Fic: Healing a Healer (Part 1) (for [ profile] easterlily41482)

Aug. 1st, 2007 03:34 pm
[identity profile] posting in [community profile] a_conspiracy
Title: Healing a Healer (Part 1)
Author: [ profile] sophinisba
Characters/Pairings: Frodo/Aragorn
Summary: Frodo and Aragorn have made a life together in Minas Tirith after the quest, but an epidemic puts Frodo in danger.
Rating: PG-13
Warnings: AU, hurt/comfort
Word Count: 12,000
Disclaimer: All recognizable characters are the property of the Estate of J.R.R. Tolkien. No offense is intended, nor profit made.
Title, Author and URL of original story: A Healer's Touch, by [ profile] easterlily41482.

Healing a Healer (Part 1)

From the time he awoke on the Field of Cormallen – well-rested and free from physical pain, if not quite recovered in other ways – Frodo had wanted to know what he could do to help those around him. His first thought was for Sam, who was still sleeping at his side then.

"Is he all right? Is it normal for him to sleep so long? Is there anything I can do?"

And Gandalf, who'd been there with him, had laughed, and said, "You sound like your cousins did a few hours ago, but they were talking about you. They feared it was strange that you hadn't woken yet."

"And what did you tell them?"

"That you were resting, and that the longer you stayed asleep the more healed you would be when you came back to us. And so it is, I believe. How do you feel, Frodo?"

"Very well," he said truthfully. "I was hungry and thirsty, but you've brought me food and drink. Worried, but you tell me Merry and Pippin have been here and have left, and that Sam will awake soon. Weak, but you say that I will regain my strength soon."

Later that morning Merry and Pippin came to see him with a tall lady dressed in a plain brown dress with many stains. She was fairly young, but there were deep lines around her eyes, as if she'd had little sleep or time to herself in recent days.

His cousins hugged him gently and Frodo was surprised even as he sat up in bed and squeezed them at how much of his strength had returned in the few short hours he'd been awake.

"This is Annwyn," said Merry, gesturing toward the woman, "a Healer from the city of Minas Tirith. She helped me there and she traveled here with me once we had news that the battle was over. She's been tending to you and Pippin and Sam and many of the others."

"Good day, madam," said Frodo. "I thank you very much for helping my friends and me."

"It has been an honor," she replied, "and a good lesson for me as well. I have never known patients to recover so quickly from such great hurts."

"I've had to explain to her that we hobbits are a lot stronger than we look," said Merry. "Aragorn helped out too. They wouldn't have let me get out of bed at the Houses of Healing if he hadn't had a word with the Warden while I was still sleeping."

No one tried to keep Frodo and Sam from rising or from crossing the field on their own feet to reach the feast. Then the four of them stayed awake to talk of all their adventures. For Frodo had wanted to know what had happened to Merry and Pippin but hadn't felt quite right asking them when Aragorn or Annwyn or other Big-folk were listening, even though Aragorn was a real friend, and even though Annwyn would by now have observed much more intimate things.


On the next day Frodo said he thought it would do him good to stretch his legs and walk around, and he would be honored to speak to the soldiers who, because of their wounds, had not been able to attend the feast. So Aragorn agreed to let him walk with Annwyn as she went between the tents. Those men who were conscious were used to her coming to ask them how they felt, to look at their wounds, sometimes to apply medicine to them before replacing the bandages. They were grateful to her but much more grateful for the chance to lay eyes on the Ring-bearer. Frodo was deeply moved by the reverence with which they treated him, but he was also impressed with the care and skill Annwyn put into all her actions, even when the men paid little attention to her. He watched the precise movements of her hands. She never seemed to make a mistake, even though she might look into the patient's eyes and hold a conversation with him at the same time that she worked.

"Lady, said Frodo, as they walked across the field from one tent to another, "you have great skill."

"Well, I've done this work for many years," she said, "like my mother before me. Now, your friend the Lord Aragorn lays his hands on one who is injured and immediately their pain is less, their wound or their illness less grave. I do not have a great natural gift for healing like his, but I do what I can with learning and practice. These are skills that anyone who cares to can learn. Now I think you have walked with me long enough, and you ought to go back to your own tent with your fellows and have some rest."

"I am all right," said Frodo, "I would rather keep working with you."

Annwyn looked doubtful.

"Remember what you saw with Merry," Frodo reminded her. "We hobbits are –"

"Stronger than you look, yes." She smiled. "Though also rather stubborn, Aragorn has told me and I've observed for myself. Very well then, I shall not send you away if you feel well enough."

An hour later Frodo didn't feel well at all, but it didn't seem right to tell Annwyn that when it was so clear that the men were pleased to see him, and also that she would be continuing her work for many hours still.

Later in the afternoon Merry came to find him. "Aragorn wants to know why you're not resting."

Frodo was wondering the same thing himself by then, but he frowned anyway. "Did you tell Aragorn I can take care of myself?"

"Er, no. I told him I'd find you and bring you back. Frodo, a walk across the field to help get your strength back is all well and good, but –"

"I did make it to Mount Doom without him after all," Frodo snapped, but before he could say anything more – even to apologize, as he meant to – he noticed he was swaying on his feet.

"All right, but you've no reason to try to go there again," said Merry, easily catching Frodo's fall. "Come, let's go back."

Frodo would have agreed by then, and gone back without any argument, except that his legs didn't seem to want to carry him another step.

"Actually, I think I'll just rest here for a little while," he said, and did his best to lie down gracefully rather than collapsing completely, but he was out cold before he'd quite reached the ground.


"How do you feel?" Aragorn asked.

"Foolish," he said, but as soon as he croaked out the word he realized thirsty would have been a better one. He tried to swallow and speak again but found it painful.

It didn't seem to be necessary to say it though, for Aragorn was already holding a cup for him. "Here, drink some water." He made to lift Frodo's head to help him drink, but Frodo at once sat up and took hold of the cup himself. He gulped it down.

"Are you angry?" said Frodo.

"No, Frodo. I am far too relieved at being able to speak to you again to be angry."

"I think you're going to give me a lecture anyway though. I'm fairly sure I deserve one."

Aragorn smiled at him. "If you insist," he said, but before he spoke again he served Frodo another cup of water, which he drank more slowly than the first. Then he helped him lie down again and smoothed a cool wet cloth over his forehead. "Are you comfortable?" he asked.

"Yes, more so than I've been in a very long time."

"Good." He continued to bathe Frodo's face and neck as he went on speaking. "You need more water than you would normally think to drink now, and more rest than seems natural to you. You ate and drank well last night, as we all did, but you're still nowhere near recovered from your ordeal. You feel well-rested from your long sleep, but during that time we were able to get you to swallow very little liquid."

"Is that why I fainted?"

"Yes. Annwyn told me you were a great help to her and a joy for the soldiers to see. I cannot be angry with you for going with her. But if you are going to help others you must also take care of yourself."

"You're right, Aragorn. I shall be more careful."

"And for the rest of the day, at least, you shall stay here and let me take care of you."

"Oh, I don't know that that's necessary," said Frodo, but a single stern look from Aragorn was enough to make him stop arguing. "That is, I imagine you have many other responsibilities, and other things you want to do, but I shall stay here and rest and only get up to relieve myself, since I'll be drinking plenty of water. Eventually I'd like to eat something as well."

"I have delegated my responsibilities, and there is nothing else I would rather do than stay with you."

Frodo felt heat in his cheeks even as Aragorn continued to stroke his face with the cool cloth. "I'm not..." he said. "I'm not such... entertaining company now as I was before we parted. I have missed you."

Aragorn put down the cloth in the basin of water. "And I have missed you," he answered. "Frodo, you know not the joy it brings me to look into your eyes. To see you at last free from the burden that weighed on you all the time I knew you before. You need not worry about 'entertaining' me."

Frodo blushed some more. "Well, all right, that's very... But what I mean to say is that, er, I do understand what you say, about needing time to recover. I do still feel weak, so if I'm not... doing the same things we used to do, right now, it doesn't mean that I don't want to get back to that later."

"I understand," said Aragorn.

"And it doesn't mean that I don't still want you to hold me."

Aragorn smiled, and it seemed to Frodo that his face truly brightened with joy, as he had not seen it in many long months, not since that time they lay together on the ground, under the stars of Hollin. And for the first time in a very long while the great man seemed to lack for words. Rather than speak, he gathered the hobbit up in his arms. And Frodo, who was tired and thirsty but not wrecked, was happy to move with him, wrap his arms around Aragorn's neck and look into his eyes.

"Oh, I have missed this," he said. "I have missed the comfort of your touch. I never feel so safe as when I'm with you."

Aragorn ran his hand over Frodo's hair and then cupped the back of his head to draw him closer, to kiss him gently on the lips. For a moment Frodo remembered the terrible thirst, the longing with which he'd thought of Aragorn's kisses on the long journey through Mordor, but then his mind let go of all of that – he thought of nothing, only surrendered to this great joy and fulfillment. When the kiss ended the contentment stayed with him, and Frodo rested his head against Aragorn's chest, but a sound from outside the tent made him start.

"Will it matter if someone comes in and sees us like this?" he asked.

"I have left orders that you are resting and we should not be disturbed," said Aragorn, "but if someone should enter I would have no shame in telling them the truth, that we are lovers who were separated and have found each other again."

"There won't be a scandal?"

"No, Frodo, for there is nothing wrong. Your task is completed and we are both free to choose whom we wish to love. Do you still choose me?"

"Of course, Aragorn."

"Then there is no reason for us to hide."

They stayed like that for a long time. Sometimes they would talk, sometimes Aragorn would have Frodo eat something or drink more water, and sometimes they simply held each other. Later Frodo said he wished to lie down on the bed again, and Aragorn settled to lie behind him, keeping him warm and secure, with one arm wrapped around and a hand at Frodo's chest. Frodo fell asleep like that with no more cares or uncertainties on his mind.


They returned to Minas Tirith a few short days later, and there Frodo was happy to divide his time between Aragorn at the palace and his other good friends who stayed at the guesthouse in the city. Together the hobbits circled the strange streets until they became quite familiar, and the big folk always waved to them and sometimes bowed. Frodo and Sam learned to stop blushing and stammering at this and to be polite and dignified as Merry and Pippin showed them. It was a good life, but Frodo knew it couldn't go on like this indefinitely: he would have to choose between Aragorn, who would stay in Gondor as its king, and his other friends, who must leave.

In the summer Aragorn announced that they would take Théoden's body back to Edoras to be buried among his ancestors and by the custom of his people.

"We shall go with them," Pippin told Frodo, "for Merry loved the King dearly and he will want his chance to say goodbye. And then we shall have to say goodbye to the other King as well – though he's still living, thank goodness – but we must make our way back to our families in the Shire."

"Yes," said Frodo, "that is for the best. They'll be so glad to see you again."

"To see us all again," said Merry. "Frodo, please don't ask me to go explain to my mother why I haven't brought you back. And don't make Sam explain to his father that he'll have to work for the Sackville-Bagginses for the rest of his life."

"They'd none of them believe we'd done our job looking out for you if we didn't bring you back," Sam agreed.

"Well then, you shall carry letters from me, assuring them that you've all done an excellent job and have my deepest thanks, but explaining that I've fallen madly in love with the King of Gondor and am therefore unable to return."

Pippin was the only one even to smile at his jest, and Frodo understood. They were not really concerned for their own reputations or the judgments of their parents, of course. They simply did not wish to leave him.

"Won't you even travel back with us?" said Pippin. "You could come here and be with Aragorn again, I don't know, next summer perhaps. Give us a little more time with you, won't you?"

Frodo shook his head. "I have made all the journeys I wish to make. Aragorn is my love and Gondor is my home now. I shall go with you to Rohan, but there we must say farewell."


Once Frodo returned to Minas Tirith with the King he found it more difficult to fill the days. He spent a good deal of time writing, between letters to Bilbo at Rivendell and letters to his friends in the Shire, all of these helping him to gather the memories he needed to write down the story of the War of the Ring. He still wandered through the streets, and they'd all become familiar now, the faces and the names of the people known to him, but it was not the same, walking alone. Aragorn was always attentive to him at night. Their love was real and for this reason Frodo could not doubt his decision to stay in Gondor rather than return to the Shire. But during the day the King was nearly always occupied with affairs of state, whether he was receiving foreign leaders and ambassadors or sorting out disputes between ordinary citizens of Gondor. Frodo had tried sitting through these meetings just to be close to Aragorn and know more about his life, but he was always either bored or confused or both when he did, and his presence didn't seem to help the King to be able to concentrate on the complicated business at hand. And so the months passed.

Frodo was crossing a footbridge on the fourth level over a stream that ran through the city when he felt the wound in his shoulder, nowhere near as painful as it had been the first time, but similar enough that he made the connection immediately. It was the sixth of October, and his body recalled what he had tried to put out of his mind.

Frodo gripped the handrail with his right hand, and the pain in his lost finger was sharp even as the left side of his body went numb.

A pair of young boys who were playing nearby ran to him at once. "It's the Ring-bearer," the younger one shouted while the other one put his hands on Frodo's shoulders. Frodo winced but didn't pull away. The boy helped him to reach the other side of the bridge and sit down on the ground, leaning back against one of the buildings.

"Are you all right, sir? What shall we do?"

"Thank you," said Frodo. "I think I shall be all right after I rest for a bit."

But the younger boy had already run off and come back with a tall man. "My dad always knows what to do!" he announced.

Frodo tried to smile at the man. "I'm sorry to have troubled you," he said.

"Are you hurt, sir?"

"No, it is only..." but the pain came back suddenly, like another stabbing, and he lost his breath and power to speak, doubling forward where he sat.


Perhaps the man had hesitated to touch Frodo at first out of deference, but now he bent down and picked him up. He strode quickly up the streets, calling "Make way for the Ring-bearer!" The people cleared the path before them, the guards opened the gates between the levels more quickly than Frodo had ever seen, and in a very short while they had arrived at the Houses of Healing.

It was there and then that Frodo saw Annwyn the Healer for the first time since they'd walked together on the Field of Cormallen. "Oh dear," he said, wishing that he were standing on his own feet so that he might bow to her, "I'm so sorry to cause you trouble again. I believe I will be well if I can just rest for a little while. And after that perhaps someone can accompany me back to the King's chambers."

But rather than put up with any more pleasantries Annwyn ordered the man who had carried Frodo, "Follow me!" and led them into a large room with many beds. Frodo felt himself being laid down but his vision began to blur and he understood little of what was happening. Soon there were several more people in the room, more unfamiliar voices, but he couldn't follow much of what they were saying. Something about taking a message to the King. He wished he could take the message himself, be useful somehow, but it was beyond him. The cold mist took his voice and then took the rest of him, and Frodo let himself sink down into it.


When Frodo awoke there was a sweet scent of athelas in the air and the warm touch of Aragorn's hand massaging his shoulder.

"Are you in pain?" Aragorn asked as soon as Frodo opened his eyes.

"No," Frodo said. "It's still numb and a little cold, but your touch helps. There was pain earlier, but it has passed."

"You realize what day it is?"

"Yes, but I hadn't thought it should be a problem. That is... I felt a twinge of the pain earlier today, but I thought if I could put it out of my mind I should be all right." Frodo bit his lip, feeling frustrated. "I am safe now, and I am happy, and that wound was treated long ago. I do not understand why it should trouble me still. It must be... in my head, somehow, not real."

"Your pain is real, Frodo. I do not doubt you did everything you could to avoid thinking about it. And the Elves did everything they could to help you, but the wound you received may not truly be healed."

"Will it ever go away for good?"

"I do not know. But the fact that you feel better now, a few short hours after this attack, gives me much hope. Once I realized you feeling the pain of that stabbing, I worried it might be much worse, that you would suffer as much today as you did a year ago."

Frodo shuddered. "I don't know that I would have survived that again."

"I would not have let you go," Aragorn said, "nor do I believe you would have given up. I still marvel at the strength you showed in those days. It was then that I first understood that Gandalf had been right to trust you with the Ring."

"Oh, let's not talk about that," said Frodo. "It's over and done with now, thank goodness. Now," he sat up, moved his legs off the side of the bed as if to stand, "let's go back to the palace and have something to eat."

Aragorn smiled. "You are indeed strong and you recover quickly from your injuries, but you should stay here and rest for a little while."

"I feel fine, Aragorn. Just a little hungry."

"They shall bring you your food here. And you may get up to walk around if you like, but stay here at the Houses for another day at least so that the Healers may keep an eye on you."

At first Frodo complained, but in the end he slept there for three more nights of his own choosing. Aragorn stayed with him all that first afternoon and evening and even slept with him in the bed, but he left before Frodo awoke in the morning, and a young girl Frodo hadn't seen before brought him a fine breakfast with toast and sweet jam, eggs and sausage. She was clearly excited to meet Frodo and couldn't stop herself from staring a little, though she might have been told she wasn't to bother him.

"Is there anything else you'll be needing?" she asked.

Frodo smiled. "I wouldn't mind some company, if you don't have other patients to see to."

She grinned. "I do have some other food to deliver, at that. But let me go round and come back here in an hour, and we'll chat."

"You won't be, er... examining me, will you?"

She laughed. "No, sir, if you tell me you feel well I'll believe you. I'm only seventeen and not trained for that work. My job is just to keep you comfortable."

Her name was Elana and she'd begun to spend time at the Houses of Healing just before the end of the war, when her older brother was wounded at Osgiliath. He'd since gone home, but she'd found she liked assisting the Healers, helping the soldiers and the other men and women who came here for help.

Frodo liked her company. He'd thought he'd miss the palace, but soon enough he realized he could see Aragorn almost as often here as he could there, and when the King was occupied with other business the Healers and their helpers turned out to be rather better company than the Guards of the Citadel, more talkative and more likely to smile.

On King Elessar's orders, they did not attempt to keep Frodo confined to his bed or even to his room. The purpose of having him here was simply that help would be close if he should fall ill again, but as he felt fine Elana invited him to accompany her at her work. They visited large wards with a dozen patients as well as smaller rooms like Frodo's with only one or two. Elana changed sheets and blankets, bandages and bedpans. She talked to the sick men and women and children and listened to them, and Frodo suspected that, as hard as Annwyn tried, she would not have time to give each person as much attention as Elana did, and he found he admired and liked both women and wanted to spend more time here, to learn more of their work and to do his part to help.

Elana introduced Frodo to the patients, who were pleased to find themselves in the presence of the Ring-bearer and the King's friend. One older man had been ill for a long time and was clearly in great pain, but when Elana told him that Frodo was here he sat up and spoke in a clear voice to thank Frodo for helping his family.

"I'm afraid I do not recognize your face, sir," said Frodo. "I don't know – "

"No, we have not met or spoken before, but it was... all of them, all of us. You saved us all. I've not got much more time in this world, but my daughters and my grandchildren and the rest of my country will, and all of that's thanks to you."

Frodo knew not what to say. In the end he bowed and said, "It is an honor to know I have helped such good people."

When they left Elana told him that the man had not spoken in days, despite her visiting every day and trying to engage him. "It does them good to see you," she said. "They must think of what you lived through and think that they should try to be as brave."

Elana explained that some of the people stayed in the Houses for days or weeks at a time, while others lived with their families but came back periodically to have some treatment, or to have a Healer check on their recovery. In one room Frodo was surprised to see a face that looked familiar, and after a few minutes he realized it was one of the palace Guards.

He was wearing plain clothes rather than the uniform Frodo was used to seeing on him, and he'd taken off his shirt, exposing a severe burn along his left arm and that side of his torso. Unlike the old man, he did not look pleased to see Frodo but rather embarrassed. As soon as he realized Frodo was there he grabbed his shirt and held it up to hide the scar.

"What are you doing, Borongil?" said Elana, sounding at once concerned and a little amused.

"It's disgusting," said the man. He looked sideways at Frodo, not quite meeting his gaze. "He should not have to look on it."

At first Frodo was confused, but then he recovered himself. He looked at the man's eyes, avoiding looking at the burn. "I am sorry if I stared. I am not disgusted but only surprised and sorry. I have seen you often for many months and I had no idea you had this injury."

He put on the shirt but didn't do up the buttons. "It is not important. It's only the left, and it doesn't keep me from handling a weapon as well as I did before. It does not affect my ability to protect you or the King"

"Oh, I believe you," Frodo said quickly. "But it – it must give you much pain."

The man's face softened and fell then, lost much of its defensiveness. "It has grown less with time."

"But you still feel it every day, don't you?"

Borongil said nothing, but his face told Frodo that it was true.

"I am sorry I saw something you wished to keep private," said Frodo. "Elana meant only to show me something of her work here at the Houses of Healing, but if you would rather I can wait outside while she tends to you."

Borongil paused. "No, it's all right, you've seen it already. I mean to say, you were at Cormallen, so you must have seen worse." Slowly he opened the shirt again and Elana took it from him, giving him a little more time to relax before she started rubbing a clear salve onto the burned skin of his arm. And though he winced when first she touched him, he told Frodo, "It pains me much less now than it did then. At first I thought I'd never be able to go back to work. Oh, and in those days we didn't know if there'd be any more work to do, after."

"Without the Steward," Frodo filled in.

"That was when I met Borongil," said Elana, who'd finished with his arm now and was starting to massage his side. "He stayed here for nearly a fortnight. But now he only comes back to visit me once a month."

"It's always..." He paused as she rubbed harder, and Frodo thought he must be making an effort to keep the intensity of the feeling out of his voice. "It's always a relief when I do."

Frodo thought of the relief it always brought him on bad nights to have a friend or even a stranger rub warm water and athelas into the cold on his own shoulder. And though for now he was glad to make conversation with Borongil and would not move closer, he thought it must be a very good feeling to be the one bringing comfort as well.

He said so to Elana when they were alone again.

"I suppose so," she said, "but there's a lot more to it than bringing balms to those who want it. Most people only come here when they feel terrible, and sometimes what I have to do makes them feel even worse, in the short run anyway. Sometimes they scream, sometimes they cry. I've known Borongil for a long time, but when his burns were fresh he'd curse me whenever I touched him." She shrugged. "Comfort is part of it, but it's more to do with... trust, maybe. Not their trust in me, because they haven't always got that, but my trust that what Annwyn and Theron and Ioreth and the others tell me to do is for the best in the long run. Most of the time that's enough."

When Aragorn came to see Frodo on the third day Annwyn declared she was confident that his sickness had passed. Perhaps the wound would never heal completely, but there was no reason Frodo should not go on about his normal life, simply realizing that he should come to Aragorn or one of the Healers should the pain bother him again.

"Are you ready to come back to the palace with me?" Aragorn asked.

"I am, but not to go back to my 'normal life.'"

"I don't understand."

"I have spoken to Annwyn and she has agreed to let me stay on here as one of her assistants. I can sleep with you in the palace but come here to work during the day."

"But you do not need to work, for you have already given –"

"Yes, I've given a lot, but that doesn't mean I want to sit around in a palace for the rest of my life." Aragorn's face fell and Frodo realized he'd spoken harshly. "I have no skill or calling to be a leader of men – or hobbits," he said, taking his lover's hand. "Nor do I have your skill or Annwyn's at healing, but I can work. I can give comfort. Please, let me try to learn."

Aragorn squeezed Frodo's hand. "I had not realized you were... If it's simply that you want for something to do outside the palace, there is much work we could find for you in the city. The life of a healer is not an easy one, Frodo. You will see pain and suffering, even death. Are you sure this is what you want?"

Frodo nodded. "Annwyn and I – and my other new friend, Elana – we've spoken of the difficulties. I do not propose this lightly. I believe it is what I'm meant to be doing. I've had my own suffering, the times when I thought I would die, but you and Elrond and Annwyn and the others brought me back. I can understand what the patients are going through, and I want to try to make it easier for them."

"Very well," said Aragorn. "If it is what you want and Annwyn has agreed" – he looked to her and she nodded – "I am not one to stand in your way."

"Well, you are the King," said Frodo, grinning. "Ioreth told me that you were giving the Warden orders about how to take care of Merry. Is that true?"

"It might be." Aragorn smiled as well. "The people here don't know how to deal you halflings, you see."

"But you do." Frodo sighed happily. "Well, the others will just have to learn."


One of Frodo's good friends among the Healers was a man from Harad named Theron. He had traveled to Mordor and Ithilien with his country's army and helped the wounded soldiers on both sides as well as he could. When the war was over he was released from service to his country and decided to stay in Gondor.

"Don't you miss your own country, your own people?" Elana had asked him one day shortly after Frodo started working there.

"I do," said Theron, "but I had learned all I could from the master healers of Harad. Here in Gondor I can learn new things – the old ways of healing that are known to Ioreth, the newer ways that Annwyn teaches me. In you, Elana, I observe the importance of inquisitiveness, and from Frodo I see how much relief a smile and a kind touch may bring to one who is suffering. And I hope that the patients may be helped by the knowledge that I bring from my own country."

Frodo was impressed by Theron's humility, since he knew that the sick did very well in his care, as long as they were willing to be tended by a foreigner. He spoke to Theron again later that night, when the two of them were alone with a sick woman who was sleeping. "I have also learned very much from watching you work," Frodo said, "and I know that the other Healers here have too. We are very lucky to have you. I admire what you've done, coming to live here."

"That is well," said Theron. "Everything I told Elana is true, and I believe in what I am doing here. But I did not tell her the other reason why I do not wish to return to my home."

"I did not mean to pry," said Frodo.

"I know, but it burdens my heart not to tell anyone. I know that you are trustworthy, and that you will understand, since you've left your own home behind out of love."

Frodo blushed. "I don't usually think of it that way," he said. "I love the friends and the relatives that stayed behind in the Shire and that have gone back there, but I feel that Gondor is my home now."

Theron nodded. "That is not the way for me," he said. "Before the war I had a home in Harad with the man I loved, and when he was sent away from home I followed him, and did what I could to help our people wherever I went. But in the last battle Harad was defeated, and my Arol was killed. There is nothing for me to go back to now, and so I have made a new life here."

"I am very sorry," said Frodo.

"So am I."

After a little silence Frodo added, "You should not have to be alone."

"I do not look for anyone to replace him."

"I understand that. But there is no reason you shouldn't have friends here in Gondor – besides me, I mean. There are other people who have lost their loved ones, and many who have given up the lives they had before, whether for love or for duty or some other reason. The King Elessar himself lived most of his life far away from here. I think you and he would have much to talk about."

So it was, and Theron became a frequent guest at their home. Although he said he did not wish to become involved with political matters, he did teach them a good deal about the culture of his people, which later helped Aragorn in his dealings with other Haradrim. Frodo was pleased that the two men had become friends at his initiative.


They first heard rumors of the sickness a few days before Yule, and their first case came to the Houses of Healing on that day, though Frodo didn't hear about it until later. New Year's Day was now in the spring, of course, to mark the anniversary of the day when the Dark Tower had been thrown down. In March there would be public celebrations and speeches, but for these darkest days of the year the people kept to their own homes and their own traditions which, to Frodo's surprise, were not so very different from those of the Shire.

Frodo and Aragorn exchanged simple gifts that they had made for each other in private. They spent the day and night together and had no trouble keeping each other warm.

In the morning Theron, who had been one of the few people to work on the holiday, introduced Frodo to a young girl who had come in the day before with a severe flu – at home she had vomited until there was nothing left in her stomach, and for almost two days she'd been going from fever to chills and back. Her mother sat by her and held her hand, but the little girl, when she was awake, still seemed frightened and confused.

Frodo tried to comfort the girl, but since her mother was already tending her and Theron said they needed to let the illness run its course, there was little he could do. The girl was seldom conscious anyway, but Frodo found that the mother was just as frightened if not more, so it helped her just to have someone stop and converse with her. He found out that they lived there on the sixth level, only a short distance away from the Houses of Healing, but they had never come to visit before because they'd always been quite healthy.

"And maybe we shouldn't even have come for this," she added. "I know you probably have more urgent cases to see to. Children get sick, after all, and they get better. I've just never seen her like this, and I was afraid to try to take care of her alone."

Frodo assured her that she'd been right to come and that she was doing a good job. If anything changed, it was good to have Theron and the other Healers close at hand. They were giving her the medicine she needed, but for now the most important thing was to stay with her daughter, keep her warm or cool as she needed. Stay with her and let her know she was safe.

Six more people – from children to old men – came that day with the same illness, and on the following day there were more. A few of them had a simple flu, but with others the Healers were able to tell from their eyes that they needed a special medicine. Still, the medicine they drank could take several days to do all its work, and in the meantime it was difficult for the patients to keep it down. It was also important for them to drink plenty of water to make up for the fluids they lost between vomiting and diarrhea, but because of those very symptoms most people didn't want to eat or drink anything. Sometimes, especially if they were disoriented from the fever, they would even fight Frodo as he tried to give them the medicine, and on the second day one man hit him hard enough to make his nose bleed. Things got messy, of course, and although the Houses were generally kept very clean the smell started to become very unpleasant. Frodo felt bad for those sick people and their families who arrived looking for refuge and found the place in near chaos.

Many of them were neighbors. Like the first little girl (who finally went home on the third day, strong enough to walk outside and ride in a cart for the short distance home) they lived close to the Houses of Healing but had not ever been inside before. Other faces were familiar – soldiers who'd come before with their injuries and others who'd been sick.

Frodo recognized the old man he'd met on his very first day here, back in October. He'd gone home to his family a week after that meeting, though he'd come back several times. On this occasion he had no kind or solemn words for Frodo, for he was too sick to know where he was. He could not swallow anything. Frodo tried talking to him, telling him how important it was to drink the medicine, but the man didn't seem to recognize him, nor did he respond to anything Annwyn did or said to try to help him.

To Frodo it seemed that the time went by quickly – there was not time to see to all the patients or to obey the Healers' commands fast enough – and yet this one man's pain stretched on for hours, and it hurt Frodo not to be able to do anything for him as he cried out. When finally he went quiet Annwyn was the one to reach down and close his eyes.

"That's a mercy," said his daughter, and she thanked Frodo and Annwyn for doing all they could. But Frodo, who normally enjoyed talking to the families, could think of nothing to say to her, and when he tried to tell her he was sorry he realized that he was crying.

After the woman had left Frodo watched Annwyn take off her apron and pull her hair back behind her again – it had slipped loose from the string she used to tie it. Her eyes looked very tired, staring at the near distance and not meeting Frodo's gaze, but they were dry. Frodo felt ashamed of his own tears.

"You must have lost patients before."

"Oh yes," she said at once. "During the war there were so many, so very many. And even before and after... well, people get sick, and in the end they die. The truth is I expected him to pass on a year ago. Sometimes there really is nothing we can do." She shook her head. "That doesn't mean it ever gets easy though." Then she set her shoulders back and looked at him at last. Frodo looked down.

"You should go home and rest."

"Isn't there more work to do?"

She shook her head again. "You've done enough for tonight, Frodo. Thank you for your help. I'll stay on for the night." She smiled sadly. "I know if I went home I wouldn't be able to sleep.

Frodo walked back to the palace in the dark with his head down, hoping that no one would see him and know the state he was in. He'd cry for a few steps or a few minutes, pull himself together, then break down again. He couldn't stop feeling that he had failed – that for all Annwyn thanked him he was really useless. The feeling was all too familiar, but the fact that Aragorn had had to talk him out of it many times didn't mean that Frodo knew how to make it go away on his own.

He paused with his hand on the bedroom door, not sure he was ready to face his lover tonight. When he opened the door he gasped in surprise. The room was filled with lighted candles, red rose petals covered the floor and the bed, and a plate filled with Frodo's favorite foods was set on a nearby table.

Frodo wiped the tears from his eyes and turned to see Aragorn walk out of the bathroom attached to their bedroom.

"Oh, Aragorn!" Frodo went to him at once, and the two of them hugged for a long time, saying nothing.

When they drew apart Aragorn looked into Frodo's eyes. "You have been crying. Why? What has upset you like this? Has someone hurt you?"

Frodo shook his head. "No, I am not hurt, I only...It's only gotten worse, more and more cases of the flu, and tonight a man passed away. We tried everything we could go save him, but it...I couldn't..."

Aragorn looked down and hugged Frodo again, more tightly this time. "Oh, my sweet Frodo," he said.

"I know he's old and I know... There were so many others, before, and Theron's lover, and Théoden and Halbarad and..." He was sobbing and talking wildly and knew he should stop, but he felt the need to let it out, and Aragorn listened, rubbing his back. "Things are supposed to be better now. We went through everything we did so that things would be all right afterwards..."

"And no one would get sick and die?"

Frodo shook his head, not knowing what to say.

"Perhaps it was only his time, Frodo. His body couldn't handle any more and gave up." Then he knelt down to look into Frodo's eyes and spoke more firmly. "It was not your fault. You did not fail."

Frodo could only shake his head.

"Come," said Aragorn, "you are tired. Sit with me and have something to eat."

"Oh." Frodo felt all the more wretched, realizing that Aragorn had prepared this beautiful romantic evening for him and all he could do was feel sorry for himself. "You are too kind to me."

"Nonsense. You've had a long and exhausting day taking care of others, and now you deserve to have someone take care of you."

The divan and the table were set low in comparison to most of the furniture in Gondor. They'd been made according to the custom of the Haradrim for the chamber where ambassadors from that country stayed on there visits, but after Frodo came to stay at the palace they'd been put in the King's chambers, along with some chairs and stepping stools that had been made especially for the hobbit's comfort. The food was also that of the far south, which Frodo normally loved, but now he found the spread made of aubergine was like so much paste in his mouth. He ate little.

"The rose petals," he said. "You wanted tonight to be special."

"It is already."

"I'm sorry."

"Don't be."

They sat together for a long time, and Frodo eventually dozed off there. He only came half awake when Aragorn carried him to bed.

When Frodo returned to the Houses of Healing in the morning Elana, who had been working all night, told him that Annwyn had taken ill and could no longer come to work. While she stayed home to be cared for by her family, another score of men and women had arrived at the Houses, their families telling Theron they didn't know what to do to help them. Those who were sick could not keep anything down.

Because there were so many ill and Theron was busy with other patients, Frodo started taking on jobs he would normally leave to someone more skilled. With the new arrivals, Frodo determined on his own which had the dangerous sickness and which had a simple flu that would pass on its own. He started giving them the medicine he knew they needed without waiting for Theron's word. The sheer number of them meant he had very little time to spend with each, and he could not comfort them the way he wished to do.


On the seventh day of the outbreak Borongil, the guard who had been burned in Denethor's madness, arrived alone, barely able to walk because of his fever. When Frodo looked in his eyes he recognized his friend and also immediately recognized that the sickness had taken him. They had run out of beds by then and Frodo made a place for the young man on one of the mats that had been laid on the floor. Frodo knew this had been done during the siege of the city as well, and there was no other choice, but it still felt wrong, like a lack of respect for those who were sick and needed help. Still, he tried to make light of the situation.

"This way it will be easier for a little halfling like me to reach you," he told Borongil, who smiled back at him through his obvious discomfort.

"I should have stayed at home," he said. "I didn't realize you wouldn't have room."

"Shhh," Frodo soothed, bringing him a cup of the medicine. "It's all right, you were right to come here. We'll help you to feel better very soon. I will help take care of you."

"I'm not afraid."

"I know you're not, and you have no reason to be. Just drink this and then you can rest."

Frodo helped him drink, and when he had finished the guard tried to smile, but suddenly he seemed to choke on the last of the medicine, and a coughing spell overtook him. Frodo helped him roll onto his side and then rubbed his back in circles until the coughing subsided. At least he hadn't thrown it up and needed to drink it all again.

"I am very sorry, but I have to see to some of the others now," said Frodo, and reluctantly he left his friend alone.

By the end of the day Frodo was physically and emotionally exhausted from the long day of running from room to room and bed to bed. He felt terrible for the patients, but he couldn't help looking forward to the hour when he could go back to the King's chambers and have a simple rest without thinking of this great responsibility.

But Elana, who should have come to relieve him at dusk, was nowhere to be found. Frodo didn't have time to try to find out what was wrong because there were more people calling for him. They needed him.

Late in the evening a messenger came from the palace. Aragorn had been expecting him and wanted to know that he was all right.

"I am," said Frodo, "but I must stay here."

The soldier looked at him doubtfully. "The King is concerned..."

Frodo frowned. "That's...kind of him. But I do not need to be looked after. I could not stand to be idle while these people are suffering. The King would do better to send more help, rather than tell me what to do."

He turned back to his work.


"Are you feeling all right?" Frodo heard Theron ask. It took him a few moments to realize he was addressing Frodo. "Your face looks flushed. Perhaps you should lie down."

Frodo smiled and shook his head, embarrassed. After everything he had come through he would not be laid low by some little flu. "I'm just a little tired. Please excuse me, I must fill this bucket of cold water for a patient."

He got up and walked down a hall towards the area where there was a small tub, which he had used many times already today, filling up buckets. He turned on the faucet and tested the water for its temperature.

As soon as he felt the cold water hit his hand, he began to shiver very hard. Dark spots appeared in front of his vision and he felt dizzy and disoriented. He reached his hand out towards the wall to catch his balance.

It'll pass in another moment, he told himself. I'm not going to get sick. I just need...

"Frodo?" he heard someone call his name.

"Theron?" he asked weakly. Then the mist rose up around him like breath on a cold night. Frodo shivered and swooned and knew no more.


Part 2

Date: 2007-08-02 03:21 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
I absolutely love what you've done with my story - telling us how Frodo decided to stay with Aragorn, Theron's background, and most importantly, why Frodo was so interested in helping people in the Houses of Healing.

Date: 2007-08-05 11:35 pm (UTC)
ext_28878: (Default)
From: [identity profile]
*pssst!* There's a second part to this fic in case you missed it! :-)

Date: 2007-08-09 02:42 am (UTC)
sophinisba: Gwen looking sexy from Merlin season 2 promo pics (Default)
From: [personal profile] sophinisba
Thanks, sweetie. :D

Date: 2007-08-09 02:41 am (UTC)
sophinisba: Gwen looking sexy from Merlin season 2 promo pics (Default)
From: [personal profile] sophinisba
Oh, thanks so much. I had a good time writing it and I'm really glad you liked it. I just love the idea of Frodo taking care of others!


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