TITLE: "Departure" (1/1)
AUTHOR: Marie-Claude Danis
EMAIL: mc@fangy.net
RATING: R for language
PAIRING: Frodo/Sam
SUMMARY: The mother of all AUs. Seriously. Tells the beginning of FotR in a Middle-Earth a little different from the one we're used to playing in. One that's a whole lot like our own little world, in fact.
NOTE: Thanks to Alex and Zoe for their input, and to Nikki for her invaluable beta-luv.

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"Bags."

Nothing. The sound of cars, maybe, several floor down, muffled by the thick window, the cooing of pigeons on the ledge. Other than that, nothing.

"BAGS."

Frodo Baggins groaned and clutched the pillow over his head, trying his best to stifle the throbbing in his skull. "What..."

Sam studied the naked figure sprawled face-first on the bed, and took a quiet sip of his coffee. "Get up."

"No."

Sam kicked him in the hip. "Up, I said."

A hand snaked out from under the pillow and flipped him off blindly. "Fuck off, Gamgee."

"Look, the place is a mess. Everyone's gone, and I'm pretty sure some of them took stuff with them. I made coffee, there's eggs, I found bacon, and I'm not waiting for you to dig in."

At that, Frodo raised his head and looked up wearily, his hair frizzing out in every which way, and quite frankly looking like shit. "Trashed?"

Sam snorted. "Quite."

Another groan. "Great." He plopped back down and flipped on his back, scratching his stomach.

Sam took in the view. "You look terrible."

"I feel terrible." He looked up at Sam suspiciously, annoyed. "Why are you so... *peppy*."

"I'm a morning person."

"You're wearing my boxers."

"So I am," he responded offhandedly, exiting the bright loft room.

Frodo stared at the unfinished ceiling several feet above him and tried to remember the previous night. The part before he'd dragged Sam to bed was particularly hard to remember. He seemed to recall loud music and many people he didn't like. He did not look forward to the clean up. Perhaps he'd just call the maid to have her come earlier.

"UP!"

"I'm coming! Jeez!"

Frodo threw on a pair of jeans and padded out of his bedroom and into the rest of the loft. Just looking at the mess made him nauseous, although he supposed it could've been something else, too, if the pounding behind his eye was any indication.

He joined Sam at the kitchen counter. "Where's Bilbo?"

Sam threw him an amused look. "You don't remember?"

"I don't remember what?"

"Your brother left. Said goodbye last night, during the party. You were right there!"

Frodo rubbed at his temple. "Christ. What happened to switching my drinks to 7ups at 3am?"

"I got distracted."

"Clearly."

"Here, have some OJ."

Frodo grabbed the glass Sam was holding up and downed it in two large gulps. The tangy sweetness felt good on his tongue and got rid of the pasty taste. Next to him, Sam held up a sizzling frying pan and the fork he'd been using to flip the strips of fatty pork.

"Bacon and eggs. The cure for any hangover."

Frodo crossed his arms over his chest and leaned against the fridge next to him. "You're such a girl. I love you."

"I am far too good to you, my friend. As demonstrated by last night's, um, 'festivities', where I forfeited all of my poker winnings for a roll in the sack with Mr. Frodo Baggins, most eligible bachelor under 35 in the Shire, and perhaps beyond." He punctuated his statement with a quick bite of Frodo's bottom lip.

Frodo grabbed the back of his friend's head while he had the chance. "I know of a better cure than eggs and bacon..."

"Yeah?"

"Yes. It involves me getting my boxers back while you-- OW!"

"Fuck! Sorry!"

Sam threw the hot pan back onto the grill. A red spot appeared where the pan had come in contact with Frodo's stomach.

"Thanks a lot, Samwise."

"You can't go telling lewd tales while I'm cooking!"

"Yeah. God knows you can't chew gum while you walk either," Frodo muttered, wandering out of the kitchen area, a hand to his stomach. He winced, both at the pain and the sight before him. Yup, that would take a while to clean.

He walked to a closed door and pushed it open to peek inside the second bedroom. "Yup, bastard's gone. Did he say how long he'd be?"

Sam looked at him uneasily from the tiled area. "Um, Frodo?"

"What?"

"He's gone. As in, for good. Not coming back."

"WHAT?"

"He took off! Took a few things, most of his things, and just left. He's not coming back, Bags."

Frodo stood there, dumbstruck. His brother took off. His pal, his partner in crime, the only family he had. Left him. For good.

"Why... Why did he leave? Where did he go? Did he leave a number? An address?"

Sam looked sad, his voice soft and apologetic. "I'm sorry..."

Frodo felt as though the floor, the whole fucking WORLD tilted under him. Left him. Left him. LEFT HIM. Without saying goodbye. No way to find him. He felt like sitting down and crying like a little girl.

"He left this."

Frodo spotted the shoebox Sam motioned at. It sat primly on the counter, white and nondescript. One lousy shoebox. Whatever its content was, it wouldn't make up for everything he was taking away with him.

He forced himself to cross the messy room back to the counter. Sam silently pushed the small box to him, sliding it on the slick surface until it sat in front of his friend. Frodo stared at the lid. Opening it was the last thing he wanted to do.

"He said to give it to you when you were sober."

"So nice of him," came Frodo's angry response, but his voice shook with choked sorrow. He flipped the lid open, letting it clatter on the counter.

Inside, papers. He had gone and left behind him a trail of papers leading nowhere. The loft's paperwork, the cars' licenses, bad sketches of a younger Bilbo that Frodo had done when he was a kid. He went through the rest - all as trivial or heart-wrenching - but didn't find what he had hoped to find. A letter. For him, for right now.

"You okay Bags?" came Sam's concerned voice.

"Yeah..." No.

"There's something else... He wanted to make sure this would get right in your hands."

Frodo looked up, hopeful. Sam held up a small white envelope. He ripped it out of his hand and tore it open. No letter. Instead, a small golden thing nestled in the corner of the envelope. Frodo retrieved it with two fingers and held it up. What the...?

Sam walked to him, but Frodo couldn't tear his eyes from the small ring.

"What is it?"

"Dunno."

"Your parents', maybe?"

Frodo shook his head. "No."

"Why would Bilbo leave you a ring?"

"I... I don't know." Suddenly he felt angry. He tossed both the envelope and the ring onto the counter. "A ring. A fucking ring. He goes and leaves me a ring. I didn't know he cared so much." His voice dripped with uneasy sarcasm.

The sound of a ringing cellphone came to them faintly from somewhere in Frodo's bedroom. Frodo found the thing buried underneath his bedspread, which had been kicked off the bed sometime during the night, probably by Sam, who always seemed to be hot. He was relieved when he saw the 'G. Grey' spelled out on the greenish display.

"Hey Gandalf."

"Morning, Bags. How did last night go?"

"Swimmingly." He made his way back into the kitchen. He noticed Sam had put everything back in the box and had closed it. The ring sat on the lid. Sam busied himself at the grill, putting on fresh strips of bacon. Frodo sat on a stool at the counter. "Too bad you couldn't make it."

"Yeah, listen... Did Bilbo leave you anything?"

"Leave me anything?! YOU KNEW HE WAS LEAVING?"

"Frodo--"

"Why didn't you say anything to me!"

"It wasn't any of my business."

"LISTEN TO ME. My brother left me without so much as a goodbye. He left me a fucking RING." Frodo heard what sounded like something breaking on Gandalf's end. "Gandalf?"

"You gotta get out of there."

"What?"

"Take the ring, your wallet, and get out of there."

Frodo looked at Sam, puzzled by Gandalf's reaction. "Why? Because of the ring?"

He picked it up and inspected it closely. It didn't seem out of the ordinary, just a plain gold band.

Sam mouthed 'what's going on?'. Frodo shrugged.

"Baggins, listen to me. That ring has killed many men. Your brother had to get rid of it or it would've gotten him too. Don't put it on, just bring it with you. Right now. Meet me at the Prancing Pony in two hours."

"In Bree? Why so far? Where are you?"

"Two hours, Frodo."

Frodo shivered at the tone of the older man's voice. "Alright. I'm bringing Sam."

"Fine. Be careful, the two of you. I'm not kidding about this."

"Gandalf... what's going on?"

"I'll explain when we get there. Move." The connection clicked off and Frodo stared at his phone for a full ten seconds.

Sam wandered into the room. "What was that about?"

"Gandalf. Something about the ring." He was suddenly very anxious to get out. "We gotta get out of here." He ran to his closet and yanked a shirt out, putting it on as he rummaged through the mess on his dresser for his wallet and car keys.

Sam put on the clothes he'd been wearing the night before. He zipped tattered cords over Frodo's boxers and located his sneakers across the room. "Where're we going?"

"Bree."

"*Bree*?"

"Yeah. We gotta hurry."

"What's in Bree?"

Frodo ran by him and back into the kitchen, shoving the ring into his jean pocket. "Gandalf. And hopefully, answers."



END