Author's Notes: Pure angst, with no pretence to being anything else. Set some time before the Lord of the Rings, a few years after Bilbo had brought Frodo to Bag End to live with him.
Disclaimer: None of the characters, places or histories mentioned in this fanfic are mine, they all belong to the late JRR Tolkien. The storyline is mine, although my brother ought to take some credit for dunking me in the swimming pool and giving me the idea for this.
Dedicated to: My brother (for the above mentioned reasons) and Rosethorn, who encouraged me to keep trying.
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"Come on, Frodo!" Pippin shouted gleefully, just before he jumped off the ferry, curled into a ball, splashing water onto everyone within ten feet. Merry complained loudly, diving under the water and pulling on his cousin's legs to dunk him. Pippin disappeared for a few seconds, then bobbed to the surface, his hair plastered to his head, spluttering accusations. The grin on Merry's face soon disappeared when Pippin started swimming towards him, his intent clear.
On the riverbank, Bilbo Baggins smiled at his young relatives, reaching across the rug laid out on the grass to grab another roll. He deftly buttered it, and was about to take a bite when he noticed his nephew, Frodo, sitting under the shade of a tree and quietly reading a book.
"Frodo, my lad," he called out cheerily. Frodo glanced up, smiled, shut his book and sauntered over to his uncle. "Why aren't you swimming with Merry and Pippin, Frodo?"
The smile on Frodo's face disappeared in a heartbeat. "I'm afraid I don't swim, uncle," he said quietly, his words almost seeming to careful, chosen. Bilbo raised an eyebrow sceptically. "You mean to say that you spent all those years in Brandybuck Hall and you never learnt how to swim?" he demanded. "Why, Frodo!"
But Frodo shook his head. "I learnt how to, uncle," he explained. "But I don't swim." He moved away, back to the tree and his book, and Bilbo watched him, a faint frown on his face, as he absently bit into the roll.
Merry and Pippin pulled each other from the water, soaking, and shook themselves off, spraying water over Bilbo and the food.
"Get back in the water, or dry off," Bilbo told them crossly. "But you're getting the food wet." Pippin grinned and swiped a carrot before Bilbo could shoo him away.
"Come on, Frodo!" Merry coaxed. "Come for a swim – it's too hot today to be lazing about reading a book." He grabbed the book, ignoring Frodo's protests, and squinted at the writing in it. "Frodo, what on earth is this anyway?"
"It's an elven history," Frodo replied, taking the book back. "Written in elvish, so don't expect to be able to read it. And I don't want to swim." He found his place again and started reading. Merry sighed, exasperated, but turned away and returned to the river. Pippin, however, was not so easily discouraged. Seizing Frodo's book, he carelessly tossed it aside and pulled Frodo to his feet.
"You're coming in," he promised his cousin cheerily, oblivious to the sudden look of terror on Frodo's face. Bilbo saw it, however, and he rose anxiously. "Pippin," he said quickly, sternly, "don't do that!" But Pippin was surprisingly strong for his age, and managed to drag Frodo to the edge of the water, even though Frodo was straining against Pippin's firm grip on him.
"Pippin!" Merry called from the water, seeing the fear in Frodo's eyes and realising its cause too late. "No, Pippin!" But Pippin had already shoved Frodo into the water, laughing merrily at his cousin.
Frodo landed in the middle of the river, the deepest part, but his body had remembered what his mind had refused to, and he managed to hit the water rather better than otherwise. He went deep, and he didn't have enough air to fill his lungs, so he tried to struggle to the surface. But his leg was caught in a tangle of weeds, and he frantically groped at them, trying to free himself, as his lungs started begging for air. He couldn't see anything through the water, couldn't breathe, couldn't stay alive unless someone helped him…
-No, I can't – Primula don't!- A splash, and the boat was overturned as Primula left the boat for her husband. Drogo, his feet entangled in the treacherous weeds that lined the stream, bobbed under the water for a long moment.
-Drogo, don't you dare!- Primula screamed, clumsily swimming over to him. Her breathless stroke was not strong enough for the strong current that had accompanied the fierce, sudden wind. She was submerged, and her little strength gave way as she was swept off. Drogo, held under the water by the weeds, had no more air, and as his clawing hands slowly stopped moving, a scream was heard on the bank.
Frodo thought, with what he assumed was his last thought, that he would soon be dead. Then a strong hand encircled his leg, roughly pulling it away from the weeds, and he was hastily dragged upwards. He broke the surface of the water, gasping for air, and Merry, who had brought him up, held him carefully so that he would not go under again. Then, when he judged that Frodo had enough air, he carefully pulled him to the bank, where Bilbo was waiting to pull him out, with Pippin's help.
Frodo was shuddering, gasping, salty tears dampening his face. His hand reached out, clasping Bilbo's, and his eyes were haunted by the past. He did not speak until long after his gasps had subsided, and he had dressed himself. Bilbo stood near him, anxiously watching his nephew, but Merry and Pippin stood silently behind Frodo.
"I do not swim," Frodo said quietly. "Ever." Then he walked over to his tree and picked up his book, shaking the last remnants of river water from his hair, but leaving the salty tracks on his face as bitter memory of the ghosts that haunted him.