Disclaimer: All the characters and settings belong to J.R.R. Tolkien. This story is my way of working out or interpreting ideas and concepts already present in The Lord of the Rings. This is done for enjoyment, and for sharing, but not for profit.

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Author's Note: This story was written for Elwen who requested a ficlet in which Frodo receives attention... to his hair. She didn't mind whether it be washed, brushed or cut, just as long as there was attention given and plenty of it.

In the Hands of Friends

Five scrolls lay on the table. Frodo stared at them and wondered which one he should look at first. The slim, delicately-leafed one which had barely enough length for the curled ends to overlap? Or perhaps the weighty looking one with thick vellum that coiled around itself so many times that Frodo imagined it could well have once been used as a weapon by an irate wordsmith.

The sunlight fell on them as it slanted deeply in through the window. It was a warm day, and so Frodo had kept shifting the heavy chair away from the beam which had been slowly inching its way across the room. But the chair was too heavy for him and his back was becoming sore from the repeated effort. And his hair, blast it, was continually hanging in his eyes.

He sighed and continued to morosely inspect the pile of scrolls. In actual fact, what he was looking at was a rather beautiful thing. The delicate tubes of paper had been gathering dust for goodness knows how long and the colour had been muted to a greyish yellow. But when Frodo had borrowed them from the bookkeepers' storage, he had disturbed the dust and was now wearing a good deal of it. The scrolls, however, long hidden from sunlight, had retained their colour. The narrow beam of sunlight lit up the nearest outside curve of each tube -- a warm vibrant yellow-cream. And the inside? The thinner ones, which had fewer layers of vellum to block the sun, glowed golden-rich in their curves. And as the vellum arched around to complete the circle, the shadowed length held a delicate blush of gold, muted from the half that was backlit by the sun. And finally, the outside curves, furthermost from the sun, were deep, rich shadows that served as exquisite counterpoint to those nearest the light.

As Frodo gazed at the arches of light and shadow, he heard the door open. Slowly, surreptitiously, he lowered his chin to his crossed arms upon the table. His curls were a thick curtain across his eyes that, he hoped, served as a screen. Perhaps his visitor would think him asleep.

There was no such luck. Especially as it was not one visitor, but three.

* * *

Merry crossed the room. Frodo sat unmoving at the table, chin on arms. In the shadows, it looked as if the hobbit were sleeping, but Merry knew better.

"Perhaps we shouldn't wake him," Pippin said doubtfully. "Although he'll be sore if he stays there too long."

"No," said Sam thoughtfully. "I think he's awake."

"He certainly is awake," Merry said firmly. "If he were asleep, his whole head would be down. Balancing on your chin is not a comfortable way to nap!"

At that, Frodo raised his head and sighed. "There's no fooling you, Merry Brandybuck! But can't you leave this hobbit in peace?"

"Certainly not!" said Merry briskly. "You agreed to come with us to see what we had to show you and I for one am not going to let you weasel out of this."

"All right," Frodo said as he got up stiffly. "I'm not sure if I will find anything suitable for Bilbo's poetry in here at any rate. Perhaps I should do something different."

Merry and Pippin looked at each other. "Something different?" Pippin said incredulously. "It's only the second day you've been in Minas Tirith and you've already taken to keeping to your room. You need to get out and have a sniff of fresh air for a change."

Frodo glanced at him and then looked away. But Merry caught that glance and saw the smallest hint of... what? Resentment? Annoyance? Or something a little darker. Despair? But Frodo then shrugged and merely brushed hair out of his eyes. The hair, of course, promptly swung back. Obviously annoyed, he pulled one particularly long strand back sharply. Unfortunately, his right hand was not yet quite dextrous and it slipped and twisted. The lock was dragged (still held between thumb and forefinger) between the new gap of his missing finger and it was pulled painfully against the scar.

Frodo hissed in pain and let go. Sam started forward in concern, but halted when Frodo rammed his hand in his pocket and made for the door.

Merry followed quickly and, before the other two could leave the room, caught up with Frodo outside. He took his cousin by the shoulders and turned him around to face him.

"Never mind, cousin. Don't worry about being pestered this afternoon. I will take you to what I want to show you and it will be your choice to stay or not. All right?"

Frodo smiled ruefully. "I'm sorry. I suppose I am a bit moody today." He looked up as the other two appeared. "Lead on, Merry, and I will follow!"

* * *

Pippin threw open the doors and stood aside. "Here it is!" he said triumphantly.

Frodo entered curiously, followed by Sam and Merry. "What is it," he asked. His voice echoed.

"Look, silly, and you'll see," said Pippin grinning.

He took Frodo's hand, and Sam the other, and they pulled him in. High-ceilinged, pillared, and marble floored, the baths were quite large by hobbit standards.

"The run-off from the mountains behind the city is fed, partly, into here," Pippin explained. "The water is channelled through a kind of aqueduct that runs through a warming room, and then into here, through that hole in the wall."

Indeed, water streamed out as if it were a waterfall and with just enough force that it arched clear of the overhanging stone trough.

Pippin smiled to himself as he saw Frodo looking around fascinated, all earlier disgruntlement forgotten. Being in the Tower Guard definitely had its uses. "In you go," he said. "We've got this all to ourselves."

"To ourselves?" Frodo said, startled. "But this is in the Citadel. Surely..."

"Faramir has arranged it for us," said Pippin loftily. "When I explained that the Ring-bearer was dearly in need of a bath..."

"Pippin!"

"Well, look at you. Covered in dust, so stiff you can barely stand upright, and so uptight you can barely smile..."

"Pippin!"

Undaunted, Pippin gestured to soap and towels. "Come on, cousin! You can hardly convince me that this isn't the least bit tempting!"

Cautiously, Frodo walked to the edge of the pool. He tested the water with one toe. It was warm. "It has been ever such a long time since I've had a bath," he admitted. "Washing in basins will do, but I just haven't felt clean for such a long time..." Dreamily, he started to unbutton his shirt.

Pippin, Merry and Sam looked at each other and smiled.

* * *

"Where's Merry," asked Frodo drowsily. "He hasn't come in yet."

He lay in the water, head propped against the edge of the bath. Pippin was standing under the waterfall. Water hit his head and sheeted out thinly in all directions, sparkling as the light caught it.

"He's gone to fetch something," Sam said as he dried himself off. "He'll be back soon."

Once dried and dressed, Sam knelt down at the pool edge just behind Frodo's head. Materials were arranged beside him to his satisfaction.

"Lift up your head, Mr. Frodo. I'm going to wash your hair for you."

Surprised, Frodo pulled away and turned his head to look up. "Oh no, that's all right. I can do it." He winced as a muscle in his back protested. He faced forward again.

"I think I will do it anyhow... sir."

And before Frodo could protest further, Sam slipped a folded towel between his head and the edge of the bath. "That should be more comfortable for you."

"All right then, Sam. But next time, I'll return the favour."

"If you say so, sir. Now, hush. Just relax and close your eyes."

Sam scooped water with a small hand-held basin and slowly poured it over Frodo's head. Stiff, dusty curls darkened to black and slowly straightened. Sam poured again. Hair slicked down over Frodo's face and even over half his shoulders.

Pippin swam up to them. He whistled. "When did you last have a haircut?"

Frodo's voice was muffled. "Just before we left the Shire."

Sam picked up the soap. He sniffed at it. "Smells nice," he said. "But what it is beats me. Nothing from the Shire at any rate. But it will do."

Sam smoothed well-lathered hands over Frodo's hair. He combed his fingers through and worked the soap into Frodo's scalp. He closed his eyes and started to hum a soft tune, a gentle melody from the Shire.

* * *

Frodo leaned his head into Sam's hands. Sam's strong fingers were pressing into his scalp, rubbing in tiny circles. Skin that Frodo didn't know was tired and dull became alive. Fingers moved skin, pulled and pushed it against bone until it tingled. When the crown of his head had been invigorated, the fingers moved down to the right side above his ear, searching new skin, new hair, and gently but firmly massaging those. His left cheek lay cupped against Sam's left hand. Frodo sagged against the side of the pool. His neck felt weak. His head felt heavy.

But now his head was being given over to the support of Sam's right hand and Frodo breathed deeply as fingertips combed up behind his left ear and through silky-wet locks. Soap lathered freely and allowed the fingers to glide through softly. No snarls tugged, for Sam was meticulous. Tangles were softly teased apart before fingers ever combed their way out from the roots.

And then, once the left side had become as warm and vibrant to the touch as had the right, he was bent forward. But even in the few seconds it took for Sam to cradle his head in his outstretched fingers and guide it forward, Frodo felt both disappointment and then, quickly, relief. Disappointment because the idea of holding his own head up seemed now like an impossible task, and relief, for Sam did not let his neck bear the hanging weight. Instead, Pippin was standing in front of him and Frodo's forehead came to rest against the younger hobbit's chest.

Frodo sighed as Pippin's hands laid themselves on his shoulders. "Thank you," he murmured. "I don't know what you two have done to me. I believe I couldn't possibly move a muscle."

Pippin said nothing, but, as Sam continued to work with the lather, the younger hobbit began to dig his fingers into Frodo's shoulders. Not too hard so that muscles bruised, but enough so that, even as they hurt, warmth shot through and muscles relaxed.

Frodo gasped, taken by surprise, but soon he welcomed the pain, for it was good and did not last long, leaving only the pleasure of unstiffened sinews and the warmth of heated skin.

To be continued...