Disclaimer: The characters and places depicted are all the creation of JRR Tolkien, and I am only trying to emulate him in my own small way. sigh.

Medical disclaimers: Methods of treatment and medicines used have been researched for validity, however are used in this story simply for fictional purposes. In other words, don't try this at home; seek a professional-- yadda, yadda, yadda.

I just wanted to say thank you so very much for traveling on this little journey with me. I enjoyed writing the story so very much and it is gratifying to know that so many of you enjoyed reading it as well. Thanks to my die-hard reviewers who always had wonderful things to say or add and to those who just read without reviewing, I appreciate all of you. And a very special thanks to Elwen who started this whole adventure in the first place....

Epilogue

The cart jerked along the rutted road as Sam attempted to guide the pony to the smoother surfaces. Each time an unseen hole rocked the small wagon Sam would dart a worried look over his shoulder to his Master who laid cushioned against the buckboard, his eyes closed, as if in slumber.

"Sam, do try to relax. I won't break, you know," Frodo chided, aware of his friend's frequent glances. Sam blushed, realizing he had been discovered, and turned to face forward, brow furrowed as he continued to guide the cart smoothly. Frodo smiled to himself. His health had continued to improve until, at last, he had been deemed worthy to make the long delayed excursion. Beside the cart Strider and Gandalf walked, both smiling at the obvious care and concentration of the gardener. Bell sat beside Frodo, nervously plucking at the folds of her best dress. Frodo had been most insistent that she accompany them and she was feeling a bit anxious, as well as excited, about being invited on her first inclusion into, what she thought of, as the life of gentry. The wagon turned up the small, grassy lane which was even more rutted than the main road, and Sam frowned as he slowly maneuvered the pony, making a mental note to himself to come and fill in the ruts on his next trip out.

It was Mersday. Blossom Bogs checked the clock on the mantel for the fourth time in as many minutes, as the large hand arrived on the twelve making it two o'clock. She sighed. Each week for the last month she had awaited the arrival of her young friend.

"Foolish old hobbit," she muttered to herself. "You know perfectly well he is yet too weak to make such a journey and still you continue, each week, to set yourself up for the disappointment," she chided to the room. She rose slowly, depressed and angry with herself, and moved to the table she and Frodo always shared for their weekly tea. All of Frodo's favorite foods sat awaiting the injured hobbit's return to normal activity. She sighed again as she wistfully removed each item to the kitchen to be stored later in the pantry. She left the flowers and fragrant herbs sitting in the table's center along with the carefully pressed tablecloth and, dejectedly, left the room. She plunked herself down on the sofa in the parlor, knowing she should be changing out of the fine dress and back into her usual work clothes, but feeling no energy to do so. She pulled a lap quilt about her and stared into the fire with a melancholy expression.

The mood, however, was broken by the sound of a wagon slowly approaching the smial. She rose, curious as to who would be visiting, and peered out the porch window. She gasped as she beheld Estel and Gandalf flanking a small cart driven by Sam. In the back she could see Bell, looking decidedly uneasy. But what really held her eye was the curly head of a hobbit nestled amid a pile of blankets and pillows, in the corner of the bed.

She quickly glanced about the room, ready to put things to rights, forgetting, momentarily, that the room had already been tidied earlier. She fidgeted with her dress then her eyes flew open wide as she remembered putting the tea things in the kitchen. She ran from the room and into the kitchen, retrieving the dainties and placing them back on the round table. When all was as it was she stood before the round door awaiting the knock and trying to catch her breath.

The wagon stopped with a jolt at the small home and Sam alit to help his mother from the cart bed. Strider moved to lift Frodo out, but the hobbit moved away, gathering the crutches to him. He had insisted on bringing the supports even though he had tried to use them only once. Sam tensed, knowing what was to follow, and cringed inwardly at what was sure to be, a show of the famed Baggins stubbornness.

"No, thank you, Strider. I wish to walk through that door on my own," Frodo said, his jaw set for battle into a determined line.

Strider looked at him in concern. "Frodo, I do not think that is wise. Remember what happened last time," he said, reminding Frodo of the near disaster. He was referring to Frodo's first attempt to pull himself up and walk with the crutches across the bedroom. Strider had allowed it, knowing full well that if he did not Frodo would try it on his own when no one was around. The ranger had stood across the room as Frodo had maneuvered the crutches under his arms and stood, holding the broken leg up off the floor. He remembered how Frodo had paled, a sheen of sweat forming on his forehead, and, with trembling arms, taken two hesitant steps towards him. At that point his arms had buckled under the strain and he had begun to fall forward, the broken leg coming dangerously close to taking his full weight. A horrified Strider had lunged forward, capturing the limp hobbit before any injury had been done. He had placed Frodo back into bed and, after checking the frustrated hobbit over, had told him, sternly, that he was not yet strong enough to attempt such a thing. The hobbit had looked at him dejectedly then rolled to his side with a whimper. Strider had approached the other side of the bed to regain eye contact and continue the lecture but Frodo had fallen into an exhausted sleep. He frowned as he now looked at the sullen face before him and, sighing, lifted Frodo from the cart. He retrieved the crutches, placing them under Frodo's arms, and slowly lowered him to the ground. He situated himself in front of Frodo, arms extended as the hobbit took his first step. Behind Frodo, Gandalf walked in the same way. Sam, tense as a bowstring, walked at his side. Frodo grinned as he pictured how the group must appear. He took another step and Strider stepped back, expecting at any moment, to have to lurch forward and catch the hobbit.

Frodo glowered at the ranger. "Must you do that, Strider? It is most distracting and shows a decided lack of confidence in my abilities," he said grumpily.

"Those are the conditions of your walk, Master Baggins, take it or leave it," the ranger said in annoyance.

Frodo glared at him but continued his slow progress towards the smial's doorway. Perspiration formed small beads on his face and he panted harshly as his body strained with each step. He gripped the handholds tighter as he willed his trembling body to make another step. Strider could see, all to clearly, how Frodo struggled and was about to grab the willful hobbit and carry him the remaining distance when, thankfully, they reached the doorway.

Strider reached behind him and gave a loud knock on the door, only then did he step aside. The door was opened and Blossom stood on the threshold, arms crossed over her chest.

"You're late Mister Baggins," she said, her mouth set in a grim line. Frodo looked up at her and she was appalled at the lack of color in his face. Instinctively she reached forward as Frodo wobbled, his arms trembling violently, and collapsed into Strider's waiting arms. Strider carried the near unconscious hobbit inside and placed him gently on the sofa. After propping his leg up on an ottoman and arranging pillows behind him and under his arms, he turned on the hobbit, anger suffusing his face.

"That was most foolish of you, Master Baggins," he stormed. The stuporous hobbit only listlessly stared at him. He tended to agree with the ranger but was loathe to admit it. He sighed, happy that the ordeal was over. Blossom brought a glass of water and a cool rag and tenderly dabbed at his face as he drank.

"Since you are all here, why don't we have tea?" Blossom said cheerfully, trying to diffuse the situation. Strider, Sam and Gandalf helped Blossom move the tea things into the parlor and they all found a place to sit. A relieved sigh passed through the group as they helped themselves to the delicacies while Blossom poured tea into china cups. She smiled at Frodo who had regained a portion of his strength from the walking debacle. "I have thought of little else but you, dear Frodo, these many weeks. I am delighted by your progress," she said, smiling.

Frodo smiled weakly back at her. "Well, I simply could not allow another Mersday to pass without meeting for tea with you." He looked wistfully at her. "I've missed you, Blossom."

"And I you, dear boy," she said her eyes moist. They both turned to the rest of the group and raised their cups in a toast.

"To newfound and very old friends, may we remain so until the end of our days," Frodo said in a clear, strong voice. All present smiled widely at the sentiment and lifted their cups in unison. As he watched his friends chat and laugh with one another he smiled to himself. He had found family and, somehow, he could feel his mother and father watching and smiling along beside him.

The End