Rosie put the plate down in front of Frodo gently, as though any loud noise would break him like a fragile porcelain figure. Certainly, Frodo looked delicate that morning; he was pale and drawn, with dark blue-black smudges under dull, vacant eyes. He gave Rosie a weak smile of thanks, and looked down at his plate with a small sigh. Rosie had loaded the plate with bacon, a boiled egg and brown toast cut into soldiers, with golden butter melting into them.
Frodo got to work on the bacon as Rosie served her husband and then herself, sitting down next to Sam. She looked radiant in the morning light streaming through the kitchen windows. Her cheeks were pink and her eyes bright. She was positively glowing. Tendrils of her rich chestnut hair curled around her shining face. She turned to Sam, who gazed at her fondly and leant over and kissed her on the cheek. Rosie beamed, lost in her love for Sam, who cleared his throat awkwardly and glanced pointedly across the table. Frodo hit the top of the egg with his teaspoon, staring resolutely at the yellow yolk running down its sides.
An awkward silence filled the kitchen of Bag End. "How long 'til the baby is due, Rosie?" Frodo enquired in an attempt to restore the conversation. Rosie turned her warm brown gaze on him.
"Not too long now Mr. Frodo," she replied happily, "about a month, the doctor said." Rosie rolled her eyes. "Sam's been fussing around me like a mother hen since I went to see her." Sam blushed and ducked his head, busying himself with a sip of tea. Frodo looked at his breakfast again as his stomach turned over.
Just last night he had considered telling Sam how he felt. But in the fresh light, his dreams of having that love returned had evaporated, leaving him feeling hollow. It would be selfish to do it, terribly selfish. Rosie and Sam had a baby on the way, and they were happy. Sam was happy, you could see it in his eyes. More than anything in the world, Frodo wished happiness upon the one who had done so much for him. He decided there and then that he would not face Sam on the matter. He must not. He would bear the burden, as he had bore one other, not long ago. Not that long ago...'If only...' Frodo's hand reached to his neck, longing to touch the chain, and feel the heavy, reassuring weight of –
"No!" he cried, startling Rosie and Sam almost out of their wits. They stared at him in alarm. "I-I'm sorry," Frodo whispered, his eyes brimming with tears that he blinked away. He had promised himself never to let them see him cry, lest he cause them even more worry. Frodo stood abruptly, scraping his chair back. "I'm going out for a little while. Thank you for breakfast." He hurried out of the kitchen and through to the hall. Sam followed him immediately; Frodo knew he would, and was ready for him.
"I'm sorry for being so very rude Sam." Frodo swirled his cloak around his shoulders, and turned to face his companion.
"Oh, Mr. Frodo, you weren't rude," protested Sam, taking a step closer to the elder Hobbit. "But we are worried about you. I can't remember the last time you hand a good night's sleep and..." he trailed off, staring at the floor and shuffling his feet nervously. Frodo hesitated, then reached out and clasped Sam's broad shoulder, trying to comfort him.
"I know Sam. But I shall be fine. All will be well soon, you'll see. I'm just going through a bad time, that's all. Please don't worry about me, you've far too much to worry about already."
Sam looked slightly hurt. "But I do worry." He stared intently at Frodo, who returned his gaze as steadily as he could. Sam lowered his voice. "I love you, you know."
A heavy weight settled on Frodo's heart. 'I know. And it pains me that you cannot love me in the same way you love Rosie. Sometimes it hurts so much it's like the pain is the only truth in my world, and nothing else is real.'
"Thank you Sam, I mean for everything. And I love you too." Frodo's voice cracked on that last sentence, and he turned his face away from Sam, gathering his strength. "Now," he continued bracingly, "I really must be going. I shall be back for dinner." He walked to the door and opened it, letting a fresh breeze in and stir his unruly hair. He smiled wanly back at Sam and stepped outside, closing the door behind him. "Goodbye, Mr. Frodo," Sam said softly. With a sigh, he turned away.
Frodo exhaled deeply as he paced along the road, hands stuffed in his pockets. Time had no meaning to him as he passed hole after hole, paying no heed to anyone else on the road, nor the hushed whispers that followed him. He made good time, and by noon he was where he wanted to be, walking alongside The Water, east of Bywater. Spotting a large willow tree he and Bilbo had been fond of, he approached it with a feeling bordering on reverence. As he reached out a shaking hand to touch the rough bark, he recalled all the happy memories that the tree brought back.
He had spent countless afternoons here with his uncle, reading, singing, talking and laughing. Frodo slid down the trunk and sat down on the springy moss. How he missed Bilbo. 'Perhaps if Bilbo were here, he could help me.' Frodo's eyes filled with tears again, and they spilled down his cheeks unchecked. 'How did this happen?' But he did not know. All he knew was that he loved Sam dearly, and that he longed for him. Sam could make his heart race with just a fleeting touch as he passed Frodo sugar for his tea. Sam's very presence could brighten Frodo's day. It always had. Even in those days of darkness, Sam was like the light of the Lady Galadriel's star-glass to Frodo, constantly making sure he did not fall into the deep void It had created. To be held by Sam, touched by him was what Frodo desired most in the world. To be kissed by him. Only that would complete him.
Sam thought no more of himself than a sturdy Hobbit, simply living his life as he should. But Frodo knew differently. During the Quest, he and Sam had shared everything. Frodo had seen beyond that typical Hobbit front, and looked into Sam's very soul. 'Or at least, I believe I did.' Sam had fit in with the Hobbit society immediately after his return. To him, integrating back into the community had been as easy as getting into his old gardening clothes again. Easier perhaps; the Quest had given Sam a new-found confidence and self-assurance.
Not so for Frodo. He had done everything he could to save his home, but it was not the same. Perhaps The Shire had not changed, but Frodo had. Snuffling, Frodo wiped the tears away and tried to compose himself. Sam loved him in one way at least, even if it wasn't the way Frodo wanted. The Water sped past him, and Frodo regarded it thoughtfully. As it flowed, it changed colour, turning greyish green and stormy. He watched with wide eyes as it widened before him; an expanse of turbulent waters rippling almost enticingly. Frodo gasped and the vision faded, leaving the river as it had been. He shivered and stood, huddling into his cloak. Glancing back at The Water every now and then, he began to make his way home. But still, the waves crashed upon the rocks and lapped at the shore...
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