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 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.
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Chapter 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.