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Merry lightly touched Frodo’s shoulder causing his cousin’s eyes to snap open.
“Oh, sorry Merry, I must have dozed off,” Frodo said, startled.
“I hated to bother you, Frodo, but it’s almost time to give Aragorn his ‘dinner’. I think we’ll have better results if you feed him.”
“Why is that, Mer?” Frodo asked as he stood, dried and redressed.
Merry thought for a moment before replying. “I think Aragorn will want to appear more compliant with you, Frodo. He respects you…you and your endurance after your wounding. I think he would do anything to not let you down or think him not worthy of *your* respect.
Frodo stared at Merry, “That’s ridiculous, Merry, I already respect him immensely. I cannot imagine why he should want or care about my feelings towards him.”
“Oh cousin, that is where you are wrong,” Merry said as they walked over to the fire. “You are too modest and self-effacing to notice the admiring looks from all around you. You endured, my ancient cousin, for fourteen days longer than anyone should have endured. You are considered stubborn, of course, but that stubbornness saved you, made you strong. All of Rivendell, Aragorn included, respects you more than you will ever know. It’s almost like hero worship, now that I think of it,” Merry said with a smile.
Frodo blushed, “I hardly think that I am a hero of any kind, Merry, and as to my being so strong or perhaps stubborn, you will never know how close I was to giving in…I simply did not want the Dark Lord to succeed.” He hesitated, “But mostly I didn’t want to disappoint Aragorn, Gandalf, Bilbo and all of you by succumbing,” he whispered, his eyes damp.
Merry pulled Frodo to him, “You could never disappoint any of us, Frodo,” he whispered. “Let’s get that Ranger fed, what do you say?” They both discretely wiped their eyes and walked over to Sam who was pouring the concoction into a mug.
Frodo wrinkled his nose and turned away, “Well, it smells a *little* better, I suppose,” he said dubiously. He, Merry and Pip congregated about the sleeping Ranger while Sam built up the fire and set out towels for himself and Frodo’s cousins by the hot pool. He was grateful that he was excluded from the group trying to give Aragorn the medicine.
Frodo gently shook Aragorn’s shoulder and the Ranger’s eyes slowly cracked open. He moaned softly, reached up and touched his forehead and a large bandage before lowering his hand to his chest. “How are you feeling, Aragorn? Did the poppy help?” Frodo asked, nervously smoothing the man’s blankets.
“Some, the pain is tolerable.” Frodo smiled, he could not think of much that the Ranger could not tolerate except perhaps unruly hobbits. Pippin was gently dabbing the man’s face and holding a cool cloth at Aragorn’s forehead while Merry slipped behind the Ranger’s back, gradually tilting the man forward to give him a drink of water. “Erm ... might I have a word in private with Frodo, gentlemen?” Aragorn mumbled. If Pippin hadn’t known better he would have thought the Ranger was blushing. ‘Just the fever’, he thought. Merry frowned. Aragorn seemed decidedly uncomfortable. He slowly slipped from behind the man, lowering him back down to the blankets. He rose with Pip and they walked to the fire to join Sam. Frodo waited, looking questioningly at his friend.
Aragorn slowly moved his head to watch the other three hobbits. When at last he heard them quietly conversing, he turned his eyes back to Frodo, wincing at the movement. Frodo had a small grin on his lips, obviously entertained by the normal stoic Ranger’s flustered demeanor.
“Aragorn, what is it? Are you in pain? Can I somehow make you more comfortable?” Frodo asked unable to wait any longer.
Aragorn’s eyes closed as he took a deep breath, apparently bracing himself. “Frodo, yes I am uncomfortable and I hope you *can* help,” he whispered.
“But of course, Aragorn, anything at all,” Frodo said. He pulled the medical bag closer expecting Aragorn to instruct him on some medicinal remedy for what ailed him.
“Frodo…I…er…need to use the privy,” Aragorn murmured blushing deeply and grinding his teeth together.
Frodo’s eyes widened, “Oh…well…hmmm … how do we go about doing this? You cannot rise, in fact you can move very little,” Frodo said looking at the man’s supine figure. “I suppose a cup would do the trick easily enough,” he babbled.
Aragorn interrupted, “It is not a liquid, Frodo.” The man’s humiliation was complete as he turned his face away.
“Oh…OH…but, however…how are we to…?” Frodo blushed looking completely befuddled and confused. “Is it urgent? Let me talk to Sam,” he rushed.
“NO…er, I don’t want anyone else knowing,” Aragorn exclaimed.
The others around the fire looked over towards the huddled duo at the sound of raised voices. Frodo smiled and gave them a nod and seeing that they were not required, they turned back towards the fire and resumed their chatter.
Frodo turned back to Aragorn, “I will need help, Aragorn. And some sort of er…vessel, so I will need to tell the others,” Frodo said in a rushed whisper.
Aragorn groaned and blushed even more than before, “Would that it were not so,” he muttered. “Perhaps if I push myself up on my forearms we could avoid needing assistance,” he begged.
Frodo looked at him in quiet disbelief, “You are very weak, I doubt you can lift yourself.”
“I will try, if I cannot, we will tell the others,” Aragorn said desperately.
“Very well, but let me just say one thing before I fetch whatever we are to use.” Aragorn nodded. “It is nice, for a change, to have you at *my* mercy, Aragorn.” The Ranger blushed while giving Frodo a slow smile.
Frodo untucked most of the blankets then moved back to watch Aragorn’s effort. The man tried, struggled, desperately strained but could not raise himself up on his forearms. He sighed and lay back --then, straining once again, put all his might into pushing himself up, ‘I will not be at the mercy of four smirking hobbits,’ he vowed as he mentally panicked.
Finally, Frodo put a hand on his chest and easily pushed him back down. He could not help but grin at the Ranger as Aragorn locked pleading eyes with his own. “No more, you are wasting energy better left for getting well, Aragorn. It would appear you truly *are* at our mercy.” Frodo’s smile faded, “Be at peace, Aragorn, we are your friends and gladly will we tend to your needs. There is no reason for you to be embarrassed, you took care of me when I needed it most,” Frodo said softly. “I am honored to return the favor in any small way.” Aragorn looked doubtful as he slumped down, defeated, onto his nest of leaves and blankets.
After giving the man a reassuring pat on the arm Frodo rose and walked slowly over to the fire. Sam, Merry and Pippin turned curious faces towards him. Aragorn watched as Frodo quietly spoke to the other three hobbits then saw three sets of eyes widen and look surreptitiously over at him. He winced, wanting to be *anywhere* other than in his current situation. Frodo was having an animated conversation with Sam, Aragorn saw. ‘I wonder what that’s all about,’ he thought to himself. There was much hand waving and gesturing until finally Sam’s shoulders slumped and he dropped his head. Aragorn could almost hear the usual ‘Yes, Mr. Frodo,’ as Sam gave in to whatever it was his Master asked of him. Then the four of them were approaching and Aragorn tensed. They had various supplies in their hands and instead of grins and giggles, their faces were serene and focused. Still the Ranger was mortified at having the four tending to his most intimate needs. He sighed, there was very little he could do about it so he tried to talk his brain into simply accepting the inevitable.
Frodo knelt beside him. “Just close your eyes and let us do all…er…most of the work, Aragorn,” he said softly. Aragorn groaned in humiliation. Pippin’s mouth opened as if he was about to say something, but the other three hobbits each fixed him with thunderous glares and he closed his mouth, recoiling slightly.
Merry and Sam moved to either side of his hips preparing to lift him when needed. He felt small hands slowly unlacing his leggings and pulling them down. “Which is more urgent, Aragorn?” Frodo softly whispered in his ear, before leaning over the man’s mouth to hear the response.
“Sam, give me that cup first,” Frodo said quietly. Aragorn again felt the small hands take his organ and direct it towards the cup. It took a few minutes for his stream to come, not being used to the extra scrutiny, but finally he was done and Frodo disappeared with the cup. Soon he was back at his side giving him an encouraging smile.
“Almost done, Aragorn, now we’ve warmed the pan and we’re just going to raise your hips and slip it underneath you. Nod when it feels like it’s in the right place, all right?” Frodo whispered in his ear. He gave the Ringbearer a nod of understanding. Sam and Merry grunted as they slowly lifted his hips while Frodo slid the pan under the man’s backside. Aragorn gave Frodo a nod. “Are you steady enough that we could move away a little and give you some privacy?” Aragorn nodded again and they moved a few feet away, their backs turned. It suddenly occurred to Aragorn what Sam and Frodo had been talking so animatedly about. He blushed and groaned to himself aware that, right at that moment, his derriere was perched on the edge of one of Sam’s treasured cook pots. ‘Poor Sam,’ he thought knowing how the gardener felt about his pans.
Finally he was done relieving himself and called Frodo’s name quietly. The hobbit turned back to him bringing a wet cloth with him. Sam and Merry again lifted him while Pippin extracted the pot and Frodo washed his backside. Two sets of hands were then pulling his leggings back into place and resituating the blankets around him. The pot had been whisked away to be dumped outside as Frodo and the others washed their hands with cooled water from the fire. Soon they returned and Frodo slowly sat back down at Aragorn’s shoulder while Sam stood behind him.
“Yes, thank you. Sam, I appreciate your sacrifice and have found that a thorough scrubbing with lye soap then boiling water in the pot will make the pot good as new.”
“Thank you, Mr. Strider, I’ll do that,” Sam said, not mentioning that he doubted anyone would want anything he cooked in that particular pot ever again. ‘Perhaps I could use it to plant a Geranium,’ the gardener mused.
“That wasn’t so bad now, was it Aragorn?” Frodo murmured.
The Ranger smiled, “You and your kin were very kind to treat me with such dignity, Frodo. That being said, it was one of the most humiliating yet humbling things I have ever done.”
Frodo nodded, “Yes, it is indeed. One is laid bare, vulnerable to his care giver yet treated with tenderness, respect and such empathy. It still makes me feel quite embarrassed even after so many times.” Aragorn studied the Ringbearer, finally understanding how Frodo’s every need had been met by so many people and how frustrating, seeing as Frodo was a very private hobbit at heart, he had been unable to do for himself.
Frodo nodded at Sam and Merry as they slowly slipped behind Aragorn raising him forward into a semi-upright position. They moved deliberately but Aragorn still had to close his eyes and grit his teeth as dizziness assailed him. He forced himself to take deep breaths as he grasped the edges of the blanket hoping it would somehow keep him grounded. Unfortunately, it was not to be as Frodo saw the Ranger’s face blanch and the man’s eyes widen. Sam quickly shifted to the right as Frodo moved to the man’s side and they smoothly leaned him over none too soon. Liquid gushed forward, hitting Frodo in the chest with a splat then trickling down to the rocks. Aragorn continued to retch, hanging limply over Sam’s arm, until he could bring forth no more. Completely unfazed, Frodo smoothed the man’s hair back as he whispered reassurances. He wiped Aragorn’s mouth and retrieved Sam’s water skin then had Aragorn rinse, spit then take an additional swallow to clear his mouth.
“Frodo, forgive me,” Aragorn croaked, shakily.
“There is nothing to forgive, Aragorn. I have been in the same situation with you on the receiving end countless times. It is nice to be able to help *you* for a change,” Frodo said with a smile.
“Could I have more water please?” Strider asked eyeing the water skin.
“Of course, but only if you drink slowly.” Frodo held the bag to his mouth and the Ranger drank deeply. The water felt delightful on his parched throat and lips. He had never tasted anything so wonderful.
After he had had his fill, Frodo situated himself more comfortably next to the man, carefully removing his jacket and laying it to the side. The hobbit shivered, being only in his shirt sleeves and somewhat exposed to the cool breeze. Aragorn frowned before he saw that Pippin was returning with his cloak and draping it about Frodo’s shoulders. Frodo gave him a grateful smile. Frodo smiled at Aragorn and suddenly the Ranger was absolutely certain that the hobbit could read his mind.
Frodo glanced over Aragorn’s shoulder at Sam, quirking his brows. “Strider, we have prepared some medicine and broth for you, do you feel up to taking some?” he asked, knowing that should Aragorn decline they would still have to force it on him.
Aragorn blanched, his stomach flipping uneasily. “I think perhaps just water until my stomach settles,” he replied.
Frodo frowned, “I seem to recall using that excuse a few times to no avail, my friend. I do not think I should allow you a concession either,” Frodo said with a determined look and smiling slightly.
Aragorn tensed, looked up and locked eyes with Frodo. They sat thusly for some time and Sam’s head swiveled nervously between the two. He sensed he was about to witness a great battle of wills. ‘Mr. Frodo’ll win, hands down. Ain’t no one more stubborn, I’d swear,’ he thought. He wished he was anywhere but here at that moment. Frodo broke eye contact first, bending to pick up the cup and spoon of Aragorn’s ‘dinner’.
“Now Strider, what is it you always say to me?” “This will make you better, Frodo, you must take it in order to regain your strength, or help with the pain, or sleep or stop the infection or…”
“I get the point, Frodo,” Aragorn said, his voice heavy with sarcasm. Frodo’s eyes narrowed as he slipped a glance towards his patient.
“I expect you will make a far better patient than I since you are aware of all the benefits the tonics and curatives have in store for you,” Frodo went on, feeling a rush of satisfaction at being able to turn the tables on Aragorn.
Merry and Pippin walked over having just come from a soak in the hot pool. They had heard everything and they both smiled mischievously. Merry was still rubbing his hair dry as he grinned down at the Ranger and his cousin.
Strider cringed, knowing he had been trapped by his own words and he looked down. The cup had something pink floating on the surface and he swallowed thickly. His eyes lit up as he suddenly remembered something. Seeing this, Frodo’s smile immediately vanished from his face and his eyes narrowed in suspicion. Sam looked questioningly at Merry and Pip who both shrugged their shoulders.
“I would be delighted to take my medicine and eat some of Sam’s delicious broth under one condition,” the Ranger said slowly.
Immediately on his guard, Frodo edged slightly away from Aragorn, studying the man and waiting for the conditions. “And what would that be?” the hobbit asked cautiously.
“Pippin, could you hand me my medical bag please?” Aragorn asked quietly. Frodo tensed, ‘if this Ranger thinks he can blackmail a Baggins, he is sorely mistaken,’ he thought.
Strider opened the bag, dropping his hand inside while Frodo nervously watched him. He withdrew a small glass vial; a greenish liquid moved innocuously within the cut glass. “Elrond wanted you to remember that you are still weakened from your stabbing and gave me a number of cordials to help you regain your strength,” Aragorn said calmly. “I will agree to eating my soup and taking my medicine if you will join me in drinking your cordial.” He locked eyes with Frodo and smiled slightly. ‘Got you,’ he thought. Then as he watched, Frodo’s eyes took on a familiar glint—a glint that had been known to make grown men quake in fear, and Aragorn groaned inwardly while keeping his face utterly expressionless. Sam’s head swiveled back to Mr. Frodo.
“I would be more than happy to take one of Elrond’s ‘delicious’ and nourishing elixirs, Aragorn, but alas, I am in perfect health. In fact, I have never felt better, isn’t that so, Sam?”
Sam’s head jerked up so fast Pippin half expected to hear the gardener’s neck pop. Not expecting to take part in this epic battle of wills, Sam’s eyes widened as he accidently let out a little “huh?” before he could catch himself. Frodo’s eyes shot daggers into Sam’s and the gardener gulped. “Uh…well…aye, Mr. Frodo, yer fit as a fiddle, sir,” Sam lied unconvincingly, narrowly escaping weeks of uncomfortable silence and rebuke from his Master. He could massage that shoulder later, he thought to himself. Merry groaned and he and Pip rolled their eyes.
Frodo gave him a warning look. “It appears there is some dissention within the group,” Aragorn said, his voice the same as when they first met-- dangerous and low.
“Not at all,” Frodo replied with a smile. “Merry has always been one to over dramatize situations.” Merry turned scarlet and prepared to launch a retort, but Frodo easily stilled him with an apologetic glance.
Aragorn smiled, ‘So that is how you are going to play it, Ringbearer,’ he thought. ‘Well, two can play at that game,’ he grinned.
“Then I am sorry, but I must refuse, Frodo. I can see for myself that you are not at your best. Unless you agree to the terms I must refuse,” Aragorn said, closing his eyes and laying back down. The debate had sapped his strength and all he wanted now was to sleep.
“Aragorn, you cannot refuse. You are already feverish—you must take the medicine,” Frodo cried, his voice cracking. Aragorn opened his eyes and looked up into tear filled blues. “I fear for you, Strider,” Frodo whispered.
“Then you will join me?”
Frodo hesitated a heartbeat and Aragorn could clearly see the battle being waged between Frodo’s stubbornness and his worry over a scruffy Ranger.
“I will,” Frodo said quietly.
Aragorn knew it would be thus. Frodo had already shown his willingness to sacrifice his own needs for others. Sam sighed audibly and handed the cooled cup of broth to Frodo who spooned a measure into Aragorn’s mouth.
“Aggh…Frodo whatever did you put in this?” Aragorn coughed and looked as if he was going to turn aside to be sick or spit the ‘broth’ out. “If not for the slight taste of broth it would be completely undrinkable.” Frodo gave him another mug and Aragorn hastily gulped it down, thankful that it was only peppermint tea and not another disgusting brew.
Frodo smiled, “A taste of your own medicine, Ranger?”
Aragorn frowned, “You’re enjoying this, aren’t you?”
“I have to admit, I am and if you weren’t so ill I would rub it in a bit,” Frodo chuckled. “As to what is in it, Sam made a delicious broth to which I added Echinacea, Boneset, and Yarrow. And, of course, we have some nice peppermint tea to wash away the aftertaste,” Frodo fairly chirped.
Aragorn scowled at the hobbit who seemed to be enjoying the Ranger’s predicament more than expedient. “Perhaps I should just drink it down,” the Ranger said evenly. Frodo nodded, shifting so that he could hold the cup to Aragorn’s mouth and tipping it up.
Aragorn swallowed quickly. Once gone, a line of expletives poured from Aragorn’s lips along with gagging sounds. Frodo quickly grabbed the cup of peppermint tea and Aragorn drank it greedily. When the tea was gone, Frodo sat back on his haunches, a satisfied smile on his face. The smile faded as Aragorn’s face turned decidedly green and the Ranger’s eyes flew open wide.
“No…no…you can’t, you must keep it down, Aragorn,” Frodo begged. Aragorn closed his eyes, reaching out for Frodo’s hands and squeezed them tightly. The man took slow deep breaths and gradually the color began to return to his face.
Sighs were heard from all around the man and Frodo closed his eyes in relief.
Frodo opened his eyes and saw a spent Aragorn smiling weakly up at him. Frodo shuddered but took the small vial and, before he could think about it, he downed it. He gasped and lunged for the leftover peppermint tea which he chugged. When he looked back at the Ranger, the man’s eyes were closed in sleep, a small smile on his lips.
Merry grinned at Pip and Sam, who returned the smile before ducking down behind Aragorn’s back to avoid Frodo’s lethal glare.
“All right, that’s quite enough,” Frodo grumbled. Sam and he slowly lowered Aragorn down onto his bed. “It’s time we slept, I think. Sam, go take a soak,” Frodo said.
“I don’t need to, Mr. Frodo, I’m all right---just need some sleep,” Sam said bashfully.
“Nonsense, it’s lovely and you have more than earned a moment to yourself,” Frodo urged. Sam started to object but was unceremoniously escorted by Merry and Pip to the pool. He stripped and lowered himself into the hot, clear water. He sighed, admitting that it did feel wonderful.
Merry banked the fire while Pip covered Frodo with a blanket, after making his cousin lie down next to Aragorn. Pip curled up on the other side, edging himself under the blankets and up against the man’s torso. They were soon joined by Merry and a relaxed Sam, but they took no notice as they were already deeply asleep. Merry pulled his cloak over himself and Sam did the same after assuring himself that Mr. Frodo was tucked in warmly.
“G’night Sam,” Merry yawned.
“’Night, Mr. Merry,” Sam whispered. Soon all that could be heard was the pop of wood as the low fire licked along the edge of a log and the continued rhythmic dripping of falling rain.
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