Disclaimer: I do not own anything.

"Paternal Instincts"

"Uncle Bilbo?" said a timid voice from my doorway. I only partially heard the faint voice: my mind was still swirling with the distant memories of a strange dream. I moved my lips but no words came out, apparently my vocal cords were still half-asleep as well.

"Uncle Bilbo?" whispered the tiny voice again. The creaky floor moaned slightly as the bearer of the voice tip-toed to my bedside. "Uncle Bilbo?"

I stretched out my legs, yawned, and opened my eyes. It was dark in the room, so dark at first I thought I hadn't opened my eyes at all. What time was it? There was no light streaming in from the window. No sound from the neighbors or the pub down the hill. I rolled over.

"Uncle Bilbo? Are you awake?" My nephew, Frodo, was standing at the bedside. His eyes were red, from what I could see in the dark, and the little bit of moonlight reflected the stains of a tear running down his pale cheek.

"Yes, I am," I said slowly, rubbing my eyes. "What is it, my lad? What's wrong?"

"My head hurts," groaned the young Hobbit, putting his hand to his forehead to emphasize his words.

Well, that did it. All memories of a good night's rest were pushed far from my mind, and I bolted out of bed so fast the quilt fell onto the floor in a little puddle at Frodo's feet. I kicked it away and stood in front of the shaking Hobbit. Brushing aside his dark, curly hair I put my hand on his forehead.

"You feel like Lobelia's sidewalk in the summer!" I cried. "You have quite a fever, my lad. Hurry off to bed, right away, and I'll get you a cold rag and some water."

Frodo shuffled off to his room, and I rushed past him into the bathroom to get a rag for his head. Racing to the kitchen, I grabbed the bucket of well-water sitting on the floor. I gingerly placed it on the counter and dipped my hand inside. It was as warm as the sticky summer air around me. Sighing, I submerged the rag into the water anyway, and then filled up a mug with the water. Then I headed down the hall, carrying the water and the rag, all the way to Frodo's room.

Placing the mug and rag on the small table by Frodo's bedside, I carefully lit a candle and held it close to Frodo. His face was pale, but his cheeks were flushed. He was sweating and shivering at the same time. Poor lad. I put the rag on his head.

He put his small hand on top of it as I drew mine away. "It's not cold, Uncle Bilbo," he said.

"I know," I said. "But there's nothing I can do about it. I'll run and get some more water from the well as soon as I get you settled. Here, drink this, my lad."

He drank the water, and promptly spat it back out. "It's warm," he said. "As warm as…" he thought for a moment, "Lobelia's sidewalk in summer."

I smiled in spite of myself. My young nephew had been living here for less than two weeks, but I had already taken a strange liking to him. He seemed to have taken a liking to me, and to Bag End, and to Hobbiton. I was glad, because I was afraid he would be terribly forlorn when he first arrived. I do not know how to deal with people who are terribly sad. Tell them it will be alright? What if it won't? Tell them they'll move on, someday? Seems awfully impolite to me. Tell them you are there for them? What good does that do them? Sometimes it is best to say nothing at all. But then, what if they get offended because they think you don't care?

I left Frodo's room and walked outside to the well.

I will call the doctor in the morning. Frodo will be alright. I will be alright.

I lowered the bucket down into the depth of the well.

There is nothing I can do except wait, I suppose.

I carefully pulled the rope and unattached the bucket from the rope.

Frodo will be alright! It is just a fever! Everyone gets fevers, at some point in their life.

I walked towards the familiar green door.

Why am I so anxious?

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The next morning, I promptly strode over to Ponto Heathertoes' Hobbit hole. Ponto, his wife Robin, and his young daughter Donnamira had just acquired their hole from a great-uncle (or perhaps it was a great-aunt.) The family were a queer folk, with their Bree accents and unusual names for ale and cheese, but they seemed agreeable enough. More importantly, both Ponto and Robin were skilled in dealing with common illnesses.

"Thankfully, it's just a fever, and nothing more," said Robin when she came to see Frodo. "Keep an eye on him, and make sure he doesn't get to warm, or it could turn into something else. Have him drink plenty of water, and take a cool bath often."

I nodded.

After Robin left, I gave Frodo another glass of water and told him I was going on a walk. I would be back soon.

I strode quietly down the well-worn path that led to the small forest in Hobbiton. Venturing inside, I kept walking in silence. The birds were singing, the wind was blowing calmly, and the sun was smiling warmly down upon the earth. I stopped for a couple of minutes to watch two squirrels have a talk, and I sat on a fallen tree and listened to the wind blow around me.

Suppose something should happen to Frodo. It would be my fault. He is mine, my responsibility. He is, of course, still my nephew, but now he is not just that. Now Frodo is, Frodo is… well, Frodo is my son.

And I am his father.

Now, of course, I am not his father. I play a father role, the acting quite good, but not as realistic as it could be. Frodo's father is dead. I am his understudy.

I got up from the log and headed back to my familiar green door. I was anxious. I am anxious. I will never stop being anxious, until they find a new understudy.