Just a "heads up" (in case you don't know) that fanfiction.net will be "down" February 14 and 15.

Some of you sharp-eyed folks noticed that I put neither "TBC" nor "The End" at the bottom of Chapter 4; I didn't know, at that point, if there would be a Chapter 5, but I've learned not to rule anything out anymore. At least I've learned *something*, finally! (This is really "The End", though, because this story is about to bump into "Reunion at Cormallen"!)

Lady of Ithilien: I consider Frodo/Sam to be the perfect, unconditional friendship. They really complete each other.

Leah Beth: How can you say *that* too much? I can't imagine...

MagicalRachel: Thank you for letting me know that I brightened your day -- - that makes me so happy!

vtangelchix: I'm glad "clean" stories have an audience, because I suspect that's all I have in me!

Woman of the Dunedain: I'm certainly enjoying your wonderful story idea, and you can see that a lot of other folks are, as well! Thank you again.

DISCLAIMER: Of course. The characters don't belong to me, I just get to think about them day and night.



Chapter 5 --- Heroes

"This is more difficult than I thought it would be," sighed Frodo.

"What, all these folks starin' at us?" Sam looked around. He could see that even the high and lordly folk at the King's table kept casting surreptitious glances at the two of them.

"You deserve all the attention, sir," he continued. "The strangeness will wear off soon enough, I suppose."

"I doubt it," said Frodo. "But that's not what I meant. I'm just amazed I haven't dropped half my food in my lap by now. It's so very odd to only have four fingers to use instead of five!"

"I expect so," said Sam thoughtfully. "You're doing fine, though."

"I'm going to have to learn to write all over again," said Frodo, bringing a very careful forkful of roast fowl up to his mouth. "I can't remember how I ever learned, the first time."

"I do," said Sam. "Mr. Bilbo was quite strict about every letter looking just so." He grinned. "It'll be back to school with you, then, Mr. Frodo. It wouldn't be natural for you not to be scribblin' away day and night, you bein' a Baggins and all."

"Pippin and I will help you, Frodo," said Merry.

Aragorn and King Éomer had finally insisted that Pippin and Merry be seated and enjoy themselves. With Pippin seated next to Frodo, and Merry next to Sam, the two cousins made sure that the honored Ringbearers were served the best of everything. Everytime Sam or Frodo finished eating a helping of something or other, another helping was heaped onto their plates. If there was any way to manage it, Merry and Pippin were going to see to it that Sam and Frodo put back every pound they had lost; this very night, if possible.

Frodo laughed. "Pippin's handwriting could use some---" He suddenly put down his fork and faced his young cousin. "All right, Pippin, what is it?" he asked. "All evening, you've been looking at me as if you're scared I'm going to disappear at any moment."

Pippin hastily looked away, but Frodo reached out and gently turned his cousin's face to his. Pippin's eyes were swimming with unshed tears.

"Pippin," Frodo said gently. "Please, what is it?"

"All right," said Pippin with a sigh. He took a deep breath. "The last thing I knew, before I was hurt, was that you had been captured --- that you were a prisoner in..." He couldn't finish the thought. "There was no imagining what was happening to you. I couldn't bear it."

"Pip," Frodo whispered, horrified.

"We... we fought, Frodo, in front of that dreadful Black Gate, and I knew it was the end. I knew we were all going to die. But then, when I woke up," Pippin continued, his voice starting to quaver, "I just assumed you were... that you had been..." He couldn't go on. Not caring who was watching, he threw his arms around his cousin and began to sob uncontrollably.

"They kept telling me that you and Sam were s. . sleeping," sobbed Pippin. "but I knew you were dead, and they just wouldn't tell me."

"Oh, Pip," murmured Frodo. "How awful."

Merry was thunderstruck. He hadn't realized that anything had been bothering his always-upbeat cousin.

By this time, Frodo was also in tears. Pippin was holding him so tightly he could hardly breathe, but it didn't matter.

"Shh, it's all right," Frodo murmured. "Everything's all right. We're all here. Everything turned out all right." Suddenly a thought struck him, and he pulled back to look at his cousin's distressed face. "When you woke up... you were surprised to be alive too, weren't you?"


"Pip," said Frodo gently, "You're still not sure, are you?"

"No," Pippin whispered.

Frodo remembered what Aragorn had done for him, and he grasped Pippin's hands in his own. He pressed one hand to his heart, and the other against Pippin's own chest.

"Do you feel my heart beating?" Frodo asked. "And your own?" Pippin nodded.

Frodo bent to whisper in Pippin's ear. "We're alive."

Pippin gave Frodo a watery smile. "It's real, then?"

"It's real," said Merry, who had left his seat to stand beside Frodo and Pippin. "We all made it, Pip."

"I b. . believe you." Pippin swiped at his wet cheeks, suddenly remembering where they were. "Is everyone looking?"

"What if they are, you silly Took?" Frodo wiped away his own tears and smiled. "We're all heroes now... right, Sam?"

"Apparently, sir," Sam sighed.

"So?" Pippin looked confused.

"That means we did what we came to do," continued Frodo. He grinned at his young cousin. "Now we can laugh, or cry, or..." he glanced at Pippin's empty plate. "... or have a fifth helping, you greedy hobbit."

"You first," said Merry and Sam together. Frodo laughed as they both started heaping his plate again. He looked up to see Aragorn, at the head of the table, smiling at him, but he was distracted by Merry reaching up into his hair to adjust the silver circlet.

"Merry," Frodo said with a sweet smile, "If you say I need a haircut, I'm going to throw this potato at you."

Merry saw an opportunity to distract Pippin. "A proper disgrace to the family, you are," he said with a frown. "Why, you look nearly as scruffy as Strider did, when we first met him!"

"Scruffier," said Pippin, his eyes sparkling once more. "There must be a pair of scissors somewhere in this camp. Or maybe we can borrow Gimli's axe, and..."

Aragorn chuckled and turned to Gandalf, seated next to him. "They seem quite themselves, again," he said. His smile faded as he saw the way the wizard was looking at Frodo.

"You're still worried about him."

"Yes," said Gandalf quietly.

"Perhaps returning to the Shire will dispel whatever shadows may still haunt him."

"Perhaps," said the wizard thoughtfully. "However, for this night, at least, I believe I will put aside my concerns." He smiled at Aragorn. "It will not be easy, my friend, having these impertinent, troublesome hobbits as part of your realm. They may take no notice of a king."

"The Shire is its own realm," Aragorn murmured, "and I doubt they need a king." He smiled fondly at the four hobbits, laughing and talking. "... only each other."

** END **