. Legolas had not yet decided whether this was smotheringly annoying or gratefully comforting though perhaps it was a bit of both. It certainly had worked to get him to eat a little breakfast at least, and follow it with a bit of an early morning nap. He felt a bit tired still, even though elves do not need nearly as much sleep as he had been getting. But being asleep made his sneezes and his sorrow melt away for just a little while longer, so he accepted the urges and let himself get tucked back under the warm covers.

It was late in the morning when he woke again, feeling weary and slightly depressed as to need so much sleep. He changed and headed down to the encampment to see the others. Boromir was showing Merry and Pippin some more fighting moves, while sam watched excitedly, laughing, and Frodo watched silently with a smile. Aragorn was nowhere to be seen. Gimli lay on his bed, staring up at the top of the tent restlessly.

Food was presented by a group of elves, brining Boromir and the hobbits over, but not flushing Gimli out from his spot. The dwarf looked much like Legolas felt, and he went to him. "Gimli?"

The dwarf grunted and rolled over on his side, turning away from Legolas. "Not now, Laddie." He sounded as if he had been crying, and he made a rub at his eyes.

"There are hot soups and sandwiches for lunch," Legolas tried. "You must eat something." He squatted down beside the dwarf and laid a hesitant but nonetheless comforting hand on his side.

Gimli gave a shiver, but said nothing, and made no effort to rise and follow the advice.

Legolas tried again, "I was going to take mine with me to eat later. I am going walking over to a grand hill the elves told me about." Gimli still made no movements. So with one last try, "I would like your company very much."

Gimli turned back, looking as if he might object that Legolas could not possibly want his companionship while he was in such a state... but the look on Legolas' face kept him silent. For a moment, they exchanged another look in silence, saying all that needed to be said through their eyes. The pain. The distress. The sympathy. The need. Slowly, he nodded and rose, with Legolas' hand to steady him. They collected some sandwiches and fruit and headed off, Gimli trailing behind by a foot.

They walked again in silence, or near silence if one counted Legolas' frequent sniffles and sneezes and Gimli's occasional grunts which meant he found the terrain to be uncooperative. They reached the base of the hill in no time, and started up its gentle slope slowly. But the gentle slope became less and less gentle as they continued, and Legolas was inclined to offer a hand to a panting Gimli to help him up the last bit.

The top of the hill was relatively flat, and roughly ten paces wide in each direction. Gimli sat down on a small boulder to rest while Legolas sat on the ground, his back against it. There were no trees at the top, only rocks and grass, leaving room for the sun to shine down on them. Despite this, Legolas shivered as he sneezed again, "heck-Tushhhh! Tchuhhh!"

Instead of blessing him or asking how he was feeling, Gimli passed him a sandwich. "Nice view from up here," he said, changing the subject. It was indeed a nice view. The tree city was magnificent, and the forests around seemed to stretch for miles upon miles on end. They could see birds flying from tree to tree, always busy with something to do.

Legolas had not been admiring it for long, when his nose began to tickle once more. "hehtchhhh! Ih...ehhhh..." he brought his knees up closer to his face to hide himself as he buried his nose in the handkerchief, waiting patiently for the severe tickle to build itself up to a sneeze. "hehhh..." His hand shook with a shiver and he closed his eyes. "heh-ehh-IHHHtshhhhh!" With a sigh of relief, he said a very soft, "Excuse me."

"Now, Master Elf," said Gimli kindly. "There's no need for that. You've been sneezing for two days straight without shame in front of me. No need to start now."

But the flush of embarrassment in Legolas' cheeks remained and when he went to respond, a fierce yawn occupied him instead.

"It looks as though you got just as little sleep as I did," Gimli observed, starting an apple. The walk had made him much hungrier than he had been all day... whether from the physical exertion or from the relaxing company.

Legolas nodded. "This sun is so warm and bright that it makes me sleepy." He looked up and back at Gimli, who was nearly nodding off in agreement. "I need a nap," Legolas insisted. He stretched out onto thick grass, which provided nice cushioning from the cool winds that whipped by the top of the hill. Even just outside of the city, it was lush and near spring-like, but the cold of winter was still noticeable. He closed his eyes with another yawn, seeing flashes of terror, of Gandalf. His fever raced, his head throbbed, and all he could think of was to fall back asleep and block it all out. He felt dangerously close to tears, and did not want to shed them now. He had to repress his feelings, and the sun was all the excuse he needed. "You do not mind, do you?" he asked.

The dwarf shook his head, finishing off his apple. "Go right ahead, Laddie. Who knows? I might join you," his voice was as rough as always, but with soft undertones.

Legolas woke to find the sun not far from where he'd left it, still warming in the mid-day sky. But the winds had grown colder by far, and he had curled up into himself to guard against them. No... not into himself exactly. Into Gimli. Gimli had indeed taken a nap and was now snuggled into Legolas' chest for warmth, clutching Legolas' shirt tightly in a fist to keep him close. One of Legolas' arms was draped over the dwarf ball, hugging gently. Before Legolas could determine how to pull himself away from Gimli without waking him, or decide if he even wanted to do so, his nose made the choices for him. "hetchhh! ihtchhh!" He sneezed, trying to be quiet and not shake too badly.

The sneezes did not wake Gimli however, who had been so exhausted that this was not surprising. But the dwarf also looked like he was preoccupied with something much more serious than his companion's head cold. His body shook and twitched every few seconds with grunts and moans. The phrases "hold them off" and "to the death" could be identified on his lips. Fresh tears fell from his eyes and his hand clenched around Legolas' shirt more tightly. Gimli needed rest, but whatever he was in now was not the least bit restful. The nightmares sounded real, echoing the horrors they had seen over the past few days. The moans sounded pitiful and painful and Legolas shook him gently to stop them. "Gimli... you are dreaming... wake up..."

"Hruh..." Gimli woke, groggy and shivering with cold. He realized his position after a brief moment as well, and pulled back. "Sorry, Laddie." It seemed routine for him to wipe the tears away. He rubbed his fist at his eyes and cheeks first, then his nose, sniffling back stuffily. He looked slightly shamed at showing his emotions, and turned away a bit from Legolas.

"I am sorry to wake you," Legolas said, sitting up, lying a hand on Gimli's side as he had earlier. "But your nightmare sounded-"

"Not a nightmare," he said gruffly, coughing his throat clear. "Echoes of the dead." He took a deep breath and seemed to be debating whether to reveal more information or not. Finally, he admitted, "They grow louder every time I close my eyes. And it always ends the same... with Gandalf on that broken bridge..." Roughly he rubbed more tears away.

"I have seen that, too, every time I close my eyes to the darkness." Legolas realized that he had tears running down his cheeks as well. It was the first time he had wept so openly at the tragedy, and now that the tears had started, he was not sure about how to stop them.

Gimli looked up, blinking to see the elf's tears, and his own began again, without any hope of stopping either. Dwarves were tough, strong warriors. Dwarves were not supposed to show weakness or tears. And elves, elves barely showed anything near extreme emotions of any kind. Elves were certainly not supposed to cry. But these two were, caught up in their grief and able, for the first time in days, to simply let it out. "Everyone blames me for his death."

"No!" Legolas exclaimed.

"I suggested the mines... and my people... the Balrog..." he gasped for breath, his face hot with tears, "You were right Legolas... we went there needlessly... you all blame me..."

"We do not!" Legolas tried to convey, though somewhere in his heart he had to admit that Gimli's words did hold a bit of truth. But at one look at the sobbing dwarf, he knew he could not hold him responsible. "I do not, Gimli..."

"I wanted... to help..." Gimli managed softly through the tears. "But I couldn't go back... i couldn't do anything...."

Legolas nodded in understanding, the salt of his own tears stinging his mouth. "None of us could. Sniff, sniff! He fell to keep us all safe." His nose ran from his cold, and his tears, and he rubbed his wrist at it, barely noticing.

Gimli shook his head, beard wet with tears by now, "I would have died in his place," he admitted weakly.

"I know... I would have too." His lips trembled and his voice broke. And at this, Legolas lost all his remaining composure and broke down completely. He held his arms out to Gimli, who scrambled into them. He sat on the elf's lap, sobbing unrestrainedly into Legolas' chest, clutching his shirt again for support as his body shook hard with sobs. Legolas wrapped his arms around tightly, leaning his cheek against the top of Gimli's head, shaking just as much from his own weeping.

Their crying was long and hard. Legolas choked with the effort of it, feeling it take over every bit of his body with sorrow and weakness. He was nearly sick to his stomach from the effort, and Gimli actually was, the harsh sobs wrenching free what little he had in his stomach. He coughed and sputtered through more sobs but they were softer now with the aid of Legolas' comforting hand on his back to steady him. His weakened body was pulled back, his head put in Legolas' lap, where he continued to cry and shake but not as badly. "All those dwarves... I have never seen..." he swallowed hard, coughing again. "I have never seen more than one dwarf die... but in the mines... hundreds... my family... my people... and now they call out to me..."

"They will... no longer..." Legolas promised, so weak from crying that he could barely lift his hand to wipe away his runny nose. "Not now..." Not now that the emotions were out. Now that tears had been shed. Now that Legolas was there to protect him and grieve with him. They had all lost a dear friend in the mines of Moria. But Gimli had so much more of a reason to be saddened from the experience. But now that it was out in the open, it could not touch him. "They are at peace, Gimli. You have mourned their sacrifice well."

"It was no sacrifice," Gimli grumbled, his tears slowing, too. "It was a slaughtering."

"Oh nay!" Legolas said, closing his eyes which were dry and tired from so many tears. And when he closed them this time, it was not Gandalf he saw, but the small skeletons still clutching their axes and swords. "It was a brave and valiant effort worthy of a great city of warriors. They fought as well as any could, better, I'm sure." He rubbed his hand comfortingly up and down Gimli's arm, making Gimli look up at him, at the elf who was complimenting a great city full of dwarves. And Legolas was not even yet done. His voice dropped to a whisper, but one full of strength and assurance, "They did not die in vain."

At this, Gimli burst into a fresh wave of tears, and Legolas bent over a little, hugging him close. The elf cried a bit more as well, now for the dwarves just as much as for the wizard. And when the fits of tears passed, both elf and dwarf felt very tired and worn out indeed. Legolas felt drained emotionally, as though his body could stand no more sorrow. But, it seemed, it had room for other emotions, as he smiled weakly to feel Gimli curl up against him for comfort. "I had not been able to do that until now," Legolas admitted, drawing his wrist and hand beneath his nose to manage the runs. It was an effort to recover his handkerchief from his pocket even. He did, however, manage to pull it out just in time. "hetchhhhh! Itchhhh! Hetchuhhh!"

"Nice catch," Gimli noted, sniffling himself and rubbing his nose.

Legolas nodded a thank you and rubbed his nose dry. "I would offer..." he nodded towards his handkerchief, "but it is rather used."

Gimli's face broke into a smile. "I have my own hankies." He pulled one out and wiped at his face, blew his nose.

"hitchuhhh! Ehtchhhh! Ihtchhh!" Legolas sneezed again into his handkerchief. "etchuhhhh! Ihtchhhh!" He blew his nose. "Good, because I deed... I... I deed bide... hetchuhhhh! Ihtchuhhh!" And this time when he blew his nose, the tickle seemed to die down enough to keep the sneezes back. And when he went to apologize, which he remembered in time that he did not need to do, Gimli had already laid back down with head and arm in Legolas' lap. He did not mind that Legolas was ill, and he did not trouble himself to make the elf feel differently through words... it was evident that Legolas did not want to be babied... and it was evident that he felt much better just to have Gimli not calling attention to it every moment they were together. "Etchhh! ehhh-IHHshhhh!" But Gimli was rocked a bit as Legolas shook with each sneeze.

"Maybe we should switch positions," Gimli suggested, and sat up to accommodate. Legolas followed his lead weakly, and the result found them in a bit of a letter-T formation, with Gimli stretched out on his back, and Legolas on his back as well but with his head on Gimli's chest. So now when Legolas sneezed and the force bucked him up off the ground, it did not take Gimli along for the ride.

They lay in silence for quite a while, feeling drained but considerably better in all aspects. Even Legolas' cold seemed somehow lighter and more manageable, aparT from the sneezing, perhaps. The cold wind was still there as well, but they did not seem to feel it as much as the warm sun broke through around scattered clouds. Clouds that were round and puffy and just the sort of clouds you would want on a day like that. Clouds which they two had taken, eventually, to identifying.

"Now that one," Gimli announced, pointing at one particularly large cloud. "That one is definitely an Orc."

Legolas laughed lightly. "No, my friend. Sniff, sniff! It is clearly a mountain with goats running down its sides."

The dwarf squinted. "Ah, so it is." He paused a while, eyes roaming the sky in search. "But that one there! Oh! That's an Orc if I've ever laid eyes on one!"

Speaking softly, kindly, "Then your eyes deceive you, for that one is a rat in a wine goblet with its tail wrapped tightly around the base."

Gimli chuckled. "Indeed. I do see that now that you mention it." His dark eyes moved on to another portion of the sky, and he nearly shook with excitement. "There's an Orc!"

"No, no," Legolas shot him down again. Quickly, he raised his hand to his face as he pulled the handkerchief out with the other. The two hands met at his nose. "huh-Chishhh! eh-ah-Hitchhhh!" the sneezes made his head and feet both leave the ground, and his head came back down with a light grunt from Gimli, but the dwarf voiced no complaint. Legolas rubbed at his nose as he answered, "It is a grand boat setting sail on rocky waters." Legolas suddenly felt a tight pull in his stomach, as if something told him he should be aboard that boat. But the feeling passed so swiftly that he barely remembered it had been there. "Can you not see the mast and the fine sail? Can you not see the waves lapping its sides?"

"I can," the dwarf replied, sounding a bit disappointed. "And it is grand, as you say. But you are right again. It is no Orc. For a moment I had thought... but no... no, you are right..." he trailed away, lost in thought. Absentmindedly, his hand reached down and stroked Legolas' head, running his hands lazily through the soft blond hair.

Legolas, overcome by the sensation, closed his eyes and saw nothing but darkness there. He smiled, concentrating on the touch, on the unintended yet nonetheless present tenderness. Tenderness without words, without names, without need. The soft touch of the dwarf.

"There!" Gimli exclaimed suddenly, pointing again. "That cloud... look at that one. Now that is an Orc!"

Legolas nodded. He smiled at Gimli's excitement, and did not open his eyes as he answered, "You have a keen eye, My Friend. That is the most vicious Orc I have ever seen in the clouds."

"Ha ha!" Gimli roared with triumph. He slid his free arm beneath his head to prop it up a little, giving a bit of a stature to himself to reward his find.

With his eyes still closed, taking in the comfort and peace that the darkness and sweet touch now brought him, "I would next wish to see a mighty dwarf and axe in the clouds to take it down from the sky."

Gimli chuckled again and shook his head. "Nay, one Elf and his arrow would be enough."

Legolas grinned, opening his eyes and lifting his head slightly to look over into Gimli's eyes. "Together, then?"

The dwarf gave a matching grin, so wide and happy that it could be seen amidst his beard and all the way into his eyes, "Aye, together." Legolas aimed and fired and invisible arrow at the clouds in the same direction as Gimli pretended to wield a heavy axe-fall. And both imagined that the way the cloud shifted shape just then had been of their doing, not that of the wind. They dissolved into light, wholesome laughter, a very welcome change as they had seen each other through tears such a short while ago. And both elf and dwarf knew which emotion they preferred.

When they joined the others for dinner and the discussion turned, as it always did, to Gandalf, both Gimli and Legolas joined in willingly. They shared stories, and laughed over others. The whole fellowship noticed the change which had come over Legolas, and Gimli as well, and did not even bat an eyelash when Legolas needed to turn from the table to sneeze. Legolas even convinced Gimli to tell a few more stories about the dwarves of Moria, which were taken well by all. And Legolas had the strong feeling that, though their healing had just begun, it was going quite well.

As every member of their company seemed of high spirits for the first time since they had set out, it had been a perfect night for wine and toasts. They toasted to everything from good health, which seemed pointedly aimed at a slightly embarrassed Legolas, to the bearer of the ring, making Frodo blush as well. Sam and the others lifted him up in fun at the honor.

Gimli cuddled up against Legolas with the elf's arms around him from behind as they watched, rather listened to, the others. Aragorn and Boromir were trying to teach the hobbits a drinking song, but both men had had much too much to drink and the halflings had had far too little. The result was a slurred masterpiece of mixed verses and confusing allusions. There was something about a horse and a well and a blacksmith... then something else entirely about a dress cut too short and a chastity belt. On top of all that, there was the image of a never-ending pint of ale, which was the only part of the whole song Merry and Pippin seemed to remember each time around. But even Frodo seemed to find it, or at least the attempts at it, amusing, which meant Sam was positively glowing to watch as well.

When drunken toasts to Gandalf and to memories faded into tired yawns, they all hugged each other warmly goodnight. Pippin, who had easily drunk more than anybody else though held it better than the men, hugged everyone at least twice and sometimes thrice before Frodo and Sam walked him over to his bed. Boromir had nearly fallen asleep, his mouth hanging open in blissful relaxation, his face smushed against a bent arm on the table. Aragorn gave Legolas a meaningful look before heaving the elf up and doing his part to escort him to bed. Gimli and Legolas exchanged the same sort of look, as the dwarf went to go to bed as well. He stopped a few feet away, turned, and rushed back to Legolas, embracing him warmly round his middle. "Bless you, Laddie," he whispered, and Legolas knew it had nothing to do with his ailment. Legolas returned the hug, then patted Gimli on his hairy head before leaving to go to his bed as well.

The songs lamenting Gandalf did not bother his ears to hear, this time. He even joined in on a few verses here and there as he lay in bed that night. His cold seemed to be cooperating as well. "ihhShuhhh! ehhTchuhhh!" He sneezed into his handkerchief, soft and comforting as the blankets around him were.

"Maer aduial."

Legolas looked up to see the familiar face of the guard looking over at him from the doorway to his small room. "Maer aduial," he replied with a nod.

"Car le matha anmae?" The guard inquired softly as Legolas quickly finished sniffling and lowered his handkerchief. Legolas nodded. "Maer, maer," the elf replied with a smile. "Oltha ned sîdh sen dû."

"Maer dû," Legolas replied, closing his eyes and retreating into the peace that now found him in the darkness. Gandalf was there in his dreams, but this time it was a Gandalf of happy memory. A young Gandalf, full of life and spirit and even a little bit of mischief himself. It was a comforting Gandalf, a reassuring Gandalf, a Gandalf which made Legolas glad with every bit of his being that they had been friends so long as it had been able to last. Haldir had been right, about cherishing the ones you loved while you still were able to. And Legolas vowed not to let this renewed spirit inside of him die again. He had seen the sorrow to its resolution, and won against it. Now he would do the same with his cold, and later with his vow to protect Frodo.

Morning broke as it had every other day of their stay there, but it felt much different to Legolas. He rose and dressed, feeling awake and refreshed, though his eyes still hurt just a little from their tiring actions the day before. He headed down at once, finding plates of breakfast out for his friends, but finding nobody but Gimli there eating it. "hih-Tichhhh! hetchhh!" Two sneezes announce his arrival, and Gimli looked up with a smile.

"They are having a bit of a lie-in," Gimli explained, nodding back to the tents where the rest of their companions still slept. "They all had too much to drink last night, if you ask me." Gimli had had a little to drink as well, being a dwarf and all, but not nearly the amount as the others. Legolas had not thought it wise to touch the stuff, his head already swimming with light fever and congestion. He did not need alcohol to blur his senses even more. "So," Gimli said, tossing Legolas a piece of fruit, "where are we off to today?"

Legolas smiled, shining the fruit against his shirt and then taking a large bite. Then in silent answer, he cast his eyes upwards and raised his eyebrows in signal.

"Up?" Gimli asked, sounding a bit apprehensive. "I do not know... a dwarf's feet are firmly rooted in the ground. The ground is stable, it is safe."

"It is safe up there as well. There is a fine city up there, Gimli, with much to see and do. We have but one day more, and I am eager to spend at least part of it among my people." He leaned over and ran a finger gently around the rim of Gimli's ear, admiring the gentle curves. "And I would like to spend it with you, also." Gimli shuddered at the sensation, nearly forgetting to swallow or to breathe as he nodded affirmatively.

After both swallowing and breathing, he suggested, "We should take them some food and drink for when they wake. Something light." So it was agreed upon. Gimli took a small plateful in for the hobbits, while Legolas tended to the men.

Boromir did not wake as Legolas left a buttered roll, fruit, and drink by his bed where he would see it right as he woke. Legolas kissed the top of his head nonetheless and felt him to be sure his breathing was steady. Though his cheeks were a bit flushed, and his brow was furrowed with what was probably a headache, he was otherwise fine. Legolas moved on to Aragorn, who woke as Legolas felt his forehead and before Legolas had had a chance to kiss the man good morning. "Sorry to wake you," Legolas whispered, leaving a small plate of food at his side. "It is early yet, and the hobbits are still asleep as well. The elves will come clear the breakfast soon, so we wanted to be sure you were all fed and watered later when you finally rose."

Aragorn grimaced at the prospect of eating and lifted his head off the pillow to rub his forehead gingerly. Legolas laid a soft hand on top, closed his eyes, and opened them to see a smile on Aragorn's face. "Better," he whispered.

Legolas pulled his hand back quickly to grab for his handkerchief. "het-" he held the sneeze back for just a moment with a finger under his nose as he got the handkerchief into place. "EHshhhh! Itchhhh! Etchhhh!" He sniffled and blew his nose as softly as possible. With a glace over his shoulder, he saw that Boromir was still fast asleep.

Aragorn, however, was looking concerned. "How are you feeling this morning?" His eyes moved down from Legolas' eyes to his nose, rubbed red from too much attention these last few days.

"Better, as well," Legolas replied, hoping his almost giddy feelings at another free day did not show through on his face.

Whether they could or not, Aragorn seemed to understand. He knew Legolas far too well to let anything like that pass without mention, especially as he had seen Legolas' transformation these last few days. His sliding into the depths of depression and sickness, and his climb outward that had finally begun. "I could tell," he said softly, glancing out as Gimli strode past the front of their tent.

There was a tense moment for Legolas, and he coughed, trying to relieve it. "Aragorn... I..." but his words failed him, and this time no sneezes came to cover for him.

"It is all right," Aragorn said, reaching over and stroking the back of Legolas' hand gently. "Not that you needed it, but I give you my blessing."

Legolas froze, not knowing what to say or eve how to say it. Then he leaned in and kissed Aragon hard on the lips, keeping his tongue back but his lips full and strong. Then his lips caught the man's forehead and kissed there as well, less passionately but just as strong. "Thank you My Friend," he breathed with great relief.

"Go," Aragorn instructed, waving his hand. "I want to get back to sleep and kill the rest of this headache properly."

Legolas smiled and nodded, heading out and running into Gimli, who was just returning from washing in the stream. "Are you ready?" Gimli's expression didn't quite convince Legolas that he was, but there was a firm nod, a deep breath, and a puffed-out chest to indicate otherwise. So the two took off up the stairs. Gimli stayed close to the tree trunk, his hand against it as they went further and further up. And he was careful to walk in the middle of thin walkways, lest he fall off either edge. All the while, he refused very insistently, to look down.

First they went by some of the permanent housing units, tiny, quaint huts with extraordinary designs covering every inch. Some were even built into the trunks of trees themselves, so that if light was not pouring out of a small window, they might have been entirely unnoticeable; Gimli seemed to like these dwellings most of all for the ingenuity.

They passed a school, where children were outside playing. Most ran over to their fence of branches to catch a better look at the strangers; it was, perhaps, their first glimpse of a real live dwarf and most were wide-eyed with curiosity. Gimli accommodated with a nod of his head and a rather regal bow. The children all giggled and waved to him, before being called back inside to start their lessons for the day. Gimli smiled as well mumbling something to the extent of "I had never imagined elflings to be so little. How dear." Legolas smiled and patted Gimli's back. Near the school there were learning research stations, for learning more about the plants and animals, for inventing new contraptions, for training elves in skills for fighting. Gimli was not allowed past certain boundaries, such as anywhere near their holds of weapons, and Legolas was careful to observe these so that they were as invisible and Gimli was never confronted uncomfortably about it.

They traveled on, looking at small gardens of brightly blooming flowers in every variety and color imaginable. They saw small streams which ran down sides of trees, which supplied drinking water like fountains. They saw small animals which played amidst the leaves and branches, some of which scampered along, following them for a ways as they walked. Legolas scared them away on at least one occasion from sneezing a bit too loudly. Gimli had laughed and Legolas had blushed, but nothing more was said about it. Gimli had been eager to see the room Legolas had been given, and spent a while looking around it, examining the craftsmanship of things like the bed.

"Nice room," Gimli commented finally, as Legolas sat down on his bed. Gimli caught a glimpse of the ground through the open doorway and grasped onto Legolas' arm for support. His voice shook and he squeezed his eyes shut tightly. "But I prefer the ground."

Legolas helped to steady him. "Do you want to sit down?"

The dwarf shook his head at first. But his breathing was heavy and rapid, and did not slow. Quickly, he nodded his head. Legolas helped him hop up on the high bed and put a hand on his forehead, trying to send warm, steadying energy to Gimli. His other hand rubbed up and down Gimli's back. In moments, he was better, breathing steady, and he opened his eyes just in time to see Legolas recoil.

"heh-Emchhhh! Ihhchuhhhh!" he sneezed, drawing away from the dwarf quickly and directing the sneezes into his handkerchief. "ehhh... heh...Ihhhhchhhh!" He blew his nose and sniffled, looking back at Gimli, who seemed preoccupied this time by the softness of the blankets. As far as the vertigo went, he seemed just fine once more.

"Legolas," one of the elves called, poking his head into the room. "Gar perarad aes ahmen?" Legolas noticed how the elf's eyes flickered towards Gimli and back to Legolas again in the briefest of seconds. Still, he did not retract the invitation, and so Legolas nodded affirmatively.

"What was that about?" Gimli asked, tugging at Legolas' sleeve to draw his friend's attention back as it seemed the elf was lost in thought.

"An invitation to lunch with them," Legolas explained as they hopped down from the bed and left the room again.

"Ah," said Gimli, sounding suddenly wise. "I will find my own way back down, then."

Legolas laughed suddenly, putting an arm around Gimli's shoulders as they walked. The dwarf was at such a comfortable height to do that with that Legolas almost wondered why he had not tried it before. "Nay, My Friend," he explained. "You are invited as well."

But Gimli shook his head. "All the same, they would probably rather have me stay away..."

"You were free to walk these lands without blindfold. You were free to sleep on their beds and eat their food. You are welcome to dine with them upon their request, Master Dwarf." He felt Gimli's shoulders tighten, though, perhaps doubting Legolas' words. Or perhaps noting the distinction between dwarves and elves. Or perhaps noting the difference between feeding a dog a meal so it will not starve and feeding a dog from your own table. "You are my friend, Gimli, son of Glóin. And as long as you are friends with this elf, you are free to walk where I walk in these lands. And that includes to lunch." Gimli made no further protest, and the grumble in his stomach told Legolas that this was all for the best as the dwarf probably preferred to have food sooner rather than later.

The table was nearly full when they arrived, but a few elves Legolas recognized moved over to make room. He nodded hello and thanked them for the invitation, then went around the table, introducing Gimli to all the elves he could remember by name and supplying information like `he is a fine cook' and `he's the best shot in all of Lórien'. Gimli was sure not to remember any of this, but he smiled and nodded hello all the same at each. Almost none of the Galadrim spoke anything but Elvish and Gimli was quickly excluded from the conversations around him. Legolas, however, followed at least one at any time, and not only translated for Gimli, but relayed his comments to the elves as well. It was awkward at first, balancing the eating, talking, and translating, but soon there was such a natural rhythm to it all that everyone wanted to speak with Legolas and Gimli.

At one point, as they all took small desserts from the center tray and Legolas took two as Gimli could not reach quite far enough for himself, one elf declared something which made the whole table laugh and look at Gimli. Gimli went red in the face at once, but did not know whether to be embarrassed or angry or a little bit of both. "What was that?!" he hissed softly to Legolas. Elves rarely laughed with such emotion, that to have an entire table laughing at him for an unknown reason was very off-putting indeed.

Legolas leaned over a little. "He said that if all dwarves were like you, they should have invited your whole race over for lunch long ago." Legolas paused, then added at Gimli's slightly shocked expression, "And he did mean it in a good way."

"Well!" Gimli exclaimed softly, getting his breath back. "You just tell them that with company and food like this, we wouldn't have dared refuse." Legolas nodded and translated, and the whole table erupted into happy laughter again. The elves near him reached over and shook his hand or patted his back affectionately. Gimli found himself grinning broadly at it all. By the end of the meal, they had nearly all taken to calling him `I Beleg Nogoth' which roughly translated to `The Great Dwarf' and Gimli had actually taken to responding to it with a grin.

When the meal ended, Legolas helped Gimli down from the bench, which was about a foot higher than it should have been to accommodate dwarves. Legolas took his hand and led him away, and down a twisty stair.

"Where are we off to now?" he asked about a dozen times as they descended.

But Legolas was either sneezing and did not answer, or nothing and he still did not wish to answer. "You shall see," he said once they reached the ground, much to Gimli's very obvious relief. "It is a place the elves told me I needed to visit before I left. I think I remember the way." And he led Gimli out of Caras Galadhon and once again into the forest of the outer-realm.

They walked for a good hour at their normal leisurely pace. Even though Gimli was much more energetic and Legolas felt much better too, they still walked slowly as it had become their routine. It allowed them more time to talk, and more time to notice everything around them.

"I hear water," Gimli said, narrowing his eyes as though trying to see what Legolas already could through the trees.

"Very good. It is a river you hear," Legolas informed him. Then slowed a moment, hand to nose and mouth. "ehktshhh! ihhhTechhhuhhh!" He took his handkerchief out to catch the last one properly. "ehhtchhhh!" Then he blew his nose and, urgently, spoke to Gimli who had already started towards the waters. "We will be following it a short while. But do not touch it, for the waters are ice cold and would chill you most terribly."

Gimli nodded, understanding, but still said, "I have no doubt that you would warm me." At the soft words, Legolas nearly stopped with the desire to do just that. But he continued on, eager to reach their destination so that they could enjoy ample time there before they needed to head back for dinner.

The river grew wider and deeper as they followed it, and even Legolas was temped to have a bit of a drink along the way. But the wait was well worth it as they rounded a large grove of trees and they both stopped in their tracks to see a small pool of silver water and pouring down into it was a monstrously large waterfall. The roar of the water spilling over the cliff at least a hundred feet above them was deafening for a few moments until their ears adjusted to it. The spray could be felt even from the banks. It was not icy cold but warm and lovely. A ray of sunlight shown through the trees into the splash, casting a beautiful rainbow into the center of the pond.

"By Aule..." Gimli whispered when he had regained breath, though he seemed to be getting used to doing just that when he was in Lórien... or around Legolas for that matter. "I hope this is the destination you had in mind, Legolas, because I do not believe that I ever want to leave here."

Legolas reached over and gave his hand an eager squeeze. "Leaving such a place is a fate worse than death. But leaving such a place without taking a swim..." He pulled off his shirt, "and that is a fate worse than all the deaths of the world." And with that, he pushed down his trousers, threw his head back, and dove in a perfect elf-arc into the water. The water was cold on the edges near the bank, but in the center it was so warm he nearly lost himself completely in the sensation.

When he called out for Gimli to join him, he found the dwarf already paddling slowly to him, struggling to keep his head above the water. "Dwarves... are not... swimmers..." he choked on a mouthful of water as he fought to push the water down and himself up. He faltered and slipped down below.

Legolas grabbed him to keep him from drowning, the bushy brown hair now soaked and sopping. "How are dwarves at standing?"

Suddenly Gimli stopped fighting and realized that the water only came up to his armpits. Legolas laughed, sinking in the water so that he and Gimli were, for once, at eye-level with each other. "What do you think?"

Gimli looked at him with wide eyes. "You are expecting me to think now? You failed to mention that when we were on the banks." He was caught in the rainbow, a mix of red, yellow, green, blue and dwarf. A mix of dark eyes, flaring nostrils and lush lips. Things Legolas could not in any good conscious ignore. Legolas seized the dwarf at once, taking him into his arms and placing a soft kiss on his lips. The waves had nothing on its wetness, and the water could not begin to compare to its warmth. And when he pulled back, the expression of pure bliss on Gimli's face was so above and beyond the one that had been on his face at the sight of the falls that Legolas could not resist doing it again. The kiss was shorter but even sweeter as Gimli, less shocked this time, returned it. There was silence again as they broke apart, warming, comforting silence during which all that needed to be said was.

They swam for what felt like years, as though the water slowed the passage of time. First they swam in circles, just to get a feel of it. Even Gimli kicked off from the bottom to paddle around a bit, though marked close by Legolas in case he ran into trouble. Their bodies were bare, touching, rubbing, warmed and aroused by the waters. But neither said a word on it at first. It was a matter for feeling and not for words. Legolas showed him how to float on his back, by taking the dwarf in his arms and leaning back with him.

"You can if you want to," came a gruff whisper from Gimli as his body left the touch of Legolas' to float on the surface of the water.

"I want to," Legolas whispered back, supporting the dwarf a bit from beneath as he led him around the pool in a circle, to and away from the white foam at the base of the falls. "Please believe me that I want to." He bent and kissed Gimli softly on the lips. "But not now."

"Not now?" Asked Gimli, a bit confused, and a bit let down. He exhaled fully and again found his footing as his body sunk back down.

Legolas shook his head, lying on his back this time, and circling Gimli slowly as he swam. He switched to a side stroke so he could watch Gimli more closely. "No... now I just want to cherish you. And I want you to-" he broke off, not having meant to say even that much. To cover himself, he ducked beneath the waters, sending bubbles up from the bottom as he swam around Gimli's legs and ankles, tickling at first, then running a hand up the dwarf's thigh.

When he came up for air, dripping and excited, Gimli fell into his arms, weak with pleasure. "Cherish me all you like," he said softly, reaching up to whisper in Legolas' ear. "So long as you let me do the same to you." He wrapped his hands around the slick, skinny elf body, running down the smooth back into the water, and resting at Legolas' rear. He gave a tight squeeze, then leaned against Legolas fully in a hug which brought their bodies close against each other and allowed crotches to meet. Strong bodies and strong arms of warriors. Then he lay Legolas back in the water, holding him firmly from beneath as Legolas had just done for him, and administered a firm, passionate kiss which led into another and another. A tangle of wet arms and warm bodies, caught in the moment like two youngsters just discovering love.

It seemed a lifetime had passed by the time they climbed out of the water, shaking themselves dry with a lack of towels. The air was cold in comparison to the warmth of the water, and Legolas felt chilled. "heh-EHhhhshh!" he sneezed freely, wetly, having no handkerchief near. He raised a fist for another two, "hah-Ihshhhh! EHHshhhh!" Gimli, who could have easily withdrawn on the pretext of getting clothes or shaking off to dry, but instead went to him, leaning against him, wrapping his arm around Legolas' back, nuzzling him affectionately to warm him. "heh-heh... heh-EHHTchhhhh!" He shook against Gimli's body weakly, but Gimli held him strong, saying not a word for it was not as if the sneezing could be helped. Legolas, on the other hand, could be. They both shivered a little, still dripping.

"We should let the sun help dry us," Legolas said, taking Gimli's hand again and leading him over to a rock on the banks where the sun's light still struck. The drying was almost just as slow, but they imagined it made much more of a difference as they sat there, naked and exposed, but alone and not at all self conscious. Legolas ran his hands through his hair to give it a rough combing. But his braids had come undone in the water, and he gathered the strands to do them up again.

Gimli sighed, leaning over, placing his hand over Legolas'. "Allow me. You've got it all wrong."

Legolas laughed outright at the suggestion. He tried to protest this rather absurd idea, but Gimli insisted. He snuggled close and carefully selected a few strands. Though his fingers were short and a little pudgy, he was surprisingly deft at braiding. And though Legolas was quite skeptical, and sneezed repeatedly throughout the process, "ehh-Ahhtchhhh! Ihtchhhh!" he was patient and allowed Gimli to finish. The dwarf made quick work of one side, and held it out for inspection in as much as Legolas would be able to see it. "That is perfect," Legolas said, amazed, stroking the braid gently. Then he reached out and ran a hand against Gimli's beard. "Now let me do you."

"You are going to do me?" Gimli raised bushy eyebrows. "I thought you said we were not going to do that quite yet." Softly, the elf laughed at his own problematic wording, and took a handful of Gimli's beard with a hard tug that was reminiscent Gimli's near fall on the bridge in Khazad-dûm. "Not the beard," he repeated, clearly recalling the same memory.

"Yes, the beard," Legolas insisted this time, pulling him close and placing a kiss on his lips. Then he began to braid the handful of hair, just as Gimli reached over to start a braid on the other side of his head. They sat in silence once again, exchanging kisses every so often while they braided each other's hair. Then they stretched out together on the rock and amongst the trees. Their arms and legs were intertwined once again, and this time when they napped in the sun, they were together from the start and through until they woke. They lay there for hours, cherishing each other in every moment, even in their sleep.

I woke not long after, my body pinned down heavily beneath his weight. The weight of a strong dwarf warrior. He lay on his side, half covering my side, with his cheek pressed into my chest, his arm draped over my waist, and his leg bent against my crotch and thigh. I had my arms wrapped around him, and moved one slowly so as not to wake him. I badly needed to rub at my tickling nose. My cold was still upon me and was not perhaps getting better so much as getting easier to deal with. And with the rest of the day to spend in the land of elves, more adventures ahead to look forward to, and with my companions and especially Gimli at my side, I was certain all the sniffling and sneezing would be gone before I knew it.

Elvish-to-English Translations:

An haust, Neth Pen- To bed, Young One
Boe ammen veriad lîn. - We need your protection. Dem- Sad
Car le matha anmae?- Do you feel more well? Galu- Blessings
Gar perarad aes ahmen?- Have midday meal with us? I Beleg Nogoth- The Great Dwarf
Îdh- Rest
Îdh mae- Rest well
Ihaew- ill, sick, sickly
Im- I/I am
Im henia- I understand
Im ihaew- I am ill
Im úcaeleb- I am not bedridden
Le baur îdh- You need rest
Mae govannen, Legolas Thranduilion. - Welcome Legolas, son of Thranduil. Maer- Good
Maer dû- Good night
Maer aduial- Good evening
Maer aur- Good morning
Matha mae- Feel well
Namárie!- Farewell!
Nîn Melui- My Lovely
Nîn Meathor- My Warrior
Oltha ned sîdh sen dû - Dream in peace this night Ú- No

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