Combe Year Six:
The Night with Estel
by Laura Mason
"Halbarad!" Estel strode into their camp and his friend rushed to help him as he moved to set Frodo down. "Can you go to Combe tonight?"
Estel quickly informed the other Ranger about Frodo's misadventure with the children, and arranged for his friend to let Doc know why Frodo would be delayed. "Stay there tonight, if Doc will have you," he finished with a smile. "We'll meet you there tomorrow."
"As you wish, Estel. It is good to see you again, Frodo, and I am very glad you weren't injured," Halbarad said as he efficiently gathered his belongings.
"Please tell Doc I'm sorry if I've worried him."
Halbarad smiled. "Don't worry. I will explain it all, and keep him good company."
Frodo returned the smile and watched him stride confidently away, then turned to inspect Estel's camp. He was still fascinated by the Rangers, and quite excited at seeing how they lived.
The camp was simple yet comfortable. Estel's pack was under a shelter they'd constructed out of a tightly-stretched piece of cloth and two branches. Frodo thought of it as a sleeping shelter until he realized that he might fit under it, but it would only protect Estel and Halbarad's upper bodies. There was a fire circle enclosed by large rocks, which Estel was filling with kindling. Frodo could hear running water nearby.
"I'll have a fire going soon, and I'll heat water for you to wash with," the Ranger said. "I don't need to ask if you're hungry."
"Thank you," Frodo replied, pulling Estel's cloak closer around him. It was warm, and it smelled like the man, which was very comforting. But Frodo was aware that he'd soaked it with mud and dirty water, and as he watched Estel work he wondered if his friend had another cloak, or any warmer clothes. He didn't want Estel to become sick again, as he'd been so many years ago, from being out in the cold wet weather without proper clothing. "I can go wash your cloak off in the river, and we can hang it to dry near the fire," he offered, standing up as he spoke.
"My cloak?" Estel turned, looking confused and then almost angry. "Frodo, whatever are you doing? Keep that wrapped around you, it's only getting colder and you're still wet." He moved away from the fire to pull the fabric close around Frodo's neck, then picked up the hobbit and set him beside the small blaze.
"But you'll need this... And it's dirty now..." He trailed off when Estel crouched beside him with a smile.
"Frodo, I have wandered the Wild for many years. A little mud on my cloak will easily be brushed off once it dries." His smile faded and he rose, then walked to a nearby tree to pull down a bag hanging from a high branch. "I know hobbits are very proper, but out here we don't take daily baths." He removed meat and root vegetables from the bag, filling a tin plate.
But Frodo ignored the food to watch the play of Estel's muscles as he re-tied the bag out of reach of any creatures who might share their camp tonight. He was so tall, lean and powerful. Frodo closed his eyes for a moment, remembering the feel of those arms holding him close as they walked.
He wanted to feel them again.
Frodo's clothes, rinsed in the stream and wrung out, were drying on tree branches near the fire. He washed himself while Estel prepared their food, careful to stay out of the spill of light from the fire. Frodo knew his pale body didn't compare to Estel's beauty, and he couldn't bear the thought of the man seeing how small and thin he remained. Actually, he hoped Estel didn't clearly remember their first meeting, which had been the only other time he was naked in front of the man.
He remembered details of that night and the embarrassing morning after. He could picture Estel's broad chest and the dark curls that clustered on his breast. If he'd known then... But perhaps it was best that he hadn't seen more. Would never see more. Estel was pledged to another, and Frodo knew his Ranger would never break his word, not by thought or deed.
When he was cleaner and well-wrapped in a heavy woolen shirt of Estel's, he rejoined the man at the fire. The food was surprisingly good, and there was much more of it than Frodo had come to expect from man-cooking. He dug in appreciatively, and shared Estel's wineskin with him just as they shared his one plate. Occasionally their hands would brush as they both picked up morsels of the meat. Frodo hoped his blushes didn't show in the darkness.
When the plate was near empty, Frodo took a long drink. Much to his embarrassment, a loud belch followed.
"I knew being a hero would give you a hearty, hobbity appetite," Estel said, his voice full of laughter.
"Oh, I..." Frodo didn't know whether to laugh or apologize, but then he realized what the man had just said. "A hero? Me?"
"Frodo, you saved that boy's life tonight."
"No, the others would have helped him. I just calmed him down a little."
"Frodo, you swam out to him and brought him back. I don't know if any of those farmers know how to swim at all, but I do know that not many people would be skilled enough to carry another to safety as you did. You are a hero."
Frodo looked up into the kind, clear eyes and felt his heart become even more entwined with Estel's.
"You are too kind."
Estel didn't answer, just sat back and took another drink of wine. They stayed close together by the fire for a time, then Estel rose.
"You need to get some sleep, Frodo. We will be leaving early tomorrow to bring you back to Combe."
Frodo nodded and stood, a little wobbly from the wine. "Estel, I've soiled your cloak and you only have one blanket."
"It is not very cold tonight."
"But..." Frodo wanted to cry. "I cannot take your only blanket from you." The firelight must have shown the misery on his face, for Estel came closer to him and knelt down.
"Then we will share. Here, let's sleep together, close to the fire, for protection and warmth." He shook out the blanket and arranged it, then settled himself to one side. "Do you want to lie beside the fire, where the blanket opens, or be tucked in beside me?"
"Beside you, please," he answered, before realizing that perhaps he was being a little too honest. "If you don't mind."
"No, I'd like to know you're warm enough and that I haven't pulled the blanket off you. Here." He lifted an arm and Frodo lay beside him, his head resting on the man's chest. Estel pulled the blanket over them both.
Frodo was so happy he doubted he'd be able to sleep.
"Is she beautiful?" Frodo whispered in the darkness. The only reply was a warm mouth descending on his, stopping all questions. His mouth opened to the questing tongue, his arms reaching out and finding bare flesh. He moaned, exploring the solid strength as his clothes were swiftly pulled away.
His own pale smoothness, glowing under the flickering firelight, was recklessly mapped by calloused hands which gentled as they found sensitive spots to pinch and caress, making the hobbit writhe in pleasure.
"I want you, Frodo. I want to make you mine."
"Please," he replied, wide eyes reflecting the stars that witnessed their embrace. "Oh, please."
Another wrenching kiss intensified their frantic arousal, and the man moved over the slighter body. Every place their skin met shot sparks through them, combusting into full flame. Warmth. Pressure. Exquisite torment burned them both, finally exploding into breathless gasps of shattering pleasure.
"I love you, Frodo. I'll never leave you."
"But what about Arwen?"
Aragorn jerked awake.
"Who told you?" he asked in a soft whisper, still caught in his dream. But the exhausted hobbit in his arms only mumbled, still sound asleep.
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