He was crying again.
Frodo stopped his story for the second time as Bell picked her infant son up and cuddled him. With a small, annoyed frown, the twelve-year-old Hobbit watched as the baby fussed. It had been a month since little Samwise Gamgee had been born. In that entire month, the baby had managed to get perhaps three-fourths of his mother's attention every time Frodo visited.
This time, Frodo'd been telling a story about Dwarves that Bilbo had begun telling at bedtime the night before. The older Hobbit hadn't finished, however, claiming that he'd tell a bit more each night so they could enjoy it longer. Thus, Frodo was making up bits to extend it for Bell. He'd been hoping to snare her attention with the action-packed story of how the Dwarves had gotten wild enough to climb the orchard trees at Farmer Maggot's down the long road from Bagshot Row.
It had seemed to be working, too. Bell had been asking all sorts of good questions as she rocked the baby in his cradle. Questions like "Didn't Farmer Maggot catch them?" and "Weren't they afraid to climb so high?"; not the normal stupid adult questions about why the Dwarves would even want to climb trees. But it hadn't lasted.
Twice now little Samwise had interrupted the story by wailing for attention. The first time, he'd been hungry. For the first time Bell had let Frodo stay while she fed the baby, but he still didn't understand it. She'd held the baby against her, draping the blanket over both of them so Frodo didn't see anything. He had no clue how the baby could eat like that but had been so flattered that Bell wanted him to keep telling the story that he decided to save his questions for later. Now it was the second time, and the baby kept fussing even in his mother's arms.
"What's wrong? Is he hungry again?" Frodo tried not to show his annoyance. After all, he loved Sam, but he was still an annoyed twelve-year-old.
Bell looked up. "He needs changing, Frodo. It's all right. Just let me..."
"Can I change him?" Frodo knelt up on the rug next to Bell, looking eager. "I won't hurt him. I can do it!"
He'd never actually seen them change Sam's diapers, but it couldn't be too hard, right? You slip off the old one, wrap the new one around him, and pin it while not sticking the baby with the pin. Easy as rolling down the hill.
"Well..." Bell looked at the fussy infant than at the eager child. "Oh, okay, but this first time I'll do it and you listen. I'll teach you. It'll be nice to have someone help me with him occasionally."
Frodo clapped and hurried over to the diaper piled toy chest. Sam had been moved into the small infant room just the day before. It was still crowded with furniture. As they had just enough room to sit on the rug with the baby, Frodo never complained. His room at Bag End was huge, but he had been learning the difference between rich and poor the past month.
He now knew you would hurt someone's feelings if you offered him money. Frodo was fortunate; he'd asked Bilbo to give money to the Gamgees instead of simply rushing over and offering his own pocket money. Bilbo had commended him for the goodness of his heart; he had also warned him that what Frodo wanted to do was help, but the Gamgees would see it as charity, and people didn't like charity. So, Frodo had asked how he could help them. Bilbo had assured the little boy that the best way to help them would be to not interfere. Treat them as equals, but don't try to change them.
So far it had worked. Even May had backed down and started being nice again, marginally. The only one in the family that didn't seem to like him, in fact, was Halfred Gamgee. That was a shame, since they were only one year apart in age; however, Frodo just let it go now having decided that there had to be at least one Gamgee he didn't like.
Grabbing a neatly folded diaper, Frodo hurried back to Bell and Samwise. "Here. And I got the powder, too." He smiled proudly. He knew that every time he picked Sam up, the infant smelled of the powder, so obviously she'd need it. He was delighted when Bell confirmed his thought.
"Thank you, Frodo. Now, you need to lay Samwise on a flat surface, so it's easier to get the diaper off and on. There are two pins..."
"I already know to be careful not to stick him," Frodo interrupted.
Bell nodded. "That's good. I was hoping you were that smart." She smiled gently at him and continued the lesson. "Unfasten the pins and hold the diaper over him, or you'll get wet."
Wide blue eyes turned incredulously up to Bell. "You mean Sam'd pee on me? Why? I thought he liked me."
A soft laugh met that question. "Oh, Frodo, of course he likes you. If he didn't, he'd cry when you tried to hold him. Babies pee when the air hits them down there. It's natural."
"Oh." Frodo was only half listening now. Sam would cry if he didn't like him? Like he cried every time Halfred tried to pick him up? A surge of malicious pleasure shot through the twelve-year-old. So, Sam liked him better than his own brother. Probably because he knew Halfred was a bully. Frodo couldn't resist planting a kiss on Sam's nose.
Bell laughed again. "You are an affectionate boy, aren't you, Frodo?" Now, get the other diaper ready to lie under him. If you want, you can always get it ready beforehand. Put a bit of powder on the new diaper... not too much!" She laughed as a thin cloud of the white powder surrounded Frodo.
"Whoa! That stuff's strong!"
"Yes. That's why we only use a little. It's to help keep him dry so he doesn't sweat on the diaper and get a rash. You know, like you sweat on your shirt. But you can change your shirt; Samwise can't change his own diaper, and we can't see if he's sweating can we?"
Frodo nodded and wiped the powder off the diaper. There was a fine layer left, and Bell approved it as just enough. The boy laid the diaper on the rug and turned to Bell. "Now what, Bell?"
The fond mother smiled. "Now get ready with cleaning cloths, in case he's messy. We'll want to wash him off, anyway, but you might need more than one if he's messy." She reached for the small covered jar of damp cleaning cloths Gaffer renewed for her each day.
Frodo beat her to it. "I'll wash him, okay? Please?" He was almost vibrating in excitement. "I won't hurt him, and he'll be ever so clean. Please?"
She watched him a long moment as he tried to will her to say yes. Finally, she nodded. "Okay. You may wash him. But, Frodo, it's a messy job and I'll be checking to see that you've got him totally clean." She passed over the jar of cloths.
With a soft sound of pleasure, Frodo moved to easily reach the infant. Sam's eyes watched him, wide and trusting. The boy cooed as he peeled the diaper back; it changed into a gagging sound. "Ew! He's really messy, Bell!"
"Want me to take over, Sweetie?"
"No!" Frodo modulated his tone when he saw the surprise on her face. "No, Bell. I can do this. I want to do this. Please?"
Bell nodded and ran a hand through his curls. "All right, Frodo. You clean him up."
The infant let his eyes rove over towards Bell then back to Frodo. He smiled slightly and the boy gasped. "Oh... Bell, he smiled at me. He really smiled at me." Frodo forgot all about cleaning the baby, instead cuddling him. As he got messy, though, the boy groaned. "Yuck! That's sick!" He turned a frown on the cooing baby. "Yuck, Sam."
Sam merely smiled back, cooing.
"Here, Frodo, take your shirt off. I'll wash it. You can clean Samwise up and then get a bath." Bell helped him pull his soiled shirt off, revealing how pale the boy really was. She frowned. "Frodo, do you ever play outside, Sweetie?"
"No." Frodo wasn't really paying attention. He was too busy trying to wipe off the baby's mess with one of the damp cloths. He had gotten through three before he realized Bell hadn't asked any more questions.
He looked up at her. "Bell? Why'd you ask if I play outside? You want me to go?"
Tilting her head, Bell sighed. "No, I don't want you to leave, Sweetie. I just wonder what you do when you're not with us." She handed him another cloth.
"Oh, that's easy. I wander around Bag End and look at things. Bilbo tells me stories. I like it here, even if there are too many people. Sam's here. And you, Bell." Frodo smiled at her then looked back at his task.
Bell ruffled his dark curls. "Do you do anything else up at Bag End, Sweetie? Or do you fill your days with wandering and stories?"
Frodo thought about that. He bit his lip as he used yet another cloth to wipe Sam's now very clean bottom. Bell gently stopped him as he looked up to speak. He blinked. "Uh... no... nothing else, really." He hung his head. Would Bell now hate him because he didn't do anything?
She hugged him, startling Frodo into widening his already large blue eyes. "Your cousin writes and reads, Frodo. Perhaps he'd teach you if you asked? He's getting older and someday he'll need someone to read to him."
"Why? Can't old people read?"
With a laugh, Bell hugged him. "Of course some can, if they knew before how to. But his eyes will stop working as well, Sweetie. If you learned how to read, you could read his books to him."
The boy sat thoughtfully. Finally, he asked, "Bell, do the Gamgees read?"
Bell touched the tip of his nose with a finger. "The Gamgees don't have time to read or to learn how, Frodo. But it's okay. We tell stories, instead of reading them." She put the jar away, piling the dirty diaper and cloths with Frodo's shirt. "Are you ready to finish with Samwise's diaper?
Frodo shook himself. "Yeah." He frowned, though, trying to puzzle out the entire working-versus-reading thing. Slowly, he reached to pull the diaper up for fastening. Unfortunately, Sam was quicker and a stream of pee hit the boy right in the arm and chest. "Ew! Sam! That's sick!"
Sam cooed happily, waving his chubby arms.
"My, you really do need a bath now, Frodo. Here, I'll finish up and you can try again another day. Get into the tub now." Bell smiled gently and deftly changed Sam once more, fastening the diaper and scooping up the messy clothing.
Pushing to his feet, Frodo made a disgusted face. "Yuck!" He gave a glare to Sam and trotted out, heading towards the large tub the Gamgees stored in the side yard. He worked to fill it with cool water from the stream, not wanting to take the time to heat buckets full. It was halfway through his hurried bath that the boy realized he hadn't even gotten to finish his Dwarf story.
When Frodo trailed back into the hole, having emptied and turned over the tub, he slipped into the baby's room once more. Gaffer was just leaving, with a frown, and stopped only long enough to nod his head in respect to the lad. In the room, Bell was rocking in her chair with Sam on her lap, singing softly. Frodo felt left out suddenly.
"Bell? You didn't wait for me." His tone was accusatory.
She looked up, not smiling. "But I wanted to. Sam wouldn't wait. He wanted a song." She gestured to the nearly sleeping infant.
Frodo looked down at him, studying the soft chubby features carefully. "Oh." He looked back at her with a soft sigh. "Okay, that's all right then. Sam shouldn't have to wait for me to bathe."
"When he gets older, he'll have more patience for you, Frodo. Come sit." She patted the stool next to her chair. It had been added to the furniture specifically for Frodo's use. He smiled and hurried over, sliding onto the small wooden stool.
"Will Sam be allowed to read?"
The woman looked up sharply. Frowning slightly, she studied the boy. She looked back down at her son. "Frodo. You do know I love you, right?"
"Uh huh. I love you, too. Sam too."
"Then don't be upset when I tell you this? Or try not to be upset?"
Frodo frowned. "What's wrong?" He sounded wary.
Bell sighed and cuddled Samwise, who had drifted off to sleep. "We, the Gaffer and I, think it's best if you didn't come over so often. You need to be with your cousin Bilbo more..."
"I thought you loved me!" Frodo jumped to his feet, tears of anger and confused hurt coming to his eyes.
He cut her off. "Then why do you want me to leave? You lied to me!"
Bell shook her head. "No, Sweetie, we think you need more time with Bilbo..."
"I don't want time with Bilbo. I want time with Sam and you." He turned to her, eyes wide and begging. "Please, don't send me away? I have to be here."
The woman stood slowly and moved towards the cradle, gently placing her infant son into the worn wooden bed. "Frodo," she turned to him, "You've spent far too much time here and not enough at home. The other children are upset. Gaffer thinks you're learning the wrong kind of life for your station. And... and... and I think you're getting far to attached to Samwise."
"Samwise." Her tone was final, cutting off his protest. "His name is not Sam; it's Samwise. Sweetie, you can't make a pet out of him. He's a Hobbit. He'll need to grow up strong and work hard to make a living. He won't have the leisure time to wander the hole and tell stories, like you do. He'll need to learn that immediately. With you hanging around, he'll grow up thinking he has a choice." She reached for Frodo who jerked away.
With a hurt look, Bell turned towards the tiny window. "Frodo, try to understand. This is for the good of both you and Samwise. You come from two different types of families. You don't fit in this type, and he won't ever be able to fit into your type. It's better to learn that right now, Frodo. Please..."
"You lied to me! You just want Sam to yourself!"
"Frodo! I have never lied to you. And he's my baby, of course I want him. But that doesn't mean I want you less, Sweetie..."
Frodo turned away from her, going to the cradle. He looked in, studying the sleeping infant. He suddenly sounded a lot calmer, frighteningly so. "You want me to stop playing with Sam... wise... right? To be a gentlehobbit, so he can be a gardener."
"Yes," Bell moved closer.
He ignored her. "Okay, fine. I didn't want to play here anyway. Halfred's a bully and mean, and May's spoiled. I'm going home. Samwise can be a gardener all he wants. I won't stop him." He glared at her and ran out of the room, ignoring her soft call to come back.
Bell covered her face, crying. She heard footsteps come in. Without even looking up, she said, "It's done, Hamfast. I've told him." Her husband only answered her by placing a strong hand to her shoulder. Neither spoke for a long time.
Sam slept on unaware of the big change that had come over his life.
His lungs hurt; his legs ached; he couldn't breathe for crying. Frodo ran all the way back up Bagshot Row to his cousin's home: Bag End. He burst in through the faded green door. Weeping too hard to even bother looking for his cousin, Frodo headed for the bedrooms.
Bilbo had been reading a book. He looked up, smiling in greeting as he heard the door burst open. The smile faded as he saw the lad run right past, sobbing loudly. "Frodo lad? What's happened?" He tossed his book down to the floor and shot out of his seat.
The older Hobbit hurried after his adopted nephew, worried when Frodo didn't even acknowledge him. "Frodo?" Bilbo stopped short as the boy's door slammed in his face. He heard thumping coming from the other side. "Frodo?" his voice softened with confusion.
"Go away! I hate you!"
It was like a slap in the face. "What?" He had no idea what he'd done. For the past two months he'd let Frodo live as he chose. He hadn't even given him a bedtime, trying to let the child settle in before repressing him too much. Perhaps that was wrong?
With a gentle knock, Bilbo tried again. "Frodo, my lad? What's wrong? What have I done? Is there any way to fix it?" He hoped this opening would work, but it didn't seem to. There was no answer from the other side of the door.
Bilbo took his courage in his hands and opened the door. "Frodo?" He peered in, soft hazel eyes worried.
There lay Frodo on the bed. His room was a typical child's room, a few toys scattered about and some clothes pushed into a heap in the corner. The entire room had been designed for the lad, so everything was to his choice. But the older Hobbit didn't even register this small haven he'd provided his cousin. He was too busy watching the wracking sobs which shook the too thin body.
"Oh, Frodo!" Bilbo rushed over and sat down, reaching out a soft hand to tangle into the boy's dark curls. "Oh, Frodo, lad, what's happened?"
Frodo started to pull away then seemed to change his mind. Flinging himself forcefully at the older Hobbit, he tried to burrow into him, sobbing and shaking. He was crying so hard his words came out as mumblings only buried somewhere in Bilbo's waistcoat.
Bilbo simply hugged him close, rocking and murmuring soothing nothings. He cuddled and cooed for long minutes while Frodo cried his heart out. It was a long time, and several cramped muscles later, before the boy had cried himself into a near stupor.
"They hate me."
The words took Bilbo by surprise. He'd nearly dozed off after the repeated gentle movements and sounds he'd been making. Unsure if he made out the words correctly, Bilbo asked carefully, "Who does, lad? Why?"
"The Gamgees. Cause I'm rich and they have to work. They don't want me to play with Sam anymore, either. They want me to stay here and read to you and not come down and play and help and..." He sat up suddenly, wiping a hand angrily across his eyes. "They're mean and I hate them right back!"
"Frodo..." Bilbo's tone was gentle, not reprimanding, as he pulled the boy against his shoulder. "So, they finally did it. I wondered how long they'd let you come by."
Frodo turned incredulous eyes up to his cousin. "You knew they were gonna send me away? Why didn't you tell me?" He pushed away, hurt.
Bilbo sighed but let the boy go. "Because I wanted you to enjoy the baby as long as they'd let you. You were happy there, my boy, and I wanted you happy. I'm sorry they won't let you stay, though. I think you'd make a mighty fine playmate for young Sam."
"It's Samwise, Bell told me so. She doesn't want me calling him Sam anymore." Frodo was resentful.
"Yes, I can see that." Bilbo shifted and pulled Frodo against him. The boy didn't resist, letting himself be cuddled. "You see, Frodo, she's worried you'll turn the boy's head."
Bilbo smiled at him. "You're a smart lad. If you had to work, but your best friend told you to play instead, would you play or work? The truth, lad, you won't be in trouble."
"Uh..." the young Hobbit looked sheepish. "I'd play, Bilbo." He hung his head.
"Right. And so would I."
Frodo's head shot up in surprise; his eyes widened incredulously. "You would? Why?"
The older Hobbit smiled. "Because it's more fun than work; that's why. Everyone's the same, lad, and Bell Gamgee knows it. The other children there are getting upset because you don't have to work."
"But I wanted to work, Bilbo," his voice was a whine.
His cousin laughed. "Of course you did. No one wants to feel left out, even if it's working. But, you see, Frodo. You may work one day or so, but you don't have to, so you wouldn't want to do it for long. The other children know that. They see you've a good heart, lad, but they see you as different because you live with me."
Frodo wiped his eyes. "I don't wanna be different. If Mum and Da were here, I'd be their friend, right?"
Bilbo shook his head. "No, you'd still be allowed to play a lot. You remember what it was like. No, there's all types that make this world turn, Frodo, and you're just not the same type as the Gamgees. You can be friends," he lifted a hand to quell Frodo's protest, "but you're not the same. The only way for you to be the same is if the Gamgees came into a windfall of money."
"I wish we could give them the money." Frodo sighed and leaned into Bilbo.
Nodding, Bilbo agreed, "So do I, lad. But then they wouldn't be our friends, because they'd feel bad."
The boy looked up, snorting. "Yeah, that stupid charity thing."
"That's right, my boy: that stupid charity thing. So, here's what we'll do. Tomorrow you'll clean your room up like a proper Hobbit then I'll start teaching you to read and write. It's time you got work of your own to do."
"Work? But, Bilbo, gentlehobbits don't work. Do they?" Frodo sounded uncertain on the last.
"Don't work?" Bilbo pushed away and stood, sounding indignant. "Of course we do! There's much to do. Why, I've a book to write, and I'll need your help. You'll need to learn to cook and clean and tend things for yourself, you know. You'll need to keep track of money and land and all sorts of jobs. Gentlehobbits certainly do work. They just don't do the same kind of work as folks like the Gamgees. You'll be busy enough, my boy, don't you fret."
Frodo bit his lip, watching Bilbo. He turned this over in his mind. He wanted to rebel against suddenly loosing his freedom, but something stopped him. Hesitantly, he asked, "If I start working at reading and numbers and stuff... will I be allowed to play with Sam again?"
Bilbo placed a hand on Frodo's soft curls. "We'll see, lad. You've got to work hard to live up to the Gamgees' standards, you do. But if you work real hard, maybe they'll let him play with you in his free time, as long as you don't interfere with his work time. I'll ask them about it if I see you working hard enough, right lad?"
Frodo hugged himself and nodded. "Right..."
As Bilbo moved to leave the room, Frodo softly called out, "Bilbo?"
"Yes lad?" he turned in the doorway waiting.
"Will I still be allowed to tell your stories to Sam if we can play together?"
"I believe you will, Frodo, my lad. I believe you will." And with that, Bilbo gently closed the door, leaving Frodo alone with his thoughts.
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