Written for the "Frodo New Year Mathom Exchange"

written for: A! Elbereth
author: Nivina
rating: PG 13


Many thanks to Baranduin for beta reading. :)

Disclaimer: I don't own these characters and make no profit from them.



A Cousin's Promise

Frodo looked up into the misty air, watching the fogs embedding the houses and valleys beneath the hill. The green door to Bag End closed with a little creaking sound, and Frodo startled. He asked himself for how long he'd been standing here, in front of Bag End, watching the sky and the village, wishing for some snow to cover the sad brown and grey coloured meadows and valleys. Today it was Yule, and Frodo remembered ice-cold and snowy days in Buckland from his childhood, getting outside whenever possible, and hunting little Merry-lad with big snowballs and a mischievous smile on his face. Merry used to flee screaming with laughter, but he would fight back courageously when Frodo got him finally. Later in the afternoon they would return home frozen, with red cheeks and shivering, but utterly happy. Hot tea and chocolate would be waiting for them there, and they would huddle under a thick blanket together, with Frodo reading little stories to Merry from one of the numberless books Frodo had picked from the library. Often Merry would fall asleep in Frodo's arms, and Frodo would sigh with contentment, and close his eyes to have a little nap, too.

Frodo sometimes wished those days back. The carefree hours, the simple contentment of it all. Being happy with such little things. Nowadays he found himself pondering more and more, even after hoping that the bad memories would vanish one day - or if they couldn't vanish, that they wouldn't be hurting that much after such an amount of time that had passed now since the War of the Ring. Frodo thought he could live with the haunting nightmares that came nearly every single night, but not with the pain that greeted him at daylight. Of course, there were times when he felt glad, and when he didn't suffer at all, but Frodo was afraid that his inner wounds would never really heal.

He sighed and took out his pipe, moving slowly away from the back entrance and heading for the wood. He would take a little walk, making sure to be back home when Merry and Pippin would arrive from Buckland this afternoon to celebrate Yule with Frodo and Sam. The four hobbits had decided that this day would be the perfect day for a long awaited reunion of the travellers. Frodo was looking forward to meeting his cousins so very much, and he prayed to the Lady that he might be spared from his illnesses while they were there. It was hard enough to reassure Sam that he was alright, and he didn't want to let Merry and Pippin know about his sufferings either. He didn't want to let them know how the days had become dull and grey to him, even on a fine spring day or a lovely summer afternoon. He didn't want them to know how celebrating had lost much of its appeal to him, and they didn't have to know about the fact that food didn't mean very much to him anymore either. Frodo thought that it was enough that he was worrying about these things all the while.


~~~~~~

"Frodo!"

Pippin literally bounced into his older cousin's arms and hugged him closely. "Frodo, it has been far too long now since we saw each other! It's so good to see you again!"

"We missed you at Brandy Hall." Merry said. "You should come and visit more often. I really think you should take your mind off some things, dear Master of Bag End."

The earnest face suddenly turned into a bright and happy smile and now Merry took his slender cousin into his arms, after Pippin had released Frodo but reluctantly. He held Frodo close, and he felt something surrounding his older cousin that he could only sense, but by no means explain. He made a promise to himself to watch Frodo closely, and to use every possibility to find out what ailed Frodo - he knew his cousin long enough to sense that there were things unspoken. Frodo's eyes shone brightly - unnaturally brightly even - and he was laughing with joy to see his cousins again, but there was also something in his eyes that made Merry feel uneasy. A certain... dullness? A blank space beneath the sparkling of this cornflower blue? Joy that was only pretended? Merry was not quite sure, but he was determined to find out.


~~~~~~

Sam was in the kitchen, preparing the last little things for supper. He was quickly surrounded by the three other hobbits, who were cheering and giggling like little bouncy lads before the mathoms were handed out, enjoying the pure bliss of Yule and its celebration rituals. In no time everything was ready and laid out on the kitchen table, and Frodo lighted candles everywhere. Then he poured ale and wine, while Sam was filling dishes with roasted potatoes, grilled mushrooms, carrots, beans and different sauces. Finally Sam brought a baked chicken with skin crisp and golden.

Pippin squealed, "The table will surely be bursting every single moment! I've never seen that much food prepared for only four hobbits - who's going to eat all that?"

"Oh Pip, I'm sure you are the right one to avoid such a terrible thing. The food will disappear inside your hungry mouth before the table will ever have a chance to break," Merry stated dryly.

"Oh, I truly missed your company!" Frodo snorted and lifted his glass of wine, ready to give a little speech, in which he confirmed how happy he was to spend this evening with those who were the dearest to him. Sam saw a little shadow that covered Frodo's eyes for a very short moment, not even a second, and he felt that Frodo was thinking of Bilbo and wishing that he could be with them tonight. Sam wondered if Frodo and Bilbo would ever see each other again. Frodo never spoke of a visit to Rivendell, though it was obvious that the days of the former master of Bag End would be nearing their end in a not too far away future. So why did Frodo barely speak of his old cousin nowadays?

But there was too much joy around to dwell in those thoughts for very long. The food vanished indeed very quickly from the dishes and plates, and so did the ale and the bottles of the Old Winyards. After a while, there were four content and somewhat lazy hobbits sitting at the table, sharing pipeweed and funny memories and trying to win over the drowsiness that had followed their meal. Frodo had closed his eyes and leaned his head against Merry's shoulder, a soft and content smile on his pale face that shone golden in the candlelight.

"So - what about heading for the Green Dragon now?" Pippin asked.

Frodo opened his eyes drowsily and rubbed them.

"Don't be so hasty, Pip," Merry said, with a twinkle in his eye.

Pippin, Sam and Frodo were laughing while Merry gave a little imitation of Treebeard. Both Sam and Frodo loved to listen to the stories that had taken place at Fangorn Forest, and Pippin interrupted Merry more than once to add his own comments.

But even Pippin became quiet when Merry recited the words Treebeard had sung to Pippin and him about the hope of the Ents to meet the Entwives again one day:

"...when Winter comes, and singing ends; when darkness falls at last;
When broken is the barren bough, and light and labour past;
I'll look for thee, and wait for thee, until we meet again:
Together we will take the road beneath the bitter rain!
Together we will take the road that leads into the West,
And far away will find a land where both our hearts may rest."
*

When Merry had ended the song, Frodo fought the sudden melancholy that came over him.

'But at least those are tales without ashes and blackness, tales without the naked fear that was surrounding everything...' Frodo thought. 'And the wheel of fire---'

"We'd better leave now," Frodo breathed, trying to shake off the golden vision that was about to strangle him once more.

~~~~~~

Frodo gulped the cool air outside to make the feel of ashes on his tongue disappear. Merry, Sam and Pippin surrounded him on their way to Bywater, sheltering him from the cold. There weren't many words needed - they had noticed that Frodo needed some shelter, though they did not know what he lacked precisely. Sam thought Frodo was looking very unearthly in the pale moonlight. He was so fragile and seemed to be far away, shining with an inner light. And his sad beauty pierced Sam's heart once more. Why Frodo? Why did he still have to suffer? Sam knew his master better than Frodo would ever guess, and trying to hide his discomfort from Sam was a useless effort. Sam's heart ached, but he tried to push away his gloomy thoughts.

Frodo would be whole again - he just needed some more time...

Finally they reached the Green Dragon, stumbling inside, still filled with the rich food and a little too much of the Old Winyards. But that was no reason to break the joy and cheerfulness the hobbits were feeling. They were welcomed by the inn-keeper and with loud cheers from the other guests. Frodo, Merry, Pippin and Sam were led to a table in a corner, not far away from the bustle, but yet a bit quieter than some other locations in there. Frodo plunged onto the bench next to the window, Merry and Pippin got some more drinks for the four of them, and Sam took Frodo's coat to lay it aside.

"Thank you, Sam."

Frodo smiled, a bit wearily, and Sam realised that his master was shaking.

"It's just from the cold, Sam. It will soon be over. Don't worry."

Frodo squeezed Sam's hand, reassuringly, and Sam smiled back. But Sam had noticed how icy cold Frodo's hands were.


~~~~~~

Frodo was quiet this evening, but wholly enjoying the celebrations and the singing and dancing hobbits. He watched them for a while, and he even asked two lasses for a dance, in all of his behaviour the perfect gentlehobbit. People might think that Mr. Baggins was queer, and cracked, but he had his certain charms. His secretiveness, shyness and mystical appearance made him even more interesting. Frodo was laughing and joking, enjoying the attention, but he soon got a bit weary again.

He headed back to their little table in the corner. He was alone now - Sam was exchanging some words with Tom Cotton - surely trying to discover where Rosie was, Frodo thought with a smile on his face. Merry and Pippin were still dancing. Pippin was enthralling one lass after another with his pure joyful charm and his adorable Tuckborough accent.

'Little rascal...' Frodo thought, chuckling. 'You are not quite as naïve as you want them to think you are...'

He drank his ale, slowly, in deep thoughts. He was tired, and yet happy to be here, to be surrounded by his friends and the comforting knowledge of being home. He tried to tie this very feeling and lock it into his heart, as he so often did, for he lost it so easily these days and found it hard to get this security back.

'But security is not meant to last forever,' Frodo thought, remembering little fragments of loss he had experienced in his life. But he would not spoil this evening with his endless thoughts about the past and the good and bad of it. He would enjoy this evening, and the company of his friends.

'Please... not tonight...'

The activities had changed from dancing to singing. Pippin was the first to sing a joyful song, and Merry joined in almost immediately. Sam came over to Frodo again, smiling at him before watching Merry and Pippin climbing a table, just as they always did. Loud cheering, raised glasses and laughter accompanied their actions. Frodo rejoiced watching his cousins, who were grown and matured so much, but they hadn't lost their ability to set themselves free from conventional manners from time to time.

Sam brought Frodo some water, because Frodo had refused to drink more wine or ale. He felt quite dizzy and sleepy already and he wanted to get rid of his sleepiness. This evening was not over yet!

"Frodo! Sam!" Merry called through the inn. "Come on and sing along with us!"

"Later, Merry!" Frodo called back, laughing.

Sam stayed next to Frodo for a while. Both were enthralled and cheered up by most of the songs, and so it was until there came a lass who sang a slow, soothing song that reminded Frodo of a lullaby.

Suddenly he felt as if his heart was being ripped out. He coughed and his knees got weak. He was glad to be sitting safely on the bench, otherwise he would have fallen down immediately, weakened and gasping for air. He felt dizzy to no avail, and first his hands, then his head fell onto the table. Frodo dimly heard Sam calling, getting him up, but all was getting black around him.

Only the song rang clearly in his ears. And it hurt.


~~~~~~

He had awoken from a nightmare. There was a sticky warm tunnel that was closing slowly around him. He could not breathe, nor hear or see anything. Only the darkness was getting closer. And something else. He cried out, but there was no noise to be heard. Too quiet. Nothing. He had lost someone, had to go on all on his own. But where was he? Where?

Suddenly warm arms were around his tiny and shivering body. A soft and soothing voice, whispering.

"Frodo. Wake up, my dear one. It was just a dream."

"Mumma!"

Frodo sobbed and shivered in his mother's arms, trying to regain his breath, and he relaxed slowly. He melted into the embrace, got calmer when he realised that it had only been a bad dream. He was home. He was safe. Primula stroked sweaty dark curls from his face and looked at him. Frodo's sweet face was covered with tears, and she wiped them away softly. Frodo sighed and crawled closer into her embrace.

"There, there..." Primula whispered. "I'm here. And I won't ever leave you. You're safe. And I will shelter you whenever I can. Don't be afraid, my sweet one. I'm here..."

And then she sang him a lullaby.


"Frodo..."

The words were lost. Only the melody remained. In all of those years he wasn't able to remember the words of that lullaby.

"...always be around you... sheltered... safe..."


"Frodo!"

A stroking hand on his sweaty forehead. Just like then. Just as soothing. But not safe.

"Wake up. Frodo!"

Don't you fear we'd ever leave... Always be around... Sheltered... safe. No harm.


And then the voice of his mother in his head was gone. Frodo felt a tear running down his cheek. When he opened his eyes, he looked into Sam's worried and sad face. Frodo's eyelids fluttered shut again. He was exhausted.

"Sam..."

Frodo tried to get up, but Sam held him steadily. How was it possible that he could not control himself, that he got lost in his memories and visions - and left his friends sad and helpless? Frodo had seen that worried look in Sam's eyes before, had felt Sam shivering. Now Frodo only wanted to get out of here; he wanted to become invisible, just for a moment. No dreams and memories evermore...

Please...

"I'm sorry, Sam," Frodo whispered, trying to make his voice sound normally. "It's too hot in here. I'd better go out for a little walk."

"I'll come with you, Mr. Frodo."

"Oh Sam, you don't have to. Really not - I'll be fine soon enough. Stay here, and please... don't worry. I've just had too much ale, it's my own fault."

Frodo smiled at Sam, but Sam wasn't convinced that Frodo was speaking the truth, and he watched his master carefully. Finally, he loosened his grip on Frodo and watched him walking slowly to the door.


~~~~~~

Frodo stumbled away from the Green Dragon, feeling haunted and miserable. Once he was out of sight of the inn, he let himself fall onto the ground, feeling the piercing cold flowing through him. He wept.

The river... he loved the water, it had always fascinated him. How often had he asked his parents if they would go one day and see the Sea together, sailing on the waves and becoming one with the everlasting tides. Frodo had never used those words, but deep inside him he was yearning for the salty air and the white crowned waves and the endless sight. What would come after the horizon?

His parents had smiled at him and told him to go there when he was older. But one evening they had gone to the river and had left forever. Without him. Never to return... and he was captured...


Choking sobs escaped Frodo when he remembered the day when his parents were found dead at the riverbank - a flash of bursting light stung his eyes and pierced his heart. He had pushed the pain away. Too long, neglecting the loss, not accepting it with all of its consequences.

"No, Frodo... don't look... come back inside..."

He heard fragments of those voices and tried to shake them off. But they would not leave, not this time. The cold crept further until it had reached his throbbing heart, and Frodo lost all sense of time. He could have been kneeling there forever... but finally he got up, as soon as the last sobs had ebbed away. He stood, shaking, trying desperately to wipe the dirt from his breeches, and forced himself to regain some control again.

Slowly, he walked back to the inn.


~~~~~~

Frodo entered the Green Dragon again, hoping that his abscence had gone unnoticed by Merry and Pippin. But his hopes were shattered when Merry was beside him as soon as he had closed the door. Merry took Frodo by the arm and pulled his older cousin into a dark and quiet corner.

"What's wrong with you?" Merry asked, urgently.

"I just needed some fresh air, Merry."

"Don't lie to me, cousin. I know that you want to keep your pain away from us, but you hurt us more if you deny yourself the help we could offer you. We could at least try to help you, Frodo!"

Merry sounded unusually desperate. Frodo ached for him, but he was too weak to dispute anything. Instead he took Merry into his arms, holding him close and rocking him like he did when Merry was a little lad.

"Frodo... don't be so secretive. Don't!"

Merry was breathing heavily, and he had to restrain himself from taking Frodo by the shoulders and shaking him hard to bring him back to reality. To make Frodo speak about his sufferings.

Frodo sighed and whispered: "I'll be fine. I'll be fine, really, Merry. I just drank too much ale."

"Don't tell me you've had too much ale. Sam might believe it, but I don't, cousin. I want to help you!" Merry yelled. But his words fell away in the noisy room, and Frodo only shook his head sadly.

"I wish I could keep these things away, Merry. I'm trying very hard to get back to my normal life, but it seems that this is not possible in an instant. But I'll ---"

"Don't tell me you'll be fine. You're repeating yourself, Frodo Baggins. I want you to be honest. What ails you precisely? Speak to me," Merry whispered. "You must promise me you will tell me about it. If not here and tonight, then as soon as possible."

"As soon as possible, Merry. I promise it, dear cousin. But I can't speak of it now. Please understand - will you?"

Merry nodded, feeling a strangling pain inside. Then he let Frodo go.


~~~~~~

Merry and Frodo returned to the other two hobbits. Sam cast a look at Frodo, and he earned a smile and an arm around his shoulder. Sam smiled back. Pippin ran to Frodo and asked him if everything was alright. Frodo reassured the younger one and ruffled Pippin's curls. Frodo forced himself to make conversations with his dear friends and other visitors, but actually he wanted to go home now and sink into a deep sleep.

Not yet.

More drinks were brought, but Frodo refused the wine and the ale and asked for a mug of chamomile tea.

"I'd better stop drinking, " he laughed seemingly merrily at the others. Pippin raised an eyebrow and chuckled.


~~~~~~

Frodo recovered slowly from his earlier discomfort. He was lucky that there had not been many who had seen him in his weary state - the gossip concerning Frodo Baggins seemed to bloom more and more with every passing day. Frodo knew that, and it left him cold, actually. He was different, yes, but there was no need to feed the rumours with cracked Mr. Baggins falling into the dirt and weeping like a child.

A high-pitched scream made the visitors startle. One of the barmaids was panicking, for a tiny spider was dangling in front of her face. The hobbits around her began to laugh and made some jokes about lasses and their fear of those harmless beasts. The barmaid was not overly amused, but joined the fun nevertheless with red cheeks and a shaky smile.

"I just felt startled... I surely know that spiders are harmless!" she defended herself and tickled the next hobbit who was still giggling with malicious joy.

Spiders are harmless...

Sam was alarmed when he heard those words. He watched Frodo attentively, but there was no sign that his master might have some bad memories. Sam surely had, but somehow he could handle them without getting weary and sick. Sam muttered to himself that not every word uttered must make Frodo remember unimaginable horrors that nearly had driven him mad.

Harmless.

Frodo had seen and heard everything, and no, he didn't feel uncomfortable. He sipped his tea, and with one hand he rubbed his neck. It was itching, and Frodo felt some sweat trickling down his back. Frodo swallowed and caught his breath. The itching became worse and he growled with anger.

When he felt the sting piercing him, his vision of time and space narrowed. No good or evil existed anymore, only the need to breathe. When he fell, paralysed by the spider's poison, he remembered the Shire, the sun, his friends. His father carrying him on his shoulders; little Merry and Pippin, mischievously hiding from him with suppressed laughter at Brandy Hall. Bilbo, lighting a fire and the scratching of his feather pen, while Frodo brought tea for both of them. A good book and a delicious pipe.

He fell and fell, and still the memories were lighting a beacon in his heart. And he felt dizzy, just like after getting whirled around by his mother when he was but a tiny lad. Warmth and stickiness covered him, and he shouted for Sam. Sam, his best friend, never failing him. But everything remained quiet, and still Frodo was whirled around.

'The end...' he thought. 'It's over, and I'm leaving... leaving.'

And then his breath left him.



~~~~~~

Trickling fluid on his lips made him swallow automatically. This time he was pierced by light that blurred his vision and made his headache become worse. Frodo tried to focus on something and to breathe deeply. There were noises. And he was laid down, a blanket covered him and he huddled in it thankfully. He fell into sleep once more.


~~~~~~

When Frodo opened his eyes again, he found Merry watching him from a chair that stood beside his bed at Bag End.

"Merry... what happened?" A drowsy whisper.

"Frodo!" Merry took Frodo's hand. "You truly know how to get some attention."

Frodo heard Merry's relief ringing through his words. Merry told him how Frodo had fallen down unconsciously, only with a little sigh and no warning. Frodo didn't say anything, but bit his lip. The inn-keeper had gotten a cart for them, and they had brought Frodo outside, nearly unnoticed through the back door. Soon Frodo had relaxed, the tension in his body had faded and he had fallen asleep peacefully.

"I'm so sorry that I could not have avoided that. I've spoiled the evening for you."

"Oh Frodo. We were so worried. But everything will be alright. Just sleep some more, and when you awake again, we shall talk. You remember your promise, Frodo? Telling me about your pain and dark thoughts?"

Frodo smiled wearily.

"I remember it, cousin. And I will try to put it into words. For you. And for Pip and Sam."

"For you, Frodo. And now try to sleep." Merry tucked Frodo into the blankets again.


Frodo realised with a little smile on his face that it was snowing outside.


~The End~


* (The words of the Elvish song sung by Treebeard are to be found in Book Three, Chapter 4)