Ignoring the harried bustle of the courtyard, Gimli glared balefully at Arod, positive that the horse was staring back at him in amusement. Harrumphing, he planted his long ax on the ground in front of him, and crossed his forearms over its head. Much as it pained him to entertain the thought, it was possible - barely - that Arod had some small cause for humor. Thus far in their acquaintance, Gimli had not conducted himself with the dignity his race was known for, though if truth be told, it was not entirely his fault.
It was difficult enough to maintain decorum when being bounced about willy-nilly on horse back during a mad dash from one side of Middle Earth to the other. It was moreso when sturdy, capable legs did not suffice to scale the heights necessary to be astride in the first place. Worse, it was entirely impossible to dismount with any dignity whatsoever when attempting to join battle, thanks to this great thing's size.
The blasted beast probably snorted in laughter every time Gimli fell off.
"How else am I to dismount when foes are on every side?" he growled at Arod. "Ask your master to kindly find a rock or stump suitable for use as a step? A tumble may not be graceful, but it serves the purpose of bringing me to our enemies promptly."
Arod shook his head, one hoof pawing the ground, both gestures probably full of meaning to a Rider of the Mark, or to an Elf, but to Gimli, as unfathomable as a wizard's mind.
With a final 'humph!' he turned to take his leave. Legolas materialized behind him, one slender hand on Gimli's shoulder, the other stroking Arod's nose. Wondering uneasily what the Elf had heard, Gimli still remained under the gentle touch, feeling the heat of it through the metal and leather between them. Unbidden, his eyes drifted half-shut, and he eased back to find more of that warmth, certain that the small intimacy would be un-noticed in the midst of so much chaos.
"Arod carries you willingly," Legolas said, voice barely raising above the clamor of soldiers preparing for departure.
"The beast endures his burden because of his rider," Gimli shot back grumpily.
Though the tone was neutral enough, there was something under it that made Gimli glare up at Legolas, only to find the Elf innocently smiling down at him. Almost, almost he asked Legolas which he considered the beast and which the burden, but knowing fingers tunneled under his braid to lightly caress the sensitive nape of his neck and his thoughts scattered. Pleasure skittered through him, and, almost against his will, he let go of his indignation.
After all, did it really matter? He was no less under the sway of Legolas than was the horse, and he bowed his head over his axe to savor this rare moment of peace. It seemed Legolas was as content to simply stand there, as if neither had any task more pressing than to admire a horse.
Finally Gimli bestirred himself, sighing deeply and rolling his shoulders. "Is this some Elvish magic?" he murmured, truly curious. "The same that I've been warned about by my elders all my life? All about us Men are preparing to die, yet we might be caught in a moment as timeless as any in Lothlorien. I know only the comfort of the sunlight, the gratification of hunger slaked and body sated."
"Nay, it is the wisdom of your people bred deep into your bones, to live in the moment, cherishing what is," Legolas said. "Or so Gandalf has said to me on occasion."
Curiosity still piqued, Gimli said, "Is that not the way of your kind? Given the many years granted you, I should think that would be the only way to order them."
"I fear my people dwell too much in the past, re-living what was," Legolas said, melancholy stealing in under his words. "Our memories are so clear that a thousand years ago is as yesterday. It is to escape the unbearable weight of them that we leave these shores, seeking respite in the Undying Lands."
As he spoke, Legolas sounded more and more distant, as if he too were being called toward surcease from his accumulated years. Gimli could not endure that. Well aware of the surprise it would stir in Legolas, he reached into his pouch, took out an apple, and offered it to Arod. With dainty care, the horse nibbled it off his palm, though there was something its actions that told Gimli that it knew full well that the kindness was merely a diversion.
As he had hoped, the gesture brought Legolas back to him again, and he asked with a trace of humor, "A peace offering between you?"
"More in the nature of an assurance that there is no ill will between us on my part," Gimli said gruffly. "He endured me well enough when I rode him into our skirmish with the Wargs."
"I confess that I had not thought of you arriving in quite the manner you chose."
Underneath Legolas' light words, Gimli could hear something more. Rather than answer with banter, he said, "I knew he would go straight to you."
With a harsh intake of breath that only Gimli could hear, Legolas went perfectly still, hand gripping Gimli's shoulder tightly. "I felt you coming to me, my heart," he said softly, wonderingly. "Knew how close, how fast. When I leaped into the saddle, you shifted for me to find my seat and handed me the reins as if we'd practiced the exchange a thousand times."
"I didn't think on that," Gimli admitted. "Only that you would wish to be astride to be at best advantage in the battle."
Confessing in return, Legolas said, "It gave me hope that you cared for me."
"Ah, Master Elf," Gimli breathed. "So much torment I would have saved us both if I had found my courage sooner." He gave himself a hard shake and added, "I will not dwell on that. Instead I will follow the path of my ancestors that you so rightly admired and live only in this instant. You are near, you are mine to touch and love, and if we had but the privacy, I would have you under me, shuddering."
There was no mistaking the effect his words had on his Legolas. The slender rod of his maleness rose, burning a line down Gimli's back, and Gimli had to fight the need to turn and nuzzle along the length of it until his lover begged for more. Instead he pressed back against hard enough for Legolas to know he appreciated the promise of passion that length implied, then stepped away. He very deliberately adjusted his belt so that Legolas could see a hint of the state he was in.
"We had best be about our own preparations," Gimli said gruffly. "Isengard is a hard ride, and there is no telling what may befall us on the journey."
"Aye, there is not," Legolas agreed blandly, eyes sparkling with speculation.
Chuckling wickedly, certain that Legolas was already making plans, Gimli led the way to Aragorn's side. For a change he looked forward to being on horseback.