Author's Note: Set as slightly AU during the approach and ascent of Caradhras, this story is written in alternating viewpoint, shifting between Aragorn and Frodo; it should be fairly easy to tell which is which. My apologies for slowness in posting these days; I'm still getting through being ill myself, though fortunately I am starting to feel better. :) Thank you all so much for the wonderful well-wishes and reviews! The next chapter of "Shadows in the Darkness" is in progress (Chapter 14), and I hope to complete and post it soon. :)

As an aside, given the number of requests I've gotten for my work and for info on other sick Frodo fics, I am seriously considering starting a Yahoo! group for non-slash sick Frodo fics. Would y'all (yes, I really am a Southern gal IRL) like that? Could be a place to toss about ideas, links, etc. . . . I'm probably going to set it up late tonight or early tomorrow and will include a note in both my author profile and my next posting for both "Shadows in the Darkness" and "Caradhras."

Thank you all again for your patience. . .sorry I'm so painfully slow with replies and with posting these days. Hoping to catch up soon. :) Your support means so much to me, and has brightened many dismal days this week. Thank you all for being the encouraging, delightful people that you are. . .it is a joy and an honour to write for you. :)

For permission to reproduce, please contact frodobaggins@frodo.com

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. Please e-mail me if you have concerns. This is a non-slash fiction: no slash or sexual connotations are implied or intended.

CARADHRAS

Chapter One: Darkness Falls

"No, thank you."

The sound of Frodo's response causes me to turn. While Boromir and I work at setting up camp, with Legolas scouting the area and keeping his distance from Gimli, who is talking in urgent whispers to Gandalf, the hobbits are tending to our meal: wisely, Merry has relegated Pippin to the role of server, assisting Sam in the preparation himself. However, it is Frodo who concerns me most: as his younger cousin holds out the bundle, the Ringbearer shakes his head firmly, sniffling. He's had something of a cold ever since our first day struggling with the pass, and his small nose and ears stay reddened with the chill. More worrisome is the fact that he hasn't responded enthusiastically to our last several meals: not that it's any feast, but everyone eats with good appetite, given the hard work and careful rationing.

Everyone except him.

Coming to Frodo's side, I hold out my hands as I squat beside them, nodding for Pippin to give me the bundle while I seek Frodo's gaze. He meets my eyes at once, looking at me a bit anxiously; he's seen me watching, and knows, I suspect, that intervention is inevitable by now.

"Frodo, you must keep up your strength. I know it is nothing like home, but it will help you."

He shakes his head, though less emphatically this time. "I'm not hungry."

"I know. But eat as much as you can; it will do you good." I set the bundle in his lap, unfolding the cloth. Bread and cheese, dried apple and peach slices. He hesitates, sighs, and at last picks up a dried apple ring and begins nibbling it slowly. I can't help smiling. "That's better. Keep trying. I must finish setting everything for the night, and then I will return. . .all right?" He nods. Rising, I touch him once on the shoulder, avoiding any ruffling of his hair. I saw his expression when Boromir began doing so: he abhors it from any save perhaps Bilbo.

As I return to work, I glance back. Frodo continues to eat, albeit very slowly and in tiny amounts: the apple ring takes him a good five minutes or more to finish, and he pauses a few minutes before starting on the next bit of fruit. He sniffles, shivering a bit. I don't think he's felt warm since Weathertop, save for our time in Rivendell, and even there he was always warmly clad, especially compared to the rest of us. I fear the Morgul-blade has inflicted far more damage than we can see.

As evening draws on, we huddle together for warmth - well, the others do, at least: it is my turn to stand watch, and I find a spot some few feet away, keeping watch out of the sheltered nook we have found. A shallow place along the mountain's lower heights, where there are still clumps of coniferous trees about, though we dare not risk a fire: not that we haven't attempted one, but nothing will light in the night winds, and Gandalf cannot intervene without risking our discovery. Still, I am concerned for Frodo, and am glad to see Sam wrapping his master in extra blankets.

In an effort to keep their minds from the cold, the hobbits begin to talk of home, and of their customs, which amuses and interests all of us, even Boromir, who smiles as he listens. Gandalf listens quietly, with a knowing smile: he and I have perhaps seen more of their customs than most, he especially. . .and I am all the more glad that he is here, for Frodo loves him so. The rest of us are still strangers to him in so many ways, and I suspect that the presence of both the familiar wizard and his companions sustains him in ways that the rest of us cannot.

The talk quickly turns to ages, not least of which is Pippin's youth: Merry is pointing out that Pippin will not come of age for another four years, and they talk of parties. Apparently Merry's was rather a grand affair, with a huge supper (even for hobbits) and entertainment, and of course Sam's was a simple celebration with his family. . .but talk turns to Frodo's, which I know from night talks with him between Weathertop and Rivendell was very significant indeed. Lying awake in the darkness, in too much pain to sleep, he often spoke of missing Bilbo, and of how he would have gladly given up all to have his guardian back, though he understood Bilbo's need to depart.

"Well, I'm going to be lucky to HAVE a decent party, I'm sure!" Pippin's voice, clear above the rest. "Remember, I'm stuck with Mother, Nurse Margery, *and* three older sisters! Do you know what that's like?!?"

A soft laugh from Frodo, who has remained mostly quiet this evening, as if he were not feeling well. "I've seen enough of them to have an idea, Pip - remember, I've rescued you more than once!"

They all laugh, and Pippin pouts indignantly. "Not often ENOUGH, cousin! Anyhow, Great Smials is like Brandy Hall these days, isn't it, Merry? Goodness, but you were lucky, Frodo, being adopted by Bilbo and all. Can you imagine?" he adds, looking around at the others. "Being adopted by the wealthiest hobbit in the WHOLE Shire, practically, with the nicest hole. . .I'd say that's worth even dealing with the Sackville-Bagginses, Frodo!"

There is a round of uneasy laughter from the other hobbits, and Merry seems to be elbowing Pippin, not that the young one notices. Frodo murmurs something. . .it sounds very much like, "Perhaps". . .and Pippin reaches across Merry to push him a bit. It is a playful gesture, but Frodo winces. We are all sore from travel, but I have not seen him react like that: not since after Weathertop, when he was in pain and very ill.

"Oh, come now, Frodo! I mean, *I'd* certainly like to be an only child and live in such a hole, all to myself, with a wonderful place for parties and all. I don't know why you don't have more parties! I wish *I'd* been the one Bilbo adopted and left everything to; that would be grand. . . ."

"Everything, Pip?"

Frodo looks up, the moonlight casting eerie shadows across his pale features as he speaks. His voice is soft and slightly hoarse, but utterly without blame or anger, with no hint of accusation. . .and yet it is all the more chilling for that.

The meaning is lost on no one.

At once Pippin pales, opening his mouth as if to start babbling profuse apologies, but Merry pinches his arm sharply. "I think it's time for bed, Pip - " he comments crisply.

Frodo sits with his head bowed, resting it in his hands until Gandalf rises, coming to his side, and kneels beside him, murmuring something in a reassuring tone, though I cannot make out his words. At last he rises, rubbing the Ringbearer's back gently and nodding to Sam, who touches Frodo's shoulder gently.

"Come on now, Mr. Frodo. . .let's get your bed settled and get something for you to drink. . .all right?"

Frodo says nothing, though he accepts Sam's offer of a refilled water- bottle with evident enthusiasm, promptly drinking down a good bit of the cold liquid even though he shivers in his cloak and blankets. Before most of us are ready to set watch and sleep he is already lying down, huddled in the thick wraps - his cloak and blankets as well as an extra blanket tucked over him by Merry. Gandalf notices, watching with concern written in his features as well, though as Legolas sets to watch and the rest of us prepare for a few hours' rest, all seems well enough: the Ringbearer has fallen asleep, and rests quietly in his spot between Sam's bedroll and my own. Not wanting to concern the others unnecessarily, I say nothing, but attempt to remain awake, watching him as Legolas watches the entrance to our small sheltered nook.

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So cold. . .freezing cold. . .

Aragorn is kneeling beside me, his hand on my forehead. It feels so comfortable. . .warm, the only warmth since we started for the Redhorn Pass. . . .

"A. . .Aragorn. . ."

"Sssshh. Don't try to talk any more than you must." I nod, and he brushes back my hair, stroking the mop reassuringly. "Lie still. . .how are you feeling?"

"Cold. . .everything aches, though I'm sure that's. . .half the Fellowship at least. . . ." I attempt a smile, but find myself breathless from the effort of talking. Beginning to cough, I struggle to sit up, and Aragorn lifts me carefully, keeping the blankets about me as he supports my shoulders in a sitting position. My chest hurts, a deep ache like a pounding within my lungs as I cough. My head swims, and Aragorn pulls me against him, bracing me against his own chest, rubbing my back lightly but firmly. When it passes, he brings a water-bottle up, pressing it lightly against my chapped lips.

"Drink. As much as you can. . .slow sips, now. . . ."

Gladly I obey; my throat and chest burn from coughing. Aragorn helps me finish drinking, then rests his hand against my forehead once more, and only then do I notice how anxious he looks.

"Frodo, you're running a fever. I'm afraid you may be ill. . .it's important we try to keep you warm so you don't grow worse. All right?" I manage a nod; speaking's still a bit much at the moment. "We're going to wrap you up a bit more, some extra blankets. . .it'll be a bit of moving you for a few minutes, but then you can lie still." Again I nod: the prospect of being warmer is encouraging, and I'm more than willing to tolerate the pain. Aragorn is gentle: he wraps a large blanket, then another, around me, and while I still feel chilled, I feel a bit more comfortable, protected from the snow by so many extra layers. Leaning back against the wall of the shallow cave that forms our shelter, Aragorn settles me against him so that I rest in his arms, cradled against his chest, head resting on his shoulder.

"Try and sleep again if you can."

His voice is reassuring, somehow, and I'm too tired for anything more. Closing my eyes, I settle against him and soon feel myself dozing off.

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~To Be Continued~