[personal profile] martasfic
Title: Heart of Stone
Rating: PG13 for adult themes
Challenge: Hearts and Flowers (GFIC Feb '11)
Word Count: 5,596 + Notes
Elements: brotherly love, heart of stone, hollyhock (ambition)

Summary: "And Mr. Drogo was staying at Brandy Hall with his father-in-law, old Master Gorbadoc, as he often did after his marriage (him being partial to his vittles, and old Gorbadoc keeping a mighty generous table); and he went out boating on the Brandywine River; and he and his wife were drownded, and poor Mr. Frodo only a child and all." (from "A Long-Expected Party")

I. Air – October, S.R. 1380
Soundtrack: "Wonder Why" by PFR

Frodo stood solemnly beside Rory and Bilbo, trying not to cry. Uncle Rory, he reminded himself, for the Master of Brandy Hall had insisted that Frodo call him by that name these last few days. Frodo knew he should, kept telling himself to just speak the word, whatever his heart thought of it. But no; Bilbo was the uncle of his heart, and Rory – for all he was an uncle by blood – was little more than a stranger to Frodo.

Should have always been a stranger. How he wished he’d never been to Buckland! How he wished his parents had stayed away, too, stayed safe in Hobbiton.

He gulped hard to keep himself from crying, and he felt Bilbo’s arm around him. The sleeve of his uncle’s woolen coat itched against his cheek, but Frodo hardly cared. Those strong arms – still so strong, for all that Bilbo was a full decade older than Rory – wrapped around him, and Frodo buried his face in his uncle’s side. He felt tears well up in his eyes and was grateful for the seclusion his uncle’s coat provided.

After a moment Bilbo squeezed Frodo’s shoulder, and Frodo straightened up a little though he still leaned against Bilbo. The grave-diggers had finished their work, and his grandfather Gorbadoc had stepped forward to say his piece. To either side of Gorbadoc stood two boxes fashioned from planks of pine-wood. Frodo, had he been alone, would have spat on those boxes. As it was Bilbo kept a tight hold on Frodo’s shoulders, so he just looked away as often as he could.

He hated those boxes, hated the need of them. Why should his parents be hidden away like that? Why shouldn’t they be laid out for all to see, like when his grandmother Ruby had died from a fever last winter? They had dressed her in her finest clothes, and put a fine wool blanket around her and shoveled the half-frozen earth on top, and then drained a beer-barrel to her honor.

But not so for his mum and dad. No, they had gone out after dinner and no one quite knew where, and it had taken the better part of two days to find them, bloated and floating in a creek off the Brandywine, their faces half eaten away by fish. No one wanted to see that, nor wanted Frodo to have to see that, all through the funeral. Still, Frodo wished they would burn those cursed boxes. He’d see his mum and dad one more time, no matter how frightful they looked. And he’d have the warm earth keep them company, if he couldn’t do it himself any longer.

He longed to look away, longed to get away, longed to scream until his voice went hoarse.

But he couldn’t do any of those things, he knew he was old enough to know better, and was a Baggins in Buckland as well. He had to be resolute, had to breathe, so all these Brandybucks didn’t think that he was touched. He knew his cousins thought him odd, for everything was so different across the River, and he only acted as he’d been taught his whole life. But Bilbo had talked to him last night, and Frodo knew that he’d be staying here when Bilbo went back to Hobbiton. He knew Bilbo’s reasons, for Bilbo was sure Frodo would fare better among a swarm of children than all alone in Bag End. Frodo disagreed, but he had not the heart to argue. Things being as they were, Frodo had decided to try to make the best of it all, so he fought the urge to run far away from here.

He ran his fingers over the waistcoat that Bilbo had given him the night before. Silver thread and buttons, and the black velvet fabric Frodo had been wheedling his uncle for all winter. Bilbo had bought some fine velvet off of dwarf-traders just after last year’s harvest, and Frodo had begged for a scrap to keep tucked away with his other treasures: the old hornet’s nest, the jars full of tadpoles, the flute he’d carved out of a river-reed, and all the rest. Bilbo had smiled at the request and said they would see what was left over once the tailor had cut off what he'd need.

Frodo never got the scrap, but he was still intrigued by the cloth. Where did it come from? Rivendell? Dale, even? Or from Gondor? Bilbo had told him stories about the days after the Battle of the Five Armies, of those messengers from far-off lands, and their wondrous banners fluttering in the wind. Yes, Gondor seemed just the type of place to make such a treasure. Now Frodo owned not just a scrap but a whole waistcoat, and knew he should be glad. Bilbo had commissioned it some time ago, as a birthday-gift he said, and it wasn’t Bilbo’s fault that the giving had been pushed up a week by what had happened with his dad and mum.

He pinched the pocket between his fingers and heard the air squelch out of it. What would it sound like wet? What would it feel like, to have the air forced out of you by other wetness, to have the waters crushing over, to grasp up and find nothing but the river-scum and call out and have your lungs fill up so you couldn’t even –

Frodo squirmed out of Bilbo’s grasp and ran away as fast as his legs could carry him. Just then he didn’t care about what came next, about fancy waistcoats or his cousins, or any of the rest. He longed – needed – to get away. As he ran away he looked over his shoulder and saw Bilbo holding Rory back. So they understood, and so they wouldn’t chase after Frodo just now.

Frodo ran around the Hill and into the woods behind it. He needed the cool air from under the forest eaves against his skin, needed the scent of green all around him. He kept running even as he felt a stitch in his side and his breath came in ragged gulps. He ran as if Death Herself was hot on his heels. He would come back in an hour or so, by tea at the latest. But just now he would run as far as he could, and farther still, and then –

As for then, Frodo did not know. He knew only that now – that now – he needed to get away.


II. Water – January, S.R. 1382
Soundtrack: "How to Save a Life" by The Fray

Frodo stepped through the railing of the Brandywine Bridge, balancing as well as he could. He knew he must be quick about things, for the gate-wardens would come out soon enough and ask him his business. He glanced once more at the gatehouse, half hoping they would come out and speak with them. But no; like as not they were enjoying their tea by the fire, reluctant to brave this weather over an errant lad from the Hall.

The water would be cold this time of year, and would sting to high heaven, but that was all to the best, really; the River would do its work more quickly that way. Exhaling deeply, Frodo stepped off the ledge and plunged toward the river below. A long second passed, and the air swirling past him seemed to steal his breath away so he could not cry out. All of a sudden the water hit him hard on his side, and Frodo’s whole body burned all over. Then the river enveloped him, and the rocks he had used to weigh down his pockets pulled him down even further – for he’d only half wanted to be found out, really – and with his hands tied together under his waistcoat Frodo could not have pulled himself up to the surface even if he had waned to.

Then came the second splash, above, and the strong hands, and the rush toward the surface, and the beating fists at his back as he coughed up water. So the gate-wardens had come in time after all. He looked up at them, dazed, and they pulled him into the gatehouse. Once inside Frodo slumped toward the floor, his back against the door-jamb and would not move. The two gate-wardens were talking between themselves, over by the fire, and then the younger hurried out of the house. Vaguely Frodo was aware of the sound of galloping pony-hooves. Were he any other lad, Frodo knew they would send for his parents. But who would come for him?

The other one – Hugo, Frodo remembered – now knelt beside Frodo, examining his arms and chest and neck in turn. Frodo for his part sat there passively, letting Hugo lift his arms. Then Hugo was pouring him some tea and holding it to his lips, tilting it so that Frodo had only to swallow.

"Stars above, lad, you could have been killed." Frodo just looked at him, his eyes vacant, and he pulled his knees toward his chest. Hugo waited, as if hoping Frodo would say something, but all Frodo did was rest his head against his knees. "Well, you’ll not catch your death of cold on my watch," Hugo said, more to himself than Frodo this time.

At that Frodo laughed, a quiet chuckle deep within his chest that grew ever shriller until Hugo looked at him worriedly. "I should have died," Frodo said softly.

Hugo’s hand froze at Frodo’s cuff, and he stared at the young hobbit. But what could anyone say to that? Frodo could not explain it, and now that he was caught he knew he’d have to, but he could not find the words for what had just happened. Hugo shook his head, disbelievingly, and he went back to peeling off Frodo’s wet things: the velvet waistcoat from Bilbo, the linen shirt and wool trousers from Buckland looms, the coarse ropes Frodo had used to bind his hands together. He then coaxed Frodo to his feet and sat him in the chair by the fire, a flannel blanket pulled tight around him.

Outside, Frodo heard the cacophony of hooves again, this time from two ponies. In burst Saradoc Brandybuck, his face sick with concern. Frodo had been living with Sara and his wife Esmie these last two years, and Frodo knew that Sara thought of him as something like a son. He wasn’t his dad, though. Frodo’s dad was buried in a pine box behind Brandy Hall, drowned in the same waters that hadn’t taken him just now.

"How is he?" Sara asked Hugo anxiously. "Is he hurt?"

Hugo shook his head, as though he wasn’t quite sure what to say. "His back and his head’s hale enough; a minor miracle, that, sir. He’ll feel a bit bruised these next few days, but nothing to call the healers for. But that’s not what worries me." Hugo went over to the pile of clothes and held up the rope. Sara looked quizzically at him, so Hugo handed them to Sara and showed how the loops fit a hobbit’s wrist. "He fell in on purpose, sir, and I don’t think he meant to swim."

Sara sucked in his breath, and strode across the room until he stood before Frodo. If it had been Bilbo – well, if Bilbo still cared about him Frodo wouldn’t be here. Bilbo would have sat beside him and patiently teased the story out with questions, but Sara was as far from Bilbo as night from day. Grasping Frodo under the chin, he forced Frodo’s head so their eyes met. "What is the meaning of this?"

Frodo had the good grace to blush, but he couldn’t think of words any better now than he had a half hour ago. Sara’s questioning gaze broke upon him like the river against the shore, and Frodo felt drained by it all. Closing his eyes, he turned his face as far away as he could.

"Damn it, Frodo!" He threw the rope at the table on the other side of the hearth, knocking over a mug that fell to the floor with a crash. Frodo’s eyes shot open at that, and he saw the fury in Sara’s. Calming himself, Sara pulled a stool over from the table and sat beside Frodo. He nodded toward the door and Hugo left the room. Turning his full attention to Frodo, Sara said, "You must tell me, lad. I can’t fix what I don’t understand." He took Frodo’s hand in his and squeezed it gently. "Why now? Do you even know yourself?"

Frodo looked into the fire. The log crackled gaily, and the flames seemed to be dancing with each other. Of a sudden he remembered the way Rosemary Boffin had giggled when they’d run into each other at the dance three nights ago. Was Yule only three nights past? Gathering his breath, Frodo met Sara’s eyes once more.

"It was Ro – " he began, but then stopped himself. No, it wasn't her fault, not really. "At the dance," he started again. "One of the girls laughed at me – Rosemary, I think it was. I didn't know the right steps…"

"You nearly drowned for that?"

Frodo felt a shiver go all through him, and he pulled the blanket tighter around himself. Drowned – that had been what had nearly happened, hadn't it? It all seemed unreal, somehow. At last Frodo said, "I don’t really fit here. I don’t really fit anywhere." The full tale made his head spin, and before he could stop himself, Frodo let it all spill past his lips. "Bilbo doesn’t want me, he never writes and never comes to visit and he won’t take me back to Hobbiton, and Rosemary said I don’t fit here either, and you’re not my father, not really, and – " Frodo could not help himself. A great sob went through him so his whole body trembled.

Sara pulled Frodo as close as the chair would allow, running his fingers through Frodo’s wet hair. "It does get better, you know," Sara said after a while. "Esmie’s mum died birthing her little sister, when Esmie was just about your age. You might talk to her."

"But she still had her dad," Frodo said. "And her smial."

Sara nodded at that. "Your lot’s a hard one, Frodo Baggins, and no mistake. But it does get better, truly." They sat silently together, until at last Sara spoke again. "Do you really hate it here so much, Frodo?"

Frodo shrugged weakly. "I’ve got nowhere else to go. I’ll have to make it like home, somehow. But I never cared for these halls when my parents were alive, and I stayed in Hobbiton with Uncle Bilbo as often as I could." He looked over at Sara before continuing more tentatively, "I know it’s your haunts. Of course it is home to you. But to me it’s all crowds and bustle, and I never felt so alone in all my life. Can’t I go back to Hobbiton? Perhaps if you wrote to Uncle – "

Sara seemed to consider that for a moment before shaking his head. "No, Frodo. I’m surer of that than I ever was. If you’re having these dark of thoughts, you need to be around lads your own age. Bilbo is a fine man, but he is old and Bag End is dreadfully empty. No, you’d best stay here." Getting up, he crouched down in front of Frodo. "But don’t you ever think Bilbo doesn’t want you there," he said. "It took three days of discussion – fighting, more like – between him and Grandfather before Bilbo ever gave in. I’ve never seen an old bachelor fight so hard for a family."

Frodo smiled a little at that. Not the near-hysterical smile he must have given Hugo earlier, but a genuine smile, for all his lips barely curled. "Truly?" he asked.

"Truly." Sara scooped Frodo up and sat down in the seat, letting Frodo sit in his lap. "I will make a pact with you, Frodo Baggins of Brandy Hall. Esmie is with child and should give birth ‘round Midsummer. If you will stay until then, if you'll make Buckland your home and never try anything like this again, after his first year I’ll speak to Bilbo about it."

"His?" Frodo asked, curious in spite of himself. He knew some of the Old Wives thought they could tell a child’s sex even before birth, but Frodo had never known Sara to put much stock in those things.

"Wishful thinking," Sara said. "I want you to know my child for a little while, even if you won’t think of him as a brother. And if you truly try for a year, I think I may feel more at peace with you in Bag End with only Bilbo for company."

Frodo nodded. "I promise, Sara. I’ll try." Then before he could think better of it, he added: "I’m sorry, Sara. Truly. For… earlier… but also about you and Esmie. I know you’ve loved me like your own son. It’s just – it’s just that I have my mum and dad. Had. I can’t just choose another." Sara nodded his understanding, and Frodo continued, "But cousins are nearly close as brothers, and I’ll be the best cousin I can be."

"That will suit me well enough," Sara said. "And what of Esmie? Will you talk to her?"

Frodo nodded, though honestly he was dreading it. He hated the idea that more people would have to know about today, though he guessed the tale would have reached her ears even without that talk. Would Sara write to Bilbo about it? Frodo hoped not, but he suspected Sara would, and he didn’t dare ask him not to.

Still, with the fire crackled before him, and Sara’s arms holding him close, Frodo couldn’t think too much about tomorrow. Buckland was not home, not quite, but for the moment it would do well enough.


III. Earth – Midsummer, S.R. 1385
Soundtrack: I'm Yours by Jason Mraz

Frodo opened his eyes, blinking in the lamplight. Where was he? He recognized the brackets as the pewter monstrosities Gilda had taken a liking to but that Esmie had banished to the back halls. He smelled, too, the rich aroma of roasting meats. So he was behind the Great Hall, on the corridor going back to the kitchens.

"You sleep like a cat."

Turning his head, Frodo smiled lazily over at Rosemary. So she was still here. Wait, Rosemary was still here? "What time is it? Should we be here?"

He moved to get to his feet, but Rosemary placed her hand on his thigh, pushing him back against the wall. "Peace, Frodo. It's late, an hour or more past midnight. Late enough that we're already out of bounds, and so we might as well stay."

Frodo snorted at that. "I can hardly argue with that logic. And I'm not the tween whose virtue might be doubted if people found me lurking around with a lad at this hour. And with Prim Brandybuck's son, no less."

"You're young enough still that no one would think anything of the kind, even if they came upon us. Which they wouldn't at this hour unless they're coming from their own trysts. But were you accusing me of plotting after your lofty station, Frodo Baggins?"

Frodo reached over and plucked the hollyhock flower from behind her ear. "I am not the one who wears ambition behind her very ear." Rosemary looked at him quizzically so Frodo added, "The fay folk believe that plants have their own meaning, and they choose their gardens accordingly. The blossoms draw their virtues to their owner's house. So Bilbo told me, once. Hollyhocks are for ambition, for hope of a better future."

Rosemary took the flower back from Frodo and twirled it between her fingers. "Sometimes you amaze me, Frodo. The things you know, and the generous way you share them. It's as if it never even occurs to you to hoard them for yourself."

"What good are stories if they aren't shared?" Frodo asked, genuinely perplexed. "And if I seem to know more than most, well, I just know different things."

"It's more than that, though," she said. "I saw a warmth buried within you even when you came to Buckland, after – " She hesitated.

"You can say it," Frodo prompted her. "After my parents died."

"I couldn't have said it once," Rosemary admitted. "That warmth was well hidden, it would have had to be for any hobbit that lost his family like that, but at times I thought I glimpsed it. And I wanted to see it more." Frodo blushed and turned his face away, on the pretense of working a crick out of his neck. "Oh, Frodo, how you looked in that waistcoat!" she laughed.

Frodo looked back toward her. Too quick, it seemed, for a sharp pain ran all down his back at the movement. His wince was not lost on Rosemary. "Come over here," she said. Frodo for his part did not have to be asked twice; Rosemary's backrubs were legendary in Brandy Hall.

"You made fun of my dancing," Frodo said as he sat down in front of her.

"Only to get a reaction out of you," Rosemary said. She worked her thumb against Frodo's collarbone, and Frodo rolled his head back almost against his will. "I didn't mean anything about your westkit, Frodo, or your dancing. Leastways I meant no insult. If anything you looked too highborn for the likes of me. Even the Master's son could hardly hope for so rich a garment, and there you were little more than a lad and looking every inch an elf-lord. Whatever became of it?"

Frodo did not answer her right away. Her breath, warm against the back of his neck, had set his body a-tingling, and not wholly from her backrub. For all Rosemary's insistence that he was still too young to be thought any hobbit's lover, he knew their closeness was not altogether innocent. It felt as if every worry was melting away from him, leaving only the joy brought on by Rosemary's firm hands on his back.

In truth he did not know how to explain the waistcoat. After the incident at the Bridge, he'd asked Sara to take it away, to do something with it. He didn't want to be reminded of Bilbo at every high-day, or his parent's funeral either. That next Yule Gilda received a new stole, and yesterday Merry had been wearing new trousers cut from a cloth that seemed all too familiar. Frodo was glad the cloth was being put to good use, and gladder still he didn't have to wear it any longer.


"I'm sorry, Rosemary," Frodo said. "My mind was… elsewhere."

She chuckled at that, and her thumb traced a curlicue from the small of his throat down his sternum. "As well it should be," Rosemary said. She pulled her hand away, and Frodo nearly groaned at the lost contact. She asked again, "What became of the waistcoat, if you don't mind telling me?"

"Oh, that," Frodo said. "I outgrew it, and there wasn't another boy my size and station. I'm sure the cloth was reused somehow." Guessing the backrub was over, he pulled himself to his feet and helped Rosemary to do the same.

When he picked up his jacket something fell out of his pocket and fell to the floor with a clink. Bending over, Rosemary picked it up and examined it in the lamp-light: a polished stone, worn into the shape of a heart. "What is this?" she asked.

Frodo felt himself smiling almost as foolishly as he had during Rosemary's backrub. "It's Merry's idea of a gift. He saw it at market and fell in love with it, so naturally he thought his favorite cousin would love it even more." Shaking his head, Frodo chuckled to himself. "Little does he know stones like this can be found easily enough on Bywater's shores, minus the merchant's tray of course. But the thought was kind."

Rosemary looked at him carefully. "You don't mind the reminder?" she asked. "Only a few years back – "

Frodo shook his head, this time perfectly serious for all he still smiled. "No. That was then. Now… well, Buckland's not quite home, and I still don't care for the crowds. I don't think I ever shall. But I don't long for home as I once did."

She nodded. "I think I understand." Digging into her pocket she produced another stone, this one the normal round shape. Examining it, Frodo saw the initials carved into it, or what might have once been initials; some of the etching was worn smooth as if fingers had traveled over them too often. Frodo guessed that they had.

"My brother's," she explained. "He gave it to me when Mum sent me across the River so the Master could see to my schooling. We don't have teachers in the Marish like they do in Buckland." She took it back and replaced it in her pocket. "Remembrances are good, Frodo Baggins, and remembering better still." She returned his stone to him and added, "If that was mine, I wouldn't lock it away in my room. I'd carry it wherever I went and let it remind me that others loved me, when the days get dark."

Frodo nodded at that. A part of him wondered whether she had heard the full tale of that day on the bridge, and she hoped she would go no further down that road. Not, as with Esmie, because he was ashamed or afraid, but simply because it seemed unnatural to dwell on dark thoughts with Rosemary around.

Somewhere in the smial a clock struck twice, and Frodo felt himself yawning. "We should get you to your own bed before there's not enough night left for you to find your rest," Rosemary said.

Frodo, for his part, followed her down the hall without protesting. His cousin's first gift-giving, and a late night spent talking with Rosemary – he'd had worse days.


IV. Fire – October, S.R. 1390
Soundtrack: "King of Anything" by Sara Bareilles

Frodo crouched in front of the hearth, tearing pages from an old journal and feeding them into the fire. Behind him, Merry sat sullenly in the chair that was by long tradition Frodo's. That had caught Frodo's attention, but Frodo had wisely let it go without commenting on it. Merry had been in a sour mood the last three days, and Frodo knew drawing attention to it would not help matters.

"Want to help, Merry?" Frodo called over his shoulder. "It's great fun."

Merry scowled at him and stayed resolutely in his seat. Frodo knew why Merry was vexed with him, and if Merry had been older Frodo would have been less indulgent. Merry had known that Frodo would be returning to Hobbiton since April, but Frodo knew that at Merry's age months could seem impossibly vague (and therefore unreal). But word had finally come from Bag End, and Bilbo would arrive the day after next to fetch Bilbo. Aye, Frodo understood his cousin's irritation – but that did not mean he had to enjoy it. Three days of irritated glares, long-suffering sighs, and heavy silence would wear on anyone.

Setting the journal down, Frodo reached for the plate of food he had pinched from the kitchen earlier that afternoon. Weighing his options, he thought a savory smell might best tempt Merry over to the fire. He speared a sausage on a toasting fork and held it over the fire, resting on his haunches as the meat cooked through, the rich smell wafting all through the room. Chancing a glance out of the corner of his eye, Frodo saw that Merry's attention was definitely with him rather than the storybook he had been reading.

When the sausage was ready, Merry came over to claim it and helped himself to a cup of milk warmed by the fire as well; the book lay on the chair's arm forgotten. He ate in silence while Frodo toasted bread for his own tea, and then roasted a marshmallow for Merry and dug a tater out of the embers for himself.

"Don't you think I'm happy with you, Frodo Baggins," Merry said when he first sat down, "I just want my tea, and it has grown cold over there." Frodo knew better than to gloat at his victory, but he also noticed how Merry stayed by the hearth once he'd eaten his fill. Once Frodo had also finished his food he picked up the journal again and tore out another page. Merry, in spite of his best efforts, could not quite hide his curiosity. "Am I on that page?"

"No," Frodo said as he balled it up and threw it into the fire. "Your mum is, but nothing you would want to read." He hoped Merry wouldn't press him for details, for Frodo had little desire to relive that particular conversation, let alone the fearsome way he'd described Esmie afterwards. "It was from before you were born, not long after my mum and dad died, and – well, young Brandybucks aren't the only folk who can be sullen at times."

Frodo smiled over at Merry and was relieved to see that his cousin returned the smile. Suddenly, though, Frodo saw Merry's face grow deadly serious. "You've already burned me?"

"I'd never burn you," Frodo said, now completely serious. Merry had been too young to remember it, but the year after he was born there'd been a fire in the kitchen, and Peony Bracegirdle had been burned so bad she'd nearly died. That memory made Frodo want to laugh – horribly, inappropriately, but almost irresistibly – and Frodo bit his lip against the impulse. But that reminded him of the lessons he had learned that winter. He now knew he was not alone in his suffering – and that some people survived harder fates than death

More cheerfully he added to Merry, "And I've burned precious few pages about you, cousin. What do you think I'm doing?"

Merry's scowl returned anew and he said, "You're burning your memories. You're going back to Hobbiton, and you don't want us there. Not Mum or Dad, or Granddad or Grandmum either. Not me."

Frodo took Merry's hands in his own and squeezed them gently. "You should burn something; you'll feel better for it." He reached over to the other side of the hearth and set the box of things he'd chosen to burn between them, but Merry would have none of it. Frodo sighed. "Merry, you must understand – to my mind there are two Bucklands. The Buckland I saw when I first came here, long before you were born, and the Buckland I saw later. You're right, I don't want to carry some memories back to Hobbiton. But only of that first Buckland. Not the one where I knew you."

Merry looked a bit doubtful, but at least his scowl faded. Rising to his knees he looked into Frodo's box and pulled out a dried flower. "What is this?"

Frodo chuckled. "I wore it in my lapel my first Yule here. Quite aside from my being miserable around so many hobbits making merry, that was the holiday we discovered I was allergic to walnuts. I spent that night sick as the dog, and someone must have thrown the flower in my keepsake chest thinking I would want it. I promise you, I would have burned it long ago if I knew it had been saved. That's the kind of memento I'm getting rid of."

Merry smiled at him tentatively and quickly cast the flower into the fire. "Good riddance!" Frodo laughed.

Merry nodded agreement. "It does feel good," he admitted. Frodo offered him the journal, and Merry tore out the next page, throwing it into the fire.

"Do you remember this?" Frodo dug down in his pocket and produced a stone that Merry had once given him. Merry nodded as he tore out another page, and they watched the flames consume it. "Some things wouldn't burn even in a blacksmith's bellow-fires," Frodo said seriously, "but I wouldn't burn them even if I could."

"That stone?" Merry asked. "I'm sure Merimas could melt it down for you if you asked him."

"I meant the memory, you daft thing," Frodo said, rolling his eyes so that Merry sniggered. Frodo put his stone heart back in his pocket and felt the other one brush against it: the normal roundish shape with initials carved into it. Rosemary had left Buckland for the Marish the spring before, and she had given Frodo the stone as a remembrance of their friendship and the occasional kisses he had stolen on their strolls along the High Hay. Frodo knew Merry would not appreciate that his stone had a partner in Frodo's pocket and so he had kept the other hidden away, but to him it felt right to have the two keepsakes together.

"Will you come visit us, Frodo?" Merry asked, breaking through his reverie.

"Of course," Frodo said. "And I will do better than that. I'll write."

"Every month?" Merry asked.

"Every week."

Merry's eyes glistened with excitement for a moment until he remembered that he was supposed to be irritated with his cousin. "That will do, I guess," he said. Still, he could not quite hide his smile as he tore off the next page and threw it into the fire with gusto.



Credit Where Credit's Due: Thank you to Annmarwalk, Celeritas, Dwimordene, and Linda Hoyland, all of whom read over this and gave me feedback pre-publication. *smooches to all*

Air: The only description (to my knowledge) of the event leading up to this story comes from Gaffer Gamgee:

And Mr. Drogo was staying at Brandy Hall with his father-in-law, old Master Gorbadoc, as he often did after his marriage (him being partial to his vittles, and old Gorbadoc keeping a mighty generous table); and he went out boating on the Brandywine River; and he and his wife were drownded, and poor Mr. Frodo only a child and all. ("A Long Expected Party," The Lord of the Rings)

Many fan-authors have assumed Frodo was a regular visitor to Brandy Hall in the years before his parents’ death. Drogo certainly was, but I think it's possible Frodo might not have always come along. (He may have had some type of school, or perhaps he just didn’t like Buckland and stayed in the Shire proper when he could.) I felt this made for a better story, so I opted for this interpretation of Frodo’s early childhood.

Interestingly, although the above passage sounds like Gorbadoc was alive when Drogo and Primula died, the family tree has him dying beforehand. I’ve opted to assume the in-text reference is correct, and the family tree is in error.

Gorbadoc, Rory, and Sara are Merry Brandybuck’s great-grandfather, grandfather, and father respectively. Rosemary Boffin is an original character; I imagine her to be one of the "couple of hundred relations" that were constantly in Brandy Hall, according to the Gaffer.

Earth: Near the end of this vignette, Frodo refers to Merry's first gift-giving. Hobbits of course give birthday presents to others on their own birthdays, and in letter #214 Tolkien says that they began do this once they become faunts at the age of three. In my 'verse, Merry should be born on 1 Lithe, S.R. 1382 – the first of the two Midsummer holidays according to the Shire calendar. Merry would therefore turn three in S.R. 1385, and this stone would be the first "grown-up" gift Merry ever gave Frodo. (As far as I know, canon never gives us Merry's birthday, only his birth-year.)

Fire: I'll admit the marshmallow roasting is an indulgence of mine. It does seem modern to me, though Wikipedia insists that "Candymakers in the early 19th century France made the innovation of whipping up the marshmallow sap and sweetening it, to make a confection similar to modern marshmallow." (The gooey center didn't come until the late-19th century.) I'd put this in the "If Bilbo has coffee on hand for the Dwarves, then anything is possible in the Shire" category – I simply liked the mental image of Merry and Frodo roasting marshmallows.



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