*What grace is given to me, let it pass to him. Let him be spared...*

And so Elrond and a company of elvish horse found them on the riverbank, Arwen's tears falling unheeded into Frodo's dark, matted hair, gathering him to her fiercely. He sat on his horse for several shocked moments, seeing another time, long ago. Another place. Another of his children tearfully cradling a broken, ravaged dark-haired form... Celebrien. His beloved, long since gone to sea.

He slid from his horse, knowing somehow that Arwen saw it as well, that her longing for her mother had rekindled itself in pity for this halfling.

Already the change was beginning, the change that had begun from the moment she had met Aragorn. But of late she was becoming even more human. He could not bring it in himself to judge her for it. Not when abrupt, unnamable pity and longing swirled so suddenly in his own breast.

"Go, Elladan" Elrond told one of the still-mounted riders. "find the others, bring them along. They are, in number, four."

"Yes, Father," the elf so named dipped his head, motioned to three others and took off across the river, their mounts' hooves ringing on the rocks. The remaining elf, his other son Elrohir, dismounted and gathered up the reins to the horses, including Asfaloth who stood patiently waiting beside Arwen.

Arwen turned as Elrond walked over to her, still clutching to Frodo. "He fights so, Father. We must help him."

"Yes. We must." His words were heavy, knowing and speaking of much. Elrond knelt on the river bed's gravel and Arwen released her grip, carefully pillowing the hobbit's head on the rocks. Elrond's breath drew in sharply over his teeth as he touched the clammy, bloodless cheeks, drew back one slack eyelid. "Evenstar, what have you done?"

"He was dying..." she stammered beneath the harsh gaze. "I...I did what I had to..."

"Did you." It was no question but a softly furious statement.


"Be silent," Elrond ordered. "Hold him. We cannot move him further, not yet. He is in shock. More interference could be his end." With a swift, economical motion he jerked the thin muslin of the hobbit's shirt apart, exposing the nasty wound. Close enough to the heart to worry him, yet somehow it had missed any vital organs. The ribs and breastbone seemed sunken, somehow; the flesh pulled tautly against bone as if the earthly matter that made up the hobbit was already beginning to fade and waste. The wound itself seemed to expand before his eyes. Greenish-black ichor oozed as Elrond palpated the injury; at his touch Frodo seemed to be roused from stupor, slinging his head back and forth and muttering in a tongue that seemed unkempt and foul upon his lips.

Elrond's mouth tightened and almost angrily---or so it seemed to his children--he laid both hands upon the Morgul wound and pressed down hard.

Frodo's eyes flew open and he screamed. It was not any normal keen that echoed through the river bottoms; the three elven horses started and Elrohir had his hands full for seconds gentling the beasts. Elrond did not back away and when he did not, Frodo started to writhe. Horrible sounds issued from his throat and when Elrond would not release him, he spat at him.

Arwen gripped him tighter against her lap, making a small whispered sound of horror.

"Even if he fights me for the moment, at least he is still fighting."

"Frodo, no," Arwen whispered, her hands holding steadily to his temples. She bent over him, her sable hair falling about his face and curtaining him from the light and the darkness both. "Stay. Stay..."

Her words seemed to penetrate--whereas his mangled instincts seemed to see in Elrond an adversary who was giving him pain, plainly he recognized Arwen enough to be eased by her presence. The filmed eyes moved up to hers as if in succor. Elrond looked from under his eyebrows at his daughter, did not remove his hands from the writhing frame and directed his words to her alone.

*Stay with him, my own. For I will have to hurt him moreso before this night is done. You are all he has right now--his companions are too far away.*

Arwen nodded, still bent over the stricken hobbit, fastening her gaze upon his. The pupils, barely discernible beneath the blinding cataracts forming, dilated widely and the cracked lips moved, tried to form speech. He went still.

*Help me...*

"I'm here," she whispered back, smoothing her cool, pale hands over his cheekbones. "I'm here."

For long moments there was no sound save the running of the river over its bed, the blowing of the horses, the shifting of the trees, quiet, natural sounds that were all but negated by the harsh, wheezing attempts of Frodo to take air into his damaged lungs. Sweat beaded up on Elrond's forehead as he directed every fibre of his being into the tiny soul laying homely and senseless upon his daughter's lap.

Frodo no longer fought the elf lord's touch; his eyes remained fastened to Arwen's and if pain washed through his body, the only sign of it was the trembling of his frame.

"How can the little one stand it?" Elrohir whispered in amazement.

*He trusts her.*

"Nay," Arwen murmured aloud, "he trusts Aragorn. And Aragorn gave him to my care."

"Daughter," Elrond said heavily, "it is you he must turn to. You've given him no other choice."

Arwen raised her eyes to stare in bewilderment at him. He did not return her gaze, focused on the hobbit lying upon the gravel.

Silence again; the heavy, peril-filled moments of the beginning of Healing. Would the gift be accepted? Or had the black venom of the Witch King bitten too deep and ruined the hobbit so that death would be the only kindly recourse? For long, drawn-out heartbeats Frodo's life hung in suspension, the choice unmade, the decision still not final.

Then Elrond sucked in a huge breath, shuddered and took his hands from the hobbit's chest. The raw, exposed flesh was no longer black with bile, but still ugly, outraged veins rose beneath the pale skin. It was not over, not yet. Elrohir put a hand to his father's shoulder; Elrond bowed his head under the soothing touch and sighed.

"He will now at least make it to the House. Take him up, Elrohir."

When the foreign hands touched him, Frodo started to struggle once more. But once where there had been fury, now there was fear. Elrohir tried to soothe him with words and touch; at first, the hobbit continued to struggle. The elf merely cradled him more securely against his chest, long fingers touching the pale forehead almost absently, and with startling immediacy, Frodo quieted. Elrohir drew back his hand as if burned. His large, grey eyes angled over to his father's questioningly.

Elrond nodded. His lips were set. "Carry him the rest of the way, my son. Arwen and her mount are nearly done in."

He helped her up to Asfaloth's saddle, lips tightening further at the shakiness of her frame. Asfaloth's flanks were wet from not only the river, but sweat. Elrohir gripped Frodo more tightly to him and carefully put a foot into his own stirrup, swinging up on his own tall bay as if the light weight in his arms was negligible indeed, and settled the hobbit carefully astride the stallion's withers. Like a child in its mother's arms, Frodo was quiet. Arwen turned from her brother's troubled eyes to her father's piqued expression. Elrond did not return her gaze.

"For now we will not question," Elrond told them both curtly, mounting his own steed, a slender chestnut mare. "We will just be thankful that, bereft of friend and in the midst of strangers, the halfling has someone to cling to. For we will need him yet."

The elves started towards their home.

* * * * * *

"How much longer?" Sam demanded.

"Once we cross the ford we will be but a half-hour's walk," Strider said, moving forward with head angled downward. His normal mien of stalking, prowling hunter had vanished; in its wake was the tangible worry of the preyed. They were on the road, now; in their haste abandoning safety to traverse the most direct and speedy route to Rivendell.

And all danger had left them to follow what it most desired--the Ring and Frodo.

"Do you think they outran the wraiths?" Strider gave no answer at this, and Sam pressed further, "If they..."

"I don't know, Sam!" It was clipped, terse, and effectively shut Sam up. Strider closed his fists--they were trembling--and kept going.

Pippin sidled up to him, gold-green eyes slanted sideways in concern. "She's a good rider, then?"

Strider nodded.

"You love her, don't you?"

The man stopped, looked down at Pippin. Sam and Merry almost ran into them from behind. The anger that had snapped forward when Sam had pressed him flared once more, then ran from him like smoke as he peered into the open concern of the youngest hobbit's face.

They were all frightened. He had no right to react negatively to their panic when his own was scarcely controllable.

"She'll be taking care of Frodo, won't she." More satisfied statement than query, still Pippin's brows drew together in concern.

"She will."

"We didn't mean to start the fire," Merry said, miserably. "I mean, we didn't know that those... things..."

"How were you to know?" he assured quietly.

"We should have known." This from Samwise, who stuck out his chest and chin as if waiting for a disciplining rap. "I should have known better! I knew what they wanted!"

"If I hadn't been thinking so wretchedly of m' stomach, then maybe Frodo wouldn't be..." Pippin furthered miserably.

"Enough of that!" Strider said, so sharply that they jumped. "No one bears any blame alone. I should have been closer at hand and then you would have had no fire. Now will we waste time blaming ourselves, or shall we continue to Rivendell and be where we're needed?"

Chastened, they started to follow. Merry hesitated.

"D'you hear that?"

Strider halted, listened. The hobbits froze beside him


"Hide!" he hissed, swiftly suiting action to words. They dove into the bushes lining the road. Bare moments passed, the sounds of horses growing closer and closer, their hearts in their throats.

Then Strider's frame relaxed and a brief smile lit his features. The approaching hoof-falls were not those of the ponderous, cold-blooded mounts of the Riders, but the light, hot-blooded rhythm of Elvish mounts.

Pippin gave a squeak of dismay as he stood and walked boldly onto the road. None of the hobbits moved, wondering whether their guide had gone mad as he lifted a hand and four horsemen came into view. The dappled coats of the horses shone as if the dimness of the forest were sunlight, and the four dark heads were proudly bare. No Black Riders, these.

"Elves," Sam breathed.

"Elladan!" Strider called with more joy than the hobbits had yet heard him voice. Cautiously they came from the copse, their faces agog at the simple beauty of the elvish riders.

"Arwen is safely toward home, my brother," returned the elf Strider had named Elladan as he leapt gracefully down from his mount. He turned with quizzical eyes toward the three hobbits.

"And Frodo?" Strider quickly asked.

A frown marred the high forehead. "It is not well. But," he continued, seeing the deepset worry upon the little ones' faces, "he is with my father. If any can save him, it is Elrond.

"Let us ride. I have come to fetch you to him."

Strider's mouth tightened as he saw each of the hobbits securely seated pillion with an elf. He had not managed this well; thank his ancestors that the Ring had gotten safely to Rivendell despite his blunderings. And Frodo... the realization of what that ingenuous, indomitable little soul was enduring pained him deeply. He should have been able to prevent it. He should have protected him.

Hopefully his next action along this wretched road would not be sending these three remaining hobbits home without their leader.

* * * * * *

Elrohir's mount slid to a halt, crouching down upon his hocks right before the stairs which led to the main hall. An elf materialized from seemingly nowhere and took the stallion's rein, leading him away once Elrohir had dismounted and pulled Frodo down from the wide back. Elrond and Arwen were right behind, another elf taking Asfaloth and the mare, clucking concernedly over Asfaloth's wearied state. They followed Elrohir up the great steps.

"My chambers will do," Elrond said from behind his son. "I have everything I shall want in there. Quickly!"

They sped through the halls, the progress noted and hastily given way to by the other residents of Rivendell. As if the halls themselves worked some magic, Frodo's breathing had steadied from hoarse gulps to slow wheezes, almost slumbering in Elrohir's grasp. They entered Elrond's private rooms and Elrohir turned toward the back sleeping chamber.

"No, on the floor by the fire--he will be all but swallowed in the bed and we still have work to do."

Arwen went to a high shelf and took down several folded sheets and a thickly-padded coverlet; another elvish female came in, bringing a ewer of hot water, a basin, towels and a wire basket, then retreated back to the door where several others had come to peer in with concern. Elrond's clear eyes never left the hobbit's still form as Arwen unfolded the coverlet upon the floor, laying sheets across it. Elrohir lowered Frodo to the makeshift pallet.

"Daughter, are you all right?" Elrond turned meaningfully to her. "You will do none of us a service if you have wearied yourself too much..."

"I am all right, Father," she told him earnestly. "I would see this through. Though," she smiled ruefully, "no doubt I will wish for a nice warm bath and scrubbing such as Asfaloth is now no doubt receiving."

"Then stay with him. Elrohir, cleansing. I will need your assistance in this." Taking a small bag from another shelf, the elf-lord knelt, opening the bag to reveal several tools: among them pincers and finely-honed cutting instruments of crystalline and metal. He placed them within the wire basket that had been brought and handed it to Elrohir, who strode over to the fire, hanging the basket on a hook over the flames. Elrohir then took a bottle from an assortment of various sizes upon the mantelpiece above and shook out into his palm what revealed itself to be silvery powder. With a soft exhortation, he tossed a handful of the dust onto the fire. It puffed upwards, odd sparkles of smoke bathing the instruments. The vapour stole further into the room, wreathing itself about the sickbed, casting a soothing scent.

Frodo's eyes had closed; he was quiescent. Too much so. Elrond frowned, then purposefully passed his hand over, but not touching, the hobbit's left side from hipbone to collarbone. As he passed over the heart, he snatched his hand back as if it had been burned and sat back on his haunches.

"It is there, over the wound."

Arwen's eyes widened, for moments unsure as to what he referred. Then she understood as her father continued.

"It lulls him, feigns quietude while the poison works deeper. The Ring would have its purpose admirably served if this one succumbed to the blade's poison and to its Master." Elrond opened Frodo's shirt again, moving aside the jacket and its pocket where the Ring rested. The moment he took the Ring from where it had come to rest over the wound, the hobbit began to moan thinly. His eyes opened; there was now no sight whatsoever of normal iris and pupil within them--only the brilliant cataracts slowly blinding them.

"We're losing him," Arwen murmured, her hand going to the hobbit's filthy, tangled hair.

"Not yet. Assist me." Gingerly Elrond, with Arwen's help, angled Frodo's arms from his jacket, first right then left, leaving the jacket next to his left side, carefully not touching the tainted pocket. Then he did likewise with vest and shirt, tossing them aside less carefully, fully uncovering the unwholesome wound. It had sealed itself and risen again, with the rapid turgidity of an abcess.

Elrohir and Arwen drew in an uneasy, shocked breath--the sound echoed amongst the watchers at the door.

Elrond's lips tightened. Then, with seeming casualness, he drew the jacket slightly away from the prone form. Frodo's breathing, almost quieted, began to escalate once more, his chest pumping vainly for oxygen. Arwen touched him but her hand, a gentling force moments before, seemed suddenly to no avail.

"What do you mean to do?"

Her father didn't answer. Taking a lengthy pair of pincers from the kit he had laid out, he bent over and carefully opened the jacket's pocket. With the pincers he snared the Ring, carefully drew it from its hiding place.

Frodo lurched forward, nearly escaping Arwen's grasp. Elrond moved back slightly; the Ring fell to the floor with a dull, heavy tone and Frodo cried out. Elrohir moved forward, assisting his sister's grip. With a strength they'd not thought one so wounded capable of, Frodo fought them, trying to break free, sounds bursting from his chest.

"By the Valar," Elrohir breathed, finally gaining purchase upon the frantic hobbit and trying to push him back against the pallet. "It has sunk this deeply into his soul, yet he has resisted thus far?"

"Give it back to him!" Another small figure burst into the room; Sam flew like a broody hen at the ones he thought to be tormenting his master. "Give it back! Can't you see you're hurting him?"

And before they could stop him, he'd snatched up the Ring and thrust it into one of Frodo's outstretched, flailing hands.

Almost immediately, Frodo's struggles ceased. He fell back into Arwen's arms, his breathing still laboured and his fingers twitching uncontrollably about the gold circlet within them. Sam bent over him, not heeding of the fact that he had all but shoved Elrohir aside and was exactly where Elrond, moments before, had been--and still needed to be.

"Sam!" Strider's voice came from the doorway; the elves fell back for him as he came slightly into the room, Merry and Pippin at his hips. The two younger hobbits stared in horrified fascination at the scene before them: Frodo gasping, his body so stiff that the tendons in his neck and arms stood out like corded twine, the wound opened and once again spurting green bile over his ribcage, the elves holding him down as if for torture and Sam burrowing to his side, fierce and persistent. Arwen met her lover's eyes; he gave a small frown, placing a quelling hand on both Merry and Pippin as they lurched forward.

"Enough!" Elrond growled. "Out, all of you. If I am to aid him, I need peace!"

Pippin started to speak, quailed beneath Elrond's ire. Merry jutted his jaw to one side as if he would force the issue, then his eyes fell to the form on the pallet. It took all the fight from him. "C'mon, Pip. We'd better stay out of the way. We've done quite enough."

Strider didn't take his hands from their shoulders and turned to leave with them, tightening his grip comfortingly. Pippin returned the embrace, angling one small arm about him as he turned for one last look at Frodo.

Elrond turned to Sam. The clear eyes were unrelenting, but Sam shook his head, clinging even tighter to the stricken Frodo. "I'm not leaving, s..sir," the hobbit stammered nervously, refusing to back down. "I can't leave him, and that's flat." His tone turned pleading. "He needs me. I can't leave him here alone. I won't, sir."

The elf-lord's mouth quirked in what, to Sam's amazement, might have been a smile. "Very well, then. As long as you stay out of the way."

"Better than that, sir," the hobbit said, emboldened by this new sign of favor, "I'll help you with whatever you ask!"

Arwen turned a chuckle into a cough. Elrohir didn't bother to hide his smile.

Then Frodo started to choke.

"Prop his head up!" Elrond barked the command. Arwen started to do so but found Sam there instead, lifting the dark head up against his shoulder and speaking to him as matter-of-factly as if it was another day on the road and nothing wrong but a momentary distress. Elrond started to interfere, then hesitated as Frodo's paroxysm seemed to cease in his friend's embrace. He nodded to Elrohir, motioning to the wire basket still heating and cleansing his tools.

"Bring them here, my son. Now, Master..."

"Samwise, Samwise Gamgee. But call me Sam if it pleases you, sir."

"Sam, then." His tone softened at the obvious misery in the grey eyes. "This is going to get ugly. Are you still prepared to help us?"

"I'm here for as long as mister Frodo needs me," the hobbit said stoutly, though he did pale a bit and swallow hard as Elrohir brought over the basket filled with sharp instruments.

"You have a true heart, Sam," Arwen told him softly. Over Frodo's bent head their eyes met and held in a small promise of trust and care.

Sam blushed and looked down, hiding his face in Frodo's hair. His hand reached down and closed over Frodo's, the one holding the Ring.

"Let me get behind him," she said softly. "I know what to do."

He immediately scooted over, angling himself along Frodo's right side as Arwen gripped his master close, as if holding him down. Then Elrond drew out a long, sharp scalpel and Sam quailed, suddenly realizing that Arwen *was* going to be holding Frodo down.

At the first cut, the first cry, Sam shivered and burrowed tighter. But he didn't let go of Frodo's hand.

* * * * * *

Merry and Pippin were seated in the common room on a small divan, eyes blind to the smoothly-carven, naturalistic beauty about them, holding to each other and staring into the fire kindling in the room's midst. Pippin's sharp face was desolate, near to panic; Merry's broader one was twisted in stolid, haunted misery. The Ranger sat with them, silently slicing an apple with his knife and giving it to them a piece at a time. He had guessed that there was little to disturb a hobbit's appetite and marveled at how they took the apple from him in small bites, hardly conscious of what they were doing but eating nonetheless. They seemed comforted by his care.

Strider couldn't have swallowed a bite had it been force-fed him. His appetite shrunk within him even further at the sudden shriek of agony that pierced the stillness of the elven sanctuary.

Pippin recoiled as if physically struck as he heard the wail, rising upward then wavering into silence, and buried his face in his cloak.

"He's going to die, isn't he?" Merry asked despairingly, shrinking closer to his companion. "He looks dreadful. He's..." he choked off, unable to finish.

"Not if Elrond has anything to say," Strider told them comfortingly. "And the Lord of Rivendell has no small power at healing."

He started slicing another apple.

* * * * * *

It was several hours later. Elrond had finally, with sharp blade and sharper skill, cut the poison and its tiny, splintering source from Frodo's shoulder. Sam had endured the entire process with white lips, sometimes hiding his watering eyes but never letting go of Frodo's hand.

Yet finally they were done and a semi-comatose Frodo bathed, bandaged and swathed in clean blankets on another pallet next to the fire. The fouled, blood-and-venom spattered bedding they had used during the healing had been taken outside to be burnt. Elrond had ordered that Frodo be left in his rooms where he could be there in an instant should it prove necessary. Sam was still there, curled alongside his master's prone, violated frame, finally sleeping himself.

Arwen had also been told to take some rest; she had gratefully left her father's rooms, her normally smooth, fair face lined with exhaustion and her slender shoulders bent beneath a pain not her own.

"She didn't mean any harm." Elrohir studied the instruments where they sat in boiling water over the fire. He added several drops of dark liquid into the pan; it steamed and frothed.

"Intent excuses naught," Elrond retorted softly, seated in a well-padded chair across from him. "You know that quite well, Elrohir."

The younger elf flushed, his eyes darting from Elrond to the pallet that was nearly at his father's feet. They held there, fascinated, and he left the surgical tools stewing in their cleansing broth to pace on silent feet over to where the two hobbits lay tangled, one in tense stupor and one in exhausted sleep.

"Yes, I am afraid that I do." He reached out, laid a light touch upon Frodo's sweating forehead. The hobbit didn't stir; his lips quivered as if chanting negations even in sleep. "This is... an unbelievable coincidence."

"Coincidence?" Elrond laid his head back against the chair-back, closed his eyes for a second them opened them again, fastened them upon his son. "There's no such thing."

"Arwen didn't mean to hurt him. Just..." he hesitated, then furthered, pushing the lank, dark hair back from Frodo's brow, "Just as I did not mean to cause harm."

Elrond said nothing.

"Have you ever wondered, Father, if it was all as it was meant? If despite my youthful arrogance, I somehow helped set this child's feet on a road that he was meant to take? That perhaps instead of hindering, I helped him bear this?"

"As you helped his mother?"

Elrohir flinched; his fingers stiffened against Frodo's temple and his grey eyes, shimmering in the firelight like shadowed gems, were huge with regret and pain.

"You acted where you had no right to bestow. I can only hope that Arwen's mistaken act of kindness shall not end as tragically as yours."

* * * * * *

She had been told to rest, to sleep, yet Arwen could not sleep. She found herself weary beyond words, yet enervated, touched within with strange fire. All of it, too much for understanding. Her reactions. Her father's anger at her. And even moreso, what she had witnessed in mortal devotion these past hours. It had stricken her to bone and marrow, made her vulnerable and laid bare in a way she'd not felt in any's presence other than...

"You should be resting."

She turned. Of course he was there, had known her need for him. He always did, even though it was not always so easy for him to be here to respond to that need.

Strider. What an odd name, for he was, as elves measured up, not as lanky or tall as he must have seemed to the others of Middle Earth. She preferred his given name; the man she knew as Aragorn leaned against a fluted pillar, one buttock resting upon the top rail. Arwen smiled, remembering how, as a youth, he'd often been chided for showing so little respect to the elvish architecture as to park his behind there at the most inappropriate moments.

He seemed to catch the gist of her thoughts, for he grinned a bit roguishly. But he didn't move from the rail. She walked slowly over to him, her gait abnormally halting, and his face sobered.

"Love, are you all right?"

"I feel... drained. Bereft." She caught hold of the railings, looked out into the golds and bronzes of autumn's litter. "Oh, Aragorn, it was dreadful!"

They spoke Elvish, as they often did together. The breathy phrasing of the words seemed to sink into the building about them, not echoing but melding and rejoining and becoming part of Rivendell. He turned, put a gentle hand upon her sable hair, took his other and placed it over the white hands that trembled against the railing. The silence of his comfort did more to soothe her than words ever could have.

"Tell me."

She shook her head. The words would not come. How to tell him of the horror, the dread, the foulness and darkness that had done such fierce, unrelenting battle against her, demanding as its price the small soul she'd held so briefly and so tightly?

**The wild ride across plain and through forest, gripping with arm and knees, frantically trying to keep hold of her precious cargo even as Asfaloth gallantly tried to not jar them too greatly--he'd known how precariously the burden was flung upon his wide, white back. The stallion's great, cognizant care had nearly outdone them, for the Nazgul had closed upon them, reaching for the one she clutched so fiercely. Her cries: Run, Asfaloth! RUN! The hobbit's heart hammering against her forearm, wild and furious as any captured coney's. Her wonder that it did not burst within his chest, that her own didn't rise to choke her. Her words to him of comfort: Nearly there. Hold on, little one. Nearly there...
**The river. Safety. Or so she'd thought until the Riders had actually stepped into it. She'd called down the water upon them; waves crashing, sweeping evil away. Her undeniable relief--for moments she had wondered if they were stoppable, this close to the Ring.
**Then, once again, alarm shrieking its way through her heart. Frodo had collapsed, his very bones creaking beneath the assault of the Morgul parasite within him, his breath rasping and seizing and finally stopping...
**And she, in her panic and terror, had seen not only his ravaged face, but another. Another innocent raped by evil and left to die by agonizing inches...
**Mother... no! Don't give in...
**"Frodo... no! Don't give in..."
**She'd not thought, merely acted. Had poured every mote, every gossamer strand of light and life she could gather about her and into his small body. It was not until he'd cried out, his lungs once more heaving and his heart thundering under this new assault that she had realized what she was doing and broken away, falling over him, wiping tears from her eyes and staring at them incredulously as they glistened upon her palms and fell like jeweled rain upon the hobbit's face, commingling with sweat and bile and blood...
**But he was breathing. He was still somehow tenaciously extant, his frame twisting and twitching, moaning thinly in his throat. He was still alive. Barely...

**"Evenstar, what have you done?..."**

"Evenstar." Aragorn's grip tightened upon her, the sweet pain of it bringing her back to the present. She felt warmth on her face, felt salt sweetness upon her lips. Again, the tears. She hadn't thought she could cry so.

"I fear..." The words, they came so hard, so frail. "Father was right. I acted without thinking. I fear... that I hurt him."

"Frodo? You could no more mean to hurt him than..."

"Nay, love. I didn't mean to do so. But I fear I did. He was going so quickly. He was fading so fast, surrendering. I made him face his surrender. I forced him; forced him to turn from it." She took a deep breath, wiped at the tears crowding her eyes. "I'm not sure that he will quickly forgive me that."

A broad, strong hand touched her cheeks with infinite tenderness, brushed away the tears. "He will understand."

Aragorn's surety buoyed her. She leaned back against him, gripped tightly the arms that stole firmly about her waist as he furthered, "How does Frodo, now?"

Her voice no longer trembled as she spoke; her lover's presence filled her, made her stronger despite the weakness that still threatened to buckle her knees. "It was... so difficult. He's strong, stronger that I would have ever thought. Father is astounded, not an easy task to accomplish. But it is still so touch and go, Aragorn. The wound is closed, cleansed. But still...

"I like it not," she continued, muted, "how the Ring draws him. It has a claim upon him, has found the weakness in his darkly-wounded soul."

He was silent, his eyes bleak.

"Father said we may yet need him. But I do not see how. If he even survives the night." She took a troubled breath. "How are the others? Does Bilbo know yet?"

"He knows. He was on his way to see Frodo and promised to merely duck in and out as quietly as possible. Merry and Pippin are frightened. I had a small potion snuck into their tea, they're fast asleep now. They were worn out with too many cares." His eyes still considered her gently. "As are you. Come, you need rest."

She turned in his embrace, put a hand to his cheek. "As do you."

He took the hand, brought it to his lips. "My main fear was laid to rest when you arrived here unhindered."

Together they left the hallway, feet making no sound on the polished wood of the floor, his arm about her waist, holding her steady and safe.

* * * * * *

Bilbo no longer walked with the surety of even six months previous; his gait was unsteady and he carried a small staff that now never left his side, but his steps quickened as he entered Elrond's rooms and saw the well-stoked firehearth, the pallet pulled nigh, the lights dimmed with the coming of dusk. He hobbled over to stand above the makeshift bed and looked down at the two figures lying there; one restless and senseless, lost in fever dreams, the other curled at his hip, cool and somnolent, lost to worry and exhaustion. Slowly, with some effort, he knelt down and touched Sam's golden head briefly.

"I thought you might be here, lad," he murmured softly. Sam, deeply slumbering, barely stirred. Bilbo laid his cane aside, taking care that it made no sound as he did so, then lowered himself to the pallet. He said nothing for long moments, peering at his cousin. Every now and then Frodo's face would quiver, his chin jerk sideways. His eyes rolled beneath his lids. The one hand above the covers was drawn tightly into a fist. He was clammy with sweat.

Bilbo passed a hand over his eyes. It was shaking. "So," he whispered, purposefully light. "So you've finally come to Rivendell, my boy. Perhaps you'll stay with me, now?"

Frodo's lips vibrated; a small sound wrenched itself from his chest. Bilbo desperately wanted to reach for him, reassure himself through touch that Frodo was indeed solid and whole--but he could not.

He knew it for a lie.

Looking away, Bilbo briefly cursed the tears that rose and misted his vision. Slowly, painfully, he grabbed his cane and angled himself to his feet, cursing the joints that had betrayed him, the bones that creaked and the muscles that shook. The fire popped and hissed gently to one side--no solace there--but the open balcony with its gentle breeze and the sounds of the waterfall just beyond were soothing. They beckoned with gentle intensity and he heeded their call, going over to the balcony and looking over.

It was a severe drop. The mist from the falls directly below wafted upward, stole over him, eased his stinging eyes and aching throat.

"You're up late, my friend."

Bilbo jerked about with a quick gasp, then relaxed, shaking his head. "You are far too adept at sneaking up on people."

"Particularly when they enter my chambers unannounced," Elrond chided softly. Bilbo gave forth the ghost of a grin, turned his face once again to the outside breeze.

"He looks wretched, Elrond."

"If fortune is with us, he'll survive the night."

Bilbo swallowed hard and nodded. "I know." His voice quavered.

Elrond came up to stand closely behind him. "Believe me, my friend, I'm doing all I can. I owe Frodo that much."

The hobbit was silent. Then, "I heard," his voice was still shaky, "that your daughter quite possibly saved his life at the river."

"My daughter did more than save his life. She filled him with her own."

Bilbo turned, eyes widening.

"It concerns me greatly, my friend. I can see you are troubled as well. I do not make excuse for her--however she does not realize what I have come to know. She was in Lorien when her brother visited you... and your cousin."

"Poor Prim." It was a soft sigh.

"When my son blessed Primula Baggins--and the life that she then carried," his gaze went to Frodo's prone form, "the life that now wanes by my fireside--he did not know what geas he'd laid upon her mind." Bilbo started to speak; Elrond continued doggedly. "Your kind and mine cannot share such things. They cannot weave but wrongly. The song that makes us, bone and blood and nerve, is pitched too highly for your people to bear. Elrohir acted in ignorance and thusly changed her--and changed her son forever." Elrond's normally-pellucid grey eyes were shrouded with doubt. With regret. He could not hold Bilbo's eyes, but turned to look out over the falls below.

"And now... Arwen has also possibly given too heavy a gift to one who cannot bear it."

"Are you so sure, my lord, that he can't bear it?" Bilbo said softly, looking from under his eyebrows at the elf. Elrond hesitated, and the old hobbit continued, "Frodo is not his mother. However it may have happened, from your son's mistaken gift or from something deep within his very cells, Frodo is... different. He was different before Arwen ever touched him, and you know that, my lord. Don't judge your children so harshly--they will not forgive you easily for it."

Elrond did turn to Bilbo this time, his eyes sparking with annoyance. "And so the old bachelor gives advice to one who has been a father longer than his people have been alive."

Bilbo dropped his eyes, afraid he'd gone too far. Suddenly Elrond chuckled, but it was mirthless.

"In your innocence, you speak the truth. Bilbo, I cannot undo what was done then--or what Arwen may have done today in mistaken love and grief. I can only do whatever I must to help Primula's only son. And I would not have this beloved child of yours-- however you sired him not, however he came to you--broken before he is allowed to be tempered."

Bilbo was quiet, digesting the words. Then, "If Frodo dies, Elrond, then your regret will have no answer, and Arwen Evenstar shall never know if what she gifted will help or hinder. If he lives..." Bilbo turned and looked at the sleeping hobbits, both so dear to him. This time when the tears rose he made no effort to check them.

"I think you underestimate him, my lord. I think you all have."

* * * * * *

Two more days passed. The fever was not breaking, the flesh seeming to melt from Frodo's bones, his body clenched taut as a rail, the Ring tightly clutched in his hand. Elrond drove his own reserves to exhaustion, diverting each crisis as it came, fighting tooth and nail with the darkness. Then after one such drawn-out battle with the resurgence of the blade's poison, the hobbit convulsed, arching back against the pillows.

Sam, from beside them, leaned forward with a small cry.

Elrond felt his heart sink as, after the spasm, Frodo went limp. Then slowly the hobbit started, shifted, sighed deeply. His face, so strained and set, softened. As if his breath somehow drew deeper and cleaner, a hint of color touched his cheeks.

His hand opened. The Ring fell from his fingers and hit the floor.

Frodo turned his face into the pillows and curled up, abandoned to sleep.

Eyes wide, Sam looked across the sick-pallet at Elrond and was jubilant to see, in the cool grey eyes and for the first time, a bit of hope.

* * * * * *

On that fourth day, as the sun was settling beyond the hills, came a visitor to Rivendell. He paused only to exchange words with one of the elves who divested him of his grime-covered cloak; after he heard what had happened the previous days, he refused any offer of bath or refreshment and strode through the halls, stopping only when he saw Strider.


"What has happened?" the wizard demanded.

"I was not as watchful as I should have been," the Ranger said ruefully. "I left them alone for but a while..."

"And found that hobbits are as little children about the dangers of the outside world," finished Gandalf, laying a hand on his shoulder. "No blame to you, my friend. But when I heard, I was fearful just now. Forgive my sharpness."

"You did not know?"

"I was... in a place that blinded me for a time." Gandalf took a deep breath at the uncertain way the Ranger looked at him; he saw himself, suddenly, in the other's eyes: the wildness of travail, the blood and grime not yet washed away. The great eagle Gwahir had, at his request, flown him straight to Rivendell's gates without stopping. All Gandalf had known was that he'd somehow heard Frodo call out to him, that something had gone deathly, horribly wrong. "Frodo. How is he?"

"He is better," Strider answered softly. "Elrond is with him now."

"Then my presence can be held from our young ringbearer long enough for me to clean up. There is no sense coming as a slattern to a sickroom--or bringing anything unhealthy with me as I sit by him."

"I truly think that wise," Strider ventured, with polite correctness that made a fleeting smile come to both their lips.

"Yes, I suppose I do smell like a dung-heap," the wizard dryly remarked. "I'll clean up, then, shall I?"

Strider watched him turn on one heel and return the way he'd come. He followed more slowly, knowing that Gandalf would no doubt want to question him further. He certainly had his own questions for the wizard.

* * * * * *

No matter how quickly he'd bathed and attired himself, how to the point his conversation with Strider had been, it still was the better part of an hour before Gandalf could venture forth again. He strode purposefully to the sickroom, pausing when he came to the door before which squatted a diminutive, familiar figure.

"Gandalf! Mister Gandalf, sir!" It was a pleased, haggard face that turned up to him; Sam quickly rose from the floor.

"Samwise," said the wizard with a soft smile. He laid his hand on the curly, bright head. "And why are you out here and not by your master's side?"

"Oh, sometimes they toss me out when they're messing about with mister Frodo," was the winsome, frank answer. "I'm so glad you're here, sir! You'll do him a world of good. He's..." the sunny expression dimmed. "He's not quite come back to us yet. Lord Elrond took out the poison, that he did. And Frodo slept for the first time this morning--real sleep, not fever dreams. They've moved him to his own bed, too. But..."

"I know, Sam. Take heart. Your master has survived thus far a blow that would have finished a heart less than his." He knelt down, looked directly in the grey eyes. They were less clear than normal, full of worry and fatigue. "Why don't you go take some rest?"

"Sir, I've rested. I don't..."

"No, Samwise. Go for a walk if you must. Clear your head. Breathe in the fresh healing air of Rivendell's walks instead of that of the sickroom. I shall stay here for you. That is, if you trust me to look after your master for you?"

The chiding tone made Sam look flustered. "Trust... you? How could I not? None better than you, no sir, unless perhaps the Lady Arwen..." he trailed off again with a quick hint of color in his cheeks.

"Ah. So you too have been captivated by Arwen Evenstar."

"She helped us," Sam said simply.

"I know. I spoke with Strider earlier. Go. Break your fast with Merry and Pippin. They're worried too, you know, though they aren't allowed in the sickroom as often as you seem to be. Go on, now."

Not without a wistful, backward glance, Sam went.

Gandalf took a deep, thoughtful breath and entered. Elrond was over by the bed, pulling the sheets up more securely. He looked up at the arrival with a frown, then relaxed slightly.

"I'm glad you have come," Elrond said simply, quietly. "This little one has need of you. He's called your name often."

Gandalf drew closer to the sickbed. What he saw made his heart clutch with nameless dread and irredeemable guilt.

What lay there couldn't possibly be the laughing, carefree child that had greeted him when he arrived in Hobbiton for Bilbo's birthday. Nor was it the earnest inheritor of Bag-End that had so willingly placed his trust in Gandalf himself, believing without doubt that his wizard friend would help him every step of the way. The pale coverlets had more color than Frodo's face; his eyes were closed, sunken back into his head and as he shifted restlessly beneath the tightly-tucked sheets his bones strained yellow beneath taut, unfed skin. He seemed horribly tiny and vulnerable in the wide, white bed; the soft, silken nightshirts that draped his frame were much too big for him, heightening the effect and making the hobbit seem all the more like some wizened, abused starveling from a war-zone.

"It was a hard fight, " Elrond said from behind him. "But we are winning it at last."

Gandalf looked at his old compatriot, eyebrows drawn together.

"I can understand, finally, what you see in your little hobbit prince," the elf lord said softly. "Indeed, in all your halfling companions. There is strength and heart beyond measure in them. They love as fiercely as they hunger for the pleasures of the table." He looked down at Frodo. "Indeed, their capacity for devotion is something we could all take into our breasts anew."

"I'll sit with him awhile." Gandalf said, pulling a chair by the bedside and settling himself into it. "I promised Samwise so."

"I shall stay nigh as well," Elrond replied. "So I promised myself."

* * * * * *


Merry spoke the name with real relief and Pippin sprang up from his seat to Sam's side, grabbing his arm.

"How's Frodo?"

Sam shrugged, trying to smile comfortingly but failing. "He's better, any road. He's sleeping."

"He looked so awful, Sam..." Pippin laid his head upon Sam's shoulder and the older hobbit smiled briefly, inclining his own head next to Pippin's for a brief instant then pulling away with a brief sigh.

"I think we're past the worst. I really do. He took a poor turn early this morning, then... he just went to sleep. First real sleep he's had."

"Is the wound better at all?" Merry angled his head sideways, dread lacing his voice.

"It's better. Elrond's been working day and night. And now Gandalf's with him."

"Gandalf's here?" Pippin stammered.


"When are they going to let us see Frodo?" Merry demanded.

"Don't know." Sam looked about as the two led him further into the room. Small by Elvish standards, but more than adequate for the hobbits, there were low couches everywhere and two of those had obviously been commandeered as beds. A basin sat on a side table, filled with clear water, and a small table sat near a door leading to a balcony. The table was gorgeously bedecked with a centerpiece of gilt and evergreen which held fruits, cheese, fresh bread. Sam's mouth started to water.

"C'mon, then!" Pippin grabbed his arm again and led him to the table, correctly interpreting his hopeful glance.

"How long since you've eaten?" Merry asked, taking his other arm.

"Too long," was the rueful answer.

"You've been watching Frodo more than yourself," Merry continued, patting his shoulder as they sat him at table. Pippin climbed onto the table's far end, crossing his legs and reaching for a hunk of cheese.

"Leave some for Sam, now?" Merry's soft chide made the other two grin, however fleetingly.

"And who's been eating since we arrived?" Pippin returned. Then he seemed to realize anew the circumstances of what he'd spoken and fell uneasily silent. He reached out with his free hand, fingered the green boughs of the centerpiece.

Sam continued to make inroads on the table fare. The three hobbits were uncommonly silent for a short time.

"Will Frodo be all right?" Merry ventured. "I mean... is he going to be awake soon?"

"I'm hoping he'll soon be well enough for us to get back home," Sam answered heartily about a mouthful of bread.

"But how's he supposed to leave that Ring here if he can hardly let loose of it?"

"Pippin!" Merry hissed. Somehow it didn't seem the right thing to bring up. But Sam turned curiously and the youngest hobbit continued.

"I mean, when the elf-lord took it from him..." Pippin trailed off and swallowed hard, looking down. "Sam, it was dreadful!"

"It was." Sam pushed away his plate, suddenly not hungry any more. His grey eyes met Pippin's gilded ones, sharing the misery of memory. Pippin was the one to look away first. Merry broke the strained silence.

"Sam, you need some sleep. You're wobbling on your feet."

"I should go back."

"You should get some sleep. You'll be no good to Frodo whacked off your legs, now will you?"

Sam didn't argue further--another sign of how weary he was--but let Merry lead him over to one of the plush couches and settle him down there. Pippin sat on the table, elbows on knees, chin cradled in his hands, watching as Merry pulled a coverlet over Sam and Sam burrowed into it gratefully. Merry threw an uncertain glance back over his shoulder; Pippin looked down at his feet, brow furrowed.

There was another uncomfortable silence. Sam proved how worn out he was by almost immediately beginning to snore.

Pippin slid to his feet. "We're just sitting, useless."

"What can we do, Pip?" Merry said quietly.

"Seems to me that we could be doing something!"

"Like what?"

"Ooh, I dunno." Pippin hung his head and sat back down. "D'you think they're angry at us, Merry?"


"The elves."

"Nah. Don't think elves get angry."

"But they won't let us in to see Frodo," Pippin stated miserably. "They let Sam in, and Bilbo. But not us. Perhaps they're angry? We shouldn't have started that fire and they know it so they're angry with us!"

Merry twisted his mouth to one side. "I don't know, Pip. There must be a good reason. You know, we could ask Strider. I bet he'd take us if we asked. Because you know, we haven't actually asked to see Frodo."

"I was afraid to ask," Pippin muttered.

"So was I," Merry sighed, then brightened slightly. "But maybe it's just because we haven't. Asked, that is. We'll ask Strider and I'll bet they'll let us see him."

"I hope so." Pippin was silent, but not for long. "D'you remember, Merry, when Frodo fell out of the haywain and broke his arm?"

A slight grin took over Merry's face. "Oh, yes. He'd got hung up there by old man Bolger. Ripped his best shirt and hit the dirt. Squealed like a stuck pig, he did."

"But only the once, remember? And old Bolger telling him to holler, for pity's sake; it was plain unnatural for a hobbit to be so silent when his arm was there hanging in two."

"He said it only hurt bad on the breaking," Merry shrugged. "Pip, what's this about?"

"I don't think I've ever seen Frodo scream like..." he drew up beneath himself and hugged his knees close, resting his chin upon them, "like he did when that thing stabbed him. Or when the elf-lord..." he shuddered. "when Lord Elrond tried to take the Ring from him."

"I don't think any of us has ever had any reason to scream like that," Merry said softly, coming over and putting a hand on Pippin's head. "You know, Pip, I always thought that you and I'd seen a lot, done a lot. You, me and Frodo, sometimes Sam, too--we'd drag him into it too, wouldn't we?--maybe we are too bold for our own good. Maybe we've done some odd things. But we really haven't seen anything, have we? Not compared to this."

Pippin didn't answer, just kept curled about his knees miserably.

"Get some sleep, my lad." Merry dug his fingers affectionately into Pip's curls, then went over to his own cot and laid down.

Pippin sat there, his fingers nimbly playing with the centerpiece. It was surely a pretty thing, with green fern and gold leaf and bronze spray of fallen leaves, and a cable of silver twined through it. His rough fingers snagged on the cable--he looked closer, saw that it was a finely linked silver chain, threaded all through the foliage. Head cocked to one side, he put his other hand to it, tested it. Fine, but sturdy and strong.

Then he sat back, pondering.

About a quarter of an hour later, he spoke. "Merry?"


"Merry. Are you sleeping, then?

Still nothing. A soft snore from Sam answered him.

Pippin hopped off the table and was away down the hall.

* * * * * *

It was twilight and the halls of Rivendell were deserted. Pippin moved with the stealth of hunting; many a coney had he bagged just by walking up to it. He was not known for his silence in general, but when he wished to he could sneak up on a fallow deer and slap its haunch.

He'd gotten himself nearly kicked in the teeth doing just that, once.

For moments he panicked, unsure of where they'd taken Frodo, then remembered Strider mentioning the place as they'd eaten with him that morning and headed down the hall unerringly. His sense of direction was almost as good as his stalking ability.

He fingered the treasure in his pocket. If only he could sneak into Frodo's room. If only Gandalf had fallen asleep, or gone to the loo...

Did wizards go to the loo?

Pondering this weighty question, Pippin soon arrived at Frodo's room. It was dark and quiet, yet his eyes pierced the dimness, pupils dilated and letting in ample light for the hobbit to see through the gloom. He froze. Gandalf was there. But his chin rested on his chest, and it was obvious from the way he breathed that he slept. There was no sound but the murmur of waterfalls in the background, the soft snores of Gandalf, the occasional flit and chirp of night birds, the trees murmuring in the light mist-laden breeze.

Like a hunting wolf, Pippin crept forward, his feet making absolutely no sound on the soft wood of the floor. No one else was about, save the sleeping wizard and the figure on the bed.

The bed was huge. He almost couldn't find Frodo in it, then he spied a bit of darkness against pale linens. Carefully he climbed up on the bed, hardly making the bedclothes rustle.

Gandalf shifted. Pippin froze. Then the old man muttered something and relaxed back into sleep. Pippin took a deep breath, then turned to Frodo.

He looked better, certainly, than he had when Pippin had last set eyes upon him. But his cousin looked... transparent, somehow. As if he were one of the figurines on his mum's mantelpiece, set high and out of reach of the Took children because they were too fragile to be touched. His eyes looked bruised, his cheeks sunken. As if to reassure himself, Pippin scooted closer and reached out, touched the side of the pale throat. The skin pulsed gently against his fingertips there, the echo point of Frodo's heartbeat reassuringly strong and steady. Fingers held against proof of his cousin's continued survival, Pippin bit at his lip and took his other hand, pushed the too-big nightshirt aside. He exhaled a bit louder than he'd intended to in sheer relief. The hideous gash just above Frodo's heart was no longer there. Instead there was a thin, pink scar.

Gandalf murmured once more and stirred. Pippin decided he'd best make the most of what time he had remaining. He patted softly at Frodo's shirt, at the soft pockets lining it, then frowned.

Where was the Ring?

It couldn't be far. Frodo probably wouldn't be sleeping if it was. Pippin swallowed hard, remembering how his cousin had reacted last time they'd moved the Ring too far from him.

Frodo had been hurt enough. He mustn't be hurt any more.

As if it had flared and beckoned, he saw it. Right beside the bed, on a small table that also held another pretty centerpiece--this one with gold-colored pine cones--and an ewer of water. Gingerly, balancing most cautiously so as not to fall atop his cousin's prone form, he leaned over Frodo and snatched up the Ring.

Fumbling in his pocket, he drew out the short length of chain that he'd lifted from the centerpiece and with trembling, suddenly-clumsy fingers threaded it through the Ring. He fastened it with a tiny bit of wire he'd found in that same centerpiece, making the links into one solid chain. The Ring clinked suddenly--seemingly loudly in the open quiet of the room--and Pippin clutched it tightly in his fingers to silence it. The tiny circlet was oddly warm in his palm and he opened his fingers once more, peering at the polished surface. He could almost see his reflection in it, backlit by the moonlight streaming in from the open balcony. Everything seemed too quiet about him; even the falls muted and the birds were silent as he stared at the Ring in wonderment.

If he didn't know better, he'd swear it was whispering, somehow...

Pippin blinked, shrugged, then dropped the ring to the length of its new chain, wincing as it clinked again. Fortunately it didn't seem so loud this time. Most carefully and gently, he louvered his fingers behind Frodo's head and lifted, angling the chain over his skull and down about his neck, then resting the dark head back upon the pillow. Letting his fingers slide down Frodo's cheek and back to the pulsepoint just beneath his jawline, Pippin once more marveled at the faint proof that Frodo was indeed alive.

"You're going to be all right, aren't you?" he asked, the words hardly leaving his lips save as a breath in the breezes. "We're tough to kill, we are."

As if in answer Frodo sighed, murmured something in his sleep and ducked his cheek into the comforting hand. A slight smile touched the chapped lips as Pippin caressed his face.

Then Pippin bent down and kissed him on the forehead. "Be well," he whispered and fled the room.

The Ring flashed with inner fire.

It reflected in the eyes of Elrond Halfelven as he stood in the shadows. He watched in silence as Pippin stole away and out the door, then his eyes turned to back to Frodo. To the Ring that now hung about the halfling's neck on a purloined silver chain.

*"Have you ever wondered, Father, if it was all as it was meant?"*

The elf lord walked forward slowly on silent, sandaled feet.

*"However it may have happened, from your son's mistaken gift or from something deep within his very cells, Frodo is... different."*

Different. He took a deep breath, his gaze widening to take in the sleeping hobbit. One would not think so, to look at the tiny halfling. Such a seemingly-negligible entity, this Frodo Baggins. Yet...

He had fought the Nazgul. He had survived their poison. He had surrendered to and not been overwhelmed by Arwen's unwitting intrusion.. He had inspired such love in his companions as to make them take any risk to themselves to help him.

In the midst of darkling ill, he had indeed denied the Ring itself.

*"I think you underestimate him, my lord. I think you all have."*

He rounded the bed, bent over Frodo where he lay, reached one hand forward and placed it gently on the pallid forehead. The hobbit did not stir; he now knew the touch as well as he'd had known young Pippin's.

*Perhaps I did, dear Bilbo, underestimate him. And his mother. And all of you.*
Frodo had taken the burden of bringing the One Ring here, to further decide what was to be done. But in that surrender to fate, had not another choice been inescapably made?

His cool, considering gaze took in Gandalf's still slumbering form. "My old friend, you do not desire this for him. I feel your hesitancy. I understand it. But the decision has been taken from us, I fear. We cannot change what has been fixed in time. He may be our only hope. And your love for him will not save him."

Was it not time to make a final, irrevocable resolution in this long, bitter war?

"For," he murmured, still touching Frodo's brow, "the Ring somehow knows this little one." He drew his hand back, unwilling to wake the still form as a frown quirked the hobbit's brow. "It... wants him." His next words were filled with awe.

"It is... *afraid* of him."

Frodo shifted then lay quiet, the Ring gleaming dully at his throat and whispering a sweet, craven lullaby.

* * * * * *


*What grace is given to me, let it pass to him. Let him be spared...*

He sat solitary on the wide expanse of bridge, looking out over the stream which gurgled some distance beneath his dangling, furry feet, watching it pass swiftly toward the heart of the mountains. His slight form almost faded into the background hues of Rivendell autumn: dark hair with glints of red, chaff-colored, loose shirt, brown trousers. Leaves blew on the breeze, sliding dryly about him; one wafted into his lap and he picked it up, examined it then tossed it out to become caught on the breeze once more.

Arwen watched him, full of misgiving. She had been avoiding this moment. Perhaps she would not have had the courage to bring it forth now if not for the solid, steady presence behind her.

*"I fear that I hurt him..."*

"Come on, love." Aragorn's hand tapped firmly at the small of her back. "You should finally meet when both of you can stand and acknowledge one another. It's only fair."

They walked slowly across the bridge. The small being seated on the span was blissfully unaware of their presence; he was totally caught up in sound and sight of the passing of the water beneath him. Arwen turned to Aragorn curiously; his lips were quirked in a fond smile that she hadn't seen before and he stepped forward, tossing the hair from his eyes, voice raised to carry above the foaming cascade.


The dark head sharply turned; the hobbit smiled cheerfully and quickly gained his feet, walking toward them. "I'm sorry, Strider, I didn't hear you. The water's not quiet, is it?"

"No, it's not. Frodo, there's someone I want you to meet." He reached back, took her hand and drew her inexorably from behind him and fully into the hobbit's view.

The winsome expression clouded for a moment. Arwen felt her heart sink and clench. If he feared her, or despised her...

"I know you," he breathed, and the soft voice was laced with, not loathing, but a strange wonder. "I know you, don't I?"

She quickly glanced at Aragorn; he was watching the hobbit. "Frodo, this is Arwen..."

"...Evenstar." Frodo finished for him, still staring upwards at her. "I do know you."

Arwen gathered her wine-red skirts about her, knelt down to eye level with him. "Yes, you do."

"You... you were the one that brought me here. You were the one that..." Frodo stopped, seemed overcome by some emotion for he looked down and trembled and she felt an uncanny shudder rake through her own frame as his hand went to his left shoulder. The gesture pulled aside his shirt; a hint of gold glinted at his throat, caught in a stray bit of sunlight, reminding her of the Council held but yesterday and the decision that would forever change this unusual little person's life.


Aragorn's hand touched her shoulder, drawing her from the sudden uneasiness of her thoughts. "Frodo?" he asked again, concerned.

"You were there." came the murmur. "I remember, now. It was all like a dream... a nightmare, really. But I remember you." Frodo straightened; the brilliant, rainwater eyes raised once more to hers, met and held fast with a sudden strength and willingness that took her aback. "You were like... like a light in the darkness. You chased the nightmares back. You saved my life."

Arwen drew in a deep, cleansing breath, reached out her hand. Lips curving in a hesitant smile, the hobbit covered her palm with his own small one.

"It's very nice to meet you." The grin turned irrepressibly wider. "Again, that is."

* * * * * *