Disclaimer:  The characters and the world belong to Tolkien; the words alone are mine.

A/N: Thanks to my Claudia-beta, as usual!

The air is still, in the half-light of dawn, and there is no sound but the crackle of the fire and the rustle as Gimli tries to find a more comfortable position.  Those Aulë-damned twigs keep poking him in tender areas and he wonders if all trees hate him, or if it is only those he has encountered so far.

The Elf, of course, is motionless and silent.

Gimli has to chuckle, even as he leans forward to throw the twigs into the fire, watching them twist and burn.  Even as he wonders when he started saying Aulë, rather than Mahal, even in his mind.

Perhaps being Elvish is catching, like some kind of plague.

Legolas turns at the sound of the chuckle, frowning.  "What?"

"You are doing it again, Master Elf."

"Doing what, Gimli?"


"I was not."  A somewhat petulant frown graces his fair face, and this time Gimli laughs out loud.

"There is no point in hiding it, Elf.  You are in love!  You stare at her, sing to her, and now you have roped me into helping you build a gift for her."

"Foolish dwarf.  You should not speak of things you know nothing about."

A plague upon the stiff necks of Elves!  And upon unnatural friendships, and upon the gulls that circle overhead.  And upon twigs, too, while he is at it.

He remembers that things used to be much simpler.  Dwarves pray to Mahal for simple things; gold, gems, and sons.  They do not camp out at the edge of a forest by the sea, build boats or befriend Elves.

"Go on," he hears himself say, nodding at the water.  "It would be impolite to keep the lady waiting."

And in a hundred years, why, in a hundred and twenty, you would never get that Elf to admit he'd been waiting for Gimli to speak.  But never mind, because a smile is creeping onto his face, watching the Elf dip a nervous toe into the sea, as if it would swallow him up.

Gimli decides to pretend he is not watching, although he is, just in case Legolas decides not to come back to shore.  But the Elf does not seem to be in any immediate danger, although he's now waist deep in the water, head tilted back, eyes closed, fingertips combing through the water in front of him.  Singing.

Gimli has left gold, gems, and sons behind, in exchange for friends, songs, and the sea.  And watching Legolas now, communing with the waves, there is a rightness to his choice that he cannot explain.

Who knew that a friendship forged in war could bring a grumpy old dwarf such peace?

But because he'd rather swallow his axe than admit to that truth, he leans forward again – old muscles stretching in complaint – to poke at dinner, hanging on a makeshift spit.  Ready, or close enough.

"Elf!" he calls.  "Dinner is served.  Leave the lady alone for now – your singing is giving me a headache."

"You ought to join me, friend Gimli!  The water might be good for your old bones – not to mention your stench!"  But he comes back onto the shore – not seeming to mind that he's dripping wet – all broad grin and slender braids and song – and settles down next to the fire, flicking a bit of water off his fingers at Gimli.

"Eh, none of that.  Eat, Elf."

Legolas takes up his portion, nibbling delicately, a half smile on his face, while Gimli tucks into his own rather larger share with gusto, washing it down with the last of the fine Gondorion wine and a silent blessing to Aragorn, who gifted it to him.

"Grubby Dwarf."

"Frivolous Elf."

Eh, who needs gold, anyway.