Tired, so very desperately tired that every part of his body ached. Legolas had never in all his years been so exhausted as he was once the mad rush of battle and its aftermath had passed. He and Gimli had scoured the battlefield for any trace of Pippin, the dwarf finally spying his foot sticking out from under a huge troll's corpse. After bearing the injured hobbit to Aragorn, they had continued to help locate and tend to the wounded, until it became clear that no more would be found alive. After that, they turned to dispatching the minions of the Dark Lord that still drew breath on the field before dragging them into heaps to be put to the torch. Once that had been accomplished, they had been shooed off to the tent they shared to rest and take nourishment.
Legolas had dropped down to sit next to the small brazier that he and Gimli used to heat water, setting a pot of it on to heat for brewing tea if he could muster the energy to do so. In addition to the fatigue of battle and tending to the wounded, Legolas had performed sentry duty nightly, knowing that he was better suited to going without rest than even the hardiest of the Dunedain. It had caught up with him, however, and he felt unable to do more than sit with his head in his hands. He had thankfully bathed prior to returning to the tent, before the last of his endurance had been spent, having no wish to sleep covered in filth. Too worn out to even care if the water boiled over, he drifted in and out of dreams sitting next to the brazier, head resting on his crossed wrists.
Gimli sighed, lifting the tent flap and entering the tent he shared with his elven friend. He stopped just inside, his eyes taking in the strange sight before him. On the brazier, a pot of water boiled merrily and beside it sat Legolas, slumped over, his hands laying limply one atop the other on his crossed ankles, his golden head, hair loose and still slightly damp, resting on his hands. Gimli could see the elf's back rise and fall with his breathing. Shaking his head, he crossed to the bedrolls, still secured for daytime storage. With the skill of much practice, he unfastened Legolas' bedroll, laying it out neatly. Carefully noisy, he moved to the elf's side.
"Legolas, lad, I've got your bedroll laid out. Come now, no need to give yourself a sore back sleeping sitting up." He drew his friend up to lean against his sturdy frame. Legolas murmured something unintelligible, but did not rouse further, turning his face into the dwarf's muscular shoulder. "Oh, bugger!" Gimli exclaimed softly, shifting to slip one arm around Legolas' waist and the other under the backs of his knees, lifting slightly to test the elf's weight. His eyebrows shot up into his hairline as he realized how light his friend actually was. Lifting Legolas easily, he soon had the oblivious elf settled comfortably on his bedroll, tattered blanket tucked securely around his slender form. He laid a hand briefly on his friend's silky hair, ruffling it slightly and wishing he dared to drop a kiss onto the crown of his head.
He had deliberately avoided touching Legolas, even though their stay in Lothlorien had dispelled any ill will between them. He simply had not trusted himself not to betray his growing attraction to the archer. He had no idea what Legolas' preferences were, they had never discussed it amid the myriad of topics they had conversed about, and the elf's friendship was far too important to him to risk by exposing what Legolas might consider to be inappropriate desires. So he had held his tongue and kept his hands to himself. Shaking himself back to the present he pulled back from the elf reluctantly. "Daft creature, not even enough sense to get to bed when you need to.
"Well, since the water's hot I suppose I'll make your tea for you," he said, rummaging in the elf's pack for the tea for a few minutes before finding it. "And if you don't wake in time, I'll drink it for you, too," he said, a grin pulling at his lips. He dropped the proper amount of herbs into the water and set the pot aside, close enough to the brazier to keep warm, to steep. Taking up the pot he had carried into the tent with him, he placed it on the brazier, then lifted the lid and stirred. He sniffed appreciatively: stew with meat, and decent meat at that. One of the twins had found, and managed to bring down, a pair of wild kine. By using the meat in a stew, the entire camp could share in the unexpected bounty. Gimli had to admit that the prospect of fresh meat instead of dried was a welcome change.
He was not surprised to see the elf's nose begin to twitch as the aroma of the stew permeated the tent. He chuckled as Legolas opened one eye.
"Where did you happen to find fresh meat? And may I have some?" Legolas asked, dragging himself to a sitting position.
"Elladan found a pair of kine. Of course you can have some of it, you crazy elf. What'd you think, that I'd bring some only for myself and eat it in front of you?" He gazed appraisingly at his elven friend. "You look like shite warmed over, Legolas."
"I do not doubt it," the elf replied, rubbing his hands over his face. "I rather feel like shite warmed over." Gimli gave him a surprised glance; for the elf to admit to feeling less than well, he had to be in bad shape indeed.
"No bravado, Legolas. How long has it been since you slept for more than a few minutes at a time?"
"Hmm?" The elf gave him a bleary look, blinking owlishly. "I cannot recall, exactly. Before we left Minas Tirith, I believe."
"Blast it, elf! You are going to eat some of this stew and drink some of this tea, and then you are going to sleep until you wake on your own, do you hear me?" He spooned a portion of the stew into a bowl which he thrust into Legolas' hands. "Eat!" He glared at his friend until the elf took a spoonful. Gimli then poured a mug of the tea, sweetening it with a dollop from the small pot of honey he'd traded a particularly ornate Easterling dagger to a Gondorrim guardsman for. "Here, this'll wash it down pretty well, I'd say." He set the mug next to the elf, waving away the `thank you' the elf muttered around a mouthful of stew. He dished a bowl of stew up for himself, poured another mug of tea, eschewing the honey for his, and settled down opposite Legolas to eat. As he did, he kept an eye on his friend. Legolas set his empty bowl aside in favor of the mug of tea, sipping it cautiously. His eyes widened and he looked over at Gimli.
"Where did you manage to find honey?"
"Traded for it," he answered shortly. "Want some more stew?" The elf cocked his head, thinking it over.
"No, I think not yet. It is very good, and it is sitting well on my stomach, but I think it would not do to overdo it. Later, after I wake, if there is some left I will eat more."
"There'll be some left, I'll see to it. Have some more tea, then, and to bed with you." Gimli poured the remainder of the tea into Legolas' mug, adding another dollop of the honey. The elf wrapped his long-fingered hands around the mug, sipping the tea, his eyelids already drooping. After only a few minutes, he drained the mug and set it clumsily aside. Gimli collected it without comment, setting it with his own mug and bowl to be washed. Legolas stretched out onto his bedroll and immediately drifted deeply into his dreams.
After banking the coals in the brazier, and ensuring that Legolas was a sufficient distance away from it, Gimli took the dishes to the stream the camp was set up alongside and cleaned them. He dropped them off back in the tent, checking on the elf as he did so, and went off to heed nature's call before returning to the tent to retire for the night.
Gimli squirmed in his bedroll, trying to get comfortable enough to sleep. He sighed, rolling onto his back and resigning himself to a sleepless night. He had risen from his makeshift bed four times already to soothe his elven friend through whatever ugly dream he was having. Simple touch and his voice thus far had been enough to hold the nightmares at bay. Gimli had moved his pallet over next to Legolas', finding it easier to simply reach over and pat the elf's back than to get up and rush across the tent to do so. Legolas had been quiet for a good while, and Gimli began to hope that the dreams had passed. He soon dozed off.
A strangled cry brought him out of a sound sleep sometime later. With a start, he realized that his companion was in the throws of the worst nightmare Gimli had yet to witness that night. Quickly, he threw his light covers aside and reached out to grasp the elf's shoulder only to find himself on his backside several feet from where he had been. Mahal, but this was a bad one! He carefully approached again, this time speaking in soothing tones to Legolas before he attempted to touch him.
"Easy, lad, easy! It's just a dream, it's all right. Easy, Legolas, I'm here," he crooned, reaching for the elf's shoulders again. This time, instead of striking out at him, Legolas flinched away speaking incoherently in his native tongue. Gimli's grasp of Sindarin had increased during his association with Legolas and Aragorn, particularly once Legolas had deliberately begun teaching him to speak it, but he was far from fluent and only caught one word in ten at most. The only word that was truly clear was the word `no' which Legolas repeated many times. "Legolas, lad, it's a dream. Come back now, it's a dream!" Finally, he grasped the elf's shoulders and shook him sharply. "Legolas!"
The elf's eyes opened wide, a look of abject terror on his face. Gimli went cold all over; only once in all the battles he and Legolas had fought in had he ever seen Legolas look frightened. Only in Moria, when confronted with the reality of the Balrog, had the elf shown any sign of fear. The look on Legolas' face cut the dwarf to the bone. Throwing dignity, propriety, and caution to the winds he gathered his friend into a tight embrace against his chest and rocked him like a child. Legolas shook like a leaf in the wind against him, and Gimli enfolded him even tighter, one hand stroking the elf's hair, cheek pressed to his friend's temple, murmuring comforting nonsense into a pointed ear. As concerned as he was for his friend, his baser instincts were all but dancing for joy at the feel of the lithe body in his arms and the enticingly woodsy scent that was uniquely Legolas filling his nose. Throttling the feelings down ruthlessly, he continued to rock Legolas and croon soothingly to him.
Slowly, the elf's shudders began to abate. Legolas shifted slightly and, startled, Gimli became aware of a damp patch on his shirt. He had not realized that the elf had been weeping until that moment. A slender hand moved from clasping a fold of Gimli's tunic to twine into his beard and the archer's face burrowed a bit deeper into his shoulder, his other arm wrapping tightly around the dwarf's waist. Gimli glanced down, but all he could see was one scarlet ear tip. Legolas' response to his slight shift was to clutch him tighter.
"Elf, are you...?"
"No, not yet, please, Gimli. I cannot face it yet." The elf's voice was rough from his bout of tears.
"Can't face what, lad?" Gimli couldn't resist stroking the archer's golden tresses once more, and he blinked in surprise when he felt Legolas relax under his touch. "Legolas?" The elf did not respond, so he experimentally caressed his hair again. Legolas sighed, relaxing a bit more. Cautiously, and ready to pull back at the first hint of an adverse reaction, Gimli gave into temptation and drew one finger along the ear tip closest to his face. Legolas' hands tightened convulsively and he gasped. The dwarf's eyebrows rose significantly. Interesting. He repeated the caress, his eyebrows climbing even further when the elf moaned. Legolas turned in his arms until he could look up into Gimli's face. Flushed, hair tousled, he looked impossibly beautiful. Keeping a firm rein on his desires, the dwarf merely brushed a few stray strands of hair from his friend's face. Legolas' tongue flicked out over his lips and Gimli felt his groin tighten.
"Gimli, please. I shall go mad if you do not."
He could stand it no longer and brought his mouth crashing down onto Legolas'. The elf's mouth opened to him eagerly, his tongue readily twining with Gimli's, his hands roaming over the dwarf's arms and shoulders as he wrapped his body around Gimli's. Gimli broke the kiss to lavish attention on the pointed ears that fascinated him so, making the elf writhe in his arms and moan with pleasure.
"Yes, oh, yes! Do not stop!"
Gimli heaved himself up onto arms that shook with effort, mindful of the wiry form beneath him, and looked down at the elf. Legolas' face was flushed, his hair mussed, a dark love-bite standing out vividly against the fair skin just above his collar bone. He looked thoroughly sated, thoroughly debauched, and incredibly beautiful to the smitten dwarf's eyes. He blinked, giving Gimli a sensual smile and reached up, drawing him down into a long kiss.
"If you only knew how long I have wanted you, my dearest dwarf," he murmured as the kiss ended.
"How long? I'm curious," Gimli replied, shifting to lay next to Legolas. The elf rolled langoriously onto his side to face him and grinned a scapegrace grin.
"Since the Council," he said, his eyes merry but weary in to wake of their shared completion. "You were so passionate in your speech that I wished to have you right there. I doubt you would have appreciated it at the time, however."
"Well, one of my regrets through Khazad Dum was that I was no longer walking behind you," the dwarf said with a chuckle. Legolas laughed.
"You are very good at hiding what you think, my friend! I had no idea that my desires were returned. Poor Aragorn has been listening to me lament my unrequited feelings since Hollin! Just yesterday he bade me, 'Kiss him and be done with it or leave off! You are driving me mad!' I feel rather badly about that, actually, as he has had far graver things to handle than my whinging on the subject of my lovelife, not to mention that he has been unable to fulfill his own desires this past sixty-odd years."
"Aye, well perhaps that too will be resolved soon. Mahal knows he'd be a lot less dour with his elf in his bed!" Legolas smacked his shoulder lightly, though he snickered as well.
"Arwen is as my sister, you rude dwarf! I do not want that image in my head, thank you."
"Image of what? Lady Arwen, or Aragorn?" Gimli could not resist asking, grinning despite his half-serious question.
"Neither. As I said, Arwen is as my sister and Aragorn has not enough beard nor width of shoulder to interest me in the least." He ran an appreciative hand over Gimli's shoulder as he spoke before twining his fingers in the dwarf's beard. "Besides," he said, yawning mid-statement, "I still see him sometimes as the dirty-faced youngster who used to follow me around Rivendell like a puppy."
"You're in need of rest," Gimli said, smoothing the archer's tousled locks back from his face with a surprisingly gentle hand. Legolas merely snuggled close, nuzzling into Gimli's beard. The dwarf smiled, settling his arms comfortably around his shieldmate, the smile widening at the contented noises the elf made.
"I think we need not worry further about ill dreams," Legolas said softly against Gimli's shoulder. "You seem to have driven them away rather effectively."
"Well, the treatment beats any healer's potion, you have to admit," the dwarf said with a chuckle.
"Aye, I much prefer your method of healing," Legolas agreed readily, though his voice was beginning to slur with weariness. He yawned once more, relaxing further as his breathing became slow and even. Gimli stroked his hair back again, marveling at having sated the elf so completely that he slept with closed eyes.
"Come morning, lad, you and I will be having a serious discussion on the topics of bad dreams, not talking to your friend when you ought, and where we go from here." There was no response from the elf, not that Gimli had truly expected one as deeply as Legolas had drifted into sleep. He lay for a long while, watching his shieldbrother turned shieldmate rest before passing into sleep himself.
Aragorn made his way silently through the pre-dawn mist that had settled on the camp. He supposed it was not fair to the guards he had recently acquired to slip out without their knowledge, but he was unused to being followed everywhere he went. He knew that he would have to get used to it once they traveled back to the city, but for now, he slipped away when he wished and back before anyone was the wiser.
At the moment, he wished to check on Legolas. The ever-observant Merry had voiced concern about the elf just that afternoon, remarking that he had never before seen their companion actually looking tired, much less exhausted.
'He looks like the dregs, Strider.' Merry had said bluntly. 'You and Gimli between you need to bundle him off to bed and keep him there for several days. He's more likely to listen to the two of you than anyone else, stubborn as he is.'
And, looking at Legolas as the elf crossed the camp fresh from his bath in the stream a short while later, he found he had had to agree with the hobbit. Legolas did indeed look like the dregs and likely to fall on his fair face ere long from sheer exhaustion. He had meant to put a flea in Gimli's ear about it but had been sidetracked by a young guardsman who had run afoul of one of the local snakes. The guardsman was now out of danger and resting, and Aragorn turned his mind back to his long-term friend's well-being.
Moving with stealth learned in hard lessons in the wilds of many parts of Arda, he passed through the camp like a ghost, reaching the tent that the elf and the dwarf shared without being detected. He slipped silently into the tent, pausing a moment to allow his eyes to adjust. Those eyes widened at the sight the faint moonlight filtering in through the smoke-hole in the roof of the tent revealed.
Gimli lay on his back, bare-chested, a blanket draped over his waist and covering him from his hips to his toes. Draped over Gimli's chest was the elf, his head on the dwarf's shoulder and his hand firmly twined into Gimli's beard. One of the dwarf's large hands rested on Legolas' bare back, the other covering the elf's backside possessively. The same blanket that covered Gimli was draped over the elf's hips, however it had slipped low enough to expose the upper curve of Legolas' buttocks, making it obvious that he wore nothing beneath the blanket.
A slow grin spread over Aragorn's face and he slipped out of the tent as silently as he had entered it. Once away, he began to chuckle merrily, shaking his head as he made his way back to his own tent.