Most people had trouble telling the twin sons of Lord Elrond apart. Gimli did not share this problem. True, they were very similar physically, but to Gimli the difference was plain. The one hanging all over Legolas like the Mirkwood Prince somehow belonged to him was Elladan; the one with enough sense to keep his paws off other people's elves was Elrohir. Simple enough.

Gimli watched Elladan and Legolas sail past yet again, laughing easily with one another, and wondered if it wouldn't become necessary in the near future for Aragorn to send his dear friend and foster brother on a mission--say, to Cirith Ungol. No, that wasn't nearly far enough away. Mount Doom, perhaps? Gimli phrased the request in his mind: "Dearest Elladan, it seems that Sam dropped one of his favorite gardening spades near the mouth of Orodruin and he's simply crushed. Couldn't you go and fetch it for him?" Yes, that would do nicely.

It wasn't, Gimli reflected sourly, that he begrudged Legolas the opportunity to dance with other elves; on the contrary. It was something his elf enjoyed, and Gimli couldn't very well join him--dwarvish dancing consisted of roughly stamping your feet against the ground and possibly, if the dwarves in question were feeling daring, clinking your beer mugs together.

Besides, Gimli liked watching Legolas dance.

But he did not, could not, understand why Legolas always insisted on dancing with that damned Peredhel. Elladan was likely to get ideas if this kept up. Why couldn't Legolas choose to dance with someone like Arwen? Nice, practical Arwen, safely wedded to another man, would make an excellent dance partner. Or if Legolas insisted on participating in the elven custom of dancing with one's own sex, Aragorn himself would be safe enough. Though Gimli had noted with amusement that Aragorn was somewhat reluctant to share in this particular custom of his adopted family's race-- he seemed to think it would affect his masculinity in the eyes of some of the Gondorian nobles.

At any rate, the future King seemed to have disappeared for the moment. Gimli could have sworn he had seen him across the garden just moments ago, trapped in conversation with one of the older and more pedantic members of his council, but the man must have made his escape. Then all thoughts of Aragorn vanished as Gimli saw Elladan playfully tug on one of Legolas' braids. Mine, Gimli thought angrily.

He suddenly realized he had been staring openly at the Mirkwood prince for some time and guiltily dropped his head, taking a long swig of ale to cover his discomposure. And anyway, what business was it of his if Legolas wanted to dance with that overbearing flirtatious elf? They were friends, good friends, but nothing more, and it was none of Gimli's business. Since when had he become so all-fired possessive of that elf anyway?

But then, that was part of the problem. He couldn't pinpoint just exactly when his feelings for Legolas had become so possessive. It had just happened--whatever "it" was. They had never discussed it, but Gimli felt certain that Legolas felt something growing and changing in their relationship too. Yet their energies had been flung in so many different directions, during the quest and now in their efforts to rebuild Minas Tirith, that they had honestly never once sat down and discussed what should have been the indescribable oddity of their friendship, nor where that friendship was progressing. Whenever Gimli tried to figure out how it had begun, time seemed to shift, flowing and slipping through his grasp like it had within the Golden Wood. It seemed that one moment he and Legolas had been shooting each other dirty looks behind Gandalf's back and the next moment the elf was standing over him in Lorien with his hand outstretched. And then it seemed that the moment after that they stood upon the Hornburg, backs against one another and the next moment was here--feeling the cold air at his side where Legolas should have been and wondering if Elladan wouldn't look better if Gimli just happened to, accidentally, chop his legs off at the knee. This, at least, would prevent the Peredhel from dancing with Legolas.

His eyes lingered on Legolas again. Stop it, he chided himself angrily. Someone's bound to notice. But he truthfully couldn't help it. When a dwarf discovered something beautiful, something precious and rare, he wanted to keep it. To keep it close and love and cherish it, and not allow someone else to go dancing away with it.

The music halted and the dancers stopped, and Gimli realized he had lapsed into staring again. He busied himself with taking a large drink of ale so that it wouldn't apparent he had been watching when Legolas came over to him...if Legolas came over to him, that was. The musicians had launched another tune and that horrible March-Warden from Lorien was approaching Legolas. Hands off, hands off Gimli thought grimly, trying to somehow send his message by thought alone.

But Haldir was suave; Haldir had brought Elrohir with him as a decoy to claim Elladan's attention, and it was working. Haldir was asking Legolas to dance the next dance with him and Legolas was accepting.

"Dearest Haldir, apparently Frodo dropped that Mithril shirt he was so fond of somewhere around the Black Gate..."

Now that Elladan was dancing with his brother, Gimli couldn't understand why he'd ever thought anything bad about the twins, either of them. Haldir, however, was a different matter. Sneaky, oh yes--that bit with the blindfolds had been his idea. Sneaky and devious and entirely too confident of his own beauty (though Gimli did have to grudgingly admit that this last conceit was not without foundation). And now he was after Gimli's elf. No combination more annoying.

Staring again. Gimli took a drink and reflected sourly that he was going to have to find another remedy for staring before the night was over, or he was going to wind up very, very drunk.

Fortunately, this tune was proving to be much shorter than the last. And--yes, miracle of miracles, the musicians were signaling that they were going to take a break. That meant no dancing for a moment; that meant Legolas would be coming back.

Gimli's eyes suddenly narrowed. Haldir did not seem to realize that this was the appropriate time to release Gimli's elf. In fact, he was gesturing away from the ground, to the many winding garden paths.

Gimli's grip eased off his axe handle when Legolas shook his head and gestured in Gimli's direction. Haldir turned then and looked right at the dwarf. Gimli chose not to make a pretense of looking away, but rather met the march-warden's gaze frankly. An expression of distaste flitted over Haldir's face. He turned back to Legolas and the two spoke briefly before parting--Legolas towards Gimli, and Haldir towards a small group of Lorien elves.

Gimli knew that Legolas would want something to drink, so he busied himself locating an unclaimed goblet and reaching across the table for a jug of wine. He had tried to introduce Legolas to the pleasures of ale but the elf had failed to see its virtues as opposed to his native wine--a rather boring an unintoxicating drink as Gimli thought it, but who was he to deny Legolas his preference?

He had a glass of moderately chilled wine poured by the time Legolas arrived, bright eyed and breathing quickly from his exertions on the dance floor. Legolas expressed his thanks not with words but with a quick smile as he accepted the goblet; a smile that lit up his eyes and made Gimli's heart do a somersault and land in his throat. Afraid of betraying his feelings, Gimli schooled his features into solemnity.

Legolas raised his eyebrows over the brim of his chalice. Swallowing and setting it down, he asked, "Gimli, whyever are you scowling at me like that?"

Gimli cocked an eyebrow of his own. "Haldir?"

Legolas' face was the picture of innocence. "He asked me," he replied lightly.

"Elladan is one thing, but Haldir?"

A small smile was playing with the corners of Legolas's mouth, destroying his image of perfect naivety. "I fail to see the difference," he announced airily. "They are both old friends, and I must say, superb dancers as well."

The difference is that Elladan is merely flirting with a friend but Haldir is stalking you, Gimli thought furiously. The difference is that Elladan's heart belongs to someone else but Haldir wants you. The difference is that I merely envy Elladan; I loathe Haldir. Unable to say any of this out loud, he contented himself with a series of inarticulate but highly offended grumbles.

The smile had taken complete hold of Legolas's face. In a voice pitched to carry to no one's ears but Gimli's, he queried, "Are you jealous, Gimli?"

Something in the elf's tone--a challenge, almost--prompted Gimli to tell the truth, instead of blustering or bantering around the topic. "Extremely," he said flatly, refusing to look away even though he felt his cheeks color.

Legolas, however, did look away--seemingly training his eyes on the King and Queen and a group of courtiers they were conversing with. His smile became positively smug. "Good," he said in a tone of immense satisfaction.

The word hung in the air between them like a living, breathing thing. Legolas glanced back at Gimli, still smiling. Gimli recovered enough breath to ask, "Elven games, my friend?"

Legolas smirked--there was no other word for his expression, yet his eyes were not unkind. He seemed to choose his words carefully before responding. "Well, when one plays with elves...."

Gimli laughed. The sudden realization that Legolas was flirting with him coursed through his veins, far more intoxicating than the ale. "I suppose that's fair," he admitted, boldly grabbing Legolas' hand.

"All's fair in love and war," Legolas reminded him, making no move to reclaim his hand.

Gimli couldn't resist pushing the Elf a little further. "And which one are we engaged in?"

Legolas' eyes sparkled, and he cocked his head to one side, seeming to consider his answer. Love, of course Gimli thought dizzily, reflecting on how well Legolas' palm seemed to fit within his own. "I think a little of both," Legolas finally declared.

Grinning, Gimli raised his tankard to toast the wisdom of the elf's diplomatic answer. Legolas solemnly clinked his chalice against Gimli's tankard, but his eyes were still alight with mirth and something stronger. Surely no elf's eyes had ever shone so bright.

Haltingly at first, then with increasing confidence, a sprightly new dance tune filtered into the air. Gimli glanced over and saw that new musicians were taking their turn at the instruments, giving the others a chance to enjoy the party. He could feel more than see Legolas pick up the beat and start tapping his foot, but the Elf made no move away from the table.

"Oh, go ahead and dance," Gimli said with a laugh, suddenly unable to deny his Elf anything.

Legolas smiled that heart-stopping smile at him again, clearly surprised and pleased by the offer. "I shall," he agreed happily. Then, "Thank you, Gimli." He stood up, and before leaving quickly grabbed Gimli in a one-armed hug--a move that, Gimli found, fortuitously pressed his face into Legolas' neck. He inhaled deeply. The hug lingered just a little longer than it might have a day ago, and the Elven prince looked more than a little unsteady on his feet as he walked away.

Gimli felt an irrepressible grin take hold of his face. All was well with the world., all was not well. Haldir. That insufferable march-warden had cornered Legolas again, and Gimli's elf was far too polite to refuse. Gimli ground his teeth together. There was not a single being, man, elf, or otherwise here tonight that he felt he would less like Legolas to dance with. And he had just given Legolas permission to dance, so he couldn't very well go pulling the elf back now. Damn. When was that elf going to learn that Legolas was by no means his?

Except Legolas didn't seem to be making it very clear at the moment. Gimli frowned fiercely. What was Legolas doing? Touching Haldir's hair, his waist, letting the March Warden take control and spin him around quickly. Gimli's heart came down painfully. Legolas was just in a flirting mood. Did it then mean anything that he had flirted with Gimli?

It had felt so good that for a moment Gimli refused to believe he had been mistaken. It did mean something, what Legolas had done. Legolas was a social creature, all elves were--they were always flirting playfully with each other and it didn't mean a thing. Elrohir, for example, had certainly not objected to his twin's earlier flirtations with the Mirkwood prince. It was just what they did. But Gimli was a dwarf and so it meant something that Legolas had chosen to flirt with him. And he knew, he knew that Legolas wouldn't be displeased if Gimli gave into his anger and strode across the dance floor right now to show that snooty Haldir that a dwarf's jealousy should not be aroused if the person in question valued his head.

But all rationalizations flew away as Gimli saw Haldir lean forward and kiss Legolas--kiss him so surely and emphatically that it couldn't have been unwelcome. The blood drained from Gimli's face. He didn't wait to see Legolas pull back, nor the look of horror on his face as he searched the crowd for Gimli--the dwarf had already stood and clambered over the bench, nearly knocking it over in his haste as he ran into the gardens.