This is the alternate ending to chapter 3….the first few paragraphs are the same word for word, then there is a definite twist. ;P

Alternate Ending

How long they stayed in Lothlórien, Gimli was uncertain. The trees blocked the stars and even the moon from sight, filtering the evening lights to a silvery glow on the forest floor. She was not overly interested in knowing how much time had passed since their arrival. They needed the rest. Gimli found herself most days trailing the blasted elf through the trees, listening to him talk. By Mahal, had she ever thought of Legolas as shy? Or quiet?

She snorted to herself as she walked, for once alone, down a golden path lit by the afternoon sun. The light was reminiscent of the Lady's hair, all sparkly and gold with a hint of silver. Never had Gimli seen such beauty as when she looked upon the Lady of the Light. Like all her kindred, she was drawn to beauty, and she had marveled like a fool when confronted by the elf-woman. Perhaps that had saved her from having her secrets revealed. While Galadriel had questioned and tempted in her mind, the lady did not seem to have discovered Gimli was not what she seemed. Or perhaps the Lady simply had no wish to betray her secret so long as Gimli proved faithful to the task, refusing the lure of the Ring.

With a piece of toweling draped over one arm and her pack hanging over her shoulder, Gimli headed to a secluded pool to bathe. Aragorn had announced they would set out once more on their Quest come morning, and Gimli would take the opportunity to indulge herself by bathing in one of the many hot springs found in the wood before having to once again settle for cold water baths as they continued their journey south. She hoped to find the spring closest to where the Fellowship camped to be unoccupied.

A slight splash from ahead warned her that the pool she had planned to use was probably in use. She smirked to herself and drew closer, unable to squelch her curiosity as to who was bathing in the pool. The lack of chatter could only mean it was not the hobbits. The Men were not as talkative when bathing; she had caught them at it several times. They washed and redressed quickly, wasting no time in conversation or play. Gimli had never come upon Legolas, however, though he obviously had bathed during their time in the Golden wood. The elf seemed to take cleanliness a bit too seriously to Gimli's mind. At home, perhaps, such was appreciated, but in the wilds? She stifled a snort.

Being as quiet as she could manage, she paused behind a large tree and peered cautiously around it. The pool looked deserted. Steam rose from its surface in the cool air. She itched to remove her restrictive garments and sink into the warm water. She was about to step out from behind the tree when something surged up from under the surface. Startled, Gimli dropped her towel, and then could only gape at the sight.

She blinked, closed her eyes tightly then looked again, but no, it had not been a trick of the light; she indeed was seeing what she thought she was seeing.

Legolas stood in the pool up to the waist, water streaming from golden hair and over a supple body, the droplets glistening on eyelashes before dripping down to trail over the pale, hairless expanse of chest then down over the rounded breasts of a woman?

Gimli gaped in disbelief. Could it be true? Could she not be the only one traveling in disguise? Her gaze slipped from the elf-woman bathing to the pile of clothing left on a nearby rock. Sure enough, Gimli caught sight of a length of binding very similar to what she used to bind her own breasts and increase her bulk in order to hide her gender.

Mahal's Hammer and Tongs!

She realized she had stepped from behind the tree to stare right about the time Legolas opened her eyes and met Gimli's shocked gaze. Heat flushed Legolas's cheeks with warmth, and Gimli turned away, horrified to have been caught gawking. She was a daughter of Mahal! Not some nosey, giggling elf-maid!

"Forgive me. I didn't realize anyone was here," she grumbled, stooping to retrieve her towel and keeping her back turned to the naked elf. Legoals did not answer her, but she heard the sound of the elf moving to the shore and resisted the impulse to glance over her shoulder to get the full view, curious about the body of the other woman. She peeked over her shoulder then jerked back around, having caught just enough of a glimpse to take in long, slender limbs and gentle curves. The elf was beautiful!

Her heart pounded as she waited for some scathing remark, an embarrassed plea for her to leave or even some jest, but the only sound that greeted her was the sound of Legolas hastily dressing…then silence.

She waited, uncertain what to do. For all Legolas knew, one of the male members of their group had just discovered a secret that the elf had endeavored to keep unknown. And not just any male, but the one who had made no effort to befriend her. Suddenly Gimli felt guilty. Here all this time she had held nothing but animosity for the one person who would understand her plight better than any other. Gandalf's plea for them to be friends returned to her mind and now she thought she understood much of the wizard's peacemaking efforts. He had known, and had tried to help them become friends.

They had managed that on their own, but that had been as two males sharing their grief. How would this knowledge affect the fragile new friendship they had formed? She certainly understood Gandalf's comment about elven modesty and feared the return of the awkwardness that had previously surrounded them on their journey. Would Legolas ever speak to her again? Should she be the one to make the first move? Should she share her own secret? Her mind screamed against it after having Glóin instill such caution in her, but had this not changed everything?

Several minutes passed, and then something moved behind her. She started to turn, then froze as the smell of summer and beeches drifted to her. Whatever Legolas's response, Gimli would soon find out. She was surprised when instead of lashing out (definitely what she would have done had circumstances been reversed), Legolas raised a hand to Gimli's shoulder.

"If you wish it, I will stand guard so that you might bathe in peace, Gimli. You have my word I will not disturb your privacy."

The words were softly spoken with such genuineness to them, Gimli had to blink and swallow. Legolas was not going to say a word about her lack of decorum, anymore than she had commented on Gimli's tears that first night in Lothlórien. The gesture touched her, and she wondered again if she should reveal her own identity.

"You can trust me," Legolas whispered, a small smile gracing her lips.

"Perhaps," Gimli murmured, still uncertain as to what she should do. She could continue the charade…or she could deepen this odd friendship.

Both of Legolas's hands came up to rest on either of her shoulders, turning Gimli so the elf could look her full in the face. "You can trust me," she whispered again, then continued in hardly more than a soft breath, "I know what you are."

Gimli's breath stilled in her chest as a chill ran down her spine. Legolas knew! Somehow she knew. And suddenly, so many things made so much more sense: The elf's desire to be alone in Rivendell, the secret smiles and winks… She bit back a grin, forcing a frown. She would enjoy letting this game play out.

Legolas's hands tightened slightly on her shoulders. "I have heard it said that Dwarves highly prize their women, never letting them walk alone above the tunnels and halls of their kin. Is this true?"

"I am Glóin's son," Gimli returned, her voice firm and sure as she looked the elf dead in the eye.

The elf ignored her. "I believe I have heard Dwarves value their women over gems and even mithril. Daughters are protected at all costs."

"Even so, I am Glóin's son." It took much effort to hold back a chuckle at the elf's reaction to her words.

Legolas sighed, dropping her hands from Gimli's shoulders. "Elves also place great value on their women, for from them comes new life. But they can be overbearing, demanding, insisting on certain…behavior. Women are to be respected and honored…and protected." One of Legolas's brows lifted.

Gimli snorted. "I need no protection. I am Glóin's son!"

This time the elf looked away, and Gimli wondered if she had taken the game too far. She had heard the silent plea in the elf's voice: understanding and a need to unite in their odd yet similar circumstances. "Yes, I know, son of Glóin. I have watched you fight valiantly. You surprised me. At first, I was greatly amused by your presence. How well you present yourself! You have more than proved your worth and have my highest regard and my everlasting friendship if you will accept it."

A slow smile spread across Gimli's face and she tipped her head. "I do indeed, Thranduil's son. We women should stick together, should we not?" She winked, then turned back to the pool, confident her new friend would guard her against being found out.

A bright laugh echoed behind her as she stepped to the pool and began undressing for the first time with no fear that any should discover her as she bathed. When she had finished, she dressed in peace and then returned to the others alongside the elf. Nothing was said of what had passed between them that day, only knowing glances, which held a promise of future discussions about their situations.

They resumed their journey by boat the next day, and Gimli smiled to see she and Legolas were to share one of the small craft. As the water carried them from the Golden Wood down towards the Anduin, they spoke of the journey to come, speculating on what other dangers they might encounter or bickering back and forth in playful banter, drawing curious glances from the hobbits and the Men.

On their first night camping alongside the Anduin, it was Pippin who finally gave voice to what the others were wondering. "Are you friends now then?" the hobbit asked, glancing between the two of them. Legolas sat in the low branches of a tree, singing softly to herself, one foot dangling down in Gimli's face where she sat beneath the elf at the tree's base sharpening her axe.

"A dwarf and an elf be friends?" Gimli swatted the annoying foot away, then looked up at her ever present companion with a grin. "Whoever heard of such a thing!"

Legolas snorted, then tossed down a small vial. "This will tame the frizz."

"Frizz?" Pippin asked, glancing between the two of them.

"For my beard," Gimli answered. "The elf's hair never frizzes and apparently this plant extract is the secret." She grinned up at the elf.

Pippin blinked, his brows drawing together in a frown, then he backed away from the two of them, an odd look on his face. "Never mind," he mumbled.

Gimli looked up at her elven friend and they both grinned at each other. Let the hobbits whisper and wonder, she thought. She knew the truth, and that was she had found a most unusual but loyal friend.

The End