A/n: Obelia, that's true—I have no middle-ground. I write in spurts. ^_^
Well, all, this is it—the last installment of this year-long fic. I hope you've all enjoyed reading it as much as I enjoyed writing it (writer's block and all!).
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Three days later, Damon decreed Frodo and Sam were well enough to go home. Much to his amazement, neither child had developed a fever—Frodo's headache had returned once, but after they'd treated it again he felt fine—and the two seemed as good as ever, if still a little weak.
That morning saw everyone very busy. Damon was having Lilly make up several pouches of medicated tea for Frodo and Sam to take, to ensure they didn't have any further complications from the long exposure to cold and wet. Hamfast was hitching Sassafras to the cart again, with the help of Rowan, and Frodo and Sam were sipping lemonade on the front porch, bundled in blankets but finally allowed to sit in the sunshine.
"That should be enough, Lilly," Damon said, inspecting the pile of pouches. "Did you tell Bell how to steep them?"
"Yes, she did," came Bell's voice from behind them. Damon turned, and smiled as Bell walked into the parlor, wearing her own clothing again (which she had washed, along with her husband's and Bilbo's, during their stay) and clutching a parcel in her arms. "I'm sure I'll manage it fine." She smiled, then offered the parcel. Damon took it, curios, and unwrapped it. Inside was the green dress he'd loaned Bell, carefully washed and pressed so it shimmered like new. "Thank you for letting me wear it," she said, and smiled a little shyly.
Damon smiled back, then, on impulse, shoved the parcel back into her hands. "Keep it," he said gently. "I have no need of it, now."
Bell paled, eyes wide as she stared at the gown in her hands. "Sir…are you certain you should…?"
Damon smiled. "My wife won't be needing it now," he said quietly. "And I'm certain she'd want someone else to enjoy it. She always loved that dress. I'd be doing her memory a disservice if I left it to the moths."
Bell watched the healer for a moment, then nodded once. "I'll take care of it for her, then," she said, and smiled. "Thank you, sir."
Damon brushed off her thanks, then moved towards the pouches. "Now, Lilly, did you find a basket? We must be getting these bundled up…"
An hour later, everything was ready to go. Frodo and Sam were settled with Bilbo on the cart, and Bell was seated on the bench. Rowan resolved to walk alongside (though he'd been invited to ride, he'd politely declined) and then ride Sassafras back to the stables once they'd reached Bag End. Lilly and Damon were standing on the stoop, watching as the crew prepared to leave, and it was then Hamfast approached, clutching his hat nervously between his fingers.
"Mr. Damon," he said, drawing the healer aside, "I'm afraid…my wife and I, we haven't much in the way of money. I don't know what all of this calls for, but," he drew himself up proudly, "I'm certain I can work it off, whatever it is."
Damon smiled gently, and placed a hand on Hamfast's shoulder. "Hamfast, I wouldn't have charged you even if you had all the riches in the shire," he said quietly. "That's not why I became a healer. And besides," he glanced back at his smial, which was of a generous size and in good keeping, "I'm not wanting for anything myself. You take good care of that lad, sir, and that's all the payment I want from you."
Hamfast blanched. "But sir…what of the tea?" he said weakly. "The medicines…? Surely those cost…"
"Aye, they do," Damon nodded. "But not to worry; Mr. Bilbo has offered to cover the cost of those."
Hamfast paled, but forced a smile onto his face for Damon's sake. "Well…thankee, sir, I can't say it enough…you saved my Sam's life, you did, and Mr. Frodo's as well. If there's ever anything you need…"
Damon grinned, and clapped Hamfast on the shoulder. "I'll take you up on that right now, actually! Perhaps I could get a bag of those famous potatoes of yours come next harvest? Mine never seem to grow very large, and they're all a bit bitter, so it seems."
Hamfast grinned back, and this time it was genuine. "Done, sir," he said, shaking the healer's hand. "And as soon as he's a bit older, I'll send my Sam out himself to teach you to grow them proper. Sounds to me like you've just not gotten the right fertilizer for your soil. Takes a good—"
"Hamfast? Shouldn't we be going?" Bell had appeared at his side, and Ham turned to find the rest of them watching him expectantly. He nodded, blushing a little, and replaced his hat. "Aye, then. Damon, Lilly, my thanks again." They nodded, both grinning, and watched as the two made their way to the cart and climbed aboard. They waved, and Hamfast took the reins and shook them a bit, setting the cart to rolling. Soon, they'd rounded the bend in the road and were out of sight.
Lilly glanced up at Damon, one eyebrow raised dubiously. "Potatoes, sir?"
Damon smirked. "Lass, have you ever had any of Hamfast Gamgee's potatoes?"
Lilly shook her head, and Damon laughed. "You'll understand why I asked for them, come harvest," he said, grinning. "In the meantime, let's see about getting some things in order. I've got Daisy Took to see to today—baby's due in a few weeks, you know…"
They turned and disappeared into the smial, leaving only the singing of the birds to fill the silence of the sunny lane.
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The ride home passed peacefully for Frodo and Sam. Content in the warmth of their newfound companionship, they sat close together in the small cart, enjoying the sunshine and the fresh air.
At one point they passed Griffo Boffin in his own cart, his sons riding along in the back—the elder hobbit had nodded respectfully at Bilbo and smiled a bit apologetically at Frodo, and the lads in the back had glared. Frodo had smirked back and placed an arm over Sam's shoulder, which made them scowl harder; however, they dared not say anything, for the memory of the beating they'd received from their parents last time they tangled with Frodo was still too fresh on their minds. The looks they threw Frodo promised him he'd made himself an enemy, but Frodo found himself grinning just the same, too elated to care. Sam looked up at him, curious about the exchange, but Frodo just shook his head.
They arrived at Bag End shortly thereafter. Bilbo helped Frodo down from the cart, then reached up and lifted Sam out after him. The cart was driven down to #3 Bagshot row and unhitched in short order. Rowan bowed graciously and turned to go, but Bilbo called out to him.
"Yes, Mr. Bilbo?" the lad said, approaching quickly and bowing his head respectfully.
"I've got something for you," Bilbo said, leading the lad into his study and looking through the shelves. He muttered to himself for a moment, then said "Ah!" and pulled a leather-bound book with gold-trimmed pages from the shelf. Wiping the dust from it, he turned. "I got this a few years back, from a friend of mine who passes through now and again. It's a book of healing remedies from a place called Minis Tirith. You can read Common tongue?"
Rowan nodded, eyes wide as he took the book and glanced through it. Bilbo smiled. "Good! Show it to Damon, too, if you wish—I've tried some of the recipes myself, and find they work quite well. I'm certain you'll be able to put it to good use."
"Sir, I can't accept this," Rowan whispered, staring up at Bilbo with something akin to reverence.
"Sure you can, lad," Bilbo replied. "I've memorized my favorites anyway, and besides," he reached out and laid a hand on the lad's shoulder. "I'm certain it will be of help to a great many more people in the hands of a healer, rather than collecting dust on an old hobbit's shelf."
Rowan blushed, and whispered, "Thank you, sir."
Bilbo nodded, and smiled. "Now, let's get you set, shall we?"
Rowan left a quarter of an hour later, book clutched under his arm and a parcel of sweet cakes from the Gamgees clutched in his hands. The Gamgee children—who'd been looked after by their older brothers while their parents were away—rushed out of the smial to greet their smallest brother.
"Sam, I mithed you!" Marigold lisped, staring up at her brother wide-eyed from where she'd glued herself to his waist. "I losthed a tooth, thee?"
Sam grinned, and hugged his sister tightly. "So you did, Mari!" he said, smiling down at her.
Frodo watched, a small smile on his face, though his wasn't without sadness; he'd never had any siblings, and, quite suddenly, he found himself missing his cousins in Brandyhall quite terribly.
Sam, who already displayed an uncanny ability to sense Frodo's moods, suddenly turned to his new friend. "Mari," he said, "this is Master Frodo. Remember when you met him a few weeks ago?" Sam grinned. "He's my new friend, Mari."
Mari stared up at Frodo, as though she were being shown the most amazing thing in Middle Earth, then turned to Sam. "Can he be my friend too, Sam?" she whispered loudly. Frodo shifted uncomfortably, grinning despite himself. Sam grinned at him. "I imagine so, lass, if you ask him real polite-like."
While the others watched with amusement, Mari approached Frodo carefully, then said, "Misther Frodo, sir? C'n I be your friend, too, like Sam is?"
Frodo grinned, unexpectedly touched, and knelt down before the child. "Of course, Marigold," he said seriously. "I'd be honored."
Marigold grinned and launched herself at him, wrapping tiny arms about his waist and catching him off-guard enough that he toppled over backwards, laughing like a lark.
Bilbo, standing a ways off, was watching with amusement when he felt a tap on his arm. Turning, he saw Hamfast standing behind him, hat once again clutched in his hands in the tell-tale manner that told Bilbo he was uncomfortable about something.
"Sir," he said quietly, so the children wouldn't overhear, "Damon told me…about you paying for the lads' medicine, and I…sir, I can't accept that, not without doing naught in return, t'wouldn't be right…"
"Oh, Hamfast," Bilbo sighed, looking amused. "Your Sam found my Frodo. You don't owe me anything."
Hamfast bit his lip. "But your Frodo saved our Sam," he returned. "Sir, I can't just…I wouldn't feel right about it, if you follow me." He considered for a moment, then straightened and said, "Sir, I'd feel better about it if you took it out of my pay."
Bilbo raised his eyebrows, and looked over at the brood of Gamgee children surrounding his adopted nephew. "Hamfast, look," he said gently, indicating Frodo (who was still on the ground, laughing helplessly, as Marigold and Sam had taken to tickling his ribs). "Look at Frodo. He's *happy*, Hamfast." Bilbo watched a moment longer, then turned back to his gardener. "He's not been that happy in years. If you insist on payment…" Bilbo waved his arm, indicating the joyous scene before them, "this is more than enough."
Hamfast looked at his master for a moment, touched by his words, then bit his lip. "I don't know, sir…" he said.
Bilbo laughed. "All right, then," he said. Turning towards the children, he called, "Sam! Samwise Gamgee! A moment, if you please."
Sam disentangled himself from the knot created by Frodo and his siblings and approached, fairly breathless with laughter. "Yes, sir?"
Bilbo looked stern. "Sam," he said seriously, "it seems your father is wondering how to pay for the medicines you've acquired the necessity for."
Sam's smile vanished, as he looked from his father (who was staring at Bilbo in equal confusion) to Bilbo. "Yes, sir…?" he asked, his voice more hesitant this time.
"Well, Sam," he said, "I think the best way for him to pay it off is to have you come back to work up here, at Bag End. You can work off your debt to me in my gardens."
Sam's eyes widened, and an enormous grin lit his face. "Yes, sir!" he cried, then on impulse threw his arms around Bilbo for an instant before racing back to the throng of laughing children.
Hamfast looked at Bilbo, who was grinning in a self-satisfied manner. "Satisfied, Ham?" he said, giving his gardener a sidelong look.
Hamfast stared a moment longer, then finally gave in and broke into laughter of his own. "Oh, aye, sir, I suppose that'll do," he said wearily, shaking his head and grinning.
Bilbo laughed, then said, "Frodo! Come on, lad, we must get you inside and have some elevenses!"
Frodo emerged a moment later, clothing hanging rather askew and bits of grass in his curls. He was grinning from ear to ear, and his eyes fairly shone with happiness.
"Listen, Hamfast," Bilbo said, turning to his gardener again. "Why don't you and your family meet us in the party field in twenty minutes? Frodo and I will see to making some food, and you and your wife can see to desert. It's a lovely day; no reason to be eating in a dark old smial, is there?"
Hamfast grinned. "Aye, sir, I suppose there isn't," he said, replacing his hat and turning to his children. "Come on, then, all of ye!" he hollered. "We've got to see about making some desert. Daisy, you and your sisters go find some blankets."
"Are we going picnicking, Da?" May asked, eyes wide. Hamfast nodded. "Aye, with Mr. Bilbo and Mr. Frodo," he said. He smiled, then raised his hands to silence the cheers of the young children. "Come on, then! Mr. Bilbo's put us in charge of desert, and we mustn't be letting him down!"
Bilbo and Frodo watched with amused affection as the Gamgees bustled into their smial, smallest children bouncing excitedly. Sam was the last to enter; just before he did so, he turned and offered a shy wave to Frodo, who waved back. Sam's face broke into a grin, and he disappeared into the hole after his family.
"They're special people, Frodo," Bilbo said quietly. "You couldn't ask for better, in my opinion."
"No, you couldn't," Frodo replied, his eyes softening and a smile creeping unawares onto his face.
They stood there a moment longer, then Bilbo said, "They also have large appetites, so we'd best be seeing to that food!" Frodo laughed, then followed his uncle into their own home.
Sunlight sparkled in the cool spring air, mingling with the late-morning dew and making it seem as though the grass was incrusted with millions of glittering jewels. Apart from the sweet chirping of the birds, no sound could be heard--save the faint sounds of laughter coming from Bag End and Number 3 Bagshot row.
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A/n: Well, that's it; hope you've all enjoyed it! I have another story in the works (which may or may not be smart of me, given how long this one took me to complete) that will be a follow-up of this one, and will take place through the years as Sam and Frodo grow up. It will be centered around their friendship, and the bonds of loyalty that form between them. . I'm not certain when the first installment will be up, or even what it will be called (suggestions…?) but I hope those of you who enjoyed this will enjoy it as well.
Thank you all again!