Title: To Soothe

Author: Helena Larkin

Rating: PG

Summary: Frodo has a cold. Set in the Midgewater marshes.

Story Notes: No sex, slash, profanity, graphic medical detail, or violence. Contains hurt/comfort, including cuddling!

Disclaimer: The characters, places, and story of The Lord of the Rings are the property of J.R.R. Tolkien and consequently of the Tolkien Estate, with select rights by Tolkien Enterprises. This piece appears purely as fanfiction and is not intended to claim ownership of Tolkien's work in any way.

To Soothe

"Get some sleep Frodo"

He looks terrifyinglysmall and fragile, wrapped in layer upon layer of blankets; dark curls fluttering in the chiil, foul-smelling breeze that drifts from the dim marshes.

I think Frodo is unaware of how much I know. Of the Shire, of Bilbo, even of him. I have guarded that land for some years now; in glimpses, I have seen him grow from a small child - seemingly too delicate to live longer than a few months - into an adult hobbit (though he seems too innocent and unworldly to deserve that title), the most beautiful I believe I have ever seen. He still appears in many ways childlike: not only his size, but the strange mixture that is his character, at once composed of an intriguing sense of mystery and a bewildering simplicity, giving him a manner which seems to me very like that of an exceedingly intelligent child. Perhaps it is his years of illness that have made him thus: quieter, calmer, altogether sweeter than hobbits in general. I never paid a great deal of atttention to him, beyond noticing his slenderness and childish good looks, yet I often heard it mentioned that young Frodo Baggins was once again too ill to come out and play.

He speaks Sindarin well, according to Bilbo, even some Quenya, delighting in the lilting sweetness and strangeness of centuries-old Elvish poetry. And he loves music, as many hobbits do; furthermore, he is posessed of an unusually sweet singing voice - I am not surprised that he listens to my low song, long after his more bucolic companions are sleeping.

Yet he truly looks to young, too delicate for this undertaking - even Peregrin, though in years he is younger than Frodo, seems infinitely stronger and heartier. Frodo displays an unwillingness to eat as the others do, yet beside them he appears not much gaunt, but rather a wisp of evening light, caught momentarily in a translucent skin, gleaming more brightly for its very transience, liquid blue eyes the colour of bright May skies. He seems to flicker, too often - it shames him to accept the help he is constantly in need of, both from me and the other hobbits, willing hands ready to relieve him of the weightier items in his pack, to support him when he stumbles, to nourish him with the finest morsels of our meagre food supplies.

Every stumble, every evening that he seems paler and wearier than before, only highlights my awareness that constant vigilance is needed. There is a low whimper, and instantly I turn to see the ringbearer thrashing weakly, twisting out from the blankets as though he cannot bear their touch, restless. He is murmuring frefully in his sleep, something about Gandalf. I go swiftly to his side - the ivory skin is slightly flushed, blue eyes glazed, unaware of my presence.

He has twisted right away from the blankets onto the ground, and now he is curled uncomfortably on the damp earth and rough grass, beginning to shiver. I kneel at his side, gather him into my arms to lean against my chest, and gently press my hand to the white brow. The heat does not surprise me, and he blinks up into my eyes confusedly.

"St-Strider? I. I don't feel very well."

"I know little one. You have a fever, but I don't believe its anything serious. I think you'll feel better if we put you back to bed."

His lower lip quivers, the blue eyes hazy with fever, and now, it seems, tears also. His voice trembles,

"No. No, Strider please. It's uncomfortable. I c-can't sleep here."

Even when he was a child he had never seemed so vulnerable to me as he does now, tearful and hot, lying against my chest. Now, there is no longer the comforting knowledge that my job is to keep the Shire free from evil intrusion, and that beyond that the halflings may see to themselves. Before, always, someone else cared for these, more personal needs - for Frodo, there has always been someone: Bilbo; a Brandybuck aunt, according to what I have heard I have heard about Frodo's chilhood illnesses; years ago, Drogo and Primula themselves to comfort and nurse him. Even now, if I were to wake Samwise, the care would be taken from me bodily by that conscientious servant.

But somehow I am responsible now. He trusts me - although sometimes I think it would be more reassuring to my sense of danger if Frodo were more suspicious - and I am his main protector.

So I carry him, ever so gently, to my own bedroll, propped against the rock, and settle him on my lap, a little quiet bundle, nestling close to me, almost as though I were his father. It is unsettling - maintaining a dignified sense of distance would make this journey far easier, at least for me. There is little that I may do for him tonight: he does not seem gravely ill, a slight fever, perhaps the sniffly beginnings of a cold. I hold a flask to Frodo's lips and he sips a little cold water obediently; then lays his head against my chest and murmurs,

"Please sing Strider."

"Ssshhh, Frodo. Try to go to sleep." I smile wryly. In truth, I never would have expected this to be among the duties of a wild Ranger. But I sing to him low and smooth until his breathing evens out, so that I think he is asleep. I tuck the blankets more securely around us, and tentatively stroke his hair, enjoying the rare contact: mine is a lonely life. In the morning, I will examine him more carefully, assess what I must do to ensure that he recovers. Soon, I think, we may be caught up in a great tide of meaning and significance, even this tiny creature who sleeps tonight in my arms. But for the moment, there is plenty of time to sing, to stroke his hair, attempting to soothe a moment of discomfort. To soothe.