Author's Note: This is just a little piece inspired during viewing #23 of the movie today. . .it's total movieverse in the sense that the incident with the Ring and the giving of the mithril-coat occur at completely separate occasions in the book. The party flashback likewise mirrors bits from movieverse, just for consistency, though I've taken my own liberties with the attire and mingled in Frodo's coming-of-age. :) I hope you'll enjoy it; for my "Shadows in the Darkness" readers, have no fear. . .Chapter 11 is in progress and should be up shortly! I just wanted to finish this while it was fresh in my mind. Thank you for reading and reviewing - or even just reading! :)

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DISCLAIMER: The characters, places, and story of The Lord of the Rings are the property of J.R.R. Tolkien and consequently of the Tolkien Estate, with select rights by Tolkien Enterprises. This piece appears purely as fanfiction and is not intended to claim ownership of Tolkien's work in any way. Please e-mail me if you have concerns.


Was. . .did that. . .did Bilbo. . . ?

My perceptions are no longer my own, and yet painfully and acutely clear at times, and Aragorn insists I must learn to listen to them, for my safety. . .but he did not speak of this. . .not of how the most dear people to one's heart could suddenly seem as demons groping to take It from me, and how I could feel the urge to strike. . .to *strike* *Bilbo*!

Feeling faint, I steady myself, my hand on Bilbo's shoulder as he sobs. I want to embrace him. . .to put my arms around him and beg *his* forgiveness for what I know was in my heart, though he seems to have seen nothing of it. A thousand memories rush through my head, and I swallow, gulping back my own tears.

My bedroom at Bag End, when I was all of twenty-one and newly arrived, with my things still unpacked in boxes around my new room.

"Come now, Frodo, my lad, let's see this on you next!"

Eagerly I took the beautiful cerulean blue shirt and matching waistcoat trimmed in fine silver thread, removing a vivid emerald-green shirt with gold-patterned waistcoast and allowing Bilbo to help me into the latest item, still marvelling at the enormous array of clothes around the room. "Are these really all for me, Bilbo? You shouldn't have - so much expense - "

"Nonsense!" Bilbo chuckled, buttoning up the shirt as I slipped the waistcoat on over it. "You're a Baggins, and it's time you dressed like one! Whatever you care to run about in is fine, but you should have plenty to choose from. . .one can always use some nice new waistcoats and such, especially with fine buttons!"

I beamed, turning to look at myself in the mirror. Behind me Bilbo smiled proudly, patting me firmly on the shoulder.

"Brings out your eyes, my lad. Quite your colour!"

How I longed for that comfort now. . .to let Bilbo help me out of my shirt and into the mithril-coat, then my shirt back over that: since Weathertop I have been rather bad with my left hand, and even now I find it difficult to button things at times. But what I saw when Bilbo leaned forward sends another shudder of chill through me, and I stifle a wave of nausea with difficulty.

I'd been at Bag End for more than two years when the snow fell heavily over Hobbiton just before Yule. It was beautiful, and every hobbit-child in the neighbourhood (not to mention more than a few adults) came out to play. Unfortunately, I'd come down with a very bad cold that had gone into my chest, rapidly worsening into bronchitis and threatening toward pneumonia, according to Dr. Boffin. My head ached; my back ached; my limbs ached; my chest and throat felt like fire, and I felt too weak even to sit up without someone supporting me, holding me against them for a few minutes to take medicine or sips of liquid held to my lips. Worst of all, I felt feverish and had a horrifying cough, tight and painful with congestion, wracking my chest so I could not sleep.

"There now, my boy. Ssshhhh. . .just try and rest, no talking. . .the doctor says you should stay quiet. I've got some medicine for you, after you try a little soup for me. . .there's a good boy. . . ."

Slowly my breathing grew less tense, my headache easing: Bilbo had gotten a special salve from the herbalists', some sort of strong aromatic mixture he massaged onto my chest three times a day, and spent goodness knows how much time preparing and applying warm poultices: not the burning sort with mustard, but something gentler, with linseed, not too heavy or messy. He sat up with me all night reapplying them for days on end, until my cough began to truly clear and I could sleep through the night without constant reapplications to ease my troubled breathing.

In truth, I was surprised that Bilbo had not been at my bedside when I woke, or at least come to see me earlier, or sent for me. I know he is aging, and quickly. . .and I feel selfish for thinking of such things. But he is the closest thing I have known to a father since my parents died, and a part of me wished he had been there to reassure me, to embrace me and tell me - well, not that it would be all right, but at least that he loves me and is glad to see me. I know he is. But the child in me still wanted to wake up to comforting arms after that nightmare.

"Now then - don't you look fine!"

I stood before Bilbo in my brand-new coming-of-age suit, the one he'd ordered tailored specially for the Long-Expected Party, a vivid sapphire and gold in contrast to his fine emerald, which was likewise trimmed in gold. He hesitated as he helped me fasten the final buttons: real pearls set in gold.

"Frodo. . .I hope you love Bag End as much as I do."

I nodded emphatically. "Of course, Bilbo. . .every bit."

"Good, good!" He smiled, and I thought I recognised that wandering look in his brown eyes again, the look I'd seen increasingly often over the previous months and weeks. Often enough to worry me. . .and now. . . .

"Bilbo. . ."

"Bilbo! You'd best get out here - the Party Field's packed as can be, and I do think Lobelia's half-drunk already - "

I sighed as a shout from one of our assisting cousins broke the stillness of that moment. Bilbo nodded, patting me on the shoulder.

"It's all right, Frodo, my lad! We'd best make our way back into the throng: we can see after that, all right?"

To this day I wonder what would have happened if I had not nodded.

What if I had shaken my head and said no, that it wasn't all right. . .if I had said I must say it now or never? And then told him how dear he was to me, the nearest I could ever have hoped to having a father again, how I wished he would wait. . .perhaps someday I'd be ready to go too, and then we could go together. . . .

Everything he gave me I have heard assessed in value. The suit was worth enough to buy beer for a month for everyone in Hobbiton and Bywater put together. The mithril-coat is, I know, valuable; it was kept in rather a fancy glass case at the Mathom-House in Michel Delving when I was younger. The Ring. . .solid gold, of course. Though far more. Not to mention everything else. I am likely the wealthiest hobbit in the Shire, save perhaps the Thain himself, Pippin's father, and even at that I rival him closely enough.

But I feel suddenly impoverished as I walk down the stairs, the others standing at the bottom, waiting for me. I have left behind the most precious thing I had. . .and there is nothing I can do about it.

~The End~