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.
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..."
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?"
"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.
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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: