"I went to wake him and he was dead!" Alfiriniel wailed for what had to be the fifth or sixth time.
The child was older in years than the mortal she tended--had tended, Legolas corrected numbly--older perhaps than Legolas himself, but like all the Unshadowed elves she seemed terribly young. Born in the Undying Lands, living in the Undying Lands, she probably had never seen death before, not even the comparatively easy death of an aged and weary hobbit.
"Bilbo never was very good at saying good-bye," Frodo said. His eyes were dry, but he seemed very grateful for the arm Samwise wrapped around his shoulder.
Legolas felt keenly Gimli's absence from his side. The room was cold despite the mild spring weather. Should he build up the fire? He felt like he should be doing something, but could not think what. Death was not so foreign to him as it was to those who had never seen Middle-Earth, but it had become a stranger since crossing the sea. Aragorn's had been the last death he had seen. "Elessar," he whispered.
Gimli returned at last with Lord Elrond. Celebrian followed them and mercifully led the still hysterical Alfiriniel away, leaving the rest of them to grieve in peace. Legolas pulled Gimli to his side, instantly feeling warmer with his arm about his waist, while Elrond knelt beside Bilbo's low bed.
"I knew he was weary," the Half-Elven said softly, smoothing Bilbo's hair back from his forehead. "But I--" He shook his head, then spoke again in some ancient tongue Legolas did not recognize.
Legolas slipped noiselessly into the darkened bedroom. Gimli was sleeping, only sleeping, he knew that, but he slept so soundly Legolas could not see him breathing. He laid his hand on Gimli's chest, only reassured when he felt the slow, steady drum of the dwarf's heart. He turned to go, only to find his hand caught.
"Legolas?" The dwarf's voice was sleepy.
"Gimli. I am sorry I woke you."
Gimli chuckled. "And you meant not to wake me the other three times you have entered our chamber this night."
Five times. Twice at least had escaped Gimli's notice. "I am sorry, Master Dwarf," he whispered, hoping to amuse and distract Gimli by using that old address. It failed to work.
"Why?" Gimli asked.
Legolas remained silent.
"Tell me why," he demanded gently, inexorably.
"I cannot!" His voice cracked. To speak of Gimli's death was the ultimate obscenity.
Gimli drew him down and held him close. "Shh. It is all right, my Legolas. I am here." Legolas's hand lay on Gimli's chest, bringing to his ear the reassuring beat of that beloved heart. He tried to push the unwelcome thoughts out of his head with the sound and failed. This--this was unendurable. He had sought advice of the wise, yet none could give him the answer he required. One alone remained to give him hope.
"Tomorrow--" he whispered. "I need to go--there is someone to whom I must speak. I should only be gone a day," he added, already miserable at the separation.
Gimli's hand found his face in the dark and caressed his cheek. "Whatever you need, whatever time you need. I will be here when you return."
It did not look like the dwelling of a dwarf, or even of the father of the dwarves. Trees heavy-burdened with fruit dotted a green and growing courtyard, and tapestries adorned all the walls. Yet cunning statues mimicked the trees in gold and steel and bronze, and not all the tapestries' threads were spider silk. Here was a home much like that which Legolas shared with Gimli, the dwarven love tempered with the elven, the two mixed and grown stronger in their melding.
A tall, stern figure awaited him at the door. Legolas bowed low to the Vala in the dwarven manner. "Mahal."
The Vala raised an eyebrow. "That is not a name I have heard in many years, and never from the First-Born of Iluvator."
Legolas bowed again, almost sick with mingled hope and despair. If he could not, would not, help-- "I come to ask a boon, for love of one of your children."
Mahal studied him. "I think you had best come inside."
The Vala's workroom was tidy, yet crowded with projects in various states of completion. Except for the table heights it could have been any workroom within the Glittering Caves or the mountain of Erebor. Mahal waved him to a seat and took a stool for himself.
"The Undying Lands can heal the hurts of mind and spirit," he said without waiting for Legolas to explain his errand. "But it cannot give immortality to a mortal body; it can only delay the inevitable. He has lived centuries beyond any of my children, save Durin alone, and may yet live a century more. But die he must."
"No!" He had heard the same counsel from Elrond, Galadriel, and Mithrandir, he had not come this far to hear it repeated. "You are the creator of the dwarves. You made him, surely you can save him!"
"I am not Iluvator, my creation is flawed."
"The dwarves are not flawed!" Legolas leapt in automatic defense, as he had since first hearing that slander in Mirkwood after the War.
"Such a staunch defender," Mahal chuckled. Legolas lowered his eyes, suddenly remembering to whom he spoke. "You do me proud, Legolas Dwarf-Friend, but one of those flaws is that their hroar do not endure as long as yours. Even Durin, the dearest and greatest of my children, grew weary and died." He sighed. "That is one of the flaws Iluvator refused to correct when he allowed my children to live. Neither the Gift of Man nor the strength of the First-Born."
"Then you will do nothing?" Legolas demanded, fighting off despair with anger. "You will just let him--" His voice cracked on the word, "--die?"
Mahal refused to rise to his anger. "Cannot, not will not." He studied Legolas with what Legolas refused to recognize as sympathy. "Unless--Can you tell me his true name?"
Only parents and those much beloved knew that most secret of names. He could not betray that, not even for a god. "That gift is not mine to give again," he said regretfully.
Mahal smiled. "Ogonyok gave his trust well, Leskamen."
Legolas started at the name, both names. In a chamber deep in the heart of the Lonely Mountain Gimli had gifted Legolas with his secret name, and then further gifted him with a name of his own when Gimli discovered that he had none to give in return. None had spoken it since that time.
"Leskamen," Mahal repeated softly, the name commanding Legolas's attention in ways he did not expect. The name was a tie that bound him to Mahal's will. "There is a way. Perhaps."
"I will take what chance I may, my lord," Legolas assured him.
"Gimli will die," Mahal said firmly. "Soon or late, he must. I cannot prevent that. But if he wills it...he can be reborn."
Gimli was waiting for him when he returned, welcoming him back with a prolonged and possessive kiss before even Legolas could speak a greeting. Legolas gave himself to the embrace, wrapping his arms around Gimli and clutching the back of his tunic in his fists. He missed this, needed this, after a bare twelve-hour absence.
"If this is how I am welcomed home," he said sometime later when Gimli at last gave him time and breath for speech, "perhaps I should leave more often."
Gimli growled but otherwise ignored the jest. "How was your visit with Mahal?" He smirked at Legolas's start of surprise. "Come now. You smell of solder and flux, smoke and iron. You smell like a dwarven workshop--and not mine." He shrugged, smiled, and quirked one eyebrow. "So?"
He could not deny the question, through he had wished to think on Mahal's words before speaking of them. "It went...well, though I did not hear the answer I wished to hear."
Gimli nodded, slowly and thoughtfully, but did not ask the questions Legolas expected. Instead he pulled Legolas closer and held him tight. "Come. Even elves need sleep."
Legolas woke with a start several hours later. Gimli's arms had fallen away sometime in the night and he was chilled, though not by the temperate air of Valinor. He reached for Gimli and found him lying on the other side of the bed, warm but still, so very still. He laid his hand on Gimli's chest, but could find no pulse, no movement of breathing. But he was warm, still warm! Legolas bent his head to lay it on Gimli's breast, but could hear nothing over his own wildly beating heart. "Gimli?" He stifled a wail of loss. Had he lost his only chance to explain Mahal's offer out of cowardice? He shook Gimli's shoulder. "Gimli!"
"Aruhng?" the dwarf mumbled. Legolas could have wept for joy. "Legolas?" he asked, still more than half asleep. "'S matter?"
"Nothing." All was well, all was beautiful. "I am sorry I woke you; go back to sleep."
Gimli rolled over to face him instead. "Hervenn, beloved, one day I will die, we both know that. You asked Mahal and I asked Galadriel, but there is no avoiding that." Gimli laid a finger over Legolas's lips when he would have interrupted to speak of what he had learned. "It will happen, it must. But it will happen at a time of my choosing, much like Aragorn. And I swear to you, by stone and steel, by mithril and gold, that I will not leave without saying goodbye!"
Legolas stopped, stunned. "I--"
"Bilbo's death, the timing of it, was his own choice," Gimli said. "As Frodo said, he never was one for saying goodbye. Ask Frodo sometime about him disappearing in the middle of his own birthday party!"
"What if--what if it did not have to be goodbye?" Legolas stammered, determined despite Gimli's assurances that he would not waste this opportunity to explain.
"Beloved--" Gimli warned.
"No," Legolas interrupted. "You spoke to Galadriel, I spoke to Mahal. He gives you the choice of Durin, to be re-embodied, reborn into a new life as often as you wish."
Gimli snorted. "Much good that will do unless I am reborn as an elf. Otherwise I will be in Middle-Earth and you here."
"Mahal will send me across the Sundering Sea."
A look of wonder suffused Gimli's face. "You would leave--" He grinned. "Silly question, of course you would." Gimli's joy was dizzying, or perhaps that was Legolas's own. Gimli leaned over and kissed him--on the nose. "I never feared death," he said more soberly. "Only leaving you. Now when I have to leave--"
"I will find you," Legolas promised. "I will always find you."