"I will never get the stink of orc blood out of my hair." Gimli scrubbed at his beard, wishing for water, water which could not yet be spared from a fortress lately under siege. He caught Legolas smiling out of the corner of his eye. "Do not laugh at me, elf."
"I would not dream of such a thing." Legolas bent to retrieve something from his bag, his long hair still shining despite the blood, his movements graceful. Were not his muscles also sore from the night of battle? Gimli himself could barely move his arms. It had been long since his early youth, when he spent the day learning the ways of mines and smithcraft. Then he noted that Legolas moved slowly, as if the thing he carried were an overfull cup made of fragile glass instead of a leathern bottle. Perhaps he was not so magical after all.
Gimli took an odd comfort in that thought, although he knew not why.
He handed Gimli the bottle. "By the time I need this again, we will have more. It is little enough for the purpose."
Gimli opened it. It was a quarter full of pure water. "I cannot take this, elf."
"It is little enough. I would give you more, and better, if I but had it." He smiled then, and it was as if all darkness was gone from the world for that little while. Gimli blinked for the brightness of it. "I know the pride a dwarf takes in his beard, and how it pains him for it to be defiled. Use it, my friend, or..." Legolas paused and looked at Gimli, his eyes piercing through to Gimli's soul in a way even the lady of Lothlorien had not, despite her beauty and power. "If you will permit, I will do the task myself, and gladly."
He tried to say that he could do it himself, or that he could also wait until there was water enough, but the words would not come. No words existed. Nothing did but the bottle of water and Legolas beside him, still smiling. He handed the bottle back, and sat facing the elf.
Legolas slowly unbraided Gimli's plaits, until all was unbound. Then, he took a section of Gimli's beard, and, using his long, elegant fingers, he worked his way down the length, pausing only to use a few drops of water to dissolve dried blood and ichor and soak it away with a cloth. Gimli could feel each strand of hair as it was caressed away from the others, each tug as Legolas encountered a tangle to be gentled apart with infinite patience, until the section hung smooth and as clean as may be.
Then his nimble fingers moved to the next section. Gimli wanted to put out his own hands and make the sweet torture stop, but they would no more obey him than did his words earlier, so he, perforce, had to remain where he was and permit Legolas to continue, hoping only to hide his body's treachery, and that, too, became more difficult with each strand of hair and each drop of water.
He was not able to note the passage of time - his mind would not encompass such things - so he did not know how long it was before Legolas finally replaited his beard, but it was both too long and too short a time. And it did arrive.
"Thank you." Gimli could barely speak for want of air, for he could not drag enough in during each ragged breath, but the words must be said.
"I fear that plain water would only allow so much, dwarf. Later, when the world is set to rights, I will use fine oils and scents and do this in the manner you deserve." Legolas spoke slowly, his breath harsh and deep, as if he, too, were desperate for air. As if he knew what it meant to groom a dwarf's beard. And his eyes pierced through to Gimli's soul once more, and with it Gimli could see the elf's own heart, and knew it for his own.
He touched a lock of Legolas' hair, flowing like silk over his leather armor. "I would do the same for you, my friend. When the world is set to rights." He smiled in a way he'd never believed he would, and rose to his knees.
Legolas leaned forward to meet him, one hand still buried in Gimli's beard, meeting his lips in a promise for a future time.