A giggle sounded, making Frodo smile. He pretended not to have heard. Instead, the fifteen-year-old Hobbit lay back on the fine lawn of Bag End and continued to pretend to read his book. It was a beautiful summer's day; the sky was lightly dotted with the fluffiest clouds one could ever hope for. The sun shone done and a breeze cooled the air, making it seem that all of nature was working in harmony with each other: truly a pleasant day.
The giggle sounded again.
The teenager was hard pressed not to join in the merry sound. He knew where it came from, and it delighted him. Bell was off visiting relatives, having taken the girls with her. Thus, Gaffer had sole care of the three boys. As the two older ones were too busy working to watch after their little brother, Gaffer had brought the lad up to Bag End for the first time.
It was also the first time Frodo had gotten to be near the child without a frowning or nervous adult hovering, thinking he'd try to break the rules that had been set down three years previously. The dark haired Hobbit had no intention of breaking rules but if the toddler broke the rules who could blame him for nobly keeping an eye on the child, right?
Flipping over on to his stomach, the lad gave up all pretense of reading. Samwise had again broken away from his busy father to toddle towards the peaceful scene of Frodo reading. Delighted with the sudden attention, the little boy clapped his hands and hurried over as fast as his chubby little legs could go.
"Well, hello, Samwise Gamgee. Off exploring again are you?" Frodo opened his arms to the laughing boy, engulfing him in a hug.
"Fodo... Fodo..." Sam couldn't quite pronounce his older friend's name, but neither were bothered by that small failing.
Freezing, Frodo looked around to make sure he hadn't been overheard. He may be permitted to let Sam climb all over him while Gaffer was too busy to protest, but he still wasn't supposed to be using that pet name for the boy. Fortunately, Hamfast was off at the other end of the roses, pruning or some such. The teen smiled in relief and touched noses with the chubby toddler. Softer this time, he asked, "What, Sam?"
Sam patted Frodo's head, laughing. "Fodo pay."
It was still hard to get used to Samwise's speech patterns. After all, he hadn't been around the child enough to just pick it up. It took him some time to recall that instead of lisping over letters he couldn't say, Sam simply dropped the annoy letters completely. Thus, after a long pause, it sunk in that Sam was asking him to play.
With a laugh, Frodo nodded. 'Sure Sam. What do you want to play?"
"Fodo. Wanna pay Fodo."
"Oh, Sam, I know you wanna play with me, I'm ask..." He stopped, thinking. Okay, Sam wanted to play and apparently the only thing that concerned him was that it be Frodo playing with him. Therefore, the teen could choose the game; he knew just what he wanted to play, too.
With a wide, slow smile, the older boy nodded. "Okay, let's play dragon. Which do you want to be? Bilbo or Smaug?"
"Fodo be soggy!"
Frodo nodded. "Okay, I'm the dragon. You've got to be Bilbo then. Come on, you can use this rock as the cup. It's right here on my treasure..." he started piling rocks and sticks and such next to his book, pretty much oblivious to the fact that his book might get damaged if the child knocked the entire pile of debris down. "Okay, Bilbo goes into the cave and talks to Smaug. Go ahead, talk to the dragon, Sam."
Sam sat down with a thud onto his well-cushioned butt. He still wore diapers and, due to the thick padding they provided, he had the habit of simply plopping down without care what he landed on. "K... Ho Soggy!"
With a low growl that ended on a laugh, Frodo curled himself up right next to the pile of debris. "Grrr... what do you want... roawr..."
The child squealed with laughter and clapped his hands in delight. "Oh, gen... gen!"
"What? This?" And Frodo slowly uncurled, growling at the toddler, who squealed louder.
The noise brought the Gaffer's attention to the pair and the older Hobbit stopped working. He pushed his cap back, frowning towards the boys. Scratching his head, the Gaffer wondered if he'd done the right thing.
When Bell left, she'd wanted to take the two youngest children. Hamfast had convinced her to take the girls, giving Daisy a treat she rarely got, instead. He said he'd have no problem with the little one, even working. He'd finally managed to convince her, and she'd left the next day, laded with homemade presents for her family.
Gaffer knew he'd been the one to tell Bell to cut off Frodo's visits. He also knew how much it had hurt both his wife and the child. But he still felt it was for the best. Frodo needed to grow in an entirely different world: this world, a world of playing and stories and gentlehobbit pursuits. Samwise needed to grow up surrounded by working Hobbits, so he'd understand where his place was.
The children were indeed happy together, though, and the thought of the pain he'd caused everyone tore at the old Hobbit's innards. It was to help ease that pain that made him tell Bell to leave the boy home. He had twice as much work with the child but it had seemed right. This way, everyday he could bring little Samwise up the hill to play with Frodo.
Of course, he couldn't let on that he was doing such a thing. It would present the wrong image to the teenager if he went back on his word now. Thus, when Frodo cleverly pretended to merely be humoring a child by playing with him, Gaffer let it go. He pretended not to notice, as long as it didn't get too rambunctious. The unspoken arrangement had worked all week. Now, however, Gaffer had to wonder if he'd done the right thing letting Frodo play with Samwise unchecked.
The boys were having fun, true, but the teen seemed to be getting just as attached to the boy as he had been three years ago. Once Bell was back, they wouldn't be playing anymore since Gaffer wouldn't be bringing him around any more. He sighed, still hesitating to put an end to the laughter from across the lawn.
The appearance of Bilbo changed the atmosphere slightly. The older Hobbit smiled as he watched his adopted nephew play with the little boy twelve years younger than himself. With a happy nod, Bilbo headed towards the Gaffer.
"How do you do, Hamfast Gamgee. Pleasant day, isn't it?"
The Gaffer nodded, "That it is, Master Bilbo. Your boy's grown quite a bit tall, now." It was true; Frodo was as tall as an adult Hobbit now, but he was still painfully thin for a Hobbit.
Bilbo turned fond eyes on the boys. "Ah, yes, that he has." He paused, watching the play and laughter. "Thank you, Gaffer, for bringing the baby up. I suppose he's not really a baby anymore, though. Gone on three years is it?"
"Hmmm..." Gaffer confirmed in his non-vocal way. He watched for a bit longer, then started to turn back to his pruning.
"If you'd like to bring him up after Bell's come home, we'd be happy to have him. He could learn a lot about gardening here. He'd be welcome to entertain Frodo for a bit on his breaks, too, if they coincide." He looked towards his old gardener.
The man paused for a moment then went back to clipping. "The boy needs to learn a trade."
With a satisfied nod, confident that those words meant agreement, Bilbo continued. "I'll make sure Frodo stays out of the way while you're training the boy, Gaffer. He's got his own things to do."
Gaffer looked relieved and turned back to Bilbo. "I'd appreciate that, Master Bilbo. The boys can play on breaks, but Samwise'll need to pay attention during his lessons."
"Right you are," Bilbo patted Gaffer's arm. "And Frodo'll need to concentrate on his figures and letters. The boy's coming along nicely. I think I'll start teaching him a bit of Elvish soon. That ought to distract him quite a bit."
A soft, "Yes, sir," trailed back as Gaffer walked on, working. Bilbo let him go, smiling. He'd explain to Frodo the new rules that afternoon at luncheon. The lad would be excited, since for three years he'd worked very hard to earn the privilege of being near Samwise again. It had been a hard three years trying to prove to the Gaffer that Frodo wouldn't interfere with Sam's education, but it had finally paid off.
Bilbo strolled back towards his faded green door, pausing to watch Frodo-Smaug launch himself at Samwise-Bilbo with a giggling growl. Sam shrieked in delight and threw his arms around Frodo's neck for a strong hug. Frodo rolled to the ground, instinctively, protectively encircling the small boy, laughing. The old Hobbit smiled at the two children and went inside to prepare elevensies.
It was perhaps one in the afternoon, and the Gamgees were back down at their home at number three Bagshot Row. Gaffer was ladling stew into bowls for his three sons. He handed over the smallest bowl to Sam, who turned away from it. "Gaff?"
Even at three, Sam had picked up on the name everyone used for his father. He used it now to get his father's attention. "Gaff?" Sam reached out and tugged on Hamfast's sleeve.
"What, boy?" Gaffer looked over, spoon poised near his mouth, hungry.
"Pay? Pay Fodo?"
The older boys froze, Halfred glaring at his little brother. Frodo had never seemed to get along with the other boy his age. He avoided the older boy, too, but at least they were on speaking terms. With Halfred, Frodo only managed to trade mumbled greetings in half-hearted tones, if that.
Gaffer looked thoughtful. "Maybe. But you've got to work like the Gaffer before you can play anymore, Samwise."
Sam looked confused, his gray-green eyes trained on his gruff father. "Woke?"
"Um hum. Work. You'll be helping me up at Bag End starting tomorrow, if'n your Mum gets back tonight. How's that for something to do?"
Hamson frowned softly and looked up. He so resembled Bell that he near took his father's breath away at times. "You starting him early, Gaffer? He's only three yet."
Halfred said what was really on their minds. "You can't do that, Gaffer! He'll spend the entire day lazing about like that Frodo Baggins! He has to work, too!" The fourteen-year-old was half standing in his indignation.
Slamming his hand down hard enough on the table to startle Sam into wide-eyed, silent tears, Gaffer glared at his second son. "You questioning my decisions, boy? Sit! Eat! Listen!"
Halfred instantly sat and turned a flushing face towards his bowl. He started moving the spoon around, but didn't raise the food to his mouth. Instead, he muttered an apology and seethed at how unfair it was that Frodo got away with all sorts of things just because he was adopted by the richest Hobbit in the Shire.
Gaffer leaned forward, gabbing a napkin to wipe at Sam's eyes, his voice going down to a soothing octave to calm the boy. "Sam's to work with me up at Bag End. I'm starting him now because he shows promise. Master Bilbo's already promised to keep Master Frodo away from Sam during his work."
The older boy, eighteen and nearer the age of confidence that he would be respected enough to speak equally to certain elders, gently said, "Gaffer, you've called him Sam."
Looking up, Gaffer studied his oldest child. With a grunt, he went back to wiping Sam's face with the cloth. "Course I did. 'Bout time he had a pet name and Sam's a good enough one for all that. Now, finish your food and get back to work. You'll need to be getting that order out or Andwise'll forget about taking you on full time as a roper."
Hamson nodded and started eating again.
On the other hand, Halfred glared over at the toddler, who was now happily eating chunks of vegetables with his fingers. "And won't Master Frodo want to play with Samwise all day? If he throws a fit, Master Bilbo may give in to him."
"Don't see that happening, Halfred." Gaffer starting eating his stew, ending the unsatisfactory conversation right there.
Halfred finished his luncheon in seething silence.
"Tomorrow? Oh, Bilbo! That's wonderful! I..."
Bilbo cut off his cousin's words with a raised hand. "I may have done a disservice to the boy, Frodo, asking Gaffer to start him a year early on work. I did it so you'll have a couple of hours play time and a meal or two with him."
Frodo opened his mouth to speak, but again he was silenced by his adopted uncle's raised hand.
"Now listen close, Frodo. I know you've a good heart and your intentions are as good as can be, but Gaffer's not too comfortable with this idea. I had to promise to keep you away from Sam's sight while he was working. That means no more reading where the boy can be distracted. If they're in the roses, you'll have to go to the stream and so forth."
The older Hobbit shook his head, still preventing his cousin's speech. "I mean it Frodo. I'm going to start teaching you Elvish tomorrow, so you'll be busy enough. I want you to pay attention; it may save your life one-day. Elves are funny folk, Frodo, and you may have reason to speak to them before the end."
Finally, Frodo interrupted. "Bilbo, I'm not going to interfere with Sam. I'll study hard. But... can't I just be happy right now? I'll finally get Sam back!"
"He was never yours to lose, my boy."
Frodo sighed. He spoke slowly and patiently, as if to a child rather than a Hobbit seventy-eight years older than him. "Bilbo, I know I'm not related to Sam Gamgee, but we still belong together. He's my friend; I love him. I don't want to lose him again, so I'm not gonna be stupid."
Bilbo sighed and touched the younger Hobbit's arm. "He's three, you're fifteen. Frodo, can't you find friends your own age?" His words were gentle, worried hazel eyes fixed on the teenager.
"I don't really have anything in common with them, Bilbo." He shrugged as if that explained everything.
The older Hobbit stood and cleared off his plate and silver. He shuffled off to rinse the dishes, thinking hard. It wasn't easy to stop himself from drilling the boy with questions and rules. He tried to get himself into some semblance of control so he could try to make the boy understand. He didn't needed to; Frodo approached him.
"Bilbo..." Frodo's voice was as soft as the hand he placed on his cousin's shoulder. "I know Sam and I are worlds apart. I've learned that quickly enough. And I know others might think me odd, claiming a three-year-old as a friend. But, Bilbo, he won't be three forever. Someday he'll be an intelligent adult who'll enjoy good conversation and good ale, right?"
He turned, looking at Frodo. "I... I suppose you're right, my boy. Samwise Gamgee will grow up before we know it. Then it won't seem so odd for you two to be friends." He wiped the dishes dry, handing them off to be stacked away in the cupboard. "Frodo, my lad, have you considered that perhaps Sam won't grow up to enjoy talking and ale?"
The lad froze. "Not enjoy talking? Why wouldn't he?" He turned confused blue eyes to his cousin.
"Some people are quieter than others. Some don't understand the same things. Some..."
Frodo started laughing. "Are you saying that Sam won't understand me? But, Bilbo, he's already understanding! He's so smart and quick..."
Bilbo nodded, "and he is a normal, healthy child, Frodo. But just because he understands games and stories doesn't mean he'll understand whatever you wish to talk about, like languages and land and such."
That stopped Frodo's laughter. The teenager thought long and hard about what the older man was trying to get across. He frowned, turning towards the window, watching as Gaffer and Sam came back up the hill. Finally, he shrugged and pushed away the thoughts. "He'll talk to me. He's smart. Can I go play now, Bilbo? Sam's here."
Sighing, Bilbo nodded and watched his cousin run out excitedly. He knew that Frodo'd most likely get a big disappointment later in life if Sam proved to be like his father. Gaffer was very uncommunicative, after all. He looked out the window to see how Frodo would spend his last half-day of playtime with the little boy.
Sam's eyes lit up as Frodo bounded out the door. "Fodo!" He toddled towards the teen, tripping over his own feet and landing face first in the grass. The little boy sat up stunned.
"Oh, Sam!" Frodo scooped the boy up, cuddling him and fussing so much Sam started crying, a reaction children around the world often displayed in similar circumstances. Frodo fussed more and Sam ate up the attention as all good toddlers did. "Where's it hurt, Sam?"
That question took Sam by surprise. It didn't hurt anywhere. He looked at Frodo and held up his hand to pat Frodo on the chest. "Hut?"
Frodo cuddled him harder. "No, I'm not hurt, silly. You aren't either, are you? But boy did you scare me!"
The teenager carried the chubby toddler towards the debris pile they'd made that morning. Sinking to the ground, the older boy smiled down at his tiny playmate. "I'm going to tell you a story, Sam, okay?"
"Sam!" The little boy repeated the familiar word with glee. "Sam Fodo!"
Frodo laughed. "That's right. It's a story about Sam and Frodo." He started off on a wild, fanciful tale, making it up as he went along. As the long afternoon hours whizzed passed for the two children, the characters in the tale went to the ends of the earth and back again. They risked their lives and fought horrible armies of monsters and somehow, someway, made it through together. At the end, Frodo hugged his charge.
"Understand, Sam? As long as we stick together, nothing can tear us apart."
With a grunt, Gaffer passed by at that moment. He let the boy have that fantasy for now. After all, he still had near on fifteen years before he'd become a adult and be thrust into the world willy-nilly to make it on his own. For now, he let them be children.
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