"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.
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.
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.
"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? 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."
"Well, they'll hit each other."
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.
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Chapter 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.