Author's Note: This story was written several months before my SickFrodo fic, "The Bedside Reflections of Bell Gamgee." There is a scene in that story that was based upon what happens in this story, so I thought that "Portrait" would be a nice companion piece to "Bell Gamgee." And no, I'm not shamelessly plugging my own fics! I'm just uptight enough to think it's nice, as a fanfic writer, to have my own "canon," in which events are in concordance from story to story! ;)

A brief word on the inspiration for this story…feel free not to read. In September, 2002, Meryl, my LoTR-loving friend, invited me to see a lecture given by Alan Lee here in New York City. Alan Lee, as you probably know, has been a renowned Tolkien illustrator for over 20 years, and was invited by Peter Jackson to be one of the conceptual designers of the movie trilogy. If you're familiar with his work, his distinctive style reflects on almost every scene of the films. During the lecture, Mr. Lee showed many slides of drawings from his own sketchbooks. One of these drawings was a pencil sketch of Elijah Wood's Frodo that was so beautiful, and so perfect in its simplicity, that both my friend and I caught our breath in awe. Mr. Lee told us that the sketch was meant to play a part in the movie…there was a planned scene of Bilbo taking a drawing of Frodo with him as he packed for Rivendell. The scene was never filmed (alas, because I think it would have been incredibly moving!) but the sketch remained in Mr. Lee's book. I could not get that drawing out of my head, and that weekend I started writing this story, "Portrait."

In case you're dying to know what that drawing looked like, I'm very happy to tell you that it actually turned up in one of the appendices of the Special Edition DVD of Fellowship of the Ring. On "The Appendices: Part One" disk, go to "Designing and Building Middle-earth/Design Galleries/The Fellowship/Frodo." The drawing is on the title page, and is also the first slide visible. I was so delighted to see it on the DVD, because I had an impossible time trying to describe it, and of course, because it is much too lovely to languish unseen in Alan Lee's sketchbook!

I debated whether to categorize this as a "Frodo" story or a "Sam" story, and I decided to go with Frodo, since this is really a tribute to Frodo, through Sam's eyes.
There is one direct quote in here, from "A Long-Expected Party," (FoTR) and a fair quote from "Of Herbs and Stewed Rabbit." (TTT).

I'll shut up now.

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Chapter 1: Something From Buckland

Two days after Yule, Mr. Bilbo Baggins came home a day early from visiting his relations at Brandy Hall. It was a grey afternoon, and a light snow had just begun to fall, when Ham Gamgee looked out of his window and saw Bilbo approaching Bag End on his pony. He put on his hat and hurried up the hill.

"Good afternoon, Mr. Bilbo, sir," he called. "Home early, I see."

Bilbo dismounted from his pony and took some things out of his saddlebag. "Good day, to you too, Master Hamfast," he said cheerfully. "It looked like snow was on the way and I thought I'd make an early start before it got too thick." He looked up at the leaden sky. "I see I was right." He leaned forward and winked at Ham. "The relations were getting a bit thick, too, I might add."

"You might, sir," said Ham with a laugh.

 "Frodo was a bit disappointed, but he knows I'll be back soon enough."

They went into the chilled front hall of Bag End and Bilbo put his packages down on the bench while Ham helped him out of his snow-dusted cloak. "And how is Mr. Frodo, sir? I haven't seen him since last summer."

"Oh, he's grown like a weed since then. A fine lad. Looks more like his mother every day. I'm looking forward to having him here at Bag End when he turns twenty-one next year."

"'Twill be interesting to have young folk around the place again, sir."

"I hope it won't increase your duties much, Ham!"

"Oh, being busy never bothers me none. And I'll have Sam to help out."

Bilbo picked up his packages. "Do you know, that long ride in the snow has put me in the mood for a pint. I think I'll just put these things in my study and then head over to the Green Dragon."

"I can take them for you, sir."

"No, that's all right. I've got some puttering around I want to do back there first."

"All right, sir. I'll stay here and get the fires lit. Wish I'd known you were coming home early, so you wouldn't have had to come back to such gloom."

"Quite all right, Ham. I know you'll set things straight in no time," Bilbo said and headed down the hall to his study.

Ham decided to go back down to Bagshot Row and fetch Sam. He could use Sam's help getting the hearths swept and warmed at Bag End and with starting the dinner preparations, and Sam always did enjoy coming up to Bag End. Ham stuck his head in the door of Bilbo's study to let him know he was leaving.

He was quite startled to see Bilbo up on his knees on his cluttered desk. He appeared to be tacking something to the wall. One of the odd maps that he was always drawing, no doubt. Bilbo was terribly fond of odd maps.

"Mr. Bilbo, sir? Anything I can help you with?"

Bilbo looked over his shoulder and shook his head, speaking through the pins in his mouth. "No, no, not at all!"

"I thought I'd go fetch Sam to help out, if you don't mind, sir."

Bilbo shook his head and a smile crinkled his features. He waved one hand at Ham in a cheerful gesture of dismissal.

"All right then, sir. See you in a little bit."

"Mmmph!" said Bilbo, and returned to his project.

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Sam was so excited about accompanying his father to Bag End that he ran up the hill ahead of him, his breath puffing out in great frosty plumes on the cold air. He reached the green door first and turned around with his hand on the bright brass knob.

"Come on, Dad!" he cried.

His father came up the snow-covered walk, a bit out of breath from trying to keep up with Sam. "Now, I didn't ask you here to play, Samwise. There's work to be done."

"I know, Dad, I know," Sam said. What his father didn't understand was that to Sam, working at Bag End was like play. Where else could every turn around a corner possibly reveal some fascinating curiosity…a dwarvish shield, a treasure map, an elvish sword? Not to mention, old Mr. Bilbo with his endless stories and his wonderful way of telling them. It seemed that he never tired of sharing his tales with Sam, and Sam certainly never tired of hearing them.

"The first thing I want you to do Sam," his father said when they were inside, "Is get the fires going in Mr. Bilbo's study and his room. There's some good twigs you can use for kindling out in the woodshed. Do the study first, because I know Mr. Bilbo will be back in there when he returns, and I want it to be nice and warm. All right, Sam?"

"All right, Dad!"

Sam went to the woodshed and gathered up an armful of dry twigs. He paused for a moment to look out at the view. Bag End commanded the best view of Hobbiton and the Shire, and Sam always loved to stand here on the hill and take in the sight. It was three o'clock in the afternoon, and winter's early twilight was already beginning to descend. The fields all around Hobbiton lay quietly dusted in snow as the purple shadows of evening began to fall. He saw warm yellow light spilling from the kitchen window at #3 Bagshot Row, and smelled the woodsmoke that curled from the chimney. It was so quiet that Sam could hear his own heartbeat.

Sam brought the twigs back to Bilbo's study, and paused in the doorway with a slight quiver of excitement. Bilbo's study was absolutely the best place in Bag End to find unusual things. Books were piled everywhere, and although Sam could not read a word, the mere sight and smell of all those books filled him with wonder. All sorts of curious things were up on the shelves and tacked to the walls. Bilbo had told tales about many of them, but just as many others remained mysterious, and Sam thought he liked it just fine that way.

Sam knew that he had work to do, but he noticed that Bilbo's desk, always cluttered, was even more messy than usual. The desk was tucked into an alcove beneath the one round window, and while the rest of the room was already in shadow, the alcove and desk were still lit by pearly winter light. Some sort of leather satchel appeared to be opened on the desk, and papers were spread out every which way. Sam did not think it would hurt to take a quick look at the desk. He hoped that Bilbo had brought something exciting back from his visit to Buckland.

He set the twigs down by the fireplace and tiptoed over to the desk, feeling vaguely guilty. This was "meddling," he knew, and "meddling" only led to trouble. Yet Bilbo was always so open about his things, and after all, these things were all over his desk, in plain sight.

Sam ruffled through the pages and felt a sinking disappointment. There were many papers here, but they were filled with nothing but words, mysterious letters that meant nothing to him. He wondered, not for the first time, if Bilbo would ever consider teaching him those letters, if he asked. He imagined that Bilbo would not mind at all, and might even enjoy it, but Sam thought his father might have something to say about it. Don't go getting mixed up in the business of your betters, or you'll land in trouble too big for you, his father always said, although Sam could not imagine what trouble could possibly come from Bilbo teaching him his letters.

He turned from the desk with a sigh, ready to get back to his chores. As he turned, his eyes swept past the window, and up to the wall against the desk. Sam's breath caught in his throat, and for a minute, he stood staring, completely motionless. Then, he turned on his heel and ran from the room. He tore down the hall to the kitchen, where his father was standing at the sink, scrubbing potatoes.

"Dad, Dad!" he cried, and tugged at his father's shirt.

"Goodness, Samwise, what is it? I'm up to me elbows in 'taters."

"But Dad, come and see! In Mr. Bilbo's study! It's an Elf, Dad!"

Sam's father turned from the sink "Sam, there's no Elf in Mr. Bilbo's study or anywhere else in Bag End. What notions you have."

"No, no Dad!" Sam said with impatience. "Not a whole Elf…come and see!" He wrapped his small hand around his father's wrist and pulled him down the hall.

Sam pointed to the wall just to the left of Bilbo's cluttered desk, at the sheet of paper that had been tacked up there. "See!" he said triumphantly. "That's an Elf! Mr. Bilbo must've drawn him!"

Much to Sam's surprise, his father laughed out loud. "That's no Elf, son. That's just Mr. Bilbo's young cousin, Frodo, who lives at Brandy Hall. He's a bit different-looking, it's true, but he's just as plain a hobbit as you or me."

"That's Frodo?" Sam asked in disbelief. Sam knew Frodo's name well, for Bilbo spoke of him often, and with great fondness. Yet Sam had never met him. Frodo had spent two weeks at Bag End the summer past, but Sam had been down with the measles the whole time, and had not been allowed to leave the house or to have any visitors. He had been terribly disappointed, for he had wanted to meet anyone that Bilbo liked so much.

"Aye, to be sure, and it's 'Mr. Frodo' to you, Sam," said his father. "Met him myself, last summer, when he was here at Bag End. You'll probably meet him soon enough. Mr. Bilbo says he's going to ask him to come here to live, soon as he's one-and-twenty. He's got a soft spot for the boy, always did." He shook his head sadly. "An orphan, you know. Terrible thing."

"That's Frodo…I mean…Mr. Frodo?" Sam asked again.

"All right, Sam, now that's enough foolery. You finish up with the fires and then come to the kitchen. Mr. Bilbo will be back soon enough and I've got plenty of other things for you to do." He paused and ruffled Sam's hair. "Sam?"

Sam shook himself out of his daze and answered absently, "Yes, Dad."

When his father had left, and Sam was certain that his footsteps had gone all the way back to the kitchen, he returned to Bilbo's desk. As quietly as he could, he pulled the chair out from under the desk, and stepped on it. From there, he clambered up onto Bilbo's desk, placing his feet cautiously between the piles of paper and quills and inkpots. Now his eyes were almost level with the drawing, and he leaned forward to study it in the pale snow-light.

In all his life, Sam had never looked at another hobbit and thought of him as beautiful. He thought his mother was pretty, in the way that mothers are—soft, warm, and comfortably pretty. But now Sam found that "beautiful" was the only word that came to his mind.

Bilbo had sketched his cousin with his head turned slightly to the right, the eyes looking away, as though Frodo had been gazing out of a window while sitting for the portrait. Soft pencil-strokes defined the eyelashes, which were slightly downcast. In spite of the child-like softness of the features, Frodo's face was delicately angular with high cheekbones, a perfectly straight, pointed nose and a firm chin, accented with a gentle cleft. His mouth was full and relaxed, the bow lips almost parted, and although the sketch was only charcoal, Sam could tell that Frodo's eyes were light in colour, clear and very bright.

But Frodo's features were not all that fascinated Sam. As Sam looked at the drawing, he was struck by a soft sadness around Frodo's eyes and mouth that almost made his heart ache. He knew that Frodo was an orphan, and he wondered if he had grown up unhappy because of it. No such look had ever lain on the round, happy face of any other tweenaged hobbit that Sam had ever seen. Yet Sam saw more than melancholy there. He saw a gravity on the fair face that seemed to whisper of things to come, more than of things past. Little wonder that Sam had thought Frodo was an Elf. What could put such a look on the face of a hobbit lad barely out of his childhood?

Sam reached his hand out and touched the tip of one finger to the paper.

"Frodo," he said, and wondered.

Suddenly, the December day seemed to darken to midnight and Sam heard a snowy gust rattle the windowpane. He shivered and wrapped his arms about himself. An inexplicable sadness came over him, and a great sorrow seemed to go by on the sighing wind. Sam longed to crawl underneath Bilbo's desk and hide from it. Tears filled his eyes.

Then it was gone.

"Sam, finish up in there and come along! We haven't got all day."

"Yes, Dad," Sam called. He wiped the back of his hand against his eyes and shook his head. Now, I've gone and spooked meself! he thought. He was almost laughing at his own foolishness as he climbed down from Bilbo's desk and went to light the fire.

Yet before he left the study, he cast a look back over his shoulder. The room was shadowy, touched golden with firelight. The portrait, on its white paper, seemed to glow in the dim light. From the doorway, Sam could just make out the curve of the right cheek, and the black pencil-strokes of the eyelashes. For one moment, his heart ached dreadfully with a pain he did not understand, and yet seemed pierced with a fierce joy that was an even greater mystery.

"Maybe he's like that, somehow," Sam whispered to himself, as if in a dream. "He's like that and that's why Mr. Bilbo loves him so much. Maybe he makes him feel like that, too."

"Samwise!"

He took a deep breath and stepped into the hall. "Coming, Dad."