In in the long quiet hours before dawn, Legolas son of Thranduil stood alone. The city of Minas Tirith lay before him; even in the dim light of a waning moon the devastation was evident. He could see the stars where once stood lofty towers. Much had been lost in the final battle; victory had been won, but the price of it had been very dear indeed. Though the populace now celebrated the new king's coronation, an air of melancholia underlay the revelry. There was no man or woman within the city's walls who did not grieve the loss of kin or brothers-in-arms.
His keen elvish hearing caught the sound of boots on the steps up to the watchtower, but Legolas did not turn.
"Why do you not seek your bed at this late hour?" Legolas asked.
Gimli snorted and came to stand beside the Elf. His head cleared the wall, but only just. "Here you've taken my part – I sought to ask the same of you!"
"I confess my limbs are weary, but I do not need to sleep, and find that I am unable to take such solace this night."
"What grieves you that would keep you from repose? The battles are done, friend, and we are victorious." The Elf did not answer immediately, and Gimli grasped his companion's arm, the Dwarf's countenance becoming grim. "If something troubles you, speak of it and do not delay. That which pains you, pains me."
Legolas smiled then, though in his eyes lingered a sweet and inexpressible sadness. "I fear I shall appear foolish for in truth there is nothing." He laid his own slender fingers over the Dwarf's. "Do not concern yourself over my strange sorrows."
The Dwarf hrumphed. "I may not understand – for what Dwarf can understand the mind of an Elf? – but I would hear them all the same."
Legolas sighed a little and dropped Gimli's hand. "We've spent a year together, battling the darkest foes and facing toils unending. A year? So short a span of time that no elf would mark it. Yet I have done more and seen more in that time than in the rest of my long life. Each moment was made significant by its very precariousness. Always I looked ahead to greater labors, each arising as the last had been overcome, with the final task hanging over all." Legolas cast his gaze out over the city. "To my shame, I despaired."
"Do not censure yourself. No Man or Elf or Dwarf saw Sauron's army and did not know hopelessness," the Dwarf said sternly. "To stand fast when naught but duty and love holds you – that is true honor."
"Your words comfort me," Legolas replied, ducking his head so his hair, now unbound, fell in his pale eyes. "In those harried days, I gave little thought to what lay after victory, if victory should come. I lived as Man or Dwarf, for death seemed as likely for me as for any of their number. Now the promise of life unending is restored and I can continue as I have these past centuries." The Elf's fair brow furrowed, and he grasped the cold stone of the wall leaning heavily against it. "But the thought of home holds not the joy once it did. Mirkwood remains constant, but I fear I have changed."
"That is the way of it, lad," Gimli replied. "Do not think on it tonight. You may yet delay your return. There is much work to be done in Gondor, and we have both pledged our aid to Aragorn."
"It is true, we have. I would see the gardens renewed and made glorious. There is too little that grows within the city."
"And I would hew fine stone for the rebuilding." Gimli hesitated, stroking his beard. "And yet another promise you made to see the Glittering Caves, if you still hold to that."
"Hold to it, and gladly." Legolas smiled. "Though I must in turn remind you of your promise to visit Fangorn."
Here Gimli shuddered. "I will go, and with you as guide I shall not fear what lurks there in the shadows. But it is a mark of the great love I bear you that I consider the journey at all."
"It honors me to be so esteemed," the Elf replied.
"Only such esteem as you deserve." Now it was Gimli who looked out over the slumbering city. The revelers had consumed drink enough to settle them, and all but the most exuberant sought their beds. "There are few who could rival your place in my affections. Indeed, there are none."
The Elf stepped back from the wall, fixing the Dwarf with his gaze. "There is more to your words; I hear it in your voice."
"There are things I would say to you, but I did not mean to say them now, so close after the battle's end."
"You have heard my woes, now I would hear yours."
"It is not of sorrow that I would speak, but of joy." Gimli faced the elf, straightening to his full height, though he came but a little past the elf's shoulder. "Though I am not sure that you will share it." He looked aside. "I should have waited for a time more fitting, and now regret speaking in haste."
"You cannot yet regret it – you have said nothing! Speak!" Legolas urged, his voice impatient. "When has a Dwarf ever hesitated to say exactly what is on his mind?"
Gimli laughed ruefully. "True enough, though it galls to have an Elf enjoin me to candor." The Dwarf paused again, as though carefully choosing his next words. Legolas wondered at his companion's reticence, which was so unlike the Dwarf, but he held his peace and gave Gimli time to gather his thoughts. "As you have said," Gimli began, "in the past year we have faced much together, and though a year may be but short a time, I have come to know you better than those with whom I have spent a hundred less arduous years."
The Elf nodded. "It is the same with me also."
"Ah, I can endure this no longer!" Gimli bellowed, his face ruddy even under the wan moonlight, the outburst greatly surprising Legolas. "I will not stand here like some infatuated Hobbit. I did not quail before hordes of orcs! I did not falter before the Nazgul! I will not be shaken to my core by an Elf!" Only one with Legolas's keen sight could perceive the slight trembling of the Dwarf's fingers. "Tell me, Legolas son of Thranduil, if your affection for me exceeds the bonds of simple friendship, as you must know mine does for you!"
Legolas's lips parted to speak, but he said nothing. He turned and circled the narrow space in a few agitated steps, coming again to stand before Gimli. The silence was measured in their breaths which came loud and quick.
"I have overstepped myself," Gimli said. "And I am a fool!"
"No!" Legolas said finally. "Your words have surprised me, but they were honest and true and I treasure them."
"But you cannot return them," the Dwarf said, starting for the stairs. "And I will trouble you no more."
Legolas, moving with the grace and speed that is the prerogative of all Elves, seized the Dwarf's shoulder to prevent his exit. Gimli roared in outrage to be so handled and knocked Legolas's hand away.
"Wait!" Legolas said, hands held out in entreaty, though he made no further move to touch the Dwarf. "Stay but a little while and hear all that I would tell you." Gimli held his place, neither retreating or advancing. "Though it is not easy for me to say and not easy for you to hear. If, after, you would still be free of me, I will not hinder your departure or molest you again."
The Dwarf nodded his assent and moved abreast of the Elf. "It is only fair to hear you out when you have done the same for me."
Legolas drew breath and began, his musical voice grave. "Your attentions are not entirely unforeseen, Gimli Elf-Friend. And they are not unwelcome. I have felt a kinship, a bond of intimacy between us, unrivaled by any other I have known."
"That gladdens my heart," Gimli said.
"Wait – I have not finished and there is more you must know," said Legolas. "I am a prince, my father's only son, and I am destined to rule after he has gone into the West. Elves marry only once and, having taken a lover, they find no other the whole of their lives.
"In taking you for my own, I would forsake my inheritance and end the bloodline of my fathers." Gimli shifted as though he would speak here, but Legolas did not give him opportunity, forging on with the things that lay heavy on his heart. "I tell you this not to burden you. Know that I would commit to that course gladly and without reservation, but also know that I would be sure of my own heart – and yours – before I bind to it." His expression turned rueful. "Though I suspected your feelings, I had not confirmation of them until this night. I had supposed there was more time to comprehend my own heart before learning yours." The Elf stopped, uncertain. "I would not ask you to delay your own life or desires awaiting my decision."
Gimli stood still, save for a hand clasped to his breast in oath. "As long as I may hope, I will abide."
Thus did Gimli son of Gloin began his courtship of the Elf Legolas Greenleaf.