3. Chapter Two - Dragons
Luckily Bilbo had his hands on the table and caught both the bottle and the glass as Frodo half rose to his feet and jostled the table.
But Frodo couldn't seem to straighten himself to stand, so he sat back down heavily. “You knew.” It was more a croak than a question.
“I guessed, my boy. But don't worry,” Bilbo said softly, “I doubt anyone else has worked out this particular riddle.”
Frodo buried his face in his hands. He heard Bilbo move around the table, but couldn't bring himself to move as those two familiar hands rested on his shoulders. It was such a relief, for a moment he thought he might weep.
“Frodo, my dear boy,” Bilbo murmured soothingly. “You don't do anything by halves, do you?”
“He isn't,” there was suddenly an odd hitch in Frodo’s voice. Bilbo leaned over him and pushed the glass into his hand. He took another gulp, “He isn't even a tweenager, Bilbo.”
“And you are an ancient?” Bilbo laughed. “You aren't even of age yet yourself. And he becomes a tweenager... Why, Sam's birthday is tomorrow, isn't it? Is that what brought all this on?”
“He will still be too young tomorrow, and the next day, and,” the words tripped over each other as they poured out. “And he loves children. He needs to have at least a dozen or more,” he was barely taking a breath. “And his family would think he was overreaching himself. They already do. When we just go to the Dragon together or go on a hike or just spend time talking about books, they torment him about it. We can't even be friends. And my family would think...”
“What would they think?” Bilbo prompted when he stopped.
Frodo lifted his face out of his hands wearily. “They'd think that I was tumbling...a...” Frodo couldn't finish the sentence.
“Tumbling a servant? Well, you would be, wouldn't you?” Bilbo finished for him.
Frodo sat up stiffly and felt his face flame. “Sam will never be just a servant. Not to me.”
“Not just a servant, no. But he is a servant isn't he?” Bilbo said quietly.
Frodo twisted in his seat, pulling out of Bilbo’s hands, and stared at him in disbelief. “You think I would do that? Take advantage of that?”
“Of course not, Frodo!” Bilbo responded quickly. “But others will. No matter what you do. They will assume you are just having a bit of fun with the help.”
Frodo turned back to stare sightlessly at his glass. He had heard others joke about things like that, about some servants ‘taking care’ of all the needs of their master in order to retain a position, but he had never even considered that.
Sam had likely heard those stories as well.
“And Sam. Sam might think,” he whispered. He suddenly heard a whole new chorus of dragons roaring in his head. Surely, Sam wouldn’t think that. But what if he did?
What if Sam thought, even for a moment, that Frodo wanted to use him, like some plaything, some toy for his amusement? That Frodo expected him to provide that kind of 'service'?
He suddenly saw Sam’s face -- the confusion and the pain. His stomach churned. He closed his eyes against that excruciating image. He had to do something. He couldn't bear to hurt Sam that way. He had to stop this.
Frodo jerked up, away from Bilbo and spun, grabbing the back of a chair as the room wheeled and dipped suddenly. Although it made him dizzy, the strawberry cordial was not enough to overwhelm the sudden agony in his gut.
“This is impossible. I need to... I have to leave.” He found it suddenly hard to breathe.
Bilbo followed him, relentless. “Leave where? This room? Bag End? Hobbiton?”
Frodo looked up. “Yes.”
“Where will you run to this time, Frodo?”
Frodo didn't even wince at that old memory. He felt as if he had just run across the entirety of the Shire. He could no longer breathe. He could no longer think. All he could see was Sam's gentle, trusting face -- betrayed, hurt, confused. “I can go to Brandy Hall or Great Smials. Somewhere that this won't hurt him. I cannot...”
Bilbo stretched out his hand and tapped two fingers on Frodo's chest. “Can you run from what is in there, my dear boy?”
Frodo looked dazedly at the fingers touching his chest then back up at Bilbo.
“I don't hear anything in all this of what you feel or think. I see it in your face, in your eyes, in the way you wander around the smials at night, barely sleeping, in the way you pick at your food. But you say nothing of what you feel. Are your feelings of no account here then?”
Frodo looked up at Bilbo's soft gaze and backed away, shaking his head weakly. He found himself against the wall of the kitchen, but Bilbo did not pursue him.
“Do you count for so little in this?” Bilbo asked softly.
“Yes...no. I... “ Suddenly Frodo's knees gave way and he slid down the wall to sit unceremoniously on the floor, his elbows on his knees, his head in his hands.
He heard Bilbo walk to the fireplace and then walk back, matter-of-factly setting a stool on the floor next to Frodo then returning to retrieve the glasses.
Bilbo grunted as he lowered himself onto the stool, then held out Frodo's glass. “My bones are not what they used to be and I am not going to attempt to fold myself on to the floor. But I promise you my boy, I will not let you run away from this.”
Frodo lifted his eyes to look into the familiar blue-grey ones. “At least not alone,” Bilbo added, then smiled and took a sip from his glass.
Frodo took his glass wearily.
“Now.” Bilbo cleared his throat. “Let's revisit this, shall we? You love him?”
It was such a simple question -- just three words. But didn't Bilbo understand that until only a little while ago he hadn’t even recognized it himself?
Frodo nodded numbly.
“So much that you wouldn't tell him that you loved him if you thought it might hurt him?”
Frodo's eyes widened, but he nodded.
“However, not telling him is no longer an option, since what has become apparent to me will soon be apparent to others. If you don't tell him in words, not being a fool, he will figure it out soon enough for himself.” Bilbo went on. “Let's assume you do tell him. No matter what his response, you fear the worst. What happens if he rejects your feelings?”
Frodo looked down at the tile floor. “I would lose...my dearest friend,” he breathed.
“And you assume he would turn away from that relationship. Turn away from you.”
Frodo looked up, frowning.
“In that scenario, you would be hurt, not him, since obviously your friendship means very little to him if he can discard it so easily,” Bilbo went on, not waiting for a response. “So, Sam is not really hurt by that.”
Frodo felt a little dizzy trying to follow Bilbo's logic.
“And, if you tell him and he returns your feelings, what happens?”
Frodo felt his face grow hot and his hands go suddenly cold. Could he imagine Sam not turning away, not flinching with disgust or surprise or embarrassment -- Sam feeling the same way toward him?
Somewhere deep inside, stars shuddered dimly to life.
“Yes. Well then.” Bilbo took a sip of his cordial looking pointedly at Frodo's.
Frodo took a gulp of the cordial and gazed at the floor.
“So, we assume that perhaps things progress at that point on the more physical side.”
Frodo's eyes snapped back up. “He's too young.”
“When exactly will he be old enough?” Bilbo questioned solemnly.
Frodo suddenly realized that he didn't have a response.
“When he is twenty-two? Twenty-five? Twenty-eight?”
The choices were overwhelming.
“You think Sam has not yet had his first experience with a lad or a lass?”
Frodo's eyes widened. Was it possible? He had never dreamed that Sam might have...
“How old were you, lad?”
“Nineteen,” Frodo managed.
“Yes, nineteen.” Bilbo nodded, as if he had heard this before. “ And you don't really know if Sam has had any experience with anyone else, hmmm?”
Frodo suddenly realized he should know this. But Sam, his best friend, had never shared. Sam had never talked to him about that.
“But, if we assume that, for some reason, he has not, you think twenty is too young?”
“But it wasn't too young for you?”
Frodo decided to take another sip of the cordial instead of attempting an answer. No, it hadn’t been too young for him. Why was he so certain it was too young for Sam? He felt those stars deep inside him stir and brighten.
“So who would think it too young?” Bilbo went on as if there was no answer forthcoming. “Not the Gaffer, for certain. The boy is far too grown up and serious for his age if you ask me. I suspect the Gaffer thinks him long past those tweener games, the way he treats him, the way he expects him to act.”
“This isn't a game,” Frodo retorted quickly.
“I didn't say it was. But I will place my bet on our Sam knowing more than you think he does about these things,” Bilbo ran his hand through his own greying hair. “Nothing is set in stone, boy. Some of us age slower; some grow up faster than others. You were late coming to your change. Sam was early, unless I miss my guess.”
“But he... He never... He hasn't...”
“Shared? Bragged as other lads do?” Bilbo peered into his face, “Could be that modesty, that diffidence the Gaffer practically ground into the boy. Could be something else. Could be he wouldn't talk to you about it, for some reason.”
Frodo tried to focus on that. Sam avoiding discussions about his strange new desires and feelings with his best friend -- why?
Because he couldn’t tell the one who stirred up those very desires? Was that possible?
“And that unflagging disposition of his can make you ignore that canny and clever mind. The lad is not a child and has not been for a long time,” Bilbo went on.
“Of course he's not a child!” Frodo snapped.
Bilbo smiled, “Indeed! So, we have established that he is not too young.”
Frodo suddenly felt dizzy again. Was it the cordial, or the stars suddenly whirling beneath his breastbone at the faint possibility that Bilbo, with his convoluted logic, might be right?
“As to class and station, my boy, let's deal with our family. Do those you care for, those whose opinions you value, those who truly know you. Do you think that they will think that you are just ‘tumbling a servant’ or 'taking advantage of the help'?”
Frodo grimaced at the thought. “No,” he croaked dully.
“And as for the rest -- you and I have never cared a whit for what any of them think, and I believe, my boy, that we had an agreement that we would never do so. They don't approve of me. They will likely never approve of or understand you. We will relish it. We will take advantage of it.” He grinned. “But we will not worry about it. Let's not start now.”
Frodo nodded resignedly. He wasn’t as worried about what his family thought as what Sam might think.
“Good,” Bilbo seemed to be building up to a grand finish, as if he were telling a story. Frodo, on the other hand, felt exhausted.
“Now, the Gamgees. Have you noticed Sam paying very much attention to the Gaffer or to Daisy or the rest of his sisters when it comes to what they think is 'proper'? Really? Of course, he puts up a modicum of resistance to some things he sees as not meeting his Gaffer's definition of 'proper', but things are different when he sets his mind to something, whether it be learning to read or,” Bilbo's face softened, “deciding who he loves. Beneath that agreeable nature there is a creature of stone and steel who will fight to the death for what he wants -- what he loves -- no matter if it is proper or reasonable.”
Frodo blinked at him, how did he? When did Bilbo pay enough attention to realize all this about Sam? He always appeared so self-absorbed.
Bilbo reached out and touched Frodo’s shoulder. “And do you really think, lad, after knowing our Samwise as long as you have, after the kind of trust you have built between you, that he would even consider that you might take advantage of his station in this way?” he asked softly, “That creature of stone and steel would fight to the death for you I think. And I believe that he knows that you would do so for him as well. Do you doubt that trust? Do you think he would ever believe that you would betray him?”
Trust. He would not betray that trust. Sam knew him well enough to know he would never do that.
Could it be possible? Could Bilbo be right, or was it the cordial, making him feel that anything was possible?
“So we have established.” Bilbo leaned back and counted on his fingers. “That if he does not return your feelings, it only hurts you, not him. That he is not too young for this relationship between you. That we don't care what our family says and that he is capable of handling his family. And that he himself would not believe that you would take advantage of his station. That brings us to children, I think.”
Frodo winced and took a gulp of the cordial.
“You are afraid if you tell him how you feel, that somehow, as a result, he won't have a family, correct?”
Frodo managed a feeble nod.
“Why do you think that?”
“I... Sam... I don't know. “
“Exactly, my lad. You don't know,” Bilbo stated firmly. “When do you think Sam will be ready to start a family?”
Frodo looked up blearily. “When he comes of age?”
“Perhaps. I doubt it, but perhaps. How long until then do you think? About thirteen years, eh?”
“Since when have you reached out that far to plan your life?”
“But, who knows what could happen between now and then? And who knows what a relationship will be like in that many years?”
“No!” Frodo said firmly, sitting up, his back scraping against the wall, “No, Bilbo, this is not that simple. Sam is... Sam could not do that easily. He would be torn in two. That would not be fair to him.”
Bilbo looked searchingly at Frodo's face. “Do you think it is fair to make all these decisions for him?”
Frodo closed his eyes. “I have seen his children in my dreams, Bilbo. I would not destroy that future.”
“Again, how do you know that you will? How do you know what will happen? How do you know that he will not choose to have those wonderful children you have seen and love you?” his voice was so soft that it was almost a whisper. “But you must give him that choice. If you love him, lad, you won't take away his choices.”
Frodo didn't realize he was crying until Bilbo reached out and touched his face gently. He opened his eyes.
“Don't make the mistake that I made, lad.” Bilbo offered the ever-present handkerchief. “Let those you love make their own choices.”
And Frodo suddenly knew Bilbo was right. He loved Sam. And Sam had the right to know that and to make his own choices. He met Bilbo's gaze, and managed a smile.
Bilbo smiled back as Frodo took the handkerchief and swiped at his face.
“Now, lad, that I have thoroughly ruined your breakfast and guaranteed a mid-day hangover, why don't I make you something to settle that stomach of yours?” Bilbo stood up and dusted off his hands.
Frodo smiled at the gesture. Defeating the dragons inside Frodo's head, just another morning's work for the intrepid Bilbo Baggins.
He was suddenly aware that the constant soothing undercurrent of Sam's song had ceased at some point during their discussion. The only sound on the hill was the voice of the songbird, dissonant and rusty by comparison.
Frodo leaned his head back against the wall. He nurtured the dizzying surge of sensation that rushed through him when he realized he was going to tell Sam how he felt. It might only last as long as the cordial, but it was absolutely glorious nonetheless.
This is a work of fan fiction, written because the author has an abiding love for the works of J R R Tolkien. The characters, settings, places, and languages used in this work are the property of the Tolkien Estate, Tolkien Enterprises, and possibly New Line Cinema, except for certain original characters who belong to the author of the said work. The author will not receive any money or other remuneration for presenting the work on this archive site. The work is the intellectual property of the author, is available solely for the enjoyment of Henneth Annûn Story Archive readers, and may not be copied or redistributed by any means without the explicit written consent of the author.