Disclaimer: Not dead, not English, not Catholic, ergo not Tolkien.
A/N: This a repost. I have done a lot more tinkering with improving the writing thanks to input from Kete and Pearl Took1. Silver Sun gave me a lot of encouragement in the beginning and my thanks to all the others who gave constructive feedback or just made my day by saying they enjoyed reading it. To anyone new: Please enjoy!
Autumn 1419 S.R.
It was November by the time the four hobbit Travellers returned to the Shire and were faced with the final battle in the War of the Ring. While the Cotton boys went to Bywater for the Battle, Rose Cotton saddled a pony and rode far and wide in the surrounding towns to spread word rousing the Shirefolk. Through all their efforts the Battle was won and Sharkey defeated. After, Sam and Frodo went to stay at the Cottons' home for a time but it was two days before Rose got back home from her ride as her poor pony had gone lame with exhaustion.
All was quiet late that night at the Cottons' when Rose came in. She was soaked and spattered from the autumn rain and her hard journey so she took her things off in the entrance and silently padded down the burrow to the bath room. Never had she felt so filthy and utterly spent and it seemed to take forever to get the water heated but finally the tub was ready and Rose sank gratefully into it. The waves of hot water sloshing around her as she rocked slowly soothed her away from her previous distressed state though she hardly felt less miserable. When she finally dried off after a second tub full, she felt like one of last year's wrinkly apples that she had cleared out in September to make room for the new crop. After checking a mirror to see that she hadn't missed any spots, she slipped on a nightshirt, hid the ruined, bloodstained clothes in a drawer, and went to bed.
Later that night in the next bedroom, Frodo woke up with a start. The room was not quite dark but silent. Was that a noise? Or yet another nightmare from Mordor? No. Those always left him in a cold sweat. What? There was a noise again. Something barely audible from the room next door. Sam? No. He was in Nib's room on the other side. Frodo got up and went to the wall.
"You... hhrrr... how.... grrr...unh...urnh!" Rose Cotton's long forgotten voice came through the wall. Frodo stood there trying to decide whether he should be listening at all. Obviously Rose had come home. Maybe Sam was already aware of that fact.
"Nooo!" Something about Rose's cry was so anguished and forlorn that Frodo immediately ran out into the hall and he threw open her door. She was alone after all. The faintest light of dawn was creeping in and he could see her sitting up with her head in her hands.
"Rose! Are you all right? Do you want me to get Sam?"
Her head snapped up. "No, don't!" she gasped.
Frodo walked over to the bed and sat in the chair beside. "Are you all right?" he asked again, watching her worriedly. Whatever is wrong? He could see she was shaking and crying quietly. "Did you have a nightmare?"
Rose straightened up, somewhat pridefully making an effort to pull herself together. "It's over. I'm fine now," she said grimly. Frodo moved to brush a tear off her cheek but Rose angrily snatched his hand away. "Don't touch me!" He flinched visibly and she looked down, embarrassed. "I'm so sorry, Mr. Frodo. I'm not myself just now. Please don't worry Sam about it." She shyly squeezed Frodo's hand in both of hers and smiled ruefully. "Well, the day will begin soon and I don't think I can get back to sleep now. If you don't mind, Mr. Frodo, would you tell about what you've done since I saw you last?" She glanced at the maimed hand that she had heard so many rumours about. "Tell me something about the Elven places you've been to. I think we both need something beautiful right now. Then I'll make you an early breakfast."
Frodo smiled. It was good to be back among hobbits who could still recover quickly from a bad dream or misfortune and get right back to life's simple rhythm. "Where do I begin...."
By the time she got up to make breakfast, Rose had indeed been delighted and awed by the Elvish stories Frodo told and she shed some tears too when he also told of the brave Man Boromir's fall defending his cousins Merry and Pippin. She guessed the stories about Frodo and Sam's later travels would have to wait. The rumours spoke of things too dark to ask a near stranger like Mr. Frodo about. For now she was satisfied to know that Sam and Misters Frodo and Merry and Pippin were all right.
The weather improved the next day but the brown mud lay about like earth-bound cloud obscuring the green sunshine of Shire flora. It took a couple more sunny days before the soil was dried enough to make outdoor work possible. In the meantime Sam had started preparing to survey the Shire by sorting through the remains of the Bag End tool shed. He didn't relish the thought of seeing all the the damage wrought by Saruman. He had already seen enough. He paused often to think of the choice he had been faced with at Galadriel's mirror: to return to the Shire in an effort to to prevent this very destruction, or to forward into uncertainty. It had been hard at the time but he knew he had made the right one. That didn't make his task now any less heart wrenching.
One morning Frodo and Sam were enjoying a quiet digestive break between breakfasts in the parlour, discussing plans for the day. "Sam, why don't you take Rosie with you today? I'll wager she can help more than I could," said Frodo.
Sam chuckled. "That she might. If she could bring herself to get her hands dirty. The Rosie I grew up with wouldn't dig up a potato if she was starving." Sam thought back to the last party he had seen her at before the Journey. She had looked perfect to his eyes. She was not of the humour nor of enough money to put on airs but she was always meticulously clean and proper. As the only Cotton girl among four brothers, she had been expected to help inside the house but never outside. Her hands were never stained with soil or sun. So many hobbits still didn't fully appreciate how much the world had changed outside of the scouring of the Shire; how much sacrifice had been made. How could Rose possibly understand?
"The Rosie you knew wouldn't perhaps. But give her a chance anyway, Sam. You've been so busy with planning how to restore the Shire, you haven't seen that she's not a tweenager anymore," Frodo said as he smiled over Sam's head.
"I'm so glad you noticed." Rose arched an eyebrow as she came into the parlour. "You're right, Mr. Frodo. I'm not afraid to get my hands dirty any more. I'll just see about borrowing Ma's cloak and we can be off."
True to her word, Rose took a lively interest in restoring the greenery of the Shire. She spent at least part of most days helping Sam. Only if it threatened rain would she not go. Rain did more than dampen her spirits; her mood became sharp and reclusive and her parents wondered at the change in their daughter since the Travellers had come back.
One sunny morning, she was out planting again when she decided to ask Sam about something that was growing on her mind. "Sam? What's wrong with Mr. Frodo? He's been up at night a lot."
Sam looked up from the fallen branch he was cutting. "What do you mean - a lot? I'm afraid I've been so tired an oliphaunt couldn't wake me. Sometimes I find him curled up on my bed in the morning although I didn't feel him climb on."
Rose leaned on her shovel and thought a moment. "So that's where he went. Last night his door was open and his bed empty. You see, I haven't been sleeping well lately myself, and sometimes I've encountered him in the kitchen when I went to make some tea to help me sleep. We'll talk a little, mostly about beautiful things like Elves and the ocean but he still seems awfully sad. I wish I knew what's troubling him but it's not my place to ask and he'd insist he was fine anyway. He's right stubborn that way. I think he needs to talk to you but perhaps he doesn't want to bother you."
"I see. Sam frowned, almost feeling chastised. Thanks for telling me, Rosie. I can't stand for him to be unhappy yet I didn't see just how bad it was. He needs his Sam and I haven't been there. I'll see if I can talk with him after dinner."
"You'd better. Does he know you are moving back with your gaffer when New Row is finished next week?"
Sam frowned as he picked up his saw again. "No."
That evening Frodo volunteered himself and Sam to clean up after dinner, saving Sam the awkward task of trying to get Frodo aside. He shooed Mrs. Cotton out of the kitchen then reluctantly told Frodo of his impending removal back to the Gaffer's home. He expected some protest but was surprised to find Frodo was all in favour of it.
"The quest is long finished now, Sam, and we are safe in the Shire again. It's time you stopped worrying about me and concerned yourself with your own happiness. You have to be whole, with or without me. Gandalf told me once that he believed dear old Bilbo would not be permanently harmed by the Ring because he finally gave it up of his own accord." Frodo's face clouded over as a phantom pain niggled at him. His voice dropped almost to a whisper as he said, "You know that I claimed it for my own and it was taken by force. I fear the Ring claimed me and it is like part of me fell into the Crack of Doom with it." (5)
"Oh, Mr. Frodo! Don't say that! You are here with me." Sam clutched Frodo's hand and his tears fell on the maimed stump. "All of you that matters. I couldn't have borne it if you hadn't come back."
"Dear Sam. I would not have come back if it weren't for you. I doubt not that you will be with me to the end of my days in Middle-Earth." Frodo could not bear to tell Sam he also didn't doubt that those days would be far too few.
Rose stopped on her way home from market as she passed Bag End to watch Sam and Frodo talking outside. It was a rare winter sunny day and they had been taking full advantage of the chance to work on restoring the once beautiful hobbit hole to its former condition. Sam was gesturing out a map of the new garden. Frodo's smile was framed with smudges of paint and sawdust. To Rose, they looked happier than anytime since they had come back to the Shire. The sight made her own heart lift higher than it had been in weeks.
As Rose regarded them, she thought back to the Sam and Mr. Frodo she had known less than two years ago. Sam had been one of several lads calling upon her and she had come to think of him as her future husband but never yet had he spoken the three words she wanted to hear. To be honest, she hadn't felt ready to say them herself. Mr. Frodo she really hadn't known personally at all before but now she saw him as an important friend.
Her mother had painted a picture of an interesting choice before her: a nice but simple life with Sam or a life as the wife of one of the richest hobbits in the Shire. Either was possible. Yet that a daughter should not ignore the sage advice of her mother who knew which was the better choice.
Rose could certainly love Mr. Frodo but in her heart she knew he would always need something more than what she could give him. She often caught him with a sad faraway look in his eyes, like he was watching a dream fade away. On the other hand, everything about Sam felt like spring bursting forth. His garden, his laughter, his way with his little nieces and nephews. But did his devotion to Frodo leave any room for her?
Rose sighed. She would wait a little while longer. Either way.