Summary: Frodo and Aragorn are both stubborn creatures, whether climbing the snowy slopes of Caradhras or facing off in the dark of Moria.
Disclaimer: I don't own these characters and make no money from them.
A/N: Movie-verse with an AU slant as well. Have moved the occurrence of one event (in both movie and book verse). Thanks to claudia603 for beta-reading! Ack
Dedication: In honor of Lily Baggins' hobbity coming of age birthday. Many happy returns, Lily!
Aragorn’s head snapped around so quickly that Frodo heard the man’s neck crack even though he was several yards farther up Caradhras’ rocky knees. The air was so still and clear that the slightest sound carried sharp and loud, and that sneeze had been anything but quiet. Frodo decided he would keep very still and pay absolutely no attention to his dripping nose, no attention at all. He would not wipe it; as a matter of fact, he did not even feel the need to clean the slimy little trickle winding its way slowly toward his mouth. He also did not feel the telltale scratchiness at the back of his throat.
When the wily Ranger’s gaze had passed over Frodo after lingering on the hobbit for a long moment, his eyes gleaming beneath his knotted brow, Frodo breathed a sigh of relief. It wasn’t that he didn’t appreciate Aragorn’s special care of him; after all, the Dunadan had sworn his allegiance in Rivendell on bended knee for all to see. It was just that … well, this was no time to be coddled, and Aragorn was highly wont to fuss over Frodo whether it was needed or not. Sometimes when Aragorn was being especially attentive, Frodo thought he detected a little tremor in the man’s hands if he brushed Frodo’s brow to check for fever. That always gave Frodo a little flutter in his belly, a sort of warmth that he was loath to name, even to himself in the privacy of his bedroll at night as he watched Aragorn sitting by the fire and singing softly to himself. Surely the Ranger had no interest in him other than the duty owed to the Ringbearer.
Perhaps a quick swipe of his sleeve against his nose before the mucous froze into a shiny icicle and made the evidence even more obvious. There.
Drat. Did Aragorn have to notice everything? Well, as long as the man didn’t try to force some vile-tasting brew down his throat “just in case,” the Ranger would get no trouble from him. Not that Frodo minded the attention. Not really. Swallowing cautiously, Frodo wrapped his cloak more tightly around himself and prepared to complete his descent of Caradhras as the Company began their march to Moria.
Frodo stood with his fists on his hips, glaring into Aragorn’s eyes--hobbit and man nose to nose. The endless night of Moria was dissipated only by the flames from a few torches the Fellowship had kindled as they started on their journey in the dark, but there was enough light for Aragorn to see the quick flash of irritation in Frodo’s normally mild expression. He had tried to watch Frodo carefully during the trek from Caradhras, but the hobbit had been very surreptitious in his nose wiping and sneeze stifling and had given Aragorn no opportunity to intervene. Now that they had reached Moria and were preparing to rest for a few hours, the situation looked a little different to Aragorn.
Leaning back on his haunches, Aragorn tried not to smile as Frodo attempted to sniff away another little stream of mucous starting to drip from his pink nose. In truth, it was not very hard to remain serious of mien, for Aragorn was always worried about Frodo’s well-being and had been ever since the first moment he had laid eyes on him. Though they got on well together, convincing the hobbit to follow his advice was sometimes, well, a delicate proposition, so a little subterfuge was needed now and then to deal with Bilbo’s stubborn heir.
Aragorn drew back and stretched his arms wide with a feigned groan of pleasure, his hand brushing Frodo’s forehead quite by accident and so quickly that the hobbit had no time to evade his touch. “Pardon me, Frodo,” he said with exaggerated courtesy, raising his eyebrows. “If you feel fine, why are you so hot?” Aragorn winced inside when Frodo jerked back and flushed even redder. That had not come out quite the way he had intended, and Frodo was much too intelligent not to notice each peculiar intonation and touch. Though at the moment …
“I’ve just got the sniffles … I’ll be fine. How many times do I have to tell you? There’s no need to fuss.”
Even in the dim light, it was easy for Aragorn to see how gingerly Frodo swallowed; the hobbit’s throat must be inflamed and sore. “You most certainly will be fine … once I’ve seen to you, that is. I want you out of those damp clothes and under a dry, warm blanket.”
Frodo shrugged his shoulders, and Aragorn tried not to smile too broadly at his impending victory, his narrow lips twitching at the effort not to curve upwards in triumph. How easy--too easy, as a matter of fact. Frodo must be feeling very ill indeed to give in without much of a struggle, though perhaps the hobbit had some other ploy in mind to wriggle out of Aragorn’s care. He was certainly cunning enough for that, Aragorn thought ruefully, especially considering that Frodo had learned from the one who had burgled a cup right out from under Smaug’s smoking nostrils.
With a small smile, Frodo said, “Yes, I will have a little sleep.” Lifting his chin with a willful snap--at least that’s how it appeared to Aragorn--he continued. “That way I’ll be rested in time for my turn on watch.”
Aragorn’s brows slammed together like two thunderclouds, apparently more alarming than he had intended, given the way Frodo recoiled. Though he tried to gentle his voice, his words came out in clipped command. “Absolutely not-–not with that fever. Open your mouth. I want to look at your throat.” He called softly to Gandalf. “I need your staff.”
The wizard knelt by Aragorn and held the staff with his hand curled around the gnarled wooden tip, its crystal glowing softly between his fingers. “Aragorn, I don’t think your patient is being particularly helpful. I believe you could examine his throat better if he would open his mouth as you requested.”
When Frodo continued to stand still, his arms now folded tightly across his chest and his mouth clamped shut, Aragorn sighed. “Frodo, please … I just want to have a look. How can I tell what sort of medicine to mix for you if I can’t see what’s going on?”
With that, Frodo’s eyes truly flashed blue fire though this time with alarm. He shook his head and started backing away. Fortunately for Aragorn, after a few steps the hobbit’s back met the rough cave wall. Trapped! Aragorn thought with grim pleasure. I have him now.
Murmuring wordlessly as though to a cornered coney unable to bolt yet poised to use tooth and claw, Aragorn crawled forward, Gandalf at his side, until man and wizard had the hobbit surrounded. After glancing rapidly back and forth between the two, Frodo sighed deeply and opened his mouth in resignation, his shoulders slumped.
Now that he had Frodo where he wanted him, Aragorn was completely tender in his examination and held Frodo’s chin gently cupped in his hand, turning the hobbit’s head from side to side. “A little closer, please,” he said to Gandalf, and the wizard complied, angling his staff’s crystal to throw the clearest light on Frodo’s throat. Aragorn smiled his thanks when, with a pass of his hand, Gandalf increased the light’s intensity.
Peering into Frodo’s mouth, Aragorn congratulated himself for having been so diligent in forcing the examination. The hobbit’s throat was raw and red, though thankfully he saw no spots of white pus that would indicate something more serious than a cold. Those careful swallows Aragorn had been observing must have been painful indeed. Well, he would soon ease the hobbit’s distress … that is, if he was able to get Frodo to swallow the rather nasty tea he intended to make.
“Thank you … you can close your mouth now,” Aragorn said and nodded to Gandalf. “It does look just like a cold, though I don’t want to take any chances of it developing into something worse. We need to keep him warm and dry … and I do need to build a small fire to brew a draught to lessen the fever and hopefully ease some of his aches and pains, especially that raw throat. Will that be all right? We did bring a few small branches inside with us just in case.”
Gandalf stood up, his knees cracking loudly, and looked about the guardroom where the Fellowship was sheltering. He pointed to a small circle of blackened stone covered with an old grate at one end of the room and said, “Yes … it looks like that has been done here before. But you must do it quickly and not keep the fire going longer than you need to brew your medicine.”
“Come on, Frodo,” Aragorn said, patting the hobbit’s shoulder before rising and turning around. “Get undressed and into some drier clothes before you lie down.”
Frodo did not answer as he made his way slowly to his bedroll; Sam had already laid it out, Aragorn noticed gratefully. Ah, well … Aragorn did not blame Frodo for not speaking to him. It had to be more than a little embarrassing always to be singled out as though he were a helpless thing.
After watching Frodo strip off his outer clothes, Aragorn flushed and turned away, letting the dank air cool his cheeks before he turned his attention to making the fire for the medicine. He had no right to think of Frodo that way; surely the hobbit did not harbor such thoughts about him. Though there had been that night just past the Midgewater Marshes when he had been singing of Luthien and Frodo had questioned him in a voice sharp with … something more than mere curiosity. Aragorn had been hard put to it that night to stay seated by the fire, pushing away the thrill that ran through him at being so close to Frodo.
Shaking himself free of his foolish thoughts, Aragorn moved to the abandoned hearth and said, “Sam? Can you help with a small fire? I need to brew some medicine for Frodo.”
Sam nodded and bustled over with flint and tinder. “Right … I’ll have it for you in a minute.” He leaned closer to Aragorn as he began to build his fire, speaking almost in a whisper. “Good job … I was wondering who would win this one. Mr. Frodo’s the best hobbit there is, but he can be a mite … well, a mite stubborn at times.” He grinned as he struck the flint and watched a tongue of flame leap up and catch on the dry tinder. “Though he comes by it honestly, I’d have to say … knowing a bit about Mr. Bilbo and all.”
“Well, I’ve always thought it was the Took side of the family that brought it out in him,” Merry put in, kneeling down with dry branches Boromir had carried strapped to his back into the Mines.
“Oh, do you, now, Meriadoc?” Pippin said with a snort as he brought Aragorn’s pack to him. “Here … thought you might need this.” After Aragorn smiled his thanks, Pippin continued. “And what would you call a Brandybuck if not stubborn?”
Merry raised his eyebrows. “Sensible … intelligent ...”
Though Aragorn laughed along with the three hobbits gathered around the small fire with him, he could not help glancing over at Frodo where he now lay curled up under his blanket. Probably heard every word, Aragorn thought, and looked away quickly when he caught that same flash of irritation in the hobbit’s eyes he had seen earlier. Well, the sooner I get some medicine in him, the sooner he’ll get some rest and start feeling better.
Aragorn rummaged through his pack, pulling out little pouches of oiled cloth and inspecting their contents, murmuring aloud as he began to concoct his remedy. “Meadowsweet … yes, that will help with the fever and headache though I wish I had something to sweeten the taste … ginger, too, to ease the fever and settle his stomach … now, where is that thyme … ah, here it is … perhaps some wild cherry bark … no, he’s not coughing, not yet at least … a little heliotrope root to help him sleep … whew, what a stench.” After selecting all his ingredients, and thinking again with a regretful pang that he had nothing to sweeten the mixture, Aragorn bundled everything up in a small square of sheer cloth and tied the packet with a length of rough twine.
“Sam … can we get a little water heating in a pot?”
“Already done … getting close to boiling …”
Aragorn looked over with a surprised grin to see Sam tending his small pot. “Thanks, Sam … not a bad team, are we, when it comes to taking care of him?”
Sam smiled back. “I reckon so … though I’ll leave you to get that brew down him … think I’ll watch from over here.” He leaned over as Aragorn dropped the packet into the simmering water but drew back as he caught a whiff. “Whew … what’d you put in there … dirt and muck? He’ll never drink that.”
“Oh, yes, he will,” Aragorn answered and settled his face in grim lines as he considered the last battle to be won. After pouring some of the noxious draught into a tin cup, leaving the rest for an additional dose or two, he started to stand but was stopped by Sam’s hand on his arm.
“He’s not too bad, is he … it is just a cold, isn’t it?” Sam asked, the crease between his eyes speaking his worry more loudly than any words could.
“Just a cold … and I mean to keep it that way. Don’t worry.” After a quick pat on Sam’s shoulder, Aragorn stood and walked over to where Frodo lay watching him. The hobbit lay completely still except for a slight shiver that shook his blanket just so every now and then. As Aragorn approached with cup in hand, Frodo raised up on one elbow and peered suspiciously, his nose quivering, his eyes widening in dismay as the scent reached him.
He lay down again with a thump. “No!” he said and glared at Aragorn. Through gritted teeth, he spoke again. “I … told … you … I … just … have … the … sniffles …”
Aragorn knelt down by Frodo’s side, setting the cup on the floor just out of reach in case Frodo decided to fling it at him. Folding his arms across his chest, he fixed Frodo with his sternest gaze though he was hard put not to burst into laughter, regretful as he was for what he was about to say and do. “And … I … am … bigger … than … you … are …”
Frodo shifted beneath his blanket, stretching his aching arms and legs as he slowly woke from his drugged sleep. How warm and cozy he felt; if it weren’t for the hard stone floor beneath him, he might almost be able to convince himself that he was dozing in his comfortable bed at Bag End--that is, as long as he kept his eyes closed.
When he had lain down after Aragorn’s victory, though he had put on his warmest clothes and pulled his blanket tight around him, he had thought he would never stop shivering from the cold. Reaching out his hand to tuck his blanket closer, he startled to feel rough wool that did not belong to him. Ah, but the scent of oiled leather and wood smoke and a very particular male skin was known to him (even with a stuffed up nose), and he smiled as he snuggled into Aragorn’s blanket. The sneaky Ranger must have covered him after he had fallen asleep.
Though it galled him to admit it, Frodo did feel better, even if he planned never to acknowledge that it was anything more than the sleep that had done the trick. While his throat was still sore, it no longer felt as though he were eating shards of glass every time he swallowed. His head still ached and he felt a tickle in his chest that told him a bout of coughing was likely on its way, but he could think again, not that he had much in his mind at the moment other than keeping warm and … and wondering what Aragorn must think about him for being so pigheaded.
Opening his eyes, Frodo surveyed the guardroom from his warm nest. All was quiet but for an occasional snore from Gimli or Boromir. Only one torch still burned but with just a small flame; it was wedged between two jagged rocks and cast its flickering light over Aragorn as he sat watch. Frodo watched the man leaning against an old wooden chest that had served the dwarves as … something. Frodo did not care what at the moment; he only wanted to find out what Aragorn was thinking--specifically, whether the man was still irritated with him or not. Aragorn had been rather, well, forceful.
Frodo sat up, his warm blankets pooling in his lap, and massaged his shoulder. If he rubbed it hard enough, maybe that would make the all too familiar ache go away again.
“Is your shoulder hurting?” Aragorn’s voice was quiet.
When Frodo nodded, Aragorn reached for his pack and Frodo’s heart sank as he watched the Ranger root around in it. Though he tried to convince himself that Aragorn’s infusion had done wonders to alleviate his symptoms--Don’t be so pigheaded this time; that medicine helped and you know it …--the mere thought of having to drink down more of the dung-scented draught was enough to make him shudder. Aragorn fished out a small wooden pot and held it out; he smiled at Frodo’s woebegone expression. “Don’t worry … I’m not going to make you drink more of that medicine, at least not yet. But I think this will make your shoulder ache a little less.”
In spite of his suspicion, Frodo leaned forward. “What is it?”
“An ointment the Elves made for me in Rivendell before we left … essence of athelas in a soothing cream.” He quirked his mouth up at one corner, and somehow that made all Frodo’s suspicion melt away and a very pleasant warmth begin to glow in his tummy that must have been more than just the medicine still coursing through his body. “It even smells nice, and you don’t have to drink it.”
When Aragorn started to rise, Frodo stopped him. “I want to sit up for a little while before I go back to sleep … that is, before you try to poison me again.” As Aragorn laughed softly, shaking his head, Frodo rose and joined him at his post, his blankets trailing behind him. When the hobbit tried to sit on the ground, Aragorn stopped him and pulled him onto his lap.
Tucking the blankets snugly around Frodo’s feet, Aragorn said, “You’ll be more comfortable here,” and flushed.
Oh, Frodo liked that flush and wondered if he could make Aragorn do it again. He said, “Yes, it’s ever so much warmer here … softer too … though …” Now Frodo was blushing himself.
Frodo had no intention of telling Aragorn that his lap was much softer than the hard ground except where his lean thighs were pressing against his bottom … pressing quite pleasantly. Instead, he just stroked Aragorn’s blanket, enjoying the rasp of thick wool against his fingers and wondering idly if Aragorn’s beard would feel as coarse. When he said, “Thank you for the blanket; I’ve been warm for the first time since we left Rivendell,” he was rewarded with another flush.
“Good.” Oh, now Aragorn’s voice was as coarse as the wool of his blanket, and Frodo liked that even more--especially liked how the sound skittered up and down his spine, leaving a tingling behind. “You’re feeling better, I take it?”
Frodo nodded, thinking how soft Aragorn’s eyes looked sometimes. “Yes, my throat still hurts but not nearly as much … don’t feel so hot and cold either … though my chest has a tickle like I’m going to start coughing … just a little.”
“Must have been the sleep you got … about four hours by my reckoning.”
Though Frodo had vowed to himself that he would never admit the medicine had done any good at all, the good-natured smile on Aragorn’s face sent his resolve all spinning away and he said, “Yes, that … and the medicine …”
The grin on Aragorn’s face at that admission was … well, suffice to say, Frodo knew he would remember it for a long time to come. Leaning back into the circle of Aragorn’s arms, Frodo contented himself with just looking his fill. After a moment, he rubbed his shoulder when a twinge reminded him that it was bothering him again.
Aragorn’s relaxed smile dissolved into the expression of worry more commonly on his face, and he reached for the little pot of athelas salve. “Frodo, forgive me … I’d forgotten about your shoulder, but I’ll remedy that right away.”
Frodo rested against the crook of Aragorn’s arm as the Ranger opened the pot. Breathing in its fresh, clean scent, he closed his eyes and waited while Aragorn unfastened the top three buttons on his shirt. When nothing happened after that for a few moments, Frodo opened his eyes to see Aragorn staring down at his chest, his jaw dropped open. Bother! His mithril shirt … no one knew about that.
Well, who better to know about his secret defense than Aragorn, his sworn protector? Frodo murmured, “Bilbo gave it to me in Rivendell … when he gave me his sword.” He laughed, just a quick chuckle. “It’s probably a little silly to wear it all the time, but …”
For a moment, Frodo thought he wouldn’t be able to breathe again … that’s how hard Aragorn hugged him. “Don’t ever take it off … not unless we happen to come somewhere safe.”
“What about now? Should I take it off while you put the salve on me?”
Aragorn ran his fingers down the edge of the shirt’s embroidered collar, stroking Frodo’s collar bone lightly, and the hobbit shivered, though he was warmer than ever. Aragorn murmured, “No … keep it on.” He scooped a little of the salve onto his fingers but did not spread it on Frodo’s skin right away. Instead, he curled his fingers against his palm for a minute and said, “There. That will warm it up a little … it’s quite cold from sitting in my pack.”
The salve had melted into a warm, sweet cream by the time Aragorn slipped his hand between mithril rings and bare skin, and Frodo thought he might melt right along with it. Aragorn rubbed the salve into Frodo’s shoulder with firm, slow strokes, and each stroke sent Frodo’s ache farther and farther away until he barely remembered the pain. And the scent … there was something more than the freshness of the kingsfoil.
“It smells so nice … what did the Elves put in it?”
“Lily … lily-of-the-valley it’s called. A very hardy plant that likes cool shady spots in Rivendell … though from the look of the flowers you would think they were very delicate. Like little white bells … the Elves pick them and extract their essence to use in soaps and ointments such as this…though you must be careful in using the plant, for parts of it are poisonous.”
Frodo quirked an eyebrow. “Poisonous … like your medicines?”
Laughing, Aragorn withdrew his hand and buttoned Frodo’s shirt again. “Not exactly …” Frodo’s pulse quickened when Aragorn’s expression grew grave and he laid his hand over the hobbit’s heart. “Some say a bouquet of lilies-of-the-valley should be given to heal an argument. Do you forgive me for treating you so roughly today?”
Frodo shook his head. “It was my fault … people fuss at me so much though I know they mean well … I just get so … so frustrated sometimes …”
“I know.” Aragorn lowered his voice and pulled Frodo closer. “So do I. It’s hard for me to watch you struggle when I know you’re in pain and tired … I want to help you.”
Headache and sore throat and chills and foul-smelling potions seemed very far away now. Frodo rested his head against Aragorn’s chest and murmured, “So you’re not still angry with me for being so pigheaded?”
Aragorn replied, “Of course not.” When Aragorn curled his hand around Frodo’s waist, the hobbit pressed even closer, breathing in the warmth of the man’s heady scent. Aragorn did care. It was a good thing Frodo was sitting down already; otherwise, the wave of dizziness that washed through him would have knocked him right over. Aragorn released his hold on Frodo’s waist and spoke again. “It’s my duty to look after you.”
“Oh …” And now it was a good thing Frodo’s face was pressed against Aragorn’s chest. He certainly did not want the man to see the quick tears that sprang up in his eyes.
Though he kicked himself inside, Frodo could not help saying, “Your vow? Is that all?”
“Well, yes, though I didn’t mean that one … I made another promise …”
“I promised Bilbo I would look after you.”
Frodo raised his chin and looked at Aragorn, a tiny bubble of hope rising inside him. It was not quite the answer he had hoped for, though … “When? In Rivendell?”
“Gandalf is right, you know.” Aragorn stroked Frodo’s cheek in such a quick caress that Frodo was not sure he even felt it. Perhaps it was only the rush of air as Aragorn’s hand had come so close, yet not close enough.
“Right about what?”
“About the unquenchable nature of hobbits.”
Frodo snorted and waved his hand toward the sleeping wizard. “Oh, he’s always saying things like that. Don’t think that’s gotten you off the hook, Aragorn. When did you promise Bilbo?”
Aragorn squinted across the cavern and took a deep breath. Exhaling with a sudden burst that jostled Frodo, he said, “The night he left Hobbiton.”
“What?” Of all answers, this was the one he least expected. “You were there? Where?”
“I should say so.”
“Well, the first time I saw you, you were dancing … with a lass on each arm. Was one of them special to you?”
Frodo shook his head. “No … no … don’t even remember who I danced with.” He smiled crookedly and looked sidelong up at Aragorn. Where had the man hidden himself?
“You had great fun that night, didn’t you?”
“Yes, though it seems … I don’t know … a lifetime ago.”
“Well, seventeen years is quite a time.”
Frodo turned his gaze on Aragorn, and he did not even try to hide the tears that were pooling again though his smile split his face. “Have I changed much since then?”
“Not really, though …”
Frodo’s wide smile faded. “Though … what?”
“You smiled so much that night. I think that’s what drew me to you … even before Bilbo asked me to keep an eye on you. I wanted to know you … it was so hard not to come out from … well, where I was watching you.”
“I wish you had come out then … that I could have met you before all this started. There’s not much to smile about now.” Frodo shook his head, lost for a moment inside a vision of a great tree rising and dropping down blossoms in a sweet golden and silver shower over Hobbiton’s September night sky. “That was my coming of age birthday, you know … and the Ring … it came to me that night.”
“I know … Bilbo told me everything when I met up with him later that night in the woods above Bywater.” Aragorn stroked Frodo’s cheek with just the tips of his fingers and smiled. “It was a very easy promise to make.”
“Are you sorry you did?” Frodo could not stop the little catch in his voice.
“No … never. Your path is mine, Frodo, and I am glad of it … though it is a dark path for now, and how we are to come through it, I do not know yet.”
The torch flame flickered briefly, the dying brand hissing and crackling before the fire shone again with a final vigor. Startled, Frodo took a quick breath, and the tickle in his chest blossomed into a brief coughing fit. Aragorn slipped his hand beneath the blankets and rubbed Frodo’s back with a slow pressure while the hobbit regained control of his breathing.
When Frodo quieted again, Aragorn said, “I’ve kept you awake for too long … time for you to lie down again. How are you feeling?”
Frodo did not want to admit that his head was pounding again and his throat had grown raw from talking even as softly as he had been. All he wanted was to stay curled in Aragorn’s lap, but he said, with a shrug, “A little tired.”
“More than that, I suspect … and that cough doesn’t sound good to me though I was expecting it. I made up a decoction of wild cherry bark while you were sleeping.” When Frodo grimaced at the thought of another dose of foul-smelling medicine, Aragorn grinned and ran his fingers quickly through Frodo’s curls. “I know … wish I could make it taste better. Do you still feel feverish? I’ve more of the infusion I gave you earlier as well.”
Aragorn spoke so sweetly and tenderly that Frodo could not muster even a little protest at the thought of drinking more of that nasty stuff. “I do feel a little warm, not as much as before.”
“Let me check,” Aragorn murmured and lowered his mouth to Frodo’s forehead. Oh, his lips were so soft. There had been so many nights that Frodo had lain awake wondering how Aragorn’s mouth would feel pressed to his.
But now it seemed that Aragorn had the chills that had wracked Frodo a few hours before. When the Ranger pulled back a little and looked Frodo in the eye, Frodo thought he’d never seen Aragorn look so … so … wistful.
With his heart pounding, Frodo wrapped his arms around Aragorn’s neck and pulled down ever so slightly, alert to even the tiniest hint of resistance. It was all the encouragement Aragorn needed, and he wrapped Frodo in his arms, as warm and snug as his mouth now thoroughly exploring the hobbit’s eager lips. Though his hands were rough and his face lined with years of lonely care, his touch was as gentle as any elf-maiden plucking an arching stem of bell-shaped petals, savoring the lilies’ smooth flesh while not harming the life essence within. At length, Aragorn lifted his mouth, though just a fraction of an inch. “Do you see now why I am sometimes so stern with you?”
Frodo nestled against him, delighting in the scrape of Aragorn’s beard against his smooth cheek. “Perhaps … though I think I could use some more explanation.”
“Very well.” Aragorn lowered his mouth once more, and the torch flickered out; all Frodo knew was the man’s heart beating warm and sure against his chest and his soft lips turned insistent and wanting, all hesitance fled in the heat of surrender. And rising up and circling around them, keeping them safe in the cold dark, even if only for the length of one more kiss--the scent of lilies-of-the-valley.
Happy hobbity coming of age, Lily!