1. After Years and Days
There were shadows on the wall. They flickered as they were cast by the dim glow of the little lamp Gandalf had set in place of a fire. They flickered into shapes, but made no sound, and everything was too quiet. Only soft breathing accompanied those shadows.
Gandalf was asleep, and Aragorn beside him, and Gimli near Gandalf. Nearby, the hobbits lay close together, huddled protectively around their food packs. Sam's hand was on his sword. Frodo's hand was over the Ring. Only Legolas lay apart from the others, and he was both silent and still, seeming not even to breathe.
But his eyes were open, staring at grey shadows on stone walls. Boromir frowned.
"Legolas?" His voice echoed through the room, and he cringed at its sound.
Legolas remained motionless. Aragorn though, who was nearer, stirred in his sleep and sighed.
This time Legolas' head moved. He looked up at Boromir. "What?"
"I only wondered if you were asleep?"
Legolas stretched a bit and sat upright, pulling his knees in to his body. "I was," he said. "Why?"
"Your eyes were open," said Boromir. "You can sleep like that?"
"I'd never noticed before." Boromir leaned back against the cold stones and stared up at the ceiling. There were shadows there too, also flickering. He shifted his fingers around the handle of his knife. "It is too quiet here," he said. "It makes me uneasy."
Legolas smiled. "I find that, too. But if you wish, as I am awake now, I will sit up with you on watch. It is my turn next anyhow."
Boromir nodded. Carefully, Legolas stood and walked by those who still slept to sit next to him against the far wall.
"Do you always sleep with your eyes open?" Boromir asked.
"Not always," said Legolas, "though I do now in this place. I do not trust it."
"I suppose that is an Elf thing?"
Legolas laughed. "Which, to sleep with open eyes or not to trust the Mines of Moria?" Boromir only grinned and shook his head in response. Legolas continued, "All Elves can sleep with open eyes, and usually do in places that are unfamiliar or dangerous. That way we do not sleep as deeply, and are more easily woken if something should happen. But this is only a light sleep, and we cannot go on with so little rest indefinitely. So there is also deeper sleep, with closed eyes. And this is done at home, or in other places where we feel comfortable and safe."
"Mm," said Boromir. "How long can you go on only your light sleep?"
"I do not know," Legolas replied. "But it has been twenty days since we departed from Rivendell, and I am not yet too weary."
They stared at the lamp for a moment, unspeaking.
"I hate this dark," Boromir finally said. "Having my eyes strain to see, though there is nothing to be seen. It is suffocating. I long only for light."
"I do not mind the dark," said Legolas. "In Mirkwood we often walk through the trees on starless nights when there is no light to be had. But there near my home the air is living and clean, with the smell of water and green things, while here all is dead. So I long not for light but for wind, and leaves and soft dirt instead of stones and dust beneath my feet." He took a breath. "It is not only the dark that is suffocating here, but the air as well. It is heavy and thick."
Then there was silence for another long while. Legolas stared into the darkness, his eyes moving over distant black, and Boromir scratched at a crack in the wall with his knife.
"Do you have any family in Mirkwood?" Boromir asked. "A wife and children?"
"No. I am not married. You?"
"No," said Boromir, and he paused before continuing, "There was a girl once, and I would have married her, but... Her name was Mirileth. The most beautiful woman in Gondor, I thought."
Boromir looked at the dim and dirty stone floor, and pushed his hair back from his face. "It was long ago," he said. "I asked her to marry me, and she said yes. But there was so little time. At my father's bidding, and by my own choice, I was often away. I would ride for months on errantry, then see her only seldom when I was at home." He glanced sadly at Legolas. "I was gone once for nearly a year. When I returned, I found she had grown weary of waiting and married another."
"I am sorry."
"It was my own fault," Boromir said, and he shrugged. "My own stupidity. And arrogance, I suppose, to believe that she would wait so long for me." He forced a grin. "Never let this happen to you, my friend. When you find the one you would take for your wife, marry her when you have the chance. Otherwise you never know how fate might treat you."
Legolas gave no reply, but looked at his hands.
"You have found her already?"
"Yes," Legolas softly answered.
"What is her name?"
"El... Elarien," he said slowly.
"It is a pretty name."
"Yes, ...she... is very beautiful."
"No." Legolas shook his head. "Rivendell."
"Ah," said Boromir, and he smirked. "So perhaps it was not all business that brought you there?"
"No. In truth I was not supposed to go. But my father had an urgent message to send, and I begged him to let me carry it so that I would have an excuse to come to Rivendell again. My father does not know about El...arien." He paused, and then murmured, "He would probably kill me if he did."
Boromir only laughed. "Now why is that?"
"Oh," Legolas said quickly, "he would just prefer I marry someone from home, I think. But," he added more brightly, touching Boromir's arm, "please do tell me more about Mirileth, and perhaps it will take my mind from Elarien, as I do not wish to think too much on her for the hard memory of our parting. That is, of course, if telling would not grieve you too much."
"It would not," said Boromir. "My love for her is diminished now, and most memories fading. Our breaking was long ago. Though I still do remember some things..." He shifted to sit facing more toward Legolas. "I remember that when we first met, she would always start sentences with 'my sister says', and I used to tease her about that... And when she was not talking about her sister, she would talk about marriage, and how she wanted six children. Three boys and three girls. She had names picked out for them already."
"Did you want six children?"
"No," Boromir laughed, "I only wanted two. But there was no use telling her that, since her mind was so set on six." Closing his eyes, he leaned against the wall again. "She smelled like sage," he said. His smile faded. "She always wore sage-oil perfume. Such a small amount that you could only smell it when you stood very near, but still she always had that scent, rich and fresh... I think of her whenever I smell sage, and the scent returns to me whenever I think of her." His jaw clenched. And he added, in a lowered voice, "I can smell it now..."
Legolas said nothing, but watched Boromir's mouth twist and eyebrows knot at the memory of the scent of sage. When his eyes opened he looked at Legolas with a tired gaze, smiling his cruelly sad smile. Slowly, as he bit his lip, Legolas reached down and placed a light hand on Boromir's knee. Boromir glanced at it, but looked quickly back up to Legolas' face.
"Her hair, too," he continued, though his voice was scarcely more than a whisper. "She put the oil on her comb so that her hair was perfumed, and when I held her and her hair fell on my face I could smell it... She had light blonde hair, like her mother. Her mother was from Rohan, I think." He paused as another hint of a memory teased him. He no longer looked into Legolas' eyes. "Her hair was so much like... or at least it looked..." With a shaking and tentative hand he reached out and only barely brushed the tips of two fingers over the soft pale plait that fell down from behind Legolas' ear.
Legolas remained sitting still and tense. But he shivered, and his breath was quick and uneven.
"I am sorry," Boromir whispered, and he pulled his hand back.
"No do not be," Legolas quickly said; "I do not mind." His hand still rested on Boromir's knee.
Boromir though just stared at the floor. A long time passed before he spoke again.
"I must confess," he whispered. "I must say it now while you sit here, while I have this brief courage. But I... I have watched you. For days now, I have watched you. As you walk, or stand, or eat, or sleep, I watch you, and you fascinate me. And I've wanted to... just to... touch you..." He lifted his hand. "...because sometimes you seem unreal to me..." Slowly he reached to pass impulsive fingers over Legolas' cheek, and his thumb grazed the edge of eyelashes.
But almost immediately he reconsidered, and would have pulled his hand away had Legolas not caught it with his own and held it fast to his face. Boromir's palm half covered his mouth, and he kissed it. "I too might confess," he said, "but I cannot bring myself to speak the words." His hand moved to grasp Boromir's wrist.
"But you have your Elarien..."
Legolas shook his head and kissed Boromir's hand again. "No," he said. "Not truly. It is only my wish to be with her. I have loved her for years, for many lifespans of Men, but she does not return my affections, and we parted with harsh feelings."
He looked up at Boromir's face and sad eyes. The Man's fingers were still pressed against his cheek. On a sudden impulse, he leaned forward. His free hand shot to the wall where Boromir leaned. He closed his eyes, and kissed Boromir, quickly, on the mouth.
When he pulled away Boromir only stared at him while exhaling a long and weak breath. "Why... did you...?"
"Have you never thought of kissing someone," Legolas asked, "for no reason other than just wanting to kiss him?" He smiled, and released his grip on Boromir's wrist so that his hand could travel up to touch the Man's neck and hair. Then he leaned forward again with another kiss, though sweeter, and softer.
As he did, Boromir's freed hand quietly slid around to the back of his neck. And Boromir grinned against the kiss so that their lips twisted together imperfectly, but with a strange wonder, until both lost breath and could only sit shivering face to face. Neither moved any more than that.
Legolas was the first to pull back and look toward the others who slept. He glanced to the spot where he had fashioned his own makeshift bed. "I should..." he started, but Boromir silenced him.
"Sit with me, at least until the others wake. I want you to stay beside me. Please."
Legolas silently nodded, and he moved to sit under the protection of Boromir's arm. They spoke no more to each other. Boromir watched the shadows, and Legolas remained as a comfort still beside him. He looked down once, to see the strange body rested against his chest, and he smiled. Legolas was asleep.
The Elf's eyes were closed.