The evening sun still lingered in the west over the hills of Emyn Arnen, casting long shadows across the grounds of Prince Faramir's home in Ithilien. Gimli trudged wearily through the grand front entrance, only to be stopped by a smiling servant. "He is in the garden," she said, cocking her head towards a side entrance, propped open to take advantage of the fresh breeze.

Gimli acknowledged the information with a nod, and crossed the hall to the side door. Outside, a flagstone path meandered away before him, flanked by mounds of flowering plants, shrubs and trees. Bees and butterflies danced over the nodding blooms, and birds twittered and hopped about in the underbrush, taking advantage of the warmth that still lingered from the day. But Gimli saw little of all this. He was weary--bone weary, from long days of working with his kinsman from Erebor and the Iron Hills.

At the request of Prince Faramir and King Aragorn, the dwarves were using their considerable skills at stonemasonry, building a wharf down at the banks of the Anduin to facilitate ferry travel to and from Minas Tirith, and repairing roads in and around Gondor and Ithilien. And while the work was immensely satisfying, it was also exhausting. He passed a hand tiredly over his face as he rounded the last corner of the path.

Here, the pathway widened into a lovely clearing, surrounded by graceful trees and flowerbeds. In the centre, a fountain splashed merrily, sending sparkles of water up into the air. The air was sweet and mellow, and the slanting sun filtered through the tossing leaves, filling the glade with dappled light. There, kneeling by a flowerbed, was Legolas.

As Gimli had been asked to help to rebuild the kingdom with stone, so Legolas had been asked to bring beauty back to the lands with growing things. He was now working on the gardens of the Lady Éowyn, and many of his fair kindred had come bearing gifts of beautiful and unusual plants from around Middle Earth.

Gimli walked heavily over the grass and sat down with a deep sigh, not far from Legolas. The elf looked over at him briefly with a warm smile, but did not say anything. His face bore the focused, inturned look that he normally had when working in the gardens--as if he were listening to the sounds of the growing things, the dry whisper of the roots spreading through the earth, the hushed unfurling of new leaves. He continued to work steadily; mellowing the earth with his hands, then gently coaxing the newly arrived plants into their new homes. It seemed as if all the plants and trees in the clearing leaned in towards the elf, drawing from his radiance and becoming greener and fresher because of him.

Gimli leaned back lazily, his eyes following the confused path of a bumblebee up into the sky and out of sight. How strange it seemed to him to be relaxing in this quiet garden, when his ears still echoed with dwarvish grunts and shouts, the sounds of hammer and chisel, and stone grinding against stone. He held his hand up before his eyes, looking at the hard callused palm, the small cuts and abrasions, the rock dust that coated it even now. And then looked at the hands of Legolas, as they worked in the earth. Slender, pale hands, unblemished by dirt even as they dug into the loam, carefully setting a small plant into a newly made hole.

Suddenly he was struck by a memory of those same hands, covered in filth and orc blood, gripping white knuckled around the haft of a long silver knife, dealing out death and destruction. That same face, now set in lines of tranquility, a warrior's mask of battle rage he shook his head to dislodge the vision. Opposites and contrasts, he thought sleepily to himself. Strange indeed to be here at all, in this peaceful place, when not so long ago he wouldn't have wagered one gold piece on any of them coming out alive. To have stood in Mordor, at Sauron's doorstep his thoughts drifted as his eyes closed.

Gimli's eyes flew open with a muffled curse as something smacked against his chest. Sitting up stiffly, he brushed off the small clod of dirt from the front of his tunic and shot a glare over at Legolas.

"Do you find my garden so boring that it sends you to sleep?" enquired the elf, his eyes twinkling merrily.

"Boring indeed," said Gimli with a yawn. "I do not know what you see in places like this that keeps you entranced for hours." He lay back down again.

"Yet you must find it pleasing here, to let it lull you into such a relaxed state," teased Legolas gently.

"It is quiet, certainly," said Gimli, with his eyes closed. "And therefore most suitable for sleep, but I do not think I would consider it pleasing."

"No?" Legolas seemed surprised, and somewhat hurt. "Yet you find pleasure in beautiful things. Do you not see the beauty in the trees and flowers?"

"No," Gimli replied. There was a silence.

"You would, of course, have to open you eyes to actually give weight to your judgment, my friend. How can you find beauty when you do not even look for it?"

Gimli sighed and opened his eyes. His gaze roved around the glade, finally falling on Legolas' face. "I am sorry, my friend, but one plant looks very much like any other to me. And as for trees--they are altogether too tall, too leafy and too unstable for my tastes."

Legolas frowned slightly. "And yet you would say that no two stones are alike, and that great beauty can be found in the dark depths underground"

"Of course." There was another silence.

"Gimli, when we went together to the Glittering Caves, I wished to accompany you because you moved me with your words. And when we stood together in those caverns, I felt the great weight of the stone pressing upon me, and I thought that I could not bear it, until I saw you and how enthralled you were. And with your passion I could see the caves as if through your eyes, and they were beautiful, Gimli. They were as beautiful as anything I have ever seen." Here the elf paused for a moment. "Can you not try to see what I see? Can you not try to see and acknowledge the beauty that is in this garden?"

Gimli rolled over onto his side and looked at Legolas. He was kneeling in the grass, a grave look on his face, and the wind stirred his long fair hair about his shoulders. A small plant was still in his hands, and as he reached up to brush an errant strand of hair out of his face, his fingers left a smudge of dirt across one high cheekbone. Gimli smiled. Beauty indeed, he thought.

But out loud he said, "I see you." And reached over and brushed the dirt from his cheek with a gentle hand.

The evening breeze stirred the grasses, and sent the flower heads nodding and bobbing, as their eyes met. A hint of a dimple appeared in the elf's cheek by his mouth. A long moment passed.

Gimli stirred and sat up. "So, my friend, why don't you teach me all about these posies that you are planting?"

Legolas laughed. "These are not "posies", my dear dwarf, these are violets."

"Posies, violets, they all have green leaves" Gimli couldn't resist teasing the elf.

"Nay!" exclaimed Legolas in mock outrage. "All plants are different--they have differently shaped leaves, flowers, root structures, growing habits and needs"

"So then. Teach me."

"I believe it may be beyond the comprehension of a mere dwarf to understand the complexities of the natural world." Legolas's eyes sparkled with mischief.

"Nonsense. If a bunch of flighty elves can master it, I am sure I can manage." Gimli hitched himself closer to the elf. "Now then. Let's start with the one in your hands."

"As I already told you, this is a violet." Legolas leaned further out over the flowerbed, searching for just the right spot to place the small plant. "They like shady moist conditions, and bloom with purple flowers in the spring."

"Hmmm, violets," said Gimli, and snaked an arm around Legolas's waist. The elf looked about. "Gimli, what are you doing?"

"I am assisting you with your planting. I do not wish for you to fall into the flowerbed and crush the ahhh violets." The dwarf's expression was innocent as he gazed into the clear grey eyes so close to his own.

"I see." Legolas's face was solemn, but his eyes danced with a mischievous light.

"Shall we continue with the lesson? What, pray tell, is that plant over there?" Gimli tightened his grip a little and ran his free hand up and down the elf's side.

"That is a mayapple. It also thrives in shady conditions, and bears a yellow fruit after flowering" said Legolas, leaning slightly into the dwarf's embrace.

"And that?"

"A hosta. Another shade-loving plant"

"Ah, but we are in the shade, are we not?" Gimli's hands were now busy with the fastenings of Legolas's tunic.

"We are now what are you doing?"

"I am removing your tunic, as I am afraid that it is getting dirty with all this gardening."

"That is considerate of you." Gimli could feel the elf's body shake with suppressed laughter as he stroked the soft skin now exposed to his appreciative gaze.

"Mmmm. So then, let us continue. What is that over there?" The dwarf spoke against the elf's neck.

"That is a bleeding heart."

"I see and that?" Gimli eased the elf down onto his back on the ground as he spoke.

"sweet woodruff." Legolas seemed to be finding it difficult to concentrate.

"And that over there?" The dwarf's head was now buried in the smooth juncture between neck and shoulder, kissing and nipping lightly.

"Over where? You are not even looking!" The elf tried to sound exasperated, but succeeded only in sounding breathless.

"Does it matter?"

The elf gasped as Gimli's hands and lips moved lower.

"Come now. That plant right there, what is it?"

"That is a. aahhh, Gimli!" Legolas's back arched off the ground, fingers clutching tightly at the dwarf's muscled shoulders.

"An "Aahhh Gimli"? I did not know that a plant had been named in my honour! But I would think that it is not an appropriately rugged plant to be my namesake" The elf could feel Gimli smiling against his stomach.

"Gimli! It is a shasta daisy"

"And what is this that we are lying on?" Gimli was trying to remove more of Legolas's clothing, but found himself temporarily stalled by the intricacies of elven lacings.

"Surely even you know that this is grass!" The elf raised his hips in an effort to assist the dwarf in his endeavours.

"No, not the grass! This small thing here, it is still unplanted"

"What small thing?" Legolas craned his head around, then pushed suddenly at Gimli's shoulders. "Ai, Gimli, let me up!"

"What is the matter?"

"That plant! We are crushing it! Tis a gift from Haldir of Lothlorien--a rare and delicate fern that only grows in the Golden Wood!" Legolas's face was the picture of distress.

"A rare and delicate crushed fern, I would say" said Gimli, as he extracted the sorry looking thing from beneath them.

"Oh, no" The elf eyed the mangled plant in horror.

"There, I have moved it." Gimli pushed the fern behind him and out of sight. He prided himself on his excellent work ethic--no task that he had started would ever remain unfinished, and this was no exception. He turned his attention back to Legolas. "Now then, where were we in the lesson?"

But the elf never got a chance to answer as Gimli's lips covered his in a deep kiss, effectively distracting him from the damaged fern, the image of Haldir's disapproving face, and gardens in general.

****

It was another fair evening in Ithilien, as Gimli, Legolas, Prince Faramir, Lady Éowyn, and numerous other guests sat down to dinner in Faramir's home. The work of the dwarves was almost complete, as was the work of Legolas and the elves, and soon all would be returning to their respective homes. The meal passed with many a merry conversation, and soon Éowyn fell to praising the lovely gardens.

Legolas inclined his head with a smile, acknowledging her compliments. "Thank you, my Lady, but I could never have done it without the generous gifts of the elves, and of course Gimli's tireless help." He grinned a bit wickedly at the dwarf.

Éowyn smiled upon Gimli. "A strange thing to see a dwarf so much in a garden! Tis not a normal pastime for your people, I think."

"Nay, it is not," said Gimli. "However, Legolas has been teaching me the ways of plants, and I must admit I have found it mostinteresting." He allowed his eyes to glitter briefly at the elf.

"And what did you learn?" inquired Faramir conversationally.

"Oh, I was mainly learning to identify and name the plants. Before they looked all the same to me, but now I can tell the difference between violets, mayapples, hostas, bleeding hearts" His voice trailed off.

With each plant name, vividly remembered images and sensations came unbidden to his mind. Violets--pale hair spilling over pale shoulders. Mayapples--the feel of a soft throat against his lips. Hostas--a glimpse of slender, muscled thigh. Bleeding heart--a smooth neck arching back and lips parted in a soundless gasp. His mouth went dry as he realized the utter inappropriateness of the current time and place for such memories, and he thanked the Valar for his concealing beard as he felt his face heat. Gimli risked a quick glance towards Legolas and saw that a slow flush was spreading over his cheeks and his eyes were wide and overbright. And now the other dinner guests were looking at the two of them with curiosity. There was a moment of uncomfortable silence.

Suddenly, Legolas rose gracefully to his feet. "My Lord, my lady, if you will excuse me, I have just remembered something of importance that I forgot to finish in your garden. Gimli, I could use your help."

Gimli stared at him speechlessly for a moment, before scrambling awkwardly from his chair and mumbling his apologies.

The elf and the dwarf fled, leaving behind a table full of confused guests.

****

Legolas sat upon the low wall of a stone terrace, knees pulled up under his chin, and gazed off towards Minas Tirith. The morning was fair and bright with promise, and he sang softly to himself as he watched the flights of birds spiraling up into the impossibly blue sky. A step behind him broke his reverie, and turning, he beheld Gimli approaching with a jaunty step, holding something concealed behind his back.

"Legolas!" The dwarf hailed him with a smile. "I have been looking all over for you!"

"And now you have found me," returned the elf. "So what do you have concealed behind your back? Or dare I even ask?"

After a brief hesitation and a broad grin, Gimli brought forth his hidden hand with a flourish and a bow. "For you--a lovely bouquet of "Aahh Gimlis", to celebrate the successful completion of our tasks!"

Legolas's mouth dropped open in astonishment, then he broke forth into silvery peals of laughter. The dwarf could not help but join in, so merry was the sound. He handed the bouquet of daisies to the elf, and watched as he buried his nose in the flowers, still smiling broadly.

They stayed in companionable silence for a moment. Gimli leaned comfortably against the stone wall, feeling the elf's warm leg press against his shoulder and arm. "And so. Where will we go now that our work here is done?" he asked, watching Legolas's slender fingers caress the soft petals of the flowers in his hands.

"There is still much work to be done, to repair the Kingdom of the ravages of war." Legolas gazed down to the river. "You have been asked to go to Minas Tirith, have you not? To oversee the rebuilding of the great gates that were broken. And Arwen has asked me to assist her with her gardens"

"To Minas Tirith we will go, together. And wither then?"

Legolas turned his clear grey eyes to the dwarf. "I do not know. It is difficult to foresee what the twists and turns of fate will bring us. I would like to stay here, in Ithilien, and to bring some of my kindred here to dwell with me. The elves could be happy here, I think."

Gimli smiled. "And to make a garden of your own, some day?"

"Certainly." The elf returned his smile. "But what of you? You will disappear back to your deep dark mountain caverns, and I will have lost my best assistant gardener." His tone was light but his eyes were sad.

The dwarf was silent for a moment. "I have come to love this land, and those in it. Like you, I would like to stay. The Glittering Caves call to me, and I also believe that my kindred would be happy there." He paused. "Mayhap there is a place, not far from the Caves and not far from your beloved forests, where there is good stone aplenty for building, and good soil, for a garden. A place where we could both be content, for I would not be parted from you."

The elf's hands, which had been deftly plaiting the flowers into a long chain, stilled. "Nor I from you," he replied softly, and his eyes shone with emotion. They gazed at one another for a long while.

"Then it is settled," Gimli spoke briskly, breaking the mood, and pushing himself away from the wall. "We will fulfill our obligations in Minas Tirith, and then together we will travel north toward the Glittering Caves and search out a suitable spot."

"Agreed." Legolas's face was merry again. "Gimli, think of it! We will start new colonies with both our peoples living side by side in harmony. I will find joy in the trees and flowers, and you will be the Lord of the Glittering Caves. And here, my friend, is your crown!" And with that he joined the ends together of the chain of daisies he had just finished plaiting, forming a flowery circlet which he placed with great ceremony upon the dwarf's head.

Gimli stood astounded, and at the look on his face, the elf doubled over in helpless laughter. Gimli sputtered with indignation, until the thought of what a dwarf looks like wearing a crown of daisies on his head, combined with the sight of Legolas convulsed with mirth upon the wall, sent him into hearty guffaws. The terrace rang with the combined sounds of their mirth, until Legolas, still breathless with laughter, seized Gimli's hands and pulled him into a passionate kiss.

***

Haldir of Lothlorien strode through the halls of Prince Faramir's home, searching for Legolas. He was returning to the Golden Wood that morning, and wished to take his leave of his kinsman from Mirkwood. The Lady Éowyn had mentioned that she had seen Legolas not long ago on the second floor terrace, and as Haldir approached his destination, he could hear the combined sounds of elvish and dwarvish laughter.

He stopped just outside the doorway, listening. Strange that an elf and a dwarf could find companionship together, as these two obviously had, and stranger still that they could find enough in common to laugh so together. Still, the sound was infectious, and Haldir could not help but smile as the peals of laughter continued to ring out. Yes, they were a strange pair, but oddly suited to one another. He had heard that Legolas had actually ventured into caves of his own free will, with Gimli. And a dwarf voluntarily spending time in a garden! He would not have believed it if he hadn't seen it with his own eyes.

Silence had fallen again out on the terrace, and Haldir walked briskly through the door to receive the shock of his long, long life. There, against the stone wall, were Legolas and Gimli, hands clasped and kissing and sweet Elbereth, was that a crown of daisies in the dwarf's hair? He stumbled a little in his surprise, and the two lovers jumped and broke their kiss. They pulled apart slightly, but did not release each other's hands, and regarded Haldir with a surprising amount of tranquility. Haldir, however, was opening and closing his mouth like a fish out of water.

"Greetings, Haldir," said Legolas with a smile. "I was hoping to see you ere you departed on your return journey." He plucked the crown of daisies easily from Gimli's hair, and the dwarf shot him a quick glare.

"LegolasGimli," Haldir finally managed to croak out. "I have come to take my leave of you, and to wish you well wherever you may fare" He trailed off, having trouble focusing on social formalities with the sight of Gimli and Legolas's fingers twined together. He glanced quickly at the dwarf, and saw that his dark eyes were glittering with suppressed amusement at his discomfiture.

"Haldir." Gimli inclined his head gravely at the elf. "Safe journey, and please remember me to your Lady."

"I will." Haldir returned the bow, and made to go. "Oh, Legolas?" He turned back as he remembered something. "I was just in the gardens, and the fern that I

brought from the Golden Wood does not seem to be faring as well as I would like. And it appears strangely crushed, almost as if some great beast had sat upon it"

He was interrupted by an odd strangled sound from Gimli, which choked off almost immediately as Legolas's fingers tightened visibly over his. The dwarf's face was a curious study of suppressed guilt and hilarity, but the elf's expression was carefully blank.

"Ummmyes, Haldir, I have noticed the problem. Rest assured I will keep a close eye on the situation--the fern will recover and thrive, you have my word."

Haldir's eyes roved between the two. What in all of Middle Earth could be the matter with the pair now? Gimli now looked as if he was about to explode, and while Legolas's face was still calm, his knuckles were white where he gripped the dwarf's hand.

Realizing that something had transpired that he probably would never understand, Haldir sighed inaudibly. Collecting his scattered composure once more, he again made his farewells to the pair, and turned to leave with as much dignity as he could muster.

He was barely out into the hallway when an explosion of laughter coming from the terrace behind him nearly made him jump out of his skin. The sound followed him as he made his way through the house, making him shake his head in amazement. Strange indeed.