Disclaimer 1: I do not own the characters depicted in, nor do I make any money off of my dabbling.
Disclaimer 2: The following story depicts a relationship between two men.
The son of Gloin feared little, but he would have numbered himself among the most foolish of Middle Earth's denizens if he had not regarded Gandalf the White – passed through fire and death to return to them in their hour of need – as intimidating. The newfound awe he felt in the wizard's presence was inconvenient indeed. All throughout their quest he had possessed no great need for the counsel of wizards, trusting implicitly in Gandalf's guidance and seeking no more than that. And now, just when a wizard's advice would have been most useful, the wizard he had felt comfortable with (well, as comfortable as one ever feels near great power, which is to say, as comfortable as standing near a lightning-addicted tree in a fierce storm), the wizard that had blued the horizon with smoke rings was replaced by this sword-and-staff angel, this living light.
Time passed; they journeyed toward Isengard. Gimli gathered his courage and shaped it, created handholds where he could cling if the wizard's wrath blasted him for bothering him with foolishness when the future of Middle Earth itself swayed in the balance. In the end, he said nothing. In the end, his courage failed.
He sat in the firelight, sharpening an axe blade that could have severed a strand of hair with a look, and hewn an orc neck with a caress. Moving with soft steps learned in the wilderness, Aragorn came to his side. "I have never known the people of Durin to fret. Do you fear the coming battle, to work so at a sharpened blade?"
Gimli could hear the teasing in his voice and did not turn to see the smile flickering about his mouth. "Nay, we do not fret. We are not often teased with bare steel in our hands, either."
His gruffness served as no shield against the man's curiosity; Aragorn had learned long ago that such bluster was merely a front, a sort of carapace for emotions the dwarf would have left unseen. "I have seen you make as if to speak with Gandalf several times, Master Dwarf, then turn away. You fear to take up his time with war upon us, with the Quest weighing on his mind." He stretched his long legs, rustling the leaf fall and signaling that he would not rise quickly. "I am no wizard, Gimli, but I led our small band over many miles, and would hear what pains you."
Gimli took his pipe from his pocket. It was fashioned of heartwood and veins of autumnal stone ran through the bowl: ochre, blood-orange, garnet, and chestnut. The dwarf chewed at the tip, but made no move to light it. Aragorn hid his smile behind his lips; he knew that Gimli was considering, and he knew that to speak too quickly was to frighten him out of speech. At last, Gimli's voice rumbled into the night air. "I would know the differences between the senses of a dwarf and those of an elf." His copper eyes – owl-gleaming in the low light – swept over the camp, wondering if he was heard or observed even now.
Aragorn had learned to follow a trail by a few blades of bent grass; he was pleased that Gimli seemed to be considering a path that he had already seen. He might have pressed for the reason behind Gimli's thoughts, but to do so might turn him from the trail altogether. "You have traveled long with an elf, so you have seen some of the differences yourself. Elvish eyes see farther that mortal ones, and their hearing is keen. I do not believe that they experience touch differently than we; pain and pleasure feel to them as it feels to us. Their speech is perhaps more varied, to my ears. I cannot make some of the flute-like sounds." He shrugged. "But, then, I cannot form many of the words of your tongue, either. I cannot speak to smell, either. They track uncommonly well, and smell may be part of that."
Gimli sat silent for a moment, considering. "My people guard our lore jealousy, but we have few stories of the elves, and no books of them. It makes me wish for the great libraries of Rivendell. I would be certain…" If I could know that nothing I spoke – nothing I am – would betray my heart to him…
"Of what would you be certain, friend Dwarf? You followed me when I led you in a chase against an army of orcs, and trusted me when I could promise little but death, even if we caught up to our quarry. Surely you can trust a friend with this?"
Gimli bowed his head until his chin rested on his chest. One learned in the manners of dwarves would recognize this as a weighty gesture indeed, signifying mourning or deep pain. "It concerns the elf."
Aragorn could hear the heavy emphasis he gave the final words; to Gimli's mind, "the elf" was all of the elves that mattered, excepting the Lady Galadriel herself. "Legolas?" He spoke the name and saw Gimli's head sink lower upon his breast.
"Aye. I would know what he perceives, and what sounds carry to his pointed ears. Can he hear my heart hammering at the anvil of my fear? Can he scent fear on my skin? I cannot hide such signs from him, if I know not how he knows the world." A bitter laugh welled up within him. "A child of Durin asking to see with the eyes of the elves! What folly…"
"I would call it by another name," said Aragorn softly. "And I would bid that you hide it not. Men know likely as little of dwarven lore as your people know of elves, but I know that dwarves love but once, and can die of lovelessness."
Gimli's eyes glittered a challenge. "You need not fear that! I will not fail or falter on this Quest." A little of his usual mirth came back into his voice, "Not even for the love of an elf."
"And if his senses are as honed as you fear, and he speaks the words you dread, what then, Master dwarf?"
"He is the great friend of my heart, and I could speak no lie to him, though it broke me to pieces to do otherwise. Folly I may have, Aragorn, but not so much to imagine that such a thing could be. An elf and a dwarf….? Nay."
"I may remind you of Celebrimbor and Narvi, who inscribed the word 'friend' upon the greatest of their works."
"He has inscribed friend in a place beyond wear and time – on my heart. I will not ask for more."
To the promise in Gimli's tone, Aragorn had no answer. He nodded once, a vow to keep the dwarf's words between them, and then he strode away.
In the nights that followed, Gimli sat often alone at the fireside. Gandalf and Aragorn were often deep in counsel, poring over maps and guessing at the enemy's strength. Legolas walked singing among the trees with starlight in his hair. Yet, it came to be that one night the silvery strains of his singing were silent, and he appeared at the edge of the fire's bright ring.
The light welcomed him. Stray flickers made love amongst his golden tresses and picked out the green brooch at his shoulder. Gimli's eyes were trained to evaluate gold at a single glance – to note weight and width, purity and shine. If told to name the value of the elven prince standing before him, outlined in light, he would have said only, "Priceless."
Legolas did not seem to notice that Gimli was staring. He began speaking without waiting for a greeting, as if he had already had such a conversation and concluded it in the way that suited him best. "If I stood at the forest's edge, I might hear a bird take flight in the center, if I bent all of my will upon the whirr of his wings." He circled round the fire and knelt before his friend with the warmth and the light at his back. His long fingers reached forward and he grasped Gimli's hands. "But, friend of my heart, I would hear you laugh again."
Gimli spluttered and blustered, and had begun upon a particularly fierce dwarven oath against the life of Aragorn, son of Arathorn, when Legolas stayed him by squeezing his hands. "Hold. Aragorn deserves none of your wrath. It was Mithrandir who spoke to me."
Gimli's eyes grew wide beneath his auburn brows. "Gandalf? How? I said no word to the wizard."
Mirth flickered in the depths of Legolas's eyes like a pale flame. "I shall speak to you the same words he spoke to me, and hope it saves us all from your axes. His words were these: Gimli need not fear his feelings being seen when the eyes of elves have become so blind!"
"Gandalf the White is no more patient than Gandalf the Grey," Gimli chuckled.
"That he is not. He called me quake-heart – an insult worthy of a dwarf. You would have liked to have heard it."
Gimli could feel the warmth of the elf's hands. His voice became soft. "Nay. But how?"
Legolas engaged in a rare shrug, stirring his golden hair from one shoulder. "He is a wizard, you know. He told me that you were concerned with the senses of elves. I have told you how far I might hear, if I wished it. Would you know the rest of me?"
With his hands held between those slender fingers, Gimli was helpless to make any answer but the one that rang in his heart. "Yes."
"I can see a white horse on a snow-covered hill by the glint of his eye, with the width of three bridges of Khazadum between us, but I cannot see past the shields you have raised in your eyes. I can scent a single clover flower in a field of blossoms, but your scent pressed into my clothes when we ride together has become a comfort to me. My hands know without my eyes the feel of bud and branch and bark and root, but I would know your touch forever, and always." His eyes shined as they held Gimli's gaze. "I dream, Gimli, of drinking deep and tasting the richness of mountain streams. Am I wrong to dream of walking there with you?"
"Only if I am wrong to dream of being sheltered beneath green branches, because you sleep beside me."
Legolas stood, and offered a hand to his love. "Come with me now, tonight. Walk with me, always."
Gimli followed him into the night, and the things he got to sense would remain with him forever.