A/n: This is one of those "ack-it's- four- o'clock- in- the- morning- I- have- dark- circles- under- my- eyes- I- really- want- to- go- to- sleep- but- I- drank- waaaay- too- much- coffee- and- those- little- Starbucks- espresso- shots (which by the way are sooooooo good but they really give you a buzz" kind of stories. Actually it was written around the 40th hour of a 44 HOUR TRAIN RIDE from Fresno, CA to Seattle, WA after spending about 20 dollars on anything caffeinated. But it doesn't seem to have turned out too horribly- so I'm posting it! I'm not sure if it's really done or not but I think it is. REVIEWS would still be very good, precious, yes. Very good. Yeah… um, right. Just tell me what could be improved.
Disclaimer: What's that you say? Am I Professor J.R.R. Tolkien? No, no I don't think so… what was that? Good chap, speak up… I need to write a what? Oh yes, yes of course- since I am not the wonderful and reputed Professor I do not own any of these characters or places… Eh? Come again… oh indeed dear fellow, I feel very sorry for myself too… (Remember- four o'clock a.m., my friends; four o'clock a.m. …)
Night with its shattered teeth attempts to speak…
A dim fire flickered softly on the hearth, sending deep shadows dancing on the wall and a gentle warmth to the far corners of the room chilled by the March wind. Dry pine logs crackled as merrily as a midsummer bonfire. But to Frodo Baggins it provided no comfort; only bitter memory of shadow and flame. Memory of a night or day- he knew not which- nearly a year ago.
"March twenty-fifth." Frodo glared intently into the feeble blaze. "My doom." A log snapped. Sparks settled at the Hobbit's feet as their bright glow died. "My failure." In his mind's keen eye he could see vividly the chamber.
Dark. It might have made little difference if eyes had been open or closed…but for the fiery chasm. The Cracks of Doom. Illuminating the menacing rock-faced walls and uneven floor. Looking over the jagged brink one could glimpse the deadly red river below- molten rock ready to be spat from the heart of the mountain at any moment to consume all in its way. Fire was always hungry- Frodo knew. It ate Gollum, devoured the Ring, and had come for him. "I should have died." Sudden, unexplained rage coursed through his veins. Frodo pounded his fist heavily into the overstuffed arm of his chair and aimed a strong kick at a stool near his feet. He missed. "I was the reason for the loss of so many lives yet I could not manage to lose my own!" His glittering eyes narrowed. "I should have died." He spat. His foot flew again and this time the stool clattered noisily through an untidy stack of ragged books and into the study's wall.
A door slammed down the hall. Rapid footsteps slapped against the wooden floorboards. "Oh please no…" The doorknob turned slowly as though the hand upon it were cautious on entering the room. Sam Gamgee ducked quietly in, closing the door behind him with a soft click. "Not now Sam, please not now." He nervously surveyed the room- seeming to be expecting some terrible sight but found only disorder. Books lay in a heap beside him, a footstool upturned next to them. He righted the stool but left it in its place. The young Hobbit shuffled slowly to stand beside his master. Sam scrutinized the hunched figure; he wondered at the hostile grimace frozen on his fair face and the hatred raging in Frodo's bright eyes.
"Mister Frodo?" He whispered. Frodo showed no response. "Sir, is everything alright?"
"Yes! Fine! It's always alright." Frodo snapped without shifting his gaze. "Everything's always been alright! Don't you know that, Sam!" Sam jumped at the harsh tone. In all the years they had known each other Sam could not recall ever having heard him use such a voice. He knelt slowly before him and gently placed a small brown hand over Frodo's slender fingers.
"What's the mater?" He pleaded.
"Nothing!" Frodo whipped the hand away. The long silence that fell was heavy. Sam fidgeted awkwardly. "Samwise," The name stung cruelly in Sam's ears. "There was no reason for you to come in here and there is certainly no reason for you to stay and just sit there watching me! I assure you- nothing… is… wrong!"
Sam made no motion to leave. Frodo reddened in fury.
"Damn you, Samwise!" He leapt from his seat and stormed out tearing though the entry hall and the front door and into the night.
"Don't you DARE follow me!"
Sam padded silently to the open door snatching a warm woolen jacket from a coat peg, peering into the dark. Trying to search the shadows for his master.
"Why do you even bother... you know I will."
He carefully stepped past the threshold and was consumed by darkness.
Frodo ran. Hard. Harder than he ever thought he would again. Dashing aimlessly through empty pastures and scrambling over any rotting fence or mossy wall that stood in his way. Fleeing his fury. There was no direction that could possibly be found in his frantic flight but his feet seemed to know their way.
As he raced along a snowstorm flurry of thoughts and memories spun through him. Of all his faults and failings. Of all those he had brought to pain. Of the unending pain he himself suffered through each moment- waking or otherwise. Of the life he thought he had known... Of Sam.
"Why do you have to do this to me? Why do you always have to care? Why can't you leave me to my misery like every one else? Why can't you just leave me? Ever since you were a child you were like this. Always worried about my every step. Like you thought I would shatter with one wrong move. But you were wrong. I didn't. But now... "
"I wish I could."
Frodo suddenly felt anger slipping from him and found himself wanting nothing more than to give into his surging emotions. To turn and run back in which ever direction it was he had come. To go back to Sam and try to heal whatever hurts he had caused and make him understand. There was no "all right" anymore. Just emptiness and guilt.
But he could not.
Sam knew better than to panic but still, it was difficult to ebb the tide of worry seeping into his conscience. Though it was not the first time he had seen Frodo angered and brash, Sam had never known him in a rage as this and he feared what ill judgment could befall his master.
The Hobbit trotted briskly down the dirt roads of The Hill, at a complete loss of where to search. He knew he could pass by the local inns. Frodo had never been one to drink away his sorrows and in pubs he received nothing but ridicule from loose-tongued troublemakers.
No. He would not be found in any familiar or homely place.
He knew that long ago Frodo had been known to wander the forests as far as the Bindbale Wood or the Woody End. But he could never have gone that distance. Not in such short time, and in the dead of night for that matter.
But then there were the old places- the ones from their childhood. Places that Sam could scarcely picture any more but could recall that the most wonderful moments in all his years came from those forgotten haunts. But there was only one that could have truly held fast in Frodo's heart.
At last Frodo met a familiar dirt road. He was past Bywater and into the East Farthing where the glassy moonlit river was dotted with stepping-stone like rocks for an easy crossing. He leaped one stone to the next with a graceful agility as he crossed the water and bounded into the thin forest immediately on the other side.
He knew this place.
Though it was no more than a mere fond memory from the kinder days of his youth, he remembered. There had once been laugher here.
Frodo stood- bent slightly to catch his breath- in a wide grove of ash. The trees' pale new leaves curled and frail, the dark buds just beginning to form in this bitter month. Through the many slender grey trunks wove a shallow brook bubbling merrily on its way to meet The Water. He gazed about with a smile- it was still there. From the high, strong branch of a particularly sturdy tree hung two mossy, fraying ropes and from them, beside the stream, a thick oak board. The swing. He remembered climbing high to tie the ropes in place and then higher and higher still. He had always seemed more comfortable so high above the ground than on it.
Frodo ran his hand over the weathered bark stopping abruptly when he met a pair of deep indentations in the wood.
There were his initials. Boldly etched into the tree with the help of a dull and slightly rusted penknife that had been a gift from his father. Frodo continued to slide his hand to the right until he found the second set of markings.
He traced the faint letters fondly with pale fingertips, and grinned in reminiscence. That had been Sam's first lesson- the first letters he had ever learned. Frodo had shown him. Patiently guiding his shaking and untrained hand over the soft wood with the blade of the knife. He would have given anything to see that smile of elation on Sam's face again.
He sank to sit on the cool damp ground among a tangled web of roots, closing his eyes to take in the moist smell of the earth and the brook. He almost thought that he could fell the golden sunlight of that afternoon- hear is own voice speaking softly and a young hobbit's even softer answer. But opening his eyes it was the same. A beautiful delicate world of fragile silver.
But he heard them still. Voices murmuring softly to each other. But from another time?
"Maybe Sam was right- I really don't sleep enough." Frodo silently chuckled- thoroughly calmed.
But they kept speaking. Louder now and then no more than the scarcest of whispers. No longer his own and Sam's. Low voices.
"The voices of Men... and Elves." He marveled. But they weren't voices he knew. Cold and grating mutterings withering as they touched his ears- for he was certain now that they did not belong to the confines of his mind. "But..."
The grin was wiped from Frodo's face.
"Baggins...?" Another voice.
"Yes... the Halfling..."
"Because of him..."
"All because of him..."
Frodo leapt to his feet with a gasp. Pressing himself back into the tree. A small branch dug painfully beneath his shoulder blade. He didn't care.
"He destroyed us..."
The Hobbit quailed as though awaiting a blow to the head. "Wh-who are you?" He choked. "Wh-where are you?"
"We are here..."
"We have always been here..."
"Since you let us die..."
It was as if the very darkness itself twisted and rippled. Shadows moved, writhed- morphing soundlessly into tall pallid figures of thin mist. The air about the grove thickened and chilled. Frodo tried to step back to turn and flee but he stumbled, sitting heavily. "No..." He shielded his eyes.
"Look upon us, Ringbearer..."
"See what you have done..."
The haze thickened as the spectral forms continued to appear. An army of voices closing about him.
"Can you see us...?"
"Can you feel our touch...?"
Frodo felt icy breath caress the nape of his neck.
"Do you know who we are...?"
"We are the dead."
"Leave me be..."
"I beg of you!"
"We weren't granted that mercy, ringbearer."
"D-don't mock me." His quavering voice belied the fear in his feeble demand.
"Yes... praise the Halflings..."
"Praise them with great praise..."
"S-Sam." A frozen hand brushed Frodo's cheek. "Sa-am." He couldn't scream.
"No one will come..."
"No one saved us..."
"Look upon us, Ringbearer..."
"See our pain..."
"Please..." His voice was too faint. Frigid wind spun about him, curling itself around his limbs, strangling him. He at last glanced up. There was nothing he could do but stare- his bright eyes locked in terror.
The faces in the marsh. The dead faces. That was the only thought that his horror encased mind could possibly summon. The ethereal bodies that were forever doomed to lie drowning in foul waters had left their phantom graves and sought him.
They glared down at him in disgust through hollow eyes. Their haggard, skeletal faces drawn into a pinched leer. White, clammy hands reached for him- pushing him down. Forcing him back. Threatening to send him down- beneath the grassy surface of the earth.
He could see their blood. Dense, colourless liquid dripping sickly from their rusting mail. He knew how they had died. From the spears stuck through their hearts or the arrows through their throat or their cloven heads.
"Come back with us..."
"We are lost..."
"We have no graves..."
"But there is one dug for you..."
"You should have died..."
"You were the reason for the loss of so many lives..."
"Yes you could not manage to lose your own..."
"Isn't that right, Ringbearer?"
"Why didn't you die?"
"But you would have died in honour..."
"Not nameless and alone..."
"But you don't deserve that..."
"You'll die alone..."
"Now you'll hurt..."
"You'll know our pain..."
Frodo covered his ears but it made no difference.
Frodo gaped. He was staring himself in the eyes. But not the self he was now. The self he remembered. Healthy and strong. No maimed hand or pained existence. But the once merry eyes were blazing.
"You let me die... you killed yourself- can't you see. Why don't you kill yourself again. Because of dear Sam? He doesn't care about you. It's me he thinks he knows. He doesn't understand- you are nothing. You aren't Frodo Baggins. Frodo Baggins is already dead- and you... murdered...him."
Frodo, at last, could stand no more.
Sam heard the desperate cry.
"Master!" He hollered into the night.
Sam sprinted wildly. He was to the river. He found the stones. Stumbled madly across. Into the trees.
Sam could hear him sobbing. But Frodo was no where to be seen. Horrible images spun through his mind. Frodo lying curled on the ground- his life's blood spilling from the slender gashes on his wrists. Frodo beaten senseless, left for dead. Sam stumbled blindly about until, at last, something snared his foot and he crashed to the ground.
Sam had fallen nearly atop of his master. Frodo lay weeping beside him. Knees curled tightly to his chest, his head shielded by his shaking arms. He hastily sat to draw Frodo into his strong embrace but at the slightest touch of Sam's hand he began to shriek and flail madly.
"NO! Leave me be!" His fist lashed out, connecting solidly with Sam's jaw.
Sam held him firmly, pinning Frodo's arms to his sides.
"Please... PLEASE! Don't. Just leave me..."
"Mister Frodo, please. It's me."
"D-don't... I couldn't... I..."
"It's your Sam."
"Sam..." Frodo's writhing ceased and he fell limp into the gardeners touch. Sam cradled him gently- resting his weary head in the crook of his arm. He rocked worriedly back and forth.
"Mister Frodo?" Tears began to stream down Frodo's pale face from behind his fluttering lashes. "C-can you he-hear me?" He breathed, fighting with the lump swelling in his throat. He waited. His eyes began to sting. Frodo didn't move. "P-please..." He sobbed. At last he received a trembling nod. Sam buried his face in Frodo's curls.
"T-they said...y-you wou-ouldn't c-come."
"What?" Sam sat upright.
"T-they s-s-said no one w-would co- come for m-me."
"Who said that?" Sam tried to look him in the eyes but Frodo turned away. "Sir!"
"T-they m-mocked me. Th-they s-said it w-was m-my fault."
"Mister Frodo- what happened?" Sam gasped.
"C-can't y-you hear them?" Frodo's wide shadowed eyes stared accusingly up.
"Master w-was some one h-here?"
"Wh-" Sam's heart was beginning to race. He saw no one.
"Th-they think I... they think I should..." Frodo wept into his friend's shoulder. "They t-think I... sh-should..."
"Master... there's no one-"
Sam's world spun. There was no one there. No one that he could see. But they wanted his master dead. Some one who wasn't real wanted his Mister Frodo dead. But how could anyone wish death upon him?
"And, Sam-" Frodo began to cough heavily, choking on tears. His stomach lurched. He rolled away from Sam's grasp as he began to wretch. Sam gently placed his strong hands on Frodo's waist to steady him. Frodo slowly sat- his sides heaving. Sam tugged his sleeve into his fist to dab at the corners of Frodo's mouth. But Frodo pushed him away.
"Sam...Oh, Sam... I-I th-think I ag-aggree."
"No- no. You don't!"
"Sam..." Frodo swayed, threatening to swoon.
Sam carefully pulled his master close- placing one arm about his shoulders and another beneath his knees, faltering slightly as he stood.
"You're comin' home."