Disclaimer: Standard disclaimer applies – not mine, no money, just for fun.

Please Note - this story is AU!

Thank you to my beta Sarah who is back with me again, even after the horror of the last story - I could not have a better beta or a better friend!

A Simple Wound

Chapter 1

Something White

Only the sound of laboured breathing could be heard, that and the occasional scuffing of feet across the hard terrain, or a muttered oath when one of the Fellowship missed their footing and stumbled. They were travelling quickly; the Orcs might be following. But it wasn't fear alone that drove their steps; their hearts ached with the pain of loss as they sped across the hills and meadows. They fled not only Orcs but also the memory of what they left behind in that terrible place - the vision of Gandalf as he fell to his death, his last words playing over and over again in each of their minds as they ran – Fly, you fools!

And so they flew, losing themselves in the numbing rhythm of endless steps, drowning their sorrow in exhaustion and the tangible pain of sore, aching limbs. Aragorn carried Frodo and Boromir, Sam, while they searched for a safe place to rest and tend to the small hobbits' wounds. Until at last, another stumble, another muttered oath and Aragorn once again took control as he had outside of the Great Gates. "We will stop here," he commanded and waved them off of the path they travelled and into the sparse wood that lined the way. "We rest, but not long, so make good use of your time."

"I'll scout behind and assure that nothing follows," Legolas offered, stepping forward.

Aragorn examined the Elf carefully, up and down, while furrowing his brow. At last, he gave a curt nod. "Very well. But then you too must rest. You look – tired." Legolas appeared more ill than tired to Gimli's eyes, with a grey cast to his normally glowing skin and a dull look in his eye. He wondered if Aragorn had seen the same, which would explain the furrowed brow.

The Elf returned the nod without comment and began to gather up everyone's water skins. "I'll fill these while I look about," he said, not waiting for an answer before disappearing into the trees. The episode gave Gimli pause for thought, for the Elf had been in superb health since they had left Rivendell, not showing even a moment of fatigue or weakness in all of their wearying days of travel, much to Gimli's aggravation. That he should look unwell now was surprising, unless of course his appearance had nothing to do with how he felt physically and everything to do with the effect of the loss of Gandalf on his mental state.

Could such a deeply felt sorrow make one appear physically ill? It occurred to Gimli, then, whose stumble had brought about this respite – Legolas had been the one to trip; it had been an Elvish oath that had been muttered in a voice that had sounded most unlike the Elf's. That incident alone should have stood out like a pack of Wargs in Gimli's awareness, for the Elf had never so much as stubbed a toe on their journey. It pointed to the effect that the loss of Gandalf had on the dwarf, as well, that he would miss such a singular event. He heaved a sigh, feeling all at once as though a heavy weight rested upon his chest, a manifestation of his own sorrow. "I'll gather wood for a fire," he said, suddenly anxious to be away from the others and have a moment to try and reorder his world again. "You will need hot water to tend the hobbits' wounds."

This time Gimli was on the receiving end of Aragorn's careful examination. Once again the man nodded but this time without the furrowed brow. Gimli must not appear as awful as the Elf had, regardless of how awful he felt. "Keep your eyes open, Master Dwarf," Aragorn warned. "I cannot be certain that we have not been followed. There could be unsavoury creatures about."

"Have no fear for me." Gimli replied. He hefted his axe and headed in a direction perpendicular to that which the Elf had taken, certain that that was one unsavoury creature he did not wish to run into. Time spent together had not changed Gimli's feelings toward the Elf at all. They had been antagonistic from the start and their constant baiting and biting at each other had only made things between them worse. In fact, their behaviour had become so wearisome to everyone that Gandalf had been forced to bring them together and chastise them both, telling them that they were acting like children and that they would find themselves more alike than dissimilar if only they would take a chance to get to know one another. The dressing down had been enough that they now simply avoided each other though they still found subtle ways to spite one another when Gandalf wasn't aware.

Gandalf! The memory of what had just occurred came back in a rush and guilt joined the sorrow and despair that already filled Gimli's heart. Whilst he admonished the guilty pair, the wizard had begged them to get along, to think of the importance of their task and to put aside petty complaints. That Gimli had had any part in making the wizard's last days on this earth painful or difficult in the least made him ashamed, even if it had all been the Elf's fault. He should have stood strong and not let that irritating creature get to him!

He wandered aimlessly for a bit, hearing shortly the rush of water from the nearby Silverlode. He followed the sound, letting it soothe his tormented spirit and once on the banks of the river, he paused, revelling in the touch of cool air against his skin. Although the hour was past noon and the sun stood high in the sky, the water was sheathed in shadow, the hills across the river's slight expanse and the trees from this side blocking out most of the light. The gloom brought Gimli back to his senses and he gave himself a mental shake, acknowledging that he had spent the last five minutes oblivious to everything around him, belying the words he had just spoken to Aragorn. He turned back, intending to gather the firewood he knew Aragorn awaited, when a flash of something white, seen through the woods upstream, caught his eye. Curiosity and caution turned his steps in that direction.

He pushed through the branches of a low hanging tree and came upon the Elf, lounging comfortably against a boulder, fastening the clasps of his tunic about his neck, the still empty water skins strewn about the rocks beside the river. Dampened hair was plastered against his head and he appeared to have been bathing rather than taking care of what he had said he would take care of. Gimli felt a sudden surge of anger. How could the vain creature be so concerned about his appearance with Gandalf only just dead! He must have made a sound for the Elf's eyes shot up from what he was doing, his fair face turning hard when he discovered Gimli spying.

"I need no help, Dwarf," he snarled, leaping to his feet, his hands balling into fists at his sides, no doubt embarrassed to be caught so unaware.

Gimli opened his mouth, eager to point out this obvious shortcoming, but the memory of how he had failed Gandalf by succumbing to this miserable creature's constant goading still sat heavily upon his heart. "And I do not intend to provide you with any," he huffed, instead. He spun quickly on his heel and stomped away, back in the direction from which he had come. Prickly creature, that Elf, he thought. Prickly and prissy both.

He entered the woods again, further on down and began to gather dry kindling, forcing his attention to the work at hand while fighting the urge to continue to prod and pick at his irritation with the Elf. There was something more than irritation that bothered him though, he realized, as he piled wood into his arms. He had seen a flash of something white before he discovered the Elf. The Elf wore green and grey, not white, unless, perhaps, Gimli had glimpsed his underclothing. No. The Elf's under garments were grey as well, not white, Gimli recalled, having seen them on the rare occasion when bathing had been an option during their journey and the even rarer occasion when he had chosen to take advantage of it. Well, perhaps then it had been simply a flash of the Elf's hair – it had a tendency to appear quite pale in the sun, so golden was its colour. No, he countered himself again. It was something distinctly white that had caught his attention, not something golden and the sun was shadowed by the trees and could not have been a factor at all. What, then, had he seen?

Gimli caught sight of the Elf ahead of him, returning to camp. He should return too; his arms were full and they would want a fire to heat the water to tend Frodo and Sam's wounds, if Aragorn deemed it safe enough. He paused when he came abreast of where he had discovered the Elf, casting his eyes to the boulder against which the Elf had rested. With curiosity driving his steps, Gimli moved closer, his eyes now inspecting the area, searching for what might have caused the flash of white that had caught his attention earlier. Nothing. He was about to give up and start back for the camp when something else caught his eye – not a flash of white this time but something entirely different. Gimli went down on a knee beside the boulder. He examined this new discovery, touching his fingers to it and raising his hand to his face so he might get a better look. There was no question in his mind what he viewed.

The hoot of an owl broke his concentration. Gimli recognized the sound as one of Aragorn's Ranger signals, this one used to call them back to camp. He brushed his hand against his thigh and stood slowly, frowning as he did, wondering what, if anything, should be his response to this discovery. As he contemplated his options, once again, something caught his eye; the ground at his feet had been disturbed.

He lowered himself once more, balancing his load of wood against one arm and used his free hand and one of the sticks he carried to dig in the dirt, unearthing what had been buried there. Something that had been, undeniably, at one point, white. He held it out, draped across the stick like a limp, dead snake while he examined it further, once again pondering the question of what he should do.

He could confront the Elf in front of the others – it would give him great pleasure to at last see that pointy-eared pain in the backside in ill-favour with Aragorn who had defended him throughout their journey, even when the Elf had been smart-mouthed and arrogant to them all. Well, to Gimli that is. It would be satisfying indeed to see him squirm, for Aragorn would, most assuredly, be displeased, though just how displeased remained to be seen. Gimli's plan might actually backfire, he realized, and the Elf might garner even more of the Ranger's attention -and at a time when the rest of the Fellowship needed him too. Aragorn was obviously partial to the Elf and might let the friendship he felt cause him to give more care and concern to the loathsome creature than he was justly due. Gimli doubted it; Aragorn had been entirely fair on this journey and the Elf, he had to admit, albeit grudgingly, had always pulled his weight. But the Ranger would likely feel torn.

Gimli shook himself. That would not be good, not now with all that the Man had to concern himself with. And no matter how much Gimli might dislike the haughty, self-absorbed creature, he would not let his feelings change what he knew was right - he owed the Elf the chance to explain in private. He was, after all, a comrade in arms. And if he provided a suitable explanation, one that satisfied Gimli's concerns for the safety of the Fellowship - all he really cared about, after all - well, then, it was none of his affair and he would ignore it, no matter what opportunities for revenge the situation might present.

The owl hooted again - more of a screech than a hoot this time. Pocketing what he had found, Gimli stood once more, hefting his load and cradling it against his chest. No, he would keep this bit of information to himself, unless the Elf forced his hand. He would watch, for now, and he would wait for the opportune moment to speak in private.

When he returned to camp, Gimli found his water skin dangling from a branch just out of his reach and tied so securely that he had no choice but to ask Aragorn's help to retrieve it. The dwarf had to bite his tongue to keep from turning to the Ranger right then and filling him in on his secret. But he kept to his principles, though hard it was to do, allowing himself a moment to enjoy the sense of power and pleasure he got from the thing rolled tightly in his pocket, imagining himself revealing what he knew, knowing just how exceedingly embarrassing he could make life for that son-of-an-Orc, if he so chose. Instead, he lit his pipe while Aragorn and Boromir worked over the hobbit's wounds and puffed furiously, forcing his fractious nerves to calm, making quite certain that he stood upwind of the Elf as he smoked. And each time the other moved to escape the smoke, Gimli repositioned himself accordingly. The Elf was lucky that Dwarves, unlike Elves, were honourable and had a well-honed sense of right and wrong…