Title: Autumn's Requiem
Author: Aratlithiel and Ariel
Summary: A 'what if' Frodo/Rosie romance
Rating: PG-13 thru R
June 20, 2003
A/N – Concept by Aratlithiel, writing by Aratlithiel and Ariel
Autumn's Requiem – Part 2 of the 'Seasons in the Shire' Trilogy
"There's somethin' the matter with that Mr. Frodo." Farmer Cotton announced as he came into the warm kitchen. "He's mutterin' somethin' about dark things and clutchin' that fancy necklace o' his. It don't look like he's slept a wink all night, s'far as I can tell, and he looks a fright." The hobbit looked to his wife and daughter and jerked a head back over his shoulder towards the bedroom that Frodo Baggins was using. "Could you go and take a look, Lily?" he asked his wife. Rose set down the dishes she'd been carrying and stepped forward.
"I'll take a look-in on him, Da. If you don't mind?"
"She knows her herbs as well as me, Tol." nodded Lily Cotton. "Let her take a peek. There's no harm in it. Maybe a pretty lass'll bring him 'round quicker than my old mug a-starin' down at him." She winked at her daughter.
Tolman nodded and smiled though the worry never left his face. "You go see what you can do for 'im, Rosie-lass."
After a knock or two went unanswered, Rose pushed the round door open and peeked inside the Cotton's best bedroom. Her parents had given it up for their guest, as Mr. Frodo's beautiful home was still in a horrible state, and wouldn't be in any sort of condition to live in for a while yet. The room was quite bright from the spring sun that streamed in the large round window and the fire that her father had obviously just roused, but it took her a moment to pick out Frodo even in the well-lit room. He lay quite motionless in a wash of bright sunlight, his body almost as pale as the white nightshirt and sheets that were tumbled around him. The comforter had been kicked to the edge of the bed, suggesting the occupant had shown more animation than he presently did. Rose crept forward, alarmed and nervous to see him so indisposed, but it wasn't until she got close enough to see his face clearly that her heart froze in her chest.
There was no light in his eyes.
The crystal blue spheres that had enchanted her a year ago and a world away were open and staring lifelessly at the dark beamed ceiling. They looked clouded, vacant and fixed horrifyingly still. Rose stumbled closer, hardly daring to breathe.
"Mr. Frodo, sir?" she whispered, dreading what she might find. He did not respond, but Rose was close enough by then to note the slight rise and uneven and fall of his chest as he breathed. Relief washed over her and she thanked whatever spirit remained in him that he still lived. He might have been but a haunted shadow of his former self, but Sam would be beside himself if anything happened, and she would shed tears as bitter to see Sam hurt so as she would for Mr. Frodo himself. "Me dear sir, what's wrong? Can you hear me?" She laid a gentle hand against his unresponsive cheek and was shocked to feel how cold it was. She quickly leaned over him and straightened the covers over his chill body. "You'll catch your death, sir, sleeping like that. Let's just get you all warmed up, shall we?" She tucked the comforter around him snuggly, as she would have a small child she was sending to bed, but still he stared blankly, unmoved by her tending. Rose sighed and sat on the edge of the bed beside him. His right hand lay on top of the quilt where she'd lain it and the fine pale fingers were limply arrayed across the cream colored fabric. Rose had a sudden vision of that same hand, whole and un-mutilated, poised elegantly over the collar of his shirt. The juxtaposition of the two images, one healthy, whole and seductive, the other pale, broken and pitiful pierced her heart. She had made her choice, Samwise, and knew the rightness of it, but she had also known this hobbit at his peak of glory. Pity welled up inside her but it was no longer pity for herself and the fanciful dream she had once entertained. This was pity for him and for all of her people. He had been a jewel, a treasure of nobility, honor and passion, and now he was a charred husk whose fire burned low under a mantle of ash. Hobbitkind would likely never know how much they had lost in this one brave and beautiful soul.
"Oh, Mr. Frodo, sir, please…" Tears came to her eyes and Rose put her hands on his face, forcing him to look at her. "Please speak. Tell me what ails you. I'll try and put it right. Oh, please, sir!" she sobbed. His dim eyes looked right through her and his rich, soft mouth was slack. Oh, how she remembered the way those lips had danced on hers! How they had trembled and stroked ever so tenderly and how their most intimate touch had fulfilled her with searing fire. They were pale now and dull, and Rose wept for the glory that seemed naught but a treasured memory. She bent, and still weeping, kissed his unresponsive mouth.
Her parents would have been appalled at her impropriety, her seeming lack of respect for one they considered an honored guest, but her kiss was one of reverence, not passion, and as her tears fell upon his face and her lips left their tender warmth on his pale and wasted ones, he blinked and slowly focused faded eyes on her. Sorrow and despair filled them but he had no strength to speak. He could only rest wearily against her hands and look into her face above him. Where his eyes had once held a twinkling dance of fire, there was now only the emptiness and pain. Where once she had been privy to the depths of his soul, she now saw that those reaches had been plundered, stripped bare and forsaken. His pain seared her with an aching sorrow. She could do nothing for this greater evil but weep for him, but perhaps, if it were not so terrible a malady, she could tend his current complaint.
Necessity galvanized her. She laid his head down and wiped her eyes, setting aside her pity for the moment to focus on the task at hand. His skin had been cold; there was no fever, but his eyes looked as if he had drifted into delirium again. He clutched spasmodically at the coverlet with his injured hand and began to kick his legs feebly.
"Shush, sir. You lie quiet and easy. Rose'll make all to rights." She stroked his cheek, but he did not seem to hear her. Hers was not a familiar enough voice to break through his confusion, but Sam was away in the Southfarthing and was not expected back for a fortnight. There was nothing for that either. Her touch might not be as well known to him, but it was loving too, and though it trembled with awe and the regret of a remembered passion, it was no less nurturing for it. She stroked his hair, now shot with silver, and hummed a tune her mother used to sing to her when she was naught but a babe. At last he quieted enough for Rose to leave him. She went for her mother and help.
The evening was, to say the least, a trial. It took the determined efforts of Rose and Lily Cotton, with help from Tolman and her brother Jolly, to get Mr. Frodo settled that night. After the morning's coolness, a fever rose in him and he became agitated and almost combative. He would let none touch him, and groped desperately among the bed sheets as though for something he had lost. When at last Jolly got hold of him, the older hobbit screamed weakly and seemed to collapse, his fevered eyes rolling back in his head and his wasted form quivering in the younger one's arms. Jolly apologized profusely for having manhandled Mr. Frodo so, though the older hobbit was in no condition to either notice or take offense at the treatment. He was becoming weaker and the fever, which seemed to originate at a lump at the base of his neck, was consuming his reason. He quit his struggling and, as Jolly laid him down on the bed, began to sob softly. The piteous sound tore at Rose's heart. It was the cry of a child forlorn or of one who has lost everything he ever loved. The cry ran down those dark paths he had trod and brought back their horror afresh. Even if Rose were to take him into her arms, as the cries made her ache to do but which the presence of her mother and Jolly forbade, she knew she could still not mend this rip in his being. This damage ran too deep for anyone to ease.
As the long night passed, they comforted him as best they could. In brief moments of lucidity he denied needing a doctor, claiming in fevered whispers that the finest healer in the world had not been able to cure what ailed him. At other times, he would murmur plaintively in his delirium - snatches of old rhymes, and murmurings about haunted echoes along empty streets of stone. Through all his broken ramblings lay a thread of loneliness. It was a theme that tied them all together and Rose's heart broke to hear it. Loneliness must have been a very private sorrow for him because he had never, in her memory or experience, even hinted that he was troubled by it. She would respect his privacy and never allow that she knew, but the fact that he kept so much heartache inside himself, hidden from those who loved him and would be hurt by it, humbled her. She might have once turned to Frodo in need and curiosity, and felt heat and desire for his return, but the more she knew and learned, the more she revered and honored him. She would never again feel his magical touch on her body, but that mattered little. Her only desire now was to give back what she could to this dearest of hobbits.
Slivers of precious ice kept him hydrated, and sponge baths with mint water kept him cool. At first, Lily Cotton was none too sure about having Rose in the room when it came time to bathe Mr. Frodo down, but as it was obvious that he was too delirious to remember such embarrassments, Lily acquiesced. From the way the fever raged through him, it was also obvious they would need all the knowledgeable hands they could get to pull him through this trial. They stripped off his nightshirt and Jolly moved his limp body to a cot overlain with towels before the fireplace. In the red glow of the tended fire, his form glowed about the edges. Just as it had that night, Rose thought. She laid the sheet gently over him and crouched at the side of the cot. She slipped another sliver of ice into his fevered mouth and stroked his cheek tenderly as he mumbled his thanks. The poignant smile she gave him in answer was meant for him alone, but Lily Cotton saw it. She watched the two of them silently for a moment, and then, deciding, told Jolly they would be all right from here out and that he should go see what help his father needed. Rose looked up at her mother's words and was about to ask how the two of them would manage to get Mr. Frodo back into his freshly changed bed when she saw the look in her mother's eyes. For a moment mother and daughter stared at each other in silence. Rose, finding new strength in the purity of her feelings, looked back unapologetically. She might have betrayed her familiarity with the master of Bag End, but there was no shame in the way she now felt. She waited until her mother sighed and looked away.
"Does Sam know?" was all the older hobbit asked. Rose looked down at her patient. His eyes were open just a crack and they rolled restlessly under sweat dampened lashes, reflecting the leaping flames with their faintly glittering movements. She smiled sadly at him again, glad she would not have to hide her affection from her mother any longer.
"No," she breathed. "Leastways, not about that part of it. And there's no call he should have to. 'Twas nothin' but a fancy o' mine when I thought Sam'd lost interest in calling. Mr. Frodo was a dear, and a gentlehobbit indeed, but it was no more than a kindness to us both and that was the end of it. I'll bind myself to Sam with no regrets."
Lily was silent, studying her daughter for a long while as if trying to determine the truthfulness of her talk. "Girl, I've seen love before," she countered. "And that's what I'm seein' now. Don't lie to yourself, or that sweet lad you're leadin' along."
Rose shook her head sadly. "Mum,... " she sighed. "I do love Mr. Frodo, but it's not that kind of love anymore. He's as far past needing that as the stars are above my head, but he's done me a kindness; and I'll probably always love him for it. He's brought my Sam back and tied us together right and proper. We both love this old dear so much, we'll be happy the rest of our lives just to please him!" Rose laughed sadly. "How could I not love him for that?" Her mother still looked skeptical and Rose shook her head. "Mum, he's torn himself up inside to get Sam back to me. How can I throw that away?"
At last Lily nodded.
"Aye, he's had a cruel time, and no mistake," she agreed. "And he was terrible fine once, he was." Lily smiled down on Frodo with tender pity as well. "Lor, don't look so shocked, girl!" she answered to Rose's surprised look. "I've eyes in my head!" she retorted with cultured brightness. "I may not have acted on it, but I noticed Mr. Baggins in my day too. There weren't a finer lad to look at in all of Hobbiton." She leaned over and patted his arm soothingly. "We'll take good care of him and he'll bounce back right as rain."
Rosie nodded, grateful for her mother's light words. She understood - at least well enough - and accepted in the easy manner of their people. They would not need to speak of it again.
They set to with mint water, bathing Frodo's fevered face, running the soft cloth down the curve of his neck and over the smooth and elegant chest. Rose brushed wet and wondering fingers over the small scar that was raised in the hollow of his shoulder. Hard, it seemed, and colder than the rest of his fevered body. He whimpered when she touched it, but did not wake from the troubled daze he had fallen into. She trailed a soft cloth down his lean and wiry arms and, taking his hands, devotedly bathed his upturned palms. His chest was flushed a rosy hue from fever, but she remembered how it had done so with passion once. She gently wiped him down, remembering the feel of his nipples hardening in her mouth and the touch of his silky skin bare against hers. His body was still sweet but older now, so much older.
She bathed his thighs and noted how lean they had become. She had thought him firm and strong before, but his journey had made him iron; hard but oh so brittle. She dipped her rag in the cool water again and touched it to his fevered belly. Its muscles jumped and quivered in surprise and her thoughts leapt back to the way they had danced against her own such a long year ago. She laid her cool hand against his skin and whispered soothing words to calm him as she turned him onto his side. There, along his ribs she felt the smooth line of a scar and the uneven hump of a broken bone that had healed badly. The tender landscape of his body spoke of torments endured as eloquently as did his ageless eyes. Rose wet his fevered back, not noticing her tears were still falling.
"Aye, a cruel time..." Lily breathed as she took the rag from her daughter and finished the job.
The fever broke by dawn. Lily left Rose by Frodo's bedside so that she could get some breakfast ready. Satisfied that he was at ease, Rose laid her head beside him on the bed and was sleeping but a moment later. Soft fingertips gently stroking the curls away from her face woke her much later in the morning and she looked up to see Frodo looking at her with tired but clear eyes. She blinked. The March sunlight streamed into the room, surrounding him with its fresh spring glow. He looked almost unreal to her sleep-filled eyes, like a creature out of myth. She broke into a smile and stifled a relieved sob before taking his hand and holding it tight against her cheek.
"Oh, Mr. Frodo," she cried. "You worried us right and proper." Her smile broadened and she squeezed the hand. "Sam'd have our hides if anything happened to you!" Her eyes twinkled merrily and she knew he understood the deeper meaning of her simple words.
"Then, for your sakes, I am glad to have recovered." His voice was a weakened whisper, but at least it was lucid again. "Your fellow has a sword now, Rose, and he's learned the use of it. I'd not want him in wroth at one whose memory kept him going through many dark trials."
A shadow crossed her features and Rose blinked, trying to keep back the tears that threatened. She let go his hand and sat up, pulling herself together. In Frodo's bright eyes was the darkness she had turned from, the horror that seemed to have swallowed him whole. His sweet body was not the only thing that had scars.
"Aye," she sighed. "You said 'wait for him' and so I did. You brought him back to me whole and a bit more, maybe. He's the same fellow as he was, but there's a spark there now that wasn't there before. A fire." Rose looked down, blushing. "He's got something in him now that… well, that reminds me of you." She glanced up at Frodo with an even gaze. "I'm glad you've brought him back to me, Mr. Frodo and he'll make a fine husband. I only wish you'd brought yourself back as well."
Frodo's smile faded and he returned her even stare. The shadow of despair in Frodo's eyes swelled till it seemed to swallow his whole being. Rosie could almost not bear to look at it.
"I didn't bring Sam back…" Frodo whispered. "He brought me. I was used up, burned away. I could help no one. He's the one who had the strength, Rosie. Not me. In the end, I had nothing left." He closed his eyes against the sunlight and sighed.
"You're forgetting, Mr. Frodo, I know better," she returned in the same soft tone. "I've seen your strength and the fire that's in you up close and proper. Sakes, I almost got burned by it! You're the finest gentlehobbit I've ever known, Sir. I know why Sam followed you and I know why he loves you. Anyone who had eyes could see it. And because I know what kind of strength you had, it makes me right scared of what was strong enough to break you." She drew a breath. Frodo's eyes remained closed but there was strain evident in his features as he listened to her words. "I don't rightly understand why you went away, Sir, but I know it was important else you'd not have gone. And whatever it was was important enough that you let yourself be swallowed up whole for it." She paused again, studying his pale, tired face. "My Sam's a strong lad, that I know, but if what you two tangled with was horrible enough to do this to you, it would have destroyed him too. I don't doubt it for a second. You stood in its way and protected him. That's as plain as day… to me at least, and that took courage sir, and strength." She waited, letting her words settle into his mind and watching the little crease in his brow slowly ease. Rose had gone from curiosity to awe to lust and longing for this sweet hobbit, but what she felt now was love; the kind that expected nothing, that only wanted to see the light return to his eyes. Though she ached to see him happy once again, she knew in her heart it would take more than either she or Sam had within them to accomplish it. A force darker than any she could imagine had taken his joy and it would take something more powerful than she could dream to bring it back.
"You know," he whispered at last. "I did not realize until that next morning that Sam had pushed you away only because he purposed to accompany me on my dark path. He feared he may not return to you and wanted you to feel you were free find another. It takes someone with a great heart and profound love to do something like that for the one he loves." He paused for a moment, seeming to gather strength to go on. "I never would have brought you home with me that night if I'd known, but I can't regret it." He opened his eyes and smiled at her. "When I'd finally got up the courage to do what I had to, I tried to leave Sam behind and continue alone - because I knew what he had waiting for him here. He wouldn't let me." Frodo shifted, trying to sit up a little in the bed. "He has become very dear to me, Rose, more so than I ever imagined. I would do anything to ensure his happiness. You are a good lass, but Sam deserves someone's whole heart. Can you give that to him?"
He was still weak and his arms trembled as he propped himself up to look earnestly at her. Rose nodded. "Aye, I can," she assured him. "I can't say as the thought didn't enter my head, Mr. Frodo, but I've got sense too. You're a sweet lover, and no mistake, but even before you got back, I knew which way I'd have to choose. And then when I saw you again…" she looked down and frowned. "…I knew." She looked up again. "You're strong, Mr. Frodo, and so is my Sam, but I'm not strong enough to cure what ails you. I need someone who's going to give me a future, sir…." She paused and looked down, her throat constricting with tears. "And that's not you," she finished in a tight whisper. Rose felt the tears flowing down her cheeks and let them come. "I do love you, sir, but not the way you fear. I love you as the finest hobbit I've ever known, as somebody who's gone and done something out of the kindness of his heart that nobody'd ever be able to repay him for. I love you as my Sam's dearest friend… and as the keeper of that spirit you let me touch hold of once. I'll always treasure that you gave me that, sir, no matter how long I live, but I'll never need to see it again. I'm happy with what I've got."
"And Sam need never know of it." It was not a question.
Rose looked at him steadily. "There's no need he should," she said softly. "And I'd not hurt him for the world."
Frodo studied her until his arms would no longer hold him and he eased himself down. He reached for her hand and wrapped cold wiry fingers around her slim warm ones.
"I think you've found a better road than even you know, Rose." He lifted her hand to his lips and placed a gentle kiss on her fingertips. "You will know joy and fulfillment, as will Sam, and that will cure me far better than you know. Perhaps, if you'll both allow me, I'll walk that path beside you for awhile. I would very much enjoy seeing the two of you happy."
Rose smiled and her tears began to flow anew. She brought their hands to her own lips and kissed his fingers in an echo of his tender gesture. "Aye sir," she said softly. "We'd have it no other way. For as long as you'll let us."
Frodo closed his eyes and let his head sink into the pillow. "For as long as I may," he sighed. With his hands still encircling hers, the Ringbearer smiled softly and slept.
~*~ END ~*~
A/N – The last story in this trilogy is entitled 'Linden and Laurel'
Go to Linden and Laurel
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