Title:  Autumn's Requiem

Author:  Aratlithiel and Ariel

Summary:  A 'what if' Frodo/Rosie romance

Category:  Angst/Romance

Rating:  PG-13 thru R

June 20, 2003

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A/N – Concept by Aratlithiel, writing by Aratlithiel and Ariel

Autumn's Requiem – Part 2 of the 'Seasons in the Shire' Trilogy

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This is as close to book canon as we could make it with two exceptions:  1-  Rose works at the inn as she did in the movie (because it was just so convenient) and 2-  Frodo's description includes his lovely blue eyes (although Tolkien never said he didn't have blue eyes…he might have – you don't know!)

Co-Author's Note:  From Ariel – I have been absolutely delighted to find Aratlithiel, a true jewel among hobbit lasses, but to work with her has been an utter dream.  She and I have been on such an incredibly similar wavelength that all I have had to say was a word or phrase, and she has written it – and using the same spirit and enthusiasm I intended!  I can literally not believe my good fortune!  She is supremely talented and a joy to talk to… and though we have known each other only a few weeks, I feel like we have been friends our whole lives.  That is such an incredibly rare feeling and one most of us only experience when we are youngsters – to find it with a sweet kindred spirit at my age is a marvel that I thank Aratlithiel for. 

Autumn's Requiem is broken up into chapters – roughly by who did the majority of the writing.  Chapters 1 and 3 are Aratlithiel's, chapters 2 and 4 are mine though the story idea and original story rough were Aratlithiel's.  I hope you, the reader, enjoy this story as much as I enjoyed writing it with her.

(Please see Aratlithiel's note at the end of this chapter.)

~*~

~Chapter 1~

Rated: PG-13

He sat alone in the corner and Rose found her eyes straying back to gaze at him again and again as if drawn by some silent command.  He hadn't been by since the incident with Sandyman several weeks ago and Rose had begun to wonder if he'd ever return.  Then he traipsed in with a smile and 'hello' for her nigh on half an hour before as if he'd only been in just yesterday.

He was absently sipping at a mug of ale and his attention was focused on the open pages of the book splayed on the table.  A mostly empty bowl of stew and half a loaf of bread were pushed to the side and out of his way.  His feet looked rather muddy and the bottom edges of his cloak, which was thrown carelessly on the bench across from him, looked damp and heavy as if he'd been walking through high, moist grass.  The battered walking stick and even more battered leather pack propped against the wall behind him led Rose to deduce that Mr. Baggins had been out and about on one of the infamous jaunts the folk in Hobbiton so dearly loved to gossip and conjecture about.  'Where DO you suppose he gets himself off to?'  people would say.  'Off to mingle with those Elves more like than not…he's a Baggins, ain't he?'  was most often their disapproving answer.

Rose never understood why the people of Hobbiton and Bywater seemed to scrutinize the young master of Bag End so ruthlessly or why they seemed so scandalized by his slightest oddity.  After all, she didn't see what was so strange about taking long walks and reading.  Plenty of folk could be found out and about with their walking sticks on a nice day and that wasn't considered scandalous in the least - and those who could read often did.  It remained a mystery to Rose why it would cause such a flurry of whispered conversation when it was young Mr. Baggins who did those things and anyone else could do so without so much as a peep being said. 

Of course, the elder Mr. Baggins had been a bit on the outrageous side - what with his tales of dragons and wizards and the like.  Rose herself had always found the tales exciting and wildly fascinating.  Not that she'd ever dream of seeking her own adventure, mind, but to have actually met someone who had had one… made her feel quite special, it did, and she wasn't ashamed to let anyone know it.

She shifted her gaze around the room, looking to see if anyone's mug needed her immediate attention.  The room was fairly empty, it being the middle of the week and most folk thinking about their beds about this time of night and not whether or not her pitcher was sitting idle.  She sighed, took up her rag and began wiping down the bar.  It was the third time she'd done so in the last ten minutes.  After she'd finished absently lifting pitchers and crockery and swiping her cloth underneath, she tossed the rag back into the basin and propped her elbow on top of the bar and her chin in her hand.  She absently blew a wisp of stray curl out of her eyes, and found that they had again drifted over to Mr. Baggins.

'My!, but he is lovely to look at, isn't he now?' thought Rose.  She had seen him often enough, but it was only recently that she had actually begun to notice him.  He had been just another part of life in Bywater until the set-to with Sandyman.  It wasn't until he'd knocked Ted onto his ear that Rose had begun to think that maybe there was something about Mr. Baggins that she had been missing all that time.  There was a wildness in him that she had witnessed only that night - a tumult of passion and feeling that seemed to roil just below the surface.  The brief glimpse of it had taken Rose's breath away and she wondered what she'd find if she had the opportunity to look a bit longer and deeper.

He was what her mother would call a 'friendly acquaintance,' - someone you would pass by and exchange smiles with but never really sit down and talk to - someone you'd maybe like to get to know a little better but never really took the time or opportunity to actually do it.  He often stopped at the inn for lunch or tea when he passed by on his way home from one of his jaunts or hiked over from Hobbiton with Samwise for a few ales or a bite of supper. 

Samwise.  She laughed a little and bit her lip, wondering what Samwise would think if he knew she was here ogling his master as he sat minding his own business and reading his book.  She blushed a little at the thought and began to trace abstract patterns on the bar's polished surface. 

Sam was a good hobbit - one of the best she knew.  She used to love nothing better than to spend a lazy afternoon with him and her brothers dipping their toes in Bywater Pool or just roaming through the wheat fields making jokes and playing tag.  Up until just this past spring she'd been certain he was going to speak any day and it had made her giggle like a little lass to think what she would say or do when he did.  But lately he'd been distant and seemed more concerned with the doings of his master than anything Rose might be getting herself up to.  The few times he had come to court, he'd been sweetly shy as usual and attentive, of course, but had cut the evening short on every occasion, always using some excuse of having to keep near his master with his upcoming move to Buckland so near… 'incase he needs anything, you understand' he would say.

Rose did not understand and she'd had it just about up to the tips of her ears with sweet and shy.  Rose Cotton was a full-grown hobbit lass after all and though she couldn't say she had as much experience as someone like that Pearl Took there had been so much gossip about lately, well…a lass from Bywater could have wants and desires too, couldn't she?  And right now Rose wanted something more than bashful hand-holding and chaste kisses on her cheek.  She wanted something…exciting, maybe even a little dangerous…something… exotic.

She pulled her eyes from the bar and looked across the room to find them locked immediately on those of Mr. Baggins.

~ * ~

Rose caught her breath and held it for a moment.  His bright eyes seemed to capture and hold hers even from several dozen feet away.  For a moment, she wondered if he had somehow heard her thoughts and she blushed again.  She wondered also how many lasses had drowned in those eyes and why none of them had managed to hold onto him for very long.  Oh, she had heard the rumors about Mr. Baggins on that subject often enough and unlike the other nasty ones she'd heard, these she tended to believe.  They were, after all, some of the few nice things being said about him.  Rose doubted anyone would make up complimentary things to say about Mr. Baggins when there were already so many uncomplimentary things running about to fill a conversation with.

She saw his dark brow quirk and his full lips turn up in a puzzled smile before she realized she was still staring at him.  He lifted his mug in a silent request for a refill and the spell was broken.  Rose blushed yet again as she fumbled behind her for the pitcher and had to take several deep breaths to collect herself before making her way across the room.

"Everything well, then, Mr. Baggins?" she asked as she poured him a fresh draught.

"Very well, Miss Cotton, thank you for asking," he replied.  "And you?"

It took an effort of will to keep her hand steady as she poured.  So intent was Rose's concentration on the task at hand that she didn't realize he had asked her a question.

"Beg pardon, sir?" she said, not daring to lift her eyes to his.

He chuckled a little and repeated his question.  "I asked you how you are doing, Miss Cotton.  Is everything well with you?" 

She risked a glance at him.  He was smiling at her and his eyes were dancing, weaving their spell.  She looked away quickly, hoping to hide the blush she could feel beginning to heat her cheeks.  'Does he do that on purpose?' she wondered.  'Does he even know he does it?'

"Aye, sir," she said.  "Things are grand.  Can I get you anythin', sir?"

"No thank you, Miss Cotton," he said, lifting his freshly filled mug.  "I believe I'll finish this and be off."

She reached for the remnants of his supper and stacked the bowl onto the cutting board beside the unfinished bread.  As she lifted the small pile from the table, she made the mistake of looking into his eyes again.  Her grip faltered.  The bowl tipped clumsily and he reached to catch it, capturing her hand in one of his and the bowl in the other.  The spark that flew from his skin to hers startled her and she nearly snatched her hand away in astonishment, but something made her leave it where it was instead.  She looked at him.

"Aye, sir," she heard herself say as if someone else were speaking.  "I believe I'll be heading off myself right soon."

His eyes narrowed slightly and his gaze intensified.  She could almost feel them burning her skin as they traveled deliberately from her own and down her arm to the hand he still clutched his.  His grip tightened for a moment and his throat bobbed as he swallowed.

"Then perhaps," he said once more meeting her eyes, "perhaps you'll allow me to see you home safely, Miss Cotton."  He released her hand but continued to hold her with his eyes.

She straightened slowly.  It seemed there was a roaring sound in her ears and heat flushed her cheeks.  Her voice, coming in quick, feathery puffs, sounded far more collected than she felt.  "That would be right nice of you, Mr. Baggins," she said slowly and flashed him a small smile.

~ * ~

The smials of Bywater were mostly dark and the stars blazed brilliantly as they made their way down the road.  Early September leaves of scarlet and gold shone black against the autumn sky and the sweet smell of wood smoke wafting through the air called to mind images of home and comfort.  The dirt path they strode stretched out before them, the reflected starlight turning its normal tawny brown to a rippling stream of pale cream.

They walked close together and Rose could feel an exhilarating lightning pass through her whenever her arm would brush against his.  It was as if he were a thundercloud and she were a drop of rain he was gathering to himself before letting loose an almighty burst.  She could scarcely put one foot in front of the other and had to keep reminding herself to breathe so she wouldn't end up fainting dead away in the middle of the road.  They walked without speaking for long moments and after a time the silence got so heavy Rose thought she might scream just to break it.  Then he spoke and the quiet of the night seemed to scatter and flee on the inflections of his clear, musical voice.

"Sam spoke of courting you once," he said casually.  "Do you still?  Court, I mean?"

"No," she said, though perhaps a little too quickly.  She thanked the darkness for hiding her blush.  "That is, well…"  She stopped and thought for a moment.  "Truth be told, Mr. Baggins," she continued, "I think Samwise has lost interest in me.  He hasn't come to call in quite some time and I've quite given up on him."

He stopped walking and turned to look at her.  His eyes shone in the darkness and the stars silhouetted his frame as if they glittered in their twilight dance just for the joy of being near him.  It was only a fingernail moon tonight, but it seemed every beam of light it gave off shone down directly on him and turned his skin to a shimmering silver.  'Oh, he's just so beautiful…I don't think I can stand it.'

"Are you quite certain?" he asked, his eyes boring holes into her, piercing her and pinning her with their intensity.

"Oh, yes," she whispered.  "Quite certain."

He gazed at her for a moment longer, gave a small nod as if satisfied then turned and continued walking.

"I'm afraid I'm at a loss as to where your home is, Miss Cotton," he said.  "You'll have to alert me when we near the turn."

Rose stopped this time and he continued on for a few steps before realizing she was no longer beside him.  He turned to her, puzzled.  She stood in the road and looked at him, breathing with quick, light breaths.  Her head was spinning but she gave him a small, giddy smile.  He returned it with a quizzical look.

"We've passed the turn to my home, Mr. Baggins," she said simply.

"Oh?" he said, his brows lifting as he looked at her questioningly.  "Why did you not say?"

She took several deep breaths and closed her eyes.  "Because," she said, "I thought I might like to visit Hobbiton this evenin', sir.  I thought I might like to see Bag End."  She opened her eyes.  "I thought I'd like to go to your home this evening."

He was very still and his eyes seemed to glow as they bored into hers.  She felt naked before him, judged.  He stared at her for a very long time, seeming not to move, or even breathe.  She flushed right down to her toes and had almost made up her mind to just turn and walk away in her embarrassment when he spoke.

"Why?" he asked.

Rose faltered.  "Why, sir?"  She was surprised at the question and it took a moment for mind to stop tripping over itself and think of an appropriate response.  Would he really make her say it right out loud?  "I…" she began.  "I should think that would be obvious, sir."

"Perhaps for any other hobbit," he said, his voice flat and his eyes dark, "but I am not…"  He stopped and looked up to the sparkling waltz of the stars above their heads for a long moment.  Then he dropped his eyes back to hers.  "Things are different for me," he said matter-of-factly.  "I must know before I continue."

'Gracious,' she thought, 'are things so difficult for him?  Has he been stared at and gossiped about for so long that he can't even trust a lass who's throwing herself at him?'  Rose suddenly felt a great wash of pity flow over her and an even greater surge of wanton desire for him.  Her eyes filled with unbidden tears and she stepped closer, raising her hand to his cheek.  '…so lovely.'

"I could lie to you, Mr. Baggins and say it's because I'm in love with you and have been admiring you for years," she said.  "But the plain truth is, sir, I've heard the rumors."  His eyes narrowed and she heard a hiss of breath as his body tensed and he made to move away.  "The rumors," she said quickly, staying him with her touch, "the rumors say that you're different with the lasses than other lads are.  Different in a good way, sir."  She bit her lip and softly stroked his cheek.  He closed his eyes and turned his face slightly and almost unwillingly so that and his lips brushed her thumb.  "I don't really believe the other things some say about you, but I think I believe that."  Her voice dropped to a bare whisper and she moved in so close her warm breath skimmed his throat.  "And I wanted to find out for myself…sir.  I could do with a little bit of different just now.  Just for tonight."

He let out a long breath and stepped away, opening his eyes.  He tilted his head to gaze at the sky, seeming to turn her words over in his mind.  He remained still for a very long time and she again thought that maybe she should turn quietly for home and try to forget that she had placed herself in such an awkward and embarrassing position.

"What of your family?" he asked quietly.  "Won't they worry after you?"

"I often stay at the inn when I've a late night," she said.  "They'll not think it any different."

He turned his head and gave her a penetrating look.  "And you're certain your courtship with Samwise is over?" he asked.

"Yes, sir," she said.

Keeping his gaze locked on hers he said, "I shall be going away soon.  I cannot promise anything more than tonight."

She returned his look steadily.  "Aye sir.  I'd not want more even if you were to ask it of me."

He seemed to consider that for a moment then his mouth pulled up in a gentle smile and he turned to her and extended his arm.

"All right, then," he said quietly.  "I shall be most honored to have you as my guest this evening, Rose.  But only if we can dispense with the 'sir' and settle on Frodo."

She returned his smile and took his arm.

~ * ~

His hand reached for the knob of the round green door and stopped, resting on the smooth, cool brass before he grasped it and turned to her.  She saw doubt in his eyes for the first time since they'd left the inn and she wondered what it could mean.  He brought his hand to his face and rubbed his jaw for a moment, his brows drawn together as if he were trying to puzzle out a very difficult riddle.

"Rose," he said, "are you quite certain you would not like me to escort you home?"

Rose drew her own brows together and felt her breath stop.  'Oh my.  Does he not want me?  Have I been too forward?  Shocked him?'

 "I…I don't understand Mis- Frodo," she stammered, suddenly shy and unsure.  "Have I…do you not…"  She stopped and looked at him openly, hands wringing at the fringe of her shawl.  "Do you want me to go?"

He gave her a small, warm smile and took both her hands in his, the right one warm and moist from when it had held her arm and the left cool and dry from the chill of the doorknob.  The magic of his eyes surrounded her and she felt a fluttering warmth in her belly that moved through her body to tingle even her fingers and toes with new heat.

"No, Rose," he said, "I don't want you to go.  It's just…"  He looked down and dropped her hands.  He ran a hand through his hair while the other moved to clutch at his cloak and then fist at his hip.  He bent his head and paused then peered up at her, hand still tangled in his hair.  He gave a small chuckle, at once merrily mischievous and abashedly perplexed.  "I don't make a habit of bringing lasses to my bed unless…well, unless it's someone I care for very much and who cares for me as well.  And since you've been so direct with me I feel I must reciprocate.  Though you may not have admired me for years, I must confess that I have admired you.  In fact I may have attempted to coax you here sooner had not Sam let it slip that he fancied you."

"Oh, sir," she started and he frowned at her.  "Frodo," she corrected, "I…I didn't mean…"

"You were very plain in what you meant, dear Rose," he said quickly, "and please don't think I've taken offense - I haven't.  I admire your boldness and believe I've never had so pleasing a proposal from one so fair in all my years."  He smiled gently and reclaimed her hands.  "But the fact is, dear Rose," he continued, "there are certain… responsibilities that must be considered when two people…"  He paused and flushed with an embarrassed smile and Rose had to work hard to restrain a giggle.  "I told you before that I would be leaving shortly," he went on.  "I will be leaving Hobbiton and may be…unavailable for quite some time."

"Aye, sir," said Rose.  "You're off to Buckland.  I've heard."

"Buckland, yes," Frodo's eyes took on a far away expression and his brow creased in what appeared to Rose to be something akin to sorrow or regret.  He seemed to recall himself and then refocused on Rose.  "Buckland and perhaps…perhaps a bit further.  It's quite possible I shall not return."

Her face pulled into a worried frown. "Not return?  But…"

"The point is," he interrupted, "that should consequences arise, I may not be on hand to…well to help."

"Oh," breathed Rose and smiled with relief.  So that was all.  "Oh, you needn't worry yourself over such things," she laughed and tousled his hair like a small lad.  "I've maybe not had all the experience as some have but I'm no babe either.  I know my herbs and how to read a calendar well enough."  Her smile broadened and he returned it with a bright one of his own.

"Still," he said soberly but not without a twinkle in his eye, "there are risks and…"

"Why don't you let me worry about the risks," she said and patted his cheek with her small, warm hand.  She reached for the doorknob and turned it, pushing the door open and then looked back over her shoulder.  "Are you going to invite me in, then?" she asked with a smile.

He gave her a gentle laugh and placing his hand at her waist, led her through the door.

~*~

TBC

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Co-Author's Note:  From Aratlithiel – I tumbled into this friendship with Ariel by sheer luck and circumstance.  For those of you who don't send thank you notes to your reviewers, I suggest you start doing so – you never know where it might lead.  The result of those first few exchanged emails is a lovely kinship brought about through shared opinions and mutual admiration for each other's expressions of love for Tolkien's work.  I myself do not pretend to be equal to Ariel's talent at turn-of-phrase and those of you who have not read her work must do so at once.   (My personal favorite is 'Thicker Than Blood' but feel free to choose your own  :)  Her work is astonishing in it's brilliance and I truly cannot imagine anyone disagreeing with my personal assessment of it.  She writes very true to Tolkien book canon and her work can honestly be called missing chapters.  I am in awe.

This fic began as a follow-up to 'Nigh on September.'  I happened to mention to Ariel that I was toying with the idea of a Frodo/Rose romance and she responded that she didn't think it would be believable.  Considering myself duly challenged, I promptly wrote chapter 1 and then got caught like a deer in the headlights with chapter 2.  Once you've read chapter 2, you will all thank me for having absolutely no talent with love scenes and throwing myself at Ariel's mercy to undo the horrific mess I got myself into.  Suitably convinced of the plausibility of the story-line, she rose to the challenge magnificently and a partnership was born.  What she can do with words is beyond my understanding but I am happy to sit back and watch her do it and then bask in the completed work.  I am truly thanking the Valar that such an artist deigns to call me 'friend.'

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