The night is always colder when Aragorn takes the middle watch, for he is the one who sleeps next to me on one side. The other is Sam.
We have gone through the watches three times now, which means we have been on the road for nine days. Already we are dividing into favored groups. Merry and Pippin stay close to Boromir; they seem to have developed a liking for him. I have not. I stay as near Aragorn as possible and Sam stays near me.
Legolas and Gimli are trying to both stay close to Gandalf and avoid each other at the same time. It is not working. Already in spite of themselves they are beginning to be friendly to each other, even working together for the good of the fellowship. It is amusing and pleasant at the same time, to see that.
I am on the first watch tonight, then I will awaken Aragorn, attempt to go to sleep, but fail because I am so cold. When Aragorn wakes Sam for the last watch (it was none of anyone's doing, he volunteered for that watch, and has yet to complain of it), I will snuggle as close to Aragorn as he will allow and try to get some sleep before dawn comes.
Aragorn knows a lot more about hobbits than one would ever suspect a Man of being able to. Apparently, he has watched the borders of the Shire for years, guarding it with his Ranger-band at Gandalf's request, and so has watched me grow up and knows me far better than I know him.
It can be quite uncanny. He will, randomly, bring up an episode from my past that I thought no one knew but I, or that I had almost forgotten, and will apply it to my present circumstances with devastating cunning.
"I know you can climb this stretch, Frodo," he will say, when I am about to give up. "I saw you scale a waterfall just as high as this when you were in your tweens."
And I'll remember the incident, and smile, and keep climbing.
So here I am, dreading the moment when my watch ends, and I have to wake him up, and try to sleep and fail. Perhaps I will ask if I can stay and watch with him.
"Aragorn," I whisper and touch his shoulder as the moon reaches the zenith of the sky. He slides into wakefulness immediately, not moving, merely tensing under my touch, then relaxing as he realizes it is only me.
"It's your watch," I say.
"Have you seen anything unusual, Frodo?" He looks up at me from where he sits on the ground.
"Nothing," I say.
"Try to sleep tonight, Frodo," he says. "I notice that you have not been sleeping while I am watching."
"I am cold," I say, and it is the truth.
"An unfortunate side effect of being small in any case, and too thin for a hobbit in yours," he smiles. "But there is no reason you cannot stay with me while I watch."
"May I?" I say. He nods, and gathers my blankets, carrying them to the small uprising we have watched from tonight.
"Come here," he says. The moon is only half, and it is dark, so I can hardly see him, but I follow him. He lays the blankets down on the ground and sits cross-legged on top of them.
When I am standing next to the blankets, he simply reaches out a hand, takes mine, and pulls me down into his lap. Like a child, I think, and am both comforted and repulsed by the thought. I am no child.
"Rest, Frodo," he says. "You are weary, and you most of all need to sleep, for you were wounded. Rest."
And I lay back in his arms, resting my head against his shoulder. I close my eyes, and breathe in the scent of him, of his hair that smells of smoke and salt. He is warm against me, and breathes deep and slow. I feel utterly content in that moment as he holds me.
The night is silent. Nothing moves or speaks in these lands except us. "Aragorn," I sigh into his shoulder, feeling the emotions I had voiced to Gandalf, that Aragorn was "very dear to me." I loved him, in so many ways that even I could not count them all.
Far more than that, I trusted him. I trusted him to keep me warm, I trusted him to show me the way to Mount Doom, I trusted him to be by my side.
His arms tighten around me, but he says nothing, deep in contemplation of the night.
"You are not yet asleep," he says after several more minutes.
"No," I answer. "But I am resting, far better than the nights before. At least here I am warm."
"Good," he says. He continues to hold on. I continue to rest, breathing in his strength.
What seems like several moments of bliss later, Aragorn awakes me.
"My watch is over," he says. "I must wake Sam. Then we can both try to sleep until the dawning."
"Yes," I say, and move out of his arms. He removes the blankets to their customary position, and awakens Sam, who does not look eager to watch the rest of the night, but does not say a word of protest.
"You should be sleeping, Mr. Frodo," he says.
"I'm cold," I say. "We do not get a fire, so I must rely on Strider for warmth."
Sam smiles at me and continues to the outcropping, moving wearily.
Aragorn gets into the blankets and beckons to me. I move in next to him, and he puts his arms around my waist, carefully.
"Frodo," he whispers in my ear. "Little do you know how closely our fates are bound together. True, it begins with the Ring, but I believe I would have loved you dearly if there had never been a Ring to place you in my way."
I can feel my heart suddenly pounding fast. Tiny thrills rush through my body where he is touching me now. It all happened so fast, moving from friendship to an undefined something more.
I welcome it. I do not draw away. I find an answer in my heart for him.
"Aragorn," I say, "I know I would have loved you, were you the brigand of the wilds that you seemed, or the King of Gondor as your destiny is. Our fates are bound together, that I know well."
He draws me closer, and seems about to speak, but does not. Instead he simply kisses me.
He kisses me on the mouth, and time stands still. I return the kiss, hesitant, quiet.
"Sleep, Frodo," he whispers, gentle. "Sleep."
I cannot help but obey him.