Mrs. Rose Gardner was busy in her kitchen preparing for a very special late afternoon dinner. She wanted it to be one of the best meals she had cooked in ages, though everyone always told her that her cooking was near the best in all the Shire. Well, near best would not due for her this day. This day the evening meals had to be perfect, because she was expecting a very important guest over for a visit to Bag End.
That is, if he accepted.
Of course he'll accept, the country hobbit thought as she began chopping up some mushrooms her son Frodo had found the other day. He's Sam's friend and a gentlehobbit after all. He wouldn't refuse an invite from us, would he?
But even as she tried to convince herself that Mr. Frodo Baggins was a respectable hobbit and that she could trust him, she found herself more than a little suspicious. It wasn't because of all the things people had spread about the heir of Mad Bilbo Baggins that made her wary. She knew better than to take the local gossip as a factual bases for judging people, unlike some ladyhobbits she knew. Rather than that, she was, as was her husband she could imagine, wondering why the former Master of Bag End decided to come back.
She had always felt it was rather odd of Frodo to have given Sam and herself this wonderful hole she and her family now called home. Even if Sam had been Frodo's friend, she couldn't imagine why he would give someone who was obviously at a lower class then himself his own home, for Sam to own, for Sam's own use. Not all the services of a manservant rendered in a lifetime could pay for the riches they now possessed because of Frodo's generosity. At times, she suspected it must have been a gesture of charity. She could see no other reason for Frodo to give up everything to his gardener. Of course, she had no idea of what transpired between them in the year they were away off chasing Black Men in the Outside.
This was yet another reason Rose had often found herself at unease in the older hobbit's presence. No matter how kind he was or how many times he had apologized for it, she could never forget the fact that it was Frodo that caused Sam - no, forced Sam - to leave her without a word to gallivant with Elves and heaven knows what else in the Blue. And Samwise had lied to her about it on top of that! Pretending to only be moving to Buckland to take care of his garden there, when all along he had been planning to go away with his Master and leave her behind.
She frowned slightly as she recalled the feelings of hurt and loneliness that had coursed through her and shook her then young frame to tears. It was bad enough when she thought Sam was moving because of his obligation to serve his master. She could never understand her husband's intense devotion to his duty. What had Frodo or even Bilbo ever done for the Gamgees to deserve such faithfulness that Sam would even think he must leave his family, leave HER, to follow him wherever he went to do nothing more but tend the upper-class hobbit's roses and daisies.
But then Sam had lied to her...
Now that I think of it, she thought, Sam has done much more than any manservant is supposed to do for his employer. Perhaps it's not so strange then that he'd give up everything he has to my husband then. Well, that's right fine with me then. He had no business making Sam leave his right home to go off into the Blue. No business at all.
"Mother, are you all right?"
I've no idea why he's back now. But I hope he doesn't think he can just waltz back into our lives and expect Sam to abandon his family to follow him around like a-
Rose realized that Elanor had been trying to get her attention and she turned to face her eldest child. "Oh, I'm sorry, what were you saying, Elanor dear?"
"Nothing," the golden haired fifteen year old smiled shyly. "It's just, well, you were frowning just now, and I was wondering if you weren't feeling all that well."
Rose quickly dropped the frown and returned her daughter's caring smile. "Oh, no me dear. Everything is just fine. I was simply thinking hard about some things. You needn't trouble yourself about me."
"Are you sure?" Elanor asked as her gaze dropped down to her mother's rounded belly. "The baby isn't giving you any trouble? You don't need a rest or anything?"
"No, indeed!" Rose laughed, rubbing her hand affectionately over her womb. "I'm quite busy trying to get dinner ready for our guest this evening."
"Oh, so you have Mr. Baggins' acceptance to your invite already," the lass asked, her expression seemingly to brighten slightly. Rose wondered a little at that but decided to ignore it for the time being.
"No, not as yet," Rose answered, turning back to her work. "But I'm certain that he won't refuse. He's only just got back and we're due for a visit from him anyhow."
The eldest Gardner child nodded in understanding. "Oh, well, need any help then?"
Rose thanked the stars for her daughter's helpful nature. "Yes, lass. Would you mind handing me that tomato?"
Rosie and Elanor both jumped at the sound of Goldilocks' high pitched shouting, soon to be followed by the little girl herself running into the kitchen with Rose-lass in hot pursuit.
"Come on, I want you to try this on!" Rose-lass was yelling, holding out a rather badly sown shawl she had been working on.
"No, I don't wanna!" Goldilocks shouted back, hopping in a circle around her mother's skirts causing her blond curls to spring and bounce around her head.
"Rose, Goldilocks," Elanor scolded, "stop running in the kitchen."
"Mummy, Rose is trying to make me wear that clump of yarn," Goldilocks pointed as she clung to Rose's skirts.
"That's no fair! I worked so hard on it," Rose stamped her foot.
"Goldy, don't tease your sister," her mother reprimanded.
"But-" the little lass started.
"Girls, Mum is trying to get dinner ready," Elanor interrupted. "We can't have you running amuck all over the-"
"Mummy, Mummy!" the little 4 year old Hamfast chose that moment to run into the kitchen himself, holding a pacifier in his hand. A second later loud crying could be heard from Primrose in one of the bedrooms, followed swiftly by her sister Daisy.
"Unicorns!" Mrs. Gardner cried out and threw up her hands in exasperation.
"Don't worry, Mother, I'll see to them," Elanor put in quickly, moving to leave and take care of the problem.
"Um..." came a new voice and everyone turned to the entryway of the kitchen to see Robin standing there, shuffling his foot and smiling warmly. "If I may, I would be willing to look after the children while you concentrate on preparing dinner."
Goldilocks, Rose-lass, and even Hamfast-lad all looked at him at the same time, each with mischievous twinkle in their eyes. Elanor looked up to the ceiling and sighed with an "oh dear" expression on her youthful face, but Rose looked at her friend gratefully.
"Oh, thank you, dear Robin! I would be very much obliged," Rose nodded, trying to nudge Goldilocks away from her person so she could continue working.
Goldy, however, had no qualms about coming right up to the adult male hobbit, a sly smile on her pretty face. "Come on, Mr. Cock-robin! I'll show you how to do up your hair right pretty!"
"M-my hair?" Robin blinked in confusion.
"And you can wear my shawl!" Rose-lass exclaimed with pleasure.
"Among other things," Elanor murmured under her breath knowingly. Robin gave her a rather startled questioning look and the teenager simply shrugged, showing that the wheels were in motion now and she could do nothing. She then turned and left for the babies' room to but an end to their wailing.
"Off we go! We'll use my room," Rose-lass suggested, leaving no room for argument.
"We'll make you look pretty, Mr. Cock-robin, just you wait," Goldy bubbled with glee.
"Pretty! Pretty!" Hamfast clapped his hands, dropping baby Primrose's pacifier as he did.
What have I gotten myself into? Robin wondered with a feeling of foreboding.
If Frodo Baggins ever had a doubt about how much he loved children, he doubted no longer.
The three eldest sons of Samwise Gardner sat in rapture as he told them over tea many tales he had heard in his own youth from Uncle Bilbo, tales of adventures of all sorts from the simple everyday kind when a hobbit would spot a walking tree in the Wood and the happenings thereafter, to tales of the extraordinary where folk would run into Dragons, Giants, Trolls and the like. He was just finishing up a tale about a boy and a beanstalk and he felt his heart grow light with the magnitude of awe and eagerness on their young faces.
"Larks," they breathed, causing the adult to laugh lightly.
"I take it you're enjoying these stories then," he winked as he raised his tea cup to his lips.
"Yes, yes!" Frodo-lad nodded rapidly causing gold curls to fall into his eyes.
"More stories! More! More!" the sugar high Pippin-lad bobbed up and down in his chair excitedly.
"Too bad we don't get this sort of thing at home, eh?" Merry-lad gave his brothers a meaningful look to which they both nodded in agreement.
Frodo blinked and set his cup down. "Pardon? What do you mean by that? Doesn't your father tell you any stories?"
Frodo-lad looked at his brothers and they both shrugged. "No, nothing more than the harmless lore about walking trees and Pixies. No adventure tales."
"Except for old Baggins' adventure," Merry added, "but we've only heard of that tale from our friends and their parents."
Mr. Baggins frowned and leaned back in his chair. "You mean Sa - I mean, your father - hasn't read to you from the Red Book yet?"
The boys shook their heads. "Ack, no way," Frodo-lad pouted, nibbling on the end of a cookie. "I had to sneak into the study to read anything from that Book, and I was still caught and scolded for it."
This news troubled the gentlehobbit deeply. He could not understand why his friend would not wish to read to his own children about his tale, how the Fellowship helped to bring about the end to the corruption of Sauron and had thus saved them all from enslavement. It was surely a very serious story, but it was also one he strongly felt should not be ignored or forgotten. If people never know, how are they to come to appreciate all that they have and thus become happier folk for it? How was anyone to learn?
Could it be that Sam simply did not wish to remember and put the Book away for good?
"Oh! I almost forgot," Frodo-lad slapped his fist into his open palm, snapping Mr. Baggins suddenly out of his thoughts. He turned his blue eyes to the lad just as he was reaching into his trouser pockets to pull out a small letter size paper. "Here, this is for you!" he offered with a grin.
Frodo's eyebrows pulled together in puzzlement as he took the paper from the boy and opened it to read the message inside.
"To Mr. Frodo Baggins:
Greetings. I would like to cordially invite you to our humble home for dinner or supper this day, which ever is at your convenience. Please feel free to just drop by whenever you like.
Mrs. Rose Gardner"
"I wrote the note myself!" Frodo-lad beamed. "My Mum's not much good with her letters, but she really can cook up a storm. You should definitely go."
Frodo read the note again several times more before setting it down on the low living room table in from of him. Rosie Cotton was inviting him over? He found that fact to be slightly odd. After all, though they were always quite polite to each other, they had never really considered each other close friends. The only reasonable explanation for an invitation would have been if Sam had wished it. But if Rose was acting on Sam's behalf, then why hadn't the letter said "we" instead of simply "I".
But I suppose that doesn't really matter right now, he thought. What does matter at this moment is whether or not I want to go.
He almost didn't, truth be told. Though it was never spoken aloud, he often suspected that Rose held him to blame for taking Sam away into the Unknown, and though he had apologized for it, she had never quite forgotten it. He recalled vividly the flash of suspicion in her eyes when he had asked her the last time to "barrow" her husband for his journey to the Grey Havens.
"So, will you go?" Merry-lad asked eagerly.
"We have mushrooms!" Pippin-lad added.
Frodo gazed at the boys' hopeful faces or a moment, then sighed.
Sam was looking forward to coming home. After leaving the four Shirriffs and the Ranger to "escort" the Orc to the Border, he had been wondering about town aimlessly all the rest of the day, checking on town events, making a few visits to the local shops, anything to keep his mind off of his troubles. The morning encounter with Frodo had set his heart at unease, not only with concern for his former master, but with the state of their very friendship, a relationship he had until this morning believed was unshakable. He even began to wonder whether or not the whole morning had not been one big mistake on his part.
He wasn't ready for it, is all, he thought with regret. He can't fool me, leastways not completely. I know he did not want me to be there. I was a fool to come waltzin' up to his place without giving him warnin' in advance. Maybe a letter or somethin', anything to give him time to prepare. Now what will become of us?
The gardener finally found himself on the Bag End front door step. With a long sigh, he reached for the shiny brass knob and turned.
No sooner had he opened the door when he saw what looked like a walking pile of children, HIS children, coming straight at him. Bam! The Mayor cried out in surprise as they collided at the door, causing him to stumble backwards until he tripped over a bucket that should not have been left out and landing with a heavy plunk into his wheelbarrow, the giddy collection of bodies following suit. Soon there was a rather dishevelled hobbit pile in front of Bag End and Sam gasped for the breath that had been knocked out of him.
"Hello, Daddy!" Goldilocks greeted cheerfully from where she sat on his arm.
"Ah, Sam!" come the voice of Robin muffled by the little hands Hamfast as the child clutched at the adult hobbit's head. "Thank the stars it's you!" The Shirriff struggled to get out of that most embarrassing position while still lifting the weights of Rose-lass, Goldilocks, and Hamfast as they clung to his arms, legs, and head. The children were obviously still enjoying their little game.
Sam shook his head to clear it and climbed up to his feet. Only then was he able to take in the full detail of his friend's state. "W-what," he sputtered, trying his absolute hardest not to laugh. "What has happened to you, Cock-robin?"
"We made him look pretty!" Rose beamed. The Shirriff was currently wearing, aside from the Mayor's children, several multicoloured ribbons in his hair and a long purple dress with white frills.
"He'll make an excellent wife," Goldilocks added enthusiastically.
"Um," Sam began, biting his lip hard to stop himself from further embarrassing his friend with his cackling. "I think you're mother and I will have to have a talk with you about the difference between lads and lasses soon." He picked Hamfast up by the back of his little shirt and offered his own arms for Rose and Goldilocks to climb into. "There now! Your daddy's home," he crooned lovingly as he looked over Robin's shoulder for his wife. "Where's Rosie at then?" he asked, a little concerned.
Robin brushed the dust off his frock. "Oh, she's inside preparing dinner. I didn't want her distracted from her work, so I offered to take care of the little ones till she was finished."
Sam raised an eyebrow. "Really! What a good friend you are, to both of us! And you sure do put up with the kids well!" He beamed at his friend, and offered a hand removing the feminine garment as he took off his own jacket.
"No, Daddy, don't make him take it off!" Goldilocks pleaded, tugging on his pant leg. "He looks so cute in it."
Sam knelt down to Goldilocks' height and said softly, "Mr. Smallburrow is a Boy Hobbit, not a Girl Hobbit." Goldy puzzled over this for a moment, her tiny tongue sticking out of the corner of her mouth. "See! You're wearing a dress! I'm not!" He poked her in the belly playfully, eliciting a giggle from the little girl.
With Hamfast-lad in Sam's arms, and Goldilocks and Rose-lass milling about close to his legs, he began to make his way toward the kitchen, gesturing for Robin to proceed. "Listen, Rob," he said turning to give a sidelong look at his friend. "I'm sorry about ... all this," he offered, his eyes sweeping over Robin's state of attire. A giggle issued from the children around them.
Robin turned slightly red and gazed at the floor as they walked indoors. "Oh no, it's all right. I'm just really glad it's you. I'm not sure what I would have done if someone else had answered the door."
The master of Bag End clapped Robin on the shoulders. "See here, Cock-robin, you can dress any way you like here, so long as it makes the kids laugh!"
Though for all appearances he looked like his normal, cheerful self, Samwise felt distracted, feeling a little too concerned about the goings on in the kitchen, and kept pulling that direction. He felt guilty for being out for so long and was determined to smooth things over by being particularly helpful, even though he was sure he deserved whatever he got.
Within the kitchen Rose and Elanor seemed busy at work, making the final preparations for what looked to be the makings of a grand dinner. "Hullo?" he called out searchingly. "Anythin' I can do to help?" As he approached he strained his neck forward to take stock of the various dishes in the works.
"Oh, welcome home Father," Elanor greeted warmly as he entered the kitchen.
"My fair bloom!" Sam beamed at his eldest child as she came up to hug him briefly, trying to avoid getting his clothes dirty with her apron. Sam then strode up to his wife and carefully put his hands on her waist, conjuring up a charming grin for his wife. "Are ye feeling well, me dear?"
Rose turned about to face her husband and offered a pretty smile for her husband. "Well enough, dearest. You know how cooking for guest always manages to cheer me up."
Sam smoothed his hands from her waist around to her huge belly, sending a silent greeting to his unborn child, and peered over her shoulder at what she was fixing. "Ah, so we're having some more cornbread for Robin, then? Good - Hammy likes that, don't you little muffin?" he crooned to the hobbit child still cradled in one thick arm.
"No, silly," she tittered. "Not for Robin. For your Mr. Frodo."
Sam froze, wondering for a moment what the proper response would be to this rather surprising news. Still, his heartbeat increased markedly, regardless of his intent. He backed away from Rose a little, and his eyes darted to Elanor, then over his shoulder to Robin. The two could only shrug and shake their heads. "Ah," he started at length, "sweetling, um, what do you mean it's for Mr. Frodo?"
"I mean that we're going to be havin' Frodo Baggins over visitin' for dinner, plus supper hopefully," Rose explained, turning her attention back to pulling the freshly bake bread out of the oven.
"Visitin'? Here? Today??" Sam's eyes widened with surprise and concern.
"Aye," she replied, wiping her hands and turning her puzzled gaze toward him. "Why? You don't approve?"
"N-no, it's not that," the gardener flustered, "it's just, well, I don't know if that's such a good idea, Rosie. I mean, he's only just got back, and he must still be busy settlin' into his new hole and all - that is, well, he might not be feeling up to visitin' today." He wasn't prepared to let his wife know that he had spent the majority of that morning talking to Frodo alone and that it was by that event he was basing his guesses on the elder hobbit's mood. "I think we should at least give him a day or two to-"
"Oh, but I've already invited him," Mrs. Gardner blinked.
At that same moment Frodo Baggins was walking off the North Hill Lane and passed silently through the front gate of Bag End. It had taken a lot of convincing and encouraging from the boys before he finally screwed up enough courage to go and accept Rosie's invitation to Bag End. But after having decided, he wasted no time in getting ready. He had sent out the boys to buy some things in Hobbiton for the family and asked them to bring them directly to their home instead of his own, explaining that he would see them there.
Frodo was walking up to the door with as much confidence he could muster and was just raising his hand to ring the doorbell when he heard a voice from the kitchen exclaim in shock, "What do you mean you've already invited him??" At this the gentlehobbit paused and stared at the round green door with a disappointed expression on his face.
So, he thought, Sam really didn't want me to come after all.
For a moment the thought entered his mind that he should simply turn about and leave to spare them all the discomfort of his presence. A pause stilled itself in the air...
Sam flinched when the door bell suddenly rang only a moment after his startled outburst. Everyone in the crowded kitchen turned sharply towards the front door. No one moved for a moment.
"Ah, that must be him now," Rose clapped her hands together and began untying her apron.
"I'll get it for you, Mother," Elanor offered helpfully and left the room to answer the door. She only just remembered to take off her own apron before pulling it open. Before her stood the very hobbit she had seen many weeks ago standing before the gate staring at the smial with an odd look of longing. "Oh, good afternoon sir," she greeted politely, half curtsying as she held onto the door's edge.
"Good afternoon, ma'am," Frodo returned with a slight bow of his own and smiled charmingly. He was wearing one of his best suits of dark velvet blue with a white tunic under a grey vest with silver threaded leave designs. "You must be Miss Elanor. You were ever a fair baby, so I'm not surprised to see that you've grown into a beautiful young lady."
"Why thank you kindly," Elanor blushed appreciatively and stepped aside. "Won't you come in, Mr. Baggins?" It was only when she had moved aside that the gentlehobbit noticed Sam's head poking out if the kitchen, blinking rapidly and his mouth set slightly apart. When he was caught staring, he gasped and pulled his head back into the kitchen. Frodo however did not allow his mask of polite pleasantness to change and he stepped into his former home without hesitation. "If you'll follow me to the parlour to wait? Dinner should be ready soon."
"Thank you, dear," Frodo followed her and settled down in the chair she gestured to and nodded to her as she excused herself. He took that brief moment alone to look around him. The place looked fairly different from the way he had left it fifteen years ago, looking far more live in than it had when it had been only him living alone under that roof. Not only that, there were new pieces of furniture and other decor changes, all done to Rosie's tastes he assumed.
He almost didn't notice Robin Smallburrow step into the room, having rid himself of the purple dress but still wearing the brightly colored ribbons in his hair. "Ah, Mr. Baggins!" the Shirriff began with a cheerful grin. "It's so nice to see you back in the Shire again."
"Mr. Smallburrow," Frodo returned with a smile, stretching out his hand and clasping the other hobbit's in it, politely ignoring the ribbons. "How good it is to see you looking so well."
"Same to you," Robin chuckled. "You're actually looking a good deal better than when last I saw you, if I may be so bold. I guess that long holiday you took was just the trick then."
"Yes, in a sense," Frodo nodded just as another group of people entered the room. Rose Cotton Gardner strode up to the former master of Bag End with a sweet a smile as ever was seen on her, carrying the baby Primrose in one arm. She had taken the moment to change and straighten herself up proper, wearing a fair yellow spring dress that draped easily over her swollen abdomen. Elanor followed, having cleaned up herself and also hold little Daisy in both arms. The rest of the children present, Rose-lass, Goldilocks, and Hamfast-lad, all seemed to hide behind their mother and elder sister, being quite shy of the stranger in their midst, no matter what stories Frodo-lad had told them.
Frodo turned to face the lady of the house completely and bowed respectfully, which Rose returned with a nod of her head. "Good afternoon, Mrs. Gardner," he greeted courteously.
"And to you, Mr. Frodo," Rose answered, and Frodo forced himself not to shudder at the use of the tittle Sam so often used with him. Somehow it just didn't sound right on her lips as it did with her husband's. "My Sam's still getting himself ready, sir, but we can go ahead to the dining room now, if you like. He shouldn't be too long in comin'."
"Ah, no," Frodo shook his head. "It's all right. I can wait."
"Well, let me introduce you to the little ones then," Rose suggested. She then proceeded to introduce each of her children one by one. "You already know of our Elanor. Here's our Rose-lass," the girl stepped forward and curtsied prettily, "and Goldilocks," the little girl clung to her skirts and waved shyly, "and little Hamfast, and Daisy, and this here is Primrose," she hefted the child in her arms. "I'm just sorry you couldn't meet our other three sons. I've honestly have no idea what's keepin' them-"
"We're home!" Right on cue the three boys Frodo-lad, Merry-lad, and Pippin-lad scurried into the smial, the eldest boy carrying a rather large bakery box.
"No running in the house, brothers," Elanor chided. "Don't you see we have guests?"
"What have you three been up to?" Rose inquired. "And what on earth do you have in that box?"
"We *pant* ran all the way *gasp* up the Hill," Merry panted.
"Didn't want *wheeze* to be late," Pippin added.
"We got what *breath* you asked for, Mr. Baggins," Frodo-lad said and
put the box down in the middle of the low table.
"Thank you, lads," Frodo smiled. "I appreciate it." He bent down and opened the box to reveal that it was filled with the best cakes and cookies from the Muffin Tin. The instant they saw it, the other children forgot their shyness and rushed up to the table to gaze in awe of the gift.
"Oh wow!" Goldilocks jumped up and down in delight. "He bought us sweets, Mummy!"
"Oh, Mr. Frodo," Rosie looked honestly warmed to the heart at the
pleasure on her children's faces. "That was such a sweet thing of you to do."
"Can we eat some now?" Rose-lass implored.
"Not until after dinner," Elanor said, causing some of the youngsters to pout. Most, however, were already heading to the dining room, carrying to the box with them.
"Let's eat, let's eat!" they chanted eagerly.
"They are beautiful children, Mrs. Gardner," Frodo grinned after them with real fondness that wasn't only for show. "You must be very proud."
"That we are!" Rose giggled, forgetting herself momentarily as she glowed with love for her children. "Well, don't you know, me and my Sam just love children," she said this while holding her womb and rubbing it proudly.
"Yes," Frodo uttered softly as the hobbit himself entered the room and their eyes met for an instant. "So I can see."
Sam had changed into a fine grey suit with a brand new green vest, obviously feeling that this moment which he held in his mind as the true homecoming of Mr. Frodo was the proper occasion to wear it. The master of Bag End clean, groomed, and as respectable looking as a hobbit could look. But still the simple gardener felt as if he would never be able to hold a candle to Mr. Frodo's natural grace and charm, both qualities he was exorcising to their fullest at the moment.
His lips turned upward in a shy, warm smile as he looked on the handsome hobbit before him, who looked back with as courteous and pleasant a smile as he had ever seen. But still he knew his former master well enough to know that this was only a mask to hide his true emotions. He had been subjected to this same mask that morning.
"Hullo, Mr. Frodo," Sam managed to make his voice sound cheerful.
"Nice to see you again, Sam," Frodo replied simply.
"Well, I'm starved!" Robin clapped and rubbed his hands together. "What say we eat now, shall we?"
Dinner was polite and social, but to Sam it seemed that was about all it was. He was proud to see that his children were deciding to act surprisingly well behaved at the dinner table. He supposed he had Rosie to thank for that for teaching their children proper manners around guests. And of course Robin was conversational, speaking about the goings on in the Shire and the latest gossip and such. But for himself he remained mostly silent, as did Rose. Frodo was a very well spoken gentlehobbit, of course, so he would always be ready with an impersonal question, about the economy or politics and whatnot, that would launch Robin into another stream of words.
It was only after the children had finished their helpings of stuffed garlic chicken with mushrooms and tatters and had run off to help themselves to Frodo's sweets that Rose set down her fork and began asking some questions of her own.
"So what have you been up to all these years, Mr. Frodo?" she inquired, placing her tea cup in it's saucer. "We had thought you had left the Shire forever." Sam bit his lip, trying to stifle his own impatience at hearing the answers to the very same questions he had asked Frodo earlier. He took a long draught of beer and looked surreptitiously over the top of the stein at Frodo.
Frodo took a deep breath and Sam could instantly feel his discomfort as if it were his own. "Well," he began carefully, "I haven't been doing much else except trying to bring up my health. As you may recall, it wasn't quite up to standards before I left."
"Yes, I heard about that," Robin remarked seriously. "Some folk were saying it was because of what ol' Sharkey said to you before he was done in; says that his curse had come true or some rot." Frodo blinked and Sam frowned, remembering the last few words Saruman had given him before Wormtongue had killed him, when he had declared that the hobbit would have neither health or long life.
Sam said nothing, but he raised an eyebrow imperceptibly in Frodo's direction.If only they knew the extent of it, he thought.
"So you went off with Elves to find some magic cure for your ailments, I guess?" Robin asked.
"In a sense," Frodo nodded slowly.
Sam turned his head to face Robin, surprised at his forwardness. "All that matters is he's better now. The details aren't all that important, right, Cock-robin?" At the mention of "better now" his brown eyes darted back to Frodo, hungry for a sign that this statement was indeed true...
"That's right, of course," Rob nodded.
"Planning to move back into Bag End?" Rose's eyes glinted in the light of the room though her face remained as pleasant as ever. "You're welcome to stay of course-"
"No," Frodo put in quickly. Then, after seeing the flash of hurt and disappointment on Sam's face, he added, "Thank you, but I really am quite comfortable where I am now. I wouldn't want to trouble you unnecessarily."
Sam got up, pushing the chair away with a scrape. He was quick to cover up his wayward emotions by busying himself with collecting dishes. He rolled his sleeves up exposing his thick hairy arms and began circling the table, grabbing and stacking them carefully. Frodo watched with a masked expression as he collected his plate, feeling no small amount of guilt at Sam's efforts to distract himself with work. He knew how much Sam had wanted him to stay, but he also knew it would only be harmful to the both of them if he did.
Sam closed his eyes momentarily as he felt the weight of Frodo's plate, his fork, his teacup - he relished this, this feeling of servitude. Mr. Frodo's plate... He caught himself, realizing he had spent too much time standing over his former master, and hurriedly slammed the teacup on top of the stack.
"Oh, it wouldn't be any trouble," Rose laughed and Samwise could tell she was relieved. "But I think we can trust your judgement in this matter." She flashed a look to her husband which put a halt to any possible protests. "It must be a fine smial indeed."
No...not a fine smial, not halfway fine enough, not even close ... to something good enough for the likes of You, Frodo, Sam thought with a little frown before whipping it off his face and walking round next to his wife. "Rose, my blossom, don't you move now, in your condition you should surely get yer rest," said Sam smoothly as he took her dishes and turned away toward the kitchen..
"Aye, I couldn't see a Baggins living anywhere that wasn't as comfortable as could be," Robin agreed before taking a long draft of his mug of beer. "So, any women in you life?"
Sam hesitated in his pace, making his footfalls soft and carefully placing each plate in the sink so he could hear Frodo's answer, though he knew very well what the answer would be. It didn't matter, he would hang on every word and remember it, analysing it and dissecting for every last bit of meaning.
Frodo was silent, feeling the tension around him suddenly increase
tenfold. But right before Frodo managed to open his mouth to speak, Robin laughed and waved his hand at him. "I was only joking, mate! Sorry if I offended - I keep forgetting that not a whole lot of folk other than Sam are used to my manner of speaking."
"Actually, I'd be interested to learn the answer to that myself," Rose put in, eyeing Frodo curiously, maybe even innocently. "I've often wondered why you've never married. I know plenty of lasses who've been interested to be sure.."
Sam turned on the water then, he had heard this all before, all his life, the questions why... Didn't they see? Couldn't they leave him alone! How many times did he have to hear "I know plenty of lasses who would be interested..." As if he were blind, deaf, and stupid to boot... He angrily began soaping up the plates and cups, speeding through the process with a little more clatter than was necessary.
Frodo cleared his throat, suddenly even more uncomfortable than before. "Well, no, I'm not involved with anyone, and I'm personally not looking for that kind of attachment with anyone." He closed his eyes for a moment, looking thoughtful and not allowing his distress to show.
"Ai, Sam!" Robin called. "Leave those dishes, for pity's sake, and sit down with us. Not everyday Frodo Baggins comes a visitin'."
Sam hung his head. He was tired. After an hour or more of adrenaline and racing thoughts, it was all he could do to rest for a moment propped up on his arms on the edge of the sink. "Yes..." he called in response. "I'm comin' right out." The mayor emerged from the kitchen, looking slightly winded. "Well, seems as if that dinner's got the best of me after all...I suppose I'm feelin' my age" he admitted, with a chuckle.
"Oh, don't be silly Sam. You're only 53," Rose giggled.
"I know how old I am..." Samwise muttered under his breath, and returned heavily to his seat, wondering how much more of this he could take.
Rose took a sip from the tea cup she was still nursing and then smiled pleasantly at her guest. "So, Mr. Frodo, my Sam told me you and he had met with your dear uncle Bilbo on your last trip together."
"Ah, yes, I heard about that, how old Bilbo was still about travelin' the Unknown," Robin grinned. "I'm glad to hear it, personally. He's very lucky to be so long lived that he's able to enjoy his holidays so."
Frodo felt a pain in his heart at the mention of his deceased uncle. I've forgotten.. they still don't know that Bilbo's gone... "Yes, we had. It was for Bilbo and Gandalf that I left to meet on that last trip. We.. were to go away together."
Sam couldn't help but pick up on Frodo's sorrow, and his eyes softened. He couldn't help but rest his gaze in his direction...though he tried to look elsewhere, there was nothing and none else that he could think of.
"Oh, how lovely," Rose sighed. "Two adventurers going away together for holiday." Her fingers rubbed along the sides of her cup. "Well, I just hope that the two of you don't plan on going on anymore journeys anytime soon."
Frodo froze. He was suddenly not at all sure whether Rose had meant himself and Bilbo, or rather.. himself and Sam. By her tone, she could have meant either. Either way, it made him shiver inside and his hands grip into fists at his lap. Sam froze as well, catching himself eyeing Frodo, and felt guilt wash over him, making him feel stifled. He cared about Rose, but he hated her right then, for torturing them on purpose.
Suddenly Rose's eyes widened, a strange spark in them. "Frodo!" she shouted.
Frodo was startled out of his thoughts with the sudden unexpected outburst. "What?"
"N-no," Rose gasped. "My Frodo.. Frodo!"
Frodo-lad was there a second later, a cookie still in his mouth. "Wah?"
"G-go into town, lad," she breathed. "Get Dr. Wendlebrend..."
The urgency in her voice suddenly caused Sam to snap out of his self-centred reverie. "Rose!" He gasped, getting up from his chair.
Frodo stood up at the same instant. "Why?" he demanded worriedly, although his mind was already in haste to provide for him a guess. "What's wrong?"
"My.. the baby," Rose closed her eyes, unable to continue, and leaned back in her chair, taking in slow, deep breaths.
Robin, who had been stunned into a motionless stare, was on his feet the instant those words left her mouth. "What?! You mean right now?" his eyes darted back and forth between the people present nervously.
Sam leapt into action, dashing around the wide table and putting his arm around his wife's waist. He stared around at his son, Robin, and Mr. Frodo. "Yes, someone has to go get Dr. Wendlebrend... now." His voice was commanding, if not a little hoarse and shaky. "Frodo-lad, you're the swiftest by far. Son... do you think you're up to it?"
Frodo Gardner needed no further prompting. He was already running as fast as he could, being the fastest runner of the lot, and was out door a moment later...