Unanswered Questions by Anastasia

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Story notes: My thanks to Caly for the final beta.
Aragorn ran a hand through his dark hair as he stared out of the window into the dark Bree night. The Nazgul were gone, for now, but they would return. They always returned.

"Will they come back here again, looking for us?"

The soft, pain-filled voice floated across the room from the bed the Hobbits shared.

"Frodo," Aragorn chastised gently, not turning in his chair. The other Hobbits had drifted off hours before. He had thought by Frodo's even breathing that he had as well. "You should be asleep. The days ahead will be long."

There was a quiet thud as Frodo slid out of bed. Aragorn didn't need to look to know the Hobbit was beside him; fear poured off the halfling like the rain that ran so unceasingly down the window panes.

"So will they? Be back, I mean?" Frodo's small hands shook as he gripped the side of the chair. "Should we leave? I could have the others up and ready in just a few minutes. Merry and Pippin would be a bit cross, but then they always are when they wake up. But they'd get over it, honest..." Nervously, Frodo babbled on, seemingly unable to stop.

The almost meaningless words that tumbled from Frodo's mouth tore at Aragorn's heart and he did turn his gaze then. For one brief moment he saw a distraught, curly-headed child begging comfort from a parent after a particularly unsettling nightmare. But the terrible knowing and the raw despair in the large, blue eyes were far greater than any child's burden.

"Frodo..." Aragorn unfolded his arms from his chest and opened them, silently inviting Frodo in. Before he could give his decision a second thought, Aragorn found himself with a lapful of sobbing Hobbit.

"Oh, Strider..." Frodo fell against Aragorn, burying his face against the Man's shoulder.

For long minutes, the only sound in the room was the soft snoring of the Hobbits on the bed and the wrenching gasps from the one Hobbit who could not sleep. Wondering at a world that would put something so large onto the shoulders of one so small, Aragorn slowly ran his hand along Frodo's back and up through the disheveled curls.

"Shhhh..." he whispered into a pointed ear. "They won't be back tonight."

Frodo made a hiccupping sound. "How...can you...be...sure?" he asked with a shudder. "They...want it."

Aragorn closed his eyes against the desperation that was audible in every strained syllable. "I know, Frodo. They came here in search of the ring but their search was in vain. Their pursuit will drive them elsewhere for now."

"For now..." Frodo's fingers clenched tightly around the fabric of Aragorn's jacket.

"Yes, for now," Aragorn told him honestly. "What you carry calls to them, Frodo. They will follow you, haunt you, until it is no longer in your possession. And then they will haunt the ring's next owner. It is no easy task you have."

"But I don't even know what my task is!" Frodo's words were watery. "Gandalf was supposed to help me. And Merry and Pippin were supposed to remain in the Shire. And Sam...never should...have...come along..." The tired Hobbit's speech began to slur, helped along by the rhythmic rubbing of his back and the Ranger's soft whispers.

"Things don't always go according to our plans, small one," Aragorn said. "But for now you're safe and I will do everything within my power to see that you stay that way."

He shifted Frodo into a more comfortable position in his lap. "Rest, Frodo," he said softly. "Set your worries aside for tonight and allow sleep to take you. Shhhh..."

With the slow rocking motion and the small, even movements of Aragorn's hand against his back, Frodo managed to drop into a shallow sleep. And although being under the Ranger's watchful eye caused no bad dreams to befall him, Frodo knew that the worst of his nightmares still lay ahead and would have to be met head on in the light of day.
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