"Children are the only form of immortality that we can be sure of."
Those were the words the old Gaffer had used as he and Bilbo watched the group of children, including Frodo's cousin Meriadoc and his own son Samwise, playing a game of Duck Duck Goose on the little grassy knoll just across the Lane in front of Bag End.
by Talisha Hibdon
RATING: G (future NC-17)
DISCLAIMER: he disclaimer telling you that I don't own Frodo or Sam or any of Tolkien's world was abducted by Orcs. >=D
SUMMARY: A drama in the works. Frodo decides to return to Middle-earth to try and find new meaning for his life without the hope of ever having Sam's love. But is there really no hope?
NOTES: This fic may take a LONG time to write. I've no clue how many chapters there will be, but this fic WILL be long. Have patience and you will be rewarded! ^_^ All feedback welcome, especially as this fic is still in the drafting stages.
SPOILERS: If you have not read the Return of the King, or at least know how LOTR is going to end, you probably shouldn't read this fic, that is unless you peeps like spoilers, like I do. ^.~
"Children are the only form of immortality that we can be sure of."
Those were the words the old Gaffer had used as he and Bilbo watched the group of children, including Frodo's cousin Meriadoc and his own son Samwise, playing a game of Duck Duck Goose on the little grassy knoll just across the Lane in front of Bag End. Frodo himself was sitting in a chair that stood amidst the rose bushes, reading one of his favourite fantasy novels that Bilbo had written just for him, when he heard two older hobbits speaking to each other over pipes of Southern Star. He looked up from his book to see Bilbo nodding sagely at the Gaffer's comment, his eyes twinkling with amusement as he watched the children play their game.
"Aye, that's very true," Bilbo agreed. "Everything you do in this lifetime will in some way or another be reflected in your children; how they act, how they talk, what things they like to do, what things they know - all of it comes from the teachings of the parent and the other elders around them." Frodo glanced over to watch as Sam was tapped on the head by Merry and he leapt to his feet to start chasing him around the circle of giggling hobbit lads and lasses. "That's one of the key reasons why we must be wary of what we do or say around the little ones because someday they'll be repeating those acts with their own children."
"Now Mr. Bilbo," the Gaffer started after taking a long draw from his pipe, "that brings me to somethin' I've a been a wonderin' about for some time. Now ye don't need to be answerin' if ye don't be havin' a mind to tell me-"
"No worries, Hamfast, my dear hobbit!" Bilbo chuckled, patting his friend on the back. "I have nothing to hide. Ask away!"
"Well now," the bulbous hobbit took a careful breath and eyed Frodo's uncle, "if I may be so bold as to ask, I was a wonderin' why ye never chose to marry anyone yerself. I see how well ye get on with the children all the time, and I find it a shame ye don't have any of yer own. Don't ye ever regret never gettin' settled and startin' a family?"
Frodo closed his book and watched as his uncle closed his eyes, a thoughtful, wistful expression passed over his uncommonly youthful features. In truth, Frodo himself had always wondered why Bilbo had never married. He was a fairly good looking hobbit, financially well off, and very interesting. Well, perhaps too interesting in the opinions of the citizens whose worlds only extended so far as the borders of Hobbiton. But even so, Bilbo should have had no trouble being able to find a lass who could overlook his oddities and see the good person that he was inside and love him for it.
"Yes.. I do regret at times not having some little ones of my own," Bilbo said at last. "But I find as I grow older that one does not need to have children in order to pass on a bit of yourself into the generation. I love teaching children, especially yours, Hamfast my friend. You have yourself a fine group of lads and lasses, and I find that it can be just as satisfying engaging with them as it would if I had had children of my own. As long as I can get them to learn and prevent them from making the same mistakes I have made, I feel that the regret of being childless is lessened."
"But what about companionship?" the Gaffer prompted.
Bilbo's face went strangely shuttered at that and it took some minutes before he carefully responded. "As for that... I am never lonely these days, dear Hamfast, not since Frodo came to live with me. There may have been someone, once upon a time..." Bilbo laughed as if to conceal an old and familiar pain. "Perhapes it is just as well. Having a wife would demand too much of my attention, I'm afraid, and I do so want to finish my Book before I pass on. Don't worry about me longing the company of a wife and children, my friend. I have my lad Frodo to help me with that. I could not ask for a better son than him."
Frodo closed his eyes against the unexpected tears of joy that suddenly clouded his vision. Bilbo Baggins was the only person he had left to look up to after his parents had drowned when he was twelve. The former burglar was so wise in the ways of the world and had taught him so many things that he never would have learned otherwise, that he always felt grateful for whatever he had to teach him. He had even begun to secretly view the old Hobbit as a father to him, and his heart soared at the knowledge that the feeling was mutual.
Old Bilbo Baggins, revered by some, scorned by others, was in fact the most influential figure in Frodo's life. He had no children of his own, but through his stories, his songs, and his teachings, he had passed on a precious piece of himself to the young future Ringbearer, along with many others. Children still fell into excited silence whenever the elders told the tale of his mad journeys into the Blue. Folk who had known him still sang his songs and taught it to their loved ones. And his teachings lived on strongly in the hearts of Bilbo's closest friends and family, such as his cousins, Hamfast's children, and especially Frodo Baggins himself. He would not have been the same hobbit without Bilbo Baggins.
Because of Bilbo Baggins, many lives had turned out for the better. And Frodo could only dream that he could leave a similar legacy behind him when he too passed on.
So then, what are you going to do to make that happen, my lad?
Frodo blinked awake with the sun filtering into the room through his bedroom window, the traces if Bilbo's voice still drifting within the haze of his subconscious. A grey furry tail tickled his nose and he sneezed, realizing that Para had chosen to sleep curled around his head again. He chuckled and sat up, causing the drowsy cat to meow in protest at being disturbed.
The dream still floated in the recesses of his mind and he closed his eyes, picturing his uncle's face as he had spoken to the Gaffer about his love for children. How he missed the old hobbit so. And what was that last thing he had heard Bilbo's voice say? Was it a message? It certainly wasn't a memory like the rest of the dream had been...
The Hobbit climbed out of bed and dressed, thinking about all the things he intended to accomplish that day. He intended on visiting his land lady later that day to speak with her about his plans for the old schoolhouse. He had no intention of trying to tear it down as so many others had intended. No, he wished to rebuild it. He smiled at the thought.
A real schoolhouse. A place where he could teach everything he had learned from Bilbo and Gandalf. He had not realized it until he had looked upon the old building from the inside, but teaching to children turned out to be an abandoned dream for him that had long been forgotten after all events concerning the Ring. Like Bilbo, he too loved children, and being able to pass along something to the children of this generation would be a dream come true for him as he had no children of his own to teach such things.
Not that he regretted his choice to remain unmarried for a single instant. He could never have brought himself to marry someone he did not love only for the sake of bringing children into the world. No, a child should only be born out of a union of love, not of obligation.
After making himself presentable for the day ahead of him, he walked down the halls, pausing only a moment to look at the door that lead into the old building, and made his way into the kitchen to prepare breakfast, detouring only a moment to let the cat out of the home.
As he pulled on an old apron and washed some tomatoes for cooking, his mind ran over his plans. He was to go into the market to buy groceries and some gardening tools, then meet Mrs. Burrows for elevensies and to discuss his ideas for the schoolhouse with her. As she was still the land lady, he would need to present his idea to her before anyone else. Then later he would try to clear out all the weeds in his front yard and simply work until hunger or exhaustion took him.
Frodo blinked. He could have sworn he heard a twig snap just outside. After paying closer attention, he was certain he heard something moving in the grass in front of his smial. Wondering what it could have been, he moved to the kitchen window and looked out.
What he saw nearly made him fall over in shock.
Stooped in the midst of the tall weeds that grew along the path leading up to the front door was Samwise Gamgee, sleeves rolled up and hands working to pull out the weeds cluttering the walk way. Frodo stood frozen as he watched the gardener work, drinking in the sight of his golden head bent over his labour, his broad shoulders and strong arms flexing with every movement. The image brought him back to the days long ago when Sam would do this everyday for his garden in Bag End, and the memory caused his eyes to mist over.
The knife he had been holding to chop the tomatoes slipped out of his hand and clattered onto the kitchen counter. Samwise jerked his head up, probably having heard and shaken by a noise from inside, then slowly turned about to meet his gaze, seemingly knowing who he would see but not quite ready to see him yet.
Frodo was the first to break the stare and he sighed, letting his eyes drift halfway close in gesture of resignation. Well, he thought, I suppose there is no more use in delaying the inevitable...
Immediately Sam stood up straight, brushing his hands off and clapping the dust off his knees, turning his eyes away quick and bustling to brush off pieces of the weeds he had been pulling. The blond felt his cheeks growing uncomfortably warm from his blush as he adjusted his jacket to make himself look presentable, as if he were on a first date or something like it.
A nervous wreck of a hobbit Sam was, and Frodo might have laughed if he had not felt the occasion was such a serious one. He dried his wet hands on a towel and took off his cleaning apron before moving to the front door and opening it slowly. Sam's face broke into a huge, sunny smile that Frodo could hardly bear to look at. The blonde's mouth opened and nothing came out, but Frodo didn't need his words just yet as his old friend fairly beamed with delight and gratefulness at seeing him after so many years.
It seemed that within the short space of time when neither spoke, words held no meaning. There was only themselves, two souls driven apart by circumstance suddenly brought back together after years of suffering each other's absence. At length, however, Sam finally managed to force his words out, stammering all the while in his eagerness.
"H... Hullo! Mr. Frodo! I can't b-believe..."
Frodo could say nothing for a moment. Samwise looked good. Evidently his time as Mayor had showed him some generous times and luxuries he had not known for many a year. Also it was apparent that Rose was an excellent cook. Even as Sam remained ever humble and never dressed in bright or ostentatious clothes, Frodo could tell by the cut of his collar and the gold on his buttons that Samwise had been well treated by all.
Sam gazed at Frodo with care and some awe. How had he spent the last fifteen years? Did he feel well? Why had he decided to come back? All these questions and more flashed through the gardener's mind as he searched his master's eyes, the windows to his soul that had never lied to him before, for some of the answers. In his hesitation, however, Sam did not take a step forward and simply stood there awkwardly like a lovestruck tweenager. Oh glory be, he thought as he felt his heart flip within his chest. He seems to have grown even more fair than I remember from my dreams.
Frodo took a deep breath. "Hello Sam," he spoke at last. "You are looking well." More than well! he thought though no evidence of his true mind was to be seen on his face. He prayed that he could keep up a casual countenance while in the gardener's presence without it breaking like a porcelain mask.
Sam's face coloured a bit, and he glanced down at the threshold. "Um, yes. And so are you Mr. Frodo..." he hurriedly added, unsure of exactly what else to say. What does one say to someone you haven't seen for fifteen years?? What a fool he was being! He had all night to think about what he wanted to say to Mr. Frodo when he saw him at last, and now he couldn't think of a single meaningful thing.
"Thank you," Frodo replied, casting his eyes to the ground as he absent-mindedly ran his four fingered hand down his dark green weskit with black velvet leaf designs, straightening himself even as there was no need for it. He looked just as clean cut and dignified as he always had. The passing of years held hardly any change in his appearance, except maybe for the start or one or two wrinkles round his eyes, and he looked slightly thinner than he had when he left Bag End for Valinor all those years ago. Still fair. Still mysterious.
And still withdrawn.
The older hobbit seemed hesitant, and the air was heavy with stress. Sam couldn't read him, no matter how hard he tried or how carefully he looked. Frodo seemed to avert his eyes just as he was about to gaze into them.
Say something, break this mood...
"Mr. Frodo! I noticed - well, I was working a little on your garden here. Nice patch ... needs a little work though o'course! But you just moved in. Now, say, right here, you've got a rose just comin' up, with a little clearin' this whole wall will be covered by next year." Sam stuck his hands in his pockets and regarded the sunny wall with appreciation. The conversation made Sam incredibly nostalgic for the old days, the way they used to talk about daily events, before the Ring business.
He looked past Frodo's shoulder, curious about the inside of his new residence as well as the outside. This place is humble, he thought. Small. Too small for him. He belongs in a big beautiful smial like...
Like Bag End, surely...
Sam felt a stab of guilt, knowing what it looked like now, with all his children. Bilbo had given the wonderful hole to Mr. Frodo, and even after all these years living in it, the gardener still didn't quite feel right about living there when Frodo was not. His heart pounded, and he couldn't stop it any more than he could stop shifting his weight from one foot to the other
"A rose? Do I now?" Frodo asked, seemingly more at ease now with the neutral choice in topic. He glanced briefly past Sam at the area where he had been working and saw a single rose peeking out of the weeds that he had not noticed before.
"Yes, you do. This one here," He put his broad palm behind the dark red rose with an open yellow centre, so he could see it more clearly, "see, it's a volunteer. Nobody planted it but it's here all the same. Now you see, I've already pulled this vine up. I was hopin' to help, hoped you wouldn't mind any..." It was a single stem surrounded by vigorous wild vines, that had somehow found its way into the sunlight nonetheless.
"It needs a chance to bloom just like any other, to see the sun again..." Sam muttered thoughtfully as he cradled the rose in his worn fingers. He hoped to draw Frodo out of his doorway a bit to see it properly. But Frodo did not seem to want to move from his place at the threshold. He stood just inside, holding his door open with one hand, and the sunlight failed to touch him as he hovered in the shadow cast from the doorway.
He looks like he needs a little sun too. He's always so pale and wan, Sam thought as he looked up again at Frodo, concern flitting across his sunkissed features. And so thin... He needs somethin' hot from the pot, seemingly! Didn't the Elves feed him?
"That's all right. I was planning on doing some weeding today myself," Frodo murmured almost to himself before turning his gaze once more to his old friend's face, still refusing to meet his eyes. "I was just about to start breakfast." At this he managed to conjure up a pleasant smile. "Would you care to join me?"
Sam immediately brightened at the prospect of sharing a meal with his master. "Ah breakfast! Yes, yes, a bite of whatever you have would be just fine!" he exclaimed, releasing the rose blossom with a nervous chuckle. "I'm sorry I got a little carried away with your garden here. I hoped you wouldn't mind, really. I just walked up, and I - I couldn't help it. Old habits die hard I reckon." Sam tried to compose himself, realizing he was babbling incessantly.
Frodo's smile remained unchanging as he stepped further back and to the side to hold the door open for his unexpected guest. "It is all right. I can understand, but you needn't worry. The gardening will be taken care of. Please, do come in."
"Thank ye, Mr. Frodo," Sam smiled, stepping inside onto the cool floor.
"Ah, Rosie lass, I've always believed that there were nothing better in all the Shire than to be enjoying one of your breakfasts," Robin Smallburrow grinned as he buttered a piece of toast, eyeing her form as she settled down heavily in her chair.
Rose blushed and smiled shyly. "Oh, why that's very kind of you to say, Robin."
"Where's Daddy??" Goldilocks asked with wide eyes as she glared at Robin, who was currently sitting in her father's chair.
"He went out early this morning on some business," Elanor answered as she helped to spoon feed Primrose.
"Daada!" little Hamfast piped up loudly, clapping his chubby little hands, making it that much harder to actually successfully get food into his mouth. He had already made a handsome mess on his bib.
"He went to see Mr. Baggins," Frodo-lad inserted in between huge bites of pancake.
"Frodo!" Elanor gasped. Rose seemed to be now pointedly ignoring everyone and focusing all her attention on little Daisy in her high chair.
"Weh he bib!" Frodo managed to say with a half full mouth.
"Yes, but that's none of your business," Elanor chided, brushing a golden strand of hair away from her pretty eyes.
"Go, Fro, go! Go, Fro, go!" Merry-lad began to chant as he watched his older brother shoveling his breakfast into his mouth as fast as he could manage.
"Frodo-lad," Rose frowned in concern, "slow down, me dear. You'll end up choking if you continue eating that way."
"I gotta hurry," Frodo-lad gasped after chugging down half of his glass of milk. "I wanna go to Overhill and visit Mr. Baggins too."
Elanor put down her fork and looked at her mother's reaction carefully. Rose closed her eyes and sighed, dismay flitting across her features. Robin decided it would be the polite thing to do to just not get involved. Frodo-lad seemed oblivious to it all and simply continued eating as if he hadn't eaten in a month of Mondays.
"I wanna go too," Pippin-lad exclaimed as he continued to jam his fork into his pancakes.
"You can't," Frodo-lad and Elanor said simultaneously, but for different reasons.
Pippin pouted. "Why not?"
"Because he's MY rescuer," the eldest boy stated in a matter-of-fact tone, "and I get to visit him first."
"Is that supposed to be some sort of reward for being the stupid one?" Rose-lass asked with an annoyed look, eliciting giggles from Merry and Pippin. Frodo shrugged, not put off in the least by their teasing, and shoved another load of pancake between his lips. He did stop his rigorous chewing, however, when he felt his older sister's hand gently fall upon his shoulder.
"Don't go, Frodo," Elanor whispered seriously. "I really don't think you should."
"Why not?" the blond haired boy turned to give an odd look to the beautiful girl sitting beside him.
"Because," Elanor glanced at her mother to see if they were being heard, "Dad probably just wants to see Mr. Baggins alone right now."
"But-" Frodo started to protest.
"Brother, those two haven't seen each other for fifteen years. That's longer than you've been alive," Elanor stared into his brilliant blue eyes with an almost pleading look. "Give them today to catch up, please. It means a lot to Father. Don't go bothering them, and you can see Mr. Baggins tomorrow."
Frodo frowned thoughtfully into his plate, his mouth still full and cheeks puffed out, but he had stopped chewing. "Oh fine," he murmured, sipping from his glass of milk a lot more slowly now to wash down his mouthful.
Elanor beamed at her younger brother and hugged him about his shoulders. "Thank you, Frodo dear."
Calm. Calm. Stay calm.
Samwise was now standing in the archway that led into the kitchen area, standing very close to Frodo, and it was all he could do to stop himself from throwing his arms around him. But he couldn't help thinking as he watched the Baggins move away to pull on his apron once more to continue with what he had been doing only moments before, trying to act as if this was all perfectly ordinary, that something about Frodo had changed, something he couldn't quite put his finger on. He sounded so ... cold, somehow.
"So what've you seen of the Shire now?" he commented while turning around to take in the details of the small cottage as Frodo worked behind him the kitchen. The walls were painfully bare of anything personal, and any furniture to be seen seemed to only be there out of necessity. "It's probably pretty humble compared to what you're used to," Sam murmured, secretly hoping to draw out some the details of Aman.
The older hobbit almost stopped in his tracks momentarily at the mention of the Undying Lands. "What I'm used to?" Frodo looked back at Samwise over his shoulder and regarded the younger hobbit with masked eyes. "Oh no, not at all, Sam. Wherever I have gone, I have always held the Shire in the highest regard. I wouldn't trade a single hill in it for a whole forest of mallorn trees."
Sam's head stopped moving and he stared at the back of Frodo's head. You'd think there'd be something more to say, he thought.
But Frodo did not seem to wish to speak any more of it as he picked up his knife and began chopping tomatoes once more. "Ah well you know me," Sam made his voice sound cheerful as he stepped into the kitchen area, "just curious as always! Specially about the Elves. You recall those days when we lads used to sit at Mr. Bilbo's feet just wide-eyed with all of it!" He waited for a moment, taking stock of the poorly appointed kitchen, hoping he would see some glimmer of the spirit he once knew ... loved...
Before the gardener realized it, he found himself following the former Ringbearer about the kitchen area and looking about him for something he could do. He saw a tea kettle, and reached over for it hoping to brew up some tea for the both of them.
Frodo's hand, however, instantly came up in front of him, blocking his way. "Please, sit and make yourself comfortable. Breakfast should be ready shortly." He then took the full kettle himself and placed it over the fire.
"... Okay," said Sam, retracting his hand which had become a little shaky and sitting himself reluctantly in the offered chair. He sat there for long moments, watching silently as Frodo pulled out several items from the pantry, eggs, mushrooms, seasoning, all the while keeping his blue eyes on anything except his guest. He felt the distance Frodo had thrust between them acutely and Sam stared at his lap as he felt his spirits fall.
Frodo knew that it must have seemed like such on odd sight with him moving about the kitchen at such a fast pace where before he had been somewhat unsure of how to handle things. It had always been so much easier to let Sam take care of such things. But Frodo knew now that he could no longer depend on Sam in that way. The other Hobbit had his own life to live now, and Frodo would just have to make do and try and live his own life as well.
"I dearly hope it wasn't a bad place for you to be for fifteen years," Sam commented at length.
Frodo chanced a glance over his shoulder and flashed him a reassuring smile. "It was a fine place, if you really want to know. The Elves were very gracious to me and I was very well treated by everyone I met. So don't let it concern you. That was then, and I'm back now." The kettle began to sing and Frodo put his knife down to handle it.
"Are ye sure there's nothin I can do to help out?" Sam sat heavily in the small wooden chair and tried to look cheerful. Why was this so hard! He was making it difficult, but why?
The former Ringbearer poured the hot water into a glass tea kettle that sat in the middle of the table and covered the lid to let the tea leaves steep. He looked up and noticed the awkward stance Sam was holding himself in and he offered an even brighter smile than his previous one. "Please relax, Sam. There's really nothing for you do to here. I can manage." He put the hot kettle back over the fire and hopped over to the counter to finish preparing the rest of their meal.
Nothing for me to do here...
Sam obeyed, thinking hard about what else to ask him, what he could possibly say, to draw him out and get him to start talking. As he did so he watched Frodo's hands work, his slight frame move about the kitchen. Admiring him, missing him so much that it hurt, even though he was right here.
Right here in front of me...
His arms ached for some reason. Yes, that was it; he wanted so badly to hold him for just a moment that it made his limbs feel an actual physical pain from the way he was keeping them from doing so. He realized he had been holding his breath and exhaled, silently willing his heart to stop beating so hard in his chest.
Soon Frodo had placed a large plate in front of Sam. He managed to cook up a fine omelet in a short amount of time, and he pushed a smaller plate with toast and jam to sit beside his tea cup. "Let me know if you'll be wanting anything else. Sam," Frodo spoke with his eyes fixed on the table as he put his own plate down across from his. He was just pouring Sam his tea when he heard him speak.
"Is it really you, Frodo..." he blurted, voice quavering with emotion. "Really.. you..."
Blue eyes rose to meet his and they seemed to hold him for an immeasurable instant. "Yes, Sam," Frodo returned, his voice silky as he uttered his name and causing poor Sam to shiver at the sound.
"I'm sorry, I'm just ... so glad to see you. You have no idea..." Sam looked as if he were about to burst into tears, but he smiled through it as he watched Frodo set the kettle down slowly before sitting down himself across the table, his eyes fluttering close as he did so. He spoke not another word as he place a napkin on his lap and lifted his utensils.
Not wanting to be a poor guest, Sam forced himself to take a bite of the omelet though he was in no mood for eating. When he did, a tender smile curled Frodo's lips, a wonderful change from the polite disconnected grin of moments before. It was enough to goad the other hobbit on into taking another bite. He chewed silently a few times without really tasting the food before then setting down his fork and taking a long drink, watching Frodo all the while.
"I.. am glad to see you as well, Sam.." the older hobbit sighed.
"Frodo..." Samwise uttered, and Frodo blinked at the loss of the tittle, "did you ... did you miss me?" he uttered, his voice low.
Frodo swallowed hard and brought his tea cup to his lips. Sam waited for him to finish what was in his mouth before he answered, watching the steam from it rise about his face as he sighed. "Sam..." he murmured softly to himself before raising his gaze to look at his face. "Of course I did, Sam. Of course." The hobbit averted his eyes once more to stare unseeing at his plate. "What a question... Of course I missed you. How could I not?"
Sam replied by setting down his tea cup with a clatter, rising from the table, and striding over to where Frodo sat to put his arms around his shoulders warmly. Frodo was absolutely stunned and froze in place as he acutely felt Sam bury his face in the top of his curly hair.
"Couldn't wait one more second for that hug..." Sam whispered apologetically, holding him a little closer, a little tighter as he did so.
Oh, Frodo should have expected it, of course - this was Sam Gamgee after all. But being so abruptly swept into such a caring hold was much more than Frodo thought he could handle. He knew that Sam had surely felt his body stiffen within his arms, but he refused to pull away just yet.
Ah Eru, but Frodo was so starved for it, this wonderful warmth, this heavenly affection, and he longed so much to simply give into his urges and accept his embrace. The elder hobbit shivered and raised his hands uncertainly to rest upon his friend's shoulders. The combination of Sam's scent drifting over and around him and the feel of the other male living and breathing against him was much more than he thought he could handle, and he gasped for lost air.
No, no! his mind reeled. We can't - not anymore. We simply can't..
"Please," Frodo whispered with a helpless plea in his voice, closing his eyes tightly and trying to will the lump in his throat to disappear and for his pounding heart to slow before he swooned.
At last Sam stood upright again and clasped his master's hands in his own. "It's all right, Mr. Frodo. I know. It's been a long time, for both of us..." He looked directly at him, and both knew that Samwise was through playing games. He was never the kind of hobbit to be anything but straight forward and truthful. "Just ... tell me what ails you, and I'll be there, no matter what it is... You know how I feel.. You must remember..."
Frodo seemed to stare blankly at his thin hands in the gardener's. His hands had not changed. They were still as strong as they were gentle, and to have them holding his once more was painfully wonderful to feel. Too wonderful. They couldn't go back to the way things were. Too much water had gone under the bridge for them. They were both two wholly different beings now. Didn't Samwise realize that?
Sam sensed his secret love's unease and backed off, still looking seriously at Frodo as he returned to his seat and his jellied toast. Frodo was both secretly relieved that Sam had relinquished his hand, and disappointed at the same time. The older hobbit silently watched as his old friend settled back into his place at the table, saying nothing in response to his promise.
Frodo's face still appeared masked, much to Sam's dismay. He quickly grasped for something to say, something fairly neutral, so as not to add any more tension to the already thick atmosphere. He smiled as he thought of something. "I have a whole lot of kiddies now, Mr. Frodo. Just like you said I would."
"I've noticed," Frodo replied nonchalantly, summoning up his polite grin once more.
"I'm proud of 'em all, specially Frodo-lad!" he winked broadly at the gentlehobbit and took an overly large bite of omelet, watching his master expectantly to see if his statement changed his expression whatsoever.
"I always knew you would be a wonderful father. From what I've seen of Frodo-lad," Frodo's grin was slowly warming with sincerity, "you seem to have done a brilliant job raising them. They are all fine lads and lasses, Sam, from the little that I saw of the others. You have every right to be proud."
Samwise sighed happily, pleased with his master's reaction. "Aye," Sam grinned. "I'm glad you think so."
Regret flashed suddenly in Frodo's eyes and he turned them back to his plate quickly, hoping that Sam had not noticed. Larks, it wasn't HIS fault that he had never had any children of his own, but seeing Frodo-lad looking so much like Sam at his age made his heart ache like nothing else could.
Luckily, Sam did not seemed to see this abrupt change in his mood and continued.
"And how about Elanor? You can't miss 'er. She's a real beauty!" The Mayor's appetite was returning and he finished his plate swiftly, wiping his mouth with a napkin and rubbing his tummy gratefully. "Did ye know she was made a maid of honor to Queen Arwen herself only this spring?"
"Really? Well, this does not surprise me," Frodo closed his eyes briefly as he recalled the lass he had accidentally met on the day he returned to Hobbiton, golden hair flowing lightly on the summer breeze, her eyes just like her father's. "She is lovely. One could easily mistake her for an elf maiden." Frodo smiled warmly and said the next thought that came to his mind without realizing what it might sound like to the gardener. "She takes after you in that sense."
Sam blushed brightly and looked down at his lap. Oh heavens! Did he just say what I think he said? he thought, wringing his hands nervously. He thinks I'm lovely? No, no, that can't be right. You're reading too much into the subtext, Samwise Gamgee. Try getting yer head out of the clouds for once so ye can hear properly what yer master is really saying.
"A-and the name Frodo was an easy choice," Sam started again, blinking rapidly and glancing up briefly at his oldest friend's face. "You usually pick your closest family for that." He hoped the meaning of this fact warmed Frodo's heart, even if he didn't show it.
Frodo's eyes remained closed. He did not dare to open them as he felt sure that his own longing and regret would show in their sad blue depths. "You are very lucky, Sam.. So very lucky..."
"Lucky enough!" Sam chuckled, rubbing behind his head. "Why you should meet some of 'em, spend a little time. It'd make my heart happy to see you all met." The Hobbit was careful to avoid the name of his wife, not sure how Frodo would react and not wanting to ruin things just when he was seemingly getting his master to genuinely open up to him.
"Ah, I'm sure I will be meeting them all soon enough," Frodo laughed, his countenance brightening slightly as he thought of his plans for the schoolhouse. "I pray Frodo-lad hasn't gotten sick from the night before? He was out in that storm for quite a bit before I found him."
"Oh!" Sam gasped, suddenly remembering that Frodo had already indeed met his eldest son when he rescued him from the storm night before. How in Middle-earth could he have forgotten?
"Oh Mr. Frodo, I'm so grateful you found me boy that day!" he reached across the small table and took his good hand in his. "I'm just sorry that I never said anything about it sooner! He's just fine now; a picture of hobbit health," he stated cheerfully, rubbing his thumb across the top of Frodo's knuckles.
Frodo seemed to tense as Sam took his hand once more but smiled with relief at the news all the same. "Oh, I glad for that. I was worried..." the gentlehobbit nodded, gently extracting his hand from Sam's. Sam felt the lack of it like a cold snap.
"Oh," Sam spoke, trying to force himself to not let the disappointment he was feeling at Frodo's withdrawal leak into his tone, "that happens quite a bit these days! Getting lost and disobeying their elders and what not. Nothing we never did when we were their age. Children will be children."
"Yes ... children will.." Frodo closed his eyes, feeling that same painful loneliness well up in his chest, and this time he was not able to hide it from Sam's keen gaze in time.
What did I say? he thought with a frown. And what can I say now to fix it?
Sam was mentally exhausted now and just a bit tired of all the hidden meanings and subtle gestures. But, his patience, which had been wearing thin for so long, still remained as strong as in the days he watched the Ring take hold of him.
Patience. That word meant that he would and could reach him with time. And Sam knew he would use all the time necessary to try and draw Frodo out of his shell and open up to him. Like the way he used to.
He recalled that small instant in which Frodo's demeanor had brightened considerably when he mentioned meeting his children and longed for that true smile once more. A corner of Sam's mouth turned up slightly and he tilted his head to take a good look at him again, relishing in that if he couldn't have anything else.
At least he was there.
"I swear I heard you giggle just then," said Samwise with a smirk.
Frodo looked up and grinned quietly. "That you did.."
"You must have more of it! and I'll see to that," Sam got up from the table, moving to take his empty plate. Frodo rose instantly and beat him to it, however, taking away all the dishes and carrying them to the sink, not allowing Sam to even help with a single fork. His incessant desire to do everything without help was beginning to cause Sam no small amount if discomfort. It was as if the Baggins was trying to make it perfectly clear that he could do everything himself and that he didn't need-
Didn't need Samwise at all...
"We should invite him over."
Elanor blinked and raised her gaze to her mother finished putting away the last of the dishes. "Pardon, Mother?"
Rose turned slowly about and smiled at her daughter. "I meant Mr. Frodo. We should really invite him over for tea or dinner sometime." The young girl was somewhat surprised by this sudden change of mood in her mother, and she wondered silently to herself if it was not due to another of her pregnancy induced mood swings.
"That's sounds like a fine idea, Rosie," Robin grinned over his pipe as he enjoyed some of Sam's finest Longbottom Leaf. Elanor glanced at him warily for a moment before turning back to her mother.
"But I thought," Elanor started uncertainly, "that Mr. Baggins made you.. uneasy."
"Uneasy?" Rose started, looking innocently surprised. "Good heavens, child! Whatever gave you that silly notion?"
"I-" Elanor began, then remembered to hold her tongue. She was not about to let her mother know about the talk she and her father had had about that very subject only several days before.
"I mean, after all," Rose continued as she pulled off his apron and fixed her curls of chestnut brown hair with her free hand, "it was Mr. Frodo Baggins who hired that fine doctor to help in delivering you, Elanor me dear, and it was he who gave us such a fine home. Oh! And let's not forget that he DID save Frodo-lad the other day. Really now, dearest, why on earth would I ever feel uneasy around such a kind gentlehobbit?"
Because you can't forget that Father left you to go away with him all those years ago.
The thought startled the hobbit lass so much that she gasped and averted her eyes, continuing to sweep the kitchen floor with even more attention than before. It had been like an instantaneous understanding, a revelation about her parents that she had never realized that she knew until that moment. Even so, it wasn't her place to think such things and she silently scolded herself for having thoughts that were not in her right to have.
"Well I second the motion, dear Rose," Robin nodded approvingly. "I hardly knew the chap way back in the day, but I always thought he was a fine person over all, and anyone whom Sam likes can't be at all bad. He's a good judge of character, and I trust his judgment. I would be very interested to know what that hobbit has been up to all these years away from the Shire." He chuckled. "Probably hobnobbing with Fey or what not."
"Elves!" Frodo-lad hollered from below the window. He had most likely overheard the conversation as he was busying himself with trimming the hedges. "Mr. Baggins was an Elf-friend, not a Fey lord."
"Fey, Elves, what's the difference?" Robin shrugged. "It's all the same to me; outlandish and way over my head."
"And I think it's a fantastic idea, Mum!" Frodo chuckled from the garden. "I want Mr. Baggins over too!"
"Well, then, it's settled," Rose said decisively. "I'll be sure to send him an invitation for tomorrow, tea time. And perhaps he'll feel up for staying until dinner, or even supper after that."
"Hurrah!" Frodo-lad leapt up, shears in hand as he danced merrily about the flowers.
"Frodo, be careful!" Elanor called out the window. "You'll poke your eye out."
Rose closed her eyes and sank into a chair with a plop, hoping that the lines of worry that kept upon her face would not be noticeable to the others in the room. Truth be told, she was absolutely timorous over the idea of that hobbit walking back into their home, this very smial that had once been his. She wasn't at all sure of what feelings his return were stirring up in her husband, but all she knew that they were powerful, terrible emotions that she wished she could stop. Ever since he came back, it seemed as if her world was being turned upside down.
But she realized that this invitation may be her one way of assuring herself of the situation. She had realized, especially after the Occupation, that confrontation was unavoidable at best, and that it was better have it in one's own home turf than to find oneself in unfamiliar territory.
Frodo Baggins was back, and the sooner she became sure of what the reality of the situation was, the sooner she could deal with it in the appropriate manner.
"So tell me then, Sam," the former Ringbearer started as he pumped water into the basin. "How is your Rose faring?"
This question caught the other hobbit completely off guard. He hesitated in answering but was quick to recover. "Faring as well as can be, given her current state....." He was honestly surprised Frodo had asked anything at all about her. He had seen the way he regarded her in the last days before he had left the Grey Havens.
Frodo remained with his back to him and his head bent over his work, finding the surface of his plates of a sudden, special interest. "I've noticed. Well, at least she appears well enough. You must be really busy preparing for the little one to come.."
"Hehe, no preparation needed, except to move the children's beds around again..." he had a wary expression on his face again. He wasn't quite sure he wanted to tell the former master of Bag End that he was actually intending on building another room for Daisy, Primrose, and the new baby to move into. Such changes to his old home might put his master in a disagreeable mood, and he didn't want to risk that.
And he wanted him back with him so badly. Maybe.. if he offered...
"Mr. Frodo..." Sam closed his eyes and shuffled his foot. "Um, I was a wondering if, maybe.. well! seeing as you are back at last, and Bag End is-"
"Yours," Frodo inserted firmly, not taking his eyes off his dishes. "You don't have to bother about me, Sam my lad. I am quite comfortable here."
"But it wouldn't be a bother," Sam whispered, but Frodo must not have heard it, for he made no reply. His aching heart fell, but he made no outward signs of his emotions so as not to trouble Frodo with them. If he doesn't want to live with you, Sam Gamgee, he thought, then that's ... that's his choice.
Frodo closed his eyes and sighed. He knew that this distance he was setting between them was going to be hard for the younger hobbit to understand, but he also knew it was really for the best. He had to realize that Frodo was no longer there to tie him down with an obligation to serve him, and that he needn't try and treat him as a superior. If anything, it was now the other way around entirely. Frodo had purposely bumped himself down to that of the working class, with no money of his own to speak of except for that bit Meriadoc had given him. It was now Sam who was set up in Bag End, with all the wealth and respectability a hobbit could possible want. Status had become a non-issue, and the master/servant game was no longer necessary to endure.
Ever so gradually Sam moved closer to the hobbit he so adored until he had set himself right next to Frodo, watching him over his shoulder as he washed up. Frodo tensed, feeling Sam's body warmth so close to him, his breath moving lightly on his neck and shoulder. He swallowed hard and tried to ignore the fluttering in his stomach and focus on what he was doing.
Wasn't he taking just a bit longer than necessary on that single plate?
"Ah, Frodo," Sam smiled softly, dropping the tittle again on purpose. "It's so good that you're back in the Shire. All this time you've spent away..." Sam moved away then, and Frodo was so relieved to have that safe distance put between them once more, that he didn't notice that Sam had begun to bustle about, putting the dry dishes away in the cabinet. "It's been hard.. in ways..."
"Oh? How so?" Frodo asked turning his head to look at him. It was only then that he notice what he was doing and sighed, leaning with his hands on the edge of the sink and dropping his head, shaking it. "Sam, please. You don't need to do anything. I can handle washing-"
Sam turned to face him at that instant, causing his protests to die on his lips at the stern, almost hurt look on his face. His jaw was set and his eyes were blinking rapidly as he spoke.
"It's been hard livin' without you. That's just it, plain as a pikestaff." Sam then turned back to what he was doing and set the remaining stack on the counter gently. If Frodo wasn't going to be honest, at least he was. Better one than neither.
Frodo was stunned. Hard for him? How hard could it have been for a hobbit with a wife and children and an important political job to live without someone like himself hanging around? Frodo had been just an idle old hobbit, nothing but a burden. No, his absence should have made it easier for Sam to live, not harder. That was the whole purpose in his leaving in the first place! Didn't Sam appreciate that?
The Baggins set the last cup in the cabinet, no longer caring to hide his frown under a false grin. This is wrong, he decided silently. All wrong. We shouldn't have met this day. It was too soon for both of us. I was not ready yet.
I have to get away.
Sam blinked when he saw Frodo suddenly stride out of the kitchen, hanging his apron quickly up on the peg by the doorway and not even noticing that it had slipped and fallen to the floor in his haste. The gardener dried his hands swiftly and left to follow him, concern suddenly freezing his heart. What had he said wrong now? It seemed that nearly ever word he had uttered had managed to push his master further away. Coming into the hall he saw Frodo pulling on his deep green overcoat, blue eyes glaring into the floor. He looked troubled, but Sam felt strangely glad for it. At least he wasn't trying to hide his feelings with a mask of smiles anymore.
"Master -" Sam started, but Frodo's eyes snapped up to lock with his, causing his words to die on his lips.
"Don't call me that," Frodo uttered. Sam stiffened and looked away, and the older hobbit felt his heart clench painfully. He just didn't seem to understand how agonizing it had become to have Sam so near him. Frodo wasn't even sure if he understood it all himself. He simply understood that the timing was wrong and that he needed to leave as quickly as he could.
"You'll have to forgive me," Frodo said at length. "I.. have some errands that need doing. Also, I have a prior engagement I must attend to."
Sam nodded, still not looking at him. "All right, Mr. Frodo.."
The former Ringbearer sighed and opened the door for his guest. Samwise obediently walked past him to leave through the doorway, still refusing to meet his gaze. "I'll be seeing you sometime then," the Hobbit murmured, but as he tried to take the first step out onto the porch, Frodo's injured hand reached out to grasp his sleeve. Sam stopped and at last looked at the gentlehobbit over his shoulder.
Frodo was in agony. This is not the sort of life he wanted to come back to. If it was going to be like this, he should have just stayed in Valinor and waited for Sam to come on his own. He didn't want to hurt his friend, his love, but he seemed to be doing it. Why couldn't Sam understand how torturous it was for Frodo to have him so close and not be able to touch him as he had been able to when they were young. And worse than everything else, not being able to touch him as he dreamed to.
The frown on Sam's face fell away as he watch his master simply stand there silently, holding onto his sleeve and his head bent low, causing his curls to shadow his eyes. Something was dreadfully wrong with Frodo, he knew. He had known it even before he left Bag End to travel to the Grey Havens. Whatever time he had spent in the Blessed Realm had not healed the gentlehobbit of what truly ailed him. He was still pushing his Sam away, even as he tried to cling to him. The younger hobbit raged at his apparent helplessness to do anything about it. Nothing he did was right and it only seemed to hurt him more.
Sam turned and took his hand from his sleeve to wrap up firmly between his own two calloused hands. Frodo did not look up. "I will come back soon, Mr. Frodo," he whispered, squeezing his hand. "Your Sam won't be giving up on you, and that's a fact." He took away one hand and used it to raise Frodo's chin so that he was forced to look him in the eye. "I'll find out what's troubling you, Frodo. I will. Have no doubt about that."
Frodo closed his eyes and moved back, pulling his hand away slowly. Sam offered a warm smile before stepping out the door. Frodo watched him leave with openly sad eyes, now that Sam was too far away to see.
Your Sam, he said..
But wasn't his Sam anymore. Had he ever really been his at all?