AUTHOR NOTES: In S.R. 1391, Bilbo is 100 years old and Frodo is 22 (just barely into his "tweens"). Slightly AU story; however, what was Frodo's early life with Bilbo like? How did he meet Gandalf? Why was Aragorn so dedicated to the safeguarding of the Shire? Perhaps this tale can give possible answers to those questions.... I hope you enjoy it.

My thanks to the FrodoHealers website and its members for inspiration; additional thanks to Llinos and Marigold, for advice and encouragement.

PLEASE NOTE: I am not a medical professional and do not claim to be. This is a work of fiction. No medical treatment or description of illness in this story should be taken as anything more than the author's own opinions and plot devices.

DISCLAIMER: Of course. The characters don't belong to me, I just get to think about them day and night.



Chapter 1 --- A Wizard's Mistake

S.R. 1391, April 25

Bilbo woke suddenly in the middle of the night to a loud banging on the door of Bag End. Assuming it could only mean an emergency at the Gamgees', he leaped out of bed, grabbed a dressing gown, and walked quickly through the hallway, kitchen, and front parlor. The moonlight streaming through the windows gave him more than enough light. Unlocking the front door and flinging it open, he gaped at the sight before him.

"Forgive me, Bilbo, but I must impose on your hospitality for a few days. Take my staff, there's a good fellow."

Bilbo watched, stunned, as his old friend Gandalf came through the door, supporting a Man nearly his own height. Bilbo hadn't seen very many Men in the past 50 years, and he had never seen anyone dressed like this, but there was no time to think, or to ask questions. The Man was obviously ill and barely able to stand, leaning heavily against Gandalf. Bilbo saw his eyes attempt to focus on his surroundings as Gandalf bent them both low so their heads wouldn't hit the ceiling.

"Where are we?" he whispered.

"This is the home of a friend," said Gandalf in a gentle voice. "You need a place to recover your strength, and this is the closest refuge I know." Gandalf looked down at Bilbo. "Bilbo, do you still keep a room set up for dreadfully tall creatures such as myself?"

"I do, Gandalf," said Bilbo, finding his voice. "Two such, as a matter of fact. Let me show you." Stifling his many questions, including how Gandalf had gotten his friend through the Shire unnoticed, Bilbo closed the front door and leaned the wizard's staff against the wall. He then led his unexpected guests down the long hallway to a closed door at the end, which he opened. Therein lay furniture much larger than usual hobbit-make, and Gandalf lowered his friend onto the bed.

"The room next door will also suit," said Bilbo, hurriedly lighting several large candles on the table. "Over the years I have come to expect all manner of visitors."

"That's excellent, my good fellow." Gandalf pulled off his friend's worn boots and tossed them into a corner, then sat down heavily in one of the chairs. "I am truly sorry to disturb you, Bilbo. I had an appointment to meet Aragorn somewhat south of here. When I arrived at our meeting place, I found that he had been very ill. I would never have brought him anywhere near Bag End had I not known that it was safe for you. I know you once had the swamp malaise yourself and cannot catch it again."

"Swamp malaise?" gasped Bilbo. "That's very serious, Gandalf, I nearly died from it. I've never been so dreadfully ill." He closed his eyes for a moment, remembering that long-ago epidemic. Most had survived it, but several hobbits had not. He shook his head. "It has been many years since the malaise has been known in Hobbiton. I doubt our healers have ever even seen it." He peered at the Man, lying exhausted in the bed. "How long had he been sick?"

"A few days, I believe. He endured the worst of it before I found him. Now he only needs to regain his strength." The wizard smiled wearily. "He needs rest and quiet, and good, strengthening food as only a hobbit can provide!"

"Well, the larder is certainly full. It has to be, with a growing lad about. We can---"

"What growing lad?"

"Are you Gandalf?"

Bilbo suddenly paled and stared at the wizard in horror. He and Gandalf turned swiftly at the sound of a soft, young voice from the doorway, and beheld a sleepy-looking child in a long nightshirt gazing at the wizard with enormous blue eyes. Gandalf stood up in alarm.

"Bilbo, I had no idea you had a child staying with you! I knew that you were safe from this illness, and you have always lived alone."

The boy looked from one person to another, completely confused. "What---?" He was abruptly pushed out of the room by Bilbo and the door was closed in his face.

Bilbo turned to Gandalf, ashen-faced. "How could I have....I'll send him away, Gandalf, at once. He can stay with the Gamgees until---"

Gandalf sat down again, shaking his head. Bilbo saw in his eyes concern, and perhaps even fear. "It's too late. It's not the length of exposure to the malaise that matters, but any exposure at all, even at this late stage. He can spread it, and..." The wizard looked grim. "He might catch it, Bilbo. He must remain quarantined at Bag End for a few days at least, and we must watch him closely until the danger period has passed. Who is he?"

"He is my nephew, and my heir. His parents both died when he was 12, and I finally brought him to live with me a little over a year ago." Bilbo swallowed hard, trying to fight down the fear running through him. "Oh Gandalf..."

"No need to panic, Bilbo. Believe it or not, this wild-looking fellow...." The wizard motioned to his friend. " quite a notable healer; and no doubt a terrible patient." He rose to his feet. "I'll talk to the boy and explain things to him. Bilbo, would you see to Aragorn? He needs to get out of these dirty clothes..." he grinned as his friend opened his eyes and glared at him. ".....or whatever he's willing to part with. Bring some blankets, water, whatever else seems appropriate? He needs rest, and lots of it."

"I'll take care of things."

"Bilbo, I must ask you to keep this Man's name, indeed, his very presence, a secret."

Bilbo nodded his head. "I will, Gandalf." He smiled slightly. "I have certainly learned how to keep secrets."

"Gandalf," whispered Aragorn.

The wizard knelt by the bed. "I am here, my friend."

"Gandalf, we must leave." The Man tried to rise, but fell back weakly. "That child.."

Gandalf lay his hand gently on the Man's chest. "It is too late. We will have to wait and see." He stood up, and paused before leaving the room. He looked down at Bilbo with a sad expression. "Forgive me, my friend. I didn't know."

Gandalf found that the boy had lit one of the lamps in the kitchen and was sitting at the table, looking scared, confused, and excited all at the same time. He sat down across from him, settling awkwardly onto the too-small bench.

"Are you really Gandalf?"

"Yes, my lad. I am Gandalf." The wizard could see the youngster's distress fade as his face lit up. "So you have heard of me?"

"Oh yes," breathed the lad. "Poor Bilbo can scarcely turn about without me begging him for one more story, one more.." The boy looked up at the wizard intensely. "So all those stories are true? The dragon, the Dwarves, the trolls, the---"

Gandalf burst out laughing. "Yes, yes, all true. Bilbo is quite the remarkable hobbit." He peered at the boy closely in the soft glow of the lamp. "He is your uncle?"

"I believe so," the boy said. "We're also cousins. It's all quite difficult to keep straight, but he is teaching me family history."

The wizard smiled at him. "What is your name?"

The boy flushed scarlet in embarrassment. Here was a guest in his home, and he hadn't even.. "Forgive me, sir," he said. "Frodo Baggins, at your service." He rose to his feet and bowed slightly. "May I offer you some tea or cakes?"

Gandalf shook his head in admiration. Besides being a most charming lad, the boy was certainly not lacking in manners or a proper upbringing.

"No thank you, Frodo, perhaps in the morning. Please sit down." A bit hesitantly, Frodo sat down again. Gandalf took in the mop of dark curls, the fair skin, and the boy's remarkable eyes. "You are the image of your mother, Frodo. I should have recognized you immediately."

"Am I? It's hard to remember faces, sometimes." Frodo looked at the wizard longingly. "Did you know my parents? Would you tell me what you remember about them? I mean, when you have time, that is."

"Of course. I will be staying with you for some days, I fear. My friend...." Gandalf inclined his head to the back bedroom. "My friend has been very ill, and Bilbo and I will be taking care of him. Frodo...." Gandalf looked seriously at the boy. "It has been several years since I last visited, and I did not know that you were now living here. Bilbo once had this very illness and cannot catch it again, but you might. You must tell us if you feel the least bit ill, even a tiny bit. Do you understand?" Frodo nodded, wide eyed.

"I must also ask you not to leave Bag End. You must stay here until my friend is well and the illness can no longer spread."

"Not leave? At all? What about going to market?"

"Bilbo will take care of what is needed, or I will. Neither of us can possibly spread this illness to anyone else in Hobbiton. And you will be able to come and go as soon as..... it is safe to do so." The wizard leaned forward. "I am truly sorry, Frodo, but I know you want me to speak honestly with you."

Frodo nodded. Living alone with Bilbo, he was used to adult conversations. "I understand. And I won't get sick, Gandalf, I hardly ever do." He frowned. "I'm sorry your friend isn't well; what's his name?"

Gandalf hesitated just a moment before replying. "Aragorn."

"Aragorn," Frodo repeated. "How odd." He abruptly yawned hugely, which he tried desperately to hide.

The wizard smiled. "Come, my lad, it's very late. We'll have a good visit tomorrow." He stood up and accompanied the boy down the hallway, stooping low as he went.

At the door of his bedroom, Frodo looked up at the wizard in awe. "You're so very, very tall, Gandalf. It's a wonder you don't fall over when you walk!"

"Into bed with you." Frodo leaped into bed and scrambled under the blankets, not taking his eyes off the wizard silhouetted in the doorway.

"Did you bring your staff?"

"I did."

"Where did you get it?"

"So many questions," chuckled Gandalf. "You are related to Bilbo without a doubt." He turned to leave. "I must see to our horses and bring in some gear. Good night, Frodo."

Frodo could hardly believe this was happening, and his eyes shone with excitement. This was Gandalf! "I'm so glad to meet you, Gandalf. How wonderful!"

The wizard sighed. This visit was far from wonderful; he had made a grave error that he feared might very well bring disaster to his old friend and this engaging youngster.

** TBC **