At Dawning by Saklani

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Story notes: Beta: Gul Occett (bless ya, babe!)
This story was written for the FCanon zine. I hope to make this into a series with the next story being about the crossing of the wasteland. I also intend to expand pairings as I go.
Long ago and far away,
I dreamed a dream one day,
And now, that dream is here beside me,
Just one look and then I knew,
That all I dreamed of long ago was you.

-excerpt from "Long Ago and Far Away" by Jerome Kern

Aragorn leaned against a large tree and watched Boromir spar with Marry and Pippin. He smiled a little at the hobbit's enthusiastic reactions to Boromir's instructions. No matter how far the day's journey, the three always had energy for their lessons.

A soft noise made him turn his head. He saw Frodo sitting a few feet away, his eyes shut. Unlike the other hobbits, he looked tired and unsure. Even his breathing was labored, coming in soft gasps- the noise Aragorn had heard.

"Are you all right. Frodo?" Aragorn asked.

The hobbit opened his eyes and focused with some difficulty on Aragorn. "My shoulder aches terribly," he admitted.

Aragorn moved quickly away from the tree and knelt in front of Frodo. "May I examine the wound?"

Frodo nodded. He carefully unclasped his cloak and let it slip off his shoulders. His fingers trembled on the buttons of his tunic, and Aragorn gently helped him get them undone.

"Thank you," Frodo whispered.

"Of course," Aragorn said. "Do you wish my assistance with the mithril coat?" When Frodo gave the barest acknowledgment, Aragorn pulled the armor over his head. This left him in his undershirt, which did not cover his shoulder.

Aragorn examined the wound. The scar looked livid and unhealthy. The Ranger traced the outline with his finger, and Frodo hissed in pain.

"Some red bark tea will help with pain," Aragorn said, "and I will mix a salve to help heal the wound."

"I know it will never heal," Frodo said. When Aragorn looked startled, Frodo added, "Gandalf told me. The wounds caused by a Mrodor blade never heal completely."

Aragorn wanted to envelop Frodo in a hug. The hobbit looked so small and lost. Instead, he busied himself pulling Frodo's cloak back on.

"I'll boil some water and then make the salve," Aragorn said.

"All right," Frodo whispered. He lowered his head and remained still.

Aragorn's heart hurt to see Frodo so depressed. The journey and the Ring weighed heavily on him. Aragorn wished he could offer Frodo comfort and strength. Instead, he started a fire to boil the water for the tea.

"Does it hurt him much?" Gandalf asked from behind Aragorn.

The man looked into the wise eyes of the wizard. "Very much," he said.

"I'll finish making the tea, while you prepare the salve," was Gandalf's only reply, but Aragorn heard the sadness in his voice.

Aragorn nodded and picked up his pack. He handed a satchel of red bark to Gandalf. Aragorn then pulled out an assortment of herbs and powders. He mixed a few of these into his mortar and added a little water. He ground them into a smooth paste. This accomplished, Aragorn tore a piece of cloth into several strips. He picked everything up and went back to Frodo.

He did not lift his head or give any other sign he knew of Aragorn's presence.

"Frodo," Aragorn said softly. He reached out and put a gentle hand on the hobbit's knee. "Frodo," he repeated.

The curly head rose, and Aragorn found himself lost in tormented blue eyes. They gazed at him with sorrow and fear.

"Oh, Frodo," Aragorn heard himself say. His arms encircled the small man of their own volition and pulled him close.

Frodo buried his head in Aragorn's shoulder and began to weep loudly. He wrapped his small arms around Aragorn's neck and held tight. Aragorn rocked him, whispering soothing phrases.

The rest of the Fellowship froze in their activities and stared. Sam took two steps toward them and then stopped, uncertain. His expression warred between dismay, concern, sorrow and a hint of jealousy.

For several minutes, nobody moved and then Gandalf cleared his throat. He went back to the tea. Everyone took their cue from the wizard and returned to doing other things. Sam lingered longest, gazing at Frodo and Aragorn, but finally went to tend to Bill.

Frodo and Aragorn did not notice what went on around them. Aragorn continued whispering to the hobbit. Frodo pushed himself even deeper into the man's arms.

Slowly, his sobs softened. When they finally ceased, Frodo sniffled and pulled back to look at Aragorn. "I'm sorry, Strider," he said.

"There is no reason to apologize. This is a difficult trip for everyone, and you most of all," Aragorn said. "It is bound to catch up with us sometimes."

Frodo nodded a little. "My shoulder has been aching for days, and I cannot sleep because of it. I feel worn to the bone. Every step I took today seemed a near impossible burden."

"You should have told me," Aragorn said. "I could have carried you."

Frodo's eyes flashed. "I do not want you to have to carry me! Your own path is difficult enough. Besides," he said in a softer voice, "I do not wish anyone to think I cannot manage on my own."

"Frodo," Aragorn said, "we are here so that you do not need to do everything on your own. We all share the burden of the journey and lessen it for everyone by doing so."

The hobbit looked away. "I do not want to become a nuisance to everyone," he said.

Aragorn squeezed Frodo gently. "Never," he said. "Now, let me put some salve on your shoulder. Gandalf should have the tea done soon."

Frodo bared his shoulder, and Aragorn began smoothing the salve on with his fingers. Frodo made a small noise of contentment and leaned into the touch. Aragorn smiled a little and continued his ministrations a bit more slowly.

"The tea is ready," Gandalf said from the fire.

Aragorn glanced back and nodded. "I am almost done," he said. He finished coating the scar. "Let me bandage this to prevent the salve from getting all over your clothes and then you can put everything back on," he said to Frodo.

"All right," Frodo said. He yawned widely. "That was very soothing."

"And you are very tired," Aragorn said, tying off the bandage. He picked up the mithril coat and helped Frodo pull it on. After they wrestled with all the other layers, Aragorn led Frodo to the fire. He flopped down next to Gandalf.

"Here is your tea, Master Baggins," Gandalf said.

Frodo smiled wanly and took the brew. His face wrinkled in distaste as he took the first sip. "This is awful," he groaned.

"Drink it all," Gandalf said. "Red bark tea tastes terrible, but it eases pain considerably."

Frodo sighed melodramatically, but continued sipping the tea. He watched Aragorn repack his medicines. The man's careful and precise movements captivated him.

"How are you feeling, Mister Frodo?" Sam's earnest voice asked from Frodo's left.

He reassured his friend with a smile. "Much better, thanks to Strider's salve and the tea."

Sam's return smile did not quite reach his eyes. He glanced at Strider, and his mouth thinned. "He seems to have an answer for everything."

"We are very fortunate for his experience," Gandalf said.

"I guess so," Sam mumbled, his expression unchanged. He began preparing dinner.

"May I help you?" Frodo asked.

"Oh no, Mister Frodo, you need to rest. I can handle this," Sam said.

Merry, Pippin and Boromir wandered over to the fire in time to hear the last of the conversation.

"We will help you, Sam" Pippin said.

"Sure," Merry said, "we can add a little spice to your cooking."

"My cooking is fine the way it is, Meriadoc Brandybuck," Sam said.

"Ooh, don't get touchy now," Merry said.

"Leave him alone," Gandalf said, before the argument could escalate. The three hobbits fell silent, but Merry and Pippin began assisting Sam.

Aragorn joined the others by the fire, sitting next to Boromir. "Finish your tea, Frodo," he said.

Frodo grumbled something about bossy men, but grudgingly drank the rest of the bitter tea. He set the empty mug down with a flourish and smiled triumphantly at Aragorn. The Ranger smiled in response.

"Dinner is ready," Sam, Merry and Pippin said at the same time.

"I'll take Legolas and Gimli theirs," Boromir volunteered. Sam handed him two plates full of sausage and beans. Boromir carried them to where Gimli and Legolas stood watch.

Aragorn saw Gimli dive into his food and then grinned when Legolas eyed the offering with distaste. After three straight days of the same meal, the elf's reaction did not surpise him. He turned back to the fire and caught the amusement on Frodo's face. The hobbit also spotted Legolas' disdain for the food.

"Here you go, Mister Frodo," Samwise said, holding a plate out for his friend.

"Thank you, Sam," Frodo said. He did not start eating until everyone, including Boromir, was served.

"We have a tough stretch ahead of us," Gandalf said. "Tomorrow, we start to cross the Wasteland of Khardum."

Boromir tilted his head slightly. "I have never heard of the wasteland," he said.

"Travelers avoid them whenever possible. They are a barren, scorched mass of rolling sand dunes. They are difficult to make headway through, but our enemies will have the same disadvantage. We are also unlikely to encounter any unexpected trouble there. We will need to fill our water pouches, for the nearest water is a five days from here."

Frodo shut his eyes, thinking of the wearisome days ahead. His shoulder ached at the very idea. A gentle touch made Frodo open them again. Aragorn was leaning forward, and he had placed his hand on the hobbit's knee. He smiled reassuringly at Frodo, who returned the smile tentatively. Aragorn then moved back.

Sam saw the touch, and his heart lurched as jealousy prickled through him. He wanted to tell Aragorn to keep his hands off Mister Frodo. He bit the angry comment off his tongue. If Frodo did not object, it was not his place to say anything. But oh, he wanted to be the one offering comfort.

"We will move by night," Gandalf said, "and avoid the heat of the day. We shall rest here until late afternoon, tomorrow. I suggest everyone get as much sleep as possible."

"I'm all for that anyway," Merry said. "I'm very tired, having traveled so far on such meager fare."

Pippin agreed heartily, while Gandalf harumphed under his breath.

Aragorn finished his dinner and then stretched languidly. Frodo watched this display with hunger in his eyes "I think I'll retire early," Aragorn said, "since I am taking middle watch."

"I also will go to bed now," Frodo said. "I'm very tired."

"Excellent idea, both of you," Gandalf said. "Sleep well."

The rest of the Fellowship bade them pleasant dreams. Sam watched Frodo and Aragorn get up together and resisted the urge to go with them. He did not want to hover around Frodo too much or show his growing dislike of Aragorn.

Aragorn stopped beside Frodo's bedding and knelt to help the hobbit straighten it out. "Do you think you shall be able to sleep tonight?" he asked.

Frodo flexed his arm. "My shoulder feels much improved," he said. "I believe I might get some sleep at last."

"If you have any trouble, do not hesitate to call for me," Aragorn said.

"I would not want to disturb you," Frodo said.

Aragorn put a hand on Frodo's shoulder. "I wish you to tell me if you are in any distress. I rest easy only when I know you are well," Aragorn said.

Frodo rested his head against Aragorn's hand. His eyelids fluttered shut. He sighed deeply in contentment. "This is nice," he murmured. "I may fall asleep right now."

Aragorn chuckled softly. "If you wish, I shall remain here until you do."

"Oh no," Frodo said, opening his eyes and straightening up, "you need your sleep, too."

"At least let me tuck you in," Aragorn said.

"I would like that," Frodo said. A blush touched his cheeks. He climbed into his bedroll, and Aragorn carefully arranged the covers around him. "Thank you," Frodo said.

"You are more than welcome." Aragorn leaned forward and kissed Frodo's forehead.

An electric jolt ran through them both.

Frodo's eyes got very wide indeed. "Strider," he whispered, "did you feel..."

"Yes, I did," Aragorn said, "like nothing I have ever felt before." He placed another kiss on Frodo's cheek, and the same buzz ran up and down their spines.

"What does it mean?" Frodo asked. He voice quavered, but not in fear.

"I am not sure," Aragorn said, "but I think, perhaps... perhaps it means that I love you."

"Mister Frodo needs his sleep," Samwise said, marching up to Aragorn. Both Aragorn and Frodo looked at Sam with surprise.

"Strider was just making sure I am well," Frodo said, a note of annoyance in his voice.

"Sam is looking after your welfare, too," Aragorn said, "and he is correct. I am keeping you from your rest. We can continue our discussion later," he said in a soft voice for Frodo's ears only.

A small pout appeared on Frodo's face. "I wanted to finish now. I think I love you, too, Strider," he said quietly.

"Oh, Frodo," Aragorn whispered.

Sam began noisily preparing for bed. He hummed a jaunty hobbit tune and fussed over his covers. Aragorn looked at him and suppressed a grin, but Frodo felt anger at his friend for the continued intrusion.

"Goodnight, Frodo," Aragorn said, "remember what I told you."

"I will. Goodnight, Strider," Frodo said.

"Goodnight, Samwise," Aragorn said.

The other hobbit glanced at him. "Goodnight, Strider," he said with disinterest.

Aragorn raised an eyebrow at the hobbit's coolness, but left without comment.

Frodo waited until Aragorn settled into his bedroll and then glared at Sam. "Why did you that?" he demanded. "I wanted to talk to Strider."

Sam wilted under the force of Frodo's anger. "I meant no harm, Mister Frodo," he said. "I just wanted to make sure you got your sleep."

"I am perfectly capable of doing that for myself," Frodo said. "I must ask you never to interfere like that again." He turned away from Sam and closed his eyes.

Tears slid down Sam's cheeks. "I'm sorry, Mister Frodo," he whispered. Sam wrapped himself in his covers, curled into a ball and cried himself to sleep.

Aragorn gazed into the dark night, all his senses tuned to detect any possible danger. He heard only the peaceful chirping of crickets. Nothing stirred, except for the occasional rustling of the Fellowship in their bedrolls.

Across the camp, Merry stood, keeping an eye out for danger from that direction. Gandalf had decided that two pairs of eyes and ears were better than one. The wizard seemed eager that they be doubly careful in this area. Aragorn wondered what necessitated this added precaution, but knew Gandalf would reveal his reasoning in due time.

Pacing back and forth, he reviewed his earlier conversation with Frodo. His heart beat faster as he recalled Frodo's confession of love. If Samwise had not interfered, Aragorn would have spoken more of his heart.

Perhaps then, he thought, it is better that he did interrupt. I might still be there, telling Frodo of my feelings. A sappy smile, quite unlike the Ranger's normally somber visage, flashed across Aragorn's mouth. And more than anything else, I do love him.

Arwen's loveliness appeared in his mind, and he suppressed momentary guilt. The elf maiden had pledged herself to Aragorn, despite his protests. He did care for her, but Frodo meant a great deal more.

She will understand and forgive, he thought. My heart is free to choose, and it has chosen Frodo.

The sudden snapping of twigs made Aragorn freeze. He listened intently for further noise from the night. After a moment, the crickets began chirping again, and he relaxed.

Probably a night forager. He continued his pacing.

A soft cry of fear from the campsite made Aragorn turn and rush in. He knew instinctively that the cry came from Frodo. He ran to the hobbit's side and found Frodo thrashing in his dreams. Without thought, Aragorn scooped the small man into his arms.

Frodo's eyes instantly opened and focused on Aragorn. "Oh Strider," he sobbed, "I was having the worst dream."

"Hush, Frodo," he said, carrying the crying hobbit away from the others, who were stirring in response to the noise. "I am here now, nothing will harm you." Aragorn flashed an 'everything is all right' sign to Merry, who nodded and returned to his watch.

Frodo snuggled into Aragorn, resting his forehead in the crook of the man's neck. "I was so frightened," he whispered. "I called for you, but you did not answer me. Nobody answered. All I heard was the echo of my own voice out of the darkness... and the Ring. I always hear the Ring."

Aragorn glanced down at Frodo's chest, where the Ring lay hidden under his shirt. Silently, he cursed the vile thing in every language he knew.

"I'm here now. I won't let you go." He carried Frodo to a fallen tree and sat down. Aragorn rubbed Frodo's back soothingly.

The hobbit sighed. "Thank you, Strider," he said contentedly.

"My pleasure," Aragon said, still stroking.

"I'm glad you're here." Frodo nuzzled Aragorn's neck and then nipped playfully.

Aragorn gasped in surprise. He looked down into Frodo's eyes. The hobbit gazed at him with trust and desire.

"Oh, Frodo," he said, "you are so very beautiful." He kissed Frodo's small, perfect mouth, savoring the sweet taste of his lips.

Frodo responded enthusiastically, grabbing handfuls of Aragorn's hair to pull himself closer. A few licks of his tongue over Aragorn's lower lip cause the man to deepen the kiss. Frodo's head swam deliciously.

"I love you, Frodo," Aragorn whispered.

"And I love you," Frodo said. "I always will."

The first rays of the sun appeared in the sky, and Aragorn smiled in delight. "Look, Frodo, the sun is rising on our love."

Frodo rested his head on Aragorn's chest. "May it never set," he said.

"It won't," Aragorn vowed. "No matter what comes. I shall always love you, Frodo."

"Through life or death," Frodo said.

"Forevermore," Aragorn said.

"Forevermore," Frodo echoed.

They held each other and watched the sun come up.
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