The Road Goes Ever On And On by Sam
Summary: This chapter, it's decided that Frodo will live with Bilbo. Frodo meets Sam for the first time.
Categories: FPS, FPS > Frodo/Halfred, FPS > Frodo/Sam, FPS > Halfred/Sam, FPS > Halfred/Frodo, FPS > Sam/Frodo, FPS > Sam/Halfred Characters: Frodo, Gaffer Gamgee, Halfred, Sam
Type: None
Warning: Angst
Challenges: Frodo/Sam plotbunny
Challenges: Frodo/Sam plotbunny
Series: None
Chapters: 17 Completed: No Word count: 66809 Read: 41753 Published: January 01, 2009 Updated: January 01, 2009
Story Notes:
This is from a Plot Bunny by Sabrina. Will Whitfoot is a character created by JRR Tolkien, but the siblings listed herein are created by me for the flow of the story. Thank you Jussi Nuortimo for Petal Bracegirdle, Mary Boucher for Obsidian and Larkspur Whitfoot, and Crysty Boucher for Zinnia Whitfoot.

Setting: Hobbiton: Bagshot Row mostly.

Archivists' Note: Ambera made fanart for this story: F is for Frodo

1. Chapter 1. Of Endings and Beginnings by Sam

2. Chapter 2. Concerning Babies by Sam

3. Chapter 3. How Love Works by Sam

4. Chapter 4. Stories Of The Heart by Sam

5. Chapter 5. Of Dragons And Gardeners by Sam

6. Chapter 6. Routines That Hurt by Sam

7. Chapter 7. Something Precious by Sam

8. Chapter 8. Rumors About Blondes by Sam

9. Chapter 9. Words on the Heart by Sam

10. Chapter 10. Blossoms Of Confusion by Sam

11. Chapter 11: A Day To Remember by Sam

12. Chapter 12. A Sudden Storm by Sam

13. Chapter 13. Eight Is More Than Enough by Sam

14. Chapter 14A. Those Eyes... (slash version) by Sam

15. Chapter 14B. Those Eyes... (non-slash version) by Sam

16. Chapter 15. Riddles In The Dark by Sam

17. Chapter 16. Mixed Perceptions by Sam

Chapter 1. Of Endings and Beginnings by Sam
Numb.

That was how he felt. If asked by just one more person, that's what he'd say, too. He didn't care if he shocked anyone either. Couldn't they see how he felt? Did they have to ask every minute of the day? It was annoying. Okay, so he wasn't just numb; he was angry, too, and certainly not hungry. Angry, resentful, hurt, confused, scared, not hungry... somewhere in there numb got completely overwhelmed and was lost.

Like his parents.

Frodo shook himself to chase away the tears, but it didn't help. They kept building and building until, finally, they broke free. Then the tears wouldn't stop. He could feel great sobs piling up, too. It was a matter of mere seconds before Frodo's tiny body was wracked with the grief: a grief so terribly big for such a small Hobbit.

Lobelia, Frodo's much older cousin, turned around to study the mourning twelve-year-old. She fingered her lips, frowning, and watched thoughtfully. Why had the child picked now to break down? There were very few Hobbits present just now, only the Sackville-Bagginses, the main Brandybuck branch, and that odd Bilbo Baggins. What did Frodo hope to gain by staying stony-faced through most of the day's visitors then start crying like there was no tomorrow when...

She stopped and checked the room again: Master of Buckland and Bilbo Baggins, two of the most powerful and wealthy Hobbits in the Shire. It now made perfect sense to Lobelia. The little brat knew he'd need to live on someone else's charity so he'd chosen to put on this display of grief for the two Hobbits who could give him the most. Lobelia could see the flaw, however.

Rorimac Brandybuck had two grown sons of his own. Frodo wouldn't get much out of Goldfather Brandybuck. The man would be more interested in his own sons, Saradoc and Merimac. And Bilbo? He was an odd duck, all things considered. Wandering off on adventures, consorting with Dwarves and Elves, encouraging that Gandalf... Lobelia shuddered at the list of transgressions Bilbo had conspired to accomplish.

The sound of Frodo's tears brought her frowning back to reality. She'd be stuck watching the brat; she was certain of the fact. Her, with a son four years older than the boy, too. As if she needed the orphaned son of a pair of Hobbits who'd actually drowned... another shudder wracked her and she drew her shawl closer. To even have gone into a boat was foolishness beyond understanding, but to allow themselves to fall out and drown? She couldn't understand anyone quite so odd as all that.

Bilbo frowned in sympathy with the grieving boy. Immediately he walked over and simply stood, quietly, smoking his pipe. He didn't speak to the lad, nor in any other way try to touch or comfort him, content to just be there next to him. Finally, after long moments as Frodo started to quiet a bit and Merimac Brandybuck walked away after giving a bracing, useless speech, Bilbo softly spoke.

"I'm lonely."

Frodo looked up, still sniffling and hiccuping. He snorted, trying to get his breath and talk to this unusual Hobbit next to him. "Why would you be lonely?" His voice came out as hostile, resentful. The young Hobbit wanted to lash out at everyone who'd made the numbness go away, and Bilbo was the available target.

He was surprised though, when Bilbo merely smiled wistfully. "I'm all alone up there at Bag End in Hobbiton, lad. Of course, I do get visitors time and again, but it's never the same. Visitors show up when they're least wanted and keep you doing and feeling all sorts of things you don't need. Family lets you get on with living life the way that pleases you most, but they're there to keep you from getting lonely, too."

The boy was intrigued. That was just as he was feeling right then. He didn't want all these visitors asking him stupid questions or making him feel worse by talking about things being better and such. He wanted his parents back. His mother's laughter, his father's wide smile... he wanted his family back. "Yeah," he grunted at the older Hobbit, just to acknowledge that he agreed.

Bilbo nodded. "I miss someone to sit across from during elvensies and to argue over the last tea cake with."

Frodo looked up. He'd never been allowed to argue over his father taking the last teacake. His father had merely been allowed to have it because he was 'Father'. "Shouldn't argue over tea cakes."

"Hmmm," Bilbo looked down again out of the corner of his eye, "that's just what my mother would say. My father would get the last cake, and sometimes I wondered why I couldn't have it... 'specially since my father would claim he was full. But, every day, tea time, Father got that cake."

"Yeah," Frodo grudgingly admitted, again. He started studying the older Hobbit, taking in the soft eyes, roly-poly build, and gentle smile. Smile? "Hey! You're smiling! Everyone else is trying to look sad or their crying, but you aren't." He wasn't certain if he should get angry or curious, so Frodo settled for indignant.

Bilbo nodded. "I'm smiling because I finally found an intelligent conversation. Last one I had was with your mother, rest her. Good Hobbit, that one." Bilbo finally looked directly at him.

Wide blue eyes turned up to meet gentle hazel ones. He'd only heard inanities about his mother before, unless he overheard insults he wasn't meant to. No one had ever said anything nice and meant it. Frodo studied the older Hobbit to see if he meant what he'd just said.

Bilbo's gaze never wavered. He smiled softly at the lad, letting him look for whatever it was he needed to see. And apparently, Frodo must've found what he sought for a tiny wet hand snaked into Bilbo's lax, soft one. Bilbo gave that hand a gentle squeeze. Suddenly, his arms were full of sobbing, squirming Hobbit lad.

Frodo couldn't hold back anymore. He had launched himself at his cousin and started crying into a well-clothed shoulder. Instinctively, he tried to burrow into Bilbo, sobbing and clutching. He'd found sympathy and kindness in the older man's eyes; he'd found support, not pity. He'd found, maybe, a bit of home.

Lobelia wrinkled her nose, as if something offensive had just wafted in on the summer breeze. Naturally, the child would pick the odd Bilbo to cozen up to. After all, the other Hobbits present had children of their own. None of them would rightly be fooled into taking in a half-breed. Of course, it had never been confirmed that Frodo was anything but pure Hobbit, but Lobelia had her suspicions.

The lad was thin, terribly so, as if he hadn't eaten in weeks. He had those large, unusual eyes, and that pale, pale skin. And, he was the son of that Primula Brandybuck, whose mother was a Took. If anything was proof, that was. After all, everyone knew the Tooks were the oddest sort of Hobbits. There were even rumors that one of those Tooks had brought home an infant that was part Elf.

Lobelia shuddered in delicious offense at the thought. Unnatural: that's what he was. That Frodo child was as unnatural as they come. Let the Baggins have the child. It would be a good paring. Bilbo was even odder than a Took, consorting with all sorts and going off on adventures. If the child had been from a normal family, Lobelia might protest, but he'd been from Drogo's line... and Drogo had gone and got his self and his wife drowned.

She walked over to her own beloved son, Lotho, sixteen and pimply but with good promise. At least, Lobelia saw it as promise. Others saw it as greed and sloth. "Come, Lotho dear, we're going."

"But I thought as you were gonna try to get some of the dead guy's stuff. Maybe take in his brat so you could get it all." Lotho whined when he spoke.

Lobelia smiled indulgently. "Nothing here is worth keeping. Come, Lotho, and Mum will get you a trinket at market."

The teenager let out a belch; having just finished off a healthy plate of whatever had been served on the wake buffet. He patted his roll of a gut and stomped out after his mother, not even bothering to glance back at the still wailing orphan. He was just glad he wouldn't have to share his Mum with that brat.

Rorimac watched the child in sympathy. He had been about to approach when Bilbo had made the first advances, causing Rory to pause in his forward momentum. No one really understood Bilbo Baggins, but the child seemed to take to him instantly. At least he was letting go some of those emotions he'd bottled up, according to near anyone who'd been there that day.

Old Rory rubbed his knee, an old weather injury. His eyes traveled over to his own sons, who had both barely Come-Of-Age, then back to the tiny, thin Hobbit orphan. Nothing normal about that lad could be observed. He didn't look like a proper Hobbit. But he was a Hobbit, and Rory had a large heart. He nodded to himself, but paused again before moving. Frodo had just wailed and thrown himself at the old adventurer.

As Lobelia made a few rude comments and left with her annoying son, Rory approached the pair, signaling his own family to let them have space. The Master of Buckland paused just next to the pair and waited quietly, watching. Finally, he spoke up.

"Lad? It can't be easy, losing someone you love. But, you've got people to take you in." He straightened and cleared his throat. "Like to offer you a place, actually. My boys are grown, but I've a good home to a lad your age, and you won't want for anything."

Frodo slowly looked up, still burrowed against Bilbo. He looked over at Goldfather Brandybuck. After a brief moment, he realized that this Hobbit, too, was sincere in his sympathy and offer of kindness. He looked back up to Bilbo's face. Frodo froze.

Bilbo had tears on his cheeks.

Crying? Why would he be crying? It wasn't his parents lost just that weekend. Frodo frowned, rudely ignoring Rory Brandybuck in his curiosity over Bilbo's off behavior. "You didn't cry before; why you crying now?"

Bilbo smiled gently, pulling out an ever-present handkerchief to mop his eyes. "Well, I suppose, lad, that your tears made mine fall. I miss Primula and Drogo; that's the truth of it. And it hurts a bit. But when you broke down like that, I suppose it made my heart realize that it should release the pain so it can enjoy them a bit more."

Rory backed off a couple of steps to give the boy some time to deal with this before renewing his offer to take him in.

The child frowned, blue eyes luminous and troubled. "How can you enjoy them? They're dead." The statement was blunt, painfully so. Everyone left in the room winced at the harshness of it. Frodo ignored them. "Can't enjoy nothing."

Bilbo nodded. "Yes you can, my boy. You can enjoy the memories of the happy times. But that'd be awfully hard with the pain of grief blocking them in. So, you need to release the pain and find the happy times." He held up a hand. "Never said it's an easy thing, 'cause it's not, lad. But it is possible."

Frodo glared resentfully at Bilbo. He'd just admitted that he was upset and now this old Hobbit wanted him to let that go and be happy? He was a fool. "Yeah? And why should I? I lost my Papa and Mum. I don't wanna be happy ever again!" And he tore off his cap and threw it across the room, the bit of cloth slapping into the feet of Hamfast Gamgee, who'd just entered the room.

Everyone in the room froze.

Even Frodo lifted guilty eyes to the Hobbit called the Gaffer. Those who'd been present during the tantrum were all of the upper class Hobbits, ones with money and leisure time. However, Gaffer Gamgee was a working Hobbit, as was his father before him. How would he react to this spoiled display of temper?

Gaffer grunted, looking over at Frodo and Bilbo. He squatted down, scooped up the cap, and walked over to the pair. Slipping off his own cap, he held out Frodo's in his free hand. "You dropped your hat, Mister Frodo. Don't want to lose that, now, or you might get too much sun in your eyes and develop a squint."

Flushing, the room still silent around him, Frodo reached for his cap. Gaffer pulled it back slightly, frowning at the child. His wife and four children toddled up behind him, Bell extremely pregnant. The Gaffer merely continued to study Frodo, who looked back in fascinated dread.

"So, you're upset because your parents done died and left you behind, Mister Frodo? Hmmm..."

Frodo flushed brighter and hung his head, hand dropping, empty, to his side.

"Yup. Felt same way when Holman Greenhand curled up his toes. 'Course, he was me cousin, not me Da, but it's the same thing in the end. Me Da's a roper, and a sight good one, Mister Frodo, but Holman? He taught me all I know about gardening. I went and lived with him when I was young. Decided I didn't want to make rope, so I went to Hobbiton and took up with Holman. Now I work for Mister Bilbo, like Holman a'fore me, and I couldn't never be happier. But I miss Holman something fierce at times, Mister Frodo, that's the truth."

Slowly, the boy looked up into the gentle green eyes above him. Gaffer Gamgee merely looked back, face set and serious. There was kindness in his eyes, like Bilbo and Rory. Suddenly, Frodo felt almost overwhelmed by the amount of Hobbits in the room. He looked around, seeing only sympathy, not torment. Was it just these Hobbits who cared, or had everyone been this nice and he too blind to see it?

Gaffer held out the cap again and Frodo's eyes shot to it. He reached out, hesitated, and then raised his eyes to Gaffer's again. Slowly, without looking away from Hamfast Gamgee's eyes, Frodo took his cap and put it back on his dark curls. "Thank you." The words were soft and heartfelt.

Rory was about to repose his offer when a host of noise entered the room. Everyone whirled around to see Eglantine Took and her two girls come in, both children laughing while their harassed mother tried to hush them. Paladin Took followed, smiling and ignoring his family. Instead, he walked directly over to Frodo, arrange his face in a suitably somber mask, and said, "Well, lad, can't say as I agree with your parents sporting on the river, but that's no way to go. Good people, the Bagginses. Would you like to come to Great Smials and live with us, lad? We've got no boys, but you're more than welcome to join the family."

Saradoc Brandybuck, eldest of Rory's two children, frowned. He'd always competed with Paladin for everything, and this new 'challenge' sparked him. "Why would he want to go all the way to Great Smials? He'll come live at Brandyhall where he belongs. After all, his mother was a Brandybuck." Rory groaned at his son's impetuousness.

Paladin strode away from Frodo and frowned at his rival. "What do you mean Brandyhall's where he belongs? You're not Master of Buckland yet, Saradoc..."

"Stop it!"

Everyone turned to look at Bell Gamgee. She was flushed and clutching her great stomach, gasping to catch her breath. She looked up at them. "Please, don't start fighting. The child's had a rough enough time. You've both plenty of time to have sons of your own. Let the boy decide where he'll go." As she was wife to the Gaffer, Bell really had no right to be correcting the two gentlehobbits, but they allowed it, perhaps due to her condition, or maybe in deference to her noted wisdom. Bell, formerly a Goodchild, was well known for her wisdom.

Now everyone turned to look at Frodo, including the children. He looked from one face to another, feeling something start overwhelming him. Too many people, too many voices, too much noise... he stepped back, intending to escape so he could think, but he bumped into something large and solid behind him. Slowly, Frodo tipped his head up to look into gentle hazel eyes and made a decision.

"You... I wanna live with you, Cousin Bilbo."

Bilbo smiled and nodded. "All right then. You'll come to Bag End and we'll be a family." He squatted down to look Frodo in the eyes. "And if we feel like we don't want to be near each other, why Bag End's big enough to wander alone in."

Alone... that sounded good about now. Too many people had come by that day. He'd started out numb, unable to put up with all the 'How are you' questions, and now he had more people asking him things. But instead of the stupid question about how he was, they were asking Frodo to come live with them. But he felt like a tea set, not a person with them. Bilbo made him feel like a person.

Before the others could raise a fuss and try to argue the matter, Bell lifted one hand, the other still clutching at her now rippling belly. "It's settled. The child will come to Hobbiton and live with Bilbo Baggins. Now, let's talk about other things, shall we? I'm sure Frodo wants time to get to know his cousin, and I for one would like a chair."

The Gaffer frowned at his wife's presumption, but again no one refuted her. He eased her into the chair as Frodo watched, still pressed backwards against Bilbo. Rory rubbed his leg as his son and Paladin Took grumbled a bit, but eventually the three men moved over to the buffet and started discussing topics, which didn't include Frodo or children. The other women, and the children, started eating as well. Old Gaffer moved off to procure something for himself.

Frodo watched, fascinated, as Bell's tummy rippled again. He'd never seen a tummy so large, or so mobile, before... unless you counted old Odo Proudfoot, and his tummy didn't move like this. "Ma'am? His current grief was overshadowed again by a Hobbit's insatiable curiosity. "Why's your tummy moving?"

Bell smiled and gently reached over to pull him close. She took his tiny hand and placed it on her tummy. He felt it jab at him, jumping. She laughed softly. "That's my baby, Frodo Baggins. He'll be born soon, too. I think he'll be born when the moon is high and full."

Frodo had never gotten his parents to tell him where baby Hobbits came from. They kept saying he could wait a bit to know. Now, this was the perfect time to get an answer at last. "How'd the baby get in there? You swallow him?"

Her laughter rang out at that. "On no, sweetheart. I didn't swallow the baby. He grew in there. When Hobbits get married they sleep in the same bed. And sometimes, a baby comes along. The baby grows in his Mama's tummy, and then he comes out and is born."

"How's he get out?"

Bell smiled gently. "How old are you, Frodo Baggins?"

He frowned, unsure what that had to do with it. "Twelve, ma'am."

She nodded. "Then it's time you found out. Come, sit down and I'll tell you."

It was two hours later when Bell was done answering Frodo's questions. He shook his head, unsure if he really believed her yet or not. He couldn't believe anyone would... yuck! Looking up at Bell, Frodo felt an intense longing for his mother. Tears welled up again. He wanted his Mum to tell him where babies came from not some gardener's wife, but she'd never get to. She was dead. Frodo started to resentfully pull his hand away when the baby kicked again, right where his hand was. Frodo froze, eyes widening.

Bell laughed. "I think he likes you. Normally he's pretty quiet, but he's been jumping around since we came in the door."

Frodo didn't respond to her, watching his hand in fascination, almost not breathing. He waited, hoping that the baby would kick again. It was odd, knowing a tiny baby Hobbit was inside there... kicking at him, like the baby knew he was there and who he was. He wanted the baby to know he was there.

Bell laughed as Frodo jumped. The infant had indeed kicked again, taking the thoughtful boy by surprise. "Well, I think you'll be great friends, Frodo Baggins."

"Can't. He's a baby and I'm twelve." Frodo's voice was matter-of-fact.

Another laugh. "Oh, Frodo, do you think that all friends are the same age? Come now. Age doesn't matter. It's how you love someone that matters. Do you want to know what I saw when I walked in this room?"

"Me crying?"

"No," Bell touched the tip of his nose and Frodo wiggled it in reaction. "I didn't mean that. I meant, what I saw for the future."

Frodo's eyes grew so large they threatened to engulf his face. "You can see the future?" His voice was an awed whisper.

"Hmmm... sometimes, Frodo. But I only feel like I know it. I don't actually see it." Bell smiled. "Would you like to know what I felt?"

The child nodded his head vigorously. "Uh huh.... Please?"

Bell shifted slowly in her chair, reaching out to more firmly set Frodo's hand on her belly. "I saw four families who maybe fight, maybe laugh, but will be very close."

"But we none of us live near each other. Well, 'cept maybe Bilbo and you."

Bell nodded. "That's true. But that's what I felt. Somehow, someday, the families in this room will be great friends. And someday, you will have a friend you love so much, you'd give up everything in the whole world to keep that friend safe."

Frodo stood, thinking that over. "Do you think, maybe, it'll be one of your kids? Like maybe Halfred?" Frodo jerked his chin in the direction of Bell's eleven-year-old son. He jumped when the baby kicked, as if to say, 'Are you insane? I'm here.'

The woman laughed again and hugged Frodo with one arm. "It's possible."

Somehow, Frodo didn't think so. He watched his hand, thinking about the tiny life inside this Hobbit's woman's womb, and smiled slowly. "I think not, Ma'am. Not Halfred." But Frodo wouldn't explain further when Bell cocked an eyebrow at him. Instead, he leaned close and whispered, "Hello, baby... I'm Frodo."

The baby fluttered briefly, almost unnoticeably, and seemed to settle down.

Frodo was glad he didn't feel numb anymore.
Chapter 2. Concerning Babies by Sam
Author's Notes:
This chapter, Frodo has to decide whether he really wants to share Mrs. Gamgee with her newborn son.
"No, Fwodo, Mama sick." The little girl crossed her arms glaring at the larger Hobbit lad standing in the doorway. "No stowies. You get youw own Mama and weave mine awone!"

Frodo paled and felt as if a fist had hit him in the gut. He immediately hugged himself, looking down at the four-year-old. "But..." how could he tell her without crying? How could he just say 'But my mum's dead," without howling in pain. He'd already left the anger behind. Three weeks in Bag End had quickly cured that. But the pain... it only seemed to get worse.

The nights were bad with nightmares and shady images. The days were a bit better, since it was always light and there was always something to do with Bilbo around. But it wasn't the same as having a Mama. Thus, Frodo had taken to daily visiting Bell Gamgee.

She told him stories and let him taste whatever she was baking. Frodo had half made up his mind to marry her when old Gaffer died. Then he'd always have her around. He just wasn't going to tell her that. She might think it was yucky or something.

But now, there stood tiny May Gamgee imperiously demanding Frodo leave her mother alone. And she'd just said Bell was sick, too. Frodo frowned and looked past the girl into the small, neat living space. "How sick?" he hadn't even intended to ask out loud.

"Vewy sick. Mama in bed. We can't see hew none."

Frodo pushed past the little girl, ignoring her indignant gasp and hurried words of anger. Bell couldn't be sick; he needed her! If she was sick, she might die, and then whom'd he have? Bilbo was great, but he wasn't enough. And what about the baby?

Frodo rushed past the older children without a second glance, ignoring their gasps and questions. He pushed open Bell Gamgee's bedroom door and froze at what he saw. Frodo turned and hurried out, letting the door close behind him.

There was little May Gamgee right behind him. She stamped her foot and indignantly scolded, "I towd you Mama sick!"

The older boy nodded. "Uh... so, um, May..." he didn't know what to say. He'd know since he'd first talked to Bell that she'd have the baby, but he didn't really think about it. Would she like the baby more? She'd have to love the baby more; he'd be her own son. Intense pain and worry filled the small Hobbit. He didn't want to lose Bell, too.

Suddenly, the baby, whom Frodo had been looking forward to these three weeks, sounded less interesting. In fact, Frodo was starting to think he might not even like him. Why should he? It'd be a tiny, crying brat hogging all of Bell's attention.

Gaffer's appearance from the family room interrupted the boy's jealous thoughts. "Well, Master Frodo. Come to visit us again." He sounded perfectly normal, not excited or worried or anything. Something about his eyes, though, bespoke the turmoil of emotions in the older man.

"She's having the baby, Gaffer."

"Aye, that she is." The Gaffer walked away, towards the back rooms, followed by little May. Frodo impulsively followed the gardener, craving attention from at least someone. None of them spoke as they walked to the end of the hall and entered the small room there.

It was indeed small, but that may have been due to the amount of furniture in there. A cradle and a changing board set over a child's play table, a pen to put a toddler in next to a sturdy child's bed, a toy chest in the corner, closed, piled high with freshly laundered diapers: the room seemed to have barely enough room to move. May started looking in a chest of drawers at the back of the room, right next to a small window.

Gaffer took a soft blanket from the cradle and turned to go, bumping into the curious Frodo. The two looked at each other in silence, eyes never wavering. Finally, Gaffer broke the mood by placing a work-worn hand on Frodo's thin shoulder. "Missus Gamgee's gonna be needed to care for the babe, lad. Won't have much time for baking no more. Plenty o' time for stories, though, with a babe in arms."

Wide blue eyes registered hesitancy. "Stories? She'd still have time for stories, even with a baby, Gaffer?"

"A'yup. Reckon she will. Had plenty o' time for stories with the others; don't see why this time'd be so different. She'll be sitting in the rocking chair most times, telling stories an' singing songs to the babe. Sometimes the other children'll go and join in. You want you should come down and tell your own stories, Master Frodo?"

Frodo considered that. It sounded somehow better... nicer: the family joining round for stories and songs. When the older kids had chores, Frodo'd have Bell and the baby to himself. Even little May had chores, so there would be private time. Maybe... maybe the baby would give Bell more time for Frodo, since she'd be sitting a lot.

He smiled.

The older Hobbit nodded and hesitated then handed the soft blanket to the lad. "Here. Bell's gonna want it for the babe. You give it to her, lad."

May turned, stunned, her green eyes wide. "But, Papa, you said no one's 'wowed to see Mama. We have to wait out hewe. Mama's sick!"

With a soft grunt, Gaffer disagreed. "And you ain't allowed in until your Mama's had some rest, neither. But Master Frodo's what puts bread on our table, so he's allowed to see your Mama and the baby first. You gonna argue with me, girl?" He crossed his arms and glared at the four-year-old with a menacing look.

The child shook her head, auburn curls bouncing. "No, Papa." Her voice was quiet, resentful. She'd been forbidden in the sickroom and now the boy from up the hill was allowed in to see her Mama? She glared at Frodo as Gaffer passed by them, heading for the living are again. "I hate you, Fwodo Baggins. You hewe me? I hate you." With that, she tore off to join her family, tears of hurt pouring down her cheeks.

Frodo felt a stab of guilt; he hadn't meant for May to get upset. Rather quickly, however, the guilt turned to elation. He was going to get to see Bell first. He was gonna give her the special baby blanket. He was the only one allowed in until after Bell slept. The twelve-year-old hugged the soft blanket, rubbing his cheek against it. "I'll be good and quiet," he promised himself.

The wait was long and dull by Frodo's thinking. It had been three hours since he'd first shown up. Three hours of wanting to go see Bell and the baby and being told it wasn't time yet. When would it be time? If they waited too long, the others would see her first. For the dozenth time, Frodo looked towards Gaffer.

"Now?" He stroked the blanket with a restless hand.

Gaffer, like every time before, tilted his head as if listening for something. The boy joined him, straining to hear whatever it was the adult was trying to perceive. Silence called back to them, just like every time before. Hamfast opened his mouth to answer when suddenly everything changed.

A thin baby's wail broke the stillness. Every person in the room jumped and turned towards Gaffer, eyes wide, breaths held. Gaffer went pale. He listened to the baby's crying, hands clenching the arm rests of his favorite, worn out chair. That thin cry seemed to go on and on, without pause for breath.

Frodo stood, smiling, about to go down the hall to greet the new baby when Gaffer's hand shot out and gripped his elbow hard. He didn't say a word, just listening intently. The boy frowned and paused, listening.

The baby had stopped crying.

It sounded so eerie, that silence, with only the ticking of the clock and the breathing of the family to break it. Not understanding, the boy shook his head and looked towards his cousin's gardener. His voice was soft, confused, as he spoke.

"What's wrong, Gaffer? The baby's born now. We can see her, right?"

Hamfast looked up at his employer's adopted nephew. "No... have to wait until the midwife comes for us. She has to make sure that Bell and the babe are well enough. Mighta been complications, Master Frodo." His voice shook with a hidden, deep fear for his wife and newest child.

May spoke up from where she played with her wooden doll. "I wanna sistew. Boys awe mean."

Hamson and Halfred looked at the child, Halfred rolling his eyes. Hamson merely shook his head, looking as worried as his father. Daisy hugged herself, her chubby face flushed, eyes bright with anticipation. Hamfast shrugged. "Be nice to have a girl." He didn't seem to have a preference either way, actually.

"It'll be a boy," was Frodo's pronouncement. He was certain the baby was a boy. He'd been certain since the time he met Bell, when the baby kicked him so hard. "And he's not sick. Neither are. I'm gonna go see them." The boy, used to being an only child and getting his own way in most things, headed down the hall at a run.

Gaffer pushed himself up from his chair to follow, but Hamson beat him to it, sprinting after the smaller boy. The fifteen-year-old managed to grasp their visitor's arm and whirl him around. "You wanna see Mama without her drawers, covered in blood?"

Frodo froze. "What..."

"You heard me. You gotta know where babies come from, Mister Frodo. Don't tell me you want to actually see it." Hamson let go of the younger boy.

Stunned, Frodo shook his head. "No... I don't want to see that. That's sick."

Hamson nodded. "Well, if you don't wait for the midwife to clean her up, that's exactly what you're gonna see, sir. You gotta give them time."

"Blood? Time?" the boy was having trouble grasping that anyone could bleed without being seriously hurt. "The baby made her bleed?"

Rolling his eyes, impatient and not wanting to explain the mechanics of a delivery, Hamson nodded. "Sure it did."

Automatically, Frodo corrected, "Him."

"It. We ain't got any idea if it's a boy yet. Most like it's a girl, actually. Girls are born more and we already got two boys in this family." Hamson reached out and shook Frodo's arm. "Now come back and sit down like a good lad, Mister Frodo."

He nodded. Sit down. Wait. It seemed that's all he ever did, but he didn't complain. Instead, he nodded again and started turning towards the living room. His movement was arrested by Bell's door opening.

A disheveled old Hobbit woman shuffled out. She was taking off a stained apron, smiling and looking exhausted. Looking up, she nodded to both boys. "They're fine. Both of them are fine."

"Thank you, Ma'am," Hamson called. As the weary Hobbit smiled and went off to tell the rest of the family, Hamson turned to Frodo and pinched his elbow. "Mama won't wanna see you for awhile. She'll be too busy with the baby. It's happened every time so far, so don't be surprised if she doesn't really even look at you. After all, you're not even one of her children, are you? You're just an orphan from up the hill who hangs around here because you have nothing important to do." He let go and headed back for the family room.

Frodo was stunned. He followed Hamson with his large eyes. Why had the older boy said those mean things? He didn't want to be an orphan after all. Unable to comprehend why first May then Hamson has reacted so nastily towards him, the troubled Hobbit lad slowly walked to the room of the person he felt most comfortable with: Bell Gamgee.

He was going to knock, but decided at the last minute that the baby might be sleeping and knocking would wake him up. So, Frodo walked in without warning. He smiled in relief when he noted that Bell looked tired and worn, but healthy enough.

She was awake, half sitting against a huge mound of pillows. There was a sheet draped over her waist and legs. The woman had a very loose nightdress on and her soft brown hair was in disarray, curls everywhere. But there was a smile on the woman's face as she looked up from the baby in her arms.

"Hello, Frodo. Come on in. Oh! You have the blanket."

Frodo smiled hesitantly, worry shooting through him at the exhaustion in her voice. "Yes'm. Here it is. Just for him... is it a him?"

Bell nodded, smiling down at the infant once more. "Yes. He's a boy. Come see, Frodo. You'll be the first. Hamfast keeps the children out for a day so I can rest after birth." She smiled gently up at the boy she'd befriended three weeks ago.

With a happy sigh, Frodo immediately walked over, still hugging the soft blanket. He looked at the baby she held, curious about this new life... the boy that might take Bell away or bring her close.

The baby was asleep. He had a weirdly pointed head, and his face was still red and extremely chubby. There weren't any curls on the baby's head. In fact, he was completely covered in a light fuzz, but he was totally bald. There wasn't much about the infant to draw a twelve-year-old's interest, in fact.

"What do you think, Frodo?" Bell's voice was soft.

"Uh..." the dark haired boy tried to think of something nice to say. In his honest opinion, the baby was the ugliest thing he'd ever seen. But he knew you couldn't tell a mother that, even if she was your best friend. "He's... small?"

Bell laughed. "Yes, very small. For all that kicking, he's such a tiny thing, isn't he?"

Frodo grinned and nodded. "Yeah, he sure kicked hard, didn't he, Bell?" This was a better topic. This way he wouldn't insult the baby. "I think he's maybe the strongest baby around. He'll be a strong Hobbit when he grows up, right, Bell?"

"Right. He's not much to look at, is he, Frodo? But I'll tell you something. That pointed head will round down in a few days, and he'll started getting his hair in and losing that soft furry hair. And then he'll be the most beautiful baby in the Shire."

Trying to picture this infant like Bell described him wasn't easy. Frodo scrunched his eyes and looked hard at the baby. He turned his head this way and that, but it still changed nothing. The baby was bald with a pointed head. He was ugly.

Then, without warning, the baby woke up. When he opened those soft gray-green eyes and looked straight up at Frodo with that open curiosity, the boy fell head over heels. "Oh! He's beautiful, Bell!" Frodo reached out and stroked a finger down the soft cheek. "He's perfect!" The infant instinctively turned his head towards the finger, searching.

Bell laughed softly. "So you agree with me, then? That's good. The way you looked was like I made you drink sour milk." Bell adjusted the baby in her arms and smiled again. "Frodo, could you leave for a bit? I'm going to feed the baby, and I'd like to be alone with him for his first few meals. Is that all right, sweetheart?"

Expecting jealousy to well up at being sent away, Frodo was mildly surprised to find he couldn't get jealous. He'd have Bell later. Right now it was the baby's turn. The child nodded, smiling and stroking the chubby cheek again. "Uh huh. Want me to come back after luncheon?"

"Of course. We'll tell stories and sing to the baby, and you can tell him anything you want. He won't tell." Bell watched as Frodo continued stroking her newest child's cheek. "Frodo... you can hold him later. He's hungry right now."

As if coming out of a spell, Frodo's head shot up and he flushed a bit. "Oh... uh... yeah. Okay. Um.... After luncheon, 'kay? Promise?" He longed for reassurances that Hamson had lied. That this wasn't the first step of Bell pushing him away.

A gentle hand on his cheek reassured him. "I promise, Frodo. I'll send for you after luncheon and you may hold the baby."

He nodded and smiled wide, eyes lighting up in pleasure. "Okay, then. Have a nice rest, Bell." He darted for the door. The sooner baby got to eat; the sooner he could come back. At the door, Frodo suddenly whirled around. He'd forgotten to ask! "Um, Bell? What's his name?"

Bell looked up from her son, a tenderness in her eyes that Frodo wished he could see again and again. She adjusted the infant against her, his head moving against her nightdress, searching for food. Softly, she called out, "Samwise. I'll name him Samwise."

Frodo nodded and left, the door closing softly behind him. He leaned against it thinking about those beautiful soft eyes and that sweet searching trust. Samwise. Yes, he could share Bell with the baby. That baby was worth it.
Chapter 3. How Love Works by Sam
Author's Notes:
This chapter, Frodo is confronted with just how different he is from the Gamgees.
Gaffer looked up as Frodo trailed into the room smiling. They were all worried, as the midwife had stopped to clean up before actually coming in. No one yet knew how things were in the sickroom. When Hamfast saw Frodo's smile, his shoulders relaxed ever so slightly.

"You get to see them, lad?"

Frodo nodded in response, his smile dreamy. "Yeah. They're wonderful. He's beautiful!"

"He..." Gaffer breathed out, his eyes lighting up. "A son..." he smiled, his weatherworn features relaxing into a near cuddly appearance. "My son..."

Nodding eagerly, the boy hurried over to Gaffer's chair, putting his hands on the older man's knee. "He's got the loveliest eyes, Gaffer. All green and gray and soft and pretty. And he's so sweet and tiny. Boy is he tiny! But he's strong and smart already." Frodo kept babbling.

Gaffer looked surprised, letting his eyes wander over the pale, thin boy. He thought the baby pretty? That was a stunner, since Frodo was one of the prettiest Hobbit's Gaffer had ever seen. Shame he was a boy and so thin. He'd have made a lovely girl.

The boy kept babbling about how sweet the baby was and how clever and good and pretty and... it was a wonder. Frodo wasn't even related to the child and he acted more enthralled than most of the other children, except eight-year-old Daisy. Gaffer couldn't help but smile at the enthusiasm the orphaned boy displayed for the newest member of his servant's family. It sure beat the hurt fear he'd been displaying when Gaffer first met the lad three weeks before.

"Hold, lad, hold." He raised his hands as if to ward off the flow of words from the boy. "Ye haven't told us the boy's name yet." He knew what his wife had wanted to call the child, but he'd let their visitor reveal it.

The lad didn't disappoint. He stopped babbling and smiled beautifully, his large blue eyes softening. "Oh, his name is Samwise. Isn't that lovely? Samwise Gamgee."

Hamson shook his head, frowning. "Where'd that name come from? Has nothing to do with Gaffer or Mama."

Halfred nodded his agreement.

Frowning, Frodo tried to puzzle that one out. "Uh... I don't know. Maybe Sam is for Ham? And wise... uh..."

"My brother is Andwise. She's named him for my brother." Gaffer seemed quite content despite the looks of displeasure on his sons' faces. "It's a good name."

"I like it, Papa." Daisy leaned against her father, smiling in excitement. She'd been looking forward to the baby ever since May had started fighting being dressed up like a doll. "Can we see him now?"

He shook his head. "In the morning, Daisy girl. Your mother needs rest after birth. It's a lot of work to have a baby. And," he looked around the room, "speaking of work, there's luncheon to get out and chores to finish. Everyone get moving; ye've dawdled enough." Groans met the Gaffer's words but not a one of the children actually complained or back-talked. Instead, obediently, they filed out of the room; Halfred threw a jealous glance at their visitor.

Gaffer looked at Frodo. "Will you be staying to luncheon, Master Frodo?"

"Uh huh." The boy slipped up next to the Gaffer and walked with him. "Bell said she'd send for me after so I can sing to Sam."

"Sam, huh? Not even an hour old and you've made a pet of him? Well, Master Frodo, I'm right honored, I am, but Samwise'll be working more'n anything else. He'll have a living to earn, and this family has to do that by using their hands more'n their brains." He looked at him. "No offense meant to you and your cousin. Master Bilbo's a fine Hobbit and I couldn't work for better, I'm thinking. But he's a gentlehobbit, and has different ways to us. You understand, right, Master Frodo?"

Frodo looked up, his eyes studying Gaffer. "You mean Sam will have chores while I play." With a nod and a grunt, Gaffer confirmed the child's translation and they went in to join the others making lunch. The twelve-year-old paused in the doorway, watching the other children for a moment. Feeling just a bit guilty for not working, he stepped towards Halfred to help him, but was shooed away.

"I got that, Mister Frodo; it's my job and I'll do it." He glared at the other boy, hostility radiating from him, though Frodo couldn't understand why.

Hamson refused the help, telling Frodo to stay out of the way while Hobbits whom knew how to work got their jobs done. Turning from the older boy, Frodo headed towards the youngest there. May glared at him so he double-backed towards Daisy.

Of all the Gamgee children, Daisy was the most open to Frodo, but even she refused to let him help. "No, Frodo, I've got it. Thanks anyway." The eight-year-old tossed him a radiant smile to remove the sting of her reprimand. "It'll take too long to teach you, and we're hungry now. You just sit at the table and wait for luncheon."

Gaffer never said a word to stop the children from making Frodo sit instead of help. He knew the boy meant well, but he'd have to learn the difference in their stations, and it was best he learned it soon. He was a gentlehobbit, not a working class Hobbit. Therefore, Frodo wouldn't really be required to do much work in his life. He'd have servants to do it for him, just as the Brandybucks did. The man did, however, offer the lad a smile for his troubles. A good heart should always be encouraged.

Finally, luncheon was ready and all of the Gamgees, except the two in the sickroom, sat down to table with Frodo. Gaffer started piling food on plates and handing them round the table, Frodo being served first as a guest. There was no talking besides the occasional "Pass the butter" or "May I have some more greens". Rather, the room was full of the sounds of Hobbits eating their midday meal as neatly and hurriedly as possible. After all, the children had only half a day now to do a full day's chores and Gaffer still wanted to get back to Bag End to work on the gardens, despite Bilbo's offer of a day off.

By the end of the meal, Frodo was long since finished and had been watching the others. Daisy kept looking over at him and giggling, but he ignored that. Instead, the boy kept his eyes trained on Gaffer, waiting for the right time to start asking his numerous questions. When Hamfast put his knife and fork down, Frodo pounced on the opportunity.

"Gaffer, sir?"

The Gaffer looked up, signaled his children to clear the table and get to work, then looked at his guest. "Yes, Master Frodo?"

"Uh... what kind of work will Sam be doing?" He handed off his plate to Daisy with an absent smile; all thought of helping gone as quickly as it'd come.

"I reckon I'll be teaching him a lot of things, Master Frodo. He'll be learning gardening and rope making, as well as carpentry among other useful chores. Why do ye ask?"

Frodo fiddled with the tablecloth. "I was wondering how busy he'd be and when he'd start. See I want to tell him stories and stuff, but I can't if he's working. And I know you said he has to work, so I wondered when he'd not be working."

The older Hobbit nodded, thoughtfully, and leaned back in his chair. "Well... Samwise'll be just as busy as the others. If he's a good, ambitious lad he'll be even busier. And if he shows promise in gardening, I'll be training him to take over for me, as the two boys I got now aren't as good at it as I'd wish. He'll have meals free, and maybe an hour or so in the morning for playing and an hour in the evenings, until he's old enough to take on a job of his own. After that, it'll be up to whoever hires him."

"Oh." Frodo frowned, staring blindly at the table. He tried to imagine only having two hours a day to play and couldn't see it. That seemed like an awful lot of work. Maybe, when Sam got older, Bilbo would hire him so Sam could play with Frodo.

Satisfied with that plan, Frodo smiled at Gaffer suddenly. "And if someone wanted to hire him for something other than gardening? Maybe as a... uh..." he tried to find a word, since it didn't seem right to say he'd hire a friend. Friends weren't hired; they just happened on accident. "Um..."

Gaffer stood. "Master Frodo, if someone were to offer to hire any of my children, they'd be applying through me first. I'll decide if the job's worth my kids' time. Now, if'n you'll excuse me, I've got to get up to Bag End and start my work. I'm half a day behind as it is."

Frodo was suddenly torn between staying to sing to Bell and Samwise or going back home and maybe helping Gaffer. He felt bad again for not working. Finally, his pride took over and he softly offered, "Would you like some help, Gaffer, sir?"

"Well, I'll be..." Gaffer smiled down at the boy. "I thank you, Master Frodo, for the kind offer, but I believe I can handle it. Maybe it'd be best if you help Bell with the baby." He watched to see how the compromise would sit, as Hamfast figured Frodo would prefer that task anyway.

He was right. Frodo's face lit up and he smiled. "Would that really help? Oh, I'd love to help Bell with Sam!" He clapped his hands and hopped a few times in excitement.

Gaffer laughed. "Go ahead, lad, she'll be wanting you soon anyhow." And with that, the older Hobbit walked out the door, jamming his hat over his dusky auburn curls.

"Yippee!" The boy turned and headed at a trot towards the sickroom, excitement still vibrating through him. He had been thinking the other children were mad because he wasn't working, but Gaffer gave him work to do. Help Bell... that'd be perfect. And he could tell the others he really did know how to work so they could stop being angry.

As he rounded the corner out of the kitchen, Frodo ran headlong into Halfred. The other Hobbit was only one year younger than Frodo, but somehow it seemed a wider gap than one year lay between them. The other boy sneered and pushed Frodo up against a wall.

"Listen, Mister Frodo. You're rich and it means you don't do nothing but sit around useless. We're poor and have to work. So stop rubbing it in. You just leave us be. Go ahead and sing and talk all day, but you don't go making us feel bad anymore just cause we don't got what you got. It's mean!"

Frodo blinked. "Huh? But... I wasn't... I..."

Halfred didn't stay to listen. He stomped towards the kitchen and the waiting dishes it was his turn to clean. Frodo watched the angry boy go, bewildered by the accusation. He shook his head, slowly starting back to the bedroom. He couldn't understand this family. Maybe everyone was right; maybe they just weren't the same.

When the confused child walked into Bell's room, again without knocking, his blue eyes were wide and troubled. He watched his feet, scuffing his toes across well-cleaned floors. In fact, he was so bewildered that he didn't even look up to see if Bell wanted him in there. He just slumped over to the bed and threw himself down next to the woman.

"Uh oh... what's happened, Frodo?" Bell's voice was soft and kind. She reached out a hand to caress his curls. When he looked up at her, her soft gray eyes held compassion.

He broke into tears he hadn't even expected. "The others hate me!"

"Oh." She slipped her arm around him and gave him a hug, carefully balancing the infant in her lap instead. "What's happened with them?" She didn't argue his assumption, didn't patronize him. Her question was straightforward and sympathetic. She believed that he felt the others hated him and wanted to hear his side, rather than blindly defend the others, despite being their mother. Bell didn't believe her children really hated Frodo, but they'd given him that impression, and that was bad enough.

"They hate me 'cause I don't work." He scrubbed at his eyes, trying to stop the tears, but found himself just crying harder.

Bell nodded and caressed his shoulder. "Oh, Sweetie... it's rough being different." She dropped a kiss to his dark curls.

Frodo turned wide eyes up to her. "You understand perfectly!" He was surprised, but knew he should have expected that. She'd understood him these three weeks. He threw his arms around her, still conscious of the infant in her lap. Hugging her, the boy felt much better. "You're my best friend, Bell. You're my only friend."

Little Samwise opened his gray-green eyes and whimpered. Frodo looked down at the infant and smiled. He touched the baby's cheek, watching as Sam turned into the touch, seeking something known only to instinct and infants. Frodo couldn't even take his eyes off of the little boy.

"He's my friend, too. You don't hate me, do you, Sam?"

The baby didn't seem to respond, but he certainly didn't pull away or cry, either. That made Frodo feel accepted, loved. "I think Bilbo's my friend, too, Bell." It was then that the boy noticed his companion hadn't spoken. He tore his gaze away from the baby to look up at the mother.

She smiled gently at him. "Yes, I count three friends so far. I think you'll get many more. Remember what I said when we met? Four families. So far, this is two."

"But that means I've gotta make friends with a Brandybuck and a Took, and they don't live in Hobbiton, Bell. I'm not gonna make friends if I never meet anyone, am I?" His voice was earnest.

With a soft laugh, Bell gently picked up her son. "Hold out your arms Frodo, just like you're going to hold a very large loaf of bread." When he did as instructed, she ever so carefully lay the baby in the boy's arms, continuing what she'd been saying. "You'll meet them later, Frodo. You can make friends at any age, you know, not just when you're a child. I would hope you'd make friends with my other children, but that's something they'd have to want, too. Friendship is a two-way sort of thing."

Frodo wasn't really paying much attention. He had frozen in place, hardly daring to breathe. The weight of the tiny Hobbit in his arms terrified him, but if asked he wouldn't have given it up for all the friends in the Shire. This was Samwise Gamgee, his baby. True, he'd had nothing to do with this baby until three weeks ago, but it didn't matter. Somehow, deep down, they belonged to each other. Naturally, Frodo could never have described what he felt, even to Bell. It wasn't even a conscious thought. It was just a belonging that couldn't be argued with.

Sam's eyes were closed again.

Frowning, Frodo looked up at Bell. "Is he asleep?" He sounded worried; afraid that maybe he'd hurt or killed Sam or something. After all, he hadn't had much luck keeping people around who liked him. That thought threatened to overwhelm him with tears again, but Bell's response chased it away.

"He's definitely awake. See, when you spoke, his eyes opened again. I think he knows you Frodo Baggins." She hugged him again, keeping one hand under Sam's head and neck.

"Sam... isn't he tiny, Bell? Think he'll be a big Hobbit or a little one? I think maybe he'll be a little one 'cause he's so little."

"Oh, I don't know. I think he'll be like the Gaffer, actually. He has that look about him."

"You think?" Frodo started studying the baby again. Finally, he unwrapped the soft blanket he'd brought in earlier. Bell didn't yell at him to keep the baby warm. She merely watched, smiling, as Frodo started touching any and every part of the baby. "One... two... three..." he was counting Sam's toes. After finding ten, he nodded as if to mark that point and started on the fingers. After a thorough count of tiny fingers, he started on ears, nose, eyes, and other bits. Finally, Frodo looked up. "He's got everything he needs, right Bell?"

Bell laughed. "Yes, I believe he does, Sweetie. Everything a Hobbit could ever need." She loved looking at her son, as only a mother could. Seeing him also through Frodo's wondering eyes was a double pleasure. "What do you plan to do with him, now, Frodo?"

"Now? Or when he's grown up?" Frodo had always had a clever mind.

"When he's grown, Frodo." The woman shifted against her pillows and hesitantly let go of Sam's head and neck, satisfied when she was sure Frodo was properly supporting the infant.

Frodo tilted his head and looked down at Sam. "I want to hire him so he can have time to play with me. And we'll tell stories to each other and live up at Bag End and everything!" He beamed at Bell, but the smile dropped a bit as he saw the worry on her face. "What?"

She sighed. "I'm not sure Gaffer will like Samwise being hired out just to play and tell stories, Frodo. He'll want Sam to have what he thinks is a more important job. But," she touched the child's nose and smiled, "I'm sure you'll get plenty of time together as he grows up. He won't get chores until he's four, and Gaffer'll make sure he has a couple of hours to play every day."

"Two hours isn't enough. Sam deserves more playtime! He's a good baby!" Frodo was indignant for the boy the baby would become.

Bell nodded. "Whether he deserves it or not isn't the question, Frodo. Of course he's a good baby. But there are rules in the world, and Samwise will have to live by those rules. After all, the Shire runs on rules so people don't get hurt." She lifted Frodo's chin. "Breaking the rules can hurt people, and not just the person who broke the rules. It can hurt a lot of people." Bell hugged him again.

With a deep sigh, the boy nodded. "I... I know, Bell. But it's not fair. Everyone hates me because I don't work. And Sam won't get to play. Maybe he'll hate me, too." He wanted to cry at that thought.

"Sam won't ever hate you," Bell's soft voice was a promise. "He'll love you as much as I do."

Frodo's head shot up, tears filling his eyes. "You love me?"

"Yes, I do, Frodo. If Bilbo hadn't adopted you, I'd have asked Gaffer to."

That was too much for the little boy; he'd gone over the wide range of emotions, from elation to fear to grief, all in the course of a day. He broke down crying, burying his face against Sam. Bell looked sadly at him, wanting to help but knowing anything she said would make this even more overwhelming for the poor child. She stayed quiet as he sobbed into the baby's belly.

Suddenly, with a gasp, Frodo started to raise his head and stopped. Sam had gripped some of Frodo's curls when they brushed his tiny hand. He gurgled softly, wide eyes trained on Frodo. The boy could pick up his head only enough to stare right back at the infant through tear drenched blue eyes.

"Oh..." his voice was soft with wonder, a slight hiccup ending the exclamation.

Bell smiled. "They say that at this young the baby can't focus yet, Sweetie. What do you think?"

Frodo smiled, hiccuping again. "I think... that he sees... me, Bell..." he lay his head down, carefully turning it so he didn't break the hold Sam had on him. He listened to the fast heartbeat of the tiny body beneath his cheek. "He really sees me."

"I think you're right. And, Frodo?"

"Yeah?" Frodo's voice was still soft with wonder.

"I don't think Sam will ever care if you work or not. In fact, I think he'd rather you didn't work." Bell had no idea what would really happen in the future, but the child needed to know that being what he was would be acceptable to those who cared for him.

Frodo sighed. "Yeah. I think you're right. Not everybody hates me, huh, Bell?"

Bell bent enough to kiss the boy. "No, I think the most important people already love you, Sweetie. Bilbo, me, and Sam."

"Yeah..." Frodo turned his head to kiss Sam's belly, eliciting a responsive gurgle once more. "Sam..."
Chapter 4. Stories Of The Heart by Sam
Author's Notes:
This chapter, Frodo rejected?
He was crying again.

Frodo stopped his story for the second time as Bell picked her infant son up and cuddled him. With a small, annoyed frown, the twelve-year-old Hobbit watched as the baby fussed. It had been a month since little Samwise Gamgee had been born. In that entire month, the baby had managed to get perhaps three-fourths of his mother's attention every time Frodo visited.

This time, Frodo'd been telling a story about Dwarves that Bilbo had begun telling at bedtime the night before. The older Hobbit hadn't finished, however, claiming that he'd tell a bit more each night so they could enjoy it longer. Thus, Frodo was making up bits to extend it for Bell. He'd been hoping to snare her attention with the action-packed story of how the Dwarves had gotten wild enough to climb the orchard trees at Farmer Maggot's down the long road from Bagshot Row.

It had seemed to be working, too. Bell had been asking all sorts of good questions as she rocked the baby in his cradle. Questions like "Didn't Farmer Maggot catch them?" and "Weren't they afraid to climb so high?"; not the normal stupid adult questions about why the Dwarves would even want to climb trees. But it hadn't lasted.

Twice now little Samwise had interrupted the story by wailing for attention. The first time, he'd been hungry. For the first time Bell had let Frodo stay while she fed the baby, but he still didn't understand it. She'd held the baby against her, draping the blanket over both of them so Frodo didn't see anything. He had no clue how the baby could eat like that but had been so flattered that Bell wanted him to keep telling the story that he decided to save his questions for later. Now it was the second time, and the baby kept fussing even in his mother's arms.

"What's wrong? Is he hungry again?" Frodo tried not to show his annoyance. After all, he loved Sam, but he was still an annoyed twelve-year-old.

Bell looked up. "He needs changing, Frodo. It's all right. Just let me..."

"Can I change him?" Frodo knelt up on the rug next to Bell, looking eager. "I won't hurt him. I can do it!"

He'd never actually seen them change Sam's diapers, but it couldn't be too hard, right? You slip off the old one, wrap the new one around him, and pin it while not sticking the baby with the pin. Easy as rolling down the hill.

"Well..." Bell looked at the fussy infant than at the eager child. "Oh, okay, but this first time I'll do it and you listen. I'll teach you. It'll be nice to have someone help me with him occasionally."

Frodo clapped and hurried over to the diaper piled toy chest. Sam had been moved into the small infant room just the day before. It was still crowded with furniture. As they had just enough room to sit on the rug with the baby, Frodo never complained. His room at Bag End was huge, but he had been learning the difference between rich and poor the past month.

He now knew you would hurt someone's feelings if you offered him money. Frodo was fortunate; he'd asked Bilbo to give money to the Gamgees instead of simply rushing over and offering his own pocket money. Bilbo had commended him for the goodness of his heart; he had also warned him that what Frodo wanted to do was help, but the Gamgees would see it as charity, and people didn't like charity. So, Frodo had asked how he could help them. Bilbo had assured the little boy that the best way to help them would be to not interfere. Treat them as equals, but don't try to change them.

So far it had worked. Even May had backed down and started being nice again, marginally. The only one in the family that didn't seem to like him, in fact, was Halfred Gamgee. That was a shame, since they were only one year apart in age; however, Frodo just let it go now having decided that there had to be at least one Gamgee he didn't like.

Grabbing a neatly folded diaper, Frodo hurried back to Bell and Samwise. "Here. And I got the powder, too." He smiled proudly. He knew that every time he picked Sam up, the infant smelled of the powder, so obviously she'd need it. He was delighted when Bell confirmed his thought.

"Thank you, Frodo. Now, you need to lay Samwise on a flat surface, so it's easier to get the diaper off and on. There are two pins..."

"I already know to be careful not to stick him," Frodo interrupted.

Bell nodded. "That's good. I was hoping you were that smart." She smiled gently at him and continued the lesson. "Unfasten the pins and hold the diaper over him, or you'll get wet."

Wide blue eyes turned incredulously up to Bell. "You mean Sam'd pee on me? Why? I thought he liked me."

A soft laugh met that question. "Oh, Frodo, of course he likes you. If he didn't, he'd cry when you tried to hold him. Babies pee when the air hits them down there. It's natural."

"Oh." Frodo was only half listening now. Sam would cry if he didn't like him? Like he cried every time Halfred tried to pick him up? A surge of malicious pleasure shot through the twelve-year-old. So, Sam liked him better than his own brother. Probably because he knew Halfred was a bully. Frodo couldn't resist planting a kiss on Sam's nose.

Bell laughed again. "You are an affectionate boy, aren't you, Frodo?" Now, get the other diaper ready to lie under him. If you want, you can always get it ready beforehand. Put a bit of powder on the new diaper... not too much!" She laughed as a thin cloud of the white powder surrounded Frodo.

"Whoa! That stuff's strong!"

"Yes. That's why we only use a little. It's to help keep him dry so he doesn't sweat on the diaper and get a rash. You know, like you sweat on your shirt. But you can change your shirt; Samwise can't change his own diaper, and we can't see if he's sweating can we?"

Frodo nodded and wiped the powder off the diaper. There was a fine layer left, and Bell approved it as just enough. The boy laid the diaper on the rug and turned to Bell. "Now what, Bell?"

The fond mother smiled. "Now get ready with cleaning cloths, in case he's messy. We'll want to wash him off, anyway, but you might need more than one if he's messy." She reached for the small covered jar of damp cleaning cloths Gaffer renewed for her each day.

Frodo beat her to it. "I'll wash him, okay? Please?" He was almost vibrating in excitement. "I won't hurt him, and he'll be ever so clean. Please?"

She watched him a long moment as he tried to will her to say yes. Finally, she nodded. "Okay. You may wash him. But, Frodo, it's a messy job and I'll be checking to see that you've got him totally clean." She passed over the jar of cloths.

With a soft sound of pleasure, Frodo moved to easily reach the infant. Sam's eyes watched him, wide and trusting. The boy cooed as he peeled the diaper back; it changed into a gagging sound. "Ew! He's really messy, Bell!"

"Want me to take over, Sweetie?"

"No!" Frodo modulated his tone when he saw the surprise on her face. "No, Bell. I can do this. I want to do this. Please?"

Bell nodded and ran a hand through his curls. "All right, Frodo. You clean him up."

The infant let his eyes rove over towards Bell then back to Frodo. He smiled slightly and the boy gasped. "Oh... Bell, he smiled at me. He really smiled at me." Frodo forgot all about cleaning the baby, instead cuddling him. As he got messy, though, the boy groaned. "Yuck! That's sick!" He turned a frown on the cooing baby. "Yuck, Sam."

Sam merely smiled back, cooing.

"Here, Frodo, take your shirt off. I'll wash it. You can clean Samwise up and then get a bath." Bell helped him pull his soiled shirt off, revealing how pale the boy really was. She frowned. "Frodo, do you ever play outside, Sweetie?"

"No." Frodo wasn't really paying attention. He was too busy trying to wipe off the baby's mess with one of the damp cloths. He had gotten through three before he realized Bell hadn't asked any more questions.

He looked up at her. "Bell? Why'd you ask if I play outside? You want me to go?"

Tilting her head, Bell sighed. "No, I don't want you to leave, Sweetie. I just wonder what you do when you're not with us." She handed him another cloth.

"Oh, that's easy. I wander around Bag End and look at things. Bilbo tells me stories. I like it here, even if there are too many people. Sam's here. And you, Bell." Frodo smiled at her then looked back at his task.

Bell ruffled his dark curls. "Do you do anything else up at Bag End, Sweetie? Or do you fill your days with wandering and stories?"

Frodo thought about that. He bit his lip as he used yet another cloth to wipe Sam's now very clean bottom. Bell gently stopped him as he looked up to speak. He blinked. "Uh... no... nothing else, really." He hung his head. Would Bell now hate him because he didn't do anything?

She hugged him, startling Frodo into widening his already large blue eyes. "Your cousin writes and reads, Frodo. Perhaps he'd teach you if you asked? He's getting older and someday he'll need someone to read to him."

"Why? Can't old people read?"

With a laugh, Bell hugged him. "Of course some can, if they knew before how to. But his eyes will stop working as well, Sweetie. If you learned how to read, you could read his books to him."

The boy sat thoughtfully. Finally, he asked, "Bell, do the Gamgees read?"

Bell touched the tip of his nose with a finger. "The Gamgees don't have time to read or to learn how, Frodo. But it's okay. We tell stories, instead of reading them." She put the jar away, piling the dirty diaper and cloths with Frodo's shirt. "Are you ready to finish with Samwise's diaper?

Frodo shook himself. "Yeah." He frowned, though, trying to puzzle out the entire working-versus-reading thing. Slowly, he reached to pull the diaper up for fastening. Unfortunately, Sam was quicker and a stream of pee hit the boy right in the arm and chest. "Ew! Sam! That's sick!"

Sam cooed happily, waving his chubby arms.

"My, you really do need a bath now, Frodo. Here, I'll finish up and you can try again another day. Get into the tub now." Bell smiled gently and deftly changed Sam once more, fastening the diaper and scooping up the messy clothing.

Pushing to his feet, Frodo made a disgusted face. "Yuck!" He gave a glare to Sam and trotted out, heading towards the large tub the Gamgees stored in the side yard. He worked to fill it with cool water from the stream, not wanting to take the time to heat buckets full. It was halfway through his hurried bath that the boy realized he hadn't even gotten to finish his Dwarf story.

When Frodo trailed back into the hole, having emptied and turned over the tub, he slipped into the baby's room once more. Gaffer was just leaving, with a frown, and stopped only long enough to nod his head in respect to the lad. In the room, Bell was rocking in her chair with Sam on her lap, singing softly. Frodo felt left out suddenly.

"Bell? You didn't wait for me." His tone was accusatory.

She looked up, not smiling. "But I wanted to. Sam wouldn't wait. He wanted a song." She gestured to the nearly sleeping infant.

Frodo looked down at him, studying the soft chubby features carefully. "Oh." He looked back at her with a soft sigh. "Okay, that's all right then. Sam shouldn't have to wait for me to bathe."

"When he gets older, he'll have more patience for you, Frodo. Come sit." She patted the stool next to her chair. It had been added to the furniture specifically for Frodo's use. He smiled and hurried over, sliding onto the small wooden stool.

"Bell?"

"Yes, Frodo?"

"Will Sam be allowed to read?"

The woman looked up sharply. Frowning slightly, she studied the boy. She looked back down at her son. "Frodo. You do know I love you, right?"

"Uh huh. I love you, too. Sam too."

"Then don't be upset when I tell you this? Or try not to be upset?"

Frodo frowned. "What's wrong?" He sounded wary.

Bell sighed and cuddled Samwise, who had drifted off to sleep. "We, the Gaffer and I, think it's best if you didn't come over so often. You need to be with your cousin Bilbo more..."

"I thought you loved me!" Frodo jumped to his feet, tears of anger and confused hurt coming to his eyes.

"I do..."

He cut her off. "Then why do you want me to leave? You lied to me!"

Bell shook her head. "No, Sweetie, we think you need more time with Bilbo..."

"I don't want time with Bilbo. I want time with Sam and you." He turned to her, eyes wide and begging. "Please, don't send me away? I have to be here."

The woman stood slowly and moved towards the cradle, gently placing her infant son into the worn wooden bed. "Frodo," she turned to him, "You've spent far too much time here and not enough at home. The other children are upset. Gaffer thinks you're learning the wrong kind of life for your station. And... and... and I think you're getting far to attached to Samwise."

"But Sam..."

"Samwise." Her tone was final, cutting off his protest. "His name is not Sam; it's Samwise. Sweetie, you can't make a pet out of him. He's a Hobbit. He'll need to grow up strong and work hard to make a living. He won't have the leisure time to wander the hole and tell stories, like you do. He'll need to learn that immediately. With you hanging around, he'll grow up thinking he has a choice." She reached for Frodo who jerked away.

With a hurt look, Bell turned towards the tiny window. "Frodo, try to understand. This is for the good of both you and Samwise. You come from two different types of families. You don't fit in this type, and he won't ever be able to fit into your type. It's better to learn that right now, Frodo. Please..."

"You lied to me! You just want Sam to yourself!"

"Frodo! I have never lied to you. And he's my baby, of course I want him. But that doesn't mean I want you less, Sweetie..."

Frodo turned away from her, going to the cradle. He looked in, studying the sleeping infant. He suddenly sounded a lot calmer, frighteningly so. "You want me to stop playing with Sam... wise... right? To be a gentlehobbit, so he can be a gardener."

"Yes," Bell moved closer.

He ignored her. "Okay, fine. I didn't want to play here anyway. Halfred's a bully and mean, and May's spoiled. I'm going home. Samwise can be a gardener all he wants. I won't stop him." He glared at her and ran out of the room, ignoring her soft call to come back.

Bell covered her face, crying. She heard footsteps come in. Without even looking up, she said, "It's done, Hamfast. I've told him." Her husband only answered her by placing a strong hand to her shoulder. Neither spoke for a long time.

Sam slept on unaware of the big change that had come over his life.

His lungs hurt; his legs ached; he couldn't breathe for crying. Frodo ran all the way back up Bagshot Row to his cousin's home: Bag End. He burst in through the faded green door. Weeping too hard to even bother looking for his cousin, Frodo headed for the bedrooms.

Bilbo had been reading a book. He looked up, smiling in greeting as he heard the door burst open. The smile faded as he saw the lad run right past, sobbing loudly. "Frodo lad? What's happened?" He tossed his book down to the floor and shot out of his seat.

The older Hobbit hurried after his adopted nephew, worried when Frodo didn't even acknowledge him. "Frodo?" Bilbo stopped short as the boy's door slammed in his face. He heard thumping coming from the other side. "Frodo?" his voice softened with confusion.

"Go away! I hate you!"

It was like a slap in the face. "What?" He had no idea what he'd done. For the past two months he'd let Frodo live as he chose. He hadn't even given him a bedtime, trying to let the child settle in before repressing him too much. Perhaps that was wrong?

With a gentle knock, Bilbo tried again. "Frodo, my lad? What's wrong? What have I done? Is there any way to fix it?" He hoped this opening would work, but it didn't seem to. There was no answer from the other side of the door.

Bilbo took his courage in his hands and opened the door. "Frodo?" He peered in, soft hazel eyes worried.

There lay Frodo on the bed. His room was a typical child's room, a few toys scattered about and some clothes pushed into a heap in the corner. The entire room had been designed for the lad, so everything was to his choice. But the older Hobbit didn't even register this small haven he'd provided his cousin. He was too busy watching the wracking sobs which shook the too thin body.

"Oh, Frodo!" Bilbo rushed over and sat down, reaching out a soft hand to tangle into the boy's dark curls. "Oh, Frodo, lad, what's happened?"

Frodo started to pull away then seemed to change his mind. Flinging himself forcefully at the older Hobbit, he tried to burrow into him, sobbing and shaking. He was crying so hard his words came out as mumblings only buried somewhere in Bilbo's waistcoat.

Bilbo simply hugged him close, rocking and murmuring soothing nothings. He cuddled and cooed for long minutes while Frodo cried his heart out. It was a long time, and several cramped muscles later, before the boy had cried himself into a near stupor.

"They hate me."

The words took Bilbo by surprise. He'd nearly dozed off after the repeated gentle movements and sounds he'd been making. Unsure if he made out the words correctly, Bilbo asked carefully, "Who does, lad? Why?"

"The Gamgees. Cause I'm rich and they have to work. They don't want me to play with Sam anymore, either. They want me to stay here and read to you and not come down and play and help and..." He sat up suddenly, wiping a hand angrily across his eyes. "They're mean and I hate them right back!"

"Frodo..." Bilbo's tone was gentle, not reprimanding, as he pulled the boy against his shoulder. "So, they finally did it. I wondered how long they'd let you come by."

Frodo turned incredulous eyes up to his cousin. "You knew they were gonna send me away? Why didn't you tell me?" He pushed away, hurt.

Bilbo sighed but let the boy go. "Because I wanted you to enjoy the baby as long as they'd let you. You were happy there, my boy, and I wanted you happy. I'm sorry they won't let you stay, though. I think you'd make a mighty fine playmate for young Sam."

"It's Samwise, Bell told me so. She doesn't want me calling him Sam anymore." Frodo was resentful.

"Yes, I can see that." Bilbo shifted and pulled Frodo against him. The boy didn't resist, letting himself be cuddled. "You see, Frodo, she's worried you'll turn the boy's head."

"Huh?"

Bilbo smiled at him. "You're a smart lad. If you had to work, but your best friend told you to play instead, would you play or work? The truth, lad, you won't be in trouble."

"Uh..." the young Hobbit looked sheepish. "I'd play, Bilbo." He hung his head.

"Right. And so would I."

Frodo's head shot up in surprise; his eyes widened incredulously. "You would? Why?"

The older Hobbit smiled. "Because it's more fun than work; that's why. Everyone's the same, lad, and Bell Gamgee knows it. The other children there are getting upset because you don't have to work."

"But I wanted to work, Bilbo," his voice was a whine.

His cousin laughed. "Of course you did. No one wants to feel left out, even if it's working. But, you see, Frodo. You may work one day or so, but you don't have to, so you wouldn't want to do it for long. The other children know that. They see you've a good heart, lad, but they see you as different because you live with me."

Frodo wiped his eyes. "I don't wanna be different. If Mum and Da were here, I'd be their friend, right?"

Bilbo shook his head. "No, you'd still be allowed to play a lot. You remember what it was like. No, there's all types that make this world turn, Frodo, and you're just not the same type as the Gamgees. You can be friends," he lifted a hand to quell Frodo's protest, "but you're not the same. The only way for you to be the same is if the Gamgees came into a windfall of money."

"I wish we could give them the money." Frodo sighed and leaned into Bilbo.

Nodding, Bilbo agreed, "So do I, lad. But then they wouldn't be our friends, because they'd feel bad."

The boy looked up, snorting. "Yeah, that stupid charity thing."

"That's right, my boy: that stupid charity thing. So, here's what we'll do. Tomorrow you'll clean your room up like a proper Hobbit then I'll start teaching you to read and write. It's time you got work of your own to do."

"Work? But, Bilbo, gentlehobbits don't work. Do they?" Frodo sounded uncertain on the last.

"Don't work?" Bilbo pushed away and stood, sounding indignant. "Of course we do! There's much to do. Why, I've a book to write, and I'll need your help. You'll need to learn to cook and clean and tend things for yourself, you know. You'll need to keep track of money and land and all sorts of jobs. Gentlehobbits certainly do work. They just don't do the same kind of work as folks like the Gamgees. You'll be busy enough, my boy, don't you fret."

Frodo bit his lip, watching Bilbo. He turned this over in his mind. He wanted to rebel against suddenly loosing his freedom, but something stopped him. Hesitantly, he asked, "If I start working at reading and numbers and stuff... will I be allowed to play with Sam again?"

Bilbo placed a hand on Frodo's soft curls. "We'll see, lad. You've got to work hard to live up to the Gamgees' standards, you do. But if you work real hard, maybe they'll let him play with you in his free time, as long as you don't interfere with his work time. I'll ask them about it if I see you working hard enough, right lad?"

Frodo hugged himself and nodded. "Right..."

As Bilbo moved to leave the room, Frodo softly called out, "Bilbo?"

"Yes lad?" he turned in the doorway waiting.

"Will I still be allowed to tell your stories to Sam if we can play together?"

"I believe you will, Frodo, my lad. I believe you will." And with that, Bilbo gently closed the door, leaving Frodo alone with his thoughts.
Chapter 5. Of Dragons And Gardeners by Sam
Author's Notes:
This chapter, Frodo gets a very nice surprise, and everyone else has to learn to deal with it.
A giggle sounded, making Frodo smile. He pretended not to have heard. Instead, the fifteen-year-old Hobbit lay back on the fine lawn of Bag End and continued to pretend to read his book. It was a beautiful summer's day; the sky was lightly dotted with the fluffiest clouds one could ever hope for. The sun shone done and a breeze cooled the air, making it seem that all of nature was working in harmony with each other: truly a pleasant day.

The giggle sounded again.

The teenager was hard pressed not to join in the merry sound. He knew where it came from, and it delighted him. Bell was off visiting relatives, having taken the girls with her. Thus, Gaffer had sole care of the three boys. As the two older ones were too busy working to watch after their little brother, Gaffer had brought the lad up to Bag End for the first time.

It was also the first time Frodo had gotten to be near the child without a frowning or nervous adult hovering, thinking he'd try to break the rules that had been set down three years previously. The dark haired Hobbit had no intention of breaking rules but if the toddler broke the rules who could blame him for nobly keeping an eye on the child, right?

Flipping over on to his stomach, the lad gave up all pretense of reading. Samwise had again broken away from his busy father to toddle towards the peaceful scene of Frodo reading. Delighted with the sudden attention, the little boy clapped his hands and hurried over as fast as his chubby little legs could go.

"Well, hello, Samwise Gamgee. Off exploring again are you?" Frodo opened his arms to the laughing boy, engulfing him in a hug.

"Fodo... Fodo..." Sam couldn't quite pronounce his older friend's name, but neither were bothered by that small failing.

"What, Sam?"

Freezing, Frodo looked around to make sure he hadn't been overheard. He may be permitted to let Sam climb all over him while Gaffer was too busy to protest, but he still wasn't supposed to be using that pet name for the boy. Fortunately, Hamfast was off at the other end of the roses, pruning or some such. The teen smiled in relief and touched noses with the chubby toddler. Softer this time, he asked, "What, Sam?"

Sam patted Frodo's head, laughing. "Fodo pay."

It was still hard to get used to Samwise's speech patterns. After all, he hadn't been around the child enough to just pick it up. It took him some time to recall that instead of lisping over letters he couldn't say, Sam simply dropped the annoy letters completely. Thus, after a long pause, it sunk in that Sam was asking him to play.

With a laugh, Frodo nodded. 'Sure Sam. What do you want to play?"

"Fodo. Wanna pay Fodo."

"Oh, Sam, I know you wanna play with me, I'm ask..." He stopped, thinking. Okay, Sam wanted to play and apparently the only thing that concerned him was that it be Frodo playing with him. Therefore, the teen could choose the game; he knew just what he wanted to play, too.

With a wide, slow smile, the older boy nodded. "Okay, let's play dragon. Which do you want to be? Bilbo or Smaug?"

"Fodo be soggy!"

Frodo nodded. "Okay, I'm the dragon. You've got to be Bilbo then. Come on, you can use this rock as the cup. It's right here on my treasure..." he started piling rocks and sticks and such next to his book, pretty much oblivious to the fact that his book might get damaged if the child knocked the entire pile of debris down. "Okay, Bilbo goes into the cave and talks to Smaug. Go ahead, talk to the dragon, Sam."

Sam sat down with a thud onto his well-cushioned butt. He still wore diapers and, due to the thick padding they provided, he had the habit of simply plopping down without care what he landed on. "K... Ho Soggy!"

With a low growl that ended on a laugh, Frodo curled himself up right next to the pile of debris. "Grrr... what do you want... roawr..."

The child squealed with laughter and clapped his hands in delight. "Oh, gen... gen!"

"What? This?" And Frodo slowly uncurled, growling at the toddler, who squealed louder.

The noise brought the Gaffer's attention to the pair and the older Hobbit stopped working. He pushed his cap back, frowning towards the boys. Scratching his head, the Gaffer wondered if he'd done the right thing.

When Bell left, she'd wanted to take the two youngest children. Hamfast had convinced her to take the girls, giving Daisy a treat she rarely got, instead. He said he'd have no problem with the little one, even working. He'd finally managed to convince her, and she'd left the next day, laded with homemade presents for her family.

Gaffer knew he'd been the one to tell Bell to cut off Frodo's visits. He also knew how much it had hurt both his wife and the child. But he still felt it was for the best. Frodo needed to grow in an entirely different world: this world, a world of playing and stories and gentlehobbit pursuits. Samwise needed to grow up surrounded by working Hobbits, so he'd understand where his place was.

The children were indeed happy together, though, and the thought of the pain he'd caused everyone tore at the old Hobbit's innards. It was to help ease that pain that made him tell Bell to leave the boy home. He had twice as much work with the child but it had seemed right. This way, everyday he could bring little Samwise up the hill to play with Frodo.

Of course, he couldn't let on that he was doing such a thing. It would present the wrong image to the teenager if he went back on his word now. Thus, when Frodo cleverly pretended to merely be humoring a child by playing with him, Gaffer let it go. He pretended not to notice, as long as it didn't get too rambunctious. The unspoken arrangement had worked all week. Now, however, Gaffer had to wonder if he'd done the right thing letting Frodo play with Samwise unchecked.

The boys were having fun, true, but the teen seemed to be getting just as attached to the boy as he had been three years ago. Once Bell was back, they wouldn't be playing anymore since Gaffer wouldn't be bringing him around any more. He sighed, still hesitating to put an end to the laughter from across the lawn.

The appearance of Bilbo changed the atmosphere slightly. The older Hobbit smiled as he watched his adopted nephew play with the little boy twelve years younger than himself. With a happy nod, Bilbo headed towards the Gaffer.

"How do you do, Hamfast Gamgee. Pleasant day, isn't it?"

The Gaffer nodded, "That it is, Master Bilbo. Your boy's grown quite a bit tall, now." It was true; Frodo was as tall as an adult Hobbit now, but he was still painfully thin for a Hobbit.

Bilbo turned fond eyes on the boys. "Ah, yes, that he has." He paused, watching the play and laughter. "Thank you, Gaffer, for bringing the baby up. I suppose he's not really a baby anymore, though. Gone on three years is it?"

"Hmmm..." Gaffer confirmed in his non-vocal way. He watched for a bit longer, then started to turn back to his pruning.

"If you'd like to bring him up after Bell's come home, we'd be happy to have him. He could learn a lot about gardening here. He'd be welcome to entertain Frodo for a bit on his breaks, too, if they coincide." He looked towards his old gardener.

The man paused for a moment then went back to clipping. "The boy needs to learn a trade."

With a satisfied nod, confident that those words meant agreement, Bilbo continued. "I'll make sure Frodo stays out of the way while you're training the boy, Gaffer. He's got his own things to do."

Gaffer looked relieved and turned back to Bilbo. "I'd appreciate that, Master Bilbo. The boys can play on breaks, but Samwise'll need to pay attention during his lessons."

"Right you are," Bilbo patted Gaffer's arm. "And Frodo'll need to concentrate on his figures and letters. The boy's coming along nicely. I think I'll start teaching him a bit of Elvish soon. That ought to distract him quite a bit."

A soft, "Yes, sir," trailed back as Gaffer walked on, working. Bilbo let him go, smiling. He'd explain to Frodo the new rules that afternoon at luncheon. The lad would be excited, since for three years he'd worked very hard to earn the privilege of being near Samwise again. It had been a hard three years trying to prove to the Gaffer that Frodo wouldn't interfere with Sam's education, but it had finally paid off.

Bilbo strolled back towards his faded green door, pausing to watch Frodo-Smaug launch himself at Samwise-Bilbo with a giggling growl. Sam shrieked in delight and threw his arms around Frodo's neck for a strong hug. Frodo rolled to the ground, instinctively, protectively encircling the small boy, laughing. The old Hobbit smiled at the two children and went inside to prepare elevensies.

It was perhaps one in the afternoon, and the Gamgees were back down at their home at number three Bagshot Row. Gaffer was ladling stew into bowls for his three sons. He handed over the smallest bowl to Sam, who turned away from it. "Gaff?"

Even at three, Sam had picked up on the name everyone used for his father. He used it now to get his father's attention. "Gaff?" Sam reached out and tugged on Hamfast's sleeve.

"What, boy?" Gaffer looked over, spoon poised near his mouth, hungry.

"Pay? Pay Fodo?"

The older boys froze, Halfred glaring at his little brother. Frodo had never seemed to get along with the other boy his age. He avoided the older boy, too, but at least they were on speaking terms. With Halfred, Frodo only managed to trade mumbled greetings in half-hearted tones, if that.

Gaffer looked thoughtful. "Maybe. But you've got to work like the Gaffer before you can play anymore, Samwise."

Sam looked confused, his gray-green eyes trained on his gruff father. "Woke?"

"Um hum. Work. You'll be helping me up at Bag End starting tomorrow, if'n your Mum gets back tonight. How's that for something to do?"

Hamson frowned softly and looked up. He so resembled Bell that he near took his father's breath away at times. "You starting him early, Gaffer? He's only three yet."

Halfred said what was really on their minds. "You can't do that, Gaffer! He'll spend the entire day lazing about like that Frodo Baggins! He has to work, too!" The fourteen-year-old was half standing in his indignation.

Slamming his hand down hard enough on the table to startle Sam into wide-eyed, silent tears, Gaffer glared at his second son. "You questioning my decisions, boy? Sit! Eat! Listen!"

Halfred instantly sat and turned a flushing face towards his bowl. He started moving the spoon around, but didn't raise the food to his mouth. Instead, he muttered an apology and seethed at how unfair it was that Frodo got away with all sorts of things just because he was adopted by the richest Hobbit in the Shire.

Gaffer leaned forward, gabbing a napkin to wipe at Sam's eyes, his voice going down to a soothing octave to calm the boy. "Sam's to work with me up at Bag End. I'm starting him now because he shows promise. Master Bilbo's already promised to keep Master Frodo away from Sam during his work."

The older boy, eighteen and nearer the age of confidence that he would be respected enough to speak equally to certain elders, gently said, "Gaffer, you've called him Sam."

Looking up, Gaffer studied his oldest child. With a grunt, he went back to wiping Sam's face with the cloth. "Course I did. 'Bout time he had a pet name and Sam's a good enough one for all that. Now, finish your food and get back to work. You'll need to be getting that order out or Andwise'll forget about taking you on full time as a roper."

Hamson nodded and started eating again.

On the other hand, Halfred glared over at the toddler, who was now happily eating chunks of vegetables with his fingers. "And won't Master Frodo want to play with Samwise all day? If he throws a fit, Master Bilbo may give in to him."

"Don't see that happening, Halfred." Gaffer starting eating his stew, ending the unsatisfactory conversation right there.

Halfred finished his luncheon in seething silence.

"Tomorrow? Oh, Bilbo! That's wonderful! I..."

Bilbo cut off his cousin's words with a raised hand. "I may have done a disservice to the boy, Frodo, asking Gaffer to start him a year early on work. I did it so you'll have a couple of hours play time and a meal or two with him."

Frodo opened his mouth to speak, but again he was silenced by his adopted uncle's raised hand.

"Now listen close, Frodo. I know you've a good heart and your intentions are as good as can be, but Gaffer's not too comfortable with this idea. I had to promise to keep you away from Sam's sight while he was working. That means no more reading where the boy can be distracted. If they're in the roses, you'll have to go to the stream and so forth."

The older Hobbit shook his head, still preventing his cousin's speech. "I mean it Frodo. I'm going to start teaching you Elvish tomorrow, so you'll be busy enough. I want you to pay attention; it may save your life one-day. Elves are funny folk, Frodo, and you may have reason to speak to them before the end."

Finally, Frodo interrupted. "Bilbo, I'm not going to interfere with Sam. I'll study hard. But... can't I just be happy right now? I'll finally get Sam back!"

"He was never yours to lose, my boy."

Frodo sighed. He spoke slowly and patiently, as if to a child rather than a Hobbit seventy-eight years older than him. "Bilbo, I know I'm not related to Sam Gamgee, but we still belong together. He's my friend; I love him. I don't want to lose him again, so I'm not gonna be stupid."

Bilbo sighed and touched the younger Hobbit's arm. "He's three, you're fifteen. Frodo, can't you find friends your own age?" His words were gentle, worried hazel eyes fixed on the teenager.

"I don't really have anything in common with them, Bilbo." He shrugged as if that explained everything.

The older Hobbit stood and cleared off his plate and silver. He shuffled off to rinse the dishes, thinking hard. It wasn't easy to stop himself from drilling the boy with questions and rules. He tried to get himself into some semblance of control so he could try to make the boy understand. He didn't needed to; Frodo approached him.

"Bilbo..." Frodo's voice was as soft as the hand he placed on his cousin's shoulder. "I know Sam and I are worlds apart. I've learned that quickly enough. And I know others might think me odd, claiming a three-year-old as a friend. But, Bilbo, he won't be three forever. Someday he'll be an intelligent adult who'll enjoy good conversation and good ale, right?"

He turned, looking at Frodo. "I... I suppose you're right, my boy. Samwise Gamgee will grow up before we know it. Then it won't seem so odd for you two to be friends." He wiped the dishes dry, handing them off to be stacked away in the cupboard. "Frodo, my lad, have you considered that perhaps Sam won't grow up to enjoy talking and ale?"

The lad froze. "Not enjoy talking? Why wouldn't he?" He turned confused blue eyes to his cousin.

"Some people are quieter than others. Some don't understand the same things. Some..."

Frodo started laughing. "Are you saying that Sam won't understand me? But, Bilbo, he's already understanding! He's so smart and quick..."

Bilbo nodded, "and he is a normal, healthy child, Frodo. But just because he understands games and stories doesn't mean he'll understand whatever you wish to talk about, like languages and land and such."

That stopped Frodo's laughter. The teenager thought long and hard about what the older man was trying to get across. He frowned, turning towards the window, watching as Gaffer and Sam came back up the hill. Finally, he shrugged and pushed away the thoughts. "He'll talk to me. He's smart. Can I go play now, Bilbo? Sam's here."

Sighing, Bilbo nodded and watched his cousin run out excitedly. He knew that Frodo'd most likely get a big disappointment later in life if Sam proved to be like his father. Gaffer was very uncommunicative, after all. He looked out the window to see how Frodo would spend his last half-day of playtime with the little boy.

Sam's eyes lit up as Frodo bounded out the door. "Fodo!" He toddled towards the teen, tripping over his own feet and landing face first in the grass. The little boy sat up stunned.

"Oh, Sam!" Frodo scooped the boy up, cuddling him and fussing so much Sam started crying, a reaction children around the world often displayed in similar circumstances. Frodo fussed more and Sam ate up the attention as all good toddlers did. "Where's it hurt, Sam?"

That question took Sam by surprise. It didn't hurt anywhere. He looked at Frodo and held up his hand to pat Frodo on the chest. "Hut?"

Frodo cuddled him harder. "No, I'm not hurt, silly. You aren't either, are you? But boy did you scare me!"

The teenager carried the chubby toddler towards the debris pile they'd made that morning. Sinking to the ground, the older boy smiled down at his tiny playmate. "I'm going to tell you a story, Sam, okay?"

"Sam!" The little boy repeated the familiar word with glee. "Sam Fodo!"

Frodo laughed. "That's right. It's a story about Sam and Frodo." He started off on a wild, fanciful tale, making it up as he went along. As the long afternoon hours whizzed passed for the two children, the characters in the tale went to the ends of the earth and back again. They risked their lives and fought horrible armies of monsters and somehow, someway, made it through together. At the end, Frodo hugged his charge.

"Understand, Sam? As long as we stick together, nothing can tear us apart."

With a grunt, Gaffer passed by at that moment. He let the boy have that fantasy for now. After all, he still had near on fifteen years before he'd become a adult and be thrust into the world willy-nilly to make it on his own. For now, he let them be children.
Chapter 6. Routines That Hurt by Sam
Author's Notes:
This chapter, Sam's first day as Gaffer's assistant at Bag End.
Clapping excitedly, three-year-old Samwise Gamgee started to toddle ahead of his father directly towards the faded green door. His mother had come home from visiting relatives the night before; after talking privately with the Gaffer, she had given permission for Sam to start working at Bag End. Of course, she was aware that there would be little in his capability, but she gave her permission none-the-less. Now the child couldn't wait to go play with his older friend, Frodo Baggins, not fully understanding the meaning of the word 'work', yet.

As the little Hobbit reached the door he jumped up and down, clapping and loudly calling, "Fodo! Fodo pay Sam! Fodo!"

Gaffer brought a gentle, yet firm, hand down on his son's shoulder, effectively silencing the boy. "Master Frodo's got his own work to do. You'll be working until luncheon then you can play. Come along, Samwise."

Sam's gray-green eyes widened in surprise. He guessed his father didn't understand so he pointed to the Hobbit hole and said, "Fodo pay..."

Gaffer shook his head. "No. Master Frodo is not coming out to play. Come along." He gently gripped the toddler's wrist and started pulling him towards the wide side-lawn.

Stunned, Sam struggled. "No! Gaff... Fodo..." His voice was insistent, as demanding as a child's could be. He tried to pull back, to get to the green door once more. He naturally wasn't strong enough to break his father's firm grip.

"No Frodo!" The Gaffer's voice was harsh, stubborn. "We'll be going if you yell at me again, boy." He glared at the toddler menacingly.

"No go..." Sam whimpered. He let his father tug him towards the side-lawn, looking over his shoulder with tear-filled soulful eyes.

Frodo stopped reciting his Elvish alphabet, pain filling his heart at the pitiful sound of Sam's acquiescence. He sounded so defeated and lonely. The fifteen-year-old closed his eyes, fists clenching, trying to keep control. He had to sit there and study this new language when everything in him screamed to go rescue Sam. "He's crying..." Frodo's voice was a bare whisper.

Bilbo, the teen's older cousin and adopted uncle, stopped the lesson, his hand gently covering Frodo's fist. He could see the struggle and pain his cousin was going through. Squeezing gently, Bilbo softly stated, "we've arranged for the both of you to have play and lunch together. The Gaffer thought that pushing all of Sam's playtimes together around his luncheon would be best. You'll have three hours to feed and change him, but whatever's left over of that time will be just for the two of you."

The teenager's head shot up, blue eyes widening hopefully. "Three hours, Bilbo? Just me and Sam? Truly?" He leaned forward, the beginnings of excitement radiating from the slender, pale body.

With a laugh, the older Hobbit nodded. "Yes, dear boy, three hours for you and Sam. That's made Gaffer have to stay late, but he's agreed. It means you'll have to stay indoors while they're working until Sam's used to his new routine, though."

"Oh, thank you, Bilbo!" Frodo threw his arms around his cousin in an affectionate hug. "I'd stay inside all the time just for time with Sam!" And with that, he started his Elvish alphabet with renewed energy.

Sam was crying, looking back towards the hole time and again. He totally ignored everything the Gaffer tried to gently explain. He wanted his Frodo. Slowly, as the Gaffer got more distracted with his work, the toddler formed a plan. He'd go to Frodo and Frodo would play.

The plan pleased him so much that he stopped crying. Quietly, ever so quietly so Gaffer wouldn't notice, Sam started moving off. He would go to the door and call for Frodo. The toddler smiled in anticipation and kept moving carefully.

When he was perhaps ten feet away, Gaffer's voice floated menacingly over. "Come back here boy or we go home. We go home and no Frodo!"

With an outraged scream, Sam stamped back towards his father, crying and stamping. He was being ignored, but it didn't matter. The little boy continued his tantrum. He stamped right up next to Gaffer and started screaming right at him, a wordless yell common to all thwarted young ones.

The older Hobbit hadn't gone through four other children without learning a trick or two. This one would give up on the tantrum soon enough. Thus, the man continued to tend the lawn, ignoring the painful screams in his ear and the feet occasionally stomping on his own.

Sam slowly quieted, sniffling and sobbing once in awhile. Gaffer didn't notice! He was frustrated, but an idea came to him. He'd go to Frodo now. If Gaffer hadn't heard him screaming, he wouldn't see him this time. Again, the little Hobbit tried to sneak off quietly towards his goal.

"Samwise!"

The little boy turned and screamed, tears instantly surfacing once again. He'd only gotten about ten feet again before his father had yelled for him. Stomping around in a circle, slowly getting closer and closer to his father, the boy screamed and cried, louder than last time. He was unaware and uncaring how painful his shrill yells were to his father and the two Hobbits in the hole.

Gaffer again ignored the tantrum, moving onto another section of the lawn he was trimming.

It took several minutes for Sam to calm down this time. He glared resentfully at his father and plotted. He had to go see his Frodo. Gaffer didn't understand! Maybe if he told the Gaffer what he wanted. He tugged Gaffer's sleeve, nearly causing the man to cut his own toes with the blade.

"What the blazes do you think you're at boy!" Gaffer turned angry eyes on the child, as frustrated as the boy with the development.

Sam gulped. He lifted large watery green eyes to his father and tugged his sleeve again. Pointing to the hole, he whimpered, "Fodo? Fodo now?"

"No! No Frodo now!" He pulled his sleeve from the tiny grasp and turned back to his blade, annoyed and seriously rethinking this plan. Most of the time they'd start the child when he was four... in the house with easy chores. What had he been thinking to agree to bring the boy up to start gardening at three?

Wait a minute... Gaffer frowned and looked around. It was too quiet. He spotted the reason rather quickly. While he'd been brooding, Sam had taken advantage and nearly gotten halfway across the yard. The older Hobbit threw down his shears and screamed at the top of his lungs, "Samwise Gamgee you get back here right now or we'll never come back here!"

The boy stopped dead in his tracks, turning around horrified. Standing there, struggling with the ultimatum, his eyes filled with genuine tears this time, not the babyish tears of a tantrum. He sat on his butt with a hard thump and wailed in misery at the threat. No Frodo... ever?

Gaffer sighed and shuffled over to his youngest son. He felt instantly guilty for losing his temper with the boy. After all, he didn't understand yet. Hamfast Gamgee squatted down and scooped the boy up, cuddling him. "Shhh... Samwise, calm now little one."

Sam burrowed into his father, whimpering and crying. He tangled his chubby fists in the Gaffer's collar, his wet face pressed to his father's neck, sobbing for all the world as if his heart was breaking. His body began shaking, the sobs changing to gasps for air.

That scared the adult.

"Breathe, Sammy... breathe..." he cuddled his son, genuinely worried that Sam might stop breathing in his fit. "Come on, son, breathe..." The fit wasn't lessening and Gaffer was becoming downright terrified. "Master Frodo!"

Frodo immediately dropped his books and ran out the door, Bilbo on his heels. They'd heard the entire debate between adult and toddler but had stayed inside as agreed. After all, Frodo knew the Gaffer would never hurt Sam no matter how frustrated he was. But when the man called out with such fear, neither scholar questioned the ethics of answering that call. It sounded like a very serious plea.

The teenager scanned the lawn for the pair, finally seeing them in the far distance. The Gaffer was kneeling on the ground, hugging his son and looking pale and shaken. Sam was beyond hearing, gasping for breath and clutching involuntarily at the cloth of his father's coat. That sight was the worse one Frodo had ever seen... next to the one of his parent's bodies three years ago.

Skidding to a halt, Frodo touched Gaffer's shoulder. "Give him to me, sir..."

The Gaffer didn't argue, didn't question, he obeyed. He turned and handed his precious little boy to the younger Hobbit, eyes wide and worried. "Please, Master Frodo... he ain't breathing right..."

Bilbo called out, "I'll get a doctor..." And off he sprinted, heading for town.

"He started crying, sir, and now he ain't breathing..." Gaffer looked terrified, wringing his work-worn hands and watching his child through fearful eyes. "Oh, Sammy... breathe, son..." The older man's voice was a plea.

The teenager studied the boy quickly. His hysterics had turned to spasms, and air wasn't getting through. How could he get him to breathe? A shock might do it. He lifted his hand and took a deep breath of his own.

Frodo slapped Sam across the face, shocking the child into a long breath. He raised his hand again, prepared, but hating to hurt the child. He just knew that his mother had once slapped him when he couldn't breath for crying so hard.

It worked. Sam was breathing again. He clutched blindly to this new person, not yet registering who held him. With a hiccuping gasp he looked up. His confused brain tried to comprehend what his huge green eyes were telling him. "Fodo..." It ended on a sob, his voice hoarse.

"Yes, Sam, it's Frodo. I'm right here." He cuddled the little boy, tears of relief coming to his eyes.

With a soft cry, Sam burrowed against his friend, whimpering and clutching. "Fodo..."

Frodo contented himself with a secure hug and plenty of gentle kisses dropped to the toddler's soft curls. "Yes, Frodo's here, Sam. I'm not going anywhere. I'm right here. You're gonna stay."

Gaffer wiped a hand over his face, feeling as if he'd aged about fifteen years in the last two minutes. Never had one of his children gotten so hysterical as to stop breathing. This was something out of his depth and he sorely wished Bell had come along to help out. He watched the teen with tired gray eyes.

What was it about Master Frodo that so called his little boy? May had gotten attached to Hamson but never acted this way when separated from her oldest brother. Why did Samwise suddenly go into hysterics, then?

Softly, hesitantly, he queried, "Master Frodo? What kind of spell do you have on that child?" He flushed as he realized just what he'd asked and how it sounded.

Frodo looked up. "I don't know... maybe the same one that he has on me." He stood, Sam's head on his shoulder, patting the chubby back. The boy still sobbed occasionally, but he was back in control.

"Sir, I'm real grateful that you were going to let me have three hours straight with him, but I don't think it's going to work." Frodo flushed lightly at questioning the man's rules. "Maybe if he could see me first thing for a few minutes? That might help keep him calm? You know: I come out every hour for a few minutes to say 'Hi' and give him something to look forward to? Then, maybe we get a couple of hours at luncheon instead? He might adjust easier that way." Biting his lip, Frodo watched the older Hobbit, wondering if he'd get in trouble for his suggestion.

Relief swept Frodo, however, when the Gaffer slowly nodded. "Yes..." he thoughtfully studied his now quiet son. "Seems you've got a good idea, Master Frodo. I'll... I'll talk to Bell tonight. Today, we'll let him sit with you while you study, if'n that's all right? I think he's had too much fresh air today..."

It was Gaffer's turn to look nervous. He was a good Hobbit who rarely ever questioned his betters. What was he doing telling Frodo what to do now? He took off his hat and kneaded it nervously between gnarled, dirt-stained fingers.

With a gentle smile, Frodo nodded. "That sounds fine. I'll make sure he sits quietly so he doesn't get overexcited again. I'll still be studying, but maybe... sir... maybe if he sits quietly, he'd be allowed inside with me some days?"

"Well..." that was pushing a bit, actually. Gaffer was thankful that Frodo had managed to end that frightening fit, but he couldn't change Sam's future just because of gratitude. Slowly, he twisted the cap. "Master Frodo, maybe for this first year, so he gets used to things, he could spend half a day with you... mornings like. Mind he'd have to play quiet while you do your things, but then he can come outside with me in the afternoons..." Gaffer looked around at the wide lawns and gardens then back at Frodo. "Then next year we can see how things go with changing around a bit?"

Instinctively, Frodo knew that pressing further would have Sam retracted completely, despite the hysterical fit he'd had. The teen wisely nodded, smiling. "I promise he'll be quiet and not bother me in the mornings, sir. And he'll go out to work with you in the afternoons. Thank you, Gaffer, sir."

Waving his hand, disgruntled suddenly, Hamfast turned his back. "I've got work, Master Frodo, if you don't mind?"

Without comment, Frodo let the gardener get back to tending the lawns. He brought the child inside, wondering if he should go after Bilbo to stop him. No; it was better if the doctor came to check Samwise out. That had been one scary fit. He wanted to be sure it wouldn't happen again... that it had just been the end of a bad temper tantrum or something.

Sam was strangely quiet as Frodo made his way into the study. The teen frowned and looked down at him, shifting the chubby little boy to better see his face. Sam was asleep. With a sigh of relief, Frodo sat down at the table and adjusted the pliable body in his lap. He softly started reciting his letters, waiting for Bilbo so they could discuss Sam's health and his new routine.
Chapter 7. Something Precious by Sam
Author's Notes:
This chapter, the doctor panics and Sam's life takes a turn... or is that Frodo's life?
"Bilbo, we're in here..." Frodo's voice was soft. He'd heard his cousin enter, out of breath and trying to explain to the doctor why he'd brought him to Bag End. The calm statement from the fifteen-year-old brought both older Hobbits to a sudden halt in the study door.

With a moan, the doctor rushed forward, seeing Samwise Gamgee's limp body in the older boy's arms. "Too late... the boy's..."

"He's not dead," Frodo interrupted, swiveling in his chair to give the physician better access to the worn-out toddler. "He's sleeping." At a curious look from the doctor, Frodo continued. "He was having troubles breathing but I slapped him once across the face and he started breathing fine again. Then he fell asleep." He winced as the doctor and Bilbo studied Sam's chubby face and the red welt forming there from having been slapped hard.

The doctor prodded Sam awake and started studying the child, leaving him in Frodo's arms. Sam was tired, drained from his fit. He didn't want to be prodded by this stranger. Whimpering, he raised his eyes to Frodo, tearing up once more.

"Enough. He's breathing fine, right?"

With a nod, the doctor backed off. "Yes...." He spoke slowly, hesitant to claim the child as healthy after the description Bilbo had given him about the fit he'd had. "But he could have another... spasm. Not many Hobbits stop breathing when they cry. Might be a lung problem."

"No!" Frodo gasped and cuddled the sleepy toddler. "He can't be sick... he's just tired from crying. He wanted to see me was all; he's fine now."

"Hmph... I want to see the child's parents. Where're the Gamgees?" He crossed his arms, glaring at Frodo as if the boy had done something offensive by contesting him. The doctor had decided that the teen had no idea how serious this toddler's condition really was. He'd get the child taken back home.

Bilbo looked at Frodo then put a gentle hand on the doctor's arm. "Come along. He's outside." Opening his mouth to protest leaving the two children alone once more, the doctor was rushed out the door.

Frodo cuddled the sleepy child, holding him securely. "You're okay, right Sam?" Despite his words to the doctor, he really had been terrified by the fit. After all, when someone started crying so much he stopped breathing it was serious. "Wanna sit and listed to some more Elvish?"

The little boy lifted half-closed gray-green eyes to study his friend's face. "Uh huh." He nestled closer into Frodo, content to be right where he was. One small hand crept up to tangle in Frodo's shirt.

With a sigh, Frodo dropped a kiss to Sam's strawberry-blond curls. He settled back onto his chair, making sure the boy wouldn't unbalance when he turned pages. Softly, evenly, Frodo started practicing his letters once more. He couldn't resist a small smile when he felt Sam's head return to his shoulder, eyes closing slowly.

"Gamgee! That boy's a menace. What do you mean by leaving your child in his care?" The doctor strode purposefully across the lawn, determined to be heard. He wasn't a stupid Hobbit, after all; he knew Bilbo was trying to humor him. It galled the man that neither Baggins was willing to believe him.

Gaffer looked up. He didn't say a word, nor approach the physician, making the rather rotund Hobbit come all the way to him. Instead, he turned back to trimming the side-lawn.

With a huff, the doctor stopped next to the gardener.

"I'm speaking to you Hamfast Gamgee. You can't tell me the life of your son don't mean anything to you. Leaving him with that boy's a bad idea. Why, Frodo Baggins isn't anywhere near his majority... not even halfway there. He's trying to say your boy ain't sick. Thinks I'm exaggerating how serious Samwise's condition is. But I'll tell you, when a body stops breathing, there's damage. The boy's brain won't be right if it happens again. I need to see to him and give him the right medicine..."

The gardener stopped trimming, straightening slowly to look at the doctor. "Sam's breathing right now?" He sounded like he expected he already knew the answer.

"Of course he is. I wouldn't be out here if he wasn't. What do you..."

"He's not crying or sobbing or gasping?"

"Well," the doctor paused then shook his head, "no... he's calm actually. Real quiet and sleepy. I know that ain't like your boy, though. That child's boisterous and loud. When a child goes quiet, it's a sure sign of sickness. Why just last week..."

Gaffer interrupted a third time. "He ain't changing colors or clutching or struggling?"

Frustrated, the doctor raised his voice slightly. "No! I tell you, Hamfast, he's calm and fine. But that's all the more reason to fret. He ain't playing, just lying there looking half... half dead." There, he'd said it. That oughta scare some interest into the parent.

With a nod, Gaffer turned back to his trimming. "Thank you for checking my boy. I'll see you get your fee. Good evening to you, now."

"What!" Anger seethed through the man and he straightened indignantly. Turning quickly, he called out, "I'll just talk to Bell Gamgee about her littlest. We'll see if she's so calm about her son not breathing!" He started off, Bilbo hurrying to keep up, trying to calm the other Hobbit.

Gaffer looked back up, frowning. He thought a few minutes about his obligations then decided. Putting down his sheers, the gardener headed over the side-lawn, cutting over the neat grass, towards his home at number three Bagshot Row. He'd get there first, as the doctor would be going by the road. No need having the doctor scaring Bell, after all, especially as she'd only just told him she would be having a baby come the end of the year.

Once at his own hole, Gaffer paused long enough to catch his breath. He wasn't often running about like that. He put a hand on the side of the hill encompassing his hole, bending over to breathe. "Bell..." he slowly stood and started around the hill.

"Gaffer?" Bell looked up from the table she was scrubbing. Puzzled, as her husband never came home early, she headed towards the door, drying her hands in her apron. "Hamfast? What is it? What's happened?" She reached for the door.

It was opened before she could touch the knob, and Gaffer stood there still panting. "Bell, doctor's coming to talk about Samwise..."

Bell frowned, instinctively looking for her youngest child. The beginnings of alarm started coursing through her when she didn't spot the boy. "Gaffer? Where's Sam?"

"With... Fro... do... Bag...gins..." He panted, looking up at her. "Had a... tantrum..."

"And you gave in to him?" That didn't sound like her husband. He was normally so good at control.

The Hobbit shook his head. "No," he was catching his breath now, "Didn't give in. He had such a fit crying... stopped breathing, Bell."

"What!" Bell threw her hands up to her cheeks in shock then picked up her skirts and started out the door. Gaffer's hand on her shoulder arrested her movement.

"He's fine now. Master Frodo got him breathing again. He's watching him now. Right smart youngun that Frodo Baggins."

The woman turned slowly and frowned. "You tell me everything that happened, Hamfast Gamgee, and you tell me right now! What in the world stopped Samwise from breathing?" She crossed her arms and tapped her foot.

He nodded. "Samwise wanted to play and was screaming and fussing up a storm. I..." he sighed, growing ashamed at his part in Sam's fit, " I lost my temper and told him to stop or we wouldn't come back to Bag End. He lost it, Bell... started crying so hard he couldn't breath right. Master Frodo came out and slapped him. That stopped the fit. Master Bilbo went and got that old doctor."

Slipping her hands to her hips and looking rather disgruntled, Bell tossed her dark blonde curls. "That old... Oh... and what's he think?" She threw up a hand, "let me guess. Sam's about to die of consumption? He's one of those Hobbits who can't breathe right so he's not allowed to play? The world's gonna come to an end and Sam's got a hand in it?" She really disliked that man which was why she'd gone to her own family to confirm her pregnancy.

"Something like that," Gaffer smiled at her, relaxing a bit. Trust Bell to put things in perspective.

The doctor huffed his way over, throwing an annoyed glance over his shoulder at Bilbo, who'd insisted on following him. "Bell Gamgee... oh! I see your husband's come rather than staying back and keeping an eye on your son."

Gaffer took off his cap, bowing his head to Bilbo in respect; he frowned at the doctor, fingering the worn cloth in his hands. Bilbo smiled at Gaffer then took Bell's hand in pleased greeting. "Bell my dear. So good to see you again. Frodo wishes to assure you that Sam's calm and enjoying listening to my boy recite his lessons."

With a loud harrumph, the physician glared at Bilbo once more. "You son stopped breathing. Mister Baggins thought it serious enough to come for me, which is quite right. Now your husband and the Bagginses refuse my counsel on the matter. Little Samwise is ill, can't be exposed to chills or such. He needs careful attention and strong medicine..."

"Oh, dear. Samwise? Perhaps I should go up to see him? Come, Hamfast, Mister Bilbo. I'd appreciate the support, as I feel faint." She threw a worried look at the doctor who seemed pleased by her apparent concern.

"Doctor! Doctor come quick! Young Tom Cotton's gotten hurt falling off the pony. He needs you!" A young man was running over, worried.

"Hurt? I'll be right there!" The doctor threw a hasty look at Bell. "I'll be by later, ma'am, to check on you and Samwise. Good to know some people know sense when they hear it. I'm coming!" And the fat Hobbit shuffled off, huffing once more. Bell, Gaffer, and Bilbo watched the man leave.

"Bell? What're you doing?" Gaffer was surprised. Bell was removing her apron, folding it neatly and retrieving her shawl.

She turned to her husband with a calm smile. "I'm going to check on Samwise, Hamfast. After all, I'm the boy's mother. Whether I think the doctor's a doomsayer or not, I still worry about my child." The Hobbit woman smiled at Bilbo and took his arm. "Shall we check on the boys, Mister Bilbo?"

With a soft laugh, Bilbo patted the small hand clasped to his sleeve. "Of course, my dear. Let's go surprise the boys." He threw a reassuring smile to Gaffer and started guiding the pair back up to Bag End.

Gaffer followed silently, frowning.

After perhaps half an hour of simply reciting the Elvish alphabet over and over to the toddler ensconced on his lap, Frodo was getting bored. He checked the quiet child and was satisfied to see Sam's eyes opened wider than before. "Hey, Sam... you like Elvish? Why don't I tell you about Elves, then? Since I'm studying the language, Bilbo's teaching me all about them so I understand them." He cuddled the boy who smiled.

"Fodo stoee?"

"Uh... oh! Story! Of course, Sam, I'll tell you a story." The teenager stood up and headed for the kitchen. "But first, let's get some second breakfast. You missed yours." He looked around the neat kitchen, frowning softly. "I'm not very good at cooking, Sam, so let's get some cheese and apples, okay?"

"K." Sam sat up in Frodo's arms, legs wrapping around his older friend's hips. Food sparked his interest, lulling him out of the contented stupor the Elvish letters had helped induce. "Appas..."

Frodo laughed and cuddled him again. "Yup... apples."

Looking around, Frodo spotted what he wanted. He moved towards the sideboard, sliding Sam onto the counter as he reached for a paring knife. "You stay still, okay, Sam? If you don't, you might fall and get hurt."

"No hut." Sam nodded decisively. He then proceeded to wiggle around to catch a better glimpse of what Frodo was doing. In his wiggling, he started to slip, grabbing Frodo, who threw out an arm to catch the boy.

Unfortunately, in the process, Frodo sliced the small blade across his palm. He started in shock as red seeped over his hand. Shaking himself, Frodo grabbed out his handkerchief and covered his palm, squeezing tightly.

Sam's eyes widened, a horrified green color. "Oh uh!"

"S'kay Sam. I'm fine."

In truth the teenager felt a bit light-headed. He didn't like the sight of blood one bit. "Now, stay still this time, Sam. I need to..." he fell silent as he took part of the kerchief in his teeth, wrapping the rest around his hand. Struggling carefully, he managed to tie off the kerchief, though the business was awkward.

The little boy hadn't moved at all. He watched, fascinated, as his friend worked feverishly to bandage his hand. "Fodo? Fodo hut?"

Frodo looked up. His skin was a bit paler than his normal. "Uh... yeah, Frodo's hurt. But, it's okay Sam. I'll be fine. We've got to get your second breakfast." He reached for the knife again, wincing.

"Fodo hut?" Sam reached out both chubby hands and took the teenager's hand in his. "No hut!" His tone was commanding. Then, softly, the toddler kissed Frodo's hand. "Bettee?"

The lad blinked. "Uh... yeah... much better, Sam... thanks..." his voice was dazed, tears coming to his eyes. Blinking furiously to clear them, Frodo suddenly scooped up the child and hugged him fiercely. "I love you Sam!"

"Sam uv Fodo." The chubby little boy patted Frodo's dark curls, smiling.

"Frodo? We're home, my boy... where are you?"

Frodo looked up, wiping his bandaged hand across his eyes. Refusing to put the boy back down, he called out with a slight catch, "In the kitchen, Uncle Bilbo!"

The three adults walked in, looking relieved that nothing seemed out of the ordinary. Bell immediately hurried over to take her son from his friend. Sam didn't protest, willingly hugging his mother.

"Mama!"

The Gaffer sighed and ran a hand through his auburn curls. "Thank you for caring for the boy, Master Frodo..."

With a shake of his head and a soft smile, Frodo claimed, "Hey, I don' mind. It's okay, sir. I love taking care of Sam." He looked around and grabbed the knife up. "We were going to have apples and cheese for second breakfast... uh... want to join us?"

Bilbo laughed. "Second breakfast sounds very fine, my boy. Let me help you." He took the knife and frowned, stopping. "Why... you've been hurt, Frodo."

The adults turned to look at the teen and he shrugged in embarrassment. "I was cutting the apples and the knife slipped. I'm fine, really."

Bell walked over, frowning. "Might I check it, Frodo?" She had Sam on her hip, little legs curled around her waist, bouncing him slightly. "Can't let it get infected and you may need stitches; knife cuts can be nasty in hands."

Frodo nodded, holding out his hand. He gasped in pain when she reached out and started unwrapping it. Stopping, she softly ordered, "Hamfast, take the boy, please. Frodo hold your wrist right here so it won't bleed." She handed her son to his father and continued her work on the older boy, nodding as he obeyed her instructions.

After unwrapping the hand, she checked it quickly then washed it. "No stitches, but it'll hurt for sometime, Frodo. You've a quick head to have wrapped it so quickly." She started wrapping it in soft linen, which Bilbo provided for her. Looking up, she leaned forward and softly spoke again. "And even quicker thinking to have gotten my son breathing again. Thank you." She kissed his forehead.

Surprised, Frodo blinked huge cerulean eyes at her. "Um..." he flushed. "It was... well... he needed a shock... I..." Frodo looked at his feet, shuffling one big toe across the stones of the floor. "I needed to help Sam. He needed me."

"Of course he did. You need each other." She smiled and kissed him again. "And for that bond, though I barely understand it, I am eternally grateful, Frodo. Someday it may save your life as it saved his today."

Frodo didn't quite understand how loving Sam could save his life, but he just shrugged and nodded. "Okay. Can... can I hold him again?" He looked at her hopefully.

"Yes, Frodo, yes you can hold Samwise."

Gaffer stepped forward at Bell's words. He held out his son who happily held out chubby little arms and laughed, "Fodo! Me Fodo!"

Gruffly, Gaffer agreed. "Yes, Samwise. It's your Frodo."

Everyone was stunned when Frodo buried his face in Sam's strawberry-blond curls and burst into quiet tears. He couldn't even explain it himself, but somehow that day he'd nearly lost a friend... and gained something infinitely more precious, even if he couldn't find the words for it.
Chapter 8. Rumors About Blondes by Sam
Author's Notes:
This chapter, rumors fly concerning Sam.
"[Elanor Gamgee] She became known as 'the Fair' because of her beauty; many said she looked more like an elf-maid than a hobbit. She had golden hair, which had been very rare in the Shire; but two others of Samwise's daughters were also golden-haired, and so were many of the children born at this time.
-- Return Of The King --- pg. 470"


Bell Gamgee hugged herself, rubbing her hands over chilled arms. The view out the window was beautiful this summer night, but the Hobbit woman didn't see it. Her gray eyes were staring at something far deeper than the rolling hills; she was staring into her own memory.

There was talk in the Shire, whispers, really. Mostly after hours and behind closed doors. Normally gossip wouldn't bother Bell as she ignored it, but this time it cut her to the heart. This time it concerned her own family; she couldn't easily laugh off what they were saying, either.

Children with golden hair were extremely rare in the Shire. They were so rare; they were pretty much unheard of among Hobbits, in fact. But within the last four years two infants had been born which later had grown full heads of blond curls: Meriadoc Brandybuck and Samwise Baggins.

True, Sam's hair had some auburn in it, making it a bit more strawberry than pure gold, but that didn't mean much to rumor. The fact that Merry Brandybuck, as the happy two-year-old was commonly called, was closely related to Frodo Baggins made the rumors fly that much faster. Frodo was extremely close to Samwise, thus, the two blond children were linked at times in Shire minds.

Naturally, people gossiped about odd quirks, but this time it went beyond that. Lobelia Sackville-Baggins was whispering that yellow hair was linked to old legends. Of course the woman would go off into malicious laughter and eye Bell after she'd said such things, but it didn't stop people from partially believing it. And once something was heard and partially believed, no amount of truth would stop it from becoming a full-blown rumor.

There was one thing Bell could be thankful for: she didn't live near Lobelia. That woman lived over in Hardbottle. Unfortunately, that also stopped Bell from hearing what other nasty things she'd said about the Gamgees and Bagginses. Lobelia was a vain, greedy woman who disliked Bilbo and Frodo Baggins. As the Gamgees were working for the Bagginses, that cast them into even darker shade according to Lobelia Sackville-Baggins, thus, the rumors being sported around in pubs and market squares.

A gentle hand on her shoulder brought the woman out of her reverie.

"Bell, it's late. We've got to get up early for Samwise's party tomorrow." Gaffer, Bell's husband, was quiet and strong. He was a gruff sort of Hobbit, rather than hosting the outgoing cheer most displayed. However, the man was also surprisingly gentle and kind when someone was very troubled. "Come to bed, Bell..."

"She's a hateful cat."

A gasp behind her told Bell that she'd shocked her husband with her spiteful comment, as she rarely ever insulted anyone. "Now, Bell, Missus Sackville-Baggins don't know what she's yammering about. She's just making things up about people is all."

Turning, Bell hugged Gaffer to her. "Of course she is, but she's still mean, Hamfast." Bell was one of the few people who used her husband's real name.

"You can't change people, Bell; not unless you care about 'em."

Burying her face in her husband's chest, Bell sighed. "But to spread nasty stories... Samwise is not odd. I wouldn't care if his hair were white and straight! He's a perfectly normal little boy. Oh, she's just mad because her son... no! I will not stoop to her level."

Gaffer nodded. "That's good... happens if you were like her I'd have to gag you and toss you in the back closet with the broken pottery."

She giggled; it was the first truly joyful sound out of her in two days and it sounded heavenly. Bell was normally a sweet person and having her moping around had been wearing on everyone, especially the baby, Marigold. "Wooder..."

Both adults turned to see little Samwise standing in the doorway to the kitchen. His hair was a tangle of soft curls, his eyes heavy with sleep. Yawning, Sam rubbed his eye with a fist, holding a battered cloth pony by a hind leg. "Sam wooder..."

"Of course, sweetie." Bell hurried to get her son a small mug of water, kissing Gaffer quickly in passing. The man smiled and watched his wife as she worked.

"Mama?"

"Yes Sam?"

The little boy shuffled in, his pajama shirt hanging off one pudgy shoulder. "Mama stoee?"

"You want a story? Sam it's the middle of the night..."

Bell smiled at Gaffer. "It's all right, Hamfast. I'll tell him a story if," and she turned to the boy, "he can pronounced story properly." She had been trying to get him to use all the letters in a word for the past three months, as Sam's habit of dropping annoying letters was confusing outsiders. "Sto..." he frowned, dropping his fist from his eye. "Stow... stowy?"

"Almost, love. Try again?" Bell sank to the floor, smiling and cupping the tiny mug in her hands. "Stor... ry."

"Starry?" Sam tilted his head.

Gaffer snorted. "Come on, son, you can do it. Stor."

Sam looked up at the Gaffer. "Stor..."

"Ry..." Gaffer filled in the rest for him.

"Ry?" Sam plopped down on his butt then made a face. He no longer wore diapers, but forgot sometimes that the padding wasn't there anymore. "Stor... ry?"

Bell squealed and scooped him up in a cuddle and kiss. Sam grinned and hugged her back, kissing her soundly on the nose. Hamfast nodded, pleased the boy had caught on so quickly.

"For that, I'll tell you a story, Samwise."

Sam lifted wide green eyes to his father, surprise written on every feature. "Gaff st... stor... ry?"

The man squatted down and nodded, smiling. "Sure. Gaffer can tell great stories. Let's see... what'll it be about?"

"Soggy!"

"What? Sam you didn't wet the bed again did you?"

Bell laughed. "No, he wants Bilbo's story, Hamfast. Soggy is what he calls that dragon."

With a grunt, Gaffer stood. "Sight good name for the beast I'm thinking. Come along, Samwise. Let's get your water and go tell the story of that dragon." He plucked the toddler up out of Bell's arms, kissing her head and walking out of the room with a smiling Sam.

Sam waved his toy pony at his mother. "Bubye Mama."

"Goodnight, sweetie..." Bell watched the pair go off, smiling. As soon as they disappeared down the hall, though, she turned back to the window, frowning. Would that woman try to wreck Sam's fourth birthday tomorrow?

The day was bright and sunny and promised to get annoyingly hot. There was not a cloud in the sky and no sign of a breeze to stir the already heating air. Gaffer pulled his best shirt away from his sweating body, frowning. He wondered if he should move the party into the hole. That was ruled out instantly, as there was no room in their small home for thirty Hobbit children to run around and play.

It was a rather odd group present when all was said. The Brandybucks were up visiting Bilbo Baggins and so had been invited to the humble party, bringing two-year-old Meriadoc. All of the local children Sam's age were included, especially Fredegar Bolger and Young Tom Cotton, two friends of Sam's. Thankfully, Lobelia Sackville-Baggins, who had begged an invitation publicly three weeks ago, had sent her regrets. Gaffer secretly thought that had been the woman's intention the entire time.

Frodo had naturally been invited. The teenager was the oddest person of the lot, actually, being sixteen and as tall as the adults. He played in the grass with the other toddlers, but certainly looked out of place with the chubby little kids. Neither Frodo nor Sam seemed to care.

At the moment, Gaffer was supposed to be watching the children to make sure none of them got injured in the game of tag Daisy had started. All of the toddlers were running around, screaming and laughing and having a good time. Well, all except Samwise. The Gaffer frowned, shading his eyes, and looked around for his son.

He was starting to get worried when something sunk in. Frodo was also missing. Blast those children! It was just like them to sneak off from Samwise' birthday party. The gardener flushed a bit and waved to Bell, gesturing towards the children.

Bell shaded her eyes and studied the rambunctious group with a small frown, trying to spot the trouble Gaffer was apparently worried about. It took her only seconds to realize what had happened. With a sigh, she nodded to her husband and headed off to find the miscreants. Of all days to sneak away, when half the Shire'd been invited to bring their children up. She'd have to have a word with Frodo about this.

Frodo sighed in frustration, running a hand through his dark curls. He'd been getting overwhelmed by the amount of noise thirty children could make and had wandered off for a bit of time alone. Unfortunately, Sam had chosen to follow him. Normally Frodo would have simply brought the child back when he'd noticed him, but this time he couldn't. When Frodo'd noticed the boy, Sam was already knee deep in some animal hole and crying fit to wake the dead.

"Relax, Sam, I'm here. I'll get you out. Don't cry..." Frodo ran his hand through his disheveled curls again. He couldn't simply pull the leg out; he's already tried that and got a scream of pain for his efforts. He'd also tried getting Sam to relax enough that he could pull his own leg out, but the frightened boy hadn't been able to cooperate. This was quickly getting worse.

Pulling off his waistcoat and vest, Frodo knelt down next to the screaming toddler, petting his hair to try to soothe him. "Come now, Sam, your Frodo's here. I won't let your leg stay in the hole. You've just got to stop screaming so a Hobbit can think, Sam." That had little effect on the child.

Frodo petted Sam's hair again and sighed. They wouldn't hear them at the party. Too many kids were running around screaming with the older Gamgee children. What could he do? Pulling didn't work and pushing was out of... digging!

Looking around desperately for anything to dig with, the teenager could only find some twigs and small rocks. He didn't want to risk running off to get some of Gaffer's tools; Frodo didn't like leaving Sam alone and scared... and possibly even hurt. A rock would have to do.

He grabbed a sturdy looking one and started scraping at the earth surrounding the burrow, praying that whatever lived in there wouldn't come up and hurt Sam. He desperately scraped and dug, working as quickly as he could. As dirt crumbled away, Sam stopped screaming, a blessing Frodo was very thankful for.

With a snuffling sob, Sam held up his arms to Frodo. "Up! Up Fodo! Sam up!"

Frodo sighed and wrapped his arms carefully around the child in a hug, but didn't lift, knowing he'd just hurt the boy again. It was in that position that Bell found them. The Hobbit woman's voice was shocked as she called out, "What on earth happened!"

The teen whirled around, letting his arms fall from Sam. "He followed me when I left the party, Bell. By the time I realized, he was stuck in this hole. I've been trying to get him out."

Bell strode right up and studied the situation, worry in her light gray eyes. "Yes, I see... stuck tight there, Sammy-boy." Her relief at finding her son rather unhurt was evident in her voice, as well as her forgiveness for Frodo, as he hadn't actually meant for Sam to leave the party. "I'll run back and get a shovel from Hamfast..."

"Oh could you, Bell? I know you'd rather stay with him and..."

"And risk him crying so hard for you that he stops breathing? Not on your life, Mister Frodo. You stay right here until I get back. I want that child back as unharmed as I see him now." She whirled around and trotted back to the party, smiling for the guests despite her worries.

True, Sam had only stopped breathing the one time last year, but it was still something that scared his parents. He was so attached to Frodo that he would throw a fit if he couldn't get near the older boy. It was enough to make one wonder about their strange bond.

That thinking brought back images of Lobelia's nasty rumors, setting Bell's teeth on edge. She clenched her fists and headed for the tool shed, trying for all the world to appear as if nothing had gone wrong. She nearly fell over someone sleeping in the grass.

Glancing down, Bell was surprised to find Merry curled up with his thumb in his mouth, sleeping as if he were back home in his crib. She looked around for Esmeralda but didn't spot the other woman. How odd, to leave a two-year-old unsupervised even at a party. Bell scooped the baby into her arms and continued on to the shed.

Merry snuggled happily into the warm body, sucking his thumb harder, smiling.

After Bell got a hand shovel, having to balance Merry in one arm to do so, she headed for the party. After all, she could hardly bring Merry to where her son was trapped, could she? His mother would turn up and worry. She looked around, trying to spot Esmeralda, but still didn't see her. Frustrated, Bell handed the child off to the first Hobbit she encountered, not really thinking about the results as she hurried off to free her son.

Bilbo looked surprised, looking down into the now opened eyes of the sleepy Brandybuck child.

"Fodo up..." Sam sobbed again. He didn't want to be in this hole. His leg hurt. He wanted to be hugged and kissed and petted by Frodo, like always. "Fodo..." Why wasn't he listening?

Frodo, for his part, was still working with the rock to try to free up Sam a bit. He looked at the child and sighed, running a now grubby hand through his dark curls. "I'm trying, Sam, I really am. But your leg's stuck and I haven't a shovel."

That caused the toddler to stop whining. "Shove?" He looked at his leg as if he'd never seen it before. "Shove leg? K..." And before Frodo could stop him, Sam wrenched his leg, getting it free. He screamed in agony, though, as the sound of a crack filled the air.

Samwise Gamgee passed out.

"Sam!" Frodo wanted to pass out himself. He felt like he'd be sick, seeing the pale limp body and the odd angle of the broken limb. Shaking almost too much to help, the teenager picked up the boy, carefully supporting the leg, and stood. He turned to go back to Bagshot Row.

Bell shuffled up at that moment. "What... oh no, sweetie! Sammy? What's happened? What..."

"No! Don't touch him!" Frodo snapped, turning so he held the child out of the woman's reach. "He's broken his leg. Don't touch him."

She was stunned. "Frodo?" He'd never kept her child from her before. And to yell at her? What had come over the normally peaceful teen? "Frodo...."

He walked away, carefully, without comment, still supporting Sam's leg at that odd angle. Frodo wasn't really thinking straight, stunned by Sam's accident. He had to get that leg fixed up... had to. In fact, Frodo wasn't even really aware of Bell or how he'd treated her. His only real thought was for the little boy unconscious in his arms.

"Frodo?" She started following, shocked by his behavior. He was beginning to scare her as much as the sight of her injured son was. "Frodo Baggins you answer me right now!" A chill swept over her as Frodo continued walking, without even pausing at her shout.

"It's okay, Sam... I'll get your leg fixed, baby. You just rest." Frodo knew Sam was unconscious, but he felt better talking to the boy anyway. He got to the fringes of the party and headed for the hole.

Bilbo came rushing to meet him, stunned by the pale, limp body in his cousin's arms. Normally the sight of Bilbo hefting a curious two-year-old would have brought a smile to Frodo's face. When the older boy didn't even react, Bilbo grew even more worried.

He trotted after Frodo towards the hole, trying to get a good look at the teenager's eyes. After a few seconds, Bilbo dropped back, surprised and worried. Frodo was in shock. It must have been a bad accident then. Much as he hated to, Bilbo turned to go get that windbag doctor from down the road

Of course, the fact that he was still hefting Merry Brandybuck around stopped him short. He looked at the child and frowned. Merry laughed and patted his ample chest. Bilbo shook his head. "Where's your Mama?"

"Mama?" It was one of the few words Merry knew and he loved to use it. Normally it brought him all kinds of attention. "Mama... mama..." It wasn't working. This Hobbit wasn't cooing and fawning over how clever he was. Merry frowned and tried again.

"Mama!" Still nothing. Getting frustrated, Merry slapped at Bilbo's chest, trying to remind him that he was a clever boy and deserved praise. "Ma! Ma!" It was as firm as he could make it.

Bilbo merely nodded. "I'm looking, I'm looking, my boy. Give a Hobbit a chance." He was saved from further abuse by the Brandybuck heir when Saradoc, the father, came barreling over.

"There's the lad! Thank you ever so much, Bilbo. Esmeralda's in a panic. She left him by the door and he wasn't there when she brought his elevensies back."

Bilbo thankfully thrust the child in Saradoc's arms and nodded. "He's calling for her right now. Gotta get a doctor. Samwise is hurt." And the worried old Hobbit toddled off.

Sam was starting to wake up, whimpering and crying in pain. He clutched Frodo, making it difficult for the teen to carry him to a bed. Frodo didn't care, he just picked the first bedroom available: Halfred's. Laying the boy carefully on the bed, he winced as Sam howled in pain.

Bell ran in after him with her husband on her heels. "Oh! Frodo, please... what happened?" She reached over and gripped Frodo's shirt, shaking him slightly.

He whirled around, paler than ever, shaking. Tears were starting in his big blue eyes and a hand flew to his mouth to hold back the sob. It didn't help. Frodo sank to the floor, crying.

"I'm so sorry... My poor Sam... all my fault. I didn't mean it. Honest. Poor Sam..."

Bell shook her head, bewildered, but Gaffer knelt down. "What's your fault, Master Frodo? What happened?" After no response, he lifted his hand and tried a new approach. "You don't answer me I'll slap you to stop you crying..."

The half-joke worked and Frodo lifted his eyes to meet Gaffer's steady green gaze. "He was stuck in the hole and I was trying to dig him out." He sobbed but continued. "I told him I didn't have a shovel and he misunderstood. He... he broke his leg wrenching it out, Sir... I'm so sorry..." His hands clenched and unclenched as if groping for something unseen, unattainable.

Gaffer nodded, sighing. "Not your fault, Master Frodo. Children misunderstand things all the time. We'll get a doctor in right quick and Sam'll be good as new in no time."

Frodo rose to his knees, clutching at Gaffer. "Can I pay for the doctor, please?"

The gardener pulled back as if he'd been hit with garbage. He straightened, indignantly, and opened his mouth. Frodo rushed on to explain.

"It's my fault he's hurt, Gaffer, and I'd feel ever so much better if you'd let me pay the bill. Please? I... I need to do something for him..."

Bell realized her husband had taken more offense than Frodo meant. She put a calming hand on her husband's arm. "That's a very kind offer, Mister Frodo, but we don't need the money."

The teen nodded. "I know you don't. I'm not offering charity. I want to help since it was my fault... try to make it up in a little way. Please?" He sounded desperate now, trying to grip at Gaffer's worn sleeve again.

The older man shook his head, relaxing a bit, but still looking huffy. "Well..."

"Yes. You may pay this, and only this, doctor bill, Mister Frodo. But that's it. We can afford our own children..." Bell knew she was too upset about Sam's injury to handle this as gently as she needed to.

Thankfully, Frodo understood. "Oh, I wouldn't dream of insulting you by suggesting you couldn't. I... I just wanna help and I don't know how else. If... if there's another way, instead of the bill, I'd do it."

Gaffer seized on that suggestion. "Yes. We'll pay the bill, as we're his parents. But you can help by keeping him calm the rest of the summer. He can't run about the lawn in the afternoons learning the gardens with a broken leg... he'll be in the hole studying with you until he's better." The man crossed his arms, daring Frodo to contest that idea.

Frodo, even worried as he was, wasn't stupid enough to throw away eight hours a day with his Sam. He also wasn't foolish enough to show how much it pleased him. Nodding solemnly, Frodo agreed. "Yes, sir. I can do that. Sam will stay inside with me. I won't let him get hurt again, sir..."

"I'll hold you to that, Frodo Baggins. Until that boy is grown up enough to think for himself, you're to see he don't get hurt when he's around you. Ever." The father turned to greet Bilbo and the annoying doctor. "You fix that boy's leg and give him something for the pain. Don't go winding on about sickness, though, or I'll find another doctor up to Hardbottle."

Surprised and offended, the doctor harrumphed and got to work.

Several hours later the party was fully cleaned up and the guests gone home. Well, all the guests except the Bagginses and the Brandybucks. That lot was staying on until Sam agreed to let Frodo out of his sight. It was beginning to look like they'd have to leave the teen overnight or they'd never get back to Bag End. At least her children had all managed to get invitations to stay at other holes in order to keep them out of her hair. Even little Marigold was down the road at the Cotton's home, tucked in a crib with their twin infants, Rosie and Wilcome.

Bell sighed after checking on the three boys again. Merry was sitting in the crib, which had been drug into the master bedroom. Sam was ensconced in his parent's bed with Frodo curled up beside him telling soft stories about Elves. The threesome looked quite peaceful in there.

Mrs. Gamgee turned to her guests and smiled. "The boys are resting and listening to Frodo's Elf stories." She moved to the teapot to refresh her cup. "It looks like they'd be comfortable there all night. Should we let them be?"

Esmeralda looked nervous. After all, Meriadoc was her only child. "Well..."

"Of course, if you're willing to have them. It's only just two holes down, love. The Gamgees won't let any harm come to our Merry. And Frodo'll watch them. He's a caring one, that boy."

The younger woman sighed and looked at her hands. Finally, she nodded, not looking up at her husband. "Oh, all right. He can spend the night. But it's his first time away from us, and he may cry."

Saradoc laughed. He suspected that Merry wouldn't cry at all that night. Their son was braver than his wife gave him credit for.

Bilbo quietly spoke up then. "Odd how both Merry and Sam are blondes."

Bell froze, cup halfway to her lips, eyes wide.

The Gaffer nodded. "Odd, yes. The children are good, but the Shire's wondering. Say it's a bad sign or some such nonsense."

With a huff, Esmeralda put her mug down with a thud, and then flushed. "My Meriadoc is not odd! I've heard those nasty rumors myself and they aren't true!"

"There, pet, no one says they are. It's just stories blowing about in the summer air. Won't last through the winter, mark me." Saradoc lovingly patted his wife's arm. He looked over at Bilbo, smiling. "Say, Bilbo. You're the repository of old lore. What's that legend about blonde children, anyway?"

Bilbo smiled. "Actually, it's a good legend. Says that the blonde children will appear when salvation is near. Means that something evil will show up and those blonde children are a mark that the evil will go away. It's an old Elvish story for children." He leaned forward, touching his finger to the side of his nose. "And let me tell you. Since most Elves I've met are blondes, I think they only say it to keep their children happy."

The old Hobbit sat back in his chair, grinning broadly.

Esmeralda and Bell looked at each other. A slow smile spread from one to the other, and both seemed to stand a little taller. Some silent communication known only to mothers had imparted the good news. Our children are special and the Elves even think so. Of course, no one really consorted with Elves in the Shire, but that didn't stop Hobbit children from dreaming about them sometimes when the wind blew through the leaves.

Bell sat down by her husband with a happy sigh. "So, the Elves think my Samwise will help save the world, do they? Well, they can go on thinking that. He'll be planting as many green things as could please a host of Elves. That's what'll save this world... green things."

Bilbo nodded. "I agree, Bell... I agree."
Chapter 9. Words on the Heart by Sam
Author's Notes:
Sam finds out the power of words.
Laughing happily, Samwise Gamgee clapped his chubby hands as Frodo Baggins added another carved wooden block to the pile. "Gen... gen!" He bounced slightly then stopped as a deep throb of pain through his leg reminded him he wasn't able to move as freely as he'd like. After two weeks, he was more frustrated than anything with the limitation; a broken leg wasn't going to keep him from enjoying his day, however.

Frodo smiled and picked up another carved block. "This? What's it called, Sam?" He shifted his hand slightly so Sam could see the letter engraved on it.

The four-year-old frowned in concentration and reached for it. "See? Sam see?"

With a nod, the teenager handed the toy over. Since Sam had broken his leg at his fourth birthday party, the sixteen-year-old has been put in charge of the toddler. He was supposed to keep him safe and quiet, for the most part, teaching the boy to read and such. Right then he was using alphabet blocks Bilbo had carved.

The pair was sitting on a soft rug in from of the dark fireplace. Bilbo was contentedly smoking in his favorite chair, watching his cousin and the younger boy from down the road play together. It was a rather homey scene in fact, calm and full of peaceful contentment.

Sam felt the toy, studying it carefully. In the last week, the boy had seemed to get more and more thoughtful. He would quietly study something or simply watch Frodo and Bilbo at their lessons. Somehow, the rambunctious four-year-old had managed to tap a well of calm deep inside himself, enabling Frodo to keep the little boy still a bit easier. "Oh... bock is Oh." Sam offered the toy back to Frodo, who took it with a smile. The toddler knew that if he got it right, his friend would add it to the tower he was building. That tower was four blocks high already, a triumph to the child eagerly watching his much older companion. It was satisfying to see Frodo ever so carefully add that fifth block to the tower.

"Okay, Sam, what's the word? What do the blocks spell?" Frodo reached down to gently pet his small friend's curls.

Bilbo looked over from his pipe and fire. "Come now, my lad, that's much too difficult a word for our boy. You should start with something small and easy, like his own name. That would have meaning for him and he'd learn it much quicker."

With a laugh, the teen ruffled Sam's curls again as the toddler tried to figure out the word. "Oh, I think this one will have a great meaning to our Sam, Cousin Bilbo. Just you watch." He leaned closer, encouraging the lad. "Go ahead, you can do it, Sam. What's it say?"

The little blond carefully reached over and stroked a wooden block. His touch was surprisingly gentle for such a little boy, bespeaking an inner care and grace one might not see when just looking at the chubby child. Finally, he looked up and spoke with confidence, "Don know."

With a laugh the teen gathered the boy to him, careful of the splinted leg. Bilbo barked with a surprised laugh, then settled into chuckles that rocked his comfortable girth. Sam joined in the laughter, not knowing why they were laughing, but not minding one bit the joy he felt there.

A knock on the door interrupted the laughter and Bilbo heaved himself out of his comfortable chair to go answer it, muttering to himself questions about who would want to visit him. When he flung open the door, he was surprised to see Lily Cotton standing there, her son, Young Tom, had his hand clasped in hers. Bilbo was especially surprised to see that she didn't have either of her twin infants with her.

"Oh, Mister Baggins. I do hate to do this to you! But, I understand your nephew is watching young Samwise Gamgee while he's hurt and... oh..." She flushed and nervously switched her son's hand to her other one, forcing the toddler to move to her other side in front of her. "But you see, the twins are sick, and the doctor warned that Young Tom couldn't be in the hole with them because it's a dreadful fever..."

Bilbo looked down at the child, stunned. The Shire always had odd whispers for Bilbo, despite respecting his fabled wealth and prestige. Now, it seemed they were just eager to give him their children. What had changed? Laughter from the other room gave him the answer.

Frodo had changed it. He was an odd lad and didn't seem to get on with his own age group, but he was great with the children. These Hobbits had seen that at Sam's birthday party a couple of weeks ago. Now, in times of need, they thought to have him watch their boys? Somewhere the cynical thought that a free babysitter was the biggest attraction entered, and was as quickly pushed out of, the older Hobbit's mind.

"I can't promise for the lad about watching someone. He's got a responsibility to Samwise as the boy broke his leg while in Frodo's keeping." He did, however, open the door to the two visitors and let them in. "You'll have to ask the lad yourself, Mrs. Cotton."

She nodded and hurried her oldest child towards the sound of laughter. On the threshold of Bilbo's den, she paused, hesitant to invade his masculine domain. From the doorway, she asked her favor. "Master Frodo? I hate as to disturb you, lad, but my twins are sick with fever... and... I have no time to go further to find someone to watch the boy. Would you? Just for a bit? Me mam is coming up tonight and will take him from there..."

Frodo looked over, surprised. He extricated himself carefully from Sam where they'd been playing with the fallen tower on the rug. Standing and smoothing his clothing, the sixteen-year-old walked over to the anxious mother. He could see worry in her eyes. Taking Young Tom's hand he nodded, his own eyes serious. "Go back to your husband and babies, Mrs. Cotton. I'll take care of Tolman for you."

She looked so relieved, tears misted in her eyes and she gave Frodo a surprising hug. "Thank you so much, Master Frodo. He'll be good for you, I promise." She knelt quickly and kissed her son's curls. "Now, behave for Master Frodo, Tolman Cotton, or your father will hear of it." Hurriedly she stood and turned, relieved, to Bilbo behind her. "I'd stay for tea but my Tom is watching the twins. A good Hobbit, but so lost when it comes to infants, especially sick ones. You'll understand, Mister Baggins?"

Bilbo nodded and saw the woman out, feeling as if a whirlwind had just blown through his hole. He watched her move off quickly down the road, heading back to her family. Finally, Bilbo shut the faded green door and turned back towards his den and the fire. He paused to watch as Frodo coaxed the shy Cotton boy towards Sam and the scattered blocks.

With a shake of his head, Bilbo headed towards the kitchen to prepare a tea for the children. He couldn't fathom how the woman had decided to trust Frodo with her son, out of all the women around the area. It didn't make sense. It was well known, after all, that Sam had broken his leg when being watched by Frodo. That would logically conclude that Frodo was no fit guardian of a rambunctious child. So why give him Tolman to care for?

Pausing, Bilbo's hand was covered with a cloth, reaching for the whistling teapot. Could it be? He quickly glanced back towards the sounds of laughter, which once more echoed from the other room. Had somehow the rest of the Hobbiton mothers found out about Frodo's quick actions to get Sam breathing again last year? Had that been the reason behind their sudden trust of the pale, too thin, lad from Buckland? Had Bell done that for Frodo?

Yes, she would do that for Frodo. Help him to be accepted in this tight-knit group. Bilbo smiled and took the pot from the fire, pouring it into the gaily printed teapot on the tray. He added sugar and creamer bowls, as children often liked their tea weakened, as well as nice tidbits of buttered bread, marmalade, scones, and some cucumber sandwiches he'd made to tide them over until luncheon. Picking up the tray, he smiled. Yes, Frodo was actually starting to fit in after four long years. His lad was finding a home for himself in Hobbiton.




Frodo smiled as Tolman Cotton began to relax.

Sam hadn't seemed to mind sharing his Frodo with the other little boy, showing off the pretty blocks Bilbo had made. The Gamgee boy, however, was staking his personal claim to the most of Frodo's attention by leaning into the older boy possessively. Apparently, Sam was willing to share but not give up his friend.

Young Tom reached curiously for a block, quite content to sit up on his own without the aid of a larger body to support him. He was too busy exploring these strange new toys the other boy had. He thought over the name the teen had called them by. "Block?"

"Yes, good Tom. Block. Very good." Frodo's praise rang through the room and Sam felt instantly alert. He looked at Tom, then at the blocks, then at Frodo. He wanted Frodo to say that to him, too. After all, Sam didn't begrudge Tom his praise; he just wanted part of it.

Thinking hard, Sam held up an S block. "B... block?"

Frodo squealed and hugged the boy to him. "Yes, Sam! That's right, block." He stressed the L sound that Sam normally avoided. "You are so smart!"

Sam laughed and hugged Frodo back, enjoying the attention. His Frodo was happy with him. He would do that again just to get more hugs. Picking up the block again, he held it up and proudly announced, "Block." He stressed the L, too.

Tom giggled and Frodo laughed, hugging Sam again. Sam joined in the laughter, and the happy sounds drifted out of the den towards Bilbo in the kitchen. The boys started picking up blocks one by one and repeating the word, eliciting more laughter and giggles all the while.

Rolling over on his tummy, Tom started piling blocks up in a tall tower. He was four high when the tower tumbled over from lack of proper balance. The boys giggled again and a contest to see who could build a bigger tower broke out.

Tom kept accidentally knocking his own tower over after three or four blocks. He didn't seem to mind, though, as everyone was having fun. Tom wasn't the sort to put more store in building things right, just the constructing and demolition part so far.

Frodo's tower had reached six blocks when he accidentally knocked into it. Blocks scattered, hitting the bottom of Tom's tower and knocking that over, again. A loud burst of laughter greeted this tragedy. With a giggle, the teen looked over to see how Sam was getting on.

The four-year-old was trying to stand and finding it impossible in the splint. He sank back down again with a frustrated whimper, a block clutched in either fist, staring intently at his five block tower. He wanted to build it higher, but couldn't reach from sitting down. With a sigh of disgust, he turned to Frodo and Tom. "Block..." he had inadvertently started using an L now, because Frodo had so praised Tom for it.

Quite willing to help out, Frodo took a block from his friend and carefully added it to the tower. "How's that, Sam? Another?" He smiled and added the one Sam handed over, making it the tallest tower Sam had ever seen. Frodo added an eighth block.

Bilbo smiled as he walked in with the tea tray, stopping short at the sight of the threesome with the blocks. Sam was sitting up by himself, a first since his accident, and clapping his hands calling out "Block," over and over again. Young Tom was on his hands and knees, rocking slightly in excitement, watching intently. And Frodo was carefully trying to add a ninth block to what seemed to be a precarious stack at best.

As the tray was set on a low table, the tower came tumbling down, thanks in large part to Frodo's help. A loud clapping from Sam and giggles from Tom brought a smile to Bilbo's face. He'd expected tears or anger at the stack falling. However, these three seemed to accept that it was just a game and that towers could be rebuilt once they'd fallen.

"Tea time, my lads, come and eat." Bilbo's relief at the comfortable atmosphere in the room was evident in his cheerful call.

With a whoop, Tom crawled over, finding it easier than getting to his feet. Sam was scooped up by Frodo and carried over to the low table, placed in the room just for Sam in fact. The children were excited and started chattering, both little boys vying for the adults' attention. Bilbo laughed to see how Frodo kept having to look back and forth to give his charges equal time in conversation. The eldest of the foursome served all round to spare the second eldest the added duty.

It was a short time later that all four had finished off the entire tea. Frodo had actually managed to snag the last scone, a twinkle in his eye for a memory four years old. Bilbo had made a play for it, but let his ward win, not being hungry for it at the moment. The master of Bag End heaved himself up and started clearing away. "I'll see to these things if you clean up the boys, my lad."

Frodo laughed and picked up Sam. "Of course, Cousin Bilbo. Come on Tolman. We're going to wash up so we can have another good romp, okay?" The visitor didn't complain, following, licking his marmalade-sticky fingers in happiness.




Much later that day all was quiet again. Tolman Cotton was sleeping curled in Bilbo's large chair, waiting for his grandmother to come get him. Bilbo was lighting his pip by the fireplace, looking contented with the unusual events of the day. Frodo was reading quietly, stretched out in front of the fire, trying to get in the studying he missed earlier when Tolman showed up. The remaining young man was smiling and rocking himself, reliving the fun of that day and the hugs of his best friend.

Finally, Sam decided it was time for another special hug. He picked up several blocks carefully, studying them and arranging them in a specific order. It was the first word he'd read, and the first one he'd spelled. In fact, it was the only word he'd read or had spelled out for him so far. The toddler was determined to get it right the first time. He wanted that hug.

As the two adults settled to their tasks, Sam continued working, trying first this order than that. Frodo was always good to him and he wanted to show his friend how much he meant. Sam couldn't do much yet, but he would try to please Frodo by getting this one thing right. It took much work, but at last Sam had finished, hoping he'd remembered it correctly.

"Fodo... Fodo, look Sam..." He tugged on his friend's sleeve just as Bilbo turned to see, too. Frodo looked over and gasped, then scooped up Sam and hugged him hard enough to cause a squeak to emerge. Sam didn't mind, though, he hugged back hard. He'd gotten his heart's desire He must have done the word right.

The blocks spelled out F-R-O-D-O.
Chapter 10. Blossoms Of Confusion by Sam
Gaffer shook his head, sighing. Running a hand through his auburn curls, the fifty-eight year old Hobbit was getting exasperated with his youngest son. He's been trying for a week to teach four year old Sam the difference between autumn flowers and choking weeds, relying on the fact that the flowers' blooms would help to identify them. It wasn't working.

The toddler would apparently listen to him then suddenly go off into another snatch of song he'd heard. He would obediently toddle after his father then, unexpectedly, veer away, laughing and forcing the older Hobbit to chase him down. Of course, Samwise wasn't too hard to catch, seeing as he'd barely been taken out of the cast he'd sported half of the summer. It was merely annoying and the gardener of Bag End was quickly losing his patience.

He was reluctant to yell at the lad, however, recalling all the worry and horror of the last time he'd yelled at his son a year ago. The boy had stopped breathing. Now Gaffer tried to find alternative forms of discipline for the toddler. The problem was, the adult felt his boy had caught on and was deliberately trying his patience.

"Samwise Gamgee, get back over here." He kept his voice a low growl, trying to convey his annoyance without shouting. Sam merely laughed and ducked further into the bushes, playing an impromptu game of 'Find Me'. Gaffer forcefully blew out air, starting to count to himself, as his wife, Bell, had suggested the night before.

For his part, Sam giggled and peeked out. He was having fun. True, he couldn't play with Frodo after luncheon, but playing with his father was almost as fun; especially as his father never failed to make those funny noises as he looked for the recalcitrant boy. Seeing his father's annoyed glance, Sam covered his mouth, still giggling, and ducked back into the bush.

Finally, Gaffer had enough. He turned and walked away, leaving the boy in the bushes. Sam was puzzled. Why was his father leaving? He peeked out, frowning. "Gaff?" Sam crawled further towards the open air beyond his leafy hiding place. "Gaff go home?" Disappointment colored the boy's words. He didn't want to go home yet; this was too much fun.

Hamfast Gamgee, called Gaffer by almost everyone, continued to walk away from his young son. He felt confident the boy would be fine. Hearing the disappointment in the child's voice, he felt a very slight, malicious, surge of triumph. He'd done something Sam hadn't expected.

Stopping in front of the faded green door of Bag End, Gaffer's place of employment as a gardener, the servant paused. He was suddenly unsure whether his spurt of inspiration was a good idea after all. Hearing Sam's confused "Gaff" behind him convinced him he was correct in what he planned. The Gaffer knocked at his master's door.

When the door was thrown open by a surprised Bilbo Baggins, Gaffer swiped off his cap and held it, respectful of his employer. "Mister Bilbo, sir? I was wondering like if I could borrow Master Frodo for a moment or two. I know he's busy with his Elf words, but I thought as how he might help me convince Samwise to stop playing and start working." He waited, breath held.

Bilbo smiled and laughed softly. "I'll get him, Gaffer. I'm sure if anyone can convince Sam, it'll be Master Frodo." The older Hobbit shuffled off to find his adopted nephew, a cousin he took in four years ago when the boy's parents had been killed in a boating accident. Locating Frodo was no problem: the boy was in the kitchen eating buttered bread and marmalade.

"Frodo? The Gaffer says he'd like your help convincing our Sam that play time is over." Bilbo smiled fondly at the too thin, pale Hobbit lad with the endearingly sticky face and hands.

Frodo looked up, guiltily. Normally he took care with his food, so as not to make a mess. Today, however, he'd let his guard down, simply enjoying the private treat. Having his cousin walk in was rather embarrassing. After all sixteen-year-old Hobbits didn't get marmalade all over themselves while eating a snack.

"Sam needs me?" He tried to wipe at the mess on his face with little success. In fact, it seemed to be smearing even more. He finally gave up, shoving the last bite in his mouth and heading for the sink and a good washing. He listened intently to Bilbo's explanation.

"That he does, my boy. Seems he can't settle down today and Gaffer sounds near to yelling." The older Hobbit smiled wider as Frodo froze. It had been the teenager who'd gotten the boy breathing again last year when he had his crying fit. Bilbo continued, "And Gaffer's asking that you help him understand it's work time now."

The teenager nodded, drying his face and hands and checking to make sure he'd gotten none of the food on his clothing. Satisfied that he looked presentable, he smiled at Bilbo and practically skipped from the room. "I think I can do that, Cousin Bilbo." He was gone with the next breath.

Shaking his head, Bilbo had to laugh. For the past three days his cousin had suddenly become extremely fastidious in dress and other habits. Not that Frodo had even been a messy boy, but it had been taken to a new level recently. That could only mean one thing. His lad had discovered lasses. With a slight spring to his step, the ninety-four year old Hobbit went back to his den and the book he'd abandoned moments ago.

When Frodo got outside, he gave Gaffer the sunniest smile ever seen on the quiet young lad. He was unaware of the gardener's surprised double take, instead heading for the sight of the curious little face peeping out of the bushes. Settling down in front of his young friend, Frodo smiled. "Well, Samwise Gamgee. Don't want to work, hmmm?"

Sam grinned in response, launching himself at his older friend with a squeal. "Fodo! Fodo play!" He still dropped the occasional letter, but rarely forgot an L since he'd seen the praise Young Tom Cotton had gotten for using it.

Frodo was forced onto his butt in the dirt, arms filled with dirty Hobbit child. He gasped, leaves and twigs showering him as he was gripped by wet, sticky hands. Something akin to horror entered the teen's eyes. "Sam! Calm down! You're getting me dirty!"

"Dutty? Sam dutty?" The child sat up in the older boy's lap, confused by the unexpected admonition from his life-long playmate. "Fodo dutty?"

"Yes, Frodo's dirty now, Sam, and I was being so careful today! Oh, Sam, you really have to be more careful, love." He'd used the endearment without thinking, but neither the Gaffer nor Sam seemed bothered by it. The teenager continued. "You get to play in the mornings with me, Sam. You're supposed to work in the afternoons or you're not allowed up here anymore. Don't you remember?"

"Uh huh." Sam smiled and hugged Frodo again, not bothered by Frodo's correction. His friend never scolded him. Frodo let him do anything at all; the child was secure in his friend's lenience.

This time was different, however, as Frodo shook his head. "So, it's time to work, Sam. I can't play; I've got work. So, you have to do your work, too." He put Sam off his lap and started trying to brush his clothes clean, a sigh coloring his tone.

Sam blinked. Frodo had never pushed him away. He frowned, trying to understand what had changed. Had he done something wrong? "Fodo? Fodo angee?"

Frodo's head shot up, clothes forgotten, and his expression softened. "No, I'm not angry, Sam." He hugged the child again. "Come here." With the dirty child on his lap, the older boy rocked slightly, speaking softly. "Sam? I've an idea. I want five flowers. They have to be different, okay? They can't be the same flowers. I need five of them, though. Think you can do that?"

"Uh..." Sam frowned, trying to think if he knew a flower he could get five of. Finally he shook his head. "No..." A sudden idea hit him. "Gaff! Gaff flowee!"

"Well, what a great idea, Sam! You can ask Gaffer to help you find my flowers. Then, you'll be sure to have five different flowers. I'll be inside waiting for them, okay?" He kissed the top of Sam's strawberry curls. "Five different flowers, Sam." Frodo put Sam on the ground again and watched the little boy run to his father for help.

Gaffer looked relieved. If it took getting flowers and such for Master Frodo every day, he'd do it. Sam would learn quickly at that, since he always wanted to do things for his older friend. The gardener gave a rare smile to his employer's ward. "Thank you, Master Frodo. We'll have your flowers soon enough."

Frodo nodded. "Remember Sam, I want you to get the flowers. Gaffer can help, but he's not to pick them. You have to. Okay, Sam?"

Sam nodded and tugged on his father's hand. "Come Gaff. Find flowee. Find Fodo flowee." He insistently guided the older Hobbit towards the flowerbeds. The boy hardly noticed anything now; he had a goal to meet, wanting to make Frodo happy.

With a satisfied nod, Frodo turned back towards the hole. He sighed, becoming aware of his dirty clothing once more, trying to brush his clothes off again. "I can't believe how messy one child can be." His voice was as exasperated as the gardener's had been earlier.

Bilbo chuckled as Frodo passed, heading for his bedroom. "Well, my lad, who is she? A pretty lass from down in Hobbiton or one from Buckland, mayhaps?"

Frodo froze. Turning slowly, he flushed bright pink. "Uh... neither, Bilbo. I'm getting changed now." He ducked into his room, embarrassed to have been questioned about pretty lasses. He shut the door on Bilbo's continued chuckles.

Gaffer was getting frustrated again. True, now his son worked with a vengeance to figure out which were flowers and to find the five Frodo wanted, but he was exhausting his father in the process. Sam had three blooms clutched in a chubby fist and was lamenting to the older Hobbit that he couldn't find a blue one. His favorite color seemed to be blue. No matter how many times Gaffer explained that blue flowers didn't come out in autumn, Sam just continued to mutter and look for a blue blossom for his favorite friend.

Finally, Gaffer stopped dead still, refusing to continue the futile search. "Samwise, you have to wait until spring for a blue flower. That's when the chicory will start to blooming. Right now you'll get yellow and red." That stopped the little boy.

He turned, frowning, still clutching his ragged flowers. "No blue? Sam want blue!"

"No, Sam, no blue. Why don't you find orange, instead? Master Frodo likes orange just fine."

"Blue!" Sam stamped one little foot, indignant that his father could be so silly as to think orange was better than blue. "Fodo blue!"

Gaffer glared at the child and pointed to the flowerbeds. "There: red, orange, yellow, and pink. Maybe even a purple, but certainly no blue, boy. Go and look, if you don't believe me. Go ahead, Samwise Gamgee. You know so much more than the Gaffer, you find a blue flower for Master Frodo." He was so frustrated, and so confident of that garden, he threw out another challenge. "You find a blue flower and I'll let you give Master Frodo a cake for his birthday."

Sam stopped and looked, wide-eyed, at the older Hobbit. "Cake Fodo? Cake butday?" He turned and sprinted for the flower garden, intent more than ever on finding Frodo's blue flower.

With a sigh, Gaffer followed him, wondering how he'd stop the tears when Sam didn't find that flower.

Sam was desperately trying to search every row of pristine blossoms, looking for that perfect flower. He had picked up a red, a pink, an orange, and a yellow flower for good measure, but refused to stop looking for that elusive fifth flower of his choice. He was getting worried now. There wasn't a single blue among the flowers he'd checked.

Looking up, he could see only three rows of blossoms left: all purple in color. Gaffer was silly. There was a blue flower, there had to be. A perfect flower just for Frodo. The boy started determinedly for the last three rows.

The afternoon had gotten late as Samwise searched the huge flowerbeds. The sun slanted down towards the horizon, turning the sky to vibrant reds and violets, darkening towards the east like a shadow marking the passing time. Gaffer knew the boy wouldn't give up, but knowing that failure was at the end had the worried parent regretting his hasty challenge. He hated seeing one of his children fail.

Finally, Sam was on the last section of the last row. He was beginning to think that maybe Gaffer had been right. Maybe there wasn't a blue flower to be found. As he walked, dragging his feet in exhaustion, eyes scanning the purple blossoms, he grew more and more dejected. At the last purple blossom, he had to admit that Gaffer wasn't silly after all. He was right: no blue.

With a sniff, he turned to Hamfast and held up the four dead flowers he'd picked. His voice wavered on a sob as he spoke the dreaded, inevitable words. "No... no blue... Gaff. Fodo no blue..."

The Gaffer sighed and scooped up his son in a comforting hug. He cuddled the boy, letting him sob into a well-fleshed shoulder, making small noises of understanding and sympathy. Rocking him slightly, Gaffer walked amongst the flowers, careful not to trample the delicate blooms.

"Oh, Sammy, it'll be okay, son. Master Frodo won't mind. He'll be happy with the flowers anyway." He lifted his son's tear-stained face. "Tell you what, Sammy-boy. We'll get five new flowers for Master Frodo and you can still give him a birthday cake later this month. How's that?" Sam didn't even think. He merely threw his arms around his father and nodded, snuffling into his shoulder. "Kay. New flowees. Fodo cake."

After a long moment, Gaffer put his calming son down, taking the small, dirty fingers. They walked slowly down the rows of flowers, Sam pointing to the perfect blooms he wanted to replace the ones he'd picked earlier. Within minutes he had, not five, but ten beautifully matched flowers. To show Frodo he had chosen them, Sam was trying to recite their names, repeating after the Gaffer over and over again. They wound up in front of the faded door at last.

With a soft knock, Gaffer smiled down at his son, proudly watching the eager little boy grip his bunch of flowers. As the door swung open, the Hobbit looked up, smile still in place, nodding in respect to an equally smiling Bilbo. Without a word, the master of Bag End allowed the tired pair to enter. Gaffer signaled Bilbo not to interrupt Sam's concentration as their employer guided them towards the den and Frodo.

Frodo looked up at the sound of someone coming into the room. He was dressed in clean clothes and had almost forgotten the dirty encounter of earlier. Seeing the grubby child brought it back, but the boy's next actions pushed all thought of being fastidious out of the teen's mind.

"Fodo, flowees..." Sam held up the bunch of flowers. He carried them to the stunned looking teen and started dutifully reciting the names of the blooms he'd chosen. At the very end, he held the flowers out and sighed, looking hopeful that his offering pleased his friend.

With a gasp, Frodo grabbed Sam into a delighted hug, eyes wide. "Oh, Sam! They're beautiful! Just look at that vibrant purple... and all those petals. Oh, you are such a good boy and I love you so much!" He hugged him again.

"Sam no blue flowee, Fodo."

It was almost an actual sentence, a first for the child. But Frodo didn't even register this new accomplishment. Instead, his eyes misted over at the dejected tone his friend had relayed the news in. He cuddled the boy harder and kissed his dirty curls, uncaring if he got messy himself. "That's okay, Sam. I know you tried hard. And I like purple almost as much as blue. I think these are beautiful."

Sam's head came up, eyes suddenly shining. "Fodo like puple?" He sounded hopeful. With Frodo's nod, Sam laughed and forgot all about his grief over not finding that perfect flower. He hugged his friend back. "Sam love Fodo!"

"Well, Frodo loves Sam." Frodo smiled and stood up, taking the chubby toddler with him. "Why don't we get some water for our flowers, Sam?" He threw an absent smile at the adults as he carried the child out of the room.

The Gaffer turned mystified eyes on his employer. "Well, I'll be. That boy hasn't worked all week, but one request from Master Frodo gets him searching and learning all afternoon. Don't that just beat all? I wonder if'n it'll last, Mister Bilbo."

Bilbo laughed. "Oh, I'm sure if Frodo asked for things, Sam would be delighted to give up playing just to find them. Sometimes," the older Hobbit put a hand on his younger employee's worn sleeve, "you have to be a bit unconventional to get a body working. Let the boys go. Sam'll start listening all on his own one day. Right now, he's just a boy trying to please his best friend."

With a shake of his head, and then a nod, Gaffer had to agree. He might not understand that bond between the two boys, but it didn't seem to be hurting either one. He supposed he'd just have to let go and trust Sam would grow up without any odd ideas or stigmas. For now, he'd have to be content to let Sam believe that the work worth doing was for Frodo; what an odd situation indeed.
Chapter 11: A Day To Remember by Sam
Author's Notes:
Frodo's seventeenth birthday thrusts the teenager through many layers of emotions. Embarrassment, fear, love, anger... but with which emotion will her remember it in the years to come... and why is he bouncing around like an emotional rag doll? ((Yes, there is a great deal of Sam in this one, though the first few pages don't have him in it.))

Second Note: Contains minor disturbing factors (a dead cat and a half-nude bathing party), but no actual violence or sexual encounters. The incidents are innocent for the most part, and no children were intended to be hurt or traumatized in the plotting of the pranks.
"Frodo, stay still. I can't fix this if you won't stay still." Bilbo was on his knees, trying to sew a rip high up on the back of Frodo's trouser thigh. It might have been easier to sew the cloth if it hadn't been on the seventeen-year-old, but Bilbo was worried he might make the leg too uneven without seeing it hang properly. "I'm not even sure how you've ripped your best trousers right before your own birthday party." He shook his head, sighing.

The teen ran a nervous hand through his dark curls, trying to stay still; he was extremely restless. Frodo knew it was silly to be nervous about his own birthday, but he couldn't help it. He just was. He'd been acting oddly since the end of summer, checking his appearance for flaws and surreptitiously checking out the window at odd intervals. Bilbo had noticed and embarrassed him almost a month ago by commenting about it. He'd asked the name of the lass Frodo was trying to impress. That had driven the teenager to his room for several hours. Thankfully, everything had smoothed over and Frodo had returned to his newly altered schedule of checking himself and the window. His cousin didn't press for details again.

Now their joint birthday, Bilbo's ninety-fifth and Frodo's seventeenth, was upon them. They had been planning this party for quite some time, as they did every year since Frodo'd come to live with his cousin at Bag End in Hobbiton. There were presents for every guest and food to feed half the Shire. Despite other Hobbits considering the Bagginses odd ducks, the Bagginses never stinted on a party.

"Bilbo, hurry. They'll be arriving soon. I can't go about in my second best trousers, and these are ripped." He nearly whined he was so impatient, but managed to control that childish urge. Frodo, after all, was trying to be as grown up as he could. It wasn't always easy.

The older Hobbit finally patted his adopted nephew's hip and scooted back. "All fixed, my lad, and not a moment too soon. I hear the door now. Run along and answer it while I finish getting dressed, there's a good lad." Bilbo looked up to see Frodo gulp in sudden nervousness, adam's apple bobbing.

Well, I'd have to say he really is interested in a lass. Look at him shake. The old Hobbit chuckled and eased himself off the floor, taking his sewing basket with him. He watched the lad hurry from the room, smoothing his dark curls, and chuckled again. Wonder who she is. I'll have to keep an eye out during the party. He went to his room to finish changing into his best party clothes.

Frodo swallowed one last time, feeling his throat go suddenly dry. He reached a shaking hand towards the door, stopped to gain some control as the knock came again, then reached out once more. Opening the door, he plastered a nervously false smile to his face, blue eyes too bright in his anxiety. "Hello..." he cleared his throat, flushing at the very high pitched noise which had emerged. Trying again, he was thankful when this time it came out normal sounding, "Hello. Welcome to our birthday party."

On the doorstep stood the tweenager, Will Whitfoot, and his younger sisters, Larkspur, Obsidian, and Zinnia. Their parents were nowhere to be seen. With a merry smile and an enthusiastic hand clasping, Will gestured towards the Party Field. "Happy birthday, Frodo. Shall we just go down to the field and help ourselves, then?" He was a jolly Hobbit with sparkling eyes and an easy-going, confident manner. Pretty much everyone liked the young Hobbit from Michel Delving. His sisters were rumored to be almost as jovial and plump, a fine looking family with dark locks and bright eyes.

Frodo gulped again and nodded, his eyes straying to Larkspur. He flushed and gestured towards the decorated Party Field. "Why don't I lead you down? You're the first guests to arrive. How..." he glanced at Will but his eyes strayed back to Larkspur within moments, "how was the journey from the North Farthing?"

"Very well, very well." Will slapped Frodo heartily on the back and laughed. "Come then, Birthday Lad. Let us start the party." He guided the small group down, homing right in on the buffet tables, like any good Hobbit. The girls started loading plates for themselves, Obsidian surprising Frodo with a full plate set just for him.

He flushed and smiled weakly. "Uh... thanks... Obsidian." He then proceeded to put a bite of roll in his mouth to give himself time to think of something intelligent to say.

Obsidian giggled and turned to gossip with Zinnia. Larkspur was already touring the field with her plate in hand, looking over the many decorations. She proceeded to ignore her brother and host completely apparently more interested in the inanimate objects than the living Hobbits she was with.

Frodo's eyes found the pretty lass and he shoved more roll into his mouth, almost choking when Will hit his back again. He looked at the older Hobbit. Clearing his mouth as quickly as he could, the teenager tried for a normal tone, nearly succeeding. "It's not often you get down to Hobbiton, is it, Will?"

Will laughed. "Not a bit of it. I get out of Michel Delving so rarely as to not even recognize the rest of the Shire, I'm thinking. 'Tis a beautiful country, though, my friend, a beautiful country. A shame my folks are laid up with colds, but there you have it. They entrusted my sisters to me when they saw Mister Bilbo's invite, not wanting us to miss such an event. Nobody who's anybody wants to miss a Baggins party, eh?" He grinned at Frodo who couldn't resist grinning back.

"I wouldn't."

That statement brought a hearty laugh to his guest's lips, and Frodo watched as Will headed off to find out what Obsidian and Zinnia were gossiping about. Turning, he noted Larkspur, still off by herself, checking the decorations in a pretty tree. Frodo, with a nervous gulp, determined that he should talk to her... as a good host. He headed towards the pretty lass.

A call of "Ho, Frodo, my lad," interrupted him and the teen turned, flushing once more. Bilbo hurried down to his cousin, smiling and bobbing his head at the four guests. "Well, my boy, on my way down I spotted some more guests. Looks as if the Brandybucks will make it again this year. And would you believe your cousin Paladin is bringing his girls?" Bilbo grinned broadly, trying to judge Frodo's reaction. Naturally, the Took girls were a bit young for Frodo, but that didn't mean he couldn't wait for one of them.

Frodo, however, disappointed this image by making a face. "The Tooks are loud, Cousin Bilbo. And the girls are always trying to get me to carry them or fetch things for them. I'd rather not... oh!" Frodo caught sight of Eglantine Took carrying an infant down the hill. "I didn't know she had another daughter, Bilbo!" He made his way over to get a look at the infant.

Bilbo laughed, shaking his head. "Of course. That's four now, Frodo. Latest one's named Pervinca." He walked over to greet the Tooks, shaking hands with Paladin and cooing over infant Pervinca. Frodo imitated his guardian while trying to get a good look at the baby, the girls clamoring for his attention.

Finally, Eglantine just sighed and handed the infant over to the birthday boy. He was stunned, holding the baby carefully. He hadn't held an infant since Sam was a month old, and it felt odd to be holding this tiny little girl. Looking down, he frowned nervously at the sleeping infant.

"Fodo!"

The call made Frodo straighten, a smile of delight coming to his face. He turned, careful of the baby in his arms, and called out, "Coming, Sam! Thank you so much, Cousin Eglantine for letting me hold Pervinca. Here Cousin Bilbo, hold the baby." He slipped the child into the older Hobbit's arms with a mischievous grin and sprinted off to greet the Gamgees, any nervousness among his guests forgotten for the moment.

Scooping the freshly scrubbed Sam into his arms, he hugged the five-year-old toddler. With a grin, Frodo carried the little boy back to his family and formally shook hands with those present. He frowned very softly when Halfred merely glanced at Frodo's hand and shoved his own in his pockets, refusing the gesture of friendship.

Gaffer Gamgee, Sam's father, looked around and nodded. "A beautiful day for a party, Master Frodo." He fell silent, then started talking again when Bell elbowed him. "The tree looks right pretty with the changing leaves."

Confused at Bell's behavior as she again elbowed her husband to talk, Frodo merely nodded and listened in fascination. Gaffer tried a bit more, complimenting the decorations and commenting on how delicious the food smelled. Finally, the teenager couldn't take the curiosity anymore and interrupted the stilted attempts by the older Hobbit.

"Sir? I'm flattered... but... um, Bell? Why..." he fell silent, unsure how to ask her about her strange behavior without embarrassing anyone.

She understood, anyway, as she always seemed to understand Frodo. "Marigold seems to have problems relating to words, Frodo, so we're trying to talk for her. The more she hears, the more she'll understand. We're hoping to get her to talk. She hasn't even said one word yet."

With a nod and another cuddle for Sam, Frodo looked at the two-year-old in Bell's arms. "Hello, Marigold Gamgee, I'm so glad you could come to my party. Would you care to join the other guests at the buffet?" He was thankful that Sam didn't seem to have troubles learning things or speaking his mind.

Gaffer laughed at the serious tone but nodded. "That's mighty good of you, Master Frodo, to help us with her speaking. It gets a bit tough being the one to do all the talking. I think I bore her more than help her."

Frodo laughed and led the gardener and his family down to the rest of the guests. He was surprised to note that a majority of those invited had arrived and greeted Bilbo while the boy had been involved with his favorite family. Frodo didn't mind.

"Gaffer? May I take Sam to the tree? I think he'll like the decorations."

The Gaffer nodded, but was elbowed by his wife as a reminder to actually talk for Marigold's sake. With a sigh, he answered, "Go ahead, Master Frodo. I'm sure Samwise would love to see the tree. And he can even name the colors for you."

Sam, hearing one of his favorite topics mentioned, spoke up. "Blue, yellow, pink, red..."

Frodo gasped. "What was that, Sam?" He was stunned.

"Blue?"

"No, Sam, the other colors. Name them again?" Frodo looked at an apparently smug Gaffer then back at the little boy who had always avoid the letter R.

"Blue? Pink? Yellow? White? Black?" Sam smiled up at Frodo, quite glad to name as many colors as his best friend wanted him to name. The five-year-old had been encouraged to repeat himself often, recently, and found he enjoyed it.

"What color is Bilbo's vest, Sam?" Frodo bit his bottom lip and waited, holding his breath.

The little boy glanced over then turned back to Frodo and tugged his sleeve. Frodo frowned and bent closer so the boy might whisper to him. With a definite nod, Sam cupped a hand around his mouth and said quite normally, "Red. Is red, Fodo."

"Red! You said Red! Oh, Sam! You are so clever!" Frodo hugged him and smiled. "When did you start using R's? And why don't you use it in my name?"

Sam giggled and Bell laughed. "Oh, trust me, Frodo, he uses them all the time now. In fact, your name is the only word he drops the R in. We've started encouraging him to speak properly for Marigold, and he's enjoying it. I've never seen Sam so talkative, in fact." She reached out and ruffled her son's strawberry curls.

Gaffer shrugged and took Marigold from Bell. "Why don't we all go to the tree, then? We can look at the leaves and decorations." He looked down at Marigold, but the little girl seemed too enraptured with the crowd to pay attention to talking. He sighed and followed as Frodo turned and led them down to the tree.

As he rounded the tree, talking to Sam about the colors and enjoying Sam's unexpected enthusiasm for speaking back, Frodo nearly ran into Larkspur Whitfoot. He stumbled to a halt, blinking and flushing. With an embarrassed glance around, he said, "Hello... uh... Larkspur. Um... isn't the tree pretty?" Frodo flushed brighter at how inane he sounded.

The pretty lass turned and frowned softly, glancing at Sam in Frodo's arms. She looked into her host's vivid blue eyes then smiled just a bit. "I like it." It was the first time she'd spoken at the party.

With a laugh, Sam reached out and patted her arm. "Talk to Marigold! Talk more!"

The teenaged Hobbit girl blinked in shock as the chubby fingers latched onto the sleeve of her best party dress. She tried to pull back, but stopped afraid the material would rip. "Um... what to talk about?" Her words were slow and halting, as if she measured every one.

Frodo smiled in encouragement. "Oh, about anything, Larkspur." He then flushed as the saying of her name reminded him of how much he wanted to make a good impression on her. "Um... This is Samwise Gamgee. He lives in Number Three Bagshot Row. And this is his family. This is the Gaffer Gamgee and Bell. That's Marigold, the baby. And over there with Fredigar Bolger is Daisy Gamgee." He glanced around. "Sitting with the Cottons are May and Hamson Gamgee. And that's Halfred, by your brother." He sounded less enthusiastic with those last words.

Remembering that the Gamgee's might not know the family from Michel Delving, he continued introductions. "This is Larkspur Whitfoot. Her brother, Will, is talking with your Halfred. Over there with the Took girls is Obsidian, and Zinnia is helping Bilbo pour drinks." He flushed, wondering if he should go over to help Bilbo.

Larkspur turned her attention towards Marigold and frowned as much as she had upon seeing Sam. "Hello." She nodded, looking uncomfortable.

Frodo frowned. He hadn't thought about the fact that someone might not think inviting the Gamgees was appropriate. It looked like Larkspur didn't like them, though. He looked at her again, thinking maybe she wasn't as pretty as he thought. But no, she was still very pretty. He sighed and put Sam on the ground.

Turning to Gaffer, Frodo took the little girl from her startled father then turned and thrust her into Larkspur's arms. If she acted like she hated Marigold, Frodo would give up on any idea of... He shook that thought from his mind, flushing.

For her part, Larkspur looked down at the little girl in her arms. She looked horrified, but didn't try to give the child back. When Bell reached for Marigold in sympathy for the teenager's plight, the teen turned slightly, shielding the baby from her mother. "No... I don't mind. I like... children." Bell frowned softly but dropped her hands.

Gaffer shrugged and looked around at all the guests. He felt out of place there, though he'd come every year to Bilbo's birthday parties. Most of the upper class Hobbits were invited, so it wasn't something he particularly enjoyed. Upon seeing Will Whitfoot, however, he smiled in genuine relief. The Whitfoots were working class Hobbits, same as the Gamgees. He turned back to Frodo. "Thinking on talking to some of the guests." And with that, he hurried off.

Frodo turned, blinking. He watched the Gaffer get settled into a conversation with his second son and the hobbit tweenager from Michel Delving. In fact, the Gaffer seemed to be quite talkative with those two... something Frodo had never suspected of the normally quite, withdrawn gardener. Was he so quiet because he felt out of place around Frodo?

A giggle at their feet drew Frodo's attention back down to his best friend: little Sam. Sam had several colorful leaves in his hands and lap and was actually happily munching on a bright orange one. Frodo gasped and knelt. "No, Sam! You don't eat the leaves. Are you hungry?"

He scooped up the chubby toddler and started clearing the mushy leaf from the lad's mouth, shaking his head. With a quick grin for Bell, forgetting once more about Larkspur, Frodo headed for the buffet. "Let's get some real food, Sam, all right?"

"Food? Sam hungry, Fodo." The little boy wrapped his strong legs around Frodo's waist and laughed. He gripped Frodo's best waistcoat, getting mushy leaves and dirt on it. "Go eat now?"

Frodo nodded. "Yes, we're going to eat now, Sam... oh, Sam! I'm dirty again!" He sighed. How could Sam get so messy in such a short time? As the moved through the crowd, Frodo ignored the guests, trying to clean the child up with his handkerchief.

Sam laughed and kept moving his face to avoid Frodo's cleaning. When the older Hobbit stopped, the little boy smiled and looked up, only to lose the smile and bury his head in Frodo's chest. He peeped out, then hid his face again.

With a frown, Frodo looked around. What had bothered Sam? The boy wasn't normally shy or withdrawn, so it had to be something he disliked. After long minutes cuddling and searching, blue eyes fell on the only possible cause: Halfred Gamgee. He pushed that thought back and looked again. Sam had no reason to avoid his brother, after all.

Unable to spot the trouble, Frodo hefted his friend and leaned his ear close to the small, pointed ear. "Sam? What's wrong, Sam? Who scared you?"

"Hurt..."

"Hurt? Where?" Frodo's voice took on an instantly panicky note. He started checking Sam over, running worried hands over the pudgy body.

Laughing and squirming, Sam shook his head. "Sam no hurt, Fodo. He hurt." He pointed into the crowd. He lost the laughter and hid his face once more.

Frodo turned, half expecting to actually see Halfred as the bad guy. But it wasn't the second oldest Gamgee child. It was the local doctor that Sam had indicated. Frodo relaxed and laughed with Sam. "Yes, I don't like him either, Sam." He turned his head to nuzzle noses with the boy. "Let's avoid him and go eat."

"Eat!" Sam pumped his legs, rocking against Frodo's hip and nearly sending the tall, thin Hobbit off balance. With a giggle as Frodo caught himself, Sam started making horse noises, whinnying as Frodo moved. He was attracting a lot of smiles and returned them for everyone. However, when the doctor turned to frown at the pair, Sam hid his face again, unforgiving the man for the pain of his broken leg, despite the injury not being the doctor's fault.

Frodo shot a smile towards the older Hobbit and moved to the buffet. He reached for a plate and was nearly thrown off balance when Sam kicked again. "Sam! I'll drop the food if you don't stay still!" He looked at the little Hobbit with fond exasperation.

"No drop!" Sam grinned up at Frodo. "Eat, no drop! Ea..." he stopped short however and looked down, gray-green eyes widening. "Oh!"

Looking down, Frodo spotted what had attracted Sam's attention. Little Meriadoc Brandybuck was standing there licking cake icing from his fingers. He had icing all over his apparently new suit and tangled in his blond curls. In fact, the little three-year-old almost seemed to have been iced more than the destroyed cake at the edge of the table. He had escaped his parents once again.

"Oh, Merry!" Frodo shook his head, not begrudging the cake, but knowing he'd now have to clean the boy up. After all, he'd been the one to spot his messy little cousin. "Come on. I'll get a plate for Sam and then we'll go clean the food off you, Merry." As he spoke, Frodo filled a plate with food and pushed it into Sam's hands. He then grabbed Merry's sticky hand and started moving off towards the Hole up the hill.

Merry followed without complaint, still licking the sticky icing from his fingers, a wide, satisfied smile across his face. Even amidst all the children in the huge crowd, it wasn't hard to spot which one was Meriadoc Brandybuck. Aside from his rare blond curls, he had a strong jaw, which jutted out when he was thinking or being stubborn. His gray eyes were also more uncommon, though not as rare as Frodo's almost ethereal blue ones. Combine Merry's striking features with Sam's friendly, adorable, roly-poly build, his wide, trusting gray-green eyes, and his equally rare strawberry-blond curls, and the trio was attracting more attention then Frodo liked.

They made it to the path upwards, amidst well-wishes, laughter, and stares. Frodo sighed thankfully and let go of Merry's hand to open the door, wincing as he transferred icing to the dull surface of the knob. Kicking open the faded green door, Frodo quickly snared his Brandybuck cousin's hand and guided him inside. They got to the bathroom quickly enough.

The seventeen-year-old sighed as he sat Sam on the counter, noting in exasperation that Sam had managed to dump most of the food down himself and Frodo as he'd attempted to eat on the move. Now they would all need to be cleaned up. There was only one thing for it. They'd have to strip and bathe together or he'd risk losing his adventurous cousin before they were all ready to rejoin the party.

Frodo picked Merry up and set him in the deep edged tub, fully clothed. He plopped Sam down next to the slightly younger lad and handed them each the remaining food from Sam's plate. Hurrying, Frodo went to get water for the bath, hoping there was some heating on the fire for dishes later on.

He got his wish. Bilbo had remembered to leave two big cauldrons in the larger kitchen hearth, a hearth normally covered by a thick screen, only used for big parties. Frodo used a wheeled cart Bilbo had received as a present from some Dwarves a few years ago, maneuvering the big pots onto the cart and wheeling them into the large bathroom. He was thankful that both little boys had remained happily in the tub.

Quickly, Frodo removed the Hobbit children, filled the tub half full, then pushed the remaining hot water aside, using cold water to cool the tub water. Satisfied, the teenager turned to strip Merry but found neither boy present. They'd escaped while he was busy. With a groan, he darted out of the bathroom, calling desperately, "Sam! Merry! Where are you?"

A giggle from the den answered him and Frodo nearly laughed. He'd recognize Sam's voice anywhere. Pretending not to know where the little boy was, hoping Sam would stay put if he believed he were undetected, Frodo headed down the hall, still calling out. The flash of blue iced yellow clothing distracted him from Sam and he bolted towards the bedrooms after Merry.

Finding his cousin under Bilbo's large bed, Frodo knew he'd have to clean up that mess, too. He grabbed the laughing child and started back towards the den and Sam. Merry followed happily enough, laughing up at the bigger, older Hobbit lad. "Frodo..."

Not used to hearing his own name pronounced correctly by a child, Frodo blinked and looked down. "Merry?" He found himself smiling in response to the infectious grin. "What, Merry?"

"Bath?" The little Hobbit actually sounded eager.

Frodo was surprised. Most Hobbits hated water and only bathed because it was unacceptable to smell bad in town. He liked water himself but knew Bilbo did not. In fact, most Hobbits disliked water enough to be afraid of it. It was because they didn't swim. As a lad, Frodo used to swim with the Brandybucks, and he supposed that was why Merry sounded like he looked forward to a bath; he must already be getting used to swimming.

"Yes, a bath. Come on, scamp." The teen swung Merry into his arms and grinned, stepping into the den. "Sam? Sam come on. We're missing the party." He listened for the answering giggle, but it didn't happen. With a frown, Frodo slowly, absently, let Merry down, holding him loosely by the hand as he started searching the room for Sam. Again, Merry escaped with a laugh.

It was perhaps half an hour later that a rather frustrated Frodo managed to corner both boys in the bathing room. He shut the door, locking them in with him. Smugly, he was quite confident that Sam didn't know how to open the fancy latch and Merry was too small to reach it. "Bath time!" Frodo reached for Sam.

The little Gamgee looked stunned, gray-green eyes widening in horror. He screamed and backed up, howling. The noise stunned Frodo, who dropped his hands in confusion as he watched his friend scrabble to try to open the door, howling the entire time.

"Sam? Sam, what's wrong?" True fear entered Frodo's voice. He'd never heard Sam scream like that before. Yes, he'd heard the boy scream when he was injured or angry or upset, but never in that tone of absolute fear. He moved away from the water to touch the strawberry curls. "Sam, love?"

With a cry, Sam grasped Frodo's leg so hard it hurt. He burrowed against him, almost into him it seemed. With repeated whimpers, he kept his face turned away from the huge tub, fear in every sound he made.

Confused, Merry waddled over to the tub, frowning. "Bath now?" He turned to watch Sam, unsure why the other boy was afraid. He couldn't see anything dangerous around. He turned to his cousin and suddenly lifted his arms with a whimper deciding that Sam knew what was dangerous and he should be scared, too. "Frodo?"

Frodo blinked and looked over at Merry. He couldn't get Merry unless they got next to the steaming tub. Scooping a trembling, clutching, Sam into his arms, he took a hesitant step towards the bathing tub. Sam whimpered, but didn't fight, burying his face even more. He was scared of the tub? Frodo tried another step with the same reaction.

Sam was afraid of the steaming hot tub. There was no doubt in the teen's mind. His little friend was terrified, despite having taken baths at home. What could have so frightened the boy?

Another step, another whimper, but they were closer now. Merry whimpered harder, but was beginning to look around again, still not finding the danger. He turned to watch Sam and Frodo get closer step by step, large gray eyes filled with unshed tears, ready to howl if needed.

It felt like a long time passed before Frodo finally got to the tub. Merry had apparently given up on being afraid, as he wasn't hurt despite Sam's fear. Sam refused to lift his face, whimpering and clinging the entire time, small pudgy body trembling in his anguish. Frodo started trying to peel Sam off, gently.

"Sam? Sam, look at me. I'm Frodo. I wouldn't hurt you, Sam; I love you." He managed to get the boy's face up and smiled at the crumpled features. "Oh, baby! I'd never hurt you, lovey. Come one. We're going to get a nice warm bath. I've even got toys to play with, Sam. See? Bath toys..."

In truth, there were no bath toys, so Frodo grabbed the soap dish and the drinking cups and tossed them into the water. The dish sank immediately, but the thin mugs floated, lopsided, in the still steaming water. Frodo tried to coax Sam to look at him.

Merry laughed and reached for the cup closest to him, splashing water on himself and the floor. He blinked then grinned up as Sam wriggled, peeking from under Frodo's arm, curious about the familiar noise of bath water hitting the floor. Merry splashed his hand hard onto the water's surface, laughing happily. Frodo didn't even think of scolding as Sam was starting to maneuver to see better.

"Okay, Merry, out of your clothes. Sam, undress?" Frodo eased Sam to the floor as he watched Merry splashing happily. With a sigh of relief, despite the fact that the little boy still had a tight grip on his arm, Frodo started unbuttoning Sam's clothing. "That's right, Merry. Show Sam how fun it is." He threw his little cousin a thankful smile.

Merry giggled and splashed again. Sam smiled hesitantly and inched a bit closer. He watched another moment, then pulled completely away from Frodo, his natural courage finally taking hold and allowing him to move right up to the tub to watch Merry playing. Merry splashed Sam; Sam blinked, shocked.

With a laugh, Frodo reached over and undressed Merry, then finished undressing Sam. His hands were quick about the task of unclothing himself, though he left his white small pants on for modesty. Finally, he climbed into the tub.

Sam's eyes widened and he suddenly whimpered. Reaching up his arms towards Frodo, he whined, "Up! Sam up!" He seemed to be worried about Frodo in the tub, but would brave it just to be with his friend.

Frodo picked the five-year-old up, settling the child on his lap in the still warm water. He reached over to pull Merry carefully into the tub, as well. When they seemed settled, Frodo started washing Sam's broad back. "See? Just a bath, Sam. Was it how big the tub is, Sam? Is that what scared you? Or maybe the steamy water? Poor Sam."

Sam gave a brief smile to Frodo and reached for one of the cups. He laughed softly as he splashed it into the water, fear forgotten as only a child can manage. He splashed again, stopping briefly to watch Merry get the soap dish, then continuing his childish playing. He managed to get Merry laughing as a big splash hit the smaller Hobbit.

With a relieved sigh and a smile for the play, Frodo claimed Merry's abandoned cup. He filled it with warm water and started wetting down Sam's hair then Merry's. Both boys seemed more intent on playing with their makeshift toys, neither having been raised with stuff to play with in the tub before. Frodo laughed out right when Merry got Sam with a big wave, also getting Frodo soaked. Sam merely blinked, grinning.

It only seemed natural as the bath progressed for Frodo to break into soft song. He washed the two children, then himself, singing and joining in their laughter. In fact, he was quite stunned to see Sam shivering and to find the water had chilled considerably by the end of their bath.

Frodo climbed out of the tub and helped both children out. He rinsed each child in one of the cauldrons to the side, then rinsed himself in the remaining cold water. Thankfully, Bilbo had a system of holes and pipes set up to drain the water from the floor of that room, down the hill and towards the old latrine used for parties. That meant Frodo had less mess to clean up later on.

"Okay, my lads, we have to find some clean clothes to change into. Come along and we'll get settled for my birthday party." He towel-dried both boys, smiling over the disarranged damp curls and the contented smiles. As he started wrapping both children in dry towels, Sam threw a smile back towards the tub then screamed again, clutching Frodo.

Confused, Frodo swung the child into his arms, cuddling and looking towards the tub. That's when he noticed it for the first time: a dead cat was hanging in the window. Not wanting Merry to see what had scared Sam, he unlocked the door and rushed both children out, trailing water since he hadn't gotten to dry himself off yet. In fact, Frodo was still only in his now very see-through small pants. He didn't care; he was too busy trying to figure out which other teen or tween would have thought it a funny prank to do that.

Rounding a corner, Frodo stopped short at the sight of Larkspur Whitfoot standing in the hall letting Bell Gamgee tend a bleeding cut on her wrist. Marigold was sitting on the floor at their feet, watching in curiosity. Both older females turned to see who had come from the back of the Hole, both instantly turning away when noticing Frodo's state of undress. Larkspur was blushing furiously.

"Oh, Bell! Sam and Merry got covered in food and needed a bath, but..." He stopped, suddenly aware that Bell wasn't looking at him and Larkspur was turned away blushing. Confused, he looked at himself, then flushed and hurried towards his bedroom without stopping. Merry was panting by the time they got locked in the room.

"Oh! How stupid! I have a robe... stupid!" He put Sam on the bed and went to his closet, pulling out clothes without really looking at them. Frodo couldn't fight the embarrassment he felt at having the females see him in such a state. He continued berating himself, face flaming red.

Sam glanced around the room and smiled. "Oh!" He rolled off the bed, catching himself rather smoothly, and toddled over towards Frodo's bookcase. The towel fell off, but the little boy didn't care. He knew exactly who's room this was, even if he'd never been in it before. This was his Frodo's room! Sam contentedly started looking around at everything.

Merry sat up on the bed and watched Frodo for a bit. After a long moment, the child lost interest in Frodo's mutterings and crawled across the bed. He climbed down without injury and tottered to his cousin's side and tugged his wet short pants almost off his hip. "Frodo? Cold."

Frodo stopped and looked at Merry in surprise. In truth, he'd forgotten the children were in there with him. Nodding, he quickly grabbed a nightshirt and pulled it over Merry's damp curls, letting the towel fall to the floor. He then walked over to Sam with another nightshirt and pulled him gently away from the books to dress him. At last, he went back to the closet and put on the first outfit he could find, ignoring those on the floor.

"Well... we could hide out here all night, lads; what do you think?"

A knock on the door effectively thwarted that plan. Blushing again, Frodo opened it a bit and sighed. "Uh, hello Bell... You want Sam back? He's clean."

"May I come in, Frodo? I'd like to talk with you, if I may?" She smiled, as if Frodo hadn't just done the most embarrassing thing in his life just a few minutes ago. He stepped back and she entered, looking around with a smile. "This is a very nice room, Frodo. And it seems Sam likes it a lot." She gestured towards Sam, who'd again gone to the books.

Frodo was relieved by the innocuous topic and smiled. "Yeah, I can't seem to keep him from them." He walked over and scooped the laughing child up, giving him a quick hug. Sam hugged him back enthusiastically.

Bell nodded. "Before you left to change the boys," she politely let him think she hadn't noticed his state of undress, "You were saying something about food and baths?"

"Oh, yeah! It was creepy. The boys got covered with food and I went to give them a bath. But Sam was really afraid of something. Merry managed to get him in the tub and we got cleaned up, but as we were going to leave, he got scared again. I thought it was the tub, but it wasn't." He suddenly hesitated. Frodo wasn't sure if he should really tell Bell what he'd seen. He knew it had to have been a stupid prank, but would it scare her, too? Lasses got scared over the weirdest things sometimes, or at least Hamson had said so in one of their few conversations.

"What was it, Frodo? I'd like to know what my son's afraid of." Bell gave him a gentle smile and petted Sam's curls. She briefly glanced over towards Merry, who had managed to climb into Frodo's chair.

With a sigh and a nod, Frodo sank onto the edge of his bed. "A cat... uh... not alive. It was in the window... hanging there. Someone was playing a stupid trick on me or Bilbo, but it was Sam who got scared." Now that the shock and subsequent embarrassment were over, Frodo could feel anger welling up. How stupid and cruel a trick to play on a body. After all, he might not look it, but Bilbo was getting close to a hundred-years-old. He could have a weak heart, for all anyone else knew, and that cat might have ended this party a lot more horribly than it had for Frodo and the boys. And what if a child stumbled across it? After all, Sam had been the one to see it and look how he'd been effected. What if he'd been outside when he'd found it? Frodo's eyes blazed.

With a soft sigh, Bell reached out and petted Frodo's curls. "Oh, sweetie, it must have been so frightening to see Sam react that way and not know why. You did a good job, though. Look how happy he is." She smiled and gestured to Sam, who was slowly removing every book from the case and dumping them in a pile, carelessly.

Frodo jumped up. "Oh, Sam! You'll damage them. No, Sam." He rushed over to save his precious books from the curious toddler.

Sam looked up at the reprimand. "No?" He frowned and pulled his hand away. "Why?"

"Well, because you'll damage them by throwing them in a pile like that, Sam."

"Why?"

"Well, they'll hit each other."

"Why?"

Frodo's head came up sharply. He frowned. His frown deepened as Bell started to laugh softly.

"It's okay, Frodo. Sam's at the age of the eternal 'Why'. He'll keep asking as long as you keep answering." She walked over and touched his shoulder. "Frodo? Who would have done that?"

Freezing, the teenager didn't want to turn around. He flushed and hung his head, having a strong suspicion that she wouldn't like his answer. At her gentle, insistent urging, he turned his face to slowly say, "I think it was Halfred, Bell. He hates me."

Bell looked stunned. "Halfred?" She shook her head, not able to imagine her son doing such a thing to Frodo. After a moment, she asked, "Is... is there anyone else you suspect?"

The lad shook his head, again pulling Sam from the bookcase. He quickly scanned for Merry and found the toddler curled up, almost asleep, in his chair. That was a safe location, so the teen let him be.

"Halfred..." Bell frowned, eyes still unbelieving. She slowly picked up Sam and nodded. "I'll speak to him, Frodo."

"No!" Frodo flushed when Bell jumped at the harsh exclamation. "I mean, he'll think I'm telling tales. And if he didn't do it, it'd be even worse, Bell."

She nodded and looked thoughtful. Slowly, she said, "Then I'll mention about Sam's fear, but not mention who you think it is. If it was him, he'll feel guilty for scaring Sam, and that will make him think twice next time. If it wasn't, then no harm done." She touched Frodo's cheek. "I wish it could have been better, but Happy Birthday, Frodo."

The boy nodded and watched her leave, taking Sam with her. Now he had to face the rest of the party. Flushing again as he picked up Merry, Frodo wondered if Larkspur would have stayed at the party... and if he really could face her after what had happened.

Bell walked down the hill to the party Field, carrying her youngest son. She watched Larkspur and her siblings take their leave of Bilbo then leave, the older Hobbit now holding Marigold. With a sigh, the gardener's wife moved towards the host of this wonderful party.

"Bilbo? We're going to be going home early. Sam's had a nasty scare and needs some rest. Frodo can explain later, or you can check the bathing room window to get the answer." She smiled and leaned over to kiss Bilbo's cheek. "We had a marvelous time, though."

Bilbo nodded and started walking with her towards the table Gaffer was sitting at. The gardener had an ale in front of him, mug half empty, and was spouting off quite enthusiastically about the insect problem of the past summer. He had at least six other older Hobbits listening to his every word, his hands moving energetically as he talked without stop. The master of Bag End did a double take to see his normally withdrawn gardener talking so loquaciously to the group of Hobbits, which amazingly contained Rorimac Brandybuck and Paladin Took.

"Hamfast? It's time to go home, husband. The children are tired. You can finish your talk about crops tomorrow at the Shire Meeting Day." She slipped little Sam into his father's arms then took her daughter from her host. "I can have Hamson bring the older children when he's ready."

Gaffer nodded, took a last swig of the good brew, and smiled at the group of Hobbits. "Tomorrow, lads." And with those simple words, he quite willingly turned and slipped out of his seat, only slightly unsteady from the drink. Amid well wishes and goodnights, the small group took their leave of Bilbo one final time and headed for their eldest son.

Along the way they spotted Daisy and May, whom Hamson agreed to bring home a bit later. Of Halfred there was no sign. Bell frowned slightly, absently greeting a giggling Lotho Sackville-Baggins when he nearly ran into her. They made their slow way from the party down the hill, one telling the other about their son's misadventure.




Inside their hole, Gaffer moved to put Sam in his bed. Suddenly, he started screaming and clutching, hiding his face from the darkened room. The worried father backed out and called to his wife. He waited, trying to sooth the boy, wondering if this had to do with the episode at Bag End.

Bell hurried down the hall. "What is it, Hamfast? What's wrong with Samwise?" She held out her arms, but Gaffer shook his head.

"Afraid, I'd say. Check the room?" He cuddled his son, murmuring soothing words into the boy's still damp curls. He watched as Bell moved into the dark room, noticing suddenly that there was an odd shape hanging from the headboard of Sam's little bed.

Bell lit a lamp and looked around. She turned to Gaffer, who was smiling in relief. He gestured with his chin. "Check the headboard, Bell, darling. It's that silly pony of Sam's."

Sam overheard this and peeked out, noticing his stuffed pony. With a sob, he buried his face in Gaffer's chest again and clung. "No pony! Bad pony!" He was trembling, apparently thinking that his pony had been what had scared him up at Bag End.

Bell slipped the toy into her shirt to hide it. "The pony's gone, Sam. Look, see?" She reached over in the small room and managed to brush Sam's curls. "See? No pony."

As Gaffer continued to rock and coo to the boy, Sam peeked out and around. He sat up slowly when he didn't see the toy that had frightened him. Looking around then up at his father, he whimpered, "Fodo? Want Fodo."

Gaffer sighed. "Frodo's at his party. It's bed time."

Sam sniffled and shook his head. "No. Want Fodo!" His voice lacked the force and conviction he normally held, though. The toddler was still quite shaken up.

Reaching over, Sam's mother gathered him against her, careful not to let him see the toy, even if he leaned against it's bulk. "Well go up and see Frodo tomorrow, love, okay? He needs to sleep at home, and you need to sleep here. We'll go up and..."

"NO! Fodo cake!" Sam hit her shoulder to demonstrate how important this was.

Gaffer moaned. "I forgot, Bell. I promised him that he could bring Master Frodo a birthday cake, and I forgot all about it. It's even sitting on the cutting board in the kitchen. In the rush I forgot to bring it up." The talking for Marigold certainly had seemed to bring out more words in her normally quiet husband.

Bell nodded. "Very well. I'll stay here. You bring Sam and Frodo's cake back up to Bag End. Careful to avoid the bathing room, Gaffer. Sam's had too many fears." She smiled and kissed both males softly. "And don't go getting into trouble, Hamfast Gamgee."

He blinked, then smiled softly in return. "It's been many a year since I've been in trouble, Bell of mine." He kissed her back, stopping at Sam's giggles.

"Me! Me, Gaff, me!"

Gaffer complied, kissing his son's forehead and carrying him back out of the bedroom. In the kitchen, he had to carefully juggle the child and the cake in order not to get his newly scrubbed son messy again. He was heading out the door when Bell peeked around the corner. "And don't you refuse the birthday gifts if they remember to give us them, Hamfast. You practically humiliated me last year when you tried to refuse." Gaffer nodded and left the cozy hole.

Sam laughed and looked up nearly upsetting the cake in his father's other arm. "Stars!" He tried to grab at them and his father grunted. "Gaff... pretty stars!" He looked eagerly at his father and grinned wider. The Gaffer was smiling.

"Yup. Those're stars all right. Betcha someday you'll even hold a star, boy. A bright light in your hand to maybe guide you in the darkest of hours." Gaffer kissed his son's curls lovingly.

The boy giggled. He turned his head and bounced, drawing a soft curse from his father. "Fodo! Gaff, Fodo!"

With a sigh, the gardener of Bag End nodded. "Yes, we're going to give Master Frodo his cake, son. If you bounce, I'll drop it and Master Frodo won't get a cake."

Sam stilled in his arms.

They didn't have to bother with knocking on the door, as they could easily see Frodo by the Party Tree in the field. He was rather conspicuous in a bright blue vest, gray trousers, and yellow shirt. Apparently he really had been too upset to dress correctly, and was too embarrassed to admit his mistake by changing now. The teenager was next to his adopted uncle, handing out the birthday presents to their guests. There was only a small pile left, and a second, smaller pile to the side.

Gaffer got in the back of the line, Sam still trying not to move. As they moved forward, he looked down into the wide eyes and eagerly smiling face of the little boy. The older Hobbit had a sudden, very strange urge to give Samwise to Frodo, rather than the cake. He had no clue where the odd thought had come from and shook his head, auburn curls bouncing. Best not talk about that strange thought, Ham my boy, or other Hobbits might think you're as odd as a Took.

When only Petal Bracegirdle was between the gardener and his employers, Gaffer carefully handed the cake to Sam. It was an impulse, which could easily backfire, but he knew how much Sam wanted to be the one to give his friend the cake. They arrived in front of a very surprised Frodo and a very pleased Bilbo.

Sam held up the heavy plate and grinned broadly. He let Frodo take it and put it on the table. As soon as his friend's hands were empty, he launched himself into the other boy's arms. "Happy Day, Frodo!"

Everyone froze and Frodo smiled. "Say it again, Sam?"

"Happy Day... Frodo?" Sam tilted his head, hoping it was right.

Frodo hugged him hard enough for a squeak, receiving a hearty kiss from the child. "Oh, thank you, Sam! That's the best birthday present ever! You said my name right... and I've got this lovely cake, too!"

Sam giggled and hugged his friend back, looking extremely content to be just where he was. He yawned and snuggled against Frodo's shoulder happily. As he felt the arms securely around him, he smiled and sighed. Sam's eyes were on his father, who looked uncertain.

"Samwise wanted to bring your cake, Master Frodo." He looked around at the party guests exclaiming over the gifts then back at his hosts. "Happy Birthday, Mister Bilbo, Master Frodo." Gaffer wondered how he could politely escape now that he'd come back; he wished he'd thought of that earlier.

Bilbo smiled and reached for the smaller pile of gifts. He thrust the entire thing into Gaffer's arms with a laugh. "We're glad you could return. You had to leave so soon with the little ones." The Hobbit leaned forward, "And several others were disappointed to lose your conversation, Gaffer."

The gardener flush in surprised delight. "Don't talk nothing but vegetables, Mister Bilbo."

With a laugh, Bilbo patted his back. "And that's precisely what they want to talk about. You've got about as much knowledge as Farmer Maggot, who's just arrived and wants a talk with you. Can't very well leave him disappointed can you?" The older Hobbit gave the younger a shove towards said farmer, laughing as Gaffer obediently went to talk.

Frodo turned wide eyes on Bilbo, still cuddling a happy Sam. "When did he start talking so much?" He looked down when Sam's fist closed about his vest, distracting him from whatever Bilbo replied. "Sam, you're tired aren't you?"

The little boy looked up, yawned, and shook his head. "No go. Stay Fo... Frodo."

This earned him another gasp of pleasure and tight hug. "Oh, you are so clever, Sam! Even earlier, Bilbo, he was still dropping my R. Now listen to him. Speaking like he's all grown up already."

Bilbo nodded, humoring the lad. After all, he could see the love shared between the two, though most people still thought it odd that they were so close. He was used to hearing all kinds of exclamations about Sam's cleverness by now. With a soft sigh, he touched Frodo's shoulder. "Might want to bring him in to join Merry, my boy. His father'll be here for some time. Go ahead. I'll make your excuses to the guests."

Time alone with Sam? Frodo's face broke into a beautiful smile and he nodded. "Thanks!" With only that simple mark of gratitude, the teen hurried off. He even threw a big smile Halfred's way, startling the other boy. This truly was the best of birthdays.
Chapter 12. A Sudden Storm by Sam
Author's Notes:
A freak storm rips through the Shire, endangering more than just crops.
"Gaff... Gaff!" young Samwise Gamgee tugged on the worn sleeve of his father's coat. The older Hobbit turned with a tired smile, which encouraged his five-year-old son to go on. "Gaff? Look..." He pointed a chubby hand towards the tree gracing Bag End above them.

The Gaffer, as he was known among the local Hobbits, looked up, squinting against the sun. Studying the tree, wondering what in middle-earth his youngest son could have seen, he shaded his eyes for an easier view. Still nothing stood out and the gardener sighed. With a shake of his head he turned to the little boy. "What, Samwise? Can't see nothing."

Sam nodded and pointed again. "Uh huh... nothing." His speech had been hard to understand until last summer. Now it was clear, though limited by his youth and lack of vocabulary. "Nothing, Gaff."

With another shake of his head, Gaffer looked back up at the tree. His eyes strayed for a moment to the building bank of dark clouds in the near distance. It seemed to be gathering rapidly. Then, eyes widening in horror, Hamfast Gamgee, the Gaffer, knew just what his son had sensed without being able to put into words. There was not an animal, bird, or insect active anywhere around them.

Normally that Bag End tree was alive with song and chatter. Insects would be flying everywhere on this early summer day. The heat might be oppressive, but it wouldn't be as close... as heavy as it was right then. The older Hobbit had been so absorbed in their work that he'd never paid attention to the signs.

"Samwise, run on up to Bag End. Go inside." His voice was calm, yet there was urgency in the father's tone as he instructed his son to safety. "Tell them inside not to even peek out. There's a storm coming, lad. Run now."

Sam looked confused. "Gaff, not allowed..."

Gaffer shook his head and gave his son a hard shove in the direction of the distant faded green door. He eyed the sky, going a bit pale as he noted that the ever-nearing clouds hid the sun. This storm was going to be a ripper.

Looking around, he could already feel the winds picking up. He gathered the small amount of tools he'd strewn about and merely shoved them willy-nilly into the nearby shed, locking the door securely. Heading over the party field, the quickest shortcut to his own home at Three Bagshot Row, the Hobbit prayed he'd be ahead of the storm. He needed to make certain Hobbiton knew of the threat coming so quickly.

With a fearful glance over his shoulder, Gaffer estimated they had maybe ten or fifteen minutes before that storm would sweep in. These strong winds and hard rains rarely tore at the Shire, but when they did, the entire community could lose their winter crops. Now, however, was mid-summer and this kind of storm should not be occurring at all.




At the push, the little boy took off running. He wasn't accustomed to being encouraged to break the rules, especially the rule about going into Bag End while he was supposed to be working. But he'd sensed something in his father, something which spoke to his innermost fears. Gaffer was afraid of something.

As he reached the door, he glanced towards the tree, frowning, trying to see what Gaffer had seen. He knew that he hadn't seen the normal birds; it's what he'd been pointing out to his father. Why would that scare the normally solid, intrepid elder? When Sam realized the sun was gone, he was startled. It had been so pretty and bright earlier.

Sensing somehow that the missing sun was what has frightened his father, the boy turned and started running harder towards his employer's nearby home. He assumed Gaffer was following, so never looked back as he stumbled and panted his way up the steps from the roadside, where they'd been trimming the grass around the gate.

Reaching the door, Sam started trying to open it, fumbling as the wind picked up and slammed him away from the hole and sideways towards the windows. With a yelp, he tried to hold on, wondering if the strong winds would blow him all the way to town. He continued to fight, finally getting to the door, but it was a close shave.

As he pounded the door now, he felt the wind increasing once more, tugging and tearing at him. "Help! Frodo, help! Help!" His voice was snatched away, lost in the ferocious roar of the cold air tearing around his small, shivering body. Tears, unchecked, ran in streams down his chubby cheeks as he continued to fumble with the knob, pounding and screaming as he could.




With a sigh, Frodo turned the page of his book. It was written in Elvish and he was having trouble concentrating on the beautiful poetry. The sun was shining brilliantly and he wanted to be outside enjoying the birds and green, green grass. But, as per his agreement with his adopted-uncle Bilbo, he was required to study until luncheon. Normally, he would enjoy this quiet time, as it was one of his favorite things to do. Somehow today he was restless, though, the air heavy inside the normally comfortable Hobbit Hole.

Another sigh escaped and he pushed away the book, looking longingly towards the window. Cerulean eyes widening, the seventeen-year-old jumped out of his chair and hurried to the round window, mouth forming an Oh of wonder.

Outside the sun was completely obscured by thick, heavy dark clouds. A wind was whipping the branches of the large tree above the hole. Grass was flattened and the occasional branch or bit of organic debris blew by. That wind was heading towards Hobbiton; it was obvious by the way the clouds swept in. Frodo had never seen such an ominous looking storm approach.

Idly, Frodo wondered at the sound of distant knocking. Was a branch hitting the door? He ignored it, watching fascinated, as the sky became completely dark overhead. That knocking was getting distracting, however. He turned, frowning, towards the door. With a sigh, he started towards the entryway, intent on dislodging the annoying branch so he could enjoy the coming storm.

As he got to the door, the knocking stopped. Had the offending branch been blow clear, then? He reached for the door and froze, a chill sweeping over him. There was a distant voice crying.

"Help! Oh, help!"

Tearing at the door, Frodo flung it open, ignoring the fact that it hit the wall, most likely damaging it. The force of his tug ripped the door from the child's hands, and the older Hobbit had to fling his entire body onto the smaller boy to keep him from being blown about in the strong winds. He huddled there, practically crushing the boy, covering his head as debris whipped past.

Thankfully, an annoyed voice hailed from inside, coming closer. "Frodo! Why are you flinging the door open in this wind? You've blown all my... Oh, my!" The elderly Hobbit grabbed hold of Frodo's foot and started dragging his cousin back into the hole. "What in the Four Farthings do you think you're up to, my boy?"

As soon as Frodo, still huddled protectively, was dragged over the threshold, Bilbo managed to slam the door shut, tisking at the damage done the wooden structure. He shook his head and looked down at his cousin whom he'd adopted as a nephew. "Now, will you explain what you were up to? I cannot..."

His tirade ended before it really began; a small, frightened sob had broken the air. Kneeling, hazel eyes wide in concern, the old Hobbit touched his cousin's curls. "Frodo?"

The teenager lifted his tear-stained face from the floor, shaking his head. "I'm fine, Bilbo. It's Sam." He rolled off the crying child.

Bilbo sat on the ground with a thump, all color fleeing his face. "Goodness gracious me! Samwise Gamgee, why were you out in that wind? You should have been home, lad." He reached for his servant's son but drew back when Frodo touched his arm.

"Let me, Bilbo. He's frightened."

With that, the dark haired teen scooped up the sobbing, shaking child and carried him into the warm kitchen. Bilbo followed, frowning in concern. As they made it inside, Bilbo glanced out the window and shuddered. "A storm like this is rare enough in winter, my lad. It can't mean good to be coming on in summertime."

"Bilbo, please, he's frightened enough," Frodo's voice was a gentle admonishment. He was busy checking over the little boy, noting the scrapes and scratches he'd received from flying debris and his travel across the threshold of Bag End. "Sam? Sam, please don't cry. You're safe now. I've got you." Frodo gently lifted the child's face and smiled for the boy.

Sam threw his arms around his older friend, sobbing into Frodo's velvet waistcoat. He tried to burrow against him, knowing, just knowing that the older Hobbit could make everything better. He had always done so before. "Frodo... it near blew me away..."

Frodo nodded and stroked the strawberry-blond curls, so unusual for a Hobbit. "I know, Sam. But you're safe now. Come, look at me, Sam, and stop crying."

Impatiently, Bilbo broke in, though he used a very gentle voice, "Why were you outside instead of at home on a day like this, Samwise?"

The child threw a worried look at Bilbo then at the door. "Gaff..."

Frodo stiffened and whirled towards the entryway. "Is he out there in that, too?"

Neither Hobbit saw Sam's worried nod. They'd noticed at the same time that hail the size of pebbles was raining down from the dark clouds. The wind was whipping the sharp ice stones everywhere, damaging a lot more than just the crops for the winter harvest. They'd gotten Sam into the hole in the nick of time.

"Elbereth! If he's out in that..." Bilbo hurried towards the door but Frodo stopped him, grabbing his arm roughly.

"No, Bilbo! You won't be able to help him. Let me." Without waiting for permission, if it would even be granted, the younger Hobbit ran towards the door, grabbing their cloaks from the hooks as a flimsy hope of protection from the biting ice and driving wind. He was out the door before his cousin could stop him.

Sam whimpered. "Frodo?"

Slowly, the very young and the very old Hobbit turned their heads, eyes meeting. Sam's eyes had darkened to a frightened jade while Bilbo's were a soft, concerned deep gray. With a sigh, the ninety-five year old Hobbit scooped up the whimpering lad, carrying him towards the window so they might keep an eye out for their loved-one.




Outside, Frodo almost regretted his impulse to go help Sam's father. The wind pushed him over the ice-slicked grass, chunks of sharp hail biting into him in a storm of pain and noise. He could barely keep his eyes open as he searched the roadside for his uncle's gardener. Calling out was useless, as the wind tore his voice from his throat; he couldn't even hear himself.

There was no sign of anyone on the road or lawns. Turning towards the party field, Frodo desperately searched for the aged Hobbit, knowing he couldn't give up now he'd committed himself to the search. He opened the gate at the top of the steps and the world spun out of control.

He was falling.




Bilbo couldn't stop pacing, checking the window looking over the road time after time. Sam sat with his face pressed to the pane of glass, forgetting to be fascinated with the unusual commodity in his worry over Frodo. He ignored Bilbo's pacing, but the tension was still there, between the two worried Hobbits.

"Frodo's been gone ten minutes already. Ten minutes in that weather, Samwise. How can the lad stand it out there? He should have let me go; he really should have." The older Hobbit wasn't really conscious of the fact that he was revealing his woes to a five-year-old. He was merely talking to try to calm himself, though it wasn't working.

As he paced back in front of the window, he glanced out and hugged himself. "Oh, what a horrible storm! Will it never end? They never last this long. You'd think the clouds would have run out of hail by now." He once more took up the plodding shuffle over the tiled floor.

Sam wiped a hand over the glass and pressed his nose to it once more. His eyes strained for any sign of that dark, curly head, that too thin frame, that pale, pretty face. But no matter how he strained and searched, Frodo did not appear. Neither did the Gaffer, which also ate at the boy. He truly worried that his father might be hurt. After all, Bilbo seemed worried, so something had to be dangerous out there.

Turning at last, as Bilbo once more stopped and muttered; the child tilted his head, curls brushing one chubby shoulder. "Mister Bilbo?" He'd picked up the title from his father's speech patterns. "Frodo not hurt... 'kay?"

Bilbo looked at the boy as if he'd forgotten the lad was there in the same room with him. "Frodo? Hurt? Of course not. Whatever would give you that idea, my boy?" Bilbo wasn't about to deliberately worry the child. "He's probably taken your father back home and waiting out the storm there."

With a nod of certainty, Bilbo approached and scooped the child up. "Yes," his voice was more sure with the plausible reasoning he'd found, "Frodo's out at your hole waiting out the storm. He'll be up quick as a wink once it's ended."

"Frodo at my hole?" Sam looked surprised. He played with the idea, smiling wider as he pictured being able to show off his room to his friend. "Can play in my room." He nodded decisively, willing to believe Bilbo's thin explanation.

Sam lifted his arms to the elderly Hobbit. "Down. Sam, down." He couldn't get off of the windowsill on his own without injury and so was hardly ever allowed up so high. Sam was not the most graceful of children, as proven by the broken leg he'd received at his last birthday party.

Bilbo nodded and picked the child up with a grunt. "Samwise, you're getting to big to be carted around, lad. You should be running about on your own." He placed the child on the tiled floor and smiled as Sam hurried off to lose himself in the interior of Bag End. As the child disappeared down the hall, Bilbo's smile slipped and he glanced worriedly back out the window. "Oh, Frodo, where are you?"




Gaffer made it inside his hole just as the first hail struck around him. He shook off his coat and hurried into the family room, relieved to see his wife and daughters there. "It's one of them ripper hail storms, Bell."

She nodded calmly not looking up from trying to get their youngest child, Marigold, to eat something she apparently wasn't fond of. "Hamson's in town and Halfred's over to the Cotton's to help with something or other." She smiled up at her husband, quickly replacing it with a frown as she noticed the absence of their other son. "Where's Samwise?"

"I sent him into Bag End. Knew I couldn't get here with him fast enough. I'll be helping the town clean up after the ripper." He looked out the small, greased-wax-paper covered window; he was unable to afford that pretty glass which graced Bag End. "With luck we can save the crops. If not, we have time to put in a late crop if the weather stays fine. It's early days yet."

Bell looked over at the window and sighed. "Those crops won't survive that hail, Hamfast. We'll be planting for certain. Bilbo Baggins will have to make due with Sam's services alone until the crops are replaced." She knew her husband, a very prominent gardener and very capable potato farmer, would be needed for the survival of Hobbiton.

"Mister Bilbo's a good Hobbit, Bell. He'll make due and won't complain, neither. You just see. Fortunate he keeps Master Frodo inside of a morning. That lad wanders so far 'round he could've been stuck out in this."

A shudder went through Bell. "I haven't seen a storm like this for many a year, Hamfast. Frodo might never have seen one."

The Gaffer sat down on the edge of a chair, ready to spring up as soon as the storm passed. "Like I said, Bell, he's inside mornings. He won't need to worry about how to survive it if he's not out in it. I'd say Mister Bilbo's seen more of these rippers than I can count over his long life. He'll be able to answer any of his cousin's questions and keep hold of Samwise, as well."

"Yes," the Gaffer's wife stroked the red-brown curls of their youngest child. "You're right of course." She didn't sound convinced, however, as she looked back towards the window. "They'll be fine."




The storm lasted mere minutes with half of Hobbiton's crops destroyed. As soon as the sounds of hail hitting earth ceased, Hobbits burst from their holes to try to salvage what they could. Very little complaint emerged from the group as they aided their neighbors in the backbreaking work of clearing up and replanting the crops, which would keep them through the coming winter. It would be weeks before anyone could slack off and once again enjoy the beautiful summer.

No one thought to send for young Samwise, as the entire family had turned out to aid their neighbors. After all, it was naturally assumed that Frodo and Bilbo would care for the boy, safe in Bag End, leaving the rest free to work.

On Bilbo's part, he merely waited for Frodo to come up from around the bend with a story of how he'd been in Bagshot Row for the storm. Of course, if that was the case, he'd be busy set to work helping recover the Hobbiton crops and they wouldn't see him until nightfall. Thus, the elderly Hobbit kept reminding himself for half an hour or more.

Finally, however, he couldn't take it any more. Even if Frodo was still holed up somewhere, Bilbo would be needed down in Hobbiton to lend a hand. He'd never shirked his duty to the Shire before, and he wouldn't begin now. The only problem was what to do with young Samwise.

He looked around, not spotting the child, frowning. "Sam? Sam, my boy, come on out. We need to take you home." He got up and headed further into the corridors of his life's home. It wasn't hard to locate the child. Sam was curled up in Frodo's bed, smiling and daydreaming... or so it appeared.

"There you are, lad. Come along. We're to go to your hole now. We'll see Frodo and you'll get some luncheon."

Sam climbed out of the bed with a smile. "Okay." He grasped Bilbo's hand in his and eagerly let himself be led off. "Frodo my hole?"

Bilbo smiled. "That's right. He's at your hole helping your father in the field. Come along."

The pair left the hole and turned towards the field, merely to see what damage may have been caused by the sudden storm. The tree had lost a couple of large branches, which would need cutting up. The grass was pitted in many spots, bearing the scars of the hailstorm. Paint was chipped from gate and door. It would take some time to repair the damage done to Bag End... and Bilbo could imagine that Bag End had received the least damage of Hobbiton.

As he turned towards the road, Sam pulled away with a cry. He started heading towards the Party Field, leaving the gate swinging open and skidding down the ice-slicked hill. The little Hobbit tripped halfway down and went into a head-over-heels tumble to the level surface below.

"Sam!" Bilbo hurried after the runaway child. "What are you up to, lad? We need to... oh, my boy!" He realized what had set Sam off.

Frodo lie in the Party Field, having tripped and fallen during the storm. He looked so still and small down there, Bilbo's heart caught in his throat. "Oh, Frodo!" He had to remind himself not to tumble as Samwise had done. He'd be needed to aid both boys most likely. "Stay still, lads, I'm on my way!" He'd lost sight of Sam, unfortunately.

Sam's tumble ended in a hard quick stop. He whimpered, but was fairly unhurt and knew it. Shaking, the boy pushed himself to hands and knees and cried out as he realized Frodo was lying, face down, next to him. "Frodo!" He touched the older Hobbit's cloak covered head.

A deep gasp and moan answer the tiny plea and Sam pulled back in surprise. "Frodo? Frodo 'live? Please?"

With great difficulty, the injured Hobbit pulled himself up enough to reveal ice-stung cheeks and scraped forehead. "It's all right, Sam..." His voice was tired and pain-filled, "I'm all right."

"Lie still, lad!" Bilbo skidded to a halt next to the pair. "You've fallen a bit, I'd suppose, and had that storm over you all the while. Samwise, are you hurt?"

"Sam?" Frodo's voice took on a new worry at the thought that Sam might have also been out in that horrible storm. Fortunately, the child was able to relieve him.

"No hurt. Sam 'kay. Frodo hurt."

Bilbo nodded. "How badly are you hurt, my boy? Can you stand? Here, lean on me..." He reached down to ease his cousin up, hoping there was nothing broken on the delicate-looking teen.

Frodo gasped, whimpering again, but allowed himself to be aided to his feet. He felt Bilbo's arm supportive around his waist and leaned into the older Hobbit. Sam's hand on his hip brought a soft smile to his scraped face. "Thank you. I can walk."

Nodding as he guided his ward towards the steps, Bilbo called back, "Samwise, fetch that cloak from the grass. I might be needing it later." With that, he left the five-year-old behind as he helped his boy up to their home.




Sam opened the big faded green door. Peeking in, the child clutched the cloak to him, worried about how hurt Frodo might be. He knew that any hurt was bad, and Frodo had a lot of them from what the boy could see. Finally, with a deep, steadying breath, he slipped inside and dropped Bilbo's cloak in the corner of the entryway, unable to hang it next to Frodo's torn one.

Quietly, the five-year-old headed for Frodo's room. He checked every doorway he passed, just in case, but nothing of note distracted him from his quest. He somehow knew that Frodo would be in his own bed, not somewhere else. The house seemed quiet, as quiet as everything had seemed right before that storm came.

Trembling in anxiety, unsure just what he'd find, Sam made his way down the hall, step by soft step. He kept imagining his friend's face and a whimper escaped. Scrubbing at his eyes with dirty hands, the child wanted to run to Frodo's room but something held him back. He was... afraid... to go. What if Frodo was really, really hurt?

Step by step, Sam made his way down that hall. It seemed far longer than ever before. With a gulp, scrubbing again at his teary eyes, the boy finally stopped and sobbed. He didn't want Frodo hurt. He sobbed again, trying not to, but unable to hold it back. Finally, wailing in fearful misery, Sam hurtled down the hall, bursting into Frodo's room.

"Frodo! No be hurt!" He tossed himself onto the tall bed, sobbing and reaching blindly for Frodo.

Stunned, the seventeen-year-old turned and caught the crying bundle of Hobbit child to him. "Oh, Sam! I'm fine, Sam, really. Just a few bruises and a scratch or two. See?" He tried to lift Sam's face to show him.

Sam refused, shaking his head and burrowing against his friend. He was afraid to look. If he looked, it'd be real, and he didn't want Frodo to really be hurt. So, the boy burrowed and clung, whimpering in his fear and need.

"Oh, Sam..." Frodo gave up trying to show the boy and merely cuddled him. "You poor thing. I didn't mean to scare you, love, I didn't." He kissed the damp curls, surprised that they would be. He supposed it was sweat or the weather and pushed the distracting thought away, kissing the child again.

Bilbo merely sat to the side, linens and medicinal ointment ready. He watched the seen with soft eyes, empathizing with the little Gamgee boy. He'd been that worried, as well. When the embrace didn't let up, the old Hobbit merely shook his head and moved around to tend his cousin's back first.

His ward's back was perhaps the most severely injured of all. It was bruised and scraped, but fortunately had apparently nothing wrong that would have resulted from his tumble down the hillside. The injuries appeared to have come from the storm itself. Bilbo worked gently.

When he could no longer put off tending Frodo's other wounds, he softly cleared his throat. "Frodo, my lad, I can't take care of you if you pull away."

Frodo looked up, tears in his eyes. He nodded and gently pulled back from the child, offering a wavering smile to the tiny Hobbit. "Sam, are you all right?"

The boy sobbed then nodded. "Uh huh." He studied the pale, exposed skin, frowning at the bruises he saw. "Frodo hurt..." he sounded sad, resigned. Frodo ruffled his hair.

"I'll get better, Sam. See? It hardly hurts now. You've made it all better." Softly ruffling Sam's curls again, Frodo glanced at Bilbo. "We'll... uh... need to help out in town, Bilbo, won't we?"

His adopted-uncle nodded. "We'll take Sam back down to his hole and offer to help clean up the destroyed crops. That'll clear up two more for planting the new crops." Stepping back, finished his bandaging, the older Hobbit nodded. "Are you sure you can walk, Frodo? You'll be expected to do quite a bit down there."

"I can do it, Bilbo. I'd rather not leave Sam's sight; he's still shaken. He'll need to see his father's not hurt, though, so that means I'll have to be going."

Bilbo sighed and nodded. "Very well." He retrieved a fresh shirt for the teenager and backed up, gently scooping up a protesting Sam in the process. "Now, calm down, Samwise. Frodo needs some clothes on before we leave." He rocked the boy a bit, but knew that it wouldn't help.

The only thing that would help would be cuddling into Frodo's arms once more.

Frodo dressed quickly. He hissed as bruises refused to cooperate, but finally he was ready and slowly stood. Sam clambered to get to the floor so he could take Frodo's hand. "Ready, Sam? Bilbo? Let's go help Hobbiton." He smiled painfully around the linen-bandaged scrapes on his face.

Bilbo nodded and the trio set off, hearing the noise of Hobbits piecing their lives back together in he cooler air of the Shire after a disastrous storm.
Chapter 13. Eight Is More Than Enough by Sam
Author's Notes:
Frodo finds something to do after the hailstorm, which ripped through Hobbiton. The job he takes on, however, may be just a bit much for him.

Second Note: The last line of this chapter is taken directly from JRR Tolkien's The Hobbit. It has not been altered and is no way claimed by the author of this short story as anything but borrowed from the great writer for the purpose of this short story. Thank you.
It took the better part of an hour for the little trio to make their slow way down the road to Bagshot Row. Seventeen-year-old Frodo limped slowly along between his cousin Bilbo and young Samwise Gamgee. Sam, at five years old, had a secure hold on the older Hobbit's hand, careful not to tug too hard as they moved. Old Bilbo, in his mid-nineties, shuffled along at a spry pace, despite his great youth. He barely looked older than middle-aged and his movements mirrored his appearance. It was, in fact, Frodo's injuries from the sudden storm that caused their slow progress.

As the group rounded the corner of Bagshot Row, Bilbo smiled in a mix of relief and sadness. His guess about the hailstorm's destruction had been correct: Hobbiton needed quite a bit of repairs. It would take weeks to replace the destroyed crops and fix the damaged buildings and equipment. He turned his sorrowful eyes on his adopted-nephew and his gardener's son.

"It is bad as I feared, but no one appears hurt worse than you, my boy."

Frodo scanned the Hobbits diligently working and nodded painfully. His body was aching now worse than ever. Perhaps he should have agreed to stay back at Bag End after having been pummeled by the sharp hail during the storm. The walk, slow as it had been, left him wishing only for his bed and some hot soup. A tug at his hand had Frodo painfully turning his head down to look into the wide, worried green eyes of his younger friend. "Yes, Sam?"

Sam tugged again, not looking up. "Gaff!" He was smiling broadly; the destruction lost on the child. He had been worried about Hobbits, not holes, with the typical short-mindedness of his age group.

Looking up, Frodo smiled as well. "Yes, Gaffer is working in the field. He seems to be fine, Sam." There was genuine relief in the teen's voice. The only reason he'd been in that raging hailstorm had been to make sure Gaffer had gotten home safe. Unfortunately, Frodo had never made it further than the Party Field before tripping and being overwhelmed by the painful storm. "Would you like to see him?"

He expected the child to break away and run for his father, but was surprised when Sam shook his head. "Stay with Frodo." The little boy's voice was sure and happy. Startled blue eyes looked down into happy gray-green ones. "Gaff no hurt. Frodo hurt. Sam stay Frodo... stay with Frodo."

Unable to resist, he smiled back at the child.

Bilbo nodded. "Wonderful idea, Samwise. Frodo will stay with you while I help out."

"But Bilbo! They need all the help they can get. I should be helping, too." The teen felt hurt that he was considered useless in such a time of need for his neighbors.

"Oh, don't worry, Master Frodo. You'll be a very big help."

Frodo turned his head and smiled. Sam's mother, Bell, stood next to them with a wide smile. She tangled her fingers in Sam's blond curls, reassuring herself that her youngest son had taken no harm. Naturally, she saw the scrapes her son sported from his brief time in the storm.

Bell knelt and gathered her son close, still smiling at Frodo. "We need every hand we can get to help with this mess. The children are rather docile right now, but still, they need watching. If you could gather all the children together in one place, say back to Bag End, we could have that many more hands freed up." The Hobbit woman stood and gently touched Frodo's bandaged cheek. "Did you have to go out in that storm after Sam, Frodo?" Her smile faded to a worried frown.

His uncle jumped in with a shake of his curly head. "No, he went out to make sure Gaffer got home safe. Sam told us he was still out in it." He then thoughtfully pondered Bell's suggestion and smiled. "That would work, Bell. Bringing the children up to Bag End. There's plenty of room, and some of the more creative ones could even help clear up some of the debris that's light. Bag End wasn't too hard hit, you know."

With a strangled gasp, Bell started carefully checking over Frodo, ignoring Bilbo's last words in favor of his first. "Oh, Frodo, sweetie, are you able to handle all the children? The older ones can help with the infants and toddlers..."

"Mama..."

Everyone looked down at Sam.

"Mama, Gaff..." Sam pointed a chubby finger towards his father, who had spotted the little party and was now approaching. The older male had a frown on his face and looked exasperated. It took only a moment of apprehensive silence for the man to stop beside the teen, studying him.

"Won't be able to work like that, Master Frodo." He, like his wife, ran his hand carefully through Sam's curls, verifying that the boy wasn't terribly injured. "Need a place to sit and rest."

"Uh huh." Sam grinned, capturing his father's large hand, his own tiny ones, barely enough to fill his father's one, looking odd holding such a great paw in their delicate frailty. "Going up to play with Frodo."

The Gaffer scratched his own head, pushing his cap back on his graying auburn curls. "Going back to Bag End, Master Frodo?" He sounded uncertain whether to approve the boy getting out of the way or to disapprove the fact that he wasn't intending to work anyway.

Frodo hesitated then nodded. "I'm to take all the children up there to keep them out of the way. It'll give you the mothers to help, as well, Gaffer." He absently reached over and clasped one of Sam's hands, removing it from the other Hobbit's hand. Sam let him, smiling happily.

A slow nod at last came from the gardener. "That's a right good idea, Master Frodo. I'll send Marigold with you and Samwise. Could use the comfort of them being well cared for while we work."

"That's the idea, Gaffer." The teen smiled, suddenly feeling glad he had forsaken his bed to come down and help. He could rest his injuries but still be a great help to Hobbiton. On top of that Gaffer and Bell approved, which made him feel even happier. Best of all, though, he'd get time with Sam... a great deal of time with Sam, in fact.

Gaffer nodded and turned back towards the field, considering the conversation over. Bilbo chuckled and went to join him, offering to help pull unusable crops if instructed which ones to pull. Gaffer set his employer to work in an almost comical reversal of roles and both seemed to forget Frodo and the children.

"I'll have the children brought up to Bag End, Frodo. The older ones can bring up the younger and leave them off."

"No need, Bell." Frodo smiled. "I've got to go at a slow pace, you know. Why don't I take anyone... seven and younger? The bigger children can carry the little ones and we'll move slow enough not to endanger or tire anyone." He looked hopeful that his idea would be considered a good one.

Unfortunately, he was doomed to disappointment on that score. "That isn't necessary, Frodo. We can have the older children take a small break to bring you little ones. The mothers would feel safer that way." She stroked his cheek to take away the disappointment she saw lingering. "I'll get Marigold and you may start off."

With a nod, Frodo transferred Sam's hand to his other one, flexing stiffening fingers painfully. He'd be recovering from his fall for a few days, he could tell. With a sigh, he looked down at his friend. "Well, Sam, I'd rather take you to the Green Dragon so I could get some ale. It'd be your first look at the Green Dragon."

"Is Soggy green?" Sam blinked up at Frodo intrigued.

"Soggy? Oh, no! Smaug was a red dragon, I'm sure of it." Frodo smiled. He opened his mouth to continue but was interrupted by Mrs. Cotton approaching with three children. She looked like she might be pregnant again.

"Oh, Master Frodo, dear. I hear you're to watch the children up at Bag End? Could you bring Rosie and Jolly with you? Young Tom's able enough to help by carrying one of the twins. He's a good boy, aren't you, Tom?"

Frodo looked down at the one-year-old twins, then at five-year-old Tolman Cotton, a friend of Sam's. He smiled and nodded. "Do you trust Sam to carry one?"

The Hobbit woman nodded. "Of course. Samwise is a good, strong lad. Here you are Samwise. You may carry Rosie." She startled the boy by thrusting her only daughter into his arms. Both infant and older boy blinked at one another, as if sizing each other up. The mother nodded, satisfied. "If the going's slow, there should be no problem. Bell said you were injured in that ripper? You poor thing. Hurt much, do you?"

"Oh, no, Mrs. Cotton. I'm just bumped around a bit. I'll be fine." It was startling in a way. When the twins had been newborns, Mrs. Cotton had seemed distracted and nervous. Now she seemed very open and welcoming... and trusting. In fact, she merely picked up the one-year-old from where he sat on hands and knees in the road dust and shoved him willy-nilly into his older brother's chubby arms. "There you go, Tom. Take care of Jolly for Mum, that's a boy."

Tolman grinned and nodded. "Okay."

Well, it wasn't the entire lot of Hobbiton children, but Frodo was gratified that at least one mother thought he could bring a group of children back up to Bag End as easily as he could a pair. He watched the happy mother head into a field nearby, content that she trusted him with her children. He looked down at the boys with babies. "Should we go?"

"Oh, there you are, Frodo!"

The teen whirled around then winced, regretting the injudicious movement. He was surprised to have an infant gently settled into his arms. Mrs. Bolger, a distant cousin, stood there smiling softly. "Here's Estella. There's Fredigar. Thank you for watching them, Cousin Frodo. After hearing of the way you've cared for Samwise, I can't think of a better person to watch them. Fredigar's a handful, but the little one's as well behaved as a newborn lamb." She kissed her infant daughter's head then hurried off, not even giving Frodo a chance to respond to the whirlwind of a mother.

He was still standing, stunned, when Bell walked over. "Frodo, sweetie? Looks like you've been bombarded as it is. Do you want me to send Marigold up with one of the others?" She touched his cheek, bringing him out of his daze.

"What? Oh, no, Bell. I can manage Mari. She's a good girl." Frodo smiled at Bell, rearranging the infant in his arms so he might take the toddler's hand. "We'll set off now, however, so others don't try to give me children. I think you're right. It'd be a bit much to try to bring them all up with us."

Bell nodded, smiling, and kissed his forehead. "Thank you, Frodo, for taking this on. If you have any troubles, send Samwise down to us. He can be trusted with a message."

Frodo nodded. With a quick glance over his group, the teen threw a smile to the adult then started the small band off towards Bag End. Marigold twisted enough to wave goodbye to her mother, almost tugging her hand free as she turned.

Frodo glanced back, but his smile dropped as he caught sight of the Gamgee's second son, Halfred. The sixteen-year-old was glaring after the small group, his green eyes cold and watchful. Frodo had always believed the other Hobbit disliked him, but he had never felt such hatred before. With a shake of his head, he frowned, turning to look up the road. Why would Halfred hate him so much?

His mind wandered over the past few years and he found himself again worrying over the cruel prank that had been played at his last birthday party. A dead cat had been hung up in his bathing room window, scaring Sam almost senseless. It had been a juvenile act of foul malice; it had been eerie in a way, too. Whoever had done it, and Frodo had no doubt it had been Halfred Gamgee, had to have disliked Frodo and/or Bilbo with a vengeance. It was disturbing to think that Sam's brother could be that... crude.

Sam's soft voice drew Frodo out of his negative thoughts.

"She's got pretty eyes, Frodo. Look." The boy turned so Frodo could look down at the little girl in his friend's arms. Rosie did indeed have pretty eyes. Most would say they were not as enthralling as Frodo's own ethereal blue ones, but Frodo liked them. They looked happy, full of mischief and laughter.

"Yes, very pretty eyes, Sam. I think Rosie's a very pretty girl." To be diplomatic, however, he added, "I'd say she's as pretty as your sisters." Frodo smiled down at Marigold who looked up at him with wide gray eyes, sucking on a couple of dusty fingers.

"No," Sam insisted confidently. "She's the prettiest girl around. I think she'll be even prettier than Mama is." He smiled up at Frodo momentarily, then glanced back down at the one-year-old in his strong, chubby arms. "And she's not heavy like Mari, either."

The teenager tended to think that even infant Estella was heavy right then. He laughed softly. "Mari's older than Rosie, Sam. Of course she's heavier." He switched arms, forcing Marigold to switch hands as they made their incredibly slow procession up the road.

It took maybe an hour and a half, with several rests, for the small entourage to finally get to Bilbo's front gate. Frodo was relieved. His entire body screamed for rest and his stomach was roiling with hunger. It wasn't any better with the children, who were all grumbling and whining, even patient little Sam. Frodo dropped Mari's hand to open the gate and encouraged the group up the steps, latching the gate behind them.

After letting all of the children into the hole, Frodo thankfully looked for a place to set the baby down. He sighed, "Sam put down Rosie, please, and open that chest of drawers. I need to put the baby where she won't roll over." He remembered that much from when Sam had been a newborn.

The little boy obediently did as asked then stood close to Frodo's elbow, watching him intently. When he noticed the infant was settled he looked up at his friend. "Food now?" He set a grubby hand on Frodo's sleeve. "Food, please, Frodo? Sam hungry."

Fredigar piped up, "Me, too. Hungry, Frodo!"

A chorus of agreement erupted causing Frodo to laugh softly, despite his own exhaustion, pain, and hunger. Something about the little kids amused him. Leading the way, leaving Young Tom to keep an eye on little Estella, Frodo brought the group to the kitchens. "All right, if we're going to eat, you need to help me. Sam, show the children where to get bread and fruit. I'll get drinks. Oh, and Sam? Get the cheese? There's a good lad." The teenager smiled as Sam lead the others off.

With a sigh of true relief, Frodo hobbled around to gather drinks and crockery for his hoard. He started setting up in the study on the low table Sam used for his meals during work breaks. There was just enough room for all of the settings and Frodo smiled in weary triumph at his small accomplishment. He wanted badly to merely sit in a chair and relax, perhaps to finish translating that Elvish poetry he'd been working on when the storm had started that morning.

A baby's cry interrupted him and, startled, he hurried as best he could to where Tolman was watching Estella in the hallway. "What's happened, Tom? Is she hurt?"

Young Tom looked up and shook his head. "No. She's hungry." He said it as if the teenager should have known it; Tom had younger siblings after all. Unfortunately, Frodo did not, so was unfamiliar with a baby's cries. It had been so very long since those few months he'd been allowed to help with newborn Sam.

"Well... uh..." How in the world was he going to feed the infant? Exasperated suddenly, he was sure that Mrs. Bolger had forgotten that she'd need to feed Estella during the day. Frodo frowned, trying to puzzle a way to give the baby food, as he had no idea how Bell had fed Sam; she'd always remained covered, a blanket over the baby and her chest. Frodo made a mental note to ask Bilbo about it... or Bell.

But asking a question later wasn't going to feed the infant now. He had milk; Bilbo had purchased some goat's milk and stored it in the cold cellar far inside the hole. It was fresh two days ago. Maybe that would do?

"Okay, keep watching her, Tom. I'll get her luncheon." Frodo gently touched the Cotton boy's shoulder then turned and shuffled quickly off, bruises and scrapes protesting painfully. He again flexed his stiffening fingers, making his way down to the innermost pantry where the cold storage was, as that part of the hill remained cold year-round.

It took less than a minute for Frodo to bang into something in the murky light of the lamp he'd brought with him. The place was certainly close. It took several more minutes for the Hobbit to find the covered pitcher of goat's milk. With a sniff, he determined it was still good but made a face anyway. He didn't much prefer goat's milk, no matter how Bilbo raved about its health properties, learned from the Dwarves or Elves or something, no doubt.

When the teenager reached the hallway once more, all of the children were standing there calmly. Frodo blinked and looked around. "You're clean!" He hadn't remembered to tell them to clean up, though he preferred to stay neat himself. "When did you clean up?"

Sam smiled and patted Frodo's arm. "Told them have to clean to eat." He pointed back to the study with the low table. "Put the food there, Frodo. We eat now?"

Frodo laughed. "So, Sam, you remembered about the clean up rule, did you? Yes, let's go eat, children." He carefully picked up the whimpering baby and carried her and the pitcher to the study. Moving to sink into Bilbo's chair, however, Frodo realized he had no way for her to drink the milk. He frowned at the little girl.

The children were little help, excitedly laughing and chattering as they claimed seats on the floor and started grabbing for food. Frodo decided to solve that problem first. "Whoa! Manners! Stop reaching. You're to politely ask for something then put it on your plate. Make sure everyone gets some. Fredigar, Tolman, you're in charge of making sure it's shared."

The little ones started at him stunned. They looked at one another then back towards the oldest there. At Frodo's frown, they realized he meant what he said. Jolly laughed and clapped, but no one revealed why he should do so. Rosie looked up with her beautiful eyes, a hopeful look crossing her features. Frodo hardened himself against the look, wanting calm more than her smile at the moment.

Fredigar stood up and moved to one end of the table, Tolman taking Fredigar's lead by going to the other. Both five-year-olds started doling out food. True, the portions weren't as equal as they could be, but what could one expect from little children? At least chaos had been adverted.

Sam frowned softly and looked to Frodo. "Sam help?"

"Oh, yes, Sam. That'd be a great idea. But too many people might spill. Why don't you sit and enjoy being served for once?" He smiled softly at Sam, then turned his attention back to the baby, whose whimpers had silenced with her increased hunger.

The Gamgee boy frowned harder, feeling left out, and crossed his arms, resting them on the table with his chin on top. Frodo noticed and sighed. "I'm sorry Sam. I need as much calm and quiet as possible." At a sudden wail from Estella, he said in exasperation, "And a way to feed the baby her milk!"

That perked Sam up. "When Mama's sick, Gaff feeds her. Gaff uses spoons to feed Mama soup."

Frodo nodded. "I know, but I'm not sure if a spoon would work." He reached over for one, though, and took a small amount of milk into the bowl. Hopefully, he moved the spoon to the infant's lips and let the milk touch her mouth. Delight surged through him.

As soon as she tasted the milk, Estella happily opened her mouth to take in the food. She wanted it far faster than Frodo was capable of, but was patient enough to simply sit, like a baby bird with her mouth open, as she waited for each spoon of milk. Apparently the goat's milk was good enough to the hungry child: she wasn't finicky.

After a moment, Frodo poured a little bit of milk in each of the children's mugs, then settled, thankfully, into Bilbo's comfortable chair. His entire body screamed with the sudden relief. Yes... finally resting. Frodo sighed happily, spoon-feeding the infant more milk.

It was only after about twenty minutes that Estella finally turned her head, refusing the milk. Frodo tried to recall what Bell had done for Sam then. Yes, burping the baby. He carefully put her to his shoulder and rubbed her back until a loud belch came up. The infant gave him a look that seemed accusatory, as if she suspected him of the loud noise. The teen smiled and lay her back on his lap, satisfied when she yawned, drifting off very quickly.

Looking up, intent on now feeding himself, the older Hobbit was stunned to find that not even a slice of bread remained: all of the food had been eaten by the group of children. He blinked, but nothing changed. The table was bare, the children quietly watching him, and the hunger in his stomach still gnawed.

"We get up now?" Fredigar asked, a messy smile on his now food-smudged face.

Frodo nodded slowly, chagrined and hungry. "Yes, but you have to wash up again. Then come back here and you can play with Sam's toys. He knew there was a chest of toys for Sam to play with on breaks.

Sam smiled and nodded. "Can play blocks." He stood and led the children out, taking on the job of host for Bag End with grace and pleasure. He loved helping Frodo. Secretly he thought this day might earn him a big hug and that made him all the happier. He loved Frodo's big hugs best.

Slowly, Frodo adjusted the sleeping infant in his arms, standing stiffly. Moving slowly, trying to work out the kinks, Frodo moved to a chest of drawers and managed to open one, keeping Estella in one arm as he awkwardly finagled the draw open. The linen drawer... good... Frodo lay the infant in the drawer and turned to start slowly cleaning up the mess left by six hungry children. He managed to get the table cleared and moved by the time Sam led his group into the room, clean once more.

The teen nodded. "Why don't you play quietly with the toys? Sam? Can you keep an eye on Estella for me? I'm going to get some luncheon for myself now that everyone's eaten and comfortable." He threw a smile at them, winking at Sam, then headed out.

The child laughed in return and watched the children heading for his toy chest, willingly letting them hand out the toys he had. There wasn't much, of course, as Gaffer had only sent up a few things. Bilbo had managed to supplant it with a set of beautifully engraved letter blocks and a wooden pony, carved and painted, but it was still very bare compared to some toy sets. However, for the small group it was adequate and they were soon lost in their play. Samwise merely watched with a slightly wistful look, obeying Frodo's directive to watch the infant rather than play with those glorious toys. As if noticing his friend's dilemma, Young Tom carried over the wooden pony for Sam to play with.

In the kitchen, Frodo hurried to collect some apples, cheese, and bread together. He grabbed a pot of honey and found a few scones Bilbo had prepared for tea, though that meal had long since been missed. Satisfied, the lad placed everything on a tray and carried it back towards the study. He stopped, however.

He'd just noticed how grubby his own hands were. A shudder went through the teenager. Recently he'd been almost obsessed with cleanliness, though he'd never had thought of it that way. It was simply that he was trying to be prepared at all times in case a pretty lass looked his way, especially if that pretty lass was Larkspur Whitfoot. That day's events had driven all thought of clothes and girls from his mind until that moment, though.

Now, however, Frodo noticed just how grubby he'd become while tending to the children. He determined they were safe enough in the study with Sam. Detouring to his own room, Frodo set the tray down and quickly washed up with the cold water in his basin. He changed carefully into fresh clothing, almost unaware of his own pain in his determination to be presentable once more. The teen did rush, though, so that he could return to the children before anyone got hurt or upset.

Finally the Hobbit was satisfied with his ablutions. He picked up his tray of food and headed into the study, eyeing the peaceful scene warily. Checking on the infant before sinking into Bilbo's chair once more, Frodo was almost surprised to find no mishaps, arguments, or tears. The group of very young children had played quietly the entire fifteen minutes he'd been distracted. He smiled.

Frodo reached for some bread but was startled by the sound of a knock on the front door. With a slight frown, he struggled out of the chair, hissing as his abused body once more had to move. At least he retained the presence of mind to take his tray with him, else there'd be nothing left when he returned. Frodo put the tray on a hallway table before carefully opening the damaged door to Bag End.

Several teens, including a glaring Halfred and his smiling brother Hamson, stood there. They had an array of smaller children with them. All in all, it appeared to be about sixty Hobbit children... the full contingent of the town. Frodo blinked.

Hamson laughed at the look on Frodo's face. "Don't worry, Master Frodo. We're not bringing them here. We're going on to the Party Field, but thought we'd stop and offer to take your lot with us, if you wish."

Halfred's look grew more severe as he obviously determined that Frodo would jump at the chance to get out of the work of watching seven children. He was due to disappointment, however. Frodo's next words made him scowl all the more at the loss of one of his negative theories.

"Oh, do I have to? They've settled quite nicely, you know, and are happily playing with Sam's toys in the study. If it's all the same, I'd rather keep the children on."

"And what would Samwise being doing with toys over here? He's supposed to be working, not playing." Halfred crossed his arms, looking positively incised. He took a step towards Frodo, leaning in close so the little kids wouldn't hear him as easily. "I'm keeping an eye on you, Master Frodo." Then, the antagonistic teen was turning towards the gate once more, herding his share of charges towards the Party Field.

The older brother sighed, reminding Frodo of gentle Bell Gamgee. "He's in a phase, Master Frodo, where he wants to be an adult but can't quite decide how to be. I think he's determined that you are what he wants to rebel against." Hamson shrugged and guided his group of children off, the other teens following with their charges.

Frodo called after them. "You sure I'm not to watch them? You're needed, aren't you?"

With a laugh, Hamson turned and shook his auburn curls. "No, Master Frodo. They determined that near seventy children was too much for one person, but your idea of one teen watching a group of them was a sound idea. The most trust-worthy teens got the job, freeing their mothers for the other work. I think the women-folk like the chance to show off their skills out of the hole." He smiled at Frodo, who laughed in return.

"Well, it wasn't my idea. It was your mother's. I was merely the one who said something."

Hamson nodded, but didn't respond as he turned back towards the Party Field. The large group made their way down the steps carefully and out of Bag End's gate, onto the road. Frodo watched as they trooped, one by one, through the Party Gate and down into the field to spread out running and laughing.

He wondered if he should bring his charges down to join them, as well.

Sighing, Frodo turned back into Bag End and closed the door, having to latch it twice before the damaged wood stayed closed. He'd have to make sure that was fixed soon, though he wasn't sure how to do it himself. With a final pat on the faded door, the teen gathered his tray from the table and set off for the study, turning over his choices in his mind.

The sound of laughter, gentle and fresh, stopped him on the threshold of the study. He smiled, noting how his small group played together quite happily. Even Samwise, whom he'd left out of the games longer than he liked, was happily playing with his wooden pony, still sitting next to Estella's drawer. Frodo hurried over and put his tray down, smiling at the child.

"Thank you, Sam." He gave the boy a hug big enough to cause a squeak; Sam smiled and hugged him back. "Why don't you join in the games? I'll let your Gaffer know what a good boy you've been, watching out for Estella for me." He let the boy go then moved to drag Bilbo's comfortable chair next to the chest of drawers, happy that the group readily accepted the laughing Samwise.

Sinking into the chair with a groan for his near-forgotten aches, Frodo pulled his tray closer and began to finally eat his very late luncheon. He knew he'd have to get food together for that group in an hour or two, but for now, they seemed content. He buttered, then honeyed, his bread, watching the children with a gentle smile.

Tolman now had the wooden pony. Fredigar had perhaps three or four crudely carved Hobbit figures Gaffer had made. They were pretending to have the group of Hobbits and pony go off for a grand adventure in the tradition of Bilbo. Rosie and Jolly were building little towers of the blocks much as Sam and Tolman had done that day long ago, when Sam had that broken leg. Marigold was handing over the blocks to the twins, happily helping rather than getting into the construction.

Suddenly, Frodo jolted up, hissing at the injudicious movement. Where was Sam? He looked around the room, worry and the beginnings of panic starting to set in. There was no sign of the boy, Frodo's closest friend. He pushed his tray aside, only partially finished, and pushed himself from the chair, intent on locating the child.

That was when he saw the strawberry-blond.

Sam was standing in the corner softly humming to himself and idly flipping the pages in a book Bilbo had gotten from the Elves. It contained dozens of carefully drawn and colored pictures of flowers and trees. The words were in Elvish, which Sam couldn't even begin to understand, but the pictures were vivid and well executed. It had been open to a section of medicines, displaying a low ground plant with numerous white flowers. The pretty picture had attracted the Bag End gardener's son.

With a relieved sigh, Frodo walked over and touched Sam's curls. The boy jumped, whirling around with gray-green eyes wide in shock. He smiled when he realized it was Frodo, throwing his arms as far around the teen's waist as possible, hugging him enthusiastically. "Frodo! Look, flowers..."

Frodo nodded, picking up the book. "Yes, it's Bilbo's. Sam, why don't we go sit down and look at it?" He offered a bandaged hand to the child.

Sam smiled wider and grabbed his hand, practically dragging his older friend in his enthusiasm to look at the pretty book some more. When they got to the chair, the little Hobbit patiently waited as Frodo got comfortable, the book set gently on the table next to the food tray. Finally, Sam climbed carefully into Frodo's lap, not noticing the teen's grimaces of pain. They were soon settled and the older Hobbit slipped the book into the younger's hands. He reached for some cheese and an apple, letting Sam turn the pages as he ate his luncheon.

Leaning back into Frodo, the child was content. This was better than a big hug any day. This was a long time being held by his Frodo. Carefully, not wanting to tear the pretty pictures, Sam turned the first page, gasping in pleasure at the sight of a field of the very familiar lily, done in all of it's various shades. He pointed to it without touching it and spoke in an awed whisper. "Lilies, Frodo. That's lilies."

"Mmm Hmm..." Frodo's mouth was full, but he smiled at the boy's enthusiasm. Clearing his mouth, he said, "A pretty flower, isn't it?"

"Yeah," Sam turned the page carefully and gasped again. "Oh, Frodo. That's roses. See? There's even blue roses!"

Frodo studied the beautifully done picture, depicting a garden arbor covered in twining rose vines and set on either side with rose bushes. "I've never seen a blue rose, Sam. Think only Elves have them?"

"Oh yes. Elves have everything, Frodo. They have everything."

With a laugh, Frodo shook his head. "No, Sam, they don't have everything. They don't have me, do they?" He grinned at Sam's startled look. "What, Sam?"

"When Elves leave, will you go to?"

Confused, Frodo tilted his head a bit. "What do you mean? I'm not an Elf, Sam; I'm a Hobbit. Why would I go with the Elves?"

"'Cause you're friends with Elves, Frodo." Sam's voice was matter-of-fact, as if there could be no other answer.

Relaxing, laughing softly, the teen ruffled the child's hair gently. "No, I've never met an Elf, Sam. Bilbo has. But you have to do something special to leave with the Elves, Sam, something spectacular. You have to save the world or something, I think."

"Fight Soggy?"

It took Frodo a minute to process, despite knowing Sam's nickname for Smaug the dragon. "Oh, yes... fighting Smaug would be a good thing, wouldn't it? I suppose the Elves might consider letting Bilbo go with them, but maybe not, Sam. And I'll never do anything so spectacular and adventurous as all that. I'm just Frodo. Bilbo's the one who fights dragons and talks to Elves." He smiled wistfully.

Sam nodded and turned the page on the book, once again getting to the low growing white flowered plant. "What's that?"

Frodo frowned. "I'm not sure. Let's see..." He stumbled through the complicated Elvish word, as flower names were not something he'd quite gotten up to in his lessons. "It's called King's Foil, Sam. It's a..." but he didn't get to finish his translation.

The peacefully idyllic playtime had been disrupted by the cry of Rosie Cotton. Apparently her tower had fallen on her and her twin Wilcome... or Jolly... had started laughing, as was his wont. Thus, she'd started crying.

Sam scrambled off of Frodo's lap, passing him the book. The gentle little boy hurried over to sooth the fascinating younger girl, wanting to see her smiling, not crying. His lack of attention to Frodo was actually a small relief, though Frodo felt instantly guilty for that. He'd wanted to finish his small luncheon without the constant questions of a curious child, even if that child was Sam.

Watching Sam coax that pretty smile back to Rosie's face, Frodo was strangely reminded of the scowling Halfred and his threatening promise to watch Frodo. What was wrong with the teen? Did he truly think Gaffer would be bringing Sam up to play rather than work? Did he think Gaffer would lie about Sam's learning to be a gardener? Was he that jealous of Frodo's social standing, or was it something else? Was it, maybe, how close Frodo and Sam were that had Halfred fuming? Could he be jealous of that? Did he, perhaps, want that closeness with Sam, instead?

Shaking his head, pushing away such thoughts, the teen stood slowly and brushed the crumbs from his shirt, trying to catch them on the tray. He glanced back at the children; things seemed peaceful again. Gently picking up the infant, not wanting to pull a child from play again, Frodo managed to balance Estella in one arm so he could grab the tray with his other hand. He gave one last look over his shoulder then headed for the kitchen, determined to puzzle out just what it was about him that set Halfred's hackles up so badly.

By the time he finished cleaning up and was settled once more on the chair, Frodo still hadn't come up with a solution. He adjusted the infant across his lap, still pondering the puzzle. It wasn't until Sam tugged his sleeve that Frodo realized just how much time he'd lost while thinking. He looked around at the expectant children.

"Hungry, Frodo. Supper time?" Sam's voice was plaintive, bordering on a whine in his hunger. He plucked again at his friend's sleeve, to keep his attention. "Sam hungry."

"Yes, we'll get together some supper now." Frodo stood, carefully balancing the infant once more. He was surprised at how easily the time flew and wondered just how Bell managed with six of her own children. She cooked, cleaned, and did numerous other tasks for the entire family. Frodo only had this group for a little while and he was feeling run haggard already. He supposed it was easier when their ages were staggered; they could help out more that way.

Walking into the kitchen the teenager was surprised to see Sam already heading for the pantry followed by the other children. This time, Frodo let them choose what they will, relying on their good sense to come up with an acceptable meal. Naturally, he hadn't relied on the fact that they were, at oldest, five-years-old.

The children started bringing out anything they could find: bread, cheese, fruit, berries, cakes, vegetables, and an assortment of dried meats Bilbo had put in dry storage, wrapped in cloth. True, the offerings would provide a good meal, but Frodo knew they should have something a bit more filling than what they'd selected. He wracked his brains to figure out what he could cook for them.

Estella woke up, whimpering in hunger. Frodo looked down at the infant and sighed. They'd used up the milk at luncheon. There was nothing else for her. With a shake of his head, he looked back at the children and sighed. "Okay, set that on the table and get the crockery from the cupboard. Sam, I'll need all of the eggs you can find, love. We're going to add tea and eggs to your choices, and maybe we'll even toast the bread."

The children got a bit more excited, though none of them reacted with out-right glee. That lack didn't bother the intrepid older Hobbit. He settled the infant in her older brother's arms, making sure Fredigar was sitting at the table. "Watch her for me? I'll need to cook."

Frodo browned the eggs, regretfully, but the children ate them just the same. In fact, everything the children had brought out was eaten, this time at the kitchen table. The main problem was feeding Estella, as they had no milk, but Marigold solved that problem for them. She spoon-fed some of her eggs, smashed up, to the baby, who ate it just as hungrily as she had the goat's milk earlier. Soon, they were well fed and slightly sluggish in their responses. Oddly enough, the baby was wide-awake, watching everyone with wide brown eyes.

"We'll go back to the study for some quiet play." Frodo began to herd the children out. He was surprised to see that they didn't want to play, instead sprawling on the rugs and yawning. Sam leaned against his friend, green eyes watching him with tired expectation. Gently lying Estella in her drawer, Frodo sat in Bilbo's chair and looked around at the group. He hit upon an idea to entertain them.

"In a hole in the ground there lived a Hobbit..."
Chapter 14A. Those Eyes... (slash version) by Sam
Author's Notes:
Gaffer sees something in Frodo which dredges up a better-forgotten past. (This deals half with Sam-Frodo and the other half with Gaffer-Bell.)

Second Note: This is where the series branches off. All stories marked A are in one direction, with Slash relationships beginning to be noticed. All stories marked B are in the other direction with no slash content.
The water rippled outward, rings of vibration growing ever larger as the initial disturbance settled but the consequences were still displayed. Another stone hit the water with similar effects. A third. Finally, the older Hobbit turned to the younger next to him. "What do you see, Samwise?"

The boy watched the water entranced, a smile playing across his lips. Pushing unruly strawberry curls from his green-gray eyes, young Sam continued to watch the rippling waves. It was his father's gentle, insistent voice which finally brought him back to the present.

"Well, Sam? What do you see?"

The little boy looked up then back down again. He reached a small, chubby hand towards the water, trying to feel the ripples, frowning in consternation as he succeeded in merely dunking his hand in the cool water. With wonder, however, he noted new ripples pooling out from his submerged hand; Sam laughed and looked up at Gaffer, his father.

"Water wrinkles?" The boy's voice was full on his interest, his soft eyes hopeful. "Water wrinkles when touched, like Mama's dress." At Gaffer's sharp bark of laughter, Sam grinned even wider and touched the water again. He watched in delight as the ripples formed.

"Good. Wrinkles, huh? Silly lad." Gaffer's voice was affectionate. He squatted down, ruffling his son's curls, and looked into the water as well. "Okay, I see the waves. What else do you notice, Sammy-boy?" The father watched contentedly as the son continued playing with the small pool of water, not actually in it, but elbow deep at least.

Without answering, Sam merely giggled and slapped at the water. The water splashed upwards and Sam laughed happily. He started slapping and splashing, enjoying this new game; normally Gaffer didn't encourage him to get messy unless they were working on the Bag End gardens. It was a resting day, though, so they were sitting by a pond along Bagshot Row, a few burrows down from their own hole.

Gaffer shook his head, still smiling, and leaned forward. "Sam, what do you notice when you splash?" He touched his son's curls, getting his attention.

The boy looked up, smiling happily. "Get wet?"

"Exactly," he laughed back at the child. "Let's see now... waves when you touch it, wet when you splash... what's it mean, lad?"

"It's water!" Sam sounded triumphant, drawing another laugh from his father.

Slowly, Gaffer stood and stretched his joints. The heavy labor he'd been doing since he was fifteen was starting to tell on him, causing aches and pains even at his relatively young age of sixty-one. His seven-year-old made him feel as if he couldn't keep up sometimes... more so than any of the older children ever had. Gaffer Gamgee felt old.

"When you do something, other things happen. See? The water reacts to your touch and hit. Life reacts to everything you do and say, son. That's what you're supposed to be seeing. Everything you do causes other things to happen."

Sam stopped splashing, eyes widening. He looked at his father then down to the water, frowning softly. "Everything, Gaffer?" That was a lot... a whole world of things that could happen just because he did something. "If I sit and breathe, does something happen, Gaffer?"

With a chuckle, Gaffer nodded and gestured for his youngest son to stand up. "Of course." He knew Sam was teasing; the boy most likely though he'd caught Gaffer out in this example. "If you breathe, the flowers breathe." The gardener watched his apprentice stopped in puzzlement, chuckling at the confusion on that dear face.

"I don't understand, Gaffer." Sam frowned, truly puzzled by that statement. "If I stop breathing, the flowers stop?"

The old Hobbit's eyes opened wide. He hadn't expected the boy to come up with that translation, though it was a good one. It was also a very responsible one, seeing as he'd been trying to point out to Sam that the boy's actions had consequences. Scratching his head, he answered slowly, "That's a good way of putting it, boy. But it would take a lot more people not breathing to stop the flowers. The right idea, though, Sam."

Sighing, Sam shook his head, strawberry-blond curls bouncing. "How can my breathing help a flower breath, Gaffer?"

"That's a lesson for another day, Sammy-boy." Gaffer grinned, putting a firm hand behind the seven-year-old's back and guiding him up the road towards Number Three. "It's enough to know that without you, the flowers would die. You've got to be real good to them flowers, son. It's also means that anything else you do also changes things. Be careful what you do or say, boy... it could help... or hurt." He nodded.

Young Sam thought carefully at that, mulling it over. He took his father's hand, letting himself be led as he thought, trusting the older Hobbit not to let him bump into anything or trip. Wanting to ask many more questions, the youngster hesitated, wanting also to be able to answer other questions his father would surely fire at him if he started asking anything. Thus, he thought over everything once more.

As he opened his mouth to finally ask his question, a friendly voice called over. "Sam! Gaffer!"

"Frodo!" It was more a breath of delight than a comment and the little boy broke away from his father, running to hug his friend. Laughing, the boy met the teen's open arms with an enthusiastic fling of his body. "Frodo, you came!"

The nineteen-year-old swung the boy up into his arms, spinning once just to hear the delighted squeal from the seven-year-old. "Of course I came. I said I would, did I not?" He settled his forehead against Sam's, eyes closing, sighing happily. "Missed you, Sam."

Sam nodded. "I missed you, too, Frodo. Did you like Buckland?"

A chuckle escaped the older Hobbit and he put down the rather heavy child. "Of course I liked Buckland. I used to live there when I was small. My cousin, Meriadoc, is getting big, too. He's five now."

"He ate your birthday cake."

Confusion registered in Frodo's large, blue eyes. "What?" He thought back then laughed. "Oh, that! I'm now upset. You gave me an even better cake, Sam. So, I'm glad Merry had the first one. What's gone on since I left?"

The little boy grabbed his friend's hand, dragging him towards Gaffer, chattering happily. "Oh, you've been gone for ever so long, Frodo. Months and months... forever!"

"It's only been a season, Sam," Frodo laughed.

With a nod, as if agreeing that three months were forever, Sam continued talking. "Uh huh. Rosie's got a new brother. He's called Nick because that mean doctor came to the birth and said he'd got there in the nick of time... just as the baby was born."

As Lily Cotton had been about to deliver when Frodo'd left, he'd expected such a report so wasn't surprised. What did surprise him was that the doctor had attended rather than the midwife. The teen met Gaffer's eyes, frowning his question over the oblivious child's head. Gaffer shook his head once, with a frown of his own. With a sigh of regret and sadness, the lad looked back down at Sam. He'd miss that gentle Hobbit; she'd been sick for some time, but everyone had so hoped she'd recover.

"And is Nick his only name, Sam?" Frodo held out a hand for Gaffer to shake the turned his full attention to his little friend... who seemed to have grown a bit in the months Frodo had been with his cousins, the Brandybucks.

Sam shook his head. "No... it's... Bowman... I think." He looked to his father for confirmation and smiled as he received it. "Bowman Cotton. But he likes Nick, I think."

The teen laughed and nodded. "Right. Nick it is." A sudden frown crossed the dark-haired Hobbit's face. He'd only just become aware of how very wet the blond was. "You're soaked, Sam! Did you fall into the river?" He rather doubted Sam would have, as the child couldn't swim and neither could his father, so it would have been out right stupidity to bring the child to the river's edge.

"No. I was learning how to wrinkle water in the pool." Sam turned and pointed back the way they'd come, frowning since he couldn't see the little pool of water he'd been allowed to play in. "If you touch water, it wrinkles, because everything you do makes something else happen."

A sigh emerged from Gaffer and the older Hobbit smiled, proud that his son had remembered the lesson so well.

Squatting, Frodo suddenly hugged Sam. "I'll remember that, Sam Gamgee. That's a gem."

He was confused. Scratching his head in imitation of his father, Sam frowned. "Huh? What's a gem? Where?" He glanced around, as if someone would produce this object for him to see.

Frodo laughed and hugged him again. "Oh, you look so serious, Sam! What you said was a gem: a gem of wisdom. It's something everyone should know and remember."

"Oh... but I didn't say it! Gaffer did." Sam smiled and looked towards his father, sharing the praise he felt he'd received from his friend. He was rewarded with an approving nod from Gaffer, who liked to have his children honest above many another trait.

A bit worse for wear, Frodo let go of the child and stood, tossing a smile at Gaffer. His entire face lit up, large blue eyes merry and welcoming. Gaffer drew in a sharp breath and instinctively reached for Sam, though he couldn't have said why he was so frightened for the boy suddenly. The teen's fading smile and confused look stopped the older Hobbit, who flushed at his obvious withdrawal from him.

"It's time to be going home, Samwise, my boy. Are you intending to walk Master Frodo home?" It was only a small thing, but it was an attempt to make it up to Frodo. After all, the lad got more than enough whispers about his odd, feminine looks. He didn't need such reactions from his uncle's servant.

Sam latched tightly to Frodo's side. "Gonna walk Frodo home, Gaffer. Be back later." The seven-year-old started dragging his friend off, happily pointing out just which gardens had changed since they'd last seen one another.

Worried still, Gaffer felt suddenly old as his son walked off with the teenager. What had he seen in Frodo's face that had scared him so much? He couldn't tell, not yet, but he knew, deep down somehow, that it would be something that could change everything. He shuddered and headed into Number Three Bagshot Row. "I'm home, Bell."

The Hobbit woman leaned backwards into the kitchen doorway, frowning softly. "Alone? Ah..." she smiled at her husband and approached, drying her hands on her ever-present apron. Lifting her lips for her kiss, Bell Gamgee twined fingers with the gardener. "So, Frodo's come home from Buckland, has he? This'll be Sam's first walk down that road alone. He'll need to come back to us tonight."

"And how long will he come back to us? How long before he's spending nights... out?" The Hobbit's voice was sad, tired. He'd never had these worries with his other children, even pretty Daisy, who was a teenager herself and casting sly glances towards the boys already. Why did he suddenly have worries about Samwise, then?

Bell slipped into a chair, guiding her husband down with her to sit close by. "Are you worrying again, Hamfast Gamgee? All right, out with it. What happened that makes you think Sam's going to go ripping up through the night and not come home? He's only got a few close friends, and most don't even live around here, Hamfast. Fredigar's from over in Eastfarthing, and Folco's from nearer Tookland than Hobbiton. Tolman lives in town, yes, but I hardly think he's going to be up to carousing all night. Meriadoc Brandybuck is younger and lives in Buckland, fifty miles east. The only one left to worry about is..." Her eyes widened and she shook her head, her words dying off with a soft, "No..."

The old gardener lifted his face, his eyes solemn. He didn't answer, but some silent sort of communication seemed to go between the pair. He began to nod as his wife started shaking her head in growing distress.

"No, Ham, he wouldn't. How could you even think it?" She stood, worrying her hands in her apron, beginning to pace. "Yes, he's a bit odd, Hamfast, but he's a good lad." She whirled around. "Please, tell me I've misunderstood. You're thinking since he's so much older, Frodo Baggins'll lead Sam into drinking and such a bit early, right?" She actually sounded hopeful, though her eyes held fear and guilt. How could I even think such things about Frodo?

The Gaffer leaned forward and caught one of the worried Hobbit woman's hands. He gently tugged her over, seating her on his lap, and slipped his arms securely around her. Softly, in case any of the children might over hear from another room, he whispered, "I don't think Master Frodo'll do anything to hurt Sam intentionally, Bell. Truth, now, I don't. Master Frodo's a good hearted lad and loves Sam dearly." He didn't need to finish.

Turning, lying her head on his shoulder, Bell sighed. "But he'll do it unintentionally, right? You're afraid that Frodo is more... feminine than he should be? That he'll... teach Sam things he shouldn't?" She lifted her head, suddenly fierce. "No! Ham, Frodo'd never hurt Sam that way. Sam's just a child; he's twelve years younger than Frodo!"

Her husband lay a silencing finger over her lips. "Bell, I'm not thinking Master Frodo'll try anything... odd with Sam... at least not until Sam's a lot older. And I'm not even saying Frodo's interested in boys, either. I'm saying..." He sighed and looked her in the eyes. "I'm saying he has his uncle's eyes."

Bell frowned, her eyes troubled.

"You remember, then... what a fool I made of myself for Bilbo Baggins. You remember as well as I do how I followed him around when I was younger... thirty-six years younger and willing to throw everything away if he'd have me, even him being so much older and higher than me, and me a lad." Gaffer lay his forehead against Bell's, his eyes misting with tears from long ago. "How I had to keep pretending affection for the lasses so Bilbo wouldn't figure things out."

She seemed to curl in on herself, leaning against her husband but seeming a bit withdrawn. "I... I remember, Ham." She sighed and met his eyes, wiping away the moisture for him, years of marriage easing the pain of being second choice all those years ago. Strangely, the fact that she had been second choice to a male had never hurt as much as simply not being first in Hamfast Gamgee's affection. "I remember how you tried to court him without giving things away, and how hurt you were when you realized he wouldn't take you as a lover, not because you were both males but because you were so much younger... and how I comforted you and we needed to be married not two months later for our foolishness." She sighed and touched his lips.

"Bell..."

Bell shook her head, smiling softly, a bittersweet quality about her expression. "No, Ham, I know you love me. I know you always have. You don't need to think I don't, but I know also that sometimes you wonder what would have happened if he'd thrown his entire upbringing away to go with you instead. Sometimes I see you looking at Frodo and wondering if he could have been yours if things had worked differently."

His head shooting up, eyes widening, Gaffer shook his head in denial. "He's in no way mine, Bell. If I had been with Bilbo, Frodo probably would have gone to the Brandybucks." He touched her cheek. "I never wanted to replace our children with him..."

Laughing, Bell kissed him. "I know that, Hamfast Gamgee. We started having children years before Frodo was born or orphaned. I'd never thought you'd have given them up, love; rather that you would have taken him in as well. I..." She touched his cheek again. "I just sometimes wonder if maybe you still love Bilbo more than me?"

"Never!" The word was almost anguished and louder than they'd intended. He hugged Bell fiercely to him, almost shivering at the thought of not loving her, of losing her. "I love you, beautiful Bell Gamgee. I have since we were small. I never was in love with Bilbo Baggins that way. I desired him... was bewitched with him."

The declaration drew a ragged sob of relief from Bell and she hugged him just as fiercely. It was long kisses and several minutes later that she drew away. "And you find Frodo just as bewitching, Ham? Are... are you afraid you might be tempted to... unnatural feelings for the boy?" She lifted his face, watching the shamed flush, and nodded. "It's all right, my lover, my love. I understand the draw. I'd never, ever do such things with Frodo Baggins, nor anyone other than you, but I can feel that draw sometimes when I look at those eyes." She hesitated then continued in a softer voice "we lasses felt the same thing when lost in his mother's eyes, Ham."

Gaffer drew in a long breath. "Did you? Really?" He blinked, stunned to find that his wife had at one time been attracted to another woman. "So, if we keep an eye on Sam, we can stop it before it happens... before Sam makes a fool of himself over his future master. After all, he'll be taking over up to Bag End when I retire, unless Bilbo or Frodo don't like his work as much as I think they do."

Bell stood slowly, kissing her husband a last time. "We'll watch them, Hamfast. Things will work as they are meant to. And... and if he loses his head to Frodo, we'll find a way to quiet it so no one thinks him odd. Perhaps..." she sighed and forced herself to say it, "Perhaps even send him to Halfred in Overhill. Your brother's far enough away to make things quiet down quickly."

The couple in the kitchen had no idea they'd been overheard in part. Halfred, second son of the family, had come in, intent on getting a quick snack then going back out to work. He's stopped at the mention of Bilbo and Frodo's names, though it wasn't until Bell spoke that he actually caught what was being said. Eyes widening, the eighteen-year-old pushed himself back against the wall, holding his breath. Lose his head to Frodo? Send him away to Overhill? Quiet things down? No! He covered his mouth, feeling incredibly sick all of a sudden. It's happened... they... they see it, too... As quietly as possible, the teen stumbled from the hole, disgust and fear warring inside. He threw a glare full of hate towards the hill and Bag End. It's your fault... all your fault, Frodo Baggins! It's disgusting and you did it... and I won't rest until you regret even coming to Hobbiton with your sick, twisted ways. He ran off to his job, not really caring if he were late, but just to have something to busy his hands while he plotted.
Chapter 14B. Those Eyes... (non-slash version) by Sam
Author's Notes:
Gaffer sees something in Frodo which dredges up a better-forgotten past. (This deals half with Sam-Frodo and the other half with Gaffer-Bell.) Spoiler: Not really.

Second Note: This is where the series branches off. All stories marked A are in one direction, with Slash relationships beginning to be noticed. All stories marked B are in the other direction with no slash content.
The water rippled outward, rings of vibration growing ever larger as the initial disturbance settled but the consequences were still displayed. Another stone hit the water with similar effects. A third. Finally, the older Hobbit turned to the younger next to him. "What do you see, Samwise?"

The boy watched the water entranced, a smile playing across his lips. Pushing unruly strawberry curls from his green-gray eyes, young Sam continued to watch the rippling waves. It was his father's gentle, insistent voice which finally brought him back to the present.

"Well, Sam? What do you see?"

The little boy looked up then back down again. He reached a small, chubby hand towards the water, trying to feel the ripples, frowning in consternation as he succeeded in merely dunking his hand in the cool water. With wonder, however, he noted new ripples pooling out from his submerged hand; Sam laughed and looked up at Gaffer, his father.

"Water wrinkles?" The boy's voice was full on his interest, his soft eyes hopeful. "Water wrinkles when touched, like Mama's dress." At Gaffer's sharp bark of laughter, Sam grinned even wider and touched the water again. He watched in delight as the ripples formed.

"Good. Wrinkles, huh? Silly lad." Gaffer's voice was affectionate. He squatted down, ruffling his son's curls, and looked into the water as well. "Okay, I see the waves. What else do you notice, Sammy-boy?" The father watched contentedly as the son continued playing with the small pool of water, not actually in it, but elbow deep at least.

Without answering, Sam merely giggled and slapped at the water. The water splashed upwards and Sam laughed happily. He started slapping and splashing, enjoying this new game; normally Gaffer didn't encourage him to get messy unless they were working on the Bag End gardens. It was a resting day, though, so they were sitting by a pond along Bagshot Row, a few burrows down from their own hole.

Gaffer shook his head, still smiling, and leaned forward. "Sam, what do you notice when you splash?" He touched his son's curls, getting his attention.

The boy looked up, smiling happily. "Get wet?"

"Exactly," he laughed back at the child. "Let's see now... waves when you touch it, wet when you splash... what's it mean, lad?"

"It's water!" Sam sounded triumphant, drawing another laugh from his father.

Slowly, Gaffer stood and stretched his joints. The heavy labor he'd been doing since he was fifteen was starting to tell on him, causing aches and pains even at his relatively young age of sixty-one. His seven-year-old made him feel as if he couldn't keep up sometimes... more so than any of the older children ever had. Gaffer Gamgee felt old.

"When you do something, other things happen. See? The water reacts to your touch and hit. Life reacts to everything you do and say, son. That's what you're supposed to be seeing. Everything you do causes other things to happen."

Sam stopped splashing, eyes widening. He looked at his father then down to the water, frowning softly. "Everything, Gaffer?" That was a lot... a whole world of things that could happen just because he did something. "If I sit and breathe, does something happen, Gaffer?"

With a chuckle, Gaffer nodded and gestured for his youngest son to stand up. "Of course." He knew Sam was teasing; the boy most likely though he'd caught Gaffer out in this example. "If you breathe, the flowers breathe." The gardener watched his apprentice stopped in puzzlement, chuckling at the confusion on that dear face.

"I don't understand, Gaffer." Sam frowned, truly puzzled by that statement. "If I stop breathing, the flowers stop?"

The old Hobbit's eyes opened wide. He hadn't expected the boy to come up with that translation, though it was a good one. It was also a very responsible one, seeing as he'd been trying to point out to Sam that the boy's actions had consequences. Scratching his head, he answered slowly, "That's a good way of putting it, boy. But it would take a lot more people not breathing to stop the flowers. The right idea, though, Sam."

Sighing, Sam shook his head, strawberry-blond curls bouncing. "How can my breathing help a flower breath, Gaffer?"

"That's a lesson for another day, Sammy-boy." Gaffer grinned, putting a firm hand behind the seven-year-old's back and guiding him up the road towards Number Three. "It's enough to know that without you, the flowers would die. You've got to be real good to them flowers, son. It's also means that anything else you do also changes things. Be careful what you do or say, boy... it could help... or hurt." He nodded.

Young Sam thought carefully at that, mulling it over. He took his father's hand, letting himself be led as he thought, trusting the older Hobbit not to let him bump into anything or trip. Wanting to ask many more questions, the youngster hesitated, wanting also to be able to answer other questions his father would surely fire at him if he started asking anything. Thus, he thought over everything once more.

As he opened his mouth to finally ask his question, a friendly voice called over. "Sam! Gaffer!"

"Frodo!" It was more a breath of delight than a comment and the little boy broke away from his father, running to hug his friend. Laughing, the boy met the teen's open arms with an enthusiastic fling of his body. "Frodo, you came!"

The nineteen-year-old swung the boy up into his arms, spinning once just to hear the delighted squeal from the seven-year-old. "Of course I came. I said I would, did I not?" He settled his forehead against Sam's, eyes closing, sighing happily. "Missed you, Sam."

Sam nodded. "I missed you, too, Frodo. Did you like Buckland?"

A chuckle escaped the older Hobbit and he put down the rather heavy child. "Of course I liked Buckland. I used to live there when I was small. My cousin, Meriadoc, is getting big, too. He's five now."

"He ate your birthday cake."

Confusion registered in Frodo's large, blue eyes. "What?" He thought back then laughed. "Oh, that! I'm now upset. You gave me an even better cake, Sam. So, I'm glad Merry had the first one. What's gone on since I left?"

The little boy grabbed his friend's hand, dragging him towards Gaffer, chattering happily. "Oh, you've been gone for ever so long, Frodo. Months and months... forever!"

"It's only been a season, Sam," Frodo laughed.

With a nod, as if agreeing that three months were forever, Sam continued talking. "Uh huh. Rosie's got a new brother. He's called Nick because that mean doctor came to the birth and said he'd got there in the nick of time... just as the baby was born."

As Lily Cotton had been about to deliver when Frodo'd left, he'd expected such a report so wasn't surprised. What did surprise him was that the doctor had attended rather than the midwife. The teen met Gaffer's eyes, frowning his question over the oblivious child's head. Gaffer shook his head once, with a frown of his own. With a sigh of regret and sadness, the lad looked back down at Sam. He'd miss that gentle Hobbit; she'd been sick for some time, but everyone had so hoped she'd recover.

"And is Nick his only name, Sam?" Frodo held out a hand for Gaffer to shake the turned his full attention to his little friend... who seemed to have grown a bit in the months Frodo had been with his cousins, the Brandybucks.

Sam shook his head. "No... it's... Bowman... I think." He looked to his father for confirmation and smiled as he received it. "Bowman Cotton. But he likes Nick, I think."

The teen laughed and nodded. "Right. Nick it is." A sudden frown crossed the dark-haired Hobbit's face. He'd only just become aware of how very wet the blond was. "You're soaked, Sam! Did you fall into the river?" He rather doubted Sam would have, as the child couldn't swim and neither could his father, so it would have been out right stupidity to bring the child to the river's edge.

"No. I was learning how to wrinkle water in the pool." Sam turned and pointed back the way they'd come, frowning since he couldn't see the little pool of water he'd been allowed to play in. "If you touch water, it wrinkles, because everything you do makes something else happen."

A sigh emerged from Gaffer and the older Hobbit smiled, proud that his son had remembered the lesson so well.

Squatting, Frodo suddenly hugged Sam. "I'll remember that, Sam Gamgee. That's a gem."

He was confused. Scratching his head in imitation of his father, Sam frowned. "Huh? What's a gem? Where?" He glanced around, as if someone would produce this object for him to see.

Frodo laughed and hugged him again. "Oh, you look so serious, Sam! What you said was a gem: a gem of wisdom. It's something everyone should know and remember."

"Oh... but I didn't say it! Gaffer did." Sam smiled and looked towards his father, sharing the praise he felt he'd received from his friend. He was rewarded with an approving nod from Gaffer, who liked to have his children honest above many another trait.

A bit worse for wear, Frodo let go of the child and stood, tossing a smile at Gaffer. His entire face lit up, large blue eyes merry and welcoming. Gaffer drew in a sharp breath and instinctively reached for Sam, though he couldn't have said why he was so frightened for the boy suddenly. The teen's fading smile and confused look stopped the older Hobbit, who flushed at his obvious withdrawal from him.

"It's time to be going home, Samwise, my boy. Are you intending to walk Master Frodo home?" It was only a small thing, but it was an attempt to make it up to Frodo. After all, the lad got more than enough whispers about his odd looks. He didn't need such reactions from his uncle's servant.

Sam latched tightly to Frodo's side. "Gonna walk Frodo home, Gaffer. Be back later." The seven-year-old started dragging his friend off, happily pointing out just which gardens had changed since they'd last seen one another.

Worried still, Gaffer felt suddenly old as his son walked off with the teenager. What had he seen in Frodo's face that had scared him so much? He couldn't tell, not yet, but he knew, deep down somehow, that it would be something that could change everything. He shuddered and headed into Number Three Bagshot Row. "I'm home, Bell."

The Hobbit woman leaned backwards into the kitchen doorway, frowning softly. "Alone? Ah..." she smiled at her husband and approached, drying her hands on her ever-present apron. Lifting her lips for her kiss, Bell Gamgee twined fingers with the gardener. "So, Frodo's come home from Buckland, has he? This'll be Sam's first walk down that road alone. He'll need to come back to us tonight."

"And how long will he come back to us? How long before he's spending nights... out?" The Hobbit's voice was sad, tired. He'd never had these worries with his other children, even Daisy, who was a teenager herself and casting sly glances towards the boys already. Why did he suddenly have worries about Samwise, then?

Bell slipped into a chair, guiding her husband down with her to sit close by. "Are you worrying again, Hamfast Gamgee? All right, out with it. What happened that makes you think Sam's going to go ripping up through the night and not come home? He's only got a few close friends, and most don't even live around here, Hamfast. Fredigar's from over in Eastfarthing, and Folco's from nearer Tookland than Hobbiton. Tolman lives in town, yes, but I hardly think he's going to be up to carousing all night. Meriadoc Brandybuck is younger and lives in Buckland, fifty miles east. The only one left to worry about is..." Her eyes widened and she shook her head, her words dying off with a soft, "No..."

The old gardener lifted his face, his eyes solemn. He didn't answer, but some silent sort of communication seemed to go between the pair. He began to nod as his wife started shaking her head in growing distress.

"No, Ham, he wouldn't. How could you even think it?" She stood, worrying her hands in her apron, beginning to pace. "Yes, he's a bit odd, Hamfast, but he's a good lad." She whirled around. "Please, tell me I've misunderstood. You're thinking since he's so much older, Frodo Baggins'll lead Sam to avoiding his work in favor of stories and books, right?" She actually sounded hopeful, though her eyes held fear and guilt. How could I even think such things about Frodo?

The Gaffer leaned forward and caught one of the worried Hobbit woman's hands. He gently tugged her over, seating her on his lap, and slipped his arms securely around her. Softly, in case any of the children might over hear from another room, he whispered, "I don't think Master Frodo'll do anything to hurt Sam intentionally, Bell. Truth, now, I don't. Master Frodo's a good hearted lad and loves Sam dearly." He didn't need to finish.

Turning, lying her head on his shoulder, Bell sighed. "But he'll do it unintentionally, right? You're afraid that Frodo's stories are more... tempting than they should be? That he'll... teach Sam things he shouldn't?" She lifted her head, suddenly fierce. "No! Ham, Frodo'd never hurt Sam that way. Sam's just a child; he's twelve years younger than Frodo!"

Her husband lay a silencing finger over her lips. "Bell, I'm not thinking Master Frodo'll try anything... odd with Sam... at least not like that. And I'm not even saying Frodo's interested in trying to, either. I'm saying..." He sighed and looked her in the eyes. "I'm saying he has his uncle's eyes."

Bell frowned, her eyes troubled.

"You remember, then... how drawn everyone was to those tales of Dwarves and mountains... how Bilbo's eyes would draw you into the story as if you were really there. You remember as well as I do how even I dreamed about adventure... fifteen years old and willing to throw everything away if he'd he'd only offer to take me with him." Gaffer lay his forehead against Bell's, his eyes misting with tears from long ago. "How I wasn't the only fool that nearly got in serious trouble because of a bunch of foolish stories."

She seemed to curl in on herself, leaning against her husband but seeming a bit withdrawn. "I... I remember, Ham." She sighed and met his eyes, wiping away the moisture for him, years of marriage easing the pain of being left behind while Hamfast had run extra wild all those years ago. "I remember how you talked about leaving the Shire How you dreamed and planned and grew morose as the years passed without any of those adventures you craved... and how I comforted you and we needed to be married not two months later for our foolishness." She sighed and touched his lips.

"Bell..."

Bell shook her head, smiling softly, a bittersweet quality about her expression. "No, Ham, I know you love me. I know you always have. You don't need to think I don't, but I know also that sometimes you wonder what would have happened if Bilbo'd asked you to go away. Sometimes I see you looking to the hills and towards Bag End and wondering if it could have been yours if things had worked differently."

His head shooting up, eyes widening, Gaffer shook his head in denial. "I've no desire for Mister Bilbo's home, Bell. I don't have a need for such trappings." He touched her cheek. "I've built this hole myself..."

Laughing, Bell kissed him. "I know that, Hamfast Gamgee. I know you love this hole and have worked hard to keep it up." She touched his cheek again. "I just sometimes wonder if maybe you long for an easier life than this one you have with me."

"Never!" The word was almost anguished and louder than they'd intended. He hugged Bell fiercely to him, almost shivering at the thought of not loving her, of losing her. "I love you, beautiful Bell Gamgee. I have since we were small. I never needed Bilbo's wealth and adventures. I was... bewitched with his stories."

The declaration drew a ragged sob of relief from Bell and she hugged him just as fiercely. It was long kisses and several minutes later that she drew away. "And you find Frodo just as bewitching, Ham? Are... are you afraid Sam might be tempted to... adventures with the boy?" She lifted his face, watching the pained flush, and nodded. "It's all right, my lover, my love. I understand the draw. I never, ever though such things about Frodo Baggins, but I can feel that draw sometimes when I look at those eyes." She hesitated then continued in a softer voice "we lasses felt the same thing when lost in Bilbo's eyes, in his stories, Ham. We, too, would have gotten up to any adventure if he'd merely asked us."

Gaffer drew in a long breath. "Did you? Really?" He blinked, stunned to find that his wife had at one time been attracted to wandering. "So, if we keep an eye on Sam, we can stop it before it happens... before Sam makes a fool of himself over his future master. After all, he'll be taking over up to Bag End when I retire, unless Bilbo or Frodo don't like his work as much as I think they do."

Bell stood slowly, kissing her husband a last time. "We'll watch them, Hamfast. Things will work as they are meant to. And... and if he loses his head to Frodo, we'll find a way to quiet it so no one thinks him odd. Perhaps..." she sighed and forced herself to say it, "Perhaps even send him to Halfred in Overhill. Your brother's far enough away to make things quiet down quickly."

The couple in the kitchen had no idea they'd been overheard in part. Halfred, second son of the family, had come in, intent on getting a quick snack then going back out to work. He's stopped at the mention of Bilbo and Frodo's names, though it wasn't until Bell spoke that he actually caught what was being said. Eyes widening, the eighteen-year-old pushed himself back against the wall, holding his breath. Lose his head to Frodo? Send him away to Overhill? Quiet things down? No! He covered his mouth, feeling incredibly sick all of a sudden. It's happened... they... they see it, too... As quietly as possible, the teen stumbled from the hole, disgust and fear warring inside. He threw a glare full of hate towards the hill and Bag End. It's your fault... all your fault, Frodo Baggins! It's wrong and you did it... and I won't rest until you regret even coming to Hobbiton with your hurtful, twisted ways. He ran off to his job, not really caring if he were late, but just to have something to busy his hands while he plotted.
Chapter 15. Riddles In The Dark by Sam
Author's Notes:
Sam and Frodo deal with two very different types of fear.
With A final hug, Sam stepped back from his friend's arms and smiled up at the older Hobbit. His gray-green eyes were happy and he was practically bouncing in his excitement. "Gaffer never let me walk home alone before, Frodo." He waved to Bilbo merrily but his attention was mainly on the dark haired Hobbit before him. "Now I'm really growing up, right?"

Frodo laughed softly and hugged the boy quickly. "Of course you're growing up, Sam. You're seven, after all, and it's time you were allowed to walk between our houses without an adult." He hugged another time, laughing as Sam chuckled and pulled back.

Sounding like his father, Sam wagged a semi-stern finger at Frodo. "Now, Master Frodo, if you keep that up, I'll never be getting home, sir."

Delighted laughter rang out from the older pair and Sam chuckled again. The three headed out the faded green door, Bilbo frowning as the latch failed to catch twice before finally clicking. His ward never noticed as he kept his attention on the child. Sam shrugged, grinning, and looked up at his employers.

"Time to go, I suppose..." There was a sudden longing in the lad's voice.

Slipping his hand to caress Sam's strawberry-blond curls, Frodo sighed. "Yes, I'll be here tomorrow, though, Sam. I'll not be going back to Buckland for a while more."

Bilbo smiled benignly at the pair, pleased that their friendship had lasted through everything the past seven years had thrown in their way. It wasn't easy to find someone to be so close with, especially as quickly and in such an odd way as Frodo and Sam had; when a body did find that kind of lasting friendship, it wasn't always easy for others to understand it. The elderly Hobbit was pleased that Sam's family supported the odd friendship as much as he did: that helped.

Finally, unable to stay longer, even under the pretext of saying goodnight, the little Hobbit child turned and headed down the path towards his own home at Number Three Bagshot Row. He walked with a spirited step, humming a little walking song he'd heard Bilbo sing on occasion. The darkening sky was still rather bright with the full, round moon and hundreds of twinkling stars peeping out of the heavens. Insects hummed and chirruped happily in their peaceful abodes; all seemed right with the world.

The seven-year-old was proud that he was finally old enough to go home by himself. He disappeared around the bend with a final wave to the two still watching.




"He'll be fine, lad; there's nothing to threaten the boy in the Shire."

Frodo turned worried, ethereal eyes on his adopted uncle, biting his full lip. "I... I know, Bilbo, but... well... it's Sam. He's just a child..."

Chuckling, the elder Hobbit gestured for his nephew to follow. He didn't speak, continuing to chuckle, as he led the nineteen-year-old through comfortable, rounded rooms. They passed wooden furniture and woven rugs, hand decorated knick-knacks and elegantly painted portraits. The pair ended the short journey through the winding halls in the well-lit parlor.

"Frodo, what do you see here?"

Glancing around the warm, cozy room, the teen tried to puzzle out just what Bilbo was at. He knew the older Hobbit was fond of giving him odd riddles to test his mental abilities, but Frodo wasn't in the mood for mind-games; he was worried about young Samwise. Impatient, the younger Hobbit shook his head, dark curls bouncing, and turned frustrated blue eyes on his relative.

"I only see the sitting room, Bilbo. It has comfortable chairs, a rug, a fireplace, some portraits..."

Bilbo's nodding stopped the younger Hobbit's list. "Well, my lad, when you see it, you'll know. Keep looking. What you find will help your Sam someday, I'd wager." Smiling gently, Bilbo slowly left his cousin in the sitting room, moving on to the well-stocked pantry.

Confused, Frodo glanced around once more. Help Sam? How? What? What could possibly be in this room that might help Sam? Still with the puzzle in his thoughts, forgetting to worry for his friend, the nineteen-year-old took up a branch of candles and slowly headed down the hallway lining the outer edges of the hole.




Excitement filled the little Hobbit child. Wide green-gray eyes, never still, took in every detail of rolling hill and lone trees. The familiar sights were now shrouded in shadow and mystery, and Sam felt as if he were on one of the story adventures Frodo and Bilbo were always relaying to him. As Sam had not even left the familiar road to his own hole, he was merely imagining that he'd taken the first step in a terrible adventure. This was fun.

As he passed the gate to the party Field, however, flashes of memories pervaded the child's mind. Here was where Frodo had fallen during that hailstorm. There was where his father had helped him look for a blue flower that had never been there. Over there was the bathing room window where a dead cat had hung at Frodo's birthday party.

A sudden sick terror gripped the child and he felt his breath speed up. Panting, trembling, all the horror of that image swept over him, and Sam was frozen in his tracks. All he could do was stand and stare, shaking, at the darkened window.

Was it... still there?

The mind of a child rarely rationalized anything when faced with such dread. He never considered that the cat would hardly have been left there the next day, let alone two years later. Something of morbid curiosity suddenly seized the boy and he found himself slowly, step by wavering step, heading for the darkened bathing room window, just to verify what he didn't even wish to encounter ever again.

Before reaching the window, light came into the room. Sam froze. Relief swept over him as he registered no cat, dead or otherwise, hanging silhouetted in the now lighted window. Nearly sinking to the ground in relief, the lad smiled; then the infamous curiosity common to most Hobbits and children seized him, and Sam found himself drawn to the window. Who could be in there?

Slowly squatting to peek inside, Sam smiled when he discovered his friend, Frodo, placing a lit candelabra on the sturdy table by the door. The older Hobbit started to unbutton his vest, moving as if in deep thought. With a happy, relieved smile, Sam backed away from the window, feeling safe once more.

It was all he could do not to scream when a firm hand clamped down on his shoulder, whirling him around forcefully. A full minute passed before the child registered that his brother, Halfred, was scolding him in a harsh whisper. The seven-year-old frowned, hanging his head, as the angry eighteen-year-old threatened to tell their Gaffer that Sam had been spying in windows.

"And what would Mister Bilbo say to find one of his gardeners peeping in the hole like a burglar from up in Bree, huh? I can't believe you'd stoop to such a pass, Samwise Gamgee, spying on your betters! Why..."

"I didn't spy, Halfred!" Adamant on defending himself, Sam shook his head, strawberry curls swishing wildly across his face. "I didn't!" He didn't think to keep his own voice down and the familiar tone brought Frodo rushing to open the window.

"Sam? Halfred?" The teenager, torso nude and glowing a gentle pale tone in the candle-light, was surprised to see these two right outside his bathing room. "What's happened? Is Sam hurt?" Frodo slipped a hand through the round window, wanting to reassure himself that the boy was unharmed.

The little boy instantly turned to his friend and long-time protector. His distress was evident as he hurried to meet Frodo's questing hand, chubby calloused fingers meshing without thought with slender graceful ones. Both seemed to take comfort from the contact. Worried blue eyes met upset green ones and Sam seemed to be relieved by what he saw there.

"I promise I wasn't spying, Frodo. I... I wanted to see if... the cat was still here."

"Cat? What cat?" Halfred's voice cut through their private communion. "Master Frodo doesn't own a cat, Samwise."

Somehow, from his deep understanding of little Sam, Frodo knew just what the seven-year-old referred to. He tore his eyes from the boy's to meet the hostile green glare of the other teen. "Sam is talking about the dead cat someone hung in my window during my birthday party two years ago... a stupid, sick prank which scared the wrong Hobbit. Poor Sam couldn't calm down for a long time, Halfred Gamgee." He still privately harbored bitter feelings about the incident, convinced that in his dislike for the richer Hobbit, Halfred himself had been the perpetrator of the cruel joke gone wrong.

Halfred's reaction did nothing to disabuse the notion either.

"Oh, that! That was two years ago, Samwise. Why would anyone leave a dead cat in their window that long? Use your brain, Slow Top, and leave the master to his bath! Unless you're looking to see something else you shouldn't."

Frodo didn't understand why he felt himself flush at the words. After all, Halfred was right. If Sam looked in windows, he might see something more than a dead cat or even his older friend preparing for a bath. He might see things a bit harder and less comfortable to explain. "Sam, you're all right?"

The boy nodded, eyes wide.

"Good. You'll be needed at home. I'll be here tomorrow, and I'll expect you on time for work, right?" Frodo smiled to ease the harsh tone of his words. He didn't want Sam in trouble for whatever Halfred thought he might be doing, so added, "The cat's long gone, though I thank you for checking. That was brave. You go on home and we'll forget this happened."

As Sam nodded, withdrawing his fingers from Frodo's, Halfred frowned. "All right. If you say so, Master Frodo, we'll forget it. But if I catch you peeping in windows again, Samwise Gamgee, I'll let the Gaffer know. Then you'll get what for. You go on home now, and don't go dawdling along the way, hear?"

The boy threw a last glance at Frodo, nodded obediently to his brother, then turned and quickly walked towards his own hole, not even looking back. He made it there quickly, panting as he fumbled the door open and slipped into the small hallway. Catching his breath and heading down the hall to the larger room he shared with his brothers, the boy missed entirely the puzzled frown his mother shot after him as she stood in the doorway to the small storage room... once used as an infant room.




Frodo looked through the wide, circular window at Halfred, still standing there with a faintly resehrn
Chapter 16. Mixed Perceptions by Sam
Author's Notes:
Halfred finally confronts Frodo concerning Sam, but both view the situation differently.
"What's wrong, Sammy-boy?" Gaffer looked at his youngest son with amused eyes.

The younger Hobbit had been distracted all morning. Oh, he was doing his work properly, but the boy was slow, occasionally even stopping as if in deep thought. At the rate the seven-year-old was working, his chores wouldn't get done until the following day. In fact, he was so distracted Gaffer had to ask his question twice more.

Finally, Sam looked up. "What? Gaffer did you call me?"

By now more exasperated than amused, the older Hobbit shook his head, frowning. "I was wondering what's making you so slow, boy. What do you have on the brain?"

"I..." the child paused, almost hesitant to tell his problem to his father. With a sigh, he spoke, prompted by the older Hobbit's continued frowning. "I was wondering what I could get Frodo for my birthday, Gaffer."

Blinking in astonishment, Hamfast Gamgee, the Gaffer to most, nearly sat down. He had certainly not expected such a silly problem to be bothering the boy. With a sound more growl than anything, Gaffer lightly cuffed the boy upside the back of his head. "Birthday presents? Why, Samwise Gamgee, I'd think you had rocks in your head. Keep your mind on your work and leave such silly matters for after supper." He shook his head, frowning severely at the child. "It's not as if Master Frodo cares much what a little boy gives him, any way. He might not even show up to your party."

Sam turned pained eyes to his father. "Of course he'll show, Gaffer! Frodo's my best friend in all the world. He'll come and I want to give him such a nice gift, only I haven't anything to give him."

"Back to work, boy, or you won't need to be giving nobody any gifts, birthday or otherwise."

Satisfied that he'd put an end to the uncomfortable discussion, Gaffer moved off to clip the grass around the hole's large tree. His son watched him with troubled eyes. He was supposed to be weeding the flower garden, but the child didn't make a single move, hands buried gently in the good soft earth.

He was troubled by his father's odd threat. Had he done something wrong? Why would Gaffer be so upset about Frodo coming to his birthday party next week? Had... had maybe Frodo done something wrong? No! Sam shook his head to clear such thoughts. Most like, Halfred had mentioned the window incident from two nights previously. That was unfair, since his brother has said he wouldn't tell on Sam.

With a frown to match his father's gloomy expression, the boy threw himself completely into his work, actually managing to finish the garden by luncheon. He didn't speak as the older Hobbit came to collect his tools, inspecting the cleaned metal and wood. Still quiet, Sam headed down the road to his own home, following his father as he'd done for years. He was turning the question over in his mind, trying to determine how to confront Halfred, or at least his father.

At the hole he got his opportunity.

Halfred had made it home just a moment before Sam, so he was already seated at their old, well-worn table. None of the other children were present and Gaffer had gone into the back to check on Bell, who hadn't been feeling well that morning. The younger Hobbit slowly slid into the seat next to his older brother. After a short pause, staring up at the eighteen-year-old, Sam finally spoke, softly.

"Did you tell Gaffer about the window?"

"Did I... what?" The teen looked down at his little brother with confusion. "What happened to the window?" Quickly, Halfred scanned the greased-paper windows with critical green eyes, seeing nothing amiss. "Speak up, Samwise... what'd you do?" His voice was as soft as the seven-year-old's to prevent their father from over-hearing.

Sam looked up, his own green-gray eyes worried. "I didn't do anything. I meant the other night, Halfred."

Looking puzzled, then surprised, the older Hobbit shook his head, rolling his eyes. "That? No, I didn't tell, silly." He frowned down at the little Hobbit lad, reaching over to ruffle the boy's strawberry-blond curls. "But I meant what I said, Samwise. I catch you peeping and I will tell." He was suddenly curious about his brother's question. "Why?"

The lad shuffled his feet, nervous for a moment. Just as quickly, he determined that Halfred might be able to help him. With a pleading look in his eyes, Sam peered up at his brother, hopeful. As he opened his mouth to speak, his father's entrance interrupted him; Sam snapped his mouth shut, looking down at his soup bowl and stirring the contents absently.

The Gaffer slipped into his seat, ignoring Halfred's frown and Sam's preoccupation. He was too wrapped up with his own thoughts and the necessity of eating quickly in order to get back to work. The garden could use a bit of tending beyond Sam's knowledge, and the older Hobbit was puzzling over how to fit the training into his busy schedule.

As Sam was going slowly, deep in his dilemma, his father finished eating first. With a frown, he stood and shook his head in disapproval. "Finish up and follow me, Samwise. I'll be looking for you so don't linger." With another frown, the Hobbit left the hole at a fast pace.

Sam didn't waste the sudden opportunity. Quickly, he threw a hand out to grip his brother's larger, muscular arm, halting the older boy's attempt to leave. "Halfred, wait. I need help and Gaffer doesn't understand."

A sudden, unexplained fear flashed across the teen's eyes, but was gone so quickly, it could have been misread. He frowned, tugging his arm from Sam's surprisingly strong grip, crossing his arms almost as if in self-defense. With a gruff rasp, he growled out, "What don't he understand that I do, Samwise?"

"Frodo..."

Halfred backed up a step, as if slapped. His eyes held wariness, his frown severe. "Why would I know more about Master Frodo than the Gaffer, boy? It's not as if I spend time with him." He searched Sam's eyes, trying to fathom what the boy had figured out... what he knew.

"I can't tell Gaffer; he already yelled at me. Said... said I was..." he faltered into a deep sigh, eyes falling to his grubby feet as he shuffled them along the wooden chair rung. Slowly, with a hint of bewilderment in his voice, the child lifted his eyes and started again, "He acted like I was stupid, Halfred, and like Frodo was mean."

Eyes widening, Halfred forgot his own distress to immediately throw himself at his brother's side, kneeling by the lad's chair. "What? What's Frodo done to you, Samwise? Tell me... I promise I won't be angry with you. Just tell me?" He caressed his brother's thigh, desperate to wipe away the misery he saw in those deep green-gray eyes, to comfort his brother in whatever trial he was going through. Mentally, he was cursing the boy's master, determining the best way to get Sam away from Frodo for good.

"Frodo didn't do anything, Halfred..."

The soft voice surprised him; it hadn't been the response he'd expected. With a frown, confusion in his eyes, the eighteen-year-old shook his head, petting his brother's leg again. "Nothing? Then..." his petting stopped and Halfred drew in a shaky breath. "Sammy, are you... are you troubled by... uh... thoughts... feelings that... you don't understand? That Gaffer says is wrong?" No! Don't let it be... please... not Sam... and especially not Frodo! His thoughts were desperate concerning his little brother and the boy's young master.

Sam tilted his head. "I... I think so, Halfred. I... Gaffer said he wouldn't... but I want him to..."

Bowing his head, hand limp on his brother's chubby leg, the teen drew a deep, shaky breath, trying to gain control of the mixed emotions, the disgust and disappointment and anger. Finally, softly, he whispered, "Sam... has Frodo offered to... uh... touch you?"

"Touch me?" That was a confusing question. "Um... not lately." His voice held the hint of the warring questions in his little mind.

Lifting his head, Halfred looked directly at the seven-year-old. "But he has before? Touched you?"

Suddenly, Sam's smile shone forth and he laughed. "Of course. Frodo and me touch all the time, Halfred. We like touching."

The words, innocently spoken, drove a shaft of pain through the older boy's heart. He felt as if he'd been punched in the stomach. Slowly, Halfred withdrew his hand, equally slowly stood up. Placing the gentlest of caresses on his baby brother's curls, the teen's mind whirled with ways to get even with Frodo for his sick, twisted ways. "I see, Sammy."

"You..." Sam tilted his head, frowning in confusion. "You're not mad, right? You said you wouldn't be. And I need to get him a birthday present for my birthday, but Gaffer says Frodo's not coming to my party, Halfred, and I just know he'll be there! And I want him to come and get a present... and it has to be a good present." He finally stopped, mildly surprised, after the fact, that he'd been allowed to ramble. Confused, the boy looked up at his brother's face.

What he saw was pain and determination. Halfred kept his hand absently on Sam's curls, thinking, turning everything over in his head. He didn't want his brother hurt... hurt anymore than he already was, that is. Self-disgust welled up at how he'd failed to protect his brother, failed to stop Frodo from hurting him.

The uneasy silence alerted the teen to the fact that his brother was waiting for a reply. Softly, opening his pained eyes, Halfred spoke. "I'm not angry at you, Sammy. I couldn't be angry at you. A present for Frodo?" The bile rose in his throat at the idea that Sam would give anything to such a twisted freak as his master, but he couldn't let Sam see such emotions. The little boy wouldn't understand them. "A present... how about you make him something... like a vase for the flowers you keep picking for him? I can show you how." The idea of doing anything for Frodo twisted his gut, though, and his offer sounded less than enthusiastic. Halfred slid into his seat once more.

Something in his voice, his manner, alerted Sam to his brother's changed mood. Looking at the teen, the little boy grew worried. "Gaffer wasn't happy when I said I wanted a present for Frodo, and you aren't, either. Why? What's wrong, Halfred? What'd I do?" Sliding from his own worn chair, the seven-year-old moved to his brother's chair and climbed into Halfred's lap. He looked up at the older Hobbit with worried eyes, the gray dimming in the green that seemed to mark Sam's emotions. Sam hugged Halfred, hard.

With a fierce groan, Halfred hugged his brother back, determination solidifying in his mind. He wouldn't let Frodo hurt Sam anymore. He'd confront the other teen, and if that didn't work... he'd tell Gaffer or Bilbo what was going on. Bilbo might favor his ward, but, like Gaffer, he knew what was right for normal Hobbits and wouldn't approve of Frodo trying to twist Sam.

"You didn't do anything wrong, Sammy-boy. I promise you didn't. We... it's just not... totally normal for a teenager to be such good friends with a child, is all, love." He lifted the boy's round face, trying to smile into those worried, yet trusting eyes. A sudden jolt went through him.

How easy it would be to mold Sam any which way. He could tell him anything, do anything, and the boy would believe him, would trust him. The sudden power, and all of the responsibility it entailed, frightened Halfred like nothing else. Was that what Frodo had discovered? The power of molding a little boy into whatever he wanted him to be? Is that why, despite the guidance and opinions of the entire Shire, Frodo persisted in the strange friendship... for power? Bile rose again in the older Gamgee's throat.

He had to protect his trusting, na´ve little brother.

"Sam," Halfred's voice was a choked whisper. He had to clear his throat to try again, louder. "Sam, I'm going back up to Bag End with you this afternoon. I'd... I'd like to see how you've done with your work. Would... would you show me?" He'd have to send a message to his own employer to explain that his brother needed him or something, otherwise he'd be in trouble for skipping the afternoon's work.

Excitement filled the little boy and he wiggled around happily, throwing his chubby arms around the neck of his equally, properly chubby brother. "Oh! That'd be great, Halfred! I'll show you the gardens and everything! I've been weeding and stuff, and you'll be so proud, and it looks so pretty!" He smiled up at his brother in genuine delight. "Can we go now? I'm not hungry anymore, I promise."

The boy had hardly eaten anything, but the teen didn't argue. Instead, he picked up the bowl and drained it himself, feeling the warmth spread through him as he drank his brother's leftover lunch, not wanting it wasted. Grabbing an apple and some cheese, the older Hobbit wrapped the food in a kerchief, pocketing it for later. He knew Sam would get hungry, no matter what he said at the moment, and wanted to be prepared. Finally he nodded. "Okay, let me send Daisy with a message and we'll go right up."

The oldest of their sisters was outside hanging laundry. She turned when her youngest brother ran up to her, smiling with excitement. With a laugh, the fifteen-year-old resisted the urge to ruffle his curls, glancing over at her older brother instead. "Did you enjoy the soup?"

"Yeah," Sam nodded, grabbing her hand happily and swinging it slightly. "Very good. Halfred had two bowls, 'cause I'm not hungry. We're going to Bag End to see the garden."

Before Halfred could explain his provisions for the boy, Daisy pulled her hand loose and thrust both to her hips, frowning severely at the pair. "Samwise Gamgee! You get right back in there and eat your own soup! I didn't take and make that all morning for you to just turn your nose up at it. If mama were better, you'd be eating her soup, so I take it as a downright insult that you won't eat mine! And you, Halfred Gamgee!" She whirled around and jabbed his chest with a sharp finger, making the older Hobbit wince. "To let him get away with not eating; why, he'll be begging off the Bagginses not an hour from now, and we don't need Mister Bilbo thinking we can't feed our own. And..."

Halfred had dealt with Daisy's indignant attitude once before, when he'd gotten her freshly scrubbed floor covered in mud: the harangue would never end unless she was soothed immediately. Seeing Sam looking stunned and near tears, the eighteen-year-old decided to field the rest of his sister's wrath. "He's just excited 'bout me coming up for the afternoon, Daisy-love." His voice was as soothing as their mother's could be, and it was easy to see that Halfred could be extremely persuasive if he'd work at it more often. "Tell you what. I've got to get a message to my own master, but I'll march Sam right back here after and make sure he eats an entire bowl..." the teen left his sentence dangling, hoping.

She took his bait instantly.

"Oh, no you don't, Halfred Gamgee. I know you lads always stick together. You'll go deliver your message then sneak on up to Bag End, hoping I'll get so involved in Mama's chores, I won't remember. Not a bit of it, I tell you! You take Samwise in to eat now. I'll go take your message. Now, what should I be saying?" Her hands were on her ample hips and her frown was fierce.

Halfred didn't mind, but her question made him pause. What to say? It couldn't make his father look back for neglect or Bilbo Baggins for overworking his employees, and it couldn't alarm his own master into sending offers of help to Bell or Gaffer. Before Daisy could ask again, however, he finally came up with a reply, saying "My brother wanted my help with something and I said I would. I'll stop by tonight at sunset and do all of the clearing up, so he can still get out on time."

His sister nodded in appreciation. "Well, that'll soothe ruffled feathers, it will. But, Halfred, you should let Gaffer help Sam with whatever it is he's needing. He won't like it if he hears, you know."

"Come, Daisy-love, Sam's needing his lunch and we've got to get up to Bag End before he gets in trouble for dawdling. Gaffer already warned him once." Halfred's voice was gentle, pleading, persuasive.

With a deep intake of air, the Hobbit girl frowned, eyeing her older brother worriedly. Finally, she removed her apron and petted Sam's curls again. "Fine. I'm taking your message, but you go get him fed right now, Halfred." With another frown tossed over her shoulder, she took off at a reasonable pace for town.

The older Hobbit lad sighed. "Well, Sam. We've got to go in again and eat. This time, you have to be the one eating."

"I... I guess I could eat maybe... half a bowl?" He smiled up at his brother, hopefully, trying the timeless wheedling of children everywhere. It worked. As the brothers linked hands, the older one nodded and chuckled, confirming Sam's request.

It wasn't much later when both lads were at Bag End, approaching the garden the younger had weeded that very morning. With cautious eyes, senses heightened with his private fears, Halfred looked around, trying to spot Frodo. It seemed the dark-haired Hobbit was nowhere in sight. The red-haired Halfred did not relax his guard, though. Only half of his attention was on Sam's babble concerning his work.

The child finally noticed.

"Halfred? What's wrong?" Sam tugged his brother's hand, hoping he hadn't said something wrong.

Surprised, Halfred glanced down, frowning softly. He answered without thinking, "I was looking for Master Frodo, actually." When he realized what he'd said, Halfred wished he could kick himself. It's not like he wanted to encourage Frodo to hang around with the much younger Sam.

Sam didn't seem to notice the tone, however. He clapped his hands, smiling broadly. "Oh, yes! He's inside when I work, Halfred. But you can knock and he'll come outside. Then he can see what I've done, too." As if imparting a great secret, Sam put a hand up to his mouth and tugged his brother down to his level. His voice was more audible than he was aware, making it almost comical. "I'm not supposed to talk to Frodo or anything when I work. But if you call for him, I'll be allowed." Eager green-gray eyes shone up into plain green ones.

Glancing down into those trusting, hopeful eyes, the older Hobbit felt himself caving in. He softly shook his head, sighed, and knelt, drawing Sam into a fierce hug. Confused, but delighted by the unexpected contact, the boy hugged his brother back, arms tight around the older boy's neck. Finally, reluctantly, Halfred drew back. He studied his brother's shining face and sighed once more. "All right. I'll call him out to see your garden, Sam."

Bouncing in glee, clapping his hands, it was all Sam could do not to shout. Somehow, he knew that Gaffer wouldn't like Halfred calling Frodo out to see the garden, even if it was Halfred doing it. So, he kept his elation down to whispered squeaks of pleasure, practically bouncing after his older brother as the lad headed for the faded green door of Bag End.

Ensconced comfortably in his chair, Frodo was curled up and reading. The book was the genealogy of his own family, which was something of vast interest to Frodo. After all, Hobbits were extremely intrigued by family trees, or Longfather trees as they were known in the Shire, and wanted to know just how closely related to his guardian Bilbo he was. He was also looking for the direct link with Meriadoc Brandybuck, as he knew the young child was his cousin.

The room he sat in was comfortable and well lit, a round window letting in the summer sunshine. There were comfortable, deeply-cushioned chairs here and there around the area as well as a large, dark wood table in the center of the wall under the window. A great fireplace took up the wall directly opposite the table, though it wasn't lit due to the warm weather. Portraits of Bilbo's parents hung on the wall above the mantle, and other small nick-knacks were placed at eye-pleasing areas around the large room.

On a small side table next to Frodo sat a tray with the remains of a snack he'd been munching during his research. Next to that sat a small sheaf of papers, ink, and quill, some notes marking the otherwise pristine pages. An embroidered footstool was at the front of his chair, but the Hobbit wasn't using it. Instead, his feet were tucked up under him, his body skewed sideways on the velvet cushions, a soft pillow balanced behind his head on the very edge of the chair back.

Carefully turning a page, the dark-haired Hobbit reached out a thin, pale hand and snagged a piece of honeyed bread. As he brought it to his lips, he paused, puzzled at the sound he heard. Why would someone be knocking at the door? If there was trouble, Gaffer usually handled it, and he knew that Bilbo wasn't home at the moment. The elderly Hobbit had gone into town to talk to someone about arrangements for their September Birthday Party.

Lowering his hand, unaware of the honey dripping slowly onto Bilbo's prized genealogy book, Frodo blinked. There it was again, the knocking. Suddenly, he became aware of the destruction he'd inadvertently caused his adopted uncle's book. Jumping up, horrified, Frodo Baggins started to rush around, trying to clear the honey away without destroying more of the valuable family history. It was dribbled down his vest by the time he gave up. The nineteen-year-old was so flustered that it finally sunk in that he should answer the door after the fifth series of now impatient knocks.

As he rushed towards the door, he plainly heard a worried Sam crying out, "I know he's here! He was here this morning, Halfred. I promise he was."

Halfred? What would Halfred be doing knocking at Bag End? Frodo reached for the door, slowed now by his confusion. The other teen despised Frodo, so why would he want to come looking for him... unless he wanted to start something nasty again. The concern in Sam's voice only added to the sense that the older Gamgee boy was looking for trouble. Frodo sighed and opened the door with an attempted smile.

It failed miserably.

Sam launched himself into Frodo's arms in a quick hug, stepping back with an odd look on his face. "Frodo? You're covered in honey." He reached for Frodo's sticky hand as his brother shot the other teen a near poisonous glare.

"Um... what can I do for you, Halfred?" Frodo was suddenly extremely self-conscious, one thin hand laced with Sam's smaller, chubbier one, and the other clutching the half-destroyed family Longfather tree book. He was covered in honey and extremely rumpled from his inelegant, yet comfortable, posture when he'd been reading in the chair. Compared to him, Halfred looked near pristine, despite the work worn clothing he wore.

The eighteen-year-old shoved his hands into his pockets, moderating his glare to a less menacing frown, though his eyes blazed with fresh anger as his brother tangled fingers with the older Hobbit. "I came to ask you if you'd like to view the garden with me. Sam's very proud of what he's accomplished." The tone dared Frodo to assume Halfred himself wanted the rich Hobbit around.

Fortunately, Frodo saw the invitation for what it was: a chance for Halfred to watch his little brother around Frodo, to see how the interacted. It was simply one more stumbling block the Gamgee teen was willing to throw in the way of the unusual and extremely valuable friendship Frodo and Sam shared. He had no idea why Halfred has suddenly decided Frodo needed close watching, but there seemed to reasonable way to appease the other lad. After all, he'd never listen to any words of Frodo.

With a nod, the Baggin's teen backed up into the hole, inadvertently dragging Sam with him. "Come in, Halfred, Sam... I'll just clean up a bit and we'll go look at the garden." He paused, then added softly, "Sam why don't you show your brother where he can sit? There's food if you'd like some? Apples and cheese?"

As Sam opened his mouth to readily accept the offered food, his brother shook his head, frowning harder. "We've just eaten, Master Frodo, thank you, no. We'll just stand by the door and wait for you." Halfred's glare met Frodo's half smile, which died in the process.

Nodding silently, Frodo untangled his hand and headed quickly down the hallway, looking for a place to set the book until he could recopy the pages. He knew there was no salvaging it, after all, and so determined to replace the work as best he could. In his room, he changed quickly, using the cold water in his basin to wash off the sticky remnants of his snack.

Sam looked up at Halfred, raising his chubby fingers to his lips to lick off the honey. "It's good honey, Halfred. What's wrong? Are you mad 'cause Frodo took so long to answer the door? He likes to read and gets lost, like, in the books, if you know what I mean?"

Halfred noticed Sam's stickiness and sighed. "Come on, Samwise. We're going to clean you up in the kitchen. Show me where."

It was only as they moved off to that desired room when Halfred came to the horrified realization that he'd inadvertently encouraged Sam's intimate knowledge of the Baggins' hole. By asking Sam for directions, he was acknowledging that Sam would have such knowledge... and that was something he most certainly should not have. What a tangle! It would make it all the harder to convince Sam that he shouldn't be so free and familiar with Master Frodo's home.

In the kitchen, Sam let his brother scrub at his hands, a small frown of worry on his face. Finally, he couldn't hold back and spouted, "Halfred, please tell me?"

"Tell you what, Samwise?"

"Why are you mad at Frodo?" His voice was earnest, his eyes pleading. He wanted his brother to love his best friend as much as he did. Everyone should love his Frodo. Sam wasn't even aware of the overly possessive reference he'd started thinking of his master by.

Unaware of the thoughts in his brother's active mind, Halfred stopped scrubbing the small, chubby hands. He straightened, eyes worriedly studying the soft green-gray eyes of the child before him. The pain and confusion bothered him as much as the tone Sam had used. Slowly, sighing, Halfred replied, "I'm not mad at Frodo, Samwise. Not unless he's done something wrong. Has he?" His last question was soft, almost afraid of a positive answer.

Rather than instantly jumping to his friend's defense, the little boy thought about the question. It took several minutes more before he said, "I suppose he has, hasn't he?"

Halfred wanted to weep. He pulled his brother against him, hard, holding him tight. It was as if by holding him now, he could try to protect him from what had already happened. Kneeling, the older Hobbit fought angry, shamed tears as he hugged the child again. "It's okay, Sam. It's not your fault. He's..."

"What have I done wrong, Sam? Why are you upset?" The soft question came from the doorway, making the teenaged Gamgee lad jump in shock. The younger child, however, turned with a wide smile and tried to move towards his friend. He was prevented by his brother, causing the smile to slip into a troubled frown.

Frodo stood in the doorway, a puzzled, worried look on his delicate features. His ethereal blue eyes darted from Sam to Halfred, confusion evident. He had changed into clean clothing and had arrived at the door just as Halfred had mentioned him doing something wrong. That hadn't startled him, as Frodo and Halfred didn't get along. But to hear Sam confirm it was a stunner. His mind raced to try to figure out just what he'd done to Sam that would anger the other teen... and anger it certainly was; the intense emotion was very evident in Halfred's eyes. Sam suddenly seemed to recall the conversation topic himself, as he suddenly looked contrite.

Trying to figure out just what he'd been overhearing, Frodo's thoughts were interrupted by Sam's sad, serious voice. "You spilled honey on your book, Frodo. You've got to be more careful."

The sheer innocence of the remark froze both teens momentarily.

The older brunette finally responded. "Sam... you're right. I was careless with Bilbo's book. Thank you for pointing that out. I'll try to be more aware." It felt odd to say such a thing, but he knew that praising Sam for his corrections might go over better with the other teenager. Apparently, however, it did not soothe Halfred enough. Frodo met the other teen's venomous glare; intuitively, he knew the child shouldn't hear whatever his brother was about to say.

"Sam? Could you leave us for a moment? Halfred and I want to talk... please..."

Sam paused, looking uncertainly from his brother to his best friend. He opened his mouth then let it close, shoulders drooping. With a small nod, the seven-year-old shuffled out towards the front door, glancing back over his shoulder as he left.

Frodo and Halfred didn't look away from each other. When the pair was relatively sure they were alone, the older teen softly spoke. His voice was steady and cautious. "You don't agreed with Sam about what I've done wrong." It was a simple statement, but left a world of unspoken thoughts. The implication was that Frodo wanted Halfred to speak about what exactly he felt the nineteen-year-old had done.

With one quick step, the Hobbit lads were practically touching. "I don't like your attentions toward my little brother, Frodo Baggins. You already know that it's odd for someone so old to have a friend so much younger. There are questions considering your... actions towards Samwise."

Halfred didn't allow Frodo to defend himself, however, simply barreling on. "My brother is a child, Frodo. A small lad too young and innocent to see how you're hurting him." He stepped even closer, his hand pushing into Frodo's chest to emphasize his point.

Eyes widening in growing alarm, the brunette shook his head. "I haven't hurt Sam! I'd never hurt him... Halfred..." He stepped back as the other boy pushed him again in the chest. Indignation colored his next comments. "Hey! Halfred Gamgee, I love Sam. If you're mad about his broken leg or that crying fit he had..."

"You disgust me, Master Frodo. You really do." Halfred's voice had dropped to a soft, menacing tone. "His leg was an accident, and Gaffer was responsible for the breathing attack. Do you think I'd hold a stupid grudge over something so innocent? You must think I'm as stupid as a Took!" He pushed harder on Frodo's thin chest, growling with the last word.

"Leave me alone!" Frodo finally pushed back, sick of not knowing why Sam's brother hated him. "I haven't done anything to Sam to hurt him. Everything we've done together, Sam's enjoyed as much as I have. So you just stay out of it, Halfred." He headed for the doorway, then suddenly turned as something else hit him. "And watch what you say about the Tooks. They're my cousins. Now leave." Frodo gestured, hand shaking in his angry indignation.

With a glare, Halfred paused, fists clenching. He took one step forward, the intent to do violence rising high in the angry teen. The look of defiance on Frodo's face egged him on, but the redhead stopped himself. Something warned him that, despite his claims otherwise, Samwise might be listening; he wouldn't appear the bad guy because he beat up his brother's friend. Instead, he stepped back and shook his head in disgust. "I'll make sure Gaffer knows just what happens in this hole, Frodo Baggins. I'll go to Mister Bilbo, too. I don't care what you think; Sam's a good boy and deserves better than you for a friend."

Whirling on his heel, Halfred quickly left, his feet sounding harsh on the bare tiles. Without a word, he grabbed the seven-year-old in passing and guided him out. He refused to answer any of Sam's questions, either, merely depositing him, wordlessly, at Gaffer's side, the older Hobbit looking confused. Then, Halfred Gamgee headed down to road towards his own job, plotting his next move.

"What was that about, Samwise?" Gaffer frowned at his youngest boy. "And why were you brought here by Halfred?"

Sam shook his head, strawberry curls bouncing with the movement. "I... I don't know, Gaffer. Halfred was going to come see my work, but he fought with Frodo instead. Why's he so mad at Frodo?"

The older Hobbit shook his head and turned back to his trimming with a grunt. "Mind your own work, lad. Halfred's got his own reasons."

That was certainly not a satisfactory answer according to Sam, but what could he do? The boy turned to start picking up the clippings his father had left in the bush trimming, his mind troubling over the confrontation he hadn't expected.
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