NOTE : Chloe is an original OC. Not from the books and Marigold is Sam's sister not an OC, but I designed her personality to work with this story.
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CHAPTER 16 -- ICICLES IN THE NIGHT --
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Well…Frodo tried to identify the feelings…he had felt them before, he just never expected to feel them again. Marigold's touch was calm, pleasant and soothing, but there was something more. He realized finally…he wanted to kiss her. He wanted to see what it would be like….but that particular realization was shattered by the voice of Samwise Gamgee.

"Marigold Gamgee!" the voice of Samwise Gamgee was filled with horror from the doorway. "What in the Shire are you doing?!"

Sam had managed to get into Bag End, he'd been extremely worried about Frodo when he saw how the ice had built up around the doors and didn't think Frodo would be able to get out on his own. So…he and his father had been chipping at it since daybreak.

"Well, Sam." Marigold smiled a little, not jerking away from Frodo in the least. There she was…in Frodo's clothing no less…too close to the Baggins than a lass should be. But any fool could tell that Frodo was in no condition to do anything untoward. "Mr. Frodo needed a bath…he's been sick and he still is mind you.."

Sam's mouth closed shut as he looked from one to the other, knowing his father was close behind. "I can see that Mari." Sam stammered. "But how did -you- come to be here….there's people about…" he lifted his hands helplessly. "They'll know…"

Frodo tried to speak, but his throat caught the words back and he coughed. He tried to give Marigold a reassuring smile but he could barely breathe. He clutched her arm as the fit of coughs passed and she attempted to get him to drink something.

Sam looked over his shoulder and saw the Gaffer coming. His father stopped and his mouth dropped open even further. "Marigold. I thought you were at the Cotton House." the Gaffer began.

Marigold rose, and folded her arms once Frodo was settled again. "Now don't you go giving us those looks. You know darn well Mr. Frodo wouldn't harm a hair on my head. I found him sick on the road when I was comin' back from the Cotton's. He couldn't walk…he got real sick cause he weren't wearin' the proper clothing to be out at a time like last night. "What was I to do? Leave him there?"

"No…no Mari. You were right to bring him home." Sam was trying hard to keep control over his muddled brain. He looked over at his father who was staring at Marigold with a troubled expression.

Frodo's heart sank when he saw the look on the Gaffer's face, he knew what the older hobbit was thinking… What will people say? Sick or no…its was not right for a lass to be in the home of a bachelor for the night. He wouldn't let the Gamgee's suffer ridicule because of him though. "I will…" he wheezed a little, "I will not let anyone think badly of her, Sam…Hamfast…She saved my life…"

"There now, Mr. Frodo." Marigold soothed, "Just you relax, you're in no condition to be worryin' about me. Da, Sam. It won't do a lick of good right now to have you standing there in the door like fishes out of water. Sam, I need you to prepare a good meal for Mr. Frodo, he's had a rough night. And Da…help him here, okay? I'm going to get his bed ready. Don't you worry Mr. Frodo." She clucked her tongue gently as she took control of the situation.

The two Gamgees had long since been used to doing as Marigold instructed ever since their mother died. Though she was their junior in age, she was not one to let things get out of control. Frodo glanced over at her and smiled, watching her as she fixed his bed and thinking that it wasn't so bad really…she would be a good wife…Wife…what was he thinking? He couldn't…not now…not with the Ring…His mind finally began to come back to the reality of his current situation. He was leaving the Shire…Hamfast Gamgee helped him to finish his bath and he could smell Sam's cooking beginning to come from the kitchen.

It was almost like having a family….

Frodo sighed and closed his eyes, it would be so nice to just forget about everything….to just tell Hamfast that he would marry Sam's sister to save her reputation and simply spend his days in the Shire and tell Gandalf that he couldn't leave. Well why not…why was his life always so complicated? He didn't -want- to leave. Then he opened his eyes and looked over at Marigold again…imagining her as a slave to the dark lord…and his heart clenched. What was he going to do? He looked away and frowned.

"There lad," Hamfast said gruffly. "You should be all clean now, Marigold's gone to help Sam in the kitchen. Frodo looked at Hamfast and nodded. With the help of the elder Gamgee he stepped out of the tub and into a towel.

"I will marry her." Frodo said finally, rubbing his chest. He looked back at Hamfast as he was wrapped in a towel. What was odd…really…was that he actually -wanted- to. Despite everything.

Hamfast shook his head, "'Taint right, Mr. Frodo. Yer a Baggins, she's a Gamgee. Will think of a way out o' this. And you don't need to, she's got a suitor already." The elder Gamgee did not realize how that particular news had hit the Baggins. "She'll marry Tom Cotton someday. Rosie's brother. Me and his father already talked about it."

Already spoken for. Frodo sighed. He must have imagined it then. She really was only caring for him because he was Sam's employer. He'd thought…well…he'd thought that she actually did care about him. But he wasn't going to interfere if she was already linked with someone else. "We can tell people she works for me…and had stopped by to warm supper last night when the storm hit…" Frodo said at length….it was difficult -to- speak…not just because of the bronchitis…but because he really didn't want to think of a reason for her to be there. Because…he wanted a family…he wanted to be loved. That was all he ever really wanted.

"Aye. I'll speak to the Cottons later." Hamfast nodded. "That would be best, Mr. Frodo. My pappy always used to say : there's no mixing Cabbages and Peaches….it just isn't done."

Best.

Frodo nodded vaguely as he weakly struggled into a nightshirt. He slipped the ring into one of his nightshirt pockets and was beginning to feel better. The bath helped…He crawled into his bed and huddled in the pillows. Hamfast took the water out of Frodo's room, with the intention of dumping it, and the Baggins was alone once again.

No. He wasn't alone.

The Ring was in his pocket. He'd never be truly alone. He tried to sort out his feelings, but they were jumbled. If he didn't have the ring…would things be any different? He'd still be a bachelor.

Sam came in with a tray and set it down, "Here we go Mr. Frodo, some nice mushroom soup, your favorite, aye? Lets get something good into your stomach…." Sam noticed then the morose expression on his employer's face, "What is it, Mr. Frodo? Everything's going to be alright with Mari, The Gaffer will see to it."

"I know Sam." Frodo nodded, He looked with interest at the tray finally, his stomach no longer felt like it was going to turn over if he had something to eat.

"Aye." Sam said as he saw his master tentatively take a sip of the soup, his hands no longer shaking. "The Gaffer is taking Mari home. She said to tell you that you'd best eat up all this soup."

He wouldn't get to say good bye. When they next met…it would be as if they were strangers.

"Well." Frodo smiled then, "I won't disappoint her then."

"You couldn't possibly disappoint anyone, Mr. Frodo." Sam grinned happy to see that his Master's spirits were picking up at the prospect of warm mushroom soup after such a dismal night.
*Except myself. * Frodo saw Marigold as the Gaffer led her down the hall. She exchanged a look with him and smiled warmly. She wouldn't forget…and he would carry that smile with him in darker times ahead. For that was why he had to do what he had to do. To protect their way of life…The Ring had to be taken away from the Shire…

It was the right thing to do. It was the only thing he could do. There was no more sense in wallowing in self-pity. He was a Baggins, and this was his duty.

--THE END--