Written for the 2014 birthday of Cairistiona.
Taking Matters Into Their Own Hands
"Honey?" Pippin asked.
"That's for a sore throat, Pip," Frodo said.
"Good for coughs, that is," Sam nodded knowingly. "Not so much for pain."
"But willow bark is so bitter," Pippin said stubbornly. "Why can't Master Elrond give Strider one of the good ones first, and then sneak the willow bark into his tea?"
"We don't even know if Master Elrond has anything like that in mind," Merry said.
"Yes he does," Frodo said darkly. "We should hide Aragorn under the bed and pretend he's wandered off somewhere."
"Frodo," Merry said patiently, "just because you were plied with potions just a few weeks ago is no reason to assume that-"
"Gentlemen!" Aragorn interrupted. The conspiratorial huddle of hobbits next to his bed looked his way for the first time in several minutes. "While I appreciate your concern, I have not requested - nor do I need - any potions for pain, coughs, or any other ailment." He sat up with difficulty, cradling his splinted wrist, to survey his bandaged knee. "In fact, I scarcely need this 'bed rest' the master of this House has advised. A Ranger knows how to disregard pain."
"So you are in pain," Merry declared triumphantly.
"And why do you have to disregard it anyway?" Pippin asked curiously. "You're not rangering right now, are you?"
"At least now your boots will be repaired," Merry assured him. "I'm not surprised you slipped on those rocks near the waterfall, with them as worn as they were."
"I should have been more careful," Aragorn admitted. "Our journey here was a long one, as were my wanderings before we met in Bree. I neglected to notice that my boots were no longer as reliable as I am used to."
"Bare feet are much more practical anyway," Sam said boldly.
"Absolutely," Pippin agreed, lifting one for Aragorn's inspection. The Ranger studied the meticulously brushed fur and the youngster's wriggling toes, hard-pressed to keep from grinning. The pride the hobbits took in their feet had become obvious to him during their journey. Even after Frodo had been wounded, Sam and his cousins ensured that his feet were regularly and tenderly cared for - something he had observed that Frodo found to be quite soothing.
Frodo noted the Man's pallor, and urged him to lie down again, which Aragorn did with a resigned sigh. He heard hobbit voices quietly murmuring in the background, but found his attention wandering. He felt dizzied and battered, and also quite embarrassed. To make it to Rivendell unscathed only to be injured in a place he had visited dozens of times in his youth was a bit humiliating.
He was startled out of his musings by the creak of bedsprings. Something had obviously been decided without consulting him, as Merry and Sam had both climbed up on the bed. With only an exchange of looks and nods between them, they began to massage his bare feet. Aragorn opened his mouth to protest, but a stern look from Frodo kept him quiet. The two hobbits' nimble, skilled fingers manipulating his toes, arches, and tops of his feet was, he realized, very calming, and a wonderful distraction from the pain. As they worked, he found his limbs and whole body relaxing so much that he slowly felt himself drifting into a drowse.
"Good job, lads, that should be enough for now," he heard Frodo's voice from a distance. "Pip, guard the door and don't let any of those potions find their way in here. Merry, will you stay with him? Sam, let's you and I visit the kitchens and see what's going on there. Aragorn will be hungry later, and a good supper will be very strengthening. Later on we can..."
Aragorn heard no more as he sank into a deep sleep. When he awoke hours later, it was to the delicious smells of soup and freshly-baked bread. Opening his eyes, he was met by four smiling faces. And not a potion in sight.
Another ficlet about the hobbits tending to Aragorn is "Master Back-Walker" (chapter 13 of this series "Seeing Isn't Always Believing").