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Walking Near the Edge  by Budgielover

Chapter Two

Frodo looked up into Bilbo’s face and smiled, then his expression tightened as the numbing agent Aragorn had applied to his shoulder began to wear off. He shifted uncomfortably, perspiration starting from his brow. Aragorn looked at him sorrowfully but he was wiser than to offer the sleeping draught again.

“Remember what I said, Frodo,” he remarked. “No visitors until mid-afternoon– evening would be better. I want you to stay in bed, no moving around, no activity. I will have report of you from Sam, so I will know if you follow my instructions.”

“He reports on me to everyone else,” Frodo groused, burrowing down into the pillows and pulling fretfully at the bedcovers. “Ow! Drat it!”

“Let me, Mr. Frodo,” Sam said hurriedly, tucking the blankets around his master. That task completed, he looked at Aragorn and tilted his head towards a still-grumbling Frodo. Aragorn stared deeply into the little gardener’s eyes for a moment, then arched an eyebrow. Sam nodded, his mouth firm. Aragorn soundlessly removed one of the bottles from the tray and slipped it to Sam, where it disappeared into a pocket.

“Call me if you have need of me,” Aragorn told them all as he paused in the doorway. “I will tell Elrond that the stitches have been removed. Until later, then.” He left quietly, taking the tray with him.

“Can you sleep, my lad?” Bilbo asked Frodo gently.

Frodo shook his head, then winced as the movement pulled at his aching shoulder. What had been a dull throb but moments before now burned fiercely. “No, Bilbo,” he replied in a subdued voice.

“Can I get you anything, sir?” Sam had asked, hovering anxiously at Frodo’s side.

Frodo did not shake his head again, but murmured, “No, Sam. Thank you. I’ll be all right in a little while.”  He turned his face into the pillow, shivering.

Sam pulled another blanket over his master, then looked at Bilbo in silent appeal. Bilbo appropriated Aragorn’s seat next to Frodo’s bed and motioned for Sam to hand him his secret weapon. “Do you mind if I read aloud for a bit, my boy?”

“Go ahead, Bilbo,” Frodo murmured, his face averted and his voice muffled. “It won’t bother me.”

Soundless as only a hobbit can be, Sam started closing the shutters and drawing the drapes, leaving only one window open to illuminate the room. Bilbo nodded approvingly and spread the book out on his knees, humming to himself until his eyes adjusted to the dimness.

His voice soft and low, drawling, Bilbo began to read, one eye on his nephew and one on the page before him. He yawned loudly, several times, hiding his amusement when Frodo at last repeated his yawns sleepily.

“That’s done it,” Bilbo murmured with satisfaction. Closing the book, he reached over to move a curl out of the closed eyes. Frodo smiled slightly in his sleep, the pain-lines at the corner of his eyes easing. Bilbo leaned back in his chair, well pleased with himself. “I used to read to you lads ‘til late into the night, remember, Sam? You would fall asleep in front of the fire. Frodo would fight to stay awake till the story ended, but drop off himself as often as not.”

“Aye, sir, I do. Good times, those were.” Sam’s smile faded as he looked around the room, thinking of the difference between those childish tales and the reality of undead Kings with poisoned knives.

When next Sam looked, Bilbo has slumped sideways in his chair, as sound asleep as Frodo. Smiling to himself, Sam collected the waistcoat he had been mending for Mr. Merry and settled himself under the window. He had almost finished sewing on the last button when a distant commotion intruded on the peace of the room. He stood quickly, hoping his ears had deceived him, but the distant howl was repeated.

With a snort, Bilbo awoke and peered about him. His gaze fell on Fordo and he relaxed and stretched in the chair, wincing as old joints popped. With a nod to Samwise, the old hobbit rose and tottered towards the door. There he paused, listening intently.

The commotion was becoming more audible, at least to sharp hobbit-ears. Muffled growls, yips, yelps, mutters and threats accompanied scuffling noises as if someone were being dragged down the polished halls of Rivendell, fighting every inch of the way. Bilbo stared at the door, startled, and did not see Sam roll his eyes in resignation.

“No! No! Nononono!” The last no was followed by a piercing shriek, causing both hobbits to grit their teeth. Frodo shot up in bed, eyes wide, then gasped, his right hand flying to his wounded shoulder. He blanched, curling forward, eyes squeezing shut in pain.

Bilbo was back to the bed with speed that belied his age, arms around his injured nephew. “Easy, my boy. Easy…” Frodo clenched his teeth against a groan, then slowly relaxed as the pain receded. Bilbo held him still, watching him in concern.

“All right there, lad?”

Frodo panted quietly for a moment, orienting himself. Then he nodded, grateful for the warm arms supporting him. Sam hovered over Bilbo’s shoulder, torn between helping Bilbo and giving those two what for. “All … all right, Bilbo,” Frodo managed after a few moments, just in time for his words to be overridden by another shriek and a “Let go, Merry!”

"That isn't-" Bilbo began, but Frodo contradicted him. "I'm afraid it is."

“I could tell them you’re sleeping, sir,” Sam offered. “Or that Mr. Strider said you needed to rest and weren’t to have any visitors.”

“Thank you, Sam,” Frodo replied regretfully. “But I’ve learned over the years that it always gets worse if you try to put them off.”

Something slammed against the door to the room, followed by knocking sounds like elbows hitting the hard wood. Or knees perhaps, Frodo mused. The squeal, however, was unmistakable.

Sam placed his hand on the door but before he could open it, it swung inward and two struggling forms tumbled into the room. The smaller form tore itself away from the larger and shot around Frodo’s bed almost before the others could blink. There was a sudden flurry of blankets and coverlet, then Pippin was firmly ensconced behind his cousin, sheltered by Frodo’s body. From that position of safety he peered over Frodo’s shoulder, just his bright green eyes showing above his cousin’s newly bandaged arm.

“You will not believe what this hobbit has been up to, Frodo!” Merry shouted, skidding to a stop before Frodo’s bed.

“I did not!” yowled Pippin.

“Lads, lads,” began Bilbo placatingly, waving his hands, but Merry was enraged enough to shout over him. “You did too! I saw everything, Pip!”

“Saw what?” Frodo asked, striving to calm Merry by example. Rare indeed were the times that calm, level-headed Merry let his emotions rule, but this appeared to be one of them.

“Pippin’s been making calf-eyes at all the people here and cozening them into giving him presents! And sweets!” Merry circled the bed, hands reaching to pull his little cousin from his place of protection. Pippin agilely scooted out of reach.

“Jealous?” inquired Pippin, nearly precipitating his own murder.

“It’s disgusting! He’s taking advantage of people, Frodo!”

Frodo looked from one to the other. Pippin was sniffling, obviously holding back tears. Merry was simply furious. “Bilbo,” Frodo said quietly, “would you please show Pippin the book you were reading me earlier? It was very … absorbing.”

“I’ll just ask for some tea,” Sam offered, more than happy to retreat. Frodo grimaced at him and Sam smiled commiseratingly, but pulled the door firmly shut behind him.

“Frodo—” Pippin begged, but his cousin was adamant.

“Go on, lad. I need to talk to Merry for a moment.”

Merry glared while Pippin slid carefully off Frodo’s bed, careful to keep as far away from his irate cousin as he could. Bilbo placed a hand on his arm and led him to the far side of the room, talking to him softly.

“Merry,” Frodo said quietly. “Have you thought about how we appear to these great folk?”

“What do you mean?” Merry left off glowering at Pippin’s back to glance at Frodo, startled.

“Elves haven’t had young ones around for a very long time, Merry. Think about that for a moment.” Merry stared at him blankly. “Thousands of years without hearing a child laugh. Without seeing a child’s face light up.”

Some of the anger left Merry’s face, replaced by a pensive expression.  “Aragorn grew up here, didn’t he?”

Frodo swallowed a smile. “Somehow I do not see Aragorn as a boisterous, light-hearted child. That he was a roguish child, I have no doubt. But carefree and … childish? No. Pippin is the closest they have had to a child for a long, long time.”

“But he is taking advantage of them!”

“Who is being hurt, Merry? The Elves are happy to have a child to spoil, and Pippin is happy to be spoiled. Let them.”

“But it’s undignified. He lets them pick him up and carry him about, as if he really were a ‘little one’ like they call us!” Merry paused, his face red with indignation. “Pippin isn’t a child, but he is deliberately acting like one!”

“He isn’t an adult either, Merry. I do not blame the Elves for falling in love with him. Pip has a brightness of spirit that lights the world around him. The Elves sense that.” Seeing that Merry was thinking now, Frodo pressed, “Pippin is a child to them. All of us are. Pippin’s just a little more forthright about it.”

Frodo stared over Merry’s shoulder. Pippin was leaning into Bilbo now, hiding his face in his hands. Bilbo looked at them helplessly, patting the tweenager’s back.

Merry frowned, contrition crossing his face. Regret. Crinkling his nose, Merry rolled his eyes in a self-depreciating gesture. “He’s had a hard time of it, these last few weeks. Poor lad. I shouldn’t have jumped down his throat like that for a little innocent coquetry.”

“No, you shouldn’t have,” Frodo agreed. “You can make it up to him later. Now, send him to me, please.”

Merry pressed Frodo’s hand and slid it under the coverlet. Hesitantly, he crossed to Bilbo. “Frodo says I should look at that fascinating book, Cousin,” he said softly to Bilbo. “Will you show it to me?”

Bilbo smiled at his young cousin over Pippin’s head, and released the tweenager with a final pat. “We’ll just be outside, Frodo. Call if you need anything. You’re not to try getting up, hear me?”

“Yes, sir,” Frodo replied resignedly.

“Peregrin my boy,” Bilbo continued, “I want you to take care of Frodo while I’m showing Merry this book.” Pippin nodded, not meeting anyone’s eyes.

“Pip,” Merry began, reaching toward him, but Pippin ignored him. “Pip … we’ll talk later, all right?”

As soon as the door had closed upon them, Pippin was back by his cousin’s bed, quivering as he fought back gulps. “Let it go, lad,” Frodo murmured to him. “Let it out.”

Pippin shook his head, then suddenly a great shudder racked his form. Choking and gasping, his wails muffled against Frodo’s chest, Pippin clung to his elder cousin and cried. Frodo grimaced when Pippin’s movements hurt him but he said nothing, merely holding the tweenager close.

Frodo waited until Pippin calmed, reflecting that it was very difficult to rub someone’s back when that person was sagging against him and he had a useless arm. At last the storm of weeping subsided, diminishing into hiccups and little rifts of coughs.

“All right, lad,” Frodo said at length, “care to tell me about it?”

Pippin was silent for long moments.. Then in a mumble that Frodo could barely hear, he said, “I thought you were going to die.”

Frodo tensed, then forced himself to relax when he felt a tremor run through the shivering form in his arms. “But I didn’t.”

“But I thought you were going to,” Pippin whispered. “You were so sick, and nothing I could do would help. Then at the Ford…” Frodo felt Pippin’s heart speed up, fluttering like bird wings against his chest.

“Shush,” he whispered. “It’s over, Pippin. Don’t think about it.”

“They chased you into the river,” Pippin murmured, his voice barely audible. “Then you fell off the horse. I couldn’t see you at all. Then we…” Pippin’s voice hitched and Frodo began rubbing the quivering back again. “We found you on the bank. You were so still…”

The thumping against Frodo’s chest increased, and Frodo murmured, “Shush, lad, shush…”

“Then Aragorn sent you away with Glorfindel. He wouldn’t let me go, too. I wanted to … wanted to be with you.”

“I didn’t know that,” Frodo murmured into Pippin’s hair. “Thank you.”

Pippin burrowed more firmly against his cousin’s chest and tucked his head under Frodo’s chin. “And when we first arrived here, they let Sam in to see you but they wouldn’t let in me or Merry. Not until later. Lord Elrond said it was important that you hear our voices, but we weren’t to upset you.”

“I’m sorry, Pippin,” Frodo whispered softly.

“It wasn’t your fault,” Pippin replied with a shaky laugh. Frodo nodded, content to let Pippin regain his composure before he spoke again.

“And what does all this have to do with the Elves?”

“Everything is so big here. I can’t even sit in the dining hall without cushions to lift me to the table. I don’t mind Strider—he can’t help being so tall. But everyoneandeverythingis bigger than me.”

“And people have been treating you like a little one, so you have been letting them?” There was no censure in Frodo’s voice, and slowly, Pippin began to relax.

“They gave us Elladan and Elrohir’s furniture, that the twins used when they were elflings. It fit us better. Then people just started giving me treats and little presents…” Pippin raised his face at last, distressed. “The head cook gave me a basket of boiled sweets. The whole kitchen staff helped make them.” Pippin raised his head, anxious that his cousin understand that he had not asked for the gifts. Frodo stroked his face comfortingly.

Pippin sighed, feeling more secure than he had for a long time. “It felt so nice to be taken care of, Frodo. It seemed to make people happy to give me little things. I didn’t think it was wrong.”

“Not wrong, Pippin, not wrong at all. I think you make the Elves very happy. Merry just didn’t understand, that’s all.” Frodo smiled as Pippin’s hair tickled his nose. “Brandybucks have such prickly pride, don’t they? It is a good thing he has you to remind him to unbend a bit.”

Pippin laughed, a quavery little chuckle, and knuckled his eyes. “I am not in trouble, then?”

“No, you’re not,” Frodo told him firmly. Pippin sat for a while, quiet, worn out by terrors faced and conquered.

“Thank you, Cousin,” he whispered. He reached into a pocket and pressed a handful of sticky sweets into Frodo’s hand.

“You’re welcome, Cousin,” Frodo whispered back, reaching past Pippin to drop the sweets onto the side table. He kissed the tweenager’s brow tenderly. “Send Sam back in, would you? I should like a cup of tea.”

Pippin climbed off the bed and Frodo smiled up at him, more weary than he cared for Pippin to see. He closed his eyes for a moment as the lad turned away. When he opened them again, his cousins were absent and his friend and his uncle were hovering anxiously over him.

“I’m all right,” Frodo said before either Sam or Bilbo could speak. “Is everything settled?”

Bilbo nodded and re-seated himself in the chair by Frodo’s bed, helping himself to one of the brilliantly-coloured sweets, popping it into his mouth. “Meriadoc is – oh, those are good - a smart lad, once you point out a few things to him. Poor souls, both of them. This has been terribly hard on them.” The old hobbit reached over to pat Frodo’s hand. “On all of us, my boy.”

“I’m surprised at Pippin, though,” Frodo mused. “It’s not like him to bottle things up inside himself so.” 

Sam shook his head. “Meaning no disrespect, sir, you didn’t see the young master while you were so sick. When we found you on the riverbank…” Sam swallowed suddenly, the terror of that memory not yet settled within himself. “Master Pippin attacked Strider when he wouldn’t let the lad go with you, sir,” Sam said quietly. “We were all mighty upset, but Pip… Walking near the edge, Master Pippin was.”

Bilbo nodded, agreeing. “I’m not surprised he has had this little outburst. I should have known all that weeping and clinging wasn’t like the lad. He hardly let Merry or any of us out of his sight. Never knew a Took who could stay that quiet for long. All that grief and terror and relief had to have some outlet.”

Frodo settled back against the pillows, tired, the ache in his shoulder forgotten in the excitement but seeming to redouble now. “I didn’t know… He and Merry seemed all right when I woke up, that first day. I didn’t know how it was for them … and Sam.”

Sam smiled then, tight-lipped, fears he had buried deep flickering in his eyes. His master was mending, he repeated to himself. Mending, and would be fine. But tears sparkled in his brown eyes and Sam turned away quickly, fumbling with the tray of tea and biscuits with which he had returned.

“I didn’t know,” Frodo repeated softly. “Bilbo?”

The old hobbit looked at him, truth and the wish to spare Frodo pain wavering in his gaze. “It was a close thing, Frodo-lad. We thought we’d lost you, more than once.” Bilbo paused. “If we had lost you … I don’t know how any of us would have borne it.”

Frodo closed his eyes, the pain-lines returning and starting to deepen. Exchanging a quick glance with Bilbo, Sam said, “Aragorn gave me that sleep-tea, Mr. Frodo. I think you should take it.”

Frodo shook his head, grimacing. “I don’t like that tea, Sam. Just the regular sort will do for me.”

Sam nodded and turned his back to Frodo to pour the tea. “Here, Mr. Frodo,” he said, handing him the cup and steadying his hand as Frodo accepted it. “Best you sit up. Let me straighten these pillows for you.” Then he started to fluff the pillows at Frodo’s back, forcing his master to lean forward and shelter his tea with his other hand to avoid having it spilled.

“Sam!” Frodo protested. “My tea!”

“Best drink it quick then,” Sam replied, not ceasing in his energetic fluffing.

Frodo drained the cup in a gulp. Then he blinked. And yawned. Sam caught the cup before it could fall from Frodo’s fingers as his master collapsed back against the pillows, face going slack, asleep in another breath.

“Fast-acting, that sleep-tea,” Sam said admiringly, replacing the cup on the tea tray.

“Good thing, too,” Bilbo replied, “or Frodo might have noticed your distraction. Might I have a cup of tea, Samwise? The other kind, of course.”

Bilbo peered critically at Frodo’s abandoned cup as Sam handed him one of his own. “Think you could slip those two young hobbits a cup of this?”

“Don’t know as Lord Elrond would approve of that, sir,” Sam said cautiously.

Bilbo snorted. “Give him a couple of weeks, Sam. He’ll be suggesting it himself by then.”

* TBC *

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