Author's Note: When you begin reading this, you can either start with the italicised scene below (which would be my preference), or, if you would prefer not to have anything revealed to you until its chronological occurrence in the story, you can skip straight to the actual beginning of the story (in standard text, after the linebreak), as the italicised scene is repeated in its entirety later on. This story was something of a fun challenge for me to write, as it deals with a real medical condition, and all treatment and other facts have been thoroughly and exhaustively researched in their correct contexts. I hope you enjoy it.
He had barely made it to the safety of the trees before it started. White-hot pain ripped across his middle with such furious intensity that his shaky legs gave way. He pitched forward straight for the tree, but managed at the last moment to catch himself against the trunk with the arm not wrapped around himself. His stomach rolled again and cold sweat pricked his skin as the nausea rose, making him shut his eyes and swallow thickly as his fingernails carved furrows into the rough bark.Another lurch of his stomach sent a fresh wave of agony shooting through him, finally pushing him off the edge. He coughed before violently retching, losing his battle against the nausea - along with what little he'd managed to eat. Pressing his forehead into the cool tree trunk, he moaned quietly in between what were now dry heaves, desperately willing the spasms to abate. When they finally did, he remained motionless, having not the energy to move as he sucked in huge ragged breaths and spat out bile.Eventually he straightened as much as he could, gathered his strength, and turned to head back, but instead he startled and stumbled backwards - letting out a pained gasp as he did so. He raised his eyes and his heart sank at the alarmed grey ones that stared back at him."...Estel." And then the retching started up again with no warning. Having nothing to hold him up this time, his legs gave way and he plummeted towards the ground.
"Ai, Legolas!" Aragorn ground out through clenched teeth, and took a large swig of wine from the bottle clutched in his hand. The aforementioned elf shrank back from his position at the human's side, where he was stitching the last of several large gashes in the young man's forearm - worry evident on his face.
"Estel, I am so sorry-" he began, but was cut off before he could finish.
"No," Aragorn panted to get his breath back and gestured for the elf to continue, "You are supposed to tell me to stop being such a weak little human, not apologise!" The man chuckled but his laughter was stolen by a wince. Legolas frowned but resumed stitching, visibly flinching with each pass of the needle through torn flesh. He gave a sad sigh.
"This time though, it is my fault."
"Your fault?" Aragorn's eyebrows shot up in disbelief. "Where in Arda did you get such an idea?"
"The Trollshaws," Legolas explained glumly, "This was my idea. You wished to follow the Bruinen from Imladris, but I wanted to cross the Ford and seek adventure in those accursed Shaws! And then - " Aragorn held up his free hand for silence and rolled his eyes at his companion.
"And then we played rock, parchment, knife, and you won."
"Tell me, Legolas, did you cheat?"
"No, why?" The elf's confusion was evident.
"Then it was a fair win and it is not your fault. Besides, had I thought it ill-advised, I'd not have gone along with it."
"Regardless, Estel." Legolas's tone was grave as he tied off the last stitch and carefully cut the remaining length of twine. "I am older and more experienced than you." Anticipating the human's snort, the elf ignored it. "And do not try to remind me that you have overtaken me by a mere handful of human years! Ridiculous." Legolas shook his head in disapproval, reaching for the salve and bandages. "I should have acted more responsibly and then you would not have had to throw yourself into a warg for me!" His voice rose in distress as he finished, and the elf took a deep breath to quiet his emotions while he pinned the end of the bandage firmly in place.
"And I would do it again, as many times as I had to. It caught us both by surprise and you were knocked down - it could have easily been me in your place." Aragorn flexed his arm and winced slightly, glad that it was his left, and wiped the sweat from his forehead. Waving off Legolas's attempts to help, the young man got up on slightly unsteady legs and stretched, testing out each of his limbs in turn. "Do you know what I think, Legolas?"
"What do you think?" The elf, bending down to pack up the healing supplies, did not see the smirk on the human's face, and yelped in alarm as he was abruptly and unceremoniously pushed into the river.
Legolas surfaced to see a manically laughing Aragorn dancing with glee on the bank.
"I think, Legolas Greenleaf, that you are being ridiculous!" Aragorn clutched his sides and collapsed against a boulder, tears of mirth streaming down his face as he gasped for breath. Shaking his head and grinning, Legolas pushed up off his toes and showered the human with a well aimed splash. Aragorn yelled and scrambled to his feet before dashing for cover, and Legolas took the opportunity to hoist himself onto dry land where he sat down on a fallen log and began to peel off his soaked clothing.
The human reappeared just in time to be hit with a wet slap as a waterlogged elven cloak wrapped itself around his face.
"You deserved that and worse." Legolas winked smugly as he tipped his head in kind at the scowling Aragorn, who broke into a roguish grin and threw the cloak back. Legolas deftly caught it without skipping a beat, and was busy wringing it out when Aragorn plopped down beside him.
"Here." The human unclasped his own cloak and offered it to the elf, who accepted it and began towelling his hair. "You needed the bath anyway."
"Speak for yourself, filthy human!" Legolas smiled and stood, undoing his braids with his free hand and gesturing to his clothing with the other. He was clad only in his undergarments and a thin cotton shirt. "Thanks to you, I shall have to go about like this now!" He wiggled his bare toes and frowned. In response, Aragorn pulled off his own boots and gave a mock bow.
"Fear not, my prince! For I shall go bravely ahead and ensure that you do not step in anything slimy!"
Legolas gave a most ungainly snort and rolled his eyes, continuing to smile at his friend's antics.
"And that, my loyal subject, is no less than I would expect." He nimbly dodged the smack aimed at the back of his head, and then instantly sobered at the human's involuntary gasp of pain. The elf snapped around to see Aragorn hunched over his injured arm, suddenly pale. The human threw him a shaky smile and made a nonchalant gesture with his free hand.
"I am alright; momentary lapse of judgement is all."
"Does it hurt a lot?" Legolas's voice was sad.
"No." It was a lie and both knew it, but neither would give voice to it. "Stop blaming yourself."
Legolas looked away and hummed quietly. The pair were camped out in a piece of land known as The Angle: Southwest of Imladris, the triangular wedge of grassland was cut off from the South Downs and Hollin by the Loudwater and Hoarwell rivers as they diverged from the Mithethel and cut their own paths. And to the North, the Great East Road separated the plains from the Trollshaws, creating a modicum of safety. The roar of the Hoarwell, warm sun, and merry chirping of birds contributed to what was a picturesque and tranquil scene. Gently undulating grasslands stretched endlessly South in front of them, and at their backs a tall stand of aspens softly rustled their boughs in the breeze.
However, this sense of peace was deceptive: just hours before, the friends had come close to losing their lives in an ambush. The strong winds and thick cover of the woodlands had not been in their favour, and the warg had leaped at them as if out of nowhere. Legolas had been knocked off his mare as the beast had slammed full speed into his chest and stomach, and Aragorn, having had no time to draw his bow, had thrown himself from his gelding to aid his dazed friend.
The human had fortunately made short work of the creature, but not before it had raked its claws over his left arm, laying the flesh open in four long slashes. Taking no heed of the blood flowing unchecked from the wounds, Aragorn had hauled Legolas to his feet just as the howls had started and it had become apparent that their attacker had not been alone. Vaulting atop their horses and Aragorn clutching his arm in an attempt to stem the bleeding, the pair had ridden hard for the East Road, slowing only once they had crossed into the relative safety of The Angle. Once Legolas had felt certain that they were no longer in any immediate danger, he had brought them to a halt on the banks of the Hoarwell. Aragorn had been bleeding heavily by this point and stitching the wounds could not wait.
And so the elf and the human had found themselves in their current situation. Aragorn needed to rest and the horses could go no further. Thanks to the human's loyalty and quick reflexes, Legolas had come out of the incident unharmed, and so he had been the one to take charge of the situation (despite Aragorn's protests to the contrary).
The human stretched, taking care not to jar his arm, and nudged Legolas - making the elf jerk slightly.
"Do you plan to get out of that wet shirt? You carry half the river with you." The ghost of a frown passed over the elf's face before he looked amused.
"Nay, my body heat will dry it faster." The elf would not divulge this to his companion, but he had a nagging ache where the warg had collided with him and he suspected that he may soon be sporting some impressive bruising to show for it. He would check it over later once he had some privacy, but any damage was superficial and thus entirely irrelevant. The knowledge was something the human, burdened with his own injury, did not need right now - especially since the entire reason he was hurt in the first place was his, Legolas's, fault. He should have been more aware, should have reacted faster, should have been protecting his human brother.
"Oh. Well that is true enough I suppose, if it does not bother you to wear it." Aragorn gave the elf a strange look but seemed to buy the story.
"We have only an hour left of daylight." Legolas turned towards the horses and started to walk. "I will make camp, you stay there."
"What?" Aragorn jumped up. "No! I shall help! I have a few cuts; I did not lose my arm nor am I on my deathbed. I will not sit idle whilst you work."
"Fine, do as you please, stubborn human." Legolas tried to sound annoyed but failed. "I will untack the horses and then I must gather firewood before the shadows lengthen. You can unpack and lay out the bedrolls."